Waking Up the Devil
The bar was simply known as Jack's Place and Nick did not want to be there.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in a bar. Once, long ago, the surroundings would have been familiar, would have seemed like home. Now, they only served to make him nervous, uncomfortable. The combination of smells, alcohol and perfume, cologne and sweat, was nearly over-powering. Back in the day, he would have appreciated the odour, relished it, but now it was just a stark reminder of a past he'd rather forget. Not to mention the unbearably loud music. It made his head ache.
"Come on, Nick," his friend, Jeremy, had said. "Just wait for me by the bar. I've just got to head around back and settle up some debts. It'll only take a couple minutes."
Nick had resisted, had tried to explain that he didn't like bars, didn't want to go near one. But Jeremy had won out. Now, his friend was in one of the back rooms, paying off the people he owed, while Nick found himself sitting on a stool by the bar, alone. He'd ordered a beer nearly half an hour ago, but had yet to drink more than a mouthful. Alcohol was not something he liked consuming. There was too much potential for a slip to be made.
As he sat there, trying to ignore the groups of people to either side of him, a cloud of acrid smoke drifted around his head. He breathed it in, and was involuntarily transported back to his past, back into his memories. It was another bar, much like Jack's Place, with similar décor and similar people. The only difference had been his state of mind.
Back then, it had been his choice to hit the bar. His choice to drink the booze and smoke the smoke. He had been a very different man then; out of control, free and loose. Completely opposite to his current situation.
"Nice tattoo." The voice, feminine, snapped Nick from his thoughts. He turned to his left, curious. A tall blonde, young and attractive, was standing there, right beside him, close enough to touch. Uncomfortable, he drew back, as far as his seat would let him.
"Your tattoo," she replied, reaching out and running one bright red nail over the intricate design on his neck, "I like it."
Nick flinched away from her touch and clasped a hand over the marking. "Thanks," he muttered, cursing the collar of his jacket. Usually, it covered that tattoo, kept curious eyes off him. But it had slipped. It had been a long time anyone had seen the design, much less commented on it. He didn't appreciate it; yet another reminder of events he'd rather not think about.
After a moment, where the woman continued to stare at him with a strange smile on her face, Nick turned back to his beer. He took a swig and tried to ignore the feeling of her eyes on him. He figured if he ignored her long enough, she'd get the hint and move on. That was not the case. He felt her move suddenly, and was about to sigh in relief. But she simply slid onto the stool next to him and continued to stare. He kept his gaze pointedly on his drink, refused to give her so much as a glance. She didn't move.
After several minutes, and with a now-empty bottle sitting in front of him, Nick finally snapped. Looking to his left, he glared at the still-smiling woman. "Did you want something?"
Her green eyes, accented heavily with dark eyeliner, bored directly into his. "I know who you are."
Confused, Nick cocked an eyebrow. "Is that right? Who am I?"
Her smile widened. "Nicholas Snider."
Nick froze. Nobody had called him that in a very long time. These days, he went by Nick Ryan. He'd changed his name, dropping Snider and adopting his middle name as his last name, more than five years ago.
Leaning forward, he grabbed the woman's arm, angered and scared by the sudden revelation. "Who are you? How do you know me?"
She grinned, exposing brilliantly white teeth. "I've seen you before, about seven years ago. I was fourteen, and you met with my brother. I recognized your tattoo tonight, thought I'd introduce myself. See if you were up for a little fun." She let her eyes trace down his body. "You've changed a lot. Still hot, though. What do you say?"
Nick dropped her arm like it was on fire. His thoughts were racing. This woman knew him, knew who he was, who he used to be. It was the first time in years that someone from his past life recognized him, and the sudden shock was wreaking havoc on him. His heart was racing, he was sweating, and he couldn't concentrate.
Using his distraction to her advantage, the woman leaned towards him and let her hand fall onto his leg. "Come on," she said, slowly trailing her fingers up and down his thigh, moving closer to the top with each pass. "I know you, know what you like."
His leg twitching, Nick reached for her hand, to push it away. She caught his hand in her other one before he could be touch her, and got to her feet. She was extremely close now, her lower body pressed up against his side. "It'll be fun," she whispered, bringing her head close to his neck. She pressed her lips against his ear. "I can give you what you want. I like it rough."
That was the last straw. "No!" he growled, yanking his arm free. "That's not me anymore! Nicholas Snider is gone!" His pulse was racing, and he could feel himself slipping, his control evaporating. He pulled back his hand, unsure if he was going to push her away, or hit her.
Before he could move, however, the situation changed. "Hey!" someone yelled, a man. "What are you doing with my girlfriend?"
Nick turned, and saw a guy stomping towards him. He was big, like he worked out, and his face was twisted with rage. Nick dropped his hand and turned back to the woman. Her hand was still on his thigh, and she was still standing close, too close. Close enough to piss off a jealous boyfriend.
With a slight shrug and a sheepish smile, she stepped back, just as her significant other reached them. Nick tried to turn, to face the man, but felt a large hand land on his shoulder before he could. With a slight jerk, the man yanked him backwards off the stool. Nick hit the ground hard, the wind knocked out of him. He felt rough hands grab his collar and hoist him back to his feet.
"What the fuck were you doing?" the enraged man shouted, spittle flying from his wide mouth. "You skinny little shit! You're fucking dead!"
Nick opened his mouth, to explain or reason, but he never got the chance. One ham-sized fist collided with his jaw, propelling him back several feet. Dazed, he stumbled, but managed to stay on his feet. He saw the guy coming forward, and raised his hand in a semblance of defense. He was too slow though, and caught another shot across the right side of his face. That blow sent him careening into a nearby table. It gave under his weight, sending him to the floor in a shower of splinters. Nick never saw the foot coming his way, but he felt it. The toe of the man's boot connected solidly with his ribs, already aching from the journey through the table, and flipped him over onto his back. He lied there, gasping for breath and awaiting the next blow. But it didn't come.
"Get the fuck outta here!" his attacker screamed. "If I see you again, you'll regret it!"
Pulling himself together as best he could, Nick scrambled to his feet. He wasn't able to straighten up, the pain was too great, so he stumbled toward the door, doubled over. With every step he took, pain shot up his spine, and he gasped. He kept his eyes down, didn't want to see everyone looking at him. Twice, he tripped, landing on the rough floor. No one stepped forward to help him, so he struggled back to his feet and pressed on.
Finally, he made it to the door. He paused when he reached it, and leaned against it, to try and catch his breath. But as soon as he put his weight against it, the door swung open, and he fell heavily to the ground outside. Someone came through behind him, and used their foot to push him out of the way, away from the door. Then they went back inside, slamming it loudly behind them.
Outside, away from the heat and the smell and the people, the air was fresher. Nick tried to take a deep breath, but the pain was just too much. He choked, and clutched at his side, trying to will the pain away. Gradually, his pulse started to slow, as the cool air and cold pavement beneath him took the edge off the worst of the agony. As his head began to clear, he realized he needed to move. He was too close to the door; anyone who came through it could step on him or kick him, and he didn't need any more of that.
Rolling over onto his stomach, Nick braced his hands on the ground and slowly forced himself to his feet. The pain was excruciating, sharp little shots digging into his sides and back. He still wasn't able to straighten up fully, so he couldn't see what was in front of him. Reaching out, he felt around until he touched the wall. Using it as a guide, he walked forward. Each step was agony, drawing pained groans from him every few seconds.
Nick hadn't gone more than a few yards before he stumbled over his own feet and hit the ground once again. He couldn't stop the scream that erupted from his mouth when his injured ribs crashed against the hard concrete. This time, he didn't bother trying to get up; he just lied there, breathing shallowly and trying to push the pain aside.
He didn't know how long he was there, trying to pull himself together. It felt like forever, but probably wasn't much more than fifteen minutes. Eventually, the pain receded to a manageable level, and Nick was able to think clearly again.
Immediately, he was slammed by a mixture of anger, fear, and shame. He wasn't sure which one hit him harder. The fear, fear that the beating would continue, fear that the damage done was beyond repair, was there, but the shame was just a strong. He had never taken such a beating before, and a part of him was embarrassed, humiliated that someone had hurt him so badly. And then came the anger.
A part of him long since sealed away, the part of him that used to be everything, back when he was still Nicholas Snider, roared to the forefront. He was pissed. How dare someone put their hands on him? How dare some insignificant little shit strike him, beat him?
Nick felt himself starting to slip. He didn't need a mirror to know his eyes were starting to flash red, his teeth were sharpening to deadly points, his canines were elongating into fangs. Terror gripped his heart then, and he fought to bring himself back under control. Pushing himself up onto his hands and knees, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. His whole body was tense, rigid, his fingers digging deep into the cement beneath him. Gradually, he felt himself calming down, his heart rate slowing. His eyes stopped burning, and he could feel his teeth shrinking back to normal.
Once he felt he was completely in control of himself again, Nick let out a sigh of relief and let himself slump slightly. Unfortunately, the sudden movement jarred something in his chest and he began to cough. Deep, wracking heaves shook his whole frame, causing the pain to flare up in several spots.
The fit lasted for nearly two minutes. When it finally faded, he was left gasping for breath, his ribs aching. He thought he was about to vomit for a few seconds, but managed to choke back the rising bile.
When he finally felt like he had a handle on everything, Nick slowly opened his eyes and prepared to stand. He froze when he spotted a dark liquid on the pavement in front of him. Moving slowly, trying not to aggravate any of his injuries, he reached out and ran a finger through it. As soon as he lifted it up to his face, the smell hit him and he knew what it was. Blood. His blood.
Nick's mind went blank then, consumed by white-hot rage. He'd known, after the vicious beating he'd taken, that he had to be bleeding. It was common sense. But knowing and actually seeing the proof were two very different things. The sight, the smell of his own blood on the ground, running from his wounds and expelled from his throat, snapped what was left of his control.
With the loss of control came the flood of power he'd been denying for so long. Eyes blazing red, he threw back his head and screamed as the magic began to flow through him, racing for his injuries. He felt his bones begin to fuse together; his wounds begin to knit themselves closed. It burned terribly, but Nick no longer cared. He was back and things were about to get messy.
As the burning started to fade to a dull ache, he jumped back to his feet. He paused for a second, relishing the near-complete absence of any pain. Everything felt different now. Everything was brighter, smelled different. Most important of all, everything looked different. His eyes were now, once again, the eyes of a predator; they saw the world in a way no human ever could.
Turning on his heel, Nick walked back toward the door, removing his jacket as he went. He tossed it to the ground, and then yanked the door open with as much force as he could. It crashed against the wall with a loud bang.
Just as he'd hoped, the sudden noise drew the attention of all the bar's patrons. The entire room went silent, save for the loud, pumping music, as Nick slowly stepped inside. If they were shocked by his quick recovery from the beating he'd received, nobody said anything. They all just looked at him, at the smirk dominating his bloody face.
For his part, Nick was soaking up the stares. He'd always enjoyed being the center of attention, back in the day. That hadn't changed.
When he reached the bar, he paused. The woman from earlier was standing just a few feet away, eyes wide, but he ignored her and turned to the bartender. "Where is he?" The man flinched, shocked by the inhumanly guttural voice coming from Nick's mouth. With a trembling arm, he pointed toward the bathroom. Nick walked off without another word.
Twice, people jumped out of the way as he stalked toward the bathroom. His glowing red eyes, bloody features, and the predatory vibe he was giving off were more than enough to put a halt to anyone who considered saying anything to him.
There was a short hallway just off the main room that led to the bathroom. At the end were three doors; two led to the two bathrooms, and the other seemed to lead to the back rooms, where Jeremy was. Nick didn't even pause when he reached the proper door; he just shoved it aside and continued into the other room. The lighting in the bathroom was much better than the rest of the bar, and he had to blink a few times to adjust to the sudden brightness. He heard the door close behind him, almost completely muting the music, as he scanned the smaller room for his quarry. A pair of feet peeking out from under the nearest stall gave his target away.
Arms crossed, Nick leaned against the wall for a moment, waiting for the man to get off the toilet. He shifted a couple times, impatient, and cleared his throat, but it didn't seem to have any effect on the man. After another minute, he rolled his eyes and made his way over to one of the sinks. Grabbing some paper towel from the dispenser on the wall, he wetted it and began to wipe the dried blood from his face. It took awhile, since a lot of it had dried onto his stubble, but eventually the face in the mirror started looking a little more like Nick, and less like a victim of a particularly bloody accident.
Just as he finished up, Nick heard the toilet flush behind him and the man rise to his feet. With an anticipatory grin, he tensed, his eyes locked on the mirror. The stall door swung open, and as soon as he saw the man's face reflected in the glass, he whirled around and struck.
The unsuspecting man never saw it coming. Nick's blow landed squarely on his jaw, and sent him careening back into the stall. He fell heavily against the toilet, cracking the back of his head against the handle. Before he could move, Nick followed him into the stall and stomped hard on his midsection. The force of the kick cracked the toilet beneath him, and the man slid to the floor, slicing his back on the jagged porcelain edges.
Reaching down, Nick grabbed the dazed man by his collar and dragged him to his feet. "You with me, tough guy?" he growled, shaking the man until he got a groan. "Good. Wouldn't want you to miss what comes next."
Turning slightly, he slammed the guy up against the inner wall of the stall. It cracked, but held. Drawing back, he repeated his action. This time, the wall split in half and dumped the two men into the next stall. Nick flipped his victim over and shoved his head into the toilet. The cold water seemed to shock the man out of his daze, and he began to struggle mightily. Nick held him down with one hand, and used the other to stop the man from bracing himself against the toilet seat.
Nick waited until the last possible second before he pulled his victim from the water. "Did you enjoy that, you piece of shit?" The man was too busy trying to breathe to respond. Angered by his silence, Nick grabbed the man's hair and slammed his forehead off the edge of the toilet bowl. That got a response; a scream of pain.
Grinning, Nick hoisted the man back to his feet and dragged him out of the stall by his hair. He pulled him over to the counter, then grabbed the back of his belt and propelled him up over the sink, face-first into one of the mirrors. The glass cracked on impact, and the man screamed again. Nick pulled him back, eager to see the damage. He wasn't disappointed. The glass had splintered, embedding countless tiny shards in the man's face. Blood was streaming from the multitude of shallow cuts, particularly around his eyes.
"Good look for you, dickwad," Nick said, nodding. He stared at the man's ruined face for a moment, admiring his handiwork. As he continued to look, however, he was hit by a sudden flashback. The man, yelling in his face, spit flying everywhere. The man, hand raised, ready to deliver a brutal blow to his face. The memory sent him over the edge.
Drawing back his fist, Nick delivered a crushing punch to the man's face. He screamed with rage, roaring incoherent obscenities as he began to rain down blow after devastating blow on every part of his victim he could reach. All he could see was red; his heart was pounding in his ear. There was no light, no smells, nothing from his actual surroundings made it through his berserker mindset.
Eventually, the sensation of his hand hitting something harder than human flesh and bone started to draw Nick back to reality. As his vision cleared, he saw that he'd been hitting the counter. It was cracked, and there were several fist-sized impressions along the surface.
As for the man's head, there wasn't much left. The skull was crush beyond recognition, just a bloody mass of twisted, torn flesh and shattered bone.
Breathing heavily, Nick let go of the corpse and stepped back from it. He eyed it for a moment, looking over what he had done. He waited for that feeling of horror, that terrible inner acknowledgment of the heinous crime he'd just committed. But it never came.
A smile slowly spread across his face. He could feel the blood of his victim on his face, where it had splattered during his vicious attack. He could feel it dripping from the ends of his fingers, could feel the ache in his knuckles. And it felt good. It felt like home.
Letting his head fall back, Nick close his eyes and let out a loud sigh. "What now?" he whispered, considering his option. His mind immediately went to the blonde from earlier, the one who had started the whole mess. He smiled. "Yeah, let's do that."
Without bother to clean himself off, Nick exited the bathroom. As he stepped into the hallway, somebody bumped into him from the side. It was Jeremy.
"Jeremy!" Nick turned and grinned at his friend. "Get your shit taken care of?"
His friend's eyes widened. "Dude, what's all over your face…?" He trailed off. "Is that blood?"
Nick threw back his head and roared with laughter. He was running on a major high from his first kill in years. His friend stared at him, upset and worried about his out of character behaviour. "Don't worry about it, Jeremy," he said, after his laughter finally died down. "Listen, I've got to head out. But I owe you one, brother. Anything you ever need, you call me." Reaching out, he patted Jeremy on the cheek. Then he turned and made his way back out into the bar, leaving his friend staring at his back in shock.
When he stepped out of the hallway, back into the main room, Nick made a beeline for the blonde. She was still sitting at the bar, sipping something from a large glass. She spotted him coming, saw the blood splattered on his face and clothes, and her eyes widened.
"You have a car?" he asked, before she could say a word. She nodded. "Good. We're leaving." Her eyes darted toward the bathroom. "Don't worry about him," he said, drawing her attention back to him. "You wanted me, and now you've got me. He's out of the picture." He ran a finger through the blood on his cheek and grinned.
Without a word, the blonde rose to her feet. Nick threw an arm around her shoulders, and started for the door. "Hey!" the bartender called. "You need to pay for—" The man stopped abruptly when Nick grabbed the glass from his companion's hand and hurled it at the wall.
"Why don't you go ahead and let it slide, my friend?" He jerked his head toward the bathroom. "Or get the money from that fucktard in there. He sure as Hell doesn't have any use for it anymore."
Nobody else tried to stop the couple as they made their way outside. The woman went around the side of the building to get her car, and Nick just stood there, breathing in the night air. For the first time in a long time, he felt right, complete. The part of him that yearned to control his baser urges, to be human, was gone now. It wasn't coming back.
So absorbed in the sensations was Nick, he didn't even hear the car approach. It took the blonde's shouts to break through his trance. "Hey, are you coming?"
"Yeah, just a second," he replied, eyes still closed. He took one last deep breath, then made for the car.
As he slid into the passenger seat, she spoke. "You told me Nicholas Snider was gone." She paused, hesitating. "Is he back?"
Nick grinned, and leaned back in the seat, stared up at the roof. It was dull brown, ugly. "Oh yeah, baby. I'm back."
There was a moment of silence. Then, "Good. I'm glad." He heard her put the car into gear, and felt as they began to pull away from Jack's Place. "You know," she said, after several moments, "you haven't even asked for my name yet."
"It doesn't matter. Just fucking drive."
And she did.
Inspired by Hinder's 'Waking Up the Devil'.