"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."―Samuel Johnson
Every fight ended like this, on the back street of some loner city with a bludgeoned body to burn on the asphalt. Forest green eyes scaled the area, alert and on the lookout for any car coming down the never-ending street. A blanket of dark ashen clouds rolled in from the west, and the roar of the wind deafened Zeke's ears. He shifted on the black hood of the car, paranoia picking at his brain with a fork. Someone could catch them beating that poor jackass out in the open.
This was becoming too much for him to handle. He was a laid back guy. He wasn't into this fighting shit—hell, he wasn't even into wrestling. He'd rather drink a beer and watch a movie. But his older brother . . . he was different.
It didn't matter if it had been morning. If Dom was in the mood to kill a bloodsucker, he'd do it. With it after sundown though, the vamp wouldn't burn, and to Damian it was more fun to beat them to death.
His younger brother, Aidyn, stood in the grass with the passenger door wide-open as he fumbled with his phone. He raised it to the sky, struggling to get a signal as the wind around them grew stronger. He sighed, shoving it in his pocket. A rough gust blew back his thick raven hair and his turquoise eyes flickered to the funnel cloud dipping out of the rippled clouds above, heading for the wheaten Kansas plains.
Their brother always changed the weather, ruining it with all the power he held. One sudden shift in their brother's mood meant a sudden shift in climate. He thought maybe Damian would learn to control that, or at least try to, but he came to realize that Damian didn't care.
"You know what? It's our house. We shouldn't have to call him and tell him we're coming home." Aidyn scrubbed his face, his bloodshot eyes drooping.
Zeke nodded at his words and glanced over at his older brother whose huge fists continued to bash in a blond body builder's face. He had him pinned to the blacktop of the deserted back-road as he struck him again and again with no break.
The vampire was dead.
Zeke was sure of it. If he wasn't, then he wouldn't live much longer with his brains smeared across the pavement.
Always with the blood, the guts, the flesh, the gore. His brother lived day to day digging his fingers into another's skin and bones.
Blood soaked Damian's hands as he stood from his victim, his tall height deeming him a dark and brooding giant. He smirked at the dead vamp, savoring the high he got off it. Killing nameless vampires one by one was his drug—his hobby.
He could definitely try and find a better one. Zeke stared at the swollen face of the vamp.
Drops of blood stained Damian's carved face as he walked back to the car with a devilish grin still intact. His smile faded as his eyes connected with Zeke's.
"The fuck you starin' at?" His ebony eyes glowed with hell-fire, daring Zeke to cough up a complaint.
Zeke shook his head. "Nothin'."
Damian pulled off his black shirt, wiping his face and hands with it as he leaned back against the door.
"My phone's not working out here in bum-fuck nowhere. He's just gonna have to be left surprised." Aidyn stretched before diving in the front seat of the '70 Dodge Challenger.
Zeke took the last sip of his beer, slipped off the hood, and tossed the bottle in the ditch as he went around the car.
"Why's he in Tennessee anyways?" he asked, climbing behind Aidyn's seat.
"He said he has business to 'attend' to—whatever the hell that means." Aidyn reached in his pocket and slid out a sandwich-bag filled with white powder.
He dipped his finger in and lifted the dust, placing it nice and easy on the inner skin between his thumb and index finger. He snorted it and gave a light shake of his head.
Idiot. Zeke cut his eyes as he looked out the window.
"Why do I go anywhere with you guys?" He stared out the window. "Dom wants to beat the fuck out of people. And you—you just snort coke up your nose all day." Damian lit a cigarette over the roasting corpse. "I don't know what I'm doing here. Sometimes I think I should end it all. Be done with everything for once."
And he meant that. The voice in his head was telling him to do so, flooding his mind with perfect ideas and opportunities on how to successfully go about it.
He just wanted the ache in his chest to end.
"Stop talking like that. We're good. You're fine." His brother sniffled.
"Just wait until the world runs out of beer," he said, grabbing a bottle off the seat next to him.
Aidyn nodded. "And women."
Zeke cringed at the last word, remembering the smile of a pretty face, eyes the color of the sea. All lost in one night. She just . . . slipped away from him like a dream.
He ripped the beer cap off and threw it out the window, the top barely missing Damian as he strode back to the car.
"She won't feel anything."
The blade slid across her skin, the sharp point slicing deep. There was no pain, only cold numbness spreading throughout her body. She blinked, tightening her fingers around the white teddy bear stained with hot blood. Her father laid her in the snow as if she were fragile, easing her head down slow. The woman in white stood over her, watching her with sad blue eyes, apologies spilling from them in the form of tears, the fat drops dripping off her porcelain cheeks.
Jade's gaze wandered to her father who sat beside her in the snow. His brown hair had a speck of gray in it that she hadn't noticed before. Strange, she thought, lying there helpless, unable to move, cold to the bone and trembling, she couldn't remember how she got here. Didn't remember the car ride. Didn't remember who the woman standing above her was. One moment, she was in bed in the vacation cabin, the next . . . here. In the woods.
Yet in her head, she was sure she was dreaming as snow kissed her nose.
"Are we doing the right thing?" he asked, hazel eyes glazing over with water.
"You're saving millions and millions of people. I see no wrong in it."
"Then why are you crying?"
The woman in white was silent for a moment as she stared long and hard at Jade. "Because I keep betraying the same person."
Jade blinked, shaking herself out of the memory and looking at the pretty blond guy next to her. "Huh?"
Jason revved up the red Mustang as her sister came out of the entrance of Wal-Mart. Her short and choppy, vibrant red hair blew in the wind as she struggled to carry a big bucket of gummy bears in her arms.
The girl needed to be slapped. She'd never eat all of those damn bears. Jade noticed that the woman also forgot her cupcakes.
"I said we're not going to Len's." Jason bit his lip as he scowled at her. "You guys are gonna stay at my house."
She scrunched her freckled nose. "Since when do you have a house?"
He ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair, wiping it out of his golden brown eyes. "Since now."
"It just popped up out of thin air?"
"Well, no." He paused for a moment. "I've kind of had it for a while."
"And you're just now deciding to live in it?"
Jason nodded fast—a tell-tale sign he was lying. She'd let him think she believed him for now.
As her sister approached the car, Jade opened her door and scooted the seat forward so Erica could squeeze in. Just a few seconds of having the door open and the sweltering heat of summer was already pouring into the car.
Erica plopped into the back seat. "Look at all the gummies!" She hugged the bucket with joy.
"That's great for you, but where the hell are my cupcakes?" Jade turned in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked back at her sister.
Erica's pale face stared back at her as if she were dumb.
"Mm, knew I forgot something." Her sister closed her honey brown eyes. "Sorry, I saw the bears and forgot about the cupcakes."
Never depend on anyone. Now her poor cupcakes were going to get eaten by some other fat slob with grubby hands. What a shame.
"Did Jason tell you he bought a house?" Jade asked.
"I remember him saying something about it," Erica said, stuffing a mouthful of gummy bears in her mouth. "Beats sleeping on the floor at Len's."
Well, that was kind of a nice touch, but Jade wanted to talk to Len. For the past month, she'd been looking forward to going to the old woman's cabin, even though it always smelled of cabbage. Once you got used to the smell, it wasn't so bad.
Jade settled in her seat, buckling up before Blondie had a fit. She pressed her forehead to the window and made a face at a young couple that they passed by as they backed out of the parking space.
"Your mom's pretty worried about you." She could feel Jason giving her a wary look as he drove. "I promised her I'd find a way to end this."
"You shouldn't have made a promise you couldn't keep," Erica said as she continued to chow down on her bears.
Her sister might have sounded heartless, but she was only telling the truth. Jade would be lucky to make it another year. She was starting to lose hope, and she was starting to get sick of running. And like all the dumb girls in the horror flicks, it wouldn't be long before she tripped and fell into her own demise.
Jade narrowed her gaze at Jason's pretty features. In the fifteen years she'd known him his handsome face hadn't aged a day and never would. His gold eyes were still the same vibrant color they'd always been. The light pale skin highlighted his high cheekbones, while dark shadows under his eyes showed he hadn't had good sleep in a long time.
The tips of Jade's lips curled downward. "What she said."
Jason looked away, his anxious eyes returning to the road as if he were searching for an answer to all his problems. She hated to tell him, but there wasn't an answer out there.
Two hours later, they passed a sign on the highways that read "Welcome to Greeneville, Tennessee". She tapped her hands against the dashboard, hitting it to the beat of the song on the radio when the car made a sharp turn onto a narrow dirt road tightly nestled between the woods. The dark, bumpy trail reminded her of those horror movies where the incest hillbilly cannibals would jump out with their axes and chop up the innocent victims.
Where exactly was this house? It looked like the dust trail didn't end for miles.
She glanced back at her sister. The girl was lying in a contorted way in the back seat, her arms still tightly wrapped around her big bucket of gummy bears as she bit at the air in her sleep. Erica stirred, smacking her lips loudly as she repositioned herself in the seat, her foot popping Jade on the side of the head as she did. Biting back the urge to break Erica's toe, she slapped her foot out of her face.
The road seemed endless, getting steeper and steeper as they drove. When the mansion came into view, Jade's eyes grew wide. The house and scenery that surrounded it was amazing. Beyond words even.
"Holy—" Jade cut herself off as she looked to Jason. "You didn't say you lived in a mansion?"
He shrugged, smirking.
A four car garage connected to the side of the three-story Victorian mansion made of gray stone. Gargoyles guarded the front porch and the lone balcony on the top floor. The dirt road they were on turned into a tar paved driveway that led around the house. A small waterfall hung in the background on the right, its perfect flow almost surreal.
"Any dead bodies or others surprises in there I should know about?" She picked her backpack off the floorboard.
Jason's eyes widened. "No. Not this time."
At his aunt's house they had walked in and interrupted a séance one evening. The poor woman had been trying to bring back her dead boyfriend. Problem was—he'd been dead for a week and his body was starting to rot.
"That was one time. It won't happen again, I promise."
She shrugged. "If you say so."
She stepped out the car, slinging her bag over her shoulder and sliding her seat forward. When her sister didn't move, she poked her head inside the vehicle. Erica lay spread-eagle with a night mask covering her eyes, her fiery red hair in a knotted mess. There was no way she'd be waking up that woman. It wasn't worth the risk of having her face mauled by a hyena. Jade knocked the seat back in place and received a dead look from Jason.
"You wake her up. It's not my job to wrestle a bear." She tapped the roof of the car. "Pop the trunk."
She headed to the rear of the 96' Mustang and the trunk sprung open. A suitcase fell out, and another one threatened to topple over. Jade shook her head as she threw her sisters suitcases to the ground, not caring if she broke the cheap crap inside them, and rummaged through the trunk until she came across her black suitcase and two green duffel bags that lay crushed at the bottom of the pile. Jason came to her side, holding a hand out to help.
"I'm good. Cinderella's gonna need you to carry hers, though."
He grimaced. "One of these days I'm going to drop her off on the side of the highway."
"I'll help you push her out." She maneuvered her bags in one hand and dragged the suitcase in the other.
She wasn't as adventurous as her sister. In fact, she could live a whole lifetime without any more adrenaline rushes. She'd had plenty of adventures and near death experiences in her twenty-one years, and she was done with them. And she swore if she had one more ankle sprain from a failed attempt on her life, she'd beat the living hell out of that conniving old witch with her bare hands.
She paused on the top step of the porch and closed her eyes. No bad thoughts.
Jason held open the oak door of the house, and she wobbled into the main hall.
"It should be illegal to be this rich," she mumbled as she spun around.
The tiles of the floor were polished emerald and the walls were a glossy dark wood. Down the hall was a large dining-room where a long brown table fit for a king. The massive spiraling staircase near the bar-room made the house seem even fancier.
Her sister came in through the front door just as stunned as she was.
"Whoa." Erica's mouth dropped open in amazement. "Are we in the right house?"
"So where are our rooms?" Jade asked.
"Third floor, right hall. Erica's is the first door on the right. Yours is the last door on the left," Jason called out as he disappeared into the barroom.
While Erica went back outside to gather the rest of her suitcases, Jade climbed the stairs, praying for someone to shoot her as she conquered them one step at a time. She hit the third floor, veered to the right and halted in her tracks.
All things eerie and unholy probably lived and breathed in the hallway before her. It was daylight outside, yet the hall to her room was shrouded in darkness. She crossed her fingers and took another breath. She walked the corridor, one hand stretched out and holding the wall for support. A pie slice of light streamed from the last door on the left, and she nudged it open with her arm.
Sunlight spewed in from a large wall-sized window adorned in red drapes. Her eyes slid to the dark walls of wood and then to the stone fireplace across from the bed. The room spoke to her inner Wednesday Adams, called to all those dark places inside her heart. It was evil-looking. A little dusty but she couldn't complain.
She put her things on the trunk, which set at the foot of the black four-poster bed, and glanced around, noticing the cobwebs that hung low in the corners and the spiders dangling from the ceiling. Her eyes scanned over the claw tub by the window and the broken black-ironed chandelier swaying in the middle of the room. She'd always been too poor to afford anything else other than the clothes on her back that her mother had worked so hard for. So this to her was the high life. She'd have the room clean and sparkling in no time.
Damian pulled up to a gas station. The cheap florescent lights flickered as Aidyn jumped out the car and walked inside, twitching from withdrawals. As he waited for his brother, Damian's eyes grew heavy. They kept closing and he'd flash them open again, only for them to flutter back down. Finally he gave in, shutting them for just a moment and leaning his head back against his seat, letting the tense muscles of his neck and shoulders relax. His mind drifted for a minute or two, and then suddenly the nightmare came rushing back, finding him like it always did.
He saw Zeke in the woods like he had three years before, covered in blood as he sat naked on the ground, cradling the dead girl who lay deathly still in his arms. Except this time, his fingers were twisted in long dark curls instead of blonde tresses.
Damian blinked, stepping closer and pushing pass the vines, realizing it wasn't Zeke sitting there holding that girl . . . but himself.
The car door opened and his head snapped up. Wiping the sweat from his upper lip, he let out a breath as Aidyn threw two cases of beer on the floorboard.
"I got two packs this time, so if the alcoholic decides he wants to drink us under the table again, he won't leave us empty-handed." His brother paused outside the door. "I gotta piss before we get back on the road."
Slamming the door, he jogged across the street to the woods and disappeared in the brush.
"Had the dream again, didn't you?" Zeke's rough voice broke the silence.
Damian stared ahead, not wanting to talk about it. It was a stupid dream built by a stupid conscience. And Zeke, always the hero, had a tendency to get into his business, telling him what he should do and what he shouldn't do. But he already knew what he wanted to do—what he should do.
"Maybe you should listen to Aidyn."
"Maybe you should mind your own damn business for once and quit listening in on our conversations." Damian sucked his teeth as his foot tapped the gas pedal.
His brother was quiet for a moment. "You know . . . you and Aidyn act like what happened to me was nothing, and I get it—I do. But I hope you and him find out what it's like to lose something. And I hope it tears you apart on the inside, 'til your nothing like me."
Damian cut his eyes. "I'm not that weak."
If he was in so much pain, Damian could put him out of his fucking misery. It'd be better than watching him drink himself away every day, always bringing that sob-story shit up with every chance he got.
His brother gave a humorless chuckle. "I used to think the same thing." He heard Zeke take a swig of his beer before releasing a burp. "One day you'll find out you're just as weak as I am."
Damian was about to turn around and choke Zeke when Aidyn opened the door and jumped inside, saving his ass from a well-deserved beating.
"Never felt so good to piss." Aidyn laughed as he got comfortable. "You know when you wait to pee and your gut starts to hurt from holding it for so long? Yeah, totally just had that experience." Aidyn looked over and his face changed as he seemed to realize he missed something. "What's a matter with you guys?"