I thought I would give everyone a taste of my book as I continue to countdown to my publication. (I’m getting excited; can you tell?)
One Year Ago
Charleston, South Carolina
Anselm strolled along the quiet, darkened streets, enjoying the warm breeze off the ocean. He inhaled deeply; the scent of blooming flowers was so strong it was almost suffocating, and yet it was pleasurable at the same time. He loved Charleston—possibly as well as any person native-born. It was beautiful, different, and—for an American city—old.
It was just past midnight. The streets were deserted and the houses dark, except for the porch lights—which were barely visible though the dense tangle of trees and shrubs growing in the narrow yards.
Anselm was admiring a particularly ornate wrought-iron gate when he heard something nearby. He turned toward the sound, listening carefully. At first he thought it was an animal—perhaps in someone’s trash—but then he decided it was too large to be a cat or dog; it sounded like people struggling.
Quickly and silently, he crossed the street and walked in the shadow of plants overhanging a garden wall. Just past this was a narrow alleyway, barely wide enough for a single car. Unlike the main road, it was paved with flat, brick-shaped stones.
Peeking around the corner, Anselm saw two figures scuffling in the dark. A sudden gust of warm air down the alleyway brought him their scents.
He quickly stepped back into the darkness, tense. They weren’t human and they weren’t vampire. Rumors had been circulating for years of some sort of third humanoid—something which was more akin to a vampire than a human, but with different traits—but there had only been fleeting glimpses or scents. They were known more for the dead they left behind than anything else. Anselm’s people were beginning to refer to them as “Imuechmehah”—the “Others.”
Anselm pressed his back to the brick wall, listening to the fight. Any information he could gather would be helpful in figuring out exactly what they were and where they came from—not to mention if they were a threat—although the fact that they had been killing humans was worrisome.
Suddenly there was a short, strangling noise, and someone fell to the cobbles. An instant later, a dark figure darted out of the alleyway and down the street, out of sight. Anselm stepped out from the darkness, looking, but whoever or whatever it was, it was gone. Certainly it was as fast as a vampire.
Anselm stepped cautiously around the corner. A figure lay crumpled in a dark heap in the middle of the alley.
He slowly approached it, his body tense. Blood must have been spilled, because the scent of the stranger was ten times stronger than it had been. It was very peculiar—like something metallic. Inedible.
With his foot, Anselm nudged the figure in the back of the leg. It made a wet, gurgling sound, and lifted a hand, dark and glistening with blood. All fear and caution left Anselm, and he knelt beside the body.
He rolled it over and discovered it was a young man. He was bleeding from the neck, but was trying to stop it with his other hand. Anselm stripped off his shirt and pressed it against the man’s throat. The stranger looked at him helplessly. His lips moved, as if he was trying to speak, but suddenly his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he gave a small shudder and went limp.
Anselm picked the man up easily and hurried out of the alley and down the street; his rental car was parked at the end of the block. He managed to get the man into the backseat, then he pulled the blood-soaked shirt away from the man’s neck and checked the wound.
The wound was ragged and ran from under his left ear down to his throat. It had been ripped out—almost certainly by hand. Imuechmehah, it seemed, were as strong as vampires—or at least close enough to count. The man’s windpipe was exposed on one side, but didn’t seem punctured. Blood was no longer coming from the wound, and he still had a pulse—which was a good sign—but he seemed to be hanging in the balance. Anselm was going to have to hurry to get him to Marie before he died from his blood loss. But dead or alive, he was immensely important.
* * *
Anselm phoned Marie on his way out of the city, and she was ready for him by the time he arrived. The front door of the old plantation house was thrown open the moment Anselm’s hurried footsteps echoed across the wide wooden porch. Bright yellow light streamed out, blocked only by the figure of a petite woman with dark curly hair, cut in a bob. Marie pushed the screen door open, letting Anselm through; he carried the limp, bloody figure he had rescued from the alley in his arms.
“Is it really an Imuechmeh, Anselm?” she asked with a light French accent.
“You tell me,” he said.
She wrinkled her nose. “It’s that… him I smell?”
She lead him through the dining room to a small, simply furnished bedroom next to the back door. Anselm laid the limp figure on top of the white chenille bedspread, and stepped back. Marie knelt beside the bed and examined him.
Anselm got a good look at the man in the light. His face was as white as chalk—not surprising, considering the amount of blood he had lost—and the freckles on his face stood out in stark contrast. His cinnamon-colored hair was cut short. He looked as if he was barely old enough to be out of college, if that. He was wearing jeans and tennis shoes and a T-shirt which had once been white, but was now so soaked with blood, it wasn’t possible to tell what was printed on it. He looked ordinary enough—ordinary enough to blend in with humans, as they did.
Marie pulled Anselm’s bloody shirt away from the stranger’s neck, examining his wound. “I think either his carotid or his jugular was torn. There is too much blood for one not to have been cut.”
“It’s a wonder he’s still alive,” Anselm said. Then he frowned. “He… is still alive, isn’t he?”
She reached for a black leather bag, which was sitting nearby, and pulled out a stethoscope. She looked at her watch as she listened to his chest for a heartbeat. After a minute, she pulled the stethoscope from her ears. “He is still alive. His heart is actually beating a little fast, and his respiration is a little fast, too. Not human fast, but faster than ours. I wonder if that’s normal for them?”
“I have no clue. Could it be faster because he’s hurt?”
“No. If anything, it should be slower, weaker.”
They both looked at the bloody figure lying still on the bed.
“Now what?” Anselm asked.
“You brought him here,” Marie said. “I thought you had a plan.”
“The Council needs to know.”
“I agree. But first, we must decide where we can put him so we can lock him in; this room will not do.”
“What do you mean?”
“He may be dangerous. We cannot be sure of his intentions towards us. And he may try to escape.”
Anselm frowned. “Will we keep him here against his will?”
“I think the Council should decide that. At any rate, I am not going to allow him to roam free among my people. Imuechmehah are thought to be killing humans.”
“You’re right; locking him up would probably be for the best right now.” He sighed. “Any ideas?”
She bit her lip, thinking for a moment. “We could put a bed for him down in the old wine cellar. It locks from the outside and should be strong enough to keep him in. There are a few windows down there, but they are too small for him to get out.”
“That sounds like a good idea for the moment.”
Marie stood and looked at Anselm. “I don’t think we should tell anyone else about him. At least not until we hear from the Council.”
* * *
Early the next morning, Anselm and Marie went down the stairs in the kitchen to the wine cellar. The Council had been stunned when Anselm had called them earlier to report the situation. They had agreed with Marie that, at least for the time being, that the Imuechmeh needed to be kept locked up, and that no one else should know about him. Marie had some knowledge and previous experience treating their kind for wounds, so she was to treat him however she thought best. Anselm was to call them back as soon as the Imuechmeh had recovered enough to talk; depending on what he could find out, they would formulate a plan.
Since the wine cellar door could only be locked from the outside, Anselm and Marie could not both go in at the same time. Should the Imuechmeh overcome them both, he could escape into an entire community full of unsuspecting vampires and their human associates. Anselm insisted that he go in first, to make sure the Imuechmeh was safe, before allowing Marie in to check on his wounds.
Anselm stepped inside and Marie shut the door behind him. In the space of one heartbeat, he noticed that the bed at the other end of the room—illuminated by the light from one of the narrow cellar windows—was empty.
He tensed and kept his back to the door. He listened, but heard nothing. He slowly breathed in, smelling the stale, musty air of the cellar and the metallic scent of the Imuechmeh. He cautiously moved to the right, following the scent. There were some cardboard boxes and plastic totes stacked in the corner. All of them were neatly arranged, save a few nearest the wall; they looked as if they had been moved out of place.
Anselm crept towards the boxes, ready to spring. In a small crack, between the boxes and the wall, he could just make out a figure lying on the dirt floor. As he had done the previous night, he nudged the Imuechmeh with his foot. The man let out a low moan.
“Are you awake? Can you hear me?” Anselm asked.
The figure stirred a little. “Light,” he muttered.
Anselm looked at the bed they had set up for the Imuechmeh—which was in full sunlight—then looked down at him, hidden in the darkest part of the room.
“Can you not be in the sun?”
Anselm went back to the door and banged on it. “Marie, open up.” The key scraped quickly in the lock and she opened the door, looking around it cautiously. “We’ve got a problem,” he told her.
Thirty minutes later, they had cardboard covering the cellar windows, and Anselm had put the man back in the bed. He was so weak, Anselm wondered how he had ever managed to crawl to the other side of the cellar; it must have taken him quite a while.
They found artificial lights didn’t bother him, so Marie turned on the overhead lights, and the dusty, bare bulbs gave a little light. She examined him again and found his wound was more than halfway healed. She gave him another pint of blood by IV; she expected he would be fully recovered by the next day.
Anselm pulled a plastic box next to the bed and sat on it; Marie hovered anxiously beside him. They had abandoned the idea of locking only one of them in; the man was in no shape at the moment to take on one of them, much less both.
“Can you speak?” Anselm asked.
“I think so,” the Imuechmeh replied in a hoarse voice.
“What’s your name?”
“Keer-un?” Anselm repeated slowly, unsure he heard correctly.
The Imuechmeh nodded a little, then winced. “Irish.”
“What are you, Ciaran?”
“I’m… a vampire.”
“We’re vampires, Ciaran; you are not a vampire. Or, at least, you’re not Canichmeh. Maybe you’re some other type of vampire.”
Ciaran blinked in surprise. “I… heard there were… others… not like us.”
Anselm leaned in. “How old are you? I mean, how long have you been like this? A vampire?”
“Who attacked you tonight? I know it was one of your kind.”
“Should that name mean something to me?”
“No. I don’t… know him either.”
“Why was he trying to kill you?”
Ciaran started to answer, but began to cough violently, his face strained with pain. Marie helped him sit up. “Water,” he gasped between coughs.
“Water?” Anselm asked, surprised. They did not drink or eat anything.
“Water,” he coughed again.
Marie glanced at Anselm—who nodded—before hurrying upstairs. When she brought the glass of water back to Ciaran, he quickly drank all of it. This seemed to quiet his coughing, and he laid down again, clearly exhausted.
“I think we should let him rest now, Anselm,” Marie said quietly.
He held up his hand. “Not yet.”
He turned back to Ciaran. “Why were you being hunted by your own kind?”
“I don’t… he… wanted me to kill. I won’t.”
“Who did he want you to kill?”
“Said they wanted to keep us… secret. Too many of us.”
“They? Who is ‘they?’ Are your kind organized into some sort of group?”
“You guess? You don’t know?”
“Never… knew any… before. Met this guy… a week… two ago.”
“And he just told you to kill people?”
“And he tried to kill you for refusing?”
“Yes.” Ciaran closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
Marie patted Anselm on the shoulder. He stood up. “You’re safe here, Ciaran. We’re not going to hurt you, although we do mean to find out exactly what you are, and where you came from.”
“That’s… okay,” he replied quietly.
Marie and Anselm left the cellar and locked the door behind them. “Did you know they were organized?” she asked in a whisper.
“No. I doubt if anyone knows.”
“They cannot have appeared from nowhere. Did they used to be us? Have they evolved? If they have, then why can’t they be in the sunlight? That would seem to be a hindrance.” Marie’s dark eyes were wide, nervous.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Anselm replied grimly.
* * *
That evening, Anselm went in alone to talk to Ciaran—Marie locking the door behind him. He sat on the same box he had used before; Ciaran sat on the bed. The two men looked at each other for a moment. Anselm noticed Ciaran had more color in his face, and his blue eyes were alert. There was only a faint white-pink scar on the side of his neck where he had been wounded. Certainly he healed like any other vampire. Perhaps there wasn’t as much difference between their two kinds as some had speculated.
“I hate to be a bother,” Ciaran said, his Irish accent much more noticeable once he was able to speak in complete sentences, “but I’m starving. Could you find it in your heart to feed a fella?” he asked with a small smile.
“We’ll bring you some more blood later.”
“No, I mean food.”
Anselm was stunned. “Food?”
“Yeah. I’d take a bit of toast at this point, although I’d not say no to something more.”
Anselm continued to stare at him.
“Or maybe not,” Ciaran said, sounding disappointed.
“You eat food?” Anselm finally managed to ask.
“Yes.” He frowned. “Don’t you?”
“So… you live on nothing but blood?”
Ciaran’s brow furrowed in confusion, but he said nothing.
Anselm went to the door and knocked on it; Marie opened it from the other side. “Can you bring him something to eat?” Anselm asked.
Marie frowned. “He shouldn’t need blood again already.”
“He eats food.”
Marie looked as shocked as Anselm. “Food?”
“Yes. Can you find him something?”
She was quiet for a moment before recovering. “Yes.”
Anselm went to sit by Ciaran again. “Marie is going to get you something to eat.”
“Thanks.” As if on cue, Ciaran’s stomach gave an audible growl. Anselm tried not to look surprised.
“You do drink blood, though, don’t you?” Anselm asked.
“Yeah, when I have to.”
“How often is that?”
“Once a week. I can make do with animal blood most of the time, but every few months I have to have human blood. Apparently I can’t live without that forever.”
Anselm was appalled. Among the Canichmeh, drinking animal blood was against the law. Anselm had done it a few times over the centuries, but only when he was forced to choose between drinking it or dying. He couldn’t imagine anyone drinking animal blood regularly. It certainly wouldn’t be for the taste.
“Do you… bite animals?” Anselm tried to keep the judgment out of his voice.
“Feck no,” Ciaran said with disgust. “I just eat beef or mutton raw. Or I order some. That’s actually better—when I can get it.”
“Order what?” Anselm asked, confused.
“Blood. People make sausages out of it—at least in Ireland. Americans apparently don’t use it. Fella at the butcher counter here looked at me like I had a second head when I asked for some.”
Anselm couldn’t help but smile, imagining that scene. “No, black pudding is not eaten here,” he said.
“At least you know what I’m talking about, though.”
“I’m English. I grew up on the stuff.”
Ciaran broke into a smile. His face was very warm and friendly. “Eh, I won’t hold it against you.”
“Thanks,” Anselm said with feigned sarcasm.
“I couldn’t tell, though; you don’t sound like a Brit. I thought you were a Yank.”
“I haven’t lived in England in a very long time. And for your own health, please don’t refer to anyone as a ‘Yank’ in this house. Marie will eviscerate you.”
“Sorry, I forgot about that. People here, they’re sensitive about that, aren’t they?”
“Yes. Especially Marie; she lived through the Civil War. ‘Yankee’ means something a lot different to her than it does to you.”
“I can imagine.”
“So,” Anselm said, bringing them back to the matter at hand, “how often do you eat food?”
“Oh, once or twice a day. But I don’t eat a normal-size meal anymore; I only eat a little bit.” Ciaran was thoughtful for a moment. “I take it you know as little about us as we know about you?”
“What do you know about us?”
He shrugged. “Von Gault just told me that there was another type of vampire and they would kill me if they found me, so it was safer to stay away.”
“We won’t kill you.”
“Well, I assumed as much. If you had wanted me dead, you would’ve left me where you found me. But then, I guess I’m more useful to you alive than dead.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugged again. “You’re keeping me here so you can find out more about my kind, right? That’s why you’re asking so many questions, and why I’m locked in.”
Anselm frowned. He disliked the idea of keeping Ciaran locked up—it went against his nature to force people into anything—but at the same time, he knew it had to be done.
“We do want to learn more about your kind,” he said slowly. “For instance, we don’t know if you’re a threat or not; that’s why you’re locked up.”
Ciaran spread his hands. “I’m not going to hurt anyone. In fact, that’s why von Gault was after me.”
“Did he tell you why he wanted you to kill people?”
“Because there were getting to be too many of us.”
Anselm stared at him. “I… don’t understand.”
“Well, when everyone you bite turns, vampires start adding up pretty quick,” he said, in a obvious tone of voice.
Anselm reeled. “Everyone?” he asked in horror. “Everyone you bite turns?”
“Yes.” Ciaran looked confused. “Does it not work that way with your kind?”
“No! We have to give someone our blood before they’ll turn. We take from the same humans over and over again.”
Ciaran’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “That makes life easy.”
“And… how often do you have to take from people?” Anselm was almost afraid to ask.
“I have to drink blood of some sort once a week, but I only do people once every three or four months. And I don’t turn them,” he hurried to add. “I did turn one girl I met in a club, but I told her what I was, and she wanted me to do it. But I didn’t do anyone after her. I mean… I mean, what if this takes away your soul or something? I don’t want to be the reason why other people lose their souls.”
“How do you get human blood?”
“I find someone out alone, and I knock them out and bleed them into a glass or something. As long as I don’t bite them, they won’t turn.”
“Then… what was von Gault’s problem with you?”
“Feck if I know. He asked me a lot of questions, but he didn’t give me many answers.”
“What all did he ask you?”
“He wanted to know who had made me, how long ago… things like that. He told me that there were getting to be too many of us, that we needed to quit turning people and kill them instead. That we had to be careful because there were other vampires… different ones… and if they found out about us, they would kill us. He said we had to lay low until the time was right.”
“Right for what?” Anselm interrupted.
“That’s what I asked him, but he wouldn’t answer. I told him that I wasn’t going to kill people; I didn’t need to. I told him I could live on animal blood for a while, and when I couldn’t anymore, I just drained people of blood instead of biting them.
“He thought that was really funny. I don’t have to know German to know when I’m being called a knobjockey—or something to that effect.”
Ciaran looked at Anselm seriously. “I don’t think he lives on anything less than human blood. And he didn’t strike me as the sort of man to care about killing people. I mean, look at me—fecker tried to do me in Galway, then he followed me all the way here. What’d I do to him? Why is he so intent on killing me?”
“I don’t know,” Anselm said honestly. “But he probably thinks you’re dead now—unless he went back later to look for your body and found you gone. But it doesn’t matter, really; he won’t find you here.”
“Well, I appreciate the offer of sanctuary, but I’d rather not spend the rest of my life in a cellar—especially if I end up living forever or something.” Ciaran hinted.
At that moment, Marie came in carrying a plate and a glass of water. She handed it to Ciaran, who looked as excited as a boy at Christmas by the toast, eggs, and bacon. “Oh, that’s grand, darlin’,” he said, eagerly reaching for the plate. “I could eat a nun’s arse through the convent gate.”
Anselm burst out laughing, as amused by Marie’s dismayed face as Ciaran’s words. Marie didn’t seem to know what to think about Ciaran, but Anselm already liked him; he was open, honest, and cheerful. It was disturbing, though, that others of his kind didn’t seem to be the same.
Anselm went upstairs to report what he had learned.
“This doesn’t sound very encouraging,” Joshua, the head of the Council, told Anselm over the phone. “It sounds as if some of them may know more about us than we know about them, and they’re very interested in keeping it that way. It also sounds as if they’re trying to control their own and organize them in order to be more secretive—or to carry out some sort of plan.”
“That’s what it sounds like,” Anselm agreed. “And I suppose they’re taking the stance that if you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. Imuechmehah, like Ciaran, who aren’t interested in killing, or otherwise doing as they’re told, are expendable. Although it does seem like this von Gault went to a lot of effort to track him down.”
“Then we know they’re not being sloppy about it.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
Joshua was quiet on the other end of the line. “I would like to keep him on hand,” he finally said.
Anselm knew he meant Ciaran. “I’m not comfortable keeping him imprisoned,” Anselm said honestly. “He hasn’t done anything to us, and I don’t think he ever would.”
Joshua sighed; he sounded resigned. “You’re probably right; we shouldn’t deny him his freedom when he’s not guilty of anything. But there are still so many questions to be answered,” he said, with longing in his voice.
Anselm was quiet for a long moment, an idea forming in his mind. “What if… he were invited to stay with someone? He shouldn’t stay here, because we don’t want him and this von Gault to run into one another by accident, but maybe we could find some other group for him? He doesn’t seem to have any place better to go. We could make a deal with him—we offer protection from his own kind and keep him fed, and he, in return, answers all our questions and provides whatever aid he can.”
It was Joshua’s turn to be quiet for a moment. “I think that sounds like a good idea,” he finally said. “May I infer you were offering to take him back to Tennessee with you?”
Anselm frowned. “That depends on whether Isaac will allow it or not.”
Joshua laughed. “He’ll allow it. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ll go twist his arm.”
Anselm smiled as he hung up the phone.