Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Vampire's Food Chain by Patois: Interview and Excerpt

How long have you been writing?  When did you start?

I've been writing all my life, but my journey to published author has taken a circuitous route.  I started writing mystery fiction after my daughters were born, writing early in the morning and late at night.  I quickly found that writing and promoting are two entirely different animals and I was drawn to the writing and not self-promotion.  Consequently, it wasn't until after I was retired from teaching English Composition at a junior college that I finally bit the bullet and used CreateSpace to self-publish.  In the years between the births of my daughters and retirement, while teaching I also was a book reviewer at places like Publishers Weekly, the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle, and other venues.  My freelance articles and interviews have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers over the years.  Currently I'm a romance fiction reviewer for All About Romance and for Booklist.  I also got my Librarian degree from San Jose State University online.

What jobs have you had in the past?

I've always been associated with writing in some way.  I started after college at the Houston Post newspaper where I worked in the morgue (newspaper clippings library) and wrote an art gallery review column.  Through that, I accumulated a gallery's worth of art work.  The most notable as far as my writing is concerned is a rendition of Spectators at the Crucifixion that hangs in my writing room and helped inspire me to write this book.  They're a gruesome lot, aren't they?   

From the Post, I went to the Houston Chronicle where as the op-ed editor, I wrote headlines and cutlines as well as wrote arts-related reviews.  When my husband and I moved to Northern Virginia, I was writing book reviews for Publishers Weekly and got a job at the Journal Newspaper group as the TV editor. 

From there I went to WETA-TV & FM where I was the FM publicist and met many of the PBS stars.  Our last move was to California where I became an English composition instructor at a community college.  Everywhere we lived and no matter what job I've had, I've written fiction in my spare time.  I've been auditioning for my job as a fiction author for nearly my entire life.

What other life experiences have shaped your writing and outlook on life?

I've been fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit both as a child and as an adult.  My father believed if you were an American it was your duty to see the country and the wide diversity of people it peacefully contains.  He may have been influenced in his thinking by my mother who as the youngest of thirteen children grew up in southern Louisiana in Evangeline country on the Bayou Teche.  My maternal grandmother never spoke English, so visiting her and hearing the patois (hence the writing name) around me and walking in the spooky ground fog morning and evening to go to the outhouse or pick fruit from the trees developed my senses of suspense and dread.

I've also traveled extensively as an adult, hitting most of the places that were on my bucket list.  I traveled around Europe after college, seeing Stonehenge before the chain-link fence was put up, eating at a wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Aix-on-Provence, and squinting to see the pre-cleaned Sistine Chapel. 

Years later, I visited Nicaragua where our daughter was a Peace Corps Volunteer and stood on the edge of an active volcano, had drinks at a hotel overlooking Managua, and relaxed at a vacation resort on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico.  When our younger daughter graduated from college, I traveled with her, my sister, and my mother down the Danube, and later accompanied my mother to Thailand where we road elephants. 

My husband and I went to Egypt where I touched the pyramids and walked around the magnificent Abu Simbel temples.  We recently visited our daughter and her family in Rome where they live on the Appian Way across from the catacombs and got to experience the everyday life of Roman residents.  Finally, my husband and I are going to Alaska this summer where I hope to experience the long days and short nights, and see the wildlife of land and sea. 

Bits and pieces of these experiences turn up in my fiction writing since I've internalized all I've seen and heard throughout my life, just as all writers have.  Where will we end up next?  I don't know but I can't wait to find out.  And I hope to share my new travels with my readers just as I've shared past ones.

Why write a book about gods and vampires?

As I get older, I'm intrigued with the idea of living forever.  I've heard friends and relatives debate on both sides of the issue.  Some say that living forever would be their idea of hell, but others say living forever would be their idea of heaven.  I'm torn between the two.  I can understand that living forever and watching people make the same mistakes over and over would be discouraging.  On the other hand, being able to create and recreate myself over and over, and constantly exploring new ideas and activities would be heavenly.

Who better epitomizes eternal life than vampires and gods?  I started writing vampire stories after reading a few Charlaine Harris books.  I'd also read Bram Stoker's take on vampires and had seen Nosferatu, most of the Draculas, and other vampire and horror films, including funny-scary ones like The Lost Boys.  Another factor in developing the ideas behind this book is that I grew up in a very religious family.  The idea of God and the power of God loomed large in my early life.

I'm intrigued that eternal life plays so heavily both as a religious goal and a horror story staple.  What is eternal life--a good or bad thing?  Because I've thought about this since childhood, melding the ideas of vampires and gods in fiction was probably inevitable for me.

Besides the writing, what was fun about self-publishing?

Oddly enough, I loved finding the cover image to the book.  I think the image illustrates how interdependent we are on each other, something Shawn must learn in order to triumph.  After that, I thought designing the cover was fun.  I think what I came up with gives the reader a fairly good idea of what's in the story.

I'm really tired of seeing half-clothed men on book covers when they have nothing to do with the books' content.  I think my book breaks that mold and gives an actual, fun visual interpretation of my story.  I'm also hoping that readers don't miss the half-clad guys and women baring their fangs, and I hope readers will appreciate a more appropriate cover--that's suitable to be seen by all ages without insulting anyone.

You've planned this as a three-book series.  How do the various books fit together?

In the first book, The Vampire's Food Chain, Shawn the vampire is propositioned by the gods who want her to become one of them.  As a peace-loving vampire, she's intrigued with this idea and performs the tasks the Only One asks of her, becoming the gods Horus and then Pachamama to do so.  Unfortunately, someone or something is trying to kill her in her bid for a seat around the conference table of the gods.  

By the way, Horus and Pachamama are real gods although Horus isn't revered as he once was while Pachamama is still saluted in Central American countries by people spilling beer or wine on the ground outside bars in the name of Pachamama.  My rendition of both gods is not the same as worshipers might see them.

I'm currently working on the second book in the series, Devil's Food, in which the gods ask Shawn to go to hell and make a difference there.  She's finding that one of the first stumbling blocks is finding hell before she can figure out how to make a difference there.  And once she enters hell, how is she supposed to make a difference?  All will be revealed in that book.

In the third book, Angel Food, Shawn and friends explore heaven and the gods.  Does Shawn really want to be part of the heavenly host?   Or are the gods nothing but frauds, just as meddlesome and insincere as the vampires are?  Again, the answers are coming soon.

In the new world order, collagen and Botox are out; becoming a vampire is in.  Houses are not only green; they’re empathetic.  Yet bad guys and crime still exist, some of it sanctioned by the gods.
        Vampire Shawn Goodwin has one purpose in life:  to be the first one of her kind to walk in the light forever.  She’s taken the first step in her journey by becoming a 911 emergency operator and counselor on the night shift.  She saves lives for a living.
        In order to throw off the shroud of vampirism, Shawn sees her invitation to become a god as a sign that it’s possible to become a real immortal, not the pale copy that vamps are.  (They can be killed, after all.)
        So she accepts the offer, only to find that someone is trying to stake her before she reaches the immortal state.  Which of her so-called friends is really her enemy?  Derek, the wizard whose blood feeds her?  Jane, his sister, the witch who watches over them?  Anthony, the head vampire?  His brother Timothy, who resents Anthony’s power?  Enrique or Luke, Anthony’s right hand men?  Or Tom or Max, who like Anthony, Timothy, and the entourage have suddenly come into her life?

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Chapter 1
A Shot in the Dark

            So many things are lost in the dark.  A slight misstep and we lose our footing.  A quick hand in a pocket and we lose our money.  A coat hanger in a womb and we lose a fetus.  A swift puncture and we lose a life.
     The fall of 1968 I was in London becoming hip and cool.  I’d been shopping on Carnaby Street and bought an ankle-length coal black wool coat to go with my black leather mini-skirt and matching knee-high boots with their two-inch heels.  Thinking myself really chic, I’d found a blood red scarf that wrapped around my neck and fell to my knees, giving my outfit the punch I thought it needed.
     That night in my splendid new outfit I went to hear a new-ish band called the Rolling Stones play at a neighborhood pub’s music room.
     That night, in the dark, dressed to kill, I lost my life—and became twenty forever.

     The day started at twilight, after a glorious sunset, nothing extraordinary.  As usual I was working the graveyard shift—an irony I reveled in—at an emergency call center.  What other shift would a vampire feel comfortable working?
     Another irony:  I save lives for a living.  I answer the phone when someone in the city calls 9-1-1 or clicks H for “help.”  In effect, I take blood and I give it back.  I like to think of it as a symbiotic act, my working for the center.
     The call center is in an actual bricks and mortar (actually prefab plastic and hybrid bolts) building and is just as bland as anyone can imagine.  We’re located in a warehouse mall, in a tiny space between an online shoe emporium and a mega retailer’s regional cyber outlet.  The only way anyone’d know we exist is by the words printed on our outside door: Allied Emergency Services.  That and the fact the cyber access number listed underneath only has three digits and a letter—9-1-1 / H.  Even our online code is simple:  H (help!).
     Inside the office isn’t much better.  Muted beiges, ten cubicles—five on each side with an aisle down the center.  A small kitchen to the back with a time clock and two vending machines, a coffeemaker, sink, cupboards, the standard dinette table and chairs.  Across from that is a unisex bathroom.  It all looks like it was constructed of well-used, muted-color Legos by an unimaginative kid.  The place always smells like Legos, too.
     We arrive, sign in to the Web database, put on our earbuds, clip on our mike chips, and let pandemonium begin.  Like any warehouse worker, we can wear anything we like, but we have to be on the premises, not at home. 
     A few years ago an entire block burned down because Allied allowed employees to work anywhere as long as the employee was totally available during a shift.  The employee in question was having sex with a boyfriend—not what I’d call totally available—when the first call came in.  Since she was distracted, instead of calling the fire department, she called animal management.  More pets than people were saved which made Allied look silly.  The company changed its policy, making a head count for each shift actually require a head to show up.
     The last few nights had been calm, so calm I’d managed to read through the classic Shakespeare series by Charlaine Harris and through the Alexandria quartet again.  I’d reprogrammed my music and video playlists.  Now Blue Angel by the Squirrel Nut Zippers and North Dakotachrome by Lawsuit are next to Annie Lenox as they should be.  I’m into nostalgia, not nouveau.
     I’d even updated my cyber site, which is a chore I really hate to do since the only people who look at it these days are the ones who are just now finding out about the blood-sucker who first came out and the ones who’re bent on spreading lies.  I’d like to close the entire site, but since there are so many erroneous old wikis and blogs out there mostly getting everything wrong, I figure I’ve got to keep the true story alive—and in a place where nobody but me can change it.  Letting the world know vampires exist and I was one of them was enough of a trauma.  I don’t need all the ugly distortions of the story to get an upper hand.
     Coming out of a closet, for anyone, is a migraine moment.  You might as well step off a cliff.  You are at peace one second, in turmoil the next.  No one knows you; then everyone thinks they do.  It’s never a moment you can plan.  Order and chaos in the blink of an eye.
     I came out.  My picture was all over the media.  I did not bare my fangs.  Those pictures have been digitally enhanced as have the ones where my unnaturally pale face is dominated by black lips and even blacker rings around me eyes.  I normally look like anyone who might have spent a few winter months away from the sun.  I’m pale, with white translucent skin that marginally glows a ghostly grey when I’m feeling really hungry.  My eyes are still green; my hair once the dye washed out of it is still a foxy red-brown.  My body is an eternal twenty—not bad for someone over a hundred. 
     At the time of my coming out, it was never my intention to take people into my private life, but just to make them aware my kind exists.
     Why?  I guess somewhere in my soul—and, yes, we have souls—I thought it only fair others knew we are out here.  Level the playing field, as it were.
     But media hype and overexposure made sure the playing field looked like Mount Everest’s stiffest slope.
     Like I said, the evening I found out the gods were looking for me started as an abnormally dull one.  It was midweek, usually a calm period before people start seriously drinking or snorting or shooting up or tallying their worthless lives on Friday night.  There were only two of us on shift. 
     Niki, a stunning, svelte blonde human with one semester left before graduating with a social science degree, had been in the back getting food from the machine, a constant activity with her.  She says the trips work off the calories she ingests when she returns to her desk.  Neither of us has calculated whether this theory is true or not.
     The phone buzzed.  On a quiet night like this, the sound made me jump.
     “They’re coming,” a calm low voice said.
     “Who?” I asked, ever the stickler for solid information.
     “They’re coming,” he repeated.
     “Is this an emergency?” I asked.  I started in on the “If this is not an emergency” spiel, but the voice cut me off.
     “Shawn, I am calling to warn you.  You have to listen to me.” 
Then he hung up.
     Since I’m Shawn, the message caught me up short.  How could he possibly know I’d answer the phone?  That I’d even be here tonight?  What my name is?  Spooky.
     I turned to Niki, who was gliding back into her chair.
     “Okay, well, here’s one for the books,” I said, backtracking to the call.  All of the calls are automatically captured, so we can double check names and house numbers.
     She opened a packet of cupcakes, took one, tore off the unfrosted bottom part, flicked it into the garbage can, and turned to me. 
“Play it,” she said around a bite of frosting.
     I hit the button.  Static.  No voice.  No message.  Nothing.
     I hit “back” again.  A panic call came on when I pressed play.  “Help!  My cat….my cat…..Fluffy?!  My cat….”  I went to the end of the message.
     Again I clicked “go.”  Nothing. 
But now I heard it.  The static was alive.  As if a force field had erased the tape.
     Niki licked frosting off her fingers and looked up at me.
     “So they didn’t say anything?  Just gave you a bunch of static?”
     I shook my head.
 “No.  The voice said something about them coming.  He said he’d called to warn us.  Me.”
     “Yeah, me.  By name.  Warn me.”
     “Cool.”  She looked down at the junk food stockpile on her desk.  She fingered a chocolate bar.  “So who are they?”
     I shook my head again.  Maybe I hadn’t stopped shaking my head. 
“I haven’t the faintest.”
     I wondered if I should try to get in touch with Anthony.  For all intents and purposes, he was the Big Bad, the head vampire on Earth.  Contrary to popular opinion, the vamps are about as uncooperative and disorganized as humans.  But almost everyone was deathly afraid of Anthony—in the literal sense.  I wasn’t. 
     When I’d come out and proclaimed to the world that there were vampires and I was one of them, he’d materialized at my doorstep.  He was flanked by what I’ve come to know as his right hand men—or as they like to put it, his right and left hand men since one stands on each side of him.
     Anthony’s sense of fashion had stopped somewhere in the 1800s as had his manners.  He was old-world in the nicest sense of the word.  Well, at least to me.  I’d heard stories, however, of The Anthony, of the other not-so-nice Anthony.
     “Shawn?” Anthony had purred.
     The vamps with me had flitted away, not turning their backs to him.  The humans had cringed.  But I’d seen an amused glint in his eye.
     “Yes.  I’m Shawn.  And you are?”  I heard a gasp somewhere around me but didn’t turn to see who’d made it.  I knew who he was, and he knew I knew.
     The glint in his eye blazed and his lips quivered as if they wanted to break out into a smile.
     “I’m Anthony, one of the old ones.”
     I remember studying him from head to toe.  Old, my foot.  He was absolutely stunning.  Looking no more than thirty, he had dark black hair, with a cute little widow’s peak, sky blue eyes, a straight, aristocratic nose, kissable lips, the hint of a cleft in his chin.  He could easily have been a male fashion model.  All this and he was buffed as if he’d just come from a workout.
     When my gaze returned to his face, he was full out smiling as if he enjoyed my perusal and was pleased I didn’t look disappointed.
     “So, Anthony, what can I do for you?” I asked, again hearing a gasp.  This time I turned, only to see the two men who had been flanking Anthony and looked like twins now regarding me with frowns.  I glanced back at Anthony and tilted my head in question.

     His smile grew.  “These are my friends, Luke and Enrique.”
     He waved them away from us with a little flick of his head.
     “We need to talk, Shawn.”
     I nodded.  Sure.  Whatever.  Everyone wanted to talk to the vampire who’d blown her cover.
     In a silent mist, he had control over both our vamp powers.  He whisked us away to his aerie, a house built on the side of a mountain, a house of white marble and hanging plants, a house of peace and tranquility.  I have no idea where in the world it’s located, but it’s a place I sometimes dream about at night when I’m happy and at peace.
     We were sitting on a balcony in pillowed rattan chairs looking out over the vast night sky.  The stars twinkled almost to the beat of the Vivaldi playing gently in the background.
     “Why, Shawn?” Anthony asked as we settled in our chairs, drinks in our hands.
     I didn’t pretend to misunderstand him.  It was the question everyone else was asking, vampires and humans alike.
     “I was tired of hearing we’re devils or worse.  I was tired of the movies, the books, the slurs.  I know some vamps get off on the idea they are rougher, tougher, badder than everyone else.  Just like some humans do.  I don’t.”  I shrugged.  “I’d just had it.”
     “But we are vulnerable now.”
     I turned, excited this vampire actually wanted to discuss my reasons.
     “Just as vulnerable as humans.  They can prey on us during the day.  We can prey on them at night.”  I took a breath.  “What I was trying to do was level the playing field a little.  That’s all.”
     He sighed.  Then there was a short silence.
     “You realize you’ve stirred everything up as far as our kind is concerned.”
     I nodded.
     He didn’t let me finish.
     “I don’t like to step in.  I try to keep peace as much as I can.  But I’m only one man,” he added, his hands outspread as if to ask what his humble self could possibly do about the situation.
     Another silence.  He turned to me.  I could see his grin in the diffused light of the moon and the stars.
     “I’m only one vampire,” he added slyly.
     I laughed.  He sounded so falsely humble, but it was charming, a deprecating humility coming from what I’d been told was the most powerful vampire of the bunch.
     I heard him sigh again, but his face had moved into the shadows when I looked over at him.
     “Oh, Shawn, where have you been all my life?”
     I laughed again.  His touch of theatricality tickled me.  Unlike other vampires, he seemed alive, and it felt refreshing to be with him.
     We talked about why I’d outed myself.  He understood.
     Then he’d taken me back to my place.  I hadn’t seen him since.  Being the head vampire obviously took all his time.
     As I thought about Anthony, I wondered whether he’d respond if I spread the word I needed to talk to him.  I wouldn’t do it, of course.  He was the Big Bad; I was the Little Okay.
     After the mysterious phone call, the rest of the evening went back to being quiet.  But now the quiet was the silence before the storm. 
     The call had raised the hairs on the back of my neck, and nothing seemed to lull them back in place.
* * *
     The first thing I usually do after work is go get something to eat.
     My ambrosia comes from a couple named Derek and Jane.  Some of my kind call them sheep.  But there’s nothing passive or quiescent about this pair.  For one thing, they sought me out.  Right after I went public.
     He’s probably six six, works out constantly, and sometimes is a firefighter for the city.  He’s lean and mean.  Little scars and scratches stand in relief all over his body as well as a huge gash down his back where a livid beam nearly sliced him in two.  He has big, blunt hands that can grip painfully when he’s in the throes of ecstasy.
     She’s tiny, maybe five two, on a good day, stretching.  She’s overweight and punked.  Her hair has been every color of the rainbow since I’ve known them.  She dresses primarily in black leather and silver studs.  She wears a dog collar on a neck barely recognizable between her chins and her collar bone.  She has more piercings than I’ve ever been able to count.  She doesn’t say much, but sometimes when she does she’s almost poetic.  She swaggers.
     After I came out and suddenly realized I’d yanked Pandora into the world, I retreated, putting as many layers of anonymity as possible between me and my other persona, the vamp who told all.  How Derek and Jane found me is still a mystery.  They say they could smell me and followed the smell.  It’s as good a story as any.
     So I went home from work via D&J’s place.  They weren’t there.
     I was hungry, but not ravenous.  Mostly I was confused and a little annoyed about the phone call.  So instead of finding an anonymous donor, I decided to go home and sleep it off.  Maybe the message of doom would lose itself before nightfall.
     D&J were camped at my door.  They had asked me for a key, but I’d refused.  In fact, I didn’t much like inviting them into my place.  What we did was better done in neutral territory.  When I’d first met them, I thought they were like everyone else—too avid, too prying.  Ambrosia they might be, but I wanted my drink of choice to know less about me, not more.  My attitude was just another sign of how inhuman I’d really become.
     “Hey, guys.  What’s up?”
     “Where’ve you been?”  Derek’s basso was mild, unaccusing.  Almost curious.
     Jane glared.  “It’s all about to happen.  Between the Buttons.”
     I put my fingerprint into the lockpad.  My hand stopped and paused.  When Jane’s ultra-upset, she often starts quoting vintage Rolling Stone song or album titles.  Bringing up the very vintage Between the Buttons was Jane at her most scared.
     “C’mon in.” 
     Ironic?  Yes, I the vamp was inviting my meal inside my house.  According to all the books and movies, it was supposed to be the other way around.  I know.  Since Jane didn’t laugh at the irony, I knew things were really grim.
     My place is a two story condo about six blocks from the call center.  Downstairs are a living room, a den, a kitchen, huge pantry, and a bathroom.  Upstairs are two bedrooms, a study, and a laundry room.  It’s good, solid construction, as un-Lego looking as it can be.
     It’s also too big for one person, but it’s a legacy from Aunt Marion who bought it before jaunting off to Europe with a guy purporting to be a prince.  Since she mentored me, she and I have bonded in an eerie way.  On occasion, she leaves me little bits and pieces of what she calls creature comforts.
     I shucked off my turtleneck sweater, pulling down the tee shirt under it.  Since they’ve seen very little of my body, I expected them to be staring.  But they weren’t. 
     They weren’t even staring around my apartment.  They both seemed to be lost in some other world.
     “Okay, what’s going on?” I asked.  The smell of their blood was making me hungrier, but it didn’t seem to be a good time to talk about eating.
     Jane gave me a quick look, then motioned to Derek.  He nodded.  Before I could ask what was going on, he’d taken off his jeans and sat on the couch, his legs spread.  He wasn’t wearing tighty whiteys, but was gloriously naked.
     “Eat,” he said with a sweeping gesture to his inner thigh.  “Then we’ve got to talk.”
     The thing about feeding for me is it’s just like all the books describe; it’s a semi-sexual act.  I’ve heard men describe eating a juicy steak or women talk about chocolate in terms of how I feel when I’m feeding.  I’ve never heard a vegetarian reach these states, which has always made their lifestyle seem a little pallid.
     I squatted and licked the two tiny round scars on the inside of Derek’s left thigh.  He hangs to the left, so I usually try to give him as much pleasure as I can.  My cheek nudged his penis, and his rise began.  He threw back his head, and his massive fingers threaded their way into my hair.  I licked again, and could feel the squeeze.
     “Careful, Derek,” Jane whispered.  “Be gentle.”
     He grunted, and his hands relaxed just a little, enough so I knew he wouldn’t crush my skull.
     My canines grew.  I licked.  His erection pulsed.  He groaned.  I fed.
     When I was finished, I licked again, and the wounds closed.  Semen stained his chest.
     “Damn,” he muttered, looking down.  “I forgot the rubber.”
     I stood and went into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of paper towels.  When I got back to the living room, he was still staring at the puddle between his nipples.
     “Here.”  I handed him the towels.  He grabbed them with a half smile and a nod.  “Okay, what brings you two to my door tonight?  Besides food, of course.”
     Derek had finished cleaning himself and held up the paper towels.  I nodded to the kitchen.  “Under the sink,” I told him.
     As he got up and left, Jane looked at me, worry creasing her chubby face. 
“We got a call,” she said.
     “We don’t know who it was.  No caller ID.  No notation at all.”
     Strange.  How could there be a call without caller ID?  They were paranoid about other vamps discovering them and deciding to feast.  They screened and screened again.  Jane’s love of technology made them the safest pair in town.
     “Did the caller say anything?”
     She nodded, her face becoming even more unhappy than it was.
     “He said he was calling to warn us they were coming.”  Her eyes got even bigger.  “He said he called you, too.”
     Ah, the mystery man surfaces again.
     “Yeah, I got a call at work.”  Before she could ask, I went on.  “I don’t know who ‘they’ are or why I should be concerned about it.  I’d sure like to meet the caller, though.”
     Now she started to cry.  I was unnerved.  Jane never cried. 
     Derek sometimes wept when I fed.  I’d stopped the first time, feeling guilty.  But he’d jerked up and slammed my head into his thigh.  “Don’t stop.  Don’t stop.  God, this is wonderful.”  The tears just kept rolling down his cheeks.
     But Jane never cried.  Never reacted.  Just sat with a look of bliss on her face, little red apples of color under each eye.  A tiny, tiny smile on her lips.  But no tears, no words, no sighs, nothing.
     To see her crying made me concerned.
     “What?” I asked.  Why was she crying?
     “He told me….”  She was sobbing now.  “He told me to tell you to meet him at Post and Garfield at 4:30.” 
     She was a mess.  My hard as nails, twice as deadly Jane was a puddle.  I felt horrible. 
     I grabbed for her, but she pushed me away. 
     “He said to come alone and he would explain everything.”
     Then she did the oddest thing of all.  She bounced up off the couch and grabbed me, her tiny arms not quite reaching around my chest.
     “Don’t go!  Don’t go!”  She buried her face into the space between my breasts.  “Don’t go!  I don’t want you to die.”
     The last was said on a sigh.
     “Hey, I don’t want to die either.  Trust me.”  I put my arms around her.  “I’m a big, bad vampire, remember?  I do have some skills.”
     That kind of remark usually made her laugh.  This time she just hugged me harder.
     “Don’t joke about it.  He sounded….”
     “Yes?  Evil?  Harmful?”
     She pushed back and looked up at me.  Her kohl-rimmed eyes were now black holes.  Her gaze searched my face.  Finally she sighed.
     I glanced at Derek.  He was watching us with a helpless look.  He wanted to do something, but his clueless stare said he couldn’t figure out what.
     I looked down at Jane.  “He didn’t seem evil to me.  How did he sound to you?”
     She sighed again.  “No, he didn’t seem evil.  I just don’t want you to go.”
     “I…We…don’t want to lose you.”
     Shyly she reached into one of the cargo pockets around her waist.  She took out a strange-looking piece of hairy string that was wrapped around a thing that looked like a thumb-sized piece of bone and further down the string a clump of gnarly hair.
     “Here,” she said, holding it out to me on her palm.  “I made this for you.  Would you wear it for me?”
     A present?  She’d made me a present?
     I swallowed.  Nobody made me presents.  Nobody gave me presents.  I didn’t know what to say.
     As I stared down at the Girl Scout craft project, she gently took my left hand.  Before I could stop her, she’d tied the string around my wrist.
     “Wear it in peace and love,” she muttered as if embarrassed.
     “Uh, yeah.  Thanks,” I muttered back.
     It was one of those moments that should have bonded us, and might have in a way, except we were both so self-conscious of what we were doing.
     She tried half-heartedly to talk me out of going to meet him again.  But my curiosity wouldn’t let me abandon finding out what was really going on.
     I mean, what choice did I have?  I went to meet him.

     The thing most people don’t realize about our town is it is so typical it squeaks.  About half a million souls—give or take a few thousand—live and work here.  We have crime—everything from jaywalking and petty vandalism to murder and mayhem.  But for the most part, we’re just a hoard trying our best to live together without too much daily hassle.  We aren’t the Hellmouth.  We aren’t Oz.  We are just Springdale.
     A few years back a group of gypsy bikers discovered us.  Seems a bar in Old Town was run by someone who was once high up in their food chain.  Anyway, they flocked to Old Town.  A crime wave of sorts ensued.  Property damage, astronomical emergency room visits.  Lots of 9-1-1 calls.
     Then just as abruptly as it began, the crime wave went down.  The idiots moved on.  Since I’m not part of their group, I have no idea why.  I do know it wasn’t because of citizen concern or police vigilance.  The group just flat out went away.
     Suddenly downtown Springfield which had been abandoned began a resurgence.  New night spots opened—some bars, some music venues, all overpriced.  People in their late twenties and early thirties, both human and vamp, gathered to stand in line. 
     The phenomena had cooled off in the past few years.  Niki says it’s because those whose biological alarms sounded went away and got married and had children.  The others are still circling each other.  Who knows?  She may be right.
     At any rate, walking downtown—especially to the corner of Post and Garfield—wasn’t as dangerous as someone might imagine.  The streets didn’t roll up around here for most humans until at least 10:30 p.m. these days.
     I could smell him before I could see him.  He was one of us.
     He was wearing a new black leather duster, a long coat that bulked up his tall, slender frame.  Leather seemed to be a theme with him.  Black leather coat, black leather pants, black leather biker boots.  Black mesh tee-shirt.  Shades of my younger self except he was old enough to know better.  What a clown.
     “Hey, Mr. Mysterious,” I said as I walked up to him.  I would have been scared, but his clothes had reassured me.  I was dealing with someone who couldn’t think for himself. 
     He was as tall as Derek, but too thin to be called buff.  In keeping with the black motif, his hair, eyes, and eyebrows matched his ensemble.  If I were him, I’d want to downplay the television and movie stereotypes.  Obviously, he’d lost his imagination when he’d lost his life. 
     “I’m Shawn.  Who are you?  What do you want?”
     He seemed too nervous and unsure considering how old he smelled.  He started to hold out his hand, but stuck it in his coat pocket after a glance at my face.
     He cleared his throat.  He looked at me, away from me, back at me.
     “I came to warn you?”
     All this time, cars were passing us.  A group of teenage girls walked around us giggling and laughing.  I think about us.  One of them scanned him and muttered, “Oh, my God” as she walked by.  A couple of skateboarders had nearly knocked us down.  And still he stood there looking like an extra whose scene had moved on.
     “Can we go somewhere and talk about this?” I asked. 
     He seemed to be unnerved which was making me even more curious than I already was.
     Again he cleared his throat.
“Uh, sure.  Where’d you like to go?”
     This hole in the wall diner, Hamburger Harry’s, very vamp friendly, was just around the corner.
     “Follow me, Goth Boy.”  I turned and started to lead the way. 
     His hand was on my arm in a flash.
     “I’m not Goth Boy.  I’m not a boy.”  He sounded angry which made me smile.  At least he wasn’t posing anymore.  “My name’s Max—as in Maxmillion.”
     “Okay.  This way, Max,” I paused. “A million.” 
     I felt like I was leading a surly dog.  A cute, but surly dog.
     Harry was behind the bar.  Harry and I had a long history.  We’d dated way back when, during the women’s rights struggle in the ‘70s.  Harry’d been a pusher then, and had loved every minute of it.  There was something just this side of civilized keeping Harry leashed, but otherwise his motto was definitely to let the good times roll.
     As we walked in Harry gave my companion the once over, then he winked at me and his eyes reacted in mock horror.  I shrugged.
     We settled in a booth along the wall next to a plate glass window so we could see the night life stroll past.  Harry was on us in a flash.
     He bent to put cocktail napkins in front of us, then backed away.
     “What?” I asked.  Did I reek of Derek?  And if I did, what did Derek reek of?
     “Who’s this?” Harry asked, nodding to my new friend.
     “Max.  Why?”
     Harry moved around to behind my shoulder. 
“He smells like an errand boy,” Harry whispered, bending to my ear.
     I flicked my hand at Harry. 
     During all of this Max had been glaring at Harry.  Now Harry came around the table and bared his teeth, his canines front and center.
     “What’s this all about?” I asked, waving a hand in front of Max’s face.  I’d never seen Harry react this way to anyone, ever.
     I turned and stared at Harry until his Rottweiler gaze had softened and his face had resettled into its normal pug lines.  I smiled trying to assure him I was a big girl.  I can take care of myself.  It was all role playing and Harry should know it.  Slowly he lightened up enough to grin at me and walk back to the bar.
     I turned to see how Max was doing.  His eyes followed Harry for a few seconds, then broke into vamp blankness.  He blinked a couple of times as if reassessing where he was.  He looked at me.
     “I’m trying to warn you.  They’re coming.  The gods.  They want you.”
     “Me?  What gods would want me?  For what?”
     He shook his head and glared at me as if I were being obtuse.
     “The gods,” he snapped.  “The gods of everything.  The gods of the universe.  They’re coming and they want you.”
     I sighed.  Right.  The gods of the universe wanted me.  Me?  Right.
     “What for?”
     Max looked at me as if I were crazy.  “Because you’re pure ambrosia.  Why else?”

Chapter 2
God Daze

     I was nonplussed.  Unlike most other Western vampires, I’m not religious at all.
     Christian-based Western vampires are the most religious beings on earth.  They believe in holy water and crucifixes and the sanctity of churches even if they weren’t Catholics in life.  Without these beliefs, they would be more powerful and a lot stronger.  But religion and especially their unexamined belief in it have cut them off at the knees.
     Not me.
     I don’t believe in God—either lower case or capitalized.  The idea of something or someone watching over me is a little too Big Brother for me to swallow.  If I believed in a supreme something, it would be a hands-off, distant creation force, not something intrusive in my life.  It’s always struck me as a little presumptuous of humans to think there is something bigger and greater than they are who might be the least bit interested in their petty day-to-day lives.
     That gods, any gods, were coming after me really wasn’t within my belief system.
     The guy had to be kidding.
     I was ready to pass him off as another nut case when a niggling voice in my brain asked, “But what if he’s right?  He’s gone to an awful lot of trouble finding you.  What if there really are gods out to get you?  What then?”
     As I chewed on those questions, all the resentment and disgust I’d first felt after I died returned to me.
     All I could think as I stared at the messenger of doom was why me.  I’d given up long ago on wishing for fairness in life.  In fact, I’d given up right after the Rolling Stones concert.
     In the intervening years I’d tried to reconcile the why me moments, including the first and biggest one.  True, meeting Derek and Jane helped.
     But the old feeling of resentment and disgust filled me so quickly it was like they seemed never to have left.  Why me?
     Before I could ask any questions, Max’d whipped out his cell phone and pushed one button.
     “She’s here.  I got her.  Hamburger Harry’s.”  He flipped it shut and put it back into his coat pocket.
     “Who was that?”
     “You’ll see,” he smirked.
     Harry was back at the table, this time with a blood shake for me and nothing for Max, who looked irritated at being ignored servicewise.  It’s good to be a steady customer sometimes.
     “So do you want to start from the top and explain what’s going on?” I asked, unwrapping a straw.  I stuck it into the shake and swirled the pale pink concoction a few times.
     My new pal Max just shrugged.
     As I started to sip, another man entered.  He was dressed in jeans, an off-white tee shirt, regular shoes, and smelled like one of us.  He too was tall, but looked like he had some Mexican-American or Arabic heritage in him.  While most of us in Springdale are pale, pale white, he was a latte color.  Jet black hair pulled back in a ponytail, eyebrows to match.  A slightly hooked nose and sensuous lips.  His eyes were inky, smoky toward the centers.  Whereas Max was squishy, this guy was complete resolution.  He strode over to Max, all the while looking at me.
     “This is her?” he asked Max.
     Max nodded.
     “Where’d you find her?”
     Max resumed his smirk.  “I called her, and she came to meet me.”
     The new guy glanced at me.  I waved.  Smiled.  Tried to decide if he was as big an idiot as Max was.
     “Hi.  I’m right here.  You can ask me anything you want,” I added since he was now looking at me like I was a big stack of Christmas presents.  “And you would be?”
     He motioned for Max to move over, and sat next to him.
     They didn’t look like Bitey Boys, but you never knew these days.  People around me paired up in the oddest ways.  Take Derek and Jane as a small example.
     While I was thinking this, the new guy—bigger and more virile than puny Max—had taken a deep breath.  As he let it out, I watched his skin react with goose bumps.  He was getting excited to see me?  Me?  He sighed as he exhaled.
     “Shawn,” he breathed, “I’m Tom.  Glad to meet you.”
     He stuck out his hand, so I put mine in it, fully expecting to shake.  But he turned my hand so it was palm up, then he bent, kissed my palm, and licked it.  Swear to God.  It sent chills up my spine.  Nobody, ever, had done anything remotely like that to me.
     When he lifted his head, his eyes were closed as if he were savoring the moment.  I was stunned speechless.  This was all so old-world Dracula stuff.  Corny, but somehow it worked.
     We sat for a few beats, nobody making a sound.  Around us conversations came and went, traffic blared, phones rang, life as usual.  In our little bubble, time stopped.
     Finally, Max cleared his throat.
“I told you I could get her here,” he said, a strain of belligerent toadyness lacing through the words.
     “You did.  You certainly did.”  Tom sounded post orgasmic to me.  I know my limbs had turned to water and weren’t making a monster comeback yet.
     Then as if waking, his eyes popped open, and he dropped my hand.  His face snapped from blissful to angry.
      “Why did you come?  This could have been a trap,” he growled.
     His anger knit my bones and made me sit up a little straighter. 
     “Okay, question time,” I snapped back.  “Your boy Max here says I’m in danger.  He says the gods are coming.  To get me.”  I gestured from left to right with each of these statements, setting each in its own box on the table.  “I need a little more here.”  I gestured to the spaces between the statements.  “Filler.  I need filler and context.  What is going on?  Why should I care if the gods come to get me?  Why should you care?”
     Tom leaned in toward me. 
“We’ve come to help you.”
     His voice was soothing in contrast to his intense stare and rigid shoulders.    Max roused himself, cutting his companion with a quick glare.
     “You aren’t alone.  There’s this group…,” he began. 
     Tom jabbed him.
“Shut up,” he commanded.
     Like I said, no slouch me.  So there were others.  They had an army of—I glanced across the table before shifting my gaze outside—an army of beautiful if inefficient baboons to protect them.
     The gods were coming and my combat forces were two of my kind, who were intent on being cryptic and mysterious. 
     Not hardly.
     A little information from these two and I was out of here.  Nothing like a confrontation to clear the mind.  My only friends, if I could call them that, I suddenly realized, were Derek and Jane.  Jane, I was sure, would come up with a plan.  Who knows?  Maybe I’d get my courage up and try to contact Anthony.  I was shocked to find I wasn’t totally alone.
     Whoever these beings calling themselves gods were, we could beat them if they wanted a fight.  Or we could negotiate if they didn’t.  Either way we wouldn’t bow to them.
     “Some questions, guys,” I said in as reasonable a tone as I could manage.
     Max, Mr. Wanna-be Mysterious, nodded.  “Okay.  Shoot.”
     “What gods are we talking about?”
     A small smile erupted on his lips. 
“Babylonian, Syrian, Egyptian.  You choose.”
     Tom nodded at this non-answer. 
“The ancient ones.”
“Could you be more specific?”
     Tom leaned closer to me, taking up half the tabletop now. 
“You can mock if you want.  I know I did.  But I’ve seen things….” 
His gaze shifted away from mine.  He leaned back and ran a long-fingered hand across the top of his hair.  His eyes returned to mine.  I could see the vestiges of terror lingering in them. 
“Let’s just say we may not know their real names or where they’re from.  All we know is their power.  And we know it all too well.”
     I’m one of those whose motto is know the enemy. 
“Like what?  What have you seen?”
     They glanced at each other, but it was Max who answered. 
“Remember the earthquake in Qatar six months ago?”
     I nodded.
     “Someone like you tried to defy them.  Refused their demands.”  Max shook his head, a frown marring his perfect features.
     “Uh huh.  So these so-called gods caused an earthquake?” 
Skepticism dripped. 
“You know this how?” I asked.
     “He threatened him.”  Max’s eyes went wide with disbelief.
     “He being my equivalent?  Him being the god?”
     Max nodded quickly.
     I wasn’t convinced and glanced around, only to see Derek and Jane stalking toward the booth.
     “There you are, Ruby Tuesday!”  Jean nearly yelled.  I knew from the Stones’ song title she was completely upset. 
     She yanked me from the bench and slid into the booth, dragging me behind her.  She gestured for Derek to sit on the other side of me, but he stood, ignoring her.  He loomed beside me.
     “So who are your new friends?” she asked, glaring at them.
     I introduced everyone.
     Max, who’d phoned me, turned away in disgust. 
“Sheep,” he muttered.
     I could feel my fangs move into position.  My aura built, a lot like human adrenalin before a fight.
     Max’s gaze locked to mine even though his eyes scrabbled to keep away.  I was ready for him and had my own overwhelming power.  I turned up the heat until Jane elbowed me.
     “Not worth it,” she murmured.  “Back off, Brown Sugar.”
     Max’s face shimmered in the intensity of my stare.  Jane’s jab was an irritating nudge, her voice miles away.  Max glared, sending less than a pinprick of warmth toward me.  I flicked it away like one brushes off a fly.  He cringed, his back stiff against the booth’s wall.  He looked terrified.  Tom seemed impressed and a little amused.  I was very close to frying both of them.
     “Can we get back to the point?” Tom asked.
     He put his hand on mine.  A feeling of peace and lightness shot up my arm and into my mind.  I relaxed.  Tom nodded, giving my hand a little squeeze.  I relaxed even more.
     How did he do it?  How had he calmed and deflected my anger?  Was he some kind of god himself?
     I searched his face, finding only a handsome façade.  Obviously, there was more to him than first met the eye.
     I glanced at Jane, but she shook her head.  Derek looked uninterested in the conversation around him as usual.  He was concentrating on sentry duty.  My hero, my meal.
     So what to do about these pesky so-called gods and their threats?  Stay simple, Jane always says.
     “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked Jane, claiming her fully as a friend..
     She nodded, a happy glint in her eyes.
     Tom looked from me to her and back again.  He turned to Max who shrugged.
     I smiled at them.  “We need to know where to find these gods.”
     Max nodded. 
“You need to know which direction they’re coming from, so you can evade them.”
     Jane and I glanced at each other and ratcheted up our smiles.
     “No, we need to know where they are so we can pay them a visit,” I explained softly.
     Anyone could have predicted their reaction: a minor explosion.  Simultaneously they sputtered why this was a bad, very bad idea.  Their words tripped over each other until they came to a horrified, stuttering halt.
     “Maybe we can negotiate with them,” I explained calmly.  “But we need to know what they really want first.”
     Tom cut me off. 
“Bad idea.  For one thing, they don’t negotiate.  They don’t even discuss very well.”
     “They don’t even listen,” Max piped in.  He nodded as if to punctuate his comment.
     “How do either of you know?  You tried?” Jane asked.  Her question was a speed ball lobbed to their side of the table.
     “Not us.  But others have,” Tom said.  “The guy in Qatar….”  He spread his hands as if the gesture explained it all.
     We could have gone round and round all night.  Better to hammer on what we’d already decided.
     Eventually they gave in, not before they had talked their way into joining us.  True, having Tom around wouldn’t be a hardship.  But Max?
     As we left the restaurant, I did give him his due.  He’d been the one to call me.  He’d been proactive.  Maybe he’d be okay with confronting the gods.
     The thought made me hungry.  I grabbed Derek’s hand.  He grinned at me, his other hand fingering his belt buckle, and we slipped into an alley.
* * *
     I’d come home, showered—mostly because the run of water over my body was one of the things that feel nearly orgasmic to me—and was watching a BBC Jane Austen remake when Anthony knocked at my door.
     “Shawn, my love, it’s good to see you again,” he said in a semi-courtly, semi-ironic way before I asked him inside.
     As usual he was his beautiful and powerful self.  Again he was flanked by Luke and Enrique who looked even more like statues than before.
     I shook off my surprise, opened the door wider, and gestured to the living room.
     “Come in, gentlemen.”
     Anthony smiled, an old-world vampire amused by a newbie’s invitation to cross a threshold.
     “Can I get you something to drink?” I asked as they stepped inside and scanned the living room.
     Anthony shook his head.
     “I’ve come for two reasons,” he said, gracefully settling himself in one of the overstuffed armchairs. 
Where others, including myself, are swallowed by it, he looked regal, at home, at peace with its puffiness framing him.  He looked delectable enough to eat.
     “I’ve come to offer you my protection.”
     I was shocked, and pleased, and flattered.  When I started to speak, he held up his hand.
     “Hear me out.  We can discuss your powers and my powers another time.  I merely want you to know I’m available in case you need someone.”
     I nodded.  I hadn’t been about to dispute the offer; I knew I might need others if my meeting with the so-called gods didn’t go well.  In fact, I was grateful.  Not many vamps could say Anthony offered them protection.
     He watched me swallow his offer, and his eyes lit as if he’d been able to read my mind.  I smiled weakly back at him.
     “More importantly, I’ve come to invite you to my home for dinner.”
     Now I was stunned.
     Anthony and me?  Who had dinner with the most powerful vamp on the planet?  Certainly not me.
     As I watched his assessing stare and saw his eyes turn from playfully friendly to puzzled, I realized I wanted to go.  What did I have to lose?  Who was to say I might not have the most wonderful evening of my life?
     “Okay.  When?” I asked.
     Again his eyes lit with the mysterious inner light, but rather than frightening me, the light intrigued me.  What was behind their illumination?  What was Anthony thinking?  I really, really wanted to find out.
* * *
     My date with Anthony, however, took place after my meeting with the gods.  Coordinating our schedules was something even two bright, independent vampires had trouble doing.  So I went to meet the gods, then Anthony.
     Turns out one god exists in the Temple of Dendra inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, not far from Northern Virginia where we live.
     Her message came in the form of a mental summons:  “Attend me at the Temple of Dendra.”  The problem with the summons was it kept repeating until I thought, “Yes, yes, I’m coming.  Stop bugging me.”  Then an uneasy silence descended which seemed to be tapping its foot impatiently.
     In deference to Jane and Derek, Max, Tom and I took the high speed train up. 
     As all the literature suggests, vampires can fly—either as mist or in their corporeal forms.  We can also slither as snakes, creep like mice, or fastest of all, relocate, but that’s another story.  Myself, I prefer to fly in my bodily form since the sensation of air streaking past me, my hair kiting, my clothes flapping, all make me feel alive and part of the cosmos.  When we fly as a mist or relocate, there’s no sensation whatsoever.  We might as well be dead.
     Taking the train, while interesting, is really very boring.  However, we made it to New York before sunrise and into a vamp hotel well before the first rays hit the sky.
     When I think about it, I’m always amazed at how little New York has changed over the years.  At the end of the 1990s and at the beginning of the new century, cyberspace took over.  At that point people started becoming more open-minded, more accepting of others and things that had spooked them for ages.
     After the Twin Towers and the Sears Towers were attacked and destroyed, humans were more feared than supernatural creatures.  Gradually those of us who had lived in the shadows for so long metaphorically moved into the limelight.  We were the good guys.
     Soft services expanded.  Shops, restaurants, museums, libraries, schools, tourism, all sorts of jobs went 24-hour.  Oddly enough the streets of New York didn’t look any different, but the change could be seen in D.C., Chicago, and even smaller places.  Where nightlife had become dangerous, vamp police now made it safe.
     Of course there was a flurry the first twenty years or so when vamps were the flavor of the month, humans eagerly making vamp friends and taking vamp lovers.  The Goth look, always on the fringes of fashion, took over.  Doctor Martins’ stock soared, if not literally at least figuratively since it stayed a privately owned company.
     Then like all fads, Goth and vamp worship died down to become just another social phenomenon, and finally a part of the bureaucracy.  If you wanted to become one of us, you had to apply and go through a battery of tests.  Third world countries began doing a land office business in illegal transformations, their subterranean dens tracked down and burned, the workers and clients staked.  Nothing new but the players and the product.
     Now it seemed there were new players on the horizon and a new product—me.
     While I slept, Jane and Derek visited the museum, surveillance Derek called it.
     “The temple exhibit’s closed,” Jane reported after I woke and fed.  “For renovation,” she added with a quirk of an eyebrow.
     “How did it feel?” I asked.
     I watched Tom and Max in the other room sip their plastic blood, my name for the synthetic stuff.  Most vamps subsisted on it.  I was lucky to have Derek.  I was always surprised when he and Jane said they were lucky to have found me.
     “Shawn,” she said, her voice falling into her ultra grave tone.  “There’s something seriously wrong over there, Make No Mistake.”
     “Wrong, evil?  Or wrong, strange?” I asked, recognizing the Stones’ song title.
     “Wrong, strange.  A lot of confusion in the air.  I talked to a few people who work there.  Janitors, a woman in the cafeteria, a couple of guards—who weren’t very helpful—anyone, everyone, people who are there everyday.”
     She sipped her coffee.  One of the things I like most about Jane is she’s so observant sometimes it’s as if she can read minds.
     “None of them knows what’s going on,” she said, sipping her coffee, her fingers alternately playing with her eyebrow ring and lifting the mug.  “They’re very uneasy, nearly spooked.  As far as I can tell there’s a green haze around the temple.  If someone walks into it, well, the results vary.”
     The eyebrow ring went back and forth.  Jane was in deep analysis mode, scared, but trying to decide the meaning of all the pieces she’d gathered.  I’d seen this stage many times since we’d met.  She analyzed everything—and everyone.
     “So what happens if someone steps into the haze?” Tom asked.
     We turned to see him lounging in the doorway.  He was even more beautiful after breakfast, looking like a swarthy model from a men’s fashion magazine.  I could easily break my hiatus from sex for someone who looked like him.
     “Good evening to you too,” she said.  “Good of you to join us.  Now butt out.  We’re talking here.”  She turned back to me.  “My best guess is teleportation to some hellish universe.”
     “Meaning?” Tom asked, pushing away from the doorway, obviously ignoring her disinvite to the conversation.
     “Are you deaf, vamp boy?  Sit down and shut up,” she snapped.  “If we want to hear from you, we’ll ask.”
     Evidently not many humans ever talked to Tom that way.  His face reddened and his fangs emerged.  His aura glowed red.
     Derek met him muscle for muscle.  Their gazes locked.  Ultra-human versus vampire.  Ringside seats.
     “Oh, sit down, you two.”  Jane’s voice held contempt and exasperation.  “And you, Goth boy,” she said to Tom, “may shit be on your head if you interrupt again.”
      “You can’t tell me….”   His aura flared nearly out of control. 
     With a heavy sigh, Jane waved her hand.  A large oozing cow paddy settled on Tom’s lovely hair.  His face contracted, his aura crumpling around him.
     “You bitch!” he yelled, trying to get it off his head.
     Jane’s curse was like glue.  Would stay he get the message to be seen and not heard?
     I glanced at Jane who grinned at me.  We turned back to watch Tom wrestle with his new hat, the one only he could smell.
     By the time he gave up, Jane and I were all but rolling on the floor with laughter.  Derek had gone back to fixing himself breakfast.
     “Please get this off me.” 
Sincerity oozed almost as fluidly as the cow pie now covering his shoulders and chest.  Had he ever felt humility before?
     “Will you be good?” 
     He nodded. 
     “Do you accept Shawn as boss?”
     His eyes narrowed slightly, but he nodded.
     Jane glared at him.
     “Do you accept Shawn as boss?”  Each word of the question was etched in ice.
     “For the time being,” he acknowledged.
     Jane quirked an eyebrow at me, its ring glinting its own code.  I nodded.  Good enough.  Besides, the guy was here to protect me.  He was already on our side, wasn’t he?  Why should we alienate him?

The wife of a reporter and the mother of two wonderful daughters, Pat has lived on both coasts and in the middle of the United States.  She’s been a book reviewer for too many years to count as well as an English composition instructor and theatrical costumer.  She’s visited Canada, Europe, Egypt, Nicaragua, and Thailand, and has found that people everywhere are remarkably similar.  If she knew you, dear reader, she would like you immensely.

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