The Midnight Within - A Novel by JM Rosenberry (Chapters 1-23 Now Available)




CHAPTER ONE

(Please note that the author will be submitting each chapter as it is written and they will be added to this page)

October 8th

Stepping from the house, Amy shivered against the cold night air. She should have grabbed her coat, but she only wanted a few puffs off her cigarette and a few minutes away from the lights and noise of the party still raging behind the closed door. She began to shiver as she dropped her smoke, stepping on it with one spiked heel and bent down to blow out the candle-lit pumpkins at her feet. If it wasn't so cold out she would have gone for a walk to clear her head and try to forget about the drama of her life. 

The wind picked up, swirling dead leaves around her feet and rattled the branches of the bare trees above her head. It was the perfect night for a Halloween party even if it wasn't yet Halloween. It was the one night she thought she could forget her problems, becoming someone else, someone not so average even, for just one night.

Going back inside, Amy fought the tears that wanted to roll down her cold red cheeks. The sounds of music and laughter spilled from the other room, invading the small kitchen and making her want to march into the other room and turn off the stereo and kick everyone out. She reached  for the bottle of whisky she had left on the counter instead and dropped down on one of the mismatched stools they had gotten from clean up days. 

She was supposed to be having fun, dancing and flirting with her friends. Yet here she was alone in the dark, nursing a bottle of Jack and wishing she could be anywhere but here. No one came to check on her or asked if she needed another drink, not that she needed any more liquor. She never did understand how some of her friends could drink, throw up and continue to drink. Once she hit the wall all she wanted was to eat carbs and pass out. She hated the feeling of the room spinning and hated the s up even more.

Even more iserable she sat with the bottle nestled between her fabric - covered legs and let the tears roll down her face. She ate the last of the king cake, washing it down with the Jack Daniels and wishing she was anywhere but this miserable podunk town.

Outside the window the full orange moon was bright behind the black skeletal trees. Lifting the bottle she wet her lips, watching helplessly as a bright swath of pink fabric and a smear of bright red lipstick on a pale round face danced into her view through the brightly lit square of the doorway. Didn't they know she was there? Did they even care? A hot spike of anger rose up, tightening her chest. The couple falls heavily against the wall, kissing and groping with urgent need and fresh tears wet Amy's cheeks, tracking her cheap makeup and staining the fabric of her renaissance style gown. Why had she been stupid enough her crush to the party in the first place when she knew very well that her so called friend would make a move on him?

She had known what would happen and let it, watching in helpless disgust as they grouped each other without care. Amy hated them for what they were doing to her yet hated herself more for caring so much. Her mind raced: Not for the first time did her thoughts turn to the razor she kept hidden in her bedroom. How easy would it be to take the rest of her pills, drain the bottle and slit her wrists? The party would rage on and then perhaps she could find the peace she was so desperately craving.

~They wouldn't laugh at her then, would they?~

She was so lost in her own little fantasy she never noticed the stranger who had joined her in the dark kitchen until there was the strike of a single match, a momentary glimpse of a sharp-boned shadowy face, half hidden by long black hair and snowy white hands that toyed with the scattering of table decorations. When she went to stand the room seemed to tilt, the floor sliding away from her, bringing her back down into her chair and drawing a short laugh from her dry lips. Had she really drunk so much? And who the hell was this asshole in her kitchen?Shadow man smiled slowly, tilting his head and fixing her with an amber-eyed stare, It was the kind of look you saw every afternoon on TV, just before they cut to the commercial and it made her want to giggle. 

"Why does beauty hide herself in darkness?" He asked with a twitch of his almost too perfect lips. His voice had sent an instant hot ache straight into her groin and reddening her cheeks as she tried to stand once again on weak legs.

" Oh god you scared me? Did Cat put you up to this?" Laughing through her tears and swiping at her wet cheeks she squinted at him to get a better look. She should probably join the others but she was trying to figure out if she knew him or not. She would feel pretty foolish if he was someone she should know. 

"You definitely don't want to go in there." Shadow man chuckled as he flashed her a hungry heart-wrenching smile, his gaze following Amy's to the brightly lit doorway. "It's not going to be pretty. " His voice held the slightest hint of sadness as he dropped his clove into the punch.

" What does that mean?" Before she could move he was in front of her, trapping her between the counter and his well-muscled body.

"I want to help you; I'm here to set you free." His cold fingers brushed gently across her wet cheeks as he locked eyes with her. " I'm the monster that lives in your dreams. The monster who will love you to death. "One strong arm slid around her waist, pulling her hard, into his obvious need. " It's your pain and their ignorance that drew us to you, it was like a beacon calling us home."  His hands moved slowly over the curves of her body, his silken lips brushing the corner of her mouth as the first hard beats of "Closer" cut through the air and the first pain filled screams rose up in crescendo.

"It has begun." He purred into her ear. "Do you still wish to join them?"

" Please stop." Amy felt faint, her heart pounding like a big base drum as dark brackish blood splattered the bright yellow wall just beyond the doorway. She couldn't take her eyes off the pale round face or the blood that was now spreading into a pool from the gaping wound in the girl's neck. Was someone really killing her friends? Or was it just a sick joke. A very real looking, sick joke.

" No joke my love, now let me taste you." He breath in her ear was hot, his voice husky with hunger. Before she could protest, he scooped her up effortlessly, drawing her gaze from the carnage back to his handsome face. Oh how she wanted to drown in that gaze, wanted to feel the caress of his strong hands against her heated skin. It was all she could think about as he carried out of the kitchen and up the stairs knowing exactly what room to go to he kicked the door shut behind them.

Long after the screams died away and the house fell eerily silent, Black stood at the window with his back to the room and the dead girls empty gaze. The urge to head North was still gnawing at him. He wanted to see trees and deep green forests, not the endless empty rows of corn and brown fields. No, Going North would wait. Their next job could wait. They had a few other parties to crash first. He glanced at the girl on the bed, feeling let down. He craved a challenge, but like most of his victims she had only given him an empty willingness to please.  Was he getting too old for this? Or did women today really want nothing more than a dark hero to come in and sweep them off their feet. Where was the challenge in that? If he could glitter in sunlight he would not have to hunt, he could just sit back and let them come to him.

" Why do you mourn an empty vessel?" Shatter closed a black nailed hand over Black's shoulder. Behind them the first flickers of orange and yellow began to dance against the wall as the acrid smell of smoke and burnt flesh began to fill the small house.

"Didn't she find comfort in your arms?" This from Shatter's twin, who stood in the doorway.

" To mourn I would have to feel and I have not felt anything but hunger in decades." He let out another amused chuckle as he pushed past the twins and led them back down the stairs.

Casually they walked though the litter of mangled bodies and trash. Stopping at the broken front door, Black bent down to retrieve a single string of Mardi Gras beads. Yet another trinket for the growing pile. His thoughts once again turning to Jackson, seething behind his huge desk for sure. Well it didn't matter, they never played by the rules, Jack should've known that by now. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his cloves, lit a match and inhaled deeply before letting the burning match drop down onto the gas- soaked floor.

Sated and ready for new adventure, never feeling more alive than they did at that moment, the trio of vampires emerged from the burning house. With arms around shoulders and matching sharp toothed grins they stumbled over the leaf-covered lawn in the pre dawn light to the waiting van. For them life was good, there would always be another lost soul, in another town, at another party, waiting for them to arrive.





CHAPTER TWO

There they were again. The white-haired singer and his taller dark haired guitarist who could make even mommy stop what she was doing and turn her head to watch when they came on the little TV in the kitchen, of course mommy would always change the channel to General Hospital, or one of her talk shows, telling Jessie she was not allowed to watch YouTube anymore, although not until after the pair had collapsed into a heap together on the floor of whatever sticky beer stained stage they were on.

Trez, her brother's friend looked a lot like the singer, with his messy white hair and clear blue eyes. Jessie had quite the crush on Trez, a fact that she would deny whenever that nasty Katie Carver teased her about it.  Boys were gross, always spitting, swearing or pulling her pigtails, although her brother Daniel's friend Zakk had a nice brother who was in her class. She liked Alex because he never teased her and had even given her candy on Valentines day. She liked Alex almost as much as the singer with the odd name-Ghost.

Reaching for the milk, Jessie poured it carefully over her cereal and carried it to the sunlit breakfast nook. In all the years she had been getting herself up and off to school by herself she had only spilled twice, a fact she was immensely proud of. On the little TV her favorite band had been replaced by the man with the different colored eyes, her brother's favorite singer. She knew this because of all the posters in Daniel's room and because her step-father was always muttering under his breath about how bad it all was. She didn't know if Nick meant the man who wore bright red lipstick or the posters on the wall. Both of which made her uneasy.

Four bites in she glanced up at the special Micky Mouse clock Nick had given to her on her last birthday. He had talked real slow as he told her that now that she was eight, she was expected to be on time for school all by herself, like a big girl. Jessie hated the clock. She did not need it to get herself up or to school. Of course her mother had scolded her. Reminding her to be gracious and thank him anyway. It was something that if done right, could make the pinched look on Nicks face go away for a little while. Jessie tried very hard to be good and make her parents happy, if only her brother would try to do the same.

Finished she stood up, cast a longing last glance at the TV, walked her bowl to the sink and made her way through the living-room to the bottom of the stairs. Her shoes and backpack sat on the bench by the door. Putting her shoes on she listened for the sounds of movement and was greeted by a long stretch of silence. She didn't want to go up those stairs but she also knew that if Daniel was late again Nick would put him in detention, or worse suspend him from school. Having to go to school and have a parent be your principal was a big deal for Jessie. It protected her from the bullies but while at school, once out of school she was on her own. Luckily they were all afraid of Zakk and Daniel so they left her pretty much alone.

Grabbing her backpack, the pink one with the Hello Kitty and Lost Souls stickers, she headed up the stairs, wishing she would see her mother in her tattered blue robe but the landing was empty and both bedroom doors were closed. She was going to miss the bus for sure now but that was ok with Jessie. It was a beautiful fall day and she could enjoy the decorated houses on the way. Daniel's friend, Mia always went all out for Halloween, decorating her small duplex with a mock graveyard and lots of skeletons. It was easily the best decorated place in town. She loved to imagine being able to do that to their house but Nick didn't like decorations, saying that it was offensive to others, and a waste of money. Whatever that meant.

Lingering outside Daniel's door, she wondered if her mother was even awake yet. Now that mommy worked nights, they hardly ever saw her; even on her days off she would be out with Trez's mom on a cocktail lunch and they wouldn't see her until late at night. It made Jessie feel sad but Daniel always told her not to feel bad, that some parents just didn't know how to be parents. She didn't understand that either but loved Daniel for trying to cheer her up and was happy to have him around as much as she did. She knew she was lucky, that's why it was so hard to deal with Nick and his moods. Nick was something she was not going to think about right now either.

Trying to be quiet Jessie inched open Daniel's bedroom door. It was always so dark in there and the posters made her feel like they wanted to reach out and grab her. Daniel hadn't always liked his room this way but when they moved from California to Minnesota, he had begun to like new music and had a new set of friends. He was still nice to her though so she hadn't minded the change. Going into his room now made her want to run screaming down the hall to her own pink bedroom, filled with her favorite dolls and stuffed animals.

Trying to be brave, Jessie pushed open the door, stepping  quickly across the threshold. Careful not to trip on the messy piles of cloths and scattered junk. Approaching the side of Daniel's bed she whispered loudly. " Danny? Are you up? You can't be late for school again."

Aware of her prescience, Daniel curled his naked frame tighter into a ball under the black blankets. The last thing he wanted was to be in school but if he didn't respond to her, she was apt to start poking at him. He managed to get one hand free and wave her away, but she kept talking.

" Get up Danny. Please. " Jessie grabbed the blanket.

" You don't want detention do you? Nick said you would be kicked out of school if you missed again."

Daniel rubbed his face as he sat up, letting the blanket falls away from his chest. "Why are we whispering? " He asked as he ran his black nailed hands through his messy black hair. He must have looked very bad for her to pull away from him with such wide blue eyes. It dawned on him then that she was seeing the fresh bruises from the night before.

"Did Nick do that?" She sounded scared as she edged backwards toward the open door.

"No kido, Zakk and I were roughhousing again." He hated to lie to her but didn't want her to know how bad things between him and their step father had gotten.

" You better go before you miss the buss and have to go to detention with me."

That seemed to ease the tension and make her giggle.

" Too late, snot-head. I already missed the bus. " Sticking out her tongue Jessie ran from the room, Halfway down she stopped, turned round and called up the stairs to him. " Don't forget you said you would help me carve my pumpkin tonight."

"I won't. "

" Promise! "

" I promise! Now go . "

Daniel listened to Jessie Pound the rest of the way down the stairs before grabbing a pair of jeans from the floor and slipped out of bed; still, only half awake. Reaching down into the pile of discarded cloths for an unwrinkled Korn T-shirt, pulling it down over his head he stepped to the full length mirror and grinned at the outline of his new nipple ring under his shirt.

Britt would pitch a fit but he didn't care, he loved it.

Quickly finger combing his hair, he grabbed his smokes and headed toward the bathroom. It had been yet another drunken night downtown with friends when they had stopped to look into lighted shop windows at one of Mia's new paintings and, Zakk had spotted a tattoo shop across the street, The rest was history. It might have been the perfect night had Nick not been waiting for him when he got home. Daniel's relationship with Nick was strained to stay the least and it didn't help that Nick was also the principal at the high school. Nick was on almost every committee in town and well liked by everyone. From the outside they were the perfect family, which was complete bullshit. The only reason he had not moved out was because of Jessie. As far as he knew Nick had not laid a hand on her and Daniel was afraid that would change if he did leave home for good.

Going down the back stairs he crossed the bright kitchen to grab a bagel off the counter. Zakk would be there at any moment, leaning on the horn if Daniel didn't come out right away. His hand was on the knob when Shannon Demorte spoke from behind.

" Hey Dan. We need to talk." She held a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and an ice pack in the other. She looked worse than he did and he wondered when she had gotten so old and washed out.

Shannon had once been the pride and joy of Hakke, otherwise known as that decaying little shit splat of a town on the other side of the lake. She had been prom queen, and all around star, until falling in love with the local bad boy, gotten knocked up and left town before she could graduate, only to return with, two kids and a divorce behind her. Now bitter, angry and looking more like a bag lady instead of a prom queen she was about to lay into her teenage son.

" We just don't know what to do with you any more. "

" Can we do this later? I'm late and you know how Nick loves to put me in detention." 

Crossing his arms, Daniel leaned against the counter and gave her his best petulant stare.
His mother rolled her eyes at him. She could see he was trying to piss her off and it was working " Your father and I are really worried about you. You're out late every night, if you bother coming home at all. Your skipping schools and hanging out with that Myiah girl.

"It's Mia." Daniel dropped his gaze, examining his black painted fingernails. " Myiah is that playhouse DJ. "

"Whatever, I don't like it. Why would a thirty-year-old woman want to hang out with teenagers? Are you sleeping with her? Is she your dealer?"

Offended he picked up the lunch money Jessie forgot to take and said frostily, "She's more of a mother than you will ever be and Nick can kiss my white ass."

Shannon's fingers tightened reflexively around the steaming mug, her lips drawing down into a thin line. "Your smart mouth is another thing I don't like, Nick and I are worried sick and don't know what to do any more."

Daniel slipped his shades on, forced a weak smile for her and said, "You could try getting rid of him, he's a prick and you know it."

His mother dropped her angry gaze as she sipped at her coffee. She was trying to choose her words carefully. "Sure he can be a jerk but you don't understand him or even try for that matter. I would love for you to just try a little harder to follow our rules. "

" Nick is NOT my father and I am not going to follow HIS rules." Daniel exploded. "Maybe I should move out." Hurt that she blamed him for everything that was going wrong in her life he tossed the bagel onto the counter and stormed out to Zakk's waiting car in the driveway.

It was going to be a very long day. Unless he didn't go to school. It wouldn't be the first time he had ditched and probably wouldn't be the last. He was surprised that Nick had not thrown him out but that was because his mom did a pretty good job of convincing Nick to give him one more chance.

" How much do you not want to go to school today? "

Zakk ran a blue nailed hand through his faded blue hair and grinned over at his best friend. " About as much as I want a root canal. Why? "

" Because if I show up late, and we are going to late very late then Nick's going to put his boot in my face. He's been threatening to have me suspended and sent away. I really don't want to deal with it on such a nice day. "

It was going to be a beautiful day in the seventies with sunny skies and the first real color arriving on the trees all around the lake. There was no way either of them would have enjoyed sitting in class on such a nice October day. It was a day for hanging out in the park or cruising around town.

" You got something in mind? " Zakk produced a joint, lit it and handed it over to Daniel. He eased the mustang out into the street and headed towards the lake. He never needed an excuse to skip school and his mother wouldn't notice if he did. Zakk had always had decent grades when he applied himself which wasn't as much as the adults in his life wanted from him but he didn't care, as soon as they graduated they were out of here anyway. His dream was to be a chef somewhere in a big city cooking for one of the greats.

Disdain was a decently sized small town on the north end of lake Minnetonka. A quiet upper class suburb of the twin cities, but it wasn't all upper class, the side of town that Zakk and Daniel came from was more middle class than upper. The shops on the lake were trendy but if you went a few blocks in then you found your less expensive bookstores, junk shops and family owned eateries.

Lake Street was always busy in the summer with the influx of tourists but once school started it got pretty quiet in Disdain. The lake people closed up their cabins, headed home while the townie's got ready for fall and Football. It would be great if Zakk fit into that school pride thing but he had never been a small kid and his love of Horror had put him on the outside for most of his life. He was lucky though, he had grown up here. It was Daniel who had been an outsider, from California no less. Living with his mother and sister in a trailer at first and then with Nick after he married Daniels' mom. It made a great story to tell at fancy school functions except for one minor detail. Daniel was considered a delinquent. Of course that just made the gossips in town talk even more and it had drawn attention away from Zakk until he and Daniel had become friends.

Now it was looking like Daniel would be sent away yet here they were headed anywhere but the school. They passed the shuttered shops, banks and fancy bakeries. If they were to keep going he could drive all the way around the lake, passing dozens of small towns just like Disdain. It was depressing and Zakk needed to get out of the car. Pulling into a parking lot he didn't need to speak to Daniel to let him know this was their destination. Daniel could either sit in the car or follow him.

Shouldering his backpack Zakk took the keys from the ignition and got out of the Mustang. Luckily the gates of the Disdain memorial cemetery were open.



CHAPTER THREE

Jackson Carver was a busy man who didn't have time for silly games and Jack had reached his breaking point. He had waited long enough and should have put a stop to it a long time ago.  He should have sent a clearer message to the gutter punk that had caused his family so much trouble. He didn’t have time to deal with his daughters drama when he was trying to reach his deadlines and with his business partners breathing down his neck he was out of time. 

Outside his office window the sun was sinking, the buildings of downtown awash in the brilliant pinks and oranges that only  autumn in Minnesota could create. It had been hot all week, hovering in the nineties, but inside his dark office Jack was almost cold. Turning his broad back to the window, he moved back to his huge oak desk and dropped into the soft leather seat with a quiet sigh. He watched the tiny droplets of water drip down the side of a glass of highball in front of him before bringing the amber liquid to his lips. 

It had been a long day of meetings and interviews, some of which he found quite pleasurable, others not so much. He had several interviews with a dozen young, eager looking girls who dressed more like they wanted to work at a strip club than his office, all of them more than willing to do whatever needed to be done to get ahead. Leaning back in the big leather chair, he growled softly as he slowly tried to work the cramps out of his stiff fingers before rubbing fiercely at his temples. He could feel another one of his headaches coming on, the ones he only got when dealing with some nastiness or other, and this was looking like a real stinker. He was so close to closing a deal on a new property and now he had to deal with Britt’s constant tears. 

If only the boy had learned to stay away from his daughter there wouldn't have been a problem. Had he just slunk back to the gutter he'd come from, Jack would not have to take matters into his own hands. Not that he would ever dirty his own hands; he had other ways of getting it done. Britney was his princess after all, It was his job to protect her at all costs. What father wouldn't? She was the daughter he thought he would never have after having three boys before her. It broke his heart to see her cry and drove him crazy to watch her deal with such heartache. 

Yes, he should have put a stop to it from the start, should have tried harder to keep them apart, but the harder he pushed her to stop seeing him the more she wanted him in her life. It was starting to affect his business. Diverting Britt's attention away from her job, and Jack could not have that. He needed her to keep working, but the gutter rat had made her doubt her ability at what Jack knew she was perfect for. Not even her sister brought in the amount of money that Britt could and it was all about to fall apart. If only there was a fix for raging teenage hormones. 

This was a problem that needed to be dealt with carefully he could not risk being tied to whatever misfortune happened to the boy. Unfortunately he couldn't just disappear either. Too many people knew Daniel and knew how much Jack hated him. The kids of Disdain would start to talk if anything happened to one of their own. It didn't help that there had been a string of unsolved murders around their small community, making people see bogymen hiding in their back yards. The last thing Jack wanted was unnecessary attention.
     
 Luckily he could call in a favor that no one could trace back to him. He didn't like going this far unless he had no other choice. Unfortunately he had to make sure no one knew what he was about to do. His phone rang and he snapped into the receiver.

" No! I need you back here." He scowled at the phone, eyes narrowing. "NO! I won't wait. I don't care who you want to check out. Come back right away."  Jackson's cheeks burned as he stared at the phone. If only he could reach though the receiver and throttle the man on the other end. He was tired of their games and wanted them to do what he said without asking so many bloody questions. Well he would just have to make them want to come back. "Trust me, you will like this one and I won't tell you how to do it either, just that it needs to be done soon. I'll even double your money."
He rubbed at his temple again, eyes closing as his smile slipped. Perhaps it was time to end his partnership with them after all. He would decide after they arrived and after they had taken care of the gutter rat.  Hanging up he went back to the blue prints spread out over the top of his desk. He had a meeting with Vlad and the others in an hour and as much as he wanted to skip it he couldn’t ignore this one. There was a knock at the door, his secretary peered in at him with a meek smile. 

“ Sorry to bother you but there is a Detective Cooper here to see you. “ 

“ Tell him I am busy.” 

“ Tell me yourself. “  Cooper pushed past the girl with a tight smile. 

“ I don’t have time to talk Detective. I’m late for a meeting. “  

“ If you would return my calls I might be inclined not to bother, but you seem to always be busy Jack. “ 

“ So tell me what you want. “ Jack narrowed his eyes at the other man.

 To say Jack hated the man was an understatement. Cooper seemed to be everywhere at once and Jack was beginning to think that Daniel was not the only one who needed to disappear. 

“ I just wanted to follow up on a few things. “ Cooper opened his notebook to squint down at the notes he had jotted down.  “ The last time you saw your oldest son Sam was over a year ago? “ 

“ I can’t tell you the last time I saw him detective. We were not close. “ 

“ From what I understand he was last seen out at the Haunted Farm. Your farm to be exact. “ 

“ That’s right. He and his brothers were playing in a band that night and he never made it home to his mother. “ 

“ Now his mother is not the girl’s mother? Correct? “  

“ No. And I don’t have a relationship with her or my other sons. “ 

“ Who still live in Disdain? “ 

“ Do you have a point Detective? “  

“ Well it’s really strange that your son vanished from your property and a few years later another young man also vanishes into thin air and he was also last seen at that same property." 
 “
“ You know as well as I do that Thane had a history of run ins with the law. Are you really surprised he left town without telling his uncle? As I recall you were investigating him for Rape and battery correct? “
   
“ Chester, The uncle is your hired hand? Who lives on the property right? “

“ And was cleared if I am correct. “  

“ Yes. Did your son know Thane? Were they friends? Enemies? How did he get along with the other boys? “

“ No one got along with Thane except that little twink he always ran around with. “ 

“ Trez. His name is Trez and he’s a good kid from what I’ve seen. “

“ Don’t you have better things to do, Detective? “  

“ If it were my kid that went missing….”  Cooper stood up, tucking his notebook back into his pocket. 

“ I told you. My boys and I are not close. Brittney and Katie don’t even know they have brothers.” 

“ Isn’t that a shitty thing to do? Keeping secrets from your own children? “ 

“ Not when it’s for the best. Now if you don’t mind, I am late for my meeting. If you need me to answer anything else just call. “

“ Yeah, I shouldn’t need to contact you again unless I find out something else. “ 

   Cooper paused to look at all the photos of the girls that were scattered around the office. You would never have known that Jaxson Carver had almost led the perfect double life.  How far would he have gone to protect his secrets. He said it himself, he had not been close to his sons so how easy would it be to silence someone who might have wanted to strike back at the man who abandoned him? 

“ Good night Detective. “  

“ I’ll be in touch.”  Copper nodded as he left the office.


 Jack waited a few minutes before he reached for his phone. The gutter punk was not the only problem to be taken care of anymore. He slipped his coat on and stood up. He had a lot to figure out and the sooner he got the meeting over with the sooner he could focus on other things. It really would be taking out two birds with one stone. Rubbing absently at his temples he shut the lights off and left the office.



CHAPTER FOUR

  
Mia was almost asleep on her sun warmed stone when the snap of a broken branch caught her attention. Cracking open one heavily lined eye, she squinted toward the sound of someone moving slowly towards her. She was not about to move for just anyone and was relived to see a familiar head of blue moving though the branches. 

Stretching she sat up and swung her feet out over the large stone she had been laying on and put on her happy face. She had known her peace would be broken eventually. It always was when she visited the old overgrown cemetery In the middle of town.

Just in case it wasn't who she thought it was Mia reached for her camera and a smoke from her dress pocket. Some of the older townie's had a problem with people hanging out here, even though it was a long forgotten and neglected place. She preferred the old abandoned theme park out by the Haunted Farm but that was over an hour to get to so she tended to hang out here instead. 

Lighting up, she toyed with the camera until the visitors came into view. " Well look what the cat dragged in. " One long purple braid fell into her face as she leaned forward to snag the bottle of wine from the base of her stone. " Aren't you a little early for the party? " She asked, wetting her lips as Zakk and Daniel crossed the grassy space in front of her.

"What's that? A little hair of the dog? " Zakk joked, hefting his weight onto the stone next to Mia's and tossed the butt of his smoke into the urn at his feet. The color was high in his chubby cheeks as he watched Daniel drop his long black patchwork coat onto the ground at the base of Mia's perch. 

" So what brings you out here on a Friday morning? You didn't call in another bomb threat did you?" 

"We blew up the school." Daniel grinned throwing his head back to look up at Mia's upside down face.

"I must have slept through it." Laughing, she nudged Daniel in the ribs. She did not like the troubled look on his face and didn't need to ask but did so anyway. " Nick again?" 

" Nope, mom this time. I need to follow their rules or get out. " Daniel pulled the hair over his eyes as he slouched down against the cold stone. His lower lip jutted out, making him looks like a scolded child. 

Mia's heart went out to him, having met his parents a few times she understood the look. She too had been dealing with a shitty father for a while now, except Daniel's father was not famous like hers was. "I have space you know." She said it with an offhandedness that left you wondering if she was talking about helping him out or just her way of saying, I know how you feel. 

Daniel's response was to tug on the laces of her Doc Martin boots in a silent reply of thanks. They all knew she didn't have space for another person in her small duplex. Wanting to lighten the mood Daniel took the joint from his pocket, he had been saving it for later but the second he had gotten in the car he had known they would not be going to school that day. He lit the joint, inhaling the fragrant smoke with practiced ease, hi eyes following a spider up the side of their shared stone. 

Relaxing he held it up for Mia. She gave them a what the hell shrug of her shoulders and reached down. Their fingers touched and Mia's heart skipped a beat. She felt as if she had been stuck by lighting but the sky was clear. Dizzy she fell backwards and kept falling. All she could think was oh shit Toto I'm not in Kansas anymore. It had happened once before, when she was about to board a plane, yet somehow this felt different, more real somehow than the vision she had at the airport. She had taken a later flight out, finding out later than the plane she was supposed to be on had gone down over the ocean. 

In this one she was pushing through a crowd of kids, and catching snatches of a song. Halestorm or Evenesance she guessed. Either way it was some girl-fronted band at top volume. Smoke and sweat hung heavy in the air like a thick mass of webbing, making her want to escape this crowd. Luckily she spotted a staircase and pushed her way to it. She would have thought she was at carnival except for the fact that this was someone's house and not a balmy New Orleans night. 

It was a party of some sort, Halloween or a masquerade ball, by the look of the costumes. Whatever it was it was making her claustrophobic; she needed to find a way out but every which way she turned was blocked by a party goers. When the sounds of breaking glass and screams began to drown out the music she knew she had to move, Whatever was going on she wanted no part of it. Up the ornate staircase she went, finding herself in a long empty hallway littered with empty cups and trash. At the end of the hall was a closed red door. Mia made her way down the hall. Her fingers closing around the knob. 

From another door Zakk jumped out at her, making her scream. He was wearing one of those ornate animal masks and laughing. His finger pointing, back toward the staircase. More screams floated up from below filling her with fear. She screamed again when the door flew open and a half naked girl almost took her down. 

'No. wait! " Mia yelled to her as she rushed past. "Don't go down there! " 

"Better her than us." Daniel spoke from the now open doorway. Confused Mia turned her head to see what Daniel was talking about and realized it was his ex girlfriend Britt who had rust past her and the still laughing Zakk. He had removed his mask, dropping over the railing and did not see the impossibly tall figure standing in the shadows behind him until he stepped into the light. His long white hair was unkempt and he had the most piercing blue eyes Mia had ever seen. He grinned at them before grabbing Zakk and cutting his throat with one long sharp claw. Blood began to flow freely from the wound, yet Zakk continued to giggle. Britt screamed, dropping the clothing she had clutched to her chest and backed away as the man shoved Zakk over the banister rail and out of sight. 

Mia screamed as well struggling to free herself from Daniel's grip as another figure came up the stairs, moving fast he grabbed the naked Britt, pulling her to him. Ignoring her screams he flashed white fangs and eyes of glowing blue. That's when Mia realized they were twins. Monstrous bookends covered in blood. 

Daniel let go of Mia's arm, calmly stepping past her with a look of recognition, as if he knew who they were. The second twin reached out, pressing those long claws deep into the skin of Britt's creamy white breast, drawing blood.  "That one is mine." The taller twin snarled as the other stopped feeding from the thrashing girl. Licking at his bloodstained lips he locked eyes on Mia and Daniel. " I want to know if they taste as good as they smell? " 

Desperately Mia grabbed for Daniels arm, trying to pull him into the room. If she could get him into the room they could go out the window but Daniel was resisting her. The one holding Britt let go and began to advance down the hallway. From the same door Zakk had first come out of came yet another figure. He was shorter than the pair by almost a foot with long shining black hair and amber colored eyes. He was dressed in a fine black coat, purple velvet pants and high black boots and his voice was soft and seductive as hell. " Stand down shatter." Black closed a white hand over the one he called Shatter's arm and gave Mia a heartbreaking smile. " She is not the one." 

"I want her." Shatter snarled, bristling at the black haired one.

"It's the boy we want. She's just a pawn." 

Shatter grinned, his bloody clawed hand going to Daniel's throat. "I will have them both." His blue eyes were icy with madness as he slid his well-muscled arm around Daniel's waist, pulling him closer. 

"Get the hell away from him!" Mia screamed again. 

"What took you so long.?" Daniel said with a wicked smile of his own. That's when the door slammed shut on her, leaving her to desperately bang on the door. 

Without warning she was falling backwards again, leaving Daniel and the monsters behind. Mia awoke with her head in Zakk's lap her heart still racing as she tried to sit up and got dizzy again.

" Please don't go. "   Mia clutched at Daniel's arm scaring the crap out of both of them. 

" I'm right here. Are you ok? You hit your head when you fell. " 

" Just swear you won't go. " 

" OK, I swear we won't go anywhere. " Daniel helped Mia sit up, looking worriedly over her head at Zakk, He was worried about the bump to the head but she seemed ok, brushing him off as she reached for her cloves. " Can I get a ride home? " 

" Will you go to the walk in? " Zakk was holding her purse and camera. 

" No, I want to go home. " 

Without another word they followed Mia to Zakk's car. Both of them were worried about her, had been for some time. She was pale and a bit too thin but if they brought it up then she would tell them to get bent. They rode in silence for the few blocks to her tiny rented duplex. Mia brushing them off as she went inside. The boys waited a few minutes and then followed her in. They didn't speak as they settled into the Livingroom, knowing that when she was ready Mia would open up to them. 

" I love you but I don't need a babysitter. " Mia came into the Livingroom with a cup of tea and curled up next to Daniel. They had decided to watch some schlocky horror movie about some metal heads who raised Satan with their music. She rolled her eyes and grabbed the remote from Daniel's hand. 

" Hey! That looked good. " Daniel tried to get the remote back but Mia slapped his hands away. 

" Out! Go play in the sunshine. Go mow my lawn or something. " 


Laughing she kicked at him until he stood up with a hurt scowl on his face. She hated to kick them out but she really wanted to nap and knew that with the boys in the house a nap would never happen. So they stood up, still looking worried and tried to hang around some more, but Mia was having none of it and sent them on their way. She turned on Dr. Phil and promptly fell asleep, this time there were no bad dreams.


CHAPTER FIVE

Detective cooper slid  his solid frame into an empty booth just as Winters fire hit the stage. Ordering a beer and burger he flipped though his notes inside the tiny dive bar that sat on the edge of the lake.  Rock's was surrounded by high end shops yet the tacky dive bar didn't feel out of place and Cooper wondered how they managed to stay open without being cannibalized  by some chain place. 

It was early on a Fri night, a week since he had spoken to Jack at his office and yet Cooper couldn't seem to let go of the missing Guitarist or the simple fact that no one seemed bothered by his disappearance.  He had been told more than a few times  by the Sargent to stop digging and let it go. There was no indication of fowl play and the higher ups were getting annoyed with him. 

Sam had split. Simply up and left. Poof gone, as did Thane.  Well Detective Cooper wasn't buying it and that's what brought him out to Rock's on a busy Friday night.  He sipped his beer and listened to the band play.  He had to admit they were good and the crowd they drew were a good mix of younger collage age kids and older adults.  He studied the singer as he stalked across the stage, trying to see Jack in the kids features.   Rem had spiky blond hair and dark brown eyes.  He Had Jack's lips and maybe his bone structure.  The drummer, Blaze had his fathers chin and cocky grin.  He didn't have any photos of the boys with either parent and wasn't sure if he had any photos of their mother at all.  

What he did have was a few band photos of Sam who was also a good looking kid with a strong Jaw line and a penetrating gaze.  He chewed his dry burger as he studied his notes.  Sam had last been seen at Britt's birthday party on Halloween night. She had hired them the week before and Cooper wanted to know if either of them had known they were half siblings? 

 He knew he should be working on other cases but this one really bothered him.   

" Hey there, Andy.  Need another drink?  "   Katelyn Jade slid into the booth with a couple of beers and a bright smile.  "  Don't you ever stop working? "   

Copper smiled and held up his half full bottle to the young redheaded school librarian.  "  Yeah when I take a shit. "  He noted that she was wearing a black shirt with white lettering.  BLS it read across the front. Not a winters fire shirt.  Most of the people around the bar had on the same shirts.  Some of the townies worried it was a gang but Copper knew better.  BLS stood for Black Label Society. A band that made him turn off his radio if it came on in the car.  He was a Jazz guy and loved Billy Joel. 

" So what brings you out here on a Friday night?  Got a date? "  She grinned impishly at him. 

He couldn't tell if she was flirting or not, probably not since she had no problem getting dates. " How well did you know Sam Fire? "   He tried to sound offhanded but her expression told him otherwise.  It also told him she was going to lie. 

" Sam who? "   Her cheeks colored as her eyes moved to the spot on the stage that he would normally have stood. 

"  You know who I am talking about. "   So she had known him intimately, it was all over her pretty face and he had to admit that he was a bit jealous.   " Did he go to your school?  Do you remember seeing him there before he disappeared? "  

" They dropped out once they made their first record. "   

"  And the las time you saw him did he say anything strange?  Act differently? "  

"  No.  We had a fight. " 

" About? "  

"  Another guy.  What is this about anyway? "   Her brown eyes darkened with deep emotion.

"  Did you also know Thane Wolf?  "  

"  Come on Andy.  Yes I knew Thane as a student at my school.  No I was not sleeping with him. He was gay and you know it. "  

" Gay enough not to rape someone? "   

"  That's bullshit.  Thane didn't touch Mia. "    

"  You know this for a fact?   He had a rap sheet longer than the constitution. "   

"  So maybe Thane killed Sam and split.  Ever thought of that, Detective? "   

Seeing how upset she was, Cooper drank from the second beer and ordered them another round.  " Top of the list. "   He grumbled as the band ended their song and came off the stage. 

Remmy went right for Kate. Hugging her over the booth. "  Hello Detective. Surprised to see you out so late. " 

"  You can call me, Andy and I was wondering if you had a minute to chat."   

" I have enough time to hug my favorite girl and take a leak. "   Kissing Kate's cheek he took her beer and went towards the front. 

Blaze appeared where Remmy had been. Smiled sweetly at Kate and tipped his hat to Cooper before also vanishing into the crowd. 

" Charming. "   Cooper muttered as he put a few bills down for a tip.   

" They are actually very sweet. "  Kate said, getting up from the booth.  

"  I bet.  Just remember that if you think of anything or need anything you have my number. "  

"  I will keep that in mind. "  

He watched her as she rejoined her friends, then left the building.  He didn't feel like staying to see if  they would speak to him and with his head pounding he really just wanted to get some much needed sleep.  He could always go out to their rented cabin after a good night sleep and a decent breakfast. Calling it a night he left the dive bar and headed for home. 



CHAPTER SIX

~ New Orleans, LA ~

Black's hooded gaze fixed on the white-haired singer up on the tiny stage as he tried to get the image of the woman out of his head. Who was this woman named Mia, and why was she haunting his dreams? Mia, the name beat inside his head like a mantra, driving him mad and she was not the only one. He had dreamed of quite a few people from his past and they all seemed to be pulling him northward, back to his birthplace.  Often he would hear music and see a lithe dark haired youth with blood red lips who could sing like the angels.  He almost didn't want to sleep and Carver had called several times, but he never answered and probably wouldn't until they rolled into town. It might be days or even weeks for all he knew, what he did know was that he was in no hurry to go home again. They would return when he was ready, there were just to many ghosts for him to want to go back to Disdain. 

They continued to drive south, crashing every party they found along the way. It was incredibly easy to scan a room for any number of lost souls looking for someone to ~ GET THEM ~ and with a promise of a good time and a few well-placed compliments they practically begged to be slaughtered, often leading them right to their friends, who just happened to be having a party at some deserted location. It was sad really. Maybe it was time to start thinking about going to ground and sleeping for a long period of time. Oh who was he kidding? Going to ground was never an option. They loved the heat and the good hunting of Louisiana. If they ever settled in one spot, this would be it. There were too many small, dark and Smokey bars to name and what other place almost expected you to be mysterious in some form or another. A vampire in New Orleans blended in like bad carpeting in a busy casino. They loved this city, loved to hunt the waterfront streets and back alleys, taking out as many so-called vampires as they could.

Two nights ago he had walked past a small dark flat with an overgrown courtyard. He almost missed the man inside who thought that he was safely hidden from others of his kind, but Black had seen the curtain move and knew the other ancient one could see him as well. How different would his life have been, if he had been a student of this one and not the blond haired whore who had claimed him? Better to not dwell on that and leave the lonely one to himself.

Outside of town, along an overgrown road they had taken out a nest or family, as they liked to call themselves now. Seemed it was now fashionable to keep your chylder all on one leash, or all under one roof so to speak. Black had never had any use for the new social structures that had been popping up all over the country. As far as he was concerned they were all bunch of bloated jackals who called themselves kings and anointed sheriffs and other bullshit titles. Making Progenies for the sake of adding bodies to your clan. What a joke. Yet he had spared one dark-skinned cat shifter after they had burned their McMasion to the ground, he hadn't wanted to give a chase after feeding so well, and he knew she would spread the word about the renegades if she didn't get killed by a rival clan first. They then spent the day in one of the crypts on the grounds and the urge to go home had never been stronger.

Toying with the cheap plastic beads around his neck, he let his gaze slide from the stage to another dark corner where Shatter and Broken sat in a booth against the wall feeding from a dark-haired youth with chole lined eyes that reminded him of the boy from his dreams. Were they really going north? Back to a place he had tried so hard to forget? And was Mia really there? Living only blocks from the lake he used to swim in as a child?

    Oh how he loved how Mia's green eyes sparkled with fear. It was rare to connect with anyone so strongly and a shame he would have to end her life. If he was looking for a challenge then she would be it. Just how far would she be willing to go to protect her friends and family? Suddenly going North didn't seem so bad after all.  
Standing, Black took a gold coin from his pocket and tossed it at the singers feet. He gave the tall lanky guitarist a curt nod of his head and the slightest smile. They sounded good together. Shatter and Broken joined him at the back door, licking the blood from each other's fingers. They didn't know it but the pair on the stage had been spared, for now. There was one more stop before they hit the road again. Some backwater tiny town where people had been whispering about a blond haired waitress, rumored to be some kind of freak who could read your mind. Of course Black had not believed in vampires either, until he had become one. Funny how a person would reject anything they themselves could not see or do.

It was raining as they walked down Bourbon, the streets unusually quite for this time of night . . . Like Las Vegas, New Orleans always seemed to hum with activity. No matter where they went in the world this city held his heart.

They were almost to the van when a brightly lit sign caught his eye. He had not been into a shop such as this for a very long time. The twins hated anything to do with voodoo or spirits. Black reached out his hand to touch the old brass knob and the door swung silently open. The inside of the narrow shop was dimly lit and packed full of oddities, elixirs and old musty books. There was a long glass counter covered in dust and yellowed with age. It was as if no one had set a foot in the place for decades. Not waiting to see if they twins would follow he walked further into the store. There was a light was on in the back. He could also smell a thick floral perfume and hear a steady heart beat.

" Come in demon." She spoke before he had even crossed the threshold. "I have a message for you."

Careful not to touch anything, he stepped into the dimly lit room, stuffed with even more arcane items. The voice had come from a tiny figure seated at a small table, and she had her cards spread out before her and when she looked up he saw that she was blind. It was a good thing the twins had stayed outside. They would have broken something for sure.

"Sit demon." She pointed at an empty chair.

"No thank you." He stood his ground, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes. He didn't like being called a demon probably any more than she would want to be called a witch. "What message do you have for me?"

"Sit." Her long nails scrabbled over the dark wood of the table.

"Or what?" He was tiring of the game.

"Do you really want to find out demon?" The empty chair slid away from the table as she spoke.

Black needed no further convincing. He sat with an unhappy scowl and the woman's pale face lit up with a smile. "Now give me your hand."

He reluctantly held out his cold white hand to her and wondered why he had even come in.

"Oh your full of secrets and pain demon."

"I'm not a demon." He didn't like the feel of her warm hand in his but her grip was strong.

" Should I call you dead one? A vampire or something else?"

" You should tell me what your message is."

" Oh you're in such a hurry to die. All of you are." She released him, pointed at one of her cards and chuckled softly. " Puppet,

that's what you are. A puppet on a string, being led to your death like a pig to slaughter. But the game has just begun and you could win if you're careful. Beware the sleeping woman." Her fingers tapped the image of a stone angle. "And here." She touched an image of a king on a throne.'

" The emperor. Betrayer and full of dark magic. Together they are your downfall. "

Black sighed, they were already his downfall, The sleeping woman and the magician, it was not new to him. So the calling was a very real thing and Jack might not be the source.

"There are others, the warrior woman, the fool and his companion, and the wolf. Family will be reunited and torn apart. The hunter will be the hunted." She reached into her lap, laying a small bottle of dark liquid on the table. "Drink this when the time is right."

Black almost laughed, his lips twitching and the old lady scowled at him from across the table. What could it hurt to take the offered vile. If anything he could get Broken to drink it. He thought about asking some questions, decided he didn't want to know and stood up. He put the liquid into his pocket, took from his other pocket a small bag of gems and tossed them down onto the cards.

" I make my own fate witch. " He turned his back on her and walked out into the shadowy store, fighting the urge to turn around. He knew if he did he would find an empty room.

Shuddering he left the store, happy to be back on the warm street. The twins were in the back of the van when he returned, cloths strewn everywhere and blood covering their nakedness. He shook his head, smiled and climbed into the front seat. Mia was on his mind again. Was she his warrior? He hoped so, he was looking for a fight and thought maybe she would be the one to give it to him. It had been a long time since he had found anyone that had captured his attention as much as she did and it made him grin for the first time in a while. Could it be that going home was a blessing in disguise? or perhaps it would be his downfall.  He didn't want to wait any longer so he turned the engine over and pulled the van away from the curb. It was time to go home. 


CHAPTER SEVEN

Curled up on her favorite overstuffed chair, Mia could not shake the foreboding feelings of dread that clung to her like a second skin. Something bad was coming, something Mia felt powerless to stop. It had been days and she still felt like the vampires could be around the next corner at any moment. It made her feel a little uneasy even in her own home so she walked down the block to her favorite book store to meet up with Zakk and Daniel a few days later. Maybe a good hot cup of her favorite coffee would shake the feeling of ick that didn't seem to want to leave her.  DARKWINDS, jokingly referred to as her first love was the one place she felt safe. The boys, of course had abandoned her the moment they set foot inside the old two-story bookstore, Daniel disappearing up the stairs to the second floor and Zakk headed to the small snack and coffee counter while Mia was content to sit by the window, feeling guilty for not staying in bed. 
Her fingers trembled as  she lifted the cup, spilling hot coffee over the rim of the chipped blue cup and into her lap. She swore softly and set the cup down annoyed that she couldn't even hold a cup without spilling. Glancing out the window she noticed the display window of the drug store across the street where, Cowboy was placing small colorful figures here and there. How she wished she had the patience to set up a display village, but there was always something else that needed to be done, always something to fix or a bill that needed to get paid first and it was not like her paintings were flying off the walls either. Mia was a great artist who had yet to break into the high end world of galleries and shows.  She was content to just make art and often sold it at the street fair and gave most of it away to friends. She didn't need the money with what her mother had left her after she had passed. Mia often wondered where the money had come from and figured her mother had been smart and taken what she could from Mia's father when he wasn't looking, which would have been often. 
Her eyes drifted from the display window to the street. It had rained earlier, plastering red and yellow leaves to the wet sidewalk, making it look like a child's a fresh art project. She let her eyes slip shut as she massaged at her temple. The GIFT was what her mother and grandmother had called it. It was something she had always taken for granted, like being ambidextrous or double jointed. For as long as she could remember, Mia had the uncanny ability to know things others did not. She could tell who was calling her without looking at her phone, or find things that others had lost. She had never had a real vision before and nothing like what had gone down at the cemetery and it scared the crap out of her.

"Anybody home? "

Heaving a sigh Mia opened her eyes, forced a smile for Zakk and gave him a slight shrug of her shoulders. " I'm sorry Zakky, im just tired. " How could she tell either of them how she was really feeling when even she didn't know how she was feeling. There was something she DID want to tell him though, not related to the vampires or whatever they were, but scary just the same.

" I think I saw Thane last night." Heaving another sigh she pulled her legs up under her knees.

"You saw Thane? "

" I saw someone. " Her eyes narrowed as she scowled up at Zakk.

" He was standing in my dark kitchen. I heard him, Zakk, he was saying that we would pay for what we did."

Zakk returned her scowl. "YOU didn't do anything and he's dead Mia, gone forever and not coming back. "

"I know but I can't stop the dreams and even during the day I feel him around me. "

" I don't want to talk about this. " Zakk's grey eyes darkened as he looked out the window. What his ex lover had done to Mia was part of the reason Zakk was glad he was dead. . When he looked back, he deliberately changed the subject. " You look like shit, when was the last time you got some solid sleep? " He knew that Mia slept very little, especially when she was working hard on some new paintings or when the nightmares got bad. " Maybe you should go home and spend some quality time with the boys. "

"I'm fine Zakk. I tried that and it lasted what? An hour? You really want to take me home and come get me in ten minuets? "

Satisfied with her answer he set another small cracked plate with a dry looking scone down on the table in front of her. The look of disdain on his face made her want to laugh. " They didn't have any pumpkin spice bars so I got you this scone thingy that Kasie recommended. I think it's a holdout from last year. "

"You're too good to me. " Mia's smile was genuine as she lifted her cup back up to her lips. She was going to ask if they wanted to go to a movie when the annoying jangle of the bell over the door disturbed the quiet shop. Mia's hands froze and began to shake as Britt and her gaggle of followers came in. Oblivious to her reaction Zakk grimaced, raising his hand to the heavily made up blond who bounced over to them, the air suddenly fouled by her expensive perfume.

" Zakky! " She squealed, waving an Orange and Black invitation at Zakk. " Zakky poo. I have been looking all over for you. I need to give this to Daniel. Is he here? "

"Sorry Britt, haven't seen him. " Zakk grinned, lifting his shoulders into a shrug.

Pursing her lips together Britt locked eyes on Mia for only a second before pouring on the charm for Zakk. " You cut school again naughty boys and I was just frantic to find you. Daniel wont return my calls and I really wanted to give this to him personally. "

Mia's green eyes narrowed to slits as she glowered at Britt from behind her cup. That one had been trouble from day one, a top notch drama queen and coke head, Britt loved to play mind games. Back in May Britt had broken up with Daniel, then claimed she was pregnant and still in love with him. Feeling guilty he had drunk a bottle of jack and puked all over Mia's bathroom floor. The whole thing pissed Mia off to no end and had also pissed off Britt's overbearing asshole of a father, Jackson Carver, who had then started threatening to sue if Daniel didn't do the right thing. It took Mia everything she had not to launch herself across the table and wring the stupid cunt's neck. Of course if she was going to play the blame game then she needed to be angry with the woman who had driven Daniel into Britt's arms in the first Place.

Her name was Kaitlyn Jade, the school librarian who had a brief affair with Daniel the year before. Mia didn't blame the woman for ending it but, Kate's rejection had been the reason Daniel had even looked in Britt's direction in the first place.  She certainly didn't condone the relationship between teacher and student and in fact made it very clear to both of them how she felt, but at least Kate was stable and had been surprisingly good for Daniel, unlike Britt.

"I'm not sure where he is. " Zakk took the offered card in hopes that she would get the hint and leave. Hopefully Daniel didn't come down the stairs and blow the whole thing. "Did you go out to the Haunted Farm? I thought he was working it this year. "

Britt fluffed her hair, puckered her bright red lips at him. "He's NOT at the farm, I checked. So if you see him can you give this to him and make sure he calls me? I feel just awful about last summer. "

"I'm sure you do. " Mia muttered under her breath, If Britt even looked at her wrong she going to save the vampires the trouble and take the trollop out herself. 

Zakk caught the look on Mia's face and tried not to burst out laughing. He gave Britt his best puppy dog look by pouting and batting his grey eyes at her. "I swear I will have him call you as soon as I see him. "

" Have you checked Kate's? " Mia began to giggle behind her hands. 

Zakk glowered over his shoulder at her as he walked Britt to the door.  He wanted to put his foot in the blonds ass and kissed her cheek instead as he held the door for her.  "Don't worry. I'm sure he's around here somewhere."

" You're a peach, Zakky." Britt beamed at him as she stepped out onto the wet sidewalk.

"You know it. " Zakk kept the smile plastered on his face as the door closed on the group of girls. " God I hate that bitch. "   Zakk growled. 

"Who do we hate? " Asked Daniel from the rail above their heads. " Did I miss something? "

" Yeah. " Mia said with a dark scowl as she dropped the rock hard scone back onto its plate. " The queen of England just popped in for a bite to eat. " Uncurling her cramped legs. She got up from her chair and returned the cup to the counter, waving at Kasie as she shouldered her bag. It was time to go. She had a date with a good book and a pair of fat felines.  She hugged Zakk and waved up at Daniel before stepping outside. It was starting to rain again as she stepped out into the street, feeling only a little better than when she had arrived.  Perhaps throwing herself into her work would lift her spirits as it always had done before. Making sure there was no lurking van she shouldered her bag and headed for home. 



Chapter Eight

Detective Cooper sat in his car drinking cold coffee as he looked through his notes. There was a little coffee stand across from the bookstore that he had been going to for as long as he could remember. He saw Zakk’s car parked next to Darkwind’s and watched as Britt and her friends went inside. From what he gathered, Daniel and Britt had been off and on for some time. Jack hated him and maybe that was why she was so attracted to the kid. As far as Cooper knew, Daniel and Zakk had not been friends with Sam or his brothers. They had been friends with Thane though and that bothered him. He looked down at his notes again, looking for something he might be missing and without warning a giant crow landed on the hood of the car. Cooper jumped as the bird squawked at him, ruffling it’s large wings. His coffee spilled, splashing across the page of notes. He cussed as he scrambled to grab some napkins. 

Fucking Bird!  He growled at the crow.  

As he was looking at the bird he saw the bookstore door open and the group of girls come back out. They lingered for a few minutes before piling into someone's BMW parked behind Zakk's Mustang. Mia came out a few minutes later, looking around as if she was expecting someone to jump her.  He watched her light up a clove and walk away up the block towards her house. The crow squawked again and was gone in a flutter of black wings. Daniel and Zakk came out of the bookstore about ten minutes later and Cooper left the parking lot. He pulled into the open space in front of Zakk’s car and honked his horn. Both boys gave him a look and he knew they were debating blowing him off. Finally Zakk walked up to his open window.

“ You my friend are hard to get a hold of. “  

“ Yeah well. School and all. “ 

“ You got a minute. “ 

“ Not really Detective. “  

“ Don’t make me haul your ass in. Both of you. You have been avoiding me for far too long. Now haul your ass over to Chin chins and meet me there.” 

“ Right now? “ Zakk looked skeptical. 

“ You saying your not hungry? “ 

“ Fine but after this you have to back off us. Is that a deal? “  

“ Talk to me and and I will think about it. "  

     Zakk shrugged and went up to Daniels open window. Detective cooper watched them until Daniel got sulkily out of the car. He then drove over to the small parking lot and went into the small Chinese place across the street. It wasn’t the best buffet but it was the only decent one in a ten mile radius and the prices were good. He paid for their lunch and found them a booth towards the back. They came in reeking of weed and Cooper had to shake his head at them. He had to tell himself that he had been young once too but he had never had missing friends either. He told them to eat and chuckled when Zakk made a beeline for the hibachi station. Daniel got himself some noodles and rice and was first to be back at the table. Cooper had coffee and was still looking at his now stained yellow legal pad. 

“ How is everything? How’s Nick doing? “ Copper watched Daniel’s fork freeze for a second. 

“ He’s an abusive dick. “  

“ You know there are places you can go…”  

“ Right. Like last year when he tried to put me into therapy to get me sent to St. Peters? “ 

“ Well your almost eighteen. You just have to hang in there a little longer. “

Zakk joined them with a huge mound of food and the table fell silent. Cooper sighed and ran his hand though his thinning hair. “ So as you both may know I am working on the Sam Fire case. He’s still missing as is your friend Thane. “ 

“ He wasn’t my friend. “  Daniel snorted. 

“ I told you. We have no idea where he went. The last time we saw him he was beating on this kid we know and I stopped him. He left in a huff, he was drunk and that was it. He was never heard from again, although his uncle Chester keeps the light on for him just in case he comes back. “ 

“ You stopped him how? “ 

“ I bashed his brains in with a shovel. “  Zakk rolled his eyes and continued to eat. 

“ Do you think he raped your friend Mia? “  

Daniel slammed his fist onto the table, making them both jump.  “ He raped several women and you didn’t do shit about it. “  

“ No one came forward. I can’t arrest someone without a witness statement can I?   And  he was dating you at the time? “ Cooper looked over at Zakk. 

“ We were over by that time but yeah we had a thing for a while. “  

“ Did you know he was bi? “  

“ What kind of question is that? “  Zakk’s eyes darkened.  

“ Well if you didn’t know he was bi….”  

“  I didn’t kill him. “  Zakk looked sad. 

“ I thought you were working on the Sam Fire case? “ Daniel tried to change the subject.  

“ I am. Sam was also last seen out at The Haunted Farm. Almost a year ago to be exact. " 

“ Maybe they left together? “ Daniel smiled.  

“ So I hear. Somehow I don’t think that was the case. Sam and Thane were not friends. Know who was close to Sam? “  

“ Don’t go there. “ Daniel set his fork down and pushed his plate away. 

“ You know she could get into big trouble for what happened don’t you? “ Cooper scribbled down on the legal pad.  " I hear it's not the first time she's had a relationship with a student. " 

“ Look. Whatever your trying to say is bullshit. Leave her alone, leave us alone. Don’t talk to me and don’t talk to Mia either. “ 

“ Alright. I didn’t mean to push your buttons. I just want to tie up the lose ends and close this thing for good. “  

“ Thanks for lunch. “  Zakk scraped his plate clean and wished he could go back for more but Daniel was pissed and getting up. 

“ If you think of anything at all them call me. “  

“ Will do detective. “ Zakk sighed, pushing away from the table. “ I assume you have grilled Sam’s brothers? They didn’t have the best relationship either.” 

“ I have. On multiple occasions. So I guess I have hit the wall and I should focus on other stuff. You guys wouldn't know anything about a satanic cult would you? "  

" Seriously? "  It was Zakk's turn to roll his eyes.  

"  Be careful out there OK. "  

Cooper watched the pair go and wondered not for the first time if they really didn’t know anything or were they trying cover something up. He checked his phone and swore softly. The captain wanted him at yet another murder scene. It was starting to feel like they had a serial killer right there under their own noses and he was out here chasing ghosts. Getting up he went out  to his car and headed back to the bar that was starting to feel like a second home. 



Chapter Nine

With burgundy lip jutted, Mia stepped away from the canvas with a disgusted sigh. Something had pushed her to do a large abstract of bright colors and dripping wax but it was not turning out the way she had wanted it to. The paint was not a match to the color she had seen in her head and her hands were beginning to ache. She was distracted by a soft rustle in one shadowy corner and was startled enough to send paint splattering across her shoes, setting off a string of curse words that would make even Ron White blush. Pushing a long purple braid away from her face, she stepped away from the canvas. She was not going to get anything else done tonight with the way her mind kept wandering. She kept thinking about the vision/dream and what it could possibly mean. She understood why her brain would manifest a ghost but the vampires? If you even wanted to call them that–but what else would you call someone with jewel-like eyes, snowy skin and fangs? 

Whipping off her hands as she walked over to her workbench to drop the brush into a can of paint thinner. Perhaps it was time to go see Doc Brite after all. She searched for her keys amongst the clutter of beads, candles, feathers and other assorted junk. After leaving the bookstore she had gone straight into the garage she used as a studio and tried to get back to work. She could feel the chill in the air and knew it would soon be time to dig out her long coat or maybe even splurge a little and buy a new one, it wasn't like she didn't have the money, she just didn't like to spend it. 
Kicking off her paint splattered shoes she headed for the door with keys in hand. After going through three different pairs in less than two months she now made sure to leave her shoes in a bin by the door. Clicking off the light, she stepped into the chill October air. Mia had discovered that her best work was done at night. It also helped her sleep and provided less of a distraction unless the boys came over with a good bottle of wine and some cheesy horror, in which case all thoughts of work went right out the window. The street was dark and quiet as she trudged through the leaves to her decorated patio door. Mr. Scary was silently mowing behind the glass, rolling his fat black body when she tapped against the glass.

" Hey fatty. I bet you're hungry aren't you? "

Pushing the sliding glass door open she slipped in and scooped up the heavy cat, nuzzling him as she walked to the cluttered counter top. Scary draping himself over her shoulder, content to just hang there and purr. From the floor rose up another loud mow as Cooper curled his gray body around her ankles, looking up at her with his huge green eyes, eager to be fed.

" Hi baby. " She crooned, walking to the cupboard for the dry cat food.

Cooper and Scary had been her constant companions since the day she had left New York, she would have been lost without them, besides cats made better boyfriends. They didn't steal your car or ask you for money.

Setting Scary down, Mia poured the cat food into their dishes, trying to decide on what she wanted to do with the rest of her evening. Clubbing was out. She didn't have enough gas to drive into the city. She could try calling her best friend Kasie but the bookstore clerk was most likely still working. Zakk had mentioned going to a movie and they wanted her to rest anyway. She entertained the idea of walking down to the beach or the arcade but you really didn't see a lot of people out this late in the year. In the summer you couldn't go ten feet without running into someone you knew but as winter approached the streets emptied out until spring. She had been disgusted with the whole scene anyway. All the kids wanted to talk about nowadays were video games, Vampire the Masquerade, and Twilight. ~ God what had gone wrong with the world today ~

Sighing, she picked at the paint under her nails. The one thing she hated about living in the burbs was that fact that everything worth seeing or doing was at least a half hour's drive away and she never trusted her beater to make it that far. She had always meant to buy a new car with some of her savings but had never gotten around to it. A yawn escaped as she rubbed at her eyes. What she really needed was one good night's sleep, but she had a deadline to meet and who went to bed before nine anyway. Her thoughts returned to Daniel, the haunted look in his eyes bothered her. She hoped he was OK, maybe she would try to call them in a bit. One of the things she loved about Zakk and Daniel was the fact that they didn't always need to be doing something to have a good time. They could just hang out, talking for hours about nothing. They were smart when they wanted to be, not that she had anything against the kids that lost themselves in fantasy, there was just more to life than your computer screen and damage points, although Zakk would argue that point if she ever chose to bring it up. 

Heaving another sigh she cracked her neck, focused her eyes on the silent phone and was suddenly overcome by the urge to call home. A glance at the clock told her that father would be either at the studio or in some club, besides what would they say to each other? It had been more than six years with little to no contact between them, and even less between herself and her younger brother Devon. Her hand found the fridge handle instead and to her amazement she still had a half bottle of Cold Duck. Snagging the bottle, she closed the door on the meager contents inside. She really needed to sell a few more paintings or it might be she who needed another place to stay. She fought the urge to empty the fridge and give it a good scrub as she carried the bottle to the counter, retrieved a water spotted wine glass from above her head and poured herself a generous glass.

The first sip was heaven as she walked down the hall toward the bathroom. Setting the glass on the counter she stripped off her cloths and began to run herself a hot bath. Sipping the wine, she put her hair up. The tub, her pride and joy, it was a claw-footed monstrosity she had found in the dump and painted herself. Using Mardi Gras as a theme, she painted the inside gold, dark purple on the outside and finished it off using gold beads and green streamers as an accent. Mia loved her tub more than anything else that she owned.

She dropped in a bath fizzy, placed her wine within easy reach as she sank down into the hot water. Her mind was spinning, making it hard to think straight. Daniels fighting with his parents, Britt's bullshit, Thane, the thing at the cemetery and now this, the sudden urge to suddenly reconnect with her famous family. It was all just a little too much. Her chole lined eyes slipped shut, her hands moving over her body with a familiar touch. Lulled by the warmth she drifted off, soothed by the sound of soft music, music she could not place.  She thought she heard Winters Fire and fear rippled over her cooling flesh as her huge green eyes snapped open. She was no longer in the bath, but in the back of a van. The music so loud it was distorted and the mattress under her back was lumpy and rank with a smell so strong it made her want to gag. Real fear crawled slowly over her naked body as she fought to wake herself from this nightmare. A pair of strong hands held her down as she began to struggle in panic. A pair of bloodstained lips swam into view and Black's amber eyes glittered hungrily down at her.

"We're coming for you Mia. " His dark chuckle was a mere whisper of sound inside her head. "I am coming to give you eternal kisses. " His bloodstained mouth closed over her own dry lips, making her stomach flutter. Again she felt pressure as his black nailed hands closed tightly around her throat cutting off her air. Gasping and shuddering Mia Shot upright inside the tub, the wine glass falling to the floor and shattering into pieces as she flailed wildly. Cooper hissed and shot from the toilet seat, escaping just as the water sloshed over the side. Her heart pounded as she sat shivering in the cooling water. What the hell was going on? Was she losing her mind? Or had she been swept into a Twilight Zone episode.

Shaken she could barely lift herself up from the tub to towel off she managed to get back into her cloths. Sleep would be the last thing she got tonight. With the wine forgotten she was suddenly desperate for some caffeine she pulled on her long coat she knew just where to go. It was a place that had the best pumpkin pie cappuccino, and lots of light and noise as well. Grabbing her keys, she left the house without locking the door. Hurried to the car, Jumped into her bug and headed out.



Chapter Ten

A cold breeze blew in through the half-open window as dark skeletal trees drifted by like tall silent sentinels. Daniel had fallen into yet another moody silence, his midnight blue eyes fixed on the dark houses that seemed to get farther apart as they drove out past the city limits into the country.  Zakk rather enjoyed these rare silent moments with only the sound of the radio and the purr of the engine to keep him company, yet tonight he couldn't find comfort in silence. 

Daniel sighed as he shuffled through the CD's finally pulling Type O Negatives October rust and putting it into the player as the mustang began to gain speed. Content with his selection, he went back to staring out the window leaving Zakk to worry about what might be wrong with his two closest friends. 

  Zakk finally broke the silence.  " Do you remember that party last summer when we put that bottle of liquor and some other shit into a box and buried it outside that bar near Northfield?    He grinned at the memory of it. How warm the summer sun had been and how easy the liquor had gone down. 
" Barely. Wasn't that the night we tried to find that frog bar and ended up at the Rock with all those bikers who then invited us to party with them? "

" Yeah." Zakk laughed. " They had this band playing in someone's barn and the box was sitting in the bed of some guys truck. "

"Isn't that the night you tried to ride a horse or some shit? Man that was one fucked up night. I think I puked for a week after. "

" Yeah, they kept handing us beer after beer. Do you think it's still out there, still buried? " Daniel was still looking out the window at the passing houses, wondering what each house held inside it. " I have no idea. Didn't we make a pact to go looking for it in like ten years? " He smiled at the memory. They had done some very crazy stuff over the course of their four-year friendship.

Through the dirty windshield Zakk spotted the old run down motel that always reminded them of an old horror movie set, meaning they were almost to the turnoff for the Haunted Farm. Zakk had always hated the late fall and the chill that only grew worse as Halloween drew near. It was a reminder that winter was just around the corner. They had once drained a bottle of rotgut while arguing over the importance of the one forgotten holiday, Thanksgiving. It had always seemed to Zakk that society, as a whole had left turkey day in the dust, passing it up for the better money makers, Halloween and Christmas, while Daniel was disgusted with all of them as a whole. Consumerism he said, sounding a lot like Nick was the leading cause of what was really wrong with the world today.
"So what did Britt want? "

Startled, Zakk glanced over at Daniel, wondering just how much of their conversation he had heard. "She wanted to invite you to her stupid party and that you need to call her. " He tried and failed to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"Seriously? " Daniel snorted.

"Yeah, dude I thought Mia was going to launch herself across the table at her. " That brought smiles to both their faces as Zakk went on. "She says she's sorry, again. I thought you had seen her this week? "

"Oh she tried to talk to me but I shut her out. She kept hinting that she wanted to get high in the bathroom and talk. I just walked away. "

Daniel dug his nails into his jean clad legs. He knew Britt was not sorry about any of the crap she pulled and never would be. He might not show it, but Britt had hurt him pretty badly and if she thought an invitation to a party he was expected to be at was going to fix it then she was dead wrong. What she had done had messed him up, but that was only the start of it he guessed. He had been dumped twice now, first by Kate and then Britt. Sure did make a guy want to steer clear of the opposite sex for a while.

" She's crazy man and her dad. He's bad news. " Zakk stopped himself from going on another tangent about Jackson Carver. Daniel knew better than anyone how scary Jack was. Zakk loved to give Daniel shit about ending up at the bottom of the lake with Jimmy Hoffa if he was not careful.

" Did I tell you, Mia told me that she thought she saw Thane in her kitchen. "

Daniel shot Zakk a hard look but said nothing as Zakk rambled on, grateful that he didn't have to talk about what was going on with Britt.

"I know, right? The guys been dead for almost a year now and somehow he still has this power over her. Maybe we should talk to her about seeing a shrink or something? "

"We all need to see a shrink."  

"  Are you still having nightmares? "  
"Are you? "

" Yeah." Zakk sighed. It was not only Mia who was unable to sleep. Of course his mother kept telling Zakk that it was a normal reaction to a close friend's death, what she didn't know was how much Zakk had a hand in said death. She said the guilt he carried was the root of his dreams.

Daniel didn't think it was just guilt that kept him up at night. He had other issues. Failing all his classes, hated by his step father and feeling more and more disconnected with the world around him he had walked out on his job the week before. If he had to ask one more person if they wanted to make it into a combo, he was going to hold someone's head in the fryer. The job had been Nick's idea of course, it would give him character he said and help him save for a new car. The job had lasted longer than anyone thought it would and had gotten him out of the house and away from Nick.

" Do you think Mia's ok? I mean she looked like shit when we dropped her off after the cemetery. "  

" Don't know. " Daniel answered truthfully. " She took a very good knock to the head when she fell backwards. I wish she had let us crash at her place tonight. "

Zakk raked the faded blue hair back from his forehead, looking over at Daniel he suddenly wished they were out of the car. It happened that way sometimes. The car seemed to get smaller and smaller around his hefty frame. " Do you think she had a seizure? My aunt Carla once had one at the table during Christmas dinner and everyone freaked out, scared the hell out of me. There was this girl in fifth grade that had one on the playground and never came back to school. I was afraid to sleep for the longest time. "   He was rambling again and gaining steam as they reached the darkened sign for the Haunted Farm. " Maybe it was something she ate? I saw this episode of Buffy once..."

" She's fine Zakk. " Daniel growled, letting his friend know that he was done talking.

Zakk slowed the stanger down and turned off the two lane blacktop and onto the tree shrouded dirt road. It was late enough to be deserted or so he hoped and was happy to find the weedy parking lot empty when they reached the end of the long drive.

The haunt ran every weekend from the end of September and thru October except for Halloween night when it was closed for Britt's invitation only bash. Zakk never did get why Jackson Carver would close down the haunt on Halloween night just so his daughter could throw a party. Halloween night was the haunt's busiest night of the year. Of course Jack didn't really need the money the Haunt brought in. It was a novelty to him, a way to keep his princess happy.

Out of the car at last, Zakk looked around with a happy grin. His eyes went first to the haunted house with its old rickety front steps, to the darkened windows, and up to the shabby moss-covered roof with the rusted weather-vane on top. They never tired of coming up here, even if they just sat on the hood of the car passing a bottle or joint between them.

Paulie, the so-called guard was nearly blind and def in one ear spent all him time sleeping in the little ticket booth doing rounds maybe once a night if that. He never had done more than run a few punks off when they got mouthy or help a lost kid find their parents. Then there was Thane's uncle Chester who was the caretaker and could be easily bought with a case of Old Mill or a carton of smokes.  Chester could spend hours spinning stories about the depression or whom he had found getting it on up in the loft of the old barn. Chester lived in a vine-covered trailer off to the side of the barn, fixing fences and tending to the corn and pumpkins.

" Want to stay here? ..." Zakk glanced over his shoulder to see Daniel walking away into the mock cemetery at the edge of the lot his black shadow disappearing into the fog between the stones. " Hey asshole! " Sighing Zakk reached into the back seat, shouldered his backpack and followed his friend into the gathering darkness. It was cold and he wished he had brought his coat. He thought about getting back into the car then thought better of it. Daniel would never speak to him again if he left him out here, not that Daniel couldn't find another ride home. He could always find another way home, that was Daniel he could talk anyone into anything. Turning his back reached for the door handle and was startled to see someone sitting in the passenger seat. Startled he jumped back only to realized that there was no one in the car. The passenger seat was empty. Perhaps it was time to lay off the blunt's for a while. Shaken Zakk turned himself around and quickly headed in the direction that Daniel had gone.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

The boy's head lolled back as his hazel eyes glazed over and the last breath whispered from his too thin chest. Even in death he kept one hand locked around Blacks Wrist. Blood still trickling from around the wound in his dirty neck. They were somewhere in North Carolina or was it south? The twins had wanted to stop in some shitty little forgotten town, Missing something or other. It was a place full of spirits and dirty children that stood by the side of the road, the twins loved it but Black was ready to move on as soon as he had seen the town sign. Yet it didn't seem to be a bust after all as he licked his bloody lips and pulled free of the dead weight. Reaching over the boys head he pushed open the back door of the van. Cold rain blew in as lighting ripped open the sky above their heads. he suddenly liked this place with it's wide-open fields and old abandoned farm houses, lots of secrets in tiny places like this. Lost souls and wounded youth ripe for the picking. With his booted foot he sent the boy rolling right out the back and into a rain swollen puddle. He had been a drifter this one, hitching his way into town when they had picked him up, full of good drugs, a wad of cash, and a trustful easy smile on his dirty face.

Looking down at the dead kid, Black felt a deep dissatisfaction squirm inside of himself. Broken and Shatter were sitting owl eyed and pouting as if the boy would somehow come back to jerky life.  Spooked by the vision of Mia, they clung to each other with matching unhappy looks on their bloody faces. But Black had been more fascinated than afraid. Mia's resemblance to his Katia was almost uncanny, and their connection had been stronger as well, they had all felt it, even Mia. Yet he didn't think that she was the reason why they were being compelled to return to Disdain.  It couldn't be just her or even Jack for that matter. Mia was just another piece of the puzzle. He could almost smell the lingering scent of Dragons Blood and wine, and there was something else, something he could not quite put his finer on. She had secrets, buried so deep even he couldn't pull them from her mind.

" She's come back for us." Broken growled. "Come to take us with her for what we did to her."

Hot silent anger rose up inside Black once more. It was no longer showing on their faces but the fear was still in their eyes as they stared at the broken body, now only half visible in the mud beyond the bumper. Black could not count how many times he had to tell them that Zombies were not real and ghosts could not hurt them. Dead was dead, hell they were damn near indestructible themselves but there was no amount of reasoning with either of them when it came to the things they feared.

"Well she can't have you."  He tried to tamp down the rage building inside himself, but it was no use, his hand curled into a fist and shot out into the van wall, bowing out the other side. Blood began to trickle down Blacks wrist, the bones popping as he forced his broken hand open. He suddenly wanted to be out in the storm, away from his companions. He leapt from the van, his heavy booted feet coming down square in the center of the boy's chest, crushing bone and muscle with a sickening crunch. He said nothing as he walked toward the abandoned vine-covered house. He didn't understand how they had gone from fearless, to afraid of their own shadows. So many dark memories and here he was on his way to the place that hurt him the most. Reaching the crumbling house Black stood on the front porch, he could smell death from deep inside the empty house. It was a place of deep sorrow and pain. He smiled, knowing that there was no choice but to go to Disdain, find Mia and drain her dry.

It didn't matter what Jackson had in mind. He wanted her. Wanted to feel her tremble under the weight of his cold body. There was something else that was bothering him but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Someone he knew he should be aware of but their name danced at the edge of his mind. Quite a few faces seemed to bubble to the surface the more he thought about it but he couldn't dwell on the past.  Not now, not when he had an actual need to head north.

After the fortune teller, Black had driven them out to the swamp. They found a place to spend the day and were off to the tiny backwater town of Temps as soon as the sun set. It was the sort of town where everyone knew each others name, probably because they were all related. What would it be like to Stay in a town like this? And work in the same four places. It has also gone up pretty fast as bright tongues of yellow and orange flickered against the side of the van. The diner had gone up even faster than Black had expected, smoke billowing from the shattered windows as tiny flames raced up the sides and into the eves, erasing all traces of the sin committed within. 
The house was empty except for the ghosts of long dead lovers and a crime that had been long forgotten. He hated being inside the place and soon returned to the waiting van. The twins, forgetting their fear were now howling with joy.  Arms linked as they spun round and round to the base beat of Slipknot's wait and bleed. Black climbed on top of the van, ever watchful and wary he waited for the sound of sirens, but like the last tiny town they torched it didn't seem that the fire brigade would be arriving any time soon. Although in Denmark, they had only missed the trucks by only a few minutes. Black had been on edge there as well, eager to be on the road and this time with an actual destination in mind.

" Time to drive." He growled down to the dancing pair, and their shared reply was carried back to him on the wind.

" We want pretty treats to eat, and bones to break. "

" Soon, but we have many miles to go and didn't you just get your fill? " Black rose up on stiff legs, annoyed by their ability to lose themselves in the NOW. He knew it was their mixed blood that caused the madness, making them sometimes childish and hard to deal with. " You can have all the treats you want when we get to the party. " The firelight danced against his white skin as a gentle breeze caught his waist length black hair, blowing the silken strands away from his sharp boned face and billowing his long black trench out like a sail. " They can't start the party without us. "

" Turn out the lights. This party is over. " Shatter said laughing as they swung round once more before staggering toward the van arm and arm. There were streaks of blood in their snowy hair and stained into their clothing. An easy fix when they got to another town but for now it would be OK, they would shed the soiled cloths as soon as they got back into the van.

" I want to ride the rides and steal the pretty trinkets. " Said, Broken. "Catch all the dollies and smash them to bits! "

" If you wish. " Answered Black, leaping down to join them at the back. Touching his fingers to their bloodstained lips, he climbed into the dark maw of the van. They had traveled this way for as long as he could remember, like gypsies. Ever feeding, cleansing and moving on.

" Away we go. " Chortled Shatter as Broken let out another, a high- pitched giggle. They did one more turn followed by a formal bow before bringing their bloody lips together for the sweetest kiss, and then they were off. The abandoned burning house getting smaller and smaller behind the speeding van.  



CHAPTER TWELVE

It didn't take Daniel long to feel like shit and descend down the ladder to the foggy ground below. Zakk had made it pretty clear from the beginning of their friendship that he wanted something more. That was Zakk, always open to it, even if it made the other person feel uncomfortable. Daniel on the other hand had been raised to keep his feelings to himself. Boys didn't cry or show emotion and although she had recently drifted, his mother had tried hard to instill her own catholic beliefs into her children. Horror and dark things were of the devil and you sure as hell didn't talk about what was going on behind closed doors. It was yet another reason to get as far away from that house as he could. leaving Disdain and it's narrow mindedness behind forever. What worried him was Jessie and what might happen to her if he did leave. Would Nick start hitting her if Daniel was not there to be the punching bag? 

Walking with his head down he shoved his hands deep into his pockets, he had some time to reflect on the recent past and some of the things he had done. Without thinking he stopped, lifted his head and looked out into the corn. The fog was thick here, his eyes wanting to play tricks on him. Was that a shadow man or a prop? And why was it moving? Spooked he picked up his pace, no longer comfortable being out in the corn alone.  
His thoughts went from the spooky landscape to the night he had brought Kate out here to make out in the Haunted House. He had a lot of memories of spending time with Britt in the hay loft of the barn and his regular visits with Zakk to the light tower and no matter how hard Zakk tried to push him, he was not ready to admit, even to himself that he was not straight. Most kids would label him as Bisexual but Daniel hated labels. Besides, had been in love with too many women to give them up completely. It could be worse he supposed, he could b e attracted to dead animals.
When he reached the parking lot he found Zakk sitting cross-legged on the hood of the car with the empty bottle at his feet. He looked like he had been crying but Daniel was not going to mention that. Pulling the car keys from his pocket he held them up.

" Your going to need these if you want to leave me here. "

" I would if I could drive. " Zakk huffed as he slid off the hood, swaying a little while waiting for Daniel to unlock the passenger side door. Once inside, with feeling returning to his fingers he dug out his favorite Youngblud CD, Replacing Type O.

" I'm sorry Zakk. Would it help if I told you I was an asshole? "

" You said it, not me. " Zakk mumbled, sinking down into the worn seat.

" Zakky you know how much I hate this place. How much I want to take off, head to New Orleans or New York. I can't take much more of Nick's crap. "

Zakk fixed him with an angry stare as the car roared to life. " What happened to you and me against the world? Wasn't it supposed to be US that was leaving together or did that slip your mind as well? "

" And we would do what? Sell our bodies? " Daniel was trying to lighten the mood as he backed the Stanger up and turned the car around, for a second the headlights caught the shadow man again but Daniel was too distracted to care. Zakk remained sullen with his eyes downcast, his pudgy fingers toying with a hole in his bondage pants.

" We could find work in lots of places and I have my savings. " Zakk was grasping at straws now and they both knew it. " Or we could murder Britt and make it look like Nick did it. " There was the tiniest hint of hope in Zakk's voice.

The trees now marched in silence on the opposite side of the road as they headed back to town. Many of the lit up houses' now dark.

" Please don't tempt me. " Daniel snorted, lighting up a fresh clove. They drove the rest of the way in silence both of them lost in their own thoughts. Even Zakk's house was dark as Daniel pulled the mustang into the driveway. He got out, walked around to Zakk's open window.

" I'm sorry. " It wasn't easy for him to say and he knew a simple sorry would not easily fix this one. He had clearly wounded his best friend yet he wanted to make Zakk understand how he was feeling, how trapped and unhappy he was. Everyone in this town was money oriented and fake and if you lived on the wrong side of the track then you pretty much didn't exist.

" I don't want to talk about it. " Snapped Zakk, fixing Daniel with an angry glare. " And don't even think about showing up at my window any more either. "

Feeling like the biggest dick ever, Daniel sighed heavily, turned his back to Zakk and walked down the drive. Crossing the street he walked into the darkened park as he made his way towards home. There was one person who truly understood how he felt. Mia had this uncanny ability to know how we was feeling at any given moment.  He has spent endless hours on her couch pouring his heart out to her. She listened when he ranted and held him when he had gotten stupid drunk and puked his guts out. She was the one who had been there when he slit his wrists after thinking that Britt was pregnant. Of all his friends, Mia had never judged him and he loved her for that. He just hoped she would have his back when shit really did hit the fan at home.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Jackson Carver was not a patient man. He didn't suffer fools lightly, yet every day that passed, ever day he saw the boy around town made his blood boil. He knew they would come, unless something had happened to them, they weren't indestructible after all. They could be killed, or in some cases placed in a state of suspension, torpor if you will. Either placed in some forgotten small space or buried so deep no one would ever find them.

" Daddy? I'm going to the Mall of America to get my costume. "

Looking up from his expensive camera he forced a smile for her, glanced at his watch and ran a manicured hand through his hair.

" I thought you said you would help me tonight pumpkin? "

" But the store closes at nine. " Britt's red smile pulled down at the corners. She hated the smell down here, a smell she could never quite place and the black walls made her feel claustrophobic. The only furniture it held was a bed, two couches and a black lacquered cabinet that took up one wall.

" Tell you what. You help me out and I will call the store and see if they will stay open for you ok? " He smiled lovingly at her, holding out his hand. " It won't take long. "

Britt bounced into the room, her eyes alight as she flopped down on the bed

" Can I get my allowance early? I saw this amazing pair of shoes and matching purse. " No problem, baby. I just need a few new pictures of you. I have a couple of new Japanese clients who would like to see your pretty face. "

Britt's eyes darkened, her manicured nails toying with the hem of her dress. She had hoped that he would start using Katie for his shoots once britt turned sixteen but he seemed to want more and more shots of her instead.

" Don't scowl like that. " Jack, scolded her from behind the lens. " Do you need a drink? " " No, " Her voice cracked.

" Baby the sooner you play nice for daddy the sooner you will get your dress. I know what you need. " He came to the bed, producing a small vile of white powder. " Don't tell me you ran out already? " He said, handing it over to her.

" I had to study. " She said weakly.

" As you should, no one wants to marry an empty-headed bimbo. "

Jack waited for her to take her bump, leaving the little vile at her feet. He returned to the camera, unbuttoning the top button of his starched white shirt.

" Are we ready to rock? "

" Can I ask you something? "   Sighing heavily Britt scooted back onto the bed. She knew what he wanted, could do it in her sleep by now and only had to remind herself that afterwards she would not only get the costume, shoes and dress but some perfume as well. 

"  What's up pumpkin. "   Grinning Jack picked up the camera. 

" Did you love Mother? "   

" Of course I did.  Why do ask? "  

" But you fought a lot and I don't think she was very happy. "  

"  I still loved her. We had a lot of differences but sometimes that's a good thing. Differences make good sparks. "  

"  I think I love him. "  

"  No you don't.  trust me, that boy was no good for you and we both know it.  "  

"  But I can't stop thinking about him...."   

Jack stopped snapping photos and went to pour himself a drink.  He didn't know how many times he had to tell her that Daniel was bad news.  She was a smart girl and the last thing he wanted was for her to be dragged down by a gutterpunk.  

"  Sweetheart. You can do so much better.  In a year your off to college and then you won't have time for boys.  Now can we get back to work? "  

With tears in her eyes, Britt dropped her head and pulled her dress over her head.  It was useless to try and argue with her father.  Better to just do what he wanted and get it over with.  If she played her cards right she might be able to score a new wardrobe out of it.  She had so many dresses she couldn't even count them all and most were never even worn.  She would just move the oldest ones to the basement when she wanted more room. In fact the storage room was mostly filled with her stuff.  Shopping and being an influencer had been her thing until she had met Daniel at school. At first she had just wanted to see if he would notice her or not.  Everyone said that he and Zakk Morgan were gay and there was no way she would ever score with him.

 It didn't actually take her much work to get him to give her a ride home and before she knew it she was going down on him in the boathouse.  He was her project, until she thought she was pregnant and he cut himself while at his friend Mia's house.  Everyone blamed her but Daniel had been talking about wanting to end his life from the first day she had met him. How was it her fault that he had actually tried.  Laying back she looked down at her feet and regretted it.  She could see the swell of her belly and it scared her.  She would have to find a way to stop taking pictures for her father before he realized the truth.  Perhaps she could go live with her aunt for a while.  Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes and it was all she could do to not burst into tears.  Her father couldn't know about the baby. No one could. Daniel would be killed and she didn't think she could live with that.  She just had to pretend for now that everything was fine, let daddy take his awful photos and pray that she would find a way to break the news both of them.   


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Jessie was almost asleep, her little pig tailed head bobbing up and down as she valiantly fought to stay awake. She had been sitting on the porch with her pumpkin between her feet for hours, even forgoing the Peanuts Halloween special in favor of waiting for her brother to come home. Daniel had promised her days ago that he would help her carve the giant orange pumpkin but each time Jessie had asked him to help her he had brushed her off. So tonight she decided to stay up no matter how late it got.  She had everything she needed, with an apple from the table and a juice box from the fridge, she was determined to care her pumpkin with Daniel. 

As it got darker, the streetlights kicked on and the bats began their nightly dance of swooping and diving across the darkened yard. She began to shiver, going inside only after Nick threatened to spank her and send her to bed. Inside where it was warm she climbed up into the big bay window eagerly waiting until she saw the tall dark figure of her brother crossing the street. Popping up like a jack in the box, Jessie climbed down from her window perch and ran for the door. Nick's angry shout followed her out as she ran down the wooden steps and out across the leaf covered lawn to greet him. She didn't care about Nicks threats, all she cared about was that Daniel was home. Careful not to drop the large pumpkin she yelled.
" Danny! Danny! You're late snot head! "  She giggled, sticking her tongue out at him.

" Yeah I know kido. Zakk and I had stuff to do. " Daniel tussled Jessie's blond hair as he grinned down at her and the huge pumpkin that was bigger than her head.  He made faces back at her as t hey walked towards the house. 

" What stuff? "

" Big people stuff. " He said, Tugging on one of her pigtails. "

The pumpkin had to be half her size, they had picked it out the week before against Nick's wishes. He had been furious when they came home with it. Thankfully their mother had taken their side for once and blown him off. What was one lousy pumpkin anyway? It had been all that Jessie wanted to talk about from the moment she had herd the patch was open.

" You always have stuff to do. " Jessie said, following him up the front steps. 

" I know and I promise to help you in a little bit. Is Nick in his room? " His room was their old den, he used it for his office. If Nick stayed in his room then Daniel might have a chance to get some stuff and get out of the house before noticed even noticed. 

At the top of the steps he crossed the porch and held the door for Jessie, letting it slam shut behind them as she continued to talk in her to fast kids voice.

" You promised we could carve my pumpkin when you got home. You promised! " The hurt was evident in her voice and the way her lip trembled. Daniel felt bad but had wanted to avoid Nick, in fact he wouldn't have come back to the house at all, Had he not had a fight with Zakk.

" I know and I am  really sorry, I swear we will carve it tomorrow. "
" I want to do it now! " There was a definite wine to her voice as she trailed him into the Livingroom. " You keep saying tomorrow and then tomorrow comes and you don't come home until late. "

" You should know by now Jessica that Daniel never keeps promises. "

Nick stood in the kitchen doorway with drink in hand. Dressed in his charcoal sea sucker suit Nick swayed back and forth, his eyes and nose red from the booze. Daniel's expression darkened as he fixed Nick with a venomous stare. He was tempted to say something about the pot calling the kettle black but kept his mouth shut. Kneeling down he forced a smile for Jessie. " Tomorrow for sure ok? " He pinched her wet cheek and stood back up. All he wanted was to get the hell out of there.

" But! " Jessie's arms tightened around the pumpkin, her big blue eyes pleading as she looked from one to the other. " You promised we could do it tonight. "

" And I say it's time for bed Jessica. " Nick lumbered over to her, giving the little girl a hard shove with his free hand, his dark beady eyes never leaving Daniel's face.

" No. " Jessie whispered, dropping her head in defiance until her chin came to rest on the rough orange surface. Her small arms tightening further as she pouted up at the pair of them. With tears in her eyes and the corners of her mouth pulled down she was very much on the verge of a huge tantrum. " I want to do it now! Not later, not tomorrow. Daniel said we could do it when he got home and he's home now. "

" What? What did you just say to me young lady? " Nick's hand came up, he was more than ready to give her something to cry about. " You will go to bed right now! Do you hear me? " 
" I hear you! " Daniel grabbed Nick's raised arm by the wrist, snarling. " Don't you ever touch either one of us again. " His eyes shot blue fire as he locked eyes with the drunk man in front of him. " Touch her and I swear I will kill you! "
" Oh yeah, you think your man enough to take me on? Worthless piece of shit. "

" Try me. " Daniel spat, releasing his hold on Nick's wrist. Livid he turned his back on his stepfather crossed the room and took the steps two at a time until he reached the upstairs landing. Crossing to his room he slammed the bedroom door shut. He was breathing hard and praying that Nick would not hit Jessie. He could hear her loud muffled sobs as he leaned against the door. He had to stay calm, had to focus so he could make his next move. Mia's offer to stay with her if things got to heated at home came back to him and he grabbed his sea bag off the closet floor. Hastily grabbing what he could easily reach, which wasn't much,  just a few books, a change of cloths, some CD's and Iris, his stuffed black cat. Not allowed to have pets it had been a gift from Jessie on his last birthday. He thought about leaving it for her, then shoved the cat into the bag.
Downstairs Jessie had dropped to the floor. " Stop It! Don't fight! I will be good, I will go to bed. " Crying hard she clutched at her pumpkin. Sensing that this fight would be bad if Nick went up the stairs.

Ignoring Jessie's wails Nick staggered drunkenly over to the foot of the stairs, bellowing upwards. " You get your candy ass down here right this minute or I'm coming and dragging you down by your faggoty hair! " Greeted by silence, he let go with a string of cruse words and charged up the stairs like a great angry bull. At the top of the landing he swayed on his unsteady feet, almost falling backwards down the stairs but caught himself before staggering to Daniel's locked bedroom door.  He began to shout again, banging on it, and when it didn't open he staggered back, using one stubby leg to kick it open. It sounded like a shot gun blast as it hit the self behind it, taking out the horror toys and other collectibles.

" You little shit! I'm going to show you how to treat me! " Nick swept his arm across the desk, sending everything flying, including the small Halloween village that had taken Daniel months to set up.

" Get the fuck out of my room! " Daniel screamed at Nick. He was very afraid for himself now, trying hard not to even look at Nick, but he was pretty hard to avoid so he continued to stuff what he could into the bag. He couldn't get it all, but he sure as hell was not going to leave anything important behind for Nick to throw out later.

Spawn and Buffy crunched underfoot, as Nick moved further into the room. He looked like he had just swallowed something fowl as he hissed at Daniel. " You little maggot! I knew you were a sissy boy! Playing with toys and god knows what else you do in here. " Staggering to the dresser he began to pull out drawers and toss books on the floor.

" What the hell are you doing! " Daniel cried as he tried to save the few rare signed books he had yet to grab. The look on Nicks face was freaking him out, he had never seen the man look so crazed before.

Finished with the dresser Nick went for the bed, bending down he began pulling out the stuff from under the bed. Real fear began to crawl across his skin as Daniel tried to grab for Nick's shoulder, trying to pull him back. Nick grunted, shoving Daniel hard enough to send him flying backwards into the open closet. He could only watch in horror as Nick pulled a black box out of the darkness.

" What's this? Your drugs? You know I could haul your ass in for this, little fucker. "

Daniel couldn't believe he had forgotten the box. It contained only a few old pictures of Zakk and Mia, some pills, a joint, his bloodstained razor and a dog-eared bondage magazine. Flushing almost crimson he tried to pull himself up off the floor only to get kicked back down with one Armani shoe. He was kicked a second time, the blow glancing off his chin. Pain sung to life inside his head as Nick began to wave the magazine over his head as if to hit imaginary wasps.

" You sick twisted fuck, your going to get it now! " Real madness blazed behind his watery eyes. He threw down his drink shattering it into a million tiny pieces and reached out for the long unused bat sitting in the corner. His fat fingers curled around the black taped handle.

There was no time to move as the bat rose up with maddening slowness, Daniel's eyes tracking the upwards movement. Nick meant to bash his brains in or break his kneecaps, neither of which he really wanted to be a part of. Panicked Daniel lunged forward, wrapping his arms around one of Nick's legs and sank his teeth down as hard as he could. The bat clattered to the floor, as Nick grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled. It was hurt like hell and was enough to get Daniel to release his grip.

Nick staggered away grabbing at his bleeding leg and Daniel saw his one chance to get out alive. He whipped the blood from his mouth and lunged for the bat. Leaping to his feet, he used the bat to punch Nick in his mighty gut, knocking the wind out of him. He was surprised Nick did not go down like he had hoped. Instead he wobbled backwards like some toy puppet on a string before one foot came solidly down on top of a black candle that had rolled off the desk. Like a great felled tree he went down onto his back, arms and legs splayed.

Pumped full of Adrenalin and sweating heavily, Daniel dropped the bat. He grabbed for his sea bag, took the box from the floor and angrily shoved it on top of the other items. He couldn't even look at Nick as he stepped over him and rushed out the door.

" Danny? What's going on? Is Nick ok? " Jessie was at the top of the stairs peering at them from between the posts. Nick had not moved and Daniel didn't want Jessie to see him passed out. He tried to block her view as he shouldered his bag. " I'm ok, come on we need to go. "

" But what about Nick? "

" He's fine. "

Daniel scooped his sister up and carried her down the stairs and out the front door. He didn't put her down until they were on the front porch of their neighbors home. He felt like a shit for leaving her and almost didn't until he heard the sirens in the distance. More than likely their other nosy neighbor had called the cops when Nick began to bellow.

" I want you to have Pat call mom at work and I want you to stay here until she comes home ok? "

" Why? Where are you going? " The tears were back in her eyes, fear etching across her pale face.

" Not far monkey, I just need to spend the night away from home. " Deep down he knew it was a lie, he would never go back to their house again. Nick would press charges for sure this time or he would be sent away to military school. Nope, he had to split for good this time.

Kissing Jessie on the forehead he rang the bell and hurried off the porch. She looked so small and fragile standing alone by the door. It took everything he had not to wait for Pat or Kari to open the door for them. He gave her a little wave before he turned his back and ran across the street as the first squad car pulled into their drive way.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Maggie Catherine's life was largely uninteresting. Always a rebellious girl she had grown up trying to prove the world and her parents wrong but the world was a cruel place and at eighteen she had her first baby, dropped out of high school and been through a laundry list of loser men, the last if which had just stolen her car and left her stranded at the Truckers Heaven out on rout seven.

Ignoring the glares of the pretty blond behind the counter she flipped through the grimy phone book for the third time without really seeing it. She had burned so many bridges she didn't have anyone she could call to come get her at this hour. She almost called her ex best friend but Joan had made it clear they were done, besides she would rather walk out in front of a Mac truck than apologize for her own behavior.

With the phone pressed to her ear she started to dial her mother. Although they had not spoken in over a year she knew how much her parents liked seeing the kids, and maybe, if she played her cards right she could spend a few nights at home. She turned with the phone pressed between shoulder and ear listening to it ring and ring. If she couldn't reach someone soon she was going to have to try and walk into town or find a trucker to spend the night with. It wasn't the best option but she had done it before and even made a few bucks.

Staring out the grimy spider-web-covered window she noticed a red van barreling into the parking lot, spraying gravel and dirt as it came to a screeching halt in front of her window. To her delight three of the hottest men she had ever laid eyes on spilled out. Her breath caught as they all turned their heads to look in her direction.

Quickly looking away, Maggie tried not to blush. They looked like they were wearing those contacts you could find at Hot Topic or online. The blonds looked like twins and reminded her of the Nelson brothers,  and their friend could easily be on any of the teen vampire shows she loved to watch. Hungrily she watched them walk in as if they owned the place. They had to either be a band or working on some kind of movie. She had heard they were filming over at Crystal Lake. Maybe they were movie stars? She had never actually met any movie stars, perhaps this would be her lucky night.

Maggie kept her head down, peering at the men from the corner of one eye. Her heart beat so fast she was positive the whole store could hear it as it thundered away inside her chest. The twins moved into the snack isle as the dark-haired one went strait to the counter and the pretty blond behind it. Hanging up the phone, she sank onto a nearby chair. She could clearly see the hard ripple of muscle under his shirt as he walked past, which made her so wet she thought she would stick to the hard plastic seat. She desperately wanted to talk to him, find out who they were and where they might be going.

Unsure if she could even stand, she began to go over inside her head what she might say. The stuck up blond looked almost as flustered as she felt. She was about to walk over when the dark haired one turned around and locked eyes with her.  He flashed her a heartbreaking smile. forcing her to fight the urge to look behind her to see who he was looking at and smiled back at him.

~ Oh that succulent mouth and what it could do to me. ~ She thought.

" Maybe you can help us? ." His voice was smooth and warm as honey. " My companions and I seem to have taken a wrong turn. "

" Where are you headed? " She stammered, trying like hell not to sound to eager to help.

" Austin. " Black plucked the name of a town from Maggie's head. He couldn't believe how easy this was. " Can you tell me how to get there from here? " His stomach turned as he continued to play her like a violin. He had promised the twins a good hunt and this over eager woman was the key.

Maggie's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, as she nodded her head. " Yes, I have friends who live there. If you want to give me a lift I can take you right to it. "

" Great. " Black nodded, flashing her another disarmingly fake smile. " We have been down south, road tripping. " He placed a hand on her lower back, guiding her out the door. Outside the air was chilly, the wind carried to him the harsh scent of her too sweet perfume and sweat. It was mixed with the smell of something rotten just beyond the dim lights of the parking lot.

The smell killed his appetite, making him feel uneasy and reminding him of a night they had picked up a cancer-riddled street-walker in Las Vegas one New Years Eve. Shaking it off Black walked Maggie to the van. The twins appeared a moment later with blood on their hands.

~ Leave it to them to snack before dinner. ~

Leaning on the side of the van Maggie lit up a smoke, her eyes crawling across his muscular frame. He was a trophy fuck. Joan would shit her pants if Maggie landed a guy like him. She wondered if he had money, his cloths looked like he did but the van, a rusted dirt-covered piece of crap had seen better days. " I love your accent by the way, I bet you're from New Orleans. I have always wanted to go there, I booked a cruise once but I couldn't get enough money to actually go, next year for sure though. " She threw him a flirty smile, imagining what it was going to be like to sleep with him. Joan would throw a fit if she knew what Maggie was up to.

Black slid the vans rusted door open, clearing away a pile of blood stained clothing, various wrappers, books and other junk. " Cruises are only good for so long and then you run out of things to do. " He said this with a smirk as he helped her up . 

Maggie nodded eagerly. " Oh I know, but the food alone is worth it. " She settled on the floor, her wide dark eyes taking it all in. It didn't smell very good and she was afraid to look down. The drive to Austin was ten minutes, tops and then they would be gone, unless she could find a way to get them to stay. " Do you want to go to a party? "

From the front seat a pair of bleach blond heads appeared. Dark red sharks smiles on both their pretty faces. " A party? With lots of sweet treats and pretty meat? "

Broken looked almost orgasmic and it hit her like a slap in the face. She knew them!

" I know you! I know you guys. " Her huge eyes fixed on Blacks face. " You're my dad's favorite wrestlers. " She could have sworn she knew them. It had been ten years ago, back when she was still daddy's girl. They had gone to several matches together before the world of boys and makeup took over her life. She had her first wet dream that night, waking in a sweat, all tingly and confused.

" We get that a lot. " Black laughed, shooting Broken a warning look.

" Do we look like we wear tights? " Snarled Shatter.

" Uh OK, sorry, I just, you look so much like the Blood Brothers. " Maggie laughed uneasily, convinced she knew them. 

As if reading her mind, Black held up a dark colored sticky looking bottle. " Drink? " He held it out to her with a sly smile, his fine white boned hand fell on one meaty thy as he nodded at Shatter.  " Let the good times roll. "   He said over the roar of the engine. 

Giggling together, Shatter gunned it and Broken bounced up and down grabbing the dash with a howl of delight.  Without warning the van screamed backwards sending poor Maggie right into Black's waiting arms.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Mia set a steaming cup of coffee laced with rum down in front of Daniel. It was very late, she was tired and still feeling creeped out by what had happened to her in the bath. The last thing she wanted was to try and make someone else feel better.
 " Are you on crack? " Mia stared at him from over the rim of her own wine glass.   "  You have to go home or call your mother, better yet I should call your mother for you. "  
" I know I know, I should go back and try to make things right with Nick but you didn't see the look in his eyes. If I go back now, he's going to have me arrested for assault or some shit. "

" You did assault him. Not that he doesn't deserve to be assaulted. And how did this happen again? I thought you were driving around with Zakk. "  

" We had a fight and he's pissed at me too. "  
" About? "   She really didn't want to know but he looked so sad when he said it she had to ask. 
"  Nothing.  It's stupid and I was wrong. "  
Mia rolled her eyes at him as she drained the glass. Leave it to Daniel to burn all his bridges in one night. Skipping the refill she drank straight from the bottle instead. It had been one hell of a week and she really wanted to get drunk or at least tipsy enough to sleep."  She understood all too well what an angry shitty parent was capable of. Nick was a well liked and respected man; anything Daniel might say to the contrary would go unheard, and Zakk could be as much as a shit as Daniel at times; yet, her heart broke for him. " So what's the plan? " She was not yet ready to let him move in, even if she had made the offer before. She knew from experience that she was not a good roommate or landlord. She valued her space too much, it was also part of why she was still single.

" I don't know, sleep in the dugout at the ball park for now. " His face was a mask of pain, what little she could see of it under his thick dyed hair.

" Too close to home and it's going to be freezing tonight. " She poured more rum into his coffee. " Sweet face, you know you can't run away from your problems, I know it sounds glamorous, but you can't hide for long, especially if you didn't do anything wrong, Trust me, I know. "

Wracked with guilt about leaving Jessie and fighting with Zakk he let the tears slide silently down his face. " What the hell am I going to do? I can't go to juvie or military school, I would die first. " Rocking back and forth Daniel swayed on the barstool with his head in his hands. Mia was one of the few people he had openly cried in front of. She had seen him cry when Britt had broken up with him and on the night Zakk had to kill his best friend to save both Daniel and Trez's lives. Mia had soothed him then as she did now, and he loved her for that.

Mia set the bottle of wine down, moving around the counter she silently wrapped her arms around his too thin shoulders. Closing her eyes she laid her cheek against the top of his tangled mop of hair. " Shhh. It's going to be ok sweetie, I will help you, I bet it's just a huge misunderstanding and you will be home tomorrow night in your own bed. " She knew it was a lie, knew she couldn't get him out of whatever punishment Nick would hand out, but it was what he needed to hear the most right now. He also needed to calm down, think about what he was doing and maybe she could get him to at least call his mother to let her know he was ok.

Daniel felt comforted in the shelter of Mia's hair and began to relax. He leaned his head back to stare up into her startling green eyes, eyes that seemed to get darker when she was feeling any kind of strong emotion. " Thanks, You know how much I love you right? " He brought his arms up, linking his hands behind the back of her neck. He pulled her head down, surprising her with a wet kiss.

" You are so drunk. " Mia stated flatly, breaking the kiss. Hurt that he could be so stupid she fingered a strand of his long dark hair. They were playing a dangerous game, one she might lose if she didn't do something to distract him. " Come on hot shot. I know just what you need. "Daniel mistook her words, grinning triumphantly up at her. One of his hands slid up her inner thigh, his dark eyes lingering on her full lips. " Oh yeah, what do you have in mind? "

Mia resisted the urge to let go of him and watch as he fell flat on his face. Instead she hauled him to his feet. Walking him down the hall she steered him into the bathroom and sat him down on the toilet.

" Ohh bathroom sex. Wanna take a shower? " He pulled off his shirt and went for his fly.

Mia rolled her eyes again as she turned around to rummage in the bathroom closet. When she turned back she was holding a pair of sheers and a bottle of hair dye. " Nice try asshole. " Laughing gleefully she went to work. 

   Later that night, Daniel stood looking at himself in the large ornate mirror that hung by the door. His once wild mop of hair was now streaked blood red and cut to his collar bone. He didn't know if he liked it yet and wondered what Zakk would have said. Behind him Mia was asleep on the couch with Cooper and Scary draped over her legs, Both cat's watching him with wide wary eyes. It looked like his one shot at finally hooking up with Mia was long gone, just like the urge to drink rum ever again. His head was still throbbing and he couldn't sleep. Reaching for his smokes he quietly opened the door and slipped out. If he couldn't entice Mia, he would have to find another form of entertainment.

Outside, the wind had picked up making him he shiver against the cold as he slowly walked down the dark block. Hesitating at the corner, he tried to make a decision about what to do next. He couldn't go home, not for a while anyway. He could always walk down to the Quick Stop, but he didn't enjoy playing big brother to Trez and the younger kids that hung out on the stone fence that separated the cemetery from the Quick Stop parking lot. He also couldn't be seen with Trez, or so Zakk kept telling him. 

Across the street Matty and Will's huge old Victorian loomed all dark and spooky meaning they were either still at the bookstore or down at the lanes for karaoke and before he knew it he was moving down the cracked sidewalk towards lake street, his mind a million miles away from the here and now. The wind picked up even more, blowing wet leaves across the dark street, making him wish he had taken his long trench rather than the light hoodie he wore most of the summer.

He stopped in front of a huge white house to put his smoke out on the gate, not even realizing whose house he was at until he looked up at the blue front door. He was standing at the foot of Kate's walk. He loved this street and the older homes that lined it. With their expansive yards and ornate woodwork they seemed to remain in another era. He lit up a fresh clove, loitering near the gate, hesitant to move on. He wanted to go up to the door, could see the lights on and knew she would not turn him away, she wouldn't be happy to see him and what if she was not alone? He had heard she was dating some professor from the college but he had yet to see her with anyone new. 

 He looked down the street to see a cop car turn the corner and realized the houses closest to him were bathed in red and blue light. It was time to keep moving even if he didn't know where to go. Head down he crossed the street, the memories of Kate were too much on top of everything else that had happened to him. She had made it pretty clear that she would not lose her job over what she deemed a silly affair. 

Turning around he went back up the street and crossed into the park.  He sat on the swings, shivering and smoking. Mia had been right, he would not be able to sleep in the dugout tonight. He would just have to take his chances. Standing up he began to walk towards Zakk's.

 Wide awake and fully immersed in a vampire RPG game, Zakk sat at his cluttered desk, the only light coming from his computer screen and tip of his smoke. So into his online role-play he didn't hear the light taps at his bedroom window.  He almost fell out of his chair when he did glance over and saw a face pressed against the glass. He should have known Daniel would show up. Growling, he debated getting up, reluctant post a pause during game play. Quickly posting a BRB, he snuffed out the blunt and got up from his chair with a resentful scowl. He padded silently over to the window not surprised to see Daniel shivering in the bushes. He wanted to leave him there but if he didn't let him in the dog would start barking and wake up both is mother and his little brother.

" What do you want? " Zakk snapped, glaring down at his friend.

" You have to let me in. I think I really fucked up this time Zakky. " Daniel didn't wait to be invited in, he grabbed the sill and hoisted himself over it and into the room before Zakk could close the window on him.

" What the hell did you do to your hair? " Zakk fingered a strand of red as Daniel's feet hit the wooden flooring. He tried and failed to hide his admiring smile, he was, after all supposed to be angry with his best friend.

" Mia did it. " Daniel mumbled, trying to steady himself and not fall backwards out the open window. Zakk had told him a million times to go around and use the back door but somehow climbing in this way seemed so much more rebellious.

Grabbing his arm Zakk steadied him, whispering fiercely. " Shit dude be quiet, you wake up my mother and I am fucking toast. " He cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the halfway open door, unsure weather to be even more angry at how drunk his friend was, or the fact that he didn't bring anything with him. Daniel grinned, put his finger to his lips and said a little to loud. " SORRY. I will be quiet. " He swayed drunkenly into Zakk, planting a wet kiss on Zakk's surprised mouth. He tasted of rum and spiced coffee, reminding Zakk of too many winter nights spent at Mia's playing cards, and drinking hot-toddies. He grabbed Daniel by the arm hauling him over to the bed and sat him down. Silently he moved to close the bedroom door. When he turned around he almost knocked Daniel over.

" I am so sorry Zakky." He blurted out. His cold hands suddenly crawling over Zakk's shirtless chest and drawing a protest from him that was effectively cut off by Daniel's tongue in his mouth. ~ What was he thinking? That he could just show up and make things all better by giving in? ~

Daniel tugged him towards the bed, pushing him down. He kissed a wet trail down his chest. For a guy who would not admit that he liked guys, Daniel sure as hell knew what he was doing. " I'm a fuck up Zakky, " He breathed, dragging his black nails over Zakk's thighs. " And I just want to forget. "

Thinking he was talking about their fight Zakk scowled down at the top of Daniel's head, trying to ignore the hot ache in his groin. " You can't just play me like that, you know."

Daniel stopped what he was doing long enough to grin up at Zakk. " I know, and I really need to forget so shut up."

Further protest from Zakk was lost as Daniel went back to what he was doing. He was soon carried away by drug heightened lust, his speech on hurt feelings and apologies all but forgotten as Daniel at last took him into his mouth.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEEN

Andy Kingsly walked out onto the wide decorated front porch of his parent's house , the cold air feeling good on his hot cheeks. He felt like god for having thrown such a huge party together in only a few hours. Thank god for social media. Hell he might even get lucky if he played his cards right with the way Brandi was flirting with him. Then again the pretty cheerleader flirted with everyone but that hardly mattered to Andy. He was at an actual party at his house with the football team, it was a lot better than sitting in Timmy's basement playing D&D and eating pizza all night.

The sounds of Areosmith's Pink floated out the open window behind him, providing an interesting backdrop as the drunken grin slipped from his face. He clutched the rail and hurled the contents of his stomach into his mother's prized roses. He should have let Brandi take him into the bedroom instead of doing a keg stand but he wanted to show the guys he could do it. Eyes watering he swiped at his mouth, debating on weather to continue to dry heave or go pass out. He opted for the bushes trying hard to miss the pumpkins.

From his vantage point Andy had a clear view of the quiet street lined with dark houses. Andy had grown up on this street, knew all the neighbors and felt pretty lucky to have done so. Out of the darkness he heard the sound of a roaring engine as pair of headlights rounded the corner, for a second he could clearly see the rust that covered most of the van that was going way to fast. In fact it seemed to be picking up speed, kicking up rocks and dust. If they didn't slow down they would crash through the fence, but what idiot would do that? ~ Are they trying to kill themselves? ~ He thought to himself as the van bounced over the curb and hit the fence. Dirt, flowers and his mothers cutesie Halloween decorations flying in all directions. Screaming, Andy staggered backwards,  tripped by his own two feet and landing hard on his ass right on the welcome mat. The last thing he saw was the bug splattered dusty grill and Maggie-Katherin's horrified face as the van rolled over him, smashing through the front door with all the force of a bomb going off.

Inside the van Black didn't know if he should laugh like a lunatic or rage like an angry bear. Leave it to Shatter to take the term crashing the party literally. Now their only form of transportation was a hissing wreak in the middle of some hick kids Livingroom. Maggie was covered in blood and still screaming, and the twins were laughing like children at the fair. Surely someone inside the neighboring homes had heard the noise and would call it in. Hell half the party had probably run out the gaping hole where the front door once stood and his last bottle of mix was a pooling sticky mess at his feet.

Outside the back of the van a curious knot of drunks clustered around, trying to see into the grimy window. Maggie saw their shadows and crawled to the door, crying to be let out. Black's rage turned into amusement as he casually leaned over her head, flashed her a wicked smile and shoved open the van's door, it popped open like the lid on a jack in the box, spilling Maggie-Katherine's bare bloody ass onto the debris–covered floor.

" Oh god! Help me! " She cried at the ashen faced kids clustered around the now decommissioned van. Holding out her bloodied hands she sobbed and pleaded. " Don't let them kill me! "

" Holy shit. " Came one whispered reply.

" What the fuck is going on. " Spat another.

No one was able to comprehend what had happened or even the danger they were all in. The lucky ones were now scattered, some hiding in back yards while others made their way home. Inside the house all eyes were on the naked girl and no one noticed the man or the pair of wolves that flanked him. Not until it was too late did they even look in their direction. The first wolf launched itself from the van, taking down one think necked Jock with a swift bite to the throat, spraying blood everywhere. Panic erupted, everyone screamed, and kids tried to flee in every direction as they fought each other to get out of the way. It didn't matter if they ran or hid, the party had just begun and the number one rule of any party Black attended was that it wouldn't be over until the last guest was slaughtered.

It might have been hours or even a few moments. Black didn't know or care, He was sated and lounging on the gore-splattered couch. His hooded eyes tracking the movements of the last living person as she crawled across the gore stained floor. " Who wants the last treat? " Black smirked as he watched her crawl. He thought about letting her live and go babbling like a lunatic down the street. Perhaps he would do that for Mia, leaving her just enough sanity to be terrified of every shadow. Maggie though was beyond help, a broken toy. He watched her reach his feet, mewling helplessly when he leaned down to stroke her gore-matted hair.

The twins, who were gleefully throwing rejected CD's over their shoulders turned matching grins on their sire. Their jeweled eyes gleamed as they licked their bloody lips. " The sweetest treat of them all. " They echoed, turning to cross the room, both hovered over her, watching for Black to give them permission.

" Yes. Finish it. " Black stroked her cheek, giving her a loving smile.

They moved as one, picking her up by the hair, laughing as she struggled to get away. Like a cat toying with a mouse they pressed her between them, their cold hands gliding over every inch of skin. Her cries going unheard as they chanted in an eerie sing song.

" Here's to you and here's to me and if we should ever disagree then fuck you! And here's to me! " Savagely they bore down on either side of her throat, blood spraying their faces and the ceiling. Black rose up off the couch, his smile a bit smug as the twins feasted. He crossed the room to get the gas can from the back of the van, uncapping it he poured the strong smelling liquid over the dead bodies scatted across the floor. He threw the can back into the van as Broken and Shatter joined him with satisfied smiles.

" Ready? " He stooped to pick up a black cowboy hat, placed it on his head with one hand while he lit a Zippo lighter with the other. " Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. " He spoke reverently, like a preacher giving last rights, and in a way he was. He always hoped the souls he released would go on to find a better life. The Zippo tumbled from his fingers, down into the mess of meat and hair at his feet.

Bright tongues of flame danced across the mess, leaping like starving animals at the gas soaked furniture, walls and curtains. It all went up with frightening swiftness, the roar of the flames drowning out the twin squeals of laughter. Black's mind returned to, Mia once more. Her energy was so strong, perhaps she would put up a better fight than the others. He rather hoped she would, in all the long years Black had never been beaten, taking down mortal and immortal alike. Mia would be a good challenge, not a part of the plan but plan's changed and Black never did what he was supposed to, anyway.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Deeply asleep, Mia tossed and turned on her little couch. Dreaming of cold sterile halls and highly polished floors. She was dressed all in white, pushing a squeaky cart down the damp feeling hallway. She hated what she was doing, hated the too tight shoes and starched uniforms. What she hated most was the smell of urine and vomit. Luckily she had this one last round of pills and she could go home and take a hot shower in her tiny rented cottage.

Reaching the heavy door of the ward she used her keys to unlock it and pushed her cart inside. All but three of the children ran to their beds. The twins, not to her surprise stood over a girl huddled on the floor who was crying softly.

Sighing she took some candy from her pocket and placed them on the beds the twins should have been in. Clapping her hands, they ran for the candy, ignoring her completely. Elisabeth stayed on the floor until she was scooped up and carried to her own bed. For far to long the doctors had ignored her concerns about the boys, and from the look on the little girls face she needed to do something fast or they would be losing another one. Putting the girl to bed she glanced around the room, unhappy with how many empty beds they now had.

" Are you ok? "

" I am now." Elizabeth snuggled her doll.

" You put this pill under your pillow, ok? "

" But it helps me sleep. "

" I know but I promised you I would help and I need you awake if you want to leave here. "

" But, Lucian and Leland? "

" They will be just fine, I will keep an eye on them."

She kissed the girls head before mechanically handing out the other meds. The twins would get two each. It didn't knock them out but it made them less aggressive. Honestly she didn't know how much longer any kind of medicine would even work on the boys. Punishments were treated like games and she had no idea what that nasty woman did with them behind closed doors although there were plenty of rumors making the rounds. Her fear was for the girl and what would happen if they decided to begin tests on her as well.

Suddenly the dream shifted and she was standing outside in the rain, lightning flashing all around her. There were tears streaming down her face as she waved at the retreating black limo that was getting smaller and smaller until it was gone from view. The tears were not for the girl but for her. Once they found out what she had done she would not be spared their punishments. Perhaps it wasn't too late. Quickly turning she ran for the doors, and came face to face with the head mistress, her red lips drawn into a cruel grin. She was backhanded and fell to the tiled floor. They were laughing as they grabbed her arms and hauled her up. The last thing she remembered was the drops of blood on her white shoes as she was dragged away.

Gasping Mia pulled herself from the dream. Drenched in sweat she sat bolt upright on the couch, fully expecting to see a twin pair of shadows in front of her. She could still feel the woman's pain. Groaning she quickly reached for the trash can near the end of the couch and emptied her stomach into it. Finished she got up, noting the time as she got herself a glass of water. A quick look into her bedroom told her that Daniel had left. She hoped he had gone home, but that was not likely so her next guess would be Zakk's.  A glance out the window at the early autumn sky told her it was too early to start trying to call or text bomb anyone, so she dug a joint from the box next to her bed. The pot was for those rare emergency situations and right now with the way her nerves were frayed it was one of those times. Why had he left? and where the hell had he gone and what the hell was up with the dreams? 
Finishing the joint she took a long hot shower and made coffee.  Once she was cleaned up and feeling better she hopped in the bug. The sun now was a beautiful orange ball just coming over the treetops and she suddenly wished she had grabbed her camera. Perhaps it would be the day to head into the city and look for a new coat. She could go downtown and window shop before buckling down to work. A quick couple of blocks and she was at the Quick-stop. Giggling as she bumped her car up over the sidewalk, scattering kids in all directions. She turned the car off, shoved open the rusty door and climbed out. She would normally have stayed in bed, but sleep never did return so she thought a drive around town would clear her head, besides, she wanted to swing past Zakk's to see if Daniel was there and wanted to go into the city with her.
She didn't get five feet before a pair of skinny arms came up around her shoulders from behind. " Boo! " She was almost knocked over as, Trez hugged her from behind. " Hey mom. "

" Dammit Trez! Don't do that, " She gently growled as she disentangled herself from his arms. " Didn't your parents teach you any manners? " She favored him with a gentle smile, knowing what his answer would be.

" My daddy's dead and my momma killed him. " He cackled at his own joke. " Got any smokes? " he asked, trailing her into the store.

" You got any brains? " Her retort was friendly as she narrowed her eyes at him, giving the boy her best motherly look. " Doesn't your mother worry about what you're up to? "

She knew Brenda didn't give two fart's about her only child, all that Woman cared about was her next drink. Mia had seen her enough down at Rock's to know that Trez was pretty much on his own.

" Maybe she would if I had a screw top for a head and was filled with rum. " Trez grinned, but the smile did not reach his eyes.

Sighing, Mia tried to ignore the armload of crap he was collecting as they walked down each isle. " Sweetface. Your going to turn into a junky if you keep stuffing your face with all that crap. "

" Please mom? "

Laughing, Mia shook her head, growling softly at him. " OK but this is the last time I do this! You know your to much like Daniel. "

" Thanks mom! " Trez dropped the armload of snacks on the counter, squealed and did a happy dance that made the chains on his shirt jingle. She knew the stuff would be handed out to the other kids as soon as she was out of sight anyway. Watching him get so excited over a few snacks made her sad. What the hell was it that his own mother couldn't give him that he had to find in people like her? She wanted to throttle parents who would rather ignore their children than try to be a part of their lives. It made her sick whenever she thought about it. The kid should be at home watching cartoons, not hanging out at the Quick Stop. Of course Mia herself had been much like Trez as a child. Not knowing her place in life, afraid and sometimes in a situation you couldn't control.

 And then it dawned on her that Trez might be in danger if he went to Britt's party, in fact a lot of her friends could be in danger if they attended it. " Your not planning on going to Britt's Halloween party this year. Are you? " She snagged her smokes and a coke from the pile before handing over her card to the clerk and turned to give him a hard look.
" Nope, I got banned last year for throwing firecrackers. " His eyes darkened as the smile dropped from his lips.

" And a broken wrist. " Mia said angrily.

" I deserved it. It was stupid of me to do. I could have set the place on fire. "

" Nobody deserves to be hurt. Thane should never have laid his hands on you. "  Mia saw the shadow of pain in his eyes, wanted more than anything to reach out and give him a hug but didn't. Trez had to work through his own loss, just like they all did.
"  I swear I wont go to the party OK. "  
" Ok, I just worry about you. " She said, tussling his fine blond hair.

" You're always worried. " Trez said, the grin back on his young face.

" Yeah well that's what happens when I adopt a bunch of snot nosed kid's. Just promise me that you will stay away from the farm and stay out of trouble, and don't think I don't know about you hanging out at the Pagan Bookstore. "

Trez's grin was wide as he gave her a shrug of his thin shoulders. " Don't worry about me, worry about him. " Trez pointed up at the small tv behind the counter. On it was Daniel's last school picture and the BREAKING NEWS banner. All the blood drained out of Mia's face as she watched the newscast. Her heart sank as it became clear to her why Daniel had come to her, and she was stupid enough to cut and dye his hair.

~ Great! Now I am an accomplice to murder. ~ Seething she followed Trez out the door, her mind racing as she got back into her bug. She had every intention of going straight to Zakk' s and kicking Daniel's ass.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

Laying in bed Kate tossed and turned until she at last sat up, throwing her covers off her legs in disgust.  It was almost eleven and she was not going to be able to sleep. She'd been told by her assistant principal not to come in, that school was canceled, and that they would call her if needed. She had tried to go back to sleep but sleep was hard to find. Padding down the hall she went straight into her big kitchen, took two mugs from the cabinet, placing them on the counter before she caught herself. Swearing softly, she put back the second cup. It wasn't often, but she would occasionally find herself doing this when still half asleep.

With coffee started she padded back down the hallway and into the livingroom, turned on the TV and went to the front door. Her mind was swirling with knowledge that Nick was dead and Daniel might have had something to do with it. She'd been so upset about it that her dreams had been filled with horrible images of death and her childhood, except this time she didn't escape to a better life.

Opening the heavy oak door, she stepped out onto the sunny front porch. It was going to be a beautiful day. ~ Was that the smell of cloves and musk? ~ She placed her hand on the door frame as her heart jack hammered inside her chest. The wind kicked up a pile of dry leaves caught in the corner of one of the stone steps and she knew for sure that Daniel had been there, had in fact stood at the gate before moving away. Instant tears welled up in her eyes as she began to shake.

Quickly shutting the door she hurried back to the livingroom and sank down into her favorite chair. On the TV and overly made up woman was talking about the farm report. She reached out to change the channel and was frozen when a picture of Daniel flashed across the screen. BREAKING NEWS, screamed the headline at the top of the frame.

~ Oh Shit. ~ Was all she could think as the news lady told her about the suspected murder and the search for Nick's killer? Sobbing now she stabbed the power button on the remote and reached for her phone. Who could she even call at such an early hour? What she needed was to calm down. Just because they were looking for Daniel didn't mean that he had done anything to Nick.

Forcing herself up she went to the kitchen poured the coffee then dumped it out in the sink. Turning to the cupboard she opened it and grabbed the small tin she kept the loose tea in. It was almost empty. Scowling she poured another cup of coffee and paced until she couldn't take it anymore. She drank down the coffee grabbed her house keys and coat and left the house. It was a beautiful fall morning and the short walk cleared her head. She walked past Daniel's house and the few police cars that sat in the driveway. Fresh tears welled up and she forced herself to keep walking until she was at the Pagan bookstore front step. It was an hour before they opened and she didn't know if either Will or Matty would even be there since they sometimes didn't open at all on weekends but she was in luck as Matty spotted her out front and stuck his head out the door.

" What happened? " His face was full of concern as he held the door for her.

" I look that bad? " She tried to laugh him off as she headed for the pair of chairs they always sat in when she came to visit them.

" You look like hell. " Will came around the corner carrying a stack of dusty books, setting them down next to a box of Halloween decorations.

" I'm out of tea. " Kate swiped at her tears and forced a smile.

Matty nodded, disappearing into the back room. They had a wall full of lose herbs, incense, stones and other items used for Mojo bags and alters but the serious stuff was kept in the back. Even she didn't quite know what he put together for her tea but it worked and that was all that mattered.

" Did you hear what happened last night?  " Will dug into the box and came up with a string of lights to put up around the counter.
" About Nick? I saw the cop cars last night but I didn't know for sure until I got a call from the school. "  

" Wait what! " He was suddenly in the chair next to her all wide eyed and interested.

" You didn't see the news? "

" I saw something on my phone but was going to look at it later. I wanted to get my decorations up. So what now? They finally bust him for something good? " It was no secret how much Will was not a fan of Nicks. They had actually stood on opposite sides of several marches and protests.

" He's dead. " The tears were full force now as Matty brought her a steaming cup of tea and a good sized package. " Daniel's missing and they think he did it. "

" Oh honey! " Matty reached for her hand and rubbed her shoulder. " I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding. Daniel wouldn't...."

" He should have done it a long time ago. " Will got up from his chair to let Matty sit down and went back to unpacking the box.

" Have you talked to him? Where is he? " Matty let go of her hand so she could drink the tea.

" No, I haven't since I broke it off with him. You know how I feel about it. And anytime I saw him at school he was with Britney Carver and her pack of Jackal's. I think he came to my gate last night. I could smell him. "

" Why didn't you come get some tea sooner? " Matty scowled softly at her. " Are you dreaming again? Have you made contact? Suddenly Will was back, sitting on the arm of Matty's chair. Both of them looking intently at her as if she were some bug to be dissected. It had never occurred to her that she might be actually connecting to the dream people. How could that even be possible? They were dead, her mother had told her that many times.

" How you could even stay in this town, . " Will speared her with a look.

" I love this town. I was raised here and I can't even imagine leaving. Why are you still here?" "

Kate knew that Will was from California and always talked about going home but he was as much of a lifer as she was. Neither of them were going to be leaving, Disdain any time soon.

" That book better be returned today. " Will suddenly changed the subject and went back to his box of decorations.

" If I have to go to his house and get it I will. " Matty made a face at his partner's back.

" What book? " Kate sipped at her tea waiting for either of them to say something.

" It's nothing. He won't be able to read it anyway. "

" Do you have any idea how dangerous that book is? " Will turned to spear Matty with another look.

" Not for him it's not, besides the spirit has to want to come back into the flesh, you can't force it into physical form if it's not ready. "

" Making it dangerous as well. Trez should know not to mess with spirits and leave well enough alone. That kid is asking for trouble. "

Kate's face whitened. So that's what Trez was doing at the bookstore last night and why he probably didn't want a ride home. Suddenly she was very angry at Matty, " You gave him what book? "

Matty looked sheepishly at Will. " The book of the dead. " He honestly didn't think that Trez would get anything from it. He figured Trez would lose interest and let his obsession go. He had also thought that maybe he himself could draw the spirit to the store and Will could take care of it.

" Are you crazy! " Kate set the tea down hard before springing from the chair. " The last thing that kid needs is a book on how to raise the dead. What if he tries something and brings back the wrong person. "

" Wasn't that a Buffy episode? " Will picked up her tea package and gave her a hug as Matty vanished into the back room. " I love you but you need to go home, crawl back into bed and not worry about stuff so much. "

" I'm going to the school. I can't think straight and if I stay home I will go mad. If you guys hear anything will you let me know? "

" Of course. " He walked her to the door, kissed her cheek and gave her a wave.

She could already hear their fight in her head, they would fight and then make up almost every week. Kate wished she had a love like theirs. Someone to come home to every night but how could she ever tell anyone her secrets and expect them to stick around.

Daniel had been different in the fact that she could tell him almost anything and it never seemed to bother him. She would have to start calling around after she got into her office. Lifting her face to the morning sun she tried to smile as she headed up the street. Glancing at her watch she realized that Rock's would be open in about ten minutes and she could drop in for a quick drink. With a few drinks everything would be fine, they always were, she just needed to stay positive even when all she wanted to do was get drunk until nothing mattered but getting drunk would have to wait until after she had gone to the school. 




CHAPTER TWENTY

Propping open the back door Stevo hauled out the last of the garbage and reached for his smokes. Stevo hated the night shift, hated dealing with the drunks and then having to clean up after them when the bar closed at two A.M. It meant he wouldn't get home until will after the sun rose. It had been one of those long exhausting nights where the only thing keeping him going was to dream about the vacation he wanted to take in the spring. Blowing smoke into the cold morning air he dropped the butt onto the gravel and looked out over the empty country road. It was always peaceful this early except for those few times he had to wake some drunk up from behind the wheel of their car. 

Pushing off from the wall with a dry cough he picked up the bags and headed for the dumpster. His old lady had been nagging him for weeks to go in but other than the coughing he felt fine. Halfway across the lot he heard the first wolf howl. It was common to see the occasional wolf out here, bear were more of a problem than the wolves, still, he picked up his pace a little as a second howl joined the first. He quickly put the bags in the dumpster and headed back to the bar.  It looked like rain as dark heavy clouds covered the early morning sun. 
     As Stevo reached the door he glanced over his shoulder, quickly scanning the trees at the edge of the lot. He didn't see any wolves, what he saw was a man wearing a cowboy hat, leaning casually against the dumpster.  Swearing under his breath as he reached just inside the back door for his trusty pool cue. He hadn't had to use it in a while and it felt good in his hands. 
 " Hey, Buddy, we're closed, you can't be back here. " 
Blacks grin was menacing as he crossed his arms. If the bar-back wanted a fight, he was more than welcome to it. It had been a long journey north with many miles put between the south and some town quite close to their destination.

" I don't want to hurt you, so just go home and come back when we are open, OK? "

Gripping the cue, Stevo took a few menacing steps away from the building. He didn't like the looks of this guy at all but he had to be at least a hundred pounds soaking wet.

" I don't want to hurt you either, but they will. "

Like wraiths the twins stepped from the gathering shadows, their icy eyes locking on the burly man with hungry intent. Stevo had time to swing once, the cue slicing through the air before Shatter snatched it with one hand, snapping it over one knee before tossing the piece's aside.

" You need to be faster than that old man. " Shatter snarled as Broken moved in, sweeping Stevo's feet out from under him. They wasted little time, falling on him and tearing him open. Growls and screams filling the early morning air. 

Black stepped over them and entered the darkened bar. Moving through the kitchen he walked out into the main pine paneled room. He never lost his infinity for these little dive bars and this one didn't disappoint with it's wrap around bar, old wooden stools and dirty glass. Black ran his fingers over the scared and pitted wood as he walked slowly behind the bar, his eyes drawn to the long rows of gleaming glass bottles. He had intended to make it to Disdain but with the eastern sky painted in pinks and purples he decided they needed a place to spend the day.  They could have kept going, as the sun didn't hurt them like it did the others. Sunlight for them hurt like a bad sunburn but did not kill, although he had seen newborn vampires scorched until they were nothing but walking blackened husks. A favorite punishment of the elders, along with the taking of their fangs. They could have also stolen another van or a car but the last thing he wanted was for the police to be on the lookout for anything they took. Easier to walk and think.

" You're unhappy." Shatter spoke from the darkened kitchen.

" Not unhappy. I just don't want to be here. "

" We can go south again, away from the cold. "

" No, I need to finish this. I need to see her. "

" She knows we are coming. She sees the past, she knows about Elisabeth. "

Black froze, his head snapping up. How had he forgotten about their lost sister, and how did Shatter know about Mia. He had kept his thoughts about her to himself. Did it have something to do with why Jack wanted them to come home? He didn't think so and didn't want to even think about the other possibility. 
" Forget them, We shall dance on their corpses. "
Broken walked in, dropping Stevo's body with a sickening wet plop on the dance floor." This one dances no more! " With a maniacal grin and a barking laugh he joined his brother, slipping an arm around Shatter's waist he laid his head on his twins shoulder. To the twins everything was a game and humanity nothing more than walking happy meals.
Sighing Black dropped his bloodstained hat onto the bar and made his way to a booth against the wall. Sinking down he stretched out his legs across the worn leather seat. Was he doing the right thing? Was he leading them to their deaths? He was suddenly disturbed by his own thoughts he closed his eyes and was not surprised to see Mia's face taunting him. It was going to be a very long day if he spent it brooding over a stupid mortal woman and a past he had no way  of changing.  When the first rays of sun hit the window behind him he slowly drifted off, letting the heaviness overtake his limbs and plunging him into merciful slumber.  And as sleep claimed him he heard a voice, soft and angelic. It beckoned him home in a different way and filled his dreams with nightmares. 





CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Zakk watched Daniel sleep, wondering what was going on behind his closed eyes. The way he had trashed around earlier seemed to indicate that something bad was chasing him in his dreams and although he wanted to sleep some more he couldn't. His mind raced with to many questions until he slipped from the bed, careful not to wake Daniel as he quietly opened the bedroom door. He padded down the hall, taking note of how quiet the house was. His mother and brother must be out. In the kitchen he pulled out the pots and pans he would need. He was free to make as big a mess as he wanted as long as it was cleaned up by the time they got back.

Cooking had always been Zakk's passion, his first love. He had harbored dreams of moving to the Big Easy and becoming a chef since he was five. He even kept a small black and white photo in his locker at school, taken out of some cooking magazine. Their names were forgotten, but he knew they were not only a committed couple, they also ran some of the best restaurants in, New Orleans. 

He tried not to think about why Daniel had shown up at the house the way he had. Or why Mia had cut and dyed his hair, not that he didn't like it. Had Daniel gone straight to her house and asked her to cut his hair? It didn't seem likely and what else did they do? And why did he feel so damned uneasy about it. It was no secret that Daniel had a mad crush on Mia. It didn't mean that they had monkey sex on the bathroom floor . Even if they had, Zakk had no right to be mad about it. Either way it had worked out in his favor, which made him damned happy.

Cracking eggs into the frying pan he began to hum The Beautiful People. He was going to make them a huge breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and a mound of greasy bacon. It would be the best breakfast he had ever made, and maybe he could get Daniel to go into the cities with him. They could spend the day at the Mall Of America, getting lost in the crowds of shoppers, eating cheese curds and riding the carousel until they felt sick. Zakk never tired of embarrassing Daniel by going into the Hello Kitty store and asking them if they had any vibrators yet.

Zakk grinned as he stirred the eggs, glanced up at the TV and was floored to see the Breaking News headline and Nick's smiling face. They soon cut to a shot of their house and the swarm of police out front. With shaking fingers he turned up the volume as the blond news lady said something about a murder investigation. Shock flooded his system as he turned around to stare at the kitchen doorway. He would probably have jumped ten feet in the air had Daniel suddenly appeared. So something had happened last night.

In shock Zakk set the spatula down on the counter and fell heavily into the nearest chair. He knew without a doubt that Daniel would never kill anyone on purpose, then again Nick had been a dick to Daniel. Had things finally come to a head? And what did Mia know?

Was that the reason she had cut and dyed his hair? He didn't think he wanted to know, all he did know at that moment, was that he needed to get Daniel out of his house, ASAP.

Daniel was half awake and wanting nothing more than to roll over and burrow back under the warm blankets, when Zakk came into the bedroom looking pissed. Pinpricks of pain stabbed into his temple as he sat up with an almost guilty smile on his face.

" Morning, " He said, fighting off a wave of nausea.

" We need to talk. " Zakk picked up Daniel's shirt, tossing it at him. " You have ten minutes " He tried not to be angry but it was hard not to be when Daniel had kept something so important from him.

Daniel sighed and rubbed at his face. " Ok, Zakky. Can I grad something to eat? " He thought Zakk was kicking him out as he swung his legs out from under the covers.

" Your plate is in the microwave. " Zakk's voice was icy as he turned around and walked out of the room, leaving Daniel alone with his hangover and a few disjointed memories of the previous night. He forced himself out of bed, walked quickly down the hall to the bathroom for a quick shower. The hot water felt good on his chilled skin and helped to clear his head a little. Once out of the shower he found some aspirin, dry-swallowed them and got dressed.

In the kitchen he found his plate right where Zakk said it would be, Zakk on the other hand was not in the house. Knowing Zakk, Daniel stuck his head out the back door and found his friend pacing and smoking in the back yard. Sitting down on the steps he drank down half a cup of cooling coffee before taking a bite of toast.

" What's up? " He said, as Zakk turned to look at him with a very unhappy face.

" You tell me? What the hell happened last night? "

" Does it matter? " Daniel shot back, confused by how angry Zakk sounded. Was he still mad about their fight? Or something else?

Zakk's jaw dropped open. " You don't know, do you? " And by the look on Daniels face he truly had no clue that Nick was dead.

" What the fuck are you talking about? "

" Look, I don't know what went down last night and I don't want to know but, Nick is dead and they think you did it. "

The fork full of eggs stopped mid air as Daniel's midnight eyes grew huge. He slowly set the fork on top of the eggs, lowering the plate down for the dog and began to rock back and forth with his head in his hands.

" Oh shit, Zakky. I really killed him? " He groaned into his hands. " Are you sure? How do you know? "

" It's all over the news, your fucking trending man! "

" Oh fuck. We had a fight and he fell and I thought he was out and just wanted to get the hell out of there. I picked Jessie up and took her to Pat's house and then over to Mia's. "

Zakk joined Daniel on the stairs. He wanted to comfort him, to make this all a bad dream.

" So you didn't know you killed him? " He felt slightly better knowing it was not done intentionally.

" He was going to smash my head in with the bat, I took it away, hit him in the gut and he fell back...What the hell am I going to do? " The nausea returned full force as Daniel got to his feet. He managed to stagger back inside, making it only to the sink before everything came back up. Nick must have hit his head on the large pyramid that his mom had gotten him from her last trip to Vegas.

" I really killed him? " He looked at Zakk, misery etched across his face.

" Maybe you should talk to the cops. "

" No way! I am not going to be locked up. They will throw the book at me, you know how many friends that asshat had. I'm fucked. "

" Maybe not. " Zakk said, closing the door behind him. He thought he had a plan that would by them some time and make his wish to escape Disdain a reality. " Grab your hoodie, I think I know where you can go."

" I can't go anywhere." Daniel swiped at his eyes.

" I told you I have an idea. So shut up and get ready." Zakk grabbed the keys for the Stanger. It was early enough that not many people would be on the streets. They just needed to get going before anyone showed up.




CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Wishing she still had rum to pour into her coffee, Mia turned around with two steaming cups in each hand. She forced a smile at the harried looking detective sitting at her small kitchen table. He had been waiting in her driveway when she had gotten home and she silently kicked herself for not going right over to Zakk's instead of stopping home first. She was just happy to find out they had sent someone she knew, maybe a little too well, but this was business and right now Cooper Grim, was all business.

" So you let him into your home without asking why he was out so late? Then decide to cut and dye his hair for the fun of it? "  He said it flatly, trying to hide the smirk that wanted to creep into his expression. 

" Yeah, I did. " Mia almost snapped at him.  She left out the getting him drunk part and gave Coop a shrug of her thin shoulders. " I then fell asleep on the couch after watching some shitty movie about tomatoes and when I woke up he was gone. "

" He didn't tell you he had a fight with his dad? Didn't indicate that there was something going on? Maybe admit to murder?  Didn't act any different at all? " 

"  Yeah, he told me they had a fight. He thought he was going to be sent away to boot camp so I'm guessing that he didn't know Nick was dead. "
" Do you know where he went? Has he called or tried to get a hold of you in any way?  Is he with Zakk?  or someone else? " 

" I have no idea where he is and if I did know do you really think I would be here talking to you right now? And this happened when? Last night and already the next day you're on my doorstep? "

" Look Mia, a man is dead, whether it was an accident or not the last person to see him alive is missing and you were the last person to see him last night. Do you realize I could haul you in on a trumped up charge and call you an accessory? "  
"  And my name was the first on your list of people to check out right?  You just had to rush over to my house when you found out? "  She knew it wasn't fair but she was getting tired and feeling pissy. She had not lied other than omitting the drinking they had done and was pretty sure it was Daniel's mom who had sent the cops her way first. Then again if it had been her husband who had died and her son was missing she would probably do the same thing.
" We have checked with his other friends, and dammit Mia, don't give me that look."

" So now what? " She sipped at her coffee as she tried not to glare openly at him.  

" We step up patrol and you call me the second you hear anything, OK?. All we want to do is talk to him, find out what might have set him off. "

"  You are NOT going to try and tell me that I am in danger Coop!  He's not a killer, Daniel's not going to come near this place and I know for a fact that he did not kill his step father. Yes, they fought, often and hard but Daniel is not a killer. " 
" You know that the rumor is he had something to do with Thane Winters disappearance don't you? And he didn't get along with Sam.... Look all I am saying is that he needs to come in and talk to us, tell us what happened. "  

"  Don't you dare bring Thane into this. You know what Thane did to me and you never did anything about it. "
Cooper's eyes darkened behind his sunglasses. She had hit a nerve. " He vanished before we could talk to him. Hell I could bring you in for questioning on his disappearance too but you have been though enough. So will you please let me know if you hear from Daniel? "
Cooper stood up, drank down half the cold cup of coffee and ran a hand through his dark spiky hair. He wanted to tell her to call him anytime, day or night but the look on her face warned him not to say anything more. He knew Mia was being honest and could be trusted but, they would have to keep an eye on her nevertheless.  He also knew that she would be trying to find the kid herself the second he left. 

" I will keep you posted. "  Mia walked the detective to the door, wishing like hell this could be anything other that what it was. She had liked him more than he had known. That and he was pretty damned fine under that suit and tie for a man of his age. 

" Thanks, Mia. " He paused to squeeze her shoulder then stepped out into the warm mid morning sunlight. She waved to him, watching him walk back to his sleek black car. Her tummy rumbled and she realized that she had not eaten anything since leaving the house. Grabbing her keys she locked up and headed to her bug. If she wanted to find Daniel, she needed to eat first.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Shaking like a leaf Kate walked from the pagan bookstore down the few blocks to Rocks.  It was still early but going to the school without a few drinks in her would not be a good idea.  She didn't even know how she would be able to return to her job without falling apart in front of everyone.  

Daniel was not a killer.  He wouldn't have hurt an animal let alone knowingly kill Nick. She knew that in her gut that he was not responsible for whatever happened to Nick and although she had ended it a while a go she had never stopped loving him, even after falling for Sam she had spent many nights crying over Daniel.  Pushing open the back door she walked into the darkened bar and was not surprised to see Scott and Joe sitting at the far end.  They were yelling at the game on the big screen TV and drinking pitchers of beer. So more than likely they didn't know what had happened and she hoped she could keep it that way for now.  Sliding onto a stool she ordered a beer as Scott waved at her.  The place was empty except for Blaze and Remmy tearing down from the night before and suddenly she felt like crying again.  How had  things gone so horribly wrong in such a short period of time? 
"  What are you doing here so early? "   Shannyn handed her the beer with a worried smile.  

"  Something bad happened last night. "   

"  Yeah. Isn't that crazy.  Do you think that kid really did it? "   

"  Absolutely not! "  
"  Of course he did. "   Joe wrapped an arm around Kate's shoulders.  "  Should have done it a long time ago.  Nick was a huge dick. "  

"  It was probably self defense. "   Scott sat down on the stool next to her.  

"  So you guys know then?  "   Kate drank down her beer and the shaking stopped.   
"  I know sweetheart.  "  Shannyn slid her another one.  "  On me OK. "  
"  Thanks. "   

"  You should probably go home before that cop comes back here. "   Rem spoke from the shadows. 

Kate turned to see Remmy at the end of the bar.  He looked tired and sad. "   Cooper?  He's only trying to help find Sam. "  

"  No one's going to find Sam. "  Blaze said from the stage.   

" Excuse me? "    Kate got up and went over to him. 

"  I said that no ones going to find Sam. "   Blaze blew smoke into the air as he torn down his drum kit.  

"  Don't talk like  that.  " She thought she saw him smile and it made her skin crawl. 

He came over to her and took the beer out of her hand.   "   You and I both know what you did. "  He glanced at the bar and handed the beer back. 

"  What I did? "   Kate felt her stomach roll.  

"  You blacked out while fighting with him.  That's why you don't remember, but I got your back. "  

"  What are trying to say? "   Her eyes narrowed as she began to shake again. 

"  It's all good. "   Blaze held out his smoke to her.  "  Sam was a dick. "  

"  He's your brother. "   Kate began to cry again.  

"  Was...But you took care of that.  If you need anything just let me know. "   

"  I would never hurt anyone...."  Kate was horrified.  

"  Are you sure about that? "   Blaze reached out to tuck a strand of red hair behind her ear.  "  This town...It changes you.  Sometimes we do things that we might not want to remember. "  

"  I have to go. "   Feeling sick she turned to wave at Scott and Joe who were still at the bar with Remmy. 

"  Don't be afraid of it...Embrace who you really are. "   Blaze stood up and went back to his kit without looking back.  

Kate left Rocks and headed right for the school.  Did Blaze know something about her past?  Her fight to have a normal life?   Had she really killed Sam?   They had fought and then what?  She had woken up in Aaron's bed.  It wasn't her best night and she had never thought twice about it. Blaze had to be wrong and if he knew more than she did then why stay silent?  What did he have to gain by covering up his own brothers disappearance?  and now this....She would have to find Daniel before the police did but first she needed to go to the library to pick up a few things and hit the liquor store on her way there.   



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