The safe house looked deserted, but I knew better. These were times of darkness, but that didn’t mean there was no one home. I banged the brass knocker on the old wooden door and watched as an eye appeared at the peephole. A moment later I heard a number of locks click open and the door opened just enough for me slip in. The moment my entire body had made it through the door I was thrust into the hallway wall, a row of coat hooks jutting uncomfortably into my spine. My instinct was to kick my attacker in the stomach, but you eventually become used to safe house protocol, however hands on it may be, so I restrained myself. I allowed the brute of a woman before me to hold me against the wall while an older man relocked the door with shaking hands.
“Name?” the woman spat at me. I almost laughed. There wasn’t a hunter in the world who couldn’t identify me in a second. Pale irises, dark hair and body covered in ink. I was the demon hunter, a killer, even before the vamps came out of hiding. Still, you can’t be too careful, I guess.
“Sasha Edwards,” duh.
The old man had finished with the locks and taken a pin out of his worn jacket. He looked at me warily as he reached down to where my fingers hung limply at my side. I flicked my middle finger out so that he could prick it, but also to release a little of my irritation. He sighed as he poked the pin into the end of my finger, squeezing my life force out onto a small glass plate. He inserted the plate into a metal slot, which was barely visible on the frame of an ornate mirror hanging on the opposite wall of the hallway. A few seconds later, my name flashed in pale blue digital lettering in the mirror’s reflection.
“Confirmed,” the old man sighed as he began meandering back down the hallway, clearly done with his duties and no longer paid to care. The woman dropped me roughly back onto the ground. She was much taller than me and clearly on steroids, not that I blame her. Anything that helps with a kill is acceptable in this profession. She had a long blonde braid trailing down her back, a square jaw and a jagged scar trailing down the left side of her face.
“It’s an honour to be acquainted with you at last,” she shook my hand roughly. Her features seemed to soften, only slightly, now that she realized I wasn’t a threat.
“Right, yeah, I bet. Are you of Viking heritage or just a fan of the show?” I asked. She seemed taken aback. But after a moment, she responded, “both,” and I decided I liked her. “You got a name, Viking?”
“Xena Schwartz,” her voice was remarkably low, a result of the ‘roids. “Don’t say it,” she said.
The corner of my mouth tugged up in a smirk, “say what?”
“You know what,” she said as she gestured down the hallway, indicating that I should head down to the living area beyond. I sauntered down the hallway, swishing my hips from side to side in a jaunt.
“I wouldn’t dare… princess,” I called over my shoulder and I heard her grumble some words you wouldn’t repeat to your grandmother.
The living area was furnished in dark woods and gothic iron detailing. The couches and chairs were lined with green velvet, which appeared almost grey in the dark, and matched the drawn curtains. The only source of light in the room came from a minuscule TV set which the old man watched in the corner of the room as he whittled a piece of wood into a point. Stakes aren’t exactly manufactured, so we all make our own. Another face was half illuminated by the TVs glare, but I’d recognise it even in total darkness. He crossed the room slowly and stopped before me, inspecting me.
“It’s been a while Sash, you like well… strong.”
“So do you, brother.” He pulled me into a brief hug and then held me at arm’s length, a wary look on his face.
“I’ve been sent by the council,” he told me, straight to formalities.
“No need, Axel, I’m on my way to see them,” I responded, moving past him to join Xena on the couch. I removed my backpack, rolling the tension out of my shoulders, beginning to notice my exertion after fighting the vamp at the station.
“I know, but there’s no time,” he said, some urgency in his tone. “They thought I’d be able to intercept you here… although, I didn’t think you would be stupid enough to travel after dark.”
I glared at him, which he ignored.
“It doesn’t matter, I managed a quick extermination,” I paused, “one casualty.”
He grunted, not all that bothered that someone had died. He and I were the same in that regard. We understood that the loss of life was part of nature, not something to dwell on, certainly not something to mourn. That was for the people who loved them, and we only loved the hunt.
“I’d be disappointed if you hadn’t managed the kill, Sash,” he said, manner-of-fact. He pulled out his phone, opened something and passed it over to me. “What do you see?” he asked.
He had opened a photo of an old weatherboard house, with a small front yard. It was nicely gardened and evoked infinite memories. I could see myself sitting at my father’s feet as he read the paper on the veranda; chasing insects and small lizards through the bushes with Axel close on my heels; watching the neighbours as they ushered their children away from the girl with the strange eyes; hurting the people who hurt me, and enjoying it.
It was where we grew up and became the killers that we were.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to some read marks on the front of the house. Axel reached forward and zoomed in the photo. My name was splashed in blood. “So, someone has written my name on the house. Another hunter?” I asked, “A threat?”
“Not another hunter,” he said, looking at me meaningfully.
I couldn’t bring myself to believe it, but I asked anyway, “One of them?”
He nodded. Xena interjected beside me, “but how is that possible? They are dumb as dogs.”
Apparently not anymore. This was the development that Ed must have meant on the phone. The vampire’s had grown more intelligent, beyond being able to hunt a human, now they were threatening us. They were learning our language.
“It’s possible,” I said to her. And then, more to myself than anyone else in the room, “they are evolving.”
I’d miscalculated. How the fuck had I miscalculated? I reached for the phone in my pocket and dialled Eddie.
“Eddie,” he answered.
“Ed, I’m fucked,” I responded, to the horror of the other passengers on the train.
“What’s your situation, Sash?”
He sounded as cool and calm as ever.
“I’m on the train to fucking Woodend, and the sun has started setting. It’s definitely going to set before I’m off the fucking thing.”
I however, was feeling not so calm.
“Searching for safe houses in Woodend,” Eddie’s baritone resonated through the phone. After a moment of silence, he continued, “closest safe house to the train station is 1.3km down the main road, headed east. Are you being tracked?” I groaned in frustration. 1.3km was further than I’d hoped.
“Yes, one of the fuckers has been tracking me for days. I killed his mate.” If the train goers were disapproving of me before, they were now downright terrified. I noticed flares of recognition from believers, as they realised exactly what I was. The others would be converted too, once they saw what would be waiting for me at the station.
“And you’re having trouble with extermination?” he asked.
“I wanted to take him in a controlled environment, on my terms, not because my life depended on it. This one’s huge, at least 6 foot 3.”
“You’ve made bigger kills, Sasha. I’m sending through the safe house directions. I’ll call and make sure you’re expected. Take all precautions, we’ve had some developments, so make yourself hard to find.” Developments? My instinctual need to know wanted to ask what he meant, but the red sky was turning a violent violet, so I’d ask when I made it to the safe house. If I made it to the safe house.
“Don’t die, Sash,” was the last thing that he said before the line went dead.
I stowed the phone away and grabbed my back pack. I headed directly for the tiny toilet at the end of the carriage, sliding the door shut behind me. I pulled out a small spray bottle that resembled any regular bottle of perfume, except this one contained a potent liquid that would mask my own scent with somebody else’s body odour. It was disgusting and expensive, so I only used it when I was certain that avoidance was the best method. Next, I removed the false fabric bottom from the bag and pulled out my stake belt. It had five slots, four of which were filled with stakes. The fifth stake was potentially still lodged in the killer’s leg. These barstard’s were too animal to have any semblance of intelligence. It was our only advantage, but it was also what made them so dangerous. I spotted some cloves of garlic in the bottom of the bag, but quickly discarded the idea of chewing them down. Nothing screams hunter more than the reek of garlic.
Once I had taken care of my first priority, myself, it was time to look after the rest of the civilians on the train. I approached the conductor, with what some may call an attitude. But, when I’m expecting a fight I’m not exactly about niceties.
“I need to make an announcement,” I said, as I grabbed the phone speaker from behind his right shoulder. In different circumstances his facial expression would be quite amusing, with his mouth hanging slack from his jaw like a real idiot. He momentarily attempted to stop me, placing his hand on my forearm, but he quickly released his grip as I turned my steel like gaze on him. If it were not for my pale irises, you would be unlikely to remember me, but I was born with next to no pigment in my eyes. They were beautiful and shocking. He took a long step back from me as I brought the speaker phone to my mouth.
“Attention all passengers,” I said and then paused. I’d never had to make this kind of announcement, and was momentarily stuck for words. How do you maintain discretion, keep fear levels down, and let a train full of people know that you’d endangered their lives all in one? Fuck it. “I need you to remain on the train when we reach Woodend. I repeat, remain on the train for… two minutes when we arrive at the station. This is to ensure your own safety.” Slowly, the train began to become unsettled. They were panicking and they didn’t even know why, Jesus. “Please, remain calm. If you follow this instruction, I can ensure you will be just fine,” I went to hang up the phone, before adding, “and best call whoever is picking you up and tell them to stay in the car… and tell them to lock the doors.”
That last comment really riled them up, but there was nothing I could do about that. They were smart to be scared. I stayed by the door of the train, stretching my muscles after being seated for so long. The sky had gone dark while I was preparing in the toilet. I watched the landscape flitting past the windows and I could feel it watching me back. It was more than the ghostlike trees giving me the creeps. I was sure that it was out there. It wanted me dead so badly that it must have stayed up all day, following me underground through the mines.
“The train is now approaching Woodend. This train will be terminating at Woodend. Please take a moment to ensure you have all of your belongings before leaving the train, and,” the conductor’s voice broke slightly, “please remain seated until instructed otherwise.”
I was barely paying him attention, as I spotted the station through the small train door window. The station was empty, except for one lone figure.
It was waiting.
It used to be a man, judging by its height and what was left of its clothing. As we drew closer, I could make out his grotesque face, contorted with hatred. Everything about it was so almost human, but the face was too sharp, the flesh too grey, mouth far too wide and the eyes; the eyes were soulless black wells of death and decay.
I checked its leg and my stake was gone, but I took pleasure in seeing that the wound was infected. It wasn’t healing properly, and my guess was that he needed to rest. Good.
The train slowed. The unsettled voices of the passengers went silent. I heard a gasp from the back of the carriage. There was a body on one of the bench seats. It had fed.
The train stopped, I swallowed hard and pushed the button to open the door. The vampire screeched, piercing my mind. I was sprinting as soon as the door was wide enough, tearing through the station and trying to distance the monster from the passengers on the train. It cut me off at the station entrance. I was fast, but it was unbelievably faster.
It crouched down on all fours, posed to strike. A long line of bloody saliva dripped from the corner of its mouth as it prepared to make its kill. If only I were more willing to die.
It lunged towards me as I, anticipating it, placed my foot on the brick wall to my left, propelling myself over it in an arch that landed me behind him. My hand had pulled a stake on instinct and I thrust it towards the vamp as it spun around to face me. I caught its shoulder with the tip, and I gagged as the wooden point seared its rotting skin. Its claw like hand hit the stake from my hand, before swiping back at me. I ducked, kicking a leg out and hooking a foot behind its own. I pulled its leg towards me, and it staggered but didn’t lose its balance. It was too big for that. I pulled another stake and threw it and was satisfied when I heard it sink into the fucker’s stomach. It fell back against the wall, screeching in agony. I was certain that it would have attracted others in the area by now, so I pulled another stake to finish it. It gave one more futile attempt at biting me as I sank my stake deep into its chest cavity, piercing its heart.
Its features froze for a moment before its body rapidly began to decay. Before me, the vampire became a man once more as he took the form that he would have had given a natural death and not the bite. He had been turned a long time ago. Once the process was complete there was nothing left but bones.
After stashing my stakes, I ran to the platform and signalled the all clear to the conductor. Thankfully, none of the passengers seemed eager to hang around the station as they ran to the car park. I waited a while as they cleared out, in case another vamp decided to make an appearance. None did, but I knew I was lucky.
I took out my phone and followed Eddie’s directions to the safe house, running the whole way.