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About the Author
John Kirkpatrick has published short fiction and has seen his plays produced on stage. A few years back he bounced around the atmosphere of the scriptwriting world and now he's back where he belongs, fighting the freelance fiction wars from the American Midwest.
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Fayette jerked around, swiveling every direction. It wasn't just the speed, it was the certainty, as if the darkness meant nothing. Then there was a sudden noise behind the stairwell, sharp like a struggle, and the shadow came hurtling out, erratic this time with the signs of fear or injury. Changing directions twice, it vanished farther along the rooftop. Appearing quietly, Hoch stepped out after it was gone and turned to the policeman.
"Did you get a good look?"
There had been a blur, maybe something a bit more anthropomorphic within it this time, something to go along with those eyes, little more. Fayette said nothing, bringing a nod from the man.
"Your friends down in the streets, your brothers under armsthey won't say it either. But you possess an awareness they lack. That's why you're the one who's up here tonight."
The fear that rose inside him was sudden and unspeakable, like nothing since he'd been a child haunted by ghosts. The power of it shook him and that made him angry. "So you fight among yourselves," he snapped, understanding nothing.
Hoch showed surprise. "Really, officer, do I look like that creature to you?"
"Yes, but as we were both on the trail of the same miscreant, does it really matter which one of us you pursued?" He thought for a moment. "You've been close before, you know."
Fayette was confused.
"Oh yes, quite close. The killings five nights ago, when you did your neighborhood search, you came within arm's length of it. If it hadn't been for that particularly fetid alleyway, I'm certain you would have noticed."
"The vampire, Officer Fayette. The vampire. But, sadly, I lost my opportunity that night. My window, you might say." He lifted a hand to cut off some outburst. "The subsequent guilt is mine. I bear that alone."
Fayette looked more closely at him, wondering if he meant it.
"You intrigued me, you see," Hoch continued shortly. "You passed quite close to me, as well, and I took to studying you. You have good instincts for cutting through the clutter. Call it aptitude. Enough of it can be a dangerous thing."
Fayette shook his head, knowing his thoughts had to be foggy no matter how sharp they felt. It didn't help. "He's going to get away."
"No, 'he' isn't. Not from us." Facing the direction of its retreat, he motioned Fayette alongside. "The darkest corners, officer, the foulest hole. You are chasing instinct, not intellect. That's why it runs."
It made sense, Fayette thought. "My grandfather used to say never catch anything you're going to need help letting go."
"Still, it fled from you. The animal instinct is to run when pursued."
"And to pursue a runner."
"True enough," Hoch appeared to smile at that and they began to move across the rooftop, Fayette picking his way carefully into the lead. Soon enough, his gun was in his hand again and Hoch made no comment.
"Where is it?" It seemed natural to whisper.
"It could be anywhere."
The darkness seemed to thicken and Fayette stopped to look around carefully, considering. What Hoch had told him, what he was doingno, his job was to deliver them, not figure them out. "By the crates," he said after a moment, making it something just short of a question.
The tall man only shrugged his eyebrows.
Taking it up again, Fayette moved more slowly, intent on the spot and the ramshackle collection of slatted boxes. "I don't trust you, you know," he said abstractedly.
"So what, exactly, is this guy trying to be?" he went on in the same voice, hearing a hollow, grasping sound. "I mean, at what point do we all say recess is over and it's time to get back to work?"
Hoch had seemed ready to respond, but as Fayette finished he went quiet, allowing nothing to show. Then they were at the crates and Fayette bent his arm, bringing the gun up and ready. His heart was accelerating again as if the chase were still on, and each touch of rain on his face felt like a cold, stinging slap. Backing flat again, once more edging his way, he worked to the corner, getting ready to burst around when another whiff of the stench caressed him. It was too soon.
the foulest hole
And the shadow was on him, over the top and crushing him to the roof. Too fast. Too strong. Shaken, thrown and slammed, he felt like a child in a tempest, futilely striking back with all his strength, his gun only a weight, as sickening as a toy in his hand. Fingers like claws, white fish-dead eyes and that horrible smellthen a double row of blackening, jagged teeth coming for his throat and nothing he could do to stop it. He felt the creature pulled away from him, heard it land somewhere, heavy and scrambling, then Hoch was above him, extending a hand and pulling him to his feet before his head was nearly ready for it.
"And always look up."
"God," Fayette swallowed, fighting the crawling of his skin. He bent to brush at his uniform, trying to feel the gesture as well as make it and for the first time that night he was grateful for the rain. Finished, he glanced up and found Hoch looking intent.
"One of those thingsjust one of themtook out half the town where I was born. You would call it a village. Of course, we were quaint back then." He said the last with a sharp smile that quickly vanished. "And we were too afraid to fight it. It took a long winter and too many screaming nights before one of us finally got too angry to be afraid anymore."
A moment, and Fayette found himself nodding, finally coming up against something he could understand. "So, what do you call yourself?"
"I told you my name."
"That's not what I mean."
"A hunter, then. A stalker. Anything you like, said with a flourish."
"I thought it was you. I thought you were the" He put his gun away and locked it in as he used the word for the first time. "The vampire."
"Your confusion is historical. We exist in proximity to one another, much like tonight. People are frightened and, inevitably over the years, we are seen." He straightened himself as if before a mirror. "Where do you think its pretty legend comes from?"
Fayette felt the idea tighten across his face.
"An intriguing legacy," Hoch went on. "And, really, given his choice what handsome actor wants to portray rotting meat?"
"So you're not the only one."
"I would have to be the only one who had ever gotten angry." He paused a moment as Fayette remembered being driven across the rooftops. "I'm merely someone much like you, officer. Just a bit older."
But Fayette couldn't keep the rebellion from rising inside him. "Should I carry a crucifix, then?" he snapped aloud.
"That would be up to you."
"It didn't help those people."
"It didn't hurt them. Their fear did that, and their ignorance. It made them helpless."
Fayette stepped in, tight to the tall man's face. "That thing is what hurt them. That thing killed them. Maybe you forgot that part, being so old and all. Only you don't look that old to me."
Hoch took the words and the tone, unmoving, but something in his own, serious manner seemed to grow heavier. Fayette felt the concentration closing in on him like the isolation of evening, and he stepped right into it. I'm a cop, God-damn it!
"I want to know what these things areexactly."
"They are vampires. Feeders on blood. Animate corpses with a lineage as ancient as humanity."
"If they're dead how do they"
"Believe your senses, Officer Fayette. The vampire is another part of the greater order. And it is not the chief problem you face."
Fayette was shaking his head, hardly hearing. "How do I stop it?"
"Listen to me!" Hoch blurred away again, stepping into motion and disappearing so fast Fayette had no time to whirl before he was spun around and taken by the upper arms in a grip like winter steel, the tall man boring in on him.
"The power that drives them is not of their making. And it is the power, not the creature that is immortal." Hoch paused, though his intensity never wavered. "Do you understand me?"
Helpless in the grip, Fayette felt as if his feet were dangling in the air, simply because they so easily could be. Inside him, the understanding that was growing held him in a grip almost as tight. "Whatwhat do you mean?"
"The power has to go somewhere."
Dropping him, Hoch wheeled away and from the dimness startlingly close by dragged the struggling vampire into view. "Look at it," he ordered, pinning it and holding it by the neck like a poisonous snake. Horrified, Fayette couldn't look away as it snarled at him, raging without a sound.[an error occurred while processing this directive]