I've spoken of these characters before, here and here, and they are two of my favorites. The two are a natural pair, but not like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly or Dr. Pepper and Evil. They go together more like oil and water, fire and ice, cops and robbers, bare walls and graffiti or vampire goths and sci-fi geeks at a comic con. Their innate qualities make them pair up, or throw them together, but not in a good way. There is friction to say the least. To say more, they loathe each other, yet inevitably, like washed-out pop stars and bad mug shots, you can't separate them.
Schuyler is, outwardly at least, the stereotypical teenage vampire: gorgeous, talented, charismatic, distant, romantic, but it's all an act. Inwardly he's conniving, vicious, vain, self-absorbed and cruel. Miles, is everything Schuyler is not.
If Nephys and Lucy are the main characters, Miles and Schuyler are their principle foils, the characters that reflect their inner desires, fears, doubts and motivations. That makes them a bit more stereotypical, a bit cruder caricature of a person than an actual character, but it works, and you'll see why.
(Oh, and as a side note, when you are more or less writing a parody of the stereotypical teenage vampire, you can't help but mention the elephant in the room. This is the most direct jab in the whole book that I take at a certain sparkling elephant that will remained unmentioned for the rest of the novel. It's a gentle poke really. I had to do it, just to get it out of the way and get on with the story I wanted to tell. I imagined that in my fictional universe, books about sparkling elephants exist, just as they do in our world, and of course if there were any actual real elephants they would read about the sparkling elephants too. It says nothing more about my opinion of novels about sparkling elephants than that. In fact, my whole family has read the entire series of sparkling elephant novels and quite enjoyed it, although to be honest we are on team "shirtless non-sparkling furry elephant." So to all you sparkling elephant lovers out there, please don't stampede me! I'm one of your tribe! Honest!)
From there I got away, My spirits never failin'
Landed on the quay As the ship was sailin';
Landed on the quay As the ship was sailin';
Miles Killam sang idly beneath his breath and kicked a can down an alley in the early morning hours, somewhere in the dark streets of Chester, Pennsylvania. He was looking for something to eat, a passed-out drunk or addict would do.
When I jumped aboard, a cabin found for Paddy.
Down among the pigs, played some hearty rigs,
Down among the pigs, played some hearty rigs,
He wasn’t having any luck tonight however, or on many nights lately. Widener University often had a few drunken frat boys passed out on weekends, you could always count on that, but some dumb girl had passed out at a frat party and nearly died of alcohol poisoning a few weeks back, so everyone had assumed a greater measure of self-imposed austerity. Fine for co-eds, lousy for vampires though.
The murder rate in the Philly area was high enough to mask a few unusual deaths here and there, but you couldn’t just run up to a drive-by victim and suck him dry before the cops showed up. So you took opportunities where you could, taking a little here, and a little there, the odd drunk or runaway, someone who wouldn’t be missed or noticed. You could get by quite well that way without killing too. Killing was just too messy. It drew too much attention. Any second-rate vampire could dodge a wooden stake, but twelve-gauge buckshot from a shotgun was another matter, and everybody seemed to have one these days. Vampires were fast healers, but they weren’t as fast as they were in the movies. Even if it didn’t tear your head clean off you couldn’t walk around with gaping holes in you. Even in the middle of the night, a walking piece of human Swiss cheese would be noticed. South Street was pretty wild, but it wasn’t that wild.
For all the vaunted advantages of being a vampire – greater speed, strength, agility – you just couldn’t beat the law of averages or dodge bullets forever. Sure, living people were scared of vampires, but they were also bloody crazy, and tended to run in mobs with torches and pitchforks. You can step on a single ant, but you can’t stomp out a million. And today the ants didn’t just have torches and pitchforks; they had shotguns and four ton Escalades. No, it was better just to lay low.
It was easy to lay low for a good vampire, an ancient vampire that knew all the dark arts and tricks. He could take a life, be stealthy, hide in the shadows and disappear into the night like a dream disappearing from memory when one wakes at dawn, but Miles wasn’t exactly a good vampire. He’d been at it more than a hundred years and he still tripped over garbage in dark alleys. Miles was lucky if he could stumble upon a heroin addict passed out in the alley, take a quick nip and be away. No addict ever noticed another couple of extra holes when they woke up anyway.
Tonight was different though. Wallach wanted fresh meat. Wallach was Miles’ bloody aster. Nearly all vampires had clans, safety in numbers you know, but democracy hadn’t exactly penetrated vampire society. They were all ruled by ancient and imperious masters – aristocratic, terrifying and barking nuts. Miles had been slacking of late, so tonight Wallach had up and demanded a token of Miles’ loyalty. He wanted him to pick up some take out and bring it back alive. Miles had been out all night and found nothing promising, and dawn was coming. So he was shuffling down his last favorite hunting ground hoping for a lucky break before daylight.
Danced some hearty jigs, the water round me bubbling;
When off Holyhead I wished meself was dead,
When off Holyhead I wished meself was dead,
Miles stopped singing and looked around. He was sure he had heard something, but the alley was dead silent, not even a stray rat. Vampires had more enemies than humans, usually other vampires, who were as good at killing bloodsuckers as they were people, but there hadn’t been a turf war in Philly in decades. Miles paused and looked up and down the alley but saw nothing. He went back to idly kicking at the rubbish.
Or better for instead on the rocky road to…
WHAM! Something from above knocked Miles hard to the ground and then swept him aside as if he were an empty jacket. Miles scrambled to find the wall and pull himself up in the narrow alley, blindly swinging, but hit nothing. He stood up and looked around, but saw nothing, and heard only laughter.
“You stupid mick. You never look up, do you, Killam?”
Miles just sighed and leaned back against the alley wall, closed his eyes and thumped the back of his head on the wall in frustration.
“Schuyler!! Saints and angels!! Ya scared the livin’ piss outta me!” He looked all around and up this time but still saw no one. “C’mon out for cryin’ out loud!”
Instantly, a tall, thin and handsome boy dropped out of the early morning sky right in front of him. He had windblown, shoulder-length blond hair and a handsome, boyish face, aged permanently seventeen years. He wore crisp white jeans that never seemed to get dirty, checkered Vans sneakers (no socks) and a black silk blazer over his otherwise naked torso. He never wore a shirt. He liked to show off his lean and toned hairless physique at all times.
“Geez Miles, you’d think you’d learn something about being a vampire in what…a hundred years?” the vampire sneered around a large sucker. Schuyler always had a large lollipop everywhere he went, but he never put it in his mouth the regular way. Instead, he reached around the back of his head and stuck it in the side of his mouth. He had a lot of weird affectations like that. He thought it made him look cool or something.
“Hundred and two,” Miles said flatly, “And what in the blue blazes are ya doin’ here?! This ain’t your huntin’ ground!”
“No, I don’t usually go slumming it, it’s true,” Schuyler snidely remarked, “But luckily I wasn’t far. I got this honey up at Swarthmore College. Y’know, the lonely bookish type? Freshmen get real homesick, just dying for someone to listen.” Schuyler thought of himself as quite a ladies’ man. Miles just sighed and endured the tedious monologue of Schuyler’s exploits. “…I tell you, every teenage girl out there today has daddy issues. My dad used to beat me every night as a matter of routine, but one of these rich brats doesn’t get a pony on their sixth birthday and they have to spend the rest of their lives as grad students in Gender Studies to work it out in their head.”
Ugh. This was going to be a long one. Schuyler went on and on. Miles ignored most of the recitation until he heard something new.
“So after I give her the story of how my dad disowned me because I wanted to go to art school…”
“Art school?!” Miles interrupted. “You never went to art school!”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that.”
“But you can’t even bloody draw, Schuyler!”
“So what?! Neither can anyone else these days. Besides it’s not about rote mechanical draftsmanship anymore but inner expression.” Schuyler had spent a lot of time around Logan Square and the all-girl’s art college near there so Miles figured that’s where he had picked up that meaningless bit of lingo.
“Anywho, so after the sob story I give her the quiet far off stare.” He pursed his lips and widened his eyes to model the stare for Miles, then he went back to his banal smirk. “It totally sold her. I’m telling ya, I’m gonna be milking her for months.” He took the lollipop out of his mouth in his usual backwards way and passed it under his nose like smelling a fine wine.
Miles nearly retched. Schuyler always had some girl on the hook, but it never seemed to come to much. Still Schuyler wasn’t drudging around alleys for passed out addicts. Schuyler didn’t play as well as he talked, but he was rarely on the outs with Wallach and Miles had to admit, even though Schuyler was more than fifty years younger than him, he was a much better vampire than he was.
“And you just happened by my alley, did ya?”
Schuyler put the lollipop back in his mouth in an equally odd fashion and spoke around it. “Actually, truth is, Wallach told me to check up on you.”
Miles shoulders just slumped. In the clan hierarchy, Schuyler wasn’t exactly an A-lister, but he at least had proper vampire pride and ambition. Still, to have to be checked up on by Schuyler was pretty low.
Schuyler took out the lollipop and pointed it sternly at Miles, “Frankly you’re lucky he didn’t send Ulami or Forzgrim after you. They’d just as soon tear you apart as babysit you.”
“I don’t need anyone to babysit me,” Miles said sullenly.
“Really?” Schuyler put the lollipop back in his mouth, raised his shoulders and turned slowly from side to side. “Well excuse me, I guess I had a hard time seeing that through the enormous pile of victims at your feet.” And with that, he did a graceful back flip landing perfectly on the edge of the dumpster across the alley and looked down on Miles like a smirking cat. Miles had to admit it was an impressive move.
“Shut up,” Miles muttered.
“No you shut up. I’m not the one schlepping around alleyways at three in the morning, trying to sneak a bite out of passed-out junkies. I mean…come on! What’s the matter with you Killam?! You’ve been at this fifty years longer than me and you still don’t know the first thing about being a vampire. If you come back to Wallach empty-handed he’s going to stake you out ‘til dawn and use your charred corpse to roast marshmallows.”
Schuyler was right. Miles was almost out of time, and if he didn’t come back with something…someone…then he might as well be dead…well…dead again. Wallach didn’t take kindly to disobedience. Running wasn’t an option either. Wallach and his goons, Ulami and Forzgrim, had run down every vampire in the Mid-Atlantic from Baltimore to Newark and inland as far as Pittsburgh. Those that didn’t fall in line, he had staked out ‘til sunrise or worse. There just weren’t that many vampires anymore, and Wallach was the oldest and scariest on the east coast. Most vampires could expect to someday master stealth, mind hazing and enhanced strength and agility – well, most vampires other than Miles – but he’d seen Wallach inflict pain on a minion with a glance, enthrall a victim from across a crowded room with just his voice and leap so far he could practically fly. It was rumored that Wallach could even change forms. Wallach scared the living heck out of Miles and everyone else in the clan, including Schuyler. It was Schuyler’s dearest wish to reach the upper echelons of Wallach’s lackeys. He’d make it, thought Miles. He had the looks, the natural grace. Plus, he was a royal suck-up.
Schuyler hopped down from the edge of the dumpster quietly and crossed over to Miles. “Look…you need help, that much is obvious, but it doesn’t have to be a drag. I know you and I haven’t exactly been friends, but we’re in the same boat.”
Miles narrowed his eyes. “Really?”
“Really!” Schuyler said enthusiastically, “You think I want to come back to Wallach and tell him I couldn’t help you?”
Miles wasn’t so sure about that. He thought Schuyler would push you in front of a trolley if he thought you were between him and moving up the vampire hierarchy. Still, Schuyler had nothing to fear from Miles. Miles wasn’t exactly on the ladder ahead of him. Miles wasn’t even on the ladder at all.
“Look man” Schuyler began again. “Whatever it is that’s holding you back, we can work on it together.” His tone got soft and quiet, and he placed a hand on Miles’ shoulder and looked right into his eyes. “I want you to know I’m here for you, guy.” He took the lollipop out of his mouth, without any of the usual gymnastics, and gave Miles a friendly smile.
Was Schuyler serious? Miles let down his guard and decided to open up to him, “Ok, thanks brother… I really…” but before he even got two more words out, the friendly face turned into a smirk and Schuyler contorted with restrained laughter.
“You don’t think I really care do you?” Schuyler snorted.
“Bloody idiot!” Miles pushed Schuyler away from him in disgust and Schuyler laughed uncontrollably for a second. Miles started skulking off down towards the exit of the trash-strewn alley. Schuyler caught up with him and tried to put his arm around Miles’ shoulders.
“Now, now, now, don’t be that way!” Miles pushed Schuyler’s arm off and kept walking. “See! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Just then I totally played you. You’re so naïve, you dumb mick! You let everyone play you, even the dumb drunks, but here in this world WE are the players.”
Miles just rolled his eyes, not this speech again, but Schuyler kept right on going.
“You always have to have an angle see? You have to work these people, and then they will come to you.” Schuyler put his arm back around Miles as they were walking and stabbed the lollipop into Miles chest to emphasize the word “you.” Miles just ignored him. “True, we can’t all be blessed with good looks and natural grace. I mean…look at you. You’re short, dark, pimply, and you look like you’re thirteen.”
Miles turned angrily on Schuyler. “I was sixteen!! Sixteen when I got…” Miles paused and then whispered the word “turned” as if he were ashamed of it.
“Yeah, yeah…boyish good looks I’m sure, but see, that’s what I’m talking about. You have to work with what you’ve got…let’s take your hair, Americans like gingers.”
“Americans like red haired women, you dolt, not boys.”
“Hang on. Hear me out,” Schuyler sounded genuinely offended, “You have red hair, a temper and you’re Irish. Now you’re not much to look at, it’s true, but an angry, short-tempered, possibly alcoholic, sulky, Irish teenager? Oh…we can work with that.”
“How?” Miles was genuinely curious now.
“All you have to do is go to an Irish pub, pretend to get drunk and start a fight. Win or lose, just make it about the honor of good ol’ Erin’s Isle. Afterwards, you find a lonely corner and sulk for a bit, and then, sure as anything, some Irish-American mick-ette or wannabe will come around to help you cry into your pint of Guinness.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Bad boys!! My friend. BAD boys.” And he thumped the lollipop hard into Miles’ chest. “Women love ‘em!”
“Really?” Miles was confused.
“Don’t know really,” Schuyler picked the lint off his lollipop it had picked up from Miles sweater. It wasn’t a real lollipop anyway, but a plastic one. Vampires couldn’t taste much more than blood anyhow and had precious little saliva. This one was one of Schuyler’s many props. He had them color-coded to match his outfits and moods. Today’s color was “saffron.”
“But I suspect women aren’t happy unless they’re meddling, fixing things, it’s the maternal instinct, and nothing’s a better project than fixing some broken boy. Plus, it gives them a little shot of adrenaline. They can stand close to the fire and try to see how close they can get and not to get burned. This is where you spring your secret weapon.”
“My secret weapon?”
“Yeah! You flash them the fangs, reveal your secret.”
“Tell them I’m a vampire?!”
“Of course! Just a taste mind you, just enough to let them know they are standing close to the fire.”
“Don you get it?! Vampires are the ultimate bad boys!! You’d be an Irish Vampire! That’s like a double bad boy!! A bad boy squared. They’ll be all over you.” Miles looked at him incredulously. “Serious, dude. I’m telling you, it’ll be great. It’s a new era! The ground space has already been prepped for you by a thousand novels and TV shows. It’s all they read or watch anymore!! These girls would willingly give up buckets of their own blood for the chance to meet a real vampire. We just have to give them what they want, do the lonely moody shtick: brooding teenager with overpowering demons and secrets.” He said the last part with a wavering melodramatic vibrato. “Honestly, how do you think I manage to score so many victims?”
Miles narrowed his eyes at Schuyler. He couldn’t tell if he was being serious or if he was just messing with him again. “I dunno, sounds iffy,” Miles replied nervously. He had always been more of a scavenger and not a player, but Schuyler rarely looked hungry or haggard, and he never had to get a victim for Wallach.
“Dude. Ya gotta trust me,” Schuyler finally said.
“Yeah…like I trusted you the time you convinced me we should go back to high school?”
“Dude, that was a great idea.”
“It was bloody bollocks! That’s what it was.”
“I was just thinking it would be a great way to meet chicks.”
“Chicks? It was bloody night school! All we met were a bunch of middle-aged drop-outs trying to get their G.E.D.s!!”
“Ok, perhaps it was a bit poor in execution… but it was still a good idea.” Schuyler paused and looked down, “Still not giving up on that one. We just have to find the right venue.” Miles just rolled his eyes again and kept on walking. Their long, slow stroll had led them to near where the alley exited out onto a street corner.
“Hey. Listen to me.” Schuyler stopped and grabbed Miles lightly by the shoulder and turned to face him. Miles stopped and looked at Schuyler. “All I’m saying is that you have to be more flexible…change with the times, cause it sure doesn’t look like trolling for junkies is working out for you that well.”
Miles looked down slightly ashamed. He didn’t know what was worse, that deep down he knew Schuyler was right, or that in this messed up world, Schuyler was the closest thing he had to a friend.
“So, are you ready to let me help you yet?” Schuyler sounded like he was trying to sell Miles a used car. “Are you ready for help from the master?” And with the word “master,” Schuyler made a flourish with his lollipop hand over his naked chest. Ugh.
Miles sighed and put his hands dejectedly into his jeans pockets. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Good. Now I doubt we will find any honeys out her tonight, we’ll have to work on that later, so first thing’s first.” He clapped and rubbed his hands together. “Tonight we’ve got to find you an easy mark before Wallach turns your hide into a lampshade. It’s getting close to dawn, so let’s go.” Schuyler stepped back, reached into his pocket and took out a small aerosol can. He closed his eyes and sprayed the can generously over his naked chest, neck and face.
Miles wrinkled his nose. “What in the bloody heck was that?”
“Hmm? Oh that? Nothing…just y’know, some body spray. I want to stay fresh in case I run into any ladies. Just in case.”
“Yeah, so what?”
Miles quickly snatched the can from Schuyler’s hand and read the label. “Sparkleshot. Cologne with body glitter. Musk.”
“Gimme that!” Schuyler grabbed the can back and looked hurt for a moment before he put it away.
Miles looked up at Schuyler. “Body glitter? Seriously? You’re wearin’ bloomin’ body spray with glitter?”
“Well, y’know…girls today have…certain…” Schuyler looked up as if he were searching for the right word, “expectations.” And then he waggled his eyebrows at Miles.
Miles squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. However much he hated the situation, he was desperate. Schuyler was a much better vampire than he was and right now he needed Schuyler or Wallach was going to use him for a throw rug. “Can ya just get on with this please?”
“Alright, Alright.” Schuyler shook his arms loosely and then craned his neck from side to side. “First we gotta get loosened and up and get in tune with the inner sight, feel the victim’s pain.”
“Really? Ya can do that?” Miles had heard of vampires that could sense victims’ pain and suffering and hone in on it like a bloodhound following a wounded criminal or a shark following blood in the water. They had never said so, but he was certain Ulami, Forzgrim and Wallach could do it. However, he never expected that Schuyler could. He regarded Schuyler closely. Schuyler was stretching, rolling his head around on his shoulders.
“Oh, yeah. Just clear your head and get all the distractions out.” Schuyler shook his whole body and Miles tried to follow along but he felt silly. “Now take a deep breath.” Schuyler got very still and calm and held out his hands, palms up. Miles tried to ape Schuyler’s actions. “Now close your eyes and look into the darkness.”
Miles closed his eyes and saw nothing. “Bloody heck, I don’t see nothin’!”
“Ya gotta give it time, dude, just wait a minute,” came Schuyler’s reassuring reply.
Miles looked inward and saw only darkness, but the darkness turned into a fog…and then in the fog…something…a pig…a duck…what was it? He shook his head. It was nothing, he was imagining things…then something else, a girl in a hospital bed? No…a boy…with a yo-yo. He was seeing something…wasn’t he?”
Miles opened one eye. Schuyler’s smirk could hardly contain his laughter.
“Schulyer!! Ya bloody prick!!” Miles shouted.
“DUDE! You are SO gullible! I can’t believe I got you twice in like fifteen minutes!” Schuyler burst out laughing.
“You don’ actually have the sight, do ya?”
“Nah man, I’m just messing with you. I keep trying but I ain’t got nothing yet.”
“So ya don’t know where any potential victims are, do ya?” Miles asked.
Schuyler composed himself and wiped a tear of laughter from his eye, or at least pretended to – vampires couldn’t actually cry. Everything was an act with Schuyler. “Actually, it’s your lucky day. I saw someone from the rooftop before I jumped down and scared you out of your shorts.” Schuyler put his arm around Miles and dragged him to the edge of the alley. “C’mon let’s take a look.”
Schuyler walked to the edge of the alley and leaned against the corner of the building. Miles held back and peeked around Schuyler’s shoulders. There, across the street, underneath a dim yellow streetlight hanging from a dilapidated telephone pole, was a thin young man leaning against the fender of a 1970’s land yacht parked in front of a vacant lot.
“There you are, Miles. Whadiddisay? Easy pickings, huh?”
Miles looked over the man. He was wiping his palms over and over again on his pants as if they were sweating profusely. “I don’t like it.”
“Well woo-hoo. When did we get so high and mighty? Dude, you haven’t got time to be picky.” Schuyler was utterly too carefree and far too noisy for Miles’ taste.
“It’s not that,” Miles said hoarsely, afraid they were going to be overheard, “Sometin’s not right. I don’t like it.”
“Don’t like it?”
“Yeah, sometin’s fishy. C’mon let’s go find someone else.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Schuyler spat back at him. “We get lucky enough to have someone drop right into our laps and you want to keep looking?!”
“Yeah…there’s sometin’ up with him. We should go.” Miles began tugging on Schuyler’s arm.
“UP with him? C’mon, he’s just a junkie out looking for a hit to take the edge off before he has to go to work, I mean…Just look at the guy.”
Miles did look. The young man did look awfully nervous and edgy like a junkie. Still, it didn’t make any sense. Miles knew most of the regulars in this neighborhood and he had never seen this guy before. On top of that, there weren’t any dealers out this time of the day, so why was he here?
“I’ve never seen him before.”
“So you know every junkie in the greater Philly area now?”
“No, but I still don’t like it.”
“Look!” Miles said a bit too emphatically. He tried to calm himself. “I know junkies, and sometin’s wrong with this guy. Addicts are creatures of habit, they have their favorite suppliers and they just don’t change for no reason. This guy’s odd. Sometin’s wrong. I dunno, maybe he’s a cop or sometin’.”
“OR… maybe his pusher got pinched and he’s desperately looking for a pop before the early shift. Don’t people come to this neighborhood to buy dope all the time?”
That was true, but there was still something off about the guy.
“So what’d he do? Come out here, park his car in the middle of nowhere, git out to wait and just hope a pusher would come by? It doesn’t make any sense, ya blighter. Addicts don’t park the car and wait for sellers to come to dem, ya bloody idiot. They drive around and don’ stop ‘til they find someone! It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Dude, what doesn’t make any sense is that you are passing up an opportunity to keep Wallach from having Forzgrim turn you into his own personal doormat. He could have set up a meeting with his supplier and the guy is late, that’s all.”
“So what if his pusher shows up?” Miles was nervous.
“Big deal, so we bring two bloodbags back to Wallach – the horror,” Schuyler remarked sarcastically. Miles wasn’t buying it. It all seemed wrong.
“I’m telling you it’s just not right.”
“And I’m telling you, you think too much.” And with that, Schuyler put the lollipop prop back into his mouth and started walking casually out into the street.
“Schuyler, you bloody idiot, come back!!” Miles whispered hoarsely. Schuyler just nonchalantly turned around and kept walking backwards away from him while talking.
“REE-lax will ya?” Schuyler replied, “I’ll just go over…”
“And have a little chat with our friend here…”
“And bring him back over here to the alley where you can jump him, ok? I’ll even help you soften him up a bit before you have to bring him back to Wallach, have a little snack to tide us over. Ok?”
“No…don’t go…Schuyler? I’m serious! Git back here!”
“Dude, you owe me for this one, big time. Don’t worry, you’ll thank me later.”
And with that, Schuyler strolled out into the street and called out to the man leaning against the car.
“WASSUP!! Bro…you looking for a hit? Maybe a date? ‘Cuz, if so, we can set you up proper!” The young man hadn’t noticed Schuyler before this. His gaze instantly turned their way, his body stiffened. Miles ducked back into the alley out of sight. Something was wrong, very, very wrong, but he couldn’t tell what. He couldn’t make out the conversation, but he could tell Schuyler was already well into one of his monologues. He peeked around the corner of the building. Schuyler hadn’t been talking to the guy for more than a minute and he already had his arm around the guy’s shoulders. A minute or two later the man was even laughing, albeit a little nervously, as Schuyler gestured widely with his lollipop as if he was telling some fantastic story. At the climax, both he and Schuyler laughed enthusiastically.
A minute later Schuyler gestured with the lollipop towards the alley. Miles winced and ducked down a little. The guy didn’t seem so certain at first and kept looking over his shoulder. Schuyler just shrugged, said goodbye and started walking away, but the guy didn’t follow. Just when Miles was certain Schuyler had blown the sale, the guy called out to Schuyler and ran to catch up with him, shook his hand and followed him across the street towards the alley. Schuyler looked Miles’ way and winked. Sure enough, Miles had to admit, Schuyler was good at this.
Schuyler entered the alley first. Miles pressed himself against the wall and tried to disappear. Schuyler didn’t even acknowledge Miles as he passed him. The hapless guy followed him in, passed Miles and didn’t even see him. Schuyler was setting this up perfectly. Miles could jump him from behind and bleed him just enough to make him pass out. Clean and easy. Maybe Schuyler knew what he was doing all along after all. Miles wasn’t so nervous anymore; Schuyler seemed to have the whole situation under control.
Miles crept forward for the kill slowly, silently closing in to strike…and slipped and stumbled on a pile of loose newspapers.
“Bloody heck!!” thought Miles, couldn’t he do anything right? The man instantly turned around at the sound and looked terrified. Beyond him Miles could see Schuyler’s blonde head shaking in disbelief, the palm of his hand on his forehead. The man exchanged nervous looks between him and Schuyler and for a moment it looked like he was going to bolt. Fortunately, Schuyler stepped in to save the situation.
“No, no, no!! It’s okay, that’s just my associate, Miles.” He said the word “associate” with particular venom. “Miles, here, is my lookout, see, so we’ll take care of business down here, while Miles keeps a lookout down THERE.” Schuyler’s eyeballs frantically pointed towards the end of the alley. His look was enough to let Miles know he didn’t want his help anymore.
The victim’s face relaxed a little and Miles awkwardly nodded, turned around and walked over to watch the empty street and feel worthless. Miles folded his arms and leaned despondently on the corner of the building. As he did, he heard Schuyler behind him finish the sale.
“Right over here, we can hook you up…”
“Here it comes,” thought Miles, “Schuyler’s moment of glory where he pulls out one of his patented, corny catch phrases, gets the victim and then rubs it in my face for the next three weeks.” All that was left after that was the muffled scream, the sound of frantic thrashing cut short and the long haul back to Wallach with the comatose body.
Schuyler started up again, “Before we do business, my friend, are you hungry? Because if you are, I could always go for a quick…”
Miles groaned. Not that one. “Bite,” Miles completed in his mind. How corny. Only the awful pun never came. In fact, there was no muffled scream or thrashing either. Just silence. Miles was getting nervous again, but then remembered how Schuyler had played him twice already.
“I’m not fallin’ for it, Schuyler! If ya tink ya can trick me again, ya can haul the body back to Wallach by yerself.” He it said without turning around, but there was no response. He shifted uncomfortably. Sky was sure dragging this prank out. After a while he began to wonder if it was a prank, so he took a quick peek over his shoulder, just in case it was a prank he could shrug it off, but what he saw didn’t look like one of Schuyler’s jokes. The victim was crouched, sheltered against the close side of the dumpster nearest Miles, his hands over his head muttering “Man oh, oh man, oh man, oh man,” over and over again, but Schuyler was nowhere near him.
Instead, Schuyler was suspended in mid air by…nothing…or at least something Miles couldn’t see, like a black cloud holding Schuyler up by his throat. Miles was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to do.
He stood there dumbstruck for a while and then, somehow, found the strength to rush to Schuyler’s aid, but he didn’t get far. Before he had taken half a step, a huge hand came down, grabbed him by the neck, lifted him a foot off the ground and held him there, his legs running on air. He twisted around to look at who had him. It was an enormous man in a grubby sweatshirt with a ski cap pulled down over his eyes, but there were no eyeholes. He tried to flail and punch and kick the man, but his blows just bounced off him like he was concrete. “Oy! Sweet Brigid!” Miles cried out. It hurt! A lot. The thing didn’t even act like it had noticed.
He wrenched back around to see how Schuyler was faring. The smoke was gone, or rather it was coalescing into a man, a tall thin man wearing blue-green scrubs and a leather jacket. Schuyler was struggling to free himself with no avail.
“SCHUYLER!!” Miles screamed. The thin man turned his attention to Miles for a moment. Schuyler saw the momentary distraction as an opportunity. He swung his body around ‘til his feet touched the alley wall. In a blindingly fast instant, he ran up the wall to build up momentum and flipped his whole body around to bring both of his feet crashing down onto the thin man’s head. It was an amazing move, the kind that would have floored any mortal and most vampires. Unfortunately, the thin man obviously wasn’t just any mortal or vampire. He bent over backward, nearly in half, avoided the feet and then slammed Schuyler to the floor of the alley so hard it made the dumpster jump. Schuyler, without hesitation, then whipped one leg around in a spinning motion in an attempt to sweep his attacker’s legs out from underneath him.
It was a great move, and Schuyler doubled down on it by using the momentum to spin himself up and land on his feet. However, the man just jumped the leg sweep like an expert double-dutch jump roper, bent Schuyler over and rammed his head into the alley wall hard enough to break the bricks and scatter dust everywhere. But, Schuyler wasn’t done yet. He tried another move, and then another, and then another. Each full of unbelievable back-flips and incredible jackknife twists and helicopter kicks that came out of nowhere – each move more impressive than the last. Miles had no idea Schuyler was so good at this. He had always thought of him as a lover and not a fighter.
Of course, the other guy was still much better. He never let Schuyler land a blow and deftly stepped out of the way of each attack, only to redirect Schuyler’s momentum against him and slam him into another hard surface in the alley. On any other day, with any other opponent, Schuyler’s moves would have been as devastating as a wrecking ball, but today it didn’t look so much like some awesome fight scene in a kung-fu movie as an annoyed man holding an angry and snappy puppy safely away at arm’s length.
Schuyler’s last move was an incredible back flip over the top of his opponent’s head, only to be dropped to the alley floor face first and wind up with the other guy’s foot planted firmly between his shoulder blades. Schuyler lay there panting for a moment before Miles said anything.
“Ya finished Schuyler?” Miles said from his suspended position, feet still dangling.
Between breaths Schuyler forced out “Yeah…I think…I think I’m done now.”
“Ya sure yer ok?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good,” said Miles. “Because if we ever get out of this bloody mess I’M GONNA KILL YA, YA BLOODY IDIOT!!!!”
“Look, how was I supposed to know the guy was a Renfield!! HUH?!!”
A “Renfield,” in vampire speak, was a human toady, a vampire groupie sent out to do tasks for them that they couldn’t do for themselves, usually during daylight business hours. They were a lot more common in the days before ATM banking and twenty-four hour drive-thru dry cleaning, but they still had their purposes. Every clan had one or two, but they usually didn’t last long. This one had obviously just been used as bait by these two vampires to set a trap for Miles and Schuyler.
“I TRIED TO WARN YA, YA IDIOT!! I KNEW SOMETIN’ WAS UP!! WHY DIDNA YA LISTEN TO ME?!! YA NEVER LISTEN!!” Miles screamed and flailed at his captor, but his moves were even more ineffectual than Schuyler’s had been. The young man crouching behind the dumpster stopped muttering and stood up and walked over to the man standing on Schuyler’s back.
“Hey don’t give me that, this…this is YOUR fault.” From underneath the foot of his victorious opponent Schuyler jabbed his plastic lollipop angrily at Miles. At least he hadn’t dropped that. The eyes of the thin man standing on top of Schuyler concentrated on Miles.
“My fault?!!! I’m the one dat told ya that sometin’ was fishy with this guy!! How in the bloody heck is this MY fault?!!!”
The eyes of the thin man in scrubs and the young man turned back to Schuyler.
“It’s your bloody fault BECAUSE I NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!!”
The eyes turned back to face Miles to see how he would reply.
“Oh yeah?! How ya figger dat?!”
The eyes turned back to face Schuyler.
“YEAH!! If you weren’t such a piss-poor vampire WE WOULDN’T BE IN THIS POSITION!!”
The eyes turned back to face Miles.
“YA STUPID GIT!! YA DUMB, ARROGANT PRICK!! I told ya not to do it, I told ya NOT to do it, if we had just done what I wanted…”
“If we had just done what you wanted WALLACH WOULD HAVE HAD OUR EYEBALLS FOR CUE BALLS, you stupid Mick!!”
The eyes turned quickly back and forth between Miles and Schuyler as they continued to trade insults and accusations.
“Ya right VAIN, POMPOUS SUCK-UP…”
“You worthless JUNKIE-SUCKING WANNABE…”
“Pimple faced, spud-sucking LOSER!!”
“Manure’s got more brains than you!!”
“Manure’s got more brains than you!!”
Hokharty tried to take in the situation as the insults flew from one to the other. The one under his foot had given him more sport than he had expected. That was good, and the other short, dark one with the thick accent had senses of which he wasn’t yet aware. Both would make good hunters. Tim had played his part well, Hokharty thought. He had obviously underestimated the young man’s resolve.
From Tim’s perspective, it wasn’t resolve. He was just numb. Getting kidnapped by two re-animated corpses had pretty much buried the needle on his weird-o-meter hours ago, so he wasn’t about to get more upset over a couple of vampires. At this point, he wouldn’t even be fazed if a cat strolled into the alley and started bolting out show tunes. Graber just smiled that dumb smile of his and seemed to be happy. Tim was content that, for the moment, Graber’s huge paw wasn’t on his neck, so that was good.
“GODLESS SON OF A…”
“CONCEITED, BRAINLESS, STRUTTING PEACOCK…”
They seemed to have an indefatigable hatred of each other and an endless imagination for invective. Well, that could be made useful too. “Tell me, Tim,” Hokharty began in his usual calm, polite tone, “Is everyone in your time like…this?”
“Well…” Tim shrugged and waggled his head back and forth, “Pretty much, yeah.”
“Low-rent GUTTER PARASITE!”
This just wouldn’t do. The Necromancer would expect results in a matter of hours, not days, and Hokharty needed their full cooperation if this was going to work. “Gentlemen…” he tried to interrupt them.
“Filthy, Irish, acne-ridden, half-pint…”
“Gentlemen, we have very little time…”
“Ugly, sawed-off, zit-covered, ginger, addict leech…”
“Blow-dried, goth-baiting, eighties-retro wannabe pig…”
“Gentlemen if I could have your attention please…”
“Rotten, mickey, methhead-sucking monkey…”
“Shove it up your arse…Edward.”
“Stinking, Irish…hey? WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!!”
“KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!! CRIMINY!!” Tim finally yelled in frustration.
Everyone fell silent. Of all the things that had happened in the alley that early morning, Miles thought this was the weirdest yet. It was really odd to see a Renfield lash out like that. Usually, they were submissive, whiny, little toadies that clung to the shadows and didn’t dare utter anything more than a “yes, master,” before skulking off to do some dirty work. And Tim wasn’t finished yet; he had a lot to say and was going to get it off his chest.
“Cheese and crackers!! I don’t give a rat’s if you’re zombies or vampires or demons or Amway salesmen!! JUST SHUT UP!! I’ve been kidnapped by dead guys, locked in a morgue and jumped by a couple of teenage emo-freaks and I’ve about had it with all of you!! No one is going to believe what I’ve been through tonight – heck, I’m not sure I believe it!! So, I’ll be lucky to get through this without getting killed or stuck in a mental institution!!! I’ve almost certainly lost my job, or any chance at getting accepted to any Physician’s Assistant degree program, let alone I’ll probably have to sleep with the lights on from now on and for the rest of my life, so I’m not in the mood to put up with any more crap!! I just want this day to get over as soon as possible so I can go curl up in the fetal position in my hovel of an apartment with a copy of Ultimate Avengers…and whimper for ten hours straight!! Now SHUT UP and listen! OK??!!”
Tim’s bellow reverberated down the encroaching silence of the alleyway. Miles meekly nodded his consent. Now he was even more scared. If the Renfield was this crazy, how hardcore were the vampires he was hanging out with? Who were these guys?!!
“Chillax, dude, it’s cool…” Schuyler began. Schuyler never did know when to shut up.
“DID I TELL YOU YOU COULD TALK?!! DID I?” The Renfield bent down to scream directly into Schuyler’s ear. “It is NOT ‘cool, dude.’ It is about as far from ‘cool’ as you can get!! Now SHUT UP!!” Schuyler put his plastic lollipop back in his mouth, folded his hands and twiddled his thumbs.
Hokharty regarded Tim with a faint air of admiration. “Thank you, Tim.”
“Yeah…well…you’re welcome,” Tim said angrily and rubbed his palms on his pants some more.
Hokharty spoke again, “And I promise you, Tim, that all that you have lost this day will be restored to you a hundredfold.”
“Yeah, how ya gonna do that? How ya gonna get my job back and convince them I didn’t steal three bodies or that I’m not crazy, huh?”
Schuyler and Miles raised their eyebrows. They had never heard a Renfield take a mocking tone with his master before. If the tall vampire in the leather jacket and scrubs was offended, he didn’t show it.
“Simple,” Hokharty replied, “I’ll tell them the truth. That you were acting under duress.”
Tim snorted. Miles and Schuyler exchanged glances again. A snort was enough to get a Renfield sucked dry in their clan. These were not your ordinary vampires.
“Trust me, Tim,” Hokharty continued, “I can be very persuasive. I can get your old life back…if that is what you want.”
Tim didn’t actually respond. He just kinda “hmmphed,” but Hokharty didn’t seem upset or anything. He just turned his attention to Miles and Schuyler. “Gentlemen,” he said crisply, “Now that I have your full attention, allow me to introduce myself. I am Hokharty, this is my associate, Graber.” Graber gave Miles a little shake at the back of his neck to let him know he was talking about him. “And, of course, you’ve met my friend, Tim.”
Tim nodded meekly. “Friend” was an odd word to use for a Renfield, thought Miles.
“But, of course, I don’t know your names. You are?” and he gestured to Miles. Graber gave him a little shake to prompt him.
Miles glanced nervously from side to side but eventually just blurted out “Miles.”
Hokharty nodded and then looked down at Schuyler underfoot.
“And your name is what? Edward, I believe?”
Schuyler groaned. “Actually, it’s Schuyler,” he mumbled around the fake plastic lollipop.
“From the Dutch for ‘Scholar?’ How interesting.” Schuyler wrinkled his forehead…was that an insult?
“Schuyler and Miles then. Now gentlemen, I think we’ve established that if we wanted to hurt you we would have done so by now. Agreed?”
Both nodded mute agreement.
“Very good,” Hokharty continued, “We have need of your talents and the talents of others such as yourself.” Hokharty paused to read their expressions carefully. “We mean you no harm, we just want to meet the rest of your,” he paused and chose the next word carefully, “family.”
“Family?” Tim said puzzled.
“Yes Tim. Every vampire has a clan, every clan has a master, and every master has a master, until there is, at last, a master who is master of all.” After this odd piece of exposition Hokharty turned his attention back to Miles. “We just want to talk to yours.”
Wallach? They wanted to meet Wallach? This was bad. Miles must have unknowingly given too much away with his panicked look towards Schuyler because Hokharty didn’t hesitate to follow up.
“You know where their keep is? Are they close?” Hokharty’s gaze was trained solely on Miles, and Graber gave Miles another little shake to prompt him. “Crap!” thought Miles. They’d marked him as the most likely snitch.
They wanted to meet Wallach, but that was impossible. There hadn’t been a vampire turf war in ages and Wallach was not one to be trifled with. Once, a rival clan had moved in to the Kingsessing area thirty years back. They didn’t last long. Wallach had made trophies of their master and heavies. Their skins were strung up as drapes. The underlings didn’t fare any better. They were staked out in the yard to await the sunrise. Real vampires didn’t just explode into clouds of ash when they were hit by sunlight like they did in the movies. It was more like putting a piece of overcooked meat under a heat lamp for too long. It started like a sunburn from hell – skin festering and peeling. Then the body dried up and began to smolder like a piece of fine, dry kindling under a magnifying glass. Eventually, it would ignite and burst into flames, but that was no relief. A mortal burned alive would succumb pretty quickly to smoke and heat, but this was one of the cases where a vampire’s added strength and endurance were a genuine disadvantage. A mortal would pass out and lose consciousness before too long, but a vampire felt the burn until it reached the bone and boiled its brains. It could take thirty minutes to die that way, and that wasn’t even the worst that Wallach’s twisted imagination could muster. And now Miles was being asked to reveal the clan’s secret keep to outsiders. Miles had seen many vampires die under Wallach’s hand for far less.
Miles looked to Schuyler who was chewing so far up the stick on his plastic lollipop that he nearly swallowed it. Schuyler almost imperceptibly mouthed the word, “No.”
Hokharty didn’t move his gaze from Miles once. “Or perhaps you would rather wait a few hours until the sun rises?”
Miles gulped. They couldn’t possibly be serious. If they did that they would burn up too, wouldn’t they? They were vampires just like them after all. No, they had to be bluffing, but then Miles took another hard look at Tim, their Renfield, and felt a twinge of doubt. These guys weren’t your typical vampires. He just knew that somehow, these guys had a plan that did not involve them getting burnt to a crisp. So, the choice wasn’t death or not death, but death now or death later. Wallach terrified Miles, but in the question of timing, later always seemed better when one was talking about painful, agonizing death. Who knows? Maybe he would get lucky and Wallach would be so disgusted by him, he would think it was beneath him to dispense with him himself and he’d have Ulami or Forzgrim just quickly tear him to pieces. Yeah, there was always that faint hope.
Miles swallowed hard, but it got stuck mid-swallow from lack of saliva; his mouth was so dry. “Y-yeah…yeah, I know where they are.”
Miles looked at Schuyler. Schuyler twisted up his face into a contortion of pure agony, and then thudded his head against the pavement several times. Hokharty smiled a faint smile.
“I can take ya there…but,” Miles hesitated, “they’re not goin’ to be happy about it.”
“They never are,” said Hokharty, matter-of-factly. He paused to look around and then spoke plainly. “Miles, Schuyler. I’m going to let you go now. Please don’t try to escape.”
Tim snorted a little and broke in and interrupted Hokharty very uncharacteristically for a Renfield. “He ain’t kiddng about that, dudes.”
Hokharty continued unfazed by the interjection. “I am on a mission of the most grave importance. I have much to do and no time for distractions. Just believe me when I tell you that if you attempt escape, it will be futile.” He paused and then tilted his head slightly as if thinking. “If you promise to do all that you are told, I can guarantee you that no harm will come to either of you and that you both be rewarded richly for your service.”
He sounded awfully certain of himself, but what were his promises where Wallach was concerned? As it was, it didn’t much matter. Even if they bolted, Wallach would hunt them down just for failing to bring in a victim for tribute. Either way, Miles’ long, slow, miserable slog as a vampire would soon be over. He honestly could say he had hated every minute of it. It was a fitting end to a lousy career.
Both Schuyler and Miles nodded in silence; what else could they do? Hokharty stepped off of Schuyler’s back unceremoniously. Schuyler laid there for a while, like a whipped dog, uncertain if he should get up or not. Then he performed an action like that dance move called ‘the worm,’ and worked the momentum forward into a handstand, and then, finally, a forward flip onto his feet. He didn’t quite stick the landing; he was still sore and put out from the lesson he had received from Hokharty. It was ridiculously over the top, but Miles didn’t blame him. He was trying his best to recover what was left of his dignity. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck from side to side just as if he were flexing before a workout.
“Vain prick,” though Miles, just before Graber dropped him hard on his backside. Miles’ recovery was far less showy. He brushed off his jeans and got up slowly. Graber stepped to the side and gestured out of the alley towards the street like a gruesome doorman. Schuyler followed with Tim and Hokharty taking up the rear. As they exited the alley, Schuyler’s eyes darted quickly down the street. He was contemplating making a run for it.
Tim caught the sideward glance and said, “Dude…don’t bother. Graber is faster than he looks, and the other one has eyes in the back of his head, plus he can turn into snake made of smoke and chase you down if he wants.” Schuyler raised an eyebrow at this as if he didn’t really believe it, but said nothing and continued his somber, casual saunter across the street.
Hokharty stepped into the lead, somehow confident his charges would not try to flee. He walked across the street to the car on the passenger side and motioned for Tim to follow. Tim fumbled in his pocket for the keys and went to the driver’s seat. Graber held the door open and practically shoved Miles into the back, but he waited for Schuyler. From inside the car, Miles could see Schuyler hesitating. All at once Schuyler’s shoulders slumped. The lollipop practically fell from his mouth. On his face was a look of utter disgust and resignation, as if he had finally been delivered the ultimate insult.
“An Impala? Seriously?”