Chapter Twelve

Sam Darby stuffed his pale white hands deep into the pockets of an old raincoat he'd had since high school. A light mist of rain was sweeping across the city, creating a sheen of sparkly lights across the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan. Despite the chill weather, the streets were teeming with people, life pressing on as usual in the city.

His curly auburn hair was tousled by the wind, sending it in all sorts of crazy directions. He remembered getting teased as a kid about his hair. They used to call him Bozo back in the fourth grade, because of his unmanageable bird's nest of a halo around his cranium that neither comb nor hairspray could ever hope to tame.

Then, when he joined the military straight out of high school, his nickname was promptly changed to Carrot Top, seeing as his hair was apparently comparable to the often besmirched ginger-headed prop comedian. Yes, Sam Darby was well aware that his unruly mop of curls made him a target in life. He just didn't realize quite the extent of it.

What he didn't realize was that vampires are quite drawn to bright colors.

Sam crossed a busy intersection and found himself on a stretch of road lined with dozens of brownstones on either side, closely stacked together. Pretty little birch trees were planted in fresh mounds of mulch and soil, surrounded by tiny iron fences to protect them from too many unwanted urinating dogs on long walks through the city. As he made his way down this less busy, much quieter street, he turned up the collar on his raincoat, which glowed a pale yellow beneath the old-fashioned style streetlamps that lined the residential street.

A pair of shadows flitted before Sam, moving with impossibly fast, cat-like reflexes. If Sam had been paying closer attention, he may have noticed the figures float through the dark air around him, as if they were swimming through the air. Instead, he kept walking, wriggling his toes inside his beat up Converse lace ups.

With the force of a freight train colliding with a wall, one of the shadows barreled into Sam's chest, the momentum sending their bodies flying back at least five feet across the sidewalk, before they slammed into one of the meticulously planted trees, knocking it over in one swift motion, branches cracking and slapping in all directions, soil spraying up into the air like blood being shed from the earth.

Sam locked his hazel eyes with the ravenous gaze of an impure vampire, its features craven and malformed, its eyes so full of bloodlust and rage. Massive fangs protruded from its upper jaw, making it nearly impossible for the creature to fully close its mouth. With a strength of ten men, the vampire clutched Sam by the shoulders, pinning him completely to the sidewalk. The vampire hissed and snarled, twitching with anticipation of the feed.

That's when the second vampire descended upon him, hovering over his face from above his head, crouching across from its friend. The two creatures were positively slathering over Sam's prone body. Drool began to collect at the corner of their mouths, their elongated claws digging into his pallid flesh.

The vampire straddling Sam's chest dove in, burying his fangs into Sam's neck, destroying his jugular within seconds. This sent the second vampire into a frenzy, and it began to screech and howl in approval, scrabbling to lap up the overflowing blood that gushed from Sam's neck in waves.

Then they began to choke and sputter, coughing and gagging. Sam chuckled, though having his throat ripped open made creating that sound slightly difficult. If he had been able to feel the pain of what was happening to him, he would have definitely been afraid. Downright terrified, in fact. But this was actually pretty tame compared to what had been done to his body over the years.

"You picked the wrong guy, bitches," Sam said through his mangled vocal cords. The vampires snarled, wiping at their mouths with their claws, confusion momentarily clouding their frenetic eyes. They leapt back from Sam's body, still spitting out the thick, black, mucous-like blood that was oozing from his would-be mortal wound. He supposed being undead did sometimes have its advantages.

The first vampire, black ichor still dripping from his fangs, went down like a tumbleweed as a new arrival pummeled into him from above, tackling him to the ground. Sam angled his head up slightly and saw that Anton had finally arrived. He hadn't expected to actually get bitten by the vampires when he had agreed to meet Anton out here to lure the impures out. With a sigh, Sam began to clamber back to his feet. He could already feel his throat beginning to slowly heal, that familiar itching feeling stretching across his skin as the necrotic tissue began to regenerate.

"You're late!" Sam called over to Anton as the blond vampire squared off against the two inhuman monsters at once. He was a blur of leather and icy blue eyes as he spun and kicked and punched, fending off the impures as best he could. Newborn vampires were typically stronger than older ones, especially if they were humans that had been turned. The rage that flowed through their bodies made them even more powerful.

"Had to be sure these were the ones," Anton huffed as he decked one of the vampires square in the jaw, sending it soaring several feet up into the air, before it landed in a crumpled heap at his feet. He glanced over at Sam, nodding down at the broken branches of the tree that had been destroyed by the melee. "Help me out?"

Sam looked down, understanding. He tossed Anton one of the thicker broken branches, which ended in a sickeningly sharp edge. Anton deftly caught the impromptu stake and in one fluid motion, followed through and slammed it home straight into the still-standing impure vampire. It screeched a rattling death-cry before collapsing next to its partner-in-crime, who was slowly beginning to rally itself.

Anton fell into a sharp kneeling position, pounding the branch directly into the heart of the second vampire. Sam ambled over to where Anton crouched, watching the vampires intently as they writhed and agonized, dying a slow and horrific death. Sam had seen vampires staked before, but it never got any easier to see just how painful a death it actually was.

"What's that mark, on his chest?" Sam asked, leaning over Anton's shoulder. Tiny droplets of thick, black viscous liquid dribbled down Anton's collar, landing amongst the various battle wounds on the dying vampire's chest. Anton glanced up at Sam with an irritated sigh, and Sam grimaced apologetically, clutching his hand back over the still-closing wound around his carotid. As the vampires began to shiver and emaciate, slowly withering away into nothing but dust, Anton turned back to the mark Sam had noticed poking through the top of a button-down dress shirt that had come undone during the battle.

Anton studied the marking closely, committing it to memory. Somehow it felt familiar to him, like something he had seen, long ago, in a faraway place. But he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.

"Know what it is?" Sam asked, wiping away the last vestiges of the undead blood from his neck, the wound now completely sealed and gone.

"Maybe," Anton said distantly, rising to his full stature. "Thanks for helping me out, by the way. I knew your particular skills would be of most use."

"Sure thing," Sam said, shrugging. "I kind of liked being the bait for once."