Copyright 2011 Tina Folsom
Zane heard a scream and blocked it out to prolong feeding from the succulent neck of the Latino kid he’d cornered in an alley in the Mission, the predominantly Mexican and South American neighborhood of San Francisco. It was a sketchy area; on one hand, trendy restaurants and nightclubs attracted the rich residents from the north side of town, on the other, poor immigrants toiled in dead-end jobs for minimum wage. Yet somehow, Zane had instantly felt at home when he’d first set foot in the neighborhood.
As his fangs lodged deeper to draw more blood, Zane listened to the thundering heartbeat of his victim, fully aware of the power he had over the teenager’s life. If he took an ounce too much, the boy would bleed out, his heartbeat ceasing, his breath rushing from his lungs for the last time, leaving behind a lifeless shell.
It was how he liked to feed, not from a bottle of lifeless donated blood like his colleagues at Scanguards preferred, but from a human where he felt the life pulsing beneath his palms while the warm, rich blood coated his throat. There was no substitute for this feeling. It went beyond pure nourishment; it appealed to his need to feel superior, to be powerful, to be in control of the life in his arms.
Every night, the struggle to allow that life to continue renewed. Despite the fact that each night a different human was at his mercy, it changed nothing, and the battle inside him remained the same: to stop while the human was still alive or to give into the urge to destroy and assuage his need to avenge, for no matter whether he fed from a Latino kid, a black woman, or an Asian man, their faces were all the same once his memories of the past took possession of his mind. Their features morphed into those of a white man, his hair a dark blond, his eyes brown, and his cheekbones high: the face of one of his torturers, the only one he had failed to track down after chasing him for over sixty-five years. The only one he hadn’t slain—yet.
Zane noticed the change in pressure of the blood rushing through the kid’s veins, and drew his fangs from his neck. He quickly licked over the wound to close it and prevent any more blood loss as his fangs retracted back into their sockets, deep within his gums, satisfied for the moment. His own heart hammered furiously in his chest as he felt his victim slacken, but his ears picked up the faint heartbeat, assuring him that he hadn’t gone too far. He’d won tonight’s battle, but the restlessness he’d felt in the last few months was increasing and driving him to take more and more risks with his victims’ lives.
He’d come to San Francisco nine months ago on an assignment for Scanguards, the vampire-run bodyguard company that had employed him for several decades. The assignment had turned into a permanent stay. At first, he’d thought that the change of venue from New York to this quiet West coast town that was frequently engulfed in fog would bring him peace, but the opposite was the case. The hunt for his torturer had stalled, then come to a dead end. With every day that passed after the trail had gone cold, this failure drove his anger and hatred higher. He needed to hurt somebody. Soon.
At a sound, Zane snapped his head to the side. He lowered the Latino kid to the ground, resting him against the wall of a building. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, concentrating on the distant voice he’d heard. Past the noise that indicated a vibrant nightlife, a low whimpering laced with fear and despair drifted to him. It was remote, but his sensitive vampire hearing identified it as a plea for help.
He shouldn’t have ignored the scream he’d heard earlier. He should have known that something was wrong. Both his vampire instincts and his training as a bodyguard told him as much. Without casting another glance at his victim, Zane charged out of the alley and headed for the origin of the sound. He hoped he wasn’t too late already.
A few drunks stumbled along the sidewalk, their incoherent mumbles temporarily blocking out the distressed sobs he was following. Had he lost the trail? Zane rocked to a halt at the next corner and forced his ears to concentrate. For a moment, everything was completely quiet, but then the sound returned and intensified his gut feeling that he was needed.
This time the cry was accompanied by the low hissing voice of a man. “Shut up, bitch, or I’m gonna gut you.”
Instinct took over as Zane raced around the corner and into the driveway where two shabby apartment buildings converged. His superior night vision assessed the situation instantly: a man was forcing a young woman face down against a dumpster, holding a knife to her throat. His pants bunched at his knees, and his bare ass moved frantically back and forth as he raped her.
“Shit!” Zane leapt at him just as the man’s head turned, alerted by Zane’s curse.
His fangs lengthened in mid-flight, and his fingers transformed into sharp claws capable of ripping an elephant to shreds. Zane pried the rapist off his victim with one swoop, his claws digging into the guy’s shoulders, cleaving clear through his hoodie sweater.
The man’s scream was first surprise, then pain as Zane’s claws slashed deeper into his flesh. He relished the sound and dragged one hand, claws extended, through the entire width of his shoulder, tearing the flesh apart, rupturing muscle and nerve tissue. Blood spurted from the open wound, and the air became pregnant with its metallic scent. He flashed his fangs, making sure the asshole got a good look at them.
“Nooooo!” The desperate protest of his victim did nothing to stop Zane’s assault. Deliberately slowly, he allowed his other hand to tear through the muscles of the left shoulder, doing equal damage there. His arms dangling limp from his shoulders, the severed sinew and nerves not supporting their movement any longer, the rapist was defenseless.
At his mercy.
If Zane had had a heart, he would have ended it right there, but it was too late. One look at the frightened girl who gaped at him in horror, and his past took hold of him. Suddenly, the strawberry blond rape victim’s features with the terrified blue eyes became a face he knew so well, a face he’d not seen in decades, yet never forgotten.
Her dark brown hair curled at its ends and caressed her pale shoulders as it framed her young face. Her chocolate brown eyes looked up at him, innocence lost, begging him to help her, to save her. “Zacharias …” As her voice faded, he reached for her, but she shrunk back, petrified.
“Maria,” he whispered. “Don’t be afraid.”
Zane became aware of the man struggling against him and tore his gaze from her. He would kill the man who was hurting her, hurting his little Maria.
Zane tossed the rapist against a wall, hearing the cracking of his ribs with utter satisfaction. When he crossed the distance to his victim, his steps were deliberate. He allowed his body to harden and enjoyed the horrified look in the man’s eyes. But he didn’t see the face of the rapist anymore. It had changed. He saw a dark blond man with brown eyes. And finally those eyes shone with fear and the knowledge that his time had finally run out. He was caught and would pay for his crimes tonight.
Without another thought, Zane slammed his claws into the man’s chest and sliced it open with the infallible precision of a man who’d performed this task before. Ignoring the bloodcurdling screams, he plunged his hands inside and jerked the ribs apart. Blood spurted onto him, liberally gushing from the open chest. He inhaled the scent, the smell of life and death equally strong. Despite the fact that he’d only just fed, hunger surged, but it was a different kind of hunger this time, not for food, but for revenge. Sweeter than hunger, it begged to be satisfied by the only means possible.
Zane jammed his hand through the chest wall and reached for the beating heart. His palm clamped around it, the life-sustaining organ beating into his fist, its spasms still strong and fighting against the inevitable. “You’ll never hurt anybody again.”
As he tore the beating heart from its body, the man’s eyes went blank. Zane stared at the still-beating heart in his hand as the warm blood dripped from the torn veins and arteries and ran down his hand and wrist. A river of it tunneled under the sleeve of his black shirt, soaking it, pasting it against his skin. His heartbeat slowed to near normal.
It was done.
“Maria, he’s dead. You’re safe now.”
Zane pivoted, but Maria was gone. In her stead, a strawberry blond, young woman cowered against the dumpster, whimpering and shaking like a leaf. Tears had dissolved her black mascara and left long dark streaks along her cheeks. Her lips quivered.
Zane blinked. Maria wasn’t safe. Maria was gone, and he couldn’t bring her back. But this girl here was alive, and her attacker was dead.
He took a step toward her to impart the good news, but she scrambled back and away from him. “Noooo!” she echoed breathlessly, her eyes frantically searching for an escape route as if she thought Zane was coming after her next.
“I won’t hurt you.” He stretched his bloody hands toward her, but his gesture only made her shriek in panic.
Zane knew what she saw. His jeans and shirt were soaked in blood. The sticky, warm liquid had even penetrated his boots. But that wasn’t the worst. The girl he’d rescued saw his vampire side, the deadly claws, the sharp fangs that pushed past his lips, and the glowing red eyes that made him look like the devil. His bald head only accentuated the air of danger that always accompanied him even when he was in his human form. Even without his fangs extended, people feared him—as they should.
He’d massacred a man like a butcher slaughtered a pig and felt no remorse. He’d done what was necessary, even if most people would never understand it. Evil had to be eradicated instantly, before it had a chance to grow bigger and turn into a festering cancer that could destroy an entire people. As it had once done while the world had stood by and watched.
They’d stood by until it was too late, until the worst had been done.
“I’ll make you forget,” Zane promised the scared girl and allowed his mental powers to take hold of her mind, erasing everything that had happened tonight, including the rape. When she woke tomorrow, she wouldn’t remember anything about the man who’d attacked her, nor the man who’d saved her from this monster.
Or was Zane the monster? Was he the one to be feared, the one who was evil for wanting to avenge what had been done to him and his family?
As he stalked through the night, the warm blood of his victim rapidly drying on his skin and clothes, once again the face of his torturer hovered before him, taunting him. He had to close this chapter of his life and find him, otherwise peace would elude him and happiness remain a foreign word.