night hunting

a danse macabre story

I wrote this as a Halloween flashfic gift for Julie - it's a short standalone featuring the antagonist, totally unconnected to the main story. Just a little Halloween shenanigans in Glasgow. :) It's also posted on my Tumblr and Wordpress.


Once, when he was a boy, his bunicul had taken him hunting. For hours they had stalked the forest together, quiet as ghosts, until they finally came upon a stag big enough to feed their family. He could still remember watching as Bunicuțul prepared his rifle, slowly raised it, and took careful aim.

"We must be quick," he whispered.

"Why?"

"If the stag is not killed with one shot, he will run until he bleeds to death, and the meat will not be as good. You must always kill your prey before it has time to feel fear, Alexei. To do otherwise is cruel."

As he grew older, he learned it was true — deer and sheep and pigs tasted best when killed quickly, before fear and panic flooded the body and saturated the flesh, destroying the flavor. The longer the hunt, the slower death came, the less nourishing the result would be.

With humans, Lexi found, it was quite the opposite.

Usually he killed them quickly, whether from impatience or necessity; they slaked his thirst, but they did not satisfy his hunger. No, the sweetest blood spurted from a racing heart — mulled by exhaustion and desperation, spiced with adrenaline and terror. Over the centuries he had learned to savor the hunt. The longer he could drag out the kill, the better his prey tasted. It was not always possible these days; this crowded modern world with its security cameras and smartphones left fewer opportunities to pursue his choice for as long as he would prefer. A true hunt was a rare occasion, a special treat.

Except on this night.

Sărbătoarea Tuturor Sfinților, they had called it in his village: the Feast of All Saints. Here they called it Samhain, All Hallows' Eve, Halloween, and once he heard his domn call it Oidhche Shamhna. In the old days people lit candles on this night to drive away evil spirits; now they titillated each other by pretending to be evil spirits. Here in the civilized world it was all a game — frightening themselves for the thrill of it, working themselves into a state that made it so easy to turn the game in his favor. This was his favorite night to hunt. Every year on this night, one unfortunate human learned that monsters are real. The flavor was unmatched.

Lexi smiled to himself as he crouched atop Glasgow Cathedral. Squatting in the shadows beside the westernmost spire, his tall frame dressed all in black and hidden in darkness, he gripped the ledge stones between his Chuck Taylors and watched the faithful exit the communion service. Winter had come early this year, and as the congregants filed out into the square they bundled themselves in coats and scarves and hats; clothes that hampered movement and muffled noise, while keeping the blood warm. Lexi crouched on his perch and watched them scatter, dispersing to cars and taxis and well-lit pedestrian streets, headed for the safety of their beds. Slowly the sound of their voices and laughter faded; the church doors closed, and the yard all around grew dark and silent. That was when he saw her.

He had somehow missed her emerging from the church; she must have slipped out behind the crowd. She stood in the south yard between two ancient grave stones, looking out through the trees toward the bridge. She was alone, a small figure in the darkness with her long hair stirring in the breeze and her body hidden by a long coat. Lexi leaned forward until the updraft whipped at his stringy hair. Even from here he could see how beautiful she was — young and unspoiled, shivering in the cold. He smiled.

She looked around at the shadows, suddenly uneasy, and then she put her hands in her coat pockets and hurried across the yard toward the lane below. Lexi crawled head first down the cathedral wall, his long fingers gripping the stones, and dropped to the grass without a sound. He followed her between the trees, moving from shadow to shadow, silent as the dead, watching her hair wave in the breeze as he closed the distance between them. By the time she reached the deserted street, he was close enough to touch her if he reached out his hand. A sharp gust sent dead leaves across the pavement, skittering like scratching fingers; she flinched and glanced around, her blue eyes gone wide. Something rustled in a tree nearby and she turned, frozen in her tracks like a frightened fawn.

"Hello?"

Her pulse ramped up and he could smell her now, smell her fear, smell her skin, smell her golden hair as it moved in the wind. Lexi slipped back into the shadows, keeping out of sight, and then stepped out into the moonlight a few meters in front of her, blocking the path, tall and slender in silhouette against the darkness beyond. She gasped and recoile.

"Hello?" Tremulous now, breathy, higher pitched. "Do I— Do I know you?"

Lexi began to walk forward.

She stumbled back a few steps. "Look, I don't have any— I don't know who—"

Lexi kept walking.

She fumbled in her coat and pulled out a phone, clutching it like a talisman in one trembling hand. "Don't come any—"

Before she could finish the sentence he was on her, one hand gripping her by the back of the neck and the other plucking the phone from her hand. He shoved it in his jeans pocket and put his hand over her mouth before she had time to scream; the sound died in her throat, muffled to a squeaky whimper. Her eyes grew huge; he wanted her to see him, see his gray face, his auburn eyes, his fangs glistening in the moolight as he licked them. Her breath began to hitch. He removed his hand and lay his forefinger against her lips, smiling.

"Please," she whispered. "What do you want?"

"I want you to run," Lexi said.

He released her and she fled from him, running in blind terror across the bridge, heedless that it led nowhere but into the necropolis. At the gate she cried out and banged her fists on the wood until it opened, then shoved her way through and disappeared into the darkness. Lexi followed her, grinning. He could not have planned it better if he tried.

He sprinted through the rows, moving nimbly between the gravestones, leaping over rocks and roots and ducking beneath low branches. He could hear her up ahead, her sobs, her labored breathing, her pounding heart; he let her run, let her expend her energy, kept his pace just close enough for her to hear his footsteps behind her. How long it went on, he didn't know — minutes, hours, he didn't care, he lost track of time and lost himself in the hunt, in the heady rush of his bloodlust growing with every breath of cold, dank graveyard air. Several times she stumbled and fell, dragged herself up, ran on, and now he could smell her blood as well as her fear. The urge to take her swelled in him, but he held it at bay — not much longer now. Just a little more. It would be so much sweeter.

"Leave me alone!" she cried. "Please! Leave me alone!"

"Run faster, drăguță," he called. "I'm right behind you."

She screamed and tried to turn — tripping over a tree root, she fell hard and rolled down a level to the next terrace, landing on the path with a thump that drove the breath from her. Gasping, she crawled to the nearest grave, a recessed mausoleum, and huddled inside the tiny alcove with her knees to her chest. There she shivered, trying in vain to muffle her sobs. Lexi dropped to his haunches. Slowly he crawled down the slope, his hair hanging in his face, until he crouched on the stone directly above her. Bracing himself on his palms, he leaned over the edge and hung his head upside down to grin at her.

"Gotcha."

She shrieked and tried to flee, but he seized her with both arms around her waist, crushed against him. For a moment he enjoyed the feel of her struggles, smelling her hair, her neck, the drop of blood that ran down her face from a scrape on her temple. He turned her around to face him, and they stood in the moonlight like lovers — her with tears on her pale face and her hair disheveled and dirty, him looming over her with a smile wide enough for her to see his teeth. She made a choked sound as her knees gave way. Lexi drew her close, pressed her body to his.

"Thank you for an excellent hunt," and drove his fangs into her throat.

Her blood poured into him, hot and spurting, so sweet that he nearly swooned from the pleasure of it. The first swallow was victory, the second ecstasy... The third burned its way down his throat, thick as syrup and sharp as razors, and as the pain hit his gut something else hit his head — flashes and blurs behind his eyes, images flooding his mind faster and faster, each more gruesome than the last. Atrocities flew like bullets through his brain — tortures, agonies, screams and pleas, splattering blood and viscera, corpses mangled beyond all recognition. And among them all, enmeshed with each unbearable image, her sweet musical laughter, blood in her golden hair and triumph in her golden eyes—

Lexi tore himself free, choking, and vomited her blood onto the trampled grass. It dripped from his chin, thick and slimy, as black as the darkness all around them. She grabbed him by the hair and hooked a leg behind his knees, flipping him like a rag doll before slamming him to his back against a crumbling gravestone. Before he could move she straddled him and took his chin in her hand, turning his face up into the light. Her eyes, yellow as the moon, cat's eyes, serpent's eyes, demon's eyes, flashed as bright as golden coins as she smiled down at him.

"No — thank you."

She slipped her free hand into his jeans, slowly enough to draw a moan from him, and retrieved her phone from his pocket. She dropped it into her coat while he clutched his tortured belly, wheezing until his strength returned. Her blood still burned in his throat, corrosive, caustic, as toxic as the soft kiss she brushed across his cheek.

"I've never had one like you before. I didn't think your kind still existed." She kissed his lips, smearing them with her viscous black blood. "Lucky me."

Patting his cheek, she stood and began smoothing down her ruffled hair. Her eyes transformed as she smiled at him, morphing from hellish yellow back to sweet blue; the scrapes and bruises vanished from her face as his marks disappeared from her throat, leaving her as pale and pure and beautiful as she had been when he first saw her. Lexi scrambled to his feet, scrubbing his mouth with the back of his hand. He clenched his fists, quivering with rage, and growled at her through his bared teeth. She giggled.

"Oh, don't be like that. You enjoyed it as much as I did. That's why I chose you — I thought you were a garden variety psychopath, but once I smelled you I knew you were something more. I decided to let you live until I found out if I was right." She buttoned up her coat, brushing off the leaves and dirt. "I must say, I was quite impressed."

Lexi spit the last bit of caustic blood from his mouth and rasped, "What are you?"

"I am what you are," she said. "Well... more or less. But we're both hunters." She came closer and he jerked away from her, hissing, but she merely stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm rather busy tonight. As you know."

She turned up her collar against the wind and walked past him, tossing her hair back in the breeze, strolling down the path toward the gate. Lexi spit again on the grass, trying in vain to get the taste of her from his mouth. Hunger twisted in his belly, and his lip curled as he stared after her, even as his cold flesh stirred from the memory of her.

"Happy hunting, Alexei," she called, just before she disappeared into the next beam of moonlight.

~