Read an ExcerptFangs But No Fangs
By KATHY LOVE
BRAVA BOOKS Copyright © 2006 Kathy Love
All right reserved.
Chapter One The pink flamingos had to die!
Christian groaned and slammed a flattened, musty pillow over his head, trying to block out the grating noise. But the endless whirring would not be silenced. Add the clack, clack, clack of the little man sawing wood, and the noise was almost unbearable.
He threw the pillow aside and sat up on the sagging mattress. A spring poked at the back of his thigh, although he barely registered the stab.
He shoved up from the bed and walked to the window, or rather stepped to the window, as the square room was about the size of one of his Monte Carlo bungalow's walk-in closets.
Grime hazed the small rectangular window, but he could still see the offending noisemakers. He wished he could grow accustomed to them like he had his lumpy bed. But the racket never seemed to end.
The goddamned lawn ornaments would be the thing that finally drove him stark raving mad.
An enormous assortment of ornaments rose from the neighboring trailer's lawn like a twirling and spinning army of kitsch. Flowers, flamingos, other random animals, their petals, wings, and appendages whirling deafeningly in the breeze. And then there was that little man with the saw like an army sergeant, bobbing away, clacking endlessly, spurring the others on. Damn, he hated that little man.
He even hated the ornaments that didn't move. The gnomes. The plastic geese. The wooden cutout that was supposed to look like a lady with an unusually well-endowed backside, bending over among the bedraggled flowerbed.
Christian closed his eyes for a moment, but the menagerie of tastelessness just appeared behind his closed eyelids in full, swirling color.
Giving up the hope of peace, he left his closetlike bedroom to enter a dark, paneled hallway that was just wide enough for the expanse of his shoulders. As he passed the bathroom, the toilet, which seemed to have a will of its own, gurgled to life in greeting. The hiss of water was a welcome distraction from the saw man.
He walked out to the narrow galley-style kitchen, which was large enough for a stained and nicked counter, ancient appliances, and a kitchen table with metal legs and a speckled gray and white top. The cracked linoleum chafed the soles of his bare feet.
He walked over to the computer, which sat on the kitchen table, and pressed the power button. The hard drive hummed to life. Christian then wandered over to the ancient fridge and grabbed a packet of his nightly meal. Blood, pre-measured into small pouches. Eight ounces, just the right amount to keep him from going absolutely mad, but not enough to feed his preternatural abilities.
He dug around in one of the kitchen drawers until he found a straw. Puncturing the plastic, he swallowed a groan-the image of his fangs puncturing the fragile barrier of human flesh flashed through his mind. Damn, he missed that.
Why was he so antsy tonight? So uncomfortable with his developed routine? He made himself go over to the typed out and bulleted list on the fridge, held with a Red Cross Blood Drive magnet. His twelve-step program. Based on the A.A. program, the steps changed to fit his own particular problem.
He read them again, and chanted the steps over and over to himself as he headed to his computer. He clicked onto the Internet and his site came up: Being Human.
Tonight, he didn't check the comments on yesterday's blog entry, although he did notice thirty-three people had posted. It was truly amazing what people would waste their time reading. Of course, he was the one who was wasting his time writing it.
"Therapy," he reminded himself as he pulled up the entry form to record tonight's thoughts.
And tonight he needed therapy. He could barely remain in his rickety, vinyl-covered chair. Why the hell did he feel like he was going to crawl out of his skin? Nothing was different than it had been for nearly a year.
Especially the lawn ornaments. He gritted his teeth and began to type.
It's official. Shady Fork Mobile Estates is hell.
That being said, and I think I may have said it before, this place is no less than I deserve. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
So why Shady Fork, you ask? The world is filled with many, equally suitable hells. Well, I'd like to have a deep, very existential reason for you. Something about trying to better understand the plight of human suffering (and believe me, there is plenty of that in this delightful little neighborhood). Or maybe my ...
He glanced around at the darkly paneled walls, brown and gold carpeting, and tweed furniture.
... sumptuous abode was chosen to show myself the depths to which I have fallen. Which it does quite admirably. But the fact is, this was where I ran out of gas. Well, near here. And I figured that was a sign, right? So maybe my reason was a little existential. There you go. Who knew?
So back to my progress living as a human. So far on that count, I think I'm doing ... okay. No slips into my natural behavior. No real feedings in 252 days. (Not that I'm counting.) I've stopped using any of my abilities that would be deemed "unnatural." I have to say getting around is a real annoyance-and far too time-consuming. An ironic statement for someone who has all the time in the world, I know. I think I may have complained about this in previous posts, too. I guess I was spoiled.
Outside the trailer, angry voices rose above the drone of the lawn ornaments. Christian didn't even bother to listen. It was practically a nightly occurrence. Shady Fork was like living in an episode of Cops-a form of reality entertainment he hadn't even known existed until he moved to this lovely place.
He shifted again in the uncomfortable chair, trying to find a measure of comfort. Comfort. He'd once lived in luxury. Lavish mansions, five-star hotels, waitstaff and limos, theater, parties with the rich and famous. Fast cars, champagne, the finest of everything. But that was another life. He wasn't that Christian Young anymore.
He frowned at the computer screen, unsure what to write next. The voices outside rose again, then quieted. He stared for a moment longer at the blog, then shoved out of the chair and paced the small living room. His fingers twitched as he considered taking a drive. The sleek, silver Porsche Carrera GT was the one extravagance he'd allowed himself to keep. But guilt strangled him. Why should he enjoy anything? He didn't deserve to, not after what he'd done.
"No," he muttered to himself. He wasn't that same vampire. He couldn't rectify his past deeds, but he could control the now. He could control his vampire nature. He'd done it for almost a year and he'd continue to do so. But instead of picking up the car keys from the scratched end table near the door, he returned to his computer.
Back to the reasoning behind living in a trailer park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The reason I stay here is because it's a totally different place than what I knew. And I am a totally different being. As the blog title says, I'm working on being human.
Just then a loud scream pierced the air. A terrified sound, very different from the usual drunken shouting. He rose out of his seat and strode to the window. Pulling back one of the thick shades that covered his window, he didn't see anything. Then, across the rutted dirt road that served as the main entrance for the trailer park, he saw movement in the tall weeds. The head of a woman appeared behind a small bush.
He recognized the woman crouched in the high grass. She was the neighbor who lived in the trailer directly across from his. He'd never spoken to her, or any of the residents of Shady Fork for that matter, but he'd seen her a time or two, walking late at night. He'd wondered what she was doing wandering the desolate mountain roads in the late hours of the night. Of course, he'd never wondered enough to actually ask her.
Now, he wondered what she was doing crouching in the grass at-he glanced at his watch-three in the morning. Had she been the one who screamed?
She started, peeking toward her trailer, then she ducked back into hiding. Christian followed her quick look. A man exited her front door. The rangy silhouette clutched the railing of the steps with one hand, staggering, and waving something in the other hand.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," the man shouted, his voice thick with a twangy southern accent.
The grass swayed, just a bit, but his neighbor didn't reveal her hiding spot. The man half-walked, half-fell down the steps, using the railing to steady himself. Once on the ground, he managed to keep his balance and started searching.
"Come on, Cherry," he called, his voice almost wheedling. "Come out."
When she didn't, he swiped a hand through his hair and roared, "Now! Goddamn it!"
He stepped farther into the thigh-high grass, raising whatever he held in his hand out in front of him. Light from the bare bulb on outside the trailer glinted on the object. A blade. The man headed in the exact direction of Cherry.
Christian didn't even register what he planned to do until he threw open his front door and hurried out into the road.
"Hey there," he called.
The man stopped, dropping the knife down to his side. Now Christian could see the tangle of greasy hair, the shine of sweat on his pasty skin, and the crazed glitter in his dark eyes. But the tall figure was just barely a man. He appeared no older than twenty or so.
"Can I help you?" Christian asked. The deranged kid obviously needed more help than Christian had to offer, but he thought it best not to provoke him.
"Fuck off, buddy," the kid growled. "This ain't any of your concern."
Christian noticed the grass move again, but Cherry didn't show herself. Wise lady. With his greatly depleted abilities, the likelihood he could reach the kid before the kid reached her was iffy at best.
"Maybe I should call the police?" Christian suggested.
The kid flashed the knife, sneering.
Christian raised an unimpressed eyebrow. He now saw the knife was actually a pocketknife. A large one, but not as menacing as he'd originally thought. Still, well-aimed, the blade could do real damage.
"Maybe you should just go back in your trailer and mind your own damned business," the kid warned, waving the knife again.
"I don't think I want to do that." Although in truth, that was exactly what Christian wanted to do. Instead he leisurely approached the armed youth.
Surprise and confusion played over the kid's face. He lifted the knife higher. Christian continued to stroll forward.
The kid actually backed up, unfortunately in the direction of Christian's neighbor.
Christian stopped. "You need to go now."
He concentrated, trying to use his mind control. The kid blinked and looked even more disoriented, if that was possible. Then he lifted the knife, waving it again in Christian's direction.
"Damn it, dude, don't you get it? This is none of your fuckin' business."
Christian stopped concentrating. Apparently his "being human" plan had been more effective than he'd thought, especially if he couldn't control someone this mentally feeble.
"Actually, I think a knife-wielding ..." He frowned, trying to decide what to call this guy. Oh, why waffle on the matter? "Imbecile, in my neighborhood, is very much my business. Now, drop the knife." Good Lord, had he just officially named himself the head of the neighborhood watch?
The man wavered, uncertain what to make of Christian. But then he snarled and lunged at him. The pocketknife connected, slicing Christian's forearm as he deflected the strike, which he might add was aimed at his chest. This guy didn't mess around. Christian caught the kid's arm, spinning him and jerking the limb painfully behind his back.
The imbecile swore and dropped the knife. As Christian was about to kick the weapon across the gravel drive, his neighbor appeared out of the bushes and grabbed it.
She stood directly in front of her attacker, glaring at him with dark eyes.
"Vance, I'm not going to call the police. But I swear if I see you again, I will," she said. Her voice had the same accent as Vance's although on her it sounded very different, almost pleasant. She pointed the knife at Vance's chest. "I'm not kidding, Vance. This is the last warning I'm giving you."
Christian raised an eyebrow at that. She had given this jerk other warnings? How many chances had he had before? And was this woman as much of an imbecile as her assailant? The guy was planning to attack her with a knife.
"You bitch," the man muttered almost petulantly. "I need money."
"Then get a job, Vance," she told him, flicking the knife closed and slipping it in the pocket of her jeans.
"Dude, my arm is going to pop out of the socket," Vance complained to Christian, trying to look over his shoulder at him.
Christian couldn't resist tugging his arm up just a tad higher. The kid cried out and swore again.
"Let him go," Cherry told Christian.
"I don't think so. You might not be calling the police, but I plan to." These two had interrupted his ... blogging. Someone was going to pay for that. Not to mention, they'd gotten him involved. And he had been damned successful at not getting involved with anyone.
"No," Cherry said, her dark eyes pleading.
Why on earth would she beg to help this idiot?
Her attention returned to Vance. "Vance, you have got to get help. I mean it. You are going to end up right back in prison again."
"Just give me some money, then."
"No, Vance. No."
The kid actually kicked the ground like a cranky child. "All right," he finally muttered.
"And don't you dare come back here unless you are clean," she added.
The kid mumbled something under his breath, then nodded. Cherry stared at him for a moment, then looked to Christian. "Please let him go."
Even though it was against his better judgment, Christian released the kid. Vance shook out his arm, rotating the shoulder, and then like a rabbit released from a trap, he ran down the road toward the highway. Well, more like an inebriated rabbit. A few seconds later, Christian heard an engine start and wheels squealing on tar.
"Thank you," Cherry said, and smiled a little sheepishly. "I appreciate your help."
Christian nodded, still not certain what had actually happened here. "Right. Well ..." What did humans say in bizarre circumstances like this? "Good night, then."
He had turned to head back to the normal security of his trailer when her hand caught his. He startled at the contact, her fingers small and very warm curled around his.
"Oh my God, you're hurt."
He frowned. Her touch had surprised him, but it didn't hurt. Then he noticed she was staring at his arm. He glanced down and saw a large patch of blood had soaked through the sleeve of his shirt.
"Oh. That." He shrugged. "It's nothing."
He started to leave again, but she didn't release his fingers. Instead she tugged him in the opposite direction.
"Come inside and let me look at it."
Refusal was right there on his lips. Then he looked at her wide smile, and for some unknown reason, like why he came to her aid in the first place, he allowed her to lead him into her trailer.
The layout of the trailer mimicked his own. Except his was actually homier, if that was possible. She led him into the kitchen to the sink.
"Stay right here," she ordered, then disappeared down the hallway. Christian glanced around the room. No wonder she was roaming around the countryside at night. She didn't exactly have a welcoming home to relax in. The kitchen was devoid of all furniture and the living room only had three metal folding chairs arranged around a beaten-up steamer trunk.
And Vance had come to this woman looking for money? That was very optimistic of him.
"Okay," she said as she returned with a rather threadbare but clean-looking towel. "Let's take a look at this cut."
He watched as she set the towel on the counter and reached for the buttons on the cuff of his sleeve. She tsked. "Too bad. This looks like an expensive shirt."
It was, but he didn't say anything. Instead he watched her slender, pale fingers work on the buttons. He frowned. Why did he find the simple action so fascinating?
"I don't know," she said, studying the large amount of blood already drying to the blond hair on his forearm. "Maybe we should go right to the doctor. It's bled a lot."
"No," he said, starting to pull his arm away, but she caught his hand, those slim fingers curling around his.
Excerpted from Fangs But No Fangs by KATHY LOVE Copyright © 2006 by Kathy Love. Excerpted by permission.
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