He always called it my baptism by blood. Always tried to smile when he said it, too, but Jefferson, as I would learn, was terrible with kids. Didn’t know how to handle them. Especially not a traumatised kid who had seen his whole family slaughtered by vampires. Vampires that, by all right, should have been under the ground with stakes through their hearts and their heads cut off.
Still don’t know if they somehow managed to survive the fire. Still don’t know the bastard that brought them back to life.
But yeah, Jefferson. Terrible with kids, despite the fact that I wasn’t the first orphan he’d come across to have witnessed their whole family torn apart. Part of me always wondered if that was why he worked with Diane, as much as possible. Now she, she was good with kids. Maternal instinct and all that crap.
She was the one who soaked me in the bath for hours as I slept, trying to get the blood off. Kept my head above the water, drained and refilled the tub whenever the water went cold. Carried me to a bed with fresh, clean sheets, sat there and watched over me as I woke screaming and thrashing. Calmed me down, made sure I slept, and went through the whole routine again.
It lasted for days.
I had an aunt and uncle, somewhere up north. People who knew nothing of my family’s secrets, who could have taken me in and brought me up with a normal life, like my parents had wanted for me.
Diane had posed the question to me, when I was awake and lucid. Asked if I wanted to live with them, or stay with her and Jefferson, learn the tricks of the trade so to speak.
My first question had been to ask if those things were still alive.
She admitted she didn’t know. Unlikely, but possible. In their world, nothing was impossible.
Second question. If they were alive, and I stayed with them, would I face them again. Would I get the chance to do to them what they had done to my family.
As soon as she said yes, I was in. And Jefferson, not being the tender loving kind, wasted no time. Taught me how to move, how to fight, how to use weapons that probably no eleven year old should know how to use.
Diane taught me lore. Sat and went over old books with me. Not just vampires, either. Made sure I said my prayers every night. Made sure I knew enough Latin to speak them. Fed me, clothed me, made sure I washed and brushed my teeth.
In the big house, the kind that as I kid I only associated with fiction, where rich people lived or where magical things happened, we lived mostly alone. Other hunters came and went, though for a while I was kept out of sight of them, unable to sit in as they told their stories and caught up with Diane and Jefferson.
Part of it was because they’d told people I’d died with my family. First name stayed the same but when I was old enough I was allowed to give myself a second name.
For some reason I can’t quite remember, I settled on Crane.
Jefferson went out on hunts every so often. Diane less so, and they never hunted together. Not back then, not when I was still new and slightly traumatised.
The rest of it came later, and it started when I was fourteen.
Middle of winter, not long after my birthday. Waking up in the dark sucked. The sun going down early sucked. And I didn’t like the dark. Slept with a nightlight, because in the dark, everything came out to play.
Not that I had seen anything. Not since my parents died and Jefferson set fire to the house. But I knew enough. And I knew in the dark spaces the light couldn’t quite reach, there could be anything.
So when I woke up in the early morning darkness and saw a girl, completely white in a tank top and jeans, I screamed. The girl flickered, almost faded and came back, stronger, colour filtering in like someone was using crayons on her.
The door slammed open. Jefferson stood in the doorway, gun out, eyes scanning the room.
“Mason? What is it?” His eyes fell to the window, before he looked to me. I was pointing at the wall, where the girl stood.
“You can see me?” she said, a grin stretching across her face. “Awesome!”
“G-g-girl,” I said. His eyes looked right through her. His face relaxed, he lowered the gun and ran a hand through his hair.
“Damn kid,” he muttered. “With everything you’ve been through, I was really hoping you wouldn’t get this.”
Diane appeared behind him, peeking into the room before Jefferson moved out the way and she scrambled to the bed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Kid can see Cassandra.”
“Cassie, actually.” The girl rolled her eyes. “Never get it right, do they? Tell them, kid. It’s Cassie. Not Cassandra. I hate that full name shit.”
I screamed. Again. To my horror, Diane laughed.
“It’s okay, Mason. It’s okay.” Even though I was fourteen, she still wrapped me in her arms and drew me close to her like I was a kid. “Cassandra means you no harm. She actually helps us.”
“Hell yeah I do! Been watching you for ages, kid.”
The girl glided forward.
“Just glad to have another resident of the house be able to see me. I think we’re going to be great friends.”
“F-f-friends?” I pulled myself out of Diane’s grip, rounded on her. “Why can’t you see her?”
All of them looked at me, eyes wide and full of pity.
“Some of us aren’t as sensitive,” Jefferson said, finally. “Your mother could see them. Your father couldn’t. Guess we were hoping you’d follow after him.”
“And you never thought to, you know, tell me? That this might happen?” My voice was all over the place. Bobbing up and down, cracking. Ah. Fear and puberty. A bloody great mix.
They looked at each other, as if to say, ‘oops. My bad.’
“We’ll have to call Sheps,” Jefferson said, more to Diane than me. “He’ll need to train the boy so he can control it.”
“Yes!” The girl fist bumped the air, winked at me. Taking a good look at her, I realised she was around nineteen, maybe twenty. Hard to tell when she died, though. Could have been anytime in the last thirty years.
“Go back to sleep, Mason,” Diane urged. “We’ll talk more in the morning.”
“Nuh uh. Not with her in the room.”
The girl held her hands up. “All right. All right. You were fine with it when you couldn’t see me.” Another eye roll, before she faded out of view.
“Never mind,” I said. “She’s gone.”
Diane nodded, smoothed my hair back and kissed my forehead, before leaving with Jefferson.
“Most ghosts won’t hurt you, kid,” he said, over his shoulder. “But some are downright dangerous. Sheps will go through all that with you when he gets here.”
Sheps, a thin, weedy man with thick black glasses, arrived a week later, and the second part of my training began.
The end of the cigarette glowed cherry red in the dark. Knowing how much it pissed off the man next to me, I took great pleasure in blowing the smoke out slowly, relishing every second of the scowl on his face.
We were standing at the end of a long driveway, staring up at a neatly kept two up two down house. The only lights that were on were in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and even they were flickering.
“You sure, Mason?”
“See those lights, Father Grey?” I said, nodding my head towards the house. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
The house pulsed with energy. A fair few hunters would have picked it up, and I was surprised Grey couldn’t. Not much longer and it would grow stronger. He’d feel it then. Grey wasn’t his real surname, just what we nicknamed him. Something to do with being wise like Gandalf or something like that. Honestly, I thought the guy was an idiot. But every group of hunters needed a priest and, bless him, he was ours.
“It’s a pretty standard one, mind,” I said. “Not killed or maimed or anything serious. Yet.”
Father Grey sniffed, glancing up and down the street.
“Have you spoken to the family yet?”
“Nah. Spoke to a few of his teachers though.” I flicked the cigarette butt away, watching as it spiralled through the air before landing on the road, still glowing, wisps of smoke rising up.
“You can be fined for that, you know.”
“When they put more bins out, I’ll stop dropping them on the floor.”
Grey rolled his eyes. “What did the teachers say?”
“That up until about three weeks ago, he was a very mild mannered, intelligent student. Started acting odd, then acting out. They called it disruptive behaviour.”
“Could just be a normal teenage thing,” Father Grey said, though I doubted very much he actually remembered what it was like to be a teenager. Hormones and shit all over the place. Not that I knew what being normal was like, not for twelve years. I could understand some of the kid’s behaviour. Like getting caught shagging one of the girls from his English class behind the bike shed. Hell, I’d almost slept with Cassie before we realised that couldn’t even happen.
We were better off as not quite friends, anyway.
But there was other stuff, stuff that didn’t make any sense. Yeah, it looked like a typical possession, but we had to tread carefully. Like I’d told Father Grey, nothing too serious had happened yet.
“He tried to set his teacher on fire,” I explained, glancing up towards the house.
“Three weeks ago,” he muttered. “The same time as the storm.”
“Yep. And the fish turning up dead in the river, cows keeling over and birds dropping out the sky.”
He nodded. “Jefferson’s been waiting for the demon to crop up, hasn’t he?”
“All right. Let’s go talk to the family. And, Mason, let me do the talking.”
“Aye aye, Captain.” I saluted him, my grin widening as his scowl deepened. Man, it was easy to piss him off.
Grey led the way up the path and I followed, hands stuffed in my pockets and head kept down. Families didn’t tend to like seeing a young kid entering their house to take care of a possessed family member. Tended to value age over experience. But I’d seen people start out as hunters in their fifties, and I’d been the one to take them to their first hunt. Just goes to show, I guess.
Grey pressed his finger against the doorbell, taking a step back once he’d rung hard enough. No lights were turned on, but footsteps clomped down the stairs and a figure appeared through the frosted glass. The figure opened the door, just an inch, leaving the chain on, and half a face appeared, green eye staring at Grey.
“What do you want?” the man growled.
“To help,” Grey said. “My name is Father Grey. This is my associate, Mr Crane.”
“Help?” The man’s eye widened. “A priest?” Didn’t say it like he was suspicious or confused. Actually, the man sounded almost glad.
And yeah, Grey used his fake name when dealing with normal people. Made it harder for them to track him down.
“We heard you’ve been having trouble with your son,” Grey said. “And if there is anything we can do…”
“God be praised!” the man cried, before shouting into the house. “Kate! Kate, there’s a priest here!”
He unhooked the chain and stepped back, waving his arms.
“Come in, man, come in!”
And people thought faith in religion was declining.
Father Grey only took a quick glance around the room, as a pretty woman in her forties came down the stairs. She stopped about halfway down, leaning over the railings to look at us. Pretty, but tired. Black bags sat under her eyes, her skin was pale and drawn, almost grey, and she had the look of someone who hadn’t eaten in weeks.
Possibly sensitive. Not as strong as me, or even Father Grey, but to have the look she had, she’d probably sensed the demon in her house before shit started getting really weird.
There was a clatter and bang upstairs, and Father Grey’s fingers tightened on the handle of his bag.
I could feel it.
Some possessions, the demon wasn’t evil. Same with some hauntings. You got ones that just wanted to cause mischief. They could, as long as they weren’t too bad, be quite funny. Demons who you could actually just sit and talk to, have a laugh with. Odd, right? But they existed. And on those cases, I didn’t have to bring our resident priest in. I could get them out myself.
But the severity of the storm had told us enough to know this wasn’t a run of the mill mischief possession. This one wouldn’t settle with just trying to sleep with everything in sight – though it would try to do that – and sending things flying across the room like a poltergeist. This one would want everything around it to die.
And it would succeed, unless we acted fast.
“Where’s the boy?” Grey asked.
The woman gestured up the stairs. Grey glanced at me, nodded, and I moved past him, past the father and towards the mother.
“I’m going to explain what we will do,” Grey said, gesturing to the sofa. “You may wish to sit down. I will detail exactly what may or may not happen to your son, and the risks involved. Whether we continue down the path is totally up to you.”
“Where’s he going, then?” the father asked.
I stopped, halfway up the stairs and past the mother. Glanced at Grey.
“Mr Crane is just going to see what sort of, well, state your son is in.” He said state delicately, the same way a doctor would say cancer. “Just so we know where to stand.”
The woman looked me, locked her eyes on mine.
Even just a hint of sensitivity, and some people could pick up on just a tiny bit of what I’d seen, what I’d done. Sometimes, though, all they had to do was look into my eyes.
She just nodded at me, one dip of her head, slow, and I could read it in her face.
Do what you have to do.
I continued up the stairs. Another crash, followed by laughter. Not a teenage boy’s laughter, either, but harsh, raw, sounding, perhaps, like I might, if I survived another seventy years and kept up the thirty a day habit.
Most hunters had their vices. Stuff to help them relax, either on the job or when the hunt was finished. And it didn’t matter what it was, as long as it wasn’t going to kill you before the monsters did. No one cared that I smoked. No one cared Jefferson drank or that Rich gambled, that the Vampire’s Terror, a man I had never met but had heard a shit load about, slept around. If you were a good hunter, you did what the hell you liked. I’d be dead before lung cancer got me. Jefferson would be six feet under before the alcohol destroyed him.
It was all relative.
If it helped you relax, helped you keep focus, it was fine. Accepted. Embraced.
I turned the corner, finding myself opposite a neat looking bathroom. The sounds were coming from the room on my right, but the bathroom was always a good place to check, just to see how bad things were.
Inching forward, I brushed my finger against the cross hanging on my chest.
It hadn’t helped the night my parents died. The vampires were so old, so very undead that it just hadn’t affected them. But since, well, since then it had saved my life, more than once.
The light in the bathroom flickered before coming on fully. It was nice, clearly kept very clean with every surface gleaming. Some people liked to clean when stressed, so maybe that was what she did.
Opposite the toilet was a shower slash bath. Against the wall, under the medicine cabinet with mirrors on the doors, was a basin, toothbrushes and toothpaste in small cups resting on it next to the taps. I stood in front of it, feeling a surge of energy from the next room.
I ran the tap.
Wondered how long the water had been running black.
Demons don’t like water. Not just holy water, but any sort of pure water. Holy was the best, of course. It burned their skin. But pure water could work in a pinch.
So whenever they went somewhere, they’d ruin the water supply. I’d put money on the idea that the whole street had been frantically phoning their local water department.
I knew I had to be careful with this one. Tread lightly. It was powerful and I didn’t need to actually see the possessed kid to know that.
Stepping back into the hall, I glanced at the photographs on the wall. The boy was an only child, and probably spoilt because of it. Not always a bad thing, not if the parents could push the kid towards a decent life. Photographs on the wall showed Mum, Dad and the kid, neat haircut, winning smile, good looking. Did he have a girlfriend? Was there a girl, breaking her heart over what he had been caught doing?
The teachers had said he was quiet, mild mannered in class, but always hung out with the same people outside of class. The kind of kids who always did their homework. Because demons love the good ones. They like people noticing the changes. No point riding a kid who sleeps with everyone in sight, drinks to excess and does any drug they can get their hands on.
Time to face the demon.
The door shuddered as I stepped towards it, and I knew in an instant that the bastard knew I was here.
Pushing the door open, I moved into the room we’d seen the light flickering from. The bulb exploded the moment I was over the threshold, sending shards of glass everywhere.
But I had a job to do, and a damn demon wasn’t going to stop me.
Word Count: 4,034