Lee Colgin © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Sinclair stood outside his father’s door, collecting his thoughts. This wouldn’t be easy. To get what he wanted, he’d have to remain calm and focus on the part of his plan most likely to benefit the Vampire Council, over which his father, Luther Davis, presided. Sinclair could do this; he just had to stand his ground. One last deep breath, a polite knock, and he stepped inside.
“Sinclair.” His father welcomed him with a nod. Seated behind a large desk cluttered with papers, he looked busy as usual. Having been Turned and preserved at the young age of twenty-two, the fair-haired, sharp-featured vampire could be mistaken for Sinclair’s younger brother, not his father. Sinclair was twenty-six, but only twenty-six. His father had centuries on him, not that you could tell by looking. “What brings you by this evening?”
Okay, here it goes. You can do this. “Dad, I’ve decided to attend Borson University for my PhD this semester,” he said in a rush. Slow down, Sinclair. “I know you weren’t expecting this, but Borson is the best school for Historical Supernatural Studies. I was accepted last fall and I’ve already registered. No other vampire in the council has this degree; I would be the first.”
Sinclair prepared to continue, but his father spoke first. “Son, that’s a werewolf school.” His golden brows drew together. “It’s too dangerous. What’s the degree even worth, coming from Borson?” His stern voice matched his expression.
“I understand your concern, but it’s safer than you realize. I’ll be part of an exchange program. It’ll be good for the council to have a delegate at Borson. It’s a quality academy with a fine reputation, werewolves notwithstanding.” Sinclair talked to fast when he felt nervous.
Luther stood. At nearly six feet, he stood taller than his son by several inches. “The answer is no, Sinclair.” His father approached. “You’ll attend Moore as planned, and I do not appreciate you addressing this at the last minute either. Did you think that by waiting until now, you’d stand a better chance?”
“Um, yes, actually,” Sinclair responded, a stubborn edge to his voice. “Dad, I’m an adult; I don’t need your permission. I need the council’s permission, and I think they’ll grant it. I told you first as a courtesy, the petition has already been submitted, so the discussion will happen at tonight’s meeting. Moore doesn’t offer the courses I require, and the council doesn’t need another finance major; it needs a historian.” His point made, some of the tension drained away.
With an irritated sigh, his father’s gaze drifted to the window. “You’d do this to your mother? You know she will worry. At least accept the transition first, so you won’t be vulnerable. Let us Turn you. You’ve delayed too long. There are no other Living vampires your age.”
Their eyes met. Sinclair felt both guilty and defensive. Guilty because he didn’t want to worry his mother. Defensive because he wasn’t ready to die for immortality. He liked his living, breathing body, eating food, and little things like not burning to ash in the sunlight. He’d hold on to it as long as he could, thank you very much. Being a Living vampire had its advantages, even if his father was too ancient to grasp them.
Sinclair ignored the tired issue. “I’ll keep in close touch with Mom, I promise. I won’t let her worry. Look, Dad, this is a rare opportunity. Vampires don’t get accepted to Borson. Think of how much I’ll learn. It would be impossible without the exchange program. Only four students are selected. It’s an honor.”
When his dad didn’t respond, he continued, “I have to go. I’ve already accepted. There’s no alternate to take my place, and it would be rude to refuse now.”
“So you have me in a corner then, don’t you?” His dad’s gaze settled on him. Sinclair fought not to flinch. His father was not a harsh man, but everyone had their limits, and the head of the Vampire Council didn’t tolerate werewolves lightly. “Why bother to ask at all?”
“I was hoping you’d come to a different conclusion. I thought maybe you’d be proud.” Sinclair’s gaze dropped to his feet.
His dad came closer and took Sinclair by the shoulders, giving him a small shake. “You frustrating boy, of course I’m proud, but this is an unnecessary risk. I wish you’d reconsider.”
“I’m going to go, and it’s going to be fine. I promise.” Sinclair accepted the cool embrace with relief.
“We’ll see what the council has to say,” his dad conceded and ruffled his hair.
Some hours later, the Vampire Council voted unanimously to let Sinclair attend Borson.
Sinclair knew that, in the end, this meant even his father approved. Ultimately, a Doctor of Philosophy in Historical Supernatural Studies would be beneficial to the species. In a society full of forward thinkers and finance managers, Sinclair alone would be studying the past. He’d learn what had brought them to war, what mistakes had been made, and he’d prevent them from repeating those blunders.
There were supernaturals, even now, whispering the beginnings of another war. Sinclair’s work among the werewolves would be crucial.
Mitchel packed in a rush for his trip to the annual Alpha Gala at Rocky Mount. He never left enough time for this task. His little cabin at the edge of the Borson University campus was well organized, so that helped, but he couldn’t find the stupid tie he wore to all these blasted gatherings.
Ugh, he thought as he considered the stuffy keynote speeches and the awkward ballroom dance he’d be forced to attend. What a chore. He’d rather stay home and work on his house. It desperately needed a new roof and a chimney sweep before winter set in, but there never seemed to be enough time. Mitchel’s personal to-do list was always shoved to the back burner in favor of pack business.
There was also the fact that he was still single. An ever-present nuisance at these events. Despite it being common knowledge that his preference was for men, female suitors came out of the woodwork like termites, eager to merge their bloodlines and multiply. Mitchel knew the unspoken, and if he was honest, sometimes spoken, duty for the original wolf families to leave plentiful descendants. No one minded that he was gay, but somehow they still expected him to procreate. It was a special sort of frustrating.
As he mentally prepared for the onslaught of social niceties, small talk, and cocktails, Mitchel took one last look around his house and spotted that stupid tie thrown over an ottoman. He grabbed it, stuffed it in his suitcase, and hit the road.
Upon arrival at Borson University, Sinclair was greeted with confusion at best, hostility at worst. There were some human students, but the school was run by werewolves. Many shifters studied there, and they didn’t take kindly to vampires. Sinclair’s friends back home were students and young professionals themselves, not surprised with his decision to pursue a PhD but shocked to discover he’d be doing it at Borson.
“Werewolves will tear you apart, Sinclair. What are you thinking, putting yourself in the middle of their territory and still only Living?” Sarah had questioned, the others nodding their agreement. Of course, they’d already been Turned, safe in their dead immortal bodies, and couldn’t understand Sinclair’s reluctance. He hadn’t expected them to understand.
“Murder is still a crime, you know? I don’t intend to provoke them.” He’d attempted to change the subject, bringing up the program’s record of excellence. His friends would not be put off.
“Try not to pee yourself when one of them growls at you. And don’t run; they can’t resist chasing prey. On second thought, go ahead and pee; it would make you less appetizing.” Sarah giggled at her own joke, and Sinclair rolled his eyes. He’d miss her.
Seated in a private car with his family’s personal driver, Becket, at the wheel, Sinclair did not have second thoughts. The sprawling university before them waited to be explored.
Acquiring directions to Sinclair’s housing presented a challenge, and there were no friendly faces to ask. Humans could sometimes sense something different when confronted with a supernatural. Often it made for stilted and uncomfortable interactions. Weres, on the other hand, could spot a vampire from fifty paces and avoided them like the plague.
It didn’t help that there was no specific address for the old-church-turned-student-housing facility they were searching for, probably because it was reserved for the werewolf population. Barely on campus at all, the dwelling stood on the forested lands east of the university. Wolves were a private bunch and required access to acres of land for running, which Borson had preserved. So they headed east and searched until the likely building came into view.
A large stone structure featuring several obvious modern additions towered among the nearby pines. The aged, pale stonework looked sturdy whereas the modern stucco, in a shade of gold that didn’t quite match the original, looked out of place and fragile by comparison. A bell tower was part of the original construction, preserved though probably unused, a relic of times past. Sinclair wondered if it was operational; he liked the ring of bronze bells. They spotted a group of shifters at the picnic tables surrounding the church.
“Well, this must be it, don’t you think?” Sinclair asked his driver.
“It would appear as such,” Becket agreed, eyeing the wolves out front with suspicion.
“Thank you for taking me all this way.” The drive had been nearly four hours.
“My pleasure.” Becket paused, took a breath. “You know you can change your mind. Everyone would be glad to see you return. You don’t have to stay here.”
“I want to be here. Stop your fussing. Everything will be fine,” Sinclair assured him, although he wasn’t sure of anything right now. The group of weres did not look approachable. He had next to no experience interacting with the species but was hopeful he could make friends. With that thought, he grabbed his bag, opened the door, and stepped outside.
All eyes turned his way. It took a moment for them to recognize him as a vampire. Curious gazes turned hostile in a flash.
Sinclair forced himself to walk with confidence, his inner resolve wavering when one of them snarled. A passing glance was enough to recognize who dominated this group. Sinclair focused on him, a brunet with shaggy hair, in jeans and an old flannel shirt. The others were waiting for this wolf to respond, but he only glared. Sinclair spoke first.
“Hello.” He extended his hand for a shake. “I’m part of the exchange program. Sinclair Davis, pleased to meet you.”
The wolves continued to stare. The shake was rejected, so he withdrew his hand and waited for a reply, keeping his breath calm and steady.
The shaggy-haired wolf answered, “I’m Nathan. Campus housing told us you were coming.” He wasn’t friendly, but it could have been worse.
“I’m glad to be here. This is a great school.”
“Why did you come?” asked the wolf who’d snarled.
“Your university has the only PhD program for Historical Supernatural Studies. Also your library is regarded as the nation’s best. I’m eager to see it.” He paused and considered, then decided to add, “And I don’t know any werewolves. How else am I supposed to meet one?”
Snarly McSnarlFace squared his eyes and did not look convinced.
Nathan spoke instead. “Okay. I’ll show you to your room.”
By this time, Becket had unloaded the rest of his cases, and the two of them carried what they could and followed Nathan inside.
No one offered to help.
The main doors led to a large open hall—a common area with cozy furniture throughout. Sinclair could imagine himself here, curled up with a good book. There was a large room, a den with a fireplace, through double doors off to the right. He peeked through to see a large television and video games. Nathan took them to a wide wooden staircase that must have led to balcony seating when this was a church but was converted to a series of small bedrooms now. Nathan turned the knob on one of the doors and pushed it open.
“Yours. Bathroom’s down the hall. Kitchen’s on the main floor.” With that, he turned on heel and left.
Becket and Sinclair stared at each other. Sinclair shrugged and thought, Whatever, there’s plenty of time. Then he stepped into the room and his jaw dropped. Tiny, maybe the size of a closet. No, it was a closet, or at least it must have been before they’d added a bunk-style bed with a desk underneath. There wasn’t room for a chair, so it had been crammed in the corner, with the door open. No windows either.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Sinclair mumbled.
“This will not do,” Becket agreed. “We’ll have to find you another place to live. Surely there is an actual room for you somewhere.”
“Maybe it’s a joke.” Sinclair’s shoulders raised a fraction.
“I have a feeling it’s not.”
With a sigh, Sinclair decided. “It’s fine. I won’t be in here much anyway.”
“Sinclair, you cannot be serious. I can’t leave you here. It’s—” Becket struggled for the right word. “—abysmal.”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s get the rest of my things so you can get home at a reasonable hour. No need to tell my parents about this. It will only upset them.”
Sinclair was staying and he would make the best of it.
Feeling very much alone in a house full of standoffish werewolves, Sinclair was glad to begin work the next day. He had meetings scheduled with the professors he’d be assisting, and with the supervisory board who’d be overseeing his studies. He left two hours early, not only to get away from the hostility but to walk the campus grounds and get a feel for the place.
Borson’s many academic buildings ranged from old-world stone architecture to modern, state-of-the-art marvels spread out over six hundred acres. The walkways and nature preserves remained wooded, giving the campus a rustic charm. Though there were humans attending Borson’s undergrad classes, few were admitted to the graduate program, and PhD candidates were restricted to supernaturals. He’d be working exclusively with supernaturals, given his field of study was off-limits to the human population on campus, but in light of the current political climate, it was possible that could change before his time there came to an end. Hiding their presence from humans had become difficult as technology progressed.
As he walked, Sinclair appreciated the quiet stillness of the grounds, normal for a college in the lingering days before the upcoming semester’s students arrived. The chaos of mass move-ins, the first day of classes, and rush week would ensue shortly.
Sinclair’s first appointment went well. He met Dr. Steinberg, a low-grade warlock who passed easily for human. Short and lean, the warlock had dark hair that shone even under the harsh fluorescent lighting. Steinberg taught the Intro to Supernatural Studies course that Sinclair would be assisting and eventually teaching himself. He was a friendly fellow who seemed to be looking forward to working with a Living vampire.
He couldn’t say as much for the second meeting. Dr. Reuben, a werewolf, who taught both religion and philosophy, clearly wasn’t pleased to work with Sinclair. His manner was brusque and his tone dismissive, but Sinclair assumed that if he did his job well and stayed under the radar, he could push through the semester without a hitch.
Finally, the supervisory board who’d be overseeing his progress as he began teaching, researching, and ultimately writing his dissertation seemed polite and competent. The group was made up of three liberal-leaning were-creatures: two wolves, he was certain, and the third, feline, but the type of cat he couldn’t discern. All viewed the exchange program with a positive lens. Sinclair admired their work in the field and had come to the meeting well versed on each professor’s publications.
Sinclair headed back to the house, feeling confident and ready to begin his work here in earnest. If he could only win over the werewolves he lived with.
Upon his return, he was met with unfriendly stares and the silent treatment from those loitering in the common area. Bypassing the den, he headed to the kitchen to fix lunch. Snarls-a-lot was there, whose name Sinclair still didn’t know, and he looked pissed.
“Don’t touch our food; we’ll know if you do,” he growled.
“I won’t. This is mine; I assure you.”
“Why are you eating anyway? Don’t you parasites get by on other people’s blood?” Snarly snarled.
“Um, well I’m not exactly dead yet, you see. I’m a Living vampire. I haven’t been Turned,” Sinclair said as if an explanation could ease the tension between them. It couldn’t. “I don’t require much blood for survival, but I do need to eat. Just like you.”
“Whatever, take your turkey and go. I can’t stand the smell of you.”
Sinclair raised his eyebrows but chose not to pick a fight. He made for his room slowing as he overheard the other wolves discussing the upcoming vote. He stopped to listen.
“It’s ludicrous!” said a wolf he hadn’t met. “Humans have killed other humans for millennia. They can’t even get along with each other. Of course they’ll kill us too. How can the vampires be so blind?”
“They’ll try, Eleanor, but humans are weak. There would be a war, and we’d hunt them to extinction,” another added.
“That’s not the point, and you don’t actually know that,” she countered. “There are literally billions of humans. Why taunt them? They shouldn’t know about us at all. Period.”
Nathan nodded. “Right, there’s no need to change the status quo. What this comes down to is greed. Vampires will never have enough money. They’ll always want more. Without the Edict of Secrecy, they’d amass the world’s wealth in one human generation. That alone would prompt war. It makes me sick.”
Perhaps this wasn’t exactly a good time to be the only vampire in the house. Sinclair hurried past them and shot up the stairs to his glorified closet of a room. It had been a long day already, and it was only lunch. Making friends would be harder than he’d thought.
The next day at werewolf central wasn’t any better. He’d gone down to the kitchen only to discover his food missing. When it became obvious no one hanging around would speak with him, he set off for another walk, this time in the direction of the forested lands to the east of campus.
Sinclair didn’t have the sort of preternatural speed his undead cohorts possessed, but he could outrun a human or keep up with a werewolf. He took off at a trot into the woods, hoping for some peace. Listening to the sound of his own footfalls, he could also hear the insects he disturbed along the forest floor, shuffling under him. Sensitive ears picked out the call of birds, animals in the distance, and wind through the leaves as he wandered.
His nose guided him through the trees, past a clearing obviously frequented by the wolves, and along a well-worn path by a trickling stream. He followed it before coming upon a quaint cabin in the distance, alone in the middle of the woods with no roads or driveway leading to it. The scent had led him there, but it was faint now.
Sinclair approached slowly, wary of encroaching on private property. He didn’t want to piss off a reclusive werewolf who’d be all too happy to harass a trespassing vampire, but something about the place was irresistible. Try as he might, he could smell no other presence, but the cabin wasn’t abandoned. He risked going closer. Moss grew on the shingles of the roof, and a vegetable garden thrived next to the porch.
What an enchanting place to live.
The quiet surrounding him was all the encouragement he needed to creep up for a closer peek. Now he could pick up the scent of the wolf who lived there, the alpha. It was a pleasant, earthy scent, and Sinclair found that he liked it. He took a deep breath through his nose and wondered about the alpha who called this cabin home. The man hadn’t shown up at the old church yet, but surely he would, to check on his pack.
What would happen then?
Would their leader make things easier for Sinclair?
With a sigh, Sinclair backed off, heading toward the stream. He couldn’t risk letting his own scent linger and potentially offending the alpha before they’d met. He found a nearby rock overlooking the water and sat down, his back against a tree, unwilling to head back to the dorms. As Sinclair relaxed, he took deep breaths, savoring the faded scent of the mysterious alpha wolf.