Dez Schwartz © 2019
All Rights Reserved
One: Vampires. Why Did It Have To Be Vampires?
The old park in Shady Pines was the stuff of nightmares. Or so it would seem to anyone who happened upon the derelict area after the sun set. In actuality, it was simply a park. Located across from the oldest district in the small Texas city of Shady Pines and near the edge of a small forest encompassing the town, the park was extremely rundown and typically abandoned during the daytime. A snapshot of times past, the neglected playground had standard metal slides and jungle gyms, before modern worries of bruises, broken bones, and burns on hot afternoons. Like most cities, Shady Pines had since created newer and safer places for families to gather. And so, the old park had fallen to ruin but still remained hopeful its ghosts would return to play again.
As it happened, quite a few creatures loved to play there, but they were rarely of the human set. Part of what made the place so eerie was park’s location. Once sunset arrived, a thick fog would roll in from the marshes in the woods and overtake the area. If one were to stand there, as Dr. Grady Hunter was doing now, the murky haze would only rise to roughly one’s waist depending on their height. The moon would hang bright and looming overhead, as it also was now, to cast shadows all around. And a breeze would cause swings to sway, and the paint chipped merry-go-round to spin ever so slightly, as was also happening now. At least, one would hope the movement was due to the breeze. Unless, of course, the person was Dr. Grady Hunter and was hoping for something else.
“Any signs of movement? Blast this fog!” Grady, a semi-former monster hunter and more recently self-appointed alternative healer of supernaturals, whispered into the small microphone on the headset he was wearing. His British accent was always strongest when he was frustrated. The park wasn’t his first choice of venue to lure vampires, but any abandoned buildings or dark alleys would provide them too much of an advantage and surely seem like a setup. They would definitely be suspicious. He supposed they should be suspicious of a man in his late thirties strolling through the old park at night alone but, as the case happened, they appeared to find that behavior completely normal.
“Nada. And don’t worry about the fog. The visuals I’m pulling from my cameras penetrate right through it.” A casually confident, and extremely American in contrast, male voice replied back from the other side of the communication device between sounds of chewing.
“Are you eating right now? We’re working!” Grady admonished, still in a whisper as he slowly strolled through the park with his hand hovering by his waist. He had a number of weapons at the ready beneath his long brown coat in case he was successful in finding what he was looking for.
“Please, I’m the king of multitasking. Besides, it’s past my dinnertime and I can’t refuse a sushi place if I pass one,” the voice responded. Grady could tell the man on the other side, Chris Reed, was smiling. Then, he became urgent. “Ahab, you’ve got a white whale at ten o’clock.”
“That’s not my code name. We don’t have code names. Don’t make things up on the spot. It’s distracting,” Grady griped but whipped around to face whatever was heading his way.
“If we did, though, I think I’d want to be Zaphod,” Chris replied, obviously slurping a drink. “Your target is hovering by the slide. Not the loopy one. The tall straight one. I fell off a slide once when I was a kid. I was pretending to be Indiana Jones. Broke my wrist. Great summer.”
“Your lifelong aspiration to be fictional characters is both charming and annoying. Going silent now,” Grady replied as he stalked slowly in the direction of the slide. He reached inside his jacket for a stake. He saw a figure’s shadow wavering across the top of the fog. It definitely appeared human, which most likely meant it was a vampire. He tried to keep his weapon concealed beneath the haze and pretended he was simply walking in the same direction, unaware of the creature’s presence.
“Whip out the big boy! It’s an ambush from behind!” Chris shouted in his ear. Unable to keep from chuckling, he added, “That didn’t come out how I meant. But seriously, you’re under attack. “
Grady immediately switched to a revolving handheld crossbow, which was loaded with a round of stakes, should a situation such as this ever arise. He spun on his heel in time to see four vampires running full speed in his direction. He shot one down but then had to momentarily turn his attention back to the first vampire, who had taken the opportunity to pounce on him.
Grady wrestled free of his grip and knocked him onto the slide where he toppled over the edge and onto the ground.
“Yeah, pretty much how I broke my wrist,” Chris commented.
“Oh, do shut up!” Grady shouted back in the mic. The outburst caused some mild confusion for the vampires as none of them had been speaking, but it didn’t deter them from continuing their attack.
Two of the vampires lifted Grady and slammed him into the ground on his back, knocking the wind out of him. He felt a cracking pain he didn’t have time to assess, as one of the vampires straddled his chest and went fangs-first for his neck. He managed to pull the revolver up to the creature’s chest and let loose a stake right before he was torn into. He rolled free, still with three vampires to face and precisely three stakes left in his crossbow.
“This is exciting. You’re doing a great job, boss!” Chris complimented.
“Not! Helpful!” Grady panted as he attempted to catch his breath. He didn’t get much of a break as another vampire grabbed him by the shoulder and jerked his arm backward, trying to rip the crossbow from his grasp. Grady shouted in response to the wrenching pain.
“Keep him there!” Chris commanded. “I can get a shot in. He’s right in the line of fire.”
“I’m not the one in control at the moment, thank you!” Grady grieved between gritted teeth as he tried to maintain control of the weapon against the thrashing pull of the vampire. Thankfully, the vampire on the other side of the slide was only now running over to try to help his cohort, and the third had opted to watch the scene rather than participate.
A wild shot seemed to fly in out of nowhere. Grady knew the attack came from one of the cameras they had placed around the park for their mission. Attached to the bottom of each supernatural night vision camera was a small loaded device that would shoot a stake with bullet-like precision when activated. It was one of the many weapons they’d had to develop and utilize in the past few months as the vampire infestation in Shady Pines had progressively gotten worse and Grady found himself without much help in dealing with the problem.
Ethan Roam, his new partner in both work and life—who happened to be a sandman, was still away dream traveling. Benny, weredog and roommate, was living the high life as a spoiled Chihuahua fifty percent of the time, rendering him practically ineffective. Vivian Edwards, a highly skilled witch and his former secretary, refused to speak to him or respond to any of his messages. Ethan’s mother, Karen Roam, and their mutual friend, Dr. Arthur Ellis, were eager to help. However, while they were fine comrades in research, they were useless in the field. Grady had no choice but to call upon an old acquaintance to help with the crisis. Chris Reed, a rogue hunter and techno-mage. Thankfully, Chris was more than capable and equally enthusiastic at the prospect. He enjoyed inventing new ways to destroy and capture supernatural creatures, and he’d decided working with Grady was a fantastic way to demo his creations. Unfortunately, even with Chris’s handiwork and help, they hadn’t made much of a dent in the vampire population, which was rapidly growing and terrorizing the citizens (and other paranormals) who generally enjoyed a night out from time to time.
The shot hit the vampire perfectly, and Grady fell forward onto his knees, free of the monster’s grasp. This, however, caused the crossbow to fly free from the ended struggle and fall into the fog. Grady couldn’t see where the weapon landed and began swearing. Knowing he had only moments, he reached back into his jacket and produced two khukuri knives. He stood quickly, ready to face the vampire who had been standing by watching, but was surprised to find he’d disappeared.
“Bugger! One escaped. Did you see where he went?” Grady asked into the mic as he rounded on the last vampire, already furiously leaping toward him.
“Dammit! No. I’m sorry,” Chris replied. “I had my eye on my shot.”
Grady pulled up the khukuri knives on either side of the vampire’s throat as the creature attempted to attack him. The vampire’s eyes grew wide in surprise, realizing he was about to be beheaded. He met Grady’s gaze in a pleading manner. Grady hated when they did that. It made him think of Dacey Sinnett, the only vampire he’d ever call a friend, and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. Grady did his best to keep his resolve.
“Tell me who is leading you, or I will end you right now!” Grady demanded, his expression ferociously serious.
“You’ll do it anyway,” the vampire spat back.
Grady shoved his weight forward and slammed him up against the slide, blades tightly gripped around the vampire’s neck.
“Your cooperation may convince me otherwise. Now answer the question!” he commanded again.
“You’re great at playing bad cop, Grady,” Chris interjected in his ear. Once again, he practically heard him grinning. Grady wished he could rip his headset off but right now his hands were full.
“I don’t know his name,” the vampire played along. “He showed up out of nowhere a few months ago. Started making promises and threats; demanding that we help him.”
“Help him with what?” Grady seized the opportunity to gather much-needed information. “And is he a vampire? A human? Something else?”
“He wants us to tear this pathetic town to pieces until we find—” The vampire’s answer was forever halted as he was hit expertly with a stake.
“Dammit! Chris, was that you?” Grady yelled angrily.
“No!” Chris was defensive. Grady stood, with no vampire left to interrogate, and looked around. He saw the source at the same time Chris must have on the cameras.
“Guess he found your crossbow,” Chris sighed limply as the last vampire, the one who had gone missing, ran off into the night after killing their only chance at finding some answers.
Grady kicked the slide in frustration which caused a metallic gong to echo around the now empty park. They weren’t any closer to dealing with the problem or having any real answers.
“Sorry tonight was a bust, man,” Chris consoled.
“Same story, different night,” Grady sighed. He brushed off as much dirt and grass from his jacket and pants as possible and attempted to calm his frustrations.
“Don’t worry, tiger. We’ll get them one of these days.” Chris was already back to his upbeat self. “If it’s any consolation, you looked like a total badass. I have to admit, watching you fight has to be my second favorite thing about this gig.”
“Oh, really? And what’s the first?” Grady smirked. Chris didn’t let anyone feel down for too long.
“The inevitable moments where I get to save your ass, of course,” Chris chimed.
“Prat.” Grady rolled his eyes but smiled anyway as he headed back through the park toward his old Jaguar.
“Twat,” Chris responded without missing a beat. Grady chuckled. If nothing else, at least having Chris around kept up morale.
“Go ahead and take the rest of the night off,” Grady said, getting into his vehicle. He glanced back at the park once more, in case he missed something, but the area remained quiet and empty. “I suppose Benny already went home?”
“Yeah, he left a while back. He said watching would make him nervous. And to be honest, I’m not much of a fan of small yapping dogs,” Chris replied. Grady heard him shutting off various equipment in the background.
“All right. See you tomorrow, then.” Grady turned off the headset and tossed the device into the passenger seat. He leaned back into the headrest and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and slowly letting his breath back out.
“Find. What could they possibly want to find so badly in Shady Pines?” Grady asked himself aloud as he recalled what the vampire tried to tell him. The pit of his stomach tightened and his heart grew heavy because he had a pretty good idea of what, or whom, that might be.
He brought the car to life and drove straight home, feeling the need to be at Ethan’s sleeping side.
A little brown yapping Chihuahua was precisely what greeted him as he stepped into the foyer of his large gray two-story Victorian manor. Every light in the house appeared to be on and the various array of Victorian and Georgian furniture, décor, and antiques gave the home a warm, glowing ambiance.
Benny, the “werehuahua” as everyone semi-jokingly referred to him, was bouncing on his hind legs and wagging his tail fervently. Grady noticed his housekeeper, a ghost named Agatha, who usually came to greet him, was absent.
Benny latched his teeth into the leg of Grady’s trousers and started tugging.
“Benny!” Grady scolded gently. “What on earth has gotten into you? I’m rather fond of these pants. They’re Cordings, I’ll have you know.”
Benny let go of his pant leg and dashed across the hallway toward the main receiving room in an excited hurry.
“You can teach him to sit, fetch, and turn into a human boy, but you can’t teach him manners,” Grady grumbled, hanging up his coat and following the little dog’s steps.
He immediately stopped short in the doorway of the room. Anything and everything else that had happened that night was quickly forgotten. For there, sitting in the two wingback chairs by his fireplace, were the last two men he expected to ever see together and they were both staring at him expectantly.
Agatha, the resident housekeeping ghost, was floating around diligently serving tea. Karen Roam, Ethan’s incredibly supportive mother, was seated on the green lounge chair across from the visitors as she accepted a drink. Benny was running around in excited circles between the legs of the chairs.
Grady wasn’t aware he’d stopped breathing momentarily, because staring back at him was not only his lover, Ethan Roam, wide awake with vibrant, otherworldy eyes but also a much older man he thought he’d never see again for the rest of his life.
Edwin Quinn. His father.