I knew there was some creature other than myself lurking in the shadows of these dark, quiet streets. I recognised the bar on the corner from my vision. The name on its flickering neon sign was indecipherable, more of the letters broken and unlit than not.
Whatever I’d come to find, it was close by... My hand tightened around the stake concealed inside my jacket and I headed towards the bar.
The trouble was happening in the side street adjacent to it. Two vampires had hold of a young guy. If not for their twisted, demonic faces, the vamps could have been normal youths. They dressed in brightly coloured, floppy clothes... about as far from demonic as you could get. The man set to be their lunch looked to be in his mid twenties, a little down on his luck, unshaven and shabby.
I edged forward, trying to get as close to them as I could before I made any move. But when one of the vamps prepared to sink his teeth into their victim's neck, I knew I could wait no longer for the sake of keeping the element of surprise.
"Hey, that's not very polite," I said, drawing out the stake. Their yellow eyes shot up to glower at me, taking in the weapon.
'Yeah, you bastards. I know what you are an' I know how to kill you...'
One of them sniggered. "That's got to be just the ugliest slayer."
I didn’t waste any time trading insults. I gripped the stake in readiness and lunged for the vamp who was holding the weakly struggling guy.
The vamp shot out a hand to grab my wrist, stopping the stake an inch short of his chest, but the impact as I barrelled into him was enough to send all three of us sprawling to the concrete.
The vampire landed heavily and, momentarily stunned, his grip on his victim loosed. The frightened guy rolled aside and staggered to his feet, staring back at me and the vamp in terror. The second vampire lunged hungrily towards him and I awkwardly flung out a leg. The vamp tripped over it and landed with a graceless splat on the pavement.
"Run, man!" I yelled to the guy, as he staggered back a few steps, his eyes glazed and stupid from fright. "Get the hell outta here!"
He didn't need telling twice. Lousy coward.
That left me with the two vampires.
I'd lost the stake when I fell, and now I couldn't see it anywhere. I scrabbled around, searching, working blind 'cause my eyes were fixed on the two vamps as they started getting up. They looked more than a little pissed, too.
I skinned my fingertips against the rough surface of the pavement in my panicked fumbling, but found no stake.
Without the weapon, I was suddenly feeling a lot less confident about the whole venture.
The vamp I'd tripped moved faster than I could follow. He lunged forward and grabbed me before I could even attempt to dodge or fight him off. Hauled me to my feet only to throw me against the outside wall of the bar, my shoulder mashing into the brickwork with bruising force.
Unable to catch my balance, I slumped to the ground and my forehead bounced off the pavement.
My head spun. I couldn’t focus... couldn’t see anything but darkness and the abrasive concrete of the road surface. But, 'there are vampires,' some small working corner of my brain reminded insistently. 'Get up.' Dizzily, I slowly struggled up onto hands and knees.
Feet. Two pairs, planted inches away from my nose, filling my vision. Encased in huge black boots. I dragged my eyes up and found the vampires were standing right over me, both grinning down nastily.
I automatically tried to flinch back. The wall hit my shoulders, and as if that wasn’t enough, one of them stamped down on my hand, pressing his weight down hard, pinning me to the ground. My knuckle joints crunched under his boot and I yelled in pain despite myself.
The sound drew a laugh and a sneer, "Did you leave your cape and tights behind, Mr Hero?"
'Great plan, Doyle,' the mocking thought rang out inside my head.
Now, I faced two vampires for my stupidity - unarmed, and with my senses still scattered and reeling.
"You let our dinner get away..." the vamp snarled, backing off a step - I thankfully peeled my squished fingers off the pavement, teeth clenched from the pain. Then the vamp shrugged and grinned a nasty grin as he shot forward again. "Hello, dinner."
I surged to my feet, dredging up some measure of extra energy from somewhere. I managed to throw an awkward punch at his twisted face.
But there was no strength in the blow, and it only made them both laugh. The vampire caught my arm before I could draw it back from the swing and he wrenched me forward, off balance. His other hand shot out to twine in my hair, twisting, baring my neck.
'What the hell?' I thought frantically. 'The others knew... how could these not know? Were they younger, stupider? I'd thought I was safe from that, at least...'
I felt the teeth sink into my neck.
This was what Harry must’ve felt, those final moments, that final day... My life had changed so much since then.
And now, it was going to end...
The teeth in my neck felt cold as ice, threads of chill squirming through my veins towards the wound as the vamp sucked out my blood. The pain was intense. It warred with the lethargy of blood loss which threatened my consciousness.
'Aw, Harry, now I know what it was I failed to protect you from... What a damned awful way to go out. '
Moisture collected at that edges of my eyes, but anger kicked in with the memory as well, and, driven by it, I started to struggle fiercely. Too late, though - he’d already taken enough blood to weaken me too much for it to make any difference.
An instant later, I was flung away again. I landed roughly, but it still felt like a reprieve after the pain of the bite. I lifted my head from the pavement; it seemed to weigh about ten times more than usual. I hazily tried to focus, to find out what the hell was going on.
I could see the vamp bent over, retching my blood back out all over the pavement in red spurts. "Shit," it gasped. "I never tasted anything like that. That was gross. There's something wrong with this guy. He's sick or something."
Using the wall for support, keeping one hand clamped to my neck to reduce the blood flow, I tried to stand. My knees buckled halfway and I ended up back on the ground. I tried again, until I realised the two vamps were watching me with mild irritation and curiosity.
The one who‘d bit me said, belligerently, "Well, if we we‘re going to go hungry tonight ‘cause of this guy, least we could do is share our displeasure."
"Yeah. That sounds like a plan."
I finally got to my feet even as they moved, again, like lightning.
The vamp suddenly in front of me sent a punch my way, which connected with the side of my face even as I raised my arm far too slowly to block. Knocked backwards, I staggered straight into the grasp of the other vamp. Rough hands on my shoulders stopped me from falling as my legs refused to support my weight.
He immediately flung me back to his buddy. Great, they were taking turns in making me a punch-bag. He shot out a kick which struck my face with so much force behind it that the vamp holding me lost his grip. I hit the wall again. I was getting very tired of that wall.
Something happened. As I hit the brickwork and slumped down to the ground, I felt it sweep through me. I felt... changed.
By that time, though, I was almost too far gone to care.
Where I lay on cold concrete, barely conscious, I heard them speak, seeming from a long way away.
"Shit. That is not normal, bud."
"I don't like this. There’s no wonder he tastes lousy. No way is he human. Let's finish him and go."
I became aware I was lying on something - an uncomfortable lump underneath my shoulder was digging into the bruises they‘d made. Surreptitiously, I edged a hand around and my fingers encountered the splintery wood of the stake I'd lost earlier. I gripped it, trying to keep the motion undetectable to the two vamps.
The one who’d bit me was coming towards me again now, and I could tell from his expression that they weren’t intending to play any longer.
The vampire reached down to me, and I twisted and plunged the stake blindly upwards. I felt curiously stronger now than I had a minute ago.
By sheer luck the stake pierced his heart, dead on target. He exploded into a scatter of dust.
As the dust settled on my clothes and on the road surface, I was left crouched with the stake and the stunned realisation that I’d killed it... I’d done it.
His pal looked aghast - about as surprised as I was. "Dude?" he said, mournfully, to the slowly settling dust cloud. He turned to me, and his face twisted into a snarl of vengeful fury I understood all too well. "You killed him!"
A vicious kick took the stake out of my hand before I could move to defend myself. He wrenched me up by my bloody collar, his hands taking a grip on my shoulder and in my hair and twisting, violently, in opposing directions.
The resultant snap reverberated right through me.
He let go and I slumped to the ground. My head lolled oddly. Something felt decidedly wrong in the area of my neck.
Some instinct told me to keep still as the vamp delivered a few final kicks to my side. I realised he thought he was kicking a corpse...
I heard him turn and walk away.
I lay there for several minutes before I was certain he was gone and I wasn't dying.
Cautiously, I sat up. My hands went to my head to hold it in place. Feeling sick, knowing exactly what had happened now I could feel with my hands the angle of my neck, I gritted my teeth and twisted.
It hurt like hell, but my neck snapped back into place. I felt things click back together right.
'How the hell did I just do that?'
It was then I realised the skin on my hands was visibly green even in the dim light of the alley. I reached up to my face and felt the spikes there. I remembered the vampires' words, a hazy memory, I'd hardly been aware at the time.
It had happened again...
I hadn't done it. The demon had. It had saved my life.
I might have made a total mess of what I'd set out to do, but I'd discovered a weapon. Darla's amused scorn retreated almost into insignificance in the face of the discovery.
A weapon alone wasn't enough, though. The night had been more than enough to demonstrate that to me. A weapon was only as useful as the person wielding it was skilled.
I didn't know how to fight this fight. But I needed to learn, and fast. I needed a plan, 'cause I couldn't do this again, unprepared. It was sheer luck I hadn't ended up dead this time.
After a while, I painfully scraped myself up of the concrete, retrieved the stake, and slowly made my way home.