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Minor League Origins Issue #1 – SAM

Sam ignored the looks from the other people in the library. You’d think it was the first time they’d seen a scruffy street kid sitting at a computer. The fifteen-year-old boy thought they were probably surprised they couldn’t smell him from across the room. Sam wasn’t surprised though, thanks to his genetic alterations, his sweat gave off no scent and had odour neutralising properties. Even though the original purpose of the alteration was to enhance his stealth capabilities, he was probably the only teenage boy on the planet who never had to worry about deodorant and showers.

As he was tapping away at the keyboard, scrolling through another newspaper report on a missing teenage boy dated nine months ago, something made him look up. Two men stood at the front desk talking to a library assistant. They showed something to the assistant, a badge Sam assumed as they verbally identified themselves as NYPD detectives. Then, one of them asked if “she had seen this boy,” presumably showing her a photo at the same time. Sam knew he was in trouble when she glanced in his direction before pointing him out to the plainclothes detectives. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the two men approach, weapons still in holsters but ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

“NYPD,” said one of the men as he flashed a badge, “we need you to come down to the station with us to answer a few questions. We’ve had reports of a kid matching your description stealing bags and purses in the area.” The other man stood back, his hand by the holster on his belt.

Sam sized the two men up, calculating his chances. Slowly, he pushed his chair away from the desk and stood up. The two men took a step back. “I ‘aint done nothing,” Sam said, forcing a teenage whine into his voice, “I’ve been in here all day. Ask anyone.” He looked around at the other people in the library, as if looking for support. Not that he expected any; it seemed that he and the two men had developed the superpower of invisibility if the way that everyone was ignoring them was anything to go by.

“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be kid.” The man with a hand on his gun said.

“Fine,” Sam said with an exasperated sigh of defeat, “I could do with a warm place to sleep tonight anyway and a police cell is as good as any.” There was a pause as if the two men hadn’t expected Sam to give up so easily. They quickly recovered and the first man pulled out a pair of handcuffs, turned Sam around and cuffed his hands behind his back. Each taking an arm, they began to lead the unresisting boy out of the library. As they reached the front desk, way from the other library patrons, Sam made his move.

He effortlessly snapped the handcuffs as if they were made of cheap plastic; broken pieces of metal clattered noisily onto the tiled floor. Sam tore his arms from the men’s grip while they were still unprepared, surprising them with his strength. One of the men recovered quickly, reaching to draw his gun. That act designated him as the most immediate threat and Sam’s training took over. He jabbed upwards with the heel of his right hand, striking the man hard in his nose. The crunch of breaking bone and cartilage barely had time to sound before Sam followed up with a solid punch to the stomach with his left fist. Sam’s face betrayed no emotion as he pressed his attack, spinning around and kicking the man in his face while he doubled over from the punch. The man was sent sprawling across the front desk, knocked unconscious by the kick. A quiet click, the distinctive sound of a safety being disengaged, reminded him of the existence of the other man. In the reflection of a computer monitor on the desk, Sam saw the man had drawn his weapon and was taking aim at the back of his head. With split second reflexes, he span around, drew the unconscious man’s gun whilst knocking the other man’s gun out of his hands, and aimed between the startled man’s eyes, thumbing the safety. The force of Sam’s blow had shattered the bones in the man’s hand and the gun tomahawked across the library, embedding itself in the wall. It all happened so fast that the man didn’t get chance to react to the pain as he stared in shock down the barrel of the gun. In less than five seconds, the tables had been turned.

Sam blinked, his eyes seeming to refocus on the gun he was holding and his aim wavered slightly. If the man thought that he could take advantage of the boy’s hesitation, he was wrong. Flicking the safety back on, Sam tossed the gun into the air, caught the barrel and brought the grip smashing into the side of the man’s temple. At the last second, he pulled his blow, not wanting the shatter the man’s skull. The man was instantly knocked unconscious.

By this point, chaos had broken out amongst the few people in the library. Most were fleeing away from the scene of the fight as fast as they could and within a minute, the only conscious people left in the front were the Sam and library assistant.

She was standing frozen at the front desk, shocked into indecision about whether to flee or not. “You … you attacked those police officers.”

“Not cops,” Sam muttered as he knelt next to the man he had pistol-whipped and started to search him.

“Pardon?”

“I said, these men weren’t cops.” Sam said, holding the man’s wallet and pocketing the cash. There was no point in checking for and identification, he was certain that any he found would be fake. “Legitimate police officers don’t cuff you without reading your rights, at least the clean ones don’t. These men were armed with HK45 semi-automatic pistols firing .45 ACP rounds. Definitely not standard NYPD issue.” He found a cylindrical object in an inside jacket pocket which he pulled out and showed the women. “And what kind of cop carries a suppressor? If I’d gone with these two, I’d have ended up face down in an alleyway with a bullet to the back of my head. Just another dead street kid. Just another statistic.”

The woman watched as Sam removed the spare ammunition clips from both men and stuffed them along with the first man’s gun into his dirty backpack. “I don’t understand,” she said, “if those men weren’t police, then who were they?”

Sam laughed, “Trust me, you don’t want to know.” Shouldering his backpack, he began to hurry towards the door. He did not intend on being around when the real cops showed up; summoned no doubt by one of the terrified library patrons cowering in the back. With his luck, the local capes were probably less than a block away already.

Watching him leave, the woman’s eyes strayed towards the handgun embedded several inches into the brick wall. To embed it so deeply into the wall from across the room would’ve taken a great deal of strength. She looked back at the boy about to disappear on to the street. Even with his small but powerful build there was no way he should have been able to do that, unless … “Are you some sort of metahuman?”

Pausing at the door, Sam looked over his shoulder. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“Just who are you?”

“Huh,” Sam grunted, opening the door and leaving, “that’s what I’m trying to find out.”

—-

“Commander Mayhew,” the soldier said as he approached the raised platform at the back of the control room whilst carrying a computer tablet, “we’ve had a confirmed sighting of Echo Three at a public library in Harlem.”

The man sitting at the desk looked down at the soldier. “Report.”

“Unit 7, posing as NYPD officers, located the target and they … uh ….” The soldier stammered to a stop as the Commander fixed him with a withering glare. “They attempted to apprehend the target but …”

“Let me guess,” the Commander interrupted, “they disobeyed orders, did not call for reinforcements, and the target neutralised them without breaking a sweat.”

“Um … yes,” the soldier said, glancing down at the tablet, “Unit 12 was able to intercept the ambulance taking Unit 7 to hospital for treatment. They’re bringing them in now. According to witness statements made to police who responded to a 911 call, an unidentified teenage boy attacked two men claiming to be NYPD officers when they tried to arrest him. Despite being handcuffed, he was able to defeat and disarm both of them within seconds displaying obvious metahuman talents. Apparently, even though he had a clear shot, the boy chose not to kill.”

Interesting, thought the Commander. Not only had Echo Three chosen not to kill the men who had tried to capture, but he hadn’t eliminated any of the witnesses. Evidence that the behavioural conditioning had broken down. Had that occurred over the last month Echo Three had been on the run or did the breakdown begin before his escape. Perhaps those scientists at Project Apex overestimated the effectiveness of their brainwashing techniques. Nonetheless, now he had yet another loose end to take care of. “Sergeant, once Unit 7 has arrived, escort them to the sick bay for debriefing. After they’ve made a complete report, instruct the medical team to process their bodies for organ harvesting.”

“But sir, their injuries are not life threatening!” Protested the soldier.

“They may as well be,” Mayhew said quietly. “One, they disobeyed a direct order to call for back up immediately upon locating Echo Three. Two, they attracted the attention of the authorities to what is supposed to be a covert retrieval operation. Finally, I’m going to have to explain to the Board of Directors why footage of an escaped supersoldier prototype has appeared on the news.” Mayhew turned the computer screen in front of him around to show the web stream of a local TV news channel. A heavily pixellated video, probably mobile phone footage, showed the blurred form of Echo Three effortlessly defeat the two mercenaries. “We are lucky that the quality of the footage is too poor for anyone to positively identify Echo Three. Nonetheless, The Armoury does not accommodate soldiers who do not follow orders and the Board will no doubt order Unit 7s execution for their part in this debacle. At least this way, their failure may have positive benefits for their comrades in the future.”

Mayhew dismissed the soldier and leant back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair. He needed some fresh air, the control room was becoming stuffy and he needed to work out what he was going to say to the Board.

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Ryan’s Story – The Hunted

SethRyan slowly opened his eyes, a dull throbbing ache reverberating through his head. It was dark and it took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust to the surroundings. He was lying on his side and his hands were tied behind his back with a pair of cable tie like plasticuffs. His ankles were similarly bound together and a cloth rag had been stuffed into his mouth with another tied around his head to keep it in place. Looking around, he realised that he was lying in the back of a van, the sudden lurches telling him they were travelling down country roads at high speed. Bound and gagged in the back of a van, kidnapped by two men, he was alone and helpless; just like he was all those years ago. Ryan lay back down on the cold metal floor as the tears began to run down his cheek despite his attempts to hold them back.

Sitting in the front of the van, Jared noticed the movement in the back. He nudged Seth with his elbow and nodded towards the boy. The vampire unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed into the back of the van. He sat down opposite Ryan and looked down at the boy. Ryan looked back up at him through red eyes. “Not so tough now, eh?” The vampire sneered.

—-

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Ben said staring out of the windscreen as they drove through the evening dusk. Daniel looked over at him as the boy continued. “I mean, my friend’s been kidnapped and rather than call the cops, I get in to a car with a complete stranger who wields glowing knives.”

“What was that you just said?” Daniel said suddenly.

“I said I must be crazy. What am I going to do next, take sweets off a stranger?” Daniel looked at Ben a little closer. There was no way that anyone should have been able to see the chi flowing through his knives. Outside of the spirit realm, the energy flow should be invisible. As they paused at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the lights to change, Daniel concentrated on the boy sitting next to him. Focusing his abilities, he sensed the boy’s aura. It was strange, different somehow but Daniel couldn’t figure out how. “God, I hope he’s alright.” Ben said sighing.

It was at that point that Daniel finally recognised the boy. “Your name’s Ben right?” He asked as they accelerated down the road away from the centre of town.

“How do you know my name?” Ben asked suspiciously, inadvertently confirming his name. Daniel reached behind him to the back seat, picked up a file and tossed it over to Ben.

“I found that in a hotel room rented by the two men who took Ryan.” Ben opened the file and looked at the contents. There were pictures of him and his friends inside but most of the information in the file was about Ryan; school reports, medical records, a newspaper clipping, care home placements and even psychiatric evaluations. Before he could read any of it, Daniel had grabbed the file out of his hands and tossed it back on the back seat. “There’s some pretty private stuff in there about Ryan and if he hasn’t felt able to confide in you; it’s not my place to tell.” Daniel pulled the car over to the side of the road. Ahead of them, the road forked as it left town. Although both of them lead to Plymouth and from there to the motorway, Ryan’s kidnappers could have taken either route. It was crucial that they chose the right one; otherwise, they could miss their chance to catch up with Ryan and his kidnappers. “Ok, this could be a problem.”

“What now?” Ben asked.

“Now,” Daniel said reaching over to the glove compartment, “I break the laws of science.” Ben watched as rooted through its contents. It was full of papers, maps and tools. Eventually he pulled out a compass.

“What do you mean?”

 “Just watch.” Daniel held the compass in one hand and cupped his other over it, concealing the compass within. He closed his eyes and as he did so, a pale white glow emanated from between his hands. “Ostendo mihi via ut puer.” When he removed his hand, Ben could see the needle of the compass spinning wildly. As he watched, the needle started to glow and stopped spinning. Rather than pointing due north, it was now pointing to the northeast, lining up with the right hand road. Daniel gunned engine and turned towards the indicated road. “Last chance to get out kid,” he said turning to the boy, “it might get dangerous from here.”

Ben swallowed audibly, a look of resolve replacing the worried expression on his face. “No way, Ryan saved my life. The least I can do is return the favour.”

“Good answer,” Daniel said as they drove off, “but there are a couple of things you need to know.”

—-

Ryan glared back as the vampire looked down at him. The way the vampire seemed to be studying him made him uncomfortable. “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?” Seth asked. Ryan mumbled something behind the gag. “What was that?” Seth said cupping his hand to his ear. Again, Ryan said something that was muffled by the gag. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you to not to speak with your mouth full.” Seth reached forward, pulled Ryan into a sitting position and loosened his gag.

“I said ‘fuck you’, you blood sucking leech.” Ryan said spitting in Seth’s face, the glob hitting the vampire’s cheek.

The vampire wiped the spittle from the side of his face. “Good aim.” He punched Ryan harshly in the face, the boy grunting in pain as the fist connected with his nose.

“Why are you doing this?” Ryan asked, sniffing slightly as blood started dribble out of his nose.

“Because,” Seth said leaning closer, “for some reason your brother is willing to pay an obscene amount to get his hands on you.” At the mention of his brother, Seth heard Ryan’s heart begin to race.

“Please,” Ryan begged, “he wants to kill me! You can’t hand me over to him.”

Seth laughed. “As long as he pays what he owes, he can spit-roast you over a barbecue for all I care.”

“You can’t do this, please.”

Seth reached over and replaced the gag. “Watch me.” Ryan tried to scream from behind the cloth. The vampire reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered mobile phone. He kicked Ryan in the side of the face to shut him up, knocking him back to the floor and leaving a boot shaped red mark across his face. Pointing the phone’s camera at Ryan, he took a photo of the boy as he lay on the cold metal floor battered, bound and bleeding, illuminating the scene with the phone’s flash. A few button pushes later and the photo was beaming its way across the mobile network to a handset in London. Within seconds, Seth’s phone rang and the vampire quickly answered it. “Talk … nothing I couldn’t handle … at the moment, no … uh huh … got it …” Seth looked down at Ryan and smiled. “Your brother wants a word with you.” He removed the cloth gag and held the phone to the boy’s ear.

“Hello little brother, it’s been a while.” As he heard his brother’s voice, Ryan froze. In that instant, it was four years ago and he was ten years old again. Blood splattered on his face, his parents lying dead in front of him. Mark’s voice in his ear, the last words his brother spoke to him burning into his memory as the knife sliced into his throat. His brother’s voice cut through the flashback. “What’s this, after four years you’ve got nothing to say?”

“Go to hell you bastard, I don’t have a brother!” Ryan yelled.

Mark chuckled down the phone. “Is that any way to speak to your brother?”

“You lost the right to call yourself that,” Ryan said angrily, “when you raped and tried to murder me!”

“It was nothing personal Ryan, I…”

“Nothing personal?” Ryan said incredulously, cutting him off. “You don’t get much more personal than that!”

“Well, we’ll have plenty of time to talk in a few hours.” Seth took the phone away from Ryan’s ear and shoved the gag back into his mouth, ruffling the boy’s hair patronisingly as he did so. The vampire climbed back into the front passenger seat, leaving Ryan alone in the back of the van. As Mark talked, he rooted through the glove compartment looking for an A-Z Map of London. He followed Mark’s directions and circled a street on the map, showing the location to Jared who held up four fingers.

“No problem, should take us about five, five and half hours … ok, see you there. And make sure you’re ready with the payment.” Seth hung up as Jared looked at him quizzically.

“Why did you say five? We can make it in four.” Jared asked.

“Because,” Seth said glancing at the tied-up boy lying in the back, “now we’ve got some time to have some ‘fun’ with the brat.”

Ryan lay there wriggling his wrists and ankles, desperately trying to loosen the restraints as he listened to what the two men had planned for him. It was useless though, they were too tight. The only thing he achieved was to inflict small cuts on his already sore wrists and he felt blood slowly trickle out of the fresh wounds. As he struggled, he began to realise that the situation was hopeless.

—-

“So,” Ben said taking a deep breath, “Ryan’s been kidnapped by a vampire.”

“Yes,” Daniel said keeping an eye on the compass.

“But the other guy isn’t a vampire?”

“No, as far as I know he’s just a regular human being.”

“How do you know?”

“There’s a bag on the back seat, reach around and get it. Have look inside; there should be a pair glasses in there.” After a few seconds of rummaging, Ben pulled out a pair of strange looking glasses. The lenses were smoked and thicker than normal, although they did not appear to be designed to correct the wearer’s vision. Just above the nose bridge were two small LEDs, neither were lit. Either side of the lenses, Ben could see two devices that looked like the small digital camera lenses found on mobile phones. Just behind the cameras were two small buttons. Ben assumed the batteries were contained in the ends of the legs that were bulkier than usual. “Put them on and press one of the buttons.” Ben did as he was instructed, pushing the button next to the left lens. There was a flicker of static in his left eye but it quickly vanished. At first he didn’t notice anything different but soon, he could just about make out a second “ghost” image overlaying his vision through his left eye. “The lenses are actually semi-transparent LCD screens linked to the cameras on either side of the glasses. Since the image of a vampire cannot be recorded electronically, the digital cameras won’t see them. The semi-transparent nature of the screens allows the image captured by the cameras to be overlaid over the natural optical information coming into your eye.”

“Meaning that a vampire will appear transparent,” Ben said realising what Daniel was trying to explain.

“That’s right.” As they drove on, the lights of Cliffport had receded behind them and they were now driving down dark and unlit country roads. There was no traffic in either direction and they drove on through the evening alone, neither saying much to the other. Daniel was beginning to regret bringing the boy along with him. He had initially thought that having a friendly face with him might convince Ryan that he was there to help. Now, he had realised that he’d probably made a mistake. All he was doing was putting a second boy in danger. “You know, you’re taking all this rather well. Most people would freak if they found out that one of their friends had been kidnapped by a vampire.”

“Well,” Ben said shrugging, “a week ago I was attacked and nearly killed by something called a ‘deepling’. If it wasn’t for Ryan kicking its ass, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

At the mention of the deepling, Daniel glanced at the Ben curiously. Ryan had taken on and defeated a deepling? That was no easy feat for a 14-year-old. Suddenly, as they turned a corner, a pair of red rear lights appeared out of the darkness ahead of them. In the light from the car’s headlights, Daniel recognised it as the van used in Ryan’s kidnapping. He took the glasses off Ben, placing them in his lap.

“Is that them?” Ben asked pointing towards the van. Daniel nodded in response. They stopped behind the van as it paused at a cross roads before turning left. Daniel drove the car straight on. “Wait, aren’t we gonna follow them?”

The older man didn’t answer; instead, he drove forward until they were out of sight of the van. He picked up the glasses in his lap and put them on, fiddling with some of the buttons. Turning the car around, Daniel switched off the headlights and began following the van. Responding to Ben’s quizzical look, he pointed at the glasses. “Oh, they also double as night vision aids.” The followed the van for twenty minutes until it pulled off into a rest area. He stopped the car and backed it up around the corner and out of sight before turning to Ben. “Stay in the car,” the older man said as he reached into the back and pulled out a duffel bag.

“But,” the boy started to say in protest.

“No,” Daniel said firmly pressing the car keys into Ben’s hand, “no matter what happens, you stay in the car and lock the doors. If something goes wrong, you get yourself out of here. Don’t be a hero.” Daniel got out of the car and jogged into the bushes that ran by the side of the road, bag in hand, leaving Ben alone in the car to glower at his back.

—-

Seth turned to Jared. “Pull up in that rest area,” he said pointing out through the windscreen, “that looks as good a place as any.”

Ryan felt the van turn off the tarmac road and onto a stretch of rustling dirt and gravel. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his panicked breaths through the gag were short and ragged. He had never been more terrified in his life, almost scared beyond rational thought. Four years ago, he had been too young and naive to understand what was happening to him. Now he was older, and unfortunately for him, wiser. He knew what Mark had planned for him, and he had a good idea what the vampire had meant by “having fun.” His struggles to escape his bonds had now become frantic, his wrists slick with the blood from the cuts caused by the plasticuffs.

Jared switched off the engine and opened the driver’s side door. “Where are you going?” Seth asked him as the vampire turned to climb into the back.

“I’m going for a slash,” Jared replied pointing towards the toilet block he had seen as they pulled in.

The vampire chuckled. “Ahh urination, a mortal weakness that I don’t miss.”

Jared climbed out of the van and turned to face Seth. “Oh I don’t know, I think it’s a good trade-off if it means I can enjoy a cold beer and a good kebab.”

“I can enjoy a cold beer as well you know,” Seth said in mock-pout.

“Yeah,” Jared said slyly, “but only after it’s been filtered through someone else’s digestive system and into their bloodstream.” He closed the van door and started walking to the toilet block. Seth climbed into the back and sat opposite Ryan. He looked down at the boy whose struggles had ceased when the vampire had sat down. The boy’s obvious distress aroused him, as did the smell of the boy’s sweat and blood. He reached down, wiped some of the boy’s blood on to his finger and brought it up to his mouth, sucking on the blood soaked digit. The vampire closed his eyes and groaned in pleasure at the sweet taste.

Along with the pounding headache, Ryan now felt nauseous watching the vampire enjoy the taste of his blood. He glared at the vampire, determined not to show any fear or weakness. Seth laughed as he saw the childish defiance in the boy’s eyes. “Glare at me all you want boy, it aint gonna save you.” The vampire got up and pulled out a large knife. Kneeling down next to Ryan, he bent over and cut the plasticuffs securing his ankles. “One way or another,” he said sitting down on Ryan’s legs, preventing the boy from kicking out at him, “by the end of tonight you’ll be screaming. The only choice you get in the matter is whether it’ll be in pain or in pleasure.” He reached down and began slowly massaging the boy’s groin through the material his long shorts. The boy squirmed beneath him, wriggling in an attempt to get free while furiously shaking his head. In response, the vampire started to massage him more roughly causing Ryan to whimper through the gag. “The more you resist, the more it’ll hurt.” A single tear escaped from Ryan’s left eye. Seth leant forward and licked at the side of Ryan’s face. As the boy shivered at the unwanted physical contact, Seth pushed his free hand under Ryan’s hoodie and t-shirt and began to play with one of the boy’s nipples. “Relax a little, it’s not as if you’re a virgin at this,” the vampire whispered cruelly into Ryan’s ear before kissing the boy softly on the forehead, “which is a shame since I prefer tight young virgin ass.”

Ryan took the opportunity to attack then with the only weapon available to him, jerking upward and head butting the vampire in the face. Seth grunted in pain and fell off Ryan as the boy kicked up with one leg, unbalancing the vampire. As the vampire sat on the floor clutching his nose, Ryan lashed out with his foot. The boy’s kick connected with the vampire’s jaw, the heel of his shoe striking solidly with the side of the face. Seth was momentarily stunned by the savage kick but quickly shook it off as he saw Ryan scramble to his feet and start moving towards the back door. He got up and grabbed the back of the boys head by his hair, yanking back hard. Ryan screamed in pain as he was pulled off his feet and fell backwards. Using the momentum of the fall, Seth slammed the boy’s head on the floor of the van. Ryan struggled to stay awake as red and white flashes washed over his vision, the blow to the head making him dizzy. He felt himself flipped on to his stomach as rough hands grabbed his belt and pulled his shorts down to his ankles, taking his boxers with them. Seth looked down at the half-naked boy beneath him as he straddled Ryan’s legs. “Your brother may want you alive,” he said undoing his own pants, “but I guarantee that when we’re finished with you, you’ll be begging us to kill you to make the pain stop.” As Seth positioned himself above and behind Ryan, ready to take the boy whether he wanted it or not, the side door of the van slid open. “What took you so long, you almost missed the fun.” He turned to the door, expecting to see Jared. Instead, he came face to face with the barrel of a pump-action shotgun.

“Suck on this leech.” Daniel said pulling the trigger. The shotgun’s blast was like thunder in the enclosed space, the flash of the blast illuminating the interior of the van like a strobe. Seth was thrown back against the side of the van, his blood spraying against the wall. As the vampire slid down the wall, its head a ragged mess of torn flesh, Daniel put the shotgun down and reached into the van to Ryan; gently sitting him up with one hand while pulling the boy’s shorts back up with the other. Ryan’s eyes went wide; first with confusion, then with recognition. Behind him, the vampire was already starting to move as the flesh and bone started to knit themselves back together. “We better hurry,” Daniel said, loosening the gag and pulling out his knife so he could cut the plasticuffs binding Ryan’s hands. “That only slowed him down.” However, before he could cut the plasticuffs, he was struck from the side by a blinding bolt of electricity, sending him scraping across the floor. Ryan whipped his head around and saw the vampire’s partner standing by the toilet block, electricity crackling up and down the man’s forearms. Daniel grabbed Ryan’s leg as he pulled himself up off the floor and looked up at the boy, twitching as the after-effects of the electrical attack fired random nerve impulses. “Run,” he said pointing down the road. Not waiting to be told twice, Ryan slid off the van and started running down the road.

Seth sat up just in time to see Ryan jump out of the van and run off. Cursing, the vampire jumped up and leaped out of the van; narrowly avoiding landing on Daniel who rolled out of the way. Jared was already running towards ran and when he saw Seth get out he yelled, “Go get the kid; I’ll deal with this fucker.” Seth nodded, batted away an attempt by Daniel to grab him, and set off in pursuit of Ryan.

“First a vampire, now a bloody warlock,” Daniel muttered grabbing the shotgun and pointing it at Jared, identifying him as a greater threat than the vampire because of the man’s use of magic. Jared reached out with his hand, flicking his wrist. The shotgun was wrenched out of Daniel’s hands; flying across the space between the two men.

—-

Ben sat in the front passenger seat twirling the car keys anxiously around his fingers. He had put the glasses on to take his mind off the situation and had to admit that they were cool. Everything appeared a ghostly green through the glasses, although the digital smearing of the image as he moved his head made him slightly nauseous. He wondered how Daniel had been able to drive wearing them.

He had just discovered the zoom function when the boom of a shotgun caused him to jump, dropping the glasses. Less than a minute later, he saw the blue-white flash of lightning illuminating the area, the light emanating from just around the corner. Ben looked nervously at the back seat, hoping to find a weapon of some sort. Motion in the corner of his eye made Ben face forward and he saw Ryan run around the corner, almost stumbling several times. With a relieved smile on his face, he unlocked the car door, ready to go out and meet Ryan but then he saw the reason behind his friend’s panicked flight. Someone was chasing him and, just like before, the pursuer was gaining ground. This time however, Ben was not just going to stand by and watch his friend be attacked. Shifting over to the driver’s seat, he slammed the keys into the ignition and started the engine. Luckily for him, Daniel’s car was an automatic and he slammed his foot down on the accelerator, the car surging forwards.

With the vampire just a few feet behind, Ryan’s feet pounded the tarmac as he desperately tried to escape. Suddenly, he heard the sound of an engine being gunned and he was blinded by a pair of headlights as a car roared towards him. Ben drove the car around Ryan, missing him by just inches as the back wheels lost traction and skidded across the tarmac. The headlights briefly illuminated Seth’s face as the car hit him head on. Ryan turned and saw the vampire strike the windscreen, spider-webbing the glass as he was thrown up and over the car, rolling several times. Ryan stopped as the car screeched to a halt.

Ben jumped out of the car, its engine still running, and ran over to Ryan. Ryan was dumbfounded as he saw Ben approach him, a beaming smile on his face. “What … what are you doing here?” he stammered as Ben skidded to a stop in front of him.

“Rescuing you,” Ben replied as he noticed Ryan’s hands were tied behind his back. “Come on, I think I saw a knife in the car.” He pulled Ryan over to the car, climbing in to pull out a craft-knife from a toolbox on the back seat. Turning Ryan around, he started to cut through the tough plastic of the plasticuffs. Suddenly, a voice groaned from behind the car. Both boys turned to see a hand clamp on to the rear spoiler. Using it as leverage, Seth pulled himself upright, his fangs bared in an inhuman snarl.

“What is it with you kids from that town?” He flexed his neck muscles as he stepped away from the car, the ligaments in his neck cracking. Before either boy could react, the vampire charged forward, shoved Ryan out of the way and grabbed Ben. The younger boy cried out as the vampire turned him around so that they were facing Ryan, the smaller boy pinned against the vampire’s chest by one of the man’s tattooed arms. As Ryan tried to get back up, Seth grabbed Ben’s hair with his free hand and pulled his head back, baring the boy’s neck. “You shouldn’t have run boy, now you’re going to watch me kill your little friend here.” He held onto the struggling boy, leaning down ready to tear the boy’s throat out with his fangs when he was stopped by the sound of laughter. Seth looked up; Ryan was on his knees laughing quietly.

“Ooh, that was a mistake,” Ryan said coldly getting to his feet. “Threaten me, beat me, I don’t care. But, if you harm him, I swear to God, I’ll rip out your spleen and shove it so far down your throat you’ll be pissing bile for a week. Vampiric metabolism or not.”

Ben breathed in sharply. He could barely recognise the person standing in front of him as his friend. Ryan’s face was distorted by barely suppressed rage and his whole body was shaking. However, what chilled Ben the most were Ryan’s eyes. They were cold, utterly devoid of any emotion. He felt the vampire’s grip on him loosen slightly, but no amount of struggling would allow him to escape.

“What,” Seth said laughing, “you’re gonna beat me with your hands tied behind your back?”

Ryan took a step forward, meeting the vampire’s eyes. “If necessary,” he said through gritted teeth.

Seth’s smile vanished as he looked at the 14-year-old boy in front of him. The scared and terrified child that he had tormented in the van was gone. In his place was someone that had been pushed to breaking point, and then thrown beyond it. Still holding Ben’s hair, he hit the boy’s head on the metal bonnet of the car, knocking him out. “You know what, your brother’s going to have to wait because after I’m done beating you to a pulp, I’m gonna make you watch me kill each and every one of your friends, one by one.”

As Ben slumped to the floor, Ryan dug the front of his foot into the dirt where he was standing. Seth didn’t notice the subtle moment and as he moved towards Ryan, the boy whipped his foot up, kicking up a cloud of dust and dirt into Seth’s eyes. With the vampire temporarily blinded, Ryan turned sideways on to him, spinning on his heel, and kicked out at the vampire’s chest. The force of Ryan’s left foot left the vampire winded but Ryan didn’t give him a chance to recover as he kicked out again. This time at the vampire’s left leg. Ryan allowed himself a small smile as the vampire collapsed to one knee, bringing his face within easy striking distance. Seth however was in not going to make it easy for him and the vampire’s vision cleared just in time to see Ryan’s foot heading straight for his face. He easily blocked the blow, standing up and growling as Ryan darted back a step. Seth vowed that he wasn’t going to underestimate the boy this time.

He punched at Ryan who attempted to dodge the blow but wasn’t quite fast enough. The punch struck him in the shoulder and unbalanced him, sending him to the ground. Almost at the instant that the boy hit the ground, his legs span around in a scissor kick. Seth jumped over the legs as Ryan used the momentum to get up, rolling backwards away from the vampire. Quickly closing the distance, he attempted to punch Ryan again. Ryan ducked under the strike and jumped up off the ground, spinning as he kicked Seth first with his left foot and then with his right. Both strikes landing squarely on Seth’s chest in a perfectly executed butterfly kick.

Around the corner, flashes of electrical discharge illuminated the trees as crackles of lighting erupted from the rest area where the van had been parked. The origin of the discharges was around the corner and hidden by the steep hedgerows and trees that lined this part of the road. Neither Ryan nor Seth noticed this however; both were too focused on each other.

Seth staggered back under the two-kick assault. When they had met before, his strength and speed had given him the upper hand. Now he wasn’t so sure. He began to think that taking this job might have been more trouble than it was worth.

Landing in a crouch as he came out of the butterfly kick, he sprang up and spin kicked the cars wing mirror. The mirror flew at Seth, who dodged the projectile easily. Ryan had not kicked the mirror as an attack though, but as a way to force the vampire back and away from the car. Ryan now stood between Ben and the vampire and he quickly glanced down at his friend. Apart from a slight cut to the forehead, Ben was all right, and he was just unconscious. Suddenly, Seth took advantage of Ryan’s momentary inattention and darted forward, closing the gap between them. He punched Ryan in the side of the face and in the chest before shoving Ryan onto the bonnet of the car. Grabbing him by the neck and holding him down, he smirked as he throttled the boy. Ryan’s vision was starting to blur and his hearing was starting to buzz as his brain was starved of oxygen. He knew that he only had a few seconds before he blacked out completely and with his hands tied behind his back, he was rapidly running out of options. The vampire was pressed up against him, pinning his legs to the bodywork of the car. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, and all he could do was look up at the face of the man strangling him. The vampire grunted in satisfaction as he saw Ryan’s consciousness beginning to fade. Just as Ryan’s eyelids began to flutter, the boy somehow found a way to bring his legs up and kick the vampire off him. Ryan rolled backwards off the bonnet of the car and fell to the tarmac on the other side.

Seth watched as the boy disappeared out of sight. “This is getting ridiculous,” Seth thought to himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something through the open back door of the car. Lying in the foot well between the front and back seats was a bag. Sticking out of the bag was a wooden baseball bat with a rubberised grip and handle. Seth picked up the bat as swung it several times, testing the weight. “Perfect,” he thought.

Ryan spluttered and wheezed as he sat against the front wheel, gasping for air. Suddenly he felt the car dip on its suspension and he heard the sound of metal warping. He looked up just in time to see the vampire standing on the bonnet raise a baseball bat above his head to bring it slamming down on his. The boy rolled to the side, springing to his feet as the bat struck the metal where his head had been just moments before. The vampire swung the bat again but missed as Ryan ducked, a wry grin on his face. “What’s the matter? An unarmed and tied up kid too much for you to handle so you got to resort to using a weapon?” Ryan mocked mercilessly, his voice croaking slightly.

“Shut up,” Seth snapped in frustration. He swung the bat, shattering the passenger-side front window as Ryan sidestepped around the swing and kicked out at Seth. Ryan’s foot connected with Seth’s wrist forcing the vampire to drop the bat and stumble back. As the bat hit the tarmac, the end of handle fell off, disconnecting easily from the rest of the bat. The wood where it had disconnected was sharpened into a point, almost as if the handle had been designed to conceal it. Both Seth and Ryan looked at the bat.

“You need hands to use a stake kid, all those fancy kicks of your’s aren’t going to help you.” Seth could tell by the expression on his face that the boy knew he was right. Then something seemed to change within Ryan. He started to pull at the restraints, first grunting and then screaming in pain. “Struggle all you want kid, you’ll never get them off that way.” Ryan didn’t listen; he continued to pull at the plasticuffs. Seth would have been right if it wasn’t for the small cut in the plastic that Ben had been able to make before they had been interrupted. The cut wasn’t very deep, but it was just enough to weaken the plasticuff to the point where the tough plastic snapped, the broken plasticuffs falling uselessly to the ground. “That’s … that’s impossible,” Seth said in surprise.

They both dived towards the bat at the same time, Ryan getting to it just seconds before the vampire. He span the bat in his hand, driving the pointed end up into Seth’s chest as the vampire landed on top of him. “Classic famous last words,” Ryan muttered as Seth howled. Ryan pushed the vampire off him and sat there panting as the vampire screamed and thrashed next to him. Ryan stood up, looking down at the vampire. Seth’s screams had become animal, inhuman in nature. Black veins were beginning to show themselves across his face and hands, anywhere where exposed flesh could be seen. Eventually, the vampire’s movements ceased and he dissolved into nothing more than a pile of dust. Hearing a sound from behind, Ryan turned around and brought his fists up ready to defend himself again.

Holding his side, his clothing scorched and burned in places, Daniel stood and looked at the scene in front of him. Looking slightly worse for wear, Ryan was bleeding from several small cuts, his clothes were filthy and a nasty looking black eye was starting to form. Yet despite this, he stood there triumphant and ready to continue fighting. To say that the experienced hunter was impressed would be an understatement. As Ryan recognised that the man in front of him wasn’t a threat, his shoulder’s sagged and he lowered his fists, the adrenaline draining from his system. Ben awoke with a groan, unsteadily standing up and holding his head. “Can we go home now?”

—-

Sue looked at her watch as she sat watching the television. Ryan was supposed to be home over two hours ago and she was starting to get a little worried. It wasn’t like him to be this late. “I’m sure he’s fine,” Anthony said from the kitchen where he was working on his laptop, reading his wife’s mind. “You know what teenagers are like, he’s probably just lost track of time.”

Almost on cue, the front door opened and Ryan walked in. Sue stood up, launching into a prepared speech. “What time do you … good God, what happened?”

Ryan closed the front door and started walking towards the stairs, not saying a word and limping slightly. Anthony got up and walked into the living room and gasped when he saw the state his foster son was in. Sue had gone over to Ryan, taking him by the shoulders and turning him around. It seemed to take the boy a few moments to notice this, his eyes unfocused and vacant. “I’m … I’m fine,” he said finally. It seemed a struggle for him to speak.

“You’re not fine,” Anthony said trying to guide him towards one of the chairs, “you look like you’ve been beaten up. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what happened.”

For a second it looked like Ryan wasn’t going to answer; then he shrugged and looked down at the floor. “It’s nothing, I just got mugged.” Ryan couldn’t look at his foster parents, afraid that they would be able to tell that he was lying.

“You should’ve called us,” Sue said.

“They didn’t get anything and I didn’t want to worry you,” Ryan said dismissively.

Anthony sighed, “But that’s what we’re here for.”

Ryan pulled away from them. “I gotta use the bathroom,” he said quietly, heading up the stairs and barging past Trey who had been listening on the landing. He went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. Standing in front of the mirror, he saw for the first time the state his face was in. As he stood there, everything that had happened to him replayed itself in his head in a confused jumble of images. He started to shake uncontrollably as he slowly collapsed to the floor. Ryan sat with his back to the wall, his head between his knees, his breaths rapid and shallow. He suddenly felt light-headed and nauseous, his stomach contracting violently. Scrambling across the bathroom floor, he barely made it to the toilet bowl before he vomited up his lunch. He sat by the bowl for several minutes as he gathered his thoughts and tried unsuccessfully to calm down. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the images out of his head. He picked himself up off the floor and leant over the sink, washing his face and rinsing his mouth out. Opening the medicine cabinet, he took a small pill canister from the top shelf and popped the top. The canister had his name on a prescription label fixed to it.

Four years ago, after being released from hospital, he had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Since then he had been on and off medication to help him cope with the condition as well as seeing a child-psychiatrist once a month. Until recently, he’d been doing well, hardly needing to take any of the bitter tasting pills. However, with everything that had happened over the last two months; the nightmares, the encounters with the supernatural, and his brother’s reappearance in his life; he had started to need the pills more and more. Tipping one of the small white pills into his palm, he quickly swilled it down, grimacing at its taste. He stood there, breathing deeply for several minutes as the medication began to take effect, gradually calming him.

There was a gentle knock on the bathroom door. “Ryan, you alright?” It was Trey.

“I’m fine,” Ryan said sighing, “I wish people would stop asking me that and leave me alone.” There was a creak from the floorboards on the other side of the door; Trey wasn’t taking the hint. “What do you want?”

 

“I got a new DVD from the shops today, I … er …. Do you want to watch it with me?” Ryan unlocked the door and saw Trey standing there holding a shrink-wrapped DVD. Its cover was colourful, full of cartoon characters. The movie didn’t look like something he would usually watch, but Trey looked so earnest. “I’ve got toffee popcorn?” Trey said hopefully.

“You know what squirt,” he said taking the DVD from Tray and ruffling his already messy blond hair, “you sold me on it. Grab some soda from the fridge and meet me upstairs.”

“Awesome!” Trey said beaming. He turned and ran to the kitchen, almost tripping down the stairs.

“Trey,” Ryan heard Sue half-yell downstairs, “what have I told you about running in the house?”

“Sorry.”

Ryan chuckled quietly to himself as he shook his head and climbed the wooden stairs into the attic. A few years ago, when the Johnson’s had started to take on foster children, the attic had been converted into a games and media room. There was a large flat screen TV connected to an Xbox in one corner of the attic. Ryan went over to the console and turned it and the TV on, putting the DVD into the drive. He settled onto the large sofa facing the screen, making himself comfortable. A few minutes later, Trey came bounding up the stairs into the attic carrying a six-pack of cola, two bags of popcorn and a large bowl. The twelve-year-old almost leapt onto the sofa as Ryan pressed play. Munching on the popcorn, Ryan looked over at Trey and yawned. It was late and he was already feeling a little drowsy, but right now he could forget about everything that had happened and just be a normal kid for a while; something that he wouldn’t trade for the world.

Sometime later, Anthony slowly crept up the stairs into the attic. The boys had been up here for a couple of hours and things had become quiet. Before he turned in, he wanted to check on them to make sure Ryan was ok. He poked his head over the top of the stairs and saw that the DVD was on its menu screen. Slowly walking over to the sofa, he saw Ryan sprawled back on it; his mouth agape and his head leaning back as he snored quietly. Trey was leaning against him, also asleep. Ryan’s arm was draped around the smaller boy’s shoulder. Anthony smiled at the scene as he picked up the remote and turned the TV off. He went over to a cupboard and pulled out a blanket, placing it over the two boys, he decided not to disturb them. Anthony paused at the top of the stairs, turning as he reached to switch off the light. Ryan stirred, mumbling something in his sleep. There was a small, contented smile on the older boy’s face. He left them there, sleeping peacefully, and went back downstairs. Sue was already getting ready for bed. She looked up as her husband entered the room, a question on her face. “I think he’s going to be fine,” Anthony said in answer.

Ryan’s Story – The Hunter

SethRyan tossed and turned in the bed, caught in the throes of a nightmare. He was drenched with sweat, throwing off the bed covers with every violent twist and turn. In his nightmare, he saw a confusing mishmash of images. On old and imposing stone building on the bank of the Thames, a pair of yellow eyes and a scaled claw, his old home back in Truro, a dusty and ornate mirror locked in an attic, Cliffport’s beach fracturing into a thousand pieces, and the sensation of falling through darkness towards a circle of fire. A sinister hooded figure towered over him as he fell, laughing as he screamed.

He woke with a yell, sitting up in the bed. Heart racing, he flopped back down onto his pillow. He tried to pace his breathing, calming himself down but it was difficult. The nightmare was still fresh in his mind. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was the early hours of Saturday morning. “Get out of my head,” he whispered lightly thumping the side of his head as he lay there. He’d suffered from nightmares ever since the night of the fire, but lately they seemed to be increasing in frequency and intensity. Ryan lay there for another hour trying to forget the nightmare before he fell asleep again.

—-

The next morning, a bleary-eyed Ryan pulled himself out of bed. Despite still being fatigued from the restless night, he still managed to get himself down to the bus station before the others. Today was the day of “The Big Trip” as Tommy had taken to calling it. They had been planning it for most of the last week. It wasn’t that big of a trip really, just a bus ride into nearby Plymouth to go see a movie, get something to eat and generally hang out for the day. He slouched back on the wooden bench; his eyes closed listening to the sound of the traffic, the gulls over head and the gentle sound of water washing against the beach.

Ben, Jason and Tommy emerged from an alley across the road from the bus station. Since they all lived in East Cliffport, they had met in the park and walked down to the lower town together. As they crossed the road, Ryan cracked open his eyes at the sound of their voices. “Hey guys.”

Jason waved as they reached the bus stop. “Geez Ryan, you look rough,” he said as he saw the shadows around Ryan’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Ryan said as he yawned and stretched, “bad night. Didn’t get much sleep.”

“You still up the movie?” Ben asked.

“Are you kidding?” Ryan said sitting up, “I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months.”

The weekend bus service in Cornwall left much to be desired, especially outside the major towns and they had at least half an hour before the next bus was due. Across the road from the bus stop was a coffee shop; one of those soulless multinational brands that seemed to spread everywhere like a virus, even here in the heart of rural England, overcharging for the foul tasting “fair trade” liquid they called coffee. Ethical considerations aside, Ryan suddenly felt the urge to have large amounts of caffeine injected into his bloodstream. However, since that treatment was currently unavailable on the NHS, a large cup of coffee would have to suffice. Taking advantage of the long wait until the next bus, the four boys descended on the coffee shop, Ryan ordering something with lots of caffeine and very little milk in an attempt to “jump-start” his system. Refreshed or caffeinated, they hurried back to the bus stop just in time to see bus round the corner.

Sitting in the back corner as the boys left the coffee shop; a pale-skinned man got up and put a still full disposable cup of coffee into a nearby bin. He followed them out of the shop and watched them board the bus and depart. Seth squinted and flinched involuntarily as he stepped out into the sunlight. “This is going to take a little getting used to,” he said putting on a pair of cheap sunglasses. Across the road from the vampire, Ryan boarded the bus with his friends oblivious to the fact that he was being watched. Walking over to the car park next to the train station, Seth smiled as the bus pulled away. He’d overheard the boys’ conversation so he knew exactly where they were going; all he needed to do was to get Ryan by himself. “This is almost too easy,” he said with confidence.

—-

The bus ride into Plymouth took nearly an hour as the bus drove along the winding country roads following the line of coast rather than journeying inland to take the dual-carriage way into Plymouth. They nipped inland every couple of miles as the roads passed through small villages or by one of the numerous holiday resorts that lined the Cornish southern coast. With bright May sunshine filtering through dappled, puffball clouds, the scenery they passed through on the journey was breathtaking. As they passed through the village of Crafthole, they cut inland across the Rame Peninsular arriving in the Cornish town of Torpoint on the banks of the River Tamar. Only a short chain ferry ride later, and they were in Plymouth on the Devon side of the river.

By the time the bus pulled in to the bus station, it was midday and they had less than fifteen minutes to get to the cinema. They darted across the busy road that ran alongside the bus station and into the nearby shopping centre. Weaving in and out of the throng of shoppers, they ran as fast as they could through the centre, at one point ducking around a concession stand to avoid the ever-present gaze of the mall security. It didn’t matter that none of them were up to mischief, “rentacops” tended to see all teenagers the same way, potential troublemakers and shoplifters. As it was, one of the security guards yelled at Ryan and Jason to take off their caps and hoods as the boys ran past him. Like most shopping centres across the country in recent years, they had introduced a ban on wearing baseball caps and hoods. They got to the cinema on the far side of the shopping centre with just minutes to spare, grabbing the last few tickets for Iron Man, which had been selling fast since it had only opened that Friday.

—-

“That was frickin awesome,” Ryan said in awe, almost stumbling out of the cinema in a daze. For over two hours, he had sat enraptured watching the action on the screen. As they walked towards the food court, Ryan wasn’t the only one geeking out over the movie. Ben seemed to have enjoyed it almost as much as him.

Sitting on a bench opposite the entrance to the cinema, Seth was pretending to read a book while waiting for Ryan to come out. Seeing them exit the cinema, he waited a minute before putting the stolen book down on the bench and following his target.

The food court was noisy, full of families and screaming kids running between tables. Like most such places, it was an arena of tables and benches surrounded by a ring of fast food outlets serving a variety of “food.” Burgers, chips, cheap curries, kebabs, pizza and subway sandwiches; all the types of food that gave nutritionists heart attacks. Suddenly very hungrily, Ryan attacked his burger and fries as they decided what to do next. “What about HMV?” Jason suggested. “There’s a couple of CDs I wanna get that I can’t get back home.”

“Is that the one by the Pavilions?” Ben asked and Jason nodded. “Do you mind if we pop into Chimera Games on the way? I need some new minis for Wednesday’s game.”

“And I wouldn’t mind checking out the new comics,” Ryan said with a mouthful of fries.

A look passed between Tommy and Jason. “As if that’s the only thing you’ll be ‘checking out’.” Tommy said laughing.

Ryan paused, a handful of fries poised just in front of his mouth. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Jason snorted. “The girl behind the counter dude, I seen the way you look at her. She’s pretty cute for a geek.”

“Shut up.” Jason ducked as Ryan chucked his remaining fries at him. “It’s not like that. And just because she works in a gaming store,  it doesn’t make her a geek,” Ryan explained, “her dad owns the store and she just helps out on weekends and on the school holidays.”

Ben nudged Ryan with his elbow, “Sounds like you’ve gotten to know her pretty well.” Ryan started blushing, failing to find the words for an effective retort.

“Dude, why don’t you just ask her out?” Tommy asked.

Ryan suddenly pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “I gotta go.”

“Hey wait,” Ben said, “we were only joking.”

Ryan turned back towards the table with a faintly bemused expression on his face. “Erm … noooo,” he said slowly, “I gotta go … to the toilet.”

“Oh … oh,” said Ben, realising what Ryan had meant, “we’ll be over by the cash machines outside.”

Across the food court, Seth was sitting at a table that a family had kindly vacated for him when he had “asked” them too. He scowled as he sat there, trying to eavesdrop on the boys’ conversation but the food court was too noisy. Even with his enhanced hearing, he was unable to pick up more than a few stray words above the racket caused by the hundreds of people. As he watched, he saw Ryan get up from the table heading towards the toilets. “This is it,” Seth thought getting up and heading in the same direction; the toilets were near one of the exits and around the corner. The boy’s friends would lose sight of him making it much easier for Seth to remove him without their interference. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryan’s friends get up from the table. Seth froze but he was relieved when they started walking in the opposite direction away from Ryan.

Ryan flushed the toilet and stepped out of the cubicle. As he walked over to the sink, he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Span around, he was shoved backwards into the wall, hitting its tiled surface hard. Ryan yelled in shock and pain, lashing out at the man gripping him by the shoulders. He beat at the man’s tattooed and muscular arms to no effect.

Seth frowned; the brat was making too much noise; he needed to get this finished quickly before any busybodies tried to interfere. The vampire grabbed Ryan’s flailing fists and pinned them with one hand above the boy’s head. With his other hand, he stifled Ryan’s cries, clamping it over the boy’s mouth. Using his grip on his jaw, he forced Ryan to look at him, his eyes meeting the boy’s eyes. Eyes that betrayed the fear the boy was in.

For his part Ryan continued to struggle but as their eyes met, his body froze. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t move a single muscle, nor could he muster enough energy to scream from behind the hand. It was as if he had suddenly become completely paralysed.

Seth learned forward, smiling slightly. “Listen up kid,” he whispered quietly into Ryan’s left ear, “if you don’t want me to hurt you any more than I have to, you are going to do exactly what I say.”

At that moment, the door to the toilets opened and two men in their mid-twenties walked in. They froze at the door as they saw a tall and well-built man pinning a terrified boy to the wall, a hand over the boy’s mouth preventing him from calling for help. “What the hell?” One of them said taking a step forward. Seth turned to face him, snarling in anger. As he did so, his concentration slipped and his hold over Ryan’s mind faltered. Ryan suddenly felt able to move again and he wasted no time, viciously kneeing his attacker in the groin. Seth grunted and lost his grip; Ryan wriggled free and ran for the door, barrelling past the men.

Seth recovered just in time to see Ryan disappear through the door. He turned towards the door, intent on following his quarry but the two men moved to stand in his way. One of them pulled out a knife with a long serrated blade, brandishing it in the manner of someone skilled and experienced in its use. “You aint going nowhere mate until you tell us what you were doing to that kid.”

“I haven’t got time for this shit.” He barged between the men, shoving them aside effortlessly with enhanced strength. One of them struck the mirror above the sink, cracking the shatterproof glass as he struck it headfirst. The other man flew into one of the stalls and the door broke off its hinges with the impact. Rather than finishing off the two men, Seth simply left them lying stunned on the floor and left the toilets. Standing outside, the vampire scanned the food court but he couldn’t see Ryan; the boy had melted into the crowd. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath as he headed towards the nearest exit.

Ryan stumbled down the escalator towards the street frantically looking over his shoulder. He ducked behind a phone box just as the man who had attacked him stopped at the top of the escalator looking out across the street. A short distance away, not far from where he was hiding was his friends. He looked again towards the top of the escalator.

As he stood the top of the escalator, looking out over the busy street, he saw the boy peer out from behind a phone box. Seth smiled and began to force his way down the escalator. Realising that he had been spotted, the boy bolted, running down the street. Seth looked ahead and saw where the boy was running, directly towards his friends. The vampire knew that for the time being at least, he’d missed his opportunity to grab the kid. He’d have to back off and wait for another opportunity.

—-

As Tommy and Jason messed around on the back seat of the bus, Ben looked over at Ryan. His friend was staring out of the window, ignoring the conversation. Ben suspect that he wasn’t really looking at anything. He had been quiet since they had left the food court and had seemed distracted. Ben got up and sat down in the vacant seat next to Ryan. He didn’t seem to notice so Ben put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. When he did so, he was surprised when Ryan jumped at his touch; a reaction he’d never seen from Ryan before. “You ok Ry?”

Ryan blinked a couple of times, released a sigh and seemed to collapse into the seat. “I’m fine,” he grunted.

“You sure? You’ve been a little distant.”

“I said I’m fine,” Ryan snapped turning back to the window.

Ben’s expression hardened. “Be that way then.” He got up and rejoined Tommy and Jason.

“What’s his problem?” Ryan heard Jason whisper behind him.

He sat in silence for the rest of the bus ride back into Cliffport. Lost in thought, he barely waved goodbye as they parted ways at the bus stop leaving Ryan to walk back home alone. Clouds had gathered and the sun was beginning to sink. Already it was grazing the tops of the hills surrounding Cliffport casting much of the town in an evening shadow. A chill wind was blowing in from the Channel. He trudged through the town, walking alongside the river towards the footbridge. Ryan was still shaken by the earlier events and he couldn’t get the man’s face out of his mind, the curse of having an eidetic memory.

Walking on autopilot, he eventually found himself on the breakwater having absent-mindedly wandered past the footbridge. Ryan wearily sat down for a few moments of rest, legs dangling over the edge of the quayside. He picked up a flat stone, tossed it once in his hand, and threw it across the water watching as it skimmed several times across the surface. Its simple motion caused a small smile to form on his face as he sent another stone skimming across the water. Several years ago, on a hot Saturday evening during the summer school holidays, Ryan and his father had sat on the banks of the River Truro skimming stones just like this. A perfect summer memory, one of the last before his life changed.

A chill suddenly overcame him, interrupting the pleasant memory as a shiver ran down his spine. The streetlights were starting to flick on along the sea front and evening was beginning to set in. Standing up, he pulled up his hood and starting walking back towards the footbridge with his hands stuffed into the hoodie’s front pouch. The sound of footsteps on stone caused him to look up. A figure had stepped onto the breakwater heading towards him. The man stopped a dozen feet away and looked up. As the light from the streetlight illuminated the man’s face Ryan froze, his heart starting to race. The man was the one that had attacked him in Plymouth; he’d followed him back to Cliffport. Glancing around, Ryan suddenly realised that the breakwater and seafront was completely deserted. He was alone with the man.

Seth smiled as he saw the fear flash across the boy’s face. He cracked his knuckles as he looked at the boy. “You should’ve come quietly when you had the chance kid. Now, I’m gonna beat you to a pulp and you’ll still be coming with me.”

Ryan took a step back. “What do you want with me?” As he said this, the smile on the face of the man in front of him widened. His incisor teeth, already pointed, elongated into inch-long fangs. Bone ridges seemed to form under the skin, accenting the area around the eyes and cheekbone. The sudden physical transformation shocked Ryan and the boy stumbled backwards. One word flashed through his mind, “vampire.” As the vampire’s eyes briefly glowed from within, Ryan realised why he had been unable to move when he had been grabbed earlier that day. The vampire must have hypnotised him somehow.

“Right now,” Seth said, “I’ll settle for just hearing you beg for mercy.” He started running towards the boy, intent on ramming him to the floor.

As the adrenaline began to course through him, Ryan shook off the shock as he began to realise the danger he was in. He prepared himself for a fight, one that his life may depend on. The vampire was charging towards him and Ryan ran forward. At the last moment, just as Seth was about to strike, Ryan dropped to the floor into a crouch and rolled forward. Seth was moving too quickly and was surprised by his quarry’s unorthodox manoeuvre. He stumbled into Ryan, tripping over him and falling to the floor. Ryan continued his roll, rolling onto his feet and turning to face the vampire. As the vampire scrambled to his feet, Ryan pivoted on one foot bringing the other around in a spin-kick. The vampire was too fast, he saw they attack coming. Seth grabbed Ryan’s foot, moving almost too fast for Ryan’s eyes to follow. The boy twisted in mid-air, wrenching his foot free from the vampire’s grip as his free foot whipped around and struck the vampire on the face. Landing on his feet, he followed the kick with a two-fisted punch to the vampire’s chest. Seth reeled backwards under the assault, taken by surprise by the boy’s skill and completely unprepared for the ferocity of the attack. He decided to take the “kid gloves” off and start treating this seriously but before he got a chance to retaliate, the boy had turned and fled.

Ryan had quickly realised that he was no match for the vampire; the man was too fast for him. As the vampire shook itself out of its daze, Ryan ran along the breakwater towards the town desperate to put as much distance between him and the creature. He ran through car park the lay between the breakwater and the rest of the town, the floodlights and CCTV cameras offering a brief illusion of safety.

“Shit,” Seth thought, “this kid is fast.” He’d been surprised by the boy’s speed, but he’d been more surprised by the kick. There had been no mention of karate lessons or martial arts training in the file that Mark had given him. It was obvious though that Ryan had more than just a little skill in the art of self-defence. When he dragged the boy back to London, he’d be having words with his brother about this. Despite the head start, Seth was catching up with the boy as they entered the car park. He knew that despite this, if the boy managed to get into town it would be next to impossible to grab him without causing a scene but, Seth had had enough of this job. At this point the vampire didn’t have a problem with leaving a few mutilated corpses if it meant finally getting the job done. However, if everything was in place like it was supposed to, it wouldn’t come to that. Seth had an ace up his sleeve.

Ryan ran across the car park, glancing behind him as he ran. Although the vampire chasing him was gaining, Ryan was confident that he could stay ahead of him long enough to reach the high street. Hopefully there, amongst the restaurants and pubs along the main road through town, he’d manage to find some help. Ryan darted around the side of a white van straight into an oncoming fist. The fist struck him the abdomen and he collapsed to his knees struggling to breath. As Ryan looked up to see who had hit, something hard struck him on the back of the head. White pain flashed across his vision and he slumped to the floor unconscious.

Seth walked over to where his partner, Jared, was standing over the Ryan’s unconscious form. Sneering in contempt, the vampire kicked the boy in the side. He was about to kick him again, this time in the head when Jared grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him aside. “Hey, you said we needed the brat alive and in one piece.”

“Shut it, blood bag, he’ll still be alive after I’ve finished.” Seth said as he shook himself free.

“Hey, as much as I’d enjoy seeing you whale on some kid, perhaps here and now aint the best time and place?” Jared saw the conflicting emotions and desires flash across Seth’s face before the vampire realised that Jared was probably right.

“Fine, I can wait.” Seth picked Ryan up and slung him over his shoulder as Jared opened the van’s side door.

“Hey fugly,” a voice yelled out from across the car park, “leave him alone!” Seth and Jared turned around to see a blond-haired young man slide over the bonnet of a car and start running towards them. Daniel pulled his doubled-bladed boomerang formed by a pair of connected knives with long curved blades and serrated edges from his belt and charged towards the pair.

Seth turned to Jared with a bemused look on his face. “You got this one?” Jared shrugged and pulled the pistol tucked into his pants that he’d used to knock Ryan out. Quickly aiming it, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession and Daniel crumpled to the floor. “We better go, somebody might’ve heard that.” Said Seth as he roughly threw Ryan into the van and got in with him. Jared scooted around Seth and climbed into the driver’s seat.

From behind a nearby stone bench, Ben watched as the van tore out of the car park, its wheels squealing. Ryan’s attitude on the bus had worried him, although the terse brush off had annoyed him. Something had obviously been bothering him, something that his friend had felt unable to talk about. So, after saying goodbye to Tommy and Jason, he had doubled back intending to head over to Ryan’s house to talk to him. By chance, his route through the town had taken him along the seafront and he had seen Ryan’s confrontation with the man on the breakwater. Ben had been ready to run over and help when he’d seen the other man with the gun. He was ashamed to admit to himself that he’d been scared and that his fear had made him hide. From his hiding place, he had done nothing but watch his friend get ambushed and knocked to the floor. Then, a man had appeared out of nowhere, charging across the car park to the rescue only to be shot.

As soon as the van had left, he emerged from behind the bench and ran over to the man lying on the floor and knelt next to him. He wasn’t moving, and there were three bullet holes in the man’s t-shirt. Ben pulled his mobile out of his pocket and started to dial 999. Daniel’s hand suddenly reached out and grabbed Ben’s hand, stopping him from dialling. “Don’t,” he said coughing.

“But … you were shot!” Ben said stumbling backwards to sit on his behind.

Daniel sat up groaning. “Yeah, I hate it when that happens.” He lifted up his shirt to reveal a bullet-proof vest with three bullets embedded in its front. “That’s why I wear this.”

“What about my friend?” Ben asked. “Those men took him!”

Standing up, Daniel looked down at the young boy sitting at his feet. There was something familiar about him but Daniel couldn’t put his finger on it. Regardless the boy looked worried. “The police can’t help your friend. If anything, they might put him in even more danger.” He said trying to reassure him. “But that doesn’t mean that no one’s going to help him.”