by Jeremiah Donaldson
All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced except in reviews or excerpts. Any resemblance to people you know could mean you've met some of the same people I have.
Table of Contents
This is the first of three novellas that continue the story started in 'The Pendant' that's in my reprint collection '...whatever...'. It also has a connection to my story 'Jasper', which takes it's name from the character that was removed from here and combined with another project.
This is the first time I've included a dedication page, and the emotions tied up in those names are all over the place. Much like 2016 as a whole.
Bentley and Shawn were good friends that died on their bikes a bit more than two months apart.
Haskel is my grandfather. He still likes horror movies just as I watched with him as a kid.
Sonja is a dear friend who had a huge impact on my life.
Thanks for reading. Peace out until next time.
Detective Young sat on the edge of the hospital bed, trembling. He tried to cry and couldn’t. The tears wouldn’t flow, even though his wife had been interred days earlier, and he’d been on paid leave for most of a week.
He couldn't work to take his mind off the investigation gone wrong that'd ended her life, nor from the sickness that'd crept over him since he'd woke up without recollection of what had happened and a stump for a right hand. Memory returned each day as his aches increased, his breath became labored, and his appetite disappeared until the thought of food made his stomach clinch.
He wanted to cry, but anger prevented it. The son of a bitch would pay. No question about it. It didn't matter how little information he had to find him. Which wasn't much. He didn’t even have the pendant anymore.
But first, he had to get better. His wife’s killer had been more than a match for him at his best. He hoped that his bullets had left the stranger in bad shape.
A stabbing pain cut through the haze that enveloped his mind. His teeth hurt. Again.
He lurched to his feet and stumbled to the bathroom. His haggard appearance in the mirror made him forget about his teeth for a second, but not for long.
A fresh round of pain erupted from his gums, making his head throb. Something moved against his upper lip. He put a hand over his mouth and gasped. His canines enlarged by the second, pushing against the other teeth. A wave of other changes had also washed over him in the last day. His breathing had became so labored that he had to drag each breath into his lungs, his heart seemed to stop at times, and he could see better in the dark.
Young opened his mouth wide and leaned closer to his reflection. He couldn't pretend the changes were his imagination any longer since his canine teeth had grown visibly longer and sharper.
He pulled the bandage from around his neck to examine the puncture wounds surrounded by a purple bruise. The doctors couldn't give him an explanation for the wound that'd barely healed, even though he was able to move his hand three days after it was reattached. They’d merely scratched their heads and commented on how lucky he’d been not to have died. Then they'd dropped the issue.
His open mindedness had always been his greatest asset as a detective, but it could make his thoughts wander into strange territory. The cage of dead rats in the man’s house, the man's resistance to bullets, and the bite marks made him think of vampires.
Young looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight. He needed sleep.
He curled into a ball in the middle of the bed and closed his eyes against the multiple sources of pain in his body. He only had to live long enough to exact revenge, and then he could die in peace.
Not much longer.
“Blue Team, take the back,” Haskel said.
Half the United States Variation Unit went around the side of the mansion nestled in the valley from which three acres of clear land had been wrestled from the forest. A forked brook cut one corner into sections that were connected by wooden bridges. Birds chirped and flew overhead. The sun beat down. A Porsche sat in the paved driveway. Curtains were pulled shut behind iron bars on the first floor windows. Metal shutters hid the windows on the second floor. The front door was a blank slab of wood.
“This one has done well for himself,” Murray said. The tall, tattooed redhead flicked a cigarette butt away that was smeared with her lipstick.
“Indeed.” Haskel motioned for everyone to gather around the door.
They waited until Blue Team was in position, and then two rookies in the rear brought a battering ram forward. Several swings crumbled the faux wood that hid a steel security door. Dents appeared in the metal, but it didn’t move. They threw the ram down.
Haskel pointed at the nearest window. “Smoke it.”
A rookie moved to the window, stuck his Tomahawk between the bars to shatter it, and dropped two grenades into the room beyond. One was a regular smoke grenade, but the second was filled with a mix of nanoparticle sized silver and garlic that they only used against variations. It would cause an intense allergic reaction that'd incapacitate any variation that didn't wash it off and kill those who stayed within the cloud.
“Blue Team, hold your positions. Green Team, retreat 30 meters.” Haskel pointed at the rookie with a grenade launcher. “Take down the door.”
“Yes, sir.” The rookie took up a position 20 meters away while everyone else walked toward the edge of the lawn.
Haskel cleared his throat. “Ready when you are.”
The rookie shot immediately, blasting away the quiet. The door bent and siding peeled off the steel constructed house. A second shot scattered burning pieces of veneer all over the yard. The third hit popped the blackened door open. Smoke poured into the air.
They all walked towards the entrance as the rookie put the RPG on his back and pulled a pistol.
“I'm glad we were able to take him in his sleep.” Murray adjusted her mask. “Are we ready to see how many that woke up?”
“Everyone. For miles around,” one of the rookies said.
“There isn't anyone for miles around.” Haskel approached the door with his Kalashnikov ready.
The others followed close.
The steel door hung from the top hinge, creaking as it swung back and forth. Dust and smoke swirled around the room. A lamp with a torn shade was next to a chair and a huge television with a busted screen, flanked by two fake trees, played German heavy metal music. Paintings covered the walls. Most were abstract, however, charcoal drawn portraits in hand carved, wood frames outlined the door to a hallway. Many had fallen to the floor or hung askew.
“Secure this floor,” Haskel said. “I’ll open the back for Blue Team.”
Everyone scattered as Haskel went down the hallway. His boots made more noise than he’d have liked on the floor.
He cleared a storage room filled with shelves of towels and wash clothes. Then a bathroom that rivaled any he'd ever seen. The hallway ended at a dark stained wood door that stood ajar.
Haskel pushed it open with the rifle barrel and had to pull his goggles down to see anything in the pitch black room. It housed the washer, dryer, and hot water heater. A barred door between two covered windows looked like his destination.
He could see why the front door had taken so much punishment. The rear one looked like it could stop a car. He shouldered his rifle and removed the steel bar. The latch wasn’t locked and opened with a touch. Static filled his goggles as they adjusted to the light, and he looked down the barrels of Blue Team’s rifles. They relaxed instantly.
“Follow me to the living room.” Haskel pushed his goggles to his forehead. Time to see who gets killed. He held back a cryptic laugh. Hopefully, no one he liked.
Everyone else had already reassembled in the living room after securing the floor. Two levels remained for them to search.
“Green will take the basement,” Haskel said. “Blue, second floor.”
Collins saluted. “On it now, sir.” He waved for his group to follow and went up the stairs on the left side of the room.
Haskel looked at his team. “Stay sharp. The target is almost always in the basement or cellar.”
They nodded, looking tough, but only Murray and Yaden had any experience on Haskel's team. Collins did in Blue Team. The rest were newbies that went by a number. All had combat experience, although not the type that had killed, retired, or scared into retreat most of the USVU task force on a regular basis.
They had the highest turnover rate of any covert unit and no one knew about them. Those killed with the USVU were listed as killed in action in whatever field of action was convenient. Most Presidents didn't even know that members of their military were killed by blood suckers that most people thought were a myth. The mission attracted those desperate for a high payout. Few others signed a contract that was considered to be a suicide mission by Special Forces.
Haskel had been on three previous missions. The first two had been good, but the third hadn't been. He'd took out the target, lost the majority of the USVU, and had became defacto team commander in a mission that'd barely took an hour if he counted suiting up.
He pushed through a white door, pulled his goggles down, and led the team into the basement. There was a switch at the bottom of the stairs that turned on a bank of dusty, fluorescent lights. They were surrounded by wine racks.
Many spots were empty. None of the labels were visible through the layer of dust. Open barrels labeled tequila were stacked in the middle of room and appeared to be a recent addition. A quick check around the walls and under the stairs revealed little of interest: some empty barrels and one full of broken bottles. Variants weren't known to drink, but they were known to party with regular people who became after party snacks.
Haskel felt a jolt of fear for Blue Team. They’d find the target on the second floor.
Automatic fire sounded before he could speak his thought. Someone screamed, but it was cut off. A gun stopped firing. Then others stopped as they were reloaded. Someone else screamed over and over as Haskel and his team ran up to the second floor. Haskel took the lead at the top of the stairs and pointed his rifle at the room where the variant made his stand.
Another gun went silent as a rookie ran into the hallway, screaming and missing an arm. He fell down the stairs and lay at the bottom with his neck at a crooked angle. Blood pumped into the carpet from his stump.
Haskel approached the door. Muzzle flashes lit the room, but everyone was out of sight past the edge of the half-open door. Another gun went silent. One of the people screaming inside the room suddenly stopped. There was only one left in the room and Green Team behind him. They’d lost nearly half the USVU again.
Haskel kicked the door open and stepped into the room to see the variant stagger against the wall from a burst that caught him in the shins. Within minutes the concentrated garlic extract within the hollow point slugs would make life difficult for the target, but several wounds already showed that had failed to stop him.
The variant rolled across the floor to Collins as his rifle jammed. He variant cut the top of Collins's head off with a Katana and kicked his convulsing body away.
Haskel fired a burst into the target’s back and ducked a wood picture frame that whistled through the air at him. Someone behind him grunted.
Haskel emptied his clip, staggering the variant into the corner. Yaden opened fire from across the bed, and Murray joined in. Two clips later, the mangled target attempted to move, but slowly and uncoordinated.
Haskel emptied half a clip into the target’s throat and kicked the head away from the body. “Clear. Check in everyone.”
“I'm too fucking mean for anything to happen,” Murray said.
The call passed down the line. Only part of Green Team was left.
A dim, red light reflected off the white walls.
Haskel squinted. “What is that?”
“A watch, maybe,” Murray said.
Dread clinched Haskel's gut. He stepped to the body. A wrist band caught his attention. He grabbed the limp arm it was attached to and looked. A timer read 22 seconds and counted down.
“Run!” Haskel spun around. “Run!”
His second shout wasn't needed. All but Murray was already out the door.
He followed, wishing they’d move faster with every step. He thought they’d make it when an explosion shook the floor so hard they stumbled around like bowling pins that didn't want to topple. The blast wave hit them, knocking them to the floor in the living room.
A rookie to Haskel's left found his feet first and ran for the door. A metal box they hadn't noticed exploded when he got within two steps of the exit. The rookie was vaporized by the claymore mine like explosive, and a wave of gore splattered the walls, ceiling, floor, and the remaining USVU members.
Haskel dove through the front door and rolled several times, standing up with his AK ready. Nothing moved except Green Team. He backed away as they exited the self destructing house.
More explosions rocked the mansion. Debris shot from the second floor windows and rained down on the yard as flames engulfed the upper part of the structure. The steel shutters whipped back and forth on their hinges. It would be ashes by the next day. They couldn’t call the fire department, or the unusual body would be found. Smoke turned the property gray as they retreated back over the fence to their van.
Haskel and the remains of the USVU team changed out of their bloody outer clothing and piled it on the ground. Murray dumped diesel on the mess and lit it all with her cigarette lighter.
Haskel looked around. “Good job, everyone.”
Murray and Yaden looked at each other, then at Haskel.
“Everyone else is fucking dead,” Murray said.
“So, about the same as the last mission.”
Murray laughed. “Nice pep talk.”
“Thanks, I wondered how I'd do at this leader of the pack bullshit.” Haskel pulled an e-cigarette out of a chest pocket on his chest and took a puff he held for a couple seconds. He pointed at Yaden. “Why in hell are you doing this?”
“My wife stole everything while I was away, and I need the money.”
“You got screwed, now you want to screw yourself more?”
“Uh…I never thought of it like that.”
Haskel shrugged and laughed.
“Sir, why are you doing this?”
Haskel held his forefinger up and marked it with his thumb. “I'm that close to retiring, and this contract will do it.”
Yaden raised an eyebrow. “You're risking it all on one last bet?”
Haskel laughed. “I never said I'd thought it through.”
“What's next?” Yaden looked around. “Sorta empty back here.”
“We induct more from the pool.” Haskel puffed from the e-cigarette. “Then we go to Kentucky. The next mission was approved while we were here.”
Roek rose from his slumber. He didn’t need to sleep so much, but resting conserved energy when it was in short supply. London was a rural town and only several thousand lived inside the city limits. It was a perfect place to stay low and stick to rats as much as possible. A few pedophiles lived in the immediate area for when he needed an energy boost. Like on other days, he stopped for a rat on the way to the computer. He bred what he could and bought the rest, culling only males when possible.
He sucked the rat dry and threw it into the cage to feed the others. Hunger made him edgy. The thought of blood inspired him to check out the roads and town better. He’d only been in town long enough to find the abandoned property and memorize some local landmarks. He'd made a kill when he first arrived to help heal his wounds, but none since.
He climbed into the driver's seat and shut the divider door behind him, cutting off the rat squeaks.
Ten o’clock. Pitch black. He opened the laptop on the center console and let the engine warm up while he looked at a map of the town. Not much to it. He started driving.
Video displays in the center of the dash showed three views from the van using wide angle lenses: front and back with overlapping sides and one that could turn 360 degrees. They were part of the alarm system when he used the van as a home. Driving aids when not. Recording devices anytime.
The next few hours drifted by as he cruised the town and outlying areas without finding a better hiding place. He went home unsatisfied and with an urge to find larger prey.
Another rat satiated his thirst while he took another look over the internet, especially at properties that looked grown up on satellite pictures. Nothing looked better than what he had at the moment. He'd need more time to find a more suitable place.
He slept in the van with the doors locked for yet another day.