Probably my weakest chapter ending. Definitely needs editing. But that is for a far flung time in the future. Like I said, this chapter was a tough nut to get into, but it turned out pretty good. I just had just as little clue how to end it, as I did how to start it. ;)
Chapter Five - Feeding into the Sea
There are some hungers that can only be denied for so long. Hunger that sits deep within a person's stomach, in their very soul. A need to fill an emptiness within them. A need that may not even be fulfilled by what they seek. For some people, they hunger for money. Some for power. For others, the hunger they seek to fill is the most simple, most basic need we all have. Everyone needs to feed, needs to find sustenance. A quest for money, or power, or other desires always come second to finding the next meal, to ending that gnawing sensation in a person's head.
It was only the start of third period, and Brendan was already feeling his need to feed growing in his stomach. Lunch was several hours away yet, but his body had no sense of time. All it cared about was being filled.
Brendan didn't know why he was so hungry, although skipping out on breakfast hadn't helped any. That wasn't abnormal for him though. His normal routine included grabbing something light along the way, and he had taken a bagel on his way out the door that morning, but still he craved.
Part of the reason, he was sure of it, was not all hunger. He was concerned about Marcus. He had seen Darien excuse himself from their trigonometry class last period with some lame excuse, but Brendan knew better. He knew that Darien had gone looking for Marcus. Brendan didn't know how he knew, he just did, somehow. He had rarely been more sure of anything.
There was a time when he would have been able to say that the only thing he was more certain of was Rachel's love for him, but even that had been called into question as of late. Something felt different when they were together. And it wasn't just the new guy in town, there was something else. Brendan knew she was trustworthy. She just liked to look, and fantasize. Her interest in Darien didn't worry him. If it was just that, then everything would be fine.
Maybe it was just that their experation date had come due, and it was time for them both to move on. Neither of them had any illusions that they'd be together come college, but they thought they'd at least have the rest of the year.
The true source of his hunger was deeper than even that, and he knew it. Brendan had never felt like he belonged. He was searching for his purpose in life, and casting about to try and find anything to fill that void; school, work, Rachel, football. Nothing worked. Everything Brendan tried only served as a further reminder that he did not fit in. He didn't know why he felt that way, just that he was the square peg forever looking, but only finding round holes. Everything he tried would settle his unease for a little while, but the feelings always returned.
He thought he had at long last found his place in school. He was good at football, he had a steady girlfriend, and even his classwork was getting better. Brendan thought this was it; this was who he was supposed to be. Now though, the old feelings were creeping up again, and he couldn't help but think they were caused by the arrival of the Montroses, even if he could not say why. He was one of the most popular kids in school, and yet still he hungered to feel like he had found his place in the world.
Brendan was so into his own thoughts, he had long since stopped listening to the teacher. When he called on Brendan to answer one of the questions on the homework, he had to try and remember what class he was even in. His thoughts were so focused on Marcus that he had wandered to his next class on autopilot.
Glancing down at the open textbook on his desk, he was at least able to discover that he was in his US history class, taught by Mr. Roy. The best way to describe Mr. Roy was as a crazy bastard.
The man had fought in several wars as a Marine, and was a tough teacher. He had an easy going attitude, but expected the best work out of his students. As long as you did your work, he'd be your best friend. However, if you got out of line, he changed into the drill sargent from hell.
It had become a frequent game of some of the students, with his knowledge, to try and get the drop on Mr. Roy. As long as it never happened during class time. Once the bells rang, it was all business. Brendan had seen many a student try and get the teacher on his back, but he had never seen anyone succeed. The usual outcome was the opposite. Brendan had even tried once, and that was enough. To that day, he winced and his arm twinged in pain at having it almost pulled from its socket. Ever since, Brendan was more than happy to just learn about history from the man.
Many students thought that one day the guy was going to snap and shoot up a classroom, but Brendan figured that wasn't very likely. Sure, he was extreme at times, and appeared to be on the violent side if a person didn't know him and caught him at a bad time, but the guy always seemed pretty together to Brendan.
However, a lot of those thoughts came into question when Mr. Roy slammed a ruler down upon Brendan's desk. "Mister Franks!!"
Brendan was startled back to reality in an instant with the sound. "Sorry! What was the question?"
The classroom chuckled around him, but they all fell silent with a single stare from Mr. Roy. Once silence pervaded once more, he repeated the question, holding the ruler in place atop Brendan's book so he couldn't try to find the answer.
Brendan's head was so out of it, that he couldn't even come up with an answer that sounded close. Instead he just stammered, and heard the ticking of the clock, followed by a gurgling in his stomach.
After several ticks of the clock passed by, with the pressure of all eyes open him, Brendan gave up.
"I'm sorry, my head is just not in the game today, sir," he said apollogetically.
Part of him expected he would be subjected to a visit from the drill sargent version of the teacher, but Brendan's luck held out.
"You are looking a mite pale there, son. It's ok. Why don't you head down to the nurse, make sure you ain't coming down with anything."
Brendan nodded and closed his history book, and tucked it under his arm as he stood. "Thank you, sir."
The teacher ignored him, and went back to trying to teach his class.
"The answer which Mister Franks was unable to provide us with was..." Brendan heard him trail off as the door to the classroom closed. He'd have to remember to look the answer up later, if he even remembered the question. Mr. Roy was the sort to ask him again tomorrow, just to see if he'd learned anything.
As he made his way down the tower of stairs, he heard an all too familiar voice. He stopped and stood in a corner, just in case someone might glance up into the stairwell. Brendan wasn't sure if he'd be seen, or if he was hidden where he was, but at least he was trying.
After a few seconds of listening, he was sure it was Brian, and it sounded like he was talking to his two fellow goons, Jim and Mike. It was hard to tell just what they were saying, but it was impossible for him to not recognise those voices.
Brendan strained to hear them for a few more seconds, his stomach pains long forgotten. He took a couple tentative steps forward to get a better idea of what they were saying, careful to not make any sounds.
It was still difficult to hear them, but a few words did float through the echoy cavern of the stairwell up to Brendan's ears. He heard Darien's name, the word revenge, and something about cookies.
The next thing Brendan heard was the large steel doors to the school open up, and he watched their shadows flicker along the wall as they left.
Part of Brendan knew following them was stupid, and pretty high on his list of personal stupid things to do. He hit his head against the wall behind him and gritted his teeth. There was no way he could stop the three of them, especially if they were hellbent for revenge. Best not to step in front of the speeding train and tell it to stop.
However, the rest of Brendan, some might say the dumber half, knew he could not just go back to class and let this go. If anything happened to Darien or even Alyson, he never would have been able to forgive himself. Fate had placed him in the stairwell at that precise moment to overhear whatever they were planning, and Brendan was not one to ignore fate.
Thoughts of his hunger no longer plaguing him, Brendan skipped down the stairs, taking three at a time, chanting as he made each foot land against the hard surface, "Stupid. Stupid. Stupid."
He paused at the door and decided to wait before bursting right out behind them. Instead, he hung back and stood against the wall, watching their large forms grow smaller as they faded off into the distance. They were heading towards the elementary school, but passed right by the door to the cafeteria.
Brendan waited until they were obscured around the other building's corner, and then some, before daring to even touch the door's handle, as if it were electrified until that very moment.
Once he felt they were far enough away and wouldn't see him, and he hoped they wouldn't hear him, he pressed his hand against the door's handle and depressed the lever that released the latch.
He stepped out into the cool morning air, even though midday was starting to creep up on everyone. Brendan grabbed the outer handle of the door, and closed it with care. The door had never closed with so little sound in its entire existence.
Not wanting to fall too far behind, but still wanting to not be seen, Brendan scurried straight across to the other building. He put his back to the wall, and inched along it, and over the doors into the lunch area until he was right up against the edge corner. He strained to listen, and could still hear the trio of bullies, but they sounded far in the distance.
Brendan chanced a peek around the corner, and saw them almost all the way at the opposite end of the school. They were nothing more than three large dots about to pass into the forest.
Where were they going, he wondered? Where had Darien gone? This was all very strange to Brendan, and he wondered if he hadn't misheard them. Maybe they were just sneaking off to Stonehenge for a smoke?
Brendan's instincts still insisted he had discovered them for a reason, and to still follow them, so he did. He waited until they were engulfed by the trees, and then continued to follow them. Better to follow them and be sure they only planned to smoke or blow off class, than to find out Darien was strung up to a tree somewhere. If all they were doing was skipping classes, Brendan could always turn around and leave them be, and they'd be none the wiser.
As he passed by the windows to some of the elementary classes, he caught a reproachful glare from the teacher inside. It seemed like all the traffic past those windows the last few days was beginning to wear thin. Brendan sped past and out of site, so they could resume teaching the children.
He had gained on his prey by getting out of the teacher's sight so fast. They were much closer as they picked their way through the forest. The trio had stopped talking however, and all Brendan heard was them trampling through the leaves.
Brendan stayed back again, hiding behind a tree on the off chance one of them came back or heard him. It seemed like they were too intent on finding their own prey to give notice to any pursuers. Still, Brendan opted for caution.
He remained by the tree for some time. Brendan waited for the sounds to fade away almost to nothingness, just so he knew that they would be less likely to hear his own crunching footsteps as he followed.
Off in the distance, he heard the bullies splashing through the river. Brendan wondered where they were heading. He thought they were following Darien, but if that was true, what was he doing out here?
He thought he heard one of them swear after a loud splash. If Brendan could hear them all the way back here, if Darien was anywhere nearby, he must have heard them as well.
When the sounds of water being kicked up by the trio of large, unsubtle creatures stopped, Brendan continued his pursuit. He remained as stealthy as he could with the ground cover. His ears guided him, as they were out of sight and encircled by the deepening forest beyond the Black River.
Brendan stopped at the standing stone, using it for cover and tried to see anything, but the most he could catch was shadows in the distance.
With the others so far away, so encircled by trees, and so indistinct, Brendan threw caution to the wind and stepped out beyond the clearing, and headed for the river. He was in the open, he was exposed, but he had doubts that anyone was watching for him.
Amidst the sounds of the forest around him, over the rush of water just inches from his toes, Brendan could hear voices. More voices than just the three he had been following. They could be Darien and Alyson, or they could be anyone.
Brendan found himself hoping he wasn't stumbling upon a drug deal.
He picked a path across the stones in the riverbed, taking more care than his prey had taken. Halfway across, he could hear sounds of a scuffle. There was a lot of movement kicking up a lot of leaves. Someone was not having a good day.
Forgetting any sort of caution, Brendan leapt over several stones, and landed on an unsteady foot upon a wet rock. He could feel himself teetering, and his arms began to pinwheel around in the air. Before he could take an involuntary bath, he pushed off with his foot, and landed on the far shore of the river with a thud. He rubbed the shoulder that connected with the hard ground. Even the layer of detritus from the trees above had not softened his landing.
Brendan rolled over and got back to his feet just in time to hear a heavy weight landing on the ground, much like his own, followed by a loud crack. He could see colours on the shadows in the trees now, and ran towards them.
The five people he came upon did not notice the new arrival. One of them was too preoccupied with his head becoming a fountain of blood. Another was too busy raining down fists upon the first, and the rest were too enthralled with the sight before them.
Even Brendan was too distracted by the pummelling that he remained frozen at the horror of it all. He thought it was Darien receiving the beating. It wore Darien's clothes, but his face was unrecognisable. If Brendan could see past the sea of blood upon his face, Darien would still have been unrecognisable.
Brian paused, blood dripping off his fists and colouring the ground beneath them. Brendan could only watch, stunned at the act of violence. His feet wanted to rush in there and tackle the bully off his new friend, but his brain was too much in shock.
Alyson's voice drew everyone's attention, including Brian's. What Brendan saw next, made the beating pale in comparrison. Alyson's face was changed, having become monstrous. She was unrecognisable. Not a single feature could be identified as the Alyson he had met yesterday.
Brendan heard the word vampire, but didn't want to believe it. None of them did. Especially not the two that were holding her. Mike and Jim had the worst view of Alyson, but even they could tell something had changed.
The creature that now stood where Alyson once had reached up and grabbed the forearm of each of her attackers. With the monstrous look upon her transformed face, the scene became a twisted parody of a girl with her two suitors, in an embrace fighting over who would claim her. In this struggle though, the only winner was not in question; it could only be Alyson.
Both of Brian's goons yelped out in pain as Alyson's grip tightened into their thick, meaty arm flesh. Her hands were too small to wrap around such biceps, but she found her own way to get a grip. As if the two of them were a pair of cymbals, she hefted them into the air no more than a few inches, as high as her short stature could allow, and crashed them together in front of her. Instead of a fantastic crash of metal against metal, they caused a thumping crack of bones and flesh. Their hands had long since loosened their grasp upon Alyson, and when she released them, they fell to the ground in front of her, unconcious.
Alyson climbed up and stood upon her former captors, the winner claiming the high ground in the sickest game of King of the Hill ever. She leaned forward towards Brian. Her hands flexed against the air, seeking something to grasp and claw at, like a gunslinger waiting to draw his weapon and fire. She growled from atop her perch, ready to pounce.
Brendan saw her as more animal than human in that moment. He wanted to act, but was at a loss as what to do. It was clear that Brian was the initial attacker, and Brendan was sure he deserved some retribution for what he had done to Darien. However, it appeared that standing in front of him was an honest to goodness vampire, and almost all the literature was that they were evil.
The three that remained able to do anything all stood there, or in Brian's case crouched atop Darien, and waited for anyone else to make the first move. Brendan could make all the difference to whichever side he decided to throw in with, but he was unable to decide, frozen and forced by his indecision to watch.
It came as no surprise to Brendan that it was the creature he had known as Alyson was the one to at last break the staring contest. She seemed more like a wild animal than the person he knew. Brendan watched as she leapt through the air and tackled her brother's attacker, which under normal circumstances would have been a justifiable act.
Under normal circumstances, a girl the size of Alyson would have bounced harmlessly off the wall named Brian.
Under normal circumstances, Brendan would not have been baring witness to a vampire attack.
Normal circumstances got off this highway three exits back.
Instead, Alyson flew through the air, and tackled Brian clean off her brother. Darien didn't move, Brendan thought he may not even be able to do so.
She pinned Brian to the ground, without any real effort at all. She straddled him in much the same way he had sat atop Darien. She held down his arms at the wrists, and watched with glee as he struggled in vain to get the vampire off him.
Brian tried to lift his arms, unwilling to believe that even as some sort of mythical creature, could something as small as Alyson could hold him there. His arms remained motionless, stuck to the ground like a magnet to a fridge.
"You'll never hurt anyone again, you monster," growled Alyson, speaking with ease despite her enlarged canines that barely fit within her mouth.
Brendan was amazed that Brian could find words, let alone spit them out at the creature atop him. "Monster? Have you looked in the mirror lately?!"
The incongruity of what he had just said, and to whom he had said it to was lost on Brian. Brendan would think of it later, but for the moment it zoomed past him as well.
Alyson only replied via a growl, and she bared her fangs.
He could remain silent no longer. Brendan called out, revealing his presence to everyone there with a single word. "Alyson!"
The creature turned towards him, giving Brendan a good look at the true Alyson for the first time. In an instant, he regretted his decision to step out of the shadows and pick a side. The blood red eyes stared right through him and into his soul, sending chills through him. The angry curl to her thin lips made Brendan think he may well be her first target. Her sunken cheeks and furrowed brow looked more like a skull than the soft face of the girl he remembered wearing those clothes earlier.
When she saw who it was, and how he was reacting to her, the monstrous face somehow softened. Her teeth darted back behind her lips as she closed her mouth. The hunger in her eyes lessened, but the otherwise inhuman features remained.
That moment was all Brian needed, as the rock his hand had been gripping since he landed on the ground raised up and struck the girl in the temple. The surprise blow sent her toppling to the ground inbetween Brian and her brother.
Brian siezed every moment, stretching them out as much as he could. Until Brendan had seen Alyson move, he would have thought Brian moved with supernatural speed, but even his rapid movements seemed sluggish to what he had witness as true beyond human reflexes.
Still, the bully ended up with his knee on Alyson's back, and her head pinned to the ground with a hand. Brian didn't have any idea how strong she was, but that was not going to stop him from trying to hold her down.
He still clutched the rock in his hand, and it's grey, mottled surface had a streak of red streakig down and growing longer as a lone drop rolled down.
Alyson made muffled cries and howls, clawing at the leaves and dirt, but unable to get any leverage to get Brian off.
Brian smiled at Brendan, the smile was as animalistic as anything he had seen from Alyson. He had caught his prey, and was going in for the kill. "Thanks for the assist, Brendan. We can't have freaks like this terrorising our school. This will make me a hero."
That wasn't why he was doing this, and Brendan knew it. This was revenge, pure and simple. Blood for blood. An eye for an eye. Or in Brian's case, a life for a leg. Not quite a fair trade in any form of justice system.
Brendan knew who the true monster was, who it was that needed to be stopped. Alyson was only defending family, even if she was maybe going too far. This though, Brendan could not stand and watch this happen. But what could he do?
The rock was raised in the air, and Alyson continued to gasp for breath, finding only dirt in her face. Her struggling was growing weaker with each passing moment.
Brendan thought of tackling her assailant, much like Alyson had, but the two had tussled before. He knew the guy was pretty immovable, even if Brendan got up a running start. Which made Alyson's act all the more astonishing.
If he did anything, it would have to be soon. Adrenaline pumped in his veins, drawing out the moments to a crawl. Acting almost as if he was not in control of his own actions, his arm began to raise, and Brendan saw the history textbook in his hand.
He had taken it with him when he left Mr. Roy's classroom, and it had remained in his hand all this time, even when he landed on his side crossing the river. Brendan stared at it, dumbfounded. His fingers peeled back, like they were stuck to it, he had been grasping it so tight.
Time seemed to snap back into focus, and without another thought, Brendan launched the book through the air. He flung it like the worst shaped discus ever made.
To his amazement, and Brian's surprise, the book somehow flew true through the air. It opened up like a bird spreading its wings, and spun around in circles, but it arced in an almost straight line from Brendan's hand to Brian's head. If Brendan could ever showcase such unerring aim on the football field, the team would never lose a match.
Brian never saw it coming, never could have even conceived of such an event even occuring. After Brendan had distracted Alyson, the bully thought Brendan was on his side and paid him no more mind. However, the book struck with such force that it actually knocked Brian back several inches, and his grip on Alyson's head was broken.
That was all the vampire needed, and she gasped for air, her neck craning her dirt covered face into the open sky. She spun around and flipped Brian off of her now that she was in command of her own movements.
Brian lay on the ground, clutching the point where the book had connected with his head. The hard, spinning cover had gashed his scalp and caused it to start bleeding. Despite all the blood, the wound was at worst superficial.
Brendan moved closer, watching Alyson, thinking she may attack her brother's foe once again. She still moved like the hunter stalking its prey.
Instead, she picked the book up, and used all her strength, or it was likely less since Brian's head remained attached to his shoulders. Alyson brought the book back down upon his head, causing him to collapse into a heap. Just another body like the other two he had brought out into the woods with him.
The book fell from her grasp, the torn skin of the thin covering brendan had wrapped around it for protection flapping in the woodland breeze like a flag of victory or defeat. Brendan was none to sure about what had just been achieved. All he knew was that it felt right.
Alyson's legs wobbled and gave out underneath her, dropping her to her knees. In a way, it mimicked Brian's own collapse in the lunchroom the other day. Her body shook with each breath. Her head drooped and her red hair fell over her eyes, hiding the muddy covering from view.
After one last shake, her body fell next to the book, leaving Brendan the only one still standing amongst everyone whom had come into the woods that day. The tranquility of the forest had been shattered by blood and carnage. It looked like a war had passed through and left him behind, the sole survivor to report back. Brenda surveyed the battlefield, and he saw the body of Marcus, unseen by him until that moment. He had been so caught up in everything else, Brendan had even forgotten his friend had gone missing.
Brendan choked back his rising fears, and moved from his vantage point along the periphery and entered into the thick of the scene. Mike and Jim's prone bodies seemed the least damaged by what had transpired. Alyson had taken them out with ruthless efficiency.
Darien had it the worst of all. His red face echoed his sister's, except his was not caused by lengths of crimson locks covering up his features. Features that were little more than bruises, lumps, and swollen cheeks. Darien's face no longer qualified to be described as such. Staring into the scarlet ichor covered mess, Brendan could feel his stomach turn and churn forcing him to turn away.
Even Brian had gotten off light, thought Brendan. The most deserving of punishment, and the worst he got was a cut and maybe a concussion.
Laughter at Brendan's feet startled him out of his reverie. It was ragged and rough, and at first he could not tell if it was laughter or sobbing.
He looked down upon Alyson, whose hand reached to her face and cleared away her hair and her fingernails leaving a scrape through the dirt and mud that covered her face underneath. She saw Brendan standing over her, and looked up at him with her blood-red eyes.
On such a transformed face, the smile she made through the pain she felt did nothing to set Brendan at ease.
Alyson coughed as she rasped out her words, and her body shook with each violent outburst of air. "Ah-heh...my hero."
She laughed some more, and the black irises began to roll back. Brendan forgot all about what was laying there in front of him, and he fell to one knee. Before he could think about what he was doing, he used the back of his hand against her cheek, trying to make her focus. Her ruby eyes shifted and looked to Brendan, and despite her looks, there was still a gentleness in it, at odds with what she was, and how she looked.
"Are you -" A vampire, he wanted to ask.
"Are you ok?" is what came out instead.
Alyson grabbed his hearby hand, and Brendan wanted to jump away, afraid that this creature may decide that he was her next meal. Fear held him frozen in place instead. The only thought he could comprehend was that Alyson's nails had become sharpened, black claws that were not much longer than she wore them, but now came to a wicked point. And now they were near his own flesh as she tightened her grip and pulled herself up.
Somewhere between the ground and sitting up, Brendan saw her face had changed. It once again was the face of the young girl who had arrived in her brother's shadow a mere 24 hours ago. It was scratched and dirty, but the seemingly innocent, young girl was back.
She let go of Brendan's hand (Her nails back to her normal purple shade) and wrapped her arms around her knees as she drew them close to her chest. Alyson's head rested against her legs and she tried to force the pain and hunger her brain was swimming through away.
"Aside from this killer headache, yeah. I think I'll live."
Brendan opened his mouth to question the girl's choice of words, but thought the time for those sorts of questions was any time but now.
Instead he muttered, "Yeah, sorry about that."
"It's ok. You walked in on an inexplicable situation, and I looked like something that stepped out of a low budget tv show. I'd probably have done the same thing."
Brendan could hear the smirk in her voice, "But you so owe me big time."
Alyson turned her face skyward, a beam of sunlight broke through and caught her face in it. Her hair lit up like it was on fire in the light, and despite the after effects of her scuffle, she still retained an air of beauty about her.
The sunlight raised even more questions in Brendan's mind, and he added those to the list.
"You've got this look on your face, like someone just handed you the biggest pop quiz of your life. You're having a hard time processing all this, aren't you?"
"To put it mildly, yeah," Brendan said. He was struggling to keep with it, and not just fall to the ground and make a thousand yard stare off into nothingness as his brain scampered off to play elsewhere.
Alyson stood, shaking as she did so, and placed a hand on Brendan's shoulder. How someone who had done what he had just seen her do, and yet still have such a light touch, amazed him.
She saw what remained of her brother, and her grip tightened. She covered the mouth with the back of her free hand, choking back her own horror. Brendan was confused at such compassion and humanity in something he had trouble not thinking of as inhuman, and yet it was reassuring as well.
"Oh, Darien," she whispered around her hand.
Brendan pivoted, still on one knee, but turned to face Darien's prone form, head resting against the rock that threatened to become his eternal pillow.
"Is he," this time he got the words out. "A vampire?"
Alyson shook her head, and crouched next to her brother. "No. Darien is a whole other story." She paused, seeming to consider just what she was going to do next. "Um, I know your brain is already near to collapse, so you may not want to watch this next part."
"What do you mean?" Brendan's question was no more than half-asked before Alyson had changed back into her other form, and she tore into the flesh of her forearm with one of her black talons.
"Oh. Okay yeah." Brendan turned, averting his gaze from the sight of even more blood, but it was hard to find a safe place for him to look at as another option. His stares landed on Marcus's body, and he crawled over to it, sitting on the cold, hard ground, and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder.
What he chose not to look at, was Alyson pressing her open wound against her brother's mouth, one of the few features left on his face that was recognisable as such. Although even that was broken and puffed up from the beating he had received.
Rivulets of blood poured forth into Darien's mouth, and pooled up before sliding down his throat. His body's actions were at first involuntary as it forced him to swallow, but after some time, his hands reached up and grasped at his sister's arm, and he began to drink of his own will.
Brendan heard suckling, slurping noises coming from behind him, and he could not ignore his curiosity any longer and looked anyways. He turned just in time to witness Darien sitting up, just enough to heft his skull off the rock that had been his downfall.
Even through the red haze, Brendan could see Darien's face was different. The swelling had receded, cuts were gone, and no more blood was dripping off his face. All that remained was the dried crust already stuck there. As he watched, Darien's nose straightened back out with an audible pop, and it readjusted from a flattened state like someone was inflating Darien from within.
Once it looked as if his face was back to normal, save for the new coating of human paint, Darien's hands let go of Alyson's arm, and his head fell back. It would have hit the rock once more, save for his sister's intervention and cradling it back to the ground.
Alyson's form had reverted back to her guise of humanity, and the slice in her arm had closed up almost in an instant once Darien was finished.
"Whoa," was the only possible word that Brendan could come up with to describe what he had just seen. "But you said he's not..."
"I'm not," said Darien, at almost a whisper. His body may have been healed from the worst of it, but he was still exhausted in both mind and body.
"My blood," began Alyson, "the blood of all vampires has healing and restorative qualities. It's what gives us our abilities in some cases, and what gives us our longevity."
Brendan had so many questions, but he stuck to the obvious one for the moment. "But won't that mean he's going to become a vampire?"
Alyson shook her head and smiled at Brendan's innocence to it all, causing flecks of the dried mud to fall from her face. "Not in our version of vampires."
"Our vampires are different," joked Darien.
"And I really want to learn all about them, but I think we have more pressing concerns littering the forest right now," said Brendan, giving voice to all their concerns.
"What are you two going to do about Brian and the goons?"
Alyson looked at the tangled pile of Mike and Jim. "Those two didn't really see anything, and they're not about to tell anyone they got beat up by a girl."
She looked at Brian's body, with more concern on her face. "That one on the other hand..."
Darien sat up and curled his legs underneath himself, as he wiped away some of the blood from his face. His dishevelled hair looked even worse, now that it was caked with his own blood, stuck into clumps, and pointing every which way.
"That's easy," he said. "He's not going to tell anyone about this."
"You think so?" his sister inquired.
Darien nodded, an almost mischievous grin. "The guy was publicly humiliated yesterday. No way is he going to continue his humiliation by saying he was beaten up by a girl. Again."
"But aren't you worried that he'll tell people about what you, or at least what Alyson is?"
Alyson's grin echoed her brother's. In that moment they looked more like twins to Brendan than he had ever seen. "If some guy came up to you, someone you knew wasn't the brightest apple to fall from the tree, saying he was tossed around the woods by a vampire, would you listen?"
Brendan considered for a moment, then shook his head. "I suppose not. I'd be wondering why he was even telling anyone."
"Exactly," said Darien.
"Isn't that a bit of a dangerous way to protect your secret? Having faith in people not wanting to be humiliated?"
"So far," said Alyson, "it's the best plan we've got. So far, so good."
Brendan shook his head. "That is so going to bite you guys in the ass some day."
"Good thing she bites back."
A strange look passed over Brendan's face. "If I wasn't sitting next to the dead body of a friend of mine, that might almost have been funny."
Brendan's eyes turned to his friend, looking over the body. His brain was too much in shock from everything to even process what he saw. He knew he should be a nervous wreck over it, but it just had not sunk in yet.
Something did jump out at him though, and his eyes fell upon the telltale wounds upon Marcus's neck.
Brendan jumped back like the corpse was all of a sudden electrified and dangerous to be so close to.
His skin went white, and he looked from the puncture marks to Alyson and back again.
"Holy shit!" he blurted out. Brendan backed away from the twins without getting off the ground, scuttling like a lobster that could walk on its back.
The twins remained calm. Alyson just held up a hand and spoke with a soft voice that didn't fool Brendan one bit after what he had seen. "Brendan, it's ok. I didn't do this. He was like that when I got here. Please, believe me."
His face was still covered in fear and mistrust, but even so, "Every inch of my body says I shouldn't. Yet somehow, I think I do."
"So, not every inch then?"
Brendan couldn't explain why, but somehow he knew she wasn't the cause of Marcus's death. He did believe her when she said it wasn't her. He shouldn't just accept her at her word, but his gut told him that she had not done it.
Off in the distance, a world away, the trio heard a bell ring, and they were all jarred back to reality. They had lives to live, classes to attend, and a school wondering where they had all gone.
"We really ought to get back," said Alyson.
Brendan asked, "What are we going to tell everyone?"
"Let us worry about that," replied Darien.
"We have experience in these sorts of things," his sister added.
"I'm not sure that exactly puts my mind at ease," muttered Brendan.
"We've been doing this for awhile. We know what to say. Or at least some ideas that will sound plausible enough. You just have to follow our leads."
Alyson stood beside Brendan and offered him a hand up. He took it, and from the struggling look on her face to the weak grip she used, he could have forgotten she was anything but a young girl. "You're going to say nothing, for the most part."
"Just how long have you guys been at this?"
Darien looked around, scanning the area for anything they might need to pick up, place, or hide. "We'll answer all your questions later, but for now, we should get back to the school and get the ball rolling. We've got other questions to deal with for now."
Darien grabbed the history book and gave it back to its owner, bloodstain, torn cover, and all.
"What are you doing tonight?" the smaller of the twins asked.
Brendan considered for a moment, as the three began walking away from the scene of the carnage. "Just a date with Rachel...oh my god, Rach. What am I going to tell her??"
Alyson smirked and started to skip across the pathway of stones from one side of the river to the next. She looked like she was playing hopscotch. "Tell her whatever you like, she'll probably forget it by tomorrow."
"That's not very nice," Brendan scowled.
"Maybe not, but it is a little funny."
The men crossed the river behind Alyson, with nowhere near the skill she did.
Darien grabbed his sister's shoulder, and they turned back to the river, each of them kneeling over, and scooping up handfuls of water. They splashed their faces, and hands, and arms, doing their best to clean up the worst of the evidence of the fight.
The brother took longer and dunked his head in the river. His body convulsed at the sudden shock of cold as his head broke the surrface. He pulled his head out and ran his fingers through his hair, and repeated the process several times.
A section of the river had turned red, but was soon washed away as the water sped onward to the east. The horror was washed away, figuraitvely and literally.
Aside from being a little drenched, Darien looked none the worse for wear, as did his sister. They could have been any two people, on any hike in the woods, not survivors of a serious beating, and scuffle besides.
Darien shook out his hair like a wet dog would have done, then slicked it back as best he could with his bare hands. He almost looked normal, if not for his hair not being his usual style, and he was missing his sunglasses. The only signs of what had happened were telltale bloodstains upon his clothing, and most of that was kept to his jacket. The black fabric hid most of the stain, and it was difficult to tell what was blood and what was water as they each dried. A close inspection would have revealed which was which, but a passing glance would not turn up anything amiss, aside from a wetter than normal student.
They soon exited the forest, and it felt like everything had been left behind in another world the moment they passed the treeline; they were back in the real world where things made sense, friends weren't dead, and there were no vampires. All of that belonged to whatever world the forest sheltered within its boughs.
Darien led the group back to the school. Brendan took note that the classroom they kept disrupting each time they passed had drawn their shades.
As the three rounded the corner into the parking lot, Alyson pulled a cellphone out of her bag. She made a quick three digit call, and the performance began.
Alyson was all of a sudden out of breath, and she sounded panicked. She looked as calm and normal as ever, the utter opposite of how she sounded.
"Hello, police? Yes, I'm a student at Kraftsbury High, and I...I think I've found a body. Yes, I'll hold."
The moment Alyson was put on hold, it was like a switch was flipped, and all was well. Brendan was in awe with how at ease she was with it all. It was only a few seconds, but she was soon back into panic mode.
"Hello officer, yes. His name was Marcus Boyd. At Kraftsbury High. I'm...I'm in the uh, parking lot right now. Yes, I can wait. Can we meet in the office? My name? Alyson, Montrose. Ok. I'll be there. Please hurry!"
She dropped the phone back in her bag, and began walking away, beckoning the boys to follow.
The twins began to look nervous as they entered the halls of the school, and Brendan followed suit. His fear and nerves were more real he believed, than theirs. This was a first for him, and now the local police were going to get involved. Marcus had once said that the Kraftsbury police "couldn't catch a cold" but they were still the voice of authority in town.
They piled into the office, receiving looks from students as they passed down the hallway. The secretary came around the small desk/wall to the other side, and helped Alyson sit down on a hard wooden bench along the wall beside the entryway as the young girl began to sob.
While his sister broke down, unable to speak, Darien explained things. At least, their version of the story. He didn't get very far into his story, before they saw flickers of lights sneaking in through the windows as a police car arrived.
Darien paused and they all listened as boots thump-thumped ever closer on the tiled floor, until the door opened, and a tall man in a navy blue officer's uniform, mirroed sunglasses, and matching stetson crammed into the already packed area.
The assemblage shifted to accomodate the newcomer better, Darien and Brendan moving deeper into the office, until they were almost moved around to the opposite side of the dividing wall.
The officer removed his hat, revealing a blond buzzcut underneath. He crouched down and looked at the quivering young girl, deceptively acting terrified. If the officier only knew who should be in actual terror.
"Are you Alyson?" he asked in a calm, gentle voice, not at all a voice of authority, but one of security nonetheless.
Alyson nodded, and wiped at her face, her timing perfect.
"Ok, tell me what happened, if you can. Take your time, miss."
A doorway behind the divider opened up from the adjoining room, and Miss Ferris poked her head in. "I heard a commotion...Oh." She stopped and stayed near the doorway, closing it was quiet as she could.
Brendan saw that Alyson's face looked weary, and that she had been crying for some time. As she spoke, her words kept catching her throat. They had done this a few times.
"My brother and I, we were worried about our friend, Marcus. So we went out into the woods where we hung out, to see if he was there. We looked around, and it seemed like he wasn't there, but then we saw something across the river, and went to investigate. We really should've called someone right then and there, but we didn't. I'm sorry." She began sobbing again.
The officer gripped her shoulder. "It's ok, miss. Take your time," he repeated.
Alyson composed herself for the moment and continued. "We found his body, but before we could get out of there, a bully showed up that had been giving Marcus trouble."
The officer looked at Brendan. "Is that him?"
"What? No! No, officer. He saw the bullies and followed them to help us. If he hadn't shown up, I don't know what would have happened. He saved me, us."
"I don't understand."
"The bullies wanted to get some revenge, and they attacked us. But Brendan showed up, and we got away. We probably ruined the...oh god, the...the crime scene." Brendan was amazed at how much of the truth she told, while leaving out so much of what had happened.
"Are you sure your friend was dead?"
"I don't know, he looked dead. Oh god, Marcus." Alyson expertly bit her lip.
"Was it the bullies that hurt your friend?"
Alyson shook her head. "I don't think so, no. They followed us out there, I think. They looked just as surprised as us."
Brendan wasn't sure he could have said the same, part of him would have been tempted to place the blame on Brian and friends. At least the suspicion. Lord knows they had done enough to Marcus, and other students that they may as well have been the ones who did it.
The officer stood, and brushed his hand through hair that was no longer there. An old habit dying hard, surely.
"Ok, I'm going to call this in and get some people out there to get the body. I'm going to need the students to stay out of the woods for now, until we see if we can find anything useful. And miss, we're going to need you to come down to the station and make an official statement later, when you're feeling better. Same goes for the two of you. And those bullies, to boot."
Alyson nodded, and Brendan gave the names of the other trio. The officer left to use his car's radio to call into the station.
Once he was out the door, Miss Ferris came more to the fore and looked at the twin Montroses. "You two don't enter a town quietly, do you? Just two days here, and how many classes have you missed?"
Darien smiled at the gentle ribbing, but Alyson broke into tears again. Brendan was no longer sure where the reality ended and the acting began with her.
The office door opened, and a man familiar to all but the Montroses entered. A tall, balding man in a dark green suit entered, looking nervous back out the door. "Do I want to know why the cops are here?"
The secretary was fidgeting off by her desk, and Miss Ferris spoke up, "The students discovered the body of Marcus Boyd, they think he's dead, Principal Howard."
He summed everyone's thoughts with just a single word, "Shit." The aging man pulled a handkerchief from inside his suit jacket, and patted away the sweat atop his glistening head.
The rest of the day was a blur, as classes were cancelled. Many students departed the grounds and returned home, happy to have a day off from their personal prison. Whatever the reasons were, they were just glad to be free.
Many others stayed though, gossiping amongst themselves about what had happened. Some thought it was a bomb scare, others thought chemicals had been discovered in the basement, and still more thought there may be a dead body.
The principal called an assembly for anyone who still remained, and informed the few students left, less than half the entire population by his reckoning, about what had been found in the woods. Murmurs rippled through the crowd at the news, except for the few who had already known.
Rachel was clutched tight in Brendan's arms, scared over the events, the police presence, and what it could all mean. Dead bodies did not tend to come alone, and the thought that there may be a murderer in the sleepy Vermont town had everyone terrified, whether they would admit it or not.
The principal urged calm to prevail, and said details were scarce at the moment, but as they learned anything, they would let people know. What passed for an assembly dispersed, somewhat, although most of the people gathered by the building.
Their attention was drawn by an approaching throng of people, carrying what looked like a body towards them. The limited resources of the town kept them from dealing with the body properly, and they set him down on the ground, covered by a sheet.
Marcus lay there unmoving, as everyone stared at the shape underneath. No one spoke as the reality of what had happened was sinking in.
The police had stepped off to the side and whispered amongst themselves, trying to decide what to do, and who to call in. These events were way out of their league, and they were just not equipped to deal with a murder investigation.
As they all tried to figure out what to do next, a gust of wind blew through, and yanked away the sheet covering up Marcus, revealing him to all those gathered.
Gasps and whispers shot through the crowd like wildfire. None of them had ever seen such a thing before. For some, they'd never see anything like it again.
They all stared at the twin wounds upon his neck, and Rachel gave voice to the one word they all thought, the one word that only a group of high school students with no concept of reality could ever have thought up. And yet such an absurdity could very well be the truth.