“Don’t tell Daniel,” Uncle Par said, down on one knee and whispering into Eric’s ear. “It’ll be our secret, you and I. Your mom and dad wouldn’t understand.” He leaned closer. “Do you want to see it again?”
They were running, he and Daniel, through Uncle Par’s old house. He remembered there had been a driver and a cook. It was so bright there that it must have been daytime – no, all the lights were on, but there weren’t any windows in that part of the house.
It was nighttime.
The driver in the garage died first. He was probably checking on the silver Bentley Continental, his uncle’s once-favorite car. His parents knew nothing about the vehicle due to their uncle’s early attempts to hide his wealth from them. The utility door into the garage slammed shut a moment before something wet was slapped up against the other side of it. A dripping sound came from beneath the door against the smooth concrete.
“Hide and seek, Daniel,” Eric told his little brother, shoving him back toward the recreation room. There was a black footlocker in there that had become their makeshift toy box for whenever they stayed with their uncle. “Get in and count to three hundred Mississippis. Count them in your head so I can’t hear you, okay?”
The boy climbed in and Eric closed the lid. He thought about latching it, but what if no one was around to let him out?
The professor was looking up at him again from the instructional area of the lecture hall. The students were gone and so was Janiss; it was only the two of them – human and vampire, prey and predator – and she was looking at him in a familiar way.
“Do you remember what happened next, Eric?” he heard the professor say. “I remember.”
From upstairs in the kitchen, the cook came running down, classic chef’s knife in hand as Eric sneaked a peek from around the rec room door. The entry to the garage was open; a dark figure with hair, teeth, and talons slashed through the cook’s apron, in seconds making it look like something worn in a butcher shop. Not one sound had escaped the cook’s throat because of the speed with which it had been torn out.
The monster came down the hall, moving toward his uncle’s study. Eric ducked back inside and held his breath as the monster passed him by. He had saved his little brother, but who would save his uncle?
It smashed through the study door; he heard his uncle cry out. He knew no one else was left. Eric collected the cook’s knife and followed the sounds into the study. He was scared but it didn’t matter – he had to do something.
For the first time, he saw the monster clearly. An ancient warrior stood before him, face streaked with white paint and framed with black hair like a reaper’s cowl. Her taloned hands were soaked with rich, red blood up to her elbows. With black orbs for eyes and fanged teeth bared, she had his uncle by the throat, but it somehow didn’t surprise him that Uncle Par’s eyes and teeth were the same.
Another hidden monster.
When his uncle noticed Eric in the doorway, the warrior woman turned and saw him holding the knife in his hand.
In that instant, Eric could see himself through the eyes of the warrior, as if he had become her. It was hard to believe he was ever that young or that small, clutching the knife and trying to look determined to use it. The child was frightened and brave and wonderstruck all at the same time, fearing for his life but ready to die.
The warrior looked back at his uncle with a dark smile.
“No,” Uncle Par pleaded without a hint of anger or demand – only desperation.
Was it for his own life or for Eric’s?
The warrior’s decision came in an instant. She released Uncle Par’s neck and stood upright, her most primal features retreating back into the form of a mere human.
“No,” she agreed with finality, ending the conflict.
He recognized the voice.
When he turned, the warrior woman was there – disemboweling him as she withdrew her dripping, taloned hands from his abdomen. The world fell backward…