Albert sat on the park bench, staring into the distance. On the other side of the walking path lay a grassy clearing where two members of his faction’s security team were playing Frisbee, but he didn’t want to appear to be looking at, let alone appear to be with them. Nor did he want to appear to be with Eunice, who sat on a bench farther down the path, reading. Or seemingly so. Perhaps she really was.
A couple more members from the security team were farther up the path, ostensibly bird watching. Beyond them sat a water fountain. When…no…if—Albert shook his head. No. He set his jaw decisively. When he received the alert that Phillip Brewer had turned down the path they expected him to take, Albert would casually walk to the water fountain, feign taking a drink, then stroll back, timing his arrival at this same bench to correlate with Phillip’s.
He pulled out his phone and flipped through screens so to the casual observer he would appear to have a purpose for sitting on the bench. Never mind that it also gave his fingers something to do as he anxiously awaited the next update.
Even with as many recruits as he’d approached in recent centuries since the vampires had organized, he’d never felt so edgy. So uneasy. Almost panicky to the point where he’d discussed it with Eunice. In the end, she’d agreed he was still the most likely to facilitate a positive outcome.
A blood-mate, finally, after two thousand years on his own. Albert closed his eyes and sucked in a lungful of the fresh, late spring air. Many of the petals had fallen from the flowering trees, so the air wasn’t as overpoweringly fragrant as it had been just weeks ago.
Yes, a blood-mate. While Albert wasn’t one hundred percent sure on a conscious level if that was the case, he felt it in his bones. Phillip was still human, and the full potency of the blood-mate connection wouldn’t be felt unless…until Phillip was changed into a vampire.
Until…he had to focus on that word. Phillip had left his apartment almost twenty minutes ago. Considering his current physical state, the fact he’d gone out at all was a positive sign. They hadn’t been sure that he would go out today…or ever again. Some of the sounds vamp agents had reported coming from the apartment had been concerning.
Albert knew Phillip was headed toward the park as of the report from ten minutes ago. No report since then meant that status hadn’t changed. It all boiled down to which path he’d take once he arrived at the park.
The wind’s direction changed, and Albert’s eyes popped open again when he caught a whiff of that scent that had so tantalized him just the other day. The sound of Eunice’s book thudding to the path reached Albert’s ears a moment later, and he stiffened, waiting for the word that would follow.
“Whoops,” Eunice muttered, and Albert smiled and stood. “Damn” would have been bad, but “whoops” was good. It meant Phillip had turned down their path. She wouldn’t be able to see him yet; she was just passing on what she’d heard.
Albert strolled to the water fountain and dropped his phone as he leaned down for the pretense of taking a drink. He wasn’t signaling anything to his people, not intentionally anyway. He supposed he was effectively signaling his intense nervousness, though.
He straightened his back and shoulders. Those nerves were something he needed to get under control. A calm demeanor was essential. “Fate,” if there was such a thing, had done its part getting Phillip to take his usual path. The rest was up to Albert.
Whether Albert got his blood-mate—a shudder rippled through him—or had to give the signal to have Phillip painlessly taken down if he refused the offer, it was in his own hands. He could blame nobody except himself if the mission failed now.
He turned to look down the path. Phillip was now in sight, and Albert strolled nonchalantly back toward the bench that his security team had chosen for many reasons ranging from its lack of security cameras and general seclusion from the street, while being in a part of the park that didn’t get overmuch foot traffic at this time of day (although they could thank Phillip’s routine for that) but still had nearby spaces where agents could be stationed without looking out of place.
As Phillip passed Eunice, she glanced up at him and nodded with a quirk of a smile. Phillip returned the gesture. Albert’s own lips reflexively twitched up at the sight. The breeze carried a heavier dose of Phillip’s scent, and this time it worked to calm Albert’s worries.
Phillip glanced around, noticing Albert, the frisbee players, and the bird watchers. He blinked a couple times before his gaze moved back to Albert as they jointly reached the bench.
“Hello,” Albert said. He came to a halt in front of the bench. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
To Be Continued…
🔽 🔼 POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 2
POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 2
Recognition flashed in Phillips eyes. He must remember their brief meeting—passing, really—on the street the other day. That was a good sign—that Albert had made enough of an impression on Phillip to be remembered.
Phillip also halted. “Sure is.” He added a light, wry smile. The man should have been in the prime of his life but was instead going through the motions of his final weeks, and he knew it. There wasn’t much for him to truly smile about, and it said a lot that he was trying to find reasons to.
Albert moved to the bench and raised a brow in what he hoped was a welcoming fashion, silently inviting Phillip to join him. This was the first hurdle that needed to be passed. If Phillip declined to even sit…well, they had alternative plans, but those weren’t as likely to work.
Getting Phillip to join him here was critical, and not coming across as an edgy creeper with an ulterior motive was essential to making that happen. Phillip shrugged, and some of the heaviness lifted off Albert’s shoulders.
“My name’s Albert.” He held out a hand, and Phillip shook it.
Phillip’s hand was warm and dry. “Phillip.” He didn’t elaborate, but Albert didn’t expect him to.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Phillip.” Albert paused. He hadn’t forgotten what he’d planned to say, of course. Or rather, the long list of options that varied depending upon the situation, or the personality of the person he was facing. But, part of what made it fairly easy to come across as natural during these discussions was the fact that much of the conversation did end up being customized on the fly while reading the expressions on his companion’s face.
“Likewise.” Phillip once again kept his reply simple. His countenance indicated he’d perceived there was a purpose to Albert’s waylaying him, but he proceeded to the bench seeming curious but unconcerned.
Which was basically perfect. Small talk wouldn’t be necessary here, and would, in fact, likely make Phillip uneasy.
So, Albert looked directly into Phillip’s eyes with a steady gaze and cut to the chase. “Phillip, I want to show you something, and I ask that you keep an open mind and hear me out before reacting.”
Phillip sat back and was easy to read. Albert had certainly caught his attention, but he still gave off no airs of anxiety. People at that stage of their life usually didn’t. What did he have to lose by hearing what Albert had to say, or watching what he had to demonstrate? Worst case scenario, a couple weeks of his life, but the nearby reader, Frisbee players, and bird watchers would likely put him at ease.
“I think we can help each other,” Albert continued.
“I’m dying,” Phillip said. Which, of course, was obvious, but Albert could certainly see how his statement might lead Phillip to think he didn’t realize that. “Whatever you have in mind, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make a deal with you.”
“Please, hear me out.” Albert held out an arm. Best to regain Phillip’s attention with a visual and tactile demonstration. If Phillip was feeling any pull at all due to the possibly impending blood-mate connection, his illness was weakening his ability to recognize it, or maybe to care about it, figuring it was pointless. “This seems like an unusual request, I know, but I’d like you to examine my arm. Go ahead and touch it. I want you to assure yourself that it is, indeed, my real arm and not any kind of advanced prosthetic or makeup designed to create a special effect.”
Phillip’s eyes widened, but not, thankfully, with alarm. With curiosity. Possibly the best diversion he’d had in a while, dealing with his illness.
Albert left his arm hanging in the air while Phillip briefly paused before putting both hands on Albert’s forearm. As expected, based upon the vampires’ background check, Phillip was thorough in his exploration. He would trust his senses, but he would be systematic and meticulous to make sure his senses weren’t being tricked as if by a professional street magician.
Phillip felt for a pulse and found one. It took nerves of steel not to react as Phillip ran a hand over the hairs on Albert’s arm, watching them move appropriately. He manipulated Albert’s arm and fingers, carefully observing the play of muscle and the movement of tendons at the inside of his wrist. He even pinched Albert’s skin.
When Phillip withdrew his hands, Albert lowered his arm. “Are you satisfied that this is indeed my natural arm?”
“Yes.” Phillip eyed him warily.
“Remember, keep an open mind and maintain your composure. Give me the opportunity to explain what you’re about to see.”
Phillip narrowed his eyes, but they still conveyed a mood of curiosity rather than concern. “All right.”
Albert took a quick glance around, then quickly checked himself. Damn his nerves. He shouldn’t have given Phillip that visual clue, because the man was too smart not to pick up on it.
Nobody was in sight other than his own people. He hadn’t expected to see anyone else, because he would have received an audible alert if anyone was heading down the path. But, at least the coast was clear to proceed. Thankfully, because at this point a delay in the action could have seriously disrupted Phillip’s acquiescent mood. Either nobody was about, or his team members at the split were successfully diverting anyone who appeared to want to come this way.
Moving quickly, before Phillip could react, he pulled a small razor blade out of his pocket and slowly drew the blade across the arm Phillip had just examined, gritting his teeth against the pain as the blade cut deeply enough for the tissue to separate and blood—black blood—to appear. Due to Albert’s advanced age, the gash closed up within seconds as the razor dragged up the length of his forearm. There was no way to interpret this demonstration for anything other than what it was.
“What the hell.” Phillip gasped and seemed to be fighting to keep his respiration steady as he turned to stare at Albert’s face.
To Be Continued…
🔽 🔼 POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 3
POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 3
Albert unclenched his jaw and strove to regain a relaxed demeanor. “Do you trust your own eyes?” Albert asked. The razor disappeared into a pocket, replaced by a cloth handkerchief, which he used to wipe the remaining blood from his arm.
“I’ll admit I’m drugged up, but nothing that would explain that.” Which Albert already knew because his research team had reported Phillip’s medical records and medication regimen. Phillip had pointedly requested medication that would not cause him to hallucinate or overly diminish his ability to reason. Albert couldn’t help but admire Phillip’s desire to remain alert enough to appreciate his surroundings. Although that had also concerned them as a sign that he might not hold out until his natural death.
“You accept what you just witnessed at face value?”
Phillip pursed his lips a moment before replying. “Okay. Yes. Obviously, there’s something superhuman about you.” His brows drew together as if another though occurred to him.
“That’s one way to put it,” Albert said. “I was once fully human, but now…no, not quite human anymore.”
Phillip sat still, apparently digesting that comment. Mulling over the possibilities. “Please.” Phillip swallowed, and a slight shiver drifted along his body. “I need you to spell out what you meant—earlier. Before your demonstration.”
Albert smiled. He’d hooked him. Now he just needed to reel him in. “About helping each other?”
“You don’t need to die yet. I’ve been walking this earth for more than two thousand years.” Albert spoke calmly as Phillip froze in place, clenching his hands at his belly. That number tended to inspire awe.
But, of course, such a comment also inspired a touch of concern. But just a touch. The carrot at the end of the stick was too tempting to walk away without hearing Albert out. “Who are you? You’re immortal. But how?”
“Immortal in the sense that I, and others like me, won’t appear to become older beyond our age at the time of transition. Nor will we die of natural causes. We can be killed, though. You’ve witnessed my self-healing abilities, but anything that would instantly kill a human will kill me…us, too.”
“So, if I agree, this cancer would disappear just like that?” Phillip snapped his fingers.
“Like all of our ‘supernatural’ capabilities, self-healing improves over time. As a new convert, you won’t immediately feel better. It’ll take about a day for you to feel one hundred percent.”
Phillip was clearly enthralled, sitting straighter, fully alert. Albert was holding back, though. Dropping the “V-word” too soon would be a mistake. Damn the myriad of fictional accounts of vampires and their extreme notions of vampire conduct.
“You still haven’t answered the question. Who are your people?”
Albert hesitated, but eventually the word had to be said, and further delaying after being pointedly asked the question would be worse than saying it. “The word you’re searching for is ‘vampire.’”
Phillip burst out laughing, and a bit more tension peeled off from Albert’s shoulders. After catching his breath, Phillip grinned. “You had me going there for a while.”
Tilting his head to the side, Albert raised a single eyebrow as he continued to gaze at Phillip. “Not the usual reaction.” Which was more likely to be a cynical eye roll. This sense of humor was better. Definitely better. “Intriguing, though. You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Please,” Phillip scoffed and gestured toward the bright sun overhead.
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Weekend at Bigfoot's ~meets~ The Recruit/The Choice
Bonus Scene - Weekend at Bigfoot's ~meets~ The Recruit/The Choice
Originally posted in my April, 2021 newsletter:
The traditional ten-year anniversary gift is tin or aluminum, representing durability and flexibility. Unlike JMS Books, which was celebrating its ten-year anniversary (woot, woot!!!), Wilson Banks and Oliver Hughes from Weekend at Bigfoot’s have been together for only one year in this bonus scene, but I made a point of working in forms of those four ten-year words (tin, aluminum, durability, flexibility) as prompts, because as anyone who follows my blog/website and/or receives my newsletter knows, I love writing bonus scenes and flash fiction using random prompt words!
The first part of this scene is told from Wilson’s (from Weekend at Bigfoot’s) 3rd-person POV, and the second part of this scene is told from Neil’s (from The Recruit & The Choice) 3rd-person POV. Written using the words pillow – new socks – candle – keys – book – obelisk – honesty – lightening – mountains – fountain – glass cat – pine needles – vampire – refrigerator – mud
Oliver turned his gaze from the obelisk in New Orleans’ Chalmette National Historical Park and cocked his head at Wilson. “You seem tense.”
Wilson sighed and shook his head. “Sorry. I just…” But what could he say that wouldn’t sound paranoid? “It’s nothing.”
One perfectly groomed eyebrow quirked skyward. Oliver said only one word. “Oh?” But the glint in his eye added, “Honesty is the best policy.” Which was something they’d had a whole discussion about before moving in together.
“Well, you know…” Wilson shuffled his feet then glanced around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance. “It’s just that I’ll never be able to approach my articles with the same I-know-this-is-utter-bullshit-but-I’ll-write-an-interesting-and-respectful-story attitude I had before meeting you and your…uh…people in Tallbear.”
For all he knew, he might’ve spoken to Yeti shifters, too, when the tabloid he wrote for, Sensational News (Never Fake, We Swear!), sent him to the Himalayas last year to research an article. This week the features editor, Jerry, had sent him here to New Orleans to come up with a story on vampires. His boyfriend/partner, Oliver, freelanced so he’d tagged along so they could do touristy things during Wilson’s downtime.
“Ah.” Oliver smirked, but it didn’t mask his involuntary shiver. “Yeah, before you asked about it last year, I hadn’t thought too much about the possibility since we’d never heard of other kinds of shifters, let alone different paranormal creatures, but good point. Bigfoots exist, so why not vampires?”
“On the plus side, if they do exist—and that’s a big if—they’re not like vamps in books and movies. It’s not as if there are a lot of unexplained blood-drained bodies showing up, so I don’t think they pose a danger to humans. If anything, much of the lore is crap, and they’re secretive but have otherwise assimilated into our society.”
“And yet you’re still tense.” Oliver flipped back a few strands of his well-glittered hair that’d fallen across his eyes. “Did you find something?”
“Not really.” Wilson shugged. “I just got to thinking about which bits of lore would have to be true—like consuming blood—since that pretty much defines what vampires are. Probably also the immortality thing, otherwise if vampirism is some affliction people could randomly catch like a virus, and there weren’t organized immortals taking people in when they caught it, or were deliberately turned, or whatever, then vampires would be commonly known.”
“So I figured, if—IF—they exist, they’re organized. At least these days. And other bits of random lore may or may not have come about from possible misinterpretations of behavior in olden times.”
“Still makes sense.” Oliver nodded. “So what’s making you so antsy like you’re ready to jump out of your soggy new socks?”
Wilson grinned. Oliver was referencing an incident from their earlier visit to the Mardi Gras Fountain. Long story short, they’d fallen victim to an impromptu water fight between some kids, Wilson’s new pride-themed socks had gotten soaked, then after he’d wrung them out, he’d accidentally stepped in some loose dirt before putting his shoes back on.
“More like muddy new socks.” Wilson winked. “But no, I didn’t actually find anything. I also figured they probably weren’t holding a bunch of people captive, feeding them and feeding off them. Over time, they’d surely be discovered. If they exist, they’re probably hiding in plain sight like you Bigfoots.”
“Nice. I could get behind the existence of benevolent vamps.”
“So yesterday, I visited blood banks to interview people about their processes. Because they’d still need blood, right, or they wouldn’t be vampires?”
“Right. But you didn’t find anything suspicious?”
“No. But, I didn’t really expect to. Even if it’s true that vampires exist and they’ve infiltrated blood banks, nothing would be obviously out of whack.”
“So I’ve had a weird feeling like I’m being watched since then.”
“I know. I’m being stupid and paranoid for no good reason because I’m not even going to pursue the potential reality of vampires for my article because outing any paranormal creatures pretty much opens up the potential for outing them all, and I wouldn’t do that to you. Besides, my interviews with the people claiming to have been bitten will make a more interesting article.”
A corner of Oliver’s mouth twitched up as if maybe he’d picked up on how Wilson had pointedly made that little speech for the benefit of any potentially listening vampires. But he didn’t address that, and instead asked, “So there are people who’ve been bitten?”
“Not by real vampires. That was easily debunked. Jerry probably won’t let me point that out in the article, though, since people who’ve been embarrassed in our stories are more likely to sue. They wouldn’t win, but it would still cost money.”
Oliver snickered. “It’s not as if sensible people reads those articles and walk away believing them.”
“Exactly.” Wilson patted his pocket, jingling the rental car keys, and suggestively flashed his eyebrows. “How about we go back to the hotel, light one of those scented candles they have in the room, and see how much of your hair glitter we can get embedded in the pillow cases?”
* * * * *
The eastern sky was lightening as the early morning sun rose, and a glass cat figurine on the window ledge cast an eerie shadow across Neil and Albert’s shiny new Paris apartment. Well, it was new to them, although the Paris faction had owned the lovely old building under one business entity or another for more than a century.
They weren’t technically members of the Paris faction, but since Albert was now on the global council, which was based there, and Neil functioned as Albert’s assistant until he mastered the French language and could contribute more meaningfully, the Paris faction had responsibility for their lodging and future identity changes.
Neil closed the refrigerator door and handed a bag of blood to Albert. He shivered and smiled as Albert’s fangs descended with a click, then frowned when Albert’s phone rang, interrupting their morning ritual.
Albert retracted his fangs and glanced at the phone’s screen. He answered with a cheery, “Hello, how are you?”
As a relatively new vamp, Neil’s hearing was nowhere near the caliber of a more-than-two-thousand-year-old vamp like Albert, but it was still better than it had been as a human. So he couldn’t help but overhear the other side of the conversation, too.
“Good morning,” the caller said, equally upbeat, but with a serious undertone. “I wanted to draw your attention to an email I just sent you. You might want to examine it before today’s meeting.”
Short and to the point. Abbreviated and unspecific since phone calls were the least secure method of communication. But reading between the lines, Neil knew the email was encrypted and would be virtually shredded immediately after reading. Both actions were done with highly secure vampire proprietary software. The referenced meeting was the daily council meeting Albert would attend later that morning.
“Thank you. I’ll do that.” Albert clicked off and placed the phone back on the table. He retrieved his laptop, briefly and securely connected to the Internet, downloaded his email, then disconnected.
Neil stood aside as Albert decrypted and opened the email. As Albert’s assistant, Neil was instantly privy to most council business. With their gradually increasing super hearing, the vamps didn’t bother even trying to keep most of their business private. Not from each other. Information would have to be incredibly sensitive to be discussed only within the council’s secure chambers, and even then, it usually only meant a delay.
The vast majority of the worldwide vampire population were, at a minimum, decades old. Most could count their age in centuries. A few in millennia. Among the very few (if any) annual additions, if a candidate wasn’t judged to have a trustworthy character, they weren’t given the offer to join the ranks of the immortal vampires.
A slow grin spread across Albert’s face as he read. When he was done, he destroyed the email before turning to Neil.
“Your face,” Neil said. “You look like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.”
Albert chuckled. “You’ll never guess.”
Neil bounced on his toes and turned on his best imitation of puppy dog eyes. “Please just tell me. I don’t know. Anybody I can think of that y’all might’ve turned would be eliminated due to their fame.”
Albert’s smile widened. “The email wasn’t about a new recruit.”
Neil’s blood might run black now, but his heart still pumped, and it was racing in anticipation. “Have I mentioned that you’re a big tease?”
“Bigfoot shifters exist.”
Neil’s jaw dropped at the same time something clattered onto the floor in the apartment above them. Nothing could be said aloud in vamp apartment buildings without everyone knowing it.
Albert laughed and looked up. “Like that, Pierre?” Another snicker because Albert could hear what Neil couldn’t. Yet. “Nope, that wasn’t for your benefit.” And after another short pause, he added, “Cross my heart,” then turned back to Neil.
“Seriously?” Neil’s wide eyes no doubt broadcasted his own doubt.
“Why not? Is it so far fetched considering you now know vampires exist?”
“Other than the fact that vamps have existed for millennia and have apparently never encountered them before?”
“Ah, there is that. My theory, amor meus, is that we might’ve crossed paths in the old days before there was easy global communication, and anyone who knew has died out. Nowadays, vamps live only in large cities, and Bigfoot shifters reside in rural areas. Very rural, as in mountains, giant sequoias, cabins, and forests with thick layers of pine needles. They actually live mostly as humans in nearby towns, but hide out in the sticks when they’re due to shift.”
“Wow. Today’s council meeting is going to be far less routine that usual.” Neil grinned ear to ear as Albert picked the bag of blood back up.
“Definitely.” Albert waggled his eyebrows. “And we may never know, but I’d be curious to know what would happen if a shifter were turned by a vamp. Would they continue to shift? Would they be stuck in either human or shifted mode?”
“I wonder if combo creatures exist, sheltered and hidden by the shifter communities?”
All food for thought, but Neil’s brain short circuited when Albert’s fangs snicked out. He’d think about the Bigfoots later. Much later.