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First pages

Chapter One

The Beginning

Bucharest, 1888

 

The wind howled like an awakening banshee as it swirled and lashed around our snow-covered cottage nestled in the barren trees at the edge of the forest. I was only eight years old, but it was the harshest winter in my one hundred and thirty-odd year memory.

My father had been gone for several days, which wasn’t unusual. Mother had said that he was hunting and should return soon, but the blizzard had set in with a fury, burying the roads, fields, and the forest floor beneath several feet of snow. Wherever he was, he’d be stuck for quite some time.

Snowdrifts lined three sides of our meager cottage and the snowstorm had barely started. The outside layers of snow helped insulate our rugged home. The warmth of the fire felt like the heat of summer, making it almost easy to forget about the freezing howling winds outside.

The hearth fire crackled softly under a black bubbling pot of rabbit stew. Garlic cloves were strung together above a basket of dried yams. We had enough food to last out the week, which made me wonder why my father had chosen to hunt during the worst of the blizzard.

My mother sat in her creaky rocker and was sewing a new coat for me from rabbit hides. Only eight, I was as husky and tall as a young man in his teens. It seemed that I outgrew my clothes about as quickly as she could make new ones.

While she sewed, I sat near the fire and sharpened a long curved dagger my father had given me. He had traded fox hides for the blade, and I expected to soon use it whenever my father returned with his kill.

A slight pause in the winds caused my mother to stop rocking. She leaned slightly forward and cocked her head to the side. The curious frown on her face caught my attention. I set down the whetstone and rose to my feet.

A gentle rapping at the door was faintly noticeable since the winds had quieted, and probably would have gone completely unnoticed had they continued to whistle. But there it was again.

Rap-rap-rap.

A bit bolder, but not overly pronounced or with desperation.

With my dagger gripped in my hand I eased toward the door. Confusion furrowed my mother’s brow. She set her quilt aside and held her scissors to her side, ready to help fend off whatever danger awaited outside that door.

Stepping to the side of the door, I lifted the metal latch that secured the door and eased it against the door panel, careful to be silent.

Rap-rap-rap.

Without fear, I grabbed the large oval handle and yanked open the door. A whoosh of cold air sprang forward, sucking out our much-treasured heat.

On the path directly outside the door, the snow was stained crimson beneath the gray overcast sky. A trail of blood cut farther down the path into the forest. Large heavy snowflakes dropped, steadily trying to erase the blood path. No other tracks were in the snow. No bandits or attackers were visible amongst the snowy tree trunks. The bloody path ended at the door where the body lay.

A desperate weak hand shook, reaching up for me.

“John!” my mother shouted, running across the room to the door.

In terror I stared down into my father’s haunted eyes, barely recognizing him. His face was battered, and his eyes were swollen nearly shut. Blood caked in his graying beard. His useless legs twisted behind him. How far he had crawled or how he had managed to do so with the amount of blood he had lost? It was a mystery then, and remains so even to this day. By every means he should have been dead, long before he got to the door, but his stubborn determination enabled him to ignore his pain and fight to pull himself back home.

I sheathed my dagger and grabbed his nearly frozen hand, heaving him out of the snow and across the threshold. Mother quickly closed and secured the door when we were safely inside.

My father’s cold hand fell from my grip and a huge sigh gushed from his mouth as he lost consciousness.

“Father?” I asked, dropping to my knees in front of him. Blood trickled from his nose. I glanced toward Momma. “What happened to him?”

“Get him to the bed,” she said, wiping away tears.

Placing my hands beneath his underarms, I lifted, pulling him up enough to wrap my arms around his chest until he was upright. His body was cold, but the heat of his leaking wounds stuck to me. I cringed. So much blood. I fought tears. He was dying. Had to be. Nothing lost so much blood and survived.

My father wasn’t a massive man, like he and my mother always insisted I would become. He actually weighed less than I and was several inches shorter. In spite of his stature, he was a crafty fighter, capable of defending himself against men twice his size. Stout and thinly muscular, he had incredible strength and feared no one.

For once, I was proud of my abnormally large size and his lack thereof. I hefted him and walked toward the bed, his boots scraping the wooden floor as I moved. Gurgling sounds rumbled in his throat.

“A bear?” I asked, looking at her. “Was he attacked by a bear?”

Mother brought a pail of lukewarm water and set it by the bed. She shook her head and tore strips of cloth.

I eased my father onto the bed and laid him back. He gasped and groaned in pain, but his eyes never opened.

“Strip off his coat,” she said. “His boots, too.”

I quickly obeyed.

She peeled back his shirt, revealing long gashes across his chest and abdomen. The lacerations were too narrow to be from bear claws, but the cuts were dark and deep. Older white scars were visible. On his chest above his heart was the singed outline of a cross. Two puncture marks near his shoulder were swollen, bruised. Two dark dots.

“What did this?” I asked, pointing at the wound. My fingers almost touched the marks, and she slapped my hand away.

“No!” she gasped.

“What kind of animal could do this?”

Her dark eyes were hollowed from fear. She was paler than normal and seemed more delicate.

“Mother, please tell me what did this to Father?”

She took a damp cloth and washed blood from his nose and beard. With another cloth, she washed his forehead. Tears heated her eyes. She spat out a word with complete contempt as she whispered, “Vampire.”

My chest tightened. Anger rippled inside me. “A vampire attacked him while he was hunting game?”

“No,” she replied. “He was hunting the vampire.”

“Why?”

“It is his calling, his duty. Magistrates and governors seek him out to kill vampires. They pay in gold and silver coins.”

I stared at my father’s frail body. His chest rose and fell with shallow breaths. “Why has he never told me?”

“To protect you.”

“From what?”

“Them.”

“Vampires?”

She nodded.

Frowning, I asked, “Why would they wish to harm me? My schoolmates tell tales that are quite scary. I’d never venture into one of their lairs.”

“You’re like your father, but you’re too young. In time you’ll be as fearless as he.”

“Too young for what, Mother?”

“To train to hunt the vampires.”

My eyes widened and fastened upon my father’s incapacitated body. He was barely alive. The possibility that he would die during the night was greater than the chance of him surviving his injuries. I didn’t think I was foolish enough to pursue the fanged demons of the night. Trained or not, hunting vampires was destined to become a short-lived profession.

“His legs are broken,” I said.

She nodded. “I know.”

Tears streamed down my mother’s cheeks. She cried quietly without calling attention to herself. I took a damp cloth and pressed it against one of the lacerations across my father’s stomach. I hoped the pressure might stop the bleeding. Some of the cuts were scabbing, but the two puncture wounds pulsed softly, in rhythm with his faint heartbeat. It was unnerving to witness, as if the injuries were alive, feeding off of his body.

While I held the cloth, her eyes widened. She rushed from the side of the bed and ran to black water pot near the hearth. She was back in seconds.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Momma was too frantic for words. She turned my father’s head to the side, pried open his mouth, and black blood oozed out. She took the damp cloth and inserted it into his mouth with her finger. She swirled her cloth-covered finger around the inside of his mouth like one washed a dish. When she pulled out the cloth, it was saturated with more of the dark blood.

“Is he bleeding that badly,” I asked.

She shook her head. “It’s not his blood.”

“What?”

“Under the bed,” she said softly. “Get the box.”

I lowered to my knees and peered under the bed. I grabbed the handle and pulled the heavy suitcase box out, scraping the floor loudly.

I lifted the heavy box and set it on the edge of the bed.

“Open it,” she said.

I did.

Inside of the box were several sharp wooden stakes, a wooden mallet, a silver cross, glass vials filled with powder, and more glass vials filled with clear liquid. My mother took one vial of the liquid, read the label, and popped the cork. She walked around to the other side of the bed.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“The puncture marks have to be purified and cleansed. Or your father will become a vampire.”

“How?”

“The bite somehow causes the victim to turn. Don’t ask me how. Your father would know but—” Her voice broke into sobs.

I wanted to tell her that he was going to be okay, but I couldn’t tell a lie that convincingly. His condition was severe. No way to deny it.

Then the revelation gripped me. I suddenly realized his injuries were intentionally far worse than I had imagined. The vampire who had inflicted the damage upon my father intended for him to die so that he, too, would become a vampire.

“What’s in the vial?” I asked.

“Holy water.”

“That will cure him?”

Mother replied, “If we can fully cleanse the wound, it’s possible that we can save him. But, it’s painful for him to endure. In his weakened condition, the cure might well kill him.”

“And if that should happen?”

“You will have to drive a stake through his heart. I can’t . . . I simply can’t do it.”

Stunned, I looked into her eyes with uncertainty, questioning. She nodded solemnly. I knew the depth of her love for my father prevented her from killing him, even if he were to turn, but I wondered if I was capable. Could I drive a stake through the heart of my father? In the matter of age, I was still a boy, struggling with a problem that only an adult should have to consider. I had to shoulder the responsibility but how?

Chapter Two

My father struggled to breathe, to hold onto life, while my mother tended to his injuries. He was a proven fighter, having survived the war and carnage of twenty years before, and now a vampire had struck down his entire valor in a singular battle.

As I stared at my unconscious father, I thought about what my mother had instructed. Could I do it? Being as he would no longer be my father, but instead a monster, I knew my answer. I could drive that stake through his heart to save my mother because I’d be killing a bloodthirsty monster. Not my father.

As long as I was able to keep that in the forefront of my mind, I’d carry it out. But an instant of doubt could easily shatter my resolve, making me cower, hesitate, and that was enough of an opportunity for any vampire to capitalize upon.

Growing up on Romania, the legend of vampires weren’t unknown. Exaggerated, yes oftentimes, that was true. But, every child my age knew the stories from the time of Count Vlad, the crazed blood-lusting and heartless ruler. We knew where not to go. The legends weren’t fables. Evidence portrayed that vampires existed and thrived upon the unfortunate that happened to enter the haunted forests after sunset. Dead bodies, with the same punctured wounds as my father’s, were victims by the kin of what my father had sought to kill. The bloody war had been a feasting ground for them.

“Forrest,” my mother said softly, dislodging me from my mind wandering. “Place your hands upon your father’s chest. Hold him down while I pour the holy water into the wounds.”

Walking to the edge of the bed, I didn’t see any reason to hold him down. His frail body held onto life by a single thread. He barely breathed. He had lost so much blood. In my brief moments of hesitation, her eyes grew fierce and her brow grew rigid. I knew if I waited another second, she’d smack the back of my head with her hand, so I placed my hands against his chest but didn’t apply a lot of force. He had suffered enough without me pressing my weight against him.

Mother tipped the vial. A stream of holy water struck the left puncture mark. Steam rose and the hole bubbled. My father bolted upright with such force that I stumbled backwards, having to readjust my footing to keep him from knocking me down. Where had this incredible strength come from?

He growled and gnashed his teeth. Foam frothed at the edges of his mouth. His wild eyes were dark like a wolf’s. I pressed my weight against him, but his stiff body resisted. His hands went for the bottle of holy water. My mother moved back, keeping herself out of his reach.

“See?” she said with a scolding tone. “This is why I told you to hold him down.”

I grabbed my father’s hands, pressed them against his chest, and leaned forward with my entire bodyweight, lying upon him until he was prostrate. She poured more holy water onto the same hole. The darkness of the bite mark drained until it was almost light pink. Then she poured more onto the right bite mark. Steam rose and liquid bubbled. My father stiffened slightly from the pain, but his strength was gone. He merely gritted his teeth with a small groan before finally becoming limp.

After she emptied the one vial, she retrieved another one and repeated the procedure, even though there was no obvious reaction when the holy water seeped into the wounds. She took some salve, coated the bite marks, and pressed a cloth against it.

“What now?” I asked.

“We wait.”

“Do you think he will turn now?”

Her eyes were saddened. “Doubtful. I believe the bite was the freshest wound on his body.”

“And that’s good?”

She nodded. “Less time prevents it from getting deeper.”

“Prevents what?”

“Whatever abomination that causes a man or woman to turn into a vampire.” She took her scissors and cut the sides of his pants legs. The leg bones were bent in multiple places. She cringed. “Son, go to the woodpile and gather some long narrow strips of wood, so I can splint your father’s legs. Make sure that they’re strong and sturdy. It’s doubtful that he will ever be able to walk again, but I must try.”

I wrapped my heavy coat over my shoulders, took the wood ax from beside the door, and looked back at my father stretched back on the bed. Tears burned at the edges of my eyes. They did not brim from sadness, but from sudden growing rage.

Easing open the door, a fierce wind hailed its greeting, flickering our candles. Sharp sleet stabbed at my face. I grabbed my scarf and tightened it around me neck. I stepped out into the blizzard and jerked the door closed behind me. The forest looked darker, like the sun had already set. Had we worked with my father until nightfall?

I didn’t think so.

Snow-covered trees usually made the forest brighter, even after sunset. Evil grew like a thickness. I sensed eyes watching me, immediately wondering if the vampire that had tried to kill my father was nearby. Any hungry vampire, or predator for that matter, could have easily followed the path of my father’s blood. The scent, unnoticed by me, probably still hung in the air directing bloodthirsty beasts toward our cottage.

Heavy snowflakes continued to fall, making the bloody packed path to our door less visible. The forest was eerily quiet. No birds flittered or chirped. The sparrows and doves were most likely bedded inside the great firs where the needles protected them from the snowstorm. The only sound audible other than the wind was the rapid beating of my heart and my hampered breathing.

Few things ever brought fear to me, even when I was eight years old, because I realized I had the protection of my parents. But with my father so near to death, that protection was on the brink of vanishing forever, and it would then be left to me to protect my mother and provide for our needs.

My mother clung to the hope that she could patch him up, but knowing my father, if he lost the ability to walk, he’d die even if he survived the severity of his other injuries. He wasn’t a man capable of enduring confinement. He labored hard, was a hunter and provider, and often traveled on foot for days at a time to find work. He’d deteriorate quickly if all he could do was sit in a chair. His will to live would be snuffed.

The woodpile at the edge of our cottage was buried beneath several inches of snow. Long shiny icicles hung from the sides of the roof. With quiet steps, I walked toward stacks of cut firewood. As I neared, something caught my eye.

A shadow moved between two massive trees. Whatever it was had left no tracks in the snow. My hand tightened around the ax handle. Not necessarily an appropriate weapon to fight a vampire, but what did I know? My father had never trained me, and all I knew were the supposed rumors of how vampires died.

Taking a deep breath, I bravely stood at the woodpile and raked the layers of deep snow off of the crudely cut logs. With all of the snow, finding narrow stripped pieces of wood wasn’t an easy task, especially while I was watching the trees with my peripheral vision. It was probably easier, if not quicker, to find firewood of the appropriate length and split them into narrow slats.

Brushing away snow, I grabbed a nearly frozen log and propped it on a wide snow-crusted stump. As I brought up the ax, the shadow moved between the trees again, but paused long enough for me to see its strange eyes before vanishing again. I held the ax above my head, frightened to lower it, and watched the tree for further movement. Stiff as a statue I waited.

Suddenly my attention was turned, not toward the trees where the shadowed creature had passed, but toward the black cloud swirling above the forest several hundred yards away. This was no normal storm cloud. In fact, it wasn’t a cloud at all. Whatever it was, it was filled with life, as it made strange chirping and shrieking sounds. Sounds unlike any I had known at that point in my life.

Dread filled me. I was afraid to completely turn my attention from the unseen beast on the other side of the woodpile, but this black ominous cloud was a greater threat. I was what the darkness therein sought. It was coming for me.

The sound of the breathing cloud increased as it swarmed and changed shapes continuously as it moved through the treetops. Ignoring the invisible beast I lowered the ax and turned to face the menacing shrieking shadow. As it neared, I realized it wasn’t a cloud as one imagined a cloud to be. The chirps and shrieks indicated it was a flock of winged creatures.

Birds?

No.

After their sharp pointy fangs became visible, there wasn’t any question of what they were.

Bats!

Over one hundred bats spiraled and flitted toward me, gnashing their little mouths with their sharp razor-edged teeth. They formed a long line and headed directly toward me.

Perhaps I was temporarily paralyzed with fear, or simply too stubborn to budge, but I held my ground. I didn’t flinch, nor did I swing madly at them with the ax. All the while they wailed with high-pitched cries. But not one of the bats struck me. Instead, they parted around me, and lofted upward to avoid splattering themselves into the side of the cottage before they shot back in the direction they had come.

They weren’t retreating, but on their unsuccessful attempt to get a fearful reaction out of me, they regrouped into their cloudlike appearance over the trees and watched me momentarily.

Their chirps and shrills silenced. The quiet of death hovered over the forest. Even the invisible beast chose not to move.

The dark cloud of bats descended slowly to the snowy ground, assembling themselves in an odd way. Stunned, I watched, remained silent, and held the ax firmly with both hands.

Where the bats had assembled, a man wearing a black cloak emerged. He was the bats, and they were he. It didn’t seem possible, and yet, it was.

The tall man’s complexion was pallid, a near bluish-gray, but he held the arrogance of a wealthy aristocrat; owing no one allegiance and expecting knees to bow at his arrival, which was something I refused to oblige.

Death loomed in his eyes that gauged toward me. I met his gaze and felt immense power tug at me, trying to lure me, to hold and control me, but still I didn’t budge. His brow hardened. I felt his anger and detestation because I didn’t succumb.

No one had ever told me that looking into the eyes of a master vampire was the most dangerous thing a mere mortal could do. I held no knowledge of how direct eye contact could enslave an individual to such a vampire’s will. His inability to charm me became an instant challenge. My ignorance at that time should have doomed me to live my eternal life as an undead servant.

In his first step toward me, I evaluated him. His haughty posture and mannerism were completely out of place where we lived on the outskirts of the city. The wind ruffled the edges of his cloak. His crimson vest was fastened with bright gold buttons. A white silk shirt and black silk tie were also a part of his attire. He held prominence elsewhere, even as a vampire, which made me wonder why he’d bother appearing here where peasants, gypsies, and serfs lived in utter misfortune.

He shifted his feet and moved his right hand. He bore a cane I had not noticed a second before. His right hand gripped the golden ball at the top of the cane. He produced a fine top hat in the other and set it upon his head. Long sharp fingernails protruded from his hands. Drops of blood dripped from each of his jagged nails.

Again, I looked at his face. His skin was withered. Gazing into his eyes once more, I sensed his power but didn’t yield. He gnashed his teeth and snarled; blood was on his teeth and lips.

My father’s blood.

I don’t know why I had immediately assumed such, but later discovered that it was true. This vampire was the one that had attacked my father and tried to kill him. Father had nearly died because of this undead fiend, and at that particular moment, death seemed inevitable.

“You, lad,” the vampire said, “are a fool. Dare you challenge me?”

His smooth voice flowed gracefully and with elegance, demanding submission without any obvious threat or the hint of severe repercussions for refusing to become compliant. His coaxing velvety tone should have drawn me to him, but for some reason I resisted without a fight or protest. I simply stood and stared into his piercing eyes. The longer I looked at him, the more hideous his features became. Whatever power he possessed to maintain his attractiveness was weakening and his handsome guise slowly faded. In my eyes, he was nothing more than a standing corpse with shriveled skin, fresh from a long buried casket.

A wave of energy flailed in my direction but parted around me in the same way a river divided and flowed to each side of a massive stone. The intenseness in his eyes glowed. His anger grew. The bones in his face contorted, making him appear less human and slowly he seemed to be transforming into a rabid animal. By his gaze, I sensed his hatred toward me, that he wanted me dead, and that he was preparing to attack and kill me. But for some reason, he never advanced.

“Defiant fool,” he said with a harsh glare. “You did not answer me. Do you think yourself more privileged than those of the social status above you? If not for us, you’d not have the crumbs that fill your belly. Surely, your father has taught you to respect your elders, especially those of us who rule over you.”

“Sir,” I replied. “I do not recognize you, nor the position you deem recognizable outside of our forest where we live, upon which you’re presently trespassing. If it’s groveling and ring-kissing you seek, seek it elsewhere. I hold no allegiance to you, nor will I ever.”

The man’s brow rose, his eyes widened, and spittle formed at the sides of his mouth. “Trespassing? You insolent child, I’ll have you know I hold the deed to the land upon which your cottage stands. I own the entire forest.”

His pale hands formed into fists. I expected him to rush forward to kill me, but he did not. His attention fastened upon the door to our cottage and back to me, as if he wished to sprint past without any added interference from me.

“You’re the one who almost killed my father, are you not?” I pointed a stern finger toward him. “That’s his blood on your hands and mouth.”

The vampire flashed a dominating grin. “How old are you, lad?”

“Eight.”

His eyes widened momentarily. “Your wisdom far exceeds your age. Oddly, you look much older. Based upon that, I’d think you were lying, except I can discern the truth. You have told the truth; therefore I will not hide my intent from you. You deserve nothing less than the truth in return. Indeed, you are correct. This is your father’s blood, and I’ve come to end his miserable wretched life.”

His eyes again flicked toward the cottage door, perhaps calculating the distance. Before he moved, I took three quick steps and stood before the door, blocking his direct path. Uneasiness reflected in his eyes.

“Step aside, lad. Allow me passage into the cottage, and I’ll make his death quick. There’s no need for you to die as well.”

Quick?

My eyes narrowed. I had no idea how far my half dead father had dragged himself through the freezing blizzard to get home, but there wasn’t anything quick about his death, even if his life ended now. He had endured much pain and suffering in his struggle to return to us. He had only survived because he was too stubborn to die. And then again, perhaps he had lived because he wished to identify his assailant before death claimed him.

In a physical confrontation, I wasn’t any match for this vampire or any vampire for that matter. I lacked the knowledge and skills necessary to kill a vampire. I’d die quickly, regardless of how aggressively I fought back. I held no doubts about that. But I refused to be subservient and step aside so he could kill my father. I was prepared to die first, if that were the case. I didn’t fear death like most children, and I wondered if my lack of fear was what made him hesitant to approach.

In the blink of an eye, he withdrew the sword hidden inside his cane. The blade gleamed, and a smile of triumph widened on his face. “Blood spills tonight. I will feast upon you, your father, and your mother after I dice all of you to pieces.”

The invisible beast I had forgotten about between the trees moved like a blur, his wild shadow spilling across the snow as he ran straight toward the vampire. Right as the shadow stopped in front of the vampire, a bright blinding blast of silver light flashed with the strength of the sun, forcing me to shield my face with my hand and turn away.

The vampire shrieked with frightful fury.

When the light lessened enough for me to look, a cloud of bats filtered and scattered through the forest, too disoriented to fly in close formation. Some struck tree trunks. Others spun endlessly in circles. All retreated farther into the forest.

Another figure stood in the place of the vampire. He regarded me with an inquisitive stare. Unlike the vampire, this man wore rugged clothes beneath a heavy wool coat. A tattered hat rested upon his head. His drab clothes allowed him to blend in with the tenants encamped throughout the forest and on the outskirts of Bucharest. Based on his appearance, one might take him for a trader passing from town to town, except he had no wagon or horse or any pack filled with wares for trade.

His greasy black hair flowed wildly down his shoulders. Thick unkempt sideburns covered his dark cheeks. His brown eyes gleamed like a hungry wolf, and shifted slightly, cautiously as he took in his surroundings. He was on alert, perhaps searching the trees for the vampire’s return. The only valuable thing in his possession was the long silvery cane that he leaned upon. Even in the faint light as daylight slipped away, the cane shimmered like silver ice.

I reached behind me to grab the door handle.

“Wait,” he said sternly. “You and I need to talk.”

Chapter Three

“Are you Forrest, the son of John Wollinsky?” he asked in a thick accent. His voice was deep, intimidating, but he lacked the haughtiness nature the vampire had displayed.

“I am.”

“What power do you possess to terrify a master vampire in the way that you just did?”

“None.”

“None at all?”

“None that I know of. Why? Who are you?” I asked.

“Jacques Amanar. I’m here to help your father, provided I’m not too late.”

The name held no recognition for me. I gazed past him, toward the trees where the dazed cloud of bats had fled. “The man who turned into a cloud of bats was a master vampire?”

“I can answer your questions later, but please, let me see your father first, so I can heal him. I fear we have little time.”

Doubt must have shown in my eyes. Since I didn’t know him, or exactly what he was, I was skeptical, not knowing if I should trust him. After all, the vampire’s purpose was to kill my father. How could I know what this man’s true intent was?

“What are you?” I asked.

“A friend.”

“I do not know you.”

He gave a gentle smile, which didn’t seem foreign to the wrinkles around his mouth. “Forrest, your father and I have been friends since we were your age. I do not wish his death to befall him on this day.”

In spite of his rough exterior, his odd eyes held honesty and no sense of hostility. He had also confronted and attacked the vampire, with what exactly I wasn’t certain. The vampire had fled, and that really was the most important factor.

Backing toward the door, I reached for the door handle. He waited until I eased the door open before he approached. Once across the threshold, he removed his hat, gave a slight bow, and leaned his silver cane against the wall.

Momma rose from the side of my father’s bed. Seeing this man, she rushed across the room and embraced his neck tightly, sobbing. “Jacques!”

“Olivia,” he replied softly. “I wish my arrival came with better news. I’m so sorry.”

“You know him?” I asked.

Momma pulled back from hugging Jacques, looked at me with tears in her eyes, and nodded. “He’s an old friend.”

“Was John bitten?” Jacques asked, approaching the side of the bed.

“Yes,” she replied.

My father’s pale face was covered with a sheen of sweat. Were his swallow breathing not visibly evident, I’d have thought him dead. Never had I seen him weak or sick at any time prior.

Jacques took the oil lantern from the side of the bed, leaned closer to my father, and peeled back the cloth bandage to examine the wound where the vampire had bitten him. “Ah, good. You’ve already cleansed the wound with holy water.”

Momma nodded.

“Appears you have purified the wound. No fear of him turning during the night. His other injuries are worrisome, and he still stands in Death’s shadow. His legs—”

“Forrest, where are the wooden splints?” she asked.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Leonard D. Hilley II currently lives in Ohio. He earned his B.S. in biology and an MFA in creative writing. He is the author of the sci-fi Predators of Darkness Series. Predators of Darkness: Aftermath, Beyond the Darkness, The Game of Pawns, and Death’s Valley. He is also the author of the epic fantasy series: The Chronicles of Aetheaon, which includes: Shawndirea [Book One] and Lady Squire: Dawn’s Ascension [Book Two]. Devils Den follows this series twenty years later.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Forrest Wollinsky is a character that appeared in my PR/UF novel, Succubus: Shadows of the Beast. Immediately I knew Forrest was bigger than his role in the book. He stood out on the page and needed his own series. Forrest Wollinsky: Vampire Hunter is the first, and two more books will follow.

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