Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

The rain attacked the earth without end, and Michael thought of hornets. He needed to run; they were still back there. He thought they were actually howling. Human wolves. If they were human. The noise was a little help, and the darkness tried to offer solace; but the lightning gave him away; as if it was against him and in league with dark fate. He stopped running and leaned against the door to an abandoned building. Pressing himself into the little recess, he looked back. The rain pounded into his jacket and scrambled into his eyes. His right hand made an ill-fated attempt to sweep the water from his face, and he swore. They were still there. He turned to run and the lightning, true to form, glared in anger over the industrial complex. His pursuers yelled to one another and the sound of a submachine gun roared over the rain. Angry explosions appeared to Michael’s left and slightly ahead. He made a jump into a right turn and slammed through a boarded window just after the light faded.

Inside, Michael moved before his vision cleared; and promptly crashed into an old desk. He stumbled back a step, and fell over a chair into a filing cabinet. Gravity gained control, and Michael was at the bottom of a pile of relinquished junk. Panic threatened to rush over him, but Michael fought back. As he slipped out from under the mess, he caught the smell of mold and age. The rain was not as aggressive inside, but it was present, dropping in from cracks and holes in the building. “Shit.” Michael lifted himself from the floor, and stood. He listened. They were coming. Finally able to see a little, he jumped over the desk and crashed through a half-opened door. Time for subtlety later. He lost track of his path as he ran through the dank building; and paused only when his footing gave out, or he found an unexpected object in his way.

He came to a door that was locked, and he cursed again. It opened toward him. He probably couldn’t kick it open. His numb fingers sought his lock-pick tools. He dropped them on the muddy floor. “Shoulda stayed in bed.” He picked them up as a crash sounded behind him in the hall. “Work the lock, moron! Work the lock.” Fear was throttling him. His hands shook as he moved the pick and tension bar in the lock. It would not give.

Michael risked a quick glance down the hall, and saw a figure moving in the darkness. A laser line glowed red through the dust motes in the air, crawling along the walls and seeking him. Panic now had control. Michael stood up, dropping his tools. He turned toward the figure, both hands pulling his pistols from their holsters in a blur. The figure moved. It stood before him in half a second. Michael’s hands refused to pull the triggers. It was not real. He had hit his head earlier, and he was hallucinating. Too fast, too damn fast.

It spoke, “Little boy. Hi. How are you?”

It looked like one of the bodyguards, but there was something behind the eyes…

And then it smiled, revealing fangs.

Michael stared. It did not move. “Ahh, erk,” was all Michael managed before hands were at his throat. Michael could not breathe, and he realized that his teacher was right. There were more things on this earth than humans. The hands on his throat were like vises, and Michael knew this was one of those things.

As he choked, the creature smiled. The lightning shook the building, and Michael finally saw what held him. It was the fat little guy that was with his target earlier. Michael’s hands jammed the barrels of the pistols under the creature’s chin. He depressed each trigger three times. Cold black blood, bits of skull, and flesh erupted on the wall. The guns deafened Michael and the flash blinded him. He staggered into the door, and it splintered open. Could have kicked it. As he slipped on the wet tile behind the door, Michael was surprised to discover that the floor had decided to vanish. He fell headlong down a flight of stairs.

His head banged against wall and concrete, and he heard the crack as his ribs struck the railing. The pain brought on another kind of blindness, and he swore his bones were moving of their own accord. Collapsing at the foot of the stairwell, Michael moaned and fought for air. Every breath was fire along his torso. He stumbled along the hall, needing to put more distance between him and his pursuers. Just who was the old man he was supposed to kill? What kind of monster? A vampire? Something from an old Christopher Lee movie? He tried to remember all the stories his mentor had uttered in whispers over beer and cheese fries, but failed miserably. His head hurt tremendously, and he was starting to notice that he was running out of energy. And will.

After stumbling for some time, he fell down another stairwell. His left ankle gave out as he crashed into the floor. Michael lifted his head out of the mud and realized this might be the end. He was tired and broken; and it seemed that he was in a basement with an earthen floor. Nowhere else to go.

As his breath began to run shallow, a small light clicked to life from somewhere in the room. Feeling the panic rising, he glanced around. In the corner was someone he did not recognize. Black boots, jeans, a dark T-shirt, and a long black trench-coat covered a thick frame. A deep voice whispered across the space between them, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the rain turns the minutes to hours? When the lightning seems to be trying to toll the bell for you?” And then the stranger vanished. This is worse than the LSD, Michael thought with a hollow laugh. Do I know him?

Michael had little time to worry over this weird new development, because there were voices at the top of the stairs. Familiar voices. Wolfish laughs. He coughed up a little dark blood and sighed. His hands refused to reach for the guns, and everything felt like freezing fire. Oddly, he thought about taking a nap.

Footsteps on the stairs distracted him and he let loose an idle curse. A voice that sounded like it was strangled in cheap Italian clothes drifted toward him, “Here is our plaything boys. Hurry up! Come here!”

Michael actually found the strength to recoil: it was the bodyguard! He should be dog food now! His brain tried to get around what his eyes showed, but the Italian and his three friends were now gathered around him, grinning and cackling. The three were dressed like some sick kids that thought they knew what gothic meant, and they were stroking themselves in odd places. They were actually salivating.

The Italian spoke, “The boys wanna do you now. I’m gonna teach ‘em all about  blood. I think they’ll like it.” He looked at Michael, “I see ya alreddy started!”

Michael coughed more blood in response. Great comeback, asshole, his mind whispered to him. His eyes managed to focus on the fat man’s shoes; and they were cheap imitations, just like he thought. But there was something else: that stranger was back, crouching in the corner with his right index finger on his lips… just like his mother used to do when daddy was sleeping. Michael smiled.

“Oh. You like it too?” The fat man asked. The three freaks were now stroking each other and giggling.

The stranger stood.

The fat man tensed.

Michael gagged. That was real cool. Some James Bond you are. Who is that bastard in the corner? Will I please shut up? This is gonna leave a mark… His mind continued, but Michael ignored it to watch everyone else. Especially since he was no longer the entertainment of the moment.

The freaks ejaculated.

The stranger took a step forward without sound.

The fat man turned to look at the newcomer, he saw the intruder light a Marlboro Red with a Zippo. His eyebrows lifted,  “Who da ‘ell are you?” The Italian’s right hand slid into his suit jacket pocket.

“This one is mine,” the stranger grated.

“You’re funny. He belongs to us.”

“Bronell wouldn’t want you playing with him.”

“You might be right, but that means he’s Bronell’s. Not yours.” The Italian looked around nervously.

The stranger took a long drag on the cigarette, and smiled. In an instant, his hands were out in front of him, and two pistols were screaming and thundering. The muzzle flashes were almost as one, and gunpowder became the only smell. Michael’s training forced his mind to silence as it counted the rounds discharged. No way… he emptied both clips…

Scant seconds later, Michael saw the stranger standing close to the Italian; his right hand hung empty at his side, and a Walther PPK was on the ground. The freaks were bloody and shattered in a pile on the floor. He now smelled urine, but the fat man’s pants were dry. Great, he thought, now you’ve pissed yourself.

The shooter let a column of cigarette smoke reach the fat man. Michael saw the man’s pistols discarded in a shallow puddle, steaming and empty. The intriguing man’s eyes swirled to a white that was almost blue, and his voice became somehow cold, “Tell Bronell that Gabriel is back.” Michael thought he could smell blood, and then remembered that he was not in very good shape. And that he was sleepy.

He opened his eyes to see the stranger chopping the freaks into pieces with a vicious dagger. The fat man’s clothes were in a pile, but he was gone. Almost too fast to see, the strange one had the dead piled and drenched in kerosene. Then he was kneeling before Michael. A strangely cold hand touched his forehead, and the deep voice reached Michael, “Dark blood. Liver. Ribs. Concussion. You’re dying.” And the stranger frowned.

Michael coughed more blood into the dirt, his ragged voice fell out of his mouth in spasms, “This sucks.”

“Well, Michael, it’s going to get worse.” He pulled his left sleeve up and slit his wrist; letting the blood fall into Michael’s mouth. The taste was salty and copper, and strangely jasmine. For some reason, he couldn’t help but drink. And the fire inside changed… as a different fire erupted among the freaks…

Michael lay naked and cleaned on an operating table. He was aware of people in the room, but he felt like a fog. A grossly fat man in white robes looked him over. The stranger took another pack of Marlboro Reds from his trench-coat and lit one.

The doctor sighed, his English accent hid his frustration, “Please Gabriel, it is unsafe to smoke in here.”

“Shut up and save him.”

“Your blood did that already.”

“Good. Sew him up and pack him. I leave soon.”

“They are not going to like you making yourself a ghoul.”

“They don’t like me at all. What difference this?”

The doctor began patching Michael together, his large hands performing the surgery with a grace and speed that did not seem to fit them. “None. They won’t hear it from me.”

“I know.” The stranger stubbed out the cigarette, and Michael looked on in amazement as he licked his fangs.

Vaguely aware of the ministrations upon his flesh, Michael dreamed of a Spanish girl named Elhana cuddled against him as candles softly prayed through jasmine incense… but part of his mind reminded him that he never loved a seventeen-year-old Spanish girl…

Watching Michael’s face, the Gabriel smiled. Some memories were good to hold…

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