Damienne

Awakening                            

  High above the desert floor, the moon sung her clear cool song. Beneath her glow, the wind whispered secrets across the earth. No human ear could hear the words, yet still their voices reached down and something stirred.

   A crack appears. A hole forms, widening as the desert floor gives birth. Scratching, scraping sounds are followed by claws. The spreading darkness soon grows limbs. Broken claws become fingers. Fingers become arms. Moonlight shines faintly off hair and the gleam of eyes. Finally, the form lies silent and still, awaiting thoughts alongside the empty grave.

'....Scent....dust....and...WHAT!'  Eyes snap to focus on a skittering shadow. Distant memories add a name. 'Rat...'   A tense moment later, awareness grows. The tiny squeal is drowned out by the growl of hunger. 'Better...better....MORE!'  The tiny body is an empty sponge. "BAH!" Its distant landing is neither heard nor seen.

   On bloody hands and dirt-stained knees, the predator seeks its prey. Nose to the wind, eyes keen, ears stretching, the beast howls its hunger at the night. For tortured starving hours it seeks. When it finds, it kills. No rodent, snake or bird in reach is spared. Finally, the roar of hunger subsides. A shift in the air, a glance to the sky give warning. A snarl and a whimper tell of distress as the Beast seeks shelter. The hole...must get back...now...quick...' With uncanny quickness, the pit is in sight. Within moments, strong hands and remarkable speed have returned the sleeper to its bed, fear of the dawn relinquished into the arms of dreams.

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  'Scratching...what is that scratching?...NO! NO!' Panicked thoughts of searing sunlight shoot strong hands up through loose earth. Clawed fingers grip thrusting paws while distant thoughts cringe in fear of the pain. The coyote howls at the iron grip that breaks its foot with such sudden desperate speed. As the jaws seek to dislodge the awful trap, the sleeper's awareness shifts.  'No burning...no...SUN!'  As if the gates of hell have opened, the torn earth erupts and fangs meet fangs. Eventually, the coyote is still, the sleeper, now fully awake, is sated.

  Standing, bloody hands brush dirt away from the ragged shirt and filthy jeans. Pale skin gleams through the cover of dust. Fingers rise to run through tendrils of pale hair, exposing firm breasts and a slender body. The sturdy leather boots are almost a mockery of the long fine legs. She looks around, extending senses to the farthest reaches of sight, scent and sound. An odd, rushing sound from far away calls forth a distant memory. Like a long unused door, more thoughts squeeze through the opening. Blinding rage, searing pain, soul-breaking sadness and the fiery voice of vengeance form broken images with half-remembered faces.

   "No...No, it can't..." Her hands fly to her temples as she drops to the parched desert floor. "Can't remember...it ...isn't....supposed to....be...like...this...." She sits, arms wrapped around her knees, rocking slowly back and forth. Shriven of the solice of slumber, her thoughts are a maze of confusion.

   After many long moments, the distant sound again pierces her solitude. She raises veiled eyes toward the sound, then stands and begins walking. The source of the sound is yet far beyond even her vision, but she can smell its odd rank odor many minutes before she can see the long dark ribbon of road. After more than 2 hours of walking, she reaches its hard black edge. Peering up and down its length, the sudden noise and bright lights racing toward her force her away from its edge, eyes downcast, blinking away spots and pain. When the harsh noise approaches, then passes, she looks again in time to see two spots of red fly into the distance. "A car, just a car..." Even though the voice is her own, its odd harshness sounds strange after the simpler sounds of the deeper desert. More confident now, she looks back and forth along the highway, chooses a direction and begins walking briskly. Eventually she passes a large green sign. In bold white letters, it announces: DALLAS   35 MILES.

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   A few cars cruise past, going the opposite direction of the walker. Some slow to peer at the disheveled spectre of humanity then drive on. Most never stop, never look back. She begins to cast worried glances toward the sky, then back over her shoulder, hope warring with fear of the eventual dawn. Finally a car approaches from behind. She slows her pace and minces her gait to a stumbling limp. As the vehicle nears, she stops and turns. Squinting at the bright headlights, she wearily waves her arms. When it slows and finally stops, a wan grateful smile curves her lips.

   A man gets out of the car, a concerned expression adding age to an otherwise youthful face. Absently, he pushes thick brown bangs away from his eyes as he steps closer to the derelict woman. Instinctively, she steps back, fear flicking across her features. He stops, thoughts grappling with caution and concern. Finally, he holds his hands out slowly, as if to a strange stray dog. In a low gentle voice, he says, "There now, it's alright, ma'am. I ain't gonna hurt ya...but you look like you could use some help..." His Texas drawl was comforting, and somehow gave credence to his words. She peered at him through the swamp-grass of her hair, as if warring with her thoughts. He took another cautious step closer, then a sudden quick one as she fell, catching her in strong arms. She remained still as a corpse, letting herself be carried to the warm comfort of the car. Awkwardly but gently, he placed her in the passenger seat, closing the door without slamming it. She watched through slitted eyes as he walked around the front of the car to the other side where he took his place behind the wheel. No motion betrayed her as he pulled back onto the freeway headed for Dallas.

   She was content to remain both still and silent, letting the hum and motion of the vehicle lull her whirlwind thoughts to mere distant echoes of insanity. Occasional hidden peeks at the roadside kept her aware of their progress. When they passed another large green and white sign marking 15 miles to Dallas, she shifted slightly, and let her eyes focus on her gentle knight. He looked to be 20-something and well-built, though not a body-builder type. He wore a simple light-blue denim shirt, levis and black cowboy boots. His hands on the steering wheel were full and firm, bearing evidence of a man who used them hard to make a living. The twang in the vocals coming from the radio spoke of country music, and he stopped humming with it and smiled at his passenger when he noticed her watching him.

   "Welcome back ma'am. How you doin'?"

   She struggled into a more upright position, folding her arms across her chest protectively and huddling close to the window. "Fine...thanks." Her voice was gruff and barely audible over the music and road noises. She missed the wall of sound when he turned the music off and cast a more searching look at her. She turned her eyes away toward the road and distant desert rushing farther from them with every minute. "What...time is it?" she whispered. 'What month is it?' her mind shouted. 'What day...what  year?' Her thoughts churned against the rush of questions flooding her brain.

   Oblivious to his passenger's torment, the driver glanced at his watch. "About 3:30. We'll be hittin' town pretty soon." He fell silent, chewing his lower lip as he searched for a way to deal with this woman's obvious needs, and wondered what less obvious ones she harbored. "Were you headin' fer Dallas, or someplace else?" he finally ventured.

  "Yeah, Dallas....Dallas is fine..." she murmured.

   He glanced at her, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She watched his chest rise and fall as if mesmerized by the act. The woman then repeated the motion, copying it perfectly. When she spoke again, her voice was clearer. "Are we almost there?"

   He chuckled and shook his head. At the incomprehension in her eyes, he winked at her and said, "Just like a little kid...'Are we there yet?'" then continued, answering her question. "Yes, ma'am, we're almost there." Sensing the opening he'd been waiting for, he went on. "I don't mean to pry, Miss, but, what happened to you? You look like you been mauled by a pack o' hungry coyotes...have a bad date or somethin'?"

   Her eyes flashed green in the light of a passing streetlamp as her wary gaze met his searching one. "You could say that." Her lips formed a thin tight line as she clamped them shut and turned back toward the window. The stiff set of her shoulders and clenched line of her jaw were like a closed door. They drove on then, in silence, until the freeway began to divide upon itself.

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  The lights grew brighter and more frequent. The woman tried to push her hands through her hair, winced then sighed. The cowboy glanced at his passenger, taking the opening with a wry grin. "Hope wherever you're headed has a shower. Where was it you needed to go, ma'am?"

  As if noticing them for the first time, the woman looked at the torn, filthy sleeves around her arms. Her eyes travelled to her hands, begrimed with blood-crusted earth. She folded them across her chest, tucking them under her arms and out of sight. Her shoulders shrunk in on themselves as she quickly looked away. "I guess you're right....Ummm...shit...I didn't realize..." She faced him again, pinning him under the twin green lights of her eyes. "I must look like death warmed over."

    He couldn't help but return the smile she gave him. "Heh, that's putting it mildly Miss. You live in Dallas or was you just passin' through?" He met her eyes, waiting stolidly for her answer.

   "I..." she hesitated, swallowing once, then went on, "used to live here." She was silent, watching the buildings pass by like her jumbled thoughts. "I need to look up an old friend, but...I can't go like this. I didn't realize..." She held her hands together between her legs and looked down, eyes focused on nothing.

   Her head snapped up, a low growl rumbling in her throat at the hand that came out of nowhere to rest on her shoulder. The driver snatched his hand back, his eyes gripping the road before him. She stopped the slow rocking of her body, never realizing she had started. "Sorry Miss," he shot a quick glance at the distraught woman, "I didn't mean you no harm..." With a smooth motion he guided the car to the side of the road. Putting his back firmly against the door, he faced her. His hands rested casually on his thighs, in plain view. "I don't know what your story is ma'am, an' if you don't wanna tell me it's ok, but if you got nowhere to go for the night, I can take you to my place. It ain't much, but you can get cleaned up, get some rest, and go wherever you need to tomorrow." He smiled and held his hand up, palm out. "No funny stuff, honest."

   Her eyes flicked between his, her lap, and the world outside the car. The slight rocking of her body betrayed her consternation as she faced her choices. Finally, her eyes came to rest on his. "I guess...well, ok. Thank you." The thought of a shower comforted her. The rest of her choices must come later.

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    The last of the freeway miles passed by in silence, except for the twang of country music coming once more from the radio. Freeways gave way to business districts that merged into residential areas. Finally, the cowboy parked his car in front of a small green house. "This is it," he smiled to his guest. "It ain't much, but it's home." With that he stepped out of the car and walked around to open the door for his passenger.

   "Thank you," she murmured as she slid from the vehicle.

   With an old-fashioned flourish, the young man tipped his head toward the lady and extended his arm. "After you, ma'am." He was rewarded with a smile and a view from behind of a tall slender form walking with surprising grace toward his front door. He caught up quickly in spite of the view, and ushered his guest inside.

   The light he switched on revealed worn furniture in a fairly neat living room. A pair of empty beer bottles and a small pile of newspapers and magazines constituted a "mess" which the man quickly cleared. The woman stood stiffly in the center of the room as her host fussed about. The warm yellow light enhanced the filth that clung to her skin and clothes making her even more keenly aware of her need to bathe. Impatiently, she interrupted his scurrying with a light cough. When he looked her way, she smiled slightly. "I'd like to take that shower right now if you don't mind. Where's your bathroom?" Her eyes punctuated the question by darting around the openings in the room.

  "Oh sure, I'm sorry Miss." The redness creeping up his neck betrayed the man's embarrassment. He pointed quickly toward a hallway across from the door they'd entered. "Bathroom's right at the end o' that there hallway....Hey," he added as she started to turn, "you  want a t-shirt or somethin' so you don't have to put that thing back on?" His hands gestured toward her stained and ragged shirt. "An' I got some sweats you can wear if you wanna throw those jeans in the wash?" he offered.

   "Thanks, a shirt would be good, if it's no trouble," she smiled. "I'll deal with the pants though." With that she was out of sight and already tearing what was left of the tattered shirt off her body. Reaching the bathroom, she locked the door behind her with a sigh of relief. 'So far so good,' she thought. Stepping in front of the mirror, however, she gasped in astonishment then thanked her luck for the bravery of the cowboy. Except for the wild green light of her eyes, every inch of her face was covered in dirt. Blood-caked grime lay at the corners of her full lips and narrow chin. Her hair looked light gray and hung in matted tendrils beyond high fine cheekbones. The freshly exposed skin of her full breasts and back were also covered with a fine layer of dust. She wasted no more time but went quickly to the tub and turned the hot water on full blast. She ignored the sand that spilled out of the heavy black leather riding boots as she yanked them off. Not bothering to take the jeans off, she stepped into the steaming shower and let the water run black from her body.

   She stood in the shower, eyes closed, and tried not to drown in all the sensations flooding  her mind. It seemed somehow strange to her that the water did not burn her pale skin. She peeled the soaked jeans off with difficulty, the water making them cling tighter than their cut already did. She kicked them toward the end of the tub then scrubbed herself from head to toe. No redness from the scalding water marred her skin, but the crusted dirt that had covered it left a grimy film in the bottom of the tub. She curled her lip in distaste at it, then picked up her jeans and scrubbed at them with her hands till the water stopped running gray from them. She wrung them out with her hands till a faint tearing sound warned her that she could twist them no farther. When she finally turned the water off and stepped onto the small blue rug in front of the tub, she felt ready to be more sociable. With a loud 'SNAP' she shook the pants out and hung them over the shower rod. Water drops thudded dully from them into the tub as she wrapped a thick towel around herself and found another for her hair. After a brisk rub-down, she stepped back to the mirror and wiped the steam off with the towel from her hair. Once she found a comb and tamed the dripping tresses, they hung straight and fine to brush just past her shoulders. A few tiny gold strands, dry before the rest of her mane, teased her jaw like spider silk in a gentle breeze. Gold eyelashes faded into a background of equally pale skin and were outshone by emerald irises. Satisfied, she let the other towel drop from her body and reached for the still-wet jeans in one fluid motion. After a brief struggle with the wet garments, she finally wrestled them over long firm legs. Even if they'd been dry, the pants would have fit like a second skin. Calmly, she faced the locked door. One good stride brought her to it and she placed her ear carefully against its surface. Hearing nothing suspicious, she unlocked and opened the door but kept it firmly against her shoulder as she opened it. Only shadows and dim light leaking from the end of the hallway waited outside, along with a small dark object on the floor next to the door. The woman brought the t-shirt into the bathroom and pulled it on. The black shirt fell well past her hips but it was clean and whole and she ran her hands over its softness gratefully. Picking up her boots, she carried them with her back to the living room.

   Her host was not there, but returned almost immediately with a pair of blankets in his hands. He stopped abruptly when he saw his guest, a huge grin creasing his face. She raised her eyebrows at him but said nothing. After a moment of staring, he held the blankets out to her. "Well ma'am, looks like you clean up real nice...I got you some blankets so you can sleep on the couch there. All right?"

  Since he made no move to approach her, she moved just close enough to take the proffered blankets.  "Thank you...um...you know I didn't get your name..."

  "Dave, Miss, pleased to meet you." he offered his hand with a smile. "Very pleased."

   "Thank you then, Dave." She took his hand in a firm grip and met his eyes with a shy smile.

  He waited for her to say something more, until the silence became awkward. "Well then, I guess we both need some rest, huh? My room's over there," he gestured toward another doorway, "so if you need anything just holler. K?"

  She nodded, the blankets held in front of her like a fuzzy shield. She watched his bedroom door close then sunk slowly onto the couch. The digital clock on his VCR read 4:15. She cast a worried glance toward the window but the darkness of the sky seemed unchallenged by any natural light. Eyes flicking over the room, they lit upon the hastily stacked newspapers. She picked one up and looked at the headlines, drinking in the information she needed. 'Months, thank God only months,' her thoughts whispered as she read the date. She quickly scanned the headlines, police and social pages taking in that information as well. Quietly, she snooped around till she found a phone book and a piece of mail. Flipping straight to the yellow pages, she looked up 'Taxis'. Moments later she was whispering an address into the phone.  By the time the cab pulled up outside, soft snoring masked the sound of the front door opening and closing. Like an errant moonbeam, the woman drifted silently to the waiting car. As she seated herself in the front next to the driver, her voice was clear and firm when she said,"Deep Ellum, the Church. Fast."

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  The vampire smiled as the cab sped away in answer to her request. She rode in silence watching the empty early morning streets zip past. Familiarities tugged at her thoughts. The memories woke the dormant rage from deep within her. Who would she find? Would he be there? She stifled a growl, consoling herself with visions of a stake in his heart. Oh what fun she would have then! But she could wait for sweet vengeance, there were more important people to find.

  'Millie first,' she thought. The Beast returned to its uneasy rest as the shy face of her friend came to mind. Millie would know what she needed. Millie would understand this confusion. Blonde hair shielded the passenger's face as she tilted it into her hands. The shifting of her body as the cab turned a corner forced her eyes back to the road however. She recognized this place. 'Already?' she wondered. 'Already two blocks away.'

  "This is far enough." The woman's voice broke the silence without warning.

  The driver looked at her questioningly but pulled over. "Whatever you say, lady." He glanced at his meter. "That'll be twelve bucks."

  The passenger forced a hand into a tight damp pocket. She pulled out a few dark rumpled papers and peered at them. A 5- and two 1-dollar bills lay in her hand. "Shit," she murmured, casting a helpless glance at the cabbie. "I'm sorry, this is all I have..."

  "Goddammit lady!" he spat. "This ain't no friggin' charity service." He sat sulkily for a moment glaring daggers at the woman. "Look, you wanted to go to the Church...You got a friend to cover the rest o' this there?"

  In a tight voice, she replied, "No, I..um...I don't know...I'm really sorry man. I didn't know it would be so much." Looking him square in the eye, she willed him to cut her some slack and held what she had out to him. "Come on, take what I got and give a lady  break huh?" Her huge green eyes begged for mercy. Her shy smile spoke of sincere repentence.

  The driver frowned momentarily then shook his head. "Look lady, I gotta account for the meter." His eyes met hers briefly, then flicked down her body. "Maybe you can pay me another way..." His tongue darted over his lips as he flicked the electric locks on the doors.

  The hand holding the soggy bills curled tightly and withdrew. "You shouldn't have done that," she said. Green fire lit her eyes as the fist flew forward and sunk with a wet slurp into the man's throat.

  His eyes had about one second to register shock and surprise before splintered neck bones and an exploded windpipe put their light out. She raised her hand to her lips and licked the vitae from it, casual as a cat giving itself a bath. When she was satisfied, she reached across the cooling corpse and unlocked the door. She took one of the singles she had and tossed it on the body. "Keep the change. Bastard." Without another glance at him, she got out and began walking the last few of blocks to her destination.

  A short time later she was standing outside the club. The parking area was nearly empty, most of the kine having cleared out. She scanned the vehicles that were left, looking for any she remembered. Her eyes lingered with special interest on the few motorcycles that remained. 'Damn,' she frowned in irritation. The blue and black Harley she sought was gone. 'What about Ryk?' she wondered, her eyes questing over the bikes and cars. She shook her head. Who knew what he'd be driving after this much time? The paranoid Primogen she remembered might have dumped anything recognizable by now. With an unnecessary sigh, she slipped into the club and wondered if the doorman would remember her. Since no one hassled her as she slipped inside, she made a quick round of the interior, including a stroll through the balcony. Seeing no one she recognized, the lithe blond vampire settled herself downstairs with a view of the door and prayed for a miracle before dawn.

 -Sonja Torres 1999

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