Posted on October 31, 2008 by JessHartley
Vampires have always been a favorite monster here at Flames Rising.
Created by Jess Hartley
With art by Brad McDevitt
No one knew the “real” him.
Everyone says that – that people just can’t see the “real” them – but they had no clue what it was really like. No idea what “different” really meant. The leather soles of his shoes sounded out a slow, steady heartbeat on the sidewalk as he approached the club. It was early, only a few hours after sundown, but a crowd had already gathered. Corralled behind red-velvet ropes, the has-beens and wanna-bes milled restlessly, preening and posing as they waited for an opportunity to make a break into the club itself under the bouncer’s watchful eye. He didn’t bother queuing up, but instead directly approached the mountain of a man who guarded entrance to the club.
The bouncer looked him over, and frowned. For just a second, Max thought he would be turned away. In the heartbeat before the club’s guard responded, Max experienced an avalanche of emotions – surprise, fear, confusion, but most strongly – hope. Then the frown faded from the giant’s eyes and he reached back for the door handle, pulling the door open to allow Max entrance to the club.
Jealous onlookers, trapped behind their fence of scarlet velvet cord, grumbled amongst themselves, but something in their expressions acknowledged without fail that they recognized themselves lesser than the one who had been admitted.
The cacophony of music assaulted Max as he scowled at the waiting crowd before turning and wading into the maelstrom.
* * *
A flock of early birds gathered around his chosen perch, hunched over a video poker game like magpies around a bit of tinsel. He sent them fluttering away in a cloud of black leather and lace, and claimed his place at the far end of the bar. This was his place. From here, he could see everything, and perhaps more importantly, be seen by everyone. The mirrored walls to the left were beyond his peripheral vision, and he could watch the door, his gaze sliding over each individual and group as they entered.
Some he discounted right away. Males in a group, likely too worried about their reputations to succumb easily to his advances. Females in pairs, clinging tightly to one another out of camaraderie or jealousy, prone to cluck and fuss if one attempted to separate them. Singles, both male and female, too old or ill to suit his tastes.
Others he marked as having potential. A young man who entered alone and wandered to a corner of the dance floor to gyrate and weave by himself. Four women, dressed to the nines, who he recognized as regulars. A couple, near stumbling drunk even at this hour, who must have bribed the bouncer well to get in dressed in obviously out-of-place street clothes and sneakers. A gaggle of women who bottle-necked at the entrance where the employee just inside the door checked their identification. Max smiled as he saw what the door guard did not – the young woman who took advantage of the group flocked around the doorman to slip inside with her own (probably non-existent) ID unchecked. She slipped through the dark bar to the bathrooms at the back of the club, and emerged only after the rest of her group had claimed a trio of small tables in one corner of the club. He nodded to himself as her friends brought her back a drink from the bar. Obviously underage, but confident enough at her own tricks to sit back in her chair like she owned the bar rather than hunching over as if she was afraid of being kicked out at any moment. He’d almost decided on her for his target for the evening when the other one walked in. Tall and willowy, dressed in white amid a sea of dark tones, she tossed her hair over one shoulder as the crowd parted before her. A predator, like him, in a field of prey. She noticed him as she made her way to the bar, her gaze starting at the floor and sliding up his form like a caress. She paused when she reached his face, and he thought again, for just a moment, that the unthinkable had happened. But then she smiled, and sauntered towards him. She was just like all the rest.
* * *
“What do you see, when you look at me?”
He leaned in close, nominally to be heard over the cacophony of club music. His lips almost brushed the curve of her ear as he spoke, and he felt her tense and shiver as he pulled back.
Her gaze darted across his features as she sought to answer his inquiry. She started high, sweeping across his brow, then lingered at his eyes before moving lower. She paused again, at his lips, as if savoring the yet-untested treasures she imagined there.
She began to speak, but the things she said were lies, for all she thought them true. He shook his head, feigned an inability to hear her words over the club’s noise, and motioned to the door. She hesitated for a moment, scanning his face again as if searching for any ill intent. Finding none, she nodded and turned towards the door. As he stepped in behind her, hand at the small of her back to guide her to the door, he kept his face averted from the mirrored wall.
* * *
The noise of the club faded as the door closed behind them. He twined his fingers in hers, leading her into the darkness of the alley he’d emerged from not an hour before.
“It will be quieter here. You don’t mind, do you?” His gaze trapped hers as they walked past the mirrored shop window, held her captive from the truth for just a few moments longer.
She shook her head, made submissive noises that were quite out of keeping with her earlier stance. Here, separated from the rest of the crowd, she demurred to the superior predator. That much, at least, she could sense. That much she saw.
He leaned her back against the wall, coming in close as if to kiss her. Instead, his words brushed against her lips, feather soft.
“What do you see, when you look at me?”
She pulled back, frowning. “You keep asking me that.”
“I want an answer.”
“I told you…”
“Tell me again.”
She started in – raven hair, strong brow, dark eyes. With each word he grew more agitated, and she pulled back further, sensing his displeasure. But still she rattled on, lies she did not know were lies spilling out from between her lips. Finally he could take no more.
“WHAT DO YOU SEE?” He knotted one hand in the back of her hair, twisting her face towards the mirrored shop window beside them. She gasped and tried to pull back.
“LOOK AT ME! WHAT DO YOU SSSEE?”
In the reflection, a monster glared back at her. The lipless maw mouthed the words, his serpentine tongue lisping over snaggled fangs.
“WHAT DO YOU SEE WHEN YOU LOOK AT ME?”
Bat-like nostrils flared as he shook her, forcing her to look at their reflected twins in the window. His wrinkled form mocked her flawless skin, and flecks of spittle, foul and discolored, splattered the glass. She strained back, fighting to try to free herself.
“NO! That’s not…” She looked from him to his reflection in disbelief. “That’s not… you.”
Her voice trailed off into silence as the horror overtook her and she lapsed into merciful unconsciousness.
He looked down at her and then at their reflections, disgust creasing his hideous visage. “You don’t know me…” He leaned in, drinking deeply from her. His gnarled teeth left a gaping wound in her neck, and he knew he’d likely condemned her to death. Looking up at his reflection, he saw the monster that always looked back at him. “You don’t know me at all,” he said, as he lowered her body to the ground and walked away.
About Jess Hartley
Jess Hartley is a novelist, writer, and freelance writer/editor in the gaming industry. Her first novel, In Northern Twilight, was a Runner-Up for Pen & Paper’s 2004 Fan Awards in the category of Best RPG-Related Novel/Anthology. Jess has co-authored or developed almost two dozen roleplaying games and rpg supplements for White Wolf Game Studio. Visit www.jesshartley.com for more information on her latest projects.
About Bradley K. McDevitt
Bradley K. McDevitt is an RPG Illustrator and Graphic Designer, his clients include Wizards of the Coast, Postmortem Studios, Fantasy Flight Games, Mongoose Publishing and many more. He recently published a new game, Haiiii-Ya!, and you can find more of his art in the Clipart Critters series.