Got the first preview package done. It consists of a blurb, cover, and sample chapter. I'm planning on adding this at the end of each short story to go up next week. If you're out there, tell me what you think!
Jesse Stone has been running the night roads for 150 years, preying on humanity for survival, but he still feels an ache from the empty place where his soul was torn away. Other vampires – an ex-SS soldier, a fanatical tent preacher, an Aztec biker – have been gathering an army for an assault on humanity. Now Jesse must lead a rag-tag band of humans against the others, in a last-ditch attempt to find redemption…
Look for Running Red, coming soon.
PART I: NIGHTVOICE
Lately he lived the last few moments of his life over and over again; his death never surprised him.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cracked red vinyl seat. For a moment there was nothing, only blessed emptiness. Then he smelled the smoke, saw the blood mixing with the mud, heard the screams of the dying. His eyes snapped open and he jerked, rattling the empty cup on the table in front of him.
No one else heard the whisper. Not the junkies shaking over their coffee, trying to throw off the chill that settled in bones too close to the skin. Not the waitress, busy with her silver pot.
He watched as she walked toward him, the heels of her sensible shoes just a whisper across the thin linoleum. Her eyes were the faded color of cornflowers about to die, and there was a small scar at the left corner of her mouth. She might have been pretty in another life, somewhere away from the dust of West Texas and midnights spent avoiding the stares of hobos and addicts.
"You need...." Whatever she saw in his eyes drew the color from her face.
He looked at the silver nameplate above the yellowed lace arc that curved over her left breast. Tami with an i. She had probably dotted it with a heart back before life passed her by.
"Thanks. But I'll be going now." He pressed two dollars into her limp hand. She stared without looking at him as he slid out of the booth, picked up his saddle bags and walked through the double glass doors and out into the night.
There was no reprieve. Not when the moon sailed bone white through the skin of darkness, holding court out there over the big empty.
He walked as far as the edge of the parking lot, worn boot heels clocking hollowly on the pavement. The Harley Electra-Glide was parked in the last space, chrome winking, sleek black enamel reflecting arcs of light from the street lamps. He'd had the bike for ten years, had gotten it from a biker named Eddie Blackhand riding with the California Death's Head. Eddie hadn't needed it anymore.
The Harley roared to life and he could feel the thrum of the engine cutting through his skin and flesh, setting his bones humming. Speed built and he left the diner, the thin blade of the headlight slicing through the blackness, the yellow centerline a blur.
He slowed as neat storefronts gave way to ramshackle buildings and dark alleys, the lonely streets where the flotsam and jetsam of this particular backwater washed up. Occasionally a shambling figure would stumble down the cracked and broken sidewalk, but it was late, and most of the denizens of this particular underworld were already lost into the alcohol-soaked dreamscapes of their own making. As he moved deeper into the maze of burned and abandoned buildings, he felt need welling up in him, a dark bubble heading for the surface. He pulled the bike into the cloak of an alley, shut it down and stood.
He walked out of the alley, the pale light of the grinning moon washing down, giving the landscape the appearance of some ancient battleground rimed with frost. He could see well enough, even with the minimal light. One of the perks of the job. He paused to step over a bundle of rags and caught the scent of blood. He removed the dirty hat from the slumped figure and the head flopped to one side like that of a broken doll. A second mouth, red and drooling, smiled at the old bum's throat. He wasn’t alone in the night after all.
Another block down he heard the snick of a match, a blossom of light flaring in the shadows. He could smell the sulfur. The animal inside him uncurled as he crossed the street, soundless and secure in his invisibility. The breathing up ahead was ragged and phlegmy, punctuated by the sniffle of a long time user, a small rusty cough following each drag from the cigarette. He turned the corner.
The bum stared at him, mouth slightly open, the cigarette doing a little jittery dance at the end of filthy, trembling fingers. He saw brief terror in the man's red-rimmed eyes, quickly veiled as the man squinted at him in the darkness.
"Whachoo want, man," the junkie spat, and took a stumbling step backward. "I ain't got nothin'."
The hunter stepped forward and the junkie dropped his cigarette, pulling his other hand from the pocket of his dirty jacket. That hand held a knife, not long but sharp, the edge still stained with the wino's blood.
"Keep away from me, motherfucker, I'll cut you," he hissed, brandishing the knife clumsily.
It was always the same, playing the short game, dancing the dance, not recognizing fate till it ran them down. The junkie jabbed with the knife and the hunter's hand shot forward, faster than a whip crack, grabbing the wrist and squeezing until bones snapped and fingers became useless. The pitiful little knife fell to the ground with a sharp clatter.
The junkie fell to his knees, struggling to catch his hitching breath. "Please, mister...."
The hunter didn't bother to talk. That magic wheel spun around and around and sometimes there was no carnival prize, no cheap gimcrack to take home for the mantle shelf. Waste of breath.
The hunter dropped the ruined wrist and grabbed the junkie, jerking his head up and exposing his throat. It was over in a moment, and all that was left was the spray pumped out across the expanse of brick that formed the alley wall, so much red graffiti. The hunter closed his eyes as he felt the electricity shooting up into the center of his brain where it exploded like a grand fireworks display, dying out to leave the afterimage of brightly arcing reds, blues, and greens tracing through the darkness. As the blood slowed to a trickle, the hunter released his hold on the junkie, just another bundle of rags.
The inside of his brain was cool and dark now. He stepped from the black mouth of the alley and turned toward the street. He didn't look back.
On the bike again, picking up speed, the engine sang to him, serenity filling up the empty spaces inside. The animal had gone back to sleep, curled up and dreamless. He pulled the bike into a slot at the back of the motel, shut it down for the last time that night and fished the keys from his pocket. Inside, he locked the door, slid the chain and drew the curtains closed. The sun on the rise would bring no comfort, no warmth. It would hurt his eyes. He didn't bother with the lights, just sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his jacket and worn boots. He lay back to let sleep overtake him. Like the animal curled inside, he would not dream.