This is a kind of test piece I wrote for a dark fantasy series I had in mind and then adapted for submission to a vampire story anthology. Vampires were really big at the time I wrote it but I can’t say I was a fan of the direction they had taken as a genre. So, I wrote a story that made them into monsters again. No angst ridden underwear model undead here which is probably why it was rejected. And, honestly, it might not be my best work. Still, I liked the character and the story. I hope you enjoy it, as well.


Steak Night

by

C.Steven Manley

The first bite of his steak was halfway to his mouth when Nick Harper heard his late fiance’s voice say, “Nicholas, a dead man has just entered the restaurant.”


 He paused like that for a second, contemplating the long awaited steak dinner, and then shrugged before putting the tender chunk of beef into his mouth. He chewed slowly, savoring the gently charred flavor and then thought, “Okay, Eve. Show me.”


He glanced up as he chewed, appearing to any other patron as though he were engaging in some subtle people watching while he enjoyed his meal. It was a typical crowded restaurant scene; people talking quietly over their meals, others standing patiently with a drink of some kind in one hand and a small buzzer in the other. Nick let his gaze wander over the waiting crowd until his eyes settled on Eve.


Her exact resemblance to his beloved Beth never failed to bring a small twinge to his heart, even after all the years since Beth’s murder. She wasn’t Beth, of course, just the reflection of her. Eve was, instead, the otherworldly entity that had been born into the world by Beth’s unwilling sacrifice. Though Nick had failed to save her, he had managed to deprive her killers of their prize by interrupting the ritual they were performing. Like so many things, though, that small victory had brought with it the unintended consequence of having Eve forever imprinted into his mind. She was a living intelligence that shared his brain, his senses, and his life. The cherry on top was that, when she manifested to him, she always looked exactly as Beth had on that fateful night with her attire being the only variation.


Eve manifested near the bar and raised her hand to point directly at a man’s head. To Nick, she looked as real as anyone, except when people walked through her like they did in crowded places, but she was nonexistent to anyone else. He gave a small nod, cut another bite of steak, and casually looked the man over while he chewed.
He appeared to be in his late twenties, thirty at the outside, and had features that were defined and smooth. He was dressed casually in a turtle neck and sport coat with dark hair brushing the collar. He stood leaning against the bar with his arm around a smiling auburn haired woman wearing a classic little black dress and doing it better than Nick had seen in some time. The crowd and the low lighting made it difficult to make out their faces in any great detail.


To the average observer, they were a young couple out for an evening on the town. Nick, however, was anything but average. The abduction and murder of the love of his life and the events of the years following had changed Nick into something more. He was one of a small group of people who straddled the line between the workaday world and the secret one, the one where monsters and magic were real and there was always something ready to sneak up behind you and turn you into a human happy meal. Nick was a Darkwalker and he knew a vampire when he saw one.


“So,” he thought to Eve, “any sign of a Clan mark?”


“No.”


“And the woman?”


“Human, as far as I can tell from where we are sitting. Perhaps you should try and get closer.” Somehow, through Eve’s strange nature, she could see, smell, taste, hear, and feel far more than Nicholas even though it was his body she sensed the world through. The limitation was, if he couldn’t see, hear, touch, and so on the person or object in question, then neither could she.


“No. Wouldn’t want to risk tipping him off,” Nick thought as he popped a seasoned french fry into his mouth.


“And you have not finished your meal.”


“And then there’s that.”


“So what then?”


Nick shrugged. “Watch, wait, follow. Maybe have some Key Lime pie.”


By the time the couple had finished their meal, Nick had polished off his steak and was on his second cup of coffee. He had already counted out enough cash to cover the meal and a healthy tip and pressed it into his waiter’s hand when he had seen them get their check. As they rose, he saw the woman sway slightly and then shudder, as though catching a chill. She looked at her date and turned quickly for the door but the vampire was already there with his hand on her wrist, turning her to face him. He stared hard at her for a moment and Nick felt a crawling sensation down the length of his spine, a sure sign that magic was being used.


“Eve, what was that?”


“He seems to be placing a compulsion charm upon her. Vampires often do so to make their kills more expedient. There is something else, though.”


As Nick watched, Eve manifested directly in front of the couple wearing a black dress identical to the young woman’s and then focused on the vampire. She was listening intently to what he was whispering to the woman when he suddenly stopped and casually, but firmly, propelled her towards the door. They passed through Eve as they moved and she pointed to their backs. “Follow them, Nicholas. There is something more going on here.”


Nick was already up and moving as he slipped into his brown leather jacket, heavy with the weight of the many weapons concealed within it, and thought, “What is it?”


“I am uncertain. The vampire, whose name is Silas, mentioned something about the woman behaving herself or joining her brother. She is definitely being compelled but fighting it.”


“How’d you get his name? Is he talking?”


“No. He referred to himself in the third person.”


Nick rolled his eyes as he moved through the crowd as quickly as he was able without knocking anyone down. The process of a human being becoming a vampire was not the cut and dried get bitten, drink vampire blood, and then rise on the third night stuff that Hollywood put out. Vampires were created by the merging of something human and inhuman that could only occur through a vampire’s bite. The human part of the vampire mind was often warped by the experience. Couple this with a vampire’s very long existence and you had a race of beings for which mental illness and personality quirks were as common as a blonde in Sweden.


By the time Nick made it to the parking lot it was empty except for a middle aged couple and a young girl who were entering the restaurant. He ignored the confused look they gave him and thought, “Eve? Little help here?”


Eve did not respond immediately. Nick was about to press her when she said, “To your right, around the building. Voices. I believe it is them.”


Nick turned and moved quickly through the humid Georgia night. The low, nighttime skyline of downtown Atlanta sparkled in the near distance but he was focused on his quarry and barely noticed what would normally be one of his favorite sights. He rounded the corner of the restaurant and pulled the Colt 1911 from the special concealed carry pocket in his jacket without even glancing down. A normal pistol would be all but useless against a vampire. Sure, it would put a hole in them, even slow them down, but normal bullets would not kill them. Nick, though, always loaded his pistol with specially made silver loads. They were essentially standard hollow point slugs with a hardened pellet of silver embedded in the hollowed out tip of the bullet. Nearly every supernatural creature he had ever encountered abhorred the touch of silver. If he decided to ruin Silas’s night, then he had the tools to do it. Twenty nine shots total counting the extra clips in his jacket.


He rounded to the back of the restaurant and was assaulted by the stink of garbage and old grease as he spotted Silas holding the redhead against an expensive looking SUV. The vampire had her by the upper arms and was shaking her slightly, as though trying to wake her up and getting angrier with each shake.


Vampires had very strict laws concerning public feeding or displaying any behavior that would compromise what the supernatural community collectively referred to as The Veil. It was a cloak of lies, deception, and carefully crafted fictions that had convinced the modern world that monsters weren’t real and magic didn’t work. This kept the supernatural world safe and hidden behind the ignorance of billions of humans. Anyone or thing that pierced The Veil was put to death as a rule. No vampire wanted that because, without exception, they treasured continued existence above all else. Silas, though, looked as though he were mad enough that he just might forget the rules for a minute.


“Nicholas?”


In response, Nick sighted down the pistol and shouted, “Hey, Fangface! Back the fuck off!”


The vampire spun, knocking the woman to the ground in the process. Even in the shadowed light at the rear of the restaurant Nick could see Silas’s features twisting into something inhuman. His eyes widened and bulged until they resembled sickly yellow golf balls with long vertical pupils. A knuckle cracking sound popped through the night as Silas raised his hands and showed Nick the claws erupting from his abnormally long fingers. A second row of wickedly sharp teeth suddenly filled his mouth and split his lips as his jaw unhinged and he growled at Nick like a predatory cat.


Nick held the pistol steady and said, “Yeah, we get it, you’re scary. What’s scarier for you, though, are all the silver slugs I’m about to unload into your skull if you don’t back off.”


Silas paused at the mention of silver and his growl slowly faded. Nick half smiled and said, “That’s better, Sy. Let’s keep this friendly.”


“Silas does not know you.” The teeth that filled his mouth muffled and slurred the words.


“Yeah, well, it’s a big city.”


“Nicholas,” Eve said.


“Just a sec. The bad guy wants to banter.”


“By what right do you interfere?” Silas said.


Nick took a slow step forward. The woman on the ground was recovering from her impact with the asphalt but hadn’t seemed to notice that her date had become an undead nightmare.


“Let’s just say I take issue with your choice of take-out.” He nodded towards the woman. “How about I take her, we walk away, and you can find your nightcap elsewhere. Otherwise this gets loud and there’s a whole restaurant full of vanilla humans who I’m sure would love to get a look at you.”


“Nicholas,” Eve said.


“Busy now. Damsel in distress and all that.”


Silas rolled his bulging eyes towards the restaurant and then back to Nick. “It is not so simple. This one has pierced the Veil. She has learned too much.”


“Be that as it may, she comes with me. She isn’t subject to the same rules as your kind. Now back away from her before I decide to shoot out one of your screwed up eyes and take my chances with the crowd.”


Silas did as he was told, backing slowly away as Nick came alongside the collapsed woman. She looked up at him as though she were drunk. Blood trickled between her light eyes and down the bridge of her nose as she climbed to her feet. She leaned on the SUV for support and said, “What happened? How did…” Her eyes grew wide with terror when she saw Silas and Nick quickly put one hand over her mouth while using the other to hold the pistol on Silas. His aim wavered but the vampire didn’t move. Not only did he not move, his tattered lips were spread around the protruding teeth in some sort of macabre smile.


“What’s so funny?” Nick said.


“I believe it is the other three vampires approaching from the roof of the restaurant that he finds so amusing,” Eve said.


Nick’s head whipped to the left and, of course, he saw three figures dropping from the restaurant roof with no more effort than he would expend stepping off an escalator. Silas’s smile became a low, dangerous chuckle.


“What the hell, Eve? Why didn’t you warn me?”


“You said you were busy with the bantering and the damsel in distress so…”


“Now? Now you develop a sense of sarcasm?”


Nick felt a frantic clawing at his arm and he turned to see the woman staring with disbelieving eyes at the approaching undead. “Oh my God oh my God oh my God…” she stammered.


“Yeah, he’s not in at the moment, sister. It’s just you, me, and a big bucket of bad.”


“What do we do?”


Nick looked at the oncoming monsters and then across the parking lot to the street beyond. The parking lot ended at a sidewalk that ran the length of a busy four lane road. On the other side of the road he could see the lights of a parking structure and an adjoining mall. The vamps were closing but were still hesitant of the pistol in his hand.


“Run for that parking deck,” he said. “Run like all hell.” 


He might as well have fired a starter’s pistol. The woman’s high-heeled shoes clattered to the ground and she took off behind the car running faster barefoot than anyone Nick had ever seen. He knew the sight of fleeing prey would excite the vampires so Nick lined up his sights and fired off one quick shot at Silas. The vampire saw it coming and spun out of the bullet’s path like a dancer. Nick, though, was already moving fast on the heels of his new companion.


“Think you can manage to keep me updated, Eve?”


“Do you think you can manage to give me the attention that I am due rather than obsess over damsels in small black dresses?”


“Oh, for the love... Just let me know how close they’re getting!”


“I will try but the sounds and aromas from the cars we are approaching are overwhelming our senses.”


Nick knew she was right. The rushing air of the passing cars and the miasma of exhaust fumes were already starting to fill his ears and nose. He angled towards the nearest street light and paused for an instant as a panel truck roared past. He had lost sight of the woman but spotted her in the median, waiting frantically for a chance to cross the last two lanes and get into the parking deck.


For some reason the two farthest lanes were far busier than the closer ones so Nick caught up with the woman while she was still waiting for chance to sprint across. She screamed when he grabbed her arm but he ignored her and glanced back over his shoulder. Four shadows were standing just outside the glow of the street lamps.


“They are restoring their human faces,” Eve said. “It gives us only a moment.”


“Can you get us through this traffic?”


“Perhaps, but…”


“No time, Eve.”


Nick turned on the woman as he put the Colt back into his jacket. “I’m Nick,” he shouted over the traffic noise. “You are?”


She was panting, trembling and staring at him with eyes that seemed ready to throw in the towel and rent a rubber room somewhere. “Those… those are real vampires?”


The question seemed odd but Nick filed it away for future reference. “Hey! What is your name? Quick, now.”


“Oh… Stephanie. I’m Stephanie.”


“Stephanie, I know this is all very freaky but I need you to trust me. Trust me and we’ll get out of this.”


“That is not a promise you should make, Nicholas.”


“Shut it, Eve.”


Stephanie looked over her shoulder and saw the four figures step into the light. Their faces were cold but not monstrous. She stifled another scream. “Okay,” she said, “yes. Just get me away from them.”


Nick nodded and put one arm tightly around her shoulders. “I need you to close your eyes really tight and move when I move. Don’t look, don’t think, and don’t hesitate.”


“No, there are too many cars, I can’t…”


“Nicholas, get between the lanes... now!”


He didn’t hesitate. Cars sped by both in front of and behind him. Wind pulled at his jacket. Horns blared. Stephanie twitched and squealed in fear.


“Go!”


 He moved fast for the far sidewalk, a car swerved sharply and nearly clipped the vehicle in the other lane. More horns screamed at him and he was sure he heard someone call him something rude. They all but ran onto the sidewalk and Nick kept them moving until they were at the parking deck entrance. He pulled Stephanie inside and said, “We need to get into the mall. It’s too public. They won’t try anything with that many people around.”


Dim, fluorescent lighting was glowing in pools around the many cars that were parked in neat, angled rows. Nick was looking for an exit when Stephanie pointed up a ramp to the next level. A sign pointed left to the mall entrance. They started up the ramp at a fast jog.


“Real vampires?” he said.


“What?”


“Back there, you said ‘real vampires’ and not just ‘vampires’. Why that that choice of words?”


An expression of profound pain rippled through her face. “I was trying to find my brother. He sent me a cell phone video of a party, a really creepy one, with all these Goth vampire wannabes and…” She stopped suddenly her hands covering her mouth. “Oh no…no, no, no…if those weren’t Goths, if they were real then Joey…”


Nick grabbed her wrist and said, “I’m sorry, I really am, but we can’t stop moving. We have to…”


“It is too late, Nicholas. They are here.”


Both of Nick’s hands darted into his jacket almost involuntarily. His right emerged with the Colt and his left with a combat knife, eight inches of silver impregnated steel with a non-slip grip and dual edges that were sharp enough to shave with. He crossed his wrists so that the right rested on top of the left and the barrel of the pistol and the spear point tip of the knife were pointing in the same direction. He kept Stephanie, who seemed to be lost in her grief, at his back and started scanning for threats. He didn’t have to wait long.


Three figures were making up the ramp towards Nick and Stephanie. They were changing as they stalked towards them, their bodies popping and tearing as their vampiric nature came forward. From farther up the ramp towards the mall entrance Nick heard Silas say, “Oh yes, poor little Joseph. So much more curious than he was wise. I enjoyed him in so many ways before I let him die.”


A sob broke through Stephanie’s hand and Nick said, “Hold it together, Stephanie. He’s trying to get to you, make you do something foolish.”


“Oh, little Stephanie has already done something foolish. She came looking for her delicious little brother. She found Silas. Silas’s fault, really. Carelessness. What Silas does not know, though, is what your interest is? Do you have some claim to this woman?”


Nick left out a soft sigh and said, “Man, it was steak night. I was just trying to enjoy my dinner when you came in with all your crazy.”


Silas smiled. Even with his human face it didn’t look right. “Yes, Silas had hoped to glean what dear Stephanie had learned. The compulsions work so much more reliably when you incorporate them into a bland routine such as a dating ritual. Alas, she is stronger of will than one would think and now must die. Silas wonders if she will be as entertaining as her brother was.”


Nick was about to reply with something profane when Eve said, “The three to the rear are spreading out. Watch your flanks.”


Nick chanced a quick look over his shoulder and saw the other three vamps beginning to circle. One of them had actually climbed to the top of a car and was crouched there, like a cat waiting to pounce. Nick knew from experience that the twenty or so feet separating them would not be too much of a leap for the undead.
“Silas, are you sure you want to do this? There are bound to be cameras in here.”


The vampire laughed as though trying to be polite. “Oh, that will not be an issue for Silas and his allies. Places like these, the shadowed hunting places, we long ago made them safe for our kind.”


Nick knew that some vampire clans would often have people placed in positions to cover their activities. Places, for example, like mall security.


Nick quickly checked the position of the three at his back and then said, “Well, in that case, fuck it.”


The Colt jumped twice in Nick’s hand as he fired off two shots at Silas and, to his surprise, actually scored a hit high on his target’s pelvis. The vampire screamed as the silver tore into him. He started clawing at the wound as though he were trying to dig out the slug. 


Nick couldn’t spare the time to watch, though. Even before the bullet struck Silas Nick was turning to face the threats at his back. He mentally shouted, “Eve!”


She responded without a word and suddenly Nick felt more graceful, faster, and aware, to the point that things seem to slow down ever so slightly. When things grew desperate enough, Nick would sometimes allow Eve to come forward and be more present in his body. In this state, her senses and increased reactions allowed him to move and respond at a rate that exceeded the most nimble Olympic gymnast. He could move and shoot like a character in a John Woo movie. The ability had saved their lives more than once. The price for it, though, was wear and tear on Nick’s body that would leave him in pain for days to come and a migraine that could crack stone. The longer she stayed, the worse it would be. He had nearly died once after pushing it for too long. Nick figured this wouldn’t take much time, though. He’d probably be dead before the migraine hit.


The vampire that had climbed onto the car was already well into her leap. Nick rolled forward so that she would sail over his head and fired two shots into her back as she landed. The silver rounds punched into her and she staggered forward onto her knees clawing at her back and chest where the slugs had hit her. Nick took a long step forward and  simultaneously plunged his knife through the back of her head and into her brain stem while firing one round each at the other two vamps that were closing on him. Both missed but the vamps hesitated long enough to for Nick to extract his knife.


The sight of their Clan mate’s body slowly dissolving from the wound to her head sent them into a frenzy and, in a burst of fine red mist, they shed their humanity and rushed at him in their full vampire forms. They opened their mouths unnaturally wide and screamed at him in that weird predator cat screech. Stephanie screamed. Nick shot the nearest one in the forehead.


The vampire’s head kicked backwards and it slumped to the ground as its body started folding in on itself becoming the organic sludge that the undead melted into in the absence of sunlight or fire.


Nick ejected his clip and was slapping a fresh one into the Colt when the third vampire hit him like a defensive lineman and launched them both into the air. The Colt slipped from Nick’s grasp and clattered to the floor but he managed to hold onto his blade even as they hit a concrete column and he felt something pop in his side. He’d cracked enough ribs to know the feeling but he also knew that Eve could block the pain until the danger had passed.


The impact had staggered the vamp but it was back on Nick in an instant. Eve’s coming forward had made Nick fast and agile but not strong and vampires were very, very strong. Nick had no choice but to dodge claws, avoid bites, and try to roll out of the thing’s grip. The vampire pulled his head back for another bite and Nick managed to use the shift in its weight to shove it backwards. The thing rushed forward again but Nick was already away from the column and turning the face it with his knife at the ready.


The vampire rushed at him in a blood lust fueled rage and Nick met the charge, spinning around its outstretched claws and slashing with his knife in lightning cuts that opened the thing’s belly and throat in long, blistering slashes. Even as it dropped to its knees, Nick was behind it with one hand tangled in its hair. He shoved the blade into the top of the vampire’s spine and twisted hard, feeling it go slack and slimy in his hand.
He was dimly aware that Silas was still screaming and he spun towards him, leaving a long arc of disintegrating vampire from his knife blade on a car’s windshield. Silas was still down and had managed to claw out a large chunk of his own hip trying to get at the poisonous silver lodged in his pelvic bone. The vampire was crazed with pain, unable to stand, and caught somewhere between human and monster. More than that, Stephanie was standing just out of the thing’s reach with Nick’s Colt in her hand. Before Nick could say anything, she raised the weapon and emptied the clip into Silas’s face.


Eight echoing gunshots reverberated through the concrete structure and then faded slowly to silence. The sound of the Colt hitting the concrete deck followed as Stephanie dropped the spent weapon. She stood there while Nick approached. She was just staring. He picked up the Colt and secured it and his knife. Stephanie just continued to stare at the pile of Silas that was slowing spreading across the concrete.


“Stephanie, look, we need to get out of here,” Nick said.


She looked up at him blankly. Her eyes were a roiling mass of confusion, grief, and something that looked somehow disconnected. She blinked at him in confusion, turned away, and started walking towards the mall entrance. She only got a few step before she stopped and just sat down in the middle of the deck.


“Nicholas, there are sirens on the street and footfalls in the stairwells. We need to get out of here before I withdraw. We are injured, though not mortally, and you will be hindered by it.”


“What about her? We can’t just leave her.”


“Of course we can. There are others coming who are far more capable than we of giving her what she needs now. You know not everyone can withstand the truth of the world.”


Nick considered it as he saw her begin to sob. Eve was right. This woman had lost her brother, her innocence, and possibly her grip on reality all in the space of one evening. He may have saved her life but he wasn’t sure what he had really left her with.


He whispered, “Sorry,” and headed for the exit.

The End