Steve never wanted to live his life at night, sleeping in the darkest places of the city during the day. He never asked for his body to change and give him abilities that would turn him into a pariah. And after thirty years, he never thought his life would change again.
Deep in a dark sewer, his unwanted reality comes crashing down after he receives a cryptic message from another that shares his same fate. “They hunt, brother.”
In a race to learn who hunts him, Steve must dodge betrayal, clandestine organizations, and crazed people with abilities as strong as his own to learn why, after thirty years, someone finally cares.
The smell wafting low along the tiny river at the bottom of the sewer is something I have not smelled before — sweet, almost like a berry, but it stings my nose at the same time.
I sit up and my feet splash into the water running past me. It’s cold, but it doesn’t bother me. Cold never does.
With my head up, the smell fades a bit — still there, but not as strong. The scent is heavy, it seems.
I test the breeze in the tunnel with a wet finger. It’s not stagnant. I can feel it move past my finger from upstream.
I dip my nose back into the flow of the scent and it strengthens. It smells like food, and my stomach rumbles. I haven’t eaten in a few days. I don’t need to eat every day, or even more than once a week, but food is always welcome. I must discover the source and see if it truly is food.
I get to my feet and walk up stream, staying clear of the water as much as possible in an effort to keep quiet until I reach the next junction in the sewer. The passage I’m in continues on, another passage leads off to my right.
I duck my head, put my nose into the flow of that scent one more time, and it’s still there, slightly stronger. I am pleased I wasn’t wrong about the direction.
I check each of the possible passages. The scent is stronger in the passage ahead of me, so I continue my journey in that direction.
I follow the scent past several more junctions and it continues to grow stronger — now strong enough that I no longer have to dip my head to follow it, strong enough that dipping my head makes it almost overpowering. My stomach churns and churns. It’s as if the scent is causing me to hunger.
The tunnel ahead bends sharply to the left. A soft glow illuminates the bend, but the glow doesn’t hurt my eyes. I suspect the light comes from a light bulb. It concerns me for a moment, as I can’t recall any lights in this tunnel, but the allure of the overpowering scent is more than enough to override those concerns.
I approach the bend, eager to see around the corner.
A hand shoots out from the shadows and takes me by the arm, halting my progress.
I spin in its grasp, but the hand is strong. It doesn’t let go.
“They hunt, brother,” says a voice I do not recognize.
A large man steps out from the shadows, and for the first time, I can smell the putrid stench of him, but in the presence of that other sweet scent, I can tolerate his odor. He stands taller than me by a foot, at least. His head nearly scrapes the top of the sewer. The glow is not bright enough to show me all the features of his face, but I get the impression of kind eyes and pock-marked skin. He’s not attacking me.
That realization, and his stench, breaks the spell of the sweet scent, allowing his words to reach my brain.
“Who hunts?” I ask.
“Division six,” he says. “Run back the way you came. Leave these sewers and find another place to hide.”
“Why? What is Division Six?” I ask, confused.
“It doesn’t matter. They hunt us, and those they take never come back.”
He pushes me back down the tunnel from whence I came.
“Run,” he says. “Find a new home.”
He uses his great size to block the source of the scent from me. I could not pass him were I to try. Whatever I am, whatever caused me to be the thing I have become, it did not give me any extra strength.
But I stand, looking at him, hoping he will move. The allure of the sweet scent and the hunger in my belly is that strong.
“Run!” he shouts.
And then, in the background, I hear the voices of men.
The pfft pfft of dart guns follow.
The giant flinches.
His hand slips a little.
Another pfft, and the giant flinches again.
My fear finally overcomes my hunger.
I turn and run.
I like starlight. You might think that it would hurt just as much as sunlight, since stars are, after all, really far away suns. A friend once suggested that the atmosphere filters out whatever is left of the ultra-violet light, or whatever it is that causes me pain. I can look at the stars, and even the moon, without discomfort.
Unfortunately, on the city streets of Seattle, I can’t see starlight. All I see are the neon lights and streetlights and billboard lights. It gets worse every year, it seems.
Those lights bathe me in their glow as I crawl out of the sewer several blocks away from where Division Six, or whatever the giant had called them, were trying to lure me. I still puzzle over why he put himself between me and them. Any rational being would not have done that for a stranger. I would not have done it for him.
Yet the act was done and I stand in the street, scared and confused. They shot him with dart guns. They weren’t trying to kill him, or me. Why do they want me?
Even this late at night, a few people walk the sidewalks around me, and they are staring while simultaneously trying to pretend like they’re not looking. The neon lights are not my friends, and there are no dark places to hide. Even if I could find a place close by, I cannot help but continually glance back at the entrance to the sewer in fear that the men with the guns will come boiling out to catch me.
It’s clear to me that I have to move to another place, which is easy enough, but I wonder if they know of those places, too. Will they search the train tunnels and under the freeways? Are they hunting me specifically, or are they just hunting those of my kind? Why are they hunting in the first place?
I know I need to visit one of my friends, but I fear to do so. I don’t want to bring them any trouble, but I need answers, and the public libraries close at nine — hours past, judging by the very few vehicles passing by on the street. I wouldn’t be able to access them even if I wanted to, not until later in the year when darkness fell a little earlier. Summer has become my least favorite season.
I ponder my options. Mary is closest to where I am, and she always keeps a fresh set of clothes for me. I don’t like going there, though. She was my girlfriend at the time of my change, and I love her. She moved on, had a husband, kids with him. He died too early of lung cancer some fifteen years ago. I had always kept an eye on her and screwed up my courage to visit and console her when he died, but it was hard then. She had changed, grown older, nearing forty years old while I still looked like I was twenty-two. She had apologized for giving up on me and leaving. I told her I was sorry her husband died and to not worry about me, that I was fine, even though my heart hurt inside. I knew then it could never be the same, but I did look in on her from time to time, and she made me look respectable from time to time.
But she would not know anything about how to deal with Division Six.
George, on the other hand, he might. Ex-military and a recently retired police officer, he would have the resources and perhaps the knowledge to find out something about Division Six. But he lives across town. Too far to walk before the sun comes up. I’d have to take a cab or a bus.
My third and final possibility is Joe. He is a scientist of sorts, mad scientist, more likely. A biology professor at the college I was attending when the change came over me. I didn’t see him for a long time until our paths crossed at a park just after dusk. Since then, he has spent many of the intervening years trying to find an answer to my condition, or at least a way to let me come out in sunlight without pain, to no avail. My body has resisted everything he has tried.
He isn’t much farther away than Mary, and he has the computer setup that will make things easier — untraceable, he says. That’s what I need right now. If there is anything about Division Six on the internet, Joe can find it. If that doesn’t work out, I can trek across town tomorrow night.
Joe’s house sits in a neighborhood of single family residences just west of the downtown core. The homes were built, I think, in the early fifties. They’re all small by today’s standards, and it’s obvious they all started with the same basic layout. Square with a front porch. Not attractive at all, and if you are a mad scientist, not a bad place to hang out, usually.
I keep to the shadows as much as I can, dancing between the cones of light the streetlights put out. If I were normal, it might make one suspicious, but one of the bonuses of my condition is that I am somehow near invisible in the dark. People just do not see me, despite my near white skin. I don’t even have to wear black — they just look right past.
But in the light, Joe (and Mary and George and others) has confirmed, I almost glow. It is near impossible to not see me.
So I keep to the dark spaces as much as possible.
In this way, I walk the fifteen blocks to Joe’s neighborhood.
With only one block to go, I notice that the dark of night has started to lift. I have an hour, at most, before I must be hidden from the sun. It’s only one block, but I pick up my pace, nonetheless. I do not want to be caught out in the sun.
In my haste, I stop paying attention to the pools of light. Few are awake at this hour, and even fewer are outside.
Ahead of me, there is a hedge, eight feet high, at least, that blocks the view of Joe’s street. The owner of the hedge has kept the sides trimmed, but I do not think they’ve ever topped it.
I am about a foot from the corner when I notice the first black car, a non-descript sedan that could have been made by any of the Detroit auto-makers. It wouldn’t normally have set off any alarm bells in me, but with the events in the sewer, I still feel on edge. The car looks too clean for a car on Joe’s street.
I pull up and stare at the car. I am in a shadow, by luck more than anything, and the car is in shadow, too. But light from a streetlamp glares off the car window. I cannot see into it to see if there is anyone inside. Maybe they are already aware that I am here.
I look up at the sky. It’s growing lighter, and I am running out of time. I cannot stand here forever, and I am too far away from any of my normal hiding spots.
I wait a couple minutes, watching the car.
It does not move.
I risk stepping around the corner. The car still does not move.
Either they can’t see me, or they are not in the car, or the car is…
No. There are three other similarly non-descript black vehicles on the street.
Joe has been compromised.
I kneel down in the shadow and try to make myself as small as possible while I think.
If I were still human, I know my heart would be thumping away in my chest, but my heart doesn’t change its rhythm to help me adapt to stress anymore. It beats the same staid rhythm it always does, as if it’s on autopilot.
I glance up at the sky. No more than fifty minutes until I must be out of sight, now. The only place I know within reach is Joe’s house. But I can’t go to Joe’s house, not with Division Six all over it.
I should leave, find an unboarded front or back porch to hide under for the day.
But if I do that, what happens to Joe? Can I just leave him with Division Six? What are they doing to him?
Another darker thought breaks through my concern about Joe.
Did he tell them about me? Did he tell them how to find me?
No. Joe would not have told them where to find me. He could not have known where I would be right at that moment. I cannot believe he would give me up without a fight. He fought them. I am sure of it.
A plan forms in my mind. It is not a smart plan, but it is a necessary one. I need Joe, and as certain I am that he fought for me, I know right this moment he needs me.
I am not a vampire. I do not suck blood in order to live. I do not have superhuman speed or strength.
I am not a vampire.
I am worse.