Vampire Dancing, page 10
Minutes passed, and one street led to another, and, contrary to his belief, it began to seem like he was becoming completely lost in this suffocating, tightly woven labyrinth. Perhaps instinct had failed him on this occasion.
It would be a first.
A fire engine turned the corner at the top of the road. Daniel stepped back and watched it until it sped out of sight. The jangling of its bells rung in his ears even after it was gone.
In the lull that followed, he thought he heard the sobbing of a young woman, or perhaps a child. He stopped, tuned out all other sound and narrowed his attention.
There it was again, coming from the husk of a building torn asunder by a previous bombing raid.
It was certainly a child, and female.
He crossed the road and ventured into the ruin's skeletal remains, moving gingerly so as not to frighten the youngster. Despite the care taken, charred sticks and various other debris crunched underfoot.
The weeping abruptly stopped.
Even though his eyesight was exceptional in the dark, Daniel found himself having to squint to discern the whereabouts of the girl. Eventually, he located her. She was huddled in a corner with a teddy bear in her arms.
Drawing closer to her, he said, “It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you.” Despite his sincerity, the words rang hollow in his ears, and an echo of guilt reverberated deep within him.
The child stared back at him. Her glistening eyes glowed in contrast to her blackened face.
Daniel stopped a few feet from the girl and squatted. “Where are your parents? Are you all alone here?”
The girl said nothing, and withdrew into the corner as far as she could. Daniel guessed she was no older than seven or eight, and couldn't help but notice how tightly she was hugging her teddy bear; like it was all she had left in the World.
“What's the bear's name?” he asked.
The girl's reply, when it finally arrived, had an edge of wariness to it: “It doesn't have a name. It isn't real.”
Her voice was as soft as tissue paper.
Tissue paper was so easily torn.
“But it is real,” Daniel told her. “God gave everything in the universe life - you, me, the trees, the birds, all the animals and even teddy bears.”
The girl wiped her eyes with a sleeve of her dirty red sweater, then looked down at the soft toy in her arms.
“Let me see,” Daniel said. He pretended to think of a name when, in actual fact, he already had one. “Why don't we call him Mister Bear?”
The girl stared back at Daniel through large, bewildered eyes, then blinked twice in rapid succession. Daniel wondered what events must have taken place to separate her from her parents; to render her alone and helpless, and seeking refuge in this ravaged structure.
He had to get her out of here. This entire area was considerably less than safe.
“I don't know how to tell you this,” he said, “but I'm a bit frightened by all of this bombing, and I really could use a friend - someone to look after me. I'm new around here, you see, and I seem to have gotten myself lost. Do you think you could be my guide for the night and help lead me to safety?”
The girl's only response was to bury her face into the side of her teddy bear's neck.
Daniel felt his spirits plummet. He had apparently failed to gain the youngster's confidence. So what now? He couldn't possibly leave her here, but neither could he drag her, kicking and screaming, out into the open street - even if it was for her own good.
Just then, the girl raised her head. She smiled at Daniel. Her eyes gleamed in the darkness. “I've decided that me and Mister Bear should both be your friend and look after you.”
Daniel's heart soared. The girl couldn't possibly know how much her words meant to him; how much he needed her acceptance.
“Thank you so very much,” he said, his joy clearly apparent.
The child got to her feet.
“Here,” Daniel said. He removed his woolen scarf. “You must be cold without a jacket.” He wrapped it around the girl's neck a couple of times. “I'd offer you my coat but I think it would swallow you whole and we'd never be able to find you again.”
The girl giggled.
Daniel took the child's hand and escorted her out of the building. They stepped into the street. Visibility was only marginally better outside. He subtly tugged her hand in the direction he thought they should go. He tried not to make it apparent he was leading her (after all, it was he who was supposed to be lost), and hoped he would spot a familiar landmark or location soon. Achieving this, the plan was still to reach to Nellie's place. Once there, they'd get the girl cleaned up and make sure she got a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, Nellie could set about finding her parents - assuming she still had parents (he'd wait till she was settled in before questioning her again as to their whereabouts).
“We need to know each others' names if we're going to be friends," Daniel said. "I know Mister Bear's name, but I don't know yours.”
“Manda?” Daniel quizzed. “That's a weird name.”
“I said Amanda.”
“I think I prefer Manda,” Daniel teased.
Amanda giggled and whacked Daniel with Mister Bear.
“My name's Daniel. But I also have a secret name.”
“A secret name?”
“Yes, but I only share it with my very best friends.”
“Oh.” The girl looked a little disappointed.
“Don't worry,” Daniel said. “Since you're helping me tonight, you and Mister Bear automatically become very best friends.”
Amanda gave a gasp of excitement. “Tell me it, please!”
Daniel pretended to check there was no one within earshot of what he was about to tell the girl.
“My secret name,” he said in a hushed voice, “is Levagnion.”
Amanda frowned. “I don't know if I can say that name. It's very odd.”
Chuckling, Daniel looked at his small companion. “My secret name comes with special powers.”
“Really?” Amanda said - and then she caught herself. “That sounds a bit silly.”
“I know, but it's true,” Daniel replied.
“What powers do you have?”
“Let me see,” he said. “I can see better in the dark than almost everyone else, and cuts and bruises – even broken bones - heal very quickly.”
“Can you see in daylight?” Amanda asked.
“Of course I can,” Daniel said. “Although very strong sunlight can often hurt my eyes and make my skin itch.” He decided not to tell the girl that, in actual fact, intense sunlight burns him and can be deadly.
“And are those pointy teeth also part of your powers?”
That one caught Daniel a little off guard. “Well, yes. I suppose they are.”
“Do they help you eat better?”
“As a matter of fact, they do.”
“Can you fly?”
“Why is your voice strange?”
Daniel couldn't help but be amused by the girl's ongoing interrogation. “I was born in Eastern Europe, but I've picked up various accents from here and there.”
“What's that place like?”
“Eastern Europe? It's mostly beautiful - breathtaking in places, as a matter of fact - but it can be extremely cold in winter.”
“Even colder than England?”
“Much colder than England.”
Amanda wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn't like it there. I hate the cold.”
Daniel stopped at the end of the road. He really wasn't recognizing his surroundings at all. He looked to the lamp posts and buildings; anything that might have a street sign on it.
Amanda pointed left. “I think we should go this way.”
“What's this way?” Daniel asked.
“My house,” Amanda replied.
"Are you sure?"
Once again, Daniel fought the urge to ask Amanda about h
“Alright then, we go this way.” He scooped the girl off her feet and sat her on his shoulders. “You and Mister Bear can steer me better from up there.”
Daniel followed the girl's directions. He wasn't quite sure where her navigation was leading them, but she seemed to know where she was going. Occasionally, he would spot a rat scurrying from the shadows. These rodents, ever cautious but never afraid, seemed to be the true denizens of these dark and troubled streets.
“I like it up here,” Amanda said.
“And what about Mister Bear? Does he like it up there?”
Amanda looked down at the war torn teddy bear sandwiched between her chest and the back of Daniel's head. “I suppose so.”
“You suppose so?” Daniel said. “Don't you know?”
“Not really,” she explained. “It can't talk.”
Daniel found Amanda's sobering response so funny that he was overcome with uncontrollable laughter.
Uncontrollable, that is, until a third party showed up.
The figure stepped out from the shadowy doorway of a nearby pub and adopted a lop-sided stance.
Daniel stopped abruptly. He felt Amanda's grip intensify. She sensed it too: something wasn't right with this person.
"You alright up there?" he asked.
“I'm scared,” she replied.
“Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to you - or Mister Bear.”
The girl smiled, despite her unease.
Smoke from a nearby burning property curled around the dark figure's legs.
“Are you just going to stand there?” Daniel asked.
The person offered no response.
“Maybe we should go back,” Amanda said.
“Perhaps,” Daniel replied. But, before he could decide either way, the shape side-stepped back into the pub doorway and was lost to the blackness therein.
Daniel approached the doorway with caution.
“Is it gone?” Amanda asked.
Daniel found the girl's choice of labeling - it - rather interesting, and decided to allay her fear to some degree. “Probably just a drunk. He's gone now.”
Gone, except: in the place where the figure had stood, the air was heavy with an unpleasant caustic odor that drifted like an idle spirit with no better place to be.
“But where has he gone?” Amanda said.
Daniel looked up at the girl. “Back to drunk land.”
Amanda giggled. “Funny upside down face.”
“Pardon?” Daniel said.
“You have a funny upside down face,” she replied.
“I have, have I? Well, from where I'm looking, you have a funny upside-”
Daniel's mind violently exploded with white-hot pain. He staggered to one side and lost his footing at the edge of the curb.
Screaming, Amanda clutched Mister Bear close to her chest and braced herself.
Daniel landed by side of the road. The palms of his hands stung and various other parts of his body throbbed, but this was nothing compared to the burning sensation which enveloped his back. Despite this, his only concern was for for the girl.
He twisted onto his side and tried to locate her. “Amanda!”
The pub's windows and doors exploded loudly onto the street, showering the pavement with pieces of glass and wood. Tongues of fire lapped at the edges of torn and jagged frames.
Amanda shrieked in response to the blow-out, allowing Daniel to spot her. She was sitting in the middle of the road, several feet from him, nursing a scraped knee and still clinging to Mister Bear.
The dark figure from before stood in front of the pub. It spread both hands. Extraordinarily long fingernails uncurled against the fiery backdrop.
The explosion from within the pub hadn't been the result of an incendiary drop. This thing had caused it. Daniel had no idea how he knew this, but he did (he found that knowledge often came from everywhere but the five senses).
He got to his knees and fought to remove his coat. It would only encumber him. The muscles in his back spasmed and burned, causing him to wince. He tossed the garment aside and struggled to his feet.
“Your back is all blood!” Amanda shouted.
“Keep well back!” Daniel called to the girl.
The wraith-like figure started in the direction of Amanda. It moved with serpentine fluidity; an eerie and unnatural motion which caused the hairs on the back of Daniel's neck to bristle.
Whatever this thing was, it wasn't human.
Daniel quickly positioned himself between Amanda and the shadowy figure.
The figure stopped. Its body language seemed to convey fascination in regard to the man's move.
Daniel's eyes twinkled in the gloom, and then turned ruby red. He drew back his lips into a snarl. He couldn't allow this thing to reach the girl. It was time to act.
The Shadow-figure reacted quickly to being attacked. It lashed out with its right hand and pierced Daniel just below the left shoulder. It drove its razor sharp nails all the way into its adversary's flesh.
A tortured cry escaped Daniel. Blood from the wound spread out across his cotton shirt. He gripped his assailant's wrist and attempted to remove its nails, but they wouldn't budge. Whatever this thing was, it possessed considerable strength. With a determined roar, he gripped the Shadow-figure's throat and squeezed hard enough to crush a man's windpipe.
But this was no man.
The anomalous entity's reaction to Daniel's assault came in the form of mocking, guttural laughter.
Daniel gritted his teeth and attempted to summon his left arm into action. The pain from his shoulder was incredible, and the limb felt heavy and numb.
With relatively little effort, the Shadow-figure plucked Daniel's hand free of its throat ... and then snapped his wrist.
Daniel unleashed a roar that was filled with as much rage as it was pain. He swung his head at the Shadow Figure and sunk his teeth into its neck. A thick, oily substance filled his mouth, causing him to gag.
“Oi, what the bloody hell is all this!”
Someone else had arrived at the scene.
Daniel pulled back from his assailant and fixed his gaze on the fast approaching policeman. Inky fluid ran down his chin.
Amanda ran to the officer. “A monster is attacking us!”
The policeman stopped before the girl. “Did you just say 'a monster'?” He looked to the two brawling individuals. He could barely make them out against the burning pub.
“Take her away from here!” Daniel shouted, then turned all of his mental and physical focus to his tingling arm.
Muscles flexed ... fingers twitched ... his arm jerked into action.
Daniel drove the palm of his left hand up into Shadow-figure's right elbow. A loud snap followed and the entity's nails slid from his shoulder.
The figure stepped back from Daniel, and, from no discernible mouth, spat, “Mandaaa.”
Manda: the word Daniel had pretended to hear when Amanda had given her name. This thing must have been following them even then.
The policeman approached the affray with his truncheon held firmly in his grasp. “Right, break it up you two.”
The Shadow-figure turned to the uniformed man. Luminous yellow eyes with long black elliptical slits suddenly opened.
The blood drained from the policeman's face.
Daniel's broken right wrist had healed. He threw a punch at the entity's head. It connected, but it felt like he was hitting a sandbag. Shock waves tore through his injured left shoulder. He staggered to the side, clutching his arm.
The Shadow-figure swung its broken arm in front of its face. There came a loud click, and the fractured joint re-connected. The figure flexed the spidery digits on the end of its limb.
Daniel looked to the dumbfounded policeman. “Hit it!”
The man just looked at Daniel.
“What are you waiting for!” Daniel yelled
The policeman jolted into action and swung his truncheon at the 'monster'. He struck it across the skull.
The entity's head whipped to the side. Nevertheless, it stood its ground, and looked at the officer through narrowing eyes.
“Hit it again!” Daniel shouted.
The Shadow-figure tore the truncheon from the policeman's hand before he could launch another attack.
A cry escaped the man's lips and he fumbled for the whistle around his neck.
The figure brought the truncheon down on the policeman's head with so much force, it completely flattened the man's dome-shaped helmet and smashed his skull.
Small fragments of bone and brain matter, intermingled with blood, spurted from inside the helmet and ran down the policeman's face. The whistle dropped from his mouth and he keeled over.
The Shadow-figure locked its sights on Amanda. “Mandaaa!”
“Amanda, you've got to get out of here!” Daniel shouted.
Amanda dug her fingers into Mister Bear's chest. “No, I won't leave you!”
The entity swung the truncheon at Daniel's head.
Daniel successfully avoided the attack, then lunged for the Shadow-figure. He sunk his teeth into its throat and gripped the back of its head so it couldn't pull away.
Its skin was cold and waxy
The truncheon clattered to the pavement.
Keeping his jaw firmly locked, Daniel tossed back his head and tore a large chunk out of the figure's throat.
A loud screech ripped through the air.
Daniel spat the dark flesh to the ground, then spat again to clear the foul, vitriolic taste from his mouth.
The Shadow-figure clutched its throat. Its bright yellow eyes were wide with whatever it was capable of feeling.
Daniel made a little space between himself and the figure, then planted the sole of a heavy boot on its chest. With a grunt, he pushed it back into the burning pub.
Screeching once again, the abomination reached out to grasp onto something, but found nothing.
Daniel watched bright hungry flames consume the bizarre, supernatural entity. In all his years, he had never saw such a thing. It was like something straight from Hell.