Bitten and Smitten: Prelude to Hunt Club [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ed Howdershelt
eBook Category: Dark Fantasy/Science Fiction
eBook Description: A short Vampire tale with a twist! (But not about short, twisted vampires.) In the jungles of war-ravaged Vietnam, a recon team medic meets the woman of his dreams... and nightmares...
eBook Publisher: Abintra Press/Abintra Press, Published: 2008, 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2009
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22 Reader Ratings:
The female Army Spec-5 looked up at me, then the lady sergeant at the next desk said, "Wait one," and got up. She walked to a room partition and consulted a whiteboard there, then returned to her desk and said, "Captain Hartley isn't due back until this evening. Would you like to leave a message?"
I pretended to consider that idea for a moment, then said, "No, I guess not. I'll just drop by or call later. Thanks."
Turning to head for the door, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the same sort of sensation of presence that I'd experienced twice in the jungle. I stopped, glanced around, and saw only the two women at their desks, both of whom were returning to whatever they'd been doing before I'd arrived.
The Spec-5 looked up. "Was there something else, sir?"
"Uh, no," I said, trying to get a directional fix on the source of the sensation. "Thanks, anyway."
Behind me? Sort of? I turned toward the main doorway and through a door's glass saw nobody and nothing, then a red haired woman in an officer's uniform crossed the hall and approached the doors from the left. Yup, that was the sensation's direction, and the sense of presence became much stronger as she neared the doors. She spotted me through the glass and her eyes seemed to narrow slightly.
Glancing around, I saw no other exits but the one at the far end of the ward, the fire escape door. The clerks at their desks stared at me oddly, very likely wondering why the hell I was still standing there.
I thought, 'Think, dammit! You're in an Army hospital, not the goddamned jungle! Nobody else is freaking out! Straighten up or fake it or something!'
Listening to my own advice, I stepped over to the water fountain as the doors opened. As I sipped the icy water I saw the red haired woman was close to six feet tall and had entered the ward with a rather commanding stride. She wore major's leaves and her nametag read 'Corinth'. Oh, wonderful. The only woman in the world I really hadn't particularly wanted to meet is the source of that damned ... feeling.
Major Corinth had faint freckles and green eyes, a piercing gaze, and was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen, but she seemed hard as a rock, and I didn't for a moment think it was an act. That sense of presence was ringing in my head, my heart was racing, and I began to sweat as if I'd run a marathon. No one and nothing I'd ever encountered had affected me this way and it flatly didn't make any sense.
At this distance her presence was absolutely overwhelming. My mind couldn't seem to work right for a few moments as I simply stared at her, then something seemed to snappingly let go in my head. The sensation subsided to a tolerable level of trepidation instead of impending outright panic.
As Corinth approached, her eyes met mine and seemed to bore deeply into my brain. I quietly freaked a bit more and somehow forcibly slammed that connection closed. Her left eyebrow went up as if in surprise and she stopped walking. Facing me at a distance of about six feet, she quietly studied me for several moments. It was like trading stares with a tiger, and I was acutely aware that there were no protective cage bars between us.
The buck sergeant clerk said, "Uh ... Ma'am, he said he was looking for..."
Interrupting the clerk without taking her eyes off me, Corinth said in a rich contralto, "He's looking for Captain Hartley."
"Uh ... Yes, ma'am."
Corinth blinked, which actually surprised me for some odd reason, then she smiled slightly in a manner which made my stomach clench and my heart skip a few beats. Back in Texas I'd once seen a Rottweiler smile just about like that--a split-second before it had ripped another dog's throat out.
Her smile broadened and she tilted her head thoughtfully in what would have been a very cute and attractive manner if I'd been in any kind of mood to appreciate it.
"Let me guess. Would you be a certain Sergeant who should be waiting for a call in the BEQ and who just happens to be very much out of uniform at the moment?"
Funny lady. I gathered myself a bit and said, "Ma'am, I was told I could wear civvies within the hospital."
Corinth said flatly, "You were told wrong. Sergeant, you don't look well at all. Is something bothering you?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm not quite sure what it is, though."
She smiled again. "Well, you're just in from the bush, so it might be any number of things. Richer food, perhaps. You aren't used to..." she sniffed softly at me and continued, "...steak for lunch. With buttered potatoes and green beans. Or maybe it's just the fact that you're back in a relatively civilized environment?"
Actually feeling a bit daring, I ventured, "No, ma'am, I don't think it's the food here. It's something I ... I don't think I can describe it."
Her step forward completely canceled out my sense of daring as she said, "If you want to talk about it, I can spare you a few minutes. Just come to my office."
With that, she abruptly turned and walked down the hall to the first door on the right. The sense of presence faded a bit with distance.
As I tried to gather myself, the sergeant asked, "Are you just in from the, uh, bush?"
"Yeah," I said, then I leaned on the fountain and soaked up some more cold water.
"How could Major Corinth have known that?"
The Spec-5 said, "He's got the look."
Sounding like any high-school girl and giving a dismissive wave, the sergeant said, "Oh, poo. He's got a tan, that's all, just like everybody else who works outside here. And he's not in uniform, so how did she know he's a sergeant?"
I ignored whatever else they said and stared at Corinth's door, wondering whether to go to her office as she'd suggested or run like hell back to my unit and the relative safety of hunting VC in the jungle at night. No. No point in leaving. I'd been summoned through Brigade by an officer. If I didn't stick around, they'd just send the MPs for me.
After another bracing drink of the icy water, I started toward Major Corinth's office. Her radiating presence grew steadily stronger as I approached her door, but it didn't seem to be affecting me quite as strongly as it had before. When I reached the door, I took a deep breath and knocked.
Corinth said, "Come in, Sergeant."
She knew it was me and not one of the front-desk ladies? She'd probably heard my footsteps. I opened the door to find her sitting at her desk. She closed a folder and put a pen down, then met my eyes and gestured for me to come in and sit down in a chair by her desk.
Her presence again threatened to overwhelm me as I neared her desk. I hadn't quite closed the door and she pointed at it.
"Close the door, please. Our discussion will be confidential."
Mentally shrugging, I closed the door. What the hell, it wasn't locked, right?
Waving at the sofa chair by her desk, she said, "Now sit down, Sergeant. Get comfortable. We're only going to talk."
I sat down and I thought, 'Right. Only going to talk.'
An awkward silence ensued. Well, it was awkward for me, at least. The major just gazed rather fixedly at me for some moments, then she tapped her coffee cup with a fingernail.
"This isn't working," she said, "How about some coffee?"
I nodded. "Uh, sure. Yes, ma'am. Thanks."
Another couple of moments passed, then she sighed softly, raised an eyebrow at me, and held her cup toward me at arm's length.
"Sergeant, I'm a major, so I'm not about to fetch it. Take this cup out front and ask one of the girls to get you one and show you the coffee pot. No cream or sugar in mine."
Getting to my feet, I said, "Yes, ma'am," nearly snatched her cup out of her hand, and headed for the door. The Spec-5 saw the cups and got up to lead me to a coffee cart behind a folding screen. I filled two cups and took a moment to add some cold fountain water to my cup on the way back to Corinth's office.
As I entered, she said, "Well, that was quick."
I said nothing and focused on not spilling the coffee as I crossed the room and set her cup on her desk.
After a sip she grinned in a rather wolf-like manner and asked, "Are you feeling better yet?"
Meeting her smiling gaze, I thought about what to say to that, then decided to show my cards. "No, ma'am. No offense, please, but I think I've felt safer in the jungle."
Her smile flattened and her eyes hardened momentarily, then she sipped her coffee again and said, "I see."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. It's just the way I feel right now. There's something about you that ... well, it isn't your rank and it's definitely not your looks, and I don't know exactly what it is, but ... well, you make me nervous as hell."
Her small smile returned and she sipped her coffee again as she regarded me in a thoughtful manner for some moments.
"I see," she said again, then, "Since you're being so candid with me, Sergeant, maybe I should return the favor."
When she said no more for a time my trepidation expanded exponentially and I came to believe that I might have said too damned much, after all. Corinth reached into her top desk drawer and withdrew a golf ball, looked at it thoughtfully for a moment, then tossed it to me. I caught it and gave her a questioning look.
She grinningly said, "That's one of Major Thompson's balls. He gave it to me after he made a hole in one in Saigon some months ago."
I looked at the golf ball, but nothing seemed particularly special about it. Corinth reached for it and I handed it back to her, placing it in the palm of her hand. She closed her fingers around it and seemed to be squeezing it.
Just as I was thinking how odd it was that Corinth would squeeze a golf ball tightly enough to make her hand tremble, there was a loud 'pow!' that nearly caused me to wear my coffee. Corinth relaxed and sighed softly. When her hand opened, the golf ball was split open and one side was deformed. I nearly dropped my cup as I stared at it.
Looking toward the doorway, Corinth said, "Carter's coming. Don't let her see this," and tossed me the mangled golf ball.
Okay. I dropped the golf ball into my lap and held my cup over it as the door opened and a woman asked, "Major? I thought I heard something..?"
Corinth smiled and said, "It was nothing, Sergeant. I dropped a book."
"Oh. Uh, okay, ma'am."
The door closed. Corinth's smiling gaze returned to me. I pulled the golf ball from my lap and examined it. As a kid, I'd cut one open to see what was inside it, and this one looked just like that one had.
Setting the mangled ball on her desk I said, "Well, ma'am, I'm definitely impressed. When I was eleven I had to use a hacksaw to open one."
Corinth laughed. It was a truly melodious sound, and I couldn't help grinning with her, even though I was still far less than comfortable in her presence. She'd tossed me the ball instead of simply holding it so Carter couldn't see it. Reason? Involvement, most likely. I was supposed to feel complicitous or something like that, I guess. I didn't, though. I felt as if Corinth was treating me like a child, and I didn't like it.
"Major, I don't know how you squashed that ball, but I figure you tossed it to me to hide it from Carter in order to make me feel as if we shared a small secret and help me feel more at ease. But I don't feel more at ease, ma'am. If anything I feel manipulated, and now I'd like to know why you showed me that trick and why you're talking to me at all."
She gazed flatly at me for a moment, then grinned and laughingly said, "Sergeant, our sharing of secrets began long before you walked into my office. The question isn't whether we share a secret, but whether we'll continue to do so."
Standing up and walking slowly around her desk, she came to stand over me and placed a hand on my face, then trailed her fingers down my throat to rest on my carotid artery. Completely aside from my gut fear of her, Corinth was an officer caressing an enlisted, one of the Army's pet taboos. I froze, but my eyes traveled from her ankles up and met her gaze.
Smiling, she said, "You seem to have a fine, strong pulse, Sergeant."
"Thank you, Major. If I may say so, everything about you seems fine."
Laughing again, she asked, "You don't feel more threatened by me anymore?"
"Oh, hell, yes, I do, but should I panic and run? What good would that do? Where would I go that you or the MPs couldn't find me? It doesn't seem worth the trouble."
Shaking her head, she said, "You're right. It wouldn't be."
Her eyes never left mine as her fingers lingered on my throat for a moment, then moved to my face. Her thumb ticklingly traced my lips. Corinth abruptly took her hand away from my face and turned to walk back around her desk, then leaned her rump on the side of her desk. She crossed her arms and again fixed me with her tiger's gaze.
"You sense us, Sergeant. You know when we're near. Perhaps one in one hundred thousand people has that little talent. Maybe a few more, maybe a few less; we aren't really sure. But it's damned rare, that much we do know."
I sipped my coffee and waited for her to continue, which she did when she realized I wasn't going to ask her who 'us' and 'we' might be.
Reaching rather elegantly for her own cup, she sipped once, then said, "You're here because over much time and through countless experiences we've discovered that people such as you can be truly horrible enemies."
When I again made no response, she asked, "Do you have even the slightest idea what I'm talking about? Who the 'we' I've mentioned might be?"
"I'd hate to sound silly, ma'am. How about a hint?"
She stood straight and said, "Don't let me get the idea you're being at all flip about this, Sergeant."
Shaking my head, I said, "Nope. I'm serious. I've never believed in anything supernatural."
As she gauged my response I sipped my coffee again.
Corinth said, "The common name for us is 'vampires', Sergeant. Do you believe in vampires?"
"Major, if you're telling me you're a vampire, I have a problem with that. It's two in the afternoon. The sun's high in the sky. Shouldn't a vampire be in bed?"
She shook her head and reached into her middle desk drawer, saying, "That's just an old wives' tale. I sleep in the BOQ on a regular bed. Trying to sleep in a coffin would give me the willies. We don't change into bats, either. What absolute bullshit people can dream up ... Where the hell is that thing?"
Rooting with minor frustration in another drawer, she said, "Our Catholic chaplain seems to be proselytizing harder than usual lately. Everybody got one of these this week, I think. It's a piece of tacky plastic junk. I don't know whether the church or the government supplies them, but they could do a lot better, I think. Ah. Found it."
From the drawer she retrieved a light green plastic rosary. Holding it by the crucifix, she dangled and swung the beads in front of the open window in the bright sunlight for a moment, then tossed them to me. I caught them and looked at the crucifix. Complete. Intact. Real. But she was right.
I agreed, "Yes'm, it really is tacky plastic junk."
When I looked up, Corinth was holding her arm in the sunlight streaming through the window. She said, "This should answer your next question. I don't tan easily, you know. Redheads tend to burn."
Remembering a movie I'd seen in which a vampire had burst into flames at the mere touch of sunlight almost made me laugh at her comment. Almost. She seemed to be watching for such a reaction, though, so I chuckled and smiled.
Corinth said, "A lot of what's said about us is just church propaganda that dates back to before the Dark Ages. It has nothing to do with religion or superstition, Sergeant. Nothing at all." She sipped her coffee again and said, "We are what we are by virtue of a simple viral infection. Have you ever heard the phrase, 'What doesn't kill us makes us stronger'? That certainly applies to us. Our virus protects us. We heal very, very quickly. Someone once decided that since we were so hard to kill, we must already be dead. Some people still believe it, but I assure you we're very much alive."