End of Days

Night Runner Novels (Volume 2)

Max Turner

St. Martin's Griffin

—CHAPTER 1
BEING A TEEN VAMPIRE
I’m told vampires are popular in books these days. I’m not surprised. The perks of infection are pretty sick. Awesome physical power. Highly tuned senses. The ability to recover from almost any injury. Good dental hygiene. A simple diet. And that immortality thing—very impressive on a résumé.
My name is Daniel Zachariah Thomson and I’m living the dream. I have been for over nine years. Having said that—the first eight of them weren’t what you might imagine. I was orphaned, living in a mental ward, and sick all the time from medications that would never cure me. Then I found out what I was, met a girl, fell in love, and died.
For a while afterward, I’d say life was almost perfect. Then I discovered that every silver lining has a cloud. Does this sound like a complaint? I guess it does. But being a vampire isn’t a free ticket to Boardwalk. Those perks I mentioned earlier come with a heavy price tag. If you don’t believe me, just think of all the wonderful things you did growing up. How many of them were outside on a beautiful day? For a vampire, the UV index never drops below deep-fry, and they don’t make sunscreen for that, so once you get infected—no more warm, tingly skin on the beach, no more ocean sunsets, no more afternoon road hockey games, and no more sneaking into your mother’s room to look at her Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Actually, I guess you could still do that, but it would have to be at night. Still, you get the point. Life without the sunshine is tough. Just look what it did to Gollum.
And the sun is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure you’ve seen the movies. There are lots of ways for us to die, and some are pretty nasty. Forget about holy water and silver bullets. Water of the regular kind scares me, and bullets don’t need to be silver, they just need to be airborne.
Then there’s the angry mob. Scores of people armed with sticks and pitchforks and torches. They got the Werewolf. And Frankenstein’s monster. And the Phantom of the Opera. They almost got Homer Simpson, too. For a vampire, fear of discovery, fear of the mob, is constant. It’s why we work so hard to stay hidden. Vampire hunters are another reason. And they aren’t all as cute as Buffy. In fact, most of them aren’t human. They’re vampires, which means most of us are killed by our own kind. Does this seem wrong? It certainly does to me. But if I understand it correctly, it’s a matter of necessity.
Imagine a berserk gorilla. Now take off some of the hair and give it rabies. That’s the future of every vampire in a nutshell. My father called it Endpoint Psychosis. The stuff of horror movies. No one really understands it. Some vampires get it right away, and others put it off for centuries. But eventually the stress of change, of hunger, of fear, and the loss of light and normal relationships—it unhinges us. Death is never far behind. A small number choose suicide, but as I said before, most are murdered by other vampires. Older ones who’ve lived for centuries and want our existence to remain a secret. They can be ruthlessly efficient at removing those who might give them away—or who might spread the infection carelessly. To top it off, they really have it in for child vampires: at least, they did before The End of Days. I guess the theory was, a young vampire was pretty much guaranteed to do something stupid and give himself away. And young vampires had a history of spreading the infection too quickly. Given that I turned my friend Charlie last year, and he did the same to a girl named Luna on the same night—well, it would have been hard to argue our case.
Everyone imagines being a vampire would be cooler than joining the Justice League, and it is. You’re practically a superhero. But you have to be able to cope with what you lose. It’s a kind of culture shock. You need lots of support from family and friends. Sadly, when Charlie turned, he didn’t have that. At the time, his father lived in Halifax and his mother was in rehab, his friends were still in school, and his girlfriend, Suki, lived with Luna in New Jersey. Without me, he would have been a hermit. He got angry often and it made him careless about keeping his condition a secret. I had hoped he would keep it together for a few more centuries, or at least until someone invented the jet pack, but at the rate he was going, a ride on the crazy train was just around the corner. Of course, you could argue he was a crackpot even before he turned, but guys can be loo-loo in a lot of different ways. He was giving up fun-loving-reckless for angry-young-man, and it had me worried. If he didn’t get himself under control, someone was going to notice and take the un out of his undead. What he really needed was a Chicken Soup for the Vampire Soul. Something to calm him down and help him come to terms with what he’d given up. The sunshine. Safety. Sports. And school.
I know what you’re thinking. He had to give up school? What a heartbreaker! What could be worse, winning the lottery maybe? Well, he didn’t exactly love the place, it’s true. But he was popular there. He was a great athlete, so he got to be in the spotlight often. He’d given that up for the shadows. And so Charlie Rutherford, Detention King of Adam Scott Collegiate, now talked about school as if it were the Land of Chocolate. If that’s not a sign a guy’s gone mental, what is?
I wasn’t sure what to do to help him. Fortunately, I still had Ophelia in my corner. She was a vampire, too, and for nine years after my father died, she was the closest thing I had to a family. The night this story started, she was leaving to meet someone. I didn’t ask whom. With Ophelia, if she wanted you to know, she told you up front.
Before she headed out the door, she reached up, pinched my cheek, and smiled. “You can’t fix his problems overnight. Just try to help him reconnect with people. Take his mind off of things. But don’t put yourselves at risk. If you sense he’s getting a bit hot under the collar, get him home. I’ll be out for a while, but I need to talk to you both before sunrise. It’s very important.”
I understood, so after I said good-bye, I wandered down to Char-lie’s room in the basement so we could work out a plan. Right after that, things started to go haywire, although as I look back, our problems really began long before that—with two murders in Toronto. Like a pair of dominoes, they set off a sequence of events that led to Peterborough and pretty much flattened everything in sight. But we didn’t know that was coming so, for us, the End of Days started with a rave.
—CHAPTER 2
PARTY CRASHER
Charlie was on his cell when I knocked on the door and stepped into our room. He’d been living with Ophelia and me for a few weeks now, ever since his mother checked into the clinic. She’d been fighting with the bottle and losing. After drinking herself into the drunk tank for the upteenth time, Children’s Aid had given her two choices—quit the drink or lose custody of your son. She made the right decision and entered a rehab program. While she was away, Charlie was rooming with me.
“Sounds great,” he said into his phone. He looked at me and quickly pointed to his bed. A black T-shirt was lying there, so I tossed it over. He slipped it over his head, then said, “Yeah … See you later,” and hung up.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He turned and started sifting through his clothes. Like mine, they were in mixed piles all over the floor. I caught the smell of leather and looked up as he slipped his coat over his shoulders.
“There’s a rave on River Road out past Trent,” he said. “You feel like taking in some local wildlife?”
“You wouldn’t rather go later? A Fistful of Dollars is starting in a few minutes.” It was a Clint Eastwood duster. One of Charlie’s favorites.
“Those old spaghetti westerns are on all the time. You’ll like this better. You can work on your dance moves.”
I’d never been out dancing before. My best move would have been to find the closest chair. “I don’t know how to dance, Charlie. You know that.”
“Then it’s a perfect night to learn.” He smiled and headed for the stairs. “And you’re going to love the scenery.”
“Um … okay.”
“You don’t sound too keen.”
I guess I didn’t. I was worried that if he lost his temper, he’d have a fairly large audience. And I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of dancing for the first time with a bunch of people watching. But this was what he needed—to get out and mingle.
“Come on, chowderhead. Fortune favors the bold. Get your boogie shoes on. This will be fun.”
Well, it would be for him, and that was the main thing. I followed him upstairs and through the kitchen.
“Where’s Ophelia?”
“She’s gone to meet someone.” “Who?”
I shrugged. “She didn’t say.”
He didn’t look surprised to hear it. Ophelia was a private person, and I wasn’t one to pry.
We slipped out the front door and took off down Hunter Street. It was where we were living now—one of Peterborough’s old west-end neighborhoods with huge trees and houses that were each different from the next. Some big. Some small. Some palatial. Some set back so far from the sidewalk it was a workout just getting to the door. Our place was a modest brick bungalow, the house on the block you were least likely to notice. Not too large or too tiny. Nothing fancy, but not uncommonly plain, either—or its plainness would have made it stand out. Around here, it was all about blending in.
“How far is it?” I asked.
Charlie set out at an easy jog. I let him set the pace so he’d be comfortable. “Close,” he answered. He was right. Sort of. Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t. Vampires are a lot stronger than normal people. We see better, hear better, move faster, heal faster. We do everything better except suntan. So the two of us were across town and past Trent University faster than a Greyhound bus. About four miles. For us, it was barely a warm-up.
The rave wasn’t quite what I expected. Speakers, lights, artificial smoke, the air so thick with body spray it was a wonder anyone could move. But people did. Perhaps a hundred. Maybe more. They jumped and danced and collided to music that thumped right through my chest. So much energy was in the place, even my hair was tingling.
I wasn’t used to crowds, so I stood off to the side and watched for a few minutes while Charlie disappeared into the writhing mass of dancers. He was smooth. No herky-jerky. Like a normal person caught with a slow-motion camera, only he was moving at regular speed. Other people around me noticed, too, those on the periphery who were resting, or refueling, or looking for friends. A girl a few feet away was staring so intently I wondered if she’d forgotten how to blink. This happened often. It was the same way with Ophelia. When we went out shopping at night, even the blind gawked.
In little time, Charlie was surrounded by a group of people, mostly girls that I guessed were either friends or hopefuls. He looked at me and waved me over. I shook my head. I wasn’t ready to brave the dance floor. Not yet, even though it didn’t seem all that difficult. By the looks of things, the music and the crowd sort of pushed you around. Still, if there was a way to look ridiculous, I was sure I’d find it.
I pressed the charm of my necklace between a finger and thumb. It was a full moon fashioned of silver, etched and polished to a perfect shine. My father gave it to me when I was seven. I could still picture him bending down to fasten it around my neck. He pressed it against my chest, messed my hair, and stood. Then he left. And died. It was the day I became an orphan. And a vampire. Aside from a few old photographs, the necklace was the only thing of his I still had. There was another piece to it, a golden crescent that fit along one side, but that part was with Luna.
I thought of her and felt a smile creep up my cheek. Pretty soon my whole face was involved. I’d say I thought of her often, but it was more like I thought of her constantly and just got interrupted by other things. I wondered what she was doing, and if she was thinking of me. I pictured the two of us dancing. Would she have liked it here? I wasn’t sure. Like me, she was comfortable when other people took the spotlight. It was even more true now that she was a vampire. Sadly, she was in New Jersey. A million miles away.
My smile faded. Then someone touched my arm, a tall woman with dark hair and black lipstick. She was carrying a tray of drinks. Her eyes wandered over me, then she offered me one. I raised my hand and shook my head. My drinking habits stayed at home. She wasn’t gone a second when a strange feeling came over me. An absurd amount of body heat was being generated in the room, but for all that, I felt a chill. I was being watched.
I quickly located Charlie and his friends. They were in a tight circle, each taking turns dancing through the center. The guy in the middle, who might have been a lineman from Charlie’s old football team, was doing something that I could only describe as the Cyborg Chicken. I scanned the rest of the floor. A guy with blue hair was jumping up and down like a spawning salmon. In another corner, a group of girls were dancing so close together it was a wonder their jewelry wasn’t tangled. Farther on were a bunch of guys, some with spiked hair, others with shaved heads, who were all jumping up and slamming into one another. It was all alien to me. But certainly no cause for concern.
Then my eyes drifted upward. I thought I saw something in the lights. It was hard to tell. Even if you’re from the planet Krypton, your eyes aren’t much good with strobes flashing in them. But my instincts told me I was getting warm, so I made my way onto the dance floor to get a better look. I was staring up at the ceiling, not watching where I was going, when I bumped into a girl. Her red hair was cut like a lampshade and she was wearing high-heeled boots that went right up past her knees. Before I could reach out, her drink spilled. I started to apologize.
“That’s fine,” she said. She moved closer so we were almost touching. “Don’t worry about it.”
I offered to get her another drink, but she smiled and shook her head. She seemed cool with things. Her boyfriend wasn’t. I hadn’t noticed him at first. He stepped toward me with a scowl on his face. His hair was gelled down the center like a giant fan and he was wearing a Ramones T-shirt. The people around us backed away just enough that I could tell there was going to be trouble. Then Charlie slid in beside me. His eyes had the same look I imagine Roman gladiators wore when they went into the Colosseum. A kind of focused intensity that was a three parts anger and one part crazy.
“Back off, Romeo,” he said. His teeth were starting to drop.
I felt the bottom fall out of my stomach. This was the last thing we needed. A free-for-all that would make the National Enquirer. Teen Vampire Starts Riot at Small-Town Rave.
“It’s fine, Charlie,” I shouted in his ear. “It was my mistake.”
I think we could have made it out cleanly at that point if the girl I’d bumped into hadn’t been staring at Charlie with a look of dazed euphoria. What ever cologne he was wearing, it was working overtime. Charlie smiled at her. She smiled back. Then her boyfriend stepped closer so the two of them were chest to chest. Here we go, I thought. Charlie’s eyes were like two black disks. I hadn’t seen anything like it since Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
Then something bizarre happened. A shadow fell to the floor on the far side of the hall. It happened quickly. With the lights doing a kooky flash dance above, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually seen anything, but then the people on that side of the floor began to part. They were staring at a man who was moving toward us. With the light behind him, all I could see was a tall silhouette, but it was enough. His movements were fluid. Effortless. Perfectly balanced. Driven by tremendous strength. There was none of the stiffness you see with normal people. It was another vampire. He’d obviously spotted us. If he was one of those elders who didn’t like kids, we were going to go straight from rave to grave.
I wasn’t about to take any chances. “Charlie, we’ve gotta go.” I grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and started pulling him to the door.
“That’s right, pretty boy, take a walk,” the guy with the fan-shaped hair said.
I’d hoped Charlie would just fall in step, but I should have known better. He resisted. Fortunately, I was a lot stronger and jerked his shoulder back. He shot me an angry look, but when he noticed I was staring past the guy with the fan-shaped hair, he turned and saw what I did. Right in front of him, the girl with the red lampshade hair was smiling and waving. Her boyfriend was smirking. Then the tall vampire, little more than a shadow, shouldered past a guy just behind them, spinning him like a turnstile.
Charlie looked back at me, panic all over his face. “Zack, that’s a vampire.”
“I know!”
We raced for the door.
“How did he know we were here?”
I had no idea. But it didn’t matter. We’d been spotted. So we ran.
Excerpted from End Of Days by Max Turner.
Copyright © 2010 by Max Turner.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin'S Griffin.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.