The five-hour drive from Los Angeles to Monterey passed quickly. Hourly stops to walk and water Fae notwithstanding, Aaron and Natalie made pretty good time, spending most of the drive swapping music on the stereo and singing at the top of their voices to their favorite songs. Natalie even ceded to letting Aaron drive for a little over half the trip, which was a relief to his nerves.
Once in town, they stopped at a deli on the waterfront and grabbed sandwiches and beers for a picnic lunch on the beach, then walked to the aquarium to kill a couple of hours while their room was being made up. Aaron had brought along a pair of cheap binoculars for otter watching, so they got an eyeful of fuzzy cuteness and then spent an hour wandering through the jellyfish exhibit. Natalie brought her sketch book and made a few drawings to color in and touch up later, and they found a comfortable spot to sit and cuddle for a while. Natalie settled back into Aaron’s arms, watching the myriad cnidarians float by in the tank. “They’re so peaceful,” Nat said as she relaxed against Aaron. “I could watch them for hours. It’s mesmerizing.”
“Yeah, me too. Kind of a nice change from the usual pace of our lives. Y’know, despite all the fuckery in Tennessee, it’s been nice going a solid month or so without seeing anything too unspeakably horrible. I think my mind needed a little beauty to get readjusted, especially after getting shot. Lately I’ve thought so much about what ‘normal’ people do, thinking we’ll never really get that chance…but the chances are right here in front of us if we just stop for a moment and take them.” “He pulled her closer, crossing his arms over her midriff, wishing he never had to let go but knowing that was a far-away dream. “I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll always hunt. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live our lives when we aren’t facing down the stuff that lurks in the dark.”
“Exactly!” She turned to face him, her eyes wide with empathy. “That’s why I’ve distanced myself from ASI. They get so wrapped up in the paranormal that they forget just how beautiful and amazing the normal can be.” She moved her hand up to his cheek, sliding it down to gently grab his neck and pull his mouth to hers.
For a handful of seconds, there was no fear. There was no world in peril. There were no fallen comrades to mourn. There was no Jackson Carver, the dickface. There were only the jellyfish glimmering in the light of their tank, and the narrow space between them.
The drive up the coast to Santa Cruz had been breathtaking. Aaron was beginning to understand why Natalie was so fond of The Golden State. They had ridden along with the top down, singing and laughing and enjoying the view of the waves crashing along the rocks. They’d even spotted a few sea lions along the coastal highway.
“Look, it’s the Dipper!” Natalie squealed, pointing to the large wooden coaster that peaked over the tops of the palm trees along the road. Red and white cars zoomed up and down its gigantic crests. “That’s the one I can’t wait to go on!” She leaned forward in her seat and pulled off her sunglasses.
Aaron’s stomach turned as he gazed upward at the coaster. Conversations with structural engineers who sometimes did cartography work for his books flashed through his mind as he speculated how up to code the coaster was. “Yay?” he managed to respond questioningly.
“Wait, what?” Natalie turned and looked at Aaron in shock. “Do you mean to tell me that the great Aaron Mathias who has faced unicorns, vampires, and revenants is scared of a roller coaster?”
Aaron’s expression turned sheepish. “It’s a height thing. I even get nervous going out on the executive balcony when Elijah wants to have one of his breakfast time heart-to-hearts.” He took a deep breath and looked back at her, taking her hand in his. “But if you wanna go, I’m in.”
She tossed back her head laughing. “Breakfast on the balcony? You know he does that just to fuck with you, right?”
“I’ve noticed a pattern with him, yeah. Last time it was the oval office song-and-dance.” He grimaced and scratched at his jawline. “Hey, uh, let’s maybe not talk about Elijah right now? He’s not as pretty as you. Trying to stay focused, here.”
“I can help with that.” She gave him a sly look as she slid back into her seat. Then she playfully pulled her dress hem higher, just a tiny bit. When he glanced over, she placed her hand on his chin, turning his face back toward the road. “You should be watching the road, Mathias!”
“Yes ma’am,” Aaron said, snapping his eyes back to the horizon. He steered the Mini Cooper into the parking lot, and managed to just close the car door before Natalie grabbed his hand and dragged him through the park gates.
Natalie turned a sharp left when they entered the boardwalk. She was a woman on a mission, and that mission involved the red and white coaster that loomed taller with every step they took towards it. Stopping at the ticket booth across from the coaster, she purchased unlimited ride bracelets for both of them. “I figured paying for your torture would be the right thing to do.” She looped the bracelet around his wrist and gave him a quick peck. Then she intertwined her fingers with his and dashed toward the line for the Dipper, pulling Aaron in her wake like a tidal wave of chromatic hues. The line grew shorter and shorter as the operators opened up the cars for the parkgoers; as the current cycle of the coaster cars ended, Aaron gulped audibly, his eyes frozen on the highest peak of the Dipper.
“You okay, babe?” Natalie peered at him, trying to gauge just how nervous he actually was.
He drew in a deep breath and looked at her, wide-eyed. “Yeah, I’m good.” The cars rolled to a halt; people poured out into the exit corral, and the operators beckoned them forward. “Let’s do this.”
Nat smiled and hopped into the first car. She patted the seat next to her. “C’mon, you won’t regret it!”
He shook his head and slid into the car. “Never have, never will.”
The setting of the sun behind the park broke the vampires’ torpor like a bubble bursting on a needlepoint. Benj was the first to rise, clawing his way through the shallow layer of sand above his coffin vault. He surfaced and shook himself violently, throwing up a cloud of fine sand into the night air and reaching into the pockets of his jeans for his red bandana. “Hey Corey! Wake the fuck up, man!” he shouted, stamping his foot on the loose sand and tying the bandana around his forehead. He pulled off his camouflage jacket and beat it a few times against a nearby pier pylon to shake off the layer of beach grit that had accumulated on him while he slept, tossing his long hair behind his shoulder to clean it out as well.
An eruption of fine silica burst up out of the coffin buried next to Benj’s. Out of the blast of particulates rose an average-sized vampire who looked more like a goofy teenager than a bloodsucking fiend. He wore two shirts—a yellow button-down layered over a tacky Hawaiian-printed shirt—and his hair was perfectly feathered. He brushed the sand off his Dockers, popped the color of his yellow shirt and looked at his buddy. “What’s on the menu tonight, bro?”
Benj inhaled deeply, his enhanced olfactory senses cruising along a potent wave of odors emanating from the boardwalk environs: the salt air of the sea, the smell of freshly-made pizza and popcorn, port-o-john sanitary fluids mixed with urine and feces, wafting puffs of ganja smoke from a secluded corner of the park…and blood. Everywhere, warm rushing blood, sweet as ambrosia to his supernaturally-keen palette. “I’m thinkin’ Italian. Something in a size 8, with a sweet ass.”
Corey nodded in approval as a goofy grin of delight spread across his pale face. He crouched down, then sprang upwards and landed with a barely audible thud on the wooden planks of the boardwalk above. Peering through the crowd like a kid in a candy store, he spotted something he thought would satiate Benj’s craving. “Coming right up, homes!”
Benj leapt lazily from the ground below, grabbing the edge of the boardwalk and pulling himself up the last few feet. He scanned the track of the roller coaster, watching the cars clack up the first peak before they plunged into the most intense part of the ride. At the very front of the ride, he spotted a young woman with tawny skin and blue hair; next to her was a dark-haired man. She had her hands up in the air and was laughing as the coaster plummeted. The dark-haired man looked frightened beyond comprehension, but the fear soon coalesced into a smile of delight and a staccato of tenor-toned laughter. Benj coughed up a wad of Marlboro tar and sand, spitting it to the boardwalk and running his tongue along his fangs. “Good lookin’ out, bro. She is babelicious!”
Corey beamed with pride. “Thanks, man! So how do we wanna run this? Beat up the boyfriend and grab the girl, or more subtle? See if I can win her over with my smooth moves?” He ran his hand through his bouncy blonde hair.
“No way, man—I wanna eat tonight. Let’s run the carousel gag for a while, watch ‘em move, wait for ‘em to get alone. Then we take the girl—any way we want to—and let him watch.” Benj smiled wickedly, growling as his fangs lengthened momentarily in his mouth. “He can be dessert.”
Corey stretched his arms overhead and yawned. “Alright, but we gotta jam. That Bon Jovi cover band starts at 10.” He looked anxiously at his Swatch watch.
Benj didn’t bother addressing the manliness, or lack thereof, of his friend’s taste in music; he dropped to all fours, crawling beneath the boardwalk and clinging to the underside of the wooden slats, quiet as a mouse. Corey followed him until they reached a spot about 30 feet out from the lights of the midway, and then they slipped back into the lamplight and towards the carousel.
The coaster came to an abrupt stop back at the boarding platform. The bar had barely lifted off of their laps when Natalie shouted, “Yes! That was awesome! Let’s do it again, back car this time!” She climbed out of the car and looked back at Aaron. He was pale, but smiling; once they’d reached the bottom of the first drop, he hadn’t stopped laughing.
“Oooh, man—again already? Let’s, like, grab some beers or something first. But yeah,” he said, stepping out of the car and slightly stumbling as he caught up with her. “I’d go again. That was a lot more fun than I remembered it being when I was 11.”
She turned back, stopped, stood on tiptoes and kissed him. “I’m really proud of you! And yes, I think you deserve a beer, my treat.” Grabbing his hand, she led him back towards the refreshment stands, weaving through the crowds. Soon after, plastic cups in hand, they walked to the edge of the boardwalk to watch the ocean while they drank and talked. Taking a long sip of her beer, Natalie slid her other arm around Aaron’s waist. “I’m really happy right now,” she said, looking out at the dark water as it lapped upon the shore. “Can we quit our work and just do this forever?”
He draped his arm around her shoulder, leaning in closer. “Don’t I wish. But unless you know of someone in L.A. who’ll pay a game designer at an ASI salary rate, I think our hands might be tied for the time being.” He sighed. “And I do have to get back. I don’t wanna leave…things unfinished.” He saw no point in mentioning Alex. He’d texted her a few times that week but gotten almost no response back.
Aaron felt Nat’s shoulders slump in disappointment. Then she perked up slightly, an idea forming inher head. “You know, they’re often hiring writers on set. Ever think of switching to writing cheesy Sy-Fy shows? We could work together! And to be honest, they could use someone of your talent. Also, my trailer is often empty after I make up the actors…and there’s lots of chairs we could break in.” She gently nudged him with her shoulder.
“Hmm, that’s not a terrible idea, honestly. It’s not as if I don’t have plenty of inspiration for weird stories to draw on.” He took a deep pull of his summer ale, considering the ramifications of a career change. “I’d have to learn how screenplay formatting works, though—but compared to the standards and practices some of my publishers adhere to, that really wouldn‘t be that hard to get a grip on.”
She turned her head to look at him, but her eyes zeroed in on a spot far past his face. “Oh Aaron, look! There’s an old fashioned carousel. I think that’s a ride you can handle,” she insinuated, smiling playfully at him and quickly finishing off her beer. “Let’s go!”
Aaron tipped back his cup and drained it, then stood and followed her. “Anyone ever tell you that you might have an impulse problem?” he shouted.
Natalie paused. “Funny you should ask—I’ve had a few cab drivers say that to me.”
Benj glided through the rows of pole-mounted, brightly-colored stone animals beneath the carousel lights, his nostrils flaring as he followed the scent of the blue-haired babe. Corey followed closely behind, keeping her azure locks squarely in his line of sight. This was his favorite part: the chase. The boyfriend was still nearby; they hadn’t moved more than fifteen feet away from one another since the vampires started trailing them through the park, which was starting to frustrate Benj. You’d think this chick would go off to pee, especially after beers. Girls always hafta pee.
Corey swung off the edge of the spinning platform, making his way past his buddy and one horse closer to the woman. He was just about to glide up to her when she whipped her head around to look at him. She stared at him a moment, and in that split second of eye contact, he felt like he was the one being hunted. Just as quickly, her gaze turned past him; she looked around at the other riders as if she were looking for someone. Corey could sense her pulse quickening; a smell of delicious fear began to waft off of her. He inhaled a deep whiff of it and watched as she tried to settle back into her saddle and enjoy the rest of the ride. This only intensified his hunger and he lurched forward—pretending to slip—and grabbed her ass to break his fall.
“Hey asshole! Watch it!” the woman screamed, turning and trying to kick him away.
The dark-haired man hopped off the anthropomorphic walrus next to her, landing lightly on his feet next to Corey. Again, the vampire got a sense that he was out of his depth—and he sensed no fear coming from this human. “You got a problem, pal?” Corey heard the sound of muscle fibers tensing, sensed the rush of blood as the man’s temper flared.
Benj slipped out from the poles, between a unicorn and a dark-feathered eagle, deliberately interposing himself between Corey and the man. “You’re the one who’s got a problem, bud.” He bent his neck and leaned in, locking eyes with the man, giving his meanest glare of intimidation.
The woman slid off of the purple sea horse she had been riding and stood next to her man. “C’mon guys, don’t be dicks. There are kids on this ride. I know I have a hot ass, so just ask next time, okay?” She tried to lighten the mood, but the vampires could sense the tension in her neck and shoulders.
Corey turned to face her, beaming with the same dreamy smile he’d used when he was still alive to bait girls into a makeout session. “I promise, it was an accident. Never happen again. Say, you wanna ditch this loser and go hear some awesome Bon Jovi tunes? I can get us up front early,” he said, pulling a pass out of his shirt pocket.
The dark-haired man laughed, sidestepping around Benj as if he wasn’t even there. “Bon Jovi cover band? Seriously, dude?” he said, standing very close behind Corey. “I’m no fashion mogul by a long shot, but I think your mom watched ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ one too many times before she dressed you today. C’mon man, she’s not interested. Don’t make this ugly. Go find someone else to bother,” he said pleadingly.
“But babe, he has front row seats!” The woman protested mockingly, pretending to pout. “Seriously, though, I hope you enjoy the show, but my boyfriend and I are going to head off now. Enjoy your night…and keep your hands to yourself.” She grabbed the man’s hand and began backing away, not taking her eyes off the strangely dressed men.
Benj wheeled in place and advanced on the man, shoving his chest with the heel of his palm and pulling him closer by his t-shirt. A brief flash of insight ran through him when he did; for a second, he thought he caught the smell of another beast, like a long-gone trail of wolf musk. He must have been imagining things, though—none of their kind ranged this far north along the coast. He’d prowled this park for thirty years and never seen a loup garou, although all of the other vampires in the region had terrifying stories about them. “You need to watch who you talk trash to, bro,” Benj said, working up his bluster again after the brief olfactory derailment. “Plenty of folks buried in the sand underneath that boardwalk, y’know. Be a real shame if you ended up bein’ one of ‘em.”
The man’s eyes narrowed; Before Benj had the presence of mind to let go of his mark’s ‘Han Shot First’ shirt and snatch back his hand, a strong grip encircled his wrist; he felt subtle but exacting pressure being exerted on his bones and muscles. The man looked confused for a second, surprised at Benj’s sturdiness and lack of apparent pain—and then all Benj saw was swirling lights overhead, as his leg was swept out from underneath him and he fell hard to the deck of the carousel. A black Chuck Taylor dug into his throat; the man leaned into his line of sight above him. “You have got to stop making bad life decisions, y’know that? Maybe go pick up some litter, volunteer at the Boys’ Club…and give Rambo his bandana back on your way there. Make the world a better place for once.”
The woman looked around nervously at the crowd that was gathering around the carousel. The ride was slowing to a stop, and she could see security guards pushing their way through the onlookers. “We should get out of here,” she said, eyeing the man pleadingly.
“Yeah.” He pulled his foot off Benj’s throat. “Let’s.” The young couple locked arms and hopped off the ride, breezing past the security guards casually; the woman risked one last glance back over her shoulder at Benj and Corey before they disappeared into the crowd.
“That guy totally kicked your ass, dude.” Corey leaned against the painted walrus and laughed at his friend sprawled on the floor. “Yep, you got your ass handed to you—and I got to put my hand on dat ass!” He cackled at his own joke.
Benj flipped up on his feet with a single bound and backhanded Corey across the face as he found his footing. “Shut up, dork. This ain’t over. I’m gonna drink that son of a bitch dry while his girl watches. C’mon.” The pair slinked back into the darkness beyond the carousel, following the couple’s scent onto the midway.
Natalie and Aaron continued walking quickly away from the carousel. “What was with those guys?” Nat wondered aloud. “Are you okay?” she stopped and looked at Aaron.
“Me? I’m fine.” He scoffed, rubbing his sternum. “Little bastard palm-heeled me in the chest, but those bones healed up weeks ago.”
“Those fuckers!” Natalie looked at Aaron with concern. She reached over and gently slid her hands up his shirt over the front of his chest. “May I look?”
“Sure…but I’m more worried about you right now. Who the fuck grabs a girl’s ass on a carousel full of kids? You alright?” He touched her cheek, his eyes dark with worry.
She smiled. “I’m fine. It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with guys who don’t understand personal space. Besides…this makes me feel better.” Her hands lightly caressed his chest as she lifted up his shirt to check for bruising. “Uh oh…” she looked at him with concern.
“What?” he said perplexedly, looking down his collar.
“Yep, you need some special attention, Mr. Mathias. You have what’s called in medical terms—and I know, because Dr. Cunningham is my friend—a boo-boo. And the cure is a kiss.” She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him to her, bringing his mouth to hers. He didn’t fight her, closing his eyes and taking in the sensation of her nearness, of the faraway pounding music and the whirl of lights and voices surrounding them.
“Thanks,” he whispered when they finally parted. “That did help. A lot.”
“You know, I have a nurse costume I almost brought out when I was taking care of you back at your apartment…” she trailed off, giving him a suggestive smile. “Maybe Nurse Natalie can give you a more thorough check-up some other time?”
Aaron arched an eyebrow. “I’m skeptical about this nurse’s credentials, but I don’t hate that idea.” He took her hand and started walking. “I vote for a round of mini-golf before we go ride that coaster again. Whaddya say?”
“I say be prepared to actually have your ass kicked this time, Mathias.”
Corey and Benj watched the couple from their perch on the roof of the saltwater taffy shop. Corey could sense Benj’s impatience growing. He was relieved when he saw where the couple was heading. “Dude, they’re going into the glow-in-the-dark mini-golf place! This is our chance!”
Benj didn’t speak a word, just tightened the knot on his bandana, moved to the side of the building, and scampered down the wall, not even looking to see if Corey followed. I’m going to get that fucker. He stuck close to the shadows as he moved, trailing them by scent and instinct. Behind him, he felt Corey edge closer, quieter than any human in the park but still not quite as stealthy as him. From behind a large wooden cutout of a peg-legged pirate with a green parrot on his shoulder outlining the rules of the golf course, the pair watched as the couple picked out clubs and balls, then slipped past the attendant when he was checking his phone, darting after their prey.
Corey was so intent on their prospective meal, and Benj so enraged by the insult of being clowned by a mere human, that neither of them heard the sound of metal being drawn from leather behind them in the blacklight-and-neon darkness, nor the booted footsteps that softly padded across the felt-lined concrete in their wake.
“Yikes,” Aaron said, tabulating another series of strokes on their scorecard with the tiny pencil they’d given him at the start of the course. “You weren’t kidding about the ass-kicking.” Four holes into the course, Natalie hadn’t even broken single digits; meanwhile, he was sitting on a fat 17-stroke game. “This is worse than the time I took Eva up on head-to-head tequila shots for cash.”
“Ouch, babe. Drinking against Eva is probably worse than the time we had to outdrink those dwarves. You should see if ASI still has some of those sobriety pills lying around.” Natalie bent over and placed her hot pink ball on the tee plate, then tapped it with her club, leaving it a scant few inches away from the hole. She stepped aside to let Aaron drop his midnight-blue ball onto the plate.
He started to bend down, then thought better of it. “Nat…what’s up with that painting you were working on at your apartment? The one with the strange key and the black star.” His expression betrayed his severe concern on the matter, as if the question had been eating at him for days.
She had been swaying to the music on the side of the green, waiting for her turn again. When he mentioned the key and star, she froze. Looking down at her feet, she replied, “I don’t really know. I keep seeing those two things. I’ve seen them in graffiti, on company logos, on people’s t-shirts. I’ve even seen a guy with a tattoo of the key on his arm.” Natalie paused, twirling the club on the felt ground. “I thought by painting them it might help me figure out what it all means, but it’s not helping at all. In fact, having them on the same canvas just feels wrong. It’s very unsettling to me. I meant to paint over it before I found out you were coming.”
Aaron leaned his club against the massive faux fiberglass pirate ship set into the water hazard and moved to her side, sliding his arms beneath hers and wrapping his hands around her shoulders. “I’ve seen them, too. On that bottle Alex brought back from Lily’s place, and on the NuStar products and company logos. And there was a case file that got leaked from the Empire Foundation with similar imagery mentioned in it. One of our agents didn’t make it out of Paris last week, but there was a rumor that their contact on that job was wearing a piece of jewelry in the shape of that key…I didn’t get many details, though.” He tried to meet her gaze, touching her chin in hopes that she’d lift her face. “It seems like this really got into your head. Have you been feeling strangely ever since you saw these things? Or just since you started painting?”
Natalie looked up at Aaron, locking eyes with him. “I thought it was odd that they kept popping up but it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable…more like curious. After I painted them, the feeling was almost visceral. It made me feel slightly nauseous. I didn’t really want to bother you about it, because it seemed so petty compared to the horrific things you’ve experienced with your visions.”
He pulled her close and hugged her tightly. “Nat, don’t ever think you can’t tell me something is bothering you just because you believe I’ve been through worse. I’m okay now. Really. Better than ever before. I have these dreams now because I choose to. But you’re not choosing to feel this way—it’s not like you. You make people look like bus accidents for a living, and you’re a hunter on top of that. So if you’re worried sick over these images, then there’s something more to them.” He stroked her hair. “And I’m gonna find out what that something is.”
As she returned his embrace, he could feel some of the tension leaving her. “Thanks for making me feel safe. However, bringing this up is not enough to throw me off my game. Nice try, Mathias.” She gave him a quick kiss and pulled back, jumping down the green to swiftly tap her ball into the hole. “Two strokes!” she called out.
Aaron smiled and shook his head, hankering down over his ball and hitting it a good deal harder than was necessary. The ball skipped across the blue-tinted water hazard next to the pirate ship, bounding off a fake boulder and careening out of sight into the room where the previous hole was laid out. Nearby, Aaron thought he heard a grunt of pain; he cringed and hurried out of sight of the other room’s occupants.
A midnight-blue golf ball bounced off Corey’s skull. “Fuckernickel!” He reached up and rubbed his forehead. “That hurt. You wanna drain ‘em now, Benj?”
“Give ‘em a minute—they’re going into the cave, and it’s a par three. That means no other mini-golfers in there with them for a few minutes. They’ll all be stuck on this par six.”
“Yeah, like you usually are!” Corey chuckled.
“Fuck you, asswipe. Shut up and follow me.” Benj slunk around the walls of the purple cave, slipping past the neon treasure map that some underpaid employee had added to the wall. He crouched behind an animatronic treasure chest and eyed the couple as the lid opened and closed before him. Corey was actually quiet for once, which made Benj all the more eager to get in and grab one of the lovers before he said something stupid again and tipped them off to their presence. “Wait back here,” he hissed. His face contorted as his fangs lengthened and his jaws unhinged; the compound joints and elastic tendons in his ankles and knees sprang into action, and he leapt forward toward the blue-haired woman, his mouth and nose drinking in her scent.
He didn’t make it five feet.
A figure popped into his line of sight as he jumped, holding a two-foot-long wooden stake. Benj couldn’t stop himself in time; he rammed into the stake’s tip, felt it pierce his heart. As Benj’s muscles and joints locked up, the figure pushed him back into the room with the pirate ship, pinning him against an orange fiberglass stone wall.
On the ground nearby, Benj saw Corey convulsing, a nearly-identical shaft of wood jutting through his torso; the wave of pain that was about to spasm through him as his undead heart seized had already paralyzed the other vampire. It was excruciating, but did not deaden his perceptions of what was going on around him. He was fully aware of the danger he was in, but utterly powerless to react to the train of events unfolding.
The figure’s face was illuminated in a brief flash of orange light. A middle-aged man with two days’ worth of scruffy beard wearing a leather duster stood nearby, lighting a Swisher Sweet cigar and inhaling deeply. “Well, fuck,” he said through a cloud of smoke as he tucked his cigar lighter back into his black denim jeans. “You idiots? Really? My bet was on the guess-your-weight-and-age guy out on the midway. Guess I owe someone some money.” He pulled a hunting knife from his belt and knelt next to Corey, sawing neatly through his neck with five clean cuts, severing the still-twitching head and kicking it into the blue water nearby.
The man stood and advanced on Benj. The vampire looked into his eyes. Not to plead for mercy, but to gaze into oblivion. The knife cut; the head lolled; the blue water came rushing up around Benj’s eyes.
An inch away from him in the indigo-dyed depths, he saw Corey’s face, smiling at him.
It was going to be a long eternity.
Trent Remington grabbed the vampires’ remains by the collar and pulled them through a nearby employee maintenance hatch that led up a short series of steps and through a steel door that led just outside the mini-golf building, on top of the faux pirate ship that made up the fifth hole. The exit opened onto the eastern side of the complex, so no one would ever see up this far before the dawn came unless they were climbing the light poles in the parking lot. By then, the decapitated bodies would be long gone, reduced to ash by the first light of the morning. Remington dropped the corpses on the ground, laying them as flat and unobtrusively as he could, then hopped off the exterior of the pirate ship and back down to the boardwalk.
Nearby, a beer vendor had just marked down his domestics to clear his last rack of the night. Remington beelined toward him, cigar clenched in his teeth, the sweetness of the wooden tip lingering on his tongue as he inhaled once again. So, Allegro and Mathias are still alive. Good, he thought. A goddamn shocker, but good. Guess I’ll keep them on the list for now. He bought a 32-ounce plastic cup of Budweiser and stalked off down the midway, savoring his drink and his smoke as he pondered his next move. Can’t save all these stupid kids, but I still gotta watch out for ‘em when I can. The thunder’s been called down, and I’m gonna need every last warrior I can recruit to get through this storm.