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Take a Sad Song and Make it Better

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A few times every century, Jerry gets broody.

He doesn’t understand it, not really. Perhaps it's a hangover from some evolutionary instinct to breed, the same primitive urge all living creatures have to go forth and multiply, to make more of themselves.

Certain experts (or Vampirologists or whatever it is they’re calling themselves this decade) have written entire books about how vampires are social creatures, about how the Vampire seeks out companionship. No man is an island as they say. Perhaps the same can be said for vampires.

It’s something Jerry wonders about in his more idle moments, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He leaves the biology and psychology to the experts for all the good it will do them. When he isolation starts to get to him, when that feeling -  a terrible ache a lot like loneliness -  starts to gnaw in his gut like a hunger that all the blood or sex in the world can’t slake he doesn’t fight it. He just knows it's time to start nesting .


 

The best places for nests are the big faceless cities; places where no one knows who their neighbours are, the police are stretched thin and overworked, and transients abound. Places where young people who wander in and out, come to escape their old lives and chase the good ole’ American dream.

It’s easy for a vampire to set up shop in LA or Vegas or New York and go unnoticed as long as they doesn’t muscle in on someone else’s territory.

Too easy.

Jerry’s an old fashioned guy, and he likes small town America. Not too small, large enough that a few people can go missing every year without causing any waves, large enough for it to have a multiplex and a an ugly ass shopping mall where the kids spend all their time. But small enough that people still talk about that time in ‘66 when good old Chip Hawkins scored the winning touchdown or hit the winning home run at the last minute at regionals. The sort of place where three or four generations generations live within three streets of each other.

Jerry likes the sort of town that’s started to die, but doesn’t know it yet.

He looks for towns where local industries are shutting down, squeezed by the big corporations. People are starting to look to the city for work, kids have itchy feet and dream of brighter and better things. Debts pile up, purses are choked tighter, the banks start to foreclose on houses. It’s not uncommon to see a couple of abandoned houses, but it’ll be another ten years before the decay really starts to sink its teeth in.

For now, the smiles on Mom and Dad’s faces may grow a bit strained, maybe they’ll have to forgo the family vacation this summer, but life goes on as normal.

All in all, it’s the perfect place to raise a family.


  

Crows Nest, Indiana (population 7689) is the perfect little town. Jerry’s growing handful of pretty girls and boys are taking to vampirism quite well. He likes having fledglings. Likes it when they’re so wobbly and unsure of themselves and their new existence, confused by the hunger, constantly clamouring for Jerry’s attention.

Some of them question their instinctive loyalty to him. They grow resentful that they’re drawn to him, that they need his approval. Not all of them, but some. Jerry likes the ones who have a little spark, who never stop fighting completely - even as they grow into their fangs. He likes the ones with a personality. Within reason.

Jerry selects his targets carefully. Maybe he’s not always as careful as he should be - after four hundred years or so a guy tends to let his standards slip every now and then. But he’s chosen well this time he thinks; a couple of young runaways who were all too happy to accept a ride from the handsome, charming stranger. There’s the local football star who stumbled away, plastered, from a party. The going theory is that he drowned in the local river. And then there’s the weird, loner girl with scars down her arms. Locals whisper about how she’s maybe succeeded this time, when her face starts to show up on billboards around town.

She and the jock were a bit of a risk, but Jerry likes risks. And the two kids have taken a bit of a shine to each other. They’d all but written the other off as a loser when they were still alive but you wouldn’t know it to look at them now. It’s cliched but rather sweet when you think about it.

Jerry lets them get on with it, he’s seen it all before.


 

Here’s how it goes: when his fledglings are strong enough to leave the nest, some of them will die. They’ll be stupid and get themselves burned up. Jerry might have to dispose of them himself for challenging his authority or attracting too much attention - there’s one in every clutch. Some will just go out one night and never come back, whether they were killed or took off on their own, Jerry doesn’t usually care to find out.

When they’ve spent enough time here, those that are smart enough to have survived will splinter off into groups. Jerry might take one or two with him if they’re really special, but that hasn’t happened in a long time. He likes to travel alone. He’s not really the type to check up on his children. Occasionally he’ll cross paths with some of them again. There are a couple who track him down every few years and it can be nice to catch up, if he’s in a paternal sort of mood.

Even so, it’s a surprise when Carmilla calls him. She shows up every now and then, she likes to keep tabs on him.

Maybe it’s something puritanical in her, but she places great stock in family. She’s oddly reluctant to sire a clutch of her own, but she likes to play big sister when he has a new brood.

She calls herself Carmilla, but Jerry’s the only one left who knows that her real name is Patience. The others from her clutch died out a long time ago.

She's a fiery, vicious little thing and he's fond of her. She’d always been one of his favourites, he’d kept her around for a good fifty years after he’d split with the rest of the clutch and he may have broken her heart a little when they finally parted ways. She’d stabbed him through the shoulder with a pair of gardening shears when he’d left her and he isn’t entirely sure she wasn’t aiming for something a little more central.

“That was quick,” Jerry says. “I didn’t know this phone even worked.”

“Of course it works, Daddy,” she says, “I made sure it would.”

So she’s in that sort of mood, is she? She only ever calls him Daddy when it’s a sex thing.

“Where are you, baby girl?” he says, playing along. “I’ll come to you. Fledglings are too young still. They’ll only get in the way.”

“Jeremiah,“ she says suddenly, and that’s the first sign that something isn’t right. No one ever calls him that.

“Patience?” he says.

The fact that she doesn’t hiss at him not to call her that is the second.

“Baby misses her Daddy, that’s all,” she says her voice high and coquettish again. “I’ve missed you so much, Jerry. I need you.”

This isn’t right at all; the way she mixes up the names, and slips in and out of character.

Jerry’s being set up.

He’s had a few close encounters with vampire hunters before, but if this one has already tracked him down, if they’ve caught Carmilla and have set her up as bait, then they’re already better than most.

He ought to pack up and run. Carmilla’s already dead - they’ll probably stake her as soon as she hangs up the phone. It’s a shame about his new brood, but shit happens.

And yet, Jerry can’t make himself go. His girl’s on the other end of the phone, doing all she can to tip him off. There’s a chance they’ll keep her alive until they know for sure he’s there. And the little brats downstairs cuddled up together; they’re so new they’re all but defenseless against seasoned vampire hunters. Jerry hasn’t even had time to teach them to hunt properly.

And maybe it’s just this thing talking. The same stupid, primitive breeding instinct, that need for companionship, for family. Whatever it is, he can’t run. Not yet.

“Daddy’s coming, baby girl,” he says softly. “What’s the address?”


 

Jerry gets there at twilight. The address is an old dilapidated house, abandoned so he won’t need an invitation to get in. Probably booby trapped.

He sneaks in very carefully so as not to trigger anything - and gags as soon as drops from the open window. The whole place reeks of garlic. It’s not that there’s any truth to the old tales that garlic repels vampires. It’s not like he’s allergic to it, but it does mess up his sense of smell. Jerry won’t be able to smell them coming, which puts him at a disadvantage. Of course, they could get the same effect with lavender or aniseed but they just had to choose garlic.

He can smell kerosene as well, it mixes with the garlic creating a cocktail so unpleasant and rotten that Jerry has to fight every instinct telling him to leave

It’s going to give him a migraine.

He scopes out the place carefully. He can’t see any obvious traps, everything’s okay so far, which in itself is suspicious. It won’t do to rush in, find himself looking at the wrong end of a crossbow. So Jerry goes as slow and gentle as he can.

He finds her in the basement, caged and chained. She’s been shot with so many arrows she looks like a porcupine - the bastards made sure to miss her heart though. Carmilla’s obviously in pain, tears streaking down her cheeks and her lips a bloody mess. She’s bitten them through in her efforts to keep from crying out.

She screams when she sees him. “No! You weren’t supposed to come!”

“It’s okay,” he hushes her. “I’m going to get you out. This isn’t -“

“You don’t understand,” Carmilla cuts him off with a whisper. All the fight’s gone out of her. Her eyes are weary and tired, glassy with agony. How long has she been this way? How long have they tortured her - his favourite Child. He can hardly bear to look at her.

“I warned you.”

“You did,” he says, as he tests the bars, they aren’t that strong. Strong enough for a human maybe, but they had to chain and pincushion his girl to keep her down. “You did, sweetheart. But I couldn’t leave you here, could I?”

Jerry rips the door off its hinges and steps through the bars.  

“You’re getting soft, old man,” she says as he snaps the chains. “You shouldn’t have come, Jerry. I can’t walk. They’re watching.” She reaches for him, sobbing at the pain as he cradles her. “ He’s watching. She went to your nest. In case you decided not to come.” She points into the shadows.

“He’s waiting for a clear shot of your heart”

There a sound behind him. A rustle, a hiss of air and he darts to the side just as an arrow bolts past him, embedding itself in the wall. He snarls and drops to the floor, pushing Carmilla with him. “Fucking move!” he hisses to her as she cries out. “I know it hurts, but get low.”

He scramble to the side as more arrows come flying towards him. They all miss.

“Your aim sucks!” he yells.

He grabs Carmilla, hauling her out of the cage and reaching for the door he pulled off earlier. Jerry hurls it into the shadows, followed by the cage itself. As the metal makes contact with metal and drywall, he hears a yelp from the shadows. Something connected at least. He slings Carmilla over his shoulder, and runs to the stairs. Just before he gets there a flaming arrow whizzes over his head, hits the bannister and the whole thing bursts into flames. Fuck . How did he forget about the kerosene?

“There’s another way out,” he says, lifting Carmilla from his shoulder. Her head lolls back, and he grabs her hair, forcing her to look at him. “There must be. If we can’t use the stairs, neither can he.”  

She points into the darkened area of the room, where someone’s trying to stifle a cough.

Smoke’s filling the room now and that’s definitely to their advantage. He thinks he can just about see the door, the outline of a man in front of it. Jerry prepares to rush him. It’ll take less than a second to break the guy’s neck and -

SNAP -

Jerry’s leg breaks as it’s caught in a huge metal trap. He shrieks in rage and pain, an ungodly otherworldly sound. When he looks down he can see the bone’s broken in two places, part of it piercing through his skin. It must be some special kind of metal, steel can’t do this. Maybe it’s blessed. He doesn’t know. All he knows right now is pain and blinding fury.

“Dandridge!” the Hunter shouts, above the roar of the flames. He’s got a British accent. Jerry snarls, reduced to wild, animalistic noises -  are there no vampire hunters left in America that they have to ship them in from the old country now?  

After a fit of coughing the Hunter yells. “Look what I caught!”

He’s got Carmilla, a stake pressed between her breasts and if Jerry’s heart could still beat, it would have stopped in that moment.

“Hey,” Jerry calls. “Take it easy, guy.”

“Come where I can see you,” the Hunter says. “And I’ll let her go.”

“We both know that’s not true,” Jerry says. “Go ahead and stake her. I can make plenty more where she came from.”

“We both know that’s not true,” the hunter mocks him. “You wouldn’t have come here otherwise. You came here to save her. Your little girl.”

Jerry lunges at him. If he can just get close enough to knock the man off his feet, get him away from Carmilla - Jerry’s thrown backward as a bolt from the crossbow hits him square in the chest. The Hunter’s mark is still off, by several inches. He really does have terrible aim. It’s amazing he even managed to get this far. Maybe the other one is the marksman. This one’s just the muscle.

She, Carmilla had said. Are they a couple? It’s been known to happen. She went back to his nest. Perhaps she’s the hunter and her husband’s new at it. It would certainly explain how he’s survived this long with such lousy aim.

“You stake her and you got nothing,” Jerry says. “You know I’m hurt, Let’s say you’ve got a fair chance against me.” He’s lying. He doesn’t. Jerry wrenches the trap open - and grunts as he pokes his bones back in place. “Let her go. She’s not the one you want.” He steps forward, out of the smoke, letting the man see him pull out the arrow in his chest. “What do you say, guy? Just you and me.”

Carmilla spits at the Hunter and he recoils as a the mouthful of blood and saliva hits him on the cheek. “You let me go and I’ll go after your brat,” she says.

“Patience, shut up!”

“I’ll rip his little throat out. Everything you did to me, Vincent , I’ll do to him. And worse. You’ll be finding bits of him for days. I’ll bite off every one of his little toes and fingers and - ”

The stake makes a horrible wet sound as it goes through her chest and Jerry dives back into the smoke as she explodes. Shit. Fuck. Fucking shit.

Jerry glances around again, using the cover of the smoke to his advantage. Not needing to breathe has its uses. He needs to get out of here, drain someone to fix his leg and then he’ll come back for the Hunter. He limps around the choking Hunter until he finds the door and rips it open. An arrow pierces his shoulder on the way out but he’s still faster than the Hunter - Vincent, Carmilla had called him. Once in the car, Jerry allows himself a moment’s rest to pull the arrow from his shoulder. And then he floors the gas as hard as he can, driving away with screeching tires. Thank god, the devil and the Ford Motor Company for automatic transmission.    

When he gets back to his place, there’s nothing left of his fledglings but neat piles of ash. The other hunter was obviously more competent than her husband.

Jerry growls deep in his throat. He has some vampire hunters to kill tonight. He’s going to let them know exactly why he’s an Elder vampire. Just why it’s a bad idea to cross him.

It’s not that Jerry really cares about the fledglings. But this is personal. They’ve touched Jerry’s things, they’ve hurt him and they cannot be allowed to think they’ve got the better of him.

But then, it’s not that he doesn’t care either. About Carmilla - Patience - especially. He’d been fond of her, may have loved her in his own twisted way, as much as a creature like him can love.

But love is a transient thing. Here today, gone tomorrow.

A reputation now, that can follow a guy forever and Jerry has one to uphold. He’s about to show these hunters just how far he’s willing to go to protect his reputation.


 

They’re easy to track down. There aren’t that many motels in this place and they stick out like sore thumbs with their “fancy accents”. All Jerry needs to do is look for one far away enough that the good people of Crow’s Nest haven’t noticed but close enough to be easy to get to. After that it’s just a matter of asking around. Bored receptionists talk, especially to charming strangers.

He finds them in the second motel he tries. He doesn’t even have to ask the receptionist. He can hear them as he pulls into the parking lot arguing about how he managed to let Jerry escape. She isn’t very impressed by that at all.

It makes Jerry even angrier. How the hell had these idiots managed to outsmart Patience? He’d taught her better than that.

That’s when he sees the boy.


 

Peter hates this motel room. He hates motel rooms in general, but this one is worse than most. The TV is old and staticy, and the sound keeps cutting in and out, and you have to run the tap for two minutes before it the water stops running yellow. There are stains on the blankets - dirt or blood or god knows what. Peter knows it hardly matters.

The good thing is that if they’re staying in a run-down motel room, his parents don’t intend to send him to school

He hates going to school in these small towns. He’s always the weird kid, who wears crosses and other weird symbols around his neck, who always smells funny. Peter can never get the smell of garlic out of his hair and clothes, no matter how much he tries.

Peter’s house is always the weird house with crosses at the windows and his parents are always armed with weird weapons. Most people believe they’re part of some apocalyptic cult.

Peter’s always behind in class. He’s always playing catch up, trying to learn three months worth of material in one. Mum and Dad teach him some things at home, but that’s always about the monsters they hunt. What are the different types of vampires, the ways to incapacitate a werewolf. Nothing that will help him with long division.

He hates that his parents are vampire hunters. Why couldn’t they be accountants or own a shop? He hates them and their stupid rules that they drill into him every. single. day.

Rule number 1: Never invite a stranger into your house.

Not even delivery men, or the guy who’s come to read the meter. What’s the point of that when you don’t have a house? Anyone can get into a motel room whether Peter invites them in or not.

He doesn’t like being on the move all the time. Hates that they have to pack up and go every time there are reports of “unexplained deaths”. Crow’s Nest was supposed to be a two day job but they’ve been here two weeks. And tonight was supposed to be the last night, but they’re still here. Apparently the Elder Vampire they were supposed to catch got away, and now his parents are arguing. Granted, they’re always arguing, but this time it’s really bad.

“He got away,” Mum’s saying. “I can’t believe you let him get away.”

“He’s not a normal vampire,” Dad retorts. “He’s strong, stronger than anything we’ve faced before. He ripped that trap apart like it was nothing, walked out of there with his leg broken in pieces like it was a scratch.”

“You missed didn’t you?” Mum snaps, whirling around. “I told you you should have let me take the Elder.”

“We should have called for back up!”

“Then we would have had to split the bounty five ways!”

Peter’s so fed up with everything. They’re not paying any attention to him, they barely know that he’s there. He grabs his walkman, his favourite tape from The Blue Album and slinks out of the room. He isn’t planning on going far. Just to the lobby where there’s a vending machine so he can get a coke.

When he gets there a man is leaning against it.

The man is handsome, not normal handsome, but movie-star handsome. The kind of handsome that would be on the covers of those magazines Mum likes to read on her days off. The man’s warm, dark eyes settle on him and Peter can almost hear his Mum's voice saying:  

Rule number 4: Never trust someone who looks too good to be true.

Peter ignores it. He was never any good at following the rules.

“Hey, little guy,” says the man, his voice pleasant and gentle. “Am I in the way?”

“Yes,” says Peter, he wants to say that he’s not little but he too short to reach the money slot even when he stands on his toes.

“Can I help you with that?” the man says.

Peter isn’t supposed to talk to strangers ( Rule number 2) but he really wants a coke and the sleepy eyed woman who sits behind the desk is nowhere to be found. She must be making out with the security guard who’s also missing. Peter had seen them kissing behind the ice machine two days ago and wrinkles his nose at the memory.

He hands the man his money, watches him drop the coins in slowly, punch in the code for a coke, then he steps back and lets Peter collect his drink.

“Thanks, mister.”

“You here on your own?” the man says, a sharpness under his friendly voice.

“My Mum and Dad are back in the room,” Peter says. “Why would I be in a motel on my own?”

The man chuckles and shrugs. “Maybe you're part of a gang come to rob the place. And you’re a very small look out.”

Peter snorts. “Who would rob this place?”

“Good point.” The man looks him up and down with curiosity and asks, ”Say you couldn’t help a guy out, could you champ? I’m looking for a man named Vincent. He’s English like you. That’s your Dad?”  

“That’s my Dad,” Peter says and stops. Rule number 6: Never tell them who you are.

“Who are you?” Peter demands. “If you tell me your name I’ll go get him for you.”

“It’s Jerry,” the man says. “And don’t bother. I’ve got what I came for.” He grins, his mouth is impossibly wide and full of teeth and Peter wants to scream, tries to scream but no noise comes out. The man - the vampire reaches for him and everything goes black.