The Vampire Wars
Written By Robert Autore
Ace sat in a daze on the bench of the fitness club, for years now he had been getting into the healthy lifestyle. It seemed strange to Ace that people paid money to come here and watch TV while ‘walking’ on a treadmill. It just didn’t make sense when there was a whole world of beauty out there to walk through instead.
Running his fingers through his short hair Ace shook the thought from his mind as focused back to his headphones. They were piping same garbage on the news the runners watched on the televisions. Werewolf politics, should they have equal rights, are they dangerous, was it inhumane to study them like lab rats. In the past 5 years the world had turned upside-down and inside-out, with most of us mere humans having no idea how to handle it.
Ace lay back down under the barbell and worked out hard, trying to forget all the world’s crazy issues by lifting heavy objects for fun. As he worked out, the burning in his arms and chest pulled his attention away from the sounds of television and forced him to concentrate on nothing except the almost 200 pounds he held above his body. It took all of his focus and energy not to drop the bar and be squashed by the intense amount of weight.
Finally, he managed to get the bar back on the rack. Out of breath and tense, but his mind was completely clear. Sitting back up, Ace stretched his arms behind him feeling the pull across his chest. Breathing deeply he sat there for a few moments before getting back up.
Ace walked around the side of the bench and started adding more weight. He slid on another 25 lbs. per side as he noticed someone who appeared to be walking towards him. Typically Ace didn’t socialize at the gym, it was his time, alone, to forget the world and its problems; and he didn’t like anyone intruding on his me time. As he sat back down on the bench, it was clear to Ace that this guy looked determined to do just that. Without acknowledging or even making eye contact, Ace rested on the bench for another moment stretching, hoping uselessly that the stranger would keep walking.
“Hey do you mind if I work in with you?” the stranger asked.
Ace gave up, realizing he wasn’t getting out of this, he turned toward the guy. Ace looked him up and down for a moment before speaking. The guy looked like he was about 5’10 and maybe 170 lbs. He was pretty scrawny, but hey at least he was at the gym working out. Ace thought the guy must be new and didn’t understand the unwritten rules. I.E. never approach a guy lifting over 200 lbs. and ask to work in.
“Sorry guy,” Ace said to the stranger, “No offense, but I don’t think you are ready for this kind of weight, and I’m not going to take the time to shuffle plates every minute.”
Ace almost slapped his own head when he realized what he did. The guy smiled at Ace, staring and quite obviously trying some lame attempt to intimidate him. Ace knew the guy would offer to move the plates, and Ace didn’t want to take that long.
“Actually, that weight is fine for me, you can spot me if you want.” The guy responded with a cocky attitude.
Completely floored by the response, Ace stood up from the bench. This guy had to be kidding! There was no way he could lift that much weight. Ace was almost 210 lbs. of muscle and this guy was skin and bones. Strangely, since he broke the 200 lb. mark, Ace had been drawing more attention at the gym. The front desk workers didn’t ask to see his card anymore, bigger guys would try to talk to him, little guys would ask him for advice on lifting, and some of the quite outwardly gay guys would actually hit on him. Ace wondered to himself what category this guy fell into.
“Are you serious?” Ace asked him in disbelief. “You could really hurt yourself with this kind of weight.”
The guy lay down on the bench not really paying attention to Ace anymore. “Completely.” He responded with that arrogant voice.
Ace moved quickly to the spot position. This was going to be fun, arrogant guy needs a lesson, and Ace already warned him.
“Do you need a liftoff?” Ace asked knowing there was no way this guy could even move the bar. “I really think you are biting off more than you can chew here.”
The guy didn’t say anything as he raised the bar without any help and pushed out a set. Ace stood completely stunned as the little guy easily worked the bar several times before placing it back on the rack without any help.
Ace thought that something was definitely wrong here. The guy sat up and stretched some as he sat on the bench for a second.
He turned around to see Ace staring at him with his mouth open in astonishment. “I’m stronger than I look.” The guy said smiling again. “I’m Leon, Leon Dubois.” He held out a hand.
Ace just seemed to stare at him before he realized how rude he was being. “Sorry,” Ace stammered and shook his hand. “I’m Acciaio,” he said “but everyone just calls me Ace.”
“That is a very unique name” Leon replied, “Your set.”
He stood up and walked around back of the bench while Ace got under the bar. Ace struggled to lift the enormous amount of weight attached to the bar, and Leon had to help him place it back on the rack after 5 short reps. Ace lay there for a moment trying to breathe and figure out why this little guy was out-lifting him. Finally he sat up and shook his head.
As they switched places again Ace’s mind was wandering, trying to figure this guy out, when his ears caught the television again. That was it! He got the point, and looked down to spot the guy. Leon was just replacing the bar after a full set when Ace noticed Leon was wearing a large ring on his right hand. The style seemed quite old. It was a men’s ring with a flat square top containing an engraved letter D, the sides were fairly intricate.
“You really shouldn’t lift with that ring on,” Ace said without thinking “You are likely to bend it under all this weight.”
Leon sat up and stretched again, “It’s a signet ring.” He said calmly, “and it never leaves my finger, too valuable to me.”
“Ok” Ace said changing the subject, “so, you are a werewolf aren’t you?”
Leon turned around and looked him straight in the eye. “Don’t insult me.” He said with a grit of his teeth before standing and turning away.
Ace waved him back to the bench, signifying he was done with this exercise. “Sorry,” he said casually, “I didn’t mean to offend you. Then what are you?”
Leon looked back at him again with a confused glance, but Ace knew with all that was going on in the world today with the werewolves there had to be a reason he could lift so much. Ignoring the question Leon pushed out his third set without any help from Ace and sat back up again to stretch.
Ace looked at him closely trying to find any sign of what he was. The guy looked pretty normal wearing the typical shorts, t-shirt, and sneakers that most normal people wore in this gym.
“Seriously,” Ace said again, “What are you?”
Leon turned back around, “seriously,” Leon replied mockingly “what are YOU?”
“Well there is no way a regular guy of your size can lift that much weight.” Ace said “It’s just not.. normal.”
Leon got a wicked grin and looked around them for a moment. “What you never heard of steroids before.” he said turning back to Ace and winking.
It almost made sense to Ace, the strength, boldness, short lived supply of energy, and his short snappy response. ALMOST! Ace had never used steroids before but he just couldn’t believe it could give that small of a guy that much power. He shook his head and looked back at Leon.
“Sorry” Ace said “I really wasn’t trying to offend or out you, but with all that’s going on in the world I just though..” his words trailed off.
“No problem.” Leon said smiling, “There is a lot of weird stuff out there in the world today.” He paused and looked at his watch. “Well I’m actually done for the day so, thanks for the spot.” Leon turned towards the locker rooms and started to head off.
“Wait!” Ace said and Leon stopped walking. “Let me at least buy you a protein shake or something. That was rude of me and I’m not really like that usually.”
Leon, stopped in his tracks, turned back around to Ace. Looking him up and down Leon finally decided. “Ok, I can go for that.” He said “Let me get showered and changed and I will meet you at the bar, tell the guy ‘Leon wants a tide turner.’ He will know what that means.”
Ace nodded wondering how long this guy frequented this gym. Ace had been here for almost 2 years and never noticed the guy before. With a shrug he decided it didn’t matter and turned to head off towards the bar.
In the past decade or so most of the busier gyms had added a smoothie bar. Normally Ace would never go there, he’d just go home, shower, and make his own shake at home. He didn’t socialize at the gym normally, just workout.
Ace sat down at the bar, his chest still burning from his own lifting. As he stretched some more trying to relieve the muscles the worker came over to him.
“What can I get you?” the guy behind the counter asked.
Ace noticed his name tag and said “Jake, Leon said to tell you he wants a tide turner. Whatever that is..”
Jake snickered, “Ok and what can I get you?”
“Um” Ace thought for a moment, “I guess the same.” He shrugged not knowing what he was getting into.
“No problem” Jake replied and went about getting ice.
Ace took his workout towel from around his neck and wiped some of the sweat from his face. He kept a close eye on Jake to see exactly what he was in for. It seemed like a typically banana and strawberry smoothie.
Leon reappeared, and sat down next to him. “Hey Jake” he said to the worker before turning back to Ace. “So what did you order?” he asked.
Ace shrugged. “I just ordered two of the same.” He said as he pulled some cash out of his wallet.
“You really don’t have to do that.” Leon said as he watched Jake and nodded to him before turning back towards Ace.
“Sure I do.” Ace replied, “I was being an ass and I want to make up for it.” Then grabbed a shake and started drinking, still not convinced this guy was really human.
“Thanks” Leon replied and grabbed his own shake.
They both enjoyed the cold, thirst-quenching semi-liquid for a moment before Leon broke the silence again. “So you thought I was a werewolf?” Leon asked with a smile as Jake laughed behind the counter.
Ace shrugged. “You know 7 years ago, everyone was a human. Then 5 years ago, suddenly there were fairies, last year it was werewolves.” He sighed with a shrug, “It’s just when you see something out of the ordinary you really have to question it now.”
“So you were trying to put me into a category?” Leon asked.
Ace shrugged again, “I don’t know, werewolves are supposed to be really strong and you.. You are just stronger than you look like you should be. Why, are you a fairy or something?”
Leon and Jake both laughed loudly.
“What did I say that wrong?” Ace asked “what is the singular of fairies? Fae?”
Finally stopping his laughing Leon smiled at Ace “I have definitely been called a fairy before.” he snickered. “But typically not by my friends.”
Ace’s eye got wide for a moment. “Oh, I’m sorry.. I didn’t mean..” he finally stammered.
Leon laughed again, “It’s OK. Don’t worry I came to terms with myself a long time ago.” He said “but I have to say you look familiar, where have I seen you before?”
“Well” Ace looked around mockingly “we do go to the same gym?” Now it was Ace’s turn to laugh with Jake.
Leon nodded while smiling, “Yes, but I meant somewhere else.” He tapped his temple for a moment while taking another drink. “Wait, I know where I have seen you.” He said almost too loudly. “The Spa!”
Ace smiled questioningly, “Yes,” he said quietly “I’m a dancer there, but it’s an all-girls club, what were YOU doing there?”
Leon laughed again as Ace realized why he would be there. “I was getting a facial.” He almost fell over in hysterics.
“Ok Ok,” Ace said chuckling “I really don’t want the details there!”
“Does that mean that you are..” Leon started to ask but Ace cut him off.
“One of the few straight dancers there,” Ace said raising an eyebrow. “Sorry I am. I work there because I have better chemistry with the women, but I have to say that guys tip better.”
“So you have crossed the tracks before.” Leon said with the corner of his mouth hinting at a smile.
“I’ve danced at a gay club before.” Ace said “but I’m still straight, sorry to disappoint you.”
Ace thought for a moment but still couldn’t get the idea of such a little guy lifting so much weight. Ace had to ask.
In a low voice, he almost whispered “So why are you trying steroids, you know that is really dangerous. Are you trying to bulk up or something?” Raising his voice to normal again “you know I could help train you. You’d be surprised what level I can get you to.”
“Wow” Leon said almost with a sarcastic tone “You would really help someone like little ole me?”
“What do you mean someone like you?” Ace said “You seem to be dedicated to working out, that is really the key.”
“Not everyone is really tolerant of ‘gay’ people these days.” Leon said stirring his drink some “although people are more interested in the other kind of fairy bashing nowadays.”
“You know, people are so hung up on our differences these days.” Ace said sounding annoyed. “I mean, color, sexuality, race, fairy, werewolf, what does it all matter? We really need to focus more on our similarities than our differences.”
“Wow” Leon said slowly with some surprise. “Ya know, I wish more people thought the way you do. Then maybe we wouldn’t always be fighting amongst ourselves.” He turned back to the counter. “Hey Jake, give me a shot and one for my friend here.”
“A shot of what?” Ace asked with a questioning look.
Leon laughed. “It’s just an energy supplement.” He said standing up to retrieve the small cups Jake set out on the bar.
As Jake poured a thick reddish liquid from a frosty flask Leon continued. “It’s similar to a wheatgrass shot with a few other natural things mixed in. My own recipe, it’s completely harmless but it works well. All Natural.” He emphasized.
Ace reached out and took the shot from Leon. Bringing it to his nose Ace took a deep assessing sniff. He made a face trying to forget what he just experienced. “It smells like week old lawn clippings mixed with rust.” He said with skepticism.
“Just drink it.” Leon said shooting his own down. “I promise it won’t hurt you. Like I said, it’s all natural.”
“Smells like part of nature I don’t want to know about.” Ace mumbled.
“What was that?” Leon asked with a smile as if he already knew.
“Nothing” Ace replied as he held his breath and downed the shot. He couldn’t believe it stayed down. The darn thing tasted metallic and had the consistency of old motor oil.
After a moment of trying not to gag, Ace grabbed for his smoothie to wash down the taste. His stomach seemed to burn for a moment, but after that his whole body seemed to come alive. Ace noticed he felt more energetic, even stronger and healthier. Looking back up, he noticed Leon smiling.
“See” Leon said “It’s not that bad and it really works.”
“It may work, but it tastes horrible.” Ace coughed out.
“A moment of pain, an upshot of success, a lifetime of knowledge.” Leon smiled and drank more of his smoothie.
“What’s really in it?” Ace asked.
As he stirred his smoothie, Ace didn’t even try to understand Leon’s weird poetry attempts. He did notice the strange scents he could smell suddenly: strawberry, banana, vanilla. It only took a moment to realize he could smell the ingredients in his drink.
“Ancient Chinese secret.” Leon said with an oriental accent.
“Really,” Ace said skeptically “because you aren’t Chinese.”
Leon smiled. “I guess I’m showing my age, that joke had its day decades ago.”
Now Ace was really confused. This guy had to be around his age, maybe even a little younger.
Leon patted him on the shoulder, “Like is said, don’t worry about it. I promise you it’s all natural. But now I have to run.” He smiled at Ace. “Truly, thank you for the spot, the shake, and the conversation. I’m sure our paths will cross again soon.”
As Leon nodded and headed out of the gym, Ace called after him “You know opium is all natural too.”
Ace sat in wonderment of his heightened senses for a moment. As soon as Leon was out of earshot, Ace looked back towards Jake. “Ok Jake, so what was in that shot?”
“Leon has been a regular for a long time.” Jake said plainly. “We let him keep a flask of it here because he’s been a good customer for years. He drinks it sometimes.” Jake shrugged. “I mean it’s probably just a combination of crap from the nutrition store. It’s not anything illegal, he’s too honest of a guy.”
Ace nodded and decided that one shot of anything probably wouldn’t kill him. Not to mention he felt fantastic. Ace grabbed his bag and headed for the door.
“Thanks Jake.” He said on the way out.
Once he was outside the cool spring air hit him brushing across his face. It smelled so fresh and clean for some reason. Ace could feel the sun’s rays warming his skin, the energy felt warm and good. Stopping for a moment he closed his eyes and just enjoyed the sensations of nature.
In a split second everything changed. All at once he smelled burnt rubber, gasoline, and something metallic. For a moment he wondered about where the smell had come from, and realized he heard a snap as well. With his eyes still closed he suddenly felt cold and all his senses seemed to switch off like a light.