The Girl Who Cried Vampire - Prologue
HE OPENED HIS eyes and found himself in Hell.
The world roared around him in a demonic orchestra of heat and flame, smoke and ash, and the inhuman screams of the dying. The sound hammered at him, beat him down. The heat blistered his skin and burned his lungs. The smoke stung his eyes and choked him, stealing his breath.
He lay on a dirt floor, but could make nothing more out of his surroundings. Only black smoke and orange flame. Nothing about this place stirred any memories. He did not know where he was or how he had arrived. These two points however, seemed insignificant alongside his desire to escape. But how? All he could see was fire. What would the world look like beyond the flame?
The heat continued to pummel at his skin like a million tiny fists. He tried to rise but could not move. He wasn’t breathing, there was nothing but smoke in his lungs.
That was how he died.
All that was, had ceased to be. All that had been, was nothingness.
Nothing but blackness.
He floated in the Black, the Void, and found comfort in it, a familiarity that bespoke of eternity. He and the Black were old friends. But something in him knew that he should not stay. The Black was a rest stop, nothing more. To remain would mean an end to who he was.
An end to who he was.
Who he was.
Who he is.
Who is he?
He could recall nothing before the Black. Nothing but . . . fire?
Yes, he had been in Hell. Now he was dead.
But before Hell?
It was as if his memories were just . . . gone.
But that couldn’t be right.
Surely he could recall his name. He reached for it, but it was like grabbing at smoke.
Why couldn’t he find his name? Everyone has a name? Did he have a name? Who was he? Without a name, did that mean he wasn’t a person? Panic took hold of his heart.
He swam on, searching, desperate to find a memory, any memory to grab hold of. He found only emptiness.
Then, suddenly before him was a vast mirror. Gazing into its shimmering surface he found nothing but a blurred mist in the shape of a man looking back at him. A scream exploded from somewhere deep within as the real world crashed over him in a cacophony of sounds and chaos.
He opened his eyes and was back in Hell.
Yet, he wasn’t.
He still lay on his back in the dirt. The flames, the heat, the smoke, all were there, just not as intense. As his surroundings grew clearer he could hear now that the screams were those of dying horses. All around him, among the dirt, lay patches of hay.
This was not Hell.
The knowledge brought him a renewed hope, and he was on his feet in an instant. He was in a horse barn, though beyond that, he was uncertain. The horses, those that were not already dead or dying, bucked and screamed in their stalls, kicking at the doors that held them in as the flames engulfed the structure around them.
He spun in a circle, looking for a way out, a break in the wall of fire, but he found nothing. He was trapped.
The smoke surrounded him and made it hard to see. He doubled over, coughing, and would have passed out if the front half of the barn hadn’t chosen that moment to collapse before him, leaving a smoldering mound of wood and a bright hole beyond. A hole that led out.
He ran to the stalls, opening the doors and giving the horses their freedom. They bolted for the new opening the fire had created, sensing the clear air that lay on the other side.
Following the horses’ exodus, he emerged into sunlight and chaos. Most of the surrounding buildings were on fire. Screams and gunshots filled the air. The street teamed with men on horseback, men in gray uniforms. Among the men were their victims. Women, children, the elderly . . . the men on horseback seemed not to care. They shot with callous indiscrimination, and the people fell all around.
He looked to the dead lying in the dirt street and felt an anger rise up in him. He went for his guns, finding them gone.
It had been an act of purest instinct to go for his guns, and for a solitary fleeting moment he could see himself wearing a pair of revolvers, low on each hip, but then the memory was gone like mist on a hot day. He struggled for more, to know more about himself—his past, his name—but found more of the nothingness that was his past.
Two of the armed men noticed him standing alone in the street. They broke off from the main unit and rode to him. Like the other men, these two wore the uniforms of confederate soldiers. He could recognize their uniforms, but could not recall his own name.
“Look at what we have here, Bill,” one of them said. He was fat, too fat to be on horseback and his head and face was nothing but hair. “A Yankee boy.”
Yankee? He looked down at himself for the first time and saw that he was wearing the blue of the Union Army. A memory rolled over him and he almost fell.
War? The war between the states. He was a soldier for the North. Why could he remember that but nothing specific about himself?
“Shoot him, Dan,” the other said. This one was tall and lanky with a meticulously trimmed beard and mustache. “Shoot him, or I will.”
“What’s your name, boy?” the fat one said.
He didn’t answer. He couldn’t if he wanted to.
“Look at his arm, Bill,” the fat one, Dan, said.
He couldn’t help but follow their eyes to his right bicep. Tied to it was a broad strip of dark green fabric.
“The Captain’s gonna want to see this one,” Bill said.
Dan pointed a rifle at his chest and a sudden rage swept over him.
“Let’s go, Mister,” Dan said.
“Where?” he said, speaking for the first time. Even his voice was unfamiliar.
“The Captain is gonna want to ask you a few questions,” Dan said.
“Captain?” he asked.
“Quantrill,” Dan said, jerking his rifle quickly to the right, motioning for him to move.
Quantrill. That was a name he knew. He looked once more at the green arm band, running his left hand over it for a moment. The band meant . . . something. He could feel it was important, but trying to get hold of the memory was like trying to catch water with a net.
“We ain’t asking you twice, Yankee,” Bill said, leaning out over his horse and spitting.
Just then a woman stumbled out of a building to their left. She jerked with surprise and fear at seeing them there before her and took off running down the street. Her dress was in tatters and her skin was covered in ash and burns. The tall soldier named Bill pulled a pistol and shot her down. Bill and his companion shared a smile.
“These Jayhawkers die quick, wouldn’t you say, Dan?”
The two soldiers laughed.
And like that, he was on them.
One moment he was looking at the body of the woman, the next he casually stepped up to the fat man’s horse where a Navy Colt sat in a saddle holster.
“What do you—” Dan said.
He pulled the pistol from Dan’s saddle and in one smooth motion, thumbed back the hammer and fired.
The fat man fell from his horse, dead, a smoking and bloody hole in the center of his forehead.
“Dan!” Bill said, taking aim.
But he too fell beneath the man’s stolen gun.
A bugle sounded from behind and he spun. Another soldier sat ahorse and blew a few quick notes on a dented bugle.
“A Yankee!” the bugler shouted. “A Green Arm!”
He’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t alone with the two dead men. Around him, the other soldiers turned to see what the commotion was all about. But before any of them could so much as raise a gun, he ran.
He felt no guilt or shame for running. Somewhere deep down he knew he was no coward; he just knew when to fight and when to flee, and when faced with over a hundred armed men on horseback, running felt to be the most sensible option.
He ducked into a building with a sign hailing it as the Eldridge. There were more soldiers inside. They were all seated around a table and eating a lavishly presented meal with their hands like pigs in a fancy restaurant.
One soldier looked up as he entered. The rest continued to indulge themselves, reaping the spoils of war. The one soldier rose with such speed that a hunk of roast beef remained, still clutched between his teeth, the juice dripping down his chin.
“Green Arm!” the soldier yelled, the beef falling from his mouth and onto his plate.
He couldn’t go back, not with what waited for him out on the street. Instead he made for the door on the other side of the room. But the door banged open and more soldiers poured in. He turned to run, but the soldiers at the table rose and blocked his path. He was trapped once again.
“Search him,” a man said, stepping into the room from behind the soldiers at the door. It was Captain Quantrill himself. “And find Faraday.”
Two soldiers held on to him as a third searched through his pockets.
“What’s your name, Green Arm?” Captain Quantrill said
“I don’t know,” he said.
Quantrill just smiled.
The soldier searching him pulled a piece of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Quantrill. The Captain unfolded the paper and smiled as he read it.
“Faraday will be most pleased to see you,” Quantrill said.
“Why?” he asked. “Who’s Faraday? What’s the paper say?”
He didn’t have to wait long for either answer. A man entered the room who, despite not wearing a uniform, carried with him the weight of rank. Every soldier in the room snapped to attention, even Quantrill.
“Mr. Faraday,” Captain Quantrill said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“What do we have here, Captain?” Faraday said. His voice had a slight German accent.
“A Green Arm, sir. He shot two of the men,” Quantrill said.
“Then kill him, Captain,” Faraday said in a dismissive, matter of fact tone. “Why bother me with such trivialities.”
“He had this on him,” Quantrill said, handing over the piece of paper.
He watched as Faraday read what was on the paper, and like Quantrill, Faraday smiled. The only difference was that when Faraday smiled, he could see that the man’s upper incisors ended in sharp, needle-like points. This stirred something within him and felt a sudden urge to leap upon the man and throttle him. He fought the urge down.
“Very good,” Faraday said, clutching at the paper. “Yes, Captain. You did the right thing by alerting me at once.”
“He claims to not know his name,” Quantrill said.
“Does he?” Faraday smiled.
Faraday turned from Quantrill and stepped up to the man with no name.
“We’ve been looking for you for quite some time, you know,” Faraday said.
“Why?” he said. “Who am I?”
“You do not know?” Faraday said.
“No,” he said.
“I have to say I find this most displeasing,” Faraday said. “But I do admit that this act you’re doing, it makes me skeptical.”
“Act?” he said. “What act? Do I know you?” He began to struggle against the two soldiers who held him.
“You say you do not know who you are?” Faraday said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you know where you are or how you got here?”
“I don’t know what has happened to you, my old friend, but I believe you,” Faraday said, then nodded to the soldiers. “Let him go.”
The two soldiers let go of his arms and Faraday held out the paper to him.
“Perhaps this will help you to remember,” Faraday said.
He took the paper and read the words that had been written there with a steady hand.
Your name is Norman Oklahoma, the paper said.
“Well?” Faraday said. “What is your name?”
“My name,” he said, and then swallowed. “My name is Norman Oklahoma.”
“Good,” Faraday smiled again. “Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Quantrill. “Kill him.”