Metally Fatigued

The Hunter Vampire Chronicles

Chapter 1


The words rang loud in Flynn’s ears from more than a mile away.

“Her eyes changed. Went black. She grew fangs. It was like something out of a nightmare. A horror movie. He was just lying there … dead. When she saw me, she ran. I’m not mad, am I? Tell me I’m not mad. I did see her. I did.”

Flynn shuddered. She still wasn’t used to being something people would run away from, screaming like banshees. Not that she’d heard a banshee scream, yet. She was sure she had that to look forward to on some future hunt. It seemed as if every animal ever squeezed from the mind of a man, put down on paper, immortalised in film, was real.

For her own sanity, she shut off her mind. She didn’t need to hear any more. In a way, it was a good thing. As soon as the police officer heard those words, she was certain he wouldn’t be looking any further for a suspect. Poor man. He would probably be the one accused. That made her feel guilty, but not as much as it should have. Not that she was the real suspect. Why did they always think that? That the creature with the fangs was the one out to do damage?

Well, she was out to do damage, but not to them. She was trying to save them.

If she hadn’t failed, the perception might’ve been different. Trouble was, the wraith demon she’d been trying to subdue had, after literally sucking the life out of its victim, disappeared in a puff of smoke right before her eyes. That was no exaggeration. She’d had her hands clasped around its wrists. Vampire tight, as in so tight that no normal being would’ve been able to escape, or even move, and many supernaturals wouldn’t have been able to extricate themselves, either. She hadn’t counted shape-changing abilities on an epic scale. She should’ve known. Things were so different for her now. In mind. In body. She needed to readjust. If only her body would comply.

If she’d realised what was happening, she would’ve cast her own spell. A bubble spell, that trapped you like a Zorb ball, but not quite so much fun, and no door. Even smoke couldn’t get through one of those, if she set it right.

Her brain had changed too much with the transformation. Her thoughts, which used to be filled with spells and magical ways to go about things, was now overwhelmed by the desire to use strength, menace and a little bit of mind control, to solve every problem. It wasn’t working. So not working.

She stopped running and leaned back against a stone wall — a boundary to one of the millionaire properties in the area. Her breath came in heaves, even though they were no longer necessary. It was difficult to stop breathing. So difficult. And so blindingly obvious that you weren’t normal if you did.

She needed to think. To clear her mind. If she were this creature, what would she do? If she could shape-shift into anything, what would she become?

It came to her like a giant wave of ‘how stupid can you be?’

She sped back to the scene. She only hoped she was quick enough to save the man.

***

The car sputtered to an unceremonious halt. Rag thumped the steering wheel with a little too much strength and got a mouthful of a large, white balloon, which attempted to squish him back against the seat. He fought it without thinking, like one of his supernatural enemies, with his fangs. It didn’t make any great popping sound, like a children’s balloon might, just slowly fizzled down to nothing. He suspected that would’ve happened anyway, but when you had vampiric speed and senses, you tended to be ahead of the game.

It didn’t alter the fact that the car had ceased to work, and that he was now going to have to try to find out what was wrong with it, with absolutely no knowledge of how it worked. Of course, the others were all going to think it was his driving that was the root of the problem. Which it wasn’t. Not this time. He’d been particularly careful not to damage the car. He’d even driven slowly. Well, at the speed limit, which was so slow. He’d have been quicker taking a bit of a jog.

Ellie had forbidden him to drive like a maniac, when that was the only joy he could find in it at all. He hadn’t ground the gears more than … twice? He’d even avoided revving the engine at traffic lights. He hated having to use a car, but as Ellie had added to her maniac speech, ‘We need to act like normal humans as much as possible, and that means travelling in a car when we’re going long distances. Humans don’t walk that much anymore. They even take their cars around the corner to the local shop to buy a pint of milk. Unless we’re in danger, we drive.’

Unless we’re in danger, he mouthed, his face screwed up with sufficient sarcasm to crush the cockiest person.

He hated when she was right.

It didn’t alter the fact that the car had stopped and he didn’t have a clue how to stop it being stopped. Turning the ignition key a million times didn’t work — it just caused sputtering sounds as if the car had a bad cold — and there was no way he was lifting the bonnet just to stare at moving parts when he had no idea what they did. Okay, he did know that most of the moving parts were hidden, but he had this cartoon image in his head of cogs and pistons and … all sorts of slick mechanical gubbins going on beneath that. The car was hardly slick. It was no sporty number. It was so old it could’ve done with a walking stick, or even a Zimmer frame.

There was nothing else for it. He was going to have to use his strength to move the damned thing, and if anyone saw him, he would have to make them forget.

***

Ellie lifted up a pair of plain, black cycling shorts and stretched the waistband out, as if that was going to make the thought of wearing them any more attractive to him. Bones crossed his arms. “You can’t seriously be expecting me to put those on.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “Have you got any better ideas?”

He huffed the words out before he could stop it. “But they’re … they’re so ….”

How did you describe just how much you hated clingy, black Lycra that would show off everything you normally kept well under wraps?

Ellie sighed so loud in return that one of the shop assistants turned toward them, a smirk plastered across his face. He probably thought they were mother and son — one of those sons who never left the nest.

“I’m not suggesting you wear them on top like some kind of superhero, but at least you’ll be decent when you change.”

He was surprised she hadn’t lowered her voice when she said that, although the words alone didn’t mean much, if you didn’t know. He took the shorts from her and did the same as she had, except he stretched them a lot further, pushing his hands deep inside them. It must’ve looked really odd to anyone watching. The shop assistant, for example. He tried to imagine just how this would work. He wanted to get down on all fours and … what? Pretend to be a dog? That wouldn’t raise any eyebrows at all.

“You’re suggesting I wear them as underwear?”

“Yes.”

“Right.”

He imagined walking into a public toilet and having to pull them down. He’d always have to use the cubicles. He’d always … realistically, how many times did he go to public toilets? About the same number of times he’d changed in the past three months, since they’d left Midbury with the list. Once.

It begged the question, were the shorts really worth the effort? And then he remembered when the spell had been broken and … well, running into a house and stealing clothes from dead people.

“If we’re going to take this task seriously, and I’m pretty sure we need to,” Ellie did lower her voice this time, “changing is going to be a little more regular. You can’t go running around the streets naked just because the transformation shredded your clothes. You need flexible. You need decent. “

He held up a hand to halt her. She was right. As always. There was no point in disagreeing. “How many pairs?”

“At least one for each day of the week.”

“Got any cash?”

Ellie lowered her gaze, then shook her head.

He did a three-sixty of the shop. “We’ll need to wait. I really don’t want to have to compel dozens of people to forget I was stealing these.”


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