Story, Setting and Brandon Falco: Aron Head.
Casey Gavin: Me
Falco’s words sank in slowly. He wanted to come with her…wanted to take her somewhere.
That was not going to happen.
Casey scrambled for the truck door and her keys at the same time, panic making her clumsy. The one thought in her mind was leaving this whole mess behind, preferably in one piece.
Concern etched Falco’s face. He made no further moves. He only said, “I won’t force my assistance on you, Casey, but you’re safer with me than without.”
She slammed the truck door, slid the lock firmly home. Turned the key in the ignition…it chugged to life on the third try. Only after those things were accomplished did she roll the window down about five inches and face him again. “Safer from what? What the hell is happening here?” She tried to sound strong, in control, but to her own ears her voice sounded scared and angry and unsteady.
“These two are…were members of a coven of vampires. I sense that this exchange was observed. Their survivors will come looking for you. Forgive me, Casey, but I have not made things easier for you by dispatching your assailants. You’ve seen that I can handle them. As resourceful as you are, you cannot. Not yet, anyway. Come with me. Let us at least…discuss your options.” Concern was apparent on his face.
With the steel solidity of the truck door between them, Casey’s natural composure was beginning to return. “No offense, Mr. Falco,” she said steadily in her rural drawl, “But from what I’ve seen tonight, you look more dangerous than anything else that might be out there.”
“That’s fair,” he said in a calming voice. “You’re right to be wary. But your experience of me should communicate to you that I’ve never wished you harm. If I had, I certainly could have by now.” He gestured to the decapitated bodies lying about.
She didn’t look at them. She was pretty sure they’d be haunting her nightmares for weeks to come; she didn’t need to see them again.
It was true though…Mr. Falco had been a regular at The Longhorn for some time. If he wanted…anything from her, he’d had plenty of chances before now. It was obvious that she’d have been no match for him in a struggle. She stared helplessly at him. I can’t read you. I don’t know what you want from me.
She heard a voice in her mind: ::I only want to help::
Casey drew a small, startled gasp. She’d never been able to read Falco — he’d always been closed off to her telepathy. But he’d just read her own thoughts, and sent a response as if there were nothing unusual about it.
That changed things. Didn’t it? She’d never met another telepath before; the chance to finally talk about it with someone who would understand was unexpectedly appealing. She wavered, tempted but cautious. “Tell me why I should trust you.”
“Because…” he sighed, “…A long time ago, I used to be just like you.”
She thought about that for a minute, then reached over and unlocked the passenger side door. “What does that mean, just like me?”
“I could read minds. Most people, anyway. I know what you’re feeling… the wonder of these abilities. They are exhilarating. I can help you develop them, hone them. All you have to do is trust me.”
His offer appealed directly to the sense of excitement that had brought her to Austin in the first place. The desire to develop her telepathy was the whole reason she’d left the quiet ranch life and become a bartender in the city.
Her brain still told her that inviting an obviously practiced killer into her truck in an isolated parking lot at 3am was a bad idea. And yet her gut impulse was to trust him. There was something indefinably reassuring about Falco, in spite of his very disturbing method of dealing with her would-be attackers. After a few minutes’ reflection, she nodded slowly. “Hop in.” She gestured toward the passenger-side door.
He slipped into the passenger seat, with a pleased smile.
“So where are we going?”
“To save a friend’s life.” He motioned for her to drive. As she did so, she sensed… a cloud of power swirling about him. It was almost an audible buzz in her ears. His eyes were closed, deep in concentration. “Make a left here,” he said without looking.
She turned left, thinking hard. It was beginning to sink in that all the things she’d seen Falco do that night were just a highly advanced version of her own fledgeling skills. Convincing someone that they were on fire wasn’t really all that different from convincing them they wanted to go home and sleep off a bellyful of liquor…it was just a different degree of power. With effort, she could lift a book or a baseball telekinetically — it was reasonable to think that someday she might be able to raise a person off the ground with just the power of her mind.
Casey had to admit, there was a certain thrill to the idea.
She glanced over at Falco, his power an almost-visible corona surrounding him, and felt a sudden, intense desire to learn what he knew.
Turning her attention back to the road, she wondered again where they were going. To save a friend’s life, he’d said. She sincerely hoped it wouldn’t involve more beheadings. After several long minutes of silent driving, she said aloud, “I’ve heard of these vampire cults. Pretty strange, aren’t they? I think they watched too many Bela Lugosi flicks when they were kids.”
He sighed, and she felt the cloud of power disperse. He nodded his head with satisfaction, “We’re clear.” He looked about, then: “There are some things you need to accept sooner rather than later. There are fantastic, wonderful, and awful things in this world. Some are dreamlike in their beauty, others are straight out of nightmare. And they are all real. Vampires are real. They are not at all like what you have seen in the cinema. They are as diverse a lot as humanity. There are good ones and bad ones. The two men I killed tonight are bad ones.
“They are real. Wrap your brain around that.”
She kept her eyes glued to the road while he spoke, her hands icy cold on the wheel, the knot back in the pit of her stomach. It was too much to take in all in one night. The very concept of real vampires seemed ludicrous — what was next, werewolves? zombies? — and yet Falco clearly believed what he was saying. Finally she said quietly, “I’ll try. I don’t know.” It was the best she could do at the moment.
He nodded, “I understand… You’re only now glimpsing the veil on the verge of piercing it. It’s a big step.” Silence. Then… “And yes,” he added, “Werewolves and zombies are both real.”
She frowned, more at the discovery that it was a little unnerving having the telepathic tables turned on her than at his implausible statement about werewolves and zombies.
“I’ve been good friends with a lycanthrope or two over the years,” he added. ” Zombies though? Universally, they’re bad news.”
“I’ll bet,” she replied lightly, not wanting to argue the point. But after a minute or two the frown crept back to her brow. Still staring at the road, she asked, “Why can’t I read you? I’ve been trying for a long time — ” she broke off, blushing at her inadvertent admission of interest, then trailed off self-consciously, “…but I’ve never been able to.”
“Because I’m better at this than you,” he laughed. “Eventually you will learn how to shield your mind from others. At first, it will take an effort on your part. But as your skill grows, it will become second nature as it is to me.”
She nodded. That made sense.
He patted her arm reassuringly. “You will learn many, many things, Casey. We will begin your training tomorrow if you like…” Looking at his watch, “Or perhaps I should say later today?”
She glanced at the dashboard clock. “I have to work tomor — tonight. I’m usually heading off to bed about this time.” She was not the slightest bit tired at the moment; adrenaline was still singing through her veins.
“You may want to call in sick tonight,” he suggested. “I’d like to ensure that no one else has your scent.”
A small chill rippled through her, making her shiver. “Those guys…they were just drunk, looking for trouble. You don’t really think someone else is going to come…hunting for me, do you?” An unwanted memory slipped into her mind — her two assailants grinning fiercely, baring unnaturally long canines as they approached her…Whatever those two had been, she had no desire to see anything like them ever again. Falco’s warning about the rest of their “coven” seeking vengeance hadn’t really sunk in at the time, but it was starting to now. It wasn’t a happy feeling.
“Despite what you have seen in the cinema,” he answered, “vampires operate under a strict set of rules… Laws, actually. Each city is governed by a senior vampire, a Prince if you will. The Prince makes the laws and any vampire operating within their city must abide by them or suffer the consequences.”
In spite of her skepticism, she found herself listening raptly. His words created an intriguing image.
“Austin’s Prince is fairly particular. There’s no killing in his city without permission. So, either your assailants were poaching on the Prince’s herd…or your name has come up at court.”