Authors: Stacy Mantle
BY STACY MANTLE
Copyright © 2011 Stacy Mantle
All rights reserved.
For my pack…the source of endless inspiration
While the actual writing of a novel is solitary work, bringing a book to market is something that requires the assistance of an entire village. To that end, I want to thank a few key people who have helped me make Alexandra’s journey a reality.
First, a special thanks goes to Sam — my best friend, partner, lover, and husband. Thank you for keeping our “real world” in order while I delved into a fantasy world. Sweetie, I don’t tell you often enough his much I appreciate all you do for me. One day, we’ll be able to laugh about all the craziness of the past few years…
Thanks to my sister Jennifer who fell in love with the characters and concept from the first draft and spent countless hours in conversation helping me stay true to them. She and her company, Pole Star Graphics, created a brilliant cover that completely captures the essence of the novel; and her skills with video editing and website development resulted in a very impressive platform for Alex.
A very special thanks to Tammy Souch from Grammatic Effects for her remarkable editing skills, her ability to turn any book into a masterpiece, and her courage in calling me out on things that needed changing. In addition, a thank you for being the official Dog-Whisperer and Cat-Calmer while we were up North for some much-needed R&R. There’s no one else I would trust my animals too while on vacation! I’m looking forward to your book, which I know will be done very soon.
For my family, you have always been my rock. I only hope you know how much I love and appreciate you. Mom and Dad, I hope this novel makes you proud - had it not been for a critically-timed vacation to The Athena, I’m not sure I would have made it through the final pages of the novel. Thank you for always being my patrons, my cheerleaders, and my marketing group!
Mini, your humor and ability to go with the flow continues to be a source of inspiration to me — thanks for the late night check in calls, and the midday calls from jury duty that remind me to laugh and not take things so seriously. Trevor, if it hadn’t been for you troubleshooting my computers and assisting me in retrieving lost files, I doubt the book would ever have happened. Thanks for always taking my call!
To the Jillster, thanks so for being my virtual cheerleader, computer safety advisor, and friend. Besides being a brilliant illustrator and Linux Zen master — you’re one of the best researchers in the business.
A few beta readers were critical in getting this novel completed. Morgan Souch, thanks for being my first ever beta teen reader. Your feedback was so important! Brian Davis, I’ve never had a fight scene storyboarded before now and I’m so excited to see this as a script. With luck, it will hit the big screen. Lianne Briand, your ongoing support and encouragement helped me continue writing during the dark days. And thanks to Kippy Donahue for her initial reading and valuable feedback.
Other people that deserve mention include my PetsWeekly.com readers and advertisers, nearly all of who have turned into my close friends. I thank you for taking an interest in encouraging, supporting, and reading about my work with animals — all animals. You continually remind me the value of having a Pack.
There, you see? It really does take a village to write a novel…
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159-167
It was 5:48 on a Wednesday evening when Trey Haskin had his throat torn out.
The death was only significant because it was the fourth one in as many days. My department only got the call because of the manner in which the guy was killed. I only cared because now I had to stand in the shadows of a rapidly darkening alley waiting on a creature that may or may not ever show up.
This is my life. A twisted version of the Butterfly Effect.
I wrinkled my nose at the stench of rotting garbage and moved away from a dust devil swirling in a tempest towards me. Overhead, the late afternoon sky was overcast and filled with thick, ominous clouds. Other than the wind, there was no movement, nothing to indicate that anything unusual lurked in the alley. But the newly turned vampire, a Newborn, had been hunting here.
Glancing down, the alley now ensconced in shadows, I took a quick visual inventory that included a rusted fire escape cascading down a graffiti-strewn wall, and a scattered collection of long forgotten flyers announcing everything from raves to auto repair. Garbage bags filled with—God only knew what — sat abandoned near the dumpsters. No one had bothered to actually put the bags into the dumpsters. It is, after all, an abandoned alley.
Which made me question the reasons I stood here staring at garbage.
The area I stood in was one of the few vacant alleys that remained in the area. After the economy collapsed and people were forced from their homes as property values plummeted, some had left town forever, while others moved in with family on the outskirts of the desert. But most stayed with what they knew — and that was the city.
It was an area that had become inundated with homeless families struggling to scrape a life back together amidst gangs, assaults, unscrupulous conmen and low-income housing, which made this neighborhood the supernatural equivalent of a drive-thru restaurant.
And put them smack dab in the center of a kill zone.
This was day five of what I had come to refer to as a quest in futility. Reaching into my pocket, I retrieved my thermal scanner … a gift from Richard, my on-again, off-again employer … and kicked my leg back against the brick wall as I studied the device. I still hadn’t learned to use all of the electronics I’d collected over the years, but this particular instrument was one of the easier gadgets, requiring only the click of a button.
Even I could handle that.
I scanned the darkness. No lights flashed, no beeping noise sounded. But, the instrument’s silence wasn’t something I could rely on. Refusing to rest on my laurels, or my electronics, is really the only reason I’d survived my first twenty years of life. After all, when you’re going up against the undead, and you’re not undead, there’s a good chance you’ll end up that way … in the real-life, heart-stop-beating, unable-to-breathe type of death.
Switching legs, I pocketed the heat-seeking device and glanced down the narrow alley.
It wasn’t the best job in the world, but work is work and truth be told, I don’t have a lot of skills to fall back on. In fact, the only skill I have that distinguishes me from other humans is the ability to communicate with animals.
And with a unique skill set such as mine, I’m not much qualified for anything other than a career in the field of zoology or veterinary medicine. But given my inability to solve even the simplest of equations, and my aversion to anything that causes even the slightest injury to an animal, I couldn’t take either of those career options too seriously. So, that left one.
It’s similar to being an animal rescuer, but my focus centers on preternatural creatures rather than fluffy domestics.
I yawned, wrinkling my nose at the nearly imperceptible scent of stale blood that still wafted through the narrow alley.
Yeah … he’d been hunting recently. It was a faint odor, yet strong enough that a human could still scent it, which is saying something. It takes a generous amount of blood for humans to scent anything. The Newborn had been using this area as a hunting ground for a while, and why not? It was a perfect location. The throughway offered a false sense of security making it easy to lure victims in with the promise of a quick fix … no matter if their addiction was sex or drugs.
Pushing away from the wall, I moved to the mouth of the alley and watched the darkening clouds reflect the setting sun as it created a brilliant prism against the twilit sky. Rolling my shoulders back, the satisfying crack of my neck resonated through me and I shook my hands out in an attempt to relax.
Patience has never been something I pride myself on. In fact, some would (and most do) call me impetuous. Joseph, my adoptive father, is the one member of my family who retained the patience gene.
The rest of our motley family has always leaned to the side of reckless abandon.
A broken streetlight flickered against the strong gusts of wind casting erratic shadows over the street. Good for a vampire, not so good for a human tracking a vampire. I perched on the balls of my feet, resting against the ancient brick as I searched the shadows for a more comfortable, less windy spot and awaited the coming rain.
A man close to my age crossed the deserted road in front of me, disrupting my reverie, and I backed into the alley letting the darkening shadows fold over me. He chattered on the small cell phone held tight to his ear as he retreated to the shelter of a nearby building. His hair was short and blonde … slightly mussed up in the chaotic‚ just fell out of bed look that’s so popular nowadays. Despite the cold weather, his pace was as casual and relaxed as his expression. Judging from the burgundy and gold-colored jersey he wore, he was an athlete from the university. The college look wasn’t the most popular style these days, and generally only committed sports fans prided themselves on the yuppie style of dress anymore.
Thanks to the recent increase in vampire literature, goth was back.
Observing him with an intensity that surprised me, I found myself wishing I could be that easygoing, that relaxed, to just casually stroll down a street and plan a night out on the town with friends. It would be nice to just be a normal student in her early twenties, complete with daddy footing the bill and expensive college classes to blow off.
He passed by close enough to touch as I settled back into the shadows. I needn’t have bothered, as he was too absorbed in his phone call to take any notice of me. The scent of sweat and the spice of cologne drifted in the wind and it conjured up the image of a gentler past, a time of no worries…
I let myself feel it for the briefest moment—the longing storming my senses—before I firmly forced my thoughts back to the surface and buried that pain of abandonment.
You’re stronger than this,
I whispered. With a deep breath, I firmly turned my thoughts back to the task at hand. Memories are overrated.
Particularly for me.
The student crossed the street and reached the door to his apartment building. As he fumbled with his keys, I opened my mind and tentatively reached out to him with my thoughts, knowing I would be unsuccessful. The minds of humans had always eluded me. Trying to read the thoughts of my fellow humans was like hitting a firewall against an encrypted network—I just didn’t have enough experience to hack the system, and probably never would.
The click of a lock told me the student had finally managed to locate his key, and I watched as he disappeared into the ancient apartment building, before leaning back to inhale the sharp, cold air.
Rubbing the back of my neck in an attempt to ease the creeping stiffness, I tried once again to accept that my desire for a simpler, more normal way of life was not in the cards. And while I hadn’t altogether abandoned the dream, I knew where I belonged.
Which is here.
Sitting in a dark alley at dusk during a cold desert storm, tracking a preternatural creature that either needed to be domesticated or destroyed.
I reached for the phone on my hip and called Richard. Waiting for the call to go through, I pressed the gold stud earring I wore, relaying the call through the clever device that Joseph had designed years ago. The earring acted as both a Bluetooth device and a way to track my location, which Richard had insisted upon many years ago when I kept getting myself into trouble. But I had long ago discovered ways to counteract both functions. The only reason I kept it in place these many years later is that it came in handy as a hands-free network and afforded Richard some peace of mind.