Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Escape to Vampire Dam by S.N. McKibben - Book Tour + Giveaway

Escape To Vampire Dam
S.N. McKibben
Paranormal Romance

Zompocalypse is here...
...but the saviors of humanity are the very monsters that drink human blood.
 Noir Tekeste is one of a hand full of survivors that hasn't been
zombiefied living at Vampire Dam - a vampire protected human refugee
camp. Life is simple. Avoid zombies, make babies and donate blood.
When Noir finds a note from her lost son she's determined to leave
the safety of Vampire Dam to find him. Armed with her wits, a
flashlight and a vampire escort Noir finds more than zombies await
her on her quest.
Live the adventure in this Dark Heart Heroes Venture #1 a 20,000 word
short story

As a thirty-six year old woman in the post-apacalyptic world, the vampires valued me. Yeah, finally, Noir Tekeste, meant something to someone other than my ten year-old son – wherever he was. My heart gave a pang. I hoped he was still alive.
Ever since Zompocalypse, humans were a scarce commodity in the vampire world. That’s when the blood suckers stepped up to the plate and started protecting people from anything and everything. The emergence of zombies shortened the supply of prey.
Dead blood held no nutrition value for vampires. Once humans were gone, vampires would starve for eternity. Living with out-of-your-mind hunger wasn't an acceptable fate to vampires. So blood-suckers started protecting humans from zombies. I never thought I’d say this but, thank god for vampires.   
"Incoming." My vampire guard, Jason, pointed down into the water.
Zombies didn’t pay attention to bottles riding river currents, which was how rivers became postal by-ways. A mason jar, its sparkling head bobbing in froth and rapids, was the night’s last mail delivery. As soon as the net spanning the small tributary caught that goodie, I’d reel everything in and see what the river placed on our door.
Jason wasn't much of a talker. He subscribed to the mindset of keeping food at a distance. Me being human—food meant me. I huffed at him, even though he was my protector and companion for tonight.
“Yeah, I can see that, I have eyes." I batted my eyelashes at him.
His lack of interest in what men had told me was an adorable face and curvy figure irked me. Most vampires, or even my fellow male human compatriots, would smile and ask if I needed a hand bringing in the heavy nets. Not Jason.
I grabbed the mail pole that would release the net and started fishing the mail out of the water. I still got a thrill from getting water post. No matter what the news, letters were information. A personal letter from someone, or anyone proving we weren't alone, was cause for celebration.
"Calm yourself." Jason growled. "Heartbeat."
I scowled at Ass-wad. Jason constantly reminded me blood coursed through my veins. "Bite me."
"Tempting offer." Jason towered over me, eyeing my throat. Built like a biker lumberjack in a leather jacket, with a goatee he was intimidating enough to make me remember my vitality was my only defense against him. I also knew he had a Glock handgun in the inner pocket of his iconic “Fonzie-wear”. I was safe because I was a commodity. No one wanted to kill a golden goose.
You'd think my comment was an invitation. It wasn't. Vampires biting humans was against the head vampire, Calif's rules. Calif ruled all the vampires in a fifty-mile radius. For whatever reason, Calif’s first rule was "no biting".
Calif required all humans wanting his protection to donate via the Red Cross method with their blood stored in little “doggie bags”.
No donation and we were “free to leave” the comfort and safety of Vampire Dam into the maw of flesh-eating zombies, ravenous shape-shifters or who knows what other perversions the apocalypse had created. No, thanks. What vein would you like, sir?
Considering the chance of being eaten by zombies was enough to keep thirty-seven of us under his protection. I’d rather be a little lethargic from blood loss than zombiefied.
But Jason was still a human-eating immortal.
And I was alone with him right now.
Jason gritted his teeth. "Heart. Beat."
Fear and my stomach weren't friends, but I swallowed that ball of dried anxiety. "Can I get the mail now?"
He stepped back and my heart began to calm.
"Thank you." I shifted my pack-back and lowered my mail catcher.
The jar did a fine job of keeping the message dry. Paper is a rare jewel in this day and age but peeled birch bark worked when you scratched a message with a blade. I could almost read the message through the glass. My eyes halted at the name—Yiran Tekeste. My son. He would be ten now.
Blood rushed through my ears.
In the background I heard a growl as my vision narrowed to pinpoint precision of the handwriting.
Jason yanked me out of my fog. We were running.
The jar slid out my hand. The sound of glass shattering on rock brought maternal instincts back to life. That small jar carried the last whereabouts of my Yiran. Nothing would separate me from my son if he was alive.
Jason’ superior vampire strength couldn’t match the super powers of a determined mother. I wrenched out of his grasp and darted for that sliver of bark before I saw why Jason hurtled me away from the river.
The horrid smell of death preceded the appearance of a sickly, droopy skinned zombie. Stringy hair clumped in patches over her scalp. Her jaundiced eyes surveyed me, then darted toward me.
I grabbed the mail catcher and prepared to battle over what might be the last reminiscence of my son, I heaved the end of the mail pole with all the strength a mother possessed protecting her child.
A streak flew past me. Wind from its passing whipped hair into my eyes.
The brain-eater tumbled in a writhing ball with another figure—Jason.
The wooden pole I had hurled, snapped in two as the two monsters battled.
I thought zombies were ugly. The vampire wrapped around the zombie was all sharp teeth and feral eyes. Those teeth could make a saber-toothed cat jealous.
The zombie snarled.
Jason bit its head off.
The soccer-sized melon rolled my way and the mouth snarled silently. Its wind pipe was done. My insides shivered.
The snapping of bone focused my attention back on Jason.
My attacker’s knees jutted backward. Ick. I thought there might be blood, but I guess if you don't have a beating heart to pump the red stuff around, only gravity pulls it out. Not that there wasn’t blood, it just didn’t leak out in gobs.
A thunk pulled my attention to the ground near me. The thing’s decapitated head maneuvered its tongue to roll toward me.
"Oh, that is just gross." I punted the head into the bushes.
I picked the birch paper from among the broken glass, and then Jason slung me over his shoulder cave-man style and ran.
"I'm not an invalid." But I didn’t squirm.
His normal preternatural speed became sluggish and his grip loosened.
We went on like this, me the damsel in distress, and he the lumberjack version of road warrior, trudging the forest long enough that I started to believe he was going to carry me all the way home.
He set me down somewhere between a pine and a conifer, and I got a good look at where my mail pole landed.
A squeak passed my lips.
"I thought if you got a wooden stake through your heart it killed you."
"You obviously don't understand the meaning of immortal." He rubbed his hands down his jeans and hung his head looking at the pole in his chest.
"Seriously? You can't die?" That could not be right. "But when Calif burns one of you, you’re ash."
Jason glanced at me. The steel in his eyes warned me to shut up.
"Burning is the best way to keep us down for a while."
This was news to me, and more than Jason said to me in my time with him. I wondered if he would talk more. "Zombies die when you burn them."
"Do they die?" He cradled the piece of wood protruding from his chest in his bear-paw hand. "Or do we just pulverize them to the point where they can't move."
Jason grunted. As far as I knew, vampires never felt pain or joy. They remained grim rocks. Guess if I lived forever in a world where I could starve and never die, I'd be cranky too.
"You alright? Does it hurt?"
He dropped his hand and speared me with the scowliest scowl ever. Geez, I was just trying to be nice.
"Let me see." Jason stroked his goatee like some evil overlord. "I'll shove a wooden pole through your middle and ask the same question."
I couldn't help my donkey snort. "Okay, I just thought you guys were void of pain."
Jason shook his head, looked down at his wound, and winced. "Pull it out."
I said nothing and he brought his murky blue eyes to me. "You threw the pole. You get to take it out."
My small hand could barely grasp the stick.
"This might go better if I tie a rope to it and pull." I started searching my pack.
"Just get it out!"
His pale face started turning a faint shade of blue.
I grabbed the stick and yanked.
Jason’s wrinkled nose and gritted teeth confirmed his statement. Vampires felt pain.
Beyond our clearing, the bushes rustled wildly. The headless body of the zombie erupted through the shrubbery and charged us, her arms and hands dragging it through the underbrush. Its useless legs dangled behind Jason roared and punted the body, football all-star style, into the air and over the bushes.
He reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a Glock handgun.
"Go!" Jason planted himself between me and the headless zombie.
"No way!" I stuffed the piece of bark in my pack and pulled out my trusty flashlight. Nothing like a long metal tube and heavy “D” batteries to give you some oomph behind a swing. Slipping the back-pack on, I anchored myself next to Jason.
Aiming the gun barrel at plants and tree trunks, Jason took hold of my wrist and pulled me towards home, Vampire Dam.
Pain shot down the arm he grabbed. I couldn't keep pace with his superior speed, and my arm popped out of socket.
"Ahhhh!" I screamed. I couldn't get my feet back under me.
Jason didn't even bother helping me up. He carried me like a sack of wet beans.
Thank you Calvin Klein, my jeans fit snug enough to protect me from dirt, rocks and wet leaves without chaffing. My dislocated shoulder, not so lucky.
As far as I was concerned, Jason and I were even – dislocated shoulder just as painful as pole through the middle. The headless zombie body crawled after us with amazing speed. I had no clue how it knew where we were.
"It’s gaining," I said.
My vampire was not up to par. We should have been leaving Headless eating our dust.
This was why we always beat zombies to a pulp when we found them. Even headless the thing pursued us.
Jason cut right, then left, using trees to confuse my attacker. Weaving around trunks did not make my shoulder any better. Each switch of direction ripped another streak of pain down my arm.
"Give me your Glock!" I reached my good arm out. No way was I zombie chow without blowing up a few body parts.
Jason managed to put the gun in my hand. Big ass grip though. I hate Glocks. They’re made for men with big hands.
Headless kept coming.
I aimed for an elbow, breathed, and squeezed the trigger. Jason whipped me right and my shot winged a tree. Bark shrapnel cascaded down on Headless. It didn’t matter.
"Damn it!" I half screamed from the pain in my shoulder. I was safe from zombie claws, but missed my target. "Stay on course, Jason!"
He grunted. I wasn’t sure if that was compliance or an “F” you.
Headless caught our direction and clambered towards us. The thing would have been comical if it hadn’t been so deadly. It arms wind-milled propelling it forward faster than Jason could run.
I aimed again.
The zombie gained. Dirt flew into the air as she clawed to get at us. Severed arteries from her exposed neck bled. She wore a fifties style dress reminding me of a stay-at-home mom with three children. But the flecks of red and dirt stained rips on her dress suggested she ate those children after her transformation. How horrible. I pulled the trigger.
Headless fell flat on the ground.
"Finally." Jason pulled me up into his arms and held me like a baby while he ran.
"I shot June Cleaver." I buried my face in his cool chest. It would make me feel better if he breathed. Listening to a beating heart does wonders for the psyche. But like all vampires, Jason only took in air to talk.
Soft thuds of Jason's feet turned into the crisp echoes of Nike's on pavement. Almost home.
Vampire Dam was home to fifteen vampires and thirty seven humans. If my son were here, the human count would be thirty eight.
"Put me down."
"Not until we cross the bridge."
He was right, but I wanted to see the bark parchment again. Was it really my son? Was he alive?
Before the Zompocalypse, Hansen Dam was just land stolen from the Hansen Family by eminent domain and built into a dam by army engineers. Turns out, the military had more than just a dam in their plans.
Bunkers underground led to facilities that created the perfect vampire lair. Space, plenty of catacombs, and no sun. But to get there you had to cross the bridge that was guarded by at least one sentinel at all times. Tonight’s duty belonged to Blaze, the one and only vampire that loved fire so much the crazy idiot strapped a flame thrower to his back. His favorite hobby was barbecuing zombies.
“Good.” Blaze saluted us with the ungodly nozzle of his chosen weapon. “Calif is waiting for you.”
Jason set me on my feet and without any warning, he popped my shoulder back into place.
“Owwww!” Piece of Ass-wad didn’t even warn me.
Ignoring the huge blood stain and a hole in Jason’s shirt, Blaze smiled at me. “Hey, sweetcakes. Want to see a vampire burn?”
His words were a bit too light hearted.
“Not really.” I shook my head and tugged at my pack. “I hear it really stinks.”
“Too bad.” Blaze turned and gave his full attention to Jason. “One’s going up in flames before dawn.”
My hands fell from the zipper of my pack.
Jason asked before I could. “Who?”
Blaze turned and walked towards the long stretch that saved us from many a zombie horde.
Jason and I followed. We got half-way over the bridge when I realized Blaze was going with us. “Who’s guarding the bridge?”
Jason answered in military precision. “Four guards at the mouth. All human.”
I looked back knowing it was in vain. I’d never be able to see them. I wasn’t a soldier. I had more “important” duties.
Being a woman, my job was to have babies. Babies that would grow up and help supply blood to our caretakers. The memory had me pulling my pack, unzipping the top, and grabbing Yiran’s bark inscribed message. I stopped dead in the middle of the bridge. The handwriting looked rushed, but it was Yiran’s.

Dear Anybody,
My name is Yiran Tikeste. I am looking for my mother, Noir Tikeste. We are trapped and need help. Please anyone, find my mother, tell her I am ten miles north of the Big Paw Den. She can be found at Vampire Dam. They won’t hurt you. They aren’t like these ones.

“Keep moving.” Jason nudged me.
I stumbled forward with blind obedience while my mind spun. “He’s alive.”
Two years I thought my baby boy was dead. This writing wasn’t from the mind of a zombie. How had Yiran survived?
We walked in silence toward one of the common areas.
Not many humans were awake at this time of the morning. Even I only got up early before the sun rose because going out without a vampire escort was too dangerous. And they were rather busy sleeping during sunlight hours. My time belonged to any volunteer that agreed to go with me.
But all was not quiet in the common area.
“Frazier!” The shout shattered the silence usual during this time of night.
I ran to Maggie, our human medic. She was trying to escape Kabal’s restraining arms.
“What in the hell?” I looked to the older man for answers.
Kabal, our human counterpart of Calif, held Maggie and shook a weary head.
The dry aqueduct was a perfect meeting place for humans and vampire. A tube led down to the catacombs of the vampires’ day light area. Sometimes if zombies made it over the bridge, we’d run down that pipe. Zombies that followed never made it out.
Frazier, one of the calmest vampires of the fifteen, was chained to the base of the wall.
Calif held a torch. His blond farmer boy face always proclaiming innocence retreated giving way to the ruthless head vampire persona. Light bounced off the anger gleaming from the head vampire eyes.
Maggie screamed again. “Let him go!”
“Jesus,” I muttered. What was going on?
Calif turned his cold stare to Jason and Blaze. “Get in line.”
I noticed all the vampires under Calif’s control were in formation, beaming hateful stares at Frazier. They stood tall and stiff as an egret’s leg.
Jason and Blaze stepped up to the end and joined the communal stare down.
“Kabal?” I walked over to our elder. “What’s going on?”
Maggie shrieked. “They’re going to kill him.”
Kabal held Maggie closer and shushed her.
“Maggie.” Frazier eyed the torch in Calif’s hand. “Don’t watch this, darling.”
Our medic tugged at the elder’s hold. “Calif, please don’t!”
The head vampire stood, impervious to her pleas.
“Maggie.” Frazier tugged at the solid metal bars holding his wrists at his sides. “I don’t regret it.”
Calif turned to the other vampires. “I have two rules.” He held up one finger. “What is rule number one?”
A chorus of voices answered in unity. “No biting humans.”
Oh no. I smoothed away Maggie’s hair from her neck. I didn’t see any bite marks. It must have been the second rule. But how did Calif know? If you’re quiet about an affair, it’s not hard to hide.
“What is rule number two?” Calif held a wide stance, his power over the others saturated the air. Usually, Calif smiled and women melted.
Again the chorus piped. “No sleeping with humans.”
Hell if I knew why those two rules were worth burning for. I could understand no biting humans, but the second? Why couldn’t vampires and humans play hide the sausage?
Maggie held tight to Kabal, and hid her eyes in his bony shoulder.
Frazier stood in what looked like a copper bowl.
“Jesus.” I stroked Maggie’s hair and listened to her cry. “I get it. I really do. Calif wants more babies and you can’t have babies screwing vamps, but doesn’t this seem a bit extreme?”
Kabal shot his watery blue eyes my way and then to Calif.
Maggie wailed harder.
Morbid curiosity moved my legs closer to Jason. I could barely make out the conversation between Calif and Frazier.
Calif turned to the chained up vampire. “You damn idiot.” 
“It was worth it.” Frazier held no spite in his words, but the conviction came from a heart I didn’t know vampires possessed. “Calif—”
“Not another word!” Calif threatened Frazier with the fire in his hands and the torch seemed to burn brighter as if it knew touching Frazier would give it eternal, sentient life.
“You need to know.” Frazier bowed his head.
“Shut up!”
“I forgive you,” Frazier whispered.
Calif threw the torch into the pot.
The flames consumed Frazier faster than a Christmas tree.
“Watch you bastards!” The normally reserved head vampire stared at his remaining thirteen. “You fucking look away and I’ll toss you in with him.”
Frazier put up a good front for about ten seconds.
The sound of screeching inbetween a bird and a lion’s roar tore through the air. My hands flew to my ears when the scream of a burning vampire hit.
Another ten seconds and a blackened skeleton fell into the bowl. Licks of fire peeked over the container.
“Get in the catacombs.” Calif’s voice grated against my ears.
“Wait!” I stepped forward, ready to grasp the head vampire’s arm.
Calif whirled on me and exposed fangs.
My eyes grew wide and I stepped back. “Sir.”
I hadn’t seen him move, but now Jason stood two feet behind the head vampire. My escort had been twenty feet away.
“I want to ask a favor.”
Within a blink, Calif the overbearing head vampire, morphed into Calif the Georgia boy who got all the girls to say yes to anything.
“Noir, darling, what favor do you ask?”
“I got this.” I handed over Yiran’s bark letter.
Calif read the knife scratch.
Jason cocked his head and read the note over Calif’s shoulder.
“My son is out there.”
Calif handed me the proof of Yiran’s existence. “No.”
“I have not asked yet.”
“No.” Calif turned, avoiding Jason’s gaze.
“By your own policy, I can leave any time I want.”
That got the head vampire’s attention. “What makes you think you can come back?”
Calif was in a sour mood. I needed to put on the sweet face and make kissy-kissy if I was going to present my case. Or come up with a great argument.
Jason slid between us and said, “The boy indirectly mentions other humans. He wrote ‘we’ not ‘I’ and if he’s with others...”
The two vampires locked eyes. Vampires had some creepy visual communication that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise.
Calif growled. “No.”
“Fine.” I turned and walked to the bridge.
Standing in the middle blocking my way was not Calif the head vampire, but the smiling Georgia boy. “Noir, you don’t want to leave.”
Shaking, I wasn’t sure if he was going to let me go. I walked around him and he walked beside me.
“Sir, he’s my son.”
A firm hand grabbed my still-aching arm. “Noir, I can’t protect you out there.”
I tried a different tactic. One I never considered before. I reached out my good arm and cupped that square male jaw. “I will find him and we will come back.”
Calif closed his eyes and leaned into my touch. His face was bitter cold. All the warmth of my hand leaked out until my fingers felt like they were going to get frostbite.
Behind Calif, Jason cleared his throat.
Steel, murky blue eyes accused me of treachery.
“I’m free to leave.” I said.
Calif nodded.
“Master,” Jason whispered.
Whatever meaning was inside that word made Calif’s face fall inward. He nodded once and walked the length of the bridge and out of sight.
“I’ll get us a travel pack.”
“What? I thought I was going alone.”
“Meet me at the mouth.”
Jason leaped over the side of the bridge and disappeared.
Seeing Jason using ‘vampire abilities’ surprised me. They consumed energy – energy that could only be replenished by human blood. If you did the math, there were fifteen, now fourteen vampires. Thirty-seven humans. On average, vampires need around a gallon of blood a week. Because there weren’t that many humans, vampires were getting less than that. The vampires protecting us were getting a fourth of their normal diet. Not comforting when I ran the thought all the way through. Treading across the wild lands with a starving vampire didn’t make for a safe journey.

A long, black flashlight peeked through dirt and fall leaves. It was a relief to have my one last reminder of a civilization where batteries could be bought in any town mart. I tucked the flashlight in with my belongings and handed everything over to Ass-wad.
Jason tossed our packs on a raft that came straight from Huckleberry Finn.
I pointed to logs tied together with rotting rope. "We're riding on that?"
Jason bent down--ever the model of how to properly pick up a box with his back straight and knees doing the work--and picked up a twelve-foot pole. He tested the raft with one toe before putting all his weight on it, and held a hand to me.
Throwing up my hands, I jumped onto the logs and almost fell on my ass, but an arm snaked around my middle and crushed me into a stone-hard chest. My hands caught the hem of his t-shirt, slipped under the cotton fabric, and got a good feel of his nine-pack abs.
My clumsy haste provoked Ass-wad’s famous scowl.
"Wet logs don't have much traction." Jason's chest heaved with the words and then stopped. I wish he would continue breathing. Or on second thought, maybe it was best he didn’t. That one heave of male chest awakened lower nerves. The kind of nerves that made my cheeks warm.
I went to give Ass-wad a disparaging answer but he was holding me so tight only a squeak came out.
Shit, he was staring at my neck. Right where my pulse was pounding just under the skin. This perfect soldier and strict self-disciplined vampire was wound drum-tight.
"I can't breathe."
He released me. Air rushed into my lungs, blood pounded inside my head. My knees gave out. I braced my hands to keep from crashing on my head. Smooth wood meet my palms.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Our rapids “death-trap” started drifting downstream and then the craft rocked forward. Jason’s poling created a steady rhythm of lurching forward, gliding to a halt, and lurching forward rocked me into a serene state of mind.
The firs were green. Birds who dared stay up this late chirped. The call of cranes echoed over the river. I watched everything and anything to ignore Jason's display of upper body strength. His hips’ slow twist in unison with those arms flexing under the pressure of hard labor. How could a girl not want?
A choice between lethargic human guys, or a power house vampire that can last for hours? Not much of a competition. I don't blame Maggie for jumping on Frazier one bit
Cloud-blue eyes captured my attention. I didn't know how long I stared back. It felt like hours.
I heard vampires could read your mind but the rumor was only speculation among us humans. A case of for them to know and us to find out. Heat rose to my cheeks as I thought about him hearing my thoughts. Geez. Poor guy. The temptation if he could.
He smirked. I wanted to look away but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of winning the stare-down. Lucky me, he looked away and my dignity was saved.
When his attention landed on the river his smile retreated.
"Look at me," Jason said, keeping his eyes on the water.
My eyebrows scrunched together. Look at him? You looked away first. You lost buddy. No second rounds. "Now you’re being presumptuous."
He didn't answer. That faint smile a moment ago was the only reprieve I would get from Ass-wad. Jason remained on his task. Hip roll, arm flex, hip roll, arm flex. I really couldn't watch anymore. Not unless Jason didn’t care about rule number two. It would never happen. Ass-wad didn’t think about sex.
"Noir." Jason spoke to me like someone approaching a skittish poodle. "Look at me. Don't look away."
It wasn't a conceited request. There was something wrong.
I turned around and froze.
In the moonlight I wasn't sure what I was seeing at first. I thought it was mismatched boards slapped together to make a gate. Then I squinted in the moon light.
"Oh my god." Every muscle taut and ready to flee. Still I couldn't move.
"Look at me." Jason growled, continuing his meticulous pumping.
My mind went on overload. Panic threatened chaos. At the side of the river, in single file from one end until I couldn’t see, stood zombies.
Some glared at Jason with all the hate zombies and vampires shared for each other. Some gave me the thousand-year hungry stare. None of them moved. Their bugged out eyes followed, but not their heads. The muscles in my arms shook.
Battle-worn zombies. Each one gnarled, rumpled with skin or a body parts sloughing off. Zombies that came out from a scrape knew how to survive, knew where people lived, knew how to hunt.
"They won't get you." Jason wasn't great with words, but his conviction was the safety blanket I needed.
Tremors rattled my body so deep I could hear my own bones rub together. I wrapped myself in a cocoon of ignorance and buried my head between my knees.
The raft continued to rock forward, drift, rock forward, drift.
The motion helped me calm down. But if zombies didn't have an aversion to water, we'd be zombie toast. I needed something more to distract me from the horror's twenty feet away.
"Why is rule number two necessary?" My knees muffled the words, but he was a vampire. Super hearing and all that.
I heard a sigh and expected the same tired excuse. Instead I got nothing. When I raised my head, cloud-blue eyes assessed me.
"Vampires can't procreate with humans, blah, blah, bullshit," I said.
Jason snorted. Wow, emotion from the Great Wall of China.
"You saw Maggie." Jason's rock-hard shield returned.
"Yeah. Can't say I blame her."
Jason continued his pole driving, while latching that stare onto me. "You ever ask yourself why Frazier didn't run?"
I shrugged. "Maybe he did."
"How do you know?"
Jason shook his head. "Your boy figured it out at six years of age."
I choked at the thought of Yiran. "Are you calling me dumber than a first grader?"
His lip twitched. "No. I'm surprised he didn't tell you."
"Fine." Vampires and their riddles. I glanced over at the silent crowd following us on land. Chills galloped down my spine. Riddles were going to keep me sane. "So, I'm a vampire and I have a human lover. I'm breaking the rules because, well, duh, it wouldn't be a rule if it weren’t necessary. But the reason given is only half the truth. What? Does blood and sex mean the same thing for vampires, and you’re into monogamy?"
"Considering all vamps except masters have five to seven humans in their clutch, monogamy doesn't factor into the equation."
Jason having half a dozen girls fawning over him? I didn't see it. He seemed more the one woman type. "Do you have sex with all of them?"
"When we're allowed a clutch, yes." The unabashed answer shocked me.
"How many does a master have in his clutch?"
"Anywhere from two to five hundred."
"Oh my god!"
"Shhhhh!" Jason glanced over at the zombie bank side of the river. "You'll agitate them."
"Five hundred?" I whispered. "That's a huge jump from ten."
"That's why most masters are incognito right now. Not enough to sustain them."
"How does it work with enough humans?"
Jason continued to push upstream.
Why would one vampire need that many people? I tried doing the math. Nothing really matched up. "Why can't I get a straight answer?"
"Not worried about them anymore, are you?" Jason turned and started pole driving from his left side.
At the mention of zombies, my heart clenched.
Jason swore under his breath. “Heart beat.”
Looking at them just standing there, waiting patiently as if my death by their hands was inevitable.
"We become bonded."
I tore my gaze from the visible stench on shore. Even my eyes could smell them. "What?"
"Christ." Jason narrowed his eyes. "Knowledge is power, Noir. Don't take advantage. Swear to me you won't."
"Bonded? What does that mean?"
Jason stopped pumping and held the craft steady against the current. "Swear to me. You will not manipulate a situation."
What the hell? Lack of movement put me on edge. “Tell me what it means.”
“It means we’ll do anything for those we bond with.”
“Okay! So you bond, what's the big deal?”
Jason growled.
"Please, let's just keep going." Zombies started pacing at the river's edge.
“Swear to me.”
“Okay, I swear. Can we keep going?”
My escort growled but pushed against the pole, and the raft lurched forward.
Anxiety and a pissed off vampire didn’t go well together, so I put my head back in my knees and stayed there.
When the raft hit land, I raised my head.
"Come on." Jason straddled the raft. We’d landed on the opposite side of the horde. I could feel their jaundiced eyes on my back.
Stiff legs protested, but I got up. "Are they still there?"
Jason offered me a hand and this time I took it. Once on land he held both my shoulders and said, "Stay here."
He wanted me to face forward and not look back. But I'd avoided the zombies long enough. Ignoring a problem wasn't going to make it go away so I turned around.
Jason was tying the homage to Mark Twain to the dock and on the other side of the river, clumped together in silent waiting, zombies bided their time. I counted fifty before Jason clamped down on my arm and we started walking.
"This way." He clomped away in huge strides. "I need to advise the Big Paw we're here."
Sunrise had to be soon and I did not want to be alone with the skin-walkers, known as the Big Paw.
Calif had a truce with them, but generally, skin-walkers were nasty. They were supposed to be Shamen that could transform into animals after skinning the creature alive and eating its remains. Imagine coming face-to-face with a bear having the intelligence of a man.
Skin-walkers vs. zombies? Facing the horde of fifty back at the dock might be better than crossing paths with a group of man-eating anamorphous beasts.
Jason came to a stop and held his arm out, preventing me from going forward.
One finger pressed to his lips and I was ready to crap my pants. The hand holding me in place slid down my arm and into my palm. Jason's grasp was as cool as the night air.
I was shoved behind Ass-wad and my abused shoulder socket protested.
When he walked, I walked.
Clay domes no taller than Jason's neck huddled in a circle around an unlit fire pit. The homes, if you called them that, pulled in darkness around them. Darkness that warned away prying eyes. The domes made me feel like I'd offended them just by knowing about their existence.
I ran into something stiff and big. Jason's backside. Peeping around to get a look, my mind wasn't prepared for the thing I saw.
Beautiful patterned thick-coiled rope, piled as high as my five-foot stature, sat in the doorway of one of the adobe. A diamond head rose above the rope base. The unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake's tail thundered in my ears. Jason squeezed my hand so hard I had to bite down on my lower lip to keep from screaming.
The snake was a skin-walker. Shit.

Slave to a 100 lbs. GSD (German Shepard) and a computer she calls "Dave",
you'll often see her riding a 19 hand Shire nicknamed "Gunny"
to the local coffee shop near the Santa Monica mountains.
Stephanie reads for the love of words, and writes fiction about Dark Hearts and
Heroes revolving around social taboos. When ever asked, she'll reply
her whole life can be seen through a comic strip ~ sometimes twisted,
sometimes funny but always beautiful and its title is adventure. Come

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