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Bloodlines

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 1

 

When Eugene Schenkel was thirteen he'd been a loser. A tall, gangly, pimple faced teenager lacking in social skills. An angry, sullen child who turned into an angry, sullen teenager who regularly experienced the sort of mood swings that would have triggered alarms in more attentive parents. When he was fourteen and loitering in a local music store he heard the song that would change his life forever. When the rumbling bass, the arrhythmia-causing tempo and the deep-throated vocals of Danzig's Lucifuge blared over the store speakers, Eugene was snared.

He spent his high school years striving to emulate his idol. The God-like physique, the glowering, brooding disdain for social conservatism. A single-minded focus on weight lifting and body building that had the bullies who had tormented him cowering in respectful fear four years later.

The words of the songs became his mantra. I Am Demon. Apokalips. Dominion. Belly of the Beast. Bringer of Death. His skeptism of his father's Jewish faith turned to loathing. If there was a God - - and he did believe there was, because without good there could be no evil - - he was an undeserving one. Lucifer was his almighty.

He spent the summer of '94 following the Danzig 4 tour. It was there, after a show in his home state of New York, that he met a few fellow minded Doom Metal enthusiasts. When they took him to the basement of an old abandoned brownstone and introduced him to the world of organized anti-religion in the form of a group of eight, tattooed, doom espousing worshippers of Lucifer, Eugene had finally found his calling. A tight knit group of cronies who believed the same things he believed, who listened to the same music, who enjoyed killing things now and then and immersing themselves in the blood of their sacrifices. Who despised the world at large and longed for the chaos that hell on earth would bring.

Their little cult was only one of a network of brotherhoods around the world who worshipped their dark lord under the noses of polite society. Some of them were organized, secretive little societies whose members lived in suburban houses and held 9 to 5 jobs. Some were outcasts, spewing death and destruction in their wakes, going from city to city, leaving their bloody handprints for the local law to puzzle over.

The one thing they all had in common was the general knowledge and belief that one day their patience would be rewarded when the powers of evil were finally unleashed to ravish the world. In all the diverse myth and lore, one thing held true, that that was the existence of the Book of Pure Evil. The ultimate weapon in the arsenal of Lucifer. The Holy Grail to the worshippers of the Dark Lord.

By the time Eugene was 25, he'd changed his name to Draxal Gottslayer (which he thought sounded appropriately Germanic and apocalyptic at the same time), and had elevated himself to the head of his growing brotherhood. Thirty members strong, and they'd all filed into the den of dark worship in Hoboken one Friday night to find their former cult leader dismembered and disemboweled, his entrails arranged inside and around the pentagram etched into the stone floor they used for their ceremonies. Draxal had stood in the center, knives still in hand, those muscles he'd worked so hard for, glistening with sweat and blood.

He was voted in as the new leader of the Hoboken satanic sect without dissent.

Draxal was smart, he was clever and most importantly he was brutal in the pursuit of his goals. He ran a music store that sold refurbished stereos and old vinyl, heavy metal shirts and gear, black lights and posters. Anything your teenaged or not so teenaged hard rocker would find appealing enough to spend money on. Under the glass at the counter he kept his own personal obsessions, a wicked collection of daggers and bladed weapons.

Draxal liked to think of himself as a jack of many trades.

At thirty-seven he still worked out daily to maintain the intimidating, muscle-bound physique that got him laid on a regular basis by girls half his age. He treated them like trash, of course, but then women, he found, as a general rule, tended to flock towards guys who couldn't give less of fuck about impressing them.

Which was why when the girl showed up at the store one day, casually running her fingers across the rack of t-shirts, he gave her a disdainful leer and turned back to sharpening one of his knives. He watched her from the corner of his eye; she was a hot little number, with long black hair and black leather pants so tight it seemed they were painted on. She had on a mutilated Danzig t-shirt - - which fact alone sent her up a notch on the hotness scale. A fucking hot little piece of ass, and he absently rubbed his swelling balls through his jeans as she drifted through the store.

There was a kid in the store, a wanna be rocker that still lived at home with mommy and daddy if the braces he was sporting were any indication. But then kids that lived with mommy and daddy usually had money to burn. The kid was watching her too, staring at her ass with wide eyes as she bent to look at a pair of black lace up boots on a rack by the floor.

She turned around and looked at the kid, and Draxal didn't catch her expression, but the kid's face paled and he almost knocked a display over in his haste to scramble to the door.

"Watch it, you little turd - -" Draxal snarled, but the kid was long gone, the doorbell chiming in his wake.

The girl casually followed and Draxal thought she was leaving too, but all she did was turn the latch, flip the 'open' sign to 'closed', then turn to face him.

"What the fuck, bitch?"

She lifted one dark brow and in her smoldering gaze he saw something he hadn't seen directed at him in a woman's eyes since he was fourteen. Disdain.

"We need to talk, Eugene," she purred.

He straightened up, offended. "The names Draxal. Draxal Gottslayer and you can get the fuck out of my store."

"I don't think so." She strode forward, all swaying hips and perky tits and forcing his gaze back up to her face was like fighting gravity.

"Bitch, you don't know the depths of the shit you're about to step in," he said threateningly. Draxal could be damned threatening when he focused his scowl and flexed his impressive upper torso.

Her smile was canine, like a jackal, deadly and beautiful. No, not a jackal. A wolf. And from one step to the next she melted, morphing from a black clad girl of the hottest degree to a huge, silver coated wolf. And not the sort of wolf you saw people keeping as pet, the hybrids and the tame half-breeds - - but like something that never stepped foot outside the deepest of primordial forests. Huge and blue-eyed and staring right through his eyes into the depraved depths of his soul.

The wolf grinned at him. A wolf's grin, with teeth as long as the girl's fingers that could shred flesh as easily as any of his knives. Its great claws clicked on the scuffed tile floor as it padded around the counter and stood staring at him.

Draxal's fingers were numb on the hilt of the knife. If it had been a normal, mundane wolf, he might have braced himself for a fight. But this wasn't mundane and yellow wolf eyes flashed with a glint of hellfire that made his cock rock hard in his pants.

Two more strides right up to where he sat frozen and the wolf shifted, fur and teeth and claws melting back into soft female flesh and silky black hair.

"Would you like to talk now?" she purred.

Draxal gaped. In all his years worshipping the dark lord, in all his satanic ceremonies and his faithful sacrifices, all his research into satanic history, he'd never seen anything remotely supernatural. He'd waited all his life for it. Patient and faithful that one day, his devotion would be rewarded.

He laid the knife carefully on the counter and stood, nodding.

"Who are you?"

She slid right up to him, close enough to smell the scent of some night blooming flower in her hair, the smell of something wild and wicked on her skin. He was hard under his jeans, erection straining against denim. She looked down, noting it, then cast her eyes back up at him.

"You can call me, Nikki," she said.

"What are you?"

"What do you think I am, lover?"

"A she-demon." He breathed, praying it was so.

Her smile widened and she shrugged. "Close enough.

He felt like dropping down to his knees in front of her in gratification. All these years - - all these years and here she was. He held firm and braced his feet, putting one arm on the counter to casually show off the bulging contours of his arm. She lifted a hand and ran fingertips from his wrist to his shoulder appreciatively.

"You're needed, Draxal Gottslayer, to right an unfortunate wrong."

He straightened, a thrill of excitement rushing though him. "What wrong?"

Her smile was like sex and sin. "Show me your temple, Draxal."

Denying her anything was beyond him. He took her downstairs to the basement where he and his sect practiced their dark devotions. Shag carpet around the edges where there were couches and a mini bar, and a flat screen TV flush against one wall. The center of the floor was cement, with a inverted pentagram stained here and there with blood and black candle wax. Other trappings lined the walls, satanic symbols, posters, icons.

Nikki walked around the pentagram, then stopped across from it and looked at him.

"The prophecy has come to fruition. The Book has chosen a Master, "

"By Lucifer," he gasped, excitement bubbling up. Then it occurred to him that hell had not risen up to wash the world in its chaos. That the world was very much like it had always been. Hellish, yes, but not the sort of hell that he and his kind prayed for.

She waited until that notion sank in before she padded across the symbol on the floor. Slim fingers reached out and traced the outline of his erection.

"Yeah," she said. "The Pure Evil One fucked us. He laughed in the face of the prophecy and instead of bringing about the end of this age, he stabbed us in the back."

Draxal gaped at her, trying to wrap his mind around that astounding concept at the same time his cock was being stroked. He was having a hard time juggling those two things simultaneously.

"How?"

She shrugged. "He banished the Book. It's gone."

He blinked, cock deflating at that terrible statement.

She sighed and withdrew her hand. "It's not a total loss. We can get it back. You can get it back."

"How?"

"The satanic sect of Crowley Heights is in shambles. Nothing but a town full of closet worshipers and doddering old geezers that were entrusted with the safeguarding of the Book - - and failed."

"Crowely Heights? Never heard of it."

"No reason you should have. It's a little piss ant of a town that's only saving grace - -" And she smiled, showing sharp little canines. "Is that it lies at the intersection of powerful ley lines. It's a place of power and a place where blood has drenched the land over the millennia. For the last century the book has been there - - in one form or another - - waiting for the moment when the Pure Evil One would accept its power. And when he did, he chose to cast that honor aside."

Draxal couldn't conceive of such utter disregard. Of such utter stupidity. "You want me to kill him?"

"That's an option, but no. We need him. Without is master, the Book might disappear for another few millennia and we're so bored with waiting."

"We? The dark overlord and his minions?"

She shrugged noncommittally and leaned in, tits brushing his chest, fingers skimming up his arm. "The Pure Evil One banished the book and the only way to bring it back is through him. There's a ritual that we can't perform, requiring things we can't touch, that will shatter his control and allow the Book to find its way back."

"And you want me to perform this ritual?"

"Only the most faithful of the dark lord's followers is capable. And you, are more capable than most. Crowley Heights needs a new satanic sect to replace the useless idiots that were supposed to safeguard the Book."

"You want me to uproot all my shit and drag all my guys to some bumfuck town I never heard of - -"

She dropped to her knees, looking up at him from crotch level. Her hands skimmed the fly of his jeans and he swallowed back further complaint. He remembered her teeth when she'd been the wolf and a shiver of excitement went through him at the prospect of flirting with the danger of her mouth around his cock.

"If the Pure Evil One won't use the book the way it was meant to be used - - then we'd prefer if using it all became unpleasant. Without the hand of a master, we may not be able to bring about the conflagration, but there are other ways to bring about chaos and the Book is the key."

1

 

Todd smith was of the opinion that life sucked balls. Big hairy balls.

Now this was no particularly novel feeling for a seventeen year old - - a good portion of the world's population of teens had at one point or another entertained the notion that life was a sinking pit of despair, but Todd had better reasons than most for his gloomy disposition. He wasn't bemoaning a curfew - - his mother didn't enforce one - - or the denial of some cherished item that he had to have at the threat of his very existence - - though he supposed Jenny Kolinsky did qualify on that account. He wasn't particularly bullied at school, or hounded at home or any of the infinite things that normal teens cried foul over - - those things didn't make a blip on his radar in comparison to his real problems.

Discovering he was the prophesied bringer of doom, the master of a malevolent Book of infinite power, the Pure Evil One whose coming had apparently been foretold for millennia, sort of trumped those other issues. And that wasn't even the worst part. He'd killed one of his closest friends - - and lost his best friend in the process and that was a whole hell of a lot more depressing than having his mom confiscate all his bongs. He could live without his bongs - - there were other ways to smoke weed, after all - - living without his friends was a lot tougher.

Even Jenny was gone, whisked away by her mom to the city for the summer, in an attempt to hash out their differences. And he knew - -just felt it in his bones that he could have finally gotten somewhere with her if she'd been here. He'd come so close at the dance before all the shit had hit the fan. Afterwards, there hadn't been a lot of time or inclination, dealing with Hannah's funeral, and the whole town trying to clean up after the freak storm of all freak storms had cut a swath through Crowley Heights.

That had been his fault, too. His drawing power from the Book, losing himself in it for those few terrible moments before Jenny had snapped him out of it and he'd channeled that power inward instead of out and winked the book out of existence. And taken Hannah's life with it, none of them knowing how intimately she'd been connected to the Book. They still didn't know how or why, but none of that mattered to Curtis, who couldn't get over the simple fact that Todd banishing the book had killed her.

Three weeks into summer vacation. Five weeks since she'd died and Curtis still wasn't talking to him. And Todd had tried, even after Curtis began actually going to all his classes, quiet and withdrawn, just sort of ducking his head and muttering excuses when Todd tried to talk to him in the halls. Every time he'd shown up at Curtis house, he'd gotten turned away, his mom citing this excuse or that, none of which Todd really believed, because he'd never been turned away before. Then on the last day of school, when he had caught Curtis cleaning out his locker, an excuse for conversation already planned out in his head - - the amazing fact that he'd miraculously managed to slide by with a roster of 'D's' and wouldn't be attending summer school after all - - Curtis had finally snapped.

"And it's all about you again, isn't it?" Curtis had yelled at him. "It's always about you and your problems and what you want and unless its Jenny, you don't even notice that other people exist. You never listen to me. I'm just this freak who follows you around and does the stuff you wanna do, whether I wanted to or not. You made me that freak - -" and he waved his metal prosthesis in Todd's face in emphasis - -" and I even let that slide. There were times I actually put you before her and I can't believe I did - - "

"That's not true." he'd protested. "You're my best friend - -"

"And Hannah was my girlfriend and she's dead because of you. You don't get it, do you? I loved her and she's dead and I don't know if I can look at you right now without wanting to - - to - -" Curtis clenched his fists, the robotic metal one making a crunching sound as he did, his face red and his eyes wet around the edges and save that one Book influenced time, Todd had never seen him so on the verge of angry violence.

He'd stood there, swallowing, bruised to the bone, until Curtis slammed his locker, stalking past, brushing him hard with his shoulder. And it wasn't true. He did get it. He'd had nightmares about it, four nights out of seven since the semi-formal. Hannah's body, and Curtis' tear stained face and Jenny's horror filled eyes. And he did listen to Curtis, more than anybody. Curtis was like his other half - - not in a mushy way - - but just so in sync that they hardly even had to do more then exchange looks and they knew what the other was thinking. No one knew him like Curtis knew him, not his mom, not Jenny, who thought he was a moron more often than not, not anybody. And he'd thought he knew Curtis, but he'd been caught pretty badly off guard when Curtis had blamed him for Hannah. He hadn't really thought of it that way until Curtis rammed the idea home. Now he couldn't think of it any other way. His fault. Her death on his shoulders. A terrible, terrible burden to carry for a kid whose favorite pastime was skipping class and getting high.

So summer, this last summer before senior year and hopeful graduation, was turning out to be a pretty suckey one. No Curtis to laze away the days with, no Jenny to pursue, no easy ride with his parents this year, since his step dad had gotten laid off and his mom had started bitching about finding a summer job if he wanted to keep his cell phone and his high speed internet. Since loosing either of those would make life more miserable than it already was, and that wasn't even counting the acquisition of the weed that was essential to his very existence, he was forced to find a summer job.

The options for exciting summertime opportunities in Crowley high were few and far between so he ended up working four mornings a week for a local landscaping service. It wasn't like his skill set was developed enough to qualify him for more entertaining or interesting work. There were no listings in the classifieds asking for applicants skilled in fighting monsters spawned by an ancient and malevolent book of evil, which he was, it turned out, pretty good at. He'd looked, just to make sure.

Not that it mattered. With the Book gone, it had taken its reign of blood and ill luck with it. It had been a pretty boring month since it had gone and the town of Crowley Heights had gone back to being plain old boring.

Ironic in the suckiest of ways, that he was reduced to cutting grass and raking mulch when not that long ago, he'd held the fate of the world in his hands. If he'd have made a different choice this little bumfuck town - - a good portion of the world even - - might still be burning. Hell revisited on earth. At least that's what he'd been told by various parties interested in bringing about that end. Batshit crazy parties.

So he didn't have Curtis to talk to. And Jenny only occasionally replied to his texts and even less occasionally actually answered her phone, busy doing whatever it was she was doing in the city. She was only an hour and a half's drive away but it might as well have been a thousand miles for a kid whose primary mode of transportation was a bike.

He didn't even have Jimmy to talk to, the once school janitor having taken off to parts unknown after the book generated curse that had trapped him inside the high school for the last sixteen years had been broken. Todd couldn't much blame him for that, though. If he wasn't seventeen and virtually penniless - - Mr. Gonzalos didn't pay much and pot wasn't free - - he'd be tempted to leave Crowley Heights in the dust, too.

But, if wishes were weed he'd be eternally stoned, so he was stuck doing grunt landscaping for the summer in a town that had blissfully reverted back to bland normalcy.

Well, except for all the Satanists. The town had been founded by them decades ago and was crawling with them. But they were mostly shooting blanks nowadays, wanking off in their basements or creeping around in the old folks homes without any real power now that the proverbial rug had been pulled out from under them. No Book of Pure Evil to jones after, no Atticus Murphy senior or junior to egg them along - -not that the Jr Atticus had been particularly competent at the job of Satanic leader. And Todd had damn sure been responsible for that - - he hesitated to say death - - because he wasn't sure the former Guidance councilor/satanic leader was actually dead, just consumed by the Book. Regardless, that one Todd was willing to take full credit for. He did sort of feel bad for the man though, all things considered. Atticus had been a douche, but he hadn't had much more a choice, being what he was, born and raised by a cult of crazy Satanists, than Todd had, chosen by the Book to be its master.

He ran his rake once more across the mound of mulch he'd just dumped under one of the trees out in front of the high school. Mr. Gonzales had the contract for grounds maintenance for the school and Todd supposed it was better actually getting paid to be here during a perfectly good summer day, than being forced to attend summer classes. The kids trudging across the grounds of the hallowed halls of Crowley high looked pretty demoralized.

Obviously he was a glutton for punishment, because he kept hoping he'd spot Curtis, who was one of those lost souls forced to attend summer classes, if he didn't want to repeat eleventh grade. Curtis couldn't hold onto his grudge forever, right? Sooner or later he had to forgive Todd. It wasn't like either one of them had a whole back up bevy of friends ready to fill the void and it wasn't nearly as fun getting stoned without company.

His back pocket started blaring Children of Bodom's 'Pussyfoot miss Suicide' and his mood perked up.

"Hey, Jenny."

"You called?" she sounded distracted and a little short of patience, but then that was just Jenny. And he had called, more than couple of times, but it had been going to voice mail a lot.

"Yeah. Just, you know, wanted to see what you were up to?" He cringed a little at the desperately hopeful note in his voice.

"Dealing with my mom, is what. God." That last wrung out complaint wasn't directed at him, so he leaned on the rake under the tree and commiserated.

"She being a bitch?"

"Its like its her mission in life," Jenny complained. "Like she has any right to tell me how to live my life after ditching me and dad. Its only dad's insurance money she's interested in."

"That blows," he commiserated, sighing a little at the sound of her voice, even if she did sound annoyed. Jenny's dad, maybe having figured her mom for the disloyal bitch that she was, had named Jenny sole beneficiary of his life insurance, but she couldn't touch it until she was nineteen. Todd didn't know all the knitty gritty details, but he knew Jenny was pissed and not happy to be under the thumb of her mom.

"She doesn't want me around anymore than I want to be around her. She's driving me crazy."

"Sucks for you . . ." he trailed off, wanting to ask if she was coming home, but not sure how not to sound like a desperate loser if he did.

"Soooo - - anything weird happen there lately?"

He let out a breath, relieved at the subject change. "Boring as a box of rocks. Looks like the Book took all the crazy with it when it left. It's back to being the same old tired place it was before."

"Better boring and tired than blood drenched."

"Yeah. I guess."

"And you? Everything nice and normal with you?"

"I'm good. Just - -you know - - doing summer stuff."

"And Curtis? He still pissed at you?"

He leaned a shoulder against the tree, feeling that leaden weight in his gut that came hand in hand with dealing with miserable things. "Yeah. I haven't seen much of him this summer."

"That asshole. I wish I was there to slap him upside the head."

"I dunno, maybe he's got reason - -"

"Oh, shut up," she cut him off with an exasperated hiss. "You're both morons. We've talked about this."

"I know . . . " he toed a chunk of mulch with his sneaker, then took the plunge and blurted out. "I miss you."

She was silent for long enough that he started to cringe, then, softly and little grudgingly. "Yeah. I guess I miss you too."

Which sullen admission made him stand up a little straighter and grin like an idiot. "Really? Soooo - -you coming home soon?"

He could almost hear her shrugging over the line, could imagine her so vividly it hurt. Long dark hair, big angry blue eyes, pouty lips that he knew - - just knew - - would feel so good on any part of his anatomy she might decide to plant them on, if only she'd come home so he could convince her to do so. "I don't know. We're still in the 'discussion' mode of whether she wants to relocate back or sell the house . . ."

"Sell the house?" he choked, horrified. "But - - but that would mean you leaving for good." It was a concept that was too terrible to contemplate.

"Yeah. Like I said, we're in discussion mode."

"Todd Smith!"

He flinched as his name was bellowed and glanced over his shoulder at Mr. Gonzalos shaking his fist at him and yelling at him to get back to work.

He rolled his eyes and turned his back, shielding the phone from easy sight. "I gotta go. Listen, you got to talk her out of it - - please. Call me later, okay?"

"Whatever. Maybe," she said, sounding bored. She liked to torture him.

He stuffed the cell back into the pocket of his cut offs and sighed. If Jenny didn't come back and Curtis hated him - - the future would be one big bleak, suck hole. Mr. Gonzalos cemented that fact into place by yelling at him to start unloading fertilizer from the lawn service's beat up old pickup. Great. Shoveling shit all morning just to get the forty bucks a day the old man parceled out to those desperate enough to slave under his whip. That included high school age kids who needed the work badly enough to take under the table cash with no taxable strings attached.

He was on his way across the parking lot on his last wheelbarrow full of the stinky shit when he saw Curtis. It was either bite the bullet or be a total wuss and he'd faced things a lot more intimidating that Curtis with a grudge.

"Hey, Curtis."

Curtis walked a couple of steps like he hadn't heard, dingy backpack over his shoulder, strap clutched by the metal fingers of the arm Hannah had made for him. It was little beat up and dented what with nobody brainy enough to maintain it around anymore. Curtis had always been banging it up and Hannah had constantly been tweaking it for him and upgrading it with cool gadgets. It was something special, something uber cool and Hannah had made it just for him after his old, regular one had been destroyed. If Curtis broke it now, he'd be up shit creek and back to a dull old normal prosthetic. Todd really, really hoped that never happened.

Another step and Curtis hesitated, finally looking over his shoulder, sort of a pained expression on his round face, before he tightened his lips and jerked his chin a little in Todd's direction.

"Hey." Curtis was shorter than Todd by close to half a head, but he made up for it by being half again wider. He had on an oversized T-shirt with a maniacal eyed, growling teddy bear on the front and baggy black shorts over worn green Converse. It was so good seeing him, it made Todd's stomach flutter a little.

"Sooo - - summer school, huh?" Todd shuffled over, stating the obvious because he couldn't think of anything else to open with, wiping his hands on the front of his black cut offs a little nervously. They'd pretty much figured Curtis would be either doing summer school or repeating the grade last year, even with Hannah trying to tutor him. There'd been a lot of distractions and they'd smoked a lot of weed. Monster killing and being stoned half the year didn't make for stellar grades.

"Yeah," Curtis shifted his metal hand on the backpack. One of the fingers twitched a little of its own accord.

"That sucks, dude. Sorry . . " he bit the end of that apology off, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "Umm, well, at least there won't be so many distractions - - y'know monsters and Book shit and all."

Curtis shrugged, mouth softening just a little. "Yeah, well, its not so bad, I've got Ms. Dempsey for two out of three classes and she doesn't want to be here anymore than we do - - so she's giving easy assignments."

"That's cool," he felt a prick of encouragement. "I mean, it would totally suck if I had to go through senior year alone."

Curtis shrugged, looking down at the worn asphalt at his feet. "Yeah, that would suck for you . . ."

Okay, that hurt a little.

"Curtis, I'm . . ." Don't say sorry, don't say sorry. "I just - - you know, miss hanging out . . ." he'd been saying that a lot today, all heartfelt and wussy. It was draining, letting all those bottled up feelings out into the light of day.

Curtis looked back up at him, eyes widening that scowl that had been twitching between his brows smoothing out.

"What's the hold up, man?"

Curtis blinked, looking over his shoulder. Todd looked with him, at a tall, lanky blonde haired guy strolling down the sidewalk from the parking lot towards them. Not a guy he recognized. Short, spiky hair, tight worn jeans with a big leather belt sporting a skull and cross bones buckle. Scuffed leather boots, and a black wife beater that showed off arms with an impressive display of tattoos. He looked like he was a couple of years past high school age. He had a little bit of stubble, a ring piercing his left eyebrow and a faint superior smirk on his lips.

"Oh, hey, Randy," Curtis said, eyes lighting up like it was James Hetfield sauntering up instead of some skeezy dude with a cigarette dangling from his thin, smug mouth. Todd hated the guy right then and there.

Randy gave Todd a casual once over, before dismissing him with what Todd had to admit was a cool show of disdain. He turned his pale blue gaze back to Curtis. "So, you wanna go get wasted or stand around here talking to this punk?"

"What?" Todd glared over Curtis' shoulder, offended on multiple levels. The fact that Curtis was getting wasted without him just edging out the insult. "Who the hell are you?"

The guy snorted, not bothering answering in favor of blowing a stream of smoke out his nostrils and flicking ash on the parking lot.

"This is Randy Savage," Curtis piped up. "He's new in town. He's got a Camaro."

Todd glanced in the direction Curtis indicated at a sweet black Camaro. It was shiny vintage, with a sweet red lightning bolt running down the side. The fact that it belonged to this dick unfortunately didn't reduce its appeal.

"You look too old to be in high school."

Randy shrugged. "Got held back a few years. Shit to do, you know? Or maybe you don't."

"And you're hanging with Curtis?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Curtis cast Todd an offended look, but Todd was zeroed in on Randy Savage, like that was a real name. It sounded like the stage name of some lame 80's glam rock singer.

Randy smiled and it was sort of intimidating, like he was looking into the eyes of somebody without a whole lot of conscience.

"Curtis is a cool dude. Not many in this shit-kicker town."

Curtis stood a little taller at the flattery and Todd rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know that. You just strike me as a douche bag, and douche bags usually hang out with their own kind."

Randy laughed, flicking the butt of his cigarette at Todd's sneakers. It hit the toe of one. He had a little flashback of three other guys who'd always made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up - - with good reason, it turned out - - that used to hang out selling pot and porn and various other confiscatable things just outside school grounds.

He kicked it a little ineffectually and stabbed a finger past Curtis. "Are you sure you don't know those three ass hats that used to hang out in the parking lot here?"

Randy snorted, not effected by Todd's belligerent finger stabbing. "I just moved into town, man. Get over yourself. Curtis said you were a self-centered little prick."

"What?" That came out embarrassingly high-pitched. He cast a questioning look at Curtis, hurt and Curtis just shuffled his feet, not meeting his eyes.

"Don't you have shit to shovel?" Randy jerked his chin at the wheelbarrow full of fertilizer and Todd flushed, pissed and embarrassed. Randy snorted, turned his back on him and sauntered off towards the Camaro. Curtis looked up at him once, a sort of baffled expression in his eyes, like shit had gone down that he was at a loss to explain - - and Todd could relate to that feeling - - then turned and shuffled off after his new dickwad of a friend.

Todd flipped the byrd after the Camaro as the car shed rubber tearing out of the parking lot, muttered a few obscenities under his breath before scowling at the patiently waiting wheelbarrow.

He spent the next hour fuming over the injustice, until Mr. Gonzalos called it a day and doled out cash to his employees. Todd stuffed the two rumpled twenties into his pocket and glared balefully at the other two guys on the work crew, who were old enough and smart enough to avoid angry, sullen teenagers.

Curtis wasn't the only one who could go get baked. Todd knew exactly where the best weed for the best prices in Crowley Heights could be found. Down behind the strip mall on Magnolia lane where the guys at the local pet store sold a little homegrown weed out the back alley. They were cool, old potheads who listened the Grateful Dead all day while they peddled tropical fish and reptiles. They grew their own weed in the back room in empty fish tanks under florescent fixtures.

He got his little baggie of buds, hung around a little bit to bullshit with the one old guy with the faded tat of Jerry Garcia on his arm. Just being in the same room with him and smelling the pot exuding from his pores, sort of gave him a contact high. Usually he and Curtis - - he frowned a little at that slip - - usually he would have happily stayed and smoked a joint with them, but he was still out of sorts from the run in with Curtis' new best bud and was feeling the need for some alone time.

There was a big concrete storm drainage ditch a few miles between his house and school, wide enough to drive two cars down side by side, that a lot of kids used to skateboard or to just hang out. He and Curtis used to waste a lot of time there. He stuffed hands in his pockets and headed there.

It wasn't that long of a walk. A half hour maybe if he cut through the big field behind the local home improvement store and the housing projects behind it. He'd squeezed through the fence beyond the field and made it to the two-lane road beyond, when the hairs on the back of his arms stood up. He faltered a little, the strangest feeling washing over him - - a weird sort of awareness of being watched, that made his mouth go dry and his fingers curl a little. He swung around, half expecting someone to be stalking right behind him down the side of the road, but there was nobody there. Just the occasional car and the battered wooden fence across the road providing a little bit of privacy to the apartments beyond. There were just houses on his side of the street, with crappy lawns and bad paint jobs. Nobody even out on their porches watching passerby's.

He blew out a breath, shaking the feeling off. After a year of dealing with the craziest shit imaginable, he was paranoid. There was nobody following him. There were no monsters creeping in the shadows of the suburbs. There was no more Book, and he was just a normal kid again. He'd just had a bad morning. A fucked up, miserable day, what with Curtis finding another best bud and Jenny springing the news that she might not be coming back to Crowley Heights. Ever. It was enough to make him want to puke.

He patted the stash in his pocket and took a determined breath. Getting thoroughly stoned could only make things better.

There was a lone kid on a skateboard at the drainage ditch when he got there. A snotty little goth wannabe that he knew and didn't particularly like, so he kept walking the little service road beside the steep concrete slope of the ditch to get a little distance. He half glanced over his shoulder at the rumble of a car engine approaching from behind and moved a little closer to the edge of the ditch to make room for it to pass him by.

He wished he knew what Jenny was thinking. The workings of her mind baffled him. She'd come so close to kissing him at Semi-formal and then after everything that had gone down, she'd acted like it hadn't happened. Course, all of them - - the survivors of their little gang - - had been pretty shell-shocked. It wasn't like he'd been making smooth moves on her either - - but still - - he thought she'd been coming around. He'd thought she'd finally started liking him the way he liked her - - so why the fuck couldn't she be bothered to actually answer her phone more than one out of four or five calls, or give more than half hearted replies to his texts?

The engine of the car gunned behind him, too loud and too close. He turned, eyes widening as the front end veered towards him. All he saw was dingy grey and the flash of reflection off the windshield as he dove the only way open to him, down the steep incline of the ditch. It wasn't a graceful escape, tumbling down that concrete slope. He skinned an elbow and his knees, and came up hard at the bottom against a pile of debris. Stars danced around the edges of his vision and when he had the breath to do it, he muttered 'motherfucker . . ' and glared up against the afternoon sun at the silhouetted shape of the car, which had stopped and was idling menacingly at the top of the storm drain ditch.

"What the fuck - -? You asshole - -" He scrambled up, elbow throbbing like crazy. There was a warm trickle of blood running down his right shin. He squinted up at the car, vision clearing enough to make out the jean jacket clad man leaning out the driver's side window. A familiar face. Tight, curly blonde hair and weathered blue eyes. A smaller, darker haired, Asian guy leaned over the back seat window, leering down. Harder to see the third one in the passenger seat, but Todd damn well knew he was there. The Metal Dudes who'd placed him on the path to find the book to begin with. Who were very likely not entirely human and who he'd sort of inadvertently fucked when they'd transformed into their alter ego of a very hot chick, who called herself Nikki Kane. His balls never failed to shrink up a little when he thought about that. He hadn't seen them since he'd sent the book away and foiled their plans of plunging the world into hell baked chaos.

"You douchebags - - what the fuck - - you trying to kill me?"

The Asian, Eddie, leered down at him and taunted. "That'd be too, easy, loser."

Todd narrowed his eyes and glared. He wanted to clutch his throbbing elbow but showing these guys weakness seemed a monumentally bad idea.

The blonde one, Brody, opened his door, sliding out with a metal baseball bat in hand. There was the creek of the passenger door opening and the long, brown haired one, Rob, stepped out, another bat in hand. Eddie laughed, joining them, similarly armed.

"You cross us little dude - -we don't forget." Brody said. "And our bad side is not a side you want to be on."

All bravado aside, getting beat to death in an old sewage ditch, was not high on his list of ways to have a good time. Todd swallowed, eyes wide, and took a backwards step. Another, before he turned and ran, pelting down the debris littered ditch bottom as fast as his bleeding leg would allow. Which was pretty damned fast when there were three maybe demon guys or at the very least humans who'd sold their souls to evil centuries ago, with a score to settle, after him.

He kept running until he reached the big round culvert that the ditch led into, swept up a battered nail studded two by four lying by the entrance and whirled to confront them.

There was no one on his heels. They hadn't followed. The car was gone and so were they.

"Shit . . ." He took a gasping breath and slumped against the curved edge of the concrete culvert, two by four still in hand. Slid down until he was sitting and tried to shake off the adrenalin high that had his hands shaking. He'd thought they'd been gone for good. They'd been kissing up to him for the last year or so, hoping he'd be the answer to their fucked up prayers - - but now what reason did they have to hang around? Payback for him throwing a monkey wrench into their precious prophecy? Not a comforting thought, considering they'd been around for a long, long time and had patience to spare.

 


 

He had a huge bruise on his elbow come morning, purple and blue and red and accompanied by a stippling of scrapes from wrist to elbow, and a pretty nasty scrape on his leg from knee to mid shin. It would have been awesome, those war wounds, if he'd had anybody to show them off to. Of course he would have had to alter the story a little, play down his running away like a girl into something a little more heroic.

But it was back to work the next day regardless of aches and bruises. Back at the school to finish up the west side of the grounds. Mindless work, and he had his headphones on, blaring Cannibal Corpse, dark and angry and loud. It fit his mood. Probably because of the Metal Douches, he'd had a book related nightmare last night and it had been a week at least since he'd dreamed about the thing. He couldn't remember the dream exactly, other than waking in a cold sweat, heart trying to beat its way out of his chest, the last vestiges of something terrible wisping their way out of his head like dissipating smoke. It had been bad enough that he hadn't even woke with his usual morning boner, which was saying a lot. That had been five am and he'd had no intention of going back to sleep and maybe sinking back into whatever nightmare had plagued him, so he'd opened his window, rolled a joint and let the cannabis soothe raw nerves.

The only benefit was he got to work on time and didn't have to listen to Mr. Gonzalos bitch at him for being late. And it was Friday and he was off for the next three days, so as long as sleep was nightmare free he could laze the mornings away if he wanted.

The parking lot was mostly empty when he got there at the ass crack of morning, but then Mr. Gonzalos liked to start early and school hours started late in the summer. No Camaro, no beat up old Caprice which meant he didn't have to deal with any of the asshats that had plagued him yesterday. The Metal Dudes were a little intimidating when it was three on one, but if Randy Savage got up in his face again, kicking his ass might not be out of the question.

The Camaro pulled into the lot with a roar of eight cylinders under the hood while Todd was dragging a tarp of hedge clippings back to the trailer attached to Mr. Gonzalos beat up old truck. He was prepared to ignore Randy Savage, but he had to stop and stare in something very much akin to sullen resentment when Curtis climbed out of the passenger side. Not only was he getting high with the asshats, he was getting rides to school? How unfair was that? It was a betrayal that sliced Todd to the core. Enough to make him scowl and jerk the tarp with enough agitated force that he lost a good portion of the hedge clippings on the parking lot pavement.

Fanfuckingtastic. So he had to stop now and kick them back on, while Randy and Curtis were heading across the parking lot to the school.

"Dude, what happened to your arm?"

Curtis had veered his way, and it took Todd a second to clear the fumes of indignity from his head and realize that the bruising on his arm was pretty damned obvious, even from a distance.

Todd shrugged, playing it cool.

"What? You get your ass kicked by some little girl?" Randy asked from the sidewalk.

Todd glared, clenching his fists. "Fuck you, douchebag."

Randy grinned at him, and sauntered off towards the school.

Curtis hesitated, a furrow between his brows. "Did you? Get in a fight?"

"No," Todd admitted sullenly, tearing his eyes off Randy's back and fighting back the urge to wish for just a little touch of that all consuming power he'd felt when he'd been channeling the Book. Those sorts of wishes never failed to backfire and the Book hadn't been gone long enough to feel safe taking that sort of risk.

"Oookay," Curtis said slowly, shifting his backpack, ready to turn his back on Todd again.

"The Metal Dudes tried to run me over," he admitted, absently holding the sore arm.

Curtis' eyes widened. "No way. They're back?"

"Guess so."

"I haven't seen them hanging around here."

"Me either."

"What do you mean, tried to run you down?"

Todd shrugged.

"Why?"

"They're pissed I didn't - -y'know - - Destroy the world and stuff."

"Shit," Curtis mouthed, which was Todd's sentiment exactly.

Curtis stared at him a moment longer, frowning, before the faint sound of the morning bell could be heard from the open doors of the school. He glanced that way, then back at Todd. "I thought all this Book related crap was over."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Just be careful, okay, dude?" Curtis warned, before hurrying up the walk towards the school.

Todd rubbed his elbow, wincing a little at one particularly tender spot. Despite that, he felt a lightening of mood. Maybe getting his ass kicked by the Metal Dudes wasn't such a bad thing if it got Curtis to forget the grudge he was holding.

 

 

 

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