They had fled the cities in desperation. They had no prospects, nothing but poverty, crime, and death in those cramped streets. But in the frontier they could make their own way, grow their own food, and live a quiet peaceful life. For a while, everything was pleasant. But the frontier kept moving west, and soon the wealthy came to claim their land. It would make wonderful plantation land for their cotton, or tobacco, or whatever. It didnít matter; they were poor, and thus had no rights. Soon they were driven from the land they had tamed.
Many of them fled into the Appalachian Mountains. The soil was rocky there, and the climate did not lend itself to cash crops, so the land held no prospects for those looking to make their riches off slave labor. So there, in the beauty of the mountains they made their new homes. They gathered in small villages, homes and gardens that were self-sustaining and isolated. They were secure from the cruelty and hopelessness of the outside world.
They took what they needed from the land, nothing more. The men hunted and trapped enough food for their families. The women tended the gardens and raised their children. Some of the villages would send folks into the larger cities to trade for cloth and other goods a few times a year. The local natives were wary of them at first, but eventually developed a respect for the villagers. A few of them even befriended some of the men and taught them their ways of hunting, of honoring the animal and thanking the Great Spirit after the kill.
One of the villages had been thriving for over a generation when the harshest winter in memory hit them. Their hunting had not been good even before the snows came. There were elders and infants who would not last much longer, and even the strongest would not survive the winter without food. In desperation, one of the young men spoke of a practice that he had heard spoken of in hushed tones by the Natives. They said that warriors from other tribes had been known to eat the flesh of their fallen enemies. They would gain great strength and insight in return. He knew the idea was reprehensible, that he would probably be exiled into the cold for it, but he had to speak it. If the death of one of them could save the lives of one hundred, then it must be considered, no matter how sickening it may seem.
He was in no way prepared for the response. Perhaps the rest of them were already mad from the situation they were in. He could not tell. But they did not exile him. Instead, they drew up arms and headed down the hill. Instead of sacrificing one of their own, or waiting for one to die, they proceeded as a mob to the nearest village; the village that had denied to share any of their food when the winter turned bad. They descended upon this village like a horde of barbarians and killed everyone there. They slaughtered the men, women, and children without a second thought. The madness that had overtaken them spared no one. Then, they brought all of the bodies back with them, satisfied that they would eat well for the rest of the winter.
Once they had tasted human flesh, none of the villagers could lose the appetite. They all felt stronger with each bite. They had convinced themselves that it was dire circumstances that had caused their behavior. Once the winter had passed, and they could begin their hunting and farming again, everything would be back to normal. Of course, nothing was ever normal again.
Over the next few years their appetites increased beyond comprehension. Entire camps and villages would disappear, their inhabitants never to be heard from again. After a while, the rumors spread. No one dared enter the wood past the ghost town the nearest inhabitants renamed Gravesville.
Occasionally an unaware traveler would have the grave misfortune to take a wrong turn into the wood and would disappear. Eventually, the state paved the old road that connected the small villages to the larger towns, but the road was hardly ever used. Over the years rumor gave way to legends and ghost stories and for a time, though no one dared set foot on the Ghost Road, many regarded them as stories to frighten little children with. No more than campfire prose on a particularly chilly night.
Then the big highway came. It was going to be four lanes of quality pavement. At first the state proposed to go right through Gravesville and the wood behind it. The government already owned the land and there seemed to be no redeeming features about it, save that it had lovely scenery. It would save them twenty miles of paving and cut right through to the interchange. The route would be fluid. Over the protests of the local farmers, they approved the plan.
At first, the outcry against the proposed construction seemed illogical. Instead of forcing the local farmers to sell their property at very low prices, the government was giving them a chance to keep their land and make money by either becoming part of the crew or selling supplies and services to the government and crews. The banks had foreclosed on many farms in those dark days of the Depression and an opportunity like this came once in a lifetime. It seemed like a win-win situation.
The truth was that the farmers didnít give a damn about the city people that came in to work on the crews. They werenít kinfolk. But many of the local boys would be tempted to go and work for a crew. In a monthís time they could make more money than they did on the farm in a year, two with the Depression on. Most boys would do anything to get the family land back from the bank, even sell their souls. And the old-timers knew it. So they tormented and terrorized the work crew on a daily basis until the National Guard was sent in to protect them. Thatís when the first incident occurred.
It happened at dusk. A half-dozen soldiers were left to mind the equipment overnight. The government, afraid of locals stealing up in the dead of night to slash the tires of the tractors and trash other equipment, felt a guard necessary. But they were wrong. The locals didnít set foot anywhere near that vicinity after nightfall except for two or three that didnít believe the superstitions. They were never heard from again. But whatever came in the night wasnít human. Itís anyoneís guess what spirited those six souls away in the night.
The next morning the work crews arrived to find their equipment torn to shreds. Pieces lay helter-skelter here and there across the clearing where theyíd been flung. No trace was found of the six soldiers left to guard the work site, not even boot prints. The only tracks found were those that look a lot like large dogs, wolves perhaps. But as one lieutenant observed, "Theyíd have shot any wild animal that got too close. Wolves couldnít do this to machinery of this size."
The unofficial report was sealed and classified. It stated that some unknown force attacked the work site and destroyed the people and equipment there. Publicly, the official report stated that a freak tornado sucked up the six men and damaged the machinery, even though no storms were reported anywhere near the area. The government bought up surrounding land and pushed the interstate the long way around. Only the work up to the old highway stayed the same. And little traffic used that highway.
What neither the locals nor government knew was that the people who had been there two centuries ago, were still there and still involved in their wretched occupation. "Not possible," the average man would say. But things exist that the average man knows nothing about.
Two centuries ago, a wanderer found his way into the area, not long after the first village had been set upon. He was a creature known to all but believed in by few in those days, and fewer still today. And he was being hunted. He dredged through the snow, trying to conserve what little energy and power he had for a more desperate hour. His pursuers were hot on his tail and closing in when he stepped into the wood. The smell put him off and he momentarily paused, deciding which foe he would rather engage. A gunshot from behind quickly decided for him and he plunged deeper into the wood looking for refuge. The sky would not stay overcast for long and when the sun finally shone down, he knew he would not survive.
He stumbled along for a while in the snow when he came across a cave opening. He entered swiftly, just as some of the hunters came over the far ridge. Discouraged that their quarry had found shelter, they rushed into cave after him. This action proved fatal.
Their prey, somehow, eluded them in the natural tunnels. Soon they lost their direction and heard a scratching sound seeming to come from behind the walls. As they turned round and round in the maze of tunnels, they became faintly aware of a malicious presence other than the main quarry invading their lost search.
The creature clung to the high ceiling, observing his stalkers from that safe distance. Suddenly the men were beset by a hoard of humans, flinging rocks and flailing them with large tree branches that served as clubs. The men were trapped with no means of escape. Two of them fired off desperate shots, but it was in vain. The people killed by those shots were quickly replaced, the carcasses dragged off carefully. It was not until later that the creature understood why such great care was taken to preserve the flesh of those bodies.
When the attack was over, the hunters were wrapped in fur and wool blankets, flung over the largest menís shoulders and carried deeper into the tunnels. A few women picked up the various weapons and tools dropped in battle, then hurried after the men. One paused momentarily and smelled the air. For a moment the creature feared discovery, but she only stayed a minute, then ran after her comrades into the tunnels.
The creature followed their stench as he crawled along the ceiling. He was curious as to what their intentions were. He was also in need of sustenance, as he had gone days without a drop to sustain himself. He became aware of the smell of burning wood superceding the cave peopleís stench. The wood was of the type that produced little or no smoke while at the same time gave generous fire. He heard something being thrown on the fire and moved closer to investigate.
At first, he couldnít make out what they were cooking. It appeared to be a limb of some sort, but of what type of animal, he couldnít say. Then the smell hit him. The smell of burning human flesh. He had smelled it only once in his lifetime, when his familyís home went up in flame, taking his mother, father, and four sisters with it. He was blamed for the fire, rightly so since he had been playing with the matches that started it, and sent to an institution for boys. There he had been found and turned, but he did not become all his maker wanted him to be. In the end he was shunned for his irreverent attitude and that is how he found himself chased by hunters into this very cave.
Now he watched the hunters meet their untimely demise and he wondered how he could turn this situation to his advantage. With such a set of inhuman people, surely he could find a place. They didnít seem very evolved. Their only strength was their number and he put that at a little over twenty. He also noticed there were no elderly or very small children to be concerned with. The hard winter must have gotten rid of them. Good. It was much easier to become a strong leader without such obvious desperation getting in the way. He could promise the moon and would only have to deliver a few morsels. These were his kind of people.
He waited until after they had dined before he revealed himself. He knew that their stench and the burning wood sufficiently masked his odor. What most amazed him were their voracious appetites. The twenty of them consumed seven grown men, including their three fallen comrades, at an average of one hundred and sixty pounds in less than twenty minutes. He found this curious since the blood alone in those men could last him four days, a week if necessary. They even gathered the bones up and ground them into a fine powder to be used as flour for bread. He decided he might have to turn a few of them in order to be able to keep the rest alive. Economically speaking, vampires were much more frugal eaters.
He cleared his throat to get their attention. All twenty pairs of eyes gazed up at him, clinging to the ceiling of the cave, with a mix of wonder and contempt. He was bewildered by their lack of fear. They seemed to know him already. He decided to speak.
"Dear friends," he began eloquently, "allow me to introduce myself. I am Darian."
"We doní wont yer kine here," the largest man growled roughly.
"What kind would that be?" He asked, slightly amused by the quaintness of the manís rustic accent.
"Wolf-kin," he answered.
"Wolf-kin?" Darian asked a bit confused.
"Them people down the hill," he continued, "They was Wolf-kin, only we never knowed it when we went there for food."
"I am afraid I donít understand."
"They had lots of food stored up, but wouldnít give us none even when we offered to trade fer it. Said they already had enough blankets and dished. When we was reduced ta begginí they laughed at us. Said we wasnít good enough being man people."
"That sounds like quite an insult," Darian prodded him gently. He wanted to gain their trust. "What ever did you do about it?"
"We raided their village," he replied flatly.
"I see. I trust you stole their food supplies."
"What did you do then?"
"We killed them."
"Interesting. What did you do with the carcasses?"
"I see. And what led you to believe they were Wolf-kin."
"The big wolves came and attacked us the next day and kilt all but the few of us dat hid deep in these tunnels. They set fire ta our village." At this last bit the whole lot seemed mournfully sad. In truth it had happened less than a month before. "Now weíre holed up in this here cave at night and they tooked over our huntiní grounds. Ainít no place safe fer us."
"These big wolves," Darian questioned him with great interest, "was there anything . . . unusual about them?"
The man scratched his chin thoughtfully. Finally he said. "They walked upright, like a man."
"I see," Darian knew that he was describing werewolves but, for the moment, kept that nugget of information to himself. "And why do you believe I am associated with them?"
"íCause you can climb the ceiliní like they did." He answered astutely.
Darian regarded this last answer for moment trying to decide how best to approach the situation. Describing his existence to an educated person was quiet difficult, but to the uneducated it could be impossible, not to mention dangerous. Finally he decided to describe in such a way to be appealing to them.
"What if I told you that I could give you the ability to defeat the big wolves?" Darian asked plainly.
The man brightened a bit at this but still seemed skeptical. "How do we know you ainít one of them?"
"Because they are my mortal enemy as well," Darian answered, then added, "They destroyed my family in fire many years ago and I have labored to gain the power to defeat them, evil, vile creatures that they are."
The man licked his lips at the prospect. Darian was careful not to push too hard. It would be best if they came to this decision on their own. Even at full strength he was not powerful enough to control twenty minds at once.
"Give us a day to think on it," the man answered as he shooed his flock deeper into the caves.
"Take all the time you need." Darian responded. He was glad that they were not smart enough to leave a guard. Quickly he made his way to the entrance of the tunnel and patiently waited for nightfall.
When the moon finally rose, Darian was glad it was only the quarter moon. He would have enough light to do his work, but his prey would be at its lowest strength. He carefully made his way to the village and waited. He did not wait long.
After about an hour two small cubs came out of their lair. Their mother had gone off to hunt but he knew she wasnít far and wouldnít be gone long. He watched both of them carefully and decided that he would go for both. Slowly, quietly, he stole over to their small playground, careful to stay downwind of them. Once he thought the smaller of the two picked up his scent, but it was feeling the snow fall gently on its face. Quickly Darian moved forward and scooped both of the cubs up before they had a change to scream.
He ran hurriedly back to the cave, letting the ever heavying snow obscure his scent. As he reached the mouth of the cave he heard the mother howl out in anger and fear at the loss of her missing cubs. She may have caught his scent, but she knew it was impossible to track.
With an improved opinion of himself, he strutted into the cave and found his way back to the communal meeting area. Once there, he yelled to the inhabitants that he had brought them a gift. Curiosity brought them out of hiding and amazement shone in their eyes. They could not hear the mournful dirge of the cubsí mother as she howled pitifully at the loss of her only surviving children. They only saw the progeny of the hated wolves that destroyed their homes. Impatiently two women lunged forward at them and Darian had to leap to the ceiling to avoid their murderous clutches.
"Wait," he said in a masterful voice, "I show you how with my powers I am able to procure these two cubs right out from under their own motherís nose. Would you want to share in this to regain your territory?"
Without hesitation all answered, "Yes!"
With a smile he dropped the crying whimpering pups to their cruel fate. Within seconds they were torn limb from limb, fought over, and devoured raw. Oddly the taste was very sweet and intoxicating to the hoard and many cried for more.
Darian was more than willing to appease this desire. "My friends, if you think the cubs are nourishing, wait until you taste the blood of a full grown male."
That night he sired all twenty of them and christened them his private brood. Their blood was to sour to keep any as food stores. Over the next few months they hunted and massacred several of the wolves. But the wolves got wise and withdrew deeper into the woods of the mountain, where the ground was unfamiliar to them and the risk of sunlight too strong. The brood once again became dissatisfied and angry.
Darian walked through the wood, trying to think of a new food source for his people. They were becoming uncontrollable and he feared they might stake him out in the sun or worse if he didnít come up with a new plan. As he walked out, he noticed that he had wandered into an old town. It was empty as no one came within spitting distance of the woods with all the queer disappearances that occurred. All the humans had packed up and left as soon as spring had allowed. The wolves had retreated. There was little left beside the odd woodland creature. He had told them to try to hunt conservatively but they didnít listen. Instead of shrinking, their appetites had grown to almost twice the size they were before. And he was running out of time; soon, he was afraid, they might turn on each other.
He wandered around the town when he came upon a large cemetery set separately from the church. Carefully he stepped upon the ground and found it to be unconsecrated. He wandered around looking at gravestones and found that many of the buried had died within the last three months. There were several stones, mostly members of immigrant families moving here to find work in the mines. The work had been shut down due to the hard winter and most had no time to relocate before the first storms hit. Over a hundred had died before the slight thaw came, enabling the mass exodus away from this cursed area.
Oddly enough, his brood had avoided this area because it was too well populated. Population brought learned men and learned men could easier be hunters. They had mainly concentrated on the wolves and small outlying communities trapped high in the hills. Here had been a large population that could have stood some thinning out and now that opportunity was gone. All that was left was the dead.
Suddenly an idea came into Darianís mind. The ground was still quite cold and solid. The bodies would be well preserved. A slight heating of the blood, perhaps warm the bodies in some boiling water like one does with bottles for a baby, and the blood would reach the right temperature for consumption.
Yes, he had found the answer that would survive them until a full spring thaw. Then they could look for better hunting grounds. He had saved them again.
At first, they resisted the idea. Mainly because he had taught them to only go after living creatures. Why tell them one thing and expect them to do another? He reasoned that desperate times called for desperate measures and finally they agreed. They dug up five bodies to test his theory, and brought them back to the caves. While the corpses bobbed in the boiling water, Darian noticed the flesh began to slide off into the liquid making a rather grotesque stew. He also realized that one body didnít do this. That one suddenly woke up and, realizing it was in hot water, leapt and clung to the ceiling. It took a moment to become orientated to the situation and, upon seeing Darian, flew to him and slammed him to the ground.
"Why are you trying to eat me?" the creature demanded as he shook Darian violently.
Before he could get an answer, the creature was ripped off and thrown against the opposite wall. The hoard descended on him violently, like lions on a lame zebra. Darian cried for them to stop, but it was too late. They saw this new creature as a threat and ripped him apart like tissue. To Darianís horror, they consumed not only the blood, but the flesh and bones of their own kindred. He tore his eyes away from the debauchery and screamed, "Why? Why did you do that? You are not to kill you own kind, much less eat them."
He looked up and immediately recognized a change in them. Instead of cowering like scolded children, a strange expression had come over their faces. It was like watching madness consume a normally sane person and that is exactly what was happening. They were turning, past the cannibalistic madness that had taken them during the winter, past the vampire insanity that afflicts some of their kind, into something much deeper and darker.
He had no time to react. They turned their attention on him and pounced, signaling the change was complete. He screamed for help, but they now had only deaf ears to his voice. Within a moment his existence was snuffed out and a new breed of vampire was born.
The transformation was impressive. The addition of the vampire essence gave them something they lacked. Their intelligence increased, and they learned the error of their previous ways. They learned to pace themselves, and, on occasion, consume each other when there was no other choice. They developed newer and stronger abilities that enabled them to lure their prey to their deaths. They allowed some of the people to live with them, to act as cattle and as bait. They knew to keep the unexplained disappearances to a minimum. They wanted to keep out unwanted guests, the real threats. They never extended their grasp past their hunting grounds, relying on their powers and the stupidity of the public at large to supply them with food. And, of course, ensuring that the wolf pack at the edge of their territory never became more than a nuisance.
Their feeding habits also brought setbacks. They did not keep their youth perpetually like normal vampires. They began to age, their skin wrinkling and peeling with time, and their teeth fell out. Only the most powerful were allowed to feed from the best victims while the others ate the scraps.
While they could survive on human flesh and blood, the hungered for and thrived upon the vampire victims they lured in. They could go weeks, even months without a bite of flesh or drop of blood. That was their special gift, a type of longevity unique only to this breed of vampire.
They went on for years like this with very little suspicion because no one survived to tell the tale. No one, that is except one.
(Copyright 2002 Gina M. Wood - Random Quote Productions)
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