Sleep eluded me. I was still trying to come to terms with what I’d discovered. Odette’s dead fiancé was the threat to our team. I couldn’t believe it. I knew that was stupid. After all, I’d killed a vampire single-handedly just taken a job fighting other creatures that supposedly only existed in horror movies, so weird-crazy stuff shouldn’t phase me anymore. But even so, a dead boyfriend come back to kill the man that he thought had stolen his love? That sounded like one of those God-awful Hallmark Movies my mother loved so much. Okay, maybe a Hallmark Movie directed by Sam Raimi, but still…
But could it really be that simple? If he just wanted Odette back, why not just tell her he was still alive, or undead or whatever? If he just watched her for ten minutes he’d figure out she was still in love with him and, more importantly, had absolutely no feelings for me whatsoever, so he’d have no reason to send his minions to kill me. I mean, sure, I’d admit that I had a serious crush on her, but I would never try and come between her and Robert. Of course, Robert was now undead, so that meant he was fair game for MHI. That, and he was trying to kill us. Wait, maybe that was why he was trying to kill us; he knew we’d think he was fair game, and the only way he could get Odette back was to take the rest of us out. Wait, that made no sense. He’d have to eliminate the entire company in order to do that. But then again, he did seem to be some high-level undead, so maybe that would be possible…
Of course, this all rested on the assumption that Robert was, in fact, the undead creature that was hunting us. And you know what they say about assumption: it makes an ASS out of U and… uh… UMPTION? Yeah, my brain doesn’t work so great when it doesn’t get sleep.
I don’t know when I finally passed out, or how long I slept for, but the next thing I remembered was someone pounding on the suite’s door yelling for Odette to get up, get dressed quick, and meet down in the archives. The voice sounded like Scotty. I heard Odette crawl out of bed, so I decided to make a discreet exit. Lucky for me, the hallway was empty as I quickly hobbled next door to my room. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and then set about trying to get my leg brace back on. It was an awkward contraption and I was still getting the hang of getting it on and off. I tried to be quick about it, but the thing still took a while for me to get on; by the time I managed to hobble down to the archives, the rest of the team was there waiting for me.
“Glad you’ve finally decided to join us, Mr. Andrews.” I just about jumped out of my skin and then fell off my crutches as I whirled around to find the owner of the deep, gravelly voice. Sure enough, Earl Harbinger himself was leaning against the door frame, an unlit cigarette hanging lazily from the corner of his mouth. “Damn,” he continued, eyeing my brace, “Dominique wasn’t kiddin’ when she said you screwed your leg up.”
“Uh… Mr. Harbinger! Hello!” I stammered, “I… uh… thought you were still in Austria.” I couldn’t explain exactly what it was, but something about Earl really creeped me out.
“The lyndworm turned out to be a prank,” Earl explained, “Stupid college kids, damn near got themselves shot for it. And for God sakes, Andrews, it’s Earl.”
“Uh… sorry Earl,” I said quickly, “won’t happen again.”
“Yeah, right. Anyhow, Dominique tells us you’ve been having some freaky dreams. Care to fill in the details?”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Well, ah, they start off with me… wait, what do you mean ‘us’?”
“That would be him, plus the two of us,” a woman’s voice said. I looked back over at the rest the team and noticed, to my further surprise, Owen and Julie Pitt. Julie was sitting on Shannon’s desk, Owen was standing behind her. “Care to join us, Earl?” she asked.
“Can’t refuse a lady,” Earl said with a chuckle, then strolled over to the rest of the group. “So, Andrews. Dreams. Spill. Now.”
I once again related the events of both dreams to the assembled Hunters. The reactions of the three newcomers were surprising. Earl just stood there, absorbing everything; Owen leaned back against the wall with his arms crossed, nodding occasionally, and Julie produced a small notebook and pencil from somewhere and began jotting things down. She’d interrupt me every so often to ask a question, then she’d write down my answer in her notebook and signal me to continue.
“So,” she said when I’d finally finished, “you never saw this thing’s face?”
“No,” I replied, suddenly finding myself unable to look anywhere near Odette.
“In either dream?”
“No.” Earl frowned. I could tell that he knew I was lying.
“Half-eaten corpses,” Owen mused, “Zombies?”
“Sounds like it,” Julie agreed, “Big outbreak too from what he described. We should probably alert the authorities in Philadelphia, let them know they might be facing a potential outbreak.”
“Don’t bother,” Earl said, “Philly’s a lost cause. Leave it to the Zombies. Add Jersey in too; country’ll be better off.”
“Earl!” Julie, Dominique, and Shannon all shouted at him. The men just chuckled.
“What?” he asked, “I was just sayin’…”
“I’ll call Philly,” Julie said, “seeing as how I’m one of only three mature adults in the room.”
“Now wait a second!” Owen said, “I wasn’t agreeing with him! I was laughing at how the three of you‑”
“Owen, dear, you’re a terrible liar,” Julie said sweetly.
“Owen.” An edge slid ever so slightly into her voice.
“Okay, fine,” Owen said before lapsing into a sulk. “What about this evil man? You thinking vampire?”
“Sounds like it,” Earl said, “You guys have been attacked by, what now? Wights, harpies, and a gargoyle?”
“That’s everything,” Dominique confirmed. “Last time I checked, only vamps had the power to control that many monsters.”
“That’s right,” Julie agreed, “and it would have to be a pretty high-level one too. Probably a Master.” That elicited a series of curses from the group. I joined in too; Master Vampires are the absolute toughest of all the undead to kill, as in empty an entire magazine into them and they don’t even flinch tough, which fit in perfectly with what I’d seen in my dreams.
“Still, it makes sense,” Owen said, “I mean, Steve did ice a vampire; our Master’s probably related to him somehow.”
“No, it doesn’t make sense,” Chris countered, “Vamps don’t get attached to their creations. They’re like worker drones, not pets. There’s no emotional attachment whatsoever. Sure, the vamp might get annoyed that one of his worker bees got taken out, but that wouldn’t piss him off enough to send an army of the undead to kill the guy that did it.”
“I meant blood related,” Owen said, “As in the vamps were somehow related before they got turned. And don’t forget about the Scarlett Mara incident.”
“Who?” Odette asked right before I could.”
“The Master that Moose staked,” Shannon said.
“Oh,” Chris replied, “Okay, that does make sense then. But we still don’t know who Steve’s vampire is related too.”
“You sure the incident’s not in the database?” Earl asked.
“I’ve checked it a dozen times, Earl,” Shannon replied, “I can’t find any mention of it.”
“Check again,” Earl said.
“But I’m telling you—”
“Okay, fine,” Shannon pouted, then turned towards the desk. “Uh, Julie…”
“Oh, sorry,” Julie said as she hopped off the desk. Shannon reached down under the desk and powered on a computer. The monitor atop the desk came to life a second later. The computer booted up incredibly fast. It must have had some serious hardware upgrades; no stock desktop could boot that quickly. Shannon immediately called up some sort of web browser that I didn’t recognize and entered a few quick commands. A minute later, the crest of the Monster Control Bureau appeared on the screen.
“Okay, we’re in,” she said. I felt my jaw go slack; she’d just hacked what had to be the most secure mainframe in the whole world, and she’d done it in less than two minutes. A second later, she called up a search program and typed in a query.
“See,” she said after the search finished, “Like I said, nothing.”
“That’s ‘cause you spelled it wrong,” I said. Everyone else in the room looked at me like I’d just started speaking ancient Mayan or something.
“What?” Shannon asked.
“You spelled Tredyffrin wrong,” I said, “Everyone pronounces it like it’s spelled T-E-R-D, but it’s really spelled T-R-E-D. That and there’s two F’s, not one, and an I, not an E.”
“Oh,” she said, still surprised. I guess she didn’t make mistakes like that very often. “Okay, I’ll try that then.” She entered in the correct spelling and re-ran the search. A result popped up within seconds. “Okay, here it is. Yeah, Steve Andrews slew vampire, Tredyffrin Public Library, eight months ago. There’s a note here for an, and I quote “Unusual method of elimination.”
“Any info on the dead vamp?” Earl asked.
“Yeah, right here. Ah… says his name was Jonathan Fletcher, Age 21 at his time of, uh, death, from Chicago. Active for just over a month before he was killed… Odette? Are you okay?”
Odette had gone completely pale. Her hands were pressed over her mouth, and she’d started shaking.
“Odette, what is it?” I asked, “What’s wrong.”
“Oh God,” she whispered, ignoring us, “Oh God no. No, it can’t be him. It can’t be him. Oh no. Please God, no. No, no, no, no, no, no!” Tears began to stream down her cheeks.
“Meyers, you knew him?” Earl asked, flabbergasted. Odette nodded.
“He… he’s… he was, I mean… he was Robert’s younger brother.”
“You mean Robert your fiancé?” Dominique asked. Odette nodded again.
“Dear God!” Shannon said, while Chris proceeded to let out a stream of profanity so long and creative that it probably made his great-great grandparents blush with shame.
“Is there anything else in his file?” Earl asked, “Anything unusual.”
“Yes…” Shannon said slowly.
“There’s a… a hyperlink… on his brother’s name.”
The room went deadly silent. The phrase “so quiet you could hear a pin drop” doesn’t even come close. For what seemed like hours, we just stood there, looking at each other with mixtures of shock, horror, and disbelief.
“Click on it,” Earl said, finally shattering the quiet.
“But…” Shannon said.
“Click on it,” Earl said, the edge in his voice so fine it could split a hair.
“Okay…” Shannon said. She clicked on the link, and another window opened on the screen. It was a dossier with a headshot of a dead man.
It was the same man I’d seen in my dream the night before.
“Robert Fletcher,” Shannon read slowly, “Age 22. From Chicago. Killed just about a year ago by a Naga…”
“So how is he a vampire?” Julie asked.
“Let me see…” Shannon replied as she started scrolling down the page. Odette was staring at the computer screen in horror. “Okay,” Shannon continued, “Ah… it says that he was bitten by a vampire at age six, while his family was travelling around Europe. Vampire was believed to be the Master Vampire known as… oh shit. He was bitten by Jaeger.”
“WHAT!” Every single veteran hunter in the room shouted as one.
“Yeah, Jaeger got him,” Shannon confirmed. The room erupted into the most vile chorus of profanity that I have ever had the displeasure of being caught in. I thought that cursing had stopped phasing me a long time ago, but by the time everyone finished, I felt like I needed to be steam cleaned.
“Uh, I’m sorry, but who exactly is this Jaeger guy?” I asked.
“The most powerful Master Vampire we’ve ever encountered,” Owen said, “He was in league with The Cursed One, drew his power from the Artifact. Before he got turned, he was a high-up in the Waffen SS. Real evil motherfucker before he got made undead. Being a vampire just made his disposition a whole lot worse.
“And the more powerful the creator, the more powerful the creation,” I said. Yeah, I could understand why the vets were upset.
“Certainly explains how he got powerful enough to control wights, gargoyles, and harpies,” Julie added.
“And why he would want Steve dead,” Jon added.
“So what… uh… what are you going to do about me?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Dominique asked me.
“Well… I’ve got what I assume to be an ultra-powerful Master Vampire trying to kill me, and so far he’s attacked the team three times on account of that. I’m a danger to you guys.”
“So?” Dominique asked.
“So what’s that got to do with anything?” she asked, “You’re a Hunter now. Hunters take care of each other.” I suddenly felt a tremendous weight lift itself off my shoulders.
“Thanks Dominique,” I said, “Thanks, guys.”
“Huh?” I turned around to find Odette’s gaze boring into me.
“You knew, didn’t you?” she asked, “You knew it was Robert in your dream, didn’t you? You knew he was alive! You knew!”
“Odette,” Julie said softly, “Robert’s dead. That thing is not your fiancé.”
“You knew,” Odette continued, ignoring me, “and you didn’t tell me.”
“Odette, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was him until—”
“Until you saw my picture of him,” Odette finished, “and you didn’t say anything.”
WHAP!! The sound echoed off the walls like the crack of a bullwhip. My cheek stung where her hand had struck. The rest of the team stared at us in shock.
“You… you son of a bitch,” She said, tears streaming down her face.
“Odette… I… I’m sorry.”
“Go to hell,” she said, “Just… just go burn in hell!” she turned and ran from the room. Julie called after her and followed her out a second later. The rest of the team just stared at me. I felt like shit. No, I felt worse than shit.
“Andrews, I want the truth,” Earl growled after a painfully long minute, “did you know Robert was the man in your dream? Did you see his face?” From the tone of his voice, I knew that if he caught me in a lie, he would do very, very bad things to me.
“I saw his face in the second dream,” I admitted, “Right before Odette showed me his picture.”
“And you didn’t say anything?” Shannon asked.
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Oh, hey, your dead boyfriend looks just like the evil undead dude in my dreams, and I think he’s trying to kill me.’ Yeah, that would’ve worked out real well.”
“You lied about it the first time I asked you,” Earl said, “I don’t like being lied to. I really don’t like it.”
“I didn’t want Odette to know!” I replied, “She’s still trying to cope with Robert being dead, I didn’t want to hurt her by telling him that now he’s a monster and we have to kill him!”
“Yeah, great job with that,” Owen said sarcastically.
“Shut up, Pitt,” Earl barked.
“So… what are we going to do about Robert?” Jon asked after a minute.
“Same thing we do to every other monster,” Earl replied, “Kill him and collect the PUFF.”
“And Odette?” Dominique asked, “She still has feelings for him, or at least for who he used to be. That might complicate things.”
“And she was suicidal once,” Chris pointed out.
“That was an isolated incident,” I snapped.
“How can you be sure?” Chris asked.
“Because she promised me she wouldn’t try it again.”
“Oh, yeah, like that’s worth anything now that you’ve royally pissed her off.”
“Shut the fuck up, Unger!”
“Hey, it’s not my fault you probably convinced her to try icing herself again.”
“Why you…,” I shouted, “you’re a fucking dead man!” I lunged at him. He dropped into a fighting stance. Then thick arms wrapped around me and pulled me back.
“Get off of me!” I screamed, “I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!”
“Cool it!” Owen shouted in my ear, “Calm down both of you!”
“Let the shrimp go!” Chris goaded, “I’m gonna pound his ass straight through the—”
“EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!” Earl bellowed. Right then, I swear I saw his eyes turn yellow for a split second. My blood turned to ice in my chest and I immediately stopped struggling. Which was actually a bad move because Owen was so freaked out that he dropped me. Earl quickly dug a Zippo lighter out of his pocket and lit his cigarette. He took a few long, deep drags on the cancer stick, probably trying to calm down. I started coughing as the foul smoke drifted my way. Part of me wanted to ask Earl to go outside, but another part realized that he’d probably tear me limb from limb if I did. Short-term survival won out over long term health.
“This isn’t helping,” Earl said once he’d manage to dissipate his rage. “Julie’s with Odette right now. She can help her work through this, and keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid. In the meantime, the rest of you go back to doing your jobs. You’ve got contracts to fulfill, right? Get on those. If Robert appears, stake and decapitate.”
“And if… if Odette tries to stop us from doing that?” Shannon asked tentatively.
“Don’t let her,” Earl replied. “Owen, tell Julie that I’m transferring you two here for the time being. Dominique’s going to need all the help she can get.”
“Got it Earl,” Owen replied.
“Thanks, Boss,” Dominique said.
“Don’t mention it,” Earl replied. For a long moment, we all just stood there. “Don’t y’all have stuff to be doing?” Earl asked. Everyone filed out of the archives, including Earl. Chris shot me a glare as we passed in the hall. I ignored him and shuffled back to my dorm room. God, how could I have screwed things up so badly?