I’m fairly proud of my vampire stories that appear in the Big Bad anthologies, so I thought I’d give everyone a bit of a sneak peak into the story that appears in The Big Bad II, A Family Affair. Set in the 1950’s against the ever-looming presence of the cold war, Amanda struggles with not only her evolving feelings for her family, but how she might protect them…and come into her own, while doing it. There’s something about her that craves control more than love, so what’s a mother to do when it looks like her babies are going to leave her far behind, when it seems there’s no place for a woman with some ambition in the suburban world she inhabits?
The street behind Max’s Diner reeked of old food and nighttime dankness. The only light came from the flickering bulb over the back door, the dumpsters looked like they hadn’t been tended to for a week, and there was no telling what was rustling in an old pile of boxes nearby. If the waiting housewives had possessed any amount of sense, they would have fled for home. Neither should have been there shivering in a questionable part of town, standing in a gooey puddle, quite possibly ruining new pumps in the process. Sarah kept looking over her shoulder, reaffirming what Amanda already knew. They had no sane business there, but there they were. There she was. She had to be. She was waiting.
Nose-curling smoke belched out of a vent. Amanda made a face and carefully smoothed her dress and her brunette coiffure to give her hands something to do. Beside her, Sarah Sanders paced and tried not to come in contact with anything. “They should be here by now. We both received a phone call. That means there’s a meeting. I brought the pamphlets,” Sarah rambled, shaking her over-sized handbag for emphasis. “This is where we were told to meet, right?”
“Yes,” Amanda murmured. “Maybe they couldn’t make it.”
“Then we should go!” Sarah’s round face showed her distress and her blonde hair wobbled in the loose bun gathered at the back of her head. “How are we supposed to make a stand on our own?”
Amanda’s stomach twisted, but she didn’t voice her unease. She wouldn’t show weakness, not to another new member, not to anyone in the group. The whole point is that many individuals can do more than one group saying the same thing over and over. She scowled at the woman who was friendly and concerned enough, but so tiring. So many people in the small town of Crossroads, Missouri were so very tiring.
She started to reassure Sarah that they were right where they needed to be when a flash of movement at the alley’s entrance caught her eye.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” Amanda was surprised that her voice was as calm and unaffected as it was. Looks like all those arguments with Robert have done me some good. Come to think of it, the hoods looked about Robert’s age. Two wore black Levis with thick cuffs at the bottom, and the other still sported his baggy mechanic’s trousers. As they came closer, it was obvious from what was visible of their fitted T-shirts that they were all muscle under their jackets. All three towered over both women, and all looked pleased by the predicament.
The largest leaned over until he was nose to nose with Amanda. She grimaced at the stench of the pomade he’d used to slick his hair back Folsom-style. “Dunno, can you? Strange place for two circled dollies to be after dark.” He glanced to his two friends and they shared a smug, secret smile.
Amanda swallowed and forced herself to look the thug in his glazed eyes, to tolerate the heavy scent of alcohol on his breath. Their stupid smiles, their terrible manners and fashion, their awful music. I cannot believe this is what Crossroads is turning into. Disgusting. “We’ve just as much right to be here as anyone else.”
“Amanda, what are you doing?” Sarah hissed, shaking her elbow hard. “Are you crazy? It’s obvious they’re not going to show up!”
“Well, well, the things you married chicks get up to just fractures me. Looks like these little ladies have a secret, now, don’t it, boys?” the lead hood snickered. His backup goons chortled and busied themselves lighting cigarettes. A wallet chain slapped against the jeans of one, and the grease monkey adjusted the dirty flat cap that was smushed onto the back of his head.
“Yeah, an’ we like secrets, Freddie,” the mechanic laughed.
“We got a few of our own, too,” his pal added. “We know all about good secrets. We’ve got all sorts of stuff hidden in the garage from all the fat cats Bobby does fix-it work for.”
“Zip it, goof! We don’t need the heat on us,” Bobby, the mechanic, snarled.
His friend rolled his eyes and sauntered closer to Sarah. Up close, his scarred face was clearly visible, a regular Harlem sunset. “Chill out. They won’t be talking much in a few minutes, so it don’t matter if they’re in the orbit, though it’s a shame Raver will miss out.”
Bobby made a face and took a drag from his cigarette. “His fault for gettin’ caught sneakin’ out last week. If he doesn’t know his groceries to do that right, then what good is he to us? ‘Sides, he can get his own tail.”
Bile rose in Amanda’s throat and she lurched forward. Freddie nudged into her space, edging her back into the alley, away from the diner’s kitchen door. “Fire, huh? Cool. I like an Ivy Leaguer with fire. You meetin’ someone to boil your cabbage besides yer old man, is that it?” he sneered.
“Don’t be disgusting, you goon!”Sarah spat. For a moment Amanda thought her friend would grow a spine and come to her defense, but she yelped and backed away as soon as the other two greasers crammed near her.
“You haven’t even seen disgusting yet, sweetheart,” Freddie laughed.
“Maybe they know this is where we hang out when we’re not cruisin’,” the one with the cap pointed out around his cigarette. Under the flickering light, his pockmarked face did nothing to add to his appeal. “Maybe they’re looking for some fun without the squares and spazzes they’re hitched to.”
“That it? You lookin’ to make out with someone who knows how?” Freddie grinned, and before Amanda could back up any further his thick hand was around her wrist, yanking her close. Up against him, the stench of tobacco smoke, alcohol, grease, and hair product was mind-numbing. “Or you wanting more than that?”
If her privates could close up, they would have at the thug’s suggestion. “Don’t be crass. There’s only one man that can do that for me,” she sneered before thinking the comment through.
“Yeah? Don’t be so uptight. It’s not good for the circulation,” Freddie teased. “Be like your friend, there. She knows her place.” Cold fear worked up Amanda’s spine as she looked over the greaser’s shoulder to see Sarah dragged further into the alley. Tears streaked powder on her cheeks as she struggled against the thick arms. Frustration, disgust, and blind fury made Amanda’s mind blank, made her skin crawl with a sudden heat. “Oh, I know my place. I know it’s far above you low-life delinquents. You’re everything that’s wrong with the world today.”
For a moment, the noises of the alley stilled and there was total, shocked silence. Freddie’s jaw tightened, and the fire in his eyes was proof that she’d gone too far. “See, if your old man did you well, you wouldn’t shoot your mouth like that. Guess I’m gonna have to school ya,” he snarled. Before Amanda could breathe, the switchblade was open on her throat.
“I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, baby,” he breathed as he slammed her up against the diner wall.
Keep focused and you’ll get through this, her mind urged. You’ll survive this. It was hard to believe it when the brickwork scraped her back and a hand pressed hard on her throat.
“As fun as you’d be, I’ll enjoy spilling your blood all up and down this alley to keep people off our turf.”
Despite her heart pounding in her ears, a slow smile curled Amanda’s lips. When she spoke, her voice was effortless and clear. “I feel the same way.”
Her slim hand curled around his wrist and popped his arm back and around. The twisting gesture easily snapped the bone and sunk the blade into his blade into his throat, which not only got the weapon out of her way, but kept him quiet when she slashed her hand down his front. Freddie watched, bug-eyed, as his shirt and torso split open, revealing the glistening, sticky abundance of intestines underneath. A strangled whine squeezed out of his throat as he sank to his knees. Smiling, Amanda stepped around the mess, clicking her tongue. Behind her, the screams had taken a decidedly masculine turn, but she wasn’t going to bother with the others yet. This was the fun part, the part she’d been waiting for ever since the phone call.
She stepped firmly onto the mass of steaming pink insides. The world in front of her glowed red, and her face burned from the change. The greaser clawed at his throat as his eyes lost their light. “Do you want to play with me now? Or have you guessed my little secret?” Her voice was rough from the change and the excitement of the hunt.
Freddie couldn’t answer. He was already dead.
“Behind you!” Sarah snarled. Amanda turned to see the grease monkey charging at her with a tire iron. The prissy blonde had his friend’s throat open and was greedily feasting on his blood.
Amanda dodged the flailing piece of metal. “Just like a man…you think you rule the world because you’re bigger, but you have no idea what to do with your weapon.”
“Up yours, bitch!” The length of metal came down at her head. She swept to his side and smacked the tire iron’s path sideways, leaving his ribs unprotected to a well-delivered rake of her claws. He howled and the iron clattered onto the pavement as he gripped his side, leaving his throat completely exposed. Her nails dug into his tender flesh when she wrapped her hand around his neck and slowly squeezed.
“Do you think you can keep up with us now?” she purred. “Do you think you know how to treat a lady?” Her voice was raw from exertion and hunger, brutal from frustration.
“P-please,” he gasped, and she felt a surge of power as the tears grew in Bobby’s eyes.
“I should tell you how worthless your stupid games are. How you’re bringing this entire country down by not contributing a damn thing,” she snarled, and pressed her face right into his.
“S-stop, don’t touch me!” Horror and pain looked so delicious on a young man’s face, especially when his throat was gushing blood.
“Amanda!” Sarah hissed. “Someone will hear!”
The housewife sighed and pressed her mouth to the thug’s, hard, teeth sinking viciously into his tongue and lower lip. A victim’s struggles only made the blood taste sweeter, a fact she had quickly discovered though she was still new to the vampire lifestyle. She drank his screams with the coppery fluid. It was only when his weakened and his thrashing lessened that she took pity and opened his jugular.
Of course, the head of the school board chose that moment to discreetly exit the diner’s kitchen into the alley. He’d obviously finished his tryst with Maxine “Max” Fulton, and was so convinced he wouldn’t get caught that he was tucking himself in his pants as he’d stumbled out the door.
That’s why we’re here, Amanda realized, panting as she dropped the wrecked teen.
“What the hell?” he blustered, pushing his glasses back up on his nose.
“You’re the reason the youth of today are like this in Crossroads!” Sarah dropped the broken body of the young hoodlum onto the ground. She didn’t look down as she stepped on his ribs, jabbing a clawed finger right under the portly man’s nose. “All the depravity, the deception is your fault!” And then, proving that she really was better at rallies and knocking on doors than she was on the streets, Sarah actually picked up her handbag from the alley floor. “I know I have a petition in here somewhere,” she grumbled. True to form, Paul Worthington did what he usually did when faced with confrontation—he stammered something unintelligible and backed away. Unfortunately, his pudgy hand was able to get the door open.
“Oh for God’s sake,” Amanda growled. Though she had yet to fully understand all her new abilities, it was easy to dart in front of Worthington, grab him by the shirt front, and yank him away. “You can’t leave yet, Paul,” she chuckled, and her tongue caught a stray drop of the thug’s blood when she wet her lower lip. “Not when we have so much to say about how you’ve been conducting yourself.”
“What’s going on? Maxine!” he screamed to the door. If the proprietress heard, she didn’t come out, and it was hard for him to scream again with his tongue flopping in Sarah’s small hand. Amanda’s nostrils flared at the strong scent of blood as it flowed from his gurgling mouth, though she’d drank enough from the greasers to last a while. “Come now, Worthington. You need to listen more. There are all sorts of things you’ve passed over through last year that we parents are concerned about. Let me detail them out for you,” she sneered.
He only stayed conscious through the first three points of her speech. By the time she’d gotten to the fifth, his body was splattered across both walls of the alley.
“Well, that didn’t go as expected, but at least it’s over.” Calmly, Amanda dropped the balding scalp, located her purse, and smoothed her dress, ruined as it was.
“I’m so sorry, Amanda,” Sarah panted. “The whole change has just been so hard. I didn’t know we were going to have to…you know, tonight.” She paused. “You didn’t know, did you?”
“No,” Amanda murmured, dabbing her mouth with a handkerchief. “I thought it was just another meeting, or for us to confront Worthington about his ridiculous agenda. I mean really, letting schools discuss Orwell and Arthur Miller. Everyone knows they’re communists!”
“But you weren’t prepared to…I mean, it was so easy for you!”
The housewife sighed at her friend’s helpless expression. What can I say? That I’ve been waiting for this forever? That every irritation, every frustration in my whole life has been buried deep down, just waiting to be let out?
Thankfully, she didn’t have to say a thing. “You passed.” The words were barely audible and Amanda knew that they were just for her. She shivered and managed a shy smile. Him. The Patriarch of The Family, the reason she had renewed focus in her life. The real future of the world. The one whose blood had obliterated her weaknesses and made her into something better not even one week ago. “I wasn’t wrong to give you the blood.” The words caressed Amanda’s ears and reached a part of her that had been restless and frustrated for far too long. Seeing the blood spilled was best, but his words were almost as good.
“I’m so sorry! I’ll do better next time,” Sarah wailed. Her cream skirt was saturated with blood and her blouse nearly translucent with gore, yet in The Patriarch’s presence she was suddenly playing the victim. “If only you’d told us what we were here for!”
“It’ll be all right, Sarah,” Amanda murmured. After all, they’d grown up together, gone to school together. As frustrating as her friend could be, they had known each other forever.
“Are you sure?” Sarah whispered, grey eyes filled with trepidation, as if she was just now questioning her life choice.
Something, no, someone pressed gently at the edges of Amanda’s mind. It was not a conscious thought per say, more of a feeling, an overwhelming urge that she couldn’t ignore. Her body, the beast under her skin, every hidden recess of her mind thrummed at the touch.
As easy as blinking, she grabbed Sarah’s head and twisted. The movement easily removed the head thanks to her improved strength, loosening Sarah’s blonde hair, leaving it trailing over Amanda’s wrists. The shocked eyes blinked several times, more than a regular human’s would, and for a heartbeat, it looked like Sarah was going to spit out final, fretting last words. Her lip quivered and stilled as the grey eyes lost their light. “Typical. She never did want to see anything through,” Amanda muttered. She wrinkled her nose in disdain and tossed the head back into the alley. Decapitation was not only one of the few things that could kill a vampire, especially a new one, it was probably more painless than she deserved. They had been friends, after all.
“Good,” he praised, though he made no move toward her. “You can work with and without being prompted.”
“Those boys knew my son. You knew they did.” She wanted to shake with rage, though she wasn’t sure if it was because Robert had been involved with delinquents or because her failure as a parent was pointed out to her.
“I gave you the chance to deal with it before it became an issue.” He tilted his head and came towards her. Though she was still adapting to her improved senses, his sharply sculpted, calm face was easy to see in the dark. Keen green eyes watched her under tousled, sandy hair, and a small, amused smile danced across his full mouth. He could have been a knight, a pirate, a mystic, a king—the hero or villain in any number of stories. “Would you have preferred to wait until you met him in this sort of situation face to face?”
“No, of course not,” she murmured. He knew best. After all, he was The Patriarch of The Family, a very select group of concerned citizens that were taking America back. Let the Minute Women of the USA have Houston, they’d eventually lose the war. After all, what good was fighting depravity and communism if you could still be obliterated off the face of the earth because you were pitifully human? The Family fixed those little issues and insured that only those best suited for the future were there to see it happen. If she played her cards right, her family would be some of the lucky ones.
Amanda stepped toward The Patriarch like a shy little girl, lifted her face for his inspection. He cupped her chin and a smile brightened his perpetual stubble. “Good, you look human again. Does it feel different?”
“Yes, not so tight.”
“Remember that feeling. It will save you pain from being noticed. I had to kill my first two wives because of stupid mistakes like that.” He dropped his hand and turned to leave. “Come, there’s a change of clothes for you in my car.” She paused, unsure if the question was one to ask. His smile was patient. He could feel the curiosity in her, the desire to learn every bit of what made him successful, of what preserved his power. It flattered him, she could tell. There was so much she could tell now without exactly knowing how. It was beautiful. “I’ll send a clean-up crew after we get away. I have friends with the police. No one will trace this to you. I take care of my children, just as you do.”
“Yes, Sir. Of course.” Amanda stepped over Sarah’s body and followed The Patriarch to the waiting car. Tom and the children had begun to question the sudden phone calls, her new interest in politics, and the late night meetings. Of course, they probably thought she was having an affair. She laughed as she settled into the car seat. An affair could never be as good as this, she thought and tasted the stray remnants of blood at the edges of her mouth