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Blood Shadow

Book of Hartwell
Phil Wohl

Smashwords Edition Copyright 2010 Phil Wohl This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If youre reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Dedication To Danielle, Who makes all things in life possible. Thanks, Pete!

ONE Belinda Thompson was always a protective parent, but the swine flu pandemic pushed her over the edge. Her son, Daniel, cried the whole way to the hospital. I dont want to get a shot! he shrieked from the middle row

of the familys minivan. She was the ever-sensitive parent, Would you rather die? Seven year-old Daniel pondered the rhetorical question as if anything but the word no would suffice. It was a summer in which third-grader-to-be Daniel was doubling as a pin cushion, touring from doctor to doctor and being inoculated for every disease, ailment, and medical abnormality known to man. When he heard the words swine flu on a news program one morning - while attempting to get through a bowl of gluten- and dairy-free, organic, reduced fat and sugar, cardboard pieces drowned in soy milk he knew that he would be going back under the needle. As Daniel got older, he wasnt even sure if he was lactose intolerant, or 95 percent of the things his paranoid mother concocted. He led the entire first and second grades in absenteeism in his two years at Brookside Elementary School. He felt fortunate that his new school district was cracking down on home-schooling, because he surely would have become the boy in the air-tight bubble within the confines of his new house. The emergency room at Nightsdale Community Hospital was the only place that was rumored to still have the swine

flu vaccine, so Daniel and his mother waited four hours for a chance to win big as Belinda put it. The reality was that the hospital utilized all 100 vaccines the day it arrived, some three weeks prior to the Thompsons excursion across town. Mom and son started to get punchy, as the sliding doors opened and a distinguished gentleman walked in. It was a dark, cloudy day and rain was imminent. The man was wearing a long, tan trench coat and a navy blue New York Yankees hat. He walked up to the main glass window and appeared to whisper something to the receptionist. Seconds later, the door opened and the tall, bearded man looked back at Daniel before walking inside. Daniel smiled at the man, which prompted an immediate reaction from his mother. What did I tell you about strange people? The man thought, Theres no one stranger than you, mom. And Daniel laughed and thought, You can say that again. The man, who was now sitting on an examination table inside the emergency room, transmitted a joke, Theres no one stranger than you, mom. They both laughed as Dr. Marc Levine, who was at the end of a 16-hour shift and looking like he could sleep for days,

walked around the curtain and said, What can I help you with The man let his mind do the talking. The name is Hartwell. Mr. Hartwell, Levine said as if he heard the man say the words. Hartwell again bypassed the spoken word and conveyed his thoughts, First, youre going to get four pints of your freshest blood, and then youre going to bring me a sterile needle. Levine quickly complied with Hartwells requests and returned with the blood and a packaged syringe. Stand there and take a deep, peaceful nap until I tell you to wake up, Hartwell thought and Levine dozed. You look like you could use some rest, Hartwell said out loud as he voraciously ingested the bags of blood and then punctured the skin of his left arm with the needle, backfilling some of his blood into the cylinder before removing it from his left arm. Hartwell then reestablished communication with the doctor by saying, You will fill the syringe with saline solution and then tell the receptionist to call Daniel Thompson in with his mother. Now awake and shake my hand and feel

completely rested like you have slept for days. The doctor opened his eyes, yawned, and and then stretched his arms toward the ceiling. Wow! I havent slept like that since I was an undergrad. Dr. Levine said. I have to go tend to Daniel Thompson right now. Levine left the examination area and walked over to talk to the receptionist. Seconds later, the stone-aged woman slid the glass door and announced, Daniel Thompson. Belinda Thompson jumped up and ran to the window like she had won the lottery jackpot. Dr. Levine will see you now, the woman said. Belinda knew the drill, and grabbed her sons hand to enter through the door. She was too excited to ask if they had a swine flu vaccine, preferring to let the excitement build with each step she took in the examination area. Hartwell stood behind the curtain and continued his role as puppeteer. Once he saw Belinda Thompson, he wasted no time in removing her from the equation. The sound of her frantic voice and thoughts always gave him a splitting headache. Mrs. Thompson, please walk out into the waiting area and take a seat. Pick up a magazine and think only of what you

are reading. Hartwells thoughts quickly turned into action as Belinda said out loud, I think Ill go to the waiting area and read a magazine. Dr. Levine was next in line for Hartwell, Please hand me the syringe and then step behind the curtain and go back to sleep. Levine removed the syringe from his white lab coat, handed it to Hartwell, and then walked behind the curtain and started to lightly snore. I dont like shots, Daniel thought. You dont have to be afraid, son. I would never hurt you. Just close your eyes and it will be over before you know it. In the middle of the communication, Hartwell had injected the boy in his neck without him even realizing it. Hartwell said out loud, You can open your eyes. Daniel opened his tightly-clenched eyes and the doctor and his mother were standing in front of him. The doctor told you that it wouldnt hurt! his mother shrieked as if a blessed event had just been completed. She then turned to the doctor and said, Did you know that LeBron James went straight from high school to the NBA? obviously revealing that she had picked up a copy of Sports

Illustrated in the waiting area.

Dr. Levine and Belinda started walking out of the examination area as Daniel curiously looked behind the curtain to see if his new friend was standing there. Now, he might get a fever or not feel so well over the next few days the doctor explained to the mom, who had already memorized potential symptoms. There was no one behind the curtain, but Hartwell conveyed the following message, No need to search for me little one, for I will always be only a few steps away. Daniel smiled and then walked out of the hospital holding his mother's hand. TWO Daniel fell fast asleep upon returning home from the hospital, and then awoke almost two days later. He would usually wait for instructions from his mother, but broke protocol by heading right into the shower after brushing his teeth. Belinda Thompson would always have to coax her eight year-old son into a bath, but would rarely suggest a shower. Hartwells supercharged blood was working its way through

Daniels veins, making it difficult for mom to detect any of the anticipated flu-like symptoms. Daniel? Is that you in the shower? Yes, mom, Daniel replied. Since when do you take showers? Be careful in there. Let me get you a bath mat. But before mom could open the adjacent linen closet, Daniel was standing on the light blue bath mat completely dry and coifed, with a towel neatly wrapped around his waist. Belinda walked back into the bathroom and was speechless for one of the few times in her adult life. She squinted out of confusion and said, Werent you just? She had always washed him in the tub, cleaned his ears with Q-tips, and brushed his hair on the rare occasions he would sit still in the bath. He also looked a bit more toned than usual, but she thought that maybe it was just the dim lighting. How are you feeling this morning? Is the fever gone? She stepped closer to Daniel and placed the back of her right hand on his forehead. His forehead was cool to the touch, even after taking a shower that steamed up the vanity mirror.

Let me make sure, she said as she opened the mirrored cabinet and pulled out a digital thermometer. Daniel had thankfully graduated to the oral thermometer a few months earlier when Belinda read a report on the dangers of the other-end thermometers. She removed the thermometer from Daniels mouth and it read 97.1. Must be a low-grade fever. We should probably hold you back one more day just to be safe. Daniel was ready to surrender even though he felt fine, until a familiar voice popped into his head. Go to school, Hartwell whispered. Mom, its the first day of school and I dont want to miss it. I feel fine, Daniel insisted. She felt his forehead again and said, I am going to talk to the school nurse, and have your teacher keep an eye on you. Daniel smiled and thought, Thank you! Hartwell replied, Youre welcome. Once at school, Daniels third-grade teacher Mrs. Williams, assigned his seat across from a boy named Andrew Brewster at a four-desk cluster near the front right of the class. But Daniel sped to the middle of the desks and

switched Brewsters name card with Nicole Phillips without being spotted. Although the majority of his being had absolutely no desire to sit across from a girl, his instincts compelled him to swap the cards. Mrs. Williams told the class to find their name tags and take a seat. Daniel pulled his chair out and sat down, placing his backpack under his seat. Look at the new kid! Andrew Brewster exclaimed as he pointed at Daniel. I dont think he can read! The kids in the class laughed as Mrs. Williams, an elegant middle-aged African-American woman, came over to quickly diffuse the situation. What seems to be the problem? she asked Daniel, whos heart was racing and his face flushed from embarrassment. Daniel couldnt speak and would usually cower in a situation in which another boy, or overly-aggressive girl, confronted him. So, Andrew Brewster filled in the blanks for the teacher, The new kid sat in my seat, he stated with a tone of hostility, which drew a nervous chuckle from the class. The truth was that Brewster switched the cards just before Daniels butt hit the chair, just as he was looking down to

situate his backpack. Mrs. Williams wasnt having any of it on the first day of class. Boys, please come over here, she said in a kind and neutral tone of voice. On her left side was Andrew Brewster and Daniel was on her right, as they all faced the class. Mrs. Williams went on a five-minute speech about how the class was a family and how they all had to support each other. All the while she was speaking, Andrew and Daniel stared almost glared at each other as if they were two boxers readying for a prize fight. About two minutes in, Daniel heard a voice in his head other than Hartwells for the first time, Youre mine at lunch, dog meat! Daniel started sweating at first and then must have hit a patch of adrenaline because he said out loud, In your dreams! It just so happened that Mrs. Williams was talking about growing up and hearing and learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, so Daniels dream comment was only fully understood by Andrew Brewster and Hartwell, who was standing in the corner of the classroom as an unnoticed, but

interested observer. I want you boys to shake hands and start fresh, Mrs. Williams said in a loving tone. She brought them together and Brewster clamped down on Daniels hand first, displaying quite a grip for a third-grader. They were also requested to formally introduce themselves, so Daniel grunted in pain, Daniel Thompson. Brewster quietly huffed, Andrew Brewster. Mrs. Williams continued as Daniel experienced intense pain until Hartwell used his internal voice, Pain is a function of our fear. Channel your energy into your hand and the pain will certainly go away. Daniel looked over to the left corner of the room and saw Hartwell in his trench coat and Yankees hat sitting in the reading area in a wood rocking chair. He then smiled at Brewster and fought back enough to neutralize the death grip. Mrs. Williams was on a roll, but she noticed that the boys had lingered a bit too long on the handshake, so she attempted to separate the clasp because neither boy would back down. She struggled and then stated in a stern tone, Thats enough boys but it wasnt until Hartwell said,

Time to let go, son, that she was able to separate the two. There were a bevy of instructions from the lunch lady as the class entered the lunch room for the first time. It was Daniels first try at lunch in the new school, but the experience was made easier by the brown bag he clenched in his right hand. His favorite sandwich had been peanut butter and jelly until his mother concocted a peanut allergy defense one day after she noticed that his arm had broken out. Of course, subsequent tests revealed no allergy, but Belinda Thompson continued with her antipeanut crusade, despite the knowledge that Daniel was treated for a nasty bee sting not a food allergy. Also new to the school and the town of Beach Haven, New York, was Nicole Phillips. Nicole was a cute little blonde girl who suffered from asthma attacks when she became overly excited, or exercised too vigorously. While many doctors had cautioned her against over-exertion, her mother often told her that she would grow out of it, and that made her feel better. While Daniel and Andrew were locked in their grip of death, Nicole clutched her asthma puffer with her left hand because she was sure that the excitement of the first day would surely push her over the edge.

She was upset by her familys move from Delaware to New York, simply because that was the only life she had ever known. It seemed that her mother decided to pick up and leave almost overnight, making it impossible to say goodbye to her friends in the suburban neighborhood. She wondered in the days leading up to school if she would fit in with the fast-paced New Yorkers her mother referred to but, while she was waiting on line earlier that day to get into school, she experienced a calming revelation. Go ask the boy at the end of the line if it is Mrs. Williams class, Sharon Phillips said to her daughter. The boy turned out to be Daniel, wearing a jacket befitting of a 40-degree day, not a 70-degree day. She tapped Daniel on the padded shoulder, Excuse me, is this Mrs. Williams class? a shy Nicole asked as she reached for into her left pocket for her puffer. Daniel turned around and their eyes fixed on each other his light brown and her ocean blue eyes. Sharon Phillips muttered to herself, Well Ill be Once Daniel was able to speak, he replied, Yes, it is. And Nicole took her hand off the puffer as Daniel

properly let Nicole stand in front of him on line. Later that day at the lunchroom, Daniel looked into his brown paper bag and a square block of tofu stared him in the face. He felt like Charlie Brown looking into his Halloween bag and pronouncing, I got a rock. Nicole walked up to Daniel and looked inside her bag, which housed a liverwurst sandwich. She stated, They give you a peanut jelly sandwich and a carton of milk if you dont have lunch. Daniel grabbed both of the bags and deposited them into the garbage without being spotted. He then walked up to the aid standing near the doorway to the hot lunch area and said, We dont have our lunches. The burly woman rolled her eyes and talked to herself, First day of school and these kids already forgot their lunch. She walked inside and grabbed a few cartons of milk and a couple of PB&J sandwiches. Here. Try to remember your lunch tomorrow. Okay? Yes, ma'am, Daniel politely replied. He handed Nicole a sandwich and a milk and walked over to the table where the rest of the class was sitting. Nicole sat on one side of the table and then Daniel walked around to the other side to sit across from her.

Andrew Brewster came out of nowhere, from the other side of the table, with a brown tray full of food and bumped Daniel off the spot. His sandwich went flying into the air, but he quickly regained his balance and flagged it down before it hit the ground. Good thing, because the ornery lunch aid never gave out seconds, or replacement sandwiches. By the time Daniel strolled back to the table, he was left to sit at the end by himself. Hartwell was standing in the corner of the cafeteria and he conveyed a message to Daniel, Keep your balance and fight against your anger. Now enjoy your favorite sandwich. Daniel smiled and looked down the table at Nicole, who stopped her conversation with Brewster to smile back at him and raise her sandwich in solidarity. He returned the friendly gesture. Meanwhile, Brewster saw Nicole looking at Daniel and burned inside, Im gonna clobber that kid at recess. Daniel enjoyed every bit of his sandwich and looked at his non-blotchy arm after he was done. It was also comforting to drink an entire pint of whole mile, being that he was also purported to be lactose intolerant. The grade-school inmates were let loose for recess

on the expansive playground, complete with swings and a huge play set. Daniel ran out the play set and quickly jumped in the air, ran on top of the tire bridge, and scaled the huge wall of the fort-like structure. Just behind him, aping his moves like a monkey on caffeine was Nicole, who joined him at the top of the fort looking out over the fouracre field. Daniel was just about to say something clever, but awkward, but Brewster climbed from the other end of the structure and was now only a few feet from Daniel and Nicole. Its time to pay up, Thompson, Brewster snarled while clenching his fists at his side. Whats wrong with you, Andrew? Nicole asked trying to get him to calm down. But the gesture only served to make Andrew angrier, like a bull being prodded and jabbed until it only saw red. Smoke was coming out of Andrews ears as he ran at Daniel and pushed him over the side of the plastic structure, which was some 10 feet off the ground. Normally, a fall of that height would have required a trip to the school nurse for a band-aid, given that the

flooring was cushioned with a thick layer of recycled and shredded rubber tires. But Daniel had lost his balance and was speeding toward a head-to-ground crash, until Nicole sped down the wall and redirected his legs so he could land safely on his feet. Brewster looked over the edge of the watch-tower to revel in the new kid writhing in pain on the ground, but all he saw was Nicole and Daniel happily walking away together. Daniel said, This has been a weird, but very nice day. Nicole smiled, Tell me about it. Brewster burned inside as Hartwell emerged from behind a tree, feeling that things were surely moving in the right direction.

THREE The phone rang in Belinda Thompsons home office and she ran to grab it. Being a residential real estate agent, she was able to make her own hours and generally be available for her son. Hello, Belinda said, being that it was her home

phone line. If it was the business line, she would have used the more formal greeting of Thompson Realty, how may I help you. Mrs. Thompson? the male voice questioned at the other end of the line. Yes, this is Belinda Thompson. May I ask who is calling? Oh, Im sorry. This is Barry Schoebel, vice principal of East Inlet Elementary School. Mr. Schoebel! Belinda said in a surprised tone. Was there a problem with Daniels medication. Schoebel rolled his eyes in disbelief, because he had seen Belinda on at least a dozen occasions since the school year began. A boy that he was repeatedly told was fragile and potentially inching closer to deaths door with each passing minute, had been holding his own - and then some - on the playground during the first two months of school. Well, I have your son here in my office Schoebel began. Trouble never crossed Belindas mind, because her sons school record was as spotless as her kitchen sink. Do you need me to come down to the school? I can

be there in five minutes. Schoebel replied, No, that wont be necessary this time, Ms. Thompson. Im just going to send a letter home with Daniel for you to sign. It basically says that you are aware that your son got in a fight and you discussed the matter with him. Belinda let the unimaginable information slowly penetrate her virgin ears, and then immediately sought clarification. Fight? Did you say fight? Your son was in a fight at recess with a boy in his class. Apparently there has been some friction between them. Belinda was in disbelief, Who is this boy that obviously attacked my son? Id rather not say, Schoebel replied, trying to be politically correct. Belinda always cut to the chase Im coming down! and she hung up the phone and was walking to her mini-van before Schoebel realized she was no longer on the phone. Four minutes later, a harried Belinda walked briskly up the front path and through the front doors of the school.

She was always professional in her mannerisms and attire, because of the nature of both her personality and profession. The 56 Belinda had tanned skin, dark hair, blue eyes, and was athletically trim from her years of running marathons. She wore a smart-looking, navy blue pants suit with a white ruffled shirt. Belinda walked into the main office, which was to her immediate right when she entered the building. She knew the office by heart and bypassed the secretaries at the front counter and walked unabated to Barry Schoebels office. There was no doubt in her mind that her son had been wronged and needed to be defended, until she saw the other boy. Drew? Belinda said in astonishment. Andrew Brewster had ice pack on his right eye, as a result of an accurate right cross from Daniel. Andrew removed the ice and replied, Aunt Belinda? Belinda? a surprised voice of mature female exclaimed from the hallway just behind her. Schoebel mumbled, Now that we all know each

other It had been six years to the day since the Brewster family had seen Belinda and Daniel. The death of Calvin Brewster was the catalyst for the painful separation. The Brewsters were a tight-knit clan, and it was especially difficult for outsiders to be accepted and loved. In fact, it took Belinda Thompson more than two years of tireless effort to hook her man, Calvin Brewster. There was something about Calvin that Belinda couldnt resist. Maybe it was his boyish good looks; maybe it was the feeling she got every morning when he struggled and groaned to get out of bed; maybe she just felt safe when he was around. Calvin was an anesthesiologist by day and a family man at night at least until Belinda went to sleep, which was usually around 9:30 p.m. She was early to sleep and early to rise, which probably came from years of living with her father the Marine. Belinda and Calvin used to go running almost every night and, between her drive and his seemingly endless lung capacity, they completed four 26.2-mile marathons together. Cal was 61 and was a slender, but solid 170 pounds his less than two percent body fat baffled most of the doctors he worked with. The guy was an eating

machine but he never seemed to gain a pound. Belinda chalked it up to the familys killer metabolism, because when the Brewster family sat down for a meal they all put on the feed bag.' Back in the vice principals office, Daniel was even more confused about the familiarity than he was about getting in trouble at school for the first time. He thought, "How could it be that Andrew Brewster a boy that had been bugging him daily and was getting on his nerves to the point that he was now having nightmares about being chased by him was somehow related to him?" Andrew and Daniel squared off as their mothers hugged, but this time Andrew softened like a stick of butter sitting on a hot stove. Daniel? Daniel Brewster? Andrew said trying to make a connection with his long-lost first cousin. But Daniel was blank. Over the years there were few stories relayed from Belinda about his father, and even less about his fathers family. There would be the occasional, Your father was a great man, or "Your father and I used to go running together all the time, which created a vague sketch of a ghost that Daniel didnt remember. His mothers sadness at losing the love of her life also served to restrict

the flow of salient information. On the other hand, the Brewster family kept Cals spirit alive by talking about him at every turn. By the time the family moved to Beach Haven, Andrew knew all about his uncle and Daniel, with pictures and stories being supplied by generations of elders who lived under the same roof. The bond was especially strong between Andrew and his grandpa, Thaddeus Brewster. Andrews father, let's call him 'Greg,' was a father in name only, as he had reportedly passed away before the child was born. Years earlier, Cal requested that Belinda live with his family but she flatly denied his advances. She often felt like her resistance was damaging, primarily because his family took the separation and loss hard before he drowned at sea on a fishing trip - although his remains never found. Andrew and Daniel went back to class after apologizing to the immediate world and promising they would behave. That left Belinda with her ex-sister-in-law, Emily Brewster, to fend for themselves and go out to lunch. My son has never been in the vice principals office before. Im not sure what came over him? Belinda stated as the two women sat across from each other in a booth at the Beach Haven Diner.

Emily was almost a carbon copy of her brother 59, 150 pounds, stringy sandy-blonde hair and light brown eyes just like Daniel and she also had almost no body fat even after having a child. She and Cal were also fraternal twins, so Cals loss hit particularly deep for Emily. Andrew has always been a model citizen, too, Emily stated. The elderly waitress walked up to the table and there was no mistaking the 40 years of smoking in her almost manly, raspy voice. Whats it gonna be ladies? as she pulled a #2 pencil out of her elevated red beehive hairdo. When the question was met with dead air, she interjected, Do you need a few more minutes? Go ahead, B, Emily said to Belinda, recalling an old nickname. It was just after noon, so Belinda turned past the the breakfast menu and focused on the lunch diet section. Ill have the small garden salad with oil and vinegar dressing on the side. The waitress repeated the order and she scribbled down some code, One rabbit platter, dressing on the side.

She then looked at Emily, who was studying the menu like there was going to be a quiz at the end of the meal. And for you, hun? Emily took a deep breath and stated, Ill have a cheeseburger deluxe, a bowl of matzo ball soup, a stack of pancakes with bacon, a bagel with cream cheese, a chocolate shake, and The waitress was rarely fazed by any order, yet alone local women looking to give the appearance of dieting, but she repeated, And? Oh yeah, a side of home fries cooked well. I like it when theyre brown and crunchy. You got it! the waitress exclaimed as she scooped up the three pounds of menus. Do you want me to being the soup before the rest of the food? Normally Emily would say no but she quickly scanned the table and imagined all of those plates in the small space in front of her, so she replied, Yes, that will be fine. I can see that you havent lost your appetite, Belinda observed. Good thing I work out every day, Emily replied as she patted her flat stomach.

A few minutes later, after some idle chit-chat, Belinda returned to the original discussion. So, why do you think the boys were fighting? Just then Mabel the waitress returned with a bowl of soup and said, I took the liberty of bringing you some extra crackers, as she put the soup down in front of Emily and then dug into her white apron and pulled out two huge handfuls of saltine crackers. Thank you! Emily beamed. The distraction was helpful in keeping Belinda at bay, much in the way she did years earlier when Belinda would ask targeted questions that obviously had loaded answers attached. All the while when Emily was inhaling her soup in the most feminine and respectful way she couldnt help but analyze why her son and her nephew had gone at each other the minute they were informally re-introduced to each other. It was quite normal for hunters to test each other when they were in the early stages of development. In fact, she and her brother often crossed the line of playful battling before conquering puberty. While Emily was buzzing through her meal, Belinda

had time to study her face. It had been over six years since they last saw each other, and yet it was remarkable how Belinda seemed so well preserved. Emily noticed that Belinda seemed fixed on her face so she asked, Is there a piece of food on me, as she wiped her face with the hand that wasnt shoveling food. No, no, Belinda said. I was just looking at how beautiful your skin is. Emily was chewing on a piece of bagel, a strip of bacon, and a onion ring, but responded anyway like a true New Yorker trying to do everything at once. I use a combination of Oil of Olay night mask with pureed cucumber. Belinda took the information in, much in the way she had processed many of the cryptic answers from the Brewster family through the years. When her husband used to wake up with fresh cuts, bumps, and bruises almost daily, Belinda initially wondered if she was having violent episodes in her sleep. Answers such as, Im clumsy, and Im a quick healer, did little to soften her resolve, yet she somehow believed him.

FOUR Cal Brewster was a quick healer and an excellent provider, but he was a hunter first and foremost just as his parents were before him. It was 1902, and the Barbary Plague - not-soaffectionately called The Black Death - was sweeping through Victorian San Francisco. The disease started in Chinatown and spread throughout the city like a raging wildfire. Four out of five people who contracted the disease died within 8 days, while the survivors had to deal with being prime healthy targets for a mass of blood-thirsty predators. Three of the citys inhabitants were Thomas Hartwell, his wife Marjorie or Maggie as she was called and their eight year-old son, Nathaniel. Hartwell spent most of his early days chasing riches in the gold rush, and hit the jackpot with a major find just when all hope seemed lost. He became a millionaire just before the turn of the century, in a time when there was scarce few men of such wealth in the country. Leaving a trail of empty relationships before he became established, Thomas felt it was finally time to settle

down at the ripe age of 34, which is akin to about 54 years old in modern times. Of course, there were many women lined up to get a shot at the new Hartwell fortune, but Thomas had his sights set on a long-widowed, 26 year-old angel named Marjorie Carter. Maggie had the blatant misfortune of miscarrying a child and losing her husband in the same year. The shock of the cumulative setbacks left her basically dormant for six years, as she sorted through the emotional wreckage while working as a bank secretary. Before Hartwell struck it big with his gold find, he had thoughts of robbing the San Francisco National Bank. In fact, he walked into the bank a few minutes before 5:00 p.m. one day, and saw a woman with her back to him when he asked, Excuse me ma'am, what time do you close? Maggie in all of her shapely, blonde-haired splendor, turned around and looked at the large-round clock with her huge blue eyes and replied, Five-oclock, sir. Hartwell literally stopped in his tracks and finally saw his future before his eyes. One major obstacle, of course: if he robbed the bank then their union would be doomed; but, if he remained a reckless loser, she would barely notice him, as witnessed by her next question.

Is there anything else? she asked while jiggling a ring of keys in her hand. Its closing time. He was as determined as ever after his initial encounter with Maggie, and he attributed his eventual find to a renewed sense of purpose. He found his gold in a site he combed at least a dozen times, a body of water that was eventually named Hartwell Brook. The Hartwells wasted little time having a baby once they were married, and were blessed with a strong son named Nathaniel. They had eight splendid years together, traveling both north and south to view the magnificence of the Pacific Northwest and their southern neighbors. Just when Thomas considered uprooting his family to escape the blackest of plagues, his wife came to him and said, I feel a little achy and slow today. Im having trouble getting going. That same morning, Nathaniel was running an abnormally-high temperature and was literally sweating through the sheets. Eight days later, both mother and son were gone, taken by a disease that ate them up and spit them out. A distressed Hartwell took to the cobblestone streets, demanding an explanation from the heavens for

giving him everything and then taking it away. People were running frantically throughout the streets some were escaping the disease, while others were trying to avoid the deadly bite of a creature just as devastating as any disease. Hartwell was so distraught that he returned to his house and strongly considered taking his own life, but a knock on the door temporarily stopped him from pulling the trigger. Please go away! Hartwell yelled as he picked up his heavy gun and pointed it toward his head. Dont do it, the voice calmly said from the other side of the door. I have a way that you will be able to see your wife and son again. Hartwell had truly run out of options. It was either blow his brains out, or listen to a voice promising full restitution. He walked to the door and lowered the gun to his side, How do I know youre not one of vile things that bite people? Im offended, the man said. How do I know that youre not lousy with the plague? Hartwell nodded his head in understanding, Well, how can I get my family back? he said as he lodged the

gun against the door. The man literally wasnt born yesterday, Youre going to have to let me in to find that out, Thomas Hartwell. What other choice do you have? Hartwell reflected briefly on the events of his life and then looked over at the loaded gun. He opened the door and said, Okay, you can come in, which unlocked his last seal of protection in the mortal world. While Hartwell kept a tight grip on the gun, the distinguished-looking gentleman walked in slowly, hardly befitted the demeanor or aggressive tendencies of a savage beast. The mans beige wool, three-piece suit, wellgroomed mustache, and classic bowler hat that he removed and held in his hand, lessened Hartwells anxiety as it had for the hundreds of his unsuspecting victims. He then conveyed the mental message, You can put the gun away. We are all friends here. So Hartwell put the gun in the top drawer of his desk and asked, Can I get you anything, friend? Im going to put up some tea. The man reached down into his vest pocket and pulled out a gold pocket watch, which he had picked up along the way. He opened the engraved latch and realized

that his window of opportunity was closing fast. Surely the hunters were tracking his scent and would be closing in within minutes. Hartwell walked back into the room and was instructed to sit next to the man on the couch. My name is Alexander Lowery and I am here to offer you eternal life. Lowery thought for a moment and then decided to slightly alter his claim, In any event, you can last pretty long if you eat people on a high-fiber diet and do your best to avoid those persistent hunters. Hartwell didnt really care about himself and his life at this point, What about my wife and son? Lowerys hair was slicked back and finely combed as he stroked his moustache before speaking in a dramatic tone, Your boy shall rise again on the moon of the new century. Oh, and your wife should be along in another eight to 10 moons after that. Hartwell was confused, How long is a moon? Lowery replied, A moon is about a year in most circles, give or take a few months. In Germany he started before screams and heavy bangs could be heard in the street below. A muscular fellow wearing a finely-tailored suit burst

into the room, "My food fellow, you might want to speed things up a bit! Lowerys eyes transformed from brown to orange and razor-sharp fangs sprouted from the upper and lower portions of his mouth, as he ferociously bit into the right side of Hartwells neck. The searing pain Hartwell initially felt was replaced by the euphoria of seeing his wife and son waiting for him in the distance. Lowery quickly drained Hartwells blood and then opened the vein on his right wrist to keep Hartwell from dying, No, not just yet. You have some work to do before you see them. Hartwell drank the blood from Lowerys wrist as if he was a baby with a bottle. Only this formula was the bridge from mortality to immortality, from man to monster. Two other things, Lowery said. I dripped a little blood clumsy me on the couch, so you might want to treat that when you come to. And, the second thing is and this ones real important, so get your hearing shoes on after you die 100 times you become mortal again. There was a huge thump on the front door of the building and Lowery hastened to finish the job, as his ally rushed toward his side.

Good luck, Hartwell, he said, as he removed his arm from near Hartwells mouth and then snapped his neck, all in one motion. We have to go, the large man said to Lowery, as Hartwell dropped to the floor. Lowery and his accomplice zipped out the window and into the sky, narrowly escaping a group of aggressive hunters that burst into the room. The San Francisco plague had taken its toll on the vampire population. By the time Lowery had Hartwell for dinner, the fanged ranks had been trimmed from thousands to mere hundreds. Hartwells turning was more a part of an informal drive to recruit new blood, than a merciful act performed by a compassionate beast. The black death, while lethal to mortals, also had a significant impact on the vampire community. Death was an outcome seen in 44 percent of the vampires, but there were a few cases where vampires were killed for the 100th time and then contracted the disease, opening their intricate immune systems to the unstoppable force. There were also many cases when vampires lost a strength, or two, such as chain-saw-sharp teeth or the ability to fly. It was definitely the worst of times in the City by the Bay.'

FIVE The dynamic in Mrs. Williams third-grade class change measurably since Daniel and Andrew who was affectionately called Drew by people who knew him best realized they were cousins. But the truth did little to curb the competitiveness between the boys. They would go at it in the most mundane of tasks, such as erasing and washing a chalk board, to more complex physical challenges on the playground. Neither boy would give an inch and it was often difficult for the naked eye to distinguish a clear winner. Nicole Phillips, the boys fair-haired muse, always seemed to be in the center of the action as the boys were constantly vying for her favor. The three kids were inseparable, which inevitably brought elders into the equation to say what had to be said, without actually saying what had to be said. You and the boys sure seem to spend a lot of time together, Sharon Phillips said to her daughter, while they stripped the husks off a bunch of corn for dinner. Yeah, Nicole replied like a typical eight year-old, as she ripped the stringy husk off and then flipped the yellow ear

into a boiling pot of water. Yeah wasnt exactly the response mom was looking for, so she reached for her mental shovel and started digging. So, which one do you like better? Ewww! Nicole shrieked. Sharon flicked her wrist and another corn was sent nakedly into the pot. She then composed herself and started digging in another spot. I really like that Daniel she stated, just stopping short of following up with, Ive known him since he was born. Yeah, hes nice, a non-committal Nicole replied. By the time the 10-minute conversation mercifully ended, Sharon dug a bunch of shallow holes that could be refilled with dirt in no time. Across town, the story was much different at the Brewster house. Preparing dinner was much more a labor of love for a family that went through a few shopping carts of food each day. Drew, make sure you peel that bag of potatoes and then go out and feed the dogs. Emily Brewster said as she threw a five-pound roast in the oven. Andrew finished his two chores within minutes and then was back in his mothers face.

Emily looked at Andrew, as only mothers can, and said, Whats going on in your head? I tell you, you are getting two quick for your own good, young man. Speed isnt always the way you have to think about things before you do them. Andrew barely heard anything after Whats going on in your head?' probably because he was in a hurry to ask his question. Why do we eat so much? he innocently asked. Emily knew Andrew was too young to give him the speech,' so she went the vague and general route instead. We have to eat so we have enough energy to do all of the things we have to do during the day. Andrew absorbed the information, but that did little to quench his curiosity. But I bring lunch and also buy lunch, and the rest of the kids only do one. There was no way that Emily could go into further detail without revealing the familys secret, which had remained secure - save for a few knowledgeable adversaries - for more than a century. Let me ask you a question, Emily said. Ready? Andrew nodded Yes.'

Are you hungry by the time you go to lunch? Yes. Emily saw the sheepish grin on Andrews face and stated, Youre so hungry that you ate some of that dog food while you were feeding them. Andrew was shocked! He wondered how his mother could have known that he stuck his head in the 50-pound bag of dry dog food and helped himself to a few mouthfuls. She knew what he was thinking and reached over and removed a piece of the dog food from his cheek and showed it to him. Any more questions? she asked not looking for an answer. Now go upstairs and wash up. Youre father and grandpa will be home soon. Andrew smiled as he sped upstairs. Emily looked and smelled the piece of food and then threw it down her throat. She knew her son was going to be a handful while he was growing up, but was excited that he and Daniel would make such great allies in pursuing the families' target. Meanwhile, Hartwell was across town at a coffee shop, sitting on a couch and reviewing his stock portfolio.

He had used his powers of persuasion over the years to build on his fortune. Companies would exchange secrets privately, while Hartwell would be there undetected to scoop up the insider-trading gold. Although he was questioned by the authorities on several occasions for his questionable trading patterns, he always seemed to exit the process in better shape then when he started. In return for his dishonest behavior, Hartwell was rewarded with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, prime tickets to local sporting events, many large hams, and countless meals. But things werent that easy in the beginning The hunters that were tracking Lowery, burst into Hartwells home in San Francisco to find Hartwell dead in a pool of his own blood on the floor between the couch and the coffee table in the living room, or parlor as they called it at the turn of the century. The male hunter put his fingers on Hartwells broken and bloodied neck and said, This ones as dead as a cricket run over by a carriage. The female hunter asked, Do you think he turned him? He moved his lantern closer to Hartwells mouth and

took a look inside, while also getting a good sniff. His smell is everywhere, but there is no sign of blood, the mountain-of-a-man said as he let Hartwells head fall to the floor. I say he didnt have time. Lets get going before we get too far behind. So the hunters left the house and Hartwell lay dormant for another few hours before the darkness of the night permeated the room. At which time, the brute force and potency of Lowerys blood coursed through Hartwells veins and worked to repair and upgrade his lifeless body. In the days before computers, Hartwell was essentially swapping his basic PC hard drive for the size, speed, and massive processing power of a mainframe computer. But the transformation was a gradual process, as Hartwell quickly found out when his eyes opened and his new world was simply black. Hartwells balance was askew, which made it difficult for him to stand up and find his way. After tripping on the oval wood table in front of him at least three times, he then crawled to the bathroom where he was able to light a candle after struggling to find a spark. The faint light pained Hartwells crusty eyes as he rubbed them furiously with his fists to gain a clearer self-

image in the mirror. His rebooted brain was still experiencing some rough patches and images of a beast with shiny, sharp teeth flashed in his mind as if that was the reflection he was looking at in the mirror. Hartwells pulse quickened as he started to breathe heavier like he was running away from someone or something. When the frightening image faded and his vision cleared, although his eyes were still red and burning, it became apparent that his neck was severely cocked to the left side. Instinctively, he reached up with both hands and violently snapped his neck back into place. The dramatic body realignment combined with Hartwells still fragile state as a newbie,' caused him to pass out and collapse in a heap on the floor. Days came and went and he hadnt moved from the same position pancaked flat on his back. This time around, his inactivity was accompanied by breath, and breath was guided by a virtual training manual playing as the main feature in his mind. Scenes of unsuspecting men and women shockingly looking into the eye of a creature while it devoured them from the neck, were interwoven with a life portrayed as one that was constantly in motion, constantly on the run.

While the pursuer was never presented in a distinct manner, the ally was: the mammalian being was part man, part evolutionary wonder. Hartwells subconscious was treated to a lengthy reel of the evolutionary tract of cetaceans from their early days as hoofed creatures with triangular teeth like wolves, to cat-like creatures, to early variations of the hippopotamus, to bottlenose dolphins and Orca, the killer whale, which is the largest species of dolphin. The hybrid mammal also had the ability to convert to a smaller aquatic mammal, capable of diving into water and hiding beneath the surface to avoid birds of prey. The images left the reprogrammed Hartwell feeling safe and protected until he spent the last 24 hours viewing footage of his natural enemy, the hunter. Hunters had also evolved from Homo sapien warriors, to beings capable of combating adversaries both on land and in the sky. The loop that kept playing over and over again was that of a man running through a forest clearing and changing into an angry pit bull, and then a powerful ram as it picked up speed, and then a huge grizzly bear with knife-like claws capable of running at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, and then the massive wing span of a

hawk capable of picking up small animals with its hook-like talons. After each iteration, the ending image was one of the beach and more specifically, the ocean, and the word SAFETY flashing on the screen. The hunters were physiologically-designed to combat the vampires, with their full set of evolutionary incantations, but they had not fully evolved. But years of being thrown through the rinse cycle was finally paying off, proving that through strife comes change.'

SIX Hartwell was always with Daniel, even if he wasnt physically present in Daniels location. You could say that as a vampire he was the kids blood shadow.' Because blood shadows are often referred to as ghosts of beings that give no physical indication of their presence but, corporeally, they are very much around. The previous one hundred years-or-so were pure torture, except for the random acts of blood-letting and violence that made Hartwell one of the most feared

disruptive forces of his generation. His life of vampirism started fairly innocently, as blood-thirsty creatures go. When we last saw Hartwell, he was lying on his back and playing the part of the three-day download. Before the change, he had a daily ritual of taking a walk down the street every afternoon to fetch a newspaper from a local tobacco purveyor, and then he would stop next door at Mrs. Wilcoxs house for a baked good, or two, before heading home. Unless, of course, he was out of town traveling with his family. Mrs. Wilcox was 60 years old and was battling the early stages of Alzheimers Disease. To say that she forgot her own name some days would be an exaggeration, but there were definitely gaps in her life that went permanently missing from the memory bank. It had been two weeks since Thomas had stopped by and the scones were starting to pile up, because Mrs. Wilcox had not stopped baking. It had been years since she had been in Hartwells residence, but one lonely afternoon she decided to see what was going on with her only friend. The truth was that even if she made it back on the street that night, it would have been a long shot if she would have found her way

home. A faint knock on the door got things started, but barely made a dent in Hartwells deep slumber on the bathroom floor. Repeated attempts from Edna Wilcoxs brittle and slightly-discolored hands, also went on deaf ears, so she looked for something more substantial to pound on the door. She managed to located a five-inchround rock but tried the civilized approach one more time before resorted to force. Thomas? Thomas, are you in there? This is Edna Wilcox! she yelled straining her lungs, which caused her to cough painfully for about ten seconds. She thought about tapping the rock against the door with both hands, but it flew out of her grasp about mid-way to the door causing a loud Thud! The sound served as a spark that lit the fuse of a keg of dynamite. Edna Wilcox stood in front of the door admiring a dent that was her handiwork, as Hartwells noworange eyes opened as he rose to his feet effortlessly, on a 90-degree angle. He floated to the door without the use of his legs and said, Who is it? in his best big-bad wolf posing as granny voice. Edna nearly gave up and had turned her back until

she heard the familiar voice. The door swung open as Hartwells mind was now doing what his hands and feet used to do. Wilcox turned around and said, Oh Thomas, you are home. I was starting to worry Edna prattled on as she basically described events that were now ancient history to a reborn son of the blood. His ears blocked out the infernal noise and his eyes focused like a lion waiting in the tall grass for an opportune time to pounce on its prey. While he was transfixed on her neck, his consciousness was scanning the street for mortal and animal traffic patterns. A local shopkeeper walked by and looked up at Edna talking to Thomas and then looked down to see where he was walking, before picking up his head and seeing nothing but a closed door. It must have been only a few seconds between viewings of Hartwells doorway, and this piqued Burt Larsons interest enough to stop by the next day. But the good neighbor only managed to be lunch for a vampire that was quite awake and had an insatiable appetite for beleaguered San Franciscans. Hartwell went unchecked for the first 18 years of his vampire existence, before he realized that he wasnt alone.

A chain of events were triggered shortly after he fed off Lowery, went through his metamorphosis, and then awoke after Mrs. Wilcoxs rock went airborne and pounded against the door. Every vampire has a cosmically-assigned hunter who is a natural enemy - and a protector, who is a constant ally. It takes 18 years from birth for both individuals to attain full maturity and understanding, with most of the growth occurring in the subconscious until then. In his 18 years of on the house,' wild exploration, Hartwell made his way across the country. Spending time in the state of Washington, Oregon, Vancouver, British Columbia, back through Southern California and Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, for only a brief time, because people appeared to be experienced with his kind, making his job more difficult. Subsequent years were spent in the Midwest perhaps Hartwells favorite place to dine because the people were so hospitable and never seemed to fail to invite him in. Apparently, it was against their DNA to be unwelcoming. He experienced a similar dynamic with Canadians, who never seemed to grow tired of giving him their blood.

Hartwell was in Pennsylvania one night when he decided to go to a bar for a late-night drink. It was just after midnight and many of the patrons had exceeded the legal blood-alcohol limit in the days when it was legal to drink and mount a horse. Although Hartwell never drank alcohol, he nonetheless did benefit from the spiked blood of victims in the form of a nice comfortable buzz. Mr. Darkness had taken a few unsuspecting drunks for a leisurely stroll in the alley for a little puncture and drink, and was focusing on a third pigeon when he was impeded by an unfamiliar face. You dont want to do that, the man-child said with confidence. Hartwell stepped back to get a good look at this baby-faced kid that dared to challenge him. You should go home, junior, and help your mommy knit a quilt, Hartwell replied with all of the cockiness of a predator in the prime of his death. The young man was focused on the impending danger, not Hartwells pointed words, as he yelled, Duck! Normally, Hartwell listened to no man, but his intense hearing was telling him that the directive was accurate. Thaddeus Brewster stood across the room with a

silver-tipped arrow cocked in his bow, and released the vampire-killer toward Hartwells core. Garrison Phillips stood calmly erect and reached out his thick leather-gloved right hand and caught the arrow an inch away from Hartwells slowly-pumping, cold, heart. We have to go, Gary said as he clutched Hartwells arm and exited the bar with Thaddeus in hot pursuit. Flying would be good! Gary yelled as the nowwinged Hartwell took flight with Thaddeus jumping in the air and transformed into an oversized hawk. Hartwell looked back at Gary and asked, When did I get these? You mean to tell me that all this time you didnt know you had wings? Gary replied in disbelief. Thaddeus the hawk came speeding by and shredded Garys back with one of his huge talons. Aahhhhhhhhhh! he screamed and then composed himself and said, Do you mind going a little faster, big guy? They continued the back and forth battle through Pennsylvania until reaching the border of New Jersey. Hartwells limited flying experience was no match for Thaddeus proficient use of wind currents and advanced

obstacle-avoidance methods. A few more vicious swipes of the talon and Gary and Hartwell were grounded. The 400-yard, full-speed fall would have crushed any mortal, but Gary quickly helped Hartwell up and Hartwell naively said, Maybe we lost him. It was 4:30 a.m. and the nearly-full moon was still shining brightly. Hartwell was facing Gary and a huge shadow consumed both of their forms. Not in this lifetime, Gary said as Hartwell turned and looked straight in the belly of a massive grizzly bear. Run! Hartwell yelled trying to utilize a sophisticated tactic he often utilized when he was alive. But Gary, playing the part of the ultimate protector, stayed behind to try to slow the angry creature down. Gary changed into a wolf and literally howled at the moon before jumping at Thaddeus furry neck, jaw clenched on its target. The wounded bear roared in anger and pain and attempted in vain to shake the determined Gary off of him. Thaddeus regained his thoughts long enough to swipe his lengthy upper claws and puncture the body of the wolf like a pin cushion. Gary yelped in pain and then Thaddeus effortlessly tossed his limp body deep into the forest brush. Hartwell was so confused by the turn of events that

he ran as fast as he could instead of gliding, teleporting, or flying away. Although he had received three days of comprehensive information when he was making the transformation from mortal to vampire, it had been 18 years and the vampire was desperately in need of a refresher course. Thaddeus the bear roared and the ground shook as he started running in the direction of Hartwell. While Hartwell had a good 30-second head start on Thaddeus, the speedy bear quickly made up the stagger, shocking Hartwell, who was scared for the first time in his vampire life. He muttered under his breath, What in gods name as he turn around to see the bear lumbering toward him at an impressive speed. Thaddeus grabbed Hartwell from behind and wasted no time ending their first of many battles. He picked the vampire over his head and then impaled him through a long, sharp branch of an adjacent tree. Hartwell, his back to the tree, had a four-inch-wide tree trunk running through his back and most importantly, his heart, as he dangled five feet off the ground. Before Hartwell died, Thaddeus turned back into his

human form and walked up to Hartwell, Thats one, he said as he waved the index finger of his right hand. It took an hour for life to reset, with Gary coming to first as a wolf and then morphing back to his human form. He slowly rose to his feet and then followed the tracks and scents that led him to his greatest nightmare: Hartwell impaled on the massive tree branch. He climbed up a few branches and pushed Hartwell from the back, freeing him like a piece of meat from a skewer. Hartwell landed solidly on the ground and Gary said to himself, We have to work on that landing. He walked quickly over to Hartwells body and helped him up, although the vampire had still not come back to life. Gary swung his fist and pounded Hartwells chest a few times until Hartwell gasped as if he was being held under water and was close to running out of oxygen. Hartwell then doubled over and coughed violently as he sought to regain his equilibrium. Gary patted him on the back and Hartwell bristled, Im okay! Just give me a minute! Its been a while since Ive died. Well, at least, technically. Hartwell slowly straightened his body and scanned Gary from toe to head on the way up.

He looked confused, Who are you, and why are you naked? Gary started to explain, Because Hold that thought big guy, Hartwell interrupted as he took off his long trench coat and handed it to Gary. For gods sake, man! Cover yourself up! Sorry, but I dont make it a habit of talking to naked men in the middle of the woods. Gary couldnt answer right away, and then replied with a blush on his cheeks, This is my first. Oh great! A forest virgin! Why do I always get stuck with the forest virgins? Hartwell exclaimed as they started walking together. We have to get to the ocean, Gary stated. And my name is Garrison, but my friends call me Gary. Hartwells memory of his early training was sparse, but he did remember the picture of the beach and the word SAFETY.' Lets get airborne to safety then, Hartwell replied. Gary moved behind Hartwell and put his hands on his shoulders. Just make sure you keep your boys behind the material. Im going to have to get a new coat, Hartwell

stated. Gary shrugged off the seemingly endless stream of insults and said, I hear Maine is nice this time of year. Hartwell softened as his wings unfurled, and then they took to the air. Maine it is, he said, But Im going to need a refresher course.

SEVEN Three years went by as if it were one long stream of consciousness for Daniel. He was now on the verge of turning 12 years old, and the world outside his head was speeding up on a daily basis. Middle school was a veritable cesspool of wasted and misguided energy, wrapped in a veiled attempt to educated the emotionally dysfunctional. But the years would not be a total waste for Daniel, Nicole, and Andrew, because they were already working on their vital life skills. Hartwell was with Daniel, in his protgs backyard. The astral mind projection was one in a series of lessons the two would run through often. The vampire utilized his early sessions with Gary on

the beach in Pequot, Maine, to formulate the slow, steady, leak of information into the tweens developing brain. Crucial to any avoidance foundation was a full course-load of Eastern discipline, starting with a big serving of tai chi. Daniel was peacefully going through a 45-minute, cleansing routine when his mother ran into her home-office to answer the phone. Dont forget to breath through the transitions, Hartwell said to Daniel as he looked over with unyielding pride at his reason for dying. Daniel smiled back and took a deep, cleansing breath that swirled in his nostrils and lungs, clearing his mind of obstructions. I cant imagine what these boys are going to be like when they're teenagers? Emily Brewster exclaimed as she watched her son Andrew pulverize a chord of wood with one powerful strike of his fist. Belinda walked into the kitchen as her sister-in-law continue to vent, and looked out the window at Daniel in amazement. She smiled and replied, Those years should be something else. Nicole Phillips training was quite different than her male counterparts. She spent most of her time at the

beach, with a steady regiment of running and hours of swimming how she loved to swim! While the three friends had slipped into their roles expected by their parents and mentors, it was by accident or Hartwells hand - that the blatant misfire of their collective gene pools was not exposed. It was quite by chance that subsequent generations of hunters or mammalian protectors were generated in the first place. When Cal and Emily Brewster were born to parents Thaddeus and Mary Brewster, Thaddeus assumed that his wife had given birth to the miracle of hunter twins. Years of playing two versus one against Hartwell and Garrison left him tired and worn, and suddenly hoping to regain that early advantage he quickly relinquished. But Mary Brewster was mortal and knew nothing of hunting, other than her husband had the appetite of a hungry bear set loose on a human campsite. She was now 90 years old and still kicking,' according to her. Thad and Mary were an odd couple, especially considering that he looked on the younger side of 60. The aging process for the hunters and mammals were slightly accelerated in comparison to Hartwell - who barely aged but was much more protracted than the

average human. Thaddeus had been looking in the mirror with greater frequency since the family moved to Beach Haven. He hadnt realized it but he had aged five years since Hartwell injected his blood into Daniels only months earlier, because the action seemed to unscramble the natural order of Hartwells inner circle. Andrew and Nicole were supposed to be normal kids until Hartwells blood began percolating inside of Daniel. The forcible entry of Hartwells vampirism into Daniel sparked a typical chain of events, including the birth of a personal hunter and mammal ally to Daniel. But, instead of moving outside the circle, the cosmic call-up went to the closest people to him: the families of Thaddeus Brewster and Garrison Phillips. The years following their re-introduction had done little to soften Daniel and Andrews person Olympics and their combative fondness of Nicole. Only now, they were tricaptains of the Beach Haven Middle School Pirates Volleyball Team, which had been changed from separate boys and girls to one co-ed team, because the school district was cutting back its sports budget.

The boys had come up short in their campaigns to play every other sport that involved direct contact, as a family discussion at a barbecue decided their fate. I used to be quite a football player when the wing-t was all the rage, Thaddeus Brewster said as he threw the football to Andrew, who started running until Daniel caught him and they crashed through the solid wood fence, creating a silhouette of two football players. Belinda looked astoundingly at Emily and Emily quickly said, That sport is out. Normal parents would have jumped up and wondered if their sons were all right, but this group had grown to expect rough play from these two. One by one, sports were attempted until little remained of the wood fence that surrounded the half-acre backyard. With Andrew and Daniel around, that fence was repaired almost nightly by Thaddeus and Emily, who used their abilities to become expert carpenters and fix the holes within minutes each night. Baseballs were thrown at 110 miles per hour and hit even faster coming back not exactly believable accomplishments for smallish 12 year-olds. Belinda had limited knowledge of team sports, and just thought the boys

were having a good time playing together. Either that, or she was in complete denial. The sight of the 53 Daniel dunking a basketball was seen only by the Brewsters, who shielded Belinda from the YouTube-worthy feat. Even she would know that something was amiss if she witnessed the 360-degree, whirling jam. When a soccer ball went zooming past Thaddeus head, the sports on the banned list grew to six including baseball, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and wrestling, which was quickly eliminated when Daniel and Drew cut off each others air supplies before Belinda untangled them. The only sports left were tennis and volleyball. Emily looked to Thaddeus for confirmation and he stated, I dont like tennis. So, volleyball it was, It might be good for you boys to be on the same team for a change, Emily said when told of the decision. Thaddeus looked at Emily with a knowing smile, because they both surmised that the boys were already on the same team the anti-Hartwell team. By mid-season The Three Slamigos,' as they were

called, were brought up to the struggling high school team. Mind you, it was unheard of for eight-grade athletes to make the jump to the varsity team, let alone to receive a promotion to the junior varsity. Volleyball was a sport played with six players on each side, yet the other three players on the eight-grade team could have retired to study hall, or just merely sat on the sideline, when Nicole, Drew, and Daniel took over. The game was played with new rules following the decision to make the team co-ed. Most varsity and junior varsity teams adopted the blended team approach in the throws of a state-wide budget crises. The rules stated that three girls and three guys had to be on the court at all times, with a boy-girl lineup being consistent throughout the rotation. Before the first game, Hartwell came to Daniel in a vision while he was getting dressed in the locker room. Make sure you get your other teammates involved. The only way to achieve true success is to work together. Hartwell enjoyed a great many sporting events over the years, and had dined in the some of the finest stadiums and arenas in North America. But his main objective was not for Daniel to eat the other players, it was

to foster trust in other people, namely allies that had only his best interests in mind. The game was still a few minutes away, so Daniel was talking to Nicole in the hallway outside of the gym. You look nervous, Nicole said. Daniels mind was elsewhere, About what? Nicole rolled her eyes and smacked him in the arm a gesture that she often did to break the tension. The blow would have sent most mortals hurling against the row of green lockers, but Daniel barely budged. About the game, space man! Nicole exclaimed. Daniel was so deep in thought that he forgot about the game. Do you ever have dreams that seem so real that wake up sweating and out of breath? Nicole cut the joking and her face turned stone cold, You have dreams? she questioned while lowering the tone and volume of her voice. All the time, Daniel replied, but its always the same dream. They started walking away from the gym and down the hall. Nicole knew what Daniel was going to say before he even said it.

Im always being chased. Nicole stopped and smacked him in the arm again, No way! Thats my dream, too! Do you ever go under water? Daniel replied, Not that I know of, but this last dream I was running away from this bear and It was really fast, wasnt it? Nicole interjected. It was definitely too fast for a bear to be running, Daniel stated. Did you get away? Only after someone helped me get away after the bear slashed me in the back with it huge right claw. Nicole winced, Ow! That must have hurt, she said. It did at first, but then that same person that saved me helped me feel better. And we were by the water. Just then, Andrew ran out of the gym and into the hallway, Guys, cmon! The games gonna start! Daniel started running but noticed that Nicole hadnt moved. Are you all right, Nicky? She started sweating from the eerie thoughts rebounding through her head. Yeah, Ill be there in a minute.

Daniel ran ahead and Nicole was slowed by the thought that their dreams were so connected. But, being only 12 years old, she quickly shrugged it off and then ran into the gym. EIGHT The fluid motion of bodies perfectly in sync made the Beach Haven Hedgehogs volleyball games akin to attending the ballet. The first time Daniel and Nicole talked about their dreams, she thought shes caught a glimpse of long scratch marks on his back. He dove on the floor to dig a spike and his shirt quickly rose up, revealing some skin. Between games she patted him on the back in the spot where so thought she saw the marks, but his skin was perfectly smooth. And her suspicions were squashed the next time he dove, because there were no marks on his back at all. Do you have dreams? Nicole asked her mom one evening before dinner. Sharon Phillips was facing the sink, her back to Nicole, and she smiled. However, when she turned around her face revealed no pride, no joy.

Dreams? Sure, everyone has dreams.

Nicole shook her head back-and-forth in frustration, because she figured that her mother lacked the understanding to respond to her. However, Sharon was one of the few people in the world that could understand what Nicole was going through, being that she was the daughter of Garrison Phillips. Daddy, do I have a mom? 12-year-old Sharon Phillips had asked her father years earlier. Of course, Garrison Phillips knew that every child had a mother, but the shelf life of mortal mothers exposed to radiation in the 1940s was fairly short. Nicole certainly would have perished in the womb is she wasnt carrying the dominant protector gene. Eloise Phillips died before her baby's due date, so Sharon was brought into the world via an emergency Csection. Eloise arrived at the hospital cold and without breath doctors needed prodding from an animated Gary, She has a baby in her stomach! You have to get her out! The doctors became so frantic they didnt process that Gary said her when referring to the baby's sex. Gary and his wife decided on the names of Sharon and Steven about a month before her death, as she was

starting to fade. But the moment the baby was conceived, Gary was in tune with his Sharon. Gary answered his pre-teen daughter, Your mom helped us win World War II. She worked at a factory that tested and assembled one of the atomic bombs. So, she was a hero? a wide-eyed Sharon asked. Gary smiled, Yes, your mom was a hero. But I thought she worked as a nurse in a doctors office? I went to work with her a few times. Gary looked around, creating the illusion of secretiveness. That was her cover. Her mission was top secret. The stretch of the truth seemed to make Sharon feel more important, so Gary had no problem keeping the alternate realty alive. The real truth was that Eloise Phillips was an ex-ray technician in a doctors office, performing as many as two dozen unprotected x-rays per day. This was a time when the impact of such radiation was unknown to the public and most neighborhood doctors. The side effects of the radiation were all positive for Sharon, however, giving her freakish lung capacity and limitless energy on land. While most dolphins had to surface above water every few minutes, Sharon could stay

underwater for hours at a time without resurfacing. The radiation also caused a permanent mutation in the gene sequence of both Sharon and her daughter Nicole. Sharons discussion with her daughter about her father wasnt as straightforward, or nearly as honest. Coming from a place where her mom was an x-ray technician turned international spy, it normally would have been difficult to stretch the truth any more. The story of the rocky romance of Sharon Phillips and Blake Wallace was one for the ages, though. They met in 1978 when Sharon was 52 and Blake was 22. Of course, Sharon didnt look a day over 20 and he knew it. It was summer and Sharon was at her favorite beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Blake was the blonde-haired lifeguard with the red Speedo and the hard body that all the girls were after that summer. Sharon thought about becoming a lifeguard when she first saw him, but that would have taken her away from her primary obligation: watching over Hartwell. She was at the beach every day honing her watersaving skills. After a few weeks of watching kids and adults thanking the girl in various form-fitting bikinis, Senior Lifeguard Blake Wallace had seen just about enough.

He walked up to Sharon after her latest save and tapped her on the shoulder, Excuse me, miss. Sharon with her 57 sleek frame, jet-black hair, and bright green eyes, turned around expecting another thanks for a job well done. Youre welcome, she said before realizing it was the boy she had a crush on for the past four summers, Cake Blake. But I didnt thank you! he said in a pissy tone. Why have you been saving all those people? Sharon didnt like pissy, or short, or inconsiderate. All of the nerves she initially felt from seeing him so close quickly dissipated. Do you mean, this year? Or are you referring to last year, or the years before that? Blake was all about image, even though he always had a girlfriend outside of the beach. Get shot! he yelled with his best New England accent. You couldnt have been doing that! She calmly ran both of her hands through her thick, short, Pat Benetar-inspired hair, further exposing her completely cut body. Let me ask you one question then, before I get back

to doing what I do, and you can get back to standing there and looking pretty for all of the high school girls. When was the last time you got good and wet, Mr. Superstar? Or is all that, she motioned to the length of his body, just for show? He had never been challenged before on this beach, which was usually inhabited by tourists and people that summered in Cape Cod. Blake, as usual, said the first thing he could think of, Ill race you to the buoy and back. Sharon continued her mockumentary,' Ooh! I dont know? Do you think its safe to go that far out? He was furious as he walked back to his elevated, white lifeguard stand and removed the whistle that dangled around his neck. Its time for a beat-down, he muttered under his breath. First one back to my stand wins, Blake said as he stomped through the golden sand back toward Sharon. Wins what? she questioned. He didnt have the time or the patience for negotiation, What do you want? She looked him over and replied, I kinda fancy that whistle you had around your neck. Sharon then walked

toward the edge of the shore and he followed. Dont you want to hear what I want when I win? he said with the last shred of pride and machismo he could muster. She looked at him dead in the eye, We both know that will not be necessary. They dove into an oncoming wave, only Sharon quickly disappeared and transformed into a Bottlenose Dolphin. Blake was paddling in style, as he thought his freestyle stroke had never been better. He was halfway to the buoy when Sharon changed into Orca and butted her huge snout on the buoy. The red flag dropped into the water, where the newly-changed dolphin snatched the flag and cut through the water. Blake felt a furious Swoosh! going by him and quickly wrote it off as just rough current. When Blake was a few feet from the buoy, he picked his head out of the water and saw no sight of Sharon. He smiled and then looked over at the buoy and there was no sight of the flag, either. He looked back at the shore and squinted to see what he thought was a person sitting in his chair, waving a red flag. Sharon sat back in the oversized, white high-chair,

and initially thought she would wait for him to come back in to collect her whistle. That was, until, she spotted a hostile fin in the near distance behind Blake. Blake was taking his time, still feeling the sting of his defeat, as the quite sizable shark inched closer to its early lunch. Sharon again dove into the water and completed the transformation from human, to dolphin, to killer whale, just as she had done moments earlier. Only this time, she did not slow down once she approached the buoy. Sharon could sense the jaws of the massive shark opening under the water, as it ascended on Blakes fluttering legs. Blake felt a huge current pass him as he was sucked down under the water by its sheer force. Sharon then rammed her huge snout into the side of the shark, sending it surprised and hurt, away from Blake, who had swallowed a great deal of water from being sucked into the swell. She flipped around and switched back into dolphin and then her human form, as she scooped up the sinking Blake and swam back to the shore within seconds. Before emerging from the surf, Sharon put her mouth on Blakes and inhaled all of the water out of his lungs without anyone seeing it. He regained consciousness, coughing and

spitting up salty sea water. What happened? he asked as she helped him to his feet. A speed boat went by and created quite a current, she said trying to protect both of them from the truth. Blake ran his fingers through his blonde hair and attempted to regain his composure, but it was Sharon that was now more flustered than ever. He touched his lips and a memory flash went through his mind. Did you just kiss me? She hesitated at first and then quickly regained her composure as they started walking toward the lifeguard chair. More like the kiss of life,'"she replied. It felt more like a kiss than CPR, he continued, kidding her. Youll know when I kiss you, she boldly replied. Oh, will I? he countered. Well have to see about that. It was the first time Blake was the savee not the savor, but the feeling was one of exhilaration and freedom, more than the anxiety and obligation he felt while saving

people. Outwardly, he was all cool and brave, but inside he was a cauldron of nerves even with Sharon doing most of the work. This would only serve to deteriorate his coping skills as their relationship progressed from dating to marriage within a three-year period. He always sensed a greater truth from his first question on their date that night, Where did you get that scratch on your nose? to his last question before he left at the end of their marriage, Do you think youll ever be honest with me?" Blake became obsessed with Sharons extra-marital activities to the point where he kept a journal about her extensive injuries and her remarkable healing power. His job as a marine biologist gave Blake a keen insight into the window of the aquatic world, and set him up for the next stage of his professional life once he left Sharon who was in the early stages of her pregnancy unbeknownst to Blake and Sharons father, Gary.

NINE One, two, three, Hedgehogs! the group of Beach Haven

High School Volleyball players shouted as their hands met in the center of the huddle. The Three Slamigos were now in tenth grade and the hormones were fully matriculating, even for these special teens. Did Daniel tell you about the dance coming up? Emily Brewster asked Belinda Thompson as they sat in the stands of the aged gymnasium watching their sons. Belinda loved going to games and witnessing her son pass the ball to his teammates and effortlessly float through the air. She was so into the game that she mindlessly replied, Dance? I dont think he mentioned a dance. Emilys eyes were burning as she looked at long-legged, Nicole Phillips. She knew that the blonde bombshell could make her son really happy, but for some reason she had a gnawing feeling that Nicole would not only break Drew's heart, but would be the kind of girl that would shatter it into little pieces. Do you think hell take Nicole? Emily continued her factfinding mission. Belinda had already moved on, To what? Emily reached into her waste-basket-sized bag of popcorn and threw a fist-full of the popped and buttered colonels

down her throat. Andrew Brewster was all bravado, but when it came to girls he was awkward like a lot of his sophomore friends. And when it came to Nicole, he was only about sports and the physical. In the eight years they knew each other, the two never sat down and had a calm what most people would call normal cerebral discussion. This was where Nicoles relationship with the two boys differed. She felt a kinship with Andrew because they had been close for so long. They were buddies - pals - like two old friends of the same sex, only they were quickly realizing that the gender divide was widening with each passing day. When Nicole thought of Daniel, however, she dreamt back to the first day they met when they were waiting in line to get into Mrs. Williams class. She knew then, like a hungry kid in a bakery knows when they see a chocolate brownie with walnuts, that he was special. Her heart fluttered extra-fast when he was around, and she never really had eyes for any other boy. Daniel had gone through a growth spurt and was now a well-proportioned 62. Nicole was a gangly 59, and Andrew was the runt of the litter at 58, but what he lacked in height he made up with his fiery personality.

Nicole was daydreaming about the dance from the moment she heard about it, and was getting a bit antsy waiting for Daniel to ask her. She was also sensitive to her good friend Drew, and didnt want to leave him out in the cold. Emily and Belinda waited for their sons to emerge from the locker room after another straight-sets victory, when they saw Nicole walking out of the girls locker room. Emily grabbed Belindas arm and nearly dragged her across the gym. Great game, Nicole! Belinda said as she moved in and they met in a hug. Thanks, Mrs. T., Nicole replied after breaking the hug. Emily smiled one of those phony smiles that people get caught in when the lens of a camera snaps. So Nicky, are you going to the dance? Both boys heard the question as they emerged from the boys locker room, which was on the other side of the gym. They ran into the hallway and then burst threw the doors to the girls side of the gym where Nicole and their moms were standing. The three ladies turned to see what the noise was, and only Emily knew the boys had heard the pointed question. Where did you guys come from? Belinda innocently

asked. We were running in the hallway, Daniel replied. He looked at Andrew for confirmation and Andrew awkwardly nodded his head and stated, Yeah, running in the hallway. Belinda looked at Emily and said, I dont know where they get all that energy. Emily replied, Theyre teenagers. Emily quickly turned her attention back to Nicole and the question that was left hanging. So, Nicole, are you going? It took Nicole a moment to understand what Mrs. Brewster was referencing. Oh, the dance! Andrew started sweating and, mind you, he barely raised his blood pressure during an entire volleyball match. Nicole thought about it for five seconds her first impulse was to choose Daniel, but she looked at both of the guys standing in front of her with those puppy-dog eyes, and opted for Switzerland. Why dont we all go together? Daniel was a bit miffed, but didnt want to show his displeasure in front of everyone. Both Andrew and Emily

breathed a sigh of relief at surviving the first major aversion to pain at the hand of Nicole. Belinda was just happy that everyone was getting along so well. Well, isnt that great! What a wonderful idea! And we can all meet your mother. It will be great to finally put a face behind the voice after all these years," Emily stated. Nicole had no response for the whereabouts of her mother, who had never seen her play a single volleyball game. Her grandfather, Garrison, had managed to miss every game, too. She went home that night and was ready to confront her mother and grandpa. They were sitting at the dinner table when Nicole opened up, How come neither one of you ever come to my games? Daniel and Andrews moms are always there. The two elders would have like to say, Thats the reason we dont come, but Sharon went with, Honey, you know we have to work. Nicole shot back, Even on Saturdays? Grandpa Garrison replied, People need seafood on their table every day, as he cracked open a five-pound lobster with bare hands.

Well, I want you to meet Daniel and Andrew and their families when we go to the dance, Nicole said as if everyone knew what she was talking about. Gary started coughing and Sharon was quick to slap him on the back, hoping to avoid the subject. Are you okay, dad? He nodded yes and then said, Dance? What dance? Nicole rolled her eyes, The sophomore dance is the last Friday of the month. That only gives me a few weeks to find a dress and a pair of shoes. Gary regained his composure by taking a drink to clear the pipe, Who are you going with again? Daniel and Andrew, she replied. Emily wasnt pleased, Brewster? The volcano was percolating, What do you have against Andrew? Gary, sensing a nasty argument brewing, said, Did you say that youre going with both boys? She smiled proudly, Yes! Mrs. Brewster asked me if I was going to the dance and then I looked at both guys, and I just didnt want to pick one and hurt the other ones feelings.

Sharon didnt believe before that moment that her daughters affection was so split in two. The way she initially read it was that Andrew was Nicoles friend, but Daniel was always more than a friend. Pressing her daughter for more information, or trying to steer her towards Daniel, would probably have turned the debate in Andrews direction. In their world, dating a Brewster would be totally unacceptable. It would an offense akin to be treason in most countries. Well go look for a dress this weekend, she said to her daughter as she gently patted her hand. Nicole was relentless, Will you be able to meet everyone? Well see dear, Sharon answered. Well see usually was a softer version of a flat-out no,' but it was just as good as not going to happen.' The two weeks leading up to the dance were filled with pure joy for Daniel, Nicole and Andrew. Gone was much of the nervous anticipation that came with going to such a major semi-formal event. The trio were all a few months from turning 16 every bit of 16. Since Daniel essentially grew up without a father, Hartwell was feeling some pressure to have the talk with him. Losing Daniel at such a young age the first time around

robbed Hartwell of relaying such social wisdom to his son. It was sort of a right of passage for a father to thoroughly embarrass his son, while trying to diligently run through the birds and the bees.' It had been over a century since Hartwell had been inside of a school, unless you count his various transgressions when he was feeding off academia on his way across the country. Hartwell liked to keep his visits with Daniel in the corporeal, because there would be plenty of time for actual contact once the boy came of age. Near the end of one of their tai chi sessions in the vacant all-purpose room after school, Hartwell injected a little reallife advice into his usual calming salutations. As we breath through the transitions and feel the glow of all of the people that love us, we reflect on the new steps we are thinking of taking. These steps are much bigger than the previous ones, because actions will produce real consequences if not careful. Daniel continued his fluid movements, unimpeded, with virtual Hartwell leading the way next to him. Hartwell dug deeper as he saw no real impact from his initial attempt. Aisle four of the CVS on Beach and Elm on

the left side, about half-way up the aisle. I hear the items in the blue box on the top left of the display are the most effective. Daniel kept moving but broke his intense concentration long enough to look over at Hartwell with a crinkled brow, and a genuine wonder to what he was talking about. Daniel finally said, Oh! when he realized what Hartwell was referring to. Our health teacher, Mrs. Proctor, explained everything to us last year. She even gave us a few samples, just to make sure we were safe. But most of us blew them up and laughed at the sound it made when we let the air out slowly. Hartwell breathed a sigh of relief, So you already know everything? not knowing the depth of the actual instruction. Daniel hesitated, Factually, yes. Actually, no. Hartwell let that information process before he carefully very carefully replied. Because just about anything he said could be impactful. Women are very interesting creatures that should be treated with the utmost care. If you make the fatal error of looking at them in only one dimension, then you will surely miss the splendor of true pleasure, Hartwell said,

harkening back to the days in the early 1900s with his wife Maggie. They continued their fluid movements, as Daniel appeared receptive to the new information. Hartwell continued, I think you already know that she is a delicate flower that should be handled with care. Nicole is special, much in the way her mother is. I know youre anxious to meet Nicoles mom, but that will come in time when the moons are aligned and the moment is right. Just know that good things are coming, my boy. Daniel nodded in understanding as they continued to move like two graceful swans gliding on the surface of a calm pond. There was no such conversation at the Brewster household. Andrew had no chance with Nicole, so a talk would prove unnecessary. Theyre both going with the girl? Thaddeus questioned. Emily replied, As friends. Or at least thats the way she wants it to look. So, its not Drew? Thad asked. No, Emily said as she shook her head in disgust. You should see the way she looks at Daniel. Its that obvious?

Its that obvious, Emily stated. A similar conversation was taking place in the Phillips residence the morning of the dance. Shes taking both boys? Garrison Phillips asked his daughter Sharon. Thats what she said, Sharon countered. Notwithstanding my attempts to push her toward Daniel, she seems to care about both boys. Gary buried his head in his hands and tried to wipe the stress clean off his face. Do you think its going to be a problem? Gary asked. Sharon searched her brain for an answer, I dont think so, but we should know more after tonight. The families were set to meet that night, but Sharon had other plans. She enlisted the help of a friend to cushion the blow to her excited and emotional daughter. Are you ready to go, mom? a radiant Nicole asked as she walked in the room wearing a satin, dark purple gown cut just below her knee. Oh, honey! You look beautiful! Sharon gushed, knowing her daughter would not be so pleased by the next statement.

Were not going to be able to make it tonight. Before Nicole could blow a gasket and cry so hard she would ruin her makeup, Hartwell emerged from the shadows. He wasted no time in gaining control of her mind before she could think, Who is that guy? You are going to the dance to have the time of your life. Your mother and grandfather love you very much and are going to drive you over to the Brewsters house in a few minutes. But make sure you dont let anyone ask questions about them. Their privacy is very important. Hartwell had a moment of Daniel pause and looked over at Sharon. You sure you dont want to help things along? Sharon asked. Hartwell replied, I didnt do it to you. She shot him a look of disbelief. Okay, I stopped after the first few times." You needed a little nudge, Harwtell conceded. Lets let nature take its course, and if that doesnt work, then well have a little talk with her. Hartwell kissed Sharon on the cheek and said, Ill see you later. And before he glided through the doorway, he smirked, Ill pick you up the usual time.

Sharon turned to Nicole and said, Its time to go honey. She stepped toward her daughter, smoothed the dress fabric on her shoulder, and then gave her a kiss on the cheek, Have a great time, Nicky. I will, Nicole replied. Your grandpa and I are waiting in the car to drive you to the dance, Sharon said, wishing that she really could be in that car. Nicole was smiling as she walked out of the front door and to the bland Toyota Camry parked in the driveway. Emily stood on the porch admiring her new car, a red Audi A4 Quattro, which was parked at the curb - a gift from Hartwell. How does he always know what Im thinking? Emily mumbled. Thad walked out and stood next to her, Nice ride. An elderly gentleman stepped out of the drivers side of the Camry and opened the back door for Nicole. You look beautiful, he said as he held her hand and guided her into the car. Nicole didnt skip a beat, Thanks, Grandpa. As they were backing out of the driveway, a blonde woman who sort of looked like an older version of Nicole, turned

around from the front passenger seat and said, Its going to be a special night, honey. Nicole beamed, Thanks, mom! and they drove off to the Brewsters house. Do you think shell bring her family? an anxious Daniel asked a desperately-nervous Andrew as the waited on the front stoop. Drew could barely speak let alone utilize his powers of analytical thinking. Just then, the tan Camry pulled up and then stopped at the curb. Theyre here, Daniel said as the woman and the man exited the vehicle, and then the man opened the back door and took Nicoles hand again, like she was a princess exiting from an elaborate, horse-drawn coach. Emily Brewster yelled from inside the house, Boys, are they here yet? When she didnt receive an answer, she assumed that they were either playing around, running in their suits, or most likely both. Guys? Emily shouted as she and Belinda walked toward the front door. They saw the gorgeous Nicole taking both of their sons breath away as she walked from the car to the front door.

The stand-in family walked over to Belinda and Emily, who had walked outside, and flawlessly introduced themselves. If Emily and Thaddeus had really been there, a holy war might have erupted right on the front lawn. The ride over to the Beach Haven High School gym was peaceful, if not eerily quiet. Emily Brewster was driving, Belinda Thompson was riding shotgun, and the boys bookended Nicole in the back seat of the Chevy Equinox SUV. It was a good thing that the school was only a five-minute drive from the Brewster house, because any more time would have made the contained silence unbearable. The trio had spent most of the past three years inside of that gym, but never dressed up with so much on the line. With their physical gifts growing so rapidly, the sports side of the equation was relatively easy to handle. But it was their mental capacity to live, to love, to feel, that was in its infancy and would have to be further developed. Daniel and Andrew remained by Nicoles side from the time they entered the gym. The Three Slamigos ate together, drank punch together, but mostly danced in a way that most crews would be envious. The rest of the sophomore class bopped up and down while mostly watching Nicole and her two suitors dance.

Daniel and Drew were break-dancing on the shiny, freshlywaxed gymnasium floor, while Nicole spun herself into various aerial positions. She would have been on the floor with the boys if her dress would have given her the opportunity. The DJ did his best to keep up with the furious trio, but his days of doing cheesy Sweet 16s and Bar-mitzvahs precluded him from kicking it into a gear previously unmatched. After 12 consecutive fast songs, the 13th song proved unlucky for Andrew. The throbbing beat decelerated and the strobe lights took a break, as the action moved to slow dancing. Nicole and the boys were over near the punch bowl and it was anyones guess who would take the first shot at asking Nicole for a dance. Surprisingly, the tongue-tied Andrew spoke first - more out of necessity than an actual desire to be close to Nicole. Nicole! Andrew blurted out. Yes, Andrew, Nicole said, expecting him to ask her to dance. Daniel was kicking himself for not speaking first, but he was so locked-up in goodwill that he didnt know what to

do. Andrew thought he could hold out, but a wave of nausea quickly overtook his usually sturdy being. I will be right back, Andrew said as he tried to walk casually into the locker room and then sprint to the bathroom. Andrew hadnt been ill since the first grade, and this flash of sickness was more of a mind over matter. Or was it? Hartwell stood in the corner of the gym, tucking a bottle of laxative into his jacket pocket. He looks out at us and says, It couldnt hurt to help things along a little. Once Drew disappeared into the locker room, Daniel didnt need any sage words from Hartwell to know that it was his time to seize the moment. Nicole, would you like to dance? he asked without hesitation as Hartwell beamed and then disappeared. I would love to, she replied as they walked onto the floor. They squared off and she put her long arms around his neck and he dropped his toned arms around her narrow waist. She looked deeply into his eyes, much the way she had the first day they met. Nicole then comfortably rested her head on his shoulder and moved a couple of baby

steps closer so their bodies connected into one cohesive form. Daniel and Nicole had been so wrapped up in their developing physical abilities that they failed to accomplish a basic task in their nearly 16 years: a first kiss. The slow song ended a few minutes later and was replaced with fast music and wild, flashing lights. But Nicole and Daniel didnt hear or see anything going on around them and continued to slow-dance for another minute before a classmate tapped Daniel on the shoulder and yelled over the music, Dude! The slow jam is over! But the slow jam really had just begun for Daniel and Nicole. Before they separated, Daniel whispered in Nicoles ear, Do you want to go outside? She nodded in approval as her left hand dropped and clutched his right hand. He firmly gripped her back to let her know how strongly he was feeling. Daniel pushed open the back door of the gym, which was being held slightly ajar by a large, black garbage can that was being utilized to let some air circulate through the arid gym. They walked only a few steps when Daniel said, Im glad you decided to take me with you tonight, as if to note some

remaining signs of apprehension to make the next move. She was going to reply but wasnt in the mood for any more small talk, so she decided to show him how she felt instead. Daniel saw those lips he dreamt about coming his way, so he gladly met them halfway. They kissed passionately as Nicole felt as if her feet left the ground. It was everything they thought a real kiss would be, and more, because they had waited so long for the right time. Meanwhile, Andrew finally disengaged himself from the porcelain altar and gingerly made his way back toward the sink to wash his hands and splash some cold water on his face. Once Drew felt stable enough before emerging from the locker room he angrily slammed his head against a metal locker, creating a huge knot on the side of his forehead. He roared from anger and the large bump slowly receded back into his head. Andrew was so far gone that he didnt realize he had changed his grizzly bear alter ego. He swiped his huge right paw against the row of lockers and produced a highpitched screech that would have been easily heard if the loud music wasnt blaring. His long, sharp claws left a huge

gash in the same dented lockers that he banged his head into. Drew walked toward the door between the locker room and the gym and turned back into his human form as another boy walked in. Hey, Drew, the baby-faced kid said as he highfived Andrew and happily skipped past him. The guy looked at the row of defaced lockers and said, Wow, somebody was real angry. Andrew didnt see Nicole and Daniel at first when he stepped into the gym, so he took a quick lap around and then poked his head in the adjacent hallway. With his extensive night-vision capabilities, visually spotting Nicole would be relatively easy, but locating her scent would be a little more difficult amid the sea of bodies. Still feeling a little queasy, Andrew decided to get a little fresh air to hopefully clear his head. He noticed a door slightly open on the left side of the gym the girls side during normal school hours. Andrew walked into the darkness where couples sought its remote location to get in a little extended face time.' He opened the heavy steel door, stepped out onto the concrete stoop, and looked out to the softball field in the

distance, all the while taking a deep, cleansing breath. Andrew felt like himself again for the first time in weeks. Incessant thoughts of the dance had clouded his mind and thrown him off his game. The usual aggressive and fullthrottle-minded boy had been been reduced to nothing more than a timid, quivering pile of skin and bones. Andrew stood in darkness as the light above his head had burned out a few days earlier. He then swiveled toward his right as he noticed the light above the boys gym doorway was blinking and was about to go out, too. Two people were joined together and obviously kissing, but Andrew couldnt initially identify the kids. The fresh air helped restore his keen eyesight and extraordinary sense of smell, which told him that Nicole and Daniel were near. Andrew senses their elevated body temperatures and racing heartbeats, as he felt a wave of varied emotions invade his body. Shock, nerves, and self-loathing were interrupted by Drew hearing Nicole purr, We should probably go find Drew. Andrews apprehension switched to outrage upon visually confirming the forms under the blinking light. Outrage shifted into anger and blind rage, as he stormed

off and morphed into his pit bull form and quickly disappeared into the woods behind the softball field. What was that? Nicole asked as she heard Andrew bark at the three-quarter moon. An elated, yet feeling Daniel replied, I think that was Drew. Lets go after him, she stated. Daniel gently held her arm in a subtle restraint, No, well never catch him. Ive seen him when hes angry and its almost impossible to track him. Then well stop by his house on the way home, she countered. It was an hour until the end of the dance and their scheduled pick-up, so Nicole called her mom and asked her to pick them up. Daniel texted his mom and told her that he had the ride home covered. Hartwell was always nearby, so he went along for the ride to cloud Daniel and Nicoles interpretation of Nicoles mother. What do you think happened? Hartwell asked Sharon. Sharon slyly smirked because she knew Hartwell already impacted at least half of the story. You were there, why dont you tell me? The boys were with Nicole. Fast music changed to slow.

Andrew ran off to the bathroom. Then I let nature take its course. So, you spiked the kids drink, Sharon stated. Hartwell smiled, You could say spiked,' but I choose to say that I did that boy a favor. Kids these days have no sense of right and wrong. Are you saying that you weren't with anyone between your wife and me? Sharon asked the loaded question that Hartwell had no patience to answer. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? he bristled. Im just saying that we all have flirted at one point or another with the other side. The evil in Hartwell emerged, Im not saying that I havent thought about going a few rounds with that bitch Emily, even thought shes young enough to be your Pride motivated Sharon from letting Hartwell complete his thought, Younger sister? Hartwell wasnt buying it, Ill give you niece. Sharon smirked, Ill take it. They pulled up to the back of the high school and Daniel was excited to see Hartwell in the passenger seat. The back doors swung open and Daniel beamed, Wow,

you finally get to meet my friend. Eight years of almost daily contact and Daniel had absolutely no idea what his wise, older friends name was. Hartwell didnt even bother to turn around as he created a simulcast of his influential voice for the back-seat paring and an eves-dropper in the front seat. The name is Hartwell, Thomas Hartwell, and I was your father a few generations ago. Tears welled up in Daniels eyes as he and Nicole sat frozen and utterly confused. Hartwell added, Oh, and by the way, Im also a vampire. The teens brains were running out of the car but their bodies were glued to the seat. It felt so good to finally get that out! he exclaimed. The remainder of Hartwells oratory was delivered with the speed and blandness of a disclaimer in a TV ad. That being said, both of you will forget that I just said that, and smiles returned to their faces. You will also forget that I was here and Daniel, you will see the same woman driving the car as you did on the way to the dance. He looked over at Sharon and said, Anything else you want thrown in there?

Sharon thought for a moment about including a hate Drew clause, but she thought better of it. It was still too early to let be known what would be naturally understood in a few years. They both dont sleep enough, Sharon said. Hartwell went back into their heads, Now close your eyes and rest deeply until I wake you. Your beds are made up of soft clouds and you feel warm and safe. When you awake, you will feel completely refreshed and rested. The car then drifted to the other side of the two lane road and Hartwell nonchalantly took control of the vehicle without physically touching anything. Sharons head was reclined back against her headrest and her mouth was wide open. Hartwell shook his head in disbelief, Forgot to turn that speaker off. But then he thought she could probably use the rest, too. He pulled the car up to the curb across the street from the Brewster residence, which he had only physically been near on a few occasions when he had made out with that bitch Emily a couple of times, years before when the kids were at school. Hartwell gets inside our heads, Hey, dont judge me. Its lonely and confusing to be me sometimes. Besides, that girl has excellent bone structure.

To say that it wouldnt be prudent to be so close to the hunters would be an understatement especially when they were within striking distance. That was part of the reason why Hartwell got rid of Cal and waited for Thaddeus to exit the house before approaching Emily, who he knew had a crush on him just by hearing her heartbeat. He had a way with the ladies and was in a playful mood on this night. It had been well over a year since his last death, and the Brewsters kill ratio had plummeted since Cal's disappeared nearly eight years earlier. Before Cal unexpectedly found his watery grave, a stake to the heart had found its mark registering Hartwells 90th death. With only ten lives left to mortality, Hartwell and the Phillips family decided they needed to take drastic action in order to avoid a normal life, a life they had never known together. Hartwell exited the car and told his three sleeping beauties that it was time for them to wake up from their power slumber. Wow! I feel great! Sharon said as she stretched her arms. Nicole and Daniel already had boundless energy, and the nap only heightened their keen sense of awareness. I was dreaming about you and me on the beach, Daniel said as he raced over and opened Nicoles door.

Me, too, Nicole replied. Only they exchanged thoughts without actually speaking out loud. Their cosmic connection was unsealed with a kiss much in the way Sharon and Emilys thoughts were accessed by Hartwell after they first kissed. Now were talking, Hartwell said as he tuned into their frequency. Nicole and Daniel walked up the path to the Brewsters front door. Nicole opened the glass door and then gently knocked on the solid oak front door. Emily Brewster wasnt expecting her son home for another hour, and was in the basement with a blow-torch and wearing a protective welding/soldering helmet. Thaddeus was half-asleep in a recliner in the den with the TV and moaned, Door! Emily removed her head-gear and turned off the flame of the torch, before setting it on the work table. She zoomed upstairs and was at the front door within a second, a route that would have taken the average mortal at least ten seconds to complete. Most people would have exhibited caution before opening the front door after 10:00 p.m., but Emily feared no man. The door swung open and she was greeted by Daniel and

Nicole. Oh, hi Mrs. Brewster, a chipper Nicole said. Emily was immediately thrown off-guard at the sight of the couple, which was one Drew short of The Three Slamigos.' Is Drew here? Daniel asked, barely getting the question out to a now-distracted Emily, who was peaking her head past them out of the doorway. She smelled vampire and he was close, real close. There was no mistaking the musky, woody scent of a dead person in heat. Emily was so blinded by loathing and passion for Hartwell that she changed into a hawk and flew past Nicole and Daniel, who were supposed to stay out of such business until they were 18. Emily then changed into a pit bull and closed ground on her way to changing into a ferocious grizzly bear, as she took a huge swipe and chunk out of the tree with her right paw. All hell then broke loose when Sharon exited the car and raced to defend her vampire, first as a wolf. Daniel and Nicole were initially shocked and then instinctively got involved by going after Sharon Daniel gliding over to Hartwells defense and Nicole watching a huge blur of a ram charge out of nowhere and literally lower

his head and spear Daniel. Hartwell saw the action from the top of an adjacent tree and realized that he would have to end the madness before his boy perished for good. Hartwell came down and stood right in front of Emily the bear as her eyes widened before she took another swipe targeted at Hartwells neck. As she connected with a horizontal strike, a furious Nicole changed into a hippo and charged at Andrew the ram, who was grinding a prone Daniel into the ground. Mother and son Emily and Andrew - were standing backto-back when the moment happened. Sharon the wolf went for Emilys jugular with a mid-air leap, while Nicole rumbled toward Andrew, picking up momentum with every stride. In an instant, Sharon clamped down on Emilys bear neck, changing her back into her human form as Hartwells head was severed from his body, and Nicole slammed into Andrew, wedging him against the tree, as Hartwells head fell to the ground. Nicole was also injured from the recoil, and Emily had fallen on Sharon before she changed, killing her wolf ego. Thirty seconds later, Thaddeus awoke from his slumber, slowly rising from his recliner and then walking toward the

door. Initially, he thought the noise that had awaken him came from the TV, but upon opening the front door and seeing six either expired or unconscious bodies strewn across his lawn, he said, Why do I always miss the good fights? Thaddeus scooped up Emily and then Andrew and walked them back into the house, Emily on the couch and Andrew in the shower and then in his bed. Sharons eyes opened the next morning and was greeted with Hartwells head obviously waiting for her to wake up. A little help here, he said. Well, that didnt go according to plan. She put his head back on his shoulders and the vampire instantly healed and fused back into his body. Sharon understood why Hartwell had taken one for the team and the two didnt discuss the matter further. Only she knew his soft spot for Daniel might present protection problems in the future. They scooped up their kids and plopped them into the back seat of the car for debriefing and sleeps that would make everything seem like a dream, at least for now. TEN

It was a long night and an even longer morning. The satisfaction of the kill quickly faded for Emily once her teenage son woke up. It was a Saturday morning and Andrew was feeling the residual effects of being squashed by a stampeding hippopotamus. Andrew walked into the kitchen and rummaged through the cabinets for a decent box of cereal that didnt include the words bran or fiber in the description. It was noon and Andrews mother and grandfather had been up for hours. Thaddeus sat back in his chair, obscured by the lengthy expanse of The New York Times. Emily was less unwound, to say the least. Tapping her left index finger on her empty coffee cup and bouncing her legs up and down under the table gave every indication of her apprehension related to Drews arrival. Drew filled a huge bowl with Corn Pops and then reached into the fridge and poured some milk over the yellow nuggets. He then grabbed the bowl and sat down across from Thaddeus, and to Emilys right, at the large ovalshaped white table. After a few heaping tablespoons-worth of cereal, Andrew groaned and said, Did either of you get the license plate of that truck that ran me over last night?

Thaddeus stopped pretend-reading a paper that he had consumed four hours earlier, and lowered it so he could see his grandson. Emilys knees stopped bouncing because she feared that an impossible conversation was in the offing. Andrew took a few more bites and then said, Some jerk must have spiked the punch because I dont remember much after going to the bathroom. Grandpa went back under the paper, and Emily felt relieved that they had avoided the twin disasters of a broken heart and a family secret revealed. Andrew gobbled down another two bowls of cereal and was waiting for his mother to ask the question he knew was on the tip of her tongue. After the fourth bowl, he shot her a look that was saying, I can do this all day! So, Emily dipped her toe into the dreaded water, Did you have a nice time last night? Thaddeus was his usual supportive self and promptly excused himself from the table for the greener pastures of anywhere else in the house. As usual, Drew wanted to play with his mom before going for the kill. Yeah.

Did you guys get along okay? Emily prodded. Yeah, we danced, ate, and drank together until Emily was hooked, Until? Until the music slowed down and I had to run to the bathroom. Emily turned away and muttered angrily, Hartwell! Did you say something? Andrew asked. I said, so you didnt feel well? No, I didnt feel well at all, Andrew said as his mother could sense that his anger was gaining strength with each passing breath, as details from the night were replayed in his head. Thats odd. You havent been sick for so long, Emily stated. Yes. And whats even stranger was that when I finally got out of the bathroom, Daniel and Nicole were nowhere to be found. It was a good thing that Andrew had no idea he changed into a bear in the locker room, because the conversation could have gone in a completely different direction. Andrew stood up and tossed his bowl into the sink, shattering it into pieces. He paced back and forth, continuing to recount the previous nights events.

So I walked around the gym you know, to clear my head and possibly get some air in my lungs, he said with a sadistic smile on his face. The light was out above my head and then I looked across the way to the stoop outside the boys locker room, because the light over that door was flickering and was probably going to burn out at any minute. Emily was about to get up and try to calm her son down, but he was too far gone to reason with. Besides, the only way to really contain him would be to call on her powers, and that would be unacceptable. Sit down mom! Andrew ordered as he was about to push her back down in the seat. Dont you want to hear the rest of my story? She nodded her head and started softly crying, not from fear of her son but of genuine sorrow knowing that her sons heart was broken. I saw two people standing close together, but initially couldnt see who it was, until I heard a familiar voice speak in a tone of voice that I had never heard before, We should go find Drew. Andrew was now completely en Fuego,' on fire, To my surprise, my friends snuck outside behind my back and

decided that kissing each other would be appropriate! He walked over to the microwave, which was housed in a built-in section of the cabinet wall, and ripped it out of the wall and then turned and hurled it through the large, glass bay window over the sink complete with a furious grunt. The microwave crashed in a bank of trees across the yard of the half-acre property. Sharon stood up and stared at the gaping hole, not knowing to be hard or soft, angry or sympathetic. She chose the latter, although neither tactic would have had much impact. Drew had a weak moment and Emily stepped toward him to be of comfort. But he quickly erased any remaining fragments of humanity as he changed into a hawk after jumping up on the counter, and then flew out the window. Thaddeus entered the room just as Drew flew off, and said, Was that Drew? Emily was drained of her energy and plopped down on a cushioned, swiveling chair, Whats left of him. Hes changing too early, Thad stated. That could be dangerous, or quite helpful. The family had suffered more than just emotional heartache after Cals disappearance. The thriving family business

was like a well-oiled machine with Cal and Emily in tandem, and a younger, more energetic Thaddeus filling in the gaps. The Brewsters became fast millionaires but needed large sums of money to support their huge monthly food expenditures. With Cal gone, the family lived off the wads of cash managed by its money and wheel man, Thaddeus. After Andrew literally flew the coop,' Thaddeus and Emily sat down to have a talk they had been dreading for months. How many months do we have left? Emily asked. The way that kid eats, wed be lucky to make through the end of the year. Emily wasnt in the mood for jokes. She wanted real answers, so she looked Thaddeus dead in the eye and asked the question again, How many months? Thaddeus understood the gravity of the situation. It wasnt as if they could run out of money and then hit Hartwell up for a loan. Three or four, Thad replied and then further clarified his guesstimate. Three. We got three months left. Thaddeus knew that Emily had to initiate the next step because it definitely required a mothers approval. Emily realized that once Andrew started changing during the day, the reality of his night visions could not be restricted to

only dreams. That he would learn to control his power, or suffer the ultimate consequence of death. Unlike the mature hunters and mammals, the death of a candidate before their 18th birthday, and preceding one of Hartwells deaths, would prove fatal. However, there were activities that Drew could participate in that wouldnt necessarily be life threatening at least right away. Andrew stayed away from the house all day. He spent a good portion of the time in rams clothing, pounding his head against any tree that could withstand the force of his intense power. He felt embarrassed and ashamed, like any teenager would be at being bested by another guy for the girl he coveted. But this was Daniel and Nicole, and they were The Slamigos.' Although Drew never really had a concrete plan of how it would all work out in the end, he did envision that they all would be together. After all, he and Daniel were first cousins hell, they were closer than most brothers and Nicole was his best friend other than Daniel. He replayed the fight on his front lawn over in his head and all he saw was Daniel and wanting to make him feel the same pain that he was experiencing. In fact, he didnt even remember changing into a ram or seeing his mom as a

bear, or Hartwell, well, being Hartwell. Drew changed in and out of his four animal egos all day, but had absolutely no idea he was anyone else but Andrew Brewster. When he returned home at night, the glass bay window had been replaced, a new microwave was securely in place, and the house was quiet, too quiet. Emily was waiting for Drew in his room, which initially caught him off guard. He thought it would be easy to slide into the house and go right to sleep. The last 24 hours had been exhausting, both physically and mentally, and he needed to sleep it off. Emily was looking at some of the items in Drews room and was in full-reminiscence mode as he walked through the doorway. You were such a calm little boy, Emily said as she looked at an old framed picture of her son. Andrew was so distracted that he didnt even notice his mom until she started talking. Mom! a startled Drew said because his sanctuary had been invaded. Have you been going through my stuff? a defensive Drew asked. Come over here and sit down, Emily stated, motioning toward a big red beanbag chair across from the bed. I have to talk to you about something important.

Andrew reluctantly plopped down on the beanbag chair and slowly decompressed toward the floor. He was all ready for a talk about the drugs he had stashed in a sock on the top drawer of his dresser, so his low level of receptiveness was coming through loud and clear. Emily began, Okay, first I want to say that this is not going to be a talk about the stuff you had in the top drawer of your dresser, pointing to the dresser and implying that the items were properly disposed of. Drew didnt know what to think, so he went evasive, What stuff in the dresser? Emilys initial reaction would have been confrontational, The stuff that I flushed down the toilet about ten minutes ago, but she reached out to her crucial ally, Have you ever noticed that we are different? Andrew was ready for a battle and was again thrown off by the question. Different? Do you mean me and you, or us and everyone else? She sat forward and tightened her grip on the baseball in her right hand before rearing back and throwing a fastball at his head. Andrew casually reached up with his left hand

and snagged the 100 mile per-hour fastball about a quarter-inch from his left eye. He then flipped the ball to himself and said, So, whats your point? She was amazed, You see, you dont even acknowledge your abilities. How many people do you know can do that? Two, Andrew replied and then took a leap of faith and hurled a 105 mile per-hour fastball at his mothers mouth. She skillfully turned her head and caught the ball in her mouth with all of the flair of a circus performer. Ta-da! she exclaimed. Andrew was flabbergasted, Three. Emily took the ball from her mouth and whipped it with her right arm toward the doorway, where Thaddeus caught the ball with his bare feet while doing a handstand. He flipped back over and said, I used to be able to do a lot more tricks. Andrews mouth opened wide and Emily filled the blanks, Four. Andrew looked at his grandpa in amazement, but Thaddeus was insulted. What? Did you think I just ate a lot and sat around all day? Your abilities have been passed down from me to your mom and Uncle Cal, to you.

And there are others Emily excitedly said, possibly revealing too much. Andrew stood up and became animated, Who? Daniel and Nicole? Others of what? What are we? Thaddeus looked at Emily with his stern lock-it-down, fatherly expression. Yes, they are part of this, Emily stated. And Thaddeus attempted to sway his grandson once and for all to put aside his impossible crush, Daniel is And Nicole? a still-hopeful Andrew asked. She is not of us, Emily stated. Andrew would not give up so fast, and he slowly became irritated again, What? Not of us? What does that mean? he angrily said. Thaddeus used his superior force to shove Andrew back into the beanbag chair. He bent over and was now an imposing figure, not the lazy, aging grandfather he usually portrayed. Listen, boy. And you listen good. The next time you come at me or your mother, Im going to put you under the ground. That crap you pulled today, will never happen again. That cost me over a thousand dollars to fix all of that damage you caused.

Andrew thought about getting up and defying his grandpa because, after all, he still he thought he was the big gorilla of the house. Thad looked at Emily for approval and Emily gave the goahead with a knowing smirk. Andrew started to stand up and Thaddeus literally picked him up by the t-shirt and tossed him through the wall. Andrew landed in the living room and Thad was quick to pounce oh him, letting out a huge roar with fiery yellow eyes ablaze. Andrew became so scared that he urinated down the leg of his jeans in a sign of clear submission. Thaddeus smelled the pee and put his hand out to help Andrew up. Emily walked into the living room and said, We think its time to give you a chance to join the family business. Andrew nodded in approval like a whipped puppy, You have to work so you can pay me back for the window and your wall, Thad stated. Andrew hugged his mom and then his grandpa who said, Welcome home, son. ELEVEN Daniel woke up the morning after the dance and felt a chill

amidst a warm spring day. He went to the bathroom and then put on a pair of sweatpants and a heavy, hooded sweatshirt with the words DOLPHINS VOLLEYBALL in royal blue lettering on the back. Morning, he said to his mom as he entered the kitchen. Belinda was going through a pile of bills and seemed preoccupied when she said, Morning, honey. He slid a sesame bagel into the toaster and made himself some hot chocolate by emptying the contents of a packet, filing his favorite Peanuts mug with water, and then popping it in the microwave. Daniel sat across from his mother once all of his food was ready, flipping his hood over his head before taking a sip of the scalding brew. Belinda picked up her head, as she was obviously being prompted to ask the following question, Are you cold? Daniel took another sip and replied, I cant get warm this morning. Belinda chuckled as she returned to her paperwork, This is the same guy I fight with all winter to wear a jacket. Daniel was trying to piece together the activities that occurred after he and Nicole went to Andrews house. What time did I get in last night?

Belinda replied, Im not sure. I fell asleep on the couch at about 10 p.m. That was about the time I went to Drews house, Daniel stated. Wasnt the dance over at 11? Daniel nodded Yes as he munched on his bagel with cream cheese. So, why were you over at Drews house at 10? Belinda questioned. Daniels body temperature had quickly normalized and he started to sweat. Wow. This stuff works fast, he said, looking at the hot chocolate mug. He initially flipped the hood back and then pulled the sweatshirt off altogether. Daniel stood up and walked out of his gray sweatpants with the dolphin logo on the left leg. Once Daniel sat down again he said, I think Drew saw something that he wasnt supposed to see. Belinda thought about the statement and then yelled, You didnt! Daniel beamed and blushed, I did. Just then, Daniel focused in on the pile of papers in front of his mother, and flashed on a piece of paper with her bank

account information. They discussed the sparse details from the night and then Daniel said, I could get a part-time job. Belinda was too proud to let that happen at least not yet. No, Danny. The economy is getting better and sales will pick up. Eventually. Math was never Daniels favorite subject, but three thousand dollars in the bank and twenty thousand in debt and bills seemed like a complete mismatch. So, what happened at Drews? Did you see him? Belinda asked. Daniel was ready to say, I dont know, but he flashed on Drew coming at him in a violent way and replied, Yeah, I saw him, and he definitely saw me. Resident image consultant,' Hartwell, supplied the mental clip in an effort to begin making him aware of the danger his cousin presented. But it was too early in the process for Daniel to build up the kind of natural animosity he and Andrew exhibited when they were re-introduced to each other at the age of eight. Daniel was undaunted by the previous nights events and biked over to Andrews house after breakfast. Andrew! he yelled as he entered the expansive ranch

house. Hey, Daniel! Emily shouted from the kitchen. Hes in his room. Emily stated as Daniel poked his head into the kitchen. Daniel turned right toward Andrews room and half of his wall was still missing. He poked his head through the vacant space for a little, much-needed levity, What happened here? Andrew was in a much better mood since his talk with his mom and grandpa and replied, I got a little mad. Daniel stepped through the hole and said, You sure Grandpa Thad didnt pick you up and through you through it? Daniel said sarcastically as Drew stood up, and a bro hug ensued. Andrew figured that Daniel was kidding, but said, Why? What did my mom tell you? Daniel pulled back from the hug and dropped down on the beanbag chair. Youre crazy! I was just kidding. I havent seen Grandpa Thad move more than two feet in the past year. Andrew thought to himself, I have. Hey man, Im sorry about yesterday, Daniel said and then got a bit awkward, Bros before hoes.

Andrew tried not to laugh, We both know she isnt a hoe. They both laughed and slapped hands as Andrew stated, As long as you keep that hoe away from this bro. The conversation ebbed and flowed over the next ten minutes. Daniel read a magazine and Drew surfed the Internet. Later in the talk, Daniel said, I think I might have to get a part-time job. My mom seems a bit stressed. Emilys head bobbed up and then she cut her finger with the knife she was using to cut carrots. Drew turned to comment on Daniels statement, but he had left the room to get a band-aid in the bathroom and was already in the kitchen. Emily was reaching for a paper towel when Daniel glided into the kitchen and said, Did you cut your hand, Aunt Emily? She replied, Yeah, I was cutting some carrots and I thought I heard a squirrel running on the roof. Daniel reached into his pocket and pulled out a band-aid. Had one in my pocket from all of those volleyball floor burns. He held her hand and swiped the blood away with his finger and then applied the band-aid around her left index finger. Thanks, Danny! an appreciative Emily said as she gave

her nephew a hug. Daniel raised his right arm to his mouth and licked the blood clean off his right index finger. The blood tasted better than the best dessert he ever had, and was just as good as his first kiss with Nicole the previous night. In fact, he envisioned all of the things he loved while swallowing the blood. They broke the hug and the blood rushed to the lower half of Daniels body, so he quickly sat down to avoid any embarrassment. There arent many worse things than hugging your aunt and then revealing an inappropriate level of excitement. Hungry? Emily asked as Daniel crossed his legs and was trying to think of anything old ladies, cauliflower, a dog pooping anything to lessen his uncontrollable excitement. Always, he replied with a slight break in his voice. She fetched an assortment of cakes, cookies, and potato chips and put them on the table as Andrew came into the room. Where did you go? he asked. Oh, I just went to the bathroom and then helped your mom with a cut on her hand, Daniel replied. Emily flashed the band-aid and her son then focused on the

table, Slide over. Daniel was fairly stiff at this point and wasnt sure how he would move smoothly to another seat under his current constraints. He banged himself into the underside of the table, causing some of the sweets to pop up in the air. Drew caught two cupcakes in either hand and then swallowed a chocolate chip cookie whole. Whats up with you? Drew asked his cousin. Daniel blushed, Its just one of those days. They sat for the better part of an hour and continued to consume Drew genuinely hungry and Daniel just waiting for an opportunity to stand up straight. Daniel finally felt the blood redistribute to the upper-half of his body and reached for his buzzing phone in his pocket. You at Drews? the text from his mother read. Daniel picked up his head and said, Mom wants me to come home and help her with something. Well, send her our love, Emily said as Daniel and Drew banged fists. Will do, Daniel replied as he hugged his aunt, this time without incident. But instead of going home, he headed straight for Nicoles house, texting her of his plans on the way. Not that everyone

else didnt know this before he even went there. Emily had a hunch and was in a mood to give her nephew a hard time. She had successfully reigned Drew back into the fold as much as Drew could be reigned in and was still a little steamed at Daniel and Nicole. Hello, Belinda Thompson said on the other end of the line. Hey B, its Em. Is my son eating you out of house and home yet? Belinda asked. He was until a few minutes ago, Belinda innocently replied. Thats weird. He just texted me that he was staying at your house and would be home for dinner, Emily stated and then thought about the typical actions of teenagers. Oh, so he is using Drew as a cover to visit Nicole. I dont like that. Emily didnt have to say another word other than goodbye, because she had accomplished the classic plant and wait flawlessly. Meanwhile, Daniel pulled up at Nicoles house and was greeted at the door by Garrison Phillips, who thought it would be wise to spend a few minutes with his young charge before setting him off into a world of potential hurt

especially for his granddaughter. Daniel, my boy, come in and sit down, Gary said. Can I get you anything to eat or drink? Daniel was stuffed, No thank you, Mr. Phillips. I just got finished eating. Okay, Gary replied. It was just great to finally meet you last night. Nicole has told us so much about you, he said, of course knowing exactly who Daniel was from the day he was reborn. They went back and forth with pleasantries until Gary cut to the chase, Be careful with Nicole. I would be disappointed if anything was to happen to her. Daniel was still buzzing from the taste of Emily Brewsters blood and only heard the words Be careful and her, so he answered accordingly, Ill do my best, sir. Thats all I can ask, son, Gary replied, although he had no doubt Hartwells son would be able to do just about anything he wanted when he turned 18. Gary then called for Nicole and she came out, wearing a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt a look that appeared to be thrown together last minute, but she had changed outfits at least a dozen times since she woke up. She walked toward Daniel and started blushing, as their

eyes danced across the carpeted floor. Gary thought that the consummation of this relationship could take a while... at least he hoped it would take a while. It took an hour for Daniel to slide his hand next to Nicoles while the were watching TV in the den. Daniel became excited again and said, Uh-oh. Nicole looked at him and asked, Did you say something? I was just thinking that I have to leave soon, but I dont have to go just yet. Ill text my mom and tell her Ill be home a little later. Daniels eyes started tearing up as he struggled to get a clear view of the screen on his phone. He had produced random sproutings before, but it was nothing that a stack of books and a little time couldnt deflect. When it was time for Daniel to leave, he was at half-mast and was able to conceal enough to get on his bike. Nicole made sure this was a temporary condition as she bent down and put her left hand on his right shoulder her shoulder-length blonde hair flowing like a goddess. Their lips met and the magic happened all over again. Gary and Sharon were spying from the kitchen window and she said, This cant be good. Yeah, you should know, Gary stated.

Its better than that Brewster kid, she said. Gary looked at his daughter in disbelief, Again, you should know! In truth, Emily had her share of experience as a Phillips playing both sides of the fence. Cal Brewster was part of the reason well, most of the reason why Hartwell decided to break the code and bed an ally. It was also part of the reason why the vampire decided to send Cal away.' Of course, it also didnt hurt that Cal was killing Hartwell with great regularity. Love triangles were nothing new in the battle to 100. A few days later, the trio returned to school, but the kiss had changed everything. Nicole and Andrew would usually see each other many time during the day, but he did his best to avoid her at every turn. With less than a month left in their sophomore year, attitudes appeared to be setting a tone for things to come. Thad and Emily wasted no time the previous night getting Drew involved in the family business. With money being drained faster than Hartwell could empty a body of blood, there was little time to waste. Sunday morning was an interesting day to be a fly on the wall at the Brewster breakfast table. Thaddeus spread a

floor plan of the Beach Haven Savings & Loan building out on the table. Okay, lets start at the beginning, Thad stated. Our entire plan hinges on you being able to get inside the building and disable the alarms and camera system, he said, looking at Andrew. Andrew was game, but was instantly confused. His mom could sense his apprehension by the rapid pumping of his heart. You have to change into your flying form, she said. Drew tried to focus, first turning into a pit bull, then a ram, then a grizzly bear which caused the chair to buckle under furry him and crash to the floor then, finally, he floated into the air as his hawk-self. Emily put up the okay sign with her right hand, Perfect! That chair was feeling weak anyway, Thad added. Andrew changed back into his human form and then plopped into the chair on the floor. He jumped back up to his feet and said, Sorry. Im still getting used to the changes. It was late Sunday night and Andrew changed into a hawk and flew through the outer air shaft and into the front lobby of the ancient Beach Haven Savings & Loan building. He

sat on top of a camera stanchion with the intent of purposely tripping off the silent alarm. Within minutes, the night guard walked into the room and was speaking into his communications device, which was attached to his left shoulder. There doesnt appear to be anyone here. Andrew flapped his wings so the guard would see him. The guard looked up and laughed, Its just a bird! It must have flown in before we closed yesterday. Shut down the system so we can reset it. The guard in the control room hit the reset button, sending both the alarm system and video feed off-line. Before the system could be rebooted, Andrew made a huge sound that triggered his mom and grandpa that it was time for the next phase of their plan. Andrew flew down and then changed into a bear just above the guard who was knocked out cold on contact. Andrew changed into himself and opened the front door to let his mother in. Meanwhile, in the control room, Thaddeus changed into a bear, knocked the guard out, and then tied the guard up while in his human form. He then kept the system down, which he knew would give them a five-minute head start before a silent alert would go out to the monitoring

company and the police. Emily was a expert safe-cracker, and wasted no time in putting her rubber gloves on and listening intently for the clicks of the old-school, rotary lock. Within 25 seconds she had the safe open and was emptying stacks of cash into the two large bags on wheels that were by her side. Andrew stood by her side, You see, Drew. The key is to take enough to be comfortable, but not enough to get caught, Emily said, while taking a few hundred-thousand dollars. She closed the door and the spun the lock so the safe would reset. They walked past the control room, where they picked up Thaddeus, who quickly untied the guard and then put him back in his chair with his hand near the reset button. Then they all walked toward the front door and untied the other guard, while taking his keys off his belt. The Brewster family walked out of the front door and then Thaddeus locked the door. He then looked at Andrew and said, Go drop this near the guard. Drew changed back into a hawk and then clasped the keys while flying through the air shaft again. He dropped the keys on the guard and then flew back outside where his family was waiting with the get-away car. He opened the back

door and then Thad drove away at about 20 miles per hour, in no hurry to go anywhere fast and arouse suspicions. A few minutes later, both guards awoke from their slumbers. The floor guard slowly rose to his feet and talked into his portable walkie-talkie, Are you there base? Base are you there? The control room guard heard the noise and opened his eyes, Yeah. What the hell just happened? The other guard thought and then answered, I got attacked by a bear. Me, too. Im not telling anyone that story, the guard said as he picked up his keys from the ground and re-fastened them to his belt. I need this job. So, nothing happened, control room guard stated. Nothing happened. Well let some bank manager take the fall if any money is missing. Click the alarm back on before the police are alerted. The guard flicked the power button on the alarm about ten seconds before the monitoring company and the police were going to be alerted. Thad turned to Emily in the front seat of the car and said, Just like old times.

She smiled, Just like old times. TWELVE

Robbing banks was like taking drugs for the Brewster family. A week later, they knocked off the Beach Haven Credit Union with similar results the guards were too embarrassed to say anything after the robbery. How much time? Emily Brewster asked her father after the second job. We have a few years, Thad replied. Of course that answer was not good enough for Emily, because a couple of years would go by in a blink of an eye, and then what? More bank robberies? There had to be another way, but for now she had no answers other than to provide for her family. Emily was also concerned with Daniel and the predicament the sour economy had put he and Belinda into. I think we should bring Daniel into the next job. Belinda could use the cash, Emily said to Thaddeus one night in their favorite place, the kitchen. I dont think thats a good idea, Thaddeus said without hesitation. Something tells me its a bad idea. Andrew walked into the kitchen because he was hungry, but heard the tail end of the conversation, Whats a bad idea? Thaddeus was more inclined to make something up than

tell the truth, but Emily was not on board that train. Were thinking about looping Daniel in on the next job. For some reason, Thaddeus always got looped in the we statements even if he was the lone dissenter. Thats a great idea! Andrew beamed. It could really help his mom out. A few minutes later, when Andrew had left the room, Thaddeus opened up on his daughter. Were not running a charity, Emily! She shot back, May I remind you that Daniel is Cal's son! Your grandson! The Cal defense always seemed to work for Emily against her dad, who always had a soft spot for him. So, once Daniel was briefed a few days later, it was all systems go for a four-person job. Dont do it, Hartwell said to Daniel during their afternoon practice session. Dont do what? Daniel replied like a typical teenager trying to conceal his questionable doings. Just dont do it, Hartwell repeated, trying his hand at parenting a teenager for the first time. But Hartwell knew that Daniel would go through with it, so he took precautionary measures. Not only was Hartwell an

insatiable insider trading enthusiast, he also had mad computer hacking skills. In the matter of a few minutes, Hartwell had all of Belinda Thompsons debt taken care of, including her credit cards and entire mortgage. He had the government issue her a letter stating that she qualified for a federal debt forgiveness program, and that he debt had been forgiven. Part two of the plan was convincing casual house hunters that Belindas listings were right for them, and she closed four sales within one day. Belinda came home that Friday night with the news of her miraculous day, but that did little to sway Daniel away from his Sunday night caper. The original plan was for a Saturday night special,' where the two boys would enter the bank in their hawk form at the time of closing. But the bank was undergoing some minor renovations and there would be extra workers in the building. Of course, Daniel was relieved that his first Saturday night with a girlfriend would be untouched. Hartwell thought about going to Sharon and Gary and trying to work out a solution to the Brewster Gang recruiting their boy. There were so many levels of misinformation that could surface as a result of an attempted robbery.

Fallacy #1: Daniel was a hunter. Fallacy #2: Daniel was a hunter and, thus, could change into a hawk. Fallacy #3: Daniel was a Brewster. Hartwell was 99 percent sure that Daniel did not possess the active gene that would enable him to change into various hunter egos. He tried on several occasions to convert Daniel into a pit bull, or a ram, or a bear, or a hawk through mind control but had no success. But he wondered whether - if presented with the right stimuli Daniel could transform into his enemy. Hartwell would rather take his own life than fight his son, so he just went under the assumption that things were going according to plan. Thats the best plan I have, Emily said to Thaddeus. But there are no vents at this bank. Its on the tenth and eleventh floor of the Beach Haven Commons building, Thaddeus replied. Any windows that can open? She browsed the building schematics, No. Roof access? Thaddeus probed.

Emily searched, Yes! Thad continued, Garage access? Bingo! Emily exclaimed. Then well send Drew through the roof and Daniel through the garage. Guard station is in the basement, right? Yes, Emily replied. Drew will set off the alarm and Daniel will let me through the front door while Drew lets you in through the top, Thad said. Air shafts in the top and bottom of the building provided access for Daniela and Andrew. The boys would be utilized for this end of the job because they transformed into smaller hawks that could fit into narrower openings. The expansive wings spans of both Emily and Thaddeus would be no match for the tight space. Thaddeus would not be fooled by Daniels inability to change into the desired form, because Daniel would wind up changing into something he despised. The image would be obvious and Daniels life would be in real danger, even if he was related to the pursuers. The plan called for Andrew to make his way down through the roof first and trip off the alarm, which he did

without a hitch. Thaddeus turned to Daniel in the vacant and dimly-lit garage and said, Youre up, kiddo! Daniel started concentrating on changing into a hawk, but Thaddeus was instantly distracted by the sound of approaching police car sirens. He had his back to Daniel for a moment, as Daniels vampire wings started to unfurl but he quickly recoiled them once Thaddeus turned and yelled, We gotta go! Abort! Thaddeus yelled into his sleeve as both Andrew and Emily heard his distress call through their earpieces, flying off the top of the building within seconds. The police arrived on the scene and went to review surveillance tapes with the building guards. The eleventh floor alarm was tripped off, one of the guards said to the officers. Looks like a bird flew in and tripped off the alarm, the policeman said. You guys got here real fast, the guard stated. Just doing our jobs, Officer Stearns replied, even though they had been prompted by Hartwell while at Dunkin Donuts, about five minutes before Andrew entered

the building. I knew we shouldnt have taken Daniel with us! Thaddeus yelled at Emily after they returned home. I was trying to help Belinda out! Emily snapped back. Then just give her money! That kid will not go with us again! Thaddeus fumed. The next morning, Emily called Belinda to see how she could help. Belinda saw the Brewster name on the caller id and said, Hi, Emily! How did you know it was me? old-fashioned Emily replied. Because I saw your name shoot across the caller id screen. Emily wasnt much for small talk, Your son has been talking about getting a part-time job. Is everything all right? Yeah. As a matter of fact, I closed four house sales just yesterday! Before then, I must admit, things were getting pretty tight. So, youre okay, Emily replied, Thats a relief, she said while removing her mouth from the phone. What did you say?

Emily clarified, I am relieved to hear youre doing so well. If you ever need any help, B, you know you can come to us. Belinda was stubborn, but she still appreciated the gesture, Thanks, Em. Thats what familys for, Emily added. We always stick together. Nicoles life remained fairly steady over the next couple of years. Her relationship with Daniel had reached the comfortable shoe phase, but the same could not be said about her dealings with Andrew. After the spring dance in their sophomore year and the kiss heard round the world,' Andrew distanced himself from Nicole. When he learned that she was not one of us,' he had to make a clear distinction in his head, or risk certain prolonged pain. Nicole approached Andrew that first Monday after the dance, but he wasnt listening. Andrew, she said as she stood at his locker between periods. Drew did not respond, preferring to dig in the top portion of his locker for books he barely cared about.

Andrew, please talk to me! Nicole continued as he slammed his locker shut and then spun the bottom lock. She followed him down the hallway trying to apologize and reason with him, but at some point she had to stop groveling and get to her own class. Nicole continued the assault after school on the way to the bus. After a number of Andrews! he finally felt it was necessary to set the record straight. Okay, Nicole! I get it, youre sorry!" he yelled and then his usually-unwavering eyes became teary. Im sorry you chose Daniel over me! Please just leave me alone!

THIRTEEN Following a dozen more bank jobs, the Brewster family had enough money to live on for at least ten years. Emily decided to use some of the money to send Drew away for the summer to a wilderness adventure camp in Colorado. The eight-week excursion helped Andrew get in touch with -and develop - his animal side. The time away was also quite effective in helping him get his mind off Nicole.

It took Drew five weeks to get his head out of his butt and notice this girl named Carla Perkins. She was the one person in the group of 15 that could even remotely keep up with him. The Portland, Oregon girl was also 16 years old, and was sent away for similar reasons as Drew. Andrew often took walks in the mountain trails after the fire died down at night and everyone was fast asleep, so he could really challenge himself against the elements. One night he ventured out and didnt realized he was being tracked until he stopped to pee near a row of trees. He unzipped the fly of his jeans and then heard a few twigs break as nature was taking its course. As the scent grew stronger, Andrew stood still and then did the only thing that made sense: he changed into a grizzly bear. Andrew turned and roared as un unsuspecting Carla Perkins fell back to the ground. Andrew roared again and was almost about to attack until he noticed it was Carla on the ground. He felt compassion for the first time as a bear, and took a step back, completing the transformation from grizzly to teddy bear. Carla had other things on her mind, though. Even before she got to know Andrew, she felt a kinship with him that went beyond bonding in the wilderness.

She, too, had noticed changes throughout the years but hadnt experienced any outward transformations. Carla knew little of her path, other than she was a little stronger, faster, and more focused on scents than her peers. Andrew reached his bear paw out and Carla grabbed on and stood up, finally feeling a certain comfort missing from her life. In a split-second she changed into a bear and then knocked Andrew backwards and pinned him to the ground. The two bears smiled as much as two bears could, and then transformed back into their human forms, with Carla still on top of Andrew. Well, that was different, she stated. Andrew smirked, Oh, theres more, he said as they kissed. Carla was a first-generation hunter born into the pursuit by a local vampire attack, and the subsequent turning of a 15 year-old boy. The 15 year-old boy hadnt aged a day in the following 15 years since he became a vampire. As Carla got older her essence grew stronger, thus making it easier for Brandon Justice to keep her close. One night after wrestling in the wilderness, Andrew and Carla had a real heart-to-heart talk while she rested her

head on his chest while they gazed up at the stars from their earth bed. Youre the first boy that I liked, that liked me back, Carla stated. Andrew smiled, Thats good to know, because I thought this girl at home liked me but she kissed my cousin instead. That sucks, she empathized and then turned inward. My boyfriend tortured me all year. Andrew sat up and roared, Bring me to him! I will tear him limb from limb! Carla patted him on the back, I dont know, Drew Bear? her nickname for him, which was meant to calm him down. Hes pretty strong. What, Im not strong? Andrew said as he changed into a ram and butted a tree with his horns. He then changed into a bear and swiped the tree in half with his mighty paw. She was impressed, No, wow! You are really strong. She then turned into a ram and so they could butt heads. A few minutes later after the fun the humans were doing the talking again. What else can we change into? Carla asked.

Andrew changed into a snarling pit bull, and then so did Carla. Anything else? I saved the best for last, Drew stated as he changed into a hawk and then flew off. Carlas eyes widened as she transformed into a hawk and followed him. They flew around all night until returning to camp before the sun came up. That was fun! Carla exclaimed as they walked toward the campsite. Where are we going to fly tonight? Andrew was still fuming, You are going to take me to see Brandon. Carla smirked, knowing that she was finally basking in the warm glow of love, Only of you take me to see that stupid girl in New York. Deal, Andrew said as they met in another massive liplock. Drew agreed to fly to New York first, because his rage could not be contained once he unleashed it on Brandon Justice. So, a few nights later, Carla and Andrew were off to New York. There were still a few weeks left in the camp season and no one expected to see Drew until the last week in

August. But Drew was not going to waste another minute to show his girlfriend off. He wasnt the most humble of sorts, and neither was Carla at least, anymore. Lets stop here first, Drew said as they walked up to Nicoles house. Andrew took his phone out of his pocket and took a picture of them kissing in front of the house. He then attached the picture to a text message and then fired it off. While Drew still was mad at Nicole, he did not want any physical harm to come to her. So, youre not going to let me beat her down? Carla asked. No, not now, Andrew replied. I dont think youre ready for that just yet. Carla was frustrated, And I dont think youre ready to take on Brandon. His mind is too strong. The couple were concluding their first minor disagreement. I want to meet your parents, Carla said. Its just me, my mom, and my grandpa, Drew said as they walked away from Nicoles house. The father question would have to wait for another time, he thought. Well, I want to meet them. My mom would kill me if she knew I was home, Andrew

stated. Carla had a brain blast and was every bit of Drews coconspirator. Lets turn into bears and take a picture in front of your house. Drew thought about it then turned into a hawk and an excited Carla followed him into the sky. Carla and Andrews appetite for each other was insatiable. They would fly three or four times a week to see each other in the middle which was usually the Midwest or destinations further south in the winter once camp ended that summer between their sophomore and junior years of high school. Andrew learned much that first summer, including nearly getting killed by a nasty vampire named Justice. He thought, however, that there was no justice in not being able to defend his girlfriends honor; at least, not yet. He was so fast, a bloodied and battered Andrew said while leaning on Carla in the streets of Portland, Oregon. Please dont die! Carla said as she started crying. Get me out of here, Andrew said. I cant go to the hospital. My family never goes to the hospital. Were quick

healers. Carla thought fast and texted their group leader back at the camp. Andrew and I went on a long hike. Well be back tomorrow night. The group leader, Mike Malone, had fallen hard for cocounselor, Gretchen Appleton, and he barely noticed they were gone. The reality of the fight if you want to call it that between Andrew and Brandon Justice played like a classic horror film. Carla pointed her beak toward Brandon on the crowded Portland street and the vampire immediately recognized Carlas scent, and the scent of another enemy. So, he continued walking quickly off the main street because he didnt want anyone seeing the other-world display - and into an adjacent alley. Andrew and Carla pursued Brandon as hawks and then Andrew changed into a bear as he was about to land, and Carla changed back into herself in order to gain satisfaction from her tormentor. But Carla experienced anything but satisfaction during the two-minute beat-down. First Brandon got into Andrews head and made him believe that he was a ballerina albeit

a happy ballerina. Then, while Andrew was up on his toes and pirouetting all over the ally as a bear, he got into Carlas head and said, Is this your new boyfriend? What would make you think that you could be with anyone else but me? Brandon flipped Andrew over and then picked him up by both of his bear feet and repeatedly slammed him against a massive green, steel dumpster like he was wielding a light baseball bat. Next time you think about coming at me, Brandon suggested to Andrew, this game of baseball will end and you will be out before the first pitch. He then said out loud, Why cant they bring a major league baseball team to Portland? Brandon then threw Andrew down the alley and near the crowded street and glided past Carla. Ill be waiting for you when you get back from playing house. He then disappeared around the corner where his sire was unsuspectingly waiting for him. The large man in the trench coat was waiting behind a building, and put his arms around Brandons neck, like a boa constrictor tightening its grip on its prey.

You will leave that girl alone. The next time you go near her, you will have to answer to me. Understand? the man stated. Brandon could barely breathe, but he still nodded his head in understanding. FOURTEEN Eighteen was everything. Life as Daniel, Nicole, and Andrew knew it would change once they reached the milestone birthday. Of course, in order for any significant changes to be propelled, Daniel would have to hit the magic number. Because, on June 28th, when the clock stroked past midnight, he would officially be vampire-ready. Going from a single life to a full complement of 100 had its advantages, but one of them was not being alive. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but vampires are dead creatures and mortals are alive, at least for the most part. A big party was planned for graduation and the former Three Slamigos were expected to be in the same place for the first time since the sophomore dance. Drew had quit the volleyball team and nearly dropped out of school, because he had thrown his entire focus into Carla. When Drew attended school it was often to appease his mom

and serve detention, which had ascended to a lifetime sentence with Mr. Mallory. Andrew sat in the back row of seats in the small all-purpose room and imagined easily snapping the neck of the dumpy science teacher with the walrus-like moustache. Do you like lobster, Mr. Mallory? Andrew mocked as he envisioned the teacher with a lobster body on a plate with butter. Yes, why do you ask? Mallory replied, somewhat interested to engage in conversation with a degenerate that rarely spoke. You know, the human neck cracks about as easily as the neck of a lobster if you apply pressure in just the right place, Andrew said with all of the dementia of a serial killer. That was the abrupt end of the conversation and Mallorys 20-year run as detention monitor. He also retired at the end of the school year and moved out of the country without leaving a forwarding address. The primary difference between Andrew and his counterparts was that he knew the big secret. He knew that he was a hunter. He knew that vampires were the enemy

and their assistants, the mammals, were also on the other side. Besides the basic facts, however, he was just as blind as Daniel and Nicole were to who the players were. Obviously, he knew that his mom and grandpa were on his team, and he even knew that Uncle Cal was one of them. But he had absolutely no knowledge of Hartwell, or that Daniel was lining up to play for the undead. Hell, Daniel didnt even know what his immediate future held. Before the June 28th graduation party, Emily pulled Andrew aside. When you hit 18 next week, the show starts. Andrew picked up his head and closed his laptop. Finally! I thought you would never let me play! Emily beamed, No, my son. Were counting on you to give us the edge weve been missing since Cal passed." Andrew felt a certain measure of pride in thinking that he could replace the great Cal Brewster. Were eight kills away from turning the corner, Emily said without giving away too much of the landscape. She wanted to save the final kill for a special occasion one that shouldnt be wasted on her inexperienced son. Andrew was always confident in his abilities, Then

well get eight kills. Hartwell had waited patiently at times to alert his charge of his impending fate. He also knew that no one would be aware of Daniels vampiracy until he became aware of it himself. All of the attention and fire would be on Hartwell, and he was ready to withstand the pain if it meant moving his son out of harms way. On your 18th birthday, I will cease being a mental image that guides you. Instead, I will reveal my corporeal self to you, Hartwell said during their daily tai chi practice. Daniel was intrigued, but stayed within the motions, When? In a few weeks, then he mumbled, or eight kills, whichever comes first. Kills? Daniel questioned. No, I said hills, eight hills. Hartwell was scrambling, In the old country, it usually took a few weeks to scale the eight hills. Okay, Daniel replied, putting the threat of a kill out of his mind so he could remain excited about finally meeting his mentor face-to-face. Sharon Phillips wasnt as subtle as Hartwell. She needed

her daughter to be ready for anything once the clock struck 12 that night. At midnight tonight you will take the next step in life and join our mission to protect. Before Nicole could say, Protect who? or Protect what? her mother continued. I think youve known all along ever since you first saw Daniel on that line outside of the school before you entered Mrs. Williams class. A surprised and excited Nicole interjected, I am protecting Daniel? Havent you been all along? Sharon countered. Nicole reflected on her time with Daniel and the first time she came to his aid on the playground. As Daniel flipped over the side of the play structure, the action slowed for Nicole as she reacted instead of panicking. Jumping over the side and spinning Daniels body so he could land safely on his feet was the first of many coordinated efforts. But the two major pieces of the puzzle that Nicole hadnt unearthed were Daniels true nature, and why he needed to be protected. If she had known that Andrew was the enemy, it would have been highly unlikely that she would have made countless attempts to regain contact with him.

The healing process had been quite slow for Andrew. His first love had scorned him and left a permanent scar on his heart. Meeting and falling in love with Carla also softened the blow over time, and gave Andrew the opportunity to give the appearance of being able to have casual contact with Nicole. Nicole, for her part, was always so focused on Daniel that she never really thought of Drew in a relationship kind of way, but she did periodically fantasize about him. Consciously, she just knew him as Andrew, but subconsciously, he was the forbidden fruit. He was a seemingly untouchable enemy that was to be scorned, not lusted after. But a whole host of l words accompanied such mixed, amped-up feelings, such as lust, loathing, longing, and losing. And Nicole was just starting to realize how confusing all of those contrasting feelings could be. Special Agent Blake Wallace of the FBIs Aquatic and Other Mammals Division was also quite familiar with the disquieting effect of contrasting feelings. Wallace had successfully made the jump from summer lifeguard to marine biologist in the years following his split from Sharon Phillips.

But it was his obsession with his former wifes other-worldly aquatic abilities, that led him to a life as a virtual ghost and vampire tracker for the U.S. government. It also led him into discovering that he had a daughter named Nicole. Blake tailed the family as they followed Hartwell around the East Coast. He had hi-tech surveillance equipment set up throughout the Phillips and Brewster houses, but was not able to get near either Hartwell or Daniel. Vampires would easily detect the frequency of the sound equipment, and the previous attempts to record vampires had predictably proved fatal for other agents. In Daniels case, Blake was not even aware that he was headed for a life as a Prince of Darkness. Agent Wallace worked alone much of the past 10 years, and basically lived off the emotional scraps of life that his daughter unsuspectingly threw his way. When he read of the exploits of The Three Slamigos years earlier, Daniel caught his eye as a potential person of interest. But Hartwell was already aware of Blakes presence, and made him believe that Daniel was just a nice boy that was dating his daughter. He also made him believe that he enjoyed frolicking in womens lingerie on Sundays. Blakes plan was to confront his daughter when she turned

18 the following week, and also try to convince her to break the chain and lead a normal life. It was definitely an uphill battle, but he was more-than-ready to finally emerge from the shadows.

FIFTEEN The end of the school year also brought graduation, or as older people call it, retirement, for several Beach Haven High School faculty members. One such retiree was Thelma McGuire, who was handing the library reigns over to a 34 year-old, technology-savvy, bibliophile named Melanie Craswell. She had been observing during the last few months of school and even helped Daniel research one of the last essays he had to write. Craswell was not invited to the year-end bash, which was being held at the Brewster house, and neither was Hartwell, who was persona non grata in hunter-ville. Hartwell spent the afternoon at his lair looking through an old box of photographs, including portraits he took with his family back in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. It was definitely a time to reminisce for the elder vampire, being

that his son would soon be his family again. Not that he really cared much about the conduit that was Belinda Thompson, Daniels mother in this life. But, on this day, he was more focused on his wife, Maggie. The master vampire had waited over a century for Maggie to return to him, but he now doubted that he would ever see her again. Although the eventual return of his son, in the form of Daniel, had kept him occupied much of the past few decades, it was the emptiness of his heart that kept him from ever loving another. Loving was never a problem for Daniel and Nicole. Their actions mirrored the words that so easily rolled off their tongues. The late afternoon party was expected to go for about five hours until about 11:00 p.m., and Nicole planned a special pre-birthday present for Daniel at the party's culmination. The Brewsters were expecting an overflow crowd of about 100 parents and kids in their backyard, complete with three graduates that made up the band True Enemy. No alcohol would be served, and the smuggling of pot or other contraband would be closely monitored by Emily and Belinda, who had made her infamous potato salad for the

event. When she and Daniel walked through the front door of the Brewsters house, Emily greeted them and said, Grab a fork, Drew! Our snack is here! Of course, Emily wasnt kidding because they could polish off two huge bowls of potato salad and then move on to dinner minutes later but the remark was met with smiles and laughs from Belinda and Daniel because they were all family. Nicole and her mock family were en-route, while Sharon and Garrison kept their eye on the prize, and that prize of course was Hartwell. Sharon knew that the families would become better acquainted, soon enough, when everyone was brought into play there was no need to start a brawl on such a celebratory occasion. Andrews girlfriend, Carla, had also flown in for the event, as they both barely got out of high school with a diploma. No college for either one of them, as they believed that they were schooled in the classroom life and any book-learning would be useless in the adventure they were about to undertake. Andrew ran out from his bedroom at his moms bellowing and was followed by Carla, who was literally taking a ride on his piggy-back. The happy couple and Daniel spent a

great deal of time together over the past year, especially when the Thompsons went over to the Brewsters for their famous year-round barbecues. But this was the first time that the two couples would be together face-to-face primarily because Andrew was keeping Carla away from Nicole and Nicole was the one feeling the butterflies in her stomach before the party. So, what is she like? Nicole asked Daniel the previous day as they sat under a shade tree in her backyard after school. Daniel wanted out of the awkward conversation as soon as humanly possible. I dont know? he weakly replied. What do you mean, you dont know? Just give me something. He stood up and looked down at her, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. Ill tell you one thing, shes not shes not like you! Daniel quickly realized the sting his pointed words might have, and moved to nip any potential damage in the bud. Thats not what I meant! What I meant to say is that shes a female Drew. Yeah, shes Drew with longer hair, boobs, and.. he looked down to other bodily regions.

Nicoles long face was erased and a smile stretched across her face as she got up and chased Daniel, saying, What do you know all that? He stopped and grabbed her, holding her tight as their faces were only inches apart. A lot more since I kissed you at the dance, and they passionately kissed. Back at the Brewsters house, Nicole walked through the door and proceeded to the kitchen, where she was greeted by Emily Brewster. Hello, Nicole! Emily exclaimed, trying to sound positive. Nicole wasnt buying it. She knew that Emily had it out for her since she chose Daniel over Drew at the dance. But this wasnt the day to start trouble, and Nicole was much too sweet to throw the first punch. Hi, Mrs. Brewster! My mom made a jello mold shaped like a bat for the party. She put the plate down on the kitchen table. It was the only mold she could find when she opened a box of Halloween stuff. Emily was startled by the desert and started coughing furiously. Are you all right, Mrs. Brewster? Nicole asked as she rushed to get a glass and fill it with tap water.

Here, drink this, Nicole stated as she handed the glass to Emily and patted her on the back. Emily stopped coughing but was still choked up, so she pointed to the backyard in anticipation of Nicoles next question. Nicole said, Thanks! and then opened the screen door and walked outside, immediately locking her eyes with Carla Perkins. She walked straight at Andrews girlfriend because she did look like a female version of Andrew while Daniel watched the gap close between the two girls from across the yard. You must be Carla, Nicole said as she extended her hand in greeting. You must be Nicole, Carla replied as they locked in a death grip with their right hands while engaging in a sista hug. Carla immediately felt threatened by the pretty Nicole and moved fast to establish her territory. Hes my man, Carla grunted in Nicoles ear. Nicole would usually back off when provoked, but chose to take the low road for a change. Only cause I let you, denoting a hint of jealousy and a big dose of possession.

Nicole had no reason to be jealous, but she was uncomfortable with the sight of Drew with another girl. Daniel walked up on the tug-of-war and separated the two future mud-wrestlers and said, How is everyone going here? Drew was probably the happiest he had ever been at that moment. The two women he loved were openly fighting over him and, for a change, Daniel was on the outside looking in. Daniel made sure to stay clear of Andrew and his warrior princess for the rest of the night. Any more sparks and the tension would surely have ignited into a blaze. The band was rockin and the food was plentiful. Im gonna go to the bathroom. Follow me inside in a few minutes, Nicole yelled in Daniels ear as they watched the band play. So, a few minutes later, Daniel made his way inside where he knew that something good was about to happen. He walked through the kitchen doorway and was slammed against the front hall closet. Nicole was in heat, Lets go back to your house. They ran back to Daniels house with speed they had never experienced before. The three-minute car-ride was usually

a 12-minute walk and a six-minute run, but they made it this day in under a minute. And that was about as long as it took for Daniel and Nicole to leave a trail of clothing on the way to his bedroom. My birthday present to you is Nicole said as she rolled on top of Daniel, their bodies becoming one. But Daniel mildly protested about the lack of protection. Nicole picked up her left hand and revealed a small purple pack. Im on the pill. Daniel was a little slow processing the information, and then it hit him. Oh, THE PILL! He thought to himself, That is like the best present anybodys ever got me. They never returned to the party. About an hour later, Nicole wished her soul-mate a happy birthday and then Daniel passed out after she left. SIXTEEN Daniel woke up in the middle of the night and walked into the den, where a familiar figure was waiting for him. He

rubbed his eyes a few times and said, Its you. And then Hartwell who was now a few inches shorter than his 64 son finally emerged from the shadows at 2:44 a.m. on his sons 18th birthday. Hartwell held his arms open and said, Its time, my son. Daniel walked toward Hartwell as the two men met in a long embrace. Just as Daniel started to pull back, Hartwell quickly spun him around and turned into his vampire self. Without hesitation, he then violently bit into a shocked Daniels neck. What? was all Daniel could get out as Hartwell continued to drain his blood before sinking to the carpeted floor. Hartwell had his arms around Daniel as he neared closer to death with each shallow breath. The vampire then bit into the underside of his own left wrist and offered it to Daniel. Now drink, my son. Drink so you can finally be with me again, Hartwell said as he held Daniels head toward his wrist so he had to drink the blood, which was more potent than that of a whole team of athletes on steroids. Daniel quietly resisted at first but then drank the blood like it was the best thing he had ever tasted. If you get excited, I might be offended, Hartwell joked as the damage to Daniels neck was neutralized and his

vitality was fully restored. Theres only one thing left to do, Hartwell stated. Daniel was so high off the blood that he only grunted in response. Hartwell said, See you on the other side, as his large, thin hands bordered both sides of Daniels head until he made one quick motion, breaking Daniels neck and instantly killing him. Hartwell smiled, Cracks like lobster. Daniel looked peaceful in the slumber of death, as Hartwell carried him back to his room and tucked him in bed. Feeling like a parent made Hartwell so emotional that he almost shed his first tear since the early 1900s, but the moisture froze in the corner if his eye before hitting the air. He then receded back into the shadows until the next phase of the process had to be implemented. Belinda Thompson knew her son was tired and decided to let him sleep. When she checked on him just after midnight, he was snoring so loud that she had to close the door, after kissing him on the forehead and wishing him a happy birthday. But, when she looked at the clock in her car after showing a few houses the next day, it read 2:58, so she thought it was time to go home and check on the birthday

boy. Before she could walk into the door of her house, Hartwell was working his mojo. It would be obvious to the mortal eye that something was seriously wrong with Daniel as he underwent his vampire transformation. This would not be an ordinary transformation because of the blood that Hartwell had infused in Daniels veins years earlier at the hospital. Also, Daniel would not be an ordinary vampire once the full conversion was complete. Hartwell made Belinda believe that Daniel had mononucleosis, and his white blood count was very low. He also transmitted into her brain that Daniel needed to rest for a few weeks and that he was not to have visitors under any circumstances. He especially didnt want Nicole to be poking around, because Daniel needed to undergo a pure transformation, free from outside forces. Belinda was also instructed to stay clear of her son. Hartwell had many thoughts along the way that he would eliminate Belinda when this time arrived, but now he was having second thoughts. Although she was annoying and disruptively meddlesome, the woman served an emotional purpose and any actions he would take to free her from life would certainly put a wedge between he and

Daniel. Although it appeared counter-intuitive to believe that Daniel would need attention to get stronger, the opposite was actually true. Each day his body got a little stronger, even without the apparent need for sustenance in the form of food and water. Instead, Hartwell would come by every morning and place a few drops of his blood on Daniels tongue. While Hartwell knew this would strengthen Daniel, he also knew that it would weaken himself to the point of vulnerability. But he figured that after more than a century of gorging, pillaging, coercing, murdering, and just about any gluttonous behavior that did not involve even an ounce of caring, it was probably time to give back a little. Sacrifice was only mentioned in the vampire handbook when others were targeted, but this was obviously a special circumstance. Hartwell would do anything for his boy, including giving up his own hedonistic existence. While Daniel was beginning his transformation on that first morning, Nicole texted him furiously throughout the day and was starting to think something was wrong so she decided to stop by his house. The front door was closed, so Nicole politely knocked at

first and then rang the bell when there was no initial response. Belinda Thompson came to the door and opened it, but kept the screen door locked. Nicole tried to open the screen door but was denied access. Is something wrong, Mrs. T? Belinda moved up to her side of the door and spoke quietly. To tell you the truth, honey, Daniel has mononucleosis. He has a dangerously low white blood count and he needs rest for the next couple of weeks. Well see you then. Have a good night. Emily stated her Hartwell-inspired addendum and then closed the front door. Nicole walked away from the front door and said, That was weird. She predictably walked around the house and tried to sneak in Daniels window as she had done countless times but it was locked and the shade was drawn. Her next thought was to smash in the window, but that was suddenly interrupted by an overwhelming desire to go home and then come back to see her boyfriend in a few weeks.

Nicole was on her way and so was Hartwell, who had to enjoy his last days as a relatively free vampire until Andrew turned 18. The timing of Daniel and Andrews birthdays could not have been worse for Hartwell, who would not have time to recoup his strength before Andrew was unleashed. With Andrew in the battle, the numbers were now strongly in favor of the hunters. With Gary, Sharon and Hartwell left to fight Emily, Thaddeus and Andrew, it would only be a matter of time before Drew got through. But there would be a lesson to be taught before the onslaught. He has mono, Em, Belinda said to Emily Brewster a few days after the party. And then Belinda continued, being Hartwells mouthpiece while Emily analyzed what she was hearing. Mono? she thought. Ive never heard of a hunter coming of age and then getting sick. When she got off the phone, she went to Thaddeus and said, Belinda said Daniel is sick with mono. Is it normal to be sick during the transformation? Thaddeus laughed, It took you days to get over it. I cant believe you forgot! Emily laughed and then put it out of her head. Youre not going to feel so great next week, Emily said,

relaying the information to Drew. Your cousin is home in bed and your aunt said it is mono, She continued, More like hunter.'" A week went by and Andrew was getting antsy. Who is the target? he asked Thaddeus and Emily while sitting at the kitchen table, while bouncing his legs up and down. Thaddeus looked at his watch and replied, You got another 20 minutes. Why dont you wait outside and well be there in a few minutes. Andrew nearly ran outside, leaving Thaddeus and Emily to ponder their immediate future. What if Drew can't handle the strength of the fight because of his inexperience? Thaddeus questioned, being that Drew had just awoken from his transformation. Then well lose. Hes gotta learn eventually, Emily replied, trying to ebb the flow of negativity from her father. Hartwell envisioned Andrews first setback being a particularly brutal one on the beach. A kill that would definitely send a message. The sides would be three-on-three with Nicole still a week away from entering the fray. The fights never started near water, but Hartwell always like to lure his aqua-phobic

opponents to their watery grave. Vampires liked the water just as much as their mammal protectors, and could hold their breaths under water even longer. Wherever Hartwell was located, that was where the fight would start. He could have just waited on the shore, but that would have broken some sort of code you see, in order for fighting to be restricted to only late night, Hartwell needed to start the fight on land. On this night, he decided to be a little more ironic and dramatic than usual, by waiting for his hunter friends on the football field at Beach Haven High School. The same venue that Andrew had graduated from only days earlier. Hes at the high school, consummate tracker Emily said as the hunters started their pursuit. What Andrew lacked in reasoning and intelligence, he made up for in raw power and drive. He was so excited that he ran ahead of Emily and Thaddeus once he heard the destination. Once he was within the confines of his school, he spotted Hartwell on the field and picked up speed until he slammed into the vampire on the south end zone and continued driving him into the ground with a furious 100yard tackle all the way to the north goal-line. Emily and Thaddeus trailed their boy by a good 30 yards

and were headed off by Sharon and Garrison once they reached the field, leaving Andrew to deal with the main source of evil all by himself seemingly, another part of Hartwells plan. Hartwell was weaker than usual, but still had more than enough strength and experience to teach the young charge the first of many lessons. While Hartwell was getting beatin down on the field, Sharon was doing her best to distract Emily, who she knew would be trying to track the progress of her son. When she started with an eye gouge, Emily became enraged and shifted into a ram punting Sharon onto the football field with her majestic horns. Thaddeus was also watching his grandson and was trampled by a hippo in the form of Gary, who kept running toward him as a wolf. He quickly shook of the cob-webs and gave chase as a pissed-off grizzly bear. Thad caught the wolf by puncturing his claws into the body, causing Gary to let out a yelp. He then wanted to hurl the wolf into the bleachers, but Gary changed into a hippo, snapping Thads claws off at the surface. Hartwell watched many Muhammad Ali boxing matches over the years and was in the process of performing his

own version of the rope-a-dope. The boxers version incorporated laying back on the ropes with the opponent punching himself out. Hartwells version also required a lack of aggression designed to give Drew an air of overconfidence. While Andrew as grizzly bear repeatedly picked up Hartwell and slammed him into the turf, Hartwell figured the boy had only a few minutes left in his internal battery. At that point, as his experience suggested with young recruits, he would lose the ability to control his changes. Hartwells plan was to tire the boy while his protectors held their own, which they were doing. Emily always liked to make things interesting when she fought Sharon, but she was being too cute with her moves on this night after seeing that her son had things well in hand against Hartwell. She switched into a hawk and picked up Sharon, who was lying on the ground as a wolf, bleeding from her wounds. Emily planned to drop Sharon on the wood bleachers, but Sharon had other ideas. She changed into a Orca whale, causing Sharon to plummet toward the bleachers with her. But before impact, Sharon changed into a cat, flying into the air as Emily absorbed the blow as a bear, smashing 10 rows of bleachers and then making a huge hole in the

ground. Sharon, as house cat, landed safely on Emilys back and made sure to dig her sharp claws into her semiconscious foe. Thaddeus then came running at Gary as a ram, thinking he was going head-to-head with a hippo, but Gary also changed into a cat. Thad was knocked unconscious as he ran past an unharmed Gary and slammed into the goal post. Sharon and Gary then made there way to a nearby inlet as wolves and then changed into dolphins once they hit water. Hartwell was battered and bruised but could see that Andrew was running out of gas. He stood up, much to Andrews chagrin, and said, Are you done yet, my dear boy? With that, Hartwell swung his might right arm as Drews energy short-circuited and his human form buckled under the force of the thunderous blow. Drew fell to the ground and Hartwell unfurled his wings and then flew off with the beaten hunter, as they made their way to the Atlantic Ocean and safety. Emily regained consciousness a few moments later before her father came to and became startled, Drew! she exclaimed as she turned into a hawk and flew east toward

the water. Hartwell was two-hundred yards from the beach and decided it was time to rid himself of the dead weight he had been carrying around. Drew came hurtling down toward the earth and crashed hard into the sand. He was barely conscious when Hartwell landed and then dragged him by the neck to the shore line. Normally, in these types of situations, Hartwell would give into his blood-craving and snack on the flowing liquid inside of his victim. But since he was fostering Daniel, he could not take the chance of tainting his blood with the blood of another. So, instead, he moved in real close and said to Drew, Dont you ever come at me like that again, little boy! Next time I will drain every last drop of blood in you, and I will do it slowly so you can suffer. He then pulled back and saw Emily flying toward him. Sharon and Gary emerged from the water, transforming from dolphins to their human forms in an attempt to combat Emily. Hartwell smiled and then twisted Andrews head off clean and tossed it on the sand, as Emily put up her talons to land and transformed into a bear. Her eyes lit up bright red as she took a swipe of her mighty paw and sliced Hartwells head off.

Sharon jumped into the air and changed into an Orca whale, squashing the bear on impact in the tightly-packed sand. She then turned back into her human form, picked up Drews head and his body, and then changed into a hawk and flew away with her son. Thaddeus then arrived on the scene as a hawk and landed in his human form in front of Gary, who was also in his human form. The two elder-statesmen thought about fighting for a moment, but the battle was done and Hartwell was dead. Gary extended his hand and Thaddeus somewhat reluctantly shook it at first. Were getting too old for this, Gary stated. Tell me about it, Thaddeus moaned and then flew off as a hawk.

SEVENTEEN That cousin of yours is really strong, Hartwell said to Daniel as he placed a few drops of blood in Daniels mouth. Of course, Daniel did not reply because he was basically comatose and non-responsive.

Daniel probably would have said the same thing as his grandpa Thaddeus, Tell me about it! Hartwell had never backed up a step since he died, not even for the almighty Calvin Brewster. But Daniel was about to become an upgraded vampire model and was probably better equipped to handle Drew, who was also higher on the evolutionary chain than his predecessors. Being only seven kills away from mortality was beginning to hit home for Hartwell. He also knew that with each passing day he would get weaker and Andrew would get stronger, thus increasing the likelihood that he would be on a perpetual spiral toward 100. Daniel was now a week away from coming out of it. Hartwell held his own for a few days and was only killed once, as a result of a sword delivered old-school-style by Thaddeus straight through his heart. Hartwell was getting sloppy and there wasnt much that Sharon and Gary could do to protect him. What do you want us to do, Thomas? Gary asked his long-time running mate. Hartwell sat on a wood bench with a base of stones on the Beach Haven boardwalk, and looked out into the ocean for answers.

Well, my friends. We can look at this two ways. The first way is the way weve always done it, regardless of the number. For years weve been playing it hard and weve been quite successful. Sharon was waiting for the other, more attractive shoe to drop. Or Or we can lay down our arms and take the beating. Were going to reach 100 sooner or later, Hartwell mused. Sharon looked at Gary and then asked, Do well all become mortal? All? Hartwell countered. You know, the kids, she clarified. Hartwell pondered the question and then responded, Im not sure. For one of the few times in his vampire life, Hartwell was unsure what tomorrow would bring. The previous years didnt really give him much to think about it was basically a steady flow of eat, drink, sleep eat, drink, sleep his life was a fairly routine, but brutal, existence. I just want to last long enough to talk to Daniel as a vampire, not a mortal. He wont believe me if I dont show him, Hartwell said as he flashed his fangs at Sharon and winked at her.

She giggled like a school-girl, Are you going to be this charming as a mortal? Gary thought, I hope not! I would like to say yes, but probably not, Hartwell quipped. She smiled, Then maybe I have a chance. Aside from surfer Blake, Sharon had only known true pleasure through Hartwell. And he was about as far as you could get from being a storybook romance. He basically took it when he wanted it, and she was only allowed to initiate occasionally usually after he was killed and his self-esteem was only overbearing. Each person attached to Hartwell privately thought what mortality would be like after fighting the good fight for so long. But Emily Brewster was only focused on one thing, for now. I want that last kill! she said to her father. For Cal. Andrew walked into the kitchen and asked, What do you want to do for Cal? Emily thought fast, I want to light a candle for him. Its been 15 years since hes been gone. Andrew shifted gears, Do you think hell ever come back?

Both Emily and Thaddeus swallowed their drinks down the wrong pipe and started coughing. I didnt mean to upset you, Andrew stated. I just wanted to know if either of you believed in reincarnation? Emily shot Thad a look and replied, Yes, Drew. I believe your uncle will join us again one day. Hartwell avoided the kill the next few days and was now five days from his sons rebirth. He was also six kills away from mortality, meaning he would be able to welcome his son into the darkness the proper way. Its was Tuesday night and the special at the Beach Haven Diner was split pea soup, so Emily took an axe out of a tree and flipped it to her son, who caught the blade and split Hartwell in half in one forceful motion. Emily had always been the playmaker for her soul mate, Cal, and he always knew how to finish in grand style. Since the split pea soup strategy worked so well, Emily returned to the Beach Haven Diner on Wednesday to see what the daily soup special was the top of the inserted typed page read, Squash Puree. Emily devised a special stacking strategy that would incorporate both the soup special and Hartwells weakened

state, including his inability to fend of the hunter trio. The vampires mind was elsewhere and his protectors were also ill-prepared when the hunters showed up in the parking lot of Hooters at 2:00 a.m. Gary was making small-talk to Sharon. I hear they have good wings, implying that he had frequented the glorified strip club in a culinary capacity. Before the protectors could even react, Thaddeus the bear had pinned Hartwell down. Hartwell struggled to move but his lack of strength made him an unwilling spectator. Emily jumped on her fathers back also as a bear and Hartwell was feeling the pressure of more than 1,000 pounds of hairy bear on top of him. By the time Sharon and Gary picked up their heads and realized the fight had already begun, grizzly bear Andrew had climbed up a nearby tree and was already airborne to his bear-pile destination. Gary looked down at Hartwell and then eyed a descending Andrew and stated the obvious, Ugh, thats not good. Andrew hit the pile with such force that Hartwell exploded well, for our purposes, he pureed in a 50-foot radius all over the parking lot pavement. Since his essence would not reconstitute for a few hours, Gary walked over to the pile of

smiling bears and said, You guys want to get some wings? The Brewster bears de-stacked and stood up, as Sharon and Gary changed into a couple of wolves. They crashed through the back door of Hooters and then had a feast in the kitchen. The Hooters security video feed made the local, then national news, and became an overnight sensation on YouTube by the weekend. Meanwhile, the drive to 100 marched on Thursday night when the Beach Haven Diner was serving lobster bisque.

EIGHTEEN Soup was served on Hartwell the next three nights he was cracked like a lobster, shot full of silver bullet holes like a bowl of Texas chili, and finally had his lifeless body dropped to the bottom of the ocean like a matzoh ball. You got to hand it to that sadistic bastard, Emily said to Thaddeus. He took the punishment this past week and didnt complain a bit. Andrew chimed in before swallowing a Beach Haven Diner

matzoh ball, And we got to eat great soup all week! Here, here! Thaddeus exclaimed as he raised his tablespoon in the air. Sharon and Gary collected Hartwells severed body from the bottom of the ocean and raced to the surface as dolphins. They brought him to shore and waited a few hours for the sun to rise, which brought the renewal of Hartwell. Hartwell opened his eyes and slowly sat up, mirroring a man of his advanced age. You made it, boss! an excited Gary said to the exhausted vampire. Hartwell half-smiled at both Gary and Sharon and replied, Just barely. Get me home. I have some blood in my fridge, Hartwell said as his protectors helped him get to his feet and then got him home safely. Once home, Hartwell went through about 10 pints of blood before he stabilized, and then another 10 before he started feeling like himself again. Gary left and Sharon was alone with Hartwell, who looked over at her with a sinful look and said, Youre next. Sharon blushed and brushed her shoulder-length brown

hair away from her left shoulder, exposing her neck. Well, just a taste, he said as he again moved at the speed of light and was sampling her neck in a most provocative way. Hartwell was feeling so great that he and Sharon went at each other like two animals in heat for the better part of an hour. They showered, and Sharon kidded on her way out, Im gonna stop by the diner on my way home. Can I get you some soup? She left quickly, because she knew that Hartwell would only tolerate so much ribbing. After all, he wasnt the most gracious of losers. It was 10:00 a.m. and Hartwell knew it was time. He sat in his comfortable Pottery Barn leather chair as he was still partial to things from San Francisco and focused on summoning his son to him. Daniel had laid dormant in his bed for more than two weeks with no food or drink, other than Hartwells blood. Come right over to my house after you take a shower, Hartwell communicated to Daniel, whos eyes popped open. Daniel glided toward the shower and was dressed and out the door within 30 seconds after turning off the water. His

mother was still in Daniel has mono mode and didnt even realize that her son had left the house. Daniel looked at his car, a beat-up Jeep Grand Cherokee, as a mode of transportation, but decided to glide the five miles toward the water instead. Five minutes later, he was in front of an old, abandoned warehouse just off the Beach Haven Pier. The place was a wreck windows were smashed, graffiti was scribbled all over the building, and a broken CONDEMNED sign dangled sideways, held loosely by a rusty nail. This looks promising, he said as he pushed open the door and walked into a dust- and dirt-fest on the inside of the building. You found the place, Hartwell said as the decrepit space was transformed into a modern decorating marvel. Daniel looked around and said, Wow! Thats better, as he stepped toward Hartwell. The two men hugged and Hartwell said, Good real estate is hard to find, and they both pulled out of the hug. Dont want anybody knowing about this place, Hartwell continued as he motioned for Daniel to sit down on the couch. The two men glided toward their seats and Hartwell asked,

How are you feeling? Daniel was still getting used to his new abilities and gently nudged into the rectangular coffee table as he sat down, causing a black-and-white picture to fall on the area rug under the table. Hartwell hoped that Daniel wouldnt notice the picture, at least until they had a chance to ease into the talk. But Daniel immediately noticed the wayward photo and started to bend down to pick it up. Hartwell gently held his arm and said, No, my dear boy. Its all up here now, he said, pointing to his head. Daniel sat back on the couch and put his left hand out and the picture came up to him. Cool, Daniel said as he sought approval from Hartwell. Hartwell nodded in approval, Excellent. Daniel looked at the picture and asked, Family heirloom? Hartwell was about to answer but Daniel interjected, Hey! Thats the high schools new librarian, Miss Craswell. Hartwells usual 20 beat per-minute heart-rate instantly doubled to 40 beats per-minute, as he leaned over toward Daniel. This woman is the new librarian? he asked pointing at his wife.

Daniel chuckled, Well, not this woman. Just someone who looks exactly like her. She helped me with my last paper. Amidst all of the jubilation, Daniels focus shifted from Miss Craswell to the little boy in the picture. He thought, Man that kid looks familiar. His mind went elsewhere for the next 15 seconds as flashes from his childhood - both old and new circulated throughout his mind. When he came out of it, he was confused and looked at Hartwell. What the hell just happened? And then he regained his senses, And why am I in that picture? he yelled. Hartwells head was spinning from news of the return of his wife, but he still had to answer Daniels loaded question. He reached out and the picture transported into his right hand, and then he tucked it away in the left breast pocket of his shirt. Hartwell wasnt answering Daniel and the newbie became agitated. He stood up and started pacing, almost in panic. What am I doing in that picture next to the librarian, and a the beginning of a string of unanswered questions washed over him, and, who are you?

You dont know who I am? Hartwell replied. Daniel moved closer to his mentor, who had stood up to try to calm him down. I mean, I know who you are. I just dont know your name, or why youve been with me the past ten years, or why I dont need to use my feet anymore, or why I have this craving for what is that? he scraped his fingers on his rough tongue. Hartwell zipped into the kitchen and returned in an eyeblink. Blood? he said holding a bag of blood in his hand. Daniel snatched the bag out of Hartwells hand and made at it like Oliver being given that second bowl of porridge. You got any more of that? Daniel said like a true junky. After two more bags of blood, Daniel regained enough of his composure to continue to the conversation. So, are you going to answer any of my questions? Hartwell dreamt of this moment since he lost his son the day that he would be able to tell his son everything. The two men were standing and facing each other. Their body language reeked of confrontation. Hartwell pulled the picture out of his pocket. A long time ago the turn of the 20th century to be exact

we were a family. Then a plague swept through San Francisco and I lost you both, Hartwell emotionally stated as a few small ice balls fell out of his eyes and to the ground, melting into small puddles of blood. Hartwell continued, A man at least I thought it was a man came to me and offered to bring you back to me one day in exchange for my blood, my life. All I wanted to do was see you and your mother again, so I desperately agreed to his offer. Not that I really had much of a choice, in hindsight. Daniel tried to process Hartwells words, So, what are you saying? My name is Thomas Hartwell and I am a vampire, he directly replied. And now, so are you. Daniel laughed like it was all some kind of joke, I am a vampire? Hartwell replied, Yes. I am a vampire? That makes no sense. My father was Cal Brewster, and I believe he hunted vampires. Hunted me, Hartwell countered. Daniels mind was starting to combust, Let me get this straight. My dad hunted my other dad, the vampire? Do I have that right?

Hartwell nodded in agreement. So, what does that mean? What side am I on? Hartwell was unrelenting, You are a vampire my son, and your place is here with me. No, no! That cant be! Daniel yelled as he moved toward the door. He then moved back toward Hartwell and came real close. Hey, do you have any more of that blood? Hartwell smiled and then gave him a few more pints for the road. NINETEEN Daniel gulped down the blood and flew around for a little while, pondering his fate. If he was truly a vampire a seriously-dangerous creature then he would have to remove himself from mainstream life for a while until he could gain control of himself. He texted Nicole simply, Coming over, and flew to her house. He discovered that he moved so fast now that people didnt even notice him, even if he was right in front of them. Where are you? Nicole texted back. Daniel landed in her backyard and didnt even bother

taking the phone out of his jeans. In the backyard. The he took the phone out of his front pants pocket and tossed the useless gadget into the trash, some 30 feet away. Lucky shot! Nicole yelled as she ran to Daniel and hugged him just like a girl in love that hadnt seen her boyfriend in weeks. Daniel smelled her sweet, fruity hair and then checked himself. Did you just throw your phone in the garbage? They pulled out of the hug. That thing was useless, Daniel replied. Theres something different about you, Nicole observed. I cant put my finger on it she kept talking while Daniel started planning his escape. What he said next even surprised him, at least at first. I want to break up, Daniel said with all of the nonchalance of ordering, lets say, a rare steak. Break up? a stunned Nicole asked. What? Why? Then Daniel officially became a vampire. Mortal Daniel would have caved, but he might have said, Because we should see other people when we go to college.

But, instead, he went for the jugular. I slept with another woman, and shes much better than you. Oh yeah, and Im also a killer vampire. And then he flew off without hearing or saying another word. Nicole dropped to her knees, sobbing and screaming in pain. Sharon heard the noise and was also spying from the window and rushed outside to comfort her daughter, who was pointing toward the sky as she melted in her mothers arms. Sharon looked up to the sky and could identify with the heartbreak of being dumped by her vampire. Her relationship with Hartwell had been so on-again, off-again that her senses had numbed to the sensation whether his rap was good or bad. She obviously didnt want the same fate for her daughter, but if Daniel was anything like his father, then there would be no way to avoid it. Nicole cried for the better part of the next 30 minutes until Sharon said, I have to go to the store to get more tissues. Ill be back in about an hour. Sharon pulled out of the garage and Nicole wanted to be anything but alone. She wiped her eyes and nose with her sleeve and picked up her phone from the nightstand and typed, I NEED YOU.

Drew felt a buzz in his back pocket and expected the text to be from his girlfriend Carla. She had flown home first thing to get ready for her graduation, which was scheduled to take place that afternoon. He was going to take off just before noon. He looked at the time on his phone and it read 10:45. No time to waste, he said as he sped over to Nicoles house in less than two minutes. He climbed through her bedroom window and instantly saw the pile of tissues and her red nose and face, and knew his time finally had come. He broke up with me! she sobbed as Andrew moved closer. What? Why? Drew asked. He slept with someone else, Nicole wailed. And he said she was better. Not another word was said between the two old friends, as Andrew sat on the bed and held Nicole close. She had always felt safe around him, and he was the only person she wanted to be with at that time. Minutes after arriving, Drew was comforting Nicole in ways that went beyond friendship, and she was out to prove that no girl was better than her. Drew was a believer after the 20-minute session, and

quietly slipped out as Nicole fell asleep. But before she slipped off, she muttered, Danny, close the door. So, the closest thing to Danny closed the door and sped home, frustrated that he betrayed his trust with Carla for a person that was always hooked on his cousin. On his way out of town, Andrew stopped at the beach. He spent many hours at the shore thinking and trying to stay focused, which was often a difficult task for a fiery teenager. Drew was a few minutes from leaving when Daniel flew down from the clouds and landed softly just behind him. Drew turned around. Where did you come from? Daniel pointed to the sky, Up there. Drew smacked him on the arm but ran into a brick wall. You finally got your wings? he said and then looked at his throbbing hand. Youve been working out? Something like that, a calm and composed Daniel replied. Nicole, was all Drew had to say. Yeah, it was time, an ice-cold Daniel replied. Time for what? To break her heart? What the hell, bro? You know that shes the only one for you, an agitated Drew stated.

Maybe, maybe not, the coy vampire countered. Drew was about to mount a Nicole defense but his eyes became blurry and he started rubbing them in disbelief as he saw Daniel alternate in his mind from human form to his vampire form. What the? was all Drew could muster before his vision cleared. Youre not here to discuss Nicole. Daniel turned into a vampire and unfurled his massive wings. No, not today, Drew was always moving forward both mentally and physically taking an aggressive stance toward anything in his life. But, on this day, he finally took a step back. I thought I thought you were a hunter like me? Me, too. But it didnt work out that way, Daniel said. Im not going to fight you. We are brothers, Drew said. Daniel, in his human form, was a pacifist. But this was a different Daniel. Were going to have to do it eventually. Drew regained his fire, Just not today. He stepped closer to Daniel and grabbed his shirt collar, Not today! Daniel gained separation from his cousin and then bolted into the sky. Drew was so angry and frustrated that he

screamed toward the heavens and then turned into a hawk and soared toward the sky, only to plummet on the way back toward the ocean. Drew had never been in the deep end of the ocean, but wasnt really thinking about what he was doing when he plunged into the water as a hawk and then changed into a hammerhead shark, continuing his downward descent to the depths of the ocean floor. He raced to the bottom of the ocean and crashed into a huge pile of rocks wedged against the hull of an old ship. Upon impact, he raced back up to the surface and then soared straight up into the air as a hawk again. Drew went at this maddening pace for the better part of an hour until his head finally started hurting him. The pile of rocks had been displaced for miles on the ocean floor and Drew crawled out of the pounding surf as a man, face-down in the sand until he was conscious enough to realize that his nose was bleeding. He was so distraught that he was airborne five minutes later, blood still dripping from his beak. By the time he arrived in Portland, Carla was ready to go to her graduation, but took a few minutes to tend to the cut on Drews nose.

What happened to you? she asked. The flight had cleared his head a bit and helped him see what was most important. I realized that we can never be apart again. Carla was touched by Andrews words of love, which served to mask the pain he felt from making a retched decision and having his whole world turned upside-down by his cousin. Back in Beach Haven, Hartwell ventured out into town to see if his wife was around. Normally, if Hartwell wanted something or someone, he would just take it. But this was a special circumstance, and his wife was a special lady the one. As always, Hartwell stayed in the shadows, using his keen sense of smell to reveal when Maggie was near. She stepped out of the grocery store with a rolling cart and headed toward her car. Hartwell figured out a half-a-dozen scenarios as she walked in front of him. The first of which was swiping an apron from a worker inside the grocery store and then offering to help Maggie load her bags into the car. But he quickly discriminated against himself for being too old for the job.

The next scenario involved simply walking up to her and introducing himself, but that would probably be too awkward. He became so frustrated by the time he cycled through to option six, that he decided to just scrap the whole subtle approach and just take her blood and turn her right in the parking lot. However, by the time he re-emerged from his dream sequences, Maggie had already pulled away and was on her way home. So he resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the book: kitten rescue. Hartwell located a litter of kittens, took one, and then persuaded the kitten to cross the street near Maggies house. The breaks on her Honda Civic could not slow the car enough, as the kitten made a late break for it, making it impossible for her to stop in time. But, at the last minute, Hartwell ran in front of the car and scooped up the kitten. He absorbed the contact of the front-end collision, and even fixed the damage before Maggie got out of the car. Maggie was flustered when she fumbled to get her seat belt off. Are you okay? she yelled as she ran to the front of the car.

Hartwell was down on the pavement, looking like he was knocked out. I have to call 911, she said out loud. Hartwell, playing the groggy hero, No. No, dont call an ambulance, he said starting to sit up with the tabby kitten cradled in his sizeable right hand. Oh, my god! Maggie exclaimed. Where did that kitten come from? She knelt down on the ground as Hartwell struggled to sit up. And when he opened his eyes, the magic between the former couple happened all over again. Have we met? she asked. Hartwell half-smiled, trying to ebb his jubilation and stay in character. Yes, I think we have.

TWENTY Each and every smash of Andrews head loosened layers of rock and years of purgatory on the ocean floor. Life, up to the point when he was imprisoned, was relatively simple for Cal Brewster.

He and his fraternal twin sister were so connected that Hartwell, Sharon, and Gary never could tell who was coming and who was going. As advertised, Emily usually set Cal up for most of their kills by distracting Hartwell enough to leave an opening a neck, a leg, his heart. We have to get rid of him, Hartwell said to Sharon and Gary after a particularly gruesome be-heading. What did you have in mind? Gary asked. Hartwell smiled, How are you two at gathering rocks Sharon looked at Gary and nodded in affirmation, Were good. Then well bury the son-of-a-bitch tomorrow night. It was always a struggle to get the hunters to play near the water, because it was the one place they knew they weren't safe. Without any special swimming skills other than the dog paddle and drowning - Thaddeus, Emily, and Cal usually leaned on tactics that leveraged their onland and air capabilities. Every fight started with a move of a scramble, but usually ended with the age, gender and strength-specific

pairings squaring off. But, on this night, Hartwell went right at Emily and was giving her a pretty good beating when Gary tied up Thaddeus in some old-fashioned fisticuffs. That left old friends Sharon and Cal to mix it up, much to Hartwells chagrin. The tension between Sharon and Cal was palatable, and Hartwell knew it was only a matter of time before they wood hook up if they hadnt done so already. There was that one time - only a week earlier after Hartwell was killed - when Sharon met Cal in the woods. They went at it for hours in different forms and, although Hartwell didnt actually see the pairing, the smell of togetherness was all over them. While Hartwell was planning with his team for he nights events, he noticed that Sharon was all-tooagreeable to tangle with Cal in the fight. She was no match for Cals strength and abilities, yet looked confident in her chances of keeping him occupied while Hartwell went to work on Emily. It took Cal only a few minutes to get Sharon in a strangle hold more affectionately called a sleeper hold but he wasnt really cutting off her air supply. Meet me in the woods again tonight. Ive been

thinking about you all week. Unfortunately for Cal, Hartwell was tuned into the frequency of the conversation, while he put the finishing touches on tucking Emily into her dirt nap. Dating was obviously a ridiculous double-standard in the vampire world, being that Hartwell and Emily had tossed the pigskin around a few times themselves. You taste particularly delicious tonight, my dear, Hartwell said as he drained Emilys blood. I detect a hint of bacon in the sauce tonight. It would be helpful in the future if you could cut back on the pork products and substitute it with turkey bacon. Im trying to cut some fat out in my diet. Cal was feeling more amorous than combative on this night. Hartwells plan included a Cal-Sharon pairing because he knew of their attraction. It had taken him months to find Cals kryptonite, his weakness. He initially tried going after Belinda, but that fire had burned out, and he was no longer acting as a protective husband in love. Cal was so focused on Sharon that night that he didnt even notice Hartwell drinking the last drops of his sisters blood and then dropping her to the ground like a piece of biodegradable garbage. He also didnt see

Hartwell charging at him and delivering a violent close-line to his face. An unconscious Cal dropped to the ground and Hartwell said to Sharon, Meet you at the bottom, before he scooped up Cal and flew to the ocean. Once he was in the water there was no way for the hunters to prevent the inevitable from happening. So Thaddeus fought to get loose from Gary, and he was almost free until Sharon came over and the two protectors held him down. Thaddeus had no idea what Hartwell was planning, but he could see the look of concern on Sharons face. You cant let him so this, Thad said to Sharon. Sharon tried to fight off the tears, because there was no crying allowed when protecting a vampire, but she finally broke down. Its what he wants. But is it what you want? Thad passionately replied. Sharon looked at Thad amidst a face-full of tears and regrettably stated, It doesnt really matter what I want. Does it? She then looked over at Gary and he nodded that it was time. They let go of Thaddeus, who instantly changed into a hawk and flew toward the ocean to try to save his

boy. Sharon and Gary made their way to the nearby inlet and knifed through the water as dolphins on their way to the ocean. Thad flew as fast as he could and saw Hartwell flying with Cal a few miles ahead. He figured that the only way he could catch Hartwell would be to wake his son and cause a disturbance. Being only a mile from the shore, Hartwell was feeling good about his plan. That was, until he heard Thaddeus shriek in the distance at a Frequency that would arrest Cals senses, because Cal started coming out of his slumber. Hartwells pace slowed as he struggled to keep control of a now fully-awake Cal. Thaddeus was making up the gap and was now only 400 yards from Hartwell, who was only about 500 feet from the shore. Just as Hartwell was about to lose his grip on Cal, he utilized his strongest feature to lock him down. Not so fast, Brewster, he said as he thrust his razor-sharp teeth into Cals shoulder, effectively taking any fight away that he had left. Hartwell zoomed toward the water with Thaddeus on his tail in hot pursuit. Thad had one more trick up his wing the no-flap, bullet thrust and was just about to grab Cal when Gary the Orca whale jumped

out of the water and swallowed him hole, as Hartwell plunged to the depths of the ocean with Cal. Gary and Sharon swam to the bottom and started to push large rocks that would be considered boulders in some parts. Hartwell pinned a groggy Cal against the hull of a sunken 18th century pirate ship with a pile of smaller rocks. Cal offered little resistance as his blood levels became depleted and then his breathing became shallow due to a lack of oxygen. His limit under the water was three or four minutes, which was fairly decent for a mammal, but not good enough for a mammal trapped in the ocean depths. Hartwell lifted the more massive rocks one after the other and placed them strategically to trap Cal for as long as the rocks stayed in place. And, in this case, that would be 15 years the first two of which Sharon checked on her flame regularly, although the visits became more sporadic over time. There were many occasions, especially in the very beginning, when Sharon felt the urge to bash all of those rocks away and free Cal so they could be together. But her urge to be with Cal was overridden by her eternal oath to

protect Hartwell at all costs. The lives of Gary and Hartwell were definitely enriched via Cals absence, but Sharon, Thad, and Emily had a much different experience. Belinda grieved at the loss of her husband, even though their relationship had thinned over the years. Daniel always wondered what his dad was like, but never really missed someone he barely knew. After all, Hartwell was his father-figure in the formative years. It was Andrew that would have benefited more than his cousin from having an excellent hunter role model. Things got pretty messed up when you left, Andrew said to Carla after her graduation. She snuggled closer to him, Yeah. What happened for you to bash your head against something that must have been really hard? Andrew debated whether he should tell Carla of his indiscretion, but was of the opinion that news like that could put an abrupt end to their love. He hoped that it would never resurface again. Daniel, was all Drew could get out at first. Carla knew Nicole had to be involved in anything Daniel, and would have been juiced if given the chance to

get at Nicole. What? Did he break up with that bitch, Nicole? she said with a hint of sarcasm. When Drews face turned cold, Carla realized she had stepped on a land mine. Drew nodded in affirmation and then started crying. Whats the matter, Drew? a shocked Carla asked as she consoled her sobbing man. She had no idea what Drew would say next, but the words break up would definitely not be welcomed. Through the tears, Drew stated, Hes a vampire just like Brandon. Carla would have been less shocked to hear that he had been with Nicole after the break-up. After all, she probably would have taken a crack at her if she was in his shoes. She couldnt process the information, A vampire? Are you sure? Andrew bucked his teeth and flapped his arms up and down to simulate wings. Yeah, hes a vampire. He wanted to fight me right there, but I had plans with my girl, Andrew said as a smile finally returned to his face.

Carla was still focused on Daniel. So. if hes a vampire, then we have to fight him. Even though we love him. Is that correct? Andrew knew that the eventual answer to the question, but that didnt stop him from exploring the possibilities. Do we? I would think that its either that or he kills us repeatedly." Drew pondered the point. Id much rather kill that Hartwell. Hes the root of all evil, anyway. What are we going to do now? Carla questioned. Drew was confused, What do you mean? Who are we going to fight? No, no. Where are we going to live? Oregon or New York? While Drew loved being around his family in New York, he was starting to get used to the slower pace of Portland, and the way the rain made him look like a badass when the lightning flashed. He stood up and paced for a few seconds before

coming to a decision. Why dont we let Brandon Justice decide? Lets go pay him a visit. TWENTY-ONE FBI Agent Blake Wallace was in Washington for a couple of weeks, and had hours of audio and video feed to go through when he returned home. Before he left, he installed equipment at the football field to record his daughters graduation, which he proudly watched first. Then he quickly erased audio of his daughter and Daniel when they snuck back to Daniels house during the graduation party. Nobody needs to hear that, he muttered to himself while eating a corned beef sandwich on rye with a Dr. Browns Black Cherry soda. The following day Sunday he was listening to audio of Daniel coming out as a vampire after breaking up with his daughter. He fast-forwarded over her sobs and sat motionless as the remainder of his professional integrity eroded. Im gonna get that kid, and one day real soon

its gonna' be lights out for Hartwell, too! Then he listened to footage of Andrew coming over to console Nicole. Oh, no! Not that Brewster kid, too! Thats it! he yelled as he turned off his computer and then jumped in the shower. Meanwhile, at Maggies apartment, Hartwell pretended to nap after she attended to his scratches with bandages. Twenty minutes after she tended to the cuts they had healed, and first aid was no longer necessary. Hartwell and Maggie had bridged the gap of a century of separation, and he was now in the absence of a better word in. Andrews last confrontation of Brandon Justice ended about as well as the solo flight of the Hindenburg. The only thing that was missing from the thorough domination was the flames. This time, Andrew and Carla would be going in as a team with a singular goal in mind. Justice was the master of deception, and could always use his extraordinary sense of smell to detect when an opponent was near. He was all-too-familiar with Carlas

scent and could sense her from miles away. He was sitting outside in a quiet caf, drinking a cappuccino and eating a scone, when Carla walked up and sat down across from him at the small oval table. This is a surprise, Carla. Its a rare day that I dont have to track you down. Brandon barely got the words out, as Andrew flew down from the top of the two-story building and wrapped a mask around Brandons mouth and nose. In their conversations, Carla had been able to focus enough to remember Brandons squeamish reaction to nuts, a food he was deadly-allergic to as a mortal. Statements like, That peanut butter is vile, and Nuts are served on a tray in hell, were repeated every time Brandon made Carla throw her PB&J lunch out. The peanut butter-infused mask stuck to Brandons face and he was instantly un-vampire-like. Get it off! he muttered through the blue hospital mask. Andrew was behind him his muscular right arm wrapped around Brandons neck. I cant hear you, butt-munch! Andrew angrily stated. Carla moved in real close toward Brandons face

and felt he intoxicating relief that came with all of that power. Just tell us who sired you. Fear crossed Brandons eyes for the first time since Carla had known him. I cant. Hell kill me! he said in a muffled tone through his mask. Andrew was merciless, I think its time to break out the mixed nut collection. Do you have any filberts, love? Brandon was trying to hang on, but there was nobody there to defend him. Carla was still a few weeks away from her 18th birthday, so the vampire protector would not be revealed until that time. But Hartwell heard Justices cries clear across the country. It was a vampire-to-vampire connection that made him sit up on Maggies couch. He was torn for a splitsecond on what he should do, but that decision was relatively simple. One kill out of 100 could not be compared to 100 years of being away from his wife. By the time Andrew got through stuffing Brandons mouth with brazil, cashew and almond nuts, the vampire was worn out and wanted the beat-down to stop. Carla was enjoying the torture up until the point when Andrew put a

dry-roasted peanut in Brandons sight and the vampire started crying. No icicles for the young vampire, just straight tears. Okay, okay! Brandon exclaimed Andrew drew the peanut closer like a parent playing choo-choo with a finicky young child. Here comes the big peanut caboose, little Brandon, Andrew mocked. His name is Hartwell Thomas Hartwell, the vampire uttered without hesitation. Holy crap! Andrew exclaimed. Look like were going back to New York. Yeah, we gotta go, Carla said as she turned her back on Andrew and Brandon. In one fluid motion, Andrew reached into his pocket, pulled out a wood stake, and thrust it right into Brandons heart. Dont you ever come at me or my girl like youve done again, Drew grunted and then twisted the stake around before removing it and throwing it in the trash. Hartwell heard his name being mentioned in vane, and would normally have attacked first and then dealt with his disloyal charge after. But this wasnt a day for

aggression, it was one of love. Hartwell was seeing the end of one phase of his death, which meant the beginning of his life again. Hartwells jail under the sea had been broken up by Andrew, and nobody was for the wiser. Since Cal was basically in a vegetative state, he was barely able to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him. Hours after Drew continually blasted the rock formation with his concrete head, Cal finally became dislodged and began the slow float from the depths to the ocean's surface. Lucky for Cal, it was high tide instead of floating out to sea, the current moved him steadily toward the shore. Hours passed as his water-logged body made the arduous journey toward land. He finally washed up on the beach at 3:00 a.m. on Monday morning, but had just about as much life as a broken tree limb. If Cal had washed ashore during the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., his body certainly would have been discovered by a passing jogger or a young couple looking for privacy at night. Cal was on his back for the better part of two hours, lying motionless and without a heartbeat. Just about the

same time, Drew and Carla were asleep in his Beach Haven room. He disposed of Brandons body before he and Carla took off, and the vampire was lifeless behind a dumpster. He wouldnt come back to death for another three hours until the sun came up in Portland. Speaking of the sun, it started rising out of the east and its rays slowly worked its way down the Beach Haven shore. The light passed by Cals body and steadily shot shiny crystals from his head to his toes. The healing process took about 30 seconds, with water trickling out of his pours and the last few quarts of liquid making its way upward as his heart started pumping again. Cal coughed, as water shot from his mouth and sprayed all around him. He rolled over on his side in pain, as his body felt like it had been hit by a Mack truck. He continued rolling to his knees, as water streamed out of his mouth. Cal coughed repeatedly and tried to get his bearings as he sat on his butt, pained by the bright glow of the rising sun. Years in the dark depths of the ocean had given way to the intense brightness of the new day. At first he had no idea who he was or why he was on the beach. He shielded his eyes from the sun, but then realized that the rays were

the reason that he was even being in the first place. Cal slowly rose to his feet, the weight of his saturated clothes making it difficult for him to stand erect at first. He then, instinctively, spread his arms wide and faced the sun, letting the warmth brilliantly fuse atrophied muscles and bones, and reboot a brain that had gone off-line. His eyes were closed for a good five minutes while his body underwent extensive repair. Neurons were sparking wildly like a group of connected power lines. When he was fully restored, Cals eyes opened wide as he turned to land. His face turned from a blank to slate to one of frustration and fury. Then he defiantly exclaimed, HARTWELL! as he raised his fists toward the perfect, azure sky.

TWENTY-TWO Daniel stopped back at Hartwells place on Sunday night for a little clarification. Hartwell was sitting in his favorite chair when Daniel approached a building that he now saw as plush, instead of an abandoned warehouse.

Its open! Hartwell joked as Daniel walked through the front door. The young vampire smiled for the first time in days, then turned serious, Why didnt you tell me about all of this before? Why all of the mystery? Hartwell stood up to greet his boy, but Daniel plopped down on the couch like a typical teenager with no respect for the furniture. Hartwell put his hands up, Whoa! Thats imported leather from Italy. Daniel shook his head in disbelief and then mentally reached for the picture of the family back in San Francisco during happier times. He studied the picture for the better part of seven seconds and then asked, What happened to us? Daniel floated the picture over to Hartwell, who had studied the trio many times in recent days. The always-confident Hartwell initially talked with his head down. We had a great life. Your mom and I were madly in love, and then you came along and I life was so much fuller. We traveled, we laughed, we really enjoyed each others company.

Hartwells face turned blank, Then the plague hit and he tried to hold back the icicles. And then, before I could do anything, you both were gone. Daniel took it all in and then responded, So, you only became a vampire so you could see us again? Hartwell nodded in agreement. Daniel could see the merits in such a noble act, but that still didnt satisfy his curiosity. So, why me? Why turn me? I mean, you could have just told me. Hartwell sent the picture back to the table and returned to his usual, unflappable self. I could have just told you? That would have worked out. How come you never really questioned all of those years who I was? Daniel searched for the answer, but Hartwell filled in the blank. Because you knew me. Because I trusted you, Daniel stated. Because I am your father, Hartwell added. Nicole was desperate to find Daniel. She knew he hadnt been with another girl, let alone someone that was better than her. The fact that she had been with Drew, was

obviously a knee-jerk reaction that she had placed in here delirious past. Sharon told Nicole that Daniel would probably be at Hartwells, although she wasnt sure how receptive Hartwell would be to visitors. It had been a tough week for a vampire that had been killed in sync with the daily soup menu at the Beach Haven Diner. Daniel had, in fact, left Hartwells after consuming a half-a-dozen bags of blood, and was en-route to the beach to clear his head. He sat on the boardwalk of Nicole's favorite bench, and wondered if they would ever be together again. Nicole was now 18 and fully capable of tracking her vampire, her man. You are now tuned in to him more than ever, Sharon told Nicole before she left the house. Keep in mind, you can also track the hunters, Sharon said before Nicole left, feeling extra-tingly herself. Sharon was still a bit jumpy after she took a long, steamy shower and thought to herself, Must be the onset of menopause. Nicole wandered frantically through the town, until

she was able to calm herself enough to simply sit on a park bench and gather her thoughts. She closed her eyes and took a few deep, cleansing breaths. Her mind went black before a flash of silver shot through a trail and then came to a stop with a visual of Daniel sitting on their bench at the Beach Haven boardwalk. Nicole stood up and, without hesitation, she sped on that same trail until she was standing next to the bench before she could even blink. Daniel looked up, Nicole! That sure beats driving, Nicole said. Where did you come from? Daniel asked. A second ago I was sitting on a bench in town, and now Im standing here. I just thought about where you were and then, before I knew it, I was here. Nicole never saw Daniel stand up or walk the four paces over to her, but he was in front of her. How? He smiled, Its one of those cool things that comes with dying. I shouldnt have said those things, Nicole. Nicole had already melted like a stick of butter on a hot skillet even before he talked, We both did things were

not proud of. Daniel wondered what she might have done, but she quickly interjected, But thats not important now, right? He looked at his girl in wonderment, Right. They turned and walked next to each other as their hands met and clasped just below their sides. You know, I can move things with my mind, Daniel claimed. Cool! Hey, did you know that I am your protector? Daniel had viewed the extended-play version of the vampire instruction manual while he was down those two weeks. Wow! I guess that makes a lot of sense. But do you know who youre protecting me from? They stopped walking and Nicole went through potential candidates on a short list. Daniel filled in the blank, You and my cousin are going to experience some physical contact. Nicole thought the jig was up, but then realized that Drew was the hunter. Man that was weird. Remember that day when he pushed you off the bridge on the playground play set? That is freaky.

Daniel smiled, You were defending me even back then," as they continued walking hand-in-hand down the boardwalk. Cal had only one thing in mind when his powers were restored: GET HARTWELL! Hartwell was feeling great as he headed out for a day of shopping, and potentially calling Maggie for a dinner date that night. He knew his days as a vampire were numbered, and that number was one. Emily Brewster was fully prepared to kill him for the 100th time that night, and nothing was going to get in her way. That last kill is mine, Drew, Emily said to her son when he returned from Portland. Drew was able to put aside his monument-sized ego for a moment and let his mom have her moment. Do that bastard right to the core, mom, Andrew said as he took a stake and lightly jabbed it into his chest. With pleasure with pleasure! she passionately repeated. But you do know that we will all be mortal once I do this? Drew looked for conformation, Me, too? I dont think so, but I really dont know. What about Carla?

Emily didnt get the connection at first, Oh, with the whole connection to Hartwell. Well see. Do you think Daniel will ever come back to us? Drew asked. I sure hope so. Wouldnt want you two to be enemies. Hes your brother, for gods sake. Drew nodded, You going to do it tonight? Emily nodded, Yeah. This is it.

TWENTY-THREE Belinda Thompson hadnt seen her son in a few weeks, but barely gave it another thought beyond her son being sick with mononucleosis. But she awoke on Monday morning and Hartwells spell had broken, the illusion had expired. She broke the seal by walking into his room after the water from her shower awoke her conscious concern for Daniel. How are you feeling? she said in typical Belinda fashion as she entered the room. She often woke Daniel and Cal when he was still around by entering a room

and speaking before seeing if the intended target was awake. She looked around the room and it was perfectly clean bed made, clothes off the floor, garbage cleaned away from the night stand definitely not a scene befitting a typical teenager. When Daniel awoke from his two-week slumber, he had gained a certain level of fastidiousness to go along with sharper teeth, a huge wingspan, and the cool ability to move faster than the speed of light without even exerting himself. He sped around the room with the power of a thousand scrub brushes, cleaning cracks and crevices in his 14x11 room that never knew what it was like to be dirt and dust free. Belinda walked through the house to her office and located her cell phone. Her first call was to Emily Brewster. Em, have you seen Daniel? Brewster played along, I thought he was in bed with mono? she said rolling her eyes, wishing that Belinda was in on the secret. For years, vampires, mammals and hunters had paraded in front of Belinda without her neither recognizing nor acknowledging the truth. There were times

when Emily wanted to just turn on the light and let Belinda off the hook already but she chose to let nature take its course and have her sister-in-law hopefully figure it out herself one day. Its the strangest thing. I went into his room and he was not only gone, but his room was spotless. I mean, I have never seen something that clean in all of my life! Hartwell! Emily grunted, thinking she had moved her head far enough away from the phone. Did you say, Hartwell? Belinda questioned. She had heard that name before way too many times before without actually knowing who this person was. Where do I know that name from? Belinda persisted. Did I say Hartwell? Emily said. She then scrambled to change the subject. What I meant to say was, Im sure hes well. You took such good care of him. Hes probably with that she moved the phone away from her mouth and coughed, trollup! and then came back to the normal conversation, Nicole. Belinda went out after the conversation and drove

around, frantically trying to find her son. She got a little crazier after she found Nicoles cell phone on a bench in the middle of town. Belinda knew it was Nicoles because of the picture of her son that popped up on the screen when she hit the toggle button. Her thoughts were a bit scrambled to say the least. All of Hartwells tinkering with her brain over the years left her confused and completely disoriented after the last adventure, yet she continued to drive around looking for Daniel. Cal dropped his fists toward his side and then crouched down in a sprinters position. He then focused on Hartwell, and only Hartwell, as the fire ball blazed a scorching trail toward the vampires lair. Once the coordinates were set, Cal exploded out of the blocks, throwing sand in every direction behind him until he hit land. The two-second journey along the coast felt more like 20 minutes to Cal. He thought about many things on his way to meet his maker.' The first of which was Sharon for a moment he thought about putting off killing Hartwell for a few minutes until he could visit her first. But when he dug

deeper, more anger was unearthed. She had left him down there for who knows how long? So, he stayed on the course of his original objective. Cal longed to see his sister and father, and the nephew he left behind. But the one person he thought about the entire time was his son, Daniel, and how hard it must have been for him to grow up without a father. The image of Daniel as a child sent Cal to another level of hunting, through his focused rage. He turned the corner as the action continued to slow. Hartwell opened his front door and was not visible to Cal, who was so hyped up that it appeared to the advanced naked eye that he had run past his intended target. Hartwell stopped in his tracks and then was driven back into his house and onto the floor. He looked up and saw Cal Brewster, breathing hard and holding the vampires still-beating heart in his hand. I hate Mondays, Hartwell panned. Its going to be a long walk home, he said as he died for the 100th time. Cal dropped the now beat-less heart on the floor and then walked over and cleaned his hands off in the kitchen sink. He then felt something he hadnt felt in some time

a chill so he decided to use Hartwells state-of-the-art waterfall shower to warm up. He then threw his clothes in the bathroom garbage and found some of Hartwells smaller clothes to put on, including his favorite hat and coat. The walk home was long, indeed all four hours of it but all Cal had was time, or so he thought. Twenty steps into his journey he fell down near the side of the ride and took a nap in a row of thick bushes. Daniel and Nicole stopped on the boardwalk to kiss during their walk. Fireworks went off in their minds and bodies, as usual, and was heightened even further by the new vampire-protector status. Near the end of the kiss, Nicoles legs felt weak and Daniel had to hold her up so she wouldnt fall. Are you okay? he asked. She shook her head to try to clear the cob-webs, You pack quite a punch in that kiss. It took my breath away. Ill fly you home, Daniel stated, and he did just that. Emily Brewster was taking care of the dogs in the backyard, and was moving two, 100-pound containers of

dog food when she lost her balance and was snowed under by a blizzard of dark brown chunks of dry dog food. The dogs were tracking her every move and had a feast while Sharon was out cold with a food blanket. Thaddeus was constantly fixing things around the house, even if the targeted item only needed a slight modification. At noon, he was up on the roof fixing a looses shingle. He usually flew up to the roof as a hawk and then flew down in the same form. He was lying on his left side, nailing the shingle in with his right fist, when a wave of exhaustion overpowered him and he fell fast asleep. Speaking of sleep, Nicole was sleeping in Daniels arms even before he placed her in her bed. He wasnt sure whether the potency of his vampire kiss was the cause, but he liked the power of being such a Don Juan. He was so proud of himself that he knew Hartwell would get a kick out of it, so he flew over there. Besides, it was lunch time and Daniel was hungry for some more blood. The Phillips house was quiet, probably too quiet, but Daniel was too wrapped up in self-praise to notice. He whisked Nicole through the front door for a change,

because no one would spot him anyway with his blazing speed. Garrison was asleep in his La-Z-Boy recliner and Sharon was nowhere to be found, unless one was to look in the basement on the treadmill. Her workout obviously ended abruptly when she fell asleep mid-stride. The moving belt sent her flying backwards into a pile of clothes, where she was resting comfortably. Brandon Justice was on his way from Portland to New York, and was feeling pretty good by the time he crossed through Pennsylvania and headed into New York. He had worked through the scars of the peanut shakedown, and was looking forward to band together with his sire. Hartwells place was still 50 miles away as Brandon adjusted the flapping of his wings to counter the wind currents, or so he thought. Actually, he was flapping his arms, which obviously slowed his progress and sent him off course and crashing into the middle of a tree. Good thing for Justice that he fell asleep some 20 feet from the 40-foot high tree, rendering his body limp and dampening the impact of the crash. Most of the affected persons had escaped the surprise slumber without injury. That was, until, Andrew and

Carla bought BMX bikes and were riding them like they were motorcycles. Drew broke his leg and Carla broke her right arm, but neither of them felt the pain of being mortal until they woke up. Daniel was feeling even better than he was the night he first kissed Nicole. It was a complete turnaround from his first few confusing days as a vampire, and he had Hartwell to thank for his renewed sense of freedom. He changed into his human form as he landed, literally hitting the ground and walking into Hartwells house. Youre never going to believe was all he got out as he opened the door and saw his mentor/dad he still wasnt sure how to label him - lying on the floor with his heart on the ground a few feet away. Daniel couldnt bear to see Hartwell this way so he placed his heart back in his body and cleaned him up, all without moving from the spot he stopped at when he walked through the door. While he knew that recurring death was a part of the territory, this was first experience with it other than having his neck snapped by Hartwell so he could become a vampire in the first place. Hartwell was propped up in his chair with an empty pint of blood on his lap. Daniel was depressed and was on

a blood-drinking binge, when just one pint wouldnt do. Too bad for Hartwell that one of Daniels favorite movies was about these two guys who had to shuttle around this dead guy named Bernie and give the appearance that he was still alive. Daniel found a baseball mitt and had his first fatherson catch with Hartwell, only the baseball found Hartwells head and chest more than the glove on his left hand. Next, Daniel soundly beat Hartwell in a game of chess. Four hours went by and Daniel was running out of things to do, and blood to drink, but he was determined to stick it out and stay until the next morning when Hartwell would be rejuvenated. Any thoughts of leaving were quickly squashed by the knowledge that Hartwell would wait for him to wake up, no matter how tedious the wait.

TWENTY-FOUR Blake finally got up the courage to confront Sharon and Nicole. He had showered the day before and was ready to rumble, but that corned beef sandwich had his name on it, and he says to us, Besides, it doesnt reheat real well.

The former summer lifeguard was at least 40 pounds and a six- pack away from his lifesaving weight. Long stakeouts and raw emotions precluded him from getting a serious exercise regiment going. Heck he hadnt moved anything but his saggy butt to the fridge in at least five years. Before he got dressed he looked in the mirror, which was a seldom-used wall-hanging in his garden townhouse. He sucked in his gut but that did little to sway gravity, so he hit the floor and did 10 excruciating sit-ups with his knees bent and his hands clasped behind his head and then he turned over and churned out three push-ups before collapsing from exhaustion on the seldom-vacuumed carpet. Sweat was pouring off Blake within minutes of his strenuous two-minute workout, so he hit the showers again. Another hour passed in order to let Agent Blake cool off. Then he grabbed his best red Hawaiian floral shirt, frayed jean shorts, and flip-flops, and was finally ready to confront his past. It was 4:00 p.m. and Blake was wondering if he should eat a snack, or just dive into that bucket of KFC he had in the fridge. Since he was all about compromise on this day, he ate one piece of chicken, some stuffing and

whipped potatoes with gravy, and then was on his way 10 minutes later. The four-hour haze was wearing off and the truth started trickling down to the affected people. As fate would have it, the first one down was the first one up, and that would be in the person of Calvin Brewster. Brewster was on the side of the road in a thatch of bushes when the lights went back on. He rolled around, almost groggy at first, feeling pain with each poke of each branch. Cal stood up slowly and then realized that he wasnt under water anymore. The overwhelming joy made him think bear, so he raised his arms and screamed Roar! fully expecting to be do it as a bear. But when he heard his own voice instead, he sheepishly said Oops. Thats not good for business, and then picked up the baseball cap from the ground, affixed it to his head, and then took the first step on the long walk home. Drew hit the dirt ramp first and was 30 feet in the air on his bike by the time he realized that coming down would be a lot more difficult than going up. Carla was right behind him and could see him uncharacteristically lose his balance.

He hit the ground first and his right leg broke on impact. She experienced the same kind of air, but landed on her right arm. It was a good thing they both were out cold before they hit the ground, or they could have been hurt even more - the relaxed nature of their bodies helped cushion the fall. Drew woke up first and was greeted with something he rarely ever felt, searing pain. He writhed in anguish in the dirt as Carla tried to move off her right side to lessen the pain of her broken arm. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Mom, you have to come and get us Drew said into his mothers voice mail. But, obviously, his mother was buried under an avalanche of dog food, with two dogs fat and snoring laying on top of her. She slowly woke up and became disoriented by the dog food that was all around her. Normally, she would just plow through anything in her way, but it took her a few minutes to roll the dogs off and extricate herself from her dog kibble tomb. Thaddeus was on the roof, baking his right side, when he awoke and was holding on for dear life on the sloped surface.

He yelled, Em! Em! I need a ladder! After a few minutes of pleading for help, a slowmoving Emily appeared with a ladder. Thaddeus was suddenly old and scared, and it took him 20 minutes just to get up the courage to move toward the ladder, and another 10 minutes to step slowly down toward safety. Once on terra firma, he hugged his daughter like she had saved him from a dessert island and said, Did you kill him? She still had dog food on parts of her body and in her hair, Does it look like I did it? Her initial thought, however, was not about Hartwell. It was the first time in years that her first thoughts were not about the vampire. I was knocked out under a pile of dog food. They then looked at each other and said, Drew. Moments later, Emily and Thad were picking up Carla and Andrew at the jump site and took them to the hospital to be x-rayed and then fitted with casts. Drew was in so much pain that the subject of killing Hartwell never came up. Besides, he most likely wouldnt have had a broken leg if he had done the deed. Brandon Justice was in Upstate New York when he

woke up with no money, no powers, and absolutely no idea of the direction of his next step. He had not been outside of Portland his whole life, but he knew he had to get to Beach Haven, New York, to reconnect with Hartwell. So he started walking, with no direction in mind, until he found a truck stop and then a trucker who was headed south. He was 34 years old, but still had the face and personality of a shy 16 year-old trying to get home. At the Phillips house, Nicole woke up first to find her grandpa slowly getting out of his recliner. It was another few minutes before a battered Sharon completed the slow, painful walk up the stairs and they were all reunited. A few minutes later, the front doorbell rang and then was accompanied by a series of rough knocks on the front door. Nicole opened the door and Blake burst through. This kind of behavior has to stop young lady! he said as he continued walking through the foyer and into the kitchen. Mom? Theres a strange man here and hes walking into the kitchen! Nicole alerted her mother. Sharon and Gary were sitting at the kitchen table, tending to their wounds and trying to figure out who put the finishing touches on Hartwell.

Sharon was in Blakes path and she couldnt believe her eyes. Blake, is that you? We have to talk about our kid, Sharon. She is running wild! he stated in tone of exasperation. Not today, Blake. Of all days, this is the day you pick to show up? Sharon yelled. Nicole followed Blake into the kitchen. Our kid? Mom, what does he mean by our kid? Blake stopped arguing with Sharon long enough to address Nicole. Nicole, I am your father. My name is Blake Wallace. Agent Blake Wallace. Nicole was totally freaked out, Mom! I though my dad was dead? You told her I was dead? Blake complained to Sharon. Sharon defended herself, You didnt even know I was pregnant. I didnt even know until after you were gone. The name Agent before Blakes name finally resonated with Garrison. Agent? Wallace pulled out his credentials from the breast

pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. Agent Blake Wallace, FBI A.O.M. Division. A.O.M. Division? Sharon questioned. Aquatics and Other Mammals Division, he replied. It finally made sense to Sharon, So, youve been spying on us all these years. She turned to her dad, I told you I saw him in town a few years ago. Gary shrugged it off, I thought you were just seeing things. Blake pressed on, Did you know that your daughter has been sleeping around? Sharon and Gary looked at Nicole, knowing she would not take the invasion of privacy well. You listened? Nicole shrieked as she became more disturbed with each passing breath. Nicole then steamed off, sobbing and stomping toward her room. Happy? Sharon said to Blake and then followed her daughter. Blake looked at Garrison, who said, Well that went well, all things considered. Blake finally calmed down and nodded in agreement

while shaking his ex-father-in-laws hand. TWENTY-FIVE It took Sharon and Garrison the better part of an hour to calm Nicole down. Admittedly, the first 20 minutes was shear humiliation and embarrassment, and the next 40 minutes was raw nerves. Nicole had often dreamt of her suave, fair-haired father saving people as a lifeguard. She definitely wasnt ready for the bloated, bitter man that just stood before her. Blake waited outside on the front stoop while Sharon and Gary tried to work things out, because there was a bigger item on their agenda for that evening. I still cant believe you told me he was dead, Nicole said to her mother. Sharon defended herself, In a way, he was to me. Nicole refused to back down and showed her relative inexperience. Thats still no excuse. Sharon went after her, When Daniel broke up with you, did you feel like talking about it? Nicoles teenage exuberance was shut down in a

hurry. And what if Daniel never came back? What if he never came back? Sharon yelled and then started crying. Never came back. Blake heard what Sharon said heck, the whole neighborhood heard it so he came back inside and walked down the hall into Nicoles room. Thats not true, Sharon. I never left. When we were together me, you and Gary I was always the outsider. We both knew you had a secret like you could have beaten me in a race in any water. Sharons tears dried as she started laughing. Whats so funny, mom? Nicole asked. Sharon pointed at Blakes gut. I doubt you can beat anyone in any kind of race, unless it was a race to the fridge. Blake was offended at first, but then looked at the three people in front of him who were about to burst out into raucous laughter, and grabbed his belly. I could sink to the bottom faster than you, he said as the Phillips family laughed. Man, I have to get back into shape, he said. Everyone was in a much better mood after the air-

clearing exchange. Sharon ordered a couple of pizzas and they sat down at the dining room table and ate for the first time as a family. You better watch it now, Sharon. Meals arent free anymore, Gary said to his daughter. Oh, thats right. She then turned to Blake, We all lost our powers today. Hartwell hit his 100th? Blake responded. Yeah. Emily? Blake asked, insinuating that Emily Brewster was the hunter that put him down. I dont think so, Sharon replied. Definitely not Thaddeus, because Gary would have sensed that, Blake stated. Gary nodded in agreement. Blake then looked at Nicole, You get an Andrew vibe? Nicole smiled, almost embarrassed, No, not today. Blake was putting the pieces together one by one. He looked at Sharon and she gave him a knowing look back and said, No, it couldnt be. Blake put his hands up palms up Who else could it be?

Nicole was confused, Mom, what are you talking about? If its not Drew, his mom, or his grandpa, who else could it be? They all got it at once and Sharon said, Theres only one way to find out for sure. The Brewster family staggered out of the car and into the house. Drew was on crutches, Carlas arm was in a cast, Emily had cuts and bruises on her face from hitting the moving treadmill belt, and Thaddeus had a mean sunburn on only half of his body. Once the haze lifted, however, the quartet was left with a plethora of unanswered questions. What the hell happened out there? Drew asked as they all settled into couches and cushioned chairs in the den. Usually the family would sit in the kitchen, because food was always the center of their universe, but insatiable hunger was not at the top of the list anymore. The pizza delivery guy must have been busy, because the Brewsters also ordered a few pizzas, and were dining alfresco indoors with paper plates and cups. Drew folded his slice and took a big bite before

speaking with a mouthful of food, like a typical New Yorker. One minute Im in the sky, and the next Im taking a dirt nap. Its probably a good thing we all went dark before impact, Emily stated. Then they all looked at Thaddeus. Sharon continued, Well, all of you except for you, two-tone. Thaddeus waved them off and then winced from the pain of his burn. It was strange the last kill was during the day. At noon, Thaddeus observed. Why is that strange? newcomer Carla asked. Thad continued, Because it goes against our treaty with Hartwell to fight during the day. Too many people around. We usually go at it in the middle of the night. What else is in this treaty? Carla countered. Thad flashed back to the first time they all got together, when Sharon, Cal and Emily were 18 and finally ready for action. It was also the first time that Hartwell felt even remotely threatened because of a numbers disadvantage. For years, it was Hartwell and Garrison against only

Thaddeus, so the threat was always minimal. But when the 2-on-1 advantage changed to a 3-on-3 battle, Hartwell sought to maintain his edge. So he called for a meeting, a summit, during the day at a local luncheonette. The hunters sat on one side of the rectangular table with Hartwell and his mammal protectors across from them. Hartwell started the bagel rolling. Can we have six egg creams, dear? he said to the middle-aged waitress, who was instantly under his spell. Emily liked egg creams with their chocolate syrup, milk, and a shot of seltzer water but she also like to go against the grain, especially as a teenager. Ill have a strawberry milk shake, instead, she said as she looked at Hartwell. Five egg creams and one bloody whip, coming right up folks, the waitress repeated looking at her pad. She put her pencil back in her sizeable bee-hive hairdo and was off. Hartwell nodded at Emily, acknowledging her individuality, and knew he would have to break her of that over time. I think we have to set a few ground rules, Hartwell said to the group, assuming his usual leadership role.

Cal Brewster was all of 18 years old, but wasnt about to just hand over control to the root of all evil. What did you have in mind? Hartwell expected Thaddeus to talk and was both pleasantly-surprised and a bit uneasy in the face of the young charges confidence. Well, Calvin, I think we all have other interests during the day, so it might behoove us to keep he looked around to see if anyone was listening our matters to a more nocturnal nature. Cal and Emily book-ended Thaddeus and looked at him for confirmation. How about after midnight? Thaddeus countered. Hartwell didnt look at either Sharon or Garrison for confirmation. Okay, but we have to be done by sunrise. I have some things to do by then. Flash to Hartwell on the beach at sunrise doing his tai chi practice and then meditating. Trixie came back with a tray-full of drinks, distributing the egg creams and then the milk shake, And one pink sunshine for the little lady, as she winked at Hartwell, who was distributing his mojo without the

assistance of excessive mind persuasion. Everyone at the table looked at him, and he said, Some women prefer bad boys, and then he looked at Emily. Cal swung his right arm behind Emily and smacked her in the back of the head. Not her, Cal said in a threatening tone and started to stand up. Hartwell didnt flinch, Easy there, Junior. Why dont you finish your egg cream first and then we can dance. We didnt come her to fight, Hartwell, Thaddeus said as he restrained his son. Could have fooled me, Brewster, Hartwell countered and then took a long, slow drink of the chocolate goodness. You ready to order?, Trixie asked in a monotone. Emily went first, Ill have the bologna sandwich on white with potato chips Sharon was set to go next, Ill Emily interjected, I wasnt done yet, Phillips. Oh, Im sorry. Continue, piglet, Sharon shot back. Emily wasnt having it, so she tossed her almost-full strawberry shake right in Sharons face.

Hartwell convinced everyone in the restaurant, including Trixie, that the event never happened. He also blanked out the populous in anticipation of the next move. Once the egg cream flew across the table and found its intended target, Emily Brewsters face, Garrison Phillips casually asked the waitress, Could we have a few more napkins when you get a chance? Hartwell liked that and nodded at Gary, who smiled and returned the nod. So, what else was on your mind, Mr. Hartwell? They talked about weapons and other battle guidelines, which only lasted a few years as newer, more destructive weapons were introduced. But the one thing that had held over the years was the nocturnal fighting rule. Ninety-nine kills in the middle of the night were supplanted by a single, and last, kill during the day. Normally, only the immediate mammal protectors and hunters related to each vampire become mortal as a vampire reaches his or her 100th death. But since a major agreement detail was broken, all those associated with Hartwell were also powered down. Well, almost all. It was now 7:30 p.m. and Daniel was soundly beating Hartwell in a game of Tiger Woods Golf on the

game system he installed. He turned to Hartwell and said, Your short game needs some work, obviously getting his sarcastic sense of humor from his lifeless father. Maggie was sitting next to her phone, waiting for it to ring, but would have to wait another day for her Prince Charming to call. Hartwell was 15 over par on only the second hole and would not have been much of a conservationist in his current state. Blake and the rest of the Phillips family piled in the car and headed over to the Brewsters house. Blake stepped up and rang the doorbell and a few seconds later the front porch light was flicked on by Thaddeus Brewster. He only saw Blake and said, Can I help you? And then the Phillips clan stepped forward and Thaddeus smiled, I was wondering what was taking you people so long? Everything was copacetic until Emily Brewster came out to see what all of the ruckus was about. Who is ringing the bell at this hour? she said before she entered the foyer. So, which one of you killed Hartwell? Sharon

asked as she kept the cat fight going. The small crowd shuffled into the living room as Carla and Andrew shortly followed from his room once they heard all of the noise. Wouldnt you like to know? Emily replied. That kill was against the pact we had, Gary said to Thaddeus. Thaddeus replied, Pact, schmact! Were all mortal now. Andrew crutched down the two stairs from the foyer to the living room and said, Whos the fat guy? referring to Blake. Nicole became incensed, Fat guy? Fat guy? Blake said to himself, Since when did I become the fat guy? Nicole continued, That fat guy is my father! Blake was both proud and feeling inconsequential at the same time. Carla would have come in the room swinging if she didnt have that damn cast in the way. Did you just raise your voice to my boyfriend? she yelled at Nicole. Arguments were all over the living room as Blake

watched the pairings of Sharon and Emily, Garrison and Thaddeus, and the trio of Nicole, Andrew and Carla fight to a deafening level. The oral rumble went on for a few minutes until the front door opened and a rather large figure in a trench coat and a New York Yankees hat appeared at the top of the stairs in the shadows. Garrison picked up his head and said, Lets ask, Hartwell, without thinking that the dead vampire would have trouble walking until the sun rose the next day. The man walked into the light and removed his cap. An audible gasp could be heard and Andrew said, I knew it! His Uncle Cal had finally come home.

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