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3.26% Blood & Juniper (A Vampire Tale) / Chapter 3: Ashes to Ashes (Part 1)

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Chapter 3: Ashes to Ashes (Part 1)

Accounts of Sam. End of Summer, year 2017.

Bubbles swim up the sides of the glass bottle, I watch the untouched beer while my misgivings stew. I'd welcome the distraction, but it only adds weight to my troubled mind.

The past few years had been rocky with Derek, but this month our bond has rapidly deteriorated. We'd been butting heads on all sorts of issues lately, it's mostly due to lack of common perspective. Prior to my personal revelation, our lifestyles were fairly aligned, we had always gotten along so well. I had been making an effort to change my way of life, though it appears it's at the expense of our relationship.

We're simply growing apart and I don't like it one bit, he's my brother after all. I've always watched out for him, but maybe my concerns are overbearing. I just can't shake these worries, I see him spiraling down that same dark path I was on not so long ago.

I've stuck around tonight in hopes that we could put aside our differences, make amends, but it hasn't been going well.

I'm not being completely honest with myself, I didn't just stick around to try to repair some of the damage. I'm a mess of anxiety in wonderment of what he has planned for this night. He has been especially headlong this week, overindulgent, impulsive. I feel somewhat responsible for it. Not responsible for tonight in particular but for my influence on him for the past 15 years or so.

I watch him from over on the other side of the dimly lit bar we frequent. I created space in an attempt to calm myself down, I know my face is a wash of disappointment. I don't mean to direct it at him, my disappointment is with myself and how I have led him astray.

He's over in that round, red corner booth with a woman that looks absolutely plastered. I used to do pretty much the same exact thing in that damned corner seat. He's the spitting image of me from a few years ago. Derek is going to get himself into trouble if he continues this way.

The woman is all over him, simply enamored. Her fair skin flushed from alcohol, a blue vein lining her slender neck, pulsing to a steady rhythm.

I scowl, clenching my balled fist into the other as my arms rest on the table. I turn my gaze away from them. I'm in such a fowl mood likely made worse by the fact I haven't eaten in almost a week.

That is such a stupid and dangerous decision but my demeanor has really soured my cravings. In truth, I'm afraid satisfying my needs will contribute to worsening my mood, but if I don't get some sort of nourishment soon I'm bound to do something I'll regret. Quite the little dilemma I've made for myself.

Lost in my brooding, I realize I'm looking in the direction of the new curly haired bartender who gives me a flirtatious half smile. She leans over the counter to extenuate her low cut top and sends me suggestive wave.

I consider, for a brief moment, taking up the offer her body language so clearly announces to me.

'No, I have far too much plaguing my mind and I'm much too unstable tonight.' I give her a polite, soft smile with a small nod, then turn in a different direction without anyone in my line of sight to resume my sulking.

"What's eatin' ya Sammy?" says Cooper in his usual carefree tone, waltzing up to the empty seat next to mine.

I acknowledge Cooper with a blank look and shrug. Cooper's eyes wander to the red booth where he spies Derek getting handsy with the blonde dame.

"Ah, ya worry too much, we've all been there. 'E'll figure it out,'' he assures while grinning at a girl sending him openly provocative signals.

"Yeah, and what if he goes too far? What exactly *is* too far for Derek?" I retort raising an eyebrow at him.

"We've got ta figure that 'un out ourselves, Sammy. Sometimes tha hard wey," Cooper responds casually with his reassuring signature smile.

I want to be convinced, it would be nice not to worry so damn much. I have no intention of controlling Derek, though, I can't help but feel apprehensive about his recklessness that Cooper seems to overlook. Sometimes I want to strangle Derek, doesn't he have any foresight?

"Have ya eaten anythin' recentlay?" Cooper cuts into my thoughts, obviously examining me since his words didn't seem to satisfy my doubts.

I meet his gaze, he's looking me over more sternly than before.

"Not much of an appetite lately," I lie, focusing back on Derek. I can tell he's getting bored of the girl as he kisses her with counterfeit though convincing passion.

"Maybe ya should worry a lil' more about yerself and less about Derek, yeah?" Cooper suggests with genuine concern, I feel his gaze still fixed on me.

The girl is now slumped over in the booth, dazed and on the verge of unconsciousness. Derek wipes his mouth with the back of hand as he slides out of the curved seat walking toward us. He looks my way and furrows his brows slightly, whatever my expression is seems to irritate him a bit.

"Hmm, is that three girls tonight? I'm surprised you're not taking this one home with you too," my remark comes out a little more condescending than intended.

"How long has it been since you've gotten laid? You could use it, maybe then you wouldn't be such a crotchety, old geezer," he throws his comeback at me with a slight smirk as he heads for the exit.

Cooper chuckles as he lifts off his chair, effortlessly catching up with Derek. I half smile with a light snort and turn to follow them out.

I feel the cool night breeze making its way through the streets when I step through the swinging bar door. The massive moon is only a thin crescent yet it penetrates the floor as if full. It remains unobscured by charcoal clouds, creating rigid shadows in the places it's bowed light can't reach. The night is still young.

Cooper chats enthusiastically as he walks with Derek about some newcomer frequenting one of our usual spots who smells of candy and spices. Cooper can talk for hours if you'll let him, there's no end to what he has to say ranging from mundane ramblings to the intriguingly profound. He's usually chipper and hardly ever bothered by anything, even things that probably *should* bother him.

It's nice to have someone like him around to put you at ease. His company is always welcomed.

I lag behind starting to relax. Maybe Cooper is right, I need to worry more about myself and less about Derek.

I close my eyes and let out a sigh as I hang back at a leisurely pace. I prefer the clean air to the stuffy bar with it's multitude of smells. It's not that the smells were unappealing, today it just added to my tension for some reason.

Cooper continues chatting about something ridiculous he saw on the news as we wander into the area of town that is mostly closed down for the night.

I start to feel uneasy again. I can see Derek is a bit drunk, which always encourages mischief. I have half a mind to part ways, but there's this awful suspicion that I know what he's up to.

If I leave now I won't be able to stop thinking about it. I'll feel just as guilty and responsible for what will transpire.

A frown tugs at my face seeing the fiendish air about Derek as he half listens to Cooper. His eyes glisten with horrid ambitions as they search for something.

Unfortunately, that something is out on these barren streets, a young girl. Is she mentally deficient? Why on earth is she walking out here alone? Her long, golden brown hair sways in a ponytail as she walks a brisk pace ahead of us.

I eye Derek from behind examining his expression. A lopsided, drunken sneer forms on his lips as he looks to Cooper.

His eyes are devious and lit with excitement. 'Don't go down this way Derek.' I try to urge him through untapped telepathy.

Derek's becoming a zealot for anything to light a fire in him, it's causing me great anxiety wondering where he draws the line.

I grit my teeth and hope Cooper will cut him off. I'm sure my disapproval will make Derek even more likely to indulge in his brashness, but Cooper? I focus on Cooper as his content face lazily turns to him.

Derek gestures to the girl walking ahead of them, Cooper checks out the girl he wasn't previously paying attention to.

"Oh, she's a cute 'un in't she?" Cooper remarks leisurely.

'Cooper, don't.' I think aloud in my head.

"She's all alone, we should make sure she isn't lost," Derek hints with a certain impishness.

'Cooper, don't go along with this...' Can he really not see how Derek is tonight?

Cooper thinks for a moment or two, "Mmm, my' as well,'' he chimes carefree as ever.

'Damn it, Cooper!' I think to myself in defeat, 'Damn it all.'

This isn't out of character behavior for Cooper though, he's usually one to go with wherever the wind takes him. I just hoped against hope he had other plans to suggest to Derek. I *do not* like where this is headed.

I direct my attention to the girl, she knows we're following her. Her heart rate begins to pick up as she takes some irregular turns in hopes we'll go our separate ways. I feel pity but also my own unwilling excitement swirling around.

Smelling her fear, mixed with her own scent is unrelenting on my senses. Sweet flowers and tangy citrus, her natural perfume is incredibly appealing. It's giving me a high.

I want her.

I despise her for smelling so intoxicating, I hate Derek for purposely seeking trouble, Cooper for not giving a damn, and myself for getting wrapped up in this.

I can hear her pulse quicken and the drumming becomes even more hypnotic. I'm losing myself to it's wonderful sound.

She glances back quickly not thinking anyone noticed, I notice alright. I picture myself pushing her down on all fours as she glances back at me just like that. Knotting my fingers through her long hair and yanking her head back, taking her slender but full form from behind.

I imagine my hands sliding down her supple curves and gripping around that slim neck. The heat of her body warming my fingertips, her hot breath escaping that carnal mouth with pleasured moans.

I could pounce on her right now, sweep her into a back alley and do all sorts of wicked things to her.

I want to breathe in her delicious scent, taste her delicate, milky skin... My thoughts slowly devolve, I feel my teeth ache as they become darker.

I want to sink my teeth into her, taste all of her inside and out. Flip her around to see the horror flash in her eyes as the blood curdling screams erupt. Tear into that soft flesh, rip open her chest cavity and devour her, completely decimate...

I stop in my tracks, disgusted with myself. I curse myself for not feeding beforehand. Closing my eyes, I huff out air to clear my head of those morbid machinations. I don't want to be that and I am not going to lose myself right now.

This is exactly what I wanted to avoid, what I didn't want to get mixed up in again! If I'm imagining this kind of garbage who knows what's going on in Derek's mind.

I had gotten quite close to Derek and Cooper while absorbed in the girl. I let them get ahead of me before striding forward again.

Why did that girl have to walk home alone tonight? I'm stuck now and not in a state to do much about it. I hope for her sake she will be finished off quickly.

Her heartbeat steadies a bit. She appears to be examining the area as naturally as possible as to not draw unnecessary attention to herself.

I can't believe Cooper is still yammering on. Sometimes he acts so oblivious, though I know he's much more observant than he lets on. I can't even figure what kind of secrets are locked away in his brain.

Derek is barely listening to the rambling, with the occasional "mmhms" and "uhuhs". His eyes are laser focused on that young woman.

She leads us to a very empty area, it's as if she's openly inviting awful things to come her way.

The girl must be on the verge of panic, her heartbeat starts to race again. She proceeds walking as if distracted, looking around confused. I narrow my eyes and examine the abnormal behavior.

She turns back to look at us, but her expression is lost. Her thoughts seem elsewhere.

Cooper's deep voice cuts through the air startling her back to her senses.

"Where you 'eaded, sweetheart? It's not safe ta be wanderin' alone out 'ere," he calls, chucking a bit about her aloofness. His tone is so inappropriate for the current situation, I would have laughed if I weren't so on edge.

Apparently, it's enough for the girl to lose her nerve. She takes an unexpected turn, bolting for the woods.

Derek peaks with excitement as cagey laughter escapes him, his victim unknowingly entering his game. He can't help but throw in a few more words, only adding to the panic of this already frightened girl.

"Come on, honey, where do you think you're going?"

My jaw clenches with frustration. He doesn't even try to hide his eagerness for his nefarious plans. I strain myself stressing about how far down this rabbit hole he intends to go. To see my brother go down this road with such fervor is disheartening. 'What the hell can I even do?'

Derek heads after the woman as Cooper keeps up close behind. Derek could have snapped her up in an instant if he wanted but I know he's going to draw this out and enjoy every minute of it.

"So, she's a lil' spit fire, i'nt she?" Cooper muses to Derek. I can't see Derek's face but I'm sure it's heinous.

Cooper's expression becomes thoughtful while examining a preoccupied Derek. Something changes in Cooper's demeanor suddenly but I can't quite place it.

"Don't be ta hasty, let's see what this lil' fireball has to offa, hmm?" Cooper suggests with a mild slyness.

Now *that*, is not like Cooper. He doesn't go out of his way to be malicious. Yes, Cooper likes to see how things will naturally evolve, but something is off. The way he said it is completely uncharacteristic of him. Derek doesn't seem to notice.

"You're saying we should make her squirm?" he inquires, openly delighted by the thought.

"Someone that lively could make things very intrestin' if w're patient e'nough," Cooper clarifies.

Is Cooper encouraging him to toy with her? This isn't right, I don't get why he's acting so strange. Derek seems to like the idea of messing with that unfortunate girl even more. My brows constrict with anxiety. I want to protest but I'm certain it won't do any good.

We slide through the thick bushes and tall trees, taking unmarked paths without exertion. As she struggles through the thick forest we're gaining on her without trying.

I examine the wooded area as it becomes acutely familiar, there is something that shouldn't be forgotten about this place. 'Is this where that notorious hiking trail is? The one that...'

"She's getting too close to the edge," blurts out Derek sternly, interrupting my train of thought, "Stop fooling around before we lose her."

So, this is that place and Derek recognizes it too. What are the odds, did the girl intentionally run this way? She's headed right for it. No, how could she have known? Besides, if she miraculously managed to give us the slip, that place is a guaranteed one way ticket for the FerryMan.

Derek inevitably catches her, escape wasn't even a question. She gets less then a second to scream before Derek muffles it with his hand.

An average person with Derek's stature would have had a difficult time restraining her while she thrashed about like that. Derek doesn't strain in the slightest. He finds it all very amusing for a while, though I notice him quickly tiring of it.

Him even suggesting we would lose her is laughable. I suppose he was unnerved by all of the Juniper plants popping up, the natural wall that marks the Reaper's territory. I will admit, I am surprised to be in this place. As long as we don't cross the plants we shouldn't run into any extra trouble.

"A fighter, are ya, love?" Cooper chimes, seeming to admire her spirit.

Her tear stained face is wide eyed and shaken. Her hair is littered with twigs, the tangled mass is no longer neatly tied back.

She struggles even harder to no avail. She's scared and it invites the typical adrenaline excitement within me, which also brings on the usual revulsion toward myself.

However, something new stirs inside me this time. I feel genuinely sorry for her and also very afraid for her, it confuses me. I typically don't have this much sympathy for others in her similar predicament.

"This is going to be very unpleasant for you if you don't settle the fuck down!" Derek threatens.

Did we really just chase this girl out here to torture her like a small, helpless animal. This could have been over quickly and painlessly but here we are in this godforsaken forest.

Derek is inebriated and bloodstruck, I expected this from him, but Cooper? This is all wrong and it's making me sick, but it's not like I hadn't participated in similar activities in the past, making me the golden standard hypocrite.

I almost want to kill the brown haired girl myself, just get it over with and put this ugly gathering to an end. I know that will only bring more problems, so I continue to mull over my troubles by an old curved tree.

The girl heeds Derek's warning and begins to calm herself the best she can. Her eyes are filled with worry.

"Wise decision," comments Derek, temporarily appeased by her submission.

"This is too far..." it just slips out of my mouth. I didn't want to say something to provoke Derek but I'm fed up.

All but Derek turn to look my way.

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