Stand Off

by Alan Baxter

Gary wondered which one would kill him first. His terror was threatening to knock him out, his mind about to shut down. His body felt like it was nothing but a skin bag half full of cold water. His bladder had already let go. He could tell that his face was white from the cool sheen of sweat that covered him and the chill that filled him.

He sat on the filthy street, knees trembling together, feet splayed out at bizarre angles, hands somehow supporting him behind. Just as he had fallen. He could feel the cold tarmac under his hands and buttocks, the dampness seeping into the seat of his jeans, but that was probably cooling urine. He could feel tiny particles of gravel under the pads of his fingers. He was aware of all these things, but in a way that was detached, like they were somebody else's experiences. His whole body trembled with the vibration of abject terror and he stared wide eyed from one figure to the other as they stood either side of him and he wondered again which one would kill him first.

One of the figures let out a deep, rumbling chuckle. 'A Mexican stand off?'

The other figure smiled broadly, his long white teeth catching any available light. 'It would seem so.'

They stood facing each other over Gary's supine form, staring into each other's eyes with what looked like a wary respect. Gary knew that it would be pointless to run, assuming he could move. They might not be looking at him now but he knew they would move like lightning if he so much as twitched. The one with the teeth had appeared first. The vampire. Can I really be looking at a vampire? It had appeared like smoke from the shadows right in front of him, teeth gleaming in the darkness. Gary had leapt back in shock and rebounded awkwardly off someone coming the other way, falling backwards between them.

And what the hell was the other one? The vampire was easy to spot, if hard to believe, but this other one was different. He had a similar build, tall and strong looking, but his face was like granite, carved and rugged. He had regular looking teeth and his skin seemed tanned. Not a look consistent with vampires. In fact, he looked entirely human but exuded an aura of immense power. There seemed to be a pale blue shimmer of light around his hands. As Gary's fear addled mind began to make these observations the vampire circled slightly to the left. The other followed suit, circling with the vampire, the two of them keeping their eyes locked and Gary, seemingly ignored, between them.

The tanned one let out another small laugh. 'You seem tense.'

'With reason, I think. I've heard of you.'

'Really? I'm touched.'

The vampire smiled again. 'Hmm. You wouldn't normally spare a moment before destroying one of my kind, would you?'

The other shrugged slightly. 'Don't flatter yourself.'

The vampire's smile widened. It circled again to the left, the other following the movement as before. Gary began to tremble even more as the vampire disappeared from his field of view, moving behind him. His spine tingled at the thought of it no more than a few inches from his exposed back. The other one came slowly around to stand directly in front of him, looking over him as though he didn't exist.

The vampire's voice came from behind. 'I just want his blood. You're welcome to whatever is left.'

The tanned one shook his head. 'I need him alive.'

'I could drain him but not kill him.'

'But he wouldn't be alive.'

Gary watched the tanned one's face. His eyes were deep and black, seemingly bottomless. He had shoulder length shaggy black hair and wore a scuffed and tattered leather jacket. His jeans were worn in places, tight across muscled thighs, and he wore strong, scuffed leather boots. He moved again, circling around Gary a little more, presumably responding to the vampire's movements. The vampire appeared again in Gary's field of vision, his black jeans seemingly new, a black shirt under a heavy coat.

'So it's his soul you want?' the vampire asked.

Gary's stomach seemed to flip over, his throat tightening. My blood or my soul?

'What makes you think that?'

The vampire raised one eyebrow. 'Isn't that what you do?'

'Is that really what people around here say of me?'

'In truth, most people round here don't believe you exist. But I know of you.'

'And how do you know of me?'

'Let's say we have a mutual acquaintance. He speaks quite highly of you. And, as far as I know, there aren't many vampires that you wouldn't kill.'

'Really? Interesting.'

The vampire laughed. 'Is it not true that you kill every vampire you come across? Every vampire, every lycanthrope, every witch, wizard and mage? Any creature that doesn't fit your ideal for the on-going protection of the human race?'

The other smiled. 'You say human like a swear word, like it tastes bad on your tongue. Yet you would not survive without them.'

'If the cattle ran out then the humans would eat dogs. If it came to it then we could do the same. But there are more than enough humans to go around. They have a habit of breeding. So, am I wrong about you?'

'My agenda runs deeper than you could understand. But get in my way and I won't hesitate to destroy you.'

The vampire circled again. Gary's hands were beginning to go numb from the coldness of the road and the pressure of holding himself up. His eyes were wide, flicking between the two figures. He could feel his hair swimming like it was in a static field, the air between these two charged like before a storm. There was a coppery scent to the air. The large man seemed to crackle with raw energy, electric and primal. The vampire kept alert, slightly crouched, moving like a cat.

The vampire paused in front of Gary, the other one directly behind him now. 'I could just rip his life from him. Are you quick enough to stop me tearing his throat out?'

'Are you quick enough to get away with it?'

The air seemed to vibrate over Gary, the tension palpable between the two.

'Convinced you could beat me in a fight, are you?' the vampire asked.

That low, rumbling laugh again. 'There's absolutely no question about it.'

The vampire smiled again, but the smile seemed to tremble just slightly. Gary's skin began to crawl at the thought of the one behind him. What can scare a vampire? It felt like he was watching a late night horror movie, only he had the mother of all front row seats. He began to wish that he had someone to pray to.

'Vincenzo says that you are the most powerful creature he has ever met,' the vampire said slowly.

The was silence from behind Gary.

'Vincenzo also says that any vampire that tried to bring you down would die in seconds.'

More silence. The static tension grew.

The vampire broadened his smile once more, slightly more confident. 'But Vincenzo also says that you and he are allies. Vincenzo and I are… shall we say, business partners?'

'So you don't want to fight me?' The big man sounded a little disappointed.

'I'd rather not. At least, not now.'

'Very sensible, I suppose. Well, I wouldn't say that we're allies, but we don't have to be enemies. Leave quietly and the fact that you exist ceases to bother me.'

The vampire dipped his head in a slight bow. Slowly he stepped back, away from Gary's feet. He took a second small step, then a third. He slowly straightened up, his guard becoming more relaxed. With another nod he vanished. Quite literally disappeared. One moment Gary was staring at his handsome, pale face, then he was gone leaving nothing but a slight gust of air.

Gary sat staring into the space where the vampire had been, his trembling still making his teeth chatter gently. Slowly, he sat forward, taking the pressure off his numb palms, and brought his hands around to his lap. He began gently massaging each hand with the other. As he sat forward he felt the dull ache of a deep bruise near his tailbone.

There was a soft grinding of boots on tarmac as the big man with the shaggy black hair walked slowly around in front of Gary. He was looking up, watching the roof of a building across the road. Gary followed his gaze and saw a silhouette on the corner of the roof, like a gargoyle in a long coat that blew in the wind. Then it was gone. The big man crouched down in front of Gary and held out his hand. 'Isiah,' he said.

Gary looked at the big hand, then back up at those bottomless black eyes. 'What?'

'My name. Isiah.'

Gary's eyes widened. 'Oh, right. Sorry. Gary Blackwell.' He shook Isiah's hand and tried not to jump at the weight of it. The man's hand felt like a warm rock, heavy, smooth, hard. 'You, er… You just saved me from a vampire, right?'

Isiah smiled. 'Yeah. You seem to be handling it pretty well.'

'Well, I'm doing OK, I guess, considering. I just can't help but wonder what the hell you must be to scare off a vampire!'

Isiah's smile broadened and he nodded. 'Fair point. Let's just say that I'm a good guy.'

'Are you? A good guy?'

'Yeah. Kinda. As far as you're concerned. Think you can stand?'

Gary looked down at himself for a moment, thoughtful. 'I guess so. We'll soon see.' He began hauling himself, still trembling, to his feet. Isiah took a hold of his elbow and helped him up. He had the feeling that Isiah could have lifted him as easily as a rag doll if he'd chosen to.

On his feet, Gary took a deep breath. 'So, you're a vampire killer?'

Isiah shrugged. 'Sometimes. Only if they get in my way. I have a task which is rather more important than spanking vermin like him and his ilk.'

Gary nodded, frowning. 'You'll excuse my confusion, but I thought of vampires as nothing more than fiction right up until about five minutes ago. I think there's a lot I don't know about, huh?'

Isiah laughed softly. 'You don't know how right you are.'

Gary's trembling was slowly subsiding, but his eyes were still full of fear. 'So you're not a vampire, but you're something that scares them. I don't know which is more disturbing.'

'There are so many things that the majority of people in the world have no conception of, I'm afraid.'

'Including you. Who, or what are you exactly?'

Isiah chuckled again. 'That is a question that I don't know if I could answer, even if we had the time. Let's just say that I'm a guide, of sorts. I protect people and guide them towards doing the right thing.'

Gary's eyes narrowed at Isiah's tone. He suddenly felt trapped again. 'The right thing? What's that then?'

'It varies. I'm afraid there's not much time.'

'You have to go, do you?' Gary was silently wishing that this was indeed the case so that he could run home and hide, pretend that this was all some twisted dream.

'We have to go.'

'We?'

'Afraid so.'

Isiah could feel Gary's shoulders trembling as he laid an arm across them and guided the young man back down the alley. Gary's fear was justified, though there was no way that he could understand exactly how. Again, yet again, Isiah cursed his fate. Gary was just another in a long line of charges whose actions, small or large, reverberated through the world. Isiah grew more tired of manipulating it every time. Yet there was nothing he could do about it and no end in sight. His existence indeed seemed eternal and damned. Isiah ground his teeth.



Stand Off is set in the world created by Alan Baxter in his novel RealmShift. For a longer read of Isiah and his conflict with the creatures from other realms who prey on humans see RealmShift by Alan Baxter. This story was first published in Infinitas Newsletter, June 2006 .

Copyright © 2006 Alan Baxter.

This page last updated 16th September 2008.