There are certain things that just seem to inevitably capture a person's attention, no matter the time, place or circumstances. The mouthwatering smell of freshly baked bread in the morning, for example, or maybe the soothing taste of an old-fashioned home-cooked meal after a long week of nothing but sketchy fast food. Then there's the stirring sight of an attractive young lady in a short skirt and low cut top passing by you, with a flirty smile on her face, the infuriating feeling of that itch right in the middle of your back that you just can't reach no matter how much you stretch, twist and turn...
Or even like the sound of a woman shrieking out for help at the top of her lungs, only to be cut off short by the sound of a solid blow.
"Aw crap." I muttered testily after freezing on the spot. I then immediately started to consider my options.
I had just spent the past several hours unloading my u-haul, lugging everything upstairs, setting things up in my new apartment and thoroughly cleaning the place. Sure, I had the help of a couple of burly movers, but it had still been one hell of a long and tiring day.
After a quick shower to clean up and wind down after the day's exertions and tension, I noticed that it was well past midnight, I was really tired, my muscles felt like soft rubber and I was starving. I hadn't had any time to buy any groceries, so suppressing my initial impulse to simply order takeout pizza or head over to the nearest fast food place - I'd promised mom that I'd at least try to eat right - I decided to go out and do some light shopping at the closest convenience store that I could find that was still open.
Now, I found myself in the middle of a small parking lot, my arms filled with large paper grocery bags, wondering what the hell I was going to do about the bloodcurdling scream that I had just heard.
It seemed to have come from a darkened alleyway several hundred feet across the street to my right, far from the well illuminated safety of the small corner store I had just exited and its almost vacant parking lot. I had no idea how many people there were, or what kind of danger they were in. Looking around, I could see that there was nobody walking around and very few cars circling on the roads – it was pretty late after all and this small business district had closed down completely.
I had obviously been the only one to hear the scream and I was the only one around to actually do something about it.
The smart thing would have been to go back into the store to ask for help, or simply dial 9-1-1 on my cell and let the trained, prepared and paid professionals deal with it. Of course, it would most likely take several minutes for any kind of response to arrive, in which the emergency would probably be already over. Precious minutes in which someone's well-being and maybe even life hung precariously in the balance.
Many people would have simply kept their heads down and gone on with their lives. Most people in fact. It wasn't their business, so it wasn't their problem – no reason whatsoever to get involved, right?
Unfortunately, in my case, there was only one path that I could realistically take, even if there were far more sensible and safer options at my disposal.
As a wise man once said, "With great powers, come great responsibilities."
Although I had been rationally running through the choices available to me in my mind, my instincts had taken over almost immediately and I was already in motion. My groceries were gently tossed to the ground, leaning up against my parked car, and I was running as quickly as I possibly could, straight towards the dark alley, directly towards danger.
Yes, I really can be that reckless and impulsive on occasion. Believe me, I'm actually quite the calm, levelheaded young man.
Well ... at least I try really hard to be...
Alright, yes, I do have the unfortunate tendency to leap into things head first, without looking. I'm a work in progress.
I swear, I could hear Jacob's gruff voice in my head, almost as if he was right there by my side. "You have that look in your eyes boy. You're going to do something stupid, aren't you?"
"Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!" I swore repeatedly at myself as I patted down my pockets while running, looking for any of my equipment.
Of course, there were none.
No rod, no amulet, no bag, no nothing ... I'd left all of my gear back at my apartment, not in any way expecting to need them while I simply popped out quickly for food. Regrettably, I remembered that even the emergency "toolbox" that I normally kept in my car was not there. I had removed it last week after thoroughly cleaning out my car's interior and had yet to put it back.
I couldn't believe the incredibly stupid, novice mistake! I could just picture the look on the old man's face and hear the riot-act that he would have read me if he was here to see this.
"Being prepared is one of the cornerstones of our profession. Always be ready and properly equipped for when the shit hits the fan."
I'd been on the receiving end of more of Jacob's rants than I could ever hope to count, that he clearly didn't even have to be present anymore for me to hear them. Every once in a while I even imagined that I could actually see him. I'm not sure what was worse to see on his face, the look of extreme rage at my impulsive nature and absentmindedness, or the look of monumental disappointment, since he knew that I could do much better.
I had thought – hoped really – that with my apprenticeship over, I would have finally been free of his lectures, but to my extreme exasperation I've come to discover that I still carried the old man with me wherever I went.
The overbearing bastard was in my head for Christ's sake!
The one thing that I did have with me was my trusty ka-bar, snug in its custom leather sheath on my belt and hidden by my flannel shirt. I'd received the seven inch Marine Corps Combat Knife from my father on my fifteenth birthday, who'd in turn received it from his father when he turned fifteen, and I'd carried it with me almost constantly since then. There was no way, no how that I was going to simply forget it, or leave it behind.
It would just have to do, I guess.
Still running and trying desperately to ignore how out of shape I was, I snapped the catch off of the sheath, and pulled the knife out by its well-worn and comfortable leather wrapped handle. I then focused my mind and will on the blade while tapping into the wellspring of immense power and energy deep at the core of my very being. It felt warm and welcoming, and I couldn't help but relax slightly from the easy familiarity at the contact.
"Questio vesica, venatio vesica, offensio vesica," I whispered over and over, letting a gentle stream of that energy, carefully and precisely sculpted by my words, will and intentions, gently flow into my knife.
I felt the intricate pattern of energy I wove gradually take shape until it quite abruptly snapped into being and set firmly into place within the blade. A slight wave of dizziness hit me then, rewarding me for my efforts and warning me of my weakened state.
Fortunately, it passed quickly enough.
I slowed my pace a bit as I crossed the street, having the presence of mind to look both ways. The last thing that I needed was to be flattened by a passing car while doing my fearless hero impression. It wouldn't help anybody, and it would really inconvenience me, not to mention being supremely embarrassing. If the old man ever heard about it – which I highly suspect that he would – I'd never hear the end of it.
"Remember that time you up and decided to act like some sort of knight in shining armor without even bothering to look both ways before crossing the street?"
Finally entering the alley itself, I started moving at a slow and cautious walk, keeping my eyes and ears open to everything around me – I didn't want to be caught by surprise by whatever danger was waiting there.
It was hard to see through the darkness, and the sounds of light neighborhood traffic muffled any noises. My still labored breathing wasn't exactly helping the situation either, but I was quickly getting it under control.
There was also some music ... soft and distant echoing down the alley. There must have been a bar nearby.
After several nerve-wracking steps deeper into the unknown, I finally saw them silhouetted by the low light coming from the opposite end of the alley. Three ... no, four figures close together, over thirty yards away. Laughing and low growls reached my ears, but beneath them all was the distinct sound of a woman's soft whimpering and distressed pleas.
"Please, no..." -sob- "Please don't hurt me."
Red hot rage burned away any and all of the nervousness from within me.
"Hey asshole! Leave her alone!" I yelled loudly, doing my level best to convey a tone of menace and absolute authority.
Three figures froze, and snapped their gazes straight toward me. I know they did, because I could see their glowing red eyes piercing through the darkness, focusing right on me.
It couldn't be just some garden variety, normal human assholes. It couldn't be an average, everyday fight, mugging, hell, even a rape. Nooo ... it had to be a few near immortal, undead predatory beings with superhuman strength, speed and senses, driven by bloodlust and some serious impulse control issues. And right on the very same night that I just happened to be near drained and forgotten all of my gear.
That's what I get for jumping into a situation head-first without all the pertinent information.
.... There is more of this story ...