Welcome to Black Garden! I just finished fixing this story up and some of you know this and some of you don't. To those of you who have read this before, I hope you will approve of the changes I've made. To those who are reading for the first time, welcome and please enjoy my humble offering!
It began early that morning at an appalling six thirty. I woke suddenly from a deep sleep and my eyes drifted almost warily to my still dark window. I don't know what I thought I was going to see, but there was nothing there. Just snow and bare trees, the limbs of which were slightly bent in one direction from the strong winds that sometimes swept in off of Lake Superior. I sat up in bed and stared at the dark, frozen tree line for a while, as though waiting for something, anything, to jump out yelling, "Here I am!" Finally, when nothing materialized, I released my breath in a sigh and shook my head at my own foolishness.
I wasn't exactly paranoid delusional or anything, but my imagination was somewhat overdeveloped and it had a tendency to grab me by the scruff and yank me along for the ride. I'd had more adventures by now than anyone on Earth, and all inside my own head. When I dreamt, it was of worlds, places, creatures that had never existed. A hopeless romantic that was more comfortable living in seclusion than amongst others who would never understand.
And damned if it didn't pay well!
Of course my publishers tended to get fed up with my constant tendency to forget or ignore deadlines, but that was minor. They put up with me because I was good and they saw more profit indulging my eccentricities than not. And it wasn't like writing was my only gig, either. I found teaching to be quite enjoyable, though only as a substitute. I think anything more than that would drive me crazy.
I looked around my dark room, taking in the white walls, dark green carpet, artwork, and white pine furniture. Everything was painted in navy shadows, but remained otherwise the same as when I'd gone to sleep hours earlier. Glancing back out the window, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was really wrong and I stared hard at the distant tree line, but nothing moved that I could see. Giving a huff of irritation at myself, I tossed my covers aside and got out of bed. There was no way I'd be able to go back to sleep now, so might as well get a start on the day.
I live on several miles of "nowhere" in Michigan's U.P., and my ranch-style home overlooked Lake Superior. It was winter, very January, and the lake looked more like a barren waste than anything else. I loved it here, though. It was mine and though it wasn't always easy to make a good living up here, thanks to my books, I managed quite well enough. I craved solitude for the most part and up here, that's exactly what I found.
It was starting to snow when I locked up my home, entered the garage with my coffee in hand, and climbed into my 4x4. Starting up my car, I pulled out of my garage and took a look around at the tree line surrounding my home. I still had the feeling that something was off, but there was nothing except the frozen skeletons of winter trees and the deep snows typical for this part of the country. With a frown, I maneuvered my car through a Y-turn and headed down the long country drive toward the highway, thinking that perhaps I had been writing about vampires too much lately.
I knew my very active imagination has messed with me before, but I couldn't help but feel watched until I hit the highway, though I was fairly certain that I was just spooking myself. After all, the whole "there are eyes watching me from the trees" sensation has struck before and doubtless would again. A touch of fanciful paranoia brought on by a mind that spends day after day in the clouds. I decided, a mile down the road with AC/DC's Highway to Hell blaring from my speakers, that I didn't really mind too much. After all, when you live in the frozen north where nothing interesting happens, you have to make your own excitement. Right?
I spent the day at the local high school overseeing an algebra class. I thought it was a spectacularly bad idea, but the regular teacher gave me an answer key for the days homework assignment and I managed to win their attention and good behavior with the bribe of candy and the promise of goofing off at the end if they could make it through the work of the day in a timely fashion. It ensured that they got a solid fifteen minutes at the end to waste as they saw fit (as long as they were quiet about it), and I saw at least one girl trying to finish her homework for the next class in that time.
It almost made me laugh. I remembered being that girl and it was hard to believe that it had only been eleven years since then. Crazy, that's what it was. Somethings never changed, it seemed.
I had stopped by the grocery store on my way home, thinking that chicken in the roaster, stuffing, and some baby reds with carrots sounded spectacular for dinner, having totally forgotten about my early morning flirt with insanity, but when I pulled onto the mile-long drive to my home in the gathering darkness, the sensation of being watched returned. It was strange because I couldn't see anyone and there weren't any animals that I could spot. Not even deer and the woods around my home were thick with them. There was only one thing (ok, maybe two things…) that it could be.
Alien vampires from hell!
Or my over-active imagination again.
I grinned with a chuckle, listening to King Nothing on my radio and considered calling my mom to tell her about that one. I could hear it now.
"Hey, Ma. I'm being stalked."
"Oh God. Who is it this time?"
"It's not a 'who'. It's a 'what'."
"Uh-huh. I'm listening."
"Alien vampire from hell. And I'm pretty sure he's a biker, but I haven't confirmed it yet. I'm thinking about calling him Edward the Longfang… The Third!"
"Oh God… Jess… It's a good thing you can make that imagination of yours pay."
The clouds from the day's snow moved off and the full moon came out to play. The wizened, black limbs of nighttime trees reached with wooden claws to capture the silver orb in the sky though it always managed to slip their grasp. The light pierced the darkness and painted the world in silver-blue light and sooty shadows, but as my car left the trees another light caught my attention. I pulled into my garage, got out of my car, and poked my head out.
There was a body sprawled in my front yard, a dark shape against the snow and the phosphorescent green it was covered in. He twitched a bit, his head moving slightly, and I had no. Idea. What. He. Was. All I knew, judging from the body structure and musculature, was that this was indisputably a male. A very big male. And it didn't look like he was wearing a costume, even with what appeared to be the insides of a glow stick covering him. But he looked hurt. And he looked cold, moving sluggishly, but as though he knew someone was there and couldn't summon the energy to do anything more than move his head. And I no longer felt those "eyes" watching. It was just me and Edward the Longfang and I had no idea what to do.
"Oh. My. God…"
His head jerked at the sound of my voice and I heard a strange rolling, clicking growl. I didn't care that it sounded weak and tired, I just cared that it didn't sound like anything that had ever originated on this planet. I was really hoping this was a prank and not some guy in a costume pretending to be hurt just so he could in turn hurt me. Pretty elaborate ruse though, I know, but a girl can't be too careful. He looked entirely too realistic, even for Hollywood, and besides that, how had he ended up in my front yard? In the middle of nowhere? In the snow? And why would he do that in the first place?
Steeling myself, I walked cautiously over to him, boots crunching in the snow, wading through the drifts of luminous, moon-lit silver, and watched him go very still. The strange appendages on his face widened, spreading out, and he growled again. I stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Those were mandibles! Fucking, God-damned mandibles! He was so not in a costume and I had no clue what he was. Closer now, I could tell that the green stuff covering him was frozen and there was a lot of it on his face and abdomen, but his injuries were not limited to those two places. He'd obviously been through the grinder, Edward the Longfang had. And if the green stuff was frozen, then he'd been out here in the snow for quite some time. Looking at the snow around him there were the tracks of four different people, all coming from and going back to the trees, though somewhat filled in from the storm earlier. Good God! He'd been out in the storm and was still alive! What was he? I stared at him a moment longer and realized; it hadn't been my imagination after all! I really had been watched!
Well, wha'd'ya know?
Staring, I tried to decide what to do, but he was damned big at roughly 7'5" with broad shoulders, a deep, barrel chest, thick, muscular waist, and the most impressive abs I'd ever seen. He was completely covered in slabs of granite-hard, finely chiseled muscle that had to have weighed the same as real granite did. There were black, wicked-looking claws on his hands and feet and though his hands looked like anyone elses (barring claws and strange skin), his feet only had four toes and a dew-claw. His blood, at least that's what it looked like, was green and glowing where it seeped freshly from his wounds, while his skin was green mottled with blackish blue. His face, stomach, and inner legs and arms, however, were all a lightly toasted cream color like aged parchment. His hair was the darkest black, well-oiled, and plaited in many neat-as-a-pin dreadlocks growing out from under a frilled ridge of bone along the top of his skull with thick silver beads, bones, and a few feathers and fangs as decoration.
His armor and equipment, like himself, had obviously seen better days though appeared as equally well-cared for as his hair in spite of whatever ordeal had caused him to be here. I had put off looking, somehow knowing the sight would be awful, but I finally let my gaze wander up past the mandibles and I covered my mouth with a hand. He had quite a few rather extensive injuries, but his face was the true horror as I knew it would be. It wasn't the large, powerful mandibles with tusks that would make a rhino jealous and it wasn't the large, scythe-like fangs behind the mandibles that horrified me. It was his eyes.
Someone had blinded him, slashing deliberately across his face. That thick green blood had flowed down the sides of his head to pool on either side, melting the snow before freezing. They had wounded him, weakened him, and left him for dead.
In front of my house.
In the snow.
It was so evil it chilled me more than the snow or the wind off the lake ever could. What had he done to deserve such a fate? To deserve being marooned in such an inhospitable place right next to the home of a creature so different from him? It was a terrible thing; a cruel, truly evil thing to do to someone. Injured and blind in the cold, unable to seek help, warmth or shelter and dependent upon the mercy of whomever found him… All the more it made me want to help him, if for no other reason than to spite whomever had done this. I left my bag and groceries there in the snow, promising myself I'd come back for them later.
"C'mon, big guy. Let's get you inside where it's warm."
A growl of warning was his only response as I bent to help him stand, though he slowly, weakly managed put his left arm over my shoulders himself without any prompting. Casting a glance at the doorway some twenty feet away while trying to shoulder his immense weight, I suspected that it was going to be a long walk. He was extremely tall and God was this guy heavy! He moved slowly, obviously in a great deal of pain, both from his injuries and the cold, and was leaning on me more and more with every clumsy step we took.
I grit my teeth and tried shifting my hold while he sagged, "C'mon, big guy. I know you're cold and your hurt and I promise you can rest soon in a warm bed and a heating blanket next to a roaring fire, safe and warm, but you're damned heavy. If you go down, I won't be able to get you back up and to safety. There's just a few more steps to the door and a little farther after that to a bed, so call up whatever you have left and I'll do the rest, but help a poor girl out here, ok?"
He gave a grim rumble and tensed, pulling his weight off of me with an effort that left him trembling. His breathing was coming in the gasping wheezes of someone on their last reserve and I felt genuinely bad for him. Opening the door, I cautioned him about the doorway's dimensions and he gave a rumble that even to me sounded obscene. Something involving "pauk", "ooman", and "lou-dte kalei". The only thing I understood was "ooman" and I gave my own growl.
"Hey, I'm trying to help you out, here. A little less antagonism and a little more gratitude, hmm? Then again, if you think you can make it on your own, you're welcome to go back to your snow bank."
He was quiet as I led him to the spare room with the extra-long queen-sized bed. It had a gas fireplace and was cozy enough (not that he'd see it) and I pulled the blankets back, then let him ease down to sit on the edge. He hissed in pain, head bowed, then sighed in relief, shoulders slumped. Just as I realized I'd have to somehow get him out of his gear, his shaky hands began removing his armor and tech before handing each piece to me to set somewhere safe and out of the way.
"So, I can either clean and bandage your wounds while you're still awake or let you pass out first, it's up to you."
He tugged weakly at the fish netting that he wore, then felt near some of his injuries and discovered the gaping holes where the wires had snapped. With a grumbling sigh, he tore the rest into pieces and handed me the scraps. All that remained were his metal sandal-boots and a loincloth that would probably need to be laundered at some point because it had some of his glow-stick blood on it.
"O-kaaaay… What am I doing with this? Save it? Throw it away? Use it as decoration? Go fishing with it? What?"
He angled his ravaged face toward me and huffed before reaching around him and, finding the nearest pillow, swung his feet up with a groan of pain. He lay back then and his breath eased out of him slowly. Clearly, he didn't much give a damn one way or the other.
Grumbling, I turned on the fire place, set the scraps of wire fish net down, and left to pull my belongings from the snow, before gathering up some rags, towels, and first aid supplies. This was going to be a long evening.
Maybe I'd just make a frozen pizza instead…
I own nothing but this little story of mine. ^.^