Thirty-plus years ago, my mother encouraged me to read on a day when I was bored enough to drive her nuts. I did that a lot in those days, drive her nuts. When she suggested reading I told her reading was boring. She stormed off. I figured, she’s pissed enough I’ll not see her the rest of the day. A minute later she marched into my room and handed me Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. My love of reading began that afternoon.
Over the decades, my reading days rose and fell with the crests and troughs of life. Writing, a passion I first discovered with the prompting of my English teacher, lifted me out of the doldrums of a post naval career life adrift with no clear course.
This Novmber I hope to release my first horror/thriller novel with a vampire that frightens and a theme that illuminates. Here’s what I’ve got for an introductory chapter for my vampire Sevastyan.
CHAPTER 1: A Familiar Stranger
Outside Oymyakon-35, a gulag in the Yakutskaya A.S.S.R. November, 1, 1982
Frigid air stung Private Porshenko’s lungs as he trudged into the dim forest through groin-deep snow. The steel butt of his AK-47, like an antenna for the cold, transmitted a dull ache through his snow-camouflaged parka.
“Be quiet and quick,” the major ordered. “Keep each other within sight as you spread out and don’t get lost.”
The Major’s name meant nothing to Porshenko. It hadn’t mattered with the other three he’d served this year. Two majors transferred away quickly. They’d served their brief penance and gone back to civilization. The third had justified his exile by committing further crimes against Oymyakon-35 inmates and staff. Private Porshenko bid farewell to that last major through the iron sights of his rifle. He’d been on the firing squad.
Lost in the Siberian wilderness, Oymyakon-35‘s warden had dubbed it ‘a logging town on lockdown.’ The witty phrase painted the frozen, squalid prison with broad strokes. The gulag relied on its remoteness more than the meager fence with its rusted barbed wire. Animals and frostbite took down the bold and deterred the sane… until now.
“Why bother searching? He’ll die overnight.” He had wondered.
“This convict has friends in all the wrong places,” the Major insisted. “He’ll have transportation out there, somewhere. And if he escapes, our court martial won’t end as cozy as a gulag.”
Sharp and brave, clean and honorable, this major impressed Porshenko, but worried him more. What dark deed sees a soldier of his caliber among the forgotten?
The soft snow-scape swallowed distant sounds until the small noises he made felt deafening. His footfalls sounded like a shovel digging through loose sand, his breath huffed like a train at the station. He looked left, then right; only two men in the world knew his whereabouts.
A wolf’s howl chilled his blood below freezing. He forced himself to take the next step away from his safe, warm barracks, further into the spruce and snow maze. The wind sighed to nothing, then shifted.
A scream, gunfire, and shouts sent him shuddering. He threw up his rifle and aimed as he searched. He scanned right, and then left… lost, alone. Another choppy assault rifle’s report sent him racing, stumbling and groaning through the snow.
Beneath evergreen boughs, through shallower snow, he ran faster until he found a comrade, fallen at tree line’s edge. A beast hunkered over the man and tore into his throat. Violently it shook free bits of parka, scarf, and uniform. Blood splashed out onto the snow, dark, almost black in contrast. Porshenko stood breathless and watched. The beast bore a human form. Dressed in tatters, the demon hardly wore enough to stave an autumn night’s chill, yet remained focused on its feast, impervious to the cold. Grey flesh shone strangely in the moonlight, as though hewn from polished stone, translucent, with black veins beneath. The creature stopped and tilted its head. Ears, long and pointed like devils of old, twitched. Private Porshenko raised his rifle, his grip quivering. Slowly the creature turned to face him.
“Come, boy, come and see your comrade.”
Porshenko shuddered and blinked. A man, not a monster, rose to his feet. Reddish blond hair blended into a deep red beard. His broad brow shaded his large eyes from the night’s meager light. Porshenko’s head ached when he fought to recall what he’d seen only a heartbeat ago. The size and shape remained the same, yet details had shifted in the dim light.
This man, with his thick arms, wide shoulders and squat frame, resembled his father. Only the colors were wrong, pale smooth skin and the hair.
“Your weapon,” the stranger’s whisper sounded as though spoken from within his frostbitten ear, “you have no need of it.”
Porshenko stole a glance behind the stranger and met his Major’s lifeless gaze. Yashkin had been his name. It slammed into his head like a tombstone.
Images flickered in the corners of Porshenko’s mind, bloody fangs, a blood soaked demon’s face. Pain knifed through his skull. He shook it off and realized he’d dropped his rifle.
The stranger smiled. “Come with me. I have questions.” He held out his hand.
“Who are you?” Porshenko whispered.
The stranger recoiled, his features tightened, tensed. Warily, he allowed a smile. “Answer my questions and I shall share my name.” He pulled the Private close in an iron embrace. “Hold tight.”
Porshenko clutched the threadbare tunic. His stomach fell with the first leap. The stranger leapt in great gliding strides through the woods. His stomach lurched. Often they landed high in the trees where the stranger’s grip and kick tore at the tough bark. The wind of their speed numbed the soldier’s cheeks and crept through his layered uniform. Vertigo swept through him and his mind reeled. Sights, sounds, and consciousness all bobbed like a buoy in a storm.
It all stopped as suddenly as it started. They stood amidst dark timbers, blackened by fire, white with snow, cracked and crumbling from dozens of seasons, dozens of thaws, a house burned decades ago.
“I once built this home,” the stranger said. He motioned to the dilapidated remains. He looked again to the Private. “Why do so many soldiers search for one prisoner?”
“He endangers the State,” Porshenko answered through chattering teeth. “He threatens us all with his lies and treachery.”
“And if they do not find him?”
“More men will come with search lights, dogs, and helicopters too.”
“More and more, you press in upon my quiet life.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Sevastyan. I am part of the wilderness that culls your herd. These woods were mine before your father was born.”
Sevastyan approached and grasped the soldier by his shoulders. “Forgive me, I’d no intentions of killing your comrades, but they left me no choice.”
Porshenko’s heart sank and his shivers vanished. The man’s features melted away, revealing the monster he’d forgotten until now. Closer than before, he looked into yellow irises aglow with the moon beams, cracked and bleeding in spots. They revealed the demon’s fear.
“What are you?” he asked in a whisper. It took tremendous effort to say even that. He felt a scream boiling inside, yet he felt paralyzed by those yellow ember eyes.
Sevastyan features softened as the monster pitied him. “Surely you know, just as you know that now I have my answers, you will die and I must run.”