CHAPTER 1 – PREY
For the second time this month, Dairel “Brown” Hurst is dreaming of her. The brown skin beneath the white linen dress. The athletic frame with the short black hair. She approaches him, as she did before. The last time she came to him, the setting was Honolulu, the sands of Waikiki Beach. The sun had gone down. It was just the two of them. She’s walking to him the same way she did in Hawai’i. Slowly. Sultry. Seductive. It’s still under a midnight sun. Only this time the location isn’t paradise, it’s a Louisiana cemetery. A fog rolls along the dirt, the ground, the graves. Her sultry saunter draws closer. And that’s when he sees what he didn’t see in the last dream. The red eyes, the fangs.
He knows where he is now.
“Darrell, Daryl,” he said with a heavy breath.
“Come now,” the familiar voice said. “They told me to call them Black and Blue.”
This is where he buried his brothers. This is no dream. This is a nightmare. She’s here. Essem.
“The Dark Child.”
She smiles at the mention of her name, letting just enough of the fangs show. She reaches out to him. She fingers his shoulders. As a musician to a keyboard. As someone who wants to play. But he doesn’t want to play. He wants to scream, but he can’t bring the sound from his throat. She’s behind him now. He feels her breath on his neck. The tiny hairs prickle. Still, there is no scream. He’d settle for a whimper.
“Shh,” she whispers. “You don’t have to wake up yet.”
She lightly grazed her fangs along the nape of his neck. Just enough to produce the sensation of goosebumps. Brown’s subconscious triggers his body’s fight or flight response system. His mind searches for something, for anything to focus on. But all he feels is Essem. She’s in his mind. She has his body. She wants his soul. He fights to move. He reaches his hand up, he grabs a tuft of his red hair. He pulls and tugs. Nothing. He’s still asleep. He’s still in the cemetery. He uses his other hand to give his red beard a swift yank. He keeps yanking, keeps pulling. As if doing so is the key to freedom. He feels her soft hand reach around his waist. But he knows the softness is a lie. He knows how strong she really is. This time he desperately tugs on his facial hair, like weeds being pulled from a garden. He closed his eyes and went inside himself. Struggling to find his voice. Something, anything. He found it. In a corner. In the dark. He ran to it. Ran to the voice. He grabbed hold and screamed as loud as his vocal cords would allow. His eyes snapped open and he leaped out of bed, crashing into a corner of his bedroom. He looked back at his bed. He was no longer asleep, but she is still there. Essem is lying in his bed.
“Me,” she said. Her eyes were brown instead of red. Her fangs didn’t show. But there was no mistaking the white linen dress, complete with the bullet hole in the upper breast area his brother Black put in it when he tried to kill her.
“We had a deal,” Dairel said.
“Yep, we did.”
“Y-you said you’d leave me alone if I didn’t talk.”
“Yep, I did.”
“No one knows!” He said.
“You sure about that?”
“I swear. On the graves of my brothers!”
“Really? How cute. Get dressed.”
She raises up out of bed. Starts looking around the room.
“Wait, what? Wait, wait, where are you taking me?”
She doesn’t say anything for a moment. Instead, she looks at the various knick-knacks. Picking up one item and giving it the once over and setting it down before choosing another.
“Get. Dressed. I won’t ask again.” Her tone said more than her words did. She peered through his closet. “Oh! And wear that hunting uniform. You know, the one you and your brothers wore the night you all tried to kill me.”
“It’s…in that there closet. In the back, on the floor. Folded in the corner.”
“Ah! So, it is!” She said, kneeling to grab the bundle. She threw it at him and went back to looking through the closet. “You sure like your flannel shirts, huh?”
It was like she was trying to make small talk conversation. If she was, Dairel didn’t know how to respond. Or even if he should say anything at all. Essem noticed this silence and glanced at him.
“Oh, I get it. Private dresser, right? I’ll just go in the other room. But you got five minutes, okay? Okay.”
What else could he do? Of course, he had weapons within reach. He pretty much had a firearm in every room, including a modified M-16 behind the dresser not even six feet from him. But what good would it do? It didn’t help Black and Blue. Brown knew he had no choice. He had four minutes left.
Essem strolled into the kitchen and started rummaging. She found an unopened fudge brownie snack cake. She poured a glass of milk and took a seat at the glass-framed dining table.
“I love these things,” she said after her first bite. “You wanna know what bothers me the most, though? Not the fact you three tried to kill me. I mean, yeah, did that piss me off? Sure! I think anyone would get upset over that.” She hesitated, as if considering. “Well, maybe not Gandhi. But that’s getting off topic. No, it’s the fact you shot me.”
She hesitated again. She wondered how Adrian did it. How he was so good at getting his point across. “Well, not so much that you shot me, but that you put a bullet hole in this dress. This here is my favorite dress. It was the last gift my mom gave to me before she died. I mean, yeah and sure and stuff I don’t have any emotional attachment to things from my former life. Nostalgia, maybe? Can I call it that? Kinda like these brownies. Used to love them back in the day. I still do. Especially with milk. Yum yum yummy!”
Less than five minutes later, Brown appeared in clear view in the living room.
“Ah! Just in time, too! I grabbed a quick bite. Hope you didn’t mind. Fudge brownie. Love those things.”
“Essem, please.” Dairel Hurst found he was able to whimper after all.
“Shh! Now let’s get a look at you.”
She started walking around him. Giving him the once over like she did the items in his room.
“There you are. There’s the Brown brother I remember. From head to toe, too. Nothing’s out of place, either.”
Anyone on the outside looking in would probably be shocked, perhaps even appalled at Dairel Hurst’s visible fear. After all, he had the young woman before him in height, weight, and musculature. But this was no ordinary woman, and Brown and his late brothers very well knew it.
“Essem, please. We had a deal.”
“Okay, two things. First, yes, we had a deal, until you broke it.”
This revelation caused Dairel’s eyes to buck wide open.
“Shh,” she said, placing a finger to his lips. Her eyes turned from brown to red. “Second, Essem is what my friends call me. You’re not my friend.”
Before Dairel could register what was happening, the Dark Child backhanded him with such force, it knocked him out. Brown lay unconscious on his living room floor.
“You’re my prey.”