Jack Kursed

Jack Kursed

Meet Jack. Jack's been awake for two hundred years, and he's a little cranky.

The victim of a witch’s curse, Jack has been awake for two hundred years. Unable to die, unable to sleep, he’s trapped in a state of existence that no one can relate to, not even his vampire best friend Victoria.

Using his unique condition, he has helped Victoria in keeping the supernatural world at bay. Evil vampires, werewolves, and monsters have all died at their hand. But he’s about to face his biggest challenge, eight-year-old orphan Tiffany.

Tiffany shows Jack a side of life he’s never seen. A beautiful, hopeful world, where even someone full of rage and disdain for mortal life can find happiness.

However, when his new life and friends are in danger, Jack will unleash a fury two hundred years in the making.

  • Chapter 1

    Year: 1820

    “Excuse me.”

    John nearly dropped the bucket he was carrying at the sound of the feminine voice.  He turned to see Angela standing outside the gate on the dirt road that ran in front of his home.

    Angela looked lovely, as always.  Dark hair, emerald eyes, a slightly dirty white dress, a smile that lit up her face.  John smiled back at her.  She carried two half-full knapsacks, one in each hand.

    “Angela,” he said, putting a hand to his chest.  “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

    She laughed, a pleasant sound.  “You scare easily then, John.  There’s nothing frightening about little old me.”

    His brow furrowed when he noticed Angela was on foot.  She lived alone deep in the forest, but visited town once a month to trade.  The journey was too far to walk.

    “Where’s your horse?”

    Her smile vanished.  “He died, I’m afraid, two nights ago.”

    “How did you get here?”

    The corner of her mouth lifted slightly as she gestured to her feet.

    “This won’t do at all,” he said.  “Are you in town for trade?”

    She nodded and lifted her sacks.  “Yes.  Just supplies to keep me going.”

    “When you’re done, I’ll see if I can borrow a horse from Thomas.”

    “Oh, no, that’s not necessary.  I’ll be in town most of the day.  But I was wondering.  Would you know of a place I could stay for the night?”

    John scratched his head.  “Well, Miss Elizabeth usually has an extra room or two.  But, to be honest, that’s probably not a very good idea.”

    “Why not?”

    He took a deep breath.  “Not many people in town like you very much.”

    Angela leaned her head back and laughed.  John couldn’t help but be drawn to her neckline and the tops of her shoulders.  He never understood why such a beautiful woman lived alone out in the forest.  Her living arrangement only added to the rumors about her.

    “That’s why I’ve always liked you, John.  Very honest.  Tell me, does the town still think I’m a witch?”

    He lowered his head and blushed at the fact she’d heard the rumors.  Every month, as Angela rode away on her horse, the people in town would gather outside their stores and homes, watching her.  They whispered in hushed tones.  Some would giggle, others prayed and read from their Bibles.

    “Among other things, yes,” he said, smiling slightly.  “Our little town still has their silly superstitions.”

    “Every town does,” she said.  She locked eyes with some of the passersby, and then focused her gaze on John.  “I understand you’re not very popular yourself.”

    John held in his surprise.  Not only was this the longest conversation he ever had with Angela, but she was apparently asking about him around town.

    “Most of the town simply…leaves me alone.  I’m a private man.”

    “That’s a shame.  I have to go before the day slips away.  But I was hoping, since my options seem to be limited, would I be able to stay with you this evening?  I’ll certainly pay for your trouble.”

    “Of course.”

    “Thank you, John,” she said, smiling.  “I’ll try to be back before sunset.”

    He watched her walk down the road, moving in and out of the people going about their day.  It was only when she stopped at Mary’s fruit cart did he realize what he’d done.

    He agreed to let a woman he barely knew stay at his home.

    Picking up his bucket, he forced himself to remain calm.  He leaned on the fence and looked at the town around him.  It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.  Birds danced on the ground as Samuel and his daughter Gertie tossed them food.  The blacksmith Alexander leaned against his wagon and did his best to win the affection of Emily, the preacher’s daughter.

    Their town was small, barely a hundred people.  John knew nearly everyone by name, although not everyone knew him.

    Someone waved to him, just behind Alexander’s wagon in the middle of the road.  It was Angela, laughing and holding up an apple.

    John waved back, Angela’s infectious energy taking hold.  He needed to tend to his garden, pull a few more vegetables, chop wood, and then clean.  It had been months since he had company, and that was only a quick visit from Daniel about possibly buying one of his farm’s cows.

    His spirits fell when he opened his front door.

    There was no need to straighten up his home.  John simply didn’t own much.  His home was nothing more than a shack.  His parents raised him here, and left it to him when they died.  John loved his home with all his heart, but there were times he’d forgotten what it looked like to others.  It was barely large enough for a cot in one corner and a wood stove in the other.  There was no dining table, no chairs.  His one luxury was a tiny bookshelf near his cot with ten or so books, but his reading skills were quite limited.

    “What was I thinking?”

    John spent the rest of the afternoon trying to think of ways to send Angela away.  Perhaps he could speak to Elizabeth at the inn, convince her that Angela’s coin was as good as anyone else’s.

    There was the good chance Angela would leave on her own after seeing the inside of John’s home.  He laughed at the thought.

    The sun had nearly set when there was a knock at the door.  John grabbed one of several candles laying about.

    “One moment.”

    He opened the door to greet Angela, a smile on her face.  Her knapsacks were full from a day of trading.  Her smile turned awkward as John simply stood there.

    “Hi,” she said.  “May I come in?”

    “Oh, of course.  Sorry.”

    He grabbed the sacks from her as she stepped into his home.  She stood at the doorway, studying everything.

    “It’s not too late to find you a horse.  I know I live…very poorly.”

    “You live like a man who takes care of himself, and answers to no one.  You don’t care what others think of you.  I admire that.”

    “Thank you.”  He set her knapsacks down near the stove.  “I see trading went well.”

    “Yes.  Most people avoid looking me in the eye during a sale, but I’m used to that now.”

    John worked over the stove, making a stew large enough for two people.  Entertaining guests wasn’t a strength of his.  He was content to leave the conversation for another day, but Angela had other things in mind.

    “I see you grow your own vegetables.”

    “The best skill my parents taught me.  I’ll trade in town, make some coin.  I can’t ask for much more than what I have.”

    She was behind him, almost uncomfortably close.

    “And no woman to share your life with?”

    “That’s…personal.”

    “Most of the people I talked to today didn’t have much to say about you.  I’d mention your name, and they’d look away, or change the subject.  May I ask why?”

    John cleared his throat.  “I wouldn’t think my name would come up during a sale.”

    “I’m curious about you.”

    He turned from the stove.  Angela was a few feet away, her eyes locked with his.  So beautiful.

    “There’s a plantation a short ride from here.  The town believes my parents rode in at night, and freed the slaves there.  There wasn’t any evidence, but still the town believes what it wants.  My parents have been dead a few years, but it seems hate can live quite a while.”

    He didn’t know why he told her.  It was strange to even speak the words.  The town didn’t welcome him, didn’t invite him to their dances and gatherings.  But they tolerated him, and that was enough.

    “That’s what the town believes.  What do you believe?”

    John said nothing.  That night was still fresh in his mind, even though he was only a child at the time.  When he woke up in the middle of the night his parents were gone.  Those were the longest hours of his life.  He cried in the corner in the dark, calling for them.  When they finally came back home at daybreak they were excited and emotional.  His father looked like he’d been in a fight, but they were both happy.

    They never talked about what happened, and John never asked.  But the rumors around town started, and people talked with John and his parents less and less.  They pulled him out of school to help with the garden, and that had been his life ever since.

    When they died, he was all alone.  There was never any woman in town that took an interest in him.  Most wouldn’t even address him by name.

    “John?” Angela asked.  “Are you okay?”

    “Yes.  I’m sorry.  Just daydreaming there for a minute.  Let’s talk about you.  How is it that you live in the forest alone?”

    She raised an eyebrow.  “How else would I practice my witchcraft?”

    He laughed, but quickly grew quiet as she took a step toward him.  The back of his legs touched the stove as he tried to back away from her.

    “I like you, John.”

    “You…don’t even know me.”

    “I’ve watched you for a long time.  I know you’re better than this town.  You deserve so much more.”

    Angela leaned forward to kiss him.  Gently, at first, touching his lips softly.  Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close.

    John knew he should push her away.  She was a mystery.  He barely knew anything about her.  But he was weak, and it had been a long time since he felt the touch of a beautiful woman.

    He kissed her back, and was almost surprised when he held her close, and she didn’t pull away.  Rejection had been a constant companion all his life.  He almost expected Angela to change her mind.  She didn’t.

    They moved from the stove to his cot, the stew all but forgotten.  They undressed as they went, Angela’s figure almost ghost-like by the candlelight.  John was mesmerized as she forced him onto the cot and straddled him.

    He didn’t know her last name, didn’t know where she was from.  He didn’t know how she came to be in the forest, or why she had taken an interest in him.

    As he took her in his arms, he didn’t care.

    *****

    John drifted in and out of sleep.  He didn’t remember the last time he shared his cot with a woman.  They fell asleep naked, Angela’s leg over his waist.  It was a wonderful experience, the real world blending with his dreams, her quiet breathing in his ear.  Her hair tickled his nose.  He would awaken, brush the hair away with a small laugh, and then fall back to sleep.

    From deep in his dream he was aware she wasn’t at his side.  It was still the dead of night when he opened his eyes.  The candles had long burnt out, but moonlight through the window let him see a shape hovering over him.  Curvy, with hair just past the shoulders.

    “Angela?”

    “We’ll live together forever, love.”

    Her hand touched his bare chest as she put the vial to his lips.  The bile, disgusting liquid poured down his throat.  He gagged and lashed out, striking Angela’s hand and sending the vial crashing into the wall.

    “What have you done?” she shouted.

    John barely heard her.  He rolled from his cot to the floor, on his hands and knees.  He retched, expecting to vomit, but nothing happened.

    Climbing to his feet, they moved past each other as John made his way to the front door.  More moonlight filled his home as he threw it open.

    Angela was on her knees, still naked, hovering over the broken vial.  The disgusting liquid seeped into the wood and between the cracks.

    Not far from her on the floor and walls were strange symbols and words written in a language John had never seen.  He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like they were written in blood.

    “You are a witch.”

    Angela looked up at him.  Her expression was a mix of sadness and anger.  Tears fell from her eyes and mixed with the strange liquid.

    “Like my mother and father before me,” she said.  “You’ve ruined everything.  It took me years to make that potion.  Studying, experimenting.  We were going to live forever.”

    “Get out of my home.  Now!”

    New voices, just on the road outside.

    “John?  What’s all the commotion?”

    “Where are his clothes?”

    “What’s going on in there?”

    John looked out beyond his home.  People were gathering on the road with lanterns and candles.  Samuel, Mark, Elizabeth, Henry.  It seemed the entire town was outside.  He slammed the door shut and backed up a few steps.

    “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Angela said, placing a hand on his shoulder.  “John, you foolish human.”

    Pulling away, he spun to face her.  “What have you done to me?”

    Shadows moved across the floor as the people outside surrounded his home.  He thought his mind was playing tricks on him as the shadows took the form of pitchforks and axes.  His breath caught in his chest as a very real pitchfork crossed in front of his window.

    “We heard screams, John,” someone shouted.  “Just what are you doing?”

    The door flew open.  Everything happened so fast.  Alexander the blacksmith and Michael the preacher led the way with a growing crowd behind them.  They looked at the naked couple, the strange markings, the broken glass and liquid on the floor.  They didn’t ask any questions, or give John the chance at an explanation.

    The beating was swift, but brutal.  John strangely didn’t feel any pain, but didn’t have time to wonder why.  Angela cried out next to him as they whipped and struck her.    Witch or not, it hurt him to hear her suffer.

    John’s hands were tied behind his back, and a noose slipped over his head.  He was pushed out of his life-long home, Angela right behind him.

    “What are you doing?” he muttered, nearly tripping on the road.  “What have I done to you?”

    “This woman is a witch,” Michael said.  “And you’ve taken her to your bed.”

    “She’s not a witch,” John lied.  “And what we do is none of your business-“

    “Save it for the Lord, John.”

    “This is all your fault!” Angela shouted behind him.

    She fell, and they dragged her on the ground, like a dog.  John’s head reeled back as a thrown rock struck under his eye.  They led John and Angela to Elizabeth’s inn, where they tossed the loose end of their nooses over the sturdy wooden sign.

    “Please, don’t do this,” John begged.  “What you saw back there-“

    Mark and Samuel, two of the stronger men in town, pulled on John’s rope.  The noose tightened around his neck as his body lifted up.  The balls of his feet barely touched the ground.  Angela was to his right in the same position, tears and blood streaming down her face.  Despite his anger, he tried to move to her, to be close to her one last time.  They pulled on his rope once more, freezing him in place.

    Michael read from a Bible as the crowd around him cheered.  They pelted John and Angela with rocks.

    “Any last words?” Michael asked Angela.

    She tried to twist in her noose to look at Michael.

    “You’re better than they are-“

    Her last words were cut off when she was lifted into the air.  John watched in horror as her body spun and swayed, bumping into him several times.  She kicked with her feet, her face turning purple.  John pulled uselessly against the rope around his wrists.

    Finally, her naked body stopped moving.  They dropped her to the ground, and her head landed near John’s foot.  Her lifeless eyes looked up to him.

    He looked at the crowd, at the collection of torches and weapons.  Angela was a witch, and the town felt they were doing the right thing.  Still, if he could, he would have killed them all.

    John felt a rage he never felt before.

    “This is an excuse!” he shouted.  “You’ve wanted to hurt me for years.  All you needed was a reason.  Now you’ve killed a woman who meant you no harm-“

    His words died in his throat as he was lifted into the air.  He stretched his toes as far as he could, desperate to feel footing of any kind.  The crowd roared around him, laughing and pointing their weapons in the air.  More thrown rocks struck his body.  John felt the pressure build in his head.  Then, all at once, the pain and pressure stopped.

    The town waited for him to die.

    And they waited.

    John dropped a few inches as Mark and Samuel’s strength began to wane.  He watched the crowd as he spun uselessly.  Their expressions went from joy and celebration to wonder and fear.

    “Is this the witch’s doing?  He’s…not dying!”

    His foot brushed against Angela’s body as he fell a few more inches.

    Alexander stepped toward John, ax in hand.  The blacksmith waited for John’s body to spin one more rotation.  He reared the ax back and swung as hard as he could.  The ax found its mark and buried into his chest.  The crowd gasped and jumped back as Mark and Samuel finally dropped him to the ground next to Angela.

    John didn’t hesitate.  He didn’t wonder why he was alive, or why he felt no pain at having an ax sticking out of his chest.  It was difficult to move with his hands bound behind him, but he managed to roll to his knees.  Taking one last look at Angela, he ran away from the crowd, around the side of the inn, directly into the forest.

    It only took the crowd a moment to gather their senses.

    “The Devil has him!”

    “We have to get him!”

    John ran, pushing his way through the forest.  The forest reminded him that he was still naked, completely without protection.  Rocks poked his feet, brush grabbed his leg, a tree branch scratched his arm.

    The ax was still in his chest, the noose still around his neck.  Twelve feet of rope dragged on the ground behind him, occasionally catching on a bush or stump.  His wrists bound behind him made it difficult to keep balance.

    He pushed on.  The shouts and taunts of the town weren’t far behind.  There were four, maybe five voices.  John moved under the cover of darkness for a few minutes, but daybreak was slowly approaching.  Soon, he wouldn’t be able to hide, and he couldn’t run forever.

    “I see him up there!  Come on, we got him!’

    He jumped over a fallen tree.  His neck snapped back as the loose rope caught on a limb.  He pulled free and kept running, but could hear them getting closer.

    The sound of the river was just ahead.  John enjoyed fishing there with his father when he was younger.  If he could cross it somehow, maybe they’d give up their chase.  Or perhaps he could simply let the current carry him away.

    John heard the footsteps a moment before colliding into her.  Her forehead smacked into his chin, and they both fell to the ground.  There was a feminine cry of surprise as he landed on his side.

    He couldn’t believe his eyes.

    The first thing he was drawn to was the long red hair, well beyond her shoulders.  Piercing green eyes, very pale skin.  She wore a black dress, torn near her neck, and was covered in blood.  Resembling upper class, it looked like she had been enjoying a night out.

    He gasped when he finally took note of her face.

    Her mouth was open, and John saw her abnormally long canines, like a dog or a wolf.  Her eyes shifted from green to red, a deeper shade than her hair.  An open wound bled where her dress was torn, her breasts nearly exposed.  Blood dripped to the ground.

    Despite the physical oddities, her expression was human, and one John knew all too well.

    Fear.

    He shouted as she crawled toward him.  John couldn’t move backwards, as his bound hands were in the way.  She made her way up his body as he squirmed under her.

    She gripped the ax, still in his chest, and pulled it free.  Hauling him to his feet with one hand, she cut the rope binding his wrists and removed the noose around his neck.

    Five men stopped as they caught sight of the both of them, holding various weapons.  John thought they were men from his town, having circled around to trap him.  When he didn’t recognize them he realized the redheaded woman was in the same situation he was.  Running for her life.

    John spun when he heard more footsteps.  Men he’d known most of his life, Samuel, Henry, Alexander, and Mark, stood their ground, holding axes, pitchforks, and torches.

    Something pressed against his back.  He took a quick glance over his shoulder to see the mysterious redheaded woman pressing against him, staring down her own pursuers.

    “Fire will kill me,” she said, gesturing to the torches.  “What will kill you?”

    John looked down at his chest, where only a minute ago an ax was embedded in his flesh.  There was no wound, no injury at all.  There was only a small trail of blood that led down his torso onto his hip.

    “I…don’t know.”

    She twirled the ax she’d taken from John.  “An interesting problem to have.”

    The woman pushed away from John as Samuel lunged forward with his pitchfork.  Two of the tines went through his throat.  Samuel pushed as hard as he could, driving John back, until the pitchfork lodged in a tree.

    John coughed as his throat tickled.  He was aware of the fight going on behind him.  An ax cutting through the air, cries of pain, what sounded like an animal snarling.

    Alexander stepped forward and swung his ax as hard as he could.  The blade struck John above the ear, but barely penetrated, like Alexander had attacked a wall of stone.

    John felt no pain.

    He looked at the men standing before him, fear written across their faces.  They didn’t give him mercy, allow him to explain himself, grant him a trial.  They dragged him out of his home and killed Angela, laughing the entire time.  They were trying to kill him.

    They had failed, and they would pay with their lives.

    He grabbed the pitchfork that still pinned him to the tree.  It took him two pulls to completely clear the tines from his throat.  His former neighbors, except for Samuel, slowly backed up.

    John dropped the pitchfork and reached for the ax in his head.  There was no pain and only a little bleeding.  He gripped the ax and swung at Samuel.  Whatever enchantment had happened to John was not the case for Samuel, as his head fell from his shoulders and landed a few feet away from his falling body.

    Henry, Alexander, and Mark turned to run.  They didn’t look back at their fallen friend, didn’t try to avenge him.  They ran just as fast in fear as they did when giving chase.  John nearly took a step in pursuit when he heard a female scream behind him.

    His knees shook as he looked at the scene.

    Blood was everywhere, on the ground, the trees, the leaves.  The men who chased the woman all lay dead at her feet.  She had killed them all in seconds.  Limbs were scattered about, a hand here, a foot there.  She was covered in blood, like she had bathed in it.  The ax she removed from John’s shoulder was buried in someone’s neck.

    She was screaming at the rising sun, poking its way through the treetops.  A beam of light caught her cheek, and John watched in fascination as it singed her skin.

    The woman dove to the ground and pulled the closest body on top of her.

    “Sir?” she said.  “May I ask for your assistance?”

    “Uh…”

    “Would you cover me, please?  The sun and I aren’t the best of friends.  Just drag these bodies on top of me.”

    John didn’t ask any questions.  He needed something to do, anything, to keep from screaming, and covering the mysterious woman with dead corpses was as good a task as any.

    He moved one corpse, and then another, before breaking down and crying.  As he dragged the last corpse onto the pile, he realized he was still naked.  He was sizing up the corpses for a comparable size when the woman spoke.

    “Please, don’t move any of them.  I know you need clothes, but I’ll die if the sunlight finds me.”

    John said nothing.  He stumbled away from the pile of bodies, heading toward the river.  He walked in up to his waist and immersed himself.  The water was cold, but not as much as it should have been.  He washed the blood off as best he could and scrubbed his hair.

    “Sir!” the woman called.  “I know you’re still there.  Could I talk with you?”

    John laughed and cried as he left the river and sat next to the pile of bodies.  Part of him knew he should be more conscious of the fact that he was naked in front of a strange woman.  But another part of him knew that was the least important thing happening.

    “What are you?” she asked.  “I thought you were like me.  But…normal heartbeat, immune to sunlight.  And was I seeing things, or did an ax and pitchfork do nothing to you?”

    John couldn’t speak.  He tried to find the words, but found it impossible to talk to a voice hidden in a mass of corpses.  His neck and head were fine.  There was nothing to remind him of what Samuel and Alexander did to him.  Only his memory.

    “I’m Victoria.  What’s your name?”

    “John.”

    “That’s a good, strong name.  Tell me, how did you come to be naked in these woods?”

    He laughed and stared into the mass of bodies.  He could barely see her eyes, looking at him from between an arm and where Samuel’s head used to be.

    “I…I had an encounter with a witch.”

    “You made a deal with a witch?”

    “No.  She made me drink something.”

    “You poor man.  Who knows what she’s done to you.  She’s dead now, I hope?  Witches are the most dangerous creatures alive.”

    John shook his head.  Angela was the first person in years to show him kindness and attention.  But as he rubbed where the pitchfork struck his throat, he couldn’t help but feel she did something terrible to him.

    “She’s dead,” he said quietly.  “And what are you, exactly?”

    “I thought you might have guessed.  I’m a vampire.”

    The fangs.  The red eyes.  The allergy to sunlight.  John remembered the stories his father told him when he was younger, but he said the only thing he could.

    “Vampires aren’t real.  They’re just stories.”

    “And yesterday at this time, I’m sure witches and witchcraft were just stories, too.”

    John was quiet.

    Victoria shifted under the bodies as more sunlight passed through the trees.

    “You have to stay hidden until night?” John asked.

    “Yes.  I’ll sleep soon, but if anyone finds and exposes me, I’ll burn.”

    “I’ll stay with you, watch over you.  We are the Devil’s children, after all, and I no longer have a home.”

    “Stop that nonsense.  Whether a witch enchanted you or not, we are who we choose to be.  But…thank you for staying.  And please, don’t be disgusted by this.”

    John watched the bodies shift slightly.  There was a biting sound, followed by what sounded like licking.  Blood ran down Samuel’s arm, disappearing into the darkness under his corpse.

    Victoria was drinking Samuel’s blood.

    Vampires.  Witches.  The legends were true.

    “I think I might be losing my mind.”

    “Don’t worry.  I’ll help you find it.”

    *****

    Victoria continued to talk as the hours passed.  Ants marched in front of John.  Birds sang in the trees.  It was a beautiful morning, a stark contrast to the hell he’d been through.

    John couldn’t focus on Victoria’s words.  She was telling a story of some kind, as if hiding from the sun under dead corpses next to a naked man was completely normal.  Her voice was lovely and helped relax him somewhat.

    But he couldn’t shake the dark thoughts.

    The town needed to be punished.

    “John?  Are you even listening?”

    He shook his head, trying to stop the deadly daydreaming.

    “I’m sorry.  I’m a little distracted.”

    “Of course you are.  No, I’m the one who’s sorry.  Sadly, killing men before they kill me is something I’ve done many times.  But let me try to help you.  I’m familiar with witches.  You said she made you drink something?”

    “Yes, something very disgusting.  I knocked it away from her before she could drink.  She said we’d be together forever.”

    Victoria laughed.  “Immortality.  Something witches have been searching for since the Black Death.  Impossible, though, except for those humans unfortunate enough to become vampires.”

    “How did you become a vampire?”

    “That’s none of your concern,” she said sharply.

    John was quiet.  He ran the blade of the ax he’d taken from the corpse pile down his arm for the fifth time.  It hurt only for a second as blood dripped from his skin to the ground.  The wound closed, not even leaving a scar.

    “Immortality,” he whispered.

    “I have to sleep now, John.  We’ll talk when the night falls.”

    The hours went by slowly.  John lay in the dirt by the river, hoping sleep would overtake him.  He wasn’t tired in the slightest.  Several times he thought he heard horses in the distance, but they didn’t approach.

    He wasn’t sure what he’d do if they did.

    John was tossing stones in the river when he finally heard movement behind him.  He turned to see Victoria pushing through her way through the corpses, tossing them aside.  It wasn’t night, but the sun had set.

    “This was definitely a strange day,” she said.

    John rose to his feet and approached her.  He finally had a chance to study her, to truly look at her.

    Victoria looked human now, no fangs, green eyes.  Even looking as disheveled as she did, she was a beautiful woman.  Petite, not very tall.  She moved with a sense of grace and confidence.  John could imagine her moving effortlessly through a dinner party, enchanting everyone she talked to.

    She smiled at John as she pushed her hair back behind her shoulders.  He turned away as she slipped out of her dress and stood before him naked.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her step into the river as he searched the dead bodies for someone his size.  He didn’t like the idea of wearing a dead man’s clothes, but he’d been nude long enough.

    He’d just fastened his pants when Victoria emerged from the river.  He blushed as he caught another eyeful of her pale, perfect skin.

    “This dress was expensive,” she said, slipping it on.

    “Victoria, thank you.  If you hadn’t freed me, I’m not sure what would have happened.”

    “You’re welcome.  You saved me, too.  I was low on blood, and that ax in your chest was useful.  It’s been a long time since I had a day guardian.”

    John smiled and graciously bowed his head.  His expression turned angry as he turned and walked away.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To kill the people in my town.”

    Victoria said nothing for a moment.  She caught up to him and spun him around by the shoulder.

    “Are you serious?”

    “Very.”

    “John, listen to me.  I don’t know everything that happened, but your town killed a witch.  That’s a good thing-“

    “They tried to kill me, too.  They hated me and my family for years, and Angela was just an excuse.”

    He turned to continue on his way.

    “Even if that were true, killing them won’t make you feel better.”

    “It might.”

    She spun him by the shoulder once again.  He pulled away more violently this time.

    “My family was slaughtered while we slept,” she said.  “I have no idea why, or how.  I just woke up, and I was like this.  I’ve killed people, but only when I had to.  I don’t let being a vampire change who I am.  Whatever this witch Angela did to you, don’t let it change you.”

    John was quiet as he stared at Victoria.  Flashes of the town throwing rocks at him while he swayed from a noose went through his mind.  He killed Samuel in the moment of defending himself, but he was not a cold-blooded murderer.

    “Fine.  Maybe you’re right.  But I do need to go back to town.  There’s some clothes and books in my home.  I’ll sneak in to get them, and then…start over, I guess.”

    She nodded and walked with him side-by-side.

    “I’ll help you.  I can put you up for a while, help you find work.”

    “Why are you helping me?  No one has ever helped me with anything before.”

    “You saw me at my worst.  Weak, starving for blood.  You could have chased those men, had your revenge.  But you stayed to help me.”

    John smiled and nodded.  They started their walk through the woods as night settled over them.

    On the strangest day of his life he’d made a new friend.

    *****

    It took some time to make their way through the woods.  John couldn’t see much in front of him, and Victoria ended up having to lead.  Apparently, as she explained, vampires have better senses.  They could see in the dark, and Victoria would stop occasionally, listen, and then walk once again.

    “We need to hurry,” she said.  “I don’t want to get caught in the daylight again.”

    “I don’t have much, just some clothes.  And there’s a book or two I’d like to take.”

    Victoria’s nose twitched as a familiar scent moved through the air.  Burning flesh.  She held out an arm to stop him.

    “John, maybe we should turn back.”

    He saw the concern on her face.  He moved around her and broke into a jog.

    The smoke touched his nose as the forest opened up into town.  The fire that engulfed his home reached into the night.  The fence, the vegetable garden, all destroyed by fire.  Nathan, who spent most of his time at the bar, urinated into the flames, laughing and swaying.

    Nailed to the side of his house was a charred body.

    John ran.  He passed Roy and his wife, who gave him a long look, as well as a stray dog.  He dropped to his knees as he drew closer.  Several spikes held up the messy corpse.

    The word witch was written above in blood.

    Victoria grabbed him gently by the shoulder, urging him to stand up.

    “We have to go,” she said.  “Your home is gone.  I’m sorry.”

    “I was born in this house.  The few good memories I have were all here.  And Angela, dear God…”

    John and Victoria were out in the open for all to see.  She looked around as the town started to organize.  Her sensitive ears picked up whispers, guns being loaded, blades sharpened.

    “Let’s go,” she said.

    Victoria hooked him under the arms and hoisted him to his feet.  She only managed to move him a single step when the shot rang out.  The bullet went clear through her shoulder.  Wincing in pain, she fell to the ground, taking John with her.

    “Victoria!”

    His concern was short-lived as she smiled up at him.

    “That hurt.  But I’ll be fine.”

    John looked over his shoulder at the line of people approaching.  Henry, Alexander, and Mark carried rifles.  Michael clutched a Bible.  Daniel had an ax slung over his shoulder.  Maybe twenty or so people in all.  Heads poked in and out of doors and windows.

    “You’re not welcome here, John.  You or your new witch.  Come back to put a spell on us?”

    “She’s not a witch.  Listen, we just-“

    Henry and Mark opened fire.  John pulled Victoria to her knees and wrapped his arms around her, shielding her and turning his back to them.  He’d never been shot before.  The worst accident he ever had was fishing with his father.  He caught a catfish, and it fought so much coming off the hook that John poked himself.

    Being shot felt like that.  Tiny pinpricks of pain, before fading into nothingness.

    The firing slowed down as they stopped to reload.  John looked at Victoria to see surprise on her face.

    “Are you okay?” she asked.

    “I feel fine.”

    Victoria ran her hand down his head and back, feeling no injuries.  There were no hard lumps under his skin where the wounds healed over bullets.  It was like the bullets never struck him.  She finally noticed the bullets on the ground at John’s feet.

    They both looked up at Angela’s corpse.

    “What did she do to me?”

    Angela’s words echoed in John’s mind.  We’ll live together forever.  Victoria had said immortality was impossible, except for a vampire.

    She was wrong.

    John stood up and spun around, still making sure he was in position to cover Victoria.  A bullet struck his chest, and even his head, but did nothing except rock his body slightly.

    The dark, deadly thoughts returned.  Somewhere in his mind he knew his neighbors were simple people, and thought they did a good deed by hanging and burning a witch.

    But they needed to suffer for what they did.

    “If you want to live, run,” he shouted, marching toward them.

    Chapter 2

    Year: 1917

    Monterrey, South Carolina.  A small, rural town, about a three-day ride from Columbia.   Monterrey was trying its best to resist the changes of the early twentieth century.  Only the wealthier people in town had automobiles, and ruined many tires driving on the dirt roads.  Life was very simple.  It was a great place for Victoria and John to live.

    Victoria hadn’t made many friends over the centuries.  Her rare human friends all suffered from the same thing.  Aging.  She was trapped in the body of a thirty-year-old, and that made mortal friendships hard to maintain.

    She had other friends over time.  A werewolf here, vampire there.  But supernatural beings tended to stay away from one another, out of fear of attracting unwanted attention.

    It was a small miracle John and she became as close as they were.

    He long ago stopped thinking of his condition as an enchantment from an infatuated witch.  John viewed it as a curse, a suffering.  It had changed him over the past century, despite Victoria’s best efforts to the contrary.

    John cared for no one, especially mortals.  Victoria was honored to be the one person he called a friend, and enjoyed the time they spent together.

    Even if he did go a little crazy sometimes.

    She paced on top of the ice house.  The sun had only been down an hour.  There was plenty of time, but she felt rushed.  The target went by the name of Annie Fritz.  Victoria paid good money to have her every move recorded for the past week.  By day Annie blended in very well with the mortal world.  Gave candy to the kids after school at her store, batted her eyes at the handsome men as she stroked her cat’s furr, laughed with customers as the kids chased the ice trucks.

    But Annie was another evil supernatural creature that needed to be put down.

    Victoria stared into her binoculars one more time.  Annie continued to wander the cemetery with a shovel, staring at a notepad she carried with her.  A policeman walking a beat stopped to question her, but Annie must have had a golden tongue.  Whatever she said brought a smile to his face, and he left her in peace.  She withdrew deeper into the cemetery after that.

    Annie started to dig.

    “Where are you, John?” Victoria whispered.

    She thought about confronting Annie and handling the problem herself when she heard a horse trotting.  Its gait was buried in the sounds of conversation on the road and the few cars on the road.

    Looking down the road, she saw John approaching.  He tied his horse outside the ice house and Victoria lost sight of him as he went inside.  A few minutes later he was opening the roof hatch and giving her a subdued smile.

    John was never very good at mixing with mortals.  He was wealthy, and could buy whatever he wanted, but refused to dress appropriately for the age.  Most human men wore hats in public, a tradition John ignored.  The transition from horses to automobiles was underway, and John refused to buy a car.

    Victoria hadn’t seen him in a few weeks.  She and John didn’t grow, and they wore their age differently than mortals.  The way they moved, the expressions they kept.  John smiled and laughed often, but there was always a darkness behind his eyes, an anger at being alive longer than nature intended.

    It didn’t help that John hadn’t slept since his curse.  He’d been alive since that night with Angela without a second of sleep.

    “You’re late.”

    “I’m sorry.  My horse got spooked by the noises these damn cars make.”

    Victoria laughed.  “With all the money you have, I’m surprised you haven’t bought one already.”

    “I hate technology.”

    Victoria kissed the cheek of the man she thought of as family.  John gave her shoulder a squeeze.

    “I’ve missed you,” she said.

    “Same here.  We need to spend more time together.  Go to a few movies.”

    “The last time we went to a movie, you attacked the couple in front of us.”

    “I didn’t attack them.  And it was only the man.  He didn’t know how to treat his lady, so I taught him.”

    “I paid his hospital bill.”

    “Anyway,” he said.  “What are we hunting tonight?  Your message was vague, as always.  An orphaned vampire?  A goblin?”

    “Look,” she said, handing him the binoculars.  “At the back of the cemetery.  You can barely see her now, but she’s there.”

    John was quiet a moment as he peered through the binoculars.

    “Right handed.  No more than one-hundred twenty pounds.  She’s carrying something under that coat of hers.  Maybe a bag, on her left shoulder.  She doesn’t move with the grace of a vampire, or a werewolf for that matter.”

    Victoria shook her head.  “It amazes me how you do that.”

    “When you’ve been awake as long as I have, you’ll do anything to keep your brain from getting bored.  Who is she, and why is she digging up a grave?”

    “Her name is Annie.  Why she’s digging a grave, I don’t know.  But it might have something to do with her being a witch.”

    John lowered the binoculars and looked at Victoria.  His expression warmed her heart, one of hope.  It was something John didn’t show much of.

    “A witch?  In our town?  Are you sure?”

    “She has a cauldron in the basement of her shop, and she’s been working on something.”

    John handed back the binoculars and paced.  Victoria peered through them again to see Annie still digging up a grave.

    The last time they encountered a witch was nearly forty years ago, near the border to Canada.  She wasn’t a full-blooded witch, but had some knowledge.  It was that witch who revealed the cure to John’s condition could only be concocted by a full-blood, a witch whose parents were witches.

    Like Angela.

    “Do you think…maybe she’s a full-blood?”

    “I honestly don’t know.  She’s definitely making something strong.  You wouldn’t believe the things she’s been throwing in that cauldron.”

    “This could really be it.  The end of my curse.”

    Victoria simply smiled at her friend.  He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder.

    “Victoria, if this is my last night alive, my will is locked in the chest at the foot of my bed.  And my lawyer has a copy.  Most everything I’ve left to you.”

    Her smile faded.  “Last night?  You always thought removing the curse would just make you mortal.”

    “Yes, and I’m over a hundred years old.  I might just die.”

    The vampire said nothing, holding in all her emotions.

    “Ah, sleep.  Beautiful sleep,” John said, a tear running down his cheek.  “Maybe I’ll finally be able to rest.”

    “You mean you might die.”

    “Same thing.”

    Victoria looked through the binoculars.  Annie had finished digging up a grave and stood over the open casket.  She pulled a sack from under her coat and fished out several glass vials.  Laughing and dancing, she poured one vial into the open casket, and then another.

    “Stay grounded, John.  We still need to stop what she’s doing.  Then you can talk to her all you want-“

    Victoria’s voice trailed off as words eluded her.  She had seen the terrible things a witch could do.  From what her older acquaintances told her, a witch was responsible for the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the fourteenth century.  Simply watching them chant and work over their cauldrons chilled Victoria.

    She had never seen what Annie was doing two blocks away.

    “What?” John asked.  “What do you see?”

    She passed the binoculars and remained silent why John studied the scene.  Her hands shook as emotions poured through her.

    The supernatural world was a very dangerous place.  But that world was governed by rules.  Vampires could not be exposed to the sun.  Silver was the weakness of a werewolf.  Ghosts had their own plane of existence, and could not cross over into the living world.

    With every witch Victoria encountered, it seemed they didn’t have rules.

    “Is she-“

    “Yes,” Victoria interrupted.  “She’s raising the dead.”

    “Wow.  That’s damn impressive.”

    Victoria ripped the binoculars away from John and peered once more.  The corpse crawled out of its grave and rose to its feet, like a toddler standing for the first time.  Annie held her hand out to it while reading from a book.

    “Impressive?” she asked angrily.  “First immortality.  Now this.  Witches can’t be allowed to live.”

    This one will be, until after my curse is lifted.  Then you can kill her as many times as you want.”  John laughed shortly and clasped his hands together.  “Victoria, she’s a full-blood.  I can feel it.”

    Victoria nearly set the binoculars down until she noticed Annie walking away from the stumbling corpse.  Annie stopped and poured different mixtures on other graves.  Before moving on, she drew a circle with what looked like salt on the ground.  She placed her hand on the ground, and the soil inside the salt circle vanished.  Victoria couldn’t believe her eyes as more coffins were exposed to the night.

    The coffins began to open.

    “Oh no,” Victoria said.

    “What’s the matter?”

    She passed the binoculars as she checked the gear in her bag.  Two knives, a few bags of blood, and most importantly, herself.  John laughed and continued to look at Annie as Victoria strapped a knife to her calf.

    “Aww.  Poor little police officer.”

    “What?  What’s going on?”

    Victoria snatched the binoculars.  Her breath caught in her chest as she watched the shambling corpses leave the cemetery in force.  Two of them tackled the policeman she’d seen before walking his beat.  They tore into him like hungry werewolves.  The few people on the road scattered as panic broke out.  Annie’s army of reanimated dead grabbed a woman on the corner and a homeless man near an alley.

    Victoria’s decision to wait for John cost lives.

    John only laughed.

    “This is funny to you?” Victoria asked.

    “Well, a little.  One little old witch…destroying a town.  It makes you laugh.”

    “I forget how much you like destroying towns,” she said, strapping the second knife to her back.

    John looked down at her, his laugh cutting off.  He nearly snarled at the one subject that caused tension between the two of them.

    “I saw you dig your fangs into a few people that night, too.  You know they deserved it.”

    “Well, these people don’t.”

    She leaned over the roof and stared down below.  People were emptying their houses at the commotion.  Men fired at the ghouls, but that didn’t stop them.  A few men and women tried to pile into the old church.  The corpses were right behind them, and Victoria’s sensitive ears could hear the massacre.

    Victoria hadn’t believed a witch could cause so much death so quickly.  She should have killed Annie any other time during the week.  But she’d waited.  She waited for Annie to leave her store, and for John to arrive.  This was supposed to be a gift for him, possibly having his curse lifted.

    She was a fool.

    Looking up, she saw Annie sliding into a Ford Model T Sedan, one road over.  A woman tried to get in with her, but two ghouls grabbed her and pinned her to the ground.

    “I’ll go after the witch.  You help as many people as you can.”

    “That won’t work.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because I don’t care about these people.”

    “John-“

    “They could all die in the next five minutes, and I wouldn’t care.  I don’t hunt with you because I like people.  I do it because you need my help, and you’re my friend.  But Victoria, I need this witch.”

    • Jack Kursed was originally meant to be a small character / subplot in A Witch To Live, but he ended up getting his own novel. This is yet another happy accident, as Jack has taken a direction all his own, and right now is one of the more popular characters.
    • I toyed around with a few endings, one of which actually had him getting cured, becoming mortal once again. Around the halfway point in writing I started seeing ideas in my head for future novels, especially Demon’s Doorway (in which everyone teams up). Plus there was the simple fact that I wanted to keep Jack around. He’s a challenge to write, but so much fun.
    • I originally wasn’t going to have any romance in this novel. I felt the dynamic between Jack and Tiffany was strong enough, but I just couldn’t help myself. You can see though that in the novel it’s “second” to Jack and Tiffany’s relationship.
    • Another idea I had: An extra scene with the ghost of Angela (the witch that cursed Jack) speaking with him, with Alex as the conduit. I decided not to go this route. One thing I’m trying to do is keep certain elements of the supernatural stuff separate. I don’t think you’ll see many ghosts pop up in Jack’s stories.
    • This novel was very difficult to write. There is a scene in which Jack discusses the merits of letting two children get murdered by an abusive foster mother. MANY scenes like this nearly didn’t make the cut, but I wanted Jack to be ruthless. However, I didn’t want him to be ruthless, just for the sake of being ruthless. His actions are all for a reason.
    • I always thought of the idea of not sleeping as the ultimate torture. It explains why he is the way he is, how his anger has grown over time.
    • I wanted to go into more detail about how Jack made all his money, but in the end it wasn’t very important to the plot. I think it’s almost commonly accepted in fiction that beings that don’t age always end up with more money than the rest of us. Jack is actually wealthier than Victoria, even though she is older, because he doesn’t care who or what he destroys in the act of making money.
    • Favorite scenes: Jack’s dialog with pretty much anyone. Victoria showing up at his house after nearly 100 years. Jack’s solution to get Tiffany back when she is taken.

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