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Dark Hunger
by Jean Marie Stine

"Timmy?" Allison McKenzie whispered. She peered fearfully into the darkness. There had been a slight scraping. But was it her son? Or was it the man -- the thing -- that was trying to kill them both?

Silence lay thick in the old hunting lodge. And the thundering of her heart was so loud, she was certain the thing -- if it were him -- must hear her. Allison moved slowly in the inky blackness. "Timmy?" she said softly.

"Mommy?" The tentative, fearful gasp of a terrified seven year-old came from across the night shrouded room.

Relief flooded her. Timmy was here -- still alive and unharmed. Allison had feared the worst after they had been separated in the darkness upstairs. 

"Shssssh!" she hushed him softly. New fear followed at the thought he might cry out or run to her and give them away. 

Allison set her bare feet (she had discarded her pumps during her flight down the stairs) down carefully at each step, testing each board of the flooring -- making certain it would not creak and betray her location, as she cautiously felt her way toward her son.

The massive, half-sensed bulks of the old furniture were frightening. Any one might not be what it seemed, but Ramon crouching unseen, waiting silently for her to walk into his trap.

Allison could hear the stifled, tortured sob of a frightened seven-year-old's breathing. It tore at her mother's heart -- urging her across those last few precious feet to him, as quickly as she dared.

"It's mommy, Timmy," she whispered, reaching down to pick him up.

"Mommy!" he whispered, tearful relief in his voice. She could almost see his chubby arms reaching up for her through the darkness.

Then the vampire struck.

Dr. Ramon Elizondo seemed so charming at first -- when he began teaching the night course in nursing she was taking at the local community college. (Dr. Kirkman, who Elizondo replaced, had been taken ill and passed away suddenly in the middle of the semester.) Dr. Elizondo seemed everyone's dream of what a European professor should be. Tall, handsome, cultured, with dark penetrating eyes in a pale, aristocratic face, a fascinating, unidentifiable accent -- and easy familiarity with the history of medicine. (He might have almost known Pasteur, Lister and Curie to hear him talk.) 

Dr. Elizondo even managed to make the intricacies of blood-typing clear to everyone -- something that had always confounded her. One night he even had them "work up" their own blood types -- personally assisting her and any other students who had trouble, showing them exactly how to do it right. Allison had learned when Timmy was born that she was type O-negative -- but from the intent, rapt expression on Dr. Elizondo's pale, handsome face as he helped her perform the analysis, Allison saw what a dedicated physician Dr. Ramon Elizondo was.

They met in the campus parking lot that very night after class. An unexpected gust of wind that came suddenly out of nowhere ripped the notes from Allison's hand and sent them scattering across the pavement. 

"May I be of assistance?" 

Allison jumped. It was Ramon Elizondo's deep, measured accent. A moment before, she would have sworn the parking lot was empty. Then he stepped forward from between two cars so quickly -- he might have just materialized there. 

"Thank you, Dr. Elizondo," she said faintly -- not certain whether her faintness was due to his sudden appearance -- or his darkly handsome features and the strong personal magnetism that radiated from him.

"Ramon, please, Ms. McKenzie," he said -- and gallantly came to her rescue, helping her retrieve the scattered papers.

Allison was the mother of an seven year-old, back in college and trying to complete a nursing degree following her husband's death. That made her much closer to Dr. Elizondo in age than the other students, and gave them more in common. So when the conversation they began while gathering the papers proved fascinating, there seemed nothing wrong with her accepting his invitation to have cappuccino together afterward.

In response to a question about himself, Ramon (as he insisted she call him) told her he was a Basque, forced to flee the Spanish Pyrenees because of his activities on behalf the Basque liberation movement. When Ramon deftly turned the conversation back to Allison's life -- before she could inquire further about his own -- she assumed his memories of the past were so painful he was trying to avoid arousing them. Allison had felt protective of him for an instant -- and it stirred emotions she had never expected to experience again after her husband's death.

When Allison glanced up, Ramon turned his head away quickly to conceal his expression. But not before she saw the hungry desire in his dark, deep-set eyes. And Allison began to believe he had felt something similar.

When Ramon had explained that he could only meet her at night because he had a day job as a researcher far across town, she had suspected nothing. She had read vampire novels, of course -- especially those by that female writer from New Orleans -- almost every woman she knew had. But nobody took them seriously, any more than they did those romances where the working-class heroine meets and wins the impossibly rich and handsome hero. 

After all, it was the age of space shuttles, personal computers, mass transit systems and AIDS. Vampires were merely a primitive superstition -- like gorgons, gryphons and cyclopes -- resurrected to make a dark fairy tale for adults.

Soon she and Ramon were meeting for cappuccino after every class -- and over a very short time their conversations developed into an intimacy that suggested something more. Ramon had an uncanny ability to sense her moods, to know exactly what would please her, lighten a dark mood -- or touch her heart. At times, he almost seemed to read her thoughts. 

There was something else about Ramon Elizondo that attracted Allison strongly. He was the only man she had gone out with since her husband's death who did not attempt to make their relationship physical right away. Instead, he seemed willing to wait, let her take her time and allow things to ripen naturally.

So that when their first kiss came, Allison was the one to initiate it. They were standing outside her house, late one night. The streaming porch light threw shadows across Ramon's eyes, making them look dark, almost sinister.

But Allison knew better. She stood on tiptoe -- heels of her pumps leaving the ground. Her arms and lips stretched up to Ramon's face hungrily.

Ramon pulled back slightly, as if to be sure he read her intentions correctly. Ravenous hunger came into his own eyes -- and Ramon's fingers clutched her so tightly she nearly screamed. 

Their lips met. The kiss went no farther. But Ramon's eyes were ablaze with such hunger for her, and she could feel the tremendous force of his muscles quivering beneath his flesh as he held them under control. And Allison realized how difficult it must have been for him to wait for her so long. 

Ramon pushed her away a moment later -- still unsteady with the force of his passion. Allison was certain he wanted to stop now because he didn't want it to go any further until he could have her completely.

"You're a rare woman, Allison," he said, voice filled with emotion. Then she watched Ramon walk away until he seemed to vanish in the shadows beyond the porch light. 

It was time, she realized, to introduce Ramon to Timmy. 

Ramon had already learned she had a son. Unlike most men, he didn't seem nervous about forming a relationship with a woman who had a seven year-old. Allison thought Ramon might have lost a wife and child of his own in the fight for Basque separatism. Because, when she first mentioned Timmy, he looked down, as if experiencing feelings so intense, he was embarrassed for another to see it.

Allison had never dreamed then what he really wanted of her and Timmy.

As Allison reached down through the darkness for her child, thankful to gather him safely in her arms at last -- the vampire struck.

A stunning force slammed into her side. Allison was knocked violently against the floor, left leg twisted under her. Searing pain tore through her knee. Dazed, half-unconscious, she could sense it was either broken or badly sprained.

Something big, powerful, unbelievably fast flowed past in the dark. 

"Mommy!" It was the heart-freezing terror of a child being carried away from the one secure object in its world -- by a nightmare too great to comprehend.

Allison surged to her feet, moving half instinctually toward the sound. But red agony ripped her knee again -- and it collapsed instantly beneath her.

Allison fell across a chair, clutched it for support. Her senses reeled, and she felt weak -- no strength in her arms or legs. Allison had never fainted before -- but she was near it now. 

But the image of Timmy in Ramon's hands -- and Ramon's face smeared with Timmy's blood -- sent a jolt of horror through her. Suddenly Allison clutched the back of the chair, shoved herself erect on her good right leg, her left still grinding with pain -- head swimming, weak, trembling, sure her body would collapse at any moment.

From the silence around her, and a mother's sense of her child's presence, Allison knew the room was empty. Ramon -- the monster she had once thought a man -- had taken him.

But where in the lodge were they? Upstairs? Or waiting just around the corner of the door? 

And what terrible game was this creature playing with her child?

Whatever it is, Ramon, she swore to herself, I'll find you and get him back -- and if you've hurt him I'll kill you. Allison found herself shaking with rage. She was stunned to discover she could feel such hatred toward any being. A few hours ago, she would have said it was impossible. But no one had threatened her child then.

Allison tested her left leg. But the scorching pain turned her knee to water, and it gave way once more. 

She reached out, exploring the blackness with one hand, found a wall. Leaning against the wall for support, careful to keep all her weight on her right leg -- and off her left knee -- Allison began to hop slowly toward where the doorway of the room ought to be.

She was panting heavily, and moving anything but quietly. But there was no longer any reason for silence. She wasn't trying to escape Ramon now. She had to go to him -- he had Timmy. All Ramon had to do was wait.

Allison touched stone. Her groping fingers encountered rounded wood. She was at the fireplace; these were logs, twice as thick as her arm, stacked for a fire. She picked one up, but realized immediately it was useless as a weapon. About the size of a baseball bat, it was too thick to be used as a stake, and too solid to be broken into smaller pieces. 

She started to set the log back -- when the feel of its tip against the floor woke her to a fact. It might be useless as a weapon, but it would make a perfect crutch.

Then she heard Ramon's voice, taunting her from the second floor of the lodge. "Hurry, Allison. Timmy and I are waiting for you."

A child's muffled sob was abruptly cut off.

Placing the upper end of the small log up against her armpit, and hobbling along on the lower end, Allison McKenzie moved blindly forward. Her entire life reduced to a single all-consuming goal, to mount the stairs and somehow save  (dear god let him be all right) or (Allison didn't want to think it) avenge her child.

Timmy, she had to admit, had been right all along. He had not liked "the dark man" (as he called Ramon) from the start. She had believed it was just the foreign accent and a young boy's inevitable resentment of any man who appeared to be usurping his dead father's place

So Allison had simply set out to bribe, cajole and tease her obstinate son into feeling more positively about Ramon. She understood that establishing rapport with Timmy was very important to Ramon. Once she caught him looking at Timmy with the same deep hunger with which he looked into her eyes -- and she knew how badly Ramon wanted a family.

And Ramon, for his part, did everything he could to charm Timmy. Ramon took him to the planetarium and the movies (twilight performances, of course), bought him video games -- was as considerate, charming and sensitive as it was possible to be with a child Timmy's age. But nothing Ramon tried worked. 

In spite of all their efforts, Timmy remained withdrawn and uncooperative when Ramon was around -- in the way only a resentful seven year-old can be.

Timmy's reaction put any deepening of her relationship with Ramon on hold. Seeming to sense that Timmy's acceptance of him was critical to any serious romance, Ramon made no attempt to kiss her a second time or to deepen the intimacy between them. Though he did tell her one evening that she and Timmy were "rare family."

Allison found herself growing impatient for the situation to resolve itself, when Ramon suggested the three of them spend a weekend at a hunting lodge he had just purchased. "It is a beautiful, wooded mountain area teaming with raccoon, squirrels, deer and other woodland creatures," Ramon, who had learned Timmy had a passion for nature and animals, told her.

To Allison, the offer had merely seemed another of his many attempts to win the favor of her recalcitrant son.

Ramon picked them up just after sunset, and they had arrived at the big, old wooden building just after dusk had become night. Two caretakers had opened and cleaned the house, and left a buffet of cold cuts. Ramon had claimed not to be hungry and had gone outside "for a walk" while Allison and Timmy ate.

Her son, to Allison's acute frustration, remained unenthusiastic --even though they had seen deer crossing the road on the way to the lodge.

When they had finished, Ramon took them upstairs to their rooms, so they could unpack and get settled. 

Each of them had a separate bedroom. (Although Allison suspected that winning Timmy over was only one of Ramon's reasons for suggesting the trip. And that before the weekend was over, he would take the final step in the intimacy that had developed between them -- suggesting they add the physical to the emotional in their relationship.) 

Allison had been in Timmy's room helping unpack his clothes, toys, books and favorite action figures. With a seven-year-old's surefire instinct for disaster, Timmy somehow managed to stab a finger on an opened safety-pin that had become stuck, half-hidden in a corner. 

At sight of the first tiny drop of blood forming on the tip of his finger, Timmy had come screaming to "mommy" of course. The wound hadn't been deep, but they both thought a bandage would be a good idea. But when Allison had gone to look for the little first-aid kit she always packed -- knowing Timmy's penchant for banging, scraping, poking and otherwise injuring himself -- she remembered it was still in the kitchen back home, where she'd used it to treat a scraped elbow only that morning.

Allison had taken a sniffling Timmy in hand and led him to Ramon's room, hoping he would know where bandages could be found. But what happened there changed her life and her world -- forever. 

Ramon's slow, cultured smile began as they entered the room. But as Allison held up her son's bloodied fingertip, Ramon's face transformed instantly from that of a handsome, sophisticated man of the world, to that of a feral beast -- out for the kill. Ramon's eyes lit with a red, baleful glare; his lips pulled back in a demonic snarl, revealing longer, sharper canines than she had realized he possessed; a low, terrifying, animal sound -- half slavering hunger, half pure bloodlust -- issued from his throat.

For a moment the rational part of Allison was paralyzed in disbelief; but another part understood instantly what Ramon Elizondo was -- however impossible that might be -- and exactly what threat he posed to her son -- and reacted purely from instinct. In a single gesture, Allison's right arm swept Timmy back out of the room and closed the door -- placing herself directly between Ramon and the door. 

Allison braced herself for Ramon's attack -- and to battle for her (and Timmy's) life.

But at the slamming of the door -- the moment his view of Timmy's bloody finger was shut off -- Ramon's eyes cleared and he focused a cool, sardonic look upon her. And though there was nothing of the animal left in his face, something frightening, cruel, insatiable lit the depths of his eyes.

"Now you know, Allison," Ramon had said, hunger in his smile, "you're a little premature. I had intended you to discover the truth a little later tonight."

Then Ramon had explained his plan to Allison. And why he had called her and Timmy a "rare family." It was only then that she understood why he seemed such a gentleman in waiting to initiate a physical relationship, understood the true nature of his hunger for her, and how big a fool she had been to think any real man could be above sex. 

The tip of the small log thudded against the last step, and Allison dragged herself up to the top of the stair. Her heart was pounding, breath labored, left leg searing agony. Allison could hear the roaring, numbing swirl of unconsciousness dragging at the edges of her mind -- and fought every moment to keep moving, to remain conscious, to hold the image of Timmy in her mind. 

"We're here, Allison," Ramon said. Candlelight flickered from his room at the far end of the hall. (Stumbling away from Ramon in blind terror when he had finished explaining the hideous fate he planned for her and Timmy, Allison had accidentally knocked out all the lights in the lodge -- tripping over a lamp and blowing all the electrical circuits.)

The end of the log thumped on the carpet as Allison limped through a haze of pain and dizziness toward the room where the vampire held her child. (Inevitably, it was Allison's blood type, and Timmy's -- O-negative -- that first drew Ramon's attention to them. Like the vast majority of his fellow Basques, and unlike most of the rest of the people in the world, Ramon was Rh-negative -- and as a type O could only receive blood from other type O, Allison and Timmy were among the handful with the "rare" type of blood Ramon need to prolong his unnatural life.) 

The door of Ramon's room was before her. The candlelight and the doorway seemed to dance and sway. With the last of her strength, Allison thrust herself through with the log. Her whole body seemed to melt, and she felt her right leg give. 

Weight came down on her left knee -- and scorching agony made the room turn upside down. Roaring darkness beat toward her. Timmy! she cried soundlessly to herself -- and the darkness receded.

What Allison saw next brought her back to instant, lucid consciousness.

Ramon was standing in the middle of the floor -- his face no longer that of a man at all. The cultured smile had been discarded like a mask. A savage lusting beast looked at her from Ramon's eyes -- and she understood the hunger she saw there at last.

Ramon held Timmy. Ramon's lips were drawn back, his teeth next to her child's throat. One hand pressed Timmy's head aside, to expose more fully the tender flesh of the neck. (Mercifully, the boy was unconscious.)

"Come to me, Allison." Ramon held out one hand toward her. "Come to me now -- and I won't start on Timmy tonight." (Ramon, he had explained, planned to imprison her and Timmy in the basement -- feeding them enough to keep them alive, while he slowly drew his nourishment from them over months, until they finally slipped into a merciful death.)

Allison looked at Ramon's outstretched hands. Then she looked at Timmy's unprotected neck. She got the log under her again, heaved herself up. Red pain exploded in her head, threatened to engulf her -- the room swirled, darkened.

But Allison took a step toward Ramon.

He stepped toward her. Victory lit his eyes. His teeth shone. 

The vampire's hand closed on hers. Allison swayed. Ramon's grip tightened -- he willed strength into her with his eyes. 

In the instant while his hand gave her balance, while his will revived her body's strength -- Allison hit Ramon as hard as she could with the log.

Screaming with rage, Ramon smashed the log aside with an arm -- bursting it to splinters. He flung Timmy aside.

Unsupported, Allison fell backward. 

Ramon's eyes were insane with anger and hatred. He towered above Allison -- an implacable, vengeful force. 

Then he threw himself on her.

Allison saw Timmy move. (He was alive!) She thrust herself back from Ramon. Her hand closed on one of the shards of the shattered log. 

As Ramon's body struck hers, Allison shut her eyes to block out the ravening hunger in his eyes and instinctively threw her hand up to hold him back. She braced herself for the impact.

It never came.

After a time, Allison opened her eyes.

The long, sharp splinter of the log she had grabbed unconsciously was point upward in her hand, where the vampire's heart would have been. Around her, a fine, glittering sprinkle of dust filled the air.

There was no other sight of Ramon -- Allison was certain there never would be.

"Mommy!" Timmy stirred, sat up. He blinked sleepily and uncertainly at her, the way he always did when waking from a nightmare.

Allison took her child in her arms. Soon, she knew, the night -- and their nightmare -- would be over.

The End

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"Dark Hunger" ©Jean Marie Stine. Used by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000-2001 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.