MY EYES FELT LIKE they were open, but everything was black. If I squeezed them shut with force, there were bright explosions behind my lids. When I opened them again, at least my body told me they were open, there was nothing. No sound and only blackness.
I had been unconscious and had suddenly come to, but all I was aware of was the blackness and a mind-numbing pain in my head. I had been out, and I had no idea for how long. I struggled to remember what had happened and how I got here, but I couldn’t.
I felt the hangover from drugs. I got the image of a wooden table, a glass of iced tea, then suddenly clutching the table, and blackness. I had been drugged!
I jerked to my feet and felt a metal collar dig into the tender skin of my neck and heard the rasping sound of a heavy chain; it almost pulled me backwards. Raising my head, I struck a solid ceiling shorter than my height. Excruciating pain made me collapse to the floor. I felt my head. Crusted blood – now it oozed from a reopened gash. Then I remembered. I had had a previous encounter with the same ceiling and passed out.
I suddenly felt like screaming – I had an explosion of panic at realizing I was completely stuck. I was not only trapped in space, but I had no reference to time either. Where had I been last? What was I doing? How did I get here? Where was I?
Think, Peter. Think!
I started taking some deep breaths to calm myself.
Nothing came except some hazy memories of Indonesia, and I had the idea that was months ago.
I was teeth-chattering cold, and my extremities were numb as my butt. I was sitting on a cold, irregular stone floor that reeked of a death-rotten tide pool. Dampness had worked up my shirttail to my shoulders. I tried to move my right hand and was rewarded with sharp pains and loud squeaks and then the retreat of numerous small scratching nails across the floor.
Suddenly, I could feel several places on my hands and arms with chunks of flesh exposed. Goddamn rats had been gnawing on me while I was out!
At least I could find out where I was instead of how I got here. I stood, hunched over, careful not to hit my head again, and felt the wall with my hands. There were no blocks as if it were a constructed place. More like a natural cave of some sort, with rough, cold, and damp stone. No windows for light. Maybe underground. I grasped the collar around my neck. It was rusted iron about an inch in width and a quarter inch thick, very substantial. The rusty collar was not too tight, thankfully. It had a hinge with a pin, flattened on either end so it couldn’t be pulled out. It could have swiveled open on the other side, except it was held closed with a lock. A thick ring on the collar was attached to the heavy, rusty chain. I pulled on the chain until I reached the end of it; it was attached to the wall above me. There was about ten feet of slack.
I yanked on the chain as hard as I could. It was solidly attached. Feeling the floor, there was a thick layer of slimy goo and grit. I suddenly smelled it and almost retched. It had the strong reek of decay and brine. I stood still and listened carefully, since trying to see anything was a waste of time. My breathing was labored as I slowly realized there was a faraway churning. The sound that I was hearing mimicked the rhythm of ocean waves. That was it! I was next to the sea, and the sound was coming through the floor. I realized it was increasing. It reminded me of water surging through a pipe.
I felt up above. The wall was a couple inches shorter than my own six-foot height. As I felt along the ceiling away from the wall, the height increased, and I could stand erect. I hobbled left with my grasping fingers stretched as far as they would reach, to the limit of my chain. I found myself panting. I felt a terrorizing nothing.
I reached down to feel for a rock or something to throw. Maybe the sound would give me a feeling of the size of the space. All I found was muck.
I stumbled to my right and hit the end of my chain as my fingers touched stone. I groped it to where it intersected with the back wall and then back to where my chain was anchored.
I swept over the area again, using my feet to see if there was anything on the floor besides mud and rats. I found nothing but noticed that the floor tilted down away from the wall.
In spite of the cold, I was sweating. The blackness horrified me, with only a couple reference points to hold my sanity in place and keep from screaming.
As I stood there, a small gush reached my feet.
I reached out with my foot and found a hole in the floor. I explored the hole with my foot, but I couldn’t reach the other side of it. I lay down in the slime on my stomach with the chain extended as far as I could and felt with the toe of my boot. The opening was at least twenty-four inches across, but I also felt a grate over the opening, inches below the floor level.
Hope surged. This could be a way out!
I stood, trying to scrape the stink off my shirt and pants. As I did, a huge gush of water rocketed inside the room through the floor opening.
I reached down. The surge was draining away but not fast enough. I waited. The next surge came in and filled the floor higher.
The tide is coming in! Would it be high enough to drown me?
The thought of dying caused all the memories to suddenly flood back to me.
I could now remember it all, and terror seized me.
Oh, my god! They found me!
THE FLORES SEA IN THE INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO
A WARM TROPICAL BREEZE FANNED MY FACE as I watched the colorful flags wave above the cruise ship, The Jakarta, as it cut through the Southeast Asian waters. The ship was sleek and elegant white with blue accents, a small luxury liner filled to capacity with ninety passengers and a crew of thirty. The setting sun glittered on the sea as the ship gracefully rode the gentle swells. In the distance to the east were dark clouds moving our way.
This was the third day. We had all boarded in Bali to start the thirty-day cruise. The second day, we stopped at Komodo Island for diving, sightseeing, and ogling the famous Komodo dragons. Now we were sailing due east through the Flores Sea. I was looking forward to seeing some of the thousands of large and small islands, each exotic and mysterious with strange creatures, amazing fish, birds, impenetrable rainforests, and people who still lived in the stone age.
I was glad I had decided on a smaller cruise liner, not one of those floating cities. Though the posh cruise was a beacon for singles looking to be pampered, the main billing was its stops to scuba dive off a few of the seventeen thousand islands of the Indonesian Archipelago – our ultimate destination the Forgotten Islands in the Banda Sea.
The dive officer would even teach everyone how to scuba for free, but I was already well trained. My purpose for the trip was to write an article and take photographs for National Geographic. I dreamed all through college of working for the magazine, and this was my chance to impress them enough to take me on. I was sure this trip would be perfect for the perfect article. The water was a color that even the best camera could not capture. It was a rich turquoise that looked down at the white sand bottom. The coral reefs were an intensity of pinks, blues, greens and ochres that were only eclipsed by the fish, their flashing movement sending a blaze of color to the eyes.
I gazed out over the sparkling sea and then noticed that girl again, standing at the rail with the breeze fluttering her red hair. She didn’t notice me, but I couldn’t help notice her. I hadn’t met her yet, but she made my heart stop.
JANE LEFT THE DECK where she was watching the lovely ship move through the water. But she didn’t see the blue sky, the snapping flags, or anyone else who may have been around her. She was too absorbed in her morose thoughts. It was that old black depression that came on her so often, like dark clouds moving in and hiding the sun. It took hold and wouldn’t let go.
She walked down the stairs from the top deck, A deck, to C deck and her cabin, which she shared with her best friend, Remy. She found Remy had dresses and shoes all over her bunk.
Jane plopped down on her bunk, sighed, and picked up her Kindle.
Remy didn’t notice her dark mood. Or if she did, she was doing as she usually did – pretend she didn’t. Jane knew Remy missed nothing around her with her keen perceptions of people and their emotions and expressions. She even seemed to know what they were thinking half the time. Her cheerful disposition was contagious, and it was as if she were sprinkling magic dust around. Most people fell victim to her sorcery of good moods and happy thoughts sooner or later, but this past year her enchantments rarely penetrated Jane’s funk.
Remy asked, “What’re you going to wear tonight?” as she grabbed another dress and held it up to her, turning this way and that in front of the mirror, watching the flow of the material.
“I don’t know. I don’t feel very social. Maybe I’ll just order something and eat here. And read.”
“I was working on Inferno … a Dan Brown thriller.”
“No, no … which one?” Remy whirled around the room. The soft green fabric fluttered in an imitation of a dance with an admiring partner.
“Which one, what?” Jane asked.
“Dress … dress.”
“Oh yeah, dress. I like the red one on you. Looks great with your blonde hair.”
She threw the green dress on the bed, set the red one aside, and started hanging the gowns in the closet. “Wasn’t that guy last night tasty?”
“Who? The one every girl’s eyes were glued to?”
“No, no, who can be interested in a guy who attracts woman in packs? No, the one last night at dinner. With the green eyes and sweet smile. Zack.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Nice.” She sighed again.
Actually, the guy who attracted every female on the ship had also attracted her. She had seen him by the pool with his ever-present fan club. The guy had it all. A classic Greek face, black curly hair, olive complexion – probably never visited by a zit. Fabulous build. He seemed to be charming the knickers off every young woman aboard. Maybe that’s what my bad mood’s about, she thought. Being attracted to the gorgeous guy started me thinking about Tony again – and the phrase that runs over and over in my head – “Jane, I’m sorry. But I’ve found someone else.”
She hadn’t been attracted to a man since her fiancé left her a year ago. You get burned, and you stay away from the stove.
She sighed. She had to stop this. She jumped off her bed. “I need to shake this off. How about a swim?”
ANGRY BLACK CLOUDS ROLLED over the sparkling turquoise sea, transforming it to a lifeless slate gray.
Tucked in a small bay hidden from view, a black-market military sea craft modified for great speed lay in wait. Ten men with chalk-white skin and dressed in black sat tensed as the idle boat gently rose and fell with the small swells, their glowing red eyes intent on their quarry.
Through his binoculars, Leon watched a sleek cruise liner turn her mammoth bow to line up on the inter-island passage off the coast of Indonesia. It was the right one. Everything he wanted was there. And he would have it.
Leon reflected that he wasn’t a bad man. He didn’t think he was a good man either. Whatever course in life he had taken, whatever he had become didn’t matter.
Because it was all that damned priest’s fault.
His people were fine before that meddler came. The priest was a pest who came to his village in the rainforests of Borneo, spouting goodness, railing against sin, and talking of Jesus saving their black souls. After that, Leon just made the best of things. Because if there was one thing Leon knew, it was he was the best, the best at anything he set himself to. And that had nothing to do with goodness. Or Jesus. Or that disgusting, proverb-spewing missionary who preached that unless they confessed their sins to him and allowed themselves to be saved, they would go to Hell.
Hell? That would only have happened if the priest had found out. And Leon’s people were not about to let him know the truth about them, that four hundred years before the priest had arrived the people in his village had been bitten by disease-ridden bats.
However, a diseased victim could thrive for hundreds of years by taking human blood.
That was the key to their survival. The bite from the bat made the victims very sick, and there was no cure for the horror of the disease, with symptoms of sweating, hysteria, chills, vomiting, and skin that turned chalk white. They would quickly age, deteriorate, and die a painful death.
Unless they had human blood.
Leon’s people were not the vampires of mythical legend, the walking dead of ancient lore. All of the males in his village were made up of these human vampires. Women who had been bitten didn’t get the disease; they seemed to have some sort of immune defense but still passed it on to their young males. Long after the bats bit the first victims, the disease continued to flourish because the disease was inherited and passed on generation to generation.
Human blood was the only cure. Only a temporary cure of about two weeks.
However, long life for the males was just one strange result of this brief cure: They ate regular food, slept, and did all the human things. They looked and acted normal, but when they were about to attack a victim, they grew fangs and sharp claws unsheathed from their fingers. With these special tools, they could not only bite to draw blood, but shred their victim’s flesh to pieces.
Another result from staying alive with human blood was it gave the men a constant and insatiable sexual appetite, giving new meaning to the word sex fiend.
However, early on the male hybrid humans found that having sex with a beautiful, young female victim, along with taking the blood, did more than just allay their awful sexual appetites and alleviate the effects of the gruesome disease. These acts gave them special powers; they could read minds and run like the wind.
These powers were temporary, abating over about a week, and then the power needed to be renewed with another victim.
Leon’s village was able to hide their secret from the surrounding villages, but as their numbers grew, his people needed more fresh prey. It would not do for whole villages to disappear. They wouldn’t stay secret – even living in the wild rain forests of Borneo. So his ancestors spread around the world, organized into covens, and the dangerous groups covertly exacted their terror on humankind.
In the rainforest of Borneo there were many reasons for a person to go missing and never be heard from again. The disappearances of people from neighboring villages were blamed on the dangers of the area – wild animals, snakes, and insects, but also on superstitious things – such as demons or ghosts.
But then something happened to make keeping their secret very difficult. In 1848, when Leon was nine years old, a French Jesuit priest arrived in the area. The Jesuits were known colloquially as “God’s Marines” because of the founder’s military background and the members’ willingness to accept orders anywhere in the world and live in extreme conditions as missionaries.
The priest’s name was Father Paul Ragueneau.
AS JANE AND REMY APPROACHED THE OUTDOOR swimming pool on the top deck, Jane’s red hair whipped in the wind. She shivered. It had turned suddenly very chilly. Bad idea. But Remy was undaunted. She immediately ran and did a cannonball, sending water in all directions. As Jane stood wondering if she should just go back to the cabin, a waiter came up, a small, dark boy about sixteen, probably a native of the area. He wore a short white jacket with epaulets and black pants.
“Would you like a drink, mum?”
“How about a snow suit?” She laughed. “Just kidding. No, I’m good for now.”
She surveyed the sunbathers and swimmers. There he was. As usual, he was surrounded by women. He was dressed in a simple white pullover sweater and tan slacks, but the cut and fabric screamed money. His luxurious, curly black hair whipped in the wind, making him look very unkempt, rugged, and nonchalant, as if fine grooming was not important because he was stunningly handsome no matter what he wore or did.
He looked from one side of his chaise lounge, smiling at the women who had pulled chairs up to get down to his level. Every so often he touched one on the arm or shoulder or a knee. Whoever the lucky party was gave a tight, embarrassed laugh and leaned over to him to say something semi-private, squashing out every bit of cleavage they could manage. She couldn’t hear what they were saying but could guess by the reactions it was what was called in erudite circles as “naughty.” It was the sort of social mating dance she hated.
“Excuse me, sir?” she said.
The waiter turned.
“What’s that guy’s name? The one with the black curly hair.”
“Nickolas Angelopoulos.” He stood for a moment. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“Nope. Thank you,” she said, not taking her eyes off the amazing-looking man.
She shook herself and looked down. Remy was hanging on the side of the pool. “Yeah, I guess I was.” She was suddenly irritated with herself for acting like all those women. “Okay, enough of that. I’m coming in.”
Jane walked over to the diving board and performed a perfect dive. She had always been very athletic, and she knew her body showed it.
She swam several laps, trying not to look at this guy named Nickolas, and climbed out of the pool, dripping water and squeezing it out of her thick mane. She shivered a little in the cool wind, and as she finished drying, she saw out of the corner of her eye that Nicholas was staring at her – well, at my chest, anyway. She looked down to see that her nipples were perfectly erect through her black bikini. She quickly draped her towel around her shoulders so it covered her breasts and was suddenly looking for a quick way to exit.
FATHER RAGUENEAU TOOK ON the task of learning the language, setting up a building in the area that served as a church and a school, and proceeded to convert all the villages in the area to Christianity. He was a craggy old man, devout in his work, and walked the villages, telling the people how every good thing that happened was a gift from God and his son Jesus, and everything bad that happened was the work of the devil.
When people disappeared, he told everyone it was the work of Satan. He ranted that in order to banish Satan’s evil, they needed to give themselves up to Jesus.
Leon’s people talked of killing him. But the missionary had people who would come looking for him. It wasn’t worth calling that kind of attention upon themselves. So they let him be.
To get converts, the priest offered free food at his Sunday service to attendees and was quite successful at filling his church and schoolhouse. He was also able to baptize a few, but when a shark attacked the leg of a person being baptized, the people would not allow any further baptisms.
Then, when Leon was ten years old, something happened to change his life.
The priest saw his parents kill a young girl of sixteen, a girl they had abducted from a village many miles away. The girl lay on a table as Leon’s father raped her and drank her blood. His mother was standing by, waiting with a clay bottle to catch the remaining life-saving blood.
Leon was outside when he saw Father Ragueneau open the front door of the hut unbidden. The priest stood there frozen. He screamed that this was the work of the devil. He ran out hysterically, shrieking, and his eyes rolled in his head. In just a few minutes he returned with several torches. He threw the torches into the hut. One landed on his father’s back as he lay on the dead girl. Another caught his mother’s dress. The dry wood of the hut caught fire easily, bursting into flames. The priest barricaded the door, and Leon’s parents died, screaming inside.
The missionary thought Leon was too young to be tainted, and so took Leon in as his charge. He educated him, and the boy seemed to be the perfect student, apt and eager to learn. He learned reading, writing, mathematics, history, and of course, religion.
The pain and hate grew, festered, and boiled in Leon. He thought over and over how he could get even for the horrible crime of what the man had done to his beloved parents. He knew he was too small to exact his revenge on the old missionary. Besides, who would take care of him? The others in his village stayed to themselves and wouldn’t help him. He was alone and had to live with the killer of his mother and father. He would wait.
When Leon was reaching puberty, the disease began to move into full bloom, and he had trouble finding blood to survive and keep the priest from seeing the symptoms, but he did keep his secret from Father Ragueneau.
He grew quickly, tall and strong. He pretended devoutness and went through all the pomp of Christianity and even allowed himself to be baptized.
When Leon was fifteen, he had been wandering a large area around his village, looking for human blood, but had not found anyone he could safely take. He was starting to shake and sweat; it had been almost two weeks. As he approached his home, which had been the church for the last five years, he saw the missionary tilling the ground in the garden. He left the jungle and calmly walked across the open expanse. Hate and rage exploded in him. He needed blood, and he needed revenge. Circumstance had finally come to a head.
The missionary straightened up and didn’t seem to notice Leon’s white, sweating face. He was holding an iron hoe and said, “Leon, where have you been?” shaking the hoe in Leon’s face. “God punishes the idle, and you withhold yourself from Jesus’ love. You are to get a whipping again. And you will have no dinner. Take this hoe, and break up these clods until the ground is flat and uniform. Then get two buckets, and bring them to the river. Bring water. Then read the Bible, and wait for your punishment. It is time for my nap.”
The missionary thrust the hoe at him, turned, and walked into the part of the church that served as living quarters.
But Leon didn’t perform the priest’s orders. He followed.
Father Ragueneau was sitting on the edge of the bed and immediately jumped to his feet. He finally perceived Leon’s red eyes and the lack of color in his face. He saw the hoe and the hate in those strange eyes. His voice shook in fear as he tried to calmly say, “Here now, take that hoe outside, and wipe your shoes before you come into God’s house. God will punish you for your slothful ways and lack of respect!”
Leon took two long steps toward the old missionary and stopped in front of him, dropping the hoe to the floor.
Leon was already close to six feet tall and towered over the short missionary. Father Ragueneau looked Leon over from head to toe, with his eyes widening in fear. He seemed to have suddenly realized how big and muscular Leon had become. His shoulders were massive, and his arms were the size of his own legs.
Leon looked down at him and smiled. “You murdered my parents, and now you will pay the price God has selected for you. I am his avenging angel. God listened to the cries and screams of my mother and father, and now it is your turn to scream.”
The missionary started to tremble violently when Leon’s two fangs popped between his smiling lips. Father Ragueneau screamed, his eyes searching the room for an escape, but Leon was between him and the door. He tried to speak, but was frozen.
Leon grabbed the missionary’s shoulders with outstretched claws and pulled the man to him, sinking his teeth into his neck, puncturing his carotid artery. The missionary made a strangling sound.
Leon leaned the man back and looked into his eyes. “God is punishing you. Not me.”
He sank his fangs into the artery and tore the neck wide open. The missionary tried to scream again, but his energy drained quickly as Leon drank his blood and his brutal talons pierced into his lungs from the back. The man’s knees buckled, but Leon held him up and refused to let him go as he listened to the escalating speed of the missionary’s heart. He drank and drank until there was nothing and the old heart had stopped. He dropped the limp, dead man to the floor and turned to look out the door. The sun was going down. He stepped out of the church and found the large can of coal oil the priest used for the lamps.
Leon smiled. He would finish the job right.
He sprinkled coal oil over the floor through all the rooms of the church and especially on the body of the missionary. He took a lamp that was on the table, glowing in the dim light, and threw it on the missionary, whose body immediately erupted into flame. The flames raced along the trails of coal oil and into the other rooms.
Leon closed the door and walked to the edge of the jungle. He turned and watched the conflagration take place. Fully satisfied that he had his revenge, he headed for the port city of Ketapang on the Pawan River in the southwest part of Borneo.
He escaped that night and traveled to Jakarta. In particular, he planned to find Opel Chandra, who he hoped would be willing to take him in. He had heard that this relative was very successful.
He did find Opel, and the life of a poor boy from the wilds of Borneo changed completely, with many doors opening that he never dreamt existed. From Opel he learned about the civilized world. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, Leon lived with him. Opel taught him many things and took him with him when he traveled – England, Spain, France, and America. Leon learned to appreciate and desire fine things – furnishings, food, clothing, jewelry, and art. He read dictionaries, encyclopedias, literature, learned of music, and studied all of the arts. He became very sophisticated and a connoisseur of beautiful women.
Opel taught Leon how to be the best he could be as he became part of Opel’s army.
Opel was one of the original vampires, four hundred years old. He had spent years organizing the vampires around the world into a crime ring of many businesses: the sex slave trade, drugs, gambling, and all sorts of theft and piracy. Opel supplied equipment, transportation, plans, and information to keep his many worldwide covens sated with blood, wealth, and their secrets undiscovered.
Leon feared Opel, as he could be terrifying when he was angry, especially when things were not done right. But he also admired Opel’s cleverness. He shaped Leon, and from Opel he learned to be ruthless.
And that making mistakes was unforgivable.
LEON LOWERED THE BINOCULARS FROM HIS EYES and blinked. He shook his head a little to bring himself back to the present.
This ship was the right target. Soon its valuable treasure would be his. He turned to face his anxious men. Yes, he had learned well from Opel. He could see the men’s fear of him; they were tense and riveted to his every move.
He also had learned from that Jesuit, but not to be one of “God’s Marines.” A small smile played across his handsome face, his red eyes shining bright. He was God now, and he was free of all that religious bunk. No, it was now “Leon’s Marines.”
The idle military sea craft rolled with the swells, and the breeze ruffled his black hair.
He said only one word.