ZM_CH3: In Which Nickie Nick Meets Her First Vampire

NickieCVR4WebContinuing in the Victorian tradition, enjoy today’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel.  Every Friday a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance is published free for your enjoyment. Leave a comment and be entered to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013. The more you comment, the more times your name is entered.

Follow Nicole Knickerbocker Hawthorn (Nickie Nick) as she discovers her destiny as The Protector, a powerful vampire hunter. Ashe, a dark and mysterious stranger, helps Nickie and her friends solve the mystery behind several bizarre disappearances. Suitable for teens, enjoyed by adults, the story is full of interesting steampunk gadgets, mad scientists, bloodthirsty vampires, and mesmerized zombies. This paranormal adventure is sure to appeal to fans of Boneshaker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries.

The Zombies of Mesmer is a Gothic Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel set in Victorian London. Appropriate for teens.

Get your very own copy of The Zombies of Mesmer in paperback or for your Kindle (FREE for Prime Members)! Don’t have a Kindle? Kindle apps are available for smart phones, PCs, and tablets. Have another eReader? Email me about other formats.

-_Q

Chapter 3: In Which Nickie Nick Meets Her First Vampire

The entire house was now sleeping soundly. I had tried to sleep. I really had tried, but my mind was reeling with images of ghosts and demons and vampires. I had put the wooden stake beneath my pillow, and I could feel it there. I mean, I couldn’t actually feel it with my head through the fluffy down pillow, but I could feel it there, as if it called to something deep inside me. That same something was urging me to get up and go out into the night. It was a deep pressure, imploring me to hunt.

After a few hours, I gave into the call. My dingy boy’s clothes were piled in with the laundry in the basement, so I dug them out and pulled them over my chemise and pantaloons. I twisted my long hair into a tight knot and put the cap over it. After smudging some dirt from the sleeve of my overcoat onto my cheeks and tucking my new stake into my belt, I was ready to head out.

I resisted the urge to take off my scarf, cap, and fingerless gloves while creeping through the hot kitchen on the way to the pantry and reminded myself how cold it would be outside in just a few more minutes.

And cold it was.

As soon as I opened the pantry window the wind howled, blowing snowflakes past me and onto the sink top on which I stood. As I went to hoist myself up through the window, I forgot about my new strength again and ended up bashing my head against the ceiling. A second attempt proved more successful, actually getting me through the window.

My foot stopped the window from crashing closed, then eased it almost all the way shut, propping it open with a stone kept nearby just for that purpose. Some heat would escape, but that stuffy basement could use some airing out. I thought about my boys and how cold they likely were tonight, wishing I could take some of our extra heat to them.

As I stepped out of our garden and into the adjacent alleyway, I marveled at the streets all decorated for Christmas, which was just a few days away. The snow fell steadily yet sparsely, a perfect grey night punctuated by the white flakes which were illuminated by the points of gaslights leading down the street.

We lived in a rather posh neighborhood in Lambeth, mostly middle-class, with a sprinkling of upper-class for further decoration. Father’s textile factory was just across the Waterloo Bridge near the Thames’s north bank, but the nearer bridge to our house was Westminster. From the south bank one could see the magnificent Houses of Parliament across the water. Always an impressive sight, they were even more so this time of year. With all the holiday decorations in the glow of the gaslights, it made the entire city look almost surreal, and my favorite time to see it was at night.

But I was heading in the opposite direction tonight. Just a few blocks away on the other side of Kennington Road was the Lambeth Workhouse, a horrid place. Conrad had told me stories about it, for he had been there shortly after his father had died and his mother forced into an asylum. I had known Conrad from our childhood. We had played at the textile factory together as children, because Fanny had to sometimes pitch in when my parents had been still struggling. She brought me along for a few hours and there were other workers’ children there as well. Conrad and I hit it off from the start. But once the money started coming, they no longer allowed me to play with those beneath our station, as mother put it. They also did away with the day care for workers. My parents had reasoned that care for their workers’ children should come out of the parents’ pocket, not theirs. Still, Conrad and I had kept in touch over the years, especially after the accident. No forced sense of decorum could keep me away from my best friend.

Just a few more blocks from the workhouse was an abandoned warehouse, the current residence of Conrad and my other friends. That was, at least, until it was discovered they were there. They moved around mostly at night and in the early morning, so as not to be detected. It was not a great neighborhood anymore, and it could be quite dangerous at any time of day.

My disguise as a boy not only facilitated movement, because skirts and corsets certainly didn’t allow one to move freely or quickly, but it also helped keep me safe. There were far more nasties to be done to a young woman than a young man on the dark streets of London. Although with my new strength, I shouldn’t worry about that too much.

Still, I was sure to walk in my boy-walk, strutting with my feet turned out and hands in my pockets. It was the exact opposite I was expected to do as a lady, and I loved how carefree it felt.

“Well if it ain’t Nickie Nick,” a familiar voice came from a particularly dark alleyway.

I cringed. I hated when Conrad called me that, but of course, he called me that because he knew I hated it, so I said nothing. Conrad emerged, bundled up in a coat and scarf I had found for him. I often snagged things from my parents stash to bring down to Conrad and the others. After all, it was their fault he and the other boys were on the streets. The least they could do is provide some clothes for them.

“Conrad. I was just on my way to see you and the others. What are you doing out so late?”

“I might ask the same of you, Nickie.”

“Shhhh!” I scolded and then whispered. “You know better than that when I’m dressed this way. Do you want me to be hurt? Nick, all right? Just Nick.”

“There ain’t nobody about, Nick. Relax. How was your fine party? Find a rich husband yet?” He threw a rather large pebble down the alley. I heard it skip once and then make a soft, wet sound, as if finding a new home in a pile of snow.

“Where are the boys? Are they inside?” I asked, ignoring his question. The annoyance in his voice I also chose to ignore.

“A-course,” he said.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!”

“As you wish, m’lady,” he quipped with a mocking bow.

A wave a nausea came over me and a man stood behind Conrad. It was as if he just had appeared out of nothing. I had heard no footsteps, had seen no movement. Just one moment he was there, and in the next he grabbed Conrad by the shoulders. He hissed at me and his pointed teeth caught the gaslight from the corner. Its face was quite horrid. It must have been really old, for it had only the faintest hint of human appearance.

After another moment, my mind registered that this was indeed a vampire, then I reacted without further thought. It was if my body knew what to do while my brain was still catching up. Before the vampire even got a fang in, I was on him. Knocking Conrad aside rather roughly with my left hand, I grabbed the stake out of my belt with my right and lunged at the vampire. My reaction took the horrid thing off guard, but not nearly enough. He deflected me and sent me in a somersault off to the side and the entire world was a blur until my head clunked on the snow-coved cobblestones and stars filled my vision. I rolled back to my feet an instant later, turning back to face it again.

But only Conrad remained.

“What the–” Conrad said, rubbing his head.

“Where did it go?” I took a moment to catch my breath and pushed the hair from my eyes. In my tumble, my cap had come off and my dark hair now spilled over my shoulders.

“I dunno,” he answered and then followed with “Ow!” He rubbed his arm where I had knocked him out of the way and then rubbed his head again. He must have hit it on the street as well.

After twisting my hair back up under my cap I said, “Let us get off the streets.”

He led me down the alley into the secret passageway behind some wooden crates. We went as quietly as possible through the walls and down the stairs until we reached the cellar where the boys stayed.

“Nick!” Edwin cried and ran to give me a big hug around the middle. Edwin was the youngest of the four boys and the most recently orphaned. His parents, like all of theirs, died in my parents’ factory. There were always accidents with the machinery. The unluckiest were not the ones who died, however. The worst were the ones that were just maimed and could no longer work. They had no choice, either they go to a workhouse or live on the streets. Still, perhaps the very worst of them all were the children left behind for those who did die. They had the same choice, workhouse or streets. According to Conrad, the streets were far better than the workhouse, which is why they all stuck together.

“Hey there, Ed.” I stooped down to his height so I could give him a proper hug. He was such a sweet boy. Only nine years old with sandy blond hair and blue eyes. He had the face of an angel covered in dirt, which he almost always was. The clothes he wore were a little big on him. They were Rufus’s old ones, since Rufus had outgrown them.

The basement was dank, damp, dark, and cold. There were only three lanterns, all of which I had snatched from my house. They kept the wicks low, so as not to waste the limited oil.

“Didja bring more food?” Rufus said from the floor where he and Edwin had just been playing a game of cards. Rufus was the second youngest at twelve.

“Not this time, but I will be sure to bring more in the morning,” I replied, and I chastised myself for forgetting. There was just so much on my mind, and I had just come face to face with a vampire. Strange night all around.

“Hi Franklin,” I addressed the boy huddling in the corner with a pile of junk. His head was down, and he was tinkering with something, as usual. Franklin had just turned fourteen, and he had an uncanny ability to turn junk into wondrous little working gadgets and machines. He often demonstrated some of his gadgets on the streets to help the boys make some money. Passersby would marvel at his mechanical toys and toss a few pennies his way.

“Oh.” He looked up from his work, as if he was surprised anyone else was in the room. He was truly in his own world. “Hello Nick. All right?”

“I dunno about that,” Conrad said. “What just happened up there, Nickie?

What should I say? I mean, do I tell a group of homeless boys that there is even more danger out there than previously thought?

“Um,” I started, quite eloquently. “It was a–” really? Can I explain this? If I couldn’t tell my best friends, who could I tell? I took a deep breath and just blurt it out. “It was a vampire.”

I waited for their laughter, but there was none. Well, none except for Conrad, who always scoffed at me. The other three just looked at me with wide eyes. Edwin eyes glistened with tears.

“A vampire. A-course it was, Nickie. Nah. It was just some old crazy guy, probably escaped from Bethlehem.” Conrad plopped down on his bedroll, which consisted of some hay and rather worn bedding, and started whittling.

He was referring to Bethlehem Asylum just a few blocks away. He joked about it when he could. I suppose it was the only way for him to deal with it, as his mother was a patient there. She had gone mad after Conrad’s father was killed at my parents’ factory, an accident with the machinery. She just couldn’t cope with the loss. They had adored each other, the way Conrad told the story. When Conrad told the story, which was almost never. He didn’t like to relive that horror, and I couldn’t blame him. After his mother was taken away, Conrad was sent to the workhouse, but he had escaped shortly thereafter. Since then we looked out for each other, and Conrad took it upon himself to help other boys who were orphaned in the same way. That was how he had gathered his small band of ruffians. They all worked together to survive, and I helped as much as I could.

“It was a vampire, Conrad,” I asserted. “Turns out I’m rather the expert, as it were.”

That statement was met with just blank stares, all except for Conrad, of course, who made another sneering sound and kept whittling.

“Fanny told me so, earlier tonight. She said I was The Protector. I fulfilled an old prophecy called The Hawthorn Legacy.”

Again. Blank stares.

“Watch this.” I grabbed the lantern Edwin and Rufus had been using. I turned up the wick to allow more light to spill into the basement, illuminating the grey stone walls and dirt floor.

It already felt warmer in the dingy basement, but oil was hard to come by.

After placing the lantern on a pile of scavenged wood, I took a rather large piece of broken beam. It was about as thick as my thigh, just about the same width as my bedpost, so this should do the trick.

All eyes were on me, even Conrad’s, as I broke the wood over my knee. It splintered in two, and although it did hurt a little, the pain was gone as quickly as it had come.

“Woah!” the three younger ones sang in unison.

“What’s going on, Nickie?” Conrad said, now standing again. He came over to me and took the wood out of my hands, probably inspecting it to see if it had been rotted through. He looked at me with wonder, mouth hanging open.

“Like I told you, I fulfill The Hawthorn Legacy. I have been chosen.” I told them everything Fanny had explained to me, and no one interrupted me or scoffed this time, not even Conrad. They all just listened with rapt attention until I had finished.

Franklin said “Woah” again.

“I know. It is rather a lot to take in. Imagine how I feel.” I sank down to the floor with them all. We sat for a few moments in silence, not really knowing what to say.

“So,” Conrad started. “That thing up there was really a vampire? It was trying to, what, bite me?” He knew the answer without me having to speak it, and his face turned quite white upon that realization. “How have we lived on the streets so long and have never seen one before? I mean, we’re out there every night and every day. Begging. Working. Winning food and such.”

That was what they called it when they stole food, or anything. They said they had “won” it. Conrad also scavenged, and he was teaching Rufus to do so as well. They spent low tide down by the river as mudlarks, finding wood, coins, jewelry, bones, rags, and bits of copper. Anything that they could sell. Conrad alone worked as a tosher in the sewers doing the same. It was too dangerous for Rufus, but at fourteen, he would join him. Franklin’s time was better spent tinkering, as his gadgets brought in as much as all the rest put together.

“I don’t know,” I said at a loss. “Lucky?”

Again, the familiar dismissive sound came from Conrad. “Right. ‘Cause we are so lucky. Luck o’the devil,” he mumbled.

“We are lucky,” Edwin said. “We have Nick to look after us.”

This made me smile, and it really moved me. I felt the tears forming, but I swallowed hard and didn’t allow them to come. Now was no time for frivolous sentimentalities, especially with such danger afoot. Especially since…

“Or,” I continued slowly, not wanting to even think it let alone say it. “Perhaps they can feel me. I mean, I certainly felt the change go through me. Fanny says that I should be able to learn to sense them, although I didn’t feel anything except a little nauseous, maybe they can sense me, too.”

“So, great.” Conrad stood up and glowered down at me. “These bloodthirsty creatures of the night can sense you, and you led them straight to us.”

-_Q

Thank you for reading this week’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel. Join me every Friday for a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013. The more comments you leave, week after week, the more times you’ll be entered!

~ by omgrey on May 31, 2013.

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