Kasha was a finicky eater, known more for playing with her food than eating it. Everyone recognized a Kasha killing. The splatter of wasted blood left to pool at the scene. This habit of toying with her prey had earned her the nickname Kasha the Cat, though most just called her the Cat. An irony since she preferred dogs. Yet she couldn’t deny that her ways, narcissistic as they had become recently, were of a feline nature.
There was something about the hunt, stalking prey, waiting, ambushing that fed her more that the feast itself. She had tired of humanity, tired of life. Killing became an obsession and it was a hunger which had grown. Some might say she had finally found the animalistic nature all vampires possessed. Others just found her indulgent. Her behavior had become a topic of conversation in certain circles, in the elder clans where most wished to remain a part of the unseen. Eliminating her had been an option but slay her they had not. A Kasha killing had become, as all things do, a way of life. Her random acts of violence kept police busy and fed the unlikely. No one ever paid attention to the tiny punctures that surrounded defensive wounds. Animals were not considered picky.
“Are you going to do something about that cat?” Lemus asked, staring out the back door at the creature nosing through the garbage cans. Kasha followed his gaze and smiled.
“Who, him?” Kasha wished she sat looking upon the black tomcat in the morning, a cup of coffee warming her cold hands, relishing the caffeine as humans did, while another day of work broke in the skies above. The fantasy curdled like the two day old milk she faintly smelled through the closed sliding glass doors. Truth was she would give all of eternity for a taste of human life, to breathe and know death chased her. The cat knew. For he had left the milk untouched, sensing somehow the lack of humanness in the hand that offered it. “He is hardly a bother.” She said wondering if a peace treaty of fish might work.
“Says you now.” Lemus grunted. “And quit daydreaming of things you will never have. Bad enough you named the stupid creature.”
Kasha glanced again at the cat. Two luminous eyes peered back as if the cat knew they spoke of him. His attention then turned to movement in the alley and the darkness swallowed all but an outline of where he stood, unafraid but still. In a moment of weakness she had named him. He had been only a few months old, alone in the world, surviving on leftovers and wits. A vampire could admire that.
She slid from her perch and neared the glass doors. The cat’s heart pounded rhythmically and unhurried but with a silt of tenseness building in the beat. Something stirred within her and unconsciously Kasha licked her lips. Near grey eyes turned toward her companion. “Komono is a survivor. Is there harm in that Lemus?”
Lemus swiped at his silvered hair, muttering. The grumblings reminded her of Raymond Beyer, her grandfather on her mother’s side. She had last seen him in 1822. He had been a gruff fellow of sixty-two, considered somewhere between ancient and prehistoric for his time. His silver hair had always glinted in the sun and a twinkle never left his eye. A twinge of regret, of a secreted desire to join him and the rest of her familiar line struck the core of Kasha’s being. Was it fear that kept her in limbo or the cardinal rule she learned as a child that suicide was a sin?
“You need a vacation. Someplace warm to dispel this distemper you have been brewing.”
Older than her by fifty years, Kasha considered Lemus an elder and his words did not fall upon deaf ears. She agreed. If he knew her true thoughts of late no doubt she would be staked through the heart. “I’m old, Lemus.” She sighed, stared back out into the night. “I envy them.”
“We all do after we reach a certain age. It will pass; this notion for living.” Lemus patted her hand, as fatherly a gesture as he had ever made. “Let the Cat hunt while she can.” It was partly why they were together. Lemus knew her blood thirst, never faulted her for it. He enjoyed the spoils.
“I wish it had been you that fathered me. Perhaps my outlook on this life would be different.”
“Doubtful. Now go deal with that cat will you. Others will think you have grown soft.”
Kasha smiled. “I’ll bring you back a snack.” Lemus nodded as she slipped out the door.
Komono watched her wearily, still not one hundred percent sure of his new benefactor. He knew the cruelty of human hand and while these particular outstretched fingers lacked the human smell, they had the same feel. The cat hissed at her. Kasha ignored the threat and gave him a playful swat. “Be good; my bite is worse than yours.” Komono jumped off the trash can and scurried down the alley. Kasha followed out of habit.
Anyone who saw her might mistake her for some lanky teen until they saw the gauntness of her face. It heightened the fine Germanic bone structure but did little to hide the harshness eternity could not erase. She had been called every name imaginable and in more languages than Kasha cared to count. There was not a place on earth her eyes had not set upon or an experience she had not lived. Immortality after nearly three hundred years grew old and she tired of finding a way to revive it.
Nothing held the newness of youth. Even the explosion of technology failed to amuse her. What did she care of instant access to anything: Twitter on the latest gossip of celebrity kings and queens whose time would be forgotten before the plastic surgery in their bodies decomposed? Nor did money interest her; she had plenty and even went through reversals of fortune just to whet her appetite. Even love failed her. For what could she feel that she had not already felt a hundred times before? The inevitable cross that she would never bare another child in her womb had become a well-worn coat patched with fresh romantic starts and adopted children. All ended with death and heartache. Humans and vampires were not meant to mingle.
Nor was she one to find solace with her kind. Lemus was the equivalent of an old dog. He ate the scraps she fed him and curled contently at her feet. Each maintained their solitude and both found a companion they could claim. The others divided into two groups, those who frowned upon her lifestyle and those whose folly was to follow her frenzy in haphazard killings and exposure that eventually led to their demise. Kasha skirted silently around the watchers by respecting the elders whom she imagined sat like stone, barely conscious of life. As to the dumb ones, Kasha was not opposed to killing one of her own if they got out of hand.
Kasha rounded the corner into the main thoroughfare. In that instance, the present intruded: the slight breeze, the echo of her feet on the cobbled street, the neon lights, and all the trappings of the twenty-first century. Home then, home now, home always. It was originally a small town, no more a city than the few blocks expanded downtown. She had come to Ortega after a killing spree, happily glutton and seeking shelter. The city offered her more than that when she stumbled upon the freshly painted downtown in 1922. Even now, Kasha couldn’t describe the magic that rooted her to Ortega. The land called to her, somehow reminded her of being on the farm, where cows roamed free and one woke to the start of a new day. Back when she had been happy.
A slow smile spread across her face and Kasha stopped for a moment to stare at the buildings spread before her. She reached out to touch the crumbled brick of a neglected side entrance. Her fingers sought the energy beneath the mortar, touching the earth the day the brick had been laid. The smile widened as she reminisced about persuading the founding fathers to bring back the old cobblestone business fronts of her youth. Moving her hand upward into the swell of a rotted out door, Kasha wondered how many times it had been replaced since 1955. Was some modern businessman cursing the then mayor for proclaiming the area historical and erecting the Ortega Historical Society with the monies left by one Amelia Birch of 1422 Hambersham Street? Laughter coated her throat, humming in the silent jaws of another life.
Amelia, how sweet he had said that name. Whispered it in her ear, in his thoughts, always with visions of her in that yellow sundress that spring evening when more than the moon had been full. He loved her, had trusted her. Her hand slipped from the doorway. Perhaps she would walk the graveyard where he was buried, visit old loves; visit him.
The street embraced her as she moved toward the center of downtown. One by one the old crumbling brick buildings had found new life. Kasha barely glanced into the storefronts at the patrons. She could hear them as she walked by. Lives entwined, outsourced, (the happy and the un) trying to find solace in bath salts and overpriced candles. For all her fascination with them, humans never really changed.
A couple passed two streets up. Kasha could smell her perfume, sweet, new, manufactured lilacs with a hint of real cinnamon. The thirst began. She closed her eyes and waited for the smell to become lost. It didn’t take long. The pungent curry from the Indian take out place laced her throat. Kasha walked out into the open square, looked around then breathed deeply. An array of smells coated the inside of her mouth. She could taste the curry, two different brands of cheap cologne and popcorn. Tempted to use her logic, Kasha closed her eyes and walked on. She appreciated a challenge. Halfway between the movie theater and the corner Walgreens the faint whiff of cinnamon caused her to open her eyes.
Now she could hear them. The girl’s high pitched laughter, squeaky, giddy, a touch nervous and the boy’s cracked falsetto. First date; since their range of topics had barely left the discussion of homework and hating their teacher. Based on nothing more than their conversation, Kasha pinpointed their age, twelve, maybe thirteen, on the bud of sexual awakening.
How many times had Kasha witnessed the life dance? Even partaken as far as one of the undead can, and watched as life slipped the grasp of a mortal hand. Father Joe had been a cruel master, taunting her on the night of her birth, his hands clasped above her begging God for her eternal soul. He could have been babbling in tongues for all she heard was the beating of his heart, the strong pulsing of his blood, the change in his coloring as her newly undead eyes followed the streaming blood vessels until oxygenated, they neared the surface. It hadn’t been long, his suffering. But somehow that night, he insured hers was.
She had the sickness. Snake bite, they had said. Yet what snake serenaded its victims? Father Joe never knew, as a man of God he never imagined the demons of folk tales were real. And now his strange words about eternal life came flooding back. Kasha had tried when she was mortal to understand; she had sat on that pine bench pew slapping away mosquitoes as she desperately listened to words that made no sense. Kasha understood now. Time had that affect. Maybe tonight, Kasha thought as she sat outside the theater. Maybe death could free.
Her eye caught the glint of metal before untried lips sealed it against another’s mouth. Kasha watched the awkward kiss, felt the seductive pull of their unknown experiences, the tingle of newness. A blond curl fell against the boy’s cheek. Big blue eyes stared at him adoringly before the girl cast her head downward to keep him from seeing her blush. He wouldn’t have noticed. The boy stared at the two baby pink bows holding back the curls that had caressed him. Kasha was as close to kinship as one would ever be with another.
The scent carried to her as she heard them whispering their goodbyes. Manufactured lilacs and cinnamon. Yet staring at the girl Kasha felt no desire to kill. She watched the minivan approach and the girl smile brightly before giving the boy a chaste kiss on his cheek. Her braces again caught the lamp light and despite her distance, freckles stood out in tiny dots across her nose and widened cheeks. The smile of a cherub, thought Kasha. She watched the girl get into the minivan, felt the driver’s heart skip a beat at the emergence of this puppy love. The pang ever so small though the memories of diapers and first steps overwhelmed. “Yes,” Kasha said out loud, mimicking the mother’s thoughts, “time does fly.”
As the minivan pulled away the boy pulled out his phone, punched some buttons and started walking. Kasha followed. She wasn’t sure why, just instinct. Like the girl, he too was full of innocence. Billy Rimpel, lost in the emotions of his first kiss, blindly moved to damper the surge of hormones flooding his system in sweet mystery. Her eyes narrowed. The Cat had awoken.
As he neared the back of the theater, Kasha smiled. The boy, aware he was not alone quickened his pace. “Hey.” She said picking his mind, “I’m a friend of Becky Lee.” Billy Rimpel kept walking. “You know the girl you just left the movies with.” Kasha appeared before him. “I just wanted to know,” she could see the fear in his eyes, “how did her lips taste?” The bite quick, close to brutal as she greedily went for that glorious memory then left him for the feeders. They would leave no trace of his body. He’d be just another missing in a city full of violent crimes.
Kasha let his blood dribble down her chin. Sweet like iron ore candy. Lemus would have enjoyed him. She turned to stare at the feeders; even they sensed the fine dining and instead of tearing at the corpse, lapped instead. Perhaps she had been too quick to give up her kill, yet the memory replayed. The flash of metal, her mouth closing on his, the sudden surprise, quickness of her tongue, firmness of her lips and the heat as he twirled his tongue against hers. No, that was what Kasha sought, access to the girl.
Standing slightly apart from the body, aware his phone buzzed beside him, Kasha stared at the screen. Text message from Mom: where are u? Followed by another one, out front, waiting. A silent wail seemed to fill the emptiness inside her just as the panic filled the mother. Kasha watched the phone buzz, message after message, Billy? then Not funny, the last, Answer me!, before her ears detected the sharp yowl of Mother Rimpel’s distressed call for her son.
The feeders growled in unison and with a light touch disappeared with Billy Rimpel’s body still snug to their lips. Kasha inched further into the shadows unable to tear her eyes away from the phone. It rang now, two times, three, the prolonged ring tone changing from a normal ring to a high pitched buzzing sound. The revulsion erupted first and for the first time in thirty- nine years, one could see the humanity that had once shone from Kasha’s gray eyes.
“Stupid. Stupid.” Kasha said scanning the shadows for the quickest escape. Never once had she violated the Rules. Nor did she kill the innocent, a secondary rule in place since the days of Ameila Birch. She ran for a nearby drainage ditch and the old oak there. Whether it was for herself or Becky Lee, Kasha could not leave the scene of the crime.
The mother did not take long in enlisting help or in finding her son’s phone. Following a mother’s intuition, she had rounded the back of the movie theater and called Billy’s name. She waited, her senses stretching into the night for some sign. “Dial the phone.” Kasha whispered.
The mother stopped, looked around, “Billy?” Her hand moved into her pocket, “William Randel Rimpel, answer me!” She held her breath, counting the seconds in her head. “Please!” With white knuckled fingers she clasped the phone. Tears blurred her vision. Somehow she knew the child she carried for nine long months and loved for thirteen and half years was dead. One shaky finger reached out and hit the send button. Kasha heard the woman’s heartbeat, slow, steady, and amazingly calm for one drowning in panic. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she held her breath, praying just this once not to hear that telltale ring.
The cry startled Kasha. Others ran to the woman and one of the security guards flashed a light on the ringing cell phone. A man, perhaps the manager of the movie theater, ushered the woman into his arms. She balled her fists against his shoulders and cried. No, Kasha thought, mourned. “We’ll put out a Code Adam and an Amber Alert. He couldn’t have gotten far.” But the mother did not hear the man speaking to her. Her baby, all she lived for, was gone.
Sitting in the higher branches of the oak, Kasha had time to think of her reckless action. Reminded again of the relationship between predator and prey and how easily the urge could overtake even the most disciplined. A strangled sigh left her. Below the police combed the area, flashlights in hand as they searched for clues they would never find. Only the dogs, two German Shepards sensed her nearness and whined into the night.
“Fred, dogs must of caught whiff of something.” Greg watched Sass, his K-9 partner of three years, turn in a large circle under the tree and sniff the air. Her coat bristled, ears back, seemingly unsure for the first time in her duties. “Whatcha got, Sass? Find Billy?” The dog whined and brushed against his leg, another very un-Sass like thing for her to do. Greg turned to his fellow K-9 team, Fred and Rexal. Fred was searching the outer perimeter with Rexal, but the dog seemed more interested in being near Sass and had made his way over to her. He sniffed the base of the tree, barked and jumped away from it at the crack of a nearby branch. Never had Greg seen Rexal so jumpy although the dog was still young, more a pup than veteran.
“You guys have something?” Fred asked aiming his flashlight into the tree. He methodically started at the top branches and worked his way to the base seeing nothing out of the ordinary. “Not like them to be so hell bent on one spot.”
“Or so jumpy.” said Greg, standing directly beneath the branches and shining the light upward. He touched the base, ready to climb, “Oh. Got a cat treed.” He scratched his head, unaware where the thought had come from or why he did not see the cat. “Come on Sass. Find Billy.” Greg turned his attention away from the tree. “Fred, you check beyond the ditch?” Fred nodded yes but both men pulled their dogs away from the drainage area and moved toward the adjoining field.
It was why Kasha loved her small town. What other place could round up two k-9 units so quickly? She eased out of the tree and sprinted off into the night. Four hours had passed since she left home and while sitting in the tree hadn’t bothered her, the need to feed became an all-consuming thought. Her feet barely rustled the grasses as she ran. Deep in the Ortega Park, strange animal killings had been going on and Kasha planned to add another.
Lemus greeted her at the door. She was late. “Feed well?” He asked taking in her color. She seemed flushed, well fed with the gift of blood still circulating in her system.
“Here old man.” She handed him a small package wrapped in newspaper. “Best I could do tonight.”
“Really?” His blue eyes narrowed, pupils dilating in animal fashion. “News reports of a missing kid. Boy. Billy Rimpel.” He opened the package and frowned at the bird before him. “Seems he went on his first date and ended up having such a great time he went missing.” Lemus picked up the bird with two fingers, “This really is a snack. Best you could do?”
“Yes.” Kasha said sinking into her well-worn rocking chair. “Best I could do.” Despite his staring, she didn’t have the heart to meet his gaze.
“Well, seems the Cat met her match tonight.” Kasha felt the coldness invade her with his words. The truth slipped silently out and while she didn’t know it then, someone had walked on her grave.
The shield she sometimes used to keep her thoughts private failed. Everything tumbled in her brain, death, life, Billy Rimpel, Becky Lee, the dead bird which had haunted her human dreams, and memory upon unending memory. “I…” but she couldn’t finish, couldn’t even find a clear starting point.
Lemus turned the bird in his hand. “Perhaps your feline friend might enjoy this. I’ve lost my appetite.” Kasha heard the sliding glass door open and close, heard Lemus walk toward her, pausing mid-step by the rocking chair before moving on down the hall. She drew her knees to her chest. Felt his disapproval and worse, wasn’t sure if it stemmed from her killing an innocent or not bringing back a morsel for him to sample. He said nothing more, didn’t need to as his door closed sharply behind him.
Kasha let the few remaining minutes of darkness swallow her. In her mind, she saw Becky Lee, sweet, innocent Becky Lee rising with the dawn. Her youthful zeal would already be focused on the day ahead, what to wear, how to do her hair, what Billy might say to her in Math class. The flickering question of why he never answered her call would bleed in and out of those happier thoughts. And she’d wonder why when her mother entered her room she carried Becky Lee’s cell phone. Then there would be the recognition, the confirmation to that nagging question of why he never called. Something was wrong; something had happened to Billy; something bad. Unaware as she did, Kasha tightened her arms around her knees. Her eyes closed.