MY FLIGHT THE NEXT morning was delayed an hour due to bad weather in London, so I found a seat at the gate and busied myself with a newspaper in the hopes that it would distract me from the growing rumbling of nerves in the pit of my stomach.
I really hate to fly. Everything about airplanes makes me nervous, from the cramped seats to the dry, recirculated air, to the flight attendants’ “safety features” lecture before every take-off. The last thing I want to hear ten minutes before leaving the ground is all the different ways I can be suddenly and painfully brought back to it.
I’m not ordinarily a nervous person. Very few things scare me, in fact, but unfortunately, flying is one of them. In my line of work, though, it’s unavoidable. I often try to look on the bright side: of all the dangers in my life, an airplane crash is probably the least likely to do me in. And even if it does, it isn’t such a bad way to die, not compared to my other choices. Somehow, that’s never given me much comfort.
As dangerous as my job is, it’s something I was born into, a profession I can’t ever quit. I can’t even be fired, as far as I know. If I screw up, I most likely end up dead—or worse. No write-ups, no talks with the boss, no second chances. If I don’t kill them, they kill me. Simple as that.
See, I’m a Greer, and Greer women, as far back as anyone knows, have hunted vampires. As my mother’s favorite speech goes, we carry with us a destiny of great importance, passed down through the ages from mother to daughter. It’s a lineage that goes back to the beginning of modern man, one that no one outside the family knows exists, for obvious reasons.
As a vampire hunter, I spend my life traveling all over the world, hunting and killing vampires, though I don’t kill indiscriminately. Despite what the legends would have us believe, vampires as a whole pose little danger to the world. They aren’t soulless monsters who take joy in destroying the human race. That’s fiction, and I’m not Buffy. Most vampires feed discreetly on criminals or animals and rarely kill. It’s the ones that let their lust for blood get out of hand that we’re sent after. This latest trip had been no different.
A week ago, I received a letter about a rogue vampire wreaking havoc in Belfast. These letters usually arrive every few weeks, but never bear any return address or identifiable postmark. According to my mother, that has always been the case. Every Greer woman has had someone in the shadows to guide her on her journey. This stranger never appears in person, never gives their name, and seems to be virtually omniscient, always knowing exactly where we have to go and who we should look for, no matter how remote the location. Nevertheless, in an attempt to humanize this invisible informant, I named him Giles (assuming he was a man) back when I was 18, after the Watcher from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I may not be anything like Buffy, but I still liked the show.
This particular job had seemed almost too easy. The vampire I was sent after was killing innocent people, that much I could tell from my time tracking him, but I was able to kill him with hardly a fight. It bothered me, although I wasn’t sure why. He was gone, that’s all that should have mattered. Be happy it was easy, I told myself, because the next one will probably be twice as hard. Besides, I had other things to worry about. Seeing Cristof again had shaken me more than I wanted to admit.
Cristof is a centuries-old vampire that seems to pride himself in being the bane of my existence. He shows up at least once a month, no matter where I am, and takes great pleasure in taunting me. I’ve never been sent after him, though, so I can’t kill him, as much as I might want to. It’s part of the family code of ethics that had been drilled into me from the moment I was old enough to understand what I was: killing an innocent vampire is murder, and Greers do not commit murder. I came close once, however, when I mistakenly thought he was my target. It was one of the first times I had met Cristof personally—my mother already knew him because he has a thing for tormenting our family—and he nearly killed me in the struggle. He got away after knocking me unconscious, and I later learned I had attacked him in error. About a year later, my mother was sent on a job and never returned. She had told me before she left that she thought she was finally going after Cristof, that we would be rid of him once and for all. I was never able to prove whether or not he was responsible for her death, but ever since then he seems to follow me around more than usual. He rarely confronts me, he’s just there, which is unsettling enough. One of these days, I’ve promised myself, I’ll finally get to kill him. But if Giles doesn’t send me after Cristof soon, I may just take it upon myself to go after him on my own, ethics be damned.
With my current job completed and Cristof out of the picture for the time being, I was traveling back home to Chicago for a short vacation. This brought with it a mixture of feelings I was all too familiar with. While I was happy for the break, returning home also meant facing the loneliness and seclusion that comes as part of the package otherwise known as my calling. Being a slayer means traveling too often to make lasting friends. It also makes dating nearly impossible, and even more so, dangerous. Not for me, but for the unlucky man that could one day end up the victim of a vicious vampire attack. As my mother often lectured me, marriage isn’t an option for Greer women. We need only fraternize with the opposite sex long enough to produce the next slayer, another girl to carry on the family legacy. Greers always have baby girls, never boys, and in this day and age, men aren’t even all that necessary to achieve that goal. All I have to do is visit my friendly neighborhood sperm bank and make a withdrawal whenever I’m ready for motherhood. Convenient, but not very romantic. Call me an old-fashioned girl, but I prefer to actually know the father of my child, even if I’ll never call him my husband.
A woman sitting a few seats away from me pulled out her phone and hit one of the speed dial buttons. I could only hear her end of the conversation, but it was easy to tell she was talking to a boyfriend or husband. She warned him about the flight delay so he wouldn’t be at the airport too early to pick her up, then gushed for a while about how much she missed him and how much she looked forward to their reunion. I found myself blushing as I tried not to listen: people should really learn to speak more quietly on cell phones. My own cell phone was tucked away in my bag, fully-charged and useless. I didn’t have anyone to call. My ride home would be in a cab, and no matter how late my flight arrived, there would always be taxis waiting.
Although I was used to having no friends or family to speak of, it still hurt sometimes. My job didn’t really allow for such relationships. I didn’t even have co-workers or other vampire slayers to talk to, unless you counted Giles, whom I wasn’t completely sure was even human. The only person in my apartment building I knew was the maintenance man. He was in his 70s, had no front teeth and smelled like old cheese.
On second thought, there was one other person in the building that I knew. The only problem was, he didn’t know me, so I’m not sure he counted as an acquaintance. I saw him at least once a week, either in the lobby or the elevator, but I’d never had the guts to speak to him. I knew his name was Logan only because I’d overheard someone else greet him, and I assumed he lived on the third floor because that’s where he always got on and off the elevator. Despite my own apartment being on the fifth floor, I’d been tempted on more than one occasion to follow him off and see where he lived, then do some Internet searching for his last name. But that would make me a stalker, and I like to think I have better manners than that. So instead I just admired him from afar, sneaking glimpses on the elevator when he was looking the other way, silently fantasizing about him one day hitting the emergency stop button and making wild, passionate love to me right there on the floor.
I first spotted Logan about 2 years ago. He was getting off the elevator just as I walked into the main lobby and something about him had taken my breath away. He was gorgeous. Maybe not movie star gorgeous, but even movie stars aren’t always that gorgeous in person. (Not that I’ve ever seen one in person, but I’ve heard rumors and seen paparazzi photos.) Something about him mesmerized me. Not love at first sight, or anything corny like that. Lust at first sight, possibly. It didn’t help that he was so exactly my type, physically: longish hair (sort of a dirty blond, like mine, only on him it looked more golden), taller than me without being too tall, fit without being too muscle-bound, and eyes the most amazing shade of aquamarine that, if he’d been a girl, I’d have assumed were due to colored contacts. Who knows, maybe they were. Men can be as vain as women these days. Or maybe I was seeing them through lust-colored glasses and they were just a normal, average shade of blue.
Every time I boarded the elevator or entered the lobby, I’d feel a surge of excitement, wondering if I’d see him. The first time I found myself alone with him on the elevator, I’d unconsciously held my breath the entire time. If he lived any higher than the third floor, I might have passed out. A few months later, I’d been trying to do my laundry, but every machine on my floor was in use. I tried the two floors above me, then the floors below, until I finally found an empty washer on the third. My legs ached for two days afterwards because I’d taken the stairs back and forth, rather than the elevator, which was right next to the laundry rooms. The stairs, on the other hand, were at the end of the hall, which meant I had to walk past all the apartments to get to them. I told myself I was doing it for the exercise, but secretly I was hoping that Logan might come out of his apartment at some point so I’d finally know where he lived. In my deepest fantasies, he would bump into me one day and fall madly in love, but of course that was just a dream. Logan wasn’t the kind of guy that would take a second look at me. He could have had his choice of women, and while I wasn’t unattractive, I wasn’t exactly a catch either, given my solitary lifestyle and stunted social skills.
The boarding call for my flight rang out over the gate’s loudspeakers, startling me from my thoughts. I gathered my carry-on suitcase, looked at my seat assignment, then headed for the small crowd that was gathered near the boarding podium. I spotted a rather heavy older man shuffling towards the line and smiled politely at him when he nodded in greeting. With my luck, he would be sitting next to me. It never failed.
A HALF HOUR LATER we were taxiing down the runway. I was seated near the front of the plane, by the window, and sure enough, the overweight man from the boarding gate was my seat partner. Just once, couldn’t I be next to a young, attractive bachelor? Was that really too much to ask?
As the plane droned on towards New York City I tried to sleep, but couldn’t get comfortable enough. My large companion, who had introduced himself as James before burying his nose in a book, spilled over the armrest into my space. I edged closer to the wall at my right and sighed, then adjusted the tiny pillow on my shoulder. The thin blanket that was spread across my lap slid off onto the floor a second later. I groaned, but didn’t bother to retrieve it. I was still wearing my jacket, and the blanket hadn’t offered much more warmth than that.
Abandoning my attempt to sleep away the next few hours, I sat up and peered out the window. It was getting late, and the setting sun tinged the clouds a beautiful shade of pink. Pretty as it was, I could only stare for so long before I got bored, so I soon turned my attention to the small monitor mounted on the back of the seat in front of me. There was a menu of all the different entertainment options available, and a quick scan revealed one of the channels was offering up what they called a “new classic”: Titanic, probably in honor of the approaching anniversary. I selected the station and joined the film, already in progress, then wished I’d rented headphones when they’d been offered earlier. I didn’t need them—I had the movie memorized—but they would help drown out the jarring snores from James, who, unlike me, had had no trouble falling asleep. As if hearing my silent wish, the first-class curtains in front of our section parted and a flight attendant emerged. I waved to get her attention rather than pressing the call button.
The woman stopped at the end of my row and returned my smile. “Would you like a drink, miss?”
“I was hoping you were still renting headphones,” I whispered. She nodded and went back to her station to retrieve a pair. When she returned, I paid her for the rental, then changed my mind about the drink and ordered a rum & Coke. It would help calm my nerves.
Sipping at my glass, I plugged the headphones into my armrest and tried to get comfortable again. The soothing voice of Gloria Stuart drowned out the snoring next to me, and I soon found myself swept away by the movie, my nerves slowly becoming a distant memory.
An hour later, I was so immersed in the film that I didn’t even feel the plane start to shudder. James shifted slightly in his sleep and jabbed his elbow into my side, but I ignored it.
“You idiot,” I muttered under my breath, my attention still fixed to the small screen. It always annoyed me when Rose jumped out of her lifeboat to return to Jack. I’d never been able to understand how anyone could so blatantly sacrifice their own safety for a man. Before I could ponder that thought much longer, the plane gave a violent lurch. James woke with a loud snort and gazed around sleepily, while I ripped off the headphones and gripped my armrest. I tried not to panic, to reassure myself that it was just routine turbulence, but that little voice in the back of my head was nagging that it was more. Frankly, I never cared much for that voice.
“What was that?” I gasped, turning to look at my seatmate for the first time since our initial pleasantries. He turned his head and met my eyes with a fearful look that most likely mirrored mine, then shrugged.
“I don’ know, lassie,” he replied in a thick Irish brogue. “I’m sure it’s nothin’.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, not feeling the least bit comforted. “Nothing.”
As though rebuffing our false assurances, the plane shook again, so much this time that my empty cup fell onto the floor and rolled out of sight. I swallowed hard and hastily put up my tray table, wishing I had paid more attention during the safety features lecture after all. How exactly did my seat cushion become a floatation device again? And how was I supposed to remove it when my ass was still seat-belted to it?
There was a rising level of confusion and panic rippling through the cabin as the plane gave another shudder.
James began to whimper, which wasn’t helping. “I didn’t say goodbye to my son this morning.” He turned to me again, his eyes truly panicked now. “Do you have kids?”
I shook my head. That was the last thing I wanted to be reminded of before plunging to my death. I should have had one by now, assured the continuation of the line of slayers before I turned 25 like nearly every other Greer woman had done, but I had never felt ready. Sure, the tradition was there for a reason, because my line of work greatly lowered my life expectancy, but I could never see myself as a parent that young. Now I was regretting it. When Cristof had told me I would be the last Greer he bested, he wasn’t joking. If anything happened to me now, there would be none of us left. What would happen if I died before bringing another Greer into the world? With no more slayers, would vampires slowly overtake mankind? Surely there was some kind of cosmic backup plan for such an instance, a replacement slayer waiting on the bench to take over, a new line to pick up the reins.
Even if there was another plan, that wouldn’t make me any less dead, and as lonely as I often was, I wasn’t ready to go yet. Judging by the iron grip James now had on my hand, I wasn’t the only one.
The intercom switched on with a loud squeal and the captain’s voice echoed through the cabin. The panicked din immediately quieted as every passenger held their breath and prayed for good news.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for this bit of rough air, and ask that you fasten your seatbelts and try to remain calm while we ride through it. We’re trying to determine what—” Before he could continue, there was a loud beeping in the background, a muffled curse, then nothing. A second later, the plane went into a sudden nosedive and threw us all forward.
“Bloody Hell!” James’s cursing was the last thing I heard before the world went black.
On to Chapter Three