Blood Brothers by Tom Howard

Detective Barnes could hear the screams of the victim echoing off the surrounding skyscrapers even after the body had been taken away. He feared time was running out but waited while the witness pulled himself together. The young man sat on a park bench not far from the crime scene. His t-shirt and jeans were streaked with blood, but the medics and forensics had finished checking him out. It was after midnight, and the park was empty except for the police and the witness.

“Mr. Phillips,” Barnes said, “it can be helpful if you answer questions while the events are still fresh in your mind.”

Phillips stared at his bloody hands. “I… I’m not sure what happened.”

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Barnes said. “Why were you in the park so late?”

“Just walking. My apartment is an oven, so I wander in the evenings.”

Phillips’ ID address showed he lived in an old building in midtown Philadelphia. The home had been split into several “bedroom suites,” cheap but small.

“You’re new to Philly?” Barnes asked. Phillips had to be to walk through the park at night. Unless he was more than an innocent bystander.

Something rustled in the bushes, and Phillips looked over his shoulder. “T-two months. From Wichita.”

This guy was giving off the wrong signals. He was lying about something and it sure wasn’t Wichita.

“When did you first see the victim?” Barnes asked.

“I had just entered the park. I heard a woman scream and ran to help without thinking.”

Behind Phillips, officers combed the underbrush.

“What did you see?”

“A man bent over a woman. She was struggling and calling for help.” He clenched his fists. “I ran up and pushed the man off her. There was so much blood.”

Barnes made a note on his pad. He’d seen the young woman as they’d taped her up on her way to the hospital. Her neck wound had looked gruesome. The unlikely assailant had vanished.

“Did you know her before that evening?”

Phillips shook his head. “What? No.”

Barnes suspected the young man was doing more than wandering on a hot summer night. He couldn’t see any obvious marks, but he knew Phillips must have them.

He tried a new approach. “I saw the girl before she went to the hospital. She’s an addict. A longtime user. Her neck injury was only one of many bite marks on her body, most of them healed.”

“I didn’t know.” Phillips wouldn’t look at the detective. “Did you find the man who attacked her?”

Barnes shook his head. “No. Can you describe him again?”

“Tall. Pasty white. Huge teeth. I could see them even in the dark. His eyes…” Phillips glanced at the bushes again. “They were like an animal’s eyes at night. You know how they reflect light back at you? This guy’s eyes were like that.”

“Did he attack you?”

Phillips nodded. “Yeah. I’m strong from working at the docks, but he lifted me like I was nothing. He threw me down and tried to bite my neck. Total psycho.”

Barnes didn’t believe him. “What happened next?”

“I tried to break free and help the woman, but he kept going for my neck. One minute, I smelled his stinking breath on my face, the next, the cops were asking me if I was all right. I must have blacked out.”

“Your attacker was probably a Blood Brother,” Barnes said. “They have a small community adjoining the park. Are you familiar with them?”

“No,” Phillips whispered.

 “Yeah, you wouldn’t be. They keep to themselves and only come to the park when they need money. They don’t attack people.”

“You don’t think I hurt her, do you? It was that creepy guy with fangs!”

“A Blood Brother ripped out her throat? I’m not buying it. Suppose I give you an alternative.”

Barnes closed his notebook. “You and your girlfriend came to the park for a fix. She forced herself on a desperate Blood Brother.”

“No,” Phillips said. “Kate’s not like that. She needs a little pick-me-up once in a while.”

“So you do know her?”

Phillips hung his head. “Yes.”

“You know what their blood does to you?”

“Katie says it’s like Christmas and your birthday and all the holidays rolled into one.”

Barnes sighed. Addicts pissed him off. Kids like Phillips took advantage of the Brothers, paying the vampires to drink their blood for a few minutes of bliss.

“Have you tried to get help?” Barnes asked. “There is a twelve-step program for people like you. I’ve heard they’re using poppy sap.”

“It’s only blood,” the addict said. “We don’t make them take much.”

“You force them to drink your blood. In the process, they transfer some of their own hallucinogenic fluids into you.”

“Yeah,” Phillips said. “No one gets hurt. They make a few bucks. What’s the big deal?”

Barnes controlled his anger. Maybe Phillips was what he appeared to be: a country bumpkin who’d wandered into a park for a quick high. The kid didn’t realize how he’d drilled a hole in the dam. “Mr. Phillips, I’ve been doing this job for a lot of years. You’re not telling me everything. What caused him to lose control like that?”

“We thought we’d give him a high, too. Kate took some uppers right before we went into the park.”

“How much?” The rustling in the bushes grew louder.

“I don’t know.” He turned his head to look behind him. “We found a guy, I paid him, and Kate put her throat in his mouth. He went insane after the first bite and tore into her. I couldn’t stop him.”

Kate would be okay if they’d drained the excess vampire toxins out of her in time. Otherwise, she’d wake up as a Blood Sister.

“Can I go now?” Phillips asked. “I have to work tomorrow.”

“No,” Barnes said. “You’re not going anywhere tonight.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re too young to remember what vampires are really like. We’ve had a fragile treaty with the Blood Brothers for decades. This attack may return them to slaughtering humans. Do you understand?”

“But you said they wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“Until tonight they were content to use the blood banks we provided. You’ve changed that by showing them what blood combined with drugs feels like. You’ve reminded them of the hunger. You may have killed us all.” He turned to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Phillips asked.

“To talk to the Brothers. If that doesn’t work, we’re going to have a hot time in Philly tonight.”

“What about me?”

Barnes glanced into the bushes before heading for a patrol car. “I’m hoping they’ll settle for a sacrifice like last time.”

Tom Howard is a fantasy and science fiction short story writer living in Little Rock, Arkansas. He thanks his friends for their inspiration and the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group for their perspiration.