The train ride to London was anything but easy. It was my first time in Europe. I had spent the week touring the UK, seeing castles and other landmarks, and now I was on my way back to the airport to catch a flight home to the States. This week had been a dream come true. Not only did I get to see amazing sights, but I met a guy. Ian. As I sat there feeling the small bumps of the moving train, I could remember his face; big brown eyes and tight, curly black hair that framed his oval shaped head and highlighted his smooth brown skin. His full lips seemed perpetually curled into a flirtatious smile. God, I missed those lips. Even more, I missed that husky British accent that spoke between them. But, as luck would have it, he didn’t show up for me. We made plans for dinner last night, and I waited, but he didn’t show. It’s amazing how a trip that began with such promise ended in sadness. I don’t know what caused it. I don’t know why he didn’t show, but I wish I had an answer. What stands out most is our last moment where I showed him this weird stone I found.
“Where did you get that?” he asked. We had been walking in a nearby park at night, but our steps came to a halt.
“Yesterday, when I visited Stonehenge. It was just lying on the ground. Why?”
“It’s…nothing. Nevermind.” He started our walk again.
The alarmed look on his face caught me by surprise. I’d never seen him so intense. “Are you sure? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
I let it go, but already I could feel a change between us. A distance. It wasn’t there before, but appeared in an instant. I couldn’t help but feel punished in some way, but looking back now, I just pretended it was all in my head. “Tomorrow’s my last day. We should do something. End it off right. Dinner?”
He looked at me for five long seconds. That perpetual smile was nowhere to be found. I had grown used to an ease of action with Ian. His impulsive decisions inspired small adventures and he made room for mine with an easy, “Let’s do it!” Waiting for his answer to this question was excruciating.
“Okay,” he said.
It was emotionless, cold, and measured. I was instantly haunted. I instinctively knew I had lost him in that moment. Still, I showed up at the restaurant hoping it was just a moment of awkwardness. Boy, was I wrong.
I sat in the train looking at the stone that caused it all. It was flat and circular like a disc and its rough edge fit the palm of my hand. The surface was carved into some sort of symbol. I ran my thumb over the raised horizontal ridge with three vertical lines underneath. What was about this thing that scared Ian? I slipped the stone into my pocket, trying not to dwell on it. I had to take a whizz. I left my backpack in the corner of the booth seat and slid into the aisle. As I walked to the bathroom, I got the distinct feeling of being watched. I lightly rested my hand against the top of each seat for balance as I moved ahead, looking back from time to time to see who’s eyes I felt. It wasn’t like me to be paranoid, but maybe this was all in my head too. I entered the bathroom to do my business and soon began to wash my hands. I welcomed the scent of soap to mask the dank sour smell of urine. My heart was still heavy and I looked in the mirror to see if my face showed my emotions. It did.
A knock sounded at the door.
“I’m in here,” I said.
A man’s voice spoke on the other side. “He wants it back.”
“What?” I thought maybe I heard him wrong. I shook the excess water off my hands and said, “I’ll be out in a second, sir.”
“The Hat Man is not pleased.”
I frowned in confusion thinking, What is he talking about? I finished drying my hands on a paper towel and opened the door, but no one was there. I took a look left and right, but all was as it had been when I walked up. Strange. As I went back down the aisle and approached my seat, I saw that my backpack had moved. It was still in the corner, but instead of facing in like I had left it, the front was facing out. I quickly sat down and unzipped everything, going through each pocket. It didn’t look like anything was taken, thank goodness. But who had been over here?
The train slowed to a stop. After this, my stop at London was next. Again, I felt I was being watched. I looked out onto the platform, but all the passengers were busy boarding. I suddenly felt the shadow of a man in the aisle next to me. I jerked my head in a start, but my alarm only increased at the sight of him. He was tall, probably around 6’5”, and skinny. He wore a long black robe almost like a priest, but the collar was black all the way around. He wore black sunglasses with small round lenses and a black fedora with a wide brim. The only thing not black about him was his ghostly pale skin.
For a moment, I couldn’t tell where his eyes were looking or if he could even use them. But as he stepped into my booth and sat across from me, I could tell his gaze never left my own. He was unnerving. I started to breathe harder and my heart began to beat faster. The man was silent the whole time. Had I even heard his footsteps? After a moment, he moved his arm and let his gloved right hand fall open on his lap. Waiting.
I stared for a moment wondering what the hell he wanted, but I ran my fingers across the ridges of the stone in my pocket and instinctively knew.
The train’s horn sounded and the rumble of the tracks began again. That’s when I heard hard footsteps coming down the aisle. Somebody was making a ruckus. I looked up when the steps got close and the sight of Ian standing there made me feel relieved, angry, and confused all at the same time.
He smiled and said “Mind if I join you?” Without waiting for my answer, he sat down next to the man in black who had not moved an inch.
“Ian? What are you doing here?”
“Shh…” he said, putting his finger to his lips. I saw a bead of water trickle down his finger and that’s when I noticed his whole left arm was drenched. He lowered his hand and let it barely touch the man next to him. The man’s open hand began to shake and his fingers curled. Ian turned to him and spoke in a low voice. “You need to go. You can make this easy or hard.”
I couldn’t pull my eyes away, but I lost the sight of them both as the train entered a tunnel and all the lights went out. I gasped and recoiled into my seat seeing only the strange man’s two glowing red eyes in front of me.
“Marcus. Marcus,” Ian whispered. “Don’t. Move.”
The man’s eyes got closer and closer until they were just inches away from my own. He screamed! It was sudden and ear-splitting, making me scream back in terror! I started to jump out of my seat, but I could feel hands wrestling with my arms for control. Outside light flooded the train and the inside lights came back on. I saw it was Ian grabbing at me and trying to get me to be quiet, but I couldn’t slow myself down. He jumped over to my side and wrapped his arms around me. “Shh. It’s okay, it’s okay.”
I calmed some, but shuddered and still fought to catch my breath. I caught the gaze of a lady in the seat across the aisle. “Is everything all right?” she asked.
Ian said, “My friend here just had a bit of a nightmare. We’re all good. Thank you.”
“Ian, what was that?” I asked, still restrained as though I were in a strait jacket. “What the hell was that?”
“It was the Hat Man.”
I shook free of his arms and turned to face him. “The Hat Man?”
“He’s the leader of a vampire coven. He must be really pissed to come out in daylight.”
“A vampire coven? What the – how – why am I the only one freaked out?”
“Nobody else heard the scream but us. The only two to see him. You’re getting off with me at the next stop.”
“What? No, I need to get home. Especially now.”
“Do you know another vampire hunter in America?”
I was taken aback by this. What could he possibly mean?
“Thought so. You’re safer with me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m a vampire hunter.”
I let out a deep sigh. I couldn’t wrap my head around anything that was going on. Maybe I really needed a strait jacket. “Ian, what’s going on?”
“You threw yourself right in the middle of a war between vampires and hunters. It’s been going on for centuries. When you showed me that stone, I thought you were one.”
“Me? A vampire. Really?”
He nodded. “I showed up to the restaurant last night, by the way.”
“Why didn’t you meet me?”
He looked me in the eye and turned away. “I was there to kill you.”
My heart sank. I was stunned.
“But I didn’t because…I just couldn’t. Part of me couldn’t believe it – that you were that evil. I had to be absolutely sure. So I followed you up to now and when I saw the Hat Man…”
“You could see I was his target.”
He nodded again. “I’m sorry.”
I wasn’t quite ready to forgive him, but I had more questions. “Why is the Hat Man after me?”
“That stone. It has the sign of the shadow coven. It’s what allows him to walk in our world.”
I pulled the stone out of my pocket and gave it another look. “Can’t I just give it back?”
“No! Sending back a coven leader is historic. It’s only ever been done twice. When one is forced back to their own world, all of their minions are sent with them. Countless lives are saved. The Hat Man is weakened. You’ve had it for two nights, now. If you can hold on to it for five more, I can send him back for good. Can you do that?”
“Why can’t you hold on to it? I don’t like it that much. Here.”
Ian back away from the stone with his hands up. “No! If I hold it, he’ll come after me and there’s no way I can sneak attack. Like right now?” He pointed to his wet arm. “That’s holy water. I can’t fight him head-on.”
“So I’m the bait.” I covered my face with my hand. “Shit. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Hey,” Ian said as he pulled my hand down. “We’ll do this.”
Right then, I just wanted to go home, but I didn’t want to be sentenced to looking over my shoulder by ignoring this. I don’t know whether it was having Ian with me or the idea of saving others from the horror I had just experienced that pushed me into it, but I decided right then and there that I’d do it. Next stop: London.