Marko

October 7th, 1918

A baby blue 1911 Ford Model T Touring car traveled down a lonely country road about an hour after night had fallen, heading out for a quiet night's excursion, when something caught the driver's keen eyes. The automobile pulled aside on the quiet path, and the three well-dressed men stepped out, The oldest, the driver. was perhaps in his forties, the two younger men were perhaps in their late teens, early twenties.

The older man walked toward a bundle of rags lying by the side of the road. The rags were shivering violently, and the sound of weak, wheezing breath could be heard. The older man knelt down and turned the small form over. Maxwell Ward gave a gasp of surprise at the sight of the boy's face.

"My God, he's beautiful..."

The other two men, a tall Native American and a stocky blond in a duster, moved forward and took in his appearance.

"He is beautiful, but he isn't long for this world." The taller man stated.

'He' was a young man, or boy, clearly in the last stages of the Influenza that was said to be wiping out entire towns around the world. Shivering, sweating, filthy and starving, from his rags it was clear he'd been traveling for a long time. A long way to die in a ditch, unmourned and unknown.

But his face was angelic.

Even in his pitiable state he was beautiful. His flushed cheeks, big brown eyes, pouting lips and curly blond locks gave the appearance of a classical Cherubim, an Angel From on High.

"You're right, Dwayne. We have to do this quickly."

"We don't even know who he is." The shorter youth warned.

"And we never will, unless I change him, David."

The boy's full lips, cracked from dehydration, opened, and he spoke, his voice a whisper. "Ma? M-Ma?"

If any of the men present had been human, they would likely have felt tremendous sympathy, but they were not human, they were Vampires, and they had seen so much death, caused so much death, to be hardened to such things. This disease, coming directly on the heels of The Great War, made them question humanity's continued survival, at least as an organized, 'dominant' species. Mortals were terrified, though most survived the infection, the death toll was still enormous. This poor boy, starving and weakened, had never stood a chance.

The boy's brown eyes were glossy, wide with pain and fear, not seeing the people around him. Max and his boys, immune to the disease, had seen countless mortals die. But this one, this one was too beautiful to leave to rot away in a ditch. There was no time to waste, Max extended his fangs, and gently bit into the boy's throat, flooding his mouth with overheated blood.

"What do you think, Dwayne?"

"We should give him a chance, at least, David. It would be nice to have another brother."

Max opened his own wrist and stuck it into the boy's mouth, giving the boy his own blood, even as he'd drained him. This was the first step. The boy drank deeply, acting on newly developing instincts. His cheeks had lost color, and his eyes had closed. Suddenly he bit down, newly grown fangs piercing flesh to take more of the liquid. Nursing from Max's arm like an infant, his breathing began to slow, he no longer shivered violently. The Vampiric blood was taking effect, fighting the disease ravaging his young body. Eventually Max wrested his wrist from the youth's mouth, his wounds healing quickly.

Max took the sleeping boy in his arms, uncaring of the dirt and filth on his rags. The other two young men had sat back down in the vehicle. He gently placed his little Angel in Dwayne's lap, then climbed into the operator's seat. Dwyane cradled the boy gently in his arms, his new brother would be safe. Soon the four were on their way home.

MMMM

The boy awoke in a soft bed, clean and warm. He didn't understand, was this a fever dream? If so, he didn't want to wake up.

"You're finally awake." A man's voice came from his right. The youth turned in surprise, there were three men beside the bed, one sitting, the other two standing. The man who'd spoke was middle-aged, well-dressed with thick glasses and a strange sense of authority in his voice. The other two men were a young blond about his own age in a black duster over his black suit, and a tall, darkly handsome Indian, a little older than himself, his long hair braided, dressed in shirtsleeves with fine black pants. "I understand, you must be very confused. You were extremely ill when we found you."

He remembered, vaguely, staggering down a forest path, tired, sick, hungry... He must have collapsed. But there was no cure for the Influenza. Not that he knew of, anyway.

"How am I alive?" His voice was strong, he'd expected it to be weak, hoarse from thirst and dehydration. But it felt fine. Everything felt fine. It was as if he was never sick. He felt strong, healthy... And hungry. "Thank you! I mean, I'm grateful, Sirs, but, I was so sick, I was sure I'd die... How did you save me?"

"We have a way to deal with such things, dear boy. You needn't worry about getting ill again." The older man said gently. "Though you're likely hungry."

And he was. In fact, he was ravenous. He'd never felt such hunger, an ache deep in his soul. He whimpered from the pain, and the tall Indian handed him a jeweled bottle, a wine bottle. "Drink this, it will help."

He doubted that a little wine, no matter how fancy, could stop his hunger pangs, but he took the bottle anyway and drank deeply. It tasted amazing, and his hunger instantly began to wane, leaving him sated as he finished the bottle.

"I'm sorry, Sir." He stated sheepishly, "I didn't mean to drink it all."

"Don't worry about it dear boy, there's plenty more where that came from." The man gave a kindly smile, such a polite boy, "My name's Maxwell Ward, but you can call me Max. These are my sons, David," He indicated the silent blond, "and Dwayne." He nodded toward the Indian. "What's your name?"

He froze. he couldn't give his name. His father would find him, he'd swore if he ran he'd track him down and make him beg for death... He began to breath heavily. The others quickly picked up on his fear, and looked concerned.

"It's alright, my boy. No one is going to hurt you. And if someone is after you, they'll have to go through us." Max reassured him.

"And no one gets past us." The blond gave a disturbing grin, as if he relished the idea of causing harm.

"M-My name... My name is Marko, Sir." It wasn't, of course. But it was the name he'd been using as he traveled the country, getting as far from New York, and the monster who haunted his nightmares, as possible. He sat up, and realized that he was naked. He pulled the covers forward a bit. They were all men, yes, but it didn't seem polite in the presence of complete strangers, or safe.

"Marko. I like that." David came closer, "Father here is telling the truth, you-"

Marko flinched violently at the word 'father', his eyes widened with fear, and every other man in the room suddenly wore an angry expression. Had he done something wrong? Would they send him back? Or would they hurt him too?

"Don't worry, Marko. If your father tries to hurt you, he'll suffer." He could have sworn Dwayne growled. "He may suffer anyway, if you'd like."

He suddenly felt tired, and lay back on the bed. Max pulled the covers snugly over his soon-to-be Childe.

"Nothing, and no one, is going to hurt you again, Marko." Max's voice was calming, he felt safe, "Now just get some rest. We have a lot to talk about."

Marko fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

MMMM

June 9th, 1919

The old man was on his knees, terror in his eyes. His fine clothes were ripped and torn, and his right hand, the one he'd raised so often against his son, was badly burnt. He was trembling violently. "Please! For God's sake-"

"God won't save you, old man. He never protected me from you. Why should he protect you from me?" The Demon's grin was sadistic, inhuman. It's eyes flashed reddish-yellow. It's facial structure had changed, making it look truly monstrous, and blood was spattered across it's horrific features. It licked it's fangs as it's father begged for his life. The flames of it's childhood home rose behind it, enhancing it's hellish appearance.

"No-no-! Mercy!"

The Vampire slid a claw across his father's cheek, drawing blood. He didn't want to taste it, he didn't want anything more from the old man, except to enjoy his suffering.

"Run."

Marko laughed as his father stumbled to his feet and began to run. The man who had made his life a living hell now ran sobbing in mortal terror from his 'weak pretty boy' of a son. Not so weak anymore. He gave him a few minutes head start, he wanted this to last a long, long time. He gave a wild howl and rushed after the old man, laughing.

Dwayne and David watched from afar. Their little brother wanted to handle this himself, and they were willing to indulge his vengeance. He also didn't want them to hear his real name. He'd never given it, choosing to live as Marko. The frightened boy who'd suffered so terribly beneath his father's tyranny was dead. He was now, and would always be, Marko.

The old man stumbled, scraping his hands and knees. He couldn't understand. This couldn't be real. The boy his worthless wife had birthed was a weak, mewling, effeminate little pretty boy who jumped at shadows and wept like a little girl. All he was good for was taking out his rage and his frustrations on. A toy. Not this thing.

This was a demon. Strong enough to rip the oak door from it's hinges and his guard's head from his shoulders. It shrugged off bullets like pebbles. It's face was hideous, all angles and bone and fangs. Dear God, those fangs!

He could hear the demonic laughter. It was after him, after his soul. And it would show no mercy. He'd shown the whelp mercy, by not strangling him at birth. So what if he beat him? So what if he used him in place of the woman he killed at birth? He deserved it! He was weak, effeminate and cowardly.

Not anymore.

MMMM

A short time before-

He'd been sitting in his favorite armchair, relaxing and trying to take his mind off of business. The panic over the Spanish Flu had taken it's toll on most of his companies, which were still struggling to survive after The Great War, and he needed a rest from his financial woes.

I survived The War, the rationing, the government stealing my men and equipment. I will not be taken down by the common cold!

There was a strange sound from the doorway, almost like a big dog scratching on the door.

And he did not own a dog.

Suddenly the door flew outward with tremendous force, as if sucked out by a hurricane. Johnathon, poor, loyal Johnathon, had rushed towards the gaping hole, gun drawn.

And in walked his miserable excuse for a son.

But, aside from the door, obviously, something was terribly, terribly wrong. The boy was grinning like mad and dressed like a common delinquent, but his bearing was all confidence, all strength that pathetic boy had never possessed.

"Hi, Dad! It's been a long time, and I just came by to settle some old debts."

The word 'debts' was almost hissed out.

"What are you waiting for Johnathon, shoot him!"

Poor, poor Johnathon!

Who else would gun down his master's son without a second thought if so ordered?

He emptied his revolver into the Demon, and it just cackled like a witch from a bedtime story. It reached out a clawed thing, more like the talons of a raptor than the hand of anything even resembling a human. It wrapped it's claw around Johnathon's face, and jerked upward. The man's head was ripped from his shoulders as if by a machine. The Demon examined the head for a moment, looking for all the world like a child with a new toy, save for the blood that now covered it from head to toe. It looked straight at him, right into his eyes with an air of evil mischief. It smirked, a cruel, sadistic smirk that sent chills down his spine.

Then it threw the head.

Right into his chest with such force that he heard bones crack. The heavy chair was thrown backwards from the force and crashed to the floor.

He expected the Demon to appear hovering over him, gloating. But what he saw was arguably worse.

The Demon had it's face buried in the stump of Johnathon's neck, devouring as much blood as it could.

He remembered the stories his mother used to tell him as a child, of walking corpses that slew the living and drank their warm blood. Some half-wit writer had caused quite a stir with a book about one a few years back, he remembered, his mind jumping crazily. He didn't read such trash. The sensation of horror was not something any sane mind would willingly seek.

So, of course, the brat had read every type of trash he could get his grubby hands on whenever he snuck past Johnathon to run about like a filthy street urchin.

Dracula. That was the book.

He looked down from the creature's grisly feast and saw Johnathon's head in his hands, eyes open forever in utter terror.

He lost control of his bladder.

The Demon looked up, Cherubic features replaced by something repellant, with thick bones, bestial and soaked in blood.

And it laughed, the laughter of the damned is not pleasant to hear, or to see.

"Father, I believe you've pissed yourself, how unmanly of you!"

His gutless whelp had never used such vulgarity, nor would he have dared to even look at him astray.

"Oh, perhaps I should explain." It lifted Johnathon's body and threw it through the glass window. "After I ran away from this hellhole, I was wandering for a long time. Never told anyone my real name, wouldn't do to have a worthless tramp dirtying up the family name, right? I ran and I ran and I ran, all the way to California. It's a lovely place. Sadly, I was in no state to enjoy it. I had been suffering from starvation, (I can't take care of myself, as you always made sure to remind me), and I got sick. The Spanish Flu. I collapsed on a roadway, dressed in rags, waiting to die in the gutter. Which I preferred to living with you, by the way. But three men in an automobile, they stopped, got out and examined me. I don't remember any of it, I was dying and in a fever dream, after all. But one of them did something odd. He cut into his own wrist, and shoved it into my mouth. And I drank."

"I died, but I survived."

All this time the Demon was ranting, he was unable to move. He must have been under some sort of spell, he would never be paralyzed by cowardice. The Demon walked slowly toward him. Still grinning like man possessed, it loomed over him from his position on the floor.

"I became a Vampire!" It said cheerfully, "It's worth being damned to hell just to see that look on your face." It growled like an animal, reddish-yellow eyes bright with cruelty, voice deepening, "And to make you suffer."

It lifted the old man out of his chair, off the floor with one hand, and threw him against the far wall. Then it turned its back on him, as if he were nothing, and went to the broken window. He prayed that it would just leave, that it would be satisfied with the blood it had already stolen.

"I don't want blood, this time. I wouldn't drink the filth in your veins if I were starving." It turned it's head, that monstrous grin still in place, "I owe you a debt, and a gentleman always makes good on his debt, isn't that what you always said, father?"

It reached for one of the heavy curtains with a bloodstained claw, and he didn't understand. The sound of a match, that he understood. The cloth began to burn like kindling, pieces of it falling to the ruined rug beneath.

The house was made of wood.

He painfully got up from where he had fallen after colliding with the wall, and was swiftly caught away by his right hand, dragged to the flaming window.

The creature examined his hand as if it were some piece of jewelry, or a gemstone. It hissed loudly.

"I remember this hand." It said calmly, too calmly for the situation.

Oh, God.

"I remember everything you did to me with this hand."

NO!

"You won't do it again."

The Demon thrust the hand, and half the arm, into the fire, holding it there as it sizzled and blackened, laughing like a madman at his screams of agony. It finally released his blackened, ruined hand, and looked around at the flames. "Oh, I guess I set the whole house on fire, didn't I, father?" Every time it said 'father' there was more and more hatred behind the words, even as it casually committed torture, arson and murder. "I suppose we need to go." It threw him out the gaping hole where the door had once been, breaking more bones and finally releasing his hold on Johnathon's severed head, which he had kept clinched to himself in his terror. The Demon walked out of the doorway, snickering. A childish, unmanly sound, yet somehow terrifying now.

It opened it's mouth wide, showing off it's bloody fangs.

"Well? What are you waiting for, father?" It sighed, seeming genuinely put out that he didn't understand. "Do I have to spell it out for you?"

It leered at him hideously, "Run father. Run until you can't run anymore. I'll be right behind you."

MMMM

The boy/Demon was standing in front of him now, still drenched in blood from it's earlier kill. It's face had shifted back to that pathetic weakling, but that smile. That hideous smile! "I'm going to pay you back for every blow, every touch, every rape! You will beg for the mercies of hell before I'm done with you." He laughed, "Who's the weakling now, bastard?!" It moved faster than the eye could see, and grabbed him by the right arm, claws sinking deep into his burnt flesh, held it out and brought up its knee, shattering the bone, snickering and laughing at his screams of agony.

It smiled almost sweetly, it's face a blood-splattered picture of false innocence, "Run, daddy. Run for your life."

It stood still, laughing at the injured man as he turned to run, then turned swiftly and struck it in it's face with his left hand. He heard something break, and the boy's nose began to bleed. So, it could bleed. The observation was quickly lost to white hot agony as the creature effortlessly caught his hand on the next punch and crushed it, pushing fragile bones through the skin. It's nose had healed almost as soon as it was broken, but he was in too much pain to notice.

"I said, RUN DADDY!" The thing that had once been his son growled like an Asiatic tiger.

"Y-y-y-you'll... J-j-j-"

"Speak up! Stop stuttering, you weak, pathetic worm!" It was throwing his own words back at him.

"N-n-no. I w-w-won't g-give you the... p-p-pleasure, Demon."

It roared, it's face returning to demonic form, it's fangs prominent in it's awful mouth. Good. Maybe he could use it's rage, trick it into killing him quickly.

"Y-y-y-you w-were a good w-whore, a-a-almost as good as y-y-your mother!"

It's face softened again, and it shook it's head sadly, "I know what you want, and you won't get out of this so easily." It shrugged, "Oh, well. if you won't run..." It flashed forward, slashing a deep groove in his right hamstring, then his left. He collapsed, utterly helpless.

"F-f-finish it!" He screamed in utter agony.

It just smirked.

"Not yet, old man."

And then the pain truly began.

MMMM

The firemen were trying to put out the blaze, but the mansion was beyond salvage.

So was at least one of the men who'd lived there.

Officer Halsey knelt beside the severed head, he'd been a policeman for some time, but the state of the corpse was still shocking. The head, eyes open and staring in dead horror, lay several hundred feet from the body. The killer, there was no doubt in his mind that this was murder, had to have been incredibly strong, the head appeared to have been ripped free from the body. The marks of a hand, a single hand, mind you, were clearly visible. It was a small hand, not small enough for a child, but like a lady's hand, if a lady had claws like an eagle and the strength to wrench a man's head from his shoulders one handed. There wasn't nearly enough blood around either the head or the body for the victim to have been killed in either location.

Perhaps the murder had occurred inside, the killer bringing his grisly work onto the lawn for some perverse reason.

Two men had lived here. Some fancy-pants businessman and his bodyguard. This was apparently the bodyguard, judging by his clothes and build. The man was built like an ox. They hadn't yet found the other man, his employer. He was most likely being cremated in the raging fire.

The front door, solid oak, had been found several hundred feet from the house, as if it had been kicked out by some incredibly powerful being. Or, more appropriately, ripped out. There was no sign of damage to the body of the door, but the sides were damaged, and the mangled, broken hinges indicated that the door had been torn away as if by a hurricane.

Lit by the raging inferno, the scene almost looked like Hell.

A few days later they'd start finding large swathes of the older man's skin and what must have been a massive pool of blood. But at the time they saw no sign of him in the chaos.

Halsey vaguely remembered seeing the dead man before, in town, with an older, wealthy man and a small boy with the face of an Angel and curly blond hair. That boy would be a young man now, a young man most likely dead in some horrific fashion, body consumed by the flames.

A thought came to him. There wasn't much difference between the hand of a lady and the hand of a slender youth when it came to physical appearance...

No. That wasn't possible. A boy of the size to fit that hand, even if unusually well-muscled, would struggle to even get close to such a man as the victim with ill intent, much less rip his head off.

A lady, using feminine wiles, or an exceptionally feminine looking young man posing as a lady could easily get close to most men, close enough to grasp them by the face, but they would in no way be able to overcome a big man like this one. And, again, such a person would be unable to rip a man's head from his shoulders.

A person? With the claw marks and gouges on the sides of the head and the brute force required to achieve the decapitation, it seemed more likely the work of some kind of ape. But the man's clothes were barely damaged, and his fists were free of blood or bruising.

He either hadn't had time, or hadn't the ability to fight back.

What in God's name happened in that house?

No human could do this, unless he was a veritable Hercules or Sampson with the claws of an eagle.

Whoever, whatever had done this, Officer Halsey prayed that it would not strike again.

MMMM

The boys emerged from the abandoned cellar where they'd taken refuge for the day. As Marko's clothing was thoroughly ruined by blood, they had to find something for him to wear, as well as food. Both in one package was preferable.

Neither David nor Dwayne so much as saw the body, Marko had tossed it, still living, according to him, and they had no reason to doubt, into the flames. David thought back to the kind, gentle Cherub they had found lying in the road, dying. Even weakened and suffering from the terrible hunger of their kind, Marko had fought them, desperate to remain human. To remain mortal. He had been horrified by the thought of taking a human life. Would it have been more merciful to have let him die, rather than turn him into such a vicious creature?

He saw Marko laughing, wearing Dwayne's too-long coat as his brother tried to catch him and get it back.

No, they'd made the right decision. Marko was far happier and more lively than he had even been while still alive.

Dwayne tackled Marko and wrestled him to the ground as he growled playfully at his little brother.

It had been less than a year, but he couldn't picture life without his youngest brother.

The boys, cleaned and well-dressed, took the automobile and headed back West.

Back home.

The End...

MMMM

Notes:

Max seems like the type to have bought a horseless carriage as soon as they became available. This was before he went insane, hence his kindly demeanor and sincere concern for his boys.

Alex Winters (Marko), stated in an interview that Marko wasn't the character's real name, which he never told anyone, and that he was a runaway from New York City. His father's abuse was my idea, as was the fact that his family had money and his mother died in childbirth. No one heard anything because he had a private residence in a patch of forest, and, beyond his bodyguard, he lived alone after Marko escaped.

Marko's revenge was incredibly brutal, but I'd already established in The Lost Wolf that Marko's father had been skinned and burned alive.

There's a reason my character in The Lost Wolf nicknamed Marko 'Snickers'.

It's a sad fact that many dying people, especially those dying young, call out for their mothers as they slip away. Marko never knew his mother, but he knew that they were supposed to comfort and love their children.

The Spanish Influenza killed over 50 million people around the world, and over 500 million people contracted it. A third of the planet's population contracted the disease, but most survived. Marko, being already weakened by hunger and living on the run, would have died. By October, 1918 the world was experiencing a peak in cases and a second wave of infections. People were terrified. Ironic, that, had they been humans, the group would likely have left Marko to die.

The Great War - World War I, The War to End All Wars. People thought that it was so horrific rational humans would forsake violence. Since rational humans are incredibly rare, we have since had countless wars even more terrible than WWI, including, of course, World War II.

At the time, popular books of fiction, regardless of topic, were known as Romances. Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, all were considered romances. The War of the Worlds would have been called a 'Scientific Romance'.