Hildreth smiled as Jim-Marie enjoyed every bite of his pizza. “How long have you been on the streets?”
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know.” He took another bite of his pizza slice. “One? Two? years? Seems longer than that. Like I’ve been homeless forever.”
“And you’re only seven?”
“Yep.” He grabbed two more slices. “You think your master will say yes?”
Hildreth shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Jim-Marie went to take a bite out of his piece, but he stopped and lowered it. “What if he does? What happens? Where do I go?”
“Master Shinowa will take you to his dojo and you’ll live with him.”
The boy took a bite of his pizza and chewed slowly.
Hildreth took advantage of the break in the conversation to grab another piece. Mmm. Cheese and pepperoni and—-
“Dojo. Is that…a house?”
Hildreth bit into his slice. “It’s the master’s home/training…center.”
“So. I’ll be inside a house. It’s a real house, right? It’s not one of those weird places that’s open to the elements, right?”
“Not sure what kind of places you’re thinking about, but yeah. It’s a real house.”
“With walls and ceilings and lights and running water and toilets?”
“All of the above and a kitchen sink.”
“It sounds too good to be true.” His shoulders sank. “What if he says no? Do I just go back out onto the streets?”
“Is there really nowhere else you can go? No family?”
The boy shook his head.
“No family friends?”
“No one.” Hope flickered on his thin face. “Could you adopt me?”
“I’d love to say yes, but most reputable adoption agencies refuse to let hunters adopt. Our lifestyles are ‘too high risk for family stability’. I’ve heard other excuses, but that’s the big one. We hunters are ‘too high risk’.” He shrugged. “And it is true. Especially if we get changed. Those closest to us are the first to get hurt.”
Hildreth put his slice of pizza on his plate. “Are you absolutely sure you want this life? It could destroy you. It could break your soul and your heart.”
Jim-Marie opened his mouth.
‘Stop. Don’t answer. Spend the rest of tonight thinking about it. Seriously thinking about it. Okay?”
The boy nodded.
I miss you.
I miss you so much.
“And all I want is one word. One touch. One acknowledgement that I still matter to you. That’s all I want. It’s all that I have ever wanted. Am I asking for too much?”
Elsie raised her head and listened.
But her father did not speak.
And he did not appear.
And Hildreth wasn’t there.
“Oh, look at that.” A vampire strolled around the side of the mausoleum. “A yummy helpless damsel waiting to be put in distress.” He stopped and readjusted his top hat. “Put in distress. Put in distress. That doesn’t sound right.”
He snapped his fingers. “Hey, future victim. Give me some help here.”
She pulled out her stakes. “If you insist.”
“Oh. You’re a hunter.”
“Wrong. I’m The Marauder.”
His face turned pale. “Wait. You’re THE Marauder?”
“The one and only.”
“I thought you were just stuff of nightmares. I thought you were just a legend. A vampire’s boogeyman.”
Elsie smiled. “Welcome to your nightmares.” She charged at him.
He screamed and ran for his life.