He ran through crowds, accross streets, into and out of the weak sunlight, into and out of the shadow of a neon underbelly he was too afraid to even ask about.
Wallace was 19 years old, and had something deeply psychologically wrong with him best exemplified by the fact that he was an excellent employee.
He didn't cross over permenantly right then-- and a good thing too, but we'll get to that-- but he first caught the scent of his destiny on that September day. He was horrified by it.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet," said Elder Salt.
Wallace looked down at his clothing, coated in dust, ash, and sweat. He didn't try to refuse things outright anymore. He nodded, and asked "What time?"
Elder Salt smiled slightly. "It may not be possible. Just because I'd like it, that doesn't mean it will happen." He glanced at the old grandfather clock. "However, if it does, he will find you at dawn. Endeavor not to go looking for him first."
Wallace Salt was dreaming. He knew that, because he could see the sun.
It was bitterly cold. The tarnished gaslamps on each corner were unlit. Wallace's clothing was heavy, itchy, and cumbersome. He'd been told not to go looking for trouble, so he waited for trouble to find him.
Locking his knees, he kept watch for... whoever he was going to meet.
Some hours later, blinking motes of sleep out of his eyes, he spotted another human. It was hard to judge from the distance, but it looked like a teenager.
Wallace waved to him in greeting, and the boy stilled. On approaching, he heard the boy's anxious muttering. "No. Not another of them. Not again. Not again..."
Wallace made a placating hand gesture, or tried to, until he noticed his gloveless hands were wrong. His nails were discolored and broken, and it was difficult to move his fingers. Elsewhere, despite his many layers of clothing, the cold was slicing through him as though he were wearing nothing at all. He tried to ignore all of that. It was only a dream, after all. Someone else's memories. "Are you alright?" He found his own voice weak and reedy, quiet enough that he barely heard it.
"Better 'n you," the boy answered. He appraised Wallace, and seemed to decide there was no threat in his shaking form. "No wonder y'all never fight, there's nothin' left of you. Jus' skin n' pain."
As if on cue, Wallace was struck with chest pain like his heart was being crushed in an oil press. He gasped for air, and noticed he couldn't see his breath. Was it even cold? His coat was so heavy, but it wasn't keeping him warm.
The boy caught him as he stumbled, easily supporting Wallace's weight. "I can take you away from them," he whispered. "You'll never have to see another vampire."
Wallace nodded against the boy's shoulder. He needed a hospital. The boy's voice faded in and out. Some time later, Wallace opened his eyes as he was being laid on the ground behind a building. He was numb with cold, but had stopped shivering. Why was he being dumped on the pavement? Where was the doctor?
Wallace squinted up at the shadow that'd carried him here. Framed by the sun, the boy was hoisting something shaped like a long rectangle. He was still talking, but the words were hard to follow. "...get you into Heaven, don't worry. Murder ain't suicide, you'll get buried all normal."
Of all the ways to die, getting clubbed to death by a maniac who thought he was a good samaritan--
Behind Wallace, a door creaked open.
The boy took one look at whoever had opened it, and fled.
The next evening, Wallace asked Elder Salt who he'd met.
"That was the late Elder Gutter, or as the papers called him, The Dockyard Hammerer. So you see, Geo's kind used to be much more open about their hatred of reasonable humans like you."
Wallace Salt was cleaning the wallpaper with putty, when the front door was thrown open. Bizarrely, one of the Salt kids-- fledgelings, he was supposed to call them-- was practically launched through the door, crashing to the floor in an unmoving heap. The door slammed shut, and Wallace stared at the body.
"Are you... alright?" Wallace asked lamely.
Creeping closer, Wallace noticed a stain on the fledgeling's cloak. The cloak was familiar, only one of the fledgelings still wore them. The cloak's material was heavy, and rain tended to make the unfortunate wearer look like a drowned rat. In this case, though, the body of the cloak was dry, apart from a small amount of blood soaking through. But... the amount that must be on the other side, for any of it to leak all the way through-- Wallace's eyes widened.
He flinched back from the body, and took off running for the Elder's office.
The second time it happened, Wallace answered the door to see an officer arm-in-arm with-- actually, make that holding upright-- a newly-promoted Cadet of the Salt clan.
"What'd he do?" asked Wallace before he could remember to be quiet.
"Disorderly conduct," said the officer simply, handing Wallace a ticket written in Latin. Realizing the human couldn't read it, the officer dithered for a moment, then spilled. "You didn't hear it from me, Mr.Salt, but this one thought it was a good idea to piss against a building... right in front of a window."
"That's one way to celebrate a promotion," commented Wallace, desperately trying not to laugh. Vampires couldn't even get drunk, why on Earth did he...?
"Oh, he was promoted? Good for him, what rank is he now?" asked the officer.
"Cuh...det," the cadet answered thickly.
Wallace smiled, thinking for a moment while the officer changed his report to reflect the correct rank. "Not to impose, but do you think he could be cut some... slack?" The cop raised his eyebrows, sarcastically looking both ways for an eavesdropper. Wallace quickly amended his request. "I don't mean to let him off the hook completely, the fine makes sense. But... does the Elder really need to see him like this tonight? He's very hard on the young ones."
"'m only sixdy-five," the cadet agreed.
"Alright, fine. Against the wall," ordered the officer. The cadet lurched so quickly his forehead audibly hit the bricks.
Shaking his head, the officer used an L-shaped tool to unpin the cadet, who immediately dissapeared into the house without a word. Wallace was a bit put out, but tried not to show it.
"Thank you officer, I'm sure he'll--"
"You're in debt that policy break, not him. Keep your nose clean. The Ivories always collect in full."
Wallace Salt nodded mutely, and went back inside.
If the Salts were quick to go along and get along, the Gutters were the opposite. They had no structure, no leadership, and no Sire, as the lot of them were human. Their collective made up the smallest fringe of vampire society, though rumors flew that the unclaimed human population was due to start growing again. Every once in a while, a human crossed over the barrier. Usually, they found a clan, or a clan found them. In case neither happened, the Gutters begrugingly gained a new member.
Wallace had seen the outside of Lair Gutter. The windows facing the street were narrowly barred on the inside and the outside, but between the irons he could see an assortment of seating, countless wall pegs with jackets, and a bit of a hallway. Small posessions were scattered everywhere, like magazines and tools. Something about the entire lair seemed strikingly wrong to Wallace, like a summer camp without any sign of children. In fact, there didn't seem to be anyone at all.
Geo had been sitting in the dark, enjoying the homelike silence of night, when he saw a curious face at the front window, the man's nose nearly touching the glass. Before Geo could convince himself to get up and invite him inside, the stranger went back on his way. It was a brief encounter, if you could even call it that, but Geo had a knack for faces.
Months later, he learned the man's name, but by then it was a bit late to give him the lowdown on being a Gutter. By then, he was a dyed-in-the-wool Salt.
Wallace was carrying two coffees in disposable cups back to Lair Salt when Geo came by in the other direction on his way to work.
"Evening Mr.Gutters," said Wallace.
Geo stopped. "Evening, do I know you?"
Wallace blinked with confusion. "What? Of course you do. I'm from down the block," he pointed far down the street, to a brick building that had seen better days. "I... know you. We used to--" There was no doubt in Wallace's mind. He knew Geo, had memories of talking to him for hours at a time, but couldn't quite remember what the conversations were about.
"We've never met, saltstain. Those secondhand memories aren't my problem."
Geo left Wallace frozen on the sidewalk. He didn't feel like dealing with the newest member of the Salt hivemind.
Wallace Salt placed one of the two cups of coffee on Elder Salt's desk. Elder Salt did not look up from his paperwork.
As the kerosene desklamp was not lit, the only light came from the open door at the top of the stairs. The absurdity of doing paperwork in the dark was not lost on Wallace, and he considered lighting the lamp just to make the situation more reasonable. The next moment, or perhaps at the same time, he considered smashing the lamp on Elder Salt's head.
Instead, Wallace sat down. "I'd like to see the contract again."
"You're not being specific."
"My boarding contract. I need to know the means of ending it."
Elder salt finally looked up from his work. "Wallace, you stopped being a boarder when you became a member of clan Salt. You never paid rent, and I never paid wages." Elder Salt paused to let Wallace absorb the facts, taking the moment to resume his paperwork.
Wallace reached for the lamp, then shook his head, realizing he didn't have a lighter. He stood, picked up the lamp, and casually tested the weight of it in his hand. He adjusted his grip a few times, until it was white-knuckled.
A moment later, he dropped it on the floor, shattering the glass. He'd almost-- he'd--
He had to get out of here.
"You're allowed to leave, you know. Slavery is quite illegal at the moment. It might be best that you left."
The Herdsman was angry, outraged, a righteous sort of burning fury that ate up all the oxygen in the room despite his face showing only mild displeasure. The rage radiated out of the Herdsman's skin like a radio signal. Wallace couldn't remember why he'd come to the office, but now he was sorely regretting it. He'd probably done something wrong, again, and maybe this time he'd get death for it. He looked at the carpet, beige, seeming to ripple like water.
A solid hand landed on Wallace's shoulder from behind. The touch retreated as quickly as it came, but it startled Wallace enough to set him off.
Wallace had knowlege of privately held executions, the memories far too old to be his. There was a particular way of lining up the end of a blade, a certain flourish that reeked of disdain. If done correctly his blood would gout downward from--
Wallace gasped once, failing to make sense of the situation. Someone was behind Wallace, but Wallace couldn't move.
--and it wouldn't get on anyone else's shoes, a little like pouring milk out in the street during a recession, a lot like getting the pink slip but maybe that would be only after washing because he can't remember what color what color is human money these days because he hasn't seen a penny since- since--
Wallace's legs gave out, and Geo Gutters grabbed him around the middle, awkwardly supporting him at arms' length.
--what year was it anyways because it kept changing and no one seemed to care except once in a while he saw kegs between the buildings and kegs cared about the temperature kegs cared about each other but recently a keg tried to kill Wallace in his sleep well that was only a dream and it was for a good reason but wait no that wasn't a keg those were the ones that wanted it--
Wallace, shaking like a leaf in a hailstorm, was gently lowered to sit on the floor.
--kegs were the ones that let it happen--
"Will this be enough evidence?" asked Geo, stepping back to restore some distance from Wallace. Geo felt unclean where he'd touched the man.
The Herdsman didn't answer. "Will you be taking custody, Mr.Gutters?"
--kegs were the ones that let vampires turn down the kerosene lamp.
Wallace looked up at Geo, who looked like a triplet of shadows in the doorway. He wanted to tell Geo about his dream involving the Gutters. The words weren't there, at least not the important ones, he had only a few of them left.
There was only so far that Geo would go for a reasonable man. That limit was originally going to be a touch on the shoulder, but when he saw Wallace fall... well, it's not like he had a rash or anything, helping him not crack his skull on the edge of the Herdsman's desk wasn't much of a stretch.
Geo opened his mouth to answer, but found himself unable to say it when he caught Wallace's glassy stare. Geo quickly looked away, and composed himself. Wallace was a lost cause.
"No. It's your job to handle this, not mine."
Geo was already out the door when Wallace reacted.
"Too reash'ble," slurred Wallace quietly. "Doesn' wan'."