Ever since he was small, Jackson Overland had heard the stories. Vampires, werewolves, dark things moving unseen through the deep woods. His little village was tucked away at the foot of a steep mountain, surrounded by a forest that few dared to tread in. High up on a rocky outcrop, there was an ancient, sprawling mansion. No one knew who lived there, and no one cared to find out, but live there someone did. Jack would see lights on at night, shining from afar. It was haunted, that's what everyone said.
As he grew older, Jack began to believe that the stories of his childhood were nothing more than fairytales, told to keep little ones from wandering into the woods without question. But, he was never quite certain. If they were just old wives' tales, then why did it seem like sometimes things would fly over the town in the dead of night, or what was that long wavering howl that he sometimes thought he could hear, carried across the miles by the wind when the Moon shown down brightly? He vowed that one day he'd find out, if he ever got the chance. Being a shepherd wasn't exactly fun, and Jack forever wished for something more exciting to happen. Vampire Hunter seemed a much better title than Shepherd Boy.
Yet, one evening when some of his sheep became spooked and ran off into the forest, Jack felt his courage falter as he stared up at the wall of trees. “You wanted an excuse to go in there, and now you've got it,” he told himself. He checked his gear: A little knife of steel, and a second coated in silver. He'd had to save up a great deal for that one, but North the blacksmith had given him a discount for helping hunt down some wild boars that had been ravaging the town fields. There was his favorite slingshot, and a sharp wooden stake, a clove of garlic, and some holy water that he'd bought off a passing missionary. It was a good start, if all the lore books that he'd read were true.
The sun was just beginning to set as he made his way into the dark line of trees, though they grew so thickly that after a few feet it was nearly as dark as midnight. He could hear the sheep ahead of him, blundering through the underbrush. It wasn't long before he found them, huddled together in a small clearing. “Have you had enough of your little adventure?” he asked them, feeling both relieved and disappointed.
So far, the forest seemed quite ordinary, though it was full of interesting plants that Jack had never seen before. He began to guide the sheep back toward the meadow, and it was then he felt it. Someone, or something, was watching him. The sheep bleated nervously and quickened their pace. Jack glanced wildly around him, but there was nothing but tall trees and deep shadows. Were those eyes? No, they weren't. Were they? He tightened his grip on his crook, his free hand traveling to the knives at his belt.
Jack made it to the wood's edge, and sent his charges back toward the rest of the flock. Taking a deep breath, he turned back toward the woods, wandering in just past the first line of trees. The sense of watchful eyes among the trees hadn't left him. “Who's there?” he called, hoping his voice didn't sound as shaky as he felt. “Show yourself, if you aren't afraid.”
For a moment, the woods were quiet. By now, the sun had set, and only a faint glow remained in the western sky. “I don't believe I'm the one who is afraid, little shepherd.” A soft voice, smooth as silk, purred. A tall figure cloaked in black stepped out from the shadow of a tall pine. “Though I admit, few have ever had the courage to venture into my woods.”
Jack struggled to hold his ground. A vampire, it's really a vampire oh god. “That's because they're too scared. I'm not though, and I'm not gonna run away like those frightened sheep.” He licked his lips. “So the stories are true then, you...you're a vampire.”
The gaunt shade smiled, revealing sharp fangs. “Indeed.” His golden eyes traveled to Jack's inventory. “And it appears I was wrong. You are not just a shepherd, are you? A Vampire Hunter as well. How very impressive.”
“Damn right I am,” Jack responded. Even though I've never even seen one before, but hey, everyone starts somewhere, right? Assuming they live long enough.
“You are amusing, Jackson,” the vampire purred, slinking closer.
“How do you-” Jack began.
“I've been watching you for quite some time. It's so dreary, isn't it? Being nothing more than a shepherd. You want more.” He gestured to the wide forest. “You want excitement. You want to live, not just remain doomed to endless days trapped here like the rest of that boring village.”
Jack stared at him. He was right, after all. Jack wanted more than this little village could ever offer. But, to become a vampire himself, if that's what the creature was offering...That was a bit much. “You've got one up on me,” he managed. “You know my name, but I don't know yours.”
“You can call me Pitch,” the creature replied. Before Jack had time to respond, long, claw-tipped fingers had wrapped around his free hand. “Oh my, you're bleeding. How dreadful.” Jack flinched as a warm tongue lapped at a cut on his hand that he didn't remember getting. Pitch gave a pleased hum, and Jack, gaining control of himself suddenly, pulled away.
“Hey, back off.” He fumbled with the stake for a moment, wielding it in front of him like a sword, Pitch eyed it and stepped away slowly. “Who says I wanna be an undead monster too? I'm not that desperate for excitement.” His heart was pounding, blood roaring in his ears.
Pitch only chuckled, the sound making Jack's hair stand on end. The vampire licked his lips, a pale tongue gliding between sharp fangs. “But you're delicious,” he breathed. “Much better than livestock.”
“Aren't people just livestock to you anyway,” Jack snapped.
Pitch gazed at him with a hurt expression. “Of course not. What kind of monster do you think I am?” His golden eyes snapped up suddenly, staring past Jack toward the village. “And now, you are missed, I see. They come with torches.” He slunk back, melting into the shadows until his strange, shimmering eyes were all that was visible. “You should come and visit me again, little Vampire Hunter. This forest can be a very lonely place.” With that, he vanished into the night.
Still breathing hard, Jack stared at the place where he had disappeared. Faint voices behind him caused him to turn, and he saw a search party heading toward the forest from the village, holding aloft blazing torches. With a final glance into the woods, Jack ran off to meet them, mumbling the excuse that he'd thought there were still some sheep left wandering the woods.
Over the next few days, Jack couldn't get Pitch's golden eyes, or his velvet voice, out of his head. He often looked toward the woods in the evening. Sometimes he though he saw a tall shadow there, flitting around the edge of the trees, yet never venturing forth. One day, as the sun began to set, Jack steeled his nerves and picked his way across the field to the trees. The vampire could have hurt him at any time back then, and he didn't. Why? Was the creature really as bad as all the stories said?
“Pitch?” he called out, his eyes roaming the endless wall of trees.
“The valiant Hunter returns,” the silken voice responded from the shadows. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I'd hate to have you think I was afraid to come back,” Jack said. “And I admit, I'm curious,” he continued. “I've only read about vampires, and werewolves, and all those other things. Maybe you could, you know, teach me more. But don't get any weird ideas, I am not going to become one of your undead minions or whatever. No biting.” He patted his weapons. “Or I will use these, I swear.”
“I'm terrified,” Pitch smirked, leaning casually against a tree. There was no change in his soft voice, but he seemed pleased at Jack's company.
Over the next several nights, Jack would sneak away at sundown to slip into the woods unseen. He and Pitch would wander through the forest, and speak of all manner of creatures. Some of Jack's knowledge he would confirm , and some deny. (No, vampires can't turn into bats, werewolves aren't all bad, and most witches are just workers of nature magic.) Pitch refused Jack's offer of sneaking into town, nor would he say anything of the old mansion on the cliff aside from that there was nothing of interest in it, turning the conversation to other things if Jack brought them up.
Jack enjoyed these little excursions, they broke up the monotony of his everyday life. Pitch knew more about the world outside Jack's little village, even though he was much more tight-lipped than Jack had expected, and he wouldn't speak of himself or his past. “Fine, be mysterious,” Jack had finally given up trying. He was enjoying Pitch's company, and that was enough. The vampire was turning out to be nothing at all like Jack's expectations, and he was becoming more comfortable around him. Perhaps a little too comfortable.
They had wandered the forest for a few hours, and were now sitting together in a clearing, and Pitch was speaking to him of the stars. Jack felt himself nodding off, leaning against Pitch's lanky frame. He felt the warmth of Pitch's breath against his neck as the creature nuzzled him, and before the alarm in Jack's sleepy mind could go off, he felt a sharp pain as pointed fangs sank into his flesh. With a yelp and a curse, he struggled away from the vampire, panting.
“You bastard,” he gasped, struggling for a weapon. “What have you done?” His hand went to his neck, where he could feel warm blood dripping.
Pitch stared at him, golden eyes wide. “I couldn't help myself, you smelled so good.” He seemed almost as startled as Jack.
“I don't want to be like you.” Jack snarled. “I don't care how nice you seemed, I'm a human.” He cursed again, what could he do now?
“You won't be,” Pitch said softly. “I can't change you. I'm not really-” He cut off suddenly. Behind them in the forest, there was a commotion. Something came hurling through the trees. “A real vampire,” Pitch gasped, rising swiftly and grabbing Jack's arm. “We need to get out of here. He must have finally awakened.”
“Let go of me,” Jack hissed, wrestling himself from Pitch's long fingers. He turned and ran off into the forest, ignoring Pitch's words. The creature was just trying to divert his attention. He needed to get away from the accursed vampire. He hadn't gotten very far into the woods when something burst out of the trees in front of him. Jack slipped on the dead leaves of the forest floor, falling backwards as the creature loomed over him. It was tall, like a human, but with a gaunt, skeletal face. They eyes were black and lifeless, and sharp fangs protruded from the snarling mouth. Vampire, Jack thought weakly. This was a vampire like what his books said. He reached numbly for a weapon, for anything. The thing's gaze was holding him nearly immobile.
Suddenly, it recoiled, a small dark object flying around its face. The spell was broken, and Jack felt himself able to move again. The vampire howled, clawing at the swift shape that continued to swoop at it. Jack struggled to his feet, fingers closing around the little vial of holy water as the monster finally succeeded in striking away its attacker. Something small shot past Jack's feet with a squeak, landing in a pile of leaves. Jack didn't have time to pay it any heed as he unscrewed the lid of the vial and threw its contents at the vampire's face. It screamed and fell back. Moving as swift as he could, Jack pulled out the wooden stake, slamming it into the thing's chest and hammering it home with the flat of his knife. With a final shriek, the monster lay still. Jack stood over it, panting. He'd done it. He'd killed a vampire. He'd killed a vampire. The wound on his neck ached, pulsing with his heartbeat, and the sensation brought his thoughts back to Pitch.
The thing that had attacked the vampire...Jack ran back to where he'd seen it fall. He searched through the fallen leaves until he found the little shape. A bat, covered in black and gray fur. The crest of dark fur on its head reminded him of Pitch's slicked-back hair. “Pitch?” he whispered. The little bat didn't move. Jack stared around the now-empty woods. He had to find help, somehow. But he didn't know where he was anymore. Holding the small furred shape close, he ran. The ground seemed to slope upwards, and he followed what appeared to be a small trail that lead up. It began to widen, eventually leading to a rocky clearing. Jack reached the end and stopped.
He had come to the mansion on the cliff. Lights shone in the windows, and it looked far too well-kept to be abandoned. He had to take a chance. Jack ran to the massive door, pounding on it with a fist. “Help, please. Somebody...” For several moments, there was no answer. Then, when Jack felt all hope was lost, the door opened. A small man stood there, with a round pleasant face. His head was bald except for a few strands of hair that stood strait up like a question mark. “My...bat...is hurt,” Jack managed, realizing how stupid he must sound.
“And what has he gone and done now?” the little man asked, opening the door wider. Before Jack could respond, he took Pitch and carried him through a side doorway. “Come in, come in and we'll get you both taken care of. But you must tell me what has happened. Not often that anyone comes up here.”
Now that he was in a warm, well-lit house, the night's events seemed almost unbelievable, but Jack related them. “You killed the vampire?” The man looked up from tending to the bat, incredulous. “Well, it's a good thing. It had been asleep long, and it was only a matter of time before it began to go on a rampage again. Yes, it's a good thing that you were prepared.” He bounced over to Jack, and put some ointment and gauze on his neck.
“But the other one...Pitch,” Jack said. He looked at the bat, which had begun to stir. “If that's even him.” he finished quietly.
“Yes, it's him,” the man confirmed. “Though I'm afraid that he's mislead you if you think he's a real vampire too.” He smiled gently. Pitch sat up and yawned, revealing a pair of pointed fangs. “As you can see, he isn't. He is, and has only ever been, a little vampire bat that wanted to be more.” The man sighed. “But he's good at spells, and before I could stop him he'd learned how to transform. But it only lasts for a few hours. Enough for him to go out and get into mischief nightly. And apparently, to become enchanted by someone. Of course, if he'd bothered to actually explain himself to me then perhaps we could have figured out a better arrangement a long time ago.” He waved his hand and muttered a few words, and the little bat grew into Pitch's lanky form, though at the moment his pallid skin was only covered only by the blanket that the strange man had set him on.
“You lied to me.” Jack crossed his arms and pouted. Pitch didn't meet his eyes. Jack strode up to him, then wrapped his arms around Pitch's long neck. “Let's get one thing straight, if you wanna suck my blood again just warn me before you do it, okay? Otherwise, it's even more of a pain in the neck.” Pitch blinked in surprise.
“You...still want to see me after this?”
“You helped me become a real vampire hunter, and I like your stories. And, you weren't wrong about me wanting to get out of that little town. It looks like you were trapped just like I was, too. I'll still come visit you if...you don't mind,” he glanced down at the little man.
“Oh my, where are my manners?” he squeaked. “I am Manny Lunanoff, magician and astronomer. Of course you can come here, and I've many books that you may be interested in. Although, if you come during a full Moon you might find me grown a bit taller and furrier. But don't worry, unlike him, I won't bite.”