When you get to the top savor it; it’s a long way down, my mother’s mantra, hummed through my head as the elevator rose. On the eighteenth floor, a muted sound chimed as the doors slid open, and there it was. The headquarters of SNAP, the newest, cutting-ist edge gathering-of-information machine covering people who matter in the world.
As I stepped into the lobby I was deafened by the silence. Two receptionists sat behind the black marble counter, showing only their heads with headsets. They were murmuring something, but so quietly I couldn’t hear words. The famous SNAP logo etched into the wall-to-wall, ceiling-high mirror reflected the backs of their heads.
The reflection only showed my head and shoulders, my body disappearing as I neared the black slab. The receptionists were both blonds, so fair their skin had a translucent pale blue tone sliced by mouths slathered in Russian Red lipstick. At least I hoped it was lipstick.
The one at the right glanced up, murmured something and clicked a button. Up close, I could see that the phones were set into the marble counter and had no sound, only buttons that were lighting up. The receptionist tapped an earbud, pulled it away from her head and asked, “May I help you?” Her red mouth formed to something not quite a smile and her eyes looked through me.
“Good morning.” I used my best professional voice. “I’m Maxmillia Gwenoch, the new Managing Editor.”
While earning my chops as a good editor who could spot and fashion high-impact stories, I’d had a lot of views out of a lot of windows. It was a short stint at Hello!(no window) that brought me to celeb gossip. And in the firmament of celebs, SNAP is the lodestar.
My new employer produces a five-day-a-week cable “news” show, a weekly magazine, a daily blog and updates on Facebook and Twitter. There are five editions of the magazine; English, French, German, Portuguese and American, so I’m responsible for offices and staffers in London, Paris, Munich and Rio.
I was so taken with the challenge, the money, the perks and the surroundings, I forgot to ask about the owners.
Turns out it’s the Kandeskys, a family of vampires from Hungary. Boy, is my world changing!
They were comfortable, their pace not quite a lope. The woods were dark, but the just-past full moon showed the path.
“Those pigs…” the first one snarled.
“They’re more trouble than they’re worth,” the second one growled. “They make way too much noise when they’re hunting.”
Baying suddenly broke the night silence. “The rest of the pack,” the first one tuned his head to listen. “How many coming out tonight?”
“Only three besides us,” the second one sniffed. “Every body was out last night. Tonight, it’s just patrol and checking traps.”
Snuffling came from ahead just to the right of the path followed by fast-running feet. Night birds—ravens and owls—took off with rustling wings, swooping over the two heavy-shouldered men on the path. The owls were silent, only rushing air marking their passage. The ravens raucously called to one another, making the men pause.
“Who else is out?” The first one’s voice rumbled low in his wide chest. Before he could answer, the second one let out a startled bellow.
“I smell something.” he screamed, rapidly shape shifting into a wolf and going down on all fours. The first one dropped too, and, now both werewolves, they whirled and ran toward a snare net.
“I knew I smelled him,” the first one said as they came upon a figure struggling in the net. The net, woven with strands of silver, was pale in the moonlight showing the prey.
“It’s a Kandesky, let’s get him out and take him to Matthais.” Shifting to human form, they tied the Kandesky vampire’s arms behind his back with strands of the silver woven rope.
“This is a big mistake,” the vampire hissed., his fangs gleaming in the dim light. “You know these woods are neutral. You’re not supposed to be hunting here.”
Instantly, snarls, high-pitched screams and shouts filled the dark. Wings beat overhead, bodies plummeted down with talons searching for flesh and another figure spun into the man holding the trussed vampire. A blade flashed and the man dropped the rope, howling, holding his right arm with blood spurting black against the night.
The two figures, now clearly vampires, were rising to escape when the pigs attacked. Heavy-chested boars with scimitar-curved tusks, slashed and gouged, giving the two captors time to call the pack. The pack answered, leaping through the brambles and saplings to bring the vampires to bay. The first man, licking the wound on his forearm, grabbed the net and threw it over the two cornered vampires. Werewolves, snarling and snapping, watched while the first two shape shifters bound the vampires together and dragged them down the path.
It was blood. It looked like somebody dropped a cup or glass. It puddled in front of the sinks and filmed out on the bathroom floor.
I was startled; usually the bathrooms at SNAP Magazine were spotless.
It didn’t smell like fresh blood, that odd, kind of tangy, metal-y smell, but for sure I wasn’t going to touch it to see if it was warm.
I couldn’t scream, but I was suddenly queasy. My makeup didn’t need a touch-up that much. My knees shook as I spun back through the door and headed straight to my assistant’s desk to have her call maintenance or whoever and clean up the mess.
She looked up at me. “There’s what on the bathroom floor?”
“A big puddle of blood,” I whispered. “Come see for yourself.”
I didn’t want to run, didn’t want to incite concern in the rest of the staff and have it spread out through the cubicles, but we walked fast. When we got across the office and down the hall, I pushed open the door and said, “Look!” with a flourish.
“Look at what?” Jazz’ eyebrows disappeared up under her bangs.
I turned my head and saw…nothing. No blood, no remains, no pink sheen, not even water on the floor.
“Are you sure you saw it?”
“Of course I saw it,” I insisted. “It was right in front of the sinks. It covered a patch of the floor.”
Jazz shook her bangs out of her eyes and gave me a withering look that could have dried grapes into raisins. “I know you’ve only been here a few days, but I can’t think you found blood on the floor. SNAP has a reputation to keep up and they wouldn’t let something like that sit there for anyone to find.”
“I don’t think anyone would wander into a bathroom back here,” I said. “Isn’t this for employees only?”
“It’s supposed to be, but sometimes people who are here for a meeting or a shoot use these bathrooms instead of walking up front. These aren’t nearly as nice as the ones off the lobby and main conference rooms, but it’s quicker.”
I wasn’t happy. I saw the blood. I knew it had been there. I didn’t know why it was gone, but it wasn’t my imagination. There was nothing I could do about it now, but I was going to be on the guard whenever I walked into a bathroom at SNAP.