Enjoy an excerpt from Act 1 of our vampire action short story, The Showdown.
Act 1 Excerpt
“A bastard of an old man who can punch a cinderous hole through the skulls of those who say as much.” This is how Master Yuen Zhāng Wei has been described among those who know his name. He’s not a typical benign and wise old man like you’d find among his peers. Master Wei is something else. He’s certainly old, but Wei isn’t one you’d turn to for good advice and a sympathetic ear. In fact, most people actively avoid the old curmudgeon. His gritty ways have made him somewhat of a pariah, but they’ve also made him a prolific and masterful monster hunter. In his time as a hunter he has garnered a certain amount of fame among men and infamy among the rest.
His immense skill as a fighter is renowned and coveted, not just in his home country of China, but far and wide, all around the world. Even his enemies respect the mention of his name. The implausible and fantastic stories of his exploits have become a thing of legend. Indeed, there are those who can’t bring themselves to believe the stories they hear about Wei, but this tale is no legend. This is a recountal.
Master Wei was once a nomadic adventurer, scouring the world for challenges and fights to test his martial skill. Inevitably, this led him to the ever-present world of the supernatural and paranormal. After several shows of capability, Wei was offered handsome sums for his skills, and began to take jobs as an enforcer and a hunter for those who were plagued by monsters and other supernatural threats. Anything that could be smacked in the mouth was subject to the bludgeoning force of his fists. In these times he’d made plenty of enemies, but he’d also managed to make what could be called, friends.
One of these friends, a fellow hunter named, Jin Liu, had become embroiled in a situation within her village of Laimeng. Liu had come to the village years before to retire and live out the rest of her days in peace, having given up the life of a hunter long ago. She was alone, her family killed by vampires when her children were young.
Her life in Laimeng was simple, which was more than most could say in 1930’s China. In a time of war and constant unrest, her golden years had been mostly peaceful. The village was small and rural, with a small enough population that everyone knew your name, as well as most of your business. Though, something had recently raised her attention.
Master Wei had, out of the blue, received a letter from Liu. Seeing as how Wei hadn’t heard from her in quite a few years (twenty by his count), it caught his eye. However, Wei didn’t open the letter. He placed it on a lacquer cabinet, just inside his doorway as soon as he saw who it was from, leaving it there, not opening it out of some semblance of the grudge the two were engaged in. The letter sat there for two days before the constant glances in its direction with each pass-by became as ridiculous to him as it would be to anyone else.
Feeling a bit foolish about the cold shoulder he’d so determinedly inflicted upon a small paper letter, Wei finally stopped with a final glance and walked over to the ornamental lacquer cabinet. Prying open the seal of the envelope, Wei’s mind wandered between the moments of opening and reading, recalling the last vitriolic exchange of words between he and Liu. The two of them had fallen out over what seemed, in that moment, to be unworthy of the estrangement.
What he read was a plea that held an unmistakable tone of concern—almost frantic in nature. The letter stated that she suspected an interloper had infiltrated the village. She believed the creature to be a vampire and that it had potentially already turned several people in the village, as the population seemed to be increasingly dormant during the day and active at night. Her words conveyed an eerie sense of fear for both her life and those of the villagers.
Liu was asking for Wei to come to the village, and as he read the shakily scrawled parchment he realized that Liu must feel backed against an insurmountable wall. Liu was no slouch in a fight. She could always handle herself, but her old age must’ve caught up with her. She couldn’t have anyone else to contact if she was asking him for help. Especially seeing as how their last interaction hadn’t exactly been amicable. Sensing the fear in her words, Wei decided to answer her call and look into this, but Liu had specifically asked Wei to bring his students, fearing that the whole village could soon find themselves among the ranks of the undead. He had become “Master” Wei not long after they’d last seen each other, and apparently she was aware. The problem was that his students were on a hunt, dealing with the emergence of a yaomo in Shanghai, a test of sorts, and one they couldn’t break away from.
Wei would have to do this alone. And that, he did. Just as spontaneously as he’d received the letter, Wei left for the village of Laimeng by himself. The journey was uneventful and tiring but nothing taxing. He arrived mid-morning and, taking cue from Liu’s letter, found her home and let himself in. Liu wasn’t there. Wei walked into the small humble home, closed the door and stood in the middle of the one and only room for a moment. He stood, taking in the smells, scanning the layout and using the moment to think. He threw his travel sack across the room to a hook on the wall, hanging it perfectly as if placed by hand, then looked for some food. He found a modest meal to enjoy and after eating it, sat directly in the middle of the room and began to meditate.
Wei sat completely still in a controlled trance until the fall of dusk. Not a soul appeared throughout the daylight hours. As nightfall approached and the evening sky faded to black, Wei rose and gathered his senses. When looking around the home, he’d already noticed there was no sign of a struggle. Since this was Liu we’re talking about, that only left one option: she was taken while somewhere else.
Wei’s presence had clearly riled the creatures in the village, and he could sense the wicked things squirming around outside, no doubt aware the interloper was present. They could surely smell him, but Wei knew the rules. If they were indeed vampires, to which all indication points, they could not simply enter the home. Left only to skulk outside the thin walls of the modest structure, the creatures would need an invitation to enter.
Just as he’d expected, two shadowy figures stepped into the warm light of the lanterns in front of the home, one of them gently knocking on the door.
“Hello? We’ve brought you some fine youtiao. Mister?”
Wei was under no illusion, the two men were definitely not men. He could feel it. Their cold and breathless composure wasn’t that of friendly neighbors, but that of inhuman scouts. At least they were trying. But no amount of fried bread could placate this particular old man. The two men knocked once more, this time a little harder. Wei was sitting at the sole table in the room, directly opposite the door, drinking a sub-par tea that Liu had on hand. “That’s truly terrible tea, Liu,” he thought to himself, momentarily ignoring the men at the door. With an uninterested sigh, he placed the cup on the table and rose from the chair, adjusting his posture to portray old age. He strolled over to the door, shuffling his feet as he walked with the distinct leisure of an elder. Wei opened the door to the men and greeted them with a fake demeanor indicating a feeble old man.
One of them spoke through an unnatural grin, clearly trying to feign good intentions.
“Hello! You’re new here, are you not? We noticed you’d come to our little village but our manners had escaped us. We bring this as an apology for our oafishness.”
“Yes, I arrived here only this morning,” Wei responded with a stone-hard gaze. “Please, no apology necessary, young man.”
The two men both dropped their shoulders slightly, looking reassured, if not a bit anxious, like a predator sensing the shallow breath of an injured prey.
“Very kind. May we come in?” A grim smile stretched across the face of the strange man speaking. The other looking as if he was trying not to swat at a fly on his face. The two were trying their best to remain unassuming. A normal person may not have noticed it. Wei was no normal person.
“Why, of course, gentlemen. An old man like me would love to rattle your ears for a bit. I’d come here expecting to visit with my friend, but she seems to be gone for the time being. I’ve been resting my bones here in the interim.” Waving the two men inside with a timid gesture, the lantern light from outside the door whisked the shadows across their faces as they crept inside. Wei knew the two would be set off if he alluded to knowing what they were. Besides, the two lackeys posed no threat to him and he’d done enough to substantially lower their guards. They were in for a rude awakening. But before that, he wished to get a little more information, hoping they were the monologuing type.
As the two men settled in the center of the room, Wei shuffled to the teapot. “Please, have some tea. I’m sure it’s not the best, but I’m afraid it’s all I can offer.”
Neither of them answered. Wei could sense the energy shifting in the room, but he couldn’t kill them, yet. He needed to draw this out a little bit more. As one of them took a step forward with what was surely malicious purpose, Wei snapped around, tea in hand, presenting a freshly poured cup. Attempting to disarm them for a moment, Wei broke into some friendly banter and gently forced the man to take the cup.
“Here you are, young one. So, do you two happen to know my friend, Liu? She lives here.”
The man holding the cup hesitantly spoke to answer in an uncertain tone, clearly derailed by the old man’s oblivious innocence. “U-uh, yes, yes we know Liu.” He glanced to his cohort as if to urge him to alleviate the situation. “Uh, she’s probably at the market square.”
“The market? At this hour? Oh, I don’t believe so. Maybe she is held up somewhere.”
“Held up… yes, perhaps. Why don’t we go look for her together? If you follow us—”
Wei cut him off, “She’s a forgetful old goat. She probably forgot I was coming. Is there a hall of recreation in the village? Perhaps a game of Go?”
“No, I don’t belie—”
Once again Wei interrupted. “Oh, she must be with another friend of hers, then. Are you certain there’s no Go played around here? She does love her Go.”
“No, but allow us to help—”
Yet again Wei interrupted the man, who then looked visibly frustrated. “I’m sure she’ll be back soon. I should wait here for her return.” Wei was trying to irritate the stranger into giving him something, in a way that only an annoying old man could.
The man spoke again, this time with an urging tone. “If you will follow us, I’m sure we can help you find her. It’s no trouble. We’d be happy to help.”
“Oh, thank you, young one, but I think I had better stay and wait in case she returns. An old man like myself can’t waste time playing hide and seek, wondering about. My old bones need a clear direction these days.”
Wei baited hard. Almost too hard, but he wanted the oaf to open up.
“You know what? I just remembered. There is a Go game being held not far from here. Just at the edge of the village. We can take you.”
As the man spoke, Wei fiddled with the teapot and other objects nearby, appearing busy, back turned, and briefly smirked to himself before wiping the smirk and turning to face the man. “Just at the edge of the village, you say?”
“Yes, not far at all.”
“So, that’s where you’re head rat is hiding?”
The two men visibly tightened up for a brief moment, their faces intent, eyebrows furrowed. Wei’s patience began to break down. The pair wasn't chatty enough for the tactic to provide much more and Wei was bored with hosting them. The information he’d gathered was enough for him to go on. At the edge of the village was the base of the mountains. Wei figured the master vampire must’ve been holed up there somewhere, perhaps in a cave. Wei’s anger was getting the best of him at this point, and the two morons being in Liu’s home was starting to bother him, anyway.
Wei shed his feeble demeanor, stood up straight and spoke firmly, “Is that where she is? Or maybe in one of the housings in the village? If you tell me now, I won’t make you suffer. If you don’t… I’ll use you to send a message.”
The tea drinker laughed with a brief chuckle, not with humor, but signaling amusement. The men quickly changed their false front and the one closest to Wei threw the tea cup against the wall, shattering it. “We were going to take you there, anyway. Though, it seems like you’re looking for a fight. I don’t think our master will mind us taking one decrepit old geezer for ourselves. So, come here, old man. We’re both hungry!”