“Mining the Dark” – Chapter 1


Chapter 1

“Can you give a little more help? I thought vampires were supposed to have uber-strength or something.”

As soon as I say it, Rick quickly lifts the entire recliner, almost pulling it out of my hands.

“Thanks,” I grumble.

“My pleasure,” he responds.

Not exactly my idea of a great way to spend a Saturday night – moving my remaining stuff out of my mom’s large storage shed. Before working on the Federal Office of Human and Vampire Administration project, I didn’t intend on moving to Rowan, West Virginia. Many of my possessions have been sitting in Huntington gathering dust. It will be nice to be surrounded by my own things again. My new apartment will actually feel like home.

Thankfully my project partner and now co-worker, Dr. Rick Allstedt, graciously offered to help with the move. It’s even nicer that he’s a vampire and can carry heavier loads. Just sucks that we have to do all of this work after the sun goes down. I guess it could be worse. The sun could be blazing in the winter sky and my clothes could be wet with cold sweat. Oh, and Rick would be a pile of gelatinous muck. So, yeah, this is better.

We lift the recliner into the back of the moving van and return to the shed for the boxes of smaller items. My mom steps outside from the back of her house. Ambling toward us she says, “Do y’all want some lemonade?”

I look at Rick and smile.

“Thanks, Mrs. Burcham. Lemonade would be nice,” Rick says.

My mouth drops open as my mom walks back to the house. “I thought you didn’t need to drink human stuff?” I ask.

“I don’t,” he responds. “Doesn’t mean that I can’t. I partake every once in a while. Especially when a nice Appalachian woman offers me something for all of my hard work. Well, at least offers me more than a hard time.” He raises an eyebrow at me.

I take my box to the truck while stating, “You didn’t have to come. No one twisted your arm. I couldn’t if I tried anyhow.”

He slides his box into the truck then leans against the bumper, smiling. “You know you couldn’t do this without me.”

I roll my eyes. “I so could have. And probably would have had less aggravation, too.”

“And less distraction, too,” he quips. “I’m sure your other help wouldn’t have been as attractive as me.” He winks then walks back to the shed.

I stand there, hands outstretched in exasperation. I decide not to egg him on. One thing I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks since we finished the FOHVA project is that if you respond when Rick goads you, it just encourages him to do it even more. It doesn’t help that I once let it slip out that I thought he was hot. He likes to throw that up in my face every once in a while. Reliving that humiliation is not my idea of time well spent. But he seems to get a kick out of it. Bastard. And I say that in the most loving way possible.

When I get back to the shed, Rick is already drinking his lemonade and chatting with my mom. Talk about humiliation. The last thing I need is more Emma stories that he’ll use to tease me unmercifully in the most awkward of moments.

“Whatcha y’all talking about?” I ask as I reach for my glass of lemonade.

Handing me my glass, mom says, “Oh, we’re just shootin’ the breeze.”

“Uh-huh,” I groan as Rick grins at me. “What?” I ask him.

“Just enjoying the relaxed form of speech you get whenever you’re around your mom,” he replies.

I whack him on the arm. “Now, Emma Jean, cut that out,” mom scolds me. “Rick came all this way to help ya and that’s no way to treat a friend. I taught you better than that.”

Rick raises his eyebrows at me. “Sorry, mom. He can be as hard to deal with as trying to hold onto a greased weasel.”

Rick laughs loudly while I resist the urge to throw my empty glass at him. Mom gives me a tough stare then says, “I still don’t understand why y’all couldn’t’ve moved all this stuff during the day instead of comin’ out here so late. It’s so dark you’ll have a dickens of a time driving back to Rowan.”

Rick and I look at one another. My eyes widen as it occurs to me that mom doesn’t know that Rick is a vampire. Rick seemingly understands my thoughts and slightly shrugs his shoulders.

“Uh, mom? We couldn’t come during the day because Rick’s a vampire.”

She looks at me then looks at him, then back at me again. Before I can say another word she ambles up to Rick, standing toe-to-toe with him as she peers up into his face. I steel myself for what is about to happen, hoping that it’s not that bad. Rick looks down at my mom with the kindest look on his face.

She clucks her tongue. “Let me see your teeth,” she demands quite simply.

He smiles down at her as I gasp, completely horrified. “MOM!” I exclaim.

She turns to me, “What, Emma Jean? I’ve never met a vampire before. I just want to see.” She turns to Rick, “Let me see your teeth.”

Rick continues to smile. “My pleasure, Mrs. Burcham.” He opens his mouth and his fangs extend out in all their blood drinking glory.

Mom humphs as she looks closely into his mouth. “Well, I’ll be damned. Those things look sharp! I bet you could open a can or bottle of beer with those things!” She looks at me and love taps my arm. “Good thing to have around if you lose your can opener.”

Rick laughs good-naturedly. “I’m not sure if I could do that. Might chip a fang.” He winks at my mom.

Mom looks back at him. “Well, can’t ya just go to the dentist if that happens? They put caps on other teeth, why can’t they cap a fang?”

I roll my eyes trying not to get too embarrassed at my mom’s inquisition. It’s like bringing a boyfriend home for the first time. “Mom, please, I’m begging you. Just leave him alone.”

Rick shows his exceptional patience. “It’s alright, Emma. Jean.” He grins. “I’m not sure a doctor could help with these types of teeth. Since they extend from my gums at certain times, a cap wouldn’t work.”

Mom looks him up and down. “Docs have used prosthetics on other parts that extend.”

“OH MY GOD, mom, please stop!”

She looks at me again. “What? It’s the truth.”

Rick laughs. “That it is, Mrs. Burcham. Fortunately for those who need it, that can be done as the part in question is…well, flexible enough that polymer-based synthetic skin would work. Because it can stretch. That’s not the case with fangs which are basically hardened calcium. Which in vampires, they can…” he looks at me, “get bigger.”

“Huh. Well, it’s a thought. If doctors can make teeth for me, surely they can come up with something for you in the event ya need it. Maybe y’all can make money in developing the first vampire dentures.”

Rick smiles benevolently at her. “Good idea, Mrs. Burcham. I like the way you think.”

Mom takes the glasses from us and humphs. “Now y’all finish your work and get on back to Rowan before it gets too late. I’m gonna head on to bed.” I hug her good night then return to the shed for the last couple of boxes, trying to run from the embarrassment of the last few minutes. Rick helps me finish loading the truck, smiling to himself the entire time. At this point I don’t dare ask him what he’s smiling about.

We close and lock the hatch to the truck then situate ourselves in the cab. I’m the lucky one who gets to drive this beast of a vehicle. It’s not too much of an aggravation if it’s a short distance, but the three-to-four hour drive to Rowan is a little daunting. And so far Rick hasn’t offered to share the driving responsibilities.

Before starting the truck I look over at him. “Listen, Rick. I really appreciate all of the help you have given me with moving my stuff. I hate to sound ungrateful, but can you drive at least part of the way?”

Rick gives me a droll look. “First, you don’t hate to sound ungrateful. You have actually made that a competitive sport.”

I stick my tongue out at him. My issues with acting like an angst-ridden teen tend to devolve into childish temper tantrums when I’m tired and emotionally exhausted from trying conversations.

He laughs. “Second, all you have to do is ask. I may know what you’re feeling, but that doesn’t mean I can read your mind.” He leaps from the truck and walks over to the driver’s side.

Opening the door I say, “If you know how I feel then you know how tired I am. Why not offer to drive instead of making me ask?”

He cocks his head to the side looking at me like I just made the most ridiculous request. “Emma, one thing I have learned about you is not to assume what you’re thinking based on how you’re feeling. You are one person who is a perplexing study in emotional contradictions. You rarely think what you feel much less say what you feel. Besides, I kind of like it when you ask me.” He winks.

“Whatever, Rick. It’s not like you know me that well.” I push against his abdomen with my forearm.

His voice drops to the salacious timber he has perfected. “Oh, but I know you much better than you realize.” Grinning he hops into the driver’s seat. Shaking my head I let it go and count up my bad thoughts for the week before getting into the passenger’s seat.

“Buckle up,” he says. “I’ve never driven one of these things, so I can’t guarantee how safely I’ll drive.”

“Wonderful,” I grumble. “You’ll have to change how you’re always telling me that I’m SAFE in the company of a vampire.”

He grins. “And by the way, I’m in no need for prosthetics for any of my parts.” He winks at me.

Horrified I turn away from him and hunker down in my seat. He just laughs as we hit US 60 toward I-64 East and my new home in Rowan.

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