Tate had felt beaten and broken before the jeep started to drag him through the desert. While the jeep had been moving, he was spitting out sand, feeling every bump and rock that slipped between the tires and he was pretty sure he felt his shoulders pop out of their sockets.
He laid on his side, finally still. Someone was untying his wrists from the rear bumper. A large hand slapped him until he forced his eyes open.
Big Brody looked at him with pitiful eyes. “How you feeling Tate?”
Despite every bump, bruise and scrape he was feeling, Tate tried to laugh, “Can we take another lap? There was a nice breeze getting here.”
Brody shook his head and helped another man stand Tate up. Gonzo stood before him with a wide grin. “Doesn’t feel so good does it?”
Tate smirked, until even that hurt, “I think you drove faster than I did.”
Gonzo started another speech, but Tate’s head was ringing enough. He ignored him and tried to establish where they were. There was more orange boulders than sand, with a few stone columns higher than three stories or so. The jeep had stopped on the edge of a plateau.
No vegetation was in sight, but there was an odd smell. Tate glanced behind a pacing Gonzo and saw a severed, black arm. Further down the right slope was a wide valley filled with boulders. Tate squinted to see something black or green plastered to a larger rock.
The fuckin’ vamper nest. Tate groggily looked back to the still rambling Gonzo.
“—then they’ll know just how useless you are!”
Didn’t miss much.
Gonzo gazed to the lowering sun, “This is where the foreigners were ambushed. If you can survive the night, and make it back to the village, I’ll let you decide if you want to sleep in the kids’ and elders’ house, or the laborers’ house.”
“You gonna stay and make sure I don’t run off before sunset? That’d be mighty shway of you.”
“Oh my god! I hope you die just so I never have to hear that fucking word again.”
“Shway? What’s wrong with ‘shway?’”
“It’s not cool! You’ve been saying it for years, no one else says it. It never caught on, it never will!” Gonzo took a breath, straightened up and shook his head, “I’m done.” He drew his pistol from behind his back.
Brody protested, “Whoa! Look at him Gonzo—Chief. You have to give him a chance!”
Gonzo tilted his head from side to side, “Just the leg then.”
Brody held out his hand, “Chief! He can’t even stand on his own! You won!”
Tate rolled his head to look at Brody, “Thanks man. Sorry I punched you. And sorry I fucked your mom. Not cool.”
Brody frowned with a stern nod, “I appreciate that.”
“You know me and long legs man. I just couldn’t help it.”
“I got it.”
“Man, hittin’ rock bottom really shows you how big of an asshole you are.”
“That’s how we grow.”
Gonzo yelled, “For fuck’s sake. Brody, Hippo, let’s go!”
Tate felt Brody slip something down his pants as the two men lowered him to the ground. Brody whispered, “Good luck.”
Tate laid on his back as the jeep pulled away back towards home. His arms dangled, breathing hurt, and he wasn’t sure if he could walk on his left leg. He forced himself to sit up and watch the jeep leave his sight. Tate reached in his back pocket for a metal flask.
“Fuck yeah, Brody!” He unscrewed the cap and sniffed. Oh. Just water. I guess I need that. He took a swig, but twitched from tilting his head back. Ow. The sun was getting lower, beginning to cast a wide shadow in Tate’s direction.
The young man tried to stand, but everything hurt too much. He struggled just to wipe his brow. When he looked at the back of his hand, he saw some blood mixed with the sweat. “Hmm.”
Tate sighed a painful breath and tried to roll forward. Twisting to his stomach, a sharp pain shot through his left torso. Tate rolled to his right side and tried to catch his breath. Staying off his left ribcage, Tate tried to crawl with his right elbow, left hand and right foot. The process dragged on. The sun was getting lower and lower.
The former chief felt like laughing. The valley’s shadow was covering the ground faster than he was crawling. Tate finally pulled himself to the edge of the plateau. He could already feel the temperature falling. Then he heard a not so distant howl, followed by more howling.
Tate cringed harder than he had been. Vampers are ready for dinner. He heard some shuffling behind him. Feral vampers would stay in the shade. The only light left was down the valley, on the opposite slope. Tate knew the only way he could make it was by rolling. Just thinking about it pained him. Fuck it. I’m done.
He thought he heard something running across the sand dusted ground. Just be quick.
It grabbed his shoulder and rolled him on his back. Pale, hairless and naked, the feral vamper’s red eyes pierced Tate’s. This is it. He wasn’t sure how long he had been crying.
The feral beast bared its yellow-green, dull teeth and screamed when a spear tip from behind slid out of its mouth. Tate was overwhelmed enough to smile. He instantly recognized the design of the Red Bone spear. The pole could be anything, but the tip was specifically designed for piercing rubbery vamper skin. It was an armor piercing bullet attached to its reinforced aluminum casing.
Tate tried to look past the flailing vamper to see who had shish kabobed it. She wasn’t part of his tribe. The platinum blonde wore a form-fitting, brown leather jacket. Though it would get a lot colder soon, the Red Bones had a tradition of being topless. One of the many agendas Gonzo had been trying to change for years.
His blonde savior pushed the spear through farther until she was close enough to grip the spear on each side of the vamper’s head. After she nearly snapped its head off, Tate thought he recognized her. The last time he had seen her, she had looked like a walking skeleton. Now she looked like a well-nourished athlete.
“I know you.”
She pushed the vamper away with her boot as she removed the spear. Her voice wasn’t raspy this time, but he recognized it, “I’ve killed thirteen of your people within the past week, I helped steal your tank, and I’m going to kill the rest of the Red Bones tonight. You can call me Deborah.”
Deborah, and James. The rage Tate felt was almost enough to numb his aches—almost. Just thinking about reaching up to strangle Deborah pained him. He tried to lie with the truth, “You saw them leave me here right? That’s not my tribe anymore.”
“So you really don’t care if they die now? No. When someone’s exiled like you, it’s because a select few wanted you out. If you wanted out, you wouldn’t need an escort.” Deborah knelt down to examine Tate up and down. “They didn’t kill you, they just hurt you… real bad.”
“And left me in prime vamper territory.”
Deborah nodded, “I could be wrong. Maybe they didn’t plan on you getting back.” She shrugged, “I’m still going to kill them all. You’re all just a pack of animals with wheels.”
“You think you’re better?”
She smirked and shook her head, “No.” Her free hand sprung to his throat in a blink, cutting off his air, “I’m just hungry.”
Tate futilely gasped, his weak arms couldn’t even get a firm grip on Deborah’s wrist. Fuck. Good comeback though.
Tate woke up sitting in the back of a jeep, his head tilted back. He looked up to the blue-streaked stars above and rolled his head down. The jeep was parked right on the edge of a cliff, and the Red Bone village sat below it.
His eyes widened and he tried to shout. The sudden inhale stung his left lung, and his painful grunt was muffled by duct tape. Reaching for his mouth revealed that his right arm was handcuffed to the jeep’s driver side roll bar; his left wrist tied to the other side.
The village plaza’s bright blue lampposts were all on. Shit. At night, the only lights permitted were indoors. No one turned the lamps on unless there was an emergency. Someone was also directing the spotlight at the top of the radio tower.
It looked like everyone was outside, chasing and tackling each other. Tate heard a few gunshots echo from the deep crater. Firearms were forbidden until emergencies. Frantically, Tate counted how many tiny shadows he could make out below.
Squinting into the darkness was difficult enough, but the village also sat ten stories below the cliff. Tate wrenched his left forearm back and forth as he counted. Even if he freed himself of the rope, he didn’t know what he’d do next.
The gunmen had run out of ammunition, all Tate could hear now was shouts and howls. Tate continued to produce muffled screams as tears began to swell. Fucking vamper bitch! Tate felt movement to his right.
Deborah walked over a mosaic pattern of what appeared to be a fire breathing, blue wolf with dragon wings and a barbed tail. The whole floor was designed with tiny tiles as wide as Deborah’s big toe. Each room she walked through had a raised, dome ceiling with more mosaic designs.
Every wall was solid marble, with green pillars and gold trimmings. The furniture looked like it used to be impressive. Deborah could picture the Red Bone tribesmen jumping up and down on them with their dirty boots and naked bodies.
A feral vampire knelt over a twitching corpse. The body laid on a brown-stained, formerly red couch with gold trim. Deborah snapped her fingers and pointed to the next closed door. “Fill up later.” Her new pet slurped up a last gulp of blood and quickly passed her on all fours.
Deborah had spent the last few days establishing her dominance in the nearest vampire nest. Once she came to terms with what she had become, it was much easier to use the Red Bone tribesmen to bribe her way into the feral pack.
Killing the nest’s alpha was one of the hardest fights she could remember. There was one challenger after the alpha, but with limitless stamina, Deborah managed with ease. Teaching commands wasn’t too difficult, not when she had canteens of blood to motivate them.
Urging the pack to attack the Red Bone village wasn’t easy either. Deborah had to sacrifice Pina all at once. Animals. Red Bones, blood suckers, all animals. She thought about using her new pack to wipe out other threats to her hometown, but Deborah was afraid. Afraid she’d never stop finding threats.
There was another pale, hairless goon already kneeling by the door Deborah had motioned to. Deborah walked between them with her Red Bone spear and tried to push the white double doors open. Brown hand stains coated the gold knobs and any part of the door someone might push to open it. Locked.
Deborah pointed and spoke to both, “Open.”
The pair eagerly rammed the doors with no touch of teamwork, but after a few slams, the door burst open. Deborah followed them in to another room with a vaulted ceiling. Across the room was a white and gold bed with white posts and green see-through curtains draped between each.
A double door was placed on the left and right walls. Deborah pointed to each goon and their doors, “Open.” The door on the right opened immediately with no follow-up. The left door signaled a scream from inside. Deborah yelled, “Stop!”
The former hunter was scaring herself. Instinct told her to kill these two beasts while they exposed their backs to her. Commanding them felt wrong. Why does this feel so natural?
Deborah waited until both pets were together and told them to break it down together. They got through to reveal a large tub of water as wide as the whole room. A fit young man with a goatee and a revolver and a machete stood in the middle of the tub, water above his knees. Behind him, stood a woman with a newborn in her arms and a younger child by her side.
Deborah ordered her beasts to stay as she studied the last survivors. “You must be Gonzo.”
“Agree to my terms and those three behind you are free.”