Blood Trail 5.5

Clive felt like he had waited hours for Deborah to leave. The lucky shot that had grazed Clive’s scalp was slowly healing. Fresh blood was still in his system, and the bullet had only left a scrape of silver particles. Still stings a little.

Being exposed to silver reminded him of the first month he had been turned. Clive and other fresh recruits laid on a cold cement floor, completely naked. He remembered the overhead fluorescents were on as well, blinding white lights that would’ve just been irritating with human eyes.

Gian and other trainers had warned them not to remove their chains. Clive remembered being confused, thinking, We can’t feel pain, the cold floor doesn’t even make us shiver. Why would we flinch?

Chains of pure silver were draped over Clive from head to toe. He flinched at first, remembering what pain felt like. Instinctually he reached up to throw the chain away, but Clive also remembered how Neal Hamilton dealt with rejects.

As much as the silver had burned him then, Clive remembered it was preferable to the alternative. Feeling the similar, yet much more tolerable, burning sensation alongside his left eye reminded him that Deborah would feel the same thing. She’s not invincible.

Clive burst forward to grab his assault rifle and tumble onto his stomach as he spun around. No movement. No sign of the blonde demon. With lungs that didn’t have to operate, Clive relaxed his shoulders in place of sighing. He scanned the horizon, but the lack of moonlight restricted his draw distance.

Cautiously, the blue eyed soldier rose to a knee, still scanning. Clive stayed hunched over as he made his way to the closest corpse. He kept a watchful eye out as he occasionally glanced down to check his former squad mate’s gear. Deborah had taken all of the reserve rifle and pistol clips. Clive noticed that even the rifle and pistol themselves were unloaded. Bitch is thorough.

Examining the other bodies revealed that Deborah had taken five combat knives, at least six full assault rifle clips, and ten pistol clips. Clive determined that Deborah also had a map, and enough phlebotomy supplies to fill five blood bags. She only has one needle, probably not worried about cross contamination, just food.

Clive still wasn’t sure where Deborah had ambushed from. He backtracked from Sasha’s corpse. Clive actually cringed when he looked at the poor woman’s head. Deborah had fired enough rounds to make the face cave in and melt into itself. Clive could see where Deborah slid to a stop to use her for a shield.

Following the long spans of bare foot tracks, Clive made his way back to Duke, whose head had been completely removed. Clive furrowed his brows as he saw the murder weapon. She cut off his head, with a piece of wire. How long did that even take? He knelt down to examine the wire covered in red and white. A closer look showed Clive that Deborah had cut into her own hands with a bundle of wire on each side, though all he saw were a few slices of skin, no fluids.

The last set of tracks to follow from Duke’s corpse ended towards the middle of the line, back about a meter or less. Clive knelt down, almost impressed with the Deborah’s sized crater he found. She buried herself, hid her tracks somehow. She knows what the fuck she’s doing.

Curious, Clive walked over to one of the tripwires they had stopped for. He forced his lungs to inhale, and blew the sand away at each end of a wire linked between two taller dunes. Wow. Clive picked up the wire at the middle to drag two boots out of the sand. That’s why she took Erin’s boots.

He repeated the procedure with the other wire, only to find the L-shaped tire irons from truck number one. Clever girl.

With nothing else to investigate, Clive stood up and looked out over the others. Sasha, Lucas, Erin, Mac, Duke. Clive wasn’t particularly close to his squad mates, but he had worked with them for almost sixty years. They at least knew how to be friendly to each other, most of the time. He nodded to the other hunters with a moment of silence.

Clive turned around, back towards the truck. Deborah’s fresh tracks walked over top Mac’s, who had walked in the center. Clive started walking after her, eventually running his fingertips over the deep, thin groove along his temple. He could tell he’d need more blood before it would resume healing.

After about a meter of tracking, the realization hit Clive. This woman double-tapped everyone else, never even wasted another bullet on me. She let me go. Clive thought about Sasha’s corpse. Deborah had hollowed out the other woman’s entire face. He stopped and ran back to the carnage.

She was the only one I didn’t check. Sliding on his knees, Clive stopped at Sasha’s side, and carefully turned her lump of wet skull tissue to the side. Deborah took her earpiece. Does she know our frequencies? Shit! She had Major Davidson’s Humvee, she could’ve memorized the radio screen before we hit it with the EMP.

Reflexively, Clive nearly tapped his earbud. Fuck. If I warn the others, she might come back for me. We need our numbers. Clive tapped the bud three times, then two, then three again. Hopefully they get it.

Clive trudged his way back after Deborah’s tracks. How the fuck am I gonna beat this bitch?

*

Deborah spun around from one horizon of emptiness to the one behind her. Three taps, two, then three. Has to be a code. She listened on the earbud for a follow up, but it never repeated. Unsure of the range of the radio signal between them, Deborah figured the hunter she left was just beginning to follow her.

The bullet in her thigh and side were still burning. I got time. Deborah slung the rifle over her shoulder and drew one of the black combat knives from her vest. She lifted her shirt on the left side. Cutting the two bullets out would take time, and she wasn’t sure how her body would react.

Fuck it. Deborah twisted as best she could to see the entry points. The bullets had been burning as badly as sunlight, but as a human, she’d gone through worse. Feeling the blade penetrate didn’t hurt at all, until she tapped the bullet inside. She felt her spine and arm tingle, followed by an involuntary, airless grunt. Her top lip twitched. Just don’t yell.

Deborah drew another knife and slid it in next to the other. Dried trails of green slime coated each knife as she pulled them out in tandem. It took a few tries, while fighting to keep her hands from shaking, but Deborah eventually wedged the first bullet out. She flung it to the ground. For a moment, she realized she didn’t have anything to stop the bleeding. Then she rolled her eyes at herself, as retaining blood is the primary function of the vampire infection.

There’s the easy one. Deborah cut a slit under the other, closer to her hip. Thanks to the constant burning, Deborah knew exactly how far to go, but it was deeper than she would’ve liked. With one knife halfway to the hilt, Deborah tapped the bullet. She instinctually let go of the hilt as she dropped to a knee. Shit. She growled, but managed to keep it quiet.

Deborah pulled up the second knife to the entry point. Before sliding it in, she scanned each end of the trail she was walking. Nothing. Back to work. Deborah impaled herself, trying to keep her body still as she dug in.

Jacksonville popped in her head. Distant memories from over a decade slid into the moment. Deborah remembered one of the vamps she had studied. It had been a larger man before being turned. Loose clothes had been a sign that his body fat used to be much more substantial, but Deborah chose him because he was unnaturally tall.

She had already removed the head, and had moved the body away from any of her camps. It took her nearly all morning, but she had eventually cut open his torso from collar to groin. Could’ve used some of this shiny shit back then.

Deborah remembered how dead the creature had appeared. Its lungs were wilted and dark. Other organs aside from the heart and esophagus were more shriveled and tough. That’s when she had learned that they still used their lungs to a degree. Most likely to keep their sense of smell useful, and for the roars they used to communicate over long distances.

Another thing Deborah had noticed from their anatomy was their “green blood.” As she watched her knives accumulating more and more from her insides, she thought about her knife back then. It had had the same pattern of dried slime as she was seeing now. I’m one of them. Don’t forget that. Use it.

Slime began to crust around her eyes. The infection retained all fluids, reminding Deborah that her pain was real, even if it was eschewed. Deborah curled her head to the side and filled her mouth with the cloth from her vest’s shoulder strap. With multiple attempts to remove the second bullet, Deborah was grunting louder and louder.

Images of her previous vamp anatomy subject flooded in again and again. That’s what I look like inside now. Deborah felt her chin quiver. I’m one of them. Deal with it. People need me.

When she had finished studying her capture, Deborah had taken a crude machete and hacked up the body’s insides in a blind rage.

The knives shook in her hands. Deborah caught the bullet, it slipped, again and again.

Slashing the monster’s shriveled organs apart had been tougher than cutting its rubbery skin apart. Deborah slammed the slick throat and heart until they split like rotten fruit.

Deborah felt her crusted tears reach farther down her cheeks. I’m one of them. I’m not human.

Green and red slime had flown everywhere. Deborah had tossed the machete to scream at the corpse instead. It hadn’t been enough. She had found a sledge hammer to assault the dried organs that had only been dented. Deborah had spent the rest of her daylight that day smashing the thick, rubbery organs until they eventually split apart.

Deborah pulled the bullet to the edge. She could see it. The knives fell to her knees, and she used her sharp fingernails to dig in and grasp it. In a raged frustration, Deborah spat out the gag she had made from the vest and screamed into the air as she flung the bullet into the infinite darkness.

Breathing did nothing, but that’s all Deborah could do to try to calm herself. Overhead, the bright stars shined and glimmered. I’m one of them. I’m not invincible… Neither are they.

Pissed at herself for breaking her silence, Deborah punched the ground as she grabbed a knife. One more in the leg. With her right hand, Deborah pulled out her right pant leg above the green crust and sliced it open.

*

Clive followed the tracks while keeping an eye out all around him. Deborah had had a good head start. If she knows Morse code, she might’ve circled back for me. Fuck. She could just pop up out of the ground like last time too.

Something caught his eye. Clive immediately dropped to a knee and scanned the area through his scope. Taking a note from Deborah, Clive currently had his boots tied over his shoulder, hopefully to muffle his footsteps. He figured Deborah couldn’t have watched his squad walk by her if she was buried.

He silently moved ahead to look at the disturbed sand with two silver bullets nearby. I was hoping that was her screaming. He had also been hoping that scream meant someone else had killed her.

Clive pushed on to see her tracks continue a little further, then veer right, and disappear. A shiver almost ran up Clive’s spine. Looking in the same direction was a note written in the sand: Go home or die.

Fuck this. Seriously. Fuck this.

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