Tate walked along the hardwood flooring of the hall with clean white paint coating the walls and ceiling. Polished, pale wooden trim along the floor and around doorways matched the floor as well. Enough sunlight bounced in from the adjacent rooms to light the house fairly well.
Each room Tate passed was cleaner than any room he had ever seen. A few people were scattered here and there, some friendly, others keeping to themselves. To Tate’s understanding, any human that lived in Wayne Manor was merely a walking blood bag for the vamper overlords. Everyone looks healthy enough.
Tate plastered a grin and nodded to anyone that met his gaze. Each apartment was large enough for a small family to spread out in. Gian had told Tate that each floor of the manor was built to emulate a prison to keep everyone safe and comfortable.
None of the apartments had windows to look outside. Instead, the windows were simply brightly lit panels behind interchangeable translucent screens. Some apartments appeared to have windows looking out to lush forests, oceans, cities and more sights that Tate had only ever seen in magazines.
The teenager also noticed he wasn’t the only citizen to walk around in his bare feet. He was provided a full change of clean clothes, but he had only bothered with the boxers and faded denim jeans. Any other day, Tate would’ve enjoyed the ladies’ attention he was attracting. This morning, he was only worried about one woman.
Tate stopped in front of a closed door labeled 163. The young man shifted the cutting board to his left arm and ran his fingers through his dangling, dirty-blonde hair. He knocked quickly and motioned forward with the wooden tray of crackers, a cup of butter, sliced cheeses and fresh cubes of bologna.
Ignoring the upbeat conversations around him, Tate tried to listen through the door for movement. Footsteps slowly approached, then some hushed words followed by stillness. Tate spoke up, “Are the kids hungry?” He felt his breathing grow heavier as he awaited a response.
The door opened to Megan with her baby daughter cradled in her arm. Megan was Tate’s age or younger, though her recent years seemed to have added enough years to surpass Tate’s smoother features.
Megan carefully rolled her head to the side to remove the recently washed brown bangs from her eyes. Quietly, she called for her four year-old son, “Tommy.”
Tate smirked when the boy cautiously emerged from another doorway. The Red Bones had dedicated a ration system to make sure their newborns received extra nutrition until they were five. Tommy was just beginning to lose the baby fat from his face and limbs. He had his mother’s wild brown hair.
Megan nudged her head to Tate, “Can you take the tray inside Tommy?”
Tate dropped to a knee, still well above Tommy’s eye level. “Be careful, all right?”
Tommy didn’t react much as he held the tray in both arms, barely reaching the whole way around. Pure concentration overtook the toddler as he carefully walked the food back through the door he had come from.
Megan began to close the door. Tate stood and clasped the edge to stop her, “Please, please let me talk to you.”
Megan motioned to her sleeping baby with fierce eyes.
Tate nodded and lowered his voice, “Meg, I was tied up and gagged when those vampers killed our people. If it wasn’t for these people, we’d be dead too.”
The young mother sighed and flung her free hand in the air as she walked inside. Tate felt a wave of relief as he closed the door and followed her to a polished set of four wooden chairs and a table. The dining table was only a few feet from the spotless kitchen counter, but the apartment still felt spacious.
Tate noticed the white curtains surrounding the “window” above the sink. Glancing through all the other apartments, this was the only landscape Tate had seen of a desert. He pointed to it with a smirk, “Everyone else pretends they’re in a forest or some shit.”
Her narrowed eyes bore into Tate, “If these people forget what’s outside, they’re gonna die quick when trouble gets here.”
“I agree.” Tate eyed Megan, hoping for another opening for dialogue. She was focused solely on her baby. “Name her yet?”
“I bet she has a beautiful name.”
Megan sighed before staring back at Tate, “You know we’re prisoners right? A pretty cage is still a cage.”
“Yeah, well the last cage we had didn’t work out so well. Plenty of water, sure. Nice walls and a solid roof, yeah. My old man never wanted us to make the oasis a permanent home for us, did you know that?”
“I wasn’t exactly bunk buddies with Peter, or you. You only want to talk to me because I’m the last woman from the tribe. Gonzo was the first person in charge to give a real shit about my family.”
“Fuckin’ Gonzo? I wish he made it just so we could have a fair fight again.”
“Gonzo moved everyone into the big house. Everyone, not just the muscle. There was plenty of room, even before we started droppin’ like gnats. Then when those vampers invaded, he made sure the youngest were safe. He failed, but he kept fighting until me and mine were in the safest section of the big house.”
“You walked away though.”
“Gonzo made a deal. He let the vamper queen chain him up.”
“Why? Did she want a fuckin’ boy toy or somethin’?”
“I don’t know. She coulda torn us all apart and Gonzo didn’t even stand a chance. He just agreed so we could leave.”
I guess I can ask her sometime.
“What? Can’t believe a decent man was in charge for once? Even if it was just a few hours?”
Tate licked the front of his top teeth as he considered. “Do you want to help torture the vamper bitch?”
Megan’s eyes widened, “Can I?”
Tate followed Gian down the long hallway with a cold concrete floor. Wish I took the sandals. Megan walked beside Tate with her baby still cradled. Tate felt weird carrying Tommy. The sudden rush of Megan’s trust was giving him a satisfying buzz. On the other hand, Tate felt like he was carrying the most fragile piece of glass in the world.
Gian had agreed to let Megan visit Deborah without hesitation. Though the vamper’s face was emotionless at the time, Tate had sensed a feeling of regret or possibly remorse. Does he feel bad for Deb?
Megan walked with a steady determination. Tate noticed her staring at Gian for nearly the whole walk. Gian kept his pace while speaking over his shoulder, “I wouldn’t recommend the children see inside the cell.”
The young mother’s voice cracked, “I wasn’t gonna let ‘em.”
Tate almost couldn’t believe this was the same woman from earlier. Gian didn’t acknowledge her reply. He simply walked them to a steel door and slid open a narrow slot near the average person’s eye level.
Gian glanced inside, stepped back and motioned toward the slot, “There she is.”
Tate eagerly gauged Megan’s reaction when she quickly stepped up to look inside. The teenager’s determination faded to a blank stare. Then her shoulders sunk as she backed away from the door. Megan only turned halfway towards Gian to ask, “Can I talk to her?”
Gian reached past the girl to slide the hatch closed and unlock the bar. “This may be an obvious warning, but a hungry vampire will do anything for a drink.”
Megan handed her baby to Tate, “Can you hold them both?”
Tate shifted the sleepy Tommy to one arm and accepted the baby in the other. “Meg, you don’t have to go in there alone. Gian can go in, or… he can hold the kids.”
Megan snapped her attention to Tate like she was electrocuted. Gian tilted his head and raised a brow towards Tate. Megan looked over to Gian, eventually making eye contact. The blue eyed vamper kept a straight face, “My people don’t feed on children. We only drink from the willing, with a respectable age of consent.”
Tate chimed in, “If we was going to do anything, we couldn’t stop him anyway.”
Megan looked more flustered than before, “Uh, no. I’m going in there alone, Tate. Don’t drop my babies.”
Tate thought he saw Gian chuckle after Megan opened the door and entered. Tate asked, “What’s so funny?”
“I think she likes you.”
“Yeah, well, she made it pretty clear that she doesn’t.”
“She will. You’ve given her children a future. She may not be proud to be a blood bag now, but I can assure you, my people have swallowed a lot of pride for this arrangement as well.”
“How long you been doing this?”
“A few years after the last war. So according to our calendar, five hundred or so. Honestly I still have a hard time with the calendar changes.”
“Ditto. How do they know which year is really a leap year?”
Gian quietly shook his head with a smirk. Tate barely heard him mumble, “New planet, new problems.” Before Tate could follow up, Gian darted into the room in a blink.
Tate jumped back and clutched the kids tight. That’s fuckin’ fast! He took one step forward to look inside, but Gian was emerging from the door at a normal speed with Megan under his arm. The young woman was bleeding from her wrist.
Gian held her bloody arm to Tate and said, “Don’t worry, I didn’t get any blood on my coat.” He then nudged Megan away from the door and closed it.
Tate searched the rest of her body for wounds, “What did she do?”
Megan was panting with wet eyes, “She was going to tell me where Gonzo went.”
“He’s alive?” Tate looked to Gian, “Is he here?”
“You three and Deborah are the only people we found at your old village. I’d say Deborah was lying, anything to get a drink.” Gian removed a white pocket square from his black vest and handed it to Megan.
The teen mother reluctantly accepted the handkerchief and clasped her bloody wrist. “I have to know if he made it or not.”
Tate shrugged, “Is he their father or what?”
“No. He just cared.”
Tate looked to Gian who subtly shook his head. Tate sighed, “You know, I asked for Gian and his guys to starve Deborah for us. She’s going to horde every bit of info she has for an extra drop.”
“Tate, she has nothing else to give us. If she tells me a believable story, then at least Tommy and Angelica can grow up with one, just one fucking hopeful story. And if she tells the truth, then we can add another citizen to this place.”
Tate glanced back to Gian who was smiling wide, “Sounds good to me caveman.”
Tate took a breath, “Let Gian hold the kids so I can have a word with the bitch first.”
Much less defiant than before, Megan shamefully nodded and motioned to Gian. Tate thanked her as he handed them off, then he opened the door and closed it behind him.
Deborah was still naked, sitting cross-legged on the cold floor. She was sucking fresh blood from her fingers with a her eyes rolling in the back of her head.
He called out, “Hey.”
She smiled as she slid the last finger out of her lips with a wet smack. “Hey.”
Tate took three paced into the center of the small room. Deborah launched to her feet and clawed at Tate’s face. He flinched, though Deborah’s swing wasn’t even close; she still smiled.
He examined the metal brace around her neck, satisfied with the thickness of it. Clearing his throat, Tate crossed his arms and rubbed the blonde peach fuzz on his chin. “Why make a deal with Gonzo in the first place?”
“Give me a sip big boy, and I’ll tell ya.”
“Hold out your hand.”
Deborah smiled wider and did as he asked. Tate pulled out a tiny cheese knife from his pocket and slit his palm. He allowed a small puddle to fill Deborah’s own palm and retracted his hand.
The vamper slurped the blood and answered, “I saw what he did to you. Dragged you behind a jeep and left you for dead in feral vamp territory. I kept an eye out for him when I visited your town.”
Tate waited for more, “I gave you more than a sip.”
The vamper’s smile faded a touch. “I was going to turn him into a hungry vamp and lock you in a room together. I figured you weren’t a fan of his either, so letting him kill you would’ve been more painful than if I did.”
“Funny, isn’t it? By dumb luck, half of that plan came true. Except, I’m walking out of this room.” He turned to leave.
“I didn’t turn him.”
Tate didn’t turn around as he grabbed the door knob. “As long as Megan believes you, I don’t need to hear what you have to say.”