James hefted a crate of the Red Bone tribe’s tomatoes into the back of Harris’ truck. The sun was nearly set, painting the cloudless sky into a bloody red horizon. Tsara exited one of the smaller houses with another crate of vegetables. James watched her cross the marble plaza, hoping she would make eye contact.
Tsara gently placed the crate into the truck bed, shifting it to fit with the other scavenged supplies. James briskly walked by Tsara’s side back to the house. He stammered, “Pretty advanced actually, that indoor garden they made. I was reading the former engineers’ notes, and, uh, yeah, they rigged up some impressive hydroponics… considering.
“The well they drilled alone must catch a main vein from the north or something, because with the amount of water this place uses, I almost can’t believe they have any left. Then they have the lake behind the mansion, crazy.”
Tsara didn’t stop walking, “You know what else is crazy? Letting me think there was a chance Debbie was still out here.”
James felt like he was punched in the gut, “But, she is, I mean, it’s still her, right?”
Tsara stopped short of the house to let two scouts pass with more supplies. “No. Debbie taught me everything she knew about vamps.” She looked down at him, “You should’ve let her kill herself.”
James grabbed her elbow before she left. “You don’t believe that do you?”
Tsara lifted her arm until James released her. “I just found out my sister is a monster, if she’s alive, and that you’re an alcoholic coward. The day you both left was the day you both died out here.” She grabbed the door to enter.
Tsara tilted her head back with a sigh and turned around with crossed arms. James didn’t know what he was going to say. He stared up into her tears, sensing the weakest glimmer of hope for them. James inhaled.
Crack! James felt his ear ring from a distant gunshot. Blood splattered his face. He opened his eyes. More blood was blown against the stainless white door, which itself was fractured from the center of a small hole.
James’ head tilted to the ground. Blood surrounded Tsara’s head, expanding over the plaza, slowly filling the gaps between marble bricks. Her face was warped apart, only one blue eye still visible.
He didn’t know how long he was soaking in the sight before someone yanked the back of his shirt. James quickly stumbled backwards until he was tossed into the side of Harris’ truck. Someone grabbed the sides of his face, trying to say something.
Am I asleep? Is this just a nightmare?
A vicious slap rang in James’ ear. His eyelids fluttered until he focused on the scout holding his face. Victor, James’ childhood friend, shook James’ head, “Do you understand?”
James was vaguely aware of more gunshots at a steady rhythm. He grabbed Victor’s wrist, “What?”
The other young man had slim features and strong hazel eyes. “We’re sitting slugs down here, but there’s only one shooter, got it?”
James gently pushed Victor’s hands away and nodded. He turned his head back to Tsara, but Victor grabbed his face again. “James! Is this truck bulletproof?”
The mechanic forced himself to look at the side of the green pickup truck, then the windows. “Uh, yeah. Not bad.”
“Okay, The rest of us are getting pinned down in the mansion. You and me, we’re getting in this truck, and we’re gonna flank the sniper up top. Got it?”
James nodded again.
Victor frowned and pat James’ shoulder, I’ll make sure you get to kill this bitch, okay?”
Victor spun in his crouched position and opened the passenger door. He slid into the driver seat, “Shit! Harris took his key. Can you hotwire—”
Another distant crack echoed from above the crater. James jumped back as more blood showered over him. On his back, James could only see Victor’s arm dangling out of the truck seat. No. That shouldn’t have happened.
A rush of air quivered into James’ lungs. The rest of the scouts were yelling for James and Victor. James was slowly regaining his foothold on reality. The gravity of the situation was growing heavier by the breath. Shit.
He glanced to Tsara’s body. The sun had finally set, signaling the light posts around the plaza to brighten to their full illumination. A dull thump boomed from the only road out of the crater. James flattened himself and crawled to the truck’s tailgate. Something was moving down.
The sound was easy enough to recognize. Tire treads, coasting, not braking. Tommy’s buggy rolled into the edge of the plaza’s bright, white lamp lights. Straining, James thought he saw blood smeared on, or inside the windshield.
Rolling to a stop before the water fountain, the buggy definitely had had blood smeared throughout the interior. James also noticed a length of rope trailing from the bumper with something tied to the end of it. A boot?
Another sound gathered speed down the slope. There was some quiet thumping, but almost like a gust of wind throwing sand around. James stayed on all fours and crawled back to the front of the truck. Peeking underneath the pickup, James watched the pack of vamps charge the buggy.
Eight or twelve of the pale beasts stayed quiet until they all pounced the vehicle. Once they were all pounding the glass and side panels, they all shrieked and howled in an unbalanced unison. James was suddenly aware that Victor and Tsara’s fresh blood might divide the pack’s attention.
Did Victor have a weapon? James noticed that the scouts weren’t yelling anymore. The sniping had stopped. Doesn’t matter what Victor has—had on him. The sniper might not wait for the vamps to kill me.
James eyeballed the distance between the truck and the closest house. He rose to a sprinter’s stance, quietly preparing his running breath. He stopped with an instant idea. James quickly bound over the edge of the pickup and grabbed a few tomatoes. Another peek under the truck showed the vamps were slowing down, becoming silent as well.
A juicy tomato wailed over the truck towards the Red Bones’ garage, then another towards the slope. James heard buggy’s shocks bounce and squeak before the pack howled and shrieked again. The mechanic ducked under the truck to peek again. Wide red eyes and blood-caked claws crawled right for him.
James snapped away and ran straight for the house. He felt the air vibrate behind him as the creature’s scream echoed throughout the oasis. His pulse affected his vision, making him think Tsara was moving. A permanent picture of Tsara’s destroyed face bounced into the back of James’ head. She’s gone. She’s fucking gone.
Tears streaked down his cheeks and into his ears at the speed James pushed himself. He heard light thuds and clicks on the plaza behind him. James suddenly realized he had crushed the last tomatoes in his hands. He threw the remains on the ground, not daring to check if the creature would try to lick it up or not.
James finally reached the door, forcing himself not to look down. He missed the door knob, instead, the young man crashed through the door and fell to the floor with it. James slid across the toppled door into the ivory and emerald tiles.
On all fours, James twisted his head around to the front door. The pale, bald figure was hunched over, burying its mouth in Tsara’s face. James’ stomach almost gave way, but he noticed the rest of the pack approaching.
James’ boots and hands slid across the floor until he rose to his feet and ran to the far, green wall at the back of the house and made a left to the basement stairs. Ear piercing shrieks penetrated the walls behind James even after he locked the white door with dirty handprints.
Slurping, growling and tearing sounds made James want to scream. He felt like punching the door, or walking out to snap the vultures’ necks. No. I’m not that guy. Not strong enough. I’m a fucking coward hiding here.
Further down the concrete stairs, James realized the fluorescent lights were still on. The garden! The mechanic tiptoed his way down to the spacious basement. Concrete lined the walls and floor, there were a few closets and pantries along the wall.
Three lines of clean steel tables ran the length of the house. On the ceiling above each was a plastic water line with hoses curved around ultraviolet lamps. Beneath the lamps were short fences or cages the plants were threaded between. James had been impressed that instead of soil, the Red Bones had recycled their sewage to spread filtered nitrogen into the garden’s waterlines.
Strong, rapid slams banged into the door above. James ran the length of the garden, looking up at the ultraviolet lighting fixtures. Shit! All of the bulbs had already been removed and packed into the pickup. Gurgled screams joined the banging above.
James darted to the shelving with the tools. The only bulbs he found were for an adjustable lamp over the workbench. He found a few good wrenches and screwdrivers for weapons as he worked his way to the water and sewage systems on the far wall.
Come on, come on, find something dammit! A damaged extension chord lay wrapped on a shelf; James hadn’t made it a priority to take home. James grabbed the coil and ran back to the workbench for stripping pliers and a small utility knife. He quickly cut off the female end and exposed plenty of wires for his plan. Probably a bad plan.
James ran back over to the maze of pipes on the far wall. He turned a dial to the max until water started misting at full strength at every table. Then he picked up some pruning pliers and cut every single hose he could reach.
The water flowed quickly, splashing the steel tables with a high pitched ring. James heard the basement door break open, and immediately saw four vamps claw and tumble over each other down the concrete stairs.
James looked at the floor. Not enough water. There were puddles scattered throughout the floor, where James was suddenly aware of floor drains. Fuck.
The mechanic felt the shrieks of the pack penetrate his ear drums when the saw him. He ran back to the exposed chord and back to the bench. Another idea struck him. Dumbass.
James hopped up on the steel bench, stepped on the exposed end with his heavy boot, and plugged in the other end. A steady vibration took hold. Water droplets hit the electrified bench and immediately evaporated.
The naked vamps ran on all fours, straight at James. One leapt up on the other end of the bench and froze instantly, its freakish shrieks muted, its limbs paralyzed. James might’ve smirked any other day.
Ignoring their pack member, another leapt on the bench and froze. The final two stayed on the concrete as they charged. Shit. James’ eyes darted around the rest of the bench. On the shelf nearest to the ceiling, James was eye level with purple, arm length bulbs. Really?
James grabbed a bulb in two hands and held it out like a spear. One vamp pounced with a hideous shriek; James barely caught it with the tip and felt the bulb sliding. The vamp stopped midair and landed two feet on the bench.
The mechanic quickly crouched to tip his side of the bulb down to the table and watched purple light flicker to life. The last vamp stopped short from jumping up at James, the flickering light seemed to blind it, even pain it.
James yelled down, “Fuck you!”
He saw the vamp on the bench across from him. The beast was paralyzed, even with the flickering light and electricity melting it apart. The vamp on the floor covered its eyes, bumping into the garden table to flee, until it also bumped into the long workbench and froze.
James’ sense of victory was ruined as the vamp next to him melted over the bulb, into the bench, and over James’ hands.