James slammed his shotgun on his chipped, stained and sturdy wooden workbench. He reached under his nearby steel stool for a key with a small magnet glued onto it. Key in hand, the mechanic unlocked a large steel cabinet under the bench.
Megan entered the dark, cool garage, “What are you doing?”
James glanced back. The teen mother was a silhouette in the middle of the open bay, along with Tommy as he held his baby sister. James deflected, “Where’s Nicolai?”
Megan pointed Tommy over to a corner of the garage. “He started drinking again. I don’t trust him.”
James pulled out a rusted ammo box and hefted it to the workbench with a thud, “You don’t trust him to be around the kids, or you think he’s lying about what’s going on?”
“Both, or maybe he’s just hiding something.”
“Well, I’m going to find out what’s going on.” James opened the metal box with some of his custom shredder shotgun rounds. He began ejecting the pellet rounds from the shotgun, “I’m sorry I lead your family into another deathtrap. You can take the truck and go wherever you want.”
Megan stood beside him, about as tall as his chin or nose. She pulled her crazy brown hair from her face, “There’s nowhere to go. Not alone.”
James glanced over just as she looked away. He started loading the shredder rounds, “I appreciate that, but I can’t abandon my home.”
“I kept my promise, I got you here.”
“You promised to keep them safe. This isn’t safe.”
James loaded the last shell and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I did what I could.” He closed the ammo box and grabbed it with the shotgun on his way past Megan. “Get what you need from upstairs. Don’t worry about Nicolai. When he drinks, he stays down.”
Megan stomped after him, “So you’re going to just go door to door and kill every vamp you see?”
“That’s the plan.”
“What if they’re like Deborah? Nicolai said this only started a few days ago, if your people are infected, they’ll still be themselves, not mindless roamers.”
James stopped at the edge of the open garage door and set everything down. He motioned Megan further from the kids’ earshot. James felt himself shaking as he forced his voice to stay quiet, “None of this would be happening if l let Deb kill herself when she turned. Deb told me how she felt when she got hungry. She didn’t give a fuck who her family was, she just had to drink whoever was closest. That woman has been trying to get herself killed because she knows what she is, and she knows she can’t control herself. Killing these people, my fucking neighbors, is the best thing I can do for them.”
Megan avoided direct eye contact, “Nicolai said the infected are protecting their human families like pets. You’re just going to kill the vampers in front of their parents, mates and kids?”
“Yes.” James tried to pass her again.
Megan cut him off, barely looking in his eyes, “Don’t you think that’s weird?”
“I’m not a vamp psychologist.”
“I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like you’re not an expert.”
James rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Okay, my tribe lived with these things all our lives. Not on top of an unclimbable castle.”
James crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “You said they aren’t mindless yet, what do you think they’re doing?”
“I think someone’s controlling them. Vampers nest together in the daytime.”
“After one day of being turned?”
“Yeah, I think so. Red eyes that don’t kill themselves never go back home. My tribe believes they all know what they are, but the only thing they can help is making sure they stay as far from their loved ones as possible.”
James couldn’t help but think about Deborah abandoning him just a day’s drive from home. Did Deb even know she was doing that? “You think it’s subconscious or what?”
Megan just cocked her head and shrugged.
“Never mind. So staying with their families is torture, I get it. What could make them stay like that?”
“I don’t know, but that’s my point. This might be more of a… Deborah situation?”
James scoffed with a smirk as he walked around Megan for the last time, “I agree.”
Megan stayed with him as he picked up the ammo, “So you’re not changing your plan? Just door to door? You think you have enough shells for that?”
“I can’t argue anymore, I need to do what I can as long as the sun’s up.”
Megan caught James’ elbow. He turned around, but she didn’t have anything else to say. She let go when James stepped out of the garage and into the heat. James looked straight out to the only other structure on his plateau.
The two story, pale stucco building was nearly as old as James’ garage. A solid wooden door had shuttered windows on either side, with three parallel windows above each frame. To the left was a one car garage and to the right was a clear glass greenhouse that stretched the whole way around the back of the house and garage.
Good a place to start as any. James trudged through the searing heat, at least thankful to have returned to Anthill’s familiar humidity. Here, the sand gave way to valleys of dark orange soil and plants that managed to thrive.
James stepped up to the main door with a finely painted sign. Lavender letters written in classic cursive handwriting read: Trester’s Garden Shoppe. James had always gotten along well with his neighbors, fine tuning the sprinkler system from time to time and other odd jobs in exchange for Tsara’s favorite bowl of berries and pineapple rings.
Fighting the urge to grab a bottle of liquor, James set the ammo down and pounded the door. He felt his gun hand tighten on the stock after he flicked off the safety. Nothing for a few seconds. James slowly turned the doorknob; locked. Shit.
The young man left the door for a nearby window, unlocked the simple latch on the shutters, and pried the wooden panels open to either side. As he leaned in to peek into the dark window, James nearly slapped himself. Come on amateur. James leaned in as he hoisted his shotgun barrel against the glass as well.
All James saw was a neatly abandoned living room. He knocked on the glass; no reaction. Should I be knocking? Not sure what else to try, James tried to ram the shotgun barrel through the glass, but all the window did was vibrate with a little scratch. The hell am I doing?
James scoured the ground for a hefty rock or something heavy and jagged, but then he remembered how clean the Trester’s preferred their front yard. He huffed and walked back to his garage. With the sun beating down on him, James could barely make out the interior of the garage, but he could make out Megan leaning against an unfinished buggy with her arms crossed.
He walked past Megan with less than a glance, “Something to say?” James opened a drawer with his miscellaneous chisels for a specific ballpoint hammer which he had grinded into a kind of hand pick.
Megan waited until James was nearly out in the sun again, “No machete in case your gun jams or something?”
James walked over to the corner where Tommy was cradling Angelica atop a stack of mismatched floor mats. The mechanic grabbed a random steel-polymer rod that had been part of buggy’s frame.
Tommy asked, “Can you cut a vamper’s head off with that?”
James reluctantly remembered the first vamp skull he had opened with a similar rod. “It’ll work Tommy.”
Megan shook her head, “James, you’re trying to be something you’re not. I can tell.”
He kept walking, “And how well do you know me?”
Megan walked out with him, “I know you’re doing your best, but…”
James stopped, “What?”
She avoided eye contact again, “I wasn’t just busting on you when I said this is more Deborah’s thing.”
“I think you’re the kinda guy that likes to think around a problem, not jump straight into it like her.”
James rubbed the back of his neck, “It’s not like I have the right skills or training for this shit.”
“That’s why people make tools.”
James actually laughed, “Holy fuck. You’re absolutely right. Let me get a few things from the truck, then you can take it.”
“You’re kinda stupid, huh?”
James furrowed his brow, “What? Why?”
Megan looked at the ground, “We’re not leaving you.”
Is she… He didn’t want to think about it. “All right, I still need you in the truck.” James led her back into the cool garage next to Tommy and pointed to a metal crate, “Grab the longest chain, should be on the far left.”
James walked into the adjacent office and grabbed the metal clipboard hanging over the light switch. He tried to ignore the fact that he was reading Tsara’s handwriting as he searched for electric wiring. He found the best conditioned, longest wire on the inventory sheet, and then quickly found it neatly rolled and tied under a smaller workbench. Thanks babe.
Bursting out into the garage, James saw Megan’s arms barely holding up the chain he wanted and gave her a thumbs up, “Can you hook one end on the truck’s hitch please?” Without waiting for a yes or no, James walked along the workbench to grab a walkie talkie off of its charger.
Megan was on her way out, “The truck’s radio doesn’t work, remember?”
James leaned back to grab the second radio and followed Megan outside. He briskly walked around her and jumped in the pickup bed. James whipped the tarp open and dragged the few crates of produce out and gently dropped them to the ground. Tommy popped up in his peripheral Angelica wasn’t in his arms, “Hey buddy, wanna move this food inside?”
“I don’t want to.”
Megan snapped back in her firm motherly tone, “Tommy.”
Megan clinked the chains as she worked, “So how are you hooking the chain to them?”
James continued shuffling the inventory, “What are you talking about?”
“We hunted vampers like this too. Chain them up to a jeep and drag them out into the sun. It’s not that complicated.”
“Oh no, this chain is for me. You drag me out into the sun when I’m in over my head.”
“I see you’re not thinking with your balls anymore.”
“So what is the plan?”
James slid an ultraviolet bulb out from the tarp. “I’m gonna carry this to scare off the vamps then whack them with,” James rustled around for the bone tomahawk, “this, which won’t jam, or run out of ammo.”
“And it won’t make your ears ring like shooting a gun inside a house.”
James had a brief, painful flashback to shooting his shotgun inside a cave. “Good call.” James jumped out of the bed and started walking back inside.
Megan called out, “James.”
He turned around and walked backwards, “Megan, I really can’t waste more time with talking right now.”
She kept up, “What are you going to do when we run out of daylight?”
“I guess, uh, run out of town and come back tomorrow. Or maybe we’ll save enough people to make a stand or something? We’ll figure it out when it happens. One problem at a—”
Tommy’s high pitched voice echoed, “Mom!”
James and Megan ran around the corner. Tommy ran to meet them with Angelica in his arms. Megan caught them, “What’s wrong baby?”
James almost dropped his bulb and hatchet. Nicolai was hunched over in the darkness, sobbing to himself. His red eyes refracted in the low light. He had a hand on his face, shaking his head, “Where’s my baby girl? Bring Tsara back.” The large man walked towards the group with green tears streaking down his cheeks. He took a few steps into the sunlight.
Deb could stay in the light a whole day when she was turned. James eased the UV bulb to the ground, tomahawk still in hand. “Nicolai, just stop what you’re doing and think.”
Nicolai did stop, and glanced down to the shotgun leaning on the wall next to him.
Nicolai reached for the gun as James rushed forward. There was too much ground to cover. James threw his weapon on instinct, the wide blade slammed into Nicolai’s left arm. He yelled as he pulled it out, just enough time for James to slide and grab the shotgun. Nicolai grabbed the other side of gun and lifted James off the ground with it.
James tried to twist the gun free, but it wasn’t happening. Nicolai’s free arm grabbed James behind the neck, “You. You stole my baby girl.” The man pulled James’ face over the shotgun barrel and slid around into a headlock, grabbing the barrel in both hands now.
James’ eyes shot wide as one of the hands reached for the trigger. His hand stopped as he yelled and fell to a knee. Then something wet slapped the back of James’ bared neck and shoulder. Nicolai’s grip weakened enough for James to shove him off.
Megan pulled the tomahawk out of Nicolai’s neck and the body dropped. She looked sorry, but her words didn’t match her sincere tone, “It’s a mercy killing right?”
James fell to his ass, covered his face and yelled into his hands.