Etta Mae looked outside to see the first orange-tinged fingers of dawn's approach. She shuddered in relief to see how close the morning was. With a shaky hand she pulled the red permanent marker from the cup of pens and knives next to the back door. Once the yellow bright rays of the sun cleared the dark shadows of the eastern mountains she uncapped the marker and slowly stroked a large X through April 14th on the calendar next to the boarded up door.
Looking at the next day, she wondered if the IRS actually thought anyone would be sending in their taxes this year. The whimsical picture of flowers seemed to mock her from the page of the calendar. She recapped the marker and slowly put it back in the full cup.
A siren shrilled from the firehouse two miles away, as if anyone was asleep and needed the reminder. Etta Mae sneezed and grabbed a tissue from the box in the kitchen. The box fell to the floor empty. She groaned and blew her nose frustrated with the sign of yet another thing that was gone.
"Kristen, where are you?" She'd been in the kitchen for the past few hours and hadn't seen Kristen in a while. Etta Mae figured the girl had fallen asleep in some corner exhausted by the past few days. Sighing, she waited to hear something from Kristen.
A loud scream came from upstairs. Etta Mae ran for the stairs taking them two a time -- full speed.
"What's wrong? Where are you?" Etta Mae bit out while hitting the landing running.
"Back bedroom -- " Kristen screamed out.
Etta Mae cursed the lack of lights as she smacked her shin on something in the dark hallway. The sunlight from outside had yet to travel very far into the house. The boarded up windows added into the darkness. Something fluttered roughly in Etta Mae's stomach. Kristen wasn't given to screaming as a rule.
Smacking her upper arm against the doorframe Etta Mae stopped dead once she entered the back bedroom.
They hadn't boarded up the windows on the second story because neither Kristen nor Etta Mae could see how anyone -- hell, anything -- could get inside. They had pulled all the ladders into the kitchen weeks ago and cut down both of the massive oak trees that had spend decades shading their home. Obviously not all the neighbors had pulled in their ladders. The proof was up against the now scratched pane. Kristen was trembling on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs.
Etta Mae couldn't see any signs of a visitor at first glance and Kristen appeared uninjured.
"Why are you screaming? Hell, why are you in here?" She looked around the room as it dawned on her that the morning sunlight was streaming in from the window -- the curtains were missing from the window frame. The ladder was still taunting her leaning against the glass. Etta Mae glared at her sister and noticed that Kristen still wasn't meeting her eyes.
The brunette dipped her head and muttered something into her kneecaps.
Etta Mae gave up on trying to get an answer and went to the windowpane cautiously.
To her stunned gaze she saw there was a corpse suspended halfway up the ladder. The sunlight rolled further up the horizon and the bones began falling from the aluminum rungs in brittle bits and pieces. A chill fissured through her as it was suddenly clear what had happened. She ran to the bed and slapped her sister's chin up and yanked aside her long dark hair. Two small punctures were fading just at the base of Kristen's neck.
"You stupid, girl." Horrified Etta Mae stumbled back from her sibling. Then she reconsidered and grabbed Kristen's face roughly again in her palm.
She further yanked her sister to her while hissing, "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Etta Mae, I am perfectly fine. It was," a sob broke from Kristen and tears began to trail down her cheeks. Etta Mae noticed that her sister was wearing dark eye shadow, heavy black liner and roughly a dozen coats of mascara spiking out her lashes angrily. Her lipstick was a deep red stain on her lips -- worn off from kissing or worse.
"It was what?" Etta Mae was furious. All of the hard work over the past month erased by Kristen's opening of the window.
"Jimmy Clovis -- the football star."
"What do you mean? You have to be fucking kidding me! I mean why?"
Kristen bit her bottom lip.
Etta Mae felt forty plus not twenty-five. Her parents had thought the ten year distance between children to be amusing but looking at her sister's face and barely scarred neck made Etta Mae want to scream.
"Because." Came the sullen non-answer.
Disgusted by Kristen's stupidity Etta Mae pulled herself away from the bed.
Sobbing again, Kristen's words were broken and nearly indecipherable to Etta Mae. She caught most of the babbling but wanted some answers. Apparently before the outbreak struck Kristen had a massive crush on the seriously dead Jimmy. He'd probably barely known that she'd existed and since he changed had found her.
"Of course he 'found' you," Etta Mae pounced on one of the sobbing girl's words. "He was fucking hungry! How many times has he come here?" Etta Mae paced back and forth trying to figure out what she was supposed to do now.
Tears streaming from her bright blue eyes Kristen lifted her face and said, "Last night was the second time."
An icy chill of fear raced through Etta Mae. She could tell that Kristen was lying. The trail of tears were sooty and black as her eyeliner ran down her face. The dark clown-like appearance made Kristen look tragically comical only Etta Mae wasn't laughing.
Seeing her older sister's disbelief caused a change in Kristen's sobs. The whining quality of Kristen's sobs raked over Etta Mae like fingernails over an old-fashioned slate chalkboard. The girl's head had dipped again hiding Kristen's eyes but not her lips. Etta Mae watched a sly smile steal across her baby sister's mouth. Kristen said, "Etta Mae, truly it has only been two times!" She sealed her fate with her lie.
Etta Mae pulled out a stake that she'd hidden days ago between the mattress and the box springs and with a vicious cry thrust it upwards between her sister's stomach and rib cage. Horrified, she continued to push the wood up and watched small fangs of red blood burble from Kristen's lips.
Kristen never struggled against her sister but Etta Mae felt her passing darkly throughout her soul. It took an eternity for her to die but Etta Mae stayed through it all. Once Kristen was no longer breathing and her body had begun to cool did she finally leave the room. In the kitchen she found the sharpest boning blade and pulled out a bulb of garlic from the potato bin.
Tears coursed down Etta Mae's face as she hacked off her sister's head from her body. Blood and sinew resisted her sawing but she grimily followed with what she'd started. Once the head was free she stuffed the garlic inside Kristen's small mouth. Seeing Kristen's irregular overlapping front teeth gave Etta Mae pause. A sob broke from her as she finished the task. Pulling the sheets and blankets up around the body was hard work but necessary. Etta Mae dragged her bloody forearm across her face trying to get her hair out of her eyes. She knew she was coated in her sister's blood and gore. Sighing deeply she tied up the queen sized sheets into a bundle with the pillowcase and her sister's beheaded body in the center like a prize.
Glancing out the window Etta Mae noticed hours had passed. Bleakly she pulled the bedding and body out into the hall and down the staircase. The thumping of her sister's body was somewhat muffled by the sheets and blankets. Once at the base of the stairs Etta Mae grabbed a box of wooden matches and a bottle of lamp oil from the stockpile in the living room.
She wedged the bottle into the top of the knot of sheets while putting the matches in her front pocket. Once at the back door she unbolted the locks and dragged the corpse and linens towards the fire ring in the yard. Memories of her sister roasting marshmallows on a stick warred with what she had to do. The coals from the previous day's meals had been banked and thankfully she didn't have to use the matches to start a new fire. Instead she used the fireplace poker to bring the coals back to life. Jabbing them and adding some dry kindling to the black and red coals she slowly brought the fire up. Etta Mae went back to the barn to pull some wood and logs for the fire. The effort exhausted her but she didn't have a choice -- it had to be done. Soon it was large and hotter than she could almost stand. She pushed the bundle towards the hungry flames after removing the cap from the bottle of lamp oil. It didn't take long for the fire to work its way over the sheets -- it acted alive and seemed to be looking for the oil to inhale. Once the flames found the lamp oil the blaze shot up and over the body and sheets with a purpose.
Silently Etta Mae said a prayer while the fire began the arduous task of destroying her sister. The wind shifted away from the house, thankfully sparing her from any additional pain or scent of the burning corpse. As the day crept away she added larger hunks of wood to keep the makeshift pyre hot. Foregoing sleep, Etta Mae watched the fire and carved wooden stakes. She dragged the ladder from the side of the house just before sunset.
The fire was the size of a small car when the first fireflies appeared in the meadow. She'd paused to watch the bugs make bits of summer magic in the spring, shaking her head at the oddness. It was only one of the many things she'd found off about the past few weeks. Shaking herself free of the disturbing signs of nature running further amok she stripped down and headed into the spring behind the barn. Dusk was giving way to night while Etta Mae walked back naked to her house.
Dusk was deepening to night but Etta Mae was numb. Once inside, she dressed slowly. Her fingers seemed to be disconnected from her mind and reluctantly fastened buttons and pulled up the zipper on her jeans. Sadly she got the crossbow from the kitchen countertop and loaded the first arrow with steadier hands. The silver tip on the arrow was shiny and deadly. Not that she'd had a chance to use one yet, but from everything she'd seen they could do some damage. Etta Mae pulled out a coffee cup from the countertop and poured the previous night's cold brew into the mug. And she waited.
It wasn't long before the knocking and scratching along the nearest window began.
"Etta Mae, darling, let me in." The local butcher, Harold Carvel, tapped a long finger on the pane of glass higher than she thought possible. Harold had been visiting her on a regular basis since he was turned. It was sad in a way because in his life he'd been a very quiet, reserved man. She hadn't realized that he even liked her until a week's ago when he'd suddenly showed up.
The television still worked back then, as did their electricity. The phones had been one of the first things to go. But living so far from the city it wasn't unusual to have sporadic phones so at first the sisters really hadn't known that anything was wrong. Both Etta Mae and Kristen weren't much for TV so they'd been pretty clueless until the end of March.
March madness. That phrase took on a whole new meaning for the girls. Etta Mae and Kristen were glued to the news that odd morning when they caught up with the rest of the world. Harold had yet to make an appearance. They hadn't seen anyone in a few weeks but that wasn't unusual. It wasn't a busy time and their parents had taken their annual month trip to go honeymoon. Leastways that's what their folks called it as long back as the girls could remember. They'd turned on the TV to check on the weather. It had been so warm and Etta Mae was worried that a tornado or something was brewing. Instead of the familiar map of global airstreams, cloud patterns and swirls of storm fronts in the green, white and blue of winter there was a map of the entire United States covered in patches of black and red.
They sat on the edge of the old brown leather couch and caught up on the epidemic facing the world. Scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen was a feeder of point-by-point rules for safeguarding those near the 'infected' area. Nobody said the words vampire but rather used cute phrases like 'infected' or 'ill'. Minutes passed with the two frozen with their mouths agape.
"Well, that explains the phones being out," Etta Mae had finally said.
Kristen had agreed and poked the elephant in the room, "Mom and Dad went to Kansas City -- that's covered in black." Their corner of the world wasn't in black or the warning of sightings in red. They shivered and began to plan.
Unable to contact their parents they sorrowfully they wrote down all the various hints and recommendations and spent the next few hours watching footage of 'incidents' that weren't being discussed but rather shown after the usual disclaimers of unsubstantiated footage and that they were graphic in nature. That's where Etta Mae had seen silver tipped arrows used into the hearts of the hungry family and friends.
The girls did a quick trip into the nearest town to find it in complete chaos and utter turmoil. People were driving through the middle of the streets completely disregarding the traffic lights. One of the local gas stations was empty and the gas pumps were trashed. The hoses to the pumps had been torn off and black marks showed that there had been some sort of fire. The windows to the mini-market inside were broken and the empty shelves pulled half out of the store into the street. The other gas station across the street had a mob of angry people screaming at each other and arguing over the pumps. They watched one man angrily yank on the hair of an older woman. She took the pump handle and smacked him in the face causing his glasses to fly off his face and blood to spurt from his nose. Etta Mae looked around and figured there was nothing she would find in town worth dying for and they headed back home silently.
That had been weeks ago. Etta Mae heard Harold tapping again and his broken voiced calling out, "Etta Mae, let me in -- you smell so good."
She shuddered and wondered how long she'd last when she heard a new set of voices calling for her to let them inside. Her parents had made their way home and they called out that they were so hungry and tired. She bit back a sob and sipped her cold coffee.
The scariest part of it all was the vampires only came for loved ones.