I looked at the map before I left Mackey's backyard. Flashing clean paper around attracted more notice than wearing jewelry and new, clean clothes. I decided to head to the furthest location and work my way back. That way I'd be closer to my home come nightfall and wouldn't get trapped in an unknown area later. There were pockets of the city that weren't safe after dark despite all my skills. The council wouldn't be happy if I failed to bring the vampire in for them.
Vampires were infamous for their elaborate traps. I think, like cats, vamps liked to toy with their food before the bloodletting started. That wasn't completely true. I'd met vampires that struck lightning fast without notice. They were usually older and harder to kill. I think the longer the vamp had been dead the less they played cat and mouse games.
The council and assorted caretakers who'd shown up throughout my formative years had all worked on honing my natural skills. Nobody had given me any clue what sort of creature my mom had been but over the years from what I'd pieced together from my memories and what I was taught I gathered that she'd been some sort of empath and healer. The sperm donor of a dad wasn't ever mentioned, but I had amazingly fast speed and strength that easily surpassed my human counterparts. I was skilled enough and quick enough to run down and kill vampires. That fact alone sent shivers down my spine, adding in that I healed quickly. I tried not to over think my lineage. It only led to more questions and no real answers.
A big question that haunted me was how I didn't know if I glowed when I slept or changed my appearance like my mom had. I could console myself that neither did my self-appointed guardians know for sure if I changed and glowed when I slept either. After my mom's death I would hide in the house and lock myself in one of the bedrooms, taking the time to rig trip wires and bells to alert me if anyone tried to sneak up on me while I slept. The first week the lines had been triggered nightly, snapping me awake; then one morning I was lectured by one of my captors how I needed to learn how to trust. I didn't bother replying but continued to keep my secretive existence. Needless to say I never went to any slumber parties or had sleepovers. My childhood was over before it had ever really begun.
It seemed to me that my mom or maybe even my dad had passed on a surprisingly helpful gift. I once overheard some of my watchers talking and they said that when I was asleep the council couldn't remotely see me. After that I checked my room for cameras and had destroyed more than one before they gave up on spying on me while I slept. They weren't able to see me sleep and I always figured it was something my mom had done before she'd left the other universe but I wasn't positive. Not like she'd discussed her talents with me as a kid.
I walked along the streets unmolested once I left Mackey's house. The large green knapsack over my shoulder merited a few sideways glances but my aroma and deadeye stare kept the comments to mumbles and some dull glances. The locals also did a quick step out of my path whenever I was near. A few thieves saw me and crossed the street to melt into the dark alleys before they attracted my attention. It wasn't like I was a six foot Amazon, but I did tend to radiate a serious potential for extreme violence and casual damages -- I'd been told so by more than one acquaintance.
Most women traveled in groups of three or more. The few children that remained were in larger packs and pretty damn feral. Men prowled in various configurations depending on what they were after and how much they were willing to share. Most 'families' weren't of bloodlines but created through convenience, coercion and fear. The pandemics had cracked the traditional nuclear family set up of a father, a mother and children -- other necessary alliances were created. The small towns and rural areas had been the first to be decimated after the plagues raced through humanity surprising all the supposed experts. All the models of expected chaos had been explained in nicely crafted news reports and stuffy research papers. They sited that immediately after the pandemics began racing through humanity that there'd be an explosion of violence, death and anarchy inside the major cities. The talking heads spouted nonsense about the spread of gangs who'd use the deaths from the pandemics to weaken the fabric of society to expand and control more of the landscape. Cities stayed intact longer than anyone thought would be possible. I figured it was through sheer determination and a stubborn refusal to fall victim to the aftermath of the 'silly little illness' that had rocked the world from pole to pole.
Once the skies lit up with raining death and the wars hit the majority of the known world all semblance of cozy familial households shattered like thin glass and the shards fell where they could. The nearly record number of suicides that followed in the panicked months afterwards further eroded civilization. Eventually the cities fell as their country cousins had to the inevitable. I always thought the pandemics had spawned the dissent and decimation yielding to the warmongers with their hate and fears to fuel the war machines. It was a long fuse but once started there really hadn't been any way to turn back the clock.
I headed to the furthest point on the map. It took me an hour to traverse the area unharmed. Stray people and vicious curs watched me from the shadows of buildings torn apart, blown apart and yet still being used. I could smell fires burning inside whatever materials left that would catch. A carnage smell mixed with fried insulation and plastic -- toxic fumes I knew -- drifted along the alleys like a deadly fog. When night fell the sanest humans huddled close as they could to the flames. Watching the embers die and telling stories about what used to be seemed to be the only safe way to pass the hours until dawn. Even then there was no guarantee that something faster, stronger and hungrier would respect the fire rings.
The screams of these victims were the hardest on my nerves. They truly didn't believe that they would die after all they'd survived. Those purely fear-filled shrieks were bone chilling and all too common in many of the buildings after darkness fell. The fires left weren't fed and would slowly flicker out allowing the scavengers to finish the work that had been started. Little was left to waste in the new world.
The new world where there weren't any free passes. Not now -- but the truth be known -- not even back before the horrors hit them. The stories they told and retold by the firesides were just those stories. There had always been something nasty lurking around the corner waiting to take easy prey. I shook my head knowing how much they missed what had been going on in their own cities and on the streets under their very noses. I finally hit the spot where vampire Johnny had killed. It wasn't pretty.
Police didn't bother with yellow and black crime scene tape any longer. Why? The cities would have had a latticework of the plastic streamers covering nearly every foot of available space. There were some taggers who still spray-painted RIP on brick walls and concrete cinder blocks near where bodies had been found or on the broken sidewalks if there were no standing buildings near by to be painted. They put the death dates and names, if known, an eerie throwback to gangland territorial pissing, only nobody crossed out the works. All the tags served as a constant reminder that death now ruled this universe -- no holidays taken.
Consulting my printout I saw that a woman named Peggy Thompson had given her blood for Count Johnny at the spot where I was standing. She'd been killed first from what we knew. At least in this city -- I wasn't so sure that Peggy was Count Johnny's first slaying. The air around the area was dead and dull. The space wasn't haunted by any spirits I could detect but just the sorrow of a young life snuffed out.
Feeling eyes on me I slowly turned towards the building nearby. I stood at the base of a broken structure that was a mishmash of rubble and ruin. It didn't seem like it was even habitable but a cough from deep within proved me wrong.
"Girlie -- get away from there," a broken old voice called out at me. I studied the remaining bits of a bricks and concrete and let my eyes wander until they found the source of the advice. A pile of rags shuffled slowly through the debris and trash towards me. Not a creature from another world but the shell of one from this world.
"Didn't you hear me? Get along!" A pause then a phlegm-filled cough and, "You stupid or deaf?" The quarrelsome voice hissed out the last part and made a lung racking sound and spit out a quantity of liquid into a trash heap. I waited, still not sure what manner of human was coming. Definitely not one scared of me. I hoped the meeting would prove to be fruitful, so I stood my ground. The journey was slow and unsteady punctuated by more coughs and grumbles.
When the human drew within a dozen or so feet I could see the strong features of an old man. His cheekbones were blade sharp and beneath them it was hollowed out nearly cadaverously as were the rest of his features. In the middle of his forehead was a large red cross tattooed. He was a plague survivor. Nobody knew where precisely the pandemic really had started. All the world travelers blurred the boundaries. No patient zero was ever noted but after the first wave of deaths that cleared out one tenth of the known world things began to change. One of the caregivers in New York began to tattoo red crosses on the foreheads of their fever-cursed patients. The idea quickly spread and soon the idea was picked up by all the major hospitals. As the pandemic continued unchecked makeshift hospitals sprung up in fields and abandoned factories where some people without any tattooing ability took to using red indelible marker to etch the cross on foreheads of plague victims. It wasn't like the patients had the ability to resist. Besides nearly all of them perished so it wasn't openly up to debate either.
The real and makeshift tattoos began to sweep across the world nearly as fast as the plague. The idea was to keep the unexposed humans from contracting the illness. It wasn't a foolproof plan since nobody knew if the contagion was airborne for five minutes or five days. The scientists left alive and the governments were all working at containing the ill and trying to find a cure. The pandemic ran itself to ground by midsummer of 2013. The damages had already been done and from there economies freefell and the riots that followed grew too numerous for the news to report.
The blackout that was started by well meaning, exhausted producers from the online news sources became worldwide as nobody wanted to report any more bad news to an already overburdened society. There were too many blogs out there that reported the news and it was panicking the fine upstanding citizens and work places were being disturbed. So then the Internet started being completely shut down in some countries by government mandate, something that was further enforced by shutting down power grids and removing any servers found. That was pretty much the beginning of the final steps that drove the countries to the brink of war. The spark that launched a thousand missiles was as unknown as patient zero of the pandemic. The results were the horror filled landscape I had to sift through to find Count Johnny and bring him to justice. My day just kept getting better and better.
"Girlie, you thick headed?" The cantankerous old man was now less than three feet from me. And I thought I had smelled bad after the run in with the damn ogres? The mildew-soaked clothing he barely wore was accented by a rotting smell of injuries left untended. He may have survived the plague years ago but death rode him now. He wouldn't last another month without some extreme measures. Sighing I said, "I am not deaf. What do you want?"
I wasn't feeling gracious and didn't see any need to waste more time than I had to in that part of town. There were other sites to visit and a vampire to catch. I don't think of myself as heartless just weary.
"I want you to leave and get away from here." He spit brown juice from his lips that I figured from the scent was tobacco. I didn't even want to think how old it was.
"Fine, just leaving." I couldn't tolerate the stench much longer.
"Peggy was a good girl. That creature might come back. Not that you look much like a good girl." His venom-laced insult stopped me. There was heat to his words and he knew the victim.
"You saw it, old man?" I waited while he spit again.
"Girlie, that wasn't just any it. Truth be known it was once the Bradley kid. I recognized his snotty face with or without fangs. He'd been chasing after Peggy ever since she turned twelve. I wasn't much surprised." He proceeded to stick a filthy forefinger deep into his ear and rooted around for whatever sort of grime wasn't on the outside. He regarded the treasure and wiped it on his pants.
"Okay, so the Bradley kid lives near here?" I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.
"Two block over to the west. There should be a trashcan fire in front of what used to be the best sandwich place in town. In the back there's a small cottage. It's pretty torn up but that's where the Bradley boy stays." He spit again and said, "You get out of here now."
Without another word he turned around and shuffled back to the wreck of a home.
Armed with the information I headed to the nest of the vampire.
It took me a good half hour to find the cottage. It wasn't two blocks over but three. The sign was still painted on the building. The storefront was trashed and nobody lived inside so I walked around to the cottage cautiously. I could smell trash and decay but not vampire. The rustling from the bushes took me back for a second until I saw a thin rat running from a large cat. The amber-eyed calico cat stopped to look at me and lick its front paw with distain. The rat continued while the cat waited on me. I hissed at the feline to scare it. The cat didn't flinch and stared at me with a decidedly nasty look. I pulled out a stake while walking past the cat. Sure enough it tried to take a swipe at my leg. I caught its paw with my stake and it then hissed and spun around back to the underbrush and in search of more accessible prey.
The cottage looked abandoned but I took my time to check out the surrounding yard. There weren't any humans in the front and the back was overgrown with pine trees and weeds. Nobody hid there and I didn't see any trip wires or traps. The Bradley kid was sure of himself so I worried what I'd find when I got inside the door. That in mind, I decided to see if I could enter from the back of the home. The windows had been boarded over and the doors covered in plywood. I figured however the vampire entered and exited would have to be somewhere not visible from the street. It took me a few minutes but I found the loose board eventually.
Once I pulled the board away from the windowsill I could smell the vampire. It was alone. That was unusual and bold. Vampires were vulnerable during the day. I peeled the board completely off and set it aside while listening for any noise. Vampires don't breathe but they have a certain weight and presence in a building. I could feel the vampire. He wasn't as young as I'd hoped.
Slipping inside I froze and listened to the shadows. There were two traps to the right of the window entry and one a foot and a half inside directly in front of the window. The only safe path was to the left. I placed my foot softly and made sure the floorboard wasn't going to creak. Instead of stepping on something solid I felt the decidedly soft texture of flesh. Looking down I could see there was a dead rat cooling beneath my foot. I kicked it aside and continued to cautiously make my way into the vampire's lair. The air was stale and fetid. Before he'd been a vampire it seemed the Bradley boy had been a pig. There were more than a few signs of live rats running around inside the house. The dust and dampness created by living so close to the sea coupled with the closed-up adobe cottage served to make a breeding ground for molds and funguses. I took my time making my way to where I could sense the vampire.
Even though it was only a few hours since dawn I could feel the vampire beginning to wake up, as night wasn't that far away. The vampire wasn't in the only bedroom but instead sleeping underneath the couch. That was a new one on me but I'd work with it.
I pulled out another stake and kicked the couch off the vampire. He wasn't asleep anymore but smiling, fangs extended.
He sprung upright and cackled, "Oh, I see we have a visitor."
I didn't see anyone else around so I figured old Johnny had slipped a few cogs.
"Fang boy, what we have is me and you and a few stakes." I hefted one in my right hand prepared to puncture his heart if he took a step towards me. He slowly brushed off his outlandish outfit while smiling stupidly.
"You stupid girl. You aren't fast enough to stop me. I am vampire." I swear he tilted his head up and looked over his caped arm. Yes, he had bought the complete Bela Lugosi costume. I wanted to laugh but there was something disturbingly mad lurking behind his eyes. He wasn't afraid of my stakes or me.
"So we're doing this the hard way?" I challenged while slowly moving back to give myself room to swing the wooden weapons.
Chuckling he dropped his arm and showed me his fangs.
"Yeah, bad overbite. So what?" I found his eyes unnerving. He expected me to react in a different manner. But then I had expected him to react with a better sense of self-preservation. Vampires usually recognized me or at least had heard of me. He didn't seem to know or care.
"We will drink your blood even though you are not pure. Your arrogance is deserving of nothing but fear and horror." He laughed and lunged for me.
I smacked him soundly on the head with one of the stakes and as he passed me I hooked his ankle with my foot sending him down crashing to the debris filled floor. He grunted and looked a bit surprised by my speed. He jumped up before I could plunge the other stake into his chest.
"Oh, you aren't just the average little bitch now are you?"
It was my turn to laugh and spin out of the way when he clawed at where I'd been. I smacked him harder with the stake in my right hand as he missed clawing my face off. He stumbled to his knees and screamed. He was losing his cool quickly.
"Still want to do this the hard way?" I knew it would be best if I could bring the vampire back alive to the council, but I wasn't unwilling to kill him if he didn't give up soon.
He stopped and put his hands out palms up towards me. I could see the braided scars from years of cutting laddering up his wrists. This vampire had been a disturbed human to say the least.
"You are going to come peacefully for your trial?" I wasn't sure what the council would do with this human-turned-vampire. He was a new breed.
"Yes, we will come. There are changes coming and they need to know there is a new power. Rules have been broken and we will show them the way." He laughed with some dark humor. I pulled out the handcuffs created to capture vampires I'd been given from the council and slapped them on the offered wrists. Once bound they glowed blue then black before humming.
Instead of shaking with fear or asking me what was happening, the vampire laughed.
"It's the end of the world as you know it," he screamed while I opened up a doorway between the universes. With a kick I sent him over the threshold and into a council member's waiting four arms.
Shaking from the oddness of the capture I picked up my stakes and made my way back home. The future looked decidedly different, I thought as I walked in the shadows careful to not examine the eyes that glowed blue green. My job somehow had changed; I knew it in my heart.