I wrote this one at a friend’s request. He asked me for vampires, a shopping mall and a love interest. I suspect he wanted something a little more romantic. Instead, he got savage beasts and noxious bodily fluids. Sometimes the story goes where it goes.
The shopping centre sat quietly in the gathering dusk. It wasn’t too big, boutique stores by the look of it, but it was big enough to provide shelter and some supplies. The only real issue was how many bloodsuckers would be inside? I weighed the options. Risk hideous death for a roof over our heads and a chance to stock up or risk hideous death in the open with dwindling provisions? It was getting darker and the first shrieks of the night were raising the hairs on my arms. I never got used to hearing them. Almost a year on and they still seem so alien. My stomach clenches with each sharp wail.
I mused on the housing estate a few miles away but there would be difficulty getting to it. We wouldn’t make it until after dark and housing estates were usually overrun, being naturally full of people. There was a factory unit nearby but factories never offer much in the way of safety. I spotted the banner, “Tristram Mall… for all your needs”. The choice was made, this shelter would have to do.
Grudgingly I wave the others forward and we head for the beckoning doors of the blue quadrant. The sky faded around us and the shrieks of the dead spurred us on.
Once inside we closed the doors behind us and locked or barred all but the left most exit. One of the rules, always leave the left most door open to stop confusion in a frenzied escape. There had been more than a few of those. A sharp nudge to my side and I turned my head. “We need to sweep Luca, how do you want it?” I glared at Charlie using my baby name. She gave a shrug and grinned “Sorry,” a mock salute “Captain Lucas.” I would never admit it out loud, but I find it endearing.
I swept my eyes over her and took in the details. Her soft dark hair swept back in a ponytail, a katana sword on her back and a metal baton already in her hand. I know her well enough to know there would be more than one weapon stashed on her, but my glance gave me no clue where. My pint-sized, urban commando. She was frowning at me, waiting for my orders.
“We’ve got four malls all on one level maybe 80 to 100 stores max, let’s do a clean sweep on them all. Charlie, Nick and I can take the stores on this mall together.” I glanced at Charlie and Nick, confirming they would follow the plan. “Casey and Jo can stick to the centre of the corridor checking for movement. Then I want Charlie in the yellow, Nick you take red and I’ll go green.” I pointed to the sign further down the mall which showed the directions of each coloured section” Casey, you and Jo stay central in the pavilion and watch all four corridors while we sweep ok? No loading up until we’re clear. Plenty of time for provisions later you got it?” I shot a look to Nick. He was prone to stashing items like a magpie before even knowing that we were safe. He flashed a dazzling smile and gave a firm nod that sent his brown hair flopping over his eyes. “No problem boss.”
The two sisters, Casey and Jo, both nodded in their quiet way. Confirmations received from all, I branched off to the left with Charlie already a step in front of me. Nick took the right which had fewer stores. We’d done this so many times I could have given no instructions and it would run like clockwork. The familiarity of the orders, of someone taking command, seemed to suit the others so I obliged.
The mall was in good condition. No water staining the tiled floors just yet. The stores had been looted at some point during the riots and other shit that followed the end of the world. People were crazy back then. They stole money and jewellery or even more insane, televisions. As though even when the beasts came out of the dark for us all we would be sitting there watching an episode of Friends. I can see the Jeremy Kyle episode now, My vampire husband ate our children.
Charlie always told me, idiots deserve to get eaten. She could be a little uncharitable, but that didn’t mean I disagreed with her. Right now, keeping her voice low, she was chattering between stores. “You know; why couldn’t we have movie vampires?” I raised an eyebrow at her. Maybe she was thinking about those TV looters too? I didn’t reply and instead stepped into the broken window display for a perfume store. The counter was empty and the door leading to the staff area was locked from the outside with the key still in. Black gunge crusted under the tight opening where floor and door did not quite meet. I ducked back out. Whatever was behind the door could stay there. I wasn’t dying for a chance at a few lunchroom packets of crisps and maybe a bottle of water.
When I exited, Charlie glanced my way, waiting for my response to her earlier mutterings. I relented, “What are you going on about?”
She stepped into a jewellers next door, did a brief sweep behind the counter and stepped back out. “Where are all those Eurotrash accented bastards? The ones who want to seduce people and make vampy brides? In the movies people die and stuff, but come on, how hard would it be to take those guys out?” I ducked into the next store, careful not to step on the glass or make too much noise. Nothing lurking, I headed straight back out where she was still talking in her low throated purr. “I’d especially take those sparkly, retarded control freaks from that teeny book. Either kind would do.” I stifled a laugh and let her continue. “There they’ll be, waxing lyrical about their poor tortured souls. Trying to convince me that we’re destined to be together forever.” She struck a dramatic pose and said that last in what I assumed was her Dracula voice. “Bam! I’d stab that douche in the chest and lop his head off.”
I sniggered, I couldn’t help it. She looked so serious as she said it all, and I could tell she meant it. Poor R-Patz would not have fared well with his whole lions and lamb’s speech. My Charlie was not a fan of the fang. Her strange musings had helped the search along. We were at the end of the mall before I knew it and no nasties so far. With a fist bump, we split into our sections without a sound. I watched Charlie slink down the corridor. Her feet placed amid the debris in such a way that she made hardly a sound as she ducked into the next store. I turned and saw that Nick was already gone too.
Weaving in and out of stores and marking items in my head for later I mused on our rag-tag bunch.
Charlie had been there from the start. She was never the typical girl next door, but we had grown up together. She was a strange mix of ruthless practicality, sardonic humour, and childlike joy. When the world ended and everyone we knew had become monsters, there is no one else I wanted at my side more. I wasn’t sure I would have made it alone. She had called me Luca from first learning to talk and it never went away, even though she was supposed to be an adult now. I called her Charlie. Now that her parents and mine were gone, there was no one left to call her by her proper name, Charlotte.
We had picked up the sisters, Casey and Jo, about two months after we left our hometown. Coming across them only hours after their parents had died. We were about a half mile away, ensconced in a rotting treehouse. We heard the screeching of the vampires when they came upon the family hiding in the back of an 18 wheeler lorry. We had no idea where they were and there was little we could have done to save them. Their parents had hauled Casey and Jo up to the roof. Vamps tore into their father before he made it up there with them. Their mom lost her footing as she tried to fend off the rest, to prevent them from tipping the trailer. They were less than an hour from dawn when it happened. Less than 60 minutes to salvation.
I suspect the short time before dawn was the only reason Casey and Jo had been able to survive. By the time the food on the ground was gone the vamps had to take cover. Too late for mom and dad, Casey and Jo had listened to the sound of the beasts eating their parents. It didn’t matter if both the girls survived, they would never be the same.
We’d come along a short while later, rested well from hiding in the tree. We’d learned early that vampires cannot climb well, but they can jump. Give them no hint that you’re up there and high seems a safe bet for a good night’s rest. Of course, decent tree houses were hard to come by.
It had taken a while to coax the traumatised girls from the roof of the truck. Charlie had almost demanded we leave them. She had a point, once we got them down would we be able to get them moving and undercover before the next dark? I was willing to take the chance and it had paid off in the long run. The first few days the girls said little, mumbling their names, yes and no but not much else. They ran and they ate some rations but that was it. That they kept up was enough for Charlie. More gentle coaxing in the days that followed and Casey started to come back to us. Ever conscious of her younger sister, she took charge. They weren’t fighters, Jo wasn’t even allowed near the weapons or Casey pitched a fit, but they made themselves useful in other ways. Cooking, packing the provisions and dividing up the water. Jo followed directions and stuck close to her sister. Even after all these months, she hadn’t really come back to herself.
Nick had come last, only a few months ago but somehow it all felt like a lifetime these days. His group had been outside at night when vamps found them. In the confusion of running and screaming, Nick had gotten separated. He had been alone for a few weeks when we came across him. Whenever we trekked he always seemed to keep an eye out for his other group. I didn’t have the heart to say that they were likely all obliterated. I figured he knew. We all knew what happened in the dark.
Charlie was happy to have another fighter. Nick was tall and muscular with an easy smile. A tiny part of me wondered if his good looks also had something to do with her acceptance but I never pressed it. For me, I was grateful for the calm and cheerful attitude he brought to us. I found it hard to comprehend how anyone could still wake with a smile after all that had happened but that was Nick. His charm and confidence told me there would have been no lack of girls back home for him but he was here instead. No home to go to anymore, for any of us, but with Nick and the girls, me and Charlie, we made a funny kind of family.
I glanced back at the girls, sitting silent and watchful in the centre pavilion. Their features were indistinct but I could pick them apart easy enough. Casey was a full head taller than Jo. They each turned their heads every few moments to check all four corridors. I know they did their best every day and I couldn’t help but be proud of them for that.
Store after store on one side was checked and secured. The light through the glass ceiling had faded even more and the battery operated store signs started to flicker on. I felt a tremble of hope. This dark and the vamps ought to be wandering inside by now. Perhaps we would have a night of peace?
A shriek rent the air that shattered my momentary comfort and set every hair on my body on end. I took off towards the pavilion. No need for silence now, I let my combat boots ring heavy thuds against the tiled floor. I could see Jo where we had left her, hands to her mouth and shaking . I skidded to a halt in front of her and pulled her face towards me. Her eyes were wide and brimming with tears but unfocused. There was no sign of her sister and my stomach plummeted towards my feet.
“Where’s Casey?” I could hear a hint of my own frantic feeling in the edge of my voice. I scanned the corridors but saw no sign of her. I spotted Charlie running towards us from the yellow mall, no Nick or vampire in sight. “Jo, answer me, where is Casey? Did you see Nick?” I was shaking her, but couldn’t seem to help myself. It worked. She raised a quivering arm in the direction I had sent Nick. I glanced up and saw Charlie swerve and head down the mall, barrelling at speed with baton drawn. “Jo,” she wasn’t looking at me again, a shivering mass of jelly in my arms. I shook her, hard this time, and snapped her back to the now, “Jo! We need to go after your sister and Nick. I want you behind me one step, all the way ok?” I tried to instil calm and authority back into my voice. “I can’t leave you out here alone when there are vampires in here. Do you hear me?” She nodded and that was good enough. I turned and followed Charlie.
The mall was darker the further along we ran. This section older and the windows smaller. I could see Charlie up ahead, but only just. Her dark clothes making her an indistinct but moving blob. She had slowed and so I slowed a touch too, straining to hear but needing to reach her. I turned to check on Jo. She was right behind me, terrified but keeping pace. Taking my hunting knife from my belt I reached back and pressed it into her hand with a reassuring squeeze. She stared at me with wide eyes but curled her fingers around the handle with a nod. I know Casey didn’t like her to handle weapons, but Casey wasn’t here.
I shrugged the bow from my shoulder and strung an arrow loosely as we reached Charlie. She was crouched with her back to the wall, eyes intent on the broken window of a clothing store. She held up two fingers and pointed at the store. Two vamps, fuck! My eyes adjusted to the muted glow of the emergency signs in the store and I hear them. Grunts, yips, the click of gnashing teeth and the tearing of fabric. My eyes find them in the dimness. The one at the back hurls a full rack of clothing at the window. The other lets out a bloodcurdling screech that I feel right in the roots of my teeth and the marrow in my bones. I hate that sound.
I pull the bow tighter and begin to take aim when I see them. Two frightened eyes, wide and streaming with tears in a pale face. A hand over her mouth, Nick has Casey and they are just inches from the shrieking vampire. Crouched between a shoe display and a clothing rack.
I hesitated. If I release the arrow the second vampire will come for us. If I don’t, the first will find Nick and Casey in a matter of moments. I was sure it could already smell them. Nick caught my eye and gave a stern nod. I steadied my aim, fingers grazing against my lip, and exhaled. Just as I slip my fingers from the string a duet of ear-splitting screeches fills the air. They come from our left and I ignore them completely, relying on Charlie to let me know when they’re coming. Eyes on the target I watch the arrow explode through the vampire’s skull and know he’s down.
I feel Charlie at my side, her sword now drawn and ready. She is a coil of pure tension wound and focused on our new threat. Nick and Casey explode from their hiding place and Nick spins, stabbing the second store vamp in the face. His machete catches a moment before he drags the blade out through the side of its jaw. The creature screeches and reels backwards into the store, presumably to die. Nick shoves Casey to his back. She facing us and he facing the store in case the vamp comes back.
“Luca…” Charlie’s voice is tight and focused. It demands that I turn from Nick and assess the other problem. There are not two but five vampires loping towards us, three adults and two children. My heart sinks. Children are the most terrifying. They’re savage and sickening beasts. I’m the only one with a distance weapon and I take aim. “We need to retreat now. Left door people!” Jo makes a small whimper from behind and I know before I hear the yipping that there are more behind us. “How many Jo?”
“Two” She squeaks.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” We’re pinned and I know it. Pushing from the wall I decide for the vamps to our rear, the exit, and take aim. “We need to take them down. Do not let these fuckers bite or scratch you, got it?”
“Got it.” they sound and we move. It’s full dark now and I have no idea if more might arrive. If they do, we’re finished.
I let go of three arrows in quick succession and catch one vamp in the legs, putting him down but not out. The other dodges and takes a scuff to the arm but no real damage. His eyes flare at me as he bellows his disapproval but he skids to a halt and paces back and forth while he considers. Nick has one arm stretched behind him to encircle Casey by the waist. He keeps her pressed to him as the first child vampire reaches them. He hacks at it with the machete and I’m sure he can handle it.
Jo remains crouched by the wall, pressing herself to the brickwork with the knife held in front. Her eyes dart everywhere but she is upright and ready. It’s the best I can hope for right now. I position myself to protect but not hinder her. I don’t want her to have to fight unless necessary. Charlie glances Jo’s way and I see her give a slight nod of approval. I catch the glimmer in her eyes as she spins and charges towards the oncoming vampires. She never was one to wait for an invitation to fight. At the last second, she drops to a roll and comes up to the side of the first vamp. Sword swinging out in a graceful arc, she cuts it off at the knees before twisting and stabbing it through the head. She is a dancer in motion.
I aim and let first one then a second arrow fly. They whistle past Charlie and take down her next target, giving her time to rise to her feet. She throws me a grin over her shoulder. It’s tribal, savage and beautiful. My heart pounds in my chest and I’m not sure if it’s the adrenalin of the fight or the smile. It only lasts a second before she turns and begins slashing at the second child vampire. Nick has put down the first beast and now has its angry mommy to deal with.
I check back for my stalking vamp to find he, for it was definitely once a man, has been edging towards us, as has his wounded buddy. I reach for an arrow and find only two left. I fire the first off and catch him in the shoulder. He staggers back, crouches and hisses in my direction. The sound is low and menacing, apparently I’m pissing him off. He charges me and I grab for the last arrow, shoot… and miss. With claws raised and fangs that drip foul-smelling goo, he is on me.
I slip my arm through the bow and pull out my baton, wedging it in his jaw. He snarls and claws in my direction but I hold him at arm’s length, dodging the swipes. I tilt the baton, trying in vain to break off his fangs. The disgusting black spittle lands in clumps on my arms and shirt.
Bringing up my boot as high as I can, I lodge it in his sternum and pull him closer to me. Just inches from my face now, the stench of death is draped about him like a cloak and it fills my nostrils with its sharp tang. His eyes bore into mine, two blackened coals with ebbing flames scorching their depths, they are hungry and rage filled. I smile into those eyes and he snarls at me. “You suck,” I say and kick with all my might. I hear the splintering of wood and I tighten my grip. A sickening sound of tearing flesh and a jarring crack are swiftly followed by a guttural shriek of pain. The vampire staggers backwards, his broken fangs scattering on the mall floor. I don’t leave a second’s pause before I pull my arm back and swing at its head as though I’m going for the fence. The impact makes a crunch and the baton leaves my hands, embedded in the vamp’s skull as it falls dead.
I let out a breath and turn to check on the others. Before I have a chance to take in the scene I hear the hissing wail issued from the ground. My blood turns to ice in my veins and I look down to see the vampire with an arrow in each leg. It has closed the distance between us and now it claws at my boot as it tugs my legs from under me.
My head hit the tile floor with a thud that I heard rather than felt. I blink at the store signs buzzing overhead as the smell of the vampire spit on my shirt clouds in my nostrils. I want to vomit. I hear the tearing of cloth and my brain snaps back into gear. Lying deathly still I raise only my head. It’s clawing its way up my body, scrabbling and tearing at my trouser leg. If I kick at it the claws will catch my flesh. If it manages to draw a single drop of blood, I’m done. My eyes will turn black and my teeth and hair will fall out and I will grow fangs and claws and shriek in the night. I’ve never feared any fate more.
I turn my head. Nick is still slashing at mommy vamp. She is not going down without a fight but she is almost beaten. Casey remains pressed to Nick’s back, her head turned away from me. I hear the grunts, gasps and hissing of Charlie’s fight. She’s out of eye line and unable to help. I glance to Jo, she has her back to the wall, knife facing forward and eyes screwed tight. She makes a small keening noise in her throat. I whisper her name, letting the vampire claw its wretched stinking corpse up my body. “Jo… I need you kiddo. I need to you slide the knife towards me”. I know she hears me because the whimpering increases in volume and she starts to shake her head.
“I know you’re scared Jo. But you’re being so brave. We’re almost out of here. Just got to finish the job now. Please, open your eyes.” It’s at my stomach, I will never wash this smell off me if I get out of here alive. Its body is a dead weight. I’d struggle to get away now even if I could. The tile presses hard against my spine and I force myself to keep breathing. I flick my eyes back to Jo. Eyes open she is staring at me, horror etched in every inch of her face. She rocks on her heels and “no, no, no, no” issues from her in an almost inaudible whisper.
It’s on my chest, and I’m out of time. I skid the bow from under me and jam it under the vampire’s neck to stop the descent of its teeth. Using my elbows, I block its arms so that it cannot scratch me. This close it seems intent that teeth must do the job. Lucky me. “Damnit Jo, please…….” I bellow, but to no effect. The beast snaps and snarls at me and I lock my arms to hold it at bay. I feel the breeze from each savage clench of its jaw and concentrate on not allowing it to close the gap. Phlegm, black and noxious, lands on my face and I want to gag.
“LUCAS!!!” her holler is like music. I snap my head back as far as it will go and see Charlie running at me full pelt. She is angry and afraid and deadly. “Up and at-em” she calls. I pull my head back down to the vamp and muster every bit of strength left in me to push. I feel the muscles in my arm pop with the strain but I raise that son of a bitch away from my neck. Charlie drops her knee and falls into a slide. I feel the cool air as her sword skims my head and makes direct contact with the beast’s neck. My arms give way and the thing drops towards me with a heavy thud. The fire in the eyes dies out as it’s head rolls to the side and hits the floor, no longer attached to the body.
Suddenly Nick is on us, dragging and heaving the corpse away from me. We are all alive. I am exhausted. Nick drops the body and kicks it towards the wall. “Everyone good?” My voice sounds too loud in the sudden silence. My team sounds off with murmurs of assent. Jo makes no sound but I know she’s ok. I turn my head and see Charlie, hair undone in its wild and untamed glory, she had slid to a dead stop beside me. She reaches up her hand and touches my face. “Shit Luca, that was close”. Her eyes are wide and full of concern. “Are you hurt?”
I shake my head, “no, not a scratch on me. You?”
“I think I bruised something in that slide.” She rubs her behind and I laugh.
“That was some move.” I agree and a sheepish grin spreads over her face. “What?”
“Truth is,” she glances behind us, “I didn’t mean to do the slide… I think I slipped in vamp goop and just went with it.” She brings her eyes back to mine and we both burst out laughing in glorious tension relieving gasps. I hear Nick join in and Jo and Casey’s whispered comfort to one another and I know that we’re ok.
Relief coursing through me I turn to Charlie. Her eyes are alight with the same relief I feel and I decide not to wait another moment. Fisting my hand into her soft curls I drag her lips to mine. She let out a small sound of surprise and I worry for a moment that I should let her go. Then she parts her soft lips and our tongues entwine. The world falls away and there was only her. Her curves pressed to my side, the tickling halo of her curls and the searing desire that she poured into me with her mouth. I groan, tightening my hold, and pour it all back into her.
Nick gave a muffled cough and we broke apart breathless. She offered me a lopsided smile and then stood and offered her hand to haul me off the floor. I shot Nick the dirtiest look I could manage. He scoffed and raised an amused eyebrow then turned to gather our scattered weapons. Casey moved to help Nick and I crouched in front of Jo.
“We’re ok Jo, you did real good kiddo.” Her eyes weren’t focused on me, refusing to meet my gaze. I pulled her into a standing position and gave her a tight squeeze. Her eyes grew round and terrified and I dropped my arm, convinced I had frightened her with the stinking mess of vampire goo that coated me. The sound of a gurgled hiss from behind me told me I was wrong. We watch as the vamp emerges from the store. His mangled jaw bone telling us that Nick hadn’t finished him off as we thought.
I was already reaching for Charlie’s baton when Jo barrelled past me with a bellow and lunged at the vampire. She struck the beast square in the chest, a mousy ball of fury, riding it to the ground as she plunged my hunting knife square in its eye. The beast died instantly but she sat astride it for a moment, as though waiting to be sure of its death. Then, slowly she pulled the knife from the eye socket to a sickening squelch. She wiped the blackened blade of the knife across the tattered rags of the vamp, cleaning it as best she could. Still, none of us moved or made a sound. She rose, tucked the blade into her belt loop and went about gathering the rest of our belongings.
I turned to look at Casey and Nick, they stared, open-mouthed with horror. I glanced to Charlie who beamed with pride. I couldn’t decide which emotion to feel so instead I broke the silence.
“I’ve had enough of the red mall, let’s finish the sweep and load up guys”.