Anywhere, USA: The Case of the Bloodsucking Beasts of the Night

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The Last Time He Ever Leaves Home without His Holy Water

For a while there, it seemed as though an owl would be the most interesting, nocturnal, flying creature they’d see that night. In fact, it seemed as though an owl would be the most interesting anything they’d see—or hear—that night. For every time it seemed they had even a remote opportunity to talk with Odesian, it was squandered either by fate or rotten timing. The ranger on duty kept the kids busy with menial office tasks, while Odesian kept the ranger busy with a story about the time he took the boy scout troop camping and the scoutmaster miscalculated the number of tents they would need, so he taught them all (including the scoutmaster) how to make a water tight lean-to with pine branches and ferns. Either way, the kids were not expected to join in on the conversation, nor—for their own intents and purposes—to start a new one about fairytale and fantasy.

Even when the ranger ultimately fell asleep at his computer and Odesian was left watching early morning infomercials on the break room television, the kids still couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Either he evaded their questions, deflected their thoughts, or redirected their attention, often dropping the indisputable point that, even though the ranger was asleep—as far as their mother was concerned—they were still on duty. This tactic served him well enough for a good time, but when he told them he was stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, Jules finally said enough was enough. She threw down her broom and dustpan and followed him out the back door, and Elliot, gently setting aside his disinfectant spray and dishrag, followed her.

It was a fairly cold night—for summer—and very dark as well. The clouds drew a heavy veil over the already slim moonlight, and the only artificial sources were from the shaded windows of the station, the rays of which didn’t reach very far. Every now and then a gust would rush down from the mountain, carrying with it the howl of a coyote or the banshee-like screech of a bird of prey, but all else aside was quiet, except for the flapping of the flag in the wind. The visitor center had long since closed, and quiet hours were now in effect over at the campground. It was 2am, and there were five pairs of eyes watching the picnic table where Odesian now sat.

He was sitting quietly, staring out at the mountains. There was a storm brewing on the other side, to the north, and he was watching the little flashes of lightning in the clouds overhead. It would likely dissipate before it reached them, though; Anywhere wasn’t due for rain for another week. There was, however, another storm approaching, and her name was Jules. She walked right up to the unsuspecting old man and got straight to the point, and this time she would not be ignored.

“Alright, tell me,” she demanded. “You were there when we got in trouble, weren’t you?”

Odesian was caught a little off guard by the sudden interrogation, and was noticeably discomfited by it, but he knew that it was coming eventually. “At the station?” he said. “Yeah, you saw me out front when you first pulled in.”

“No—I mean you were there,” Jules clarified. “You saw what really happened, didn’t you?”

“I…only saw the aftermath,” Odesian weakly claimed, “same as your mom and Officer…”

“So—so—so hold on a second here,” Jules said, cutting him off. “You’re telling me you were outside the station, like…twenty feet away—I remember that specifically—and you arrived on the scene at the same time as our mother, who came from inside? She didn’t even hear us until we started throwing the bottles, but you didn’t hear the dumpster lid fly open, or hear me scream or any of that?”

“That’s true, she did scream,” said Elliot, who had joined his sister’s side.

“Well, maybe I got there a little earlier…” Odesian reckoned.

“And what was with that comment the other day about defending against fairies with a glass bottle?” Jules continued. “Was that just…something off the top or your head?”

“Uhh…”

“And then all of a sudden you avoid the topic like it’s the plague? It’s all highly suspect if you ask me.”

“…”

“But I’m not asking me; I’m asking you. Did you see what really happened that day?”

Odesian squirmed anxiously. “I didn’t see much…”

“DID you see us getting attacked by fairies!?”

“I…uh…”

Hmm?”

He looked at them, and they looked at him. Jules had her hands on her hips, with a look she copied from her mother when she caught Elliot digging his own in-ground pool in the backyard (quite some time ago). It said, “Well? What have you got to say for yourself, mister?” Elliot, meanwhile, was just taking a backseat to this one. Jules seemed like she was handling it well enough. And handle it she did. Odesian knew he was caught, and the only way he could get out of this one would be to either tell the truth or lie straight to their faces, which he would never want to do. So instead he told them part of the truth—the part they wanted to hear.

“Y…yes,” he reluctantly admitted. “Yes I saw the fairies attacking you.”

“Success!” thought Elliot, in a computerized voice in his head. “Speech challenge passed. Jules: Persuasion level increased. Level 20—Smooth Talker.”

“So you knew this whole time!?” Jules said, not taking even a moment to celebrate her achievement. “You A! You complete and total A! And D, and F, and every other letter of the alphabet! Argh!” (She started pacing in a little circle.) “You know: our parents taught us better than to use bad language, and they for darn sure taught us better than to litter, and YOU—Oh-ho! You saw the whole thing, and…Why didn’t you bail us out!?”

“Woah, woah,” Odesian said, motioning for her to pump the brakes. “I can see why you’re a little upset, but even if I had said anything to your parents it wouldn’t have helped. Remember when I told you about some…thing that surrounds this town and keeps all the people oblivious? I wasn’t sensationalizing when I said that. Every family member and trustworthy friend your parents have could tell them exactly what I saw and what you saw, but you’d have an easier time convincing Neil Armstrong that the moon is fake. Your mother hadn’t even met me yet; for all she knew I could’ve just been some crazy guy.”

“That’s true; even you said he might be crazy, Jules,” Elliot noted.

“Whose side are you even on?” she asked. A valid question.

“Look, all I’m saying,” Odesian said, “is that it was a lost battle the minute it started.”

Sounded more like an excuse to Jules. “So you thought it would be better to just pretend you didn’t see anything at all and let us take the heat?!”

“Well, with all other options exhausted…”

“Ugh!” Jules shouted, throwing her hands up in frustration. “Unbelievable!”

“Believe me—I don’t like it either,” Odesian assured her, “but there’s just some things about this place that you can’t…can’t…” He went silent and put an ear to the air. “Do you hear that?”

But Jules, in her rage, wasn’t about to humor him, so she said, “What, the wind? Don’t try to misdirect us any…”

“No, no—shh…” he said, actually sounding kind of serious. “The flag.”

Jules paused a second and listened. Yep, it sure was flapping pretty fiercely. Last time she checked, though, that’s what a flag was supposed to do. “So—what about it?” she asked, not seeing his point.

But that’s only because she wasn’t familiar with proper flag etiquette, and thus didn’t realize that it should have been lowered with the setting of the sun. The fact that he’d forgotten to lower it wasn’t what had Odesian so worried, though; it was the fact that he hadn’t forgotten. Which is why—in answer to Jules’ question—he looked at her with a grave expression and said, “I took it down six hours ago…”

She still didn’t really see—nor did she care—what significance that was supposed to hold, but regardless she got her answer a second later, when a thud came from over by the flagpole. She and her brother quickly turned around to see what had produced the noise, only to be met with a dark figure silhouetted against the half-lit ranger station. It started out in a crouching position—owing to the hard landing it had just endured—but as it stood up, it took the size and shape of a human, with a long coat blowing in the wind behind it. Then came two more thuds; one in the direction of the park, and one toward the parking lot.

The kids backed up until they ran into Odesian, at which point Elliot said, “Uh…what the Hell are those?”

“Darn it all,” Odesian replied, though mostly to himself. “I’m never leaving home without my holy water again.”

He took a flashlight off his belt and pointed it at the figure from the flagpole. As his silhouette suggested, it was indeed a man (of sorts), but what they could not discern before, was that he was dressed in a very gothic, long, black overcoat, with spiked hair, black eye-shadow, and a black pair of boots. And for some reason, he was also twirling a pocket watch on a chain, probably just to look creepier.

“Hello, old man,” he said, with a toothy grin. Obviously the greeting wasn’t meant for the kids.

Odesian glanced around at the other two figures, then back at the first guy. “You three are new,” he noted. “Latest recruits?”

The first one curtsied sarcastically and introduced himself. “Jeff, from Wisconsin. Those two are the sisters from Florida—heh-heh-heh. Nice to make your acquaintance.”

“No, not so nice, I don’t think,” Odesian replied. “What’s this about?”

“Just a little welcome gift from your old friend to your new friends,” the man said, now looking at the kids. He put his hands up at his sides and flapped them like a pair of tiny wings, mocking them. “No more pixies in this fairytale.”

Elliot was afraid to ask, but he did anyway. “What does he mean by that?”

The man named Jeff smiled, and pulled a switchblade out of his coat pocket. “It means *click* say hello to the real nightmare of Silver Furrow.”

Seeing the blade, Elliot quickly went over his fighting statistics in his head. Armor rating: 0, hand-to-hand: 2 at best, no weapon equipped, weaknesses: knife-shaped objects. It wasn’t looking good. Luckily there was someone else a little more seasoned to this kind of situation.

“Knives aren’t exactly your forte,” Odesian said, undaunted. “Anyone ever tell you the stories of what I can do with just a flashlight?”

The man tossed the blade back and forth between his hands. “I’ve heard a thing or two. Of course…that was one against one.”

Odesian tilted his head to either side, keeping aware of the other two adversaries. They were keeping their distances for now, though.

“But you’re right,” the main guy continued. “Forget forte; knives just ain’t our style. No, we—we like to be a little more thematic; give it a little flair—a little more flavor, you know? Get inside people’s heads.” He took the knife and turned it over. “I think this is more our speed.” He held it out in both hands, and plunged it deep into his own chest. Jules and Elliot screamed, and the man fell to his knees, then flat on his face, motionless. It was the first time they had ever seen anyone die—outside of movies, videogames, news stories, and German children’s books. But there was simply something much more disturbing about seeing it in real life. And so they said goodbye to whatever last shred of innocence they had managed to hold onto up to that point in their lives.

Whatever effect this man’s inexplicable suicide had on them, though, it seemed to be the exact opposite for his two companions. As soon as his body hit the ground, the sisters from Florida started laughing uproariously, and the kids looked around to see what they were up to. But Odesian kept the flashlight fixed on the dead guy, for he knew what was coming next. The kids’ attention was soon back on him as well, though, as the recently deceased Jeff—still lying face-down on the ground—started to laugh along. It got louder and louder, until suddenly he was back on his feet again; only he didn’t push himself up. He didn’t bend his legs or move his arms or anything, just straight up like he was spring loaded. The kids, who up till then had been sticking tightly to Odesian’s side, abandoned their position, and joined together behind him, feeling like they were watching a horror movie unfold in front of them. The dead man laughed again, pulled the knife out of his bleeding chest, and put it away.

“Oh—that one always gets me,” he said, as if it were the funniest joke he’d ever heard. “Never gets old.”

“I would beg to differ,” Odesian replied, clearly having seen it before.

“Well that’s just ’cause you’re a boring old codger,” Jeff explained. “Always business and no play. But if you want to get down to business, my associates and I are more than happy to oblige.”

The sisters snickered again off in the darkness; the kids could have sworn they were closer now.

“Your kind of business isn’t the kind I like to associate with,” Odesian responded. “I always seem to get the raw end of the deal out of it.”

Jeff raised his arms innocently. “Well…perhaps we have been a little greedy in the past,” he admitted. “But just think: if you joined us instead of fighting us all the time, your life would be a million times easier. No more worrying about the delicate little townsfolk, no more worrying about the pwecious wittle parkgoers,” he said, taking up a mocking tone. “No more worrying about anything…except maybe going for Communion—heh-heh-heh.”

The joke—if there was one—was lost upon the kids, as they still didn’t fully realize what this man actually was…or what Communion meant.

“Is that really why you’ve come here?” Odesian harshly asked. “To temp me into becoming one of you? How low must that be on your list of strategies?”

Jeff casually checked his nails for dirt, to show just how little concern he was actually giving. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a strategy,” he said. “More like…an act of charity. And considering all the many times we’ve beaten you before, I think you’d do well to accept it.”

Odesian’s empty hand clenched into a fist at the very thought—the very insinuation. “Sorry,” he bitterly responded, “but I’m not selling my soul just for an easy life.”

“Oh no?” Jeff said, faking a disappointed expression. “Darn, we were so hoping for a peaceful resolution. Weren’t we, girls?”

“Totally,” one of the sisters replied, now close enough to be seen in the ambient lighting.

“It’s all we ever wanted,” added the other, equally near. Like Jeff, they, too, looked like they were on their way to a grunge concert.

“You see,” Jeff said, keeping all eyes on him. “We’re the reasonable ones here. But you always have to go and make things difficult, don’t you?”

“Somebody has to,” Odesian replied. “And that’s far enough!” he exclaimed, shooting a glance to the encroaching sisters.

But Jeff disagreed. “Oh—I don’t think it is far enough,” he argued, taking a couple steps himself. “Because if we’re not leaving here with you today…then we’re leaving with someone else.”

The kids gulped, as they figured that meant them.

“Don’t even try it,” Odesian warned, though his intimidation level currently paled to that of the man in front of him.

Try?” Jeff sneered, clearly not feeling threatened. “No, we won’t be trying anything; try implies a chance of failure. We are taking someone.”

He smiled, baring his teeth, and his canines turned into two large fangs.

“But don’t worry,” he said, the teeth not even fitting entirely in his mouth, “for tonight we’re feeling pretty generous. So rather than a three-course meal, what say we just settle for…a small bite?”

He and the sisters laughed a hissing laugh, which sent a tremble through the kids’ entire bodies. Odesian was steady as a rock, though.

“No deal,” he firmly stated. “The kids aren’t on the table…Dinner or otherwise.”

“Oh come now, old man,” Jeff patronized him. “You of all people should know that everyone is on the table around here. If not us, then surely another will come to find those tasty little friends of yours caught between their jaws, and they probably won’t be so well-mannered about it.”

Odesian spread his arms and legs to block the kids. “Nothing’s happening to them while I’m around,” he declared. “Not by the likes of you or any other.”

“Alright,” Jeff shrugged, having given diplomacy his best shot, “well… we’ll see about that.” He then suddenly lost the nonchalance from his voice. “Get ’em, girls,” he said, and he charged at Odesian.

The old man avoided a nasty wound by shoving the flashlight into his attacker’s mouth like a bite stick, then kicked him in the stomach to make some room. While he was preoccupied, though, he didn’t notice the other two figures rushing towards the kids. Before Elliot even knew what was going on, he felt Jules’ hand slip out of his, just as a powerful shoulder slammed into his back and knocked him off his feet. There was a whoosh of air, and he looked up at the dark sky to see the sisters carrying Jules off into the night. She was flailing violently, but their grip was iron, which at this point was probably a good thing, considering they were at least thirty feet off the ground. They took off across the grassland and were quickly out of view, Jules’ screams fading away with them in the distance. Odesian had seen them sweep the girl off her feet, but he was too late to do anything about it. So he turned back to the first guy, who still remained, and gave a look like he was ready to tackle him to the ground. Jeff wasn’t looking to fight, though, just gloat, so he gave the pair a parting salute and imploded in on himself, turning into a little black bat and flying off.

Now—in some cases—some people would be speechless at having just lost their sister to flying monsters, but Elliot, being a level 10 in Speechcraft, had exactly the right words for the occasion.

“Whatgi—buh—ga…Were those vampires!?”

“Yes,” Odesian straightforwardly replied. “And we don’t have much time. Wait here!”

He took off running towards the woods, but not exactly in the same direction as the vampires had gone. Elliot stayed where Odesian had left him for a moment, but then said, “Wait here? What are you doing?” and chased after him. Barely keeping pace, he said between breaths, “Don’t you think…we should call…the police!?”

“Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said?” the old man replied. “They—won’t—help! Not when it comes to the supernatural.”

But Elliot devised a simple solution to that. “Okay…so we tell them…she’s been dragged off…by a bear. Let the vampire part…come as a surprise.”

“Then we’ll just have two dead people on our hands,” Odesian gravely responded.

Elliot did a double take. “Dead!?” he cried. “Is she dead!?”

“Not if I hurry.”

The old man kicked it into high gear and started pulling ahead of Elliot, who quickly ran out of breath, his endurance being only level 5. Odesian didn’t get too far ahead, though. At the edge of the woods was his tent, where he usually spent his nights at Silver Furrow. He ducked inside, and that’s when Elliot lost sight of him. He caught up about twenty seconds later, heaving and sweating, and pushed open the canvas flap. It was much bigger than he expected inside—about the size of a small house—and just as well furnished. There was an area rug spread out on the ground, a little breakfast table in the middle, a wood-burning stove, and a twin sized bed in the corner, not to mention what looked like an alchemy table. There was also a tall, wooden wardrobe, a dresser, and several chests and crates. Everything was locked tight with a padlock.

Odesian was rummaging through one of these chests when Elliot got there, pulling out all sorts of strange objects to get at whatever it was he was looking for. There were crystals and daggers and stones and scrolls, none of which Elliot knew the importance of, but all of which he found totally awesome. He couldn’t wait to see what fantastic thing the old man had planned for the vampires, which is why he was a little underwhelmed when Odesian pulled out an old revolver and held it up to the hanging light. He checked the cylinder, and seemed satisfied enough, but forwent any holster, as time was of the essence. He headed for the door, and said to the boy, “I mean it this time; wait here.”

But Elliot wasn’t having any of it. “You can’t expect me to stay here!” he said. “That’s my sister out there!”

“We don’t have time for this!” Odesian replied. “I need to go, now!”

He pushed open the flap, but stopped in his tracks when Elliot said, “If you go, I’ll follow.”

There really wasn’t time for this. Even chasing the boy down and tying him up would have taken too long, so Odesian ran back to the chest he was looking through, pulled out a cross necklace, and tossed it to Elliot. “Put that on, it will protect you…probably.” Then he ran to another chest, and opened it up.

“Probably?” Elliot asked. “Why probably?”

“It’s not the actual cross,” Odesian explained, as he went through the new chest, “but the spirit it imbues in the wearer that the vampires can’t touch. The cross is just a—a conduit, if you will. It only works if you actually believe it will, though.”

“But my family’s Jewish.[1]”

Odesian looked up from the chest and thought a moment. “I don’t think it matters what you call it,” he said, “that’s not the point.” He reached back in and pulled out a small, square shaped object, wrapped in a large leaf and bound in twine. He gave it to Elliot, and said, “We’ve got less than ten minutes. Their lair is a mile away. Eat it.” Then he ran out the door, pistol in hand.

Elliot quickly pulled off the wrapping, exposing a gooey, sandy brown something. It looked kind of like a protein bar, and smelled a whole lot worse, but he didn’t hesitate. He popped it in his mouth and followed after Odesian, surprised at how easily he was now able to keep up. In fact, he was so energized he felt jittery, like he just drank a whole pot of coffee.

“Woah—what was that?” he asked, shaking out his hands. “I feel…good.”

“Boy, you were breathing worse than a bonfire at the bottom of the ocean,” Odesian replied.” That was a bar of Antelope Essence. You could run a marathon now if you wanted to.”

That actually didn’t sound like half a bad idea. “Wow!” Elliot exclaimed. “Awesome! Man, why didn’t you take one of these? I never felt so fast—woo!”

“It was necessary for you, but I try to avoid them if possible. You’ll wish you had, too, come tomorrow. You’ll have the headache of a hangover, the thirst of a desert, the hunger of a fast, and the bathroom urges of a dysentery victim. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“Oh, I will. Woo!” He overtook the old man and ran up ahead of him, moved to the side, fell back behind him, and did it all over again. Odesian maintained a steady speed, and tried not to pay too much attention to him.

As they approached the vampire hideout—which was a natural cave that jutted right out of the ground, like some giant animal burrow—they could see the light of a flickering fire pouring out from the interior, gently illuminating the surrounding forest. They slowed their pace and stopped behind a tree, just in front of the mouth of the cave, so Odesian could give Elliot a crash course on dealing with vampires.

“Ok,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure of their current numbers, but there’s going to be a bunch of them in there…” (He held up his revolver). “And I’ve only got six rounds, so don’t start anything. Don’t do anything, don’t say anything, just let me handle it.”

“Why did you only bring six?” Elliot wondered.

“Tch, do you know how hard it is to find silver bullets?” Odesian replied. “Why did I only bring six—come on.”

He crept up to the cave with Elliot close behind and looked inside. The entrance was clear, but there was a bend in the tunnel before it reached the main chamber, and they couldn’t see around it without going inside. So they did just that. Up ahead they could hear a commotion. There were maybe a dozen or so voices, all making noise together. Some were laughing, some were hooting, some were shouting, and one in particular was clearly struggling. This one sounded an awful lot like Jules.

When they reached the bend and peeked around it, they saw the tunnel opened into an immense limestone cavern, which was done up into the vampires’ living quarters. There were fires burning all over, with sleeping bags, wooden chairs, board games, and many other amenities spread about. The rock formations and stalactites were strung with streamers and non-functioning Christmas lights, and the walls were decorated with crudely hung tin signs and car parts. It was very post-apocalyptic-y. And in the middle of it all was a massive, stone slab, raised up above the cave floor about three feet. On this slab was Jules, each of her limbs being held down by a different vampire. This scene was what the other vampires around the table were laughing and hooting at, and they really seemed to be enjoying themselves with it. At one point, Jules loosed her left hand and caught the underside of one of the beasts’ jaws with a clenched fist. Though it hardly did any damage, it did start a riot of laughter among the target’s companions, who were jumping all over each other in excitement. Even the one who got struck had to laugh.

Behind the slab was a large, central rock column, into which was carved a sort of throne. On this throne sat—what could be assumed to be—the leader of the gang. He had long, blond hair, strong features, and looked like a shorter-than-average Viking. He had a black cloak draped over him, and watched the comradery of his followers with approval. They’d been antagonizing the girl long enough, though; it was high time to get down to business. He motioned to Jeff, from Wisconsin, to proceed with the ceremony, prompting the young recruit to rise from his seat. He stood in front of Jules and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

“Oh no,” Odesian said. “Oh no—no!”

To which Elliot replied, “What?”

“Remember what I said about not causing any trouble? Forget it. We gotta go. We gotta go now!”

The old man charged in, and Elliot, having received no direct orders, took that as a cue to follow. With their presence still not entirely known, Jeff grabbed Jules’ arm and raised it to his mouth, at which time Odesian shouted, “Stooop!” This garnered exactly the response he was hoping for, and all the vampires turned to see who was raining on their parade.

“Don’t make another move,” Odesian said, his revolver drawn and pointed. Elliot stood at his side, not really offering anything to the situation.

The lead vampire grinned, interested to see what would happen next, and didn’t appear disappointed in the slightest when Jeff, still holding the girl’s arm, laughed and said, “You should’ve brought a bigger gun,” and bit into her. As Elliot screamed “Noooo!” and Jules screamed in pain, a silver-cast bullet screamed through the air, bridging the approximately 30-foot distance between barrel and back of head in less than one twentieth of a second.

The bullet struck the wall next to the leader, and Jules’ arm dropped to the table, as the vampire formerly known as alive—also known as Jeff—turned to ash and sprinkled to the ground. The other vampires hissed and turned on Odesian, not troubling themselves to hold on to the girl any longer. They didn’t attack, though; they knew better than their fallen brother.

Now free, Jules rolled on her side and clutched the bite mark with her hand, but couldn’t move from the table; she was still well within grabbing range.

“Now you know I’m serious!” Odesian shouted, his barrel jumping from vampire to vampire. “Anyone else want a quicksilver death? And I don’t mean mercury poisoning!”

The leader chuckled, not at Odesian’s threat, but at the foolhardiness of what he was doing. “Come to save your little friend, eh Odesian?” he said, with the cool, evil confidence of Jareth the goblin king. “I wondered what it would take before you finally decided to challenge us in our own lair.”

“Grr—he’s not my friend!” Jules yelled, a bit upset with him at the moment.

But Odesian didn’t take it personally. “Let her go, Sebastian!” he shouted. “This is between you, your lackeys, and me. This is something I know I should have done a long time ago, and maybe I was actually afraid of you there for a while, but now you’ve really pissed me off.”

“Very well,” Sebastian said, much more level-headed than Odesian. “Have her. She’s ours already anyways. Let the girl go!”

He snapped his fingers, and the underling vampires moved out of the way, never taking their eyes off of Odesian. Jules hobbled past them—not without great effort, as she was suddenly feeling tired and pained all over—and rejoined her brother. Then the lead vampire said, “There—happy? Now if you don’t mind ladies and gentlemen, I’d love it if you could bring me that old man’s head—preferably on a long, metal stake. And you know what? Bring that boy, too… alive. Our new sister needs her first feeding.”

The vampires smiled maliciously and started slowly closing in on the group, fangs reared and claws at the ready. None of them wanted to be the first one on guard, though, because the closer they got, the more accurate that pistol got, and Odesian was already a crack shot. Meanwhile, the old man and the kids slowly backed away towards the cave entrance, both hindered by having to support Jules and careful not to make any sudden movements.

“What do we do now?” Elliot whispered.

“I can’t let any of them leave this cave,” Odesian solemnly replied. “Then it’ll all just start anew. I have to end it here.”

“How? You’ve only got five rounds left.”

“That’s not all I’ve got.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, glass vile. It was corked, with no markings other than a simple cross. “I told you I’d never leave home without it again.”

“That’s not very much,” Elliot hopelessly observed.

“It doesn’t need to be. Whichever vampire it’s used on, all the people they’ve turned will die as well. No need to worry about Jules; Jeff’s already been taken care of. If I can get it to Sebastian, maybe it’ll destroy enough of the underlings for me to finish the job with the pistol. It won’t be easy getting it to him, though.”

“Why not just throw it at him? You can hit him from here.”

“It’s not so simple, Elliot.”

“Sure it is. Here, I got this.” He snatched the bottle from Odesian and cocked his hand back. Finally he’d get that chance to prove his bottle throwing skill; after all, he was an apprentice in the art. The angle was good, the flight path was clear, he had all that extra energy from the Antelope Essence; he felt good about this one. He had everything lined up perfectly, too, but maybe it was a subterranean draft, or a temperature change, or the way Odesian shouted, “No, don’t!” that threw him off. The vampires easily avoided the projectile as it smashed on the ground only halfway to its primary target, and miles away from any secondary. Even the splash zone wasn’t large enough to get a drop on anyone’s shoe. The vampires paused a moment to look at the shallow puddle on the floor, then quickly resumed their approach.

“Darn it, kid!” Odesian said, aggravated, but still wishing to maintain the privacy of their tactical discussion. “It’s not that simple because he has to drink it. Thank goodness I brought an extra.”

“Oh…sorry,” Elliot said. “So how do we handle this?”

I’ll handle it. You take your sister and get out of here. Remember, they can’t touch you, but they can still grab her…or throw rocks if they really wanted to, so stick close together. And here.” He pulled a silver dagger out of his belt, and handed it to the boy. “For if they get too close. I should keep them pretty busy, but don’t hesitate to use that if any get past me.”

“Are you sure you can do this?”

“Don’t worry about me; this isn’t my first vampire rodeo. Now on the count of three, you two hightail it to the station quick as you can. It’s south by southwest from here. If you don’t know what that means, head toward the moon until you reach the meadow, then follow the tree line left until you get back. I’ll meet you there.”

“Nugh…” Jules, groaned still holding her arm in one hand. “Elliot, I swear I feel like I really wanna bite you right now if you don’t get me OUT OF HERE!”

He looked at her worryingly and sort of moved his head as far away as he could while still holding onto her.

“Don’t worry,” Odesian said, “she’s probably kidding. The urge to feed wouldn’t be that strong yet, just transformation pains. She’ll be alright, just get her to the station.”

“But what are you…”

“Just do it! Ready?” The vampires were almost on them now, with another 20 feet to the tunnel. “One…” He swapped the pistol to his left hand and held his flashlight in the right. “Two…” Elliot repositioned the knife to allow for better slashing motion as opposed to jabbing, as if he had any idea what he was doing. “Three!”

The kids turned around and stumbled towards the tunnel as best they could, but Jules couldn’t manage much more than a leisurely power walk. Elliot looked back as he went, and saw Odesian rush head on at the ten-pack of vampires. A couple of them backed up, and the rest kept their distance, but two charged right back at him. The first tried to fly over him to get at the kids, but the flashlight shot up like a rocket and struck him right in the throat. He crashed to the ground, choking, and the flashlight fell right back into Odesian’s hand, just in time to catch the second one in the stomach. Then it raced up to meet his chin, followed by a pistol whip to the side of the head. These creatures had some cool powers, but super strength wasn’t one of them. There may have only been a few specific ways to kill them, but there were plenty of ways to kick their butts.

The kids rounded the bend just as another three stepped up to the plate. Two subdued him while the third ran past, and into the tunnel. Odesian looked back in despair, but was relieved when the same vampire stumbled out a few seconds later, clutching his smoking arm. Evidently he had gotten too close. Odesian head-butted the vampire on his left and ripped his pistol hand free. He got a shot off on the wounded one by the tunnel, and then on the one that was still holding him, turning them both into piles of soot. Before he could turn it on the third, though, she clawed his hand and smacked it away. In return, he kicked her knee out from under her and then brought his own knee up to her chin. She flew onto her back and the old man ran for his gun, but now the five vampires left standing had newfound courage and charged all at once, surrounding him.

He checked the tools around him as the circle closed, and found something alluring about the table setup beside him. Sliding the flashlight back into his belt, he grabbed two bottles off the table, smashing both ends off on the edge of it. He held them up threateningly, and spun around to see where everyone was. When he found his mark, he made his move. He faced one of the vampires, but was keenly observing the one to his right as well. Without warning, he kicked up the wooden chair in front of him, smashing it into the first vampire’s face, then he whipped around and let fly one of the bottles, which stuck into the thigh of his second target. In one swift motion he jammed the remaining bottle into the other leg, and body slammed the creature to the ground.

Once the vampire who took a chair to the face recovered, he and the remaining three chased after Odesian as he ran for the pistol. Before he got to it, one of the creatures tackled him from behind, and he came tumbling down. He kicked her off and crawled forward, but she grabbed his feet and dragged him back. As he struggled with her, he cut his hand on some glass on the floor, but also felt something wet. It was the broken bottle of holy water. He dipped his knuckles in it and, spinning around, caught the side of her head with his fist. She instantly released him and rolled on the ground, screaming as her hair burned like acid and fell out.

By now, the other three had caught up with them, but Odesian was back on his feet. One of them swiped at him with his claws, but Odesian caught the fellow’s arm in his still-sanctified hand and it started burning. Pushing him aside, the old man then grabbed the last two vampires by the collar and pulled them toward each other with his full force. Their heads cracked together, and they both fell to the floor in a dizzy. They came around pretty quickly, but Odesian was already at his gun, and they didn’t even have a chance to get their bearings before turning to ash. Of the six underlings still alive, one was choking, two were out cold, two were burning, and one had a jagged bottle stuck into each leg. Satisfied with his work, Odesian stuck the revolver in his belt and approached the leader. While his back was turned, though, the bottle-legged and burnt-arm vampire got a second wind, and made to rush him from behind, but Sebastian held up his hand to stop them.

“Good idea,” the old man said, having been fully aware they were sneaking up on him. “It’ll be less painful for them this way.”

The leader, ever confident in himself, remained seated and continued to smile as Odesian neared. When they were about ten feet apart—a comfortable talking distance for two sworn enemies—he said, almost condescendingly, “What exactly do you hope to accomplish here, old man? Isn’t this endless cycle tiring? You know that if even one of us gets out of here it will simply start all over again, and from my calculation, you only have one bullet left. Kill me and my little minions flee. Use that bullet on one of them, and I kill you. There’s no possible way you can get all of us.”

“Maybe not with my sidearm, no. But that’s why I brought this,” he said, briefly showing the vial, then tucking it back away in safety. “I figure with that I can get the job pretty well done. And that’s why you’re gonna drink it.”

A low, maniacal laugh from Sebastian. “My followers may be a bunch of fools and cannon fodder, but I promise you I won’t be such an easy match.” He stood up and threw off his cloak. He wasn’t kidding; he was big…and ripped. “Heck, even before I was a vampire I could have crushed you like a bug. How do you think I killed the last leader?”

“I’m guessing it wasn’t with kindness,” Odesian said, as he discretely retrieved his flashlight and unscrewed the bulb, dropping it at his feet.

“I always thought you lasted this long by being smart,” Sebastian remarked, “but if you think you can just waltz into my lair and end my fifteen-year reign at the snap of your fingers, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe it’s just been dumb luck this whole time.”

Odesian unscrewed the back end of the flashlight, and dumped the batteries out, leaving him with a hollow tube. “If it’s worked so far,” he said, “what makes you think it’ll stop now?”

“Only one of us is walking out of here alive,” the leader said, trading indifference for intimidation. “And I think I can safely say it sure as Hell ain’t gonna be you!”

“Neither of us is walking out of here alive,” Odesian coolly replied. “I’m gonna skip out of here like a schoolboy after dancing on your ashes.”

That comment pushed the last nerve, and Sebastian roared instead of the usual hiss, but that was just the moment Odesian was waiting for. He threw the flashlight tube underhand with lightning speed, and it flew right into the behemoth’s mouth, lodging in his throat. He reached up to pull it out, but made the grave error of taking his attention off of Odesian. The old man was right behind the flashlight, and before Sebastian could even touch it, Odesian pushed it in even further with the palm of his hand. This action was performed at the same time he leapt through the air, and drove his shoulder into the beast’s chest, knocking him back into his chair. He flailed aggressively, but Odesian only needed to hold him at bay for a moment. He pulled the holy water out of his jacket, uncorked it with his teeth, and poured the whole thing down the tube.

He backed away as Sebastian shrieked, smoke billowing out of his mouth like a chimney stack. First a hole burned straight through his stomach, and then his upper throat melted away and his jaw fell off. The tube then fell to the ground in a puddle of the vampire’s liquefied head, and not long after, the rest of his body poured from the throne like a waterfall of molten flesh. All that was left sitting were his bare bones, but they quickly buckled under their own weight.

Odesian turned around to see that the same had become of all the underlings, and all that remained of them was a thin haze of smoke that lingered above the cave floor. That, and the one vampire that he had pistol whipped. She still laid on the floor, unconscious from the knock to the head. Odesian walked over to her and prodded her with his boot. She rubbed her head and opened her eyes, only to see the barrel of a silver bullet gun pointing at her.

“I guess you must be a third generation,” Odesian said, cocking the hammer. “I saved one just for you.”

“No—wait!” she pleaded, holding her hands up in defense. “I-I don’t want to die—I didn’t even like these people! I-I was taken against my will; I never even killed anyone—I just drank from the people the others killed! I was just an accountant until six weeks ago! Please, sir, please!”

Odesian was unflinching. “I’m sure a lot of people said the same thing to those friends of yours,” he said. “And I bet you never once stepped in to stop them.” He put his finger on the trigger, and the cowering vampire closed her eyes. She heard a click, but no bang, and looked to see that it was just him lowering the hammer. “Luckily for you, I hate your friends, and I hate you, so I ain’t gonna be like you.” He raised the gun from her head and flipped it around, to hold it like a club. “But that doesn’t mean I’m just gonna let you walk out of here scot-free. You want to live? Then show me those pearly whites.”

***

Meanwhile, the kids, out in the meadow, were a little over halfway to the station, and could see the lights up ahead. Jules’ pace was slowing to the point where Elliot almost had to carry her, and her skin was growing paler by the minute. Her breathing was shallow and rapid, and she could barely keep her eyes open. Her arm was still bleeding, but she was too tired to care anymore; she just let the blood run off her fingers onto the ground.

“Stay with me Jules,” Elliot said, as she got heavier around his neck. “Juuulie?”

She waved her hand at him. “Yeah-yeah-yeah,” she said. “I’m f-fine.” Now she was shivering, too, and it was probably 60 degrees out.

“We’re almost there—just a little farther. Look, you can already see the station from here.”

“Wake me up when we can see the inside of it,” she said, nodding off again.

Elliot didn’t know much about dealing with blood loss, but if the movies taught him anything, it was to not let her fall asleep. “Oh, no-no,” he said, “come on, stay with me. Mom wouldn’t like you sleeping on the job.”

Jules lightly smiled; it would actually kind of nice to see their mother right now. “Heh, you think she’ll finally believe us if I grow fangs and… and…” Her sentence trailed off as her head dipped in the losing battle to stay awake, but then made a full circle and came right back up. “And started biting people?”

It was a silly question that demanded a silly response, so Elliot, trying to keep the mood light, replied, “Nah, we all knew it was only a matter of time before you went ape.” And then, just to keep her talking, he said, “Remember that time when you were in the fifth grade and Mom and Dad wouldn’t let you go see that PG-13 movie with your friends, so for the next three days you drew creepy pictures of faceless children and red eyed, snarling animals and posted them in strange places all over the house?”

She did remember, and weakly laughed at the recollection. “Yeah. Dad almost had a heart attack when he looked in the mirror and saw the life size one I put in the shower.”

“Yeah, we heard him all the way downstairs,” Elliot fondly recalled. “That was the day we all accepted you would grow up to be a psychopath.”

“And it was also the day I got to go to the theater with my friends.”

Her tactics of psychological warfare, while cruel, were effective.

“I still don’t know why you had to put pictures in my room, though,” Elliot added. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Oh, those were just to let you know to stay out of my way in general,” Jules explained. “You were such a little turd back then.” And at that moment, almost poetically, she stumbled on her feet and tripped, but Elliot caught her before she fell. “But I guess at some point everyone needs somebody to lean on,” she recognized. “Thanks for—oof—helping me out of there.”

“Yeah, well…maybe this isn’t the best time to bring it up since you’re all turning into a vampire and in searing pain and everything, but you know this means you owe me one, right?”

“Shut up,” she said, raising her arm to punch him. But lacking the strength to do so, it turned out more like a light tap.

“Oh—geez!” Elliot shouted, looking down at the bloody streak she just left on his shirt. “Watch the blood, will ya? That’s gross!”

“Sorry,” she replied. “I guess I should be trying to keep it in, huh? Phew! Are you lightheaded too?”

“No, are you?”

She laughed drunkenly, and her speech slowed as she spoke. “Weird; it’s like my head is light, but the rest of my body is…heavy…” And she collapsed.

Elliot freaked out and tried waking her up, but when she didn’t budge, he checked her pulse. Still breathing, he discovered; that was good. Still bleeding, but still breathing. He tried lifting her over his shoulder, but gave up on that almost immediately and resorted to dragging her by the arms. Luckily it was a pretty soft grassland. With this method, he got to within a quarter mile of the station, when he noticed something in his peripheral. He looked up to see a figure in the darkness, moving through the meadow and approaching fast. He dropped his sister’s arms and pulled out his silver dagger, ready to defend her with at least most of his life. Thankfully he didn’t have to.

Odesian stopped beside them and asked what was wrong, but he almost looked more worse for wear than Jules. His arms and shirt were cut in several places, his hair was a mess, and he was covered in dirt, but Elliot didn’t stop to ask him about it. He told him Jules had fainted, and was losing a lot of blood, but Odesian said not to worry; vampires can’t bleed out. He picked her up and put her over his shoulder, and started the last leg to the station. Jules briefly came to along the way and looked up to see Elliot jogging behind them. Still loopy and a little funny, she said, “Heyyyy you…What’s goin’ on?”

“We’re almost to the station, Julie,” he replied. “Almost there.”

“Well if you’re there…then who’s this?” she asked, pointing down at Odesian’s feet.

“It’s Odesian; he’s carrying you.”

“Ohhhhh…Why didn’t you think of that?” And she fell back asleep.

A minute later the party busted in through the back door, which woke up the ranger on duty as it slammed into the outside wall. They made their way into the break room and laid Jules down on the table. She groaned and winced in the light, even though her eyes were still closed. The ranger ran in to check on all the excitement, and almost dropped a holy something in front of the kids when he saw what was going on.

“It’s just a mild allergic reaction to a snake bite,” Odesian said, before the ranger started dialing emergency services. “It’s nothing serious; she’ll be fine. Just get me the first aid kit and radio her parents—in that order.”

“Alright—ok,” the ranger said, anxiously. He ran out of the room, but came back a couple seconds later. “Where’s the first aid kit?!”

“In the emergency closet.”

“Right!”

He left, giving Odesian a chance to speak with Elliot.

“Alright; as I’m sure you’ve noticed, your sister’s in the process of becoming a vampire, but she hasn’t drunk any blood yet, which is why she’s faint and in a lot of pain.”

“Is there a cure?” Elliot asked.

“Normally no, but since she hasn’t fed yet, she hasn’t fully turned, which means there is one thing I can do…Only one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Instead of answering, Odesian just did it. He grabbed Jules’ bleeding arm, put his mouth over the two little bite holes, and sucked out the vampire venom. With each second, the color returned to her face, and when her breathing seemed normal again, he released her. He wiped the blood from his face just as the ranger came back with the first aid kit, and told him to go contact the parents. “Oh, and get the boy a clean shirt before they get here,” he added. “They don’t need the stress of finding both their kids covered in blood.” The ranger left them again, and Odesian wetted some paper towels in the sink.

“Get out the alcohol wipes and gauze,” he said, to Elliot. “Now we have to worry about the blood loss.”

“Does that mean…”

“Yeah, she’s back to normal.”

He walked over and started cleaning off her arm, while Elliot got the things he asked for.

“But what about the curse? Is it…”

“No longer something you need to concern yourself with. She’ll be fine once she gets some rest. Rest and plenty of—oof!” He grabbed his stomach with one hand and supported himself with the other, clearly in pain. But when he looked at Elliot, he forced a smile and tried to hide it. “Those vampires sure gave me a good beating,” he said, opening three or four alcohol wipes. “Won’t have to worry about them ever again, though. Nope, never again.”

“Are you sure you’re…”

“Hold that thought. Do me a favor and hold down her other arm; she might feel this.”

Elliot did as told and held Jules’ arm to the table. Odesian quickly wiped the excess blood from the bite wounds, grabbed a fistful of alcohol pads, and disinfected the area. Jules squirmed a bit, and for a moment it seemed like she might stay asleep, but then her eyes opened like an umbrella in a rainstorm and she started kicking and screaming. Her brother calmed her down while Odesian dressed the wound, and she relaxed, already feeling much, much better. Elliot explained how Odesian had removed the curse from her and saved her, but the old man said it wasn’t anything, just like sucking the venom out of a snake bite.

Jules thanked him anyway, and the ranger returned with a fresh uniform for Elliot, notifying the kids that their parents were on the way. When they arrived, they found the front doors locked, and banged on them furiously until the ranger came and let them in; everyone else waited in the office. Just then, though, Odesian remembered he had a pistol sticking out the back of his waist, and untucked his shirt to cover it. Elliot noticed this, and said, “What about this?” holding up the silver knife. Odesian grabbed it and looked around frantically, but with nothing better coming to mind, he threw it straight up into the ceiling tile, just as the parents rounded the corner.

They were understandably anxious to see their kids, as the only words that really stuck with them through the radio conversation were “snake bite” and “bloody mess,” a phrase which the ranger really could have gone without using. Seeing Jules twirling carefreely in a swivel chair, then, instantly lifted their hearts, but they still ran over and hugged her like she had just been pulled from a burning building. They were just as relieved to see Elliot, and he was forced to accept their embrace, even though he didn’t see what the big deal was about. Then Kate turned back to Jules and scrutinized her bandaged arm, setting her questions to rapid fire.

“Are you alright?—Do you feel ok?—Your head feels a little warm—Are you seeing double?—Your throat’s not itchy, is it?—Did you notice any swelling?”

“Mom—mom,” Jules said, snapping her out of it, “I’m fine, seriously.”

“But you got bit by a snake?”

“Uhh…” Jules looked to Odesian for help.

“It was only a gopher snake, Mrs. Paige,” he said. “Nonvenomous, just a nasty looking bite. I already cleaned the wound and dressed it, so there’s nothing further to worry about. I promise she’ll be perfectly fine in the morning after a good rest…and extra fluids…and something high in protein and iron…and maybe hold off on garlic for the next day or so…just in case.”

Kate gave him a look of part indignation and part “what the heck are you talking about?” “What?” she said. “Why was a snake even part of the equation in the first place?—Why were they outside the station?—Was anyone even watching them?”

At that, the ranger sort of backed away and became a fly on the wall. Strictly speaking, it was his responsibility to keep an eye on them.

“And what happened to you?” Kate asked Odesian, concerned but no less angry.

He realized he looked like he had just been in a wrestling match with a raccoon. “It’s, uh…unrelated,” he said.

“Oh…Well, I think you can understand why I’m upset that my daughter got hurt ON HER SECOND DAY, and that I don’t think they will be staying out with you on night shifts anymore.”

“But Mooom,” Elliot protested.

“No, she’s right,” Odesian said. “I don’t know what I was thinking; this could’ve ended a lot worse.”

“Eh, don’t beat yourself up,” Mark said. “Come on, Kate, this could’ve happened to anyone.”

“Not if they had done as they were told,” Kate replied, obviously directing it at the kids themselves. “They’ll be lucky if I ever let them out of my sights again now.”

“You’re exaggerating, Katie.”

“We’ll see. Right now we gotta get you guys home and to bed; I gotta be back here in five hours for work. Maybe today I’ll just have you do chores around the house.”

She shuffled them out into the front room; Odesian and the ranger followed.

“Sorry about all this,” the old man said, as they headed for the doors. “I can’t tell you how—Argh!” He gripped his side again in pain, and propped himself against a wall, but tried to play it off. “Heh, I really do feel pretty bad.”

“Are you ok?” Kate asked, a little more concern and a little less anger. “You look kind of pale.”

The kids looked at each other, and Odesian said, “Just sympathy pains—nothing to worry about.”

“Alright…Well take care.”

The kids looked back as they exited the building, and he just stood there, holding his side, smiling gently, and waving to them. But as soon as they were gone, he dropped to the bench beside him and let out a huge breath. “Thank goodness she didn’t know gopher snakes don’t have fangs,” he thought.

“You sure you’re alright?” the ranger asked, having observed from a safe distance. “You do look a little sickly. What happened to you, anyways?”

“Nothing, nothing. Occupational hazards—that sort of thing. I’ll be fine, I’m just a little hungry, that’s all.”

“If you say so. Here, I might got something stocked up in the fridge you can have.” He turned around and headed back to the break room. But as he went, he threw his arms in the air and mumbled to himself, “Nothing ever happens on the night shift they said. Yeah, fat lotta nothing that was.”

Odesian watched as he walked into the other room, and suddenly felt an actual hunger come over him; one that he wasn’t just using to throw the others off his scent; one that wasn’t so easy to resist. He licked the top row of his teeth, and felt two fangs sprouting out, but quickly shook himself out of it. He knew it was only going to get worse, but he was just glad the girl wouldn’t be the one having to go through it. Still, the next few days were definitely going to suck…

Mm, maybe a poor choice of words.

As for the kids: that night Elliot officially moved out of his room and into the one right next to Jules’; he would’ve even installed a door between them if he could have. Knowing now how many secrets this strange new town of theirs held, he wasn’t taking any chances if some agent of the undead snuck into his quarters one night to slay him in his sleep; he wanted to be as close to the fiercest member of the family as possible. Of course, he told her it was for her own safety. When his parents found him in the morning, they didn’t even bother asking why he was sleeping on the floor again; he’d move the bed in later.

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