The light was being drained from the sky on a sultry evening at the end of August, as Amadeus peaked his head from the tent fly. He made a roof over his eyes, but kept them narrow. It was the first summer in an eternity of shadows, and he forgot what light was. The streaks of orange faded, and the sky was now dusty purple, obscured by clouds. A perfect time for teenagers to smoke on the rooftops, he thought. But there was no question of rooftops after an apocalypse, just like no question of smoking after becoming a vampire.
“Horace…” he said, shaking the shoulder of supposed Horace “Wake up now. Come on.”
Amadeus shook him again. He had never woken up first. Is it polite to wake someone up?, he thought. Horace never woke him up since they left, or did he? Amadeus couldn’t quite remember, yet today passed two weeks of them getting off to this… trip. Mornings were just not his thing.
A set of gray eyes peaked from a straw hat rim tied with a ribbon. Amadeus could already feel the day hadn’t started well for Horace.
“I beg pardon, would you refrain from touching me?” said Horace.
“I’m not touching, just trying to wake you up.” said Amadeus, taking his hand off Horace”And why do you cover your face with this hat? You know we’re in a tent.”
Horace pushed the hat away and stood up. He signed, fixing his gaze at Amadeus and said:
“What hour is it?”
“How would I know? Maybe twenty o’clock, or something.”
Like every person born in the 21st century, Amadeus wasn’t used to carrying a watch. A phone was all he needed. Watches were for aesthetics only, and he didn’t care about those. Besides, the year was 2086, and he imagined phones would be built-in people’s arms nowadays.
“Twenty? You should say eight p.m.,” said Horace and took out a golden pocket watch he carried in his waistcoat”Quarter past eight, precisely.”
Horace clenched his teeth and stared at the ground with clear irritation in his eyes, resting his chin on his hand.
“You should’ve awakened me earlier, Amadeus,” he said and continued thinking out loud”We’ve wasted two hours on sleeping. Sleep, what a pathetic activity for a vampire to do. Quit looking at me and better stow those belongings of yours.”
“It’s easy to say ‘we’ whenever something fucks up, right? You should’ve set an alarm clock. I thought you proclaimed yourself the leader here,” Amadeus raised his eyebrows.
“I cannot recall such a thing. Besides, what setbacks do you mean?”
“What about the time you forgot where we came from and ended up in the same spot after three hours, huh? That was only two days ago. Or when you got scared to cross that river and we had to walk all the surrounding way, with these backpacks. I would leave them, but you-” Amadeus stopped short.
The younger vampire looked at his companion in astonishment as he started getting ready with his famous complacency smirk plastered on his lifeless face. Horace proceeded to fold the blanket that he was lying on into a perfect square, and put it in his backpack. Then he took out a miniature comb from a pocket inside his jacket, brushed through his straight, white hair, and tied it into a ponytail with a black ribbon with such precision as if he knew how every strand lays. Not that vampires can’t see their reflections, that is pure nonsense. The mirror was the thing Horace forgot to put on his list and ended up forgetting.
“How would you phrase that? Oh, unremarkable,” Amadeus said, rolling his eyes”You’re not even listening. I’m going to have a look around here, then.”
“You haven’t packed your backpack.”
“Thing is, I haven’t even unpacked,” said Amadeus and exited the tent.
The vampires had taken too little useful things, in Horace’s opinion. He filled his old, leather backpack with clothes to change, the blanket he so carefully folded and various tools, he claimed they could use (“Supposing we would have to break in somewhere a crowbar would come in handy, wouldn’t it?“) and books. Amadeus and Horace talked little, considering they met about 60 years ago, so Horace had plenty of time to read, just like in the house. Amadeus only took his old Nintendo, a small power pack to charge it and clothes, only in case they would travel in the rain.
This being his first close encounter with Horace, he labeled him as too ‘humanized’, despite thinking he would be the essence for a vampire. Horace was the oldest vampire Amadeus knew, but he wasn’t sure, he just guessed by looks (he never saw Horace in something different from regency era clothing). It weirded Amadeus out how he claimed to be cold and seemed to always be tired. Maybe that’s how old vampires just were.
Horace took their backpacks outside to fold the tent. He resented the tent, because it was another weight to his shoulders, but only the tent could save them from the sun at any place. That being, he set their camp at the edge of the forest, where the shadows cast by trees were still large enough to cover the tent, just in case. Amadeus resented the tent deeper, claiming they could have traveled as bats if not for the tent (despite still having the backpacks).
“I knew it,” said Horace, as he noticed Amadeus sitting on the ground behind the tent, playing his Nintendo.
“What? I thought you wanted to get rid of me,” he shrugged his shoulders”It was more liberal to say ‘I’m going to look around’, okay.”
“You... you fold the tent. I will decide where we should head.”
Horace walked away, wanting to have a mere illusion of solitude. The vampire walked out of the forest and found himself on a steep hill. At the first glance, there was nothing unusual about it. Maybe the six-legged deer that exchanged looks with him was interesting, but nothing unusual in the times of nuclear pollution, still present. The voyagers have seen a few similar looking places in the two weeks of their journey, so Horace didn’t care to look further. In fact, he didn’t want to look.
What were the vampires looking for? The answer was blood. As someone once said, blood is life. Horace and Amadeus were a part of a vampire coven. How they became members is another story. As twisted and conflicted the history of the coven was, the key principle remained the same - the members help to get blood for the group. It never used to be a problem, as the humans always outnumbered the vampires, until they didn’t and the coven desperately needed blood. The nuclear war began somewhere in the 2070 (but vampires were never keen on human matters, so it’s not precise) and ended with erasing most of humanity in 2074. Beforehand humans had prepared shelters, hospitals and warehouses underground, which interested the vampire coven. It was easier to find an underground hospital with spare blood than it was to find living humans. The vampires knew not all humans died because of the war, but the rest must have died because of the radiation aftermath. They were sure there was blood underground, because the coven succeeded at finding a place like that two times before. The chronic demand for more sent Amadeus and Horace out, because blood dissolved in the air in the house of nine vampires.
Horace strolled around the hill once again and got back to ready-to-go Amadeus. He sat on the ground next to a cooler - the most important possession they had. In that cooler, they carried blood given to them by the coven to survive, while searching for a new one. It was stored in plastic bags - very handy for hospitals and modern vampires.
“How was your walk? Saw anything interesting?” he asked.
“Well, thank you. My walk was quite pleasant, but I’m afraid there is nothing worth our attention here.”
“Bad news. Actually, double bad news,” said Amadeus, pressing his lips together.
“That being?” Horace asked, although he knew the answer.
“We’re running out of blood,” Amadeus tapped the cooler “Not that there was much in the beginning, but whatever. I guess they’ve gotta have something back in the house.”
“If I could decide-”
“As if you didn’t,” Amadeus chimed in.
“If I could decide, I would return, even with bare hands. We happened to be at a loss for fortune in our mission. I bet we would both want to end the struggle of the journey and our mutual dislike. A fortnight passed already.”
Horace wasn’t thinking about the blood at all. Horace seemed to have needed less blood than he did, and even showed this clear resentment for, which made Amadeus wonder even more. He knew being sent to search for blood was also a punishment for Horace, or he just acted like it was one. Or maybe the inconveniences of travel made him hate it so much after spending the last 80 years in the same room.
“I expected you would say that. I’m sorry, but I ain’t going back nowhere without the blood. You don’t care about that, of course, but I will have something to myself. I will choose the flavor I like, or have some more, maybe drink the blood here since no one will know. Of course, I want to be useful, but personal benefits are calling, Horace.”
“I can’t believe you called blood types ‘flavors’,” Horace pinched his nose bridge “We worked hard enough.”
“Oh, did we? Maybe we just hung around in one endless forest and drank the blood that could have laid in the freezer and been drunk in a time of crisis. This is how it is going to sound to Margaret, and you know that. And how she will react, don’t you?”
Horace mumbled something under his breath.
Margaret was the leader of the coven, despite not being the finest choice for a leader, (as particular members concerned), nor the eldest vampire. She was also the founder. The coven members shrank during the last years before the nuclear war, unnamed because there was no one left to name it, but her backing didn’t. She had always been ambitious and was sure vampires would be ready to take over the world in some time. She wanted to begin preparations by recruiting an army of vampires on her side that would be there to make other vampires join the coven and unite all creatures of the night under her. Margaret never took the effort to acknowledge not all vampires had a one-dimensional desire to rule. Some of them didn’t want it at all and chose to stay hidden instead of being forced to do so. That led to various coven members leaving, new ones coming, others returning, to the point only nine vampires remained from around 200 that she had gathered through the 20th century.
As the catastrophe of the nuclear war came and humans were eared from Earth, the time for her ruling ambitions flourished, but non-existing problems expanded into their main ones. That was the case for the blood deficit and many conflicts evolving from that.
The spirit of disagreements entered Horace’s soul as well. As calm as he naturally was, the never-ending search for food got onto his nerves after some time, because he didn’t understand it. Of course, he knew the coven needed blood, but he questioned Margaret’s decisions to send only two or three vampires at a time, instead of traveling altogether. That would have ended the accusations of not bringing all the found blood or hiding some of it just for yourself, like Amadeus planned, and the risk of the vampires not going back or just running away from the coven. Horace couldn’t get a grip over the fact that he - one of the oldest, wisest and valuable (as he viewed himself) vampires got sent away. Sent away with Amadeus. Amadeus, who didn’t exist in Horace’s word. He wanted to be the voice of reason, but already projected his assumptions onto Amadeus.
“I could always question her decisions,” said Horace after a while.
“Listen, you joined a vampire coven knowing that there is a leader, an authoritarian one or not, and that you would have to comply to some extent.” Amadeus didn’t know how Horace got involved in the coven, but now it was time for his assumptions”You’re scared of her.”
“That’s the only replay you could come up with?”
“I know it,” Amadeus smiled,“And, you know, I’d love to see you apologizing to Margaret ’cos you couldn’t succeed at such a trivial task. You can go and I’ll stay here, find the blood and return to the house. And everyone’s gonna know who the vampire worth trusting is.”
“Nonsense. You wouldn’t let me go.”
“You wouldn’t let go yourself. I’ll take it as a ‘yes’,” said Amadeus, filled with extra energy, as he triumphed over Horace.
“You love to annoy me, don’t you?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
Horace sighed and stood up from the ground. Not knowing what to do with his hat, he put it on and decided to wear it despite it not matching his favorite outfit.
“No point in wasting our precious time, then. That way,” he said and pointed to the other side of the hill they now stood on.
They put the backpacks on, then quarreled about who would carry the cooler, until Amadeus whipped it out of Horace’s hand. Horace knew Amadeus pilfered the blood bags, because he counted them every night. There was an old vampire saying ‘a glass of blood a day keeps the doctor away’, but Horace knew they didn’t have that much blood. He dozed one bag every two days, for the two of them. Amadeus rolled his eyes and this behavior, because he didn’t need anyone to feed him. It was fun to watch him fall asleep holding the cooler, though. But it wouldn’t be much fun just to argue about it, as to get the blood when Horace didn’t look, so Amadeus did just that.
They walked out of the forest the same way as Horace did to get to the forest on the other side. They paced in silence, just admiring the not so interesting view and thinking about their miserableness and senselessness of their search (the last part being true only for Horace). That satisfied Horace, as in his humble opinion the conversations he had in his head were far more interesting than any held between him and Amadeus.
“Horace?” said Amadeus, just when Horace began to get too comfortable in the silence.
“I thought we settled on an unwritten agreement we won’t converse for now,” Horace looked away, pretending to be thrilled with the only view they’ve seen so far - trees.
“Do you miss your human life?” insisted Amadeus.
“Are you trying to lull me into a false sense of security by asking this question?”
“No, are you scared of something? Come on, I know you’re sentimental.”
“I am not. Anything but sentimental, please. You left me wondering why you are so invested in knowing the answer.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we could get to know each other better.”
“We barely talked-”
“We can start now,” Amadeus cut him off”I’ll die out of boredom with you, you know? Why couldn’t Margaret pair me with someone else?
“I will pave over your question. Both your questions.” Horace would enjoy arguing about who in the coven was better than him, just for the sake of it. If only he remembered all the names.
“I desire only a moment of silence and peace, as close to solitude as can be provided,” Horace paused”Enduring each other is sufficient for me.”
“Fine,” said Amadeus and slowed down to get a few steps behind Horace.
They paced through the other forest for about 4000 steps (Amadeus counted that out of boredom, although it wasn’t very accurate - he tripped twice over the roots and lost count), when the woods had ended and another glade showed up. From the horizon line, Horace deduced it was on a hill, like the previous one, so kept moving forward intending to stop whenever anything in the landscape would change. He took out his pocket watch. The minute hand was nearing six.
“We wasted almost an hour on-” said Horace and turned around. For this entire time, he thought Amadeus was dragging behind, but he was nowhere to be found.
Horace walked a few steps back, but was sure Amadeus was still behind him when they left the forest. This is not happening, he thought. A shiver came down his spine.
“Horace!” a voice that belonged to Amadeus shouted. As there was no reply, he repeated one more time.
Horace localized that the voice was coming from his right, from down the hillside, and ran that way, almost overwhelmed with relief. As he crossed the horizon line, he noticed Amadeus hiding behind big sandstone rocks. The slope was quite steep, so he came down step by step, worried the backpack and the tent would weigh him down.
“What took you so long?” Amadeus whispered as he grabbed his companion’s elbow to force him to kneel behind the rocks, just like he did Horace took off his backpack.
“Why would hive off and walk down the hill? What are we hiding from?” Horace didn’t answer, he was the one asking questions.
“Quiet,” said Amadeus”Why do you always have to moralize me?”
“You were shouting moments ago.”
Amadeus rolled his eyes. He pointed his finger down the hillside. Horace tried to focus his eyesight on the foothills and stared for a while.
“I cannot see a thing.”
“You’re a vampire, how is that possible? Anyway, there are some ruins of a town down there,” Amadeus grabbed Horace’s hand and pointed down with it. Horace furrowed his brows and pulled his hand away. He froze and examined the ruins.
“Yes, now I can see. A questionable way of trying to search, but congratulations,” said Horace. He tried to get up, but Amadeus dragged him down again.
“It’s not all. Look again.”
Nothing happened. Horace could only feel Amadeus shaking like a small tree on a wind, that’s how excited he was to showcase his discovery. A streak of light appeared in one of the buildings. Amadeus almost jumped.
“I saw the light earlier,” he said”There must be someone in there.”
Horace put his finger to his lips and focused on the light. The vampires have never seen such a thing happen before, nor anyone had told them they had met anyone while they had been looking for food.
“I doubt it is a vampire,” Horace has been thinking out loud rather than tried to tell this Amadeus”If it was a vampire, well I might be wrong of course...”
The light went off. A shadow left the ruins, lightning the town with a torch or another source of light. Both vampires concentrated on the person, but despite seeing further and better in the darkness, the figure was too far away to see all the details.
“That’s impossible… a human! It’s really a human, Horace!” Amadeus grabbed Horace’s arm in excitement”Can you hear me?”
Horace continued to sit in silence.
“What are you doing? Say something,” Amadeus shook Horace’s arm again.
“I am wondering about the plan of our action.”
“What plan? We sneak down the hill and later...” Here Amadeus pretended he bit the air and sucked the blood”We get some fresh, delicious blood. Not those disgusting manufactured plastics. There was time for working and we did great. Now’s time to have a reward. I’m not sure we will get any from Margaret.”
“Do you believe it is that straightforward? Vampires don’t do that anymore, times have changed-”
“You don’t do that anymore. I’m getting my reward.”
“At least try to hear my arguments,” said Horace, pretending to be unbothered.
“You see, it’s hard when fresh blood is waiting for you.”
“Amadeus,” Horace took a break after one word just to let out a deep sigh” Would you mind calming down? If we discern it is a vampire, a vampire living alone, which is doubtful, then that means either a human shelter is around or humans themselves are near. We could invite the vampire to join our coven or just leave the vampire here if they decline. But if it is a human, there is a possibility that there are more humans here. In that case, we would politely ask about the shelters and use violence as an extremity which we are trying to avoid. Shelters are our priority, not slaughter.”
“What if the human is alone?”
“Almost impossible. It’s dangerous to be on your own these days, vampire, human or else.” said Horace “But then we would ask about the shelters, as I said. We won’t kill it, it’s a quite rare species. If the human leads us to the blood, we will let it be.”
A faint sound of slurping got to Horace’s ear, but it must have been only his imagination.
“I don’t care, I want blood, Horace. The blood is what I need, what we need. I don’t give a damn about the coven now. They’ll never know, no need to be scared.”
“I told you already,” Horace paused.“Hold on. Are you drinking blood?”
Horace looked at Amadeus, who in a split second sucked the remaining blood from the plastic bag before Horace could rip it out of his hands. He looked down. Another plastic bag was laying next to Amadeus’ knees.
“You goddamn fool! I wanted it to last the next four days. For the two of us!”
“Take those claws off of me!” - Amadeus knocked down the other vampire onto the ground, grabbed the blood bags he kept in his lap, and began running down the hill. Horace got up and started chasing Amadeus. He shouted something about punishment, but Amadeus couldn’t care less.
The younger vampire’s risk was, as he thought, calculated. Having the benefit of a surprise, he got a chance to run away. The blood that he drank gave him some strength, after what he considered a starvation diet. He never bothered to find out if Horace’s strong point was speed or not. In Amadeus’ case, it was not. So he ran along, squishing his prize to his chest, not thinking about the consequences that were about to come. Except one repeating question - Why did I take it out of the cooler?
He was halfway down the hill when he tripped over something… liquid. Before he had time to look down and see if that was for sure one of the plastic bags, Horace plowed into him, all covered in blood. They both fell down and rolled off to the very end of the hill, crashing into something that felt like bricks.
“Get off me,” said Horace, clenching his teeth. Not waiting for Amadeus’ reaction, he pushed him off to the side and got up, dusting himself off.
“Maybe a bit more delicately?” said Amadeus, getting on his elbows. “My head hurts.”
“Your head? Look at me. If not for you, the blood wouldn’t now be splattered all over my clothes. If you weren’t so… so reckless in the first place,” Horace noticed, that the creature that they had been observing - a human girl, as he now found out - was staring at them. She had a bucket in her hand. Horace concluded the thing that they crashed into must have been a well.
“Forget it...” Amadeus spoke slower and slower and turned off in the end. “Nothing… nothing happened.”
Horace didn’t listen. He kept looking at the girl. Amadeus, still lying on the ground, lifted his head, looked around, and lowered his head again. He closed his eyes.
“It would be nice to say hello, but a blank stare as a greeting is still something,” she said, crossing her arms.
Horace hadn’t expected this reaction from the human. He felt she could see through him, still unable to speak up. The ground underneath Horace was shaking, whether from the fall or the astonishment, as he wiped the blood off his face with the sleeve of his lacy shirt.