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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Liberty Cross

            Roland stepped out of the eighteen-wheeler and waved to the burly man with a terrible case of gout who had picked him up a few hours back. The man leaned towards the empty passenger’s seat and grumbled, “You sure you want to be dropped off here?”

            The vampire in the Hawaiian shirt glanced over his shoulder towards the rusted and nearly unrecognizable sign on the side of the road. The lights of the truck illuminated only a small portion of it, but Roland could easily make out the words “Welcome to Liberty Cross.”

            “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Roland flashed the man a thumb’s up, “Thanks for the lift.”

            The truck driver shrugged and sped off as soon as the door had slammed, and Roland found himself plunged into pitch darkness, alone on the highway. He shouldered his rucksack and ambled along the road, having no trouble seeing in the blackness.

            He had wandered past the first outlying buildings before he came across any light, and that was only from the flickering letters of a neon sign outside of the Motel 12, its only competitor the anemic streetlamp across the street. The street was practically abandoned, with only a stray dog and four empty cars that loomed like decaying teeth in an empty mouth.

            He pushed his way into one of the few buildings that had a dim glow of light emanating from its from windows like a halo, and once he was inside Smoky Lee’s bar and grill, he immediately caught the sickly sweet stench of disease floating in the air. All of the hair in the nape of his neck stood up and he dropped into a half-crouch, his teeth bared as the overwhelming sense of danger flooded through his nerves.

            There was a noise behind him and when Roland turned he saw a woman who looked like she was about seventy-eight but was more likely in her late thirties wander out from the backroom. She coughed and said in a voice that sounded like a jackhammer, “What’ll it be?”

            Roland stood up slowly and cleared his throat, “Uh…sorry…I just…this town is pretty dead, huh?”

            The woman crossed her arms over her cropped top shirt and she let out a mouthful of smoke from the cigarette that she’d been puffing on, “Yep. You wanna drink or what?”

            “Sure.” Roland scratched at his neck, “Is there a place to stay in town?”

            The woman shrugged, “The motel is closed. Hell, there’s really only a few people left in town who ain’t run off or worse.” she sauntered behind the bar and began to cough so hideously that Roland recoiled sharply. She coughed for a solid four minute before she sniffed, took another drag and whipped her mouth with the back of her hand.

            Roland laughed wryly, “Some cough you’ve got there.”

            “It’s what’s been going around.” the woman flicked cigarette ash onto the floor and turned her eyes up at Roland, “What will you have?”

            “Whiskey. Whatever kind you have.” the woman began to pour and Roland noticed that her hands were shaking almost uncontrollably. She sniffed and handed him the cup, and he drank it gingerly, trying to put as little of his lips on the rim as humanly possible. He smiled, “So, what’s your name?”

            “Tammy,” she sniffed, “You are probably the only stranger who has come to town in the last few weeks. Everyone else is trying like hell to leave.”


            Tammy looked at him from under her fake lashes and shrugged, “There’s some sort of virus going around that has everyone spooked. Its like the damn pig flu all over again.” she scratched at her neck, and Roland realized with a start that the smell of disease was coming from a sore at the base of her skull: a sore that happened to be in the shape of a human bite mark.

            Roland’s eyes narrowed and he cleared his throat, “I don’t mean to pry, Tammy, but what is that on your neck?”

            Tammy’s hand slid over it to cover it self-consciously and she grunted, “Broke up a bar fight in here the other day. Tommy Jim from the body shop came in foaming and screaming and just went after some of the other patrons. Me and Lulu Belle here put a stop to it,” she patted a baseball bat that was sitting on the wall behind her lovingly, “But Tommy Jim managed to get a chunk out of me. Damn thing was he then just started foaming and talking in some weird ass language…I dunno.”

            The vampire tensed and stood up slowly, “How many days ago was that?”

            Tammy turned her eyes to him and Roland could see the blood vessels as they slowly ruptured and painted the whites of her eyes red, “I don’t…three?”

            Suddenly, Dinah’s words rushed back to him and Roland took an uneasy step backwards, his hand sliding to the scarred burn on his forearm. The vampiress had told him about the power of the Choir of Zuriel and how very soon they would be showing the world their power. Now, seeing Tammy’s wound, smelling the poison seeping through her and hearing the tale of what had happened to her left Roland little doubt that the emptiness of the town was the work of Zuriel’s ilk.

            Before he had finished his train of thought, someone jumped him from behind. Roland easily bucked his assailant off and he was horrified to see the man as he hit the floor: he was pale, distorted and when he opened his mouth to hiss at Roland, all of his teeth were pointed and coated in black mucus.

            Roland had seen a creature like this only once before, but chills crept up his spine. It was a common practice for vampires to enthrall humans: they were useful servants and protectors during the weakest hours of the day. However, the vampires’ thralls kept their identities, their memories, and, depending on their master, a vast majority of their sense of self.

The creature writhing and growling on the floor was a thrall as well, but an abomination. He had been reduced to a soulless, mindless beast incapable of any higher thought than to hunt, kill and feed. Roland dropped into a crouch, his eyes tracking the jerking motions of the creature as it got to its feet, roared and shambled after him. As it did so, Roland could see above its tattered shirt a bite almost identical to the one on Tammy’s throat.

The thrall screamed and rushed him, and Roland neatly decapitated it with little effort, sending it crashing to the ground. It twitched a few times and then lay still, the gaping maw of its throat white and dry as there was no blood remaining in its arteries.

Roland snatched up his bag, certain now of what had happened to the rest of the town and certain as well that the thrall’s screams would attract their attention. He ran to the door just as Tammy collapsed, succumbing to her illness at last with a final gasp, “You need to pay your tab…”

The vampire turned to look at her, but she was far beyond help. Instead, he snatched Lulu Belle, the baseball bat, from its perch at the bar and hurried off into the street, the sounds of the approaching army of ghoulish thralls echoing off the walls of the crumbling store fronts.

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