Vampire Apocalypse: A World Torn Asunder Prologue

Author: Derek Gunn

Genres: Horror , Science Fiction

The Beginning of the End

The town slept. A shroud of darkness lay heavily over everything like an impenetrable blanket except for the occasional glow of dull light from oil lamps that dotted the scene and seemed to mirror the pinpricks of light in the sky above. The massive turbines that used to pump out power for the whole state had ground to a halt more than a month earlier as the last reserves of fuel had dried up. The few wind- or water-powered plants were already overloaded and their use was rigidly restricted to emergency and local authority use.

Jack Newton sighed as he watched over his dying hometown. He had been born here, gone to school here and, except for the time he had gone away to train for the Police, he had always been here. He would most probably die here he realised.

The town had been in decline even before the war and way before the energy crisis but there had always been hope before. Now even that seemed to be gone. States with nuclear power stations fared much better of course, but they no longer fed the power grids of surrounding states, unless those poorer states were prepared to pay exorbitant prices. These power states had already begun to grow more dominant, placing guards on their borders to prevent mass migrations. It wasn't that they didn't allow people to relocate, but that they wanted to choose those who would be allowed to do so. The talented, those who would be useful in this new world, were welcomed and all others were "encouraged" to leave and left to scrape a living in the poorer, dying states.

The Central Government had quickly lost its influence as local militia were called in to protect each state's assets. A once proud, united nation rapidly fell into a feudal system where few were rich in the new source of wealth: power. Or at least, power that did not require oil to run its turbines, natural resources, and most importantly, a plentiful supply of food. Many waited as other states were forced to give up what valuables they had - their brightest people, fertile land or mineral rights - in order to receive a trickle of power to keep their people warm for the coming winter.

It hadn't taken long for an advanced civilisation to regress to such a state. A brief but vicious war in the Middle East had laid waste to the world's oil fields and left what remained under a cloud of radioactivity that would take decades to dissipate. Millions had died. Whole countries had been wiped off the map, and agreements between countries had stretched and then broken as accusations and blame were tossed around in the aftermath.

Europe closed ranks against a resurging Russia and a dominant China. America, fearful of loosing its foothold in Europe, had sided with the new Franco-British alliance, expending huge amounts of precious resources, both in materials and manpower, in skirmishes that threatened to escalate to total war but always seemed to stop just in time.

The massive drain on stockpiles along with a change in public opinion at home as rationing became widespread, eventually took its toll and America was forced to pull back and allow the sheer numbers of the Russian/Chinese alliance to swarm over a ravaged Europe. Six months it had taken, from the first shot, to redraw the world map and change an entire civilisation. Nations that were once poor because of their lack of technical advancement now reigned supreme in a world where sheer numbers again counted for more than technological advancements that were no longer viable in a world without the power to operate them.

Newton pulled his sheepskin jacket tighter around him as the cold sucked greedily at his body and left him shivering. He could see a glow on the horizon where the neighbouring state still pumped power to its towns and cities from their nuclear plant. The lines that connected his city to the plant were still there, but the power that ran through them was strictly rationed and paid for with everything of value that the state had.

They had already sold off all usable land around their borders in advance to cover themselves for the minimum power requirements to see them through the coming winter. But God only knew what they would do then. They had already lost their top researchers in their chemical and steel industries. He couldn't really blame them; they had families to feed and the offer of a guaranteed future in a richer state was hard to turn down.

There were already rumblings in the town meetings of using their own local militia to take the power plant by force; they had provided most of the muscle and resources in its construction anyway and only a few miles, and a now contentious state line, separated it from their own control. The plant was actually closer to this city than it was to their nearest centre of population. In fact before the crisis most of those who worked in the plant had come from this very town. There had been a very close relationship between the two states and Fairs had always been shared events between both states. In those days there had been plenty of power for everyone's needs. If the truth be known there was still plenty of power in the plant but the crisis had changed everyone in the country. Suddenly people began to see that their own positions were far more tenuous than they had realised. Geographical lines had suddenly begun to have a whole new meaning and people quickly grew intolerant of others. Whole communities were ostracised based on age, ability to work and attributes that contributed to the growth of the community. The states with more resources were able to choose those who could live in their environs and they quickly rounded up anybody they did not want and sent them to the poorer states that in turn, did not have the resources to stem the flow. This sudden increase in refugees put even more strain on these states" limited resources and the gap between the states grew.

The fact that the resentment had now come to a point where the townspeople were talking about taking resources by force marked a worrying trend and Newton sighed heavily as he looked out over slumbering town. They could talk all they wanted but there was no way they would be able to take the plant by force. On his last sweep of the border, Newton had noticed that a new military camp had been set up around the Nuclear Plant and armoured vehicles now patrolled the entire area. It seemed that their former friends had been thinking around the same lines and had put their own deterrent in place. A pretty effective deterrent as well as far as Newton was concerned.

The crackle of the radio startled him from his reverie and he turned reluctantly and leaned into the patrol car, snatched at the radio and cursed as it got tangled on the barrel of his shotgun.

"Go ahead, Lou," he said as he turned back towards the city.

"Chief, we've got another one."

Newton ran a hand over his face, massaging his temples as he felt a headache throb at the back of his eyes. Dear God, what is going on?

"Where?" he snapped.

"Over by the Grady's place, I've sent Phil and Jess over already."

"Okay, I'll meet them there, out." He tossed the radio into the passenger seat and climbed into the car, taking a moment to rearrange his gun belt. He had had to tighten the belt by another notch yesterday, and it was still a little loose. The rationing did have at least one positive result. He even felt more alive in the last few weeks than he could remember in quite some time. As police chief it was his responsibility to hold things together, and where he had grown lazy before the troubles in a stagnant community where little happened, he was now stretched far too thin in a town that was now falling apart.

Increasingly he had reports from parents that their children had disappeared; he dutifully investigated but had never found anything. He really didn't expect to either. It was pretty obvious where they had gone. The lure of the larger cities, those that promised food and power, were just too much for some to ignore. Most of these kids wouldn't have wanted to face their families when they told them they were leaving so it was easier just to slip away. Newton could understand it to a degree. Dwindling food and resources and a total lack of prospects for the future of the town were strong factors when those young people were deciding their own futures. Those that had stronger family ties tended to remain, but the community was populated primarily with people older than would be needed for the hard times ahead.

There had been ten disappearances over the last two days. While this was certainly more than even this town was used to there had also been three riots, a few suicides and numerous gang fights as the youths that did remain saw their opportunity to expand their own power bases. With all this going on he really had little time to devote to what he was sure was merely a pre-winter rush in the end of year emigration figures. And now, on top of all that, he had a serial killer to content with.

A particularly vicious killer who was taking full advantage of the extended hours of darkness the town's lack of power resources afforded him. This would make the fourth victim in as many nights. He shivered as he thought of the previous victims and how they had been ripped apart.

He took a left into Wyndell Road, slowing at the now darkened traffic lights at the crossroads before accelerating through onto Fairfield. It was unlikely anyone else was driving as fuel for vehicles had been rationed now for quite some time, but it didn't hurt to be careful; even small accidents could be fatal now that the hospital was running so low on supplies.

Pat and Jillian Grady lived out by the mall on Route 40. They were a quiet couple, middle-aged with a teenage daughter. He had had reason to caution Jennifer Grady just last week when he had disturbed a late night party in the local cemetery. He had caught a group of them defacing gravestones.

It wasn't that she had actually been doing any of the damage but she had been unlucky enough to have been caught with those who were. The kids that were left in town had few outlets for their frustration. Their nice, comfortable lives had been drastically changed with the rationing and most of them had been recruited to work the land around the town, trying to get it ready for spring planting. It was backbreaking work, clearing trees and scrub and then burning them and raking the ash into the soil for the nutrients, but it was essential to the whole town's survival. They hadn't caused that much damage, but a few headstones had been knocked over and two mausoleums had been broken into.

Jennifer's parents had been shocked but Newton had played it down with them; kids needed some outlets, and with no TV, no entertainment of any kind, and no alcohol, it was no surprise that they were frustrated.

He saw the flashing lights of the patrol car, pulled in behind it and made his way over to the small group of people ahead of him. Officer Jess Walker saw him approach and excused herself from a conversation with Peter Hackett, the Grady's neighbour and the town's sole remaining and now redundant computer specialist. All the other technical experts had left for the states that still had power to run their machines, but Hackett had been born in this town and at sixty-five was damned well going to die in it, or at least that was what he had told Jack when he had asked him about why he stayed after a particularly late session of the local council. Nothing had actually been decided at that meeting, nothing ever really was, but he did recall that all twelve members of the council had passed out drunk, so it hadn't been a complete waste.

"What have we got, Jessie?" Jack asked as she reached him.

"It's the worst yet, Chief." Jess Walker was a handsome woman. She stood five-foot-five, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. At first glance she seemed quite ordinary, especially in a uniform that was designed to emphasise respect and not her physical attributes. But as he approached her Newton was momentarily struck by an intensity in her features that he had not noticed before. A mass of the deepest red curls Jack had ever seen defied her every attempt to imprison them beneath her patrol cap and strands burst out here and there, emphasising the paleness of her complexion. Her eyes were a dazzling green and they seemed to shine with an inner fire that belied her diminutive stature and held him in thrall for a moment before her voice snapped him out of it.

"There's four dead," she continued after she had taken a deep breath. "Sorry," she faltered again as the memory of the carnage caused bile to rise in her throat.

Jack laid his hand on her shoulder. "It's all right," he said quietly. "I'll check it out myself and we'll talk later. See if you can get a cup of coffee from one of the neighbours."

She nodded and Jack moved past her towards the Grady's house. The Grady family lived in a good part of town and the houses were all well cared for, though the once well-manicured lawns were now overgrown, ragged at the edges and flowers spilled out of beds chaotically. No-one had time for gardens anymore when whole fields had to be tended.

Two cars still sat in most of the driveways though, with the current shortages these vehicles were of little use to anyone. The Grady's house was a bungalow, but was one of the few on the street that had an attic conversion, and the extension seemed to loom over him as he approached the door. Four dead, he thought. Jesus, what have we got roaming our streets?

After the second killing he had called the FBI for help, but they had let him know in no uncertain terms that they had enough to do without visiting every damned state that had a homicide. Ever since the power had gone, each state had pretty much been left to their own devices. It was impossible to govern or police a country the size of America when transport was reduced to horses and a few steam trains. Nuclear powered and solar powered vehicles were few and far between, and they were all used to strengthen the country's defences against the threat of invasion from Russia and China, who seemed to have adapted much better to this new age. Newton doubted that either country would risk an invasion; it was such a long way from Europe by conventional means. But you never knew.

Jack shook himself from his reverie as he passed through the door. The first thing that struck him was the smell. It was a heady mix of excrement and a sickly sweet odour that caught in his throat and made him gag. He fumbled for his handkerchief to try and filter the stench but the flimsy material wasn't up to the task and he could feel the bile rise in his throat. He gulped air through his mouth, and while this helped him force the nausea down, the rank air dried his throat and started a coughing fit that forced him to breathe in small, careful breaths.

He took a moment to gather himself before continuing on into the house and made his way towards the glow of the gas lamp in the front room. The bodies, or rather what was left of them, were strewn about the room. Jack could see mangled flesh, bare bones and organs in the dull light, although mercifully the pale glow covered the worst of the atrocity in undulating shadows caused by the flickering of the flame as the wick began to run dry of the precious fuel.

The flame stuttered once more and then suddenly went out. Jack found himself alone in the room and forced down the urge to turn and run out. It wouldn't do for the others to see him like that and he'd probably break his neck anyway. It still amazed him how dark it was now that street lights no longer provided a background glow. It was pitch dark in the room, so much so that he could not see anything at all. There wasn't even a faint glow from outside and for a moment he lost his bearings. Which way was he facing? Was the door behind him or to his right? He felt his pulse quicken and the darkness felt like it was closing in on him, as if it was alive and was coiling around him ready to squeeze the life out of him.

Newton clenched his teeth and forced himself to breath normally as he retraced his steps in his mind. He was fairly certain that he had not turned in any direction since he had entered the room so the door should be directly behind him. He turned slowly, pointedly ignoring the grisly scenes that he imagined all around him. He forced himself to breathe through his mouth and slid his feet forward until he reached the door, and then quickened his step until he felt the cool air from outside wash over him.

His skin prickled and he shivered, though whether it was from the sudden chill or the images that still danced through his mind he couldn't be sure. He assumed that three of the dead would be Pat and Jillian Grady and their daughter Jennifer, but who was the fourth? He put that mystery to one side as he approached Jess again. She had obviously found a kindly neighbour and now sat against her patrol car with her hands wrapped around a steaming mug. He thought of the mangled remains in the house and offered up silent thanks that it wouldn't be him that had to shift through the bodies to identify them.

Jess looked a lot better. Her cheeks had small red blushes where the steam of the drink wafted upwards, and she looked sheepish as she saw Jack approach.

"Sorry about that," she began but Jack waved it off.

"Nothing to apologise for," he interrupted. "I feel queasy myself. Any more of that coffee?" he asked as the pungent aroma reached him.

She handed over a flask and a mug and Jack continued as he poured. "What have we got?"

Jess put down her mug and riffled through the pages in her notebook until she found what she was looking for. "We got a call from Peter Hackett, that's the neighbour, at 2:05 this morning."

Jack looked down at his watch and saw the luminous dials show 3:15.

"He was very agitated, according to despatch," she continued. "He described the screaming from next door as terrifying."

"That's a strange word to use to describe what could have been a domestic disturbance," Jack interrupted.

"I thought that too," Jess agreed. "He rushed out from his house as we pulled up but insisted he hadn't gone into the house when I asked him, he said he was too scared. After seeing the carnage inside, I can't say that I blame him. Anyway, he said that he had never heard anything so ear-piercing or as frightening in all his life. The screams woke him up and went on for a good ten minutes, said he only summoned up the courage to call us when all went quiet again."

"Anyone else hear the noises?"

"We're checking now with the other neighbours but the Smiths are away and the next house is a good way down the street."

Jack grunted. He had known Peter Hackett for years and didn't suspect that he had anything to do with the killings, for one thing he didn't have the sheer strength required to rip bodies apart like that, but he wanted to make sure that all the bases were covered. There had been no new faces that he was aware of in town in the last few months so it was more likely that these killings were being done by someone that he knew.

The thought made him sick. How could any human being tear people apart like that, let alone someone he knew, someone he may have shared a joke with or held a door open for.

He shivered.

"Okay," he sighed. "Seal up the house and wait for Doc Sallis." They didn't have a forensic department anymore, and didn't have any power to run one even if they had, so Doctor Jim Sallis formally retired but pressed back into service when his young replacement had decided to jump state, was the best they could come up with. Jack ran his hands through his thinning hair, God damn it; this is no way to run an investigation.

"Simmer down!" Dan Fogarty banged a wooden gavel on the podium in front of him repeatedly in a vain effort to be heard amid the bedlam in the hall. The air was thick with smoke, both from cigarettes and from the numerous gas lamps placed on both sides of the hall and along its length. Smoking had had a huge uptake in the past few months and Fogarty was worried about what they would do when the town's supply ran out. It was already dangerously low and tobacco commanded a high price with the mobile traders that visited more and more infrequently. His over-active imagination had already played out the horrors of a whole town suffering cold turkey at the same time.

Anyway, one problem at a time, he thought as he pushed away that potential problem in favour of the one at hand. He looked out over the sea of faces. Many of them were familiar, all of them were scared. He banged his gavel again.

"Please, we have a lot to get through!" he shouted aloud, but far from the volume his deep voice could command if needed, and slowly the room came to order. He smiled to himself, pleased that he was still able to control a room. Not bad for someone who had left home with nothing but the clothes he wore as he had run from an abusive father and a drunken mother. He had made a great life for himself since then. He had a successful business and had risen to the position of Mayor in the town over five years ago. He had done quite a lot for the town before the crisis and liked to think that he had no small part in keeping the community together since then in a country where bigger towns were already deserted. They didn't really have much going for them as a town in this new world; they had no power, little fertile or grazing land left that they had not already bartered, but somehow the community had stayed together. They had enough food for the coming winter and had organised, and paid for, enough power from the nuclear plant to see them through the worst of the weather, but it had taken the last of their good livestock and all the land around their border. They would have very little left for next year and beyond.

On top of all this they now seemed to have a serial killer amongst them. This was something that scared the people much more than any of their other worries. They could fight against the hunger and the cold by working hard, rationing and preparing less fertile land for next year's harvest. How could they protect themselves against a killer that seemed to choose his victims randomly and with impunity?

In every case so far there had been no sign of forced entry, and yet the bodies had been ripped apart as if by an animal, although Doctor Sallis had assured him that this was not the work of an animal. He sighed. He had decided to call this meeting and lay all the information out to the town's inhabitants; he felt he owed them that much.

"Alright," he continued. "I've asked Doc Sallis to say a few words tonight, so if you have any questions about the killings you'll be able to ask him yourselves. Just remember that we have children here tonight so don't go scaring them any more than they already are. Sheriff Newton is also here," he nodded to the front row where the Sheriff sat beside the aforementioned doctor, "so he'll give you an update on the investigation itself.

"I have asked them both to give you all the information they have, so there will be no cover-up or keeping anything from you for your own good. We're in this together and I feel I owe you that much. However, I warn you now that I want this meeting to be orderly." He paused as he scanned the sea of faces. "I know most of you are armed, and I can't blame you for that, but anyone getting out of hand will be dealt with quickly. I remind you again that there are children here. Now, with that said, I'll pass you over to our good doctor."

Fogarty nodded to the Doctor and stepped down from the podium. There was a nervous shuffle of feet around the room and a few coughs as people settled themselves and this in turn sparked off a chorus of shushing as Sallis laid his notes on the podium. Doc Sallis was a small, overweight man with receding hair and a pinched face that seemed more at home with a scowl than a smile. Despite this, the man was well liked and his outward appearance was in total contrast to the man beneath the skin. He might have the look of a grump but he was in fact a jovial man that people found easy to relate to and was a particular favourite with the children. What remained of his white hair was in stark contrast to his dark skin and, as he stood on the podium he suddenly looked far older than people realised. He had been the town doctor for the last forty years and despite being past retirement age had continued in the role without complaint. He was well respected but the hush that settled over the audience had more to do with his ashen appearance than anything else.

"Friends," he began, his deep voice cracking slightly under the intense scrutiny of the audience, "I must confess that I am not entirely sure where to start." He smiled weakly before continuing. "As you know there have been four incidents over the last week. I will leave it to our Sheriff to explain the details surrounding the deaths; I will limit myself to the method. I am mindful of our younger citizens so please don't ask for specific details as I will not give them. If you feel compelled to delve into the unsavoury details you can ask me later." The look he cast around the audience left no one in any doubt that they would want a very good reason to ask for those details.

"The victims were all killed in the same way - that is, death was caused by massive trauma and blood loss. In short, they were torn apart. The strength needed for this was far beyond what one would expect from a human being."

"Does that mean we're dealing with an animal?" The question came from the centre of the room and Doc Sallis squinted through the smoky haze to identify the speaker.

"No, John, it does not," he replied, identifying the town's local Century representative. "No animal would kill like this without eating some of the victim, or at the very least leaving teeth marks on the remains. These poor people were torn apart for reasons other than food or territorial dispute, so that lays my suspicions firmly at the door of humanity, I'm afraid."

"But you said that the strength needed was too much for a human, Doctor."

"For a normal human, yes. However, these days there are so many drugs and enhancements available that the human body is quite capable of amazing feats over limited periods. We are dealing with someone very sick but very clever. There were no forensics left at the scene, at least none that I can process with our limited resources. There is no sign of forced entry, and seemingly no pattern, all the victims were unrelated as far as we can see."

"Did they know their killer?"

The question was a simple one but the implications it carried immediately silenced the low hush of whispers that had begun as everyone waited for an answer.

"That is a good question but I'm afraid I'm not the one to answer it. I think this is a good point to hand over to our Sheriff."

Newton nodded and approached the podium. He was all too aware that every eye in the building was on him and he forced himself to breath evenly as he turned to face the crowd. He was good with people, but on a one-to-one basis. Crowds were a totally different matter, and petrified crowds were even worse.

"We have a small community here, one that's growing smaller in the current climate. There have been no visitors to the town for at least two weeks, no sightings of vagrants, travelling peddlers or officials in or near the town at all. I am not aware of any people who have recently come to live here, or indeed any who are visiting friends or families. Each victim was found in their home with no obvious signs of forced entry and no evidence of robbery." He paused briefly and then sighed, "I suppose what I'm trying to say is that all evidence so far indicates that the killer was known to each of the victims."

A gasp rippled through the audience. People looked around them fearfully as if looking for someone with a sign over their head proclaiming them to be the killer. In seconds a community united in fear and hardship became a dysfunctional collection of smaller groups as families closed ranks, individuals were ostracised and women pulled their children closer and looked with suspicion at any male in the room. Chairs screeched across hard wooden floors as people began to physically replicate the groups that their minds had already created. All this happened in seconds; years of community building were shattered through fear and mistrust.

"Order!" The word was followed by the gavel pounding on the podium and everyone's attention was drawn back to Newton as he raised the gavel for another strike only to freeze and lower it gently as order was restored.

"Sit down!" he shouted as people used to a quiet, mild-mannered Sheriff flopped immediately into their chairs in shock. "I must admit that I counselled against telling you that but our good mayor has more faith in you and your ties to our community than I have. How dare you. This is exactly what the killer wants. By dividing us he makes it easier for him to find new victims. The only way to beat him is to remain united. He can't kill us all if we stay together."

"Oh I don't know about that."

The words came from the back of the hall and carried with them an icy wind that poured through the open doors. A figure stood just inside the now open doors, and as people turned to look they noticed a number of shadows dart quickly into the hall and fan out along the back wall."Who the hell are you?" Fogarty stood and faced the figure, his voice loud and strong, although the slightly higher pitch betrayed his fear.

"Oh my God, it's Johnnie," a woman towards the back of the hall shrieked and rose with open arms and hurried towards one of the figures at the back of the hall. Her husband rose and grabbed at her but she pulled away and stumbled towards the figure.

Newton placed his hand on his holstered gun and moved away from the podium.

"Who are you?" His tone carried with it a quiet authority and menace that many of the people present had never heard before. His eyes flicked briefly at Jess and he nodded once and then looked directly at the central figure. Jess moved to the side to ensure she had a clear view and brought her hand up to her radio and spoke in low tones.

"Mary, stay back" Newton ordered but the woman paid no attention and continued towards the figure where she threw her arms around him and buried her face in the figure's chest. The boy remained motionless and the whole room stilled as if a pause button had been pressed. The woman's sobs continued but suddenly she began to retch. Her hand came up to her lips but was too late to prevent the bile from spewing from her mouth. Her sobs became whimpers as she doubled over and gasped for air. She looked at the figure quizzically, her hand pressed firmly against her mouth and nose. The object of her attention looked over at the figure in the centre and raised an eyebrow. The figure nodded once and the thing that had been Johnnie smiled.

The audience couldn't really see clearly and were still getting over the shock of the abrupt appearance of these strange figures. The sudden scream from the back of the room startled everyone. Johnnie grabbed the woman who had raised him and tore her throat out, sucking greedily at the spurting blood before letting her body fall to the ground where the woman whimpered quietly for a moment before growing silent.

Newton couldn't tell what had happened but he saw the crowd at the back begin to surge away from the figures at the end of the hall. The woman's husband growled in anger and threw himself forward. Newton missed what happened next as the crowd shifted but he did see the man thrown against the back wall with such force that he made no further noise as his body slumped to the ground. He was losing control of this situation and the townspeople were only seconds away from panic. Newton pulled his gun from its holster and fired a round into the air. For the third time that night the crowd froze. Too much had happened to destroy their peaceful existence. The gun shot stopped them initially but the smell coming from the back of the room soon had people pushing towards the front again, albeit more slowly.

There was a clear fifteen feet between the figures and the last line of the audience by the time Newton reached the last of the stage steps and he pushed his way through to the empty area. He held his gun firmly on the figure and noted Jess taking up position to his left. His eyes flicked briefly to Mary's body and he scanned the faces of the figures. He recognised all ten of the missing boys and was about to repeat his question when the smell hit him.

He felt bile rise up his throat as the odour reached him. It was sickly sweet, cloying and foul all at once. He concentrated on the central figure again and forced himself to be calm. He heard the sound of sirens wailing and moments later he saw two patrol cars pull up outside beyond the figure in front of him, and he straightened a little taller as he saw his men approach through the open door.

"Okay, Johnnie, you're under arrest. Come over here and kneel on the floor now." His tone was controlled but he was petrified. What the hell was going on? A kid he had known for years had just ripped his mother's throat out and then just stood calmly as if he had merely taken a bite from a sandwich. Who was the guy in the centre and what the hell was that smell? The questions ran through his mind threatening to overpower him but he forced them all aside and tried to control the situation by using his training.

"On the ground now," he repeated more forcefully and tightened his finger on the trigger.

"Sheriff," the figure spoke quietly, "this is really quite pointless, you know." The man's soft, almost whispered, voice sent a shiver down Newton's back. Maybe it was the cold that swept through the open doors that had his body shaking so badly, but he was truthful enough to admit to himself that it was unlikely. His hands were sweating, making him tighten his grip on the gun, and he clamped his teeth tightly together to hide the fact that they had begun to chatter. He knew himself well enough to know that he wasn't a coward. He couldn't actually pin it down; maybe it was the figure's apparent indifference to having a gun pointed at him, or the way he commanded the attention of everyone in the room, or even the stench of death that emanated from him. But he could admit to himself that this man terrified him.

"Cover me!" he nodded to Jess and the deputies that had taken station at the door. He approached Johnnie and almost threw up on the spot. He hadn't actually seen what had happened before, as his attention had been divided between all the figures, so it was only as he reached the young man that he could see the blood running down his mouth.

Johnnie smiled at him, revealing long sharp teeth.

Newton suddenly and viciously brought his weapon up and across Johnnie's face. He knew that he had surprised them as the figure had to bark a command to keep the others from attacking him. Johnnie hit the ground hard but was back on his feet faster than Newton could see. He felt the boy's hand grip his throat like a vice and suddenly found himself dangling in mid air as his lungs gasped for air.

His felt light-headed and spots of light danced in his vision. He dimly heard a shot and felt himself crumple to the floor. He heard a second command from the stranger and could almost feel the hatred emanating from the other nine boys.

"Are you all right, Chief?" Newton pulled himself to his feet and nodded to Jess as she offered her help. It was only when he was standing again that he noticed that Johnnie was on the ground. He had assumed that Jess had fired a shot in the air but as he looked down at the figure he noticed a neat hole in his forehead.

"Some shot," he noted and retrieved his own weapon. "Now I ..."

He was interrupted by a shuffling on the floor and he paled as he saw Johnnie stir and then rise to his feet. The blood oozing from the wound dried to a trickle and then stopped altogether as the flesh around the wound began to close and knit together as he watched.

"Oh shit," his voice croaked through his damaged throat. He pulled the trigger and fired directly into Johnnie's heart. He felt the gun buck in his hands and saw the impact as blood spurted from the wound. Johnnie staggered back but didn't fall and Newton fired twice more before he finally realised that it wasn't doing any good.

"Do you see now, Sheriff?" the figure smiled at him. Newton was dimly aware of the growing unease in the crowd behind him. The situation was a hair trigger away from total chaos. He had no idea what was going on but he knew that whatever these men were, they certainly weren't human. The wrong move now would probably lead to total slaughter. His mind was in turmoil, impossible thoughts of vampires and demons pulled at his sanity, but everyone in the room was looking to him for direction. He was damned if he would let them die for nothing. The creatures, or whatever they were, had consciously not attacked them as yet, despite the gunshots, and there must be a reason for that. The figure in the centre was obviously the leader and had total control of the boys. If there was any way out of this it would be through him.

"What's all this about Mr...?"

"Names are unimportant," the figure smiled, "they are meaningless nonsense created by a short lived race who spends too much of its limited life trying to become immortal, in name if not in actuality. We have no need for them."

"What exactly is it that you do need?"

"Right now," the stranger continued, "in thousands of towns all over the world, vampires such as me are quietly taking this world away from your kind. One by one the towns will fall to us and then we will begin on the cities. By the time you even notice it will be too late."

The news hit Newton like a blow. His mind raced as pieces of the puzzle fell into place. "Then the killings ..."

"Were a necessary distraction, yes." The stranger finished. "Despite what Hollywood may tell you the first few days of a vampire's existence are a critical time. They are weak as kittens as the change ravages their bodies. As you can see, that weakness is short lived."

"Why tell us this? You obviously have the advantage, why not just slaughter us and move on?"

"Unlike you humans, we vampires are a patient race. We have hidden for centuries from your kind because we could see that you humans were dangerous. Because you are so short lived you achieve amazing advances in short time frames. It was decided long ago that this advancement, or technology as you have dubbed it, would be dangerous to us. Over the centuries we ensured that all references to our race were removed and those that could not be removed were ridiculed and reduced to myth."

"We bided our time, but now that technology has stagnated we will come from the shadows and take what is ours."

"All very interesting but why are you telling us this?" Newton was sure there was an advantage here, something that could very well allow them to bargain for some or all of their lives. He just had to find it.

"In order to spread throughout the world we need two things: food and security"

Newton felt sick as realisation dawned on him. "You want us to sign on to your army."

"In a sense. The food element we can satisfy now by killing everyone here; however, who knows what will happen next week or next month? Who knows when such a feast will again present itself to us? We could kill you and carry the dead with us, but blood sours quite quickly."

"You want us to become a mobile blood bank for you." Newton gasped as the full horror hit him. "You're insane if you think we would stoop that low. What could you possibly offer...?" He snapped his jaw shut, wishing he could take back his last question, already knowing that he had played into the vampire's hands.

"I'm glad you asked." The stranger turned from Newton with a smile and faced the petrified crowd. "You have heard what I have said so far. Your race is already defeated but you don't have to die, your children don't have to be tortured or killed. I can offer some of you power beyond your imagination, immortality and land after the coming war is over. To others I offer places of favour in our elite guard. Places of power where you can walk in daylight but will have power near to our own and access to pleasures beyond your imaginations. To those who give their allegiance to us we will spare their families and allow them to live in peace. To all others you will die here tonight."

The room was totally silent and Newton turned and looked over the townspeople. He knew everyone here, and while he had expected to see some of them considering the mysterious figure's offer - there would always be those who put their own needs first, he really had expected to see most stand together and declare their defiance though and he was shocked to see so many amongst them who could not meet his gaze.

"You know you can't trust him," Newton spluttered incredulously. "He will take you with him and drink you dry only to cast you aside like a bottle off a shelf." Newton could see husbands whispering to their wives, men and women standing alone with their eyes glazed, thinking of the promised pleasures, and knew that too many were already beyond reason. The first of them tentatively moved forward and Newton raised his gun and fired.

The bullet tore a hole in the floor just in front of the lead man. "Don't do it, Jack," Newton warned. "You can't trust them."

"They're going to kill us anyway, Sheriff. You heard him. At least this way Jenny and little Jack might have a chance," Jack Thompson pleaded. Newton knew that Thompson wasn't a bad man; he wasn't doing this for his own gratification he just wanted to save his family. But they had to see that the only way to beat the vampires was in not helping them now when they were still weak.

"Jack, they can't exist during the day, they'll never win as long as they have to hide away every day. If we help them now then the whole world is finished. What kind of future are you leaving for little Jack if they win?"

"Sheriff, you don't have kids, how would you know what it's like to let someone threaten him? God forgive me but I just can't let them tear him apart."

"Not even to save the world?" Newton asked as the weight of his gun suddenly became too much and he lowered the weapon.

"Not even for that." Thompson lowered his head and walked slowly over to the vampires. About half of the younger fathers followed him and almost all the young men that had remained in the town. Newton saw two of his deputies shrug and holster their guns and join the growing group. Newton wasn't angry at the fathers but he shot looks of pure hatred at the single men for their betrayal.

He jumped suddenly as he felt a hand slide into his and turned to see Jess lean forward to kiss him on the cheek. There were tears in her eyes and something else, something he really should have seen before. God, was I that blind? He thought as he looked at his deputy. I never realised, never even recognised the signs. All that time alone and she was in front of me all the time.

He put his arm around her and squeezed. He saw the stranger indicate that the families of the men should exit through the still open door. The women and children didn't need further prompting and soon the hall was mostly empty.

Newton looked around at those that remained. Most were too old to be tempted by this devil's promises, but some were not. Some parents stood protectively in front of their young charges. Elsewhere sons and daughters, old enough to make up their own minds, stood in contrast in front of their parents, petrified but defiant. Tears rolled down Newton's cheek. It should be quick, at least.

The creature looked at Newton with a quizzical look. "What do you hope to gain by dying?" he asked.

Newton looked at him. "The fact that you have to ask means that you will never understand us and that will be your downfall eventually."

The creature shrugged and left. His leaving was like a lever releasing a spring and the ten remaining creatures surged forward.

Outside the survivors couldn't bear to look at each other and remained huddled in the cold air, alone with their thoughts, until the screaming inside died away.
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