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perfect size for a ball.

( Rejecting the Devil)

        It had been easy enough to gain their trust,to convince them to come with him after only a few drinks. They had flirted off and on for more than two months; Every Saturday night he bought them drinks and feigned interest in their ridiculous banter. In truth, he had been watching them a lot longer than that,for nearly a year. They giggled in the back of the van while making out, for his titillation he assumed, but that wasn’t why he needed them tonight. This was more important than sex. He needed to know if the outcome could be duplicated.
           
    He lived in his workspace, an old factory just off the highway. Its high windows faced northwest and to the east he kept long shades drawn . The light hurt his eyes and most days he never ventured out before dark. He had long ago given up on trying to keep up with the rest of the world and spent most of his time  sleeping, thinking , or working on his project. What's the use of being a genius if you cant go out during the day ?
            The depression had lasted years, until he had wasted away to a stick of a man, his cheeks as sunken as a war victim,a dense yellow palor beneath his once olive skin. Looking in the mirror he knew that he had at one point been a handsome man, his blue black curls now a matted salt and peppered mess, his eyes, once a gleaming hazel, now a sickly ruddy brown. One day he when he woke , he knew that to live any longer this way was a cancer to his soul. He needed something beautiful. The only way to survive, if he survived at all, was to find someone to love; to find someone to love him.
         
     Adrians’ hair was still salt and peppered now but the curl had come back. He had always known in his mind that there were only two paths, two possibilities for him. Denying his true nature was no longer one of them, that meant that he would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. If only he could make them see him for what he was, they would want to be like him, join him gladly. It would have to be trial and error. Any minor mistake and they could  both end up dead.
         
     He took a swig of the bottle before readying their drinks, and mixed in the pills that would lull them to sleep. Their potential deaths were just a chance he would have to take. The older of the two went by the name Augustus ,and wore his hair short and spiked,growing in from a close shave, and Adrian put him at about nineteen. The younger one couldn’t have been more than seventeen and reminded him of himself as a boy. He was beautiful and pale and dark all at once, lithe as a willow. He played around in his mind with the way one can bend a willow as he watched this sleeping form; the twinge in his groin was a gentle reminder to keep on task.
      
    Two syringes of his own blood he gave them,so drugged from the wine they never felt it  go in. This was rape in the realest sense of the word, but he felt no remorse. In his mind he had given them a gift,to share the greatness of what he was with them. He hoped that one day they would learn to appreciate the magnitude of what he had done.
       
    They sweated and retched until their throats were raw. He administered the second round of injections, then another and another. Too weak to fight, neither said a word, only screamed as needle hit vein, then spun into blackening oblivion.

    The third day was the hardest.
      
    Gus knew the routine by now and reason had begun to creep back into his comprehension. His head  burned like the desert as he tried to piece it together. He felt as though he had been fitted with lead weights and if he let go of conciousness for any time at all, he would surely die. Sheamus was even sicker than him, and didn’t open his swollen eyes at all, not even when Adrian returned.

    "Its time to eat." He said.

        At last straw was placed to Gus's lips and he drank, so starved he never tasted it at all.

“Oh God thank you." He said,thinking at first that it was water. He liked his lips as the cup was pulled away and felt a drop fall onto his chest. He looked down at the crimson streak there and nearly yelled. It had been blood.

         "There’s more of this if you want it." Adrian smiled, refilling the cup for Sheamus. Sheamus opened his mouth and took the straw, drinking it all.
 
    "My good boys. This will make you big and strong. Sleep now, and tomorrow we'll see how far we've progressed. Goodnight  my Loves."

    Gus didn’t sleep at all. The spare room was locked from the outside and completely dark, but shapes moved before his eyes.  A story of the future unravelled in his brain and ran around him like the tide. It swirled all night as he waited for morning, til the light crept in through a crack in the wall. He prayed harder than he had ever prayed before, God please get me out of this,I don’t know what to do. The light in the wall grew so bright that it hurt and tears fell freely from his eyes. He flew up into the light and away from his body.
      
           This isn’t the end of the story.



     It was the same every night. She locked the tiny door and whispered to them the assurance of her love, then checked  the windows and doors for security. Matches and candles all in their place, she herself would settle in on the futon couch, one eye open. The tiny attic apartment was made up of three and a half rooms; a small windowless bathroom that contained an antique tub, shower nozzle,sink and toilet; the main room, which contained the futon, kitchenette and cedar trunk which doubled up as their dining table, a small bedroom which sat largely unused aside from storage and a half dozen plants, and what must have been at one time a crawl space. They had transformed it into a cozy sleeping area, where the children could be safe at night. Over the last year it had gotten quieter ; no more shrieks of those being murdered in their beds next door or down the street. She knew that they were the last living family around for miles, and that the abandoned neighborhood in which they lived provided better shelter than more populated ones,and from the dangers they knew lurked just outside the door.
  They could come at any time. She thought, and forced her eyes shut in search of sleep.




    For Gus, driving was better than anything. He could smoke a cigarette and crank the music real loud  and tune out the rest of the world until it was time to be all grown up again.
It’d be nice to take a break, he thought. Then turned to flick his cigarette butt out the window. Distraction at a hundred miles an hour lead him to impact with another body,once again cracking his windshield. He stopped a second, swearing under his breath then thought better, and simply mowed it over as it tried to stand again. The thing expired with a sickly groan .  Gus got out and fingered the  glass disgustedly, glancing at the corpse as it lay in the road,now headless.
“ Fuckin’ mess,” he muttered, wiping  some of the blood  with a rag. It had been replaced it so many times in the past year that he had become an expert at determining which cracks were fine and which required immediate replacement. He swore again and lashed what was left of the corpse to the top of the car.  He got back in and lit another cigarette. He was tired of getting rid of bodies.

       Henry was seven. His face was fine and masculine , with his fathers quirky eyebrows and a dimpled chin from his mothers side. She loved his sandy brown hair and nagged when he didn’t brush. They would sit in the rooftop garden together and practice slingshot using zombies as targets. He had gotten pretty good at it, too. He hit one across the shoulder and it spun in a circle like a dog with its tail.


“Try again. “ She said. “Remember to keep breathing.”


    The child focused, readied the shot and let go. The marble hit thwack! right between the eyes, and the thing fell face first,cracking the cement.

        His mother beamed in admiration, and he grinned back.

 Gus pulled up and waved. They waved back.

” Didja see me do it Uncle Gus?” Henry screamed. Gus nodded flashing thumbs up to the kid, then stepped over the corpse and ran up the stairs to see them.

 
       How long had it been? He drew lazy fingers over the back of his latest conquest as she lay supine, cheek still pressed deeply into his thiegh. They had broken in on the first of the month, that had been six or eight days previous he figured. The restaurant was perfect; Three floors of luxury and all the booze you could drink. For now. Shaemus was always one step ahead of the game. They’d be fine here for another month or so, until the well ran dry . He curled his fingers deeply into the fine hairs on the back of her neck, and turned her face toward his. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen at most, he reckoned. As long as he stayed organized, as long as he kept them fed and drunk they were dutiful, loyal even. He dealt in every scrap of information, every morsel of still living flesh he could get his hands on, that kept him alive as well. The idea amused him. Alive. He smirked to himself. Existing,whatever. Is it the same thing? The girl let out an inaudible sigh so light he barely felt her breath.  A swift but gentle tug in his direction, he drew her face up and shone it brightly into his own. She murmured, eyes closed. He brought his lips to her swollen ear and bit there tenderly as he had done before.

“ Almost ready for round two?”



 “Hey.”  he nodded as he entered the apartment. She locked three locks behind him, then handed him a steaming cup of coffee.

“You’re early.“ she grinned. “ Didn’t expect you til almost noon.”

 “Yeah, I’m a little ahead of scheduale.” he said, taking the first sip as he sat on the couch. “Its been pretty quiet out there, finished my deliveries about an hour ago. Speaking of which,” he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a large folded piece of paper, “ I wanted to go over this with you; its changed again.” He put the coffee down and spread the map flat on the table, indicating to three new red circles near her house.

“I”ve made some revisions” he continued. “ There are three new nests in the area since last week, here and here.” He pointed to the map.

 “ The only one you really need to worry about is here. It’s the closest”. He showed them two and a half blocks from where they stood. “Vamps discovered there’s still electricity on this grid and now they’ve kind of taken over that whole block, particularly the restaurant on the corner. Chances are they’ll be staying a while.”

“So much for going out during the day.” She groaned.

“That’s not all.” He said. “Word is they’re running out of food, and there’s tonnes of infighting. That means they’ll be getting desperate,and chances are at least one of them will think to look for survivors. You’re going to have to be REALLY careful from now on. Once they know you’re in the area they’ll go house to house until they find you.”

Eddie sat beside him on the couch feeling defeated. Gus took her hand and smiled sadly into her eyes.

“Hey.” He said. “It’ll be okay.” Eddie knew what was coming next but couldn’t draw her eyes away.

“Have you thought any more about what I asked you?” he finally croaked. She cleared her throat.

“Yeah. I dunno Gus. I just keep thinking maybe we’re both just kind of lonely. Like, would you really be all that into me if you had other options? Or is it just that I’m the only woman you’ve met in three years that isn’t trying to drink your blood and kill you?”

Gus didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. He hadn’t thought of it like that.

“ I don’t want to be with someone whose settling for me because I’m the only one around. I want to be with someone who loves me and the kids too. “ She looked him right in the eye. “ Do you think you could love me, Gus?”

He looked embaressed so she tried to joke to break the tension. “......Besides,” she said, “You’re not really my type.”

He smiled, looking sad, then changed the subject again.


“Some guy got away a while back,” he laughed. There was something about his laugh that always made her heart go into convulsions. Eddie watched the slim shape of his hand as it grazed his collarbone for a scratch and her heart beat a little faster.

  “... Vamps somehow got distracted and forgot to chain him up, probably thought he was too weak to get escape. He ran out into the sun and managed to make it to the downtown shelter. Apparently a good kills so hard to find now that they’re keeping them alive and just feeding every few hours.”

Eddie rolled her eyes. “ That’s what you can ingenuity.” Finishing her coffee, she collected their mugs and took them to the kitchen sink. “We knew we couldn’t stay here forever. Will you ask around and see what’s available?”

 “Will do.” He replied, standing. “ Like I said, the one Downtowns overflowing; They’re not even taking emergencies anymore. But, I have friends up by Princeton they’re always accepting new people. The place is a little gung ho religious, but it might be better than nothing for now.”

“ Alright. Get back to me as soon as you can and we’ll see about some sort of payment.”She handed him a pound of coffee as he put his desert goggles back on, grinning.


 “See ya Thursday.” He said, and with a goofy salute, darted out the door.

  She listened to him thump down the main stairs and slam the outside door,then moved to lock the inside door again.   She could hear his music blasting even three floors up as he drove away,and shook her head in disbelief.

That man has no fear, she thought, perplexed.

 Hannah,who was six and often kept her opinions to herself had been observing silently the entire time.

“ I still think you pay that guy too much.” She said.



         The evening meal was an important part of their process. Eddie reorganised the bookshelf as they ate. It was the same things every night, mostly raw vegatables, dates and nuts or old canned food, except when Gus brought them bread, and then it was a free for all. She had used to bake it herself, until she realized that that was how some of the vamps were determining where the living still remained. By smell, she thought, remembering the screams that had come from next door.  She’d had a hard time cutting out the coffee though, and mostly only made it for guests or in the morning.  Judith had worked in a coffee shop when it all began,when people still thought it was gangs or serial murders or... something.Thats how they’d gotten all the coffee.

     Good for barter. Nobody ever thought it was the Undead. Oooh, scary. She thought to herself. It all seemed like a horrible dream. She watched Littleman as he munched on his carrot,smiling his toothy toddler grin at her. I love you, she signed. I love you too Mama, he signed back happily. 

     Their calm was broken by a startling thud from downstairs. The children looked up with their mouths full, and into their mothers eyes. Raising a finger to her lips she motioned for complete silence and all three heads nodded in agreement. She comforted them with a smile and reached into her belt for the handgun.

“ Stay here.” She whispered. “... Mama will handle it.”




              It was out of his way. Gus played with the idea of just going home instead, and dumping the body in the morning. Another twenty minutes cant hurt.  He put his foot on the gas ‘til he got to the curve in the road, then covered his nose and mouth with the surgical mask. He sighed and got out, releasing the corpse from the top of the car. Even from a hundred feet off he could smell the decay of all those he had brought before. He dragged the most recent behind him then launched it over the side of the ravine, peering down. Always gotta make sure they’re really dead. A torso he had brought the day before writhed in the stench below,its head still intact.

Gus took out his gun and aimed, feeling cold. This is my responsibility he thought, then pulled the trigger.





          He hated being inside during the day and would have much rather been outside, cruising the streets looking for a fresh kill than spend another afternoon sleeping and getting sucked  off. The boy they had picked up a week earlier sat nearly naked holding Shaemus’s hand on the armrest, filing his nails without looking up. He liked this one more than his last Whippingboy, but respected him much less. This one seemed to enjoy it too much; he made sure to punish him often for his insolence.

 He closed his eyes,leaning back overcome with the heat. Summer was the worst. At least in the winter it got dark early and you could go out to play. In fact he could have gone outside in the sunlight if he had wanted to, but he restricted his daytime movements out of respect, if only to show them his solidarity.

 “... I’m bored. “ Rayven, Mistress of Night whined, looking gloomily out the window. Where had she come up with that? A month ago she had been Samantha Weaver, now she was “Mistress of Night?” He observed the well defined shape of her pout,remembering how it resembled her neither region.  What was it about vamping people that made them start dying their hair black and change their names? He wondered. He didn’t ponder too long, it was to his advantage after all.

“Stop pouting. You’re just hungry, that’s all.” He grabbed Whippingboy fiercely by the back of the neck and heard him squeek, eyes bugging out of his head. “ Eat something. You’ll feel better.”  Rayven smiled and ran her hands over the bruised puncture wounds and slices that had barely begun to heal as her dinner grinned gleefully.  She bit deeply into his upper arm and sank with him to the floor as he gasped in extacsy where he stayed falling unconcious. Shaemus kissed her, licking her lips. The boy groaned in his stupor and she kicked him, hard.

“Be quiet.” she said.

 “You’re so nasty.” Shaemus encouraged. She wrapped her arms around his neck and they resumed their kiss.

“ I learned from the best.” she said slyly.  “ Teach me some more?”

He knew what that meant. Well, why not? He had time to kill.



                Down three flights of stairs and two locked doors she went, to the main french doors. The shuffler had been thumping around dizzily into the same porch wall, and had worn a dent in the lattice work. After about the sixth time she realized that it  hadn’t even noticed her presence. Somehow they always made it here; she still hadn’t quite determined how or why they liked the front porch. With one swift motion she raised the gun, putting the thing out of its misery and had reentered the house before it had even hit the ground. She sighed. Fucking corpses. She’d have to get rid of it later.  It was time to tuck the kids in.



             Gus pulled up to the warehouse shortly after dark, opened the rolling door and brought the car in, closing it behind.
 In the shady woods across the road , a tired hand reached for his phone.

“ He’s here. “



    At first she had thought she was dreaming, then remembered that she barely ever dreampt anymore. The second scream shook her  wide awake, dredgeing her forward from the depths of slumber. Eddie groped for the bat.

  “ I barely get enough sleep as it is. “ She grumbled. It seemed unlikely that the victim would even be alive by the time she got there. Reluctantly, she went anyway, locking the door.


   “ ...This is what separates us from the beasts...” She growled, bringing the baseball bat down hard on the back of the vamps head. He slumped and fell to the sidewalk, still bloody and staring, having never known what hit him. She looked up,directly into  the terrified eyes of the girl he had bitten as she shakily stood, clasping her neck.

 “ I hope you appreciate this. “ Eddie continued hoping to lighten the mood. “ I don’t get out of bed for nothin’.”    The young woman nodded in reply, too shocked to even speak. Eddie turned on her heel and strode toward the house.

“C’mon.”  she said. The girl followed.


            It hadn’t been built to carry a grown man, but carry him, it did. He was barely tipping the scale at a hundred and twenty lbs, so it wasn’t his weight that was the problem. Even with as much effort as he could muster he doubted he would make it back to the lair before sunrise. He chastised himself.  This was an integral part of the secret mission to get  The Beloved back, Their Dark Lord had told him so, personally. He was being rewarded for his Loyalty , and would increase in rank after this. And maybe even get something to eat.  The cape flowed out behind him with the wind and he peddled faster. The little girls bike left something to be desired.


***************************************************************
 

         He was tired, but never forgot to take his vitamins. Gus popped open the lid and shook two out, checking his watch, then washed them down with a glass of water from the water cooler. He rubbed his eyes and fell into the bed, nearly asleep as his head hit the pillow, and drifted off into a long forgotten dream. 

“i know you love me! i KNOW YOU DO!  You killed for me, that has to mean Something!”  Sheamus is hysterical, again, screaming in his face. He ‘s so sick of this guy,done with listening anymore.  Nothing left to say,   Gus got up and threw on his coat, getting ready to leave. Sheamus started crying.

“You cant just leave me here. What are we going to do about the body? Shouldnt we call the police or something. ?”  He began to pace, until Gus made a break for the corridor that he had remembered lead out of  the warehouse.  Gus talked as he strode.  He put on his leather gloves and tossed the whimpering sod  his phone as they reached the door.

“ I’m sure as hell not waiting around. Take my cell and call your mother to come get you. We’re through.”

“ ... Why don’t you love me? “ The younger man asked. “ Didn’t we have good time ?”

Gus stopped in his tracks and strode back to him, getting close to his face.

 “ I told you before, when we started, what we had, thats not what I’m about. I like women. This ... “ He gestured franticly between them, “... This is just physical, just something for fun, until somethi8ng better comes along. And YOU...”  He began to point, but Sheamus cut him off midsentance.

 “I  am the only one who will ever love you right. “ He said.  “No matter what you do or where you go ,I will be there. I will love you. Forever. Til the ends of the earth, Augustus. It’ll be you and I.”
 

 The look of contempt he received was like a slap in the face. Gus put on his desert goggles and opened the door.

 “It’ll be light out soon. “ Sheamus whispered, sinking into the couch as he left.

“I  DON’T CARE! “ He screamed in reply, allowing the door to slam  and click behind .




  “ Coffee? “

 Tess awoke to bright sunlight and three small sets of eyes, staring at her suspiciously from the other side of the room.  Once she had adjusted she found herself staring into the face of  a muscular blue eyed woman, who placed a steaming mug into her hand as she sat up.

“ Cream?” The woman said , and she nodded, A tin of canned milk appeared and she watched white liquid swirl into  black, turning it a murky brown.

 “Wow.  Where’d you get that?”  She asked. Eddie took a sip of her own and ran a hand through her hair, and watched as her oldest went to the spare room window for target practice.  The girl had fallen asleep practicly as soon as she had seen the futon and Eddie had been watching her sleep the past few hours. She had forgotten  what it was like to be near another woman .

 “ Back when it all started, and everyone was panicking Gus and i took his car and looted a grocery store, stuck to a real spacific list. You know, high nutritional value, canned goods, seeds for the rooftop garden. Most of it we’ve used for barter but the rest has kept us going the better part of three years.”

 “ Is that your husband, Gus?”

Eddie laughed.  “ No.  Not  Gus. No, my partner died just before it got really bad, but before everyone else left.”  She indicated to the kids with a glance.
“ They’re all I have left of her. “

  The heart shape faced of her captor softened a little, and Tess felt free to speak for the first time in years.  “ I lost all my people too. “ She said, and Eddie took her in.
 
Brown and gold eyes, like Judith, She thought, then felt embaressed when Tess caught her staring. She looked away.
 “ i cant believe you still have running water . “  She said, changing the subject.

“ Yeah, we lucked out.” She replied, folding a shirt and packing it away. “That’s pretty much one of the only reasons we’ve been able to stay as long as we have. Truth be told I’m reluctant to leave, but it would be nice for the kids to  get outside. Gus was telling us about this compound up in the Interior that has an entire fenced in play yard. They grow their own food and have been building onto it since before, like a whole little village unto itself, y ’know?” She paused to grab a few pairs of socks from the dresser.  “ They’ll take anyone, especially if you have children. He says Its fairly religious so we may not fit the mould, but there’s  supposed to another one not far off from there, a brothel or something, where we might bed down for a while.  Not sure which environment  I’d rather have the kids in, frankly.”
 
 Tess nodded.  “There are so few women around now that pussy has become this highly prized commodity. I’ve heard of  some being kidnapped and forced into slavery.
 Not pretty.  Part of why I’ve been so desperate to get to the D.T.S. ,Spent the last  week trying to get there, with no success.”
 Eddie shook her head before the girl had even finished. “The downtown shelters maxed out, no point in going there. You  can stay here with us  til  Thursday.”

 “What’s Thursday?”

 “Thursday... “ She grimaced, zipping up the last back pack, “Thursday we are leaving.”
Then with a lopsided grin she  tossed the bag into the spare room. “ Wanna come? “

 “ Yeah. We should stick together. “ she flirted back.  Across the room Hannah rolled her eyes and took  Littleman by the hand.

“ Mama, we’re gunna go feed Bucky. Do you want me to water the tomatoes too? “

 “Sure honey. Just remember to.. “

 “I know, be very quiet. “
 
 “Good girl.”

Tess smirked.  “Different childhood than I had, that’s for sure.”

“Different than i had imagined for them , too. “ Eddie replied  “ But they’re alive, that’s more than most can say round here. Don’t know how much longer I can do this on my own though.   Get a real strong urge  about  once  a month to glom onto the next idiot macho male who comes along and let him do the hard work for a while. “

“Really?”  Tess squeaked in disbelief.

“No! “ She laughed.  “Not really!  I like my life, the living dead aside. Its certainly never dull.”

  A moment of silence hung between them , aching to be filled. FInally Tess reached her hand out and brushed a stray strand of Eddie hair away from her eyes, then rested it on the back of her neck, fingers tangling in the short hairs there. Eddie felt her throat constricting, and reminded herself to keep breathing .She said nothing, just waited. Shes going to kiss me she thought. Tess’s lashes were so long they swept against her cheek at first, then opened even closer, looking deep within her. Another hand came forward,they encircled round each other like forever, in the gentlest kiss she had ever known.  Pull back and look, she said to herself. The other face was still smiling. Tess jumped up.

 “ Does your shower still work? “ she asked deviously.

 “Yes.”
 Eddie replied.

 “Wanna wash my back? “ 

**************************************************************************************

 “Your humble servant returns with news of the Beloved.”

   Sheamus nearly ignored  the raspy whisper from behind the door , burying his face back into Whipping Boys’  chest and drifting back to sleep, but the knock came louder the second time, He swore under his breath. Damn minions.

  “Come in, Darius.” he croaked, trying to focus his sleep adled brain, pulling away from warm flesh. “Don’t you know its morning already? You were supposed to be here hours ago.”

Darius looked as though he might fall over. He was out of breath and his hair lay plastered in sweat across his forehead, making him an even more rediculous sight than he would have already been standing there in his extravagant silk cape. Sheamus clucked in disapproval.

“I apologize my Lord,” He bowed low, nearly setting himself off balance.  “  I  returned earlier, but  they said you were sleeping .  I thought it best to wait a while.”

 Sheamus gestured to a  nearby chair. “Come forth, sit down. You look completely wasted.”

“ Thank you. “ The tired vampire sat  and slowly began to speak.
“ The Beloved returned home around ten last night. He was alone.  After watching him the last week I’ve discerned his pattern, it doesn’t really vary. Every night just before dark he pulls in,  always  from the same direction, on the same road.  His place is really bare, there's only a bed , some supplies, some canned goods and stuff. Its a pretty secure building but there's a window around the back that's easy enough to get into if you wanted, i removed two of the screws. He probably wont notice. “ his exhaustion began to set in and he faded to a sickly green , pitching forward.

“Here” Sheamus said, grabbing his latest suck toy by the arm, offering the limp conquest to Darius. “ You must be starving. Eat something.”

“Oh thank you my Lord, I'm so i hungry i could...” he started, reaching for the young man.

Then projectile vomited all over Sheamus.

******************************************************************

Gus spat in the sink.

Just a dream, he reminded himself. Cant hurt you now.
He looked at his watch. Three am. Two vitamins, a drink of water, and back to bed. Maybe have a wank .He thought.
“No more dreams.” Closing his eyes, he counted backward from ten.


************************************************************************


“ Do we really have to leave?"  Tess asked. "I kind of like it here. It feels safe."

Eddie was rolling socks into pairs. Two pairs for each kid, six pairs, twelve socks all up., She thought. Is there enough room?  She’d have to pack their bags all the same if she had any hope of taking everything they needed. One extra tee shirt, one sweater, and long pants. Room for a stuffed animal, a small blanket and a book, a  tooth brush and wash cloth. That was it, didn’t want to overload them either.  Tess’s question snapped her back into reality.

“ Every second we stay here  we’re in danger." She said. "We’ve been lucky in the past , but now that they’ve moved into the neighborhood its only a matter of time before they sniff us out.  Vamps are like cockroaches, unless you take them out all at once, they’ll just keep coming and coming.  Besides, we need to find a new place before winter, or we may starve.  The kids need to get outside and I cant honestly say I’m completely sane after four years here  with no adult company. It’d be nice to be able to move around at night and make noise, not always have to worry if we’ve being heard.”

“It would have been nice last night.”  Tess grinned back.

 Eddie stopped what she was doing and took her hand, kissing it gently.
“ I know this is all happening really fast..."  She started. Tess nodded. “ But I think we could.....”


 “ Mom, there’s a zombie in the front yard again!” Came an exasperated voice from the storage room . Eddie knew she had better deal with it before others congregated.


“Alright,  I’m coming." she grinned, leaving her lover behind on the couch.  “ Back in a minute."

Tess smiled, watching Eddies lean wiggle as she clomped from the room.

.“ Can I do this one?” Henry asked.

“No.”

“Please?”

“NO.!”

“Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease please please!”

“NO NONONO NONONNONONnononononononononono.”




        “Oh my God!” He shrieked. “STOP PUKING ALL OVER MY EVIL LAIR!!!!!”
The vomit soaked Lord of Darkness almost retched from the sickly smell himself, and grabbed Darius by the collar, shoving him away.


“GET!!!!!!!”  He bellowed, redfaced  “OUT!!!!!!!!!”

“I’m sorry...”  He croaked as he crawled toward the door “ I can’ t... “   Another breath and he had puddled the floor again, collapsing.  Sheamus heaved him into the hallway and screamed for the guard. Mario was there in a flash , and obediantly tossed Darius over his shoulder.

“...  Outside! “   He hissed, out of breath.

“.. And get someone in here to clean this up!”



            It had been a long time since Gus had had a whole day to himself. Normally his time was packed with errands, deliveries and fact finding. It was nice to have a little rest for a change. He decided not to get dressed and stayed in bed, watching the sun stream in.  Should he bring them here?  He didn’t have any clean sheets or anything, couldn’t be a very good host. Might have some Twinkies  or something in the back for the kids he thought.. It ‘d never occurred to him that the place was a mess before, now he was having a guest overnight, he might as well tidy up a bit.

 “Maybe get some tail. “ He muttered fingering his cock, but he knew Eddie better than that. She’d been utterly broken since Judith. Sure,they’d flirted regularly in a friendly kind of way but she’d never give it.  In fact,he wouldn’ t have been surprised if she never got fucked again, just kept to herself like she always did.

 Not my type, last woman on Earth, all that.....He thought, drifting off into fantasy.



         “The sun will be up soon.”  She  whispered to the silent room, then finished lacing her boot.

She had been watching them sleep for hours, curled up on the futon with Tess. This was the first night of no lock in, the first night she had felt strong enough to give them the freedom to sprawl. The children knew they were leaving, and they knew why, nothing was secret in their house. She had always been honest with them,they knew that no matter what , whatever they did would always have to be in the best interest  to their survival,and that there  was no reason to argue against it.

 With one arm under her head as a pillow, Tess lay on her side  wrapped around Littleman. Hannah clung to her back, snoring. Henry, the rebel as usual, was stretched out the way he used to as a baby, his head where his feet should have been.

I cant bear the thought of losing them . She thought.
 I need to be willing to do  whatever it takes to keep them alive.
I’m sick of death, I’m sick of being afraid.
She touched Tess’s hair lovingly to say goodbye and grabbed the gas can.
 I know now what it is that I need to do.


         The pain had outweighed the hunger at first  now the ringing in his ears  had become nothing more than a dull throng, the need for sustanence became a diving force that propelled him forward. He got up,  feet dragging, and stumbled on. Darius felt his limbs shifting, but couldn’t control the change. His mouth felt as though it were turning inside out, and his head pounded but he couldn’t form a coherent thought aside from  the ravaging need to devour. It felt like his stomache had been replaced with a hole that could never be filled.  He sniffed the air. It was there, the vague scent of something tantilizing, which he must follow.  He groaned at the smell, and trundled off.



         It had been years since she’d ventured outside this close to dawn,but Eddie walked like she didn’t have a care.  Fueled by her adrenaline she  marched three blocks watching  the sun creep up far across the bay . She lifted an unlit cigarette to her lips, then became distracted by a shuffled grunting to the left . She undid the cap on the gas can and splashed the nearing corpse in the face, it stopped , stunned. She lit her cigarette with a strike anywhere match and when she was satisfied it was burning, tossed it in his general direction. The thing flew up in a blaze and  squealed, darting away down the road. Poor Darius never knew what had hit him.



        Gus pulled up to the front of the building just as the light began to sting his eyes.

Ya  think by now I’d remember to wear my goggles. He thought, grabbing the pound of coffee in one hand and  his flask in the other. He took a swig  to steady his nerves ,a deep breath, and opened the door. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

 
Gus, what the Hell are you doing?


        She hadn’t been  crouching there more than two minutes before she’d seen his car arrive . She watched curiously as he entered the building.  Inside was a drunken free-for-all, a big blood happy party of cavorters  playing pass the victim . Gus walked through them completly ignored, and sat at the bar like he owned the place. The bartender passed him a mug of blood  in exchange for the coffee she’d given him only days before. Eddie felt like she was going to be sick.  A pretty young vamp girl, gothed out to the nines approached him as he drained his mug, and he leaned in close to her, saying something she couldn’t hear over the cacophany of noise. The girl linked her arm in his and guided him up the stairs.   Eddie laughed in disbelief, stubbed out her cigarette,and began to pour gasoline all over the back of the building.
 


 “ Which one did you say was his room?”  He asked.
“ This one” Ravyn replied, pointing to the door on the left. He nodded curtly in thanks but she stopped him before he had a chance to turn the handle.

 “ I know you’re special , you can go out in daylight like Him."  She ran her fingers over his chest, coming in a little too close for comfort. She was pretty, but Gus was revolted. He could smell Him on her. "Whaddya say we spend some time....?”

Gus couldn’t help but grin.

 "You’re not really my type." He said, and entered the room.




“ Took you long enough."  Sheamus smirked. He was laying on his back,naked in bed,with his hands behind his head and one knee bent. A sheet barely covered what Gus wished he had left to be desired.

“I’m not used to being kept waiting.” The dark eyed demon said.

Gus ignored his innuendo and sat at the table, lighting a cigarette. Sheamus got up, pulling on a pair of discarded jeans from the night before . He took a pitcher from the minifridge, pouring himself a glass of blood. “Drink?”  He asked.

 
Gus shook his head. “ Nah, thanks,I’m good.“ He said.
 Sheamus guzzled his pint.

Gus kept it together, but was losing his patience.

“So....I got your message and I’m here. What do you want.?”

Sheamus just laughed and looked at him. “You can fill in the blanks on your own, Baby. You already know what I want.”

 Gus stood to go , but Sheamus caught him by the forearm, roughly pressing his body against his,and blocking the door. What kind of game was he playing? Gus pushed back but Sheamus was stronger, and the look on his face told Gus he was being serious now.

“I’ve heard you’ve been making trouble for me. Having some fun with the humans,hmm?”  He snarled, watching Gus’s face harden.  "Yeah,thats right, I know all about your girlfriend and her morsels; Does she know about your little secret yet?”

 Gus’s stomache tightened into a hard knot and he could feel the anger rising. So thats it , he thought. Sheamus’s fingernails had begun to dig harder , bruising his skin. He wants to fuck, pathetic little sod. Might as well give him one....

“Don't you remember, Gus?” Sheamus hissed, pulling him closer. Gus struggled, but not too much. He had always enjoyed their forplay. “How good it was for us?"  Sheamus knew he couldn’t deny it ,and Gus felt  his cock begin to swell. Sheamus kept talking  “I’ve developed a way for us to survive here, a way for us to be on top..." He smiled deviously into Gus's green eyes. “...And I know how much you like to be on top.”

 Gus wrenched his arm away, backhanding Sheamus as hard as he could , suddenly disgusted with himself for entertaining the notion of being with this monster just to gratify a sexual urge. It left an angry red mark on his cheek which Sheamus nursed as if he were really hurt. Gus stalked away , shaking off his aggravation like a wild beast.

“ That’s the difference between you and I." He growled, opening the door to leave.  "I won't be on top at the expense of another. Goodbye, Sheamus. And keep your wannabes away from me. I don’t take nicely to being followed..."

“ I still love you , you know.” Sheamus was genuine, holding his face. Gus slammed the door.



“Time to go."  She said to herself. She had stood there long enough. Eddie lit the match and counted to three, then threw it into the shimmering pool not far from her feet that trailed to the building a block away. It lit and she let go, never looking back.


 Tess handed her a coffee as she stepped in the door.

“Where’ d you get off to ?” the young woman asked, sounding terse.

 “Thanks.” Eddie lied , accepting the mug.  “ Went for a walk, scoped some shit out, you know....”

Tess looked at her silently for a moment, calling her bluff.


...” You smell like gasoline.” she said.



 Gus popped in his Patsy Cline tape and turned the key, slamming his foot onto the gas as soon as he had ignition and the car lurched into motion.. The great thing about all this death and mayhem, was that there was no traffic anymore. He laughed.  Eddie and the kids had said they’d be ready by now, but he wondered if they were even still alive. If Sheamus knew they were there, what’s to say any other vamp couldn’t find them? He brushed the thought away like a fly. Nah, they’ll be alright, they keep a low profile, always careful. Thirty seconds later he was there, parked in front of the house, but unable to get out.  It all looked the same, front door shut tight, windows boarded,no fresh blood anywhere. He breathed a sigh of relief , lay his head on the steering wheel,and shuddered. Just rest a minute, he thought, then get out.



 “I can see the fire from here,” Tess said peering through a crack in  the front window.

Eddie said nothing as she left the bathroom, towel drying her hair, and sat down to finish her coffee on the couch.

“That was really foolish you know...” Tess continued

“Desperate times...” Eddie mumbled.

“Y’ know your buddy Gus is here, right? “

Eddie blanched...” Huh?”

“In his car?... He’s been sitting there for ten minutes with his head down, arrived just after  you did. “

 Eddie got up to look now, her hair askew. Gus got out of his car and took the steps two at a time as usual, then used his key on the main door to get in, locking it securely behind. She could hear him coming up the interior stairwell, and knock softly at their door as he always did. She opened the door and he entered, saying nothing, only sat complacently. Eddie readied his mug and put it in his hand, trying to catch his gaze.

....”So...Did you see all that smoke up the street? Think the restaurant must’ ve caught on fire or something. “ She searched his face for a reaction,  and nearly  keeled over at the surprise and momentary panic she saw in his eyes.

“No.” he replied.

 Then he seemed to see Tess for the first time, extending his hand.

“I’m Gus.” he said

 “Tessa, hi.” she replied, accepting the handshake.

“Where’d you come from ?” he joked to her, then to Eddie, “Where’d she come from? Is she coming with us?”

Eddie was nonplussed by his enthousiasm . “Uh huh.”

Gus looked pleased. “Nice! “ He drained his mug and clanked it down on the table.  “You guys all ready to go?”



She tossed the last bag into the trunk and poked her head around to the drivers side where Gus stood before closing it. “Is that everything?”

“Yeah, I think so.” . He said, handing her a shotgun they had discussed on previous occasions, and one shell, which she put in her pocket . “I know i promised this to you a lot earlier, but its was hard to find the right ammo most of my sources are cleaned out. There’s more where we’re going but this’ll have to do until then; it’ll help take care of any nastys we meet along the way. It’s loaded too, so be careful.”

 “Alright.”  Eddie nodded. “The kids are strapped in,cars gassed up. Looks like everythings secure,so lets motor before the shufflers hear us and come trying to find a tasty snack, huh? “

Gus closed the trunk in agreement.

“Damn,” He said. “Too late. “

There , at the end of the driveway was another undead.

 Eddie looked at him, “Whaddya say, rock paper scissors?”

“Best two outta three. “ he agreed

 “Ready? GO!”

********************************************************************

“ Fine, FUCK! Hold my gun.” She said,.”Bastard!” Gus  took it, chuckling and got in the drivers side. “You’re a real gentleman.”  She added as she stalked away.


 Tess was in the passengers seat filing her nails,and the kids were raising a ruckus in the backseat . Gus drummed the wheel nervously looking at this pretty girl and wondering if she would like him. He cleared his throat. She completely ignored him.

“So...”  He began...” You married?” As a brief flicker of recognition of his existance, she glanced in his direction, then sighed, and continued to inspect her nails.


“ Cuz , y’know, I’m not uh, married....”


There was a consistent  thumping from the outside at the back of the car as Eddie and the zombie rolled off the back windshield ,fighting. After a gruesome crunch and a thud , they heard her land, and  then a lot of swearing. Gus turned his attentions back to Tessa, who seemed to have found a dust particle that interested her more than him.

“.... Cuz  I was thinking, maybe we could, ...uh...sometime?  Get together or.....”


She placed her hand on his arm , and looked him directly in the eye.

“You’re not really my type.’ She said.


Gus turned away to inspect the steering wheel again. “ Oh.” He said.

She went back to filing her nails but was interrupted by a zombie hand rapping on her window.

Eddie was holding the severed apendage .  “All done. “ She grinned.
 Tess opened the door,and kissed her. “My hero.”

Gus sighed.

“EEWWWWWW” came a chorus from the back seat. .” You were kissing!”
 

  Eddie smiled and lovingly slapped Tess on the theigh.
“Move over sweetie. “ She said, cocking the rifle.  “Mamas’ got shotgun.”

 


    “They’ll be expecting us to go the nearest compound,” Gus started . ” So what we’re gunna do is go to the one in Deroches  , its about halfway between here and  Kelowna.”

“Is it worth the detour?” She asked, distracted . “ I don’t want to get there and be turned away if they’re not accepting.”

Gus’s eyes never veered from the road. “ Nah,  I was there little more than a week ago, it should be okay.  We won’t be able to stay for long because of the food shortage, but  overnight, its a safer bet than going straight through. Bad enough dealing with the Shufflers during the day, at least they’re too stupid to follow the car. Vamps are another story, they’ll jump right up on the hood if they get the chance. Driving at night is bad news, I  prefer to avoid it if at  all possible.”

“ Right then. Lay on, McDuff, “ She replied, resigning herself to it.

 “Huh.” He quipped. “ Isnt it ‘Lead on Mcduff.’?”

“Pretty sure  its  ‘Lay.’ ”

“..Hmmm... “  He frowned.



     Gus filled them in as they pulled through the abandoned town.

“ There was a strong sense of community here.  This is one of the last places I know of that was considered safe. ‘Til recently people still went out during the day . They pulled together and sought out anyone they thought might have been afflicted, had themselves a  nice little mob scene. The thing is” , he paused, searching for his lighter ,  “ They must ’ve missed a few.”  He lit his smoke and exhaled, rolling the window part way down in habit.   “Anyway, lately, its really gotten out of control. A town of a thousand or so is down to less than a hundred . The survivors holed up in the high school, thinking it was the safest place to be. Its not bad, nice secure doors, alarm system that sounds real loud if someone tries to break in.”

 

“ Oh my God! That’s it?!” Tess groaned in disgust as they pulled up to the dilapidated building.
 
 “ We might as well sleep outside.”

“Suit yerself .”  Gus  said, slamming the door.

***


    “ Will Bucky be alright in the trunk?”  The little girl asked.  Eddie crouched down to Hannah’s level, taking her hand  . She noticed how small it felt in her own.
 
     “ She’ll be fine. Chickens like the dark ; it makes them feel safe. “    Eddie wasn’t  sure if it was true, but she hoped that it had made the child feel better. Cautiously, she clutched the new shotgun in the right hand,feeling safe in the knowledge that it was there if  needed . The toddler clung to Tess in the sling, sucking his thumb dozily, unfazed by his new surroundings,nearly asleep on her chest.    Gus walked ahead of them to the main doors and knocked  quietly, enjoying the sunlight on his face while they waited. No one came.  The playground was empty, but Eddie felt nervous and glanced  around . The sickening tightness in the pit of her stomach didn’t go away, and got worse when Tess  pushed  lightly on the door. It swung open. They stepped inside.

“Hello?”   Gus called. There was no response. “ Anybody home?”

     “This is weird.”  He said as they inched along. “I’ve been here a dozen times. They’d never leave the front door unbarred.”   They had nearly reached the main hall .    “ Damn... Not a soul.” He continued.  “ Usually by the time you’ve knocked someone’s opened it  ...... “    He stopped to look down the long corridor  “ ... But now this place is totally dead.”

  Tess’s gaze betrayed no emotion. “ You can say that again.”

  They were coming out of the woodwork suddenly, from the top of the stairs,through the front door, up the hallway, all toward them, a slow steady stream of vile creatures, coming for them. Gus could tell they’d turned  only hours earlier and probably hadn’t had a chance to feed. That meant they’d be hungry.

 “Now  what?” She hissed in panic, clutching the sleeping baby even closer.

    “I’ll make a path; We’re going straight out the way we came”. Eddie said, her heart racing in her ears. “You guys back it up a bit. Gus, bring the rear.”

     And then she started shooting. The first shot blasted through the head of the one to her left,blocking the doorway.  They stepped over the slumped corpse as it twitched its last, out into sunlight where only two more stood between them and freedom. She shot at the other and missed, then tried to reload.

    “ Get  the kids in the car! Go! “ She screamed. Gus fumbled for the keys. It was nearly on top of her and the gun remained unloaded. She cursed herself  for not learning how  to do it before.  She sobbed as it stepped within smelling distance, crying in frustration at the weapon she had thought she could  use and how her own arrogance would become her undoing. Then something whizzed past  her ear and embedded itself in the things head. It fell over, completely immobile. The car flew forward, crushing the other beneath its wheels. Henry opened the back door grinning.

“ I did good, huh?” He beamed. She hugged him tight as they sped away.



***



     Gus drove in shock, too upset to speak. A few of the faces he’d seen he had known.

       “ How could this happen?”  Tess murmured to herself , caressin Littleman's hair. He had stayed sleeping on her chest throughout the ordeal, too exhausted to enjoy the show.

 “The alarms didn’t sound. That means they’ve either been turned off, or ....”

     Gus shook his head no. “That would require first hand knowledge of  the building.
Most likely they never went off at all.”

  They drove in silence as the implications of what that meant dawned on them, and wondered which scenario they would have preferred.  No one wanted to say it.


    “..........It started inside. One of them musta been a Vamp.”  He finally croaked.


****************

 Passing the high school  football field,their world became even more surreal. Cheerleaders  in bloodstained  miniskirts raised slow arms to cheer, and the eternal game commenced.

  Because a  severed  head is the perfect size for a ball.