Harsh wind greets us when we crawl out of the car. The day so far was hot and strangely cloudy, but the weather seems to have finally made up its mind: The air smells like rain and lightning, and the streets are groaning for a good soak.
Aschure seems to agree; she re-does her ponytail as she stares up at the clouds ponderingly, lips tucked against her teeth. When she turns and her eyes meet mine, she startles, looking young and caught. Then her face closes up again and she forces herself to straighten, tapping her sides to check her weapons. “If you don’t have extra bullets on you, I’ll be very cross,” she threatens with a slight upturn in her lips. I smile in return. Of course I have. Thirty extra rounds, three magazines, all stuffed down my boot, belt, and jacket pocket, ready for grabs should the need arise. I don’t think it will, though.
The warm breeze howls along the walls of the delapidated building in front of us. A defunct hospital, Stanley said, and then told us in great detail how to find it. I didn’t understand why, until now. Were it not for the O and the TAL still dangling from the brick wall, I wouldn’t have dreamed that this was once a place to bring the sick. If we had come at night, we would have driven right by it. Luckily, we’re not stupid enough to hunt vampires at night.
Old oaks seam the outer property wall, leaning onto it like old men. At some places, the wall has given, crumbling onto the broken pavement and filling the gaps there, leaving lighter places on the car fumes blackened rock. Ivy climbs the barred metal gate at the front, roping the bars together for eternity. The wings gape open, though, and the ivy leaves just enough room to snake through. And of course there are vampires inside, it’s a spooky ruin. Where else would they be?
Aschure ducks through the ivy like a feral cat, popping up from the vegetation further in. She looks around, then turns and waves at me. I follow her, not half as agile as she is. I’m good in the athletics department, but she? She is art.
We make our way towards the main building quietly, straining our eyes in the bleak daylight as we watch the perimeter. I have trained for this, trained to the point of mind-numbing boredom, but doing it for real? Shit, my heart is about to punch a hole into my lungs.
The red brick building is covered in graffiti, not just tags, but big, swirling, colorful depictions of dicks, cannabis leaves, middle fingers, and peace signs. The big broken windows sit in between the sprayings like dead eyes, and I can’t help but feel watched as we get closer. Aschure stops when the surprisingly small front door comes into view, taps my shoulder, and points. A trampled trail leads through the unkempt grass and to the door, disappearing around the left corner of the giant complex.
There’s somebody here. And they are smart enough not to use the main gate. A homeless person wouldn’t give a shit about leaving traces, but a criminal would. Vampires would. My stomach contracts into a heavy, pulsing knot.
We both pull our guns, pointing them to the ground as we creep closer. My mind spins with useless quotes from the Hunter’s handbook, things like signs of unsound walls or where the best places to store magazines are when in a swampy area, bullheadedly sabotaging my futile attempts at calming myself. I let Aschure take point and follow her in short sidesteps as I keep an eye on the overgrown garden at our back, my feet moving on autopilot. Tall grass and wild bushes wave at me as the wind gets even stronger, my gun whipping to and fro as I scan for attackers. God, I hope I don’t shoot a rat and blow up this whole thing.
The soft thud of boots on stone inform me that Aschure has reached the steps in front of the door, and I move in closer as she climbs them. A gust of moss-heavy air ruffles my moussed-back hair and my neck prickles warningly, feeding into my frustration. I can’t see anything!
And just as I turn, a pale, broils-ridden man-creature appears in the dark doorway and snags Aschure through it as if she weighs nothing.
Her scream echoes, then the thud-thud-thud of three shots floats towards me from somewhere frighteningly far away.
Shit, shit, shit!
Even as a teenager, I found heroes running into danger utterly stupid. If you hear something dodgy when you’re alone in a cabin in the woods, don’t go out with a flashlight to look, for fuck’s sake, barricade the doors and make sure all the knives, axes and rifles are exactly where you are. Then hunker down and slice everything that tries to get close to you into ribbons. Survival is just as easy as that.
Much to nobody’s surprise, once I hear Aschure scream, I charge into the spooky building, and to hell with sanity.
I’ve been trained well enough to handle my gun even when I don’t have time to think about it, and I don’t just run like a headless chicken, but I don’t check the rooms beyond making sure nothing jumps at me while I run past, quick little glances left and right as I hunt after the echoes of my own steps. Rooms after rooms cower along the hallway, their doors long gone. Big stone tile shards sprinkle the rotting floorboards, sporting algae and fungus growths the size of couches, a slow, silent death to a breathing creature.
At the end of the hallway, I find drops of blood. I examine them just long enough to get a feeling for where to go next, and I’m off again. Past a spiraling staircase leading up, through a roomier hall cluttered with rotting and rusting furniture, and right through Aschure’s line of sight. Her shot whirs past my head and I stumble, ducking on instinct, cursing breathlessly.
She is lying on her back behind what is left of some kind of bar, gun in a two handed grip as she stares at me wild-eyed, bloody, and hyperventilating. She’s clutching something in her right hand, pressed tightly against the grip of her weapon like her life depends on it. Blood covers her chest, spots of it soaking into her shirt just above her belly button, and her ponytail is a mess. Something ripped right through her jacket and the shoulder holster she wore beneath it, leaving her shoulder half naked and riddled with gashes and teethmarks. Her face is almost as pale as her fingers, both hands clenching her gun so tightly, her knuckles have turned white. She meant to hit me, I can see it in her eyes. Which means, whatever attacked her is still alive and kicking, and somewhere in this building.
My mouth moves faster than my screaming mind. “We have to move,” I snarl at her, reaching down to pull her up. She stumbles before she catches herself, coughing dryly. I watch her pat herself down out of the corner of my eye, but mostly I keep both entrances to the room in sight. The item in her hand disappears into her pants pocket, nothing but a faint metallic glitter hinting to its identity.
“Fucker got me good,” growls Aschure and drops both jacket and broken holster. “I’ve never seen a vampire like that. He’s fast, Gideon. So fast.”
I flick my eyes over her neck and naked shoulder before I turn back to watching the exits. The vampire mauled her, and had she not worn the holster and the jacket, she’d be one arm short of whole. Probably shot the vampire off her at the last possible moment. Her human-slow reflexes cost her; as pale as she is and with this much blood on the floor, she shouldn’t be able to stand upright. Yet there she is, shoving magazines into her pants pockets, face contorted in pain, jaw set.
I back into her, counting on her to control the exit I slowly push her towards. It’s not the one where we came from; were I a vampire, I would sit just there and wait for the mindlessly panicked blood-bags to stumble by in their bid to make it to the front door. I’m not mindless and I refuse to be a snack for another vampire today.
Aschure falls into her training easily. As soon as my back touches hers, she starts moving, gun half raised, keeping a constant pressure against me as she moves forward. I keep my gun raised though. I’d rather have my arms become cramping noodles later than meet the vampire who beat Aschure’s quick-draw skills. It’s enough of an effort to follow Aschure’s guidance blindly already, especially with her stumbling and huffing, fighting the blood loss and increasingly flagging, behind me.
We make it around a corner, pass through a door and follow another hallway, both of us tense as we point the guns where we look, flinching at every nook and cranny. No amount of preparation will ever win out against fear and adrenaline, but we’re not shaking yet. That will come later. The hallway does get increasingly darker though, and it does nothing for my frayed nerves. When we take another turn into yet another hallway, I snap. “Where are we going?” I whisper through clenched teeth, scanning the shady corners in the rooms we pass.
Aschure hums, feet sliding forward carefully, feeling for holes and obstacles instead of using her eyes. She needs those to survive. “We’re following the vampire,” she whispers back. “I hit him good before he simpered off. Look down.”
I do, a quick few glances every second step or so. A trail of smeared blood drops leads down the middle of the hallway, almost black against the greenish stone tiles. Technically it could be Aschure’s blood, but it’s already started to congeal in the dust, much too old to come from her wounds. “Are you fucking crazy? You’re in no shape to fight,” I hiss a little too loud.
“Stop whining, puppy. This is our job and we’re damn well gonna finish it before he can skitter away like the roach he is.”
We haven’t stopped moving through our little spat, which is why we suddenly find us in another wider hall. And we’re surrounded.