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THE DEAD DAYS JOURNAL, VOL. 2 

 

Chapter One

 

The first night away from home, I slept in the cool embrace of a vampire and dreamed of the death I’d left behind.

Beneath closed eyes an image of my mother appeared, whole and beautiful. Nothing like the last time I saw her face. In my dream she was tall and unspoiled, an older image of myself with blonde hair and green eyes.

A moment later my father joined her. Transparently white from his albinism, he looked like a phantom. Vincent draped his pale arm over my mother’s slim shoulders. She turned to him and smiled. I wondered if they were pleased to be reunited in death.

If there was any truth in the affectionate display I witnessed, they were. Then again, my subconscious had a lot of guilt to purge.

The last time I had seen my mother, her severed head was nailed above a steel door to deter a blood-thirsty horde from destroying the bunker. Some hundred feet away from her corpse was a freshly dug grave with the remains of my father.

I had ordered his death.

The unforgivable acts my father committed at the end of his life would haunt me for the rest of mine. However long that might be.

When I opened my eyes, it was to a darkened view of the crumbling skyscrapers. The stench of a fallen city assaulted my nose. It’d been five years since I had smelled the rancid decay of civilization. The streets were unrecognizable, consumed by vegetation, debris of various shapes and sizes, and burned, rusted-out vehicles. Human remains wrapped in dissolving clothes littered the roads and sidewalks, some stacked in huge piles. All appeared to be in late stages of decomposition, though the smell of their rot was still strong.

This was not a world I knew anymore.

I looked up at Halloween as he carried me through the destruction. Silky black hair almost hid his long pointed ears and framed a rugged, but angelic face. Shirtless, the smooth, midnight-shadowed skin covering his sculpted body would have made him invisible, if his upturned eyes hadn’t burned like torches in the night.

Halloween was taking me and my little brother to his island. He would give us a better life in exchange for our blood. Or so he’d said. It was also the place where I’d give birth to the strange hybrid creature growing inside my womb.

Halloween realized I was awake and shifted me over to his hip. He obviously didn’t want to put me down.

“Where are we?” I asked quietly, wiping off the thin line of drool I’d left running down his chest.

Halloween glanced over with a hint of a smile. “Nashville, I think.”

“We’ve gotten that far?” I stretched my arms overhead and arched my back. Careful not to kick him, I swung my legs to help get the blood circulating again.

“You’re a sound sleeper and I’m very fast.”

The grey and black city looked desolate and ruined, as if it had exploded a hundred times over. By comparison, life at the bunker had been absolute paradise. In the cities beyond the bunker, thousands of people had suffered before dying frightening, horrible deaths.

Several feet ahead, Anouk popped over mounds of waste, landing silently on top of an overturned, partially flattened tanker. The petite female vampire gestured too fast for me to follow before ducking back into the filth of the forsaken city street. A sudden shift of weight and a twist of an unseen arm, and Halloween had placed me on his back. I’d almost complained about being handled like a child when I saw a flickering glow in the space between two five-story buildings.

There are still people here.

My blood turned to ice. It had been a long time since I’d run into this kind of trouble. Strangers were a threat to avoid or to be dealt with by force. How many are here in the city? How have they survived this long?

The sky began to brighten, transitioning from a star-speckled black to a deep, majestic blue.

How can I protect sleeping vampires, if we are discovered by a deranged band of desperate people?

Shit, where’s Lincoln?

Almost as if Halloween had read my thoughts, he pointed to a crouched figure a few yards on the right. Kuro, the branded vampire, was carrying my little brother on his back the same way Halloween carried me. A couple of silent, stomach-lurching leaps and we hunkered down next to them. Lincoln’s green eyes widened, but I couldn’t tell if it was from fear or excitement.

A noiseless shadow drifted across the distant alley, and then the movement erupted into a clatter of disjointed commotion. Bangs. Yells. Thuds. Then a high-pitched screech like metal being torn. I held my breath, afraid even the faintest sound might draw attention.

Kuro scooted forward, hunched over on his hands and feet juggling Lincoln’s pack on one arm. My little brother was helpless to do anything other than hold on. Halloween hurried after Kuro. My heart pounded hard against Halloween’s taut back muscles. No amount of fabric could hide my panic. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I was the one with my feet on the ground taking action.

Halloween squeezed my thigh before shooting upward, straight into the air, to land on the roof of the closest building. Kuro and Lincoln followed. Both vampires were careful where to place their bare feet. Although the tarred roof looked solid, one wrong step and it would cave in. I shuddered as I pictured crashing into God only knew what and alerting the people below.

Halloween kneeled along the edge of the roof and peered over the side, giving me a clear view of the alley. An older woman, bloody clothes torn open, her intestines neatly placed over her bare breasts while three men sliced and devoured pieces of her flesh. She was still alive. A half-naked teenage boy cowered, surrounded by two more dirt-encrusted cannibals armed with an axe and a metal baseball bat. I closed my eyes, but the images remained.

Even before Halloween turned away, swiftly propelling us to the next rooftop, I knew he wouldn’t try to save them. It was too close to dawn and the victims were too far gone, most likely riddled with disease and mentally inept. But had it been my family that had come across the horrific scene, we would have at least tried to save the boy.

Why hadn’t these people fled the city sooner? Once the power had gone out and other utilities failed, there’d been little access to drinkable water. Food sources were limited from the beginning. This many years later, there was nothing–unless you planned on eating one another, which evidently some of them did. It’s exactly what would have happened to my family if my father hadn’t whisked us out of Washington, D.C. to the well-stocked bunker, before the whole of society collapsed.

I did my best to ignore how those thoughts made me feel.

A few minutes later and we were out of the city and into an area that looked more like the desert than the suburbs of Tennessee. A gentle breeze carried the smell of ocean and rotting fish. I raised my head from Halloween’s shoulder. Somewhere in the distance, waves crashed over the newly formed shoreline. After the tsunami of 2023, the East Coast wasn’t what–or where–it used to be.

Towering, windswept mountains of white sand concealed most of the buildings, streets, and bodies that lay buried underneath. Scattered ships and bleached whale bones littered the unstable granular terrain. The Atlantic Ocean had regurgitated its sandy floor all over everything. Only the tallest structures breached the surface and they were spread farther and farther apart, making it difficult to travel, even with the speed and agility of a vampire.

Halloween paused on the side of a church steeple and swung around to delicately place me on the ledge alongside my brother. “Wait here.”

As if we can go anywhere else.

I watched Halloween and Kuro leap from the church to the sloped ground, testing the stability of the sand as they made their way over to a large freighter where Anouk waited. Then they all disappeared into the hull of the cargo ship through a long tear in its side.

“How are you doing, Linc?” I asked, twisting around to grab a water bottle from one of the packs they’d left behind.

Lincoln stretched his arms overhead. “I’m tired. This is a lot scarier than I thought it would be… it’s even more exciting. My insides are flip-flopping and turning into knots.”

I handed him the bottle, and then dug deeper for something to eat. “Are you sorry you decided to come?”

Lincoln took a long drink of water. “No. Never,” and then passed the bottle back to me. “I like Kuro. He’s cool.”

I swallowed a few sips of water, knowing it would do nothing to quench my growing thirst. “Yeah, well, you probably won’t think he’s so cool after he feeds on your blood.” I stopped mid-drink and looked at Lincoln. The words had completely bypassed my filter.

He shook his blond head, and thrust a small hand out, demanding the water bottle back. I handed it over along with a bruised apple. “Halloween does it and you don’t seem to mind. Leo, you like-like him.”

“Don’t let Kuro bite you. Use your knife, it will hurt less,” I said, just before Halloween and Kuro climbed the steeple to retrieve their daily meals.

#

Halloween’s blood tasted so sweet, I didn’t bother to scream with the painful insertion of his fangs. I held his wrist tighter, sucked harder. I tried to drown the agony of his bite with the slick honey that doused the fire burning in my throat.

Morning had arrived, and with it, my intense craving for vampire blood.

We were safely tucked into the belly of a marooned German freighter, a cabin on the passenger deck, when the first cramp doubled me over. Halloween had comforted me with a gentle rub over my bowed spine. Just before the pain hit, he’d been slipping away, losing consciousness, as he did with every sunrise. But that hadn’t stopped me from twisting around and chomping down on his wrist.

His blood was what I needed, and nothing could stop me from taking it. Halloween didn’t fight. Holding me close, he laid back on the one-man bunk. A brief moment passed before he swiped a ponytail aside to bare my neck. The next instant he’d struck. Our bodies were entwined while we feasted, until Halloween went dead: fangs retracted, hands dropped, erection softened.

I pulled away from his vein, fully sated, to observe the beast that held a piece of my heart–my life, my brother, and the life of my unborn child–in his black-clawed hands. The features I’d once thought inhuman and monstrous were now utter perfection.

Rubbing a hand over my flat stomach, I considered the life growing–transforming–inside me. It was time to face the future, and forget the past. Thanks to Halloween most of my family had survived the attack on the bunker, and were safe. Ben, the true father of my baby, would be okay. I had to believe that. So would Duncan and Tilly. I had to let go and focus on the now.

I placed a single kiss on Halloween’s forehead, leaving him to sleep while I went to find Lincoln.

The interior of the ship was in decent condition, all things considered. The lack of bodies onboard meant the people had either gotten off alive or drowned at sea. The entire contents of the ship were strewn about, as if it had been turned upside down several times, everything dusted with a thin layer of sand.

Two cabins over, I found Lincoln huddled in the corner, not far from where the branded vampire, Kuro slept. Repeatedly, my brother pressed the button on a blue Zippo lighter, held the flame close to his nose, and then let the fire go out before igniting it once more. Small droplets of blood stained the sleeve of his shirt.

“You okay?” I asked from the doorway.

Lincoln’s lower lip quivered, he was trying hard not to cry. I had a feeling his bravery was for my benefit. “Yeah, it wasn’t so bad. I used my blade, like you said.”

I held out my hand, wiggling my fingers for him to come to me. “Let’s go have some fun.”

“I thought we were supposed to stay put,” Lincoln said, rising to his feet.

“It’s not like they can stop us. Let’s do a recon mission. I won’t tell if you don’t. Besides, this is your first time on a boat. Aren’t you curious?”

“Yeah, and it’s stuck on a pile of sand next to a dead city.” He straightened his clothes with relatively steady hands.

Lincoln loved to play soldier. There was little risk in distracting him from what happened with a quick game, as long as he kept quiet and we stuck close to the cabins. We’d seen no signs of life since we left the city limits. Besides, we had the rest of the day to sit around and do nothing.

Lincoln tiptoed past Kuro, snagged his crossbow, and then pulled the light stick off the top of his survival pack. “Can I take point?”

I ruffled his pale blond hair, switching off the safety of my Glock G-19. Better safe than sorry. “Sure. But go slow. Watch your step, and stay within five feet of me at all times.”

Remembering our practice games from the bunker, Lincoln marked our route with a swipe of his finger along the grimy wall. He flashed a smile before ducking and then rolling past the slightly cracked door to the next room, the one that housed Dagon and Anouk.

Turning back, he pointed his bow into the room. “Swap! Swap!” He faked the kills and then dodged and rolled as if he were in combat. Lincoln continued to pantomime evasive maneuvers–following his training exactly.

I peered into the room, careful not to disturb the heavy door that looked as if it would screech with the slightest touch. The tiny Anouk lay innocently wrapped in Dagon’s thick blue-colored arms, both unconscious and completely vulnerable–easily dispatched. Why not? Those two had done everything in their power to annoy me. Like a pair of splinters burrowing under my finger nails. Anouk hated me for the developing relationship with Halloween, and Dagon… Well, he seemed to dislike all humans. Which brought a somber question to mind: who had they fed on before leaving the bunker? Several other fitful thoughts entered my mind. I physically shook the dark ideas away and moved on to find my brother attempting to climb the metal rung ladder to the upper deck.

“No, Lincoln, we have to stay down here.”

He’d moved a step down when a noise made him pause. The groan sounded like worn hinges, as if something above was attempting to open the hatch. I took aim, as Lincoln scampered down the ladder to my side.

The hatch remained closed. I scaled up the ladder and slid the lock into place.

Together we stared at the hatch, straining our ears for any noise above.

Dead silence.

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