Dodge the darts -- easier than bullets, and there would be no bullets this time; they wouldn't dare kill a human.... not unless it really came down to saving their own necks, maybe not even then. But they'd tranq you and drag you back to their lair, and that was a thousand times worse. Made it to the edge of the cemetery, I can see the headlights of the van now, coming towards my position right on schedule.... have to time this just right.... it won't stop, signal, run towards it broadside, it slows down, door opens just enough, Bogan claps his fat, hairy hand on my elbow, and I'm in. Safe. Least, as safe can be these days.

"Didn't used to be like this," I huffed.

"Tell me about it," Bogan snorted, whipping out a flask of whiskey and tossing it over.

I caught a glance of the driver's eyes in the rear view mirror. Connie's red hair bounced on her lithe shoulders as we sped over the uneven road back into town. "Greg, before you get soused, what'dya see?"

I shrugged a bit, "four of them left up and running in this group. Maybe there's a fifth hiding out somewhere, giving orders, but the rest of the clan is catatonic." The image was fastened into my brain. Rows of them, maybe two-hundred, lying comatose, paralyzed by their need for a blood supply that was no longer to be found.

Now, your average vamp needs maybe a pint a day -- and I'm not talking ale -- and can get on for a good while on less than that, but not forever. And there was a time when there were only a handful of them, and they were very, very careful about who they turned. One mistake, one misjudgment was all it took. Rasputin -- Raspy, we call him -- was his name, or at least the one he'd adopted. Before he was a vampire, he was just a lowlife, a small-time criminal named Norman. As a crook he was careful enough that a vamp in a pinch figured to turn him and make a useful servant, but Norm- er, Rasputin's will proved unusually strong. Raspy didn't follow orders, and instead went a little nuts, got it in his head to defy his maker and make himself a vamp army and roll right over the old order.

But Raspy was even less careful than the vamp that had turned him, grabbing old friends and enemies alike. If he liked a girl, he'd turn her -- why play the mating game if you can make someone your willing servant? -- and he certainly did like the girls. The thing that the Old Ones had thought through long ago, which Raspy didn't seem to have a care for, was math. Multiplication, particularly. Turn a person, and they'll need to feed. A pint a day, if they can get it. And there's only eight of those in a human body, most of which the typical human can't live without.

So Raspy's oversized vamp crew starts hunting humans left and right. Some they kill, some they turn, a few they sloppily abandon, figured for dead, but those end up having turned all by themselves. Now the cat is out of the bag, even the unbelievers are shaken out of their apathy and they set their sights on vamp eradication. Which Raspy figures to counter by just raising up a bigger and bigger army, and sending them out into the night with orders to turn as many as they can. Now, a vamp on a mission can turn three or four in a night. And in 24 hours, these newbies (and their new master) can be out turning more. That's a small town in a week; a city in two.

And if a vamp happened to turn someone who's brother was an aide to a General or a Senator, by the end of the week you've got a couple vamps in the Senate. Then a few dozen. Then all of Capital Hill, and before you know it, heads of state across the globe, governors and bureaucrats too. As if a switch had been flipped, the newscasters went from reporting on how their fellow humans were resisting the vamps to how their fellow vamps were overcoming human oppression. And not long after that, there were no more newscasts....

Suddenly, everyone you went to high school with was a vamp, and there weren't enough non-vamp necks left to feed them. That's when things got really ugly. Almost all wars are ultimately about control of resources, and a living, breathing human with a neck full of red-protein-nectar had become the most valuable resource of all. So now the vamps were done fighting humans; now they were fighting each other over the few humans that were left, and some of the smaller (and like Raspy himself, less thoughtful) vamp outfits that broke off were still trying to build numbers to win in that fight by turning that scarce unturned human.

The few humans who managed to evade the carnage by laying low or living in isolated places had been able to wait out the worst of it. It took only seven weeks for the population to go from 6 billion humans and a handful of vamps to the other way around. And only a few weeks more for the desperate, foodless vamps to start dropping into catatonia. There was no way to know anymore, but I figured the ambulant population of the planet to have dropped to less than a million, mostly groups of vamps who had managed to hang on to a few captive humans for their supply. Well, that was one way to do it. And the only way to take down those clans was to either kill off or rescue their food supply -- of which the clan we hit tonight had none.

The van pulled a sharp turn left, jerking into the underground parking garage that led to the tunnel that would take us to that comfy fortified bunker we had come to call home. Certain we hadn't been followed, we pulled into a well concealed alcove and took stock of our status. We'd managed to scavenge enough food and fuel for the dozen of us living there to stay in for the next few weeks -- a good thing, since the downtime would be needed.

Equipment check, a can of soup for dinner, then a shower and I was ready to hit the sack -- well, one other little thing first. Connie popped her pretty head in my door, and I was definitely up for my turn. With a welcoming smile, I offered up my neck for those delectable fangs. Hey, she's the only vamp on our team, gotta keep her healthy!!


Pickman's Nodegel: The 2009 Halloween Horrorquest

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