“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
Yes, the taxes done and filed, praise God. Jabberwocky came to mind when I clicked on the last OK button on Turbotax, although I’m not sure how you go galumphing back with a computer.
I have resumed work on Princess of Fire, although from the first couple of nights’ efforts it appears it may take me a while to get back up to battle speed. Progress reports will follow.
I’ve been rooting around for another abandoned fragment to post. The effort reminded me, once again, that I have a lot of bad writing in my archives. I mean, bad writing. All of you should be paying me not to publish this stuff.
I considered posting the ending of the only tale of Lovecraftian horror I ever attempted, but I decided it simply proved I don’t have a horror gene. I thought about posting another two thousand words from the alternate history I’ve posted two fragments from before, but out of context it would be a confusing welter of fields of fire, weapon types, and not very exciting preparations for battle.
Then I came across this piece, which is the beginning of a story I got about 7500 words into and then dropped. It’s unusual for me in two ways. First, I rarely write in the first person. Second, it involves vampires.
I generally don’t like vampire stories, although I had my Buffy the Vampire Slayer period. The real problem at the moment, though, is that the field is swamped, in large part by imitations of Twilight— and, if not Twilight, then Anne Rice. Basically the genre has been run into the ground.
This story dates from years and years back (far enough for me to see some pretty staggering infelicities in my then-style, some of which I’ve tried to correct here and now), and was conceived as something of a reaction to the whole genre– the heroes are Knights-Templar, serving a unified Church in suppressing the vampire menace. If I had gone on with this story, the team-leader in this piece would have had his assumptions and prejudices challenged by a female vampire desperately seeking a way back into God’s grace. However, I lost the impetus for the story when I had trouble making the larger world make sense. If I ever revisit the tale– probably unlikely– I would have to figure that piece out first.
Copyright 2014 Douglas Daniel
I leaned out the chopper door to study the roof below. The wind was a hot breath on my face. The summer heat lay like a vise on the city, the sun brazen and fat. The distant skyscrapers were hazed with smog, like some dingy dream. Wearing black was nearly insanity on a day like today, but there was even less sense hunting our enemy in pastels and cottons.
In one way, though, the weather was a blessing, despite the sweat trickling steadily down my back. The enemy would be buried deep today. Far down in the cool and dark, sleeping soundly.
“Ground elements in position,” my earpiece crackled. “Reserve team on standby.”
“Acknowledged,” I said into my microphone. I didn’t take my eyes off the roof. It was five hundred feet below the hovering chopper. I wanted every detail in my mind, although I had studied it a hundred times in the hours since we had found out that this was the lair. You never know what little detail might reveal itself at the last minute, a detail that might be victory or death.
The chopper’s blades whispered overhead, like sibilant music you hear more in your bones than in your ears. The machine was running in mute mode, its rotor noise inaudible to the human ear from more than fifty feet away. The specification never gave me much comfort; our quarry were not human. If they heard us coming they could escape, or make our welcome interesting.
It was time. I keyed the all-units net. “Fox Gear Ten to all units; execute Plan Green. Repeat, execute Plan Green.” I switched to the chopper intercom. “Take us down,” I told the pilot.
The blades overhead angled. The chopper dropped like a thistledown. My stomach lurched, as it always did. I unhooked my safety line, disconnected my hard-link to the chopper’s processor. I charged my weapon. God, I go with thee. I crossed myself.
I looked back at the team. They were ready, waiting, expectant. They were probably sweating as badly as I was, between black uniforms, fiberglass helmets and heavy equipment, but there was not a murmur. They watched and waited for me to tell them what to do. I felt a flush of pride in the men. Of course they were the best; I had picked them myself.
The roof came up quickly. I signaled to the team to standby. The chopper turned and hovered, five feet off the asphalt layering the roof. I clenched my fist, and jumped.
I landed, went to one knee. Nothing moved on the roof, but I held my weapon ready. It was layered over with asphalt; the heat had turned it sticky. It clung to my boots and the knee of my uniform pants, and made tacky noises as I pulled away.
The team-members came after me. No matter how many time we did this, I always got the impression of black beetles falling out of a box. The moment the last of the knights were out the chopper turned and raced away in a blast of heated wind.
I dashed for the roof access, and knelt beside the door. The rest of the team spread themselves out into security positions or covered the door; all except Terrera. The tech ran forward. He swept the frame of the door with his hand-sensor. The lights on the instrument’s panel flashed green; Terrera signaled, Clear.
I tried the handle. The door was locked. Terrera moved in again, this time with his decoupler in hand. There was a tiny click as the door unlocked. I begrudged the noise; I would much rather have given up a pint of blood.
I swung the door open. Within was a tiny landing and a steep set of stairs. A gust of air, cold by comparison with the summer day outside, blew up past my face. It smelled of mildew, rusting metal, and moldering wood.
I signaled the team follow me, and went down into the darkness.
Very quickly we left the sunlight behind, as the stairs spiraled downward. I dropped the infrared snoopers over my eyes, signaled the team to do the same. The stairwell was transformed from a dark abstraction into a green-hued reality. My team shone like silver effigies with their body heat. The stairs were worn and broken, the paint on the wall beside it peeling in strips. We went down.
The stairs wound back and forth as they led downward. We covered each other as we descended. It was unlikely the enemy would be lurking this far up, but I had trained my men to never take chances. The enemy was as cunning as they were inhuman and cruel.
The stairs exited on to a gallery that overlooked the warehouse floor. Bakke and Rhodes took up overwatch position to either side of the stairs, scanning the surroundings. Two more staircases led from the gallery to the main floor of the warehouse. Across the warehouse was another gallery, lined with offices, the picture windows all broken out, the interiors dark. In fact, the whole cavern of the warehouse was dark; I realized that the few windows had been painted or covered over. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to keep the sunlight out.
Search by twos, I signaled. Hudson and Clark, Terera and Wilson, Bakke and Rhodes. That left me with Atwell, the novice. I couldn’t see the youngster’s eyes behind his infared goggles, but I could sense him trembling as he knelt beside me. As the other pairs split off, I patted Atwell on the shoulder. Follow me. We took the stairs down to the warehouse floor.
It was hard moving across the floor without making noise; the concrete was littered with broken glass, rusting scraps of metal, rotting stacks of plywood. Atwell and I picked our way along, placing our feet carefully, stopping to listen every few feet. The warehouse was dead silent; I was pleased that I couldn’t hear the other pairs as they scoured its perimeter, looking for below-ground entrances and clearing the rooms that led off the main floor. Atwell and I didn’t scan for tunnel entrances. We were aiming for the offices on the other side.
The stairs up to the other gallery were even more rickety than the first; we had to go slowly, to keep from snapping one or another of the treads. I worried seriously for a few moments that the stairs would collapse under our weight; then we were at the top.
Atwell and I cleared the offices. The interior sheet-rock walls had been mostly knocked down or cut through, making the space a warren. Inside the offices were broken chairs, collapsed desks, rusting filing cabinets. We worked our way from office to office, sometimes going through the holes in the interior walls, sometimes out on the gallery. There was a stench of moldering paper. But no enemy.
We reached the end of the gallery, stood in the manager’s office. The green-lit space was empty. I was beginning to feel a tickle of doubt.
We pulled back to the gallery rail. Atwell spoke for the first time, in a hoarse whisper, “It’s clear, sir. Shall we go downstairs?”
The vampire dropped like death itself. It had to have been in the rafters of the warehouse, waiting. The creature slammed into Atwell and sent him sprawling. Its body struck me a glancing blow and made me stagger backward.
That may have saved my life, and Atwell’s; those two or three steps gave me room. I lifted my shotgun and blew the vampire off the novice. I hit the unholy– to the eye, a pale youth in tattered jeans and sweat-shirt– in the upper chest. The thing screamed and tumbled backwards over the gallery rail.
“Contact, contact, contact,” my earpiece crackled, in time to an eruption of gunfire. The warehouse blossomed with bluish light, flickering; someone had set off a UV grenade. Atwell was still down, either hurt or smart. I stepped over him and looked over the rail. Twenty feet below the vampire was struggling to get to its feet, despite the wet, gaping wound the shotgun had given it. The thing was nearly blown in half, but it was trying to get up.
I yanked a grenade from my belt, pulled the pin, and dropped it. It ignited halfway down. Molten fire cascaded down on the vampire. It screamed, shrieking as flame bathed it.
I shouted into my mike, “This is Oscar Executive, report”.
“Hostile contact, Class One,” Rhodes said. “Two vamps down, another’s gone down a tunnel. Orders?”
I reached down and hauled Atwell to his feet by his web-harness. The kid was pale, but unhurt. “Proceed inside,” I told Rhodes. “Prevent an escape, but watch for an ambush. Procedure M.”
“Acknowledged.” Rhodes clicked off.
“Sorry, sir,” Atwell said. He looked embarrassed, as if I had caught him smoking on duty.
“It caught me by surprise, too, novice,” I told him. I glanced over the rail. The vamp on the concrete below was not moving; he was just a prostrate blur within a blazing bonfire that would not stop until he was ashes. The heat was blistering; it made me step far back. Three accounted for. “Let’s go.”
The tunnel mouth was a dark hole in the warehouse floor, cut through the concrete and a layer of brick into the ground. Raw earth crumbled from its edges. Terrera and Bakke covered it with their weapons. The UV grenade had gone out; two withered forms lay close by. It always struck me how much a vampire’s destroyed husk looked like some abstract artist’s work.
“Rhodes and others just went down, sir,” Terrera said.
“Good. Atwell, stay with Terrera. I’m going after them.”
“Let me come with you, sir,” Atwell said.
The kid was eager to make up from getting caught unawares. I could sympathize. But I didn’t need a novice bumbling around in a vamp tunnel. “It’s all right. Stay with Terrera and cover the exit. We’ll stay in touch.”
I jumped down before the kid could give me any more argument. It wasn’t a long drop, maybe seven feet. I shoved my back against the tunnel wall and scanned ahead on infared. I caught the gleams of the team’s lights ahead of me, around a bend, but that was nearly it; the tunnel was very cool, very dark. It ran in one direction, eastward, toward the bay.
“Oscar Delegate, this is Oscar Executive,” I said into my mike, “I’m in the tunnel and coming up behind you. Report.”
“This is Oscar Delegate,” Rhodes said. “We’re about fifty yards down the tunnel. No vamp in sight, no chamber. Continuing with Procedure M.”
“Acknowledged,” I said, “coming up behind you now. I should join you in a few moments. Out.” I set off down the tunnel.
I hadn’t got fifteen feet when firing erupted again. “Contact!” my earpiece screamed. There was an unearthly shriek, such as no human throat ever uttered. I ran.
The tunnel open abruptly into a large chamber. There were beds and carpets on a rough floor of boards laid down on the raw earth, a scattering of debris, discarded clothes and trash, and a stench of blood and the bitter stink of vampires living in a confined space. In the middle of the room a vamp, at bay, turned and snarled at the team as the knights surrounded the unclean. It was already wounded, a gaping hole blown in its side. As I came in Rhodes got a clear shot and blew one of its legs off. It went down.
“No fire!” I yelled. I wanted the chamber intact.
Bakke danced in even as I spoke the words. He shoved a staker against the thing’s chest and pulled the trigger. The vamp howled, clawing at Bakke. Then it withered, as if the moisture were being sucked out of it, the howl dwindling away into a fading whisper. By the time Bakke had backed away and holstered his weapon, the vampire was a desiccated husk.
“Medic!” someone yelled– Clark. He was bending over a figure tied to one of the beds. “We’ve got a prisoner, he’s bad.”
It was a youth, perhaps seventeen, tied half-naked on the bed. He was alive, but his eyes stared and wandered. He didn’t respond to our questions or Clark’s examination of his wounds. There were punctures about his throat, lacerations on his chest, and bad rope burns on his wrists and ankles. I switched to the command circuit as Clark pulled out a kit, talking to the youth in a soothing voice. “Medic inside,” I told the op center. “We have a civilian casualty.”
“Roger, he’s on his way,” the liaison said back.
“The rest of you, make sure this place is secure; check for other exits.” The team scattered, all except Clark and I. I fumbled in the pouch on my web-belt, pulled out a test packet. Opening it, I leaned over and washed the kid’s forehead with it, one quick swipe. I waited, counting under my breath.
Fifteen seconds passed. There was no reaction to the holy water. The kid had been a vamp-meal for God knew how long; but he had not been converted. “Thanks be to God,” I said, relieved.
“Secure, sir,” Rhodes said. “There’s no other exit.”
I relaxed. “Very well.” I looked at the kid. The youth was now hanging on to Clark’s arm and starting to cry. “Good work.”