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Authors: Jason Nahrung

Blood & Dust














Blood & Dust
Vampires in the Sunburnt Country 1

For Outback mechanic Kevin Matheson, it's just another summer's day. Mulga wavering
in the haze, sweat on his brow, bastard flies getting in his way.

And then the vampires arrive, leaving his life like road kill in their wake.

Caught between vicious nomadic bikers and their brutal foes from the coast, Kevin fights to save
not only those he holds dearest, but his own soul.

But how far will he go to save the people he loves?











For my father, Frank,
who slept on the west bank of the Warrego
and, as is the custom,
has ever yearned to return.


Dawn was one of Kevin's favourite times of the day, second only to knock-off time.
It was cool and quiet, and things hadn't had time enough to go wrong yet.

From the far end of the house, where the bedrooms overlooked the servo and the main road, came
the radio news theme. The strident jingle shattered the stillness like a chainsaw on full throttle.
Six o'clock. Shit. The oldies were awake, and Kevin was running late. He scooped tea leaves into the
pot and plonked two mugs beside it then pressed the switch to re-boil the kettle.

Voices, the flush of the toilet, then his father appeared at the end of the hall. The fluoro
flickered before flooding the kitchen in harsh light.

'Standing in the dark, son?'

'Mornin',' Kevin said, then slurped his coffee.

His father, dressed for work in shirt and overalls, walked over to the bench. 'Forecast says
rain.' He peered out at the breaking day, as though expecting it to pour at any moment, but the only
clouds were a pink-tinged band to the west.

'And we might win the Ashes, too.'

'Miracles do happen, eh.' His father lifted the kettle to gauge its weight of water, then hit the
switch, making it burble.

'It just boiled,' Kevin said with a grin and a shake of his head. Every morning, the same ritual.

His father glanced at the calendar hanging from a nail by the fridge. January, it said,
underneath the blonde girl in perfectly ironed denim and fresh-from-the-box Akubra, the horse at her
side looking slightly bemused. Thursday, with a red K penned in one corner of today's square.

'Your turn to open, isn't it?'

'Just heading down now.' Kevin waved his half-drunk coffee in defence.

His mother came in, her blouse and jeans a faded, imperfect version of the rodeo queen's spotless
country style. 'You had brekkie, son?'

'I'll wait for smoko.' He wasn't hungry, just nervous now they were both here.

'Late night, eh?' his father said.

'Thomas,' his mother said. She reached for the breakfast plates, her fingers long and calloused
and tanned against the china.

Kevin's parents had the same eyes: crow's feet in the corners, a permanent squint forged by years
living in sunshine, blinking against the memory of flies, alight with the humour that helped them

His father replied with a cheeky grin. 'Just an observation.'

'I was at Meg's,' Kevin said. 'Watching some movie. Went longer than I expected.' He blushed.
They had had the TV on
- the TV in her room. Some old werewolf flick, lots of howling, a couple having sex by a campfire.
Their attention had been on other things.

'I've actually been thinking, you know, maybe next time we go to Charleville, I'd, well, go check
out the jeweller's.'

They looked at him, expressions hovering somewhere between a resigned knowing and concern. It
reminded him of when he'd bought the Commodore and his father had been all, 'Yeah, it's a great car
but what about the mileage', and his mother had said she liked the colour - white - and then got all
worried because it had had only the one airbag.

'What do you, um, think about that?' he asked as the silence stretched out.

'Meg's a good girl.' His father reinforced the statement with a squeeze on Kevin's shoulder.

'She is; we both like her a lot,' his mother said. 'And you can bring her around here to
any time you like.'

Damn, his face was as hot as a barbecue plate.

'But you're only young, Kevin,' she continued. 'You've got time. You should enjoy being young.
You don't want to do something rash. Just look at your father and me!'

'Make your own bloody tea, woman,' his father joked, even as he poured the two cups.

'It's just that her folks are talking about selling up and moving to Brissie,' Kevin said in a
rush. God, his voice had a whine like a Land Rover's diff picking up speed. Made him sound like a
kid. But he and Meg had been an item since they'd

'Brisbane, eh,' his father said. 'Quite a drive.'

'Yeah, fuckin' Brisbane.'

'Kevin,' his mother scolded. She didn't tolerate swearing, not in the house. What happened in the
garage, well, that was the place for it. Skinned knuckles, shit in the eye, machinery rusted tight
and unmoving, parts they waited weeks for only to find out the morons in the city had sent the wrong

'What's so great about Brissie, anyway?' he said. He'd been there, once, two years ago when the
cricket team made the regional finals. That was back when they had enough bodies to make an A-grade
team, before the Thompson boys both went off to ag college and their best fast bowler planted his
ute in an irrigation ditch on the way home from the pub. All those towers, crowding out the sky,
looking as if they were about to fall and crush everyone in the bitumen canyons below. Everything so
grey and cold; the air so thick with noise and exhaust that he could barely breathe. Meg would hate
it there.

'I don't know if getting engaged is the answer to that particular problem, but you two are old
enough to make your own decisions,' his father said.

'And we'll be here for you. Always,' his mother said.

'Always,' his father agreed. 'But right now, let's get to work. You open up and I'll be down once
I've had a bite to eat. We'll have a proper chat about it later.'

His mother's encouraging smile followed him onto the landing. It could've been worse. They
could've given an outright no. Still, he thought they might've been a bit more excited. A bit more
supportive. A kookaburra cackled, mocking, and Kevin glared in its general direction as the stairs
juddered under his steel caps. He loved Meg and she loved him; nothing was going to change that.

The blue heelers, Bill and Ben, scuttled out from under the stairs, snuffling around his heels.
The wire gate rattled closed behind him as he strode out on to Barlow's Siding Road and headed for
the service station. The building squatted in one corner of the T-junction facing the scrub-lined
B-road, a route favoured by semis and buses looking to make up time, and grey nomads looking to take
it slow. The sun, red and swollen, was still low, lone trees throwing long shadows across the barren
flats. The heat was starting to settle, like a big open griller, reducing the horizon to a
shimmering, silvered mirage. Underneath his overalls, the first beads of sweat stuck his Metallica
T-shirt, black faded to grey, to his back.

The yard at the back of the servo was a tussocked graveyard of rusting car bodies and pieces of
farm machinery butting up against the paling fence. The dogs nosed through the patch of native
garden, bordered by whitewashed rocks his mother had planted to welcome the occasional tourists, and
explored a roofed timber picnic table and a fake well his father had never quite finished. One of
the locals had painted a crescent-shaped yellowbelly on the side of the service station, its faded
scales flaking and crusted with dust. It leaped through the station's name, King River Road House;
though roadhouse was a bit of a grand title for the old timber servo and the tin-walled garage
tacked to its side.

He couldn't blame Meg's folks for wanting to go to the big smoke. Half the shops in Barlow's
Siding were closed, half the farms sold off and sitting fallow and unstocked, half of everyone gone
down to Charleville or east to Brissie or the coast. The town would end up like that old Ford truck
out back: abandoned, slowly falling apart under the sun, while the world drove past without a second

It was just that he - everyone - had always assumed that he and Meg would be together. This was
their future, out here. Someone had to keep the place alive. The Siding was his home; damned if he'd
let it die without a fight.

He unlocked the servo door and flung it open so hard it banged against the wall. Bill yelped,
then looked at him accusingly, head cocked. Kevin grabbed a chocolate bar from the fridge as he went
through the routine of opening up - cash register, pumps, his nemesis the coffee machine - then
headed through the side door to the garage where a four-wheel-drive waited.

The voice on the radio droned on about the chance of rain tomorrow and Kevin snorted; the clouds
came and the clouds went, but it'd been a long time since they'd dropped anything heavier than a
galah's piss on Barlow's Siding. Should've put a CD on, made the most of it before his father
arrived and tuned into ABC Country for the rest of the day.

Kevin scrambled into the pit, the Land Cruiser making a metal ceiling over his head. If he got
cracking, maybe he'd be able to shoot through early and catch up with Meg. She'd seemed nervous last
night, unsure; they had a lot to talk about.

The screech of braking tyres in the driveway announced a vehicle pulling up in an awful hurry.
The bell dinged and the dogs rose from the shade by the garage door and yapped. Kevin looked out
through the gap between the garage floor and the four-wheel-drive in time to see someone enter.
Trousers and a pair of polished black shoes, dulled with red dust. City slicker.

A man's urgent voice: 'Anyone here? Hey, you under the truck - I need your help.'

Kevin climbed out slow and made a show of wiping his hands on his overalls.

The man stood at the door, a dark shape against the daylight. The dogs whined. 'C'mon, kid, I
don't have all day!'

If it hadn't been for the anxiety in the bloke's voice, Kevin would've told him to bugger off. He
was no kid. Hands in his overalls pockets, he strolled over to see what the problem was, ready to
point out the pumps were self-service.

The sight of the stranger pulled him up. Thirtyish, solid, short back and sides framing a slab of
face. Fresh scars on his cheek and forehead; hands stained with scarlet; trench coat hanging open,
tie dangling loose against a blood-spattered white collar. And was that a bulletproof vest? A pistol
nestled under his left armpit? A city copper? Out here?

'C'mon, kid - move!' The man's eyes flashed red, like in a bad snapshot.

Kevin blinked, stunned by the apparition. Then he was staring at space as the cop ran outside.
Kevin followed, pulled in the man's wake.

Bill and Ben stood with legs wide apart, giving occasional barks as though sniping from out of
kicking distance.

A heavily tinted four-wheel-drive sat in the driveway, steam hissing from under the bonnet. Rough
silver haloes patterned the black bonnet like stars; a constellation stretched down the side of the
vehicle. The side windows looked as if bricks had been thrown through them. BMW. Custom job, riding
heavy on the shocks. Someone had messed it up good.

The cop reefed the passenger door open and beckoned Kevin over. 'Give me a hand, here!'

Kevin moved in a daze. Blood all over the seat and the dash, big smears of it like a kid had gone
nuts with paint. Slumped in the middle of it a man, his hair plastered to his face in blood so
thick it might have been sump oil.

'Let's get him inside.' The cop heaved on the wounded man. Another cop, Kevin guessed: same
haircut, same vest. Kevin moved in to take an arm, feeling moist stickiness against his face as the
dead weight bore down on him.

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