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Authors: Jason Nahrung

Blood & Dust (9 page)

BOOK: Blood & Dust
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He lay back, arms behind his head, eyes fixed on the ceiling spotted with stick-on stars and
moons. It struck him that the false sky was possibly the most honest thing in his life right now. He
was, apparently, a monster, one of many, and out there somewhere, out there in the world that he
thought he'd understood but was clearly false, other monsters were hunting him. What in the hell
could he do about that?

NINE

Reece leaned against the bonnet of the rental, feeling every minute of his 70-odd
years. Not that he looked that old, of course. The past 40 hadn't left any marks - not on the
outside, at least. Maybe he should just leave, find a beach somewhere and grow old disgracefully.
Give young Felicity her chance to step up from Gespenstenstaffel to Hunter, to be Mira's new
favourite.
Favourite
- he hated that word. Made him sound like a flavour of ice-cream. Maybe
it was a little too close to the truth. He rubbed his face, wishing for a cigarette, but the Strigoi
hated it when he smoked - the smell, the taste,
do you squander my gift?

This was risky. The three of them out here like shags on a rock. He'd blown his cover with Diana
Matheson, but Mira seemed happy with how things had gone. She'd had her tongue down Felicity's
throat since they'd got back to the car; gasps and a metallic scent told him Mira was enjoying a
celebratory drink. To hell with them.

He lit a cigarette, his hand trembling, and kept his focus on the forlorn house in the distance,
its outline uncertain against the cloud-dark night. They'd done a drive-by when they'd arrived, then
parked well down Barlow's Siding Road. And they'd got lucky: Taipan's red-eye had come in from the
highway. If she'd noticed Felicity keeping watch, she hadn't given any sign. Any moment now…

Screams.

He straightened, hand on his pistol as he peered into the dark. Who knew how many Night Riders
could be stalking them. The red-eye might've been a decoy or a lure.

'Our boy's up and about, then,' Mira said, her voice husky.

'Christ,' Felicity said, and he saw, from the corner of his eye, her brace against the car with
one hand as she stumbled, her collar open, her throat smeared darkly. 'Is he killing them?'

Mira lifted a set of night-vision glasses while Reece fought the compulsion to run back to the
house and jam his HeartStopper against the boy's ribs and put him down.
A boy has to eat
,
Mira had said. Reece's stomach turned. This was wrong. So very wrong.

'There, across the paddock,' Mira said. 'The boy and a new friend. The Riders have collected
their waif.'

The front door opened, a flash of light, and Reece could just discern the figures stumbling down
the stairs: Diana and the young woman. What had Kevin called her? Meg. She had a patch of white - a
towel, maybe - on her throat, and wasn't walking very well. Diana left her propped against the
stairs and went underneath the house. She drove out in an old Falcon and helped the girl in, then
sped off, heading Charleville way.

'Let's follow them,' Mira said. 'We'll have to make sure the girl gets treated properly at the
hospital. Felicity: get an alert issued for the grease monkey. The Riders will think it strange if
we don't throw up a few roadblocks.'

'You don't want to follow the boy?' Reece asked.

'Let them think they've got away.' She held up her hand; the blood bracelets crawled sluggishly
around her wrists. 'The bloodlink's working. Once our reinforcements arrive, we can reel them in.'

Reece drove; letting pale, excited Felicity make the calls from the passenger seat while Mira
sat, silent and expectant and scheming, in the back. Felicity eyed him cheekily, the cat that had
taken the canary, as though being munched made her special.

At the hospital, he made sure Diana saw him, and her look of pure hatred wasn't something he'd
forget any time soon. But she and Meg played along and Mira had a word with the attending physician
and was satisfied he'd take the money and keep his mouth shut. A nasty bite, she reported; the
grease monkey had taken a good slurp before doing a runner with Taipan's red-eye.

On the drive back to Barlow's Siding, a call came in on Felicity's phone. It was a very satisfied
Mira who handed the phone back after a short conversation.

'It looks as if our play with the grease monkey was wasted after all,' she said. 'One of Taipan's
little playmates just offered a deal. The Night Riders are as good as ours.'

Great
. Reece gripped the wheel tighter.
All of this fucking around for nothing.

At the hotel, they found Constable Smith waiting for them. Mira and Felicity left Reece to handle
it. Smith had gone out to the house and found scenes of a scuffle, some blood, and Reece fed him the
official line about the gang having come back and the girl being hurt and Kevin being missing; an
all-points had been issued. It was a federal matter, now.

Smith might not have bought it but he let it slide. The constable would bear watching.

Back in the room, Mira and Felicity were already naked and he made his verbal report as they
watched him strip.

'Our men will be here by daybreak,' Mira said. 'Which gives us the rest of the night to paint the
town red.'

He hesitated, one leg on the bed.

'Metaphorically,' she said as she pulled him down, then breathed out an exasperated, 'Gods,
Reece:
metaphorically
.'

Much later, Reece sat on the rumpled, stained bed, feeling rumpled and stained himself from
Mira's game of lick, sip, suck. His body was covered in bruises, gradually fading; the Strigoi did
like to bite.

Usually, drinking would invigorate him, but now he was filled with lassitude and a thousand
aches. All he wanted was to sleep. He lit a cigarette and wondered what Taipan would do with the
newborn Kevin Matheson; if they found Mira's blood in his, it wouldn't be pretty.

Mira came in from the bathroom, her muscled body beaded with water, her short hair lank around
the hard lines of her cheeks. There was no sign of the wounds from which he and Felicity had drunk,
but the ruddiness in her face was proof enough of the blood she'd taken from them.

'You and your cigarettes.' She turned her back on him to open the veranda door and stand there,
uncaring of whoever might see.

His eyes drank her in, the wide shoulders and the deep cleft in her spine still dewed and rosy
from the shower, the shapely arse and toned legs. She had the body and features of a woman in her
twenties, but he'd been around long enough to recognise the years of bloodlust that had sucked the
excess flesh from her bones, that had pinched her face into a mask of cunning and avarice; to
recognise the enormous age lurking in her eyes.

Mira was old enough to be bored but not old enough to give up, and that made her the most
dangerous of the breed. And now she had a target - Taipan and his Night Riders.

She paced over to him and took the cigarette from his fingers, squashed it out in her hand,
looked him deep in the eyes and asked, 'Why can't you overcome your nasty little addictions?'

'Been asking myself that for 40 years.'

'You look tired.' The way she said it, the way she looked at him: she knew. Forty years, and the
blood was losing its kick.

Her Favourite was losing his flavour. Age was catching up with him.

The shower turned off.

'Felicity and I will be in the room next door. Get some sleep, Reece. Tomorrow's forecast is for
cloud and rain. We'll take the Riders as soon as our men arrive, catch them in their pyjamas.
They'll never know what hit them.'

TEN

The room closed in, the moons and stars glowing sickly green, cats eyes in the
night. A Dalek glinted on a shelf. Books. A game console. A poster of a football team. A cricket
bat, pads and stumps, sticking out of a plastic bin.

Where the bloody hell were the Crawfords?

Kevin sat on the edge of the bed, head in his hands, his guts clenching like a fist, his gorge
rising. The door stood shut; he felt a pressure building on the other side. A pressure that bore
down, bowing the timber, reaching for him, wanting to crush the breath from his lungs, the life from
his body. He sprang to his feet, expecting the door to open, to find a grinning, bloody Taipan there
with his mother's head in his hand, or maybe Meg, dead and bloodless. Gasping, he worked the window
catch and forced it open. The night air rushed in, carrying the scent of dust and cow shit. He
opened the window as far as it would go. Winced as the damn thing gave an almighty squeak. No
footsteps. But no time to lose. Up and out, landing lightly on the balls of his feet, surprising
himself with his balance.

He ran for the creek, that dark line of trees at the bottom of the slope the only decent cover in
miles. Which way to town, to home? Right, he thought, with the moon behind him; his shadow a soft
uncertain thing, preceding him over the stubble and the dirt as he sprinted, waiting for the
gunfire, for the racing steps, for the motors. But there was nothing, just his footfalls, and he
realised he could see well - very well - as he dodged the bumps and hollows, the stray logs. His
breath came shorter and shorter; his vision narrowed. The ground tilted. He tripped, fell. He
scrabbled to the windmill, clutched the rust-spotted frame for support and stared back at the house.
No pursuit, no nothing. He lurched away, stumbling down the slope where water glittered dully in a
pool surrounded by shrubs and trees, and farther down there was a crossing, the barest of trickles
across the packed earth, the cutting indented with tyre tracks and hoof prints. He knelt by a pool,
the scent of mud and rotting vegetation closing over him, but he splashed his face anyway, aware of
the grittiness of the muddy water but relishing the cool shock. His stomach heaved with
contractions. His vision blurred, the moon a wavering silver fingernail in the ripples he'd caused,
the world shimmering till he could barely tell if he was looking at the moon in the pond or in the
sky.

Reality slipped through his fingers like water; he held onto one thought - he had to get home.
The charcoal ruins.
He had to find his mother and Meg.
Screaming.
Had to know they
were safe.
Bleeding.
Had to hold them.
Bleeding!
Had to.

He ran, sobbing, gasping, trying to stay beneath the level of the bank. Christ, he was hot.
Burning up. He felt so empty, his guts wrapping around his spine. A bird called, the shrill, sharp
cry of a curlew like a child crying for its mother, and somewhere a cow lowed, sounding scared. He
staggered along, tripping over rocks and branches, skidding in mud holes, splashing through stagnant
puddles. Then he smelled it - a new staleness, a cloying fragrance that belonged to abattoirs.
Carcasses swinging on hooks, the concrete awash with red, the patter of it falling, the pungent
scent of raw meat and fresh blood, the stench of shit and fear, fearful eyes bulging white in the
crush.

Ahead, a twin cab four-wheel-drive lay crumpled nose-down in the creek bed. A broken tree and
flattened grass and churned earth showed where it had rolled over the bank. He recognised the
vehicle. He'd replaced its shock absorbers not that long ago, the victims of too many miles of
corrugation and stock grids. He crept toward it. A smear on the rear door. Mud? He knew better than
that. He knew, deep down. And yet he reached, flesh and shadow joining across the white paint to
rest on that silver handle. He heaved the door open. The cab light, strikingly stark, threw crazy
shadows from overhead. A midnight raid on the fridge, light spilling out. He stared at the heaped
pile of arms and legs, heads, naked flesh like candle wax. One child gazing sightlessly at him, his
head bent backward over someone's thigh, his throat torn into pale shreds and hollow blackness. Mrs
Crawford, stripped to bra and knickers, half covered in the middle of the tangle, long hair matted,
lips torn, a frown on her face as though appalled to be seen in her underwear. Rusty streaks on her
chest, staining the white of her bra. One nipple stuck out over the rim of the cup. He resisted the
urge to tuck it back. Her husband, bare back arched toward him at the bottom of the pile, head and
shoulder hidden in the foot recess.

Kevin stepped closer and closer, breath frozen, vision locked on the nest of flesh, the vacant
eyes, the road maps of dried blood. He lifted a dangling child's hand, cold and soft. The smell of
rot and blood and shit filled him. The smell of death. He sniffed, rolled that bony wrist between
his fingers. Lowered his face, eyesight angling down, filling with a layer of crusted brown smears
caking the tanned flesh, knobs of bone stretching the skin. Cold against his lips, so very cold. Raw
chicken against his tongue.

Movement - an arm falling, a roll of head. He dropped the hand, jerked back, fell, barely
registered the impact of stone on his palm, the other finding a splash of water and mud. He crawled
away, eyes transfixed on the open door and the bodies within. He hit the bank and stayed still,
cowering under an eroded overhang, roots like cobweb in his hair, the smell of earth wrapping around
him; earth and mud and blood. He drew his knees up and stared and stared but the carnage remained.
He sat there, too scared, too hungry, to move.

 

'Kevin?'

He blinked.
Meg?

Shapes in the creek, approaching. Their shadows reached long and inhuman toward him. Reality
crashed down as his senses returned, bright and clear and knife-sharp. He'd been biting his own
hand. The dimpled flesh looked as if it had been pounded with a meat tenderiser.

'It's all right, Kevin.'

Fear in Kala's voice. Suspicion, too. Acacia followed her; the whiny surfer dude, Nigel, brought
up the rear. He carried a military-looking rifle, like someone had shrunk an M-16 in a microwave.

'Taipan's gonna freak if he hears the pup saw this,' Nigel said.

'
If
he hears,' Kala snapped.

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