Authors: Jason Brant
Tags: #vampires, #End of the World, #Dracula, #post apocalyptic, #Zombies, #apocalypse
The Hunger, Volume 3
Copyright © 2014 Jason Brant
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission from Jason Brant, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Editing Services Provided by Cynthia Shepp
Cover Created by Phycel Designs
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ll was quiet as Lance walked the perimeter of the field.
The lack of howls and shrieks knotted his stomach. The cries of the monstrosities usually filled the air. Not hearing them cast an eerie silence over the compound that had him on edge.
He paused under one of the large lights casting a yellowish glow over the area and listened.
Nothing except crickets and the crackle of fires by the tents.
Was the forest surrounding their camp truly void of Vladdies? That didn’t seem possible to Lance. The vampire-things had dogged them for months, always arriving shortly after sundown. It had become as commonplace in their lives as the weather. They were always there, always waiting, the soft lighting all that kept their rage from spilling into the field.
Lance rolled his shoulder, wincing at the tightness there. The knife wound had finally healed, but the muscles still ached occasionally. Brown thought they were phantom pains.
Lance wanted to slap him every time he said that.
How long had it been since their encounter with Ralph? Four weeks? Six? He wasn’t sure. It couldn’t have been much longer than that because Cass didn’t even have a baby bump yet.
The relevance of time had changed. Alarms didn’t wake the survivors of the Xavier virus anymore. Now, they warned that the night approached, that death waited on the horizon for anyone not in a safe zone before the sun fell from the sky.
No one cared what day it was.
All that mattered was the sunset.
Lance had finally felt strong enough to take a few shifts on watch. Tonight was his third in a row. He preferred working during the day, exploring the ruins of the old world for supplies, but he couldn’t rightfully complain. He’d been on the bench for too long and had to earn his place on the team like everyone else.
A few men sat around a small fire, laughing at obscene jokes. They hushed the loudest of their group every few minutes, fearing that he might wake the rest of the compound.
Lance ignored them and stepped toward the edge of the clearing, stopping at the tree line.
He inspected the darkness beyond.
“Where are you bastards?” he whispered.
Sitting in a lawn chair to his right was a man of roughly fifty. He wore a trucker’s baseball cap, pulled low. A rifle sat across his lap, a battery-operated spotlight resting between his feet. He nodded at Lance before turning his attention back to the woods.
Lance returned the gesture, trying to recall the man’s name. Jim? Joe? He couldn’t remember.
Guards worked in shifts through the night, spaced forty yards apart. They sat at the edge of the light, watching and listening for the infected. If any came too close, the guards would repel them with the spotlights.
They’d fired guns at the beasts only a handful of times in the past month. The light kept them at bay. The vampires preferred the safety of the forest, baying their disdain for the humans just out of their reach.
But not tonight.
Lance looked to his left and frowned when he couldn’t see a guard stationed there. He walked over to the empty chair, raising the small, LED lantern he held so he could make out the surrounding area.
The guard’s spotlight and rifle rested on the ground a few feet in front of the chair.
No one went near the forest at night without a light source or a firearm.
Lance exchanged the lantern for the spotlight and turned it on. He half expected to see the guard taking a piss behind a bush, but the tree line was empty. Had the man abandoned his post? There would be hell to pay if he’d simply walked away from his assignment.
The discarded rifle worried Lance the most. Why would the guard have left that behind? Seeing someone without a weapon had become a foreign affair. It was akin to seeing someone walking around in the nude.
Lance moved closer to the trees, sweeping the spotlight back and forth, inspecting the area. His breathing quickened with each step, nerves jangled. The missing guard and the odd silence of the woods didn’t instill confidence.
The guard off to the right watched him, his head tilted slightly. He held his hands up in a questioning gesture. Lance motioned him over. The man rose and hurried to where Lance waited, his own spotlight scanning the trees.
“What’s up?” the man asked. “Where’s Billy?”
Lance winced at the name. Billy was a teenager of fourteen. He’d been given guard-duty shifts after weeks of earnest negotiating. He wanted to earn his keep the same as everyone else. Lance had relented and allowed him to sit on the line twice a week.
He regretted that decision as he squeezed the handle of Billy’s discarded light.
“I don’t know. His rifle and light were sitting on the ground.”
The man looked around. “He’s probably taking a piss. The boy has a bladder the size of a newborn.”
“Without his gun?”
“He’s, what, fifteen?”
“He’s fourteen. Kids do stupid shit all the time.” The man spat a line of tobacco juice into the grass. “He probably saw that pretty little thing he’s sweet on and went to talk to her.”
Lance looked back at the lines of RVs, tents, and converted water tankers. A few people stood by them, chatting with their neighbors or smoking, but the area was relatively quiet and still. Unless you were on watch, there wasn’t much point in staying up after dark anymore. Being a night owl was a thing of the past.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Lance said. He settled on the name Joe. He tried it out, hoping it fit. “You notice how quiet it is in the woods, Joe?”
“Yeah, that sure is weird.” Joe cocked an eyebrow toward the trees. “Never heard ‘em so quiet before.”
The details of Joe’s life came back to Lance then. The man had been a coal miner outside of the small, turnpike town of Somerset. He’d drifted to the safe zone in Greensburg after the collapse and had managed to worm his way to the compound a few weeks ago. He was a tough, salt-of-the-earth man who would give you the shirt off his back.
Lance bent down by the rifle and shined the spotlight on it.
He spotted a red splotch on the barrel. “Oh, shit.”
“What?” Joe knelt beside him, leaning over the gun. His eyes narrowed when he saw the blood. “Sumbitch.”
Lance crept further along, staying low and quiet. More blood ran through the grass, trailing toward the trees. It grew thicker, more prevalent, as they got closer to the edge of the forest.
He stopped in front of a briar bush and shined his light across it. Several branches were bent and broken, mangled stalks hanging. Tall grass at the base of the bush was trampled, angling into the woods.
Joe came up beside Lance. He whispered, “How the hell did they get hold a him an’ drag him away without anybody seeing? How come he didn’t scream?”
Lance wrestled with those same questions. He stood and shined the spotlight between the trees, searching for the boy. The utter silence disturbed him even more now that he’d seen the blood trail. “Maybe it wasn’t the Vladdies that did this.”
“You think a man did it?”
“Vladdies aren’t much for stealth and patience. They barrel in and smash everything. They’re all hunger and rage.” Lance stared at the trees. The last thing they needed was another rogue sect of psychopaths attacking the camp. They had enough to deal with.
Something moved ahead of them, a few dozen yards in. A rustling crackle, like trampled leaves, lasted for a split second.
“You see that?” Joe whispered.
Lance didn’t respond. He angled his light at the spot, holding his breath. Was the boy out there, bleeding to death? Why hadn’t he called out?
Another guard sat off to their left, ogling them. Lance waved him over as well.
“What are you guys doin’ over here?” the man asked. He shifted a shotgun from his right hand to his left. “Where’s Billy?”
“That’s the million-dollar question.” Lance nodded at the cabin behind them. “Go and get some help. Joe and I are going to see if we can find him.”
“What? I don’t—”
“Something dragged him into the woods.”
The man’s eyes surveyed the shadows trailing behind the trees. “Fuck me.”
Lance slapped him on the shoulder. “Go. Tell them to bring the big lights out, so we can light up the whole area.”
The man nodded and jogged off.
“Don’t tell me you want to go in there.” Joe grimaced. “We won’t stand a chance if any of those
are out there.”