Authors: Jason Brant
Tags: #vampires, #End of the World, #Dracula, #post apocalyptic, #Zombies, #apocalypse
They passed a sign for
Idlewild and Soak Zone
, an amusement park further up the mountains. Lance hadn’t been there for more than a decade, but he remembered the good times he and Liz had while riding the water slides.
“You’re with the hottest woman alive. The entire compound looks to you for answers.”
Lance chuckled. “Cass is pretty damn hot. I lucked out on that one. But everyone looks to Brown for answers, not me.”
Adam shook his head. “Doc Brown is more like a mayor. You’re the sheriff.”
“Cass is closer to a sheriff than I am. I might be a jester, if we’re throwing titles around.”
“Everyone is afraid of Cass. Hell,
afraid of Cass, and she helped save my ass in the ‘Burgh. You really don’t see how people look up to you?”
Glare blotted out the view through the windshield as they turned left and drove past Latrobe Country Club. The golf course was barely recognizable as such. Tall grass was bent over under its own weight, concealing the green.
Lance thought about his position in the unspoken hierarchy of the compound. People asked him questions and requested advice all the time, but he hadn’t realized that was out of the ordinary. He assumed that everyone helped each other in the same way.
The shifts for defending the perimeter were made by him and Eifort. Brown helped him deal with squalls and arguments as people jockeyed for more space in the fields.
He frowned, realizing how much responsibility he’d held without even knowing it. A pressure settled in his chest for a moment. There weren’t many survivors left, and they were all looking up to him? A screwup of the highest order?
“But I’m a nobody,” Lance said. “I couldn’t even keep my marriage together. I hadn’t worked consistently in years.”
“That blows my mind.” Adam chuckled. “Everyone thinks you were some kind of business tycoon or politician.”
They crossed over Route 30, having to slow down as they drove past a massive pileup. Crunched fenders and bloody pavement ran for fifty yards in each direction.
“Whatever it is that changed you, keep it up,” Adam said. “It’s working.”
A massive cathedral loomed ahead. Lance had attended a wedding there once and had been blown away by its size and ornate woodwork. He remembered the time he’d entered the church in Pittsburgh with Cass and decided to avoid this one.
lurked in the dark basements of such enormous buildings.
They parked in a residential area across the street from the college, leaving the car straddling the yellow lines. Hundreds of homes were constructed on tiny parcels of land. Lance picked the first one that was still intact and tried the front door.
He considered kicking it in. Destruction was one of the new perks of their situation.
“Over here,” Adam called from the side of the house.
Lance hopped the small railing surrounding the front porch and went up the driveway, following Adam into the home.
The house didn’t reek of copper and shit and rotting meat, a rarity these days.
“I’ll look for a computer,” Lance said. “You check the bathroom for medicine.”
An office in the back of the house had posters and framed book covers adorning the walls. Busts of
were staged on a long, dark desk, flanking an LED monitor. A replica of the
, the puzzle box from
, sat on a stack of papers.
“Christ, we broke into the home of the biggest dork ever.” Lance bent down and searched under the desk, finding a computer tower. “Bingo.”
A printed label was stuck to the front, just above a fan vent. It read ‘Randy’s Bitch’.
He pulled the cables free from the back and lifted it, grunting at the unexpected weight. Dropping it to the desk, he brushed the geeky paraphernalia aside. He worked at the thumbscrews and took the side off. It was a nerd’s computer all the way. The processor and graphics card were water-cooled, a true sign of nerdom.
It didn’t run the same chipset the doc wanted, but the parts were high-end. Lance decided to take it back with them, just in case. He met Adam in the kitchen.
“Done?” Lance asked.
Adam held a plastic shopping bag. “Whoever lived here must have been sick all the time. He had a shitload of antibiotics, and God knows what else. I took it all. The doc can sort through it.”
“This computer doesn’t have the part Brown needs, so we need to check out the neighbor’s.”
They unloaded their spoils in the backseat of the jeep and headed across the street.
The windows of the next home were smashed in, glass littering the carpets.
Arterial spray had stained the walls and ceiling. A giant, red splotch covered torn couch cushions.
Most of the smell had abated from the fresh air blowing in the windows.
Lance made his way through the house, looking for an office. Adam dug inside the kitchen cabinets, hoping to score some canned goods.
Blood splattered the shower in a small bathroom to the right. A trail led from the tub to a closed door at the end of the hall. Lance didn’t open it to see what lay beyond.
The master bedroom had a computer hooked up to a flat-screen television mounted on the wall. Lance inspected the guts of it and found it to be a similar model to the one Doc wanted fixed at the cabin.
He tucked it under his arm when he heard something coming from the basement.
A mewling, churning sound.
Lance paused, listening.
The noise continued, little more than a constant hum.
Lowering himself to the floor, Lance tried to make it out.
Couldn’t identify it.
Adam appeared in the door to the bedroom. “Do you hear that?”
Lance nodded. “Yeah.”
“What is it?”
“Dunno. See if you can find some flashlights.”
“You want to check it out? Fuck that.”
Lance stood. “Relax—I’m not suggesting we go down into the sewers. If something is off, we need to find out what it is, and why.”
“Who cares? We aren’t even close to our camp. Whatever is out here can’t do anything to us.”
“So much for being the sheriff,” Lance grumbled. “Something weird happened last night, so I’m going to pay more attention to what the Vladdies are doing from now on.”
Adam followed him out to the Jeep, trying to get Lance to tell him what had happened.
Lance relented when they went back inside and searched through the cabinets for flashlights. He told Adam about the trap the vampires had attempted to snare him in.
“If they can think and problem solve, how can we possibly survive?” Adam stopped rifling through cleaning products and gaped at Lance. “They’ll overrun us.”
“Maybe,” Lance said. “Let’s take baby steps here. That sound might not even be them. Let’s take a look, and then we’ll go from there.”
They found a single flashlight above the microwave. Lance gave it to Adam.
A sliding glass door opened into the basement behind the house. Like the windows, the door was destroyed, though the glass was shattered outward here, sitting atop the sidewalk. Light spilled inside, showing a bare, concrete floor.
Lance went first, stepping through the broken door. The sound was louder, more gravelly.
Adam shined the light around, illuminating cinder block walls and a water heater. A gas furnace stood in the far corner. Stairs leading to the first floor rested in the middle of the basement.
Everything, besides the smashed door, appeared normal. Only the sound hinted at something odd.
Now that they were closer to the source, Lance noticed something else in the noise. Something akin to scraping or digging. He couldn’t be sure.
They walked to the stairs, looking past them.
Adam stopped in his tracks, eyes widening. “What the hell?”
Lance followed the beam of the flashlight.
A hole was dug through the concrete floor.
They inched closer, the sound growing louder with each small step.
The diameter of the hole was roughly three feet wide. Big enough for a man to crawl through.
“Or a Vladdie,” Lance whispered.
“That’s wide enough for one of them to crawl through.” He took the flashlight from Adam and knelt in front of the hole. It went ten feet down before curving off to the right.
“You think they tunneled their way in?” Adam asked. “How could they do that?”
“I don’t know.” Lance angled his ear toward the hole. “What do you think that sound is? Is that digging?”
Adam listened for a moment before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. It’s like a chittering or squealing. Like animals making weird sounds at each other.”
They stayed there for nearly a minute, listening to the sound, eyeing the depth of the hole. Lance struggled to identify the source of the noise. He’d been in the belly of the beast in Pittsburgh. They’d infiltrated one of their nests.
They hadn’t heard anything like this.
Adam went back outside and examined the small yard before going to the neighboring property.
“What are you doing?” Lance followed him, turning off the flashlight. The sound wasn’t audible from outside, something he was thankful for. The experience was disconcerting.
“Looking for—” Adam cut himself off and stopped, pointing at a dark spot under a tree. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
Lance walked closer to the tree, squinting against the bright sun. When they were ten feet away, he realized what they were looking at.
And he could hear the sound again.
“This is bad. Very bad.” Lance shined the flashlight into the depth, finding it similar to the other one. It angled in the same general direction as the first hole.
Adam ran a hand through his hair and looked out over the neighborhood. “The son of a bitch is honeycombed.”
“This whole area is dug out. They can travel around during the daytime, just waiting for the moment they can spring out and surprise their prey. And by prey, I mean us.”
Lance was reminded of his time on the Duchess, floating through Pittsburgh as the world collapsed around them. They’d sat on the upper deck, watching Vladdies pour from storm drains and sewer pipes.
The underground tunnels had worked as a subway for the creatures, even then, while they were still mutating.
But the hole he stared at now, that was something they’d
A transport system.
And Lance and Adam were standing right on top of it.
hey didn’t speak on the drive back.
The rest of the list remained unfulfilled.
Others would have to go out the next day to bring back the required equipment.
Lance needed to talk to Brown and figure out what they were going to do.
They skidded to a stop in the gravel driveway of the compound, kicking up plumes of dust. Trays of food were being passed around as people crowded the front part of the field, waiting for their lunch.
Twice a day, someone made sandwiches or cooked a few dozen cans of soup and served food. Discussions had already begun about what would happen as more people continued to pile into the compound. The amount of mouths to feed was hitting critical mass.
They couldn’t continue cooking for so many people. They didn’t have the facilities, the manpower, or the desire to keep it up for much longer. A rationing system had been thrown around, but the idea was still in its infancy. The idea of keeping food from people ‘for the greater good’ sounded like the best way to get them arguing, stealing, and killing.
Nathaniel, the gray-bearded, gruff prepper from down the road stood by the end of the driveway, eying Lance through the windshield. He nodded at them before clopping up the stairs and into the cabin.
Lance grabbed the two computers from the back and carried them inside, with Adam following closely behind.
Nathaniel was in the ‘war room’, as they’d begun to call it, staring down at a map. “Lance.”
Adam took the drugs into the kitchen, disappearing down the hall.
“Hey, Nathaniel. What are you doing here?” Lance put the computers on the floor, against the right rear wall. “How are Ashlee and Teddy?”
“They’re good, I ‘spose. Little shit won’t stop cryin’ though. Drivin’ me nuts.” He kept his gaze on the maps, rifling through them.
“Can I help you with something?” Lance asked. He wanted to find Brown, Cass, and Eifort, but seeing Nathaniel had brought on a new level of concern. They didn’t see him often. If he showed up, it was usually because something was wrong.
“I figured yinz could use my help, so I came down as soon as I heard.”
Lance marveled at how often he heard the word ‘yinz’ nowadays. It felt as if half the people who had survived the apocalypse were yinzers. “Heard what?”
“What the crazy bastard on the radio said.”
In his concern over the tunnels under Latrobe, Lance had completely forgotten about the daily broadcast from the Wildman of Monroeville. “I didn’t hear it. What did he say?”
“It was a big one. He—”
Cass stepped into the room, primping the odd mohawk hairstyle she’d been wearing lately. The sides slicked back and the top went up and then back. She gave him a hug when she saw him standing there.
As much as Lance had hardened over the course of their time together, Cass had softened. She still bristled and snarked at everything, but her affection for Lance had grown. He figured that might have something to do with him diving in front of a knife thrown in her direction. Women loved self-sacrifice, apparently.
That and the fact that he’d put a bun in her oven.
Her over-the-top hair was still damp and smelled of flowers as it brushed against his cheek. He wished he’d made it back sooner so they could have showered together.
“We need to talk,” Lance said to her. As curious as he was about the broadcast, he had to tell them about what he and Adam had found.
“Yes, we do. They’ll be here soon, and we have to decide what we’re going to do about it.”