Read The Hunger (Book 3): Ravaged Online

Authors: Jason Brant

Tags: #vampires, #End of the World, #Dracula, #post apocalyptic, #Zombies, #apocalypse

The Hunger (Book 3): Ravaged (6 page)

BOOK: The Hunger (Book 3): Ravaged
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“I don’t know. You think the Vladdies did that?”

“I guess. If so, why wouldn’t they have done the same thing with Billy?”

“Maybe it’s someone in the camp doing crazy shit. Just because they have survived the end of the world doesn’t mean they’re good people. If an IT guy and a failed artist can survive, why not a murderer? A serial killer?”

Lance blew out his breath. That was all they needed to deal with—another murdering sociopath. As if they weren’t already surrounded by thousands of beasts who wanted nothing more than to eat them.

Another quiet moment followed. The sun peeked through the tree canopy above as it worked its way across the sky.

The longer they sat there, the more their problems washed away. The stream carried their concerns with it, letting them enjoy the moment together. These were the times Lance lived for. The feel of Cass beside him, the soft wind through the trees.

The mounting pressure to keep the compound running was left behind them, as if the churning water protected them, however temporarily.

Cass stood then and pulled her torn, white shirt over her head. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

Her smallish breasts had only recently begun to swell from the pregnancy. She stood before him, hands held out. “Let’s relax for a bit. We need to get in as much of this as we can before I get all fat, and you don’t want me anymore.”

Lance stood and wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her from the ground and carrying her to the water’s edge. “I don’t think you have to worry about that. You’ve got me addicted to your weird self.”

“Never thought you’d do it with a girl sporting a mohawk, did you?” She ran her hands through his hair as he lowered her to the ground.

“Um, sir?”

Lance had been fumbling with his fly when he heard the voice from behind him. He spun around on his knees and saw a woman standing thirty yards behind them, shielding her eyes so she couldn’t see what they were doing.

“Christ, what is it?” Lance fought to keep the annoyance from his voice. He failed. “Does it look like we’re a little busy? And don’t call me sir.”

“Sorry, sir... I mean... sorry. They told me to come get you because they found the woman’s body.”

Cass sat up, covering her breasts. “Where?”

The woman’s voice wavered. “On the other side of the field, behind the portable toilets.”

Chapter 7

––––––––

B
rown stood before the bank of bathrooms, his eyes narrowed to little more than slits. He shook his head as Lance and Cass approached, but didn’t speak.

“Goddamn, bro. This is so
nasty
.” Greg waited beside the bank of toilets, cursing and gagging.

Lance stopped beside Brown. “Who found her?”

“Greg. He discovered an arm while pumping the sewage out.”

Eifort had found a sewage tanker at the compound when they’d taken it over. They used it to pump out the contents of the portable toilets and then drove several miles away, dumping it somewhere in the woods.

It was one of the worst jobs to have at the compound, which was why Cass had given the job to Greg for the entire week. Of course, that just had to coincide with finding a body out back.

Eifort jogged over from one of the parked RVs, her face grim. “She was one of the pregnant women here.”

Cass breathed in through her nose, her brow furrowing. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the ground. “How come no one recognized her earlier?”

“She’d been raped during Ralph’s reign. She’d chosen to keep the baby, but she was suffering from depression. They’re saying that she rarely came out of the camper she stayed in with two other women.”

Brown asked, “How long has she been missing?”

“Two days.”

“And why didn’t anyone report that she was gone?”

“They thought she’d run away or killed herself. One of the other women, Heidi, said that she’d spoken of suicide a few times before.”

“So they didn’t bother to—?”

“I’m just repeating what they told me,” Eifort said.

Brown paused. “Right, sorry. I’m not blaming you—I’m just flustered by what we’re dealing with.”

Greg turned his head from everyone and retched. His shoulders shook as he fought the heaves racking his body.

“I’ll take care of this,” Lance said, stepping forward. “Go get something to drink, Greg.”

“Sorry, bro. This is just too awful.” Greg headed for a circle of tents, his head down.

Onlookers watched from the homes and vehicles.

More whispers.

“We’re losing this place,” Lance said. “Things are unraveling in a hurry.”

Brown grinded his teeth and worked at his temples with his index fingers. He looked to Eifort. “This is not the behavior of mindless creatures. This is a warning.”

“It’s medieval is what it is. Kings used to stake the heads of their enemies outside their castles as a warning.” Eifort turned back to the RV she’d come from. “People aren’t going to take this well.
I’m
not taking it well.”

“The infected are killing for something other than food,” Brown said. “That’s a human trait. God help us.”

Lance wanted to tell the doc to get some rest, that he looked like shit, but who could sleep when they’d just found a woman’s decapitated body behind a toilet? He peered over at the people watching, wondering how long it would be until they fled the camp, thinking they had a better chance on their own.

Even after civilization had collapsed, people still thought the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence.

He noticed Cass’ cheeks turning red. He only saw that happen to her during sex or when she was really pissed off.

“Are you all right?”

“No. I’m not all right. No one deserves what happened to her. She wasn’t pregnant because she’d screwed up and forgot to use a condom. Ralph let a man rape her. And then for these fucking animals to use her as some kind of warning...”

She turned to Lance. “I’ll kill them all.”

––––––––

T
he body, wrapped in several blankets, sat atop another pyre.

A bigger crowd than usual gathered around the fire.

A lot of tears were spilled.

Anger boiled.

Fear spread like the flu.

Brown’s face was ashen, his eyes sunken. He gave a small speech after her cremation was complete, telling everyone to keep their eyes open, to watch out for each other. They were to report any behavior by the infected that seemed out of the ordinary.

Lance wanted to point out that
everything
was out of the ordinary nowadays, that normal had gone out the window just like everything else. The crowd dispersed after an hour or two, moving quietly back to their homes. Most went inside long before the night came.

Eifort and Brown spent the evening questioning people about the dead woman. Not many knew her, and they gleaned little information. No one had even seen her out and about for the past week or so.

Lance and Cass coordinated the watch shift for the night, doubling the amount of people sitting on the perimeter. They sat an extra ten yards back from the tree line. No one was to leave their post for anything, unless they were relieved by another.

The handful of night-vision goggles in the compound were given out to every tenth guard.

The anticipation of the coming darkness had everyone on edge. The horrors lurking in the shadows of the forest eclipsed their other concerns. No one worried about food or space, water or electricity.

Cass had her axe attached to her back. She held a pump-action shotgun in both hands. Lance had tried to talk her out of taking a shift that night, but she would have none of it.

He didn’t want his pregnant lover any closer to harm than necessary. But he knew that Cass wouldn’t listen to him. She rarely did.

The first shriek came thirty minutes after nightfall.

Lance felt his shoulders rising toward his ears and forced himself to relax. He’d heard these noises for months now and knew that they shouldn’t affect him this way anymore. The events of the day had him anxious.

He walked the perimeter with Cass, stopping occasionally to ask if anyone had seen anything unusual. The shrieks persisted as they usually did, filling the night with the awful chorus of the damned.

An hour or two after sundown, fatigue grabbed hold of Lance. He hadn’t slept in over thirty hours. Focusing became an issue.

Until the shrieks died down as midnight approached.

An unsettling silence fell over the compound.

The guards exchanged troubled glances and shifted in their seats. Spotlights flicked across the trees surrounding the field, searching.

Clouds blotted the moon.

Cass’ breath caught as she looked down the driveway. She froze, staring straight ahead.

“What is it?” Lance asked.

“Something moved up there.”

Lance clicked his light on and shined it along the gravel path.

Nothing.

“It moved from the left side to the right.” Cass tucked the shotgun against her shoulder and waited.

“Well, we know they’re out there,” Lance said. “Seeing movement isn’t that uncommon when you’re on watch.”

“But they’re quiet and sneaking around. Isn’t this what you dealt with last night?”

He nodded. Rather than say anything else, he readied his pistol, praying he wouldn’t have to use it.

The silence hung in the air like a fog.

After twenty minutes by the driveway, Lance moved on. Cass followed, walking softly across the damp grass. They didn’t speak, just listened and watched. The guards kept their eyes glued to the trees.

As they moved around the back of the cabin, a cry of fear stretched from the other side of the clearing.

Lance broke into a run, cutting across the field, the overhead lights flashing by. Three guards stationed at the northeast end of the compound stood behind their chairs, frantically waving their lights around.

“Everyone stay where you are!” Lance yelled. He didn’t want anyone breaking the line.

Cass reached the panicked guards and addressed the nearest, a woman of roughly thirty. “What is it?”

“Someone is out there!” She pointed at the trees. Her brown hair hung over her forehead, stuck to her skin with sweat.

“Quiet down,” Cass said. “What do you mean someone is out there? The Vladdies?”

“No! It sounded like a woman crying!” She tried to brush the hair from her face but failed and left it.

“What’s your name?” Cass grabbed the woman’s hand to calm her.

“Judy.”

“Judy, I need you to run to the next guard with a pair of night vision goggles and bring them back here, OK?”

The woman nodded, but didn’t move.

“Judy, I need you to hurry.”

She nodded again and took off, running with stiff legs made awkward by fear.

Lance listened to the rustling leaves of the woods.

A voice came to him then, soft and distant.

Pain-ridden.


Help... me... please... someone... help...

“Oh, Christ.” Lance’s pulse, already thundering, kicked into overdrive. How could someone be out there, with
them
, and still be alive?

Cass shared a look with him. “Impossible.”

“Why haven’t they killed her yet? She’s giving away her position!” He turned back to the woods. “Be quiet, lady! They’ll hear you!”


Please... please... mercy...

Judy returned, winded and soaked through with sweat. She handed Cass the goggles.

Cass held them to her eyes and slowly scanned the woods. She remained silent for nearly ten seconds before she sucked in a harsh breath.

“What is it?” Lance asked.

Cass handed over the goggles without answering. She stared at the scene in front of them.

Lance inspected the trees through the green haze supplied by the night vision. At first, he didn’t see anything unexpected.

A hand waved beside a thick trunk, twenty yards in.

Lance stepped closer.

Saw the outline of a woman sitting against the tree. She waved again.


So... hungry...

The front of her shirt was dark and clung to her torso. Her shoulder was flayed open. A chunk of flesh was missing from her left forearm. One of her ankles was bent at an awkward angle.

Her chest rose and fell in short, quick breaths.

Movement came from behind her, off to the right.

A thick, rounded shoulder appeared behind a fallen tree. It shifted, and a distorted, misshapen head moved into view for a second before hiding again.

A predator, ready to spring a trap.

Lance lowered the goggles. “Did you see the Vladdie?”

Cass nodded.


Please...

“I guess this cements the idea that they’re setting traps for us.” Lance spotted Eifort jogging toward them and waved for her to hurry.

She arrived a moment later. “What’s going on?”

Lance gave her the goggles.

She lowered them after a long look. “I spotted at least three of them around her. They’re using her as live bait.”

“Yeah.” Lance wasn’t sure what else to say.

“And she’s been bit.”

“Yeah.”

Eifort grabbed the strap hanging from the goggles and looped it around the back of her head, attaching them to her face. She dropped to a knee, raising her trusty rifle.

“What are you doing?” Judy asked.

“Putting her out of her misery.” Eifort looked down the sights. “She’s infected and being used as a trap. Even if we could somehow get out there and save her, we couldn’t bring her into the camp. She’s already into the early stages of the virus.”

“But you can’t—”

Cass cut her off. “It’s the most humane thing to do. Leave if you don’t have the stomach for it.”

Judy looked to Lance for support. He averted his gaze and watched the trees.

“You’re going to murder that woman.” She wiped a tear running down her cheek.

“It’s mercy, not murder,” Cass said. “Walk away. You don’t need to be here for this.”

Judy fled, sobbing, crying out for someone named Frank.

Eifort fired.

The woman’s cries ceased.

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