Hello! Yes, it’s been ages again.
I’ve been busy working on Splinters- but I haven’t stopped writing altogether.
Most will know that I frequent the rock scene in Stoke (well, when work allows). Some very good friends of mine have just opened a new rock club, linked over there on the right sidebar. >>>>>>>
Loads of work has gone into making the place habitable and looking good. Check it out- it has a Falloutesque post=apocalypse bomb shelter vibe.
In honour of this, I wrote a very short story for those involved- Bear, Wolf, and Asha.
But you get to see it too! Par example:
Private Salil Mehta wondered if he was imagining the sound, but that was just wishful thinking. She was trying to lure him out. Trying to drive him crazy.
He shifted his weight onto his good leg and strained his ears. Nothing else. He realised that he was holding his breath; he let it out slowly and began to advance in the half darkness.
Bunker thirteen had been built to last, but nothing really lasted. When the bombs had dropped, they had released a devastation that Salil could barely imagine; even these United Nations shelters could only take so much. The lights flickered and dimmed intermittently. The machinery in the walls clunked and rattled, like a nervous tick. Salil was starting to worry that even if she didn’t drive him mad- or kill him like she had the others- then bunker thirteen would finish the job.
He crept through the mess room, avoiding a discarded plastic glass. He gripped a combat knife in one hand, the best weapon he had been able to scavenge. The room was eerie, once full of chattering voices, all the more empty for it now. Chairs sat alongside long white tables, neat and orderly. He was trying to methodically check each room until he found her… the vampire. Of course, it was not working. There was too much ground to cover and the vampire was too quiet and careful.
She had infiltrated bunker thirteen about a week ago… or at least, that was when the first man had died. Lieutenant Harcourt, the Brit. First he got sick, then he just… wasted away. Salil struggled to remember the details; lack of food and water was starting to fog his mind. The vampire had bitten Harcourt and drained away his life. Taken his energy, somehow. Then it had been Gupta, the head technician. Then Pascal, the French radio operator. The three American soldiers in Salil’s quarters had gone one after another. One by one, everyone got sick and fell apart, like their souls had been sucked away and their flesh could no longer sustain itself.
Salil frowned. No, that wasn’t what happened. He tried to clear his mind, but then the sound came again.
He crept down the corridor, concrete and steel looming overhead. It was supposed to be impossible for anything to get in- he still had no idea how the vampire had managed it. He felt the weight of the scorched Earth above weighing down on him. The surface was a radioactive waste; years had passed since his international team had been sealed within and their instruments still detected the poison. They were meant to act as a communications outpost, a beacon for the survivors of the holocaust. That was a joke. No signal had been detected in the last five years. They had tended the machines, eaten the freeze-dried rations, drank the recycled water. They were an international team, intended to pick up the pieces after the war. What was the point? There were no more nations.
Still, they had kept a vigil… for what? What could possibly be alive outside? Twisted things like the vampire, things that he could only imagine. There was nothing outside those thick steel doors but wolves and bears. Oh, and hope. But that was as poisonous as the air.
“Salil… where are you going?” whispered a delicate female voice. The vampire. He tried to detect the source of the sound but in the echoing halls, swathed in disorientating darkness, it was impossible.
“Stay back!” he shouted, but his voice shook. He coughed, having not spoken to anyone other than her for days.
“Don’t you want a little company?” she purred. He shuddered. It sounded like she was somewhere in the direction of the office.
That could work in his favour- he needed to get to bunker thirteen’s armoury. He had found several of his comrades’ bodies so far, but none of them had been carrying weapons. Somehow, the vampire had killed them before they could even be ready to fight. His stomach knotted at the memory of picking over the corpses, their hair thinning and their skin sallow and drained of youth and vitality. He was yet to find the body of the South African woman, Private Vorster. He had been trying to work up the courage to speak to her before the vampire came. Maybe she was still alive, hiding like him, keeping quiet.
“Why do this?” he asked the vampire, surprising himself. The question had come unbidden.
“Poor Salil. Why not?”
“These were good men and women! They were here to help people!” he shouted, anger rising. He increased his pace, having to feel his way in places where the lights had failed.
“Good or bad, this is my nature,” she replied. He was sure that her voice had moved a little- the echo had altered slightly.
“Nature? You’re an abomination! A mutant!” he called. He coughed again. His bones ached and protested as he ran. He was sure that he had not been bitten, but hunger and weakness were still at work.
“Mutation is part of nature… but you’re not a stupid man. You already knew that. You’re just scared, so I’ll forgive your little outbursts. I have something to show you, Salil. Come and find me…”
Salil’s heart sped up, but he fought the panic down- he was at the armoury. The lights were out here, replaced with, a dull emergency red. Blood red. Had the vampire had tampered with the fuses? With shaking hands, Salil started to punch the unlock code into the keypad.
Then he realised that it was already open.
He pulled at the door, which creaked loudly. He winced at the noise. The vampire would find him in moments. He heaved at the heavy steel and an automated light inside the armoury came on in response. Salil groaned.
The guns were lined up on the racks. Handguns, rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, armour, helmets, radiation suits. One gun was out of place. One person had made it to the armoury, but too late. Private Vorster sat slumped against the black and yellow striped wall, a handgun in her limp hand, a bullet in her brain. He had never even found out her first name. Despair flooded his mind. He could tell from her skin that she had already been bitten when she shot herself. The vampire’s kiss brought about a slow and torturous death, through sickness and agony. He couldn’t blame her for taking this way out… but why not use the gun to fight? Why had none of the others fought?
Salil knew that he was forgetting something important, that his mind was playing tricks on him, but the train of thought was interrupted by the sound.
Salil was galvanised into action. Any thoughts of making a last stand in the armoury faded when he remembered that the door could be locked from the outside. If the vampire had followed him, she could close that door and leave him to starve. Maybe that had been her intention all along, herding him along like a frightened lamb. He grabbed the loaded handgun from Vorster and dashed for the door, crashing into it and back out into the corridor.
“You make a lot of noise, you know. Are you sure you’re meant for survival? Things are bad out there,” said the vampire.
Salil span around with a surprised gasp, but the corridor was empty. A sound behind him made him turn back, raising the handgun. He thought that he saw movement in the shadows, a slender shape further down the corridor, but he could have imagined it. The mechanical sounds in the walls kept scratching at his mind.
“Come out and face me,” he challenged the darkness. He gripped the gun tight, checked that it was loaded and the safety was off.
“Why?” she asked. “So you can shoot me with her gun? I can read your mind, Salil. I know everything you know. I can taste every emotion that graces your primitive heart. You loved her.”
Salil turned again. There was no way to be sure of the origin of the voice. How could she know these things? He began to move away from the armoury. The gun suddenly felt less than useless. She knew what he was thinking, knew how terrified he was. There was no way to beat her. The only thing stopping despair from taking over his mind was a rising wave of anger.
“Then you must know how much I hate you!” he shouted, though the effort set him coughing again. His stomach hurt in response. “Read my mind. I’ll fight to my last breath to kill you!”
“Oh, yes. Much better. Overwhelm your fear with anger, turn it into a weapon. Let me see the real Salil Mehta. You’ll never survive the new world without a good dose of rage,” she said with amusement in her voice.
Salil was struck with an idea. The world outside was a weapon; the wolves and bears and hope. He could not fight the vampire as things stood- there were too many factors in her favour. Outside was another matter. Maybe she was more adapted to the wasteland, but he was willing to bet that there were worse things outside than vampires. Why not introduce a few more variables?
“Going outside, Salil?” she called from the shadows. “I told you, I know what you’re thinking.”
“Then try to stop me,” he called back.
There was no reply. Salil smiled to himself. Either she would beat him to the door, in which case he would finally get to confront her, or he would manage to get outside and make a run for it. Even with a radiation suit, he knew that going outside was a death sentence… but at least he would get to see the sun again. That was acceptable. The next best thing to winning.
“Good luck,” she taunted.
Salil broke into a run. He held the handgun ready but took his finger from the trigger, afraid of shooting himself if he fell. The corridors twisted and turned and some had no working lights at all. He leapt over the corpse of Pascal, who had just lay down on the floor and waited to die after being bitten. He raced up a set of concrete stairs, plotting the layout of the bunker in his mind- the main doors were not far away, but there several ways to get to them. He could not tell if the vampire was going another way, to cut him off, or if she was chasing behind him.
He chose the most direct route, which meant going through the water recycling room. He turned left after the door to the communication array and ignored the open double doors to the hospital, where most of the dead were piled. He had hidden in there for a day, unable to sleep among the withered dead and foul miasma. That was when the vampire had started talking to him. He could barely remember anything before that.
The next door was wedged shut by a body on the far side- it looked like the Armenian engineer, Adontz- but with some effort Salil forced it open. Finding Adontz was a stroke of luck- he took the man’s dog tags, knowing that he would need at least one senior member of staff’s ID code to open the external doors.
The room was large and dominated by a water tank, thick steel wall that reached the ceiling, with only a control panel to moderate pressure and several valves and taps. The opposite door would take him through the engineer’s supply room and then to the control room for the main bunker doors. The only thing that gave him pause was the sound.
“Stop it!” shouted Salil, his patience finally breaking. He coughed heavily. “Stop that tapping! I’m here, come and get me!”
The room was silent, except for the hum of machinery and his ragged breaths. Was she trying to lead him somewhere? Away from the doors, maybe? He could be wasting valuable time while she outmanoeuvred him.
“Salil… I’m not tapping anything,” said the vampire. Her voice was full of joy. It sounded like she was in the room.
Salil blinked. The tapping was different in here- it had less of an echo. It was closer. Much closer. Watching the shadows underneath the water tank, trying to calm his breath, he advanced towards the sound. He placed an ear to the side of the tank.
There it was- except now he could tell that it was not a tapping sound. It was dripping. He took a torch from a workbench and slowly lowered himself to the floor, shining the light into the tight shadows under the tank.
No vampire. No drip. The water was not leaking out of the tank- which meant that it was leaking in. Somewhere above the tank the ceiling had cracked, probably damaged when the bombs fell. Water and time had done the rest. Salil almost laughed. Bunker thirteen had plenty of machinery dedicated to cleaning radiation and toxins from water, but it had to be filtered into the system properly- this tank was for water that had already been cleaned. From here it was pumped to the rest of the bunker. Salil and his team had filled their flasks with it and washed their faces with it, absorbing a little more radiation each day.
“You win,” said Salil to the shadows, though deep down he knew that vampires were not real.
He burst into laughter, an uncontrollable wave that shook his body. He laughed until it hurt and he started to cough blood, which made him laugh all the more. In equal fits of laughter and pain, he stumbled from the room and into the engineer’s supply room. Radiation suits were stacked up neatly, ready to be donned at a moment’s notice. Salil started laughing again at the sight of them, wondering how much longer he had before the sickness took him. He wished that he had a mirror, to see how pale and shrunken he was, like Vorster and Harcourt and Pascal and all the others.
Thinking of Vorster made him finally stop laughing and consider putting the handgun in his mouth, but he decided against it. He could still beat the vampire, after a fashion. The next best thing to winning. He went through to the door control room and flipped the various switches that would open bunker thirteen to the outside world. He entered a password into the computer console and scanned in the barcode on his dog tags, along with the code on Adontz’ tags.
Sirens began to scream and emergency lights flashed, hurting his eyes. He walked out of the room and up to the massive steel doors. The hydraulics slowly began to move, unused for years. A crack of light almost blinded him. A rush of fresh air swept over him. Salil smiled, waiting for his eyes to adjust, anxious to see the sun one last time.
Bunker thirteen opened, to the wolves and bears and hope.