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Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Mine:

Dead. They are all dead, and now - now I'm all alone, with no one else to blame. Because it's my fault. All mine.

Just three days ago life was almost perfect. I found the love of my life and my family felt complete. It was a novel feeling for me, as it was always hard for me to feel wanted and needed. The world wasn't as it once was, not since the vampires took over, and if you weren't hardy and resourceful you weren't much of anything...except for food.

My city was one of the few still standing. Despite our resilience, I think we all knew the truth. It wouldn't be much longer. We wouldn't survive to enjoy the memories that came with old age; there would be no rocking chairs on creaky porches, not for us.

I've heard stories of a time, way back when, when people had excess. When electricity wasn't a history lesson and school was a public affair provided by the government. There was a time when things were civilized, or as civilized as humanity can hope to be.  Chicago wasn't like that anymore. Now it was dark, lit only by the sun when we were lucky, and candle light when we weren't. Now it was a small gathering of the hopeless, pretending to live. The truth was that we all knew we weren't truly living any more. Instead we existed, in closed door terror, praying that we might die quickly when the time came.

Of course, when I met Luca, some of that despair changed in me; it morphed into something unrecognizable to our morbid existence. I began to feel courage, hope, and even love. It was impossible not to feel these things with Luca. He just radiated something pure and light and almost holy. He was surreal. 

Luca was orphaned at the tender age of eight, with no other family to speak of except for a sister four years his younger. He learned early that to love is to protect, by whatever means necessary. I cringed when he told me of the things he ate and fed to his sister. I became queasy at the tales of the brutal fights, with vampires and humans alike, that he engaged in to gain a scrap of clothing or a small bit of bread. He told me that I was the softness he'd never believed he could possess. I was his sugar, and he was my tough guy. We were perfect. His sister, Sia, became like a sister to me. My own brothers had died young, from disease. Without access to vaccinations and proper nutrition, a young death was all too common. My parents immediately took to Luca and Sia. I think they missed my baby brothers, too young to be named, more than they let on.

We claimed an abandoned apartment with Luca's lock breaking skills and the sheer numbers of our newly grown group. The five of us seemed indomitable…until Luca's birthday. He was turning twenty-one. I knew that the age used to be monumental, back when birthdays still mattered. I decided that I needed to do something special, anything to further my relationship to Luca. I was always worried he'd slip from my fingers. He was too good for me, the small girl who couldn't defend herself.

I snuck away with dawn's light. The sun was my sheltering companion, bright enough to keep even the most seasoned of vampires at bay. Gifts were relics of the past, as money lost its value early on. Paper was good for burning for warmth, and the thin, green variety only burned faster. In the winter we added it to what little wood was left to harvest. In the beginning, some believed that fire was a deterrent to the vampire menace. They quickly learned that fire could kill a vampire, but only if you were fast enough to wield it before they tore your arm off. Most weren’t.

Despite the lack of cash, there were still ways to purchase things if you were willing. Some sold trinkets to the odd collectors. Some sold their bodies to those who believed that pleasure was the only thing left to enjoy before the end. Others killed and stole, their macabre skills becoming their currency.

I had been saving a locket for years, the one gift I'd ever received from my parents and the one bit of luxury still alive in my family. Inside were pictures of my great-great grandparents. Pictures were a rarity, especially ones where the subjects were smiling, as if happy of all things. This was the last bit of history my family had left, but history wasn’t important to me anymore. Instead, I would barter the heirloom for something that could bring a smile to my love’s face. What was cold metal against a feeling we rarely had the opportunity to feel anymore?

I made my way through the ravaged city streets, taking care to stay within the sun's glow and out in the open. I carried a small dagger in my worn boots as an added assurance. The weapon would be insubstantial against vampires, but hopefully it served as a deterrent to human enemies.

There was a small post about a block away from our apartment camp. It was still supplied by the ragtag militia that was slowly, but surely, losing the fight to keep the vampires out and the humans inside alive. We had long lost hope in their ability to protect us, but at least they served as a barrier to the outside of the city. They would die first.

Matthias smiled at me as I ducked beneath the weathered awning. Why he bothered to own something that blocked the worshipped sun, I never knew.

"Matt, I need something special."

I didn’t bother with greetings or pleasantries. Despite the sun and my handy dagger, I still wanted this business completed as quickly as possible. I’d learned early on that safety was but a mirage.

"I'm surprised to see you out and about without your entourage, Summer," he replied.

His voice was teasing, jovial even. Matthias seemed immune to the threats of our world. I guessed that was easier when you held all the cards in your hand. He’d gained favor early on, stashing away goods, killing those who defied him, forming alliances for power, while others huddled away with family. Attachments got people killed, and Matthias had none.

"Today is a special day, and I need a gift. I have something you'll want in exchange. Do you have anything left to trade?"

"I’m always open to a fair trade. I have a box of cookies, some ammunition for a Glock 26 9mm, and even a small one-armed teddy bear that some poor soul no longer needs."

We both knew that this trade would be anything but fair, but Matthias held all the power in his negotiations. Sometimes I wondered why he even bothered with the pretense. We both knew he could take whatever he wanted and no one would dare stop him.

"I'll take the cookies and the ammunition."

Matt's brown eyes widened in surprise before narrowing to a shrewd glare.

"And what do you have to offer for such precious merchandise?”

His eyes trailed down my body, and I struggled not to cower and show weakness. That was one thing I still wasn’t desperate enough to offer yet. Besides, Luca would be furious. I shook my head, and Matthias winked. 

"This," I said and held out the locket proudly.

It was pure gold that could be fashioned into a ring for someone who still had a form of wealth and love. It contained pictures, when I knew that Matt had a soft spot for anything old and rare. He referred to himself as an "antique collector."

"That'll get you the ammunition or the cookies and the bear, but not both of what you're after."

I opened the locket to reveal the pictures inside.

"Almost there, Summer, almost there."

I had nothing else I was willing to give, and this day was important to me. I wanted Luca to have something special, and I knew the ammunition was something we sorely needed. People were beginning to gather at Matt's little shop, and I knew that the longer we negotiated, the more likely someone would gain courage to attempt a burglary. They wouldn't get far with Matt's hidden guards, but that didn't mean no one would get hurt in the process.

"And this too." I yanked the carved knife from my boot and knew I had won when Matt smiled. Though truthfully, with all I was sacrificing, I may have actually been a loser in our trade.

"Deal."

Matt's grin seemed salacious to me. I desired nothing more than to escape the agitated crowd with my loot. He swiftly took my offerings, all of my earthly treasures to speak of, and wrapped my "purchases" in a scrap of cloth.

"No one touch the girl, or they'll have my...friends to answer to. Is that understood?"

Matt yelled it loudly while stroking his fingers greedily over the intricate detailing on my – no, his knife. There were rumors that Matt had managed to befriend vampires along with the militia and his burly citizen guards. Hopefully it would be enough to deter any would-be muggers as I made my way home.

I clutched the parcel close to my chest before choosing to tug my shirt over the bundle in concealment. Yet, I knew a mugging was the least of my worries when I stepped from beneath the tattered awning. Somehow in my dealings with Matthias, I hadn't noticed the clouds snaking their way to cover my sun shield. They were dark and menacing, a promise of rain if I'd ever seen one. 

I ran. The crowd dispersed, realizing the same threat. With rain, the sun would disappear, and the vampires would be ready for a feeding frenzy. They were strong, fast, and unbelievably blood thirsty. To them, we were mere cattle meant to satisfy a thirst. A pinging drop of wetness plopped audibly against my arm. I ran faster, one arm still clutching the goods. I prayed to a God that I believed had forsaken us years ago. Another drop as I rounded the corner, so close, to our shared apartment.

I knew that by now my family and Luca had to be worrying. I should have told someone I would be leaving. My need to make the gift a surprise wasn’t the brightest idea. Suddenly my trip to Matthias seemed ill-advised, near stupid in fact. With the rain and cloud cover, my family may decide to start looking for me. Shelter was the safest option right now, but my errand may have just driven those I loved far from it.

When I rounded the corner, my worst fears were realized. My parents, Luca, and Sia, were all walking around in the unprotected open as the rain began to pelt harder and harder, drowning out the sun and inviting monsters.

They were frantic, stopping passerby, yelling my name.

I came to the back alley entrance to our apartment and tried to call out to them, while out of breath and panting. I yelled that I was here, that I was safe. I yelled to go back inside. The clouds were moving in too fast, darkness encroaching upon our city.

Then I saw it. The evil that the rain and darkness could not conceal. The vampires had overrun the city's borders, and my family was too near the edge. The vampires had torn apart the remaining militia. They must have camped out near the encampment, waiting for a prime opportunity such as this. Their pale faces were grotesque and fierce, some running with body parts clenched between their fangs. One militia man crawled away from a laughing vampire. The man was already missing both legs. He didn’t get far.

The horde of vampires swept in closer, coming upon my family. With the rain, and their yelling, they didn’t hear the snarling and growling until it was too late.

Sia went down first as I struggled to make my way through the now stampeding humans to my family. Luca tried to pull her away, but only succeeded in help the vampire pull her apart.

I was armed with bullets for a gun that I didn't have. I was defenseless, and my loved ones were distracted. People pressed into the apartment building, but the sheer numbers created a bottle neck, those trapped outside picked off one by one.

My fingers dug into the deteriorating brick wall to my right as I struggled to remain standing in the mass of struggling bodies. I watched my parents battling for their lives while Sia was...fed on. Luca was pushed aside, battling against his own foe now. He saw me, and I finally pushed forward with a final surge to reach him.

"Summer!" he screamed.

I couldn't process all that was happening. My parents were down. Sia was...gone. Luca was bleeding, which I knew was a neon sign to the vampires.

"RUN!" he yelled.

So close. My arms were outstretched, the chaos around us disappearing as my fingers struggled to grasp him and somehow pull him to safety. One more inch. Just one more… My nails sunk into the tattered fabric of his shirt, but he shoved me away, and I went sprawling to the ground.

What was happening? The rain had stopped, nearly as suddenly as it had begun, the clouds were dissipating. The vampires had begun to stagger away with their kills and captures, including Luca. My parents were unconscious and thrown over a single vampire's shoulders. His teeth were dripping with their blood. Luca was allowing a grotesque vampire with one eye to drag him away. He had a clawed grip in Luca's leg, and Luca was not even attempting to dislodge it. Then I understood. He was saving me. He was sacrificing himself for me.

“No!”

No one paid attention to the girl struggling to stand in the mud. Stray boots smashed into my hands as I struggled for purchase in the mire. The vampires, along with the few people that I cared about, moved further and further away.

No! It was my fault. I only wanted to have a special day. I only wanted to forget for just a few hours. We were supposed to enjoy cookies together and pretend for just a little while that life was still worth something. Finally gaining my feet, I ran. It was easier to make progress now. No one else was crazy enough to chase after the enemy. They were so fast.

“Stop her!” someone yelled behind me.

“You don’t, you don’t understand.”

But no one listened, and no one cared. I was a number among few. Numbers were protection in future attacks. I couldn’t even die with them. Before I could make it to the border, I was shoved back by well-meaning humans, and then the sun was shining, and my family was gone.

Dead. They were all dead and now - now I'm all alone, with no one else to blame.

Because it's my fault.

All mine.

Now I sit, hours later and still unbelieving, cradling the useless bullets and the torn remains of Sia's blue dress that I'd found in the sodden streets. They were mud and blood soaked, useless scraps.

It didn’t take long to contemplate ending it all. I wouldn’t even need to pull the trigger myself or worry about losing my nerve. Matthias would do it, for a price. Maybe it was time to offer up the last thing I had left. Myself.

I don't have to wait for death all alone, replaying the attack over and over in my head until I want to claw my own eyes out of their sockets. I don't have to stare at the cookies that I now know to be stale and riddled with insects. I don’t have to suffer as a number anymore. Peace waits on the other side, if I’m only brave enough to ask for it.

From the corner of my eye I notice Luca's journal. I lunge for it and the small reprieve it may offer. I’ll take one last memory on my way out. Luca’s voice can be the one I have in my head before it ends.

The pages are filled with prose about me, foolish, weak, and worthless me. He called me his Summer Wind. He compared me to a breath of fresh air, away from the putrid stench of too many humans relegated to one small city. He wished for a time when we could have married and had children of our own.

There are even passages detailing conversations he's held with my parents, unbeknownst to me. I was their pride, their bright shining light of normalcy and times lost to war and carnage. They'd all treasured me. Luca had been hopeful. He’d been happy with me, and I’d been too foolish to trust in his love. I’d killed them with my insecurity.

But maybe, maybe all is not lost. He’d had hope…I could too. There’s a possibility they aren’t dead yet. Some who were captured were kept as blood bags to be drained over time. There’s still a chance.

It is then I know. It is then I decide. I'll die anyway. It may as well be in an attempt to save those left to me. They may never forgive me for risking myself, but I have to try and bring them back. Luca would do the same for me and as would my parents. I gather the ammunition and the empty gun beneath my dad's dingy pallet. I'll go to Matthias, and I'll beg for an audience. I'll spark the crowd, and we'll go after those we've lost. We all know where the harvested ones are kept. We all know the way. I'll leave at morning light, and I won't look back.

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Edit Lock

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Wheeeee, moved my first thread!

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

GASP. He has gone mad with power!  

But I've been avoiding catching up on that thread because the tiny screen makes it a pain, I'd been intending to ask for a topic split, so thanks. And congrats!

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Should I take a picture for the photo album?

For real though, congratulations.

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago
Reminds me of this.

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Thank you!

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Good, our new lord has shown me favor, and cut out the tumorous growths from my beloved master. Thank you, thank you oh Dark Lord! May my death me swift under your mighty sword!

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

Endmaster referred to this one as vampire romance but, this is 'romance AND vampires', not 'romance WITH vampires' which is an important distinction. I know everyone loathes vampires as a concept but I've said before, they can be used effectively. In this particular story, it feels like you could've replaced vampires with mutants or aliens or w/e and avoided that stigma. There aren't any vampires present as characters and in the scene they're in they display sort of 'swarm' behavior that would've been a perfectly fine fit for other sorts of monsters too.

There's a lot going on here and I could tell it's a setting that interests you, but it was also lot to cram into a short story. A more active scene to start with or one giving Luca a chance to do something as a character before he's dragged off might have gotten the reader more immediately involved and helped cut down on the need for so much backstory. Right now the scummy merchant gets more focus than Luca himself, though like I said this all may be more a side effect of working with a small word count in a story that wanted to be longer.

Anyhow, it's still a great entry and I hope you'll keep writing these for the October prompt too.

 

 

   

Even MORE Presents for Mizal

5 years ago

You're the brolita with the published novel, so I can't really fault you for whatever gets your words flowing, but maybe don't open up a short story with that much backstory. If the backstory is important, address it in passing whenever it becomes important. If the setting is supposed to be what's interesting, don't explain what the setting is. We have no reason to be interested when we know what happened. We do, however, get interested when we learn progressively. The best post apocalypse stories are like the best mystery stories: Best when they start out vague, but introduce the unique and bizarre aspects as the story goes on. You have to want to know more. Keep up the mystery, don't lay it all out in paragraphs as we begin. Use tactics to get us interested in a story we might not otherwise have been interested in, "Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked" comes off as a bit formulaic in this day and age.

Which brings us to the Vampires. Why are they vampires? I agree with Mizal on the point that the vampires could've been goddamn any apocalypse-causing force. We don't really hear a lot of things that make them uniquely vampirey, or anything that makes them unique as an apocalypse monster. The only thing they seem to have on running zombies is that they aren't called zombies. Which takes away from the setting when we're just handed the word "Vampire" and expected to believe that it makes the setting a different kind of apocalypse. But really, not that many different things happen in this vampire story than in a zombie story, except I get the vague sense that they're supposed to be somewhat more dangerous, and they can't come out when the sun's up.