Sara's Awakening Ch. 04byHelenofTroy©
Grant watched the truck disappearing into the distance across the desert. He coughed once as the dust cloud drifted into the blood spattered interior of the garage. Behind him came the sound of men running from the lobby. They were shouting instructions, asking for information, and exclaiming in horror at the sight of so many bodies.
"It's fine; they're gone." Grant stood and brought his sword up to clean it. He wiped the vampire's blood off, then examined the edge to be certain that contact with the concrete floor hadn't chipped it.
"We'll go after...!"
"No." Grant cut the man off. He didn't look around, busy examining his weapon before sheathing it. "Leave them. Clean this mess up and keep loading the trucks. We head out in two hours."
The men looked like they were going to protest. A look from Grant stopped them cold. Instead they nodded and set about clearing the bodies. Grant nodded in satisfaction and walked back towards the Dragon Knight complex, thumbing his cell phone's ear mount to life as he got into the elevator and punched the button for the vampire wing.
"Is she out?" The voice on the other end didn't bother introducing itself.
"Yes." Grant pulled off his sunglasses and wiped some blood off the lenses.
"Good. We almost missed an opportunity there." The man on the other end took a deep breath and let it out. Grant finished wiping his sunglasses and replaced them. "How many did we lose?"
"Eight." Grant stepped off the elevator when it reached its destination. The holding cell corridor and morgue beyond was a mess, but not as bad as it could have been. He'd interrupted the feeds for the cameras when Sara finally managed to escape so that only the designated sweepers would encounter her. "Seven were already on probation after their performance reviews, and Connor." Grant spat on the floor, as if clearing his mouth of the name. "Bastard deserves what he got after what he did to that girl."
The voice on the other end paused, considering Grant's words. While he wasn't specifically ordered to limit casualties, there was no point in losing good men trying to convince the vampire her escape was real.
"Impressive initiative. Is the necromancer with her?"
"Yes, sir." Grant walked past the broken holding cell doors, and considered the splatters of blood where Sara relieved him of problem personnel. He walked down to her room and back, confirming there was no one left in the wing. The voice on the other end was quiet for a while, no doubt watching his progress.
"Can we trust him?"
"I wouldn't." Grant returned to the morgue and continued down the rows of dead vampires. It was hard to feel any remorse for those monsters... "Doesn't matter."
"No, I suppose it doesn't."
"Are we done, sir?"
"If you weren't so effective, I might be angry at your insolence."
"I am effective, sir."
Grant rolled his eyes. He supposed that was intended to be ominous. It mostly came off as petty. He knew that he was indispensable; there were only a dozen or so actual Knights and each was critical. He'd long since accepted that fact that he spent too much time in leadership roles and not enough actually on the ground. Grunts had their place and he had his.
Once he'd verified that the vampire wing was in a good state, Grant did a second pass through the wing. This time he popped open several secret panels set near the floor and key supports throughout the structure. Inside each was an impressive amount of demolition explosives. He armed them in turn.
When he was finished, Grant headed back to the elevator and went up a floor to deal with the wings which housed the other monsters.
Mary sat in the semi's trailer, crowded in against dozens of other people. Well, it was more accurate to say that she slumped. The iron manacle around her neck kept her head down. The heavy cuffs around her wrists kept her arms hanging down between her knees. The bone weariness deep inside her kept her from moving around too much.
It was hard to say what the worst part of the trailer was. The noise of hundreds of lost souls, wailing or sobbing or whimpering to themselves? The smell of unwashed bodies and... more unsavoury things? The darkness, broken up by only a few bars of light that shifted and danced as the truck moved, throwing horrific ghosts into the corners?
No, the worst part was the pain. The memories of what Connor did to her. Sometimes, Mary's voice was one of the chorus sobbing in the darkness, mourning the loss of her life. Her innocence.
When the back of the trailer opened, filling the space with harsh light, she didn't look up. Some people streamed forward, eager to get out of the darkness and away from the smell. They surged out of the back of the truck, towards one of those lizard... things. For a moment it looked like they might overwhelm the guards, and then several hard strikes with rifle butts and shots fired into the air caused the wailing mass to scream in terror and stop rushing forward.
From there, the people moved in a more orderly manner out of the back of the truck, filing past the row of guards and towards a lone concrete building sitting in the middle of an otherwise empty prairie. Where were they? Why were they here? What the Hell were those lizard things? They stood on two feet like men, and they were almost ten feet tall and rippling with heavy muscle. They had scales instead of skin, and mouths like dragons... Mary had never seen anything like them. She didn't believe something like them could exist. Normally they would have scared the Hell out of her, now they were just another terrible thing in a long line of terrible things happening to and around her.
Mary was the last out of the truck. More specifically, after the last person shuffled out of the back of the trailer and towards the building, she stayed where she was: head bowed, dirty blonde hair straggling in front of her face.
"Hey there!" One of the lizards, she wasn't surprised it spoke English, came up to the back of the truck and grabbed the chain that linked her collar to her cuffs, yanking hard and pulling her out of the truck. Between lack of food, water and exercise she didn't have much chance to save herself. She landed hard in the dirt, and was pretty sure she broke her nose. Maybe a rib too, as the lizard kicked her to flip her over.
"Go to Hell." She spat blood in his face.
"Feisty... ha! That'll serve you well in the pit. You might last a few seconds..."
"Pit?" She blinked dust out of her eyes and struggled to her knees.
"You'll see." The lizard grinned. At least, she thought it grinned... it bared a long row of dangerous, sharp teeth. "Now get moving."
Mary considered her options. She could stay where she was and take another kick from the lizard, or she could do what it said. While the ride in the truck sapped her will to live, something sparked in the back of her mind as she considered the pain in her chest from the lizard's kick... revenge. If she lived through this, if she escaped... she could get revenge on the bastard that did this. Then she could hunt down his friend with the cowboy hat and kill him, too, for selling her to these things...
Through the ache and the weariness, she found a way to stagger to her feet and fall in line behind the others. The other slaves? It seemed like that was what they were... what a funny thought. In the age of CNN, Facebook and Social Security, how could there be slaves? How could they drive a semi-truck full of slaves across the Rockies and to some damn building in the middle of the prairies?
The unreality of the situation belied the reality of stumbling in a ragged line with other slaves, guarded by cruel lizard creatures. Someone fell and couldn't get up. Another person tried to help them and was struck in the face with a rifle butt. The lizard grabbed the fallen slave and dragged it out of the way of the rest. There was some low conversation, some prodding, and then the finality of rifle shot...
Mary focused on trying to walk with the others, not wanting the same fate. She knew how she'd been captured. After Connor left her, bruised and broken and ready to die, the one with the cowboy hat came by. He picked her up and for a while it seemed like he might actually be trying to help... and she'd actually gone to sleep while he drove her, ostensibly to the hospital. Since she'd woken up from that ride, everything was one long nightmare... sold at auction to the lizard thing, locked in iron and transported in that truck for what seemed like days...
She looked up as she passed through the door of the building. After the darkness of the trailer, the light of the day was good. Somehow, going through that door and into the blackness beyond seemed like it would be more permanent. She almost stopped on the threshold, unwilling to leave the sun again. A glance behind showed that three of the lizards closing up the truck and coming towards her fast.
She walked into the building, passed another armed lizard and followed the rest of the slaves down a staircase that looked like it went on forever.
Jacob sat on his big camping backpack, using his legs to balance himself on it and avoid tipping over. His hands were full of fiddle, which he was muddling through learning to play. Twelve hours ago he'd never touched one in his life, now he was good enough that, sometimes, when people stopped at the rest stop they spent extra time listening to him. One or two put bills in the hat in front of him. No one took him up on the real offer, which was a cardboard sign propped up beside him that said WEST.
Still, he kept up a smile and a jaunty tune. Sometimes it took a while before you got where you were going, and he wasn't in a hurry.
There were all sorts of names for him: vagrant, hobo, trespasser, hitchhiker, scum. He preferred traveler, and said so whenever someone asked. Often they didn't.
As the night wore on and he saw fewer and fewer headlights, he started to consider places around the stop to get some sleep. The bathrooms wouldn't be locked, but he would be arrested if someone found him sleeping in there. Texas liked to keep its rest stops clean and well-maintained to encourage travel, and homeless people sleeping in them did not send the right signals. He could probably get away with sleeping near one of the columns outside. The roof would help if a storm hit, but the pavement would be pretty uncomfortable. He was settling on finding a nice patch of dirt out behind the rest stop when another set of headlights pulled in.
He stopped chewing on the Powerbar he'd bought that morning with the last of his money and watched as a beat up military truck pulled into the parking lot and squealed to a halt two spaces over from him. He raised an eyebrow as the truck screamed in protest when someone shifted gears too hard and didn't put on the parking brake properly. Then a well-dressed man jumped out of the cab and made a beeline for the bathroom. No. He only looked well-dressed. Up close, his clothes were ragged and torn...
Figuring it wouldn't hurt any; Jacob started playing something lively and slightly off-kilter on the fiddle. He didn't look around as the man passed behind him, he kept smiling and playing.
When he first started this, all the way back in Maine, he didn't know a damn thing about how to hitch. He spent almost a day getting no rides before someone who'd already picked a hitchhiker up picked him up too. From the other traveler he learned a lot of important things, chief among them how to get a ride. The keys were simple. One: stay positive. No one wants to stop and pick up a sack of misery. Two: stay clean. No one wants to pick up someone who looks dirty or dangerous, which were often the same thing to most people. Three: have a prop. That's what the fiddle was for. If you looked interesting or seemed like you might provide some entertainment, people were more likely to stop and pick you up.
Of course, the trick to all of it was "more likely". Not many people these days liked to pick up travelers, so even if you did everything right it could still take a long time before you actually got a ride.
Still, there was no rush. He'd been back and forth across America three times now, working his way south first and now north, headed for B.C. and the girlfriend waiting for him. Well, girlfriend was stretching it ... whenever he got to an internet café he'd send her a message or two, and she claimed she was waiting for him...
"Hey, you got a name or should I call you West?"
Jacob jumped as a voice came from behind him. He twisted around, still playing, to see the man from the truck looking at him.
"Jacob... Jake to my friends."
"Well, Jake, want a ride? Looks like you're headed the same way I am."
"Sure." Jacob looked the man up and down, considering. He didn't refuse a ride often. Sometimes you got a bad vibe about someone... this guy clearly was a newbie at driving that truck, and the tattered clothes...
On the other hand, from the dark clouds settling overhead and the chill in the air, it seemed like it was going to be a cold night.
"Alright, come on, you can ride shotgun. Toss your stuff in the back."
"Sure!" Jacob grabbed his stuff, which went quickly despite the weight of the backpack. He was old hat at doing it, and sometimes people pulled away if you took too long. It didn't look like this guy would. Jacob tossed his backpack into the truck bed, standing on the bumper to look up into and make sure he didn't crush anything. In the dark of the rest stop, it looked like there was nothing else in there... weird. Who would drive a truck like this and not haul something?
Jacob was getting into his seat and buckling up while the guy fumbled with the keys and finally got the engine turned over. "Hey, what's your name?"
"Merton?" It was tough to keep the incredulity out of his voice. What kind of name was Merton.
"Ya." Merton put the truck in reverse and pulled slowly out of the parking lot. "Problem?"
"No, I... what kinda name is that?"
"The terrible kind." Merton laughed, which made Jacob feel better about not believing the guy. It was a pretty strange name. "My parents had a sense of humour, I guess."
"Ha! Ya, that too."
Once they were on the highway, Merton got more confident with the truck. He brought it up to 100 smoothly, shifting through the gears like a pro, and didn't seem to be phased at all by the speed they were going. Jacob looked around the cab, wondering quietly to himself. He didn't see the usual junk in the passenger's seat that he associated with truckers, and there wasn't anything in the back. Except... what was that under the tarp back there? It was the only thing in the back besides his stuff, and it was barely enough to need the big tarp that was lying on top of it. Was it... vaguely human?
"Hey, you, uhh, what you got back there?" An uneasy feeling settled in Jacob's stomach... he should have listened to his gut and not gotten in the truck.
"Just a body."
"Oh." Jake smiled and watched the road speed towards them for a moment, wondering what to say next... "Really?"
"Ya, a friend, she... couldn't handle her liquor." Merton laughed and passed a sedan with various junk piled on top of its roof rack. "She's sleeping it off in the back."
"Right." Jake turned and looked back at the tarp again. It was human shaped. It wasn't moving much. Maybe she really was drunk...
"Hey, you mind playing a bit?" Merton gestured at the fiddle Jake was holding in his lap. "Turns out this thing doesn't have a radio."
"Ya, sure." Nervous and not able to jump out of a truck going a hundred miles per hour, Jake started to play. This time the tune was slower, more mournful. It fit his mood, which sobered significantly at the thought of what was in the back of the truck.
For a while, they drove with only the sound of Jacob's fiddle to distract from the monotony of the highway. Texas highways... long and straight, with nothing for miles... Jacob chased away any thoughts of what could happen to a person out here. He'd heard stories of bodies buried in the desert that weren't discovered for years... or ever.
At some point, Jake noticed that Merton's hand was on his knee.
"Whoa, hey... look, I don't know what you think. I don't pay for rides... like that."
"Oh." Merton turned away from the road he was speeding down to look at Jacob, one eyebrow raised. "How do you normally pay?" He didn't move his hand...
"You know, the normal stuff... tales, company, sometimes music..." Jake shifted away from Merton, uncomfortable beyond the thought that the other man was hitting on him.
"Ah, the normal stuff." Merton was still not looking at the road, which was starting to worry Jacob. "Well, I imagine what I have in mind is not... normal."
"Look, man, nevermind okay?" Jake was really starting to panic, and only the basic fear of speeding asphalt kept him from opening the door right there. "Just let me out here. I'll walk to the next rest stop!"
Jacob didn't know what was happening. Merton's hand shot from his knee up to his face, grabbing him painfully and forcing his head backwards, while the man's other hand kept the truck straight and on the road. There was something about Merton's fingers, where they were placed... they tickled and tingled in ways that fingers shouldn't.
Of course, Jake wasn't going to wait to figure out what was going on. Despite the danger of doing so, he punched Merton in the face. Still the man didn't let go... he punched again.
Then came the pain.
Jake tried to yell. He couldn't find the air! It felt like his breath was pouring out through his mouth into Merton's palm. And it felt like his... blood, or something, was pouring out of his skin where Merton's fingers touched him. And with those sensations, his entire body was wracked with pain. He thrashed and kicked, struggling against... whatever this was. He couldn't shake the man's iron grip.
Spots, bright and dark and purple and red, started to fill his vision. He tried to gasp in air, but couldn't. He tried to twist away from Merton's fingers, but couldn't.
Blackness swam up in front of Jake's eyes, turning the world dark much faster than mere suffocation should have.
When Jacob stopped thrashing, Merton turned his attention back to the road. Since escaping that damn facility, this was the first time he finally felt right. Whole. He felt a little bad about what he'd needed to do to feel that way. Jake seemed like a good kid... He was no vampire, but this wasn't the first time he'd needed energy fast. And Jake's energy was very nice. Young and vital, filled with promise and shining with the light of youth.
Merton passed a line of cars, pushing the truck's engine until it started to groan and complain, and waited until there were no more headlights to be seen anywhere. Then he waited another hour, wrinkling his nose against the growing smell of Jake's wrinkled, desiccated corpse. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he reached over and popped open the door, then pushed Jake's body hard enough to launch it off the road and into the ditch, where it rolled out of sight. Hopefully it would stay that way for a while.
He closed the door and continued driving, humming to himself. He didn't realize he was humming the last tune Jake played.