Copyright © 2012 By Michael Litzky
“None yer is gonna beat me,” Bunt sneered at the small determined group of Home Runners. “Some yur gunna die trying. That sucks for your mamas.”
Bunt was a big bald man who walked like he was stuffed with suet, not the kind of man who could outrun or outfight anything. But he’d win, he always did.
“You know the game. Stay inside, vampires can’t get you. Take stupid chances, you die that much earlier. But!! You get to the goal before me, if yur wettin’ there fur me, you win.”
His eyes glared at each of theirs for a moment. They lingered on one dark-haired Chinese girl and he seemed to be contemplating something especially nasty. But she stared back at him with blank, stony eyes and he moved on before the others could notice.
Then he said, very quietly, “Goal’s comin’ right … now.” The seven Home Runners looked at their phone screens and gasped. “Shit, no way, I’m out,” said one, and sat down on the floor.
The simple challenge was to get to the goal without ever leaving a house. If you were in a home of some kind, you were safe as a rock. The minute any part of you passed beyond the boundary of door or window, the protection ended and the vampires could grab you.
Sally Yan was determined to win. Bunt had the key she needed. She had to take him. But he was the master. He knew some trick for getting places without ever leaving a house. Sally had prepared for days and knew she would still need a lot of luck to win. But looking at the GPS, she could see that Bunt had tricked all of them and especially her. The goal was four blocks away, not the two she had prepared for.
Bunt walked stiffly to a corner, his big body like a bag of congealed grease. He was pleased with himself, looking at nobody in particular. But Sally knew his malice was directed at her. She was the champion and getting her in his race and then defeating her was his triumph. For a year she’d been building herself to deal with vampires.
She hated everything about the storefront where Bunt gathered them: the ratty red carpet falling apart with age, the dusty golden dragon on the walls of this former Chinese restaurant. She hated the other Runners, incompetent idiots who would all be dead within a couple of hours. She hated the two who were quietly climbing the stairs to the roof. What good was that going to do them? The roof of a building was not inside a house. And she hated Bunt with his cold smile and his stiff walk.
An association flittered into her mind: she expected him to hop rather than walking. Hop on two feet, like a stiff rabbit. What was that about? But as she tried to tease the thought out, it flittered away again.
Annoyed, she walked to the grimy windows where some twenty or thirty vampires stood in surreal poses, looking with haggard longing at the living blood inside. They blocked her view of the sewer lid for which she’d brought a crowbar. Sewers weren’t houses either but Sally knew something about the underground space near this building.
She would need a diversion. The three vials of blood had cost her some pain: it was her own, obtained with the help of a friend who was a registered nurse.
Ignoring the other players, Sally flung wide the front door and held up the first vial. A crowd of vampires pressed close but they were acting strange: instead of hissing and snarling they were fawning on her and several were opening their mouths like baby birds. She was taken aback but decided to follow her plan. She uncapped the vial and hurled it as far over their heads as she could.
Now they did snarl, cursing her in cold voices as they swiveled and hurled themselves after the sparkling liquid arc. Quickly she dived toward the manhole. Growling and the sound of heavy fists splatting marked where the vial landed in a snake throng.
No house protected her as she jabbed the crowbar and flipped the lid up. Twenty snarling vampires turned toward her as she let the lid and the crowbar clank to the pavement and jumped into the opening, feeling the rush of cold hands snapping shut inches from her vanishing skin. They were after her as she half fell and half climbed down iron rungs, but that swarming locust horde plugged the manhole opening, fighting each other. She reached the bottom, ran along a reeking corridor. Everywhere there were signs of occupation: the vampires lived here during the daylight but they were all outside now, searching for any trace of food.
She ran toward a wavering light, hands throbbing, the mob at her heels reaching out long fingers. Then she skidded around a tight corner and there ahead was a fire burning and an old man sleeping beside it. She passed the boundary into the old man’s territory and the horde was slammed back. These awful sewers were old Norbert’s home and even this home the vampires were forced to respect.
She could slow down for a few minutes. Ignoring the voices clamoring at the invisible dividing line, she walked forward, looked down on the old man. He looked vulnerable in his sleep, smelled of the cheapest booze, and had a face full of reddish stubble. She stopped to tuck a bill into his shirt pocket (an old dress shirt, with red lines down the front). She felt a sudden rush of love for the wine-sodden old bum.
She stood up too quickly. Norbert’s influence might extend all the way to the Kressler building or it might stop short. Once she was in that 1930s apartment building, she’d be officially in a home again. Her running shoes drummed quietly on the aging concrete. She whipped out a flashlight, steeled herself for anything, and darted around a corner.
Ten feet away was a small utility door, bare metal with rust spots. There was nothing between it and her. Until her scouting visit to the Kressler midday yesterday it had been padlocked from the other side. Now she ran up and gave a sharp push. It screeched open, just big enough for her to wriggle through and she was safe for the moment in a musty basement.
She felt proud. She was damn good and she knew it. She hadn’t been training for these stupid Home Runs but she was naturally good at them. That was why Bunt had sent her younger sister –
“Hellooo?” an elderly woman’s voice called. Sally froze. But the voice was from inside, it couldn’t be a vampire trick. Still, better not to be seen because of what she had to do next. She crouched and made herself small.
A wavering flashlight beam played around the basement. “Hello, who’s down there please? You’re not supposed to be down there. You shouldn’t be in this home.”
Something turned over inside Sally at those words. Would they make a difference in the protection the building gave her? There were no reported incidents of vampires entering a public building as long as even one person made it their home, even temporarily. That was why every office building now had a permanent resident, some staff worker who set up a cot and said “this is home.” But could a vampire come in and pluck out someone who had specifically been “cast out” of the building by a resident?
For a moment she fantasized inviting the vampires into this building to wreak horrible vengeance on the old woman. But she would never have really done it, and not just because the vampires would kill her too. What a knife edge everyone lived on, every day! You didn’t even dare let your mind get too close to the words, welcome, come in – had she thought them too clearly even now?! But no, you had to say them out loud.
The flashlight flicked off and the door upstairs closed. And locked, kuh-click. Oh, shit! Sally’s hands twitched with the fantasy of strangling that interfering old bitch. All her careful planning, down the toilet. She was locked in the basement and her sister was going to die.