To the Very Edge
Copyright © 2012 By Michael Litzky
A few seconds after that howl of triumph, Sally came to her senses. She couldn’t be making noise like that. Rolling over, she took a look around. Same room she’d scouted: storeroom in an old, ugly building.
She took stock. She’d used up most of her prep except for one last trick. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to use it. But when she pulled out her phone and looked at the map, she knew that if her last trick didn’t work, she had no hope. She had two blocks to go and the next street to cross was Main Street, a street too wide to jump.
Reluctantly she picked up the crossbow she’d left in a corner of this room.
This was where she would probably get killed. She had to break into an apartment facing Main Street, open a window, fire a rope, hit something usable and pull herself across fast. It didn’t sound likely.
The vampires on the fire escape were calling to her, their whispering voices unrelenting, maddening.
She thought about KerriAnne, her sister, felt that uprushing of love and annoyance she always felt. KerriAnne, who was going to die if she failed. KerriAnne, always big-eyed and innocent, always in trouble, the one who knuckled under to their father every time and yet found ways to rebel.
And thinking of her father, she burned. A little Hitler, a petty tyrant, powerless in the world but by God he ruled in their house. A strutting little martinet, he’d dominated their mother and her sister but outside their house, she’d seen him smiling and kissing ass. Until the day he fell apart. Cancer diagnosis and it destroyed him before the disease could. He’d died a disgusting drunk and she felt no pity for him.
Three days ago, KerriAnne had come to visit. She was adorable and charming as always, but tense and unusually pale, her great baby eyes haunted. She was dressed in gold and red silks with slanting stripes and had a jade bracelet, but she had an unfashionable metal band around her neck which must have been nearly strangling her.
Sally had made tea and they’d sat cross-legged on the floor facing each other. Her print of the great wave breaking made a swash above KerriAnne’s head, somehow making Sally think of a Tintin curl or a rooster’s comb.
“Master of all masters, how shall I call this cup?” KerriAnne began, referring to their old joke: Sally was the old sailor from the Hans Andersen story who had a strange word for everything and Kerri was the serving girl who had to learn each one and then use them. They’d played that many times, taking turns being the master. Sally was better at making up odd words and Kerri was better at stringing them together into a mouth-busting sentence. Sally knew she was going to be asked for something but she played along.
“That cup thou holdest is not a cup but a, um, a ‘gondola-ride,'” she said, smoothly reaching for the silliest name she could think of. Kerri looked into the cup, murmured “Gondola-ride,” then asked “And how shall I call the floor on which we sit because th’art too cheap to buy furniture?”
Sally was as easily charmed by Kerri as everyone always was. “That is called ‘GreatSilverFlat’ my humble servant. And sitting upon it humbles the spirit, calms the soul and thy little tush art none the worse for it.”
Ordinarily they would have gone back and forth for several minutes, Sally making up longer and crazier names for the simple things in her little apartment and Kerri absorbing them. But Kerri was distracted and pounced as soon as she saw Sally feeling the old affection. “Boss, I need a favor, bad.”
It hurt, slamming shut again. But Kerri turned her 300 Watt smile and her lost kitten eyes full on Sally and said, “It’s about my guy.” Nervously, she had touched the band around her neck.
But when she had explained what the band was and exactly what help she needed, it was Sally whose eyes went wide.
Now Sally climbed painfully to her feet. Not knowing just why, she walked to the window and faced the vampires who crowded it. They hissed louder, called to her, reached their claws up to the invisible barrier where the window had been. She gave them the same blank stony stare she’d given Bunt.
Just a simple step and she would be out among them. She imagined the agony and ecstasy of being alive one moment and torn into shreds of flesh the next. The choice was hers: until she took that step she was safe. Like the icy sea they writhed and rushed before her. She reached out a fingertip to the boundary. The barest fraction of an inch further and they could take her, pull on that fingertip until they had pulled her out to them.
She saw that they had gone silent. The gaps between them, through which she had seen streetlights, disappeared. Vampires from other windows, from other fire escapes and come flitting over and were crowding her window two, three, maybe four deep.
But she turned and walked out of the storeroom, ignoring the screaming, yowling rage.
Thinking about Kerri, she stomped angrily down the corridor. Doors on either side of the poorly lit hall flowed by in a dark stream. A right turn and down another corridor along the side of the building facing Main Street. She was tempted to just smash down somebody’s door, walk into their apartment like a demon of vengeance, maybe get shot as a burglar. (She saw the pretty nurse, so like KerriAnne, so terrified.)
Apartment 242. This one should do. Later she would try to think if anything special had drawn her to this door. For now, she knelt with her tool kit and in five minutes was carefully turning the doorknob.
The apartment she found was lit only by streetlights. She saw hippy knick-knacks, peace medallions, photos on the wall of a dark-haired glum-looking young woman standing in front of a VW van with her arm around a gender-indeterminate biker type, another of a dirty-faced little dark-haired girl with a big toothy grin.
Some light came in from the street, so that meant the window wasn’t swarming with vampires. She kept away from the window for the moment. No use calling their attention until the last second. If this was going to work at all, she had to know exactly where she was and then move fast. From the side of the rounded table in the middle of the room she could see the well-lit street. No sound of traffic, of course, not until dawn.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. From where she stood, she could just make out the sidewalk on the other side of the street, partially blocked by the iron slats of the fire escape. And something was moving which wasn’t a vampire or a human. Curious, she walked to the window. Was it Bunt, hopping along like a – there it was again! She almost had it, the image of a stiff white hopping man, but again it dissolved when she turned a light on it.
Frustrated, she focused on what was really out there. There was only time for a glimpse before white undead flesh blocked her view and the usual hissing and teasing and pleading started. What she’d seen hadn’t made sense. A tent, walking down the street, swarmed with maggot-like vampires?
And now the vampire voices were bringing someone in from another room, a sleepy woman in a white nightgown, her long stringy hair all in a tangle. Sally slipped behind the drapes and held very still. She heard muttering and feet padding around. A horrible thought came to her: if she pushed the woman out the window, that might distract the vampires enough for her to aim and fire. Angry, she pushed the thought away.
Suddenly the sleepy woman drew back the drapes and she and Sally were face to face. Sally was, of all things, embarrassed to be facing someone she’d just thought of killing. The woman jerked back like she’d touched an electric wire. Sally saw her mouth opening, heard the suck of breath. She slapped her hand over the stranger’s mouth, spun her around and whispered into her ear, “I’m not a burglar, I’m a Home Runner, I won’t hurt you.” The woman was burning in her arms, electric, intense. She shook her head: I won’t give you away. Tentatively, Sally released her.
Just then they both heard a scream of anguish from outside. “Whuh the fuck?” muttered the dark-haired woman. She had a husky voice and a thick Brooklyn accent. They both ran to the window, the woman taking care not to let Sally get behind her. The undead were now pressed so thick against the window that they couldn’t see a thing. But Sally knew.
“One of the other runners just lost,” she whispered.