Copyright © 2013 By Michael Litzky
The second Bunt saw Sally at the goal ahead of him, he whipped out his phone and tapped several times.
“I checked in here already, you don’t have to do it for me,” Sally yelled sweetly over the vampire noise, and he snarled and put his phone away. Sally knew of course that he’d gone online to check in at Fantasy Life and claim that he was there first.
He looked at her with his flat grey eyes. The snarl smoothed into a smile. He still had some secret weapon. He pushed open the broken door and walked calmly in, looked her up and down.
“Door wuz unlocked, yuh feeb. Why’d yuh break it? Charlie lemme use this place fuh free, now I gotta pay ‘im.”
He was trying to goad her into doing something stupid. “It was unlocked because I unlocked it.” Then, through clenched teeth: “I’m here. I won. Pay up.” Heart hammering, she waited.
I could kill him, she thought. We’re alone together for the first and probably only time. Her right hand sweated onto the wood grain of the stake she held. But she didn’t dare. He still held KerriAnne’s life. Behind Bunt, she saw Lavinia inch the van forward so that it filled the doorway again, its old engine inaudible over the clamoring of the vampires. If they’d had any brains, they might have called to Bunt.
Did they have brains? Mostly they had numbers. Nobody knew where the first vampire came from but the situation now, where they hung in painful equilibrium with living humans, was a simple logistic growth curve (which Sally had learned about in Calculus), not craft. Not sure if the train of thought was important, she skimmed quickly through the painful math: one vampire drinks and then there’s two. Two vampires drink and then there are four. Then eight, then 16, 32, 64, 128. In just twenty days, there’s over a million. In just a month there’d be over a trillion, except that there was a ceiling above which the population could not grow. Almost no new vampires were made now because the competition for blood was so fierce that anybody caught outside was torn into tiny pieces and devoured; nothing was left to rise and walk.
This old information didn’t tell her why the Jiang Shi, the Chinese hopping vampires, still seemed important, even beyond the chance resemblance to the stiff way Bunt walked. She shook her head. The vampires kept up their cajoling, some of them surging under the van until they filled the doorway again.
Sally saw Bunt’s eyes scan her body with wet appreciation, then snap up to meet hers. “Whud yer want, baby girl?” he asked insultingly. “Yer wettin’ here f’me, you win everything. Whud yer want?”
“You know what I want!” He shifted backward one step at her sharp tone, then regained his superior smile. She spoke more calmly. “You know what I Ran for. You have a slicer collar around my sister’s neck. You let her come to me to entice me into playing your game. Give me the key to that thing you have on her neck. And the code to unlock it.” She glared into his eyes, then tried to look humble. He still might just hand it over.
With an insolent look, he reached into the pocket of his neon orange Sierra Designs jacket and felt around. “Lessee, ‘zit in this pocket? Mmph, naw, muss be in this pocket.”
“You’re not going to give me what I won, are you?” she asked deliberately. “I won it fair and square, and you’re cheating.” She waited, ready for anything, letting him make the first move toward violence. When he didn’t move, she goaded him further. “I know how you win these Runs. I figured it out. You’re such a pathetic fat white slug.”
He stiffened and again she thought of the Jiang Shi, heard her father’s voice explaining what they were and that they were not for little girls to watch. But he had answered her fascinated questions with a patience which he showed only when she asked about things Chinese. She automatically suppressed the fascinated loathing she felt whenever she thought about her father, and the confused but linked longing for Lavinia’s commanding hand on her ass, and tried to think what the Jiang Shi meant in this situation.
“I dunno ‘cher talkin’ about,” he said and she saw him reach a decision and knew it would be bad for her. She threw everything into a last gamble.
“I saw you throwing her blood around to the vampires. That’s why they don’t attack you, they know you’re a source of free blood. I see how they fawn on you, you’ve got, like, this cult following among them. That’s how you can wait until you know everyone else is dead and then just walk to the goal. What do you do, bleed her once every couple weeks? That’s why you only hold these Runs every couple weeks.” She remembered how pale KerriAnne had been. “I’m surprised you don’t have a whole bank of women captives but you’re too pathetic to get hold of but one.”
But his face was full of surety now. “I’m the Master of everyone!” he chortled. She hated the thrill that went through her when she thought he was going to call himself Master of all Masters. He looked at her with loathing. “You didn’t beat me. You lose now! Hey vampires!” he suddenly bellowed. The racket outside tightened to a prolonged hiss.
Everything happened in agonized slow motion. Bunt spoke three syllables, “You’re welcome” and Sally understood that he was going to invite the vampires in, hoping they would shred her to pieces and leave him alone. She lunged for him, knowing that she could not stop his words in time, cursing herself for waiting too long.
But through the open door and the intense silence, Lavinia cut him off with these roared words: “You can’t say ‘you’re welcome’ until I say ‘thank you!!’” Bunt sputtered. The vampires snarled their disappointment. They couldn’t surge inside until he actually said “You’re welcome to enter.” Lavinia had changed his meaning, but only for this instant. He opened his mouth to start his sentence again.
But this time, Sally was ready. “Thanks, you bastard!” she shouted, and pointed to her inadequate (but she hoped he wouldn’t know that) final weapon: the phone which she had hitched to her waist with the video lens pointing out. “You’ve just showed the world what you really are.”
She wondered if it would be better to say, “This is streaming live right now,” or just leave it implied. She didn’t have the capacity to actually stream live video. Her phone was recording video now, but the best she’d be able to do would be to stop the recording and start uploading it to YouTube, a process which might take an hour and was just as likely to freeze and require a reboot. She saw his pallid bald head incline toward the phone and feared that his crafty eyes were studying it, deciding that it was too old and slow for live streaming. She decided not to over-explain, to let him draw his own conclusions.
His head swiveled, looked at Lavinia hunched over the wheel of her camper, holding something tight in her hands. He seemed to put two and two together and come up with a four which made sense to him. Sally blessed her instinct not to say any more. He had decided that Lavinia was holding some recording equipment which backed her up; Sally had no idea what she was actually holding. But Bunt had decided he was on camera to the world, and he turned back to Sally with a troubled smile.
“I think yer the cheater, if you come with that bint out there. Yer s’posed to get here on your own.”
“Give me the key,” she said calmly. “The world knows what a bastard you are now. You can’t hold these Runs anymore.”
“They heard you say shit. Lies. I dint say nothin’. You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout my secret, yer just hunnerd percent wrong, ‘s all.”
Sally decided to risk everything on one last gamble. “You seem to think this is already going out live,” she said, even more grateful that she hadn’t told him it was. “We’re just recording it now. When I give the word, my friend out there uploads it. Unless you give me the key right now.” Terror struck her that she might have given away her only advantage.
He turned, looked at Lavinia, then started for her. He knew how long it would take to upload on the fastest connection possible, and figured that getting Lavinia was his chance. He lunged through the door into the midst of the hungry vampires but they still held back from attacking him. Lavinia threw what she was holding into their midst. It must have been the bloody wrapping from her finger because they dived on it like sharks in a feeding frenzy, their seething bodies blocking Bunt’s movement.
Lavinia floored the accelerator and the van lurched to the right and out of Sally’s field of vision. But with the vampires pressed thick around it, she wouldn’t be able to drive fast and in a moment, Bunt would be past the blockade and would catch her. Nothing would keep him from reaching into the van and killing her.
But in that moment when he had lurched around and run out the door, it had come to her. What she was trying to remember about the Jiang Shi.
She staggered as the memory flooded in and she realized what it meant.