Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
The sun outlined the TransAmerica Pyramid with fire, slid slowly behind the skyscrapers to the west. The crowd waiting for the night in the outdoor plaza chanted, “We won’t budge, we won’t roam, outside, inside, is our home.” Even as he led them, Malcolm Donald wished he had come up with a chant that scanned a little better.
The sky turned intense orange and the waters of the bay gleamed purple. “Awright folks,” Malcolm said into his headset, “The sunset is just four minutes away now.” Singing and talking slowly faded and a thousand people looked at the man whose confidence was the reason they were outside, most of them with lawn chairs, some with bedding already spread out, and a few with tents.
“I don’t know,” Malcolm’s voice echoed in the sudden silence, “None of us knows, what’s going to happen in four minutes. The bloodsuckers have never faced anything like this, like us, in their whole, miserable, lightless, homeless existence!” Cheers swelled, people stamped their feet and shook in the air the wooden stakes which monitors had handed out as they arrived. The stakes were mostly symbolic. If all went well, only the guardians on the rim would actually do any fighting.
“Remember,” he shouted over the cheering, “None of us stands alone! Remember, none of those beasts is superhumanly strong! Their strength has always been in their numbers and their vicious ruthlessness. Well, now we have numbers and we’ll be just as ruthless on the side of good! Like our sisters before the vampire plague began, we will take back the night! We will take back the outside!”
Charity Claire’s ears ached with the cheering of the crowd. She was closer to the edge than she wanted to be. She envied people in the very middle with a thick buffer on every side. The wooden stake in her sweating hand only made her feel silly. She knew she’d never actually stab a vampire with it. She’d had a weapon on that black night a year ago but she’d only gone to pieces instead of using it.
“The strongest, the bravest of us have taken places around the edge of the crowd. I want to thank the cops, the soldiers and the brave volunteers, on whom the brunt of any attack will no doubt fall.”
Sally Yan grinned as she looked down the empty street in front of her, not used to the feel of friends and colleagues on every side but liking it. Lavinia stood behind her, hands on her shoulders. “Proud a ya, baby,” she whispered in Sally’s ear. A stake in each hand, she listened with swelling heart to the sound of a crowd cheering for her.
“Just two minutes now. We’re here. We’re not going inside. The shell of a house means nothing, less than nothing, if our hearts are not in it. The empty night, filled with beating hearts, with minds, with solid breath to sing and say, this is ours, you can’t have it, that my friends means everything!”
The cheering swelled like an ocean wave but every heart beat faster as the last seconds ticked away. Many joined hands. Charity took the hands of the women on either side of her. Even Malcolm on the stage, surrounded by security guards, felt his palms getting slick. These people were here because of him. If this turned into a bloodbath, it would be because of him.
Only seconds were left. Hidden behind the buildings, the sun was slipping below the curve of the ocean. Purple shadow crept up the East Bay hills, though sun still gleamed from the highest houses. Jesse Casselberger held his husband’s hand, glad they had gotten married now that it was legal, wishing Walter hadn’t dragged him out here but knowing that if Walter had gone alone and something had gone wrong he’d have died of misery. Longingly, he watched the last sun tipping the hills across the Bay. But it was already too late: whatever dark magic freed the vampires each night required only that the sun be completely below the horizon where you stood.
Sally saw the motion in the empty street. Every manhole entry flipped open with a harsh clank. White forms swarmed from the ground, from a building which apparently was abandoned, from nowhere at all. On Market Street they’d be streaming from the BART and Muni Metro tunnels where daytime riders could see them like nests of sleeping rattlesnakes.
Their evil forms jammed the street, flitted up walls and, like a bitter ocean wave, surged toward the defenders of the crowd. Involuntary screams shrilled from behind her. Lavinia’s hand tightened on her shoulder. Malcolm’s voice soared above the panic sounds. “This is where we stand strong! This is where we show that being alive trumps undead mobbery.”
There were sewer openings in the middle of the crowd too. Pale arms groped from storm drain grills, manhole lids surged and pulsed. But five soldiers had been stationed to hold down every such opening. The center of the crowd held solid.
The wave of vampires hit the edge. Sally became a killing machine, thrusting stakes into the monsters, reaching behind her for more. The bodies of the vampires started to pile in front of the line of guards but still they came. From all over the city they came.
Some stopped to tear apart the vampire corpses for the tiniest drop of blood. Others climbed the rising mounds and reached over the heads of the defenders. Civilians nearest to the edge of the crowd screamed when they saw the long groping arms. Sally and many others reached high and grabbed bodies, arms, legs, threw the beasts back.
Charity felt the terror threatening to choke her, just like it had before. With people on the edges pushing toward the center, she was squeezed so tight she couldn’t breathe. The crowd trembled on the very edge of becoming a mob, a stampede. One loud scream would push them over that edge.
Her old panic dream of being paralyzed while a maleficent presence breathed behind her suddenly filled her throat. She felt it building. The pulsing of the crowd freed her for an instant and she dragged in a ragged breath and stuffed her fist into her mouth to stop herself from giving that scream.
Lavinia handed Sally stake after stake from the diminishing stockpile. If only the vampires would turn into dust when they died she could keep using the same stake. But they became regular corpses and you had to leave the stake in their hearts.
Then it happened. Sally missed a vampire’s heart on one thrust. She deflected its clawing reach for her face, kneed it in the groin and stabbed again, killing it this time. But the extra time spent on one vampire gave another an extra second to climb over the first and suddenly its evil face filled the sky above her. She wrestled it away, felt hands reach around her and be pushed back by defenders on her left and right, kicked at bodies trying to squirm between her legs.
From behind her came a sound which stopped time and froze her heart. Lavinia’s voice screamed out a gagging, blurbling, “Aw fuck!” Without thought or plan, ignoring the wave of vampires coming in front, she whirled and grabbed the cold face which was sucking at the neck of her beloved. Lavinia was fighting it too, but three others bit into her hands, her arms. Then Sally and others pulled the undead off Lavinia and staked them. The line held, the line held, but the swarm kept coming. Voices shouted, “We’ve gotta get these people inside!”
Sally could think of nothing but Lavinia, who was held up by the crowd for the moment. Those magic eyes drifted closed and her head lolled back. Sally’s arms gripped Lavinia to keep her from falling where she would surely be trampled.
She knew she should keep fighting, she was one of the best warriors the defenders had. She shouldn’t be crying and kissing the dear face again and again.
The mounds were higher than a French Revolution barricade now and the next wave of attack would roll right over their heads and into the helpless crowd.