Escape to Vampire Dam by S.N. McKibben
Zompocalypse is here…
…but the saviors of humanity are the very monsters that drink human blood.
Noir Tekeste is one of a hand full of survivors that hasn’t been zombiefied living at Vampire Dam – a vampire protected human refugee camp. Life is simple. Avoid zombies, make babies and donate blood. When Noir finds a note from her lost son she’s determined to leave the safety of Vampire Dam to find him. Armed with her wits, a flashlight and a vampire escort Noir finds more than zombies await her on her quest.
A long, black flashlight peeked through dirt and fall leaves. It was a relief to have my one last reminder of a civilization where batteries could be bought in any town mart. I tucked the flashlight in with my belongings and handed everything over to Ass-wad.
Jason tossed our packs on a raft that came straight from Huckleberry Finn.
I pointed to logs tied together with rotting rope. “We’re riding on that?”
Jason bent down–ever the model of how to properly pick up a box with his back straight and knees doing the work–and picked up a twelve-foot pole. He tested the raft with one toe before putting all his weight on it, and held a hand to me.
Throwing up my hands, I jumped onto the logs and almost fell on my ass, but an arm snaked around my middle and crushed me into a stone-hard chest. My hands caught the hem of his t-shirt, slipped under the cotton fabric, and got a good feel of his nine-pack abs.
My clumsy haste provoked Ass-wad’s famous scowl.
“Wet logs don’t have much traction.” Jason’s chest heaved with the words and then stopped. I wish he would continue breathing. Or on second thought, maybe it was best he didn’t. That one heave of male chest awakened lower nerves. The kind of nerves that made my cheeks warm.
I went to give Ass-wad a disparaging answer but he was holding me so tight only a squeak came out.
Shit, he was staring at my neck. Right where my pulse was pounding just under the skin. This perfect soldier and strict self-disciplined vampire was wound drum-tight.
“I can’t breathe.”
He released me. Air rushed into my lungs, blood pounded inside my head. My knees gave out. I braced my hands to keep from crashing on my head. Smooth wood meet my palms.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Our rapids “death-trap” started drifting downstream and then the craft rocked forward. Jason’s poling created a steady rhythm of lurching forward, gliding to a halt, and lurching forward rocked me into a serene state of mind.
The firs were green. Birds who dared stay up this late chirped. The call of cranes echoed over the river. I watched everything and anything to ignore Jason’s display of upper body strength. His hips’ slow twist in unison with those arms flexing under the pressure of hard labor. How could a girl not want?
A choice between lethargic human guys, or a power house vampire that can last for hours? Not much of a competition. I don’t blame Maggie for jumping on Frazier one bit
Cloud-blue eyes captured my attention. I didn’t know how long I stared back. It felt like hours.
I heard vampires could read your mind but the rumor was only speculation among us humans. A case of for them to know and us to find out. Heat rose to my cheeks as I thought about him hearing my thoughts. Geez. Poor guy. The temptation if he could.
He smirked. I wanted to look away but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of winning the stare-down. Lucky me, he looked away and my dignity was saved.
When his attention landed on the river his smile retreated.
“Look at me,” Jason said, keeping his eyes on the water.
My eyebrows scrunched together. Look at him? You looked away first. You lost buddy. No second rounds. “Now you’re being presumptuous.”
He didn’t answer. That faint smile a moment ago was the only reprieve I would get from Ass-wad. Jason remained on his task. Hip roll, arm flex, hip roll, arm flex. I really couldn’t watch anymore. Not unless Jason didn’t care about rule number two. It would never happen. Ass-wad didn’t think about sex.
“Noir.” Jason spoke to me like someone approaching a skittish poodle. “Look at me. Don’t look away.”
It wasn’t a conceited request. There was something wrong.
I turned around and froze.
In the moonlight I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first. I thought it was mismatched boards slapped together to make a gate. Then I squinted in the moon light.
“Oh my god.” Every muscle taut and ready to flee. Still I couldn’t move.
“Look at me.” Jason growled, continuing his meticulous pumping.
My mind went on overload. Panic threatened chaos. At the side of the river, in single file from one end until I couldn’t see, stood zombies.
Some glared at Jason with all the hate zombies and vampires shared for each other. Some gave me the thousand-year hungry stare. None of them moved. Their bugged out eyes followed, but not their heads. The muscles in my arms shook.
Battle-worn zombies. Each one gnarled, rumpled with skin or a body parts sloughing off. Zombies that came out from a scrape knew how to survive, knew where people lived, knew how to hunt.
“They won’t get you.” Jason wasn’t great with words, but his conviction was the safety blanket I needed.
Tremors rattled my body so deep I could hear my own bones rub together. I wrapped myself in a cocoon of ignorance and buried my head between my knees.
The raft continued to rock forward, drift, rock forward, drift.
The motion helped me calm down. But if zombies didn’t have an aversion to water, we’d be zombie toast. I needed something more to distract me from the horror’s twenty feet away.
“Why is rule number two necessary?” My knees muffled the words, but he was a vampire. Super hearing and all that.
I heard a sigh and expected the same tired excuse. Instead I got nothing. When I raised my head, cloud-blue eyes assessed me.
“Vampires can’t procreate with humans, blah, blah, bullshit,” I said.
Jason snorted. Wow, emotion from the Great Wall of China.
“You saw Maggie.” Jason’s rock-hard shield returned.
“Yeah. Can’t say I blame her.”
Jason continued his pole driving, while latching that stare onto me. “You ever ask yourself why Frazier didn’t run?”
I shrugged. “Maybe he did.”
“How do you know?”
Jason shook his head. “Your boy figured it out at six years of age.”
I choked at the thought of Yiran. “Are you calling me dumber than a first grader?”
His lip twitched. “No. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you.”
“Fine.” Vampires and their riddles. I glanced over at the silent crowd following us on land. Chills galloped down my spine. Riddles were going to keep me sane. “So, I’m a vampire and I have a human lover. I’m breaking the rules because, well, duh, it wouldn’t be a rule if it weren’t necessary. But the reason given is only half the truth. What? Does blood and sex mean the same thing for vampires, and you’re into monogamy?”
“Considering all vamps except masters have five to seven humans in their clutch, monogamy doesn’t factor into the equation.”
Jason having half a dozen girls fawning over him? I didn’t see it. He seemed more the one woman type. “Do you have sex with all of them?”
“When we’re allowed a clutch, yes.” The unabashed answer shocked me.
“How many does a master have in his clutch?”
“Anywhere from two to five hundred.”
“Oh my god!”
“Shhhhh!” Jason glanced over at the zombie bank side of the river. “You’ll agitate them.”
“Five hundred?” I whispered. “That’s a huge jump from ten.”
“That’s why most masters are incognito right now. Not enough to sustain them.”
“How does it work with enough humans?”
Jason continued to push upstream.
Why would one vampire need that many people? I tried doing the math. Nothing really matched up. “Why can’t I get a straight answer?”
“Not worried about them anymore, are you?” Jason turned and started pole driving from his left side.
At the mention of zombies, my heart clenched.
Jason swore under his breath. “Heart beat.”
Looking at them just standing there, waiting patiently as if my death by their hands was inevitable.
“We become bonded.”
I tore my gaze from the visible stench on shore. Even my eyes could smell them. “What?”
“Christ.” Jason narrowed his eyes. “Knowledge is power, Noir. Don’t take advantage. Swear to me you won’t.”
“Bonded? What does that mean?”
Jason stopped pumping and held the craft steady against the current. “Swear to me. You will not manipulate a situation.”
What the hell? Lack of movement put me on edge. “Tell me what it means.”
“It means we’ll do anything for those we bond with.”
“Okay! So you bond, what’s the big deal?”
“Please, let’s just keep going.” Zombies started pacing at the river’s edge.
“Swear to me.”
“Okay, I swear. Can we keep going?”
My escort growled but pushed against the pole, and the raft lurched forward.
Anxiety and a pissed off vampire didn’t go well together, so I put my head back in my knees and stayed there.
When the raft hit land, I raised my head.
“Come on.” Jason straddled the raft. We’d landed on the opposite side of the horde. I could feel their jaundiced eyes on my back.
Stiff legs protested, but I got up. “Are they still there?”
Jason offered me a hand and this time I took it. Once on land he held both my shoulders and said, “Stay here.”
He wanted me to face forward and not look back. But I’d avoided the zombies long enough. Ignoring a problem wasn’t going to make it go away so I turned around.
Jason was tying the homage to Mark Twain to the dock and on the other side of the river, clumped together in silent waiting, zombies bided their time. I counted fifty before Jason clamped down on my arm and we started walking.
“This way.” He clomped away in huge strides. “I need to advise the Big Paw we’re here.”
Sunrise had to be soon and I did not want to be alone with the skin-walkers, known as the Big Paw.
Calif had a truce with them, but generally, skin-walkers were nasty. They were supposed to be Shamen that could transform into animals after skinning the creature alive and eating its remains. Imagine coming face-to-face with a bear having the intelligence of a man.
Skin-walkers vs. zombies? Facing the horde of fifty back at the dock might be better than crossing paths with a group of man-eating anamorphous beasts.
Jason came to a stop and held his arm out, preventing me from going forward.
One finger pressed to his lips and I was ready to crap my pants. The hand holding me in place slid down my arm and into my palm. Jason’s grasp was as cool as the night air.
I was shoved behind Ass-wad and my abused shoulder socket protested.
When he walked, I walked.
Clay domes no taller than Jason’s neck huddled in a circle around an unlit fire pit. The homes, if you called them that, pulled in darkness around them. Darkness that warned away prying eyes. The domes made me feel like I’d offended them just by knowing about their existence.
I ran into something stiff and big. Jason’s backside. Peeping around to get a look, my mind wasn’t prepared for the thing I saw.
Beautiful patterned thick-coiled rope, piled as high as my five-foot stature, sat in the doorway of one of the adobe. A diamond head rose above the rope base. The unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake’s tail thundered in my ears. Jason squeezed my hand so hard I had to bite down on my lower lip to keep from screaming.
The snake was a skin-walker. Shit.