Witd3: Chapter 37, part 2

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 37, Part 2

A woman in isolation gear dragged us toward the room behind the nurses desk. She shoved us inside then closed the door. The tiny lounge contained a counter, a coffee pot, a microwave and a mini-fridge. Not tall, but imposing as hell, the woman blocked the only way out.

“I don’t know who you are.” I recognized the woman’s voice at once, and it made Karen take a sharp breath. “I don’t know what you two think you’re doing here. I don’t care. This is a quarantine zone. We don’t allow visitors, and we definitely don’t have time for the media or thrill seekers. You don’t belong here, and just so you know, I’m going to tell the CDC. So, congratulations, idiots. If you don’t get sick and die, you’re going to jail.”

Karen’s mother yanked the mask off Karen’s face, but her anger vanished when she saw her daughter. “Karen?” her mother said, leaning hard against the counter for support. Before Karen could say a word, her mother snatched her into a tight hug. “Oh, my god, Karen. Where have you been?”

I don’t know how Karen still had tears left, but her eyes began to shine. She wrapped her arms around her mom then buried her face in her shoulder.

Karen’s mother held her at arm’s length. “Remind me to kill you later. And not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but what in the hell are you doing here? Do you have any idea how dangerous this is? I know you had to have noticed the armed guards. Not to mention the giant signs all over the place that said ‘hospital employees only,’ right?”

Karen offered her mother a weak shrug.

“Are you trying to get sick like the rest of these people? We still don’t know how this thing is spreading, Karen.”

Karen almost rolled her eyes. “I know how it spreads, Mom. Trust me, I’m fine.” Before her mother could question her, Karen said, “Mom, is it true? Is Trevor here?”

Karen’s mother opened then closed her mouth. Her face pinched with sorrow as she looked away.

Karen’s voice tightened. “Is he still alive?”

Karen’s mother put her hands on Karen’s shoulders. “He’s not dead, but he’s in critical condition. His family paid to have him moved to one of the private rooms on five. They’re flying in a specialist that deals in this sort of lymphatic infection, but they don’t think he’s going to make it in time.”

Karen blinked and her eyes spilled over. “How long?”

Karen’s mother’s tone was gentle. “The doctors think that he’ll probably pass some time tonight.”

Karen took a deep, shuddering breath. “Look, I know he probably doesn’t want to see me, but—”

Karen’s mother frowned. “Why wouldn’t he want to see you?”

Karen blinked in shared confusion “Because…we broke up. Didn’t we?”

“When?” Karen’s mother said, then her eyes brightened with understanding. “Oh, I guess that’s the reason What’s-her-face took off a couple days ago.”

“What?” Karen was shocked and annoyed. “She—I mean, I took off a couple days ago? Did you call the police?”

Karen’s mother looked as though she didn’t want to answer. “No,” she said at last. “I was afraid they’d bring her back.”

Karen reeled. “Wow. Really? You haven’t seen me in two days, and you didn’t tell anyone because you were afraid I would come back. Well, don’t worry. You’ll never have to see me again.”

Karen’s mother held out her arm when Karen began to step past her. “It’s not like that. I don’t know who, or what, that girl was that I brought home from the hospital. All I know is that it wasn’t my daughter. She looked like you. She sounded like you, but she was a stranger. Things that she should’ve known, about you, about us, she just didn’t. The doctor told me the sepsis might have given you brain damage, but I knew she was an imposter. I thought I was going crazy, but here you are.”

Karen looked at me. I made an I-told-you-so face behind my mask, and she rolled her eyes.

Karen’s mother wasn’t finished. “She was off the charts creepy. Like, you don’t even know. I would wake up in the middle of the night and she’d be standing at the foot of my bed. Poor Scotty was so scared of her that I sent him to his grandmother’s house.”

Karen covered her mouth. “Did she do something to the baby?” The fact that Karen still called her eight-year-old brother ‘the baby’ told me everything I needed to know about their relationship.

Karen’s mother shook her head. “He swears that she didn’t. Believe me, I’ve asked.”

Her hands over her heart, Karen closed her eyes. “Thank the gods.”

Karen’s mother’s attention shifted to me, then her eyes narrowed. “Hello,” she said, anything but friendly.

I was grateful for the mask that covered the lower half of my face. “Hi?”

She stared at me, as though waiting for something. When I failed to deliver, she said, “And you are?”

Yes, ma’am, I’m a vampire in a hospital. Please, feel free to call security to come up here and shoot me in the face. “Um…”

“Mom, you said that Trevor was on the fifth floor?”

Karen’s attempt to redirect her mother’s attention half-worked. The woman continued to stare me down as she said, “Yes. Room five-oh-five.”

“Can you take us to him?” Karen said.

Karen’s mother looked at her in shock. “Us? As in, the both of you?”

Karen’s anxiety grew. “Mom, please, before it’s too late.”

I could see the emotions playing across Karen’s mother’s face. In her mind, it was already too late. However, if she refused to take Karen to Trevor’s bedside, Karen will never see him alive again. Karen’s mother sighed as she said, “Fine. Follow me. But, be prepared, Karen. He doesn’t look good. He’s very, very sick.”

Karen urged her mother toward the door. “Then we need to hurry.”

The three of us walked down the hall, then waited for the elevator in silence. I could feel Karen’s mother sizing me up out of the corner of her eye. The tension in the air thickened, until the doors finally opened and the three of us walked inside. Karen moved closer to her mom, hugging herself as though her body couldn’t hold heat. Without exchanging a word, Karen’s mother put her arms around Karen’s shoulders.

“Have you seen him?” Karen said, as though she’d finally worked up the nerve to ask.

Karen’s mother’s face was solemn. “Yes. I went up to see how he was doing during my last break.”

Karen looked at her mother, her eyes pleading. “How bad does he look?”

Karen’s mother’s brow furrowed and her eyes began to glisten.

Karen swallowed hard, as though she would be sick again. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if he dies, Mom.”

Karen’s mother hugged her tighter, her cheek pressed against Karen’s hair. “I know, sweetie. They don’t make them better than Trevor.”

I felt like a huge third wheel as I waited for the elevator doors to open again. They did, then I followed a step or two behind Karen and her mother. I saw two nurses at the other end of the hall, speaking to a doctor in hushed tones. I guess the rest of the hospital staff was downstairs trying to stay ahead of the plague.

Every room had glass walls and airtight doors protected by pin-pad locks. The rooms were bigger than those I’d seen on the other floors, and the medical equipment looked almost futuristic. Apparently, this was where the patients with money got to die.

Karen and her mother stood outside of Trevor’s room, and I hung back to give them some privacy. Karen stared at the young man on the bed, who was struggling to breathe despite the oxygen mask over his face. The lights over his bed make the small, white blisters that covered his body glow.

Karen pressed her hand against the glass. “I can’t believe his mother isn’t in there.”

Karen’s mother made a sound under her breath. “It’s not because she didn’t want to be in there, trust me. Donna threw a fit when they told her she couldn’t be in the room with him. She swore she would sign whatever release they put in front of her, but the administration wouldn’t budge. Trevor’s father said they plan to lawyer up.” She turned her head to look at me, then her eyes hardened again. “So, are you going to tell me who you are?”

Fuck. I’d kind of hoped she’d forgotten about me. “Sorry. I’m Toby.”

“I don’t think Karen’s ever mentioned you, Toby. Do you go to school with her?”

“No.”

“No. You’re far too old for that, aren’t you? So, how old are you, exactly?”

“Um…”

“Um. You say that a lot. So, where has my daughter been for the last few months, and how are you involved?”

I raised my hands. “I had nothing to do with that.” I almost added that I’d been in jail all that time, but caught myself.

“I see. In that case, do I have you to thank for bringing her home?”

I said nothing. It was too soon to think of Karen as being ‘home.’

Karen’s mother took a step closer, staring at my face. I realized too late what she had fixated on when she said, “You have yellow eyes.” Before I could think of a response, she yanked my mask down then gasped. I watched the blood drain from her face as she said, “I do know you. You’re that vampire that’s been on the news. The one that killed his ex-girlfriend.”

We heard a click and the whoosh of rushing air. Karen’s mother turned, then her face became the epitome of horror. Her daughter had just walked into the quarantined room.

I hurried around Karen’s mother to slip in behind Karen before the door closed. As Karen rounded the foot of the bed, the security camera in the corner exploded in a shower of sparks. Bits of glass and plastic rained onto the floor as the overhead lights began to flicker.

Karen’s mother yanked on the door handle, her voice muffled by the glass. “Karen, what are you doing? Get out of there!” She stabbed the security code into the pin pad, but the door refused to budge. “Karen, he’s in isolation. He’s contagious!” She beat on the glass when Karen picked up Trevor’s limp hand. “Karen, what are you doing?”

Karen looked at her mother at last. “Mom, I love you, and I’m so sorry.”

 “Why would you do this, Karen?” her mother said between sobs. “I just got you back.”

Karen shook her head, and I could tell that there was some sort of disconnect going on. I don’t know if she was even aware of the phenomena happening around her. Maybe the stress of the situation and the horrors of the day had caused her to crack. Maybe Khalid hadn’t stolen her powers, rather just buried them. Whatever the truth, those powers were leaking out. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m going to be fine, but there’s no way I can make you understand. So, I need you to go to sleep.”

A wave of energy burst out of Karen. It sapped all of the strength from my limbs as it rolled over me. I caught myself on the wall, but Karen’s mother’s eyes rolled back in her head. She fell in a heavy heap, and I heard the clunk of her head hitting the floor. My dizziness was slow to pass, like the last sickening stage of an all-night drunk.

Karen took a shuddering breath. “Is she okay?”

“She’s fine.” I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. “I can see her breathing.”

“Is she bleeding?”

I shrugged. “I don’t see any blood.”

“Can’t you smell it?” she said, as though I just was being difficult.

“How the fuck would I smell it? This room is airtight. It’s just you, me, and the microbes now. Shit, Karen, incoming.”

The two nurses and the doctor were running toward Karen’s mother. When they came within a few feet, the three of them collapsed as well. I backed away from the door to the foot of Trevor’s bed, and my own dizziness passed.

“Huh. Interesting,” I said. “Check to see if you’ve gotten your powers back.”

Karen nodded. “Hark me now, hear my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your blood, your bones now freeze.” We stared at each other. “Anything?”

“No, sorry.” Khalid must’ve suppressed her deliberate powers, but couldn’t touch her subconscious will. Too bad for him, because that was where the true power of a witch lies.

Trevor didn’t look any better up close. The stench of his infection made me long for the smell of disinfectant. The flesh on his neck and wrists had swollen, darkening to a deep, ugly purple. The heat of his fever radiated like a furnace.

The ugly rash on Trevor’s face didn’t stop Karen from touching his cheek. “Trevor? Can you hear me?”

It was too late. Trevor’s blood smelled like a septic tank. Even if I blood-mugged him right that second and filtered every last drop, it wouldn’t do any good. We would both die. “Karen…”

Karen gave me a tight nod of understanding then held Trevor’s hand to her heart. To her dying fiancée, she said, “Please, believe me when I tell you that I am so sorry. I’m sorrier than you can ever possibly imagine. I’m sorry for everything I did. I’m sorry for everything I said. I’m sorry for leaving you without a word. You deserved so much better than that. You deserve better than me.” She closed her eyes, then the air thickened again. The monitors began to wave and flicker as Karen said, “I take it back. I take it all back. Please.”

I sensed eyes upon us. Since the camera was broken, and everyone that got close to the room passed out, that left only the wall mirror. My hackles rose as I walked over to it. “Look, Khalid, this is kind of a private moment,” I said, my breath fogging the glass. “I’m going to need you to fuck the fuck off.” My fist slammed into the mirror, and a spider web pattern of cracks spread to every corner. “Suck it hard, you piece of shit, Infernal fuck.”

I don’t think Karen was aware of what I’d done, or even that I was still there. Her lips fluttered as she whispered, “Anything. I’ll do anything. I’ll give anything. Name it, and it’s done. Please, just bring him back.”

She didn’t see Trevor’s eyes crack open. “Karen?” he said, and she gasped. His voice sounded like sandpaper against a cinder block. “Is that you?”

Karen laughed, tears streaming down her face. “Yes. Yes, it’s me, baby. I’m here.”

Trevor blinked as though it took every ounce of his strength to reopen his eyes. “Am I dead?”

Karen shook her head. “No. No, you’re not dead. And you’re not going to die.”

Trevor’s lungs wheezed as he took another labored breath. “My head is killing me.”

Karen nodded as she placed her hand on his forehead. This seemed to bring him a little relief. I guess she had enough necromancy left to stop his pain.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

Karen winced with guilt. “I know. I’m here now.”

Trevor stretched out his fingers to stroke Karen’s chin. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, and I’ve missed you too.” Karen leaned over so that her face was very close to his, and I felt my skin crawl. Not for the obvious reason, though there was that, too. She was definitely going to catch this shit. I’d have to blood-mug her the second we left the hospital. “You were always so sweet to me. You can’t possibly know how much that meant.”

Trevor’s eyes fluttered. “I’m sorry for the way I ended things.”

Karen shook her head. “No. Don’t be sorry. You have nothing to apologize for. You did the right thing. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is for you to be happy. You deserve that. You’re the best person I know. That’s why I need you to fight.”

I could barely hear Trevor as he said, “There is no happiness without you.”

“You’re wrong.” Karen’s tone brooked no argument. “You have to live. You have to fight, for all the people that love you.”

It was clear that, for Trevor, very breath was more painful than the last. “I’m so tired.”

Karen released Trevor’s hand so she could place hers on his chest, anchoring him to this world. “I know, but you can’t give up. Because…because there’s someone else that loves you.” She shut her eyes, then her voice took on that magical resonance. “I’ve seen her, Trevor, and she’s amazing.” Karen’s influence swirled through the room like a lazy whirlpool. It moved the window blinds and ruffled the chart on Trevor’s bedside table. “I’ve seen her in my dreams. She’s beautiful. More than that, she’s smart and funny. She’s like the sweetest person that ever lived. Do you see her? Do you see the three children you’ll have together?”

Trevor frowned. “Yes,” he said, as though he didn’t want to admit it.

“She can give you the life, the future, that you’ve always wanted, Trevor. The whole package; family, kids, house. The comfortable life that I know you’ve always envisioned for the two of us. She will make you the foundation of her entire world. She will love you and support you, and make it her mission in life to see all your dreams come true. She’s perfect, Trevor. She’s wonderful. You need to be there for her.”

There was a heartbeat of silence, then Trevor said, “No.”

Karen blinked, shoved out of her trance. “What?”

I know Trevor would’ve pushed her hands away if he’d had the strength. “No. She’s not you.”

Karen shifted from foot to foot. “Trevor, please. Come on.”

“A life without you, any life, would be empty. I don’t want it.”

Karen pressed down harder to keep him from slipping away. “No, Trevor, you can’t give up. There are so many people that care about you. You can’t leave them.”

“Will you be there?”

Karen hesitated, which was the worst thing she could’ve possibly done. Trevor’s heart monitor began to skip beats, then panic spiked in Karen blood. “I promise, before long, you won’t even miss me.”

I had to give Trevor credit; he was too smart to be fooled. He turned his face away as he appeared to melt into the mattress.

Karen clutched his hospital gown, but Trevor’s dissolving soul was slipping through her fingers like water. “Trevor, please. I’m begging you, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to live in a world without you.”

I didn’t love hearing that, but I watched and said nothing. My only place there was to carry her out after he was gone.

Trevor took a halting breath, and Karen flipped out. “Trevor, no! Don’t do this. Don’t you dare fucking die on me!”

Even for me, this was too painful to watch. I stepped forward to put my hands on Karen’s shoulders. “Karen, come on. There’s nothing more you can do. You don’t have to be here for the end.”

I don’t think she even heard me. “All right,” Karen said, not speaking to me, or Trevor, or anyone else in the room. “If that’s the way it has to be, then so be it.” She dropped to her knees so that she and Trevor were eye level, then said, “Listen to me. Trevor, look at me.”

This was a command, and somehow, Trevor obeyed.

“You win,” she said. “You can’t live without me? Then you’ll never have to.”

I realized too late what was happening. I don’t know if I was too shocked to intervene, or if some outside force held my tongue. Karen kept talking, and I was forced to bear witness.

“From this day forward, and for as long as you want me, I am yours.” Tears rolled down Karen’s cheeks as she spoke through clenched teeth. “Love will bind us. Whatever trials and hardships that are to come, we will endure them together. So, you can’t die. You can’t leave me here alone. You have to fight. Come back, Trevor.”

Trevor’s heart stopped for one…two…goddamn it, three seconds. Karen and I jerked, startled, when the monitor gave a loud beep, then restarted in a slow, steady rhythm. Trevor took a deep breath, as though coming up from underwater. His lungs sounded rough, but were already improving. In just a few seconds, his oxygen levels climbed from eighty-one to ninety-seven percent. Sweat began to pour from his skin, then Karen burst into tears.

I pulled Karen to her feet, then lifted her into my arms. She was inconsolable as I carried her from her husband’s bedside.

<<<Chapter 37, part 1

Chapter 38>>>

 

 

WitD3: Chapter 37, Part 1

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 37, Part 1

 

 

I never would’ve guessed that people sneaking into a quarantine zone would be an actual problem. The presence of the National Guard at the county hospital proved me wrong. Armed soldiers covered almost every exit, including the roof. I guess freaks and idiots are everywhere.

On the other hand, I was there to sneak into a quarantine zone.

The black scrubs Karen had given me didn’t reach my ankles. They were tight through my hips and shoulders, and showed my stomach every time I reached above my head. Being far less curvy than her mother, Karen swam in the floral scrubs she’d chosen for herself. Well, it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

For once, the fog came in handy as we crouched outside the kitchen’s back entrance. We said nothing, both of us on edge as we waited for the door to open. At last, a tall, thin man covered in gang tattoos and piercings backed into the alleyway. Nodding in time to the music that blared through his earbuds, he propped open the door with a milk crate. He sang under his breath as he hoisted several bags of trash into a garbage trolley. He didn’t notice us lurking behind the dumpster, or that we slipped inside the second his back was turned.

I’ve never enjoyed the smell of hospitals. Hospital kitchens are a hundred times worse. The steam from the stock pots thickened the stench of disinfectant and overcooked vegetables. Our heads down, we walked as fast as we could without drawing attention to ourselves. Karen led me past the shelves of canned goods and the stainless steel prep line. A middle-aged, heavyset black woman in pink scrubs gave us the hairy eyeball as we approached. Her hand on her hip, she opened her mouth to say something, but we were already through the swinging doors.

Karen turned left, then we walked by several offices, labs, and the gift shop. Every door was closed, their windows darkened. The woman behind the desk in the main reception area didn’t so much as glance at us. No one said a word as Karen pressed the button to summon the elevator.

I have no idea how human beings came to be the dominant species on this planet. They’re all so unobservant, they should’ve been eaten by sabretooth tigers.

“Did you notice?” Karen said as we waited.

 “Yeah.” A sign on the front desk had said that the third and fourth floors were practicing ‘extreme isolation precautions.’

“That’s where they’ve set up the quarantine,” she said. “That’s where we’re going.”

The doors opened to an empty elevator car and Karen let out a breath, sharing my relief. We climbed inside, then Karen pressed the button for the third floor. A few seconds later, the doors opened to absolute chaos.

Karen and I looked at each other. It appeared as though every doctor, nurse, orderly, and public health official in the tristate area was on deck for this crisis. I took a deep breath, bracing myself, then we plunged into the madness. Karen turned left again, then waved for me to follow.

No one noticed us duck into a room labeled UTILITY. Karen shut the door behind us, then snatched a pair of scrubs off the shelf. “Here, put these on,” she said as she tossed them to me. She turned her back to give me some privacy. “They’ll fit better, and they’re unisex.”

“What do you want me to do with these?” I said, holding up her mother’s scrubs. It felt wrong leaving them there. It wasn’t as though Karen’s mother could afford to replace her work clothes.

Karen shrugged as she pulled out better-fitting scrubs for herself. “Just leave them. I’ll figure out how to get them back to Mom later.”

She wouldn’t and we both knew it, but it couldn’t be helped. When we’d finished changing, Karen reached up to tie a surgical mask around my face. Even though she seemed to know what she was doing, I couldn’t help but ask, “Okay, so what’s the plan here?”

“Honestly? I’m just winging it.” Karen twisted my hair into a knot then pulled a yellow cap over my head. “Let me worry about finding Trevor, then I’ll figure out what to do from there.”

We put on yellow isolation gowns over our clothes. Karen began to hand me a pair of latex gloves, then frowned at my claws. Before she could say a word, I tore them off with my teeth. I spat the broken talons into the corner, and they sounded like falling marbles when they hit the floor. Once my fingers were as blunt as any human’s, I took the gloves from Karen.

Karen watched me, pained. “I’m sorry you had to do that.”

I shrugged. “It is what it is.” The world isn’t designed for vampires or tall people. I grabbed the cleaning cart from the back of the room, then said, “Are you ready?”

Karen finished tying her own mask in place, then pulled her shoulders back. “Let’s go,” she said as she opened the door.

We made our way to the nurses desk, where a huge, dry-erase board hung on the wall. The board was sectioned into boxes, each box containing a room number and patient’s name. More than half of the boxes had a large, red X through them.

I wiped down the handrail with disinfectant spray as Karen emptied the trash behind the desk. Not one of the highly-trained medical professionals gave us a second look. This supported my theory that humans don’t have a pack mentality, so much as a hive mind. Wolves and vampires know each other on sight, and we tear intruders to shreds. With humans, as long as you look like the rest of the sheeple, they assume you belong in the herd.

Karen came to stand next to me. “I don’t see his name anywhere,” she said under her breath.

“Neither do I. What was his last name again?”

Karen glared at me behind her mask. “For shit’s sake, Toby. It’s Reed. I must’ve told you that a thousand times.”

“I don’t think it’s been that many,” I said as I gave the board another scan. “No, I definitely don’t see it.”

An alarm blared, then the exhausted nurses jumped to their feet. “Code blue, room three-thirteen,” the tall nurse said without a trace of urgency. Even in the absence of hope, she and her two coworkers hurried from behind the desk.

Of course, the board on the wall had no name written in the box for room three-thirteen. Karen and I exchanged a look, then followed after the nurses. We arrived to find the hospital bed already surrounded. We watched through the window, our backs to the wall, as the doctor shouted to be heard over the wailing medical equipment. One of the nurses finally took a step to the right, then Karen and I let out a breath. The patient on the bed was a man with an iron grey beard and potbelly. He had no roommate.

Karen took a step forward. “That’s Mr. Donovan. He’s my chemistry teacher.”

We watched as the doctor hit him with the defibrillator. Aside from the spasms in his limbs, Donovan didn’t move and the flat lines on the monitors never spiked. The doctor hit him again, then a third time, then swore as he took a step back.

“I’m calling it. Time of death, four-twenty-three.” The doctor tossed the paddles back onto the machine then said, “Strap him down, then get him to the morgue.”

I didn’t catch the nurse’s reply, but it pissed the doctor off.

“Then I don’t care where you put him, just get this room ready for the next person. And make sure the straps are tight this time, I don’t want a repeat of this morning.” He stormed out of the room, tearing off his isolation gear. “Be quick about it, we have five minutes before this motherfucker reanimates.” He slammed his trash into the waste bin next to the door, then noticed us. “What the hell are you two doing? This isn’t a fucking sideshow. Do your job, or I’ll find a fucking immigrant that can.”

I didn’t realize I’d taken a step in the doctor’s direction until Karen grabbed my elbow. I had to settle for glaring at his back as I said, “That guy’s kind of a prick.”

“That’s Dr. Garrison,” Karen said, as though this explained everything. She watched the nurses secure her teacher into an extra thick body bag. “Let’s go. Maybe they have Trevor up on the next floor.”

I nodded. As we got closer the elevators, the walls became lined with gurneys. Every gurney had at least one body bag on it, all of which were squirming. Karen kept walking as though she didn’t see them, so I stopped to check the tags that dangled from the railings.

Karen realized I wasn’t next to her, but didn’t turn around. “What are you doing?” she said, her hands balled into fists.

“You know what I’m doing.” It only took a couple of minutes to check every name, but I could smell Karen’s anxiety growing.  Once finished, I took Karen by the elbow then said, “Let’s go.”

Karen’s knees weakened with relief as we edged around the two orderlies piling bodies into the elevator. One of the men lifted his chin at me in greeting as Karen and I walked into the abandoned stairwell.

The peace and quiet was almost alien compared to the commotion in the hall. Even so, I waited until the doors closed behind us before I said, “Karen.”

Karen climbed the steps as though I hadn’t spoken.

“This disease is getting stronger.”

Karen glanced back at me but didn’t stop. “You don’t know that.”

I took the stairs two at a time to catch up. “Your teacher, Donovan? He felt well enough to go to work this morning. Six hours later, he’s flat-lining.”

Karen waved her hand in dismissal. “You didn’t know Mr. Donovan. He was an overweight, diabetic, smoker who was allergic to nuts and pollen. His immune system was a joke. Of course, whatever this thing is took him fast. Trevor still has time.”

“I think you should prepare yourself, in case it’s already too late.”

Karen met my gaze, defiant for a moment, then lunged for the railing. She bent double as she retched, the sound made even more terrible by the echo. She didn’t puke her guts up, but not for lack of trying. When she finally finished, she sat down hard on the steps, clammy and out of breath.

I sighed as I sat down next to her. “I’m sorry. There was probably a nicer way I could’ve put that. I know you’re scared, and I’m not trying to make you feel worse.”

Her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead, Karen nodded. “When we reach the fourth floor, turn right. The nurses desk is at the end of the hall.”

“Okay. And if Trevor’s not on this floor, either?”

Karen trembled as she got to her feet. “Then we go down to the morgue.”

We continued our journey to the fourth floor landing. If only to lighten the mood, I said, “How do you know your way around this place so well?”

Karen checked through the window to make sure the coast was clear. “My mom works here, remember? She used to put me and Scotty in the daycare downstairs. The lady that ran it sucked at her job, so the kids used to play hide and seek in the hospital. Not to mention, I’ve volunteered here every summer since I was twelve. I know this place like the back of my hand.”

“Speaking of your mother, you might want to put your mask back on.”

“Oh, right. Thank you.”

I watched as Karen replaced her surgical mask. “Unless you want to see your mother. Which, I think you should.”

Karen let out a heavy breath. “I want to see my mother more than anything. I want her to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay, even if it’s not. But I can’t put this on her. I’m…on my own for this one.”

I frowned, a little offended. “You’re not alone. I’m here.”

Karen looked at me over her shoulder then pushed through the door. “Yeah, but for how long?”

Karen’s little dig bothered me, sure, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. She needed somebody with empathy, but I’d shut my emotions off back when I was still a little kid. I sort of floated through life on autopilot. I wasn’t often scared, or sad, or even angry. Violent, yes, but not angry. I was never happy or peaceful, either. I had no idea what to say to someone going through the emotional wringer. My presence and protection were the best I could offer her.

The fourth floor was quieter than the third, because the death toll had been much higher. Karen and I pushed our way through a logjam of gurneys. Karen’s face turned white as she stopped to check each tag. I did the same on the other side of the hall, so of course I found the body bag without a label. I braced myself as I unzipped it, but the universe wasn’t waiting to fuck me in the ass. I know, it shocked me, too. The ghoul that snapped at my fingers was a stranger, and it lost interest in me right away. It shifted its focus to Karen then began to struggle against its restraints.

We reached the deserted nurses desk, where we found yet another dry erase board. Most of the boxes contained the red X, the names of the dead unreadable. We would have to search for Trevor room to room.

Karen turned toward me, her eyes wide, then powerful hands grabbed us by our elbows.

<<<Chapter 36

Chapter 37, Part 2>>>

WitD 3: Chapter 36

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 36

 

 

Nothing existed beyond Michael’s office window except the suffocating wall of white fog. I felt like a bug trapped in a jar, running out of air and on high alert for any threat. I saw nothing; no flicker of movement or flash of black, but that just made me more nervous.

Mateo sat behind Michael’s desk, his hand on his stomach and a pained look on his face. Between his feet, a wastebasket overflowed with empty cups of cold blood. Karen laid on the couch to my left, staring at the ceiling. Tears rolled into her hair whenever she blinked, and every breath caught in her throat. At least she’d stopped bawling.

“Dude, I’m about to throw up,” Mateo said for the tenth time.

“Keep drinking,” I said, also for the tenth time. It was impossible to feel sorry for him. No one had ever handed me fifteen servings of cold blood before.

Mateo took a deep breath then gulped down the rest of the cup in his hand. He crushed the Styrofoam in his fist, swallowed hard, then picked up the next cup in line. “Cold blood is freaking nasty,” he said around the gorge in his throat.

I agreed, but said, “Yeah, but now you won’t go into heart failure when the vamp wears off.” I sensed him eyeing Karen and my hackles rose. The bumps and bruises she’d gotten made it that much easier to smell her blood. It was warm and inviting, free of the stale chemicals that kept cold blood ‘fresh.’ “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t do it. It won’t be worth it. I promise.”

Karen began to shake again as silent sobs wracked her body. I turned my attention back to the mist, because it was the only thing I could do. I’ve never been good at comforting people, never mind piecing the broken back together.

Khalid was right; there was nothing Karen could do against Justine. She couldn’t even come close to her without getting overwhelmed.

Mateo’s phone buzzed. It had been doing that pretty much nonstop since we’d escaped the school. “My family is blowing up my phone,” he said. “What do I tell them?”

“Just tell them you’re alive. That’s all they really care about.”

Mateo shook his head as he began to text. “That won’t be enough for my mom. She’s going to want to come to wherever I am.”

“Then tell her the truth. Tell her you’ve been dosed with vamp, and she won’t be safe until it wears off. She can meet up with you later, at the hospital.”

“Sure, because that won’t freak her out.” Mateo looked at Karen out of the corner of his eye. “Is she going to be okay?”

I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking, not in front of Karen. I had no idea how much of our conversation she could hear. The legend of the Mad Witch Serkani twirled through my brain as I said, “I don’t know.”

“You’re not one to pull punches, are you? My dad would like you.” Mateo took a deep breath through his nose, then let it out as a sigh. “So, that thing at school. You know, the thing that set the whole place on fire. What was that thing?”

Again, I went with the simplest answer. “That was a revenant.”

“A revenant,” Mateo said, as though testing the word out. “I’ve never heard of a revenant. So, just how many weird creatures are there running around with Karen’s face?”

I knew his question hadn’t been a deliberate slight against me, but I wished he’d shut the hell up. “Too many.”

Mateo jerked his head toward the couch. “She’s human, though, right?”

Karen’s hair stuck to her damp forehead. She didn’t seem to notice when I smoothed it out of her face. “Yeah, she’s human.”

Michael returned to the office, carrying four more cups of cold blood. He set them on the desk in front of Mateo as Dr. S followed behind him a few seconds later.

“Sorry it took so long,” Michael said, as though reading my mind. “Traffic is still in gridlock out there. I ended up just walking, but you can’t see five feet in front of you.”

Dr. S perched on the corner of Michael’s desk. “Meteorologists can’t explain it and the sheeple are freaking out. It’s hilarious.” To Mateo, she said, “Keep drinking.”

Mateo groaned. “Are you sure this will save me?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Dr. S wasn’t used to people questioning her brilliance. “As long as the intake is compatible with the human host’s body, the ABO incompatibility that is typical of vampphetamine withdrawal doesn’t take place.”

Mateo frowned in confusion, then shook his head. “They don’t use this shit for transfusions is the point I’m trying to make. I mean, it’s not like hospitals make a beeline for Starbucks every time there’s a blood shortage.”

“That’s because the preservatives in cold blood are toxic when introduced to the human circulatory system. Your brain thinks you’re a vampire right now. Your liver is filtering out those chemicals before the blood is reintroduced into your body.”

“So what’s going to happen to my liver when the vamp wears off?”

“You’re going to be sick.” Dr. S’s bedside manner needed a lot of work. “You can expect nausea, vomiting, swelling of the liver, diarrhea, and possibly jaundice. But you’re not a long-term vamp addict, so I doubt you’ll develop cirrhosis.” She slapped his knee, as though this was some sort of silver lining. “You’ve been vamped for…what, about three or four hours now? Well, you’ve got at least that much time ahead of you, and you’re burning through that blood as fast as you’re putting it in. So, keep drinking.”

Mateo made a face as he lifted the cup to his lips. “How do you people live?”

Dr. S laughed as though he’d made some sort of joke. “Vampphetamine intoxication has very little in common with what it’s actually like to be a vampire. The bloodlust you’re experiencing has been amplified tenfold. But, to answer your question, you get used to it.” She hopped off the desk then walked over to inspect Karen. “The valium seems to be helping. Have you noticed any adverse effects?”

“Besides the fact that she’s a zombie now?” I said.

“Yes, besides that.” Dr. S turned her attention back to Mateo. “You need to let me know if you start to get a pressurized feeling, or tightness in your chest.”

Mateo looked at her through his eyelashes. “Why? What does that mean?”

“It means that your heart is trying to reestablish a normal, human sinus rhythm. I’d really like to have you hooked up to an EKG when that happens. Hey, do you mind if I write a paper on your progress? It could influence the future treatment of vampphetamine addiction.”

I glowered at Dr. S over my shoulder. “You’re loving this.”

Dr. S stood up straighter, her hands on her hips and her nose in the air. “The chemical composition of vampphetamines alone is a fascinating medical phenomena that we are still trying to understand. Speaking of which, one of the CDC doctors overseeing the quarantine was intrigued by the effects of organic hemorrhagic dialysis on Father Cooper’s illness.”

Mateo looked at me. “What?”

I jerked my head toward Michael. “The priest caught that shit that’s been going around. We blood-mugged him, and now he’s fine.”

Mateo lifted his chin in understanding. “Won’t he just turn into a vampire in three days?”

I shook my head. “Nah. She’s not Pure and I’m only half-vampire.”

“Uh, guys?” As I’d hoped, our side conversation irritated Dr. S. “As I was saying, more research is needed, but the CDC wants to do a blood draw to see how the nosferatulogical antibodies affected the plague pathogens. We need a few more test subjects to prove our theory, but I think if vampires and humans work together, we stand a good chance of getting ahead of this thing.”

“Test subjects aren’t the problem,” I said. “Finding vampires willing to puke their guts out to help a strange human is.”

“Five of the Disavowed have already agreed to come to the hospital with us,” Michael said.

“And it takes two vampires to save every human that’s sick. There are dozens of people that are three hours away from drowning in their own blood.”

Karen let out a heartbreaking wail, then everyone looked at me like I was a dick.

I waved my hand in apology. “The point is, we’re going to need a lot more than five vampires to ‘get ahead’ of this thing.”

Michael took a step forward. “I agree. That’s where you come in, Tobias.”

I frowned. “Where do I come in?” Michael gave me a meaningful look, waiting for me to understand. I did a moment later, then couldn’t help but laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Michael made a helpless gesture. “Can you think of another way? You and I can’t force the vampire community to do what’s right—”

“Especially since, as you put it, doing so will make them violently ill,” Dr. S said, as though Michael needed her help.

“Uh, have we met? What makes you think I can talk Sebastian into anything? Shit, he might command the vampires to not get involved just to spite me.”

Mateo leaned close to Dr. S. “Who is Sebastian?”

Dr. S whispered back. “Baron Sebastian von Brandt is his father.”

Mateo’s eyebrows lunged into his hairline. “No shit? Isn’t that guy like twelve?”

“Guys,” I said, too tired to be offended. “I’m right here.”

Michael scowled at them.  “Indeed. Tobias, we’re running out of options. On behalf of everyone that still stands a chance, will you at least call your father? You’ll never know unless you try.”

I didn’t argue, because I knew Michael wouldn’t let it go. I muttered curses under my breath as I kneeled down next to Karen. “You’re going to be okay,” I said.

Karen gave me a fearful look as she clutched my hand. Unable to speak, she shook her head. Don’t leave me…

“Don’t worry. I’ll be right outside.”

“You’re safe, Karen.” Michael’s tone was so soothing that I almost believed him. “No evil can reach you here.”

Karen’s face twisted in misery as she rolled onto her side. She curled into a fetal position, her back to the rest of us.

I walked back out into the mist. I wanted privacy for this conversation. More than that, I needed a goddamn minute to myself.  I took a deep breath of the fresh air, hardening my heart as I prepared for the worst.

“Just get it over with,” I said as I took the phone from my pocket.

The clock read three-thirty-seven. It felt as though it should’ve been much, much later. I closed my eyes as I held the phone to my ear, my back pressed against the wall. I was alone and exposed, but too tired to care. If Justine wanted to swoop down and take another chunk out of my head, she was welcome to it.

Justine didn’t spring an attack, and my call didn’t go to voicemail. Nothing ever works out for me.

Sebastian answered on the third ring. “Yes?”

He sounded pissy. His caller ID must’ve told him who it was. “Yeah, it’s, um…Hi.”

Sebastian said nothing.

“I need to talk to you. I need help…Father.” I winced. Awkward didn’t begin to describe how that felt.

 “All right,” Sebastian said in a careful tone. I guess it had been weird for him, too. “Did you call that number I gave you?”

“…You gave me a number?”

Sebastian sighed. “What do you need, Tobias?”

I stuffed my free hand into my pocket then rolled my shoulders. They were so tense, they ached. “People are getting sick.”

“People. As in humans?”

“Yes?” I said, because…duh.

I could feel him lose interest. “Of course, they’re getting sick. Humans get sick. It’s what they do.” There was a short pause in which I assumed the conversation was over. “How many?”

I scrambled to think of a number that would get his attention. It couldn’t be so high that he’d look up the truth, though. “I’m not sure, but about a hundred, so far?”

 “One hundred is hardly an epidemic, Tobias. I wouldn’t even consider that a proper plague. Is that human disease agency involved? What do the mortals call it? Damn.”

I don’t know why I didn’t hang up. “The CDC.”

“Right. Is the CDC aware of the situation?

“Yes.” Why had I called him in the first place? I could’ve just hung out in the cemetery for ten minutes then told Michael that I’d called. He’d never have known the difference.

“Then let them do their job, Tobias.”

Before he could hang up, I said, “Father, wait.” Nope. It wasn’t getting any easier. “This isn’t a natural sickness. I’m still trying to track down the source, but no one else has to die at all. The vampires can save everyone.”

I could feel him smirk. “Do tell.”

I clenched my teeth to bite back my automatic response. “Blood-mugging. It’s one of those diseases that blood-mugging can filter out of a human’s system. We tried it on a friend of mine, and he’s almost completely back to normal.”

“And how do you know the disease is unnatural?”

“Well, for one thing, the people that die of it reanimate as ghouls.” Everything clicked into place and I stood up straighter. “Wait a minute. There’s no way in hell you haven’t heard about this, Sebastian.”

“I was notified that your area was experiencing an inordinate number of ghoul resurrections,” he said, as though he didn’t want to admit it. Or maybe he was just fucking with me. “I have agents in the area.”

“In that case, let me save everyone some time. The vampires have nothing to do with the ghouls here. Well, at least ninety-nine-percent of the ghouls popping up right now aren’t from vampire attacks. In fact, this time, vampires can stop people from turning into ghouls.”

“So, what is the cause?”

He’d lost me again. “What?”

“You said that you knew for a fact that this is an unnatural illness. How do you know? What’s causing it?”

I hesitated again. I wasn’t worried about blame, so much as whether or not he’d believe me. “It’s a revenant.”

At last, I had my father’s attention. “A revenant? There’s an actual revenant in your city? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve seen it.” I’d also sort of created it, but he didn’t need to know about that.

“And you think the revenant is what’s causing this plague.”

Something about the way he’d phrased that caught me off guard. “Yeah?”

“Who told you that?”

Ah. There was the automatic doubting of my intelligence I’d come to expect from Sebastian. “A friend, I guess.” I couldn’t think of another way to describe Gwen without bringing up more questions. “She said revenants are the harbingers of plague.”

“I see,” he said, snide again.

Why isn’t it possible to bitch-slap people through the phone? Seriously, figure it out, Science. “Sebastian, are you going to make the vampires help, or what?”

“You seem to be under the impression all common vampires are not but soldiers in my army.”

He wasn’t fooling anyone. “Aren’t we?”

“That sort of authority is tenuous, at best, Tobias. Should I abuse my power, I will find it revoked. But, let’s say I do as you ask, and test the waters of dictatorship. It sets a dangerous precedent, don’t you think? If we use our natural advantages to help the humans, they’ll begin to demand the same every time they get the sniffles. Humans get sick. Humans die. Vampires do not. This is the natural order of things. If you can recruit volunteers at that homeless shelter you call home, then I applaud you.”

Before he could hang up, I said, “Wait. There’s one more thing I need.”

 “And what is that?” He sounded exhausted.

“Money. I need money.”

Sebastian was quiet for several seconds. “All right, I’ll bite. How much money do you need?”

“However much money it’ll take to support a family for…ever, I guess. Until they don’t need me anymore. Plus, college tuition.”

“Is that your way of telling me I’m going to be a grandfather?”

“You’re hilarious.” Sebastian knew, being a mule, that I was as sterile as the dead sea.

“I take it then that you need money for that impoverished friend of yours. The necromancer that has failed for almost three years to turn you into a proper vampire. Is that what you’re telling me?”

I wanted to tell him to mind his own fucking business and fork over his checkbook, but that’s not how begging works. “Yes. It’s all for her, all of it. Anything she needs, give it to her, and I will do whatever you ask in return.”

“Really? And if you’re convicted the day after tomorrow and sentenced to spend the next fifty years in prison? What then?” He sounded spiteful, almost like he gave a shit.

“Then I’ll work to repay you when I’m released. Seriously, Sebastian, what is fifty years to us?”

“Nothing. But, to your necromancer friend, fifty years is a lifetime. If she dies before you’re released from prison, what would obligate you to keep your word?”

I had no idea how to explain the concept of honor to a deadbeat dad. It was like trying to describe a rainbow to the blind. “How about you just give me the goddamn money because you fucking owe me.”

Sebastian had no response for that.

“You left me. You left me alone to get hunted, and frozen, and starve. You left me in the sun, and the rain, and the snow. You left me to get beaten and chased, and almost killed. You left a kid, your own fucking kid, to die and I’ve never asked you for anything. I’ve never asked you for a goddamn thing, but you owe me. You know you owe me.”

Sebastian was quiet for so long that my nerves wound into a tight coil. “Is this her condition for turning you?”

“No. No, she’ll never turn me.”

“Never?” There was something dark and dangerous in his tone.

“No. She can’t, she’s lost her powers.” Before he could say anything else, I added, “But that’s okay. I just need to take care of her, and to do that in this world, I need money.”

There were three beeps as the call disconnected. Sebastian had hung up on me. I should’ve expected as much, but fury swelled up from the pit of my stomach like a backdraft. I hurled the expensive phone my father had given me against the stone wall. It exploded in a shower of plastic and glass, then I realized Karen stood behind me.

Never believe things can’t get any worse. Warmth flushed my cheeks. “Hi.”

Karen blinked as she looked away, her face also red. “What are you doing?”

I lifted my shoulders in a helpless shrug. “The same thing I always do, Karen. Try to help and fail. You shouldn’t be out here, though. Justine could come back any second.”

Karen met my gaze. “I don’t care. Let her come.”

This was the most rational she’d been since our escape from the school, so I decided to take the plunge. “What happened back there? Did Justine use some sort of weird revenant-magic on you?”

Karen stepped past me, hugging herself. “Not exactly. It was like in the hospital, when she came back for the first time. Whenever she gets too close, she…overpowers me? I thought it was a one-time thing, because I was so sick. Turns out, I was wrong. I can hear her thoughts and feel everything she feels, but her thoughts and feelings scream so loud that I can’t hear my own. She shows me such horrible things. And I’ve lost the power to fight back.” Her voice cracked as her eyes filled with tears. “I’m so stupid. Justine never would’ve fallen for such an obvious trap.”

“Maybe it’s for the best. Let Khalid keep your powers.”

Karen looked at me as though I’d set fire to an orphanage. “No, I’m not going to let him keep my powers. They’re my powers.”

“It’s not like he can use them, and you don’t need them. Hell, you’re better off without them. You can’t go back to Kingdom Come.”

“I’m going back.” This wasn’t an argument. “I have to. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

“Hell no, I don’t understand. Go back to your family. Take them and get as far away from this as you can.”

“You’re assuming my family is still alive, Toby.”

I assumed nothing. In fact, I hadn’t thought about her family at all until that moment.

“How do we know that fucking demon didn’t start her rampage with my mother and brother?”

We didn’t know. “I’m sure they’re okay.” There was no way I could sound less convincing. “Just get away from here. I’ll find you when this is over.”

Karen gave me another emotional look. “What about you?”

“I’ll be fine. Please, just go. You don’t need him. I promise, you’ll never be so desperate that assholes like Khalid can get their hooks into you ever again. I’ll take care of you.”

Without warning, Karen threw her arms around me. She squeezed my shoulders tight then said, “Why? Why would you do that?”

I wasn’t expecting to be challenged, so I had no easy answer prepared. I only had the raw, vicious truth.

Before I could admit it, she said, “I’m not her, Toby. I can never be Justine for you.”

Her words jarred me. “I know that.” When she shook her head and began to pull away, I held her tighter. “I know that. I do.”

Karen’s lower lip quivered as she squeezed my shoulders. “Or maybe I am. Maybe my entire existence has been nothing but a weak echo of hers. Maybe that’s why, whenever she gets close, I don’t know where she ends and I begin.”

“That thing is not Justine.” The force of my tone surprised me. What surprised me more was that I meant it. “I knew Justine. I knew her better than anyone, and she died over thirty years ago. That thing has her body. It might even remember what it was like to be her, but her spirit is gone.” The words felt like fire in my throat.

Karen’s brow furrowed as she placed her hands on the sides of my face.

“I owe it to Justine to put her body to rest, and I will. But she’s gone forever.” And, maybe, once it was done, I could finally get on with my life.

Karen hesitated, then said, “You’re wrong. I know what she knows. I feel what she feels. The need for revenge and hatred burn in her. It’s what gives her the resolve to feed, to keep herself alive. She has to destroy the ones responsible for her death.”

“So, it doesn’t matter if I want to kill her or not. I have to. It’s her or me.”

Karen shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, Toby, she hates you. She remembers you were the one that took her life, but the pain is different. It’s here.” She placed her hand above her left breast. “It’s heartache unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. And it hurts so much because she still loves you.”

The piece of my scalp Justine had bitten through gave a hard throb. “I’m not so sure about that.”

“I am. I used to think I knew what love was. I used to think that I understood loss, but I was wrong.” Her voice hardened. “Do you really want to help Justine? You can’t do it from jail. You need to find the man responsible for her death. The man so fucking twisted that the idea of using the love of her life as the weapon that killed her gave him a raging hard-on.”

I nodded in understanding. “She needs to kill Nicholai Santos.”

Karen’s fingernails dug into my skin, as though the sound of his name caused her physical pain. “He’s like the wind, Toby. She can’t find him, and the more time that passes, the more the darkness consumes her. Swear to her that you’ll find him. Find him and tear his throat out, so he can know how it feels before he dies.”

The viciousness of her tone surprised me. “I will. I swear, I will.”

She relaxed as though a terrible burden had been lifted off of her. “Thank you.” Karen rose onto her tiptoes, bringing her mouth very close to mine. She froze the instant before our lips touched then stared at me, as though hurt. “Does that girl mean more to you than I do?”

Her voice sliced through me. I knew that voice. I would know it anywhere. I could still hear it in my dreams. “Justine?” Karen looked miserable as she turned away. “No, I mean… is she close?”

“That’s just it. She’s always close.”

Before I could respond to that, Mateo came through the door behind us. He moved slow, his stomach sloshing with every step.

“Hey. Sorry to interrupt…you know, whatever this is. I just thought you’d want to know.” He handed his phone to Karen. “Trevor wasn’t in school today, but his mom just sent a group text to all his friends. They took him to the hospital last night because he was running a fever. He’s got whatever this thing is that’s going around. They just moved him to the ICU.”

Mateo’s phone dropped from Karen’s hand, and he lunged forward to catch it. She turned without a word then vanished into the fog. I could hear her feet slapping against the cobblestones as she ran for the gate.

I caught up to her on the sidewalk then grabbed her by the elbow. “Karen, you can’t go out there alone. It’s too dangerous.”

My claws gouged into her arm when she ripped it away from me. “No. Let me go. I have to see him. Even if it’s too late, even if there’s nothing I can do, I have to be with him.”

I held up my hands to calm her. “I’m not saying don’t go. I’m saying, let me take you there. I’ll carry you, so we’ll get there faster.”

Karen nodded, stoic resolve taking the place of her mania. “Go to my house first,” she said as she climbed onto my back. “I have an idea.”

<<<Chapter 35:Part 3

Chapter 37>>>

WitD3: Chapter 35, Part 3

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 35: Part 3

 

Nothing could have prepared us for what we found. The hallway was post-apocalyptic. Scattered papers, pools of blood, and a staggering number of dead bodies covered the floor. Broken florescent lights filled the hall with the stink of burning electronics. The fixtures that remained flickered like strobe lights. Torn student council banners hung over the stained glass windows.

A few feet away, two ghouls hunched over the corpse of a nun. They lifted their gore-stained faces when they sensed fresh meat, but continued to chew. Meat and blood gurgled in their throats as their vacant eyes turned toward Karen.

Karen stepped forward as she lifted her gun. She fired twice in as many seconds, delivering perfect shots to each ghouls’ forehead. Brain tissue exploded from the backs of their skulls, then the twice-dead teenagers collapsed.

I knew then why Khalid had given Karen that weapon. I knew why he’d set up the target range in the basement of his whorehouse. All the better to terrorize the vampires that worked for him. I could’ve pointed all of this out to Karen. Maybe I should have. Instead, I nodded toward the dead ghouls and said, “Did you know them?”

Karen pointed her hand cannon at the ground, but kept her finger close to the trigger. “Probably. I’m not going to get a closer look, though. Come on. Trevor’s class is on the next floor.”

We made our way down the hall, our backs to the rows of lockers. We rounded the corner to find three more ghouls lounging under the stairwell. One feasted on a severed arm. All three had stomachs so distended they looked pregnant. The rest of the bodies on the stairs were crumpled in pools of their own blood and guts.

I held out my hand when Karen lifted her gun again. “Let me. My goddamn ears are still ringing.”

Karen nodded, then looked away as I finished off her classmates. She put her hand on my arm in silent thanks as we climbed the stairs.

On the fifth floor, we hit a wall of stench that stopped us in our tracks. Karen leaned against the handrail as though she would pass out, her eyes shut tight. Being human, she couldn’t just stop breathing, like I did. She turned her face into her elbow and took shallow breaths, but started to retch. If there’d been anything in her stomach, she would’ve vomited.

So many bodies littered the floor that there was no clear path through them. The tile was so red and sticky that it was impossible to tell its original color.

“Let me carry you.” I didn’t say what I was really thinking, though Karen had to have had the same thought. There was a better than average chance that one of those bodies belonged to Trevor.

“No,” Karen said. She swallowed hard then began to pick her way through the corpses. “This way. Trevor’s class is down this way.”

Karen wouldn’t look down, so I did it for her. It was then that I realized there was something strange about these bodies. The ones that had turned, either as vamps or ghouls, all seemed to have a single wound in common. Somewhere on their skull, a wide gash split the bone to expose gooey brain matter.

“Karen, wait,” I said.

She stopped then turned next to a classroom crisscrossed by heavy steel flagpoles. The ends of the poles stabbed through metal lockers, effectively blocking the door. The door handle shook, but it was bound to the place where the poles intersected. Karen frowned as she took a step closer to the darkened window, then a white arm smashed through the glass. Reflex alone saved Karen as a clawed hand took a swipe at her face. She tripped over the body lying face-down behind her, then sprawled on the ground.

A cheerleader glared down at Karen. Her fangs were long, and her washed-out blue eyes were ferocious. Dried blood stained the ends of her long, blond ponytails, as well as the lower half of her face. “You’re dead, bitch!” The girl’s voice boomed through the halls. “When I get out of here, you’re dead!”

“Debbie McAllister?” Karen said as I pulled her to her feet. Congealed blood soaked her hands and designer jeans.

The girl screamed again as she slammed her fists against the door. The bloodlust had her so focused on Karen that I was able to creep closer without her seeming to notice. Beyond Blondie, I saw a tall, black kid pacing near the covered windows. Three girls held each other and cried next to the chalkboard. Two more vampires sat at lab tables, their heads in their hands. One boy mumbled into his cell phone, I assumed to leave some sort of message for his mother.

At last, my scent registered with the cheerleader. Her eyes swept over me as her new instincts let her know that I was a rival on her territory. The look on her face grew even more hostile. “Kill her!” The command caught me off guard. When I didn’t move to obey, the girl took a swipe at me. “Why are you just standing there? Do it!”

“What happened here?” I said.

My sense of calm wasn’t contagious. The cheerleader turned her attention back to Karen. “You’re dead, Harris. Do you hear me? When I get out of here, you’re dead!” Blondie stormed away, then upended the teacher’s desk.

I turned to find Karen staring into a large common room. Shards of plate glass covered the floor like a layer of ice. “Friend of yours?” I said when I joined her.

Karen made a face. “Who, Debbie? No way. She was an enormous thunder-cunt before somebody dosed her with vamp.” Karen nodded toward the open area. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse.”

She was right. I assumed this room served as some sort of student lounge. I saw wooden benches, tables, and walls papered with motivational posters. That day, blood-splattered medical screens bearing the initials CDC covered the vending machines. The dead bodies were mostly adults wearing medical scrubs and yellow isolation gowns. Bite marks covered their necks and arms.

Karen crunched through the glass, to a long folding table covered in manila folders. I crouched down to inspect one of the few bodies on the floor wearing a school uniform. The boy’s eyes were yellow, like mine, and rusty fangs peeked below his lips. The same gash that killed those in the hall split his forehead.

Bright, bold red letters were stamped across the folder in Karen’s hand: QUARANTINE. She began to read aloud, “Do you have, or have you experienced in the past twenty-four hours, any of the following symptoms: fever in excess of one-hundred-and-one degrees. A red, burning, or itching rash, with or without white pustules. Headache. Chills. Swelling, painful or otherwise, in your neck, stomach, armpits, or groin area. Stomach pain. Nausea. Vomiting…Thor’s beard, whoever filled out this questionnaire checked off everything.” Karen scanned the paper then looked dejected. “Margret Nguyen. The note on the bottom says ‘immediate transfer to quarantine at Methodist General.’” Karen let the folder drop to the floor. “My mom works there.”

Dozens of identical folders covered the table. The plague had swept over Karen’s school like a tsunami. “Did you know her?”

“I had chemistry with Margret Nguyen. She let me copy off her sometimes. We weren’t friends-friends, but she was nice and everything.” Karen caught herself. “Is nice. Margret is nice. This plague is spreading too fast. If we take care of Justine, will that stop it? Will it cure everyone that’s sick?”

There was no point in lying to her. “I don’t know, but I doubt it.”

Karen’s face fell. “But, it should stop it from spreading any further, right?”

“I hope so.”

Karen’s energy left her in the form of a sigh. “Then we have to try.”

I was on the verge of warning Karen that we needed to leave. Whoever locked up those vamped kids and killed the others would make their way back to us. So, naturally, I heard footsteps right behind me. Karen’s gaze shifted to something over my shoulder then her eyes widened. I ducked and rolled to the right just as an axe blade whizzed past my ear.

I turned to face a line-backer. I’m bigger than average and I don’t intimidate easily, but this kid was a beast. Most of his black hair had escaped his ponytail to hang around his face in damp curls. Blood and chunks of brain splattered his school uniform. His fangs pierced his bottom lip and his yellow eyes were demented as he swung at me again. His newfound vampire strength and speed made him very hard to dodge.

Karen stared at the boy in amazement. “Mateo?”

The boy looked at Karen, then his face twisted with the same rage that had possessed Debbie McAllister. He turned his axe toward Karen, but I caught the handle on the downswing. Mateo growled as he tried to tear the weapon away from me. It felt as though he would dislocate my shoulders, but I held on. He roared as he turned on his heels, and the momentum lifted me off my feet.

Okay, this wasn’t working. Bigger, stronger opponents need different tactics, so I leaned back. Mateo held the weapon tight as he staggered forward. I rolled onto my back, planting my foot in the boy’s stomach. Mateo flipped over me, then landed on his back hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. Mateo blinked, stunned, then seemed surprised to find himself pinned. I pressed the axe handle across his chest, hoping my raw strength and body weight would be enough to keep him down. It was, but just barely.

“Toby, don’t hurt him!”

I looked at Karen out of the corner of my eye. Seriously?

It didn’t matter that I was the more immediate threat. Mateo continued to focus his murderous rage on Karen. “I’m going to kill you, you fucking whore!”

Finally—finally!—Karen remembered that she was a goddamn necromancer. “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”

To my surprise, Mateo continued to struggle beneath me. People strung out on vamp aren’t truly undead, but necromancy still has an effect on them. Karen’s domination should’ve taken the edge off, at least. To my greater surprise, her incantation hadn’t influenced me, either. It was as though she hadn’t spoken.

Karen stammered for a second, then said, “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”

Speaking slower didn’t help. Enunciating every letter didn’t help. Karen had lost her powers.

At that moment, everything clicked into place. Mateo was vamped, yes, but he had no blood on his hands, face, or breath. He’d somehow managed to not only resist the bloodlust, he’d locked away as many of the others as he could. Who knew how many lives he’d saved that day? This was a kid with a will of iron. A good kid. A hero.

And he hated Karen.

Oh, fuck me. “Hey!” I shouted to get Mateo’s attention. “Look at me, not her!”

Mateo’s eyes locked with mine, as though noticing me for the first time. “Why are you defending her?” he said through clenched teeth. “Were you a part of this?”

We heard the click of a gun hammer being drawn back then froze. Karen leveled her weapon at Mateo’s head, tears in her eyes. “Please, Mat, don’t make me do this. I’m begging you. You’re my friend.”

“Friend?” The word exploded out of Mateo. “Fucking ‘friend’? That didn’t stop you from poisoning us, did it, friend? You might as well pull that trigger, Karen, because you’ve already killed me.”

My heart sank into my stomach.

“You think I did this?” Karen said. “You think I gave you vamp?”

“I don’t think, bitch, I know you gave us vamp. You looked me straight in the eye with a smile on your face, then you fed me that fucking brownie. You waited until I swallowed it, then gave me another one. What the fuck is the matter with you? You had to have known how many people would die today. You better go ahead and kill me, because I have every intention of killing you. But first, I want to know why.”

Karen’s hands began to shake. “I didn’t,” she said with a helpless shrug.

“You’re not going to die if we can get you to a hospital in time,” I said. “You haven’t fed, so as long as we get a few pints of O-neg into you before the vamp wears off, you’ll…probably be okay.” Mateo’s face hardened as he looked at me. “I mean, you’re going to need a few weeks of dialysis and you’re in for some nightmare withdrawal symptoms, but then you’re golden.”

Mateo shook his head as he pointed to the body of one of his classmates. “That won’t bring her back.” He pointed to a doctor covered in bite marks. “Or him. Or them. Goddamn it, shoot me, Karen. I don’t want to be the only one that makes it out of here.”

“You won’t be,” I said. “You fought, and you helped as many people as you could.”

“Not all them.” Mateo’s rage broke and he began to sob, but his body was too dry to shed tears. I knew he’d never recover from what he’d been forced to do. “I couldn’t stop all them. I barely saved anyone.” His hatred of Karen swelled up again. “Because of you. Ever since you got out of the hospital, you’ve been a total psycho slut-bunny. I know you gave me those vamp brownies because I wouldn’t fuck you.”

It was hard to tell which accusation offended Karen more. “Excuse me?”

 “Don’t act all innocent,” Mateo said with unfiltered contempt. “You’ve been sleeping around behind Trevor’s back for weeks. I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it. Hell, everyone except Trevor.”

Karen lowered her gun. “Mateo, I would never cheat on Trevor. You and I have been friends since middle school. You know me.”

“I know you were all over my jock like a bee on honey at Nicole Spencer’s party last Friday. Maybe you got brain damage when you got sick, or something. Or maybe Trevor isn’t man enough for you, anymore.”

I was really, really starting to like this kid. “I am so sorry about this,” I said.

Before Mateo could ask what I was apologizing for, my fist slammed into his temple. My index finger snapped against his hard skull, but his eyes rolled back.

Karen started to breathe fast, surely in the throes of a panic attack, but I couldn’t go to her. I propped Mateo’s dead weight in a chair then removed the zip-ties from the belt of a security guard. Within seconds, Mateo was bound tight.

Karen paced behind me, her hands in her hair. “Bad Karen did this. Oh, my god, I bought her here, and she did this. Why?”

There was only one reason I could think of, but Karen wasn’t ready to hear it. “She’s…Infernal,” I said. “They’re addicted to suffering. Someone must’ve warned her that the jig was up and that you were on your way.”

“It was probably that whore, Aliese.” Karen’s voice dripped in hatred. “Jealous, meddling bitch, always sticking her ugly nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

“The timing doesn’t make sense, though.” I hoped that if I led Karen toward the truth, she would see it for herself. “We left Kingdom Come, what? About half an hour ago? Something else must’ve set Bad Karen off.”

Karen stared at her hands. “Lord Ahriman took my powers. That’s what that kiss had been about. Why would he do that to me?”

Before I could answer, Mateo groaned. I tried to be as imposing as possible as I stood over him, axe in hand. When his eyes focused on me, I said, “Don’t move. You have no idea how much I don’t want to kill you.”

Mateo glared but obeyed.

“I’m going to ask you some questions,” I said. “First, how long ago did this start?”

Mateo thought it over then shrugged. “I don’t know. They took my class down to get swabbed around eleven, I guess? Most of us were bitching because we were afraid we’d miss lunch. I wasn’t showing any symptoms, though, so I was in and out in ten minutes. But she,” he gave Karen a nasty look, “was waiting outside for us. About fifteen minutes later, I vamped out in the middle of the cafeteria, along with a bunch of others. Cherise Charles, and Andrew Stone…they started killing everyone around them. It was all I could do to not join in, especially after that smell hit me.”

I looked at the smashed clock on the wall, which was still running. “So, shit hit the fan about two hours ago? Karen, you were still asleep then. That rules out Aliese warning Bad Karen. Can you think of anything else that might have set her off?” Come on, Karen. Figure it out already.

It was Mateo that answered. “I figured it was because Trevor finally dumped her ass.”

Karen and I looked at him, shocked. “What?” we said in unison.

“Yeah, and not a moment too soon. I’ve been telling him for weeks that he needed to get rid of her, but you know how he is. If the Olympics had a pussy-whipped competition, Trevor would take home the gold every year. Anyway, bitch was being all weepy and dramatic yesterday, like her slut heart was broken.”

Mateo’s taunts didn’t faze Karen. “Okay,” she said, “this is going to sound weird, but did you see where I went after I gave you the vamp brownies?”

Mateo looked at her as though she’d lost her mind.

I sighed. “Just answer the question.”

Mateo blew a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. “I have no idea. What do you have fifth period?”

Karen turned on her heels. “World History with Coach Brackens. It’s on the first floor.”

I bent to slice through Mateo’s bonds as Karen stormed into the hall. A ghoul, the lower half of its body missing, dragged itself in her direction. Karen sidestepped its clumsy grab, then brought her foot down hard on the back of its head. Its skull flattened as what looked like raspberry jelly spurted from its ears.

Mateo blinked as Karen continued on her way. “What the fuck?” he said.

I started after her and Mateo followed. “It’ll take too much time to explain. Just do me a favor, and don’t try to hurt her again.”

Mateo frowned at my fangs and ragged clothes. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m…a friend.”

Mateo wasn’t stupid. “You’re not my friend. I’ve never seen you before in my life. So, you must be Karen’s friend. Question is, are you the sort of friend her boyfriend knows about?”

I was not that sort of friend, but I shrugged. “Does it matter now?”

Mateo and I passed another barred classroom. A young kid, obviously human, had his face pressed against the window. Mateo raised his hand when he saw him, as though to say, Stay there. Everything will be okay. The boy nodded in understanding then backed away from the glass.

By the time we reached the stairs, Karen was already a flight and a half below us. We hurried to catch up. “That wasn’t Karen that dosed the brownies, was it?” Mateo said. “Karen hasn’t been to school in weeks.”

I shook my head. “No. No, she hasn’t.”

This confused him more. “Then what the hell is going on?”

Karen waited for us on the ground floor, gun in hand. Between the covered windows and broken lights, the hallway was pitch black. A strange rattling sound echoed through the halls, coupled with a whoosh and symphony of squeaks.

Karen frowned at me, her eyes useless in the darkness. “What is that?” she said.

Before I could tell her, a swarm of mice and rats rushed over our feet. Karen screamed as she jumped into my arms, and even Mateo swore out loud. The vermin ranged in color, from brown, to black, to pure white, which meant they hadn’t come up from the sewers. Also, they were running for their lives.

“Those are the rodents from the genetics project they’re doing in honors science,” Mateo said. “Who the hell let them out?”

Karen stiffened in my arms, as though hit by a jolt of electricity. Her mouth dropped open, then her face collapsed in despair. She drew in a deep breath of the toxic air then unleashed a scream I’d only heard once before. It was the wail of a mother whose toddler had just wandered into oncoming traffic. The sound jarred me to the bone as Mateo clapped his hands over his ears.

 Karen shoved me away, not bothering to catch herself as she fell. The mass of rodents crawled over her arms and into her hair, but Karen continued to howl.

“What’s the matter with her?” Mateo had to shout to be heard.

Orange light flickered from the far end of the hall, and I looked up to see Justine walking toward us. Her black eyes locked with mine as fire blossomed in her wake.

Karen’s head jerked back as though someone had snatched a handful of her hair. Only the whites of her eyes showed, and I didn’t recognize the voice that tore out of her throat. “Die!”

Justine raised her arms and a huge blast of superheated air slammed into us. I threw Karen over my shoulder then grabbed Mateo by his blazer. “Come on!”

I sprinted toward the opposite end of the hall, Mateo on my heels. We reached the covered windows then cannonballed through the glass.

<<<Chapter 35: Part 2

Chapter 36>>>

WitD3: Chapter 35, Part 2

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 35: Part 2

I moved to intercept just as a huge crack of gunfire exploded to my right. Ethan’s forehead burst, then Karen screamed a sob as she covered her mouth with both hands.

A black figure stepped out of the mist, her gun pointed in our direction. I ducked my head and raised my arms. There was no way I could bolt before she squeezed off a shot. The officer’s blonde hair was pulled back in a bun, her eyes unforgiving. “Hands where I can see them. What the hell are you two doing out here?”

I said nothing, for fear she’d see my fangs. A vampire standing this close to a ghoul is all the justifiable cause most cops need.

Karen moved closer to me, stammering, “I—we go to school here. We go to school here.”

The cop made a disgusted sound. “Nice try. Where’s your uniform? I should arrest you both right now. This isn’t a fucking sideshow. People are dying in there.”

I peeked at the gun through my hair, weighing the risk of snatching it out of her hand.

Luckily, Karen was a quick thinker. “Work study?” She took a breath through her nose, then spoke with greater confidence. “We have work study. My cousin and I both have jobs at the Savemart distribution warehouse on Lexington. Our shifts start at two o’clock.”

“Work study?” the cop said.

“Yes. I’m a file clerk in the accounting office, and James works on the loading dock. Please, don’t shoot us.”

I guess, in this scenario, I was supposed to be James. I nodded as I put my hands behind my head to hide my claws.

The cop seemed unconvinced but lowered her weapon. “Can you tell us anything about what’s going on in there?”

Karen shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. We heard people screaming and thought maybe someone had brought a gun to school. We ducked into a janitor’s closet to hide.”

“And the vampires didn’t smell you in there?”

Fuck, I thought. Why hadn’t this bitch made detective yet?

Karen shrugged as she said, “I guess not. There was a bunch of cleaning chemicals around. Plus, I guess they were too busy chasing down—” Her voice broke, as though her emotions had gotten the better of her.

The lady cop sighed when Karen began to sob. “Why did you come out?”

Karen sniffled and I could smell actual tears. “We were there for…god, it felt like forever. When everything got quiet, we decided to make a break for it.”

“You should’ve stayed put. Between the vampires and the ghouls, you could’ve gotten shot running through the fog like that.”

“We’re sorry. We were just so scared.” Karen ducked down to look at my face then pinched my nostrils closed. “Oh, my god, I think my cousin broke his nose.” The position of her hand covered my mouth.

The cop rolled her eyes as she gestured for us to follow her. “Ordinarily, I’d tell you both to keep going and to get as far away as you can. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what you’ll run into in this fog. You’ll be safer back this way. We have emergency medical services set up over here.” She turned then began to speak into the walkie-talkie attached to her body armor. Karen let go of my face, in case I needed to run. “Officer Huckabee, coming in, escorting two students.” I couldn’t make out the staticky reply.

We followed a step or two behind Huckabee, and every instinct in my head screamed at me to turn back. Somehow, I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As we got closer to the school, we saw the anti-vampire UV lamps set up around the entrance. Even with my sunglasses on, I had to squint against the blinding light. A huge crowd of students and teachers huddled in this zone of safety. Screams for help rained from above, and the first-responders showed their strain.

Huckabee pointed to a nearby ambulance. “Okay, go get checked out. You may have to wait a while; we have a lot of hurt kids here. Stay as close to the lights as you can. They’re the best we can do in this goddamn fog.”

I kept my head down, but Karen nodded as we started toward the ambulance. “Okay, thank you.”

Her duty to us completed, Huckabee returned to her patrol. In the chaos, no one noticed Karen and I walk past the ambulance, straight into the mist. She led me along the eastern wall, gripping my hand tight. Luck was with us, in that we didn’t run into any more cops, ghouls, or vampires.

At the rear corner of the building, we came upon a thick oak tree with gnarled branches. Karen turned toward me then put her hands on my shoulders. “This is the one. Boost me up.”

I lifted Karen by the waist until she could grab the lowest-hanging limb. I waited until she disappeared into the tangle of branches then followed. Judging by the number of soda cans, cigarette butts, and empty condoms wrappers, this tree had seen a lot of traffic. We made it above the fog, then Karen sidled along a branch that stretched all the way to the building.

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before?” I said.

Karen looked at me over her shoulder. “I plead the fifth.”

I chuckled as she stepped onto the narrow ledge. Karen eased along the building, her back pressed to a classroom window. She paused, waiting for me to catch up, then a ghoul threw itself against the glass.

Karen let out a sharp cry as she recoiled from the gnashing teeth. She teetered on the ledge for a sickening second before the heel of her boot slipped. I caught her by the wrist as she pitched forward, then yanked her back into my arms. Karen clung to me, her heart pounding against mine. She stared at her undead classmate, who raked the window with bloodied fingers.

“Don’t look at it,” I said, easing Karen back onto the ledge. “Just keep going.”

Karen didn’t move. “That’s Jessica Martin.”

Broken blood vessels had turned the ghoul’s eyes a gruesome red. There were open bite marks on either side of her neck. Worse, it looked as though other ghouls had taken a few chunks out of her before she’d reanimated.

I nudged Karen forward as I said, “Not anymore. You have to keep going. Other people still need our help.”

Karen took a deep breath then hurried past the ghoul. I reached the bell tower a step behind her as the classroom window shattered. The ghoul of Jessica Martin tumbled over the ledge, disappearing into the mist. There was a meaty thud below, then Karen and I waited. I prayed the ghoul had landed on its head, but then I heard a dull moan.

“Goddamn it,” I said as I punched through the tower window. “Please, tell me you at least have your gun.”

“Always,” Karen said as I lifted her inside.

I climbed onto the windowsill to follow, but got punched in the face by the smell of fresh blood. The aroma hung thick, like the perfume over a field of wildflowers. I could still smell the breath that infused it. The scent overwhelmed my other senses, leaving me lightheaded and my mouth dry. That’s why I didn’t notice the other vampire until it was too late.

Karen had started up the wooden staircase, her head down as she dug through her purse. There was a resounding screech then a girl launched herself from the shadows above. All I saw were fangs, claws, and a stranger’s face twisted by hunger. The vampire tackled Karen hard enough to lift her from her feet. The two of them slammed against the wall then fell, the vampire yowling like a rabid panther.

An unseen force almost threw me off the ledge when I tried to enter the bell tower; wards. Of course, there were fucking wards. “Karen!”

“Toby!” The vampire’s fangs snapped at her throat, but Karen managed to hold it at bay. “Get in here!”

The wards dropped then I lunged to Karen’s side. Once my body no longer blocked the open window, sunlight flooded into the dark stairwell. The vampire reared back, Karen forgotten. Every trace of exposed skin bubbled and turned black as steam began to rise from her hair. The blisters broke open, then boiling blood began to pour down her face. I kicked the girl in the chest, catapulting her off of Karen and out of direct sunlight. It was far too late. The girl collapsed in the corner, wailing in agony.

“Are you okay?” I said as I helped Karen sit up.

“I’m fine.” Karen winced, holding the back of her head. “Oh, my god, Toby. Look at her.”

I didn’t want to look at her. Death by over-exposure to sunlight is never a pretty way to go. I looked because Karen asked me to look. I blinked in surprise when I realized the vampire wore a school uniform. Like the ghouls, this girl wasn’t some random undead. She wasn’t some necromancer’s attack dog. She went to school with Karen.

“Your blood…” The vampire’s swollen lips had split like overripe fruit. “I need your blood.”

I put my arm across Karen’s chest to keep her from going to the dying girl “Who are you?” I said. “Where did you come from?”

The vampire looked past me, at Karen. “Why did you come here? Why couldn’t you just stay away?”

Karen and I realized the truth at the same time. “It’s vamp,” she said. “Someone dosed these kids with vampphetamines.”

I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve seen some fucked up shit. Even I can still be shocked. “I thought vamp had to be injected,” I said, as though that would somehow undo everything.

“No, not necessarily.” The vamped girl stopped breathing.  Karen made a sickened sound as she turned her face into my chest. “We had a big assembly about vamp a few weeks after it hit the streets. Turns out, you can shoot it, snort it, pop it in pill form…the works. It’ll take longer to kick in if you don’t shoot it, but you’ll turn as soon as it works its way through your system.”

Karen didn’t resist as I pulled her to her feet. We started up the stairs again, mindful of anyone else that could be waiting in ambush.

“Someone must’ve mixed it in with the creamed corn at lunch, or something,” Karen said when we reached the fourth floor landing. “We have to get word to those cops outside. These kids will turn human again if they don’t come in here, guns blazing.”

I used my pocketknife to pop the door lock. “Actually, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Think about it. The cops must’ve put two and two together already. That’s why they haven’t raided the school. They’re trying to contain the dosed kids until the shit wears off.”

Karen bit her lip, then nodded that my theory made sense. “You know, I’d buy this was the work of one psycho with a really fucked up sense of humor, if it weren’t for the fog.” She pulled a gleaming, snub-nosed pistol from her purse. It had a polished silver finish and a white ivory grip.

I shook my head as I peeked into the storage room. “Are you kidding me with that gun?” I said. The coast was clear, so I gestured for Karen to follow. “What happened to the nine-mil I got you?”

“What?” Karen said, self-conscious. “It’s pretty.”

“Exactly.” We made our way around stacks of dusty boxes and broken desks. “Is it a weapon, or is it jewelry?”

“Lord Ahriman gave it to me.”

“Of course, he did. Does it even work?”

“Yes, it works. It works freaking awesome. It’s a custom-made Ruger Alaskan. He gave it to me for my birthday. It shoots forty-five long colt, so everything I hit pretty much explodes.”

These were just words and numbers to me. I never shared Karen’s fascination with guns and knives. I’d been born with all the weapons I ever needed.

“I practice with it every day, now that I don’t have to worry about buying ammo. Lord Ahriman set up a target range in the cellar for me. I’ve gotten really good.”

“You were always good,” I said as I pressed my ear to the door on the opposite side of the room. I could hear nothing in the space beyond. I braced for the worst as I turned the handle.

<<<Chapter 35: Part 1

Chapter 35: Part 3>>>

WitD3: Chapter 35, Part 1

*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*

The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 35: Part 1

 

I closed my mouth then ducked my head as the SWAT officer turned his attention to the driver. Luckily, the cop failed to notice my eyes and fangs. I guess he had more important things on his mind. Fear spiked in Karen’s scent as she took my hand.

“Sir, you need to get this car as far to the right side of the road as you can. We’re trying to clear a path for emergency vehicles.”

As the cop stood to walk away, the driver said, “Hey, do you know how long this is going to take? I’m not making any money just sitting here.”

If disdain could burn, the driver would be ashes. “That’s not my problem, sir. Stay in your vehicle with the doors locked.”

The SWAT officer walked into the mist, then Karen tossed a twenty-dollar bill into the front seat. She and I got out of the cab without another word.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, kid,” the driver called after us, with little actual concern for our safety.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said as I shut the door. I took Karen by the elbow then we made our way through the bumper-to-bumper traffic. We found the sidewalk deserted, and every business closed. The atmosphere grew heavy, like a warzone, as we ducked into a nearby alleyway.

Karen squinted up into the fog. “I can’t tell where the fire escape is. It’s like Silent Hill out here.”

“Yep,” I said as though I had a clue what she was talking about. “Here. Get up on my shoulders.”

“That’s a good idea.” I ducked down so Karen could climb onto my back. Once she was situated, I stood then moved closer to the building, one hand on the wall for balance. The cinderblocks were dry, as were my skin and clothes. The fog was like smoke, but without the choking stench.

“Okay, walk forward,” Karen said, her voice echoing in the narrow passage.

I did as she asked, but it was hard to not get distracted by her scent. I’d missed it like a phantom limb in prison. I’d caught whiffs of jasmine once in a while in my sleep, only to be jerked awake by painful hope. The heat of her body radiated into my shoulders and the back of my neck.

“Hey, did you gain weight?” I said.

Karen was quiet for a second, then her thighs clamped down on my neck like a vice.

“I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I’m just saying. You used to be like a stick, now you have some meat on you. It was a compliment.”

“Oh, well, in that case…” Karen slapped the top of my head. “Wait, I see the fire escape. Take about three steps forward.” I obeyed then waited as she jerked on the retractable staircase. “Crap. It’s rusted stuck.”

 “Of course, it is. Hold on.” I moved my hands from her knees to her feet. “I’m going to lift you up. Go ahead and stand.”

I boosted Karen like a Russian acrobat then felt her weight shift to the fire escape. I took a step back, using the shadow of her feet to gauge her position, then jumped. I landed next to her, and our combined weight dragged the stairs to the ground with a high-pitched squeal.

“Goddamn, could that be any louder?” Karen said. “Let’s get out of here before the cops come to investigate.”

As though on cue, a burst of automatic gunfire erupted from the sidewalk. The sound hit us like a cattle prod then we sprinted up the steps.

“Go! Move, move, move, move, move!” Even as I spoke, I looped my arm around Karen’s waist to pick her up. I took the stairs two or three at a time, racing from landing to landing.

Then, without warning, sunlight washed over my face like a bucket of acid. I stumbled then fell, my skin on fire. I heard Karen yelp in pain as she barked her limbs against the metal steps. I buried my face in my hands, but it was too late. Sparkles of bright color exploded behind my eyelids, leaving me blind.

I felt Karen pull up my hood then place my sunglasses over my nose. “It’s okay,” she said, her voice soft but urgent. “You’re going to be okay.”

I blinked fast to relieve the ache in my eyes, spitting curses.

“Shhh. I know, Toby. I’m sorry.” Karen waited for me to recover, rubbing my back in comforting circles. She pushed her hair out of her eyes then stared at the sea of white mist. “I’ve never seen obfuscating fog from this angle before. It doesn’t reach past the second story. Makes sense, I guess. I’ve just never really thought about it. Can you see yet?”

“Almost.” Karen helped me stand, then I kept my hand on her shoulder as we made our way to the roof. Once there, I sat on the half-wall around the ledge to get my bearings. Nearby, Karen snapped picture after picture of the blanketing mists.

“I could never make a fog like this,” she said. “I can cover, what? Maybe a block or two for ten minutes before I’m wiped out? It’s like the whole city has been buried in twenty feet of white sand. I can’t even tell where the epicenter is.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Well, I guess some necromancer coven learned a new trick.”

“How are we going to find them, though?”

I cracked open my left eye. “Why do we need to find them?”

 “Besides the obvious reason?”

“Am I wearing a Superman cape? When did this become my problem?”

Karen’s eyes narrowed, then she said, “If they can do something like this, they can definitely help us against Justine.”

Goddamn it. Karen knew me too well. I sighed as I turned in a circle, trying to pinpoint where the fog was centered. Karen was right; it stretched out for miles in every direction. I made a disgusted sound then said, “You’re right, but even if we found them, how would we make them help? They’re necromancers. I can’t do shit against them.”

We heard glass shatter on the street below, then a woman screamed. We hurried to the edge of the building, but saw only the fog. The woman shrieked again, louder and more terrified, then the sound was cut off by a wet gurgle. The thud of booted feet ran along the pavement, then a voice shouted, “Freeze! Let her go, then put your hands where I can see them!”

The reply was a screech that made every single hair on my body stand up. I’d heard that sound enough to know it at once. It was the cry of a newborn vampire driven insane by bloodlust. There was the deafening crack of a high-caliber bullet being fired, then silence.

I swept Karen into my arms then ran. I could hear her trying to talk to me, but flight mode doesn’t know reason. I leapt from rooftop to rooftop, braced for a sniper’s bullet. When we were as close to the school as we could get without reentering the fog, I set Karen down again.

She held up her hands as I began to pace like a caged animal. “Okay, it’s over. That…sucked, and I’m sorry.” She looked up at the cloudless sky. “The fog must be blocking the UV rays,” she said, as though in apology.

I nodded, having figured that much out for myself. “If vampires really are attacking St. Josephine’s, they aren’t stuck there.”

Karen looked pained as she turned toward the school. The building jutted from the fog like a gothic island; all stained glass windows, towers, and pointed arches. We could see students leaning out of their classrooms windows. They waved their arms as they screamed for help, crowding onto the ledges. Two fire truck ladders stretched up to provide an escape route, but the evacuation wasn’t happening fast enough.

Karen gasped and covered her mouth as a boy fell. “Who would do this?” she said, breathless. “Why?”

I was too deep in thought to answer. The chances of this being the work of a necromancer coven grew smaller by the minute. A group that powerful wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the vampires in the city. No solitary practitioner could’ve pulled off something like this, not even Karen. Well, maybe there was one. It couldn’t have been Justine, though. She’d lost her powers over the undead when she became one. Of course, the only reason I thought that was because she hasn’t used them against me yet.

“Toby, we need to hurry.”

I didn’t move. Karen stared at me, and the silence between us grew awkward. I took a step back when she turned in my direction. “Wait,” I said before she could speak the spell of subjugation. “The cops are trying to evacuate before they send in the hit squads.” I didn’t want to be in the building when that happened. How could I say as much without sounding like a pussy?

“Maybe,” Karen said. “But sixteen-hundred kids go to this school, Toby. What about the classrooms that don’t have windows? Do the cops plan to sacrifice those kids?”

“You know SWAT has the exits covered. How are we supposed to get in?”

Karen didn’t even have to think about it. “We go in through the bell tower. It’s behind the school, but if we’re careful, the cops won’t notice us in this fog. There’s a window on the third floor we can get through. Once we’re in, we find the door that leads to the fourth floor storage room. It stays locked, but it’s super easy to pop open. All you need is a butter knife.”

“What happens if we run into a cop with orders to shoot anyone they see with fangs? I don’t want to die so you can break up with your boyfriend in person.”

Karen opened then closed her mouth as she gave me a long look. “You’re right. You stay here.”

Way to miss the point, Karen. “No way.”

“This isn’t just about Trevor, Toby. I’ve known most of these kids since kindergarten. I’m not going to sit back and let them get slaughtered by vampires if I have the power to stop it. Just get me to the ground so I can—”

“No!” I’d just gotten her back. There was no way in hell I was going to lose her again. I took a deep breath as I forced myself to man up. “No. Let’s do this.”

“Toby, no. You don’t have to—”

“The hell, I don’t,” I said as I pulled her onto my back. I said a silent prayer to a power I didn’t believe in, then darted forward. I leapt off the half-wall, launching us through the air for a couple hundred feet before we dropped.

The fog closed over our heads then we landed hard. We were just on the other side of the chain-link fence that surrounded Karen’s school. I wasted no time marveling at the close call as I took off again. I had to keep a tight grip on Karen’s knees so she wouldn’t fall off my back. I could barely see my hand in front of my face, never mind the giant tree that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. I swerved to the right, then had to jump to avoid a koi pond. Luckily, I cleared it. I kept my eyes straight ahead, looking for the sea of emergency lights parked near the base of the school. Therefore, I didn’t notice the young man crossing my path until I plowed into him.

The boy and I tumbled over each other as Karen vanished into the fog. I spat out a mouthful of dirt, then unleashed a string of curses that will guarantee my place in hell. I pushed myself onto my hands and knees as I said, “Karen, are you okay?”

“No.” I heard her deep, ragged cough. “I got the wind knocked out of me. Are you okay?”

“No.” The kid was getting back to his feet. He wore khaki pants and a dark blue blazer: Karen’s school uniform. “Hey, numb-nuts. Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

Karen limped out of the mist, holding her side. “Enough, Toby.” Damp earth and grass stains covered her lacy top. She reached toward her classmate as she said, “Hey, are you…”

Karen’s voice trailed off as the kid turned to face us. Blood soaked his shirt, even though the bite marks on his neck had long since stopped bleeding.

Karen shrank back in horror. “Ethan? Oh, my god, no.”

The ghoul’s eyes were empty as he lunged at Karen.

<<<Chapter 34

Chapter 35: Part 2>>>