*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.
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.