A shrill alarm blasts through the night. I bolt upright, struggling to find my bathrobe in the dark. It’s draped across the end of my bed, beside a packed suitcase. I grab both.
“Hurry,” Alec says as I step into the hall. His dark hair is disheveled and dark circles line his eyes.
I glance at the clock and see it’s 2am.
We stop when we reach the living room, and our mother is already waiting. With calmness that comes from experience, Alec enters the code into the heavy metal door and it opens. There was once a fireplace in its place, evidenced by the black smudges of soot on the wall, but I was too young to remember.
We descend the stairs into the bunker and the door makes a familiar click behind us.
“It’s probably a false alarm,” Alec says through a yawn. “That’ll be the third time this week.”
“It only has to be real once,” our mother warns.
We both know she’s right. The bunker is well stocked with food and water, and air vents ensure that oxygen is not an issue. The only problem is the lights, which sometimes stay dead for hours with the unpredictable supply of electricity. We could stay here for months.
The alarm subsides after a few minutes, and we wait a few moments more to make sure it’s safe.
“Great, I’ll be tired for school again,” Alec says.
“You were still up thinking of Susan Peterson anyway,” I tease, laughing as I see the blood rise to his cheeks.
“We’re just friends…” he mumbles defensively.
“It’s time for bed,” Mother says.
Her voice is tired, but I know it’s not from a lack of sleep. She grew up before the world was like this—before everyone had bunkers instead of basements and mistrusted their neighbor. Sometimes she tells us stories about when she was a little girl and her family would go to the beach, alone and without weapons.
Alec saunters down the hall and turns into his room. I stay behind.
“About the rent…” I start, but she cuts me off.
“No, Emma. You cannot get a job.”
“I’ll be safe, I promise,” I say. “The hardware store is only down the street; I would be home before dusk.”
Our mother works all day at the grocery store across town. The days are long and hard, and the money is not enough to survive on. Alec and I are both sixteen, twins, but she refuses help.
“We will get by,” she says. “We always do.”
I know we’re on borrowed time, but I don’t argue.
Mother yawns, looking a little more worn than usual. She’s had a hard life—she grew up in the generation this all began. It was a different time back then, when they were still getting used to vampires and they didn’t know how to protect themselves. Now that we have the warning system, there are fewer than twenty deaths by vampires across the country per year.
“I wish they didn’t do this so often,” she says, sitting down with a worn sigh.
“It keeps us safe,” I say, taking a seat beside her. They used to be once a month, but since the attacks have gotten worse, we have them weekly.
She nods, and I can see by her expression that she is far away, thinking of another time. She does that often, and Alec is worried the Government will take us away if they find out. They almost did when she had her breakdown, and we had to live with Aunt Edna for a year. Mother was unable to speak for months, and we grew up fast, realizing at twelve that it was our responsibility to look after ourselves, and her.
I return to my room and shut the door harder than I intend, wincing as it slams. The air is frigid. I take my off my robe and crawl under the covers quickly, shivering.
They must have turned the electricity off, I realize. The bill came last month but my mother wouldn’t let me see it.
The edge of my curtain moves slightly. It’s thick enough to block out the bright streetlights that shine from dusk till dawn, but a little bit of light escapes through as it moves, and I feel a gust of cold air. I thought I closed the window.
I pull the curtains back and my stomach drops. Splintered wood is all that remains of the wood frame that held the protective metal bars and the window is wide-open.
A hand clamps over my mouth before I can scream.
“If you make a sound, your family is dead,” a deep voice whispers. He lets go but I feel cold steel against my abdomen. He’s young and his hair is an unkept mess, but that’s not what stands out.
He’s one of them.
Pointed jagged fangs glisten in the yellow glow of the streetlights.
The Government made them years ago, a genetic marvel designed to save the world, but they almost destroyed it instead.
“What do you want?” I ask, unsure if I want an answer.
“I won’t stay long.” He motions to the curtains with the knife. “Close them.”
Vampires were genetically engineered after their mythical counterparts. They were given all of the strengths—speed, agility, heightened senses—and none of the weaknesses.
“May I sit down?”
He grunts and I take that for a yes. I sit on edge of the bed, close to my nightstand. It’s dark with the curtains closed and I slowly reach for the drawer, but his voice stops me:
“I removed the scissors,” he says.
Their night vision is better than I thought.
Years of school lectures flood my mind as I try to remember what to do.
CARMA. I repeat each word silently: Calm, alert, ready, maneuver, away.
Calm is the most important part, they say. The smell of fear—or blood—makes them more aggressive.
The vampire parts the curtains with the knife, his cold eyes scanning the street with deliberateness. He is one of the later models, I realize. His features are too normal to be one of the first—hideous creatures that hobble in the shadows, the stuff of nightmares.
Alert comes next. With the windows closed I can’t see much, but I take inventory of what I remember. The scissors are gone from beside the bed, but I have a box of art supplies in the closet. A pencil to the eye or a potter’s needle in the abdomen would slow him down.
He comes close and I struggle to stay quiet. I move my hands into my lap to keep them from shaking.
“This will keep you quiet,” he whispers, fashioning one of my shirts into a gag. He secures another around my wrists.
Ready is the hardest step. When he turns back to the window, I reach under the bed with my foot and clumsily grab a pen. Bending over, I manage to grab it with my mouth, thankful for the years of gymnastics my mother made me endure.
There’s a small thump in the hallway, and the vampire’s attention turns to the door.
I jump towards him and aim for the side of his neck, but he steps to the side and yanks the pen from my hand in a single, swift motion.
“I’m done with patience,” he says, spitting the word like it leaves a foul taste in his mouth.
There’s no getting away now.
Before his teeth reach my throat, the door opens and a figure tackles him to the ground. I roll to the side and struggle to right myself, a difficult task with my hands bound.
A gust of wind parts the curtains for a brief moment. The vampire lays lifeless on the floor, and another stands over him.
“Sorry about that,” the other says with a hushed voice. He kneels beside me and unties the shirts.
I wonder for a moment if he can really be a vampire. His hair is well-groomed and his face is kind, yet two sharp fangs glisten in the small amount of lamp light streaming in.
“I don’t want anyone to be hurt,” he says.
I stare at him and then the body, speechless. “I won’t scream,” I say.
“Thank you.” He looks out the window again, his lips pursed nervously as he eyes the rusty car in the driveway. “Can you drive?”
“Yes,” I say, afraid to lie.
“Get your keys.”
“My family…,” I begin to say, but he interrupts.
“I’m being hunted and the sooner I’m gone, the safer your family will be.”
As I grab the keys from the kitchen counter, I pocket a dirty knife laying unwashed in the sink. It’s small, easy to conceal, and gives me some comfort of protection.
At first I’m afraid he noticed, but he pushes me gently out the door without mention of it.
Halfway to the car, an old thing that is half rusted a barely runs some days, he stops.
A soft curse escapes his lips. “They’re here.”
We break into a sprint across the lawn, and from the corner of my eye, I see a vampire on the opposite side of the yard. He’s a hulking thing, the kind you see in the drawings at school, his mouth-stained crimson.
Before we can reach the car, it closes the distance between us with inhuman speed. The two vampires fall to the ground in a snarling mess of teeth and blood. Their fight tears open patches of lawn—the smell of wet earth and blood fill the night air, turning my stomach.
I fumble with the key for a moment before finding the right button.
“Get in,” I yell, and the vampire breaks away from the fight long enough to slide into the passenger seat. The door closes just in time and the other vampire slams against the window, yanking on the locked door while another runs from the house.
“Quickly!” the vampire says.
“I’m trying,” I shoot back. The car starts and I think it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I shift it into gear and roar out the driveway and onto the highway, and I hear the siren go off for the second time tonight, telling everyone to get to their bunkers.
Too late, I think bitterly.
I consider for a moment stopping and letting the authorities deal with the vampire in my car, but he could kill me with one swift bite.
“I’ll take you outside the city,” I say. “But no farther.”
“That’s all I ask,” he says.
A heavy silence falls.
“Those other vampires…” I say finally. “Is my family okay?”
My gaze is focused on the road, but I feel his eyes bore into me. “Do you want an honest answer?”
The roads are rough, making the trip far longer than pre-war times. Most of the original vampires are dead now, killed long ago, but they bred quickly. The Government assured everyone they were infertile, but despite their best promises the creatures spread across the country within a few short decades, delivering a final blow to a war-torn world. The war left the world in shambles and they feast on its corpse.
“I thought vampires always killed people,” I say as well pull to a stop. It’s a stupid thing to say, to temp him like that. Especially when our only company is the tall conifers stretching for miles on either side of the pitch-dark road.
“Not tonight,” he says.
In the dim light of the car, he looks almost human. Long lashes frame ruddy eyes that almost look natural and his cheeks carry a warm flush.
The car heater no longer works and I shove my hands into my pockets to keep warm, forgetting about the knife. I retract my hand quickly, but it’s too late and a small drop of blood is already forming on the tip of my index finger.
He stares at the injury, his fangs slightly visible through parted lips. “You should put a bandage on that,” he says, forcing himself to look away with visible effort.
He opens the car door and disappears into the night.
My hands start to shake and I lean my head against the steering wheel, trying not to break down completely.
I almost died.
I’ve seen vampires at a distance before—everyone has—but I’ve never been so close. I felt the warmth of his skin, a living creature with flesh and blood.
I turn the radio on, hoping the music will calm me, but it’s turned to a news station. I move to turn the knob, but the word “vampire” catches my attention.
“The third attack in two days happened near Seattle,” it says. “The most recent attack resulted in one death after the alarm failed in Carnation, Washington, leading residents to believe it was only a drill. Authorities warn that the vampire population is growing in number and they appear to breed at a faster rate than first thought.”
Carnation is where I live… I slowly realize the third attack is my house. Seattle is vampire controlled, and up until recently, attacks outside of it were minimal. There was a debate last year about the ethics of using nuclear weapons to destroy cities overrun with vampires, but ultimately, it was decided against. There’s still a small number of humans in most of the cities who’ve managed to survive who knows how, and the nuclear fallout would be disastrous to nearby towns. Using other methods is simply unfeasible with the limited resources the Government has to work with.
The radio announcer is still talking, but I switch channels to something with music, and it helps, a little. I turn the car around, driving a little faster than I should.
Thank you for reading!