Vampires of the Plains (Book 2): Blood Tells True, page 1
BLOOD TELLS TRUE
Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Rice
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author, except where permitted by law. Contact: email@example.com
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
"Silhouette" by Melissa Samworth, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.melissasamworth.com
"Skulls in the Catacombes, Paris" by Joshua Veitch-Michaelis, www.flickr.com/photos/31266481@N02
Cover design by Jeffrey Rice
Copy edit by Theresa D. Lininger, email@example.com, http://athenaedits.com
Jessica stood perfectly still except for a twitch in her left leg. She’d tweaked her knee running a few days earlier, and the hours of standing made it ache. But she was accustomed to standing for long, silent hours. Accustomed to the discomfort and the boredom so that both had nearly disappeared. Nothing mattered except the hunt.
The night air was thick and muggy. The sky was clear, and the stars and moon turned the long, pale grasses of the Kansas prairie silver.
On her face, she wore a visor-less paintball mask with filter paper taped over the inside of the front vent. The goggles prevented blood from splashing into her eyes; the mask, her mouth. She didn’t know how much blood or venom it took to cause an infection. She didn’t know if the infectious agent required an open wound or if it could pass through a mucus membrane. She took precautions so as to not find out.
She wore chainmail gloves. She’d inherited them from her uncle, Keith Harris, when she inherited his ranch. He’d used them for his own meat that he’d occasionally butchered on the farm, a steer or a deer. They were butchering gloves, light enough to perform long hours of hard manual work in, but strong and tightly-woven enough to turn a razor sharp blade or a mouthful of fangs.
Because Jessica Harris hunted vampires. The same creatures that killed her uncle.
The first time she punched a vampire, its lips had split across its fangs and her hand came back covered in blood. Working a heavy bag every day had turned the skin of her knuckles into thick leather, but she realized that if they’d split, or if she’d hit the vampire in its fangs, or if it had been fast enough to bite her hand, it would have infected her. So she began wearing gel-padded hand wraps beneath elbow-length chainmail gloves. The first time she simultaneously wrestled a vampire and tried with gloved hands to distinguish between the blades she kept on her belt, she was surprised by how much information her fingertips had provided. How blind the gloves made her hands. But she got used to it.
Jessica shifted from foot-to-foot to relieve her knee, and in the silent night, the plastic tarp around her shoulders rustled. She’d coated the tarp with cow’s blood. She kept gallon jugs of the stuff in her deep freeze, gathered from slaughtered cattle, for just such occasions.
She clenched the blood-covered tarp shut at her neck. It stank with a stink the vamps couldn’t resist, while keeping her smell in. Vampires were afraid of humans, but they were also stupid. They didn't know what to make of her, but were inevitably drawn in by the blood.
She bounced her left foot back and forth. She’d been sprinting, not on her worn path, but through her pastures. There were benefits to training how you fought, and she fought with waist-high grass pulling at her legs, draining her quadriceps of energy and filling them with lactic acid. It didn’t seem that grass should make that much of a difference, but it felt like sprinting with ten pound weights on your ankles. The grass also prevented her from seeing the gopher hole she had stuck her left foot into. She was lucky the stumble had resulted in only a tweaked knee.
A screech snapped her wandering mind back to the moment, and she planted her left foot and braced for impact. The vampire hit her in the back at top speed and all the bracing in the world wouldn’t have prevented its weight from driving her face-first to the ground. She landed on her elbows. Her right hand still pinched the tarp shut at her neck, but her left had dropped the shotgun.
The vampire knelt on her back and gripped each bicep in a hand. Almost before Jessica hit the ground, the vampire began tearing savagely at her neck. As she felt it ramming its teeth futilely into the high collar of the knife-proof vest she wore, she understood that she’d fucked up so big that if it weren’t for the vest, she’d be dead. That thought overcame her panic and filled her instead with rage.
The vampire perched on Jessica's back as if she were some stupid, passive bovine it could feed on at will. Jessica twisted and rolled to her back, and the vampire tumbled to the side as it lost its base. Jessica planted her elbow in its temple as she rolled, and it hit the ground dazed. But when she reached for it, she found her arms still bound up in the tarp.
The vampire flipped and landed on all fours, then scurried backwards a few steps, watching Jessica closely. Jessica saw the fear in its eyes, and knew that it would turn and run as soon as it had put enough distance between them to feel safe to.
Jessica took a breath, forced herself calm and stopped struggling with the tarp. She let it fall to either side and sat up out of it. Her shotgun was somewhere beneath it, but she had a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol in a shoulder holster and drew it with conscious care. The vampire rose and turned to disappear into the dark of night. It moved with the frantic speed of its kind, so every fraction of a second counted. Jessica was glad she’d cut the first two knuckles worth of chainmail from the index finger of her right glove with bolt cutters. She calmly squeezed the trigger and put a hole in the vampire’s back just right of its spine. It hit the ground and scrabbled.
Jessica kept the pistol trained on the vampire, but reached over to her black duffle bag and grabbed the handle of the baseball bat jutting from the zipper. She looked back to the vampire trying to regain its feet, and she shot it again, this time in the back of the thigh. The bullet hit square, and she thought that it had probably shattered the femur from the way the vampire now dragged itself forward. Good. She wanted to take the vampire, not kill it. And she wanted to put as few holes in it as possible. Its blood was likely as poisonous as its bite.
Still, she would have to soften it up. She couldn’t take it with her as it was.
That’s where the baseball bat came in.
It wasn’t the best blunt-trauma weapon for a fight. It was too tip-heavy and slow for that. But when she had time to work, there was nothing like a nice aluminum bat. She used a seventeen ounce, twenty-eight inch kid’s bat. In a pinch, it was light enough to use as a weapon, but it was still hefty enough for dirty work.
“Hey there,” she said as she approached the crawling vampire. Her voice sounded strange in her ears. It felt strange in her throat. She’d been silent not just for those hours, but possibly for days. Except for the occasional word to her dogs, Jessica didn’t speak.
The vampire turned and looked at her with wide, terrified eyes. It pushed itself up to one hand and started to limp away, but collapsed with a shriek as its femur came out of its thigh.
“That’s a bad one,” she said. Then she felt silly. She wanted revenge on these creatures, but they were nothing more than dumb animals. So she shut up and went to work with the bat.
She stayed away from the spine, because while a vampire spine would heal, it took a long time. She stayed away from the head, since thoroughly pulping the brain was one of the few ways to stop a vampire for go
Jessica gulped down air. Inside the heavy vest, sweat flowed down her body. On the ranch, she beat a tractor tire with a sledgehammer to build explosiveness, but training wasn’t the real thing. She desperately wanted to remove her gear, but wouldn’t until she sat safely inside her truck. The vampire lay twitching, white and long-limbed as some creepy, cave-dwelling spider. It had been a woman at some point. Probably middle-aged. Probably around the same age as her mom when she’d died a year ago. She’d probably been someone’s mom, someone like Jessica.
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a mom anymore. It was a monster. But it no longer seemed to be in any sort of shape to put up any sort of fight. So she tied its hands behind its back and hogtied its ankles to its hands, then connected that to her deer drag harness, also courtesy of dead Uncle Keith. She took off her shoulder holster and put it in her duffle bag, slipped on the deer drag harness, and began slowly plodding across the pasture. Her truck tilted into a ditch on the side of a dirt road some two-hundred yards away, and her knee already ached.
Jessica drove the county highways back. She'd been hunting about halfway between Wichita and her place near the Oklahoma border. Well, it wasn’t exactly hers yet, but it would be in a month when she turned eighteen. The summer before, not long after she’d turned seventeen, her entire family had been killed by a vampire. Not one like the animal in the back of her pickup. Dennis had been intelligent, the result of a freak coincidence. He’d been a meth dealer, and when he held her captive he explained that somehow, meth had kept the vampire disease from destroying his mind while it turned him undead.
Dennis had wanted her, so he infected her parents and burned her house down. Uncle Keith had managed to save her and kill Dennis, but got bitten.
So Jessica chopped his head off with a hatchet.
Keith left his house and property to Jessica. It was being held in trust until she was eighteen, but after everything that had happened, Sheriff Wheeler made sure that no one tried to stop her from living there. Though there were no reliable witnesses to exactly how the slaughter happened—Sheriff Wheeler wasn’t about to ruin his reputation and bring down chaos upon his community by admitting to the existence of vampires—rumors spread, and people gave Jessica wide berth as long as she kept to herself.
She was happy to keep to herself.
Instead of attending her senior year, she tested for her GED and took up ranching her father's and uncle’s cattle on their pastures. The land had been divided in two by her grandfather and split between his sons. Now it was reunified in Jessica’s ownership. She let the fields lay fallow, but the cattle were already there and she’d grown up ranching, and the hard work helped her to not think. When she thought, she tended to think of how her whole family might still be alive if she hadn’t attracted Dennis's attention. Yeah, Dennis hated her uncle Keith, but that was her fault, too.
Driving was one of the times when she couldn’t seem to avoid thinking. Especially at night.
She turned off the rocky gravel road into her long, gravel driveway.
A motley pack of hounds bounced around in front of the truck. They always greeted her, but with extra excitement when they could smell that she’d brought home a vampire. Her uncle had trained his dogs to track vampires instead of fear them, and she’d later trained her father’s dogs beside them. No one else even knew that vampires existed because they had no way of finding them. Most dogs wouldn't track a vampire. People still thought their cattle had been attacked by some normal predator, cougars maybe, that had moved north up from Mexico and then moved on.
They thought they’d moved on because Jessica had cleansed almost all of south central Kansas of the fanged freaks.
She drove past the front of the slatted, white two-story with a big wraparound porch and continued through the turnaround right up beside a concrete storm shelter. It was a little bunker that sat halfway down in a pit, and halfway in a mound built up around it.
Jessica hopped out of the truck. Some of the hounds pressed their heads against her hands to be scratched. Some sniffed at the bed of the pickup and bayed as if she didn't already know she had a vampire back there.
“Come on,” she said.
She didn’t need them jostling around while she worked, so she walked up to the side door, the one that led straight into the utility room, and shooed them in. Buster and Fatty ignored her completely. She shouted at them as she held in the wriggling wall of dogs with her legs. Eventually the mutinous pair obeyed and she swatted their hind ends as she pushed them in.
With the dogs contained, Jessica could work in peace. She walked back to the storm shelter and opened the heavy metal door. It opened both up and out, being set at a forty-five degree angle to the ground. The smell hit her. There were no vampires in the shelter at that moment, but she had kept many down there over the past year. He'd never said so, but she figured her uncle had used it in the same way before. When she first checked over the property after inheriting it, she found the shelter stinking and blood splattered. Vampire fangs had littered the concrete floor.
Vampires reeked like the rotten blood they were filled with and always covered in, and though the weather hadn’t gotten nearly as hot as it would, being only June, it was more than hot enough to make that closed-up bunker stink like an unearthed grave.
Jessica dropped the pickup's tailgate. The vampire hissed at her. Its mouth became so distended and full of fangs that it looked more like a deep-sea fish than a human.
Rage flared up in Jessica, and had she been holding her bat she might have bashed those fangs down its throat, but she calmed herself. It wasn’t challenging her; its display was out of fear.
Jessica grabbed a handle of rope she’d knotted into the monster's bonds and dragged it out of the back of the truck. It shrieked when it thudded to the ground, and she knew its ribs were still broken. As she pulled it over the grass, her grimace of effort held a bit of a smile.
She took the vampire right to the threshold of the storm shelter, then climbed down inside. Four metal stairs led to the concrete floor. Jessica reached back up with both hands, braced a foot against the second stair, and pulled as hard as she could. The vampire rolled over the lip. Jessica gave the rope a sudden jerk as she stepped to the side and the body bounced down the stairs.
The vampire's eyes rolled and its jaws snapped open and shut. One of its loose dugs had torn as some point during the dragging, probably either over the strands of barbed wire left when she’d cut the fence or over the metal lip of the bunker. And its femur still jutted from its leg. The other wounds would heal, but Jessica didn’t think that one would. The bone couldn’t mend if it weren’t connected at least a little.
She wanted the vampire in good shape.
Jessica would need to put her gloves back on to touch the thing's open wound. But she doubted she was strong enough to manipulate the bone back in by herself, anyway. Not with the vampire fighting her.
Then she got an idea. She doubted it would work, but it might be fun. She flipped on the lantern, then took a knife from her belt. The vampire’s eyes opened even wider. They didn’t understand much, but they remembered what a blade was. It writhed as she got closer.
The problem was that the flesh had retracted around the bone. Having its legs tied behind it stretched its quadriceps, which helped, but not quite enough. Jessica jammed the knife into the vampire’s leg just beneath where the femur protruded from the muscle. The vampire bucked, but the knife was in four inches deep and wasn’t going anywhere unless Jessica wanted it to. She gripped the handle with both hands and pulled the blade down, adding a long incision to the jagged puncture wound.
Jessica stood again. She kicked the vampire’s upper thigh, and the femur pressed against the cut, then went in. The vampire’s shrieks bounced around the concrete walls. She kicked it again and felt
That was enough.
Walking up the stairs, she breathed deeply. Her hands vibrated. Her heart raced. She knew that if she looked in the truck’s side mirror, her pupils would be dilated, just like when she’d done speed.
She liked hurting them too much. It was a weakness, to get that emotional.
She reached over the side of the pickup and grabbed the jug of cow blood. It held what she hadn’t splashed over the tarp. She took it back downstairs and poured it into a shallow pan which she pushed near the vampire. It would need nutrition to heal.
She wanted it healthy.
Jessica stood in the upstairs bathroom, drying her hair with a towel. Her gear soaked in the tin tub of bleach and water beside her, which she’d soaked herself in before getting into the shower. She made sure to pour extra bleach on the throat protector of her knife-proof vest. The vampire venom that coated it was thick and a bit cloudy, like spit after drinking milk.
That had been such a stupid mistake, getting distracted by her knee like that. On the hunt, nothing mattered except your prey. Not your aches and pains. Not your boredom. Not your dead family. If she couldn’t keep her mind on the task at hand, then she wasn’t fit to hunt. And if she wasn’t fit to hunt, she was fit for the loony bin, because without it, she’d lose the bit of hold she had left on the world.
She looked at her elbow, twisted it around and rubbed at it. Not a scratch. She’d been so lucky, blindly elbowing the vampire in the head like that. She’d seen elbow pads in her Galls police equipment catalogue. They even had some armored ones. She’d have to order a pair.
Jessica bet that Keith wouldn’t have gotten distracted like that. He had focus, and when he turned it on people, they crumbled. He’d always just been her big, loveable uncle, but she’d seen the effect his presence had on others.
She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. She knew that she’d gotten some of that intensity. She was built like him, too, which meant she took after her grandfather. Her own dad had taken after his mother, so that she felt closer to her uncle Keith than to her own father.
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