Shells of Broken Promises
I crept through the trees, darting between them and using their bulk for cover. To my right Harley was doing the same. We kept low, sneaking through the brush while trying to avoid the windows of the derelict shack ahead of us. The truck had been abandoned some ways back. If this was the place, we couldn’t risk alerting Zo of our presence. If this wasn’t the place I would try to avoid thinking about the valuable time lost.
Sunlight broke through the canopy in patches, a gloomy reminder of how far into the woods we were. It was dusk, twilight this far in, regardless of the early hour and the sun I knew was beaming down. I avoided the lit places, mostly for my peace of mind. Vampires could see equally well in any lighting.
Like something from a horror movie, the shack was rundown and falling apart. Whatever color it might have had once had been bleached off by ineffable years of unkind wind, rain, and sun. Even the wood was gray, as barren and lifeless as a vampire’s skin. I could see why Zo would pick this place. She was a dramatic little bitch, and it held a certain atmosphere, a haunted ambience.
Oh, how I was going to enjoy killing her.
Harley caught my attention with a hand motion. He indicated he was going to creep around back. That was fine with me, and I nodded. I’d take the front. Bending back to the task, he was soon out of sight. Whatever I might think of his life choices, I couldn’t deny that Harley was a good hunter, and infiltration was one of his specialties.
Realigning myself to my own mission, I dove behind a bush and came up with my back to a tree trunk. The door to the shack was maybe twenty feet away. Now that I was closer, I noticed I needn’t have bothered avoiding the windows. They were so gray and grimy with dirt it would be impossible to see through them.
My hand dropped to my sword, sheathed and tied securely to my waist. I gauged the distance to the door again, took in the filthy windows. I stood up, took a deep breath. And then I tore for the door with all the speed I had.
I was crashing through it right as the smell hit me—the visceral tang of blood. A gunshot-bang announced me as the door flew off its hinges and smashed into the wall, but I didn’t notice. I stood frozen to the spot. It didn’t register that the entirety of the room was maybe ten by twelve, I didn’t take in the ancient fireplace set into the left wall, or the small table and two chairs to my right, all three coated with the dust of years.
My sole focus was the bed pushed against the far wall, and the still figure tied to it. I didn’t remember crossing the room, but suddenly I was there, and the complete horror of the scene hit me.
Milly was naked, her jogging suit in tatters on her body. Gashes and wounds that looked suspiciously like finger marks lined her form. They were random, smattering her body in a way that was almost decorative, as if Zo had taken a vicious pleasure from the torture. The worst of the wounds was at Milly’s neck, a gaping hole with blood still sluggishly pumping out of it.
Still pumping…that would mean—and then I saw her chest rise, ever so slightly.
“Milly!” My voice was desperate and broken, the emotions I’d been stifling threatening to overwhelm me.
I tore off my shirt, the cotton parting easily in my suddenly adrenaline-enhanced hands. I stuffed it to her neck, noticed with a rolling stomach how much of the cloth seemed to vanish into the wound.
“Harley!” I screamed, but he was already running into the room from a hallway I hadn’t noticed before.
Steel rang on the air as he pulled his sword free, sawing at the ropes that held her to the bed. When she was loose he bolted for the door.
“I’ll bring the truck,” he called over his shoulder. As he went he pulled his phone from his pocket, hopefully to alert the emergency room.
“Come on, sweetheart, keep breathing,” I begged, gathering her into my arms. My shirt was almost completely red, and I had nothing else to staunch the blood. “I need you, Milly, don’t leave me, I need you.”
More nonsense left my mouth as I babbled on, hoping against hope she was alive enough to hear it, to latch onto it, to come back to me.
It had been just barely over an hour since I took her last phone call.
My best friend’s dad was going to hit me, and I didn’t do a thing to stop it. I saw the blow coming, it was obvious in his body language, but even if it hadn’t been it would have been expected. It’s only natural to hate the man responsible for the death of your daughter.
The blow connected with my chin, and it was a good hit. It rocked my head backward, made me hit the wall. Someone had taught Jeff Parker how to throw a punch.
“My daughter!” He was screaming, tears coursing down his cheeks. “My baby girl.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” He grabbed me by the neck of the formless sweater I was inexplicably wearing and shook me. “You’re sorry!”
“Jeff, that’s enough.” Abby put her hand on his arm and he let me go. He stomped away, collapsing into one of the uncomfortable chairs lining the hall, and burying his face in his hands. After a few seconds, Abby turned back to me.
“What’s wrong with her? Why can’t the doctors wake her up?” She looked like hell, but it in a more subtle way than her husband. There was no obvious rage or pain to Abby Parker, but her face was wan and pale, there was a fine tremble to her voice. Her eyes looked like all the light had gone out of them.
I slid down the wall until I fell into a chair. “It’s called a blood coma,” I said dully. “Milly’s a survivor, she’s been attacked before, been bitten. Sometimes with multiple bites there’s a reaction, especially when both bites were traumatic or life-threatening.”
“A reaction?” The shake to Abby’s voice was more noticeable now.
“Nobody knows why, but two or more life-threatening bites can mingle in the bloodstream, make the body think it’s still being bitten, and keep it in the trance-like state that comes with biting.” I said the whole thing with no emotion, like I was reciting from a text book. It’s the only way I made it through it.
“Is she feeling pain?” the ghost of Abby’s voice asked me.
I shook my head. “She’s not feeling anything.”
Though I knew what question was coming next, I was still dreading the answer.
“Will she wake up?”
My voice caught, and I had to clear it several times. When I could finally speak, I couldn’t look at her. “No one ever has before.”
Abby made a sound, a mindless, primal sound, and sank to the floor. She started to cry, to sob, but even that was too tame a word for it. She screamed, a sound so full of pain I couldn’t even describe it. Jeff rose from his seat and stumbled towards her, wrapping her in his arms and pulling her against his chest.
On unsteady feet, I got up from the chair and started down the hallway. It wasn’t my place to witness this. Jeff’s voice stopped me before I got too far.
“Regan.” He had to swallow his tears to continue. “Don’t be at the house when we get back.”
I nodded and headed for the doors.
Most of the ride into the hospital was a blur, filled only with Milly’s ruined body bleeding in my arms. The next cognizant thought I had was sitting outside her ICU room, a cop talking to me. I had no idea where the sweater had come from, only that a nurse must have given it to me.
“Mr. St. James.” The cop from before was coming toward me. I’d already given my statement, so I had no idea what he wanted. “You aren’t considered a suspect, but I wouldn’t leave town if I were you.”
I looked at him, and he flinched. My eyes must have been as cold and dead as I felt.
“Trust me, officer, I’m not going anywhere.”