The light of the moon cast the desert in shimmering blue, and the stars above were alight like spilled glitter. It was almost enough to distract me from the gnawing hunger pains, of how weak and tired I felt.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. I couldn’t really care all that much for that matter. The end of my life was coming like the dawn.
As I walked down the cold freeway, I couldn’t help but think of everything I had left behind in my life. My family, all that I had, called me an abomination. They told me I was unnatural, that I should be ashamed for not being quite like them.
They screamed and beat those angry words into me until I believed them. But I couldn’t care anymore. What was said was done and I set off on my path.
I tried living on the streets. I tried to rebuild myself from the ground up, but their truthful words haunted me. I failed in every attempt, and my family’s parting words ring true. "It would be better to just let nature take its course and just die."
And so there I was, walking down the freeway that flowed through the dunes as blood spilled in the dark. Eventually, I knew I would find a place so far from civilization that my corpse wouldn’t be found, and wouldn’t cause a million questions.
There were more important things for the police to be concerned about.
I tripped on a small pothole and fell hard on the asphalt. I rolled over on to my back and stared up at the night sky once more. The moon was passing overhead. Dawn was not too far off. A few hours, no more.
As if thinking about the coming light had summoned it, a growing incandescence made me pull my head up. A car was coming.
I tried to pull myself up, but every muscle resisted. I felt like a turtle, trapped on its back. All I could muster was a resigned sigh as the Jeep slowed down and pulled over. I could catch the occupants talking heatedly, probably debating helping the poor bum. Probably wondering if I was an axe murderer or crackhead. I definitely didn’t have the strength—nor desire—to hurt anyone.
I struggled again to get up and let them know that I was fine, that they could just drive on, but I heard the footsteps of boots in gravel as they approached.
“Dude, are you even alive?” asked a young man.
Turned my head to face him, but the bright headlights behind him left him as little more than a shadowy silhouette.
“You could say that,” I said as I took his outstretched hand and he pulled me to my unsteady feet. I dusted the sand from my threadbare trousers and the kind stranger brushed my back clean.
“I owe you one,” I mumbled. Though I was quite ready to die right there, I did not desire my remains to be found, let alone in such a way.
“So, uh, do you need a ride?” the man asked.
I nodded. “If you could get me into town before the morning and the heat comes I’d be in a debt that I can’t pay back. I don’t have anything,” I said.
“No sweat, man,” he replied. “My name's Kyle.” He placed his hand on my back and led me to the rear seat. There were a passenger and another man in the back.
Against my better judgment, I took the seat and buckled myself in. It wasn’t like anything I was not anticipating was going to happen.
“Where are you going?” asked the front passenger introduced as Brandon.
“Centennial,” I lied in response. I had picked it for the freeway overpass where I planned on sleeping off the heat and continuing my journey. But part of me questioned just how much further I could go on. “Or any close city that you can get me. I’ll make it the rest of the way.”
“It’s just a 30 minute drive,” said the man next to me. He didn’t appear much older than 20 and easily could have been Kyle’s brother. They had the same dirty blonde buzzcut and dopey, plain face that only ever seemed to be held by 20-something male dropouts who were addicted to energy drinks. All he was missing was a puka shell necklace. The only difference was his nose appeared to have been broken repeatedly. “I’m Christian, but you can call me Big C.”
I decided that I could take the opportunity to call him that at some point, but I decided that the C would not stand for his birth name.
“Charmed,” I said as the Jeep kicked into motion, its engine sounding just as close to giving up as my body was.
The night air whipped my hair back and brought a chill to my already cold face, and my body sunk into the worn seats. It was so easy to forget simple comfort in the face of agony and devastation. It was almost enough to make me want to continue living for the seeking of such simple comforts. Almost.
A loud cracking brought me back to the present as Big “C” threw his beer can out on the road as he finished it. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his lighter and a bulbed glass tube. He offered them both to me, and I politely declined, hiding my revulsion. He lit the flame and held it under the end of the tube. I looked away and instead focused on the road. I guess they couldn’t have been too afraid of me being the tweaker.
They turned off onto some old dirt road. Beyond a thicket of trees who were slaked by a man-made pond, I could see a shabby house in the distance. It appeared to be part double-wide trailer with some permanent structure built around it. I knew for a damn fact none of it could have been up to code, but I was no one to judge.
The Jeep came to a grinding halt in the gravel that made up their driveway and Kyle jumped out and quickly made his way into the house, not before looking back and giving a queer nod to his brother.
After a moment Big C jumped out and slunk around to my side of the Jeep. “Hey, let’s head in. I’ve gotta piss and we can get you a snack or something.”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I said politely, proffering my best smile.
He frowned in response and reached into the Jeep and unbuckled my seatbelt before dragging me out and towards the door. I could barely stand on my own let alone resist him, but I tried digging my heels into the gravel to no avail. It didn’t help that I was already quite short, but in my malnourished state I was probably nothing more than a child in comparison.
As he dragged me in through the door, I cast a backward glance to the other passenger, Brandon, who paid me no heed as he took up a pipe of his own to take a hit.
I staggered and leaned against the entry wall as Big C let me go. He locked the door and turned to me, his face impassive and uncaring. It was more chilling than if he had been filled with anger or hate. The emptiness spoke of a winter that did not care for those it buried in the snow.
He shoved me forward and I did my best to comply as we entered a malodorous living room. A corpulent woman—of age I could not determine—turned back from her staticky television show to look at me with some twisted glee.
“Big C cleaning up the streets again!” she squealed. I noticed foil and syringes all astray over their coffee table. Or was it just a heroin table at this point? It’s all one drug or another, I suppose.
Humor. There it was, trying to save my mind from the situation.
He pushed me on through their filthy house and eventually we came to another door, heavily locked.
“Crystal!” Big C shouted. “Bring me the keys!”
The girl from the sofa scurried over to us, her dark and greasy hair matted to her face with sweat. I could see a sleeve of poorly outlined tattoos as she offered Big C the keys. Her eyes were wide with excitement. Or meth.
They pushed me through the now open door into a room lit by a glaring fluorescent light overhead. Big C shoved me again and drove me into the industrial metal shelving that was bolted to the wall. He wasted no time using a few zip ties to bind my arms together, and then my legs before doubling his bonds with duct tape. It was wholly unnecessary. What was I going to do?
He gave a hard kick to the back of my knee and I collapsed to the ground. After I hear the door open and lock again, I finally unclenched my face and looked around the room. There was something else here, another smell.
I saw her, a round-faced Latina girl lying in the corner, probably in her early twenties. She was dressed modestly in a pink blouse and trousers and her face was framed in soft curls.
Blood was dried over half of her face and spilled down her chest, the rising of which gave the only indication that she still lived.
I felt pain, all alight and aflame in my heart which I thought had given up on such things. I felt anger melting the ice brought upon by cold self-apathy.
I stewed in my awakening feelings for several minutes before a rattling at the door caught my attention.
Crystal stumbled in, cigarette hanging precariously from her mouth and madness in her eyes. She looked at me for a moment before walking to the girl.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked, surprised by the anger that I found in my own voice.
“Keeping our land clean is what we’re fucking doing,” she replied. “One by one we’re going to make America great again! Fucking spics like her, and you coming here into our own home looking for food and handouts. We need to clean this shit up!”
I held my tongue, though I wanted to vomit all of the burning void that existed within my guts.
She took the cigarette from her mouth and drove its smoldering tip into the young girl's upper thigh, causing her to whimper and cry out in her wounded state.
I couldn’t help but growl and hold my eyes shut and look away. I soon felt Crystal's presence looming over me, and a sharp pain made me cry out as she drove the cigarette into my cheek and held it.
“No one is going to miss you, are they?” she said, bringing her smoke back into her mouth.
With those final stinging words, she turned her and left through the heavy door.
I looked at the girl, and my raging heart grew heavier. Crystal was right. No one would miss me. It’s what I wanted.
But that young woman had a life before her, and no doubt others who loved her and needed her.
I edged towards her, my muscles aching and straining against the bonds. Her breathing was so shallow, and her body bruised and battered.
There was no way we were going to survive this hell, and I resigned myself to the inevitable.
I could not let this come to pass in any good nature.
I leaned in and brushed her hair back with my chin, and let my tongue run against her neck seeking warmth and the gentle thrum.
My tongue found its target, and I pressed in, sinking my teeth into her flesh.
The sanguine burst of life and fire tore through me. It was not enough to restore my withered form, but the blood reawakened me enough that I could snap through the bonds and free myself.
I pulled back, her remaining blood pooling in my mouth. I quickly bit through my own lip and drew upon my own black blood, mingling them before pushing my mouth against hers and bestowing the dark curse upon her. I did not want to kiss her, not simply because I preferred different company, nor even the most because she was asleep. I was damning her. I was saving her.
The conflict of my own foolish decision warred within me, but it was too late.
Her body convulsed as my corruption took root. She opened her mouth and let out a faint groan. It was painful, I remembered from those dark times so many years ago. Every bone would ache for years until the numbness came, pain driving anger and fury which galvanized the bloodlust and desire to feed.
But there was always that crash, that cold and empty low that no rush could fill. That was what turned me against my family, my refusal to give in and revel in the slaughter. They called me an apostate of the gift, a coward, an abomination.
I was better. I am better. This was the right thing, an action to save others from being taken. I reminded myself of this over and over, but my desperate self pleadings were cut short as my hearing—growing sharper by the minute—caught the faint patter of footsteps upon the decaying carpet.
A spark of fear spurred me to flee, and I ran to the wall, climbing up the corner and crawling across the ceiling like a spider.
Crystal entered the room once more, a paring knife held loosely in her hand. She tensed and looked around the room, shocked as her eyes darted from the broken bonds that once held me, to the young woman who glistened with fresh blood.
“What the fuck?” she shouted, dropping her arms in exasperation. She whipped her head back and forth, certainly looking for me.
I crawled closer and as I was over here, my salivation mixed with blood began to drip from my mouth. The splatter fell upon her and dripped down her arm as I let myself slowly fall closer.
She looked up to my gory visage and cried out in terror, but it was cut short as the young woman woke from her cold slumber and tore through her own bonds and dragged Crystal to the ground.
Her ravenous attack was typical to those who had awoken for their first time. Their minds were wild and untamed until it finished rebuilding itself, and they were quick to bond with the first of their kin that they met, like a small animal.
So ferocious was the fledgling’s attack that splatter and spray from Crystal’s remains did reach me.
While I observed my newly formed companion’s feeding, Brandon—the greasy passenger from the Jeep—burst into the room but froze in shock as he took in the sight. He did not see me as I descended upon him and dropped him to the ground. I grabbed him by the hair and smashed his head against the floor with the fervor and glee of an infant with a rattle.
In my death, I had never felt so alive. Never had I been filled with such purpose, to turn the power of the hell-bound against those who had deserved it. To kill those who would be the killers.
I locked eyes with the young woman, who raised her head from her grim feast. Memories of her past would come in time, for even her own name was beyond her reasoning in this state.
However, our bond of blood gave us unspoken understanding.
If the world will not let me die as a monster, then I shall cull the horrors from it like a surgeon cutting cancer from the flesh. I knew, that in time, I would bring down even those who had created me.