Initially I was going to put out one story over the course of October, but I struggled too much with writing it and have a few other projects going on at the same time, so I’ll save it. Instead I’ll be posting three short pieces every other week throughout October to give you something spooky to read this Halloween.
I’d been playing around with the concept of a horror road trip story, which I’ve now outlined in three different versions. This vampire filled one sort of sprung out of nowhere, the first part, which will be the section below, written in pencil while I was at a training for work. The opening scene of a young woman stopping in a gas station in the middle of the night only to find everyone dead appeared very clearly in my mind. I’ve written more since then, but I have so many projects and I’m attempting to focus on the few I have a drive to finish, that it’s only been touched when I have the capacity to think about it. But I do enjoy this initial piece and am posting it for your reading pleasure.
Miranda parked her car at the gas station, turned off the engine, and leaned back in her seat. Her hands shook as she laid them against the steering wheel. She’d made a mistake. She’d made a hundred mistakes, but this was one of the worst. New York was three hours behind her, and she’d taken a random road just trying to get away. Her phone was basically dead. The battery in the corner was bright red, and she reached into the duffel beside her to see if she’d remembered her charger. There were a handful of balled up t-shirts, a few pairs of underwear, a single travel bottle of shampoo, her best pair of boots, and three different lipsticks. She’d been so angry she’d only grabbed things at random. It was to prove a point. It wasn’t until Eric had grabbed her and shoved her into the wall that it’d turned serious. They’d fought a lot. Eric was–had been–still was–the love of her life, but they’d fought nearly every day, louder and louder, but there were only a few times either of them had gotten violent. She’d smashed a plate in an argument, and he’d hurt his hand punching the wall. But they’d never hurt each other. Not until now.
She sighed at the memory of the fight. It had been stupid. It was always stupid. It was always over money, or how much he worked, or how little she worked, and whenever she brought up her family, he would flip out. She couldn’t help that New York had more people than jobs, or that she’d loved him enough to follow him out there even after her mother had warned she’d never speak to her again. He’d come home from work late, and she hadn’t made him dinner, and he’d complained that she never did anything all day. They’d screamed, she’d threatened to leave, and then he’d threatened her. That was when she took her half-filled duffel bag and the keys from the coffee table and stormed out.
What she’d wanted to do was drive back to Texas where her parents were. She’d dreamed of arriving at their door, tears in her eyes, and her parents would let her in with open arms. They’d say it wasn’t her fault, and they’d help her get back on her feet. But her mother held a grudge like only a Southern woman could, and her father hadn’t been on good terms with her since high school. What she should do is turn around, listen to Eric apologize, and then make a real plan. At least take a toothbrush.
The first thing she needed to do was get gas.
She stepped out of the car as she fished out her debit card. The highway had turned into a dirt back road, and this was likely the only gas station for the next thirty miles. Her car had been dinging at her for the last five minutes, desperate for a fill up. The gravel covering the parking lot crunched beneath her feet as she walked to the door. At nearly three in the morning, this far out, the sky was a tapestry of stars. The new moon was a black hole in the dark sky, and dark clouds caught low light where they hung closer to the earth. Trees sprouted up with skinny trunks, their limbs thin. It had grown cold the past few months, and she wish she’d grabbed a sweater before running out like she had. The highway had no lights on it, and the lamps surrounding the gas station were nearly dead. Only a single light managed to cut its way through the darkness. The night sounds of the city were gone, but in its absence the crickets chirped and fat flies and moths buzzed in the stream of light. Half of the four gas pumps were out of order, the plastic bags covering the pump being pulled by the breeze. She folded her arms over her long sleeved shirt and wished she were wearing more than pajama pants and a pair of flipflops. She glanced at the store attached to the gas station. What had once been a sign declaring its brand had long since fallen off, and only the streak of paint and shadow of that sign even hinted at its purpose. Lights were on in the wide windows, but she couldn’t see anyone behind the counter. She left her car to pump anyway and went inside.
What she needed was coffee. Even if it was two dollar gas station coffee, it was the only thing that could clear her head. She glanced at the row of chargers wrapped in plastic beside the five dollar DVDs as she passed by. Bags of brightly colored chips sat in their place beside bags of peanuts and sunflower seeds. Her father used to chew sunflower seeds, especially on long car trips where she and her sister were shouting in the backseat. Her trembling hands grabbed one, and she crinkled the plastic in her palm. She needed to think. Her parents wouldn’t let her back, and she didn’t want to let Eric back either.
The thought of driving back into the city made her feel sick. For the past two years it had been the loneliest place she’d ever been. With only Eric in her life, she hadn’t known anyone, and he’d worked hard to keep the rent for their tiny apartment. She’d worked jobs when she could, but it never seemed to last, and she never connected with her coworkers. Some nights she would stare at her parents’ names in her phone before shaking her head. The only person she had talked to was her little sister, Samantha. Sam had moved out to California, also on the outs with their parents. The only reason she wasn’t completely cut out was because they didn’t know about her girlfriend. They talked, not as often as Miranda would’ve liked, but they did talk. She wanted to call her now, but she had no idea what time it was there, or if Sam would even pick up.
Relief came to her as she poured out the coffee in the small styrofoam cup. She held it close to her nose, breathing in the sharp scent of it. There was nothing quite as comforting as the smell of coffee. She didn’t bother with cream or sugar. She didn’t even cap it before taking a long drink of it. The shock in her bones seemed to loosen up, and her chest filled with warmth. Clutching the cup between both hands to properly seep off the warmth, she came up to the front counter, tossing down the sunflower seeds, charger, and a pack of gum. No one came out.
“Hello?” she called. “Anyone home?”
There was a soft sound behind the employee door that sounded like feet scuffling. No doubt the late shift guy had fallen asleep, or was probably smoking in the employee room. She didn’t have enough cash to just leave it, and she wasn’t going to steal. Miranda glanced outside at her car, still sitting there, and she blinked. There was a dark shadow against the highway, person shaped, and when she looked closer it faded into the backdrop of shadows. Discomfort itched in her muscles, and she shouted again for the cashier. Stamping her flipflops, she walked around the other side of the counter and knocked on the employee door. There was a thick slumping sound, as though something heavy had hit the dirty linoleum floor, and the sound of a chair pulling back. When no cashier presented themselves another minute, she pushed opened the door and frowned.
Someone had flipped the switch down. The thin light of the streetlamp outside shed across the room. A small table was pushed against the corner with several chairs, as well as filing cabinets and an office door. Another table offered a microwave and some plastic utensils. She stepped forward, and her foot touched something wet. Her hand reached for a light switch, but she only felt the lines of the tiles. There was a shape slumped against the floor, and the light glimmered off the liquid that had spread across the ground. She realized, slowly, that it wasn’t water. She took another step forward, reaching for the thing on the ground, recognizing now the dark curl of hair and the arms twisted together, and the gas station uniform which had once been white was now a dark, dark red. Her hand reached out, and words formed on her lips, but they could only come out in short breaths. She jumped as a second thump alerted her to another body, slumped forward in its chair, and it landed on the ground. She gasped and reared back, landing against something solid.
A hand clasped over her mouth. It was wet, and the smell of copper filled her nose. Revulsion came up in her throat, but her whole body went cold and still. Another hand pressed to her back. The touch was firm but didn’t hurt. Tears started down her cheek, and she closed her eyes.
“I’m in luck,” a voice said in her ear. His voice was warm and honey thick. It prickled down her spine.
“Please,” she whispered.
“Shush, little treat.” She felt his lips close to her neck. “I’ll make this quick.”
The door jingled, and footsteps padded across the linoleum. The man’s grip grew stronger. Miranda wanted to scream and kick and run towards help. She wanted to bite his blood-soaked hand and tear away from him. But she was frozen in fear, and he’d become so still beside her, she couldn’t even feel his breath.
“Cal-vin,” a sing-song voice called. “I know you’re here. I can smell the blood.”
The voice in her ear murmured, “Fuck.”
“Calvin,” the voice sang. “Come on out, my love.”
A shadow appeared in the doorway. She was young. Her soft, curved face caught the edge of the light. It revealed white, porcelain skin, the peak of her red lips, and the blond curl of hair that rested over her shoulders.
“Calvin,” she said. “Making a mess again?”
“Cerise,” he said. He let go of Miranda and stepped forward. His face was long and practically carved. The cheekbones, the eyebrows, the gentle quirk of his lips. His eyes glinted red in the light.
“How long has it been?” he asked.
She smiled at him. “An eternity, my love.”
Miranda was shaking, and she tried to stay on her feet. She looked for another door and saw the emergency exit. They were distracted with each other and didn’t notice her moving towards it.
“This is not where I expected to find you,” Cerise said, passing a look over the blood covered break room.
“I’ve been forced into meager means,” he said.
She walked forward and gave a pitiful glance at the bodies. “I spoke with Prescott, you know. You’ve made quite a few enemies.”
“He was one of them.” His lips quirked up into a smile. “He’s dead.”
“You killed him.”
“You’re here for revenge.”
“You know I have no love left for him.” She pressed a hand to his chest. “But you’re out of friends, Calvin. There’s no one left to save you.”
She threw him, and Miranda screamed as he crashed into the breakroom table. The woman looked so slight, and she’d picked him up as though he was made of paper. The table splintered beneath his weight, and Cerise practically flew across the room, landing on him. She pulled free a long knife with something etched onto the ancient handle, and her lips pulled back to reveal a long row of sharp teeth. She bit into his neck and tore the skin away, laughing with a mouth full of black blood. He grabbed her by the waist and twisted her onto her back, dragging sharp nails into her skin. She kicked him off, tossing him into Miranda, who was nearly to the door. She bowled over, landing on the hard floor. She gasped as he turned sharply, his red eyes staring into hers, and he reached out a hand as though to touch her face.
“You and your girls.” Cerise lifted herself up. “It always kills you in the end.”
Miranda dragged herself up, and he held so tight to her wrist he was dragged with her. She tried to pull his weight off and only managed to hit the wall. He stared at her, mouth opening wide, full of sharp teeth. Cerise grabbed his shoulder, and she stabbed him through with the knife. The pointed end of it came out through his sternum, glistening with black blood. As the knife went through, his eyes went wide, and his mouth opened as though he would beg for help. Then she jerked the knife up and ripped it free, and he staggered into Miranda’s arms.
“Sorry, love,” Cerise said. “Better luck next time.”
Miranda’s hand found the exit door, and the moment she pushed it an alarm blared. Cerise stepped back in surprise, and Miranda ran. Calvin still held tightly to her wrist, and she nearly fell carrying his weight. She tried to shove him off, but Cerise was only momentarily distracted. She managed to carry him to the car, where she struggled to push him away.
“Get off!” she shouted.
He opened his mouth, but only a gurgling noise came out. Finally she managed to rip her hand free and knocked the gas pump out of the car before jumping into the driver’s seat. Horror overtook her as she saw the man crawl in with her. She stared at him.
“Get out,” she said.
“Dying,” he managed. He coughed black blood onto the upholstery.
“You’re a monster!”
“So is she.”
Her eyes shot up to the gas station. Cerise was marching towards them.
Miranda started the car. Her engine started up, and the woman burst through the glass, her arms reaching and finding Calvin’s collar. Glass smashed against him and flung towards Miranda as well, and she slammed on the gas. Her old car was not quick to accelerate, but at full force it tore away, and the woman was behind them. Cerise made a noise like a roar, or the sound of thunder, and then she was in the distance.
In the passenger seat, Calvin spat blood.
Again, Miranda was without direction. Her focus was on as far away as quickly as possible. She barreled down the country road, blind from tears, and she didn’t know how long she drove. The lights of the gas station were long gone before Calvin slumped over, head falling out of the cracked window. She swerved off the road. After some consideration of his seemingly unconscious form, she put the car in park, walked around to the other side, and opened the door. He slid from the seat into the dry grass, and when he still didn’t move, she kicked him.
“Hey!” she shouted.
“Listen, you–” She frowned at his limp form. “You’re like a murderer.”
He reached out a hand, and she stepped away.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m leaving.”
She went back to the car and sat there. In her rearview mirror, she could see the blood that covered her face, and she wiped at it, but she couldn’t quite remove it all. Her nails were stained black and a red welt was in a ring around her wrist where he’d held her. The expression of the woman, mouth filled with teeth, as she’d moved quick as fire, it was something that would be in her nightmares. She stared at the broken window. It couldn’t be real.
Her hands fumbled on the radio dial as she listened for anything. She expected to hear reports on the finding of the two bodies, car seen fleeing the scene, undead walking the earth. Only early morning radio played, taking late night calls and playing tunes for insomniacs.
She jumped when Calvin stood. He hunkered up, his shoulders low, his head lolled forward. He took slow and steady steps past the cleared out gravel path and towards the thicket of thin trees. Out here there was nothing for miles.
Miranda could’ve driven off right then. Every instinct told her to. Instead she turned the car off and followed him. It felt like the moment she’d decided to follow Eric to New York all over again. It was quick and hastily made, based on dreams and assumptions. Everyone had told her not to. Her mother hated Eric and warned her he’d ruin her life. Even her little sister had said the risk was too high for a man she hadn’t known that long. It may as well have killed her, but she’d done it anyway.
“Hey!” she called. “There’s nothing out here!”
In the distance, she heard quick movement, and then an animal cry as it thudded to the ground.
“Okay,” she whispered to herself. “Okay.”
It wasn’t thick here, but it was all private property and expansive. Between the road and the property lines were bits of wild earth. Her foot caught the brush, and she pulled twigs from her hair. Her eyes went up to where the tips of the trees touched the sky. The clouds had moved in further, obscuring the stars. She closed her eyes and imagined another night like this, where she’d teetered on the edge of a building, almost letting the wind push her forward. When she opened her eyes, she saw Calvin holding a deer in his arms like he was comforting it. His mouth was buried in its neck, and it didn’t move.
“Oh my God,” she said.
He looked up, and his face was filled with an animal-like ferocity. He blinked, and it drew back, leaving him a blood covered man.
“Oh my God,” she said again. “What are you?”
He wiped his hands against his face in an embarrassed fashion, as though it would do any good. He released the deer, and it landed on the ground like a cold wet thing. Miranda felt like she had as a child when she saw the baby birds that fell from their nest and didn’t get back up, or when she and her friend had found her pet hamster in its small cage, unmoving. Her parents had helped them bury it, because that was the proper way to mourn the dead, and she wondered idly about digging a place in the dirt for the deer. She started to cry again.
“Oh, no,” he said, and his voice was so sweet that it made her cry harder. “Oh, dear. It’s been a trying night.”
She felt his hand on her cheek. It was still slick with warm blood.
“Please,” she hiccuped. “I don’t know what to do.”
He smiled at her. It was such a calming smile. “What’s your name?”
She wiped her eyes and looked at him. “Miranda. Miranda West.”
He squeezed her hand. “You’re a kind soul, Miss West. My name is Calvin.”
“May I ask you something, Miss West? It’s rude, I know, but I don’t have much time. Do you know what time the sun rises?”
“What?” She stared at him.
He pointed to the sky above them. “That sun rises in less than two hours. My chances of finding someone else who could help me is rare, so I need you. The sun will rise, and if I’m caught in its path, I will die. Do you understand?”
She did, but her brain refused. It was stupid. It didn’t make sense. What’s red, full of teeth, and can’t stand the sun?
“You,” she said, “are not a vampire.”
His smile said something else. “So you do understand.”
“You are not a vampire!” She pulled away from him. “You’re a–a psychopath with weird teeth. You and that girl are–are–are–”
Her head was dizzy. She staggered away from him, clutched a tree for help and her whole body heaved out her fear and bitterness and every bad feeling she’d had for the past year onto the ground. When she was done, she straightened herself, brushed her hair back, and turned around.
“I’m leaving,” she said.
He followed her back to the car and grabbed her arm. She whirled around and slammed a fist into his chest. It was like punching a brick wall.
“All I’m asking,” he said, “is for a ride. Until night falls again.”
“No! You killed someone! What if I’m stopped by a cop and he asks me why I’m covered in blood!”
“I’m asking for a ride in your trunk. Leave me there until the sun sets again, and I’ll find my own way. But I also request that you drive as far away from here as possible. If that woman finds me, she’ll kill me.”
“That’s fine! I’m fine with that!”
“Please.” His eyes met hers, and a strange sensation came over her. “Just for one day.”
She stared at him. Her brain was screaming at her to turn around and leave, but she sighed and shook her head.
“You can stay in the trunk. I better not hear anything from you.”
He crossed an x over his chest. “I promise.”
She opened the trunk. A pair of old shoes she’d forgotten to take out were wrapped in a plastic bag, and the cloth grocery bags she used were spread out across it. She removed the old blanket that had been used on many a picnic.
“I don’t want any blood on it,” she said.
He didn’t say anything as he climbed into the trunk. He curled up there. His red eyes peered up at her, and she closed the trunk door. She stood there a moment, hand clutching the old blanket, eyes focused far away. Something moved in the woods, and she jumped. Nothing came at her. Another deer, she told herself. She was getting paranoid over–over a lot.
Miranda got into her front seat and turned the key. No noise came from the trunk. Cool air came in through the broken window, and she’d probably have to stop to get something to cover it. She breathed slowly–in and then out, in and then out–and then she started back down the road.