Short Story, podcast, Dark Blood, These Fantastic Worlds, Jake Jackson

Micro-fiction 024 – Dark Blood (Echoes series)

Vampyres and humans have fought each other for centuries, but how can you defeat a creature who simply can not die?

Echoes | Dark Blood

“The dead live forever.” He had heard these words sputtered and rasped at his back for thousands of years. For the first few decades he had laughed at the idea, exhilarated, then as a few hundred more rushed by, the seasonal changes of his youth were replaced by grand sweeps of history and he began to realize the implications. It was a prophecy, an insult.

Once handsome, haughty and high-necked, Salvador had been hunting for centuries. He remembered the miasmic taste of human flesh before he and his kind had been chased from the cities, and the brownfield lands had been set alight, their perpetual flames separating vampyre and humankind. So the vampyres, ever pragmatic in their desires, swept into the mountains of old Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia, and ravaged through the wild. They became masters of the forest, reducing themselves slowly to a feral state of mind, barely speaking, as they battled to feed, and, in time, they spread out ever further from each other, to extend their chances of survival.

Salvador remembered the last conversation he had had with one of his own blood, the dark blood of the undead. A woman who had become, for the convenience of the hunt, his pair. In their youth they had meant something to each other, but human emotions were shed from their bodies, as soon as the hunger for the fresh blood of the living had taken them. No longer did they yearn for company, or conversation, now it was for the blood, only the red blood, for it satisfied them, kept them alive in the long nights, and the dark, burning days.

“So, I must leave you.” His companion, had stood in the deep forest, her hands on her hips, face and clothes ragged with the dirt of the years, her hair as tangled as ivy, weaving across her face, and down to her waist. Her voice was low, inflected with the long despair of her kind, scarred by the battles with wolves, and bears, and recently the packs of mountain tigers eager to protect their own paths and hideaways.

“It makes sense.” He nodded curtly. His haughty tones had been ground from him, and lingered only distantly on barely audible grunts.

“I have known you, for nearly a thousand years.” The redundant facts hung between them.

“I’m surprised you still count them.” Salvador felt a slight discomfort, and knew that in a previous life he would have interpreted its meaning. But now, nothing mattered. Even the animals were in retreat, there was little for the vampires to survive on but insects and fern. The pairs had begun to split and find new territory.

There had been days where no animal passed by. It was as though they had learned to communicate in ways beyond the simple territorial noises of their nature. Salvador realized, as the long years stretched behind him that the animals possessed similar qualities to humans, in their desire to group together, the passing of knowledge from one to the other, from one generation to the next. They had learned to hide from the vampyres.

So the hunger grew. And the vampyres did not die, they became more crazy the longer it took them to feed. Salvador tried to keep the bodies of animals he had killed, saving parts of them for the long, barren weeks, but soon they stank and festered, and so many times he would stumble through the woodland, coughing, retching, hallucinating.

Once, he reached the edge of the mountain forest, and dragged himself up to the cliff-top, and wondered why he didn’t fling himself off. What was his purpose? What was his motivation, his enjoyment, his usefulness? Thousands of years of hunger, satiation, sleep, now long periods of desperation clutched at his eternal state of being.

And always, he would remember those who had succumbed to the despair of the cliff. The shambling, broken creatures on the scree below, they still lived, but their bodies burned slowly in the morning sun; no longer able to raise themselves they suffered the slow death of the burning days, but spread over the years, each moment dying a little more, with no food, and no ability to leave, with every bone in their body either shattered, or repaired into such an impossible misshape that no longer could they use their limbs. Those who had dragged themselves out would find themselves attacked eventually by the mountain lions, their heads ripped from the bodies, and gleefully discarded down the chasms by the remnants of fierce and frightened packs. But still they lived, without the means to move, or feast.

Over two thousands years had passed since the vampyres had been separated from the humans. It had been several hundred since Salvador had encountered any other vampyre. And nearly 50 since he killed his last animal, and surrendered to its lively juices.

Now the forest lay silent. And Salvador looked across at the nearest city. A once Golden Gate now shivered in the dank air. He noticed that the fires in the fields all around had long been silenced, and wondered how he could not have noticed. The intense hunger he supposed, had led him to sleep for weeks, almost hibernating. He had taken to masticating handfuls of grass and leaves, but they seemed infected and made him gag. He tore strips of bark, but the trees too seemed to be dying.

It was early evening and Salvador looked out across the valley and observed the sun jerking downwards from the hazy sky. He determined to find out if there was any food near the human city, and if his head was torn from his body by some baying mob, then so be it.

He shambled down the trail, following the line of the old forest, along the old highway. No birdsong disturbed his journey, no animals fell silent at his passing, everything was still except for the chaotic fall of his own feet.

He reached the burnt ground that marked the line between human and vampyre. No fires of any sort flared around him as he fled through and rolled onto the human side. He coughed, and clutched at his chest: the lack of meat and blood over the last decades had left him weak. He could feel the random pulse of blood through his veins, aching and tearing through his own body, wearily seeking vitality.

Soon he approached the City walls, build like a prison’s, but designed to keep everyone out.

Now there was no one.

And as walked up to the massive central gate, he found it slightly ajar, as though a wind had opened the mighty gates on a whim. But within, there was only dust. No humans, no rats, no flies, no life whatsoever.

He roamed through the streets that had cradled his youth, but found little to remember, still less to eat. He penetrated further throughout the dense, silent streets, watching for traps, for hidden signs.

But he was tired, starving. The whole city had either been abandoned, or the inhabitants had been incinerated in the hot, pulpy sun of the last few hundred years.

Salvador clambered up the broken inner-city highway, its gigantic girders rearing into the sky, as though they had tried to reach the sun but had fallen back, melted and contorted. He placed a foot across the top, and gazed at the desolate streets below, stretching into the darkness beyond. He missed his footing and tripped. He fell at an awkward angle on the raised girder, and suffered a blow to the chest as he slumped down, then the sharp, rusted edge of another girder, disturbed by his fall, swung across and sliced his head from his torso. Salvador’s body slumped high, while the head of the most ancient of vampyres, a cautious and determined creature, bounced once before landing disrespectfully into a nascent vat of tar, laid as a trap by long forgotten humans.

He woke. His head still almost immersed in the vat, a single eye exposed to the sky. He could just trace the desiccated remains of what had been his body for some thousands of years, swinging limply in the wind, with the chains and the cables of the broken road above.

And then he felt the itching and the pulsing. His dark blood had combined with the tar and had slowly begun to eat its way out of his skull.

“The Dead live forever,” how right they were, but little did they realize the horror of it all. Salvador saw other heads, their eyes wide, and other bodies, shivering in the emerging dawn, the burning sun releasing its fingers of torture to creep across the ground, and banish the night. Oh, so now he understood pain again, regret, remorse, finally, and as the dark blood munched at his undying head, he wondered at the pointlessness of his conscious existence. Death it seemed was unattainable, but utterly desirable.

[ends]

More in two weeks, (more from What is Time next week)

There are many other stories in this series, including:

Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts