Escape to Vampire Forest
The minivan had gone to the shop just before the trip. Clancy was sure to splurge on winter tires, an undercoating, and even had the driver’s side seat warmer fixed. They were running low on gas, and it was a while since anybody had stretched their legs, but they’d just passed a sign that said the next town was only a few miles away. He redirected the heat to blow on his icy boots, turned the new wipers to max, and drove more confidently through the snowy hills.
“What if the next town’s anything like Mountain Crest?” his daughter Marta asked from the back seat.
“That would be a giant pain,” Clancy said evenly. He didn’t want to scare anyone if he didn’t need to, and he tamped down the instinct to complain about how they were driving on empty. Mountain Crest was an hour or two behind them. The place was sealed up tight with roadblocks, police cars, and military trucks. Once the contagion broke loose, nobody was allowed in or out.
“We’d survive,” Gil said from the passenger seat. Gil was one of Clancy’s grandsons. The smart one. He and his twin, Johnny, had just turned twenty, and there was a big joke in the family about how their Aunt Marta was nearly a full year younger than them.
“He’s right,” Johnny agreed from somewhere behind him. “Dad taught us how to survive out here. You guys don’t have to worry.”
“I agreed to Christmas weekend at the cabin,” Marta reminded them. “Not surviving in the woods, eating squirrels with no fucking internet connection.” She held her dead cell phone up listlessly for them to see.
“Watch that language, young lady,” Clancy warned over his shoulder as the town’s festive welcome sign came into view. “Look. We made it,” he said with a grin.
They rolled past colourfully lit homes with green-needle wreaths, blow-up Santas, and plastic reindeer. Children played in the street as their elders strolled, carrying gifts stashed in flashy bags. As the minivan pulled up to the gas station, everybody opened their doors, filling the cabin with crisp mountain air mixed with spicy pine and petrol fumes. Clancy’s daughter and grandsons didn’t even wait for the engine to turn off before leaping out, only to stand there, groaning and complaining about how their muscles ached from sitting for so long. They filtered across the street to gawk at a giant snowman the locals had bulldozed together beside an overpriced tourist-trap hot chocolate stand. Clancy shook his head and kept pumping gas.
“Here you go, Aunt Marta,” Gil said, handing her a steaming drink in a paper cup.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?” she asked. “I don’t call you Nephew Gil, do I?”
Johnny snickered. “She’s got a point, man.”
“Auntie M, maybe?” Gil joked as she swatted him with her free hand. “What?” he teased, retreating behind the giant snowman. “Help! My auntie’s beating me,” he whined as the hot chocolate lady glared from her shack. “Shit, I spilled my drink,” he complained, looking down at his sticky fingers and the brown drips in the snow. “Why don’t they give you a damn lid?”
Just then came a sound like someone was having their guts torn out across the street. Marta stared at the twins, her eyes bulging with fear. The three of them went silent as they waited, listening, hidden from the street, just like they’d been taught. Unfortunately, this kind of thing was all too common these days. They’d all heard the stories, read the pamphlets, and completed the training. Hide. Observe. Escape. The HOE method, that’s what they called it.
Johnny was the only one stupid or brave enough to peek. As he edged carefully around the large snowman’s ice boulder base, Gil reached out, suddenly snatching his brother’s brightly coloured pom-pom hat off his head. They tried not to let their breath steam as Johnny recoiled from the view, shaking his head, wild-eyed and afraid.
“What did you see?” Marta whispered when a loud crash and frantic shouts shot out from near the hot chocolate stand.
“It’s an outbreak,” Johnny told them between shallow breaths. “I didn’t see Granddad. We have to leave!”
“Go, Team HOE,” Gil said unenthusiastically, his own panic setting in. He’d never been in a real contagion situation before. He took a few steps to the side for a better look, thinking that this whole thing was already completely different from any training they’d done.
“This is suicide,” Marta whispered, stepping up beside him as the street came into view.
An SUV had crashed into the hot chocolate stand. The server lady lay motionless, bloodied, pressed unnaturally between her broken shack and the twisted bumper. There were two vamps, a male protecting himself from the sun with a brimmed hat and a long jacket, and a female covered in dark bed sheets.
They were hunting humans using their preternatural abilities just across the street. They ran like the devil with his hair on fire, ten or fifteen times faster than anyone else. When they leapt from high places, it seemed like they were flying. And when they caught their Kıbrıs Escort prey, they used their fangs and claws to tear them open, draining their blood in seconds. The ravenous monsters screamed like dying cats strapped to megaphones as they chased after a group of tourists whose arms were overflowing with gifts.
“Now!” Johnny said.
Marta was afraid to leave the safety of their hiding place, but Gil urged her forward, tugging her sleeve. Once she got going, the twins could only try to keep up as she sped across the street toward the minivan and her father. The vamps were howling, shredding and dismembering their victims just up the way. When she came around the side of the vehicle, the fuel cap was back on, the bill paid, but Clancy was on the ground, twitching, a meaty hole where his throat used to be, his ribs torn open, his heart and lungs missing.
“Dad…” Marta mumbled in shock as one of her nephews grabbed her, dragging her away.
They sped off in the opposite direction with Gil behind the wheel, driving as fast as he could without sending them careening off the road. They shot past the decorated neighbourhood with the Santas and reindeer. People were running from their houses, screaming, bleeding, and being chased. As the town’s welcome sign disappeared in the rear-view mirror, replaced by a mesmerizing blizzard of big fluffy flakes, Marta began to cry. Johnny comforted her while Gil focused on keeping his trembling hands on the wheel, squinting to see through the storm as he took them deeper into the hills.
“Where are you driving us?” Marta asked through a flood of tears.
“The cabin,” Gil said flatly. “We’re still more than an hour away.”
“Is that far enough?” she demanded.
“There isn’t anything any further away,” he explained, a tear rolling down his cheek. “Sorry about Granddad, by the way.”
Dusk fell as they drove the last few miles. The snow had stopped, but there were no plows this far out. Drifts of powder stretched over the road, too deep to cross easily in many places. Just as the lake they were heading towards came into view, the wheels began to lose grip, sinking several feet into the snow. Gil tried to reverse, then tried going forward. He rocked the vehicle back and forth, but it was no use. Twisting to look back at the passenger seats, he noticed Marta was sleeping, her mascara smudged, her head wedged under his brother’s arm.
“Nice going,” Johnny whispered.
They left their aunt asleep in her seat, cracking the doors, letting the heat wash out into the evening air. As they stepped onto the crunching snow, despite the vehicle’s lights, the only artificial illumination for miles, they could see the stars and moon had already begun to shine. They tried brushing snow away from the wheels, but it was packed tightly. After a few moments of using the emergency shovel, Johnny took his brother to the front, where the lights beamed bright, lighting up the road ahead.
“Look,” he said, pointing. “It just gets deeper and deeper. We need to walk the rest of the way.”
“She’s not going to like it,” Gil said, shaking his head, staring back at the minivan.
Marta hardly complained apart from asking “What the fuck?” as Johnny shook her awake. Helping her sit up, he assisted in gathering her things, handing them to her to put in her bag. He explained they were close, but they’d gotten stuck. “It’s going to be okay,” he promised, giving her a glimpse of the long, sheathed knife he always brought into the bush.
They struck out together, carrying luggage and sacks, whatever they could hold in their hands and on their backs. As the snow crept up to their waists, Johnny started to feel weak, and Marta struggled to get a foothold with her fashionable boots. Gil said encouraging things, like “keep going” and “we’re almost there,” and they’d take another step. They were frozen to the bone as the wind picked up, blurring the way and making things worse. Their noses ran, their muscles ached, but they pressed on until the road finally ended.
“There it is,” Gil said with a quiver in his voice, rushing towards the shadowy wooden structure, leaving a trail for the others to follow.
The place hadn’t been used since the previous summer. Plastic covered the furniture, storage crates were stacked against the wall, and a layer of dust covered everything. The main room was freezing and dark, with a light breeze coming from somewhere. While Gil searched for the source of the wind, Marta lit candles as Johnny started a fire. There was a small hole in the east wall upstairs where an old tree had come down at some point and struck the building. A thin flow of snow had blown onto the floor, and large rodent prints made a trail in and out, explaining all the sprung but empty mouse traps.
Gil found an old pillowcase to shove into the hole, and as he stared out the window, assessing the branch that had broken through, he heard his brother and aunt talking. Marta was asking where to put a votive Lefkoşa Escort that was overflowing with hot wax, and after Johnny had given his suggestion, he called her over to show her how to get the fire going. He was taking her through the basics–kindling, leaving breathing room–when they fell silent for a moment. Then he asked why she’d kissed him. She said it was because he’d saved her life, and that she had another for his twin.
Gil got his kiss on the cheek as he came down the steps. As he drew the blinds, the place glowed with a pleasant warm light. They cooked wieners on sticks and ate a can of maple-flavoured beans, followed by marshmallows blackened in the flames.
“I need to go back to the minivan for a second,” Johnny said, shaking his head like he’d just remembered something important.
“At nine o’clock at night? It’s pitch black out there,” his brother protested. “What the hell are you thinking?”
“I forgot my stash,” Johnny told him.
“So what?” Marta asked. “It’s not worth dying over.”
“She’s right,” Gil agreed. “It’ll still be there in the morning.”
“But I want to get her present,” Johnny insisted. “It’s Christmas.”
“Not until tomorrow,” his brother said, but Johnny just stared at him with his ridiculous pleading puppy-dog eyes. “If you’re not back in fifteen minutes…”
“Fourteen!” Johnny vowed, leaping up and grabbing his boots. A blast of cold air blew into the cabin when he opened the door. “Be right back,” he promised before slamming it shut again.
“Isn’t that what they always say?” Marta asked nervously.
“Only in the movies,” Gil assured her. “There’s no one around here for a hundred miles. Nothing for the vamps to feed on.”
“Except us,” she said, warming her hands by the blaze. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask–who grabbed me? Who threw me into the minivan at the gas station?”
“Me,” he told her. “I think, anyways… it’s kind of a daze. Everything that’s happened today.”
“Yeah,” she said, sitting beside him. Suddenly she kissed him on the lips, lingering for longer than an aunt probably should. “For saving me,” she explained.
“But you already…” He pointed to his cheek. She kissed him again, more passionately, grabbing the back of his head. “Stop,” he told her, pulling away. “Granddad just died… your dad. And we shouldn’t be doing this anyways. You’re just feeling vulnerable right now. Not thinking straight.”
“You’re right!” she said in a shaky voice, lowering her head to his shoulder. Tears streamed down, making his shirt wet as he stroked her back, holding her close. “I’m so-o-o messed up,” she sobbed.
“Where’s Marta?” Johnny asked a few minutes later after throwing the door open, a snow-covered red-and-gold package under his arm. As he pulled off his jacket and sat down, Gil noticed his eyes were the same colour as the wrapping paper.
“Outhouse,” he told him, pointing with a thumb. “Said she wanted to clean up before you got back.”
“I feel so bad for her, dude.” Johnny turned the gift he’d retrieved over in his hands. “At least we can hope Mom and Dad are still alive. But what she saw, man…”
“We saw it too,” he reminded his brother. “Poor fucking Granddad.”
“Yeah,” Johnny agreed. “Nobody ever had a better grandfather. Even if he kept marrying younger women.”
They laughed and were trading jokes about the old man when Marta returned, stepping inside, shivering. Gil looked her over, remembering the kiss, trying for a secret moment to think of her as a woman instead of somebody from his family. She still didn’t look like her usual happy-go-lucky self, but she seemed better with her makeup cleaned off and that amused little smirk she always made breaking across her lips.
She welcomed Johnny back and, noticing how obviously stoned he was, warned him that he had better have saved some for her. After he pulled a big bag of grass out to show her, she sat between the twins and asked, “So, what’s this present you needed to go risking your neck for out in Vampire Forest?” Grinning pridefully, Johnny handed her the box, still damp in spots where snowflakes had melted. She took the ribbon and stuck it to his chest, then started laughing once she’d torn off the paper and peered under the lid. After reaching inside, she removed two pink fuzzy-bunny slippers and smiled. “Thanks, guys,” she said, holding them close as tears of joy started streaming down her cheeks. “I love bunnies.”
“We know,” the twins answered at the same time.
About an hour later, Gil was outside, under the starry sky, pissing on a bush. He heard Johnny behind him, shuffling his way out of the cabin. “We have an outhouse for that,” his brother said, coming up beside him and unzipping his fly. As they watered the shrub together, Johnny mentioned Marta was sleeping. “I know it’s pervy,” he said. “But she’s kind of pretty.”
“For an aunt,” Gil granted.
“She kisses better than my girlfriend,” Johnny added just as a strange sound came Girne Escort out of the forest: a screech and a wail, like something was dying horribly. “What the fuck was that?”
“Dunno.” Gil shook his freezing dick and zipped back up. “How many weird sounds come out of that forest every night?”
“Plenty,” his brother admitted, remembering how they’d often listened when they were younger, afraid to fall asleep. “But that was a really bad one.”
Marta was lying on the old loveseat when they went back inside, her eyes closed, breathing deeply. Johnny gently placed a woolen blanket over her as Gil put another log on the fire. “You were right,” he said, staring at her delicate features, content and warm in the firelight. “She is…” he whispered.
“Do me a favor and give me five minutes before you come upstairs?” Johnny asked. “I need to…” He made the universal jacking motion with his left hand.
“Sure,” Gil agreed, taking a seat. “Go ahead.”
The cabin was cold, with bright light pouring through the windows when Marta woke up. She pulled her blanket over her shoulders and poked the ashes in the fireplace, searching for coals. Once she’d made a glowing pile, she put kindling on, then larger chips and sticks, leaving breathing room, just like Johnny had said. The main area was warming up, with medium logs burning brightly as the boys came downstairs in their briefs, jackets, and hats.
They talked about the day ahead as they made breakfast and started tidying up. The place was in a shambles, and it was most evident in daylight. Boiled eggs bobbed in rumbling water as toast browned on little wire holders placed near the fire. After eating, Johnny swept the floors as Gil found planks, nails, and a hammer to fix the wall upstairs. Marta cleaned the kitchen, complaining about gender roles in a post-apocalyptic society.
After a flurry of banging, the wall was repaired, and everybody gathered around Gil’s patch job. “Nice work,” Marta complimented, feeling down near the fresh wood to see if any breeze was coming in. The back of her pants slipped down a little, and Gil couldn’t help but stare at the exposed bit of flesh. Johnny saw him doing it, but he didn’t care. He was perving too, right there beside him.
“Hot,” Johnny mumbled.
“What?” Marta asked, twisting around to stare at him.
“Umm,” he stumbled. “I meant…”
“It’s nice out today,” Gil offered weakly, pointing to the window. “Sun’s bright, no wind. We should go ice fishing.”
The lake was close, just a stone’s throw past a patch of poplar trees, a dozen tall ones, their skeleton branches reaching high into the deep blue sky. They wandered past the trees with a box of tackle and a single rod… an old one from way back. The spool was clunky, but they had plenty of line. Johnny told tall tales about the many massive fish he’d caught in the lake, lamenting that he’d never had a camera to prove what he described.
Marta hesitated at the frozen shore, but Gil took her mittened hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve done this a thousand times and have never fallen in.”
“All right,” she agreed, letting him lead the way onto the ice.
They found a spot out in the open, not quite halfway to the middle. A flat, white expanse extended in every direction, their footprint trails the only features closer than the boulder-ridden snow-bank beach. Gil cleared a spot, brushing clean a small area down to the bumpy grey ice. He held his hand out to Johnny, backing away as his brother drew his knife. The blade struck once, then twice, and as Johnny chipped away, Marta seemed to notice something in the distance.
“Is that a…?” Her voice trailed off.
Gil checked where she was looking and grabbed his brother’s jacket before he managed another stab. “It’s a fucking bear.”
“That’s impossible,” Johnny said, staring. “Aren’t they all supposed to be hibernating or something?”
The creature, at first glance just a black spot lumbering around on the ice, had started moving toward them at an accelerated pace. “It’s seen us,” Marta said.
“We should run!” Gil shouted, throwing down his rod.
As they raced across the frozen lake, the bear drew closer. They heard a growl as Johnny shouted, “Run faster! It smells like rotten garbage!”
Marta was ahead of them when the ice shuddered with a groan. “What do we do?” she asked, sliding to a stop and looking back. There was something wrong with the bear. She could see it right away. Its eyes glowed red, it had fangs as big as its head, and its razor-sharp claws were far too long and pointy. She screamed, “Vampire bear!”
“Shit!” the twins cried simultaneously.
Ignoring the groans of the ice and the cracks that were forming, they fled towards the thin spots where puddles of lake water seeped through. A loud snap rang out as the frozen surface of the lake split into two massive plates. The world tilted and the boys leapt, hanging on to the fractured ice, but Marta slid past them, screaming until there was a splash. “No!” Johnny shouted, reaching into the freezing water and grabbing hold of her. Gil moved in to help, smelling something rancid behind his head–warm breath followed by a loud snap. The vampire bear was an arm’s length away, balancing on its slab of ice, trying desperately to take a bite.