As the sun drooped below the horizon and painted the sky with blood, Vincens Borde flicked on the UV lights.
Behind him, his two assistants busied themselves about the kitchen. Two kids, but good kids. Well, good enough when you considered the options at his disposal. It had gotten harder to find people who wanted to work in a kitchen under the care of an admitted megalomaniac. And Vincens knew that the recent scourge hadn’t been the sole cause. Did it have something to do with the pittance he paid his employees? He shook his head. No, it couldn’t be. After all — think of the tips.
The smell of garlic and onion — pungent and ever righteous — wafted from the back. Vincens inhaled, slow and deep, and smiled through the multi-barred windows. The UVs illuminated the ravaged street outside. The new management had cleaned up, but the ruination remained clear in humanity’s absence. Another night to get through, another 11 or so hours until sunshine blessed them.
Vincens double-checked the deadbolts on the door — you couldn’t be too careful — and nodded once more. They didn’t get many in-person customers these days, so the importance of a warm welcome had since receded. No, their custom came from home deliveries, for which Suhail shouldered the responsibility. Suhail had once told him that his name meant ‘gentle’, and Vincens couldn’t help but chuckle. He could call Suhail a lot of things but never gentle.
An annoying little jingle sparked up right behind him. Vincens spun around with a grimace on his countenance. “London, I thought I told you to put that blasted thing on mute! What will—” What will the customers think? He shook his head. “Turn that damned thing off.” Vincens grabbed the device and tossed it in the direction of the blindsided teen.
London caught the phone with no trouble and flashed him a guilty grin. “Sorry, boss.”
He rubbed his ears. “It sounds so godamnned tinny, too. You need to buy a new one with a fixed speaker.”
She shrugged. “Then you need to pay us better, then, huh?”
“And get Amazon back up and running, so we can order one,” said Neil. He waggled the oil-coated spatula in Vincens’s direction.
“I’ll send over Suhail to knock on the front door of Bezos’s bunker, see if he’s still kicking around down there.”
Glee lit up Neil’s eyes. “You see? Even when we think we have him cornered, he skips past the issue entirely and goes straight to the next point. Well, I for one think we should unionise an—”
Vincens threatened with a pointed finger. “Shut up and get back to work, you! You’re burning those onions.”
Neil pouted. “They’re caramelising.”
“You’ll be caramelising if I hear any more talk of unionising! Now—” he twizzled his finger mid-air “—turn around. And get back to work.”
“Yes, boss.” Neil flashed a thumbs up and crossed his eyes. But, to his credit, he did as told.
Vincens shook his head, but he couldn’t hide the smile that touched the corners of his lips. “Smartass.”
“Uh, boss? You might wanna see this.” London stared at her phone, the blue light illuminating the blemishes on her face.
Vincens narrowed his eyes. “See what?”
“Um, our Tripadvisor page?”
Acid tongues licked the back of his throat. “What of it?”
“Well, it’s just—” She sighed and turned the phone to face him.
“One and a half points?” Vincens squinted at the screen, and his voice came out low and muffled. He didn’t grasp what he’d read, but realisation’s shadow crept forward in the back of his mind. “One and a half points?” He looked at her, face incredulous, back to the phone. London braced herself. “One—” he slammed a fist on the countertop “—and a half—” he hit again “—points? What the absolute—” London flinched as the expletives vomited from his mouth. His cheeks had turned a somewhat bruised shade of purple. “Weren’t we at four and a half?”
“Well, when did it change?”
The teen shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno, I don’t run the site.”
“Well, find out.” Vincens waggled his chubby fingers at the alien device. “Hack it or whatever the hell it is you kids do. Run a—” He struggled for the words.
The two teens looked at him with encouragement in their eyes. “Yes?” said Neil. His smirk peeked behind the facade like sunshine through a cloud.
“A what, Vincens?” said London. She gave him puppy-dog eyes that he’d learned by now to take as a mockery. Jesus, God in Heaven, what was the world coming to when your two only employees could mock you?
“I don’t know, a-a-a bypass on their mainframe, go in through the backdoor!”
Neil chuckled and turned back to the frying pan. “All right, all right, no need to get dirty, Vincens.”
“Wait wait wait a minute,” said London. She scrolled at lightning speed across the phone’s cracked display. “All these reviews came from last week.” She shook her head. “No way in hell did we serve 1,000 people last week.” Her eyes locked with Vincens’s. “Did we?”
“No.” He ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Not a chance. I don’t even think 1,000 people remain in this cit—” The words hitched in his throat as an idea arrived in his brain. Given how London’s eyes widened, she had the same clue, too.
She tapped away at the screen; her painted nails clicked and clacked. “Blamore Azrail. Dolores Media. Lamina Malvolia. Ernaline Raven. Claec Alastor. Githinji Ozul. Dway—”
Vincens cut her off with one howled curse. The strength of the head chef’s language made even the two teens cringe. The man brought his fist down on the counter again, followed by a deep crack in the wood.
For a heartbeat, the trio stood there in the kitchen, silent. In the background, the onions continued to sizzle. Only now, they didn’t quite smell as delicious.
London tilted her head and gazed at the ceiling. “Did you ever wonder how they got such funky names? Like, were there actual humans born with these names that the vamps turned? Or do they change their names after the fact?”
Neil laughed. “Yeah, like, can you imagine a vampire named, like, Stan Smith?”
“Or Steve Peterson?”
“Or Peter Stevenson?”
“GODDAMNIT! THIS IS NOT WHAT’S IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW! HOW AND WHY DID THEY TARGET—” Vincens stamped his feet to emphasise each word “—MY RESTAURANT?”
London shrugged again. “Dunno. Maybe they can’t get to the last of us, so they’re just doing this to peeve us off?”
Neil clicked his fingers and began to nod — he’d since reduced the heat under the onions. “It makes complete sense! Think about it. They can’t sink their teeth into our skin, so they’re trying to get under our skin.”
Vincens growled, and his eyes glowed the same shade as the still-hot stovetop. “Well, it’s working.”
“How did they even find us online?” London chewed her lip, her brow furrowed.
Neil licked the spatula. Fury gripped Vincens so tight that he didn’t even see. “Well, we’re the only human restaurant still operating in the city.” The boy pulled a face. “It can’t have been hard.”
“No, what I mean is, how did they even get online in the first place? I thought their whole shtick was that they weren’t allowed to use modern human technology? Didn’t their creator want to go back to—” she did air quotations and adopted a Lugosian accent “—the old ways? Didn’t He — It? —forbid the younglings from touching such sacrilegious objects as a smartphone?”
“Oh.” Neil frowned. “Yeah. Well, maybe the younger kids formed a rebellion?”
At the sound of the final word, Vincens’s face lit up.
The young woman nodded. “Hey, yeah! Maybe eternal life wasn’t so great after all, and now they miss their iTunes and Snapchat filters.” But Vincens didn’t hear her. Instead, a plan had formed inside his tired old mind; it sunk its teeth into his psyche and latched on tight.
Neil snorted. “Yeah, and they need them, judging by some of the sights I saw on my way over here. Remember those old ‘Zombify Me’ apps? Well, these suckers sure as hell don’t need ’em. They got the real thing, if only they could look into the mirror to see it.”
The kids didn’t notice when Vincens slipped away. Nor did they respond when he flipped a chair upside-down onto a table and pulled out a meat cleaver. Instead, he muttered and grumbled to himself and shook his head as he worked.
“Maybe that’s why they always wear leather,” London said. “They can’t see what they’re wearing so they figure, hey, at least it all matches, right?”
Neil snorted again. “Yeah, and, damn, it worked for Keith Richards, right? I swear that dude’s been dead since the sixties. Last I heard he was still going.”
“Nope. Good ol’ fashioned hue-man bean.”
“Wow. Christ. I wonder how old he is?”
“Dunno. He probably knew Big Bad back in the day.” Neil puffed air out of his nose. “Hell, he probably knew him before he became whatever the hell he is now. This papa of the undead, or whatever. Y’know—”
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
All eyes swivelled to Vincens as he undid the last of the restaurant’s deadbolts. The conclusive click resonated within their juicy, red, blood-pumping hearts. The twilight-stalkers shared some features with their Hollywood replicas, but not everything. These creatures required no invitation to cross a threshold.
Their boss turned to them, cheeks flushed, eyes whiter than bone. In his hands, he held the thing he’d made. All over the floor, wood shavings from the table leg lay scattered. On a typical day, Vincens would have had an apoplectic fit over the state of his restaurant. But, as it stood, he’d been the one to create the mess.
“First, they came for my family and friends.” He spoke low and quiet, a far cry from his usual bark and roar. “Then they took over the entire planet and crushed our societies like anthills. Then they forced us to scuttle about whilst they slept, like cockroaches from the light. But now—” he shook his head “—now they’ve gone too far.” He jabbed the stake’s point in their direction: “They’ve left my restaurant bad reviews.”
“Wait, what?” Neil continued to grin. Only the smile didn’t reach his eyes. As if he understood what would happen, yet he wanted to believe it to be no more than a joke. But he’d never known chef as an elaborate prankster, only as a creator of nicknames and crude insults.
“No, wait, don’t do th—” London reached for him, but Vincens paid her no mind.
“It is time—” his voice rose in volume as he swung the door open to the night “—MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS! WE MUST RISE UP!” He flashed them one last wild-eyed look before he exploded into the gloaming with a banshee’s warcry.