The town slept as the sun dipped into mountains, but as the night air flooded coolly into town, they were awakened at the sound of footsteps. Strange, they thought as not many rolled into town at this time of day, and even less carried a man-sized coffin behind them.
His hair was a thick black, the color of night, and his face sat behind a soft, red scarf. He walked with no hesitation as the eyes lining the two-story houses and small-time shops observed his every move. His blue eyes returned their gazes one at a time, and slowly, the townsfolk turned to each other, their whispers quieter than the night’s melody. Eventually, as darkness began to sweep over the town, one of them drew courage and approached the newcomer.
“Hello.” The town’s local food supplier, Big Bill, stood at over seven feet tall, but in the man’s presence he couldn’t help but shake. “My I help you find something?”
“I don’t think so.” The man drew to a stop at the center of the town, once of the few spots still baked in sunlight and smiled. “Unless you’d like to help with the barbecue.”
“Barbecue?” If this were just any person, Big Bill would know exactly what to do, but from how confidentially the man smiled and his setup, Bill began to wonder how much this stranger knew. “A little late for a barbecue, isn’t it?”
“I mean, if you’re not hungry you don’t have to eat.” He shrugged and opened the coffin to reveal a portable, metal grill. “In the end, I want to do whatever makes the most people happy.”
“And we’re the people?”
“No, but that doesn’t give me the excuse to be cruel.” He said it in such a nonchalant manner that it took Bill several seconds to fully comprehend him.
“You… you’re.” For a second, Bill considered lunging, but while the man was still covered in sunlight, there was nothing he could do. Instead, he was forced to endure this conversation with this stranger who clearly knew too much. On top of that, more of the townsfolk had begun to emerge from the shadows of their houses. “How much do you know?”
“A lot. The top of which is how to make an amazing final meal.” He replied after slapping a variety of meat onto the grill and starting it.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know. I just like talking with people. It makes this a lot more enjoyable.”
“Just answer the questions.” The villagers had the man surrounded, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Well, I know the fair share of you are vampires, just like me.” He pulled back the scarf to reveal two bite marks on his neck, and the town immediately shot each other glances. “Of course, if you aren’t vampires, feel free to burn me. I’ve got no qualms.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” One of the townsfolk, a maiden with skin rich as diamond, asked. “Do you not care if you live?”
“Of course, I do.” His blue eyes sparked. “I love life. This world has so much to offer, and it’s treated me better than I ever deserved. However, I’m also aware that it has given me more than I deserve, and if the way for me to give back to it is to die, so be it.”
“Easier said than done.” Bill scoffed. “I’ve known plenty of people that’ve said the same thing.”
“Well, you got me there.” The man nodded to Bill. “I assume you’re the leader?”
“Not quite. He’s more of a righthand man type of fellow.” A tall, pale man in a suit and tie approached the man and held out his hand. “Name’s Cassius.”
“Eric.” The man confidently took it, despite the growing suspicion in Cassius’s eyes. “Of course, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.”
“More so how you’re walking about in sunlight.”
“And how you knew we were here.” Bill added.
“Well, that’s actually really simple.” Eric withdrew his gloved hand from Cassius’s and slowly shifted his eyes around the crowd. “I’ll answer the big guy’s question first. Basically, I started out my journey as a member of the Association.”
A chill swept through the crowd, and an immediate aura a fear drowned the town. If this man was from the Association, then their worst fears had been realized, and several of them prepared to lung for his throat, more than willing to sacrifice their bodies if it meant giving the others a chance. However, Cassius kept them at bay with a threatening glare as he wished to hear the end of the story before rushing to defend himself. Unlike the other, Cassius had been around long another to know the Association didn’t employ the supernatural.
“Go on.” He motioned.
“Thank you.” Eric smiled. “Anyway, after ten years, while I was one of the hunts, one of… our kind got the jump on me. However, since I was part of the Association, it decided to turn me instead of killing me. At that point, I knew there was no returning, so I faked my death and went on the run.”
“So, you found us how?”
“Tracked missing people and did some surveillance from afar. My time with the Association gave me a lot of practice noticing when vampires were at work.”
“Indeed.” Cassius narrowed his eyes, knowing that the most important questions had yet to be answered. “But, if I may, how are you able to move in the sunlight, and more importantly, how do we know you’re even a vampire.”
“Well, the neck, but you might not have seen that, so I’ll let you decide.” Eric pulled a knife from his belt and ran it across his palm causing blood to spill through his glove. Cassius took the hint and dipped his hand under the bloodstream, catching some on his fingers. He then held up the blood for one of his followers on the off chance the blood was poisoned or contaminated with holy water. However, when the woman behind him stepped forward to taste it, her only reaction was disgust, proving it was the blood of a vampire.
“Happy?” Eric asked.
“For now.” Cassius replied. “Now, the sun if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. In fact, it was the why I came here.” He motioned to the grill. “As I said, I used to be a member of the Association. As such, I was privy to a lot of their underground dealings. One of which happened to be with a scientist of sort, and I offered myself up as one of his testing subjects. It took a few years, but he engineered a serum that allows us to walk in the sunlight from a limited time.”
Once again, hundreds of glanced passed through the townsfolk, and for a moment no one spoke, not even Cassius. If sunwalking was possible for them, they could finally abandon this town and live normal lives. The idea was almost as savory as the gas rising up from the grill.
“Do you have the serum with you?” Bill asked, and Eric nodded.
“I have two versions. The first is the direct serum that has to be administered into the bloodstream. The second is a pill version that I’ve molded into the meat.”
“And all we have to do is eat it?”
“That’s the start. In truth, it’s like building up an immunity and I’ll have to administer the same serum each day in varying doses for up to a month.” It was more than a reasonable price, but that’s what made it dangerous.
“And… if I may.” Cassius cast his cold stare around his fellow vampires, instructing them to remain silent through the rest of the conversation. “What will this cost us?”
“I figured I’d let you all decide the price.”
“How generous, almost too generous.” Cassius leaned forward. “With this, you could be setting any price you want. Why let us decide?”
“Because I want you all to obtain it.” He chuckled, hiding the underlying sadness in his voice. “There are so many vampire clans out there, no matter how much I’ll charge, I’ll get to the billions eventually.”
“So, you’re just a good Samaritan?”
“No, I’m pretty much the worst person you’ll ever meet.” He sighed. “I’ve killed so many people, both in and out of the Association. I’ve taken so many lives, and at this point, the only thing keeping me going is the thought that the ones I’ll save will outweigh them.”
“So, you think saving us will lessen your guilt?” Cassius raised an eyebrow, ignoring the fact that his lungs had begun to groan inside him.
“No, but the world’s so beautiful, especially during the day. I want you all to have a chance to see that.”
“So, that’s all there is?” Cassius had more questions, but as the moon rose into the smokey sky, he’d grown progressively more tired and wished to end the interrogation before he let it show. “How many serums do you have?”
“Roughly two hundred now, but I have a small hideout a day’s drive where I’m holding the rest. These should be able to get you through the first two days, although do not give any of them to non-vampires or it could kill them.”
“Understood.” Despite a majority of the town being vampires, there were a few families that hadn’t been turned and the majority of kids below 18 were waiting until they reached the ideal age before being turned.
“So, it’s alright then, Boss?” Big Bill finally asked, and Cassius nodded.
“Yes, but we’ll take them in shifts. At first only ten of you will try the serums.” He locked eyes with Eric. “We have to be cautious in case this is still some type of trick.
“Completely understandable. In that case, I would advise they eat the ones in the food that way the food doesn’t go to waste.”
“They’ll go half and half and randomly pick the serums.” He turned to the crowd. “Do we have any volunteers?”
Twenty hands shot up in response, and Cassius proceeded to name off the ones to be chosen. While he did so, he made sure to include several of the newly turned vampires due to them being most vulnerable to poison. In addition, he chose Big Bill so that if there was something that only affected stronger vampires, they would be able to detect it.
Eric gave no reaction aside from turning over the meat on the grill, releasing another wave of gas around the vampires. The smell immediately caused Cassius’s insides to turn over, and he presumed it was from the fact that he hadn’t eaten yet. The night was young, and the hunt was about to begin, as soon as they finished this ordeal. However, much to Cassius’s dismay, the meat took much longer than he expected to fully cook, particularly the steaks Eric slapped on. On top of that, every second, the vampires’ eyes grew heavier, and their insides grew more impatient.
Cassius assumed the feeling was from the lack of blood in their veins and ordered one of the townsfolk to bring them some of their bloodstock to replenish their energy. However, even when the blood arrived and Cassius consumed his dose, he’d never felt more exhausted. Fortunately, at that point, Eric’s meal was finished, and slowly, he passed out the barbecued food and individual serums to the ten vampires selected while Cassius and the others kept watch despite their energy slowly being sapped by the night air.
The vampires gave little hesitation before injecting the serums and devouring the meat, but as the moon reached its peak, the town grew suspiciously quiet. Even the stronger vampires were having trouble keeping their eyes on Eric as he poured a final bottle of water on the grill, quelling the flames and releasing a final, massive wave of gas, and as the evaporated water passed over the crowd, a massive jolt of pain erupted through them.
Falling to the ground, Cassius’s eyes widened as he realized what had just happened, but his lungs had already sustained too much damage for him to do anything. Indeed, their suspicions were correct, although not in the way they thought as Eric delivered a kick to Big Bill’s chest sending largest vampire sprawling onto the ground. The others were not far behind, as their bodies had already inhaled too much to maintain control of their lower body, and one by one, they all limply collapsed.
“Don’t breathe the gas.” Cassius grunted, but it was too late for him and his vampire townsfolk. They’d fallen prey to their predator’s trap for it wasn’t the food, the serum, or any concealed weapons that were used against them. It was the gas from the grill that they’d been breathing this entire time, a gas that had come from evaporated holy water. The final wave that Eric had released at the end was merely the point to push them over the edge and to their doom.
“I’m sorry.” Eric knelt down in front of the leader, his blue eyes strangely sympathetic. “However, we both know this has to be done.”
“You filthy… coward.” Rage sputtered through Cassius’s clogged veins. “You’d betray your own kind.”
“Yes, but you’re not my kind.” Eric removed the gloves from his hands revealing small packets of vampire blood lining the insides of them. “Although it’s true I was bitten, I was able to extract the blood before I turned.”
“I should’ve torn your throat out!”
“And I’m thankful that you didn’t. I should be dead, but this world’s too good to me.” His voice echoed with sincerity. “For what it’s worth, I really wish there was another way.”
“No, you don’t, you filthy human.” Cassius tried to push himself to his feet, but the hour of inhaling holy water had weakened his insides to the point where he couldn’t even stand.
“I do, but I’m also a realist. If I can save more people be killing you, then that’s task I must take as a member of the Association.” He answered as he placed the rest of the food he’d cooked in front of the other dying vampires. “I’m sorry it had to be this way. However, if you all would like, I laced this meat with some of my blood, so that you could all have a final meal.”
“Don’t trust him.” Cassius growled, but deep down, he knew they were doomed either way.
“If you’re not interested, I’m not going to force you to eat. In the end, you can all chose how you spend your last moments. I just wanted to make this easier on all of us.” Eric’s voice rang over the vampires, and one by one, they began to succumb, eating their final meal as Eric slowly and painlessly decapitated them. Eventually, only Cassius remained, and with a final hate filled stare, he turned to the meat before him.
Many times in his life, Cassius had tasted death, although he’d always been on the giving end. For a moment, he recalled the fear in his victim’s eyes, and silently, he wondered if they were waiting on the other side. He wouldn’t blame after what he did, but even so, he couldn’t help but tremble as he bit into the meat. However, as Eric’s blade loomed overhead and the deathly grasp that’d been forever coiled around his body coiled around his body tightened, Cassius couldn’t help but feeling warm. True to his word, Eric had laced the meat with blood, fresh blood, and for once in Cassius’s life, death lost its grip on him.