Chapter 1

I like kids. I really do. Part of the reason I did that internship with my old 6th grade teacher back when I was in high school was because I like hanging around kids. Heck, when I get married, I’d always planned on having at least three kids, probably more.

However, volunteering in the children’s department of my local library made me frequently reconsider that idea.

I was always taught that when you’re in a library, then you stay quiet as a mouse. No loud noises, talk in a very hushed whisper, and absolutely no running for any reason. Unfortunately for me, no one seems to have told that to the kids nowadays. They would run through the shelves screaming like little banshees, playing tag with their friends and siblings, and screaming for their parents when they were bored or hungry or thirsty or couldn’t find their book they were looking for. And their parents would just tell them to “shush” and not stop them, or else just ignore the little brats. And we’re not allowed to discipline them because we might get sued. No lie, it did happen once, and ever since we’re not allowed to stop the kids from doing anything unless they’re climbing the shelves or doing something else that might end with them hurting themselves or someone else.

Ever feel like putting your head through a wall?

This particular Tuesday evening was, frustratingly, no exception. Actually, it was even worse. There was a program for the Summer Reading Club going on, and that meant even more kids would be in the library, tearing around like little devils and giving me and Kristin, the other Children’s volunteer, migraines. Fortunately, that ended for the most part once the program stared; most of the kids were herded into one of the department’s meeting rooms by Madison, the head Children’s librarian, while the parents (and little siblings, ugh) waited out front for the program to end. The relative peace and quiet gave Kristin and I a chance to get some important work done: checking in the dozens of books, CDs, and DVDs that the kids and their parents returned when they came for the program. That burned up a good half-hour, which was about half the length of the program. Now we just had to get as many books as we could on the shelves before the little brats came screaming back out front.

“I’ll take those upstairs,” I told Kristen, indicating the pile of books from the main library that had been returned along with the children’s books.

“Would you, please?” she asked. Normally, this was no big deal, but the elevator was broken (again), and that meant hauling a bunch of heavy books up a long flight of stairs in heavy canvas bags.

“Sure, not a problem,” I said, “I’ll be back in a few.”

“Don’t take too long,” she said, “I want to get this done before those monsters come back.”

“You and me both,” I said with a laugh, ignoring the glares that a trio of soccer moms shot our way. I finished bagging up the books and headed off towards the staircase. At the landing halfway up, I set the bags down for a second to catch my breath. I was nowhere near in the best shape of my life, and those bags were heavy!

I got up the rest of the stairs and to the back room of the main library without any further problems and proceeded to stack the books on one of the shelving carts. There were also a handful of books that belonged to other libraries in the county, so I sorted them out separately. Finished, I glanced at the clock; I had just under twenty-five minutes of peace and quiet left. Better make the most of them. I headed out front, passing behind the desk and shooting Susan, the head librarian, a grin as I headed back for the stairs.

I made it exactly five steps before I heard the scream.

I turned back towards the stacks. That definitely wasn’t a kid’s scream that I heard; it sounded like a fully-grown woman. I looked towards Susan, who shot me a worried glance.

“On it,” I said simply. I started walking over towards nonfiction, where the scream was coming from. As I got closer, I slipped my hand into my pocket and grabbed the butt of my Kel-Tec PF-9. Technically, we weren’t supposed to have any weapons in the library at all, but the rule wasn’t written down anywhere and either way, it’s called concealed carry for a reason.

The woman screamed again, and I started jogging towards the travel section. I turned the corner, and stopped dead in my tracks. A young man, really not much older than me, had an older woman pinned up against the stacks, his lips firmly pressed against her neck. She wasn’t returning his affections; in fact, she looked downright terrified.

“Hey!” I said loudly (I still couldn’t make myself shout in a library), “Get off of her!” The man ignored me. “I said let her go!” I said again. He ignored me again, instead pressing his face harder against her neck. She started screaming even louder, and then something squirted onto the stack across from them. It looked like… blood? Holy shit!

I leapt onto the man’s back, wrapping my arms around his neck and hauling backwards with all my strength. His grip on her slackened with surprise, and I pulled him to the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman collapse against the stacks. Blood was oozing from her neck, but there was no arterial spay, so I figured she would be all right for the moment.

“Stop fighting!” I shouted at the man, who was furiously trying to squirm out of my grip. I felt his hand clamp around my wrist, and then the next thing I knew I was laying flat on my back halfway down the stacks, my head suddenly spinning. What the hell? He’d just thrown me a good ten feet! I rolled over and got to my knees.

“Okay,” I said, “playtime’s over. You’re going…” my words suddenly caught in my throat as I saw the man’s face for the first time. Blood was smeared across his mouth, cheeks, and chin, like he’d beep pigging out at a barbecue. His teeth, especially his incisors, were unnaturally long and pointed. Most disturbing were his eyes; they were completely red; no iris, no pupil, just bright, blood red.

“Holy Mother of God,” I said, “what the …” Then the man let out an inhuman shriek and launched himself at me.

A pair of gunshots suddenly echoed through the stacks and the man disappeared from view. I was shocked to see my Kel-Tec in my hands, smoke drifting lazily out of the barrel. To this day, I don’t remember drawing or firing it. I looked down to see the man – was it a man? – laying face-down on the carpet, a puddle of blood slowly forming around his head.

“Steve!” Susan shouted, “What’s happening?”

“Call 911!” I shouted at her, my voice shaky and cracking, “I just shot someone!”

“What?” she asked. “You shot…” she walked around the corner just then, her eyes going wide at the grizzly scene before her. “What happened? Where did you get that gun?”

“This guy was attacking that woman,” I explained, “biting her on the neck like some kind of vampire or something. I dragged him off her, then he threw me across the room. I got up, he lunged at me, so I shot him. I thought he was gonna kill me, Susan! I think he was high on drugs or something, and there’s something wrong with his teeth…”

“Oh my God,” she said.

“Hey, I thought he was gonna kill me!” I said. Most people around my neighborhood hated guns with a burning passion and thought everyone who owned one was some sort of homicidal lunatic or something. “I was afraid for my life, Susan! I had no‑”

“No, look!” She said, pointing at the dead man. Only he wasn’t dead anymore; he was slowly rising onto all fours.

“Stay down!” I shouted at him, raising the pistol again. “Stay down!” He ignored me, continuing to move into a crawling position, then into a crouch, and then to his feet. As he raised his head towards me, I screamed. I couldn’t help it; the two bullet holes I’d just put in his face were gone. I mean completely healed, not a scar or anything.

With another inhuman shriek, he lunged at me. I fired again, pumping two more nine millimeter hollowpoints into his chest. He staggered backwards, like he’d been punched in the gut, but didn’t fall. I started to walk backwards, firing at him again and again. The bullets seemed to slow him down a bit, but he didn’t drop. In fact, he barely even bled from them; the wounds seemed to heal almost instantly. Then the pistol clicked; I was in slide lock.

“Susan,” I said as the creature locked eyes with me, “RUN!” Susan needed no second bidding, racing towards the emergency exit as I dashed towards the main entrance, desperately fishing in my pocket for my spare magazine. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the man-thing gaining on me fast. I wasn’t going to make it to either the door or the reload. As I ran past the new-nonfiction display, I quickly snatched up the biggest book on the shelf and slammed the creature over the head with it. He staggered back, my sudden attack apparently catching him off guard and knocking him off-balance. I dropped the book and continued to run like hell.

I found my spare magazine just as I reached the main entrance. I slammed it onto the pistol, sling-shotted the slide home, and turned around. My little stunt with the book had bought me less time than I’d thought; the creature was right on my heels. I raised the gun and double-tapped the trigger, shooting the thing point-blank in the face. Again, he dropped like a stone, but I knew that wouldn’t stop him for long. I had to get to my car; had to get into the trunk. I snatched my keys from my belt, jamming my thumb against the remote-unlock button. My Honda’s lights flashed twice, and from twenty feet away I faintly heard the klack of the locks coming off.

From behind me, I heard the unearthly shriek again and cursed. The thing was up and moving again. I turned as I ran, firing one-handed at the creature. He (it?) staggered back as the bullets struck, but they barely seemed to slow him down. Then the little pistol went into slide-lock again, and I dropped it. I had no more reloads.

I was at the car seconds later. I jammed my key into the trunk latch and twisted it so hard that it nearly snapped. The trunk sprang open, and I reached inside for the gun case I had back there. I popped the locks, threw open the lid, and grabbed my new 12-guage Stoeger Coach Gun. Now I was in business. Or so I thought.

I turned back towards the creature just in time to find it right on top of me. I tried to raise the shotgun only to have the creature smash it out of my grip. Pain lanced up my left arm and I screamed in agony as I heard the sound of bones shattering. The thing backhanded me and sent me flying through the air. I crashed into a picnic table, demolishing it.

My head swimming, I watched in detached fascination as the creature leapt a good twenty feet in upwards, arching gracefully through the moonlit sky. About a second before it landed, I realized that it was aiming straight for me. I rolled left just before it crashed into the ground where my head had been. Then it was on me, its hands digging into my shoulders like vices as it brought its mouth towards my neck. I grabbed its chest with my right arm and pushed back against it, but it was like trying to push against a hydraulic press. I couldn’t stop it.

I glanced wildly around for a weapon, but there was none in reach, or at least close enough to grab before the thing bit me. In desperation, I slammed my knee up hard into the creature’s crotch. The creature’s blood-red eyes went wide with shock and a painful-sounding moan escaped its lips. I stopped pushing its chest long enough to haul off with a solid right hook, catching it square in the jaw. It swatted me back to the ground. Stars exploded in my vision as my head slammed against the dirt. My hand brushed against a piece of one of the table’s legs. I grabbed it and swung at the thing like a major-league hitter. Either the thing had a really hard head or else the wood was really cheap, because the table leg exploded in a shower of splinters as it smashed into the creature’s temple.

The blow knocked the creature off me. I scrambled to my feet, still clutching what was left of the table leg. The creature staggered back a few steps, stunned, but recovered in seconds and sprang towards me again. Only this time I was ready for it. Just before it reached me, I shoved the broken end of the table leg into its chest.

The creature let out a horrific scream, so loud that I collapsed to the ground in mutual agony, my good hand pressed against my ear in a desperate yet futile attempt to block out the sound. Over the din, I dimly heard the sound of glass shattering. I looked over at the creature to find it on its knees, hands wrapped around my makeshift stake, trying desperately to pull it out of its body.

After a few seconds, I saw that it was succeeding.

Oh, shit.

I got to my feet and hauled ass back towards my car. I’d bought myself maybe a minute at the most, and I was gonna make the most of it. I needed to get out of there. I reached the car and started digging desperately through my pocket for my keys. They were gone. They weren’t in the trunk latch either. Shit! I looked wildly around the car for them, but to no avail.

Then I heard the creature shriek again.

I looked over to see it staggering slowly towards me, still inching the stake out of its chest. It would be healed and on top of me in a matter of seconds. There was no way I could get away. I was a dead man walking.

A glimmer of metal on the pavement suddenly caught my eye. My keys! I whirled towards the sparkle, and my heart fell into my shoes. It wasn’t my keys, it was just my shotgun.

My shotgun!

I snatched the weapon up and turned to face the creature. It was about five feet from me and closing. It nearly had the stake all the way free. I raised the shotgun, holding it in one hand like a monstrously-oversized pistol, and shoved both barrels into the creature’s open mouth.

“Suck on this, asshole!” I screamed, and then stroked the gun’s twin triggers, discharging both barrels of double-aught buckshot down the creature’s throat.

The next thing I knew, my ears were ringing something terrible, the creature was gone, and I was splattered with blood and gore. I staggered backwards, not quite comprehending what had just happened. The thing, or what was left of it, was lying on its stomach, a pool of blood pouring from the place where the head was supposed to be. I looked around stupidly for a minute, trying to find the thing’s head. It took a second for me to figure out that its head was all over my face.

EEEWWWWWW!

I dropped the shotgun and furiously wiped the blood and – was that brain matter? – off of me. Then I bent over and puked my dinner all over the pavement.

I slowly became aware of the sound of sirens behind me. I turned around towards the parking lot entrance and almost fell over. My head was spinning faster than out-of-control merry-go-round. A pair of police Crown Victorias had pulled into the parking lot. The officers were out of their cars, crouched behind the open doors, aiming their pistols at me. They were shouting something at me, too.

“I’m okay,” I said, dimly aware that my ulna was poking out from my left forearm. That was kinda cool, but wasn’t it supposed to stay inside? And why was the end all pointy? Ah, whatever. “I’ve just got a bone sticking out of my arm,” I told the cops. I turned and pointed towards the now-headless creature. “Him… ah… not so much. Hey, are those Glocks?”

Then I passed out.

Chapter 2

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