by Robyn Bachar
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61922-457-5
Print ISBN: 971-1-61922-923-5
[ Paranormal Romance, FFM ]
After an out-of-control spell triggers the zombie apocalypse, Lizzy Addams is left in the ruins of Chicago with only the slightly unhinged commentary—and endless erotic appetites—of her inner demon for company. Her blood supply dwindling, she is forced to find survivors to feed from, or die trying.
The apocalypse was boring. Don’t get me wrong—for a week or two it was filled with screaming violence and burnination, but after that died down things became monotonous. Before the power went out I spent some time watching zombies fry themselves on the electrified L rails, but that got old pretty fast. Each night I left my lair to look for survivors but ended up watching zombies shuffle around the Loop. I returned home empty-handed and a little hungrier and more desperate than the night before.
I missed humanity, and not just because I was starving. Never thought I’d go hungry in a city with a few million inhabitants, but the apocalypse dried up my food supply. I needed blood—human blood—and the blood banks weren’t operational anymore. I needed to find a live donor, and I was almost out of time.
“This wouldn’t have happened if you kept a flock like a normal vampire.”
“Shut up, Elizabeth,” I said. I didn’t get along with the voice in my head. Mainly because she’s a psycho demon bitch, but for once she had a valid point. If I hadn’t sworn off feeding from the living I’d just be bored, instead of bored and wasting away from hunger.
I was just about to give up and go home when I heard the gunshot. My head whipped toward the sound—two blocks away, maybe three. Hard to judge from the echo off the buildings. Two more pops followed, and I bolted in that direction. I leapt from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of the noise. Every mobile corpse within earshot would’ve heard the sound and be headed toward it too.
Another gunshot and I skidded to a stop. The worn bottoms of my pink Chucks slipped on the icy gravel, and I looked over the edge of the roof and spotted a heavy-duty police SUV stopped in the middle of the street. Three people struggled to shove debris out of its way—the path was littered with the blackened skeletons of what’d once been vehicles. One lone gunman tried to hold off a dozen or so advancing corpses.
Humans—not another roving group of foraging werewolves that I’d been trying to avoid, but real, living, breathing potential blood donors. My fangs dropped and my inner demon drooled, but I wasn’t going to swoop down on some poor bastard survivors like a vampire hawk. That was something my Master would do, and I struggled to be better than that.
With a disgruntled sigh, I settled for casting a wall of fire between the humans and the zombies. Elizabeth lectured me about wasting power when I didn’t have magic to spare, but the humans weren’t going to get the obstacles out of their way before more mobs appeared. It’s not like whatever the wrecks had been—sedans maybe—were going to roll nicely with their twisted frames and melted tires. I could clear the path for the people.
“Or you could eat them.”
“Shut up, Elizabeth,” I muttered. Besides, there were too many to eat. I might be able to nom one, but the rest would shoot me just as sure as the zombies they were dropping. Movement flickered behind the SUV’s dark windows—passengers. What the hell were that many living people doing out here? And headed north? Were they hoping for survivors in Kenosha? Armed militant Yoopers? A better life and health insurance in Canada? East made more sense to me. It’s where I’d go if I had no other choice. East toward my Master…
Instead of flicking the obstacles away with my magic, I grabbed the SUV and the people outside of it and levitated them to the rooftop of the building next to me. Higher ground was usually safe. From what I’d seen, mobs didn’t climb very well and they rarely looked up. Mobs had limited programming, like the mobile objects in video games that I’d nicknamed them after.
The humans yelped like startled puppies, because even during the apocalypse that sort of shit is unusual. Before the end of the world I would have been in twelve kinds of trouble with my vampire brethren for pulling a public stunt like that, probably resulting in a death sentence, but the fact that the world was now crawling with mobile corpses had spilled the beans that the dead stalked the night.
The guy with the gun sighted on me and fired, and a bullet slammed into my shoulder.
“Fucking hell! Are you mental?” I shouted after I hit the deck. Talk about lack of gratitude. This is why I prefer dogs to people. I’d never been shot by a dog after I rescued it, not even bitten. I’d take a dog bite over a bullet any day.
“Freeze,” someone yelled.
I rolled my eyes. Wonderful. I rescued some lame, tough-cop cliché. Why couldn’t I rescue a handsome-doctor cliché?
“It’s December. I’m already freezing my damn ass off,” I retorted. “And you put two holes in my best coat. This is cashmere!”
My words appeared to give the humans a moment of pause. The fact that I wasn’t snarling incoherently and was instead speaking the King’s English should be a hint that I wasn’t a mob. Or at least that I was a high-level mob, like an elite boss. A vampire of my age had to be worth a decent amount of experience points (and there was no way they could kill me with a single shot).
I raised one hand and flipped them off. “If you shoot me again I will feed you that gun.”
Another pause. I rolled to a sitting position and prodded the bullet hole. It’d gone clean through, so at least I didn’t have a big metal splinter lodged somewhere in my body. I’d never been shot before. Apparently there was a first time for everything.
Definitely a cop cliché, but this time I recognized it as a woman’s voice. Huh. Well, two could play at that game. “Sorry, Officer. I left my license and registration in my other coat.”
Somebody snickered and was shushed. “I’m gonna stand up. Real slow. Don’t shoot.” I stumbled to my feet and braced myself against the low brick wall that edged the roof. My gas tank o’ magic was officially running on fumes. It’d be a miracle if I could make it home, but I had no idea what I’d do when I got there. Never pays being the good guy. Girl. Whatever. My stomach twisted into tighter knots at the thought that I might not be able to make it back without biting one of the humans. I definitely wouldn’t make it another night without feeding. I could go to Philippe’s lair and debase myself in return for feeding from his flock…
“Shut up, Elizabeth.” Death was preferable to the price Philippe would demand I pay. At least I’d die with my dignity intact.
Glancing over the building’s edge, I noticed two things. One, that my spell had set a few things ablaze before it timed out. Oops. Nice, Lizzy. Way to start the second Great Chicago Fire. Second, the street was now wall-to-wall mobs. The light from the flames breathed awful details into the scene. The apocalypse had stolen color from the night—no streetlamps, no headlights, no flashing neon signs or bright LED billboards. In the darkness it was easier to pretend that nothing was wrong and that the mobs were just average pedestrians, but light revealed their ghoulish nature.
I pointed into the street. “Children, that is why you don’t fire a gun without a silencer anymore. You just rang the dinner bell.”
“I’d use one if I had one,” she replied, confirming that the gunman was a gunwoman.
Chicago winters were rough, and it’s hard to spot a person’s gender when they wore twenty pounds of protective clothing to keep warm.
“I’ve got a couple silencers.” I raised my hands above my head like a surrendering felon. “In fact, I have extra guns. Ammo. Shelter. Working electricity. Hot water. Food. Interested?”
“What’s the catch?” This came from one of the men who’d been frantically trying to clear the road. He was pretty, and I never trusted a pretty man. My Master was pretty, and as I’d come to learn, pretty men made you suffer. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to be picky.
With my enhanced vampire night vision I studied the humans—two men, the gunwoman, a woman with a butch buzzcut who really ought to be wearing a hat in this weather, and an unknown quantity of people who continued to hide in the car. They were rumpled but seemed no worse for the wear. The woman who’d shot me wore a bulky uniform with the blue and white flag patch of the city of Chicago sewn on her jacket. CPD. I really had rescued a cop.
“The catch is that it’s not free. If I feed you, you feed me.”
The humans were appropriately startled. Though really, was I honestly the weirdest
thing they’d seen since the world ended? I’d seen some fucked-up shenanigans these past
few weeks, and after a few centuries of unlife and times, that was saying something.
“Feed you?” the gun-happy cop asked.
“I’m a vampire.” I pointed to the fangs for emphasis, but they probably couldn’t see them. Humans aren’t known for their night vision. Elizabeth warned that I couldn’t trust so many humans in my lair. They were needy and disagreeable like infants, and could put a stake through my heart while I slept as gratitude for saving them. Maybe I could convince one or two to stay with me as payment and kick the others out. Two could keep me fed. Two could keep me alive. Seemed fair.
“Vampires aren’t real,” she replied.
“Did you not notice the zombies?” I leaned on the bricks and looked down. “Shambling horde as far as the eye can see.”
The gun wavered. “They said it’s a virus.”
I snorted. “Right, like something some science nerd cooked up in a lab is really going to bring the dead back to life. What, you thought this was anthrax? No, wait, terrorists. Al-Qaeda!”
“That’s not funny.”
“I’m not laughing, Officer. Look, it’s very simple. I have a nice, safe mob-proof place—”
“Mob?” Mr. Pretty interrupted.
“Mobiles. Mobile objects. Mobs. What, no gamers?” I asked, and received a chorus of bewildered head shakes in reply. “Pity. I like mob better, because zombie carries a lot of B-movie baggage. Anyway, I can take you to my place, and you can clean up, get some rest. Have a few hot meals. And in return, I get a few hot meals. It’s win-win. And before you go all Van Helsing on me, let me assure you, I don’t kill to feed. And unlike those assholes down there, my bite is not infectious.”
“Why should we trust you?” Mr. Pretty was suspicious. I was disinclined to trust those high cheekbones and pouty lips.
“Why should I trust you?” I countered. “The living are assholes. I hate being chased by villagers with torches and pitchforks. But, if you’d rather take your chances, I can put you back where I found you.” I made a great show out of glancing down into the street.
“No!” He took a step forward, alarmed. Good thing he didn’t call my bluff. I’d be lucky if I had enough giddyup left to make it from my roof to theirs. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing—falling to my death because I couldn’t make a long jump after my amazing display of magic. Well, the fall wouldn’t kill me. Being ripped apart after I landed would. Mr. Pretty touched the cop’s arm until she lowered her weapon. Good. Progress.
“How does this work?” the cop asked.
“I join you on your rooftop and we all introduce ourselves like civilized people. Then I bite a volunteer, after which I fly you all back to my place where you can eat, sleep, shower, do laundry, whatever floats your boat. Acceptable?” I got a round of nods. “Okay. I’m coming over. Don’t frickin’ shoot me.”
I eyed the distance between the two buildings. I could probably make it with an old-fashioned jump, except that my legs are short. Ignoring the internal warning about my imminent collapse, I flew over. When my shoes hit the other roof I knew I’d done something stupid, because my hands shook like an addict who’d gone too long without a fix.
The cop swore softly, and I smiled my fangtastic grin. “Make it quick, moonlight’s wasting. I’m Lizzy Addams. And you are?” I prompted.
“Officer Angela Kinney.”
This close I was able to clearly see her features, and her long lashes and heart-shaped face were decidedly feminine and attractive. She was young, probably mid-twenties, and African American. She went around the group and introduced the others. Mr. Pretty was a thirty-something named Gabriel Harper. The buzz-cut chick was Suzanne Goetz, the other guy on debris-pushing detail was Manuel Sanchez, and apparently stuffed into the cruiser were two more women and four kids.
I opened my mouth to ask for a volunteer, and noticed just a fraction too late that a priest’s collar peeked out from under Manuel’s overcoat and that he was eyeing me in an unfriendly manner. He spat at me in Latin and pulled a cross that exploded with blinding light. The image seared into my retinas as holy fire hit me full blast.
I’d rescued a damn priest. What a fucking way to die.
My inner demon shrieked, and I hissed like a pissed-off alley cat and bolted. I slammed against the roof ’s edge and toppled over it like a drunk after the bars close, then crashed through the plastic top of a Dumpster in the alley. For a moment I was relieved to be out of the burning, but it was quickly followed by the sudden onset of the what-the-fuck pain of my landing.
The world had ended before garbage day, so I was up to my ass in trash bags that stank like rancid vomit. Mobs descended on my Dumpster in a sea of arms outstretched to grab and devour me. Like sharks in a feeding frenzy, they were programmed to bite first and ask questions later. My pink Chucks had no traction as I tried to climb atop the Dumpster, and I slipped and struggled. Ugh. Death by fashion. I should’ve gone for the Doc Martens.
Mobs weren’t good at ladders, but they could handle climbing short distances, and two toppled over the edge and into the garbage. I tried to kick myself into flight, but my magic fizzled and refused to cooperate. No fuel, no magic. One of the trash zombies’ rotted teeth sank through my jeans and into my leg, and I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I ripped my leg away, losing a chunk of flesh and muscle in the process, and with a rush of pure terror I vaulted out of the garbage and into the alley. When I hit the ground my wounded leg buckled and I collapsed. The dead closed over me like an ocean wave and clawed at my cashmere coat with frostbitten fingers until I wriggled out of it and broke free. I booked it as best I could, ducking and weaving through the crowd.
Despite my fear, I had enough sense left to run down the alley away from the spot the humans had been. I emerged into the street opposite, found it likewise occupied by mobs, and cursed as I headed into the next alley. A metal fire escape clung to the side of the building to my right, and I leapt, pulled the ladder down and hustled up it as my wounded leg fought me the whole way. When I reached the roof I sighed with relief and lay flat, staring up at the full moon as hunger raged through me like a slavering, rabid dog.
I needed to feed, and the only living humans in Chicago were traveling with a priest with a grudge. I wouldn’t make it home without blood—hell, I wouldn’t make it off this rooftop. In a few hours the sun would rise and I’d be Lizzy Addams flambé.
It sucked to be a vampire at the end of the world.