Friday, September 20, 2013
I will not fail tonight.
I say these words to myself as I wrap the chain around my wrist five times, so tight that the fingers of my left hand start to tingle. I drop the padlock through the chain’s links and jump a little when it clicks into place. My keeper, the man assigned to watch me prepare, pulls on the chain and examines the lock. When he’s satisfied, he steps backwards and away. His face is expressionless. I didn’t expect any different, but still…I’d hoped for some sign of how he thinks tonight will play out.
“Clean kill, Jason,” he says over his shoulder which is both a farewell and a warning.
It’s still light out, but the long shadows our bodies keep casting over the grass make it clear that night is getting closer. Crickets chirp loudly all around me, safely hidden in the grass. The sound grates on me, makes the nervous flutter in my gut get faster. I have maybe another half hour tops before the daylight disappears completely and my Testing begins. I’m standing outside the thick glass-like domed structure that separates our town, from where I am now in the Boneyard. All around me are the remains of animals and people. I try not to look down at them, but the smell is a constant reminder. Inside the dome my family is lined up, their noses pressed to the transparent wall between us. All around them the rest of our town crowds in close, anxious to have a clear line of sight to me and to what’s about to happen. You’d think after so many Testing nights they’d be sick of it. I wave with my free hand and give them what I hope is a brave grin. I swear I’d rather bleed out right now than let them see how scared I really am.
I scratch at the short hair on my arm and try to smooth out the gooseflesh beneath it. My insides are quaking something fierce. I need to calm down and clear my head.
The sun sinks a little lower.
“I-eeeee!” An eager keening erupts from within the darkness of the trees just beyond the Boneyard. There’s a flurry of rustling movement in the shadows. The bushes and high weeds start shushing—a restless sound that saps the moisture from my mouth. I force a swallow, put my hand to my waist and pull out the slim knife hidden there.
The sun sinks lower still.
I adjust my grip on the knife. My hand is wet, slippery with sweat. Behind me I can hear the muffled thumping of my family. They’re pounding on the dome, urging me to be strong. I don’t have to turn around to know that my mother is crying. She hasn’t stopped since my sister turned.
The sun is a thin blade of orange resting on the trees, almost gone.
There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t have a Testing. My family was always careful—to stay inside the dome, to plug their ears with thick cotton every moonless night so they wouldn’t hear the Biter’s song. It’s hypnotic—and that alone is a curious thing—an almost irresistible need to hear that can’t always be denied, even if a person knows what might happen if they do hear it. They were strong and determined and I was glad even if I did want to be a slayer more than anything. The truth? I didn’t want to go through the Testing to be one. Family always meant more. Always.
But here I am.
And the sun is down to a pinprick.
I take a breath.
It’s gone. Darkness falls completely, like someone erased the whole world. There is no moon. There are no stars. Not on this night. Never on this night.
I pull the night vision goggles from around my neck and onto my eyes with my unchained hand. The world goes from black to green and I can see the trees and the Boneyard clearly again. I stare hard at the edge of the woods and wait. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I see her, but I know that even if she was sister once, she isn’t now. She’s a Biter, what the elders used to call a vampire and she has to die.
“Jaaaaasoooon,” a voice sing songs from somewhere in front of me. I watch as she steps out from behind a tree. I’d expected it to take a little while for her to show herself. I’m not ready yet. I hold up the knife where she can see it. Behind me the pounding grows louder. I’m not supposed to let her know what I’m about to do. I’m supposed to look like easy prey—chained and smelling of the very blood that used to run through her veins too. We’re only supposed to bring out the knife when our Biter is close enough to kill.
“Broo-therrr,” she says softly, her voice tiny and high pitched and familiar yet distinctly other at the same time.
She sniffs at the air and her mouth splits into a wide grin. There is blood on her newly pointed teeth. I want to gag.
“Emily,” I say and even I can hear the quake in my voice. “I’ve missed you.”
She cocks her head, stares at the knife.
Behind me the pounding is loud, frantic. It seems to be synced to my heartbeat. The knife slips from my hand. Before I can lean down to retrieve it Emily closes the distance between us in a flash of white movement, her nightdress whipping out behind her even as she moves her face up close to mine. Oh good god, the smell of her. It’s death and blood and rot and my eyes tear up.
“Come with me, brother,” she practically sings, her voice taking on that lilting quality that all of their voices have. My brain goes fuzzy. I watch her hand come up to my face, her fingers working at the goggle straps on both my cheeks.
I hear screaming now and I’m not sure if it’s my family’s cries or my own.
Emily ignores it all and slips one sharp nail under the goggle strap beside my right eye. She jerks her finger upward and slices through the leather…and my cheek. The sting clears my head just a little, but it completely distracts Emily. I watch her eyes widen as she stares at my cheek. She lets out a little gasp and opens her mouth. Leans in.
Now! Now! Now!
I drop on all fours and grab the knife—a razor sharp blend of steel and hickory wood—and drive it upward before I can rethink it. I watch her with my left eye because the goggles are now sideways on my face and not covering my right eye at all. I expect her to drive backwards, hands to her chest, her nightdress drenched in the blackish blood still coursing through her, but instead she just stares at me.
And then my chest feels as if it’s caught fire. I bring my chained hand up to my heart. The links clink together as I move. The knife is sticking out of my own chest. Her speed was greater than I imagined. I never even saw her move. Now she hovers over me, her tongue peeking out between her closed lips the way it always used to when she was concentrating on something.
I’m going to fail. Heck, I’m going to die. I’m sort of shocked at how distanced I feel from this little revelation.
But then I look behind me and notice my parents on the other side of the glass. My mother is yelling at me to get up, I can see her mouth the words. She’s lost one child and unless I do something she’ll lose another. I can’t let her and then it will be up to her to finish us. I can’t let that happen. And so I turn back to Emily and pull the knife from my chest. She practically giggles when blood pours from the wound. I open my arms.
“I’m ready,” I say and she leaps at me as if she’s preparing to hug me extra hard. Her mouth drops open and I stare at her teeth, not her eyes or her face as I bring the knife up to her chest and plunge it into her heart.
***disclaimer: this story was written in one sitting and is not edited at all because well, I am away from home doing authorly type stuff and my to do list is massive right now. It is the unvarnished rough draft in all it's glory:-) And now I shall pass out!
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Photo by: George Hodan