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Friday, October 30, 2015

When Vampires Stalked the Earth

Almost Halloween. Here's the very first short story I ever wrote - around 2002, I think. It was for an online writers BBS challenge in the area of science fiction ....

When Vampires Stalked the Earth

2036 AD

Dylan crouched behind a fallen table in the deserted genetics lab at Stanford University. The reek of freshly spilled formaldehyde was overpowering and he cursed his clumsiness. That mistake would probably cost him his life for he was sure they'd heard the explosive sound of breaking bottles, that it would be only minutes before the vampires who'd taken his sister would find his location.

As he crept quietly past smashed lab equipment towards the door, he corrected himself - they weren't really vampires in the normal sense, but victims of the disease of porphyria. Unfortunately, the distinction was moot. Avoiding the light of day, they relentlessly hunted their victims, searching in the evening hours for the blood meal that would keep the terrible symptoms of their affliction at bay. And now, his sister was with these creatures.

Dylan reached the door and, after checking the hallway, began to run for the lab's nearest exit. He'd been tracking these particular vampires for weeks, ever since his sister had been kidnapped by them. But now, when he'd almost found their lair, they'd be alerted to his presence. He'd have to retreat, regroup. As he slowly pushed the door to the outside open, there was a sound from behind him and before he could turn he crumpled under a blow to his head.

Darkness slowly resolved itself into what looked like another dimly-lit, defunct area of the genetics lab, this one a procedure room. Dylan groaned and tried unsuccessfully to sit up. He realized he was restrained in some way, flat on his back on an examination table. He felt a fatigue that was crushing and there was something wrong with his leg. Twisting his head painfully to one side, he was just able to make out a contraption attached to one of his ankles. Understanding dawned as his saw his life's blood being pumped out, with every beat of his heart, through a transparent tube.

"I see you're awake."

A older man sat in a chair across the room. Next to him on the floor was a large glass bottle filling slowly with Dylan's blood. He couldn't be a vampire, Dylan thought, he was too old. But then why ...?

"I'm Dr. Archer, son. What's your name?" When Dylan refused to reply the man sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about all of this." He waved his hand at the bottle of blood by his side.

"Your not one of them. You don't need my blood, and even if you did, there are quicker ways to drain a body."

"I'm taking it slowly so we'll have some time to talk. It's not often I meet someone born before the change. And as for the blood, it's for my grandson. He has the affliction and I think he's dying. If he has your blood, maybe he can hold on until ... until my research is done."

What research, Dylan wondered. "And that makes it all right?"

"No. It doesn't. I've done things I never would have thought myself capable of before the change. But I guess conventional morality is just another casualty of what happened thirty-five years ago."

Through the beginnings of a lethargy induced by blood loss, Dylan thought about what had happened back then. He had only been five years old when things had gone south and his sister had not yet been born. If this man truly was a doctor, maybe he had some answers. It couldn't hurt to ask. "If you know what caused all this, tell me. It's the least you can do."

Dr. Archer nodded and stood slowly, beginning to pace the room as he spoke. "I had just finished my residency then, genetics was my area of interest, but even here at Stanford, we weren't really sure what had happened." Dylan tiredly closed his eyes and let the older man's voice carry him along.

"I expect by now you know all about porphyria - the hereditary disease caused by a defect in an enzyme on the heme biosynthetic pathway. The symptoms are many and severe, including abdominal pain, seizures, nerve damage, photo-toxicity and of course, eventual madness. The only true cure is the consumption of blood." Dylan knew this all too well because of his sister.

The doctor stopped pacing to stare sightlessly through the cracks of a small, boarded-up window. "Thirty-five years ago, that disease suddenly morphed, evolved. Within a year, nearly every child born on this planet had porphyria. They believed that almost the whole world's population had been infected by a virus, a virulently contagious virus that had targeted the germ line cells leading to a mutation in the human gene that causes porphyria. I don't know if that's true but that's the thread I'm following with my research."

How the man could conduct research here was a mystery to Dylan. The university had been shut down years ago, the lab had obviously been plundered many times. He sighed. All that mattered was that life as it had been known had changed and not for the better. He'd only been a kid, but he remembered the doomed progression of events. First there'd been disbelief and denial, then heroic medical and social efforts to find a cure, and to adjust.

Despite everything, though, society had begun to collapse. No one had counted on the lengths people would go to to save the lives of their afflicted children. And no one had counted on the destructive force of a generation driven insane with the lust for blood.

Many had committed suicide and some had just given up and let nature do them in. The strong and the ruthless were the ones that had survived and they'd created a culture unrecognizable in it's ferocity and nihilism to those born before the change.

The doctor walked back to Dylan and checked the intravenous tubing at his ankle. "It will be over soon, son." He gave the younger man a friendly pat on the leg and then sat down once more. Perhaps out of loneliness, perhaps to pass the time left, he asked, "So what's your story?"

Dylan bit back his first response. No point in recriminations now. He knew he was bleeding out and he felt an almost overwhelming desire to give in to this fate. He'd never been a happy person and had only managed to endure this long because of Wendy, his little sister. Her tenacious will to live despite her illness had somehow anchored him to a life he'd found otherwise meaningless. He had to stay alive as long as there was a chance to save her.

His attention was suddenly caught by a noise from outside the room. It sounded like the creaking of an old wooden floor under the careful application of a person's weight ... someone was approaching this room, someone who didn't want to be heard. He realized this might be the one opportunity he would have to escape and the renewal of hope was painful in it's intensity. Dylan glanced quickly at the doctor but he didn't seem to have heard anything. If he could keep the other man distracted, there might be a chance to get away after all.

"You want to know my story?" Dylan responded. "Sure, why not?" With one ear cocked towards the door, he began. He described a personal life lived out against the backdrop of a growing societal chaos. At first things hadn't been so bad. The government had instituted a free health care system, had regulated the distribution of hematin and heme arginate for those with the disease. But there were too many who were sick and not enough doctors, hospitals, drugs.

"As you know, it wasn't long before the families of those with the disease became desperate. Animals were the first to go - wild ones hunted almost into extinction for their blood, domesticated ones slaughtered or hoarded for repeated bloodlettings. Soon only the rich could afford to own a living creature and eventually even people became enslaved for their blood.

"When I was ten, my sister was born with porphyria. My parents were poor but did what they could for her, even draining their own blood, little by little, to sustain her. Before they died, they entrusted her care to me. I've tried ... " Dylan had to pause to regain his composure.

"As the years went by, those born before the change, those who remembered what an ordered society had been like, began to perish and with them perished the last remnants of normality. The madness drove those infected to unspeakable lengths in order to survive and no one was safe. I finally took my sister to the mountains, to a place near Desolation Peak, not far from where the Donner party had stopped for lunch. We've been barely surviving in an abandoned cabin up there ever since."

"What brought you back to the city?" asked the doctor curiously.

"One day when I was out looking for food, some vampires found the cabin, took my sister with them. I've been trying to find her ever since. I think their lair is somewhere here on the campus."

"Your sister's one of them, right? Maybe she went with them of her own free will, wanted to be with her own kind."

Dylan felt his heart thump painfully against his chest and he forced himself to regain his calm. Getting upset would only hasten his death. "No! She wouldn't leave me like that ..."

Dylan's words were interrupted by the sudden crash of the door being kicked in and a ragged group of four vampires descended upon them. As Dylan watched with a mixture of horror and hope, three of the creatures ran for the doctor and his bottle of blood. The other slowly advanced on him, peering with amused interest at the blood-letting equipment attached to his ankle.

Above the background noise of shrieks and thuds from across the room, the vampire pointed to Dylan's ankle. "It looks like the old man has done our work for us." The creature leaned over him, his fetid breath a miasma between them. Dylan barely had time to notice the skin lesions and reseeded lips of his admirer before that person and the examination table on which Dylan lay were abruptly flung against the wall, accompanied by a blast of sound.

His restraints loosened by the fall, Dylan tore the tubing from his ankle and shakily got to his feet. The vampire lay quiet below him, a smoking hole the size of an orange in his back. Dylan's head snapped up at a repeat of that roaring sound and he saw the doctor blow away another of the creatures with a shotgun. The two vampires so far unharmed gave up the fight and ran from the room.

Dylan stumbled over to the disheveled doctor, his ankle leaving a trail of blood. Staring down at the dead creature at the doctor's feet, he slowly crumpled to his knees, shaking hands reaching out to gently stroke the hair back form his sister's blood-flecked face.

Unaware of the doctor's worried stare, Dylan, feeling a strange sense of peace for the first time since he was a boy, lay himself down next to Wendy and, holding her close, allowed himself to finally let go.



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