Shifting closer, I put a hand on his knee, making him blink and glance over. His face was somber, eyes shadowed with worry, but it was far better than seeing absolutely nothing when I looked at him. “They’ll be all right,” I murmured, and the hint of a smile crossed his lips.
“I hope so.”
“There you go again.” Jackal sighed from the front. “Getting the puppy’s hopes up. More likely, every bloodbag on Eden is screaming and tearing their faces off, but, oh, no, no one wants to hear that.” He waved a hand. “So, go ahead, tell him that everything is going to be fine. All the meatsacks are perfectly content on their happy little island, Sarren has given up world destruction to raise kittens, and the magic wish fairy will wave her wand and turn shit into gold.”
Zeke tensed under my fingers, and I glanced over at Kanin.
“Can I stab him, please?”
“Hey, I’m just being a realist, here.” Jackal laced his hands behind his head, leaning back with a snort. “Someone in this f**ked-up family has to be.”
Nobody said anything to that. Zeke settled back in the seat, eyes dark, but after a moment, he shifted close and pulled me against him, wrapping me in his arms. His gaze remained worried and preoccupied, his chin resting on my shoulder, but he never relented his grip. Like I was an anchor keeping him from plummeting into the dark. I relaxed into him and tried to keep my thoughts on Eden, Sarren and the task before us. Not the smooth skin of his throat, inches from my lips.
Maybe an hour into the drive, the dark, endless expanse of Lake Erie began appearing through the trees and crumbling buildings, keeping us company as we rode through the night. Still settled against Zeke, I watched the forest zip by through the windows, the black waters of the lake glimmering through the trees, and had the vague sense that this was all very familiar somehow.
A car flashed by in the headlights, a rotting hunk of metal on the side of the road, jarring my memory. The road before us was empty and lifeless, but I remembered: a night in the rain, a deserted stretch of pavement, a thousand rabids clawing themselves out of the dirt to come at us.
“Kanin,” I murmured, gently freeing myself from Zeke’s arms, “I think we’re close.”
More cars appeared, lying in ditches or abandoned on the side of the road, their doors gaping open. Zeke stirred beside me, peering out the front window, scanning the tops of the trees.
“The spotlight is gone,” he said darkly. “They always keep it lit, to guide people to the checkpoint, let them know they’re close.” His eyes narrowed, and my uneasiness grew. “We have to hurry.”
Kanin didn’t answer, but his grip on the wheel tightened, and the vehicle picked up speed. The cars and trees thinned, vanishing altogether, until there was nothing but open pavement. A long, lonely strip of blacktop, leading to a pair of huge iron gates at the end of the road.
Kanin brought the car to a rolling halt, switching off the headlights. I clenched my fist against Jackal’s seat, excitement warring with apprehension. There it was. Finally. Eden, or the last barrier before getting to Eden. Beyond those gates was a military compound where the ones who made it this far got a final checkup before being allowed into the fabled city. I remembered driving through those gates with Zeke and the others, the dazed relief from the humans because we were finally safe. We’d finally made it.
And I remembered walking out again, through those same gates, leaving it all behind. Because I was a vampire, and Eden, as I’d always known, was not for someone like me.
But the gates wouldn’t be the only barrier keeping us from Eden tonight. A huge pale swarm milled around the wall, shrieking and clawing. Dozens of rabids, maybe hundreds, surrounding the gates that led into the checkpoint.
“Oh, no.” Zeke stiffened beside me. “Something is definitely wrong. The rabids usually stay away from the gates— the soldiers use them for target practice if they get too close.”
“Well, something’s sure got them all riled up,” Jackal said, his boots still propped on the dash, one arm dangling out the open window. “And they’re not going to let us walk up and knock on the door, that’s for damn sure. Any thoughts on how to get in? I guess finding a meatsack and using it for bait is out… .” He sighed as both Zeke and I glared at him.
“Hey, I’m just throwing out suggestions. And don’t scowl at me, puppy. You certainly didn’t have any qualms dicing a few minions to get us where you wanted in Old Chicago.”
Zeke’s lip curled, showing fangs, and I put a hand on his arm. Now was not a good time for a fight to break out; the rabids would notice and be on top of us in a heartbeat. “Kanin?”
I asked instead, watching my sire. “Any ideas?”
Kanin stayed silent, observing the swarm claw and leap at the barrier. Without answering, he reached up and flipped on the headlights, then almost instantly switched them off again.
He did this several more times, flashing the lights in a strange pattern I didn’t recognize. Three short flashes, followed by three longer ones, then three short ones again. Several of the rabids noticed and broke away from the wall, edging toward the vehicle.
Jackal cocked his head, watching the approaching monsters.
“Well, if you were trying to get their attention, old man, congratulations. Here they come. Not sure they get the whole Morse code thing, but who knows?”
Beyond the swarm, at the top of the wall, a light suddenly clicked on, the quick gleam of a flashlight. It flashed three times, and Zeke straightened quickly.
“Someone is up there,” he said, his voice threaded with relief.
Kanin nodded. “Let us hope it is a human and not Sarren,”
he murmured, and glanced over at Jackal, still slouched back in his seat. “I’d roll up the window, were I you,” he added.
Jackal frowned. “Roll up the window? Why…oh.” Jackal quickly swung his boots off the dashboard. “Shit. Guess we’re gonna go knock on the door after all.”
His words were almost lost as Kanin slammed his palm into the center of the steering wheel, sending a piercing wail into the air. The rest of the swarm jerked up, spinning around at the noise, and hundreds of blank, dead eyes fastened on us.
“Well, here we go.” Jackal sighed as the entire mob gave earsplitting cries and sprinted toward us over the pavement.
Kanin put the car in Reverse and sped backward down the road, inciting the horde into a frenzy. When he was a few hundred yards from the gate, and about fifty yards from the rabids swiftly closing in, he slammed on the brakes and wrenched the car into drive again.