“Still incredible, vampire girl,” he whispered, sounding almost like himself again. “Dangerous, beautiful and unstoppable. You haven’t changed.”
“Oh, isn’t that sweet,” came Jackal’s loud, mocking voice before I could reply. “Let’s make goo-goo eyes at each other in the middle of a stinking corpse field, how very romantic.”
Ignoring my glare, he kicked an arm out of his way and sauntered forward, the ax vanishing beneath his duster once more.
“But before you two start making out, maybe we should check the thing we fought all the rabids to get to?” He glanced at the back of the semi and rolled his eyes. “Don’t want Sarren’s trap to go to waste, after all.”
We approached the doors cautiously. Now that the fight was over, the scent of blood returned, stronger and more powerful than ever. The truck practically threw off waves of the smell. I didn’t know what we would find when we opened that truck, but knowing Sarren, it was probably going to be worse than I could imagine.
A beam was set across the thick double doors of the back.
Keeping rabids from getting in, I wondered, or preventing something from getting out? No sounds came from inside the container; everything was eerily silent again, muffled and still in the falling snow. Jackal leaped onto the back of the truck, grabbed the beam, and yanked it out with a raspy screech that made me wince. After tossing it behind him, he paused and observed the truck critically.
“You know this is not going to be pleasant, right?” he stated to the rest of us. “Whatever the sicko has in here, he obviously wants us to see it. Which means it’s probably going to f**k with at least one of us, really badly.” He snickered, shaking his head. “Course, that’s the trap now, isn’t it? We could walk away, right now, but not knowing what’s inside is going to drive us bat-shit crazy.”
I frowned. He was right. I couldn’t walk away now, even if I knew there was something awful waiting for me inside.
Bracing myself, I took a steady breath. “Open it.”
Jackal shrugged. Dropping to the ground, he gripped the bars running vertically up the truck doors, tensed briefly, and threw them open with a squeal.
A wave of cold billowed out of the container, and with it the smell of blood, death, offal and human insides hit me like a slap in the face, making my stomach clench. Peering into the long, shadowy interior, I realized I had been right; what Sarren had left for us was far worse than I had imagined.
I clenched my fists, fighting the urge to turn away. Even with all the atrocities I’d seen, the horrible things Sarren had done, this one took the prize. The wall’s original color was impossible to tell, because it was streaked floor to ceiling in blood, thick and dried and black. The floor of the container was caked with it, a congealed, slimy carpet nearly an inch thick, glistening dully in the moonlight. Humans hung on the walls, staked or nailed in place, their skin peeled back in grotesque star patterns around them. A few didn’t even have skin, raw muscles and bones bared to the light, their faces twisted into masks of horror.
For a brief moment, I was relieved I was a vampire. Because if I’d been human, I would have fallen to my knees on the ground and puked up my last meal. Even now, though the Hunger raged at the amount of spilled blood and the monster looked on with indifference, I felt sick. Sick, and filled with a sudden, blinding hatred. No one with even a sliver of humanity would do this. I was a monster, and I traveled in the company of monsters, but even Jackal had lines he wouldn’t cross. This…depravity was just further proof that Sarren had no humanity left; he was a true demon in human skin who had killed, maimed and tortured all these people, just to prove a point. And a terrible one, at that.
On the far wall, a message glittered, stark and black. Written in blood, of course. Only, I had been wrong; this one hadn’t been left for me, or Jackal, or even Kanin. No, it was far more horrible, and filled me with a cold, lingering dread.
Welcome to your future, it read. Ezekiel.
Zeke’s voice was a strangled whisper. He stumbled back from the container, eyes wide, face contorted in agony and horror. Hitting a rusty car, he turned from the semi and its grisly contents, putting a hand against the door as if to brace himself.
“No,” he choked out, closing his eyes. “Oh, God, I can’t do this. I can’t do it anymore.” Bowing his head, he pressed his face into the metal, his voice dropping to a moan. “Let me die,” he whispered, making my insides clench. “Before I become…that. Just kill me already.”
“Zeke.” I stepped toward him, and he flinched, shoulders hunched in anguish. “Look at me.” He didn’t raise his head, and I took another step, my voice urgent. “Dammit, listen to me. Don’t let Sarren get to you. This is just another one of his twisted mind games, and if you start listening, you’re giving him exactly what he wants.”
“Because, it’s true, Allie.” Zeke finally looked up at me, his eyes a little wild. I blinked as that searing, glassy blue gaze met mine. “You don’t know me anymore,” Zeke whispered.
“You don’t know what I’ve done. Those people in the barn, they weren’t the only humans I killed. I helped Sarren murder an entire village, kill every soul there.” His eyes closed, and he dropped his head into his hands. “And then, when we were done, we strung their bodies from a tree and painted a wall with their blood.”
My stomach turned. I remembered the slaughtered outpost, the tree of corpses and the barn streaked with blood.
Zeke had done that, been a part of it. I realized how blind I’d been. If I had done that, even if it was under a compulsion, I wasn’t certain I could live with myself, either.
“It haunts me, every night,” Zeke whispered, clutching at his hair. “I can’t get their screams out of my head. But no matter how much that disgusts me, no matter how much I hate myself for it…there’s a part of me that wants to do it again. And it will never go away, will it?” He looked up, and his eyes stabbed at me, almost accusing. “I’m always going to feel like this, like I’m going to explode if I can’t hunt down a human and tear it apart.”
I bit my lip as he paused, waiting for my answer. I didn’t want to say it, to confirm what he already knew, but I wouldn’t lie to him. “No,” I whispered. “No, the Hunger will never go away.” He turned away, and I stepped forward, desperate to talk him down, to give him some kind of hope.