The railroad stretches forever behind and beyond us. We’ve been on it for days. With just the clothes on our body and a backpack each, Thomas Raeleigh and I step off of the platform and back into the real world.
It’s loud. More jarring than the consistent hum of the train, I flinch when a man yells off to our left. Raeleigh promises that this will get easier. It’s been over two decades for me. I can’t imagine a day coming that I don’t cringe at the shuffling noise of every passerby or tense at the brazen voices of working men. This world was built large and loud and the human population is determined to make everything bigger and louder.
A city rolls out ahead of us. There’s warm beds and private rooms somewhere out there. Of course, that’s not where we’re headed.
I keep myself close to Raeleigh as he ducks under a rope meant to contain the human travelers and steps towards the jungle. We agreed to a meeting. None of us trusted that the others would play fair, so we chose a location outside of everyone’s jurisdiction. After days of travel with little sleep, I wish we had just accepted the invitation to visit a castle in one of their provinces. Raleigh and I have fought our way out of plenty of bad decisions. It could have just been another to add to the list.
A wasp buzzes by my ear. Tension overtakes my shoulder. Without thinking, my left arm moves. I stare down at the crushed bug in my palm.
“You’re going to have to get control of that if you want to survive in this world, Carter.”
Yes. I know. The virus is capable of reacting without needing me to check off on its movements. From our research, we know it’s a parasitic entity attached to the base of the brain and wrapped tightly around the spinal cord. Any attempt to separate it from the host ends with a dead host and a pissed parasite. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m stuck as a vampire and have to learn to live with the damn thing.
“I’m working on it,” I murmur to my friend, shaking my head to clear the fuzziness that comes from the virus working on its own.
It would be so easy to stop fighting and let it turn me into a deadly creature of the night. That’s what it wants. A strong body, an unstoppable host, that it can use for its own purposes.
Fire is the only way to stop it. Not a campfire. Not something you light on a gas stove. Scientifically engineered fire that burns so hot it turns violet.
Typically, decapitation starts the process. There has to be access to the parasite. Then fire. So much fire.
I’ve only seen it used in practice twice. Once on a battlefield. Once as a criminal punishment. Both times by the royalty we’re going to see today.
Raleigh glances over his shoulder, his eyebrows pinched together in that concerned expression he likes to use on me. “Maybe I should do the talking.”
I nod. It’s my plan, but I don’t want to talk to these people. No. Not people. Monsters. The things the Nabils did to their own daughter… I can hardly stand to be in the same place as them.
I haven’t met most of the rest of the company yet. I know of Ivan and his desire for blood. He’ll be accompanied by someone as well. The Nabils will travel as a couple as well as bring a half dozen servants. There are others. I don’t know any of them well. They’re all old creatures that are scared of change and reluctant to make an alliance with humans.
It’s the only way forward, though. Humans have overtaken most of the world and they show no chance of slowing anytime soon. There’s no longer a way to stay hidden in the shadows. At least, we can’t do that with the growing dissent of the supernatural world. Either we change or there will be bloodshed.
Thomas holds out a hand to slow me. “We’re here. Keep your wits about you.”
Right. Every person down there is a murderous creature that has lived far longer than I have. Some of them have seen the rise and fall of empires. Others remember the fresh air before humans created steam engines. All are restless.
Following Thomas, we make our way into the deep gulley, stepping into footprints pressed in by the people who have beat us to this location. It makes sense. None of them trust us. Actually, I should rephrase that. None of them trust me. Thomas is like them. Old and created through the evolution of supernatural creatures.
Not me, though. Science made me. Human-made science.
I’m an abomination that they paid for. One they now fear.
It’s dark down here, the dirt clinging to my boots as we slide down the steep earthen wall. A few weeds manage to photosynthesize, protruding from the side of the gulley in vivid splashes of green topped in yellow and white. Life finds a way in every condition. We can’t just get rid of humans. They could try to decide to eradicate me and those like myself, but it would be a failed mission. Somehow we’re all going to have to learn to live together.
Ahead of us, someone calls out our arrival. “Master Raeleigh is here with his French lapdog.”
Cute. It’s not the worst name they’ve used for me over the years. I let it slide off of me. There’s no reason to give my virus a reason to snap. I’m here fighting for the right to live. I can’t be more of a monster than any of the creatures gathered down here.
Thomas doesn’t look back at me. He trusts me to stay composed. He trusts me and that’s all that matters as we step forward into the circle that’s been formed.
The Nabils are directly in front of us. I don’t know their names. They’re so old that I don’t think they remember anything other than the title that comes with their noble surname. The woman stands next to her king. To her left, a black Labrador sits back on its haunches, its brilliant green eyes too bright to be realistic. It’s rumored she has the ability to shapeshift. That dog is likely a servant or bodyguard she snuck in as an animal to keep the rest of us from suspecting an attack.
King Nabil leans back in his wheelchair, his posture confident and relaxed. This is a throne on wheels more than a sign of his steady deterioration. He has yet to fully recover from the last war he oversaw and will likely not make it through the next. Erisa is his only heir. It’s why they killed her lover and locked her in a dungeon somewhere far from the likes of me. They need her complacent before the king croaks.
I’d do more for her if I could. Thomas refuses to get anymore involved.
My thoughts are cut off by the raspy whisper of the man ahead of us. “You’ve kept us waiting, Raeleigh.”
Thomas dips into a bow. “My apologies. I was under the impression none of us would be here for another three hours.”
There’s a bristle of annoyance from the group, but no one argues. They can’t admit that they’re all more paranoid about this meeting than Thomas and me. Making a show of looking at the various people around us, Thomas clears his throat.
“We’re all here then?”
Queen Nabil steps forward, a threat in simple shoes and flowing, red robes. “The meeting may begin,” she speaks clearly, making no attempt to hide the fangs that dangle from her upper jaw.
To our right, a man stands up off of a trunk he’d been using as a chair. Ivan. “I vote we do away with their cities. We’ve grown in numbers. They won’t be able to stop us. We can keep the ones we need for food and get rid of the rest.”
Thomas steps forward amidst the murmurs of agreement from the rest of the bloodthirsty lot. “As much as everyone appreciates a modest proposal, I have to disagree. Humans are making technological advances that we would never have managed. Their short life spans and competitive resources make for a people that can be an asset to us. Caging them like they’re cattle will only launch a war.” He stares ahead at the Nabils. “Are you ready for that kind of violence?”
The Queen is the one to speak. “There are humans who are willing to work for us. We’ve had a good system for several centuries. Eradication is a steep choice for a species that serves a purpose.”
Good. We’re already making headway. Humans don’t deserve to die. I think we should treat them as equals who deserve respect and fair rights, but we’ll work on getting to that. For now, just getting them off of the chopping block is a good step.
Ivan hasn’t been swayed. Dressed in leather armor, he spits on the ground and kicks at the dirt. “They are killing this planet. They’re unnecessary.”
His words spark a new argument. Is their worth greater than their damage to the planet? The group to our left argues that there isn’t much point to keep a pest that will destroy our habits. Another group speaks up. World War Two becomes the topic of the conversation. The devastation that the humans brought on each other and the toxins they released into the air. Some of the creatures in this group were hurt by it. Some communities still haven’t fully recovered almost thirty years later. Humans are dangerous and cannot be left to live unchecked.
“You could have stopped all of that. There was plenty of time to do something and you all just watched it happen.”
The words are out of my mouth before I have time to think about it. Silence overtakes the circle. Queen Nabil snarls in my direction.
“You are not a welcome portion of this committee. Raleigh, reign in your pet or I will do it for you.”
There’s prescription painkillers in my backpack. I should have taken some before this meeting. A pounding headache has started behind my eyes.
It’s going to be a long night.
“I have as much of a right to be here as the rest of you,” I raise my voice when she tries to cut me off. “I lived through the war. I was ready to give my life on the frontlines until I was kidnapped and experimented on. When I was released, I helped clean up the cities in need. I’ve been going out of my way to stop the scientists still trying to create more vampires and put down the people who can’t be saved. The rest of you would have sat back and watched the world burn, but I’m out there every day trying to make a difference.”
Thomas has a hand on my chest. He won’t silence me, but he’ll keep me from stepping forward and demanding a duel from one of these cowards. Ivan cracks his knuckles. Nobody dares to speak, though. This is between me and the so-called Queen.
Her lips twitch. “What’s the plan then, Gideon Carter?” She launches my name at me like it’s a venomous snake writhing in the sand. “How will you change the world?”
“We work with them. I already have government officials in America who want to help us. They’ve given me space to fix up and we’re going to set up homes and food systems to help new vampires.”
She barks a laugh, crossing her thin arms over her chest. “We do not speak to them, Carter. We feed from them. Have you made them aware of this?”
Yes. Of course. “They’re going to work with hospitals to get us regular shipments of nutrient-rich liquids.”
“Blood,” her eyes shine as she licks her lips. “They will just hand this to you?”
Thomas is pushing on me, silently asking me to back down, but I can’t. This is my idea, my plan, my purpose. It’s the whole reason I survived the experimentation. I’m supposed to help people. This is how I’ll do it.
“We’re still negotiating, but they weren’t turned off by the idea.”
“So, you will live among them?” She hisses each word at me, her eyes squeezing into slits.
I nod. She’s listening. They’re all going to hear my plan and understand that it’ll work.
“Cohabitation is key. It’s the only way the world gets better than it is right now.”
Her gaze slides from me to Thomas. “He is young. Unlike the rest of us, he was once human. I will let his behavior go this one time, Raeleigh.” My heart stops as she pins me down with her eyes once more. “What you have come with is a child’s dream, Gideon Carter. Let me tell you how that plan ends.
“The humans will agree to your plans, but they will lie. You will build your homes and lure innocent vampires into them. Then, they will trap you down there. As hearty as your species is, Gideon Carter, I am curious to see how well you would survive a bombing. The humans came into this world a deadly type of people and will allow the death of their own if it means killing us off. Ash will fall from the sky and fire will overtake the land and the deaths of your people will be on your head.”
Before I can open my mouth, Thomas kicks me in the knee. My leg goes out from under me. He doesn’t look down at me. Instead, he holds his palm open towards me. Stay. Don’t move. My hands in the dirt, my hair falling around my face, I do as he wordlessly pleads. As much as I disapprove of this meeting, I won’t get him killed for me.
“Forgive him for his optimism, Queen Nabil. He’ll lose that soon enough.”
I could never.
I brought my brothers with me into this world of humans and vampires and story tale monsters. I have to believe there’s a reason I survived. There’s a reason for us to be here. There’s a way for humans and monsters to live together without constantly going to war.
I say nothing as she returns to her spot by the King. “Have you any better options then, Thomas Raleigh?”
No. We came together with only one option. It’s the only thing we discussed the entire trip here.
Thomas, however, has a backup plan. “We pitch in for one more experiment.”
Face down, I listen to the shuffling feet around this circle and the murmur of excitement. These are the people that funded my death. They brought me back as well, but they killed plenty of others before they got the formula for new vampires correct.
This can’t happen.
“A bit of each of us. We create a creature to unite us all. Something that will rule the earth long after we’re dust.”
That wasn’t the agreement. The man-made virus is taking over the planet. New vampires are showing up on every continent. The planet can’t handle anything else.
“That doesn’t fix the human problem,” Ivan calls out.
Thomas is confident in his response. “There won’t be a human problem left when this experiment is successful.”
“We can’t just kill them all,” I snap from the ground, pushing to my feet.
Thomas turns to look me in the eye. “We won’t have to,” he speaks loud for the whole group to hear, “I’ve located the missing piece of our last project. A syren. The last syren. To mix her DNA with ours would create a child that would grow up with enough power to conquer the world.”
“That’s incredibly dangerous.”
Nobody hears me. They’re all too excited over Thomas’ proclamation. While they speak amongst each other, he leans close to me, his breath hot on my ear. “Just go with it, Gideon. This is the only way to buy us time.”
He’s gambling for more time.
“They’ll find a way to actually do this,” I whisper back. “You’re signing the death warrant of that syren at the very least, Thomas. We can’t let them do this.”
His blue eyes are void of any compassion. “Sometimes we can’t save everybody.”
I’m losing him. This isn’t my friend. This is one of the monsters prepared to do whatever it takes for its own survival. “You would allow them to experiment on a child?”
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have to.
The future is barreling towards us faster than any of us can handle. Hard choices are going to be made. These creatures are on the wrong path.
I take a step back from Thomas.
I won’t be like them.
I’ll find a way to stop this.
“If you leave, they’ll hunt you,” Thomas breathes, his pupils wide as concern wrinkles his forehead.
I know. I won’t stand around and let them agree to kill people.
“They’ll have to outrun me.”
I’m another step away from the group.
Desperation pulls at the edges of his voice. He didn’t plan to come here and lose a friend.
“You’ll have to stop running eventually. You can’t spend the rest of your life like this.”
Another step. I shrug. This isn’t the life I asked for. None of this is. I was supposed to meet a girl when I came home from the war and buy a restaurant. I wanted love and the smell of baked goods to fill our home. There was going to be laughter and we would have family over as often as possible.
That dream is gone.
I won’t lose my morality, too.
“Nothing has killed me yet. I dare them to try.”
It was important for me this week to make a juxtaposition between Gideon and the older creatures in this series. His actions over the course of the story affect many of the other characters, easily making him friends and enemies at every turn, while giving me a fun character to share.
I hope you had a fun read this week and to see you again next Saturday!
Be sure to check out Bridgette’s and Anna’s stories as well:
2 thoughts on “Tomorrow”
What a great read! I’m really starting to get an idea as to the complexities of your world. There are so many different groups and I love the idea of the old vampires versus the new, but also the variants in between. There’s a rich history here which feels deep and well thought out. You do such a great job setting the scene and sucking me in. I want more!
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Thank you! I’m glad that the ideas are carrying through. Sometimes I’m worried that it’s all a bit overwhelming for these bite sized stories!
I really appreciate you reading every week 🙂
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