Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Trick or Treat



Trick or treat was almost over. Even the stragglers and the teenagers had done their
rounds. 
And we were late. SO LATE!

I was worried. I had been looking forward to tonight for a long time. The colorful costumes, the shiny faces as kids went door to door. 

I’d missed all that. Because we were late. As we walked on the dark, empty street towards the first house, I glanced at my sister. She looked furious. I laid a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. A few yards away, our parents followed, with the practiced ease of someone who’s done this a million times before.

Ah Good. The first house. Climbing up the stairs, we pounded on the door. 
I flung my head back and yelled. “Trick or Treat!”

I saw movement behind the front windows. There was someone inside. But no one came to the door. We knocked and yelled again but the door stayed shut. My sister stomped her feet and cried out. Mom beckoned us from the bottom of the steps. No worries, we’ll try again at the next house. 

But the same strange thing happened at the house next door. And the house beyond that one. I even did a bunch of different voices. (I had a talent for that). I hissed like a vampire and moaned like a zombie. Even scooched down on all fours and howled like a hairy werewolf. But no luck. We could hear whispers from inside the houses, even the occasional scream. But every single one of those doors stayed shut. 

My sister was working herself up into a proper rage. She looked ready to kick down that door when dad intervened. His face flashed with anger as he reminded her it was unacceptable to force yourself into someone’s house. And dangerous too! So would she grow up and stop making trouble?

Sullen and disappointed, we walked the last few yards of the street. This year had been a complete failure. Where was the thrill of Halloween night? The sense of adventure. A bunch of sissies, I thought darkly.

And that’s when we spotted the lights. Long and low, the cottage stood tucked away in a side street. Twinkling, little pumpkins adorned the front yard. My sister and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. This house hadn’t been there last year. A slow smile crept on my face. Maybe there was still hope. 

Her eyes flashed as she picked up her pace, with me right behind. 

Knock Knock Knock. 
“Trick or Treat” I called out in a soft voice. “Anybody home?”

There was silence. Nothing behind the curtains, or in the upstairs windows. Mom and Dad stirred behind us. And just when we thought Halloween was over, the door opened.

A young woman stood there, hair tousled with sleep. 

“I’m sorry, guys,” she yawned. “I moved here 2 days ago, so my body clock is all off.”

She rubbed her eyes and stared at us. In awe.

“Oh goodness, your costumes are amazing! Wow!”

“Trick or treat?”, I repeated. My sister hopped from one foot to the other, positively trembling with excitement.

“Oh. Ok? How about a trick then?”

My sister turned around towards our parents. A question on her face. Mom nodded. It’s ok, 
 go ahead. 

She opened her mouth and screeched. Then abandoning her human skin, she pounced on the woman and tore her throat. The rest of us staggered forward, our sharp teeth and grey skin, glistening in the moonlight.
Halloween night. 
If something knocks on your door, don’t rush to answer.
Look through the peephole, peek through the curtains.
And if you see us with our white eyes and ragged mouths? Why, then lock your doors and double bolt them.
We’re shapeshifters, from the darkest corners of hell.

We love our tricks. But we won’t leave without our treats.






Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Rattle

The bunker door stayed open all morning and afternoon. They had a lot of stuff to carry in - food, clothing, medicines. And those were the basics. Their little community had expanded since last year which meant they had more help with the move. But it also meant more mouths to feed.
All these thoughts ran through Kavi’s mind as she ran a finger down her checklist. As the leader of their community, she had a million little things to do. Oh, had someone remembered the Vitamin D lamps? They would not last the winter underground without some form of sunlight. And what about the movie reels? The books?
Nothing in and Nothing out. That was their motto. Once locked inside, they had no way of coming out for 3 whole months. Not that they would want to.
A million little things left to do. Sighing, she got up and walked to the door. Outside, the a weak sun shone, as more people walked towards the bunker, carrying odds and ends. After 7 glorious years of normalcy, they’d all gotten complacent. Smiles had become wider and easier. Hope had blossomed and babies had been born and raised without the ugly shadow of the “Fiends” looming over them.
But last week, the farmers had reported that their crops were dying. The next day, some kids had stumbled upon an entire flock of birds lying there, in the middle of the road. With broken beaks and cold, dead bodies.
The community elders held an urgent meeting. They’d learned to read the signs of an oncoming attack. Kavi agreed with them. It was time to go back into the bunker. They were approaching Winter, and that’s when the Fiends woke up.
“Hurry, guys, we have barely 2 hours left,”
Now where was her daughter?
“It’s not fair! I don’t want to live in a stupid bunker.”
A little boy, barely 5 stood there, clutching a bag of toys and looking upset. “The anger of the innocents”, thought Kavi as she kneeled in front of him.
“Hey kiddo, I know your parents have told you all you need to know. Now, I will not lie and say this will be fun. But we’re all doing this to be safe. To stay alive. You understand that right?”
The boy nodded at her, tears in his eyes. He knew all about the Fiends. He’d listened the horror stories. About their long, bony bodies and scaly skin. And the sound they made when they were ready to attack. What word had his mom used? Rattle. That was it! Rattling like a snake about to strike.
A group of girls ran by, clutching books.
“Hey, has anybody seen Shilpa?”
“No ma’am. Last we saw, she was in the store, getting some eggs.”
Kavi frowned. What was the delay?
“Answer your phone, goddamnit!” she muttered, as more people entered the bunker.
An hour flew by as final trips were made. Almost everyone inside already. Except Shilpa.
“I’m going to go look for her!” Kavi announced. “If I don’t come back within an hour, close the bunker.”
“But ma’am, we ca-”
“End of discussion! We are almost out of time, and I will not have my people exposed!”
She grabbed her gun and ran out to the main street. Maybe Shilpa was at the house. Worth checking.
And that’s when she heard the first rumble. She looked east at the fields. At the sun setting over them, melting into the horizon.
And then every so slightly, the sagging rows of wheat trembled.
A telltale odor of rotting flesh hit her nose. Oh shit! They were here!
Behind her, panic hit the bunker. There was a mad scramble as people rushed through the narrow doorway.
The rows of wheat shook again. Then something very large and quick parted through them, hidden under the upper stalks.
Someone screamed. Children cried, like they do, when they sense something bad about to happen.
GODDAMNIT where is she?
“SHILPAAAA”, yelled Kavi. She ran up main street, hollering her daughter’s name.
“SHILPAAAA!!”
The rumbling got louder. Sounded like at least a dozen of them were charging this way.
“Mom!”
Kavi whipped around. A young girl, barely 11 came running towards her. From the fields.
“Mom, I’m so sorry! But you hav-!”
“Shilpa there’s no time! Into the Bunker now!”
“But Mom, listen, I found the eggs!”
Kavi half dragged her daughter back up the road.
Less than 50 feet away, something dark and reptilian stood up, towering over the crops. Scaly skin, mottled and green. Eyes she’d seen in her darkest nightmares.
“Don’t look at it, just go!”
Mother and daughter raced up the street when the first rattle broke the air. Like a snake about to strike.
Something larger than the first one leaped and landed 10 feet away. Another loud rattle.
“Runrunrurnrunrun!” screamed Kavi. “RunnnnnnnShilpaaaaa!”
The bunker doors. Almost about to close.
“Mommmm!”, sobbed Shilpa. She’s inside. OhthankGod she’s inside
Five more steps. Four. Three. tw-
Kavi tripped and fell on her face.
The smell of burning flesh hit her nose.
(THIS IS HOW I DIE! THIS IS HOW I DIE! THIS IS HOW I DIE!)
Strong arms pulled her inside. The doors closed with a loud clang as the first attack came on the other side. Something monstrous struck the door then retreated. Loud, angry rattles tore through the night. Shilpa shrieked as Kavi scrambled up and punched in the code. The alarms went into place as a giant timer lit up above the door. 92 days, 14 hours and 35 minutes.
They were safe. Nothing in and Nothing out. THEY WERE SAFE!
The door shook again occasionally for the rest of the night. Uneasy silence reigned inside the bunker as Kavi limped around. Assuring everyone they were secure. They’d built those doors to last nuclear attacks; she repeated endlessly.
In the wee hours of the morning, Kavi found Shilpa in her little cabin. Staring at the ceiling with red, puffy eyes.
“Oh honey, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Shilpa shook her head.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come looking for you before. I should have been more watchful.”
“Mom?”
“Yes, darling.”
“Eggs mom.”
“You hungry? I can make you an omelet, real quick.”
Her daughter looked at her strangely. Then turned away and huddled deeper into her little cot.
Kavi blinked. What was going on?


She understood 2 days later when the screaming started in the middle of the night. Awakened from a deep sleep, the smell of burning flesh hit her nose. (Eggs). And then she heard the rattle.
EGGS!
The timer ticked away, 90 days, 1 hour and 42 minutes. Nothing in and Nothing out. That was their motto after all.


Monday, October 29, 2018

My Mother always said - 2 days to Halloween.

I crouched under the car and held my breath. Shit. Shit. Shit. Had they seen me? 

I sniffed, testing the air for their odor, but couldn’t pick up anything above the aroma of rotting waste. My machete waited beside me, an old and trusted friend. Breathe slower, I warned myself. You cannot afford to get dehydrated again.

Close to 5 minutes passed before I heard them. Soft, shuffling footsteps. I placed the machete carefully on the floor and peeked under the car. I spotted the first one a few rows away. And then a second. And a third! 

I sat up and cursed. It seemed to be one man, one woman. And a child. Shit. SHIT! I hated killing kids. 
But like my mom used to say, “If it is you vs. them, Always choose yourself!”

I grabbed my weapon and waited. Didn’t matter anymore if I could smell them. They would find me soon enough. And they would come.

Just like I expected, the footsteps got closer. I’d killed close to a 100, but it still got me every time. Something about taking a human life, or whatever. My mom would know the right words. She’d been a scientist. 

They were almost here. On the other side of my car. That was quick. Wait, something wasn’t right. I sniffed again. Nothing. What was going on? 

I was about to stand up and check when I saw them finally. 3 humans. One man, one woman. And one little boy.  

I gaped. God help me, I dropped my machete, and gaped like an idiot. I had never seen such a wonderful sight, since, well….. since the world ended and all that. 

The man broke the silence first. 

“Are you, umm…. sick?”

“Huh?” I croaked. I hadn’t heard my voice in months now.

“I mean, are you a… you know? One of them?”

I was confused. But mostly euphoric. Humans! Actual, live humans! 

The little boy piped up. “He means to ask if you’re one of the Undead. A Zombie? A Biter? A Deadie?”

I stared at his little face, marveling that he existed. 

“No. Umm. No, I am definitely not one of them. Very much alive. And thrilled to see you all.”

“Do you have any weapons?” This was the woman (mom?)

“No. Just my machete. Say, how long have you guys been here? You’re the first survivors I’ve seen in 10 months now,”.

The man looked at the woman, a question in his eyes. Then they both turned to the little boy. Who nodded slightly.

The woman said, “We have a house nearby. You can come with us if you want. Food, water, some sleep.” 

All of those things sounded heavenly. 

“Yes! Yes, thank you! I would love that.”

We set forth; the adults walking ahead while the boy and I trailed behind. We fell into easy conversation and I learned that he was an orphan. He asked me about the large medallion on my neck. It was my mother’s; I explained. She’d died pretty early on. He looked away. 

“So, those, your aunt and uncle?”

He shook his head. “No, I met them early on, after the world fell. We were a rather large group. Now, just us three.” A faraway look came into his eyes. 

I said nothing. I had a million of my own memories. Horrors I’d seen. ‘People’, I’d put down. 

After almost an hour on the country road, we reached a tiny village of sorts. I hugged my backpack and shivered. Empty broken houses lined the sole street. The occasional undead corpse, stowed away neatly. All of them had broken skulls. I grimaced. Of all the zombie lore we’d read and seen, this was a rare true one. Aim for their brains, and they dropped right down. 

The trio stopped before a house. Obviously theirs. The woman beckoned me inside. After months of sleeping under trees and in old barns, the concept of an actual house weirded me out. Strange how the human brain works right? (Again, my mother would know the reason for this. She was the clever one.)

“Can I walk around for a bit? Just to get my bearings.”

The woman opened her mouth to speak, but the man shushed her. 

Of course. Just come inside before it’s too dark,” he mumbled. “And don’t go too far to the west of the village. There’s a large horde of the undead there, behind the fence.”

I wandered around and poked inside a few houses. Saw and heard the moans of the undead, from the fence at the end of the village. Did my little rituals, indulged in some eccentricities. Kissed my medallion for luck. 

When it got dark, I went back to the house. We had a small dinner of stale mushrooms and soup. It was the best thing I’d ever had. I offered to wash the dishes, and soon we fell into a calming routine. I dried the plates while the trio packed their bags and put on their shoes. I understood. After the world fell, it was best to be ready, even at bedtime. You never knew when you had to leave at a moment’s notice. (Always plan ahead - another of my mother’s favorites)

The man came up to me with a glass of wine. 
“Today’s a special day for us. We found you. That’s cause for celebration, right?” 
A happy smile on his face. I nodded shyly and took a sip. The wine was delicious. Or maybe it was shitty, but I didn’t care. My mother never let me drink, so this was a welcome treat. 

Sleep came easy that night. I dreamt of flowers and beer. My mom telling me to be careful. That the zombies were getting closer. 

I woke up suddenly, with a headache. Must be the wine, I thought before the pain hit me everywhere. Somebody was pulling my arm, painfully. ZOMBIES was my first thought, and I stood up. Only to fall on my face because I had no legs.
My brain screamed, disbelieving. “Help! Wh-what’s going on?” I cried out, in the dark. 

The dark figure pulling at my hand stopped. The man held up a bloody axe (he sawed off your arm! Holy shit, Mona, he sawed off your arm!) and looked at me sadly.  

Wha-why are you doing this? Oh my God, what is going on?”

He bent back and swung the axe down. I fainted before it touched my arm. 

When I woke up again, I realized 2 things. We were outside the house now. And I didn’t have any limbs left. 
The trio were whispering, by the front door. The woman kept peering in my direction and the man gesticulated wildly. Only the boy stayed calm. Perhaps, he was in shock?

I wasn’t in too much pain. And somehow still alive. I spotted crude bandages at the end of my arm/leg stumps. That explained why I hadn’t bled out.  

The woman walked up. Bent down to my mangled half body and whispered. “We’re leaving soon. Are you in much pain? I gave you a giant dose of anesthetic in the wine. It should have kicked in by now.”

I stared at her through hot tears. 

“I’m sorry it had to be this way. If it matters, I voted against this plan. But Raul wouldn’t listen. I’m so sorry.”

“Plan?” 

“Well…. there’s been talk of this Survivor Camp up north. Just 70 miles from here. But we’re stuck. Can’t move north, unless the horde outside the west fence is disposed of. And we don’t have weapons. Not enough anyway.”

“So why hurt me? How do I feature in your pl-”

“We needed a distraction”, came a soft voice. I looked up to see Raul. Not the man. The little boy. He stood there, looking at me with his cold, cruel eyes. 
“The undead are picky. We tried dead animals as decoys, but they…. prefer human flesh. So we’re using you as bait. Well, different parts of you, scattered across this street. And once they’re busy, we’ll move past them. There’s a river on the other side of the fence. Across that river is the only road north. To the survivor camp. So you see why it has to be this way?”

I understood finally. Their eagerness to welcome me without asking too many questions. I was their way out of his hellhole.

Raul bent low and whispered. “We’ll unwrap the bandages now. Let the blood flow freely. That’ll get them worked up.”

“The medallion!” I gasped. “Let me have my medallion. Put it in my mouth. It was my mother’s last gift. Please, Please let me have it!” 
He looked at me with distaste and almost walked away. But some speck of humanity made him turn back. He grabbed the medallion from my neck. I opened my mouth, and he placed it there. 

“Oh, I almost forgot!”  He whipped out a small switchblade and sliced my chest open. 

Blood poured out as I trembled with agony. But I didn’t cry out. The zombies clamored against the fence, restless and hungry. Sensing a meal.

As my vision blurred, I saw the trio walk to the fence. My mother’s voice sang in my head. “Always plan ahead. Always Plan ahead”.

Raul unlocked the fence door. Then in practiced formation, the trio ran back. Sought cover above an abandoned car. With any luck and my limbs dispersed everywhere, the horde would walk right past them.
(My mom’s voice - Always Plan ahead. My nightly rituals. My little eccentricities.)

The door creaked open as the first of the zombies staggered in. Eyes sunken, it looked around, snapping its yellow teeth. A dozen more moved right behind -moaning, seeking. Stumbling towards me. The trio waited above the car, ready to escape. 

I probed with my tongue and found the little button on the medallion. Then I bit down hard on it. As the first zombie touched my chest, a dozen homemade bombs exploded in series. The fence tore. 4 houses collapsed. The abandoned car erupted in a ball of fire, scattering the bodies of the three Living and countless Undead in every direction. 

Always plan ahead, I thought as I gave in to the Zombie. It was their world now. And the last thing I heard was my mother’s rather pleased voice.

“Mona, you always had perfect timing dear!” 



Sunday, October 28, 2018

That night in the forest - 3 days to Halloween

“Julie, hold my hand, please,”

“Can you move faster? We’re almost there.”

“I’m scared Julie. We’ve never traveled this far. And this late at night,”.

The wind moved around them, whispering under the dense canopy of trees. There was no visible path, this deep inside the forest. 

But Julie seemed to know exactly where to go. 
“Come on Peter, we cannot be late!”

A twig snapped somewhere to their left.
Julie and Peter stopped. She strained her eyes, but spotted nothing. What was out there, this late at night?

Peter tugged at her sleeve. His large eyes, shimmered in the paltry moonlight.
“I’m scared, Julie. What was that noise?”

Paler than before, Peter looked at the distant clearing, where he saw a murky shape moving about. He was about to protest again when Julie brushed past him. 

“Julie! JULIE!”, he whispered urgently. “Stop! Don’t go there! I see something!”

She turned around and looked at him sadly. 
“We’re here, Peter. It’s almost time. You know what happens at 3 am.”

“But Julie! That is a bad thing. It will hurt us!”

She placed a small palm on his cheek. 
“I promise it won’t, ok? I’ll protect you always. Now hurry!”

Forlorn and with nowhere else to go, Peter followed his big sister. They crept past the last trees and stood at the edge of the clearing. 

A fire burned brightly in the middle. A dark shape stood by it, drinking something.
Julie nudged her brother. 

“I’ve been tracking it for a while. It always comes here once a month. And you remember what today is, right?”

Peter nodded, glumly. He was well aware of today’s significance. But that didn’t mean, he had to like it.
“Peter, look at me! This is important, ok? I can’t do it without you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just afraid.”

Julie looked up at the sky. She’d learned to read the positions of the moon. It was time. 

3 am. The Witching Hour. A time when the door between the human world and the paranormal opens wide. And unleashes the monsters from all corners of hell.

 A sudden wind gusted through the clearing as the little girl and her brother stepped out of the shadows. The fire flickered and then died out. Surprised, the dark shape turned around. At first, it saw nothing. 

Then something gleamed at the edge of the clearing. 2 children stood there, quietly shimmering in the moonlight. The man, blinked and looked again.

They were closer now, their eyes red and luminous. The smaller of the two children still had a torn belly, his pearly white intestines popping out. And the girl. Half her face squished in, like an oddly deflated ball.

Memories came rushing to him now. A year ago. The bar where he had one drink too many. The winding forest road he took that night. The sudden screech when he hit something. Too drunk to care, he’d revved his engine and pushed down on the accelerator. A sickening crunch under his wheels, and he’d driven off, thinking about how nice some vodka would be, right about then.

3 am. The Witching Hour. That door was wide open. And not more than 30 feet from where they’d died exactly a year ago, Julie and Peter dragged the man back into their world. 



And now they would make him pay.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Rashmi Part 2- 4 days to Halloween

The basement  was hewn out of old rock. Unlike the house upstairs, this room had existed for centuries. A haven for those who needed it. The walls still bore marks of old candle wax, and the floor was bare. Except for the wooden bed at the corner. 

Rashmi debated whether to switch off her flashlight. Decided against it. But she kept the beam well away from the bed. Just like her mother had taught her. 

The odor was much stronger here in the basement. A sharp coppery tang and old, sealed air. The back of her throat burned with as she fought to keep her breakfast down. Don’t think about it. Just put the lunch box down and go. She creeped to the foot of the bed, not daring to look in that direction. Lowered the lunch box into the waiting basket. 

And then something rustled in the basement.

She stood there for a long while, unsure if she’d heard something. Her brain screamed GO, but her feet stayed glued to the ground. Seconds turned into minutes, but she didn’t move. What if she woke him up? To make it worse, her bladder gave a painful twinge. Rashmi crossed her legs and clenched her jaw. Not now. Please, not now.

She didn’t know how long she stood there. Her beam bobbed crazily in the darkness, catching a million little dust motes in its path. Should I move? Is it safe? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she took a small step and paused. Silence. A few more steps. Her beam shone upon the foot of the basement stairs. Oh, thank goodness! Almost there. Her Disney watch glowed merrily. Oblivious to the dark shape now sitting up on the bed. 

Rashmi stopped, 2 feet away from the stairs. The nape of her neck prickled, and she realized he was awake. Possibly watching her. Her mouth dry, she closed her eyes and waited.
And soon enough, a low raspy voice floated her way. 

“Rekha? Is that you?”

“N-n-n-nno. This is Rashmi. Her daughter,”

The shape grew before her eyes. Impossibly larger. 
(He must be 8 feet tall, at least!)

In the corner, a low lamp turned on, and it bathed the entire basement in a yellow, pallid glow. 

The old man was sitting on the bed, cross-legged. He was extremely pale with a sharp, wrinkled face. His bony arms rested on the bed, fingers tapping away on his long, dirty nails. 
(Why did I think he was big? He’s tiny!) 

“Rashmi.” he murmured, rolling the word around in his mouth. His tongue came out, and licked his dry, cracked lips. 

“Come here, child. Let me take a good look at you,”

She stood, rooted to her spot. A thin, long finger beckoned her. 

“Come on, child. I don’t bite.”

A high-pitched giggle rang through the basement. The lamp shimmered, and the man whispered something.
As a million little goosebumps popped up on Rashmi’s body, she felt herself being propelled towards the bed. 
(Don’t get too close to him. You know what he is.) 

Up close, the man looked paler. His amber eyes shone with a light of their own. Liquid and… and…. hypnot…

Rashmi’s thoughts trailed off, as she stood there transfixed. Those eyes. Those strangely, beautiful eyes. Her mouth opened slightly, her body hovering a few inches above the ground.

A cold smile broke out on the man’s lined face. His jaw trembled as a raging hunger screamed inside him. It had been so long. So long since he’d tasted a fresh one. The blood called to him, singing and pulsing with promises of wonder.
His eyes became larger and more luminous. A few wet sounds emanated as his teeth grew longer. Sharper. Till they covered more than half his face. His nose receded and his shoulders heaved upward, breaking out of his robes as the first veins of a black wing snaked out. 

Her Blood. Her sweet blood. Oh, this would be so perfect.

Now at almost 10 feet tall, the vampyre towered over the little girl, talons skittering on the basement floor. It’s jaws snapped opened and shut, inches away from her throat. Any minute now. The lamp flickered again and something caught the Vampyre’s eye. A small mark, a tattoo, on her neck, right above that delicious artery. A name. Something jogged in its brain. Something clicked. And before it knew what was happening, its teeth shrunk, the wings involuted, and he shrunk back to being a shriveled old man.

Startled out of her trance, Rashmi fell to the ground and screamed. She’d had the worst nightmare. Teeth and talons, and a burning almost-pain on her throat. She rubbed her neck vigorously and looked up with fear. To where he sat, shrunken and hungry. 

“Where’s my lunch?” he asked, in a low voice. 

“R-r-r-right there, in the basket.”

And because she had to understand, she asked.

“Who….what are you?”

A long silence followed this question. Then the old man spat, revealing angry, torn gums.

“I am exactly what you think. Now leave me alone. I’ve had enough of you for a day.”

“Why does my mother help you? Isn’t she… scared?”

A faraway look came into the man’s amber eyes. His face softened, and he sighed. 

“I am the last of my kind. Hell, my people haven’t been seen for over 3 centuries. I made a promise, to your great-great-grandfather I wouldn’t feed on live humans. In exchange, he wouldn’t reveal my existence. For the first 100 years after that, I lived on pig and cow blood. On a very lucky day, I got to taste human blood - if I came upon a freshly dead corpse. But as you can guess, those were far and few between,”.

He rubbed his cheek and chuckled darkly. 

“Your grandmother was a nurse. She stole bags of blood from the hospital. Your mother does the same. As I get older, my appetite isn’t what it used to be. Now, I can live on a bag of blood for a month. And some nights, when I’m feeling strong, I leave the house and find myself some animal… There’s nothing quite so satisfying as warm blood.”
He smacked his lips with a longing look in his eyes.

Rashmi had heard enough. She did not understand how or why she was still alive. But she wasn’t about to stick around and find out. Now where was the flashlight?

She looked up to see the old man, standing right in front of her. His cold breath washed over her face, as he whispered, “Now don’t go thinking you can blab about me to your stupid friends. Or that sister of yours, who just throws the lunch box from the top of the stairs. Remember, I am old and weak. But I am still a hundred times stronger than you. And anyone else you know.”

He handed her the flashlight, trailing one long nail on her cheek. His finger went to her throat. To the artery. To the name above it. With a sad sigh he murmured, “My big brother. He always loved me. Even after I turned. He kept my secret. As did his children and grandchildren. All the way to your mother. And now you. My kind doesn’t forget these favors. Especially not with his name tattooed over your throats.”

Rashmi gasped. The flashlight beam came on and she ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She pulled open the basement door when she heard the cold voice again. This time, from right behind her.

(OhGodOhGod!)

“Don’t come back here, sweet child. My willpower isn’t what it used to be. Your mother thinks that tattoo will protect you. Today it did… But next time, who knows?”

Rashmi turned around. The old man was there, his expression sad and lonely. But something moved under the surface. An ancient evil, begging to be released. A breeze fluttered in through the open door. Past her neck and onto the old man’s face. She saw the humanity go out of his eyes. A loud crack and something monstrous sprouted out of his shoulders. 
And the teeth. Wicked, pointed and impossibly long. A creature about to rip her throat. 

Her survival instincts kicked in and she leaped out of the basement, into the blessedly cool hallway. The door behind her slammed shut as she ran. All the way to the front door. Past the overgrown yard and the old bridge. She didn’t stop until she reached her house, where she thankfully passed out, one foot inside the backyard. 

Epilogue: 
Rashmi didn’t speak for 3 whole days. Her mother didn't press her for details, but showed up every time the little girl woke up screaming from a nightmare. Ramya was punished for a whole month, with no access to friends or (worse) her phone. She didn’t complain one bit and instead offered to play board games with her sister. A few weeks later, Rashmi spotted a flyer for a new house. In a different town. She smiled and nodded gratitude at her mother. 


Life in their new home went by as usual. Rashmi sometimes worried about the “lunch box”. About who was now making the trips to the old house in the woods. But she asked no questions and turned off the TV when the news anchors spoke about “cattle go missing yet again”. So far, a 3 hundred-year-old promise was being kept. And that was good enough for her.