The first bolt smashed through the door pinning the night beast to the wood. It screamed feral fury as Joshua reloaded the crossbow with shaking hands. He ratcheted the bolt into position, hands trembling still as he took aim at the screaming monster.
“Slowly, son… take your time. It’s not going anywhere,” cautioned Jacob.
Together they stood vigil in the hallway of the broke-back house staring down at the impaled bloodsucker. Joshua gulped, his eyes wet, never leaving the creature as he tried to level his weapon.
Jacob guided his arm on target.
“Do they even feel pain, Father?”
Jacob shrugged and spat, sour spittle hitting the floor beneath the creature’s foot.
“I sure hope so, son. I want them to feel every one. Okay, let it fly.”
Joshua unleashed the killing bolt — looking to his father for approval.
At home, Joshua threw feed to their scrawny chickens. Inside the barn, his father’s mechanical hammering could be heard as the steel tang of the blacksmith’s strike echoed sharply through the open door. Corn feed slid between Joshua’s numb fingers in a wide absent spray as memories flooded over. Staccato frames of horror flashed in quicksilver speed as the killing wrath of the night before returned.
Sharp, cracked fingernails.
The spider quick scuttle of frenzied mad things.
The banshee wail of death.
Joshua shivered as icy, rough fingers scraped his spine in cruel memory. Shuddering, he turned back to his afternoon chores. Last night had been forever ago — yet still burned bright in his fourteen year old heart.
The barn was now silent. Time had slipped by.
Joshua called out to his father turning away from the absent birds. His father was strangely silent now.
Hidden within the cavernous barn, nothing moved.
No sound could be heard.
No hammering. No Jacob.
Silence hung over the yard in a disquieting shroud.
“Dad, everything okay?”
Joshua stepped to the barn. His stomach souring, feet heavy in the coming as he tried not to let his fear overwhelm him. He had finished his last chores with the chickens now fed — so he was okay. His work was done. Silence from his father could mean many things though; stony dissatisfaction, that he was taking a secret drink, or when he too was lost in his own memories of their once-ago family. Joshua had a long list of times and circumstances he could map with absolute surety that would result in punishment because of quiet.
Silence was always a prelude to pain.
“I finished my chores, Pa. You got anything else for me to do?”
Joshua eased inside casting furtive glances about the cool-shadowed building. Light fought for purchase through the strange angled shadows dominating the weathered wood. Pools of light illuminated the doorway, his father’s workbench and the much-used forge. The rest was black.
Joshua’s feet padded slowly forward, his heart pounding in lock step as he crept inside. He knew his father was there — had to be. He had just heard him working on the horseshoes for their last broken mare.
The furnace stood untended, tongs and hammer of the trade abandoned on the dusty floor, fire still crackling with assured heat inside the forge.
He picked up the tongs, then the heavy eight-pound hammer lying absently on the hard-packed ground. Jacob would never leave his tools in the dust — a lesson he had learned never to do at his father’s harsh hand. Touching the weathered handle, his father’s hammer, felt like an act of defiance. He had to use both hands to lift the dead-weight steel. Joshua gently placed it on the anvil as his eyes searched the stables that had long been emptied. Between the endless drought of this summer and the ensuing ‘Sucker infestation, the downward spiral of their home and the surrounding county was assured. Homewood county had been wrung dry. Death was the only constant here now. Noah, his baby brother had passed when the pigs and horses got infected. His Ma had been attacked by ‘Suckers on her way home from visiting her sister one town over.
Nothing moved inside the barn.
Joshua stepped even deeper into the dark.
The sharpened bolts for the crossbows were lined neatly on the gritted workbench along with a sour, wet sack still dripping from the night before.
Joshua could barely look at it.
Red, thick blood pooled on the weathered bench as fat blue bottle flies sang in the afternoon heat. Jacob had struck the creature’s head from the still-twitching corpse as Joshua dry-heaved his victory. Sawing through the jugular and the soft part of the neck, Joshua could still hear his father instructing him on the best way to field dress a vampire.
“Always cut from front to back. Keep well back from the jugular on the first cut. Blood gets everywhere.”
In demonstration, Jacob deftly sawed through the yellowed-throat of the now truly-dead creature. Blood, rude-red in color, splashed spitting as Jacob continued to cut.
“If it was still kicking, this thing would geyser like a tapped well. Always keep in back and don’t get any on you. The blood alone will turn ya if you get it in your mouth or an open cut.”
Choking back his nausea, Joshua nodded dully as his father severed the ‘Sucker’s head.
“Cut upwards with the blade into the spinal column and find the soft links between the vertebra with your knife. The cut only works there.”
Jacob’s blade snickered neatly through the corpse as the head tumbled to the floor, rolling across to Joshua.
“Use the gunny sac to cover it and always haul it by the bag. Don’t ever let your skin get in direct contact with it. Remember, it’ll turn you if you touch the blood.” Jacob’s eye twinkled in the half-light of the hallway as the soon-rising sun slid first light through the window.
“ Never hesitate, son. If you hesitate, you die. Understand?”
Joshua nodded as he slid the grimy burlap sac over the head of the creature using the toe of his boot. He kicked the covered package over breathing a sigh of relief.
Now, the same bag sat on the shelf before him.
Slowly, rising and falling as if the head inside had returned to life yet again. A sly, thin chuckle wheezed from inside the sac.
His eyes widening in shock, Joshua crabbed backwards away from the bag falling onto the dry pan of the floor.
“Dad! Dad! Dad!”
Joshua scurried backwards away from the head gasping as he tried to bite back the panic. He knew this was not real. It was his imagination.
The sack on the table was still.
Long seconds passed as he stared at the blood soaked package.
He could detect no movement from within.
Rubbing his cheating eyes, Joshua stood slowly, continuing to watch the head for any movement.
His fingers found the ball-peen hammer on the anvil. He felt better just touching the steel — willing away his fear. He could do this.
Sunlight streamed through the door as Joshua strode through the dust motes spiraling in the half breeze. His tongue traced tombstone teeth in careful measure as he steeled his resolve determined to pull the dirty bag from the monster’s head. Proving that is was truly gone.
That he was a man now.
He stepped forward.
A drop of scarlet spattered his outstretched arm as he reached for the burlap sack.
He gasped as he pulled back his clothed arm and craned his keening eyes up.
Jacob was cradled in a nest of corruption deep in the rafters.
Four adult creatures and two undead children clung hideously to his father in the shadowed depths. They drank from neck, arms, wrist and groin in languid stupor. Like tics, they were lost in their feeding once attached.
Joshua shook at the sight of his father hanging in space being fed on. Determined not to scream and alert the feasting monsters. Soft sucking sounds drifted to him through the thick summer air. With eyes closed in evil ecstasy, the ‘Suckers did not notice the horror-stricken boy admist them.
Unless he screamed.
They knew screams — seeking them out always.
Joshua willed himself silent. Any sound now could kill him.
Jacob’s steely eyes opened as if sensing his son, his blood-streaked iris’s floating to the stakes on the worktable and crossbow hanging on the peg next to them. His lips moved slowly with great care so Joshua could read them.
His message was clear. “Kill me.”
Jacob had taught his son well about ‘Suckers. If he did not kill his father, he would return as a night crawler, if they didn’t drain him dry. He was already a dead man. Joshua watched a lone, red tear leak from his father, knowing that he was sorry, saddened that he was abandoning his son to a world gone mad with night terrors. He was broken — unable to see his son grow strong.
Joshua nodded in silent agreement.
Moving slowly to the forge, he gingerly slid the poker into the heated maw as he watched the crawlers continue to feed. Joshua pushed the metal rod deep into the coals. On feather-light feet, he stepped to the crossbow, lifting it from the peg.
He had only one shot to make before they realized he was here.
With careful hands, he slid both bolt and bow into position all the while blind to what his hands were doing. His eyes remained fixed on the grisly tableau above as he chambered his weapon. Jacob had taught him how to assemble, crank and operate the crossbow blindfolded.
“When would I ever need to know how to do this, Pa?”
Jacob had made him practice endlessly for this exact purpose, Joshua now knew. Sighting tight on his father, he watched Jacob’s head dip in acknowledgement.
Then close his eyes.
The bolt flew true breaching the bloodletting with furious result, the hand-carved stake smashing into Jacob’s heart with merciless accuracy.
From above, the ‘Suckers screamed in unison as Joshua raced to the forge grasping the red-hot poker.
The engorged monsters fell from the roof furious at being disturbed as Joshua threw the fiery steel over them into the well-packed hay stacked behind. The tinder-dry cuttings he had spent days assembling burst into immediate flame shooting skyward hot tongues of wrathful fury.
Joshua stepped back into the welcoming light of the door as he took one last look at his father pinned to the ceiling above.
It was a good kill.
He walked out into the baked summer yard as the death screams of the bloodsuckers behind him wailed through the inferno. Joshua knew his father was proud of him.
Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories plus full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and comics. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published by Quail Bell, Avalon Literary Review, Crepe & Penn, Clever Magazine, Peeking Cat Literary Journal, Danse Macabre, Fiction on the Web, CafeLit, Horla, Bond Street Review, Free Bundle, Filth Magazine & The Adelaide Literary Magazine. Find out more about him at www.juliangrant.com.