Like Hungry Jackals
In which Dodger deals death to the deathless.
A high-pitched shriek sounded from the left tunnel, followed by the unmistakable noise of something scrambling toward him. Dodger leveled the gun, and waited. The instant the tunnel mouth proved movement, he fired. A creature shot forward, tumbling into the grotto and collapsing at his feet. There the thing—what looked like a man, only warped with unnatural features—twisted and writhed, screaming at the top of its unholy lungs as a fetid vapor rose from the gaping wound in its shoulder.
Dodger had no time to watch this spectacle, for a chorus of voices sounded from both tunnels, filling the grotto with a wild echo of shrieks. Sounds bounced off every surface, dancing through the mines until Which was a bit unfortunate as now he couldn’t be sure which tunnel would dump the next target onto him. He raised his weapons again and waited for the sign of movement.
Left! Boon shouted in his mind.
Flinching at the scream, Dodger hesitated for an instant at the urgency in the ghost’s voice.
Left, damn you! Boon shouted.
Dodger understood, and fired blindly into the left hand tunnel. To his relief, a creature skidded from the mouth and fell writhing before him.
Dodger complied, firing Florence into the darkness of the right hand tunnel.
Thus it went, back and forth, Boon piloting Dodger’s shots by shouts and Dodger following his partner’s lead. Four, five, six, and with a flick of the dial he switched the guns to their second setting. Seven, eight, nine creatures exploded under the force of two bullets, until eventually the shouts and shots and shrieking ceased. A thin vapor rose from the pile of dead at his feet, leaving Dodger a bit light headed but none the worse for wear. It was easy. Too easy.
“Bravo,” came a woman’s voice from the belly of darkness.
Dodger paused as he reloaded his gun. This was unexpected. Rebecca said the vampire was an animal. He didn’t expect to talk to her.
“I haven’t seen shooting like that in years,” the woman said. Her voice had just an edge of an accent. Something European. Bulgarian? No, Romanian. Home of dark legends and myths. “You hav
“I take it you’re Gladys?” he asked the darkness.
“Yes. And you’re lunch.”
Dodger smirked at that. “Funny. Very funny.” He clicked Hortense closed and turned his attention to Florence. “I hate to disappoint you but I have no intention on dying today.”
“That makes two of us.”
“Are you going to come on out,” Dodger asked. “Or are you going to make me come after you?”
“Why should I come out? You’re just going to kill me too. Aren’t you? After all, isn’t that what those lying, two faced bitches sent you down here to do.”
“Yes.” He flicked the second gun closed and eyed the two tunnels. Where in the hell was Boon! At the moment Dodger needed him most, the ghost just ups and disappears. It was just as well, Dodger always worked better alone. If he could keep her talking, he was fairly sure he could pinpoint which path she was down. “I do plan on killing you. I’d like to say I’m sorry about that, but considering the state these poor men are in, I can’t say that I am.”
Her voice turned venomous. “Those men had it coming. Abusing women for their own disgusting needs. They deserve everything they got.”
“I thought the policy of the Rose was give a little, get a little.”
“As if you believe that any more than I do.” The Jackal’s rich laughter echoed up both tunnels.
“I’m not sure what I believe anymore. Let’s get this over with. Come on out now.”
“Tell me, why should I come out?”
The left one. He was almost sure she was down the left hand side. “Because I will kill you either way.”
“Men are all the same,” she said. “You expect women to just bend to your very will. I should thank you for my freedom. But I won’t. I knew it was only a matter of time before those cows made a mistake.”
“Come out and face me, or I’ll just come in after you.”
“Come in after me? You think you know everything. But I know something you don’t.”
“Oh yes? What’s that?”
“I have a gun too.”
Dodger ducked and rolled away just as the Sunbox exploded and shattered behind him, taking with it his only source of light. The inky gloom swallowed him whole, drowning him in complete black. He scrambled in this darkness, over the pile of corpses, until he came to rest against the cavern wall. Backing up the wall, Dodger drew both weapons and waited in the darkness for death to claim him.
Several sounds came to him as he concentrated, listening for a hint of where she was; a scurrying along the cavern floor, the grunts of those men sill dying before him, his own too loud breathing.
Wait … if he could hear his breathing, then so could-
The Jackal swept him off his feet before he could finish the thought and Dodger buckled under her. In his effort to break his fall he dropped Hortense, reaching out for any purchase along the cavern wall. He found none, and fell to the ground under her heaving bulk. To his dismay, the fall twisted his right arm behind him, pinning Florence under their combined weight. There he struggled in the total darkness, squirming amidst the bodies of the dead and dying, fighting to keep his life’s blood to himself. The beast chomped the air inches from his face—he didn’t need to see it to know. He could all but feel her teeth snap and snarl, dripping slobber and God only knows what else on his face.
With his left arm he held her away, trying his damnedest to get enough of her weight off of him so he could free his right arm and his weapon. Unable to land a bite, she resorted to punching and clawing at him, tearing through his shirt to reach the tender flesh beneath. Dodger let go long enough to get a few hits in himself, before returning to the struggle of keeping her from biting his face off.
“Yes!” she shouted. “Struggle for me. I like my meal to fight back. That’s it!”
And that was it, too. Dodger was fairly sure she would turn him into ground meat right there on the rocky floor of her prison. His strength fled him, as did his blood, her blows gutting him deeper and deeper with each stroke. Eventually he lost his grip on her, at which she grabbed his arm and pinned it above them, lowering her face to his, the cold rank of her charnel house breath in his face.
“You put up a good fight,” she said. “It will bring me much pleasure to have a meal of you. Or perhaps I should make you one of mine. Infect you. Rule you. Would you like that?”
Before all of this, Dodger used to think he was something special. He used to roll with the punches and shoot from the hip and dodge the bullet and a variety of other euphemisms for avoiding getting his ass handed to him by his enemy. Hell, even when he wanted to die—throwing himself in front of cannon after cannon, gun after gun, onto knives and swords and bayonets so many years ago—he couldn’t seem to manage it. Yet here he was, writhing in the dirt and blood and, for the first time in years, genuinely fighting for his life. The trouble with it was, and this was the most unbelievable part, he had never felt more alive.
He actually wanted to live.
“Any last words before I consume you whole?” she whispered.
Before he could answer, Boon shouted, “Gladys!”
“Wash?” the Jackal asked, and lifted herself off of Dodger.
In fact, she lifted herself just enough for Dodger to free his right hand, and the weapon it bore. He slid his arm out from under them, raised the gun to her bulk and opened fire. Bursts of light leap from the barrels as they blasted triple shots into the shrieking beast. In moments it was done; Dodger was out of ammunition, and the Jackal went silent. She slumped over him, motionless, and weighing what Dodger would guess came to about a million tons. With maximum effort he rolled her corpse off of him.
“Is she dead?” Boon asked, his voice labored.
“She was dead before,” Dodger said, his voice equally labored.
“You know what I mean.”
“I think she’s given up the ghost now.” Dodger got to his knees with a wince, and began routing around the darkness, searching for his missing weapon. “Speaking of ghosts, where did you go? I could have used some help sooner.”
“I thought I could help more if I touched her mind. Perhaps I could talk her down, or something like that.”
“And it was a bad idea. A very bad idea. It put both of us at peril, and I can’t apologize enough. Are you well?”
“Well enough. I think I might need some of the doc’s medicine though. And soon.” A familiar outline passed under his searching fingers as he swiped his hands over the cavern floor. “There you are.” Ignoring the burning pain in his sides, Dodger snapped up the stray gun and holstered her. “How about you? You sound almost as bad as I feel.”
“Good. Just weak.”
“I didn’t know ghosts could get weak.”
“As I said, tapping into a normal mind drains my constitution, but her mind … Dodger … it was unspeakable. The darkness. I’ve never seen such thoughts before.”
Dodger wanted to sympathize, but reckoned they could commiserate all they wanted once they got back to the line. “Can you find the exit?”
“I’m at the ladder now. Follow my voice.”
He did as asked, carefully picking his way across the floor, to the ladder as Boon guided him along. Once he reached the exit, Dodger looked up the shaft, to the pinpoints of light just piercing the hatch, wondering how in the hell he would make it all the way up there in his current shape. But somehow he did, painfully pulling himself up rung for rung, until he pushed back the hatch and thrust his face into the moonlight once more. Spilling out of the shaft’s mouth like some retched up meal, Dodger rolled onto his back and sucked the clean night air into his aching lungs.
“Damn son,” Boon said as he stooped over Dodger. “You look a mess. I didn’t realize how much damage she’d done.”
“I’ll be fine,” Dodger said. “Most of it’s superficial.” He pulled back the tatters of his jacket, hissing at the dark gouges underneath. Laying on his back again he tried to lighten the spirit’s mood. “I think I’ll need a new shirt though. Shame too. I liked this one.”
“As did I,” Rebecca said. Her silhouette eclipsed Dodger’s view of the swollen moon as she moved in to look down at him. “But I’m certain we can outfit you with something comparable.” The vampire stooped over him and pushed Dodger’s hands aside to inspect his wounds. Dodger was far too weak to resist. She removed his shirt, hissing and clucking her tongue at the damage underneath.
“It’s not that bad,” Dodger said, though as he did he could feel a trickle of warm life stream from the corner of his mouth.
“I must admit, it’s better than what I expected. But, of course, I didn’t expect you to survive at all. You’ve surprised and impressed me. You’ve impressed my sisters as well.”
“I aim to please,” he whispered.
“Your aim is extraordinary, Mr. Dodger.” She clapped, and other figures moved in along either side of him. “Take him to the Rose. We shall tend to his wounds there.” Looking back down to him she added, “Tis the least my sisters and I can do for such exceptional service.”
The presence of so many blood suckers around his very bloody body made Dodger all sorts of nervous. “I appreciate the offer, but I reckon the doc can take care of me when we get back to the line. I’d like to settle up and get on our way.” He tried to sit up, to get to his feet on his own, but the moment he raised his body the world spun and nausea swallowed him whole.
“Nonsense,” Rebecca said. “Our medicine is stronger, and our methods are much more pleasant. Relax, let us ease your pain.”
Before he could argue, Rebecca passed her hand over his eyes, and with the motion Dodger fell into the loving arms of his dark mistress once more.