. . . Bright blue flashing lights. Screaming highway patrolmen . . . bright lights, a gurney, a female paramedic pounding on my chest. She was cute. I smiled at her. She looked surprised and said something to me . . . being wheeled down a hallway, bright lights, IV bags . . . men in masks fading quickly . . .
I woke up in a hospital bed. I felt groggy and stiff, and had a foul taste in my mouth and a headache. I tried to remember how I got there, and it all came rushing back. My headache disappeared as I looked for a call button or something. I found it on my pillow and pushed it. A few moments later, a nurse came in the doors. She smiled pleasantly.
“Good to see you’re awake. How are we feeling today?”
I tried to find my voice, but my tongue wouldn’t work. I smiled and mouthed Good at the nurse. She nodded, appearing pleased by my seeming laryngitis.
“Excellent. Excuse me, please; I need to get the doctor to come see you. Someone will be in here in a moment.”
She left and another nurse, a guy this time, replaced her. He helped me sit up and gave me some water from a straw. The doctor came in as I finished.
“Hello, Mr. Dimholdt, I’m Dr. Eric Martin.” We shook hands. “How are you feeling?” he inquired.
I found my voice this time. “Not bad, considering . . . considering what happened.”
“I see!” Dr. Martin wrote something on his chart. “Do you remember what did happen?”
I thought. Had we really been attacked by a vampire? Was it all a dream? Maybe I’d been in a car accident on the way home from work . . . No. No way. I decided to make something up. This wasn’t very easy on a morphine-laden mind.
“Car accident . . . T-boned by a truck.” The nurse looked puzzled and shot the doctor a look. He returned it. “Something wrong?” I asked.
“No, not at all! It’s just that your injuries are very . . . irregular . . . for someone who’s just been in a car accident.”
I tried to look innocent. Dr. Martin scribbled some more hieroglyphics on his chart and looked up. “Well, unless you have any concerns–”
“I don’t,” I interjected.
“–Then I’m afraid I have some sad news for you,” he finished.
Something dropped in my stomach. “Josh?” I asked quietly.
“I’m afraid so,” he responded.
“Yeah,” I whispered quietly, “What can you tell me?”
“Only that he’s gone, I’m afraid. The police can fill you in on the remaining details. However, they did tell me it looks as if he died from blunt force trauma to the head.”
I grunted. Blunt force trauma . . . sure. Vampire-force trauma, more like. “When can I talk to the police?” I asked.
“Not for a while, I’m afraid,” Dr. Martin replied, dismissing the nurses and getting ready to leave himself. “Some other men need to talk to you first.”
“Who? Coroner? His harpy of an ex-wife?”
“Neither. I believe they’re FBI, but they didn’t really say. I believe that’s them at the door right now, so have a nice day, Mr. Dimholdt.”
I bid Dr. Martins goodbye and then greeted my next two visitors. They were two guys, one black and one white, both dressed in conservative suits. The black guy looked in his late twenties, early thirties, and the white one a little older than that. They each looked fairly pleasant, but they also looked like they meant business. They flipped open their wallets, identifying themselves as federal agents. The black one introduced himself as Edward, and the white guy introduced himself as Gene.
“What can I do for you guys?” I asked as I shifted my position. The morphine was already starting to wear off and my ribs were aching.
“Can you tell us what happened two days ago?” Gene inquired.
“Sorry, I forgot, you’ve been unconscious. The incident in question occurred two days ago.”
“Yeah, sure. Uh, I- I mean, me and a couple friends got in a car accident. What’s this abou–” Gene cut me off.
“Let’s declare this a no BS zone,” he stated calmly, leaning back in his chair, “Two days ago, you and four of your companions, one since deceased, were attacked by a Class Delta vampire, correct?”
“Huh? I mean, what? Vampires? This isn’t sci-fi, this is reality.”
“As are vampires,” Ed said, “You and your friends killed one, correct?”
“Hey, it was self-defense. He tried to do us in first.”
“Fine. But you were attacked.”
“Yeah. How do you know about vampires? Are there more of them?”
Gene burst out laughing. “Are there more? My heck, yes. There are probably dozens scattered all over the world today, and other creatures, too.”
“Yes. Not only are there vampires, there are werewolves, Nagas, Yetis, wights, ghouls, several different varieties of zombies, and more.” I got the picture that he was enjoying shattering reality for me.
I was silent as I digested this fantastical information. “How do you know all this?”
“Were from the MCB,” Gene answered. “Monster Control Bureau. Our job is to neutralize these threats to national security.”
“So you kill these things . . .”
“. . . And unfortunately, those infected by them. Yes.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means, Mr. Dimholdt, that you are in a bit of a tight spot.” Edward jumped in. “Judging by the bruises and abrasions on you and your friends, you all were in fairly close quarters to a Class Delta vampire. As I’m sure you’re aware, humans become vampires by being bitten by them. It’s unclear at the moment whether or not any of the numerous cuts on your body were caused by the vampire’s fangs. We have, however, taken a blood sample, and are awaiting results now.”
“Meaning that sometime within the next half hour, we will find out whether you or any of your friends have been infected. Normally, your lack of any semblance of a throat would tell whether or not you’d been bitten, but since you were so close, we can’t afford to take any chances. I’m sorry.”
“So you’re just going to kill me?” For whatever reason, my voice had gone several octaves higher.
“Not now. However, if the results come back positive, you will have to be put down.”
I fell silent again. They were going to shoot me? Just for being close to a vampire? How was that fair? Then a thought hit me, and I almost grinned.
“You’re welcome to try,” I told the two MCB agents, “From what I saw of that Weta Class thing, you can shoot me as many times as you want and I’ll be just fine.”
“Delta Class,” Gene corrected me, “And no, I’m afraid not. You will not become fully infected with the vampire curse until you are physically dead. Even then, it has the sun has to be down for you to resurrect. If we terminate you before then, you will die and not come back.”
“Oh.” I looked around the room, feeling rather depressed, “Guess I’m helpless, then, huh?”
“I’m very sorry. It is for the best, though . . . you would not want to spend eternity as a vampire.” Gene trailed off, looking rather sad.
I tried to think of something to say. I wanted to understand more.
“You said Delta Class vampire.”
“What’s that mean?”
“There are four threat classifications of vampire: Delta, Charlie, Bravo, and Alpha. Delta is a baby; a vampire under six months old. From six months to a year, it’s a Charlie. One year to five years, it’s a Bravo. At some unknown point after that, a vampire becomes an Alpha, or Master Vampire. They’re extremely rare and all but invincible.”
I tried to digest this. “So we killed a baby vampire? Just a baby? It took all of us and a freaking truck to kill a baby?!”
Ed laughed quietly. “Yes. Vampires of any classification are the strongest of the undead. They’re cruel, cold, calculating, and almost always hungry.”
“How many others are there?” I asked eagerly, “How did the vampire we killed come to be?”
Ed and Gene traded looks. “We can’t say,” Gene said for the two of them. “Classified. Suffice it to say that the vampire that created the vamp you killed is in the same area.”
“Are you going to kill it?” I asked, getting angry at the thought of another night demon on the prowl.
“‘Eventually?’” I asked, getting even angrier, “Eventually? What the heck is that supposed to mean?!”
“Calm down, Mr. Dimholdt,” Ed responded, not perturbed in the least. “That particular vamp is fairly low on MCB priority lists.”
“Low?! Come on! What could be more important than saving human lives?!”
“Dimholdt!” Ed said, rising from his chair now. I could see I had touched a nerve. “We are saving lives! That vampire, however, is not as dangerous as other priorities on the list!”
“Get real,” I said sourly, “What else is more important?”
“Try an actual zombie outbreak in–”
“Ed!” Gene interrupted warningly. Ed calmed down, looking slightly embarrassed at his outburst.
“Sorry, Gene. He’s right, though, Mr. Dimholdt. We’ve said enough. I should add, however, that if you disclose any of this to any uncertified persons, you will be found in violation of the Unearthly Forces Disclosure Act, and prosecuted accordingly.”
I nodded, still fuming. Who’d believe me if I talked about his crap anyway?
The agents waited until I had calmed down a bit more, and then Ed spoke again. “However, Mr. Dimholdt, there is a positive side to all of this.”
I looked up. What could be positive about this?
“There is a bounty on unnatural creatures such as the vampire you killed. It’s called the P-U-F-F,” Ed said.
“Puff?” I asked, puzzled.
“Perpetual Unearthly Forces Fund,” Ed answered. “Theodore Roosevelt started it when he was president. It’s basically a tool for controlling monster populations. It’s like a giant pot of money. You kill some undead creature, like that vampire, and you are rewarded a bounty.”
This was sounding better. “How much?”
“Total amount? $175,000.”
I couldn’t speak.
“However,” Ed continued, “Your cut is only $43,750. It had to be split five, I’m sorry, four ways.”
My elation at being rich suddenly died. Josh was just as dead and no amount of money would bring him back. Poor guy . . . heck of a way to go.
My ruminations were cut off by the sound of a cell phone vibrating. My heart rate suddenly skyrocketed. I’d forgotten about the test results.
Gene looked at me gravely, drawing his phone from his pocket and answering it. “Walters. I see . . . It’s confirmed? Alright, thank you.”
He hung up the phone and turned to face me. I steeled myself for him and Ed to draw guns from under their coats. There was a moment of agonizing silence and then Gene broke into a smile.
I collapsed back onto the pillows, my heart going a mile a minute. Gene and Ed both shook my (weak, shaky) hand. “Take care, Mr. Dimholdt, and consider yourself lucky,” Ed said cheerfully, “I have never known anyone to have tussled with a vampire that close and been uninfected.
Gene was next. “Enjoy your money, and oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that Mr. Urso, Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Carroll’s test results are all clean as well. For whatever reason, your results were delayed.” He bid me goodbye as he exited the room.
I was on cloud nine. I was $40,000 richer, my friends were okay, and I knew just what I was going to do with my money.
. . . But first, I needed to talk to the other guys . . . and to carry out my plan, we’d all need to be strong . . . and to get strong, I’d need . . .
I punched the call button on my pillow, and the female nurse came back. “I’m hungry,” I said.