The weather had closed in again and had the tunnels still been open, the danger of a collapse would have been too great to use them.
The three bedraggled and very nude vampires were given what precious few clothes the others had, which accounted for Spike now sitting in one of Brenda’s favorite cardigans and overly short pair of Eddie’s sweats. His fellow vampires were dressed in similarly ill fitting attire. Jon’s ensemble of Nic’s favorite sports jacket and his own ‘spare’ pants was a treat. Xander made do with his own boxers and an extremely oversized sweat shirt from Robbie, his slimmer, effeminate build never more obvious as he tucked his knees under his chin, and enjoyed the warmth of the enormous garment.
Eventually they heard Mike’s old jalopy groan its way up the potholed driveway after nearly three days of misery, huddled together under the tarpaulin. At least they had plenty of water as pointed out by Robbie, whose attempt at humor on day two after the rescue, fell rather flat. But he was correct. They were able to collect water, literally by the bucket load.
Mike was a ‘good kid’, even by Spike’s estimation. And as they listened to him grumble his way around the yard, whistling his disbelief at the amount of damage that various buildings had sustained, and muse regards what the owners might think, they smiled. Fortunately the poultry shed was still in tact. The cows had not been milked for days and were apparently starting to ‘dry up’.
Mike continued to chat to himself as he worked, so in a strange sort of way, the whole family received an update… and all gave a wry smile at his, “Wave to the camera and say hi to soldier pricks” comment.
Afterwards the adults all agreed, if they made it out of this mess, Mike would find himself with a brand new vehicle to bump up their road in.
But the parents all worried. They had only managed half a bucket full of milk, courtesy of the desperation of the last excursion and that was over a week ago. Now they had run out.
Thankfully the twins were onto solids so did not need milk for primary sustenance, and it had been ‘spread out’ with additional hot water until now. The food was dangerously low or going moldy with all the rain and now they had another problem. One they knew inevitable, the little bottles of butane fuelling their cooker had finally run out.
The families all sat for almost a day shivering miserably in the cold, before Xander remembered. Without saying a word, he scrambled out from under the tarp and pushed through an earthquake induced hole at the rear of the main barn retrieving the prize he had desperately hoped was still there. Two, almost full, gas bottles and an old cast iron single burner. Their lives were a little better again for a time. At least the water they drank was now hot and they could cook rationed quantities of rice and tiny portions of the remaining dried herbs and root vegetables.
Gaia continued to rage. Nine days later, they were still listening to the radio every few hours. They carefully to turned it off as soon the news report was over. Ranier was indeed rumbling but as yet nothing. Mt St Helens in her usual fashion had spewed forth, not as violently as her first efforts in the eighties, but still throwing heated rock and ash into the atmosphere. According to reports, similar activity by numerous volcanoes worldwide threatened the world’s crops. If more than a year’s crops failed, millions would die. Yet the earth continued her assault.
More locally, under the tarp, the situation was rather more urgent. Food was running worryingly low. A few lentils, a little pasta and some dried herbs was all that remained. Fresh vegetables were long gone. Nappies were left on for longer and longer, then eventually left off… Those who needed to excrete, including small people, had to depart the shelter, inevitably returning saturated and miserable but beyond embarrassment as all present knew why and where they had gone. The large hole made by Jon’s rescue becoming their default toilet.
The vampires hadn’t eaten for nearly ten days, other than exchanging blood with each other. Robbie was already noticeably thinner when they entered their shelter. Now he, the D’Azpuras and Eddie were decidedly losing weight and very quiet, all stoically passing on what little food there was to the younger members of their group.
The twins fared reasonably well for the first few days, but as the food ran out, cried. Their bottles were filled with watered down milk or plain water, and they simply sobbed and sucked until they slept. Eddie’s three initially complained of being hungry but as the situation became dire, ceased their complaints and simply huddled together, crying themselves to sleep when little tummies hurt with emptiness. The three vaguely remembered another time when they hid away, but there was no memory of hunger, this was so much worse.
The adults began to contemplate their options again.
They began to consider ways of accessing food. The vampires could probably make a sweep out and around the property. It would encompass almost five miles by the time they skirted through trees and around the outer edges of fences, the aim being to come to the ‘food’ areas from behind the cameras, much as they had done with their tunnels, but the weather was going to make the return trip with any reasonable booty difficult and unlikely to succeed.
Given the dreadful weather, the option of simply ‘risking it’ and heading for the hen house was considered and quickly dismissed. They wondered if they could bail up Mike at some point, act like vagrants and ‘mug him’ for food. That too was eventually discounted.
Everyone turned to Xander.
They listened then all agreed… a camera blackout. They would literally taking out the barn camera, giving them some cover at least, so long as they used the buildings and natural rise of the earth for cover. The idea was ridiculously simple … cover the lens.
Covering the barn camera, gave them access the chicken coop and Eddie’s shed where the chicken feed was kept. If they were quick enough they could steal what they needed, deliver it then remove the cover on the camera. Hopefully the Initiative would simply think it a glitch.
It worked for five days, the non blood drinkers of the families finally ate a little better, before the weather cleared for the afternoon and they heard an army truck bounced up the driveway. It was late afternoon, rather than their usual evening visit, and almost four weeks since any Initiative soldiers had physically checked the property. Only one pair of boots hit the ground, they heard a gun being cocked.
Nic pulled his wife and children to him, Eddie and Jon hugged theirs, and Robbie was pulled into a hug with Xan, Spike and the little ones. Spike’s quick thinking providing each of the two, now rather ‘chatty’ little folks with the end of finger, licked and coated with a touch of their very last few teaspoons of precious sugar to suck. As the others held their breath, the noise of the children’s sucking even sounded too loud.
They listened as the soldier obviously checked the two cameras, swearing under his breath regards ‘all weather casing my ass.’
They heard the steps heading for the car again but they suddenly stopped. It was followed by the boots rounding the rear of the barn and coming closer, followed by the whine of some sort of electrical device. Eddie buried his face in Jon’s neck as the sound continued to approach their hiding place… it was too reminiscent of when his original family was taken more than six years ago. He barely withheld a sob.
“Anyone there?” The voice sounded youthful and rather less than confident. Spike smelt fear and sweat, it did not auger well, a scared, trigger happy soldier was no one’s friend.
“Show yourself!!!” The butt of a gun began to poke harshly into their overhead tarpaulin, and bang on the collapsed roof and their cover from the weather.
Before any of the families could react, Robbie shifted his weight and all but sprinted, pushing out from under the hefty material.
“Me. Me!! Don’t shoot, *please* don’t shoot!” They heard the cocking of a gun and waited for the shot, but it didn’t come.
“On the ground!” They all heard Robbie move, obviously now kneeling or lying in the mud.
“S..State your name and your business!”
The mature baritone voice was calm and resolved, in sharp contrast to his captor, “Robert R McKenzie, 55689127, warrant officer, infantry, fifty first company, retired. Business here, trying to survive… Sir.”
The young soldier was utterly thrown. The man outranked him in age and obviously experience. “Right, good… Um… I have a detector! And it wasn’t just you in there! State the name and purpose of your companions!”
He had been instructed to kill anyone found on the property, and had already failed with W.A. (retired) R.R. McKenzie. He raised his gun instead and pointed it at the enclosure.
Robbie was kneeling head down, hands behind his back, in a ‘correct’ prisoner position but could sence the shift in the stance. He now did the only thing he could think of and lifted his face with genuine tears streaking a very muddy and obviously under nourished countenance. He watched the sun slip behind the mountains to the west and knew that it was but a small mercy if needed.
“They are my family Sir, please!! We lost our home! We could go no further! Arrest me, but don’t harm them, Please!!”
The boy was conflicted and frightened, Robbie could tell. He took a chance and looked into the young soldier’s eyes, the hazel eyes of a boy who could not have been more than nineteen or twenty. The muzzle of the gun had returned, pointing straight at his head now. He wasn’t sure if he would die, given that the soldier’s hands were shaking, his confused state obviously making him… unpredictable.
Robbie took a chance, “Please son, *please* we mean no harm!”
The young man barked back, “You should be in town at the shelter in the school gym! What are you hiding!?”
“We had no way to get there son…” But the soldier’s attention was back on the tarpaulin and despite Robbie’s, “… Listen please… *please*!”
The young man marched around to the end of the broken structure and began to peel away the family’s protection.
Spike had started chanting as soon as Robbie departed… more for the darling human and the others, than himself. The other adults under the canopy did likewise, though this time they were less confident given that Dawn had many, many thousands of such families to protect now. But something wonderful did happen. It was the second time she came through, just as the covers were tugged back, the air around Eddie’s three and Eddie himself suddenly shimmered and the four Parsalas demons’ features disappeared in a glamour. They were, for all the world, a human family, albeit the children and mother were small, but they were definitely hairless and human in color. Jon was as wide eyed as their prospective captor pushed the muzzle of a gun and too bright torch into their dark little space.
The young soldier was utterly overwhelmed as he hauled back the two tarps, and shone is torch into the cramped living area. There were five tiny children, two beautiful teenaged girls and six adults all huddled into a space smaller than his momma’s sewing room.
“Wha…??” His voice cracked a little as Elsbeth whimpered and buried her face into Spike’s chest. The four other tiny children picked up on the sentiment and also began to cry. But the soldier gestured with his gun and the adults were forced to comply.
Leaving the toddlers on the ground begging for their parents, the entire bedraggled family struggled to their feet, adults with hands up in surrender, and the older girls wide eyed and in a state of panic. The young soldier only belatedly realized that his gun was pointed directly at the group, cocked ready to fire.
In an odd moment of clarity, the young man realized that his gun would easily shoot through two or three bodies, parents and children now looking at him, the obvious mother of the three tiny tearful beings, looking so much like his blue eyed sister… He was lost and confused… He should have accessed his training but went on instinct instead. The ‘safety’ was still off but he had spoken to the ‘intruder’ instead of shooting, and the man was ex-army and now this… He was a good soldier, he had done well at training, had been given responsibility, but now found he could not shoot.
“I um… Oh God!” He kept the torch on the group but dropped the line of his weapon.
Various adults looked at him with pathetic gratitude for the small concession. He watched as tiny children were lifted by listless arms and noted the gaunt look of all the parents, the desperation in all their faces, and the muddy floor. He also couldn’t fail to notice the tiny pile of food in one corner, the single cooking pot and a water bucket. A whiff of their ‘toilet facilities’ as the wind swung, completed the scene for the young man. The safety catch was clicked on the gun, and Patty collapsed into Nic’s arms sobbing.
This was the young man’s first ‘tour of duty’, having been transferred to the Initiative. It would later become apparent that, in the light of the natural disasters and general mayhem, ‘special projects’ were hardly a priority for the human population, and the government had pulled ninety five percent of all their funding until future notice. Where possible, the former ‘wonder boys’ of the government now used new recruits, as they were… cheaper. The alternative was shutting down operations completely, something that was happening worldwide anyway, in response to far bigger issues of natural disaster and impending global famine. It was only a matter of time, humans and magical creatures were now all struggling against a far greater foe. Differences were being forgotten and with Dawn’s intervention the insanity that had been the Initiative was eroded as time and time again their ‘targets’ eluded them in their final push.
Private Richards collected himself a little and ordered them out of their hiding space.
The sad little group shuffled from their hiding place, all the parents had children shielded by their bodies and were watching the soldier fearfully. Unlike Robbie or Spike for that matter, he’d never seen first hand what the bullet of a high powered military rifle could do to a small child, or a parent and small child ‘combination’. Dawn couldn’t sustain the glamour so instead touched the young man with her energy as she departed. As he watched, the glamour wore off… He clearly saw the pretty ‘mother’ morph into a pretty blue demon of the same stature and could just make out the blue pelts of Eddie and his brood in the failing twilight and spot of the torch. He should have fired, they were demons his gun was raised again, but he was staring at families in crisis.
Robbie was begging quietly, “Please, son, please!” It had started to rain again. The near silent group of captives stood shivering as they were slowly saturated by the un-seasonal downpour.
The lad was in a quandary, he’d been sent to simply check on the cameras which (like so many others the Initiative had installed across the west coast) were malfunctioning with the weather and earth movements. If he encountered hostiles he was to shoot to kill. He was not briefed to deal with refugees, or fugitives, or *harmless* demons (which these obviously were), or humans! And yet here were three families of desperate people in front of him and now there were demons too… and shouldn’t he shoot them, but they were tiny and starving and children!
He watched as a few of the adults swayed on the point of collapse, and remembered stories his Grandmother had shared of she and her family fleeing from the killing fields of Poland in the early parts of the second world war. Stories of families publicly butchered; of terrified innocent neighbors shot in front of their shops; of women violated then murdered; and children rounded up and machine gunned in front of their parents, just because of the politics of the time. And he recalled his father’s outrage at the Vietnam war when a beloved brother returned without legs and with similar horrific first hand memories. And he had read about Rwanda and the Balkans and the Gulf… and now it was in his face, and they were Americans, and yet the Initiative had decided they weren’t, yet there was an obviously experienced soldier at his feet begging and children… human children… and little ones that looked human… mostly… but for their color??!
His Grandmother won.
He commanded them all to “Stay!”, scrambled onto the roof to disable the barn camera then jumped into his vehicle and reversed down the muddy drive. He switched off the roadside camera, then revved back up the driveway, reversed around the back of the house to scramble up using the car and removed the scanning device for the house.
None of the family had dared move, and had no idea what he was doing.
Little Chris and Elsbeth had begun to shiver uncontrollably, and Eddie’s three were faring no better, the D’Azpura girls were weeping and shivering, now held tightly by their mother and father. Robbie was still kneeling in the mud, but now had his face in his hands. The vampires could all smell his tears and longed to go to him but dared not. Even if only Robbie survived it would be one… one who could tell their story…
The vehicle skidded back into its original parking space, and after an impossible pause the young soldier helped Robbie to his feet.
“You all need to come inside.”
Spike didn’t miss that the safety catch on his gun was still on.
They were inside their own house for the first time in more over two months.
The young soldier, named David as it turned out, was Private David Richards… something he shared with Robbie as he broke in through the rear door of their own home and led them inside.
The family entered quietly and all huddled in the middle of the kitchen waiting, for what, they were not too sure. Spike was beginning to question why he had not been more proactive though with no blood he was weaker and slower, and he knew it. At full strength a couple of months ago, he would have been fast enough to disarm and disable and drain him, but somehow he knew that that was the last resort; that this boy was more than he seemed; and that they should trust Dawn who was telling them something, pushing her influence beyond mere a cloaking spell or glamour.
David was obviously young, inexperienced and rather uncomfortable with his new role as master and controller of… whole groups of people…
“Well…. Umm sit down I guess and um… “
Robbie recognized his discomfort and took the lead. Caked in mud from his mid thighs down, he stood proud though still bowed his head a little in supplication to the man David had not yet shouldered his weapon. “May we stoke the fire Sir? It’s just that… the children are cold.”
The young man, David, not Private Richards, answered, “Oh yeah sure… and umm you know, the cameras are off for now and there are um… chickens and… so um… food… but you know… you better not run! I’ll um… I’ll come with you… to supervise and… you’ll need dry wood.” The last words were that of the young insecure good hearted nineteen year old.
“’S alright pet, there’s a few of us for the food run.” Spike still had his head lowered in a submissive pose but lifted his azure eyes to look thankfully at the young man before adding quietly, “Little’uns would love a bath and Robbie over there is a champ at fire stokin’ …”
Private Richards still had not put his gun down, but it was slowly moved to hang from his right shoulder and they split ranks, leaving the girls with the little people and Robbie and all the others heading out for food. As they moved to the door Spike grabbed the young man’s hand, “Just want to thank you luv, even if it’s only one night when the kids can feel clean and happy, just want to thank you.” He kissed back of the hand then rested it on his forehead for a moment in an act of such gratitude and passion that the young man was quite overwhelmed.
They milked the only cow still producing milk and had enough for all the children, there were eight fresh eggs, and by some miracle, some mint, self sewn beans and greens still growing.
Candles had been set up through the house by the time they returned, and Spike and Jon attended the beginnings of their feast. Spike noticed that there were weevils in the flour and moths in various other containers, but it didn’t matter. They would eat, even if it was a last meal.
Private Richards watched as the entire group rallied to give the five tiny folk all they needed. Bottles of still warm milk were distributed and eagerly sucked while a bath was prepared, requiring numerous pots on the stove and lots of, ‘it’ll be there soon’ messages from the parents.
It was such a simple, domestic scene. The young soldier had finally downed his gun and stood at the door and watching as two human babies, now almost a year old, and the three little blue children, playing with unfettered delight in their first bath for two months. Then it suddenly struck him… this was their home. They had been driven from their *own home*, not by the quakes, but by his own government.
Robbie and Spike had both expected it. Spike smelled the tears first. It was David Richards that stood at the door, tears welling and falling as he watched the bath scene: various little folk taking their turn to splash and play with the ball that had been supplied, tug at each other and squeal with delight as though the previous months of fear and the soldier suddenly broke. Not the emotional sobbing they were perhaps more accustomed to, but a violent outburst that involved a tarpaulin and few bales of straw taking quite a beating.
It was Robbie’s domain. He wandered out to the sound of the punches and angry tears and waited a time, then approached the young man quietly. “I’m sorry we upset you.”
David looked up, “What?... um…. What!!??!! It’s not you, it’s just… just all a lie isn’t it… we’ve been killing you and it’s all a lie! I mean apart from the… well the blue… the blue *people* the rest are human… and so why?”
“Not everything our government or society tells us is true, son. The families in there are all borne of magic… all targets of the Initiative… all on the death list.”
David stared at the older man “No Wha?? But they have to be…”
Robbie swallowed hard but went with his gut feeling. “Look son, not everything that goes bump in the night is something sinister, and not every demon is a threat and not every demon looks different…. It’s just like the human scenario. There are good and bad. Now the folks you’ve just met? Fine upstanding citizens, the D’Azpuras … local accountant, nurse, cheerleader and kid sister; the four boys, more abused than you will ever know by the precious Initiative. And for no more reason than they were caught…; their children born and raised in fear… of humans.”
“But then they *must* have been…”
“Son the tall brunette in there, the one with the two kids, was as human as you and I but fought with the Slayer, so became a target. They captured him, jailed him and changed him, cut him up and ‘treated’ him as an experiment for two years, in much the way Dr Mengele did in the second world war… and now….”
“He has soft skin and …”
“They were trying to breed from him, Private… as in messing about so he could carry the children they impregnated him with… They treated Eddie our blue friend likewise.” Robbie saw the horrified look in the young man’s face and continued
“Son… I can’t begin explain to you the atrocities, and they won’t describe half of them, but I can ask that you delve into your conscience. You will have to make a report in the morning. You have done something wonderful tonight, but I must ask… Can you keep us secret? For the love of God … please… Can you do that? All we want is to live our lives in peace.”
There was a very long pause. Finally David lifted his eyes to meet Robbie’s. “You have my word of honor Sir. The report will read intermittent fault needing review in three days time.” The officious tone dropped immediately. “I have to put the cameras back on… I’ll come back… I will! ... And I’ll bring a few things. Can you stay inside until then?”
Food was eaten and the candles extinguished as Private Richards activated the cameras again and departed.
Soft warm beds, family, and this time Robbie did agree, snuggling down with Spike, Xander and the twins. Gaia rumbled again. They rode out the tremor, then slept.
After The Fall: 33