Witch's Cauldron by Weaver
Disclaimer: As always, anything you recognize isn't mine.
A young man of about eighteen trudges along a deserted road scattered with abandoned cars and wreckage. His appearance is fairly typical for an untransformed person forced to make their way though the post-Halloween world, weighed down with a backpack containing everything he has to his name, his clothes battered and dirty from his journey, sleeping rough and fighting for his life. Slighly more unusual is the sword carried rather haphazardly at his hip, the only thing holding the naked blade in place being his belt. Every few seconds his hand brushes against it, as if to reassure himself that it’s still there. But the thing that would probably be most striking to any onlooker is the expression on his face. In contrast to the fear and despair usually found written upon the features of those in his position, it is a look of pure, unadulterated determination.
Eyes warily scanning the surroundings, he breaks from the steady, unrelenting march that he’d been maintaining for the past three hours and takes cover in the narrow gap between a wall and a car turned on its side. Ignoring the now familiar burning in his legs, he catches his breath, pulling a bottle of flat coke from his bag and taking a long drink. His thirst dealt with, he becomes aware of a necessity at the other end of the system and takes care of it before shouldering his bag and moving on. Catching a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, he draws his sword and looks around. A thin faced, mousy haired man with a sparsely stubbled chin and green eyes stared at him from out of a broken mirror. Gabriel stares back.
Shaking his head, Gabriel slips the sword back through his belt and continues on his way. In the back of his mind, the vague, silent presence of his sword felt almost amused, or at least Gabriel guessed to be amusement. The presence had been a constant in his life since he’d acquired the sword. He knew nothing of its former bearer except for how they died, the roguish looking fantasy type being swallowed whole by something huge and reptilian while Gabriel stayed hidden, praying that it wouldn’t find him and cursing himself for being a coward, not daring to move until the thing’s footsteps faded into the distance. He’d retrieved the sword solely because it was a weapon that was a step up from a knife, not realising the skill that would be necessary to wield it effectively. When he realised that it was the source of the newly acquired presence in his head, he’d considered throwing it away but thought better of it. Strangely, the presence (dubbed Cali during a moment of acute boredom on Gabriel’s part) seemed to be helping him. He’d lost count of the number of times his life had been saved by being woken by what amounted to a mental kick just in time to escape or defend himself from an attacker, or being in a fight and suddenly becoming aware of someone sneaking up behind him. Having an unexpected visitor in his head was a small price to pay for his survival, which he knew all too well was largely down to dumb luck to begin with. As time had passed he’d stopped resenting having Cali in his head altogether. He’d started out travelling with others but they’d been picked off (or in the possible case of one Japanese guy, wandered off and got lost), until he was the only one left. That was over a month ago and he hadn’t seen anyone who hadn’t either wanted to kill him or was otherwise best avoided since then. Cali wasn’t much company but it was better than nothing.
Approaching a crossroads, Gabriel paused to check that there wasn’t anything lurking around the corners. Sharp eyes scanned the area but they saw no apparent threats and Cali remained quiet. Grunting, he marched across the road and continued on in a straight line. He didn’t know when he was going and he didn’t particularly care. All that mattered was that he kept moving, kept living. All he knew was that nothing good lay behind him.
In the back of his mind, Cali gave him a warning nudge. Gabriel crouched down next to the wreck of a car and tried to locate the danger. His eyes and ears picked up nothing but he sensed a tell-tale change in the air that painful experience had taught him was the early sign of an oncoming fire shower. Straightening, he started looking for somewhere to take cover. Last time he hadn't been quite quick enough and was still bearing the consequences, every patch of exposed skin was red raw and peeling, clumsily treated with antiseptic ointment. His hands were wrapped in gauze and covered with gardening gloves.
Picking a house at random, he drew his sword and broke in. Inside, the house seemed eerily undisturbed. Two pairs of shoes, a man’s dress shoes and a child’s lace-ups, lay next to the door, right where their owners had left them. Halloween decorations adorned the windows and a bowl containing a few miniature chocolate bars rested on a small table. The illusion of normality was harshly twisted when he entered the kitchen and was hit by the smell of decay. On the table, dinner plates full of partly eaten food festered while a bowl of fruit slowly rotted into mush. Of the family who’d been eating, there was no sign.
The warning in the air grew stronger. Doing his best to ignore the scene of corrupted domesticity, Gabriel moved towards a likely looking door and cautiously opened it. On the other side, a staircase reached down into the darkness.
Pressed against the wall next to the door, Gabriel peered down into the darkness. All sorts of things could be lurking down there and he didn’t fancy avoiding getting burnt only to end up getting eaten. However, he couldn’t see anything in the basement, even when he used his torch and changed his viewing angle, Cali was quiet except for a faint restlessness that he put down to it reminding him of the impending fireshower, and the air temperature had started to rise at an alarming rate. He went down into the basement.
Below ground it was noticeably cooler, a good sign. Reaching the bottom of the stairs he shone the torch around to double check that there wasn’t anything down there with him, and froze. Red eyes stared at him from under the stairs. The position explained why he hadn’t spotted anything earlier but there was still the matter of Cali not reacting. Then he noticed who the eyes belonged to. Curled up against the wall was a young boy with longish black hair who despite the fairly obvious fact that he’d only just woken up was regarding Gabriel with thoughtful wariness.
“Who are you?”
The boy’s voice held a trace of some sort of accent and a lot of suspicion. Gabriel did his best to look friendly.
“My name’s Gabriel. Sorry to barge in but the place seemed abandoned and I need somewhere to take shelter. I’d leave but it’s not the kind of weather you want to be walking around in up there.”
The boy didn't respond. Deciding to take the silence as permission to stay, Gabriel made his way towards the corner of the room opposite the stairs and sat down. Leaning back against the wall, he sighed before commencing what had become standard routine for any time he had a chance to stay in one place for more than a couple of minutes; have a drink, eat something, tend to any injuries and get some sleep. Finishing off the bottle of coke, he made a start on a can of juice. Sipping his drink, he looked up at his unexpected room-mate and held up another can.
“Want a drink?
The boy shook his head.
“Okay then. Just let me know if you change your mind.”
Moving on to step two, he rummaged through his rather limited provisions, settling on a chunk of salami, crackers and a small packet of dried fruit.
“I don’t suppose you want anything.”
Another head shake.
After wolfing down his food so fast that it was almost a miracle that he didn’t choke, he moved on to step three, taking care of injuries. A lack of clean dressings prevented him from doing anything about his hands, so he settled for putting another later of cream on the sunburn like damage to his face, and tending to a rubbed raw patch on his ankle, doing his best to ignore the fact that his every move was being watched with suspicion verging on hostility. Deciding that he probably wasn’t going to get any sleep in this situation, he made another attempt at breaking the ice.
“Hey kid, what’s your name?”
There was a lengthy pause.
Vlad made a non-committal noise. Gabriel decided to cut to the chase.
“Look, I have absolutely no intention of hurting you. As I said earlier I just came down here to wait out the condensed heat wave that’s going on above ground and that’s all I want to do. I don’t know what’s happened to you in the past but none of it has anything to do with me. The only reason I’d ever attack anyone is if it was in self-defence. I especially would never hurt a kid. How old are you anyway?”
That was a surprise. Judging by his size, Gabriel had been inclined to place his age at around eight or nine, maybe even younger. On the other hand, he sounded older then he looked.
“As I said, I’d never harm someone your age. So if you don’t want to be friendly that’s fine but would you please stop looking at me like I’m going to bite your head off or something. It’s making me uncomfortable and I need to get some sleep. You stay on your side of the room and I’ll stay on mine. Deal?”
Gabriel made himself as comfortable as possible, sword within easy reach, and, trusting Cali to wake him up if necessary, closed his eyes.
It wasn’t a proper sleep, more of a doze since not even chronic sleep deprivation could beat sleeping on concrete while paranoid. When he awoke, the temperature in the basement was uncomfortably high and he had a few new aches and pains from sleeping on a hard surface. Groaning, he sat up and looked at his watch. He’d been asleep for just over half an hour, not bad by his current standards. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he noticed that Vlad had moved closer and was currently standing watching him. His body language spoke volumes, reminding Gabriel of a boy who used to go to school with him until social services took him away because his dad was a scumbag. It wasn’t just the boy’s body language that told an unpleasant story; now that he was standing Gabriel noticed things that he hadn’t spotted earlier. Vlad’s clothes were dirty and ragged, his feet bare. Gabriel found himself thinking of the child’s shoes that he’d seen when he came in and wondered whether or not they’d fit Vlad. Catching his eye, Gabriel smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. Vlad surprised him by smiling back, a pair of pointed canines poking over his lip.
Gabriel blinked. Red eyes, fangs, almost definitely a vampire. The name was a pretty strong hint as well. He must’ve been more tired than he realised not to have put it together earlier. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. If Vlad had been planning on biting him he could’ve done it while he was asleep or at least tried to. Cali hadn’t woken him up so it was safe to assume that he hadn’t tried anything. Besides, vampire or not he was still a twelve year old kid. That raised another question, what was he going to do when it was safe for him to get going? He couldn’t just leave him on his own.
“Is this your house?
“This house, is it yours?”
Vlad shook his head.
“I got in through an open window. I was looking for somewhere to sleep and the house was empty.”
“Where did you come from?”
Vlad hesitated then told him. How he’d be a captive before suddenly finding himself outside in a strange place surrounded by monsters. How he’d had to run and fight. How he’d realised that his eyes and teeth had changed and he'd become much stronger. How he’d seen other people but they’d taken one look at his altered appearance and driven him away.
“Is this hell?”
Gabriel shook his head.
“I don’t think so. For one thing I don’t remember dying and for another I doubt that hell has shops, even abandoned ones.”
“I’ve told you my story, what’s yours?”
“I was in my room studying when people started screaming. I looked out the window and saw that everything had gone to hell. Stayed put for a day or so but I didn’t have any food so I left to look for some. Met a bunch of other survivors and stayed with them, when they started heading south I went with them. I’m the only one left, the monsters got everyone else. I don’t know why I survived and they didn’t. After that I just kept walking. I don’t have any destination in mind but I figure that as long as I’m moving I haven’t been beaten and there’s a chance that there might be somewhere safe up ahead. Even if there isn’t I’m not going to give up”.
Unknown to Gabriel, his words struck a chord with the young vampire who regarded him with a new level of respect, something which had an effect on how he responded to what Gabriel said next.
“You know, since neither of us are actually going anywhere we may as well go there together. I don’t know about you but I’m getting sick of not having anyone to talk to except myself.”
Gabriel was careful to avoid mentioning anything that might suggest that he thought Vlad needed looking after, firstly because he probably didn’t, after all he’d managed on his own so far, and secondly because he’d dealt with his younger cousins enough to know that using anything that even remotely resembled the ‘you’re just a kid’ argument tended to backfire.
“So anyway, what I’m asking is, do you want to come with me?”
Vlad considered the offer. Truth was, he disliked being on his own as much as Gabriel seemed to, although he’d been alone since long before he’d awoken in this place, and a man who’d walked through hell and still had the strength of will to keep going was probably a man worth knowing.
“Okay then. We’ll leave as soon as it cools down up there.”
Privately Gabriel started making a mental list of things that would need to be dealt with. Clothes were near the top of the list, what Vlad was wearing looked like it might fall apart in the not too distant future. Then there was the food issue. He wasn’t entirely sure whether or not Vlad ate normally, if he did then he’d have to put twice as much effort into finding food, and if his guess about him being a vampire was accurate and he didn’t, that still left the blood issue. Resolving to cross that bridge when he came to it, he decided to put the rest of his enforced immobility to good use. So for the next couple of hours he made repairs to his clothing and equipment, checked the basement for anything that might be useful and didn’t find anything, made progressively less awkward small talk with Vlad, added the finishing touches to a cardboard and duct tape approximation of a scabbard (which Vlad was less then flattering about), tried to sleep, and did his best to avoid overheating in the increasingly stuffy basement.
Eventually though, the temperature started to drop almost as rapidly as it had risen, Gabriel’s cue to resume his battle with the road. Shouldering his back pack, Cali resting in the newly finished scabbard tied to his belt, he headed up the stairs. Vlad, currently devoid of possessions, followed behind.
As soon as he opened the door, Gabriel realised that they had a problem. A thick haze of smoke filled the kitchen with more drifting in from the hallway. It didn’t take a genius to realize that there was a fire upstairs. While not really a major issue from his point of view it did effectively stop his plans to search the house for anything worth taking, including clothes for Vlad. Grunting in irritation, he led his new travelling companion out the back door.
Outside was a typical post-fire shower scene. Comparatively speaking this one hadn’t been that bad, only three houses were visibly on fire and none of the blazes was particularly advanced. Several more cars were burning, filling the air with noxious smoke. Gabriel coughed and wrapped a damp bandana around the lower half of his face, passing Vlad his spare.
Half an hour’s jog put them outside of the town and away from the worst of the smoke. Bandana still firmly in place, Gabriel slowed down to his usual energy efficient pace, Vlad easily keeping up.
The monster appeared suddenly, Cali giving him just enough warning to dodge the initial attack and draw his sword. Taking a swing at the beast’s yellowy-grey hide, he met with failure as his blade bounced off it. The monster’s second attack knocked him flying and he hit the ground with a thump.
Before he could recover though, everything went quiet. Struggling to his feet, he was greeted by the sight of the monster lying torn open on the road and a blood splattered Vlad standing there with a vaguely concerned look on his face. Gabriel put two and two together.
“You are a deeply freaky kid,” he deadpanned.
With that he resheathed Cali, and, limping slightly, continued down the road. After a moment he paused and called over his shoulder.
"Come on then."
Vlad was next to him almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Gabriel looked down at him.