Decker pulled up to the mansion. His old truck rumbled and kicked up thick clouds of dust. He turned off the engine and stepped out, shotgun and flashlight in hand. Glancing up at the sky he saw that the sun was already on its way down. His wristwatch showed that it was a little after three.
He walked to the back of the truck and checked the heavy walk-in safe that he had strapped down onto it. He regretted that finding this place had taken so long and now felt certain that they would be sleeping in there tonight. Opening the safe, he looked over the supplies inside, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
As he started to make his way toward the front door of the decaying mansion, Chomsky let out a shrill whine from inside the truck. Decker went back and tried to rub him behind the ears but was rewarded with a scratch from its small claws. He shook his head and then poured water into a bowl out of a large cannister and set it down on the seat so the animal could drink.
“Professor Chomsky’s his name,” the seller had said, a young girl with long and dirty black hair, but Decker seriously doubted the cat’s credentials. He and the cat had been together for a few weeks but seldom on speaking terms. He tried to assure the animal that he wouldn’t be gone for long then stepped out again and walked to the mansion.
The thick, heavy doors creaked loudly as he pushed them open. The mansion was in rough shape. Sunlight shone in through giant, broken windows and filled the great room, revealing broken, once-expensive furniture and rotting walls. It looked as though everything of value had been plundered long ago. Decker could see a couple of doors leading deeper into the house and a staircase ascending to a second floor.
There was a vampire in there somewhere.
He began his search of the house after retrieving the cat from the truck. On both of the mansion’s floors he found possible hiding places in many of the dozen or so rooms: closets, large chests, bathrooms, even a bedroom with boarded up windows. He looked into these with a little apprehension, shining his flashlight into the darkness, careful never to leave the protection of the sun. When doing so was impossible he marked the location of the room in a small notebook so that later he could knock down part of a wall and let the sun shine in.
The last place Decker searched was the kitchen. He found a refrigerator lying on the ground and thought that maybe it could be used as a makeshift coffin. He shook his head and smiled as he tried to imagine an enormous monster trying to force its body into it. Kicking it open he found only what appeared to be human remains lying among other unidentifiable, decaying organic matter.
At the back of the kitchen there was an open door and beyond it Decker could see steps leading down to a dark cellar. He shone his flashlight down into it and tried to look around but he could make out some overturned barrels covered in dust and cobwebs. He strained his vision trying to peer past the range of the his flashlight but the cellar was enormous.
The world grew quiet and he felt a chill ran through him.
There was movement. A rat scurried past his feet and startled him. The flashlight fell from his hand and crashed loudly down the stairs as he jumped back and fell on his rear. Chomsky had been poking around in the kitchen and he gave the rat chase until it ran into a hole in the wall. The cat stalked about.
“Some vampire hunter,” Decker mused gruffly and then froze in terror.
He was suddenly very cold and he could see his breath in front of him. From the darkness ahead he could hear deep, bestial breathing. There, he knew, was the vampire, looking straight at him. Decker could not see him clearly but there was a picture of cold fear in his mind: A heavily muscled beast covered in dry, gray flesh, powerful claws matching sharp fangs, blunt horns growing out of a thick mane. The animal was a pure predator, impossibly strong and fast.
Chomsky gave up on the rat and sauntered back toward the petrified human. As the cat approached, the cold terror slowly left Decker and he was able to shake off the momentary paralysis. He picked up the cat and backed away from the door and left the kitchen. He was going to have to find a way to get some sunlight into that cellar but it was getting dark and so it would have to wait until tomorrow.
They went outside and Decker looked at the sun, now approaching the horizon. He picked up Chomsky and climbed into the vault with him. They sat with the vault doors open and watched the sunset as they ate their dinners. Just before the last of the daylight was gone, Decker turned on a battery-powered lamp and shut the heavy vault doors.
Decker read for a bit before turning off the lamp and settling in for the night. The vault was not very big but he had enough room to lie down on a pair of blankets with enough space left for supplies and the cat. Chomsky had his own blanket. Decker could tell the cat was not pleased.
“He just has a mean disposition,” the little girl had told him. “But he likes everybody.”
Something bumped the truck. Decker sat upright in the darkness and instinctively reached for his shotgun. He knew the vampire was leaving for the night to find something to feed on. This was nothing new. If the vampire was curious, it would inspect the truck for a short while before losing interest and running off into the night.
There was another bump. A loud pop followed and Decker recognized it as one of his tires blowing. The cat was alert now. Another pop. Two tires gone. Decker only had one spare. There was a loud rap at the door and Decker’s heart froze. Chomsky hissed. The vampire, right outside the vault, started banging on the door. It knew they were in there.
The world started spinning. Decker wasn’t sure what was happening, only that he and Chomsky and everything inside the vault were tumbling around helplessly. There were loud crashes and the sounds of wood cracking and breaking. He braced his legs against the hard steel sides of the vault and grabbed hold of Chomsky. For a long minute they were tossed left and right and spun around dizzyingly.
When the spinning stopped there was only silence. Decker felt around for the lamp and turned it on to see an angry and annoyed feline. The cat did not seem injured.
Decker had a headache and there was a hard bump forming on his forehead. He tried to figure out where they had been taken and thought he had pieced together what had happened. The vampire had ripped the vault off the bed of the truck and brought them to its lair in the dark cellar.
The throbbing pain in his head muddled his thoughts. He went over it again slowly and came to realize two things: This vampire was orders of magnitude stronger than any he had ever seen and it had apparently come up with a plan to get Decker to come out of the vault.
“I’m dead,” Decker said out loud. A horrible, rumbling thunder filled the vault as the vampire struck it from the outside. An absent protective instinct made him try to pull the cat toward him but he received only scratches in return. When the pounding died down, he slumped against the back of the vault.
Some hours passed. It was now past midnight according to Decker’s wristwatch. His headache was fading. Chomsky had curled himself up on a blanket and was sleeping. He had been restless at first but eventually he had become bored enough to sleep. There had been no more pounding from outside the vault, nor any other sound.
Decker pressed his palms into his eyes and rubbed his face. He had been crying. “I’m a coward,” he whispered to the sleeping cat who opened one eye briefly. He had been thinking hard about their impossible situation and had figured that there was only one possible course of action but he was too scared to go through with it.
“When you think about it,” he said, “there is no way a man can stand a chance against animals like that. If this one is smart then I’m as good as dead.”
Decker thought of his previous kills. The reason he did this job was money. People were afraid and their imaginations worked up a glorified image of what vampire hunting was all about. The job hadn’t really been all that dangerous until now. “You catch them in their sleep,” he told Chomsky, who was now awake and annoyed. “And you only move around in daylight because then they can’t get you. If they are in the dark, like in a cave or a cellar like this, you throw something in and blow them up.”
At least he had the cat, he thought. He tried to calm down as he waited for the dawn.
When morning came, according to his watch, he gathered what courage he had and took a deep breath. Silently, he pushed the blankets and food and the rest of the supplies off to one corner of the vault. He took his old 12 gauge, bolt action and gave it a slow inspection. He had 3 rounds, with spare ammunition sitting uselessly in the truck. He shook his head when it occured to him that, unless he was very lucky, he wouldn’t have time to fire off all 3 rounds. He tucked the shotgun under his right arm and picked up the cat with his left. Chomsky was not happy about it and protested.
Next, he moved near the door to the vault. It was constructed so that a combination was needed to open it from the outside but it could easily be unlocked from the inside. He tried to stop his hand from shaking and pulled a pin, hearing a soft click coming from the locking mechanism.
He backed up and kicked the doors open, at the same time throwing himself down on the floor with his back against the vault, bringing up the shotgun’s recoil pad against his shoulder with the barrel pointing toward the door.
The light from the lamp spilled out into the dark cellar. Slow agonizing seconds went by. Decker tried not to blink because a vampire could cross the distance between the door and where he was sitting about that quickly. He was shaking and he would be lucky to hit his target. The vampire would be slowed no matter where he hit him, but only a shot to the head or the heart would stop it completely.
A minute passed and Decker allowed himself to blink. He was sweating and his eyes stung. Chomsky was squirming. The silence was maddening.
Chomsky’s head perked up. He looked off into the darkness then turned and twisted and broke free of Decker’s grip. The cat bolted out of the vault and disappeared beyond the light of the lamp.
“Shit!” Decker said and put both hands on the shotgun. “Fucking traitor cat.”
But maybe it was time to move, he thought. If he could just make it up the stairs he would be safe. He stood up and stepped slowly toward the vault door, where he hesitated.
Convincing himself to take the first step out of the vault and into the cellar was the hardest thing he had ever done. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it might explode. He was shaking all over.
He stepped forward and felt suddenly very cold.
Before he understood what was happening, his feet were hanging in the air off the ground. There was an intense pain in his left wrist. Looking straight ahead, he found himself staring into angry red eyes looking back at him from a leathery face. The vampire’s mouth was pulled back to reveal its long fangs.
In the dim light that escaped from inside the vault he watched as the vampire inspected him. The monster was holding him up by the wrist and looking him up and down. It used its free arm to poke at his midsection with a sharp claw. With an effortless twitch of its finger, the vampire broke two of his Decker’s ribs and the man cried out in pain. The monster stamped its hooves and made a frightening, deep rumble which seemed to shake the world.
Decker’s eyes darted around. He was surprised to still be alive and looked desperately for some hope. His shotgun was lying on the ground near the vault. Beyond the vampire, he could see broken stairs leading up to the mansion. There was a gap where he guessed the vault had broken them but he thought he could climb across it easily. He looked at his wrist, where the vampire’s hand was wrapped around it.
The vampire followed his gaze and then looked back into Decker’s eyes. Slowly, he felt the pressure on his wrist intensify until the pain caused involuntary tears to stream out. The vampire squeezed until Decker’s wrist shattered to pieces. He screamed.
The monster lowered Decker to the ground without letting go of his wrist and grabbed his left elbow with its other hand.
Decker shouted, “No! No! Fuck no!”
He struggled against the vampire despite the pain, kicking and punching at the monster to no effect. There was another deep rumble from its massive chest and Decker thought that it could be something like laughter.
Slowly the vampire bent Decker’s arm until it snapped. Decker screamed again and then nearly fainted. His vision swam with the pain and he felt his body go limp.
Suddenly he was on the ground. The vampire placed a hoof on his leg and started pushing down on it hard. Decker was sobbing. He closed his eyes.
“Just kill me,” he said softly.
The pressure on his leg disappeared. Had the vampire understood him? He waited to die.
A moment passed and Decker opened his eyes.
Chomsky was back. He was standing between Decker’s legs, staring at him. There was a dead rat in his mouth. Beyond the cat, the vampire stood a few feet away, just watching.
Vampires were not really afraid of cats, of course, but they appeared to be uncomfortable around them. No one knew why but the most common idea, and to Decker the most ridiculous, was that vampires and cats were both demons that had been cast out of hell, where the felines had held the higher rank.
Chomsky dropped the rat. The vampire hunter picked up the cat with his good arm, stood up, and took slow steps toward the shotgun, keeping his gaze fixed on the vampire. He was almost upon the shotgun when the vampire realized what was happening. It moved so quickly that to Decker it looked as though it had materialized in front of him.
Decker lunged for the shotgun and at the same time he threw Chomsky at the vampire. The cat struck the monster in the chest and bounced back to land on the ground in front of him, hissing angrily. The vampire hissed back at him.
Boom. The sound of the shotgun bounced off the walls and filled the cellar. The vampire fell to its knees. Its chest was torn up badly and bleeding. It felt at its wounds with its hands in disbelief.
It had been a good shot and more than a little bit lucky since Decker could only use his right arm. He put the shotgun on the ground and held it in place with his foot as he pulled the bolt back. Picking it up, he stood in front of the vampire and looked down the barrel at the demon.
The monster’s mouth was moving strangely, twisting this way and that. It opened and a strangled, forced sound came out, a demonic imitation of Decker’s own words.
“Kill me,” it said.
Decker pulled the trigger.