By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
I pushed against the manhole cover and felt cold winter air on my face. The street above was dark; I took a second to make sure it was safe, and shoving the cover aside, climbed out and pulled Laura up from the sewer.
Snow fell softly in the silent streets.
The frigid night air cut through us like a chainsaw. A hundred yards away, the bank’s clock flashed the time and temperature, but I didn’t need it to know we were in trouble. We were filthy, wet, neither of us had coats, and Laura didn’t have shoes. I gave her mine and kept my socks.
Beside me she made retching sounds and doubled over, still maintaining a death grip on my hand.
“Sorry,” she said shakily after she recovered.
“No worries,” I said. I pushed the cover back over the manhole as best I could, but my hand had started to hurt from the cold. “We need to get indoors.”
She nodded. “Where?”
“My parents live in town, but it’s a long walk.” I gritted my teeth to stop them chattering. We couldn’t go back to my apartment; it would be the first place they’d look. “This way,” I said, heading down a side street. “Got a friend close by.”
The short walk to David’s studio felt like ten miles. By the time we got there our feet and hands were numb and our clothes were caked in frozen filth. Laura’s face had a deathly pallor and her eyes looked sunken and hollow. She hadn’t let go of my hand, or maybe I hadn’t let hers go. It was hard to know.
I heard movement and muttered cursing behind the door; after a few minutes it opened a crack.
“You know what time it is?” David’s jaw dropped. He swung the door open and pulled us inside. The heat made my exposed skin itch painfully. “What happened to you? You look like shit.”
I tried to answer, but my mouth wouldn’t form the words. David led Laura down the hall. I heard him run water in the bath; after a few minutes he came back with a blanket.
“You’re lucky I was home. Any longer, and she’d be losing fingers.”
My clothes had begun to thaw. I stripped them off, tossed them out the door and wrapped myself in the blanket.
He looked at me like I was the ghost of his dead grandfather.
“Water,” I croaked.
He brought a glass in one hand and a phone in the other, handed both to me.
“You’ve been gone for a week, bro,” he said. “Call your folks.”
Laura sat on the sofa, wrapped in a clean blanket. We’d wrapped her hands and feet in layers of cloth. I hadn’t called home.
If what David said was true, I could only imagine what mom had been thinking.
“You gonna tell me what happened?”
I considered making something up, something believable. But he was my friend. If he’d shown up on my door at four in the morning, looking like I did, I’d want to know.
“You remember when the heat went out in my apartment?” He nodded. “Well, when the repairman came I went to the basement with him to see what was up.” My flat was on the second floor of a main street building, above a business owned by weekenders – city folk who owned a house in the mountains. When they locked the place up for the winter it got cold enough to freeze the steam pipes. “A draft coming from the cellar had blown out the pilot light. While he restarted the system, I looked around some. Found a door at the far end of the cellar.”
I paused to catch my breath and a drink. “Behind it was a tunnel.”
“Shit. Did you go in?”
“Hell, no! We ran. He made it, but they grabbed me from behind.”
There was a long silence. I knew what it sounded like; I’d rehearsed it in my head a hundred times. It didn’t sound any more believable out loud.
“So, who’s the girl?”
“I worked in the shop for a while last fall,” Laura said weakly.
His brow creased in thought. “Didn’t you used to work there?” He asked me.
“Yeah. They let me go; after that they had a string of short-term employees.” Laura and I exchanged a look.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re under the whole town. It’s where they keep their food.” My stomach growled, and I felt bile rise in my throat. “People pass through all the time and you never see them again. If a few went missing, who’d notice?”
“Is it?” Laura said. She shrugged the blanket off and exposed an arm. Half-healed tears and gashes lined her wrist and forearm. “We got lucky. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of others down there.” She shivered and hugged the blanket tighter. “You can hear the moans.”
We all sat and stared into space for a long time.
“We have to tell the cops,” David said eventually. Laura nodded.
“Tell them what?” I asked, more harshly than intended. “That vampires from the city are taking over upstate New York? Half the police are from downstate. How do we know they’re not in on it?” I let the irony sink in. “They’ve been doing it for years, taking over towns, bleeding this place dry. Who knew they’ve been doing it literally.”
Dim light was filtering through the windows. I handed the phone to Laura.
We hadn’t escaped. They’d let us go because they thought no one would believe us.
We’re going to fight, though. Send the bloodsuckers back to hell if we have to do it one at a time.
It’s our town. And we’re gonna take it back.