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Out of the Night

by

Trish Milburn

To Tanya Michaels, my fellow geek girl and conference roomie extraordinaire. I love that you don’t think it’s weird to dress up like a favorite character and stand in a Dragon*Con line for two hours to see a panel of actors from The Vampire Diaries, Battlestar Galactica or Firefly because you’re right there next to me. Here’s to many more conferences with you and Bob the fan.

Chapter 1

Olivia DaCosta banged on yet another door as the shadows lengthened ominously over Lower Manhattan. Her knuckles throbbed and were already bruising from countless other such attempts to get a response. Each time her pleas for entry went unanswered, she grew more desperate and her pulse ratcheted up another notch, just the response she didn’t need.

Despite the soreness in her hand, she banged again, louder this time. “Come on, come on!” She prayed someone would be brave enough to open this door and let her in before the last faint light of day disappeared. Already the shadows seemed to move and reek with dread. If she didn’t find shelter before they totally consumed the final hints of daylight, she’d be dead before the night was through.

Movement beyond the curtain caught her attention and she hammered on the door with even more force, sending sharp pains up through her hand into her lower arm. “Please, let me in!” she called out, wondering if she could claw her way through the door. But when the banging and pleas didn’t bring anyone to the door, she had no choice but to choke down a sob and move on.

She checked her cell phone yet again, hoping for a miraculous resurrection. But the battery was still dead. If she made it through the night, she would never forget to charge her phone battery again.

She walked at the edge of the sidewalk closest to the street, as far as she could get from steps that led downward into the lower levels of the dwellings. The shadows gathered in those stairwells made her heart beat too fast, turning her into a shining beacon for the city’s vampires.

God, every time she even thought about them, part of her still couldn’t believe they were real, that they had roamed the earth for centuries. She wanted to reject the very idea of them as something horrible created by her brain. Not so many years ago, they had been the stuff of fiction. At least all sane people had believed so. Now their emergence in the wake of the massive die-off caused by the Bokor virus made going out for a night on the town, taking a romantic moonlit walk and even stargazing things of the past for humans. Those once-enjoyable activities were as much a part of humanity’s collective history as the Roman Empire or the belief that the world was flat.

As soon as the sun hit the horizon, everyone without a death wish retreated indoors and didn’t step foot outside for any reason. If someone had a heart attack or any medical emergency in the middle of the night, they faced an impossible choice—risk a mad dash to the hospital or hope they’d last until daylight. Either came with the very real possibility of death. But there were no ambulances running between sundown and sunrise. What was left of humanity couldn’t risk losing its remaining health-care professionals with suicide runs.

Olivia tried not to dwell on the realities of the cruel new world. Nothing mattered beyond finding shelter right now. She passed the next doorway because it was padlocked from the outside with a rusty lock and chain. She fought panic and dwindling hope as she tried to rouse someone at the next three residences. When she noticed a thin line of blood on her middle knuckle, she picked up her pace even more. The only thing worse than being caught out after dark was adding fresh blood to the mix. Forget about being dead before morning. She’d be lucky to last five minutes.

She couldn’t believe she was in her current situation. What was the old saying? No good deed went unpunished?

Normally, her runs to the city’s parks, where the homeless and poor spent their days, were over and she was safely back in her own home well before sunset. But today, when she’d returned to the parking area where she’d left her car near Battery Park, it was gone. Where once the realization of a stolen car might have brought about anger and frustration, now it was cause for pure and utter terror. When a call to her best friend, Mindy, went unanswered and her phone then chose that moment to die, Olivia had started running and trying to find a building where she could spend the night.

If only she’d noticed her car had been stolen before the last city bus of the day had made its stop at Battery Park, picking up the homeless to transport them to whatever shelters had space. A night on the floor of a shelter would have at least guaranteed she’d live to see tomorrow.

Considering how many people had died during the virus outbreak, it was a sin there were even homeless people anymore. Even with the increasing immigration from other hard-hit parts of the world, there were more than enough apartments and even empty office space to hold the homeless now, not to mention the hotel rooms. But despite everything that had passed during the past two years, greed still reigned supreme in the hearts of many. They banked on fear of the night ensuring their survival in this dark descendant of what New York had been such a short time ago.

And with society on the edge of disorder, with thugs and gangs posing almost as much danger as the vampires, there was plenty of fear to go around.

Movement out of the corner of her eye caused her to gasp as she jogged down yet another stoop. But it was only a gray-and-black tabby cat. He stopped and stared at her for a moment before continuing on his way. Unlike her and the rest of the human population, he had no more worries than he’d had before the pandemic. Unless he’d lost his owners and thus his fancy cat food, and really that was nothing in the greater scheme of things. At least the disease hadn’t jumped species, and vampires couldn’t feed from any living creatures other than humans.

Lucky us.

It was full-on twilight now. Not even the highest floors of the surrounding buildings or the distant skyscrapers were bathed in sunlight. Olivia imagined an increased ticking in her head, counting down the minutes she had to live. A part of her whispered to just accept her fate, to take a seat on someone’s cold concrete steps and wait for the inevitable. Why spend the last moments of her life engaged in fruitless, panicked flight?

But that wasn’t who she was. She’d survived the world’s worst pandemic when so many hadn’t. She owed it to whomever or whatever had saved her from that awful death, owed it to herself and the people she helped each day, to survive yet again. Owed it to Jeremy and all the good the world lost when he’d succumbed to the unstoppable disease.

So she kept moving, kept knocking on doors, would have considered breaking out a window and forcing her way inside if all the windows weren’t barred. She doubted any inhabited lower-floor residence in Manhattan was without those bars. The irony was that they weren’t there to protect the residents from vampires, since vampires couldn’t enter any human-owned building without being invited. No, the bars were there to prevent people like her—those seeking sanctuary—or the city’s criminal element from committing home invasions. Sadly, when the world came down to pure survival, the veneer of civility and kindness too easily slipped away. Many had died at the hands of the frantic and the criminal.

A gust of wind from between two buildings slapped against her. She pulled her jacket closer around her body and continued scanning the buildings she passed, looking for what she wouldn’t find—a way inside, a portal to safety for another night.

One more day of living and breathing.

* * *

The moment the deadly sun slipped to bed below the horizon, Campbell Raines signaled for his V Force team to load up. Time to go to work patrolling the dark streets of New York to make sure the vamp population was behaving itself.

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