They were closing in behind us. We had to run faster. If they caught us, they were going to rip us to pieces.
Our weapons were some pipes, a crowbar, and a couple pocketknives. None of the gutter-rats had any guns. Not that they would have helped us very much.
But it was almost dawn. We had time. We could still make it.
“Up there!” Isaac shouted from beside me, pointing at the fire escape on the left of the alley.
I made a hard turn that nearly sent me skidding, but I kept my balance and vaulted onto the top of the dumpster. I jumped for the metal grate over my head, palms and fingers biting into the icy metal. I gritted my teeth and pulled myself up, latching onto the railing and dragging my body over the ledge. I turned around and checked on the rest of my group.
Reyes was coming next. Isaac was standing on the dumpster lid. He wasn’t going to move until his best friend was safe. Reyes was just starting his climb when they came around the corner. I gripped the railing tightly, breath catching in my throat.
There were three of them. Their clothes were tattered strips on their sickly pale bodies. Two red bruises circled their blazing red eyes. Ice pick claws poked out of their bony fingertips. Even from up on the landing, I could see their inch long canine teeth. Screeching like tortured wild cats, they lunged for the dumpster.
I grabbed Reyes’ arms, trying to pull him up. I wasn’t the muscle of the group, but I had to help Reyes, and Isaac was so far back–
I jumped at the sound of metal striking bone, my head snapping up. Isaac had his back to us, swinging his crowbar at the heads of the infected swarming him. He lashed out with his feet and swung the piece of metal in his hands, keeping them away. But they were faster than he was. Stronger. So much more dangerous.
“Isaac!” I screamed. “Baby, come on!”
He swept the crowbar up, cracking it against the chin of an infected. Bone splintered and blood spewed out of its mouth as its head rocked back. Isaac turned and bolted toward us.
Just as one of them pounced onto the dumpster and jumped onto his back.
The force drove Isaac onto his stomach with a loud bang. The crowbar slid from his fingers.
The monster pulled its head back, extended its fangs, and sank them into Isaac’s neck.
Time slowed. I felt my heart stutter to a stop in my chest. My throat turned to sandpaper from the screams I didn’t realize I was letting go.
It pulled on his skin, trying to rip it from his throat and eat him whole. Blood was pouring into the grooves of the dumpster lid. Isaac’s screams of pain cut through the air like a knife.
I knew what this meant. What would follow. But it was Isaac. I couldn’t let him die.
“Sophia! Don’t!” Reyes shouted.
I didn’t listen. I grabbed the pipe tucked into my backpack.
He tried to grab my arm, but I was already leaping over the railing of the fire escape. I landed hard, dropping into a crouch to absorb the shock that went up my legs. I took off and swung the pipe into the head of the monster eating Isaac alive.
My arm vibrated as the pipe connected with its skull, crushing the bone inward and knocking it off Isaac. I hammered the pipe down onto the top of its head, hearing another sickening crack. The monster fell off the dumpster lid. I rushed toward Isaac when an icy grip hooked my ankle and pulled me off the dumpster. I landed hard on my back, skull smacking against the pavement.
I thought I heard Reyes call my name, but it was hard to tell from the pounding in my head. The world was blurred above me, the ground hard under me. Everything became crystal clear when I heard the snarl and saw the infected monster jump on me.
I brought the pipe up just in time, placing it under its throat. It snapped and hissed, spittle raining on my face. My arms trembled as I tried to hold it off. I brought my knees up and pushed, desperate to get it away. Sharp claws scraped along my side, dragging down me like nails. I cried out, my arms buckling. I twisted my head away, hearing jaws clamp open and shut just above my ear. I smelled the stale blood on its breath, and nearly gagged.
There was a sharp crack that caused the infected creature to stiffen and roll off my body. I turned my head forward and opened my eyes. Reyes was above me, the hooked edge of Isaac’s crowbar embedded deep in the infected’s skull. Fighting vertigo, I got to my feet and looked at Reyes. He was breathing heavily. His hazel eyes were sad. I knew what he was thinking, but I refused to accept it.
A vehicle rumbled down the street. Tires screeched as it pulled to a stop. I twisted around and looked at Reyes.
“Hide him!” I whispered harshly.
His eyes widened. “Are you insane?!”
“Hide him, Reyes!”
My friend shook his head, but worked on lifting up a lid of the dumpster. He pulled it open and slid inside, dragging Isaac with him. I faced the mouth of the alley, relieved when I heard the dumpster lid slam shut.
The two Apostles marched in, guns raised and pointed at me. I held up my hands, wincing as the open wounds were pulled against my ribs. The flashlights on their rifles blinded me as they walked forward.
“I’m not infected!” I cried. “I’m not one of them! Please!”
One of them turned and shot one of the corpses on the ground. I jumped at the harsh bang, taking a step back.
“Drop the pipe,” the other man commanded.
I let it slip from my fingers and clatter onto the ground. I took another step back, but he grabbed my wrist and slammed me against the side of the dumpster. I pressed my palms to it, wishing my heart would slow down. More gunfire cracked as the other infected were confirmed dead. The man’s partner used his radio to call for a retrieval crew in the area.
The Apostle started running his hands over my body, pulling my hair away from my neck and looking for bite marks.
“I wasn’t bitten,” I said quietly.
“Stay still and shut up, rat,” he shot back gruffly.
I squeezed my eyes shut and remained as motionless as possible. It was very hard to do when his hands roamed over my chest, down my stomach, and over the rest of my curves. If I’d had the pipe, I would have smacked him in the head with it, but that defiance would end with me being shot. It was uncomfortable, but at least it wasn’t sexual.
He poked and prodded the claw marks on my ribs. I bit my lip and forced myself not to make a sound. He lifted up my shirt to get a better look at them. His partner marched up to me, looking at the scratches.
“She clean?” he asked.
The first Apostle jabbed my throbbing wounds again. The pinching pain had me grimacing.
“Looks like she got scratched. No bites.”
The man’s hand clamped on my shoulder. He whirled me around and slammed my back against the side of the dumpster.
“Who else is with you?” he demanded.
“No one,” I replied in a quiet voice.
He grabbed my shoulders and slammed me against the cold metal again.
“Who else is with you?” he shouted this time.
“No one!” I screamed back.
His cold blue eyes stared at me from under his tactical helmet. All the street Apostles dressed like the old S.W.A.T. teams used to. Only these men were much more ruthless.
The radio on the chest of the second Apostle crackled to life, saying something about a nest and backup being required. The man muttered a reply.
“Come on,” he said. “Beta’s getting swarmed. They need help.”
The Apostle looked from his partner to me. He shoved away from me, and suddenly I could breathe again. I gasped in air, wrapping my arms around my middle. He looked at me coldly for another long minute before his partner urged him away.
While they exited the alley, I grabbed the lead pipe. I grimaced with every small motion as I placed it between the straps of my backpack. I lifted my shirt and looked at the scratches. They would be sore for the next few days, but they would heal on their own after I cleaned them. I didn’t need stitches and wasn’t going to bleed out. As soon as I watched the Apostle’s SUV drive away, I climbed up the dumpster and threw open the lid.
That was when Isaac screamed.
He started thrashing and jerking around, his best friend needing to pin him down by his shoulders. Reyes looked up at me. He felt as tormented as I did. I looked at my boyfriend.
The skin on his neck was still smeared with blood, but the wound had healed over. My stomach clenched.
Isaac was infected.
Reyes came to the same conclusion. “Sophia...”
“No,” I said, knowing where his thought process was going. “No. We’re not doing that.”
“We don’t have a choice. You’ve seen what happens.”
“We are not killing him,” I barked.
“Oh, that’s romantic and all, but how the hell are we supposed to keep him from killing us first?”
I crouched down, reaching for them both. “We’ll worry about that later. Right now we need to get out of Apostle territory.”
We waited about a minute for Isaac to calm down. His entire body slumped, like all the energy and strength had been vacuumed out of him. Reyes sighed and slung Isaac’s arm over his shoulder to hoist him up. My ribs strained agonizingly when I reached forward and helped lift Isaac out of the dumpster. I sat him upright so Reyes could hop out. He was shivering.
“You’re hurt,” he whispered.
“So are you,” I told him, brushing the dark hair off his eyebrows.
Isaac closed his eyes. “Phia, what are you doing? You know how this ends.”
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders to keep him warm and kissed his chilly forehead. “We’ll find a place to rest. Then we’ll talk.”
I had no idea what I was doing. But I did know that I wasn’t going to let Isaac die. Or watch him turn into the monster we feared most.
We managed to find an empty gas station about an hour later. It looked like a crumbling black box. It had been raided ages ago and then burned so no one could use it again. We were nothing if not thorough and greedy out here in the gutters.That was why the Apostles gave the people on the streets our nickname. We scavenged and hid whatever we could.
We rested Isaac in the back room on my coat. I touched his head, feeling his clammy skin. He was shaking like he had a fever, but he was as cold as ice. His eyes were closed, dark brown hair dripping with sweat. He clutched his body, straining the broad muscles on his arms and chest.
I wished he would open his eyes. Isaac had the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. They were the color of sapphires under sunlight. Crystalline, perfect blues that took my breath away every time I looked at them. Eyes that sparkled when he smiled.
A lump grew in my throat. I had no idea about what to do next, but I forced myself to stay strong.
I cupped his cheek and put a kiss on his lips. “Sleep, baby. I’m not going far.”
It was hard to tell if he’d heard me, but I had to pretend that he did. Reyes took off the dark jacket that was two sizes too big for him and draped it over his friend. We shared a look and walked out of the storage room. We kept the door open, but stayed a fair distance away so Isaac wouldn’t really hear us.
“So,” Reyes said, crossing his arms. “Want to explain this bit of genius to me, Phia?”
Reyes was smaller than Isaac, but he was tough. His skin was pale gold, his dark hair tossed in wild, unkempt curls. Reyes had two-day-old stubble on his chin and looked dirtier than usual, but he was still a good-looking guy.
I gave him a tired sigh. “We couldn’t leave him, Reyes. He wouldn’t have left us.”
“Do I need remind you that he’s been bitten? By a vampire?”
I tried to glare, but I understood all too well.
It had been almost three years since the Strain had broken out across the world. Brilliant scientists and clever geneticists thought it was a hybrid of anemia and rabies brought on by a bite.
We all wished it had been something as simple as that. The truth was far more terrifying.
It affected everyone differently, typically drawing out in men while hitting women hard and fast because of the different balance in hormones. The first symptoms were dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, and a clammy, pale pallor. Then it was the hunger for raw meat, the aversion of garlic and hawthorn, fire and the sun. It only took a few weeks to go through those stages. Once they were passed, the infected person lost their memory and humanity. They turned into a monster that was beyond saving.
All those intellectuals called it virulent hypoferremia. But the rest of us knew what it really was.
The Strain had infected half of the world’s population. Half of those who weren’t infected had been eaten. After that, humans had two choices: first, live on the streets and become gutter-rats, desperately search for food, hide from attacks, and pretend not to exist.
Second, become an Apostle, one of the hunters who killed vampires and infected with traditional methods. Beheading. Binding. Hawthorn staking. Garlic poisons. Needfire burnings.
I’d seen a couple of the burnings. They kept the vampires and the struggling infected alive when they were thrown on the pyre, supposedly because that was the only way they could be ‘purified’ and ‘saved.’
I never forgot those screams. The ear piercing shrieks of someone in complete agony. Begging for mercy, asking for a quicker way to die. To escape the scorching pain as dead skin cracked sharply and turned to ash...
I shook it off, looking at Reyes. “We have to help him.”
His hazel eyes widened. I might as well have told him we were going to start eating vampire hearts.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were a master scientist who had a magic vampire cure,” he said sarcastically.
I clenched my fists. Usually I could handle my best friend’s snarky attitude. Today was not one of those days.
“Don’t joke about this, Reyes.”
“Fine, then here’s the serious truth. There is no cure, Sophia. Once you’re bitten, you turn. Sooner or later, you become a vampire.” The light in his eyes began to die. “We should do it now. While he’s asleep. Before he starts to suffer.”
I wasn’t the strongest in the group. I wasn’t the best fighter or the best tracker. I was more the medic and moral support than anything else. But I wasn’t going to let Reyes do what he was suggesting.
I got directly in his face, feeling the anger burn in my eyes.
“We are not doing that, Reyes. Not until we’re certain there’s nothing we can do.”
He read my sincerity. He sighed. “You’re not the only one broken up about this. He’s my friend too. But there isn’t a way to help him. We’ve seen this before.”
He was right. We’d seen other people with bites turn into ferocious monsters. They forgot who they were, who they loved. All they focused on was blood and murder. Even before the Strain had changed the world, it had always been the three of us. Reyes and Isaac had grown up next door to each other. I met them in grade school after moving from Wisconsin. They’d become my best friends, and it had been inevitable that I would fall in love with one of them.
We all lost our families when the vampirism started to spread just after our high school graduation. We found each other and kept each other alive. We’d picked up and lost a few other survivors over the years, but we always stayed together. We survived any obstacle that came in our way, whether it was finding shelter in winter, getting a decent trader, running from an Apostle patrol, or avoiding a nest of vampires.
We were a trinity. If we lost one person, the other two would fall apart.
I stepped back, crossing my arms over my chest.
“We’ll deal with it when it comes to that. Not a moment sooner.” I paused, glancing over my shoulder at my injured boyfriend. “This is Isaac, Reyes. We have to find a way to help him. No matter what that way is.”
He looked away, no doubt thinking the same things that I was.
We were a trinity, but Isaac was the strongest arm. He was the fighter and the decision maker. He’d always know the right choice to make, even if it was hard. He never put himself before either of us, making sure we were taken care of first. I shared blankets with him, so he was able to give extra to Reyes. He always ate his rations after me and Reyes so he would know we were as full as we could be. Nobody intimidated him. Very little scared him. He was calm and relaxed in the most tense situations. He said the right things at the right times. He never threw his trust to the wind, but he helped anyone he could.
Reyes pulled out of his trance and looked at me like he was going to convince me that I was making a huge mistake. One that would cost us our lives. It would have been his right to do so, but I couldn’t just give up. Not like this. Not after everything we’d been through.
He slumped, then reached down and grabbed his bag. If Isaac was our leader, Reyes was the hunter. He could find anything.
“Sun’ll be up for a while. I’m going to get some supplies.”
I hesitated. We might have been arguing, but I didn’t want him to go out alone. Just because the sun was up and the vampires were underground, didn’t mean the streets– especially the dirtiest of the dirty, the gutters– were safe.
On the other hand, I couldn’t leave Isaac. Not when he was so weak.
“Do you want me to come with you?” I asked, not sure what to do.
“No,” he replied, emptying his backpack so he could bring back as much as possible. “You stay here with him. I’m not gonna go far, but I want to make sure everything is thoroughly searched.”
“Okay,” I said quietly. My tirade was over, but I felt like I had lost something. I just didn’t know what it was.
Reyes sensed my anxiety and took a careful step forward. “I’ll be back soon, okay? Just... Just look after him.”
I nodded, no longer trusting myself to speak. Reyes gave Isaac a final look, smiled weakly at me, then briskly marched out of the front door. My heart weighed a thousand pounds when I lost sight of him.
I raised my head and looked at the gas station, finally focusing on my surroundings. The walls were black and chipped. Countertops were now sagging, melted plastic. I wandered around, my shoes kicking crumpled, ashen magazine paper. The fridge had been smashed open, its contents stolen long ago.
I walked to the soda and vending machines. I pushed the buttons on all of them, but nothing came out of the nozzles. I frowned, but wasn’t surprised. Three years was a lot of time for gutter-rats to steal anything they could get their desperate hands on. I would have done the same.
There was a muffled groan from the storeroom. I forgot all about the shop and rushed back to check on Isaac. He’d rolled onto his side, tugging Reyes’ jacket tighter around him. My heart squeezed at his pained expression. I walked in the dark room and sat in front of him.
My eyes trailed to the bite mark on his neck. Being very careful and watching his movements, I slowly pulled down the bloody collar of his shirt to check on the wound.
For a moment I thought he was bleeding again. A dark red patch was building on his skin from where he’d been bitten. But it wasn’t blood. It was the spread of the infection working its way through his body. I set his collar back, wondering how long it was going to be until he wouldn’t be able to stand the sun. When would his eyes start to change? How long would it be before he wanted blood? Is that when he would forget Reyes? When he would forget me?
Tears pricked my eyes. I felt like someone had punched their hand into my chest, then refused to take out their fist.
“Don’t cry, Phia.”
I turned my head to look at Isaac. His eyes were open and looking into mine. But they weren’t the eyes I was familiar with. The whites were fading to a steady pink, like he’d been rubbing them too much. The veins around his eye sockets were a little darker than before.
“I’m not,” I said. Then I sniffled.
Isaac put his hand on my knee, running his thumb along it. His touch was colder than usual, like a chilly wind brushing through my jeans. I took his hand, as if I could soak away some of his coolness.
“How are you feeling?” I asked quietly, unable to look at him.
I heard him shrug. “Serious migraine. Dizzy. Sore. Tired. It’s like head cold from Hell.”
I tried to laugh, but it got caught in my throat. I clutched his hand tighter. He slowly pushed himself up. I glanced at his face and placed my hand on his shoulder, trying to push him back down.
“You need to rest–”
“No. We need to talk.”
He grimaced as he sat up, turning to face me.
“You can’t do this,” he said. “I can’t stay with you and Reyes. I’m going to get you killed, assuming I don’t end up killing you first.”
“You’d never do that, Isaac. I know you wouldn’t.”
“I’m going to turn into a vampire. All they think and care about is blood. I’d rather die for real than become that–”
I touched his face, pulling his chin up so I could look at him directly.
“Don’t, Isaac. Don’t give up. There has to be a way to make this work.”
He frowned. “Like what? Me being your pet vampire?”
I narrowed my eyes. His attempts to push me away were pointless. I knew him too well, and loved him too much.
“If that’s what it takes to keep you alive, then yes.”
“No,” I interrupted. “I’m not letting anyone quit. We are not going to lose you, and we are not going to let you turn into a monster.”
I took a careful breath and slid closer to him. “We can get through this, Isaac. I promise you we can. Just trust me, and let me find a way to help you.”
He must have seen the desperation in my eyes, because he didn’t argue with me anymore. I never gave up, never believed anything was certain. This was just one more obstacle. One more challenge. I would be damned if I was going to let it split us up.
I leaned forward and kissed Isaac. His lips were cold on mine, but I didn’t care. He was still gentle when he put his arms around me. He still had his lemony smell. He was still the man that I loved.
Isaac deepened the kiss and rolled me onto my back. I held his neck and drew him on top of me. His body was cool, but the moment was too heated for me to care. I just wanted to be here with him. To give him a reason to keep fighting.
It never occurred to me that I would be kissing him for the last time.
Two weeks after being bitten, Isaac’s darker symptoms began to show.
We started moving around at night. It was too hard to tell when Isaac would be completely averted to sunlight, so we chose not to risk it at all. We moved from place to place, never staying anywhere longer than a night. The hardest part was finding a place where Apostles couldn’t– or wouldn’t– patrol.
The Strain continued to spread faster than the Apostles could control. Needfire burnings were taking place twice a night instead of once. We stayed on the south fringes of the Wall, which had been erected two years ago to keep the virus from spreading outside Minneapolis. Not that it stopped vampires from trying to over top of it.
For the longest time, we never understood why they wanted to escape so badly. Not even the uninfected tried to get over the Wall. Those with friends and family just assumed the worst and lived the lie. Vampires, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to let go.
Sure, the Apostles were ruthless and fire was the biggest enemy of vampires next to the sun, but vampires were infinitely more powerful than humans. It wasn’t just their increased strength and speed. Their senses were heightened. They could pick up on other vampires. They blended in perfectly with the darkness.
After a while, we assumed the vampires just wanted to get over the Wall to find easier prey. We stopped caring.
Then Isaac’s nightmares started.
We’d hidden in gutted out a coffee shop to catch up on sleep. Reyes was at the front of the shop on watch until the sun set. I was sleeping on the kitchen floor with Isaac. He’d been restless all day, tossing and turning, muttering something I couldn’t make out. Every couple minutes he would let out a gasp like he’d been hurt.
I waited for it to stop, but it just went on. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know what was wrong.
He rolled onto his stomach, panting for breath.
“Isaac?” I asked, resting on my knees. “Baby, can you hear me?”
He whimpered something again. My heart sank.
“Come on, baby, wake up.”
I touched Isaac’s shoulder and gently shook him. His eyes snapped open. He made a low, guttural noise in the back of his throat. His eyes slowly lifted to mine. The whites had gone from pale pink to dusted rose. The veins under his eyelids were darker. His sapphire eyes had hints of red in them. They were full of rage.
I realized what was happening. But I still wasn’t fast enough.
Isaac launched himself up and grabbed my arms. His nails dug into me and I screamed. He pushed me onto the dirty, cracked floor, opening his jaws and showing his slightly longer, sharper canines. It was difficult and painful, but I managed to get my hands up and push Isaac away from my throat. I held him there by his neck, watching his arms.
He snapped and snarled furiously. He was a beast in the skin of a young man.
“Isaac! Isaac, stop! It’s me!”
But he didn’t recognize me. He was lost in a vampiric fury. I had to get through to him before Reyes stormed in and broke his promise.
Isaac pushed harder, his nails scraping my arms. I gasped as his grip tightened. My arms slipped, and he dropped closer to me. Veins bulged in his pale neck as he strained to sink his fangs into my throat. His body weight crushed my stomach and forced the air out of my lungs. He was so close that my heart was beating against his.
This wasn’t working. He was so damn strong. I needed a new tactic. Fast.
Isaac was a black belt in jiu jitsu and tae kwon do, and he had taught me some moves to defend myself. I never imagined I would have to use them against him.
Pulling up my knees and shifting my weight, I heaved and rolled him off me. I rolled again until I was on top of him, then grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands away from me. He reared up and tried to bite my leg, but I drove my knee into his chin.
Isaac’s head rocked back, knocking harshly against the tile and dazing him. Free from his grasp, I scrambled to my feet. The back door banged open, making me almost jump out of my skin. Reyes met my eyes, then looked at Isaac. A dark look crossed his face. I stood in front of him and held up my hands.
“No, wait,” I begged him. “Just wait.”
I spun around as Isaac began to sit up. He groaned and rubbed his chin. I was completely rigid, waiting to see what he would do next.
He raised his head, noticing us staring at him. That I was standing in the dark doorway and not sleeping on the floor anymore. Isaac looked between me and Reyes, seeing how tense we were. I couldn’t see any more of that animal savagery in him now, but my heart wouldn’t slow down.
“What happened?” he asked.
I sighed heavily, pressing one hand onto the kitchen counter and another over my heart.
“Thank God,” I said under my breath.
“Man, that’s my question,” Reyes said, not having heard me. “I came in because Sophia screamed and I heard some sort of tussle going on.”
Isaac’s eyes widened, stopping at me. “Phia? Did I hurt you?”
The bruises throbbed, but I waved it off. “I’m fine.”
He got to his feet. Reyes flinched, but I stayed where I was. Isaac towered over us and was the size of a linebacker. If he completely turned, he would be a formidable vampire.
Don’t think that. He isn’t going to turn. You’ll find a way to make this work.
“Sophia, did I hurt you?”
I sighed. He’d keep asking until I told him the truth. I wished I had the heart to lie to him.
“You bruised my arms a bit. But it’s nothing. I’m okay. I promise.”
Isaac ran a hand through his hair, tugging at the ends of it. He started pacing.
“Goddamn it,” he seethed. “I knew he was lying to me.”
Reyes and I looked at each other. “Who?” I asked.
Isaac glanced at his friend, but didn’t slow his pacing. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he muttered.
Reyes laughed once. “Man, I wouldn’t believe a hundred pound girl could kick your ass, but here we are.”
Despite it all, I smiled a little. So did Isaac, though his smile was weaker than mine. We looked at our infected friend again, waiting for his answer. Isaac took a deep breath and leaned against the counter. He folded his arms over his chest and stared at his feet.
“As soon as I fell asleep, I started hearing this voice in the dark. He told me I wouldn’t hurt anyone, and he just wanted to talk. I followed it and then I was in some kind of gym with a sick man. He said he needed my help.”
He lifted his eyes to ours. “I think he was a vampire.”
Reyes and I held our breath. “Did he say what he wanted?” I asked.
Isaac nodded. “He wants me to get over the Wall and give him my blood. He told me how all of this started. He was young, he killed and turned humans, but he didn’t realize that with every person he infected, he was giving up a part of his essence.” Isaac paused. “He started the Strain by accident, and now he’s dying.”
Reyes scoffed and crossed his arms, muttering something about how he didn’t think it was an accident at all. I stood there in shocked silence, mulling the words through my brain. We lived in this broken world because a vampire had lost control of his essence while he was killing people?
“And we care about a dying vampire, why?” Reyes asked.
His best friend looked at him seriously.
“Because he says he has a cure.”
Time froze. A cure for the Strain. A cure for Isaac. Could it really be that simple?
No. Of course it couldn’t. There was a catch.
“Why does he want your blood?”
“He says that the blood of the people who are infected can help restore all of his lost essence. Kind of like the pieces of a puzzle.”
A thought clicked in my head. “That’s why the vampires are trying to get over the Wall,” I said. “They’re trying to find this vampire and cure themselves.”
“Okay, look,” Reyes protested, holding his hands out. “Isaac, you know you’re a brother to me. But are you seriously going to listen to a guy who was in your head? How do you know he was real and not just a fever dream or something?”
Isaac glared. “I felt his pain, Reyes. He’s decaying. Everything in him was dry. He was burning.” Isaac looked down. “That was what I felt. Like I was dying.”
An ominous feeling began to build in my stomach. How much of Isaac’s life could this vampire see? What would hurting him accomplish? Was it even voluntary, or was it just a mistake?
I thought about everything he had told us. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to save Isaac, but this was a huge risk. Nobody knew what was beyond the Wall. Apostles shot anyone who tried to get over, and those who had managed to escape had never come back. No one knew anything to even make a rumor and spread it through the gutters.
But deep down, I knew I could never figure out a way to help Isaac. I wasn’t a scientist. Even if I was, all the equipment I would need had been stolen or destroyed. Trying for the Wall was the only thing we could do.
Reyes flicked his hazel eyes between us. “Oh no, you guys aren’t actually considering this, are you?”
I looked at him. “Do you have any better ideas?”
“Sure, it’s called ‘survival.’ ”
I narrowed my eyes. “This isn’t survival, Reyes. There’s nothing in this city anymore. All the food is gone, we’re out of places to hide, and the vampires and Apostles don’t care about collateral damage in their little war. We don’t have a choice.”
His eyes fixed on me. “Assuming for half a deluded second that we can get over the Wall, how do you know things won’t be worse on the outside?”
I held my breath. “I don’t. But I would rather take my chances out there than stay here waiting to die.”
The guys looked at me for a long time, like they could force their opinions into each others heads. Isaac would take the chance to get his cure. So would I. Reyes knew the streets and how to stay alive. Like the rest of us, he wanted to play it safe so he wouldn’t die.
But Isaac was infected. Playing it safe wasn’t really an option anymore.
Reyes sighed, shoulders sagging in his oversized coat.
“This is fucking crazy. Whatever’s beyond the Wall could be more of a shit-storm than the one in here.”
I looked at him. “Reyes, we’ve been trapped here for years. If we get across the Wall, there will be more space. We can find somewhere open.”
“How do you know? Maybe every city is like this.”
“Maybe. But if it is, we can live on the road. You like travelling.”
Reyes chuckled bitterly. “I like travelling when I don’t think I’m going to be yanked out of my car by vampires or other people who want it. This isn’t a good idea.”
Isaac stared at his best friend for a long time. “When was the last time we had one of those?”
Reyes matched the intensity of Isaac’s stare. It was like they were speaking their own language. When I met them, they had already been more like brothers than friends.
Finally, Reyes leaned back and ran his hands over his face. I heard him cursed between his palms. He dropped his hands and looked resigned.
“All right. But when this goes to Hell, remember that I warned you.”