The Guardian of Hope (Beta Version)
A horse’s hooves echoed throughout a quiet, foggy street. Its occasional grunts bothered Kenneth as he surveyed the unassuming neighborhood. Something spooked him on the way home at late night. There had been reports of unusual activity and disappearances for the past few days. Information about these cases were kept unspoken to the public. Some encountered these creatures, prowling in the city’s vast ruins. These creatures came with a putrid scent, reminiscent of decay.
All incidents happened along the edge of Gardenia’s residential area.
There was a peculiar air in the desolate outskirts. The darkness he encountered contrasted the dim lights of the residential area he left. He raised his flashlight through the transparent thicket, wondering what lingered in its cover.
“Spooky,” he uttered.
“Dad?” Billy whispered.
Kenneth shook, turning to find his son standing with his rifle in hand.
“What’re you doing out here, kid?”
“I saw you turn away from home. I-I thought it was odd, so I followed.”
“Dammit. It’s not safe around here. Turn back.”
“I’m already here. May as well help you. If I want to be a guard, then it’s my duty, right?”
Dear God, I’m encouraging overtime, Kenneth thought.
“Alright, stay close.”
They continued down the foggy street, overwhelmed with dread. The young man clutched his rifle, following his father’s cues. They heard a crashing sound coming from a nearby abandoned building. A chill ran down the old guard’s spine. Billy saw his father’s startled gaze as he looked to the third floor. Kenneth had yet to say what was going on.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” He asked.
“It’s not too late to turn back, Billy,” His father replied, glancing over.
“No, I’m going to see this through.”
The tired father sighed, accepting his son’s decision. The horse remained posted by a building closer to the neighborhood. They entered the building’s lobby entrance with their flashlights, shedding light on the rundown interior. The lobby served as the center point, connecting to an entire complex spanning blocks. It was a hotbed for people to hide, but they rarely had issues of squatters since everyone had a place to stay. The old man took a deep breath before trying to open the door. Billy watched, observing his father’s worry. He still left him in the dark as to why they were here. Kenneth managed to get the door open after tinkering with the door handle. He turned to Billy with a nod.
“Stick close,” he suggested. “I don’t know what we’ll find here.”
His son nodded without question. They entered the foggy site, seeing the remnants of a decaying rental office. Molded furniture, yellowing pictures, and peeling wallpaper marked a long absence of humanity. Its corridors were clear of obstruction. The musky smell lingered, overlaying the mold that further populated the air down the hall. Kenneth pulled out a mask from his pocket, giving it to his son. The old guard opted to use a multi-colored bandana he kept, given from his late wife.
“Who would be in a place like this?” Billy asked.
“You got me,” He answered, pointing his flashlight-mounted shotgun through the thicket. “We can’t stay for too long. Mold ain’t the only problem in this kind of environment.”
“Eh, what’s the other problem?”
The father-son pair continued toward the courtyard, a large expansive area that connected to the other buildings. There was a large pool with standing green water. It was filled to the top by centuries of rain filling it. It was also a hotbed for mosquitoes during the summer. Billy followed the scattered furniture, the broken wooden chairs, upturned tables and skeletal remains of animals that occupied the apartment complex.
“Dad, why are we—” Billy spoke, but was interrupted by his father’s gesture.
Something collapsed on the other side of the pool area. The young man fumbled his rifle as he guided his flashlight toward the other end. The lingering fog prevented any visual it as whatever was there scurried away from the scene. Kenneth’s shotgun traced the noise as they heard shattering glass to their left. His father glared at the direction of the sound.
“Get it together,” He muttered.
“R-right,” His son answered.
“We ain’t alone.”
The young man nodded. What were they being hunted by? There was much his father didn’t mention, and he wondered why. He kneeled down to retrieve his rifle as a burst of footsteps approached. Cutting through the wind, something knocked him into the pool.
“Billy!” Kenneth shouted, aiming his shotgun to get a good view of the area.
He saw the necrosis of someone’s shoulder hunch back into the fog’s visual protection when he saw his son splash to cling to the side of the pool’s deep end. The veteran focused while hearing his son’s plea. He closed his eyes, firing a single shot into the fog, hoping the spray wouldn’t strike his son. The thud of the pellets sent the creature squirming into the distance. Billy gasped for air as he pulled himself up. His father helped him out of the sewage water. His son remained on his knees, coughing out the dirty water.
“Yuck,” His son said. “W-what the hell was that?”
“I don’t know kiddo,” The guard answered.
“Enough not telling me things! I think I deserve to know what’s going on.”
Kenneth saw his son’s angered expression, realizing it was better to tell him, rather than hide what was happening. He cleared his throat while looking around. The chaos that once filled the air returned to its haunting silence as the pool’s water settled.
“We’ve been getting reports of strange happenings,” He answered. “I just happened to be in the area. At first we thought it was just burglaries, but nothing was missing. Then people said they were being attacked by- something.”
“Something?” His son narrowed his eyes. “Like some kind of monster?”
Kenneth shook his head.
“After seeing what I just saw, I don’t know.”
Billy’s eyes averted, widening from the strange feeling of being watched. He looked along the abandoned apartment balconies. Some were collapsed with remnants on the ground, while others were perfectly intact. He understood no one would stay in such a hazardous place, even as a last resort. His father looked at their feet, finding traces of blood. He inspected it, seeing curdled chunks of flesh. It came with a strange putrid smell, the kind akin to death. He didn’t know what he was looking at. The old guard dared not touch it as he stood back up.
“So, what now?” His son asked.
“We keep going,” He answered. “It’s wounded.”
His son gulped audibly as he looked at his father.
“What if there are more of those things in there?”
The old guard scoffed.
“We got a job to do, kid! OT, baby!”
“Yikes. Don’t ever say that again.”
His father chuckled to lighten the mood. Kenneth led his son to the source of the broken glass from earlier. The double door nearest to the scattered glass was cracked wide open. They looked at each other, acknowledging what they had to do. The old guard entered first with his shotgun raised, regulating his breathing as he went further into the abyss. Kenneth listened to his surroundings. There was little chance there were more of them, as the situation would’ve been far worse. The creature’s strength was enough to knock his precarious son over. It could’ve attacked if it wanted to.
This thing might be testing us, he thought.
Billy kept a close eye behind them, widening his flashlight’s lens. The light shook as he clenched its ridges. He expected something to emerge, but the dreading feeling lingered. When they arrived at the stairwell, they found part of it destroyed. Kenneth shone his light upward, seeing the steep incline. They would have to boost each other up to get to the second floor.
“Aw, hell,” Kenneth muttered.
“What now?” His son asked.
“Give me a boost, will you?”
“Shouldn’t I be going first?”
“You’re still shook. And my shotgun got a flashlight. Anything jumps in the way turns to meat sauce.”
“You need to work on your jokes, dad.”
“C’mon, enough talk.”
His son helped him reach the lowest ledge of the destroyed staircase. He struggled to get a good hold before pulling himself up. He slung his shotgun over his shoulder before carefully hugging along the wall. Upon the final step, he stumbled forward to see the destroyed walls of the hallway. He took a deep breath, honing into the environment.
“You alright?” His son’s voice echoed.
“Yeah,” He answered, looking over his shoulder.
Something emerged from one of the rooms as the old guard turned to his son below. Billy aimed his flashlight toward his father, casting a shadow toward the ceiling. Before Kenneth could speak, he was snatched from the darkness. His son panicked as he watched helplessly. Kenneth found himself in the clutches of a beast that was ready to take a bite out of him. The old guard reached for the trigger of his slung shotgun as quick as he could. A bright flash went off, followed by a thundering blast. The pellets ripped flesh from the creature’s arm, knocking it away with the uncontrolled recoil.
Kenneth scrambled away, hearing his son calling from below. The creature slammed again the wall in pain as the old guard watched. He aimed his shotgun at it, getting a better view of the creature with the mounted flashlight. His hands trembled to the ghoulish sight of the beast. Its deceptively scrawny frame produced the raw power. Its pale skin was tarnished with red stains and torn flesh hanging from its wounds. Its sunken orange eyes remained upon the old guard as it regained its focus on its prey. Kenneth grew up with stories of vampires, but he had never seen one, not until today. He controlled his breathing as he fired another shot, which the vampire evaded. The vampire retreated into the nearest room.
Shit, he thought.
“Dad!” His son’s voice finally resonated.
“I’m good, kid,” He answered, standing up with the aid of his shotgun.
“W-what was that?”
“Something I’ve gotta handle.”
“Get on outta here! It’s too dangerous to stay around.”
The old guard ignored his son’s insistence on backing down. He raised his shotgun, aiming it down the hallway. Once his son went silent, he was left with a creeping silence. It was as though the creature disappeared, but upon entering the room, he saw traces of blood on the dirty carpet. The room was full of old furniture, faring better than the furniture he saw at the lobby. His nerves racked, not knowing when the creature would pounce. He knew it was as powerful as the stories said. A single swipe would rip limbs from the unsuspecting prey. Kenneth was fortunate that it didn’t kill him outright.
When he turned to look at the adjacent door, he saw all the doors broken into. It spanned into several rooms. This didn’t help ease his tensions as he tried to hone in on a sound that would give away its position.
“Last time I’m going to the bar late at night again,” he muttered.
A sudden crash in the corridor drew his attention as he carefully emerged to investigate. He looked down at both ends, finding nothing unusual. He knew for certain it was trying to confuse him. The old guard wasn’t familiar with the layout since there was no reason to enter the condemned building. The vampire was using what it knew of the layout as an advantage. Another sound scraped within the many rooms in front of Kenneth. He gulped, feeling a looming dread as he walked toward the source.
His eyes narrowed, trying to readjust from the darker edges of the flashlight. He knew it wouldn’t emerge in his line of sight, so he turned it off. As he stood in the darkness, he adjusted his eyesight, using the moonlight as guidance. With his breathing muted and his mind focused he heard the crawling footsteps emerge from one of the rooms. He aimed his shotgun with the utmost silence. His hands trembled upon seeing the lanky figure loom by the entrance. The moonlight revealed its fleshy appearance and its orange eyes. Its wheezing was weak and marked a strange hunger as it clenched its sharp rows of teeth.
Kenneth allowed it to take a few more steps before firing at it. He landed a shot that sent it stumbling in pain. But as it was close to him, it swung its massive claws at the old guard. The old guard stumbled away, falling onto his back. A dull pain jolted throughout his spine as he scurried to his feet. With the shotgun slung, it was hard for it to get knocked out of his possession. Not once did he let the beast out of his sight as it approached with fury.
Fuck, He thought.
He delved into the nearest room where the massive talons missed the guard. Kenneth knew he had to create a distance between the beast and him. He wondered whether he was able to wound the vampire for it to bleed out. Its frantic pacing and ferocious hunger overtook its senses as it tried everything to reach the fledgling guard. Slamming upon entering each room gave Kenneth time to grab a hold of his surroundings. Its distorted cries echoed throughout the abandoned apartment floor. The old guard ducked a devastating swipe, one that lodged its sturdy talons into the worn walls. Kenneth tumbled onto his back again, feeling a surge of pain once more. It incapacitated him as he tried to aim his shotgun.
The vampire recuperated, turning to the exausted guard before him. It grabbed him by the collar, dropping his secured shotgun onto the ground. He panted as he looked into its ghastly eyes. So lifeless and devoid of all that was living. Kenneth closed his eyes, awaiting the inevitable. He hoped his son escaped far from the building. He hoped death would come swift and painless. As the vampire bared its fangs, a sudden clink came from its side. Its eyes glanced over as a shot fired at it. The bullet struck the back of its head, sending it into a horrifying ear-piercing squeal that incapacitated the father and son.
Billy watched as the monstrous silhouette stumbled toward the open window and leap out. Once it disappeared, silence reigned once more. The young man stood in shock, wondering what he had just seen. Kenneth sat up, gasping for air as his son turned on his flashlight. His father was covered in sweat and blood, tired from the nightmarish experience. Kenneth was both relieved and upset that his son put himself in harm’s way.
“I thought I told you to go,” The concerned father said.
“And leave you behind?” Billy answered. “I just saved you.”
“You did. But, if things would’ve gone south, we’d both be dead.”
“But, it didn’t.”
His father walked toward the window, looking down at the street below. There were traces of blood smudged along the pavement of where it landed. He saw the bullet rip through the back of its head, but it survived. Kenneth took a deep breath, one of relief as he leaned forward. His son stood next to him, still processing all that happened.
“A vampire? Yeah, it sure as hell was.”
“I shot it in the head. There’s no way-”
“Don’t be too hard. You were shooting in the dark. Chances are, the bullets skimmed the back of its head.”
“It got lucky.”
“So, what now?”
Kenneth’s tired eyes looked at his son. This was the first time of a confirmed sighting of a vampire in Gardenia for nearly 50 years. Recalling the reports from the time, people went missing. So far, only one recent case came to mind: a couple that went missing two nights ago. The old guard wondered if their disappearance was linked to the vampiric presence.
“Let’s go,” He said, walking ahead of his son.
“Where?” Billy asked.
“The precinct. There’s something I’ve gotta look at again.”
A few hours passed as the sun broke the mountainous horizon. Kenneth and Billy emerged over the southeastern hill outside of Gardenia. Someone discovered bodies near the vast field by the Hollows. It was a section of the forest deemed unsafe for people to pass through. There was a long-extinguished campfire, along with two bodies. Kenneth looked upon them regrettably as he and his son hopped off their horses. Billy’s eyes welled with tears upon the horrific sight. His father sympathized with his pain, bowing his head upon the victims.
“Beth?” Billy uttered.
“Damn,” Kenneth said.
The old guard kneeled down to examine the body, a young blonde woman who worked at the hospital. He saw the punctured wounds on her neck, confirming his hunch. The skin seemed lightly charred, meaning there was a chance she could turn. He walked over to the other body to find the same.
We got ourselves a case of vampirism for sure,” He concluded.
Billy grew pale by the thought. The townsfolk were wise enough to stay away from this area at night. It couldn’t help that two young lovers would foolishly venture out.
Billy then took out a small polaroid camera to take a few pictures. His father gathered the bodies together and poured some gasoline he brought along in case his suspicion was correct. As Billy took the photos, he stopped as he observed his father attempt to light a match.
“What are you doing?” He lowered his camera.
“There’s still a chance these could turn,” His father lit his match. “We can’t take that chance.”
His son didn’t argue as the old guard stood up to drop the match on the bodies. They could see the bodies convulse as the fire consumed them, letting out a whimper as they perished. Billy found it hard to watch as he turned away, but his father seemed unphased by the grim scene.
Once the bodies charred, they rode away on their horses. Billy felt a sense of sorrow as they had to burn the bodies. Their families could never see them again. It was all to negate the chance of infection as once vampirism spread, it was impossible to stop. They arrived at the entrance of the town, tired from the long-winding night.
“So, what are we going to do?” Billy asked.
Kenneth looked at his son through the side of his eye.
“Well, there’s only one person who might be able to help us.”
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