Gateways: “The Vampires of Earth” by Jim McDoniel read by Ansel Burch



TRANSCRIPT:

Jim McDoniel is a writer of monsters and mirth, not always in that order. He also writes radio plays. He holds a Masters degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. He is a writer for the podcasts Our Fair City and Unwell. He was a finalist in Deathscribe 10 for his piece, “Monstruos.” and a five time Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition winner. Jim is the author of an amazing novel, An Unattractive Vampire available from Sword and Laser publishing. This is “The Vampires of Earth”.

 

When humans left Earth, the vampires could not follow. Journeying into space exposed them to the unrelenting power of the sun and no amount of shielding could keep the solar radiation at bay. Not even the humans had solved this problem but had taken their chances in their haste to get away. The vampires did not have this option and found it…difficult…to deal with on their own. They had always depended on mortals and the ingenuity that went hand in hand with a short existence for such innovations.

And so the undead fell upon what remained. Those humans who had stayed behind—the ones too poor or sick or stubborn to leave—were wiped out in a matter of months. By the time the vampires realized they should conserve or cultivate what they had, they were gone. Cows went next. There were so many of them, big and slow and full of blood. Pigs. Cats. Dogs. Horses. The animals that humans had bred by the millions for their own hunger or amusement fell beneath the fang and were silenced.

A decade was all it took to denude the earth of the large mammals. Another to end most birds and reptiles. By this time, the problem was apparent but unsolvable. Anything that could be caught had to be eaten—even if the sustenance it provided was small. Rodents were barely a snack. Amphibian blood was more often rejected by the body than accepted. Insects and worms were pulped by the thousands for the mere drops of sustenance they contained. The green blood of crustaceans turned out to be deadly, no one had ever resorted to eating a horseshoe crab before. There were a few places, in the far north and south—where large ocean animals still roamed. Whales and seals were kept in small fisheries where they could be tapped without killing them outright. Still their numbers were few and they reproduced slowly. It was far easier to prey upon one’s own. The youngest and weakest were culled.

It was nearly too late before the mistake was recognized. Newer vampires had always been more comfortable with technology. For them it was as natural a part of the ecosystem as trees or rain. If advancements were to be made, it would come from them. The elders scooped them up and pressed them into service. There were barely a hundred left. Few of the young ones had an aptitude for science but they had to make do anyway. 

The middling vampires now found themselves preyed upon starting with a century or more and slowly working their way back. Reprieves were made for the odd centenarian who showed an aptitude for modernity but this was as rare as daywalking. Eras rolled backward one at a time. By the time rockets had been redeveloped, the Renaissance frayed at the edges; by the time the first tentative steps into space were made, it had completely unraveled.

Shielding remained the problem. Vampires who went up came back as ash. New metals and new alloys and new composites; all returned with ash. Finally, they hit upon the idea of filling the capsule’s habitation chamber with water to absorb the sun’s radiation. The first vampire to survive space was Hala of Tyre—chosen especially for the purpose because she was expendably Middle Ages but also her name’s meaning, the light around the moon, represented hope for the undead. 

More vampires journeyed into space. There was no shortage of volunteers—those who took part were reprieved from the menu. Not that this always meant safety. Water was not necessarily conducive to travel—on a trip round the moon, water shorted out all the electronics causing the vehicle to crash into the lunar surface, stranding the occupant forever. Another test subject was simply launched into space with no destination—just a transmitter and fuel for acceleration. The last message received came from somewhere within the Kuiper Belt before all went silent. Still, progress was made. The vampires did not have to worry about air or cold or pressure or G forces. Their only barrier was the sun and once that had been solved, everything fell into place very rapidly.

Two hundred years after the humans had left earth, the predators followed their prey. The remaining vampires—the very young and the very, very old—boarded generation ships and flew off, leaving the earth to the arthropods and rodents too small to have been much use. A dozen vessels, each a kilometer long, filled with vampires and water, scouring the aether in search of human blood. The humans had been aiming for Luyten B, the most likely habitable planet in the stellar neighborhood—only 12.2 light years away. Or put another way, a hundred thousand years. But what was that to an immortal? 

The vampires slept in metal crypts, dreaming of the blood. Unless they didn’t. More than half the ships fell to cannibalism not even a quarter of the way through the trip. Another two experienced decompression and lost all their water. An asteroid struck another’s engine. It drifted off into the deep, unable to alter course.

Lifetimes passed. Millenia and Eons. And then at last, at long last, sensors blipped; lights flashed. The ships began to slow. The young vampires now indistinguishable in age from their near useless forebears went to work checking star charts and readying landing modules. The ships could not themselves descend but small capsules could be crashed onto the planetary surface with groups of twenty or so undead in each. Lots were drawn to determine who would go down with the first launches. Fights broke out and the ancient ones learned they no longer held the physical advantage over their younger kin. Twenty-eight of the oldest, most revered, and most hated vampires gave their blood to sate the hunger of those who had to wait. The lucky chosen boarded the entry crafts and fell to the planet surface.

They emerged, hungry and confused, on the dark side of the new planet. There was life—tough, plant-like corals that glowed luminescent. Worms rose out of the ground like wheat, sucking at pollen on the wind. One of the vampires eagerly tried this new fare only to vomit up its black glowing blood. It was incompatible. They needed to find the humans.

No cities had been visible from above the planet. If the humans were here, they had gone underground. Fortunately, iridescent cheeping lichen led them to large fissures. They descended beyond the opening and found themselves in a large cavern where anchored among the stalagmites were the fleshy, bulbous trunks of scale-topped trees. Scarlet sap oozed from their pores. One of the vampires took a tentative lick and shuddered with ecstasy. This was what they had traveled the interstellar advance for. The vampire ripped hungrily into its pulp. The thing rattled with pain, a sound which echoed through the floor of the cavern, but it did not stop the frenzy as the others joined in. There was not a flow of blood to be found but rather a single reservoir of congealed ooze at its center from whence it could be squeezed through its sponge like body. The undead ripped their way to the central cavities and slathered themselves in the first fresh blood they had tasted in over a hundred thousand years. 

There was more than enough in that one plant for each to have their fill. But it had been so long, so very long. They turned toward the neighboring trunks, each now rattling and puffing with the stench of fear—an aroma almost as intoxicating as the blood itself. The shaking dislodged one from its anchor point and it flopped to the ground, rocking comically back and forth like a turtle on its back. The vampire laughed even as the scale-like fronds at the thing’s head separated and lengthened—first into branches and then into arms. 

A vampire was in its mouth before anyone could move. Muffled screams merged with the sucking sound of the plant creature. The others ran to his aid but only by pulling apart the trunk could they extract their companion and by then it was too late. Suction had already crushed and broken the head and upper shoulders, flaying the skin and crushing the bone into a slurry within its central cavity. It drank everything into it, every molecule extracted for its own nutrition.

The central cavern filled with rattles. The creatures freed themselves from the outcroppings they had cemented themselves to and pushed forward on their snail-like feet. Two more vampires were pulled inside mouths and drained of their substance. The rest fled back up the cavern toward the entrance only to find the light of the rising red sun blocking their way. 

The remains of humanity bore down on their ancient enemy. They had fled without shielding, mutated and changed, forced to modify themselves to endure the solar winds. Generations and generations, living and dying and adapting over a hundred thousand years. And now in this cave, they found those from whom they’d fled, spindly and weak—poorly adapted to this new world. Warbles of joy broke forth as they advanced upon the vampires with hungry anticipation. 

Ansel Burch is the curator for the Gateways series as well as the producer for the comedy variety podcast, Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also mixing drinks with fate on YouTube as “Dungeon Barkeep”. Keep up with his work and all the amazing stuff he’s making at www.indecisionist.com


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