Clod and Hess moved through a biting sand storm and Fiend had his fingers in both of them. The sun was bearing down hard through the swirling sands and their twins shadows stretched out forever. The world was bathed in a reddish glow like they were walking into an inferno. Clod had been outfitted in a thin black overcoat, a black pillbox hat with a wide, sagging brim, black everything. Fiend had the idea that Clod should be Black Death moving across the sands and the impression was good. Clod’s face had become a mass of shadows and the rest of his skin wasn’t exposed. His black coat licked and fluttered against the heated sands and again and again, the wind roared like an invisible beast. All that black would have killed a man not propped up by magic the way Clod had been. A nature man’s brains would have boiled in that heat, wearing all that black, but Clod didn’t even sweat. Hess hadn’t been as fortunate or more fortunate, depending on how one considered the situation. Hess was washed in sweat and he’d taken his over shirt off and put it on his head to shield himself from the evil sun. He panted like a dog and wiped sweat from his eyes. Fiend had loosened his hold on Hess after he took Clod and Hess thought he might owe Clod a debt for warranting such attention. Fiend had held Hess tight enough to crush his bones, his figurative bones in any case. Fiend had made him bulletproof in a sense and Hess hadn’t missed having such a gift. He could feel it. Not the bullets, but the bulletproofing. There’s a reason why everything alive had soft parts. Things that could slow or stop bullets were also dry things. Fiend made his body into something solid. His body was all one raw nerve. Breeze hurt and walking was hell, but Fiend pushed him, made him keep going.
Fiend was doing it to Clod now, holding him tight and even still, Hess had seen moments when Clod was something more than the blank slate for Fiend’s will or the Black Death for Fiend’s enemies. Hess would see Clod fighting like hell and when Hess saw those moments, he would advice Clod to stop it. Fiend would always win and Fiend loved the struggle. Fiend was a cruel child pulling the wings off a fly or cutting the tail off a dog.
The two of them were approaching a town much like Appleton, but Appleton after an absolute plague had strike. There were dead bodies littering curved, wooden porches and the wide main road. Their necks and bellies were slashed open, but their wounds only bled sand. Their flesh was dry paper plastered around warped skulls. There was no smell. It was too hot for stink to last for long. The stink had evaporated away along with the people’s last breaths. There was a man hung up on a hook. His mouth was opened in a silent scream. His legs were gone and all the rest of him was stick thin and mummified. There was a boy in the middle of the road. His stomach was agape and his arms and legs were stretched out around him. His mouth had been partially ripped away, his jaw had been torn off, but again, there was no blood or smell. The pair had moved passed the boy without a second thought. Clod and Hess had come to this open air graveyard to stir up some dead men, the ones that had killed the rest of them. Fiend had set them to retain the services of vampires.
Fiend had pointed out the town and set Hess and Clod off to find it. Hess had found the exact building, a too-dry single-story tavern with windows painted with pitch. Slashed and faded sheets stained with old, old blood had been tacked up on the porch roof and they fluttered about in the strong winds, licking to the left and back to the right. The sheets spread out in the battering winds and Hess and Clod stepped through them. Batwing doors stood before a black as absolute as very deep, polluted waters. There were things shifting in the darkness, things that didn’t sleep and were always hungry. These things had grown excited at the sight of the pair, not realizing that neither of the men would be on the menu. Hess held back for a moment, staring unsure at the darkness. Clod threw the batwing doors open and Hess followed. Hess had found his nerve as the darkness spilled over him and stepped ahead of Clod.
The bar room was washed in shadows and mots of dusts. Old tables and chairs laid smashed apart across the floor, but some were intact and cleaned. Empty beer steins stood abandoned atop those tables. There was a sagging bar perched up on a sawhorse on one end and a pile of limestone bricks on the other. Behind the sagging bar, there was a smashed and splintered mirror smeared with brown, rusted streaks. People had died in here, but the bodies had been cleared away. On either side of the bar, there were doorways were the doors had been broken down or simply removed. There was a man sitting at the bar, throwing back a shot of blood. It might have been rich, ember whiskey, but Hess knew it was blood. It slithered tacky out of the glass and the man on the bar stool smiled around the glass rim. His lips were red as he turned and looked upon the two men. He had black eyes and white skin like porcelain. The man had no pores and no facial hair. He had thin black hair shaven on the sides and slicked smooth on the top. Around his neck, he had the boy’s jawbone tied to a piece of thin rawhide. It had been picked clean of meat and the teeth were gone from the U-shaped bone. He nodded tiredly as if he really did throw back some whiskey. He leaned back and propped his elbows on the bar top and the jawbone slid, cockeyed, on his bare white chest.
Others came from the shadows, melting out from nowhere and all of them were smiling. All of them had paper white skin and black eyes like ink wells. There were ten in total, not counting the original man at the bar. Hess nodded at the newcomers as if they were all friends. The newcomers smiled back at him. Hess knew he had to give the impression of authority. He had Clod with him and they really only needed one of them. Hess pulled up a chair and sat across from the man sitting at the bar, pulling a cigarette and a match out from his pants pocket. He lit the cigarette and blew smoke across the space between him and the man on the bar stool. Clod remained standing, blank-faced and still.
“I’ve traveled a long way and I would ask for a drink, but I don’t think you have my poison.” Hess said, looking over to the man at the bar. The newcomers gave a round of laughter at his minor joke.
“Yes. I doubt that very much. You’ve come a long way. More the pity. You’ve come this far to die.” The newcomers laughed at this as well. The man had a delicate, deliberate voice, not feminine, but something like a fragile piece of machinery. Something that would break if forced or hurried.
“Now, I doubt that very much. Move on me if you like. You’ll be swatting your own out and my friend and I will be burdened with finding another clan.”
“Swatting out?” The man asked, a smile curling his lips.
“Oh, yeah. My friend is like the Grim Reaper, himself. He need only wave his hand and all y’all will die a second death, a permanent one. That would be a shame, in any case.”
“Because your kind and the man we represent could help one another nicely. The man we represent is looking for an army. You see what I’m aiming at.”
“Not exactly.” He gestured for him to continue.
“We’re here asking for your service and the man we represent, he could help you along as well. Definitely, there would be blood. Definitely, there would be slaughter. Possibly, the sun might be extinguished. Never be burned by the daylight again.”
“That sounds nice, but that isn’t what I’ve misunderstood. I misunderstood why you would think you could leave here alive. We don’t care about your master’s ambitions. We’ll kill you and then kill him for his presumption.” He snapped his fingers and the newcomers came around with their mouths yawning with fangs. The man at the bar laughed and Hess laughed as well. Clod stepped forward with his blank face.
Clod was behind a black haired woman, his arm hooked around her neck. He put his hand on the side of her head and then he twisted her head off her shoulders.
Clod elbowed a large man in the face, driving his head back. He launched forward, leading with his foot and landing his heel in the center of another man’s chest. The man went down and Clod kept with him. The man’s chest caved in like a tin can.
The large man that had caught the elbow now caught a foot into his knee. The kneecap shattered and the hinging joint bent in the other direction. As the large man fell, screaming in pain, Clod stepped forward and ripped his head off.
Clod gripped an arm that had thrown a jab and it came off almost instantly. Clod swung the arm across the face of a blonde woman. She corkscrewed down to the ground. Clod discarded the arm and bashed the one-armed jabber until his skull became concave.
The blonde woman got up and charged. Clod caught her by the neck and drove his free hand into her belly, just below her rib cage. He gripped the rib cage and pulled. Her inner works spilled out onto the bar room floor.
A skinny man threw two jabs and Clod dodged them. Clod drove his palm into the skinny man’s face. Once, twice, three times and then four. The skinny man had died the third time.
Clod swept the legs out from a flabby woman and then he brought his heel down, smashing her skull.
Clod ripped the throat out of a man with gray hair.
Clod caved in the skull of a girl that might have been fourteen when she was turned.
Clod picked up a blonde man by the throat and drove him through the bar top. He crashed to the ground, groaning.
“That’s enough.” Hess said and then he looked to the man at the bar who had somehow turned paler faced.
“I only need one of you. I think that fellow is well enough.” Hess said, pointing to the blonde man resting in the ruined bar top.
“You wouldn’t have fared so well, were we not in our dry season.” The man at the ruined bar said through a frown. He said it, but he didn’t sound like he exactly believed it. Hess gave the man a soft chuckle and a dry-lipped smile.
“And if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, I’d still be looking for blow-jobs. The situation is, you die or you come with us.” Hess said, stretching his legs out and putting his hands in his lap. A long silence rested among the dust mots and the shadows. The blonde woman, with her chest partially pulled out, whined softly and the flabby woman, with her skull crushed in, made sickly spasms, but neither of them could penetrate that long silence.
“ We are not hounds, not attack dogs. We are vampire. We are the darkness.” He said softly, mostly to himself. His eyes had gone dull and his face grew almost translucent.
“Clod. Rip his dick off and put it in his mouth.” Hess said. The man on the stool fell off his stool and clattered to the ruined bar top. He kicked and squirmed away, putting his hands up in defense.
“I will go. I shall come.” The man cried as Clod towered over him.
“Then, I think we have an understanding.” Hess said through a smile. Clod stopped, staring down at the snow white man with the child’s jaw on his chest.
“On to new business. We’re in a bar. What the hell happened to all the liquor?” Hess asked, giving the question serious importance.