It took Ellis almost a month to get home, and when he got there, it wasn’t really home anymore. A lot of things were going to be like that going forward.
At the outset, it had been a pretty regular business trip. He flew into the Detroit Metro and the company driver met him at the gate. From there, it was out to the facility. It was some kind of plastics manufactory; there were local environmental activists who claimed the manufacturing process put too many pollutants into the air, saying it was killing the planet. Ellis didn’t know if that was true, but he did know that these activists were breaking into the company facilities and damaging equipment. Pentex employees were showing up for work and all of the forklifts had had their steering wheels hacksawed off and the tires slashed.
It had been escalating. The company had hired extra security guards to patrol the facilities, but it was an added expense that they didn’t want to carry for long, and the turnover for nightshift security was pretty high. It did put a stop to the damage until the activists took advantage of Pentex’s need for new hires and got two of their own people hired in. It took them a while, but they were eventually put on the same shift, and then had unfettered access to the facility for almost 12 hours. They drilled holes in the boiling tanks, derailed the rollers on the feeding lines, dissolved tampons into the gas tanks of every vehicle on the lot. In all, they did a few hundred thousand dollars in damage. Pentext was thanking god for their insurance policy, but if they were going to be covered going forward, the underwriter demanded that they take their security seriously. So, Ellis.
He had the background. He was special forces, a military intelligence officer. He knew how to protect against incursions like this. Some of it was making it difficult to get in. Some of it was making it easy to catch the assholes who did it. And some of it was giving them a honeypot target that minimized the real damage while making it easier to catch the perpetrators. In this case, after three days of evaluation and discussion with management, Ellis suggested a few fixes, including running a 24 hour operation at lower capacity that would keep the facility with more people present than could permit anyone to do too much damage before they were stopped.
It was 12 hour days, followed by evenings at the White Horse, drinking whiskey until it was time to walk over to the Red Roof Inn across the street for the night and up the next morning for more of the same. The last night, after he had finished up business, and was clouding his head for the night’s sleep, there was a long legged woman at the bar with him. She had a wolfish smile and a hint of danger in her eye. Ellis had made the first move, and things had escalated quickly.
He never actually got her name. They got into the room together, and the wind rustled the curtains as the camera panned away. But things did not go as Ellis planned. There was pleasure, ecstasy even, but there was also blood, and teeth, and ultimately, a long dark tunnel, only there was no light at the end. It only grew darker and darker. Darker than Ellis had believed it could get. And then darker still. Until there was nothing. Death had come. And he felt a presence. An offer was made. He could go back. If he wanted. But whatever lay beyond this darkness was not for him. Be it heaven, hell, or nothing, or something else, beyond the understanding of man. It would be lost to him, forever. But. He could go back.
And he accepted.
The next thing he knew, he was being crushed. He didn’t know where he was, but the smell and taste of filth and dirt was all around him. He could hardly move. He could sense things crawling, near him, on him, his mouth was full, and he tried to spit the dirt out, but there was nowhere for it to go. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t understand. His training had taught him to face the inescapable horrors of war with a cold steely resolve, to slow down, to take a deep breath and count. To closely examine the options he was face with, to truly grasp what was going on. And he fell back on that training now, to take stock of what he knew. And after a few seconds of rational though, Ellis realized that he had been buried alive. And then he panicked.
His blood boiled, and a mixture of rage and terror and an insatiable hunger filled him with blind strength. He clawed at the soft earth, and snarled and wept and screamed, though there was no way for anyone to hear him. And after a time that felt endless, and which he could not track, he felt the soil give way, his hand breaking the surface of the ground, and he pulled himself up from the shallow grave into the moonlight, the wet, loose soil clinging to his body, his clothes, falling off of him as he dragged himself loose.
There were people there. He did not register more than that there were people there. Someone was shouting, cheering. Later, he would dimly recall that there was a fire somewhere behind him. But what he remembers. What he did notice. What he takes with him now, with every time he puts himself to sleep, is the woman who was lying at the foot of his grave. She was tied, hand and foot, gagged with a rope. Terror in her eyes, tears staining her cheeks, her clothes a crumpled and rumpled business casual, looking at him, her eyes pleading for him to save her. But he could not, did not. All he could do was smell the rich, heady blood coursing within her. Her fear only made her heart beat harder. And he knew in retrospect there was no way he could have heard it, but in the moment, and later in his dreams, he felt as though he could.
No hesitation, he had thrown himself on her, sinking his teeth into her neck. She spasmed in his arms, let out a slow sigh, and then went limp. And he drank and drank, until there was nothing left of her, until she was pale and light as the wind. And he felt the rage fade, and the fear recede, and the hunger, at least for that moment, sated. And he let her limp, exsanguinated corpse fall to the ground as he finally stopped and looked around to see the crowd of men and women looking at him, some of them clapping, and some of them engaged in conversation. And then one of them shouted something. And another came forward and clapped his hand down on Ellis’s shoulder and said, “Shit. I knew I should have bet on you. Anyway, welcome to the club.”
Ellis felt that rage again, sudden snarling, ferocious rage, welling up inside him. He wanted to snap this asshole’s hand off at the wrist. No. He wanted to bite it off. And he could feel himself about to. It wasn’t conscious, or controllable. He could feel the fangs in his mouth extending again. Shit. Fangs? He hadn’t even realized he had them until he thought about it. But looking down at the corpse still just at his feet, he could see the two puncture holes in her neck, just above the collarbone, blood smeared on her clothes around the dark holes in her flesh. They were dry as bone.
The crowd around him began to cheer again, this time with more enthusiasm, and he looked to where their attention was drawn. For the first time, he realized he was standing in a graveyard. Behind him, next to the hole in the ground where he had just come from was a headstone. There were headstones all around. And other people tied up and gagged, just like the woman… He shook his head. He didn’t have time to think about that. There was a hand coming up out of the ground three graves over from him, groping around, pulling, and a woman’s head, covered in fresh earth, emerged. She was screaming, dirt pouring off her, in her hair, falling out of her mouth. Her eyes were a bloodshot red, her mouth open, fangs extending, an animal fury on her face. There was nothing human in her at that moment as she struggled to free herself from the ground. Ellis would later learn her name was Shelby.
The people tied on the ground, and especially the man immediately in front of Shelby were squirming and trying to scream, but of course, they could hardly move, and any sound they could make was drowned out by the sound of the cheering around them. Shelby finally got herself loose and leapt for the man. Ellis shrugged off this asshole’s hand on his shoulder and jumped for the forward at the same time. He couldn’t believe what he had just done, and he didn’t understand what was happening, but he could at least keep it from happening again. He tackled Shelby sideways, just before she closed with the man on the ground.
Ellis didn’t see or hear what happened next, but he couldn’t move again. There were four faces looking down at him. One of them was the woman from last night. She was saying something. Another one of the faces looking down on him nodded impassively. He leaned close to Ellis’s face, looking him straight in the eyes, and all he said was “Sleep.” And Ellis slept.