Running Red, by Keri Knutson
Available at Amazon
Jesse Stone has been running the night roads for 150 years, preying on humanity for survival, but he still feels an ache from the empty place where his soul was torn away. Other vampires – an ex-SS soldier, a fanatical tent preacher, an Aztec biker – have been gathering an army for an assault on humanity.
Now Jesse must lead a rag-tag band of humans against the others, in a last-ditch attempt to find redemption…
It didn’t take Jesse long to cover the few miles that separated the citadel from the camp. The moon was moving toward a new phase, nearly full now, and it seemed almost daylight to him. He longed for the bike, feeling small and vulnerable without it. He would just have to be fast enough on his own.
As he neared the ridge that edged the small canyon, a new scent was carried to him through the still air. It was slightly acrid, sweet and smoky underneath. Familiar. There was no other smell on Earth quite like it. He slowed down and unslung the rifle as he moved closer. The sound from the canyon was like the crackling of paper, punctuated by an occasional shout. He lowered himself to the ground and crawled to the edge, the rifle ready in his right hand.
The fire was larger, more alive, and the smoke from it billowed an ugly black. Men still ringed the small inferno, but the Harleys were in an ordered line at the mouth of the canyon and there was no gear littered around.
A jumbled mound lay to the right side of the blaze. There were men on either side of the mound — a beefy shirtless man who was not human and a lean James Dean wannabe in full leathers — and as Jesse watched, they leaned down and heaved another body onto the fire. They had fed and they would be moving. He quickly counted the figures that ringed the fire, squinted and counted again. There were eleven men down below. Two were missing. One of the missing was Tesca.
Jesse pulled back and looked around him quickly, a burst of fear squeezing his heart. He scanned the shadows that lurked in the rocks around him, but could sense no movement. He was out of time and he knew it. He chose a target and lifted the rifle to his shoulder. Had he been a different man, he might have said a prayer. He pulled the trigger.
A split second later the shirtless biker’s head exploded in a flower of red and he slumped onto the pile of bodies before him. Jesse worked the lever and fired again, catching a tall thin man with a ponytail in the right temple. As he fell forward the others broke and began to move, hitting the ground in a chorus of yells, scrambling toward the bikes on the far edge of the fire.
“No immortality,” Jesse whispered and pulled the trigger again. He heard the rumble of engines and couldn’t get another clean shot. He pulled back and waited, adjusting his vision to the cool darkness that surrounded him. He rolled on his back and scanned the area, hearing the roar behind him fade slightly as they circled up from the canyon. He got to his feet and began to move. He heard a rustle from the rocks to his left and spun, rifle at his waist, finger already squeezing the trigger. The muzzle flared and the dark figure before him staggered, but kept coming. Jesse pulled the lever, but there wasn’t enough time, and he felt the breath leave his body as his back hit the ground. His teeth snapped together as the biker rammed his head back into the dirt.
He shoved up with the rifle and then released it, bringing his right hand up, feeling the knife slide into his palm. He slashed wildly, feeling slick blood spatter his face, but the snarling man on top of him didn’t let go. Jesse struggled, a part of his mind hearing the sound of the engines growing in the distance. He gave a desperate yell and shoved up hard, feeling the give as the knife bit, the jar as it was stopped by bone. The man let go abruptly and rolled on his back, hands clawing at the hilt of the knife that protruded from his thick neck. Jesse got to his feet and pulled out the Colt. He fired once, and then reached down to retrieve the knife, wiping it on the man’s tattered shirt and quickly replacing it against his forearm. He picked up the Winchester from the ground and turned to look behind him. The roar was growing, angry bees swarming from a ruined hive, and he could make out the glowing movement of distant headlights.
“Follow me, you sons of bitches,” Jesse said. And then he began to run.
The distant crack of the rifle made Gracie jump, and the one that followed a few seconds later seemed to echo too long. She gripped the shotgun tighter and scanned the area that lay beyond the circle of rock. Another shot, and she jumped again in spite of herself.
She could see Ben pressed against the ledge across from her, the outline of the rifle in his hands as he steadied himself. She turned her head to where Mal waited across from her, and saw the pale flash as he turned toward her, one hand outstretched. She turned back toward the direction where Jesse had disappeared, and focused into the distance as another shot rang out.
Her vision blurred, and she closed her eyes until she heard the distant rumble growing out of the darkness.
They were coming.
Jesse ran hard, dodging the rocks and dips in his path, boots kicking up dust and sand. The roar behind him grew until it was a solid wall, and he could see the headlights cutting through the darkness on either side of him. Eight, he thought, there should be eight and Tesca. Tesca. Where the hell was Tesca?
He looked up and saw the circle in the distance. The citadel. Not much farther, he thought, not much…..
The first bullet hit him high in the right shoulder and he lurched forward but kept moving, each step bringing him closer. He could hear shouts above the engines, sharp reports as the more of the bikers opened fire again. He ignored the dull pain that coursed through his body, radiating from the wound, kept his head down and saw the bits of rock and sand that flew up as more bullets rained around him. Another jolt of agonizing pain flashed and his left leg buckled. He went down, and just as quickly scrambled up, still moving forward as the first answering shots came from in front of him. He looked up and knew he was almost there, could see the muzzle flares. A flash of pain again, white-hot behind his eyes, and everything went black.
Gracie saw the flash of lights in the distance, bobbing crazily as the bikes navigated over the rough terrain, heard the growl of engines grow. She looked toward Mal, and saw him raise his rifle to his shoulder. She re-focused her attention on the approaching riders.
She scanned for Jesse, knowing he had to be out there somewhere. She finally made out the lone, running figure passing in and out of the headlights and her heart caught. She heard the distant pop of gunfire, saw the brief flares as weapons discharged. He wasn’t running fast enough.
Ben fired first, and one of the Harleys reared like a frightened horse, headlight pointing skyward for a moment before the bike fell and spun away in the dust. The other riders split out momentarily reformed into a rough semi-circle, gaining speed. Mal’s rifle cracked and the rider farthest out on the left side fell, his Harley choking to a stop.
The bikers must have realized where the gunfire was coming from, because bullets began to hit the stones that ringed the circle, chipping off bits of rock and sending them through the air. Gracie didn’t duck back, even when a bullet hit the spire a few feet from her head, sending a sharp chip whizzing past her cheek, nicking the skin and sending a line of hot blood down her face. She kept her eyes on Jesse, willing him to move.
She saw him go down on one knee, and get back up, and she leaned toward him, trying to pull him forward through sheer force of will. He began to close the distance, maybe thirty yards now, and she thought he would make it, had to make it, when he stopped abruptly and pitched forward onto the sandy ground. He didn’t get back up this time. Another bullet went by her, and she felt its passing, heard the whine. This time she ducked around the spire and crouched low on the edge of the rocks, her back against the sandstone. She raised the shotgun and held it ready, waiting for the rest of them to close around the circle.
Running Red, by Keri Knutson
Available at Amazon