Stay away, far away.
| The child held a small candle steady in his hands as he stared up into the anxious face of the young man. The boy’s septic blue eyes appeared immobile, inert against the solemn flame, and Rico shivered against his will as he tried to look away. Having just regained consciousness, he was exhausted and sore. As he tried shifting his legs he quickly discovered that he was tied to some type of wooden frame, and grunted in frustration. He wondered how long he had been out, the prickling sizzle in his arms and legs suggesting quite awhile. The back of his head throbbed and pulsed in waves of agony and he grimaced as he found that he had no memory of how he got here. No memory of anything past his visit to Shiner. He finally broke through the icy stare of the young boy in front of him and looked around at the shimmering dark room, his hazy focus fanning out towards the crowd of unseen onlookers.
“Fucking Assholes! Why don’t you let me see your faces? You all a bunch of Klan or something? Get this stupid kid away from me!” With that last statement he spat on the boy’s face and was surprised when the boy casually raised his t-shirt and wiped it off, still staring at him with those dead eyes as if nothing had happened.
From somewhere in the back of the room a man calmly spoke.
“Fine… you may see us, for we are hardly Klan.” A light switch was flicked on and Rico suddenly became even more confused.
“What the fu-…?” He stammered as he stared out in shock at the room around him. Immediately he noticed that there were people of every race, some of whom he’d just met recently, all of them staring back at him with the same deathly gaze as the young boy. There had to be nearly two hundred people that surrounded him in what he now recognized as the main worship hall of the 3rd Avenue Church of Christ. As he continued to scan the hall he began to realize that all of the pews were missing and the windows were barred. But it was the size of the crowd that truly astonished him. Some of the people near the front doors appeared to have guns, but most of the crowd was just simply standing there, motionless, their eyes staring through him as though he were a window into another world, a world Rico didn’t want to belong to.
His bravado had faded, and he was unprepared for the weight of unease that now sank into his gut. The silent observers stared back with a palpable indifference.
“What do you want? Oh Jesus, what do you fucking want from me?” Rico’s screams echoed fearfully throughout the large hall. He could now see that his hands and legs had been bound by a thick nylon rope to one of the tall wooden support columns near the altar, preventing him from collapsing on to the floor. In his mind though, he already had.
“Son, do you even realize the kind of damage you could’ve done to our little town? Do you understand what you and your young friends almost did?” As the old woman finished scolding Rico, she slowly walked over and stood protectively next to the young boy, wrapping her thin left arm around his shoulder. Despite her apparent anger, she continued to stare through Rico’s gaze with the same dead eyes as the child.
“I don’t know you! Let me out of here, or I swear to God… I’m gonna -!”
“No. No you won’t.” The old woman spoke matter-of-factly, shocking him into silence. “You won’t be able to tell anyone either because you won’t have a tongue. You won’t be able to write it down because you won’t have any hands. Harmony Hill is not a town you should have ever visited young man! You’ve–“
“That’s enough Mrs. Parthy; we don’t need to be telling the boy all about our troubles.” Rico recognized the man speaking as the town mayor, Fred Hershey. He was a man he’d been wary of since he’d arrived in Harmony Hill with his crew a month prior. “Anyways, we’re taking care of it here and now, aren’t we? I propose that we wait for the others to be brought in and then we’ll cast our votes accordingly, and provided that the Vicars agree with our decision, we’ll move on. Anyone disagree?”
“I don’t disagree, Fred, I just… Well, who’s going to tell the Vicars? I mean, aren’t they gonna suspect …” Rico didn’t recognize the cowboy who had spoken up.
“Enough! Hold your tongue until the meeting, alright?” The old cowboy walked away at this pronouncement shaking his head slowly. Rico was beginning to wonder who the Vicars were when the young boy suddenly took a step towards him again.
“They’re going to be real mad at you mister…” The young boy said pointing an accusing finger up at Rico.
“Please…” He stared out at the large crowd, trying to ignore the boy. “Please, just let me go! I swear I ain’t gonna tell no one about this…” He wasn’t acting now; he only hoped that someone would see that and find some kind of pity for him. The mayor walked up to him shaking his head in disgust.
“Son, I can assure you that if you do everything we tell you to do, and I mean to a T young man! Well then, maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to get you and your young friends out of here safely. BUT, you absolutely must not interfere with what we got to do first! So just stay quiet and let us get to work.” Once Fred had finished lecturing him, a small crowd began to gather around the old mayor, their voices blending together so much so that he gave up trying to listen in.
A few minutes later two more young men were brought in through the back, by way of the pastor’s study Rico presumed, and tied up against two of the other wooden columns about ten feet away from him. Rico stared at them, hoping that they understood the position they were now in. After waiting for the boy and the old woman to leave, he had started to work his hands against their knots. He was already beginning to feel the ropes loosening a bit, and he didn’t need them attracting any further attention by acting up.
Meanwhile, Fred was still busy talking with a few of the older men in the crowd and it was looking like a decision was going to be made quickly. Rico was finally able to get his right hand free from the knot it had been in and briefly flashed it towards Rich, his second in command. Rich calmly nodded and then whispered behind him towards Shiner as well. He really hoped Shiner could keep his shit together.
Just as he was beginning to loosen his left hand his right arm was suddenly grabbed and pinned back against the wooden column, nearly breaking his wrist. He cried out in agony as he felt the cold steel of a handcuff snap crisply into place against his skin.
“You got to look out for this kind of behavior Fred when you kidnap someone…” Rico craned back his neck to see the town sheriff securing the second handcuff around his left hand.
“Oh Jim… Now we didn’t kidnap no one… We just brought these young fellas to church tonight, that’s all. Figured it do them some good. Guess I was wrong…” Fred was smiling sadly at the sheriff who looked down at Rico as if staring at a prized buck he’d just shot. His yellow teeth spread eerily from between his lips as he smirked at the young man. The sheriff’s deputies had surrounded Rich and Shiner and were busy handcuffing them as well. Rico felt the last bit of hope he had begin to slip away.
“So, what’s the verdict boss?” The sheriff asked. “We gonna let them get back to the Big city, or do we have something else in mind?” With the last question, the sheriff looked down at Rico and winked at him, as if this whole ordeal was some kind of hillbilly joke.
“Well… I reckon they’re going to get to go home after all. The vote was twenty to two in favor. Young men being all that they are…well, their troubles are all their own now, not ours. That all depends though on what the Vicars want to do I suppose, but we’ll set them on their way. They’re in the Good Lord’s hands now.” Fred stared down at Rico and smiled warmly. “Young man, in a few minutes we’re going to let you go, whether you believe that or not don’t really matter to me. In the mean time though I need you to listen to me straight, you understand?” He was still smiling but his tone was dead serious. Rico nodded as he began to wonder what they really meant to do with them.
“This is for all of you, listen up and hear me …” The mayor was addressing all three of the young men now as he walked to the center of the hall between them. A large group of people had gathered around them to listen in.
“By now, all of you young men have been wondering if you would ever find a way to get out of this mess you’re in. I’m sure you’ve all entertained a few thoughts about … well let’s just say some really bad ideas. We’re a God fearing bunch here in Harmony Hill, and we don’t take kindly to strangers trying to change that. Mark my words dearly: There will be No Drugs or any other City Troubles in our little town. It would be mighty fine of you boys to make sure and spread that bit of truth, if you all get back home that is. You understand?”
The young men all shook their heads in unison.
“If you’re paying attention, and I sure hope you are, you’re probably wondering who the Vicars are. Well, this town was founded in 1888, a ways back for most of us but not so much for some. At that time, a few people stood up to take responsibility for the good folk that helped build this fine town and they maintain that tradition even today. We know them as the Vicars, and I pray that you young men don’t have the pleasure. Beyond that, I can say no more. However, you will need to remember this: When we let you go, you must Go and Never Look Back, Do You Understand?” With that final question Fred looked at each of them as they nodded up towards him. “I need to hear it boys or it don’t mean much of nothing…”
“Yeah, I get it…” Rico stammered.
“Yes sir, understood.” Rich answered.
“We’re sorry sir… we just didn’t know…” A vicious slap to the right side of the face cut off Shiner, as the mayor quickly knelt next to him.
“That’s enough! You did know what you was doing, you and your gang of miscreants! And another thing young man, you don’t know what sorry Is … and I really pray to the Good Lord that you never do.” Fred’s face had grown from purple to red and back to normal again as he tried to regain his composure. He stood back up shaking his head.
“Yes sir, you’re right sir…” with his voice cracking Shiner was barely able to speak.
“Now, this is what is going to happen. You all caught us on a rather … bad evening you might say, so we have to make certain that we get you out of here somewhat carefully. Never mind that though, just keep yourselves thinking about getting home, got it?”
All of the young men nodded.
“Jim here is going to take you boys out near the county line, from there… well I suggest you all just start running as fast and as far away from here as you can get. One other thing…” Fred bent down towards Rico and stared him straight in the eyes. “Don’t pay any attention to anything you might think you hear behind you. Got It?” Rico swallowed hard. All of the young men nodded once again.
“Jim, one more thing… “The mayor stood back up, beckoning the sheriff over. “I voted on the Vicars behalf as well…” The sheriff’s eyes widened and his face turned ashen under the gaze of the mayor. “I know, I know, it’s unusual, but it being a special night and all for everyone, well, I figured let’s give the boys a chance.” The mayor and the sheriff looked down at the young men as if reminiscing. “Sheesh…You’re only young once, and that ain’t nearly enough as it is, is it son?” asked the mayor.
Rico sternly nodded his head, for whatever that was worth.
“Let’s just keep that last little bit between us and the voting council, alright Jim? Don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest when there’s enough bees flying around here to keep us busy tonight.” Jim nodded and looked back down at Rico smiling sadly, as if he was unsure about something, something he just couldn’t quite say out loud. A moment later he shook his head again and walked away grumbling to himself.
Rico tried to remember all of the conversations he’d had since arriving in Harmony Hill, and could not recall one person ever mentioning anything about anyone known as the Vicars. He wondered if they were talking about the two old priests he’d seen in the crowd, but then why didn’t they talk with them earlier when they were voting? He glared over at Rich and Shiner, both of them were shivering, although Shiner seemed even more agitated then he’d been earlier. Rico tried to make eye contact with him but it was as if he were already miles away. He began to wonder if Shiner knew something more about their situation then he’d let on.
A few minutes later the sheriff and a small posse that he’d gathered began walking back over to Rico and his gang. Each of them had their handcuffs taken off and then put back on once they were removed from the wooden columns they’d been attached to. As they were being led away, Rico grew more and more anxious, unsure of what was going on between Rich and Shiner, but even more unsure of what was about to happen once they left the church. He glanced back over at them one more time and wondered why they were staring up at the large cross above the front entrance. If he didn’t know better, he could have sworn they were both praying.
The very last image he had as they were being led away was of a large black van being slowly driven in to the church hall while two young men chained up the front doors behind it.
They were led out through the pastor’s office and pushed up into a waiting jeep. With the top down, the cool night air would have been refreshing under any other circumstances. The driver, a bearded man with a baseball cap that read ‘Harmony Hill Wolverines’ looked back at the young men and smirked while he shook his head. The other two members of the posse climbed in behind them while the sheriff sat up front. Once they were settled, the sheriff nodded towards the driver who shifted into gear and then drove them off on to the main highway that went through town.
“Why don’t we just… let them walk to the line?” The bearded man asked. The night was brighter than usual, as a full moon lit their way. “It ain’t like that line really means anything anyways… If the…”
“Jesse, just shut up and drive.” Jim said. Jesse stopped talking and shook his head again as the sheriff glared over at him. ”I promised Fred we’d try and give them a head start as it were, that’s why.” Rico wondered what that meant. “Don’t much think they’ll be ahead, but I did promise.” All of the men began chuckling nervously around them; Rico though stared over at Rich and Shiner wondering why they’d started crying.
“Well look-y here…Well now…” Jesse Crooned, as he stared mockingly at them in the rear view mirror. “Well My Lordy, It appears that at least a couple of these boys may have found something like regret in their hearts…” He turned his head around and looked over his shoulder, staring eerily at Rich and Shiner. “Tears ain’t gonna get you home boys … I reckon you all know somethin about that though, Don’t Ya? Maybe something about the Vicars, huh?” He glared back over at Rico and winked. “Didn’t tell him though, did ya?” He smiled as he nodded towards Rico. He started laughing maniacally as he turned back around, glancing sideways at the sheriff who was shaking his head.
“Keep your damn eyes on the road Jesse, and let me worry about them!” Jim yelled. “And don’t be bringing that stuff up now, it’s bad enough …”
The jeep shook violently as what felt like a gale force wind blew them across the road. Jesse grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it to the right, skidding off of the highway on to the gravel before he came to a shuddering stop near a cement barrier. Everyone began looking around excitingly, yelling all at once. Everyone, that was except for Shiner.
He wasn’t there anymore. Rico stared at where he used to be, his mouth open in shock.
Rich began screaming, and then all at once he was retching. Soon after, he began vomiting out a foul yellow mush that sprayed all over the back of Jesse’s head and shoulders.
“Fuck me! Christ Almighty Boy! What the fuck do you think…” Jesse’s voice trailed off in to silence as he stared out at something on the highway. Something big and black that was standing in the middle of the road.
“Oh God…Oh Fuck… What are we gonna do Jim!” Jesse’s voice was quivering as he continued to stare out at the highway. The sheriff mimicked his stare. He slowly began reaching for his sidearm, whispering something to Jesse that Rico couldn’t hear.
“They’re fucking Vampires Rico!” Rich suddenly screamed, his eyes pleading with Rico as he returned his gaze. “The Vicars! I didn’t believe him…Oh Christ man! I just didn’t believe Shiner, or I would have told…” His head suddenly snapped back as Jim leaned over his seat and punched him in the jaw, knocking him out.
“Enough! You, Boy…!” Jim pointed a shaking finger over at Rico. “Keep quiet and still! Watch them!” He hissed at the two men behind them. The old sheriff turned back around to stare out at the highway again with Jesse, both of them whispering animatedly about something Rico still couldn’t quite make out. The imposing dark figure hadn’t moved.
Rico stared in shock at Rich as he lay slumped over against the side. He’d never known him to lie before, Never… but Vampires…?
“Well, What Can We Do Jim?” The panic in Jesse’s voice was escalating as he stared over at the old sheriff and then back out at the thing on the highway. Jim just shook his head in frustration.
“Go back then! Just Go Back! Hurry Up!” Jim yelled. Jesse didn’t need much coaxing; he was already turning the old jeep around when the sheriff began yelling at him.
Jesse slammed his foot on the gas, shifting gears as he skidded back out on to the highway, tearing down the lonesome road as fast as he could, back towards the Harmony Hill commons. The rest of the men kept staring around themselves and then nervously back out at the night sky.
A frigid gust of wind blew by Rico’s face, and suddenly both of the men sitting behind him and Rich were gone. Rico thought he could hear the men’s screams fade up into the night air.
“Oh Fuck, Oh Fuck, Oh Fuck! I knew we shouldn’t have done this!” Jesse yelled. The sheriff had his gun out now, his hands shaking as he held it up at the night sky. Rico had a bad feeling that it wasn’t going to help much.
Jesse was able to get them back to within a block of the town’s general store when what felt like a tank crashed in to the left side of the jeep, slamming it across the road into a large fir tree. Rico went flying through the air screaming, certain he was being taken, when he landed unexpectedly in a pile of bushes about twenty feet from the jeep. The air had been knocked out of him and he struggled painfully to catch his breath. He heard more screaming coming from back where the jeep was and realized that if he wanted to live he was going to have to move fast, and he was pretty sure where the safest place in town would be.
Two gunshots ripped through the cool night air followed by a high pitched wail that might have been Rich. Rico fought with his lungs to get back to his feet. Finally able to catch his breath, he took off running through the tree line towards the lights of the Church of Christ, never once looking back, not certain what would happen if he did. He wasn’t sure, but the very last thing he thought he heard behind him sounded like dogs fighting.
Rico reached the back of the church just as he heard two men arguing as they stood outside of the pastor’s entrance. As he knelt down behind some bushes, he also heard what sounded like singing coming from the inside. He thought about trying to distract the two men, but decided instead to try and sneak behind them through the bushes, hoping that the singing would mask any sounds he made. As he leaned forward, he heard a stick break behind him and tried to run, but it was too late. Something cold and hard collided with the back of his head, and he was knocked viciously to the ground. His head suddenly felt like it was too large for his body as he lay struggling against the pain that coursed through his neck and shoulders.
“Get up…Boy!” Rico recognized the voice of the old sheriff, and slowly turned to look up at him. His clothes were ripped and his sidearm was missing, but he was standing there as if nothing had happened to him, his sole focus on Rico now. In his hand he held a long metal bar, probably a piece of the jeep.
“I said Get Up, Boy! Now!” His face was lit up by the moon, rigid and angry. Rico worked his way back up on to his knees and swayed there, still dizzy from the blow to the head. The old sheriff grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up forcefully to his feet. By now, the other two men had walked over to them and had begun shaking their heads as they stared at Rico.
“You just don’t listen, do ya kid?” The taller of the two men yelled, as he grabbed Rico by the neck with surprising force, and threw him up against the brick wall.
“We need to get inside…” Jim told them sternly.
“You mean…?” The taller man began to ask before the sheriff cut him off.
“That’s exactly what I mean! Let’s get going!”
“Sure thing boss…” the smaller man said, as he proceeded to push Rico towards the door. The sheriff was too busy staring back out at the night sky to notice.
As they entered the church hall the voices of the singing crowd rose to a crescendo and then fell back into silence. Rico was led solemnly to the front of the hall and once again handcuffed to one of the tall columns near the altar. He stared out at the large group, confused and in pain, and slowly shook his head.
“Young man, what did I tell you earlier?” Fred asked behind him. He leisurely walked up to Rico and then stopped in front of him, looking him in the eyes.
“You said…never come back…never look back…” Rico could barely keep the mayor’s gaze as he struggled to maintain his balance against the column. He felt like he was going to pass out, his head throbbed and his vision was blurry.
“I hear that you met the Vicars, not personally I gather or you wouldn’t be here…” Fred said calmly. The crowd behind him became uneasy with this declaration. Fred raised his hand as if to calm them down.
“They took…Shiner and…Rich…” Rico’s voice ached as he said their names; he’d known them both since they were kids. “Are they… really…?”
“Yes.” Fred answered, his eyes never drifting from Rico’s.
“Oh Jesus…” Rico stammered.
“Amen to that. I promised to put you in the Good Lord’s hands son, which I did. Now look what you’ve done…” The mayor began shaking his head and started pacing in front of the crowd.” It’s a Vampire Moon tonight. Only comes once every hundred years. Makes for real interesting conversation when you have…well, other considerations to take care of when you’re the mayor of our little town. You see, we can’t interfere with the Vicars decisions on a night like this one. No sir-ee, can’t do that. But we did try to keep your situation quiet… if you get my meaning. It’s my fault, I guess. Should have known they’d be near the church tonight… well, what’s done is done.” He turned back to stare into Rico’s eyes once again. “Son, I’m afraid you’ll have to stay here with us tonight. We just can’t let the Vicars see you after what’s happened…” Fred said with a touch of sadness that Rico couldn’t understand. If they weren’t going to throw him back out, maybe he still had a chance.
“Look, I’m sorry about…” Rico began to say, when Fred’s hand flew across his face.
“You know how I feel about sorry boy! Just shut your mouth now!” Fred yelled into his face.
Fred walked away towards the crowd, continuing to shake his head. He motioned to someone in the back of the hall, and the sound of an engine turning over startled everyone. Rico stared out at the crowd as they began to part down the middle, the black van he’d seen earlier pulling in between them. It came to a stop once it had reached the center of the large crowd. As he watched in awe, everyone in the crowd started smiling and cheering, and then as the new found good will spread like a wave, they suddenly began to dance and hug one another.
“That’s right folks; the Good Lord’s found a way to keep us safe and warm tonight, despite our brothers calling. Can I get a Hallelujah?” Fred yelled. Rico stared in wonder at the black van, a few men and women had gathered gleefully around its back doors, anxious with anticipation.
“Hallelujah!” The crowd roared. It was unlike any church gathering Rico had ever seen.
“Oh Lord, we thank thee for our daily bread. May it strengthen and refresh our bodies…” Fred moaned as he slumped over in front of Rico, his body shaking. The crowd in front of the mayor began to convulse as the back doors to the van were finally opened.
“Hallelujah!” The crowd screamed with desire, their voices changing as Rico stood numb with astonishment.
“And we pray Thee…” Fred’s voice began to tremble as he fell to the floor ripping at his clothes. “Nourish our souls with thy heavenly grace!” The mayor’s roar echoed across the worship hall as it twisted and pulsed with the heat of animalistic rapture. Screams bellowed from the van, as he watched in horror as one young woman and then another was thrown viciously from its doors into the middle of the unholy parishioners, their change now complete.
“…Through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” Fred growled, suddenly turning on all fours, staring hungrily at Rico; his eyes lit with a golden fire, his hairy snout barring razor sharp teeth as he leaped through the air howling.
“Amen…” Rico whispered.