Authors: P.J. Day
The stony declination began to flatten after a few minutes of descent. Fifty yards ahead, we could see the flickering of flames.
“Just a few more feet,” said Milton. He flashed the wall to the right as we approached the lit tunnel. “Pretty cool, huh?” It was a row of four Buddha statues that were chiseled and shaped out of a limestone quarry into the wall. “These are over five hundred years old,” said Milton.
That’s nice,” I said. “Sorry if I don’t want to act like Indiana Jones right now, but I need to know how you found me and I also hope for everyone’s sake that Holly is fine.”
Milton turned around and stopped everyone from walking further. He turned the flashlight toward the bottom of his chin, giving himself an ominous and playfully scary appearance. “Wait a minute, you can trust mortals but not your own kind?” he asked.
“Look, I’ve been through shit, I just want to get to the bottom of things, and just want some reassurance, okay?” I said, pleading with Milton. “Pardon me if I feel kinda spooked for being led down a scary, dark cave with a guy who somehow infiltrated my dreams like Freddy Krueger.”
Milton smiled and looked straight into my eyes, “I want to sit down with you and tell you everything, but there are some things we need to iron out first.”
It’s a long story but can a full explanation wait?” he asked.
Sure, but what have you done with Holly?”
She is fine, but she was getting a little panicky and out of control so we had to put her away, temporarily.”
I grabbed Milton by the collar of his jacket. “What do you mean ‘put her away’; is she hurt?”
“Jack, it’s okay,” said Ted, as he pulled my hands away from Milton. “I believe him.”
She’s fine, Jack. Geez,” said Milton as he fixed his collar. “She was understandably freaked out...she doesn’t know what the hell is going on, so we put her in a makeshift cell.”
Are you feeding her properly?” I asked.
Yes, she is well taken care of, can we proceed?”
If she is hurt, you will not come out of this cave alive, understand?” I said, pointing my finger at Milton.
You’re rather ungrateful,” Milton quickly responded.
Ted looked at Milton. “He really digs this girl...come on, you’re a vampire, you know how hard love can be.”
Jenny threw in her two cents as she sat down on the rocks. “Jack, if Holly and you don’t work out, I’m available.”
It’s okay, thanks for the offer, Jenny,” I said dismissively.
Holly doesn’t even know you’re a vampire,” Milton said, with a chortle. “Good luck getting her to cooperate, I pity you.”
Milton turned around and used his flashlight to illuminate the last few remaining yards before we entered the underground compound. We entered the rocky and perfectly hollowed tunnel. Hanging gas lamps lighted against the white bedrock. We reached a large iron door with a small window that was used to screen visitors. Milton twice tapped on the door with the bottom of his flashlight. The small metal screen in the window instantly revealed a pair of baggy Asian eyes. “
Shuí qiāo mén?
” a scruffy male voice asked behind the door.
Mi er dun,
” replied Milton. “I bring Jack King, American vampire.”
The iron door slowly squeaked open, revealing an older man, small in stature, with a long wispy beard. He wore an outfit that many around rural China wore, or what you would see in old Communist propaganda posters which showed the proletariat holding pitchforks and fists raised into the air in solidarity. He was wearing an old newsboy hat, a clean wool vanilla-colored jacket with a baggy white cotton shirt underneath, and a pair of old baggy farmer’s pants. As we walked in, he smiled at us, revealing his surprisingly clean set of fangs.
“This is Lo,” said Milton. “He’s older than the Qing Dynasty, they say, but he has a penchant for goat’s blood, not the most nutritious.” Milton covered the left side of his mouth with his hand and whispered into my ear, “I think he’s lying about his age, just humor him...he keeps a watchful eye.”
We all walked past Lo, giving him smiles of appreciation for keeping the compound safe.
The underground cave where the Jiang-Shi lived was rather elaborate. There were three tunnels you could choose to walk through, as soon as you entered the main door.
Milton stopped us from continuing further and pointed to the left tunnel: “This way are sleeping quarters. There are two rooms with around 10 beds each. One room for females, and one for males. So far, Jenny is the only one to make use of the female room. Female vampires are hard to come by down here.”
“Is that where Holly is?” I asked.
No,” said Milton, pointing toward the right tunnel. “She is through this tunnel, there is a room at the end...we locked the door from the outside.”
Can I see her?” I asked.
Ted, who looked like he hadn’t showered in days, asked Milton, “What’s through the middle tunnel?” He took a whiff of his armpit and scrunched his nose, “‘Cause' I am in desperate need of a bath.”
“Middle tunnel is where my room is and also a great hall where we gather, train and occasionally dine,” Milton said. He gave Ted's shoulder a friendly pat and grinned. “If you need to freshen up, the river does the trick.”
I had lots of questions for Milton, Ted, and Jenny, but I had an incessant and gnawing need to see Holly and check to see how she was doing. I don’t know how Milton did it, but he had somehow managed to save Holly and Ted. For that, he had earned my trust and cooperation.
“Milton, I have an ass-load of questions about the dreams and the escape, but I need to see Holly, now,” I said. I was restless, bouncing up and down with my feet planted, as I anticipated a reunion with Holly.
Milton threw me the key that was used for Holly’s room. I managed to catch it as it bounced off my chest. “Go talk to her, but she thinks she’s been kidnapped. Most likely, she’ll think you’re in on it.”
I turned around and began walking briskly toward the far right tunnel, Milton stopped me with a few last words, “Does she believe in vampires?”
I looked at him with a quizzical stare, “No, why?”
“Good luck, my friend,” he said, giving me a wink and a nod.
The tunnel curved right. I jogged past two rooms, one of them smelling like rotting flesh. I didn’t want to even begin to think what could be in them. I noticed another brightly lit room. It was an armory. Spears, daggers, bows, and guns were all hanging on the walls like violent pageantry. The Jiang-Shi seemed to be well-versed in weaponry, which gave me a mixed feeling of reassurance and a little bit of fear.
As I neared the end of the tunnel, I began to hear sobbing behind a wooden door adorned with a chain and a small padlock.
Holly?” I asked.
The sobbing turned into a light sniffle. “Jack?”
“Here, let me get you out of here,” I said, as I put the key into the padlock. I wiggled the key in the keyhole, furiously. There was not a click or clank; the key that Milton gave me failed to work.
Jack, what’s going on?” Holly asked, still whimpering in the room.
I placed my forehead on the door and closed my eyes, “I’m sorry, there is an explanation for all of this, I swear.” I grabbed the chain and tried breaking it by pulling it in opposite directions with my hands. “Dammit.”
“Wha...what’s wrong?” she asked.
Nothing, are you all right?”
Yeah, I’m fine, but I’m scared. Some men kidnapped me, tied my hands and took me here on motorcycles. They blindfolded me and put a helmet over my head...I was terrified,” she said, in between sobs. “Where am I? What is this place?”
We’re in Guilin.”
Yes, China,” I said, in a withdrawn tone. “Just hang in there, I’ll go get some help.”
I turned around and began running back toward where Milton and the rest of the group were. Within twenty feet of my retreat Milton, Kai, Jenny, Ted, and a couple of other menacing Jiang-Shi approached me in the tunnel. Milton pushed Ted toward me, making him stumble as he landed in my arms.
“Hey man, what the fuck?” said Ted, as he pulled himself up using my arms.
What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
I want all the answers. You need to give them to me now, before we proceed or if you want to see Holly and Ted again,” said Milton, sternly.
See me? I’m right here, right?” Ted quickly added.
Kai, can you please put him in with Holly?” Milton requested.
No...no...I just wanted a shower,” Ted said. He turned to me, “Please tell them that I need a bath. I don’t want to be locked up. I stink real bad.”
It’s okay, Holly needs company. I got this, don’t worry,” I said to Ted, as his face went from general bewilderment to outright fear as his brow and eyes sagged with panic.
Kai dragged Ted toward the wooden door that contained Holly. He unlocked the chain and padlock. I caught a glimpse of Holly as she attempted to bolt through the door. Kai held up his right arm and showed Holly the palm of his hand. She yielded and made eye contact with me and I gave her a slight nod of reassurance. She put her hand over her mouth and began sobbing. Kai grabbed Ted by his left arm and escorted him into the room.
“Come with me, Jack,” urged Milton, with a cunning smirk.
Will you assure their release if I do?” I asked.
Milton came over to where I was standing and gently put his arm over my shoulder. “I never, ever go back on my promises, do I?”
Jenny stuck her finger in the air about to respond to Milton’s rhetorical question. Milton cut her off as soon as she opened her mouth, “
he said, gesturing a zipping motion over his mouth.
I sat in an old wooden chair, looking up at Milton as he paced around the room. His room, well-lit with hanging gas lamps and candles made of fat rather than wax, judging by its sour smell, was adorned with expensive-looking furniture and artwork. His king-sized bed, with an antique oak frame was placed on the other side of room from where I was sitting and had his Macbook sitting right on top of the silk bedspread. Next to me was a matching armoire which Milton had opened, revealing a crystal liquor set filled with blood. “Drink?” he asked.
Sure,” I said. A vampire never rejects blood when offered, even if it comes from a questionable source.
I sniffed the glass Milton handed to me. I gave him a suspicious glare. “What is this?”
“Taste it,” he said, with a frivolous smile.
I gently put the edge of the glass against my dry lips. The thick, semi-lumpy liquid brushed through my palate and raced down my throat. “Holy hell, that was incredible,” I said, my eyes lighting up like Christmas lights.
Milton leaned into me and ecstatically asked, “Guess where it came from?”
Umm...virgins?” I said, jokingly.
Dead Mongolians,” he said, with a boorish grin.
Thanks,” I said, in slight disgust as I placed the glass on his royal antique work desk. “Did you have a hand in murdering them, too?”
No, of course not, they were already dead. They were all freshly deceased workers who died building that dam up river.” He lifted the glass and offered a toast, “To market reforms!”
He drank the poor workers’ blood in one swig and slammed the bottom of the glass on the nicely lacquered wooden desk, leaving a circular dent in the finish. I didn’t bother drinking the rest of it. Even though one must be an opportunist and receive blood gracefully in any form, the thought that the drink was extracted from a person who probably died being exploited didn’t sit well with me.
I carefully scanned the room as Milton’s eyelids drooped with drunkenness. The blood was very pure, and they say hard work and humidity breeds quality. Consumed with curiosity, I asked, “You’ve got a nice little setup over here. You steal this stuff?”
Me, steal?” he said, laughing. “I don’t steal, I’m no thief. Just because we live underground and we have nice things, that doesn’t make us rats.”
So, how did you score the bikes, the furniture, this nice liquor set? I doubt you work.”
Milton shook his head exaggeratedly, “Wait a minute, aren’t you the one who is supposed to answer the questions?”
“I was just curious.”
Milton pulled a matching wooden chair from the side of the armoire and planted his foot on it, while resting his left forearm on his knee. “So, how did you manage to get Jenny doped up after you bit her?” he asked.