After Midnight is a collection of 21 stories, written by the terrifyingly good horror writer, Joseph Rubas. Enjoy this first story and a link at the bottom will take you to our website where you can purchase the book.
Las Vegas: a twinkling gem lost in the vast, arid badlands, an electric oasis rising from hardpan plains, paradise in the wilderness, a playground for the rich and famous, a city of vacations. All play and no work. It's always summer.
As dusk draws on, I stroll the Strip, caught up in the flow of humanity, pushed past grand hotels and shimmering casinos, sidewalk cafes and nightclubs where the drinks are cold, the women are hot, and admission is high. I occasionally stop and drink in the sights. From North Vegas to The Palms, the gutters and the penthouses, the most palatial vacation home to the dingiest crack den, no one knows this city or loves it better than I.
I break from the majestic avenue and step into the lobby of the MGM Grand, arched and breathtaking, alive with activity. Even at the latest hour it's never empty and never quiet. There's a small, pleasant bar near the golden double doors. I enter, take a booth in the shadows, and watch as a businessman tenderly coos to a big-breasted blond on a stool next to him, the smell of quiet desperation pouring off him. The blonde herself HIV positive. The stench of it is almost overpowering.
A waitress approaches and smiles, a young girl with red hair and bright green eyes. I order a rum and Coke, and she rushes off to fetch it, her buttocks wiggling under her tight black uniform pants. Fucking whore. I couldn't smell her clearly over the blonde and the businessman, but as she stood over me, I caught the wet, lurid scent of her. Looking into her eyes, I saw her soul, her thoughts, and her memories. Once she let a man cuff her hands behind her back and take her in the Greek style. She enjoyed it, still masturbates to the fading memory.
People. What is there to say about mankind? Dirty, filthy, ugly, ignorant, pitiful, trifling. The waitress returns with my drink, and I hand her a paltry tip. She smiles, thanks me profusely, and goes off to serve a couple who's just entered, a short Mexican man and his pregnant white girlfriend. The baby, I can sense, has little more than six hours until it dies in the womb.
I sip my drink and watch the businessman. He's in his mid-forties, pot-bellied, balding, and wearing large glasses the likes of which the modern world has no use for. His forehead glimmers with a sheen of perspiration, and when he speaks his voice is husky. The blond giggles at something he says. She tilts her head, hair falling away from her slender throat; a pang of lust ripples in my stomach; my mouth goes dry as I imagine her warm, coppery blood flowing into me. I take a swallow of my drink, which does absolutely nothing to quench my thirst.
The Mexican laughs at something his girlfriend says. His hair is black and oil, his flesh dirty. He's a hard worker, an upstanding man by human standards, but apparently he's never heard of bathing. I study his filthy neck, imagining the rancid taste of his odorous blood, and my bloodlust slowly subsides.
Think about baseball...
Calm, I take another long sip of my drink. The waitress glides back over and asks if I'd like another. She's thinking of what I would feel like on top of her, thrusting myself deep into her. My stomach turns and I tell her no, I'm fine. She leaves again, and I follow shortly, emerging back into the lobby. A few women in pink dresses pass by like cheerful nuns, followed by a few rowdy young men in tuxes.
Out on the sidewalk, I pause and look up and down my beloved strip. The sun has gone down, the dark sky hazy with neon.
Several blocks later, I come across a young black youth standing agitatedly on the corner. He whips around as if he heard me approach. His smell is different, cold and stale.
He smiles at me. "Hey, what's up?"
"Good evening," I reply. I rarely meet other vampires; not many of them can stand the dry desert climate.
He nods. "It is." He looks dreamily down a side street. Three women mill at a corner. Hookers.
"The one on the end isn't," he corrects, pointing her out. Tall and trim with liquid black hair. "She's a virgin."
My throat grows tight. Pure, unadulterated, fresh...
"Have fun," I finally stammer, and go on. I know he looks after me and thinks me crazy for not making a move, but I'm careful. I feed only every other night. Though the authorities will never infer that a vampire walks their streets from the drained piles of dead they find come morning, there are hunters. Las Vegas is one of the only cities in the west that boasts a chapter of The Van Helsing Society. I had the misfortune of meeting one my first night here. He followed me through the crowd, a slight man with bifocals and a bad comb over. I lost him but he eventually found me again in the Stardust. I stabbed him three times in a quiet hallway and took his wallet so The Society wouldn't suspect.
I know that staying in one place is dangerous, but I've never felt so at home in any one place before: Las Vegas is truly a city of the night.
Reaching the end of the Strip, I wheel around and cross the street. Someone in a golden Intrepid honks his horn at me.
Before long, I find myself in a dark city park where gays are known to meet. I pass one couple copulating in the bushes along the stone path, but I can't tell if they're gay or straight. The stench of their sweat and passion overpowers all else. I hurry my step, soon emerging on a dim side street lined with small residential homes, dirty cars parked along the curb. I look around, wondering how in the name of God I came to be here, nearly five miles from the Strip.
It doesn't matter. I stroll down the sidewalk. From inside the houses, I hear babies crying in their cribs, dogs barking from kitchens and bathrooms, women moaning with faux delight, and insomniac television sets trapped in Jay Leno or George Lopez purgatory.
Pitiful things. I was once among them, many years ago, limited by their restrictions, oppressed by their morality, restrained by their laws, and I thank God every night that I'm no longer drowning in the cesspool of humanity. Some of my ilk agonize over their state like characters in an Anne Rice novel, but not me. I couldn't be happier.
Sometime after midnight, I stop in a small, seedy bar near the airport and take a stool near the bathrooms. I order a rum and Coke and drink it sparingly. I'm so famished, I can't wait until tomorrow. I need blood. Wild passion courses through me, and I fear I might break out like The Hulk, flipping tables and ripping jugulars. For what seems like agonizing hours I sit at the end of the bar near the bathrooms squeezing an empty glass and taking short, quick breaths. Just when I can't stand it any longer, a young woman comes through the door; the tangy scent of her virgin blood cuts through the smoke and stale vomit, drawing saliva from my dead glands. She's a punk type with blue hair and a nose ring. She reminds me of that eighties singer, Billy Idol; she's not an attractive woman by any stretch of the imagination, but fresh.
I send her a drink, and then take the stool next to her. We talk for nearly an hour as I gaze into her eyes, hypnotizing her. Given a certain amount of time, I can make anyone do anything, but I only persuade her to follow me outside.
Before we reach the shadows, however, a stink on the night air overwhelms me, black, offensive, close. I whip around and see a small man scurrying into the bar.
I tell the punk girl I'll be a moment and follow him back inside. He's already sitting in a back corner booth, a small, dark Middle Eastern man. He looks up from his folded hands, and we lock eyes. I see other men, trucks, homemade bombs, blasted rubble. Terrorist attack. Tomorrow at noon.
He quickly looks back down at his hands. I glare at him, reading his heart and mind, my eyes narrowing.
I return to the punk and tell her that I won't be able to fuck her after all. Disappointed, she climbs into her car and leaves me standing in the darkened parking lot, awash in pink neon.
Back inside, I take a seat several places behind the towelhead. There are three of them now, drinking and chatting, laughing, joking. They look like nothing but a group of friends having a few nightcaps. Bastards.
After nearly an hour, they leave a tip and walk out together, talking in their gibberish.
Outside, they climb into a sedan and disappear down the Strip. I follow on foot like a bloodhound, never losing their scent. The Plaza. Fifth floor. Two rooms. I climb up the side of the building and wait on the balcony. For hours, I sit and listen to their Arabic talk before they turn the lights out and go to sleep. The monsters are excited like children on Christmas Eve, visions of blasted bodies and rubble-strewn streets dancing through their sick heads.
They're so worked up it takes them nearly an hour to drop off. I wait another thirty minutes before I come in through the window and kill them one by one. The last is the leader; I make sure he's awake and knows what's coming. I gaze into his eyes as I wrap my cold hands around his pulsing throat. "Not here," I hiss, "this is my city..."
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Publication date first week in May 2014.