Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
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Caged

by Stephen Tillman




Ethiopia, close to dawn. The male leopard walked along the path, his senses alert. The female stayed off the path, about fifty yards behind her mate. Suddenly the male crashed through some leaves and fell into a pit. As soon as he hit bottom a barred metal grate slammed down over the top and automatically latched. The leopard leaped straight up and hit barbed wire below the barred top. The barbs couldn't penetrate his skin, but they hurt and he couldn't break the latch. The female started to come to his aid, but she heard voices and hunkered down to avoid being seen.

Four heavily armed men came up to the pit, which was a cage buried in the ground. It was still too dark to see precisely what they'd caught. One man climbed onto the cage, bent over and put his face near a gap in the bars. A black paw shot between the bars and gouged the face and head of the peering man. He fell back with a shriek, blood gushing. Another man stepped onto the bars to aid the first man, but jumped back when a paw again came through the bars and gashed his leg. The first wounded man hurriedly crawled off the cage.

"Allah be praised, what is down there?" the third man asked.

The fourth man shined a flashlight through the bars and said, "It is a black leopard! It has wounded Bishr and Masun. Should we shoot it?"

"No!" said the third man, their leader. He glanced admiringly at the snarling, pacing cat. "Black leopards are rare. Abu Numair would want it. Hurry back to camp. Tell them to bring a vehicle for the cage, and help for Bishr and Masun. They and I will stand guard."

"I am too badly hurt for that," Bishr said. "Look how much I bleed."

"Do not be a woman!" the leader said, sneering. "You have a scratch from a cat! Wrap your keffiyeh around the wound, as Masun is doing. He does not complain."

The female leopard dared not approach the cage when it was guarded by three armed men, even though two of them were wounded. Then she had to slink further into the jungle as she heard the sound of approaching vehicles.

A squad of twelve men arrived with four long poles, a small truck, and a larger truck. The poles were inserted between the bars. With two men on each end of each pole, the cage was lifted from the hole and placed on the back of the larger truck. The wounded men climbed onto the smaller truck.

***


The camp consisted of three caves dug into a hillside, and multiple tents under a heavy jungle cover. A tall, thin man came out of the center cave and approached the cage. The leopard felt a chill run through his body as the man stared at him.

"He is a beauty," the tall man said. "Look how big he is. He does not like being caged. He would love to kill us. We will give him the opportunity to kill, but it will be our enemies he kills. Truly he is a magnificent animal. Allah will reward you for bringing him to me."

"Shall we feed the beast, Abu?" A man asked.

"No. I want him to be very hungry. I have a plan. He will be useful."

***


The female leopard went back to where human clothes had been left. She Changed into Olivia. Breathing hard from the Change in form, she got dressed and ran to where Michael and Holly waited. "They've captured Bobby!" she announced in an agitated tone.

"Is he injured?" Michael asked. "Do they know they have a were-leopard?"

"The answer is 'no' to both questions," Olivia said. "He was in leopard form and he fell into a cage buried in the ground. They're watching him closely, so he can't Change and get out. But if they shoot him and the bullets glance off, they'll know they have something supernatural. They put his cage on a truck and drove away. We have to do something before they learn his nature!"

"This might be a good thing," Holly said.

"How can you say that!" Olivia flared.

"Calm down," Holly said, putting her hand on Olivia's shoulder. "If they were going to shoot him they would've done so immediately. This is like a Trojan horse. They've probably brought him right into the center of their camp."

"How's he supposed to get out of the cage?" Olivia asked, pushing Holly's hand away. "It was meant to capture enemies, not animals. The latch is certain to be people proof."

"If you can get me close enough, I might be able to cast a spell on someone to get him to unlock the cage," suggested Holly.

"They'll be watching him all the time!"

"Maybe not," Michael said. "Oh, they are now. He's a novelty. When the newness wears off he'll have periods of alone time. If we wait a couple of days, we could break him out then. Can Bobby stay in leopard form that long?"

"Yes. We can be leopards indefinitely. But the longer he stays in that form, the more confused he'll get. He might Change just to get a better idea of his predicament. Hopefully he could do that and Change back before anyone notices."

"It's moot," Holly pointed out. "We can't wait. They'll have some kind of plan for him, and if it doesn't work, they'll get suspicious. They're paranoid anyway. The best we can hope is that he'll last through the day. Besides, getting him out of the cage isn't enough. We still have to fulfill our mission."

"So what do we do?" Olivia wailed.

"Holly's right," Michael said after some thought. "It has to be tonight. We can speculate forever, but until we have first hand knowledge of the situation, we can't plan anything. As soon as it starts to get dark, Liv will lead us to their camp. Once we get the lay of the land, we can plan our next move."

***


It was growing dark when the tall man returned with four of his men dragging along a struggling, bound and gagged prisoner. "Our friend here knows what is to happen to him," the tall man said with an evil grin. "Put him in with our pet. We will see how hungry the cat is." Two of the men used long, steel tipped rods to force the leopard away from a small door in the cage, while the other two opened the door, pushed the prisoner inside, and quickly relocked it. As soon as the poles were withdrawn the leopard charged at the men outside the cage, trying to reach through the bars and claw them. "Look Abu," a man said. "The beast comes after us! He is not interested in eating our guest." "Eventually he will get to this piece of slime," the tall man said, with a chuckle. "Leopards do not eat every day. He may not be hungry. Even if he is, he may be too agitated to eat while he sees us. Leopards are solitary creatures, and he may not like to eat in the presence of others. He appears to be very intelligent and he knows that we are the ones holding him captive. It is no wonder he goes after us when we give him the chance. Let us withdraw. In the morning we might find that the cat has enjoyed the meal we provided."

For the next few hours the leopard paced back and forth in the cage, completely ignoring the terrified prisoner, who was trembling in the corner. Every once in a while someone would peek to see if the cat had started to eat. When nothing took place, they decided to let the animal be until morning. The leopard's cellmate decided to lie quietly as long as the cat ignored him. The prisoner had his arms bound behind him with plastic restraints. More restraints bound his ankles. When two full hours had elapsed with no activity from the capturers other than changing of the guard, the leopard went over to the prisoner, who tried to roll away. The leopard used one paw to push the man down onto his stomach and gnawed at the restraints on his wrists. The plastic was no match for the powerful jaws, and it soon parted. Then the leopard did the same for the ankle restraints. Once his arms and legs were free, the prisoner pulled the duct tape away from his mouth, and stared open-mouthed and wide-eyed as the leopard Changed. The man jumped back and stared at Bobby, mumbling words in a language Bobby didn't understand.

Bobby was surprised that the man's reaction to seeing someone Change form was relatively subdued. Squatting down so that they could speak softly, he asked, "Do you speak English?" "Yes," the man replied in accented but fluent English, backing away from Bobby as far as the bars allowed. "Are you a demon?"

"No," Bobby said, with a brief grin. "I'm a were-leopard."

The man stared at Bobby saying nothing. Finally he said, "I am Avi. You are American?"

"Yes. I'm Bobby. You're Israeli? Mossad?"

"That is correct. Are you CIA? Is your assignment to kill Abu Numair?" "No to your first question, yes to your second," Bobby said, looking around to see if they were being observed. "Was that your assignment also? Was anyone with you? We should be able to get out of this cage and fulfill our goal. I thought the hardest part would be getting inside the terrorist camp, but since they were good enough to accommodate that little task for us, it shouldn't be too hard to do what we came to do. That tall guy must be Abu Numair."

"He is," Avi said, rubbing his arms and legs to restore circulation. "I had a companion, but he was killed when I was captured. I did not think killing Abu Numair would be possible, but now that I see you Americans have an agent who can transform into a leopard perhaps we have a chance. We will have to plan carefully."

"Why should killing him be any more difficult that killing any other well-guarded terrorist?"

"You do not know? Obviously you do not. It is not the guards that will be the problem. Abu Numair is no ordinary man. From what I understand, he is more … what you might call a vampire."

***


"Crap!" Holly said in a low voice. "There's twenty yards of clear space in front of the ring of sentries, and each one can be seen by at least one other. I could immobilize one of the guards long enough for us to get by without being noticed, but not two that far apart."

"There's a thick jungle canopy not far behind the guards," Michael said. "If we can get past the sentries we'll be hard to spot."

"How do we get them?" Olivia asked.

"I'm open for ideas," Michael said.

After some thought, Olivia indicate the sentry to the right of the one closest to them. "That guy can't seem to sit still. Maybe my leopard can distract Twitchy long enough for you guys to take out this one. Then the leopard will take care of Twitchy, quietly."

"I suppose it might work," Holly said, dubiously. "It'll depend on how quickly we can neutralize this one, not to mention how quietly. Immobilizing anyone takes a lot of energy. Twitchy might raise the alarm before the leopard gets him, and we don't know if the one beyond him could see us."

"Someone's coming!" Olivia said sharply. "Down!" Then a shiver ran through her body, as two men approached Twitchy, said something to him, and then moved toward the closest guard.

"Holly, see if you can hear what they say," Olivia whispered. "There's something strange about those guys. They're freaking me out!"

Holly made motions with her hands, while speaking words in a strange and unintelligible dialect. Then she could clearly hear sounds from the area around the guard.

***


The near sentry looked at the approaching men and said, "What do you want? I am not to be disturbed while on duty, and I am not due to be relieved for another two hours. Did Abu Numair send for me?"

"Nothing to worry about," The taller man said. "We have an important matter to discuss. It cannot wait until you get off duty."

While the guard was looking at the tall man, the short man grabbed him from behind with a hand over his mouth so he couldn't cry out, and, with little apparent effort, lifted him out from his position. Tall bared the man's neck and bent down to it. Blood spurted momentarily, but then Tall's mouth prevented more from getting away.

After about thirty seconds, Short said, "Leave some for me. I am as hungry as you."

Tall stepped away from the now dazed guard. Short proceeded to put his mouth to the man's neck and suck hungrily. In the meantime, Twitchy stared straight ahead, ignoring the proceedings taking place near him. After about a minute, Short dropped the now dead man to the ground, straightened up, and licked his lips. Fangs protruded from his upper jaw.

"Abu Numair will be angry," Tall said.

"It is his own fault," Short said, dismissively. "If he wants to create a vampire army of the faithful, he must provide us with sustenance. He feasted on the prisoner, but would not give us a turn. Instead he feeds the man to his new pet."

"Yes. We should come before an animal. Are you satisfied? Should we eat another?"

"One is enough. For now. This will force our leader to see to his troops." The two propped the dead guard back into the appropriate position for sentry duty, so it looked as if he were still manning his post. Then they disappeared into the jungle.

***


Michael stared in stunned silence, his hands shaking so much that he dropped his gun. After about thirty seconds he said in a soft voice, "What the hell did we just see?"

"Those two are vampires," Holly said. "Based on what I could understand, Abu Numair is a vampire. He's trying to create a vampire army of terrorists."

"He might have a problem with that beyond the logistical difficulties," Michael said. "This is the first time I've actually seen one, but I've studied vampires for years. One of the things that was readily apparent is that vampires don't play well together."

"These two were obviously unhappy that Abu Numair hadn't provided people for them to eat," Holly said. "They were willing to defy their leader because they're hungry. They didn't seem worried about his response. They must've put Twitchy under their thrall so that they could dine on this guy without an alarm being raised. Twitchy still looks dazed. We can slip by the guard ring without anyone noticing. Let's go!"

The three, keeping low, darted across the cleared space. The dazed guard, coming out of his stupor, thought he saw something flicker across the corner of his eye, but when he looked, there was nothing there. In the dark it was hard to tell precisely, but his compatriot seemed to be in correct position and didn't appear alarmed. Since guards were forbidden to talk to each other except in an emergency, he shrugged his shoulders, and once again continually moved his head back and forth. Blasted birds, he thought.

"A vampire? Are you sure?"

"At first I thought I must be hallucinating," Avi said. "Then I saw you Change from a leopard to a person. I knew what I saw was real." Bending his head to the side and pointing to an area of his neck, he continued, "Look, bite marks. When he did this I felt totally helpless. I could not do anything to prevent him from sucking my blood, not even struggle. Our problems may be even worse. I believe he has created additional vampires. Will I turn into a vampire after I die?"

"No," Bobby assured him. "The movies are not accurate. Creating a vampire is difficult, and fails far more often than it succeeds. Otherwise the world would be overrun with them."

"That is a relief. But we must get out of this cage."

"We can get out through the top," Bobby said, looking up. "It's hard to tell in the dark, but there appears to be a simple latch as opposed to the heavy padlock on the door."

"How would we get to it? The top is three meters up, and there is barbed wire below it."

"I'm aware of the barbed wire," Bobby said, rubbing a sore spot on his arm. "Maybe if one of us stood on the shoulders of the other, that one might be able to reach between the barbs and undo the latch. If the top were open I know I could jump through the opening, even in human form."

"I am heavier than you," Avi said, as he contemplated Bobby's idea. "But I am weak from loss of blood and lack of food. I do not know if I could hold you up long enough. I weigh a hundred kilos. I do not think you could support me."

"Let's try you on my shoulders first. I'm stronger than I look. Leopard strength carries over to human form."

Bobby knelt down and Avi climbed onto his shoulders, but when Bobby started to stand, Avi couldn't keep his balance. "Let's try it near the side. You can hold onto the bars as I stand," Bobby said. "Then I'll walk slowly over to the spot under the latch."

Following Bobby's idea, Avi was able to stand on Bobby's shoulders. Bobby walked gingerly to the spot under the latch. Unfortunately, what they'd been unable to see in the dark was that the barbed wire directly below the latch was more concentrated than it was elsewhere. Avi was unable to get his arm through the barbs. Then he lost his balance. Bobby caught him before he crashed to the bottom of the cage, avoiding a loud noise.

"Can hold steady enough for me to try?" Bobby asked. "My arms are thinner than yours, and one of the benefits of being a were-leopard is that I have enhanced healing ability."

"We will try," Avi said, taking a deep breath. "The other way did not work. We cannot just do nothing."

"Perhaps I can help," a soft feminine voice said.

Bobby and Avi both whirled toward the voice. An attractive, naked woman was there, barely visible in the gloom. "Maybe I am hallucinating," Avi said.

"Avi, may I present my wife, Olivia," Bobby said with a grin. "I think we're okay for now."

"Pleased to meet you," Avi said, looking at the sculpted, naked bodies of Bobby and Olivia. Neither seemed to be fazed by their lack of attire. "If I were not trapped in a cage with terrorists and vampires trying to kill me, I would be really pleased to meet you, especially in that very fetching outfit."

Olivia grinned, jumped up and grasped the bars on the top of the cage. Then she easily pulled herself onto the top, walked over to the latch, and from the outside was able to release it with little trouble. Bobby jumped to the opening and pulled himself onto the top. Holding Olivia's legs, he lowered her until she could grasp Avi's arms. Then he pulled them both through the opening to the top of the cage. He slowly lowered the top, which latched quietly and automatically. The three of them jumped down, Bobby catching Avi, who was still a little wobbly. They went back to the jungle where Holly and Michael were waiting. Bobby introduced Avi.

"Can you also become a leopard or some other creature?" Avi asked Olivia, not too dazed to look admiringly at her body. "A lion might be nice."

Olivia chuckled. "It's nice to be appreciated at my age. A lion isn't possible. I can transform my shape, but I can't pick and choose. It's either human or leopard. Also, we can't create matter. My size is right for a leopard. But we have more serious problems."

"I know what they are," Bobby interrupted. "Abu Numair is a vampire. He dined on Avi. By the way, someone give Avi an energy bar and a drink. He was Abu Numair's evening snack, and he needs to regain his strength."

"It's worse than that," Michael said, as he handed food and water to Avi. "He's trying to create a terrorist vampire army. We know of at least two others he's sired. He must be stopped."

"We need wooden stakes," Holly said. "We should be able to come up with something around here. There's trees and branches all over the place."

"We might make noise," Michael said.

"How many sentries are there?" Bobby asked.

"Six," Avi replied.

"Those two vampires ate one," Olivia said. "We know they're situated roughly in a circle, so they'd be about sixty degrees apart, with each one able to see the one clockwise from him. If we start with the one just clockwise of the eaten one, we should be able to get them all. We can make stakes near the cleared area. The jungle should deaden the sound so it won't be heard at the camp."

"Do they change guards all at once, or do they stagger the changes?" Holly asked.

"They changed all at once last night," Avi said. "That guard became dinner about twenty minutes ago," Holly said. "He said his relief was in two hours. How long will it take to remove the other five guards?" "Ten minutes max for Liv and me," Bobby said.

"Do it," Michael said. "The rest of us will stay here and plan."

Bobby and Olivia Changed and headed to their task. The three debated the pros and cons of various suggestions while gathering wood that'd make suitable stakes. After about twenty minutes, when the leopards hadn't returned, they began to get nervous.

"At least there's no alarm," Holly said.

"Could they have been shot?" Avi asked.

"I doubt it," Michael said. "Unless they're coated with silver, bullets won't penetrate their skin."

Finally the leopards returned, licking blood from their faces. Bobby's leopard was limping slightly.

"Is he okay?" Avi asked.

"No visible wounds," Michael said. "He's probably a little sore from something, but the leopards have incredible healing power."

"Should they become human so that they can enter the discussion?" Avi asked.

"It weakens them to Change," Holly explained. "We might need Bobby's strength to pound stakes into the vampires' hearts. It's not nearly as easy as it appears on television. Olivia is nearly as strong, but she's much smaller, and burns energy faster."

"Can they understand what you say?" Avi asked.

"Yes, as long as we don't get too complicated," Michael said. "We have to get going. We don't have much time."

***


Abu Numair was sitting with his back against the rear wall of the cave, warmed by a nearby fire. He was feeling semi-satisfied, but also edgy. He wondered why. He'd just succeeded in making a new vampire. The only downside was that the vampire was female. He questioned why Allah did not favor him more. He'd only been able to create eight new vampires, two of which, including his latest, were women. He'd used up forty-two of his followers doing so, which, he'd learned, was significantly below average. To make matters worse, two of the eight, both men, had run off. Evidently, they were not true sons of Islam. A further negative consequence was that he was finding it difficult to recruit new followers, as word of his endeavors got out. He was down to only thirty adherents in his camp, and seven of those were female, needed to do the cooking, cleaning, and other chores suitable only for women.

His contemplations were abruptly interrupted when one of his men raced in. "Abu!" the man called breathlessly as he bowed before his leader. "The cage of the panther is empty! The beast and the Jew have disappeared! There is nothing there, not even the bones of the Jew. There is no indication the cage has been tampered with. They must be tools of the devil!"

"You fool!" Abu Numair shouted, jumping to his feet. "It is not the devil. We have a traitor amongst us! Why did you not post guards on the cage?"

"But sire, you did not tell us…" the man started to say.

"Silence!" Abu Numair yelled, slapping the man across the face. "I do not tell you when it is time to relieve yourself either. Can you not think for yourself? You should have known what to do without me telling you."

"But sire, you said to leave the beast alone," the man protested. "Guards would have disturbed it."

"I said silence! I will deal with your stupidity later. For now we must raise the alarm. We probably cannot recapture the animal, but we must not let that infernal Jewish excrement escape. Wake the camp!"

The man turned to leave, and gasped at the sight of two leopards. "Look sire! The beast has returned along with another! And the Jew is here, bringing others!"

"Everybody awaken!" Abu Numair shouted. Two females jumped up from where they'd been lying and moved toward the intruders. They pealed their lips back and fangs began to protrude from their upper jaws. The newly minted vampire was moving sluggishly, and didn't seem fully coordinated. The terrorist who'd come to warn Abu Numair started to raise his Kalashnikov when Michael shot him.

"So much for surprise and silence," Holly said. Once again she moved her hands in a strange manner and murmured in an unintelligible dialect, as she cast a spell to immobilize the terrorist leader. The female leopard jumped forward banging into the female vampires, knocking them against the wall of the cave. Her claws and teeth wounded them, but the wounds started to heal almost immediately. In the meantime, their teeth were able to penetrate her fur and skin. Although those wounds hurt and would eventually weaken her, they also started to heal nearly instantaneously. Holly, weakened by her earlier activities, couldn't put full power into her spell. Abu Numair was slowed, but not immobilized.

"What is happening?" Abu Numair screamed, as he and the black leopard engaged in a vicious skirmish. "It is as if I am moving underwater. Why should my own beast attack me? Back off jungle creature! Are you a djinn? Do you not know your master and a kindred soul?"

Avi snatched up the Kalashnikov that'd been dropped by the terrorist Michael shot, and turned to the cave entrance. Three armed men started inside. He sprayed them with bullets, killing one, wounding another, and sending the third scurrying outside. The reverberations from the shots were nearly deafening inside the confines of the cave.

"I'm going to see if I can shoot any of the vampires without hitting a leopard," Michael called to Avi. "It won't kill them, but it might weaken them. Can you hold the entrance?"

"I can until I run out of ammunition," Avi called back. "This man had two spare magazines. I think there are more in that side room over there. They are reluctant to shoot because they do not want to hit their leader."

Michael's mini-Uzi bullets had little effect on Abu Numair. Even slowed by Holly's spell, the terrorist leader was on even terms with the leopard. Both, by this time, had numerous small wounds. They rolled back and forth on the ground. The leopard grasped the vampire by the throat, but had to release his hold when the vampire started to gauge his eyes. Both got to their feet.

"Do something quickly!" Holly screamed. "I can't keep this up much longer!"

Michael knew that if Holly's spell stopped working they'd be in trouble. The vampire would have the edge on the leopard. In desperation Michael grabbed a flaming shard from the fire and thrust it into Abu Numair's face. The vampire put up his arms to protect himself, stumbled, and fell over backwards. Michael stepped forward and fired several shots point blank into the terrorist leader's eyes, temporarily blinding him. Bobby used this respite to Change, and grab a stake. Before he could use it, one of the female vampires lurched against him, knocking him aside. Abu Numair had time to scramble up, his vision clearing. He stopped, startled to see a human instead of a leopard. Then he grinned, extended his fangs fully, and started toward Bobby, ignoring the bullets from Michael's gun.

With nobody at the mouth of the cave, Avi turned back and saw the vampire advancing on Bobby. He started to shoot. The much heavier bullets of the Kalashnikov pushed the vampire back. He stumbled over the fire and fell to the ground, his feet in the fire. He screamed in pain.

With the focus of the vampire now away from Holly, she put everything she had into a psychic blast which momentarily immobilized him. Using every bit of strength he had left, Bobby leaped over the fire, landed on the vampire's abdomen, and plunged a stake into his heart. Abu Numair exploded into a cloud of foul smelling dust.

Holly collapsed in fatigue, breathing heavily. Bobby would've liked to do the same, but the two female vampires were beginning to get the best of Olivia's leopard. He reached for a stake, grabbed the sluggishly moving vampire from behind, and with his diminished but still considerable strength, plunged the stake through her back and into her heart. She also became a noxious dust pile. With one of her enemies gone, the female leopard attacked her remaining adversary with renewed energy. The vampire had weakened considerably, and knew she couldn't last much longer. She screamed at the terrorists outside the cave, "The infidels have killed our leader! Shoot them!"

Noting his previous success, Michael grabbed another flaming shard from the fire and threw it at the vampire. She howled in pain as it hit. The female leopard was able to leap and grab the vampire by the throat, immobilizing her. This gave Bobby time to plunge a stake into her heart, creating one more pile of dust. Bobby fell to his knees, gasping for breath. The leopard Changed. Olivia fell down beside Bobby. She had numerous small cuts all over her naked body, but they were already closing up.

The silence seemed surreal. Michael stood and said, "Okay, this is what we do next. Holly, you..."

Suddenly bullets started flying from the cave entrance. "Everybody down!" Avi screamed, as he hit the deck. Bobby, Olivia, and Holly were already down, but Michael had been on his feet. He took two bullets to the chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Avi returned fire and yelled, "There are more weapons in that small chamber. Grab some and help me hold them off!"

Bobby crawled over to the little room, picked up rifles for Olivia and Holly, and slid them over. He was about to take one for himself, when he saw something better--a portable flame thrower. It'd mostly be good at close range, but that might be enough.

After a fierce exchange of fire, lasting about two minutes, there was a lull. "What's going on?" Bobby asked. "Why'd they stop?"

"I think they are planning some type of attack," Avi said. "There did not seem to be as many of them as I expected."

"What's with Michael?" Olivia asked.

"He is gone," Avi said. "He did not get down fast enough."

With the stoppage of flying bullets, Holly took the time to look over some papers that'd been lying near Abu Numair. "I see why there's not that many of them," she said. "If I can trust my Arabic, it appears that the vaunted Army of Allah, or whatever they called it, was down to twenty-three men, four male vampires, seven women, primarily used for scut work, and two female vampires."

"It is fewer than that," Avi said. "Many have been killed."

"The vampires are unlikely to have the religious fervor that Abu Numair did," Holly said. "They like to pick on the helpless, not fight against someone who's able to fight back. Maybe they'll take off."

"Wishful thinking," Bobby said. "They'd also like to keep word of their existence from getting out. That'd give them more incentive to make sure we don't get away. But if this lull lasts any longer, we'll have a chance to regain our strength. Why'd they stop?"

"I think most of their readily available ammunition was stored in the room where you found the weapons," Avi said. "They have nearly run out. I am sure they have caches of it nearby, however, and as soon as they can load up we might be in trouble. Perhaps we should try for a getaway now."

"Avi's right," Bobby said. "Look what I found in that room. Can anybody use it?"

"I can," Avi said, grinning at the flame thrower.

"Holly can you do spells?" Bobby asked.

"Not anything more difficult than levitating a pencil," Holly said, shaking her head. "At least for the next twelve hours or so."

"I thought that'd be the case," Bobby said. "Take Michael's mini-Uzi and all his remaining magazines. Form up behind Avi. Liv and I'll be in leopard form. We can move faster and do more damage up close. When they see the two of us emerge from the cave, some of them might pack it in and run. Everybody ready? Good! Let's go!"

***


A stream of fire suddenly emerged from the cave entrance, catching one of the vampires and two of the men full on. They fell, the vampire screaming, the men dead. What appeared to be apparitions to the terrorists followed the flame from the cave. One of them morphed into a terrifying black leopard. It stopped by the screaming vampire long enough to clamp its jaws about the neck and separate the head from the body. The vampire turned to dust. Bullets started flying out of the cave, and four of the terrorists dropped their weapons and ran. The flame suddenly went out, and the remaining terrorists were dazzled by the sudden darkness. They were easy targets. The vampires were nowhere to be seen.

***


That evening Bobby, Olivia, Holly, and Avi arrived at the safe-house. Using an encrypted satellite phone, Bobby called Wallace, their handler.

"Where's Michael?" Wallace asked.

"Michael bought it."

"That's tough," Wallace said, his emotion obvious. "I worked with him for many years. Did you recover his body?"

"Yes, and we were able to fulfill our mission," Bobby said. "The bad news, besides Michael, is that Abu Numair was a vampire."

"What?" Wallace yelled. "A vampire? Really?"

"Really. He was trying to create a vampire army of terrorists. According to his records he created eight vampires. We killed three. Two had disappeared before we got there. We have no idea what happened to the remaining three. He used up forty-two people in order to create the eight vampires, and was running out of recruits. We rescued a Mossad agent they were holding. He was a big help in achieving our objective."

"Report back as soon as you can," Wallace said.

"We need to leave," Bobby said, disconnecting. "Avi, what do you need?"

"This country has no port, but if you can get me to Djibouti I can make my way from there. Here is a phone number. If you ever find yourself in Israel and need something, call this number and use my name. I owe you a debt I can never repay. Thank you for everything, especially for saving my life."

"You'll need it," Bobby said, as the two men embraced. "I have a feeling we'll be fighting together again, someday soon."


THE END


2017 Stephen Tillman

Bio: Stephen Tillman is an emeritus professor of Mathematics at Wilkes University, where he taught for forty-two years. Wilkes is a small, private college located in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Brown University. He is an avid reader of mysteries and science fiction. Short stories he has written include, “The Tunnels”, published in the January, 2015 issue of Mysterical-E, “Payback” in September, 2016, in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, “Cold-Blooded”, accepted for publication by Vinculinc, Inc., “Reversal” published in January, 2017 in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, and “Resolve”, accepted for publication in Yellow Mama.

E-mail: Stephen Tillman

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