Fiction

Those Who Come…

By Mason Yates

Photo by Cole Keister on Pexels.com

            …never want to leave.  Penelope Valeria- also known by her nickname of Penny to lucky individuals who were fortunate enough to call her a friend- whipped her head around in an effort, or last-minute attempt, to read the back of the wooden sign they had just passed.  Yet, she had an awful time seeing anything out of her patriotic-colored helmet, and not to mention, the sign stood amidst a dense foliage, concealed from passersby until they were close to on top of it.  And on the back of a motorcycle, cruising speedily down the winding valley road, it was impossible to catch, or even to read more than three or four words of, what the sign had to say.  She stared at the back of the retreating white billboard until it was out of sight.  The motorcycle cruised through a ninth or tenth turn, and the wind howled around her.  Above, the towering trees on the sides of the road drooped and cast a multitude of long, crooked shadows over the concrete. 

            “Honey,” Penny said into a tiny microphone inside her helmet.  It was linked to the bulky headset in her husband’s helmet so they could communicate on the road.  “Did you catch what that sign said behind us?  I only got a little.”

            “Uhh…” her husband started in that raspy voice of his.  As he talked, he slowed the bike.  The muffled wind lessened, and the engine noise quieted a little, too.  Key words: a little.  Still, it sounded like thunder outside the helmet.  “I didn’t catch all of it, but I got the town name: Drink, Pennsylvania.  And I think the top of the motto said: ‘those who come’.  I could be wrong.”  There was a crackle in the headset, probably her husband’s lips brushing against his microphone.

            “Those who come never want to leave,” Penelope told him through the microphone.  “It’s an odd motto.  I caught the last bit of it.  Can we stop for a restroom break when we reach Drink?  I have to pee, and if you want, maybe we can get a drink.”  She giggled at her own joke, and part of her bladder- a tiny drop- released when she laughed.  In her headset, she could hear her hubby chortle.  Penny lovingly tightened her grip on him and put her head against his back when he did so.  Through the tinted helmet visor, she watched as the trees streamed by, blurring together in an orange-brown collision of autumn color.  She whispered, “It is beautiful, I admit.”

            “Pretty nice honeymoon idea, isn’t it?” her husband asked as they came to another turn in the road- their tenth or eleventh since their arrival in the valley?- and caught sight of the town, an ancient, pre-civil war New England village erected in the middle of the woods.  Straightening the bike out, a chilly breeze wafted past them, and they smelled the familiar scent of old buildings and gingerbread on the wind, along with the faint scent of cigarette smoke and whiskey that grew in smell the closer they got to the town.  But the intoxicating damp earth took a lot of the gross scents away, except for the dominating copper, which Penny didn’t bother to mention for some reason.  Neither did Derek.  Both smelled and noted it, yet a strange feeling seemed to tell them not to say anything about it.

            “Yeah,” Penny said with a shrug.  “I’m still sure Cozumel or Cancun would’ve been a bit more appropriate, but riding across country does have its perks.  I’m glad you brought your stand and camera, too.”  She stared over Derek’s shoulder as they approached, her eyes flicking toward the sign that hung above the bar’s entrance: Best D ink in th  World.  Underneath it stood a shady fellow with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, eyes peering at them.

            “Those places are nice, but there’s so many places yet to explore here in the United States that nobody knows about,” Derek said as he parked his motorcycle outside the bar.  He put down his kickstand with his foot and let Penelope hop off the bike first before he shut it down.  As they pulled their helmets off, they held their breaths, then breathed deep the fresh air when they stood next to each other.  “Plus,” Derek started after he got a good breath, “in Cancun or Cozumel, there’s not air like this.”  He closed his eyes and tilted his chin towards the gray overcast sky, letting the breeze and its chill caress his skin and ruffle his hair.  All of the sudden, an unexpected gust of wind coming from the mountainside blew as hard as a mule kick, and Derek had to step back as it pushed him.  Penelope giggled.  Together, they put their helmets on the seats of the motorcycle, sure nobody cared to steal a couple helmets.

            “I’m sure that the breeze there isn’t as hard either,” Penny said and poked her husband in the gut with her index finger.  “Come on, I gotta pee.”  As graceful as a swan, she stepped up and walked along the wooden porch entrance of the bar.  Her husband followed behind her; she could hear the wood creak with his every step.  Derek Valeria was far from fat, but he did have some of what Penelope called “pudge” or a “dad bod.”  She glanced over her shoulder at him, smiled, and continued towards the entrance.

            “Out of town?” the man by the entrance asked, not bothering to pluck his cigarette out of his mouth to speak.  The tiny stick danced when his lips moved, and it caused the smoke to break its steady stream into the chilly air.  The man, still as shady as ever up close, smiled, revealing an awful set of nicotine-stained teeth.  Not only that, but the man looked- well, to Penny, at least- dead.  He was pale, almost translucent, and there were thin little green veins pulsing under his green eyes.  Drugs, Penny thought as she passed.

            “Yeah,” Penny said as she opened the door.  “We’re from New York.  We’re going to the bathroom, grabbing a drink, then heading out to Pittsburgh so we can stop for the night.”  Unsure of why she felt the need to explain herself to the man, she awkwardly smiled, then disappeared in the bar.  Behind her, Derek mumbled an “excuse me” to the stranger and followed her inside.

            Before the door closed behind her, trapping her and her husband in the bar with the horrid scent of copper lingering in the air, the man managed to say one last thing.  “They’ve got the best drink in the world in there!”  Just as the last word spat out of the man’s mouth, the door clanked shut behind them.  She wheeled around to view her husband, who had one eyebrow raised and an uneasiness in his eyes.  She turned to analyze the bar, and it concerned her, as well, to see that the whole establishment was crowded with skinny pale figures.  They sipped on a red-tinted ale.

            “What are they drinking?” Penny asked.  Her eyes trailed through the bar, looking at each and every person and their drinks.  Everyone nursed a red drink, and whenever they sipped it, the wildest expression took ahold of their faces.  All of the sudden, they were deathly pale, then their skin would light up, their eyes would widen and brighten, and their lips would stretch into a wide smile.  A loud ahhhhh sound would escape from their lips with every drink.

            “Looks kind of like a Shirley Temple,” Derek said and took a step away from the door.  It felt warmer in the bar than outside, and the warmth started to seep into his skin.  The look of concern vanished, and he began to rub his hands together as he looked at all the bargoers.  “What I’ll do is ask them what they’re having while you use the little girl’s room.  How about that?”

            But using the restroom was the last thing on her mind now, and she especially did not like the idea of going by herself.  A strange intuition told her leave- depart at once, just turn in a nonchalant manner and make a break for it back to the motorcycle never to return again.  But in the end, her husband’s relaxed manner brought her back down to earth, and she nodded.  “Okay,” she said.  “You do that, I’ll be out in a second.”  And before she knew it, Penny was walking- no, an even better word would be trudging– across the room to the back of the bar.

            The restroom had a much better atmosphere than the barroom.  It smelled like hand soap- lavender scented- and the walls, toilets, sinks, and the large mirror were spotless, which was a bit odd considering bar restrooms usually stunk of piss, shit, and vomit.  And compared to the horrid scent of copper in the other room, the bathroom was a heaven of sorts.  Penny went into a stall.

            By the time she walked out of the restroom, she could see that Derek had ordered two red drinks.  They were much darker than Shirley Temples, and when she touched the glass, she felt a mysterious chill run down her spine.

            “Did you ask what it was?” Penny asked.  “This doesn’t look like a Shirley Temple.”

            “Because it’s not,” Derek told her.  “When I asked what it was, the bartender told me it is the best drink in the world, and the only place this stuff can be found is here in Drink.”  He let an awkward laugh escape his lips before he shook his head.  “I’m kidding.  It’s a cherry beer.”

            “Cherry beer?” Penny asked with a raised eyebrow.  She eyed the beer and grimaced.  “I- I don’t know if this is going to be any-”

            “That’s what I said when the bartender said it was cherry beer,” Derek started, “but he’s a big believer in it by the sound of it.  He said it was the best stuff in the world.  Swore by it.”

            Penelope glanced down the bar at the bartender, a skinny fellow with milky white skin.  It startled her by how dead looking the guy appeared- sort of like how the holocaust survivors back in World War II had looked when they trudged out of the death camps after being liberated.  She hated to compare the bartender- or the rest of the people in the bar, for that matter- to that horrendous suffering, but she couldn’t help it.  Her eyes examined his leathery skin, pale face, and red eyes.  If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was a-

            “Come on,” Derek said, breaking Penny’s thoughts into shambles.  “I haven’t tried it yet.  I’ve been waiting on you to get out of the bathroom.  Let’s down this, then we can get out of here and get back on the road.  Pittsburgh ain’t getting any closer.”  Derek raised his glass.  The liquid sparkled in the bar’s dull light, and when Penny glanced at the raised cup, she thought that it-  She shook her head to move the weird thoughts out of her mind and took her glass.  She raised her own and brought it to her lips.

            The rush of euphoria came almost immediately after the liquid touched her tongue.  Once it rushed down her throat, down her esophagus, and into her stomach, the feeling subsided, and it was replaced by an alertness that moved into a strange energetic feeling that then transitioned into a feeling of absolute power.  A burn started in her mouth, then went to her nose, then down her throat into her stomach.  She could taste nothing at first except copper on her tongue, but after a minute of nothing, a flood of cherry flavor enveloped her.  Penny set the drink down and made a loud and prolonged ah sound.  She grabbed the wooden bar top and hung her head.  It felt like her mind had slipped into another dimension- somewhere of peace, happiness, and youth.  It felt like she had ingested some kind of drug, although she would not know because she had never taken a drug before in her life.  But if it came down to a guess, she would say cocaine.  It felt like she had been uplifted to cloud nine.  Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, then returned a moment later into the original position.  Her hands shook in ecstasy, sort of like how they did the times when she managed to reach her orgasm.  She grabbed ahold of her brunette hair and gave it a tug of delight, unable to control herself.   

            “What is this?” Penny muttered.  “This is… it’s amazing.”  She giggled.  She glanced at the lights above her, then looked at the faces of the bargoers.  The lights all shined like stars, and the bargoers faces all brightened for a few seconds.

            “I don’t know,” Derek said and tasted the drink again.  “What the…”

            Penelope reached for the drink again.  She put it to her lips, but before she tasted it for a second time, a little voice in the back of her head told her not to, to put it down, to leave without another word before it was too late.  Call it intuition or her subconscious or her conscience trying to speak, but Penny pushed it aside and sipped again at the drink.  Euphoria bubbled inside her veins.  She felt alive… rejuvenated.  She giggled and allowed herself to be taken on the trip that was happening- going deeper into the abyss of intoxication.  Everything felt numb.  She felt like she was going to recede into her youth, but looking down at her arm, it still looked the same, not younger or better looking.

            “What is it?” she asked herself and analyzed the blood-red liquid in the drink.  “It’s a sort of elixir, isn’t it?  Isn’t it?  I feel… I feel amazing.”

            “Penny,” Derek’s voice came from the fog of her hearing.  “Penny.  I feel like I’m on a-”

            “A cloud?” asked a gravelly voice from down the bar.  “Do you feel like you’re floating?  Are you high above?  Do you feel younger?  Rejuvenated?  Powerful?  Alert?  Do you feel like it is the fountain of youth?”  The bartender stood several feet away with a smile stretched from ear to ear, his jagged teeth like spears in his mouth.  His eyes were a pale red, and they glowed with delight.

            “Yes,” Derek said and drank again.  His body convulsed with happiness.  A smile spread across his face.  “Yes.  I feel so young.”

            “How about you, miss?” the bartender asked Penny.  “How do you feel?”

            “Great,” Penny admitted, though she felt weird doing so to the stranger.  “I feel the best I’ve ever felt, actually.  What did you-”

            “I didn’t mix any drugs in it,” the bartender said.  “You can be assured of that.  Nothing it contains is bad, that is.  I guess I shouldn’t say there’s no drugs in it, because, of course, there’s a drug in there.  Everything has drugs these days.  Pepsi is a drug.  Coffee is a drug.”  He wiped his damp hands on the white apron that he wore about around his neck, and he started to make a red-tinted drink.  “Where did you say you guys are from?”

            “New York City,” Penny answered before Derek could.  “We’re on our honeymoon.  We decided to go on a trip across the country on a motorcycle.  We’re stopping at a bunch of places, and Drink, Pennsylvania was on our way to Pittsburgh.  You have a lovely town.”  As she said it, she glanced out the window at the secluded village.  A few pedestrians ambled in the street, walking as if in a daze.  They, too, were pale, just like everyone in the bar.  She shrugged, then looked back at the bartender.  She finished with, “Lovely.”

            “It is quaint, isn’t it?” the bartender said and handed a red-tinted drink to a pale customer.

            “Indeed,” Penny said and giggled.  “It’s chilly outside, too.”

            “We like the cold,” the bartender said with a nod.  “Don’t we, Buck?”

            The pale old man who the bartender had handed a red drink to nodded and gave a hum of acknowledgement before he put the full red glass to his lips and began savoring, like a dog, what it contained.

            “Yes, we do,” the bartender repeated.  “Do you like the cold?”

            “Couldn’t like it more,” Derek answered this time.  “Better than being sweaty.”

            “Right you are,” the bartender said and strode down to stand right in front of the couple.

            “So,” Derek started and leaned forward drunkenly.  “What’s in this drink?”

            Like a snake, the bartender leaned forward and licked his red lips before saying in a quiet tone that sounded more like a breath, “Adrenochrome.”

            “What’s that?” Penny asked before Derek could.  “Sounds bizarre.”

            “It’s a chemical found in the human body when adrenaline oxidizes,” the stranger said in a low tone.  “When terrorized or frightened, a human produces it.  It’s extracted using a needle.”  The bartender tapped the back of his neck and said, “Right here.”

            “What the hell?” Penny said and jumped off her seat.  “Why would you-”

            “Honey,” Derek chuckled and spun around on his barstool.  “It’s just a joke.  Can’t you-”

            “It’s no joke,” the bartender cut in.  “I wouldn’t lie.  Plus, who could make that up?  You must be a hell of a storyteller, I’d say, to create a story like that.  The drink you ingested is laced with blood containing adrenochrome, along with a little grenadine for a little flavor.”  Now, there was a strange, twisted laugh that arose from the bartender’s throat.  The rich scent of copper flooded from his mouth and filled the room, strangling the last bits of lingering fresh air.

            “No way,” Derek laughed again and shook his head.  “Doesn’t taste like blood.”

            “Adrenochrome, when ingested, is like cocaine but healthy.  It’s a stimulate.  It makes an average person feel like a god.  Do you feel like a god?”

            Although she hated to admit it, Penny did feel like a god.  No longer did she feel like she had made a home on a cloud.  She felt like she had made a home in a whole other dimension.  She could feel every heavy heartbeat that thudded in her chest, and her mind was still high on euphoria, though it was fading now that she knew the truth.  Repulsion destroyed the trance she had been put in.  Her feet felt an urgent need to run.  She felt like she could run for miles.  A weird focus engulfed her mind.  And in the back of her thoughts, her conscience directed her to run, to get out.  In an instant, Penny grabbed Derek and yanked him off the stool.

            “Come on,” she said into his ear as he stumbled backward.  “We have to go.  Now.”

            “Those who come never want to leave,” the bartender said from behind the bar top.

            “Well,” Penny started as she continued to drag Derek backward.  “We do.”

            “I guess I stand corrected,” the man said.  “I guess it’s more appropriate to say those who come never get to leave.”  And after he spat out the last word, the bartender roared in laughter- a deafening shriek of excitement that filled the barroom.  And when he did so, his dagger-like teeth sparkled in the dull light, especially his canine fangs.  Not to mention, the copper smell worsened to the point where it hovered like a blanket over them, enveloping and choking the couple.

            “What do you mean?” Penny said as she backed away from the bar top with Derek beside her, gripping his arm in terror.  Her fingers were digging into his flesh.

            “Those who come either never want to leave,” the bartender started, “or they never get an opportunity to.  Since you don’t want to join us, then I’m sure you’re going to appreciate our tiny present we have for you: becoming our next candidates for our fountain of youth.”

            “What does that mean?” Penny asked still walking backwards.  Although unable to tell, she was nearing the exit with every step, getting perhaps nine or ten feet away from it.  In a moment, she could make a break for it.  She practically dragged Derek.  While she did so, she could see the bargoers out of the corner of her eye.  They were watching, peering, getting antsy.  They drank their adrenochrome drink, ahhhhing and slurping the blood liquid with elastic smiles of pure ecstasy.  Sure, it had been nice, Penny thought, but not worth it.  The moral compass she possessed would not allow it.  She could thank her mother and father for the Christian household she had been raised in.

            “It means,” the bartender said, chuckling, “that you’re going to be chained up and put in a nice room where we extract that youthful chemical out of you.  Don’t worry, there’s about fifteen or twenty others down there with you.  You won’t be alone.”

            “No,” Penny said.  “No.  I won’t allow it.”  All of the sudden, she imagined being put in a dark concrete room full of chained individuals, pinned against a wall, and stabbed in the neck for a chemical.  Horrified, tears streamed down her cheeks now.  She felt her feet move faster, and a firm tug on Derek made him move right behind her.  She hit the exit door, and it burst open.  She pulled Derek with her outside, her eyes focused on the motorcycle now.  However, as soon as the breath of freedom entered her lungs, she felt tugged backward.  A quick glance behind revealed a startling discovery: she had not been yanked backward, but Derek had been.  Penny let go.

            Just as she did so, she fell to her knees, hitting the wooden patio with a soft thump.  There was a clank behind her, too, signaling the door of the bar had swung shut.  She craned her neck to look over her shoulder.  Through the see-through glass door, she saw the bartender sucking the life out of the back of Derek’s neck.  Her husband’s face contorted into a look of pain.  A ton of emotions raced through her, but the first thought that sprung to her mind was: get away from it all and get help.  But still, her legs were shaking from watching the vampire bartender chomp his bloody fangs into Derek’s flesh.

            It took her a couple seconds to get up, and when she did, the pumping adrenaline gave her the push she needed.  Clear-headed now, she raced towards the motorcycle.  Halfway there, a loud crash sounded behind her, and a glimpse over her shoulder revealed that the bloodsuckers in the bar were now outside.  Their red eyes targeted her, and their mouths opened, revealing their bloody fangs that were ready to chomp into awaiting neck flesh.

            “Bastards,” she mumbled under her breath as tears continued to race down her cheeks.  A second round of adrenaline pushed her forward, though her legs were shaking underneath her.  In a matter of no time, she reached the motorcycle.  The first thing she did was grab her helmet.  An instant later, she had it around her head.  Penny swung her leg over the bike next, accidentally kicking her husband’s helmet off.  She did not dare pick it up.  Rather, she started the motorcycle and forgot about the damn helmet.  She put up the kickstand with a flick of her foot, and it was at that moment that the vampires reached her.  A skinny pale figure almost knocked her off the bike as it tried to grope for her helmet.  Its hands- a pair of rough, leathery claws- scratched at the tinted visor.  For a moment, she could see nothing.  But seconds later, she managed to rev the engine and shoot forward, hitting a vampire as she did so.  The one that had gotten to her first, clung on to her with all its strength.  All Penny could do was shriek at it.  “Get off me!  Get off me, damn you!”

            With the extra weight, Penny had a hard time steadying the motorcycle, but she managed to keep it straight for the most part.  She knew she kept on the pavement by the flatness of the road.  But, if she didn’t do anything about the beast attached to her, she would soon be a dead woman splattered against the pavement.  She drove faster as the vampire tried to bite down.  Its teeth kept hitting the helmet.  All she could see, though, was its hands fumbling in front of her.

            “Damn you!” she screeched.  “Damn you!  Damn you!  Damn you!”  The adrenochrome pumping through the beast’s system probably kept it attached to her despite the heavy winds that flowed down the valley and into the town.  It was powerful, acting on the euphoric high that kept it excited and unstoppable.  She elbowed it, hitting its gushy body.  It shrieked at her with each thump against its chest.  She continued to elbow.  Thump!  Thump!  Thump!  And finally, it tumbled off the motorcycle and hit the pavement behind her.  She heard it, and she saw it from the side mirrors, too.  Its fragile corpse of a body splattered against the concrete.  Blood- lots of dark red- stained the roadway.  Penny almost puked at the sight, but she kept going.

            Ahead, the way her and her husband had come in from looked like a miracle.  Once again that day, she felt the chill of autumn sink into her bones.  The wind from the upper portion of the valley raced around her, and in the sidemirrors, she could see the bloodsucking vampires stare as she raced off.  The motorcycle engine, muffled by the helmet, thundered around her.  And the breeze whistled through the trees.  But the main sound she heard did not come from nature or the motorcycle; it came from inside her helmet.  The headset inside crackled, and snarls pounded through the speakers inside.  She remembered accidentally kicking off her husband’s helmet when she had swung her leg around the bike.  Penny grimaced as the beasts snarled and twisted the knob on the side of her helmet.  The hideous sound clicked off.

            She glanced once more into the side mirrors.  Behind her, the fragile white bodies of what she had come to know as vampires mingled in Drink’s streets.  She could not see Derek.  Though it was probably a good guess to assume he was being taken down to the adrenochrome factory in the cellar that the bartender had mentioned before Penny had made a run for it.  At the thought of such a place, she sobbed, but with one last glance back at the town, she swore to return, to save Derek, and to bring all those bastards to justice.  But in that moment, she turned the bike on the winding valley road and disappeared into the woods, where the orange leaves that were clinging to the autumn trees led her out of the valley and away from the inhospitable village. 

###

Mason Yates is from a small town in the Midwest, but he currently lives in Arizona, where he is studying at Arizona State University.  He has interned with the magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and is the fiction editor for ASU’s undergraduate literary magazine Lux.  His works can be found in magazines/webzines such as Land Beyond the World, Scarlet Leaf Review, Blue Lake Review, Page & Spine, Pif Magazine, and others.

Categories: Fiction

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