Authors: William D. Carl
He was nearly to the elevator when another thing leaped through the window, shattering the remaining glass. The two immense shapes bounded after him, leaping five yards at a time.
When he reached the delivery elevator, Christian grasped the leather strap and pulled down with his entire body. The rust in the pulleys moaned, and he pulled harder, feeling the doors emerge from the ceiling and floor, the space between them growing smaller.
One of the monsters arrived at the elevator and tried to pull the doors apart, sticking its toothy muzzle into the space between them. It gnashed its teeth wildly, rolling its eyes, trying to obtain some leverage.
Christian leaned back and kicked its snapping muzzle as hard as he could while maintaining his grip on the leather strap. He screamed incoherently, kicked again and again until the beast yelped and pulled its snout away from the space.
The doors shut with a clanging sound, and Christian flipped the lever that locked them together. He pulled down the interior metal grate and locked this as well. It was feeble and wouldn’t stop anything that big for very long, but it offered him a bit more comfort.
He spun around within his ten-by-ten-foot cell. The walls had never seemed so close, the ceiling so low. He reached out for the steel walls, feeling the strength of the metal beneath his fingers. The solid steel brought his heart rate back under control, and he started to breathe easier after his mad dash to safety. These walls were thick. They would hold against any assault.
As he sat on the floor, listening to the beasts struggle and claw futilely at the metal door of the elevator car, he clutched his transistor radio to his chest. He moved across the floor, shoving his butt
backward with his legs until the wall was solidly behind him. He switched on the radio, praying for the comfort of another human’s voice—talk radio, a song, anything to reassure him.
Vaguely, he wondered if Jean was all right, if any of the beasts had attacked him. His concern surprised him. The old geezer was nothing but a meal ticket.
He couldn’t find anything on the radio, couldn’t find a signal from any of the local stations.
“What the hell is going on?” he said out loud.
He was answered by static.
And by the roar of the beasts outside.
SEPTEMBER 16, 8:10 P.M.
he sound of the vault doors locking nearly drove Rick Morrison around the bend and into the bughouse. The conclusiveness of the clanking latches, the vague feeling that the big dial on the outside was turning with a multitude of tiny, crustaceous clicks, the clanking of the huge bolts as the vault was sealed … it seemed like the end of everything. The world, and whatever was taking place in it, was gone, replaced by a twelve-by-fifteen-foot room.
Chesya was shouting at him, “Rick, man, stop it! Stop your screaming!”
He couldn’t, even though he fought against it. There were … things … out there killing people. They’d attempted to slaughter him, but he had fought, had found his way into the vault. No, he’d been
to the vault … by this woman who seemed so calm and strong. The woman with the big eyes …
And it was dark … so very dark in here.
“The lights!” he shouted, and he felt the woman next to him take his hand. “I can’t see anything.”
“Get ahold of yourself,” she said. “We’re safe here.”
“Are you sure?”
“We’re gonna be all right. Nothing can get through that door. Nothing.”
Chesya grasped his hand even tighter within her own. She could feel the tremors in his body as he screamed again, clutching urgently at her fingers.
“Oh, Jesus. Oh, shit.”
“It’s just the lights. They’re on a timer. It’s okay.”
“Can’t see anything. The air’s going to go. Is there enough air for us? Are we going to suffocate in this fucking tomb?”
“Rick, listen to me. The lights are on a timer. Hold on a second, and I’ll find the override switch.”
“You won’t let go of me?” He wanted to stop the quivering in his voice, wanted to stop being such a pussy, but the endorphins flooding his brain overrode his pretensions.
“No, I won’t,” she answered. “But I’m going to be moving. Follow me where I go. There’s a switch on the wall somewhere right over here.”
Chesya eased along the side of the vault, fumbling with her free hand and wondering if she could somehow use the bank robber’s terror to her advantage.
“It’s just along here somewhere,” she said.
“Hurry up. Damn it! What about the air?”
“There’s a ventilator, like an air pump. It keeps it cool in here. Nothing to worry about.”
She felt the nub of the switch beneath her fingers, and she flicked it toward the ceiling. Instantly, fluorescent bulbs blinked on with a burst of static buzzing. The flickering created a strobe effect, and Rick dropped Chesya’s hand as soon as they flashed for the last time. Humming softly, the lights cast a greenish hue over the stifling room.
“That’s better,” he said. “I don’t think I could’ve handled the dark right now. I really don’t think I could.”
“Well, we’re safe for the moment, lights or no lights.”
His breathing slowed, and she grabbed his head and pivoted his face to hers. The rage was gone from her eyes, replaced by fear and something that surreptitiously resembled concern. There was a true stability within her, and her gaze seemed to ground him, to bring him back to the real world.
“What?” he asked.
“Rick, are you with me? You stopped screaming, but are you here? With me?” She spoke slowly, methodically.
In her college years, she’d had a roommate who’d taken LSD, and Chesya had been forced to sit with the girl one night, speaking to
her gently, coaxing her out of the bad place she’d discovered under the influence of the drug. She felt as though she were doing the same thing with Rick, talking him down off a bad trip.
Only this time there was no drug sculpting the monsters in his mind. She had to remember that the monsters were right outside the vault. Real monsters, with real teeth. Knowing she would need someone cogent and alert by her side, she pushed the terrifying images from her mind and helped Rick regain his senses.
“I … I think so,” he finally answered.
“Where are we?”
“We’re in the bank vault. You … dragged me in here.”
“Do you remember anything that happened?”
He nodded. “Those things attacked us. They were all over the place.”
He looked at her. “And our friends … turned, changed into something else. You’re going to think I’m crazy. Hell, I think I’m crazy for even considering it, but I think they were turning into werewolves.”
As she looked around the tight, claustrophobic room, she thought,
“What about getting out of here?” he asked. “Do we have to wait until someone comes and sets us free?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s on a timer, remember? It’ll unlock from the outside at eight-thirty. We can use the emergency lever to release the other locks, but I’m afraid we’re stuck here until morning.”
“I’m not very good in small, tight places.” Rick eyed the cream-colored metal walls of the vault, a soothing shade, probably chosen by some poor slob in a cubicle somewhere. Smaller safety-deposit boxes, each with its own set of locks, lined one side. At the back of the vault was a rectangular door.
“You’ll just have to live with it,” Chesya said, sitting down on the floor and leaning against the door at the back. “We’re in here for the night. And, honestly, I can’t think of a safer place right now. That door is ten inches of steel. The walls of the vault are more than a foot thick. I doubt anything can get in here. Especially those animals.”
“Whatever. They looked more like bears to me. You think a bunch of bears maybe got loose? No, that wouldn’t explain why Gloria and the others started changing. Don’t werewolves have to be scratched or bitten before they turn from people into monsters? That’s how it always worked in the old movies.”
“Maybe the movies lied.”
“And only most of the people changed. You didn’t turn into one of those things, and neither did I. Everybody else out there did. Why not us?”
“I don’t know.” He had a thought, a dark, malignant thought that seared itself into his mind. “Hey, what if someone hits a power line out there and the electricity goes off? That door going to open if there’s no electricity?”
“It’s got a backup battery that’ll work for a couple days. I think I read once that it can last seventy-two hours. We’ll get out of here just fine.”
He said, “Okay. That’s good.”
“If they really are werewolves,” she continued, “why are there so many of them? And what was going on with Gloria and Roger and all your partners in crime? How come they were affected?”
“Well, they didn’t get scratched. Not that I saw.”
“No. But they still changed.”
“It looked like they had stomach cramps when it all started. You remember Jones said that he wasn’t feeling so good? You think … no, it’s too crazy.”
“What? There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe right now.”
“You don’t think it was some kind of disease, do you? Like, they caught some weird werewolf virus?”
“You’re right. That’s crazy.”
“No, listen.” He was getting excited about his theory, moving his big hands in the air, gesticulating wildly. At least he wasn’t obsessing over the enclosed space of the vault. Small favors were welcome right now. “Think about it. They all got sick and started changing into those animals. Some of us didn’t. We could be immune to this werewolf disease, kind of like those people who never catch measles.”
“I don’t know,” Chesya said. “I still don’t think they’re werewolves. They didn’t really look much like wolves.”
“No, they didn’t. They were mixed-up versions of all kinds of animals—like you said, big and bulky, like bears.”
“But they moved like cats. …”
“Snouts like dogs’ or a wolves’, and the ears were definitely wolflike.”
She shivered. “Their eyes, too. So weird. I had a cat, once, that ran away from me. She had eyeshine like they had.”
“They were fast as shit, though. Never seen anything move that fast.”
They stopped talking for a moment, glancing at each other. The hum of the lights and the nearly undetectable whir of the air ventilator were comforting. Rick’s heartbeat slowed down for the first time since the aborted robbery had begun. It seemed like a long time to have that much adrenaline coursing through his system.
“You rob a lot of banks?” Chesya asked.
Rick leaned back against the wall, feeling its coolness through his oxford shirt. Slowly, he lowered himself to the floor until he was sitting, looking across the prefab room at this woman who had saved his skin.
“Why you wanna know?”
“Just being neighborly. We’re going to be in here awhile, and it could get our minds off what’s outside. So, do you?”
He just grinned and waved a finger at her.
“Well then,” she continued. “Why do you do it?”
“Why do you work here?” he asked.
She shrugged. “For the money, the benefits.”
“Same with robbing a bank. It’s all about the money, Chesya. You knock over a decent-sized bank, you got enough to live on for a good year or two. All for one night of work and a couple of days of planning. If that’s not a great benefit, I don’t know what is.”
“What if you get caught?”
“Then I’ll go to jail. The risks come with the territory. Just like you take a risk being a teller here. There’s always a chance some son of a bitch like me might come along and stick up the place.”
“That’s a pretty fatalistic way of looking at things.”
“Well, I’m just that kind of a guy. I never saw the glass as half full. I always just wanted to refill it to the top.”
“But if you had a steady job, you’d get the money without the danger.”
“Yeah, but that isn’t for me,” he said with a hint of a grin. “I kind of like the danger, living on the edge. I’m not much of a human being, I know. But I’m really good with a gun, good with my hands.”
“You don’t look like a bank robber. You look like … maybe a stuntman for westerns—the old kind of western, Roy Rogers or Audie Murphy. I could see you falling backward over a bar and into a mirror.”
“You could, huh? I’ve been in enough brawls back in the day. Now I just take my risks one day a year, get my cash, and relax for three hundred and sixty-four days in a sunny place. I work a lot on my tan.”
“You don’t look very tan to me.”
“Maybe I’m just feeding you a bunch of lies,” he said with a grin. “Maybe I know you’re grilling me so you can help the police find me. It isn’t gonna be that easy, Chesya.”
She rolled her eyes, ran a hand through her Afro, disappointed he’d discovered her ruse. “Must be some kinda life,” she said. “Always running from the law, the government. I’ll take my nice, steady income over that any day.”
“You don’t see the romance in it, the life of a bank robber?”
“Hey, I see things in practical terms. You ever catch that movie about Bonnie and Clyde? They sure were romantic, especially when they were being gunned down at the end—all bullet holes and blood flying. Sorry, but not for me. I’ll take my safe life, my four-oh-one K, and my little apartment.”
“You really don’t see it, do you? Why it’s worth all the problems?”
“No. Seems pretty ridiculous to me,” she said, trying to hit him in his pride so he’d let some detail about his life slip. “But, hey, you want to rob a bunch of banks and risk your life, more power to you. I grew up in Over the Rhine, the worst part of the city. There were
guns all over the place, and I watched my older brother die by a gun. He was shot six times by some punk in a rival gang after he killed one of their homies. My other brother overdosed in a back alley, so excuse me if I don’t get excited over the gangster lifestyle you’ve chosen. I’ve seen the results firsthand.”
“Hey, I’m not that bad,” he said. “I just rob banks. I’ve never killed anyone during one of the robberies.”
“You’ve never killed anyone? That tough-guy persona is just an act?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I couldn’t ever really hurt anyone.”