Read Bloodlands Online

Authors: Christine Cody

Bloodlands

 
 
Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
 
A Stranger in Need
 
“Sick.” Gabriel lowered his gaze again so I couldn’t read it. “Back to . . . bed . . .”
I removed my waterpack, then bent down to ease his own off. Then, carefully—careful for so many reasons—I maneuvered his arm over my shoulders and led him to his blankets.
In doing so, I couldn’t help breathing him in, my lungs tight with the struggle of trying to keeparefullyses fortified at the same time. But I lost the battle, becoming saturated with the scent of him—a vague tinge of earth where there should’ve been musk and the tang of skin.
Without hurting him, I made quick work in setting him down, then backed away, my limbs weak and quivery.
It was only when he reached for his flask that I succeeded. I concentrated on how he gulped down its contents, how he closed his eyes and reveled in the shuddering pleasure of the liquid—a mixture that left his lips flushed red.
Then, obviously satisfied, he capped the flask and slumped to the blankets, keeping the container close to his chest.
Damn.
Damn.
What had I let in?
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
BLOODLANDS
 
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass-market edition / August 2011
 
Copyright © 2011 by Chris Marie Green.
 
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
 
ISBN : 978-1-101-52924-9
 
ACE
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

To Sajen, my creative and brilliant buddy in the fantastic.
Love you a million times over!
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 
Thank you so much to everyone at Ace—Ginjer, Kat, the art and marketing and sales and editing staff, and every single person who made these books happen. Hats off also to my team at the Knight Agency—Pamela, Deidre, Elaine, Jia, and the gang. And to Judy Duarte and Sheri Whitefeather—you guys are the best partners a crazed writer could ever hope for!
Thank goodness for the
New Yorker
magazine, one of the best idea-generators a writer can treasure.
Lastly, a big shout-out goes to all those Westerns that provided us with High Plains Drifters, Shanes, and Pale Riders, plus all the greedy ranchers and gunslinging villains, feisty homesteaders and rugged pioneers. I wanted to twist and reshape those wonderful tropes into something new while recalling the old. Most important, though, I wanted to pay homage to the mysterious cowboys who have wandered across dusty landscapes to face down the bad guys.
I’ve taken licenses with this work of fiction, so please forgive any flights of fancy or mistakes. Any errors are my own.
1
 
T
hey called this ravaged, sun-sucked place the New Badlands and, under the gray-hazed shine of the swollen moon, it certainly lived up to the name.
Bad
because of its dull, apocalyptic scape.
Bad
because of its throttling day heat.
Bad
because it allowed a night monster such easy, easy hunting.
Hidden behind a boulder perched on a withered hill, one such monster waited patiently, its hunger knocking against its skin, its saliva stinging its jaws.
Tonight, nature forced it to hunt, and someone was coming. Someone with blood, hot and nourishing. Someone who could quench a bitter, desperate thirst.
Its mind went as fuzzy as ether-soaked cotton, pulled apart by fingers of appetite. As it gripped the boulder and felt the stone crumble under its fingertips, its vision, which turned the murky night into a blue-tinged, throbbing haze, caught small animals that looked like electric blurs while scurrying for cover.
Heat. Food. Blood . . .
The cadence echoed, called, invited the monster to feast.
Its breath came faster, faster as the prey shuffled closer . . .
Unable to help itself, the monster eased to the side, peering round the boulder, craving a look. It saw the buzzing outline of a human mazing through the Badlands scrub. The male was slim, almost painfully so, stick-legged and awkward-gaited. His face was near featureless in the creature’s neon sights except for lips gaped in a wobbly attempt at song.
The creature’s hearing picked up the low, whistled tune. Melancholy. Something that might speak to another wholly human heart, if one was beating within range.
The monster’s nostrils flared from the strength of the man’s flesh, sweaty and musky beneath his tattered clothing: a wide-brimmed hat, a poncho, boots. There was also a te of turtlegrape alcohol, cheaply made and readily available on the black markets found in any city that was still standing.
Mouth even wetter, the creature ran a tongue over the pierce of its teeth. It recognized this smell. It had tracked the scent tonight.
Heat, food, blood . . .
Anticipation ran cold and urgent in its veins. Its body stiffened as the prey tripped on a rock, cursed at himself, then started to whistle again—sad notes reminding the monster of something lost. . . .
He was coming closer, closer.
The wobbly song warped into a death dirge that competed with the quickening call in the monster’s mind as the scent and pulse of blood became unbearable.
Heatfoodblood . . .
It winced, yearning, as the man pulled within mere feet—
A rock skittered from the creature’s hiding place as it shifted.
The human startled to a halt, peered round. The creature heard the prey’s heartbeat thudding, smelled his blood heating.
Food—
Like dark mercury, the monster unfurled from behind the boulder, fully showing itself. It flashed its teeth.
Heatfoodblood . . .
With a thin cry, the man tripped into a run, his hat toppling off his head. But the creature was faster—so much faster.
It sprang, arcing through the air, grasping its prey’s booted ankle and hauling him in.
“No—” the human begged, panting, clawing at the dirt for purchase and sending up abraded wisps of dust instead.
Beyond pity, the creature pulled at the man’s hair to expose his throat and, for one beautiful moment, the thing thrilled to the engorged strand of a jugular vein as it pounded.

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