The Gates of Byzantium
Author:Sam Sisavath
    (Book 2 in the Babylon Series)

    Prelude



    “HELLO. IF ANYONE can hear me out there. This is Song Island in Beaufont Lake in Louisiana. We are broadcasting on the FEMA frequency to any survivors. We want you to know there is hope. There are survivors on Song Island. We have food, supplies, electricity, and protection against the darkness. If you are receiving this recorded message, we encourage you to make your way to us. I repeat: we have food, supplies, electricity, and protection against the darkness. Hello. If anyone can hear me out there. This is Song Island in Beaufont Lake in Louisiana. We are broadcasting on the FEMA frequency…”





    Book One





    THE ROAD AGAIN





    CHAPTER 1


    JOSH




    PROS AND CONS: What were they?

    Pros: Finally, after crushing on Gaby since the sixth grade and following her adventures throughout middle school and high school, he was finally spending quality time with her. Best of all, she wanted to spend those times with him.

    Cons: They were surrounded by undead creatures, some of which might very well be their relatives and friends and neighbors and even, God forbid, teachers. That forced them to hide at night and move in the day. The creatures wanted them. Or, more specifically, the blood pumping through their veins. Another big con: The world had gone to hell, so there was no help coming from the state or the government or whoever was still out there. Which meant they were, for all intents and purposes, on their own.

    Conclusion: The pros win by a landslide.

    He guessed others might see it a little bit differently; but then again, others weren’t Josh. They didn’t live next door to Gaby. Of course, it could just be the hormones talking. The hormones ran wild when Gaby came up, and she came up often in his mind. He would be horrified if she ever knew that, but Josh took some comfort in the very real fact there were more dangerous things out there than his unbridled desire for Gaby.

    “Jesus, you’re gone again,” Matt said.

    Josh knew he was daydreaming as soon as Matt’s deep baritone voice reached him. He tried to play it off. “So are we doing this or what?”

    Matt chuckled. “Okay, kid, whatever you say.”

    Kid?

    That was rich coming from Matt, who was exactly seven months older than him. Not that being eighteen going on twenty, thanks to that unshaven jawline of his, mattered in the brave new world. Still, Josh wished he could sprout hair like that. It was genes. His father couldn’t grow a beard to save his life, and neither could any of his cousins.

    “I feel kind of bad,” Matt said. “Someone spent a lot of time on this.”

    “Seriously?” Josh said.

    “Yeah, don’t you?”

    “Nah.”

    Matt laughed. “Man, you’re cold. Were you always this cold before?”

    They were standing in front of a Thanksgiving mural, part of a corner grocery store window. Josh stared at a big pumpkin clutched dangerously tight in a young girl’s hands. The girl was wearing a one-piece Sunday picnic dress with a blue bow in her hair. People were serving meals and shaking hands and laughing around her. It was actually a pretty nice mural, drawn in some kind of watercolor that stayed on the glass. He didn’t know how that worked. How did watercolor even stay on glass months later?

    Matt picked up a rock from the sidewalk. He was a big kid, almost six feet tall, with a shaggy haircut getting longer every day. To look at him, you would think Matt played football, basketball, or maybe baseball. But he didn’t. No on all three. Matt wasted his size and spent his time…doing whatever the heck he did before all this. Josh didn’t even know Matt existed until eight months ago.

    “Well, sorry, window, but you had a nice run,” Matt said, and flung the rock.

    The window shattered into hundreds of pieces, taking half of the girl’s face with it. Matt picked up his baseball bat and batted down the rest of the girl’s face, along with other jagged shards clinging to the edges of the window frame.

    There was enough sunlight that they didn’t have to be afraid of what lurked inside the store. You always had to be careful with the shadows, even in broad daylight. The bloodsuckers were good at hiding. They usually slept in the daytime, but you couldn’t really count on that.

    They climbed inside, crunching glass underneath their sneakers. Josh slung the empty backpack over his right shoulder, hoping to find something to fill it up this time. Lancing, Texas, was not the biggest city in the state, but it was bigger than the podunk no-name town they had raided for food and supplies two months ago. There were enough stores and houses here to keep them happy for a while, but as always happened, they had to go farther and farther out of their comfort zone to find more.

    Josh headed straight for the back room. He could hear Matt moving around behind him, going through the shelves, grabbing bags of snacks and anything else that hadn’t expired yet. Josh could smell rotten vegetables and fruits to his right.

    The greens aisle, I presume.

    Greens weren’t going to be of much use now. It was all about non-perishables, and as much as grocery stores kept those on the shelves out front, they kept even more in the back. He wouldn’t have known that before; but then again, he rarely went into grocery stores looking for food in the “good old days.”

    He gripped the steel prying bar tightly in his right hand. The thing was bright blue, over fifty-six inches long and three and a quarter inches wide, with a slight angle at the end that made it easy to slip into tight crevices for prying. Thus, the name “prying bar.” It also served as a defensive or offensive weapon in a pinch.

    Josh didn’t need the bar on the back room door. It wasn’t locked, so he turned the doorknob first, then pulled it open slowly, revealing blackness inside. Just his luck, there wasn’t a single window in the whole room. Not even a tiny skylight to brighten the place up. It was pitch-black, and there was no telling what was hiding in there.

    Darkness had ceased being their friend a long time ago.

    He fished out his flashlight from one of the pockets along his cargo pants. He switched it on and moved it around the back room. Empty boxes on the floor, a mop and cleaning supplies, and what looked like a stack of used overalls.

    And there, way in the back, two shelves filled with thick, bulging boxes. His heart leaped in his throat.

    Jackpot.

    Josh thought about calling Matt over. Matt had the baseball bat and he was bigger, and if he went in first, well, they could find out if there really were any bloodsuckers hiding inside. Josh could stay outside and wait for the all-clear signal. If push came to shove, Josh could back away from the door, into the sunlight and safety. Matt, on the other hand…

    Shit, it’s not like I know the guy.

    He sighed. Yeah, like he could really do that. The lonely part of him, the one who spent all his nights at home surfing the web, might have been able to use Matt as bait. But the new him, the one who had befriended Matt and Gaby and escaped their shitty cubbyhole of a small town together, couldn’t.

    God help him, he had become fond of the big doofus.

    “Matt!” Josh shouted.

    “Yeah?” Matt called back.

    “I’m going into the back room.”

    “Be careful, man.”

    “If you hear me yelling like a little girl…”

    Matt laughed. “I gotcha back.”

    Josh leaned into the doorway and banged the bar against the wall, then listened to the echo waft through the room.

    “That you?” Matt, alarmed, shouted from behind him.

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