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At Dusk

by Roberto Sanhueza

The engine coughed and sputtered one final time and died as the last sun ray of the day disappeared behind the foliage of the trees that surrounded the highway.

“Damn!” said Miguel hitting the ancient dashboard with his fists.

“I checked this morning and everything was fine. I just don’t understand what went wrong with it!”

I didn’t say anything, although I felt a cold shiver starting to grow inside. Cars have a tendency to break this time of the day, close to sunset.

Trouble with the car had started about an hour ago and we were already half an hour late to make it to the shelter.

“What are we going to do, Ana?”

I just shrugged. “Try to make it to the Shelter on foot, I guess. We still have some daylight left and we are about 300 meters from it. We might get there before the vampires are out.”

“There are no vampires! Not anymore, anyway.”

“Then, what are you so afraid of? And what do we need Shelters for? I don’t see you walking out of the car.”

I could feel Miguel’s fear slowly turning to anger. Defense mechanism I guess. Trouble was, the only object for his anger was me.

“You know The Elders slew the last vampires five years ago, and Shelters are more of a ritual than actual need. Let’s just get off this piece of crap and start walking!”

But still he stayed behind the now-useless wheel.

The shadows had grown so long by then that they weren’t proper shadows any more, but mere blobs of growing darkness.

A piercing howl broke the unnatural silence of the woods.

“There are no more wolves, either.” I said, sullenly crouching even deeper in my seat.

Miguel’s anger had risen high enough on his scale to overcome his fear, so he just slammed his door open and stepped out.

My heart skipped a beat. He was going to try it! My brave fool of a mate was actually going to the Shelter on foot!

So I followed. No way I was going to wait for nightfall alone in the car.

We weren’t actually running, but we weren’t walking either.

The old highway was still in acceptable condition, but holes the car could take in its stride might very well break our legs in the waning light.

So we didn’t run, but we desperately wanted to. Silence shrouded the world and lay like a heavy blanket. Not even a cricket to be heard.

“Do you see it yet? The Shelter, I mean,” I asked just to break the ominous silence. I could have seen the Shelter just as easily as Miguel.

He didn’t answer, but stopped dead in his tracks instead.

“What is it? Keep on going! We’re almost there!”

“The Token! I left my Token in the car!”

The knot in my gut tightened a notch further. “I’ve got mine in my pocket, let’s both try to get in with it.”

“It won’t work. The Gate won’t let me in. I’ve got to go back to the car.”

“I’m going with you!”

“No you’re not!”

He took my hand and spoke with a softness I hadn’t heard in his voice for a long time. “I really won’t be long. You just go on and get into the Shelter.”

He looked to the sky and shook his head, a sad smile on his face. “I’ve still got about five minutes of light before it’s entirely dark. Besides, there are no vampires anymore, remember? Get going!”

And he turned back and started running.

The words of warning died in my mouth. No use in telling him not to run on the broken pavement any more, was there?

The howl shattered the silence and sounded much closer than before.

I started running too, the other way.

Maybe it was my fear playing tricks on my senses; maybe it was for real, but I felt and almost heard light and muffled steps keeping up with my speed, running through the woods.

The chanting... was it real? Perhaps not but I heard it inside my head. Evil laughter with contained lust, just waiting for the last light to die.

I slid the Token into the Proper Slot and the Gate opened as the first star appeared.

The Gate closed behind me with a thunderous clang and I collapsed on the floor.

The howling was deafening now and it seemed to come from right out of the Gate.

“Up, you fool!” I screamed at myself. “No time for weakness! Get the actinic lamps outside going and buy Miguel some more time!”

This Shelter was new to me, but all Shelters are pretty much the same. Still it took my maddeningly numb fingers a whole minute to find the switch.

I kicked it savagely, and as it went up I heard a thump against the gate and the howling died.

Silence returned for a couple of seconds and then a heart-piercing scream sounded for another couple of seconds, only to die abruptly.

Shelters have no windows; so I couldn’t know if the lights were working or not, I couldn’t know if Miguel had found his Token and had made it to the safety of the artificial daylight around the Shelter.

If the lights were working.

All I did know is that I wasn’t going to open the Gate to check.

That was two hours ago, and Miguel hasn’t returned.

Maybe he didn’t find his Token after all but made it to the Shelter’s lights in time and he is outside, waiting for dawn in the cold night and knowing I’m not going to open the Gate, no matter what.

I tell myself “There are no more vampires! Open the damned gate!”

But I can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m sorry my dear Miguel but I just can’t.

Oh Gods it’s going to be a long night.

Copyright © 2007 by Roberto Sanhueza

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