Prologue: Mark Jones, September 14th, Year 0

Crushing a throat is not as easy as it seems. The thyroid cartilage—the medical term for the “Adam’s apple”—can wiggle or move out of the way if you don’t hit it just right. An off-angle hit will just move it, causing a moderate amount of pain and a gag reflex. When fighting something stronger and faster than you, you’re playing the percentages; you don’t have time to waste on a blow that may only be an annoyance. I’d already hit the vampire with enough force to knock down a human, but it hadn’t budged. So instead of trying to crush the vampire’s throat, I chose to rip it out.

If you grab the Adam’s apple like I was planning to, it’s exposed without bone or muscle protecting it. In positioning my right hand as if reaching for a cup, I imagined I was reaching for the vamp’s spinal cord, placing my thumb to one side of its Adam’s apple and my fingers to the other side. It was charging at me as fast as it could. I went into the classic thrust position of fencing—left leg pointing straight behind me, left knee locked, and left foot braced perpendicular to the line of my leg. My shoulders were in line with my legs—right arm straight, elbow locked, and shoulder positioned so the entire weight of my body was supporting my arm.

The force of my braced body hit the resistance of the vamp’s throat. The momentum of its charge helped push my fingers and thumb deep into its neck between the thyroid cartilage and the muscles on either side. I’m only human, so my fingers bounced off the vamp’s spinal cord, but by then, it had realized that something was wrong. That bounce allowed me to flex my fingers and grip the thyroid cartilage from behind and, as the vamp instinctively pulled away, I ripped the thyroid cartilage out. A burst of arterial blood drenched my face. I had torn one of the vampire’s carotid arteries along with its throat.

The vamp I was fighting had been expecting easy prey. It had no reason to believe I would be different from any other human it had encountered. Having its throat pulled out stunned it and gave me the few seconds I needed to wrap my left hand around the back of its head, grabbing its chin from behind. With the palm of my right hand on the far side of its chin, I rolled the vampire’s head back, extending and twisting my whole body. If the vamp hadn’t been stunned, or if it had resisted me, I don’t think I could have snapped its spine. Its hesitation gave me the split second I needed as I rotated its head. Once I’d turned his head around backwards, I felt a sharp snap. The vamp went limp. Yesterday, I would have stopped at this point but a lot had happened in the last day and I was paranoid. Yesterday, I didn’t believe in vampires and now I was killing one.

I’m a product of American pop culture. I’ve read vampire books and watched vampire movies. According to some of the books, you have to spike a vampire’s heart with a wooden stake and cut off its head to be sure it’s dead. So I kept twisting the vamp’s head like it was the cap on a cheap bottle of wine. The resistance against the twisting at first increased a lot, then suddenly decreased. I got out a folding knife and cut its head off. By then, the vamp’s neck muscles, ligaments, and bones had been severely traumatized. It was easy to cut off its head. Its body was hot to touch. Instead of the normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for a human, it felt like it was at least 120 degrees.

I looked around. I didn’t see a piece of wood that I could use as a stake. Last summer I visited Teotihuacan, the ruins near Mexico City. The guide I hired at the time took particular pleasure in describing how the Totonac priests who had built this city cut out the hearts of the sacrificial victims. The guide explained that the Aztecs came after the Totonac and learned how to cut out hearts from them. Remembering what the guide described. I took my knife and cut between the left third and fourth ribs. Then I reached with both hands into the cut and pulled up and out on the ribs. The rib cage is designed to resist compression forces or blows from the outside, but not to resist forces from the inside. The ribs pulled out with surprising ease. I cut out the exposed heart. With its head cut off and its heart outside its body, I was sure this vamp wasn’t going to reanimate.

I suddenly realized that my whole body was trembling. I slowly lowered myself to the ground. My legs were weak and it was either sit down or fall down. I had blood on my hands, face, neck, and chest. I think some blood got into my eye, and none of that blood was mine. Man, I hope that whatever bug, virus, or bacteria creates vamps is in its saliva not its blood or else I’m screwed.

I knew I should be washing blood off me right away but all I could do was shake.

Chapter 1