Five years ago, the war ended and Miami was given to the vampires. Five years ago, the US turned its back on those trapped behind the Wall – and life in the vampire kingdom has degenerated into a grisly struggle for survival.
When naive and impulsive Selah Brown leaves Brooklyn to search for her father in the dead heart of the vampire city, she discovers that nothing is as it was explained to the American public–and her search is subverted into a quest to expose the truth before the horrors of the city can claim her.
Yet what hidden talent could one young woman possess that would allow her to stand a chance?
Praise for Phil Tucker’s VAMPIRE MIAMI
“Seriously, this book kept me on the edge of my seat from the beginning. It dug its claws in deep and hung on until the bitter end.” – On A Book Bender
Selah sat hunched on her bus seat, staring out the window, music blaring from her headphones right into the center of her mind. As if volume could stop her thoughts, could ease the tightness in her chest and wash away the battery acid that flooded her stomach. Stared out the window at the bright Florida day, at the trees luxurious amidst the abandoned homes lining this side of the interstate, the occasional army truck or Humvee roaring past toward the border crossing. That was her destination, and coming ever closer with each passing minute. The border crossing in the wall that surrounded Miami, the edge where the US stopped and the vampire city began.
It still was unreal, being here, inside an actual deportation bus. In the videos she’d watched in both Mr. Condarcuri’s history class and on her own, the buses had always been filled with people, their gaunt and hollow faces caught by the cameras through the windows, collected from around the country and ferried to the border for whatever legal reason. That had been right after the war had ended and Miami and LA had been ceded to the vampires. It had been abstract for her, a source of surreal horror to watch but still strangely reassuring: the videos made her feel safe, untouchable, all the way up in New York City.
A touch on her shoulder and she startled. It was one of the four soldiers who’d been assigned as her escort at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, the only other passengers on the bus. Pulling off her headphones, Selah stared up at her, into blue eyes ringed with fatigue.
“We’re about five minutes away,” said the soldier, her voice quiet.
“Okay.” Selah tried to sound disinterested, despite the sudden fisting of her stomach. The soldier didn’t head back to her seat but instead stood there, looking down at her.
“What’s your name?” she asked at last.
“Selah,” she said after a beat of hesitation. Not like it was a secret.
“That’s a beautiful name,” said the soldier. “Mine’s Christina.”
Selah didn’t respond, but instead simply stared up at her in the manner that usually made high school teachers uncomfortable and jerks on the streets step back. She had grown sick this past month of having strangers offer sympathy, ask questions, give advice. She stared into the soldier’s blue eyes and tried to project a calm and maturity that she didn’t even come close to feeling.
The soldier’s smile faded but she didn’t seem fazed by Selah’s scowl. Instead she sat back on the arm of the seat behind her, steadying herself with one hand on the headrest.
“How old are you, Selah?”
“Can you leave me alone?” Selah felt her face flush. “You’re not my mother, I don’t know you, and I don’t want to talk.” She turned and stared out the window, not seeing the brilliant green trees that blurred by just past the crash barrier, the endless red rooftops. But the soldier didn’t get up.
“I hear you,” she said, sounding tired. “But I’ve passed up opportunities to speak in the past and come to regret it. So ignore me if you like, but I’ll speak my part, anyway.” Selah moved to replace her headphones, but something held her back.
“In about five minutes, we’ll get to the border crossing. You’ll be processed and then sent on through. Usually we’d drive you all the way down to Jackson Hospital where we’ve got our embassy set up, but it looks like you’re being picked up at the gate. So.”
The muted roar of the bus engine. Selah saw an old billboard rush past, featuring an attractive white woman in a colorful bikini. The musty smell of the cracked bus seats.
“Anyways, I just wanted to tell you to remember yourself. That probably sounds strange, but the rules in there are different. You know that, but what you might not know is that people change when nobody’s enforcing the law. Don’t forget who you are, is all, the things that make you you. Try not to let that city break you, make you somebody you’re not.”
Selah’s heart was racing now, her mouth dry. She turned to look at the soldier again. Christina’s face was pinched, her mouth a thin line, and this time she couldn’t hold Selah’s gaze. She looked away, down and to the side, and stood. Adjusted her heavy belt, took a sharp breath, nodded to Selah, and walked up to the front of the bus, her heavy boots clomping on the aisle floor. Selah watched her go. The bus began to slow. She looked past Christina, and saw through the front window of the bus the wall that surrounded Miami. They’d arrived. Trembling, she reached out and pulled her suitcase close to her side.
Everybody knew what the border gate looked like. It was infamous. Selah had seen it featured in countless memorials to those who died trying to escape during the Week of Shame while the Wall was being built, in endless documentaries, and even those two movies about the war that had come out last year. The border gate, where on the last day US soldiers had stood and fired upon the surging crowds as they attempted to break free. The machine gun turrets, the iron walls, the huge bales of barbed wire beyond it coiled ten feet high, the ditch dug eight feet deep to prevent cars and trucks from being rammed into it. The border gate, open now five years later as it processed people going in and the lucky few coming out.
Selah raised her father’s Omni and took a photograph out the window of the long line of the wall curving around the city. She pushed it to her public Garden for all to see, and whispered a caption to go with it: “Edge of the world. I’m going over, and I might never stop falling.” The Omni blinked as it sent the image out, and then the music resumed and the bus came to a stop, brakes wheezing.
Selah realized that she was holding her suitcase so tight, her hands hurt. She purposefully relaxed her grip, to take a breath. Her heart pounded like a rubber mallet against her ribs, and the words she’d just spoken into the Net echoed in her mind. This was it. A panicky urge to run, to somehow escape, choked at her throat, but she just sat there, turned to stone. How had she thought this a good idea? Believed that she could ever possibly learn about what had happened to her father by continuing his investigations? Numb, she watched through the front of the bus as they inched ever closer to the tollbooths before the gate proper.
There were two cars ahead of them in their lane. Selah wondered who they were. Almost nobody tried to enter so late in the day. She watched, mind blank as the soldier on duty checked the red car’s passports and papers, stamped them, waved them through. The silver Mercedes before them rolled up, presented papers that were also stamped, and then it was the bus’s turn. The bus inched forward and came to a stop.
There was a hissing of hydraulics as the accordion door folded open. Her soldier—Christina—rose to her feet as a second soldier climbed on board. He was Hispanic, his hair cut close to his skull, mouth a grim line. They nodded to each other as Christina handed him their passports and paperwork. He scanned them with quick efficiency, and then looked up for the first time and stared back at where Selah sat. His eyes were dark, hard, and Selah wanted to shrink into herself. No pity there. No compassion. Just processing her through.
“You’re good to go,” he said, and with that, turned and hopped out of the bus. The doors whistled closed, and the light before them turned from red to green. The crash bar jerked skyward, and the bus rumbled to life, began to move forward. Selah felt her calm begin to crumble, her cool façade shatter. This was it. She had envisioned this moment over and over again since the court order had come through granting her request to be placed in the custody of her grandmother here in Miami rather than a state orphanage. Now she was here, though, now that it was actually happening, she couldn’t handle it. With a wordless cry, Selah leaped to her feet, suitcase knocked into the aisle, and began to run down the center aisle of the bus. As the bus rolled onward, she ran to the back, trying to keep the tollbooth in sight, the land on this side of the gate. Christina called to her. Selah climbed onto the last seat, pressed her hands against the window, craning her head to see. The wheels rattled over the iron grates and the heavy iron wings of the wall plunged them into shadow as they drove through the gate—and they were through.
Selah slumped into the seat. She couldn’t think, couldn’t think over the hammering of her heart. She was in, and there was no going back. Selah realized she was trembling, not just her hands but her whole body. Outside the window everything looked the same as before, splashed in late afternoon sunlight, the gray and dusty interstate, the green trees amongst the buildings. But everything had changed. She saw a long line of vehicles waiting to be processed through the border gate. Army and Red Cross trucks, One World NGO vans, different vehicles belonging to volunteer groups, churches, hospitals. Leaving at the end of the day, leaving before night fell on the city and the gates were closed.
Her father’s Omni vibrated in her hand. Numbly she looked down and saw responses coming in from her friends. Sympathetic faces tiled the screen, seven already, four silently mouthing recorded messages of sympathy, over and over as the Omni waited for her to trigger each one and hear the actual words, three live as they waited for her to pick up the channel. Selah felt sick to her stomach and wiped them all off the screen. She didn’t want to hear anything right now, from anybody. It was all she could do to not cry. The music came back, but she turned it off as well. She wanted silence.
She studied the Omni. It was an old model, the rubber grips faded, the screen scratched. It made no sense that her father had left it behind; he never went anywhere without it. He’d either had no time to grab it, or had left it behind on purpose for her to find. If so, then he had wanted her to read his notes, his speculations on the Blood Dust trade, the level of government and military involvement in its trafficking. He hadn’t published anything, but Selah was sure that he’d been taken because of his investigation. Disappeared like so many others for violating President Lynnfield’s Censorship Laws. Selah rubbed her thumb slowly across the screen, and felt again the now familiar pang of pain, loss, and anger.
The bus drove a quarter of a mile, rumbling along steadily. Christina stared stoically ahead, and Selah examined the back of her head, wondering if she could persuade her to help. Her life back home had never seemed so distant, so unreal. She tried to think, but could only watch, and then the bus pulled off the I-95 onto an exit ramp. Opa Locka Blvd, the large green sign said, Exit 17. Down the ramp and then off the road onto a large cleared parking lot, newly flattened and with the remains of the old buildings mounted high as rubble along one far side and bus shelters along the other. Selah studied them as the bus driver slowly turned his huge steering wheel, hand over hand, and guided the bus to a stop in one of the great parking spaces. A number of people were resting in the shade, some lying down, others seated on benches. They watched the bus with empty stares, their bodies emaciated, their clothing ragged.
“Time to go, Selah,” said Christina from the front. Her voice had hardened. Selah sat still, her mind blank. “Selah,” said Christina, and began to walk back toward her, face grim.
She wanted to sit still, to never leave the bus, to remain frozen and forgotten there in the back, but then she thought how she must look. A little mouse, terrified and small. Her old anger flared up, the thick-headed part of her that made her do stupid things and say things she shouldn’t or get into trouble when it was so easy not to. She stood, lifted her chin, and looked Christina right in the eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’m coming.” Selah gathered her case from where it had tumbled to the floor, and pulled it up. It was heavy, but she pretended it wasn’t. “Let’s go.”
Christina held her gaze for a beat and then nodded. Turned, and walked back to the front. Selah followed, trying to not let her suitcase bang into every seat. The other soldiers had already stepped out onto the asphalt where they had formed a loose perimeter, rifles held by their sides. When she reached the front the old driver looked at her, his eyes deep and old and sad, and he nodded, a quick dip of his wrinkled face. “Good luck, little girl.”
Selah didn’t respond. She struggled down the bus steps instead, wrestling her suitcase down with both hands, and then stepped out onto the thick black loam of the tarmac and into the Florida air. Hot and humid and thick. Selah blinked as she looked around the bright, sunlit parking lot.
“All right,” said Christina, sorting through the papers in her folder. “Where’s your grandmother? Do you see her?”
“I’m right here,” said a voice, slow and powerful and familiar to Selah like a hand cupping her cheek, like a deep and wide river flowing ever by and allowing no denial. They both turned. Mama B walked up and placed her hands on her hips, ignored the soldier, and looked at Selah. They stared at each other, neither speaking nor moving. Her grandmother’s dreads had turned the color of iron, held back by a band at the nape of her neck, but her face was still as broad and confident as ever. She’d grown dark in the Florida sun, and wore a necklace of metal beads around her throat. Selah met her gaze haughtily, refusing to look away.
Finally, her grandmother pursed her lips and shook her head. “My, how you’ve grown, child.” There was in those words an infinite depth of sorrow and love that made Selah stiffen, planted a frown on her face so deep it might have been etched with acid. She opened her mouth to say a cutting retort but Mama B had already turned to Christina. “I’m her grandmother. Where do I sign?”
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