The sunset was beautiful. Absolutely spectacular, the sky painted in shades of red and orange and purple and pink. But Christina was counting the minutes until it ended, until every last trace of color disappeared from the sky.

The vampires liked the dark, she knew. The full dark, not the feeble twilight dark. She let her hands trail over the stakes in her belt. Six of them. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t encounter more than six vampires. If she was unlucky… well, she didn’t know what would happen then.

Grim reality, though — if she ran into more than six vampires, she wouldn’t make it to morning. She tried to pay attention to the sunset. It could be her very last one, she ought to appreciate it. She ought to be saying her prayers, her gratitude for the day, as she entrusted her soul to the care of the lord, asked his blessing on her endeavors.

She let her hand drift up to the cross at her neck. She was wearing it, but she didn’t believe. Didn’t believe it would work to protect her against the vampires and didn’t believe in the religion it symbolized. If there was a god, why the hell would he let vampires infest the earth? If there was a god, what was he thinking?

Maybe it didn’t matter if she believed. Maybe the symbol would work if the vampires did.

If all went as planned, the first vampire she would encounter definitely believed.

Maybe Christina was wearing the cross for her.

The colors in the sky were finally starting to dim. Christina rolled her shoulders, stretched her neck, shifted from side to side, rose on her toes. Tiny little stretches, nothing big. She didn’t want to be seen. Not by anyone human, anyway. Not by anyone who would demand she hurry in to safety, not by anyone who might risk their own life to save someone that they saw as a girl, defenseless and in need of protecting.

Christina wasn’t defenseless. She tapped the backpack at her feet. It was stuffed full, all the garlic she could buy, plus an entire twelve pack of bottled purified water. She wasn’t sure the water would do much, really. She’d looked it up on the internet, trying to find out what you needed to do to water to make it holy, but the internet wasn’t sure. Wikihow gave her a recipe for making her own and she’d followed it, but Wikipedia claimed it would be no good unless an actual priest blessed it. Were there even any priests left?

Still, it didn’t matter. The garlic, the purified water, the cross, the stakes — none of them were her real weapons. They might be the tools of the trade for classic vampire hunters, but those stories were old. Vampire hunting needed to evolve with the times.

It was getting cooler. A chill breeze blew across the water. Christina retreated, ducking closer to the house, deeper under the bush by the front door.

She ran through her plan in her head for the hundredth time. Everyone said the right strategy, the only strategy, was to kill the vampires in their sleep, to stake them through their heart while they were unconscious during the day, then to saw off their head and separate the head from the body. But Christina had tried that. She hadn’t been able to do it.

She was going to go for a direct attack instead. Full-frontal assault. Maybe it wasn’t the best way, maybe it was stupid, but it was the only chance she had.

She licked her lips. Her mouth felt dry. She should drink some of the water. But she pressed up against the house and listened. Could she hear movement inside?

The vamps always came out at night. Sometimes one at a time as they went their separate ways, sometimes more than one, if they were hunting together. She thought she could take a couple of them, but she hoped it would be one at a time.

The colors had faded out of the sky. The last noises of daytime had gone with them. It was night now, full night. And dark.

It used to be, when Christina was little, that this street along the lake would be lit up at night, bright lights in every window, streetlights shining down on the road. From across the lake, she’d been able to see more lights, and sometimes hear music. She used to lie in bed at night and tell herself stories about the people across the way, making up fabulous adventures for them, to go with the music and their fancy houses.

Most of them were probably dead now, of course. At least the ones who hadn’t been turned. And people didn’t leave lights on at night anymore. It would be like painting a giant target on your house, saying “Vampire Buffet Inside. Come Get It!” Survivors weren’t so stupid.

Christina shivered. She should have worn a heavier jacket. She hadn’t expected it to be so cold. But her heavier jacket would get in her way, anyway. She needed to be fast, mobile, quick. She needed to attack like lightning.

Not that she could ever be as fast as a vampire. The stories didn’t do justice to how fast they could move. Christina had seen them attack before and they moved in the blink of an eye, so fluid, so dynamic. So slithery.

She grimaced. So inhuman. Mostly that was what they were. So inhuman.

She could hear noise. It might just be her heart beating, pounding louder in her ears than it was supposed to. But it might be movement, too.

The door to the house opened.

Christina stopped breathing.

A blonde woman stepped out.

Christina bit her lip as the woman started down the steps into the driveway, her hand tightening on the can in her pocket.

The door closed behind the woman. She was alone.

It wasn’t a prayer, exactly. Christina didn’t know who she’d be praying to. But silently, gratefully, Christina sent words of thanks, into the empty air. She emerged from the bushes.

“Hi, Mom.” The words came out as a squeak so Christina cleared her throat and tried again. “Hi, Mom.”

The blonde vampire whirled, her mouth opening, her fangs showing pure white against the red of her lips. “Christina! What are you doing here?”

Christina lifted the pepper spray and pushed the nozzle.