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There is a creature, the Shadow, call it a vampire. It lives and sleeps in a cocoon in Earth’s orbit. Every so often it falls to Earth to feed; always in a remote area of a warzone to minimize its chance of getting noticed. It moves impossibly fast: Heads, arms, legs, were separated from bodies as if by a pair of razored blades, and wherever a wound opened red, there was the thing’s splintered maw, drinking the blood like a kid stooping to a water fountain.

There are two story strands running in parallel. One tells of Davis, a soldier serving in Iraq in 2004. He first encounters the Shadow when it attacks his squad out on patrol, eviscerating half of them and crippling the rest in just moments. Davis survives with a broken spine and ribs, and is gradually patched back together in hospital. In the months that follow he re-learns how to use his legs, while seeing his squad-mates’s heads being effortlessly crushed over and over. The other three survivors of his squad had offered him the dubious reassurance that, if he was still delusional, he was in good company, a cold comfort made chillier still by Lee, his meds approaching the proper levels, corroborating their narrative…

The second story strand takes place over the course a single night. The squad survivors are together, as healed from the attack as they’ll ever be. They’re sitting around a campfire in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the Shadow to appear. In the intervening time since the first story strand they have figured out the Shadow’s methodology and next likely target. And while they don’t know for sure what will kill the creature – what can injure something that endures the heat of re-entry – they’ve armed themselves with as many weapons as they can.

Davis reached into his duffle bag to his left and withdrew what appeared to be a three foot long piece of white wood, tapered to a point sharp enough to prick your eye looking at it. […] “They’re made out of an industrial resin, inch-for-inch, stronger than steel. Each one has a high-explosive core.” […]

“I was mistaken,” the Lieutenant said. “It appears we will be using stakes, after all.”

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky by John Langan

Availability: print, e-book

Word count: 14,000

First published: By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams, 2009, Night Shade Books

Where else to find it: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2010 Edition, edited by Paula Guran, 2010, Prime Books (e-book available from Weightless Books here)

Vampires: The Recent Undead, edited by Paula Guran, 2011, Prime Books (e-book available from Weightless Books here)

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