Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Lavinia lay with her head propped at an awkward angle by an arm-like root of the biggest redwood. Her eyes were wide but Sally, scrambling in painfully slow motion across the slanting ground, couldn’t tell whether that was good or bad. As on the night when her hand moved to the chest of the fallen Lavinia to feel for a heartbeat, twin futures stretched before Sally.
And in that endless moment when either future was equally possible, she grasped one memory clearly. She knew at last where she had heard that nightmarish moaning scream before.
She landed on her knees at Lavinia’s side, not feeling the scattered branches pressing into her flesh. In another instant, one of the two futures would become real.
Her arms stretched out as if to pull Lavinia bodily back from a force which was implacably snatching her away.
Jeremy Paxton looked glumly at his smart phone. For weeks he’d been recording desultory videos, saying nothing really. He didn’t know who he was anymore, or what he believed. He hadn’t answered Sister Amanda’s calls and had been “sick in bed” when his former companions came to talk to him.
They’d never understand what he’d done. He himself didn’t understand what he’d done.
He touched the video button, blerp.
“I saw something yesterday, friends, that made me shudder.” His old tone sounded phony but he didn’t know what else to say. “No, that made me outraged,” he continued, trying to feel outrage instead of frightened loneliness. “I saw a vampire being applauded by a crowd for getting naked and flying.”
His imagination flared at the word naked, dwelled on Lavinia’s naked body, on fantasies of what the Chinese girl, Sally, would look like naked or in some leather or vinyl outfit (his imagination stumbled on precise details) on her knees before Lavinia. Or before him.
He ploughed on. “I don’t know how she flew but are we supposed to be happy that vampires are getting more powerful? If she turned into a bat first, what, would we have, have been even more ecstatic?”
Jesus, how clumsily could he possibly talk! “These monsters are gaining a foothold in our home. The Earth is our home! And we have to kick them off! No more loving up vampires!”
But as he said that, the memory shoved in, too glaring to ignore. He turned off the recorder, put his hands over his face and lived again that night at the plaza when he’d compromised all his ideals.
He was at the very edge of Malcolm’s plaza “home.” Over the hissing of the vampires he heard a thick New York voice saying “darling wife, darling wife,” comforting Sally, the sister of the dead vampire.
Sister Amanda finished smoothing the sad little face of the blond, Asian vampire into something like peace. She stood and walked compassionately through the throng of vampires, who closed in behind her but couldn’t touch her because, as she’d said moments before, wherever she walked she was with her Beloved and so was in a home.
Jeremy couldn’t imagine feeling so at home anywhere.
KerriAnne lay where Sister Amanda had gently placed her, just inside the barrier.
He looked without conscious plan at this vampire who might have helped him find that mocking devil who had first called “push him out to us and we will let you live.” The stake protruded from her chest, glistening with whitish fluid. He put his hand on it. It was cold, wet, nasty.
Not sure if he intended anything, he tugged a little at the sharp end. His hand slipped but the stake moved, grating nauseatingly against a rib, and a thrum of power like a gasp of terror went through the body.
Jeremy’s breath went “huhh” and “huhh” again. If anyone saw him, if Keevian suddenly called, “Fuck you doin’, man?” or if Sister Amanda walked back through the barrier and put her hand on him, he would instantly stop, explain that he was just testing the wood in some way.
But he heard Sister Amanda’s voice trying to comfort Sally and he heard the New York voice say clearly, “No offense but fuck off.” The wall of vampires blocked him from anyone’s view.
Still inventing explanations, he nervously gripped the protruding wood with both hands, his left hand pressing into the side of the girl’s (vampire’s!) soft breast. He had never touched a woman’s breast before. Breathing hard, face red, furtive and ashamed, he worked the stake back and forth until in one crunching slide, pulling the front of the vampire’s blouse tenting out, the stake came free and was loose in his hands.
He stared at it for a moment, this piece of slippery wood which seemed unconnected to anything else. Did the vampire have a real heart, a fist-sized muscle, like he’d seen in biology class videos? Would it knit itself back together after being ripped open by the wood?
Almost casually, his gaze wandered down from the stake to the vampire herself. Her chest first: still with a hole torn in her blouse, through which ragged ends of pale flesh hung limply together, showing no signs of healing. Not sure whether he was relieved or disappointed, he looked at the vampire’s face.
A pair of frightened eyes looked into his.
Her body started to move. Hands trembling with shock, he fumbled the stake around so that it pointed at her again. “Don’t you move,” he whispered harshly. “I, I’ll kill you dead again.”
She went still. It came to Jeremy that the vampire magic had been about to throw her out of the plaza “home” and he had stopped it by telling her to be still. She was completely in his power.
He had looked on the faces of hundreds of the evil undead. Bandon and Satsuki had both killed a few, though Jeremy hadn’t. But he had never seen a vampire frightened.
Of him. She was afraid of him. He was elated; he felt as powerful as a giant.
“I’ll do whatever you say,” said a little girl’s voice in a small breathless gasp. The mocking laugh and haughty words like “You will all die unless you send her out to me” were gone. The eyes staring at him were soft and liquid as a kitten’s, her hips quivered and Jeremy was suddenly aware of how sexy she was. Between the jolt of lust, the rage at vampires, the confusion and self-loathing at what he was doing and the helpless urge to kiss this sweet face that now stared at him with what seemed to be naked longing, he froze, paralyzed.
The vampire saw all this and Sally could have told Jeremy several things about KerriAnne and her ways. But there was nothing crafty on her face or he would never have done what he did next. She only seemed familiarly and sadly comfortable with helplessness as she waited, shaking, for his next command.
Aware that he only had seconds, and sure that the others would never let him walk out with her as his prisoner, he hissed, “This is what you’re going to do. You’ll help me find him. You’d better help me find him. But you have to get out of here for now. Crawl out and disappear in the crowd, get lost. But tonight, midnight, you come to my house.” He repeated the address twice. By midnight his parents would be in bed. “Be there, at midnight. Or I’ll kill you. Do you promise?” He put the stake back to her heart so that the slippery point touched the ragged edge of serrated flesh.
She cringed back, mouthing the words, no, no, please don’t, I’ll be gone, no, no. Had she meant to say, I’ll be good? Oh, what was he doing?
He pulled the stake back, seeing the way her chest heaved and poked out her perfect breasts (even the damaged one still filled her blouse beautifully). She gasped with relief and watched him, eyes shining, lips wet. He still hesitated, aware on some level that he was being a fool. Once she was gone, what would force her to keep any stupid asshole promise? But she whispered, “I’ll be there. Just like you say. Anything for you, anything.”
And he motioned with the stake. “Go. Now. Leave this home. Get lost. But be at my house at midnight. I’ll, I’ll let you in.” Was he crazy??
She slithered, half crawling, half pushed by his command to leave this home. She was gone. The crowd of vampires swallowed her up. Face red, neck buzzing, feeling like he would pass out, he looked furtively around. Nobody had seen. It must have been meant to be. Otherwise, how could you explain that nobody had seen any of this?
Oh, please, he begged silently, let no one look this way for just a few more minutes. He was so hard his testicles ached and he was as guilty as Judas. He couldn’t bear to see Sister Amanda’s wholesome, loving face. He crawled several feet away to the iron grillwork surrounding a city tree, dropped the guilty stake into it, and wiped his slippery hands. Then he leaned against the slender, bendable trunk.
It was so fragile, it would surely break if he leaned too hard.
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