Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
“You, um, said the trees are vampires?” Sally kept her voice carefully neutral. She believed me when I almost saw a fairy.
Lavinia nodded. “Or maybe vampires isn’t the right word. But they were whatever I am now.” She shook her head in wondering disbelief. “They fell so in love with the sun and the earth and shit, they turned into trees.”
Lavinia levitated to her feet in that disturbingly inhuman glide and went back to stroking clefts and folds of wood. “Oh my beautiful sisters and brothers,” she sang, eyes closed. As Sally watched in amazement, Lavinia flitted from tree to tree, touching them, crying, climbing several feet up to put her face against a burl which had erupted like boiling sugar from the side.
Finally she sank down against the side of the forest giant that had given her the splinter, eyes filled with distance and longing. Sally felt a vague disquiet that she couldn’t identify. Kneeling beside Lavinia, she put out a tentative hand and touched her shoulder. Lavinia stroked her hand absently but affectionately.
“I, um,” Sally began, flustered for some reason, “I guess I don’t know what to do with the information that these trees, uh, used to be vampires. Are you likely to … to go that way anytime soon?”
She’d intended the question flippantly but it seemed to snap in the still air and something seized in her as she waited for an answer.
Lavinia looked startled. “Don’t think so. But this maybe says something how wood kills vampires. Maybe any one of ‘em gets staked, they die of happiness.”
Sally’s nose wrinkled. “I’ve staked enough vampires to know they don’t turn into trees, babe.” The statement came out with more scorn than she’d intended, she was so relieved to hear Lavinia say she wasn’t contemplating moving on from this life.
Lavinia grinned her dear old grin. “Yeah, theory’s prob’ly bullshit. But at least maybe that’s the “wrong” I sensed in that stake you let me hold. Piece of a former vampire, forced to become a killer of vampires?” As she said it out loud, she shook her head. “I dunno, sounds like bullshit again.”
Every time Sally nearly lost Lavinia, she found the bonds of love more silver-corded firm. Melting while listening to Lavinia theorize, she lost track of what was actually being said. I proposed to her, she remembered, reliving the rush of intense feeling which had let her throw herself off that cliff. Though they had called each other wife many times since then, they had made no move to actually get married. There was always some crisis, some event to plan, some aggravating Midwestern closeted-lesbian dipshit to cater to.
Watching Lavinia talk, she thought about actually getting married. They’d have to tell their surviving parents and Sally’s mom didn’t want to know anything about her sex life; she would instead have a list of young Chinese men in the neighborhood that Sally would surely like better. Lavinia’s mom, on the other hand, would want to fly out and dance at Lavinia’s wedding but was too frail to travel and so they’d have to go to her. (Though she lived in Florida following Lavinia’s stated principle that all retired Jews must move to Florida, Rachael Starr was a mystical ex-hippy and dancer who had named her only daughter Lavinia Lyte Tremain Starr after Johnny Tremain’s mother in the classic children’s book which she still adored.)
Would the word “wife” have the same intensity when they were actually married or would it dull into familiarity?
Lavinia was looking at her, lips quirked in amusement.
“Sorry, love, what did you just say?” Sally asked, embarrassed.
“I said, you haven’t heard a word I’ve just said, have you? That would be agreement, then, huh?”
“Um, that would be agreement. I was thinking how scared I was to nearly lose you again and I just got lost in loving you.”
“Thought it was somethin’ like that. Your face gets a kind of wet puppy look.” She squeezed Sally’s hand affectionately.
“I’m thinking,” said Sally slowly, “that it might be time for you to do me.” The sexual term had become their slang for make me a vampire. “If only we could be sure about the nightmares…” Lavinia still had to fight her way out back to humanity when she woke from sleep.
She suddenly remembered that she had something to tell Lavinia, and she rushed into it before Lavinia’s reluctant expression could hurt her feelings. “Baby, when you collapsed, I finally remembered where I’d heard that moaning scream before. And I think it’s important.”
Lavinia nodded, face cryptic.
“That nightmare, in the camper, when I came and rescued you from … whatever?”
“Aint likely to forget that, no.” Lavinia picked at scraps of sap and soft tree bark on her clothes.
“Well, I’d forgotten until just now that it started with me in some vast, dark room. I knew there was something ancient and awful under the floor of that room. That’s when I heard that low moan of horror that grew into a scream. And right when I heard it, just before the dream moved on, I got a flash of something that felt absolutely vital, like it was the center of everything. The center of the whole vampire plague.”
Lavinia’s expression altered. Was that pain or dawning awareness on her face?
“I saw a young man,” Sally continued, watching Lavinia curiously. “I knew he was a hiker, I don’t know how I knew, but he was lying dead in the overgrowth at the foot of a ruined stone wall in a dark black forest. It was just a glimpse, then the nightmare moved on to me looking for you and rescuing you. Something about you lying at the foot of the tree just now and me rushing through craziness to save you finally brought it back.
“Maybe it’s not important,” she went on, embarrassed as she always was when she talked about her dreams. “But I remember you said once for some reason, Dead men don’t talk, and I thought then ‘that dead guy is talking to all of us.’ The despair you keep hearing is coming from that guy. I knew it, and then I got distracted and forgot again.”
Lavinia nodded, still looking like someone listening to a distant voice. “It occurs to me, tiger, you’ve heard those moaning screams each time we make some breakthrough.” Her voice grew excited. “The one in the nightmare was just before I walked and flew in the daylight. The one at the rally was when we showed the world me flying. The one just now? I was that close to learning the secret of the trees.”
Warmed by Lavinia’s excitement Sally exclaimed, “Yes, yes! It all makes sense. I’m as sure as anyone can be that if we could find that guy, we’d hold the secret of what started the vampire plague and how to end it. If we only knew where in the world he was.”
Lavinia said softly, “I could take you there…”
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