Chapter 11: The gentle art of persuasion
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
There’s a note on my chest when I wake up. It’s from Love. Tonight’s the night.
I swing over to the pool hall. Neither Darlene nor Scratch is in. I try to just leave a message with Shorty, but he drags me over to the table where Flora, Darlene’s girlfriend, is sitting. By now, I’ve seen enough of Flora to know she really is female, even if she doesn’t dress that way. Tonight, she’s dressed like the high school version of what Scratch usually wears. It’s hard not to think of her as a kid. She says to me, “Darlene should be back in an hour, Ned.”
I shake my head. “Can’t stay, Flora. Tell Darlene I appreciated the lessons, but I don’t think I’ll be back any time soon.”
I start to turn away, but Flora grabs at me. She’s never said an unnecessary word to me before, but this time she looks up at me and says, “Let’s take a walk outside, Ned.” Nonplussed, I stand aside as she gets up and leads me out the front of the pool hall and down the street a short distance.
“This is far enough,” Flora announces. I turn to face her, which requires looking down. It’s funny: Flora is short, but after Martha, no one else seems really short. Flora looks up at me with real concern. She says to me, “Scratch tells me things, Ned, things he wouldn’t tell Darlene. Don’t get yourself killed in a sorcerer’s fight, Ned. Mind what Scratch told you.” She gives me a wink, turns, and heads back to the pool hall.
I head off, wondering about Flora. Scratch tells her stuff he doesn’t tell Darlene? I wouldn’t have thought it. She looks young and stupid. I guess I don’t really know much about Flora, or her relationship to Darlene. But now is not the time to figure it out. I’ve got my business and Love’s to deal with.
I go up by bus to the apartment house where Love lives, carrying my gun. I might need it to deal with Martha. Love is out back, standing beside a station wagon. That’s our transportation, she tells me, once we subdue Martha. My job is to be a distraction and target when Martha arrives, so that Love can put some sort of magical necklace on Martha. This, she assures me, will put Martha out cold.
So I take up a seat in one of the first floor rooms where they’re passing around roaches. Jenny is there, and wants me to feed on her in public. I’m not comfortable with feeding on her at all. That previous experience was far too weird, and far too pleasurable. Yet although I start to tell her “no,” I find myself instead standing up and doing to her pretty much what I did to her the previous time. It’s just as pleasurable to both of us as it was the first time. I take Jenny almost to the point of passing out before releasing her. She gives me a contented smile.
I look around. Everybody else in the room has left, except for Love, who’s standing in the doorway. She crooks her finger at Jenny. Jenny turns as if in a trance. Love says to her, “Jenny, why don’t you go to the kitchen and get something to eat and then take a nap?” Jenny just nods and heads out of the room. Once she’s gone, Love turns to me with a knowing smile and says, “You looked a bit stressed, Ned, so I wanted you to mellow out. I expect Martha will be along in a few minutes.” And then she follows Jenny out into the hallway.
I do feel better, I have to admit. Yet it bothers me that being a vampire can be so enjoyable. Love implied I could figure out how to make taking blood that enjoyable on my own. I’m not sure I want to learn. I make a point of releasing my enthrallment of Jenny.
Martha turns up about fifteen minutes later. Love ushers her into the room.
Martha sees me. She turns shadowy and vicious. I expect her to dash across the room at me, but she doesn’t. Instead, she comes marching across at a steady pace, as if she’s planning an execution. She does not say a word
My left hand has healed completely. I manage to fake Martha out, get in one good jab with my left, knock her down, and jump on top of her. And that’s the last good move I pull. Because it turns out that Martha is still stronger and faster than me, and in about a minute we’ve turned over. Martha brings her fist smashing down onto my chest. It feels like a heart attack. I can’t think, can’t fight. I see her hit me again. The pain is overwhelming. I can’t even see any more.
I wait for the next blow, but it doesn’t come. Seconds go by. I’m still alive. My chest hurts like hell, but I’m still alive. I open my eyes. Hadn’t realized I’d closed them. Great fighter you were, Ned. Martha’s astride me, her arms hanging limply at her side. Her face is blank, her eyes glassy and sightless. She’s trying to say something, but can’t. Love’s enchanted necklace is on her.
It takes me a minute or two to even try to move. I finally sit up, feeling every rib, muscle, bruise, and pain imaginable in my chest, spill Martha off of me, and stand up. I hurt.
Love looks at me anxiously. “You going to be all right, Ned?”
I shake my head. Even that makes my chest hurt. Martha can hit. I think she was trying to break my sternum and crush my heart.
Love comes over, stands behind me, wraps her arms around me, and squeezes. It hurts even worse for a second. And then I don’t care. I feel so good I don’t care about anything.
It’s Love’s voice. I open my eyes. She’s standing in front of me.
“Ned,” she says, “you took some internal damage but you’ll be all right. I used magic to take away some of the pain. But it won’t last. We need to get moving.”
I smile at her. “Anything you say, Love.” I don’t do anything. I feel too good to bother doing anything.
Love swears, snaps her fingers in front of my face. “Snap out of it, Ned. You want me to show you drinking your sister’s blood again?”
That snaps me out of it. I pick Martha up and carry her out to the car. She squirms a bit, keeps trying to say something, but can’t seem to shake Love’s spell.
Love is with me as I toss Martha in the back of the station wagon. She looks worried. She looks at Martha, and then says to me, “She shouldn’t be awake at all. That should have put her completely to sleep. Shit, Ned, I don’t think it’s going to hold her for long.”
All I can think to say is, “Got a plan B?”
She shakes her head. “I’ll have to stay in back with her, Ned, to try to keep her under. You’ll have to drive.”
“Yeah, that will work, except I don’t know where we’re going.”
“Madison, Ned. Wisconsin. I’ll stick directions in your head as we get close. Got it?”
I got it. Love climbs in. I shut the back door, go around to the driver’s side, and climb in.
The drive is a nightmare. Every so often, Martha lets loose with some new noise, making me wonder if she’s breaking loose. About half those times, Love sends me a telepathic message asking if we can go any faster. During the last hour of the drive, Love’s magic on my body wears off, and my chest throbs with pain in time to my heart beat. Doesn’t help I take a few wrong turns, despite Love’s directions. Four hours of misery.
We get to the destination, carry Martha into the basement of the house Love selected, put Martha on the cement floor. She’s squirming a lot, shows signs that she sometimes can see things, but doesn’t seem to want to talk any more. I interpret that as a bad sign.
Love takes up a position at the far end of the basement from Martha, tells me to stand off to the side. She shouts to Martha, “I’m going to release the spell, Martha. And then we are going to talk about why I did this.” Martha answers with a howl.
“That’s encouraging,” I say.
Love gives me a frown. “You picked a great moment to discover a sense of humor, Ned.” She turns toward Martha. “Here goes.”
I think maybe I feel the magic go through the room. But that might just have been mixed up with the roar coming from Martha as she breaks free and gets up.
I’ve seen Martha vicious. But this time, she’s so vicious–looking that she resembles a wild animal, a wild animal with rabies and a grudge. She shoots across the room toward us so fast, I know Love will not be able to react in time. So I move, too late, to interfere.
Just as well I didn’t move any sooner. Suddenly a bright light flashes out from Love, so bright I can’t look and fall back. I hear Martha screech loudly and smell something horrible. This goes on for ten, maybe fifteen seconds.
The light goes off. I drop my hands from shielding my eyes and look. Love’s still standing there, some sort of mirror in her hand, pointing toward Martha. Martha is halfway back across the floor, on her hands and knees. There’s something wrong with her, but she gets up and charges Love again before I can make out what has happened to her.
The light flashes on again. This time I’m ready, and shield my eyes. So I see Martha caught full in the light, screeching even worse than before. And then I see something worse.
I can see flames rising up from her flesh. I can see her clothes blacken and disintegrate. I can see her flesh turn red and black, and what even looks like blood boiling out of her skin. Burning as she is, she’s still trying to move forward, to attack Love. It’s as if the light isn’t just burning her, but also pushing her back. I see her give ground, screaming in rage as she does so.
Finally Martha collapses, and the light goes off. We’re left with the light from the bulbs in the ceiling. For a few seconds, while my eyes recover, everything looks dark.
Love rushes over to Martha. The flames have gone out. But what’s there looks like a lump of charred flesh. The smell is horrible. Love reaches down, tries to touch Martha, pulls her hand back.
I come over. Love looks up at me, guilty, tears in her eyes. “Shit, Ned, I didn’t think she’d be so stupid as to charge into concentrated sunlight twice.”
I look at the horrible mess the light made of Martha. “She going to be OK?”
Love shakes her head. “I’ve never seen a vampire burnt this badly who survived, Ned.” She drops to her knees and starts chewing on her knuckles while looking at Martha. “Damn it, Martha, what did you have to go attack the second time for? Couldn’t you tell?” She’s sobbing by this time.
I’m appalled, appalled by the way Love’s broken down into tears, appalled by the mess the light’s made out of Martha. It takes me some time to collect myself enough to speak. I ask, “Is there anything we can do?”
Love abruptly stops sobbing, sniffles, thinks. “Yeah. Ned, go get prey. She’ll need blood to recover.” She looks up at me. “Now, Ned.”
I don’t know Madison. I know it’s a college town and the state capital. We’re somewhere near a lake, because I can smell the water. My chest hurts. And I have to find prey in this. I skip reconnaissance, just look for easy prey. The streets are emptier than I would expect, until I realize that it’s summer and there probably aren’t that many college students around. So it takes me a while. By the time I come back with two college guys, summer students, whom I’ve only enthralled, Love has Martha on a table in the basement. Or, rather, I should say, floating just over the table. I have to look twice. Martha, or, rather, the blackened thing that was or is Martha, is floating just above the table.
Love is watching Martha. She turns around, face tear-streaked, worried. “Damn, Ned, what took you so long?” I start to answer, but she interrupts. “Never mind. Get over here with the prey. And start drinking from one of them.”
I hustle the two guys over. I start to ask Love, “Don’t you mean . . . ?”
Love cuts me off with magic. “Drink from them, Ned. Now.”
When Love uses that magic, I not only don’t have any choice but to obey, I want to obey. So I immediately start in on the bigger guy. While I’m drinking, Love explains. “Sorry to put a compulsion on you, Ned, but Martha’s in too bad a shape to waste time arguing. She’s not responding even instinctively, and her skin’s too burnt to stick a needle in it. So you’re drinking, and I’m using magic to steal the new blood out of you and putting into Martha. That’s why you’re drinking but don’t feel like you’re any better.”
It does feel weird, as if the blood is coming up through my fangs and then disappearing. In fact, by the time I finish, I actually feel weaker than when I started. I go on to the other college kid, with the same results. And then Love sends me out for three more prey, two more for Martha and one, finally, for me. After I drink from all three of them, I send them all home. And then I just pass out.
For a week we do this. I wake up at dusk, get three prey, drink from two to feed Martha, drink from one to feed myself, and then faint dead away. Love tells me she figures my body thinks it’s actually getting the blood that’s magically going into Martha, so my metabolism is running too fast for what I am drinking. It doesn’t help that my body is trying to recover from the damage Martha caused. But Love’s not sure about exactly what’s going on with me, and doesn’t know how to keep it from happening. In fact, she admits she’s never done this sort of thing before, and that it’s proving to be a major strain on her, too. All her energy is concentrated on trying to get Martha to heal. She gives me a magical view of Martha at one point, showing me how the damage from sunlight actually extended right through Martha’s body; it wasn’t just at the surface.
After a week, Love tells me Martha can feed herself if I get her prey. Somehow, Love has sped up the healing of Martha’s face, so she can bite into her prey. She still can’t talk, and barely seems conscious. It’s vampiric instinct causing her to bite down on any prey presented to her. For me, it’s a big relief. I was getting so weak from drinking blood that was transferred into Martha, I wondered if I could still go out and capture prey. It takes me three nights of taking two people as prey each night to get back to my normal condition as a vampire. Coincidentally, that’s how long it takes before Martha can speak again.
End of chapter eleven