Chapter 12: The list
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Love tells me she thinks Martha will actually be up for a conversation tonight, probably after midnight. She encourages me to go out and take my time finding prey. I get the impression she wants to talk with Martha first. Knowing I’m not Martha’s favorite person, I don’t have a problem with that. So I go out to find new prey for myself.
Between the urgency of the situation and my debilitated condition, I haven’t actually explored Madison much. This evening, I do indeed take my time. Yet it’s still not quite midnight when I get back to our basement. There’s a bulkhead door, which I left open, and a screen door at the bottom of the stairs. I start walking down the stairs and stop. Someone is yelling inside the basement, and it sounds like it’s Love.
“ . . . so god damn stupid.”
I can hear a hoarse voice, but can’t make out the words.
Then Love again. “Good God, Martha, how much proof do you need?”
The hoarse voice says something.
Love explodes, “I cannot believe I’m hearing this! I spend day after day here bringing you back to life, and you have the nerve . . .”
I turn and walk back up the stairs and take a few turns around the block. Several of them, in fact. Each time I return, I swing by the bulkhead and hear Love’s voice, loud and angry. After a while, I’m tempted to just walk down there and intervene, but resist the impulse. Finally I walk by one time and can’t hear anything. I walk down some of the stairs, can hear Love speaking in a normal tone of voice, and decide to give them both about another ten minutes.
When I return, Love meets me at the door. She’s smiling at me, but I can see signs of tension in the way she holds herself. She whispers to me, “Martha’s awake, Ned. She’s in a lot of pain, but she’s talking and she’s coherent. Talk to her, but be brief.”
I feel relieved. Whatever went on between Love and Martha, Martha must be willing to talk to me. How willing, well, that’s another story. I have been wondering if all this effort was going to be a waste. It might still be, from my perspective.
I walk over to see Martha still floating just above the table. Love stripped her of what was left of her old clothes and put what looks like a knee-length full-body slip on Martha. So for the most part Martha looks normal. Her hair is only just starting to grow back, and there are still patches of black and cracked skin on her limbs, but there’s pink skin underneath.
Martha sees me coming. But she doesn’t speak or offer any reaction, just looks at me. So I greet her. “How are you, Martha?”
Martha offers a weak smile. In a hoarse voice, she replies, “Love tells me I’ve just made medical history, the only vampire to recover from such severe burns.” The smile goes away. “She also tells me there’s something you want from me, and that I’m supposed to give it to you. She doesn’t realize that burning me doesn’t exactly give her or you a claim on me. So what do you want, Ned?”
Not a promising start. “Mother Fokker, I want a list of all the cops you’ve turned into vampires, and where I might find them. I want to form a unit of vampire cops.”
Martha winces, closes her eyes, opens them, stares at the ceiling a bit. She gives Love a very ill look. Love gives a half-hearted smile and theatrically shrugs. This seems to irritate Martha even more. She looks sourly at me for a bit, turns back to Love. “You know about this?”
Martha turns her head back to me. “Then come back in a week, Ned. Until then, get out of my sight.” She closes her eyes.
Not knowing what else to say, I end by saying, “Thank you, Mother Fokker.” I look at Love. She makes sure Martha isn’t looking and smiles at me. Maybe she’s happy, but I’m left hanging. So I head for the door, go outside. In the short time I’ve been talking to Martha, the wind’s shifted about, and it’s gotten colder.
I hear a noise. It’s Love coming out of the basement. She sees me, comes up to me, smiles again. “Well, sounds like you’re going to get your list.”
I shake my head. “It didn’t sound so promising to me.”
Love’s smile doesn’t falter. “If Martha didn’t mean to give you a list, she wouldn’t ask you to come back, Ned. She’s just annoyed at us for doing what she should have done herself. In a few days she’ll even admit it.” And that, I suspect, is all the explanation I’m going to get about the argument between Love and Martha. Love puts her arms around me, presses herself against me. “Thanks for your help, Ned. And now you should go back to Chicago.”
I feel so much better. I let go of Love, turn to head off to Chicago, and then stop. Without looking back at her, I say, “Love, did you just put a spell on me, or do I just naturally want to do whatever you tell me to do when you get close to me?”
I expect an answer, but don’t get one. I turn around. Love’s looking at me curiously, running her hands through her hair. “Hell, Ned,” she finally replies, “what’s the difference?”
Love gives me the car keys before I go. I get back to Chicago. The night after I get back, I go to my parents’ house. Without waking anyone, I sneak in and get some clothing and stuff from my old room. The next night, I take prey who lets me use his bathroom to take a shower and shave. I am ever so thankful the notion that vampires don’t cast reflections is a myth. And I feel so much better in clean clothes. I’m going to have to think about what vampires do for laundry.
The rest of my time before I go back to Madison is uneventful. I take prey as I need to, keeping record of who they are, and releasing them all after just one attack. I’m not yet a do-gooder vampire, but I’m at least keeping records for the day when I can help the people who have fed me.
Finally comes the night I drive back to Madison, park the car, and go down into the basement. There is no one there. And most of the furniture is gone, too. The bed Love was using, the two coffins, one of which I used while I was there before, some chairs, all gone. All that’s left is the table and two chairs on opposite sides of it.
I hear a noise, turn, and see Martha come down the stairs. She looks OK, apart from her hair still being far too short. She’s wearing clothing similar to what I’ve seen her in before. She looks at me. There is absolutely no emotion in her face. She walks past me without so much as a greeting, walks past the table, takes the chair on the far side, sits down in it. She fishes out a few sheets of paper from the light jacket she’s wearing, puts them on the table, pushed them toward me. “There’s your list, Ned,” she says. No emotion at all.
I don’t know quite what to make of this. I walk over to the table, reach across and pick up the list. A quick glance tells me it looks like what I want. I fold the sheets, stick them in my pants pocket. And then I say to Martha, “Thanks, Mother Fokker.”
Her expression doesn’t change. She doesn’t reply.
I suppose I could stand on my dignity and just walk out. But I look at Martha, and I think about everything I’ve gone through with her, good and bad. So I try one more time. “You shouldn’t have turned me into a vampire, Martha. That was wrong, and I don’t care what happened to Vic, it was still wrong. But you did teach me most of what I need to know to survive as a vampire. You told me I’d someday thank you for it. So, yeah, thank you, Mother Fokker.”
I finally get through to her. She sighs, and looks sadly at me. “Thanks, Ned.” She leans back in the chair, looking tired. “Love explained to me your project, as far as she understood it. I don’t think it will work, Ned. It’s never been done before. But that’s been said of a lot of other things, too.” She pauses, gathers her energy, leans forward, looking more like her old self. “One thing, Ned: don’t approach the people on the list as a group. Do it individually. Vampires are hierarchical. You have to be the leader if you’re going to do this. But you’re not the highest ranking cop by far, nor are you a natural leader. Enlist good supporters first. Get their loyalty. Then you can make the others accept you. Remember your lesson about Scratch’s gang. You don’t have to be the toughest, just the best at leading them.” And then all the enthusiasm and energy drains out of her face, and she sits back, looking wiped out.
Seeing we’re talking again, I ask, “You OK, Mother?”
She shakes her head. “No.” She drums her fingers on the table. “I’m trying to figure out what happened to me in Chicago.”
“Love tells me that this sort of thing happens to you sometimes, that you’re not yourself.”
Martha emits a brief and bitter chuckle. “And what was Love’s explanation for why I wasn’t myself?”
“She said it was Chicago, the city, that we had to get you out of it.”
Martha grunts. “She was right and she was wrong, Ned.” She stands up, walks around the table until she’s standing directly in front of me, looks me straight in the eye. “Love believes what she wants to believe, Ned. She’s good at making up excuses. But people are what they are. People are what they do. What I did in Chicago is as much me as what Love thinks is my ‘normal.’” She shakes her head to show her disagreement. “This is me, normal, right, Ned?”
Well, it’s one of the ways she usually is. I nod.
“Then watch,” she says.
I watch. Right before my eyes, Martha changes. She grows shadowy and dark, as she has done before, until she looks like some fearsome ancient creature, mouth open, fangs bared. In a disturbing voice, she commands me, “Don’t move, Ned, or I’ll rip your head from your body.” I freeze.
And then, before my eyes, the entire process reverses, until a normal-looking Martha stands before me again. She’s not smiling, though.
“You can control it, then,” I observe.
“Here and now, yes. Back there in Chicago, I was losing it.”
“Why? Because Vic died there?”
Martha’s face screws up for a moment. And then it’s as if she shuts herself off from me. She puts back on that expressionless face and tone of voice she had when she came in. “No. But I can’t go back to Chicago. So this is goodbye, Ned.” And without another word or gesture, she walks past me, up the stairs, and out of the cellar.
I’m tempted to stop her, or follow her, but I don’t. Maybe it’s pity, maybe it’s respect, but Martha’s made it clear she doesn’t want my help or my sympathy, and I won’t force myself on her. Besides, I really don’t know how to help her.
Goodbye, Martha. But I suspect I haven’t seen the last of you. You’ll be back to Chicago someday. And when that day comes, whether you come in peace or with violence, you’ll face your children as the representatives of law and order. I will make it so.
I stick around for a bit in the basement, going over Martha’s list. It’s impressive. To judge from the list, Martha was taking down at least a cop a week. And they’re all here, with name, rank, and where she thinks they currently sleep and hang out (if they’re still alive). She’s even ranked them by how suitable she thinks they will be for my unit, with notes explaining her rankings.
There are four names at the end that she didn’t rank. Two she tells me are completely unsuitable. The third, a police captain named Barney O’Shay, she describes as “too freaked at being a vampire, won’t be useful unless he’s gotten over it.” And at the very end of the list is a detective named Sherlock Kammen: “smart, but infuriated me so much I can’t judge whether he’s of any use.” I have to wonder what sort of character could infuriate Martha.
End of chapter twelve.
END OF PART ONE.
“The list” lowercase?
It never made sense to me that vampires have no reflection; unlike ghosts (for example), they do have physical bodies, even if they can shape-shift.
“…she walks past me and out of the cellar” — meaning up the stairs, rather than out the bulkhead.
Nice chapter, a little sad.
I’ve added a clarifying clause in response to your suggested corrections. Thank you!
Oh, the style for MC is that all chapter titles receive only initial letter capitalization. Not strictly according to Hoyle, I’ll admit.
The idea was that vampires have no souls, hence should not have reflections, because reflections are magical. By that logic, presumably animals shouldn’t have reflections, either. It’s such conceptual tangles that caused me to drop the whole idea. As you say, vampires have physical bodies. If they reflect light, they have reflections.
I repeatedly rewrote the tail end of the chapter, from the point when Ned asks Martha if she’s OK. Earlier drafts were too chirpy or too talky. Martha’s feeling toward Ned and vice versa are obviously complex. “A little sad” is about right.
Good chapter, wraps things up nicely for the end of Part One. In this chapter and the last, I do feel a bit as if I’m floating from one scene with Martha and Love to another, without much in between to ground me. Maybe after Ned says that he takes his time exploring Madison, a paragraph about what he does and sees there — you know I enjoy your socio-political commentary 🙂
Also having a hard time recalling Ned’s physical attributes, so the comment about the mirror would be a good segue into how Ned is looking these days. I realize the beginning of Part 2 will also be a good place to re-acquaint us with that kind of detail; in that case, some visual reminders a few chapters back — maybe when Ned is getting carved up by Darlene? Picky, I know 🙂
I will go back and reread both of the last chapters, Russell, with your first set of comments in mind. I’ve a weakness in skimping on setting, and it sounds like I almost lost you on account of it.
Ned has not described himself much at all. He doesn’t think much of his looks. We know he “looks like a cop,” and it’s likely he shares some common features with his sister Nora, but that’s about it. However, we’re about to hear another voice in part II (I think you can guess who), and he will have more to say on the subject of Ned’s looks.
Understood — I do the same thing myself. I didn’t feel lost, just a bit disconnected by contrast to when Ned is moving around in Chicago, where I feel well-oriented.
Yes, that was how I remembered it, and I wasn’t sure if the lack of detail was intentional, because I do that too, by accident.
Looking forward to Part II!
I seem to be going the Wilkie Collins route: part II will represent a sharp break, while still being part of the same story.
Pursuant to comments above on skimping on setting, I think that the right amount of depth is needed for a reader to visualize and stay connected with the characters and events emotionally. I say right amount because my personal presets keep evolving and I am not sure what that amount needs to be. I tend to love lush description but popular modern writing seems to favor a lighter, crisper approach. And, that is all ok because you can always go back and fill in or richen up setting detail or flash back to reveal something about who the character is or why they are the ways they are if wanted or needed. Not being a story teller, what seems most important is the skeleton of the story, the plot and whether it is a good story at all. Your stories have good bones and you are natural with dialogue and aren’t those the hard part for writers?
Thought I’d mention a favourite theme of mine in stories that maybe fits with vampires..being a creature created not by its own desire by something perceived as evil. The theme being the exploration of which is worse..creator or created? Is Frankenstein evil or is his Monster evil as a product of its creator’s own fevered goals. Here’s a famous cry from the created:
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” –Paradise Lost by John Milton
I tend to be spare on description, enough that one of my first readers of the first story I circulated (the Sillyverse story set in 2000) found it very disconcerting. Of course, said reader also loved my dialogue. I don’t know what he’d make of Stendhal’s belief that dialogue kills narrative.
Your theme of the creator’s relationship to its creation is an interesting one. That’s one of the aspects of “The Hunger,” the movie I reviewed the other day on this blog, that I find interesting: Miriam’s casual attitude toward her companions. And it does crop up here in MC: consider Martha’s relationship to the ripper she created in chapter 4.
I’d have to read up on the context of Stendhal’s belief but I might on the surface of it say that bad dialogue can disrupt the flow of narrative while good dialogue might bond us to it.
I like when you focus on the everyday reality of your creations – the thing of the laundry. But I will agree that a plot and characters need a definite setting. Chicago etc might be familiar to you, not so to me. Having said that, I’m seldom left wondering. In reading this chapter I was thinking, yea, I’m going to remark on the sadness. but I’ve been beaten to it. But I will expand; there’s some quality beyond ‘sadness’ though I can’t pin it . . . that Martha has ‘withdrawn’ in some way, more than merely withdrawn from Ned’s plans and life. There is a blueness to the chapter. I hope you’ll tell me that it’s intentional.
This may sound absurd, but in the category of everyday realities, vampires are going to love the clothing of the 1970s: you can wash blood out of the synthetic fibers so much more easily than out of cotton or wool! (How do I know this? Shaving, folks, the only throat I’ve slit is my own.)
And you are quite right about Martha’s withdrawal, CP, and I am heaving a great sigh of relief, because your comment after the last chapter about expecting fireworks in this one had me clutching at my throat, knowing it wasn’t going to take that form. Made me reread the chapter over, and, as I mentioned above, revise the ending until it finally did have the right tone. (Which was a good thing; the ending of this chapter had been bothering me a lot.) Martha has cocked up badly by her own standards. She does not know how to deal with what she’s done. And in her judgment she cannot explain this fully to Ned.
Pleased to have helped. And that withdrawal works. Because of the title we’re expecting her back. Now we’re going to be hanging on your every chapter awaiting the moment, and what calamities or otherwise her return might presage. Good move.