Chapter 4: Of kings and rippers
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
As I expected, Martha isn’t around when I wake up. Fortunately, as Martha promised, I’m also no longer plagued by thoughts of sucking the blood of my family and friends dominating my mind. After the way last night ended, I am grateful for some sort of improvement.
I summon Homer. He arrives. I wonder if I can still drink from him, considering this is vampire sex. I tell myself this is food, not sex, and try to ignore that it’s a human being either way.
Something wholly unexpected happens as I drink from him. For the first time, I don’t feel like draining him to the point of unconsciousness. It’s like I’ve finally gotten enough blood for once.
In fact, I feel a lot better, and it even feels as if my brain is finally working as it should. I’m a cop. OK, I’m an ex-cop, but I’m still a cop. Time to act like one.
“Homer,” I say, “Please help me sit up.” I tense for a moment, wondering whether something will interfere with that as well, but, no, Homer does lift up the top half of my body. He and I squirm around a bit, and I end up with my back against the top of the coffin, with the pillow that was under my head providing some back support. It’s not much, the coffin isn’t all that deep, but I’m comfortable sitting up. After so many days lying down, it’s a relief.
I look around. The basement doesn’t have much in it. Some stacked wood, a furnace, and some old paint cans in various places around the basement. There’s a trunk against the wall on my right. The light comes from a single naked bulb with a pull chain at the foot of the stairs. No other way out. There are what are probably windows high up along two walls, though there’s cardboard blocking them. I have Homer pull the cardboard away from one window. The panes are painted black. As usual, Martha is thorough. I have Homer put the cardboard back.
I have him open up the trunk, which has no lock on it. To my surprise, what he pulls out is my uniform. My heart rises at the thought of my gun. Not for long: the gun belt is there, but there’s no gun in it, and Homer tells me it’s not in the trunk, either. I guess Mother isn’t going to let me shoot her. I think to ask Homer if he has a gun, and he tells me “no.”
How stupid have I been? I never even thought to examine what clothes I’m wearing. The spooky thing is that they’re mine. I was wearing my uniform when Martha took me, and these clothes would have been back in my bedroom. Martha knows where I live, or lived. Wouldn’t take much to figure it out from the ID I carried. She must have gone and visited, taken clothes out of my dresser. I don’t know whether to thank her for being so thoughtful, or be worried that she could just waltz into my parents’ place and kill them if she wanted to.
Oh, and the stake Martha held over my chest? It’s over by the woodpile. There are five other stakes there, all carefully sharpened. Martha has a use for stakes. What the hell is she doing, killing other vampires?
I think about having Homer attack Martha, but abandon that idea. Martha lifted me up as if I were a feather. Homer had to make a considerable effort. So I have Homer lower me back into place, getting a knock on the head in the process. Once that’s done, I send him home, telling him to bring something to write with and on for tomorrow night. Oh, and a beer.
The moment after he leaves, I cuss myself out. I should have asked him what building I’m in, what neighborhood of Chicago I’m in. Face it, Ned, you’re not used to being a captive. Looks like you’re going to be getting plenty of experience. I have no idea when, or realistically even if Martha will release me. She says so, and so far everything she says checks out. But that doesn’t mean she really is telling me the truth all of the time.
There’s one hopeful thing I do notice, something Martha didn’t mention. The fingers Martha first broke are healing already. Martha said I’d be getting tougher, and, as usual, she wasn’t lying, but she didn’t happen to mention this. If I can keep from pissing her off, I might yet be fit enough to tackle her when she finally lets me free.
I lie there in my coffin, contemplating my situation. I’m a vampire, and damned in this life. I suppose I’m damned in the next life, too. It doesn’t seem fair, but this whole situation isn’t exactly a sterling example of justice. Though Martha would undoubtedly say otherwise, because we killed her vampire buddies.
The only way I can see to redeem myself is to be what I am, a cop, and bring Martha to justice. I need to tell my brother officers where I am, and find a way to arrange it that they come here when Martha will be here. Or I have to find out where Martha lives and sleeps. I was hoping it was in this basement, but Homer and I didn’t find another coffin lying around. My biggest problem is that the moment the cops know where I am, they’ll come to kill me whether or not Martha is here. I’m resigned to dying, but I want it to count for something.
I’m tossing around all sorts of ideas when I hear the basement door open and a light step come down the stairs. It’s Martha. She walks around to the side of the coffin, looks at me as if she barely recognizes me, and sits down. She’s not very tall, so not much of her shows. But I can see her face. She looks so sad and pitiful, I actually try to be nice to her. “Are you OK, Mother Fokker?”
Martha has lit up every time I’ve used her name. Not this time. She looks at me, not in a friendly sort of way, and sighs. “Nope, Ned. Bad night. You know the cop I killed yesterday?”
“I know you did, but I don’t know who he is.”
“Yeah, well, he’s really dead tonight. Woke up, drank from several people, recovered his wits, and turned ripper. Had to kill him for good.”
“I don’t understand. What’s a ripper? A vampire with fangs that are too long?”
Martha sits there, staring off into the distance. After a while she speaks without looking at me. “You know how I told you people’s characters stay the same when they turn vampire, Ned? Not entirely true. People do change. They have to. But some change more than others. Some people are really dark inside, truly vicious. And becoming a vampire brings it out. They become indiscriminate killers, vampires who like to torture their prey before they kill them, vampires who prey even on other vampires. They’re called rippers. And there’s a rule about rippers: rippers must be killed. Period. End of story; end of life.”
I think about the way Martha acts like a psycho. In a quiet voice I ask, “Are you a ripper, Mother?”
She shakes her head. In a tiny voice she says, “No. Maybe. I don’t know.” And then that shadowy transformation of her face begins, and she turns and reaches toward me, puts her hands on the ropes tying me, and her face grows much darker. Yet with an effort she pulls away and gets up. She walks out of my sight, and I can hear her pacing the floor.
After a few minutes, she comes back, looking almost like her normal self, serious, though. She sits down, fixes me with a stare, and says, “You want to ask about why Homer couldn’t untie you, or were you just going to pretend it didn’t happen?”
So much for my secret. Since it’s out, I might as well take up her invitation. “Yes, Mother Fokker, I was going to pretend it didn’t happen. Why couldn’t he untie the ropes?”
She smiles again, but only for a moment, before reverting back to a serious expression. “Thanks for not trying my patience, Ned. Here’s tonight’s lesson. We’re not the only supernatural creatures around. There are werewolves and ghosts and ghouls and such. And there are sorcerers and sorceresses. We have a limited form of magic, pretty much limited to what we need to get prey and to survive. Sorcerers have more complex magic and more magical power at their command. You run into a sorcerer, Ned, be polite to him, and get away as fast as you can, when you can. Not that they bother with vampires much. To them we’re just a lower form of life, hardly worth thinking about.”
“And the ropes? What do they have, some kind of sorcerer’s spell on them?”
Martha brightens up. “Exactly. The sorcery on them binds vampires so they can’t escape or transform into another shape, and no one can take them off except me or another sorcerer.”
“And you got these from a sorcerer? I thought you said they don’t bother with vampires much.”
Martha looks surprised, then gives me a genuine smile and leans over the coffin to deliver a kiss to my forehead. She leans back, still smiling. “A-plus, Ned. They don’t. The circumstances under which I got these ropes were unusual.”
I keep following up. “And vampires can transform?” I think about the movies. “Bats, wolves?”
Martha nods. “Both, but in the city there’s no point in being a wolf. Stick to bats, Ned. And hold on a second.” Martha gets up stretches, walks around a bit, settles back down by my coffin. “Talking with you is cheering me up, Ned. So we’re going to have your first formal lesson tonight. Hope you have a good memory.
“First rule: you’re a vampire, you need human blood. Not every day, though that works. Take too much, kill people, turn them into vampires, and people will hunt you down. So the safest place for a vampire to live is where there’s a lot of people. Cities.
“So you’re in the city. So are a whole lot of other vampires. We all want the same thing: human prey. So we compete. Strong vampires kill weak vampires. Weak vampires form gangs to kill strong vampires. Pretty soon, many or most vampires in a city are part of a gang. Gangs have leaders. You pledge allegiance to a vampire gang leader. If he likes you, you become one of his officers, immediate subordinates. Only gang leaders and their officers are allowed to carry weapons. Every gang stakes out its territory. You take prey only in your gang’s territory. Do otherwise, and it’s an act of aggression on whichever gang’s territory you’re poaching.
“There’s no benefit to all-out war, so in most cities the gang leaders try to establish an agreement to keep the peace. It’s easier to do this if there’s a small number of gangs. And if there’s one dominant gang, its leader will usually take the title ‘king.’
“You’re a smart one, Ned. You got all that?”
I think it over. “Sounds a lot like street gangs or the Mafia, so, yeah, I think I’ve got the idea. What’s the set-up in Chicago? Is there a king?”
Martha shakes her head. “Nope. Four major gangs and a bunch of independents who survive only so long as the gangs tolerate them. Some vampires aren’t worth having in gangs. We call the really weak and stupid ones pixies. They always end up obeying a stronger vampire. The really tough independents are treated like honorary gang leaders. But most vampires belong to a gang.”
“And what about you, Mother Fokker? Which gang do you belong to?”
Martha gives a sinister laugh. “My own.” She gives me a pat on the head. “And when we go out in public, you’ll be considered a member of my gang, Ned.” She pauses, as if thinking what she wants to say. “You see, the gang I came in with were visitors, we weren’t part of any established gang here in Chicago. We didn’t intend to stay or mix in local vampire politics, so we made no allies and tried not to make any enemies. When you cops started hunting us down, the rest of the gangs stood aside, happy to get rid of us and not wanting to get sucked into trouble with the Man. All the other vampires I came in with are dead or left the city, but I stayed behind to take revenge. Two gang leaders were afraid I’d start a general war between the cops and the vampires, so they objected to what I was doing. I killed them both. Their gangs broke up. After that, the other gangs decided to leave me alone.”
With that, Martha stands up. “Time for me to go, Ned. Need some blood myself before dawn. Anything that you want to bring up right now?”
I think back. “Why didn’t you break one of my fingers for trying to escape?”
Martha looks amused. “Because I’d probably try to do the same thing in your shoes, Ned. Because you didn’t actually disobey me, since I never told you not to escape. Because it’s not really a sign of disrespect to me, just a dislike of being tied up. That I understand. And finally, because, well, where are you going to go, Ned? Your family? They won’t want you once they understand what you are. Your girlfriend? Going to suck her blood? The cops? They’ll kill you ASAP.”
She shakes her head. She stands there, looking at me quizzically. And then she says, “Tomorrow I’ll remove the ropes, Ned. And now I have to go.” And she heads over to the stairs, turns out the light, and I hear her leave.
I am confused. All this trouble thinking about how to escape, and Martha’s going to make it easy for me. What is she up to? And all I can think of is that she really believes there’s nothing for me to do except stay with her.
The sad thing? She may be right.
But again she’s given me a lesson I don’t think she intended. Two vampire gangs opposed Martha, didn’t want her attacking the cops. Yeah, she destroyed their leaders. But that’s something to look for, signs of internal divisions among the vampires. Maybe some of them could be used to destroy the others. And if Martha’s going to turn me loose, I may get the chance to check into that possibility soon.
But her story is worrisome, too. She took out two other gang leaders? Cripes, I know she keeps telling me how tough she is, but she isn’t even five feet tall. I’d like to think that this indicates that most vampires are a feeble bunch. But it’s quite possible Martha really is as tough as she claims. I need to figure out some way of testing her. If she does indeed get me out of these ropes, I should be able to contrive an opportunity to test her. Whether I’ll survive the test is another matter.
I go to sleep.
End of chapter four
I know it sounds terribly prosaic… but what does Ned do when he needs to go to the bathroom? He’s been tied up for how long? a week or so? Being a novice vampire literaure reader (I’ve read ” Interview with the Vampire” and “Hunger”, and that’s about it…) I may be unaware of some conventions (maybe vampires’ waste just evaporates?), but I couldn’t help wonder.
I suspect the usual convention is to simply ignore the issue, Dana. Which given that vampires often spend years at a time in a coffin raises problems. In those cases, one assumes the vampire sleeps, and like sleeping humans their metabolism slows down. That seems to be a standard view; Suzy McKee Charnas made it explicit in her works.
Vampirism in this universe is supernatural, and the supernatural element begins with the circulatory system. Vampires need more blood than average humans, to support their greater strength, speed, and toughness. They take it in via their fangs, bypassing the digestive system entirely. Logically, if the digestive system has shut down, so should the excretory system. To me it would make sense that part of the vampire’s supernatural nature is that their tissue uses up blood at a rapid rate. I’d say that the sensible elimination route for waste products is through the lungs, which would tie vampire metabolism to activity, and allow for prolonged stays in close spaces at low metabolism.
That implies that a vampire who wants to pass in human society had best either keep his mouth shut or use breath mints. And indeed, Stoker tells us that Dracula’s breath was foul-smelling. They wouldn’t notice it among their own kind.
(And I can’t believe I constructed that rationalization in under ten minutes. 🙂 )
I do! and it does make sense…You are amazing, my friend!
You know the frightening part about this, Dana? Where it takes my imagination.
Consider goth subculture. In Ned’s universe, the goth subculture develops with real vampires. So, naturally, they copy them as one of their models. And just as the real vampires sometimes consume breath mints to keep from repelling normal people when they try to pass unnoticed among them, you can just bet that some goths eat or suck on something like breath mints to make their breath reek of blood and decay, just like the real vampires they are emulating!
I’ve a feeling Anne Rice deals with the question of eliminating the alimentary waste, but I don’t remember her ideas on it. I would imagine that, in consuming an already refined food source there would be no waste. Similar to eating beef, we make use of the cow’s digestive system to change (to us) inedible grass to protein. Likewise, grass converts sunlight to sugar which we’re unable to do. Taking that in logical progression, the vampire is higher up the foodchain that we are. More highly evolved? Perish the thought 🙂 !
There’s a strain in sci-fi that posits food made entirely of necessary nutrients, which get completely absorbed into the body, thus producing no wastes. But that overlooks metabolic waste products, cells and tissue that have broken down, to say nothing of invasive organisms that are destroyed by the body’s immune system. I guess the question really becomes how far do we want to make our vampires naturalistic, and how far supernatural?
You raise a vital question about where vampires stand in evolutionary terms compared to humans. A few decades after this story, the sorceress Irene Ducas, a bearer of one of the rulers of justice, will be debating that question herself, unsure whether to consider vampires inferior parasites, superior predators, or just intellectual equals to mankind.
Or para-humans? Which you might say is the same as intellectual equals though I was thinking more the entire being: physical, social, cultural, political, intellectual, spiritual, emotional.
I was reaching for a handy term. The problem is complicated in Ned’s universe, because vampires lose their souls and are legally dead. But other paranormals are not. I’m sending you an e-mail which offers Irene’s thinking on the subject.
I shall read with interest
Well part of the definition of life is that we excrete. So are vampires alive?
Since I posit that they excrete waste products through their breath, the answer would seem to be “yes.” But Ned’s contemporaries in his universe aren’t sure. As mentioned, it’s known they’ve lost their souls and are considered legally dead. At the same time, those vampires look and act alive and demonstrate psychological and behavioral continuity with the humans they once were.
C. L. Moore wrote a classic story, “No Woman Born,” about an actress whose body is destroyed in a fire, but whose brain is saved and encased in a metallic body. Was the Deirdre of that story human or not, dead or alive?
Well I guess that gets us away from the biological of ingestion, reproduction and excretion defining life to the intellectual I think therefore I am. The former defines life at its most primitive…a protozoan rather than a rock.. I guess I am presuming that if you exist you live?
Although it was not specifically stated, I suspect even Moore’s Deirdre had to eliminate waste products from whatever sustained her brain. But it does push the limit of what we consider life. Reminds me of the arguments a few decades back over how to tell the difference between a human and a computer programmed to act human.
This might sound strange coming from the author of “Edward and Amelia vs The Vampire King,” but I am weary of vampires. For me, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is the definitive modern work on the subject, and all other vampires suck, to varying degrees. I use them in E&A because they are very convenient baddies, and I try to make them interesting by playing against the type of the modern sexy vampire whenever possible.
With this in mind, I approached “Martha’s Children” with trepidation, but finally I put myself in your hands, BB, and trusted you would make it worth the time. It still took a few chapters for me to make up my mind, but now I suppose you could say I’m another of Martha’s unwilling captives 🙂 Enjoying the bits of urban vampire mythos like kings and rippers, and the presence of other paranormals in this universe is appealing, as well. I still don’t like the taste of my own blood, though 🙂
More irony: “Martha’s Children” has its roots in a satirical piece I wrote responding to recent romantic vampire fantasies, specifically the existence of a “Teen Paranormal Romance” section in Barnes and Noble. That spawned a story that was a serious take at why vampire romances are a bad idea (though not as bad as a voodoo zombie romance, believe me), and explaining one feature of that story is why I’m writing “Martha’s Children.” It’s the historian in me.
I appreciate your forbearance, in this era’s glut of vampires. My own fear was that I’d bore people with the slow pace, especially after “Dragon Lady,” which is why it took me almost a month to decide to go with this story. Ned will get loose soon, and we will indeed meet at least two sorcerers. Do you think Daley could have stayed Mayor of Chicago as long as he did without at least their tacit support?
I am enjoying the chapters and the comments. I like the tone of your story for it has an irreverent quality that makes you take it with a grain of salt. Or maybe the horror will sneak up on you. Its funny that when I was posting my story on the anhinga chicks describing their insistent, demanding hunger, I thought of Ned and Martha. Crazy!!
I was just saying on Facebook how I have some of the most interesting readers. 🙂
I have trouble writing straight supernatural horror, because I can’t help but see the humor in it. Maybe that comes from growing up with relatives running a funeral parlor across the field, and being a frequent visitor to the two cemeteries in my home town. Anyhow, Ned’s sense of humor is one of the things helping him keep a grip on rationality.
Are you a fan of the movie ‘Harold and Maude?’
Yes, in fact, though I’ve seen it only twice, at the behest of others.
On the other hand, I’ve never tried for the goth look.