Chapter 7: Home is where the bleeding heart is
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I wake up. Which is kind of surprising. I don’t remember falling asleep. I was hauling Martha off the cop in the car. What happened?
I’m in my coffin, in the basement. I’ve never closed the lid, so I see that old familiar ceiling above me, even in the dark. I squirm a bit, fearing I’ve been bound up in the ropes again, but they aren’t there. The back of my head hurts, though. It hurts really badly. I suspect it was probably bashed into a car. By Martha. Last night. That would explain why I don’t remember what’s happened since. I guess vampires can get concussions.
I get up. My head hurts a bit more, not as much more as I expected. A piece of paper falls to the floor as I get out of the coffin. I pick it up. My night vision isn’t good enough to read it, or else my head aches just enough to keep me from focusing, so I go over and turn the lights on.
The message is short: Don’t ever come into my sight again, Ned. I don’t recognize the handwriting, but I don’t need to. It’s from Martha. I guess she decided that I was a bad boy, and now she doesn’t want anything to do with me. After seeing what she looked like, blood dripping from her mouth, the feeling is mutual.
I realize with a start that I’ve been getting used to being a vampire. Chatting with Martha, engaging in knife fights with black amazons, lusting after Love, it was beginning to seem like fun. And then I saw Martha that way, blood dripping from her mouth. That’s not just her. That’s me. I must look just like that when I’m feeding. The thought makes me nauseous. I sit down by the lumber pile. Martha kept some stakes here, and I’m tempted to see if a vampire can commit suicide. I’m brought up short by seeing there is only one stake, where there used to be five. Damn, is Martha telling me to kill myself?
What else has changed? I go looking around the basement, check the magical barrier at the top of the stairs. It’s still there, but I can go through it now, just like Martha said. There is only one other change around the place. The trunk that contains my uniform now also contains my pistol and ammunition. I take that as a sign that Martha is really casting me off. But it’s still weird. She’s given me back a weapon that I could try to use to kill her. Or to protect myself. It’s as if she cares, and as if she doesn’t, at one and the same time. I can’t figure her out. And now I won’t have to.
My thinking feels foggy and I summon Homer. I need blood. He shows up and I drink from him. But I can’t get the image of Martha’s bloody face out of my mind. Instead of chatting with him, like I usually do, I let him leave as soon as I’m finished. And just after he leaves the building, I try something new: I try to release him from my thrall. I don’t want to be a vampire any more. What I do seems to work. I feel as if I have broken a connection. I try summoning him again, and he doesn’t return. Good. Assuming I did it right, he’ll have some confused memories about what happened, and eventually he’ll forget all about it. I’m not sure of that, though. Martha never had me practice all the different techniques of enthrallment. She just explained them. I suppose practice was intended for a future lesson.
Well, there aren’t going to be any more lessons, not from Martha. Clearly, I crossed her up by trying to keep her from hurting the cops. I’m actually a bit surprised she didn’t kill me. Even so, I doubt I saved the cops. Martha probably killed them. And now I’m without Martha’s instruction, which, I have to admit, was useful. I still have a lot of questions about things.
So what do I do now? I go upstairs, grab a chair, bring it down into the basement, and put it beside my coffin. I sit down to think, and think hard.
I’m a vampire. Yeah, I just got rid of Homer, and that was a good thing, but I was kidding myself in thinking I’ll stop being a vampire. I have to face it, I will be preying on people. Moreover, I’m alone. I doubt I can pretend to be part of Martha’s gang, under the circumstances. Logically, I should be hunting up the other gang leaders and deciding which one I am going to join.
To hell with logic. I’m still not ready to be a vampire, pure and simple. And I’m sure not going to join Scratch’s gang and be an integrated vampire any time soon. What I really do want, now that I think of it, is to check into my old life. Martha may have warned me not to, but she’s not Mother Fokker to me anymore. I have to do what works for me.
Still, Martha had a point. I don’t think I want to tackle Eileen first. After how I felt around Love last night (if it was only last night), I’m not sure I won’t end up drinking my girlfriend’s blood. I briefly imagine what that would look like, and shudder. I need to pick someone who cares about me, but whose blood I wouldn’t want to drink. And it has to be someone level-headed enough not to go screaming the moment they see me.
It’s the level-headed part that makes me settle on my sister Nora. She’s my youngest sibling, still in high school. But we were always the closest of brother and sister, told each other almost everything. (I’ve never told her about me and Eileen getting cozy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s figured it out.) Nora’s smart and doesn’t get flustered easily. I realize that my affection for her might make me want to drink her blood. But she’s my sister, and I love her, and I’m counting on that to keep her safe from me. That and my last sight of Martha’s face.
So I go home. You can’t go home again, so they say. And I don’t ever expect to walk in the front door. But I fly there. It turned out to be trickier than I expected, with the overhead perspective and all, but I saw plenty of familiar landmarks, and was able to navigate there successfully. And there it is, the old two-story wooden house with the two big trees in front and the bigger one in back, white picket fence in front, cement walk up to the front door. I swing around to the back, drop to the ground, and transform back into human shape behind the shed.
I play the waiting game. I wait to see all the lights go out. Then I’ll transform into a bat again and fly in through my sister’s bedroom window. It’s hot; the windows are open. I remember something about how vampires can’t enter a house without an invitation. But it’s my house. How can that apply to me? And Martha never mentioned it. So it’s probably not true.
Most of the lights go out. The kitchen light stays on. I’m increasingly tempted to go look to see who’s still up. But then the back door opens, and Nora comes out. She’s clutching a can of soda in her right hand, just strolling around the back yard, looking up at the sky. Funny, I never thought of that. Nora likes to count stars. She says it helps her get to sleep.
I step out into the moonlight. “Nora,” I say.
She turns, looks frightened for a moment, then peers at me. “Ned?”
I nod. “Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry if I startled you.”
She walks over to me slowly, reaches out, touches my clothes, pulls back. “They told us you were dead.”
“Yeah, it’s true. I was killed by a vampire. I’m one myself now.”
She stares at me for a bit before saying, “Are you going to kill me, Ned?”
I tell her the truth. “There’s a part of me that wants to, Nora, because I love you so much, but there’s a part of me that won’t let that happen, because I love you so much, too.”
She considers the situation. “I’m wearing a cross around my neck, Ned. Will that stop you?”
I shake my head. “No. It would need to have magic on it to stop me or to hurt me. So I’m told. I wish it were otherwise. I wish I’d been wearing one and it stopped vampires.”
She looks at me thoughtfully. “Is there anything we can do for you, Ned?”
If only. “Really? I doubt it. I think I’m stuck this way for good. I’m not happy about it.” I’m just depressing the both of us. This is not what I wanted to say to Nora. I start again. “What would really help me, make me feel better, would be if you could tell me how everyone’s doing. I still care about all of you.”
Nora taps her fingers against the soda can, a nervous habit of hers. She looks around. “Let’s go behind the shed, out of the moonlight, Ned. Don’t want people to see you, especially not Mom.”
So we walk over behind the shed. Nora sits on the ground, Indian style, reminding me in a curious way of Martha. In the dark I can still see her: long, light brown hair, oval face, nose a bit too long for her face, glasses perched on her nose, light-colored blouse, dark skirt, sneakers. I sit a bit away from her, to keep the temptation down.
She starts without preamble. “The police brought us the news you were missing the day after you disappeared off your beat. Two days later they came to tell us you’d been killed by a vampire, and we should report any sightings of you, because it wouldn’t really be you.” She gives me this questioning look.
“Sometimes I wonder myself, Nora. It would be easier if I wasn’t really me, I suppose. I don’t like being this way. But I’m still Ned.”
She takes in what I say. “In that case, I’m sorry I have to tell you that hearing you’d become a vampire sent Dad to the hospital. Heart attack. They figure he’ll be out in another week or two. But he looks so weak, Ned.”
I curse Martha Fokker under my breath.
Nora continues, “Mom doesn’t want to talk about it, can’t stand to hear your name mentioned. The rest of us don’t, of course. I don’t know whether they blame you for Dad, whether they would want to see you, or what, Ned.”
“Do you blame me for Dad’s heart attack?”
Nora shakes her head, looks down at the ground. “I suppose I did at first.” She looks up at me. “What actually happened, Ned?”
I could say I’ve already told her, and truth be told, I don’t feel like talking any more. Hearing about our father in the hospital is upsetting. But Nora asked, so I answer. I give her an account, such as I can, of what’s happened, keeping it to the main events, right up to waking up tonight and finding Martha’s note.
We sit quietly for a bit after that. Nora looks anywhere but at me for a bit and then says, “It sounds bad, Ned.”
“What are you going to do?”
All my frustration rises in me. I stand up, stretch, say to Nora, “I don’t know. I don’t want to prey on people. I’ve seen other vampires do that. I’ve done it myself. But as it turns out, I can’t survive any other way. And I don’t think I can kill myself.”
Nora smiles. “You’re a cop, Ned.”
She shakes her head. “No, no, no. Cop. You’ve wanted to be a cop since you were twelve, Ned. You’re a cop. So be a cop.”
“I can’t be a cop, Nora. Being killed by a vampire officially gets you stricken from the rolls.”
Nora stands up, gives me a bigger grin. “Like that should stop you. If the human police won’t have you, become a vampire cop.” She doesn’t wait for me to finish laughing before she goes on. “You said they were like criminal gangs, Ned. Well, some of them must want some law and order. And if they don’t, the regular police would surely appreciate the help keeping all those vampires in order. Doesn’t sound like they can cope with this Martha whatever.”
I throw up my hands. “I don’t think I can cope with Martha, Nora. It would probably take several vampires to take her down.”
She walks over to me, thumps her fist on my chest, the way she used to when we argued. “Then get a bunch of them together, stupid. Didn’t you tell me this Martha turned a lot of cops into vampires? And do you think they are all happy about it? You aren’t! Cripes, what happened to all this band of brothers talk you used to always spout? Was that just nonsense? You’re a cop, they’re cops, you go hunt bad guys. Get it? And if one of them happens to be stronger than you, do you just give up? No, you get help from your brother cops, damn it.” By this point, Nora is almost yelling.
“Ssshhh,” I tell her, “calm down. Don’t wake up the whole neighborhood.”
She flashes me an angry look, but she lowers her voice. “Someone ought to wake up.” She turns her back on me, walks to the fence separating us from the O’Shaughnessys’ yard.
“Since when are you the expert on vampires, Nora?” I call after her.
She turns around, walks back to me looking angry, thumps me in the chest again. “I’m not. I’m an expert on you. If you’re still you.” And she looks up at me, appealing to me.
I take her in my arms and hug her out of sheer love for her, plant a big kiss on the back of her neck. And then I feel my fangs growing, and I want to take Nora’s blood, and I thrust her away from me as quickly as I can, and take a few quick steps away.
I turn and face her. She looks puzzled. I tell her, “I had better keep my distance. I almost attacked you with my fangs, Nora.”
“Yeah, but it was close.” I take a deep breath. “I’ll think about what you said, Nora. You can tell the rest of the family whatever you think they’ll accept. And let Eileen know I don’t dare come see her for fear I’d drink her blood and turn her into a vampire, but that I still love her.” I think about it a bit more, and then say. “Forget that. Tell Eileen I’m a monster. Whatever it takes, Nora, make her hate me, want to forget about me. She deserves a good guy in her life, and I can’t be it anymore.”
Nora drops her gaze. In a small voice she says, “If that’s what you want, Ned.”
“It isn’t, Nora. I want Eileen. And that’s why I can’t ever have her, or even see her, again. And I don’t want her to ruin her life thinking of me. Understand?”
Nora looks up at me, nods. “I’ll do it, Ned. But I’ll do it my way.” She gives me an uncertain smile. “I don’t know what that will be yet, but it will be whatever works. OK?”
I nod. “I should go.”
She pauses, looks at me a bit, and then says, “Will I ever see you again?”
“I don’t know. But I promise you, Nora, that if I ever do become a vampire cop, I’ll come back in uniform, just so you can say I told you so.” And before she can reply, I transform into a bat and fly away as quickly as possible. Because if I don’t, I’ll want to hug her again, and I don’t think I can stop myself a second time.
I go back to my basement. I sit in my chair. I want to think, undisturbed. I’ve joked myself about vampire cops. And now Nora tells me that’s what I should become. She’s right. She doesn’t know vampires, but she does know me. I’m a cop.
The question is, can I convince anyone else I’m a cop? What does it actually mean to be a cop? How can a vampire be a cop? I spend the rest of the night thinking. By dawn, I put together Ned O’Donnell’s seven step plan for becoming a cop again. It’s a lunatic notion, it will probably get me killed (again), but it feels right. Nora’s right. I’m a cop. And I’ll never feel right unless I start acting like one.
End of chapter seven