I removed my fangs from Matt's neck, licking the last of his ambrosia, his liquid food of the gods, from my lips. He didn't even stir – but he was breathing. I hadn't taken much before I regained control, and that was good. That was very good.
The wound was minor and the bleeding stopped almost immediately. But I could see the vein throb in time to his heartbeat, and he was breathing. Which was good.
And I felt good; more energetic than I had in days. That was also good.
So things were good. Things were fine. Everything was fine.
Except I'd just drank blood and liked it. I wanted more, even now. And wasn't that a form of cannibalism? No, best not to think about it. I'd just go to my much earned and much needed sleep.
I stared at the ceiling. I was wide awake, but it was fine. Everything was fine; I just wouldn't think of anything at all.
A creak drew my attention. Matt was up. He turned, without moving his body, which was still facing the wall. When his neck hit the stops, his head kept right on going with a crack, until the eyes in his sunken rotting face met mine.
"So, you like the taste of blood, do you?”
I couldn't help myself, I nodded.
"Then have some more, Robert. In fact, take it all.”
His mouth opened impossibly wide and all of his blood came pouring out.
...and then Matt was shaking me awake with a “Dude, are you okay?”
I didn't scream. It was a manly yell, and not a shrill blood-curdling scream, despite what my ears told me. Matt jumped back, clutching his ears. Speaking of blood-curdling... the bruise on his neck stood out as plain as day.
Dude, calm down! I know I'm beautiful, but you don't need to sound so shocked about it!”
Sorry man, it's not that, its... no, never mind, it’s not important.”
"Sure. You better hope the dorm has good soundproofing though. So, do I have you to thank for getting me home?”
I nodded, checking the time. It was Saturday, and my classes didn't start until Monday. But it was too early for work. Just what had I set this alarm for?
"So, uh, did you by chance see who left this hickey?” Matt asked, hooking his thumb at the bite.
"I only ask because whoever she was, she was enthusiastic, and I don't remember much but I kinda want to know. She must have been an absolute weasel!”
He didn't remember. That was good. That was fine. “Sorry Matt, I didn't see anything. When they brought you over, you were already pretty far gone and alone.”
He sighed. “Damn. It'll have to be a modern day Cinderella then.” Then he grinned. “I wonder if I can start that kind of lineup. 'Come on girls, match your teeth to the hickey!'”
I froze again. “Probably not.”
Matt sighed again, the sound even more forlorn than the first. “Yeah probably not.”
Well I could do something to help that even if the truth would never see the light of day. “Look, I'll ask Uriah, see if he saw anything. He might know.”
"Hey, thanks man. So uh, why did you set your alarm? It's Saturday, and you don't go to work at nine. We were out till midnight at least.”
It had been closer to one, I think.
Not sure. I don't remember having anything to do.” There was nothing in my phone's day planner app.
"Alright then. I'm going back to bed. I feel terrible. Please try and keep it down.” Matt suited action to his words, literally crashing back on his bed.
He'd probably never make it in Uriah's frat. One to nine was eight hours, which was plenty of rest, even if you were drunk out of your mind the night before. Not that I was feeling any better – or was I?
It wasn't much, but I was. Through the painful light of morning and the strung out ache of my muscles, I was feeling a bit better. The light was even bearable this morning, and hadn't caused an instant headache. Maybe I was finally kicking this illness.
Maybe it had nothing to do with the blood I'd drunk.
They are related, Robert – but not in the way you suspect.
And right on cue. I had been hoping I'd dreamed that part up, at least.
Alright voice, if you aren't a fiction of my imagination as I slowly go insane, who are you?
I am your friend and guardian spirit, but if you must have a name, you may call me Vlad.
Well, that was pretty cliché.
Not all creatures have rare and interesting names, Robert.
Okay, he kind of had me there. So, what do you want? I sent at him.
To discuss a few matters. Last night you were... indisposed.
Well that was a pretty polite way of saying I was in shock. I wasn't even sure how I'd gotten back to my bed. It was enough that Matt was okay, and had no memory of things.
Alright, what things? I sent back again. It was a little weird, I could feel Vlad if I focused, kind of. Not physically, but there was a sense, a knowledge, that he was there.
Your powers, for example. What you will be able to do with my help.
And what powers might those be?
I could feel the grin as the spirit answered. The power to dominate the weak willed with a glance, the power to fade from awareness, the power to move objects with your mind alone, and the power to shift your shape, to begin with.
That was... a lot to take in. I can really do all that?
Vlad sounded/felt almost insufferably smug. Such power will be yours. However, your full strength may take time to develop – and you will be weaker during daylight hours.
How do I do it?
Amusement through the link this time. What is it you wish to do?
That was a good question. I didn't really want to dominate minds or shift my shape, I'd probably screw it up and make Matt a vegetable or get stuck as a yak or something. Invisibility might also be hard to explain away if I couldn't master it first try.
I guess moving objects?
Indulgence came through the link this time. As you wish; focus upon the pencil on your desk.
I did so, imagining it raising up. With little wobble, it did so. My heart soared; I had powers! I was about to cheer when I realized two things. One, Matt was asleep a few feet away and probably wouldn't like it, and two, the strain of keeping the pencil up was enormous. I let it fall and watched as it rolled off the desk. Then with a sigh I got up and placed it back on the desk; it was mechanical and the last thing either Matt or I needed was to run it through a foot.
Why is it so hard to do? I asked Vlad.
I did say your powers would be weakened in daylight hours, He replied. Nevertheless, it was a poor showing. You should grow more capable with time and practice.
That was good to know.
There was something I had to ask. But I didn't really need to; some things were now obvious. And since I didn't need to go anywhere, Matt had the right idea. I rolled over and shut my eyes, falling asleep pretty much like flipping a switch.
The knock at my door woke me up. I rolled over into the twilight; the sun was vanishing rapidly judging from the light left entering the window.
Matt was gone.
With a sigh I got up and answered the door, noticing along the way that I felt even better now than earlier.
Uriah was on the other side of it, fist raised to knock again. He looked back just in time to avoid busting me in the nose.
Oh, hello. You weren't answering your phone.”
"I was sleeping. Something about getting hijacked to a party last night and drinking.”
Uriah waved that off, like he always did. “It was good for you, and you know it. So what have you been up to?”
"Sleeping. I haven't felt well for the last week.” I could tell him that much. But he would never know why I hadn't felt well. Nor would the rest of the family. How did you explain that you had a voice in your head, and no you weren't crazy because the voice was actually the spirit of a dead vampire?
I'd get exorcised at least three times just in the first week, and probably by homeless guys in collars; Mom wasn't exactly discriminating on such things.
Uriah made a show of looking at me. Then grabbed my arm and started dragging me. “Well, you look alright to me. Come on, let's go somewhere. I know you, if left to your own devices you'll just stay here and watch TV or read a stupid book or something.”
I managed to dig my heels in. “Hold on, I need to grab my keys and change first.”
Uriah let go, and crossed his arms. “Fine, but I'll be waiting right here.”
His foot was in the door. Well, there went that plan. I grabbed some fresh clothes and threw them on. Morbid curiosity had me checking my reflection in the mirror – I still showed up in it. Then I noticed some of my teeth were red.
So yeah, that had to go. A quick scrub and a mint to remove the coppery taste and I was ready, or as ready as Uriah would let me be.
He all but frog marched me down the hall; it was insulting, I hadn't even ran out on him last time, Or the time before that. I was turning over a new leaf, I guess.
Outside the sunlight spiked both my eyes just before it receded; a nice farewell to the day, and a good reminder about the new me... if one was needed.
Come on, we'll take my car.”
"Uriah, I don't think....”
He turned and gave me as serious a look as I'd ever seen him give; worse than that time I helped him fill out his job application, back before he decided working wasn't really for him. “I won't pull any of my usual crap, Rob. Just get in.”
Uriah led the way past where my own car was parked, and we got in and belted up. He didn't really check behind him as well as he should have before backing out, but it worked out because he didn't hit anything. I let out a breath. He reached over and turned the radio off.
Uriah was still silent, and it was beginning to freak me out a little. “So, what's on your mind?”
Have you given any thought to joining?” He asked.
Oh right, the frat. Did I want to join the frat? “You know, I have given a little thought to it.”
Visions of all the hot women I'd met last night filled my mind as I took a breath. I was pretty sure I knew where they were coming from. “I've decided I will.”
Uriah started up before his brain caught up. “You shouldn't just turn it down, the brothers can help you more than you think and... wait, what?”
I've decided I will. Well, that is, unless they've gone back on their promise not to haze me. They did say they would give me twenty-four hours to decide.” I did need friends, but I didn't need my brothers friends, and he had to know I felt that way. But having a support network, a fallback plan, was a smart thing to do. If I lost my job, how would I pay for all this? I didn't have the help my brothers did.
And Uriah wouldn't be there forever. I could just avoid that unpleasant aspect by avoiding him. I didn't need to be a particularly active member in the frat.
No, they haven't gone back on that. But even if they had, with the faculty cracking down there isn't going to be anything bad. Some rigged scavenger hunts and some more name calling is it. Mainly as an excuse to tell the guys who just aren't Sigma material to go away.”
Well it soothed my conscience to know that there wasn't going to be any bad hazing because the faculty was watching. Nothing let me know how far I can trust my new brothers like fear of prosecution.
Then I noticed something and my heart sank to my shoes. “We aren't headed to the frat. Where are we headed?”
Uriah's tone took on an almost reverent tone when he replied. “His house.”
There was only one He that Uriah could be referring to here; our brother David.
David was the second son of our merry family, and one of the most sadistic. He was the one that taught all the others how to behave regarding me; diaper wedgies and different forms of toilet training were involved. Even as an adult he never quite lost that 'pulling wings off flies' feeling. Right out of college he joined a law firm, and I had no doubt he'd make junior partner before thirty. I really didn't want to go see David. Our parents were very proud, and never passed up a chance to update me on how great he was doing.
Uriah was just as nervous, I realized – which made no sense, since they always got along. “Relax man, we aren't going to see him. He just wanted you to know where he lived, just in case. Abe did the same thing for me, my freshman year.”
"Have you ever visited?” So he had contact with Abe? I didn't think any one of us did, not since he left for college. Maybe it was just me, but the only thing I knew about him is he was working as an engineer for a car company. Our parents hadn't even told me which one.
Uriah shook his head. “No, never needed to.”
I could understand that. My arm could be getting ripped off by land sharks and I wouldn't darken David's door. It would probably go better for me if I tried to reason with the sharks.
His house was actually a townhouse sandwiched between a fake Chinese place and curio shop; it looked a little out of place among all the downtown small businesses. Uriah pointed it out as we cruised past with a sigh. “Good, he's not home. He rents the second floor of that house there.”
Oh? What kind of car does he drive?”
"An acura something or other. I know it's expensive.”
Of course it was. Our parents probably bought it for him too, like they did Uriah's car. Not that I was jealous or anything; my car that was older than I was worked perfectly well. Like an older brother that wouldn't pull any crap; well, other than break down on me. It didn't do that often though.
Uriah screwed his face up in the way he had when he was thinking; it made him look constipated. “You don't need to worry about it man, you'll get there. Not your fault the 'rents were pretty much broke by the time you were born. You'll get there, and show us all, or something.”
That might almost be touching if he meant it. No one in my family expected much from me, except to stay out of prison if I was lucky.
Well anyway, I showed you where he lives.” Uriah said, cutting through my thoughts.
"You could have just given me his number.”
Uriah snorted. “You say that like I have it. He never gave it to me, or any of the rest of us, as far as I know. Mom and Dad probably have it, and maybe Samson, but I don't. Even the phone services don't have it, it's unlisted.”
Well that was... I wasn't sure what that was, but it was something.
He called you then?” David had to have gotten in touch with Uriah somehow.
"Yeah, but caller I.D. Didn't work and neither did callback, so I have no idea.”
"Maybe he's a spy or something.”
Uriah snorted again. “David? No way he'd pass the psych test for that. No, it's probably some privacy thing to do with his job.”
Why would he need to spoof his phone for a job as a lawyer? Attorney/client privilege didn't work that way. Did it? Was there a change to the law when I wasn't looking?
Uriah was taking us back to my dorm; wonders never ceased. “I kind of expected you'd hijack me to the frat.”
Uriah turned and ceased watching the road with a grin. “I considered it man, and was even asked to if you joined... but you look like hell, so I'm thinking you should get some more rest.”
I wasn't about to deny I felt like roadkill, not if it got me out of dealing with Uriah for the day. I could do with more rest.
I had to go to class tomorrow, and then to work – and my passenger told me outright being up and about in sunlight was pain. So far there had been no evidence to contradict him, but I was hoping it wouldn't get any worse; what I was dealing with now was manageable, if only just.
We pulled to a stop outside the dorm and I jumped out, stopping Uriah when he made as if to join me. “I can make it from here. You don't want to get towed, and the guy in charge is pretty insistent on what happens to people who block the drive.”
"Right. Alright man, get some sleep and call me later.”
One might almost think Uriah cared. He was probably on the hook to Mom and Dad or something.
I was steady, striding past Jayden with a wave on my way upstairs. More steady than I felt, really. I opened the door to an empty room, pulled the blinds as tight as they would go, and collapsed on the bed. I felt hot and my head was swimming, as if I were courting heat exhaustion or something.
I didn't even manage to get the television on; just rolled over and went out.
Not even two hours later I was wide awake. My eyes opened as the sun set, and I felt as if a live wire was jammed into me somewhere, constantly feeding me the good stuff. There was no way I could sleep. I opened the blinds to double-check; yes, the sun had just gone down, and the light was painting the west in it's usual riot of colors.
Matt was still missing.
Checking my phone revealed where he was; he'd sent me a text, revealing that he was at the frat house trying get rushed in and trying to track down the mysterious babe. I wished him luck with that. The next text was from Uriah, asking my opinion on Matt, and I swear I could feel the desperation to kick him to the curb in it. Odd really, considering he seemed to be perfect frat material.
I should probably stay home - but I felt way too good to stay home. So I grabbed my phone, my wallet, and my dorm card, spruced myself up a bit, and left.
The night-life around campus was now in full swing, such as it was. The city wasn't a big one, or even a big party place; some bars, some dance clubs, some bowling alleys, and even a roller skating rink. I stopped a second and looked at that, almost offended by the primal beat of the wub wub music within. It was nice to see roller skating was still a thing, I guess.
Some of the clubs catered to the eighteen and up crowd, and I picked one of the lines at random. I needed to move, and dancing counted. Then I realized I would have to pay the cover charge, and ducked right out of line again.
Even skipping a few meals I didn't have that kind of money.
Just walking, taking in the fresh air, taking in all the people going by and doing their thing, proved therapy enough.
What about that one? Vlad asked, interrupting. My eyes flicked to a good looking brunette in tight clothes.
What about her? I replied. She had a great walk.
Vlad's reply stopped me cold. She looks delicious.
Yeah, no. We aren't here for that.
I felt Vlad's amusement. So you say...but you must, sooner or later.
I gained an idea for how long I walked when I found myself in the park Uriah had taken me to before. Out of curiosity I headed to his secret spot, homing in on the sound of low pitched voices.
A few minutes staring at bushes and I broke out into the small clearing. This time the benches were full.
I recognized a few faces from last night.
The most surprising entry into what had the look of a study group was Candi from last night. And right next to her, sharing a book? Felicia, still rocking her hot librarian thing, though in a skirt that was a bit more conservative. They were both sitting under the only light in the small clearing, which was surprisingly bright; I would hardly have expected the city to spring for the newer light bulbs.
The others were people I might have met last night or not, but didn't really recognize. They could be anyone.
All three were guys, and all three of those guys were kind of tall and broad shouldered in a way that screamed 'I play football'. But of course, we were here, so everyone played football. The first guy (going left to right) was about running back size and sported dark brown hair and eyes. He wasn't a Quasimodo, but he he wasn't a Brad Pitt either.
The second was about center size, black, bad and definitely not beautiful. His eyes crossed somewhere just past his obviously broken many times nose, and he had a serious case of cauliflower ear. Maybe he boxed too?
The last guy was around linebacker size, and wasn't bald, but getting there. What blond hair he had left reached down past an average face to his shoulders, one of which was lopsided. He also had a cast on his right hand; the left was holding a tablet that from the sounds of things, had a game on. All three of the guys were hunched around the tablet, but looked up same as the girls did at the sound of my approach.
Felicia struck first and confirmed that whatever I had, it was still working. “Robert! Hi! I guess your brother showed you this place?”
Yeah, Uriah showed it to me the other day.” I took note of how the guys went from tensing up to visibly relaxed when I dropped my brothers name. It was kind of interesting to watch.
"Oh, so you're Robert then? The one we've been hearing about?” The center asked.
I stuck a hand out. “Robert Russel, and I can assure you anything you've heard about me from my brother was a lie.”
We shook as he replied. “Yeah I know how that goes, I've got a brother of my own. He delights in making me look bad.”
He was lucky if he only had one, but I wasn't about to tell him so.
Right spoke up next. “Chaz. Good to meet you.” He did not stop watching whatever it was, but managed to glance up briefly.
Paul. We met last night.” The running back said, completing the trio.
"Pleased to meet you, and I'll be honest... last night is pretty much a blur. But I've got you set now, name to face and everything.” I hoped my smile looked genuine enough. I was told that sometimes I had problems with that.
Paul blinked rapidly a bit then nodded with a grin. “Yeah, I can see that. Meeting fifty people at once, while partying. No harm no foul.”
We shook. “No harm here at least. So I didn't actually expect this place to be occupied at this time of night. What's everyone doing?”
Well,”Candi replied. “We're doing some book exercises for chem. The guys over there are watching last years bowl game... which they've already seen. Twice.”
I would not have picked Candi for the studious type, but apparently Felicia was trying to help refresh her memory since Candi's high school version of chem had been less than thorough. The two really did seem to be good friends.
On the other hand, I'd bet a twenty I didn't have that the guys were here just to keep an eye on the girls. After all, a nice secluded spot with an approach not well known or lit was a prime spot for something bad to happen. And to do all that while talking football, without the girls being the wiser? My estimation of all three rose.
Candi might do better if she didn't use a phone app for her math.
After a pleasant hour or so blown in meaningless conversation it was time to move on. I waved quickly and said my goodbyes; the park was more deserted than when I went in (of course). The night life was still in full swing, and I was just as tempted to join as before, but I had class in the morning. It wasn't quite time to sleep, but it was getting there.
A lone woman, a few years past college age unless I missed my guess, gave me a weighted once over as she walked past me.
A good candidate. Vlad noted.
When he did it again, for what appeared to be a cougar for all intents and purposes, I sighed. Screw this.
I'm not hunting for victims to drain blood from. I shot back.
Screw it. I turned around and started back to the dorm.
Matt was still gone when I got back. I settled into bed, watching television.
Yes, Robert? I tried to ignore the glee I heard.
Can you help me sleep? So it's easier to get up in the morning.
Yes Robert, I can do that. Do you want me to?
Before I could finish thinking the yes I was out.
Morning came. I turned blearily into the blinding sun and fumbled for my sunglasses. With the glasses on the headache became something I could deal with. Matt was actually in bed – I racked my brain, thinking. No, he didn't have any classes as early as I did.
You're welcome, Robert. Vlad told me.
I gathered my clothes up and started to the showers with a mumbled thanks. Then realized I said it out loud, no matter how quiet.
Showering took awhile. My hair seemed to want to tangle, and keeping my feet under me was a chore; but I was well within my time limit drying off and getting out. There were a few other guys giving me the evil eye, I noticed. Hm, must be gay or something. As long as they kept it to themselves, I wouldn't have to flip them off and run.
I was right on time; I made it out into the punishing sunlight in time to merge with a bunch of other students.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though I warmed up a little more than I would have expected on the trip. The first of three classes for the day was math related; college algebra. I'd taken the high school equivalent just last year, so it was mostly fresh in my mind. And by mostly fresh I mean better than the English I'd be dealing with next.
The professor was an old guy who had several sheepskins of his own hanging in his office. He was small and bony, with a distinct lack of head hair. He shuffled with the gait of someone who had been hurt somehow, and it was a wonder to my why he hadn't retired before now. His name was professor Norton, but he didn't tell us that.
Instead he spoke about the expectations and requirements of the course, in a loud booming voice that took me completely by surprise. He didn't even need a microphone to project to the back of the room. It shut the more chatty people up completely.
Of course, what he said wasn't important really, since I'd already covered it before even entering his classroom. I even knew what the first assignment was. I hadn't really been able to read it because of work and well, things happening, but I didn't really need to take notes.
I took them anyway; if nothing else it didn't give him an excuse to make an example out of me.
The next class was even more boring than the first, and much more noisy. The teacher was almost a total match for the math teacher we just met. Small, bookish, and wrinkled, she at least had more hair. She introduced herself as Mrs. Spaulding, not Dr. or professor. She did need a mic, and people kept talking right through her lecture on how important learning proper English was.
It was hard to take notes from her.
The last class was a marketing one, where I would learn to be the best useless middle manager I could be. Unless I moved on, intro to business, which seemed like a joke course but was actually required for my current major, which was business. It seemed like a sure thing from the brochures; after all, businesses were everywhere, and all of them needed managers.
I could always change later if something else peaked my interest.
The professor here was even worse than the English teacher. He just gave a set of basic expectations and told us to read the first chapter in the book for the rest. It was pretty clear he wasn't invested at all. Which was probably fine, since a quick look around revealed that most of the students were equally interested.
I still took notes.
I had time for a quick lunch after class, but I wasn't really hungry. I ate anyway, some instant noodles at the cafeteria; they sat like lead in my stomach. But I knew I needed it. - or I hoped I did. Vlad was pretty silent so far, and I hadn't gathered the courage to ask him. The blood thing had to be in addition to normal food, otherwise I'd be a vampire, not a mutant. Right?
After that I was good to go to work – but my headache was rising beyond a simple tenseness behind the nose to a full blown pain. Aspirin was going to be something I'd have to invest more in.
I made it to work fifteen minutes early, and Lucy stared. “What's the occasion? You don't need to impress us anymore.”
I shrugged. “It might not be a habit, but it might. Just started the new schedule.”
Yeah I know how that is. James might be in today, but if he is he'll be late. He said to let you know.”
Works for me.”
Right, got to go. Got to get to my own classes. See you tomorrow Rob.”
Good talk we just had. Good to know that power I was supposed to have didn't work on every girl. Maybe emo types were immune? Vlad stayed silent, so that probably wasn't it.
Lucy hadn't even left me any work to do... so instead I had to satisfy myself with reading my own books. At least I would be ahead in my classes.
It took less than fifteen minutes to teach me the error of my ways; everyone and their brother came in, in bursts of five and ten at a time, all looking for old textbooks. I had to hide my own after the first rush, or risk selling them off.
It got so bad I had issues making sure books didn't walk out of the store for free; it was hard to watch everyone. I was sure I glared at least two would be thieves down, both guys who were bigger than I was. It was all a terrible, terrible blur.
I was counting up the register when James walked in, and I must have looked a little wild-eyed.
"Peace! I'm not a customer!”
I relaxed. “Good, I'd just locked up, and I'd hate to think I screwed that up somehow.”
He chuckled. Then he took a better look at me. “You look a little peaked. You feel okay?”
I in no way wanted to tell the truth to that question, though I did feel better since the sun went down. “Yeah, I feel fine. But just in case I'll bomb myself with vitamin C and that cold stuff.”
"Good, I'd hate for you to call in during my busiest week. But, if you need to, you go ahead and call in, alright?”
I took in James's almost comically stern face (he was actually serious) and nodded. “You'll be the first to know.”
There was no way I could call in. If I had to, I'd ask Vlad for help; he probably had some way to keep me up.
Speaking of staying up, I was tired again, but I wasn't. The drive home was longer; the streets were full. The change was remarkable really, the city was no New York, but it was full of bright lights and loud people.
I have to admit, I hated it a little, just for a moment.
A little later I found myself outside a bar. The name didn't matter, the place was a total dive; the exact opposite of the clubs around. There were four cars in the lot outside it, if you included mine.
I wasn't here for alcohol though; I was after another kind of drink. I wanted it so bad I could taste it.
Oh wait, I could taste it; my newly sharpened fangs were deep into my lower lip. Somehow the blood was more bland; less satisfying than Matt's had been.
As bad as it sounded I really wanted Matt's blood. I wanted to see if Matt was really that tasty, or if others were too.
I waited in my car awhile.
What was I even doing? This was insane; I did not want to be doing this at all. I started my car back up and pulled out, heading back to the dorm.
I met Laurie at the door; had I really been out the extra hour?
She turned to me and put a hand on her hip; it made her look luscious. "You look like hell."
I shrugged and tried not to stare. "I've been having trouble sleeping."
"Yeah, you might do something about that. Go see a doctor or something."
"Maybe, but I feel fine." I couldn't afford that co-pay, even if my new insurance covered it.
Laurie frowned. "No, I'm serious, you really should get checked out.; you aren't looking well at all."
I just can't say no. Maybe if I skipped a few more meals. "We will see."
Laurie flounced away; I almost chased, her scent was maddening. "Right, well I've got class tomorrow so I'm going to be boring tonight and get some sleep, myself."
"Same. Maybe I won't have any issues tonight." Somehow I doubted that.
Laurie gave a coy look back. "Well, good luck with that. I'll be sure to nag you more if you don't get better."
I grinned, ignoring her pulsing neck. "I'll be sure to blow it off."
She laughed. "As long as we understand each other. Good night."
And she slammed her door in my face. When had we walked up the stairs? Maybe I was a little too tired.
Matt was in our room. Did Laurie have a roommate? I hadn't seen one.
"There you are bro. How was work?"
Well that was an easy answer. "It sucked. How was hanging out with my brother?"
It was a wild guess, but it was apparently close. "It was amazing! We ran some scrims. The Thi's are a pretty cool bunch. You should join in next weekend, they will be having another party."
Knowing Uriah I would be, like it or not. But it would be a good place for....
No, don't think about it. Think about steak or a nice lobster or something. Yeah, steak was nice; mainly rare ones.
"Anyway, I've got class tomorrow and I probably shouldn't miss the first day, so I'm going to bed. Keep your alarm on and wake me up if I'm not up, okay?"
It was more likely he'd be waking me up again. "Sure, no problem."
I was still awake, channel surfing from my bed, when Matt's breathing evened out. I tried not to notice.
I couldn't turn the television up any louder without waking him up, but I could still hear the blood pumping in his veins. I most pointedly did not smell it either.
My stomach growled.
Matt's neck drew my eyes like a magnet.
"Vlad, if Matt wakes up, you can hypnotize him, can't you? Make him forget what I'm doing?"
"Of course," Vlad replied. "Do not worry about discovery.”
Discovery wasn't the only thing I was worried about, but Matt had been fine before, so it would be fine, right? I could go and look into buying rare meat or something tomorrow, and no one would be the wiser, right?
A few mouthfuls of ambrosia, taken from the same 'hickie' and flavored slightly with something that could be whiskey, and I was back in my bed. The wound didn't close like the movies, but it didn't bleed either, so that was a plus. Matt hadn't even shifted.
It was much easier to fall asleep myself.
It was also easier to wake up; it only took Matt two shakes to get me up and slamming a fist into my alarm. He looked fine - bags under his eyes, but who didn't have those in this day and age?
"Well, one of us failed. Sorry, Matt."
Matt rubbed his neck. "No problem, man. I'm beginning to appreciate your alarm, but you might want to stop watching all the late night T.V. It's not doing you any favors."
"I don't need to hear that from you, Mr. party animal."
Matt grinned. "Ha, guilty. Alright then, time to do the college thing."
We hit the showers together; a fact I was thankful for when that weird guy from yesterday showed up again. It wasn't even like he was gay and checking me out or anything, so much as... comparing. Looking down, I didn't see any problems. At least he kept his distance.
About halfway through the shower I realized I felt pretty good. Not exactly energetic, but wide awake and ready to face the day, something I hadn't felt since I moved here. And with Matt looking (mostly) fine, I was willing to think that things were looking up. I'd talk to a doctor and a butcher both today, and leave the poor sap alone in the future.
"See you later Matt." I looked over from the door out to see Matt pulling a creeper on me too.
He snapped out of it long enough to reply; his look remained more than a little like shower creepers. "Yeah, sure thing. Later Rob."
I didn't really want to ask.
The sun was just as bright and punishing as ever; stepping into it was like stepping into a warm summer's day... in death valley. It wasn't really the heat either; my car had to be twenty degrees above the outside temperature, and yet I instantly felt cooler just by easing into it.
My sunglasses were on the dash, which was a good thing. I put them on so I could see to drive.
The college was bustling today, everything and everyone was in full swing. Birds were chirping, dogs were barking, cars were zooming by, and people were walking along and talking. It was a nice wonderful day.
I hated it all.
Oh God, was I becoming some emo edge-lord? That wasn't a requirement for vampirism, was it? Hanging out in old moldy castles and sighing a lot over moronic teens I would be robbing the cradle for? I really hoped not... though the idea of some of my recent acquaintances in those old fashioned frilly dresses took some sting out of the idea.
I needed to get to a doctor or something, but how did one explain something like this? 'Hi, I think I'm a vampire, and the voice in my head agrees?' This wasn't some mutation thing; if I had been a mutant it would have happened by now. Chances were I'd find myself in a psych ward, and Ohio wasn't exactly known for it's mental health care.
At least the hunger was manageable; I could ignore it easily, despite what all the books and movies said. It really wasn't much different than the desire for a good steak. Well, I was hungry for steak I could ignore it - or a burger, or anything else. But I refused to fall to the worst cliche of vampirism and start waxing poetic about blood or bathing in it or anything similar.
So I resolved to enjoy the day; as annoying as sunlight directly into my eyeballs was, it beat burning to a crisp from it.
That couldn't really happen, could it? I mean, the transformation or whatever this was couldn't go that far, could it?
No, the rays of the sun will not cause you to catch fire or explode. Vlad answered without being asked.
Well, that was a relief. At least until I realized I hadn't asked that question.
Vlad responded again and I heard clear amusement this time, That is because humans are predictable, and you are more easy to read than most.
Well fuck you very much, Vlad.
The dark, cool interior of the classroom was a welcome relief, and I settled in my seat to take notes.
The distractions weren't long in coming, and took the forms of looks. Looks I couldn't ignore, because while most of them were the long appraising looks I'd dreamed of getting from women, the sad truth was I couldn't help but wonder how much of it was me, and how much of it was Vlad. It mattered.
But Vlad had said he needed eye contact for it to work - and I wasn't looking anyone in the eye lately.
Whatever, it was best not to think on it; most of those girls probably had boyfriends. Really jealous boyfriends.
I mentally stripped gears getting my train of thought back on track, and managed to follow what the professor was saying, for all that he didn't make it easy.
The second class was less - bad. I was able to focus and follow along and I could banish my shades to the recesses of a pocket.
My third class was a little better; I actually felt a little energy by the time the lecture was over and it was time for lunch. But I didn't feel hungry at all. Not even for... less savory things. It was weird. Once done, classes for me were over for the day, so the sunglasses went back on.
I stopped at the first deli I saw anyway. I didn't want to take the chance on doing without later.
The guy at the counter (Were they still called butchers in this day and age?) was pristine, from his white tennis shoes to his white hat. Not a spec of anything on him. I was careful not to fingerprint up the glass as I picked out the cheapest most bloody meat I could find. The cheapest wasn't exactly cheap, and I swear my wallet winced as the guy rang up my fresh ground chuck and flank steak.
I made it to work a good seven minutes early, and clocked in. I stowed the meat in the James's refrigerator and headed up front.
Lucy turned from the desk as I walked in; the place was packed with browsers. The windows had enough light to convince me to keep my sunglasses on.
"Good, you're here. Mind if I take off? I've got classes in a half an hour."
I waved her off. "Sure, I've got this. You been busy?"
"Yeah, this is actually slower than this morning. Good luck."
I settled in with my own books, marked so that no one would try to snag them for resale. I didn't have time to crack them open however, since everyone seemed to take my arrival as the excuse needed to check out.
I mourned my lack of reading done and started the car up, but consoled myself with the idea that it wouldn't last. Then I realized I'd locked up and forgotten my meat. Then I realized in my haste to buy said meat, I'd forgotten the only stove and fridge I had access to at campus was communal; it would be better to trust James and use the break room in the store, which did have a stove.
That and sending a text was easier than dealing with opening the door again. I was tired, and not the energetic tired I'd been dealing with the last few days, tired tired. Tired to the bone.
The drive took too long, and I almost plowed into a car as it stopped at a red light. My usual parking spot was taken by a Mazda of all things, so I had to drive around.
The door was locked too, of course. I managed to get it open and walked up the stairs because I didn't want to wait for the elevator. There was no one in the hall, which was a little unusual, even for as late as it was, but I didn't care.
Only after I fell into bed did it occur to me; Matt was in his own bed, already snoring away.
My alarm went off and I slapped it across the room before I realized I was awake. Well, kind of awake, anyway. It was a little dark, burrowed under all my blankets. Dark and hot. A peek outside my cloth fort showed me why I was under it. I grabbed for my sunglasses and checked the time.
Right at nine am, and I felt just fine. I had plenty of time to get ready - even time enough for breakfast if I wanted. I'd have to eat something, for all that I didn't feel like it. Well, turn about was fair play; Matt had been pretty nice to me so far, even if the triple A alarm was involved.
"Matt, you need awake now? It's nine."
Matt rolled away from me and muttered "Fug op."
I guess that was a no. With a shrug I left, making sure the door was locked behind me. That, and that I had my keycard.
The shower was even weirder today. This time the one guy was there - and he had a friend. Both took turns staring at me. It was enough to give a guy a complex, but they weren't any bigger than I was, so to speak. But the looks they were giving me was something like the look you'd give a horse or pig before you bought it.
Don't talk to me.
Well, that was abrupt.
I'm angry at you. Just go do your thing and keep ignoring your power, betrayer.
....What? Just great, Vlad had lost it. Could the voice in your head go insane? Would that make me insane? Ugh, I needed a shrink. Right after that doctor.
Well, I did have time to walk in today, assuming I could get it covered. Maybe I could fool the parents into covering it? It didn't matter if I could or not, I would need to see a doctor, if only to confirm to myself that I wasn't crazy.
Matt was up and moving when I went back to drop my crap off, slowly but it was happening. He looked better.
"Hey, thanks for waking me up."
"No problem. You're even more surly than I am in the morning."
He grinned. "Nah probably not; just hung-over."
"A fair point," I conceded. "You got class? If I know your schedule I can help you keep it."
"I don't for an hour yet, but I can always get an early start on weight training. All the better for practice later, space them out, you know?"
Football. I did indeed know, so I nodded along.
"Alright, well good luck then. Don't pull anything."
"Sure. See you later man. Also, you look less like curdled death today."
I stopped before saying something I'd regret. "Thanks; so do you."
Matt took it in stride. "Yeah right. I don't know what was wrong with me the other day, but I feel fine now. Hopefully it isn't catching."
It wasn't. "I'm not too worried. anyway I need to get going. See you later."
I shut the door, reflecting on how old the term 'dude' was. And how out of date. Of course it still sounded better than 'bro'... but that could be because I had six of those.
My phone had a text from James, telling me I could use the stove in his bookstores break room if I needed to. That was welcome news; I didn't want to have to smuggle that stuff onto campus, I'd get shanked by hungry students.
But I was fine - aside from the desperate need for my sunglasses. My eyes hadn't changed color or anything, but all of the sunlight seemed to be streaming into them all at once. I wanted to ask Vlad what other changes I could look forward to, but he was pouting.
He knew I wanted to know, and I knew he knew, and so on.
Just as I sat down to begin taking notes for the first class, safely early, the stomach cramps began. They were unlike any pain I'd felt before, even other stomach cramps from food poisoning; I grit my teeth against the waves of agony and just as I was getting ready for a good screaming fit they subsided.
A little shaky, I stood up and made my way back out into the hall; the school frowned on drinks in the classroom, but there were vending machines in the lobby, and I put my money in and got some water. I still wasn't hungry, but I was suddenly very thirsty.
I walked back and took my seat, thinking, and doing my best to keep the bottle of water low profile. I'd felt hunger pangs and stomach cramps before, and this hadn't felt anything like those. So what was it, exactly? Was becoming a vampire killing my stomach somehow? I still had a pulse, I still needed to breathe (I checked and turned blue as the professor walked in, just to make sure) so why my stomach, and just my stomach?
I really needed to see that doctor. I'd go after class... no wait, I still needed to get paid. I'd go after work; there had to be a doctor on duty at night, and phantom stomach pain counted as something major, or could.
So I'd go tonight... unless it got worse.
I guzzled the water when the professor wasn't looking and took notes when he was. When the bell rang, I was out the door and first in line at the vending machine for more water. I walked across the painfully bright quad and sat down in my next classroom... and my stomach rumbled, then knotted again.
I could feel the water moving in me, making mini waves in time to my agony, but no sooner did I shoot to my feet then the pain subsided again. Cautiously I sat back down. Nothing - not so much as a hiccup.
About midway through class and well into my note taking, it happened again, but this time I couldn't even stand up - and I was rendered too breathless to scream. And then my stomach unknotted again just as if it never happened.
The end of class couldn't come fast enough, but it still managed to take me by surprise.
I made a beeline for the clinic, just a few blocks away at a walk. Missing my next class would be a small price to pay to know what was wrong with me, especially if I could get a doctor to sign an absence for me. It was a better alternative to suffering - or missing work, which I'd get paid for. It was mildly worrying to miss a class this early in the semester, but what else could I do?
I don't suppose you want to tell me what's going on?
Vlad was silent; if he even knew, he wasn't talking. Well, it was worth a shot.
The clinic was small, but still had a combination waiting room and lobby. Of course, it was half full, mainly with middle aged and old overweight people reading magazines or watching a mid day game show.
The nurse as the desk was on the young and cute side, though the pink scrubs she was wearing did nothing for her. Her name tag said "Heidi."
"Hello Heidi, I need to see a doctor."
Heidi didn't do that thing nurses normally do; look you up and down and then ask why, implying you're perfectly healthy. I was grateful for that.
Instead she grabbed a clipboard. "Name and Identification?"
"Robert Russel." I handed over my license and college ID (Since I'd be using that for any discounts I could get anyway; sure I was still covered for now, but Mom would insist.) and we began the round of twenty stupid questions to ask sick people that nonetheless needed to be asked, starting with my date of birth.
Then of course came the inevitable "Take a seat Robert, and a nurse will call your name when we're ready for you."
Because while no one was bleeding out in the waiting room, I wasn't spurting blood in the nurse's face from a stump either, and stomach pain could mean anything from 'I'm dying' to 'I've got bad gas'... they would play the odds.
I sat down in the farthest most shady corner of the waiting room and tried not to think of blood. To add a final nice nail in that coffin my stomach rumbled, loudly, and rolled over. It felt like it took my heart and lungs with it, and all three were now pooling in my shoes.
My corner was deserted, and that was good; it seemed no one was close enough to hear my body contorting itself.
The nurse came for us, one after the other, the old people first. Oddly enough though it went quickly, and only forty minutes later Heidi herself came for me:
"Mr. Russel." She looked around, her eyes passing over my corner twice; she focused with a start as I stood up.
"Here." That was a little odd.
Heidi recovered quickly, a true pro. "This way please."
Heidi led me to a scale, first of all. One of the old fashioned mechanical ones, complete with peeling paint and small dents. "Step on, please."
I did and she did her thing with the little balancer things. The verdict was a little off; I wasn't that big a guy but I had weighed more than 150 lbs a week ago. She looked to the scale, then to me, and shrugged and wrote the figure down.
"I think it's broken, Heidi. I weigh one-eighty."
"Probably Mr. Russel, but that's the only scale we have at the moment. One-eighty, you say?"
She scribbled the new figure down and crossed out the old one. "Good enough for me. Right this way."
She led me to a room at the end of the hall, past the old couple who were called before me, and past a guy that had to have been in an accident; poor guy looked like he had gone through a shredder.
"Wait here please, sir."
I hopped up on the small bed bolted in the center of the room. "Sure thing."
I got a raised eyebrow for that and then nurse Heidi left, clearly filled with joy. I settled in to wait.
I almost wanted to track down the smells I was detecting under the bleach and antiseptic; something about them.... But just a bit less than twenty minutes later, a man that could only be the doctor strode in the open door.
He was young, I think. Somewhere between twenty and forty, with swarthy skin and thick curly black hair. He might have been handsome, if you were into the tall dark and not so silent types. "Good afternoon Mr...."
Weird, the way he just stopped like that, staring. "Russel. Robert Russel."
He shook himself almost like a dog. "Right, Mr. Russel. Well, Mr. Russel, I'm doctor Johar. What seems to be the problem today?"
He had an accent that seemed vaguely familiar, but didn't quite check out against any of the countries I'd have thought he would be from.
"Well, Dr. Johar, it's my stomach. I was in class taking notes when I felt my stomach tie itself in knots. Worst pain I think I've ever felt. I thought something might be going terribly wrong, so I came here."
"Mhm." The doctor hummed. Moving close, he put on some rubber gloves and then poked and prodded. I endured it, even when he tried to poke his fingers through me.
"Well you don't feel hot, or enflamed, and you aren't screaming, so it probably isn’t appendicitis or kidney stones. You don't feel feverish, so an infection is unlikely; what have you eaten in the last twenty-four hours?"
"Uh... you think it could be food poisoning?" Was it safe to tell a doctor you had drank human blood? No, he said the last twenty four hours, and it had been longer than that. What if Matt was diseased or something?
No, he wasn't. I knew he was healthy, somehow.
"It's possible." Dr. Johar assured me. "And stomach pain, often described as crippling, is a symptom of most kinds of it."
That... would be a relief, actually. If not for the fact that I hadn't actually eaten much the last few days and nothing in the last twenty-four hours. "I had some ramen yesterday; I haven't had anything since."
A little white lie never hurt anyone, hopefully.
"Well, that's a bit more unusual. The cup ramen? That stuff can't really carry any bugs, it's far too synthetic now. So we can probably rule that out and go right to the other causes."
"Well, ulcers or stomach cancer come to mind," The Doctor levied the doom with a grin.
"Gee thanks Doctor."
A clipboard was produced, and the doctor began writing in that horrible scribble they all have - not that I was really one to talk.
"I'm scheduling some tests here, just an X-ray and blood test for now; we will see what those show before we go to the more expensive stuff. Meanwhile you'll be monitored for a bit in case the pain repeats itself."
"Sounds good." I didn't want to try and justify some thousand dollar test using some quirky gadget; that sort of thing had driven insurance companies nuts lately; a happy insurance company was one using completely proven tech, or so my Mom told me... at length and far too often for my taste.
We learned early not to get hurt or sick at home, my brothers and I.
The doctor left in a hurry, his face a silent apology. I guess he was the lone wolf today, or near enough. It must suck trying to rush from person to person and problem to problem. A few minutes thankfully without pain, and the nurse walked back in; I jumped up and held the door for her while she wheeled the cart in behind her.
"Thanks. Pretty spry for someone with stomach pain."
"It comes and goes," I told her. "Right now it left. I just want to make sure nothing is wrong."
Because stomach cancer or pancreatitis or anything like that would suck.
"Right," she replied. "Alright, arm out if you please. You're not afraid of needles or anything, are you?"
"No, go right ahead." I complied and she wiped the favorite spot for nurses everywhere down with alcohol then stuck the needle in. She was good; I didn't feel the needle. I did feel the pull as she drew the blood though, and it seemed worse than normal.
I watched as the blood settled in the test tube, dark and rich. It seemed darker, and more viscous somehow. I tried to compare my memory to the image before me and couldn't - I didn't remember what my blood looked like before when drawn. But something about it looked off to me. Or maybe I was just psyching myself out; the nurse didn't look concerned at all. She just slapped a band-aid over the needle mark and threw the needle away as if nothing were wrong. She even shook the test tube a little before putting it in her little tube rack or whatever it was, checking the reaction.
I guess nothing was wrong.
"I'll be right back to lead you to the X-ray machine, then we can get you out of here, alright?"
"Sounds good to me Nurse."
I checked my phone. If I got out of here in the next thirty, I'd be too late for any further classes but right on time for work. I wouldn't even have to call in with an excuse, which would be a plus. The real issue was without any concrete evidence on this, how would I get the doctor to sign off on an absence slip for me.
No, the real issue was the smell coming from down the hall.
I knew what it was of course, the smell hadn't really changed, just my reaction to it. It was a little disturbing to feel the stirring of possible instinct at work. But for it to be that sharp, that immediate, only meant one thing. That the liquid I craved was hitting open air somewhere; that someone was bleeding, and possibly bleeding out.
I didn't hear any panic though; the clinic remained quiet.
It was just my nose, tormenting me.
The nurse came back, knocking on the door. I knew it was her by the tread of her feet on the tile floor. "Ready to go Rob?"
She led me down the hall and toward the smell; it seemed she had decided to torment me too. The door to the room was open, and there was an old man in the bed - an old wrinkled salt of a man getting a blood transfusion for whatever reason. He was sleeping peacefully by all accounts, the stuff of life flowing into him, and it smelled divine.
I realized I was being left behind and stepped lively to avoid looking suspicious. I didn't think anyone noticed.
The Doctor was waiting at the machine. "Alright Robert, Step on the X on the floor please."
With a shrug I did it and the nurse locked the lead shields in place.
"Stay very still, Robert. Do you prefer Rob or Robert?"
I stood still as the seconds ticked by, resisting the urge to scratch my nose.
"Alright, all done."
I scratched with relief, and Heidi gave me a knowing smirk as she unlocked the lead.
"The test results should take about a week, maybe two if the lab is especially busy. If you have any more symptoms, come back right away. Nurse Heidi will see you out," The doctor spit out, then vanished down the hall at a near run.
"What's with him?" I asked my captive audience.
"He's always like that," Nurse Heidi answered. "He thinks he has places to be or something. Come on, let's get you signed out and out of here; unlike us, I'm pretty sure you actually do have places to be."
Well, I couldn't really argue that. "Can I get a...."
"Illness slip? It just so happens you might be able to. What I'll do is I'll enter this visit in the system so that tomorrow you'll be able to show your professor. Then, if we find something, the professor can sign off on the absence as it happens. If not, then the absence will count."
Wait, what about doctor/patient confidentiality? I asked her.
"Oh, we don't tell your professor what we found... we just excuse the absence." Nurse Heidi answered with a smile.
That seemed a little sketchy to me; it was as much an admission of a health issue as anything. I could easily picture some lawyer suing. But I wouldn't raise a fuss if it kept me from getting kicked out of class on my ear.
Plus that old man still smelled amazing. I needed to get out of here.
"Alright, let me get you started on the dreaded insurance paperwork. After that we have the usual name address and work stuff, followed by next of kin, mother's maiden name, and when exactly you skinned your knee falling off your bike when you were twelve."
Ha. I'd laugh, if I hadn't been knocked off my bike by big brother Uriah. I'd broken my arm that day, landing badly. Dad had told me to "suck it up." Good times.
"Got it. Just point me to a quiet corner."
Nurse Heidi just pointed back to the spot in the waiting room I'd originally been camped out at. If my writing had been bad before, it was truly atrocious now. But I got done in record time, and then tried not to tap my foot as Nurse Heidi checked for errors and missing stuff.
"All good. Any further pain?"
I hadn't felt any in hours now, which was a good thing. "None."
Nurse Heidi put a hand on my arm as I turned. "If you do, come back. Don't wait, don't put it off, don't ignore it, whatever you're doing."
I looked into her eyes; she actually did care. "I won't."
"Good, get out of here then while the getting is good."
I went. The sun hit me like a sack of bricks over the head, reminding me of that time I was ten and Samson was convinced that construction was the trade for me. I put my sunglasses on pretty quickly and the instant headache eased.
It was fifteen minutes to my car, and I had 24 to get to work. It probably wasn't the smartest idea to run, but running was what I had.
I made it to my car in nine minutes, and didn't have to take too many chances in order to get to the bookstore early.
I still wasn't early enough to cook my lunch, but maybe I'd have time for that later. It wasn't as if the bookstore was busy on second shift or anything. Maybe if I repeated it enough, it would end up true.
It wasn't; the place was packed and Lucy turned to me with relief I could probably cut it was so thick; the register was swamped.
"I'm glad you're here."
I could hear a few groans from some of the guys in the line; they probably wanted a chance to chat Lucy up. Wouldn't happen this close to her classes, but I guess hope sprang eternal.
Lucy made to give up her spot, and I checked her. "No, not today. You check out, I'll help, and we'll clear it faster."
She gave me a quick probing look which I returned as the customers grew more impatient, then sat back down. I was early, and she knew it. "Alright, works for me. You bag."
I bagged and she plastered a smile on and took the money. We were done with the entire line inside of four minutes, including the lonely guys.
"Thanks for sticking around Lucy."
She waved me off and headed out as the last of our customers headed out the front. "You're welcome, and you were right. Enjoy your night, but now I really do have to go."
My stomach rumbled. But there wasn't any pain, just emptiness. I settled in to finish my own reading while I could.
I shouldn't try to cook my food now, I could get a customer and burn it. Or worse, be involved in the back and have someone walk in and steal something.
I made it all of thirty minutes, but when my stomach grumbled again it felt like it was going to eat me from the inside out, and I knew I couldn't wait anymore. There were still no customers and I took the chance.
The meat was where I'd left it, untouched and still packed. the pan I'd need to cook it was dirty, and I knew as soon as I broke the plastic I couldn't wait. So I did something I never thought I would do... I ate it raw. The entire thing, and I lapped up the blood after like a dog.
I could feel myself doing it, and feel the disgust, but I couldn't bring myself to stop; it was too delicious.
The bell over the front door chimed, indicating a customer.
I took one of James's wet naps and ran it over my face; it came back red, and so did the next one, but a look at the small mirror in the bathroom showed not a hint of blood or speck of meat.
The customer was a guy, an older one s far as college age. He had some rather unfortunate male pattern baldness, and his glasses were so thick they could probably deflect bullets. He was also rail thin and dressed in slacks and a white button down... as if he was going to a job interview.
He stopped, stood upright and adjusted his tie; he wasn't that much shorter than me. "Well, hello."
...What. I was getting some weird vibes here; was he gay? "Hello; can I help you find something?"
"Yeah, do you have a copy of 'Themes and Variations'?"
Psychology; it figured. "Aisle 11, just past that paperback rack there."
His eyes followed my arm and he strode off, actually swinging his arms a little wildly.
I watched him pick one of the new copies out, it was a small thing but one of the more expensive psych books we had; I was kind of lucky he was honest.
He came back, snagged a pen from the pen jar, and added that in. I rang him up. "That will be one hundred and twenty three dollars, please."
He handed me a debit card, leaned against the counter and said: "So, were you eating back there? Some fries or something?"
Huh? "I was, why do you ask?"
"Well, you've got a little red on you. Right here; looks like ketchup." He touched his right cheek, just at his jawline.
Oh, shit. How did I miss any? I wiped my own right cheek, and my finger came away with a smear of red. No, I hadn't missed it; I'd wiped down my entire face. So how had it gotten there? A taste confirmed it was blood. Disgustingly cold and half congealed blood.
"Thanks," I ran his card through; it took me two tries, and I had to keep my smile pasted on the entire time. "Do you need a sack?"
"No problem, and no," He seemed really pleased that he'd figured me out, for some reason. Grabbing his book and pen and hunching himself around them, he looked back and delivered one last smile which did nothing for him. "See you later, gorgeous."
Okay, he was definitely gay. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it was a good thing to know for next time.
I managed to wait until the door stopped swinging before heading into the bathroom and the mirror contained within. There was... something wrong with my reflection. Putting aside the fact that I still had one (Was I supposed to or not?) there was something odd with it.
Flesh deposits, muscle and fat both, seemed to be in different places - leading to a softer and more angular look. There was still a splotch of red on the chin of the face, but it didn't look like mine.
I blinked and it was gone; my face was mine again. I did still have a missed bit of blood on me, which I wiped off quickly.
My stomach rumbled again.
I was hungry, again. There was more meat in the fridge.
This time I resolved to cook it. I set the skillet and the chops on the stove and almost threw the package away before I realized the mistake; it wasn't the meat, I wasn't starving and eating anything in range. It was the blood specifically that I was after.
I really should have realized that before I was lapping it out of the crappy styrofoam container; the taste was awful. Beyond awful, really. And of course the meat had more, and cooking would get rid of it.
I threw them in the skillet anyway; I wasn't a savage. I'd just make them a little rare, that was all.
I had to spend most of my time out in the thankfully empty store, acting vigilant, while listening with the break room door open. Even so, I almost overcooked them. I grabbed a paper plate and some plastic cutlery (I really should have checked to make sure I had those beforehand, a clear sign I wasn't thinking.) and loaded it up with all the meat; I'd have to eat it in the store, of course.
I ate all the chops at once. They weren't bad, but it took all of them for my stomach to unknot itself. I still didn't feel... satisfied, but I felt better. I could do this. I could live like this, even if it would be expensive. I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to.
When I was done, I had time to clean up and even wash up; the store stayed empty. I didn't have any written homework, just reading assignments, and I'd already done those.
I was however, in a bookstore. Perusing the shelves to find something interesting was easy. It took walking through half the shelves to find something interesting in the psychology section: "Spirits, 4th edition." It was a book on diagnosing whether a person was mentally ill or possessed or haunted by a spirit, and if mentally ill what the diagnosis was.
The college app on my phone indicated the book was a text for "Psychology 311; Diagnosis of the Supernatural." I didn't even know our college had specialty courses like that. Still, the book might come in handy, and I could read it for free while here - the thing was over a hundred bucks, like all the rest.
It was dryer than the sahara and at least slightly over my head. Maybe even way over my head, but I couldn't really tell how far over my head it was, since I didn't have the proper mental metric for it. But since all the work was done and no one was here, I had nothing but time. Any term I didn't understand I could just write down and search for later, either in dead trees or on the internet.
Just before closing, three guys came in, all smiles and bulk. I didn't recognize them, but they all looked about my age. That meant they weren't on the football team, because I'd know. Hopefuls, maybe.
"Can I help you with something?"
"You certainly can," the one leading the small pack, the alpha male of this group, replied with a cheesy grin. "I've got some nutrition books to grab, and some physical education. Can you tell me where to go?"
"Aisle seven, third shelf for both." He all but batted his eyes; sick. It still boggled my mind there were P.E. texts. I should probably looked them up to see what was in them, it would be worth a laugh.
"Thanks. Any sex ed books?"
Was this dude gay or something?
Just play it cool. "Aisle seven, fourth shelf."
"You know where it all is, don't you?" The guy on the left asked, flipping his silly haircut out of his eyes.
"It's my job," I replied as neutrally as I could. "Do you need something?"
He waved me off. "Nah, I'm good. Got my books already."
Stupid meathead. Reminded me of my brothers.
I wouldn't normally be able to hear the whispers, but I could this time. Just like in the clinic earlier.
"Dude, so cold. I kinda like it."
The alpha dog smirked. "I know, right? Must be gay or something."
They said more, but I didn't catch the rest. Must not be talking about me, I had gone out of my way to ensure no one received any mixed signals or odd ideas. They browsed while it got later, and I turned to my book as an excuse not to mostly ignore them.
Soon enough, the guy came up with his book. I gave his pals a once over to make sure they weren't pocketing anything somehow, then turned my attention back to him and scanned the book. It was a small one. Heh.
"That'll be fifty-eight dollars and forty-three cents."
He winced as he pulled out three twenties. I knew that feel. I counted out his change while he stared at me.
"One dollar fifty three is your change, have a nice night."
"Thanks. See you later."
Not if I see you first, weirdo. "Sure."
I never knew what to say after wishing someone weird good night; you'd think experience would teach me, but no, awkward is still awkward.
I locked up as soon as they were out the door; it was ten and I wanted to get out of here. Flip the sign, turn off the lights, and I was sure I was alone.
Vlad, were you doing something to them? Because they were acting strange.
I could feel his smug smirk. I did nothing to those three, Robert. Any strange perceptions are theirs alone.
I don't know why I asked Vlad questions, I had no way of checking his statements for lies. That didn't feel like one, but I couldn't be sure. Maybe this book would have the answers on how I could tell someone there was a voice in my head without being locked up in a rubber room.
I put it back on it's shelf. I couldn't afford it, and couldn't afford to lose my job for theft. So any answers the book had would have to wait. At least I felt okay.
The traffic was heavier than expected, and the women walking along were distracting. All that blood, throbbing along in those little meat tubes... no, focus. You're fine Rob, you don't need anything.
I pulled into my spot and walked in. The dorm was busy, the halls full, and the door was open. It looked to be a party, in full swing.
Jayden was at the door like normal, I supposed. I still wasn't sure if I could call it normal yet or not, but I'd never seen anyone else at his post.
"Hey man, good to see you! I know you're probably tired and all, but stay for a bit and get to know your neighbors? This is a housewarming of sorts."
I felt fine. Better than fine, I felt strong and full of energy. "Sure."
"Great! Snacks are in the break room, help yourself. It's cheap stuff, but I can't get administration to pay for better. Still decent," Jayden told me, biting into a cookie and spraying crumbs everywhere. "These sugar cookies are amazing! Just like Mom used to make."
I tried to grin back at him. The few times my Mom made cookies, I never got to taste them. "I'll be sure to check them out."
I didn't feel hungry or thirsty at all.
People wasted no time coming up to me; it was almost as if I were popular somehow, without people even knowing who my brothers were. Names and room numbers were exchanged, and in truth blended together.
The lights were too bright and merged together. The smells - oh, the smells!
Everyone smelled delicious. No! No, I was fine, I'd eaten, I was full. From the depths of my mind I could hear Vlad's deep, throaty chuckle.
It was time to leave. I made my apologies to the current group in front of me and retreated to my room. Matt wasn't in, of course, and that was a good thing. Shut away in the dark from the sights and smells, I was suddenly very tired. I grabbed my blankets, rolled over, and did my best to shut out the noise. The surprisingly quiet noise - I was surprised again about how good the soundproofing was.
burst of noise woke me briefly; Matt was back. I drifted off again.
The sun was as punishing as ever; my everything hurt, and I could barely move anything.
But I couldn't miss any more class, not even if I barfed my stomach up.
Do not worry, you will not feel that pain again. Vlad told me.
Joy, so I would feel all new pain in all new ways.
Even so. Do not worry, such pain is fleeting and marks your glorious transformation, as from slug-like caterpillar to wondrous butterfly.
Half-baked flowery prose delivered with a smirk, delivered directly into my brain. Just what I needed on a day when my everything ached. I forced myself up and gathered my clothes - and I caught myself staring at Matt's sleeping form.
No, I shouldn't. Even if I did feel the first faint stirrings of hunger again, it wasn't bad yet. I could ignore it.
The same guy as yesterday was in the shower again; this time he didn't look at me twice. Which was a good thing since I didn't know how I'd take that stare today. toweled off and dressed, I was ready to start my day - not. I wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep.
It was cloudy today, with a high threat of rain - I could smell it in the air. That meant the sun was a bit less punishing, but I still wanted my sunglasses handy.
It was nice being able to pay attention in class and take notes that didn't include 'ow it hurts'. I could feel the hunger growing.
A quick stop to the local butchers before work might be a good idea. If I hurried, I could make it.
So of course finding a parking spot had to take forever, and the line had to be five people long. Come on lady, the butcher doesn't care about your life story, just buy your stupid ribs already!
No, this was taking too long. I hated the idea of pre-packed stuff again, but I didn't have time for this. There - stew meat. Beef literally packed in its own blood; that was perfect.
I snagged a pack and about died; it was eight and a half dollars! I had enough, but barely. How did anyone afford this stuff? Come to think of it, Mom never did make much stew....
The checkout lady smiled. "Find everything you were looking for?"
"Yeah. Just going to try my hand at making stew." The lie flowed pretty easily.
"Oh, a do it yourselfer, huh? I see plenty of those. Stew is a good choice, it's hard to screw up and you can make a lot of it. Better for you than ramen."
I smiled back at her and she positively beamed. "Hey, don't knock the ramen, alright? It's the base of the food pyramid."
She winked, wrapping up my meat - I guess in case of a leak or something. "Sure it is. Here you go."
This was getting too expensive; I'd already blown my budget for the next two weeks, and it wasn't even for anything fun!
This putrid mewling is beneath you. Vlad informed me.
Well welcome back to the conversation. You ready to tell me what you meant earlier?
He ignored me, again. This as beginning to get more than a little irritating.
I made it to the back lot of the bookstore with two minutes to spare.
This time, Lucy didn't chew me out, but looked at me; really gave me a good once over.
"You okay Rob?"
I decided to be honest. "I've been better, but I'm fine. Anything to expect?"
"Well, a new shipment came in to replace what we sold, and I had a steady bunch of people coming in, so you'll probably be busy. James said to call him if you needed help. Sorry, but I got to get to class."
She was acting almost nice; I wonder what got into her? "No problem, I got this."
True to her word or prediction, whichever it was, I was busy the minute she left. In fact, I was slammed with people from the start; latecomers to the college, people who had ordered books that had only just now come in, and even a pack of old ladies browsing for secondhand romance novels.
I was too busy to cook my meat...or even taste it. Not that I'd taste it raw, I had standards.
I dealt with it. I was strong, I was a Russel. If I could take my brothers swiping my food day after day, I could handle this. I'd just do it after work, before going home. I had every right to be here, so it was a victimless crime.
I did more than six thousand in sales - so I was super careful in documenting it and double checking my math.
I counted the second hand down, then turned the sign off and locked the door. There were still people in the store of course, but at least it would keep more from getting in. The door would still open, but only from inside.
Well, that had been the theory anyway. In practice, as the last customer left at ten-fourteen (an absolutely statuesque blonde that I wanted to see again), Another person used the open door to sneak in.
She was almost as easy on the eyes as the girl she snuck past, in a different way. Short, with either dirty blonde or light brown hair in a short cut, she was a chubby that looked just shy of overweight, and most of it seemed to be in all the right spots. Her face still remained a bit pixie-like, and was refreshingly unguarded.
She was clutching a tattered book to her chest, and gave an 'eep!' noise when she saw me coming.
"We're closed, as of fifteen minutes ago."
She quivered, pinned under my gaze, but managed to look up. "I know, I'm sorry, but I've got class in the morning and a semi ran over my math book."
I blinked. "A semi ran over your math book? How did that happen?"
She reddened right up. "I dropped it at a crosswalk, and the light turned, and the semi came before I could go back and get it."
So, either the semi driver was a jerk, or she didn't notice at first, and by the time she did it was too late. She hadn't just lied to me, there was a tire impression on the cover of the book, calculus I think. It was hard to tell anymore.
"Alright, fine. Go find your book." I could smell her, and it wasn't doing any wonders for my self control.
You could take her, right now, and none would be the wiser. Just a little of her essence, for wasting your time. It wouldn't even hurt her - you know that.
Yeah, no. That's assault, and I'd go to jail.
She wouldn't remember enough to report any crime to the authorities.
I said no, Vlad. You make a lousy tempter.
Perhaps, or perhaps you simply make a lousy host.
Maybe. You're free to leave any time. I didn't ask you to come along.
Oh, you don't want my departure. Not now, when we've grown so... close.
Maybe, maybe not, but I don't want your advice either, at least on this. I won't run around attacking people.
I looked up to find the girl staring at me with her head cocked to the side, her math book held out.
She flushed again. "Sorry."
"No need to apologize, I'm sorry for not paying more attention." I rang her up, seeing the customary wince at the price, bagged the book for her because it was still raining outside, and ushered her out the door with vaguely polite small talk until I was once again alone.
I turned all the front lights off and clocked out first, wrote an explanation for the late sale, and then made my way to the little kitchen.
The pan was where I'd left it, dry in the cheap plastic rack, and I set it, sprayed it (it wasn't nonstick, that's how old it was) and threw my meat in.
The blood in the bag was almost pure; it wasn't as good as Matt's, but it was better than yesterday's. I drank it all while stirring the skillet, and immediately felt better. The meat on the other hand, solid food as it was, sat like lead in my stomach, weighing me down.
At least it tasted alright; if Vlad had done something to ruin my enjoyment of food, I would get him exorcised, or something.
If you liked that little snack, why not stop by that clinic you were at yesterday, for something better? If you're caught you can simply pass it off as a... college prank, I believe they are called.
Okay, Vlad was getting better. Stealing a blood pack or two would be a victimless crime, right? No one would get hurt at least. It was far better than assault, wasn't it?
I don't think the clinic was open a full twenty-four hours, either. Well, it couldn't hurt to find out, could it? I could at least do that much on my way home, even if I never went beyond that step.
The clinic was dark - almost completely dark. Only the emergency lights were on, and there were no cars in the lot. I parked away from the lot and walked closer; I was sure there were cameras, and I didn't want to be identified by my license plates or face. I could see the sign clearly from here - closing time was ten p.m.
I can disguise you for the cameras. I have the perfect disguise - none will recognize you.
And where did this magical power come from, Vlad? Why didn't you mention it before?
I grow in strength with blood, as you do.
So, something he couldn't do before. He caught my amusement readily enough but stayed silent.
Did I trust him? If I walked up there, bold as brass, and got made by a camera either in the act or after, I'd be in real trouble. If, however, I was disguised, being caught on tape wouldn't matter. Even if I broke in, that is. Something I most definitely was not going to ever do.
Show me your disguise, Vlad. Right now, in the rearview.
Instantly my image in the rearview mirror changed, from that of my well muscled form and well chiseled good looks, to that of a finer, softer form wearing my clothes. She was a bit more mannish than I normally liked, with a bit of my build left over, but there was no doubt she was a she; short blonde hair in my cut, finer features, and arresting red eyes. Even my hands looked smaller when I held them up.
Heh, smaller than they appeared, of course. This was also a familiar face. There was something of me in it, but mostly it reminded me of the face I'd caught a glimpse of.
Not bad, Vlad. Something you were practicing, I see.
I was worried you wouldn't remember.
So, this is what the camera will see?
It is, without a doubt. Feel free to do as you wish.
I wished to get out of here, and never come back. Instead I found myself walking around the pools of light, using my frankly amazing vision to case the place. This was all sorts of bad idea. This was such a bad idea, that other bad ideas laughed at how bad an idea it was.
I don't suppose you have anything to get me past the alarm in your bag of tricks Vlad?
We don't need my bag of tricks, as you call it, Robert. Simply look up.
What, the roof? Any sky light there will be alarmed too.
Not there you fool, the vent atop all such structures. It allows free reign into the building.
There is no way I can fit in that vent, Vlad. I'm way too big.
Hm, this is true. I suppose we must wait, at least the night. In the morning the solution may present itself.
I didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed, so I settled treacherously on both at once, and Vlad knew it. He didn't say anything as I got back into my car and left.
The dorm was quiet, the halls dark and empty. I was thankful for that; I didn't feel much like talking to anyone at the moment.
It was at that moment that I realized I'd left my phone in my room when I left this morning, and it was chiming its little heart out.
A quick check revealed at least twenty texts, and most of those from women. There was the odd text from my brother Uriah in there, asking me to party tonight (too late now, no thank you bro) but most were the girls I'd met in the last couple of days sending multiple texts in various degrees of concern.
I knew I should, but I just didn't have the energy to respond to them all tonight. I'd do it in the morning. So of course I couldn't actually sleep.
Allow me to show you something which will prove useful for scouting in the future.
You will want to lie down for this. There, now clear your mind and reach out.
Somehow, I was able to get an impression of what he wanted. Was he feeding the images to me? Either way, it still took some time to do as he'd asked; I could feel an endless reservoir of patience being tapped, just before my mind expanded.
I was in a tree. I was in a tree, and had feathers - large soft ones.
"Who." I asked, and it seemed fitting. I was an owl.
Looking around revealed the campus in all it's glory, as brightly lit as if in dusk. I tasted dead something in my beak, probably mouse, and saw blades of grass moving from what seemed like a mile away - and through it all, I sensed the confusion of the creature I was somehow within.
Fly, I prompted it - suggested or demanded, and it did, taking off smoothly and swooping in before gaining altitude. It was a good thing the owl was still here because I'd have crashed us.
I could see why Vlad thought this useful, but this? This was flight, and well worth the price of admission. This was nothing short of amazing. Even better was the fact that it was relatively harmless; I wasn't hurting anyone, just taking an owl for a cruise. No one would be the wiser because I wasn't running around in kevlar and spandex spouting grandiose speeches while I cruised over the little people, 'protecting' them.
Curious, I tried to give another prompt, and then step away, so to speak. The owl changed course on its own, without my will to direct it. Perhaps a minute later it landed on the roof of the clinic.
Another prompt had it walking around, even though I could feel clearly that it did not like the surface it was walking on. Before I even knew what I was doing, I was sending a soothing feeling back; the link, or whatever it was, went both ways.
Animal telepathy sounded like a pretty lame power on paper, but this was amazing. The skylight was actually alarmed, just like I'd thought.
The giddy feeling was a mistake; the owl flapped in alarm and took off as I lost my grip or whatever it was I was doing and left it. Disoriented, I flew again, this time in spirit, the world tilting crazily around me like I was on a roller coaster.
I fell back into my body, sinking in. The first thing I felt as Vlad's smugness, his 'I told you so'.
Ugh, I didn't want to do anything this morning; was it Friday yet? No, of course it wasn't. Wednesday, I think. Still a class day, which meant I had to drag my sorry butt up in the bright, oh so bright daylight and go out.
Screw it, I was skipping the shower today, I smelled fine.
I beg to differ.
Vlad begged to differ. And it didn't matter if I smelt vaguely of a sweaty slaughterhouse, I was sure no one else could smell it so it was fine. Fresh clothes and cologne would be fine for a day.
Except I was running out of fresh clothes, which meant a visit to the laundromat, somehow. I guess tonight after work.
My sunglasses were a must today; it was still a bit cloudy, but light induced headaches were becoming all too common.
What did it say about me, that I was looking forward to getting out of the sun in favor of a math classroom?
I refused to go full nerd; I was close enough already.
Once my first class was over, I finally had time to answer my texts and calls from the night before. There were almost thirty; the winner of the most texts award was from Laurie, with four. Her award was being the first person I answered. Then Felicia, wondering where I was, then Candi, wondering why I wasn't partying. And finally, after Vanessa and Brenda, came my brother, inviting me to said party when he knew I was at work.
Then of course, I turned my phone off while in class, because professors frowned on such things as interruptions.
I could feel the owl. It was half asleep but seemed to regard me favorably as my mind brushed it.
Then I realized what a mistake that was, when just the act of casting about like that hit me. It was much harder than yesterday, and just about wiped me out. At least I didn't have to worry about a pissed off owl pecking my eyes out when I least expected it.
Vlad seemed to be following the owl's example; oh how I wanted to myself.
The second class, I started my phone back up and answered the return texts; one from Laurie, one from Felicia, one from Candi, and one from my brother. This must be what being popular is like, a little. Well, the one from my brother was more than a little unflattering, but having at least three young ladies send replies to me more or less immediately was very different than normal. I sent those replies off, properly neutral to everyone but Laurie with the appropriate explanations on why I didn't make an appearance last night.
The one that filled me with dread though, was the new text, from my new best buddy Terry, who shouldn't even have my number. 'Hey, just checkin' in, can you call me back when you get this.'
I didn't have time right now, so instead I was going to worry about it. Someone like Terry could make my life miserable for the entire school year, if I didn't play my cards right.
I didn't have a chance to respond until after my last class of the day, when I promptly called. I didn't expect Terry to pick up, but he did.
"This is Terry; go."
"Hi Terry, this is Rob Russel, you texted me?"
"Right, Rob, Hi. I felt like we got off on the wrong foot somehow the other day, and I wanted to make it clear; you're welcome at the house any time, day or night."
What brought this on? "Hm, well thank you for that, I never got the impression that I was unwelcome."
"Right, but you didn't show up or even answer a member when they texted you last night with a party invite, so I wanted to make it clear, that you can just show up to any party, the other brothers won't care."
Uriah as probably laughing at me somewhere; I just knew he had set this whole conversation up.
"Well, to tell the truth, I forgot my phone in my room yesterday and didn't have the time to go back and get it - so I didn't see the invite. I was also at work, so I wouldn't have been able to make it anyway."
"Ah," Terry said as understanding broke. "Well, it happens. A load off, at least. Alright, that's all I needed to know; I'll let you get back to whatever you're doing."
"Alright, see you later. Have a good day."
That went better than expected.
Things were looking up; I even managed to get to work a full six minutes early. That gave me more time to talk to Lucy.
"You still look like hell. It's not catching, is it?"
"No, it's not catching, as far as I know. The clinic gave me a clean bill of health, remember?"
Well, not so much clean as a 'we don't know what's going on and couldn't find anything', but close enough.
Lucy rolled her eyes with a smile. "Right, well remind me not to go there, those guys are clearly quacks."
Then the smile slid off her face. "Are you sure you're okay? I can call in and cover if you need it."
Wow, I really must look bad. "Nah, I'm fine. I can't afford to take time off anyway, I'll manage."
"If you're sure," she replied, clearly dubious. "But if you need to, call me okay? We don't need you passing out or worse and then people robbing the store blind."
"I'll be fine," Her concern touched me, such as it was. "Now get out of here, before you're late."
"In a minute... " She muttered, her toe dragging on the floor. "How would you like to hang out sometime?"
More of Vlad's doing?
Not I, she seems to prefer the new you all on her own.
"Um, sure. You can text or call me later and we will hammer out the details."
She brightened a little and clocked out. "Cool, we can go to this new coffee shop I found. See you later!"
Sure, I didn't mind coffee. "Have a good day, Lucy."
"You too, Rob." She frowned a little as she said my name, but soon got over whatever she was annoyed over.
If she hated my name, it wouldn't be surprising; I did too.
The store was more busy, if anything, but seemed to be mostly full of browsers. In fact, I recognized more than a few. My new not-friends the wannabe jock trio were back for a bit, shooting glances my way and whispering up a storm. A few other guys that seemed vaguely familiar stopped in, and a few girls I recognized showed up.
I was so very hungry. Or thirsty; something. I NEEDED, was all I really knew. There was a hole inside me which needed filled. I was out of food to fill it with.
When Candi opened the door and waved, it was all I could do to stand, let alone wave back.
The store was empty save for us - and that was bad. I grit my teeth and held on.
"Hey Rob! Wow, you don't look so good. You okay?"
"Yeah I'm fine. I've been getting that a lot lately. Something I ate probably causing a bad reaction, probably." I was pretty sure that wasn't even a lie.
"Are you allergic to something? I've got a friend that's allergic to nuts, and they cause her to swell like a balloon and... well she gets noisy."
Noisy? Oh, gassy, probably. "No, I'm not allergic to anything that I know of, I probably just got a hold of some bad fast food or something. I'm fine."
Vlad, can I get sick from eating raw meat or drinking blood, or do you handle that?
I do nothing of the sort, however you will not take ill from any of what you dread.
"Oh," Candi shrugged. "It happens. So, you weren't at the party last night, so I thought I'd see how you were doing."
"Fine, mostly." Didn't I just say that?
She trailed off a moment, lamely.
I couldn't take it. It wouldn't even hurt her, so it would be fine. She wouldn't even remember it.
"So come in, tell me about your day."
She started spinning a tale of unfair professors and easy classes, and I stared into her eyes. Those big beautiful windows to her soul.
Vlad, help me do this.
I felt it, this time. What he was doing, how he was doing it. What trigger in my brain he was pulling. Candi went slack instantly, staring back into my eyes. A sudden wave of fatigue hit me and my knees almost buckled.
Tell her what you wish her to know or remember. Do so after you have drank your fill, of course.
I didn't waste time, didn't think twice. No one could see me do this. I led a docile Candi back into the hall before biting down on her neck as gently as possible. The fangs I knew were there, my fangs, pierced her skin easily.
I drank and drank, and still the hole wasn't filled. But no, I had to stop; too much would kill her.
It was more difficult than I imagined to pull away, but I managed it. Candi swayed in my arms, but stayed upright after I straightened her.
"We had a great chat about school Candi, and I promised I'd be at the next party. Nothing unusual happened here tonight. But now it's late and you must go. You're tired."
Candi nodded vacantly, then seemed to rally; the pressure in my mind faded as Vlad did something.
"Oh hey, it's getting kinda late. I need to take off, so I can get an early start tomorrow. You don't mind, do you?" Candi asked, turning those bright life filled eyes back to me.
"No, go right ahead. I'll see you at the next party."
"Right, just remember, you promised. I get the first dance." Candi replied with a smile, staggering out the door with a cheery wave.
An admirable first effort. Vlad told me.
As if I needed to hear that.