Leave It to the Professionals

            She lay on the cold steel table, wearing nothing but a ball gag in her mouth. Her eyes were full of the fear he had planted there. He smiled to himself, reveling in his power and congratulated himself once again for his cleverness.

            He had been roaming the Midwest for several years now, driving the18-Wheeler that he called the Angel of Death, although only the first part of the name was written on the cab. Most of the time, he hauled freight; that was what he did to pay the bills. This, this was what he did for recreation. This was his vacation.

            It was simple, really. He’d pick a small town somewhere in the Midwest – anywhere from Western Pennsylvania all the way over to the Rocky Mountains, as far North as the Canadian border and as far south as the Oklahoma panhandle (but he never ventured into Texas – they were a bit too itchy on the trigger finger there) hunting his prey.

            Although he had killed men before, he didn’t take as much joy in it. The act of killing itself wasn’t the point; anybody can pull a trigger, or plunge a knife into someone’s heart. No, it took a professional to instill fear so deep that the victim would completely, totally belong to him, and in order to do that, he would need privacy.

            His first few victims had been near his own home town, but he had learned early on that you don’t shit where you sleep. He had roamed farther afield, but the dangerous part was bringing his prey to his workroom where he could do what he did best without interruption. No, the solution was to bring the mountain to Mohammed, as it were.

            He had outfitted a truck with an autopsy table to which he had attached both leather straps and handcuffs. He had a hook on the roof to which he could chain victims to hang by their wrists or, sometimes, by their necks; he also had chains on the wall of the truck where he could chain them standing up. He had drawers and cabinets in which the tools of his trade were neatly stored. The truck was outfitted with extra soundproofing; there was also a false wall so that prying eyes wouldn’t suspect what was going on in the front of the truck. In the back was often cargo; in fact, he often hauled freight while he had a guest in his hidden room. That was a huge thrill for him, the delicious ambrosia that the threat of discovery brought.

            With his truck thus outfitted, he roamed the Midwest, sticking to small towns and rural communities and always scouted out the towns on a three day jaunt, until he found the girl he wanted. They would usually be pretty and usually a bit vulnerable. He generally got girls who were working jobs that had them coming home at night. He would sometimes snatch them off the very streets of their town, subduing them with chloroform before putting them in the truck and driving away. He was very efficient at selecting and acquiring his prey.

            Then they would be his. He would strip them naked – without clothes their vulnerability would increase and they were much easier to control. He would torture them; he tried not to leave any marks but sometimes you had to crack an egg to make an omelet. At first there would be defiance and sometimes even threats. Eventually they would break – they always did.

            He would also rape them, but that was to assert control more than for any sexual thrill. The actual act of penetration was indeed sexual for him, but not in the same way as for other men; it was the complete ownership of another human being. He didn’t find the sensations of intercourse particularly pleasurable, but as time went on he would force his prey to perform all sorts of lewd acts, from blow jobs to anal intercourse and they would eventually do it.

            He had video cameras as well and he would record their humiliation and their fear. He would force them to masturbate on-camera which was as close to a sexual thrill as he got after the fact. He would also conduct interviews with his victims, force them to say humiliating and degrading things and reveal little intimacies that he knew they were doing in an effort to make him feel something for them.

            All he ever felt was a clinical detachment, the same as any hunter would feel with the prey in their sights. Eventually, when he had done everything he wished to do or when he simply got bored, he would kill them, sometimes slowly or, occasionally in a fit of magnanimity, a quick and clean death. Early on, he had recorded the final moments as well, but he found it curiously unsatisfying to relive them on video; they achieved a greater satisfaction for him in his memory so he had stopped recording that aspect of his work.

            He was in Illinois in a community that was essentially rural. She had worked at a diner; she was pretty enough but was more overweight than most of his victims. She wasn’t grossly obese, but she had soft curves and he liked that. Her lips were round and full, and her auburn hair curly. She had the Midwestern twang tempered with the “golly gee whiz” idioms of a devout upbringing. Even when he was breaking her ankles and she was screaming at the top of her lungs, not a single profanity escaped her lips. He was actually a little impressed by that.

            He’d had her for two days now, and she was essentially broken. She was completely submissive and he had her giving him oral like a hooker now. Even now, as he approached the table and her mouth gagged, he could see the fear in her eyes. She was in the presence of the monster now and she knew it.

            He removed her gag. “M-may I please have some water?” she whispered in a cracked voice. Without hesitation he backhanded her across the face with wicked force. She cried out but composed herself quickly. “M-m-master…how may I serve you?” she said in a whisper. He would have allowed himself a smile but he didn’t want her to see one. That was exactly how he had programmed her to respond. The request for water was not, so she had been punished.

            He’d had dozens of victims in his truck by now over more than seven years. He was careful to never go to the same place twice. Sometimes he would pick up more than one victim in the same town at the same time, but never more than two and that had only happened a few times. The whole cycle of scouting his victim, abducting them, torturing and killing them rarely lasted more than a week, and could last as little as three days. He’d kept one victim in his truck for nearly ten days; one he’d only kept for six hours. This one he liked, so she might go the full week or even longer. He suspected she might be a pastor’s daughter, so goody two-shoes was she. It was a real pleasure to make her do sexual things; he could see how it was eating at her.

            He was also particularly fascinated by her breasts. They were large and had enormous aureoles and nipples. He usually didn’t keep trophies other than the tapes, but he might make a mold of her breasts before she died. For that reason he was careful not to mark her breasts. She had burns, welts, cuts, bruises and scrapes all over her body but her breasts were pristine. They would remain that way – in fact, all of his prey remained that way. Some would be barely recognizable as human beings by the time he was done with them, but he never made a mark on their breasts. He would suckle them, fondle them, squeeze them, twist them, and even bite them a little bit but never enough to make a mark. Call it a personality quirk.

            He had parked the truck in an abandoned barn in an isolated field about six miles outside of town. He had delivered a load of tractor parts to the local John Deere, and found the small town to be charming and isolated – both perfect for his needs. He had arranged to come back several times, sometimes legitimately with his truck, sometimes on the sly in his car or on his bike. He had found the town to be an interesting mix of conservative farmers and sophisticated young people. Most of the young people he found to be arrogant, bored teenagers; too much angst, too much whining. He watched several potential victims but none of them appealed to him completely. Some of them would be too much like shooting fish in a barrel while others seemed to be much more trouble than they would be worth. He liked a good challenge, but his last girl had taken far too long to break and he wanted someone who was a little more pliable, a little easier this time out.

            Most of the other women were farmer’s wives or farmer’s daughters and quite frankly, few of them were all that attractive and that was important to him. He usually didn’t like to get married ones; those were messes that he didn’t usually like to deal with. He had taken a few wives in his time and there was a different satisfaction in taking another man’s woman, but that thrill was usually overshadowed by their issues that could make his ability to break them either far too easy or far too hard.

            He was sitting in the diner, weighing his options and considering moving on to another town altogether when his waitress came by to freshen his coffee. She was cheerful in that fake waitress way, a big smile with too much lipstick. She was a little chubbier than he usually liked them but her face was pretty enough, even with her hair pulled back and in the decidedly unattractive diner uniform.

            She had potential; enough that I decided to keep an eye on her. She lived alone and didn’t seem to have family in town. She had friends, sure, but they were mostly co-workers. People knew her, but nobody knew her well; if she were to suddenly pack up and leave, she would not be missed. There wouldn’t be much of an effort to look for her, and by the time they found her would be when he was done with her.

            So he waited for her to leave her small rented house one afternoon and after the sun went down, he jimmied the crappy lock to her door and waited inside, his car parked a block away behind a vacant house. Not long after midnight, she came home and he was waiting for her. He heard her pull her ancient Civic into the garage and shut down the engine; a few minutes later she walked in through the garage door. He grabbed her from behind and before she could scream he pressed a handkerchief liberally drenched with chloroform to her nose and mouth. She fought but went out after a surprisingly long struggle.

            Once she was unconscious, he was like clockwork. He picked her up and carried her inert body and loaded her into the trunk of her car. He then grabbed a suitcase and filled it with her clothes, taking a few boxes of her things. Anyone who looked at the home more than superficially would conclude that she had skipped out; the note he wrote in her handwriting (copying handwriting was one of his most useful talents) would remove all doubt.

            He had kept an eye on her neighborhood and knew that the house on one side was vacant; on the other was a stoner who was usually dead to the world by midnight and across the street an elderly man who was asleep by nine. He couldn’t get a better situation if he’d drawn it up himself.

            He opened the garage door, walked quickly to his car, and then drove back to her house. It took him a very short time to hook up her car to his tow bar; he pulled it out of the garage, then pulled the garage door down behind them. He got back into his car and drove into the street and away from her house. The whole operation from the time she’d walked in her garage door was less than twelve minutes.

            He drove on side streets and tried to avoid roads that might have any traffic; a car towing another one would be memorable and he didn’t want to risk being seen. One of the good things about small farming communities like this one was that there weren’t regular patrols; the sheriff would only come if he was called, and if there wasn’t a reason to call him, he wouldn’t have to worry about being pulled over by a suspicious small town Barney Fife.

            Partially by design, partially by luck, he made it to where he’d stashed his truck without being detected. He unhooked her car from his tow bar, and stashed the tow bar in the cab. He backed her car into the trailer and shut the door behind it. She was still unconscious when he opened the trunk; he opened the false door to his workroom, picked her out of the trunk and carried her in. He strapped her down to the table and then injected her with a solution of valium and saline; she would be out for several hours. Humming to himself, he left her in the workroom, closing and locking the door behind her, and then left the trailer and locked up the rig.

            The car he’d been driving was stolen anyway; he intended to leave no trace he was ever in it. He wiped down the car with bleach (he’d worn gloves and latex long johns to prevent any fingerprints, and had shaved every inch of his body to avoid leaving stray hair). He didn’t want to set the car ablaze as he usually did because a burning car in an abandoned farm would attract notice, but there was a small pond that was mostly mud right by where he’d parked. He pushed the car into the pond and watched to make sure it sunk all the way in. It was the end of October and rain was predicted over the next few days which should further erase any traces he’d been there.

            Once the car had been disposed of he got into the cab of his rig and drove off. It was a short drive, only five or six miles but there was a place that there that some truckers used to park their rigs temporarily; he’d rented a space in a small corner of it. Once he parked there, he could concentrate on the more enjoyable aspects of his hobby.

            He kept his cell phone in his glove compartment and checked it regularly just in case a job came in; it would be suspicious if he turned down work without a legitimate reason to. He already had something lined up for next week that would take him to Minot, North Dakota; he had his eye on a nearby community called Kenmare.

            Once he had gotten situated, he went to work on her. He awakened her with smelling salts and then hobbled her, breaking both her ankles. He injected her with a unique cocktail of painkillers and inhibition inhibitors that would make her more pliable and keep her pain from becoming her focus. Then, he raped her for the first time. He made sure he told her the rules and that she understood them. If she deviated by even a little bit, he would find some way to cause her pain.

            When she refused to co-operate, he pulled out a toenail. She had none left on her left foot by the time she finally got the message. By dawn she was doing pretty much whatever he told her to do. He decided to test her by urinating on her, then ordering her to lick the liquid off her breasts. When she refused, he used a taser on her. Even after she had slurped off his piss, he continued to tase her off and on between bouts of sexual humiliation and torture.

            If you asked him why he was doing this to another human being, chances are he wouldn’t have given you an answer you could understand. The truth was that he didn’t really know what was driving him and that whatever explanations he would give were merely a means of justifying the cruelty and viciousness within him. By the end of the first day she was completely submissive, which was about the time he was looking for. By the end of the second, he was really starting to have fun.

            There was a job that came through on his cell phone earlier that day, but it was too far for him to drive for what they proposed to pay him so he declined. He wasn’t too worried about getting an additional job if one didn’t present itself; the Minot job would pay him well enough to make up for being idle a week if that turned out to be the case.

            He had used to run regular routes and would still fill in for other truckers when they needed it, but he had chosen to be his own boss; regular routes usually meant working for a boss which meant more scrutiny, more supervision and less time to pursue his hobby. He made enough to meet his needs, which were few, and support his hobby which was considerably more expensive.

            He made her suck his cock mainly because he didn’t want to hear her voice just then. He had a few plans for her today; he thought he might start using some of his blades on her later on. When she was done – or rather, when he was done – rather than keep at her he decided to go out and get some air.

            Something had been nagging at him lately, something he couldn’t really put a finger on. Something familiar, something that made him a little disquieted. It had started even before he had finished parking in the storage place; he almost changed his mind and drove to another place he knew in Indiana, but decided against it because he was too tired. It had begun to distract him yesterday and today he couldn’t really get his full enjoyment of her humiliation and pain. Even the thought of cutting strips of flesh from her body didn’t bring the excitement it usually did.

            He decided he needed to think. His instincts were usually good and he needed to trust them. He checked his watch; just a little bit past midnight. October 30th. Halloween was tomorrow. Halloween. Halloween.

            The tumblers unlocked in his head and the truth just about knocked him off his feet. Halloween in a small farming community in Illinois, a town called Haddonfield. This was the hunting ground of another, and the first rule among serial killers is that you never poached on another man’s territory, and compared to this predator, he was small potatoes, petty evil. He had to get the hell out of town immediately. He could finish with the bitch in the back whenever he wanted to.

            He opened the back of the truck and peered out. Nobody seemed to be around. He had a blade with him, one he kept in a hidden compartment. He could at least defend himself. He stepped out of the back of his truck, looking in every direction, all his nerves alive with anxiety. He shut the back right away; the rig was ready to drive away at a moment’s notice, he always kept it that way. Peering around the corner and seeing nobody, he crept towards the cab, looking all around him, and feeling in every bone of his body that he was in mortal danger.

            He should have looked down. When he felt himself being yanked off of his feet by powerful arms, he knew that he was a dead man. Still he fought viciously like a cornered animal, but the man in the mask was far too powerful, far more vicious than he could ever hope to be, the ultimate predator. He never had a chance.

            When the masked man emerged from underneath the truck, his white mask was splashed with bright arterial blood. A little of it trickled down the mask and he licked it somewhat absently. Walking deliberately, he went to the back of the truck and opened the back door, then unerringly walked to the false door where the waitress was captive. Having lived in Haddonfield for some time, she knew exactly who the man was and knew that this wasn’t rescue. She knew her situation had just gotten worse.

            She began to scream, but he paid no attention; instead, he looked at all the toys available for his use and contemplated which one he was going to play with. It was an impressive set-up and a fairly complete array of tools, but the late truck driver should have left this kind of work to the professionals, and it was time for a true professional to go to work.

A Walk in the Woods

          It had been several hours before anyone said anything, but quite naturally it was Thor who said it. “We are totally lost,” he announced as we stopped for a hydration break except that it sounded more like “Ve our toe-tally loast.” Thor was a Swede probably descended from Vikings or some such; he and his young wife Kamilla had been transferred to the United States only eight months earlier and their English was heavily accented.

            It had been a nature hike from a cabin that Ellison’s dad owned; deep in the woods on the shores of a beautiful lake. Ellison had raved about the place, showing everyone pictures until we got him to finally invite us there.

            We all worked at the company Ellison’s dad owned. Pfeister Rosehill, the ones with that guy from the talking car TV show in the commercials? You know the ones I’m talking about. Well, Ellison’s last name is Rosehill, and he’s so rich that when he shits the stock market dips slightly. There were eight of us, spending the weekend at the cabin.

            Ellison, of course; he is our mostly congenial host. He’s really not such a bad guy he’s just terminally socially inept. The guy was wearing Louis Vuitton shorts, for Chrissake. Still, he tried not to let the fact that he could buy and sell entire towns out of his monthly allowance get in the way of friendships with people who probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day if he didn’t have wads of cash. I actually kind of felt sorry for him; he really did try hard.

            He was the only one who didn’t have a real girlfriend along with him of the eight of us; Lisa was ostensibly his date but he had zero chance of scoring with her unless there was some sort of cash transaction involved (and I think Ellison was a little too naïve to even consider that kind of business deal). She was blonde and gorgeous, and her t-shirt was a little too tight for most of the other women’s comfort, but she seemed pleasant enough; at least she wasn’t complaining about being out in the woods.

            No, that was Crystal’s department. Crystal and Brett was another couple; Brett worked in International Acquisitions along with Thor; Crystal alone of the eight of us didn’t work at Pfeister Rosehill. She’d met Brett at a bar about three months ago and they’d been dating ever since. Personally, knowing Brett as I do, I figured it was more of a bedroom thing than a dating thing; I love Brett to death but he’s the kind of guy that is the poster boy for the general complaints about men that women have. The only thing Brett loved more than making money was…Brett.

            And why shouldn’t he? He was ruggedly handsome, a graduate of an Ivy League school who, like Ellison, came from money (although not quite as much) and his family and the Rosehills had known each other forever. Brett had been my roommate in college and it was through him that I’d gotten my job at Pfeister Rosehill as a data analyst in their Information Technology department and had moved up the ladder to a senior management position on the New Technologies team. I think Brett was a little bit jealous since he hadn’t yet moved into management, but he never said anything to me about it – Crystal was the one who mentioned it.

            I never liked Crystal from the get go. She was selfish, arrogant, not terribly bright and the only thing she really had going for her was that she was incredibly easy on the eyes. When I thought about it, she was the perfect match for Brett, but at least Brett was loyal to his friends. Crystal was just a plain bitch who loved nothing more than stirring up drama. By the time Thor made his pronouncement, I was already close to punching Crystal right in the face. I was that tired of her constant whining about the heat, the bugs, the branches, it’s too far, her feet hurt. God, it’s too bad there weren’t any ravines nearby.

            Thor and Kamilla were the only pair of us to be actually married. Thor was like a Viking; blonde, bearded, rugged and basically the size of a bear, but he was genuinely good-natured. I liked him a lot. Plainly he spent a lot of time outdoors in Sweden, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, the sort of things Swedes do in their all-too-brief summers. Swedes treasure their warm weather more than gold, I believe.

            Kamilla was as beautiful as Thor was handsome. She, like Thor, Crystal and Lisa, was a blonde and had an athletic build. Like Thor, she was in her mid-30s and was the oldest among us. While Thor worked with Brett in International Acquisitions, Kamilla was an economic strategist who made more than any of us except for maybe Ellison – his trust fund was truly endless. It was really her that had been imported to the States and Thor had just tagged along for the ride. She had a first class brain and not a week went by when some Fortune 500 company wasn’t making her a serious offer, but she seemed happy enough where she was. To top it off, she had been on the Swedish Olympic team as a cross country skier in Nagano and had finished fourth; while she didn’t have a washboard stomach any longer, she was still gorgeous. She and Thor had three children who were currently visiting their grandparents in Sweden for the summer, so she and Thor were rekindling their romantic relationship. It was actually quite cute, according to Kristina.

            Kristina was my fiancée and the lone brunette among the women – actually, a redhead. She and Kamilla had bonded instantly; Kamilla’s warmth and giving nature made her popular with everybody, as Thor’s easygoing attitude did the same. Kristina worked in Human Resources at Pfeister Rosehill; she had been the one who handled my initial training class when I was hired. We hit it off right away and started dating about a month after I started working there. She moved in with me last winter, right after I asked her to marry me. We want a fall wedding in Ontario, where Kristina’s from. It’s beautiful there that time of year.

            So here’s what was going on. We had a long weekend – Memorial Day if you want to get technical – and we thought we’d go up to the lake cabin. Ellison’s dad, Barrington Rosehill (the Rosehills are apparently fond of pretentious first names) was in the United Kingdom on business; Ellison’s mom hates going to the cabin, so Ellison said it was okay.

            This isn’t a five star resort, he made sure to tell us, although I knew that compared to what most of us were used to (with the possible exception of Brett) it was the Taj Mahal; a lake that it essentially was the only cabin sitting on, a boathouse and dock, a wraparound porch and a gigantic greatroom with wall-to-floor glass windows. Normally when Ellison came up to the cabin with his dad, a flotilla of servants came along with him but Ellison told us that they were mostly with his dad or his mom, so we would have to cook our own meals and clean up after ourselves. Didn’t seem to be a problem.

            We’d arrived that morning in four vehicles; Brett’s Hummer, Ellison’s Lexus, Thor’s Ford F-150 and my Toyota. We’d brought some supplies with us, but Ellison’s dad provided most of the groceries and booze. I think he was just grateful that anyone was showing any kind of kindness to his son, who was a bit feckless. The girls had oohed and aahed over the view of the lake; the guys did the same over the pool table, the big screen TV and the refrigerator fully stocked with enough beer to fill up the lake. We knew where our priorities were.

            We were all planning on going water-skiing and sunbathing later the next day but we thought taking a hike through the woods surrounding the cabin would be fun, and Thor thought it would be important to get used to the area in case somebody got lost. Thor was nothing if not practical.

            So we set out on our little adventure right after lunch, taking bottled water, sunscreen but no compass; Ellison had told us the trail looped around and came right back to the cabin. He kept telling us that, even though hours had come and gone and we couldn’t even see or hear the lake anymore.

            So when Thor made his pronouncement, Ellison finally hung his head and admitted that he didn’t have a clue where we were. Thor nodded, even as Crystal exploded “Well that’s just great. What are we going to do now, Davey Crockett?” Thor, always the calm one responded “I’ve been keeping track of the direction we’ve been going by following the sun. I think I can navigate us back to the Lake, and then we just follow the shoreline back to the cabin.” Crystal looked at him and leveled him with the kind of spiteful gaze only a girl used to getting her own way at every turn and said in a withering voice “So why did you let us go so far off course if you’re such a boy scout?”

            I exchanged a look with Brett. We both knew the reason Thor hadn’t said anything and that was because he didn’t want to embarrass Ellison who had up to now been leading our little expedition. I rolled my eyes and Brett winked and said “Hon, Thor wanted to see how far we’d go before you stopped complaining; he just figured that if actually kept to that, we’d be beyond the point of no return.” Kamilla and Kristina stifled a giggle and Crystal leveled an icy venomous gaze at Brett. I knew my buddy would be paying for that later.

            So we took up our march once again, this time following Thor. Actually, the weather was perfect, in the low 70s with a bit of a breeze. It wasn’t yet summer-hot, even though it was warm enough so that most of us were wearing shorts. The woods were pleasant enough and though there were a few brambles, it was actually a nice relief to be somewhere that wasn’t concrete and high rises and subways.

            We had been walking only about 15 minutes since Thor had changed directions on us when he suddenly stopped. I was bringing up the rear, but I could hear Brett say “What the fuck…?” I was walking with Kristina and exchanged a look with her; we walked up to the front and saw what had stopped everyone in their tracks.

            We had come to a clearing, but it was like nothing I’d ever seen. We could clearly see the lake maybe a quarter of a mile on the other side of the clearing, but there were strange trees and plants here the likes of which I’d never seen they were an odd yellowish color and the plants were everywhere. There were wooden figures hanging from the trees, totem-like shapes but I really couldn’t tell if this was American Indian, druid, or some whacked out Satanist hippie ritual area. “Do you know what this is?” asked Kristina to Ellison and he just shook his head. “I’ve never been here before,” he finally said. It didn’t look like a natural clearing and yet it did, in a strange way; everything looked organic, yet there were clearly symbols marked on the rocks, the trees and the wooden totems, but it was as if they had kind of evolved rather than having been put there by human hands; natural formations as it were.

            Thor finally nodded. “It’s clear this is a sacred place. Let’s skirt around it and then walk to the lake.” Crystal, who’d been seething since Brett had called her out a few minutes before, was having none of that. “Are you crazy? Why walk out of our way when we can just walk straight across and be at the lake in ten minutes? I’m tired, and I want a beer. You guys can take the long way if you want.” With that, she took off marching straight through the center of the glade.

            Brett shot a look my way, shrugged, and followed behind her. Ellison and Lisa did the same. Thor was shaking his head. “It’s never a good idea to disturb a sacred place.” He turned around and went back the way we came. Kamilla smiled at us and said “You should do the same. Thor has a sense about such things.” She turned around and followed. I turned to Kristina and was about to tell her “Let’s go with Thor” when I noticed she was already trudging into the glade. I sighed and took a step to join her and stopped.

            It felt wrong, as if I wasn’t supposed to be there and I was being judged. Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to stop and I couldn’t move another foot forward into that glade. I called Kristina’s name, but she looked back at me, gave me an impatient gesture, and kept walking towards the lake.

            I noticed then several figures in the tall grass near the other end of the glade. They were five or six feet tall and looked like hay bales almost, except they were cylindrical and standing on their ends. I wondered  why they hadn’t been knocked over by one of the frequent windstorms in the area but as I stared at them I felt fear constrict me and I knew I couldn’t go another foot further. I turned and walked back after Thor and Kamilla, almost running to catch up.

            The other five reached the cabin an hour before Thor, Kamilla and I showed up. Kristina met me at the door with a beer and a kiss. “Why didn’t you follow us, silly? You need a shower…badly.” I pulled her aside, onto the porch. “Didn’t you feel anything…strange in that glade?” She looked at me with guileless eyes, deep blue and totally loving. Kristina didn’t have a mean bone in her body, but this moment she looked at me and said “Are you feeling okay? You’re talking crazy.”

            That afternoon we all changed into bathing suits and were taking turns water skiing. The girls were mostly sunning and I had to admit they all looked quite amazing in their bikinis. While I only had eyes for Kristina, that doesn’t mean I didn’t notice how beautiful the other ladies were though. We were laughing and joking around until something odd happened.

            Brett was driving the boat and Krystal was being towed behind him when we heard an audible thunk that came from the lake. We all stood up and saw that the boat was listing to starboard a bit. Crystal had fallen off her skis and was yelling at Brett…and then she started screaming.

            The water was turning bloody. It was as if the boat had run into something big and the propellers had chopped it into chum. Brett began yelling at Crystal to swim for the boat, the engine wouldn’t start. There was a rowboat in the boathouse and Thor and I took off at a dead run for it. It only took us a few moments to launch it and then we started rowing as if our lives depended on it. Crystal was screaming and flailing in the water and begging Brett to come get her and Brett was cursing and screaming and telling her to hold on.

            It only took us about five minutes to get out there but Crystal had sunk beneath the water and the boat was clearly sinking. Brett had already jumped out of the boat and was swimming towards where Crystal had been as quickly as he could, which was considerably quickly – he had been on the varsity swim team in college – but we still got there before he did. Thor dove into the water without hesitation. As Brett arrived I could tell he was exhausted and I pulled him into the boat. He protested and started yelling he had to go after her, but I said firmly “Thor will get her; it won’t help if he has to make two rescues.” With that, he sat down in the corner of the rowboat and began shivering even though the day was still warm.

            A moment later Thor emerged from the water with Crystal and he swam towards the boat. In a moment he had her there. I helped him lift her into the rowboat and I knew at once she wasn’t breathing. I began to resuscitate her, pushing down on her chest and breathing into her mouth for her. It was a scary few minutes but then she spat out water and began to cough. Thor by then had climbed back into the boat. Brett started to cry. He held her close to him, while Thor and I wordlessly began rowing back to shore.

            Lisa, Kamilla and Kristina helped bring Brett and Crystal back in the house, wrapping them with blankets that Kamilla had fetched from the linen closet when she saw what was happening. That was pretty much the end of water skiing for the day.

            That night, after the girls (but not Crystal who was refusing to come out of the bedroom) had cooked a marvelous dinner, the rest of us were sitting out on the porch, drinking beer and watching the sun go down. Normally we were a pretty lively bunch but the near miss with Crystal had caused a pretty low-key, reflective mood.

            It was Thor who was the first to ask Brett “What happened out on the lake Brett? It sounded like you hit something.” Brett, who had mostly been with Crystal all night, nodded.  “It felt that way to me, but I didn’t see anything. There was just a big bump and then the engine just stopped working. It’s strange though…it felt like something leaped up from the bottom to hit the boat on purpose. It must be my imagination though.” Thor looked troubled as he said “Must be.”

            The elephant in the room was clearly there and me being me I had to point it out. “There was so much blood in the water and none of it Crystal’s – she didn’t have a mark on her. What could be big enough to bleed that much in a lake as small as this one?” Ellison looked at me and shrugged. “I’ve never heard of any monsters in this lake,” he said, “but I think that there was something I remember about that clearing. I was looking it up online while the girls were making dinner.”

            That caught our attention. “What did you find out Ellison?” asked Kamilla gently. Ellison clearly felt awkward at being the center of attention, but he gamely spoke up.“Although there were a lot of Native American tribes throughout the region, none lived anywhere near the lake. The Oneida said this was a sacred place to the Creator and the Mohawks said this was a place of demons and refused to hunt here, even though game was plentiful.” Thor raised an eyebrow. “Game was plentiful? I didn’t see any signs of game and we were out there for hours.”

            Ellison shrugged. “I know that hunters from town come up here frequently. There used to be deer, foxes, bears and elk here, I’d see it every time we came out here as a kid. I haven’t seen an animal here in years though.” Thor looked disquieted. “I wonder…” he said and then closed his mouth and said no more.

            Shortly after that as the darkness set in, we began to drift our way back inside. I was one of the last to finish my beer, and as I rose up only Lisa and I were left. “Coming inside?” I asked her as I got up. She smiled at me. “Not quite yet. I think I’ll have a cigarette before I go in.” I shrugged and walked into the greatroom. Thor and Brett were already immersed in a high-octane pool tournament, but Ellison, Kamilla and Kristina were involved in an intense game of Scrabble which seemed more my speed. I sat down to join them and had just gotten set up with my tiles when there was a blood-curdling scream from outside.

            Thor and Brett were closer to the door and shot out of it like a cannon. I was right behind them and when I looked up and saw what was going on I hesitated for a moment. We all did.

            Lisa was knee deep in the lake, and struggling against something. She screamed again. “Something has me! Help me!” she screamed. That broke us out of our stupor and we all ran for the lake. She was screaming almost nonstop and begging us to help her. Thor and I were the first to her. It might have been strange, but I could smell the nicotine on her. It’s funny what you notice in stressful situations.

            Something indeed had a hold of her. We grabbed her and tried to pull her back out of the lake, but whatever held her had an iron grip on her; we couldn’t budge her any closer to shore and in fact she was slowly being dragged out into the depths of the lake. “Come on, for God’s sake…all of you help her!” shouted Thor. The women, Brett and Ellison all ran out into the water to help us. I had a flash of insight. “Lift her up out of the water,” I cried out, “Maybe we can get an idea what we’re dealing with.” Thor nodded and on a count of three we lifted the struggling woman up.

            Wrapped around her right leg looked to be a tendril of seaweed, but what was it doing in a freshwater lake? And it was struggling to get back down into the water; we wouldn’t be able to hold her up for long. “Take off her pants!” yelled Kristina. Realizing she was right, I unbuckled her belt, tore off the button and unzipped her jeans. As we pulled on the screaming girl towards the shore, she slowly began to slip out of her tight jeans. Then suddenly, with a final tug, she came out of them and the tentacle or whatever it was took the jeans into the water with it.

            We wasted no time carrying the sobbing Lisa back into the house, shutting the door behind us. There were welts on her leg where the plant thing had grabbed her, and a little bit of blood. Ellison ran to fetch the first aid kit. The commotion even brought Crystal out of her room, demanding an explanation. When she got one from Brett, she said “We need to get the fuck out of this hellhole.” For once, I didn’t disagree with her but Ellison said “It’s dangerous driving out of here at night; the driveway isn’t lit and it’s easy to drive off the road. We should wait until morning.”

            That seemed to make sense. Lisa was still hysterical, so Ellison gave her a valium that was in the medicine cabinet – apparently his mother needed it to sleep on the rare occasions when her husband insisted that she commune with nature in the cabin. Brett carried her to her bed and told Ellison to keep an eye on her, and then he shut the window to the room. He then came back out to the greatroom and said “We should make sure all the windows and doors are shut tight. Whatever grabbed her got her on the porch so it could come in here while we’re asleep. I would also suggest that we take turns keeping watch. Something very odd is happening and who knows what’s going to happen next.”

            It was decided that Brett would take the first watch, Thor the second and I would take the third. Ellison was to stay with Lisa and Kamilla, Crystal and Kristina would all sleep together in the master bedroom. The guys would sleep on the couch in the greatroom so that we could wake each other up when it came time for our watch. Kamilla put a pot of coffee on before she went to bed, which was right away since nobody really felt much like playing.

            The night passed uneventfully except for a lack of sleep but I watched the dawn break during my watch. Just as the dawn broke, there was a loud crash from outside. I had been sitting at the dining table drinking coffee and I jumped up and ran to the window overlooking the lake, just in time to see the dock collapse into it and slide away towards the center of the lake.

            The noise awoke everybody except Lisa but because they were closer, only Thor and Brett came to the windows right away. Thor was by my side to see the last of the dock sinking into the lake. “Whatever tried to take Lisa took the dock,” he intoned. I saw no reason to argue; he was in all likelihood correct. “Why would it do that?” he asked. A horrible suspicion overtook me. I swore and ran out the door towards the driveway where the cars were parked and stopped dead in my tracks.

            All four of the cars were totaled. Auto parts were strewn about as if a giant baby had tossed them all into the air to land wherever they might. It was immediately apparent we weren’t driving anywhere, and the only other option to escape would have been rowing across the lake to town where we might have gotten help. I picked up my cell phone out of my pocket and cursed again. No service.

            I ran back inside to see if the landlines were working knowing that they would not be. They were as I feared completely dead. By now Ellison and the women had all come down to the greatroom and I gave them the bad news. “The cars are totaled. The dock and the rowboat are gone. There are no phones, no way to call for help. The only way out of here is to walk.”

            Crystal began to sob and Thor spoke up in a strong, firm voice. “We can do this. We will keep to the paved road and stay out of the woods. It’s only a mile to the highway and we know there’s plenty of traffic there; if we hurry we can get there in just a few minutes. We can leave our clothes here and just take what we need, some food and water. Ellison, do you have an axe or a machete here?” There were no machetes, but Ellison thought there might be an axe in the tool shed. “It’s behind the house over by the driveway; I’ll go get it after I use the bathroom.” Typical Ellison; always the inappropriate response.

            While he went to do his business, Thor and Brett went out to the tool shed to find some weapons. The girls got dressed, except for Kamilla who already was; she put together some water bottles (two for each of us) and some granola bars and cheese sticks. I gathered together some a couple of butcher knives, then when Thor and Brett came back with a pair of axes and a gasoline can, I had Brett fill some of the empty beer bottles with gas and stuffed rags into them. We put them into Brett’s backpack, and Thor and I would carry the axes.

            About then Kristina mentioned “Where’s Ellison? He’s been in the bathroom an awfully long time.” Brett grinned and said “Stress gives him diarrhea” which got some nervous laughter, but a remark like that will get you volunteered and so Brett was sent up to knock on the door. I decided on a hunch to go with him.

            We went upstairs to the bathroom and Brett knocked, but there was no answer. Not a sound. “Ellison? Are you done in there?” Brett called out and knocked again. This time there was a strange muffled sound. I looked at Brett, he looked at me and we both took a step back and kicked the bathroom door. It took several kicks before we finally kicked it open.

            I’d never heard a man scream in fear before, but I heard it then and it was my friend Brett, the golden boy who feared nothing in life, but this was nothing that life had ever presented to anybody before.

            Ellison was clearly dead. Something was growing out of him, that same yellowish plant we’d seen in the clearing, with little clinging suckers and tendrils. It was coming out of his nose and mouth and through a hole in his stomach where the plant had burst out of. His pants were around his ankles and he was being pulled into the toilet by whatever was inside him. His eyes stared at us accusingly, and his arms flopped around as his body was twisted. Brett made a move as if to try and pull him away but I stopped him. “He’s dead, you can’t help him,” I whispered, “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to get out of here now, this stuff will be all over the house through the plumbing, the electrical outlets, the air conditioning ducts.” Brett was crying “We’ve got to…oh FUCK!” but he allowed me to pull him away. I slammed the door shut even though the lock was busted and I knew that whatever had a hold of Ellison could come under the door frame anyway. We were totally screwed if we didn’t get out right away.

            I dragged Brett down the stairs; Thor who’d heard the scream (as did everyone) met us halfway and helped me with Brett. “We’ve got to get the fuck out of here right now. Grab whatever we have and let’s go.” Crystal asked me “Where’s Ellison.” Brett couldn’t look at her. “Dead, and that’s what we’ll be if we don’t leave right the fuck now.” I was yelling, and that seemed to galvanize everyone into action. I grabbed my axe and Thor grabbed his; Brett was in no shape to do anything so I grabbed his backpack too and Kamilla and the girls got the food and water and we skedaddled.

            As we ran outside, I saw the same plants that had gotten Ellison were coming from the woods in a thick knot leading to the cabin. Wood and brick were being ripped off the side of the house by the plants which attacked the house like vultures on roadkill. I knew we had just gotten out in time; the plants would have gotten all of us, or brought the cabin down around us.

            We kept running until we were well away from the cabin. We could see the cabin disintegrating at the onslaught of the plants which were coming out of the woods from every direction towards it, and the same seaweed stuff was attacking it from the lake. “Jesus,” swore Thor under his breath. I turned to Brett who was sobbing. “Ellison saved all our lives. If we hadn’t found him, we’d still be in there” I told him. Brett nodded and even managed to crack a weak smile. “We need to keep on going,” Kristina said, “When that stuff is done with the house it might come looking for us.”

            Whatever those plants were, it was clear they were mobile and dangerous. “Keep your eyes out on the woods,” I shouted as we walked briskly down the driveway, “Yell if you see anything coming out of it, or see any of that plant.” Otherwise, we marched silently down the driveway, keeping nervous eyes on the woods on either side of us.

            After about fifteen minutes I sidled up to Thor. “Shouldn’t we have been to the highway by now? I don’t remember the driveway being this long,” I murmured. Thor stared stoically ahead, just nodding. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. To the left of me, I saw Crystal stumble and take a tumble to the ground.

            It happened incredibly fast. Two vines shot out of the woods to our left and grabbed her arms. Two more shot out from the woods to our right and grabbed her legs. She screamed, wailing in a hopeless voice, a sound I’ll never forget as long as I live. The vines tightened and then she was drawn and quartered, each of her four parts disappearing separately into the woods. “RUN!” I screamed and we did, flying down the pavement as fast as we could. I heard Lisa screaming shrilly and I turned back. Another vine had her by the ankle. “Help me,” she cried. I started running towards her but she lost her balance and fell off the pavement. In moments she was on the dirt next to the pavement and the strange plants erupted out of it and as she screamed they began to pour inside her mouth, her nose, her eyes, her ears….and then they were poking out of her skin. She was dead in a matter of seconds.

            I reversed course even as Kristina screamed my name. I looked and she was running ahead but looking back at me. “DON’T LOOK BACK!” I yelled, “KEEP RUNNING.” We ran for a long time…I don’t know how long, minutes, hours. We finally stopped when we couldn’t run anymore and had to catch our breath.” Brett was sobbing again. “We’re all going to die, dude. The driveway is all wrong. We’re headed into the woods.” I knew he was right. Somehow the pavement had been changed to lead us away from the highway. How I couldn’t tell you, but as I looked ahead I saw that the pavement disappeared into the grass. I turned back and saw the same thing. We wouldn’t have pavement for very long.

            “Which way is the highway,” I said in a hollow voice. Thor squinted up at the sun for a moment then pointed vaguely off to the left. I nodded. “No point in staying on the road anymore.” Thor nodded and started off in that direction. “What’s the point,” Brett cried, tears streaming down his face, “We’re all going to die.” I looked at him. “Maybe, but I’m going to die fighting” I told him then Kristina and I walked off in the same direction Thor and Kamilla was going. After a few moments I turned around. Brett hadn’t moved. In a short time, I couldn’t see him anymore. I would never see him again.

            We kept on walking for hours. It would have been idyllic if the situation wasn’t so grim. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and the afternoon was warm and beautiful. I looked at Kristina and she flashed a hopeful smile. Since the attacks on the driveway, there hadn’t been any activity and we’d been walking in the woods for quite awhile. I looked at Thor and he looked back at me. He stopped and we all gathered together. “We should have reached the road hours ago,” I said. It wasn’t an accusation and to his credit Thor didn’t take it as one. “We’ve traveled miles,” he said, “We should have either made it to the highway or State Road 423 by now. It’s as if the roads have disappeared.” I nodded. I could see it in everybody else’s eyes. “The woods aren’t letting us go, are they” Kamilla said. I slowly shook my head. My eyes widened just then. Kamilla saw it and turned around.

            We were at the glade, the one that we had trespassed on. All those who had walked through it were gone. All save one, I thought. Kristina looked at me, her beautiful eyes sad and welling with tears. “I love you,” she whispered, and then she gasped. The plants began to erupt from the ground, surrounding her, inhabiting her. She never screamed, not once although the pain must have been excruciating. All at once I knew what those figures on the other side of the glade had been. In a matter of minutes Kristina was gone, and in her place was a vaguely cylindrical figure of vines, tendrils and foliage. There were even flowers budding.

            Kamilla and Thor were looking at each other and at once I knew what they were thinking. I began to cry. “No, no, no,” I wept, holding their hands tight, “You don’t have to do it. We never went into the glade. We never violated it. It might let us go.” Thor looked at me, a look of infinite compassion on his face, a look mirrored by Kamilla. “It might,” she said, “but what is there to live for now?” Gently they disengaged their hands and joined their hands together. They kissed once, deeply, and then each one stepped into the glade. In moments, there were two more figures next to the one that had been Kristina.

            I sat on the edge of the glade for awhile, weeping for the woman I loved, the life I’d known and a world that had changed inalterably in the course of a day. Slowly I got up and stared at the glade. The sun was getting lower and I didn’t want to be there when it got dark. Somehow I knew that I didn’t want to see what happened in the glade when the sun went down. I turned around and began walking. I didn’t know where I was going, or what I’d find when I got there, but it was nevertheless a lovely day for a walk in the woods.

I, Vampire

             First of all, the movies are all bullshit. Especially those new ones. We don’t sparkle – ever – for one thing, and I don’t look anything like that boy. There’s nothing soulful about my kind; by definition, we’re soulless.

            We aren’t anything like Christopher Lee, either. And Stoker got everything all wrong, too. Flash all the crosses you want at us unless you’re a Jehovah’s Witness. Now those guys scare us; they just don’t take freakin’ no for an answer. Holy water doesn’t faze us and garlic doesn’t bother us except for one guy I knew who was allergic in life to the stuff; made him break out something awful.

            I’m a vampire, by the way. I figure you’d have guessed that by now. I’ve been one for about 75 years now. By my reckoning, that means I’ve been in a foul mood for…oh, about 75 years. My name is Harvey – yes, I know, like the fucking rabbit. I get that all the damn time; it was never funny. If Jimmy Stewart were still alive, I’d tear him a new one. As a matter of fact I was going to back in 1961, but cooler heads prevailed.

            I was 51 when I was Changed. I lived in New Orleans at the time; it was 1935 and I was drunk (as usual), walking home from a bar near the Quarter when I decided to take a piss in an alley. I often wonder what would have happened if I had been able to hold it that night; instead, I was grabbed from behind and felt a sharp pain in my neck; then I felt sleepy. I passed out in that alley.

            When I woke up, I felt strange. I chalked it up to the alcohol and stumbled back home. It was almost dawn; thank God it had been Friday. I slept well into Saturday afternoon. When I woke up, I felt this terrible pain in my stomach. I was also not alone.

            He was sitting in a chair, watching me as I woke up. He was thin, almost to the point of emaciation. He was immaculately groomed, but he had a crooked grin on his face. I would learn later on that he was considered quite a joker by our race although I didn’t know it at the time. Of course, I didn’t even know I was a new member of a different race either.

            In any case, he said “You’re probably feeling some awful pain in the stomach. Don’t be alarmed, that will pass. You are also wondering who I am. My name is Edgar. I’m a vampire.” At that point, I figured he was a nut case and I tried to get out of bed and away from him – he might be dangerous. My legs were like rubber and they weren’t working right. I fell flat on my ass on the floor. He guffawed. “I wouldn’t try to walk right now, brother. You have been reborn; your body is adjusting to its new situation.” I looked up with him and my confusion must have been apparent. He laughed again. “I have Changed you; made you one of our kind. One of my brothers has been unmade recently, so I needed to replace him; you happened to be handy.”

            I tried to get up again, but my arms and legs weren’t working properly. He smiled and walked over to where I lay on the floor. He grabbed the front of my pajamas with one hand and lifted me onto the bed as if he were lifting a candlestick or a paperweight. “No sense in leaving you on the floor; it’ll be hours before you can walk. Now be a good man and just lie still, all right? It will make this less time-consuming.” I let out a big sigh. There seemed to be nothing for it.

            He smiled. “Good choice. Now, let me tell you what’s happening to you. You are not dead; you don’t have to die to become one of the Fallen. That’s what we call ourselves, the Fallen, as in fallen from grace, fallen from the eyes of God. It’s a bit of an ironic joke, considering most of us don’t believe in God. It’s hard to when you are a walking, talking violation of all His laws.”          

            He made a dismissive gesture. “But I digress. You are becoming a vampire. Think of it as an incurable disease, like leprosy or polio. And that Bela Lugosi movie is all wrong. I’m sure you’ll have a thousand questions, so let’s just get to basics.

            “That pain you’re feeling is hunger. You’ll get it from time to time, but not nearly as often as you might think. The only thing that will relieve it fully is human blood. The blood of cattle or other mammals will relieve it for a short time, but not like human blood.” I felt queasy; for the first time I was beginning to believe him. You see, when he mentioned human blood I felt a craving, like you might for ice cream or steak. I spoke to him for the first time, in a weak voice; “I don’t…I can’t…”

            He smiled again. “You don’t have to kill anybody. The human body contains more blood than you can drink. Think about it; do you drink gallons of water, milk, wine? No and neither do we. We just need a pint or two and we’re right as rain and for weeks. The most voracious of us feeds no more than once a month.”

            He went back to his chair and sat down. “And that hooey about changing into bats? Forget about it. We don’t turn into mist and we don’t turn into wolves. There is nothing all that supernatural about us. As for fangs, your incisors will change somewhat, grow sharper but you won’t grow full-fledged fangs. Not noticeably, anyway.

            “You will grow stronger, unnaturally so. You will also be faster and have more endurance. However this stuff about living forever – forget it. Nothing is eternal, especially not us. We are much longer-lived than our human cousins, but we do die eventually. We call it being unmade; our bodies simply disintegrate. Our kind leave no remains.”

            He was wearing a greatcoat and from one of his pockets he pulled out a bottle. “Here, drink this it’ll help with the stomach pain.” The truth was, it was really growing truly unbearable. I reached out and grabbed it, pulled out the stopper and drank it greedily. It was red and thick and warm; it tasted delicious. “That’s calves blood; there’s a butcher nearby who does me favors from time to time.”

            He looked at me. “Incidentally, daylight bothers us. It doesn’t kill us, but our skin becomes very sensitive as do our eyes. Go out in daylight only with sunglasses, and heavily cloaked; you will get very intense sunburns with even just limited exposure. They are very painful and take days to get better. You won’t burst into flames or anything, but you’ll feel as if you had.

            “Stakes through the heart do kill us, but then they’d kill anybody. We are decidedly hard to kill and we heal quickly, although we do feel pain. We can only be killed by piercing our heart, or cutting off our heads. That damned Stoker got that right at least.

            “We’re really quite harmless, for the most part, but people feel uncomfortable around us, even if they are unaware of our condition.” He got up and stretched. “That’s pretty much it for now. Oh, and we don’t age. You will always stay as you are now. You might change your hair and your clothes but you will always look as you do now. Sorry about that.”

            So was I. I was 51 then, and back in those days that was pretty old. I had kept most of my hair but it was mostly grey, and I had the pot belly of a man my age – and the wrinkles to prove it. I was certainly not the Adonis most movie vampires are.

            He left then, and true to his word the pain had dissipated. A few hours later I was able to walk short distances; a few hours after that it was as if nothing had happened. Fool that I was, I thought I had dreamed everything and went out into the daylight. It was if someone had poured acid all over me; I only managed to go a few feet before I was screaming in agony. I ran back inside and pulled all the shades. I was in horrible pain for days.

            It did get better, but shortly after that the stomach pains began again. I felt like I was going crazy; I was never hungry and rarely drank anything, water or stronger beverages. I slept very little; mostly, I read voraciously. I had always loved to read.

            Once the pains began, I wondered what I was going to do. Fortunately, my doorbell rang for the first time in days. It was the middle of the night, and it was Edgar. “May I come in?” he said politely. I gestured, and he followed me inside. “Have any more calves’ blood?” I said in a husky voice. He smiled and said “No, not this time. I’m going to take you out hunting so that you are able to feed yourself. Something I forgot to mention; because I changed you, we are bonded. I can sense when you’re hungry; you will also be able to sense certain things about me. You’ll know when I’m unmade, for example. When you Change someone, you will also be able to sense things about them. You will also be responsible to train them, as I am you. I am like a parent, a mama goose teaching my gosling to be a gosling. From time to time I will check in on you but we will never be friends; it is not in the nature of our kind to befriend one another.”

            He took me out that night, over to a place by the river where the lighting was poor. Mist was rising from the Mississippi that night; it was just like the movies. We watched a night watchman at a warehouse making his rounds. Edgar whispered to me “That’s our prey. Now, watch what I do.”

            He moved silently alongside the warehouse; the man had no idea he was there. He walked into a guard shack and sat down to drink a cup of coffee. The radio was playing. It was a warm night, and I suspect the man had more than coffee in that cup. Edgar motioned to me to follow. I was like a whisper behind him. I could feel my hunger growing, and I was almost salivating. I looked in the glass of the guardhouse and noticed my reflection (yes, we cast reflection in mirrors too); my eyes were red and there were noticeable fangs. I looked at Edgar and saw he was the same. The watchman looked up at the moment and saw me. Edgar cursed and ran in, faster than I could see. He was on the watchman in a heartbeat, biting his throat.

            The watchman slumped, his eyes growing glassy before they closed. He looked as if he had been drugged. Edgar remained there for a few moments and I heard a distinct slurping sound, then he released. He beckoned me over. “Only use your upper teeth. Don’t grab with the lower teeth; you’ll find you have fangs there as well, and the bite of those fangs will Change him. Just use your upper fangs; you’ll find it natural as eating. Once they are inside his neck, you’ll feel blood flowing into your mouth. Simply swallow until you feel your pain lessening. It shouldn’t take long, just a few moments. Once the pain is gone, disengage. Never take too much; you can kill, and killing draws attention to us.”

            He motioned to the unconscious watchman and I bent over him. The hunger pains were fierce indeed, and I sank my upper teeth into his neck, taking care to avoid biting him with my lower. In moments I felt his warm, sticky blood in my throat, and it was as creamy as a milkshake. I sucked as if at a mother’s breast, and within moments the pain began to fade and disappear completely. I took a few more sucks, but I noticed Edgar shaking his head and then he tapped me on the shoulder. “Enough,” was all he said. Somewhat reluctantly, I disengaged my fangs, the salty taste still in my mouth. I licked my lips; I felt utterly at peace with the world.

            I frowned. “He saw me, didn’t he?” Edgar nodded. “Only for a moment, though. He will wake up in an hour or two with a bit of a headache feeling as if he had the flu. He’ll finish his shift, go home and take the next day off. After that, he’ll be fine; his body will replenish the blood he just lost. As for the sight of you, he’ll chalk that up to the whiskey in his coffee. I’ve used this man as prey before for new Fallen; even if they’re clumsy enough to allow themselves to be seen, as you were, he’s always been prone to hallucinations. He’ll just believe he saw another one.”

             He walked me back to my small home. “It is important,” he said for once not grinning, “that the humans never see you feeding. The sight of it is terrifying to them. They believe our kind to be myths; when they find out differently, they get absolutely crazy. We are few and they are many; should they declare war on us, even though we are stronger and faster, their numbers would eventually wear us down. We would be annihilated as a race. You must learn to use your speed and be silent when you hunt. Exsanguinating your prey also calls attention to us. If you are discovered, we will not aid you. If anything, we may help the humans exerminate you.”  We had arrived at my door and he stopped for a moment and looked at me hard. “Keep to yourself. Make no human friends, at least not for long. In ten years, sell your home and move away; tell your neighbors only that you are retiring to the south of France, Florida or wherever you think they’ll believe. People who remain the same age for forty, fifty years also garner suspicion. There are those among the Fallen who are charged with keeping our existence secret from the humans. Do not attract their attention; they will destroy you utterly and without mercy.”

            We went our separate ways after that. I rarely saw him but from time to time he’d pop by, still grinning that crooked grin. We would have a meal together, talk about what we were doing. Edgar had been in his 30s when he was Changed, and had liked to paint. He still did, and some of his artwork was amazing – but then he’d had two centuries to practice.

            Money was never a problem for us. I had some savings, but I discovered shortly after Edgar left me a deposit had been made in my account; I was a millionaire. When I asked him about it later, he smiled and just said “We take care of our own.”

            As time went by I discovered a few things about the Fallen. Whatever our condition was, it also heightened our creative senses as well. We all became successful at whatever endeavor captured our fancy. Some were great financiers, others poets and painters. Myself, I became a novelist; I wrote several best-sellers under a pen name, many of which became movies. After thirty or forty years, I arranged for my alter ego to pass away and began writing more under a different pen name. I also had some luck at the stock market. The millions I made from my writing turned into tens and then hundreds of millions.

            I now live a life of luxury. I visit New Orleans from time to time, but I live in the South of France now. I have Changed several men and women; I discovered that each of the Fallen must Change their fair share, to keep the race alive. Of course, recruiting by normal means is impossible; there are rules, after all.

            For one thing, we cannot Change children or babies. Their systems can’t handle the shock. We don’t Change the young and foolish; their arrogance can compromise the secret of our existence. It is for that reason we authorized those books and those movies. Yes, their authors are Fallen too.

            It’s not a terrible life, but it is a life of solitude. We can’t make lifelong friends with humans; once they notice we don’t age, they either fear us or they want to be like us, but those who long for immortality tend to make poor vampires. For one thing, we are not immortal. One day, I will be unmade just as naturally as normal humans die. I was Changed because one other among us was unmade and when Edgar himself was Unmade back in 2003, I Changed a young woman to replace him. She, like me, became a writer of some repute.

            The truth about our kind is that we are just as human as you are in many ways; I feel a sense of responsibility to put down the truth about us. This manuscript I am sealing in a vault hidden to all but one whom I trust; one day, he will find it and publish it. Chances are, nobody will believe it.

            Your skepticism is our greatest protection. Indeed, vampires dwell among you, in greater numbers than you can imagine. We are no danger to you; we rarely kill humans unless we have to. It is in our best interest not to. Even though we are many, your numbers are vast compared to ours. If you chose to seek us out and hunt us down, we would be exterminated, and that would be sad; so many of the greatest people in history have actually been vampires.

            Oh and the sunlight thing? One of the Fallen figured out how to make a sunscreen that protects us. We can walk in daylight openly now, thanks to our chemist friend.

            Don’t worry though. If we come to you in the night, you won’t even notice that we’re there. We’ll just take a little sip and then be gone. You might feel like the flu is coming on the next morning but nothing more. We’re no more harmful to you than that breakfast cereal guy that’s supposed to be a vampire. Eat enough of that cereal and you’ll have far more problems than any vampire would ever cause you. Just a word of advice; if you think our way of life is attractive think again.

            I have spent 75 years as a middle aged overweight man. I have arthritis in my elbows and knees. I have a bad back and allergies to bumble bees and pollen.  I wake up every morning in pain, and the pain never abates; I am perpetually 51 years old with the aches and pains of a 51 year old man. I haven’t enjoyed the taste of food, other than what I drink to sustain myself, in all those years. I have read many books, surfed the internet and watched television. Most of the time I’m bored.

            They don’t tell you about that in the movies, nor in the books. They don’t tell you that you have few friendships and rarely talk to people. Oh, we can text and e-mail just like you can, but the inclination just isn’t there. I miss people, but when I talk to them, I find myself loathing them. You don’t have the same kinds of experience – you can’t possibly relate. As for the Fallen, we don’t associate with one another much. We are prone to feuds that can be spectacularly violent, so the less we interact with one another the better it is for our own kind. We’re like predators in the wild; we each stick to our own territory and we are not pack animals, association with wolves be damned.

            Damned is an understatement. It’s tedious and painful our existence, punctuated by occasional moments of creative satisfaction but are those moments worth the cost? I would give it all away to fall in love again; I was a widower when I died, my Mary having died in childbirth some 25 years before I Changed, and although I hadn’t found another woman to take her place, I had my share of female companions over the years and I miss that. Then again, the Fallen don’t love; we don’t have the capacity for it. We ache for it, we long for it but we cannot have it. Perhaps that is the greatest cruelty of all. Centuries of lovelessness; I’m sure you won’t find that in any young adult novel. Then again, reality is so much more painful than fiction.

Six Days of Darkness

Once again, Halloween is right around the corner and that means that not only are ghouls and ghosts abroad in the night, but right here on your computer screen as well. For the second year, Cinema365 is presenting Six Days of Darkness, our very own Halloween tradition. Starting on Tuesday, we will devote each day to a horror film review; some well-known, some not so much – all leading to the review of a horror classic on Halloween itsself.

But that’s not all you get. As well as those reviews, an additional treat – horror fiction inspired by each of the movies. Of course, some of you might think they are tricks rather than treats, but each according to their taste. So stock up on candy, carve yourself a Jack O’Lantern, decorate your porch with cobwebs, glow-in-the-dark skeletons and cackling witches, and prepare for the onslaught of trick or treaters. While you’re at it, put on your scariest – or sexiest – costume, pull up a chair and come spend some time with us. Let Cinema365 haunt you – and maybe scare you – just a little bit. Happy Halloween from Cinema365!

I Am the Walking Dead

I don’t know why I’m still here. I remember dying, vividly. It wasn’t a good death.

I’d heard the reports of the dead coming back to life and feeding on the living, but like most people I think I didn’t believe them. How crazy is that, right? Stupid, stupid, stupid is what it is! I went to the movies with my girlfriend. We were sitting near the front row because we got there late – girls take goddamned forever to get ready, you know? Anyway I was pretty pissed off. I’d wanted to see the movie, and it put me in a bad mood to be seeing it with my neck craned up the whole time.

I remember hearing screaming from behind me…and it wasn’t a horror movie. My girlfriend turned around to look and then she started screaming, so I turned around too.

There were dozens of them, flesh rotting from their bones, eyes staring straight ahead – those that had eyes – and they were feeding, ripping flesh off of the screaming, gibbering living. “We’ve got to get out of here” I shouted and grabbed my screaming girlfriend by the arm. Most people, idiots, were trying to run up the aisle to the main exit but it was flooded with zombies. There were emergency exits not 20 feet from where we were sitting and it was towards those that I pushed my girlfriend.

The alarm sounded as soon as we opened the door into a back alley that led to Copper Street, the one where the theater was. I think it was Copper Street. It’s hard to think right now, my mind feels sluggish. Anyway, we ran out and fortunately there weren’t any zombies that I could see right away. I could hear the screaming in the theater; it sounded like a horror movie was playing, except the screaming kept on going, wouldn’t stop.  A few other people came out behind us.

I heard a noise behind me, like someone burrowing in a garbage dump. I turned around and there it was, one of the living dead, burrowing in a garbage bin. It looked up and made a snarling noise.

I will say that George Romero, director of the Living Dead movies, got the look pretty much right. The skin was a bluish-red color, the lips red and dripping with gore. There were bruises all over their skin, and the marks of their demise were apparent. However, George missed a few details. For one thing, they didn’t shuffle like they were walking down the aisle at a wedding – they moved like normal humans pretty much. Also, there was the smell, an odor of corruption and decay that was overwhelming. It made you want to vomit.

There was one other thing, the noise. Zombies don’t growl, moan or groan. They scream, they howl. I can tell you from experience that it is the most unnerving thing you’ve ever heard. The sound isn’t quite human, it’s higher pitched like the vocal chords have changed. It’s different than the screams of their victims.

Some poor schlub came out of the emergency exit right at that moment and the zombie pounced. He had ripped open the guy’s jugular before he even knew the zombie was there. Frankly, I didn’t stick around to see what happened next. I yanked my girlfriends arm and started running towards the street, away from the feeding ghoul. As we ran down the alley I saw a 2×4 board leaning up against the wall. I grabbed it without stopping with my free hand. Might as well have a weapon, I figured.

When we got to the street, the scene was nightmarish. There were restaurants and bars aplenty near the theater and they were all filled with screaming zombies chowing down on the hapless patrons inside. It was total chaos; people were trying to get to their cars and zombies were catching up to them while they fumbled for their keys. A few had managed to make it and were weaving in and out of the carnage, trying to get away.

I knew where we were parked – in a lot around the block. The greatest concentration of zombies seemed to be away from where the car was so I turned right onto the street. My girlfriend was sobbing and crying that I was hurting her. Well honey, better hurt than dead…or food for the dead. I heard that distinctive zombie scream close by and saw one angling towards us. As it came close enough I swung the 2×4 at its head and it went down. I didn’t stop, even though the board had split and was really too short to swing again the way I had.

As we rounded the corner another zombie came out and stood directly in our path. I had to let go of my girlfriend’s arm and with both hands rammed the board into the zombie’s chest. It went down and again, I didn’t want to stick around to see if I’d hurt it. I grabbed the girl’s hand again and started running but my hand was slick and hers slipped out of my grip. “Come on!” I remember yelling at her and started running again. There weren’t any zombies that I could see and no people either. The lot was just across the street and I could even see my car.

I didn’t want to make the mistke that the other poor saps had made, so I fished my car keys out of my pocket, now that I wasn’t holding on to my girlfriends arm. I pressed the keyless unlocking button and heard the gratifying beep beep that signified my car was unlocked. All we had to do was get in it, start the engine and drive away to safety.

I’d started to cross the street when I heard my girlfriend scream behind me. A couple of zombies had evidently been behind us and one of them had grabbed her. She looked at me with eyes like saucers, and while my memory is fading, getting dimmer, this was one thing that still remains very vivid. “Help me,” she pleaded in a little girls voice. It was already far too late though.

They wrestled her to the ground and the screaming began. One of them ripped a chunk of her face off and another had reached her blouse and yanked it off, then started feeding on her breasts. I guess he liked his meat more tender.

I stood there, watching it for a moment, mouth gaping then I turned away. Dead was dead, and there was nothing I could do for her. I started running for the lot and then I heard a noise, a car horn. I turned towards it to see an SUV barreling down on me and I could see the panic-stricken eyes of the person driving it.

The impact wasn’t as painful as you might think. I remember flying through the air, my limbs flopping around like dead fish. I landed on my skull on the pavement as the driver who had hit me raced onwards, not stopping. Smart guy I remember thinking. It was the last thing I thought as everything went black.

The next thing I know I was standing up and I could see my body on the street. The skull had been caved in and it  looked like one of my legs was broken and my hip was shattered. I’m dead I thought to myself and there was a sense of wonder about it. I looked back and could see five or six zombies crouched down around my girlfriend whose eyes had glazed over. I think she was dead too, or close to it. She had stopped screaming at least.

They say that when you die you see a light. I did, but it wasn’t the pure, white light they talk about. It was spotty, unstable like the power source had been compromised. The light flickered in other words. I went towards it and I got a sense that there were people I loved waiting in it, but I couldn’t make out who. The light really began to flicker and I started running towards it with a sense of urgency. I could feel a deep sorrow emanating from the light and then it went out. I felt this awful pain then, one of the emotional loss of not going where I was supposed to go. The other was physical. I began to scream.

I wasn’t on my feet any longer. I was lying on the pavement where my body had landed after the SUV hit it. I sat up. I could feel my injuries – apparently Romero got that wrong too. My leg was definitely broken but I got up anyway. I had a horrible headache and I was slick with my own blood.  A zombie walked past me and paid me absolutely no attention. The realization hit me – I was one of them. A zombie.

The worst pain was not from my broken leg or my fractured skull. It is the pain of the hunger. If you’ve ever gone more than 24 hours without food, you might have an idea of what it is like, but even then you have no idea. It’s that need, so pressing that your whole body feels it. I guess a heroin addict in withdrawls might feel this bad, but having never used heroin I couldn’t say for sure. I just knew I was hungry.

I didn’t want to eat human flesh but I knew, instinctively that living human tissue was the only thing that could ease my pain. I walked back over to my girlfriend. Some of the zombies had left but there was still meat to be had. Her chest was open and some of her organs were still inside. I grabbed her heart and began to chew on it. Tears were streaming down my face. Oh God, what have I become?

It’s been a few hours since then. I’ve been walking down the street, limping more like. It is getting harder and harder to think. I can feel my humanity draining from me, and it scares me, scares me shitless. In another hour, maybe two at the most, I’m going to be like them, mindless screaming monsters marauding for human flesh. The hunger is beginning again and I know I will not be resisting its call. I am walking towards the suburbs, the development where I lived. I know there are lots of people there, flesh to feast upon. I want to turn and walk away, walk somewhere where there are no people but I know I can’t do it. The need is just too great.

I wonder if it was the same for all of them, the gradual loss of their humanity instead of the sudden change from person to zombie. I can’t say for sure, but I know how it is for me. I just hope the military gets here and figures out a way to kill us permanently. I hope they do it before I feed again. The taste of my girlfriend’s flesh is still in my mouth. It tastes foul and wonderful at the same time.

I can’t remember her name. I can’t remember my name. I’m glad I found this internet cafe so I can post this on my blog. I hope I remember how to do it. Maybe it will help someone to know, to figure out how to stop this. It won’t be me. I can’t stay here anymore. I must go and feed. God help me. God help us all.

Accident Victim

It all happened so damn fast. One minute I was cruising along in my Lexus, listening to the Brandenberg Concertos being performed live from Vienna and then the next, BANG!!!

He was homeless from the look of him, dressed in rags and smelling like the hind end of a barnyard. His hair and beard was dirty and matted, his eyes steely blue and they glared up at me as if to tell me how pissed off he was at being dead. I hadn’t seen him coming because I was reading a text from the hospital informing me that my surgery scheduled for the morning had been canceled because the patient had suffered an embolism and passed away thirty minutes ago. Patients can be so inconsiderate.

Still, it left me with a free morning so I was pleased for a few moments that I could actually sleep in a bit and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the impact jolted me into reality. I slammed on the brakes and the Lexus came to a shuddering stop at the side of the road.

Fortunately, the road I was on was deserted – it was almost midnight. Normally, I wouldn’t have been out so late the night before a surgery, but the board of surgical review was meeting the next day about a patient of mine that had died on the table while I was operating on him, so I had to review the file and make sure all the paperwork was there. Afterwards, I stopped for a drink at the Paradiso – just something to ward off the chill of the night, I’m not an alcoholic. Maybe there were two or three, I wasn’t really certain but no more than that. I had to operate the next morning, after all and I’m a responsible physician.

Not like my father. He’d left my mom when I was just eight. Okay, it would be more accurate to say she’d thrown him out but he would have left anyway. Now, there was an alcoholic. My dad had been a promising neurosurgeon at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Northeast until he made a very costly mistake in the operating room and killed a patient through his own negligence. The family had sued the crap out of him and the hospital; the hospital quietly settled and then just as quietly canned his ass. His medical license was yanked because, as it turned out, he had been impaired while he was operating.

Afterwards, he just drank and drank and drank while the bank account shrank and shrank and shrank. Mother, who had been an excellent trial lawyer before leaving her job to raise me and run the household went back to work, but dad just kept on wallowing in self-pity and drinking. Finally it came to the point where she couldn’t tolerate the sight of him and threw him out on his ass.

Mom worked hard to get me into med school (although it broke her heart I didn’t follow her into law school, but I had always wanted to be a surgeon ever since I’d first seen Marcus Welby, M.D. as a kid). I got myself into Johns Hopkins and got my medical degree, going into a surgical residence at Mercy Hospital in Manhattan (back when it was one of the finest hospitals in the City), finally becoming a thorassic surgeon and one of the best in the Northeast. I had it all; a great house, a trophy wife, a thriving practice and the respect and admiration of my peers.

I got out of the car and ran to the heap of rags huddled on the side of the road. Even if I hadn’t been a pre-eminent surgeon at one of the finest hospitals in America, I would have known the man was dead. His head was facing up but his body was facing down; it was a horrific sight. The eyes were open and lifeless, staring at his killer accusingly.

And make no mistake about it, I had killed him just as surely as if I’d taken a gun and shot him in the back of the head. I had been distracted and hadn’t seen him on the side of the road. Just what the hell was he doing out there at this hour anyway? Why wasn’t he in some shelter or mission, sleeping off whatever booze-inspired nightmare that kept him from an honest day’s work?

The ramifications of what had happened began to set in. Christ, I’d been drinking. How many had I had? I tried to think, but I knew there were at least two…no, three…no, there was at least one more…shit, I’d lost count. If the police arrived, I’d be arrested for vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, god knows what else. I’d lose my license just as my father had, even though I’d never operating on anyone drunk. Sure, I’d had a shot to steady my nerves once or twice – I was entitled to, wasn’t I? I’d saved hundreds of lives, maybe a thousand. I had twenty good years ahead of me if I took care of myself – how many more lives would I save? Lives that would be doomed if I weren’t there to save them, and for what? For a dirty, stinking, useless bum that nobody on this earth would miss?

My mind was racing. This was just goddamned unfair. One of the greatest surgeons in America unable to save lives because of a drunken bum who had probably wandered out into the street in a drug-induced haze. Yes, of course that had to be it. It was his fault. It couldn’t possibly be mine. I only glanced down at the phone for a second. And I wasn’t drunk. I’m not an alcoholic. Sure, I’d had a few but I have an iron constitution. I was fine. I felt fine. I didn’t feel drunk goddamn it. I’d know it if I were drunk – I’m a doctor. One of the best.

I thought about it quickly. Wait a minute. Who was this bum? Who would miss him? If I just drove him somewhere, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere I could dump the body. Then there would be nothing tying the accident to me. Except the car. Shit, how bad was it banged up? I got up and ran to the front of the car. Jesus wept! The bumper was pretty much stoved in, but the Lexus was one of the best built cars there was. Had I been driving one of those crappy foreign cars, I would have been killed. Thank God I know something about cars and safety. I was lucky to be alive, that goddamned bum had nearly killed me. Well, he deserved what he got then, the bastard.

But I could explain the damage. A hit and run driver. Slammed into me while I was stopped at an intersection. Did I get a description? No officer, I have to admit I went into a bit of shock. It was an SUV, I think. No, I couldn’t tell what make or model. It was dark…blue, or maybe black. I couldn’t really tell, it was dark. He just drove off. I would have driven off after him but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t really see the license plate either, it just all happened so goddamned fast.

I knew what I had to do. I could get out of it. This didn’t have to be the end of my career. I could still practice medicine, still save lives. I went back to the bum and grabbed him by the shoulders. Good lord, he was heavy. I seized him by the shoulders and began to drag him towards the Lexus but quickly realized that would be a mistake. I had wondered why I didn’t see any blood – it had been pooling underneath the body. When I started to drag him towards the Lexus, it left a mark. I couldn’t have that. Summoning all of my strength, I lifted the corpse like a sack of potatoes and staggered towards the Lexus.

Fortunately, I wasn’t far. Time was of the essence; there could be no witnesses or everything would be for nothing. My luck held, though. Nobody drove by, no police cars cruised past waiting to unjustly accuse a man like me who should get a statue to his name in the center of town – they should have a goddamned parade for me. I save lives. So I ended this one, so what? He wasn’t really doing anything with his.

I got him into the Lexus and drove off, tires squealing. The engine was knocking ominously, but the car was otherwise drivable. I knew that if I drove it too far and too hard the damage would catch up to it and I would be stuck with a dead car and a dead body. I giggled to myself at my own wit. Goddamn I have a great sense of humor.

I had to hope there were no police cars who would pull me over immediately if they saw the damage to the car and of course once they did that they would see the body. I had to take side streets and less-traveled roads instead of the interstate, but I had to get out of downtown. I knew that just outside of town there was a parcel of land that at one time was going to be an outlet mall before the economic downturn had killed the financing for the project. Now it was just a vacant field. Noody ever went there, and this was a perfect place to leave the body. It could lay there for days, even weeks and nobody would ever find it.

I saw headlights behind me and my breath seized up. As the vehicle behind me passed underneath a streetlight I realized to my horror that it was a police cruiser. I tried to keep my cool. Just drive carefully. Don’t exceed the speed limit but don’t go too slowly either. Don’t give him a reason to be suspicious. My heart pounded as I drove one block then another and then another. Still the cruiser followed in the darkness, silent and accusing me. In the back seat, I could see the crumpled body of the dead man. His eyes were looking directly at me. Shit! Why hadn’t I turned his head down? He was going to be staring at me the entire way. How dare you judge me you insignificant piece of crap? I’ve made something of my life while you are a nothing. Useless. Your life has no meaning, no point. Want proof? You died in the street, alone, unloved. What does that tell you about your life?

I have plenty of people who love me. My mother, my stepfather, my children, even my ex-wife has some feeling for me. The divorce was painful but she couldn’t take the life of a surgeon who was on call 24-7. She needed far more attention than I could ever have given her, the bitch. Wait, that was unfair. She could have soaked me in the divorce but took a generous alimony and child support. I was living well on what I made so what did I care? I’m a generous man, ask any charity in town. I’m always the first to sign up for charitable functions, and I give generously. I sit on the board of several charities in fact, although I can’t always attend the meeting. Too busy saving lives, after all.

The lights of the cruiser went on and my heart stopped. I heard the siren and knew everything was over in an instant. I felt tears coarsing down my cheek as I pulled over. It just wasn’t fair! I had always done the right thing, always put others first, always gave my patients my unwavering best and now it was all fllushed down the toilet because of a crazy, stinking piece of human garbage.

As I pulled to the side of the road the cruiser raced by me, sirens screaming and it made a right about a block farther up, tires squealing. I pounded the dashboard, screaming. My heart was racing and I drew in deep breaths and tried to calm myself down. “YOU BASTARD!!!” I shrieked at the corpse in the back of my car and I turned around and reached back to slap it, but it was just a little too far out of my reach. I settled for slamming my fist into the upholstery of the passenger seat instead. “YOU BASTARD!!! YOU DID THIS TO ME ON PURPOSE DIDN’T YOU? YOU’RE TRYING TO RUIN ME!!!” I screamed at the lifeless body as if my angry cries could do it some good. Damn, I needed a drink but that would have to wait. I needed a clear head for the business at hand.

I put the Lexus back into drive and pulled back into the now-deserted street. I licked my suddenly dry lips and tried not to shake as I drove through a maze of streets, staying off of main roads that were likely to be patrolled by the police. It took me nearly an hour but I finally got to the mall site.

They had begun to lay the foundations before work stopped. There were a couple of streetlights for illumination and a traffic signal on the corner. There would have been plenty of traffic coming by during the day – the cross street led to a freeway on-ramp and the road I was on led to a new housing development that was to have had over 8,000 new homes in it (I knew that because I was one of the investors) before work had stalled because of the housing crisis. Now, I was all alone.

I pulled the body of the bum out of the car, looking up from time to time to make sure nobody was coming. I was as nervous as the first time I’d performed open-heart surgery on my own. I decided to drag the body; at this point, speed was more important than the blood trail. Here, it didn’t matter quite so much – once the body was found it would be obvious that the nameless loser hadn’t died of any natural causes anyway.

There was a pile of debris near one of the laid foundations and it was there I dragged the body. I covered it with the debris – discarded plywood, half-empty sacks of concrete and so on. I gave the body a kick which brought an oddly satisfying sensation, then proceded to hide the body. By the time I was done, it was effectively concealed. I kicked the impressions the body had made while I dragged it through the dirt until there was no sign that anybody had been there. Columbo couldn’t have found that body.

Feeling quite proud of myself – obviously I could have made a superb master criminal, the police could never possibly outwit me – I got in the car and drove it home. It wasn’t too far and while I hoped that the police wouldn’t pull me over – there was a substantial amount of blood on the back seat – I felt confident that I could have explained it satisfactorily to any ignorant beat cop.

No such opportunity presented itself however and I arrived home without further incident. I pulled the car into the garage and went about concealing the evidence. I scrubbed down the back seat until most of the obvious blood was gone. If anyone found traces using that…whatever it is they use on CSI to tell that there was blood spatter…I could explain it away as the leakings from my surgical scrubs which I had brought home to launder. In fact, many colleagues had seen me carelessly toss my scrubs into the back seat on many occasion. I didn’t trust the hospital launderers to get them properly clean, after all – most of them were just a step above cavemen on the evolutionary ladder.

The next morning after a restful sleep, I got up feeling cheerful. Only one last task to perform. I called my insurance company to report a hit and run accident, an egregious crime that had been perpetrated on the heroic surgeon on his way home after a late night of saving lives. The employee was sympathetic but informed me that I needed to file a police report in order for the insurance company to pay for the repair of the Lexus, or to compensate me for the cost of a new one if it were too costly to repair.

I called the police and was told I had to file the report in person down at the station. I called my service and had my day rescheduled; I told them I had been in a car accident and while I was all right I was in no shape to perform surgery. I had a few drinks – just a few, I’m no alcoholic – and I drove down to the police precinct late in the afternoon.

I got the paperwork from the desk sergeant and sat down to fill it out. I handed the filled out form back to the desk sergeant and he looked it over and I noticed his eyebrow raised. “Dr. Thomas Garrity?” he said with a touch of awe in his voice, as was proper. I nodded and he said “The heart surgeon?” I smiled. “The correct term is thorassic surgeon but yes, that is I.” He smiled at me. “I stand corrected. There’s someone who wants to talk to you – one of the patients whose life you saved is a detective here in the precinct. He talks about you all the time – I’m sure he’d want to come out and say hello. Would you mind if I let him know you were here? He’d have me walking a beat if I didn’t.”

I sighed. Such was the price of being the best. “I suppose that would be all right, but I can’t stay long. A surgeon’s time is never strictly his own.” The flatfoot nodded and eagerly dialed the phone. “Detective Grimes? Dr. Garrity is here. Yes, he’s here. Right in front of me. I knew you’d want to see him. I’ll let him know you’ll be right out.” He hung up the phone and said “Please have a seat over there. Detective Grimes will be out momentarily.”

I sat down in the waiting room with the flotsam that collected there. I felt my skin crawl at the proximity to people who were criminals, prostitutes, losers. I would need to scrub myself as thoroughly as I had scrubbed down the Lexus the previous evening. Damn, I’m funny, I thought, stifling a laugh.

A man in a rumpled suit came out. “Dr. Garrity?” I raised my hand. I didn’t recognize the man but then, I’d had so many patients I couldn’t be expected to remember all of them. “Come with me please.” he said, indicating the open door he’d just emerged through. I stood up, holding my hands out protesting “I really don’t have time…”

He interrupted “This will just take a moment. I know you’re a busy man but it’s important. I’m working a homicide case right now where your expertise might prove invaluable.” My curiosity was piqued. Here was another example of how selfless I am – helping the police solve a crime that might put a heartless criminal behind bars. “I’d be happy to help” I said and followed him through the door.

He led me into an interrogation room and sat me down at a table. “Sorry that I had to bring you in here but it really is the only place to have a private conversation right now. Let me just run to my office and get the files so that you can look at them. Hopefully you’ll be able to answer a few questions that the medical examiner couldn’t, then you can be on your way.” I nodded. “Only too happy to help,” I said in a cheerful voice. I even admire myself sometimes. He left and shut the door behind him.

It was almost dinner time and I was debating in my head which restaurant I would have dinner in – I didn’t have any reservations but a surgeon of my stature doesn’t need them – when the detective walked back in. He had a file folder and what looked like a DVD. He put the file folder down and said “We found a body last night that had been moved from the murder site to an abandoned construction site. The body was in an unusual condition and I was wondering if you might shed some light on it.”

He opened the file folder and there was a picture of the cadaver. To my shock, I recognized it. It was the bum that had caused me all those problems. Still, I thought it could be a horrible coincidence. I looked up and said “I’m…not sure what you want me to tell you. My specialty is thorassic surgery, this appears to have been the work of some kind of gross trauma.”

The detectives eyes grew hard. “Why don’t you just cut the crap Doctor? You’re a very bright man – we might not have ever found the body except for one thing.” He got up and slipped the disc into a DVD player and pressed play. A small television screen in the corner came on. There was a grainy picture of a Lexus pulling up to a curb. A man got out and opened the door to the back seat and began pulling out a body. The man looked up nervously to see if there was any traffic and the detective hit freeze frame. It was clearly my face.

The detective continued, “You probably don’t realize this but at every new traffic signal the city has installed over the past three years a traffic cam has been standard. It so happened that we had someone monitoring this one because of illegal dumping that has been going on at that corner. Of course, nobody has dumped anything quite like this yet.”

I sat back, smiling sardonically. Everything I’d worked for, gone. My life was over. I would be going to jail for the rest of my life, and for what? “That damned useless piece of crap. My brilliant career is over because of a bum, someone who would have been forgotten and should have been. Nobody will ever miss him, and now I won’t be able to save dozens, maybe hundreds of lives.” I looked at the detective sternly. “Do you think that’s a fair trade-off? Hundreds of lives I could save for one stupid, drunken, lice-ridden, diseased piece of SHIT?”

The detective’s face was full of rage. “That’s not a very nice thing to say about your father, now is it?” I sat back, thunderstruck, my jaw dropping. The detective misunderstood my surprise. “You didn’t think we’d be able to identify him? He had DNA on file from all the times he gave blood at the Red Cross. It didn’t even take 24 hours for us to figure out who he was.”

I began to laugh. Things had come full circle. My father had wrecked my life by leaving it, now he had finished the job by coming back in. The irony was simply too much to ignore. Damn, I’m a funny guy!

What These Eyes Have Seen

I have flown the skies over the Rocky Mountains. I have seen the sun rise over the Tetons. I have been to the moon and built its cities. I have seen the Earth from orbit. I have ridden the fire into heaven.

I’m an astronaut, if you haven’t already guessed or I was. My name is Sumner Kaine. As we have begun to leave the confines of our planet and take our first, small steps into a larger universe, I have been a part of that process, and very proud of it. I have lived on Gagarin Station and on Lunar Colony 1, now called Armstrong. I have spent significant time separated from my wife Amy and my children, but I always deemed it worthwhile.

The program was in the process of choosing astronauts to be on the first manned spaceflight to Mars, the Explorer mission. I was one of the final candidates when during a routine training flight mission, the simulator I was in suffered a major malfunction and a panel exploded, sending shards of glass and steel into my face, shredding the corneas of both eyes.

Amy and the kids were with me constantly in the hospital, helping me through my pain and depression. Doctors told me I would need a corneal transplant and attempted to grow some from my own tissue, but there wasn’t enough to make it viable. I would have to have a transplant from a cloned or donor source. Cloned tissue would obviously be preferable in most cases but the time it would take to grow it would be prohibitive and I might miss my window of opportunity to fly to Mars. I’ve been an astronaut for some time now and there are only a few manned missions available during the years I’m likely to have left in my career.

It seemed like an eternity, but it was only a few weeks before I was informed that a compatible donor had been found for a corneal transplant. I would have to accept a new color for my eyes – the donors eyes were blue whereas mine had been brown but I figured as long as they worked everything was a-okay.

The surgery took place on a rainy Monday. I could hear the rain falling outside my window before I went in; Amy told me it was a gray, miserable day. Every day had een gray and miserable as far as I was concerned. I don’t mind telling you I was wallowing in self-pity a little bit. It certainly wasn’t attractive I know, but that wasn’t much of a concern at the time. Still, I was eagerly awaiting a pair of new eyes and I didn’t care where they came from, not really. I should have.

The surgery went very well according to Dr. Sharma. My vision had to be in tip-top condition in order to be able for me to function effectively as an astronaut, so I had specified – as had the Agency – that the donor eyes had to be perfect 20/20 or else the deal was off. It was all a little ghoulish – we were talking about people who had recently died, after all, and were bartering for their organs like they were spare parts for a lawnmower. Still, I tried to justify it to myself by believing that at least this person’s eyes would live on and get to see Mars, whereas they probably never would have in their original body.

A day or two later the bandages came off. I was nervous and excited. I couldn’t see much at first – everything was extremely blurry – but I could see. Dr. Sharma assured me that my new eyes would eventually readjust and work just fine. All the tests indicated that the transplant had taken. There was always a chance of tissue rejection, Dr. Sharma warned, but assured me that those cases were very rare indeed with the sophisticated DNA matching tests that are run in this day and age.

Dr. Sharma’s optimism proved to be well-founded and in a matter of days my vision was as good as it ever was, if not better. Even Dr. Sharma was impressed at how well things were working out. “I’ve never seen such a rapid readjustment from a corneal transplant in my entire career,” he said stroking his moustache (an affectation of his I gathered – I didn’t see him doing it before the surgery of course), “It’s almost miraculous.”

That really didn’t mean anything to me. I was focused on one goal alone. “When will I be able to get back into the program, Doctor?” I asked. He shrugged. “Ordinarily I would say you need at least a month to recover and for your eyes to get adjusted to their new environment, but it seems reasonable that you’ll be back much sooner than that. I’d like to monitor you for the next week or two to make sure there is no late tissue rejection indications, but otherwise you should be able to get back just as soon as the doctors at the Agency clear you.”

I was on the phone with the Agency medical division as soon as I got home. They were astounded by my progress, but after getting the download of my medical files from Dr. Sharma they told me to come in the next day for an evaluation. I was ecstatic. Despite the setback, I had a real chance to catch up with the other candidates in training. I still had a shot at Mars.

Amy seemed pleased as well but as quiet as Amy always was it was hard to tell. That night, when we went to bed, I noticed that there was a bit of a glow about Amy, a red one. It wasn’t anything terrible, just a slight red glow around the outline of her figure, like she was standing in front of a red light. It wasn’t an especially bright glow, but it was unusual. In the pit of my stomach I wondered if that was something that indicated a problem with the new eyes, but I decided not to say anything. Maybe I was pushing myself too hard.

After seeing the Agency doctors the next day the proclaimed me fit. George Ellis, the doc who had been flight surgeon on my last two missions and coincidentally, my closest friend, pulled me aside. “I’ve spoken with Dr. Sharma and we’re arranging for him to see you while you’re in training. No sense in delaying your progress any further when we can kill two birds with one stone.” That was the best news I could have hoped for.

That night as I was packing, I noticed the same glow around Amy. It was still red but darker now, with flecks of black. She told me how proud she was of me and that she just knew I would get picked. After all, if I could overcome this, nothing could stop me from getting what I wanted. The way she put it was a little strange but I just put it behind me. My mind was in Florida on the simulators. 

I flew back to Port Canaveral the next day. I noticed that Amy’s aura (which I had begun calling it in my head) had grown slightly darker than it had been the night before. She seemed nervous and distracted; she almost made the wrong turn driving me to the airport and I had to ask her a couple of times if she was all right. “Yes, honey, I’m fine. I just hate seeing you go. The last time you went you could have been killed.” 

At the airport I gave her a hug and a kiss. She seemed curiously withdrawn. I took her in my arms and told her “I know you’re worried darling, but the odds of something like that happening again are astronomical. I’ve had my glitch for the mission.” She laughed at that but it almost seemed token. I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought I knew at the time, for I told her “You know, if I get the Explorer mission, I’ll be gone for three years. Once I come home, it will be for good. It’s my last mission.” She looked at me a little strangely. “You know, honey, that would be nice but I can’t even think about it now. Just…go train and be safe.” She kissed me on the lips and turned and left. I thought she might have been crying. I hate goodbyes.

Training went well. Despite having been out for almost a month after the accident I really wasn’t as far behind as I might have been. It didn’t take long before I was back up to speed, and soon back at the front of the pack where I belonged. I was happy, so much so that I decided to give Amy a vid-call that night.

I hadn’t seen the aura on anyone else but Amy, so I didn’t think it necessary to tell anybody about it. When I called Amy though, I was jolted by shock. The aura was very apparent, even given the vid-phone distortion. It was also completely black, like someone had outlined her shape in dark black marker. She was also wearing a very tight mini-skirt and a low-cut top, the same outfit she’d worn to our anniversary dinner in Cancun three years ago but hadn’t worn since. Of course, I hadn’t been home for any of our anniversaries since.

“Sumner,” she said, and she seemed a bit out of breath, “I wasn’t expecting you to call.” The nervousness I’d detected a week before was much more apparent now. Something was definitely bothering her. “Really? You look fantastic. If I didn’t know better I’d say you had expected me to call and were dressing for the occasion.” Her laugh was a bit hollow. “I was just calling you to tell you that everything was going really well with training darling. It looks like I’m back in the drivers seat for the mission.” She looked anxious, wringing her hands…was that nail polish she was wearing? “That’s nice honey, I knew you could do it. You always do.”

She was wearing lipstick, too. She never wore make-up. “Are you expecting somebody darling? You really do look…” The expression on her face told me everything I needed to know. “You are, aren’t you?” She nodded, and the look of shame on her face didn’t make me feel any better. “Why?” was the only thing I could ask. “You’re never here. You haven’t been since the day you joined the program. Even if you’re home, your mind is on the next mission. I tried to be a good astronauts wife, but haven’t you noticed that most of your buddies in the program are divorced?”

There was a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Is that what you want?” I asked in a strangled voice. She was crying. “No, Sumner, that’s not what I want. I want you. I want you here. With me, and the kids. They want their daddy and I…I want a husband. And since I can’t have one for at least three years, I have needs that I can’t put off any more. I want a life. I want to live, and not just in your shadow.”

She hung her head. “I know I’ve hurt you, and I didn’t want to do that. I was hoping I could just have something on the side and when you got back from Mars, we could be together, we could work things out. If…if you still want to work things out, that is.” She couldn’t look at the screen. A million emotions were ping-ponging through me and I didn’t know how to stop the game. “Amy, I don’t know what to say.”

She looked up for the first time. “Just say you love me Sumner, and you want to work this out.” The trouble was, I did love her…just not very much at that moment. “I love you Amy, but right now my head is spinning and I’m not sure what I want. I’m not sure of anything. I’m due back in Houston next week…we can talk then.” She nodded. “I guess that’s the best I can hope for given the circumstances.” In the background, I could hear the doorbell ringing. “I guess that’s him,” I said. She nodded. “Look, let me take care of this. I’ll call you again later.” I said okay and hung up. I was feeling like someone had kicked me in the stomach but even in my pain I had noticed one thing. Just before the connection was broken, I noticed that her aura had increased and strange tendrils were flowing from it towards the door, and in that last millisecond I swore that the aura had enveloped her whole body.

She didn’t call in the next hour and I tried calling her, but there was no answer. I figured she was letting the guy down easy – typical Amy and bided my time. But when she didn’t call the next hour and the next hour after that, I grew worried. I kept calling and calling and there wasn’t an answer. I called Amy’s parents, who were watching our kids for her; she couldn’t get ahold of Amy either.

I grew angry. I felt betrayed. I figured at this point she’d decided to go through with it with the guy and to hell with her. I went to bed, furious at Amy and furious at myself for not having seen it sooner.

I was awakened the next morning by the door ringing. It was Dr. George, and his expression told me there was something wrong right away. He was accompanied by an MP. I sat down, dreading what he was about to say. As it turned out, I had reason to.

Amy was dead. The man she was meeting was someone she’d met on the Net, and he turned out to be a sexual predator. Apparently, she’d tried to send him away and he wasn’t up for taking no for an answer. He spent the night doing what he came there for, which apparently included torturing my wife to death. He’d even brought sound dampeners so the neighbors wouldn’t hear her screams. The only reason the police even knew what had happened, George told me, was that my call to Amy’s folks had worried them to the point where they had called the police and sent them to the house, where the bastard who murdered her was still cleaning up.

I was devastated, but once again I noticed a black aura on the MP. I hadn’t seen it on anyone else but Amy, but again I was a bit too distracted to really put two and two together.

The next days passed in a blur. I flew back to Houston for the funeral. The kids were inconsolable and so was I. I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, Mars didn’t seem to be anywhere near as important as it had been. I was beginning to wonder if I should pass on the mission to stay with my children.

The funeral was awful. It was a closed casket affair – apparently the carnage done had been so severe that the police had suggested that nobody see the corpse. I was fine with that. Then, after the reception, I sat down with Amy’s folks and the kids. I asked them if they wanted me to stay home with them, and our daughter Lynne, who at 13 looked the spitting image of Amy (so much so it hurt to look at her) looked me in the eye and said “I don’t think mom would want you to give up on your dreams on account of her. Tom-tom (our son) talked it over with me and he agrees.” I saw Tom nodding and I started to cry, as did Amy’s parents. We all hugged.

It took a few days to take care of Amy’s affairs. I arranged for Lynne and Tom to stay with Amy’s parents and flew back to Houston. The mood there was somber. I asked George about it at a local bar over a beer, and he said “Well, there’s what happened to Amy. Everyone feels terrible for you; a lot of people didn’t think you’d continue on with the program. I’m frankly surprised you did too.” I told him what the kids said and he nodded. “Frankly,” I sighed as we sat at the bar, “it’s probably for the best. They know her folks better than they know me. I haven’t been around much.” George nodded and we continued drinking.

It was a bar frequented by members of the program, and there were pictures all over the walls of those who had died in service for the program. Throughout the night people would stop by and pay their respects; it actually helped a lot more than I would have guessed. As George and I were leaving for the night, I noticed a new picture on the wall that brought me up short. “Isn’t that the MP who came with you to tell me about Amy?” George stopped and said sadly “Yeah it is. He was killed in a jeep accident on the base.”

A cold wave coursed through me. Suddenly I remembered the black aura on both Amy and the MP. Could it be related? I had never seen anything like it before the transplant; I thought it was a side effect. Could there be something else going on, something unanticipated?

I sat up all night thinking about it but being a pragmatist – as an astronaut it’s a real necessity – I decided it had to be a coincidence and the actual aura effect was explainable somehow. I kept telling myself over the next days and weeks as I continued training up until the day the Agency director called me into his office. When I walked in, I was shocked to see the black aura around him. I heard him tell me that I had been selected as commander for the Explorer mission but that didn’t matter much. What did matter was that he looked pale and was sweating profusely. “Hey chief, that’s great news,” I said, trying to keep my voice light, “but I’m a little concerned. You don’t look so good. Are you all right?” He shook his head, smiling wanly. “Must have ate too many jalapenos at lunch,” he said shaking his head, “I’ve got a touch of indigestion but I’m sure it’ll be fine after I take some antacids.”

I went directly from the director’s office to George’s. He gave me the thumbs up. “I heard already. Congratulations! Wanna go out and celebrate tonight?” I shook my head and closed the door behind me. “There’s something I have to tell you,” I said and I told him about the auras I was seeing. He listened gravely, and then he looked at me and said “First off, we’re going to see Dr. Sharma and make sure there’s nothing wrong with your transplants. But don’t you think even if there is something going on that it’s just coincidence? You’ve only seen it twice, after all.” I shook my head. “Three times, George. I saw it again today around Director Stone.”

George’s eyes bugged out a little then and I knew there was something he knew that he wasn’t telling me. All he did do, however was pick up the phone and call Dr. Sharma’s office and arrange for an appointment for me.

I flew back to Houston for the first time since the funeral and went straightaway to Dr. Sharma’s office. He and his staff ran a battery of tests on my eyes. I told Dr. Sharma for the first time about the auras and he looked at me quizzically when I asked him if it was possible that this was a side effect of the surgery. He said slowly, choosing his words carefully “I suppose it could be but I have never heard of anything like this before. I will do some research…you say you only see it on certain people, not everyone?” I looked him straight in the eye and said “Everyone I’ve seen the aura around has died within 24 hours of me seeing it.”

Dr. Sharma got up and shut the door to his office. He sat back down and looked at me with measuring eyes. “You my friend are a pragmatic sort, so let me tell you that it is logical to accept that we do not know everything that is knowable, do you not agree?” I nodded. That made sense to me and I told him so. He looked at me squarely and said “There are things that are scientifically provable and things that are not. That which has to do with death is a great mystery and nothing is provable, other than that we all die.” He stood and paced around the office. “There are some, Mr. Kaine, who believe that the time of our death is pre-determined. Perhaps, if that’s true, our bodies recognize that fact and give off a sort of energy that signifies it. Perhaps you are able to see that energy where others can’t. But that kind of ability isn’t unknown. I have heard of others who possessed it, the ability to see auras, or specific energies that others cannot. Let me do some research and I will get back to you.”

The next day when I got back to the Cape, George was waiting for me. “Director Stone died last night. Massive coronary. Get in the goddamn car.” We drove to the Astronaut training center in silence. We would not speak about the auras again.

The rest of the mission training went on with the team of 8 astronauts that would be going to Mars and their back-ups. I didn’t see any other auras and told nobody else about them. Dr. Sharma called me once to tell me he was still researching the condition but didn’t have anything concrete to give me. I didn’t expect that he would.

The mission team was sent to Lunar Base 1 for final preparations for the journey. The spacecraft Explorer 1 would launch from lunar orbit, using the lunar and earth orbits to slingshot it to Mars. Explorer 1 was the most sophisticated spacecraft ever made. It had special radiation shielding to protect the crew from months of exposure to solar radiation, as well as enough renewable fuel, water and food to last the 8 person crew the journey to Mars and back.

The launch went by the numbers; we had drilled for more than a year to get to that point and the training was worth every moment. The slingshot manouvers went perfectly and we were on our way. Most of the trip to the Red Planet was boredom followed by tedium. We had some science experiments to conduct but for the most part we didn’t have a lot to do. We did a lot of training exercises preparing for the landing that was almost a year away. Every so often we got messages from Earth and it was nice to see my children, but it was hard seeing them; I was reminded of Amy each time I saw them.

Eventually we arrived at Mars orbit and the mission changed dramatically, from tedium to suddenly being insanely busy. We all were preparing the various scientific equipment for transport to the Martian surface and the habitat we would live in on Mars for more than a month. There was also a Mars Rover vehicle that would allow us to explore up to 100 miles away from base camp. We wanted to make the most of our time there.

The time came at last and we strapped into the landing vehicle, which had been nicknamed Eureka. We were making final preparations for Eureka separation when I finally looked up and felt my heart stop. Around every one of the other seven astronauts was the same black aura, with the tendrils.. With a sudden decisive snap I shut my helmet and locked it even though we weren’t supposed to do that. Just as I did, the explosive bolts detonated a full five minutes early and the lander separated with the hatches still open. There was explosive decompression and all eight of us were blown into space.

The other seven hadn’t shut their helmets and were dead before they even knew there was a problem. I was blown away from the spacecraft travelling hundreds of miles of hour, the newest satellite orbiting Mars. I watched as the Explorer 1 imploded. I wondered how long it would take for the Agency to realize that there was anything wrong. I wondered if they would ever know what happened. They might recover one or two of the bodies if they remained in orbit long enough. Chances are we wouldn’t; we would fall slowly into the atmosphere of Mars and burn up in a spectacular re-entry.

I wouldn’t live long enough to burn alive, however. I would suffocate when my oxygen ran out. I probably wouldn’t wait for that though. At some point I would open my faceplate and be flash frozen, quickly and painlessly. Right now, I’m just enjoying the view.

The Factory

Adrian sat naked in the chair, shivering. He was tied down with razor wire and blood seeped from the wounds where the wire had torn his skin. He had long since given up struggling since every movement caused fresh pain from the razor wire. Not for the first time, he shrieked into the darkness “Why are you doing this? I’m just a programmer.”

He couldn’t understand why he was here. He was a nobody, a nothing. He worked the software division of a large multinational firm that had fingers in dozens of industries. He was a code writer, one of dozens working on The Project. He didn’t even know the name of the damn thing or what the purpose of it was. He just crunched code in his cubicle, day after mind-numbing day.

One night after work he unlocked the door to his apartment and stepped into the darkness. He remembered being grabbed from behind, then blacking out. He had awakened here, stripped naked and tied to this chair.

The space was dark but Adrian got an impression of size, like a factory or industrial space. When he yelled there was a definite echo. There was never a reply though. He had been awake for hours but had no idea whether it was night or day. He could see no windows but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. It could be the middle of the night – or bright morning, kept out by blacked-out windows or no windows at all. The only sound he heard was an occasional chittering, scrabbling sound. Rats, he thought to himself.

At length he heard a door open and footsteps, multiple sets of them. An overhead light snapped on and Adrian shut his eyes, temporarily blinded by the light. After a few moments his eyes adjusted and the footsteps became shapes in the darkness that then stepped into the light.

There were three of them, two men and a woman. All three were dressed in black, but very well – the men in suits, the woman in a business suit. They all wore dark sunglasses and were pale. One of the men carried a satchel, like a medical bag. He placed it on a small table to the right of Adrian. There was one other metal folding chair, but that was all Adrian could see. He peered into the darkness but could make out no detail. It looked like an abandoned factory as he had surmised.

The man carrying the satchel was large, with short-cropped dark hair cut in a military style. In fact, Adrian thought he might be military or ex-military, the way he held his body. The other man was middle-aged, maybe a bit older. His hair was mostly grey, stylishly cut. His features were aquiline, patrician. This was a man used to wealth, Adrian guessed, and used to being obeyed. He pursed his thin lips as if he had just sucked on a lemon.

The woman was in her 30s, platinum blonde her hair done up in a stiff bun. She was attractive but there was an icy air about her, one of emotional detatchment. Her designer suit was more functional than attractive; there was nothing soft or feminine about her. She might as well have een carved from alabaster, or porcelain.

The older man spoke in a voice that was gravelly with a vague accent Adrian couldn’t place. “Young man, you’re probably wondering why you are here. That will all become clear in a few moments.” Adrian found himself babbling “Please sir, there’s been a mistake, I…”

The older man held a finger to Adrian’s lips. “Please, don’t speak right now. You will have your opportunity to say everything you want to. In fact, I encourage you to….spill your guts?” Adrian thought he saw the ghost of a smile crease the lips of the bigger man but it was gone before he could be sure. The older man continued “But for the moment, I require you merely to listen. There has been no mistake. You have been brought here for a reason. We require information from you. I will ask you some questions. My associate here,” he indicated the woman, “will record the answers. Answer truthfully and completely and this business can be concluded with a minimum of discomfort. You will be returned to your life. Answer untruthfully or incompletely and my other associate and I will be reluctantly forced to make this unpleasant…for all of us, but most assuredly for you. Do you understand my meaning?”

Adrian was quaking in fear. He nodded as best he could. The man smiled. “You will address me as the Interrogator. She is the Recorder. He,” he said with a nod towards the larger man, “is the Persuader. You need not address either one of them for they have been instructed not to speak to you.” He turned to the Recorder. “My dear, the portfolio please.”

She walked over to the table and opened the satchel, pulling out a small notebook and handed it to the Interrogator. He smiled and nodded to her and she walked back into the darkness, returning with another folding chair after a moment. She place it to the right of the other folding chair, then walked back to the satchel and brought out a small digital recording device. She set it down on the table and connected a small microphone to it. She switched it on, then said “Testing, testing” in a strongly accented voice that Adrian guessed was Eastern European. She hit the stop, then the replay button and “Testing, testing” was repeated. She nodded at the Interrogator, then hit the record button. She pulled a steno pad and pen, then sat down in the folding chair furthest from Adrian. The Interrogator sat down in the nearest one.

“Let’s begin then with verifying a few facts. Your name is Adrian. You are a software engineer for Goliath Industries. You reside in the Parkside apartments in number 801. Is this all correct?” Adrian nodded, frantically. The Interrogator smiled. “I must ask you to speak as the recorder doesn’t pick up gestures well. We had intended to record this interrogation on video but our camera is alas…on the fritz?” He raised an eyebrow quizzically. Adrian responded “Yes, that is correct.” The Interrogator sat back in the chair and smiled. “Excellent!”

He opened the notebook and Adrian thought he saw several typewritten sheets of paper. The Interrogator studied these for several minutes, turning the pages. Adrian was sweating even though he was naked and it was cold. The bad feeling in the pit of his stomach was worsening.

At last the man pursed his lips again and looked up at Adrian. He leaned forward, adjusting his suit jacket and said “Very well, let us begin. What is Osiris?” Adrian stared back at him, puzzled. “Wha…what?” he asked, not sure he had heard correctly. The man smiled pleasantly. “What…is…Osiris?” he said, his smile a bit fixed. Adrian’s mouth opened and shut. “You mean…the Egyptian god?” he asked. The Interrogator glanced at the Persuader and smiled broadly, revealing gleaming, polished teeth. “Yes, that is true, Osiris is the name of an Egyptian deity, but that is not the answer I’m looking for. Once again, what is Osiris?” Adrian shook his head. “I don’t know” he answered truthfully.

The Interrogator frowned. “I see. Let us move on to another question. Who are the Observers?” Again, Adrian was baffled. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” The Interrogator’s smile was gone, replaced by a more menacing expression. “I’m truly sorry to hear you say that Adrian. One more question. Where is the code key hidden?” Again, Adrian didn’t understand what he was talking about and said so.

The Interrogator stood up and sighed. “It’s truly a shame you have chosen to take this path, Adrian. I had hoped you would simply answer the questions and we could all put this unpleasantness behind us, but you have chosen a different route. I hope it is worth it.” He nodded at the Persuader who stepped forward and with a startling suddenness slammed his fist into Adrian’s jaw. Adrian felt an explosion of pain, but it didn’t end there. The Persuader administered a beating that went on despite Adrian’s screams until Adrian began spitting teeth out. Blood was dripping out of his mouth and nose, which he thought might also be broken. Throughout the Interrogator and Recorder watched impassively, expressions unchanging. At length, the Interrogator spoke.

“That will be quite enough for now.” The Persuader immediately stopped and stepped back to his previous position. Other than the blood on his knuckles, you never would have known he had moved or done anything. He was as still as a statue. Adrian was whimpering, the pain of his beating echoing in his skull that pounded with a splitting headache that was dwarfed by the pain of his shattered jaw and nose.

The Interrogator leaned forward and said “I do hope you will be more co-operative this time. My associate the Persuader has a great deal of talent for causing pain, and we have provided him with the tools to inflict a great deal of it on you. I should hate for him to have to use them.” He smiled. “Now, shall we begin?”

He asked the same questions, one by one and once again Adrian babbled that he didn’t know the answers. This time he was crying and pleading, telling them that they must have the wrong man, that he was just a low-level code writer on an industrial project that he didn’t know anything about. The Interrogator seemed genuinely sorrowful. “I assure you, you are exactly the man we want. Now, once again, what is Osiris?”

Adrian’s mind whirled, panicked. In desparation, he lied “That is the code name for the project I’m working on for Goliath.” The Recorder lookedd up for the first time and gave the Interrogator a meaningful glance. For his part, he sat back in the chair, clicking his tongue. “Adrian, I’m disappointed in you. Do you truly believe we are fools? You are working on a graphics program that allows the highest resolution to date for high end monitors. While I’m sure Goliath believes this to be an important and profitable program, we are not interested in it. I suggest you stop wasting all our time and tell me what Osiris is.”

Adrian’s mouth moved but no words came out. The Interrogator sighed and gestured to the Persuader. “No wait, ” Adrian screamed, “Give me a chance to think goddamn it!” The Persuader was upon him before he could finish the sentence and this time he had a hammer which he had taken from the satchel. Again and again he brought the hammer down on his right leg, and Adrian knew there were multiple fractures. He screamed and screamed in a high pitch that would have shamed him ordinarily but the pain was more than he could have thought he possibly could bear and after a few moments, lost consciousness.

That blessing was denied him for long. The Recorder revived him with smelling salts. “Dear, dear, you must be in terrible agony,” cooed the Interrogator. “This can all stop you know. We’ll even make sure you get to the hospital so you can get treated for your wounds. You don’t have to endure a single moment more of this pain if you just answer the questions. What is Osiris? Who are the Observers? Where is the code key hidden?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! Can’t you get it through your thick skulls I don’t have any idea of what you’re talking about? Is this just some kind of game to you?” The Interrogator stood up, clearly angered. “This is no game to us, I assure you. I would ask you the same question! Do you think we are fooling around here? Have you not gotten the message that we are serious and we will do whatever is necessary to learn what we need to know? Apparently you require further persuading.” He turned to the Persuader. “Emasculate him” he said in a terse whisper.

Adrian began screaming once again. The Persuader pulled out a pair of pliers and advanced towards him. Both the Interrogator and the Recorder moved a distance away. Adrian tried to shut his legs together but the pain from the broken one prevented it. In moments the Persuader used the pliers to rip Adrian’s testicles completely off his body. The Recorder immediately moved in and treated the wounds. Adrians screams diminished to a whimper.

Once the ministrations of the Recorder were completed, the Interrogator resumed his seat – after wiping Adrian’s blood off of it. “We can’t have you bleeding to death before we have completed our business, now can we?” He leaned forward so that his face filled Adrian’s vision. “We have the capability to do far worse to you than has been done so far, things that can’t be fixed. I beg you to reconsider your obstinacy and just tell us what we want to know.”

Adrian was crying now, sobbing like a little girl. “I want to, but I don’t know what you want me to say. Please tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it, I promise.” The Interrogator shook his head. “Why, we only want you to tell us the truth Adrian. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.” Adrian began crying harder. “I have been! Why won’t you believe me? I swear to Christ I don’t know anything, I would tell you if I did. Do you think I’d put myself through this?” He was weeping uncontrollably now.

The Interrogator turned to the Recorder and raised a critical eyebrow. She smiled for the first time and nodded. The Interrogator nodded to the Persuader who went to the satchel and began rumaging through it. The Interrogator turned back to Adrian and said “I do believe you’re telling the truth.”

He motioned to the Recorder who went to the digital recording device and shut it off, then handed it to the Persuader. He set it back in the satchel, along with her steno pad and pen. The Interrogator turned back to Adrian. “Osiris is a…well, I’m not sure what to call it exactly. It’s a business, but it’s also recreation. Only the wealthiest men in the world can afford to join it. The members of Osiris are called the Observers. That is because they observe, first hand, the torture and murder of young men and women for a fee, a rather healthy one. In order to bid on subjects, the Observers use a code key to access the website where bids are made. One of the code keys was stolen from us and sent in an e-mail to you along with a detailed description of Osiris and a list of its members.”

Adrian shook his head. “I never got an e-mail like that. And who would send it to me?” The Interrogator smiled. “That’s the irony of it. The man who sent it to you sent it to the wrong address. Fortunately, we intercepted it and deleted it from your account but we needed to make sure that you hadn’t seen any of the contents of the e-mail. I’m quite satisfied now that you haven’t.”

He stood up. “I’m afraid I did fib ever so slightly on a couple of points. The first is that our video equipment is on the fritz. It is not, as a matter of fact. As you might guess, we have access to some of the highest-end equipment in the world. We just felt it better that this not be preserved for posterity. We wouldn’t want to make our Observers nervous; they might withdraw and take their billions with them.” He straightened his tie and handed the notebook to the Persuader who put it back into the satchel. The Recorder and the Persuader walked away into the darkness, leaving the Interrogator who stood on the edge of the light. “What was the other thing you fibbed about?” asked Adrian, dreading the answer.

The Interrogator laughed, a chilling sound. “I lied about you being returned to your old life of course. We couldn’t let you free with the knowledge of our society. Osiris thrives on operating in secrecy. No, I’m sorry to have to tell you this but your services are no longer required. Have a nice day.” He turned and walked away and the light went out.

Adrian called out “Please! I won’t tell anybody anything! I can keep a secret! Please don’t leave me here!!!!” The Interrogator’s laughter echoed derisively in the cavernous empty factory until Adrian heard the door open and shut one last time.

He screamed for a few minutes but didn’t have the strength to carry it on very long. The factory grew silent but not completely. Adrian could hear chittering noises. Rats, he thought to himself. The sound grew louder and Adrian realized that there were far more of them than he had first thought. Hungry too, I’ll bet he thought. He began laughing and didn’t stop until they had torn his throat out.

The Dead Call

Stephanie surveyed the bedroom with a sigh, unconsciously chewing on her top lip and brushed a stray lock of dark hair from her face. The magnificent king bed was made – she and Christopher had slept in it last night – but everything else was in boxes. Whoever said a fresh start would be easy?

It was the second marriage for both of them. Her first had een a nightmare; she’d gotten married right out of high school mainly because she’d gotten pregnant. Her ex had turned out to be a rotten bastard. After the honeymoon, he became moody, aggressive and then downright abusive. She firmly believed, as did her OB-Gyn that the miscarriage had been as a result of stress. After the miscarriage, she’d gone into a deep depression that wasn’t helped by her “loving husband’s” cruel remarks about her cooking, her cleaning, her figure, her looks.

Soon after that the beatings began, and the raping. If he wanted sex he no longer even bothered to ask. It became brutal and painful, something to be endured and survived. Finally, after four months of this she had summoned up the courage to walk out and find shelter. After getting some counseling at the battered women’s shelter, she pressed charges against him, and while he was in jail she filed for divorce.

After that, she hadn’t dated much. Her trust level for men was more or less at the same level as it was for scorpions. She finished school, got a college degree in marketing and went to work for one of the most prestigious firms in Phoenix. After proving herself, she got the account for a local children’s hospital charity and that’s where she met Christopher.

He was a star player for the Phoenix Suns and a local celebrity, but he was a lot different than she expected him to be. She had worked with professional athletes before and had found them to be egotistical and arrogant, more interested in the positive press they would get for working with a charity than in the actual charity itself. That was not the case for Christopher, who was passionate about helping underpriveleged kids with life-threatening diseases. He showed up on time – often early – for personal appearances, and often stayed well past the time required. He gave each kid his individual attention and made them feel like his best friend. Quite a change from the average NBA star.

When he asked her out she had been surprised, but decided to do it on the spur of the moment. They went out to dinner and he talked about his hopes, his dreams and his fears as well. He was so open, so honest she felt comfortable with him immediately. They became friends and as time went by fell deeply in love.

He had been a star basketball player since efore high school. His skills had gotten him a scholarship to Stanford, which he would have been able to attend anyway since his parents were wealthy and his grades were outstanding. He not only played basketball but got a degree in political science; he hoped to go into politics after his NBA career was over and give something back, as he put it.

He’d gotten married right out of college but the frequent separations that were part and parcel to the life of a pro basketball player’s wife had been too much for his wife to handle. She had several affairs until at last she left him for one of her many paramours. It had been a very painful and humiliating experience for him, so much so that he didn’t date for five years after the divorce.

Now they were both in their early 30s and newlyweds. The thought of it made her giggle like a schoolgirl. After her abortion of a first marriage she was finally married for real. It had been big news in Phoenix and she was a bit taken aback to find news cameras outside the church where they got married, but he told her she would get used to it. In any case, they had more important things to deal with.

Just before training camp for the season had started, Christopher had been traded to the new Hartford franchise. It had come as a shock, but they both made the best of it. They had moved into his large, rambling home in a wealthy suburb of Phoenix and promptly had to pack everything. When training camp began, they were living in a hotel in Hartford – a very nice one to be sure, but still a hotel. Every moment Christopher had free the two spent house hunting in the Hartford area. At last they found the perfect home.

It was extremely secluded, sitting on 25 acres of land in rural Connecticut. It was three stories and had a carriage house that had been converted into a guest house. It had been built just after the Civil War initially as the home of a railroad baron who wanted something far from New York City. His family fell into financial ruin during the first World War and the home passed into the hands of Robert Saunders, a noted surgeon in Hartford. When he died, the house became a hospital during the 1920s and 1930s. There were numerous owners after that. The most recent one had been an insurance company executive who had put an amazing amount of money into restoring the home, but had died suddenly shortly after the work had been completed.

It was stately and mostly hand-crafted, the kind of work that is a thing of the past. It also had all the modern amenities, including cable and internet access. The entire home had been freshly repainted, recarpeted and the rewired for modern electrical needs. Some of the flooring had been replaced with expensive hardwood. It really was magnificent and just a half hour drive from Hartford and about an hour an a half from New York City.

It would fall on her to unpack an get the house ready. By the time the sale was final, the NBA season was already underway. The day they moved in their things from storage was Christopher’s last day at home before he and the team would be going back west for a two an a half week roadtrip, which would include a stop in Phoenix. Stephanie was extremely jealous that she couldn’t go, but both of them agreed that it would be better if she stayed and unpacked. There would be another trip out west later in the year and she could go with him on that one.

There were others in the house with her. Christopher had left that morning to meet the team for practice, after which they would leave directly for the airport to Chicago, where they would stay overnight before playing the Bulls the next day. He’d hired decorators and designers to help unpack. She’d spent most of the morning directing them where things went before she went upstairs to the master bedroom to tackle that on her own.

Once again she sighed and decide to tackle the box nearest her. She opened it up and found framed pictures of both their families. She smiled, and went and fetched a hammer and some nails to hang up the pictures. She had just started pounding nails into the far wall when the phone rang.

SNET had the phone service up and running by the time the movers had gotten there yesterday, so she wasn’t surprised to hear the phone ring but she wasn’t expecting any calls. By now Christopher should be on the plane to Chicago. Wonering who it could be, she picked up the phone.

The connection was just terrible. There was lots of static, crackling and hissing in her ear. She thought she could hear a voice but she couldn’t make out what it was saying. “Hello?” she said and repeated it several times. Finally, she heard one sentence she could understand. “I will be with you soon” said a highly distorted male voice. “Christopher? Is that you?” The static continued for a moment then the line went dead.

He must have been calling from the air, she decided, and thought once again that she had the sweetest husband in the world. She resumed hanging up the pictures until one of the designers knocked on her door. Her name was Evelyn and she was local; she had worked on the restoration with the previous owner and knew more about the history of the house than the realtor did. “You might want to come downstairs to the basement with me,” said Evelyn in her quiet voice. She was a pretty woman about Stephanie’s age, model-thin with a pair of thick glasses that dominated her face and straight dark hair. Stephanie had liked her immediately upon meeting her, but something in her voice caused Stephanie to feel a chill. “Why? Is there something wrong?” she said, a bit worried.

Evelyn shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she said. “It would be easier to show you.” Stephanie put down the hammer and followed Evelyn down into the basement. It was a pretty typical New England basement, stone walls and cool in the summer, with the hot water heater, the junction box and lots of storage. The washer and dryer were also down here. Evelyn led her into a corner where Stephanie noticed that one of the walls had partially collapsed, leaving a gaping hole. “Oh crap!” she thought to herself, thinking that a major contracting bill was in her immediate future. “What happened?” she asked.

“We’re not sure,” said Evelyn. “We were working in the living room unpacking and one of the men heard a noise down here. He came down to check it out and found the wall like this, but that isn’t all.” At Stephanie’s quizical look, she said “Look inside the hole.”

Stephanie dutifully peered inside and let out a gasp. There were two metal tables bolted to the floor and compartments in the side of the wall. “Is that what I think it is?” whispered Stephanie. Evelyn nodded. “It’s a morgue,” she said quietly. “We knew that this was a clinic for 15 years, but we weren’t aware that they had a morgue. It must have been bricked up after it reverted to residential use. It doesn’t appear on any plans of the house…this room actually extends outside the foundations of the main home.”

Stephanie couldn’t take her eyes off the morgue. “Has anyone been inside?” she asked and Evelyn shook her head. “The hole is big enough to step through, but we don’t know if it’s safe to walk in there yet. If the rest of the wall collapses, someone could get hurt.” Stephanie nodded and was about to step away but something caught her eye. “What’s that…” she started to say and was surprised to find herself stepping through the hole. “Don’t…” called Evelyn but Stephanie was already through. Almost in a daze, she walked into the morgue to the thing shining on the floor.

It was a locket. She picked it up and looked at it. It was a bit dusty but not as much as you would think for something lying there for almost a century. She blew the dust off it and opened it. There were two small photos in it, one too deteriorated to make out, the other of a strikingly handsome man. “Look at this,” she said. Evelyn, looking worried, stepped through the hole. “What have you got there?” she asked. Stephanie showed her the locket. “Who is that? Do you know?” Evelyn examined the picture closely. “I’m not sure but I think this might be Dr. Saunders, the man who owned the home before it became a clinic. Can’t see who the other person is, it’s too badly damaged. If you’d like, I could take it over to the historical society and compare it to pictures we have on record of dr. Saunders.” Stephanie pulled the locket away, a feeling of panic swept over her. “No,” she said, trying to keep her voice from wavering, “I’d rather you didn’t. Couldn’t you just make some copies of the photos and bring them here?” Evelyn gave her an odd look but said okay.

That night, Christopher called and she told him about the morgue, but not about the locket. For some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him about the bauble which she couldn’t get out of her mind. All day she would periodically pull the locket out and stare at the picture of the man. Whoever he was, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.

She got ready for bed, putting on an oversized t-shirt which was her customary sleepwear as a single woman. Just after she turned out the light, the phone rang again. She picked it up and once again heard the static she’d heard that morning. After a moment, she heard that same distorted voice say “Soon my love we’ll be together.” Then again the phone went dead. Stephanie was puzzled at first, because Christopher had called earlier that evening. Maybe he had wanted to call to say good night. It was odd, though; he generally didn’t speak that way. She shrugged and went to sleep.

It was an unquiet slumber. Her dreams were vivid, full of faces she didn’t recognize and hands touching her body. It was extremely erotic and she awoke in the morning feeling aroused. She dressed and met up with the design team downstairs, who were finishing the living room and had started work on the kitchen and dining room. Things were going extremely well and they hoped to be done with their work ahead of schedule. Stephanie hoped so too – she yearned for some privacy, having on odd sensation of being crowded.

All morning as she finished unpacking her bedroom she felt an odd sensation that she needed to go into the basement. She would pull out the locket, which she wore around her neck now, and stare at the photos but that would help only a short while. One peculiar thing; she thought the damaged picture opposite the male was beginning to clear up. She thought she could make out the figure of a woman now. Maybe she was just getting used to it. Still, she felt an urge to go into the basement, into the morgue like she was missing something that was there. It took all her self-discipline to continue working on her bedroom.

At last in the late afternoon, she finally decided to go down there. She couldn’t think of what she could possibly have left down there, but nonetheless she would check it out just to give herself some peace of mind. When she got down there, she was surprised to find Evelyn standing by the hole in the brick wall, peering into the morgue. A worklamp ha been strung into the room, illuminating it now. The hole had been shored up and the loose bricks removed. The two women peered into the room, Stephanie feeling unquieted but oddly drawn to the room. “I can’t stop thinking about this room” said Evelyn, her voice trembling. “I’ve come down here 20 times during the day. I don’t know why.”

Stephanie nodded, knowing how she felt. Once again, she stepped through the hole. Evelyn stepped in with her. The two women stood in the morgue in silence. Suddenly Evelyn stroked her cheek and Stephanie looked into her eyes, the arousal that she had felt upon waking up and that had been with her all day flaring up to a new high. She could see in Evelyn’s eyes that she had the same feeling. “You’re so beautiful” whispered Evelyn and she kissed Stephanie. Evelyn’s lips were soft and the two women kissed passionately. Stephanie had never felt any inclination to bisexuality but she was suddenly erotically charged. The two women quickly undressed each other and went to one of the autopsy tables. Evelyn laid down and the two women made love.

Stephanie was troubled. After making love, the two women quickly dressed and left the basement without a word. She couldn’t believe she had sex with another woman; she hadn’t been attracted to Evelyn in that way at all until the moment they stepped into the morgue. When Christopher called shortly after the work crew left for the night, she felt ashamed but kept that hidden from him. She resolved that a repeat of what had happened that afternoon would never occur again.

Again that night, just after she turned out the light the phone rang and again the now-familiar static filled the receiver. The voice whispered “You are mine my love forever.” She said back into the phone “I am yours” almost without realizing she’d said it. After the phone went dead, she wondered why she had.

Again her night was filled with troubling, erotic dreams. This time, among the faces she saw Evelyn’s face and felt her touch as well as the touch of many hands. However, she saw the man in the locket, his eyes fixed on her and she felt drawn towards him. When she woke up, once again she was highly aroused. However, she was troubled by the phone calls so she called SNET to ask about the static-filled calls. The service operator promised someone would check her line that afternoon.

Evelyn wasn’t there that morning when she went to meet with the work crew. They had finished most of the ground floor and were moving up to the spare bedrooms. At the rate they were going, they would finish the next day. Stephanie was pleased; she wanted the house to herself. When she felt the compelling need to go into the basement, which beset her all morning, she would pull out the locket. This time, the picture was clearly that of a woman. Stephanie couldn’t make out the features easily but she thought she looked familiar.

At lunchtime, Stephanie decided to check her e-mail and was surprised to find a video e-mail from Evelyn. She was sitting at her computer, looking worried and frantic. “Stephanie,” said Evelyn in an agitated voice, “I tried to call you but there wasn’t an answer so I’m sending you this by e-mail and hope that you get it. I decided to go to the historical society to check out that picture from the locket. It was, as we suspected, Dr. Robert Saunders, who owned the house during the early 20s. The locket belonged to his wife Margaret. The two of them were murdered in the house.” She paused for a moment, ringing her hands. “I found out some other things too.” The image began to corrupt. “Get out of that house Stephanie. It isn’t safe….” The distortions grew worse and she couldn’t make out what Evelyn was saying. “Call me if…” and the message ended.

She called Evelyn’s number but there was no answer. She went back to work, figuring she would try again later. An hour later, there was a knock on the door. It was one of the women who worked with Evelyn and it was obvious she had been crying. “What’s wrong?” asked Stephanie. The woman began to cry again. “We just got a call from the police,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “Evelyn died last night. She was raped and murdered in her apartment. They have no idea who did it, but…it was apparently brutal. Nobody heard her screams…she must have screamed…” the woman broke down into sobs. Stephanie held her, shocked.

After the crew left, Stephanie went downstairs into the basement. She couldn’t believe that Evelyn was dead. Something was definitely not right. She stared into the morgue again and felt that familiar arousal. She stepped in and stripped off her clothes. She lay down on the autopsy table, the same one where she had lain with Evelyn and let her feelings take her.

That night she got no phone call from Christopher, which she found odd but she did get the familiar call after the lights went out. The voice said “You have always been mine.” Stephanie felt aroused again. “Yes,” she cried into the phone, “I will always be yours.” The voice said again “I am coming for you tomorrow. Be ready.” She cried back “I await you.” The line went dead.

The same erotic dreams filled her sleep. This time the faces were recognizable as those of the workers in her home. Evelyn was there and Dr. Saunders as well. The eroticism was more insistent, more defined. When she awoke, she was as horny as she had ever been.

The phone rang that morning, and it was the SNET service operator. “We checked your lines and found nothing wrong with them. The problem must be on the other end.” Stephanie replied “But I heard the static on the call I received last night.” There was a silence and then the operator said “You must be mistaken. You haven’t received any phone calls since you got a call from Chicago the night before.”

Later in the day the supervisor who had replaced Evelyn knocked on Stephanie’s door to inform her that the work was completed. Stephanie wrote out a check and handed it to her without a word. The supervisor seemed happy enough to be going. Stephanie went downstairs to thank the crew; they all stared at her like she was meat and they were hungry wolves. She didn’t notice.

She was too busy looking at the locket. The damaged picture was no longer damaged and Stephanie knew who the other picture was. It was her own face staring at her. Now she knew what she had to do. She walked slowly down to the basement, the work crew following her silently. The worklamp and the shoring had been removed from the crumbling wall. Stephanie stepped through and removed her clothes. One by one the members of the crew mechanically had their way with her, one after another. At last, she lay on the autopsy table, alone.

The drawers of the morgue were all open and the members of the work crew save for one lay on the slabs, staring blankly at the ceiling. The slabs retracted into the compartments of their own accord and the doors slammed shut behind them. The one remaining worker picked up a trowel and began to brick the morgue shut. Stephanie watched with a detatched smile on her face. She felt a caress and looked up. Dr. Saunders stared down at her, a lustful smile on his face. The worker looked up and saw the apparition, gulped and hurried his work. He would not look inside the morgue again. It was easier that way.

He knew down inside that something would come for him that night as it had come for Evelyn and all the others. He also knew that Dr. Saunders had been a sexual deviate who had molested his female patients throughout his career. He was fully aware that every woman who had ever lived in that house reported being raped or molested although there was never any evidence of it.

After he placed the last brick in the wall, he heard Stephanie screaming. He couldn’t tell if it was in passion or terror but it didn’t really matter. When the dead call, you had to answer, no matter what the cost.

She Waits

The night was chilly but Kristine didn’t feel it. The night was her friend, after all, and it would be so eternally. HE was coming for her, and they would be together at last, forever. He had walked with kings, done battle with heroes and loved and lost many lifetimes worth.

She had met him at the coffee house where she was a waitress; he had been reading Voltaire and drinking a capuccino. He was slender, his face chiseled and aristocratic with sensuous lips. His eyes were the color of maple syrup with an intensity of gaze that made her blush the first time he had turned it on her. He introduced himself as Abraham.

She had though the name quaint but had been drawn to his quiet self-confidence, his commanding presence. She had never felt anything like this before, so drawn to another person. She had known almost before sitting down at his table and talking to him, that he was her soulmate.

That she was not available romantically was immaterial. She had a boyfriend that she lived with, two small children that depended on her but even her own flesh and blood dwindled away in the overwhelming attraction that she felt for this man. A small part of her screamed that something was not right, that she was abandoning her children but those screams were slight compared to the sound of HIM in her brain. He was all that mattered.

They’d had sex, or at least something very much like it. He hadn’t climaxed inside her yet; that would come later. She smiled at the double entendre of her own thoughts and felt a slight flush in her cheeks, as she often did when she thought of him. His kisses were cold but elicited such heat from her.

When he told her that he was nosferatu at first she thought he had been joking but when he showed her his true face, faded to mist before her very eyes she had been frightened. Soon she got used to the idea, and embraced it as a part of him. He wasn’t evil, not truly. He simply did what he had to do to survive. He could have easily fed on her the first night they met, when she had joined him at his table after her shift ended at the coffee house – in fact, he confessed, he had gone there for that very purpose.

Instead, he had found her, his one true love. Her heart quickened at the thought. He had the pick of so many women, throughout eternity but he had chosen her, Kristine, as his mate. “We mate for eternity,” he told her that night six days ago as they strolled in the gardens by the moonlight. “Our kind knows love that humans dare only dream of. We are passionate and loyal and our love never flickers, never fades. Once given, it is given forever.”

The moon was rising now, and it wouldn’t be long. She stood in the clearing of the woods near the city, wearing only a sheer nightgown. Her soft hair was up, leaving her neck bare for him. She had pulled the top of her gown down below her shoulders; her bare breasts peeked out above the gown, but modesty was gone from her now. She had no reason to be ashamed of her body, a body that delighted an immortal so.

That first night he had taken her to his room and they had made passionate love. She blushed, remembering the wildness of the night, and the things she had done with him, things she had never done before, things she had sworn she would never do and in a single night had given him those things without hesitation. She would do anything he asked, and as it turned out he asked for many things.

In the days and weeks that followed, she met him nearly every night. Sometimes they would have sex but not always. Some nights he was more thoughtful and was eager to talk, to tell her about his life, and a long life it was. He had known the glory of the Roman empire, and had fought for Charlemagne. He had strolled the streets of the Venice ruled by the Medicis, and had seen the court of Louis XIII at Versailles. There was no place on earth he hadn’t traveled to, no life he hadn’t led. He had built mansions in New Orleans, had been a gunfighter in the Arizona Territories, a film director in the age of silent movies and helped design rockets that took humans to the Moon.

He had fought many wars  as a centurion in a Roman legion, a chevalier in the French army, a lancer in the English army of  Henry VI and a ninja in feudal Japan. He had hundreds, thousands of lover through time, the most beautiful women of their eras. He had fed on many, he told her, but he had learned over the centuries to feed without killing. This had kept him hidden from the eyes of those who hated and feared his kind, and had hunted them to near-extinction. “We do not make children,” he’d told her one night last week as they dined in his sizable home. “We do not procreate as you do. That is why our numbers are few. Our procreation comes by a different means; by turning a willing subject to our ways, mingling our blood with theirs and then by consummating our love. That is the secret, you see; we can only turn those that we love, and we only love once and then for all eternity. We are linked as one soul; if one is destroyed, the other perishes as well.”

She had been frightened at first, the thought of dying when he first proposed it. He was quick to reassure her. “It is not death, not really. The body metamorphoses, changes from alive to…well, not dead although initially it will seem as such to mortals who don’t know our kind or what to look for. The change takes three days; on the night of the third day I would come for you and we would be together forever afterward.”

Still, even with these reassurances it had been a difficult choice. Leaving her children would be enormously painful. He was oddly sympathetic. “As painful as it is, you must never see your children again. They will age, wither and die while you remain young and vital. That is much more painful than putting them in your memory and keeping them there. You will find it easier to bear once you have turned.”

Six nights earlier, he told her the time had come. He had taken her to the place she stood now and again taken her body in the moonlight. “You must come to this very spot six days hence, at midnight. I will come to you then, not as I am now but in my true form. You will not know me but you must let me come to you and feed, and you must feed on my blood as well. Once you taste of my blood, you will feel light-headed, as if you had partaken of too much wine. Slowly you will tire, and at last slip into slumber. The warmth will leave your body forever. I will take you to a place where your body will be discovered; your human coroners will run their tests and determine that your heart stopped because of a genetic malformation. So sad, many tears. You will be buried, but on the third day you will regain consciousness and I will come for you.”

The past six days had been a whirlwind as she settled her earthly affairs. She picked a fight with her boyfriend and left him and her children, taking up residence in a hotel near the woods. She’d quit her job and written out a will specifying that she didn’t wish to be cremated. Her life insurance policy would pay for a burial and a small funeral; that was fine since there wouldn’t be many to attend. She had never been a sociable sort.

The hour was almost upon her. She wore no watch but knew instinctively. There was a mist covering the woods, scattering the moonlight like diamonds. In the distance, a wolf made its mournful cry but she felt only joy. Her lover was coming for her.