Death Warmed Over
She heard insects scurrying above her in the darkness, smelled burned flesh, and felt a heavy weight pressing down on her back. Oh my God, he's buried me alive.
Her face was pressed against something hard and cold - stone, she thought until she smelled the oil in the asphalt. Panic seized her and she struggled to get her hands under her. Her left hand lit up with pain as she pushed. There was a rattle and a deafening clang and she was standing. The dumpster that had been on her back lay overturned, spilling trash across the alley. She looked at it in disbelief. It must have weighed a ton. Fear and adrenaline, she thought.
Then she looked at her left hand and screamed. It was horribly burned, the top layer of skin black and cracked. She ran out of the alley looking for help, but the street was empty. I've got to get to a hospital, call the police.
She spotted a pay phone; a red chimney of heat rose from the lamp above it. She looked up and down the empty street. Above each streetlight she could see heat rising in red waves. She could hear the buzzing of the electric bus wires above her, the steady stream of the sewers running under the street. She could smell dead fish and diesel fuel in the fog, the decay of the Oakland mudflats across the bay, old French fries, cigarette butts, bread crusts and fetid pastrami from a nearby trash can, and the residual odor of Aramis wafting under the doors of the brokerage houses and banks. She could hear wisps of fog brushing against the buildings like wet velvet. It was as if her senses, like her strength, had been turned up by adrenaline.
She shook off the spectrum of sounds and smells and ran to the phone, holding her damaged hand by the wrist. As she moved, she felt a roughness inside her blouse against her skin. With her right hand she pulled at the silk, yanking it out of her skirt. Stacks of money fell out of her blouse to the sidewalk. She stopped and stared at the bound blocks of hundred-dollar bills lying at her feet.
She thought, There must be a hundred thousand dollars here. A man attacked me, choked me, bit my neck, burned my hand, then stuffed my shirt full of money and put a dumpster on me and now I can see heat and hear fog. I've won Satan's lottery.
She ran back to the alley, leaving the money on the sidewalk. With her good hand she riffled through the trash spilled from the dumpster until she found a paper bag. Then she returned to the sidewalk and loaded the money into the bag.
At the pay phone she had to do some juggling to get the phone off the hook and dialed without putting down the money and without using her injured hand. She pressed 911 and while she waited for it to ring she looked at the burn. Really, it looked worse than it felt. She tried to flex the hand and black skin cracked. Boy, that should hurt. It should gross me out too, she thought, but it doesn't. In fact, I don't really feel that bad, considering. I've been more sore after a game of racquetball with Kurt. Strange.
The receiver clicked and a woman's voice came on the line. "Hello, you've reached the number for San Francisco emergency services. If you are currently in danger, press one; if the danger has passed and you still need help, press two."
Jody pressed two.
"If you have been robbed, press one. If you've been in an accident, press two. If you've been assaulted, press three. If you are calling to report a fire, press four. If you've - "
Jody ran the choices through her head and pressed three.
"If you've been shot, press one. Stabbed, press two. Raped, press three. All other assaults, press four. If you'd like to hear these choices again, press five."
Jody meant to press four, but hit five instead. There was a series of clicks and the recorded voice came back on.
"Hello, you've reached the number for San Francisco emergency services. If you are currently in danger - "
Jody slammed the receiver down and it shattered in her hand, nearly knocking the phone off the pole. She jumped back and looked at the damage. Adrenaline, she thought.
I'll call Kurt. He can come get me and take me to the hospital. She looked around for another pay phone. There was one by her bus stop. When she reached it she realized that she didn't have any change. Her purse had been in her briefcase and her briefcase was gone. She tried to remember her calling card number, but she and Kurt had only moved in together a month ago and she hadn't memorized it yet. She picked up and dialed the operator. "I'd like to make a collect call from Jody." She gave the operator the number and waited while it rang. The machine picked up.
"It looks like no one is home," the operator said.
"He's screening his calls," Jody insisted. "Just tell him - "
"I'm sorry, we aren't allowed to leave messages."
Hanging up, Jody destroyed the phone; this time, on purpose.
She thought, Pounds of hundred-dollar bills and I can't make a damn phone call. And Kurt's screening his calls - I must be very late; you'd think he could pick up. If I wasn't so pissed off, I'd cry.
Her hand had stopped aching completely now, and when she looked at it again it seemed to have healed a bit. I'm getting loopy, she thought. Post-traumatic loopiness. And I'm hungry. I need medical attention, I need a good meal, I need a sympathetic cop, a glass of wine, a hot bath, a hug, my auto-teller card so I can deposit this cash. I need...
The 42 bus rounded the corner and Jody instinctively felt in her jacket pocket for her bus pass. It was still there. The bus stopped and the door opened. She flashed her pass at the driver as she boarded. He grunted. She sat in the first seat, facing three other passengers.
Jody had been riding the buses for five years, and occasionally, because of work or a late movie, she had to ride them at night. But tonight, with her hair frizzing wild and full of dirt, her nylons ripped, her suit wrinkled and stained - disheveled, disoriented, and desperate - she felt that she fit in for the first time. The psychos lit up at the sight of her.
"Parking space!" a woman in the back blurted out. Jody looked up.
"Parking space!" The woman wore a flowered housecoat and Mickey Mouse ears. She pointed out the window and shouted, "Parking space!"
Jody looked away, embarrassed. She understood, though. She owned a car, a fast little Honda hatchback, and since she had found a parking space outside her apartment a month ago, she had only moved it on Tuesday nights, when the street sweeper went by - and moved it back as soon as the sweeper had passed. Claim-jumping was a tradition in the City; you had to guard a space with your life. Jody had heard that there were parking spaces in Chinatown that had been in families for generations, watched over like the graves of honored ancestors, and protected by no little palm-greasing to the Chinese street gangs.
"Parking space!" the woman shouted.
Jody glanced across the aisle and committed eye contact with a scruffy bearded man in an overcoat. He grinned shyly, then slowly pulled aside the flap of his overcoat to reveal an impressive erection peeking out the port of his khakis.
Jody returned the grin and pulled her burned, blackened hand out of her jacket and held it up for him. Bested, he closed his overcoat, slouched in his seat and sulked. Jody was amazed that she'd done it.
Next to the bearded man sat a young woman who was furiously unknitting a sweater into a yarn bag, as if she would go until she got to the end of the yarn, then reknit the sweater. An old man in a tweed suit and a wool deerstalker sat next to the knitting woman, holding a walking stick between his knees. Every few seconds he let loose with a rattling coughing fit, then fought to get his breath back while he wiped his eyes with a silk handkerchief. He saw Jody looking at him and smiled apologetically.
"Just a cold," he said.
No, it's much worse than a cold, Jody thought. You're dying. How do I know that? I don't know how I know, but I know. She smiled at the old man, then turned to look out the window.
The bus was passing through North Beach now and the streets were full of sailors, punks, and tourists. Around each she could see a faint red aura and heat trails in the air as they moved. She shook her head to clear her vision, then looked at the people inside the bus. Yes, each of them had the aura, some brighter than others. Around the old man in tweeds there was a dark ring as well as the red heat aura. Jody rubbed her eyes and thought, I must have hit my head. I'm going to need a CAT scan and an EEG. It's going to cost a fortune. The company will hate it. Maybe I can process my own claim and push it through. Well, I'm definitely calling in sick for the rest of the week. And there's serious shopping to be done once I get finished at the hospital and the police station. Serious shopping. Besides, I won't be able to type for a while anyway.
She looked at her burned hand and thought again that it might have healed a bit. I'm still taking the week off, she thought.
The bus stopped at Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square and groups of tourists in Day-Glo nylon shorts and Alcatraz sweatshirts boarded, chattering in French and German while tracing lines on street maps of the City. Jody could smell sweat and soap, the sea, boiled crab, chocolate and liquor, fried fish, onions, sourdough bread, hamburgers and car exhaust coming off the tourists. As hungry as she was, the odor of food nauseated her.
Feel free to shower during your visit to San Francisco, she thought.
The bus headed up Van Ness and Jody got up and pushed through the tourists to the exit door. A few blocks later the bus stopped at Chestnut Street and she looked over her shoulder before getting off. The woman in the Mickey Mouse ears was staring peacefully out the window. "Wow," Jody said. "Look at all those parking spaces."
As she stepped off the bus, Jody could hear the woman shouting, "Parking space! Parking space!"
Jody smiled. Now why did I do that?
Oh Liquid Love
Snapshots at midnight: an obese woman with a stun gun curbing a poodle, an older gay couple power-walking in designer sweats, a college girl pedaling a mountain bike - trailing tresses of perm-fried hair and a blur of red heat; televisions buzzing inside hotels and homes, sounds of water heaters and washing machines, wind rattling sycamore leaves and whistling through fir trees, a rat leaving his nest in a palm tree - claws skittering down the trunk. Smells: fear sweat from the poodle woman, rose water, ocean, tree sap, ozone, oil, exhaust, and blood-hot and sweet like sugared iron.
It was only a three-block walk from the bus stop to the four-story building where she shared an apartment with Kurt, but to Jody it seemed like miles. It wasn't fatigue but fear that lengthened the distance. She thought she had lost her fear of the City long ago, but here it was again: over-the-shoulder glances between spun determination to look ahead and keep walking and not break into a run.
She crossed the street onto her block and saw Kurt's Jeep parked in front of the building. She looked for her Honda, but it was gone. Maybe Kurt had taken it, but why? She'd left him the key as a courtesy. He wasn't really supposed to use it. She didn't know him that well.
She looked at the building. The lights were on in her apartment. She concentrated on the bay window and could hear the sound of Louis Rukeyser punning his way through a week on Wall Street. Kurt liked to watch tapes of "Wall Street Week" before he went to bed at night. He said they relaxed him, but Jody suspected that he got some latent sexual thrill out of listening to balding money managers talking about moving millions. Oh well, if a rise in the Dow put a pup tent in his jammies, it was okay with her. The last guy she'd lived with had wanted her to pee on him.
As she started up the steps she caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. Someone had ducked behind a tree. She could see an elbow and the tip of a shoe behind the tree, even in the darkness, but something else frightened her. There was no heat aura. Not seeing it now was as disturbing as seeing it had been a few minutes ago: she'd come to expect it. Whoever was behind the tree was as cold as the tree itself.
She ran up the steps, pushed the buzzer, and waited forever for Kurt to answer.
"Yes," the intercom crackled.
"Kurt, it's me. I don't have my key. Buzz me in."
The lock buzzed and she was in. She looked back through the glass. The street was empty. The figure behind the tree was gone.
She ran up the four flights of steps to where Kurt was waiting at their apartment door. He was in jeans and an Oxford cloth shirt - an athletic, blond, thirty-year-old could-be model, who wanted, more than anything, to be a player on Wall Street. He took orders at a discount brokerage for salary and spent his days at a keyboard wearing a headset and suits he couldn't afford, watching other people's money pass him by. He was holding his hands behind his back to hide the Velcro wrist wraps he wore at night to minimize the pain from carpal tunnel syndrome. He wouldn't wear the wraps at work; carpal tunnel was just too blue-collar. At night he hid his hands like a kid with braces who is afraid to smile.
"Where have you been?" he asked, more angry than concerned. Jody wanted smiles and sympathy, not recrimination. Tears welled in her eyes.
"I was attacked tonight. Someone beat me up and stuffed me under a dumpster." She held her arms out for a hug. "They burned my hand," she wailed.
Kurt turned his back on her and walked back into the apartment. "And where were you last night? Where were you today? Your office called a dozen times today."
Jody followed him in. "Last night? What are you talking about?"
"They towed your car, you know. I couldn't find the key when the street sweeper came. You're going to have to pay to get it out of impound."
"Kurt, I don't know what you're talking about. I'm hungry and I'm scared and I need to go to the hospital. Someone attacked me, dammit!"
Kurt pretended to be organizing his videotapes. "If you didn't want a commitment, you shouldn't have agreed to move in with me. It's not like I don't get opportunities with women every day."
Her mother had told her: Never get involved with a man who's prettier than you are. "Kurt, look at this." Jody held up her burned hand. "Look!"
Kurt turned slowly and looked at her; the acid in his expression fizzled into horror. "How did you do that?"
"I don't know, I was knocked out. I think I have a head injury. My vision is... Everything looks weird. Now will you please help me?"
Kurt started walking in a tight circle around the coffee table, shaking his head. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do." He sat on the couch and began rocking.
Jody thought, This is the man who called the fire department when the toilet backed up, and I'm asking him for help. What was I thinking? Why am I attracted to weak men? What's wrong with me? Why doesn't my hand hurt? Should I eat something or go to the emergency room?
Kurt said, "This is horrible, I've got to get up early. I have a meeting at five." Now that he was in the familiar territory of self-interest, he stopped rocking and looked up. "You still haven't told me where you were last night!"
Near the door where Jody stood there was an antique oak hall tree. On the hall tree there was a black raku pot where lived a struggling philodendron, home for a colony of spider mites. As Jody snatched up the pot, she could hear the spider mites shifting in their tiny webs. As she drew back to throw, she saw Kurt blink, his eyelids moving slowly, like an electric garage door. She saw the pulse in his neck start to rise with a heartbeat as she let fly. The pot described a beeline across the room, trailing the plant behind it like a comet tail. Confused spider mites found themselves airborne. The bottom of the pot connected with Kurt's forehead, and Jody could see the pot bulge, then collapse in on itself. Pottery and potting soil showered the room; the plant folded against Kurt's head and Jody could hear each of the stems snapping. Kurt didn't have time to change expressions. He fell back on the couch, unconscious. The whole thing had taken a tenth of a second.
Jody moved to the couch and brushed potting soil out of Kurt's hair. There was a half-moon-shaped dent in his forehead that was filling with blood as she watched. Her stomach lurched and cramped so violently that she fell to her knees with the pain. She thought, My insides are caving in on themselves.
She heard Kurt's heart beating and the slow rasp of his breathing. At least I haven't killed him.
The smell of blood was thick in her nostrils, suffocatingly sweet. Another cramp doubled her over. She touched the wound on his forehead, then pulled back, her fingers dripping with blood. I'm not going to do this. I can't.
She licked her fingers and every muscle in her body sang with the rush. There was an intense pressure on the roof of her mouth, then a crackling noise inside her head, as if someone were ripping out the roots of her eyeteeth. She ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth and felt needlelike points pushing through the skin behind her canines: new teeth, growing.
I'm not doing this, she thought, as she climbed on top of Kurt and licked the blood from his forehead. The new teeth lengthened. A wave of electric pleasure rocketed through her and her mind went white with exhilaration.
In the back of her mind a small voice shouted "No!" over and over again as she bit into Kurt's throat and drank. She heard herself moaning with each beat of Kurt's heart. It was a machine-gun orgasm, dark chocolate, spring water in the desert, a hallelujah chorus and the cavalry coming to the rescue all at once. And all the while the little voice screamed no!
Finally she pulled herself away and rolled off onto the floor. She sat with her back to the couch, arms around her legs, her face pressed against her knees, ticking and twitching with tiny convulsions of pleasure. A dark warmth moved through her body, tingling as if she had just climbed out of a snowbank into a hot bath.
Slowly the warmth ran away, replaced by a heart-wrenching sadness - a feeling of loss so permanent and profound that she felt numbed by the weight of it.
I know this feeling, she thought. I've felt this before.
She turned and looked at Kurt and felt little relief to see that he was still breathing. There were no marks on his neck where she had bitten him. The wound on his forehead was clotting and scabbing over. The smell of blood was still strong but now it repulsed her, like the odor of empty wine bottles on a hangover morning.
She stood and walked to the bathroom, stripping her clothes off as she went. She turned on the shower, and while it ran worked down the remnants of her panty hose, noticing, without much surprise, that her burned hand had healed completely. She thought, I've changed. I will never be the same. The world has shifted. And with that thought the sadness returned. I've felt this before.
She stepped into the shower and let the scalding water run over her, not noting its feel, or sound, or the color of the heat and steam swirling in the dark bathroom. The first sob wrenched its way up from her chest, shaking her, opening the grief trail. She slid down the shower wall, sat on the water-warmed tiles and cried until the water ran cold. And she remembered: another shower in the dark when the world had changed.
She had been fifteen and not in love, but in love with the excitement of touching tongues and the rough feel of the boy's hand on her breast; in love with the idea of passion and too full of too-sweet wine, shoplifted by the boy from a 7-Eleven. His name was Steve Rizzoli (which didn't matter, except that she would always remember it) and he was two years older - a bit of a bad boy with his hash pipe and surfer smoothness. On a blanket in the Carmel dunes he coaxed her out of her jeans and did it to her. To her, not with her: she could have been dead, for her involvement. It was fast and awkward and empty except for the pain, which lingered and grew even after she walked home, cried in the shower, and lay in her room, wet hair spread over the pillow as she stared at the ceiling and grieved until dawn.
As she stepped out of the shower and began mechanically toweling off, she thought, I felt this before when I grieved for my virginity. What do I grieve for tonight? My humanity? That's it: I'm not human anymore, and I never will be again.
With that realization, events fell into place. She'd been gone two nights, not one. Her attacker had shoved her under the dumpster to protect her from the sun, but somehow her hand had been exposed and burned. She had slept through the day, and when she awoke the next evening, she was no longer human.
She didn't believe in vampires.
She looked at her feet on the bath mat. Her toes were straight as a baby's, as if they had never been bent and bunched by wearing shoes. The scars on her knees and elbows from childhood accidents were gone. She looked in the mirror and saw that the tiny lines beside her eyes were gone, as were her freckles. But her eyes were black, not a millimeter of iris showing. She shuddered, then realized that she was seeing all of this in total darkness, and flipped on the bathroom light. Her pupils contracted and her eyes were the same striking green that they had always been. She grabbed a handful of her hair and inspected the ends. None were split, none broken. She was - as far as she could allow herself to believe - perfect. A newborn at twenty-six.
I am a vampire. She allowed the thought to repeat and settle in her mind as she went to the bedroom and dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
A vampire. A monster. But I don't feel like a monster.
As she walked back from the bedroom to the bathroom to dry her hair, she spotted Kurt lying on the couch. He was breathing rhythmically and a healthy aura of heat rose off his body. Jody felt a twinge of guilt, then pushed it aside.
Fuck him, I never really liked him anyway. Maybe I am a monster.
She turned on the curling iron that she used every morning to straighten her hair, then turned it off and threw it back on the vanity. Fuck that, too. Fuck curling irons and blow dryers and high heels and mascara and control-top panty hose. Fuck those human things.
She shook out her hair, grabbed her toothbrush and went back to the bedroom, where she packed a shoulder bag full of jeans and sweatshirts. She dug through Kurt's jewelry box until she found the spare keys to her Honda.
The clock radio by the bed read five o'clock in the morning. I don't have much time. I've got to find a place to stay, fast.
On her way out she paused by the couch and kissed Kurt on the forehead. "You're going to be late for your meeting," she said to him. He didn't move.
She grabbed the bag of money from the floor and stuffed it into her shoulder bag, then walked out. Outside, she looked up and down the street, then cursed. The Honda had been towed. She'd have to get it out of impound. But you could only do that during the day. Shit. It would be light soon. She thought of what the sun had done to her hand. I've got to find darkness.
She jogged down the street, feeling lighter on her feet than she ever had. At Van Ness she ran into a motel office and pounded on the bell until a sleepy-eyed clerk appeared behind the bulletproof window. She paid cash for two nights, then gave the clerk a hundred-dollar bill to ensure that she would not, under any circumstances, be disturbed.
Once in the room she locked the door, then braced a chair against it and got into bed.
Weariness came on her suddenly as first light broke pink over the City. She thought, I've got to get my car back. I've got to find a safe place to stay. Then I need to find out who did this to me. I have to know why. Why me? Why the money? Why? And I'm going to need help. I'm going to need someone who can move around in the day.
When the sun peeked over the horizon in the east, she fell into the sleep of the dead.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com