-Assignment timecode: 001/001/283-
“Holy crap! It’s not working! Run! Run!”
“Heel! Heel, goddammit!”
From a shadowy corner near the dark room’s ceiling, a speaker crackled to life. Static flared, then died away, leaving behind a low buzzing noise. A voice blared from the speaker. Seemingly distorted, the voice sounded like it came from a giant bee, somehow possessed of the skills and anatomy to speak English.
“Heel, Hubriz?” the voice asked. Even through the distortions and the very anthropomorphic beeness of the voice, the sarcasm was blatant. Painfully so.
Other than a slightly more pronounced hunching of his shoulders, Hubris Jameson didn’t even bother to respond. Seated in a straight-backed wooden chair, Jameson was hunched over with his head down, arms dangling loose between his knees. An angry, red welt stood out prominently on his forehead. A bandage, stained brown with dried blood, wrapped around his right hand. An orange Hawaiian shirt, covered with amateurish drawings of topless women riding surfboards, hung loosely from his chest. Its pocket hung on by only a few threads. What looked to be claw marks ripped down the back of the shirt. Jameson’s horrifyingly loud plaid pants were frayed at the bottoms, ripped at the knees and seemed to have suffered through travails plaid pants were never meant to see.
A bare light bulb hung from a wire above Jameson, the harsh light picking out creases and wrinkles in his face. Grudgingly, he spoke. He did so in a near monotone, without directly addressing the buzzing speaker.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
A droning sound buzzed from the speaker. If a listener had been charitable, more than slightly drunk, and an expert in long-dead languages, the sound might – barely – have sounded somewhat like laughter. On a very good day. Or bad day, depending.
“Really. Let’z review a bit more, zhall we?”
-Assignment timecode: 001/001/001-
The pain from the Tap faded quickly.
It wasn’t as if I had much of a choice, really. CurseWerks helped me beat my divine cancer into bloody submission. When they offered me the job, I couldn’t say no. I’m not that much of an ingrate. Besides, my curiosity needed to be scratched.
“So this thing does have other uses, right? Other than helping me stay mundane? So what is it?” I felt a slight tugging at the back of my skull as the incision point rubbed against the chair’s headrest.
“Technomagic,” Rhea said, coming around to the front of the chair. Her azure eyes sparkled with mirth. Clearly she wanted to leave it at that. She turned away, flipping the release catch to the chair.
“Come on, Rhea,” I said. “You just implanted something in my head. I think I deserve to know a little more about it.” I rose, grabbing the chair arm for support, and looked around the room. Think “Frankenstein,” the good, black-and-white version. An actual Jacob’s Ladder sparked in the far corner, electrical arcs climbing at regular intervals between two metal rods. The whole place gave me the creeps, but they had what I needed. And, wonder of wonders, they said I could help them, too.
“I’m not really suppo…”
I tapped a finger alongside my temple. “In my head, Rhea.”
“Right. Point taken, Hubris,” she said. “It’s standard equipment for CurseWerks field personnel. Think of it as a mental radio. It provides the Bosses with a running commentary when you’re on a mission. Yours is a bit special in that we hope it’ll also help suppress your ang…”
I lost track of her lecture as I eyeballed her curves and the fall of auburn hair as it cascaded over her shoulders. We could really have something special, with the whipped cream and everyth… Crap.
“So, um… when does it start?”
“Oh, it started when I installed the Tap,” she said.
Joy. So much for getting anything from her. Maybe it only went to the Bosses. I could hope.
“Hey, how is anybody gonna read this? It’s not that I think… It’s only complete sentences come out of my fingers onto keyboards. How do people read stream of consciousness?”
“Funny story, really. We’ve got this hack writer in the basement. Bad brain-damage case from too many drugs in college. He took an experimental intelligence enhancer. The only thing it enhanced was the number of dead neurons in his brain. Still, the damage helps him understand Tap Feed and he writes a serviceable…” (delete last five sentences. Insert: “We have a marvelously talented wordsmith in our employ who…”)
“Perhapz a little too far back. Let’z go further into the azzignment.”
-Assignment timecode: 001/001/193-
“Oh my God! What’s… Where the hell did all this blood come from? You…”
Jameson shuddered. He crossed his arms over his chest and hugged tight, hands clutching the short sleeves of the Hawaiian shirt. Slowly, he raised his head. His raggedly cut brown hair fell away from his eyes as he looked in the general direction of the speaker. He seemed almost to be smiling. It looked rather like an alligator doing its best to be a charming dinner host. To a plump poodle that wandered too near a lake.
-Assignment timecode: 001/001/017-
I grabbed the file on the way out, nodding and smiling at Janice. It always pays to be nice to the receptionist. They can screw you in too many ways. I still remember my last job as a reporter for the National Tattler Times. The receptionist started off by leaving a dead possum in my desk drawer over the weekend. Things went downhill from there.
“Hold up a sec,” Janice said as I headed toward the door. “Catch.” She whipped a small orange, zippered bag directly at my head. I barely managed to catch it without looking like a complete idiot.
“And it is?”
“Field kit. Open when needed.”
I stuffed the bag into a jacket pocket, walked through the front door, and broke the curtain back into normal space. The CurseWerks offices are slightly out of phase with consensus reality. Supposedly it helps with security. The Bosses don’t want some of the people we go up against to have an easy time if they decide to court that little bitch, Payback. I think it’s so nobody can stare out the windows during downtime. The plus is that we can walk out the office into almost anywhere in the world.
The minus is that sometimes you get there a little too quickly and don’t have the proper time to prepare. But that only happens to slackers. Not me. No, sir. I opened up the folder and thumbed through. Shouldn’t be too hard. They wouldn’t stick me with a dangerous assignment first time out the gate, right?
Hm. Guy named John Smith, yeah, sure, complained about a possible…
“You have got to be shitting me,” I said.
I doubt you’d pass through,” said a male voice from right behind me.
Now, I’ve been in a number of strange situations. I’ve seen co-joined twins go out on double dates. I’ve seen circus geeks push nails through their noses. I’ve been present at exorcisms, both sanctioned and the other kind. All of which goes to say that I don’t startle easily. Of course, I was my usual model of cool under pressure.
“Urk. Ahem,” I said. “Eep?” I added.
“Wow. You don’t usually see people leap three feet straight up and squeal like that. You okay?”
“Ah, yeah. Sure.” I bent down to pick up the scattered papers from the folder. A few pieces drifted down the street in a freshening breeze. I wasn’t worried. The paper would self-destruct if it was out of my aura for more than fifteen minutes. When I was damn sure I had my composure back, stapled on securely and spiffed up to a shine, I turned around.
“You must be ‘John Smith.’” I said. “I’m Hubris Jameson. From CurseWerks.” Smith stood about six feet tall, a little on the heavy side. He wore his blond hair long and tied off in a ponytail. On his blue Hawaiian shirt, the pictures of topless women looked like they’d been drawn by a severely disturbed child using her crayons for the very first time.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he said, reaching out to shake hands. “I heard those quote marks, you know. John Smith really is my name. Apparently, my parents didn’t have much in the way of imagination.” I could see him replaying the last bit of conversation over in his mind. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, as if trying to hide a smile. “What’s your excuse, ‘Hubris’?”
“Apparently, my parents hated me even before I was born. And call me Jameson. So. Why do you think you’ve got a vampire problem?” I had a hard time even getting the words out without laughing. There are strange things in the world. I knew this. But vampires? Come on. As a tabloid reporter I’d seen more vampires than I could shake a wooden stake at. Each time they turned out to be either hopelessly confused psychos, or those hope-they-make-the-Darwin-Awards Goth kids. Either way, there was nothing to them. Ever.
“Well,” he said. “It all started with this program I saw on TV. Um… Listen, this could take a while. Come inside?” He motioned toward what I assumed was his house.
As I turned, I looked up and down the tree-lined street of Every Burb, USA. Most lawns on the street were in perfect health. I decided then and there Smith’s neighbors must absolutely hate him. His grass grew in clumps, surrounded by patches of dead earth. I stopped just outside the yard and looked closer. The clumps weren’t random. Crap. They were growing in the shapes of protective sigils, designed to keep out anything of supernatural origin. It looked like Smith wasn’t the moron I’d taken him for. After my last story for the Tattler Times, I couldn’t make it through on my own.
“Smith,” I said. “Come here for a minute, would ya’?”
Smith turned from his door and walked back, a smug look on his face.
“So you figured it out?” he said. “My neighbors think I’m just a really sloppy yard guy.”
I summoned as much bonhomie as I could, slapped Smith on the shoulder and started up the walkway to his house. I was careful to keep in contact with him the entire way through the lawn, letting his presence carry me through the wards. Even so, it felt like spiders were chasing each other up and down my neck. A burning sensation tore through my upper right arm.
“Not a bad idea,” I said, my teeth clenched to hold back a scream. “Had them in long?”
“Since I moved in. I like to… experiment. It seemed the smart thing to do.”
Smart thing. Two words I hadn’t had in my life for quite a while. My last story for the Tattler Times started as the regular sort of goof-hunt. My editor had been tipped to a group of pet groomers who were trying to bring the Devil to Earth. Of course, being pet hair stylists and not serious occult practitioners, they got it wrong. What ended up appearing in their circle was closer to an angel than a devil. Not the cuddly, hovering-over-your-shoulder, smiling type, but the type that fought rebels and kicked major soon-to-be-demonic ass. It wasn’t happy about being forced to the fleshly plane.
All I really remember is a burning light. I was spying through a hole I bored in the wall of the Pet Style Emporium and Spa. When something actually appeared, I jumped back in astonishment. That saved my life. The light that was the angel obliterated flesh. Afterward, I found there was nothing left inside the room but shadows, like those seared into the crumbling walls of Hiroshima one early August morning. A fragment of that light traveled through the hole and tried to do the same to my right arm.
A CurseWerks field op found me a few minutes later, delirious and wandering. The light changed me. I’d become just supernatural enough to be affected by protective sigils and the like, but not supernatural enough to do anything with it. Story of my life.
I looked around as we walked into Smith’s living room. Deep claw marks tore down the rear of a yellow, high-backed chair. Gouges had been hastily and badly puttied in and painted over on most of the walls. Patches of horribly ugly shag carpet were torn from the floor. Smith’s idea of good housekeeping obviously stopped with making sure the roof didn’t fall on him.
“All right.” I shoved a pile of loose paper from the safest-looking chair and took a seat. “Tell me about this vampire.”
“Okay,” he said, starting to pace. “I’ve been doing some research into various occult legends. It’s a… uh… hobby of mine. See, I’d found some… Well, look. Vampires have always been seen as predators, right?”
“What else would you call something that stalks humans, drains their blood, then moves on to the next not-so-happy meal?”
“Right. Exactly.” Smith waved his arms, almost like he was conducting a phantom orchestra. “Everybody always looks at the vampire as an ex-person. Only, what if that’s not what it really is? One night, I got this idea that maybe the vampire wasn’t the person. What if the person was just a carrier? What if the actual vampire was some sort of parasite that spread through repeated exposure and fed on blood? Sort of like Typhoid Mary, only with vampirism.”
Smith stopped talking for a second. He looked at me, a clear question in his eyes: Am I crazy? Well, obviously. I wanted to hear the rest of it, however, so I shook my head and looked encouraging.
“Okay. Right. Um. I thought it could be a virus or a germ or something. I knew I couldn’t really look into that because, you know, where would I find a vampire who would donate blood? So I started thinking vampirism could be something like a curse, that, sort of… A curse that spread itself as a condition of its existence. Like an anaerobic virus can’t function in the presence of oxygen, I figured this curse might be anphotonic, which would explain why vampires can’t stand light. Right? But it wasn’t until I bought this spellbook on E-bay that I really…”
I couldn’t keep the look of dumb-founded wonder off my face any longer. Smith stopped, folded his arms on his chest and thrust out his chin.
“You actually tried to create a vampire. That’s got to be one of the single stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Why would you try to create something that, if you’re successful, would lead to a being that wanted to eat you?”
Smith ducked his head down, his arms hanging limply at his side. “There’s that, yeah.” He looked up. A curious mixture of pride and fear warred on his features. “The thing of it is… Well… I’m pretty sure I succeeded. See. I found this and I had to call you guys.” He turned and closed the blinds, blocking any light from the setting sun. He walked over to a cardboard box in the corner, reached inside and grabbed a large glass jar that held something furry crumpled on the bottom.
My instincts said the smart thing to do was stand up and walk out the door. Immediately. The reporter in me wrapped his hands around my cautious self and squeezed. Then my inner reporter started jumping up and down on the body. Just to be sure.
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s a…” He paused. I just know he did it for effect. He struck me as that kind of guy. “It’s a chipmunk. An undead chipmunk. No, really. Hey, stop laughing.”
I couldn’t help myself. This maroon got himself all worked up because he found a dead chipmunk in his backyard. This was the vampire threat?
“Dammit, I’m serious. I had it all figured out. I had the right ingredients, everything. I thought I’d reproduce the vampirism curse and project it onto something harmless so I could study it. I even bought some fruit flies. You know, like a real scientific experiment. I was going to study how the curse propagated itself. It really worked. It was perfect.”
“So what happened? Why aren’t you happily studying ahem – undead fruit flies right now?”
“I dropped the jar.”
“I dropped the fucking jar. All right? I was moving it and tripped. The jar broke and the damn flies escaped.”
“So then what? You found undead fruit? That is what fruit flies eat, right? End of problem.”
“No. Definitely not. It started spreading. Maybe something ate the fruit fly and the curse stuck in a new host. I don’t know. It’s just… Man, there aren’t any wild animals around here now. I mean, the place used to be crawling with squirrels, chipmunks and all crap like that. Now, nothing.”
Smith looked hesitant, as if he didn’t want to continue. Pulling reporter’s trick number three from the utility belt, I quirked an eyebrow at him. It never fails. Taking a deep breath, Smith filled me in on the rest.
“I think the curse is spreading. The way I figure it, the curse is trying to work its way up the food chain; infecting those on a lower level and only moving to another animal when it encounters a body better than the one it’s in. That’s the way I designed it, right, with the main curse as a lynchpin. Destroy it, and you take out all the other, lesser, vampires it created.
“I’m pretty sure this little guy proves me right. I found it in my yard yesterday, just before dawn and sealed it inside this airtight jar. You know, to be safe. Look, I know you don’t believe me, but… Okay. The sun should be down in a few minutes. Watch. You’ll see.”
Fine. I could afford to give the crazy a few more minutes. However, I’d definitely have to talk to the Bosses about a few things. One: I needed a better class of assignment. Two: they needed to send somebody over here and talk to this guy before he actually succeeded at doing something really stupid.
The sun went down. That chipmunk was dead. I was sure of it. So, how did I know the sun went down? That freaking chipmunk got up on all fours and started moving. It scrabbled ineffectively at the glass for a few seconds, then it looked around. It saw me and looked, with its red, red eyes.
“Hey, what’s…” Everything went black.
“Just stop for a minute,” Jameson said. “Please.”
“Very well,” the voice from the intercom buzzed. “What’z dizturbing you zo?”
“It’s just… You know… Chipmunks. They’re cute and cuddly. Chip and Dale, right? Have you ever thought about the apotheosis of evil, the perfect predator, something you can tell just from looking at it that it wants to eat you alive; all that, staring at you out of cute, furry-critter eyes? It. It takes a lot of getting used to. Sorry, I…” He took three deep breaths and stared down at his bandaged hand. “All right.”
-Assignment timecode: 001/001/123-
The next thing I remember is Smith roughly shaking my shoulder. My right hand hurt badly. I opened my eyes just as he slapped my face.
“What’s that for, jackass?”
“You let the damn thing loose,” he screamed. I realized the chair I’d been sitting on wasn’t really floating over me. I was lying on the floor. My head throbbed almost as loudly as most morning afters. I went to massage my pounding temples and saw blood welling up from my right hand. It hurt, but in an abstract way. I wiped the hand off, found the ragged cut and started to put pressure on it. I still wasn’t all there.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, Smith, but there is no way that…” I stammered to a halt and looked around the room. Somebody’d had a helluva fight. Chairs were overturned, pictures were smashed and Smith had the beginnings of a nice shiner on his left eye. Near the wall, I saw the shattered remains of the jar that had held the… the chipire, vamunk, or whatever. I looked at my hand and snapped back to reality.
“Oh my God! What’s… Where the hell did all this blood come from? You… Is that thing still in here?”
I leaped to my feet, trying to cover 360 degrees simultaneously. Drops of blood flew from my hand. My shirt was in tatters; my pants spotted with blood.
“Relax, man,” Smith said, resting his hand on my shoulder. He continued after he pried me loose from the ceiling. “When I knocked the thing off you, it booked ass out the window.”
Breathing hard, I tried to remember my training at CurseWerks. Stay calm. Remain focused on the task at hand. Crap. That reminded me. I took a few tatters from my shirt and wrapped them around my hand to staunch the blood. Something had reached inside my head and taken control. Again. I didn’t like it any better than I did with the angel. Smith answered my unvoiced question.
“Man, I don’t know. You got all spaced out and then you reached for the jar. I thought you wanted a better look. But you tried to open the thing. When I grabbed for it, you popped me. I almost had the jar when you smashed it into the wall. Just rammed it straight in there. You were nuts.”
I fumbled behind me and managed to right the overturned chair. Since my knees couldn’t seem to support me very well, I flopped down onto the cushion. I hadn’t felt this awful since day one in the rubber room after the doggy spa. Smith said something about finding me some clothes, and shambled off into the back.
My thoughts wouldn’t focus. They kept jumping back to the angel. People can put constraints on what you actually do, but nobody tells you what to think. Except that, twice now, somebody or something had set up camp in my mind and fundamentally changed how I saw the world.
Right after the angel light seared me, rational thought fled. I don’t remember much about what happened then. Unfortunately, I’ve got a very clear recollection of the time afterward. In my mind, a divine cancer bloomed. I was set up in a CurseWerks hospital/laboratory while they studied me. My eyes saw the pits of hell. I knew it was an ordinary hospital room, but all I could see was decay. The stink of sin permeated everything. This was a lower form of matter, debased from the true forms of Heaven. Everything was wrong, the angles off just enough to send my equilibrium over the edge. I knew, with a surety that passeth understanding, this was a place where bad things dwelled.
A human walked into the room. Divine rage roared up. I saw everything about the woman standing there. I knew about her infidelity, the binging and purging, her tax cheats and daddy’s little secret. I had nothing of Heaven’s compassion, only the wrath of an angry god. I didn’t even bother ripping the intravenous fluid feeds from my arms. I probably would have strangled her if my body hadn’t been so weak. I passed out as security arrived.
I spent more than a year crawling out of the hellhole of my mind. A year of choking down gourmet food that tasted like fetid garbage. A year of screaming curses at anyone I encountered. A year of physical restraints. The worst was the first time I saw my face in a mirror. Mercifully, I can’t remember any of the particulars. I found out afterwards that I was sedated continually for 13 days before I calmed down enough to stop trying to beat my own head in.
Gradually, I came to accept the world we live in, abscesses and all. Once I could think again, I started beating the divine cancer into submission with the power of positive, or negative, depending on your viewpoint, thinking. I visualized humanity damping down the searing light of angels. In my mind, I marshaled armies of mankind to heap explosives around the powder box of angel perspective. Then I lit the fuse. I came close to the edge of self-annihilation. I flamed the divine cancer until it hid, a small charred wreck, in a forgotten corner of my mind. I clawed my way home. Along the way, I won back my, for want of a better word, soul. Then along came this stupid little puffball. This… thing took over my mind.
Over the space of a few minutes, my head cleared. The last remnants of chipire-control burned away, replaced by anger at the scum-sucking thing that debased me.
Smith came back in, holding in one hand a shirt that, other than its orange color and the addition of surfboards, was the twin of the hideous one he was wearing. In his other hand, he held a pair of polyester plaid pants.
“Sorry, guy. The shirt was, um, the only one I had clean. I, well, borrowed the pants from my neighbor a while back and, uh, forgot to return ‘em. I hope you don’t…”
I swung at him again. Fortunately for both of us, I was still too shaky to get any force behind it. Smith easily stepped out of range.
“Whoa there, pard.” He squinted at my face. “What’s your problem?”
“I’m mad, idiot. You’re the moron who made the damn thing.”
“Well, how was I to know you’d look into its eyes? You’re supposed to be the expert.”
Damned if he wasn’t right. I straightened up and smiled. All right, so I hadn’t had a lot of practice lately, but that still didn’t mean Smith had to jump back when I did it.
“Okay,” I said. “You’re right. Only… I need to think. Gotta change clothes and wash up. It just can’t be a good idea to go vampire hunting when you’re covered in fresh blood.”
Smith tossed the clothes at my feet and stepped back, ready in case anything… untoward… should happen.
“Relax.” I held up my hands. “Total control.” As I entered the hallway, I turned back quickly. “Boo!” Smith squealed and dove for cover behind his ragged, green couch. That’d teach him to sneak up behind people on the street.
I didn’t feel any better in clean clothes. I looked like some ageing hippie stuck in a retirement-home fashion nightmare. The plaid pants clashed horribly with the Hawaiian shirt, trying to burn holes in my fashion sense. The white belt looked nice, though. I came out with a plan, at least good enough to get started.
Now, I figured, was the time to see if CurseWerks had provided anything useful in the field kit. Somebody was on the ball. CurseWerks supplied a complete vampire annihilation pack: cross, vials of holy water and a couple of collapsing rods that elongated into wooden stakes. Good. Damn good. I walked back into the living room.
“All right, here’s what we’re gonna do. And stop cringing. I’m not going to hit you again.”
“I wasn’t cringing. Something bit me.”
“Suuuuure. Look, we need to track the original curse.”
“Yeah, I… Ow, goddamnit! Something bit me again.”
“Quit whining. Now, we need…” Smith danced around like a hyperactive four-year-old hooked on double mocha espressos and a Barney marathon. He kept slapping his back, agony on his face. He managed to get his shirt off and slammed back against the living-room wall, rubbing up and down. A contented sigh broke from his blissful smile. He shook his shirt, trying to dislodge whatever had bitten him. I saw a tiny, black thing fall to the carpet and bent down for a better look.
“A flea? You’ve been making all this fuss over a little flea? Jesus. What a wus…”
The flea leaped onto my forehead. I whacked my head, smashing the flea, just as the little bastard bit me. Lightning flared through my skull and blasted out my ears. I slowly toppled over, clutching my head and moaning.
Without pausing in his vigorous scratching, Smith said, “I told you so. That was no ordinary flea.”
It was all I could do to glare at him, but I managed. Just then, a really strange idea hit me.
“I… Oh, no way. The children of the night?”
“The children of the night. Didn’t you ever watch Dracula movies when you were growing up? ‘Ah, de cheeldren of de night. Vhat bootiful moosic dey make.’ Remember, Dracula could command wolves. Right? Well, what if whatever has the curse does that with fleas. Sort of supercharge them, you know? Son of a bitch. Yes!”
“I know how to track the vampire. Quick, get me that flea.” There was, well, not really a spell, but something that should work along the same lines. Simultaneous similarity. “For the flea to act as an effective agent, it has to have some connection with the curse. I’ll focus on that similarity; add a little physical impetus and, boom! The flea leads us to its originator.”
Holding the flea at arm’s length, Smith dropped it into my hands. “Okay,” I muttered. “Let’s roll.”
I focused my will on the flea. All outer awareness faded as I lost myself, almost tasting the vile, sour darkness of the curse. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if a lot of time passed as I cautiously crept my way along the tenuous spider-web connection. Focus. Focus. I felt something; not the chipire. I realized that was only a secondary infection. Mental fingers gently caressed the connection, holding, following…
“Got it!” I said, moving my hand to supply the necessary physical motion. Cramped muscles, too long held unmoving, protested loudly.
As soon as I started moving, the flea tried to fly. I jerked toward the door, the flea almost wrenched from my hand. Stretched out fully on the carpet, I struggled to hold on to the flea. Smith jumped up from the floor as he knuckled sleep from his eyes.
“It worked. The flea’s trying to go home, but I don’t know how long I can hold it.” I struggled to my feet with my left hand forced straight out. I looked over and saw Smith gave himself a small shake, visibly trying to work up enough courage to keep going. “You’ll have to open the door. I can’t let go of the flea and I can’t use my right hand too well just now.”
As soon as I stood up, the attraction strengthened, yanking me forward. Smith bowed my way out the door. His smartass position made it possible for me to wrap my right arm around his neck, maintaining physical contact through the wards. Out the door, my hand jerked to the left, forcing me into a stumbling trot to keep up. I let Smith loose and we headed into a night that looked a little brighter.
“Yeah,” Smith whispered. “The sun should be rising soon.”
I couldn’t have timed this better if I tried. We would find the lynchpin vampire, wait for sunrise, then have us a little stake. We passed two houses. My arm almost jerked out of its socket as we moved across the street and down one more house. We were headed toward a tired-looking split-level ranch. I brought my injured right hand around to help hold the flea, but it was no use. The damn thing took off like a blood-sucking bullet.
“Crap,” I whispered.
The flea moved so fast we heard a soft whoomph as it pulverized itself on the front door. We
It wasn’t that loud a noise,” I whispered. “Hell, we barely heard it and we were listening for…”
The door opened.
“Shit,” Smith said.
The man was grossly obese. Or had been. Skin hung from his body in huge wrinkles, making him look like a pale elephant. The man jerked out one step. Another. Then it got bizarre. He bent forward, slapping on his knee. He gave a breathy whistle and spoke slowly.
“Here… Here… boys.”
Smith and I looked at each other. He shrugged. There was nothing to do but brazen it out. I stepped forward.
“Good… boy,” the man droned.
I took another step forward and almost jumped out of my skin when Smith touched my shoulder.
“Jameson, I gotta bad feeling about this. I…”
The night came alive behind us. A horrible chittering sound arose from the darkness. I turned and saw, dozens of chipmunks, bunnies and squirrels stalk into the circle of light from a street lamp. A reddish glow shone in their eyes. They walked in lockstep, making a line that curved around us. We backed up toward the house. The furry animals – way, way beyond cute and into the other side of evil – stopped. We didn’t. The animals charged, their soft mewling mutated into a roar of hunger. We did the manly thing.
We turned and ran.
Straight into the vampire.
“Thiz iz where your report becomez, if pozzible, even more confuzing. You zay the vampire waz not the man. Correct, Hubriz?”
Jameson briefly looked up, stared at the speaker, then dropped his head back into his hands.
“Yeah. I guess some vestige of the vampire’s old personality was still intact. It couldn’t attack him, even though it would have been the easiest way to move up the food chain. Too much of the old training, I guess. Or love. Something.”
“Zo, the curze holder waz…”
“Right. A wiener dog.”
-Assignment timecode: 001/001/280-
Evil, true evil, often doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. Take away his troops and Hitler was only a nutty painter wannabe. Ted Bundy looked like the guy next door. Not this time, brother. The wiener dog radiated sheer, unadulterated evil; a hunger untainted by any hope of satiety. One look and I knew where Smith’s curse had found roost. If the curse could do this to a wiener dog, the thought of it actually making the jump to a man was little less than horrifying. The dog stood there watching us, its brown, floppy ears not looking in the least little bit goofy. Finally, my training kicked in.
“Smith, start stomping the vermin. I’m taking out the big dog.” Fido tilted its head, ridiculously short legs shifting from side to side. I grabbed some vials of holy water as I heard the first popping sound of fuzzy vermin changing to squished roadkill behind me. That and Smith’s crazed, kamikaze yell of “Take that. And that…”
I flipped the first vial of holy water at Fido. I don’t know what I expected – something along the lines of the dog writhing in agony as bits and pieces melted off into a gooey puddle. It certainly wasn’t the dog standing there, tilting its head to the other side and giving itself a good shake. In a bit of a panic, I threw my remaining vials at the damn thing. Nothing. A squirrel with glowing red eyes attacked my ankles.
I jumped up and down, trying desperately to dislodge the clinging vermin. It shredded my pants, claws digging furrows in my legs. The squirrel leaped from my left knee toward my face. Swinging my arms frantically, I managed to get a hand on it. The squirrel’s hind legs caught in my shirt pocket, tearing it as I threw the gnawing horror to the ground. I managed to squish the vile thing, my shoes thumping the grass until there was nothing left but a brown stain.
I couldn’t find the wiener dog. I looked around and watched Smith corner the last furry critter up against a decorative stone fence at the property line. A growl sounded from behind me. Fido was smiling. In a very nasty manner. Its canine teeth were elongated and dripping saliva. I pulled out my cross and snapped one of the stakes to full extension.
“Come on,” I growled back. “Come to papa.”
I whipped out the cross, holding it toward Fido. Who was absolutely not affected in the least. I suddenly looked at it from the dog’s perspective. Crosses and holy water affected human vampires because of their religious beliefs. Something deep down in humans must recognize the power of the presence. To a dog, a cross is just a piece of wood to fetch. I realized all this as Fido charged. Smith screamed and lost it.
“Holy crap! It’s not working! Run! Run!”
“Heel! Heel, goddamnit!”
The thing leaped onto my back, its claws tearing into my flesh as I fell. Smith was long gone, his tubby frame hauling ass up the street. I rolled over, trying to dislodge the thing. Fido turned its head and fastened its teeth onto my injured wrist. No news there: Dog bites man.
I could actually feel the curse leaving the dog and flowing into me. The dog, stunned senseless without the animating darkness, dropped to the ground. Something colder than the grave began moving up my arm. I desperately looked for a cleaver or axe to hack off my arm. I was that scared. I looked up and saw the dog’s owner in the doorway. He looked delicious. I stood and began walking to dinner.
Then the pain hit and my blood ignited in fire. The man was a mud creature, unworthy of creation. He deserved only eradication.
Damn, damn, damn. I could feel forces, angelic and demonic, fighting for my body. My thoughts raged back and forth from vampire to angel to human. The man looked like dinner. He looked like mud. He looked like a man. Every muscle in my body locked up. The darkness was winning. I could feel the oily stain of the curse spreading.
Damn it. This was intolerable. I didn’t fight my way back from angelic possession just to lose to its opposite number. I shut out every distraction, concentrating on the filth radiating up my arm. I saw the curse as a creeping fungus, greedily devouring everything in its way. In my mind’s eye, I stood there, a fallen knight in rusted armor, looking for a way to stem the tide. Anachronisms be damned. I found a flamethrower in my mental arms. I smiled and triggered the conflagration.
Liquid fire, created from my human hate, my desire for independence, my sheer stubborn bull-headedness, exploded from the nozzle. I screamed. Bits and pieces of the creeping fungus made it past the fire line. I conjured mental dynamite, fueled by my year of angelic imprisonment. I laughed as the dynamite exploded around me. Still the ravenous fungus crept onward.
Screw it. If I couldn’t have the body, then it sure as shit couldn’t. The Enola Gay appeared on my mental horizon. The creeping, roiling filth seemed to hesitate, sensing the possibility of self-destruction. I knew how. I saw the way when I first fought off the angelic presence. This time, I wouldn’t stop.
I guess the old saw about hesitating and losing even applies to hideous, bodiless beings that can’t be called he. The Enola Gay roared in out of the rising sun. Rising sun? The battleground disappeared as I opened my eyes, consigning the Enola Gay to the dustbin of history. It really was sunrise.
With the rest of my body locked in stasis, the first rays of sunlight wrung a vast surprise from the curse. The curse forced my mouth open and an indigo blackness swirled out and into the dog, lying still on the grass. Stalemate over, I lurched and found my left hand throttling the still-extended stake. I tried. God knows I tried, but I just couldn’t take that last step. My knees buckled. I hit the ground and fell forward.
Falling, I managed to get the stake out front and watched with savage glee as it tore through Fido, nailing it to the ground. I bounced once and landed facing the dog. The sun hit like a hammer of light. The dogthing writhed on the ground, its legs whipping back and forth. Fido tried to bite the stake, gnawing helplessly on the hardened wood as smoke billowed from its dying body. The fur burst into flames as the dog’s howls abruptly cut off. I smiled. Just a little.
I looked around in disgust, the angel still strong within me. I needed to get out. Pulling from reserves I didn’t know I had, I managed to haul myself vaguely upright. I limped back up the street, passing the dog’s former owner. He shook himself, staring around the yard at the piles of smoking furry cuties and some barbecued dog, all now rapidly turning to ash.
“Wha…,” he stammered. “What happened to my dog?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “Probably just something he ate.” I walked on before he could pull himself together enough to reply.
I wanted to check on Smith, but I couldn’t get past his wards. I saw a curtain flicker in the front window as Smith dodged back inside. He’d be okay. The fact I thought that was encouraging. The disciplines I learned after my first outbreak of angelitis came back quickly and seemed to be forcing the angel ba…
Jameson looked up. “But it’s over now, right?”
“Yez,” the voice buzzed. “Caze clozed. Take a few dayz off. Report to work on Monday.”
Wearily, Jameson levered himself up from the chair. He shuffled toward the door. There was no doorknob. He looked toward the speaker. A buzzer sounded and the door swung open. Jameson staggered into the brightly lit hallway, his form framed in the door by an ephemeral halo of light.
“Zhould we tell him about the toy doggie Janice put in hiz dezk?”
“No. Much funnier thiz way.”
Echoing down the corridor, a scream began, quickly building to a crescendo. From the speakers came the sound of buzzing, almost laughter.
“Yez. Much funnier.”
(c) Richard Jones, All Rights Reserved
Tags: Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Richard Jones, Short Story, The Hand that Feeds You, Vampire, Vampire Fiction
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