More demanding than either hunger or anger, I could feel the call of sleep. The pull of that little death was an irresistible and inescapable draw toward insensibility. It was a compulsion that exceeded even the need to feed, and yet on a normal day, I wouldn't even think about it. On a normal day, I would be wrapped up all tight and safe in my coffin, or sprawled out in my bed ready to welcome that cease of thought, of life, and all earthly concerns without worry. Except that this was not a normal day. My coffin was a stinking and sodden mess. Water. Smelly, stinking, dirty water was everywhere, leaking from my coffin all over my floor and staining the oak boards with its putrid essences. Personally, I wasn't much better, but that didn't mean that I'd sleep in that stinking heap.
I left my sodden clothes in a pile, raced for the shower, and rinsed myself off in freezing water and soap. I was almost asleep on my feet, but I was fast and still managed to scrub every inch of my skin and hair. When I was done, when the stench no longer clung to my skin, I wrapped myself in a huge, fluffy bathrobe and collapsed on my own soft, dry bed. I was immensely grateful that my home is fortified because I had neither the energy nor the inclination to check the security. Not as I could feel my eyelids close.
"Bitch," I whispered as sleep pulled me to its depths. But no one could hear me, least of all the bitch in question. She would know my anger when it was dark once more, and I left the safety of my refuge, my fortress, my cage, my home. I would visit upon her—and the Earth—the fullness of my rage. All right, I was irritated; so sue me. As far as I was concerned, my anger was justified. Just because I wanted to take it out on everyone and everything in my path didn't make it unreasonable, given the pain and discomfort I had endured. Someone had to pay.
I should explain, I suppose, and for this there was only one answer: a woman, of course. The love of my life and the bane of my existence. She was the one who chained and padlocked me inside my own coffin and left me to rot. Because of her, I spent twenty-seven days at the bottom of an inner city canal so polluted even the germs don't go there. Twenty-seven days without food, unable to move, not even to stretch. Twenty-seven days of thinking and waiting for something to happen. Twenty-seven days to consider the fullness of my embarrassment at being so easily bested. For embarrassment read anger, and twenty-seven days of anger had not helped my disposition. I am furious. Bitch!
On the brighter side, it could have been worse. I could have had one of those cheap, leaky, poorly-made pine things. That would have been a laugh. Do you know what happens to a vampire when they're submerged for any length of time? The skin slippage would have been so great that I'd have had to bring it home in a bucket. Is that what she wanted? What a bitch!
Thankfully, I didn't have a cheap coffin. Mine was a state of the art casket that looked like a seamless metal torpedo. It was high tech, something more in keeping with NASA than an undertaker. It was airtight, but as we breathe by habit rather than necessity, that wasn't a problem. It was lightproof, an essential consideration for daylight transportation, and for those times when other defenses are compromised. It was also shockproof and nigh on indestructible: a special design for the security conscious vamp looking for a little extra in household defenses. As an added bonus, there were no external locks. There was a very fine fifteen-point locking mechanism, but it was operated from the inside. Excruciatingly expensive, but worth every penny and then some; after all, I wanted to stop people getting inside when I was at my most disadvantaged, not when I was awake and could take care of myself. The important thing was that no one wanted to have their sleep disturbed by a stake to the heart. I think that we all have lockable caskets these days. Except for the cheapskates who get pine coffins; they might not bother, but that's their problem.
The beat of the house music in the club rang in my ears like the pulse of a thousand hearts. Thirsty, but not for anything served at the bar, I inhaled the scent, searching for the one that would make everything better for tonight. I knew she'd be close; some nights, I ended up pickier than others, but tonight, this one was special. She would be a gift to share with my Mistress. Helene deserved the very best, and I was determined to find this girl. I walked slowly through the crowd, avoiding the splash of drinks and the wandering hands of men that I could shatter into pieces. In years passed, with slightly less control over my temper, I had done just that.
I was getting closer. She came into view, blonde, her heart-shaped face perfected with pouty, glistening lips, ready to be taken. The muscles in my body tightened as my mind wandered to what I wanted to do with her. How I wanted her to want me, want Helene so badly she begged for us. For the ultimate release that only Helene and I could provide. I could smell her, the sweat on her skin from dancing and the dampness in her panties from the arousal the evening had provided her. She was beautiful. I'd never seen a more exquisite piece of art than I saw in her face. Having traveled the world and seen more than anyone's natural share of beauty, it was impressive that someone hadn't already gobbled her up. Tall, but not too tall, and soft in the right places, she felt right in a way I couldn't explain. As it was, I preferred to think about her and the searing life that pounded through her with each heartbeat. I could hear her distinctly over the sounds in the club. She was moving, breathing music, and I wanted to appreciate her more fully.
Moving my body with the music, I lured her with heated looks and teasing touches until she danced with me. I preferred this than just trying to talk. We'd seen each other before, but it was her turn this time to return home with me. The physicality of grinding against each other, with my hands sliding to her waist and her legs shifting to allow mine between them, was a sensual delight even as it tried my patience and restraint. She laughed, spilling her cocktail onto my dress. She was an excruciating, oblivious tease, but I'd get what I wanted.
"Hey! Sorry about that!" she called over the music. She could have whispered; I'd have heard every syllable.
"Not a problem," I said, barely noticing the stain on my dress. My mind was on the stark whiteness of the sheets that I wanted to stain with her. No, the goal was not to bleed her to death, but the thought sent a shiver through me. I gave her a small smile. "Will you help me blot it out?" Her eyes were on me, and I could tell she wanted what I would offer her.
She nodded and took my hand, swaying only slightly on her heels as she made her way through the press of bodies, leading me first to the bar. "Seltzer should get that out," she said, as if she had plenty of experience with this kind of thing. The bartender handed her the seltzer water, a small smirk settling on his features as he watched her curl herself more into me. She drained her bubble gum pink drink and set the glass down. I wanted her there, against the bar, our bodies grinding as I drank her down. I swallowed thickly, not allowing her to see just what kind of plans I had for her. I had no reason to make her fear this. I didn't want her afraid; Helene liked fear in the blood from time to time, not me.
We crossed from the bar to the restroom. She closed the door behind us, pulling me into the light to start working the pink stain out my yellow dress. Her warm hands felt good through the light fabric, warming the coolness of my flesh. I imagined her mouth would do the same. She looked at me, and I saw lust as plainly as I saw the haze of drunkenness in her eyes. "You've been watching me tonight," she murmured, pressing close as her hands drifted away from the stain on my side, up toward my breasts. She was a forward little morsel; Helene would be as pleased as I was.
I decided to play coy with her, let her think she controlled the situation. If I had wanted to, I could've killed her here without a blink, but I wanted her. I wanted the slow burn. She pressed me against the tile wall, leaning up to kiss me. I parted my lips, allowing her tongue to slip between them. She tasted like cotton candy and desire, and I wanted to give her everything she craved and more. I wanted to take her to heights she'd yearn for the rest of her life.
"You're so lovely, everyone was watching you," I murmured, faking casualness.
Tugging the top of my dress down, she dragged her thumbs across my nipples, making them peak. Certain processes didn't stop just because my heart had. I groaned softly, spreading my legs to allow her to slide closer to me, my hands trailed down her back and over her ass. I wanted to hike up the tiny spandex dress she'd slithered into, exposing her. I wanted her bare to me, but I'd survive for now. The tiny thong she had on just teased me. Her head dipped to my throat as she spoke. "Tell me why you watched me."
My body clenched at the command. I wanted to show her what true power was and how to stroke it to its full potential.
I took a breath, enjoying the feel of her human teeth sliding across my neck as she pinched one of my nipples. She was teasing me with roughness, and I had to fight for control. "I thought you were beautiful," I answered. "And I wanted you. I want you." The words fell from me, truthful, but unexpected. I couldn't remember the last time I'd confessed having desire for anyone but Helene, much less confessed and meant it. It was usually a means to an end, but on this sultry evening, with this girl, it was truth.
Julie took a long look at the gate in front of her. It was an old-fashioned sort, with wrought iron bars starting an inch from the ground. Too close together for a person to fit through, even one as skinny as her.
She tried the bell one last time. No answer. Just like last night, and yesterday morning. And the day before that. She looked up at the wall-mounted security camera and waved, trying out her most ingratiating smile. Still nothing.
She slid the large purse off her shoulder and slipped it through the gate. No need to make this more difficult than it had to be. She grabbed two adjoining bars and hoisted herself up. Once her chest was even with her hands, she wedged her feet together between the bars. With this to support her, she reached up again, first one hand, then the other. She repeated the maneuver over and over again. It was slow going. The bars were worn and difficult to grip. A couple times she almost slipped. But she hadn't come this far to be turned away by a simple gate.
Once over, she grabbed the purse and continued on to the house. It was a sizable property, especially for one person. The nearest neighbors were several miles away, the closest town farther than that. Cassandra Vulmer valued her privacy, and Julie respected that—in theory. But she wasn't about to let it stop her.
She rang the doorbell and waited. If Dr. Vulmer were home, Julie figured, she'd come to the door, if only to confront the person so flagrantly trespassing on her property. She was about to ring again when she heard a voice from inside, strong, undiminished by time. "Who's there?"
"My name is Juliette Sanders. I've come to talk with you, Dr. Vulmer."
"I'm sorry, you've got the wrong house. Dr. Vulmer moved away a long time ago."
Of course she wouldn't just open the door to a stranger. Julie reproached herself for believing the gate would be the only obstacle. But every problem had a solution.
"I hadn't realized. Sorry to have bothered you." She waited a beat, not long enough to let the speaker make it far from the door. "Just one thing I don't understand. If Dr. Vulmer doesn't live here, why are her checks still delivered to this address? And why have you been cashing them?"
There was a long pause. Julie waited. "I think you're mistaken. They're probably being forwarded."
"Could be. Except I just came from the post office. As far as they're concerned, this is still the correct address." She waited again, but this time there was no response. "I'm sure you're right, and it's all one big mix-up. Still, I'll have to let my bosses know they've been sending checks to the wrong address. I'm sure they'll want to look into it."
Julie knew that would do the trick. She hated to threaten her hero like this, but it was the only way. Of course she was bluffing. She'd never tell Otrevetech. They'd had their chance with Dr. Vulmer. Now it was her turn.
The door swung open, and Julie steeled herself for the moment of truth. But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw next. Standing right in front of her, only inches between them, was Dr. Vulmer. Exactly as she'd looked fifty years ago.
For once in her life, Julie was at a loss for words. "Dr. Vulmer," she managed to stammer.
"I'm afraid it's only Miss," the woman answered. "Dr. Vulmer is my grandmother."
When Julie didn't respond, the woman spoke again. "Why don't you come in?" she suggested, and Julie followed her to the living room. "Sorry for the story I fed you. It's just that grandmother doesn't like visitors. Every few years we have a reporter show up looking to do one of those ‘where are they now?' pieces."
Dr. Vulmer's doppelganger sat down on a large burgundy sofa, and motioned for Julie to do the same. The furniture, like the house that contained it, gave the impression of being rather old, but in meticulous shape. Yet the place was also a little drab, lacking any sort of decoration or distinctive style. Functional, was the word that jumped to Julie's mind. The place was functional, a mere shell for the daily routines of living that occurred within. It reminded Julie of her lab, minus a few layers of clutter.
"I hadn't realized you worked for Otrevetech," Ms. Vulmer continued. "Not that she wants much to do with them either. If she had her way, we'd cut off all communication. But I'm afraid taking care of her and this house is something of a full-time job, and those residuals are all we have to live on. There isn't a problem with the checks, is there?"
"No, Miss Vulmer, that's not why I'm here."
"Please, call me Kara." Her tone was warm and friendly, but the stony expression on her face never seemed to change.
"And you can call me Julie. You know, the resemblance really is remarkable. Except for the hair, and maybe the skin tone, you look exactly like Cassandra Vulmer."
"Yes, so everyone's always said." The voice was as pleasant as before, but the meaning behind the words was clear: get to the point or get moving.
"Could I see your grandmother?" Julie asked. "I've come a long way to talk with her."
"I'm sure you have." Kara seemed to be avoiding the question of how Julie made it past the gate, and Julie was happy to follow suit. "Can I ask what it was that brought you all the way out here, if it's not business related?"
"I didn't say that, exactly," Julie answered, choosing her words carefully. "It's not about the checks. But it is about work. Specifically, my work. I'm a biochemical researcher focusing on cellular regeneration theory, the same area your grandmother specialized in. In fact, pretty much everything I've done is based on her theories. Though lately, I'm afraid I've hit something of a wall. I've run my research by colleagues from my own and other departments, and their feedback has been helpful, to a point. But only to a point. What I'm doing now is beyond them. It may be beyond me as well. But your grandmother, I just know she could help me sort it out."
"Now I understand why you're so determined. But I'm afraid it's impossible. She's not well enough to see anyone. Doctor's orders."
Jayne stretched her tight back muscles, twisting to work out the kinks. She had been working on her boat, a little sailboat cruiser she loved to take out on the sunny days so common in California. Often at night, she worked on the inside, refurbishing it, polishing the wood, putting in new cabinets, decorating. Nothing soothed her like the sea, and the money she made taking tourists out to see the dolphins let her do what she loved most. It also allowed her time to do her research papers on paranormal literature, her other passion. Although she had a doctorate in paranormal literature, the sea's call had been too strong, so she had combined her interests to suit her, and so far it had worked well. A knock at her door made her frown. No one ever visited, and this time of night the marina was deserted. She opened it cautiously to find the most stunning woman she'd ever seen looking at her with what appeared to be amusement.
"Good evening. Ms. Jayne Green?"
Jayne nodded, tongue tied by the woman's stunning handsome beauty and the heavy Greek accent.
"I've come to offer a business proposition. May I come in?"
"Of course. Sorry, how rude of me. Please, have a seat. Would you like a drink?"
The woman's eyes traveled her body blatantly, and Jayne wondered for a moment if she'd forgotten to put on clothes.
"No, thank you. I don't wish to take too much of your time. My name is Eleni Demetriou. I am familiar with your work on the history of paranormal creatures, as you call them, and I'm also aware of your fine reputation as a captain. I'm in need of someone with those two traits to work for me."
Jayne settled on the opposite end of the couch and pulled her legs under her. "Why those two traits in particular, if I may ask?"
Eleni smiled and took Jayne's hand. Her skin was icy cold and suddenly Jayne noticed the slight bluish tint to her lips and the subtle dark circles under her eyes. A feeling of unease began to crawl up her spine.
"Because, Ms. Green, I have a boat. And I have a... special... crew. A crew in need of absolute discretion and someone interested in first-hand knowledge of how they live."
Jayne swallowed and slid her hand from Eleni's. "Special how?"
"Shall I show you?"
Before Jayne could respond, Eleni looked at the door. A moment later, a young woman entered and went straight to Eleni. Her eyes were glazed, and she didn't seem to see anything around her.
Eleni tugged the woman to her knees and pulled the woman's head back, baring her neck. She looked at Jayne steadily and lowered her mouth to the woman's neck. As Jayne watched, Eleni's canines extended to razor sharp points and plunged into the woman's neck.
Jayne gasped and put a hand over her mouth, but she wasn't sure if she was appalled or fascinated. She watched Eleni's throat work as she drank from the young woman, her crystalline blue eyes never leaving Jayne's. Eleni pulled back when the woman sagged and caught a small drop of blood from her canines on her tongue before they receded. Jayne nearly leaned forward to watch the process, the researcher in her curious about the mechanics. Eleni stood and pulled the young woman into her arms, carried her to the door, and handed her to someone standing outside. Suddenly, Jayne realized the position she was in.
She stood and held up her hands. "Wait. What? You're a vampire. Yeah, okay. I've always figured they existed—you existed—which you know because you've read my research papers. But... what?"
Jayne hadn't seen her move, but suddenly Eleni was right in front of her, their faces only inches apart. Her fingertips traced circles on Jayne's forearms, and she whispered, "Just think. You could travel with us. Learn about the things you've only guessed at. Most humans who watched what you just did would run screaming. But you want to know how my teeth work, don't you?"
Jayne nodded, embarrassed but honest. "What are you offering? Because I have no desire to become a vampire. I'm a vegetarian, for God's sake."
"We don't need another vampire. We need a human we can trust to watch the boat, to hire crew who can handle what we are. We need someone who can sail while we sleep and be ready when we get back." Eleni took a piece of Jayne's hair and slid it through her fingers. "A human like you."
"And if I say no? If I like my little boat and business and quiet life where I don't have to worry about people being eaten?"
Eleni shrugged. "That's a rather crude way to put it, though not inaccurate. But I don't think you'll say no. Your research papers are met with ridicule, you barely make enough money to buy the food you need, and the tourist season has been drying up here. If you don't take my offer, by next spring you'll be working at a desk, the walls closing in on you as you listen to the inane talk of your office colleagues."
Jayne shuddered slightly. It was all true. But still... "I need to consider it. I don't make impulsive decisions, and what you're asking isn't exactly normal."
"Of course. I would expect no less. I'll come back in two days, at the same time, if that's okay with you?"
Jayne nodded, aware that someone like Eleni needed no one's permission. For anything.
"Very well. 'Til then."
She left without a sound or backward glance. The cabin felt cavernous and empty without her presence.
Gert let herself into the laboratory in the weak, dawn light as she did every morning. No one was there this early in the morning, which was how Gert liked it. She hung up her hat, overcoat, and walking stick at the coat rack. Pulling off her jacket, she threw it across her desk before undoing her cufflinks and turning up the sleeves of her shirt to the elbows.
The Society's laboratory had been built as a warehouse, close to the waterfront. Now, it was just one long, big room. The floor was tiled, and there was a row of desks closest to the door and examination tables beyond. Next to the examination table were the worktables with equipment on them. Gert scrubbed her arms and hands in the sink to the right of the main area and pulled on a white smock. The fresh bodies were already out on metal examination tables in the center of the room, which told Gert that they had been delivered earlier that morning.
The two new bodies were not in particularly good shape, but that was hardly new. The choice cadavers went to the University. The Society, meanwhile, had to make do with the unclaimed bodies of petty criminals.
This morning, one of the bodies in particular looked in bad shape, bloated and a little purple. Gert was going to guess he'd been in the water for a little time at least. The Society's experiments worked best on fresh bodies, so Gert marked the body as not suitable for full body galvanization. It could, however, still be used for parts. Gert took the tag she'd been jotting notes on, tied it around the body's left toe, and went to get the saws.
She'd set one of the saws to the corpse's leg when it moved, trembling just a little bit. Frowning, Gert set the saw aside and leaned closer, watching carefully. The trembling came again, from the trunk of the body. Frown deepening, Gert prodded the stomach area. It moved again, distinct movement this time, and Gert stifled a sigh. Probably a rat, caught in the body when it had been in the harbor or wherever it had been. Maybe if she was very lucky, it would be just a gas pocket. Gert went to get a knife.
As she sliced into the body, the movement increased, becoming more frantic. Gert resigned herself to it being a rat, which she would most likely have to chase and kill. Gert had managed to make a hole half-way down the abdomen when something black shot out, along with a spray of putrid smelling liquid. Stumbling back, Gert dropped the knife and prepared to go for the rat.
Only it wasn't a rat. Instead, something oozed out of the body on the table, black and glistening, with a slimy greenish tinge where the light hit it. As Gert watched, it continued to emerge, Long appendages trailed down to the floor and were followed by a larger, slick black blob and something that looked like a long, spindly clawed hand. The smell that filled the laboratory was even worse than that of the body: putrefying flesh mixed with decaying plant matter and something sharp and almost metallic underneath.
Gert backed up until she ran into her desk. The thing fell to the floor with a wet slap, lifted itself on the black appendages like some sort of huge, meaty spider, and then began to turn. Gert caught a glimpse of numerous red eyes and a huge maw of jagged teeth before self preservation kicked in and she threw herself behind the desk.
The thing shrieked, a high-pitched, inhuman noise that seemed to go on and on. Gert could hear wet slapping noise as it scuttled across the tiled floor of the laboratory. The creature let out another gurgling scream, and Gert peered around her desk and wished she hadn't. The creature had pulled itself into the table with the body and was in the process of eating half of it, starting with the head. Fluids and brain matter dripped from the table and pooled on the floor while more smeared across the creature's tentacle appendages and misshapen body.
Its gaping mouth seemed to have hundreds of teeth in it, now decorated with bits of flesh, blood, and brains. Gert very slowly retreated further back behind her desk, and then turned to look at the door to the laboratory. The space between her desk and the door was not very far. Maybe she could make a run for it before the monster caught her. Maybe it wouldn't even try.
Standing, she launched herself at the door behind her. The creature screamed. Something slimy and slick wrapped around her arm with bruising force. Gert stumbled as she was pulled backward and slammed hard into the coat rack. It fell with a crash, and she landed on top of it with a pained shout.
The monster let out a series of chittering clicks and advanced on her. Rolling off the coat rack, Gert scrambled away on hands and knees. One knee slid into something hard that rolled away on the tile, and glancing down, Gert saw her walking stick. Fingers closing around the stick, Gert swung it in an arc toward the creature as it reared up over her. The stick collided with the creature making a soft, wet thud. It gave a long rattling hiss, and Gert hit it again, and then again. The creature let out another higher sound, falling back a pace, as Gert kept hitting, striking out widely, not leaving herself room to think.
Continuing to back away, the creature's noises became higher, more desperate sounding. A tentacle shot out, striking Gert along the left side of her body like a whip. She stumbled back as pain exploded down her left side, jarring all the way up to the top of her skull and down her leg to her foot. Another tentacle lashed out at her again, and Gert swung wildly, smacking it with the cane with all her strength. The creature screamed and reared back. Then, it scuttled backward and slammed full body into the laboratory door. There was a loud crack and bang as the door gave way under its weight.
Then, the creature was gone.