Chapter 8: To Hell and Back

I opened my eyes to total darkness. I was lying on my back, hands on my chest, and as I tried to move, I realized I was in a casket. I could feel the silk padding against my arms. I almost panicked, but when I pushed up, the lid came open. Light flooded in, the brightest light I’d ever seen. I covered my face with my hands and the lid dropped back down.

Okay, don’t freak out, I thought to myself. You’re not hurt or dead. That’s good. You just don’t know where you are. Retrace your steps. What’s the last thing you remember?

“That son of a bitch tried to fucking kill me,” I seethed. My voice died on the narrow, padded walls of the coffin.

In the dark, I felt for the damage. Wherever I was, it seemed I was among friends; someone had mended my wounds. My fingers traveled along stitches that wrapped around the left side of my neck, and more that ran from the corners of my mouth almost back to my ears. The cut on my neck didn’t seem too bad, but my face felt like a wreck.

I tried to think back to after Kelly had left me for dead, but it was fuzzy. All I remembered was drinking. What it was and where it had come from, I had no idea. I just knew it was the most amazing thing I’d ever tasted. Then I realized I was very, very thirsty. I felt like I could chug an entire two-liter of Coke.

Finally, I thought I should get out of the box I was in and figure out where I was, but the thought of the blinding light wasn’t encouraging. Still, I was probably running out of air. There was no telling how long I had been lying there, unconscious and breathing in precious oxygen. I decided to risk going blind instead of suffocating to death. Slowly, I pushed up on the lid of the coffin. Light showed through the tiny opening, but it wasn’t as bright as before. I opened it little by little, giving my eyes time to adjust, until I could open the lid completely. I sat up and looked around.

I was in some kind of bedroom. The casket I found myself in was black, lined inside with red satin, and had that old-fashioned diamond shape. There was another coffin across the room from mine, wooden with a Celtic cross intricately carved on the lid. It had no hinges, but the lid was pushed aside at an angle and the inside was empty.

The room had panoramic windows on two walls—the corner of the building—and the other two had doors. I climbed out of the coffin and looked outside. It was just after sunset. The room appeared to be three stories up. In the distance, I could see Arlington Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the city, located near the river, downtown. That was a relief. I wasn’t far from home.

On the wide, shelf-like window sill, I found another sight that comforted me. There was a plain black t-shirt and a brand new pair of jeans in a folded pile. On top was a slip of paper that read in hand-scrawled ink, “JAKE.” I looked down at myself. I was filthy. My hair was matted and ratty. My clothes were stiff with dried blood. The white ankh on my torn shirt had turned a sickly reddish-brown.

“Dammit,” I murmured aloud. “I loved this shirt.”

I decided to clean myself up before I put on the new clothes, so I picked up the pile and searched for a way out of the room. I went toward the door on the shorter wall, but only found a closet. It was filled with clothes befitting a punk rock chick. I smirked a little.

Yeah. I’m definitely among good company.

I went to the other door. It opened into a roomy loft with another panoramic window in the back wall. The front of the room had another door, a massive home theater system, shelves upon shelves of VHS tapes, DVD’s, CD’s, cassettes, records, and books, a long black sofa, matching recliner, matching love seat, the three of which were arranged around a coffee table on a black rug. A door in the back of the room led to the bathroom.

“Hello?” I called. “Anyone home?”

There was no response. I was alone, at least for the moment. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. When I switched on the light, I gasped and spun away from the reflection in the mirror above the sink. I hadn’t seen much of it, but what I had seen was terrifying. Steeling myself, I turned and looked back up into what I realized wasn’t a glass mirror, but a large sheet of polished metal in a frame. The parts of my face that weren’t covered in coagulated blood were ghostly white, there were dark circles around my eyes, and my eyes themselves looked weird. The green of my irises was too bright.

But the worst part had to be the horrific grimace. There were black stitches holding the sides of my face together, or so it appeared at first. The corners of my mouth were slightly turned up by the tightening of the scar tissue.

Holy shit, it’s healed up already! How long was I unconscious?

The edges of the cuts looked like my face had been ripped in half, rather than sliced with a knife. I looked like the villain from a gory ’80’s horror movie, with a permanent, carved-in, rictus grin.

That bastard is gonna pay for fucking up my good looks.

I shuddered and turned my back to the mirror to undress. Dead grass, twigs, dirt, and flakes of dried blood fell out of my clothes as I shuffled out of them. It didn’t give me much hope for my beloved motorcycle jacket. It was probably torn up to hell and back.

To hell and back, I thought. Just like me.

I climbed into the deep bathtub and pulled the curtain closed. I cranked the hot water up as high as it would go, and turned on the shower. I cringed, waited for the water to scald me, but it felt surprisingly good. It was only then that I realized how cold I was. I didn’t feel cold, and I wasn’t shivering, but steam billowed off me like crazy. I also realized that it wasn’t just my face that was pale. Every inch of my flesh was white, from head to toe.

I scrubbed out my hair with the shampoo I found on the rack. It took a while to get all the blood and dirt out. Then I washed everything else with a bar of soap until the water running down the drain at my feet was clear.

When I turned off the water, I wasn’t alone anymore. I could hear Dropkick Murphys playing in the other room. I dried off and put on the new clothes, threw the filthy ones in a laundry basket next to the toilet, and came out to meet my host.

Make that “hostess.” On the sofa was a girl, probably in her late teens, with a mane of fiery red hair, piercing hazel eyes surrounded in thick black eyeliner, pouty red lips, porcelain-pale skin, wearing a black shirt with a red Y-incision printed on it, a short pleated skirt with green plaid, and black tights over curvy legs going down into black boots.

Praise Jesus, I’ve died and gone to rock ‘n’ roll heaven!

She twisted around and smiled with perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. “I was wondering when you’d wake up,” she said. She had a little bit of an accent. Irish, no doubt.

“Yeah… Where are we?” I asked, needing to get to the bottom of things before I could focus on how incredibly hot the stranger was. “And who are you?”

“This is my place,” she answered, gesturing to the room. “And I’m O’Malley. Have a seat.” She patted the spot next to her. I walked over and sat down. “I suppose you have a lotta questions,” she guessed.

“A million,” I replied. “First, did you do… this?” I pointed at my face and neck.

“No. A friend of mine who found you did it before I could arrive.”

I remembered the unfamiliar voice. Hang in there, mate. She’s coming.

“Why didn’t you take me to a hospital or something? And how did I get here?” I questioned.

Her brow furrowed. She was choosing her answer carefully, I could see that. I didn’t like it.

“I know this’ll be hard for you to believe, but the bleeding had stopped by the time we got you out of the ditch.”

She was right. It was hard to believe.

“How long was I out?”

“Four days,” she said. “It’s Tuesday night.”

That was disappointing. I was supposed to drive Sarah home from school on Monday. And it didn’t explain how the hell my wounds had already scarred over.

“And… the coffin?” I ventured. The whole situation was weird, but waking up in a casket was probably the weirdest part.

“For protection.”

“From what?”

She sighed and got to her feet. Something about her body language told me she had some very bad news. She paced for a moment with her hands on her hips, and said quietly, “Look, you have to understand, this isn’t how I wanted it to happen. But you were dying, and I had to make a choice.”

“What choice?” I asked, whispering without meaning to.

“To have you drink my blood,” she replied, stopping and turning to look at me, “and to make you like me.”

A shock of dread went through me. “Gross! What are you talking about? I never…”

I remembered the warm liquid running down my throat, spreading warmth through my body, pulling my soul back, bringing me…

“…back to life…” I whispered to myself, the realization too strong to keep in my head. I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that something was terribly wrong. Everything around me became dreamlike, chimerical, sinister, like a nightmare. But I couldn’t wake up. I jumped to my feet, shouting, “What the fuck did you do to me?”

“I saved your life,” she said.

“Bullshit!” I shouted, all at once forgetting my rule about not cursing in front of girls. “I bled to death! I know—I was there! Now where am I? Hell? Limbo? ‘Cause this sure as fuck isn’t heaven!”

She said nothing and stared up at me, unwavering. “Let me correct myself,” she offered, and I took a deep breath and let it out. “You died, and I brought you back. And more than that. I’ve given you eternal life, endless youth, superhuman strength, magical powers, and invincibility.”

I sat back down on the edge of the sofa and put my head in my hands. “Y’know…” I murmured, “I said I’d trade my soul for Rammstein tickets, not any of this… It was kind of a figure of speech anyway.”

“I’m not the Devil, Grin,” she denied with a laugh. “Just a vampire.”

“Oh, well, that’s a whole ‘nother…”

Hang on. Stop. Wait a minute.

Off the expression on my face, she explained, “You heard me. I’m a vampire. And now, you are, too. You’re immortal. You’ll never age, as long as you drink blood. You can only be wounded momentarily, and you’ll heal almost instantly. You can change your body at will into bats or a wolf. And any strength you had in life is multiplied twentyfold.”

I looked up and cocked my head. “Are you being serious?”

“Absolutely.”

I shook my head and laughed. “Shit. I was freaking out for a second, there.”

She seemed confused. “You mean you’re okay with this?”

“Of course,” I said, getting to my feet again and looking around the room for my jacket and boots. “So, hey, thanks for rescuing me and everything, but I think I can take it from here.”

I spotted my jacket on a hook by the door and strode over to put it on. My boots were against the wall, below it. I put them on first, and then began to pull on my jacket. It had been cleaned up nicely, and the leather was buffed and shiny.

“Where’re you going?” she asked suspiciously.

“Home,” I said. I opened the door and smiled at her. “Nice to have met you, O’Malley.”

She gave me a knowing smile that put ice on my spine. “You think I’m crazy.”

“Not at all!” I denied, trying not to piss her off. I could feel that my switchblade was in my jacket pocket. Good. If she was one of the violent types, I’d be able to defend myself. “I just really need to get home.”

“And do what?” she asked. It seemed like she was humoring me. That wasn’t right. I was supposed to be the one humoring her.

“What else? Kill the bastard who tried to kill me.” I stepped backward onto the dark landing. “Thanks again,” I repeated kindly, and closed the door between us. I started down the steps and let out a long breath, then laughed in relief. “Fucking vampires. Holy shit.”

The stairs turned at the second story landing and I descended another flight, down to the ground floor. At the end of a dark hallway, I saw an exit light, and went toward the door. It led out into a dirty alley. I went out onto the main road and found the building was an Irish pub called Lanigan’s.

Remember to avoid that one when you turn 21, Grin, I advised myself.

As I walked down the gritty strip that was becoming lively after dark, I searched my pockets. My wallet was in the inner pocket of my jacket. All my money was still there, my ID, and a rubber. My pack of cigarettes was in the left pocket, but it was crushed. One of them was intact enough to smoke, so I took it out with my lips and threw the rest away as I passed a trash can. I lit it with the lighter I still had. Only my keys were missing, left in the ignition of my Triumph.

Damn, I thought sadly. My baby is probably totaled.

I’d worry about my bike later. For the moment, I had to get out of there and find a cab to Findlay, or at least a phone. I wondered in passing if I should report the crazy girl. Then I wondered why the hottest ones are always the craziest.

The crowd was thinning out as I walked farther, and the neon lights were fading behind me. Bats squeaked overhead. It didn’t bother me at first, but then it got louder as more joined in. When I finally looked up, I stopped in my tracks and my jaw dropped, the cigarette falling on the sidewalk. It seemed like a cloud of bats was hovering above me. And they were fucking huge. I walked a little faster and tried to tell myself they weren’t stalking me, that it was just my imagination, I was just shaken up because I’d narrowly escaped a psychopath who wanted to drink my blood, and now it felt like everything was after me. But suddenly, they all dive-bombed me at once! I ducked and ran into an alley, knowing now that it wasn’t my imagination. They were rabid or something. But they followed me still, chasing me to a dead end. I crouched in the corner and covered my head, certain I was about to be attacked and shredded by little, disease-ridden claws and teeth.

But they didn’t attack.

I peeked over my arm and saw the bats had gathered near to me, shrieking and swarming in a tornado of leathery wings. They came closer and closer together, impossibly close, and formed an opaque mass. The squeaks and flutters died as the mass took a humanoid form until O’Malley was standing in front of me, just as I had seen her in the loft.

She gave me a crooked smirk and crossed her arms. “Still think I’m crazy?” she asked.

It took me a long time to speak, but I croaked, “No, but… I think I might be…”

She laughed musically and reached her hand down to me. I didn’t move.

“Hey,” she said gently. I met her eyes. “Who else’re ya gonna trust?”

I hated to admit it, but she had a point. I gave her my hand and she pulled me up with a strength I didn’t expect from a girl her size. I leaned back against the wall, feeling suddenly exhausted.

“So… It’s all true?” I asked soberly. “That dick killed me and now I’m a… a vampire?”

“It took me months to accept it, when I was turned,” she told me. “You won’t get used to it quickly.”

I sighed and let my chin fall to my chest, staring down at the ground. My boots had earned a few new scuffs, I noticed. I ran my hand back through my hair and held my bangs out of my face, thinking hard. It had all happened. My wounds healing completely in just a few days, the fact that I was still around after bleeding out, how O’Malley had transformed into fucking bats

But part of me still couldn’t believe it. Hell, if you were in my place, could you?

“Prove it to me,” I said.

She smiled at me understandingly. “Take out your switchblade,” she instructed.

I took out the knife and flicked it open.

“Cut your palm.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” I muttered. Nevertheless, I put the sharp tip against my palm and jerked the blade across. It hardly hurt as much as I’d expected, and it barely even bled.

“Watch,” she said.

The cut remained for a long moment, and I thought nothing would happen. Then the dark blood began to creep back toward the wound. It crawled back into the slashed skin and, slowly, my flesh mended. The cut was gone. I opened and closed my fist a few times. Good as new.

“Holy shit,” I gasped, and slid down against the wall, back to the ground.

“That took way too long. You need to feed.” She stood over me, scrutinizing me, and finally said, “But first, we’ll have to do something about your face.”

I winced. “Is it really that bad?”

“It’s not… too bad,” she said carefully, crouching in front of me and examining my face and neck. “But it’s enough to draw attention, and right now, that’s the last thing you want. Gimme your knife.”

I handed it to her and she began to slice through the stitches on my neck.

“Everyone thinks you’re dead,” she went on, “but if anyone were to recognize you, especially the arsehole who gave you those cuts in the first place, the world could become a dangerous place.”

I laughed darkly. “I thought we were the dangerous things.”

She pulled the threads from my neck and tossed them away, then turned my head to the right to work on the left side of my face. I knew it was neither the time nor the place, but I couldn’t help but notice how her fingers felt on my skin. I cleared my throat to distract myself.

“There’re vampire hunters out there,” she explained. “Most of ’em are mortals, which’re fairly easy to go up against. They have plenty of weaknesses, but we have very few.”

The stitches were removed and she turned my head the other way.

“But there are some vampires, the old and powerful ones, who sometimes kill their own kind. If one of us is a big enough threat to our secrecy, they’ll stop at nothing to eliminate that threat.”

She turned the switchblade around, put the handle in my palm, and closed my fingers around it, staring into my eyes.

“And right now, that threat may be you.”

“What are you talking about? I haven’t done anything,” I argued, getting to my feet.

“Your existence itself is enough. At least, until you’re declared dead.”

She stood too, and took my chin between her thumb and finger, turning and tilting my head, examining the scars.

“C’mon, just tell me how ugly I am,” I sighed.

She laughed. “It’s not that bad. Sorta reminds me of… Eric Draven.”

I smiled a little. I could deal with that. Eric Draven had been my Halloween costume of choice every year since I was ten.

“But let’s keep this fringe in your face, aye?” she suggested, combing her fingers through my bangs and bringing them farther forward. I wore them parted down the center, and they reached down to my jaw—long and thick enough to hide the sides of my face a little. “Eh. It’s not perfect, but it helps a bit,” she said, and turned back toward the street.

“Where are we going now?” I asked, hurrying to catch up and walk beside her.

“Lesson one,” was all she said.

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