Bloodsuckers

Something happened to him last night, and he’s desperate to figure out what. What are his nightmares trying to show him, with their formless colours and half-remembered faces? Where did this sickness come from? Why can nothing quench his rabid hunger? And, most urgently of all, why does he suddenly feel so… inhuman?
He doesn’t remember much about that night, but one thing's for sure: this is no ordinary hangover.
WARNING: EXTREMELY STRONG BLOODY VIOLENCE AND GORE ARE CENTRAL TO THIS STORY. EFFECTIVELY R-RATED BUT KEPT YELLOW FOR LOYAL READERS :)

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6. Heaven's Devils

Scotty had never been into his university’s art building before, and to be honest, he’d been expecting more of the stuff on display in the corridors to be… well, art. He hadn’t seen a single portrait, or a single still-life, or a single sculpture that was even vaguely recognisable as any kind of existing object- in fact, every canvas he’d seen was just sort of covered in mulches of paper and ink, or ragged strips of paint-caked string that reminded him of entrails. On the way, he stopped to read a few plaques, and by the time he’d reached the door of the only open workshop, he’d come to realise that artistic talent was no longer based on drawing something realistic, or beautiful, or even familiar. Instead, the key to modern art seemed to rest solely in coming up with a dramatic enough title, or a sufficiently heart-wrenching subject matter. After concocting a sob story for your project, it was probably possible to take a shit on the floor and sell it as self-expression. God, Scotty fucking hated art. Then again, that was probably just because he was awful at it. He wondered if Maria was any better.

He stopped outside the door, craning his neck through the sliver of gridded glass to see if he could spot anyone he recognised amongst the throng of kids sticking nails into corkboard and throwing paint at screwed-up tissues and cutting letters out of magazines. The fuck? Maybe he was taking the wrong course after all. Surely even he would be able to pass this degree. A boy passed right in front of the window, carrying a fistful of paintbrushes; he wasn’t wearing an apron, like the other kids, but that didn’t seem to matter, because the paint covering his hands was the same colour as every last scrap of his clothing: black. His hair was sticking up vertically and he was wearing thick eyeliner and a ring in his nose; Scotty took a moment to recognise him. He was pretty sure it was the boy who’d been sitting on the bench the night he met Maria.

He breathed in. This isn’t weird. What are you on about?

He breathed out and opened the door, making his way through the fog of paint and chemical fumes to where bench boy was sitting, trailing a paintbrush over a piece of paper in lazy circles. Scotty cleared his throat, but the boy didn’t look up.

“Um… uh, excuse me?”

The boy turned round. “Yeah?”

“Uh, I was looking for, um…” Scotty rolled his eyes across the room. “Your friend? Maria? You know her, right?”

The boy laughed. “Oh, yeah. Scotty, right?”

Scotty sighed in frustration. “Yep.”

“Maria told us about what happened with you.”

“Uh- huh.” Scotty imagined what she’d told her friends; that he’d stopped talking altogether after a while and left her without so much as a mumbled explanation? Yeah. That she’d scared the crap out of him; that he was pathetic? Probably. How about the fact that she’d laughed as he walked away? She’d had a gentle laugh, but she’d soon dissolved into hysterics, bouncing an oddly thunderous giggle through the sky as he hurried back to his flat. She might’ve left that part out. Wouldn’t want her miserable goth friends who lived in the kids’ playground to think she was weird, would she?

“Look,” Scotty said. “Do you know where she is? I really need to talk to her.”

Bench guy stayed quiet for a second, withering Scotty with his cartoonishly outlined eyes like he thought he was stupid. Then, he nodded into the far corner of the room.

“She’s over there.”

“Oh.”

Scotty could hear the faint sound of slightly off-key singing coming from the corner, and there was someone standing there, hidden from view by a massive blank canvas. The canvas rocked like someone had walked into it from behind, the singing stopped, and a cheerful “fuck!” jumped over the easel towards him.

“Thanks.” He said to the boy, and then started walking slowly towards the corner. Whoever was standing behind the canvas was wearing a pair of lace-up leather boots with sky-high platforms, dancing and twirling in circles in time with her completely rhythmless singing. As Scotty watched, Maria emerged, looking down at her phone until she caught sight of him watching her. Yet again, she smiled at him like he was the person she wanted to see the most in the whole world. In the white light of day, her braces were gold, as was all her jewellery; her hair and skin were even paler than they’d seemed last night, but everything that had been purple was still just as purple as ever.

“Scotty!”

Scotty swallowed. “Maria.”

“It’s so good to see you! I thought you’d come back! I was going to come and find you, actually, right after I’d finished my development project.”

Scotty blinked, eyeing the completely blank canvas she was staring up at with adoration. “Uh, your development project?”

“Yeah.” She turned around and gave him another wicked grin. “Isn’t it great?”

“Um, there’s nothing on it.”

“Incorrect!” she practically sang, spinning on her heel and flicking a paintbrush over the corner of the canvas. “If you look really, really close, you’ll see it’s entirely painted white!”

“Uh, what?” Scotty shook his head, trying to get the words out that’d get the conversation back to where he wanted it.

“So, technically…” Maria held in a laugh. “I did do something. Now all I have to do is tell the dumbass lecturers it represents the blank canvas of my depression-wrought mind, right? And I’ll get top marks for self-expression. Even though I suck at art. And didn’t do anything at all.”

Scotty tried not to smile. “Okay then. Look, I-”

“Yeah, of course I know why you’re here, silly!” Maria dumped her paintbrushes into the sink and dusted her skirt down; she, like her friend, wasn’t wearing an apron over her mad getup of black, black and yet more black. “Sorry. It’s just that sometimes I get distracted by my own idiocy. You need me to explain shit, right?”

“Um…” Scotty closed his eyes as another shard of hunger stabbed up through his ribcage. “Yeah, that’d be great, please.”

“Cool. Let’s go outside then, shall we?”

“Right.”

“You promise not to run off this time?”

Scotty frowned, vaguely irritated. “I didn’t run off.”

“Yeah, you did!”

“No, I didn’t.”

“If you’d have stayed, I’d have told you everything last night, and then you wouldn’t have to be here. I’m guessing, based on the fact that you’ve come back, something happened to change your mind?”

Scotty sighed, determined to suppress the memory of what he’d almost done to Olivia. And the whistling guy on the pavement. And Keith. He was determined not to play into Maria’s hands.

“Not necessarily.”

Maria turned to grin at him, running the tip of her tongue over her upper lip, as the door of the workshop closed behind them. She flicked her gaze down to Scotty’s mouth.

“I see the new cut, Scotty.”

Scotty poked his tongue out to feel the cut on his lower lip, still as black and crusty as it’d been when he’d gone to the bathroom that morning. “Um, yeah.”

“Open.”

He blinked. “You what?”

“Open up!” Maria said. Scotty opened his mouth, and she gasped, covering her grin with her hand.

“Aw, man, you have lost a tooth! Holy shit, that was fast! Wait.” The smile dropped from her face. “Did you-”

Damn it, Maria, please tell me what the fuck’s happening to me!” Scotty growled, then cut himself off. “I’m begging you, please. I nearly…” he trailed off. “My roommate. I was- he was- I nearly…”

He blinked away tears, cursing himself for crying in front of her.

“You nearly hurt him.” Maria’s expression was dead serious now. “This worked a bit too well. Okay, so-”

“Please don’t give me another riddle. Just tell me the truth.” Scotty’s face twisted sideways in time with his stomach. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“Hey, hey. I’m sorry.” Maria looked up at him, and all that fucking anger, whether he’d wanted it there or not, started evaporating. “Scotty, I want to tell you exactly what’s happened, okay? But you have to promise to believe me.”

“Believe you? Why the hell wouldn’t I believe you?”

Maria smiled sadly. “You have no idea what’s really happening here, I promise you.”

“And I promise you, you’re wrong.Scotty winced with pain as he locked eyes with her. “Fucking try me.”

“Okay. Another thing you have to promise?” Maria said, taking a step closer to him. They were eye-to-eye now. “You can’t tell a soul.”

“Right, right, whatever.” Scotty shook his head. “Maria, whatever you fucking did, I want to know. I want to fucking fix this. I want to stop feeling like fucking death warmed up, okay?”

Maria sniggered, then paused. “Wait, you still feel warm?”

“I swear to GOD!” he burst out, one hand on his temple. “What the FUCK is going on?”

“Right, right.” She held up her hands. “Okay, okay. So here’s the deal.” Maria looked him in the eye, poking her tongue alternately into the gaps either side of her front teeth. “I’m a vampire.”

It was the classic, cinematic trailer-ready line. The one that’d be accompanied by a swell of dramatic music and the sensation of his heart stopping in its tracks or his blood freezing as he finally learnt the terrible truth. But there was no orchestra on hand, he had no heartbeat and no pulse to feel, and besides, Scotty sort of already knew she was going to say that.

Even so, he decided to test her.

“You’re a vampire?” he said.

She nodded.

“Funny. I sort of thought you were just a Hell’s Angel or something.”

“Nah, Scotty. The clothes have nothing to do with it. Plus, even if they did, Hell’s Angels is a dumbass name. Why do those hardcore biker assholes want everyone to think they’re angels?” Maria looked down at herself, then grinned up at him, her violet eyes glittering. “Whatever’s wrong with Heaven’s Devils? This isn’t exactly hell, right? And I’m no goddamn angel.”

Scotty rolled his eyes. “Right. That’s weird. Whatever. But you stand by being a vampire?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh, right.” He attempted to cock his eyebrow and probably just ended up looking like he was in pain. “Are you sure about that?”

Maria smiled. “I can tell you believe me, Scotty.”

“Can you? Do I?”

“Yeah, I can. Yeah, you do.” Maria nodded. “If you didn’t believe me you’d have laughed. You look dead serious right now. You knew exactly what was going on all along, didn’t you? You just needed to hear me say it.”

“Uh, yeah. Bullshit.” He wanted his heartbeat to speed up. He wanted to feel frightened or angry or relieved or something. He couldn’t. All he had left to defend himself with was a fake act of disbelief. “What did you need to say?”

Maria took a step forwards, then leaned in closer to him, her complete lack of warmth or breath tickling the side of his neck all the same. She was giggling rustily as she whispered in his ear. “I’m a vampire.”

Scotty looked down at the ground.

Maria pulled back. “Also, if you didn’t believe me, you wouldn’t have come back. Would you?”

“I thought…” Scotty wrung his hands. “I was still desperately hoping you’d just given me blood poisoning.”

Maria licked her lips again. “But you didn’t believe it, did you? What kind of blood poisoning makes you lust after human blood? What kind of human disease makes you so fucking angry you fantasise about ripping your best friend to shreds? What kind, Scotty? You tell me and I’ll stop trying to convince you you’re dead.”

“Rabies.”

Maria paused, then her eyes widened and shone as she laughed. “You’re good! Still. If you’d died from rabies, you wouldn’t have got back up again, would you?”

Scotty looked down at his hands for no reason. “Man. You know, I have no idea how long you’ve been, uh, well… like this, but it’s a fucking lot to take in, you realise that? I’m not just going to take your word for it, am I? Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No, Scotty, I don’t. I think you’re smart, and that’s why I know that you know what you are. Oh. A hundred and eighty years.”

“What?”

“That’s how long I’ve been like this. Anyway, would you like more proof? I can give you more proof if you’d like me to.”

“What…” Scotty trailed off and finally felt some sort of approximation of his blood running cold. “What does that involve, exactly?”

“Oh, nothing much.” Maria twirled a purple lock of hair between her fingers. “Just a couple of human sacrifices.”

He widened his eyes and she burst out laughing again, sounding more like a delighted child than a wicked madwoman. “Kidding! Just kidding! Watch this.”

Maria reached into her mouth and hooked two fingers around her back teeth, pulling the gold semicircle of her braces away and out into her hand. Scotty looked at it as she held it in the palm of her hand, then grinned, baring those twin gaps.

“Was that it?” he said eventually. “So you’ve got fake braces. Why on earth-”

“Nope.” Maria smirked. “I have fake braces because of what I’m about to show you. This is it.”

She parted her lips slightly, closing her eyes and pressing the tip of her tongue to the roof of her mouth. Her face twisted in concentration; then, her hands clenched into fists, and Scotty watched in silent horror as two needle-sharp fangs slid down from her gums to fill the gaps in her teeth.

“Holy fucking shit.” Scotty’s voice was trembling now.

“I know, ‘ight?” Maria opened her eyes and smiled with her mouth open, flicking her tongue across one fang as they stopped growing. They were about an inch long each, and jagged at the ends, like two shards of broken metal. Then, as Scotty widened his eyes more, they vanished, sucked back into Maria’s gums like a cat’s retractable claws. She replaced her fake braces and grinned wider.

“As you can tell, it’s a bit bloody obvious, right? And stupidly difficult to talk. I think that’s why they evolved to be retractable. Nature looking out for us bloodthirsty maniacs, right? Making sure we can blend in with the normal folk. I dunno how Dracula and all those fictional assholes went unnoticed for so long. I guess they never smiled. Or laughed. What a fucking miserable life, right?”

Scotty nodded slowly, feeling like a moron with his eyes wider than saucers and his mouth hanging open like his jaw had stopped functioning. “Uh- huh.”

“Anyway, that’s what happened to you last night, isn’t it?” Maria said.

“Yeah, but it just kind of shot out, then disappeared.” Scotty shook his head.

Why the fuck are you agreeing with her? This is crazy.

You have no choice.

“It’s kind of hard to learn how to make them come out slow.” Maria waved her arms around in vague circles as she spoke. “At first they only really decide to show up when you get really desperately hungry. Like, ready to hunt.”

“To hunt?” Scotty frowned again, remembering Keith. How hearing him next door had driven his hunger past the point of no return.

“Yeah. Your roommate?” Maria’s serious mouth twitched into a slight smile. “If you had a tooth come out, he’s bloody lucky to be alive.”

Scotty shook his head, feeling his face crumpling again and the tears working their way into his eyelids. “Oh my god.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise how quickly it’d work.”

“You didn’t, did you?” Scotty burst out, swallowing more tears. “Well, you were fucking wrong, weren’t you, Maria? Fucking WRONG! I can’t believe I almost killed someone, be- because of you! You’re some random crazy girl I don’t even know and you’ve fucking destroyed my entire life, haven’t you? Haven’t you? I can’t believe this. I have to, and I do, but I can’t.”

“Scotty,” Maria said, brushing her fingers over his arm. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean any-”

“Bullshit! You knew exactly what you were doing! I-” Scotty swallowed again and cut himself off, burning hunger and churning sickness fighting a war in his head. “What have you done to me? Why me?”

“I’m sorry,” Maria said. “I can’t explain it to you in a way you’d understand. I guess I’m selfish. I am. I am selfish. And for that, I truly am sorry. But if you’ll let me help you, Scotty, I swear to you, it won’t be this awful for so much longer.”

“Right.” Scotty shook his head. “Right. Right. Okay. So what the fuck’s wrong with me, then? Why do I feel sick?”

“And you only have one fang.” Maria muttered.

He jerked his head up. “You what?”

“One. You only have one. They never come out one at a time, you know.”

“Great. So not only am I the newest recruit in your merry band of bloodthirsty savages, Maria, but I’m a defective vampire too. Why?”

She raised both eyebrows. “Because, Scotty, you’re not fully a vampire yet.”

“What the fuck do you mean?”

“I didn’t get a chance to- to finish the- the thing… The process. Of turning you. Before I had to leave you.”

“Well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It’s not just a case of biting and pissing off, you know,” Maria said. “There’s a whole ritual to this shit. And I bit you, then took you to that alleyway to finish the job, right? And then I heard someone coming, so I had to- I had to leave before someone found us.”

“Why?”

Because, Scotty, how the fuck would it look if some random student came across me, with a fucking mouthful of blood, dragging you around, when you were so covered in blood you looked like a murder victim? What then?”

Then you’d get fucking ARRESTED for turning me into a fucking VAMPIRE, you crazy fucking lunatic!” Scotty yelled. “It was exactly what it looked like!”

“And then you’d have been left half-done, half-formed, and sick forever,” Maria said. “I can fix it.”

“How?”

She looked awkwardly sideways. “By finishing the ritual properly. By making you into a proper vampire.”

“And what’ll that change, exactly?” His voice was shaking again. Why couldn’t he keep the anger going? Why?

“You’ll have two fangs.” Maria said. “You won’t feel sick anymore; that is, as long as you don’t try to eat human food. You won’t have a reflection. Or a shadow. You won’t need to sleep; no more nightmares, no more weird visions.”

“Weird visions?”

“You know, when your vision randomly changes colour.”

“Oh, right. Mine keeps going purple.”

Maria blinked, looking pleased. “Right, okay.”

“But will I still go mad every time I see a human?” Scotty said. “Will I still need to fucking turn into an animal every time I get hungry? Will I still get hungry, getting worse and worse until I fucking snap and murder everyone in sight?”

Maria laughed, squeezing his hand. “God, you’re great. You’re funny. I’m so glad I picked you, Scotty.”

He blinked, flattered, then dropped her hand. “Answer the fucking question.”

Maria’s smile dropped and she looked at him, one eyebrow raised in the universal expression for Seriously?

“Yes, Scotty, you will. You’ll have to drink blood if you don’t want to starve to death, but that’s happening anyway, right now. As of when I bit you, you no longer had a choice. The only thing that’ll change when the ritual’s done?”

“What?”

“You’ll live forever, Scotty. Eternal life. And let me tell you, from personal experience, staying eighteen for a hundred and eighty years is fucking awesome.”

“I don’t know…” Scotty looked down. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Oh, stop being a pussy.” Maria said. “There is literally no downside to this.”

“Except from the fact that I’ll have to drink blood, for fuck’s sake!” Scotty burst out. “Wait, how do you even do that? How do you survive on blood without killing humans? Do you hunt animals? Buy blood from the goddamn supermarket? How do you do it?”

Maria snorted with laughter, then sobered up and fixed him with a mysterious expression. God, she had beautiful eyes.

“Scotty, whatever made you think we survive without killing humans?”

Scotty’s own eyes widened.

“Because, y-you know, it’s… wrong?”

“You know what’s wrong?” Maria said. “I was born in a time where you could be killed for stealing a loaf of bread. My own father went all vigilante Batman on my ass and tried to burn me to death in my own kitchen for being a witch. A fucking witch! Was he blind? Could he not tell the difference between a witch and a fucking vampire? I don’t see what’s so wrong about killing to survive; people are bastards, and as far as I’m fucking concerned, they’re prey.”

Scotty took a step back. “Maria-”

She stepped forwards, looking right up into his eyes. “We do what we have to do to survive, get it? We kill people, Scotty. We kill people all the time. It’s just what vampires do. Jesus, what kind of boring-ass bullshit vampire books have you been reading, if you think we do anything other than killing people and drinking their blood?” Maria smiled again, fixing him with those hypnotising eyes. “Weak links in the chain have to be destroyed, Scotty, and now, thanks to me, you know everything. You’re a link. You can choose what kind of link to be. You’re a smart boy, right?”

He blinked. “Y- yeah? Maybe? I-”

“This should be an easy question, then,” Maria whispered, right in his ear, dissolving all his anger like mist in the wind. “Are you in, Scotty Pruitt, or are you out?”

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