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.

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7. Intoxicating

At one o’ clock, he’d finally gone back home, only to stand in front of the bathroom mirror to try to copy what Maria had done to make her fangs come out. He’d given up before three, choosing instead to sit down on the ground in the middle of the corridor and listen to the sound of his own breathing. Or, rather, the lack of it. Ten minutes. Twenty. Nothing. He’d sucked in some air, nearly choked on it, then spat it out. He’d sat there, alone, listening to the deathly silence that’d replaced the sound of his heartbeat and every other vital sign of life; he was still functioning, but why the fuck should that mean he was alive? He’d waited to blink as he glared at the bright white wall, but never felt the need. At five o’clock, he’d laid down on his back, stared up at the grotty ceiling, and curled up like a child, clutching his stomach with both arms as the hunger got worse and worse and worse. At six, he’d passed out from the pain, and he hadn’t woken up till seven-thirty, his mouth more parched than his head and his head even emptier than his stomach. He was an imposter, a walking lie, a shadow of the real Scotty Pruitt. The real Scotty Pruitt was dead, murdered by a girl he couldn’t force his senses to hate, and in his place was this limp rotting puppet who had to pay with the rest of his life if he didn’t want to fade away completely.

At eight o’clock, Keith had come home to find his roommate spread out on the hallway carpet in a tangle of limbs. He’d jokingly asked Scotty if he was dead, and Scotty had laughed so hard he’d forgotten he didn’t know how to breathe any more. At eight-thirty, he’d left the building, too scared to trust his hunger to sit quietly while Keith was around. He’d walked around and around and around the campus, thinking too much about nothing at all, till the purple sky turned grey and the words on the signposts stopped making sense.

“Hi.” That was all Maria said when she found him outside the art building at ten o’ clock.

“Hi,” was all he said in return.

“You ready?”

Scotty rolled his eyes. “Even though I’ve got no idea what you’re about to do to me?”

Maria grinned. “I’ll explain when we get there.”

Scotty shook his head. “Whatever it is, no. Fuck no. I’m not ready.”

“That’s what makes it so fun.”

They turned and walked out of the campus in silence and he followed her across the road towards the playground. Instead of stopping to open the gate, though, Maria turned and kept walking past it. Scotty squinted into the gaps between the play equipment in the half-arsed moonlight, realising the playground was empty and the other kids weren’t there yet. Maria had told him there were more vampires; at least, he thought she had. She’d referred to herself as we, like there were others.

“I thought we were going to the playground.” Scotty said a little more loudly than he’d intended. Maria turned back to him, smiling, as his words bounced back at him from every facet of the street.

“You what?”

“I thought we were going to the playground,” he repeated. “Isn’t that where you and all the other, uh… vampires hang out?”

Maria laughed, tossing her curls over her shoulder as she turned to keep walking. “No, of course not. That’s where me and all those adorable goth kids hang out.”

Scotty faltered, quickening his pace to walk alongside her. “Isn’t that who they are? The other vampires?”

Maria turned to grin at him. “No, of course not! Can you imagine that miserable lot as vampires? Like they need any more excuse to be morbid as fuck and depress the undying shit out of everyone they meet. Sam and Gregory already write poetry in graveyards, Scotty, for Christ’s sake, and talk about waterfalls of blood and the misery of existence and Judgement Day and the looming inevitability of death. If they knew about this, they’d pretty much just get so Goth they’d cancel themselves out and cause a computer glitch in the space-time continuum.”

“Well, then…” Scotty trailed off, thinking, trying to understand why his mind wanted so badly to like her. “Who are the other vampires?”

“Oh, there’s only one other guy,” Maria said.

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah.” She grinned wickedly. “I got bored of all the others.”

Scotty blinked. “Uh-”

“Just kidding! Once you’re in, you’re in. I was alone for most of the time, and then I got bored and called Frank around.”

“Frank?” Scotty wracked his brains. “Do I know him?”

“Nah, he doesn’t go to the uni. Well, I mean, maybe, if you’ve ever ordered a Domino’s at four in the morning.”

She took his wrist, pulling him off the path and over a grass-covered verge; the dirt softened into wet mud under their feet and Maria snorted with laughter as she sidestepped a puddle. “Watch your step! There’s puddles and shit everywhere.”

“Right. Maria, where are we going?”

“Oh, just to a place I know,” she said. “Frank’s going to meet us there with all the stuff we need.”

“Why are we going all the way out here?” Scotty asked, looking up nervously as they started weaving between trees that cut the moonlight into pinstripes. “Isn’t it a bit secluded?”

“Exactly, Scotty!” Maria shouted, running ahead. “Nice and isolated! Just what you need when you’re performing a vampire enhancement ritual, right?”

Scotty expelled his mouthful of cold, dusty fog. “Uh-huh.” He thought for a moment. “So, this other guy, uh… Frank?”

“What about him?” Maria skipped over a fallen log.

“He’s… what?  A delivery driver?”

Maria snickered. “Yeah.”

“Did you know him?”

She turned back. “Nope. Not even slightly.”

“So why’d you pick him?”

She looked up at the canopy of trees and threaded a lock of hair through her fingers in thought. “I just fancied a takeaway, alright? Everyone has a lazy night. Food right to your door! Whoever came up with the takeaway system’s a goddamn genius.”

She turned and kept on walking bouncily, almost dancing, through the trees, humming to herself.

Scotty nodded slowly as a shudder ran through his body, feeling the rest of the lazy blood draining from his face. Yeah, she was a lunatic. Yeah, he was letting her drag him into a dark spot in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, they were both vampires. So what? Asking stupid questions was the only way he knew to keep the nerves at bay.

“So, um…” Scotty said after a few more minutes of walking.

“You like questions!” Maria sat down on a log in the middle of a clearing and patted the space next to her. “This is it.”

“Right.” Scotty sat down next to her. “So, since vampires are real?”

“Yeah?”

“What about all the other undead crap? What about werewolves? Are they real too?”

Maria frowned at him. “That was not the question I was expecting.”

“But can you answer it, though?”

“No, Scotty, werewolves aren’t real.” She twisted her mouth sideways and pouted. “Although, I suppose, they could be real. And they’re just good at hiding, like we are. I’m pretty sure if werewolves were real they wouldn’t know vampires existed, if you get what I mean. It’s not like there’s some international society of mythical creatures we’re all a part of. We don’t have meetings. There’s no fricking magical underworld or fantasy council. Vampires have no laws. We just sort of, y’know… do our own thing.”

“Eat people,” Scotty said, “And sit in the middle of the woods.”

Maria’s face broke into a grin. “Yeah! I found this spot on the first day I moved here. I think it used to be a campfire- you know, for boy scouts and shit. It’s nice, isn’t it?”

Scotty looked around, noticing three more logs lining the outside of the clearing. They were all grey and rotted, like they’d been there for years, and they’d been arranged into a vague square shape around a deep muddy scuff in the leaf-litter. It smelled old and damp and dirty here, but Scotty didn’t hate it.

“Yeah, I guess so. When did you move here?”

“Some time during the second world war,” she answered immediately. “Forty-one, maybe? Forty-two? I got bored of the town. Not enough victims. Too many witnesses. Not enough dark corners to skulk in, y’know?”

Scotty nodded slowly. “Okay.”

There was silence for a couple of minutes.

“So what would happen if a vampire bit a werewolf?”

Maria looked up at him, pressing her lips together, then dissolved into giggles. Scotty tried not to smile.

“Okay, okay. What about if a werewolf bit a vampire?”

“Scotty!” Maria gasped, opening her mouth and laughing louder.

“Seriously, though.” He said after she’d calmed down. She snorted, then finally managed to stop laughing.

“Oh my god, you’re my favourite,” Maria said, wiping tears from her eyes. Scotty shrugged, said, “Thanks,” and the two of them let silence swallow the clearing again.

After a few more moments, Scotty wrapped both arms around his stomach as a wave of chilly sickness split his hunger in half. Maria saw him screwing up his face and put her hand on his shoulder.

“I promise I’ll make you better, Scotty. We’ll fix my fuck-up tonight, okay?”

He just nodded, feeling the focus in his mind turning red as the forest seemed to darken and shrink in around him. “Okay.”

“Anyway, I guess, since that asshole’s late again, I may as well explain all the ritual shit to you now.” Maria turned towards him till her knee was touching his, and Scotty noticed for the first time that she was chewing gum.

“How can you do that?” he said.

“Do what?”

“Have chewing-gum. I thought you got sick if you tried to eat normal food.”

“Oh, we don’t eat it,” she said, flicking her tongue over her braces. “Humans don’t eat it either, Scotty. It just helps take the edge off, keeps my mouth busy, y’know? Helps to stop the cravings. I guess it’s sort of like that nicotine gum smokers chew when they want to quit, except I can’t quit blood, since, y’know, it’s the only thing keeping me alive.” Maria grinned. “You want some?”

Scotty shook his head.

“Anyway,” she said again. “I suppose you wanna know what’s going to happen to you in a sec, right?”

Scotty tried not to shiver. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” Maria put her hands on her legs. “Basically, the way you make a vampire is you have to drink some of their blood, but not all of it. If you had no blood in your veins, there’d just be…” she paused and frowned up at the sky. “Nothing? To live off? I have no fucking clue, actually. All I know is that you have to drink half their blood, and then they have to drink some of yours too, although not as much.”

Scotty’s eyes widened. “What?”

“So you basically end up with less blood, in the end. It’s not that hard. Basically-”

“No, no, no. Wait a minute. You’re telling me I have to drink your blood?”

Maria grinned. “Yeah.”

“What the fuck?”

She shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Scotty. I’m queen of the vampires in this fucking city, but I didn’t make the rules. All I know is they are the rules, and that’s how it works. You only have to drink a teensy little bit.”

“And I’m only semi-vampire because you-”

“I drank half your blood on the night I met you, yeah,” Maria said. “Nearly half, anyway. And-”

“Let me guess. You couldn’t get me to agree to drink yours.” Scotty sniffed with laughter. “Surprise surprise.”

“Oh, no, I’d already got you to agree to do it,” Maria said, another smile pricking her lips. “It was easy.”

“How the fuck was it easy?” Scotty said.

“Oh, because you were pisshead drunk.” Maria laughed at his expression. “It was hilarious. I liked you as soon as I started talking to you, you know. You fell over twice on the way out of the house.”

Scotty looked down, embarrassed. “So you didn’t leave me after you bit me, then?”

“No, of course not! What kind of arsehole would do that?”

“The same kind of arsehole that’d leave me passed-out in a skip after drinking half my fucking blood!” Scotty burst out, incredulous.

Maria laughed aloud, holding her hands up. “Okay, okay. You got me.”

He squinted at her. “How can you find this such a bloody joke?”

“Because to me, it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known.” Maria wrung her hands. “It’s just normal to me, and I suppose if you stop to think about it, it is kind of depressing, really. So I have to make the best of it. Explaining everything over and over again does get bloody tedious after a while when I’m just trying to get you to shut up and be evil with me. I’m not Obi-Wan Kenobi, you know. I’m Darth fucking Vader.”

“Right,” Scotty said, pushing his fist into his stomach again. “So I’ve got to drink some of your blood?”

“Yeah. Only a tiny bit. But I’m not done with you yet.” Maria said.

“What?”

“I didn’t drink enough either,” she replied. “So I’ve got to bite you again, okay? Just a little one.”

“Aw, man,” Scotty murmured. “Okay, fine. Whatever. Just take your braces out this time, yeah?”

She raised her voice in mock sincerity. “I am so sorry about that.”

“Yeah, you should be. It hurts like a bitch.”

“Come on, it’s not that bad,” she said, sitting up and putting an arm on his back to trail a finger across his ring of fading scabs. “It’s healing now, right? And at least I did it on the back.”

He turned around, shaking her hand from his neck.  “Why’d you do it there?”

“Well, you’ve got long hair, so I figured it’d be less visible there. Didn’t know if you were the vain type, but I learnt my lesson with Frank, so I thought I’d play it safe.”

“What about Frank?”

“Oh, you’ll see when he gets here.” Maria shuffled closer to him and pushed the hair back from his ear. “Which should be any minute, so I guess we’d better get on with this.”

Maria pulled the piece of gum out of her mouth with two fingers, flicking it into the woods behind her. Then, she turned back to him and fixed him with her eyes as she raised her fingers to her lips again. Scotty jerked back on instinct, then tried to calm himself down.

Maria plucked her braces out of her mouth. “Relax. I’ll be more careful this time, I swear.”

She laughed, starting to purse her lips in focus.

“Right.” Scotty felt the wind pressing up against the vulnerable patch of skin at the base of his neck. “Go ahead. Whatever.”

“Have you ever had blood taken before?”

Scotty withered his eyes at her, and she suddenly grinned.

“Yes, Maria, I have. Against my will.”

“Well-”

“By you. Last week.”

“Jokes aren’t funny if you have to explain them, Scotty,” she whined, screwing her eyes shut. “I meant at a hospital. With a needle.”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Well, this should be an interesting first experience, then,” she mumbled through her fangs as they grew out past her lower lip. “It won’t hurt. Well, it will. Quite a bit. But you’re the one who signed up for this.” She steadied her hands on both his shoulders.

Scotty nodded, then paused. “Wait. No I bloody wasn’t.”

Maria buried her head in his neck and sank her teeth into his flesh. Scotty yelped at the sudden flash of pain, stifling the noise before it turned into a shout and trying not to move. He could feel himself getting dizzier as Maria started sucking his blood out, and her grip on both his shoulders got tighter as she let out a sigh. He forced himself to stay still, trying not to squirm at the feeling of her teeth grazing his skin and staring desperately up at the faint red blinking of a plane passing overhead.

A couple of minutes later, Maria pulled back and smiled at him, her fangs already gone as she daintily wiped blood from the edges of her lips with two fingers.

She sighed. “God. Sorry, it just feels so good. I was bloody hungry.”

Scotty nodded nervously.

“Thanks for staying still. It’s always a bit awkward when you do it on someone who’s conscious. Haven’t done that for decades. Last time I did, he was my boyfriend.”

Scotty blinked, rubbing the new twin punctures in his neck. “Uh-huh.”

“He wasn’t too happy about it, but what you gonna do?”

 The wound already ached like an old bruise, and his fingers were sticky with her lipstick when he pulled them away. He balled up the neckline of his t-shirt and dabbed around the gouges, wincing as the fabric grated against his raw skin or got stuck to the blood.

“Ah!”

Maria looked up. “You’re really brave, you know. Frank cried like a little bitch.”

“That’s nice.” Scotty rolled his eyes and stifled a whimper.

“So I guess it’s time for the next part, then. Whenever you’re ready. We can wait a few minutes?”

“Nah,” Scotty muttered, dropping the fabric from his hand and wiping blood onto his jeans. “Whatever. But shouldn’t we wait for, uh… for Frank?”

“Nah, we don’t need him. He’d slow shit down.”

“Well, why’s he coming at all?” Scotty asked, his nerves prickling at the edges as he reminded himself what he had to do next.

“He’s bringing something for me and him. This is where we come all the time, you know?” Maria waved her hand. “When we need to eat.”

The remaining half of Scotty’s blood plummeted from his head.

“You mean-”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about it.” Maria put her hand on his arm as she fished in her backpack for something. “You can leave. We’re not going to make you have any or, you know… watch. That’d be fucking sadistic.”

She pulled a black plastic water-bottle out of her bag and held it out to him. “Here you go. I figured this’d be enough, you know, to finish the job.”

He took the bottle, feeling its weight. “Uh, what’s this?”

She looked at him, cocking one eyebrow. “It’s my blood, Einstein.”

Scotty blinked. “Oh. Okay.”

“Normally you barely need any at all, but I figured because you’ve eaten nothing for, what? Three days now?”

“Yeah, three days.” Scotty opened the cap of the bottle.

“I thought you’d want a bit more. Go ahead.”

Scotty looked down at his first meal in three days, thanking the heavens Maria had picked an opaque bottle with a sports cap so he wouldn’t have to see what he was doing. He raised it to his mouth, then stopped and tipped it towards Maria, raising both eyebrows nervously.

“Cheers,” he said, sarcasm leaking through his voice.

She giggled as she wiped the last traces of blood from her own mouth.

“Cheers.”

Scotty squeezed his eyes shut, then tipped the bottle up and started to drink. The liquid ran over his tongue and he started, shocked and relieved by how cold it was. It felt like water as he drank it, but after he’d swallowed his first mouthful the taste of metal rang through his head, bleeding through his body to set every nerve on edge. He lowered the bottle and held it loosely in one hand, rolling the taste over and under his tongue, licking it across his teeth, thinking, thinking.

And then, slowly, his head started to fizz with excitement.

“Oh my god.”

Maria grinned at him.

“It’s intoxicating, isn’t it?”

“This is… this is… oh my god.”

Scotty lifted the bottle back up to his mouth and took another gulp; after a few seconds, his skin prickled with goosebumps, his nerves drowned in hot electricity, and the delirium seeping through his head started dragging his focus further and further away from the pain. The hunger was dissolving in his stomach, evaporating into nothing, like it’d never even been there in the first place; the hot agony was freezing in his stomach, the cold sickness was burning in his head, and it felt wonderful. The taste was ringing through his body, singing, screaming, and he never wanted it to end. Another huge shudder of relief ripped through his body as he drank another mouthful; he took a deep breath, even though he didn’t need it, blowing it back out of his mouth just to taste that tang on his tongue again. He couldn’t form a thought, but he didn’t mind; God, it was the most wonderful thing he’d ever tasted in his life. Maria was watching him, probably smiling, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He took another long gulp and swallowed, feeling that freezing cold liquid electrifying every last cell in his body and making it sing. The last of the sickness dissolved into nothing, but he still felt empty; that is, until a spark popped somewhere inside his head and started burning him from the inside out. His insides were on fire; he was igniting, burning, smouldering, dying in a moment, and it was intoxicating. A tear ran down his cheek as he kept drinking, wanting to drink it all as quickly as possible, but still wanting to savour every last drop and taste it in his mouth for as long as he could. He didn’t need to breathe. Of course he didn’t. He just wanted to. He wanted to gasp like an idiot and gulp for air like a fish out of water; he wanted to lose his breath, lose his mind, pass out or die before he let this feeling go.

And then, after what felt like an age and a millisecond, it was over.

Scotty finished the bottle and put it down on the ground, bracing his elbows against his knees as he panted frosted smoke into the air for no reason whatsoever. The hairs on his skin were still standing on end and that thirsty, mad, electric joy coursing through his body was slowly dissipating, like he was an iron bar that’d just been struck with a hammer. The pain in the pit of his stomach was gone, and the sick emptiness in his head seemed so distant it was barely even a memory any more. He couldn’t describe what he was feeling; he just felt… stronger. Stronger than he’d ever felt before. He didn’t feel like the shadow of his former self anymore; now, the old version of himself was nothing more than his shadow. He felt superhuman; like he could run from here to Land’s End and back again without breaking a sweat. Like he could jump from the top of a hundred-storey skyscraper and fly instead of falling. Like he could crack the earth in half with a single punch.

Like he could live forever.

Scotty battled the smile tugging at his lips as he turned to Maria, who was grinning back at him. He realised he was standing up, his hands clenched into fists at his sides; he probably looked really fucking stupid. He was struggling to care, but as the delirium slowly faded from his muscles, he looked down at the bottle on the floor and collapsed back onto the log next to Maria.

“I just…”

Maria laughed softly. “Feels pretty amazing, doesn’t it? “

“Mmm.” Scotty blinked. “I just drank a fucking bottle of blood, didn’t I?”

“You sure did.”

“What the fuck is wrong with me?”

“Oh, nothing’s wrong with you.” Maria shrugged. “And pretty much everything’s wrong at once.”

“I just…” Scotty looked down at his hands. “What the fuck just happened to me?”

“You got high, Scotty.” Maria laughed. “It’s awesome while it lasts, huh?”

“Mmm.”

“And that’s our dilemma.”

For the first time, Scotty looked at her and understood her completely.

“Yeah.”

“It’s hard, you know, to exercise any kind of restraint around humans. When drinking blood feels that amazing. It’s like a drug to us. It gets us high.”

Scotty nodded, dazed.

“It’s hard to believe that any boring assholes could stay away from it, you know?”

“Do they?”

Maria shrugged. “I heard stories about some tribe in the States who hunt animals like they’re fucking wolves. Apparently, they all hate being vampires and try to act as normal as possible.”

Scotty looked up at the sky and sighed, delighting in the feeling of being full after three days of starvation. He couldn’t help wondering how anybody who’d tasted what he’d just tasted would ever be able to let it go.

“Well, that’s fucking lame.”

Maria laughed her real laugh, her sunny laugh that bounced through the trees like music, and for what could have been a century or a split-second, they said nothing at all.

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