Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chapter 6 of my Vampire Novel

Here is the sixth chapter of my Vampire Novel (still no title). Hope you enjoy it.

(Note: Chapters 1-4 are here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapters 7 & 8 are here.)

Chapter 6:

            In the camper, I lay Alice on the bed next to Zoey, and I start to strike but think better of it. Instead, I walk over and sit across from Yesenia in the dinette booth. She watches me watch her eat.
            "When I came to you," I say, loud enough for Marcella to hear from the driver's seat. "I gave you a choice. I could give you a painless death right then, or you could come with me, do what I say, and live with me for as long as you last. And with Elmore you saw me keep my promise to not let you suffer."
            Yesenia keeps filling her mouth with french fries, but she's listening. Marcella steers the camper with her right hand and holds a cheeseburger in her left, but she hasn't taken a bite since I started talking.
            "But," I continue. "Running away was never an option."
            I get up and sit in the passenger seat. We're headed north on Imperial. I point to a sign.
            "Figure out which one of those highways takes us to Las Vegas," I say.
            "I know the way," Marcella says. "I grew up in Riverside, remember? We'll be there by morning."
            "You okay to drive?" I ask.
            "I'm fine. Zoey can take over when she wakes up."
            Marcella finishes her cheeseburger, balls up the wrapper and tosses it back to Yesenia, who catches it. Then Marcella pulls her soda from the cupholder on the dash and takes two long pulls.
            "Thanks for bringing Alice back," she says.
            "I was too late," I tell her. "I think those men gave her something."
            "Then why not just put her out of her misery?"
            "Maybe she can pull through."
            Yesenia steps up between us and flips on the stereo, tuning in a pop station. She cranks the volume until music fills the camper, then dials it back to a kind of background rumble. Through the speakers, a girl raps over pieces of songs I almost recognize. It's catchy, and Yesenia kind of dances in place for a few bars. Then she goes back to the dinette booth, pulls a box of chicken nuggets from a bag, and opens it.
            Nobody seems bothered much by what's happening to Alice. Maybe it's because nobody likes her much. Marcella and Zoey have kind of a thing. And Yesenia is everybody's baby. But Alice doesn't quite fit in, which could be why she ran. She's been jittery from the get-go. Even Elmore didn't really care for her.
            I watch the landscape slide past the windshield. A commercial comes on the radio, a man's voice yelling at us to buy his cars. Marcella turns the stereo down and hits a button so Elmore's CD player comes on. "Love Me Do" by The Beatles. Yesenia starts singing along. Marcella chimes in on the choruses. Once the song ends and "From Me To You" comes on, Yesenia stops singing.
            An hour later, Zoey comes up from the back and sits in the dinette booth. She rifles through the remaining bag from McDonald's and pulls out a cheeseburger, unwraps and sniffs it. Then she gets up and puts the cheeseburger in the microwave. When the timer dings, she eats the cheeseburger right out of the microwave, gets another one, and repeats herself. Instead of drinking one of the sodas, though, Zoey reaches into the cubby under the dinette bench and pulls out a half-empty bottle of tequila and takes a long swallow. Then she hands the bottle to Yesenia, who also takes a swig, caps the bottle, and, hugging it, slides around and lays her head in Zoey's lap. With one hand, Zoey strokes Yesenia's hair and, with the other, pulls a soda out of the cupholder, takes the top off, and drinks most of it down.
            I watch all this, wondering if Alice is going to wake up.
            "How long have I been out?" Zoey says.
            "Not long," Marcella tells her, looking at her in the rearview mirror. "You sure you got enough sleep?"
            "I'm good," Zoey says. "Just give me a minute to wake up."
            The Beatles accompany us through the desert. The CD is on its fourth go-round when Marcella says, "We need gas," and guides the camper into a truck stop.
            "I'll do it," Zoey says, easing herself out of the dinette booth. Yesenia is snoring and still hugging the tequila bottle, and she barely stirs when Zoey slides her lap out from under Yesenia's head. I follow Zoey out to the gas pumps. She slides Elmore's card into the pump reader. She frowns and looks at me.
            "Remember Elmore's zip code?" she asks.
            I shrug.
            "Marcy! Zip code!" Zoey yells.
            "Uh, 89014," comes a muffled shout from the camper's bathroom.
            Zoey punches in the numbers on the pump's keypad.
            "Can you take over for Marcy?" I ask.
            "No problem," Zoey says. "How long do you think we'll be in Vegas?"
            Again, I shrug.
            "That town's no fun unless you got money," she says.
            This is when I hear it, a kind of whisper carried on the wind. I take a few steps, listening for it. But it doesn't repeat.
            What does happen is Alice begins screaming.
            As I come in the door, I see her staggering from the bed. She's got both hands on her head, rubbing furiously. Her screams are like unformed words broken by sobs.
            Yesenia has rushed to her, trying to grab Alice's arms, but Alice shoves her away and starts grasping at the bathroom door handle.
            "What the fuck!" comes Marcella's voice from inside the bathroom.
            I reach in and pull the door open, pulling Marcella out. She was holding onto the inside handle. I push her out of the way, and she collides with Yesenia, spitting toothpaste in Yesenia's face. At the same time, using my other arm, I guide Alice into the bathroom, and she hunches over and starts dry-heaving into the toilet.
            "What's going on?" yells Zoey.
            "Alice is sick!" Yesenia gasps as she and Marcella pick themselves up. Toothpaste is smeared across Yesenia's forehead and down her cheek, and a large glob of it has run down Marcella's chin and into her cleavage.
            Now Alice is trying to get up off her knees. And she's screaming again, in jagged, agonized cries. I press both of her arms against her sides and lift her up and out of the bathroom. She writhes, resisting me, shaking her head violently, and her screams get even louder.
            I carry her to the bed and push her into it face-first. And I strike.
            It's a sloppy strike. I get strands of her hair in my mouth. But I'm into her neck just above her shoulder and I go deep. Alice moans and goes limp. She tastes rancid.
            I rise and turn.
            Yesenia has come up behind me with toothpaste still painted on her. But she looks grave.
            "You need to drain her," she says. "End her pain."
            I brush past her and go out the door.
            Zoey is screwing the gas cap into place.
            "What's up with Alice?" she asks me.
            "She's okay for now," I say. "Do you think anyone heard her?"
            "Don't think so," Zoey says. "Not unless someone's in those trucks."
            We're in the last line of pumps, far away from the truck stop building but right next to a gravel lot with a row of parked semi-trailer trucks. I concentrate. I can hear snoring, and I can smell the sleeping bodies. But I detect no agitated movement. I hear no anxious inhalations.
            Then comes the whisper again. I can't make out the words, but I can tell what direction it's coming from.
            "Wait here," I say. "I'll be right back."
            I run between two of the parked semis into the desert behind the truck stop, away from the highway, into patches of scrub and mounds of rock. A broken, stony landscape bathed in blue moonlight. The whisper is a constant undertone, a murmuring current. I keep moving towards it, careful where I put my feet. Dozens of creatures, little blobs of pink or orange heat, freeze or scurry as I pass. Now there's a scent, a strong, sweet, sulphurous smell I recognize.
            There, propped up against a boulder, in the lee of a shallow, dried creek bed, lies a woman. An old woman in a print dress with a white shawl over her head and shoulders. Her arms are wrapped around herself, as if for warmth. Her feet are shoeless and dirty. And she is praying.
            She stops praying as I approach. I can tell she's weak. Her breathing is shallow and forced. And her color reads colder than the ground around her. When I get close, I see her legs and feet are spattered with blood.
            "You are the angel of death," she croaks. She closes her eyes.
            "No," I say. "Just a wanderer."
            "Who wanders here this time of night?" she asks with a kind of chuckle.
            "I heard you praying," I say. "How did you end up here?"
            "I have finished the confession of wrongs that led me to this moment," she whispers. "I am ready to receive judgment."
            "I am not here to judge you," I tell her. "I am only curious."
            She gives a snort and then coughs. She spits.
            "My whole life," she says. "I am plagued by crazy angels. Why should now be any different?"
            "I could carry you," I offer. "There's a truck stop nearby."
            "What," the woman hisses. "So I can die in an ambulance?"
            She gestures for me to come closer. I kneel. She holds out her hand and I take it.
            "The man who dragged me out here and stabbed me so he could take my car," she whispers. "Let God know I forgive him. It's what I get for indulging a nasty habit."
            "How long ago were you attacked?" I ask.
            "A day? Two?" she answers. "It's not important. I did this to myself when I stepped into the desert to smoke. With my own weakness, I invited that lost soul to rob and put a knife in me."
            "Are you in pain?"
            "Are you here to comfort or question me?" she asks.
            I almost laugh.
            "I could ease your pain," I say.
            "By ending it? No thank you."
            "Why not feel pleasure before you go?"
            "I've outgrown such appetites," she whispers. She pulls her hand from mine.
            "Yet you stepped out for a cigarette."
            At this, she opens one eye and squints at me.
            "Do you have a cigarette?" she asks.
            She closes her eye and folds her hands together, composing herself as I found her.
            "Then you are no angel," she whispers. "You are only a demon sent to pester me."
            The old woman begins the murmuring prayers that drew me here.
            "You're right," I say to her. "I am a demon."
            I start to lean into her.
            "I would rather suffer with my memories," she whispers. "Than forget them for any measure of bliss."
            I stop.
            "What does it say about me," she says. "That I am proud, in this moment, I haven't soiled myself?"
            She chuckles again.
            "Leave me be," the woman says. She resumes praying.
            I turn and run.
            When I get back to the camper, I burst through the door.
            "Start driving," I say to Zoey.
            Then I rush to the bed. Alice is just where I left her, unconscious but breathing steadily. I strike and drain her. I keep sucking until the flesh in her neck begins to rip. I feel the camper begin to move. I stand as Yesenia comes up behind me. She puts a hand on my back, and I fight the urge to drain her, too.
            "I know you could have saved her," Yesenia says. "I know you chose not to. To show us."
            I turn around, thinking how much trouble this girl is going to cause.
            "But I was never going to run anyway," Yesenia tells me. Her eyes are bright and watery. She's actually smiling.
            I lift her and strike. But only enough to satisfy her. She moans and falls against me. I carry her to the dinette booth and lay her down.
            Marcella gets out of the passenger seat and squeezes past me. She crawls into the opposite end of the dinette booth and lies down, so that her head and Yesenia's almost touch.
            I get into the passenger seat, reach over and turn The Beatles back on. "Eleanor Rigby" starts playing. Perfect.
            "We don't stop again 'til we get to Las Vegas," I tell Zoey.

(Note: Chapters 1-4 are here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapters 7 & 8 are here.)

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