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Redemption from Darkness

By Adam W. Smith (USA)

For Eli

The following is adapted from the novel Let the Right One In by John A. Linqvist, and the film bearing the same name. The characters in this work are those of Mr. Linqvist and no copyright protection is asserted to this work.

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Inlösen från Mörker

(Redemption from Darkness)

 

Adapted by Adam Smith

 

 

For Eli

 

Let the Right One In, both the film and the novel, are told primarily from Oskar's perspective.  The novel, especially, focuses on Oskar's inner thoughts and feelings as his love for Eli unfolds and he gradually comes to know and accept her. 

 

Since seeing the film for the first time, I have been intrigued by Eli's complex character, and have thought it unfortunate that more of her inner life is not revealed, or if revealed, is done so only by inference from her words and actions.  I thought it would be fun to explore what Eli, as portrayed in the film, may have been thinking during the days from when she first meets Oskar, until they are seen leaving Blackeberg on the train at the end.

 

Because Eli lives at night, each of her days can be described as two dates.  The presumptive default for each day is at the end of the day, just before dawn, as she is preparing to go to sleep.  The only concrete date given in the film is February 6, 1982, printed on the newspaper reporting on the death of Håkan's first victim in Vällingby, and it is from that reference that her story is told.

 

February 3 – 4, 1982

 

Time now to rest.  In my new place--Blackeberg.  Not bad; I think we will blend in okay.  Not much time tonight to look around . . . will do more of that tomorrow night.

 

At least Håkan is not complaining.  Not that he could anyway . . . his fault we had to move.  I liked Växjö.  The flat there was good.  But after what he did—just not safe anymore.

 

HaSafe: an illusion.  I’ll never be safe anywhere.  Especially not now, when I feel so . . . small, so weak.   I wish Håkan could understand how it feels.  Then maybe he would be more willing to help me.  Instead of arguing all the time.  I tell him and tell him:  there is no other way.  He should know I wouldn’t ask him if there was. 

 

He says I don’t love him, but he’s wrong.  I do love him, really, I think.  Because he helps me.  And I know in his own way, he is very devoted. But I’m not sure what he sees in me.  It’s wrong, somehow, the way he does it—like he’s eating me with his eyes.  He looks at me, but not in me.  I think that’s really the problem.

 

What am I going to do?  He wasn’t very good at this to begin with; now, it’s getting worse.  First Norrköping, then Växjö. (frowns) I hate doing that for him--but do I have a choice?  What will he ask me to do next?

 

Wish I’d brought that extra blanket in here.  Should I get up and get it?  No, probably still in a box somewhere . . . too tired now.  Have . . . Bunny . . .

 

February 4 – 5, 1982

 

Tired; must rest.  So hungry.  Another night with nothing to eat. 

 

Håkan has me over a barrel and he knows it.  Waiting for me? -outside the shower so he could see me.  So he could stare at me.  Asking me to turn around for him; do a little pirouette.  And of course, I did it.  And gave in when he asked me for “one night.”  But he agreed to try again, and that’s the important thing.  That’s all I care about right now.  Because I’m badly out of balance and I can’t go much longer with nothing.  If I do, then even Håkan will be in danger.  Maybe he knows that.

 

(purses lips) I wonder what he would do with me if I was weaker than him?  If I really was only 12?

 

Hardly got out tonight like I wanted.  Don’t know if I like the layout of this apartment complex.  Going in and out the door and everyone can see you.  Of course, I can see, too.  Like tonight, that funny little boy at his window.  Right next door.  What was he doing, standing there in his underwear? 

 

(grows sleepy)

 

can I remember Mama and Papa must try must try

 

February 5 – 6, 1982

 

(frowning deeply) Almost killed Håkan tonight.  Maybe I should have.

 

(just sat there with that stupid face all he could say was förlåt)

 

I can’t believe it.  Just moved here and already things have gone badly.  He says no one saw him—I hope he’s right!  Interrupted by a dog and forgot the blood?  How could he forget that?  Now that kid is dead and for no good reason.   If he had brought it home it . . . it would be for a good—

 

--I must have it to live.  Does that make it good?

 

. . . (Who are you? . . . I don’t know.)

 

(rolls onto back and stares at blanket hanging over face) Maybe it would better if I just . . . ended it.  Then no one would suffer.  I could just be gone, Håkan would be free of me, wouldn’t have to kill for me.  He would be happier.  And I wouldn’t have to worry about killing any more. 

 

But where will I go when I die?  Mama believed in Heaven.  Could I see her?  If I said a prayer right before I did it . . . could I?

 

Stupid.   If there is a heaven, there must be a hell.  To think one prayer would make up for everything.  Can’t think about this.  I know where I’d go.

 

. . . (turns back over and closes eyes)

 

. . .

 

     (What are you doing?  Nothing.)

 

That boy was outside tonight.  What was he doing to that tree?  And what was he saying?  “What are you looking at?  Are you staring at me?  So scream! Squeal!”  Pretending he was stabbing someone.  Must be someone he hates a lot. 

 

Well, I told him: warned him that we can’t be friends.  He should stay away from me right now.  Too bad . . . he doesn’t really look like a bad person, even standing there with that knife.  Reminds me of . . . someone--

 

--long time . . . ago—

 

February 6 – 7, 1982

 

Made the news.  Håkan made the news, I guess.  We both read the stories.

 

(trussed that poor boy up like a pig)

 

. . . (shakes head)  How he behaved tonight--acted like a scolded dog.  Tried to stay away from me, holed up in his room, mostly.  I knew what was on his mind.  What I’d promised: had he “earned” it?

 

I wanted to ignore him.  Tried for awhile, to be truthful.  But then . . . because I do need him, especially right now.  What if he just left in the middle of the day or something?  Walked out, left the door open?  Because he’s unhappy and can’t take this any more?  So . . . I went in there.

 

That look on his face when he watched me strip.  He even lit a candle.  Was that his idea of . . . of romance?  To set the mood—for what?  For us, or—

 

No.  Not for us, for him.  It’s all about him.  Even when I’m with him, I’m alone.

 

. . .

 

Tried to close my eyes for most of it.  Better just to .  . . endure his hands, than see his face while he--

 

(crying)

 

what would Papa think of me if he had seen me

 

if only I could remember your face Papa I love you please forgive me

 

February 7 – 8, 1982

 

I don’t know how to feel right now.

 

At last I’m full.  That man was big--must’ve been drunk, too, seeing how I felt afterwards.  A little woozy.

 

(crosses ankles and rubs feet together) He was so kind . . . trying to help me. “I’ll carry you, and take you to a phone.”  I knew the person would be nice—I guess that was part of the plan, wasn’t it?  Because only someone like that would care to get close enough to me.  Pick me up. 

 

But what choice did I have?  I had to eat.  I couldn’t have gone much longer--it had been more than a week.

 

It’s always the same thing.  The same cycle.  Over and over again I must do this.  The hunger takes over and I become . . . another person.  And I harden my heart and do it.

 

. . .


I hope he didn’t hurt too much

 

(at least Håkan’s was unconscious)

 

or have any children--maybe grandchildren, at his age. 

 

(saw no wedding ring or any jewelry)

 

I don’t know who you were, but—I’m sorry.   Sorry for

 

(teeth deep in his throat his ribs cracking the blood was good, so good)

 

what I did.

 

. . .

 

. . . Håkan was angry with me.  What did he expect?  --something had to be done.  And he couldn’t complain about having to help afterwards.  After all, he got what he wanted, and I had to go out and do it myself anyway.

 

That was strange--when I went out into the courtyard before I . . . before the underpass.  That boy, out there again by himself.  Playing with that puz—Rubik’s Cube, he calls it?  In the cold.  Does he always sit out there like that?  Or . . .

 

Hmmm.

 

I was so hungry.  Told him I just wanted to be alone so he’d go away.  But he wouldn’t leave.  Gave me that “I’ve lived here longer than you” line.   As if he owned the place.  If he had only known who I am; what I’m capable of--

 

(bone and gristle popped when I snapped that guy's head around like a twig-)

 

As it was, I had a hard time controlling myself.

 

But I guess I’m glad he didn’t go away, really.  I did like his puzzle.  Felt stupid that I didn’t know what it was, but . . . he was nice to loan it to me.

 

(eyes unfocus) His face . . . he’s so fair-skinned.  Bright-eyed, too.  I like that.  Seems pretty smart.

 

(how could I spend more time with him)

 

. . .

 

What was that other thing he said?  Ah . . . telling me I “smell funny.”  Huh.  (smiles) If he were me, he’d understand.  But now that I’m not so hungry, I guess I could . . . do better.  Maybe I will, if I . . .

 

I hope he finds his Cube where I left it.  It took me awhile, but I figured it out.

 

(for him)

 

Maybe—

 

--maybe something . . . new . . .

 

. . .

 

 met two kind people tonight why did one of them have to die

 

 

February 8 – 9, 1982

 

His name is Oskar.

 

“Oskar.”  I like it.

 

(turns restlessly) I don’t want to go to sleep.  I wish so much that I could stay awake . . . I hate being in this tub right now, under these blankets.  Usually it makes me feel safe.  But sometimes I feel-- 

 

(buried)

 

. . .

 

(chuckles)  . . . He sure was excited.  That his Cube was solved.  And what a smile.  He’s so . . . open?  Natural?  It’s all right there to see.  Innocent.  Yes, that’s it exactly.  He doesn’t hide anything.

 

Sure was fun to work on the puzzle with him.  I hope I helped him figure out how to do it.  Did he like how I dressed?  . . . at least he couldn’t say I stank.

 

(traces random patterns on inside of tub with finger)

 

I wonder if he’d like to see some of my puzzles?  (the egg) But he’d be here—and Håkan . . . how would he react?  He didn’t like it when I brought the Cube home in the first place.  I don’t think he’d want that boy—Oskar—he wouldn’t want Oskar over here.

 

I’m not sure Oskar should meet Håkan, either.  Yes, we’d say . . . we’d say he was my father or something like that, but he might . . . sense something’s not right.

 

Well, I can still see Oskar outside.  Sure wish I could be awake during the day.

 

. . .

 

(sniffs)  What did the last sunrise I saw look like?  Can’t remember.

 

(turns over)

. . .

 

So sweet of him . . . to worry about my birthday.  To give me his Cube.  I should have made up a birthday.  Then, maybe . . . then he wouldn’t have thought I’m so weird.  But I’d already told him I don’t get cold.  So—

 

How do I tell him . . . how can I tell him anything about myself? 

 

(that I drink blood to live)

 

If I can’t even honestly tell him how old I am without him wondering . . . .  Well--

 

(Hugs Bunny)

 

Hope he is out again tomorrow night.

 

 

February 9 – 10, 1982

 

(taps on tub) “... .-- . . -     -.. .-. . .- -- ...”

 

(smiles delightedly)  Funny.  He doesn’t know when I’m awake; thought I was going to bed like him.

 

So I said: “Y-O-U  T-O-O.”

 

“Morse Code” . . . what a great idea.  I knew he was smart—and fun, too.  I wonder if he’s memorized it yet? 

 

. . .

 

(Come on.  Come on.)

 

. . . Playing tag in the snow.  When was the last time I did that? (smiles)  He wasn’t as fast as he thought. 

 

(sheepishly) Was tempted to fly, but . . . not a good idea. (yet)

 

. . . I haven’t felt this way in . . . can’t remember.

 

(rolls onto stomach)

 

Found out a lot more about Oskar tonight, though.  That mark on his face—now I understand the thing with the knife.  Who could’ve done that to him?  I wonder how many times it’s happened before.  And he’s never fought back, or even told anyone.  Why not? 

 

. . . He seems so vulnerable.

 

I promised him I’d help.  Didn’t really think about that first, but . . . how could I not protect him?  So, so wish I could be awake during the day.  I’d go to school with him, be there when those classmates tried something.  They’d think I was “just a girl.”  But I’m not--and I’d teach them a thing or two.

 

(sighs)  But it would never happen.  Unless they did something at night . . .

 

(turns and pulls blanket up to neck)

 

Does he want me to help?  Not sure how he feels about that.  But I would anyway, if I could.  I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.  Because he is—special.  Very special.  Unlike anyone I’ve met for

 

(You can have this . . . if you want) . . . I don’t know how long.  Forever.

 

I liked touching his hand.  Did he?

 

(probably not I’m too cold)

 

If he wants to talk through the wall, then that must mean that—maybe he likes me, too.  Maybe.

 

But where is this going?  Talked about it with Håkan tonight.  After I asked him to move out of his room so I could tap, which he wasn’t happy about. (grins impishly)  Håkan said he’s concerned about me seeing Oskar.  He thinks Oskar could be dangerous to us.  I’m not sure—I think maybe he’s just jealous. Jealous.  Of what?  That I’m playing with a kid?

 

(frowns) But maybe he’s right.  Because . . . I don’t want to . . . to be just friends with Oskar.  Well, maybe that’s really it, actually.  Friendship.  Someone I can talk with, someone who’ll listen to me, who I can explain things to--like, who I am.  Isn’t that what friends do? 

 

(you could never explain what you are to him)

 

But when do friends become . . . something else?  Something more?  And if—if I do tell Oskar who I really am, he really could be a danger, like Håkan says.  Because I could never hurt him.  But he might reject me, and tell someone.  And then . . . I could get killed.

 

So maybe I should just forget about Oskar. (no) It’s not too late to do that.  I could find ways to avoid him when I go out.  I could . . . ignore his tapping

 

(no you couldn’t)

 

and eventually he’d go away, lose interest.  Then I’d be safe again. 

 

(and alone.) 

 

Well, I’d still have Håkan, I guess.

 

Don’t know what to do.

 

Must rest.  Getting hungry again.

 

February 10 – 11, 1982

 

There’s no way I’m giving up on Oskar.  Not after tonight. (behind that kiosk)

 I don’t care what Håkan says, even if he may be right.

 

(happily) He hugged me.  Not just my body, like Håkan--me.  That’s a first.  I would eat a thousand pieces of candy to be held like that again.  I would . . . die to be held like that again.

 

(sighs)  Can’t stop thinking about that.  Don’t want to stop thinking about it, or to ever forget it, as long as I live.  He cares about me!

 

(smiles) He’s so different from anyone I’ve met.  To say that he wouldn’t care if I wasn’t a girl--is it just because he is a kid that he could say that, a kid at heart?  Not like me--I just look like a kid, I guess.  Maybe I just haven’t been around kids very much for a long, long time.  They can be very accepting, I suppose.

 

. . . Wish I could just be a kid.  Ha.  Funny.  Never seen a mummy in diapers.

 

(turns onto side and crosses arms over chest)

 

(I can . . . try one.)

 

So kind of him to share his candy with me.  When I saw that downcast look in his eyes, I just had to do it.  He was so looking forward to me enjoying it with him--I couldn’t disappoint him.  Actually thought for a moment that I might be able to handle it.  That maybe just once, God or whoever is in charge would give me a little break, let me do something simple--something normal, like everyone else.

 

But I guess now, I guess that it was good that I couldn’t really eat it.  Didn’t want him to watch me throw up, but what else could I do?  And then he—

 

(Oskar . . . do you like me? . . . Yeah—a lot.)

 

I’m so . . . happy.

 

But—

 

(no no don’t remember that)

 

I don’t want to but it’s true

 

(not true not true I would never do that)

 

You know you thought of it.  When his arms were around you and his neck was right there you smelled his blood you know you did, you did

 

(But I controlled it.  I denied it, for once. A small victory for me, dammit.  The hell with everything else, I don’t care about the rest of this miserable life but I’ll never, EVER do that to him, I swear it.)

 

. . .

 

(squeezes Bunny and cries)

 

Dear God . . . give me some dignity Please oh please

 

 

February 11, 1982

 

(eyes move rapidly beneath closed lids)

 

. . .

 

Back in the Castle, in my crawlspace

 

--in my crawlspace where there is no light but I can still see

 

(where He broke me)

 

I can’t stand, I can’t sit, I’m always flat in here

 

So hungry, so hungry but food makes me sick

 

He opens the wooden door at the end of the slot and drags me out by the neck and I’m strong but I can’t open that door it was little but thick and I can’t resist Him, he is even stronger

 

He drags me into the room, the Dining Room he calls it, he sounds so friendly when he talks

 

. . . bigger with a hole in the ceiling a little light comes in, I can stand at last

 

Shoved in, I fall down the door slams, must be iron sounds clangy

 

I look around where am I

 

The door opens again someone else in the cell with me

 

A boy, he falls down too but gets up

 

A boy with blond hair, I know him, he’s--

 

(my brother)

 

Yes. Jacob, my brother.

 

He is crying but smiles, so happy to see me

 

(he thought I was dead?  Yes he must’ve)

 

And he rushes to me as the door slams again

 

Jacob stay away, STAY AWAY

 

He doesn’t listen, doesn’t understand he just reaches for me and hugs me

 

And I . . .  I—

 

(change)

 

wake up Wake Up WAKE UP--

 

. . .

. . .

 

. . . He comes back in while they take Jacob out

 

(what was left)

 

. . .  I am crying, crying

 

I have just done the unspeakable, That Which Cannot Be Said, that I can never tell--

 

. . . and His cold hand is on my neck, so freezing

 

white face, red robe

 

He makes me look at him, at those cold blue

 

(gleeful) eyes

 

 I hate Him, I HATE HIM, want to destroy Him but I can’t, He is too strong and I’m little

 

And as he puts me back in my crawlspace He says,

 

Behold, I make all things new

 

. . .

 

(gasps and sits straight up, looks wildly around bathroom)

 

. . .

 

Not a dream

 

A memory.

 

(turns over and vomits into drain)

 

(coughs) I forget so much like Papa’s face Why can’t I forget that too

 

(crying)

 

Please God let me kill myself

 

February 11 - 12, 1982

 

Where is Håkan?  What’s happened?

 

(rolls onto other side)

 

. . .

 

Oskar. 

 

Oskar . . . I need you; why weren’t you there?

 

(rolls onto back and feels chest in the darkness)

 

Where was the place she told me about?  The spot right beneath my rib . . .

 

Yes.  There.  I just push in this blade and it’s over.

 

. . . but I can’t.

 

(sobs)

 

February 12 - 13, 1982

 

I wish I could’ve stayed longer.  That the night had never ended.  That the sun would never have risen.

 

(sighs)  I don’t think I can take too many more nights like this.  Too many ups and downs.  Don’t know whether to be happy or sad.  I guess it’s right to feel both.  That’s the honest truth.

 

Håkan--are you really gone?  I never could’ve imagined that it would turn out like this.  When I came back just before dawn and you weren’t here, it really hit me: that--  that . . .

 

(drained him let him fall seven stories of course he’s gone)

 

. . . you’re gone.

 

Our apartment seems so empty.

 

I’m so sorry.  Sorry about everything.  You loved me in your own way, I know you did.  You tried to put my needs ahead of yours.  It was hard for you, I understand that.  I guess now I can understand how scared you must’ve been to go out and do those things to help keep me alive.  It wasn’t what you wanted to do—you never really had the stomach for it.  But you tried anyway, because you knew I needed help, and you knew you were all I had.  So if you can still hear me . . . I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you did.

 

Even at the very end, when you were so . . . hurt, you still loved me.  I didn’t really want to take you, but maybe you saw better than me that we had no other options.  That somehow, we had reached . . . the end of the line for us.  And even though I hated your demands, and found themdegrading,

 

(hands on me sometimes wanted to rip your arms off)

 

I think I realize that it wasn’t the real you who wanted to do those things to me.  That, underneath all of that, there was a

 

(little boy?)

 

--man who, if he could have somehow found a way to change himself, would have.  Would have been someone better.  More whole, more . . . human.   But I guess I’ve been alive long enough to understand that sometimes, we can’t change.  No matter how hard we try, we’re trapped in ourselves and we can’t find a way out.  Like being in a maze.  Maybe if the right person had come along--someone who could’ve pulled you out of yourself, stood you up, slapped your face, made you see the sunshine, the beauty of the world all around you, gladdened your heart—you could have been the best Håkan that ever could’ve been.  A perfect Håkan.

 

But I wasn’t that person. 

 

(could never have been that person)  And maybe I never should’ve taken your hand and led you away from that park bench.  And . . . if doing that led to your death, then—I’m sorry.  Please, Håkan . . . please . . . forgive me if that’s true.

 

. . .

 

(begins to nod off)

 

. . . bulleri bulleri bock . . .

 

. . .

 

. . . it’ll be you and me . . . really? . . . yeah . . .

 

. . . good . . .

 

. . . I hold him at last . . . Oskar . . . your hand is mine . . .

 

(stops breathing and falls asleep)

 

. . .

 

. . .

 

I am so cold, so cold out in the snow

 

Wandering in this whiteness

 

Where are you, where are you

 

A little house I see, blurry in the storm

 

(my home yes Mama and Papa should be there)

 

I fly to it, press my hand on the door

 

Oskar are you here?  Please let me in

 

You are the Right One for me I know it in my heart

 

I could be so alive if only I’m with you,

 

But now I am so cold, I’m dead

 

I am the Awful Me

 

The Door opens, it Opens and

 

There You stand, you see me, you smile

 

No clothes have I, nor you

 

But I don’t care for now the Door is Opened

 

and this is the Created Me that you see,

 

there is nothing else and you are beautiful

 

It’s warm, it’s so warm here inside

 

You enfold me I’m covered in your warmth

 

You are the Sun to me and I, I am your Moon

 

So happy, so--Do not let my dream end

 

My heart will break, I will break

 

Pressed to you, my beloved, my Oskar

 

And I am free in your arms, there is no danger, no monster, no Sin

 

there is only me, Elias

 

And I can enjoy you forever because you love me and find me beautiful

 

February 13 - 14, 1982

 

I am evil.  I accept it.

 

To think . . . to think that he could ever really know and like me.  I’m so . . . utterly stupid.

 

(What did you want us to do? . . . All you need to do is prick your finger)

 

It was all an illusion—just a dream.  Håkan was right: I cannot escape myself.  There’s no point in trying anymore.  Better to just embrace it, let it--consume me.  I can do that; it’d be easy.  The easiest thing.  I won’t have to think anymore.

 

(taps absentmindedly on inside of tub)

 

Think about them, about . . . their suffering.  Yes, that would be fair, wouldn’t it?  After all, who ever worried about me?  About my suffering?  No one

 

(maybe Håkan a little)

 

No one cares if I live or die.  I must crawl around like an animal—hide in the dark—never be seen.  I’d be loathed if I were known.  Hunted down and destroyed.

 

(sits up, flings blankets out of tub, shouts out loud to empty apartment:) 

 

“So why not just admit it?  I enjoy drinking their blood!  Like that woman tonight: don’t care about them--don’t care!”

 

(flops down onto side)

 

It’s the only thing that brings me pleasure.  And even though that’s not . . . happiness, at least it’s something.  So I won’t suffer for them anymore.  Now they will suffer for me.

 

(but Oskar loves you)

 

(Eli . . . want to go steady?)

 

. . . (petulantly) No he doesn’t.  Never could, either. (unconsciously touches featureless groin)  He’ll never understand me and the more he knows about me, the worse it’ll be.  Maybe likes, maybe, but then why did he do that—that thing with his hand?  I wanted to have fun with him down there, listen to music, play, but then he--didn’t he realize what would happen?  That I would become my true self, that I would—would--

 

(attack him, bite him, tear off his head, revel in his blood in my mouth like a fountain, on my face, on my hands)

 

(like Jacob)

 

--no . . . NO--

 

(he didn’t understand, he’s just a stupid kid he was playing a game)

 

A game?  A GAME?  I almost KILLED HIM--

 

(he didn’t mean it, he didn’t know)

 

(cries out)

 

But now—

 

. . . now he DOES know.

 

(sobs bitterly) 

 

He knows what I do.  I drank his blood right before his eyes!  Think he will be running back to share his Cube anytime soon?

 

(couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop, went down on all fours on the ground)

 

He looked so scared, thought I was playing--

 

(forced myself to look away from his bloody hand, look at that little puddle, lapped it up like a dog, Yes)

 

And then you ran.  Ran away--

 

(. . . and saved his life.)

 

. . .

 

(Stops crying.  Opens eyes wide.) 

 

Yes. 

 

I saved his life.

 

. . .

 

(face changes from wonderment to sadness)  But now . . . I’ll never see him again.

 

. . .

 

(moans)  Oh God, oh God, why me, why me--

 

(You still saved him, he is innocent, you did a good thing)

 

(long, shuddering sigh) 

 

. . .

 

(closes eyes and curls into a ball) 

 

. . .

 

My Oskar. I’ll have to be satisfied just knowing that you are alive and still in the world.  Maybe . . . you’ll make someone else happy someday.

 

(kneads Bunny)

 

But in my heart, you will always be mine.

 

(pulls blankets back over face and weeps)

 

February 14 - 15, 1982

 

(singing to self while turning off water in shower)

 

. . . Låt mig få viska hur mycket jag tycker om dig än

(Let me whisper how much I think about you)

 

Låt mig förklara för dig att jag har dig kär . . .

(Let me explain to you that I love thee) . . .

 

(dries off and gets into pajamas)

 

. . . Ta mig i famnen och säg att du har mig kär

(Take me in your arms and tell me you love me)

 

Allt det vi drömde, så kär, jag gömde

(All that we dreamed, dear, I hid)

 

Allt är förlåtet igen

(All is forgiven again) . . . .

 

(sits down cross-legged on floor in front of the uncovered window, looking out at the fading stars)

 

I can’t believe it.  Oskar came back tonight.

 

(looks around room) This place: so empty, so . . . there’s not much here.  I was afraid to let him in here, to open my door. 

 

Funny . . . I didn’t think about it before.  I just figured we would play with my cards and puzzles; have fun.  I never considered what he might think of it--

 

(and of Me, in this place)

 

. . . until he was actually here.  Then, while he was looking around, I suddenly realized how everything looked, and I felt like I needed to . . . to hide behind my door, to keep him out.  Because . . . because . . .

 

(I needed to know, to be sure)

 

. . . of what happened in the basement.

 

(Are you a vampire?

 

I live off blood . . . Yes.)

 

But he didn’t run away.

 

(From all the ugliness.  From you.)

 

(wonderingly) He didn’t.

 

. . . It’s—incredible.  But why?

 

(Because he needs you just as much as you need him.  He’s lonely, just like you.)

 

Yes.  I guess I could be special to him, too. 

 

(but maybe you’re just all he could find)

 

. . . (sighs)  . . .

 

. . .

 

What a silly question he asked: am I ‘dead.’ (grins)  What did he think?

 

. . .

 

(rests chin in hand while thoughtfully gazing out window) It was so wonderful.  Just to be with him again. We didn’t do anything, but

 

(You see that egg over there? . . . Put your finger on it.)

 

even to have him in the room with me, made me feel . . . renewed.  Like I’d been given a second chance.  I felt . . . hopeful.

 

(sees a star twinkle)

 

Oskar—what are you to me?  How could I ever tell you?

 

A rope thrown to the bottom of a well, I grasp it

 

The key to release me from my prison

 

The sun rising to destroy the evil in me

 

A beautiful person to pull me up from dark dark water

 

(tears stream down face)  I—  I . . . you have become all those things to me.

 

. . .

 

(shifts uneasily and unfolds legs) . . . But he got angry. 

 

(You stole this . . . from the people you killed, right? . . . I want to go home now.)

 

(his eyes looked right into me scared me what did he see)

 

(sniffs, bows head, and wipes nose with shirt) He was right to get upset.  What I told him wasn’t the whole truth.  Yes, some people have given me money.  But I have taken money and things from people I’ve killed. 

 

I . . . lied to him. (never lie isn’t that what Mama said) Is that why he got mad? Or was it because he finally realized that I--

 

(Love.  Judgment.)

 

If I love him, I cannot lie to him.

 

Why did I lie to him?  To hide the truth of who I am.

 

(but I thought I wanted him to know who I am)

 

Yes, but not the bad, so soon!  Like the basement—it came too early, before he was ready, before he could know

 

(the other side of me, the good side)

 

the part of me that’s still . . . human.

 

. . .

 

(wipes tears off face) Oskar . . . will you still be my future?

 

If I go back to you and apologize, would you . . . still care for me?  If I try to be the best that I can be

 

(the perfect Elias)

 

and show you all truths about me, love you with everything I have, could you possibly . . . love me?

 

I have to try. 

 

And if he rejects me, then I will return to this window.  And wait a little longer.

 

February 16, 1982, 3:40 a.m.

 

Quietly sits down beside dozing Oskar on the floor of the apartment

 

Waits until his breathing becomes deep and regular

 

Brushes the hair away from his forehead, then

 

Kisses him there, caresses his cheek

 

. . .

 

Lifts a corner of the vermillion blanket

 

Burrows into the crook of Oskar's arm

 

Warm, so warm

 

Rests head on his chest

 

Listens to the lullaby of his beating heart

 

February 16 - 17, 1982

 

(lies curled up in dark, narrow space between large, empty crates in abandoned storage shed outside Uppsala, sobbing uncontrollably)

 

I kissed him for the first time.  Then . . . had to leave him.

 

(not fair, Not Fair, NOT FAIR.)

 

. . .

 

(hears sleet hissing irregularly across roof)

 

(stops crying and wipes eyes)  If he hadn’t shouted--  if I hadn’t woken up—I’d be dead.  He saved my life.  That’s never happened before.

 

(who ever worried about me?  About my suffering?  No one.)

 

(listens to wind booming against corrugated walls and rattling a rusting gutter)

 

I owe him my life . . . but this is how it ends.  Out in the cold again.

 

(it was the only way, you couldn’t stay)

 

Yes--too dangerous.  Killed right there in my apartment.  Everyone heard.  Blood everywhere.  No options.

 

. . .

 

(frowns) I don’t want to keep living like this.  Running away; running away.  And now, now . . . leaving the only one who meant anything to me. Can’t.

 

     (It’ll be you and me.)

 

Just when I thought that it might be possible . . . that we could be together--that man came.  Ruined everything.  Why?  Why?

 

(If it hadn’t been him it would’ve been someone else. It was inevitable. How long did you think you could go on hiding that side of yourself from him?)

 

No matter what I do, I must be alone.  Hunted and feared, like a wild animal.  There’s no escaping it--

 

(you are an animal, after all)

 

. . . yes.  Yes, it’s true, I am an animal, a monster.

 

He slumped to the floor next to my tub.  I battened upon him like a leech.  Tearing, sucking, feasting.  I felt his pulse ebbing with my tongue—felt the blood filling my stomach--

 

I killed.

 

. . . and Oskar . . . just outside the door

 

(hearing everything, hearing me Slaughter)

 

He was so scared, trembling, stiff as a board--

 

(until you held him)

 

. . . and I, I—

 

(Perverted Monster)

 

. . . had the gall to despoil his beautiful face with that disgusting kiss—?

 

(my mouth a crimson mask even got some on him)

 

(closes eyes and sobs) So . . . sick.  I am disgusting.  How could he possibly love that?  I deserve to die, be wiped off the face of the earth.  Banished to Hell where I belong.

 

. . .

 

(Oskar.  I’ve got to go away.)

 

. . .

 

(Uncurls and crawls over barren, earthen floor to retrieve broken fencepost from pile of dead leaves blown into the corner)

 

(harshly) End it now, you.  Don’t think--just do it.

 

(Presses cold, jagged end against chest, indenting skin)

 

--his lips were soft--

 

 (presses harder, breaking through)

 

--so warm, just as I dreamed--

 

(feels wound gape open as the spike twists and is thrust further in)

 

--(gasps in pain) Oskar—I love you so much but I hate—

 

(Eli don’t be stupid, he DIDN’T deny you, didn’t pull away don’t you UNDERSTAND)

 

(cries out as wetness spills down stomach)

 

But he knows now what I AM—

 

(AND LOVES YOU ANYWAY!!)

 

. . .

 

Stops.

 

. . . He loves me anyway.

 

(pulls out stake, presses hands to wound)

 

. . . I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

 

(angrily) No—NO! 

 

Go back. Must go back.

 

February 17 - 18, 1982

 

“.--. ..- ... ...”

 

“.--. ..- ... ...”

 

Dark lashes close over dark eyes

 

Smiles, curls up and falls asleep--

 

. . . to dream of her Loved One

 

to the gentle rocking of the train

 

 

 

The End

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

February 18 - 19, 1982

 

 

An empty summer cottage on the shore of frozen Lake Vänern, Karlstad. 

 

They had gotten off the train at nightfall, and taken a taxi out into the province.  Eli knew where to go. In Värmland, they had stopped in front of an occupied home two doors down from the unoccupied rental property.  After the taxi had left, they had cut around through the snow to the back of the vacant structure, and Eli had broken the lock on the back door. 

 

Oskar was very tired.  After he had eaten the sandwich and juice that they had picked up at a kiosk by the train station, they had found some blankets in a closet and climbed into bed.  At last they were alone, safely away from all that had occurred the evening before in Blackeberg, and were able to talk.

 

Oskar turned off the bedside lamp and fluffed the covers up over his arms so that only his head was exposed.  He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, grateful simply to be lying down.  He was bone-weary, almost exhausted.  Gradually, his hands and feet started to warm beneath the blankets.  His eyes began to adjust to the faint moonlight that filtered in through the blinds, and he turned his head to look at Eli, a small lump under the covers an arm’s length away. 

 

“I’m so tired,” he announced.  “This day has been so long, and it seems . . . almost unreal.”  He smiled, then added, “ And it’s not as though I did anything—just rode on the train with you in the trunk.” 

 

He strained to see her in the darkened room. “I know you know this, Eli, but I just want to tell you:  I’m so glad that you came back for me.  They would’ve killed me in the pool if you hadn’t.”

 

Eli’s face was now much more defined; he was able to make out her smile.  He heard a soft rustle, and then a small, cool hand slid toward him beneath the covers and found its way into his. 

 

“Oskar . . . I couldn’t stay away.  I’ve never felt about anyone, the way I feel about you.”  Her hand squeezed his gently, and she shifted closer as she continued.

 

“It’s . . . it’s so hard for me to explain how I feel when I’m with you.  I haven’t been able to keep my mind off you since the night you loaned me your Cube.”  Her smile broadened and she added sheepishly, “You—well, you pretty much turned my life upside down.” Then her face hardened, grew more serious.  “And when I realized what was happening there at that gym, and the trouble you were in, I just acted.  I didn’t think.”

 

Oskar nodded, smiled and squeezed back, but his happiness was marred by the disturbing image of the three blood-stained bodies lying at the edge of the pool.  He wanted to extend his arm and draw Eli to him, but he hesitated, not really sure why.  Perhaps it was because in some way, she still frightened him.  Although he now felt closer to Eli than ever before, there remained something about her that was unfamiliar and perhaps unknowable to him.  So he satisfied himself with her hand, which he now clasped in both of his.

 

“Where did you go?  How’d you know where I was?”

 

“I went away, like I said.  In the taxi, to a town up north.  But I really didn’t have a good plan for what I was doing.  It just felt wrong, and I couldn’t stop thinking of you.  I guess I felt that after what’d happened with that man from the neighborhood coming into my apartment and everything, that there really wasn’t anything else I could do.”  Her expression became discouraged, and she turned her head away, sighed, and closed her eyes; then added, “That after you saw what I did, you’d—well, I figured that no one . . . .”

 

“. . . could still like you?”  Oskar added.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Eli.”  He gently tugged her hand, and she looked at him again before he continued.  “Don’t say that.  I don’t know why he came in. He scared me and I hid in the kitchen.  Under the table, hoping he’d go away.  And then he opened your door and I was behind him, with my knife.   He started to open your window and—I knew that would hurt you, so I yelled.  That was all I could think to do.  And then . . . you woke up.”

 

“And I killed him.  With you right there.  I’m . . . sorry.  That it happened that way.  It wasn’t what I wanted.”

 

He touched her face.  “But you didn’t have any choice.  He would’ve killed you.”

 

“I know.  But it was so horrible.  Like that night in the basement, only a thousand times worse.  Because I don’t want to be that way when I’m around you.  It’s not who I want to be.”  She paused and looked down, then asked: “Was it wrong . . . to kiss you?”

 

He hesitated for a moment before replying.  “Well I didn’t expect it, but—I guess I didn’t mind.  I knew you were sad.  And I was sad and scared.  But it did make me feel better.” He wanted to say more, knew he should say more—but the words escaped him.

 

He shifted, loosened his hold on her hand, and rolled onto his back to stare at the dark ceiling.  He hesitated, unsure of how to express his next thought without upsetting her, and his voice trembled almost imperceptibly as he went on.

 

“But Eli—I’m-- . . . I’m sort of scared right now.  I’ve never done anything like this before.  On the train today I kept thinking about my mom and dad.  Especially my mom . . . I’m sure she’s worried sick about me.   And while I know—I mean, I feel it in my heart, that I’ve made the right decision to be with you, I still . . . .”  His words drifted off into silence.

 

There was an uncomfortable pause.  The sound of the wind whistling outside the little house increased, and Oskar watched the shadows from the waving branches of a tree move back and forth on the wall opposite the window.  Then Eli answered, her voice measured and even.

 

“Oskar.  It’s never too late for you to go back to your family, if you want.  If you decide that’s the best thing for you, then we’ll go back. If that’ll make you happy.  Because I couldn’t bear the thought of you being with me if you weren’t happy.  I would never want that for you.”

 

Oskar rolled back onto his side to face her.  She was looking at him intently, and he felt strongly that he needed to reassure her while further expressing his conflicting emotions.  “I don’t want to--I don’t.  All I want now is to be with you.  It’s just that—this is all so new, so . . . different.  I’ve never been to Karlstad before—heck, I’ve only been away from home a few times, actually.  Back and forth to my dad’s, and to see my aunt in Stockholm.  And I’m worried.  That policeman I saw at the station—I thought maybe he was watching us.”

 

Eli reached out and stroked his cheek; brushed the straight blond hair back from his ear.  “Oskar—I’d be surprised if you weren’t worried.  I understand what sort of a change this is for you.  I know what it’s like to be away from your family, really I do.  And like I said, if you want to go home, we’ll do that; I won’t stop you.” She looked down before continuing.  “It’s just that—you’ve come to mean so much to me.  And I don’t know what I’d--”

 

“Stop,” Oskar interrupted, and he moved closer under the heavy blankets so they were only a few inches apart; so close that he could feel her breath on his face.  He did not want her to complete the thought; did not want her to express something that would be painful and unnecessary.  With great delicacy he touched her pale face, then ran his fingers through the dark hair by her temple.  He lowered his voice to just above a whisper. 

 

“Eli . . . you make me so happy.  You’re the most . . . amazing person I’ve ever known.  Before you came along, I felt worthless and angry almost all of the time.”  The painful memories came back, and not trusting himself, he shifted his eyes away from hers to look beyond her to the dancing patterns of black and gray on the wall.  “I guess maybe if you had been around to see what Conny and those boys did to me, you’d understand.” His face darkened and his voice quivered with barely restrained emotion.  “Calling me ‘piggy.’  Making me squeal like a pig.  Sticking my face in the toilet.  Hitting me all the time—like that night when I gave you the Morse Code.”

 

“I realize now that I was becoming a different person; someone I didn’t like very much.  Yeah, it felt good to have that knife—it made me feel like I could . . . could control things, instead of the other way around.  But on the inside that person I was becoming was scaring me more and more with bad thoughts about hurting people, about making them suffer like me.  I knew it wasn’t really me, or at least, who I really . . . wanted, or . . . knew I should be, but I felt as if I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t tell anyone, even my mom, about what was happening.  And anyways, I don’t think that she really wanted to deal with what was going on . . . or maybe she just didn’t know how to deal with it.  Like maybe . . . she just didn’t want me to grow up, or something.  And it’s hard for me to say this about her, but I felt like I was on my own.  I felt as though no one cared.”

 

He sniffed and his eyes shifted back to her still, attentive face.  “But you—you did care.  Cared about me more than anyone else has ever cared.”  His voice dropped to a whisper as he experienced again the feeling in his heart when he’d looked into her eyes at the pool.  “And that’s why I know now . . . that I love you.”

 

Her face was transformed by a tragic mixture of sadness and joy.  Her lower lip began to tremble insecurely before she concealed it with her upper.  She blinked rapidly, and then closed her eyes.  Beneath the blankets, her hand closed tightly over his.  Tears spilled out as she sniffed and lowered her head toward the cover. 

 

Oskar froze.  He stared at the black, silky hair on the top of her head, unsure of what to do.  Then he did the only thing he could think of: he placed his finger under her chin, and gently lifted her face to his. 

 

Eli opened her eyes, blinked again, then looked directly at him.  In a wavering voice, she whispered, “I love you too.  I’ve been wanting to tell you that for . . . forever, but I was afraid if I did, it’d be . . . too much.  That you’d--”  She stopped, unable to finish her sentence.

 

Oskar recalled Eli’s kiss before she’d told him that she had to go away.  He remembered the emotions that had resonated between them, and her terrible, passionate longing; the desperate, heartfelt desire to be loved and accepted. 

 

A powerful, mature bolt of intentionality suddenly hit him.  My turn, he thought, to let you know now just how much I care, how much I feel for you—that you, Eli, are mine.  And then he kissed her.  Kissed her over and over.  On her lips, her cheeks, her forehead, and on her closed eyes; kissed her until all her tears were gone.  And when their kissing had ceased, Eli rested her head on his arm, utterly tranquil and at peace.

 

. . .

 

Later, as they held each other and listened to the wind, he asked, “What is it really like?”

 

Eli rolled over to face him.  “Really like?  You mean, to—”

 

“To . . . you know.  Be you.”

 

She looked at him a long time.  “It’s . . . how do I—well, what do you really want to know?”

 

“Everything.”

 

She swallowed, then replied, with a look of troubled bewilderment: “Everything.  Are you sure?  I’m not sure I know where to begin.”

 

“Yes, I’m sure.  Mmmm . . . how about giving me the good and the bad?  Yeah . . . why don’t you tell me the bad first.”

 

Eli hesitated a moment, then sighed.  “Okay.  Well, you understand that I’m always going to be 12.  I’ll never grow up, like you.”

 

In the brief moment before she continued, Oskar thought, She never gets older—I knew that, right?  But—and his thought was interrupted by an image of himself, at his father’s age, holding her hand.  He frowned.

 

“I can never see the sun.  When I was little, I used to love to play outside in the summer, in the sun.  But now, that would kill me.  I’m afraid of the sun now.  I cannot bear sunlight, even for a few seconds.

 

“So, I have to live the dark.  I haven’t seen the sun in over 200 years.  I live in the dark, while most people are asleep.  So I can’t—I don’t know, can never know, anyone who only comes out in the daytime.  The day, when most people see each other, spend time together.  That’s all . . . gone.”

 

“So is that why . . . why you’ve been so lonely?”

 

“Yes.  Well, that’s a big part of it.  But not really the main reason.

 

“So when I sleep . . . it’s not like how you sleep.  With me, it’s more like a light bulb is turned off.  I’m on, then I’m off.  You can stay up late if you want, cut your sleep short.  I can’t do that.  I’ve tried it, and it’s almost impossible for me to stay awake during the day.  So, once I’m asleep, I sleep like a log—I sleep harder than you.  And that’s when I’m most vulnerable.”

 

Oskar wanted to talk about himself getting older, but feared that it might break the flow; that it might stop Eli from talking.  So instead he asked, “Do you dream?”

 

“Sometimes I do, but not often.  Usually not.  I’ve dreamed of you, though,” she said, touching his face.  “My most beautiful dream was about you, actually.” She smiled and turned her face away.  He blushed, and looked at her quizzically with a small, hopeful smile.  Then Eli added mysteriously, “and maybe that dream is now.”  Without looking at him, she squeezed his hand.

 

Eli continued to talk as she stared at the ceiling.  “Then sometimes, I sleep for a really long time.  Days, weeks--sometimes more than a month. And when I wake up, I’m different.  Like I’ve been cut down a notch.  I forget things, and I—I feel weak.  That’s when it’s hardest for me.  When I really need--”

 

Oskar interrupted.  “Wow.  Like the Dutch guy . . . in that old story.  Rip Van Winkle.  That must really be hard.”

 

“Yes, it is,” she replied.  “But you know by now, Oskar, that none of this is really the worst part of being me.”

 

Oskar, who did not want to affirm this statement, could only nod in understanding.

 

“And that’s really the hardest part.  Because it’s not what I want to do; not what I want to be.  But it’s there, all the time, sort of . . . in the background.  And it makes me look at people differently.  It could even make me look at you differently.”  She frowned.

 

“It’s sort of like how you might feel if you’d gone awhile with nothing to eat.  Or maybe, nothing to drink.  When you get hungry, it comes in waves.  And you can distract yourself for awhile, and ignore it.  But eventually, it becomes everything.  It’s all you can think about.  Well, that’s how it is for me, except, there’s only one thing I can eat that will make me healthy.”

 

 “And so, since I don’t want to do that one thing, I try to put it off.  Put it off as long as I can.  So a lot of the time, I’m walking around feeling pretty hungry.  Which makes it hard on me.  But I can’t put it off too long, or else I—well, I sort of . . . shrivel up.  And also, it drives me crazy, but not in a funny way.  I mean, really crazy.  You wouldn’t want to be around me then.  I’m . . . dangerous.”

 

He felt a chill run down his spine, and quietly pulled his hand away from her.  Then there was a lull in their conversation.  After awhile, he spoke her name.  She turned her head to look at him.

 

 “Eli.  Are you—I mean, were you, or—I’m sorry.”  Don’t know how to say this, he thought.  “Are you . . . a girl now?”

 

Eli turned toward him.  Her eyes seemed fearfully large in her little face.  She clasped her hands together and pulled the covers up to her chin.  She hesitated, then replied: “No, I’m not.  Not really.  I told you I’m not a girl.”

 

“I don’t understand.  But you’re not a boy?  That thing you showed me, back in my apartment.  When you told me to be you, for a little while.  What . . . .”  He sighed in frustration, unable to express the question.

 

A moment passed; then Eli touched his cheek and caught his gaze.  An expression of tentative resolve came over her.  Hesitantly, and without breaking eye contact, she pulled the covers down, exposing her thin, naked, bluish-white torso to the moonlight.  Oskar was surprised, but after a moment he rose and sat halfway up as Eli rolled partially onto her back.  

 

With apprehension he looked down—past the prepubescent chest; past the flat expanse of stomach; past the narrow hips; and at last, to her pubis.  Then, back to her dark, dark eyes.  Nervously, he reached out to touch.  Eli drew back, her face full of trepidation, but then she relaxed; and, ever so slightly, rotated one thigh back at the hip.  It was a tiny gesture of trust that Oskar did not miss; and in the silence, he extended his hand, and his fingers gently traversed the scarred, ruined surface.

 

He stopped and respectfully, pulled the covers back up.  He looked at her again, and seeing her expression, his heart moved inside him.  All he could think was:

 

Who could do this?  To such a beautiful person?  To Eli, whom I love? 

 

Eli turned her head away and stared at the wall. Oskar saw the fine muscles in her throat tighten. “You see now,”  she said, her voice trembling. “I was once . . . like you.”

 

Oskar could not stop the sudden cloudburst of emotion that touching her had provoked.  Her admission was a needle that pierced a fragile membrane of control over a tangle of intense feelings he could only experience, never articulate: horror; pity; unending, bottomless suffering.  And, overpowering them all, rage at deliberate cruelty, inflicted upon innocent nature. 

 

white lilies, trampled in the mud . . .

a butterfly with its wings plucked off . . .

a gunshot fawn, foundering with paralyzed hindlegs . . .

a terrified child, tied to a table . . .

 

His chin trembled and he began to cry.  In a grief-stricken whisper, choked and broken, he said, “I’m so sorry.  So . . . very sorry.”  He burst into tears, unable to control the flood which now ran down his cheeks. 

 

Seeing and understanding his reaction, Eli, too, began to cry.  She enfolded Oskar into her arms, and gently pulled him down to her.  He lay on his side with his head on her chest, holding her tightly while his body was wracked with sobs. 

 

“Oskar, don’t, don’t.  It’s all right.  It’s-- . . . please don’t cry.”  But he was unable to stop, as was she. 

 

As they wept together Eli stroked his hair and whispered, “I was so afraid, so afraid . . . that if you knew that about me, you could never accept me, never love--” 

 

Still crying himself, Oskar rose up and cut her off, shaking his head fiercely.  “No--no.  Eli, don’t—don’t you dare say that.  Ever.  It doesn’t matter; doesn’t matter.  I don’t care about that.  Not after what we’ve been through.  You saved my life.  You are my life, don’t you understand?  You are, you—I can’t explain what you mean to me.  I love you--Eli--whatever you are.  Please, please don’t say that.” 

 

The room fell silent, the quiet broken only by low murmurs as they comforted one another.  Then, these too ceased.  Outside, snow began to fall. 

 

And in the hidden warmth beneath the covers, Oskar once again placed his hand upon Eli, resting it there.  And by this act of confirmation Eli understood, for the first time, that even this part of herself was capable of being loved.

 

. . .

 

Oskar awoke.  It was still dark.  Momentarily disoriented, he looked about, trying to remember where he was.  Then he remembered, and reached across the bed for her; but she was not there.  He sat up and then saw her, standing at the far side of the room.  She had pulled up the blinds and was looking out at the lake, a dark, slender figure before a panorama of beautiful, frozen stillness.  He marveled at how small and fragile she looked.

 

Without getting up he asked, “Eli.  We said you’d tell me about the bad and the good.”

 

She came over and sat beside him on the bed.  She studied him for a moment, then spoke.

 

“Oskar.  Do you know why I love you?”

 

In his heart Oskar was uncertain about what it was in him that she did see, and was afraid of saying the wrong thing, so all he could muster was, “I’m not sure.  Is it because . . . I love you?”

 

She did not immediately respond.  Instead, she lay down facing him, and tucked an arm under her head. 

 

“I could see it the moment we first met.  That there was something special about you.  Here.”  She pointed a finger, touched the center of his chest.

 

“Something beautiful, inside you.  You were kind, for kindness’ sake.  Generous.  Open and honest in your feelings.  And thoughtful, more so than some people I’ve known who were four times your age.  I knew right away that you were . . . very sweet,” she said with a bright smile.  “I realize that given what you’ve been going through you may have trouble accepting this, but I think . . . no, I know—that you are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met, or probably will ever meet.”

 

Oskar tried to conceal a frown.  In his mind’s eye, he saw himself fantasizing about thrusting his knife into Conny. Remembered his admission to Eli that he would kill for revenge.  Recalled how he had thoughtlessly refused to invite Eli into his apartment.  Considered how he had stood beside his mother’s bed, turned on the light, and hoped that she would not wake up.  He felt the urge to interrupt, to protest what she was saying, but knew that she was expressing deep feelings about him, and so remained respectfully silent.

 

“And if you had not been those things, Oskar, then I do not think you could ever have loved me.  Because only someone with a heart like yours could love something like me.”  She paused and briefly looked down.

 

“So, Oskar, I want you to understand: the good and the bad in being me go hand in hand.  You can’t separate them.  You cannot have one without the other.  And if I were to tell you about the so-called ‘good things’ by themselves, it would not be a truthful picture of who I am.  You might be misled into believing that being like me would be—” she paused, searching for the right word.  “. . . desirable.  And if you did come to believe that, and suffered as a result, I could never forgive myself.  Because then I’d be responsible for destroying that part of you that I fell in love with—the best part of you.  Do you understand?”

 

Oskar was unable to immediately respond.  Without understanding why, he fetched about for something to say, to disagree with the one-sided picture of himself that she had painted.  Finally he said, “But you said that I was like you.  A killer.  Was that . . . a lie?”

 

Eli sighed.  “You tell me.  Maybe if things had continued with those boys at school, you would’ve been.  But do you really feel that way now?  And more importantly, do you think you could kill someone who’d never done any harm to you? A complete stranger?  Because that’s what being me is all about.”

 

Oskar shivered.  He tried to imagine himself walking up to someone he didn’t know and killing them.  He couldn’t.  Yet, he still felt that Eli was somehow being unfair.  That her love for him was, in a way, denying him a choice, would . . . push them apart. 

 

“No, but—how is this going to work?  I love you.  I want to be with you.”

 

“I want to be with you, too,” she whispered, stroking his shoulder.  “But only if you truly understand what that’s like.  And only if you understand that I’ll never ask or expect you to do anything like that for me.”

 

“Okay,” he replied, “I understand.”  He ran his fingers through her hair, then cupped her jaw.  “And I’m ready for you to tell me everything.”

 

Eli appeared to be debating something inside her head.  Then she slid over, gently pushed him onto his back, and climbed on top of him.  She lowered her face to his, her black hair a curtain which closed out the moonlight around him.

 

“Are you sure?” she whispered.

 

“Yes.”  Her lovely face had become his world.

 

Eli took Oskar’s head into her hands.  And kissed him.

 

. . .

 

Oskar closed his eyes and succumbed to the sensation of Eli’s warm mouth upon his.  And then . . . his mind was taken away.  Removed from himself to become Eli’s.

 

Images flash through his mind.  Memories, and fragments of memories; and not just images, but all of the physical sensations that accompany memories.  He is Eli; he can see what she saw, hear what she heard, feel what she felt.

 

January 1, 1980.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1971.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1962.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1953.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1944.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1935.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1926.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1917.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1908.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1899.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1890.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1881.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1872.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1863.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1854.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1845.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1836.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1827.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1818.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1809.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1800.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1791.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

January 1, 1782.  I wake up.  It’s dark.  I look the same.

 

 

. . .

 

Blackness; then, I wake up in a bedroom with walls of stone.  I get out of the bed; I want to go home.  And then I see my candlelit reflection in a gilded mirror.  It’s me, Elias.  But why am I so pale?

 

(little white ghost in the flickering light)

 

I look . . . dead. 

 

I move closer to the mirror. Maybe if I look closer, I will be okay.

 

But . . . something is wrong with my mouth.  It doesn’t feel right. It’s too big.  What is in there that feels--

 

I’m in front of the mirror.  With growing horror, I slowly open my mouth to see . . . to see . . .

 

No--can’t be.

 

(gasps) 

 

Where are my old teeth?  I open my mouth wider to look for them, but they aren’t there.  Nothing is normal.  How did this happen?  I want them back.

 

(and my tongue it’s too long, just like the teeth)

 

I try to smile and scare myself 

 

(I’m ghastly) 

 

. . . no one will ever want to see me. 

 

As I am looking in the mirror I notice something’s wrong with my eyes.  They don’t look right either.  I look more closely. Maybe it’s just the light.  But—same color but 

 

Oh heavenly Father they aren’t round anymore, they’re . . . they’re . . .

 

(kitty cat eyes) 

 

I blink, then blink again to make them go away.  But they don’t change.

 

Suddenly I feel sick. I turn away, bend over and vomit, but nothing comes out.

 

I’m crouching and retching in the corner. On the floor when--

 

(dry heaves my throat hurts my eyes water) 

 

--I see my hand.  Not my hand?  No, I can feel it, so it must be my hand.

 

What has happened to it?  With fascinated horror, I hold it up to see it better. 

 

It looks like a claw.  My fingers are all . . . stretched out.  They’re too long and I don’t—where are my fingernails? 

 

I turn my hand (claw) over to see the other side and realize the ends of my fingers are now sharp points.  Hard, like bird’s feet . . . they click when they bump together.

 

(huh huh huh heart is racing)

 

. . . No, NO, Not me Not me NOT ME, NOT MY BODY--

 

Where am I, WHAT am I

 

(I am a Monster)

 

oh Mama please help me, please

 

. . . I spin around, looking everywhere, the walls, the ceiling

 

Looking for a way to get away from myself—

 

no, to find myself and get out of this body, it’s not my body

 

--but there is nowhere to go so I jump into the bed to hide under the covers

 

Maybe if I hide here I’ll be normal again

 

And when I jump I notice that my feet are different too

 

They scratched the floor, oh dear God they are claws too--

 

Oh Mama please, PLEASE save me, change me back

 

This must be a dream, tell me it is a dream

 

I hide under the covers and cry,

 

No one can see me, no one can look at me ever

 

My legs are pressed together under here but wait, wait--there’s nothing between them—what

 

(REMEMBERS)

 

Heart pounding in chest, I throw the covers off, pull down these pants, must look, must KNOW—

 

--Yes--

 

--it really happened, IT WASN’T JUST A DREAM

 

I scream

I Scream

I SCREAM

 

. . .

 

I hear a click, a thud and a creaking sound. A voice from somewhere  says You may come in

 

. . . I stop screaming, look up and see that a door has been opened.  But no one is there.

 

I get out of the bed again, shaking all over--

 

My eyes are wet but I can’t wipe them, I’ll tear them out

 

I wobble to the doorway on my clickety toes, I’m so scared; who’s there?  Is it Him?  Please let it not be Him . . .

 

I look around the corner; this room is also lit by candles.  I hear someone moaning?

 

(is it me? no someone else)

 

I see someone lying on a bed.  A woman. 

 

(what are you doing here, why are your arms up? oh you are chained)

 

I smell something

 

(something good what is that?)

 

It’s you.

 

You see me, you’re terrified of me

 

(me? why? it’s just me, Elias a little boy)

 

You’re so scared of me, but you cannot scream poor thing because you’ve got something tied in your mouth

 

I freeze.  I can’t move. 

 

I should help you, untie you and set you free, then you won’t be afraid anymore, but—

 

(I’m afraid to get closer to you)

 

You’re bleeding.

 

(that’s what I smell)

 

I take a step toward you.  Your eyes are so big, you’re shaking your head at me.  Why are you so scared?

 

I take another step.

 

(like smelling bread in the oven, drawn to it, yes)

 

But not bread, it’s--

 

(blood?)

 

I move closer.  I can see now, you’re bleeding at your wrists where the shackles are

 

(must be too tight?) 

 

You’re so skinny and dirty--

 

(smell dirty too on top, but underneath, you’re--)

 

. . . I see your brown hair, your brown eyes.  You’re trying to draw away from me--

 

(why? I want to help)

 

. . . but you can’t move, you’re partially off the bed but you can’t get any further.

 

Now I’m right beside the bed.  I try to smile but when I do you get the gag part-way off and you begin to scream (ow that hurts my ears)—

 

(why are you screaming? oh yes I’m scary when I smile now)

 

You jerk, you jerk your whole body up off the bed, and the bed slides a bit—

 

(your blood smells so good, So Good, must have it, MUST HAVE IT)

 

No, no what am I doing, Why am I jumping on you?—

 

(I bark like a dog?)

 

I am—I, my other person’s mouth is opening, WHY AM I BITING—

 

Ah. 

 

Ahh. 

 

I drink. 

 

Oh please no, I’m drinking you how can this be

 

No . . . no . . .

 

Stop screaming I put my hand on your mouth--Shhh, shhh . . .

 

Your thrashing slows . . .

 

(weak like a baby to me)

 

Yes, dear woman be still, stop moving, give yourself to me, it won’t hurt much longer I promise

 

. . .

 

What have I just done? 

 

I sit up and look around.  I see my shadow on the wall and do not recognize it.  I look at my blood-drenched hands.

 

Who am I now?

 

(not Elias anymore)

 

She didn’t matter.  She’s nothing. Wasn’t real.

 

I take.  That is all that matters.

 

. . .

 

The image of the dead woman’s corpse shifts, then dissolves, to be replaced by . . .

 

. . .

 

Nighttime on a mountainside.

 

I am in deep snow under a pine tree.  Looking out between the green, snow-laden boughs, watching and waiting. 

 

I look up the mountain.  There are more pines nearby, I am standing

 

(no, crouched)

 

in a string of them, and next to them is an open path, a--

 

(skiing that used to be fun)

 

. . . yes.  A ski trail.

 

I’m waiting for a skier.

 

It is dark and cold, but I don’t feel cold.  I’m wearing no shoes or gloves.

 

I see someone coming down the mountain.  A man; he is moving fast.  The moonlight makes it almost as bright as day to me, and even at this distance my clarity of vision is amazing.  I see his big furry gray hat and coat, black-gloved hands holding old-fashioned poles, leather belt, heavy pants coated with snow

 

(can’t see his face too well he has goggles)

 

He’s in full control and is very good.  I look behind him to see if he’s alone or if there is anyone else.  He approaches me but he cannot see me hidden in the pines.

 

There is no one else.  He passes me with a crisp swooshing sound from his skis.  I hear this sound perfectly.  I had heard it even before he came into view around the curve 300 meters above me.

 

I burst from the treeline and pursue.

 

I run in bounds across the snow.  The movement is effortless; I do not tire.  In the few seconds that it took for me to check the trail above, he has gained 200 meters, flashing down the mountain.

 

I’m light, so light and my feet don’t break the crust—

 

--I can feel all the muscles in my legs rhythmically pumping, but they do not grow weary and I am moving amazingly fast

 

the trail turns to the left and he begins to turn too . . .

 

. . . I am gaining, I cut across his arc, smooth snow or rough makes no difference to me

 

100 meters . . . 75 . . . 50 . . . 35 . . . 20 . . .

 

He does not know I am here, he cannot hear me as I make no sound

 

. . . 10 . . . 5 . . .

 

and I am upon him.

 

He is completely surprised to feel me on his back.  He falters and falls.  I seize him and we fall in a tangle--

 

--snow flying everywhere, stars and snow spinning as we somersault together off the path and into deeper snow . . .

 

I cling tightly to him, I do not come loose in the tumble; my right arm over his shoulder and my left around his chest.

 

We end up on our sides in the snow, he tries to reach for me with his free arm the other is pinned--

 

. . . he grabs my hair and begins to pull my head

 

I tighten my arm around his chest and squeeze brutally.

 

I feel his ribs break.

 

He makes a loud grunting noise as the air is forced from his lungs.  He cannot scream or make any sound but his goggles are hanging down around his nose and I can see him grimacing, he is trying to see me out of the corner of his terrified eyes—

 

I squeeze again, harder.  I feel his rib cage collapse under his heavy jacket.  Blood spews from his mouth and splatters in an irregular pattern on the snow.

 

He is suddenly limp; his movements no longer purposeful.  His grip on my hair loosens.   I shift, sit up, and tear open his coat at the neck.  Hold his head down with my right hand-claw and gain access with my left--

 

. . . his eyes roll helplessly, he knows there’s someone on him but can’t understand what’s happening--

 

I sink my teeth into his jugular. Bite deeply.  His body flexes, goes rigid.  His legs twitch in the snow, skis thumping back and forth--

 

. . . the twitching slows, grows irregular.

 

He flows into me.  Down my throat to the center of my being.  He is big and strong and there is a lot of him—liquid fire. I swallow, swallow and swallow again.  He is a font of life, filling me to the brim.

 

Finally there is no more.  He is still.  I notice for the first time that he is very young, not much older than 18.  His hat came off in the fall and he has thick, black hair like mine.

 

As I have been taught, I seize his head and jerk it smartly around with a snapping sound.

 

His unseeing, beautiful brown eyes look up at me.  He looks ridiculous with a surprised expression and the goggles pulled down over his nose; the blood spattered on his lips.

 

I think my hands normal.  Gently lift his head and take off his goggles. Kiss the blood from his face.  Close his eyes.  You look better now, whoever you are.  At peace.

 

(you are beautiful with your dark lashes on your pale face I’m sorry you had to die)

 

A faint noise coming from the treeline.  I look up and scan.  I see movement between the trees.  Gray shapes shift behind the branches. 

 

Wolves.  First one emerges, then a second, their pointed ears and broad shoulders dusted with snow.  They stare soundlessly at me with amber eyes, their mouths half-open, tongues hanging between their lower fangs. They, too, are beautiful. 

 

I am like them. 

 

I stand and race toward them.  They are not prepared for this, and they freeze, hunker down, and flatten their ears.  Then when I am only a short distance away, they break and run back into the trees.

 

. . .

 

The image of a little girl running through the forest with a pack of wolves gets smaller, then fades away to black.  Then Oskar is . . .

 

 

. . . climbing a spiral staircase made of stone. 

 

My bare feet make no sound on the cold, wedge-shaped steps as I ascend to the top-most turret of the Castle, but the chains behind my back clink softly as they sway back and forth between my tightly manacled hands.

 

Behind me I hear the steady tread of the one who brought me here.  The one who made me what I now am.  He who, like me, needs neither torch nor candle to negotiate this treacherously narrow and rough-hewn set of stairs. 

 

I am utterly petrified, and dare not look back at him.  For although I know that I am now immortal, yet I am filled with such an overmastering, irrational dread of Him that I believe even to look upon His face would slay me from fear.  And so I keep my eyes ahead, and try to keep from shaking.

 

As we reach the top the draft of cold air grows stronger.  The wind moans around the portal above, and a thin layer of snow coats the last few steps, lying in small drifts where they meet the circular wall of the tower.  I reach the small landing, step through an archway coated with frost, and am outside.

 

It is snowing.  The enormous sky is utterly black and fills me with awe and terror, as I have not seen it for two years.  The wind is strong and whistles around the ancient, crumbling battlements.  Below us lie the lights of the village, muted and blurry through the falling snow.

 

His hand seizes the chain and I stop.  I hear another, lighter rattle and then my hands are forced into the small of my back.  There is a click and then the manacles fall away to the hard stone at my feet. The snow begins to stick to my hair and my face.  I dare not look up.

 

Then His hands are upon my shoulders. I tremble as they converge on my neck, and I fear they will tighten like a vise, as they have many times before.  But instead, they caress.  The long, white fingers stroke my neck below my ears before running through my now-long hair.  Then they descend to the collar of the white linen dress I have been made to wear.

 

There is a jerk, followed by the tearing of fabric and popping of buttons as his hands force the material down and off my body in a single motion.  The ruined garment hangs at my waist and flaps restlessly about my legs.

 

A gust of icy wind rocks me on my feet, and then his hands are once again upon me.  I watch the black nails as they soundlessly creep down my chest, my stomach, until they reach my waist and slide under the material twisted around me.  I begin to sob like a baby.

 

He turns me around; takes my head into his hands.  Forces me to look up into his face: the faded blue eyes; the thin, red lips.  Smiling, he gives me a freezing kiss. I feel his ice-cold lips upon mine and I close my crying eyes, trying to disappear.

 

Then, suddenly, I am crushed against him by one powerful arm and we are no longer on the tower.  We are—in flight.  I am frightened beyond measure and writhe convulsively, trying to break free of his grasp and return to the castle before it disappears below me.  But his hold on me only tightens all the more, and I am powerless against his strength. 

 

I look down, horrified, as the castle and the town rapidly disappear below us into the snow.  Then there is nothing but the darkness, snow, and the cold, driving wind against my face.

 

Soon the snow ceases and, curious, I open my eyes.  We have broken free above a final layer of clouds.  Above us is a mantle of stars and a waxing crescent moon. It is beautiful yet terrifying, and now I cling tightly to Him, my arms wound about his waist.  We are incredibly high.

 

With both hands he wrenches me away from him, holding me out by my arms.  He looks at me and speaks.  His voice is like gravel, ground against glass.

 

“You are free, little angel.  Fly, fly away.”  And lets go.

 

. . .

 

Oskar’s eyes flew open as he experienced the sensation of a free fall, and his body jerked hard in the bed.  His legs spasmed and the covers were yanked askew.  He grunted, and his union with Eli was broken.  She rolled off and to his side.

 

Eli gathered Oskar up into her arms.  She held his trembling body closely as he breathed rapidly and looked wildly about the room in complete panic.

 

Eli cradled Oskar’s head in one arm and held him tightly with her other.  Oskar clung to her with an arm around her neck as he stared, unseeing, at the ceiling.  She rocked him gently, saying “shhh, shhh,” over and over.  “It’s all right, Oskar.  It’s over.”

 

The seconds ticked by.  Oskar slowly relaxed; his racing heartbeat diminished.  When his grip on her loosened, Eli gently lowered him back onto the bed.  She touched his face, brushed the hair back from his damp brow, and his eyes regained their focus and looked at her.  But his horrified expression remained.

 

“Eli, Eli . . . no more, please,” he pleaded in a voice that was thick with emotion.  “I—I don’t want to see any more of that.  It’s . . . it’s too scary for me.  I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have asked for that like I did.”

 

I’m sorry, Oskar,” Eli replied with a note of anguish.  “I’m so stupid.  I should’ve known better.  Please . . . forgive me.”

 

Oskar looked into her eyes with immense sadness, then stroked her cheek.  He shook his head and began to cry.   He blinked the tears out of his eyes as he fumbled for words.  “I . . . you—” He could not express the depth of emotion that he felt for her, and his words trailed off unfinished.  He thought, She must be ruined.  How can there be anything left inside her?  Finally he simply exclaimed, “Oh, Eli—”, and then it was his turn to pull her to him.  She yielded to his gentle pressure, and lowered her head to his shoulder.  Oskar felt her warm breath, heard her sniffle, and then after a moment, felt the cool dampness of her tears on his neck.  He gently stroked her hair as they lay together.

 

A long period of silence was broken when a whirl of snow battened against the window with a whispering, icy crispness.  Eli finally spoke, her voice muffled against his shoulder.  “Oskar, all of those things happened in the past.  A long, long time ago.  They’re gone now—they’re just memories.  Like those boys at your school: they can’t hurt you any more.  The vampire who made me is dead now.  He can’t hurt me any more, either.”

 

“I know, Eli,” Oskar replied as he hugged her tightly.  “But it hurts me to think that all of that . . . pain . . . is locked up inside you.  How could you ever—how will you ever get past all of that?”

 

Eli lifted her head up and looked at him before responding.  “With you.”

 

She continued.  “I can’t live in the past any more, Oskar.  Falling in love with you made me realize that.  To do that—it’s like dying a little bit every day.  And I just can’t go on like that.  I want to make my future with you.”

 

Oskar wiped his tears away with the back of his hand and managed a smile.  “I want to be with you, too, Eli.  No matter what.”

 

Eli got up and climbed out of the bed, pulling him by the hand as she did so.  They stood face to face: she in a washed out nightshirt, he in his underwear.  Then Eli motioned to him and said, “put your right arm around me, here.  And hold my right hand with your left, like this.”  Oskar awkwardly complied.

 

“You’ll see,” she said with a smile, “that not everything I’ve learned has been bad.  Now, watch my feet, and follow me.  One, two three; one-two-three; one-two-three . . . .”

 

To Eli’s humming of “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” the room began to spin around Oskar; slowly at first, then faster as he stopped concentrating on his feet and became used to the step.  As their dancing became automatic Eli quickened the pace, and soon they were grinning broadly at each other as they twirled around the room. 

 

Then, suddenly, Eli dropped his hand, took hold of him at his waist with both of hers, and they were . . . flying, in spinning, dizzying circles.  Oskar’s face registered surprise and fear, but Eli gleefully shouted, “Hang on!”  And they both began to laugh as they spun, spun, and spun some more before finally collapsing onto the bed in a giggling jumble.

 

Once they got themselves under control, Oskar squeezed Eli’s hand and grinned as a new idea entered his head.

 

“Eli . . . can we talk when we kiss like that?  I have something I want to say to you.”

 

“I don’t know.  I’ve never done that before,” Eli replied with a smile. 

 

“But let’s try.”

 

Chapter 1

 

Christmas in Karlstad

.

Eli had arisen just after dark.  She had come out of the bathroom without saying much, wearing the same oversized, black sweatshirt with the German Men’s National Hockey Team logo she’d had on yesterday. 

 

Oskar had woken up a little earlier, around 2 p.m.  For several weeks, he had been moving his bedtime later and later so he could spend more time with her at night.  Yesterday, he’d turned in around 9 a.m.  He slept on a mattress they had put down in the bedroom with a few blankets and a pillow.

 

He was in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal and reading a math book he had checked out from the library when she came up to the table.  She looked more pale than usual, and her eyes had dark smudges under them.  She had announced that she was “going out,” and left.  There was a flatness to her voice that he didn’t like.  He watched her leave, heard the door close, and was once again alone in the silence.

 

It was times like this that he sometimes wondered about his decision to be with her.  When she was away by herself, his mind would drift to thoughts of his mom.  With Christmas coming, this had happened quite a bit lately.  He didn’t talk about it with Eli.

 

Two nights ago, he had brought home a little artificial tree.  They had set it up in one corner of the living room and decorated it with a strand of multicolored lights and ornaments.  Eli had told him that when she was a child, they had not brought a tree into the home for Christmas.  She had been around long enough, though, to understand that it had become a tradition, and because it pleased Oskar, she had helped set it up.

 

Afterwards, as they sat on the couch in the darkened room, admiring its blinking colors, Eli had asked him, “Do you believe in God?”

 

He thought for a moment, then responded, “Well, I know Mom had me baptized when I was a baby.  And she used to take me to church, when I was really little.  But I think we stopped going when she split up from Dad.

 

“So yeah, I do think there’s a God.  And I believe in Jesus.  But I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in a church.  How about you?”

 

Eli didn’t respond right away.  He looked at her; watched as the hues from the little tree played across her features and turned her cheeks varying shades of pink, blue and green.  Then in a detached and distant way she said, “Mama believed in God . . . and I think I might’ve been baptized, although I don’t really remember too well.  But I’m not sure what I believe now.  I guess I feel that if God does exist, I’m about as far away from Him as I could be.”

 

Oskar knew that Eli would think the answer to his next question painfully obvious, but he forged ahead because he wanted to continue the conversation.  “Why do you say that?”

 

Eli said nothing; just turned her head and stared at him flatly.  So he quickly added, “I mean, you didn’t ask to be . . . how you are.”

 

Eli tilted her head back, rolled her eyes up and stared at the ceiling with a forlorn expression.  She exhaled heavily and swallowed hard. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.  Do we have to keep talking about this?  I’m sorry I brought it up.”

 

Oskar turned on the couch and tucked one leg up underneath himself.  He touched her forearm and said, “Eli . . . I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”

 

Eli scootched over, relaxed against his shoulder, and closed her eyes.

 

“Oskar, let’s not kid ourselves.  You know what I am—what I do.”  She opened her eyes and looked up at him.  “Do you have any idea . . . how many people I’ve killed?”

 

Oskar felt a chill ascend rapidly up his spine.  Suddenly, he, too, regretted the present conversation.  Hearing her pose the question while looking into her lovely, dark eyes was extremely disconcerting.  “Um--”

 

Eli sighed.  “So many that I’ve lost count.  But there must be—thousands.  Thousands, Oskar.  Can you understand that?  I don’t think they let people like that into Heaven, do they?”

 

Oskar was at a loss for words.  A period of silence, seemingly interminable, spun out between them.  Then in a small, uncertain voice he said, “Well, probably not.  But . . . couldn’t you still go, if you were sorry for what you did?”

 

“Oskar, that only works if you promise never to do it again.  And that’s not exactly in my cards, is it?  There’s only one way I could make a promise like that.  And believe me, there were a lot of times before you came along that I thought about . . . ending it.  Ending myself.   So I wouldn’t have to go on with all of this.”

 

Oskar nodded, then responded quietly, “Suicide.  Yeah.”  He hesitated, looked down at his fingers, then said softly, “I’ve--  I’ve thought about it, too, actually.  A few times.  When I felt—you know, really down about myself.  But you know what’s funny?  That’s wrong, too, I think.  It’s in the Bible somewhere.”

 

Eli straightened up, looked at him incredulously, then laughed cynically.  “What?!  Oh . . . but of course!  That’s the way it always is, isn’t it?  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!  But why?  It’s not like you’re hurting someone else.”

 

Oskar looked down at his lap and scratched his head.  “Not sure.  I think it’s like—you’re supposed to love yourself.  And your life is a gift from God.  It’s not yours to take.”

 

Eli stared at him.  “A gift from God.”

 

“Uh huh.”  He looked at her; couldn’t tell what she was thinking.

 

Eli frowned, looked away and back at the little glowing tree; then just shook her head slowly.  Finally she said in a small, sad voice, “Doesn’t make any sense.”

 

Oskar reached around her and gave her a hug.  “Eli, I think I understand how you feel about yourself.  But don’t forget how I feel about you.  I think you were a gift to me.”

 

Eli looked at him with a little half-smile.  “Well, I couldn’t help that, Oskar.  I would have done anything to protect you, to save you.  You know that.”

 

“That doesn’t—that doesn’t make it any less important, Eli.  You may think you’re this . . . horrible monster, or something, but—you’re everything to me.  And I know what kind of a person you are, truly--on the inside.”

 

Eli turned to face him and smiled; took his hands into hers.  “I guess it’s a good thing—” 

 

Together, they finished her sentence:  “--that we have each other.” 

 

“Yeah!” Oskar exclaimed.  They smiled at one another and kissed.

 

Their conversation had eventually drifted into the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day.  Eli had told him stories about how, when he was little, they had dressed up like St. Lucia and wandered from house to house at night, singing songs and begging for food. 

 

For the fun of it, the next day Oskar had gotten Eli a wreath with candles to wear on her head.  For a makeshift white robe, they had dressed her in a sheet. 

 

After lighting the candles, they had turned off the lights, and stood together in front of a mirror tacked to the back of the bedroom door.  Eli looked at herself in the mirror; she appeared mildly intrigued, and after a few seconds, a small smile surfaced on her face.  When he had seen the glow of the candles around her head, he had thought again how Eli was the most beautiful person he had ever seen.  Then she had turned and silently walked around the apartment, holding a candle in both hands with the sheet dragging behind her. 

 

He moved into the hallway, and when she turned to go into the kitchen, he noticed that her face was wet with tears.  When she came back down the hall to him, he asked her if she remembered the St. Lucia song.  She replied no, so he sang it to her, feeling a little silly doing it by himself:

 

Hark! through the darksome night

Sounds come a winging:

Lo! 'tis the Queen of Light

Joyfully singing.

Clad in her garment white,

Wearing her crown of light,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

 

He was happily surprised when, halfway through his hesitant, solo rendition, Eli began, softly and quietly, to sing along.  They finished the song together:

 

Deep in the northern sky

Bright stars are beaming;

Christmas is drawing nigh

Candles are gleaming.

Welcome thou vision rare,

Lights glowing in thy hair.

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

 

*    *    *

 

Oskar had dozed off on the couch in the living room when he woke up to the sound of the door opening.  He turned and sat up, and his book tumbled off his chest and onto the floor.  Eli stepped inside and shut the door.

 

“Hi,” he said, his voice a little fuzzy.

 

She said hi in return, but did not come closer, instead remaining in the shadows by the door, away from the floor lamp at Oskar’s end of the couch.  Even in the half light, though, Oskar could see the stains on her sweatshirt’s black and yellow eagle emblem.  She excused herself, saying that she needed to use the bathroom.

 

He heard the shower running for awhile; then silence.  He kept reading.  There was nothing further from the bathroom.

 

Eventually, Oskar noticed how late it was.  He sat up and turned off the lamp.  In the predawn gloom, he went to the bathroom and put his ear against the door.  There was no sound.

 

He debated going into the bedroom to his mattress, or opening the bathroom door.  He had never intruded into her space while she slept before.  Finally, out of a mixture of concern and curiosity, he turned the knob.  It was not locked, and he cracked the door open a bit.

 

His eyes adjusted to the darkness.  He saw her sweatshirt lying in a heap on the toilet.  A blanket covered the top of the tub.  From underneath came a noise he had never heard before—a soft, low rumbling sound.

 

Quietly he stepped into the tiny room and shut the door.  Stood at the edge of the tub and carefully lifted the corner of the blanket.

 

Eli was wrapped in another blanket at the bottom of the tub, sound asleep.  She was . . . well, purring was the only word in his vocabulary he could think of.  He listened to her with wonder.

 

Oskar thought for a few seconds more.  Then, he undid his belt and took off his corduroys, grabbed her sweatshirt and cautiously stepped in.  He lay down and squeezed in behind her, using her sweatshirt for a pillow.  Wrapped his arm around Eli and held her tight.

 

Love you, he thought.  Hope God does too.  And fell asleep.

 

Chapter 2

 

Contemplation at Dusk

 

I’m awake.

 

(hears snoring)

 

Who’s in the tub with me?!

 

Oh.  It’s Oskar!  Why is he here?

 

(didn’t say good night to him, maybe he got  worried)

 

Hmmm.  Yes, he was probably just a little lonely.  ‘Cause I was gone last night and left him here alone.

 

. . .  I like just laying here with him.  Maybe I’ll just stay here awhile.  Get up in a minute or two.

 

Nice to be warm for a change.

 

(can feel to his heartbeat against my back, so fast compared to mine)

 

Can smell him, too.  What to call it?  That--boy smell.

 

(boy like me)

 

Not like I smell sometimes.  Not a—

 

(dead smell)

 

Sometimes I wish I just had a normal nose.  That I couldn’t smell so much.

 

(should get away from him)

 

No—I want to

 

(inhales deeply)

 

—embrace it, get used to it.  Love it as a part of him.  I’ll call it my ‘Oskar smell.’ (smiles)

 

(snuggles a little closer to Oskar)

 

Wonder how long he’ll keep sleeping.

 

     . . .

 

How tall will Oskar be when he grows up?  He’ll be handsome for sure.

 

(and I’ll still be 12; still be a little girl-boy)

 

Wonder if he’ll feel the same way about me then as he does now?

 

Maybe he’ll want to meet a normal girl.  Get married and have kids.  That’d be natural.  At least he’ll be thinking about it.  But what could he have with me?  Nothing like that . . .

 

     (don’t doubt what you have, you know he loves you)

 

Maybe at some point he’ll want to be . . .  like me.

 

     (no you swore never to do that to him)

 

Yes, but I meant that I’d never attack him.  That’s not the same thing as if—he agreed to it.  Would that be wrong?

 

     (You’re fooling yourself.  You know it’d be wrong; selfish.  You know what living like this means.)

 

But then we could  be together forever.  Two of a kind; him and me.  Always.

 

Don’t know if he’d ever agree to it, though.  And could I ever ask him?

 

Maybe I could change.  I know my mind has changed since I first met him.  Could I change my body?

 

     (thinks about her hands)

 

I know I can change my hands just by wanting to.  Could I . . . change my heart the same way?  Why couldn’t I?

 

     (you’ve tried this before, don’t you remember)

 

That was a long time ago.  Maybe things have changed.  Maybe . . .

 

Just need to picture my heart.  See it in my mind.  Then I could—will it to change, to get rid of whatever it is that causes all of this.

 

     (tries to imagine her heart in her chest)

 

     (exhales, holds breath and concentrates)

 

     (normal heart normal heart normal heart)

 

     . . .

 

(sighs)  Oh well.  So much for that.

 

Must think about Oskar.  Be practical about this.

 

He’s so smart.  He’s got real potential.  Could be someone important some day.  Not just to me—for everybody.  But how could he do that if he’s here with me all the time?

 

He needs to go to school.  Get an education.  But how?  No way to do that now.  Not around here.

 

Could we move?  Maybe even to another country?  Where no one knows us.  Have to learn a new language; that’d be hard, but not impossible.  He could change his name, or we could get a false ID for him.  Make up a history.  Then he could finish school, maybe.  But we’d have to stay in one place.  How would that work?

 

      . . .

 

Hate having to go out and take care of myself, leave him here all alone.  Not much to do around here.  He must get lonely.  Does he miss his mom?

 

. . . He’s dependent on me for everything right now.  I can’t forget that.  I shouldn’t have gone to sleep last night without talking with him.  He waited all night to see me, he’s been trying to stay up later for me . . .

 

But I didn’t feel good—didn’t want him to see me like that.

 

Killed that old, homeless woman behind that trash dumpster.  Not sure she even saw me before I did it.  Should’ve been easy, but—it wasn’t.  It was harder.

 

     (I hesitated)

 

. . . right before I took her.  Why?  I was hungry, nothing new there, so—

 

     (because she wasn’t just . . . a thing)

 

She was . . . human.  An old, filthy, pitiful woman, but still, for a moment, I didn’t.  Couldn’t.  Why?

 

     . . .

 

     (because . . . I’m in love with a mortal boy who makes me feel human)

 

Yes.  What does it mean?

 

What will happen next time?  Will it be even harder?

 

     . . . (listens to the sound of Oskar’s heart beating)

 

How am I going to keep that side of me from him?  I don’t want him to get involved with that.

 

     (but you know what’ll happen at some point)

 

Don’t want to think about that.

 

     (You must think about it.  Hard.)

 

At some point, you’ll go to sleep and you won’t wake up like usual.  You’ll just keep on sleeping.  What will Oskar do then?

 

     (lie here with me, so nice, so nice)

 

Huh uh.

 

He’ll need to manage by himself for awhile, I guess.  Could he do that?  He’s almost 13.  How could we plan for that?

 

Come on, you’re smart.  Think, think.

 

Could buy a bunch of food, stockpile it—for him.  He’d still need to go out for some stuff, but . . . that’d help a little.

 

     (what, is he going to live like a hermit for a month or more?)

 

He might have to.  He could manage, couldn’t he?  He could be careful.

 

     (but that’s not the biggest problem)

 

No.  No, it’s not and you know it.

 

     (sighs)

 

He won’t know how to deal with me when I wake up.  I’ll look different, act different.  I’ll have needs.  He’ll want to help because he loves me.  Won’t want to see me suffer.

 

     (will I even recognize him?  Oh God please not that)

 

Sometimes I can tell when it’s going to happen.  If I could, then I could go away.  Go off to some safe place and hibernate so when I wake up, he wouldn’t be around.  Then come back here when I feel better.

 

Hmmm.  Maybe.  But . . .

 

     . . .

 

     (feels Oskar’s chest slowly rise and fall)

 

     (Oskar--so happy to have you here with me I love to feel your breathing against me)

 

Things have been so different since we left Blackeberg.  I’ve never been so happy; felt so alive as I have with him.

 

The things we do together; that we talk about.  Like the other night when we celebrated St. Lucia.  I can’t believe I remembered that song—hadn’t sung it for . . . what—more than 200 years.  Incredible.  To remember being . . . eight or nine? again.  How we used to do that.  All because of him.

 

He’s so thoughtful.  Wants me to be happy. Wants me to be . . . myself.  Human.

 

     (begins to cry)

 

Stop it, you goof.  No reason for you to—

 

     (continues to cry)

 

You’re going to wake him up!  Be quiet.

 

     (tries to wipe her nose with the blanket without waking up Oskar)

 

Okay.  Better.

 

     (exhales heavily, sniffs)

 

Listen to him snore!  Good grief.  (wipes tears away and smiles)

 

Well, there’s lots to think about.  I wonder if this will work. 

 

. . .

 

Maybe somehow . . . we can find a way.

 

Chapter 3

 

Together at Night

 

 “Are you ready?” Eli asked, shouting to be heard above the wind.

 

“Yeah.  I think so!” Oskar yelled back.

 

He sat in the black rubber inner tube, bundled up in his heavy winter coat, red scarf and hat, his nose running as usual.  He faced forward, holding the nylon rope that was tied to the tube in his gloved hands.

 

“Okay!” she replied, making the last adjustments to the rope tied around her waist.

 

Eli looked around a final time; still saw no one around.  Not that she was expecting anyone at this hour of the night, out here on the frozen lake.  A layer of high, cirrus clouds diffused the moonlight into a pale, fuzzy disk over her right shoulder, giving her more than enough light to see very clearly the contours of the ice sheet spread before her.  Its mostly grayish-blue surface was covered with a thin layer of snow, blown by the wind into irregular, organic patterns of small, scalloped ridges, much like sand in a desert.  Here and there darker patches of ice appeared through the snow, looking black in the moonlight.  Far away she could see the dark line of trees marking the edge of the lake.

 

She advanced at a slow pace until the rope pulled tight.  The inner tube, with Oskar perched upon it, then began to move as she continued forward.

 

This is fun, Eli thought.  He weighs almost nothing to me.  Gradually she quickened her pace until she was running at a trot.  The inner tube made a brisk swishing sound behind her.

 

“Yeah!” Oskar shouted.  “Faster, Eli!  Go faster!”

 

She looked back over her shoulder at him and grinned broadly; then turned back and concentrated on running.  You want fast, Oskar?  Okay!

 

Oskar watched Eli with amazement.  She looked so little up there, with the yellow rope seeming to point to her like an arrow.  Her head was a black mass of hair that now streamed behind her.  She was wearing a winter coat, snow pants and boots (just in case they met anyone out here, she’d said), and now those legs of hers were doing things he’d never seen before.  They were, in fact, moving so fast that he couldn’t see them clearly.

 

A spike of adrenaline surged through him as the speed of the tube increased dramatically.  The wind in his face grew stronger, colder, and he squinted and clutched the rope even more tightly.  The leading edge of the tube began to lift up from the surface and the ride became a bit more bumpy.

 

A shout of unrestrained joy rose from his throat.  “Whoohoo!”

 

Eli was evidently encouraged by his happy yell, because suddenly the inner tube’s speed increased even more.  Holy cow! thought Oskar excitedly as he momentarily lost his balance.  I’m going to lose my hat!  How much faster can she go?!  He tightened his grip still further.

 

For over a minute their pace continued at breakneck speed.  The line of pine trees on the far side of the lake was now considerably closer.  He was looking off to the side at some houselights when Eli did something that caught his eye.  He snapped his head back to the front to see—

 

--that Eli was no longer running over the ice.

 

She held her arms out briefly at her sides, hands held stiff like a knife’s edge, then just as quickly lowered them so that they were straight.  Then she seemed to . . . float off the ice.  She rose perhaps ten to 12 feet, spread her arms once again, and arched backwards.  For a moment all Oskar could see was her upside-down face and outstretched arms.  Then, as he watched, enthralled, she gracefully executed a roll so that she was right side up.  A thought flashed through his mind:  looks like one of those Olympic divers.  She appeared to hover as the tube caught up with her, and then she turned and landed next to him.  All in less than . . . five seconds, he guessed.

 

He gaped at her, bug-eyed.  She grabbed him around his waist, flashed an enormous smile, and planted a cold kiss on his cheek.  Then she hunkered down on top of him, her head over his shoulder.  “Wheee!” she shouted gleefully, as they continued to slide at high speed across the lake.

 

The inner tube slowed and finally came hissing to a stop.  Both of them were laughing uncontrollably.

 

“That was awesome!” Oskar exclaimed as he clambered out of the tube.  “Let’s do it again!” 

 

Eli stood up beside him, smiling happily.  “Not until I get a kiss!”

 

“Okay.  You sure earned it!  But not here.”

 

In a tone of bemused puzzlement she replied, “What do you mean?” 

 

His smile grew even bigger.  He pointed upwards and then flapped his arms.  “Up there.  I want to do that with you!”

 

Eli stopped smiling for a moment.  Someone might see us, she thought.  But still, there was no one around.

 

 “Well . . . okay,” she agreed.  “But promise me you’ll hang on tight.”

 

“I promise!  Yeah! Yeah!”  Oskar jumped around her as Eli took off the rope.  His blond hair stuck out from under his cockeyed hat and fluttered around his head.

 

They awkwardly wrapped their arms around each other as she shushed him to calm down.  Because he was bigger than her and weighed more, he felt a little odd as he clung to her, but she seemed not to notice.  He watched as she grew still and closed her eyes for a few seconds; then she opened them, looked up, and at the same moment they left the surface and smoothly floated toward the sky.

 

Oskar felt butterflies in his stomach as they left the ground.  He looked over Eli’s shoulder as they silently rose above the lake’s pristine surface. 

 

For a moment, the clouds parted, and the moonlight waxed stronger.  He could see all of the land around them—the little black lumps of houses circling the lake, and the city beyond, punctated with yellow and white lights.  Here and there he could also make out other clusters of color: blues, reds, and greens; sparkling remnants of the holiday season just passed.

 

He watched, fascinated, as gusts of wind blew swirls of snow across the lake’s surface far below.  From up here he could appreciate its movement on a much larger scale than on the ground.  So beautiful, he thought, as they continued to climb.  And for some reason, her words at Christmas about feeling far from God came to mind.  How could she think that with all of this? he wondered.  Can’t she see the beauty of the world all around us?

 

It slowly dawned upon him that they were no longer rising.  There was no sound except the wind. As promised, he held her tightly, but to his surprise, he wasn’t scared at all.  Her arms—one under his legs, the other wrapped around his back—were so strong, making him feel completely secure.  How does she do it? he wondered.

 

He suddenly thought it strange: how, all of his life, he had fantasized about imaginary creatures like elves and dragons, living in imaginary and distant realms.  Magic, mystery and adventure; secret and forbidden places; Tales of Yore.  And now, here he was: safe in the arms of just such an awesome, magical creature.   But unlike the gnomes in the wallpaper of his old bedroom, or the dragons he’d read about, she was realvery real.

 

Eli; little Eli.  What was that clichéd expression he’d heard?  An enigma wrapped in a mystery.  Yes.  That seemed to fit her to a T.

 

He pulled back a little; turned to look at her face.  She was looking at him intently; no longer smiling, but with a look of . . . solemn wonderment.  Then he realized that he was looking at her the same way. In this incredible, magical space, the lighthearted playfulness they had shared just a few moments ago had suddenly and inexplicably been replaced by something much more serious.  They both felt that they were on the cusp of something monumental; something that would . . . change them forever.

 

They came together and kissed.  And the cold world around them was—for a little while, at least—beholden to its fragile, innocent warmth.

 

Her voice drifted into his mind as his free hand found the back of her head and immersed itself in her hair. 

 

Oskar.  I love you so much.

 

Eli . . . I love you too.  More than anything or anyoneI want to do this forever.

 

Me too.  You amaze me, Oskar.  All the time.

 

You’re perfect to me, he thought back.

 

A pause.  Then she gently withdrew; broke their kiss.  She looked down and away from him, closing her eyes.  He felt a tremor, a slight weakness, pass through her arms. A gust of wind blew some locks of her dark hair into her face, and he could not tell what she was thinking.  Why had she—

 

. . . She doesn’t think she could ever be perfect.

 

He touched her face; turned her back to him.  Saw the wetness and the emotion.  But those eyes—so dark, ancient and forlorn—looked straight and unwaveringly into his.

 

He kissed her again.  This time, there was no communication.  He sensed, in that powerful, agile, and ever so mysterious mind, only . . . bending; yielding; then . . . aching abandonment.  He understood that because of their love, he was the only person in the world with whom she could . . . escape, if only briefly, what she was; could relinquish all the worries, difficulty and horror that her unnatural life entailed.

 

She is mine, he realized.  We’re five hundred feet high, my life is in her hands, but . . . she wants to give herself to me.  A vampire that must kill to live.  More than two centuries old.  Immensely strong and immortal.  And with this realization he was frightened beyond all measure, even moreso than when he had been drowning in the pool—because he still thought of himself as just a little boy, in no way equipped to manage the love she felt for him.

 

Then their kiss ended. 

 

They drifted slowly back down to the waiting world.  As they did so she pulled him even tighter to her than before and tucked her face in against his neck; pressed it down into the softness of his scarf.  Never before had anyone held him so tightly.  She spoke, so quietly that at first he could not hear her.  But when she repeated it a second, and then a third time, he did. 

 

Please don’t ever leave me.

 

They did not say much to each other on the way back.  Each of them was lost in thought.  Eli worried about how foolishly needy she had been, and whether it would drive Oskar away.

 

Oskar thought about how much he loved her, and what that meant with regard to his purpose on earth.

 

Chapter 4

 

Springtime

 

“These are lovely,” she said, holding the flowers in the plastic cup up to her nose.  “What are they?”

 

“I think they’re anemones,” Oskar replied.  “I saw them in the park along the path, and thought you’d like them.  They’re a sign that Spring is coming.”

 

“They’re beautiful.  Thank you.”  Eli smiled at him.  “Look at the pretty little green parts in the middle.  Do you think the petals are blue or purple?”

 

“I’m not sure, but . . . I’d say probably more purple.”

 

Eli nodded her head.  “I think you’re right.  I love their color.”  She carefully put the vase on the table next to her egg, then turned to look at Oskar.  He sat cross-legged on the floor, building . . . what?

 

“What is all of that?”

 

“These?  They’re legos.  You’ve never heard of legos?”

 

“No.  What are they?”

 

Oskar looked at her incredulously.  “What are they?  You really have been living under a rock.  They’re only the greatest toy ever invented!”

 

Eli sat down next to him and begin studying the little bricks.  “These are cool,” she said, turning one in her hand to admire its bright, shiny color.

 

“You stack ‘em together.  You can build just about anything with them,” he explained.

 

Fascinated, Eli poked her finger around in the pile and picked one up.  “What’s this one for?”

 

“That’s a roof piece.  And this is a window.”

 

“What are you making?” Eli asked.

 

“It’s a house.  Our house.  Or I mean, what our house could maybe be like, someday.”

 

Eli smiled and watched for a minute as Oskar worked on building the outer walls.  “Can I help?”

 

“Sure.  Make sure you overlap the bricks.  It’ll make the walls stronger.  And leave some spaces for the doors.”

 

They worked together in silence for awhile, clicking the little bricks into place.  Then Oskar spoke up.

 

“Eli, I’ve been thinking a lot lately.  I went to the library again and got some books about architecture.  I’m thinking I might want to build houses when I grow up.  I’ve always loved building stuff.”

 

“Really?”  Eli replied.  “I didn’t know that.  What would you put in our house?”

 

“Well, first of all, a decent place for you to sleep in the basement.  With a heated bed or something.  I mean, that tub isn’t very comfortable.

 

“And then . . . I don’t know, a room to play in, and maybe an indoor pool?  So we could go swimming any time we wanted.  And if we lived out in the country, it’d be nice to have some horses, I think.   So we’d need a stable out back.  We’ll put that right here,” he explained, pointing to a place on one side of the little house that was taking shape in front of them.  Then he looked at her and said, “Horses aren’t afraid of you like cats, are they?”

 

“No . . . I’ve never had a problem with horses.  I think having some horses to ride would be a great idea.”

 

“Also, I think our house ought to have some sort of turret or tower that sticks way up.  With a telescope.  So we could go out at night and look at the stars.”

 

“Oh—I’d really like that, Oskar.  That would be perfect.”

 

“I got some things from the library for you, too,” Oskar said brightly.  He got up, pulled some books out of his backpack, and handed them to her.

 

“What are they?”

 

“Well, one’s a book about the Rubik’s Cube.  How it works; how to solve it.  And the other’s a book about Fabergé eggs.  I saw it on the shelf and it reminded me of your egg, so I thought maybe you’d like to look at it.”

 

Eli began flipping through the book about the Cube with a look of intense interest.  Oskar said, “I read a little bit of it before the library closed.  It says that the Cube is a ‘permutation’ puzzle—whatever that means—and that there are 43 quintillion ‘permutations.’  Do you know how much a quintillion is?  I sure don’t.  It talks about these different ‘algorithms’ that people have come up with to try and solve the puzzle.  Also, almost no one can solve more than one or two sides without taking it apart and putting it back together again the right way.

 

“All of which means that you, Eli, are some sort of mathematical genius for figuring it out so easily.”  He looked at her earnestly.  “Seriously.” 

 

Eli paused and looked up at him.  “Well, I—”

 

“You could . . . probably do all kinds of higher math.  Algebra, trigonometry.  All that stuff.  If you wanted to.”

 

“Really?”  Eli looked intrigued.

 

“Yup.  And you know what else?  You need to know lots of math for architecture, from what I’ve read.  You’ve got to know all kinds of things about load bearing, weight distribution, design loads, structural materials, that kind of stuff.  If I could learn how to do the drawing, and you helped with the math, we could make a great team.  We might even be able to design some really big buildings.”

 

“Wouldn’t we have to go to school?  I mean, college?”

 

“Well, yeah.  But a lot of people get college degrees through the mail.  You don’t even need to actually go to the school.  In fact, I was thinking of checking that out so maybe I could finish primary school.”

 

Eli smiled happily.  “I think you should.  Because you’re really smart, Oskar.  If you wanted to be an architect someday, I’m sure you could.  Maybe we’d have to change your name, though.  Because of the pool.”  She grew serious.

 

“And Oskar, as much as I’d love to live in one place all of my life with you, I don’t know if that will ever be possible.  Because . . . well, you know what I have to do.  And sometimes that means that I have to move around.”

 

Oskar turned to look directly at her.  “Well, maybe . . . maybe you won’t have to be the way you are, forever, like you think.  Maybe something will change.”

 

Eli gave him a wistful smile.  “I’d love to believe that, Oskar.  But so far, I’ve never seen anything that made any difference.  I think I’m sort of stuck the way I am.”

 

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Oskar replied.  “A lot.  Actually, not just thinking.  Praying.”

 

Eli opened her mouth to speak, then closed it.  Looked at him a long time.  “Praying?”

 

“Uh huh,” said Oskar in a small, uncertain voice.  “Praying that you’ll be cured.  That you could just be normal again.”

 

Eli suddenly felt as though she might cry.  He’s so . . . unbelievably kind, she thought.  There was an uncomfortable pause.  She looked down at the legos spread around them, then said, “I don’t think that’ll work, Oskar.”

 

“Why not?  All you need is faith.  Look.”  Oskar opened his backpack again and withdrew a small, thick Bible.  “I got this for free,” he remarked happily.  “They said I could have it.”

 

He had torn some notepaper into small strips to use as bookmarks.  He thumbed through to one of them, then held the Bible up closer so he could read the print.

 

“Here.  Listen to this.” Oskar continued.  “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Have faith in God.  Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.’”

 

Oskar flipped to another spot.  “Wait a minute,” he said excitedly, tracing his finger down the page.  “Oh yeah.  Here it is.  A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak.  She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’  Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured.”

 

Eli bit her lower lip, and tried to keep the tears at bay. “Oskar.  I don’t think I’m going to be meeting Jesus anytime soon.  And did you read the parts in there that talk about me?”

 

Oskar looked at her, nonplussed.  “About you?”

 

“Yes.  Here, let me see it.” 

 

He hesitantly handed the book to her.

 

She flipped through to the front.  “You need to read the Old Testament to find out about me.  Here.  First, the basics—Exodus.  ‘Thou shall not kill.’  And then, let’s see . . . in Job somewhere . . . .”  she flipped some more.  “Right . . . here. ‘There are those who are rebels against the light; they know not its ways; they abide not in its paths.  When there is no light the murderer rises, to kill the poor and needy. . . .” 

 

Her voice, which had been strident, began to tremble, then break, as she continued.  “By day they shut themselves in; none of them know the light, for daylight they regard as— as darkness.  . . . Their portion in the land is accursed, and . . . wic . . . wicked--wickedness is splintered like wood.”

 

She dropped the bible down a bit and stared at Oskar with the tears running down her face.  “Oh.  There’s one more.  This one’s back in Revelations.”  She sniffed, fiercely wiped the tears away with the back of her hand, then with harsh, quick movements, flipped to the end.  “This one sort of . . . caps it all off.”

 

“But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

 

She tossed the Bible down.  It landed, sprawled open, upside down on top of the lego house, breaking it.  “That’s what’s in store for me, Oskar.”  She put her head down into her hands and began to weep.

 

Oskar felt as if he had received a sharp slap in the face.  He stared at Eli with a look of shocked sadness; then he, too began to cry.  He picked up the Bible and laid it aside; then with blurred, teary vision, he made a feeble, distracted effort to fix their house.  His fingers fumbled unsuccessfully with the legos.  Finally--because he could think of nothing else to say, but wanted to say something, anything—he asked, “How do you . . . know so much about the Bible?”

 

Eli continued to cry.  Finally she sighed deeply, wiped her eyes with her shirt, and got up.  She went over to the table with her old toys and opened a wooden box.  She withdrew a small, silver crucifix and returned to Oskar.  She sat beside him and put it into his hands.

 

“I know a lot about the Bible, Oskar.  Because once I believed in all of the things that you said.  I wanted to have faith.  I tried to memorize as much of the Bible as I could . . . actually, it's how I learned to read.  And I prayed, and prayed, and prayed.  But nothing ever happened.

 

“So eventually I stopped praying.  Because I couldn’t keep trying to talk to God while I kept having to . . . kill people.  Week after week.  Year after year.  When I felt like I was talking to a wall.  I just couldn’t.”

 

“But Eli, God must know what’s in your heart.  He must know that you don’t want to hurt anyone.”

 

“Maybe,” Eli replied.  “But Jesus also said that a tree is known by its fruit.  What is my fruit, Oskar?  Do you want some of it?”

 

Oskar closed his eyes and looked down at his lap.  “So that’s it, then,” he said dejectedly.  “There is no hope for—for any of this.”  He gestured at the crumbled little house in front of them.  Then looked up at her.  “For us.  Because I don’t know what else I can do to help you, Eli, besides praying.”

 

Eli’s countenance softened and her voice lost its bitterness.  She put her arms around him and drew him close to her.  “Oskar, I’m not saying that –that we have no future. You have given me so much love and happiness since we met.  Moments of joy so pure that I cry just to think of them.  The nights I have spent holding you close to me, just enjoying being near you, and knowing that of all the people in the world, this one person—my Oskar—chose to love me, even though you know what I am.  And I know that somehow, I have been blessed by God to have you.  That maybe you are some sort of a . . . a savior for me.

 

“So please, please, don’t be upset with me.  Just understand that maybe I don’t feel as strongly about God changing me as you do. It doesn’t mean that you can’t keep believing, if you want.  And you keep that," she said, squeezing his hand that held the crucifix, "if you find it helps you.  I’ll do whatever I can to give you a normal life.  Go to school, get through college somehow, help build a house for us.  Maybe somehow, with your help, I could be more than I realize.”

 

Eli offered Oskar her nightgown to wipe his nose.  He smiled gratefully through his tears and accepted her offer.  They hugged each other; then Eli took his head into her hands and kissed him on the forehead.  “Thank you for praying for me.”

 

“I love you, Eli.”

 

Oskar glanced at his watch. “It’s almost dawn.  Can we sleep together in the tub again tonight?  Maybe with a couple extra blankets in the bottom?”

 

Eli smiled, then poked him in the ribs.  “Of course.  Just promise me that you won’t snore.”  And taking his hand, she led him back to the bathroom.

 

*    *    *

 

He held her closely against his chest.  He listened as her breathing slowed and that strange, low rumbling began.  He felt her heartbeat ebb until it was almost not beating at all.  He tucked a lock of her hair up behind her ear; kissed her there.

 

He tried to imagine them working in some office somewhere, dressed like grownups.  Sitting at a desk together; him drawing a house, her doing some calculations.

 

Couldn’t.

 

Chapter 5

 

Bad Dreams

 

It’s dark and I’m out of my cell

 

Hungry, haven’t eaten for days

 

I drift down a passageway to a door at the end

 

There’s fresh blood on the handle, it draws me like a magnet

 

More on the other side, I know

 

Been in there before, no need for an invitation

 

I hate this room, but love it too

 

I reach the door, but instead of pulling the handle I kneel and lick it

 

My tongue flicks rapidly over the cold, bitter metal until it’s clean,

 

let nothing go to waste

 

Then I open it to see

 

Him sitting in a big chair (throne?)

 

Waiting for me with his white wig and mouth full of teeth

 

Teeth just like mine

 

He smiles and says ‘Do come in’

 

I step inside, close the door

 

Same table there as before with the bowls and knives

 

I look around for it; see movement behind the matching chair opposite

 

Hear a whimper of fear

 

I move across the room to it

 

(the boy)

 

Throw the chair aside, not heavy to me

 

He cringes, terrified, in the corner,  blood running down the side of his face from the cut

 

He bolts as a hare flees a fox, but I catch him by the legs and he falls down

 

He struggles to get away but he is no match for me, just a boy and within a few seconds I have him on his back

 

I pin him to the floor with my mouth in his throat

 

His fists beat uselessly on my head and shoulders as he screams

 

I bite deeper and his scream is cut short

 

His coppery redness spurts into my mouth in freshets,

 

like rainwater from a downspout after a thunderstorm

 

Surges into me, its magic pounds into my veins, my head

 

The flow dwindles, his heart is a little bird in his chest

 

I begin to suck; suck some more until there is nothing left

 

The bird’s wings flutter, flutter, then grow still.

 

He stands over me; I look up at Him through my blood-tinged eyes

 

I’m crouching on all fours over the blood-splattered body

 

I open wide and bare my teeth at him

 

Make a grotesque, guttural growl

 

I fear him but hate him, too, and leap upon him in my fury

 

He cuffs me down and I go sprawling; I get back up and attack again

 

He is laughing as he knocks me away again; it is useless

 

Finally I stop, defeated again.

 

He nods with approval, then is down beside me

 

Takes my hands and puts them aside the dead boy’s head, his hands over mine

 

He says you must do this always, never forget

 

We do it together.  And so I learn.

 

. . .

 

A loud bang woke Eli up with a start.  She was alone. 

 

She looked up out of the tub to see the bathroom door drifting slowly back toward a closed position.   Had it just slammed against the wall?

 

“Oskar?”

 

She began to climb out and felt the scraping on the porcelain when she grasped the edge of the tub.  She glanced down and realized that her hands were . . . . 

 

Understanding flooded through her.  Oh no. 

 

Please, no.

 

She crawled out into the hallway; heard no sound.  Glanced into the kitchen and saw only the bags of groceries lined up on the floor.  She suppressed a sob and then headed toward the bedroom.

 

The bedroom door was shut.  “Oskar?”

 

Nothing.

 

“Oskar, if you’re in there, please tell me you’re okay!”

 

A small, frightened voice—Oskar’s.  Muffled—

 

(must be in the closet or something)

 

. . . but high and terrified, like she’d never heard him before.  “Don’t come in here!  Go away!”

 

His terror was palpable.  She could sense it, even through the door.  And something else—

 

--his blood.

 

Open the door and go in; make sure he’s okay.  Get close and give him a hug, a kiss to make him feel better.  Do it.

 

Eli saw her claw-hand reaching for the knob.  She stopped, but continued to stare at the knob; then exhaled sharply and stepped back from the door.  It took all of her strength; the pull toward the door was like standing in the surf and being drawn toward a towering wave.  It was almost irresistible.

 

Before her willpower could fade, she spun around to take her eyes off the knob and dropped down to the floor, her mind electrified; racing.  Must focus, focus on anything other than—

 

In the living room she saw their lego house by the sofa, the outlandishly tall tower that Oskar had built jutting up like a landmark.  A cheery little blue flag was perched on top.  Moaning, she scuttled across the floor toward it.  She reached for it as a drowning man would grasp for a life preserver.  Touched it. 

 

Just feeling the hard, plastic bricks helped a little.  A little lego couple stood atop the tower by the flag: Eli and Oskar in miniature.  Oskar was smiling and waving to her with his little lego arm. 

 

Thunder suddenly boomed outside.  She heard the sound of rain on the window. 

 

She put her head down onto the floor and saw the Algebra book they had gotten lying nearby, an untidy sheaf of her notebook paper stuffed under its cover.

 

Don’t think of his blood--think of that.  Think of the future, what you could be.  Not what you are.

 

Control—must get control, she thought.  Must get rid of these hands.  She looked at one.  Be normal.  It stubbornly refused to change.  She thought about her mouthful of fangs.  Change, damn you.  Nothing happened.

 

Oh dear God, did I bite him?

 

(saw no blood, tasted no blood but I smell it)

 

This isn’t working, she thought.  Need to get out of here, away from

 

(his fear and his blood, they excite me)

 

--him.  But what if he’s badly hurt?

 

“Oskar, can you hear me?”

 

A pause.  Then his high-pitched, trembling voice.  “Uh huh.”

 

“Are you hurt?  Did I hurt you?”

 

“Yeah.  But . . . I’ll be okay, I think.”  His words trailed off without conviction.

 

“Oskar, you know where the money is.  If you need to, go to the Emergency Room.  I have to leave.  I can’t stay here right now—it’s not safe.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“We . . . we can’t do that any more, Oskar.  I should’ve . . . .”

 

She touched the lego house once more and began to cry.  Pulled Lego Oskar off the tower and clutched him in her hand.  Then she scrambled to the door without looking toward the bedroom, and fled into the night.

 

*    *    *

 

Oskar heard the front door slam shut.  He sat, crying and shaking, in the deepest corner of the closet behind the bifold doors, his legs drawn up to his chest with his arms wrapped around them.  His neck ached terribly. 

 

He had woken up a few minutes earlier, and had been enjoying being held by Eli.  She had begun to toss and turn a little, and he had thought about getting up.  Then, suddenly, she had grabbed him.  It had felt like his head was in a vise--a vise with spikes.  And then she had twisted his head violently.  He was certain that if he had not awakened before she had done it, he would be dead now.  As it was, he had rolled in the tub and narrowly escaped having his neck broken.

 

He waited a full five minutes before moving.  During that time he listened for any sound to indicate that Eli was still in their apartment, but all he heard was the occasional clap of thunder from the storm.  He relaxed as the silence dragged on, and his heart, which had been beating like a triphammer, returned to normal.  Finally he stood, banging his head on the hanger bar.  He grimaced, pushed his way out, and went into the bathroom.

 

He turned on the light and looked in the mirror.  His neck was already starting to swell, and was so stiff and sore that he had to move his whole torso to see the sides of his head.  There were dark, wet blotches in his hair on either side of his head where her claws had sunk into his scalp.  But the cuts were not deep, and the blood was already tacky.  His head throbbed horribly, and the slightest movement of his neck caused a stabbing pain down into his shoulders.

 

He looked at himself.  A terrified, pale young man with gray under his eyes stared back at him.

 

She almost killed meEli. Why?  She would never hurt me on purpose.  Had she even been awake?

 

He turned away from his reflection and began to cry.  He carefully found the toilet and, trembling, sat down.  Sat on his pants that he’d thrown there the night before; felt under his bottom the crucifix that he’d been carrying around in his pocket.  He put his head in his hands and sobbed bitterly. 

 

The unspoken strain of living with Eli suddenly broke through the veneer and intruded into conscious thought.  The hours and days spent being alone while she was out, missing his mom and even his dad.  For the better part of a year he had not even heard his mother’s voice. 

 

Mom . . . what is this life I’ve chosen? he thought.  If only I could just talk with you once in awhile.  Let you know I’m alive and okay.

 

No doubt, there had been good things about living with Eli.  For sure, he had been forced to grow up quite a bit.  He had learned to do the things that his mother had done in the past, the kinds of things he’d taken for granted: cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry.  Learning to take care of himself.  And to his surprise, Eli had helped do all of these things too, although he was sure she had never thought much about household chores before.

 

But, he now admitted to himself, the biggest strain in living with Eli was not the isolation, or missing his parents. It was, instead, the mental wall he had constructed and was maintaining in his mind, so he would not have to think about . . . everything.  About what it meant when she left hungry, and came home with even the smallest signs of physical violence on her person.  He knew she had been careful to hide that from him.  Somehow, for instance, she had figured out a way to change her clothes while she was out.  But she couldn’t hide everything.  He saw the signs—in the corners of her mouth; on the clothes he washed; on the tub he cleaned.  It was like his mother’s secret smoking habit—he knew where she hid her cigarettes in the cupboard; knew where she was going when she slipped outside to smoke.  And even if he could not see these things, the cycle of her hunger and feeding was unmistakable in her mood and physical appearance.  No matter how hard Eli tried to keep all of this from him, he knew what she did.  That she killed other people—people not much different from him, when it came right down to it—to live.  To stay alive for—

 

. . . for him.

 

The happy, joyful memories of his time spent with Eli suddenly didn’t feel quite so happy; in fact, they felt somehow polluted.  How many people has she killed since we’ve been together?, he wondered.  All that praying he’d done, hoping that she would be normal again—had it been for her, or for him?  And of what benefit had it been?  Maybe she was right; maybe it was all just a waste of time and energy.  A bitter lesson she’d learned long ago.  Would he now learn it, too?

 

Could he simply . . . accept it?  He realized that he kind of did, because he loved her and lived with her.  But could he embrace it fully?  Have a little talk with her?  Tell her that—that . . . there was no more need for her to hide that side of herself from him?  That he would be happy to . . . to what?  Give up trying to be good and . . . untainted.  Let her darkness into himself, as it had claimed so much of her.  Maybe even . . . become like her?  She would vehemently refuse, he knew, but would they be happier that way?  And would she agree if it were the only way they could remain together?

 

And what would making that choice mean for their future together?  Would he still have any desire to finish school and get a job?  Would Eli want to continue studying, like she’d been trying to do?  What would be the point?  They would both be . . . supernatural.  Live in the dark together, completely outside society.  Instead of how it was right now—with one foot in, the other out.

 

He thought briefly of leaving.  Just—calling it quits.  She had said herself she would never want him to stay with her if he was unhappy.  So, was he happy?  In his heart of hearts?

 

He thought of the moment she had pulled him up from the pool, had saved his life.  Remembering it made him stop crying and straighten up.  He wiped the tears from his eyes.  In that instant, the bond between them had been sealed.  As far as he was concerned, it was sealed for all time.  He would never leave her, even if she did attack him again.  If it came to that, he would fight the thing inside her.  How, he didn’t know.  But he would fight to reclaim the Eli he loved and try to save her from the darkness.

 

Oskar glanced over and saw the thick, fuzzy blanket they had shared, lying in the bottom of the tub.  He thought about how warm they had been together, wrapped inside it like peas in a pod.  Not anymore.  An anguished cry escaped his throat, and he began to sob all over again.

 

*    *    *

 

Eli plunged down the stairs toward the exit to their building.  Once outside their apartment, her fear of being near Oskar rapidly turned to rage.  She slammed the door open and, not caring who might see, launched herself into flight when she was only a few meters outside.

 

She climbed rapidly into the darkness, the warm rain drenching her face and arms, not sure where she was going, or for what reason.  She wanted only to get away.  To be alone.

 

A tall, metal radio tower with a flashing light at the top caught her eye, and she turned in its direction.  Soon she was crossing over the industrial district of the city.  She saw a large warehouse, and landed noiselessly on its roof next to a massive, humming piece of air handling equipment.  No one was around.  She slipped into an opening in the side of the gray, metal structure and sat down out of the rain.  A burst of lightning flickered across the sky, and a low growl of thunder rolled across Vänern.

 

She wrapped her arms around herself, huddled into a ball and rocked back and forth, weeping.  Her hair and clothes were soaked, and soon a small puddle formed under her.

 

She looked out at the dark, ponderous sky.  Her eyes gleamed, cat-like, in the darkness.  Hate You, she thought.  Hate You for what happened to me.  What did I do to deserve this?  Where were You with your awesome power to protect me when I needed You most? When I was just a child?  Why have You cursed me?

 

Enough; no more.  Can’t do it anymore.  Can’t keep trying to be good.

 

She remembered the tiny piece of plastic she’d been carrying.  Opened her hand to stare sadly at Lego Oskar in her palm.  She closed her hand around him and brought him to her chest; closed her eyes and slowly shook her head.  Almost killed him and didn’t even know it, she thought.  And now, who knows how badly I’ve hurt him.  Fresh tears welled up and rolled down her cheeks.  Something I had vowed never to do, and it happened, just like that.  How pathetic; how—utterly ridiculous I am.  What I want, what I try to do; it’s all meaningless.  Stupid and pointless.  All that hope, all the effort, to try and build a life with him, just . . . blown away like chaff in the wind.  All we have is each other, and now even our little bit of togetherness is spoiled.  What else will You take away? 

 

I’ll never waste another moment praying to You, and he won’t either if I have anything to say about it.  I’ll ask him if he wants to be like me, and if he does, we’ll do it.  No second thoughts; no hand-wringing; no agonizing about right and wrong.  You’ve made me wrong, and that’s what I’ll be from now on.  To Hell with your so-called, infinite loving--

 

Through the rain she heard a metallic click, a creak, and then the sound of a door closing.  She froze, then withdrew into the tiny space . . . listening and waiting.

 

Footsteps in the gravel approached.  Then a middle-aged man in a uniform and carrying a flashlight came into view.  He stopped, turned, and shined the light directly into her face.

 

He must have seen her eyes because he staggered backwards, completely surprised.  “What the—”

 

Eli exploded out at him.  He began to bring the flashlight up to fend her off, but there was not enough time and she hit him.  He fell and landed on his back, striking his head on a steel pipe that ran close to the ground, parallel to and a couple of meters from the air handler.  His hat flew off and the flashlight rolled away. Eli got up from a crouch and leaped onto his chest.

 

The man did not react. His surprised, frightened expression slackened, and his head turned to the side and rolled down off the pipe to the ground, offering its profile to her.

 

Eli bared her teeth, prepared to bite. Then—

 

. . . Papa?

 

. . . You look like--Papa.

 

She gasped and froze.  Her breath staggered to a standstill in her throat.  The rain poured down, gently splashing in small droplets on his unconscious face.  Another bolt of lightning flashed, illuminating him for an instant in a stark contrast of dark and light.  Thunder boomed again, but softer this time as the storm receded.

 

She closed her mouth.  Her pupils relaxed and changed from elliptical to round.  She reached out, touched his face; turned it to her.

 

The shape of his face was the same.  The same chin; the same pepper-gray hair; the same skin, weathered and worn from years spent working outside.

 

Father—is it you?  No—it can’t be; but now I remember.  I can remember my father . . . after all these years.

 

Eli sat on the guard’s chest in the rain, staring at his face. The hatred that had distorted her features a few moments before had vanished.  After awhile, she placed her fingers under his jaw to feel for a pulse.  It was there; he wasn’t dead.  She stood up and withdrew from him; walked to the edge of the roof.  And flew away.

 

Chapter 6

 

Recovery

 

 “Here, lift up your head for a moment.  This will help.”

 

Oskar did as he was told, and Eli slid a heating pad beneath his neck.  She plugged the other end of the cord into a wall socket and adjusted the temperature.

 

“There.  It should warm up in a minute.  Are you comfortable?”

 

“Yeah.  Thanks.”

 

“That pain reliever should start to work soon.  If you don’t feel any better, we’ll give you another one.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Eli sat cross-legged on the floor next to Oskar, who was lying on his mattress.  He turned his head slightly and smiled weakly at her.

 

“Eli, I know you’re upset, but please—don’t be.  I’m not sure what happened, but I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”

 

She looked away from him and down at the mattress; then spoke.  “I should be upset with myself, Oskar.  It’s my fault that it happened.  I don’t dream very often, but sometimes I do.  And as you know, they aren’t always pleasant.  I guess I just didn’t realize that I could actually . . . do something like that when I’m asleep.”  She sighed, rested her chin in the palm of one hand, and began tracing the quilted pattern on the mattress cover with her finger.  “I just wish sometimes that everything didn’t have to be so . . . hard.”

 

“Has it ever happened before?”

 

“No.  It hasn’t.” She stopped and looked up at him.  “Because up until now I’ve always slept alone.  You’re the first person who I’ve actually . . . who ever got into my tub with me like that.”

 

“Then don’t blame yourself.  There’s no way you could’ve known that might happen.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone in there anyway.  I just wanted to . . . .”

 

“I know what you wanted, Oskar.  The same thing I want.  To be together with you.  Always.  And maybe I wanted that so much that I just didn’t think about what might happen.”

 

He looked at her sadly.  “So does this mean that we’ll never be able to . . . be close like that again?  Please tell me that’s not true.”

 

Eli scooted a little closer to the mattress.  “No, I’m not saying that.  We can still hold each other, Oskar.  I don’t think I could keep on going if we couldn’t do that.  But it’d probably be best if I go to my tub by myself when I’m really ready to sleep.  I don’t want to take any chances like that again.”

 

Oskar nodded, thought for a moment, and then asked with a small, mischievous smile, “You don’t sleepwalk, do you?”

 

She laughed.  “No!  At least, not that I know of.”

 

Oskar grinned.  “Good.  I was worried there for a minute.  Are you ready to go to sleep now?  I don’t even know what time it is.”

 

She explained that it wasn’t quite time yet, then curled up next to Oskar and put her arm across him.  “We need to talk, Oskar.”

 

With some discomfort, Oskar turned his head a little so that he could look down at her.  He put his arm around her, gave her a squeeze.  “Yeah, I guess we’d better.  Before this heating pad puts me to sleep.”

 

Eli sighed and slowly traced her fingers up and down Oskar’s side.  “We have to remember better—I mean, do a better job of remembering . . . that  there’s a part of me that … isn’t really human, Oskar.  That will probably never be human.  I love so much being near you . . . just touching you, like right now. 

 

“But being around me is dangerous, Oskar—and you need to remember that.  I always have to control the thing inside me that wants to--destroy you, to . . . destroy everyone I meet.”  Her restless hand paused, and she pressed herself closer to him.

 

Oskar felt her mouth moving on his shoulder as she continued.  “I tried to explain some of this to you before, and maybe you’ll never really understand what it’s like, but whenever I’m awake it’s as if . . . there’s a war going on inside of me.  If I’m not hungry, it’s easier; I can almost forget it.  But when I haven’t eaten for awhile, it’s a lot harder.”

 

Oskar looked at her with concern.  He took her free hand into his and laced their fingers together; rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb.  Eli looked up at him as she continued. 

 

“You’ve changed everything for me, Oskar.   Since we’ve been together, I’ve begun to think of myself as a real person again.  Before I met you, I felt . . . dead inside.  I knew that what I needed to do was wrong, but I had gotten so used to it that I’d become . . . numb.  Resigned to it, you might say.  I had stopped thinking much about  just how wrong it is, because I didn’t see any way that I’d ever be able to change.  So I felt about it sort of how you feel when you know you’re about to do something wrong, but you’re going to do it anyway.  You . . . lie to yourself about it.  You have these conflicting thoughts in your mind at the same time—but one of them wins over the other.”

 

Oskar, who in his former life had lied to his mom more times than he could count, squeezed her hand.  “Yes.  I know what you mean.  It’s like you tell yourself a story to make it easier to do what you want to do, rather than what you know you should do.” 

 

“But you, Oskar—you changed all of that for me.  Somehow, you awakened that part of me that was asleep, that I had ignored for so long.  And I began thinking about how much I wanted to be normal again, to just be . . . a person.  To not have to . . .”  her voice dropped to a whisper, “. . . kill all the time.”

 

Oskar hugged her a little tighter to himself.  “I’ve been worried about that, too, actually.  I mean, after the thing in the tub happened, and you left.  I thought that maybe, you’re doing what you have to do because of me.  Because . . . you love me.  And that upsets me.  Because it’s hard to think that  . . . that—the only way we’re having fun together is because other people are dying.”

 

Eli froze for a moment.  The regular pattern of her breath on his skin stopped.  Then she sat up to look at him.

 

“No, no, Oskar.  Don’t think that—it’s not true.  I’d have to do it even if I weren’t in love with you.  And I have actually tried harder not to eat as much since we met.  I’ve tried more than ever to stretch things out.  And even though it’s made it harder on me in a lot of ways, I’m happy that because of what we have, I’ve been able to do it.”

 

“Really?” Oskar replied.  “I didn’t realize that.  I mean . . . well, we don’t really talk much about all of that anyway.  It’s like it’s—separate somehow, from us.”

 

“I’ve been trying to keep it that way, Oskar.  Because I don’t want it to . . . mess you up, I guess.”

 

Oskar suddenly felt very tired.  He looked away from her and up at the ceiling.   “You know, Eli, maybe we should just face reality.  Maybe it’s time to admit that there’s no way we’re going to change you; I mean . . . get rid of it.  I’m kind of wondering—don’t you think that we’d be happier . . . that things would just be easier . . . if I were like you?”

 

Eli did not answer.  She rolled away from him and onto her back to stare at the ceiling as well; took his hand into hers. 

 

“Oskar, something amazing happened to me last night.  After I left here, I saw a man who looked just like my father.”

 

He turned to look at her, puzzled.  “Uh huh.  And . . . ?”

 

Eli’s voice took on a detached, dreamlike quality as she continued.  “I hadn’t been able to remember my father for . . . I don’t know how long.  It was one of those things that I’d lost . . . over time.  Used to hurt me so much, not to be able to remember his face.  It’s not something you’d think you’d ever forget.  And now I do remember, because I saw that guy. 

 

“It must . . . it must mean something, Oskar.  It can’t just be a coincidence.”

 

“I don’t follow you, Eli.  I’m sorry.”

 

She looked over at him.  Met his gaze.

 

“Just before it happened, I was thinking that maybe you should be like me.  Like you said, it would be so much easier in a lot of ways.  And we wouldn’t have to worry about all of this.  I wouldn’t be dangerous to you any more.

 

“But seeing my father’s face in that man . . . well, it reminded me never to lie to myself, I guess.  Because I know what Papa would have said if he could’ve heard us talking about this.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Papa was . . . a simple man, Oskar.  He saw things in black and white.  Good and bad; right and wrong.  In some ways, he was hard to be around—and he could be harsh on my brother and sister, and on me.  But in other ways, it was a good thing.  Because sometimes he could see things for how they were, and not get . . . confused.  And I think that if he were here right now, there’s no way he’d approve of what we’re thinking about.  And . . . he’d be right.”

 

Oskar sighed.  “I know, I know, Eli.  But still, wouldn’t it make things a lot less difficult?”

 

Eli rolled onto her side and rested her head on Oskar’s arm.  She touched his face; ran her fingers through his soft blond hair.  “I’ve thought about this lately, Oskar.  And when I really had convinced myself that it might be a good idea, I stopped and tried to imagine you with a face like mine when I’m . . .  at my worst.  It made me sick, just thinking of it.  To think that I could ever curse you to look like that--my . . . beautiful Oskar.”  She caressed his cheek; ran a fingertip over his lips.  The most expressive part of him, she thought.

 

She slowly shook her head and withdrew slightly, and as Oskar watched, she began to cry.  “I don’t— I don’t  ever want it to happen to you, Oskar.  It’s . . . horrible.  There’s no other word to describe it.  And I think in the long run, you’d come to hate me for it.  Because of what you’d have to give up, and the things you’d be forced to do.  And I would hate myself, too.  I think we would probably not be able to stay together for long.  And then you’d become just like me, before I met you . . . the world’s loneliest person.”

 

She wiped her eyes and continued.  “So as hard as this is, I think it’s better than the other.  Because I love you the way you are, Oskar.  I don’t want to ruin you, like I was . . . ruined.  There must be . . . some other way.  And like I said, I feel like I’ve grown so much, just in the short time we’ve been together.”

 

Oskar nodded slowly. “Maybe it just seems easier to me because I don’t really know everything.  I mean, you’ve shown me a lot, and what I saw looked . . . pretty awful, if you don’t mind me saying so.  And I know  I don’t really want to hurt anybody, either.  I’m not even sure I could.”

 

He gestured at her to come closer; pulled her to him.  “I can’t move my head much right now,” he whispered.  “But . . .”

 

She looked at him, confused, until he drew her head down to him and kissed her closed eyes.  He tasted the saltiness of her tears; then whispered in her ear.    “Don’t cry any more, Eli.”

 

She sighed and kissed his cheek.  Then once again, she laid down next to him.  He slid over on the mattress to give her some room, and they rested together in silence for awhile.  Oskar kept thinking she would get up and say goodnight.

 

He began to drift off when he heard the beginnings of Eli’s now familiar purring.  He roused himself and, surprised, looked at the top of her head.  He debated whether to remain where he was; then cast a worried glance over at the bedroom window, covered with a blanket.  Then he carefully slid away from her and stood up, frowning a little at his stiff neck.

 

He looked down at her—his beautiful, deadly little sleeping vampire girlfriend, who wasn’t even really a girl.  Eli remained on her side in a freshly washed nightgown, one hand tucked up underneath her head, the other outstretched across the mattress where he’d been a moment before.  He shook his head and sighed.  So much for all that talk about being careful, he thought with a wry smile.  We’re hopeless

 

Then he picked her up and carried her still sleeping form to the bathroom.  Carefully he maneuvered her past the doorjab without bumping her head and gently laid her down in the tub.  He looked around the apartment and found her stuffed bunny, still in one of the boxes from their move, and tucked it under her arm.  Then he covered her with a blanket, turned out the light, and shut the door.

 

He stood for a moment outside the door, listening to that strange, mysterious sound.  Then he went to bed.

 

Chapter 7

 

The Waterfall

 

“What is that?”

 

“It’s a bathing suit,” Oskar said with a smile, holding the black, stretchy garment out to her. “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a bathing suit before.  I got one, too.”

 

Eli looked down at Oskar’s blue and white swim trunks with a quizzical expression.  “Oh.  Is that what those are?  I thought they were shorts.”

 

“Nope, they’re for swimming.  Want to try yours on?  I hope I got the right size.”

 

Eli took the suit from Oskar and looked at it skeptically.  “Looks kinda small.  How does it—oh, I see.”

 

“Put it on.  It’ll stretch.”

 

Knowing that she would not see any point in excusing herself to change, Oskar decided that now would be a good time to grab a glass of milk out of the refrigerator.  When he came back into the living room, Eli was still standing where she’d been before, adjusting the straps on her shoulders.  Her pants, underwear and shirt lay in a wad at her feet.

 

Oskar looked at her, then said, “Well . . . what do you think?”

 

Eli ran her hands over her stomach, examined the red stripe that ran up the middle to the neckline.  Then she looked up at him with a small, puzzled smile.  “Feels kind of snug.  But . . . yes.  I do like it.  Why do I need it?”

 

Oskar grinned and then replied excitedly, “You’re not going to believe this cool place I discovered in the park.  It’s got a waterfall, and this little place where you can go swimming.  There’s fish, too.  I thought it’d be fun to check it out together.  I hope I can find my way back there in the dark.”

 

Eli’s eyes lit up.  “A waterfall?  Count me in.”  She began toward him, intending to give him a hug, but then paused.  “Hold on a second, Oskar.  Let’s think about this.”

 

Oskar’s enthusiasm waned a little.  “Okay.  What?”

 

“Were there a lot of people around, earlier?”

 

Oskar thought for a few seconds.  “No, not that I saw.  I mean, there were people in the park, but this place wasn’t on the main trail.  I had to cut off the main path to this creek, and then . . . let’s see . . . I followed that upstream for a ways before I came to it.  And I had to come back the way I came—I didn’t see any other paths leading to it.”

 

“Well, okay.  But—we need to think about these things, Oskar.  We have to be careful.”

 

Oskar looked down and nodded.  “Yeah, I know.  Well, if you don’t think it’s a good idea, that’s okay.  I just thought you’d like it.”

 

“We’ll go,” Eli replied kindly.  “I’d love to.”

 

They put their clothes back on over their suits, and Oskar got a backpack together with a flashlight, towel, water and some candy.  He popped a piece of bubblegum into his mouth, then offered a piece to her.

 

She looked at the small object in his hand, then back at him.  “What is it—candy?  Oskar, you know—”

 

He smiled at her as he chewed.  “It’s not candy—it’s gum.  You just chew it—you’re not supposed to swallow it.”

 

“Why would you just chew it?  I don’t get it.”

 

“So you can do this.”  Oskar blew a big bubble and let it pop on his face.  Eli’s eyes grew wide and she looked so startled that he snorted and began to laugh as he pulled it off and stuffed it back into his mouth.  “You should’ve seen the look on your face!  Here, try it.”

 

Eli unwrapped the gum and put it cautiously into her mouth; began to chew with a puzzled frown.  “Sure is sweet,” she remarked with mild disapproval.  Then she looked at him with a knowing smile and added, “Of course, I’d expect that with you.”

 

Oskar taught her how to put the gum behind her front teeth and use her tongue to start the bubble.  Eli blew the gum out of her mouth a few times, but soon she got the hang of it, and they were happily blowing bubbles together.  “I like this,” she said, popping one with a sharp, snapping sound.  “Let’s go!”

 

*    *    *

 

“It’s a good thing the moon is out,” Oskar said as he hopped off his bike.  “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to see at all.”

 

“Doesn’t matter to me,” Eli replied pertly, as she pulled up alongside and got off.

 

Oskar rolled his eyes at her. “Smarty pants.  Come on.”

 

Together they walked their bicycles off the path and into the brush.  They went a few meters and then laid them down behind the trunk of a fallen tree.

 

“I sure like riding my bike, Oskar.  Do you think they’ll be okay here?”

 

“Uh huh.  As long as we can remember where we left them.  We’re not far from the sign,” he gestured toward the start of the trail and the parking lot beyond.  “They’ll be okay right here.”

 

They held hands as they headed down the path.  Oskar switched on his flashlight, but after going a little ways, Eli squeezed his hand and said, “Why don’t you turn that off?  I can see for us.  And I do love the moonlight.”

 

Oskar agreed.  It did seem more peaceful without it, and it no longer distracted him from the sounds of the living forest around them.  He listened to the warm wind sighing through the trees, and the crickets chirping in the grass. From somewhere off to their right, wherever the creek was, he could hear frogs peeping.

 

As they walked along, he kept stealing glances at Eli.  He loved to look at her in secret.  In those moments, he felt as though he was gaining some insight into who she was; thought that he was seeing the real Eli, uninfluenced by his presence.  And, to be truthful, he never tired of simply looking at her face: the clear, pale skin of her high forehead and cheeks; the curve of her eyebrows; the soft, gentle angle of her jawline.

 

She was very alert now, he could tell.  She kept turning her head, taking everything in, and sometimes it looked as if she was smelling things, too.  Her eyes were enormous and very dark, and he realized with a start that her pupils had become elliptical, as they sometimes did at night.  This used to scare him quite badly, but now not as much.  He hadn’t grown quite used to it, but at least he could control his reaction.

 

At one point she noticed him looking at her and asked him what he was doing.  Embarrassed, he looked away and said, “Nothing. . . . I just like looking at you.”

 

She gave him a smile.  “You’re goofy, you know that?”  Then she squeezed his hand and whispered in his ear, “But sweet.  Come on, where do we turn off?”

 

“Up by that big boulder, I think,” he replied.

 

They started into the woods, guided by the sound of the creek.  Oskar was worrying about stepping into poison ivy when Eli signaled him to stop.  “Shhh,” she whispered.  She dropped to a crouch and froze; he followed suit.

 

“What is it?” he whispered.

 

Eli did not respond immediately.  He could tell that she was focused on something that he could not see.  Finally she turned her head slightly, without taking her eyes off whatever it was, and whispered, “There are two deer off to our left, about . . . 40 meters away.  Can you see them?”

 

Oskar strained to see through the dark woods.  His eyes had adjusted quite a bit, and finally he was able to make out two shapes moving toward them through the grass.  “Yes!” he whispered back.

 

Together they waited in silence, crouched down in the brush.  The deer—a doe and her fawn—were within ten meters of them when they stopped.  The  doe lifted her nose and looked around, her ears swiveling to pick up the slightest sound.  Eli tensed and let go of his hand.  Oskar held his breath.

 

Suddenly Eli launched herself away from him and at the deer.  Their reaction was immediate, and they turned tail and ran.  But as fast as they were, Eli was faster.  She ran down the fawn and half-leaped, half-flew over its back and seized it around the neck, bringing it down.  It let out a little bleat, and Oskar heard the crashing sound.  He got up to run after her.

 

He found Eli on her knees, holding the fawn around its neck.  It lay on its side, kicking its legs in a futile effort to get up.  “Com’ere!” she said as he approached.  “You want to see him?”

 

Oskar crouched down next to her.  “Watch his legs,” she said, “he’s strong.” He had never been this close to a deer before, and he turned on his flashlight to get a better look.

 

“Aww . . . he’s awfully cute,” Oskar said with a smile.  “Look at his little spots.”

 

Eli looked over at him and grinned.  “I know.  Look how big his ears are.  You can pet him, if you want.”

 

Oskar ran his hands over the fawn’s big, soft ears; petted its small, round head; touched its wet nose.  “Look at those big eyes,” he remarked.  “He even has eyelashes.”

 

When he had seen enough, Eli let the little deer go.  It immediately stood up and bounded away.

 

“Did you like him?” she asked.

 

“Yeah.  That was awesome.  I mean . . . you’re awesome.  Thanks.”

 

“Let’s get to that waterfall,” she replied.

 

They followed a narrow path along the edge of the creek steadily uphill for some distance. Soon the creekbed began to widen into a stream, with large, flat stones replacing the pebbles and silt, and the trickling, burbling sound of the water gave way to the unmistakably louder, constant roar of the waterfall somewhere up ahead.  They rounded a final curve and at last, Oskar’s secret place was visible.

 

“Oh, Oskar . . . it’s gorgeous,” Eli murmured, pausing for a moment to take it in.  A short distance away, the ground next to the stream rose sharply upwards.  Down its rugged face ran the waterfall.  It splashed playfully from one tier of rocks to another before making a final vertical drop of four or five meters and crashing into a pool that was partially surrounded by trees.  The moonlight glittered magically on the mist that billowed up at the base of the fall.

 

They found a dry spot off to the side and peeled off their clothes, which they put with Oskar’s backpack between the exposed roots of an old tree.  Then they wound their way up the last, short distance to the pool.

 

“I hope it’s not too cold,” Oskar said when they finally reached the edge.  He peered into the dark, rippling water.  “Can’t really see the fish at night, I guess.”

 

Eli stood next to him, looking in as well.  “They’re there,” she said.  “Biggest ones are maybe . . . ten or 15 centimeters, I’d say.  Maybe I can catch one.”  And with that, she jumped in.

 

Oskar hesitated a moment, then stuck in a toe.  It is kinda cold, he thought.  But I didn’t come all this way to stay out!  So he followed her in with a splash.

 

The water was cold, but not unbearable, and after a brief episode of shivering, Oskar became acclimated to it.  He swam around the edge of the pool to see just how big and deep it was, then popped up to look for Eli.  He looked all around, but did not see her anywhere.  Just as he was beginning to worry, he felt a tug on his calf.  Startled, he looked down.  Eli rose up through the water and surfaced right next to him with a big grin. 

 

“Hey!” Oskar shouted in mock protest.

 

Eli laughed.  “Gotcha!”  She tapped him on the chest, exclaimed, “You’re it!”, then just as  quickly as she had emerged, disappeared again in a swirl of moonlit ripples.

 

Oskar dove down in pursuit.  He had difficulty seeing underwater.  He swam a little way, and then saw her thin, pale legs kicking in the turbulent, silverish spot where the waterfall struck the pool.  Can’t hide from me there, he thought.  He swam hard to get to her before running out of air, and tickled her feet before breaking the surface.  She flinched, drew up her legs, and spun around to face him.  He popped up directly under the waterfall, a couple of feet from her.

 

She scolded him with pretend anger, then began to laugh.  Oskar could barely hear her over the gallons and gallons of water roaring ferociously, but harmlessly, on top of his head.  They faced each other, kicking to remain afloat.

 

For a little while they enjoyed the unusual sensations of being in the waterfall.  They swam in and out of it, above and below the surface.  When they passed through the fall underwater, the force of the water thrust them sharply downwards.  Eli, who did not need to breathe, had an easier time of it than Oskar, who could barely take a breath when floating in the downpour.  Then they began to lift up their arms against the fall, deflecting the spray out into the pool and onto each other.

 

Eli drifted up to Oskar and asked him to grab ahold of her.  He happily complied.  They wrapped their arms around each other, and Oskar clasped his legs around hers.  Slowly they rose out of the pool in the middle of the falling column of water.  It blasted down, trying force them back into the pool, but Eli was stronger.  Oskar couldn’t hear anything but the water, and couldn’t see where they were until they emerged at the top of the fall.  Then he could see everything—the misting water below, the ring of dark trees, and the sparkling water flowing out of the pool downstream—and he clung to her more tightly.

 

“Are you ready?” she shouted over the roar.

 

“Ready for what?”

 

Eli cocked her head to the side, motioning to the pool below.  “To go down!”

 

Oskar had never been much for high diving boards, so he vacillated.  “Mmm . . . I’m kind of scared.  What if I hit the bottom?”

 

Eli gave him a happy-go-lucky smile.  “You won’t; don’t worry.  Come on.  Try it!”

 

Wish I could be as fearless as her, he thought.  “Can you maybe drop down a little?  So  we’re not quite so high?”

 

Eli complied and they descended a little bit, hovering immediately next to the rushing water.  “How’s this?”

 

“Better.  Okay, here I go!”  Oskar let go, and plunged down into the pool.  Eli followed.

 

Oskar soon overcame his fear, and they repeated their play, going higher and higher until they were dropping from the top of the fall every time.  Then they began sitting on the smooth, rocky ledge above and plunging over the edge together, first separately, then holding hands.

 

Oskar enjoyed holding Eli on the way up almost more than he loved falling back down.  And in his uniquely childish way, he never gave a thought to how much Eli might also have been enjoying their ascents.

 

Oskar eventually got tired and told her that he needed a break.  He climbed out and sat down on a flat rock so that he could look at the stream.  Eli kept diving for awhile, and then she got out too, and sat down next to him.

 

“I tried to catch them,” she reported with a smile.  “But they’re too fast, even for me.”  They kicked their feet in the water for awhile, and worked on getting the water out of their ears.  Then Eli spoke.  “I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun.  So thoughtful of you, Oskar—to bring us here.”

 

Oskar looked at her; saw that once again, her eyes were preternatural.  He tried not to show that he had noticed, but his voice wavered slightly and he looked away a little when he replied, “You don’t need to thank me.  It was fun, wasn’t it?”

 

His hesitation did not go unnoticed.  Eli looked directly at him and spoke softly.  “Oskar. . . . You’re not afraid of me, are you?”

 

He forced himself to meet her gaze; made himself stare directly into those beautiful, yet inhuman, eyes.  His stomach did a lazy barrel roll, and his voice wavered even more when he answered.  “Well . . . sometimes.  A little.”

 

Eli reached out and touched his cheek; brought her head closer to his.  Somehow, she suddenly seemed much older.  “Please, don’t be afraid.  You know how much I care for you, Oskar.  You know that . . . you’re the most important thing in the world to me.”  Her face now almost touched his, and Oskar felt both enthralled and lost in her eyes.  “I . . . I want so much to—”

 

She kissed him.  Her fingers slipped through his hair, then ran gently down the back of his neck and over his shoulder.  Then her hand stole under his arm, around his back, and drew him to her.  She kissed him again, harder this time.  It was a kiss full of raw, unvarnished yearning and passion, unlike anything he had ever experienced before.  He responded, and they embraced. 

 

To Oskar, Eli’s arms around him felt as though he was being bound in padded bands of steel.  Her skin was soft, but underneath she was all sinewy strength, and he could feel quite distinctly the muscles of her arms and chest pressed against him.  To his surprise, he realized that she was lowering him down against the rock, and once he was on his back, Eli straddled him and took his head into both of her hands as they continued to kiss.  She was making a noise, the kind of satisfied sound Oskar might have made after a bite of his favorite ice cream.

 

As the seconds ticked by, though, what had begun for Oskar as innocent, yet unbridled delight slowly gave way to a sensation of being trapped.  Eli’s breathing rapidly increased, and her strength was such that he began to feel nearly helpless in her arms.  The kiss that they were sharing seemed to become more of her kissing him than of a shared expression of love.  And although she did not weigh much, her body was pressed down against him, and the wet rock under his lower back became increasingly uncomfortable.

 

Oskar tried without success to break their kiss; however, not wanting to upset her, he did not yet try as hard as he could.  He just wanted her to stop for a moment so that he could . . . breathe a little, but he did not know how to graciously communicate this to her.

 

Then he realized with heightening anxiety that Eli’s sounds were changing; changing to become a growl, like a dog, grown suddenly feral, trying to slip its leash.  He had heard it only once before, in the basement of his old apartment when she had licked his blood off the floor.  It came from deep within her, and he felt it through his chest more than he heard it with his ears.  Her hands moved more rapidly over his head, his shoulders, and she pressed herself even harder against him.  Suddenly he felt something move inside her mouth—something hard that he knew was not her tongue.

 

His eyes flew open in a panic, and he pushed Eli off.  Their kiss at last was broken, and as she drew back he could see in her mouth a row of fangs glinting in the moonlight.  Her eyes were now open, too.  And for a second before he rolled to the side and into the pool, he saw the Eli that he loved, horrifyingly aware that she was in the grip of her vampire nature.

 

Once he was underwater, Oskar swam as hard as he could toward the opposite side of the pool, trying to get as far away from her as possible.  He managed to swim the entire length of the pool underwater, then scrambled up and—

 

A hand seized him by the ankle.  He yelped with fear and scrambled to get a grip on the rock.  His fingers found leverage in a crevice, and he kicked violently while he tried to draw his legs clear of the pool.  His foot struck something with a wet, smacking sound.  He broke free and tried to stand and run, but the rocks were too slippery, and the best he could manage was to lope away, bent over on all fours.  Then he stole a backwards glance, fully expecting to see Eli overtaking him. 

 

But to his relief, she wasn’t.  She lay on her stomach in a few inches of water, a short distance from the edge of the pool.  He slowed, stopped, and turned to look at her, panting and prepared to flee at any moment; but she did not move.  As he watched she stared briefly at him with a look of utter sadness, then lowered her head and curled into a ball on her side.  Faintly over the sound of the waterfall, he heard her begin to cry.

 

For what seemed to him like a long time, Oskar merely stood and looked at her, torn between fear and love.  But as she continued to weep, he could stand it no longer and went to her side.  The black, tangled mass of her hair covered her face, but he could see a large, dark stain of blood under her nose and smeared over her cheek.  He was aghast to think that he might have broken her nose.  He knelt beside her. “Eli?”

 

She did not look at him; did not stop crying.  He touched her hand and she took his, but gently.  There was no trace of her iron grip, a grip that just moments before had felt as though it might crush his head like a grape.

 

“Eli . . . are you all right?” She obviously wasn’t, but Oskar did not know what else to say.

 

She stopped crying and looked up at him.  Merely seeing him, though, appeared to upset her, and she  relinquished his hand, looked away, and began crying again.  Oskar could not understand her reaction.

 

She wiped some of the blood off her face; then, through her tears, began to speak with her eyes closed.  “It . . . ruins everything.  Nothing is pure.  Nothing can be . . . beautiful.  Not even how I feel about you escapes it.”

 

Oskar drew closer and touched her forearm.  “Eli . . . please talk to me.”

 

Her crying turned to sniffles, and she took his hand again.  “I can’t explain it.  I love you so much, Oskar.  Everything seemed so beautiful, so . . . perfect, and . . . I just wanted to be close to you; to touch you.  To show you that I love you, so you’d never be afraid of me again.  I wanted to . . . .” 

 

Her words trailed off because she could not articulate the complexity of her feelings; did not know the words to describe the beautiful togetherness that she had hoped might occur.  She could not describe the emotions that his love had stirred within her.  How she had, with no forethought, wanted to engage not only her mind, but her body—her entire self—in love with him, while at the same time she did not even understand how that could be done beyond a simple image of them clinging to one another. 

 

Could never tell him about Häkan, and how she had endured him, and others like him.  How she was struggling to free the notion of human love and its physical expression from her memories of Häkan and his predecessors, and their monstrously perverted use of her as a mere object, and to offer herself, as something beautiful and good, to him. 

 

Could not explain how the reality of his castration at times came home to him with such horrifying directness that he felt, quite literally, buried alive, trapped inside his own body; and how he felt, paradoxically, safest and most insulated from this terrible feeling when he was in Oskar’s arms, and thought of himself as a girl. 

 

Could never explain any of it—yet desperately wanted to.

 

Oskar frowned and stared at her.  He was bewildered and felt completely disoriented; had a feeling that something alive was fluttering inside him.  He thought about some of the things he’d read in those magazines in the basement shelter of his old building.  She wanted to . . . what— ‘make love’?  What grownups call it.  But—we couldn’t do that.  She’s only 12, and I’m . . . I’m barely 13, and . . . she’s not even really a girl.

 

Eli continued.  “I shouldn’t have done it, but I—and I mean the real me, Oskar—I wanted to do it.  Couldn’t control myself.”  She smiled weakly at him, but then her smile vanished.  “And I guess that once I was . . . like that, it was easy for it to take over—”  her voice trembled, and she seemed on the verge of tears again, “. . . and spoil it.”  She shuddered and thought, . . . trapped in myself.  Made me want to—bite you, tear your throat open, take your life away and into me.  And with this thought, she burst into tears again.

 

Oskar bent to kiss her, to let her know that, somehow, everything would be all right, but she put up a hand and stopped him.  “No.  Don’t—not right now.”  He stopped, withdrew, and then just sat there for awhile with her, feeling terrible that he had hurt her, and was now powerless to make her feel better.  He looked around and realized that the moon was now very low in the sky.  It was disappearing behind the trees, and the darkness was ascending.

 

Finally he suggested that they go get their clothes back on.  She agreed, then sat up and splashed water on her face to wash the clotted blood away.  Then she got up slowly, and they returned to the tree.  On the way, she told him not to worry about her nose; that it had already healed.

 

On the way back to their bikes, they walked in silence, and did not hold hands.

Chapter 8

 

The Test

 

 

“Give me one more.  And that’ll be about all I can do for now.”

 

“Okay.  Hang on.”  Oskar scanned the page of the algebra book he was holding.  He lay on the couch with the book; Eli lay on her stomach on the floor, propped up by a pillow under her chest, with some worksheets in front of her.

 

“All right,” he said with a playfully malicious grin.  “You’ll never get this one.”

 

“A blue square is eight centimeters on a side.  Determine the area of a green square if a red circle fits exactly into the blue square and the green square just fits inside an orange circle, two of which just fit into the red circle.”

 

Eli frowned and made notes as Oskar read the problem, then asked him to read it again.  She sketched out the problem, then did some calculations with her pencil.  Soon she looked up.  “Eight square centimeters?”

 

Oskar flipped to the back of the book.  “Yup—you got it.  How’d you know?”

 

“You have to figure out how long the side of the green square is.  Since the green square fits inside the orange circle, the diameter of the orange circle is the distance between the opposite corners of the green square.  Once you understand that the green square can be divided into two triangles, you can use the Pythagorean Theorem to figure out the length of the side of the square.  It’s easy, really,“ she said matter-of-factly, with no hint of bragging in her voice.

 

Oskar’s head was spinning; had been spinning for the past hour or so as they had worked through a series of problems.  “What’s the Pythagorean Theorem?”

 

“Never mind,” Eli replied with a smile.  “It’s something you get to look forward to learning when you get a little older.”

 

Oskar closed the book and simply looked at Eli for a minute as she gathered her papers.   She was wearing a knit turquoise turtleneck sweater that was too big for her and came to her mid-thigh.  She had her feet up in the air, and he had noticed that once in awhile she would unconsciously cross and uncross her legs at the ankles and rub the soles of her feet with the toes of her other foot.

 

She had other little mannerisms, he’d noticed.  Sometimes when she was daydreaming, or just thinking out loud, she would play with her hair; twirl it around a finger.  Or if she was concentrating on solving one of her problems, she would play with her pencil, tapping it on the table, or twiddling it between her fingers.  She had very inquisitive hands, and seemed compelled to touch anything new that she encountered, often turning whatever it might be over several times, as if to experience it from every possible perspective.

 

Oskar never brought these things to her attention, but he enjoyed watching them, and oddly, felt that he loved her more because of them.  He used them as clues to interpret her mood, and felt that he understood her better because of it; that it somehow deepened his love for her.

 

Things had been different between them since the night at the waterfall a few months ago.  The amount of time they spent together had not changed, but the things they did together had.  To Oskar, it seemed as if their attention was turned more to things outside themselves, than inward toward each other.  They had done a better job of adhering to Eli’s admonition that they sleep separately when the night ended, and they had not spent nearly as much time holding each other as they had before.  When Eli was not out . . . getting food, they spent time on the mundane, everyday  tasks of living, like trying to keep their apartment picked up, doing laundry, getting groceries, or trying to study.  Of course, they played games and worked on puzzles, too.

 

Oskar knew that something important had been altered in their relationship, but felt frustratingly uncertain of what, exactly, it was, or what to do about it.  He wanted to talk to Eli about it, but there never seemed to be the right opportunity to do it, and he was not sure of what to say. 

 

Sometimes, just before he fell asleep, he would think about it and try to make sense of it.  He knew that Eli had wanted to give herself to him in a very special way, a way for which he was unprepared.   Oh, he had enjoyed the attention—there was no question about that.  In fact, it was that experience that he kept circling around to every time he thought about that night.   The sheer pleasure of being loved like that—before things had gotten out of hand—was something he would never forget, or never stop wanting to experience again.

 

But she had clearly not been prepared for the experience, either.  He now understood that she really had not had any idea of what she was doing.   She had simply been letting go, or giving in?—to a very strong impulse, maybe one that she didn’t understand, either.  Part of him still wondered what in the world there could be about himself that would make her do that; to want to give herself to him.  He did not think of himself as particularly special or attractive.  He was skinny and weak, and was often cautious when she was bold. 

 

And then the whole thing with her becoming  . . . he was at a loss of words to describe it—vampiric?—had happened.  And it had been utterly terrifying, like the time she had grabbed his head in the tub, but worse, because when that had happened, at least she had been asleep.  At the waterfall, in the few moments before she had stopped chasing him, he had felt sure that he was going to die, die at the hands of her . . . other nature, with her—the real Eli—powerless to stop it.  He had thought that he was going to experience the same fate as Conny, his brother, and Martin had experienced at the pool: torn limb from limb.  He still got cold sweats just thinking about it, and it had had a lasting impact, to say the least.  His . . . respect? fear? for her had deepened, grown more serious.  And it was hard, hard on him, that it had happened, because he still loved her so much.

 

When he thought about how wonderful her kisses and her hands upon him had been--at least until he had started to feel like a rag doll--he sometimes thought about what might have happened if she had not changed.  What if everything had just . . . gone smoothly and sweetly?  What would that have been like?  He wanted an answer to this question more than any other, although he would not have been able to explain why if he had been asked. 

 

But this was where, in his mind, things became complicated.  Because he knew that Eli was really a boy, Elias, and he knew what had happened to that boy.  That horrifying, awful thing: that thing that he, Oskar, had not even imagined could be done to someone before he’d met Eli.

 

He had struggled with similar thoughts after he’d first met Eli.  Thoughts like—that he’d be “gay” if he loved Eli—or, Elias—since boys weren’t supposed to fall in love with other boys.  That if people like Conny and his friends had found out, he would’ve been labeled a “fag” at school.  This, in his mind, was almost harder to deal with than knowing that Eli was, in some ways, not even human.  In fact, he’d had a hard time even thinking of Eli as “Elias.”  It just didn’t seem to fit the person he’d come to know.  Oskar thought of Elias as a boy-person who had existed a long time ago; not the girl, Eli, that he had met and fallen in love with. 

 

In the end, his hang-up had just seemed to wither away in the incredible course of events that had led up to them running away together.  When Eli had saved his life at the pool, all of his worries about what his peers might have thought of him, to have fallen in love with someone who was really a boy, seemed stupid and insignificant.  His fears were like shadows that disappeared with the dawn; vanquished by the rising sun that was the blazing love he felt for Eli. 

 

In any event, Eli, for whatever reason, seemed comfortable acting like a girl; so much so, that unless you really knew what he had been to begin with, you would never suspect that he was anything but a girl.  And it was with this thought that Oskar’s mind ground to a halt when fantasizing about the “what could have beens” at the waterfall.  Because Oskar, in fact, did know what Eli really looked like without her clothes.  He had seen it once, without her knowing, and hadn’t understood what he’d seen.  Then she had shown him herself, and with understanding, he had cried at the sight of it.  Would he cry again, if he were to see it again?  Just looking at that scar and knowing what had been there before was painful; like looking at someone you’d known in the past who was now horribly disfigured.  So, he wondered, as he lay on his mattress before the dawn and thought about that night, what would he have done if things hadn’t gone badly?  Would he even have survived such an encounter?  Would he ever find out?  He just didn’t know what to think about it.

 

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

 

Eli’s question jarred Oskar back to reality.  But although he desperately wanted to right whatever had gone wrong in his relationship with Eli, he didn’t want to tell her what he had been thinking, lest it upset her.  He sensed that when she was ready to talk about it, she would; and that if he brought it up before that time, it might make things even more difficult.  So he dissembled and replied, “What?  Oh, nothing.  Just woolgathering, I guess.”

 

Eli got up and put the book and her papers on the table.  “There’s a place we need to go tonight, that I need to show you.  We can talk when we get there.”

 

*    *    *

 

They rode their bikes in a southeasterly direction, then turned onto a road called Mossgatan that Oskar hadn’t been on before.  The night was cloudy and blustery, and as the season had passed into fall, the trees were losing their leaves, which blew and scraped across the road.  They passed a series of apartment buildings, much like their own, on the right, and a line of trees and streetlights on their left.  Then Oskar saw a low wall on his left as well, made of irregular but precisely fitted stones; and looking beyond it, realized that they were passing a cemetery.  A chill went up his spine and he thought to himself, I hope we’re not stopping here.  But sure enough, Eli slowed and then pulled over to the wall before reaching the main entrance, in a dark area between the lights.

 

Together they hoisted their bikes over and laid them down on the other side of the wall, out of sight from the road.  Then Oskar followed Eli into a dark grove of trees.  She walked at a brisk pace; clearly, she had been here before and knew where she was going.  Is this the kind of place she goes at night, by herself?, Oskar wondered.  The thought that she had spent time here alone gave him the creeps.

 

Under the trees, the graves were laid out in rows in a typical grid pattern.  It seemed colder here, and the wind rattled through the branches.  As they passed the headstones, Oskar’s unease increased.  He didn’t like being here.  He sped up a little and took Eli’s hand.

 

“Slow down a little.  Where are we going?  Tell me, please.”

 

Eli heard the note of anxiety in Oskar’s voice.  She slowed down and turned her head to look at him.  Her face had a hardness to it; it lacked its usual softness when she spoke to him.  She seemed preoccupied with her own thoughts, or worried about something.

 

“Don’t be scared, Oskar.  Nothing’s going to happen.  There’s a place in here that you need to know about; that’s all.  It’s important.  We’re almost there.”  She squeezed his hand reassuringly, then continued walking, but at a slower pace.

 

The trees thinned out, and they ran across a main driveway and into a denser stand of trees on the other side.   As the lights from the drive faded in the darkness under the trees, Oskar thought that they must now be reaching the far side of the cemetery. 

 

He was not reassured by what Eli had said.  A place in a cemetery that we need to see?  He couldn’t imagine what it could be.

 

They came to a crossing in the paths, and Eli paused.  She looked around, then turned left.   She had kept her turtleneck on, and put on a pair of her “stretchy pants,” as Oskar called them.  They were made of polyester or some sort of synthetic, since she didn’t need to wear a belt with them.  Oskar had worn a spring jacket that wasn’t really adequate to keep him warm, and he shivered as a gust of wind blew Eli’s hair wildly around her face.  Hope her eyes don’t change, he thought.  Don’t know if I could handle that here.

 

At last they approached a low, stone building closely surrounded by trees.  Oskar understood immediately what it was: an old, family mausoleum that had not been maintained very well over the years.  What had once been white granite was now a pitted, grayish-green, and ivy had grown up on either side of a low, bronze door that was tarnished almost black.  Over the lintel, LARSSON was carved in large, capital letters.  At some point a long time ago, the building must have settled or shifted, because the angles of the walls and roof were no longer straight, and there were cracks in the walls where the ivy had taken hold to clamber up and over the roof.

 

Oskar stopped as Eli continued forward the last short distance to the decrepit structure.  Confused and frightened thoughts filled his head.  Is this what she wants me to see?  Why? Is this where . . . she keeps her victims?  Puts the bodies of all the people she’s . . . .

 

He took a step backwards, his feet crunching in the leaves. “Eli—”

 

Eli turned and realized that he was on the verge of panic.  She quickly returned to his side and took both of his hands into hers.  “Oskar, don’t be afraid.  Come over here, and let’s sit down and talk.”

 

They went to the side out of the wind, picked a spot that wasn’t too overgrown with weeds, and sat side by side with their backs against the wall.  Eli took one of his arms into her lap, and held his hand in both of hers, warming it.

 

“Oskar . . . remember that first night together, after we left Blackeberg?  In the cottage, by the lake?  When you said you wanted to know everything about me?”

 

Oskar nodded, and she continued.  “I told you that sometimes, I go to sleep for awhile longer than usual.  For more than a day—sometimes days at a time.”

 

“Yes.  Sometimes weeks, you said.”

 

“Right.  Well, Oskar, I think that time is coming.  Soon.”

 

Oskar turned to look at her with a puzzled expression.  “But why are we here?  You said you’d be . . . weak, or . . . or something like that.  You should be in our apartment, safe in your tub, if you’re going to be asleep like that.  So I can make sure you’re okay.”

 

Eli sighed; seemed almost about to cry.  She loved him so much, this young man who cared about her so deeply.  Sometimes she wondered where he’d come from—out of space and time, out of all the people in the world, like a miracle.  To meet her; to become hers. 

 

To keep her heart from breaking she embraced him; held him tightly, then spoke in his ear.  Her warm breath only made him feel worse, as it made him think about how much he would miss it when she was gone.  “Oskar, it’ll be safer if I sleep here.  It’s quiet, and I don’t think many people come back here.  And in the daytime, it won’t seem so bad, if you want to come and visit.”

 

Oskar thought, Come visit?  Like I’m going to your grave?  He couldn’t help himself and started to cry.  “But . . . I don’t understand.  Why a cemetery?  Why this awful place?  I don’t want you go to away, especially not here!  Besides, didn’t you say that you’d need help, or something?”

 

Something broke inside Eli, and she, too, began to cry.  “Oskar, you have to be strong now.  Strong for us.  We . . . we talked about this.  Remember, when I said we needed to get all those groceries?  Huh?  So you could—” she sniffed and her voice grew hoarse, “--so you’d be okay while I’m gone?”

 

“But--but . . .” then he looked down, crestfallen, and wiped his nose.  Paused; then said despondently, “Yes.  I remember.”

 

“Oskar, I don’t want to be around you when I wake up.  I won’t be the same person you’re used to, and I don’t know exactly what will happen.  I don’t want to hurt you, like—like . . . .”  She dropped his hand and looked away.  He finished her sentence.  “. . . the waterfall.”  She nodded her head sadly; sniffed and wiped her nose.

 

They sat in silence for awhile, staring out at the graveyard; full of things to say, but not sure of how to say them.  Finally she stood up and said, “Come on.  Let me show you where I’ll be.  Just so you’ll know.”

 

Oskar followed her reluctantly and they walked around to the front of the building.  Eli put her shoulder to the heavy door, and it gave way with a groan and squeal of old metal.  Oskar looked around quickly, certain that someone must have heard, but saw no one.  Then he fished his little flashlight out of his pocket, and they slipped past the door and entered.

 

Oskar, never having been inside a crypt, expected to see coffins or moldering bodies lying about, but it was nothing like that.  There was a musty smell, for sure; a crack in the ceiling had let water in, and there was mildew or mold growing up there.  But in the open area, he saw nothing but a thick layer of dust, recently disturbed by Eli’s footprints.  Immediately around the corner of the door lay a crowbar, and three or four concrete cinderblocks that she had dragged in.  A little farther down, he saw a bronze memorial urn next to the wall with ancient, utterly flaccid flowers jutting out, covered in cobwebs.


He turned and examined the lock.  The inside catch, which had been made of heavy cast metal, had been broken off and was laying on the floor near the blocks.

 

When he flashed the light around the walls, he realized how things were organized.  The dead were arranged in vaults on either side of the central nave, which itself was about three meters wide.  A total of 16 people could be buried here; eight on each side, in two tiers of four.   On the back wall were two, slit-like windows, barely as wide as Oskar’s hand, constructed of thick, leaded glass.

 

Eli grabbed the crowbar and went to the back.  She stopped in front of the wall to their right and motioned Oskar over.  Once he was beside her, he saw that they were standing in front of a vault on which was written Johan Larsson, Beloved Father, 1889 – 1938.   When Oskar looked down, he saw that the one below Johan’s was smooth and had no writing; it was then that he realized  that some of the vaults were empty.  As he watched, Eli squatted, pried the bottom-most marble panel off with the crowbar, and carefully lowered it a few centimeters to the floor; then she slid it to the side so Oskar could see.  The stone was thick, and he imagined that it must have been quite heavy.

 

He crouched next to Eli and shined his light into the hole.  There was nothing to see; just a coffin-sized cavity, constructed of finished stone.  He wiped his eyes and looked at her, his lip trembling.  “You’re going to be in there?

 

She looked at him impatiently.  “Oskar, there aren’t too many options.  I don’t want to be in our apartment, and I don’t want to be outside, in a culvert or cave somewhere.  A lot of people live around here, and there just aren’t very many places where I’ll be safe.  This will be okay.  Please don’t worry.”

 

“But how will you be able to get healthy again, if you’re weak?  Won’t you need help?”

 

“I’ve thought of that, and I know what I need to do.  I’ll be okay,” Eli lied.  It was half a lie, actually.  Because although she had thought about it, thought about it intensely, she had no real solution to the dilemma she now faced.  She was determined not to involve Oskar in this, but had not developed a relationship with anyone else who could help her.  Her love for Oskar had prevented her from doing what she had always done in the past—enlisting the aid of someone from the underbelly of society; someone who would be willing to do what needed to be done.  The thieves and pedophiles; the drug addicts, the murderers.  The relationship she would need to build with such persons would, she was certain, threaten Oskar, and she couldn’t allow that to happen.  So for the first time that she could remember, she would be on her own.

 

Oskar sighed, then looked down dejectedly.  He knew that no matter what he said, he wasn’t going to change her mind, so he saw no sense in arguing further.

 

“So, when are you going?”

 

Eli looked at him uncertainly.  “Well, that’s hard to say.  There’s no way to really tell when it might happen.  But I’ve been feeling a little different lately, and I think it’s close.  It might be best if I stay here tonight.”

 

Oskar panicked.  “Tonight?  Oh, come on!  No!”  He spun around to face away from her, leaving her in darkness as the flashlight in his hand illuminated the opposite wall and the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

 

Eli stood in silence for a moment, looking down at the floor and trying to get control over her emotions.  She had known that this would be difficult, but hadn’t really understood just how painful it was going to be.  Finally she thought, He’s right.  It’s not fair to him to go tonight.  We’ll spend one more night together, and tomorrow night, I’ll leave.

 

She touched his shoulder.  “Okay, Oskar.  We’ll wait a little bit longer.”  She felt the tension in him relax as he turned back around, visibly relieved.  “Come on, let’s go home.”

 

*    *    *

 

Oskar crawled onto his mattress in his underwear and pulled the blanket up over himself.  They hadn’t said much to each other after they had gotten home.  He’d told her that he wanted her to take something of his when she went, dug his Rubik’s cube out of a box, and had given it to her.  He had thought she was going to start crying again when he handed it to her, but she didn’t; she thanked him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  A little later, after he’d brushed his teeth, she’d said goodnight, and gone into the bathroom.

 

He turned onto his side facing the wall and buried his face in his pillow.  Now that she was in her bed, he didn’t need to be brave for her anymore, and all of the emotions spilled out in uncontrolled sobbing.  He pulled the blanket up over his head so she wouldn’t hear him.  This is really going to happen, he thought.  She’s going away for who knows how long, and I’ll be all alone.  What if it’s a month?  Two months?  What will I do all that time?  I won’t be able to do it.  I just won’t.  I’m not old enough for this; can’t deal with it.

 

But as he continued to cry, his thoughts shifted.  She’s counting on me; I have to do it for her.  She saved my life.  How does that compare to what she’s asking now?  Do you think you could ever leave, just up and . . . leave her in the lurch?  Maybe it’s time for you to grow up a little.  Start acting like a man, not a little boy.  Maybe—

 

He heard the bedroom doorhandle creak as it was turned.  He froze.

 

For some reason he did not understand, the thought that she might be coming into his room seized him with irrational dread.  He held his breath under the covers, hoping that she would think he was asleep.  He suddenly felt as though he was six years old again, afraid that a monster was coming out of his closet to get him.

 

After a few seconds, he felt weight on the mattress behind him; felt the blanket being lifted.  He tensed; prepared to flee.  Then a cool, naked body slid in behind him, pressed against his back, and an arm gently curled around him. 

 

Eli.  His heart leaped with joy in his chest.

 

He felt her warm breath on the nape of his neck as she spoke.  “Sorry.  I just couldn’t stay in my tub tonight.  I need you.”

 

He took her hand into his; squeezed it hard.  He remembered the first night he had ever shared a bed with her, when they had lain just like this.  When she’d said she'd flown to his room, and he hadn’t believed it.  Had agreed, to his elation, to go steady with him.  Had left him the first love note he’d ever gotten in his life—a note he still had to this day.  It seemed like so long ago, now, even though it really wasn’t. 

 

A wave of emotion passed over him that was so strong that he felt powerless in its grip.  All of the experiences they had shared since that first moment they had met in the snow outside his old apartment suddenly seemed to telescope into one, multi-faceted emotion—a glittering diamond that turned and sparkled, reflecting light outwards in all directions to blind him.  Love and togetherness; sadness and departure; happy memories, and an uncertain future; all jumbled up in his mind.  Without thinking he rolled over to face her, took her head into his hands, and kissed her deeply.

 

Now they both made the sort of happy, satisfied sounds that she had made at the waterfall.  And when their kiss finally broke she whispered, in a trembling voice, “This is my dream, Oskar.  To be with you, like this.  To be just myself—with you.  Always.  Forever.”

 

“Oh, Eli—” but any coherent expression of thought escaped him.  The yearning for her, frustrated and perhaps irretrievably damaged since that night at the waterfall, rose like a wellspring and burst forth in a torrent that he could not control.  He wrapped his arms about her and pulled her to him and on top of him; held her tightly.  Didn’t care that she was superstrong and might tear him apart, for his love was stronger.  Didn’t care that she was really Elias, a boy.  Just wanted, at all costs, to be one with her.  This one person who was his, and would be his, forever.

 

Later, as they lay together in the darkness, he asked her what he could do to help her while she hibernated.  “Pray for me,” was her only reply.

 

Chapter 9

 

Eli Goes to Sleep

 

 

Oskar woke up.  He had overslept; it was already past 4 p.m., according to the alarm clock on the floor by his mattress, and would certainly be dark outside by now.  He stood and stretched.

 

As he dressed, he thought about last night.  He was both happy and sad: happy that his emotional bond with Eli had been restored; sad that tonight she would be leaving.

 

Eli was not around, and as he moved into the kitchen, he saw that the bathroom door was closed.  Sleepyhead, he thought with a smile.  Well, she’ll be up in a minute.

 

He turned on the faucet and splashed cold water on his face to wash the sleep from his eyes.  Maybe she’s wrong, he thought hopefully as he dried his face with the dishtowel.  Maybe she’ll go to sleep at the cemetery and realize that it’s too early; come back here.  Be with me a while longer.

 

He was pouring a bowl of cereal and wondering whether the milk they’d bought over a week ago was still fresh when he heard a sound.

 

Thump.

 

Thump-thump.

 

He cocked his head to listen.  Put the cereal box down and moved slowly toward the hallway.  Heard four more thumps in quick succession.  Coming from . . . he turned and looked down the hall.  The bathroom.

 

He went toward the bathroom door, a concerned look on his face.  He hadn’t bothered to turn on the hall light, and the light from the kitchen was weaker at this end of the hall.  The door was steeped in shadow; its handle gleamed.

 

Thump.  Then softer, somehow secretive: thump thump.

 

With growing unease Oskar put his ear to the door.  He strained to listen.  Thought he heard a swishing noise.  Like—thrashing?

 

He frowned.  What’s she doing in there?  Does she need help?

 

“Eli?”

 

There was no response.

 

Thump-swish.

 

He turned the handle and slowly opened the door.  It creaked softly on its hinges.   To his right, the porcelain enameled bathtub glimmered dimly like a ghost.  He peeked in and saw a shape under her blanket in the bottom of the tub.

 

He recoiled as the blanket suddenly jerked and fluttered.  Then he heard another thump as something underneath struck the inside of the tub.

 

Something’s wrong, he thought.  She’s usually up by now.  Is she having a bad dream?  A cold finger pressed lightly against his heart as he remembered her claws sinking into his scalp.

 

He gingerly stepped into the bathroom with an unsettling mixture of concern and dread.  She’d said she’d been feeling different, he thought.  Is this part of it?

 

He reached toward the tub to pull away the blanket.  But it seemed to tremble in the shadows, and he hesitated.

 

This is ridiculous, he thought.  She was as close to me as anyone will ever be last night, and now I’m afraid.  Foolish.

 

Having thus emboldened himself, he grabbed the blanket and pulled it off with a quick jerk.  Then stepped back in shock and dropped it immediately when he saw her.

 

Eli laid in shadow, half on her side, half on her back.  Her arms were rigid, but flexed at the elbows.  Her head was thrown back and turned partially to the side.  Her eyes were closed and her mouth hung open, bloody saliva oozing out of one corner.  Her legs were stiff too, and as he watched, one of them suddenly flexed, and her kneecap hit the tub.

 

Thump.  Then twice more, followed by the other knee.

 

She twitched violently and rolled onto her side, then made a groaning noise that was clearly not volitional.

 

She’s having a seizure.  He had never seen a person having a seizure, but had seen a show about them on TV.

 

He flicked on the bathroom light.  He crouched down by the tub and spoke her name twice; then reached to touch her.  Maybe he could bring her out of it.

 

Before he could do so, her writhing suddenly stopped, and she seemed to relax.  Her head, which had been facing away from him, then slowly turned toward him; toward the sound of his voice, he assumed.  Her eyes remained closed, and her face was completely blank and devoid of expression.  Her appearance was so unsettling that Oskar flinched and pulled his hand away.

 

Hesitantly and with a frightened, trembling voice, he spoke her name again.  “Eli?  Wake up, Eli.”

 

She slowly raised her head off the bottom of the tub and as she did so, her body jerked twice yet again.  He thought for a moment that she was simply going to wake up.  But then in one motion her back arched, her lower jaw was thrust forward, and her mouth opened wide to reveal her fearsome array of sharp, pointed teeth, bloody from where she’d bitten the inside of her own mouth.  Another inhuman moan escaped her lips.

 

Oskar fell backward and hit the back of his head on the edge of the toilet with a bonk.  The pain was intense, but there was so much adrenaline pumping through him that he barely registered it. 

 

At the sound of his head striking the toilet, Eli’s eyes flew open.  Her head was turned directly towards him, but she seemed to be staring, with eyes unfocused, past him at something on the ceiling.  And her eyes were dead . . . lifeless and doll-like; devoid of any human quality.

 

He watched, paralyzed with fear, as she simply hung there, sitting halfway up, moaning with her mouth jutting open, swaying slightly as her body continued to jerk.  She reminded him of deep water lantern fish he’d seen on a nature program; the ones with the enormous, fanged mouths and silvery, scary eyes. 

 

Then he saw one hand creep over the edge of the tub.  Before his eyes, her beautiful fingers changed and stretched with the faintest crackle of cartilage, transforming themselves into claws.

 

Oskar rolled over and crawled on all fours to the doorway, stood and ran, slamming the bathroom door behind him as he went.  He sprinted blindly down the hall and stumbled over the laundry basket he’d left there yesterday, spilling dirty socks and underwear out onto the carpet.  He scrambled to his feet; thought he heard another noise from the bathroom—the scrape of something on hard porcelain.  He bolted to the front door in complete panic, fumbled the lock open, ran out into the hall, grabbing the door handle with one hand as he did so.  The door swung shut behind him as he dashed down the stairs in two’s and three’s.  He rushed past an elderly woman carrying a bag of groceries, heedless to her shout to be careful on the stairs.

 

Oskar ran out of their apartment building toward the bicycle rack.  There he paused and turned to look back at the window of their living room, up on the third floor.  Of course, he could see nothing except a faint trace of light around the edges, since they had covered it with a piece of heavy cardboard, but he stupidly stood there, panting heavily, and watched it anyway for any sign of movement.  But there was none.

 

His mind raced.  He got his bike off the rack as he continued to glance up at the window.  He was so unnerved that he had to redo the combination lock three times before getting it right.  Then he waited, his hands on his bike, ready to leap on and pedal away at the slightest movement from either their window, or the door leading into the apartment.

 

As the minutes passed, he began to realize his predicament.  It was early November, and he was standing outside dressed only in a tee-shirt and pants.  He had no coat on, nor even any shoes.  It was close to freezing, and there was a thin layer of snow on the ground.  The soles of his feet were beginning to feel very cold.

 

He thought about places he could go.  They had not made any acquaintances in the building, so there was no one he could turn to there.  He thought about going down into the basement and finding a place to hide there—maybe the boiler room or a janitor’s closet?--but then he imagined her hunting him down there in the dark, and he rejected the idea of going back inside.

 

He quickly checked his pockets and was relieved to discover that he had some bills.  The light wasn’t sufficient for him to count it, but it made him feel better to think that he had something useful.  He also found the apartment key in the bottom of the same pocket with a few coins and some lint.

 

He thought about some public places he could go for awhile to warm up.  Plenty of stores were still open, and also the—yes, of course: the library!  And just as quickly, he thought of the train station, which should be open all night.

 

Need to get a coat and some shoes, and fast.  He thought about the clothing stores he’d seen, but he probably didn’t have enough money to buy something new.  Could he steal something?  It’d be hard to shoplift a winter coat.  Maybe . . .

 

Then he remembered a used clothing store he’d seen.  Down on . . . he couldn’t remember the name of the street.  But he thought he could find it by memory.  Would they still be open?  He’d have to try.  He got on his bike and began pedaling.

 

To his great relief, he was able to find the used clothing store, and it was open.  And when the clerk saw that he had no coat and nothing but snow-covered socks on his feet, he was more than happy to sell him a jacket and shoes at a deep discount.  He even threw in a pair of dry socks.  The clerk thought Oskar was a bit odd, but didn’t ask any questions.

 

When Oskar got to the library, he went immediately to the only private place he could think of: the men’s room in the basement.  He slipped into a stall, locked the door, and sat down on the toilet.  Glanced around at the graffiti, the dirty messages and phone numbers; the urine-stained floor.  Then closed his eyes to pray.

 

Lord Jesus, I know I haven’t prayed in awhile, and I’m sorry for that, but please help me.  Please help me and Eli.  She’s sick—really sick—and I need You to make her better.  I don’t know what’s wrong, but I know You can do it.  You can do anything if You want to.  You could even make her a real person again.  I know I’ve asked for that before and You haven’t done anything, but I’m asking again.   Take anything from me that You want.  I’ll do anything You want; just help her.  Please.  Please, I beg you.

 

After a few moments in prayer, his thoughts wandered.  A voice in his head, what he thought of as his “voice of reason,” spoke up.  Sometimes this voice sounded like his mother; sometimes, his father.  But most of the time it was his own voice, just a little sterner; a little more grown up.

 

Oskar, get a grip.  You’re living with a murderer.  And not just any murderer—a mass murderer.  She told you herself—thousands.  So many that she doesn’t even know how many.  God’s not going to help someone like that.  Even she doesn’t think so—and she’s right.  And sooner or later . . . she’s going to kill you. So call the police.  Or call your mother.  Tell someone, do something, anything.  Just . . . get away.

 

Anger welled up inside of him.  No!  Well—I know she is.  I know she does bad things.  But I love her, love her so much.  And she doesn’t mean it; she didn’t ask to be the way she is.  She’s good inside--I know it.  She said she’d never hurt me. 

 

But the Voice of Reason was not so easily vanquished; it was strong.  He hated its strength, hated its logic.  Its logic was relentless and irrefutable.  It made him feel trapped; goaded him to do the only reasonable thing, the only sensible thing: break his commitment to Eli.  Give up his love; abandon her. 

 

Do you really think she’s in control?  She’s proven to you that she’s not.  Grabbing you in the tub; attacking you at the waterfall.  And now this.  Maybe she really doesn’t want to kill you, but she will anyway—she can’t help it.  You’re playing with fire, and eventually you’ll get burned.  Bad.   So for God’s sake, use your head.  Use your brains—it’s all you have anyway.  It’s time to call it quits.

 

His resolve wavered, and for a brief moment he imagined himself calling the police.  He pictured Eli being led out of their apartment building toward a waiting police car in tomorrow morning’s sunlight.   Imagined the conflagration; saw Eli spontaneously burst into flames.  He shuddered and banished the thought with an unconscious shake of his head. No.  No no no.

 

Should he call Mom?  What if she answered and he asked her to come get him right now?  She wouldn’t have to go to the apartment; they could meet right here.  But then what?  She’d demand to know where he’d been staying and all the details.  And of course, he was a missing person in Blackeberg in connection with the violent death of three children.  He saw his mother calling the police, and himself eventually being questioned.  Cross-examined by big, burly police officers in some small, concrete room where the table was bolted to the floor.  How long would it be before he spilled his guts?  Probably not long.  And if he called Dad, the same thing was likely to happen, although maybe not as quickly because Dad—well, he’d always been more laid back than Mom.  But still, he’d eventually contact the police.

 

He briefly considered calling for an ambulance or a doctor to come help her.  But the mere image of a paramedic or ambulance crew encountering her in the tub seemed laughable almost as soon as he thought of it.  She’d kill them all.  As if they could do anything for her anyway.

 

Oskar sat forlornly on the toilet, staring at the rust pitted on the bottom of the stall door.  There were no options.  He cried for a few minutes; then he pulled himself together, took a pee, and went back upstairs.

 

For the next few hours, he hung out at the library, pretending to read the books that other patrons hadn’t bothered to reshelve.  He couldn’t get the image of Eli’s hideous face out of his mind.  And to think that he’d kissed that

 

(shark’s mouth)

 

just a few hours earlier.  How am I going to go back there?, he wondered.  She’ll hear the door open and pounce on me as soon as I step inside.  The only thing he could think to do was to stay out all night and return with the dawn, when she would have to be asleep.

 

He remained at the library until it closed, and then rode his bike to the train station.  He had not been back since the first day they had come to Karlstad.  He was ravenously hungry, and got a bite to eat.  He stayed as long as he could before he began to feel that some people in the station were beginning to glance at him suspiciously.  Then he went to the nearest Metro station, and started riding the trains around town with the rest of his money.

 

It was 3 a.m. when he finally returned to the first Metro station.  His bike was covered with a fine dusting of snow.  The streets were dark and largely deserted. 

 

He rode back to his apartment, went inside, and then down to the basement.  There was no sign of Eli, and he was able to find an unlocked broom closet.  He snuck inside, pushed a mop bucket aside, and lay down on the floor with his head close to the crack under the door so he could hear anything coming.  He made a pillow out of his coat, and stayed up for as long as he could, waiting and watching.  Then, despite his best efforts, he drifted off to sleep.

 

He woke up when he heard someone talking in the corridor and then heard a door slam.   One of the building management staff?  He checked his watch; it was a little after 6 a.m.  Was it too early to go back up?  He decided to risk it.  At least he could listen at their door and see if she was moving around.  He stepped out of the broom closet and didn’t see anyone around, so he headed upstairs.

 

He came around the corner and started up the final flight of stairs leading to the third floor, glanced up, and froze.

 

Eli was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down at him.  She was just about to take the first step down, and was leaning against the railing for support.  When their eyes met, her expression changed from apprehension to relief.

 

“Oskar.  Where have you been?  Thank goodness you’re here.”

 

Oskar was so shocked that at first, all he could do was look at her.  She was wearing the same nightshirt she’d had on in the tub, but now there were bloodstains by the buttons at the top.  She didn’t have any pants or shoes on.  Her face looked pale and sweaty, and there were more bloodstains at the corners of her mouth.  Her hair was matted and damp.  She held his Rubik’s Cube in one hand; the other grasped the handrail.

 

A feeling of relief broke over Oskar.  She was awake, and—

 

     she doesn’t remember.

 

But what was wrong with her?  He rushed up the stairs to her side.

 

“Eli, are you all right?  Where are you going?”

 

“I don’t feel very good,” she replied, leaning into his arms.  “I should’ve stayed at that place last night, I think.  I need to get back there now.  Before sunrise.”

 

Oskar looked at his watch: 6:10.  The sun would be up in less than an hour, he guessed.

 

She looked at him with a confused, puzzled expression; then asked weakly, “Where’d you get that coat?”  Her question tapered off at the end as she swallowed, licked her lips, and swayed slightly.

 

He debated telling her about what had happened in the bathroom, and the night he’d spent roaming the city; then decided that it would just needlessly upset her.

 

“I . . . I thought it might be good to get a new coat, that’s all.  My old one wasn’t warm enough, and the zipper got stuck.  You slept in, so I figured it would be okay to go out.”

 

“Oh.  Okay.”  Her tone was one of listless acceptance.  “Well . . . it looks nice.”  She tried to smile.  “Can you help me get to the cemetery?  I really feel like I need to get there.  I’m so sleepy . . . just need to rest.”

 

He gave her a hug.  “Sure.”  Then he asked, “Can’t you fly?”

 

“. . . thought about that.  Don’t think I’m up to it.”  She bit her lower lip and looked up at him unhappily.

 

“Well, do you think you could ride your bike?”

 

“Mmm . . . maybe.  I’ll try.”

 

Oskar thought out loud.  “Or maybe we could call a cab.”

 

“Yeah . . . I’d like that better, I think.”

 

They went back down the hall to their door, which was standing open, he noticed with a frown.  They went inside and she laid down on the couch while he hunted for the phone book.

 

He found the listing and dialed the number.  The female dispatcher, who sounded very pleasant, told him that a cab would be there in 30 minutes.  He checked his watch again: 6:15.  He reflexively looked at the window, but of course, it was covered.  He hesitated, then said, “Uh, no.   That’s okay.  I need one sooner.”

 

The dispatcher then said she’d try to have one there in 20 minutes.  Oskar reluctantly agreed.

 

He put down the receiver and thought for a moment.  The sun.  Need to protect her somehow, just in case.  With what?  He looked around the kitchen but saw nothing useful; just his half-filled cereal bowl, still on the table where he’d left it.  And an overturned chair that he hadn’t noticed before.

 

Heavy clothes.  Blankets.

 

He went back into the living room and told her he’d called a cab.  “Eli, you can’t go out looking like this.  We need to get you dressed.”

 

She had been lying on her side with her eyes closed; the Rubik’s Cube was on the floor by the couch were she’d dropped it.  She turned her head and looked at him sleepily, said “okay,” and then closed her eyes again.

 

He rushed around the apartment, trying to find the thickest pair of pants he could.  He found his corduroys laying on the floor of his bedroom, and her turtleneck sweater hanging on the back of the bathroom door.  He got her winter coat and hat out of the hall closet and brought everything back to the couch.

 

“Eli, get up.  You need to help me get you dressed.”  This time, she didn’t even open her eyes.  “. . . ‘kay.”

 

With his encouragement, he got her to sit up and lift up her arms, and he pulled her nightshirt over her head.  She was like a limp doll.  She wasn’t wearing anything else, and her body seemed even thinner than usual.  He could clearly see her ribs under her skin.

 

They managed to get her dressed.  He pulled her winter hat down low on her head; found some gloves.  Then he realized she still didn’t have anything on her feet.  He spent a few more minutes hunting around for her shoes and socks, and had to put them on her feet by himself.

 

He picked up the Rubik’s Cube and stuffed it into his pocket.  He got her standing, and she again leaned heavily against him.  They were standing in the doorway, almost ready to close the door, when he realized he’d forgotten to get money for the cab.  He left her leaning against the doorjamb and raced back inside to snatch a wad of kronor bills out of the kitchen cabinet; saw his flashlight, and grabbed that too.  Then he realized he’d forgotten to get a blanket, so he stripped one off his mattress.

 

When they finally got down to the street, they sat down on a bench by the turnaround, and he wrapped the blanket around her.  The sky was still dark, but his watch now said 6:32.  Eli had been sitting up when they first got to the bench, but as the minutes passed, she slumped over against him, and her head drooped down so her chin rested against her chest.

 

He tried to keep her awake as they waited for the cab to arrive.  He grew increasingly more impatient as the minutes slipped by.  He stared at every car that passed by their apartment, wondering if it was the taxi.  Finally, at 6:40, a blue and white Volvo station wagon pulled up.

 

He got Eli onto her feet and into the car.  Once they were in the back seat, he put his hand onto her inner thigh and pinched her as hard as he could.

 

She jolted out of her haze and looked at him crossly.  “Ouch!  What’d you do that for?”

 

“You need to stay awake for a little bit longer.  Just a little bit.  Please.”

 

The cabbie spoke up.  “Um . . . where to?”

 

Oskar gave him the name of the cemetery and asked him to hurry.  The cab driver looked at the two of them in his rear-view mirror with a mixture of concern and curiosity, and for a moment Oskar thought he was going to refuse and start asking questions.  He pulled the kronor bills out of his pocket, stripped off a thousand, and handed it up over the seat to him.  “Please, sir.  It’s important.”

 

His eyes widened when he looked down at the bill in his hand.  “Okay.  No problem.”

 

As the car sped down the road, Oskar kept looking at the sky in the east.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the stars were rapidly fading.  He thought he could detect a faint lightening of the sky near the horizon.  Then he looked at Eli and noticed that she, too, was staring toward the east with her eyes wide open.  Her mouth hung open and she was breathing rapidly through her mouth.

 

Oskar leaned forward and dropped another bill over the seatback.  “Can you go a little faster, please?”

 

The cabbie complied, and the speed of the car increased.

 

Oskar could not get the cabbie to stop the car along the road, so they had to wait while he pulled up into the main entrance and stopped in front of the church there.  He started to give the man another bill, but the cabbie held up his hand and said, “you’ve given me way too much already.  Do you need a ride back?”

 

Oskar hadn’t even thought about how he was going to get back home.  But since he didn’t want the man around to see anything, he told him that it wouldn’t be necessary.

 

Since he hadn’t been to this part of the cemetery, Oskar wasn’t sure which way to go.  He had the impression that they needed to go to the left, and they headed in that direction.  He asked Eli if this was the way, and she nodded in agreement.  It was 6:57, and even more of the eastern sky was brightening.

 

They trotted down the main driveway that they’d crossed the previous evening.  Oskar still wasn’t sure where they were, and when he looked at Eli for guidance, he saw near-panic on her face.  She was making a whining noise like a frightened dog, and kept looking over her shoulder at the sky.

 

At last they reached a crossing that looked a little familiar.  Eli saw the mausoleum before he did.  She pointed, shouted “There!” and broke into a full-blown run.  The blanket that had been around her shoulders flew off and landed on the ground.  Oskar raced to keep up with her.

 

As they crossed into the trees, Eli began to scream.  Oskar, who was a few paces behind her, caught the pungent odor of something burning and realized with horror that wisps of smoke were beginning to drift back away from her head.  Her hair started to smolder.

 

Even Oskar was now able to make out the tomb, about a hundred meters away.  He shouted “Faster, Eli! Faster!  Don’t stop!”  

 

Eli let out another scream and put both hands onto the back of her neck to shield it from the rising sun.  She was wearing the gloves he’d found for her, but they, too, quickly began to blacken and smoke.  As they crossed the remaining distance to the mausoleum door, Eli began to make one long, continuous wail of pain and fear, and her entire body began to smoke.  Oskar thought he saw her fingers beginning to glow.  Then she stumbled, fell, and began writhing in pain on the ground.

 

Oskar did the only thing he could think of:  he yanked off his coat and threw it on top of her, as he’d been taught to do during a fire drill in school to help smother the flames of someone who’d caught on fire.  Then he tackled Eli and tried to pull her back on her feet so they could get to the building, which was now less than ten meters away.  But holding onto Eli was like trying to hold onto a bag full of angry cats.  She twisted and jerked under his coat as she continued to scream at the top of her lungs.  Oskar gagged and choked on the horrifying stench of burnt flesh that billowed from her body.

 

Oskar began shouting at her as loud as he could as he dragged her toward the door.  “Come on, Eli!  Come on, dammit!  It’s only a little farther!”

 

At last they reached the door and together they burst through the entrance.  Eli’s legs and feet were the last things to escape the sunlight, and as she dragged them inside, they burst into flames.  Her howl of pain and fear reverberated inside the crypt; Oskar thought his eardrums would burst from the noise.  He turned and hit the door with all his strength.  It slammed shut.  Now the only light was from the flames leaping from Eli’s socks and shoes.

 

Oskar turned and stared, goggle-eyed, as Eli rolled in the dust on the floor, reaching for her ankles and feet to try to put out the flames, then pulling her hands away as they were burned.  Her head hit the funeral urn with a bang and it rolled away and clunked against the far wall. 

 

Oskar picked up his coat and threw it over Eli’s lower legs and feet.  Again he tackled her, seizing her by the legs and holding on tight, as if riding a bucking bronco, while the flames finally died out.  Then he let go.

 

Eli continued to flop on the floor like a fish out of water, moaning in pain and fear.  She crawled to a side wall, then rolled onto her back and lay still for a moment.

 

Now that the flames were out, Oskar couldn't see.  He called her and began moving toward the whimpering noises she was making.  He got close to her and began feeling for her in the dark; then remembered his flashlight.  He dug down  into his pants pocket, pulled it out and turned it on.

 

Eli flinched and snapped her head away from the beam, but before she did he saw the black and red blotches on her cheeks, nose and chin.  She was grimacing in pain. 

 

She rolled her head back, utterly exhausted, and looked at the two narrow windows at the opposite end of the room.  Although shaded by trees, they were becoming increasingly visible in the gloom.

 

“Gotta . . . get into my hole.”

 

Oskar shined the light around and quickly found the vault she had opened.  “It’s over here,” he said.  He reached and took her hand, intending to help her up.

 

As soon as he squeezed her hand, she screamed in pain again.  He dropped it and backed up, terrified that he’d hurt her.

 

“Sorry!  Sorry!  I didn’t mean to hurt you!  Oh Eli, I’m sorry—”

 

She looked over at him and to his amazement, she managed a smile with her blackened lips.  “. . . ‘s okay, Oskar.  I know ya . . . didn’t mean it.”

 

“Can you crawl?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll do it.”  Slowly, painfully, she rolled over onto her stomach and crabbed the last, short distance to her haven.

 

As she began to crawl into the vault, he spoke.  He desperately wanted to do something, anything, to help her; to somehow dress her wounds, or alleviate her pain. “Eli, wait.  Is there anything I can do to help you?”

 

She paused and looked up at him with a half-smile, half-grimace.  He realized with horror that her eyelashes and eyebrows had burned away.  “You already have, Oskar.  You saved my life.  Not just today—but yesterday, too.  I’d like to kiss you, but . . . I don’t think I’m up to it.  And . . . don’t worry about all of this.”  She nodded down toward her body.  “I’ll heal.”

 

Oskar kneeled down next to her.  She reeked of burnt flesh and singed hair.  He wanted to stroke her face, but was afraid he’d cause more pain.  So he touched the top of her hat, and ran his fingers through her hair until he felt how dry and brittle it was.  He lowered his head to hers and kissed her on a small patch of undamaged skin above her right eye.

 

“I love you, Eli.”

 

“I love you too, Oskar.  I’ll . . . see you in a little while, okay?”

 

Oskar felt himself begin to cry, and fought fiercely to hold the tears at bay.  “Okay.  Real soon.”

 

“Yes.” 

 

She turned her face away from his, looked into the hole, and slowly crawled in.  When her blackened shoes were finally in, she asked him to slide the marble panel back in place as best he could, and try to find some way to block the door.  With tears now running freely down his face, Oskar got the marble slab into position, but lacked the strength to lift it up and into place; so he had to leave it sitting on the floor, immediately in front of the hole. 

 

Then he remembered that he still had the Rubik’s Cube.  He swore, pulled it out of his coat pocket, and, grunting and straining, slid the marble panel back out of the way.  Shining his light into the hole revealed that Eli was already sound asleep.  He pushed the Cube into the cavity next to her as far as he could, and then moved the marble back in front of the vault.

 

Because the door to the crypt swung inward and the lock was broken, he could not think of a way to barricade the door, so all he could do was pull it shut and hope that no one would try it.

 

He blinked as he stepped out into the bright morning sunlight.  He clicked off his flashlight and put it back into his pocket.  Sat down against the front wall of the mausoleum and cried.

 

Chapter 10

 

Eli’s Dream

 

Running through the woods

Run with me Oskar run fast like deer

I hold your hand we must hurry, hurry

I know you don’t understand

but trust me don’t stop

 

You are what I need

But not here in the dark woods,

not in the darkness

It must be there, I see it now I can hear it

Where the silver coldness comes down

Where darkness becomes light

That’s where I must be with you,

where you could save me

 

We run towards its power and its beauty

and I’m there now with you

We are within it at last

Where all things are possible

Just us and nothing else

 

You look at me, you’re scared but I say

 Don’t be, this is the Right Way

the Only Way, Oskar

 

Take my hands now for the Sun is coming

The Sun is rising it is almost here

The darkness is becoming light and I must see it

But you must say Yes or I will die

I am crying, crying

Please say Yes, Oskar, please

 

I see it now in your eyes

You understand what I need

for perfection with you

You smile and tell me that you love me

You tell me that you have always been mine to have

 

You give yourself to me but there is no pain

and I see the Sun, it has risen

But I will not die because

you are now in me and

I am the beautiful light with my Right One

 

Your love has saved me Oskar

Saved me from darkness

and made me into light

And I love you and

will love you forever

 

Chapter 11

 

A Nocturnal Visit

 

Oskar stuck his hands a little deeper into the pockets of his parka, hoping to slow the penetration of cold through his gloves and into his fingers.  It didn’t help much, but it made him feel better.  He hustled along the final curve of Horsensgatan before it connected with 63.

 

He wished it hadn’t snowed so early and so heavily so he could have kept riding his bike.  Naturally, everything had to be difficult; even the weather was piling on to make his life miserable.

 

He sniffed and started looking for the big, crooked pine tree where he would get off the road and cut through the back of the cemetery.  About a week after he had left Eli in the mausoleum, he had discovered this new way to enter the place.  It was a much shorter trip through the cemetery to reach the tomb, and there was less chance of meeting anyone.

 

He spotted his tree, and when he reached it he turned off the shoulder of the road and headed into the trees.  The snow was heavier here, making for slower going.  The trees were very dense where he was in the back of the cemetery.  It was 10 p.m., and it had been dark for about seven hours.  There wasn’t a soul around.

 

He climbed over a stone wall, then went down a short hill.  Once it leveled out, he was able to see the back of the crypt.  Well, he couldn’t really see the back itself, because of all the trees around it, but he knew where it was.  He approached the mausoleum as quietly as he could, looking around for anyone who might be out here.  But the place was deserted.

 

He was upset tonight because he’d finally broken down and tried to telephone his mother.  He knew he was weak and he had felt pathetic doing it, but he just couldn’t help himself.  The loneliness had become too much to bear.

 

He hadn’t realized how much Eli had anchored his life over the last . . . what? almost two years? until she was gone.  When she was around, there was always someone to do something with: work, talk, play, or just run around—but now, he had only himself, and it wasn’t nearly enough.  He missed her terribly, but he had discovered that he missed the routine he had with her, too.  Everything had become disjointed.

 

He had planned to at least tell Yvonne that he was alive and okay, and maybe . . . well, maybe more, depending on what she had said; how she reacted.  But when Yvonne had answered the phone and he’d heard her voice, his plans had changed.    At the last second, what had been a sneaking suspicion about what might happen became a sharp  certainty: that to say anything at all would inevitably lead to the abandonment of Eli.  So he had said nothing—just listened to her say hello a few times, and then hang up.

 

Hearing her voice had nearly killed him.  He had put his head in his hands and cried for a long time, all alone at the kitchen table.  It was while he was pulling himself together that he’d developed the notion to actually see Eli tonight, one way or the other.  He just had to.

 

He paused for a moment at the bronze door.  This was the first night he had actually built up the resolve to go inside.  He had understood how concerned she was about seeing him when she woke up.  She was so afraid that something terrible would happen if he was the first person she saw when that happened.  He still didn’t really understand what she had been saying—that she would be “small” or “weak”; that she might forget things.  Like what?  Surely she would not forget him, would she?  Not as if that was any safeguard, but still.

 

Maybe she was just worried that she’d be really hungry and unable to control herself.  That he could understand, and that had been enough—at least until tonight—to keep him from going in.  Instead, he’d tapped some Morse Code messages through the wall, roughly where she ought to be, based on his memory of the mausoleum’s interior and the vault she had chosen.  Sitting in the snow and weeds, he had tapped her name and things like, “Hi, it’s Oskar”; “I love you”; and “I miss you”; but she had not tapped back.  It had always been dead silence, leaving him bitterly disappointed.

 

He slowly pushed the door open.  It was very heavy, and he tried to push it carefully so that the squeaking it made would be minimal.  It didn’t squeak too bad, and after opening it just wide enough to get past it, he stopped pushing and slipped inside.  Then he pushed it closed behind him.

 

He sniffed.  There was a faint odor of mold and burned cloth; nothing more.  No smell of burnt hair and charred flesh.

 

He shined his light around.  Through clouds of his own, frosty breath, he saw with relief that things were exactly like he’d left them that awful dawn three weeks ago when she had almost burnt to death.  The cinderblocks were still stacked just inside the door where she had left them, intending to block the door from the inside.  The funeral urn was still lying near the back wall, where it had come to rest after she’d hit it and it had rolled away.  And—

 

Yes.  The marble slab was still leaning on the wall where he’d left it.  As soon as it was captured by the beam of his flashlight, he felt a chill. 

 

That’s where she is. 

 

Would she look different?  Would she be scary? 

 

He advanced toward the slab with leaden feet.  He wondered if she would have approved of what he was doing, if she could have known.  Probably not, given how certain she was that she did not want to wake up with him around.  But she couldn’t understand how hard it had been, waiting for her to come back.  Waiting for her, all by himself, with no one to talk to or spend time with.  Completely alone, for days on end.  Even a grownup, he thought, would have had a hard time.  He just needed to see her.  Needed to re-establish some contact with her; to restore some meaning, some . . . humanity, back into his hollow, empty life.

 

He squatted down directly in front of the slab.  Because he had lacked the strength to lift it back up and into place, there was a narrow gap of about six centimeters above the top of the panel that would allow him to look directly into her vault.  Cautiously, he brought the flashlight up and shined it into the crack.

 

Eli.  His heart fluttered and his breath caught in his throat.

 

She was lying on her side, but she was not where he had imagined she would be.  He had thought she would be lying more or less where he’d last seen her—in the middle of the vault with her feet closest to the opening.  But instead, she was turned around.  Her head was nearest to him, and she was curled up against the long wall to his left.  She was completely silent and he could detect no movement at all.

 

Her head was tucked down and her hands were clasped together over her chin, as if she had fallen asleep praying.  Her legs were drawn up tightly, and so he was really not able to see much of her body except her arms, knees, and lower legs.  She still had on her winter coat and hat, his pants, and her seared shoes.

 

Her skin had healed, like she had said it would.  There were no traces of the horrible, reddish-black burns that had covered her face when he had last seen her.  And her eyebrows and eyelashes were back.  But she looked—wizened.  Old and emaciated.  Her cheeks had shrunken, and her cheekbones jutted out beneath the thin skin on her face.  Her forehead wasn’t smooth like he remembered; instead, it was crossed by the kind of wrinkles his 89-year-old great aunt in Stockholm had.  Even her fingers looked bony, as if she were an old woman, or . . . a witch.  And on the side of her that was up there was a layer of—

 

. . . dust

 

His stomach turned.  He couldn’t look at her.  He snapped off his light and just sat there in silence.

 

He experienced a sudden moment of self-objectivization.  What am I doing here?, he thought.  I’m 13 years old, kneeling two feet away from something I know is a vampire, in a cold, deserted tomb in the middle of the winter, in a city that’s not my home, far away from my mom and dad, not going to school, not doing anything normal.  I should run screaming from this place, hop on the nearest train, and high-tail it back to Blackeberg.  To some semblance of normalcy.  To people I know are—alive.  Not like this.

 

Slowly he stood up.  He wondered, what if . . . what if she keeps sleeping for another three weeks?  Will it progress?  Will she look even worse?

 

He thought back to the last night they’d spent together.  The price of that night had been her almost killing him without even knowing it, and Eli being nearly roasted alive by the sun.  Had it been worth it? 

 

Yes.

 

He would give anything to have her back right now.  Away from this cold, awful place, surrounded by dead bodies and snow.  Under the covers, warmed by the heat of their bodies—or at least his, anyway.  Touching each other, and telling each other how much they loved one another; and not by words, for speech was unnecessary with Eli: thought alone was sufficient.  Long, lingering kisses in which his mind experienced directly the depth of her emotion for him.  And deep it was—he had never felt so loved, so cherished, so adored, as he had that night. 

 

And he had let go, too; had projected the strength of his feelings for her, full-blown, into her consciousness.  He had known at some level that his feelings were not as well-refined as hers.  Hers were like . . . a river of warm gold that flowed into his mind.  His was more like a lightning bolt, blasting into her without direction or control.  And he had known when it was happening that Eli had never experienced anything like it before; that he had left her reeling, had filled her with everything she had lacked for two centuries and so desperately wanted: love; commitment; fulfillment; happiness.

 

In the exquisite mixing of their minds, they had exchanged memories of their experiences since they had first met.  She had showed him what she had seen and felt upon seeing him in those first, tentative encounters, and then he had shown her what he had thought upon meeting her.  She understood the compassion he had felt for her when she’d said she couldn’t remember her birthday; he realized what it had meant to her when he’d worried that she didn’t get any birthday presents.  Then they had touched one another.  Her soft, flawless skin, her beautiful, thick hair, had been his; her hands—always so inquisitive, so restless—had roamed freely over him.  And so their loving exchange had continued for what seemed like hours.  They shared their thoughts and feelings when they had been away from each other; her hopeful anticipation when she had solved his Rubik’s Cube for him; his joy upon finding it.  The excitement he’d experienced when copying the Morse Code for the two of them to use, and the happiness each of them had experienced while using it to say good night to each other.  Times of thoughtlessness and misunderstanding were exposed and resolved through silent thoughts of apology and foregiveness.  Then they would touch again, each caress causing other memories, thoughts and emotions to come to the fore and be shared.  In this way, they came to understand how their love had blossomed and sprung forth, like a tiny mustard seed into something alive and beautiful, in a new and more perfect way.

 

They had made love that night, but not in any conventional sense.  It had been something that no pornographer peddling the magazines Oskar had seen in the basement of his old apartment could ever have imagined.   Oskar suspected that they were the only two people on earth who had ever experienced one another that way.  It had been one of the most exciting, yet blissful, experiences Oskar had ever had.  Just before he had finally fallen asleep with her cupped against him, he realized he had never felt so utterly tranquil and fulfilled.  And he knew that she, too, felt the same.

 

He had wondered—not at the time, because intellectual reflection was not something that had occurred as they’d lain together—but later, how it was that they had been able to do what they did when she had not been capable of the same thing at the waterfall.  The most likely answer was that she had been hungry at the waterfall, but not the night before she’d left.  He did not know whether this was true or not, but he hoped not, since it would have made the whole experience dirty and sinful.  That she’d only been able to love him like that because she was full and riding high from another person’s blood—it made him queasy just to think it. 

 

Another possibility was that she’d developed more control over herself in the couple of months after the waterfall.  Like a new muscle she’d flexed and made strong within herself, enabling her to shut down her impulse to attack and consume.

 

Or . . . was there a third possibility?  That his response

 

(my lightning)

 

had done it?  Forced that part of her to retreat, locked it up in some little room inside of her, at least for awhile?

 

(You saved my life.  Not just today—but yesterday, too.)

 

What had she meant by that?

 

Now he felt strongly, in his heart, that what they had shared had been too pure, too beautiful, too—he was at a loss to further describe it—to have been anything other than good.  If God Himself had been in on their kisses, he would not have been ashamed.

 

(But God sees everything; knows everything.  So he was in on them, wasn’t he?)

 

He paused to think about this new thought.  What if it really had been him—his feelings for Eli—that had allowed it to happen?  Would that have made it . . . miraculous?

 

Impelled by the memory he reached down, grabbed the edge of the marble panel, and began to push it aside.  Eli I need you now. I’ll drag you out and take you home.  Or I’ll just crawl in there and we’ll be together. 

 

It moved a few centimeters with a loud, low, grinding sound, much louder than he’d expected.  As if it were a warning.  He froze and stopped pushing.

 

Oskar!  Don’t be stupid—she’s different now.  She warned you herself: this is exactly what she doesn’t want to happen.

 

But . . . but what if I could . . . . 

 

The thought died.  Oskar let go of the panel and looked once more into the vault.  She hadn’t moved.  She still looked . . . shrunken, dusty and dead.  He breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that some horrible tragedy had just been narrowly averted, and stood up.  Slowly he backed away from the wall, then turned and walked quickly to the front.  He realized as he switched off his light to open the door that he was shaking like a leaf.  But whether it was from fear, or from frustrated desire to be with her, he didn’t know.

 

Good night, Eli.  See you soon? –I hope.

 

Chapter 12

 

Regression

 

Oskar vomited into the toilet.  Most of his dinner came out the first time, and a little more on the second round.  Then he endured some dry heaves before he finally felt better.

 

He remained kneeling for a few moments in front of the bowl in his underwear, shivering.  Fever is getting higher, he thought.  He stood and looked at himself in the vanity as he shook three Tylenol out of the bottle and put it back on the sink.  You don’t look so hot.  Should go lie down.

 

He swallowed the pills, gargled some water to rinse the acrid taste out of his mouth, and then forced himself to drink two full glasses before going back to his mattress.  He tried to avoid the Legos scattered across the carpet, and stepped over the pile of dirty clothes before lying down and pulling the blanket up to his neck.  The little portable TV he’d bought from a pawn shop two weeks ago sat next to his bed, switched off and silent.  He didn’t feel like watching it right now, and besides, the reception was crappy.

 

He rolled onto his side and stared at the half-sheet of notebook paper he’d taped to the wall.  The little string of lead hash marks was growing long: 48 days and counting.  Christmas, spent by himself with much crying and unhappiness, had come and gone, and 1984 was right around the corner.  He closed his eyes and felt the tears leak out as he listened to the wind.

 

He reached down to the floor by his alarm clock and grabbed a little piece of dog-eared cardboard out from under the crucifix and unfolded it. I MUST BE GONE AND LIVE, OR STAY AND DIE.  A heart, then: YOURS, ELI.  He brought it to his face and pressed it to his cheek.  Sniffed and closed his eyes, willing its talismanic power to right everything; to restore his focus.  It didn’t work; he felt nothing. 

 

Eli,  you seem so far away.  I’m finding it harder and harder to . . . make you real in my mind.

 

Things are definitely falling apart, he thought to himself as he put it back on the floor.  Tried to keep things going, keep a stiff upper lip, put up the good fight, blah blah blah, but . . . I’m losing.  I can’t even pray for you anymore.

 

He thought about all the things he should be doing if he hadn’t been flat on his back with the flu.  The most important of which was getting himself down to the cemetery to check on Eli.  Yeah . . . but he’d even let that slip over the last ten days.  Instead of going nightly, he had started going every other night, telling himself that the odds were still good of being there at sundown if she woke up and needed help.  Then this week, he had stayed home for two days.  Tonight would be the third day, if he didn’t go.  And he definitely did not feel like going out tonight.

 

She didn’t want you to be around, anyway.  She wouldn’t have wanted you to keep going back, night after night, like you’ve been doing.  Because of the danger.  Better for you to just stay here and wait.  Trust her judgment.

 

But what if she really does need help?  What if  she had just been giving me a lot of bold talk and she really didn’t have a plan to deal with herself when this horrible hibernation thing ends?  What then?  She had the old guy, before, to help out.  Now all she has is me.

 

I should just stay here and try to make the place presentable for when she gets back.  Tackle those dishes stacked up in the sink.  Pick up a little.  Do some laundry.  Make her think that waiting seven weeks for her was a piece of cake—a great, personally rewarding experience that I’d love to go through again.  He smiled cynically.

 

He turned onto his back and closed his eyes, trying to sleep.  He kept imagining, though, what had grown to become, over the last days and weeks, his worst nightmare: Eli crawling out of the tomb, helpless and weak.  Lying in the snow, unable to move, until the dawn came or some well-armed passerby dispatched her with a shot through the heart.  And while he was thus engaged, he fell into a fitful sleep.

 

*    *    *

 

Oskar woke up; looked groggily at his alarm clock: 5:45 a.m.  The sun would be coming up in three hours.  And then, the third day of neglecting the tomb—really, of neglecting Eli—would pass.  He swore, threw the covers off, and sat up.  Immediately he felt dizzy, and he lay back down again to let the feeling pass. 

 

Screw itI’m going.  Nothing will happen, as usual, but I’m going anyway.  Don’t care what time it is; don’t care how I feel.  She might need me; might die without me.

 

He was less than halfway there when he began to seriously regret his decision.  It was below freezing, the wind was making it feel even colder, and the cloud cover was so thick that there was almost no light.  He trudged along through the snow with his flashlight, dressed in his warmest clothes—long johns, pants and sweatshirt, ski suit, hat, gloves, and boots—everything.  He was warm enough but still felt weak, and shook from bouts of shivering.  He had a big wad of tissues in a pocket that he kept hauling out and using to blow the thick, yellowish snot from his nose.

 

He knew exactly where he was.  Could walk this in my sleep, he thought.  Might have to, at this rate.  He stopped and leaned against a tree to rest for a moment with his head down.  What a dumb idea this was.  Did you think about what might happen if you get so sick that you need to go see a doctor, Oskar?  You’re probably at that point right now.  Who will you tell them you are when you get to the ER?  Pick a name off a tombstone.  He rested a few moments, and then kept going.

 

“E-L-I   A-R-E  U  T-H-E-R-E  I-T-S  O-S-K-A-R.” 

He tapped out the message with the small hunk of granite he’d found in the bushes the first night he’d started doing this.  He knew the Code by heart, and the wall of the mausoleum next to his little spot was scratched and dotted with innumerable scars from his previous efforts to communicate with her.  Pretty soon it’ll be completely clean, he mused.  All that age-old grime will be worn away.  Maybe eventually I’ll just chip a hole clean through to her.

 

Since the night he’d gone inside the mausoleum, he hadn’t dared to go back to the front door.  He was afraid that he if did, someone—a groundskeeper, or maybe a visitor—might notice the disturbance in the snow from his footprints and wonder what was going on.  Might push that door open; might see that one of the vaults had been disturbed.  And then . . . .

 

It killed him that he didn’t even really know if Eli was still sleeping inside the tomb.  He had never stayed here all night, and for all he knew, she might have left days or even weeks ago.  The whole situation was simply intolerable.  No sane person would be doing this, he thought.

 

He tried a few more times with his standard variants. 

 

“E-L-I  I-T-S  M-E  O-S-K-A-R.” 

 

He listened.  Nothing.

 

“E-L-I  W-A-K-E U-P.”

 

He pressed his ear to the wall again.  Thought he heard . . . ?  No—just the wind.

 

“I  L-O-V-E  Y-O-U  E—”

 

A thunderous crash reverberated through the crypt.  Oskar dropped his rock in fright.  He felt the vibration in his knees and calves, even through all the layers of his clothing, and instantly knew what it was.  Only one thing could cause such an enormous sound: the marble slab had fallen over.

 

He scrambled to his feet in a panic.  An urge to flee overpowered him, and he bolted out of the scrubby bushes at a run.  He did not go toward the back of the cemetery where he had come in, but headed toward the front, so he could watch the mausoleum door.  He flew past the entrance, turning his head to check the door as he did so (Still closed! he observed with relief), and kept going.  He ran to a large statue of a weeping angel about 30 meters away with ERIKSSON carved into its big, granite base, and crouched down behind it. 

 

Once he’d caught his breath, he peeked around the corner.  Nothing changed.  The heavy, bronze door remained shut.

 

Oskar waited, kneeling, in the snow.  Waited . . . and waited.  And waited some more. 

 

He began glancing at his watch, pushing the little button to light up the LCD and see what time it was.  His watch told him it was 6:53 a.m.  The cold in the ground crept up into his shins, numbing them.  Five minutes.  Eight minutes.  Ten minutes.  He quietly fished his tissues out and wiped his nose; wanted to blow, but didn’t dare make a sound. 

 

His legs had begun to cramp, so as silently as he could, he stood up behind the angel and felt the welcome flow of blood return, tingling, into his calves.  He was fairly sure his body was hidden behind her graceful wings, which flowed down into the base of the monument.  He waited some more.  What is she doing in there?, he wondered.

 

When 30 minutes came and went, his fear began to give way to impatience.  I should just get out of here now, while I still can.  Before that door—

 

With an inhuman groan, the door slowly swung inward on its old, bronze castings.  Oskar froze, the adrenaline rushing through his veins.  It squealed and swung about halfway open, then stopped.  He could not see anything behind it. 

 

Oskar realized that now, if she wasn’t Eli anymore, he was trapped.

 

He slowly crouched down again and pivoted so he could look behind him for a possible escape route.  It was so dark that he could hardly see anything.  The only thing that jumped out at him, and that was new and out of place, was a big yellow backhoe parked off to his left.  There was a freshly dug, open grave next to it.  He tried to think of how he could sprint from his spot to some of the larger tombstones and thereby get to the backhoe without being seen.  But he knew, even as he considered it, that the plan was ridiculous.  Unless she shut the door again, Eli would easily see him.  And if she had reverted to something shriveled and monstrous, and didn’t recognize him . . . he’d be dead.

 

Come on, Eli, he thought desperately.   Shut the door.  Or, better yet, come out looking happy and normal so I can give you a hug and we can go home together.  Cut me a little break, will you?

 

There was nothing to do but wait.  He continued to watch until he felt a cough coming on.  Then he slid back around and did his best to suppress it with his gloves.  He again felt weak, and his fever seemed to be rising.  He slipped down until he was sitting on his behind with his back against the pedestal.  He drew his legs up, tucked his head down, and waited for dawn.

 

Oskar had dozed off for what seemed to him only a short time when he was startled awake by the harsh sound of iron striking stone.  It was still dark, but only 15 or 20 minutes before sunrise.  His butt was cold and numb, and he was relieved that soon he would be able to go home.  But what had that noise been?  He got stiffly to his feet, turned, and cautiously looked once again at the tomb.

 

The door was still half open.  But now the crowbar was lying on the threshold, half in and half out of the doorway.  And lying in the snow, immediately in front of the door, was Eli’s hat.

 

At the same time that he saw these things, Oskar heard the sound of an approaching motor.  He looked to the left and saw the headlights of a vehicle a few hundred meters away.  It stopped briefly, then turned right and slowly approached him on the path nearest to the mausoleum.

 

As it drew near, Oskar saw that it was a green pickup truck with the name of the cemetery stenciled on the passenger door, the side facing him.   The passenger  door window was frosted up, and he could not see who was driving.

 

When the truck was a short distance from the mausoleum, it stopped.  Oskar heard a change in the sound of its motor as the driver shifted it from drive into park.  Then the driver’s door was opened and shut.

 

A man dressed in a winter coat and hat emerged from behind the truck and headed toward the door of the crypt, which now seemed to Oskar like a dangerous, metal mouth yawning open, ready to spring closed.  It was too dark for Oskar to see him clearly, but over the rumble of the pickup’s idling motor he heard the man mutter, “Damn kids.”

 

In the reflected light of the pickup’s headlights, Oskar saw the groundskeeper stop immediately in front of the door, stoop down and pick up the crowbar with his left hand.  Then he produced a flashlight, switched it on, and pushed the door further open with the light and his right hand.

 

The beam of the flashlight zigzagged around the interior of the crypt, then stopped, pointing down at something on the floor.  Oskar knew what the man had seen.

 

“Christ,” the man exclaimed in a disgusted tone.  “What the hell.”  And then he stepped inside.

 

The dread in Oskar’s heart that he had felt from when the man had left his truck swelled and burst in his chest.  He wanted to say something, to shout a warning, but nothing came out but a dry wheeze.  No no no no NO—

 

Soundlessly, a dark shape dropped from somewhere above the door and landed on the man’s back.  He grunted with a loud oof! and fell, rolling to the side and out of Oskar’s vision.  Oskar heard scuffling noises and began to quiver with fear.  Then there was a high-pitched, ear-bursting scream; a scream with no control, full of complete terror.  The kind of scream a man might make if he was plummeting to his death off a skyscraper, or if he was being eaten alive by a shark.

 

The sounds of a struggle grew louder.  He heard a sharp, snarling noise that a wolf might make, fighting to keep its kill for itself.  There was a clanking sound and then Oskar saw the flashlight roll across the floor in a lazy arc and come to rest, illuminating one side of the tiered vaults.  One booted foot suddenly swished into view, the heel scraping on the floor.  It began to jerk spasmodically.  Then the other foot appeared, and both of them thumped and twitched an erratic drumbeat on the floor. 

 

The man’s scream rose and fell, rose and fell.   Then it was abruptly cut short.  And with this, Oskar could now hear the same, awful sounds he had heard in Eli’s bathroom when the man from the neighborhood had died—grotesque, wet sucking sounds, intermittently broken by a low growl.

 

Oskar knew as these events unfolded that now was the time to make his escape; while Eli was distracted by her kill.  But instead, he was rooted to the spot, completely unable to tear his eyes away from the carnage.  And so it was that he saw Eli emerge from the building.

 

His blood ran cold at the sight of her.  He froze, completely unable to move.  If he had never seen her before, he could not have guessed that she was the same Eli that he had come to know and love. 

 

She was wearing only his pants.  Her hair had grown to two or three times its previous length and flowed in tangled curls down her back.   Her skin looked bluish-gray in the light from the truck.  Her face could not be described as human.  Her eyes were two enormous, dark holes, the pupils appearing to gleam in the darkness. The fanged mouth hung half open, the red, red tongue clearly visible.  Her lips, chin and chest were covered in fresh blood.  Her shoulders and forearms were much larger than Oskar had ever seen them; the slender, beautiful limbs that had encircled him on their last night together were now those of a beast—bulky and muscular, terminating in terrifying claws that were streaked with gore. 

 

The Eli-thing sat panting on its haunches in the doorway, looking from side to side.  Oskar shrank back in fright from his vantage point, and just as he did, its head swung toward him and appeared to look directly at him.  Oskar stifled a tiny cry of terror and froze, flattened against the back of his guardian angel, head cocked to listen to the tiniest sound he might hear over the idle of the truck.  Then he heard a growl and the sound of feet on snow which moved with incredible swiftness to his left, and faded out into the darkness.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Gone Awry

 

Oskar stood, shivering, and stared at the door of the mausoleum.  A faint brightening of the eastern sky heralded the approaching dawn.

 

He felt as if an enormous weight had just dropped on top of him, completely unexpected and out of the blue, flattening him and irretrievably altering his life.  He tried to focus his frightened, panicky mind.  It was only a matter of time before someone else would come along and see the truck, then discover the body. 

 

He wanted to flee, but felt that events were poised at a critical moment: any mistake, and he would fall, forever lost, into deep, dangerous chasms on either side of a continued life with Eli.  So he forced his mind to think.  Think.

 

The Rubik’s Cube.  My rock.  Fingerprints?

 

He tentatively came out from around the monument and looked in the direction that Eli had gone.  There was no sign of her.  He ran across the open stretch and to the crypt.  But as he passed the truck and approached the entrance, more and more of the groundskeeper’s body became visible through the doorway, and he slowed.  By the time that he was within a few meters of the door, he had to force himself to continue.

 

Heart pounding in his chest, his stomach tied in knots, and covered in a cold sweat, Oskar entered the tomb with his flashlight.

 

He did not want to look at the body, but it was impossible to avoid because it was so close to the door.   He felt disconnected from everything around him.  He had been thrust into a new chapter of his life that was wrong, horribly wrong, and was not his.  Someone else is doing this, he thought.  I’m not here; I’m not seeing it.  But of course, he was. 

 

He saw the head that was no longer attached to the body.  He saw the hole in the man’s chest, the whitish ends of broken ribs and torn cartilage, pulled back and protruding from the gaping wound.  The front of the man’s parka had been shredded, and white insulating material and dark pieces of nylon lay on the floor around the body.

 

And he saw the blood.  Everywhere.  Sprayed in mindless patterns over the dusty floor.  Dark stains stippling the white marble on the wall to the right, almost completely to the ceiling.

 

Oskar turned, ran out, and threw up in the bushes around the corner of the mausoleum.  And as the bitter, watery fluid rushed up his esophagus and shot out of his mouth to splatter onto the snowy ground,  his mind rebelled.

 

No more—no more.  This has to end.  Somehow, some way—it must end.  He couldn’t take this any more.  Couldn’t take living with the fear, the terror, the uncertainty  . . . with the vampire.  An evil force that had run roughshod over this man’s life, over thousands of other lives that Oskar didn’t know about.  A monster that was ruining his life, and—most importantly—Eli’s life.  But what to do?  He didn’t know.

 

After he was finished, he blew his nose and again re-entered the crypt.  He skirted the body and stepped over the broken marble slab to retrieve the Rubik’s Cube.  He grabbed Eli’s clothes and shoes, and scooped up her hat on his way out.  He quickly ran around the corner and pocketed his little piece of granite.  He stuffed as much of her clothes as he could into his pockets so he could free up his right hand to use the flashlight.  Then he began looking for Eli’s footprints on the ground. 

 

With each passing minute, it became easier and easier to see, and his fear of being discovered grew.  He pictured an imaginary line from the door of the crypt and off in the direction he had heard Eli run.  He walked a short distance, and then found the first set of her footprints. 

 

He was able to track her until the trail turned and entered the dense stand of trees in the back of the cemetery.  Then he lost the trail; snow and ice had fallen from the trees in a recent thaw, making the snowy surface underneath pockmarked and irregular.  He searched for several minutes, but couldn’t pick it up.  And when he at last emerged from the rear of the cemetery grounds, he found himself at the road, whose churned and packed surface offered no clues.

 

He paused.  A wall of trees stood along the opposite side of the road, extending north and south.  He trotted across the road to check the snow under the trees there, but it was just as difficult to interpret as the snow in the cemetery.  So he turned and began moving, as fast as his flu would allow, back towards their apartment.  Along the way, he threw everything he was carrying except his flashlight into a large steel dumpster at an apartment complex he passed.  He started to cry as he tossed in the Rubik’s Cube and heard it clunk against the inside of the container.

 

By the time Oskar got back, it was early morning.  He was relieved to see that their apartment door was still locked, as he’d left it four hours before.  When he began to turn the lock, he wondered whether she’d had a key.  He didn’t think so, because she’d been wearing his pants, and—but what if she’d had her key in her coat?  He paused, just as the deadbolt clicked back into the door.

 

If she’s in there, she’ll be asleep.  Won’t be able to hurt me.

 

Although he was still frightened, Oskar opened the door and went inside.  It was dark because most of the lights were off, but nothing looked different or amiss.  His confidence level slowly grew until he looked down the hall toward the bathroom. 

 

The bathroom door was shut.  Had he shut it before he’d left?  He couldn’t remember.  He swallowed and slowly walked down to the door.  Put his ear to it, but heard nothing. 

 

Oskar suddenly felt completely fatigued and exhausted.  He closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the wall in the hallway with his head down, breathing through his mouth.  He no longer had the energy to be scared. 

 

If she’s in there, she’s in there.  Don’t care how she looks.  Don’t care what happens.  He opened the door.

 

The bathroom was empty.  He exhaled heavily and slumped against the doorjamb.

 

Oskar thought about packing up and leaving.  Just leaving.  But the thought quickly died.  He simply had no energy; couldn’t think any longer.  So he stripped off his ski suit and clothes, took some more Tylenol, and went to bed.

 

*    *    *

 

Eli opened her eyes.  She pulled the tarp off of her face, and crawled out from behind three industrial trash containers that ran along the wall of the storage shed she had found last night.

 

Although she had just fed, she was hungry again.  From the moment she awoke, the hunger gnawed at her stomach, and wormed its way into her conscious thought.

 

She thought about the boy at the cemetery last night.  The one who had been hiding behind the angel monument, watching her.  She had spared him because she had felt the approaching dawn; had sensed the coming of the sun in the growing lightness of the sky.  Had she killed the boy, she might not have had time to find a hiding place, and as it was, her hunger had been temporarily abated by the man who had fallen into her trap.

 

She opened the door of the shed and peered out into the darkness, and as she did, her thoughts remained on the boy.  The boy was a threat to her.  Somehow he knew who she was, had known her before. 

 

She strained her mind to think.  How?  How did he know her?  But she could summon only an image of his face; could not connect his face to a memory of their first contact.  She reasoned that it must have been a brief, chance encounter; otherwise, she would remember better.  But this conclusion did not seem right.  There was something she was forgetting.

 

The boy was the only person who knew her.  She could not remember why she had allowed him to know her, but now that mistake needed to be corrected, for he was too young and weak to be of any help to her.   Therefore, she would hunt him down and kill him, as she would have done last night had there been enough time.  He would be easy to kill.

 

She closed her eyes and pictured the place that she had been before she had fallen asleep.  An apartment?—yes, it had been.  Not far from the cemetery; not very far from here.  A mental image of the front of the apartment building formed in her mind.  Bicycles in a rack—

 

     (bicycle I know how to ride one?)

 

. . . and a driveway area for cars

 

(or taxis)

 

not too far from the main door, with a sign hanging on the wall.  Yes, she could visualize the sign; could now recall the address. 

 

She surveyed the large, paved parking lot before her.  It seemed deserted.  A few cars were parked here and there under several fluorescent lights that marched across the lot at regular intervals on tall, metal poles.  On the other side of the lot was a large, gray industrial building.  A series of doors and loading docks ran the length of the building.

 

She was still weak from her hibernation, and would require several more nights of feeding before she would be able to fly.  She hated the long sleeps for robbing her of her powers and memories.  She was weakened both physically and mentally.   Her finely honed instincts and keen predatory intellect were blunted during these times by periods of confusion which came in waves.  As the night wore on and she remained active, these episodes were more likely to occur.  Feeding seemed to abate them.  If she did not feed, they grew longer, and her strength ebbed away as well.

 

She saw no people around, and therefore no obvious prey.  She knew it was still early evening, and that she would be more likely to find the boy in the apartment later that night, when he would likely be asleep.  Therefore, she decided to wait in the shed for a time, and allow the night to grow old.

 

*    *    *

 

Oskar woke up.  He sighed and rolled onto his side; looked sleepily at his wall.  Then he checked his alarm clock--6:13.  He felt disoriented.  6:13?   That meant he had slept for almost ten hours.  The whole day had come and gone, and it was now night again.

 

He turned on his portable TV set to check the local news.  As a commercial blared through the tinny speaker, he sat up and realized his fever had broken while he had slept.  He wasn’t dizzy, and felt much better.  He actually had an appetite.

 

News of the shocking graveyard murder came on.  Video feeds showed the little, dilapidated mausoleum with the pickup truck parked out front, lit up by bright lights, cordoned off with tape, and crawling with police officers.  Another clip showed a body being taken out in a plastic bag.  There was a grainy zoom into the interior of the crypt through the open door that showed Eli’s vault in fuzzy, black and white images.  Oskar was also startled to see a video of his footprints around the angel monument, and in the snow between it and the crypt, carefully marked off with little stakes in the ground.

 

A search for the killer had commenced that included Karlstad and all of the municipalities of Värmland Province.  Additional video clips showed views of the cemetery from the air, and police cars roaming the streets. 

 

The police were not saying how the investigation was proceeding, but so far no motive had been established, and no suspect had been identified.  A curfew had been imposed beginning at 9 p.m.  Then the story shifted to human interest feeds of frightened mothers telling reporters about how scared they were to go outside after dark, and how they were keeping their children indoors.

 

As Oskar watched, he heard the mechanical whir of a helicopter fly low overhead.  He went to the window and lifted the blanket covering his window, and for a few seconds he was able to see its lights before they were obscured by the branches of a tree and an adjacent building.

 

This is real, he thought.  I’m involved in a murder.  He thought of his boots in the bathroom, and how their size and tread matched the footprints he’d just seen on TV.

 

Oh, Eli.  He put his head in his hands and began to cry.  He cried for a long time as the TV continued to stream the seemingly endless coverage about the murder.  Finally he switched it off; couldn’t stand to listen to it any more.

 

He wondered why Eli hadn’t come back to the apartment last night.  Of course, he was vastly relieved that she hadn’t, given how scary she’d looked.  But still . . . did that mean that she couldn’t remember where the apartment was?  Or that she just didn’t have enough time before the sunrise?  Had she really seen him, just before she’d left?  And if she did, did she remember him?  Would she try to hurt him, if she saw him again?  A chill ran down his spine at the memory of that demonic face; that bloody maw.  She could be on her way back here right now.

 

He had wanted to track her last night to wherever she’d gone to sleep.  Why?

 

To kill the vampire.  To stop all of this horrible bloodletting.

 

Yes, but that had been a ridiculous idea.  What had he been thinking?  The vampire was Eli; Eli was the vampire.  The two were one and the same.  He knew they could not be separated. 

 

He tried to imagine himself thrusting some sharp object through the heart of the beast he’d seen last night.  It had been so monstrous, he could actually see himself doing it while it slept. 

 

But what if it changed to look like Eli again?  Could he drive a stake into Eli’s heart?  No.  He knew he would never be able to, unless, maybe . . . she was trying to kill him in some mindless rage?  Like . . .

 

     (like last night.)

 

He pushed the train of thought out of his mind.  He did not want to follow it to a definite conclusion.

 

Need to get out of here, he thought.  Pack up our stuff and leave.  But when?  Right away, or would it be better to stay a few days or weeks, and let things simmer down?  Yes, probably, assuming the police did not have enough evidence to lead them back here.  He couldn’t imagine how they would—unless they found what he’d thrown into the dumpster.

 

His conclusion that it would be best to stay put for awhile made it easier to think about what Eli might do.  Yes, she’d been downright terrifying last night, but she had not eaten for almost seven weeks.  Maybe . . . maybe she would be better now; would become more like herself when she came back here.  After all, they had been together for two years.  He couldn’t imagine that she would forget who he was, and if she did, she would also have forgotten where they lived.  Besides, with the curfew in place, there was no way he could leave tonight.

 

He paused to think about the implications of what he was considering.  Of course, he would leave with Eli.  She would come back as her old, normal self, and together they would figure out where to go. 

 

But what if she didn’t come back?   What if he packed up, but she didn’t return—tonight, tomorrow night, the next night, and so on.  What if . . . she never came back?  What would he do then? 

 

This thought was somehow even more upsetting than the idea of killing her.  To be forever separated from the one person he loved more than anything in the whole world.  A life on the run without Eli, or . . . in prison.  The idea was completely terrifying.  Can’t think about that, he concluded.  She will come back; she must come backI can’t live without her.

 

After getting cleaned up and dressed, he fixed himself a can of soup.  Then he started cleaning up the apartment and packing.  He began making trips to the trash chute to throw away things he knew they wouldn’t be taking along. 

 

The first thing to go down the shaft were his boots.

 

Chapter 14

 

Redemption

 

 

Back and forth. 

Back and forth. 

 

Eli paced from one side of the shed to the other.  Then she sat down for awhile.  Then she stood up and paced some more.  Then she cracked open the door a little and peeked out.  Then repeated the whole thing again.

 

Hungry.  So hungryLike itching inside my veins.  It was maddening. 

 

To distract herself, she explored every corner of the room, and examined every object inside.  Snow shovels, bags of salt, stacks of orange traffic cones, rope, tire chains, drum liners, tarps, metal poles, tools . . . none of it interested her.

 

At last, when she could think of nothing else to do, she sat down and examined her own pockets.  She found a half-used package of Necco wafers in the left side, and a small scrap of paper, folded over, in the right.  The paper was fragile, and looked like it had gone through the washing machine.  Curious, she carefully peeled it open.  Written on the paper with a pencil, barely legible, was:

 

D. Singmaster - Notes on Rubik's 'Magic Cube' 

ISBN #0140061495

 

She stared at the items, frowning.  Why would she have candy in her pocket?  And the note—

 

. . . Not my pants.

 

Suddenly she closed her eyes, bent over, and tucked her head between her thighs.  She inhaled deeply.  Looked up and stared into space with a puzzled expression.

 

Boy smell.

 

‘My Oskar’ Smell.

Oskar.  My Oskar.

A dam broke inside her mind.

Hated that candy but ate it anyways I loved your hug Oskar why are you in my tub You’re so warm I liked your Rubik’s Cube 43 quintillion permutations I could learn every one of them It was in the tomb with me I didn’t recognize it but it was your present to me You eat too much candy You’re sweet so sweet and thoughtful I liked the Cube book read it from cover to cover and the Egg book too Run with me and lets catch a deer Oskar Let’s go play in the pool and kiss You dressed me in your pants the night I fell asleep and you woke me up with your tapping Your tapping woke me up but now I’m different so different Not like I want to be but there’s nothing I can do about it The Darkness is in control I slaughter, WILL slaughter, must, MUST—

She cried out, gasped and put a hand to her mouth.  Tears burst from her eyes and she shivered violently from head to toe. 

Then she began to scream as she had never screamed before—an agonized, terrible wailing, projected at inhuman volume, that rose from the little shed and pulsed into the cold night air.   It was like the scream of an infant who is wrenched away from its parent; the cry of a husband who learns that his wife has just died; the wail of a mother whose baby is slain in front of her eyes.     

It was all of these, but far worse.  It was the anguished cry of one who sees the Gates of Heaven closing, and knows that he is falling; falling away from light and hope, and into a pit of fire where utter damnation awaits.  Falling to a place of irretrievable darkness, despair and degradation; a place cut off from all goodness, where he will be forced to repeat unspeakably evil acts until the end of Eternity. 

Her crying rose, undulating, across the parking lot.  And because she was grieving so hard for her most precious friend and lover who would surely die at her own hands, Eli did not hear the police car pull quietly up to the shed, or hear the officer get out of his car and approach the door with his gun drawn.

*    *    *

Oskar had not realized how many belongings Eli and he had accumulated until he started going through all of it.  The kitchen had been fairly easy; he had chucked almost everything but a small number of dishes and a few days’ worth of food.  The bedroom had been harder.  He began to find himself torn between saving something, and throwing it away.  Also, he didn’t have enough boxes, and so was forced to use paper grocery bags.  He began lining them up in the front hallway by the door, but knew as he did so that there was too much, and that he’d have to go through it again and throw away more once Eli was back.

He was sure that once she understood what was going on, Eli would agree that it was time to move.  It was reported on the TV, which was playing in the background as he worked, that the police thought that the groundskeeper’s death could be related to other unsolved murders in and around Karlstad.  Oskar didn’t watch, but heard some of the names as he moved in and out of the bedroom: Emma Pahlberg, unemployed and homeless; Viktor Hakala, age 53, a bricklayer; Emil Andersson, a 79-year-old widower; David Jansson, a 34-year-old parolee who’d been convicted of larceny.

As he was rooting through a box in his closet, Oskar came across his knife in its leather scabbard.  He paused, unsnapped the strap, and pulled it out.  Somehow holding it in his hand made him feel safer.  He hefted it, appreciating its weight, and thought back to the last time he’d drawn it:  when the big drunk from the neighborhood had threatened Eli.  He remembered how Eli had leapt up out of her tub, seized the man around his neck, and within the space of a few seconds, had him on the floor with his throat torn open.  Then he thought about what he had seen last night, and shuddered.  He slipped the knife back into its scabbard, and then put the whole thing into his pocket.

Just in case.

*    *    *

The door opened and a bright light shown in Eli’s eyes.  She looked up, startled with a face wet with tears, at the figure who was suddenly standing in the doorway.  She could not make out any features behind the flashlight, just the shape of a man.  For a microsecond her face registered surprise; then the hunger rushed in.  Her mouth opened wide and she launched herself at him. 

Kill.

The gun fired and the bullet plowed into Eli’s chest.  It struck a rib and deflected up through her right lung, destroying the upper lobe and shattering the medial aspect of her scapula before exiting her upper back, leaving a walnut-sized exit wound.  The kinetic energy of the round knocked her off balance, and instead of hitting the police officer, she struck the doorjamb, bounced sideways, and continued through the door.

The officer was so surprised by Eli’s attack that he stumbled backwards on the little wood steps that led up to the door.  Consequently, his second shot went high and punched through the back wall of the shed.  Eli fell through the doorway and struck him, and together they landed in a heap on the ground.  Smoke and the smell of cordite filled the air.

The officer could not understand what was happening.  He had been patrolling through the parking lot, checking the warehouse doors, when he’d heard what turned out to be a crying, half-naked child who had suddenly seemed possessed and attacked him with a mouth full of teeth.  Now, just as quickly, he had fallen onto his back on the pavement, and the same child was squirming on top of him, making a feral growling sound.   It was too close to use his gun, and all he could think of was to get it off of him.  He had dropped his flashlight, and so he cuffed Eli on the side of the head with his pistol; then he crabbed backwards and struggled to regain his feet.

Eli felt intense pain throughout the right side of her chest.  It coursed down her right arm, making it hard to use.  She scrambled to right herself on top of the man and get at his neck; then felt the heavy pistol connect squarely with her temple.  Because she didn’t weigh much, the blow was enough to knock her sprawling onto the pavement to the man’s left.

The police officer got his feet under him.  He had managed to get to a crouch when Eli righted herself and came at him again.  He brought his pistol up and fired, still feeling incredulous that he was discharging his firearm at a child, and a girl at that.

Eli felt another bolt of explosive pain, this time in her left leg as the bullet ripped through the muscles on the outer aspect of her thigh, narrowly missing her femur.  It was not enough to stop her attack, but instead of grabbing the man around his neck as she had intended, she lost her balance and fell short, ending up with her head in between his legs.  The officer again lost his balance and toppled backwards.

Without thinking, she turned her head and bit as hard as she could into the man’s inner thigh.  Her teeth tore through his pants and sank deeply into his flesh.  Her mouth closed,  removing a large chunk of muscle and tearing open the femoral artery and vein.  The man howled in pain.  His blood sprayed like a fire hose from the open artery directly into Eli’s face.  She spit out the hunk of tissue, opened her mouth again, and latched onto the open wound, sucking the blood down her throat for all she was worth.  At the same time, she shot her left arm up, groping blindly, and found the man’s right arm.  She slid her closed hand rapidly down his jacket until it stopped against his hand, which was holding the pistol in its grip.  She squeezed brutally, crushing the bones at the ends of his forearm and in his wrist.  He screamed again and the pistol clattered to the pavement.

The officer flopped on his back, trying to break free.  He searched for his flashlight with his free hand, but it was out of reach, so he began repeatedly striking Eli in the head with his left fist.  Eli brought her weakened right arm up and tried to gain control of his left while she continued to drain him of blood.  She couldn’t get ahold of his arm, but was able to pin his arm to the pavement with hers.  The man’s arms were now immobilized, and with both femoral vessels of his right leg open, he rapidly lost consciousness.  His legs kicked futilely for a few more seconds as he arched his pelvis off the ground, trying to buck her off, but it was useless. 

Eli sucked and sucked, intoxicated by the hot fluid that shot like a bolt down her throat.  As the man’s strength ebbed she opened her eyes to see, but because of the blood in her eyes, everything was red and blurry.  As the flow tapered off, she nosed her way further into the wound and used her tongue to lap up the last, feeble spurts.  Then the officer’s body completely relaxed, and there was no more. 

She sat up, wiped the blood off her face with her good hand, and licked her fingers.  Then, no longer so distracted by the hot, coppery flow, she realized she was wheezing and looked down to see a dark splotch of her own blood smeared across her chest, now descending in a thick ribbon to soak the beltline of her pants.  She knew from a large cold patch on her back that the same thing was happening there. 

Surprised by this damage to her usual bodily integrity, she paused to examine the wound with curiosity, poking her right index finger into the hole.  Then after a moment, she tottered to her feet, squeezing the leg wound to stop the flow of blood that was rapidly staining her pants a dark crimson past her knee and halfway down her calf.  She stepped over the fallen body with a limp until she was straddling the head, then crouched down and twisted it sharply until the back of the head was facing up.

As she moved away from the police car, she heard the dispatcher on the radio, calling for a report from the officer.  As the silence drew out and she continued limping away, the dispatcher called again.  Eli moved faster, willing her body to heal itself, but it did not seem to be working like usual; she was still too weak.  When she reached the edge of the parking lot and entered the darkness of the trees, she heard the dispatcher state that they would be sending another car.

*    *    *

Oskar sat down on the couch for a moment to take a break.  It was now approaching midnight, and he had been working continuously for several hours and was tired.

The room was basically empty.  Several bags of luggage, some boxes and lots of grocery bags were stacked up between the couch and the front door.  He only needed to make one more trip to the trash chute before calling it a night.  He had realized as he worked that he hadn’t quite recovered from his cold the way he’d hoped, and now he felt weak and ready to rest.

Looking around at the empty apartment made him pause and reflect.  Almost two years that we’ve been in Karlstad.  Since that night we rode the train in from Blackeberg, with Eli in that big crate sitting right there next to the door.  The night that she pulled me up from the pool and saved my life.  He realized now that what had happened at the pool had been like a marriage.  Unspoken vows, exchanged in a glance that would last a lifetime.  Forever committed to each other.

He thought back to their first kiss.  How frightened he’d been at what she’d just done, and how sad she’d looked, even though she was terrifying with all that blood on her face.  Sad, he knew, because she’d just had to kill someone in front of him, and would have to leave.  She didn’t want to kill; didn’t want to be what she was.  She just wanted to be a kid again; to live and love like a child.  With himFor him.

I can’t be afraid of her anymore.  As long as I’m afraid of her, then . . . what?  Can I say I really love her? 

Something had changed in that last night they had spent together, when he had taken her onto himself without reservation, without fear.  When his heart had felt so big in his chest that he was sure that it would explode with love for her.  When he had crushed her fiercely to himself; held her so tightly against him with his hands and arms straining, straining to somehow be one with her, and she had done the same with him. 

And he knew what that kind of closeness meant to her.  Oh yes, he had learned the bitter truth about what she experienced because of what she was: that to be so close to another person, even one she loved as much as him, was fraught with danger; that she could not help but smell his blood; could not avoid being tempted to kill and consume.  But that night he had felt impervious to her other nature, as if, through sheer force of love, feeling, or whatever it was that bound two people together, that part of her had shrunken and slunk away into some dark recess inside of her, blinded and dumbstruck by the love between them, freeing Eli to be—just Eli.

And now, here I am again—the same little old, terrified Oskar.  Running away, running away; scared as usual.  Am I ever going to change?  I vowed never to leave her—her, Eli, no matter what.  No matter what she is; no matter how bad it gets.  What did that vow really mean?  It meant standing up for Eli, even when that beautiful person was locked up inside the worst kind of creature imaginable.  Was there, in truth, any time that she needed his love more?

*    *    *

It was midnight.  He got to his feet and wearily picked up the last of the trash.  He opened the door and padded down the hall in his socks, the garbage bag clunking against his leg.  He looked down, yawned hugely, and rounded the corner toward the chute.  Glanced up and—

“Hello, Oskar.”

She limped toward him, leaning with one hand on the handrail.  A demonic ruination of pale flesh and clotted blood under the washed out glow of the fluorescents.

Oskar felt every muscle in his body go limp.  The trash bag slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor.  He felt something loosen in his belly, and then a warm stain spread down the front of his pants leg.

As he backed up she smiled with a mouth full of teeth.  Its teeth.  Her dark eyes gleamed; her breath wheezed. 

“Don’t worry.  It won’t hurt very long.”

He slipped around the corner, turned, and ran toward the door.  And as he ran he felt the bulk of the knife against his thigh, reached for it, pulled it free.  He heard the light patter of her bare feet whisper across the carpet behind him with uncanny speed.

The door, the door, gotta get to the DOOR—

She struck him full in the back, just as he was crossing the threshold, his left arm extended to grab the handle and slam it shut.  He grunted as the breath was knocked out of him, and fell onto the floor of the main hallway of their apartment, breaking his fall with his left hand.  Then he felt her hands on him, on the sides of his back, scrambling upwards to gain purchase on his shoulders and pin him there.  He twisted violently, rolling toward his right, brought his right arm rapidly up and—

—the knife blade sank into her chest up to its hilt.

Eli froze, her eyes and mouth suddenly wide open.  She looked down in amazement at Oskar’s fist clenched around the knife handle, the guard flush against her bare chest.  Then her eyes rolled up, her mouth opened, and with a groan she arched backward and rolled off Oskar, onto her back.

Oskar stared at her, horrified.  He pulled the knife free and flung it away.  Both of their hands flew to the wound and were bathed in the dark, red blood that welled forth. 

Eli jerked and turned her head to look at him.  She coughed, and more blood issued from her mouth and ran down her jaw.

“Oskar . . . oh dear God, Oskar . . . please, please—”  She raised one of her hands to touch his face; brushed the tears that were now running down his cheeks.

His heart broke.  He bent down and kissed the vampire that was Eli.  Then he cupped one hand behind her head, and gently raised her mouth to his throat.

“I give it to ya, Eli,” he said in a small, trembling voice.  “You can have it.”

He felt her lips against the undersurface of the corner of his jaw; warm and wet, but growing colder by the second.  He trembled, praying to God that it was not too late.  Please, Eli, please . . . take me.

She weakly placed her hand on the back of his neck.  He pressed her head closer against his skin, and felt her mouth open.  He felt her lips pull back and the teeth close in.  Then, just as he was desperately afraid that she would stop and go limp, she forced her teeth through the soft skin and he felt a sting like a needle.

“Ahh”—softly he heard her, as her jaw worked against his throat.  Then Oskar felt himself flow into her.

Yes.  YES.  Take me, Eli . . . take me. 

He pressed her even more strongly against him, willing her to drink before she slipped away.  Oh God, please don’t let her die, please, I beg You, I beg You.  The aching in his heart merged with the stinging in his neck.  His breath hitched in his throat, and tears ran down his face in streams.

Oskar; Oskar . . . you are so warm, so—

I taste you, you are . . . sweet . . . sweet LIFE. 

I feel it.  Oh God, I can FEEL it, I’m, it’s . . . it’s DYING,

oh Heavenly Father, I am free, Yes, FREE AT LAST,

Thank You, thank You for him, for . . . my Oskar.

Oskar felt Eli withdraw.  Her teeth pulled back out of his flesh; her mouth closed and her lips left him.  He shivered and began to cry even harder, certain that she had died.  He lowered her head back and looked at her face. 

But her eyes were not dead; they were full of life.  Her bluish-hazel eyes sparkled, blinked, and then she smiled—a beautiful, broad smile.

He reached down and caressed her cheek as he continued to sob.  Then together they touched her chest; probed through the pool of blood with their fingers, but felt no wound.  He looked back to her face and saw that she, too, was crying as she continued to smile at him.

Then his vision blurred and he could no longer see her clearly through his tears.  He placed his arms around her and drew her up to himself; felt her arms around him, weak but alive, gently touching his back.

*    *    *

Oskar carefully lowered Eli into the warm bath.  He asked her if she was comfortable, and she murmured yes.  Then she lay quietly, watching him with her dark eyes and allowing him to work.  He had no washcloth, and so he began to wash her lovingly with his hands, carefully wiping the blood away from her mouth and face, and gently massaging away the clots on her chest, leg, and hands.  The blood that had covered her dissolved into the warm water, turning it pink.

And when he had finished, they held hands and smiled at each other in silence.

Notes

 

I decided to write an internal dialogue for Eli that tracked the events in the film LTROI because I felt that the story was told primarily from Oskar’s perspective, and I wanted to explore what Eli might have thought about their burgeoning relationship.  Also, I am fascinating by Eli’s background and conflicted character.  These interests resulted in Reflections at Dawn, in which Eli contemplates what is happening in her life each dawn as she prepares to go to sleep in her tub.

 

I never intended to write a full-fledged epilogue to the film; it simply evolved over time.  I felt, and continue to feel, a very strong sympathy for Eli, and hoped that a story might be told in which she was freed from her vampirism in a realistic way.  I have similar feelings about Oskar, who I perceive as a good person at heart, and I did not want to see him burdened by Eli’s condition.

 

It followed from these considerations that, as written by me, their story is about the power of faith and love to work a miracle, that miracle being Eli's being cured of her vampirism.

 

In Reflections at Dawn, the ball really starts rolling after Eli’s sleepover with Oskar.  Besides being extremely beautiful, I view this scene in the film as having special significance, because it is the first time that the characters exchange some sort of a commitment to be together, something that both of them very much desire.  Also, it is a moment of true physical intimacy between them, and one which, it might be imagined, Eli had not experienced in a very long time, if ever.  Even though she is a vampire, she is able to hold a person she cares about close to herself.  Oskar is the answer to her deep, longstanding loneliness.

 

When I considered what Eli would think about her bedroom experience with Oskar, I thought that perhaps her desire for Oskar might be better expressed as a dream, rather than as conscious thoughts, and thereby reflect their growing power in her mind.   Before falling asleep, however, Eli thinks about Häkan’s death, and, to the extent she is able, mourns his loss.  She thinks about what kind of a man Häkan might have been, had he met the right person who could have pulled him up from his situation.  Eli’s conscious thoughts about Häkan’s predicament, and what could have been the role of another person to alter that, are subconsciously applied by Eli herself with regard to her vampirism and her growing love of Oskar.   In short, Eli begins to believe that Oskar is the right one for her.

 

Eli dreams about going to her family’s house and finding Oskar there.  She is lost in a storm and is a cold, dead person before Oskar opens the door, but is the “Created Me,” (i.e., the person she was before being turned) after Oskar opens the door.  “Door” is capitalized because it is highly symbolic, and represents Oskar’s unconditional acceptance of Eli, which is Eli’s true desire.  Once that Door is opened, Eli is able to enjoy Oskar’s warmth, which is symbolic of his love; Oskar is the sun, or day; Eli is the night, or moon.  As she was in physical reality during the sleepover, she dreams of being intimately close to Oskar.  She is in his arms, and because of his acceptance, she can just be Elias; there is no monster and “no Sin.”  Eli thus, at perhaps only a subconscious level, begins to see Oskar and his love for her as having the power to make her human again.

 

Later in Reflections, after Oskar comes back to Eli’s apartment and they have the exchange at her door, Eli reflects on how wonderful it was that he had come back, even after the episode in the basement when Oskar offered his bloody hand to her, and she had licked his blood off the floor.  She thinks of Oskar in various ways as someone who could save her from herself and the darkness within her, including a “beautiful person to pull me up from dark dark water.”  Of course, this is what Eli ends up being to Oskar at the end of LTROI, but in my story, Oskar also saves Eli from a potentially much worse fate (i.e., a living death as a vampire).

 

After Oskar and Eli go to Karlstad, their relationship further deepens.  When Oskar seeks to clarify whether Eli is a boy or a girl, Eli actually shows him; thus Oskar understands, in the most direct way possible, that Eli used to be a boy.  Eli’s display of trust and openness also serves to ratify Oskar’s prior act of peeking at Eli while she changed into his mother’s dress at his apartment before Lacke’s death.  Oskar tells Eli that he does not care that Eli is a mutilated boy, and touches Eli’s scarred groin.  Eli thereby realizes that Oskar’s love for her is so great, that he is even able to accept the fact that Eli has been neutered. 

 

Oskar wants to know more about what had happened to Eli earlier in his life, and about Eli’s powers as a vampire.  Eli shows him these things, but makes it clear to Oskar that because she loves the good in him, he must understand that there is a price to pay for her powers.  Thus, Oskar is shown a series of highly disturbing events involving Eli’s turning and initial imprisonment in the vampire lord’s castle.  Eli also tells Oskar that she loves the good part of him, and that she wants to preserve this; thus, she will never expect him to kill anyone for her.  Eli’s desire to preserve Oskar’s morality is a necessary prerequisite to the later unfolding of their faith that Oskar has the power to save Eli.

 

In their spontaneous flight over the frozen lake, Oskar’s understanding of how important he is to Eli increases.  Even though Eli is a wonderful person in Oskar’s eyes, Eli cannot see herself in the same way because she knows that she  must kill to live.  Furthermore, Oskar realizes that not only does Eli love him, but that she wants to abandon herself to him; stated differently, Oskar realizes that there is an aspect of Eli that desperately wants, through another’s love, to be free of the immense burden imposed on her by her unnatural condition.  Oskar is the only person who can bring Eli any happiness.  Oskar is frightened because he does not yet feel mature enough to handle Eli’s dependence, but it does prompt him to consider whether he might somehow play a role in Eli’s ultimate fate.

 

When Eli and Oskar discuss God in Chapter 4, Oskar reflects an innocent and beautiful confidence in God's ability to change Eli, if they only have faith.  Eli does not say that she does not believe in God; she simply says that because of what she must do to live, that she feels removed or cut off from God and cannot continue to pray.  Eli sees herself, naturally enough, as someone who would be damned because of what she has done.  However, Eli does believe in God.  She actually gives Oskar her crucifix and tells him to continue praying for her, if he wants.  Later, just before she hibernates, she asks Oskar to pray for them because she knows their relationship will soon undergo a severe test due to her vampire nature.

 

At the waterfall, Eli succumbs to the lovely experience she is enjoying with Oskar and attempts, unsuccessfully, to express her love of Oskar in a physical way.  She is upset by the idea that Oskar could be afraid of her, and attempts a physical exchange with him that turns out badly for both of them.  Eli senses that a physical union with Oskar could be a good thing, and could be an expression of how much she really loves him, but she lacks the experience, insight, and ultimately, the capability to do this.  Also, Eli’s perceptions of sex and its role in human love have been damaged by her past relationships with Häkan and his predecessors.  Her emotions get the better of her, and she devolves into her vampire nature, nearly killing Oskar in the process.

 

Nevertheless, Eli subconsciously continues to see Oskar as having a power to save her.  In the second dream sequence, following her hibernation, she dreams that she is back at the waterfall, which in her dream is now a place full of power and beauty where all things are possible, i.e., a place of potential grace.  She is with Oskar, and dreams that if he freely shares his blood with her, she will be able to see the sun, yet live. 

 

In Chapter 8, Oskar is afraid that Eli will be weak and vulnerable after her hibernation; therefore, he thinks that the best place for her would be back at their apartment, with him.  As in Chapter 4, when Oskar tells Eli that he has been praying that she will be changed, Oskar’s kindness and deep concern for Eli’s well-being continue to impress Eli, prompting her to wonder where Oskar came from, and how it was that she ever met him, out of all the people in the world.  Eli thinks about Oskar as a kind of blessing from God.

 

When Eli and Oskar sleep together the last time before Eli hibernates, Oskar comes to realize that his love for Eli has the ability to chase away the vampire inside Eli, at least temporarily.  He perceives the outpouring of his loving thoughts towards Eli as his “lightning.”  Oskar senses that his love makes him impervious to Eli's vampire nature.  This exchange is what the waterfall could have been, had Eli not lost control; Oskar's fearlessness was lacking then, but is in full force now.  Eli also perceives this change, and is able to experience genuine tranquility in her exchange with Oskar’s mind.   Hence, just before she goes to sleep in the tomb, she thanks him for saving her life twice: once as she was fleeing the sun, and the night before, when they slept together.

 

Both Oskar and Eli thereby come to believe that Oskar has the power to save Eli; Oskar is no longer just a passive player.  This is the beginning of the faith they need to work the miracle of Eli's transformation from a vampire to a human again.

 

Oskar loves Eli, but his love is not complete until he is able to overcome his fear of Eli and love not just Eli the human, but Eli the vampire.  He knows that Eli and her vampire nature are one and the same person; they cannot be separated.  As the story approaches its end, Oskar realizes that if he truly loves Eli, he must confront Eli as a vampire and tell that thing (the “it” that lives within Eli) that he loves it, too, and will offer himself for it.  Of course, this is easier said than done when any time he confronts Eli as a vampire, his life is threatened.

 

Oskar's faith is finally expressed at the end of the story, when his “heart breaks,” he kisses “the vampire that was Eli,” and he offers his blood to that vampire. If Eli had merely taken Oskar's blood without permission, nothing would have changed. But because his blood is freely given through Oskar's faith and love, Eli is transformed into a human again, and is also healed. One drop of Oskar's blood is sufficient to accomplish this. 

 

The story ends with Oskar bathing a weak, but alive, Eli; Oskar washes the old blood away.  Besides being an act of loving kindness, this symbolizes Eli's baptism into a new life, free of her vampirism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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