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Once Bitten

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 6

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19 July 1983

“Oww, Eli!  It hurts! It hurts!  It—it . . . oh—look at that.”

Eli and Oskar lay side by side on Oskar’s mattress.  Oskar was holding his hand up in front of him, watching as it transformed itself before their eyes into a claw.

“I know it hurts!  But don’t worry, Oskar—it won’t feel like that forever!  The more you do it, the less pain you’ll feel.”

“It felt like I had my hand in a light socket or something,” Oskar replied as the tingling dissipated down his arm.  His mouth gaped and he stared, wide-eyed, at his transformed hand.

Eli held her hand up to his, and within the space of a few seconds, her fingers melted like plastic held over an open flame, stretched out, and became long and thin.

Wow.  You’re so good at it!”

Eli offered a wistful smile.  “I’ve had a lot of practice, Oskar.”

Oskar wriggled his fingers and turned his hand around to look at it from all sides.  Then he brought his other claw up and looked at both of them, side by side.  “Eli, this is so freaky.  They feel so weird.”

Eli took one of his claws into hers.  “You need to remember to be careful, Oskar.  They’re sharp at the tips.”

“Sure are.  But there’s not much feeling in the ends, is there?”

“No.  But watch this.”

“What?”

“Just watch my hand.”

Oskar stared with anticipation at Eli’s hand, clasped in his.  At first he saw nothing, and was puzzled.  Then he noticed that her skin was changing color.  Eli was usually pale, but now he saw that her hand and wrist were becoming flushed.  The color gradually shifted from a pale ivory to a pinkish hue, then slowly darkened into a grayish purple.  He couldn’t tear his eyes away from it; the contrast was all the more noticeable against the constant flesh tone of his own hand.  Then he realized that the change was not limited to her hand and wrist, but included her arm, and—

He looked over at her face.  His eyes grew wide and, startled, he flinched away from her.  “Eli!”

She smiled, and for once he was not pleased to see it, surrounded by all of that dusky-gray skin.  She looked monstrous.  As soon as she saw his reaction, though, her smile faltered.

Oskar’s heart thudded rapidly in his chest.  He panicked, and for a second he felt like fleeing from her; running away and hiding in the bathroom.  Then she touched him, and he was relieved that it was her ordinary hand on his forearm. Her color returned to its normal hue.

“Sorry, Oskar.  Kinda forgot how that could look.”

Oskar relaxed.  “It’s . . . it’s okay.  For a moment there you just looked really creepy.”

“You can do it, too.  Want to try?”

“Uh . . . not right now, no thanks.”

“Want to try your feet?”

“Okay.”

“Watch.”  Eli rolled back onto her shoulders and nimbly swung her legs up by her hips so that her toes were pointed at the ceiling.  “Don’t do this with your shoes on.  I’ve forgot and done it a few times, and it really hurts.”  She chuckled.

After they had compared their transformed feet for awhile, Oskar asked, “Can you change other parts of your body, Eli?  I mean, could I maybe—I don’t know, grow a tail, or something?”

Eli laughed and shook her head.  “Only you, Oskar, could dream up an idea like that.  I don’t really think—well, go ahead and try it.  See what happens.  Maybe—who knows?”

Oskar turned onto his side to face her, smiled at her excitedly, then said, “Okay, here goes!”  He shut his eyes and concentrated.

Eli watched him, evidently fascinated, for several seconds.  Soon he said, with his eyes still squeezed shut, “I think I feel something.  Is anything happening?”

Eli got up and peeked over his side to look.  “Oh, Oskar!  I can’t believe it!  It’s . . . it’s . . .”

Oskar’s eyes flew open.  “What?  What?!  Is it there?”

“Yeah—it’s right here!”  She mischievously grabbed the waistband of his underwear and yanked it up.

Oww! . . . Why you . . . !  I’ll give you a wedgie you won’t forget!”  But Eli had already fled the room.  “You’ll have to catch me, first!”

Oskar stood up to give chase, but then discovered that it wasn’t easy to adjust his underwear with claws.  Doggone her!  He laughed to himself.  Then he ran into the living room and looked around, but did not see her.  He went into the kitchen, but it also was empty.

“Where’d you go?  Eli?  Where are you?”

A lilting voice drifted in from the living room.  “In here.”  And as he spun around and came back in, her voice floated down from the ceiling.  “You should learn to look harder,” she teased.

Eli was hovering immediately over the doorway leading to the back bedroom.  He had walked directly underneath her when he’d come in.

He tried to jump up and grab her, but every time he lunged, she would flit away, always staying near the ceiling.  “Gee, Oskar,” she taunted.  “You’re awfully slow.  Maybe you’ll need to come up here to catch me.”

Oskar stopped and looked at her.  Eli stopped, too, watching him with anticipation.

“How do you do it?”

“Like everything else.  You just think it, and it will happen.”

Oskar started to close his eyes, but Eli said, “No.  Focus with your eyes open.  Closing your eyes is a bad habit.”

He stood perfectly still, his arms relaxed at his sides, legs slightly spread apart.  Then he looked down at his feet.

He began to leave the floor.  Immediately he snapped his head up in shock to look at Eli, and the instant he did so, he fell down.  “Dang it!  I almost had it!”

“Don’t look at me.  Just focus on what you’re doing.  Later it will become second nature, trust me.”

“Okay.”

After several false starts and brief hops, Oskar was able to float slowly around the middle of the room.  He kept pinwheeling his arms like a man on a tightrope without a pole, and each time he thought about what he was doing, he fell.

“You need to do it without thinking, Oskar.  You didn’t think about your hand every second that it was a claw, did you?”

“No, but this is different.  I’m .  . . I’m flying, not just changing part of my body.”

“No it’s not, Oskar.  It’s no different.  If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, then you can do it.  Keep trying.”

The smile on Oskar’s face grew broader with each passing minute that he hovered about.  “This . . . is so . . . incredibly . . . bizarre, Eli  I can’t believe I’m doing this!”

Eli watched Oskar, bemused.  He looked like he was walking on air.

“Oskar, you’re not on the ground anymore.   Think of yourself as a bird in the air, or a fish in the water.  Something like that.”  She left her corner of the room and gracefully circled him, turning her head to smile at him as she did.  Then she came alongside him and took his hand.  He hesitated for half a second, unsure of himself, and then allowed her to tug him along.  He looked at her and smiled as they slowly began to circle around their tiny living room.

Soon, Oskar was not even thinking about how he was flying.  His mind wandered, soaking up the strange new sensation of being freed from gravity as he drifted over and over past each of the four walls.  Round and ‘round they went.  He felt every movement of his body, and every change in hers; a slight pull here, a little slowing there.  He found that he could alter his course with very small movements of his limbs, yet knew that it wasn’t just his arms and legs making the change.

“How fast can I go?”

She glanced at him and smiled.  “I don’t know.  It’s all up here, Oskar.”  She tapped the side of her head with the forefinger of her free hand.

“What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone?”

“Don’t know.  Never measured myself.  Like a bullet, maybe?  How fast is that?”

Oskar grinned.  “I have no idea!”

“You’re a natural, Oskar.  I’m amazed.”

“How long did it take you to learn?”

There was a pause and Eli’s hand left his.  “Umm—about ten seconds, I guess.”

Wow!  You’re—”  Then Oskar saw that Eli was no longer smiling.  Their happy spell had inexplicably been broken.  He stopped flying, landing on all fours on the couch, then turned and sat down.  It was only then that he noticed a slight fatigue in his arms and legs and a tenseness in his neck.   Eli came to rest in the middle of the floor and sat, cross-legged, facing him.

He stretched his neck from side to side.  “It was bad, wasn’t it?”

Eli reflected for a moment, staring into space, before answering.  She did not look at him as she talked.  “Yes, it was.  Terrifying.”

“What happened?”

She looked him in the eye.  “He dropped me.  From very high up.  Told me to ‘fly away’—and that was it.  I either had to fly, or . . . or else.  So I guess you could say that I had learn quick or die.  Well—maybe not actually die, just . . . have a very painful experience when I hit the ground.”

A disturbing thought suddenly occurred to Oskar that so far, had escaped him: that he was now related to the vampire that had made Eli.  A blood connection between him and that awful creature that he knew only from what Eli had shown him in her memories.  He felt a chill, and suddenly felt that he was ensnared in cold, dead hands from the distant past; ghastly white, reaching for him from a dark, moldering sepulchre.

Silence descended in the room, the perfect companion for the gloomy mood that had engulfed them. 

He looked at the window, covered with an old, threadworn blanket to keep out the sun.  “It’s no good, is it?”

“What’s no good?”

“This.”  He held up his claw hand.  “The feet.  The fangs.  The flying.  It’s all . . . to help us do bad things.  To kill people.  Like we’re . . . evil angels.  And evil angels are—what—devils, right?  We’re devils.”

Oskar.  Come on—no, we’re not devils.  It’s a disease.  A disease that forces us to live off something that’s forbidden, that’s all.”

“Eli, diseases don’t enable you to fly around or change your shape.  They make you sick and weak, not superstrong with fantastic powers.  That’s . . . magicBlack magic.”

“I think it all depends on how you use your powers, Oskar.  People are born with all different kinds of abilities.  Some people are really smart; some are very strong.  Some are very fast and agile; others are slow and clumsy, but could be very good with their hands.  People choose how to use their abilities in different ways.  Some choose to do good; others, evil.  It’s no different for us.  The vampire who made me hated the world and wanted only to spread his evil, his poison, to everything he could.  I see things differently.”

“But Eli, what we can do goes way beyond ordinary human abilities like strength or intelligence.  I mean, come on—name me the last person you saw who flew around like we just did.”

“But we’re not really all that powerful, Oskar.  Not really—not compared to what people can do to each other nowadays.  I could pick up a gun and cause much more harm in a few seconds than you or I could inflict.  Or fly off in an airplane and bomb whole cities with the push of a button.  So I still think it all depends on what you’re doing up here, with your mind.”

“Yes, but Eli . . . now I am the ‘gun.’  It’s . . . a part of me.  And while I understand what you’re saying about trying to avoid as much evil—death—whatever you want to call it, as possible, I still know that at some point I’m going to be putting my teeth into someone I don’t know and  . . . killing him—or her.”

Eli was quiet for a moment; then she crawled over to Oskar, put her arms on his thigh, and looked up at him.  “Okay, Oskar.  I’m going to make a commitment to you—because I love you, and I don’t ever want to see you suffer.  I take back what I said earlier, about stopping what we were doing before.  For the rest of my life, I’ll do everything I can to take care of you, so that you’ll never have to go out and hurt anyone.  You’ll never need to grow fangs or claws, never have to run around in the dark and attack anyone.  If that will make you happy, then that’s how it will be.”

He took her hands into his.  “No, Eli.  That wouldn’t be fair.”

“Yes it would, Oskar.  You didn’t ask for this.”

“Well, neither did you!”

“True.  But I did want to be with you.”  She squeezed his hand.  “That makes me responsible.”

Oskar made a dismissive gesture, then spoke in a tired, matter-of-fact way.  “Oh come on.  I wanted to be with you, too, Eli.  I knew what you were.  I didn’t expect what happened, but still . . . I understood that there were risks.  So, in a way . . . I chose this.

“Look, you and I both know that what you’re saying just wouldn’t work.  You’d get mad after awhile, maybe even hate me, for having to wait on me hand and foot.  Besides, we really wouldn’t be together much, would we?  I’d probably just get bored and lonely, sitting around here.  I’d rather be with you—by your side, wherever you are.  Even if that means we’re out, doing those things together.  And while I know that’s going to be hard, it’s . . . what I want.”  Then he offered her a small, secretive smile and blushed.  “Even though I’ve sorta come to enjoy your—” he looked away--“flavor.”

Eli tsked him.  “We never should have started that.  Now you’re addicted.”  She laughed softly.  “You’re an Eli addict.”  Then she looked at him with grave seriousness.  “But you know I would give that to you anytime you ask.

“Now—let’s go.”

Oskar lay down behind Eli in the tub and embraced her.  They murmured good night to each other; then Eli grew still and quickly fell asleep.

Oskar was exhausted, and the urge to sleep rushed in as soon as he closed his eyes.  But he couldn’t sleep.

He replayed the night’s events in his mind.  He’d never had a night like it before, and knew he would never forget it.  Because he would never see the world in the same way again.

The whole night had been . . . he searched for a word to encapsulate it—tactical.  Yes: a study in tactics.  The closest thing to it in his experience had been playing army with his friend Johan, when he was younger.  But running around with a plastic gun seemed very childish and a million miles removed from what they’d done tonight.  Because tonight’s work had been deadly serious, through and through.

They hadn’t done anything to anyone.  In fact, the whole point had been to not be seen by anyone.  That’s how Eli had explained it—to move about the city undetected.  And she had shown him so many things that his head was spinning.

He had learned to use all of his senses, but mostly his eyes and ears.  He had vision like he never could’ve believed, and his hearing?—incredible.  The tiniest details, the smallest sounds, did not escape him for hundreds of yards.  And movement!  With all his excitement over flying, he had overlooked just how fast he could run.  He had known she was fleet-footed from his former life.  But now he realized that she had been going deliberately slow, probably just to give him a chance to keep up.  Tonight he had never seen her run so fast, but not once had he fallen behind.

It had all been darkly exhilarating.  There was nothing they couldn’t conquer.  Crawling up the sheer faces of buildings with their claws, leaping across rooftops; swinging from pipes and fire escapes; with him amazed not by his abilities, but because he hadn’t even been afraid.  And his energy had seemed bottomless, a font of strength that was continuously renewed.  He had felt as though Eli and he were the masters of Stockholm.

The darkness had been their friend; the light, their enemy.  She had taught him to see everything in terms of cover.  He had evaluated the quality of shadows over and over; had learned to make judgments on the ability of individual patches of darkness to cloak them.

He realized very quickly that it wasn’t only his eyes’ ability to see in the dark that had changed.  His perception, in the most literal sense—his ability to see and understand what he saw, had been keenly altered.  The smallest things seemed to acquire some hidden meaning, some inner significance, that was tantalizingly close to his grasp.  The way the wind blew through the leaves of a tree, for example.  He had never noticed before that there was a pattern to the movement of the leaves; a rhythm that was synchronized with the snapping of a flag atop an adjacent building, and with the fluttering of a dark lock of Eli’s hair.  It seemed as if nothing happened without a reason, or without some relationship to something else.

Everything seemed to capture his attention.  He now found completely captivating things that he would have been blind to a month ago.  He had watched, fascinated, at some leaves and pieces of trash in the corner of a building entrance that had blown around in an endless circle: lifting, swirling, lowering; their pathways restlessly expanding, then contracting.  He suspected that he would have been staring at the little whirlwind still, had Eli not nudged him with a smile.  “Hey . . . Oskar—you there?”  He had looked at her with a blank expression.  “Huh?  Oh—sorry.”  She knew what was happening to him.

Most fascinating of all had been reading people.  Perched on a rooftop overlooking the train station, they had spent the better part of an hour just observing folks come and go as Eli offered her comments and insights.  He couldn’t believe how much she picked up just by watching.

“See that man over there by the taxi stand?” she asked.  “You can tell by how he’s acting that he’s waiting for someone.  Watch how he looks around.”

“Those two are married.  See how they walk together?”

“That kid is lost, looking for his mother.  She’s on the other side of the plaza, talking to that police officer.  See how worried she is?  Watch how she moves her arms as she talks.”

“That man is selling drugs or something.  Watch his hands when that other guy gets close.  There.  Did you see the exchange?”

“The woman who just came out is drunk.  The one right there with the pink top and jean jacket.  Watch her move—she’s trying to act like she’s not, but watch her feet and you’ll see it.  See?  She just staggered a little in spite of herself.”

“That couple there are fighting over something.  She’s mad at him for some reason.  See how they won’t look at each other?  And they’re walking single file, even though they’re moving together.”

“That guy standing over by the phone booth is probably a cop, even though he’s not wearing a uniform.  Notice how he observes everything.  He’s watching everyone very carefully, even though he’s pretending to use the phone.”

“That old guy there would be good, if we were hunting tonight.  He’s got his face in a book as he walks down the street--oblivious to everything around him.  Plus, you can tell he’s out of shape.  Look at his stomach.”

Oskar chimed in, eager to participate.  “That lady over there is kinda fat, too.  How about her?”

Eli gave him a look.  “She’s pregnant, Oskar.”

“Oh.  How can you tell?”

“You just can.  It’s like it hangs lower; that’s all.”

“So, would she be—”

“No, Oskar.  Not pregnant women.  Or little kids--or mothers.”

“Can you always tell if someone’s pregnant?”

“Usually I can, yeah.”

“What if she’s only a little pregnant?”

“You’re either pregnant or you’re not, Oskar.  There’s no in between.”

“Yeah, but--”

“I can just tell.  You’ll be able to, too.  Don’t worry.”

“Well, how do you know if some lady is a mom?”

“She’s got kids with her.  Simple.”

“What if the kids are at home or something?”

“You know what a wedding ring is, Oskar?”

“Sure.”

“Well look for that.  If she’s got one, then there’s a good chance she’s got kids.”

“Oh yeah.  Sorry.

“But what if . . . she’s not married any more?  Like I mean, my mom and dad split up when I was little, and my mom never wore her wedding ring.  But she had me.”

Eli began to grow agitated.  “Oskar, sometimes you just have to make judgments.  I can’t explain it to you.  You just learn.”

“Have you ever . . . made a bad call about someone?  Like a woman who turned out to be . . . .”

Eli stopped looking out at the street below them.  A gust of wind caught her hair as she turned, sat slowly down with her back to the building edge they’d been hiding behind, and drew her legs up with her arms.  She said nothing; just stared at the ground dejectedly.

Her reaction made Oskar regret his question.  He squatted down beside her, thought about apologizing, but then decided to just remain silent.  His question hung in the air for what seemed like quite awhile; then Eli said very quietly, almost to herself, “I don’t know if I want to go on like this.” 

Her statement deeply frightened him.  She had always been his source of strength; her firmly held views about who she was and what she did had formed a kind of bedrock to their relationship.  He hadn't realized how deeply what she did affected her, and how emotionally fragile she was.  Because he was learning from her, it had become easy to think of Eli as an older, mature person, but he had to remember that she was perpetually twelve.

She looked up at him and said, “Yes, Oskar, I have.  Are you happy now?  I admit it—I’ve made mistakes.  You do your best, but sometimes things go wrong, and they don’t turn out like you planned.”

Thoughtlessly he blurted out, “like me?”

She looked away and the tears started.  She sobbed loudly, stood up, and walked rapidly away from him.

“Wait, Eli, wait!  I’m sorry!”

She didn’t look back; just shook her head and put up a hand, waving him away.  “Don’t—don’t.  I . . . I can’t.”

She didn’t want him to be near her, but she didn’t go too far away, either.  He understood why—because she still thought of him as her responsibility.  She wouldn’t leave him up here by himself, a fledgling.  Even though he’d hurt her. 

When it had started to rain, he had gone to her and told her he was sorry.  She had crawled out from behind the electrical box, sullenly said “It’s all right,” and then they had headed home.  After they had gotten back and dried off, he had thought that she would go off to sleep in the closet by herself, but the chill between them seemed to have thawed, and they had clambered into the tub together.

He squeezed Eli a little closer to himself, wishing that it would somehow banish the unease he felt about the whole night.  But it didn’t work.  It just made him more aware of the fact that she wasn’t breathing, and that her heart had slowed to almost nothing.  She was cold, like a corpse—and he had no heat to warm her.

He loosened his hold on her and without understanding why, rose and got out of the tub.  He quietly left the bathroom and as he moved through the living room toward the window, he realized why he was reaching to lift the blanket and let in the dim rays of the morning sun.

They weren’t people anymore, those shapes down there at the train station that he had seen so well.  They were . . . objects.  Things to be studied and . . . selected.  He felt the pangs in his stomach, and knew what was coming.  What would be required.  He wished mightily that he could just eat some regular food.  The crepes that his mom used to make; elder duck; the candy he used to buy . . . anything.  Then everything would be easy.  But that was now impossible.

He began to raise the corner of the ratty green fabric.  A thin sliver of sickly gray light pierced the shadows.  It was terrifying.  A little further, he knew, and it would fall across his legs and burn him deeply.  Did he want to raise it further?  And what would Eli do if he suddenly yanked the blanket down and exposed himself fully to the sun?

He knew.

He dropped the blanket and stood there in the silence.  He could never do that to her.  Never.  His love for her was too hard, too deep for that.

He felt incredibly tired and unhappy.  If he didn’t move, he would fall asleep on the spot.  So he trudged back into the bathroom, crawled in behind her, and welcomed the oblivion of sleep.

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