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Once Bitten

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 8

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24 July 1983

“Eli, look.”  Oskar held open Christensen’s wallet and showed it to Eli.  “He was a Canadian from Vancouver, British Columbia.  And I think he had a daughter.”

Eli looked at the picture, scuffed and worn from years spent pressed in a wallet, and saw a smiling, brown-haired girl of about fourteen with braces. 

Oskar lowered the wallet into his lap and stared at the corpse.  “We picked someone’s dad.”

Eli stopped digging the grave with her claws and sat down next to him.  Her throat tightened when she saw the sadness and remorse in his face.  She struggled to keep the tears at bay; wanted to take his hand but couldn’t, because her hands were claws and were covered with dirt. 

“I’m sorry, Oskar.”

“It’s all right.  I know you didn’t mean it—what we had to do.”

“Oskar, listen.  There’s almost no one out there who isn’t connected in some way to someone else.  Who isn’t loved or cared for by someone, somewhere.  And I know how you feel, because I felt the same way for a long, long time. 

“I wish I had some way to pick out people who hated the world and everyone in it; or maybe a really old person or someone who would die in a few minutes anyway, from a heart attack or something.  But the truth is, there’s no good way to do that.  What we have to do is so difficult and dangerous that most of the time, I just have to take what I can catch.  And I try to do it as quickly and as painlessly as possible.  Tonight it was different, because I was trying to help you learn.  Otherwise, that man never would have woken up like he did.”

She scooted closer to Oskar and put her claw on his leg.  He resisted the urge to move away.

“I understand that you feel badly about what we did.  I know that man didn’t deserve to die, and now we know that he had a family.  I used to do the same thing you are doing now.  I wanted to know all I could about the person I’d killed, so I could . . . mourn them; tell them, in some way, that I was sorry.  I wanted to do something for them or their families, too—to make up for what I’d done.

“Then I realized one day that there was nothing I could ever do that would make up for what I’d done.  No matter what I did, or how hard I tried, I could never bring that person back.  And it was tearing me up inside, trying to feel sorry for them, feeling bad for what I was doing all the time.  And so eventually, I just stopped, and sort of . . . shut down that part of me that wanted to cry all the time.  Because it was too hard—just too hard.  And that’s when I began to think that what I have to do is like lightning, or bee stings, or car accidents, or any of the other ways that people die every day.  I’m just something that happens to people—the good, the bad . . . it doesn’t matter.  It just is.  Or maybe you could say, I just am.”

“You mean, we just are.”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded silently.

Oskar said nothing; just sat with her, staring into the woods.  Eli could not tell whether he had accepted her words, or not.  Then he rose, and began to help her dig.

25 July 1983

Epictetus’ Discourses, an oil pastel sketch, and a wooden box of soft pastels rested on a table in the dim kitchen of a threadbare apartment in Stockholm.  Outside the heavily draped window, the last remnant of a late afternoon shower tapered off, and the sunshine peeked through a thinning cloud layer that moved slowly to the west.

In the bathroom of the apartment, behind the closed door, under an old blanket, in the bottom of the tub, slept two children.  They seemed lifeless; the child who looked like a girl lying behind the boy, holding him to her chest, her arm wrapped around him; neither of them breathing; their bodies still and cool, their hearts beating only four times a minute.  The boy dreamed; the girl did not.

The boy, Oskar, dreamed that he and the girl, Eli, were running through a summer field covered with wildflowers.  They ran in the sunshine toward a building that became the train station in Blackeberg. Eli said she wanted to go swimming, and that they needed to hurry before it got dark. 

Then they were at the train station.  They pushed through the glass doors just as the sun dipped below the horizon.  They passed a newspaper stand; Oskar wanted to stop and buy some candy, but was afraid because a black, hairy gorilla was inside the kiosk, moving back and forth and peering out the windows at them.  Eli seemed not to notice as he skirted wide around the kiosk.

They kept going and then they came to an escalator leading down into the ground.  They entered the darkened tunnel and trotted down escalator.  Oskar did not like the tunnel with the escalator either, but could not tell Eli how he felt.  Eli wouldn’t stop, and seemed determined to get to the pool.  All he could do was keep up.

The escalator turned into old stone stairs, and the electric lights on the ceiling became torches hanging on the walls.  When they reached the bottom, they passed through some big wooden doors banded with iron, and then they were at the pool.  Oskar recognized the pool, and was even more afraid.  It was where Mr. Avila had given him aquatic aerobic lessons; where Conny and his older brother had tried to drown him. 

Eli stripped off her clothes, then turned and encouraged Oskar to do the same.  But her eyes seemed very dark, almost without any whites, and when she smiled a friendly smile, Oskar saw her sharp teeth, and had to steel himself from running away.  She told Oskar to come on--the water was warm!--and then she dove in.

Oskar felt afraid, but there was no sign of Conny or his older brother, and he didn’t want to disappoint Eli.  So he, too, removed his clothes and dove into the water.  As he skimmed over the bottom he realized that it was warm, as Eli had said; perhaps too warm.  He opened his eyes and tried to see Eli under the water, but it was dark, even with his eyes open, so he came up to look for her.  He broke the surface, swiped his hair out of his eyes, and—

. . . he was swimming in a pool of dark red blood.  The entire pool, from one end to the other—a vast ocean of it.  And now the pool seemed much bigger, as if it had expanded while he had been under water; or as if he had suddenly grown much younger.

Oskar was terrified.   The blood was everywhere; on his face and in his hair; running down his neck and shoulders.  He began to kick his feet to stay afloat, searching frantically for Eli, but he could not see her anywhere. 

Then he realized that the windows and pillars on either side of the room had become a forest.  In the receding woodland darkness, barely visible, threatening shapes with big mouths and sharp teeth lumbered among the trees.

He looked away from the trees and again scanned the crimson surface.  He began desperately calling Eli’s name, but there was no answer.  Then he saw that he was not alone.  Innumerable pale, white shapes were drifting soundlessly about the pool.  Backs, chests, buttocks, legs and arms floated up to become visible for a few seconds before slipping back beneath the gently undulating redness.

Then Oskar heard a noise coming from the opposite end of the pool —a loud rumbling sound.   He looked and saw that where the diving boards had been before, there was now a tall, wooden guillotine.  When his eyes fixated upon it, the shining blade, topped by a monstrous, black mouton, completed its descent through the lunette and thudded to a stop with a boom.
 
A round object with long, dark hair fell away from the guillotine and into the pool with a splash.   Then a teeterboard was triggered, and a headless body rolled out from behind the guillotine.  It thumped down onto a ramp and then it, too, splashed into the pool.   The ripples moved across the thick, dark surface toward him.

A man-like shape in a dark robe was working the guillotine.  He cranked a windlass and the blade rattled back toward the top.  As it rose, Oskar saw  that there was a line of people standing behind the guillotine, waiting in a narrow, torch-lit passageway like the one he and Eli had just descended.   Men and women wearing no clothes stood silently in line: young, old; short, tall; fat and skinny.   They shuffled slowly forward.

Then a man with blond hair laid down on the guillotine and placed his neck into the blood-stained lunette.  As the dark figure locked the block over his neck, the man looked up at Oskar.  It was John Christensen.  Terror was writ large across his face, but he did not try to escape. 

The dark man put his hand on the déclic; then he turned his head and looked at Oskar with two dark eyes, set in a ghastly white face with red lips.  He pulled the lever and then Oskar heard the rumble once again as the heavy blade rushed remorselessly down.  He couldn’t watch and tore his eyes away from the guillotine, frantically searching, searching for Eli, but still he could not see her.  The thud and the splash that followed broke his paralysis, and terror completely overtook him.  He began to swim frantically back the way he’d come.  As he kicked and struggled, the decapitated bodies in the water brushed against his limbs; touching him; grabbing him . . . .

Oskar woke up abruptly in the tub.  In his panic-stricken mind there was only one thought: to get the blood off.  Clean—must get clean

He turned on the faucet full bore, yanked up the shower handle, and began to rub himself in the cool water.  He frantically rubbed his arms, chest, groin, legs, but most particularly, his hands.  He wrung his hands together, over and over. 

He hadn’t removed the blanket from the tub, and once it became wet, it slid under his feet, causing him to slip and fall.  When Eli opened the door to see what all the commotion was about, she found him moaning and crying in a ball, holding his elbow, as the water splashed down on his head.

“Oskar!”  He didn’t respond, just continued to cry.  “Oskar!  What’s wrong?”

When there was no response, she grabbed a towel off the rack and shut off the water.  He weakly took her outstretched hand and she helped him out of the tub.  Then she put the towel around his trembling body, and together they sank to the floor by the toilet.  She wrapped him closely in the towel, and he put his head in the crook of her shoulder.  He shivered uncontrollably as she rubbed him briskly with the towel to dry him off.

When he continued to cry despite her questions, she carried him into the bedroom and sat down with him on the mattress.  She kissed him repeatedly on the top of his wet head, and then she gave him her bunny.  He took it gratefully and clutched it close to his chest as he continued to weep.

“. . . and then I woke up.”

Eli sat very quietly next to Oskar, thinking.  Then she said, “You know I will never abandon you, Oskar.  Never.”

He sniffled and wiped his nose.  “I know, Eli.  And I know it’s just a dream—not real.  I guess what happened last night bothered me more than I realized.”

“Maybe so.  I think dreams can tell us things—show us things that we’re really worried about, maybe too worried to admit to ourselves when we’re awake.  I think your dream tells me a lot about you.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re afraid—you’re afraid you’re losing your . . . that you’re not human any more.  That because we need to kill to live, you’re no longer a real person.  That you don’t care about anyone; that maybe, you’re just like an animal.  Is that it?”

Oskar looked at the floor and nodded glumly.

“Well, if that’s true, then I think maybe your dream was a good thing.”

He looked up at her with a confused expression.  “What do you mean?  How can that be true?”

“Because in your dream, you fought it.  You resisted; you didn’t give in.  And that doesn’t surprise me, Oskar.  Because I knew from the moment I met you that you were a very kind and thoughtful person.  You have a strong streak of . . . of humanity, I guess.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with you—because you did care so much.  And you cared about me, even though I’m just about the most messed up person in the whole world.

“Oskar, I would have been very surprised if you weren’t going through the things you are going through right now.  Surprised, and maybe even disappointed, I think.  I’ve never liked doing what I have to do, and I would have found it very strange if you had been happy to do it.  Because it’s not fun.  It’s not pleasant.  It’s awful, in fact.  I know that.

“But let me ask you something: do you think I’m a monster?”

He raised an eyebrow and answered her immediately.  “No--of course not.  You saved me, didn’t you?  You cared about me, too.”

Eli reached over and touched his cheek.  “That’s right; I did.  And I still do—very, very much, Oskar.  So, do you think I could’ve done that, if I was like that man in your dream?”

“No.”

“So what does that tell you about what it’s like to be me?”

He looked at her with a puzzled expression and spoke hesitantly.  “That it’s possible . . . that . . . well, how old did you say you are, again?”

“About 220 years.”

“That maybe I can kill people and still be . . . human?”

She nodded slowly and then softly said, “Yes.  It’s possible.  Hard, but possible.  Like I told you before, Oskar—you can still be a good person in your heart, even though you must do terrible things to survive.  If you’re sorry for what you’ve done, and don’t . . . take pleasure in it; don’t revel in it.”

“Well, but I . . . I did revel in it, Eli; that’s the thing.”  He looked up at her face, which was now only a few inches from his own.  “When you opened his throat like that, and we were . . . eating—” he closed his eyes and turned his head away, “I enjoyed it, the taste of it, more than anything I’ve ever eaten before.  I wanted it so bad, Eli!”  He looked at her intently with apprehension.  “And I knew it was wrong, but I had this terrible feeling of wanting to—take him, possess him; make him mine.  Take his life.  And then when I saw you afterwards, I had this really weird feeling, too.   Like you were this . . . conquering goddess, or something.  All powerful, all—”

 “A what?  A conquering goddess?”  She surpressed a chuckle and started to give him a bemused look, but then saw how serious he was, and stopped.

“It’s crazy and it sounds stupid, I know it,” he admitted.  “But you don’t understand how I felt.   You were so . . . beautiful in that moment.  Like you were able to do that to him without hesitation, without worrying about everything, like I was worrying. And there was something about that willpower that was so . . . so--”  He shook his head, unable to explain further.

“Oskar.”  She touched him; lifted his face to hers.  “I feel sorry for what I have to do, too.  Maybe in the moment, I do what I need to do.  But I never feel good about it.  I hope you understand that.”

“Yes.  I know.”

Eli got up and went over to a small portable radio sitting in a corner.  She turned it on and then went back to Oskar; took his hand and stood him up beside her.

“Can we dance for a little while, please?”

Oskar came out of his funk a little.  “Yeah—of course.  But I’m not very good, you know.  I never learned a thing about dancing.”

“Me neither.  But if you can hug me and walk at the same time, I think we’ll be good.”

His smile broadened.  “I can do that, I think.”

They moved slowly in circles around the room with their arms around one another, their chins resting on each other’s shoulders.  The radio had been tuned to a classical station, and a piano melody by Saint-Saëns, Le Carnaval des Animaux: Le Cygne, filled the room.  Eli spoke softly in his ear.  “This reminds me of the first time you hugged me, Oskar.  That was one of the most wonderful moments of my life.  I’ll never forget that.”

“I wanted to.  I was afraid of what you might do, but . . . it felt right.”

“It was right.”

27 July 1983

“What am I supposed to be feeling?”

Oskar sighed in frustration.  “This is so hard.  I was trying to get you to scratch an itch on your back.”

Eli gave him a small smile.  They sat, facing each other, on the floor.

“Oh.  Well, try again.  I’m trying to be receptive.”

“Okay.”

Oskar looked at Eli.  He tried to truly see her; to take in every aspect of her, every detail.  He knew, from what she had explained to him, that the ability to suggest things to her without talking was tied to his newly strengthened powers of perception.  It was not just seeing, but understanding, the person in front of him; much like he now saw and understood patterns and connections in nonliving things that he had never seen before.  See and understand; see and understand . . . .

He carefully studied her face and noticed that some of her hair was hanging down in front and touching her eyebrow.  He concentrated on it and thought, my hair is tickling my forehead.

Eli reached up and flicked her hair back.  Then she smiled again, more broadly this time.  “Was that it?”

“Uh huh.”  He could not surpress a triumphant grin at this, his first success, after over an hour of effort.

Eli grinned back and clapped her hands excitedly.  “Yeah!  See—I told you you could do it!  Pretty soon it’ll be easy.”

“That was really cool!”  Oskar had not felt so happy for more than a week.  “I just don’t see how you can do it so quickly, Eli.  It’s almost ‘off the cuff’ for you.”

“Practice, practice, practice, Oskar.  That’s all there is to it.”

He continued to practice with Eli, and gradually had her doing all kinds of things.  Scratching herself; licking her lips; touching her nose.  They did it face to face, and then with her turned away.  Soon he found he could do it from across the room—as long as he could see her.

He also found that he could make Eli think things.  He would think a thought, and then she would say the thought that had entered her mind.  The color green; the moon; his smile.

Eventually he discovered that he could not make her follow complex commands, like “add 35 and 46” or “go clean the bathtub and then comb your hair.”  He could convey the idea of “35” and “bathtub,” but couldn’t make her do things involving steps.  Nor could he make her do self-destructive things, like “kill yourself.”

At one point, his suggestions stopped working; she seemed opaque.  She told him that she was deliberately blocking him, and explained that some people just block naturally.  Most of the time it would happen when someone was concentrating very hard on something, like a task they were performing.  He wouldn’t be able to break into the thoughts of such a person.  Other people, though, seemed to be more aware of their own thoughts, and could tell if something unusual was coming in from outside.  She had never met someone who had realized it was her who was doing the manipulating, but these people would sense the intrusion, and block just the same.

When he was growing weary of the game, he began to get playful and carefree in his projections.  They were sitting on either end of the couch, facing each other, with their legs overlapping in the middle.

Love me.

Eli’s eyes grew slightly wider, and she pulled her head back almost imperceptibly as his thought seemingly hit her.  Without saying a word, she slowly got up and crawled over on top of him.  Solemnly she took his head into her hands, and lowered her face to his.  “Your wish, sir, is my command.”  Then she kissed him tenderly; and when their kiss broke, she teasingly whispered in his ear, “Actually, smarty pants, that didn’t work.  I just wanted to kiss  you.”  They laughed together; then Oskar replied, “You’re so bad—rotten to the core.”

“You love me because I’m rotten.  Now—let’s wrestle!”

When dawn approached, they lay down together on a comforter in the closet.  Oskar rested his head on Eli’s chest, and put his arm across her stomach.

“Eli, I have a question about something.”

“Yes?”

“The hibernation thing—the big sleeps you talked about.  What if they happen to us at different times?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I . . . I don’t like the idea of being awake without you.  I don’t want you to go to sleep for a couple of months and leave me by myself.  I’m afraid I’ll get really lonely.”

Eli placed her hand over his forearm and gave him a squeeze and pulled him a little closer.  “Hmm.  I’m not sure what to do about that, Oskar.  I’ve never had to worry about it before.”

“Can you tell when it’s going to happen?”

“Yes—usually.  I just start to feel all run down, no matter if I’m full or not.  I sleep longer and longer, until finally . . . I’m gone.  Out, for a long time.  Months.”

“Well, if that happens, maybe I could make myself sleep longer.  So I could . . . I don’t know, get in sych with you.”

“We’ll have to try that, if you don’t want to be alone.  I don’t know if it’ll work, but we’ll try.  Okay?”

Oskar seemed satisfied and relieved.  He hugged her tighter.  “Okay.”

As usual, Eli fell asleep before he did.  He pulled away from her a little, then propped himself up on one elbow and simply looked at her.  He still thought it amazing that he could see her so well in the dark.  He felt closer to her than ever after the night they’d just spent.  He knew that somehow, the union between them had deepened; felt that he was becoming more and more like her.

He watched her for a long time, drinking in her features.  He thought about the first time he had ever laid eyes on her, when she had caught him playing with his knife and had said that they couldn’t be friends.  She had seemed so strange, then . . . and how wrong she’d been. 

At what point had he fallen in love with her?  Could he say that it was the night that they had worked the Rubik’s Cube together, or shared the Morse Code?  The excitement of having someone take an interest in him, and of responding to his interest in her, had surely been there. 

Or was it the night that she had eaten the candy to please him, and he had gotten up the courage to take her into his arms?  Had, for the first time, actually felt her close to him—it had been magical; the biggest thing he’d ever experienced. 

Or had it been the night she had cuddled with him in his bed and agreed to go steady?  That he had felt her arms around him, holding him, and realized that she could actually be his . . . even now, it gave him a warm shiver just to think of it.

And then, of course, their first kiss—he still could not find words to describe what that had been like.  Could he ever?--he did not think so.  And then she had pulled him up from the water, had saved his life at the pool.  He had looked into her beautiful eyes . . . and knew, for perhaps the first time, what love really meant.

All of the emotions that he had experienced at those moments had, over time, seemed to merge into one, powerful feeling for Eli in the center of his being.  And it didn’t matter that Eli was really a boy, or had been a boy at one time; that, to Oskar, was like pointing out that Eli had a belly button, or had a freckle on her arm.

He bent and kissed her lightly on the cheek.  Eli, Eli . . . ‘love’ isn’t a strong enough word—do you know that? 

She remained asleep, but turned her head slightly away from him.  Nocturne in F Major by Tchaikovsky was playing quietly on the radio that they’d left on in the living room, but he did not recognize it as such; merely thought it sounded like a lullaby.  He relaxed to its soft and mellifluous tones, and felt the urge to kiss her again.  He trailed kisses gently across her cheek and down to her neck.  Eli made an unintelligible noise and her eyelids fluttered; then her mouth opened slightly and she took a breath.

This tiny response shifted the focus of Oskar’s thoughts.  For some reason, instead of merely wanting to kiss her, he discovered that he wanted to . . .

(you know I would give that to you anytime you ask.)

He opened his mouth and breathed softly on her neck.  Eli did not stir.  Slowly, slowly, he brought his lips closer to the pale skin; and the closer he was, the more he wanted.  Wanted what she had; wanted to experience what she was.  He kissed its smoothness, then gently, gently bit through.  Then tasted the warmth.

Eli inhaled sharply, turned her head slightly toward him and arched her neck.  An arm fluttered limply up and over his back; then he felt her hand on his shoulder blade.  It seemed to squeeze gently.

The thing inside him stirred at the unexpected stimulus, and urged him to take more.  He affixed his mouth more firmly onto the wound and drew harder, savoring the taste.  And when he did so, he felt Eli stir and realized that he had at last awoken her.  He became afraid, fearful that she would become angry and push him away for his intrusion.

Instead, she held him.  Then she turned her head, he felt the heat of her mouth just below his clavicle, and—

 . . . she sunk her teeth into his flesh. 

There was no pain.  He realized that she had pierced a large vessel there; he felt himself flowing freely into her.  The flow was such that Eli began to gulp softly to keep up, and for a moment, he felt dizzy and lightheaded.  Her grip on him tightened, and the intensity of the experience made Oskar pull even harder at her neck, opening up the wound to increase the amount of blood he was taking from her.

She laid her hand upon the side of his head and touched his ear.  The touch transmitted a thought which he instantly grasped: slow down.  He moderated the action of his lips to take less, and then felt her do the same.

They lay trembling together in the dark, drawing from each other.  They realized that their hearts were beating in tandem.  Time ceased to exist as a mystical circuit opened and John Christensen’s blood, now theirs, passed through their mouths, into their bodies, and was returned moments later. 

They became lost in each other. 

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