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Once Bitten

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 9

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Eli lay in the darkness, drawing Oskar’s blood from his right subclavian vein.  She had been surprised to find herself suddenly awake and being bitten, but she had known immediately that it was him, and what he was doing was neither painful nor unwelcome.  Without thinking, she had reciprocated; had followed an impulse, driven purely by emotion, to love him in return.  What they were now doing was a new experience: in more than two hundred years, she had never done it before.

With closed eyes she saw nothing, but all of her other senses were about him.  This beautiful boy, the one she had chosen to love, and who had chosen to love her in return.  The feeling of him, taller than her, but thin, in her arms.  His smell.  The sound of their mouths as they partook of each another; the sound of his blood in her head.  And most of all, the delicious taste that flowed through her mouth.  There was no one’s that she enjoyed more; no one’s that gave her so much pleasure.  Because it was his--Oskar’s--and because it was now freely given, not forbidden; a gift laid at her feet.  And she was not merely taking, for they were sharing.  As his blood flowed into her, she felt hers flowing into him in a rhythmic, surging pulse; a beautiful, sweetly constant ebb and flow.

Then something happened.  The pulse merged with the darkness, and the darkness became—

            (a tunnel)

. . . Yes--a dark, underground river, and she was moving within it.  The sound of the flowing blood became the sound of rushing water, roaring toward an opening ahead, dimly visible in the dark--a hole, a (waterfall?)

and with eager apprehension, she realized that she had discovered a secret door—a door she had never known before, could never have dreamed existed; as if she had been living in the same house all her life and had discovered it on a wall that had heretofore been blank and featureless, yet when viewed at just the right time of day, in just the right light, and at just the right angle, became visible.  Visible, and thereby capable of being opened.

A secret door that could only be opened with that one, right person.  Could only be opened with love.

She was rushing toward it now in the roaring river, the scary, turbulent darkness carrying her ever more rapidly forward—faster and faster, nearing the edge, the black hole expanding and mysterious, and the mystery was

(Oskar)

. . . and then in a thundering, deafening, terrifying second she went

            (over the edge!!)

Silence.

“Hi, Eli.”

“Oskar?”

“Yeah—it’s me.”  He was standing beside her, holding her hand.

She looked around; couldn’t understand where she was, and was frightened.  “Where are we?”

He gave her a happy, secretive smile and squeezed her hand.  “You’ll see.  Don’t be afraid.”

They were in the center of a dimly lit network of hallways.  Eli turned slowly and counted: one, two, three, four, . . . seven hallways, each with vaulted ceilings; some of them had stairs that went up, some with stairs that went down, and some that stretched off into a limitless distance, as far as her eye could see.  The light was uniform; it did not vary, and had no particular source.  And along all of the hallways there were doors.  She looked down one hall and began to count.  One, two, three, four .  . . seven doors.  And then there was an arch with a break—an intersecting hallway?  Yes.  Followed by another set of seven doors.  Then another break.  And so on, apparently forever.

Each door looked different.

Oskar squeezed her hand.  She sensed his excitement, his desire to show her.  “Come on!”

She wanted to protest, to say wait, but didn’t.  She trusted him.  And with his gentle tug they went together down a hall to their left, toward a door that was five doors down on the right.  The door had no inscription, but as they approached it the idea of

            (birthday party)

formed in her mind.  And then Oskar opened the door, they stepped through it, and—

She was seated at a dining room table in Oskar’s apartment, a party hat in her hair.  There was a chocolate birthday cake in the middle of the table.  To her left was Oskar—a little younger than she remembered, his face a little rounder; not quite as defined.  Across from her sat a boy she didn’t know.  Oskar’s mom was standing a short distance from the table with a camera.  She wore a plum-colored turtleneck and had an apron around her waist.

“. . . happy birthday, dear Oskar . . . happy birthday to you!”

The cake was lit with eleven red candles.  Oskar’s mom and the boy shouted, “Make a wish!”  Eli did too, but a little late.

Oskar appeared to concentrate, then stole a glance at Eli and grinned.  His long, blond hair was just as she remembered.  He took a deep breath, the camera flashed, and he blew out all the candles.  Eli began to clap with the others, happy to be with Oskar on this, his eleventh birthday. 

She glanced to her left, through the doorway and into the kitchen, and saw a calendar on the wall: May, 1980.  A little less than two years before she’d ever met him.

Then she understood where she was.

Oskar’s mom began to cut the cake.  “Thank you, Johan, for coming.  And you too, Eli.”  She placed a piece of cake in front of her and smiled.  “Johan, would you care for some milk, or would you rather have ice cream?”

“Ice cream, please.”

“And you, Eli dear?”

She heard herself saying “milk” without even thinking about it.

Then she realized that it was the afternoon.  The sun was shining in through the window to her right, illuminating the room, washing over the table, over her . . . but there was no pain.  It was just ordinary sunlight, on an ordinary afternoon, in Blackeberg.

Oskar smiled again at Eli.  “Wait ‘til you try the cake.  Mom makes the best birthday cake ever.”

A glass of milk was placed before her, and without hesitating she picked it up and drank.  It was cold and delicious.  She removed a piece of cake with her fork and placed it into her mouth.  It tasted like the mildly sweet cakes her mother had sometimes made when she was just a child, some two centuries ago.  She could not taste the chocolate.

After the cake, Oskar opened his presents.  A board game and new boots from his mom.  A record album and a woodworking set from his dad.  And a brace of die-cast metal corvettes from Johan.

Eli felt badly that she didn’t have a gift for him.  But Oskar, seeming to sense her distress, put the cars down on table and said, “Don’t worry, Eli.  You’ve already given me the best present anyone could ever give.”

They talked for awhile.  Talked with Johan; talked about Oskar’s school, and about their plans for the summer.  Johan and his family were planning a weekend trip to Copenhagen.  Oskar would be spending a week at his dad’s, once school was out.  The upcoming summer was like an open highway, full of endless possibilities.  Eventually, Johan’s mother came and took him home.

During all of this time, Eli could not help but look at Oskar’s mom.  She kept seeing little traces of Oskar’s face in hers; or little traces of him in hers, as it were.  Watching her, and seeing the little things that she did that reflected her deep love of Oskar, made Eli miss her own mom.  And when Oskar announced that they had to leave, Eli was disappointed.  She wanted to stay.

Oskar’s mom did not seem upset that they were going.  She told him to be safe, stay in the courtyard, and not to be gone too long.  Then as they were about to step out of the apartment she took Eli’s hand and said, “Thank you for coming, Eli.  And thanks for being such a good friend to Oskar.  For looking out for him.  Please come back any time.”

Eli stammered out a hasty “Thank you for having me,” felt guilty that she couldn’t think of something more to say, and then went through the door with Oskar.  And then—

Her teeth left Oskar--the circle was broken.  She felt extremely tired, almost unable to move.  She relaxed and her head fell back, limply, onto the comforter.  Oskar’s lips left her neck and then he, too, collapsed by her side, holding her softly.  She turned and clung to him in the darkness, trying to understand what she had just experienced.

“Oskar.”

“Mmm.”

Her voice, nervous and child-like, in his ear.  “Oskar.”

He replied in a sleepy voice that was so lacking in energy, it was almost a whisper.  “Yes, Eli.”

“What did you—what did we just do?  What was that all about?”

He opened his eyes a little; ran his hand sluggishly down her arm.  “. . . Sorry.  I just wanted to kiss you—while you were sleeping.  Thinking about . . . how much I love you.  And then I got a little carried away, I guess.”  He swallowed, closed his eyes again, and turned his head back into the comforter. “Was glad you didn’t mind.”

Eli smiled a little and kissed him lightly on the cheek.  “Of course I didn’t mind.  But I mean after that.  After I . . . kissed you, silly.”

“I don’t remember.  . . . felt nice when you did that, but then I got really sleepy.  I fell asleep.  So . . . I don’t know what you mean.”

“You mean you didn’t even—don’t you know what happened?”

Oskar woke up a bit more at the tone of Eli’s voice; turned his head to look at her.  “No.  Eli, what’re you talking about?”

“After we started doing that, I went somewhere with you.  We were together.  You were really happy, and . . . and you took me to your birthday party.  When you turned eleven.  And your mom was there, and a friend—Johan, I think . . . and you got some presents and we had cake.”

Oskar frowned.  “That’s right.  I think Johan did come to my birthday that year.  Dad couldn’t make it, though.  But how did you know that?  I never told you about that, did I?”

Eli looked directly into his eyes and gently squeezed his hand.  “No.  No, Oskar, you haven’t.”

“So how did you—what do you mean, you were there?  Sorta like a ghost, or something?  Just watching?”

“No.  It seemed very real.  I was eating the cake and drinking a glass of milk in the sunshine, for heaven’s sake.  And talking to your mom as if she knew me.  When I’ve never even met her.”

“Well, maybe it was just a dream.”

“Hmm.  Maybe.”  Eli thought about it further.  Then she said, “But Oskar, did Johan give you some toy cars for a birthday present?”

Oskar paused.  “Yeah, he did.”

“Then it wasn’t just a dream.  Because I saw that.”

They looked at each other.  Then Oskar spoke.  “So, you were in my memories.”

“Yes.  Do you remember the party?”

He looked away from her and stared at the ceiling.  “Yeah, not real well, now, but—  . . . like I said, Johan was there, and . . .”

“And?”

He looked at her with wonder.  “And so were you.  You were sad that you didn’t have a present for me.  But how can that be?”

“It must’ve been the blood—when we shared it.  Something about that did it.”  She ran her hands through his fine, soft hair as she continued.  “And when it happened, Oskar, it was scary.  But also . . . the most beautiful thing.  It was—wonderful.  Because I was with you, and I wasn’t—well, I was normal.  Just me.”

Oskar smiled and hugged her.  “Well, Eli, I don’t know how it happened, but I’m happy that now you’re at my birthday party!”  Then he lowered his voice to a whisper.  “Maybe we’ll have to try it again sometime, and see what happens.”

Before drifting off to sleep again, Oskar tried to remember his birthday party without Eli.  He couldn’t—even though he knew that it was impossible.  She had been there, and that was that.

29 July 1983

Detective Kurt Magnusson, age 59, put his phone back in its cradle.  He’d just finished speaking with the medical examiner, Dr. Persson, about the preliminary autopsy findings.  He had asked Persson to call him with the results as soon as the autopsy was concluded.

They had easily identified the body with the driver’s license in the man’s wallet, which had been lying next to the man in a shallow grave.  John Christensen—white male, former resident of Vancouver, British Columbia; age 49; 190 centimeters tall, 90 kilos.  According to Persson, he had been dead approximately five days. 

Cause of death: massive exsanguination from a large wound in the neck which had severed the carotid artery.  Dr. Persson thought it was a bite wound, although he doubted that this would hold up in court due to the severe trauma to the skin, subcutaneous tissue, fascia, and all of the supporting structures and vessels in the neck as a result of torsion applied to the head, which had been turned 360 degrees, severing the spinal cord.

Persson had also found fractures of the sternum and the third, fourth, and fifth ribs bilaterally, with bruising of the surrounding muscle wall.  The pattern was unusual and suggested a constriction injury, not blunt trauma.  “It’s called a ‘bear hug’ fracture,” he had explained.  “You know—big boyfriend squeezes his little girlfriend a bit too hard and breaks her ribs.  Never seen it on a man, though, especially one this big, and it’s almost never fatal.”

Magnusson shook his head.  Three hundred and sixty degrees—in thirty-five years of police work, he had never seen anything like it.  And having spent the last twenty in Homicide, he’d seen his fair share.

He rubbed his temples with one hand as he stared at his penciled notes, made at the scene.  Who could have cranked a man’s head around like that?  He had seen necks broken, but never like this.

He picked up the resin cast sitting on his desk next to the already substantial case file and turned it over.  A child’s footprint; age range 10 to 12 years according to the tables.  Because of the rain, it was the only footprint they had been able to recover.  But its depth did not match the weight of the average 11-year-old.  A rail-thin preadolescent, then?  But no kid like that would have had the strength to inflict that kind of damage to a grown man who weighed 200 pounds and was in good shape like Christensen.  No way.  So another person—a big person--must have been involved. 

But where were his tracks, then?  Of course, there could have been more tracks that were no longer recognizable by the time the body had been discovered.  But then, why would the heavier person’s tracks become obscured, but a lighter one remain?

Had Christensen threatened the assailant’s child in some way?  Precipitated a fight?  But he had no defensive wounds, and they had found no weapons at the scene.  So he had been surprised and incapacitated.  How?

A bite.  Now that was damn strange.

He leaned back in his old leather chair and studied a diagram of the scene.  The chair’s springs creaked softly as he removed his rimless glasses and polished them with his tie, which still hung from a tidy knot over his white shirt despite a 14-hour work day.  His feet were tired from having stood around at the crime scene for most of the day, overseeing the investigation and making sure none of the uniformed men messed things up. 

It was Friday night, and he knew he would be working over the weekend.  Hell, he’d be lucky to see Flora at all, what with all the pressure that was being put on the Stockholm Police Department to find a suspect.  The Chief had called him around three o’clock, a few hours after the family had been notified, to tell him that the Canadian Embassy had contacted them, asking for an update as soon as possible.  A big weight, hanging over his head.  Well, it wasn’t the first time.

He sighed.  If he missed Gabe’s baptism on Sunday, Flora would never forgive him.

A grown man, camping by himself in Tyresta.  Last seen alive by some hikers in the afternoon, doing a sketch.  His campsite was not disturbed, so for some reason he had gone out into the dark woods with his flashlight. Why?  To investigate something, probably.  Something he thought was important, given how scratched his arms had been from the bushes.  Then, squeezed in a bear hug by some big fella, bitten and suffered massive blood loss, then had his head nearly twisted off.  A child’s footprint.  And whatever money had been in his wallet had been taken.  Sure seemed like a bizarre way to rob someone.

He ran his hand through his thinning, gray hair and wished that his lower back would stop aching.  Flora was right: he needed to go on a diet.  That would help.  He opened his desk drawer, pulled out an aspirin bottle, and swallowed three of them with a swig of cold coffee.

Neck bitten.  Head twisted.  A child.  A mental image formed in his mind: a corpse being cut out of the ice; a photo of a child’s bloodstained, white shirt.

He turned his head and glanced out through his half-open door.  “Martin.”

Lieutenant Lundgren’s voice, sounding just as tired as Magnusson felt, drifted in from the adjacent office.  “Yeah, Kurt.  What is it?”

“Who’s that cop over in Vällingby who worked those homicides in Blackeberg last year?”

“Which ones?  You mean the—”

“That drunk they found in the lake, and the other one in that apartment.”

“Oh yeah.  The pistol champ . . .  Staffan Rydberg, I think.”

“They never solved those cases, did they?”

“Nope.”

“Dial him up and let’s get those files.  I want to see ’em.  And start another pot of coffee, will you?” 

He glanced at his watch—8:15 p.m.  He picked up the phone to call Flora and let her know that he wouldn’t be home anytime soon.

1 August 1983

“Because I think it’s dangerous to have them, that’s why.”  Eli sat at the kitchen table, across from Oskar.  They had been talking for the last five minutes about what to do with John Christensen’s belongings.

“I don’t want to keep them, Eli.  I just want to give them to someone who can use them.  It would make me feel better.”  Oskar picked up Epictetus’ Discourses and flipped through the pages; then quietly remarked, “Look, it’s written in English and Greek.”

When Eli replied, her tone was firm.  “Put the book down, Oskar.  You’re getting your fingerprints all over it.”

Oskar looked up at Eli and paused.  He started to speak, but then stopped.  The corner of his mouth twitched a little; then he slowly put the book back on the table.

“Oskar, please.  I know you mean well.  I understand how you feel about that guy--I really do.  But we need to be careful.  We really shouldn’t have his stuff in our apartment.  I don’t know why I told you it was okay to bring them home.”

“Well, who says you’re in charge of everything?  I can bring them back if I want to—and I did.  I mean, look at the picture he was making.  What would’ve happened to it if we’d just left it out there?”

Eli heard the resentment in Oskar’s voice, and tried to control her temper.  “It would’ve been just fine inside the tent.  Eventually, someone would’ve found it.  The police would probably have it now, and sooner or later, it would’ve been returned to his family.  Now we’re stuck with it.”

“So what’re you’re saying?  That we should just dump all of it into the river?”

“I think that would be best.”

There was a pause.  Oskar frowned at her; finally he said, “You go do it, then.  I don’t want to.  I just don’t think it’s right.”

Eli gave him an exasperated look.  Finally she said, “Okay, fine.  I will.”  She stood abruptly and angrily scooped the items off the table, then stalked out of the kitchen.  After a few minutes, Oskar heard a thump, and then he saw her leave the apartment with a box under her arm.  The door slammed shut behind her.

Oskar sighed unhappily and stared at the now-empty table.  Then he leaned over to the kitchen window, lifted a corner of the cardboard, and peeked out, trying to see her leave.  He had a half-hearted notion of going after her, but when he realized that he would not be able to see her, he gave up the idea.  He didn’t really want to be with her right now anyway.  She was being crabby.

At last he got up, said “This is crap” to himself, and wandered back into the living room.  He was irritated because he knew she was probably right, but he didn’t want to admit it.  Why did she have to be so cold-hearted about everything?  The guy’s sketch had been nice—somebody might’ve wanted it.  Same with the box of pastels.

With Eli gone, Oskar quickly grew bored inside the apartment.  There was nothing to do.  Couldn’t they at least get a TV, for God’s sake?  Finally he found the Rubik’s cube, plopped down on the couch, and started working on it.  He tried to think about how much fun they’d had with it, but couldn’t; he was too upset.  For awhile he waited for Eli to return, but when she didn’t, he got up and went out.

Eli crossed the courtyard of their apartment and passed into the trees that lined a small park adjacent to their complex.  It was a dark, moonless night.  She chose a spot between two big old oaks, and when she was certain that she was not being watched, she rose rapidly up into the air.  The buildings quickly grew smaller, and she headed east toward the nearest river, Edsviken, a few kilometers away.

She was frustrated and upset with Oskar.  Why did he have to be so stubborn?  Didn’t he have any common sense?

But if it had been such a bad idea, why had she agreed to take them in the first place?  They had seen the flickering light from the dying batteries of the man’s lonely little lantern, and had decided to poke around his tent.  Oskar had discovered the sketch and had announced how much he liked it, then discovered the box of pastels and the book.

She knew why she hadn’t argued with him—because Oskar felt guilty; wanted to do something nice for the man’s family, or someone; and had gotten the notion of finding a home for Christensen’s stuff.  And she hadn’t tried to dissuade him because she didn’t want to hurt him; didn't want to . . . destroy his compassion.  She just couldn’t bear the thought of doing that to him, especially after what they had done. 

It all boiled down to the fact that Oskar was sweet and good-natured; he had a tender heart.  Wasn’t that, after all, one of the reasons she’d come to love him?  His heart had been big enough to make a home even for the likes of her.  And now, because of her, he had been forced to do awful things, and he was struggling to find some way to compensate.  Their attack had obviously effected him; his horrible dream had been a testament to that.

She hadn’t told him about her feelings as he had related his nightmare.  She had kept her thoughts to herself, because she had been trying to comfort him; trying to reassure him that everything would be okay.  But his dream had made her feel terrible inside.  That maybe some part of him was afraid she would abandon him, would not be there when he needed her most.  That she had led him to a place of extreme bloodshed and cruelty; a place where he would be forced to kill countless numbers of people, all lined up in a queue.

But wasn’t that true?  And all those things she’d told him about the cycle of life, about trying to hold onto some core of goodness despite years, decades, centuries of killing—did she still believe it, in her heart of hearts?

As she silently landed on a tiny island in the middle of the river, she was suddenly filled with self-loathing.  Why did she always have to do these things?  Why did she have to harden her heart and be so . . . inhumane?  And what was so wrong with Oskar’s idea, after all?  Was it really all that risky to try to give this stuff to someone?  Just drop it off somewhere?

She approached the water’s edge and looked out across the muddy river.  It was very quiet, and no one was around.  She pulled the little green book out of the box and flipped through the pages.  The print was tiny and indecipherable to her, but the underlining, highlighting, and the stars and notes on the margins were not.  They told their own story about the person who had owned the book.  They told her that the person had found things on these pages that had been very important to his life; had found some kind of wisdom here.

She gritted her teeth, closed her eyes, and tossed the book out into the river.  It made a desolate little splash.  Then she pulled the box of pastels out.  It was unquestionably lovely, just as Oskar had said.  She held it in one arm and released the clasps with her other hand; lifted the lid and marveled at the spectacular array of colors.  She thought about how much fun it would be to sit down in a field somewhere, on a bright, sunny day

            (like the day Oskar turned eleven)

and just draw something with Oskar, without a care in the world. 

Then her vision blurred, she sobbed loudly, and she hurled the set into the water.  The pastel sticks, suddenly released from their neat and orderly tray, followed the box into the water, making small patters on the surface like a handful of dirty pebbles.

Now she was left with the hardest thing.  She bent down and retrieved the pastel sketch that the man had made.  The woodland scene, with its deep green pines and azure sky, had been rendered with loving care.  She stared at it for a long time, wiping her eyes as the tears ran down her cheeks.

She knew he had been a good man.  Good, just like Oskar, and trying to help her, just as Oskar had.  And she had killed him—just like she was killing Oskar.  And now, here she was with something that he had made.  Something that Oskar had found beautiful.  Destroying his picture would be like . . . like . . .

. . .

I can’t.  I just can’t.

Carefully she rolled it up and tucked it under one arm.  She sniffed, wiped her nose, and then kicked the cardboard box into the river.  Then she wiped her eyes angrily, and ascended into the night sky.

What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone?  Don’t know. . . . like a bullet, maybe?

Yes: now she felt like a bullet—so she would fly like one.  Fly so fast that she would disappear; disappear inside herself so that no one would ever have to see her again. 

Somehow, it felt good to focus her anger.  She reached Stråisjön Lake in less than a minute.

She had no difficulty finding the campsite.  But to her surprise and disappointment, the tent had been taken down.  It was gone.  Now there was no place to leave the picture.

Eli hovered thirty meters above the deserted little clearing, staring at the yellow police tape flapping forlornly in the wind.  Then she turned and headed home.

They would just have to keep the picture.

More next week

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