The Ninth Chapter in the Undead Life of Sean Becker
“Who’s there?” Lucy Weston wasn’t expecting anyone and if Jonny had forgotten his keys, he’d just call her on her cell, not use the apartment intercom.
“I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Dolengen. I met you and your sister Mina a couple of months ago.”
“Of course I remember you. You found my credit card and returned it. Hang on a second.” Lucy buzzed Dol in without thinking about how the attractive dark-haired woman knew where she lived. She should have been suspicious of a stranger she’d only met once suddenly showing up unannounced, but Lucy remembered really liking Dol and being fascinated both by her unusual name and the sense of the mysterious and exciting she carried about her.
Less than two minutes later, her doorbell rang. “Dol?”
“Yes, it’s me. May I come in a minute? It’s important.”
“Sure.” Lucy unlocked the deadbolt and the door knob lock and opened the door. There was a madwoman with claws and fangs on the other side. Lucy didn’t even have time to cry out before she was attacked, her spilled blood lapped up from her neck and the floor as if Dolengen were a ravenous wolf.
“Sin City. They call San Francisco the city that never sleeps, but that’s really more Las Vegas, don’t you think?” Artemis seemed well pleased with himself, almost euphoric. He was incredibly moody, serious and morose one minute, and wildly elated the next. This was the man Sean was supposed to trust? Even Raquel seemed dubious about him, at least since the whole affair with Rosalee Wing.
About an hour after sunset, they’d dropped Wing off at the outskirts of some little central California town and then headed back toward Vegas as fast as they could without getting pulled over. No news on the radio about the moving van they’d blown up, but they saw a flash in the right direction about the time it was supposed to go off.
“Motel, Artemis?” Raquel was still driving. It wasn’t that Sean couldn’t drive, though he wasn’t sure about their companion, but Raquel seemed to prefer it and right now, she was the only one with a fake California driver’s license with her photo on it.
“No. Take the next exit. I’ll give you directions.”
They eventually ended up going north on Las Vegas Blvd and then making a right onto Fremont street. Sean recognized the older part of Las Vegas that was in so many movies but so much of it had changed.
“Hang another right on 9th street and when we get past Carson, the place we want will be on the left.”
It was a seedy, rundown part of town. Most of the old houses here had been torn down and replaced by parking lots and apartments, but there was a whole block that hadn’t been touched yet. The place Artemis pointed out was a little two bedroom stucco unit with a detached garage. The yard was just dirt and the vacant lot to the left of it was that plus some brush. Sean almost said he wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that, but it obviously wasn’t true because he was already dead. Plus, he’d spent his days sleeping in a shallow open grave beneath a condemned warehouse, so he was no longer say he had high standards about his accommodations.
“Pull in the driveway.”
Raquel steered their junker onto the twin concrete strips leading to the wooden door of the garage and then stopped.
“Wait here a minute.” Artemis got out of the backseat and went to unlock what amounted to a shed. Sean saw it had a combination lock. Maybe there were places like this all over the country, safe houses for vampires and their allies, and they all used locks with the same combination.
After a few moments, he stepped aside and waved Raquel in. They saw nothing except some empty shelving. a few loose pieces of lumber, an old tire, and a rusted lug wrench. Raquel killed the engine once she pulled in.
When they walked outside, Artemis ran in and disappeared for a second. When he came out, he lowered the door and put the lock back on. He had something in his hand.
The doors and windows of the house were barred. Artemis produced a key and opened the barred screen door and then the front door lock. The trio slipped inside and Artemis secured the doors behind them.
“Here’s the key in case you need to go out during the day, Raquel. You probably will just to get some air.”
“What about food for me and…”
“Look in the fridge.”
She walked across the tiny living room and into the kitchen. So far no one had tried to turn on any lights but Sean could hear the refrigerator compressor kick on, so the house had power. A moment later, Raquel opened the fridge and the light inside came on. It was a really old model, like the house, something Sean’s grandparents might have had when they were young.
He looked past her and saw food for Raquel above and on the bottom shelf, two bottles of blood for him and Artemis. She closed the door.
“How did these get in here?”
“We have friends here, Raquel.” There should be a box on the counter. Open it.” Artemis was all business now, not the laughing gleeful elf he had been half an hour ago.
“IDs, cell phones, cash, and a note. You want to read it?”
“Yeah.” Artemis went into the kitchen and after Raquel handed him the sheet of paper, she joined Sean who was still in the living room.
“So what now?” she whispered.
“I don’t have a clue. You know Artemis better than I do.”
“No one knows him really. We all trust him because we agreed to when we signed on board. He’s a thousand times better than Antonie, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous.”
“You know I can hear you, right?”
“Ears like a bat, Artemis?”
“Something like that. Don’t worry. I’m not taking it personally. I play my cards close to the vest for your protection as well as mine.”
“So since you could hear us, what now?”
“We wait, Sean. This isn’t our final destination, just a place to hang out until the heat’s off and we can move safely again. The Van Helsings rightly suspect that we have a significant presence in Las Vegas. After all, night workers are very common here, so it’s a natural place for vampires to live and work unsuspected.
“Makes sense. When I was…well…before, I think I only passed through here once or twice. No wait. When I turned twenty-one, some of my friends at UCLA conned me into visiting here. Got me wasted. I don’t even remember half of what we did.”
“Wild and crazy college kid, huh?”
Raquel was making a joke and Sean laughed but he realized that being this close to her bothered him. He and Artemis fed on Rosalee’s blood hours ago and they should both be sated for the night, but the hunger was never too far off. He hoped it wasn’t the same for Artemis. Maybe you developed a greater discipline with time. Right now though, Sean was keenly aware of Raquel’s odor, how her blood smelled, the scent of sweat and salt. A part of him wanted to take her right there on the floor. He stared at her throat as she looked back into the kitchen and pondering her flavor, Sean could feel his erection rising.
“Oh, sorry. Daydreaming.”
She trusted him. She liked him. It was flattering but it was probably a mistake. She was somewhat leery of Artemis although she’d apparently worked with him for years but she was being careless with Sean. There’s no such thing as a “safe” vampire. What would make a person willingly work with and help the undead?
“You’ll get a call on your new cell tomorrow morning after ten.” Artemis came back out of the kitchen and handed her a cell phone and a stack of used bills. “Follow the instructions you’re given. This should be enough money. We can only stay here one or two days tops. We need a safer place.”
“So we ended up here because?”
“Because, Sean, we had to change plans on short notice. We’re lucky places like this still exist.”
“That and planning, I admit Raquel, but in a town like Vegas, everything’s a roll of the dice. You’d better get some sleep in the front bedroom. The back one has a trap door in the closet. Right before dawn, Sean and I will go down there to sleep.”
“Thanks. Think I’ll grab a snack first.”
She went back into the kitchen and started rummaging around.
“What are we going to do now? It’s hours until dawn, Artemis.”
“I’d suggest going out for a while but even in this town, we want to keep a low profile. This house isn’t supposed to be occupied and we took a small chance showing up here.”
“This neighborhood doesn’t look like the place where the people living here care who comes and goes.”
“True, but there’s a house at the end of the block that gets a lot of drug traffic and if the cops show up, we don’t want to attract any attention.”
Sean parted the rotting curtains on the front window. Some of the fabric separated at his touch. “Not much going on out there now but I’m not anxious to start wandering around a strange place.” The truth was, he didn’t want to be tempted by flesh and blood. He would be, just as he had been when Raquel stood next to him.
“There are always predators in the night, Sean.”
In the distance a siren issued its lonely and manic cry. “Yes, I know.”
Jonny Harkness got home an hour later than he wanted to. The overtime was killing him but if he and Lucy were going to get married next June, he needed to save up every dime he could. Besides, while the IT industry paid what people outside of the Bay Area would consider a fortune, it also exacted its pound of flesh or more accurately, your time, your hopes, maybe even your sanity.
When he opened the door to their apartment, he knew something was wrong. It was only eight o’clock but no lights were on. Normally, Lucy had something warming in the oven when she knew he was going to be late, but he didn’t smell anything. Maybe she was sick. A lot of people he knew were down with the flu right now.
Where the hell was Smokey? His cat was usually rubbing up against his ankles when he got home. Then he heard a noise from on top of the bookcase. “What the hell are you…?” Even in the half-light, the cat looked terrified.
“Lucy?” He locked the door behind him, set his backpack down on the floor, and took off his jacket. Tossing it on the sofa, he called her again as he walked toward their bedroom. “Lucy?”
“In here.” She sounded terrible. Her voice was weak. She must be sick. Jonny decided not to turn on the lights but he wanted to check on her. “I’m home. Is there anything…?”
The bedroom door was ajar and he pushed it open. Light was coming in from the window and what he saw froze him in place and chilled his blood.
He remembered her. He remembered how his best friend Bobby had conned him into meeting at some after hours place called Delirium. He introduced her to two drop-dead gorgeous woman, Verona and Dolengen. What neither of them knew until later, was that they were both vampires and that it was a club for their kind to lure in prey. Verona took Bobby and Dolengen took him.
Afterward, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. She knew exactly what she was but he couldn’t help but love her, desire her, to want intensely be with her no matter what the cost.
She convinced him otherwise. Dolengen introduced him to her master and he was terrifying, so terrifying that whatever spell she had over him was shattered. Jonny never wanted to see or hear Dol ever again and it’s what she wanted as well.
Why was she here?
There was blood around her mouth. She was in bed, his and Lucy’s bed, sitting up against the back board. Lucy had her head resting between Dol’s breasts. Her blouse had been torn off leaving only her black lacy bra. Crimson was slowly making twin trails from the punctures on her neck down between her cleavage. She looked listless, unfocused. Dol must have taken a lot of her blood.
“I did what you wanted. I left you alone. Why now?”
“My plans changed, Jonny. If there had been another way, a safer way, I would have taken it, but I need a place to hide.”
“Let her go. I’ll do whatever you ask.” Strangely, he didn’t feel her power anymore but she had Lucy and now Lucy would do anything, be anyone Dol wanted her to be.
“I know you will. Come here.”
He hesitated. There was a time he’d have gone running to her. Now all he wanted was to run away.
“I said come here, Jonny. I’ve got Lucy and it’s not good for her health for you to defy me.”
He walked to the bed. Dol rolled Lucy casually off of her, grabbed him by the collar and pulled his throat to her as if he were a rag doll. The feeding was familiar, sensual. He could feel her drinking from him and then he was her’s again. Now Dolengen had them both and there would be no resistance.
Colton Boudreaux leader of this chapter of the Van Helsings, also known as The Holy Order of Venandi, paced in his room in a high-rise San Francisco hotel on Market Street. He was certain the majority of Antonie’s vampire cult had burned in the warehouse fire they had set but some of them were still missing including the elusive Dolengen.
Rosalee had called Augustine an hour ago from a small town not far from Bakersfield. She claimed she didn’t remember much but she obviously had gotten careless. Artemis was extremely dangerous and Wing was fortunate he hadn’t killed her or worse. The fact that she had reappeared so soon after her kidnapping meant she had not been turned, but the Order could no longer trust her, at least not until she was tested and treated.
Augustine had gone with two of his troops to retrieve her but she was off team as of now. When the op was over, Colton would have to figure out what to do with her.
It was certain that whatever Rosalee Wing knew, Artemis and his two companions now knew. Fortunately, only he and Augustine were aware of Marishka’s true relationship to them. Damn, why did she disappear with the others? Fear of Antonie or Dolengen? Perhaps. But she knew betrayal meant that she was putting her Mother’s life at risk. She might have broken under torture given time, but this was a better way. Her mother was very old and it had been decades since her daughter had disappeared in Mexico, but she still loved her. How sentimental. It was so strange the ways of the evil ones, but Colton took every advantage he could. She was positioned to betray Antonie and the Family once he had her brought up here. What game was she playing now?
As far as Artemis and the two others, they most assuredly would not go to Los Angeles. It was large area with many places to disappear, but Colton had expended a large amount of resources planning for that contingency. Would they hold up in some small desert town or make for a city?
Both Rosalee and the moving van they had destroyed were in the general area of Bakersfield, but that would be too obvious. They could head for the coast, anyplace from Salinas to San Diego, even cross over into Mexico. Then there were numerous National Parks with plenty of wilderness. No, they’d need a blood supply unless the alley was also a donor. That wouldn’t work. She couldn’t feed two of them for very long and they dared not kill her or turn her.
Las Vegas? A distinct possibility. It was close enough and large enough to conceal them, plus known to have a very strong undead population. The Van Helsings had not laid siege to that particular fortress in a long time. Their forces were too powerful and too easily concealed.
He sat down on the bed and rested his head in his hands. The battleground was the world and he couldn’t fight all of them, even with their vast resources. How was he supposed to root them out, purge the evil, avenge his poor wife’s ghastly fate?
“I have to keep trying. Dear Mother Mary, please give me the strength.” He fingered the crucifix he wore on a chain around his neck. It had been hers. Somehow Dolucila had been convinced to remove it. Sallie Maria Oliberos had been crafty. The Voodoo Queen was said to have willingly taken the curse of the vampire upon herself.
She turned his beloved wife into one of them, destroying the child she had been carrying within her womb. Even if he lost the war and could only win one more battle, it would be to find and execute Queen Oliberos by his own hand. Then perhaps the torment of his wife’s soul in Hell would lessen by some small degree. He would have taken her place at the Devil’s table himself but beloved Jesus Christ would not permit such a thing.
“No, I must be true to my sacred calling, no matter how long it takes or the cost in human lives and souls. The vampire must the removed from the Earth and every last on be sent into the eternal flames.
“I developed the Erebus field primarily for Porphyria suffers so they could have greater mobility during the day but I think it will work for you as well.”
Marishka looked around the lab. Dr. Dawn Soto had been an undergrad at Stanford in 1977 when she was Marishka’s dorm roommate. Now she was the head of the university’s Advanced BioTech Research Department. It was a strange feeling coming “home” after so many years.
Soto had been looking out the window toward the east. The horizon was already becoming lighter and sunrise would be in just a few minutes. Then she turned around. Even with the harness and goggles on, Marishka looked almost the same as the last time Dawn had seen her. She was still twenty years old and Soto was turning sixty-one in March. The scientist dyed her hair, an admitted vanity in an era of post-modern feminism, but she wasn’t really trying to conceal her age.
Her friend’s skin and hair coloring were lighter, which she explained happens sometimes to African-American people of her…kind. Yet her skin texture was smooth, her voice clear, and in so many other ways, she was a perpetually young woman, though as she described it, only somewhat “alive.”
“The injection I gave you is part of the treatment. In your case, at least as far as I can tell, it should ward off the lethargy and coma-like effect you say is a result of daylight.”
“Yes, that’s right. Even when I’m in total darkness, once the sun comes up, I can’t resist the urge to…well, it’s not exactly sleep unless you want to call it the sleep of the dead.” Marishka tried to laugh but it came out as a short, dry chuckle.
Part of Dawn still couldn’t believe she was doing this. When Marishka first approached, had first convinced her of what she truly was, she was terrified. Then she started to think of her not as a supernatural creature or denizen of horror films, but someone suffering from a rare blood disorder with highly peculiar symptoms.
Marishka disappeared for part of each night they were together. Soto knew what she was doing, or thought she did, but preferred not to think of what her former roommate had to go through to survive, to eat. For the rest of the time, she and Soto worked together in the Doctor’s private lab on campus. Marishka told her she’d read of Dawn’s research and now that she had nowhere else to go, hoped the Erebus treatment might give her more options.
“You realize that this works only while the drug is active in your system and when you’re wearing the Erebus harness. That’s maybe a few minutes to a few hours tops. You’re not going to be working on your tan at the beach everyday.”
“Dawn, do you know how long its been since I’ve seen the light of day? A few minutes would be like a miracle. Besides, you know what’s at stake.”
“Even if it works, how much do you think you can accomplish? It might take years or never for me to create a treatment that would let you move around during the day permanent like…”
“Like a normal human being? You can say it, Dawn. I’ve lived like this for the past forty years. I have no illusions, and vampires don’t worry about racism or discrimination. We’re just trying to survive.”
Dawn sighed. After she had adjusted her thinking and emotions to working with Mariskha, she had been so consumed by the project that she hadn’t thought long-term. She’d made an isolated storeroom downstairs available to her during the day and Soto had the only key (unless the maintenance people got curious, but they had strict orders to stay away from the “scientific equipment”). That kept Marishka safe, but could she stay there for weeks, months, or longer?
Soto had been married and divorced twice. Only her youngest, twenty-five year old Andrew lived in the area and he was too busy making films for the Frameline Festival project which most recently included something called Conversations with Gay Elders. Her other three children were married and had kids of their own. The closest lived just outside of Denver. There was no one around to ask Dawn where or how she spent her nights.
“The answer is I don’t know. Let’s just take this one step at a time, okay Dawn?”
Marishka had a hard time trusting people, which came with being a member of the undead. Anyone could be a threat. You only survived by secrecy and guile. Feeding was an act of covert aggression and you couldn’t leave behind any signs. Often you fell into the hands of manipulative cult leaders like the late, great Antonie who insisted in staying in the burning building after most of the Family had met the final death.
Marishka was playing an extremely dangerous game. She had been part of Antonie’s “Family” after she had left Stanford to join the rest of his cult forty years ago. She had been turned in Mexico and eventually they all made their way back to the States. She hadn’t thought of her parents in a long time, especially as they entered old age while she still looked like a young co-ed.
Her Dad died of cancer last year and that brought it all back, but there was still no way to go home. She tried to push thoughts of her lonely, elderly Mom out of her head until she got word from Colton Boudreaux that they had kidnapped her. She was still in L.A. but was expecting Antonie to call her back up to the Bay Area once Sean had been turned, assuming he willingly surrendered to Dolengen’s charms (and she wished he hadn’t). Boudreaux wanted her to betray the Family and she knew that in spite of his claims of piety, he would torture and then execute her Mom with no more concern than when he turned off a light switch.
In the end, he’d kill her and her Mom anyway. She couldn’t trust Antonie, but there was another way which was why she had started the experiments with Dawn a month ago.
“I’m sorry, Dawn. It’s just…I can’t even begin to describe to you how hard it’s been…living…existing one night at a time…”
“You’re right. I can’t understand it, but I do want to help especially after everything you’ve told me. You realize that if we keep working together and I’m able to develop something, maybe you’re not the only one who could take advantage of this.”
“I’ll worry about doing social work when that happens, Dawn. In the meantime, the sun’s coming up. I still feel alert, but I’m nervous as hell.”
“Let me have a look.” Soto moved behind Marishka to examine the harness’ power pack and control panel strapped to her back. “You have a full battery charge but I’ve never tested it under these conditions before. You’ll have to stay right with me in case something goes wrong.”
“I’ve lived with death for forty years, Dawn. I don’t want to face the second death, not yet. I’ve got too much to do first.”
“I’m activating the field. I don’t know how it’ll affect you.”
The harness around her tightened and then she felt a tingling as if she had grabbed a live electrical wire. The goggles covered her entire field of vision. Even being light-sensitive, she could barely see through them before, but now it was as if the lab were brilliantly illuminated.
“My eyes, Dawn. Too much light.”
“Here. I’ll just adjust…there. How about now?”
“Better. I can see.” Marishka turned to the window. The disc of the sun was just coming into view.
There were no words to describe how she felt. The last time she’d watched a sunrise, she was a completely different person. Some would say that was the last time she was a human being, but right now she still felt like…like the way she used to feel, maybe even a little bit alive.
“Let’s go outside.”
“I think you’re pushing it, Marishka.”
“I don’t care. I’ve got to see it and not through a window.”
She took a step and almost stumbled.
“It’s the drugs. I’ll have to adjust the dosage the next time we try this.”
“I’ll be fine.” She stepped forward again, slower this time. Dawn took her by her arm and noticed that she felt a little warmer through the field. Normally, her skin was icy cold.
A few minutes later, they got out of the lab, turned down the hall, and finally made it out the service door.
Soto guided her around the side of the building so they could face east.
“How do you feel?”
“Like ants are crawling all over my skin but otherwise okay.”
Dawn made another adjustment to the power output.
“Yeah, that’s better. I still feel tingling but it’s better.”
“Power’s down by 26% already so you’ve only got maybe ten minutes, Marishka.” She noticed that she was staring at the sun. “What do you see? What’s it like?”
“It’s brilliant, Dawn. Yes. That’s it. It’s a brilliant dawn.”
Soto could feel Marishka trembling but saw she was also smiling. Just at the bottom of where the goggles pressed against her cheeks, Dawn noticed a trail of tears.
“Thank you, Dawn. You’re brilliant.
Now there was a chance. With Dawn’s help and the help of the others, she had a chance to free her Mom, to stop the Van Helsings, at least long enough for them to get her to a safe place.
But there wasn’t enough time for Dawn to perfect her treatment. She’d have to install the upgrades in the next day or two. If Colton thought Marishka had deliberately betrayed him, he’d kill Mom and dump her body in a vacant lot.
She probably wasn’t going to make it. At least she’d sent a message to Sean explaining everything about what she had done to him and why.
Over five-hundred miles away, Sean Becker had already entered his daily rest in a shallow grave little suspecting that the answer to the question of his becoming a vampire was mere hours away.
I’m finding as I continue to get deeper into the story line that I have to hop around, involving a wider variety of characters in multiple locations, so it’s not all about Sean anymore…or is it?
If you read Stop Me from Falling, you’ll recognize Jonny, Lucy, and their relationship with Dolengen. I hadn’t intended on continuing their involvement, but after the warehouse fire, it seemed natural to have Dol turn back to Jonny. After all, who would suspect.
I also decided to include the events originally published in A Brilliant Dawn, which I originally authored for a writing challenge. I edited the text so it would fit better with the overall story I’m trying to tell.
I had something of an epiphany the other night and realized how I could tie just about everything and everyone together and why Sean was targeted to become a vampire from the beginning.
The events that are recorded in Lucy Died on a Tuesday occur just after this story but I’ll probably re-write that sequence for better continuity.
Cool things are coming.
Here are the previous chapters in this series:
- The Beginning of the Fall
- Approaching Advent
- Without God
- They Will Run You Down in the Dark
The next chapter is Cursed.