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Authors: A. M. Jenkins

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BOOK: Night Road
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What would happen to his mind when he appeared to be dead? Were the thoughts of the hemes underground as empty as the expressions on their apparently dead faces? What lay behind eyes that were empty, like marbles?

No point in thinking about it. If he held his breath, all that would happen is that he’d pass out and lie on the bottom of the pool until someone found him and called an ambulance. Then there would be trouble.

Now, floating under the surface in nine feet of water, he kept his eyes open and looked at the darkness. Here, in the water, darkness had form and meaning. It was thick, you could touch it. When you waved your hand, you could feel it. Out in the air, in the real world, darkness was merely an absence of light.

His chest was growing tight. He did not test the edges of his breath-holding abilities. He kicked his way up, popping through the water’s surface with a gasp.

Then he began, as soundlessly as possible, to swim laps. It felt good after the hours behind the wheel.

He couldn’t have said how late it was when he finally eased himself out of the water. He didn’t towel off but
sat in a plastic chair to drip-dry in the cool air, tilting his head back to look at the stars. It was as Sandor had said: The stars in the city had to fight to be seen. The few he could make out now were faded and weak. Still, it was all good—the silence, the air chilling his wet skin.

He heard the faint clink of the gate behind him and turned to see Gordon slouching over, hands in pockets. “Hey,” Gordon greeted him.

Cole nodded but said nothing. He did not ask the kid if he was here for a swim, because he obviously wasn’t—he was still fully dressed, in his jeans. Most likely there was something on his mind, something he wanted to talk about. Probably something about himself. He was still almost omni, and that’s what omnis did—they talked about themselves.

That was okay; the cocoonlike water, the labored trance and rhythmic breath of lap swimming had done their work, had unwound the restless feeling into nothingness. Listening to the boy would only take time—and time was the one thing Cole had in abundance.

He settled back in his chair and waited for the kid to work around to it.

“Is this what you do all the time?” Gordon asked, looking at the water, which still rippled slightly from Cole’s presence. “I mean, go from hotel to hotel, room to room, night after night after night?”

“Pretty much.”

“Doesn’t it get…old?”

“Yes. But there are worse things.”

“Like what?”

“Getting complacent and decadent, like you would if you lived in the Building all the time. Or getting attached to an omni, if you stay too long in one place.”

“Why is it bad to get attached to…to someone?”

“Because you have to leave them after a few years.”

“Why?”

“Because you don’t age and they do.” Cole did not like this topic, but he knew Gordon couldn’t tell. He sat perfectly still, hands resting on the plastic arms of the chair.

Thankfully, Gordon changed the subject. “Sandor sure does like to talk,” he remarked, sitting on the end of the lounge next to Cole. “He goes off on all these tangents.”

“Yes,” Cole agreed, “but notice that while he was
going off on those tangents, he was also beating you at gin.”

Gordon nodded. He sat quietly, looking out, not at the water, but at the parking lot.

“Something’s on your mind, Gordon,” Cole said—patiently, he thought. “What is it?”

“Um. Okay. We’re going to be moving around for a while, right?”

“Yes.”

“Any chance we’ll be passing through Missouri?”

“Not really.”

“But it’s possible?”

“Anything’s possible. But I have no intention of taking you. I don’t think it’s wise.”

“I know I can’t call my family or anything. But I thought maybe I could just kind of see them. From far off. They wouldn’t have to see
me.
I’d just like to know if everybody’s—I mean, I kind of want to check on Jill,” he added.

Jill must be the girlfriend he’d ripped up during his first feed.

It wasn’t that Cole didn’t feel for the kid. But this was part of that slippery slope, the one that a heme
shouldn’t allow himself to start down. “There wouldn’t be any point in it,” Cole told him. “Better to cut all ties with one swift stroke.”

“Why?”

“It’s just best,” Cole said vaguely.

Then he reminded himself: He wasn’t here to be vague. Vagueness was neither helpful nor instructive. Nor was it necessary. All the kid needed was information; he didn’t need
or
want Cole’s life story.

“It’s too painful to see them,” he admitted, his voice flat. “Because you know that they’re going to fade and die.”
And because it’s too tempting to try to create a companion from someone you love
. He decided not to say that though—didn’t want to put any ideas in the boy’s head.

Gordon didn’t nod, didn’t indicate that he’d heard. Cole expected him to press the matter; but he didn’t do that either. He sat staring out over the water.

“Your first time,” Gordon said after a moment. “Your first feed ever. What was that like?”

Cole considered. Why did the kid want to know? “It’s been a long time,” he said carefully.

“I mean—mine didn’t go so hot. It’s kind of hard to—
I did some things…well, some things I never would’ve thought I could do. I just wondered if I was, you know. Weird. Or normal. Or what.”

Okay, Gordon wanted some form of comparison. That was fair enough. Cole was sure Sandor had already told about his first time. “Well,” he said, cautious, “it was…crude.”

It had been embarrassing, too—and that was with Johnny walking him through it. He tried to think it out—how much was necessary to say. He didn’t want to go into a lot of detail, didn’t want to dive into a morass of old feelings and display them for the wide-eyed perusal of this kid. But it
was
pertinent. The basics, at least, were fair game.

Johnny had told him to stay put, he remembered that. And he had obeyed—he’d known something was terribly wrong inside him, but not quite what it was.

“I think it was probably more controlled than yours,” he told Gordon.

The first time he’d felt the Thirst—he remembered that better than anything. Not an emotion, not hunger, not sexual need, but all three wrapped into one. Thirst was an ever-expanding hole.

He’d thought he was going insane. Weird thoughts grew in his brain, turning into pictures. Steak—he’d thought about raw steak dripping with juices, welling blood. The thoughts—the bloody pictures—had grown by the second, by leaps and bounds as he waited for Johnny. It probably hadn’t been more than a couple of minutes before Johnny had returned with the woman, but Cole remembered he was stepping from one foot to the other like a runner before a race, desire battling with disgust, his hands clenching and unclenching as disgust wavered and began to sink under the rising tide.

He decided he wouldn’t mention the Thirst to Gordon. After all, it was a given; Gordon already knew what Thirst was like. No need to bring it up.

“It was in the city, in an alley,” he told Gordon. “Johnny brought me a woman. Most likely she was a prostitute. I don’t know how else he could have gotten her to come back there.”

He remembered Johnny’s hand firm on his arm, the calm command of his voice. At the same time, a horrifying certainty that something was not right, something frightening and uncontrolled was swelling inside.

It had made him cling to the very edge of obedience to the only person who seemed to know what was happening.

“Johnny told me to hold on,” he said to Gordon. “He told me to hold on just one more minute. Johnny said that control is everything.”

He’d almost been dancing with wanting, and, he remembered, the whole inside of his mouth felt shriveled, his tongue like a dried-up snake, and his insides were empty and shriveling, too, just like his mouth. To add to his misery, his gums had begun to itch like mad.

Huh. He’d forgotten that, until this moment.

No point in mentioning
that
either.

“Johnny told me—very quickly, I remember—he told me what I had to do. He had some kind of tool. He pulled it out of his pocket. But it was dark, and I didn’t know what it was.”

It had been small—likely a nail, a tack, something like that. Something sharp.

And now Cole remembered something else: Johnny had run a hand through his hair. He’d been nervous—
Johnny
had been nervous!

He didn’t tell Gordon that though. “I don’t remember
what the woman looked like. Her dress, how old she was, anything.”

He did remember that her dress had a scooped neckline. How he’d stared at that swooping curve that marked the boundary between cloth and skin! And when Johnny let go of his arm, without a word he’d grabbed her—before Johnny could get to her at all, before Johnny could get her started, Cole had pressed her back against the rough boards of the building. She’d laughed—he remembered that, she
laughed
—as he’d buried his face in her neck, above the curve of cloth, below the painfully sweet line of her jaw, driven by the wild urgency that he didn’t understand.

“I fed from her,” he told Gordon matter-of-factly.

The truth was, he’d found himself sucking desperately at her skin, rubbing his mouth on her, desperate for relief. That was the point at which she’d protested:
Hey
, she’d said, and tried to push him away.

But he couldn’t let go. It wasn’t like him to force himself on anyone, not for any reason; but his body was driven, goaded by a terrible need that he couldn’t even identify. If she’d said anything, he could no longer hear it, even though he’d felt her begin to struggle in earnest,
her hands scrabbling against his chest like little bird wings, as he sucked and licked and scrubbed his teeth and lips back and forth, almost sobbing with frustration, holding her tighter and tighter, her arms pinned against him. Later, he knew that Johnny had been there all along and that he had somehow gotten his hand in, just close enough for one quick jab on her neck with whatever he was holding—she jerked back with a little cry—and the barest thread of that rich, metallic scent quivered into Cole’s nostrils. The puncture wasn’t deep enough—Johnny had been lucky to get it anywhere on her neck at all—but now Cole found the source and latched on.

And then, then—oh, she’d gone completely still, and everything became wonderful. The salty tinge made him suck even harder, until it finally, mercifully turned into a thin trickle.

That was when he’d swallowed his first mouthful. It wasn’t even a teaspoon’s worth, but it was glorious. It was slick, rich, and he couldn’t get it down fast enough. With his lips on her neck, she stood quiet with her hands suddenly soft against his chest.

He’d wanted to moan. Maybe he
had
moaned—he’d
never known for sure about that.

He mentioned none of this to Gordon. “And that was about it,” he said. Clear. Concise. Simple.

“How did you know to stop?” Gordon asked.

“Johnny told me. He put a hand on my arm and told me to let go.”

“That was it? That was all it took?”

Cole remembered that Sandor had said he’d had to hit Gordon several times to get him to let go. “He spoke very firmly.”

That part of it was still foggy. Cole was pretty sure he remembered Johnny’s voice in his ear; no words had sunk in, but he thought he recalled brusque syllables, the same tone you’d use with a horse that was carrying you too closely along the edge of a cliff. And, looking back, it now seemed likely that Johnny had hit him in the back of the knees, because he’d lost his balance suddenly and almost dropped the girl.
Then
he’d heard Johnny:
That’s good, lad. Let her go now.
And Cole had obeyed, because the universe had gone upside down, and Johnny was the only solid thing in it.

“What about the lady?” Gordon asked.

“She never knew.”

Aside from the feed, Cole had not touched her; nor had Johnny. Cole did not know what Johnny whispered to her or how much he paid her when she walked away.

Cole hadn’t looked at Gordon at all while he talked; it took some work to dredge up this memory from under the layer of years, and even more work to separate the pertinent facts from all the feelings. But now, as Gordon said nothing, he turned to see that the boy’s head was down, his face in shadow.

Cole could have let it go, he knew. But prying his own memories loose seemed to have loosened something else in him as well; he could
feel
the unhappiness that radiated from the kid almost in the same way the scent of chlorine now rose from his own skin, his own pores.

“What was your first time like?” Cole asked.

Gordon shook his head.

“You said it didn’t go well,” Cole remarked—not pressing exactly. Just putting it out there in case Gordon wanted to pick it up.

And finally, after a few more moments of silence, he did. “It was nothing like yours,” Gordon said in a flat voice. “She was my girlfriend. I hurt her. I was like this animal, this sick animal.” He kept his face turned away from Cole. “Listen. I—I have to tell you something.”

Whatever it was, it seemed to stick in his throat.

“Go ahead,” Cole said. “It’s very difficult to surprise me, Gordon,” he added. He wasn’t trying to be encouraging. It was just a fact.

Gordon nodded, but it still took him a moment to find words. When he did, they all came out in a rush. “What I felt, that first time—I mean, I wasn’t thinking about
killing
exactly, just wanting…you know. Blood. I was crazy for it. I didn’t want to stop till I’d taken every drop she had. But that’s the same thing as wanting to kill, isn’t it?”

“It’s not the same thing at all,” Cole told him.

“No, no. You don’t
get
it.” Gordon raised his head to look directly at Cole. “I’m not like you. You’re always cool and controlled. But I—” He hesitated, then went on in a rush. “You didn’t see what I did to her. And I care about her! I—I
love
her, you know? But it didn’t make any difference. I got going, and nothing else mattered. I’m sick.” His voice was intense with self-hatred. “I’m a monster. I
liked
it, I
liked
doing that to her. And there’s too many things—feeding makes me want too many things,” he added, his shoulders slumping. “I don’t want to be this way anymore.”

BOOK: Night Road
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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