Warning in advance: no primary Buffy characters appear in this story, though sidelong references can be found to several background characters or events. Not my own favorite, it still has received more feedback than some I liked better, so I continue to let it appear under my name. And, since it takes place well before Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale, I can fairly say there are no spoilers.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and related characters are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox.
October 1980 Chapter I
The knocking awakened him, a steady, monotonous rapping that cut through layers of slumber and into his skull like precise blows on a small chisel. He rolled over in bed and opened sleep-gummed eyes, vaguely conscious of a taste in his mouth like dust and old wax. His feet found the floor and he stood, fingers groping for the switch on the table lamp. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light; meanwhile the knocking continued, regular and lifeless as a metronome.
The door. Someone at the door. "Just a minute," he called, sleep grating in his throat like gravel.
The knocking stopped at the first sound of his voice. Then, very low: "It's me, Jack. It's Loryn. Can I ... come in."
He had caught up a pair of jeans suspended from the knob of the closet door, and now he paused in the act of pulling them on, for a moment unable to translate the noises as human speech. There was something unnatural in the sound of it: cracked, dry, like the faint rattling of bamboo wind chimes. "Lo... Loryn. Right. Hold on, I'll be right there."
He snapped the jeans and tugged on a t-shirt emblazoned GOLD'S GYM, still somewhat pungent from the previous day's workout, then padded toward the outer door of the apartment, carpet prickling under his bare feet. Despite the dullness of his senses he moved easily, his physique the carefully sculpted musculature of a self-taught bodybuilder rather than that of an athlete. He paused for a second by the half-length mirror, muttered in exasperation. His hair looked like a briar patch. With a sigh he pulled open the door.
"Hello, Jack," she said.
He almost rocked back, so shocking was her appearance. Loryn tried to smile, but it came out as a self-conscious grimace that twisted her mouth horribly. She must have realized this, for she raised one hand as if to cover her mouth. Then, speaking through barely moving lips, she said again, "Can I come in?"
Jack caught himself. "Oh, right. Sorry." He moved back from the door to let her enter. She started to step inside, then checked at the threshold. Again she made as if to enter, again inexplicably hesitated. She looked to Jack with a helpless expression.
He stared, baffled and oddly uneasy. "What's the matter?" he asked, his tone sharper than he had intended. "You want to come in, come on in."
Some of the tautness went out of her, and she stepped inside, moving with the flickering quickness of a lizard. Jack repressed a shudder, and made a deliberate effort to study her objectively; although, as seconds ticked away, he saw nothing that promised to change his first impression. She was achingly gaunt, her skin pasty white, the lines of her face stark and startling in their prominence. Her dark hair hung limp in haphazard strands; her hands, thin, bones and tendons standing out under papery skin, clutched at one another. Her eyes were the only touch of color about her, hollow and red-shot; except for them, she might have been a picture in black and white.
This was nothing like the girl he had known only a few months ago ... but the look itself, that was a different matter. He had seen it before, in the parks and markets of Amsterdam: needle-pocked scarecrows of all ages, eyes empty and steps aimless, products of the 'progressive' Netherlands policy of legally dispensing drugs to registered addicts. Back here in the States, heroin had lost most of its glamour, but there was plenty waiting to fill the gap. So, what was it? Methamphetamine? Cocaine? Some of the new stuff, 'crack' or PCP?
"Well, Loryn," he said, knowing the clumsiness of the words even as he spoke them, "what brings you out this time of night?"
"I ... was walking," she told him. Her gaze was unnervingly direct. "I wound up in this neighborhood ... I had heard you and Rory had gotten an apartment here, and your name was on the post box down by the laundry room, so I thought I'd stop in."
At two in the morning? Again he was struck by the strangeness of her voice; it had no more timbre than wind sifting through fallen leaves, so dry he wondered how she could speak at all. "Rory left before the end of the summer," he told her with false heartiness. "We had a lifestyle disagreement; I thought I should do at least a little studying along with the beer, and he was pretty much a purist about beer for beer's sake." He snapped his fingers. "Speaking of which, I forgot my manners as a host. Would you like anything? something to drink?"
Loryn jerked, and shuddered visibly. "No," she said. "No, nothing." She closed her eyes, and spoke so low he could barely hear the words. "Jack, I'm in trouble. I need help."
Money, he thought bleakly. She had come to beg money so she could shoot up or snort away more of her life. "What's the problem?" he asked, tone neutral over the sick hate building inside him.
Loryn brooded, started to speak, then seemed to hesitate. She looked up at him, and he literally flinched at the impact of her gaze. "Have you ever heard of astral projection?"
"What?" It burst out of him, so far were her words from anything he had expected.
Her hands darted in a gesture of impatience. "Mental separation, sending your mind out of your body. People build up a lot of mysticism around it, but it's actually more in the same area as extrasensory perception." Her mouth twisted momentarily. "At least, I used to think so."
"Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean, I was just surprised." Jack frowned. "Say, didn't you once tell me ...?"
She nodded. "That's right. I'd had experiences with it before. Flashes, really, just as I was falling asleep or just before I woke, the kind of thing you could easily explain away. In the last month or so, though, I had a couple that couldn't be laughed off: longer, more detail ..." She stopped, shook her head. "You can dream that you're awake, and still tell the difference once you wake up. These weren't dreams."
"What kind of details?" Jack wanted to know.
"It's not important. It wouldn't serve as proof, but I was convinced. This, whatever it was, seemed to be getting stronger. If it was going to be in my life ... well, I decided to see if I could do it deliberately. Control it."
Her voice aside, this sounded more like Loryn as he remembered her. "A voluntary, controlled out-of-body exploration," Jack mused. "I can't see you hunting me up to report nothing, so I guess that means you succeeded."
"Not at first," Loryn said. "It's not the kind of thing you can force. I read up on it as much as I could, but in the end I accomplished more by paying attention to my own experiences. I started doing relaxation exercises, and it still wasn't working but I could tell I was on the right track, so I moved on to self-hypnosis."
Jack nodded slowly. "I get it. Right at the threshold of sleep and waking, that was the state you needed to find."
"Yes. Tonight I pulled it all together: long, hot bath, and soothing music, and slow yoga, and then I followed all the steps for bringing on a light autohypnotic trance. I just let myself drift into it, and ... detached myself, bit by bit, and then I was looking down at myself, just like in those dream flashes."
He nodded again, though this time there was a tiny needle of doubt. "So what then?" he asked. Loryn was no liar, but her background was a little ... flaky. How far could he rely on what she said?
"I went out of my room," she answered. "I left the building and went out over the campus, about as high as the street lamps. Sound was muffled, I was sensitive to vibration but I couldn't differentiate it; and visual details were blurred, too, but I could see, or feel, patterns of energy. I let myself go higher, out over the town, so high I could see the lights on the ships in the harbor. I went --" She stopped and began to pace, her feet seeming scarcely to touch the floor. "That doesn't matter, none of it really matters. I don't even know how long I was gone, time has a different meaning in that state. But when I ... came back ... when I ..."
She halted, struggling with herself, body taut. Jack started toward her, caught a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision and almost jumped, he was so keyed up; but it was only his own motion, reflected in the mirror near the door ...
With no warning, terror clawed at him.
Loryn saw, read it in his eyes. "Yes," she said with parched softness. "When I came back, I was like this."
Jack lurched back against the wall, heart hammering, his eyes riveted on her. "No reflection," he said through numb lips. "You ... you don't have a reflection."
"Or a soul," she said bitterly.
Even terrified as he was, this snatched his attention. "What? What? What do you mean?"
"I mean this." Loryn plucked up an oak slat chair from the corner, a heavy, solid piece that could have been used to club an ox. She tugged at it almost casually, and the wood splintered and tore in her hands. She let the pieces fall and looked up at him, her eyes seizing his with brutal, electric force. "And this," she added, drawing back bloodless lips to expose long, pointed canine teeth.
For a moment Jack believed the sheer impact of fear would actually stop his heart. Then Loryn turned violently away, hunching her shoulders and shaking uncontrollably. With a start of amazement he realized that she was crying. Crying!
That was something he had never heard of a vampire doing.
Somehow, despite the dreadful change in her, this was still Loryn.
With this realization came the fading of fear ... and then, as Jack suddenly understood the full horror of her position, a wave of pity so vast it almost choked him. "Oh, my God," he said softly. "Oh, Loryn."
She had stopped crying, but she still stood with her back to him, wrung with misery. "You said you needed my help," he said to her. "What kind of help? What can I do?" She made no reply, nor turned from where she stood. "Come on," he urged. "You came here for a reason, and from the way you've acted I don't think it was to ... I mean, I don't believe that you ..." He halted, floundering.
"No," Loryn said, turning to face him. "Not for that. I don't ... want ... Is there anything we can do? Anything?"
"Huh?" He stared at her. "You mean you don't have any ideas? And you thought I might?"
"I know you've never believed in the supernatural," Loryn insisted. "But you know so much, at least about the vampire legends, you were the first person I thought of when this happened. There are other places I might go for knowledge, but who else can I trust?" She lowered her eyes, seeming to realize the effect her gaze had on him. "There isn't anyone else, Jack. Little as either of us may want it, you're my only hope."
It was the first allusion she had made to their prior relationship, and discomfort ground his mind to a stop where terror had only spurred it. How was he supposed to answer that?
He and Loryn had first met early in the previous Spring semester: she finishing the junior year of a journalism major, he a freshman on the reinstituted G.I. Bill, working through the prerequisites for admission into the business school. He had been impressed by her maturity, and she in turn was intrigued by the difference in their backgrounds, for he had grown up in Oklahoma, coming to California for college after military duty in Germany. The mutual initial interest had given way to a recognition that they genuinely liked each other as people, and they quickly grew very close.
The same dissimilarities that had attracted their first notice led to the first problems between them, however. It started when a station out of L.A. began showing syndicated reruns of Kolchak: the Night Stalker. This became a major nightly event at Jack's dorm, and at one of them he had expounded to Loryn his knowledge of vampire lore, pointing out where the program matched the popular legends and where it veered from them. Loryn had readily joined the rough-and-tumble discussions and critiques in the TV lounge; but the next time Jack invited her to join him for one of these nightly sessions, she had begged off, and the time after that, she put her reservations into words.
"I know it's just supposed to be entertainment," she told him. "But these things ... they're best left alone, that's the only way I know how to say it. It isn't a good idea to get too close, even as a joke."
"Oh, come on," he scoffed. "You're not telling me you actually believe in this occult silliness?"
"I don't have to believe to know these are serious matters," she said. "The legends may be a ridiculous hodgepodge, but there are real mysteries in this world. You shouldn't play with them unless you're ready for where they may take you."
He had simply stared at her, for the first time aware of the gulf between them. He had come to Wilkins College, like hundreds of others, attracted by the generous scholarships and cheap campus housing and liberal work-study opportunities being offered as part of the institution's drive for higher accreditation, which in turn was part of the larger goal of turning Sunnydale into a growth community. Loryn, however, had lived in this town all her life, with whatever that might mean ... and now that he thought of it, Kresge Hall's "Fright Night" was made up almost exclusively of out-of-towners like himself, nearly all the local-born dorm dwellers seeming to have other priorities.
It was just something about the place ... Sunnydale had more cemeteries than he had ever seen in any other city its size, and more churches; and also more businesses catering to New Age, mysticism, Tarot, astrology, psychic readings, herbal medicines, and some flat-out magic shops. He had seen the sights, and idly marked it off to a local flavor as idiosyncratic as Bourbon Street or Times Square, and with no deeper meaning. The earnest gravity of Loryn's words had opened his eyes to the power of the currents that ran through this town, and to how she in turn had been conditioned to them.
The exchange had given them a lot to think about (and, in all honesty, the business with Merise hadn't helped any); they had moved cautiously in the weeks that followed, and then it was time to study for finals, and Loryn had been approved for a summer internship in Chicago ... There had been no breakup, not even a tacit backing-away. They had merely gone where their individual paths took them after the semester ended, and never gotten around to reconnecting in the Fall.
Now she had come seeking him out, the two of them shoved together again by the same occult issues that had originally sent them drifting in separate directions.
In retrospect, it would seem that Loryn had been right all along.
And there was the answer: concentrate on the central problem, save the complications for later. "I guess our first step," he said slowly, piecing out the idea as he spoke, "is to get the best understanding we can of just what we're dealing with. This, this thing, didn't happen by itself, so something must have caused it. Are there any, uh ... any marks on your throat?"
"I couldn't feel any." A spasm twitched across her face. "And of course I can't look in the mirror. But I don't think there could be any. I was alone in my dorm room, and no vampire could have gotten in."
"No?" Jack glanced at the wreckage of the chair. "It doesn't seem like he'd have much trouble ... wait a minute!" He looked closely at her. "You mean, when you were at the door ...?"
She nodded. "That's right. I couldn't enter until you actually said Come in." She avoided his eyes, but she moved her lips freely, no longer trying to hide her teeth. "It was one of the things you mentioned when you were telling me about the original 1972 movie, that Skorzny went into someone's home without being invited. Vampires aren't supposed to be able to do that." Her fists clenched, and she added flatly, "And it's true. We can't."
Privately Jack wondered. Her inability to enter had been plain, but how could they be sure how these arcane rules operated? A dorm room, for instance: would it actually qualify as a residence according to mystical standards? If it did, would that keep out someone who had been there -- perhaps even lived there -- before becoming a vampire himself? They were dealing with a mass of folklore that Loryn's presence proved to be based on fact, but the inner workings had yet to be established.
Regardless, there was nothing to be gained by going into all that just now. "I take your point," he said, "but I think I need to look for myself, if only to rule it out." He made a hesitant gesture toward her neck. "May I ...?"
She closed her eyes and stood passively while he examined her, her skin cool beneath his fingers. He checked carefully over her throat, behind her ears, along the back of her neck from hairline to collar. Nowhere was there any kind of puncture wound.
Jack stood back, his flesh crawling from the touch of her; he had to suppress an urge to wipe his hands on his pants. "It looks like you were right, there are no marks anywhere." He shook his head. "I'll tell you the truth, I don't know what to make of it. Almost every way I ever heard, vampires were created by other vampires. Even the odd exceptions -- evil suicide, pact with the Devil, that kind of thing -- don't match up with what you've told me. Mm, do you have any weird neighbors or friends? People into the occult, demonology, Satanism?"
She sighed. "This is Sunnydale, Jack. There's just no telling. But as far as I know, all the other people on my floor are from out of town or even out of state; most of the local students commute. I can't offer any guarantees, but the odds are probably lower than if I was still living at home."
"Okay, then, have there been any recent changes in your life? New foods, folk medicines, changes in your routine? Encounters with animals, especially at night: bat, cat, crow, wolf or wolflike dog? Have you donated blood or received a blood transfusion? Been to any parties or gatherings where you might have been given some potion without your knowing? Acquired any kind of new jewelry or key caddy or little token that might actually be a talisman? Had any episodes of sleepwalking? Trance states (besides tonight, I mean)? Damn, Loryn, has anything unusual happened?"
She had been shaking her head, No, to each of his questions. "There's nothing new, Jack. I'm in my senior year, and we're almost to mid-terms, and I'm sticking to a schedule. I haven't even been home to visit my family in almost three weeks, I haven't made any new friends or started any new activities ... What I did tonight is the first difference in my routine since the semester started, and I know there must be a connection, I go out of my body and it's undead when I come back to it, but I just can't figure how it could have happened."
"No, me either." He gestured toward the couch; she sat, and he took the armchair across from her. "Okay, so you were like this when you returned to your body. How did that feel?"
"It was hard," Loryn said tonelessly. "Like ... like trying to run in chest-deep water. I didn't think I was going to make it, it was almost as bad as the barrier at your door. I absolutely had to claw my way back in, and it was ... cold, like a knife going through me.
"When I was finally inside again I couldn't move, not for a long time. It wasn't weakness; I was just drained, no energy at all. Like a machine without power." Again her mouth twisted. "I was dead, of course. I just didn't know it yet."
"When did you, uh, realize?" Jack inquired.
She showed her teeth for a moment. "These are hard not to notice. I could ... feel them. When I looked in the mirror and saw no reflection, it was just the final proof of what I already knew."
The edge in her voice made him uneasy, and he pushed past it. "Well, let's try and think it through. So, you were out of your body, long gone and away. It was just there, empty, with no inhabiting spirit, no essence -- no soul, I guess you'd say -- but it wasn't dead. So with your mind somewhere else, leaving an empty, unsouled but not-dead body, it might have formed a kind of spiritual vacuum ..."
"I don't think it could work like that," Loryn said. "When I was reading up on the subject of astral projection, none of the descriptions had anything like this, not even those that were supposed to be first-hand accounts. Some of them mentioned temporary weakness or disorientation on returning to their bodies, but that's as far as it goes. With so many centuries of interest in both astral projection and vampirism, wouldn't someone have noticed a natural connection if one existed?"
Jack let out a long breath with a grimace of exasperation. "Probably. You're right, it's an idea that just doesn't stand up. And it's all I have right now, damn it. This stuff ... I had an interest in it and read whatever I came across, but I wasn't really studying it. As soon as the Library opens, I'll have to start some genuine research."
It was clearly out of the question for him to return to bed, so they sat up and talked. Not about Loryn's condition, for they were helpless without further knowledge; and not about their previous relationship, for that subject had pitfalls of its own. Stories of Loryn's time in Chicago, of Jack's excursions across Europe during various duty leaves, of people they had known and lost touch with: Rory's week-long parties during the summer, Melody Kendall's surprise pregnancy and even more unexpected decision to face life as a single mother, Victor Oelsen's misadventures at Griffith Park Observatory. (Not Merise, however. Neither of them mentioned Merise.) Though it was a strained mockery of the ease they had once enjoyed together, it filled the moment and gradually relaxed them; but Jack continued to avoid her eyes, and Loryn spoke with a measured control that hinted at masked tension.
They were nearing the end of a rather forced discussion of some of the local issues (there were rumors of a mall being planned for Sunnydale, automatically opposed by small businesses and environmentalists; a not-too-popular proposal had been made for extensive additions to Lowell House, the augmented structure intended primarily for the students in the ROTC programs; Psi Theta fraternity was once again on probation; a representative for the Chumash tribe had filed an injunction demanding the return of cultural relics from the Anthropology department) when the alarm sounded from the clock radio in Jack's bedroom. They both came to their feet, Loryn with an instant, impossible quickness, and in some trick of lighting her eyes looked almost golden. "Got it," Jack said hurriedly, dashing in to slap the SNOOZE button, then stood a moment to try and calm his skittering pulse.
Loryn was seated again when he returned to the living room, but he could see the grinding effort it took her to relax. Something inside him ached suddenly, but he kept his voice carefully matter-of-fact. "Six o'clock," he told her. "The Library doesn't open till eight, but we can at least make a start on the day." He crossed to the main window and opened the blinds.
Incredibly, in some unthinking tunnel-vision focus on the immediate needs of the situation, they had both forgotten what sunrise would mean.
Loryn screamed as light flooded into the room, and fell back against the couch, writhing and clawing at the cushions while Jack watched in frozen horror. She threw her head back, champing her teeth together as she drew hissing, tearing breaths; and the exposed canines made Jack think, incongruously, not of a bat or a wolf but of a raccoon with its leg in a trap. Finally he yanked himself out of the paralysis that gripped him and pulled the blinds tightly shut.
Moaning, Loryn slid from the couch and lay shuddering on the floor. Jack bounded to her and knelt beside her, pleading, "Loryn, I'm sorry, I didn't know! I forgot, I wasn't ... oh, God, I'm sorry!" Clumsy in his concern, he pulled her to a half-sitting position, studying her anxiously as she lay gasping in the cradle of his arms.
It was like watching something in time-lapse photography. Before his eyes the dreadful gauntness of her faded, her skin lost some of its terrible pallor, the hollows of her eyes filled in. Within moments she rested in his arms, breathing shallowly: still weak, still thin and pale, but miraculously, undeniably, human.
He made breakfast for the two of them, keeping up a constant flow of chatter while he scrambled some eggs and pan-toasted a few slices of bread. She sat on the couch, barely responding, still dazed with shock and relief. "I can't believe it," she murmured, over and over. "I can't believe it." Jack was pouring juice for them when she stopped suddenly and went to the window. She carefully opened a tiny crack in the blinds, sunlight brushing her face ... then opened them wide, letting the dawn wash in on her, luxuriating in it. For nearly a minute she stood there, ecstasy mirrored on her face, then she leaned against the wall and began to cry.
Jack turned off the range and went to her, then found he didn't know what to say, so he simply stood next to her. She turned blindly to him, and his arms went around her automatically as she buried her face in his shoulder, tears soaking through the t-shirt fabric.
This was ... embarrassing. He didn't want to push her away, but had no idea what it was supposed to mean or how he should respond. Also, he was still worried by her color; now that the awful dark interlude was over, it might be a good idea to take her to a doctor. "Come on," he said at last. "I have our breakfast ready."
She stepped back, scrubbing at her eyes with one hand. "You go ahead," she told him. "I don't feel much like eating right now."
"I think you should," he replied, moving back to the kitchen bar. "You really don't look too hot, and ... well, as host I'm responsible for you." He smiled at her. "Besides, you've heard the conventional wisdom, right? -- breakfast, most important meal of the day, all that stuff?"
"Okay, you win." She went to the table and sat down. "I won't argue with you. I owe you too much for that."
"Glad I could help," he said, coming to the table with two plates. "Well, except for the part where I didn't really do anything."
"You kept me from losing my mind." She gave him a tiny smile of her own, her eyes holding warmth and something that might have been sadness; but the light went out of them as he set her plate in front of her. "Jack," she said, "I think I'd rather skip this. I suppose it's just nervous reaction, but that really looks unappetizing."
"The worse you feel," he told her firmly, seating himself across from her, "the more you need it. Go on, dig in." He started on his scrambled eggs, mind already beginning to look ahead to the how (or whether) of her departure.
Loryn picked up a slice of toast and slowly spread jam over it. She raised it to her mouth, hesitated, then forced herself to take a bite. She chewed with painful thoroughness, and managed to swallow after a small struggle. Jack, finishing his eggs, watched her take another bite. This time she chewed for several minutes, and almost gagged before she succeeded in getting it down. He paused at his own meal, concern growing as he watched her difficulty. Seeing his attention, Loryn put down the toast, her movements jerky. She started on her eggs, and managed half a dozen bites before choking on a mouthful. She washed it down with a quick swallow of orange juice, but when she went to start in again, her hand shook so badly that the fork clattered from her grasp.
"Never mind," Jack said without inflection. Loryn jerked her head up to look at him, face drawn with fear, and he went on quietly, "You don't seem to have trouble with liquids, so I'll fix you some soup. You'll eat it, all of it. Then we'll go to the Library together. We have a lot to do."
The scant returned color had once again drained from her face. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
"It isn't over yet," he told her, keeping his voice even. He walked around the table and, taking her hand, led her unresisting across the room. "We have a reprieve, at least a day, but it isn't over. Not by a long shot."
They stopped before the half-length mirror, and he reached over to draw her hair back from the left side of her face. "Look," he said unnecessarily.
On the side of her neck, slanting down from the line of her jaw, were two open puncture wounds.
"In some of the legends," Jack said, striding quickly along the sidewalk, "the bite wounds disappear once a vampire's victim dies. The only place I ever saw it mentioned was in Dracula -- the book, not any of the movies -- but I think Stoker did a pretty comprehensive roundup of the vampire myths popular in his time, so we have a precedent for what happened to you. The bite marks vanishing, that didn't play a major part in the book, but for us ..."
Loryn, struggling beside him, gasped, "Jack, can we please slow down? I ... I think I'm going to be sick."
"You need to be as active as possible," Jack explained gently, supporting her by the elbow. "Anything that, well, expresses life, acts to reinforce your humanity. At least, that's what I'm hoping. That's why I made you eat, and why I didn't pick one of the closer parking lots."
Still, he reflected, this might be overdoing it. He had fared poorly in Army basic training, barely meeting the minimum physical requirements; stung by the humiliation, he had embarked on a dogged self-improvement program, building steadily on previous progress, and still (along with other activities) ran five miles each morning, a minimum of five days a week. Even without her current weakness, Loryn might have had trouble matching the pace he set. He slowed a bit, and continued, "Anyway, it wasn't important in the book, but to us it means a lot. In fact, I think it points to the best chance we have."
Loryn snatched a breath and said, "I don't understand."
"Well, the puncture marks show that you were infected by another vampire, which so far follows the ground rules as we understand them. But then your case jumps right up and starts breaking rules." He ticked them off on his fingers. "You rose as undead the night you were killed; it's supposed to be at least one night later, usually three or more. You seemed to have your own mind, with no vampiric influence on your personality." (At least, none he could be sure of. Those eyes ...) "And you're human in the daytime, which doesn't match anything I ever heard. Vampires are reanimated corpses; even if they could move around during the day, they'd still be dead."
Loryn nodded at each point, and he realized he had unconsciously slowed further while talking. "I suppose that's all true," she said, "but how is it significant?"
"Well, keeping in mind that this is all theory -- until last night I had no idea vampirism was anything more than interesting legend -- I think the basic process got thrown off track by your mind being away when you were, uh, killed, and then returning afterward. Your soul, your self, wasn't possessed by vampirism because it was somewhere else at the time."
"I'm not sure I agree," Loryn replied. At a quick glance from Jack, she went on, "I know, I was messed up last night and I said something about being soulless, but ... this supposition that a person's soul is corrupted when he's killed by a vampire, it doesn't feel right. Souls just don't work that way, at least not according to Presbyterian Sunday school. I may be forced to believe in vampires, but I can't accept that people can be turned evil by a physical transformation."
"Maybe they're not," Jack said. "Maybe you're right about the soul being off-limits, and when someone is killed by a vampire his soul takes off on whatever path God laid down for it, and the unsouled body gets jump-started by some infusion of vampire energy." Loryn frowned, considering, and he continued, "Looking at it that way, you'd wind up with the original body, remade according to some kind of hell-blueprint; even if it retained its original memories and a sort of template of the original personality, there'd still be a completely new pilot in the cockpit."
"That makes sense," Loryn acknowledged. "At least, my mind doesn't rebel at the concept. You may think I'm being silly, arguing definitions this way, but ... well, it just matters, that's all."
"Whatever the definition," Jack said, "I'm convinced you short-circuited the process. Your consciousness was separated from your body, so it wasn't affected when the body was killed. Your body, now, it was dead, but not completely, vampirism put it into a kind of neutral state, unliving but undeteriorating, so that when you returned you were able to get back inside. So your body's been, oh, programmed for un-life, but the conscious side of vampirism hadn't set in yet. Now you had your own mind inside an unliving but not-totally-dead body ... and when you were exposed to sunlight, the vampire nature turned dormant, so that your human life had a chance to come back into play."
"It's logical to a point," Loryn said, "but you still aren't making a clear distinction between the physical and psychological ..." She stopped, and laughed. "There I go again!"
Jack smiled back at her. "Okay, so I'm working it out as I go. We know you were a vampire last night, but with the original you still in charge; we know you're human today. Those are the things that are important, and we'll build what we can from there. Oh, great, now what?"
They had reached the college's library, but the main entryway was roped off and a paper banner stretched across the doorway: PLEASE USE OTHER ENTRANCE. Past it Jack could see scaffolding and stacks of building materials, and the chirrr! of an electric drill sounded from some point outside their view. "Renovation," Loryn sighed. "I don't know what they're thinking, it's a waste of money. The library has been too small for years, what we need is a whole new building."
"I don't really care what they do, I just wish they could have picked a different time." Jack made his way to the side entrance, still automatically towing Loryn by the elbow, and moments later they were inside.
It was true that the library was too small; even at this early hour nearly half of the tables and study carrels were already occupied, and Jack realized that he had taken it for granted that they would have to check out the texts they wanted and do their study elsewhere. He looked quickly through the card catalog and made a list of likely-looking titles: the Annotated DRACULA; In Search of Dracula; Vampires, Werewolves and Other Night Creatures; the Immortals; A True History of Vampires and Vampirism; Hell's Offspring; Balkan Legends; and a half-dozen others that looked as if they might have some material of tangential interest. Three of the books were out at present, but Jack carried the rest to the checkout counter.
The woman at the desk, a long-faced redhead Jack remembered as a graduate assistant in one of his introductory sociology classes, gave him a side-tilted, quizzical look as she stamped his selections. "Vampires?" she said.
"Folklore and literature," Jack told her briskly. "Theme paper." And tried to keep himself between the woman and Loryn; the last thing he needed was for her to notice the Band-Aid on Loryn's throat and leap to some asinine (and all-too-accurate) conclusion.
"We'll need most of the day just to skim through these," Loryn observed as they left the library.
"We might," Jack agreed. "That's why I figured we'd double-task, do our studying at the beach."
Loryn glanced at him in momentary puzzlement, then said, "Oh. Sunlight."
"Right," Jack said. "It brought you back to life this morning, so I'd like to give you as much exposure as possible while we still can." He kept his gaze fixed straight ahead and continued casually, "In fact, it isn't really legal but I've heard there are sections of the beach where nobody really cares about a little nude sunbathing. I think it's worth considering."
Her laughter was instant and genuine, and loud enough that several heads turned in their direction. "In your dreams!" she told him between giggles.
Well, that could have gone better. "All right," he said, shrugging. "Then we'll stop by your place and get the skimpiest swimsuit you have. It probably won't make that much difference. We'll take lunch, too, a big one: see if you can handle solid food, fresh fruit, meat, that kind of thing. If not, more soup. And exercise, lots of activity, I want to cover as many bases as I can."
He paused a moment, concentrating. Had he forgotten anything, was there some promising line of approach that had escaped him? "I guess that's it," he decided. "Come on." He took Loryn's arm again and quickened his pace.
Jack sat cross-legged on the sand, scanning the section of the Immortals devoted to the undead. A few feet away Loryn lay prone on a blanket, propping herself up on her elbows to read another book. Her dark hair was tied up to expose more skin area to the sun, and her swimsuit left her almost as effectively naked as she would have been without it.
"Damn it!" Jack slapped his hand down on the open pages of the book. "Of all the absolute crap ...!"
"What's the matter?" Loryn asked, boosting herself up to a sitting position.
"This." Jack gestured in disgust at the book. "The Greeks -- ancient Greeks, I guess -- believed that if a cat jumped over a corpse before it was buried, the dead person would become a vampire." He smacked the book again, viciously. "How can we dig any useful information out of all this garbage? We never know whether something is legitimate or mumbo-jumbo."
"You think we're wasting our time, then?" Loryn wanted to know.
Jack sighed. "No. Frustrating or not, we need to find out whatever we can that might help us. We just don't know what it is yet." He tossed the book aside and selected another. "I think we should stick mostly to the Eastern European stuff, though; so far that's what corresponds best to what we know from last night. There are all kinds of variations and contradictions, but at least it gives us a place to start."
"What about this, then?" Loryn indicated her own book. "It's supposed to be a psychological analysis, I think they're theorizing that vampirism is a perversion of the suckling instinct."
"I don't know, there might be something to it." Jack stood up, stretching muscled arms. "What is a vampire but a perversion of human flesh, anyhow? They work with the material they have, memories and inborn instincts. For instance, I've always thought there was a lot of sex mixed up with vampirism. Ever notice that vampires usually go after victims of the opposite gender? And some of the fictional scenes of women succumbing to vampires are practically flat-out seduction."
Loryn nodded agreement. "I've seen those, but I'd say that tells us more about the storytellers -- or their audience -- than it does about the facts."
Ouch. "Probably," Jack acknowledged. "Even if you discount for cultural bias, though, there are still stories of vampires acting as literal incubi or succubi." He grimaced. "Sounds a lot more unpleasant than the standard 'demon lover' setup, and I can't see what it has to do with your situation; in fact, I don't even remember how we got onto the subject. Let's take a reading break and get you some exercise."
This late in the year the water was too cold for swimming to be practical, but Jack led Loryn up the beach and back in an easy run, then moved her through a series of calisthenics, using the warm-up exercises from his judo club workouts as a model. He kept it light -- the aim was to stimulate and extend her humanity, not to exhaust her -- and called a halt when she began to stumble in the sand. While she caught her breath he looked her over, evaluating not only her current condition but how it compared to this morning's. Her color was better, he was sure, and she didn't seem as thin as before. The lines of her body were clean and full, and she moved with a new sureness. Nice, very ...
He pulled his eyes away. "Feel up to lunch?" he asked her.
She looked up at him, smoothing damp hair and perspiration from her brow. "Why, yes," she said, sounding surprised at the fact. "Yes, I think I do."
Eating slowly, pausing frequently to wash it down with fruit juice, Loryn ate a sandwich and two oranges, then another sandwich. The last obviously took an effort, but she kept doggedly on until she finished. Jack, watching, was pleased that she appeared no worse for it. Her previous feedings had left her almost white with nausea.
"Back to the books?" Loryn asked when she was done.
"I don't think so," Jack said. "Let's take another run, but then I'd like to head back into town. I've changed my mind about the sun," he explained. "You've gotten a good dose already, and if you get sunburned it'll just leave you weaker. Not much, but still the opposite of what we want."
After the run, they gathered up the books and lunch basket and carried them back to the car. The return drive was quiet, with practically no conversation. Loryn had started on In Search of Dracula, and Jack was occupied with his own thoughts. They stopped briefly at a mini-mart to pick up more food that fit his notion of life-reinforcing; including, as an afterthought, salami. For the garlic.
It was past one o'clock when they arrived back at Jack's apartment. "I'll put up the groceries," Loryn volunteered as they went in.
"Okay," Jack answered abstractedly. He carried the double armload of books into his bedroom and dumped them in a corner. Opening the curtains at the window, he adjusted the blinds so that they threw a barred rectangle of sunlight onto the bed. He surveyed the result, then leaned back against the wall, wondering if he was crazy.
Food. Exercise. Sunshine. He had subjected Loryn to all of these, trying to force extra strength into her humanity, hopefully at the expense of any possible lingering taint of vampirism. During their discussion, however, another concept had come into focus: if vampirism was in fact a distortion of the sexual drive, as some claimed and his own logic led him to believe, then might not sex itself be another and quite potent expression of humanity?
As a working proposition it seemed plausible, but putting it into practice was another matter entirely. Their personal history together ... not only had it never taken the path to sexual intimacy, the nature of its end made any such action now difficult at best. Loryn was unlikely to welcome any sudden attempt at seduction, and he didn't relish the idea of trying to explain to her that he thought she needed sex as a matter of therapy.
She appeared at the door, startling him. She had not yet changed from the bikini. "The groceries are all stowed away," she said. "What should we do now?"
The question, posed in total innocence, caught him so completely off-guard that he was momentarily incapable of clear thought. And as he struggled to formulate a reply, he realized there was no way he could go through with it; the bitter truth was that he would risk her death and diabolical transfiguration, rather than risk looking like a fool.
As great as a fool as she had been to rely on him ...
"I think I should get some sleep," he heard himself saying. "I only had a few hours last night, and tonight may not work out any better. I won't be much use to you if I can't stay awake, so better to do something about it now."
"All right," she said. "How much sleep?"
He glanced at his watch. "If I drop off pretty quick -- and I think I will -- I can get nearly four hours and still be up an hour or so before sunset. The way I feel right now, that might make a big difference."
"I see." Loryn lowered her eyes for a moment, then looked back to him. "Do you think I'll ... change again, when night comes?"
"I don't know." Jack shook his head. "You have a couple of meals inside you, you're stronger now, and ... well, there's an idea I've been kicking around, I may be able to stack the deck a little more in our favor before then. But I don't know."
"I see," she said again. He had been afraid his uncertainty would shake her, but she simply stood in the doorway, regarding him with grave, steady eyes. "Jack, if I should turn -- completely -- I mean, with not even a daytime life ..."
"It won't come to that," he broke in. Too insistent, overdefensive, he could hear it himself. "I won't let that happen."
"You'll do your best, I know," she said. "And I'm not giving up. But we have to face the truth: we could lose. We could lose. And if we do ..."
He didn't want to hear this, but he couldn't find his voice to protest. There was something about her just now, a force, an inevitability. "If we do," she went on, "will you kill me? Can I trust you for that?"
He blinked, but didn't look away. Couldn't. "Yes. I will. I promise."
It won't come to that. It won't come to that.
The bedside alarm snapped him awake at five o'clock. He had slept in his clothes, but he felt so grubby that he allowed himself a two-minute shower, then donned a fresh pair of slacks and a sports shirt. He found Loryn in the kitchenette, papers and open books before her, sipping a cup of chicken broth. "I heard your alarm, and the shower," she said. "How do you feel?"
"Half-dead," Jack replied without thinking; then, cursing himself, went on quickly, "But I needed it, I'd be in a lot worse shape if I'd just tried to keep going. What do you have there?"
"Notes," she told him. "I thought I'd try to pull together the things that seemed to fit my ... experience. And then I remembered what you said about my case breaking rules, so I just started looking for common elements. Here, you can see for yourself."
Jack took the page she turned toward him and studied it. Loryn had compiled a list of some of the characteristics vampires were traditionally supposed to possess:
-- no reflection
-- no shadow
-- can't enter a home without invitation
-- aversion to crucifix
-- aversion to garlic
-- aversion to sunlight
-- ability to change form (bat, wolf, etc.)
-- ability to command some animals (wolves, rats, etc.)
-- ability to mesmerize prey
-- enhanced strength
-- dormant during day (sleep in earth of their native land)
"I think I see what you mean," Jack said. "It's like a checklist, what's true of you and what isn't. Okay, we know you had no reflection, but what about a shadow?"
"I don't remember," Loryn said. "I wasn't watching for it at the time. You had to invite me in, so we know that one is a YES. I definitely had the strength, and when the sun hit me ..." She shuddered in remembered pain. "Out of the total list, then, we have four that we know apply to me, and six that have never been tested."
"And only one definite NO," Jack added, for he had heard the unspoken acknowledgment in her tone. "But that one is major-league: you don't hibernate during the day, you're human. That's our biggest discrepancy and our best hope. You're human during the day, and we just have to expand that to full-time." He scanned the list again, and repeated to himself, "Four YES, one NO, six undecided."
Though she had kept her composure, Loryn seemed to have paled at his summation. "Four to one ... I guess I have to hope some of the other six fall out in my favor."
"Or we'll force them to," Jack said, keeping his tone firm and determined. "Put on your shoes, we're going out."
"Where are you taking me?" she asked as he unlocked the passenger door of his car for her. "Or am I not supposed to know?"
"Let's just say it'll be something new for both of us." He grinned at her. "Allow me a little mystery, okay? I don't get to do this often."
She accepted it with a nod and a sigh, saying, "Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't take long. It'll be dark in another hour."
"That's part of it," he told her cryptically. "Don't worry, we have enough time." He eased the car out into the street.
Fifteen minutes later Jack pulled into a parking lot and turned off the ignition. "Here we are," he announced.
"I can see that," she said. "A church."
"A Catholic church," he corrected her. "A lot of things vampires don't like are directly connected to the Catholic Church: crucifix, holy water, sometimes the communion wafers. It occurred to me that if we came here to wait for sunset, the church might act as an insulator to keep out your ... other side, come nightfall."
They left the car and approached the church. "There's a service at six o'clock," Loryn observed, pointing to an announcement board at the sidewalk, movable letters behind a glass front. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to have people around me when the sun goes down."
"No argument from me," Jack said. "But there's a little chapel at the side that they use for morning services, and we should have that pretty much to ourselves."
"How did you find out all this so quickly?" she asked.
"I pass by here during my morning runs, I've seen the people coming out of the chapel. And there was a feature on the news when they finished restoration of the main building and it reopened for evening services." He shrugged. "Also, I checked the Yellow Pages in my bedroom after I finished dressing."
She followed him inside the little building at the side. As he had predicted, no one else was there. He stopped just within the doors, nodding with satisfaction as he dipped his fingers into the water of the small font set into the wall.
"Holy water?" Loryn ventured.
"I think so. At least, that's how it seems to work in some of the movies I've seen." He used his dampened fingers to cross himself (forehead, chest, each shoulder) and then motioned for Loryn to do the same. She complied -- he held his breath as her fingers broke the surface of the water in the font -- and when she finished the brief ritual he relaxed and sighed.
Loryn tilted an eyebrow at him. "What did you expect?"
"I wasn't sure." He gave her a little half-smile of apology. "Sometimes people who've been infected with vampirism, even while they're still alive they can't tolerate contact with blessed articles. They get burned or shocked. Point for our side, I guess." He sat in a pew two rows from the front, and she took a place beside him. "Now we wait."
From the morning newspaper he knew that sunset would come at six twenty-six tonight. At ten after six Loryn shifted uneasily. Jack glanced at her. "Something?" he inquired.
"I don't know." She gestured vaguely. "I feel ... closed in." He opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind and closed it.
By a quarter after six she couldn't sit still, and her face was taking on a panicky look. "What's the matter?" she asked him frantically.
"What's it like?" he asked her in turn.
"Claustrophobia," she said, her hands tugging at each other in her agitation. "Pressure. An ... oppressive feeling. Jack, I'm scared. Something is going to happen here, and it won't be good."
It was twenty after. "What you're feeling is conflict," he told her evenly, eyes fixed on her. "Two things fighting each other. That's good, it means there is something." His voice quickened. "Hang on, Loryn. For God's sake, hang on!"
She clutched at the top of the pew in front of her with white-knuckle desperation, face drawn, literally whimpering in her distress ... and then she broke. "I can't!" she sobbed. "Oh, I can't!" And in an instant she was on her feet, running for the door.
Jack was after her like a racing cheetah, his hands closing on her arm, her hair. "NO!" he shouted. "Stay here! Just a few more minutes, Loryn, please --!"
It was hopeless. With frantic strength she twisted from his grasp and was out the door. He followed, stumbling and cursing. He was an idiot, he should have seated her first and placed himself between her and the aisle ...
It was twenty-six after six. The last touch of sun faded as he rushed outside.
Loryn was standing halfway down the block, her back to him, her head down. Tragedy was written in every line of her. Jack slowed as he approached her, his skin prickling with unease. She was thin, and very pale in the new dusk; it wasn't really dark yet, the street lamps weren't even on, but for an instant it seemed to him that she was basking in the coming of night, letting it wash over her, just as she had reveled in the morning sun twelve hours earlier. Then she turned to face him, her eyes dark wells of unguessable pain.
"I couldn't stay," she said, and the parched lifelessness of her voice was a fresh shock. "It might have worked -- you were right, the church was fighting the ... thing inside me -- but I couldn't stay. I wasn't strong enough. Oh, God." Her head bent again, and she shook with misery.
"Come on," Jack said gently. "We'll go back to my place, try to think of something else." He took hold of her arm, pulled gently. "Come on."
He had made a mistake in taking her arm. She followed him without resistance, but her flesh was cooling beneath his fingers, the touch of it unnatural and shocking. He led her to the car, black unreasoning dread coursing through him at every step, not daring to remove his hand lest it alert her to his fear. It was irrational, he had touched her the night before with no such reaction; yet now, with no warning or understanding why, he was suddenly, deathly afraid. With a terrible chilling clarity Jack realized the staggering strength of the thing walking beside him. In normal circumstances he would have been nearly three times as strong as Loryn, for almost three years he had done four workouts a week, alternating Nautilus equipment and free weights; but the arm he held was smooth and firm with contained, demonic power, and the knowledge of his helplessness was a solid knot of terror inside him.
When he reached the car he had to release her arm to open the door for her, and he thought he would faint at the thickness of the relief that flooded through him.
After that, strangely, it took no courage for him to get in the car with her. As they pulled away from the church, Loryn asked, "What do you plan to do now?"
"I don't know," he admitted. He hadn't really recognized just how much he had been counting on this latest, failed gambit. "We're almost done with the books, but we can finish them tonight. Study you as you are now, maybe, try to learn more about your condition." He pondered silently for a few minutes, then offered, "Maybe if we came back to the church tomorrow, found some way to keep you there ..."
"No." Loryn shook her head. "It wouldn't work. I can feel it. Holding me inside against my will would drive me insane and destroy me. You had the right idea, taking me there, but ... no. The strength to make myself stay has to come from me, and I don't have it. It. Just. Isn't. There."
There was no reply he could make to that, and they finished the drive in silence. It was full night by the time they arrived back at his apartment. He watched her as they went inside, noting and cataloguing differences in her appearance, his attention carefully clinical. She was thinner than she had been last night, he was sure of it; and, though her pallor hadn't increased, it seemed to ... fit her better, as if she had moved closer to something of which paleness was an intrinsic part. She had lost ground, there was no denying it, despite their best efforts her vampire nature was stronger now.
Resolutely he thrust away his apprehension. Loryn sat waiting by the couch while he went through the apartment turning on the lights, then came back to rejoin her. Before he could speak, however, she forestalled him: "Don't bother with the reassurances. There's no way we can put a good face on this."
Instead of being taken aback, he felt a perverse obstinacy rise up inside him. "Hey, ease up a little," he told her. "I'll admit we've taken some bad breaks, but that doesn't mean we have to look at everything in the worst possible light. Speaking of which, have you noticed that, yes, you DO cast a shadow?"
She raised her eyes, frowning, and passed her hand between the surface of the couch and the light from the corner lamp; the shadow of her hand followed the motion. "There's another NO on our checklist," Jack went on, emboldened. "And if we count your non-response to the holy water, that makes the score four YES, three NO. Which is better than we had before."
"You're playing word games," Loryn reproved. "If you tally the holy water in my favor, then my being forced from the church has to count against me. And we haven't checked any of the other things yet."
"Okay, we'll start right now." Jack went into his bedroom, returned carrying a black-bound book. As he approached the couch he turned the front cover toward Loryn, and now it was clear that the book was a Bible, embossed on the front with a plain gilt cross. He held the Bible out before him as he neared the couch, in the manner of a gift being offered for inspection, and Loryn kept her gaze fixed on the cruciform emblem.
When the Bible was perhaps two feet from her face, Loryn turned away with an abrupt flinching motion, and Jack withdrew a step. "Damn," he muttered.
"That's right," she flung back, teeth baring in a momentary snarl. "It repels me. It makes me feel sick, angry. No, not angry: enraged. I want to destroy the thing ... and you, for pushing it at me." Her eyes met his, bitter with self-hate. "So you can count aversion to the cross as another YES on the list. That makes it six to three now. What's next? Garlic?"
"I don't have any," Jack said. At the moment, waving salami slices under her nose would have been more insulting than informative. "What about any of the other things? A vampire's special abilities?"
She turned away again. "I don't want to know. I don't want to try. If those things are within me, then using them will only take me closer to soullessness. I won't do that. I don't dare."
"So it's ..." Jack stopped, not knowing how to phrase it. "It's worse now, you think?"
"More than I know how to say," Loryn answered wearily. "Last night it was just the knowledge of what had happened to me, but now ... now it's inside me, too. I told you about the anger, but there's also ... hunger. Not too strong, yet, but it's there. It's like when you wake up after surgery and you're still fuzzy on medication, the pain isn't a problem yet but you can feel its presence and its mass, and you're already thinking, Oh, boy, this is going to be bad. Well, it'll be more than bad, I'm only just now feeling it and I can tell that much."
"Hunger," Jack repeated, listening for faintness in his voice and relieved to hear none.
"And awareness," Loryn said. She looked back to him, her gaze holding his. "Did you know that blood ... sings? I can hear yours, feel your heartbeat." Her voice grew husky, her eyes seeming to expand and glow. "I can sense the traceries of veins and capillaries running beneath your skin, I can taste the richness of it floating on your breath ... I ..."
Jack suddenly slapped his hands together, a quick sharp clap! of sound. Loryn jerked, blinking, and Jack stepped back, keeping his eyes away from hers, shaking visibly in spite of all he could do. "Careful," he said unsteadily. "You were hypnotizing both of us. I had forgotten that was one of a vampire's abilities ..." He tried to stop himself, but it was too late.
"That's right," Loryn spat. "That makes the seventh YES, doesn't it? No, craving blood made seven, this was the eighth." Her mouth writhed. "We're losing. I'm losing. Why don't we face it, and send you out for a hammer and stake? I'm not anything that can be called human any more. I'm a ... night stalker."
"No!" It exploded out of him with a violence that made Loryn jump. "You don't belong to the night, not yet. You can still think, you can still fight for God's sake!" He stopped, glaring at her. "You aren't a night creature. You aren't. Twilight, yeah, maybe ... but no more than twilight, and by God we're going to push you back into the day!"
He turned away from her, then back again. "One more thing," he said softly. "When I get a hammer and stake, that's when I've given up. That's when there's no humanity left in you, when Loryn is dead and there's nothing for me to do but exterminate the thing with her face. Until then, shut up about it. I don't want to hear you say it again."
The next morning Jack bought a heavy rubber-headed mallet at a hardware store, and sat in his car in the parking lot, using his pocket knife to sharpen two of the legs from the broken oak chair into hardwood stakes. Once he was done he put all three implements into a small gym bag, and started for the next point in his itinerary.
Loryn, of course, knew nothing of this. He had left her in his apartment that morning, going out on some pretext so flimsy that he couldn't even remember what it was. Not that it made much difference; she had been barely conscious, almost totally drained by the transition from vampirism back to life. They had waited for sunrise with the blinds open, hoping the slow dawn would be less taxing than the unexpected, searing exposure of the morning before. And so it had proven, Loryn gradually losing the characteristics of vampirism until with full sunrise she was human again ... and almost too weak to stand unaided.
Jack was himself desperately tired. His few hours' nap the afternoon before had helped, but not much; and the ordeal of sitting up with Loryn, making almost hysterical conversation and constantly avoiding those fathomless eyes, had stretched him to a tension barely short of snapping. Now ...
He shook his head and rubbed at eyes that felt rimmed with sand. There were still things to do.
At the same store he had also bought a pair of machinist's goggles, and now he drew a cross on each lens with a felt-tipped marker. The effect was ludicrous, but he hoped they might shield him from the effects of vampiric hypnotism. They, too, went into the bag. At a grocery store he acquired fresh bulbs of garlic; at a florist, a dozen white roses; at a store for religious books and related goods, a crucifix for his pocket and a second one on a gold chain. As the last item on his schedule, he stopped at a dollar store and bought a pair of twelve-ounce plastic squeeze bottles, then drove back to the church and surreptitiously filled them from the holy water fonts.
He racked his brain for other ideas, but his imagination was as exhausted as the rest of him. If he could just get some sleep ... Yes. Right. He swung by a pharmacy and bought a box of No-Doz, and washed down three tablets with cola on the way back to his place.
Despite the variety of preparations he had made, Jack was troubled by a nagging feeling that he was proceeding along the wrong track. He had not been the world's most accomplished soldier (an engine mechanic in an armored cavalry battalion, closer to combat readiness than a supply clerk but still several steps removed from infantryman level); all the same, living in a military culture for three years had given him some general comprehension of overall strategy, and from that standpoint his current situation didn't look especially good. He was holding his own from moment to moment; the problem was that he was reacting to circumstances, rather than finding some way to wrest back control. That was never good.
Before the plum assignment in Germany, he had been stationed stateside, and one of his first experiences after completing tech school had been when his battalion took part in a training exercise in the Nevada desert. Rather than the usual inter-unit rivalry, this one had called for a Marine company to act as the opposition forces, and from Jack's perspective the entire exercise was a disaster. A Marine scouting party had captured the communications center the first night; by the end of the third day, there were no longer any Army forces left in play, and the two-week exercise had been wrapped up and called off with mortifying quickness. Jack had hated the Marines' cocksure arrogance, all the more infuriating because it was so clearly justified, but he had learned a bitter lesson in the value of intensive training and tactics.
That was what he so badly lacked. Holy water, garlic, trick glasses ... he was making it up as he went. Not good enough, not remotely. His options were limited just now; but surely, given time, there must be some better way to prepare for encounters with this heretofore-unsuspected night world. A good reaction plan was essential, but wars were never won by defense alone. There had to be some way to put the opposition on the defensive. To take the initiative.
Jack had thought he could finish his morning errands in thirty minutes, but it had taken three times that long. When he arrived at his apartment he found Loryn asleep on the couch; the soup he had left her, so far as he could see, was untouched. With angry haste he shook her awake, pulling her roughly to her feet. "Damn it, are you trying to kill yourself?" he demanded. "Come on, walk around, eat a little -- damn it all!" She sagged in his arms, reaching groggily for the couch.
Jack shifted his grip so he could support her on one arm, and with his free hand he slapped her twice, hard. She rocked back, her eyes wide and shocked, the print of his hand flaring on the side of her face. Loathing himself for striking a woman so cruelly afflicted, he still could see only one way to approach the situation. "I'm going to keep you alive," he told Loryn thickly, "if I have to beat you black and blue. Now damn it, get over to that table and eat before I punch your face in!"
She staggered to the table, glassy-eyed, and collapsed into a chair. After three swallows she bent suddenly and vomited on the kitchenette linoleum.
"Keep eating," Jack ordered her when she had recovered. "Your appetite got better yesterday and that's what it's going to do now." Something in her face suggested rebellion, and he added, "I'll push a tube down your throat and feed you through a funnel if I have to. Do you want that?"
Loryn blinked at him, resistance sliding away, and said, "It's cold. The soup."
"Oh. Sorry." Jack poured the bowl's contents back into the small pan, and while it was reheating on the rangetop he poured Loryn a glass of orange juice (to which he discreetly added two ounces of holy water from one of the squeeze bottles). She drank, carefully and without further disaster, and he tore off enough paper towels to blot up the mess on the floor.
When the soup had reached a low boil he brought it to her again, and pushed her chair around to put her in the square of light from the window while she ate. It took her a long time, but the combination of sun and nourishment had its effect. By the time Loryn had finished she was fully awake, though still pale. And she must have read his feelings from the expression he tried to hide, for she told him, "Jack, it's all right. Please, I understand, and you did the right thing. I was so ... so ..." She broke off and closed her eyes, tears streaking her cheeks. "I'm dying, Jack. I'm dying, and we can't stop it."
He came up to stand beside her. "Don't say that," he urged, putting a hand on her shoulder. "We've got you awake and moving, that's the main thing. We just have to keep on plugging away."
"It isn't enough," she told him. "Jack, don't you see? Even if I keep my human mind tonight, even if I survive another sunup ... Jack, tomorrow night will be the third night since I died! The time when a vampire is supposed to rise!"
He hadn't thought of this, and her despair stabbed through him. Only duty and a reflexive defiance kept his face from mirroring the defeat on Loryn's. "If that's so, then it means we have until sunset tomorrow to work on this. Last night at the church, you said yourself that it was almost enough, and I'm not close to running out of ideas yet." He reached down to take her hand, and squeezed it, hard, trying to impart some of the assurance he was feigning. "I won't let you give up. It's ... unacceptable."
Loryn shook her head. "I'm tired," she said. "I'm so tired." She looked up at Jack. "What kind of ideas?"
"Well, we start with this," he replied. He went to the door and picked up the sack of supplies he had dropped there on his entrance, returned to pour the contents onto the table. He held out the crucifix on the chain. "Put that on."
She took it, but her eyes were on the other items. "Flowers?" she wondered. "And bulbs for more flowers?"
"The bulbs are garlic," he corrected her. "And the flowers are white roses, vampires aren't supposed to like them. I don't think they're as strong as the garlic, and garlic isn't as potent as a crucifix or holy water, but I wanted to cover all bets."
Loryn opened the clasp on the chain, and fastened it behind her neck. "I don't remember seeing anything about roses in the books we checked out."
"I did, couple of places." Jack grinned. "But I actually got it from Salem's Lot."
She gave him an odd look. "From what?"
"Early Stephen King," he elaborated. "Must have been seven, eight years ago. Come on, have some more juice."
One fortunate side-effect of Loryn's condition (almost the only break they'd gotten since her first morning return to humanity) was that she didn't suffer from lack of slumber; her recent somnolescence had been the result of weakness rather than cumulative sleeplessness. At Jack's suggestion she took a cool shower to get her blood moving more briskly; meanwhile he strung half the garlic bulbs onto a loop of dental floss, into which he wove the white roses to make a somewhat overcrowded garland.
Loryn emerged from the bathroom with her hair tied up, saying, "I do feel better, but I don't have any fresh clothes ... and no, none of your stuff would come close to fitting. Can we go back by my dorm so I can at least get clean underwear?"
"Sure," Jack agreed. "Here, this is for you."
Loryn inspected the garland, sighed, and settled it around her neck. "I won't wear this where anybody can see me," she warned him. "The Sixties are over, and good riddance."
Sure enough, she left the garland in his car when they reached the campus. Jack walked with her to Fischer Hall, but waited on the stone steps out front while she went in to change. When she came out again, she wore white denim shorts, a sleeveless knit top, and canvas deck shoes. "I ran into someone from Broadcast Studies on the way down," she said, rejoining him. "I hadn't really thought about it, but this will be our second day of missed classes."
Jack whistled. "You're right. We'd better wrap up this business quick, or we could be in trouble." He lifted an eyebrow toward her, and she laughed.
Back at the car Loryn replaced the garland without prompting, and asked, "Will we be returning to your apartment, or out to the beach again?"
"Yes to both, but not right away. First I want to stop at the church for awhile."
She nodded, eyes pensive as she thought it through. "An exorcism?" she ventured at last.
"Not a bad idea," Jack said, impressed. "I hadn't thought of that. But no, that would be for demon possession, your case is something entirely different. It just seemed to me, since the church was having an effect on you last night, it couldn't hurt for you to soak up some more of the atmosphere today." Plus, he could restock on holy water, Loryn had drunk about half a bottle mixed in with the orange juice.
They parked on the same lot as before, and Jack led the way to the chapel. "Last night we just waited for sunset," he was saying to her as they approached the door. "I figured today we'd mix in some prayers, light some candles, whatever looks like boosting our chances. That'll still leave time for the beach ..."
He was inside and several steps down the aisle before he realized he was alone. He turned back and saw Loryn standing outside, her expression blank and surprised. "What?" he said, crossing quickly back to catch the closing door. "What is it?"
"I can't," she said, with the total calm of one who has just received a shock too great to register. "It's like at your apartment, night before last. I can't come in."
Jack could only stare; this was a possibility that had never occurred to him. "Well, okay, I'm inviting you in." And then, remembering the line from Dracula: "Enter freely and of your own will."
Loryn started forward obediently, halted at the threshold. "I'm sorry," she said with that same frozen composure. "It seems I'm ... not welcome."
"Hold on," Jack told her. He dipped his fingers into the holy water font, and used them to trace the sign of the cross on Loryn's forehead, intoning quickly, "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." At his touch they felt a tiny shock, like a static spark on a cold day; Loryn jerked a little in startlement, but that was all. Jack repeated the procedure on himself, just for safety's sake, then took hold of Loryn's hand and pulled her smoothly in through the door.
"That was disturbing," Loryn said vaguely, finally beginning to show some reaction to her initial exclusion. "I didn't have any problem coming in yesterday. I must be ... further gone now."
No. He wouldn't allow pessimism. "We're tapping into a power source," he told her. "We still don't know all the rules, but this proves there really is something at work here. Let's get what benefit we can from it."
True to his stated intentions, Jack lit some candles in the little alcove flanking the altar, and tucked a dollar bill into the donations box underneath. "I hope my parents never find out about this," Loryn observed with grim levity. "I think they may actually believe the Pope is the Antichrist."
"So we won't pray to the Pope." Jack led her to a pew, letting her enter first this time, and settled in beside her. He selected a paperbound missalette from the bookholder on the back of the pew ahead, riffled through the pages. "I'd say we have enough of a selection to keep us occupied for awhile."
After the drama of their entrance, however, the recitation of prayers from the missalette felt routine, even anticlimactic. They interspersed it with silent individual prayer, though Jack found that difficult; in his current condition, without a formula to follow, it was too easy for him to drift toward sleep. Three times someone else came into the chapel; one went through a Rosary, lips moving as she counted the beads, the others simply knelt for a few minutes and then departed.
Jack had originally planned that they remain for a couple of hours, but by twenty minutes past the first hour it was all he could do to stay awake. He nudged Loryn and they rose, did a passable reproduction of the genuflection to the altar they had observed in the other visitors, and made their departure.
"I don't feel any different," Loryn mused, half to herself. "But then, I didn't feel a difference from yesterday, either, and something must have changed or we wouldn't have had to ... sign me in, I suppose you'd call it." Jack unlocked the car door on her side first, and she looked to him as she pulled it open. "Beach now?"
"Beach," Jack agreed. "As soon as we get some lunch supplies from my place, and of course we'll need your swimsuit again, too." With relief he found that the walk back to the car had restored some of his alertness, and he was able to drive without zoning out.
At his apartment Loryn gathered towels and made sandwiches while Jack heated up more canned soup, seasoning it with the remaining bulbs of garlic (although, lacking a garlic press, he had to make do with pliers), and poured it up into a thermos when he judged it to have simmered sufficiently. He similarly doctored a half-gallon of orange juice with an entire bottle of holy water, and added the jug to the Styrofoam cooler already half filled with fruit and plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Once he had chosen suitable beachwear for himself, they were ready to go.
During the drive, Loryn startled him by saying abruptly, "I think I may have some idea how all this happened."
Jack automatically glanced at the Band-Aid on her throat. "How you were changed, you mean?"
"Yes. As I said that first night, I've always felt there had to be a connection between my astral wandering and my being ... attacked. Coincidences happen, but I still don't trust them, and what are the odds of a vampire coming after me when I just happened to be out of my body at the time? I don't think that was accidental."
"It does seem a little unlikely," Jack acknowledged. "We couldn't think how they might be connected, though, and I still can't."
"How about this, then?" Loryn said. "We know a vampire can't enter a home without being invited. We know one got to me somehow. We know I didn't invite him in because I wasn't around to give the invitation ... but then, in a way I wasn't there at all. Could my astral absence have somehow left my place psychically open to a vampire, open in a way that he could -- sense, the way a shark can sense movement in the water, or a rattlesnake can detect a person's body heat?"
"It's plausible," Jack said slowly. "A lot better than any theories I've offered so far, anyhow. But that would mean --"
"It would mean," Loryn finished for him, "the thing that's saved me so far is the same thing that put me in this dreadful mess to begin with. Score for life's little ironies."
Jack sighed, and fought to keep it from turning into a yawn. "At least it clears away that annoying coincidence stuff."
At the beach it quickly became obvious that today's program would not repeat that of the day before. Loryn had no difficulty in following the pace Jack set in the calisthenics workout, and in fact he found his own energy quickly evaporating. "Are you all right?" Loryn asked him as he stumbled to a halt, gasping.
"I'm out on my feet," he admitted. "I'm sorry, I just can't keep this up. I feel like such a wimp."
"You only got four hours' sleep yesterday," she pointed out. "And, what, four hours the night before? You already said it, you can't help me if you can't stay awake. I'll do the exercise and juice and sun, you get some rest."
"Sleep," he agreed, unable to argue. The No-Doz had long since worn off, and hadn't really helped that much to begin with. "I'll, I'll lie down for awhile and ..."
"No, here," Loryn said, steering him into the shade of a dilapidated pier. "Never go to sleep in the sun. Didn't you learn that on the beach in Oklahoma?"
"Oh, funny," Jack said fuzzily, stretching out onto the towel she had laid down for him. He was gone in seconds.
An automobile horn snatched him awake, and for an awful disorienting eternity he couldn't remember where he was or what was happening. He looked at his watch -- twelve minutes past three -- and saw Loryn sitting on a second towel some twenty feet away, unhurriedly tugging the straps of the bikini top back up over her shoulders. Jack blinked at her, still not entirely reconnected to reality. "That sound -- what --?"
"I was getting a little extra sun," Loryn explained. "Some guys back at the parking lot decided to signal their approval."
"Oh. Okay." He rubbed at his eyes, and stood up. "I think I agree with them. You look good."
She did; the gaunt figure from two nights before had vanished, and she all but glowed with life. Fortunately, she didn't mistake his meaning. "It's the sun," she said. "Yesterday you were worried I might burn with too much exposure, but I don't think that's going to happen. I'm soaking it up like a sponge, it's wonderful."
"Great." Jack looked around. "What about the other stuff?"
"I left you some orange juice and a couple of sandwiches, plus most of the fruit. I ate all the rest." She smiled at him. "The soup was a little strong, don't you think? I could curdle eggs with my breath now."
He returned the smile, glad of her returning health and glad of her good humor, but another thought struck him. "Do you have much change?" he asked her, checking the pockets of his slacks, folded beside the towel.
"You mean coins, right? I have some, I'm not sure how much. Why?"
"I wanted to use the phone," he replied. "I might need to make several calls. You seem to be doing fine, can you stay busy without me for awhile longer?"
Loryn started a run down the beach as he headed for the pay phone at the parking lot, and he saw a blue Chevy Malibu pull out and speed away. (Afraid he was going to hassle them for eyeing "his girl"? Right now he'd have trouble hassling a Cub Scout.) The pay phone, miraculously, still had a directory attached to it, and he leafed through the Yellow Pages and began placing calls.
Forty minutes later Jack returned to the beach, and Loryn came to join him. She was sweating freely, but still full of vigor and exuberance. "Did you find out what you wanted?" she asked.
"I believe so. We'll need to start back pretty soon so I can follow up on it." He tilted his head, studying her. "You've come a long way. What do you think?"
"About me? About tonight?" Some of her happiness dimmed. "I don't know, Jack. It's obvious I'm stronger now, but I think the ... other thing ... is stronger, too. You saw what happened at the church. You're helping, don't misunderstand me, you're pulling out all the stops to give me every possible edge. But you asked what I think, and ... well, I just don't know."
It was four o'clock now, the sun already beginning its slow dip toward the horizon. "We might as well head back to my place," Jack said. "It may take me some time to set up what I've arranged."
They made the trip in silence, with Jack berating himself silently and trying to think of some way he might have asked the necessary question without puncturing Loryn's spirits. In the parking lot outside his apartment, he pulled a key from the ring and gave it to her, saying, "I have to go out for a little while. Do you think you can ...?"
"I'll do aerobics," Loryn told him patiently. "I'll wear your vegetable necklace, I'll read from your Bible and say the Lord's Prayer and stay out on the balcony while there's still sun. I'll be okay. Just be sure you get back before dark."
"I'll try to remember," he said. Smiling, she reached into the back seat for the cloth bag containing her clothes; and as she pulled it out, Jack's gym bag shifted and settled, the oaken stakes inside clacking against each other.
She hadn't noticed, Jack realized an instant later, she had already stepped back from the car and begun to close the door, but his reaction betrayed him. Loryn stopped, looking from his guilty face to the bag in the back, and in her own face he could see recognition and understanding and ... resignation.
He opened dry lips to say something, say anything to fill the terrible moment, and she finished closing the car door and turned to start up the outer stairs toward his apartment. Without a word.
Without a word.
Just as she had done the last time.
In early April Jack had gone to a self-defense clinic at the gymnasium on campus. He had advanced to third degree brown belt in judo while in the Army, and was practicing at a local club to test for his second degree promotion, and this event offered an opportunity to explore his interest in other martial arts without committing to anything. He showed up in loose-fitting street clothes, as the flyer had instructed, and waited for the event to begin.
Turnout was relatively small, fewer than a dozen attendees plus the instructor and two of his students to help with demonstrations. The instructor, though obviously hoping to attract new members to his dojo, put some work into providing a legitimate learning experience for those who had come, and after the introduction and opening demonstrations he had them pair together to practice basic defensive and countering techniques.
Jack found himself with a female partner: improbable blonde hair in rows of Bo Derek braids, a cupid's-bow mouth bright with red lipstick, and wanton, mocking eyes. As he took hold of her wrist so she could practice the prescribed grip-break, his gaze was drawn to her t-shirt. Printed on the front were the words:
You can't be the first.
You won't be the last.
You might be the next.
While he was still registering the message, she freed her wrist with startling ease and a sudden twinge of joint pressure the instructor had NOT shown them. Jack looked back up at her face, and she gave him a glance full of insolent amusement.
He couldn't duplicate her technique, but he repeated the instructor's lesson competently enough. The next lesson involved a basic hip throw ("Pick your partner up, but don't throw yet," the instructor warned. "For now, just feel how the balance changes.") The girl turned into Jack with a fluency that confirmed this wasn't new to her; and when it was his turn, he applied a little extra oomph! that jolted her upward rather than simply lifting her. When they faced one another again, she regarded him with a new awareness, and from that moment it was war between them.
They spent an hour testing each other, and none of the other participants was conscious of the shadow combat taking place in their midst. The girl was proficient in kicks, hand-strikes and joint work, whereas Jack had clear superiority in grappling, body leverage and ground techniques. He was stronger, she was quicker and more acrobatic, their skill was roughly equivalent but devoted to different areas of development. Jack had dabbled in other martial arts but never concentrated on anything but judo; still, he knew enough to recognize that she was using an eclectic mix of technique rather than any single style. At every stage they applied enough additional force or focus to contest for mastery but not to reveal the contest to those around them, so that at the announced end of the clinic there still was no clear victor.
When the instructor had thanked them all for their attendance, and the tumbling mats had been folded back up beside the bleachers and the participants off to home or dinner or evening classes, Jack and his "partner" still remained, watching one another without speaking. At length Jack went to the largest mat and began to unfold it again; the girl shrugged and took the other end, and they pulled out enough to provide a floor area of about five yards by five.
When she bent to remove her shoes again, Jack saw the back of her shirt: there, the words read SUNDAY'S CHILD. "What does that mean?" he asked.
It was the first thing either of them had said to the other. "What does what mean?" she returned.
"Your shirt. The back."
"Oh. Well, that's me." She smirked at him. "'Fair of face,' right?"
For a second he didn't understand, then he said, "I don't think it goes like that. Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child ..."
"I like my way better," she said. She stepped onto the mat, and he went to meet her.
A pattern developed quickly. While they had stepped up from the hidden competition of the clinic, this was still sparring rather than combat. She kicked and punched hard enough to drive the breath from him, he threw her with a speed and force that could have injured her if she hadn't known how to fall properly, but neither of them was going all-out, Jack withholding his full strength and she not aiming for the vulnerable targets that could have crippled instead of just hurting. He had to block, evade or shake off hand- and foot-strikes that seemed to come from every direction, and get his hands on her for a throw or takedown; she had to stay in constant motion to keep him from securing a grip, while remaining close enough to reach him with her own attacks.
Finally it went to the ground. Jack had the advantage in weight and strength, but had to keep shifting as she found new pressure points to torture. He got his upper body across her sternum, pinning her for a few seconds while he bent her arm and passed his own beneath it to take a cross-grip and apply the elbow lock that would force her surrender ...
... and stopped, as he felt the warning pressure of a long thumbnail against the flesh of his lower eyelid. He turned slowly to look at her, she allowing the motion; they lay together, panting, and at last he croaked, "Draw?"
Perspiration matted her hair to a face flushed and splotchy from their struggle, but her smile was lewd and knowing and reckless. "I was thinking more of a rematch," she said, voice husky from something more than from exertion. "But I get to choose the place."
Her choice was the bedroom of a tiny studio apartment half a mile from campus, and there she emerged the winner, though it was well past midnight before Jack conceded defeat. And no, she wasn't a natural blonde.
This was Merise.
In the morning she drove him back, negotiating traffic with terrifying abandon in an aging Metro convertible. Jack had already decided this was an experience worth remembering but too risky to repeat; the girl was a born outlaw, unpredictable and exhilarating and sheer poison for anything past the thrill of the moment. She let him out at the lot next to Rugg's Field, and they looked to one another, currents of remembered pleasure flowing between them; then he said, "See you around," with easy insincerity, and she gave him a small wave and a wide, salacious grin, and screeched away. Jack turned, a little regretful and much relieved, to start for his dorm ...
Loryn was standing on the sidewalk bordering the lot, a backpack slung from one shoulder, watching him with an expression he couldn't read. He gaped at her, too surprised to react otherwise, and before he could recover she turned without speaking and continued on her way.
They had already arranged to meet that evening at the student center for a movie. Jack was there at the agreed time, wondering if she would show. She did. Their greetings were polite, cautious, noncommittal. In the strained silence that followed, Jack mustered his courage and began, "About this morning ..."
"What I saw," Loryn said quietly. "Is it really something you want to talk about?"
Jack considered, and answered evenly, "I don't think it's important enough."
"Then we won't." And they didn't, and though Jack sometimes heard stories about Merise, he didn't encounter her again. He and Loryn continued their routine, and he convinced himself that any suggestion of awkwardness between them sprang from their earlier disagreement about the significance of the occult.
Lies. Lies. He had believed because it was easier to believe. Loryn had seen, and known the truth at a glance, and in his willingness to avoid an uncomfortable discussion he had lost his chance to make it right again ... until the chance had come again regardless, only to be fouled by a second betrayal.
It was forty minutes before sundown when he returned to the apartment; he started to knock, instead tried the door and found it unlocked. Loryn, as she had said, was sitting in a chair by the main window, wearing the garlic-and-rose garland, the Bible open on her lap. She looked up as he entered, but didn't speak.
Jack was himself at a loss for what to say, so he simply nodded to her, propped the door open, and reached out onto the landing to maneuver a long, heavy lamp through the door. Loryn watched him, then said, "Ah. A sun lamp."
"Right." Jack set it facing the wall at an angle. "We got lucky, the salons have all gone over to tanning beds, so you can rent these pretty cheap if you can find them. I could have taken you to a salon, I guess, but I think this is better done in private."
"I agree." Loryn closed the Bible and set it aside. "I stay human during the day, so you're hoping we can use the lamp to artificially lengthen the day. It's an interesting thought."
This was not good. Her voice was dispassionate, and the shades had gone down behind her eyes. It was no use pointing out that she had asked him to kill her if things went wrong; what mattered was that he had deliberately deceived her. Well, he'd have to deal with that at some other time. Keeping his own tone equally neutral, he replied, "When you told me you felt like you were absorbing the sunlight, I wished that all this could have happened during the summer, while the days were longer. That's where the idea came from."
"It's worth trying," she said. "Should we go on and begin now? I'm getting less and less benefit from natural sunlight, it might be a good idea to ... charge me up in advance."
"The same way we did at the church," Jack agreed, nodding. "I have a second lamp down in the car, why don't you change back into the swimsuit while I go get it."
Loryn was already in place when he returned, bringing the gym bag along with the second lamp. He put it down by the door, its presence and nature recognized but unacknowledged by either of them. "We'll set up so they overlap," Jack explained. "Cover you from both sides, with the mirror here to reflect some of it back at you."
She inspected the arrangement, and asked, "Isn't direct UV supposed to be dangerous to the retina?"
Jack stopped. "Damn. I forgot all about that, they use little eye protectors in the salons, don't they?" He looked to his watch. "I don't know if there's still time ..."
"I'll wear a blindfold," Loryn said. Jack stared, and she returned his gaze levelly. "I trust you because I don't have a choice. Let's get on with it."
He found a bandanna for her to tie over her eyes, and she took her place. Though the lamps put out less heat than he had expected, they enveloped Loryn in a harsh glow. She stood in the convergence of light and observed, "I was worse last night."
It was a warning, and he took it as such. "I'll be careful."
"I don't want to hurt you," she said, so matter-of-fact that he wondered just how true it was.
They had begun half an hour before the sun would set, and waited now without conversation. Loryn occasionally did a slow rotation to give herself a more even exposure (like a chicken in a rotisserie, Jack thought inaptly), but that was the only activity. Within fifteen minutes, there was more light from the lamps than from the waning day; and by the time only five minutes remained, they both knew it wasn't going to work.
He could actually see it coming upon her, sweeping over her in shadowy waves. She twisted in the light of the lamps, her teeth showing sharp and white between parted lips, her reflection flickering in the mirror behind her. She had forgotten to replace the garland when she changed clothes, but she still wore the crucifix on the chain, and it skittered around on the surface of her skin like beads of water on a hot skillet. She fought the transformation while he watched, her hands clenched, breath coming in quick gasps of effort, perspiration starting from her forehead and temples --
With a blue-white spark and crack! of ozone, the crucifix shot away from her, snapping the chain and streaking across the room to star the glass of the window. In the abrupt silence Loryn relaxed and reached up to pull loose the blindfold. She stepped out of the halo cast by the useless lamps, and without thought Jack fell back before her.
She was different, no longer the drained, hollow-eyed wreck who had come to his door two nights ago; there was something new now, a dark erotic power that dwarfed the electric sexuality he had felt six months ago in Merise. Jack had never been able to understand the seductive subcurrent running through so much of vampire lore, but despair clutched at him as he saw the reality manifested in Loryn: white and gaunt, a mockery of human flesh, she nonetheless had the sleek, deadly beauty of a panther.
She moved toward him, and wild laughter swelled up inside him at the appalling incongruity of Loryn, the newly-born vampire, straight and terrible and fearsome beyond measure, in a lavender bikini; and he choked it back, sure it would become hysterical if he let it out. She stopped in front of him, impaling him with black, scornful eyes. "It failed," she said in a voice dry as cracked leather. "Your brainstorm failed, like everything else you've tried. So what do we do now? Tell me!"
Jack felt his strength sliding away beneath the whiplash of her anger, but he forced himself to meet her gaze. "I wouldn't say it failed completely," he replied, speaking quiet and steady with fanatic self-control. "Your body changed, but you almost held it back. And your mind is still your own." Let it be true let it be true let it be true ...
Feeble as the response seemed to him, it scored on her; her mouth twitched, and she looked away. "I'm here," she said, subdued and soft. "It's still me, I'm still here, but ... this is the last night. I know. At nightfall tomorrow I'll finally be dead, and nothing we can do will change it."
Fear and adrenaline had stretched him to twanging tension, and at the fatalism of her words he had to clamp down to stop himself from erupting. "No," he insisted. "No. You keep saying that, like it was written on your palm by the finger of God. Well, I won't accept it!" He wheeled and stalked through the kitchenette, jerking open the door of the refrigerator. "We've tried increasing your humanity quotient. We've tried smothering and delaying the change. Well, now we're going to work on this side of you directly." He took out a bottle of orange juice (one he hadn't spiked with holy water, he wasn't crazy), and returned to where she stood. "Vampires don't take normal food or drink. You're going to, and we'll see what it does to you." He held out the bottle. "Here."
For several seconds Loryn didn't speak; then, in a voice that shook with revulsion, she grated, "Get that away from me."
Jack twisted the cap from the bottle, held it out again. "Go on, take it. It may be --"
The blow was too fast to see, too fast even for him to feel except as impact; he knew only that he was hurtling backward, the bottle tumbling to the carpet as he smashed into the couch. He fought for consciousness, pulled himself up to teeter on wobbly legs, warm stickiness oozing from a cheek suddenly radiating pain ... and stared into the face of horror.
Loryn stood frozen, eyes riveted on the blood that welled from his battered cheek. She took a spasmodic step forward, her body stiff with unwilling lust, and Jack staggered and almost fell headlong as he tried to retreat. Her hand darted out to close on his wrist with cruel tightness, and the other hand, fingers bent into skeletal claws, began to move toward his throat in small jerks.
Terror flooded him with strength, everything inside him shrieking at him to act, to move, to hurl her from him with a lightning seoi nage or hane goshi, throw her against the wall and run, run ...! No. He couldn't defeat her, couldn't escape her. With a tearing effort of will he silenced the screaming voices, and found his own.
"Help me, Loryn," he begged. "For the love of God, don't leave me now."
Something struggled deep in those molten eyes. The reaching hand halted, every muscle in her locking in total, unyielding contraction, her arms like bars of rolled steel. Her mouth worked, twisted, agonizing conflict etching itself into the lines of her face --
-- and then her hand hooked into the collar of his shirt, tearing it from him like rotted paper as she forced him down onto the couch, cold heat surging from her in a black tide, vile and rapturous and impossible to resist.
Taking the only alternative still open to her.
Burying one lust with another.
When it was done, and the dreadful compulsion eased, Jack dashed to the bathroom and was violently, explosively sick.
He returned, ashen and spent, after he had donned a new shirt and covered the split, throbbing cheek with a gauze bandage. Loryn was still sitting on the couch, naked and alien: face set, eyes closed, motionless as carved stone. He stopped a few feet away from her, a muscle twitching at the corner of his mouth. "Loryn --"
Her voice was a toneless murmur, coming from nowhere. "Don't touch me."
There had been no danger of that. "Loryn, please, listen to me. We're not through yet; I mean, you haven't been beaten, you managed to ... fight it."
Her eyes flicked open. "I didn't fight it," she informed him with flat softness. "I just changed it to something else. To the succubus role you told me about."
"I don't care if you played Muskrat Love on your toenails!" he said angrily. "The point is, you beat it. You aren't -- gone yet." He hesitated, then went on, "I'm ready to try something else."
Loryn lifted her head, staring at him. "Are you insane? After everything that's happened, after what I just did ...?" She broke off, turned her face away from him.
"That's over," he said with all the resolve he could project. "I'm still alive, you still have a human soul, and we keep trying or we start digging a grave for you. Me, I'm not in a mood to dig."
She was silent for so long that Jack began to wonder if she would respond at all. Then she stood and said, "Whatever you're planning, I should probably be dressed for it."
When she came back he had switched off the sun lamps and moved them into a corner. "All right," she said. "What are we doing this time?"
Jack sat down at the dinette table, motioned for her to join him. (He wasn't going near the couch again. In fact, it would probably be best to burn it.) "Before, you told me you hypnotized yourself to help you leave your body. Can you do it again, here?"
"I don't think that's wise," Loryn said. "This body has ... instincts. There's no telling what it might do if I left it unattended."
Jack shook his head. "I didn't mean astral projection, I just want to know if you can put yourself into a trance state again."
"I'm not sure. Probably." She looked to him. "Are you thinking we can stifle my 'dark side' by hypnotic command?"
"Just checking out possibilities, really."
"We'll see." She took a seat. "Do you have a candle?"
He brought one from his room, set it in front of her. "Anything else?"
"Just light it," she said. "The moving flame provides a point of concentration. The rest is ... internal. Give it ten, maybe fifteen minutes. If I can do it at all, it'll happen by then."
When the candle was lit, he sat across from her. He watched her eyes follow the shifting motion, and gradually they became empty and fixed. It went more quickly than she had predicted, but he waited until the full ten minutes had passed before speaking. "Loryn?"
Several seconds went by before the response came: "Yes." Flat and soft, without inflection.
"Close your eyes," he told her. She did so. "Open your mind, let it become clear and receptive, a ... a still pool that catches and reflects everything around it." He paused, giving the command time to take hold. Then, insistently, "Something is out there, Loryn. Something your mind can touch, sense. Reach out for it, hunt it, find it; and tell me what you feel."
She sat without speaking as the wall clock swept away the minutes. Jack was about to repeat the instructions when she said woodenly, "There are lights. Shadows on the pavement ... soft wind ... moving quietly, listening, searching ..."
Her eyes flew open, her face transfixed by wild shock and an expression of such insane savagery that Jack jumped up, his heart lurching inside him. She opened her mouth and uttered a piercing cry, strident and terrible, that paralyzed him where he stood; then she was on her feet and across the room in a blur of motion, yanking the door open with an impetuous force that snapped one of the hinges, and she was out and gone.
With a hoarse shout Jack leaped after her, snatching up the gym bag as he plunged through the fractured door. Loryn was already halfway down the lamplit street, moving with unbelievable speed. Jack threw the bag through the open window of his car and flung himself into the driver's seat. He started the engine and spun out onto the street, tearing after the flickering figure ahead of him.
It was four blocks before he caught up with her, and he saw with numb amazement that she was running at nearly forty miles an hour. She cut across a lawn and over onto another street while Jack was still looking at the speedometer, and he executed a tire-shrieking swerve that missed a sloppily parked Volkswagen by razored fractions of an inch. He steered perilously through the car-lined residential streets, desperately trying to track Loryn's path while he drove. It was almost impossible to keep up with her, for she kept changing direction, taking shortcuts that Jack's car couldn't duplicate, threading her way through the occasional traffic with mad heedlessness. At one point she rounded a corner and went directly for a group of four girls walking together, and Jack clutched at the wheel with impotent fear ... but she crossed the street again at the last moment, making another turn, the girls swiveling to stare as he fishtailed after her. Driving like a maniac, he managed to keep her in sight, Loryn racing before him with never-slacking speed and he hurtling headlong in her wake.
They left the residential section, and Jack caught up with her again as she kept a straight course down Devereau. A nine-foot chain link fence appeared ahead of them as the street ended in a cross-lane; Loryn went over it with staggering ease, almost without stopping. Jack stomped the brake and spun the wheel, screaming to a sideways halt scant inches before smashing through. He jumped out and threw the gym bag over the fence, then scrambled up the steel links, tearing his arm on barbed wire at the top. He hit the ground on the other side with a jolt that went up his legs to land in his stomach; grabbed up the bag and pounded after Loryn, just as she disappeared around the corner of a corrugated metal building ahead of him.
They were in a cluster of warehouses, and the smell of salt air told him the docks were nearby. With dizzy logic Jack realized that this place, or one like it, was ideal for a vampire; with cargo being loaded and unloaded at all hours, men could be found at any time of the night. He rounded the corner and looked frantically around. When his eyes found Loryn she was hopelessly far ahead, but he drove himself after her, sprint-hardened legs straining to the utmost. At another corner he ran into a pile of empty boxes and went sprawling, the gym bag whirling away into the darkness. He stumbled to his feet and ran on, sobbing for breath. No time to look for it, no time ...!
It was going all wrong, it wasn't the way he had planned it! He had read in Dracula how Mina Harker, after being bitten by the infamous Count, had developed under hypnosis a telepathic link to him. Even though Dracula was unquestionably fictional (or, at the very least, highly fictionalized), he had hoped Loryn might show the same ability; but the violence of her reaction had caught him completely by surprise, and now he was losing her!
He found himself on a loading dock, and glimpsed Loryn at the far end; though still moving at Olympic speed, she had perhaps slowed slightly. He went after her, pushing himself mercilessly, but when he reached the spot where she had been, he found his way barred by a great sliding metal door, firmly chained and padlocked. Fragments of broken glass still tinkled downward from a window fifteen feet up the adjoining wall, but there was no way he could follow. He looked around, desperate for some means of entry. A crowbar leaned against the wall, probably used for opening crates; he caught it up and thrust it through the chain, snapping the links with a titanic wrenching heave, and threw all his weight against the door to slide it open.
A work yard stretched out before him, illumined by poled lamps and crowded with broken crates and parked forklifts. And as he stepped inside, he saw Loryn and the other vampire -- without a doubt the one that had killed her -- frozen in stark confrontation. Then the tableau broke, and before he could move or even begin to think, Loryn launched herself at the other with a wordless howl of rage.
Vampires were traditionally supposed to be thin, almost emaciated, with demonic strength hidden by an anemic appearance. It was so with Loryn, for she had been slender even before her transformation; but her opponent was built like a heavyweight wrestler, with a barrel chest and thickset arms. Loryn's assault on him was as mismatched as a wolverine attacking a grizzly bear, speed and hate and ferocity pitted against mass and brute power. For terrible seconds they struggled, striking and tearing at each other like maddened leopards ... and then Loryn went down with a cry of feral despair, and the other bent over her, clawlike fingers reaching for the vulnerable throat.
At the last second he seemed to check, as if sensing danger, but it was too late. Jack had been moving even as Loryn fell, and now he struck from behind, bringing the crowbar down on the vampire's skull with berserk fury. The thing reeled, clutching blindly at him, and Jack hit it again, again, four times, five, six, swinging with every ounce of his strength, muscles tempered by years of stubborn exercise and driven by all the power of horror and loathing and fear. With maniacal blows he beat the other to the pavement, never letting up, never allowing an instant for recovery ... and then Loryn was on her feet, an empty crate rending and splintering in her hands, and with a movement of inhuman swiftness she stabbed a spearlike shard of wood completely through the thing on the pavement. The body arched in voiceless agony, and then shuddered into noxious ash.
The crowbar clanged to the ground, and Jack fell to his knees, whimpering with exhaustion and terror now past. He had forced himself beyond every imaginable limit, and with the immediate need gone there was no strength left to sustain him. A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see Loryn take an unsteady step backward and then crumple to the pavement.
He crawled to her, breathing in harsh jerks of breath, and laboriously lifted her to a sitting position, cradling her head against his chest. Beneath his hands he felt her skin warm with the slow pulse of life, and he held her tight, closing his eyes and sobbing with relief.
It had worked. It had worked. Some legends said that a person carrying the seed of vampirism, but not yet dead, could be saved by the destruction of the vampire who had infected him, but Jack had been unsure if this would hold true for Loryn's near-vampiric state. So he had taken a desperate chance, praying for success ... and now she was alive again, her body delivered from the taint that had possessed it, the invader forever gone.
She lolled in his arms, barely breathing, and concern stirred hazily inside him. Even though she was free now, she was still weak, deathly weak. "Loryn," he whispered. He shook her gently, pressing his lips to her forehead. "Loryn, listen to me." Her lashes fluttered, and she looked up at him with glazed eyes. "That's right. It's over, Loryn; it's over now, and we have to go home."
Somehow he helped her to her feet, both of them moving like sleepwalkers, and together they started for the loading gate. "It'll be okay in the morning," he told her fuzzily. "If we can just make it until morning, we'll be all right."
But even as he said it he knew that, for them, the shadow of night had already ended.
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