Monday, July 30, 2012

Chapter 7

Chapter 7

When Regan signed her lease for the townhouse, her father had come to her student apartment with a very serious look on his face.  It had reminded her of the talk she had gotten before her first date with a boy, repeated before her first date where she was picked up from the house, and a third time when she moved into her freshman dorm.  This last time, however, he did not ask her to sit down.

“If you’re going to live alone, we need to go shopping.  Please get in the car.”

He was never a man of many words.  In fact, Regan would usually describe him as distant, or removed.  He did work a lot, never talked about retirement, and when he wasn’t buried in a spreadsheet he was holed up in the basement tying fishing flies.  At least her mother had signed him up for a perpetual online art fair and had managed to move some of the stock of flies out of the house.

He had not said where they were headed.  Her first assumption was up to the sporting good store to buy some pepper spray or something.  Instead he turned off the highway near Woodward, and brought the car to a stop in front of a gun shop and indoor firing range.  The clerks had been profoundly helpful and set her up with eye protection and ear muffs.  Her dad went through all the basics of loading and firing his 22-bolt action, and she squeezed off several rounds into the paper target.  She had actually been within a few inches of where she was aiming.  

To her father’s disappointment, however, she had refused to purchase a gun.  One of the clerks, a rather cute guy actually, had offered to let her test fire a handgun of some kind.  She had declined and promised to come back in a week or two to try one and maybe change her mind.

There were probably a dozen reasons she regretted never going back to the range, and all of them, it seemed, were armed with assault rifles.

She looked around the interior of the SUV limousine and considered.  This was only her second night and she had attacked her best friend for life, eaten a delivery girl, lost her diamond necklace in a card game, gotten into a car with a stranger, as in more strange, and was now waiting for vampire hunters armed with assault rifles to storm in and try to make her dead-- again.

“Why are we doing the gun thing?”  She looked at Jeremiah.  He had moved to the driver side of the cab and was getting in position to open the door.  He did not look up.  “I mean we’re vampires,” she continued.  “Aren’t we able to get shot a few times and keep going?”

“Ms. Fairchild,” Jeremiah began without looking at her, instead moving to keep his head out of the view of the windows.  “Before you were turned to our kind, had you any reason to believe vampires were real?”

“No.”  It had never occurred to her at all.

“How might a video of a vampire, fangs bared, shot repeatedly in the chest have changed your opinion of vampires?”

Regan nodded and poked her head up enough to just see over the back of the seat and out the window.  “That’s fair.”  She squinted and tried to make out the shapes through the bright light of the other vehicle’s headlights.  “So, now what?”  

Jeremiah turned his wrist over and looked his watch.  “Given the amount of ammunition they’ve fired off, I think we can expect the local Fox affiliate to be overhead in about twenty minutes.  More than likely the county sheriffs have already been paid off and will not be an issue.  Media is notoriously more expensive.”

“They bought off the cops?”  Regan blinked, her eyes wide.  “Wouldn’t they want the cops to help, I don’t know, kill us too?”

Jeremiah closed his hand around the release handle for the door, preparing.  “Strangely enough, the hunters have as much desire to maintain the facade of vampires being only myths as we do.  We are both better served if they stay away.”  He eased up on the handle, releasing the lock but not opening the door.  “But, as I said, the media is considerably more challenging to manage.  Thus they have only about fifteen minutes and they will have to flee without our heads or risk public exposure.  That is why they will move on us, rather than waiting for us to move on them.”

He threw the SUV door wide open.  Immediately the night was illuminated by dozens of muzzle flashes as bullets ripped through the paneling and glass.  The once nearly silent interior of the cab was awash in all the sounds of night and Regan could only marvel at how much louder everything sounded without the benefits of soundproofing.  Jeremiah remained next to the opening as the metal door was methodically shredded with the incoming hail of rounds.

“I thought we were letting them move in on us,” Regan shouted at him, completely unable to process how he was remaining so calm amidst so much immediate and proximate destruction.

Jeremiah grinned back at her, his fangs now visible.  She had not seen them snap down like they did on television nor did they protrude much beyond the rest of his teeth line.  But in that moment he did look like the animal she remembered being when she fed.  Seeing him like this, she could feel true fear in the pit of her heart, a fear so intense it was bordering on unnatural.  “I said they would move on us, never that we’d wait.”  He snarled once and leaned back towards the open door.  

The hail of bullets had slowed and she could hear, clearly, several voices calling out, “Reloading!”  At this respite, Jeremiah braced himself against the frame of the SUV and leaned out the door.  The rifle snapped out several short bursts, filling the space with the deafening sound of the gun’s report.  She blinked a few times as the burning smell of powder reached her.   She thought about her dad and the smell of the firing range.  

“Any time now, Miss Fairchild.  Jump right in; the water’s perfect.”  

There was a loud thud as the magazine dropped from Jeremiah’s weapon to the floor of the cab, immediately followed by the sounds of another taking its place.  Regan watched, still unmoving, as he leaned against the side of the SUV interior and waited patiently for the hail of gunfire to slow slightly before leaning out to return fire again.  Emboldened she pushed open the door on her side of the vehicle and waited.  Immediately bullets began to rip apart the wood and glass, showering her with fragments.   She covered her face with her arm and, like Jeremiah, waited a moment.  Regan glanced his way.  He was again leaning out the door, taking advantage of the distraction she had temporarily created to snap off several more rapid bursts.  When he pulled in to load a third fresh clip, she popped out of hiding.  Planting one foot on the pavement she stood half-in and half-out of the vehicle, and took aim.

She had no real idea what to aim at.  Her vision was filled with the bright lights of the vehicle headlights, and additional spotlights mounted on their roofs.  She tightened her grip on the pistol and braced it with her off hand, looking for where she had seen the last muzzle flash.  She pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.

She felt several rounds rip through the space next to her head and dove back into the SUV.  She turned the gun over in her hand.  “Where’s the safety on this thing?”

Annoyed Jeremiah shot back at her, “It does not have one.”

She looked at the buttons and switches along the side of the pistol.  “It must be jammed.  It won’t fire.”  She pressed a button under her thumb and just barely caught the clip as it slid free of the gun.  “Okay, so that’s not the safety.”

“I told you it does not have a safety.”  He leaned back out again and continued to fire at at the hunters.  She sat a moment staring stupidly at the gun.  Jeremiah shouted at her between bursts.  “Did you chamber it?”

Regan rolled her eyes and pulled back on the top of the pistol and feeling the tension release as a round was locked in for firing.  “Okay,” she said to herself, knowing that there was no way Jeremiah could hear her over the sound of gunfire, shattering wood and tearing steel.  Planting her foot on the ground outside again she popped out into night and braced her arm along the side of the SUV.  The cool clean air struck her as a stark contrast to the acid smell inside the SUV.  She took aim at a dark spot she thought was one of the hunters and snapped the trigger back.

She felt the shot far more than she saw or heard it.  She already had a rising ringing in her ears from the crack of Jeremiah’s assault rifle, and the steady destruction of the SUV around her.  But it was the wall of force that slammed against her chest that she truly took notice of.  She blinked and tried to line up another shot.  She pulled back and again the wall of sound washed back over her as the gun fired.  Still unsure what she was aiming at, she moved the pistol around in front of trying to find a target.  Several muzzle flashes lit up in her field of vision.  The bullets found their marks; she could feel them impact on her chest with all the force of a someone poking her gently with a fingertip.

She was bullet proof!

Regan let out a half-mad cackle and lined up with one of the flashes, cracking off round after round.  She felt more impacts along her side, one in her thigh, and another in her shoulder.  This one had not hurt but had caused her to fall back a little.  She snapped off another three rounds, then ducked back into the cab, her clip empty of bullets.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me we were freaking immune to bullets?”  She reached out for another magazine in the weapon rack, noticing briefly her free hand was covered in blood.  How did she manage to get blood on her hand?

“I did not, Miss Fairchild,” Jeremiah called back, still leaning out and snapping off another burst, “because we are not.”

Regan looked down at her chest and realized that her blouse was soaked in blood, rapidly turning from a dark green to a rich maroon.  She tried to process what she was looking at, finding quickly that she simply could not.  This was her blood.  She was bleeding.  She was bleeding a lot.  Through her favorite silk blouse.

“We’re not?” was all she managed to mutter before the world became incredibly dark and quiet around her.

* * * * *

Bright white light flooded Regan’s vision as she eased her eyes open.  She squinted and tried to look around.   Glass encased cabinets displayed a variety of medical instruments.  Drawers were marked neatly with black stenciled lettering.  Bags of saline and empty blood bags hang from racks above her.  The room smelled clean, sterile, with a hint of gasoline and exhaust.

She was in the back of an ambulance.  She started to sit up, but a firm hand on her shoulder held her to the gurney.

“Just lay still.  You lost a lot of blood.”  The voice was low, calming and familiar.  “We’ll have you home in a little bit, get you squared away and sleep this off.”


He smiled down at her from his perch next to the gurney.  “That’s me.  Still.”  He brushed a few of her errant strands of hair out of her face.  “You always seem surprised to see me.”

Regan raised her hand to her forehead, where his fingers had crossed her skin.  As she did the blanket over her slipped down.  She was, apparently, naked.  Immediately she grabbed the top of the cover and pulled it up to her chin.  “Where are my clothes?”

“They were soaked in blood.  They had to go.”  He returned his hand to her shoulder, the warmth of his skin surprising her.

She slid a hand under the blanket and ran her finger tips over her chest, looking for the wounds from the gun fight.  Memories were coming back in flashes:  Sighting down the gun at the hunters.  The feel of the gun in her hands as she pulled back the trigger.  The rush of energy when she was poked in the chest.  She had no real basis for what being shot should feel like in comparison but somehow a slight nudge to the chest did not seem sufficient for how deadly guns were.  She was sure she had been hit in the shoulder.  She could remember staggering a little from it, but peeling down the blanket there was no lingering sign of the wound.

“Biters heal fast,” Daryl said, watching her.  “One of the perks of being dead, I guess.”

“How?”  Regan pulled the blank back up, wiggling a little to scoot under it.  That had been her favorite blouse.  Plus if she had known she was going to be showing off to the world she might have selected a more conservative bra.  She still could not understand her desire for so much soft lace, satin and silk.

Daryl shifted back on the bench next to her, his dark eyes looking out the back of the ambulance.  “Some say that biter blood’s magical.  I mean maybe it’s magic, maybe it’s just a really amazing boost of something for your body.”  He checked the nearly empty blood bag hanging over her and the IV line running down under the blanket.  “How you holding up?  Feeling light headed?”

She actually felt fairly good, considering she was still dead and had been shot a half dozen times.  There was some soreness in and around where she remembered the bullets hitting but that was about it.  There was and remained very little pain.

“Daryl,” she started, allowing herself to think out loud.  “I don’t think I can feel pain.”

He nodded.  “Like I said, one of the perks.”

“So,” she continued.  “How do I know when something’s wrong?  How do I know if I’m getting sick, or I cut something?  Just to go out on a limb here, how do I know if I’ve been shot?”

“Don’t know what to say.”  He put his hands up helplessly.  “Stay situationally aware?”  He leaned in again and dropped his voice.  “There was this one biter who caused a huge ruckus at a benefit in Bloomfield.  One of the other guests had gotten into some trouble with a bookie and when they came to collect, tempers flared and some shots got fired.  The guy in debt didn’t last, of course, but a stray shot hit the biter.  Took him ten minutes to realize he’d been hit.  His Lordship ran him out of town that same night.”  He looked into Regan’s eyes.  “Giving hints to humans that you aren’t one?  Big big no-no.”

Regan sat up, clutching the blanket to her chest. “Wait, did anyone see me get shot?”  Panic started to flare.  “What about the ambulence crew?  Are they thralls too?  Oh, god, what are they going to think when they see me healed up?”

Daryl’s voice was cool and he stopped looking at her.  “You’re better off not asking.”

Regan shook her head.  “What happened?  Why was there even an ambulance there?  Jeremiah said that only TV choppers would show up.”

“You’re okay for now,” Daryl stated again still staring out the back window of the van.  “Don’t worry about the rest.”

She reached to grab his hand.  He did not stop her but he did not move to take her hand in his own, either.  “Why won’t you tell me what happened?”

“Does it matter?”  He was getting frustrated; she could see that.  He still refused to turn to face her.  “We got there just as the hunters were closing in the limo.  The ambulances pulled up about 5 minutes after that.  We got you into one and we got you out.   End of story.”

“But if the EMT’s saw how shot up I was...”  She was still scared and his detachment was of no help or use to her.  “They have to know I’m different.  There’s no way anyone could have survived that.”

Daryl shook his head. “I told you, don’t ask.”

Fear was the only thought.  What had he done?  Was she being driven off to be put back in the ground to keep the grand vampire secret?  Where were they taking her?   Her voice was pitched high with emotion.  “Dammit, tell me!”

Finally he turned to her.  His face was cold, distant, detached.   “I am a thrall, but that does not make me yours to order about.  I told you, don’t ask me.”  Roughly he pulled his hand back from hers.

Red swirls began to form at the base of her vision, followed by the warm sensation of blood forming a slow and steady river down her cheek.  Her imagination began to reel with the thoughts of what he had done that he was so adamant to keep from her.  Silence fell on the ambulance like a fog, leaving each of the two occupants alone, isolated with their thoughts.  They rode together like that for some time.  Regan dabbed at her face with the edge of the blanket watching the blood soak into the cotton and darken.  The ambulance made some slow turns, carefully winding its way through a neighborhood.

“We’re nearly back to your place.”  He tossed a plastic ziplock bag on her lap.  “So I don’t forget, that’s yours.”  Through the clear plastic she could see her old cell phone, the screen awash with notices of missed calls, missed texts, and missed emails.  She opened the bag and fished it out.  “His Lordship had me collect it for you,” he explained.

“Thank you,” she whispered, as she looked over the notices.  Her parents had called her a dozen times and texted twice.  Emma’s texts were in the dozens.  Harrison had only called twice and sent three texts total.  She opened the last one.

“I know it’s the middle of the night but I can’t sleep at all.  I don’t know what I did, if anything, and not knowing is more than I can handle.  Please, let me see you, hold you, and feel your heart with mine.  I know that we can endure anything.  If you see this, please, call.  I’ll be up.”

Daryl was handing her a paramedic’s coveralls to put on.  “Here, to at least get you inside.”  The ambulance had stopped and looking out the tiny window she could make out her row of townhouses.  She pulled up the blanket enough to slide down her skirt and slip the coveralls over her feet.  She wiggled a little and pulled them up, dropping the blanket only as long as it took to slip her arms into the sleeves.

“My handbag,” she said suddenly.  She looked around but saw no sign of any of her personal effects.  “Did you grab it?”

Daryl shook his head.  “I didn’t see it.”

Regan swore under her breath.  “It has my house keys in it.”  She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them.  How was she going to even get into her house.  Daryl seemed to follow her thoughts.

“I’ve been crashing a friend’s.  Just down the road if you want.”

Regan thought about that, then glanced at her phone.  Harrison and Emma both still had keys to her house.

Our story continues into the Chapter 7 Addendum.

It seems, dear readers, that our heroine is at a crossroads. What shall she do?

Votes can also be cast at Facebook: Each vote counts separately, per the "voting rules".

The final tally, including two votes from Facebook, is 1/5/7 making the winning choice crashing with Daryl.

Mr Osterman would like to thank the staff of Target Sports of Royal Oaks, Michigan for the use of their facility in researching this week's chapter.

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