Monday, August 20, 2012

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

So far, being a vampire just plain sucked.

Regan looked around the abandoned Denny’s where she had been ordered to come and spy on a recruitment meeting for vampire hunters.  A dozen people glared back, most of them brandishing some kind of weapon, and all of them fully intent on killing her, again.  As her mind raced with options and choices she had to focus not to come back to that particular word, “Again.”  Being dead once was quite enough for her.

She licked her lips and let her mind go.

“Look, this is just a bad idea all around,” she started.  “Shooting me, even with normal bullets is a wretchedly bad investment option for you.”

Brother Sam continued to level his pistols at her, while the sisters had stood and slid their chairs back so as to have an clear path at Regan.  They each twisted their hands around a wooden stake.  According to Daryl, the thrall she had met when she first rose from the ground, a stake to the heart would not be fatal.  It would, however, leave her immobilized, not exactly a healthy alternative.

“You think that you can buy your way out of your fate, vampiress?”  Brother Sam seemed anxious to prove himself, his fingers sliding inside the trigger guards.

“Oh, God, no,” Regan confessed quickly.  “But it’s funny you should mention buying something because I really don’t think you’ve done an adequate cost-benefit analysis here.”  The words were picking up speed as she talked.  She lowered her hands and started to gesture as she talked, like she often did in a meeting with the owners who had little knowledge of how their company’s money was distributed.  “Now if we assume you’re using standard lead-based bullets, a case of fifty of them runs, what ten bucks?”  She continued before anyone could answer.  “So break that down and you’re looking at twenty cents per shot.  Of course, a single shot probably won’t end me (you saw I can take a few hits) so let’s assume ten shots to get the job done, costing you an even two dollars in ammunition.”

“Two dollars well spent, vamper,” Glenn swore, brandishing a very long and very sharp looking combat knife.  

“I would absolutely agree, if there weren’t better investments on a simple dollar per hour of satisfaction and opportunity cost.”

“Opportunie what?”  Glenn looked lost.  Regan smiled and continued, her voice taking on an unnatural cadence and tone.  She almost did not recognize it as her own; she just kept going.

“Look, how long do you think the satisfaction of ending me, again, will last?  Given that you’ll have to dispose of what’s left me so as not to break the grand illusion, and that’s not going to be easy or pretty.  For all most of you know it’s like that one show where they explode, and then that satisfaction is going to fade fast.  Let’s be generous and assume that it lasts twenty minutes.  That means that you’re looking at simple dollar per hour ratio of six dollars per hour.  Now that sounds great, except let’s compare it to a considerably less fatal form of entertainment.  You can, and check me there on the laptop, get a copy of Blood Gangs Four for fifty dollars, give or take, with tax and shipping.”  She looked pointedly at Brother Sam.  “Go on and look it up while I explain.  We should have good data for this.”  Regan pointed at the laptop connected to the projector.  She began to grin as Brother Sam did just as she instructed, setting his pistols on the table in front of him.  “Now unless I’m mistaken, you can expect somewhere around fifty hours of gameplay, but there is also the multiplayer, some new content coming soon, let’s call it seventy five hours.  Factor that against the cost and the ratio works out to be a neat sixty seven cents per hour of enjoyment, which is itself three times the same ratio of shooting me.”  She paused for effect.

“You can get the same amount of fun for a third of the cost.”  Everyone looked around at each other, their eyes starting to glow with a light of opportunity.

Regan continued.  “And if you’re really going to use silver bullets those have got to be at least fifteen times the going rate of a bullet these days so the choice to play a video game, and one that has quite a bit of blood splatter I might add, instead of shooting me works out to a net entertainment improvement of forty four hundred percent on your dollar.”

She stopped, again.  There was silence as a dozen pairs of glazed eyes stared back.  She had no idea what to do now, so, again, she let instinct carry her.

“Okay, so let’s get those smart phones out.  Come on, people, every minute you spend staring at me is one minute that you are not maximizing your dollar per hour ratio of enjoyment.”  She snapped her fingers at the sisters who all but dropped their stakes to start fishing for their phones.

“Does it matter what platform we order it on?”  Glenn was now standing next to Brother Sam and reviewing the laptop.

“No, of course, not,” Regan answered, starting to back towards the door.

One of the men, the one who had claimed to have been attacked by a child vampire, raised his hand.  “I don’t own a game system, how do I maximize my investment?”

Regan felt the bar of the door along her back.  “I would definitely consider now the perfect time to invest in one.  Trust me, dollar for dollar, it is way better than killing me.”

He nodded and took out a tablet PC from his backpack.  

“Everyone stop!”  Brother Sam’s voice cut through the abandoned restaurant with surprising authority.  Regan froze.  “Game-shot’s running a sale.  If you get Blood Gangs Four you also get thirty percent off of Riverguard: Legends!”  There was a collective cheer as a dozen hunters scrambled to add purchases to virtual shopping carts.

Regan slid out the door quickly, trying not to draw any additional attention to herself as the assemblage scrambled to lock in great online deals.  

“Hey,” one of the two golden haired sisters said.  “There’s no split screen multiplayer.  Are we supposed to take turns?”

The other sister paused before answering.  “We get could get a second TV and game system and then network them.  How much can we spend on a television and still have a good cost per hour ratio?”

Regan did not look back to answer as she turned and ran out the door, right into Harrison.  He was standing on the sidewalk staring through the large glass windows at the scene playing out.  His beard sported several days growth and he looked exhausted.  He had showered but still smelled of carry-out Thai food and the alcohol cleaner of the gym they frequented.  

“What is going on, Regan?”

Regan paused, her mind taking a moment to shift from her escape with her unlife, to the fact that her ex-fiance was standing here, of all places, at an abandoned Denny’s diner.  She stopped her strides to Stacy’s car.  “Where did you come from?  How did you find me?”

Harrison gestured into the diner as he stepped closer.  “What is going in there?  It looked like those people had guns.”

Regan glanced over her shoulder.  Either her charms were short lived or her lack of presence was weakening their effects.  Brother Sam was still absorbed in his laptop, but the two blonde sisters were now standing and shouting something.  Regan turned back to Harrison.  “I have to go.”

“Go where?  Can’t you tell me what is going on?”

Regan put her hands on Harrison’s arms as she moved past him, turning so she could see inside the diner and the unraveling of her speech.  “Harrison, I want to tell you, I really do.”  She locked her eyes on his.  “But I have to go.  Now.”  She backed away towards the little blue roadster she had borrowed, her arms still reaching out for Harrison as she did.  

“This is twice, damnit, you’re leaving me without an explanation.  Regan you owe me more than this.  I love you and I am not letting you leave until-”

Harrison was not given a chance to layout his deadline as the glass windows of the diner exploded outward in fury of gunfire.  Muzzle flashes lit the shadows in the parking lot as several of the hunter recruits began to fire out at them in an effort to stop Regan’s escape.  Harrison fell forward onto the asphalt from the blasts, instinctively covering his head with his arms as he did.  Regan ducked low and dove towards him.  She partially covered his body with her own, praying that the flying glass would not hurt her more than the bullets had.  She pulled him towards the nearest point of safety, his car.  Keeping herself partially over him, Regan pulled open the passenger door and pushed him in before climbing in behind him.

“Drive.”  Her voice was not one she recognized.  She knew it was her voice, yet it was one she did not know.  Harrison glanced at her as he tried to get settled into the driver’s seat.  His face was overtaken in fear, as the blood drained from it.  He froze.  “I said, drive.  Now.”  Panicked, Harrison fumbled with the ignition.  It seemed to be an eternity before the engine roared to life and the car started forward.  More gunfire erupted from the diner as the hunters were given time to reload and renew their onslaught.  The car door behind her shook as bullets ripped through it and embedded themselves into the interior panels.  Once they started down the short drive onto the main street, Regan finally lifted her head up and looked out the back window.  It did not appear they were being followed.

She shifted in the seat and looked back through the side view mirror.  Her own visage reflected back at her briefly.  Her hair was tousled, and a black streak crossed her cheek, probably from scrambling for cover along the black-top.  And her fangs were bared.

Regan blinked at her own beastial image, all but snarling back at her.  Her eyes seemed to have an unnatural glow to them, but it was mark of the vampire along the line of her deathly white teeth that caught her attention the most.  It had not been the gunfire that had scared Harrison so much; it had been her.

She closed her eyes and made a point to take a long, slow, calming breath.  She drew the air in, and out, forcing blood from her face and trying to slow her pulse again.  When Regan opened her eyes again, her fangs were no longer such a prominent feature.  She lifted her lip with a fingertip.  Her canines were still sharp, elongated, and more pronounced than normal, but they no longer seemed to draw so much attention.  She tried to quantify what she saw.  Had her teeth grown while she bared them?  Did her fangs shrink as she calmed?  It made even less sense the longer she focused on it.

“Do I stop at the red?”

Regan blinked.  Harrison was barreling towards a red light, apparently unsure if he should run it or not.  His confusion made much more sense now knowing what she must have looked like to him.  “No, no,” she quickly warned.  “Stop.”  The last thing she wanted was to get pulled over.

The car came to a brisk stop at the light and the two sat in uncomfortable silence.  What did she say, now?  She had called him, but that had been easy.  His number was pre-programmed, after all, and took very little thought.  She cursed at herself silently as the light turned green.  She hated when they sat silently.

“Your phone’s still on the Family Locator,” Harrison said as the car reached a more reasonable driving speed.  “When you called, I had it ping your location.”  He had tracked her by her phone.  “I’m sorry.  That was stupid of me.  I only did it because I was worried about you.”

Regan nodded.  “I’m sorry, too.”  She was not even sure where to start.  

“What was going on back there?  Why were they shooting at you?”

Regan turned away, looking out the window.  “I really can’t say.”

She could hear him sigh.  “Regan, you’re scaring me.  Just what is going on?  Are you in some kind of trouble with the mob?  Is that why you’ve been in hiding the last week?”  He paused.  “Is that why you ran out on me?”

“No,” she admitted honestly.  “It’s just really complicated.”  That was also the truth.  She let the silence grow again, eating at her as her mind raced with all the things to say.  How did she explain that she had been tossed into an entirely new universe where every night, it seemed, was a battle for survival?  How did she say that she was as lost as a child in a mall, seeing nothing but knees and hips of strangers while crying for her mother?  How did she tell him that she still, deeply, loved him?  How did she say that he was simply too perfect to marry?

Harrison said nothing as he drove through the town.  Dimly lit storefronts passed them on either side, the light from the parking lots casting long shadows into dark interiors.  The silence gave her time to reflect.  Harrison was perfect by every measure.  What had gone so wrong so fast?

“We never had a good excuse to break up.”  She closed her eyes, knowing that tears of blood would only make this moment unbearably more awkward than it already was.  
“What?”  Harrison’s voice carried a clear signal of his confusion.

“We never had a good excuse to break up,” Regan repeated.  “We went from dates, to being exclusive, to practically living together and there was never a reason to complain.  So I didn’t.”  She blinked a few times, feeling the swell of tears in her eyes.  She had to contain them.  “You proposed and I really had no good reason so say, ‘no,’ so I just said, ‘yes.’”

“Was I supposed to give you a reason to break up with me?”  His voice was picking up that pace he used when he was arguing a case.  He was one of his firm’s more talented courtroom lawyers.  

“No,” Regan answered rubbing the cuff of her shirt against the corner of her eye.  “I don’t know, maybe I made a mistake.  But there, with you, at the church, I realized that I wasn’t.. that it wasn’t... I was afraid I wasn’t really happy.”  She tried to force the blood from her face, hoping to slow the flow of tears.  “I looked at you, and you smiled at me and all I could think was ‘This is it?  This is what happy means?’  And I suddenly realized I had to have more.”

She had told him.  

There was little reason to think that it was a good enough explanation, but it was the only one she had to offer.  If the hunters caught up with them at the next light, she could face death, again, knowing that she had at least let the man she loved know why she had left him standing at the altar.  He had said, “I do,” to which she had answered, clearly, for all their friends and family to hear, “I don’t.”  Now, at the very least, she had given him all the explanation she could give.

Harrison pulled the car off the road and brought it to a stop next to the flashing lights of a carry out Chinese restaurant.  Regan studied the sign, and the promise to “Tickle Taste Buds” and the solemn oath of “No MSG” as she waited for him to say something.

“Do you want me to wait with you for someone to come pick you up?”

Regan hesitated.  “What?”  It was her turn, apparently, to be confused.

“If you don’t want to be with me, I understand.  I can let you out here, I can wait with you for someone else to pick you up, or I can take you home.  It’s up to you.”

She turned to regard him.  He was looking back at her, his face showing his disappointment.  She did not know what to say.

He continued.  “I still love you; that hasn’t changed.  That can’t change.  I wanted to marry you.  I just got shot at for you.  But if I’m not what you want in your life, then I understand and I respect that.  I can let you out here, or whatever.”  He reached out for her cheek.  She did not move away.  Instead she leaned into his hand and closed her eyes as she often did when he held her face.  His hand was warm and familiar.  She remembered the sheer joy of melting into his embrace after a long night at the computer trying to manage an entire company’s books practically on her own.  “Thank you,” Harrison said in low tones, “for finally telling me the truth.”

Regan opened her eyes and saw his own, glistening with tears he would be too proud to shed.

Our heroine is at a crossroads, dear readers, what shall she do?

This week's contributions include a thank you to Kirandeep B for her regular participation on Facebook.  Would you like to be mentioned in a future chapter?  Consider becoming a contributing vampire.

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