Once, when she was eight, Regan’s cousin had dared her to climb higher in the old oak tree in their grandparent’s backyard. The affair was complicated by the fact that both of them were in black dresses from their grandfather’s funeral. Things had been somber and with most of the family seeing to her grandmother, no one had really noticed the two slip out the back door, step out of their patent leather dress shoes and start up the limbs.
Regan had been sure that a few branches up her cousin would declare they had gone high enough. Truthfully, Regan would have been happy to have lost the wager, but at least wanted to give her cousin the satisfaction of a close race. They had climbed past the first story windows without anyone noticing. As they passed the second story windows, Regan had torn her tights, but she had climbed on keeping pace with her cousin. They were even the roof of the house when they had stopped and the “one more branch” dares had begun.
It was on the third such dare that the branch her now-bare feet used for support had given way. The lower limbs of the tree had mostly broken her fall, but she had landed hard on the ground and convinced herself in those moments before the blackness overtook her that she had in fact died and that her final thoughts on this earth were looking up, thirty feet, at her cousin’s panicked expression. It was the most excruciating physical pain she had known, and from that moment on had never climbed another tree, literally or figuratively.
Now, laying on the concrete floor of her unfinished basement, Regan’s mind flashed back to that moment and made an effort to compare her the sensation of a broken collar bone to what had been little more than a few really good bruises. Indeed the comparison was easily a dozen orders of magnitude different. It did, on the other hand, manage to distract her from the still burning pain along her leg where the sunlight had touched it, cooking the flesh almost instantly. She was quite sure she would never walk again, provided she survived this ordeal.
Her phone was just out of reach, the display still on, and flashing bright white light upwards into the unfinished rafters. She stretched, feeling the blasts of pain along her chest, her fingers crawling along the surface towards the device. Apparently the case was a good investment. She fought to move the inches before her fingers finally started to scrape along the edges of the case. Finally her nail caught the edge of it and pulled it up on end and then over into her hand. She pressed down the single button and coughed reflexively as blood continued to pool places it should not be. The sensations were an unpleasant reminder that were she human she would be dead.
“What can I help you with?” chirped the phone’s neutral and pleasant voice.
“Call Emma.” Her voice was strained as blood had filled one of her lungs. She might not need to breathe, but the movement of air was still a required part of speech. The phone chirped in response and soon the sound of the ringer filled the echoing basement. Regan willed her friend to answer on the other end of the line. She had to pick up. She had to answer. It could not end like this, not with her broken and forgotten in the basement of her townhouse. Emma had to be there.
Darkness started to close in on Regan’s vision. The day-sleep was returning. Her legs and shoulder still burned with constant pain but it was no longer novel enough to keep her awake. The shadows were blanketing her again. She blinked, and listened for Emma’s voice on the phone. “Please,” she begged of the fading light. “Please answer.”
Then without sound or movement the black enveloped her being, and the stillness of death overtook her.
* * *
The sweet warmth of blood was coursing through her body. It streamed from the deepest pits of her stomach out to her fingertips and toes, waves of pure joy filling her broken form. There was a seductive familiarity to it; she had to have more. There had been blood from a human but this was blood from an angel. Her muscles tightened as she drank, unaware of anything beyond the sensations coursing down her throat and into her being. She clenched her fists and then felt them flare open with the rapture of release.
Regan groped in the darkness, feeling the arm, the wrist, she was drinking from. She clung to it, holding it tight against her lips as she drew forth the life from whatever creature had wandered to her. She could feel it starting to pull away, feel its reluctance. She growled deep her in throat; this meal was her’s. She was going to feed until her appetite had been satiated.
She dug her nails into the flesh of the arm. It would not escape. She needed more of it.
Her vision was flooded with light, though she knew her eyes were still closed. She could see herself, younger, with long tangles of auburn hair. It was a lighter, richer shade of red, the same shades when she had started college. The younger version of her smiled, then turned suddenly towards the toilet in front of her. The smell of vomit overwhelmed her senses, yet she still reached out to pull the hair away from the face of her younger self.
A familiar voice filled the scene with a sympathetic tone. “Friends hold you up when you fall; real friends hold your hair while you puke your guts out.”
Regan’s eyes flashed open as she pushed the arm away. She had to stop feeding, stop before she killed-
The lights were on, casting away the shadows of the cellar. Emma slumped against the wooden supports for the staircase, her eyes closed now. Regan reached out for her, to help her up, and then collapsed again, her body unable to fight the death-sleep.
* * *
The sun had set.
Regan still had little idea how should be so sure of such a thing, but somehow she knew. She sat up and looked around the basement. She was still resting on the cold concrete floor. The blanket she kept on her couch in the living room now stretched out over her naked body. She could not recall retrieving it. She stood slowly and wrapped the fleece around herself.
The memory of feeding was still fresh in her mind. Emma had come to her rescue. The lack of a dead body suggested that Regan had been able to stop before she had drained her friend entirely of blood. She stood a while, remembering the fall. Pressing her fingers to her upper chest she traced her collar bone. It had, apparently, mended while she slept. Holding the blanket with one hand she climbed the stairs to the kitchen, expecting to see Emma waiting for her.
She was not.
There was still a pool of dried blood where her favorite mug had fallen and shattered the night before. She would have to clean that up, but it could wait. She needed a shower. Regan was halfway up the stairs to her room when the doorbell chimed. With a frown she climbed back down and opened the door to reveal Shannon’s smiling face.
“Any pickups tonight?” The blond bike messenger was bright with her usual excited glow. She smelled of sweat from her ride over, and the now familiar scent of sexual excitement. Normally that smile and shining eyes were a pleasant part of an evening but tonight Regan wanted little to do with others. The Earl had demanded her presence, and after that she had a date with a vampire computer hacker that she had only agreed to go on in exchange for having a high speed chase erased from her record.
Life had been markedly simpler when she had been alive.
She looked back at the girl and shook her head. “Not tonight, thank you for coming by. I’ll have to pay you next time, if that’s okay.”
Shannon’s smile vanished. “Oh, you sure?”
Regan nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got some laundry but it can wait a day or two. I really need to get in the shower.” She started to close the door, expecting to see Shannon turn to go. The girl remained on the porch, staring down at Regan’s feet.
“So, like, does this mean you don’t need me at all tonight?”
Regan shrugged. “I’m sorry, and I promise I’ll settle the balance next time you come.”
“Like, totally, completely sure?”
Regan paused and looked at the girl. Her face was mostly hidden by her company ball cap, the logo almost looking like a single cyclopean eye staring back at her from above the name “Celerity”. “I’m really very sure,” Regan started. “Did you need the money tonight? I can go find my check book but it will take a few minutes.”
“It’s not the money,” the girl whispered.
She needed the kiss. Regan felt her cheeks flush with frustration at not having seen it sooner. On a typical night she was quite prepared for Shannon’s blood offering, but tonight, Emma’s vitae had proved more than filling. She considered a moment and ushered the blond girl into the living room. Closing the door, Regan took the younger woman into her arms and gently bit down on her neck. There was that rush of blood, that burst of life on her tongue. She ended the embrace almost as quickly as she had started it, and ushered the messenger out with the same speed. The girl, for her part, was pleased. If there was any disappointment at the nibble rather than a full bite, she did not show it.
A hot shower, a change of clothes, and a failed attempt to call Emma later, Regan was on her way to the Earl’s home in the posh suburbs near downtown. She called again while driving, but a second time the call with directly to Emma’s voice mail. There were moments, as she drove and thought, where she thought perhaps Emma had not come at all, and that she had dreamed the entire encounter.
With an instant of clarity she shook her head. No, she had fed upon her friend and nearly killed her. She had to talk to her, to be sure all was right in the world, or if not right, at least not horribly, irreparably wrong.
She pulled into the drive outside of the Earl’s home and put the car in park. The Earl’s personal assitant met her at the door and ushered her through the house to the sitting room. She opened the door to reveal a large library, with bookcases stretching floor to ceiling and lining all four walls. Great windows sat between the shelves along the far wall, heavy metal shutters folded open to reveal the sweeping lawns behind the house. The Earl was seated comfortably a book in his hand.
“My Lord Joshua Strathmore Rose, Earl of Detroit, may I present to you Miss Regan Fairchild of the Coins, Progeny of the late Kendra Hampton?”
The Earl did not look up. The sharp features of his face remained half hidden by his reading. He raised a hand casually and gestured at the chair next to him with practiced ease. Regan hesitated and then realized that Klarissa had already gone, her long braid swinging behind her as she walked back up the hallway. Regan took her seat next to the Earl and folded her hands nervously.
If he was going to berate her, he was going to take his time doing it.
It seemed like an hour before the Earl nodded, grinned and then slipped a black felt ribbon into his book to mark his place. He set it down on the table between their chairs and exhaled happily.
“I do not care what Ms. Stephanowski says, there is no replacement for the perfume of aged encompilation.” He tapped the book a few times and then turned towards Regan. “Now, Miss Fairchild, you forced me to wait an hour on you last evening and will, undoubtedly, drain me of equal time tonight. I trust with our history that you have not called this meeting for meritless reasons, so do enlighten me as to what brings you to darken my doorstep.”
Regan blinked. She had not called this meeting. She had been responding to his summons. She looked at the open door to the library, expecting, perhaps to see Klarisa there to explain. The doorway was markedly vacant.
“I,” Regan started, her voice shaking with hesitation, “don’t understand. I thought you had summoned me.”
The Earl smiled, the long lines of his face forcing the grin to slide from gentle to patronizing. He slid his hand over to the cell phone resting next to his book. Pressing the button on the phone he spoke to it. “Sara, who do I have a meeting with right now?”
The phone’s neutral voice answered, “You have an appointment with Regan Fairchild right now, your Grace.”
“And who made this appointment, Sara?”
The voice responded again. “The appointed was scheduled by Regan Fairchild.”
He held the phone up before setting it down again. “Now, explain.” A wide grin remained in place but Regan could feel his anger and frustration below the surface. She could not explain but his eyes seemed to glow red as he stared back at her.
“Honestly,” she said quickly, “I didn’t make the appointment. Klarissa called me two days ago and told me that you wanted to meet with me, I swear.”
“Miss Fairchild,” the Earl began, “let me be clear. I really do not care who called this meeting, now. I know it was not myself, and that I have made myself available to you for this time. If you are going to tell me that I have wasted this time, I will be come very cross. Becoming very cross is a rare thing for me, Miss Fairchild. When I become very cross people end up dead, and vampires end up encased in concrete, eternally longing for a single drop of blood, the hope of escape slowly fading into the madness of oblivion. I am going to warn you, as a personal favor to your late maker for whom I had some small affection, that I am about to become very cross, very cross indeed. I advise you to quickly give this meeting meaning before that happens.”
It seems, dear reader, that our heroine is at a crossroads. What shall she do?
Our story continues into Chapter 19