No Good Comes: scene nine

 

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No Good Comes is a spin-off of the not*the*same*river series, set five years after the events of the last book. It centres around Cascade, an organisation that, among other things, helps new vampires settle into their new lives.

What follows is the first draft of what is currently scene nine.

Context: The new vampire has chosen a new name. Stephen King is no more. But he is hungry; he just doesn’t recognise the signs yet.

POV: first person, Theo’s POV.

***

“You hungry?” said Erin.

Was I? My stomach didn’t feel empty at all. I should’ve been hungry after lying in a grave for forty nights, but all I really felt like was some Tixylix. I felt like I’d swallowed a candy floss cloud of fibreglass.

“Not really. My throat hurts. Can I have ice cream?”

“Not yet,” said Erin. “No cold food or drink for at least seventy-two hours.”

I made a growly ugh noise, then flopped onto the bed. “My throat is literally closing up.”

“Yeah, I can tell by the way you’re completely incapable of speech,” she said. “I can get you some warm milk.”

“Milk is gross, warm or otherwise,” I said.

She checked her watch, seemingly surprised at the time. She rooted around in the wardrobe, pulled out a pair of snow boots, then threw them at me. They bounced off me like they were ping pong balls.

“Put them on,” she said.

“Is it snowing outside,” I said, pulling them onto my feet.

“We’re not going outside.” She sighed. “And haven’t I just finished telling you that we need to keep you in the warm? Why would I be taking you into the snow?”

She had a point.

I’d tried some things in the bathroom. I unravelled a whole loo roll with one spin, but that was probably just momentum rather than super-strength. I wish I’d tried it in real life to give myself something to compare to. I tried to fly. I don’t know why I believed her when she told me I’d be able to fly. That had always sounded like bullshit, but I was still disappointed. I did manage to crank the heat up in the shower, bit by bit, until it was eight degrees higher than I could usually stand it. And I did almost break the door handle on my way out, but that was just because it was already a bit broken. It must’ve been.

“So where are we going?” I said.

“Just waiting on a text from Callie,” she said. “War’s niece.”

“Is this a family business or something?”

“You could say that.”

“It’s just that … I mean, can you do that? Are you allowed to … make your family vampires so you never have to leave each other?”

“No, we’re not allowed to do that,” she said, her voice cracking a little, making me wonder who she missed, who she wasn’t allowed to make a vampire.

“But what about War?”

“War’s not a vampire,” she said. “He’s an angel.” Her phone pinged. “Come on, Callie’s waiting.”

“An angel? What, so why are we going to see Callie?”

“To deal with your throat.”

“Can’t someone just bring me some cough syrup or something.”

She laughed, pulling me to my feet. “For god’s sake, Teddy. You don’t need cough syrup, you need blood. And a surname.”

It disturbed me that choosing a surname was a bigger problem than the prospect of drinking blood. I followed her to the door, and she pushed me into the hallway, closing the door behind us. It all looked different after a shower and a bit of perspective. The walls had just looked blue earlier, now I saw the subtle stripes and textural details of the Tardis blue wallpaper. The carpet had looked like a squiggly mess, now I saw the pattern was full of lines and junctions, like the tube map, in Bauhaus colours. I felt like Arthur Dent, wandering around in my pyjamas.

“You’re my Ford Prefect,” I said, following her into a lift.

She hit B1, and the doors closed. “You might want to get all the stupid things out of your mouth right now,” she said, leaning against the lift wall with her arms folded. “These people will take literally anything from your mouth and turn it into a nickname to plague you with for the rest of your life.”

“Maybe you should’ve let me get dressed properly then,” I said, staring at my lush beard in the mirrored doors.

“All the guests wear peejays, don’t worry about it.”

“Choudhury,” I said. “I like the way it’s spelt.”

“I’m not sure you can pull that off,” she said, giving me the what’s-the-matter-with-you side-eye.

“I could have a Bangladeshi dad or something. I mean, nobody would know, would they? But yeah, that’s a bit too appropriationy. What about Theo Doppleganger? Because I look like someone else. Someone who I used to be. Yeah, that’s a bit … no. How did you choose yours? What even is it?”

“Nixon,” she said.

“And what was it before?”

B1 was black and glossy with strips of stained glass light. It was like the Catholic wing of the Death Star.

“Johnson,” she said.

I laughed and the shards in my throat revolted. “Really?”

“Yeah, I was really into international politics when I was at uni. Nixon was president the year I was born and he did come after Johnson, so ….”

“As good a reason as any,” I said. “But what comes after a King?”

“A spy? An assassin. The ghost of a king. A better king.” She laughed, wiggled her eyebrows, then said, “A queen?”

“Eidolon,” I said, turning back to Erin. I was about to explain, when she beat me to it.

“A phantom you. A re-realised, idealised you. I like it.”

Erin opened a door by sticking her arm in a hole again. There was a lab on the other side with two people eating Pot Noodles at a table covered in cereal bars and rice cakes.
The woman didn’t look like she could be related to War. I looked more like I could be related to War than she did. I even had his bushy hair. Callie had sleek, black hair and light brown skin. The man had blonde hipster hair and a pink face.

Callie waved us over with a smile. “Sorry, the munchies grabbed me.”

“No worries,” said Erin. “This is Callie Hazard and Tintin Blaine. Guys, this is Theodore Eidolon.”

Tintin stood and reached across the table, “Jim Blaine.”

I shook his hand. “Why do they call you Tintin?”

“Because I had a quiff for ten minutes in 1987.”

“See?” said Erin.

I nodded, then looked back at Jim, then Callie. “You can call me Theo.”

Callie stood and shook my hand. “So, how are you feeling, Theo?”

“Sore throat,” I said. “Still a bit cold, kind of achy all over, but mostly I feel like I slept for six weeks.”

I stared at the snacks on the table, trying to remember if I would like any of them now that I was a vampire. Would my taste buds change? I still wasn’t really hungry. I focused on my stomach, wondering why I wasn’t rampaging for food like a yeti coming out of hibernation.

“You have something against rice cakes?” said Callie.

“They’re not food,” I said automatically. “They’re polystyrene coasters.”

Callie’s mouth fell open.

Erin laughed. “I’m always telling her that.” She held up a cereal bar and looked at me. “What about these?”

“Polystyrene and gravel glued together with sugar,” I said. “Grim.”

“Callie’s a nutritionist,” said Erin, barely stopping herself from laughing, and unable to keep the smirk off her face.

Callie rolled her eyes then got up to rinse out and recycle her pot. “Has Erin told you why you’re down here?”

“Yeah, for blood.”

“Come on then,” she said, leading me to an examination chair and patting the dark vinyl. “We’re not sure what the effects of your bite will be so we need to be cautious at first. No live donors.”

I grimaced. “God, will I need to suck blood out of actual people?”

“Not if you don’t want to, but you’ll need to find somewhere that can accommodate you. Most of the blood clubs are only set up for medical emergencies, not for medical feeding.”

“Is a blood club what it sounds like?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” said Callie.

“Can’t I just come back here when I need blood?”

“Only for the first couple of months,” said Callie. “Jumper off.”

I pulled my jumper over my head, inciting a static riot, and handed it to Erin.

“You want to start with two?” said Jim, holding up a scrubs-blue pouch.

Callie’s fingers were cold on my chest as she undid the buttons of my pyjama top, exposing the least manly chest ever. It was actually concave. Thankfully, the bottoms were a little bit big, so I’d tied them up over my belly, which made me look a bit Simon Cowell but covered my soft belly which was the only part of me with any fat on it.

“Yeah, if we need a third, get a forty-two,” she said, taking the first pouch. “This is a forty?”

“Yeah, I won’t put a third in until we see how the second goes down,” said Jim. “Don’t want to waste any.”

Behind me, something whined.

“Get him some chocolate, Erin,” said Callie.

She and Jim snorted when Erin snapped off a chunk of chocolate and fed me. I laughed and tried not to dribble when it melted twice as quickly on my tongue as it should. Erin blushed when she realised what she’d done.

“Fuck, have you ever seen her blush?” said Jim.

“Fuck off, Tintin.”

“Right, I’m just putting a collar on you. It’ll give you a teeny tiny shock, but it’ll make you feel good. Keep your mouth closed, and try not to grind your teeth or bite your tongue.”

The collar was warm and leathery, with a little patch of thistle-like needles at the back. I gripped the arm rests when the jolt hit me in the neck. I moaned through closed lips, as electricity swept along my skin, raising every hair, and fired through my veins.

Callie slapped something onto my chest and when I looked down at it, I saw a pouch of blood. It deflated as my body sucked on it. I didn’t have time to be grossed out because I was too busy swallowing a vat of my own saliva. I panted and groaned, trying to catch my breath, but none of it was bad. It was exhilarating, like rollercoasters were exhilarating, but only when I went with Margo because she always screamed like she was gonna die. It was like the explosion of feelings you get when you meet the people who really get you. It was, fuck, it was like an orgasm.

“Oh god,” I blurted, gripping the arm rests harder, fighting the rising feeling in my pyjama bottoms. The last thing I needed was an erection.

Erin handed me a cup of warm water with a straw in. “You need to drink it all slowly while you’re absorbing the next pouch.”

The sight of a second pouch replacing the first flooded my brain with images of bloodied grass, of a bloody halo reflecting the clouds, of blank eyes looking straight through the back of my head, my grandad’s hands gripping my shoulders, pulling me away. Come on, Stephen. We need to get to a phone. There’s no signal out here.

The hands on my shoulders shook me. “Teddy? Teddy?”

My eyes found Erin’s. “Huh?”

“Where did you go?”

“2005,” I said. “Amelia Genevieve Martin. She was murdered, dumped on a wildlife reserve. I found her body.”

***

The source image above is from qimono on Pixabay.

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No Good Comes: scene four

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What follows is the first draft of what is currently scene four of No Good Comes. Stephen King (totally different guy) is in the painful throes of becoming a bloodborn vampire, a process which takes forty nights. His mentor has been through it herself and is talking him through the pain.

POV: first person, Erin’s POV.

***

“It hurts,” he whispered.

“I know.”

This was the worst part. The days were nothing. Counting and more counting. Beneath the ground, eyes open wide, unseeing but not, galaxies of stars popping and fading, popping and fading. Lying beneath them, there was no pain, there was no before, there was no life. There was calm, there was peace, there was counting.

Coming up at night was like being torn from your own flesh. It was like someone reaching inside you with acid-soaked fingers and pulling out your bones. It was a mirror that reflected the pain of your life back at you in the form of shards of glass. It was claws and flames and razor blades.

It was only the twenty-fourth night.

“I can’t do this,” he said.

“You can. I did it. You can do it.”

I could end it, if he really wanted me to, but I didn’t want him to want me to. I wanted to see him rise. He told me two night ago that his life wasn’t meaningful. That he hadn’t done anything worthwhile. I told him he could be more. I wanted to watch him be more.

“Tell me about the flashes tonight,” I said.

For days he’d been telling me about the flashes of memory that speared through him like knives.

“Why don’t the good memories feel good?” he said. “Why does all of it hurt?”

“Because even the good things you experienced are tinged with loss now, whether it’s because those people are dead, or because you are.”

“I can see the concussion. It’s like a fuzzy black spot, but there is yellow and blue, like it’s fungal, and sometimes red, like blood.”

“Where do you see it?”

I’d grown used to his voice, his unobservable mannerisms, the hitching of metaphoric breath.

I felt his frown when he said, “Behind my eyes, in my brain. Where else would it be?”

“Trauma can manifest anywhere,” I said. “But it’s not unusual for it to be where it should. Have you remembered anything else?”

“About the night … no.”

“You’ll be interviewed when you’re brought up. May as well get used to hearing it, and saying it.”

“The night I died? The night I was murdered? The night I was … I saw something, but I lost it.”

“Just now?”

“Yeah, blue writing.”

I’d seen the blue writing, all down the wall at the crime scene, but I couldn’t tell him that. I couldn’t tell him anything. I couldn’t tell him that a new scene had been staged for the discovery of his body.

“Do you remember where the writing was?”

“No. Can we … can we talk about something else? What about … what about Ophelia, are you still playing scrabble? Maybe I could help.”

“She’s given up on me,” I said. “She thinks I cheat.”

“Well, you do, so she wouldn’t be wrong, would she?”

“How about we decide on your name?” I said.

“How about I-Spy?”

“We exhausted that, remember?”

“Why is the moon almost full every night?”

“When did you first notice?”

“The night I first spoke to you.”

“It’s there for you to notice.”

“It’s a test?”

“Everything’s a test.”

“You, Erin? Are you a test?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you sit here for all the others … there are no others. What is this place? Why are there so many graves?”

“Sometimes there are more of you. But you’re right, there’s nobody else right now. You’d have seen them if there were. You’d have felt them.”

“Are there other places like this? Other graveyards.”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“And others like us?”

“Yes.”

“Can I change my mind about doing this?” he said. “Can I stop whatever this is from happening?”

“What are you asking me?”

“Can I die instead?” he said. “If I want the pain to just stop, can I choose to die?”

I could lie, but … “Yes.”

We didn’t speak for a while. I watched him pace, and fall to his knees, and writhe, and crawl. I watched him roll onto his back and wondered if he felt the pain in the back of his head still, or whether it was overwhelmed with bigger, brighter, sharper pain.

“Cassiopeia is backwards,” he said.

“She speaks so highly of you.”

He laughed, then cried. “I miss them. And it’s not even like I really believed in heaven, you know. It’s not like I thought we’d all be reunited one day or anything, but this … why does this hurt so much?”

“I’m sorry it hurts. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You can kill me. You can do that, right?”

“It won’t be me,” I said. “You can be killed, but it won’t be me. Do you want that?”

“I don’t know. Yes. No.”

“Is that why you haven’t chosen a name? Because you don’t want to think of yourself as a new person? You don’t want to think about your new life, if you’re not strong enough to reach for it?”

“Erin … Erin … why did you choose it?”

“Because I started a war but the pretty girl got all the credit,” I said. “Never mind.”

“You’re a pretty girl.”

“Never mind. I mean, thank you. I think you should be called Teddy.”

He laughed. “Teddy? Why?”

“Because it suits you.”

“Is it my fuzzy brown fur? My soft, squidgy body? My glassy eyes?”

“Yeah, all those things.”

What was I supposed to say? Soft, sweet, lovable? Was I supposed to tell him that every night, I’ve felt like a child talking to an imaginary friend, somebody that was only mine? That every night his presence has been comforting, and I’ve wanted to hug him, to comfort him back? I couldn’t tell Stephen the real reasons Teddy suited him so much. He’d think I was soft. He’d think I fancied him, and I didn’t want to touch that pile of awkwardness. And to be clear, I was talking about my aversion to romance and relationships. I wasn’t calling him a pile of awkwardness. That would just be rude.
Every night I’ve been here has been a night I didn’t have to spend alone in my dead parents’ caravan or one of Cascade’s guest rooms. Yeah, that wasn’t an ordinary church over there. I wasn’t going to tell him that either.

Instead, the next time I had to talk him through the pain, I told him something I shouldn’t have. “You’ll be stronger than anyone you’ve ever met.”

***

The source image above is from Mysticsartdesign on Pixabay.

No Good Comes: a scene

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This is the first draft of what is currently scene 3.

Context: After he is murdered, Stephen King (no, not that one) is buried for forty nights, after which he will rise a bloodborn vampire with his soul intact. Until then, his soul comes out at night to feed, and he is bombarded with memories of his human life.

POV: first person, Stephen’s perspective.

***

Dreams flew at my face like a life flashing before my eyes. It was the same every night, the moment I escaped my grave. A shadowy, brutal part of me detached itself for feeding. Even as I tore into another squirrel—let’s call him Duncan the sparrow slayer—I felt my human side recoil, taking joy instead in the dreams that might’ve been my life.

I saw my grandad, camera swinging from his neck. I remembered the first time we traipsed into a field to take photos, avoiding divots and piles of horse shit.

Everything for miles was a sunlit beige. Hay bales, rough beneath my palms. An old twitchers’ shed with a crinkle-cut roof and drunken door. Logs with caramel burns and treacle cracks. Abandoned eggshells that had birthed things so tiny they couldn’t possibly have survived in this empty place. Mushrooms, wizened and deformed, like they’d crawled out of eggshells. Fuzzy grasses, soft as feathers, tiny pods popping off when I dragged my hand up past the stem. Little grains of it stuck to my sweaty palm. I remembered sniffing my hand, thinking it would smell like cereal, but it just smelled like dirt.

Grandad said we were on an island made up mostly of marshes, where bird watchers sat for hours. There was a horrible plant smell, the kind that made your cheeks bunch: acidic, sugary. And there was an industrial fog smell, like burnt rubber and dog biscuits, that came from the power station floating on the river.

Grandad photographed all the beige things, from afar, close up. Sometimes he moved the things around to create little collages of beige. Sometimes the collages looked like Dad’s cooking: rice, beans, mushrooms. Beige, beige, beige. Nuggets, chips, coleslaw. Beige, beige, beige.

We went to the island lots of times, sometimes to the woodland part, carpeted in bluebells, mushrooms climbing the trees, sometimes to the cherry orchard, where we’d discuss the ripeness of the cherries, then I’d stuff myself until I looked like I’d been gorging on blood, sticky juice smeared across my cheeks. Grandad said I looked like a little vampire.

I borrowed one of his cameras every time, sure its weight would turn me into Quasimodo before my next birthday. I photographed the beige things. I photographed the sky, which was white, grey, gold, blue, purple.

I remembered the day I found a bird skeleton, lying there on its side, picked clean, picked beige. I felt like I’d found dinosaur bones. I didn’t want to move it; something so delicate would break. Its beak was hollow, its ribs like the husk of a great spider, its legs were fuzzy twigs. I photographed every bit of it, paying attention to Grandad’s instructions. Sometimes, he said things that seemed both obvious and obscure, like he was talking about something else.

“Fill the frame with everything you want to see, so that when you look at it, in weeks and years to come, you remember how you felt at this moment. Listen to the nightingales, the cuckoos. Breathe in, Stephen. The smell will bring you back here too. Smell memories are the strongest of all.”

Sometimes he said things that were more useful.

“Think about the shapes things make, turn your camera around to capture different angles. Think about the shadows cast by other objects. See, here,” he said, drawing lines in the air with his fingers. “See how the tips of the grass glow, and how the bottom of it is almost black, the middle brown. Like a flag. Capture it like a flag, Stephen.”

When I’d captured the three stripes of the flag, I tilted the camera, so the bottom line of the golden tips ran from corner to corner, creating a triangle of light and a triangle of shadow.

Grandad had a dark room that I wasn’t allowed to go in. Chemicals are dangerous, he said. Film was expensive, he said. He couldn’t have me wandering in there when he was mired in the delicate process of exposing film.

He’d bring my photos round the next night, and Dad would cook him tea. Beige food. Then we’d discuss the photos. He said I was learning fast. He said I’d be a great photographer one of these days. Dad was always in a bad mood after he left. I don’t think he’d ever told Dad he was great at anything, and I didn’t think he ever would if Dad kept cooking. I liked his food, but Grandad liked meat with everything, and if there were green vegetables on his plate, they’d better be boiled to death. He smothered everything in salt and white pepper to make up for the dead nutrients.

The beige wasteland wasn’t the only place we went to take photos. There were old forts on the river, there was a dockyard, castles dotted all over Kent. I just remember the beige place most because one day, it was flooded red.

***

Source image from Momentmal on Pixabay.