Once Bitten Chapter 1 2 July 1983


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Once Bitten
Chapter 1
2 July 1983
“Want to play again?”
“Okay. One more. But it’s getting kinda late.”
Eli picked up the sticks, then dumped them out to start a fresh game. She glanced at Oskar and smiled.

“Your hair is getting long. We really ought to cut it.”

Oskar sat facing her on the floor in his shorts and t-shirt. A warm, summer night’s breeze blew in through the half-open window.
He made a dismissive, farting sound and ran a hand through his straight blond hair. “I like it long. And don’t tell me you’re a hairdresser, too.”
Eli released the sticks and they fell onto the floor in a jumbled circle. She hunkered down to study them, then carefully pulled the first one out.
“Well, no--my hair stopped growing a long time ago. But you sure are starting to look shaggy. And besides, it doesn’t look too complicated. How hard could it be?”
“I dunno. Are you good with scissors?”
Eli laughed. “I don’t even think we have scissors, come to think of it. Now be careful . . . .”
Oskar looked up at her and grinned before focusing on the sticks. Then he deftly slid one out of the pile. “Piece of cake.”
“Cheater. I saw it move.”
“Did not.”
“Did too.”
“Huh uh.” He stuck his tongue out at her.
False thunderclouds rolled across her face. “Don’t you point that thing at me. Or else—”
“Or else what?” He grinned at her with impish delight.
“Oh, you—” She lunged at him across the little pile of sticks, scattering them. But he had already spun around and was crawling away as he giggled.

Eli grabbed Oskar’s ankle and pulled herself on top of him. He lay half on his side, trying to get away, but got no further as she began to tickle him mercilessly.

“I’ll teach you to cheat at Mikado!”
They tumbled and rolled on the floor, laughing and giggling as each of them sought to out-tickle the other. Finally Eli declared defeat and they lay together, sweaty and panting. Oskar put his head on Eli’s chest and she held him, gently stroking his hair and his back.
“Eli, I—”
He felt her lips on his throat--a kiss? Then he felt a sharp pain.
At first he was so startled, he did not think it was her. It had to be . . . something else. A bug? A spider? He flinched and tried to get up, but couldn’t. And when he couldn’t get up, he realized what was happening. Her arms were locked around him like iron. A warm wetness trickled down his neck.
“Eli! Eli! Stop it! Stop!” He struggled, completely panic-stricken, in her arms. Not happening Not Happening NOT HAPPENING--
Suddenly her mouth left him and for a moment he could feel the outpouring of blood from the wound, warmed by her panting breath.
In an anguished, terrified tone he heard her say, “Sorry, Oskar, I . . . I . . . Oh n--” Then once again her teeth spiked into him with a kissing sound.
Excruciating pain shot through him like electricity. Oskar continued to writhe in her steely embrace, but like a lioness with a gazelle in her claws, she moved with him, her mouth firmly latched onto his neck. They thrashed this way and that on the floor for several seconds. Then the pain began to leave him with his strength, and his movements slowed.
Eli, Eli . . . please . . . don’t . . . .”

As the wet, rhythmic gulping sound of his blood passing down her throat continued, Oskar’s movements became languorous. The painful wound was transformed into a pleasurable sensation of her lips upon his neck. Now he liked how it felt. He tried to look at her and began to smile. He stopped trying to escape and relaxed; then embraced her weakly. Eli sensed the change and loosened her grip upon him. Then she, too, was merely embracing him. Slowly, she rolled him over so that he was lying on his back.

Oskar gazed dreamily with half-lidded eyes at the ceiling. Eli was a warm softness upon his chest, gently lapping at his throat. It felt so good to give himself to her, and as he began repeating her name over and over, he thought that there was nothing better that he could give her. He never wanted it to end, never wanted her and her mouth to leave him. His hands drifted, semi-purposefully, through her hair; he arched his back and neck to give her total exposure. Then the ceiling became indistinct, and the darkness closed in. He moaned softly as he began to fade away, his speech slurred and almost incomprehensible. “Eli . . .”
Then her lips left him and with their departure, a sense of disappointment overtook him. Back; back; want you back. Instead, he felt something strange pressed against his mouth. Hard skin split open and something wet and sticky. He heard Eli’s voice, calling to him as if from a long ways off, down a dark tunnel. The voice was firm and commanding, but underneath it sounded scared. “Oskar, drink. Drink.”
He didn’t want to drink; it was too nice where he was, and drinking required effort. It was warm and dark, like fading off to sleep, and that was where he wanted to go. But her voice was incessant, he could hear the urgency in it, and the thing followed his mouth, no matter how he turned his head to avoid it.
At last he took it firmly into his lips and licked it. The bittersweet wetness began to flow across his tongue, and then it was good. It was . . . All Things Good. He felt a growing urgency inside him; wanted more. He began to suck, and with the sucking consciousness slowly returned.
The thing in his mouth was Eli’s wrist. The wetness was her blood.

Her blood flowing into him brought renewed strength. First he became aware that his heartbeat had slowed to a near standstill, but now it was increasing, its thudding staccato loud in his ears. He reached for her arm and seized it so that her open vein could not escape his mouth. With his tongue he probed into the wound to keep it open and enlarge it; noticed that the blood seemed to come in waves, and realized he could feel her heartbeat with his lips. Her wound had become his life, flowing into him, and he sucked her with all his strength.

Somewhere above his racing heart he heard Eli gasp in pain. But she did not pull back, and he continued.
After what felt like a long time, he began to feel satiated and his demand for her slackened. He felt very strange, yet drowsy and fulfilled. The flow into his mouth seemed to taper off to a trickle; then stopped altogether. He slowly, lovingly licked the remaining blood off her wrist. Then it was withdrawn from him.
He felt himself being picked up and carried. Like a little boy, being carried by his mother. And he was placed in someplace soft and warm, with sheets and covers. He became even more sleepy, and then Eli was with him. She was holding him, and he could hear her softly crying.
And as he fell asleep he thought, Sorry, Eli . . . didn’t mean to hurt you.
Chapter 2
3 July 1983
Oskar woke up with a start from a bad dream.
In his dream, Eli had been smothering him with a pillow. He would kick and thrash desperately to get free, but she always came back and put the pillow back over his head, her eyes vacant, her face impassive. He struggled and struggled, unable to breathe, as she held its softness tightly over his face, sealing off his mouth and nose . . . .
He was in his bed, lying on his side, with his head on his pillow. He gasped sharply and drew in a breath, felt a sharp aching across his chest as the muscles there complained. Realized he hadn’t been using them, because . . . he hadn’t been breathing.
Eli was lying next to him, wide awake. Watching him. He could see her clearly, as if it was noon on a bright Spring day, and he was disoriented for a moment, because she shouldn’t be awake during the day. A confused thought entered his head: was she cured? Had he cured her last night?

No--it’s night. I’m the one who’s changed. It all came back to him. Her violent, completely unexpected attack; her mouth and body stuck upon him like glue; the sensation of . . . .

He began to feel sick to his stomach. Something weighty, deep down below his intestines, pressing against his backside. He felt like he had to go to the bathroom, only . . .
“Oskar.” She reached for him. She looked very apprehensive, as if she were waiting for something terrible to happen.
He took her hand into his before it could reach his face and squeezed it. “It really happened, didn’t it?”
She slowly nodded her head, and with her affirmation the last vestige of something died in him; the last little sliver of hope that maybe, somehow, it had all been a bad dream. It finally happened: I’ve become a vampire.
“I’m . . . so sorry.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.” He rolled over and got up from the bed. As soon as he was upright whatever was going on down below seemed to increase in urgency and he began to feel as though he might be sick, too.
“I’d better come with you, Oskar.” She slid across the bed and got up behind him.
He gave her a puzzled look over his shoulder as he stumbled down the hallway toward the bathroom. “Uh, Eli . . . I think I’d rather . . . be alone.”
“Oskar, please. Let me—”
“Eli, no. Please.” He reached the door, stepped in, and shut her out. Barely in time.
His bottom had not even hit the ring when things gave way. A sudden release of pressure, accompanied by a groan from his abdomen. Then a sharp pain. This wasn’t just a crap, what the hell—
He moaned loudly in pain as something that felt like the largest dump he’d ever taken splattered into the toilet. At the same time he peed the last pee he would take in his life. The odor that rose up from below him was incredible; a choking miasma. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself and doubled over; moaned again.
Eli spoke, her voice muffled through the door. “Oskar, listen to me. Don’t look into the toilet. Whatever you do, don’t look. I’m coming in there.”

His desire for privacy easily collapsed in the face of the strangeness of what was happening and the certainty that he needed her help, because he was reasonably sure that some part of himself had just left him. “Okay.” He almost glanced down, caught himself, then looked at the doorhandle as it turned and the door swung open.

Eli came in and knelt down beside him. He was horrified that she would smell whatever disgusting mess he’d just deposited into the toilet, but if she noticed, she didn’t show it. She immediately reached behind him and pushed down the handle. Flushing the bowl brought some improvement; things didn’t smell so bad, and the cool overspray on his behind actually made him feel better.

He locked eyes with her as he rocked back and forth, sensing that more was coming. “Oh God, Eli, what was that? What’s happening?” But he already had some inkling, and it came as no shock when she told him.

“Your body is changing, Oskar.” She was trying hard to stay calm, but he could hear the trembling in her voice. “It’s . . . it’s getting rid of what it doesn’t need any more, that’s all. You’ll be all right, it just--”
She was interrupted by another loud, involuntary groan as he felt a bolt of pain in his abdomen and more came down. He couldn’t see what was happening, but a sudden mental image flashed through his mind—scooping out the inside of a pumpkin, turning it upside down to shake out all that—pumpkin goo. Pumpkin guts. Tears welled up in his eyes from the pain and he grabbed Eli’s arm as he continued to moan.
Eli started to talk softly to him, trying to keep him calm. “It’s okay, Oskar, it won’t go much longer. It’s almost over, hang in there.” He glanced over at her and saw a face consumed with remorse and anxiety. He suddenly hated her for getting him into this. But this was not the time or the place for such emotions.
As soon as the toilet tank filled up she flushed it again. Oskar could tell from the sound of the water that this time it was having a hard time with whatever he’d just left, and for a moment he was certain that it was plugged and would overflow. But then, as if by some miracle to spare him the indignity of seeing his intestines float out onto the floor, it went down with a throaty chugging sound.

At last he felt better; weak and wiped out, but better. Felt like there was nothing else. The pain slackened, then disappeared. Eli got up, went to the shower, knelt and turned on the water. She held her hand under the faucet as the water warmed up, and turned her head to talk to him over her shoulder. “You’re going to have to get in here so I can wash you off. Think you can get off the toilet and into the tub?”

He nodded weakly and unbundled himself. She took one his arms and put the other around his waist and helped him in.
“Turn and face the wall. Lean on it, if you need to.” Oskar did as she instructed. He suddenly realized how weak and rubbery his legs felt.
She took the spray handle down from its bracket by his head and then he felt the warm water spray across his bottom. She angled it to get up underneath and asked him to spread his legs a little. He looked down as he did and saw bright red blood mixed with water swirling past his foot on its way to the drain. Just seeing it made him feel dizzy and detached from his surroundings. This isn’t happening.
But it was happening. Eli was spraying his ass with a shower handle and he was bleeding into the tub. He felt light-headed and for a brief moment, felt as though he might faint.
“Do you feel like you have anything else?”
Her asking him made him realize: yes, there was some more. Only . . . more liquid, less solid. He swallowed and felt utterly humiliated. Oh my God, I can’t believe this is about to happen. Please tell me it’s not going to happen. He didn’t want to admit it to her, but he finally spoke with a forlorn whimper. “Yeah . . . I think there is.”
Eli didn’t hear him over the shower. “What?”
Louder this time. What the hell; why not shout it!--it can’t get any worse. “I said, yes, there’s--”
He couldn’t hold it any more and he relaxed. Don’t look down; don’t look down. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the cold ceramic tiles as he felt the warm fluid spurt and run down the side of his leg, then the soothing shower spray as she quickly caught it and went to work.
At last she turned off the water. She grabbed a towel off the rack and wrapped it around his shoulders. With her help he stepped, trembling, out of the tub.

“Do you want to go lie down?”

“Yeah. That would be nice, I think. No—wait.” He didn’t feel like he was quite ready to get too far from the toilet. And sure enough, when he glanced down at the bowl and saw the redness splashed on the underside of the ring, his gorge rose in his throat. But—

. . . don’t want my face close to that.
He turned around, collapsed next to the tub, and with a loud barking sound, vomited onto the shower handle that she’d left lying near the drain. Brownish-red and lots of it, emitting that sickenly sweetish odor peculiar to vomit. He coughed to get the stringy strand off his lips; then bent over and rested, waiting to see if there was more.
Eli was again by his side, her arm over his back, patting him as she turned on the water in the tub once again. She kept telling him that it would be okay as she washed off the shower hose, then used it to spray down the tub.
A minute or so passed, and Oskar finally realized that there was nothing further. Thank God he hadn’t eaten very much last night; a small thing that he now counted as a huge blessing.
He felt as weak as a kitten. She helped him back to the bed, then sat down next to him and sadly stroked his hair. He looked at her in the dark with his new eyes.
“Eli . . . why?”
She slowly shook her head as she replied. “There was no good reason for it, Oskar. It just happened.”
He looked carefully at her face, searching for the slightest trace of dishonesty, but saw none. He did not know what to say. He almost wished she had said she’d done it deliberately; at least that, maybe, he could understand. But this . . .
“Just happened. What the hell does that mean, Eli--‘just happened’? Come on.”
She looked down, bit her lip, and began to rub her hands together in her lap. To Oskar, she looked like a little kid, about ready to fess up to breaking a window. “I . . . I don’t know. One minute we were having fun wrestling and all, then we stopped and we were hot and you laid down on me, and you were so close—your neck was . . . was right there, and . . . and . . .”
She stopped kneading her hands together and looked up at him as she continued, her voice beginning to waver.

“—and you were so beautiful to me. So . . . warm, so . . . alive. And I--”

“You what?”
“I wanted to kiss you. And I did. I knew it might be dangerous, but it felt right. But the moment my mouth touched you, touched your—pulse, it got . . . twisted. And then I lost control, I was locked up, and the thing that lives inside of me took over. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t—” She began to shake her head again, more forcefully this time. “regain control. And once you started to bleed like that, it was all over. There was nothing I could do.”
She looked away from him and stared at the wall as she began to sob. “You can kill me if you want. I won’t stop you. Right now, if you want. I’ll understand.”
“You told me once that there are worse things than death. I would’ve died if you hadn’t fed me. Why’d you do that?”
She looked at him, her face wet with tears. “Because I couldn’t bear the thought of killing you. Because . . . I can’t live without you. Even if that means—you having to be like me. So . . . I did it.”
The silence drew out between them.
Chapter 3
His eyes flashed. “How dare you. That was supposed to be my choice. And I told you—remember? You asked me, and I said no—I didn’t want to be like you. With you, yes. But not the other.” He looked away from her, then rolled over to face the opposite wall. “Oh, I’m so angry right now. I trusted you, Eli! How could you?”
“I’m sorry. I said I’m sorry!
He turned back over to stare at her, his rage burning hot in his chest as he shouted. “Sorry? I just blew my guts into the toilet, Eli! Sorry doesn’t cut it right now!”
“I said you can kill me, if that’s what you want! I know I deserve it!”
He could not restrain a cynical laugh. “You know damn well that’s the last thing I could want right now.”
“Then I’ll leave.”

He rolled away from her again in disgust. “Jesus. And leave me like this? Uh uh. Not in a million years are you doing that.”

“I’ll train you, then. So you won’t need me. Then I’ll leave.”
He didn’t turn around before replying. “You won’t need to ‘train’ me. I’m not killing anyone. I’ll never drink another drop. Never.”
There was a pause. Then, Eli suddenly realized that Oskar sounded just like her, more than 200 years ago.
And with this thought she began to cry for him; for what she’d made of him. She wept for his strong, beautiful heart. With that one statement, he had proven how innocent he was. And she’d ruined it—ruined him. The one good thing in all the world that had ever been given to her.
She put her face into her hands and wept bitterly. “Dear God . . . please forgive me for this. Please.”
He snorted. “Do you know how pathetic you sound? Just shut up. You’re such a baby. Praying to God for forgiveness for what you’ve done to me. Well let me tell you—He’s not listening. No one’s home up there. Couldn’t be, to let things like this happen. No fucking way.”
Eli abruptly stood up and looked around the room for something, anything, to ram through her chest. But of course, the room was nearly empty, because they had nothing. It was, as always, barren and destitute.
The anger roiled inside her, a living thing that demanded expression. He saw it in her eyes. “How dare you? How DARE you say that? You . . . YOU shut up! You—Ohh!” She pulled her hair and shook with pent-up fury.
She couldn’t hurt him, couldn’t hurt herself, and so her anger settled upon the nearest thing that she could destroy. She picked up the old metal lampstand and hurled it like a lightning bolt against the wall. It crashed against it, the globe and bulb exploding and leaving an ugly gouge in the drywall, and then fell to the floor, a twisted mess.
“Eli, don’t!” he hissed. “The neighbors will hear!”

She stared at him in an absolute rage, her hands balled into fists at her sides. “The neighbors. The NEIGHBORS! I don’t give a fuck about the neighbors or what they hear! I’ve been afraid of neighbors all my LIFE! Well, FUCK THEM! Let them hear THIS!

She grabbed the bedroom door and wrenched it from its hinges, then threw it out into the hallway. It crashed heavily against the wall next to the bathroom, splintered and thumped to the floor. Oskar watched, his anger replaced by fear, as she spun about, looking for something, anything, to break. She grabbed a cardboard box full of some of her toys they hadn’t bothered to unpack and hurled it against the bifold closet doors. It split apart on impact and buckled the doors, the toys flying in all directions. She scrambled over to them and began to grunt and growl as she picked up whatever was within reach and started flinging them in every direction. With each object she vented her frustration.
“I HATE THEM!” A porcelain doll whizzed across the room and smashed into the wall, narrowly missing the window. “I HATE this LIFE!” A heavy, bronze, lion-shaped paperweight spun through the air and struck the light dangling from the ceiling, shattering it and spraying Oskar’s mattress with glass shards as he cringed in a ball in his blanket, before imbedding itself into the molding and thudding to the floor. “And I HATE being ME!” She flung her chinaman statuette through the doorway and into the bathroom, shattering the mirror.
A voice came, muffled, through the ceiling. “Quiet down, down there! People are trying to sleep, Goddamn it!”
Eli spun around to look at the ceiling where the voice was coming from. Her eyes glowed and her face was livid; and when she shouted at the top of her voice, Oskar saw her fangs. “Come down and make me, you BASTARD! Come down and MAKE ME!”

Eli felt as if she would explode. She suddenly saw herself running through the apartment building, killing each and every occupant—man, woman and child. Then she could curse all she wanted; could shake her fist and swear at God, at herself, at the whole world, and no one would complain. And she knew she could do it, too. She would be a beam of pure hatred and destruction, blasting and destroying every living thing around her.

She felt the sudden urge to run, to get away from here. From everything. She ran out of the bedroom.
“Eli, wait! Don’t go!” Oskar stumbled out of the bed and ran after her. He didn't fully understand why, but he knew for a certainty that it would be disastrous for them if she left their apartment this way.
She dashed to the front door and started to unbolt it. Oskar caught up with her, grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her away. “No, Eli! Don’t! Not now!” His voice was full of fear and anger.
Eli twisted around in his grip, wriggling to get free. She was surprised by how strong he already was. “Let go of me! I don’t want to be here!” She shoved him and he fell backwards and landed on his behind. Then she turned once again to the door and unlatched it.
She had opened the door and was starting through it when he tackled her, grabbing her around her legs. She fell forward onto the hallway carpet and Oskar dragged her back inside. But she fought him like a wildcat, twisting, kicking, clawing, and gouging, and they rolled about on the floor in a furious tangle as Oskar tried to restrain her. One of their legs connected with the door and slammed it shut.
“Damn you, Eli! Stop it!” One of her hands raked across his cheek, peeling off three strips of skin in parallel grooves. “Owww! Fuck!
With this pain Oskar’s anger finally boiled over, and he threw himself bodily upon her, pinning her arms with his legs. Just as quickly, she bucked him off; but instead of going for the door again, she leaped on him, seized his wrists, and pinned him to the floor.

For a second they glowered fiercely at each other, panting and out of breath, their features contorted with anger. Then she saw what she’d done to his face, and all of the anger and rage departed from her like a suddenly deflated balloon. She relinquished her grip on his wrists, sat up, and gently touched his cheek. And at her touch, the anger left him as well, leaving behind only grief--not for himself, and what he’d become, but for the unreachable depths of her despair.

A look of terrible sadness came over her as she felt his blood with her fingertips. “I’m sorry, Oskar. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
To her, Oskar suddenly looked like that little boy she’d first met: terribly fragile and uncertain of himself. “Eli . . .” His voice was weak and trembling. “You don’t really mean that . . . you hate life with me, do you?
“Oh, Oskar. . . . No, no, don’t you understand? That’s why I did what I did last night. Instead of letting you go. Because I love you. And I just . . . I just couldn’t—you’re the only thing that has ever mattered to me.” And with this, her tears broke and she began to cry, her body wracked with sobs. She slowly collapsed down on top of him, and he held her that way in his arms. “Oskar, Oskar, please don’t hate me. I’m begging you. Please, please don’t.”
He took her head into his hands and looked into her red, tear-stained eyes. “Eli, I believe you that it was an accident, and I understand why you didn’t let me die. And I’m glad—because I love you. He turned his head to whisper in her ear. "You’re everything to me."
Then they kissed; kissed in the darkness that had become their light.
Chapter 4
A sharp pounding on the door interrupted them. They stopped and turned their heads toward the noise, both knowing who it was. There was momentary silence. Then another series of knocks, louder this time--insistent. They looked at each other, and Oskar, scared at the hint of anger returning to her eyes, whispered, “let me talk to him.”

He got up, wiped the blood off his face with the back of his hand, and had the fleeting realization when he touched his cheek that it had healed. The weird sensation of not being himself, of having had his world turned upside down, returned to him as he reached the door and peered through the peephole.

An extremely angry, middle-aged, overweight man in a blue terrycloth bathrobe was standing outside the door. Just as Oskar was taking in his corkscrewed hair and stubbly, haggard face, oddly distorted by the fish-eye lens, a seemingly huge, meaty fist came up, blocking his view and he knocked again, rattling the door in its frame.
“Yes? Who is it?” The trembling in his voice was not feigned.
“I’m from upstairs! What the hell is going on in there?”
“Uh . . . it’s my mother. She’s sick—you know . . . senile. Crazy. She’s off her medication and my dad, um, just went out to get some more. We’re, ah, trying to keep her calm and stuff, but sometimes she gets like this if we run out. We’re . . . we’re really sorry.”
He had heard the sound of his own voice, and even he was not convinced by what he’d said. Fearful, he looked again. The man shifted on his feet and stared, stony-faced, at the peephole.
“Well, it’s the middle of the night and we’re trying to sleep! Your ‘momma’ was with it enough to call me a bastard, and dare me to come down here. So tell her to come out here so we can talk!”
Suddenly Oskar realized that Eli was pushing him aside. Before he could react, she opened the door and stood directly in the doorway. And as she spoke he had a perfect view of her profile.
He was amazed: there was no anger in her face whatsoever. In an instant, she had transformed herself into the perfect image of a sad, pathetic little girl, standing there in a washed-out nightgown. She looked respectfully up at the man with big, wet eyes; her mouth was slightly downturned and her lower lip trembled.
“Sir, we’re really, really sorry. We’ll do our best to keep her calm, I promise. My dad will be back soon, I think. She won’t make another peep.”

The man looked at her, suddenly confused. He had not expected to see this little waif of a girl behind the door, and her sorrowful expression completely disarmed him. Eli looked down meekly and rubbed her naked feet together.

“Well, I . . . well, you know, it’s very rude to have this sort of thing going on at this time of the night. I gotta go to work early. So, ah, you know . . . just keep it down.”
Eli looked up at him again and took a step out into the hallway; she was now less than two feet from him. She lowered her voice to a near whisper and nodded her head in understanding. “We’re trying to get her to go to sleep now, sir. This almost never happens. Please tell your wife we’re very sorry.”
Now his anger had faded completely, and he, too, was involuntarily nodding in tandem with Eli. “All right. No problem.” He slowly turned and walked away.
For a terrible moment, Oskar was afraid that Eli would leap upon him, but she didn’t. Instead, she just stepped back inside and shut the door.
He stared at her. “That was amazing. How’d you do that?”
She gave him a small, secretive smile. “You’ll see.”

As they cleaned up the mess in the bedroom, he began to talk about something that had been bothering him since he’d woken up. “Eli. About last night. When you were—you know . . . biting me.”
She put the box down and looked at him expectantly.
“Well, I-- . . . well, there’s something I don’t understand. At first, it hurt really bad. But then, after a while, I didn’t want you to stop. I mean, I kinda liked it—which I know sounds crazy. Why was that?”
She put a smurf back in the box and came over to him. “Was it just ‘like’?”
“No. You’re right . . . it was stronger. Not just ‘like.’” He frowned as he tried to relate how he had felt; then he looked up at her with a puzzled expression. “It was more like . . . love. I mean, I’d--I think maybe I would feel the same way if you did it again right now. I don’t think I’d stop you.”

There was a pause as she studied him carefully; she seemed impressed by his statement. Then she said, “That’s because it was love, Oskar. I knew it by how you acted--once you stopped resisting. I’ve seen it before a few times, but only in older folks. But maybe that’s just because we knew each other before; loved each other before.

“And when I felt your love, Oskar, I loved you, too. Only . . . not like I feel when I say, ‘I love you.’”
He looked at her with a blank expression. “Umm . . . I don’t follow any of this.”
“Sit down, then. Because you need to understand it.” Together, they sat down on the bed, facing each other.
“Ever heard of the cycle of life, Oskar?”
“Yeah--sure. In school. It means that . . . umm-- things are born, they live for awhile, have babies, and then die. And then their babies grow up and do the same thing.”
Eli nodded. “Mmm hmm. And animals grow and live by feeding on other living things, right? It’s just how life works, isn’t it?”
“Well, you’re part of that cycle, too, Oskar. Only you’re used to eating, not being eaten . . . until last night. Let me ask you: have you ever hunted?”
“Mmm . . . well, sort of. Dad used to shoot elder duck.”
“Okay . . . that’s a start. Did you feel bad when the duck died?”
Oskar thought for a second. “Maybe a little. I guess, yeah.”
“Did you still eat it?”
“Of course.”
“Feel guilty?”
“Not really.”
“Why not? Your dad killed something. For the two of you to enjoy, right? ”
“Yeah, but—that’s different. It was an animal.”
“I know; a duck’s not a person. But everything has to die sooner or later, right?”
“Right . . .” Oskar wasn’t sure where Eli was going.
“Once you die, what happens to your body?”
“It . . . well, it breaks down. It . . . decomposes, I guess. Unless you get some kind of special coffin that seals you up. Or you’re cremated.”
“That’s right. It’s broken down and digested by all the little microbes and bacteria. And they use your body for their own energy, so they can reproduce and keep going on.”
Oskar hadn’t thought about this so deeply, but he slowly nodded. “Yeah . . . I guess so.”

“People can die for all sorts of reasons, can’t they? Old age, heart attacks, lightning, bee stings, you name it, right?”

“Uh huh.”
“Some of it’s pretty pointless, isn’t it? Getting run over by a car, for example.”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Well, if you had a choice, wouldn’t you rather die a death that has meaning, rather than one that doesn’t?”
“I guess—”
“--all other things being equal, I mean,” she added.
“Okay. Let me ask you this, then. Do you think God approves of predators?”
“Approves? Well . . . he made them, I suppose. All those lions and tigers and—”
“--and bears, and hyenas, and eagles, and wolves, and foxes, and alligators, and sharks, . . . and so on.”
“Yeah.” He nodded.
“And people, too. Right? I mean, aren’t you a predator?”
“Well, I never . . . I mean, I never went out and killed anything myself.”
“Okay, maybe so. But think about it. Someone--some person, somewhere along the line, had to, right? Like the drumsticks or hamburger you buy at the store, hmm? At some point, someone killed a chicken or a cow, right?”
“Uh huh.”
“So God must approve of all these predators running around, eating everything. Or a least, He knew that they would exist at some point after He started all of this . . . life in motion. Unless you want to say that . . . God doesn’t know everything.”
Oskar, growing impatient, shifted on the mattress and uncrossed his legs. “Umm, where is all of this going, Eli?”

“What I’m trying to tell you, Oskar, is something I’ve learned, just having been myself for the last two centuries: that predators serve a function in creation, just like trees and bees. And I know—because I’ve seen it myself--that sometimes, when a prey realizes that it’s going to die, and can get past the pain and fear, it . . . accepts its death. It may even . . . love the thing that’s killing it. Realizes that its death has a purpose, has meaning . . . even if it’s only to keep something else alive a little bit longer.”

Oskar straightened up and ran his hand through his hair. “Wow, Eli. That’s really . . . hmm, I’ll have to think about—but . . . what you say does kind of fit how I felt last night. Because after I stopped being scared, and knew that there was nothing I could do, I was kind of . . . happy that you were doing it. Knowing that my . . . blood, my life . . . would help you live. And even though I couldn’t understand why you’d attacked me, in the end I wanted you to finish. I didn’t want you to stop.” He looked at her quizzically.
“Yes. And when I knew that’s how you felt, I loved you too, Oskar. Not the part of me, the human part, who’d never want to hurt you. That was the part of me that fed you my own blood, that . . . ended up saving you. But while I was still—” she looked down, then slowly brought her face up to his again—“a vampire, I . . . loved you as my prey. Because I knew that you were prepared to die for me, so that I could live. Like a sacrifice. That you weren’t really mad at me anymore, for what I was doing. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. But wait a minute--it’s not freely given, is it? You take. The people you kill don’t want to die. Especially not like that. And you—I mean, we—” he frowned, “we aren’t natural. Killing other people isn’t natural, Eli. It’s not part of some cosmic ‘scheme of creation.’ God says you shouldn’t kill people. And . . . that’s what I’m most afraid of. I don’t want to kill or hurt anyone.”
Eli sighed. “I know that, Oskar. But I didn’t ask to be what I am. And you,she looked away, “didn’t ask for it, either.” But we’re still walking around the earth. We’re still part of what God created. And so, to the extent we’re able, we’ve got to obey His laws, just like everyone else.”
Oskar looked at her long and hard. “What do you mean? How can we possibly do that?”

She took his hand and squeezed it. “Remember the night you came back to my apartment? After you wanted to have a pact with me? And you asked me if I was a vampire. And I told you: that I drink blood to live; but I’m not that.”

“Yes. You told me that you kill because you have to. Because you want to live, just like everyone else.”
“Right. But there’s more to it than that, Oskar. A lot more. Just because I have this condition, doesn’t mean I have to be a selfish jerk. It doesn’t mean I must be deliberately cruel to people. It doesn’t mean that I can just wander around, creating more vampires whenever I want. You don’t see the lions do that, do you? They don’t go around maiming and slaughtering for no good reason. They take what they need, and they leave the rest alone. Well, that’s how I see things, too. I do what I need to survive. But no more.
And you have to understand this. Because if you don’t, and you act as though there are no rules, you’ll be . . . unhappy forever. You’ll be miserable, and soon enough you’ll just be some kind of animal. And I want you, to the extent you can, to be happy—not like that.”
Oskar looked directly at her. “I will always be happy . . . as long as I’m with you.”
“But you might not always be with me, Oskar. I might die tomorrow—you never know. I don’t want to think about it, but it could happen. So you have to realize that you’ve still got to be the best person you can be, even though you are what you are. And if you do that, even though people might hate you, and fear you, and try to kill you, you’ll still know, in your heart, that you’re a good person. And knowing that can bring you happiness, or at least, some kind of—acceptance. Even if I drop dead, or we somehow become separated.”
Oskar was quiet for awhile. Then he spoke. “But you just said that you hated your life. That you hated being you. So this hasn’t really worked for you, has it?”
Eli looked at him, then touched his freshly healed cheek. “I never said it was easy. But it’s been easier--since I fell in love with you.”

Chapter 5

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