Once Bitten Chapter 1 2 July 1983


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10 August 1983 – 8:55 p.m.
I’m awake. I’m . . . where am I? Oh, yes—Norrköping. Our new apartment. And Oskar . . . isn’t here. He must already be awake.
Why do I feel so tired?
Eli climbed out of the tub and turned on the bathroom light. A fluorescent bulb behind a plastic lens above the vanity mirror flickered to life. She looked at herself.
Pale; so pale. She leaned over the sink, tilted her head slightly and combed her fingers through her hair; found the streaks of grayish-white that were emerging from the roots at the top of her head. She sniffed herself. Don’t smell so good. Shower tonight . . . for Oskar. She smiled, but only a little.
It was starting again. How many times over her life had she stood the same spot, looked at her hair in the same way, and saw the same thing? Saw the same thing, and felt the same thing in the pit of her stomach. The feeling that would grow and grow, that would make her shrivel up and turn white. It got big, and made her little; kept making her little until she went out and . . . took care of it. And then it would let her live a little longer. And Oskar? He probably felt the same way. So tonight, they would hunt—had to.
She came into the living room and found Maria and Oskar studying a map laid out on the floor. Both of them looked up, pleased to see her. Oskar seemed his usual, happy self, and Maria? Maria gave her a warm smile that caught Eli a little off guard. She had become used to seeing fear and anxiety in her eyes; now the fear had gone, but the worry remained. What had changed?

Oskar motioned to her excitedly. “Eli, come look at this! Maria bought us a map of Norrköping, and some books from the library, too. Maybe we can start looking tonight!”

Eli came over and sat down between them. The map was spread out on the floor, and she could see that the two of them had been circling some places on it with a red pen.
“What are those?”
“Castles. We’re marking them on the map so we can figure out where to go.”
Maria spoke up. “Hold on, Oskar. I know you’re eager to start all of this, but something important happened today that both of you need to know.” She reached behind herself and put a plastic shopping bag into her lap; pulled out some plastic bottles, and placed them down on the map.
Eli frowned. “What’re those?”
“Hair dye. Eli, you’re going to be a blond like me before we do anything tonight. And Oskar, you’re going to have brown hair when we’re done.”
Oskar looked at her, confused. “What? Why?”
Maria pulled a folded newspaper down off the chair. “I wasn’t sure whether to let you two see this, but I figured it’s better for you to know what’s going on. Now that you’re both out of the bathroom, I’m going to go get cleaned up. Read it, and then let’s talk.”
She was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when she heard their voices come muffled through the door. Oskar’s was high-pitched and clearly upset; Eli’s was lower, but rapid and full of emotion.
“. . . my God, Eli, they know everything . . . .”
. . .
“That guy under the ice, and your dad—well, I mean, he wasn’t really, but—”
“Oskar, don’t worry, we can still . . .”
. . .
. . . “How did they, how could they find out
so much? Now we’ll never be able to . . .”
“. . . can go away. Far away, and they’ll never . . .”
“But I don’t want to go to . . .”
“. . . I don’t know. But maybe . . .”
Maria stood with her ear to the door and heard Oskar begin to cry. Then she heard Eli, too.

Enough. I have to talk to them. She opened the door and returned to the living room in her bathrobe.

They were huddled together in the middle of the floor, hugging each other and crying. The newspaper article lay open next to them, showing Oskar’s picture and the police officer’s face. Maria glanced at it and felt a hot surge of loathing at the article and the people who had wrote it. The bastards. They’re just children!
She crouched down next to them and pulled both of them to her. “Shhh, shhh, you two! Settle down . . . settle down. Everything’s going to be all right.”
She hugged them and kissed the tops of their heads, and as she continued to murmur her reassurances both of them loosened their embrace on each other and extended their arms around her as well. Slowly but surely, their crying tapered off; first Eli’s, then Oskar’s. Finally they broke their embrace, sniffling and wiping their noses. Maria’s eyes were wet with tears, too. She offered Oskar a fuzzy sleeve and he wiped his nose on it gratefully. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, Oskar. My bathrobe is your bathrobe.”
“Now listen, you two. We need to talk--right now. About all of this.” She gestured at the Expressen.
“I’ve been listening to the radio all day today since I saw the paper this morning. The policeman who headed up the investigation has been taken off the case and placed on administrative leave. That means he’s been temporarily fired.”
Oskar’s eyes widened. “What? Why would they do that?” He looked knowingly at the newspaper. I mean, he’s right.” He shot a glance at Eli, who nodded a little and gave Maria a puzzled look.

“Well, I think they suspect he might have leaked a copy of his report to the newspaper. But there’s more to it than that. The head of the Swedish Police Service held a press conference earlier this afternoon. He said that this report was not yet final, and the conclusions expressed in it did not represent the official views of the police on these murders--especially the part about a vampire being at large. They’re going to get someone else to finish the investigation. So it looks as though they’re backing away from their own report, and they might very well fire this detective for good.”

Oskar gave Eli a confused look. “I don’t understand.”
Eli spoke. “It’s simple, Oskar. They don’t want to believe we exist. It’s too hard for them to believe something like that.”
“You’re right, Eli,” Maria replied. “But here’s the thing: regardless of what the government tries to do to wiggle out of their report, it’s had an effect on the people. There’s been nothing else in the news today except this story. People are scared, and they’re going to stay scared for awhile, until things die down. But if you two keep going back out like you have been, things aren’t going to die down.”
“We can’t help it, Maria,” Eli said. “We can’t go much longer without blood. Fresh blood. It’s . . . unavoidable.”
“I know you can’t. Which leads me to another thing I have to tell you.” She got up, brought her purse over, and sat down again. Then she looked both of them in the eye, and prepared to do the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life.
“I’m going to be completely honest with you about what’s been going on with me over the last few days, especially since I read this story today. Because just as I expect you to be truthful with me, you deserve to know the truth, too.”
She pulled the nickel-plated .38 out of her purse, flipped open the cylinder, and ejected the cartridges out onto the map of Norrköping. They spilled into a little pile beside the hair dye, clinking metallically together before rolling a little ways in different directions. Then she handed the gun to Eli, who stared at her with huge, still eyes.
“I almost used this on you last night. After I read this.”

Oskar abruptly scooted backwards from her in horror until he bumped against the couch, where he froze, stiff-limbed. Eli didn’t move, but her lips became a thin, hard line, and her eyes seemed to grow even darker. Her body trembled almost imperceptibly and became very tense. Maria could tell that she was very close to pouncing on her, and the fear rose in her throat, palpable and alive.

“But I didn’t; I can’t. I won’t--it isn’t right. So that’s why I’m giving you the gun for now. Maybe sometime you can decide whether it’s a good idea for me to have it. But for now, I want you two to know that I’m never going to hurt either of you.”
Oskar visibly relaxed. Eli extended a hand and scooped up the rounds, then put them and the gun in a pile between herself and Oskar. Then she looked at Maria and said stonily, “Go on. We’re listening.”
“Eli . . . Oskar . . . you can’t go on killing people like this. They’re going to catch up to you, sooner or later. In fact, I think they’re much farther along in doing that than either of you realized.”
Eli spoke. “They’ll never catch us. We’ll move, go far away. It’ll work; it always has.”
“Maybe you’re right, Eli. But I think this news article changes things. Because the Expressen is a national paper--just about everyone in Sweden can buy it. Now, I haven’t been alive a long time—I’m only 21--but I’ve never read something like this, or read about it in the history books before I dropped out of school. So you tell me: has this ever happened about you before, Eli? This kind of exposure?”
Eli hesitated; she did not want to answer. “No, but--”
“Do you have any idea how smart this guy is, this detective? You read the article, didn’t you? About how many crimes he’s solved? He’s the best they have—and if he really wrote that report, he must have guts, too. You two don’t have any idea what you’re up against. It’s time to try something else.”

Eli could no longer contain herself. She laughed harshly, then began to speak in a raised voice that was nearly a shout. “I’ve listened to enough
of this! There IS nothing different, don’t you understand? I’ve been alive ten times longer than you, and I’ll still be living after you've turned to dust! I knew it was a mistake to come here with you, that you’d, you’d try to talk us into doing something stupid like this! Like turning ourselves in!

“And this!” She seized the gun with both hands and twisted it violently. The cylinder, which had remained out of the frame, broke off, and she flung both parts into the kitchen. “How dare you point a gun at us while we’re sleeping and defenseless!” She stood up and looked to Oskar for support, but he only gawked at her. Then she looked back at Maria. “I should kill you right now, is what I should do! I knew all along that you couldn’t be trusted!”
Oskar piped up, his voice thin and reedy. “But Eli, she just gave you the gun! She said—”
Maria cut him off; she felt strangely calm, not afraid. “It’s all right, Oskar.” She looked directly at Eli. “Go ahead, then. Kill me, if you think that’s the right thing to do. I know you don’t want to be back here in Norrköping. You showed me that while you were sleeping last night.”
Eli stopped ranting and looked at her suspiciously. Oskar looked at Eli, confused. Then both of them spoke simultaneously. “What do you mean?”
Maria turned to Oskar. “Oskar, can I talk privately with Eli for a few minutes? Do you mind?”
There was a pause. “I . . . no. Of course not.” Eli began to speak, to tell Oskar not to go, but then closed her mouth. Oskar stood up, gave Eli one more puzzled look, and then said, “I’ll . . . I’ll be in the bedroom, when you’re ready.”
Maria looked up at him from her position on the floor. “And Oskar . . . try not to listen too hard. I know you have super hearing.”
Oskar blushed and managed a small smile. “Okay, I guess.”
After the door to the bedroom closed, Maria got up from the floor and went to the couch. “Eli, please sit down with me.”
Still visibly angry, Eli sat beside Maria, staring at the wall.

“Eli, I’m sorry about the gun. But it’s hard to read about so many people dying like that and not get upset when you’re living in the same apartment with the ones who are responsible.”

“Then go away. We won’t miss you.”
“Eli, if I wanted to abandon you, I would’ve done it before you woke up. Don’t you understand that I want to help you?”
“What you have in mind is no help, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll end up getting killed.”
“I never said I thought you should turn yourselves in.”
Eli turned to look at her; she suddenly wanted to see Maria’s face. “You said we need to stop killing. So what are you talking about?”
“Wouldn’t you like to stop killing, if you could?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I knew you felt that way—that’s why I can’t hurt either of you. Because I know you don’t want to be how you are. I know you’re trapped in a horrible situation.”
“You’ll never understand what it’s like. Never.”
“Maybe not, Eli. But you aren’t the only person in the world who’s suffered. And you told me yourself that you need help—I think you said that I couldn’t begin to understand how much help you need.”
“Yes, I did. But—”
“Then why are you rejecting me when I’m trying to help you and Oskar?”
“Because I don’t understand how you want to help.”
Maria thrust her arm out in front of Eli’s face and pulled the bathrobe sleeve up until it was bunched around her bicep, exposing the crook of her elbow. “Take it. Both of you.”
Eli drew back a little and scrutinized Maria more carefully. As she did so Maria saw her nostrils flare and the tip of her tongue peek out to touch the inside of her upper lip.
“You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Yes I do. I want to feed you two tonight. Because I know you’re hungry, and it’s much too dangerous for you to go out. Not after what I heard on the radio today.”
“It’s dangerous. You’ll be weak. You could easily get infected, unless it’s done right. And we don’t have what’s necessary for—”

“I bought some stuff from the Pharmacy today when I got the hair dye. I wasn’t sure what to get, but I hope it’ll work. And I got lots of fresh food for myself at the grocery.”

Eli looked at her a long time. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”
Maria nodded.
“You don’t have enough. You won’t be able to keep up.”
“At least let me try.” She looked longingly at Eli. “Please. I don’t want you two to get killed, Eli. Really, I don’t. I care about you too much.”
“What did you mean about me saying something in my sleep?”
“Eli, if I tell you what happened, do you promise not to get upset?”
Eli looked at her suspiciously. “Why would I promise that when I don’t even know what you’re going to say? No, I won’t.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll tell you anyway. You were crawling around the apartment last night, calling for your mother.”
Eli’s eyes flashed. “That’s a lie! When we’re asleep, we’re asleep! That’s impossible!”
“Eli, why would I tell you that I pointed a gun at you, but lie about that?”
Eli’s eyes welled up with tears. “You’re lying! I know it! You—”
Maria reached out and gently put her hand on Eli’s forearm. “It’s true, Eli. Tell me what happened here. Why are you so afraid?”
Eli violently shook off Maria’s hand. “Don’t touch me! I don’t want to talk about it! I can’t go through that again! I can’t—” But she did not finish her sentence because her tears took command, cutting off her ability to speak. She began to cry in earnest; and sobbing, she lowered her face into her hands.
Oskar’s gentle voice came softly from the bedroom. “Eli? Are you okay? Maria?” He peeked around the corner and looked at the two of them. Maria motioned him to come in, and he quickly came and sat down next to Eli. He put his arms around her and he comforted her as she cried on his shoulder. He glanced at Maria several times, trying to understand what was wrong. “Eli . . . Eli, what is it? Why are you crying?”

After a long time, Eli finally spoke through her tears, her voice high and full of tension. “Because I’m afraid! I’m really, really afraid, Oskar. I’m sorry! So sorry. I’ve tried to be strong, to be brave for you, but I’ve been having dreams--bad dreams. About Him. About what happened. And I know what you want, and it’s what I want, too, but . . . it’s hard. Just to be back here. So hard.”

Oskar looked into her eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve understood.”
Eli sniffed and looked forlornly down at her lap. “Because then you would’ve said we shouldn’t come here. And I didn’t want you to feel that way, because I know how important it . . . because I’m responsible. For what happened to you. And I didn’t want you to think that I’m not behind you on this.”
“Oh, Eli. I know how much you love me. Don’t you know that? And I love you, too. Nothing you can say or do is ever going to change that.”
Slowly she looked up at him. “I know you love me, Oskar. I just didn’t want to disappoint you.”
He took her hands into his and squeezed them gently. “We can go somewhere else, if you want. Gothenburg, Malmö—wherever you want. I don’t care . . . as long as we’re together.”
“No, Oskar. We’re here. And we’re going to go through with this. No matter what.”
Oskar looked at Maria. “So are you guys going to tell me what’s going on?”
Maria glanced at Eli, who looked back at her and nodded slightly.
“Oskar, I think Eli’s been having bad dreams. And last night, while you were asleep, she crawled out of the tub and came into the bedroom. I think she was sleepwalking—she wasn’t really awake. And she—” Maria again looked into Eli’s eyes—“she wanted her mom.”
Oskar was quiet for a second or two; he swallowed and looked at Eli. “Oh. Well . . . I know how much Eli misses her mom. I miss mine, too.” He looked at Maria. “So what happened? What’d you do?”
Maria smiled, reached over and touched Eli’s knee. “I did what any good mother would do: I took her into my arms and rocked her back to sleep.”

She sat on the couch, trying hard to conceal a grimace as her blood flowed freely in a heavy, dark rivulet from a big vein in her cold, captive arm.

She heard them breathing rapidly from their hungry mouths; felt their tongues lapping greedily at the flow a few centimeters below the cut.

She looked at their upturned faces, and was glad that their eyes were closed. Closed, so that she would not have to see the evil in them.
Later, as the sun began to rise, she lay on the bed with both of them curled up next to her; one on each side. She caressed their small, narrow shoulders. She relished the feel of their heads gently rising and falling with each breath that she took, and their small hands, clasped together across her chest, just below her breasts. She knew that they drew comfort from the sound of her breathing and her heart beating in her chest. For the first time in her life, Maria felt fulfilled.
My children. How I love you.

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