When he woke, now the third night in that place, there were no bodies. Not John’s,
not Lena’s. He was alone, and the ropes that had bound him were gone.
He got off the floor, feeling the kicks that John had given to his ribs, the
burns from the bindings on his arms. He hurt, all over, but there was something
different to the hurt than from before, when he was human. It was as if the hurt
meant less, that bruises and scrapes on his body didn’t carry, not to him,
to his self, as they once did. He didn’t attach to the pain the deepness
of color, misery’s red, the purple of guilt. The aches of his body were
no more than inopportune.
Fully aware now, he saw that he was in an abandoned kitchen or dish room, the
sinks with their spray nozzles, the racks for drying dishes along one wall. Though
it seemed it hadn’t been used in many years, or longer, the stink of old
food was thick, like a gray paste in the nose. Robert had never seen so many
bugs, and he wondered how they still found enough to eat. They spun across the
walls in their craze, for food or for mates or just for the programs in their
heads that made their legs move.
He climbed the stairs. He could see that the door at the top was ajar, a less
deep night showing through. He listened for their voices, Daniel’s or Ed’s,
but he had already decided they were gone, had left him to whatever he would
do. John, he was dead, Robert had killed him. And Lena, she was what? He had
killed her too? That was a pain that was black and unfathomable.
It wasn’t until he got upstairs though, to the narrow room of tables and
chairs, the clotted jars of mustard and hot sauce still in their wire cages,
that he felt its pressure. There at one of the tables lay the brush that Lena
used, a tangle of her hair in the bristles, taking up the small light. It was
so ordinarily left, so casual. Was she dead? Had she gone off with the rabbit?
Had she helped to orchestrate his kidnapping, before her change of heart? None
of those was hardly better than the others.
Robert didn’t feel the need to drink. He’d woken without the pinch
of it in his veins. He had gotten up feeling less of it than he might have thought
possible, than he’d ever felt before, though he supposed it had to do with
the blood he’d had so late, just before dawn. There was a course to it,
a coursing, that no human blood could have.
But though he didn’t want it and didn’t seem to need it, he set out
to hunt. Before he could think of what else to do—look for her? find and
kill Daniel? return to the house outside the city?—he had to have something
that was routine, a thing that he could understand. Though he laughed at that,
as if he understood that need more than any other.
Downtown, he came upon the biggest man he had ever seen. He was nearly seven
feet tall and made from a wall of muscle and fat. He moved along the sidewalk
like a wall as well, routing all traffic around him, into the gutter to pass.
His friend, a red haired man with a mustache, would duck to his side at a clear
spot in the foot traffic, say a few words, and then duck behind again. The red
haired man was a fish, thin and like light, circling the blue whale of his buddy.
In one of those acts of coincidence or fate that Robert still wondered at, the
big man turned down a dark street at just the same moment that Robert picked
him. The red haired man patted the meat of his shoulder in farewell, deciding
to keep to the main current of town. For a second, Robert considered changing
course, following the fish instead, taking him as his victim. But it seemed wrong
somehow to change now, a disappointment even. The big man had submitted to fate,
he’d turned that dark corner.
The man was like a boat in the darkness. At each step, he rocked, his volume
listing. He threatened almost to overturn, before his leg, like a piston, intervened
and pushed him upright again. He pushed through the dark, unwieldy and graceful,
sucking up the space around him. Whatever the blood from the night before had
given to Robert, however it had sated him earlier, he now felt the swoon start
to rise. The man in his presence, his enormous existence, loomed in Robert’s
sight, found mass in his heart.
He walked three blocks as Robert trailed behind. At the middle of the fourth
block, the man banked right, moving himself in the direction of a small wood
house, a peaked roof set with five small windows like the letter T. Out front
were a set of wood steps, and the man seemed almost to run at them, though his
speed didn’t change. He attacked the steps like a boat would a wave, into
their middle, using momentum to overcome them.
As the man put the key to his lock, opening the door to a dark living room, Robert
looked and found his name, like a red fish swimming in the waves. “Hank,” Robert
said, from out front on the walk. “Hey, Hank.”
The man turned, the wall of him on a pivot. “Yeah?” he said. “What
you need, friend?”
“Hey,” Robert said, again. “Hello, Hank.”
He went up the stairs and stood next to the man. If he’d been big before,
he was now almost impossible, as wide as his door, nearly as tall. Robert was
only a stone at the man’s feet, or a small gray dog. He expected the man
to reach out and pat him on the head, pick him up and toss him like a rock into
“What’s up, buddy?” the man asked. “What you want?”
The man had to bend forward to look at Robert. His eyes were blue, marbles in
the giant face. They were remarkably round, his eyes, and wet, clear, as if behind
them washed a great deal of water. Robert reached up and touched the man’s
throat, the trunk of it. It was a drum, thick with soft flesh, quick with heartbeat.
He stood on his porch, halfway between inside and out, the enormity of him, his
vast blood and bones.
“What’s that you want?” he said. His voice was low now, groggy.
Robert could hardly hear him. The sound of it was the deep engine of a boat,
in the hull, almost not there but pushing the boat through its path.
“Nothing,” Robert said, pulling the man near him, the innocent water
his eyes. “I don’t want anything.” He set his teeth, and the
blood swamped his mouth, overfilling it. It ran to the front of his shirt and
dripped to Robert’s shoes. The blood was more than Robert could keep, could
swallow, its unconditional amount. It spilled down his throat—huge, alive,
and solemnly unstoppable.
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