portion of the artwork for Joseph Young's story

Joseph Young

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 the bushes.

“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, far down in the hull, almost not there but pushing the boat through its path.

“Nothing,” Robert said, pulling the man near him, the innocent water of 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.

This is a chapter from my vampire novel, NAME. I wrote NAME over the course of a month, from July 7 to August 7, 2010. It began as a lark, a dare almost to myself, and soon after was wrapped in pragmatism: I needed to pay my rent and thought I might use the money I made from pre-sales of the book to do so. With the generosity of many people I do and don’t know, that was done. I’ve never written anything like it and never would have believed I would. In fact, I had serious doubts I’d ever write a novel, vampire or not. In any case, I had more fun writing NAME than perhaps anything else I’ve written. It is available for order here.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 30 | Fall 2010