Authors: J.L. Murray
Tags: #Horror | Vampires
Copyright © 2015 Hellzapoppin Press
All rights reserved.
Cover by Eloise J. Knapp
The tree was breathing.
Sia shivered as something cold brushed against her cheek. She tried to open her eyes, then moaned as her skull exploded with pain. Fingers touched her mouth and, sluggishly, she realized they were hers. Straining to remember, she flinched at the ache in her eyes and teeth and bones. She kept her fingers at her lips as if she were a young girl reliving her first kiss. Her lips were colder than her fingers, and her mouth tasted of copper and Slack. And she was no girl. Sia couldn't even remember what it felt like to be a girl.
She squeezed her eyes shut tighter. She couldn't remember anything, but she knew she had used. She must have gone to Trey's house; he was the only one left who could still get it. Steeling herself, she forced her eyes open. It was almost dawn, by the feel of the air. Her back was the only part of her body that was still warm, and she leaned into the source of the heat. Reaching behind her, she felt for what was holding her up. It was hard and rough. And hot. Her muscles screaming, Sia looked behind her.
A tree. Since when did trees give off so much heat? Sia rested the back of her head against it, looking up. Through the leaves and branches she could see a barely-lightening sky, clear and cloudless and perfect. Something fell on her face and it was the same coldness that had brushed against her cheek, waking her. She took it between her fingers. It was soft and cool and she let it rest in her palm. In the dim light of a flickering streetlamp it looked almost black, but she knew it must be a deep dark red. Because in the light, in the dawn, under a tree that gave off heat like a man, the petal that she held in her hand looked so much like blood.
Sia blinked hard and the hallucination disappeared. She was holding a petal in her hand. A black petal that had fallen from a tree that was probably warm because she had no doubt been resting against it for hours. She moved her cramped legs and felt something move against her boots. She looked around her for the first time and was sure she was hallucinating again.
She sat in the middle of a street. Apartment buildings rose up around her, cutting into the sky. Resting against a tree. In the middle of the road. The objects she'd felt against her feet were rubble where the tree had forced pieces of asphalt to crumble around it. Fighting the need to retch, Sia pulled herself to her feet, using a low-lying branch to pull herself up. The branch was alarmingly warm in her hand and she let go as soon as she found her balance.
“What...?” she rasped. Her head was pounding, her mouth so dry that her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She noticed again the taste of copper. She tried to lick her lips, but there was no moisture. Her lips tasted even stronger: sweet and metallic, with a strong scent, honeyed and savory at the same time. Sia pushed her hair out of her face and the smell grew stronger.
The sun was pushing up toward the horizon and the blue of the sky was visible. The streetlamp flickered off, but Sia could still see that she was covered in something that crinkled dry when she touched it. Something that smelled sweet and metallic. Something that looked black just like the petals of the tree.
There was so much blood.
“Oh my God,” Sia whispered. “Oh my God.” She felt a tear well up in her eye and roll down her cheek. It was cold by the time it dripped onto her hand. Cold and red. Sia touched her cheek where the tear had fallen down her face and her fingers came away dark, flakes falling away and floating gracefully to the ground.
There was a noise in the distance. Sia's eyes moved toward it slowly. A motor. A car. She squinted as it turned and sped directly towards her. Two pinpoints of light cut into her head and she staggered backwards from the pain, against the warm tree. Headlights. Not a car. A black van.
She looked up into the headlights. The buzzing was so loud. It wasn’t inside her head. It was a car. She knew she should run. She should feel a sense of urgency now, but she didn’t have anything left. She was weak and lost and covered in blood. And the Movers had found her.
The headlights switched off and she heard voices. She blinked in the sudden darkness and it seemed to her for a moment that the stars fell from the sky. Then there were feet in front of her, feet that were attached to legs, long legs covered with a dark jumpsuit. Sia squinted her eyes to make out some letters. A name tag.
“Paaaaine,” she said slowly.
“That’s me,” said a voice. Long legs folded and now there was a face in front of her. A long, stubbled jaw and eyes that smiled even though his mouth was a stern line. “What’s your name, love?”
“Sia, sweet Sia,” she sang.
“Well, sweet Sia,” he said. “My name’s Desmond. It’s lovely to meet you.” He held out his hand slowly, like she was a wild animal.
“You’re a Mover,” Sia whispered.
“Yeah. That’s one word for it,” he said, smiling eyes crinkling. He pulled his hand back, studying her. “But don’t hold it against me, sweet Sia.”
“Please don’t take me away,” she said, a prickle of tears behind her eyes. “Please don’t. Just let me stay here. Let me die. I won’t hurt anyone. Just another Slacker.”
Desmond Paine’s eyes weren’t smiling anymore. He looked sad. But that wasn’t right, Movers weren’t sad. They crept up on you in the night. They took you away. They took your children away. They grabbed you and no one ever saw you again. But everyone knew you weren’t dead. The Revs wouldn’t kill you, that was too kind. They hooked you up to machines and pumped you dry for the rest of your life. Those were the stories: No one ever came back once the Movers came. She sat up straight, her back cold without the warmth of the tree.
“I would be happy to do that for you, Sia,” said Desmond Paine the Mover, “but I don’t want you to die.”
“It’s too hard,” said Sia. “It’s too cold. Everything’s cold now.”
“There must be something you like about living,” he said.
“Not anymore,” said Sia. “Everyone’s gone. And there’s no music.”
“You miss the music?”
Sia felt around by her feet and her hand wrapped around a large chunk of asphalt. She squeezed it hard in her hand.
“Music was my life,” she said.
“Paine!” said a brassy voice coming from the van. “Come on, what’s taking so long?”
Sia’s breath caught in her throat. He wasn’t alone. If she got away, his partner would chase her. And her legs felt like they were full of water instead of bones.
“I’m handling it,” he said over his shoulder, sounding irritated.
“Just tranq her and let’s get out of here,” the voice said.
Sia tried to stand, but she fell back again.
“Sia, hang on,” said Desmond Paine. “It’s not like it used to be. They want to help you.”
“So they can drain me,” said Sia, a note of panic in her voice.
“Not forever, though,” he said. “Not anymore. Just clean you up. Make you better.”
better!” she said. “I was perfect before they came. I had everything.”
“We’ve all lost someone, love,” said Desmond Paine. “Don’t do what you’re going to do. Don’t try to run. Please.”
“Let me go,” she said.
“I can’t. They’ll take me if I do.”
“Then kill me. Please.
“Oh Christ, Paine,” said the woman’s voice again. Sia heard the squeal of hinges as the van door opened. Sia scrambled to her feet and grasped a branch on the tree, pulling herself to her feet. This time she managed to stay upright. She still held the piece of road in her hand. Desmond Paine stood up and Sia felt a sharp pain in her shoulder, then her vision, tenuous as it was, blurred even more.
The woman was standing next to Paine now. She was holding something that looked like a thin gun.
“Easy-peasy,” the woman said.
Sia fell back again and when the woman bent over her, Sia swung the arm with the rock. The woman caught it easily with strong fingers and the asphalt clattered to the ground.
“What’s with all these trees lately?” she said cheerfully to Paine. “All over the damn city.”
“I dunno,” Paine said, sounding defeated. “Maybe a prank?”
The woman was pushing up Sia’s sleeves. “Christ, she’s covered in blood.”
“It’s a brutal world,” said Paine.
“You sound like you feel sorry for her,” said the woman. “Just trash is all. Junkies.”
“We were all junkies before,” he said. “State-mandated, remember?”
“Times change, Paine,” she said.
Sia tried to focus on the woman. Her hair was short and curly and she was strong and broad, wearing the same dark jumpsuit as Paine. “When’s your blood day, honey?” she said to Sia, speaking loudly. “I can’t find a mark on her.”
“They won’t get my blood,” said Sia, her tongue thick in her mouth.
“They’ll get it,” said Paine. “Whether we like it or not.”
“Never had a blood day,” the woman said. “Can you imagine? Must be nice.”
“I don’t reckon any part of her life has been nice,” said Paine. “Not for a very long time.”
“Cry me a river,” said the woman. “Help me load her up, will you?”
Sia felt them lifting her, carrying her. Then she felt warm and dry and she heard a door slide shut. She couldn’t open her eyes. She felt herself slipping into sleep. Just before she was completely gone, she heard a voice in her ear. A whisper.
“I would have let you go if I had the chance,” said Desmond Paine. “But I would never have killed you.”
Sia could have sworn she heard music as she fell into sleep.
She woke to pain. Her muscles were clenched so hard she arched her back. Sia’s head throbbed and her eyes ached. She wanted to vomit, but the muscles in her throat kept throbbing open and closed and her belly was hard as a fist. Sia made herself force air slowly into her lungs in between spasms. It was always like this: the pain, the need, the sickness, the Slack.
Sia, what are you doing?
She rolled onto her side and retched. Flashes of memory came back to her as she heard her vomit splashing onto the floor, deep red. What did she do?
A memory of warm splashes on her face, screaming. Trey. Her friend. Her dealer. She had plunged the knife into him over and over, a faceless man raising Trey’s bloody wrist to Sia’s lips.
She had nothing left in her belly, but she couldn’t stop heaving. She killed him. She did that. Sia lay on her side gasping for air, the gags abating. Her head still throbbed, but there was a clarity to her thoughts. She was a murderer. She’d killed her friend to get high. And then an Englishman in a jumpsuit. A Mover. So she must be…
Sia opened her eyes a slit and squeezed them shut immediately. She was somewhere very, very bright. She could smell iodine and bleach. A hospital then. But they didn’t bring murderers to hospitals. They used to send them to prison, but not the Revs. She was no doubt slated to be a Bleeder. A permanent donor. Destined to be drained to the brink of death until the end of her short life. No painkillers even when it was excruciating, food through a straw. Hell. And needles. A lifetime of needles.
Sia, what are you doing? Who is that?
She rolled onto her back again and shivered. Her muscle cramps were easing, but the chills were setting in. Sia’s teeth chattered, the movement shaking her eyes in their sockets. She heard voices and tried to curl up, but she couldn't move her ankles. She pulled and felt the straps, heard the jingle of the chains. The hard surface moved as she kicked her legs. She was too afraid to open her eyes. If she looked it made it real and she wasn’t ready for this to be real.