French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 06
New York City, 1980
Darkness. Pain. Memories of a chair pushing through something that ripped and crunched and screamed.
He sat up with a gasp — and knew right away that was a mistake, because pain ripped through him from his toes to his scalp. He sagged back into the cushions but let his eyes open.
He did feel cushions. In a bed. Turning his head, he realized it was a hospital bed. Metal railing, obviously adjustable. The faint beep-beep of a heart monitor, and the liquid glitter of an IV bag suspended from a hook above him. How in the name of God did I get here? Last I remember…
He sat up again, and this time he ignored the pain. That girl. Anna. They called her Anna, Anna … Sherman, that was it.
Had she brought him here? Why? What was her game? She was a vampire, and from the way she’d handled those thugs, a pretty damn strong one, too.
Hanging in the back of his head — waiting — was the memory of Bridget and what he’d had to do. He thought desperately of other things, to keep that from coming back. I did what I had to do. I did what I had to do. It was true; once someone was a vampire, they were a monster, no matter how well they played the part of a person; he’d known that since his dad first started teaching him the grim business of hunting monsters.
But then why did that Anna not just kill me on the spot?
To keep that train of thought from running too far, he looked around. Sure enough, there was the fat remote, connected to a heavy cable, with a big red call button on it. He pushed the button firmly; in the distance, he thought he heard a faint chime.
Only a few moments passed before he heard brisk, rhythmic footsteps approaching up the hallway. In a few seconds, the footsteps reached his door and he got his first look at their owner.
Injured as he was, he still couldn’t help but have his first thought be Wow. The woman was tall, very blond, with long hair braided and tied into a pair of pigtails that trailed down her back. She was late-twenties, early thirties, and the starched white nurse’s uniform strained tightly in all the right places, drawing the young man’s eye for a moment before he wrestled back control of his eyeballs.
“Good morning,” she said, in a pleasant, professional contralto. “Or rather, good evening — it’s eight-thirty-seven PM, to be exact. How are you feeling?”
“Um… like I was worked over by four guys with baseball bats,” he answered honestly.
She smiled at that. “Well, you’ll recover soon enough. No permanent injuries, which is surprising given what you went through, Dylan.”
What I went through? “Wait. How do you know my name?”
“Anna gave us all the basic info when she brought you in,” she said. She took his wrist in her hand, fingers searching for the pulse.
Fingers that were cold. Very cold.
That chill seemed to spread and ripple in waves all the way down his spine. No. It can’t be. That’d… that’d be plain nuts. She’s just probably cold, maybe working with cold packs before she came in. “Guess you must be a real warm-hearted nurse, with hands that cold.” Smooth, Dylan, that probably sounds like you’re trying to make a pass at her.
“I’m afraid vampires don’t have much control over their temperature,” she said with a wry smile. “I’d have to soak my hands in hot water to warm them up enough, and I don’t have time for that. Most of my patients wouldn’t notice, anyway.”
The cold closed in around his heart. “V… vampires?”
“Yes, I’m a vampire, something like Anna. Slightly different line. Don’t worry,” she said, with a smile that would have been more reassuring if he hadn’t noticed now that her canines were just a little too long. “You’re not a vampire and looks like you aren’t going to turn any time soon.”
“What the… Hell. What the hell? Sorry, ma’am, but… what is a vampire nurse doing in a hospital? Looking for helpless victims?” He tried to move, to swing his body around and down, but not only was the railing still up, the pain almost made him black out; he thought he heard the grating sound of broken bones.
Now she wasn’t smiling. “Mister O’Brien, I am a nurse. I take care of people. I help them get better, whether they are human, vampire, ghoul, revenant, whatever enters my ward, I take care of them. It’s true that I don’t get very many human patients these days, not in this hospital, but I know perfectly well how to take care of them. I have my blood requirements taken care of by completely legal means — blood bank donations, to be precise — and you would do well to be grateful to the vampires who not only rescued you from a very nasty death, but are currently taking care of you.”
Dylan found he had absolutely no response to this incredible speech. He wanted to argue, to move, to escape. Vampires were monsters. This was the absolute and unquestioned truth he’d grown up with, the one all monster hunters lived with — that while they were imbued with some semblance of life, they were no longer in any way the men and women they’d been in life.
But then why am I still alive?
As the nurse-vampire busied herself by writing on his chart and checking the IV status, the question repeated itself. Why am I still alive? Monsters would’ve had a free meal just lying there.
Of course, it could be that their big boss — maybe this “Liam” that Anna had mentioned a couple of times during the fight — wanted to talk to him. But then why not just say so?
“My name is Bunny, by the way,” she said.
Bunny? A vampire “Hello, Nurse!” named Bunny? He briefly wondered if he wasn’t awake at all, just having an absolutely bizarre dream, but the sharp clarity of the pain didn’t seem to allow for that possibility. “Bunny.”
“Yes, Bunny,” she said, with a smile that had an edge of resigned weariness; he was obviously not the first to find her name amusing or unbelievable. “Now –”
“Are you real?” he heard himself blurt out. He winced, but went on. “I mean… is this real? Vampires running a hospital? Not killing me? Why am I alive? What do you want with me?” He knew the questions were disjointed, almost nonsensical when taken together, but the spinning panic and guilt in his head were too strong.
Her face abruptly softened. “Take it easy, Dylan,” she said. “Yes, it’s real. This is a special care facility, usually for… well, call them monsters, although that’s a nasty word. Vampires, demons, ghouls, zombies, whatever. In your case, you were involved in an attack by vampires and that’s not something we leave to the civilian hospitals. It’s true that even here you’re not completely safe; you are a hunter, after all, and there’s a lot of people who like to shoot your kind first and ask questions later.
“But Anna brought you in and that makes you my responsibility to keep safe, and that means that you are as safe here as anywhere.”
Almost on cue, Anna herself entered, carrying a wax-covered pastry bag and a cup of coffee. “Hey, Bunny, I see Sleeping Beauty is awake. I brought him something from the shop.”
“Make it brief; I’m afraid I overwhelmed him a bit. He needs his rest.” Bunny said. “Well, you’re in good hands, Dylan; I’ll take my big mouth and go get some work done. I’ll give Janalyn — she’s our dietician — a call about bringing you something to eat; you’re on an unrestricted diet, though, so you can even eat some of what Anna’s brought. Until then, if you need something, just press the nurse button and I’ll be here in a flash.” She smiled pleasantly at Anna before walking out, high heels clicking behind her.
“Her name is Bunny, and she’s a vampire,” Dylan said to Anna. He watched Anna drop the bag on the swiveling table and opened it.
“Yes, Bunny can be a bit much.” Anna wore a pair of dark black tap shoes, and a pair of tight jeans that hugged her body like a glove. Her shirt had blue stripes and dropped over her shoulder, revealing part of a white sports bra. On her head was a red suede barrette. Around her waist were two leather-spiked belts, one short, while the other dropped to her hip.
“I brought you a blueberry muffin. Cara says you think they’re the bee’s knees.” She removed a muffin and placed it on the table with the coffee cup. “She also said you drink your joe black.”
Cara was the girl at the muffin shop Bridget liked in town. Anna’s Muffin Shop. They’d walked right into Vampire Hell like a bunch of blind fools. He looked at the muffin but didn’t touch it; the way he felt right now, if he tried to eat, he’d likely bring it right back up. “Why am I alive? You saved me. Why?” He looked away from her, glancing around the room. What… they haven’t even hidden my things.
His clothing sat on a small dresser, near a locker. They looked clean, and were folded neatly. In the open locker dangled his leather jacket and gun holster. The bloodstained cowboy boots and his Stetson sat on the floor of the locker. The only thing he didn’t see was his pistol, and of course his pocket-knife, which were taken by Keith.
All the furniture in the room was metal; with cushioned seats, or particle board with a white lacquer finish. No real wood; not surprising. After all, they were vampires.
“Because I thought you deserved a chance,” Anna said. “I don’t normally go around saving hunters; in fact, I avoid your kind. Most of us in the city do.”
“Bullshit. Keith said there was word we were there, and someone wanted us dead,” Dylan snapped, rolling back over to face her. “This, this…” He gestured to the room. “… Bunny, the TV on the wall, it’s all a part of it!” It has to be a part of some kind of plan. It has to be. Because if it isn’t…
“Hell, you’ve got two IVs running into me! Who knows what you’re pumping me full of?”
Anna sighed and covered her face with a hand. “Oh dear God, I thought you were smarter than this.” She dropped the hand away. “Why would I go to the effort to arrange all this blarney, including Bunny?!”
“To make me talk! To bring down my defenses, to…”
“Why?” Anna folded her arms. “What would I want from you? Make you talk? There is absolutely nothing you can tell me I don’t know already. You name is Dylan O’Brien, you were born in Texas, and your dad was a part of the Walker Militia after serving in Vietnam until he struck out on his own on March 2, 1975. There he followed hunts, never staying in one place long enough to establish roots, let alone a stable family life. He moved to Kansas in 1978. There you lived with your mother’s parents in Wichita. Which didn’t work because they didn’t get along with your father.”
As he opened his mouth — not even sure what he was going to say — she raised a finger and waggled it at him, cutting him off as she continued, “Your father followed hunts for a year until he settled your family in El Dorado. You learned hunting at his side at the wee age of eleven years old, and have been hunting since. Until you all managed to piss off the Blackwells. Honestly, we just wanted to leave you alone, and hoped all of you would bugger off to Mexico peacefully. But then Keith got all above his station and attacked you in our territory. Very rude and very stupid of him, and some day it will get him killed.”
He was dumbfounded. “How… Why…?”
Her face softened. “As soon as word got out hunters were in town and on the lam, Liam contacted the League and dug into your background. They follow hunters very carefully. You’re government business. None of ours, though.”
She spoke as if there was a difference.
Still, his father was right. The vampires had been watching them. As stupid as the name was, the League of Vampiric Persons had political pull with federal agencies. “What else do you know?”
“It’s none of my business, Dylan. I don’t care about who you were or where you came from.” Anna pulled up a chair and sat down. She daintily crossed her legs. “All I saw was a boy, dying and cursed to rise as a monster if I didn’t do something about it.”
That had to be the biggest piece of crap he’d ever heard. Yet… by the annoyed look on her face, and the weary tone in her voice, Dylan found himself unable to doubt her. She didn’t want to involve herself with any hunter at all. “And what did you do? I wouldn’t have survived long enough to reach a hospital.” Dylan tried to sit up; Anna took two pillows from under the bed and propped them behind him.
“I gave you some of my blood, enough to give you the chance,” she said finally.
If she didn’t want to have anything to do with him, why did she bother to save him? What would Anna get out of it? Vampires weren’t good Samaritans. But with her blood, the answer was obvious. Dylan felt his head sagging in defeat. “You gave me your blood? So I’m a renfield, and I’ll become a revenant when I die. Win-win for you, you’ve got yourself a slave.”
She looked at him as if he were an idiot, and he suddenly felt foolish. “I’m so terribly sorry, hunter-boy. If I’d left you, you’d have raised as Keith’s revenant. Does that sound better? No, I didn’t think so. At least with my more powerful blood overriding his, you have a better chance at healing and being free, Dylan. Someone had to intervene.” Anna folded her hands neatly on her lap. “And I am not planning on maintaining the bond with you; you can go once you’re sorted.”
At his still-disbelieving look, she snorted. “Don’t they teach you anything as a hunter? Or is it still religious dogma and half-truths, murdering sleeping victims in their beds and congratulating yourselves on saving their souls?” She could not quite hide the disgust in her voice, but Dylan could tell it wasn’t entirely directed at him.
What was she saying? He didn’t murder innocent people in their sleep. He fought monsters, and not just vampires. He’d faced flesh eating ghouls lurking in cemeteries, revenants hunting the streets of Kansas City, skin changers and chupacabras in Texas. Granted, day hunts were easier and he had done his share, but there were a few times he faced the freaks in the dead of night. Never long enough to start up a conversation, though.
There was no way he’d accept her declaration of mercy. “You should have killed me.” Dylan looked at her angry. He thought of his father and his Ma Cà Rồng curse. No one wanted to live knowing a monster lurked inside of them. Didn’t she get that? No way, of course not; she was a vampire.
“Then you would have come back as a vengeful undead, damned to search for the people who hurt you, never to find them. Or come back as Keith’s slave, and that option is even worse; there is no helping you then. The process is more than mystical, Dylan; it’s psychological as well.” Anna brushed a hand though her short blond hair. She ignored his anger as if it were nothing more than a childish reaction. One thing he could already tell about Anna Sherman: she was direct as a fist to the jaw, and didn’t care about emotional distractions in a conversation. “Since the transformation is a slow process, you have a chance to change what’s going to happen to you.”
Transformation. He was like his father now. He’d die and become an unthinking monster and murder people. Sure, she said otherwise, but her words were against everything he knew. There was no curing or redirecting the undead infection. He was doomed. Monsters were monsters.
Yet her voice was so convincing. Was that her blood affecting his mind? But then again, she was just saying what the nurse had told him earlier when she informed him he was in a rehabilitation center for monsters. There couldn’t be a rehab center if there wasn’t any chance for rehabilitation.
The young man pressed his head into his pillow. This was madness, but… He felt clear. His gut said nothing was influencing his thoughts, save for being drug-loopy, and even drug-loopy he was able to question everything she said; this wasn’t like pentathal or any of the hypnotics; he sure didn’t feel like he had to agree with her. It was just… just as though she really meant what she said. He’d always been good at sensing when people were lying… and Anna didn’t feel like she was lying at all. “So your blood can stop the change?”
“My blood prevented you from dying then and there, and is giving you a chance to heal. I can only stop you from raising as my slave. Only you can stop yourself from changing into a revenant, Dylan.” She looked at him with pity. “It’s all in your mind, and the path you choose as a living revenant.”
A living revenant? What horseshit! Chance to change? Why would he want to change? He liked what he did and who he was. Dylan O’Brien was a hero who saved people from the things that went bump in the night, like his daddy and his granddaddy before him.
The memory of Bridget as she clawed towards him in a blood rage the night before stung him, and Dylan found his anger turning inward. He’d killed Bridget to save her from being a monster. Yet Bunny and Anna appeared to be people, and only his stubborn need to deny that his hunting was murder kept him clinging to his world as truth.
When had he become so bitter and arrogant?
He didn’t even have to think about that, he knew when. It was the night his father broke down in front of him. It was from the fear they had lived in all his life. It drove him to cling to the belief that everything he did was righteous. Just like his Ma Cà Rồng father, who died in a blaze of glory rather than face the fact he was turning into a monster. But where did that leave him and Bridget? What had he learned from that?
It finally dawned on him: he was just like his daddy, following right in his footsteps.
Did he really want to hide in terror of what he was, and make the people around him suffer the way his daddy had? The young man’s gaze followed the winding, clear plastic tubing of the IV to his bound arm. Wasn’t he there because of that?
I killed my own baby sister. How can I accept that? No, there was no saving her, Keith turned her into a monster. I had no choice.
There was no saving people once they were infected by monsters. He knew that. Yet… he didn’t feel right accepting that rationalization. Denial was for cowards, wasn’t that what Bridget always said?
The very fact he was struggling with himself, clinging to his anger to convince himself he was right, told Dylan that Anna wasn’t bullshitting him.
The very thought of what he had done boiled the rage and self-loathing inside of him. He needed to cling to his past, and believe he was right. Maybe what Anna said was half-true? Keith started it, it was all his fault. He and his goons attacked them, and tricked him into killing his own sister. The damned Blackwells.
At the thought he could feel the blood burning in him, and he knew that everything Anna had said was true. The blood was going to change him. It had allowed him to cling to life in a dying body at the graveyard. The same hatred he felt now would have driven him on after death.
There was no way around it, except to completely change what he did and who he was. He was on a one-way ticket to hell unless he blew himself up like his dad, or had a holy burial. Fat chance getting that here. He hunched his shoulders and wondered how many hunters became vengeful spirits. A hell of a lot of them, most likely.
A small figure stepped up to the door of his room and knocked on the frame timidly. It was a child, no more than eight, with stringy black hair cut in a bob and almond-shaped eyes. Her skin was pale, much paler than it should be. “Excuse me, Anna-san.” She bowed and her words were heavily accented. “I can’t find my kitty. Do you know where Bunny is?”
His senses gnawed at him as he watched the child. Her chest didn’t rise, and he noticed the faint trace of a fang when she spoke. She was a vampire, but she was walking and worrying about a lost toy. He wondered if the child he had staked in Le Hunt did the same. God, no.
“She was here a moment ago, Minami,” Anna replied gently. “Rufus is on shift, you could ask him.”
“He’s on the phone with the supply house.” Minami replied. She rubbed her arms as if worried. “Is my mommy gonna be here soon? She can help me find Kitty when she gets here.”
Compassion mixed with understanding filled Anna’s gaze. “I can’t say. She works, doesn’t she?”
The girl’s face brightened suddenly when Bunny’s tall, white-clad form appeared next to her, holding a young boy’s hand. “There you are, Minami! Angelus and I were looking all over for you!”
“I lost Kitty,” the girl said, sadly running her sleeve across her face.
“Is she hiding under your bed? She did before,” Angelus volunteered. His dark face was very serious with thought. “Puff falls on the floor all the time.”
The boy was breathing, but he had noticeable fangs. Dylan tried to swallow his horror.
“Maybe,” the girl said in response to Angelus’ question.
“We’ll look, and if she’s not there,” Bunny swept over to the child and put a hand on her shoulder, “I bet Kitty is in the laundry. You know Jasper; he’s very germ-conscious, he’ll wash anything he gets his hands on. Especially chew toys. Do your teeth hurt, dear? I could give you a cold teething ring.”
The girl nodded.
Bunny turned to lead them out. “I am very sorry, Mr. O’ Brien. Minami didn’t mean to disturb you about her therapeutic plush. Get some rest, if you can.” She gently closed the door, leaving Dylan and Anna alone.
Therapeutic plush? Vampires teething? He hadn’t thought they felt pain. They were dead after all. His father had told him their reaction to injury was just conditioned behavior, left over from life. And everything he knew about young vampires told him that what he had just seen was impossible. The child should have been more animal than person.
How many young vampires had he killed? The Le Hunt slaughter and their attempt to expose the Blackwell family came to mind, and Dylan’s head ached. If vampires were people who could be helped, why were hunters allowed to operate in the first place? He had too many questions, and a ton of heart-aching guilt starting to well up within him.
It was then that he made the decision. He would listen to Anna and not deny her words without thought. He just wouldn’t think of Le Hunt.