HOURS later the scratching of Dugan's pen finally stopped, springs squeaked, and shortly after he was snoring.
I was grateful, spared from listening to his voice, able to rest and think, though neither moved me closer to a way out.
I bled as I lay there. Even when trying to be motionless, you can't help but move. The muscles in my arms cramped around the rods and twitched involuntarily, opening the wounds again. Other times I just shivered, though still covered by the blanket. My bound legs ached, giving off sharp twinges when I flexed them, the long muscles cramping.
Despite the influx of blood, I was exhausted. My body was constantly trying to make itself vanish clear of the pain. Race a motor long enough without going anywhere, and it eventually burns out.
I tried to remember exactly what I'd seen while hovering over myself, but the impressions were general and fuzzy, no more than what I already knew. Nothing else had been important to me then.
The little I could see was of no help: low ceiling and off to the right a stairway of sixteen steps leading up to what? A house, barn, warehouse? The cement walls were bare of any clue, though Dugan would probably prefer a house. I couldn't turn enough to see what was behind me but guessed there might be another table for holding a scalpel and the.45.
When I tried to rise, nothing shifted but my flesh, and that made more pain. Everything was too secure, given my weakened state. Perhaps I could marshal enough strength to rip free, tearing muscle, breaking bone-but my bones were different since the change, denser, heavier. They would prevent such an escape.
Dozing, never quite going to sleep, I let myself drift into summer again. Bobbi and Escott weren't there this time. My arms were stretched wide, mirroring my current posture. Though free of the rods, there were holes in my flesh, and they bled into the stock tank's water.
A wasp sting on my right wrist startled me. I snarled, tried to jerk away.
Dugan was back and held the beaker to collect the blood flow.
It was a physical effort to shove my rage down, and when I collapsed, it was not pretense. I'd never been this tired or hopeless. Now I understood why an animal will chew off its own limb to escape.
How much time had passed? Was this the second night already? "Sprout fangs yet?" I asked.
He shook his head. He seemed very intent on the job, frowning.
There was damn little to read from his face. He seemed to be in the same clothes, minus the butcher's apron, and his skin was shiny as though from fever. I could smell his sweat. There was a taint to it I couldn't place, but it lacked the rankness that comes with time. Same night then, he'd just come down for a second helping. Crazy bastard.
The slash he made with the scalpel healed. He cut another, holding the beaker until he'd collected a cup's worth of red. Then he pressed a handkerchief to the wound, applying pressure. How thoughtful.
"I know this isn't terribly nice for you." He was not apologetic, just stating a fact.
"It's killing me, you son of a bitch."
"You recover quickly enough. I've made a note to lay in a fresh replacement supply. It ran short tonight, but there will be no repetition."
He took my blood in three big drafts, like a thirsty farmer downing a beer. This time he did not gag and collapse. Only when finished did he give in to a deep involuntary shuddering that was slow to pass. That reaction was too similar to my own after a feeding. Something was definitely happening to him, then. Maybe the ordering was not as crucial as I'd thought. Maybe the change was taking him regardless. There was too much I did not know about my own condition.
When he recovered, he smiled at me.
I wanted to pull his face off. "I'll bleed to death before the next sunset."
"I won't allow that to happen."
"Going to anyway."
"If you've a way to hasten the transformation process, I will release you that much sooner."
"The metal has to come out, at least during the day when I'm dead. You can put them back in before I wake at sunset."
He thought that one over, then shook his head. "I'd rather not take the chance. You lost more than this in the meat locker and survived, but you've given me an idea. I'll make sure to catch the lost blood, and either take it myself or give it back to you. A very practical symmetry."
I held off from telling him what to do with his symmetry.
His reaction informed me that the rods could be removed. He'd used the threaded kind for a reason. Perhaps twist them enough by the handles, and they'd come right up and out.
I didn't want to be awake for that.
He pulled the blanket down and lifted a packet of my home soil into view. It had been on the table next to my waist. "What significance does this have for you?"
"Read Dracula, figure it out."
"Actually, I saw the play in New York some years ago. Such a ridiculous melodrama. It makes no sense to keep earth about one or sleep in a coffin. It's superstition, nothing more."
"You'll find out different."
"There must be some scientific reason behind it. Have you given it no thought at all?"
Plenty, and I didn't give a damn. I felt myself slipping away. The sun was rising. Did he sense it, too? I ignored him until my eyelids were too heavy to hold up, then froze for the day.
He said my name several times, tried to wake me, but got no response.
I was aware that he stabbed my wrist again. The pain was a distant thing compared to the horrors just beginning to march before my mind's eye. I was back in the meat locker again, hanging upside down, but instead of Hog Bristow, it was Dugan skinning me alive.
He must have put my home earth back against my body, for I was suddenly fully conscious and blinking in the dark. The small packet had abrogated the whole of the day to an instant; I was wide-awake and still in hell.
And weaker than ever.
It hurt. The hunger goddamned hurt.
Where was Dugan? I hated being dependent on him, but that was how things were, and I'd just have to find a way to use it.
Pushing aside the initial wave of distracting pain, I listened and heard him stirring on the floor above. Springs squeaked, and he cleared his throat several times. Had he been sleeping, too? What was my blood doing to him?
Dugan took his time coming downstairs, his steps heavy. When he flicked the light switch, I shut my eyes and only sluggishly responded when he lifted my head, holding a glass to my lips.
I drank, of course. Cow's blood. Cold, but easing the pain in my gut. He'd gone out during the day to get more then. Hopefully, he'd brought back enough to keep me alive.
When finished and full, I continued with the listlessness act and didn't so much as flinch when he cut into my wrist, though I watched, hoping my eyes looked dull and vague.
He was focused on the task, paying no attention to me.
His hand shook as he held the beaker. A lot.
What did that mean?
He drank his dose straight down, then came that long, shuddering reaction.
He seemed to enjoy the blood now. Christ in heaven, that could not be a good thing.
When the last tremor passed, his eyes were bright, the pupils dilated like Kroun's. His heart thumped strong and too fast, as though he'd been running.
"Was this how it began for you?" he whispered.
I did not reply. I had to appear lethargic, and it was hard going because this new turn was scaring the hell out of me.
"I feel so alive. Your friend reacted very rapidly to your blood; no wonder he got well again so quickly."
If Escott were here he'd open your skull with a dull spoon.
My well-dressed twin leaned into view. "You're not going to get free without help," he said.
He was right. I was sure I could get Dugan to bring Escott here, but chances were one of them would get killed in the process-most likely Dugan. Escott had his own scores to settle and would shoot him on sight, which would leave me stuck here to starve to death. I went down the short list of people able to help me, but was not willing to risk their lives to save mine.
Not yet. Time and desperation could change that.
"Will he become like us?" asked Dugan. "Fleming? Answer me. Will your friend-"
"You won't make it," I mumbled.
"What do you mean?"
"Takes longer than three days. I'll be dead before then."
"How long does it take?"
"I don't believe you."
"Why so long?"
"Body has to adjust. Took me two weeks."
"The books said three days."
"Books..." That disturbing laughter bubbled on my lips again. "You're an idiot, Gurley Hilbert."
"I'll simply feed more often..."
"I'll be gone. You won't change." I let myself relax, eyes closed.
That shook him. He went upstairs and returned with more blood. I drank all that was offered and continued with the dying act. It didn't require much acting on my part.
"You've taken in more than you've lost," he told me. "You should be better."
"Dead blood," I whispered. "Not as good."
"That's what you drink. You buy it at the butcher's. I saw you."
"Can't live on it. Not for long."
"What do you mean?"
" 'S gotta come from a living body, heart still beating."
"Don't be ridiculous."
" 'S why we got the fangs."
His mental wheels were visibly turning. I couldn't explain my need to have soil by me during the day, but the ex tralong teeth... Animal predators had big canines to grasp and hold struggling prey. Since he seemed to think people were another kind of animal, Mr. Genius just might make the right kind of connection.
"You expect me to free you for a trip to some farm?"
That's it, figure it out. "Living blood... human. Keeps me alive."
"You can't expect me to donate."
"Your blood's poison to me now. Won't work."
"Poison? What do you mean?" He sounded alarmed.
" 'S no good to me..." I wanted to remove the risk of taking any of his in. Otherwise, his harebrained plan might have a chance of working.
"Why is that?" When I didn't answer, he shook me.
"I suppose I could find one of your friends..."
He was fishing for a reaction with that threat. I gave none. "No good. Poison, too. Can't touch 'em."
"Well, then, who hasn't tasted your blood?" Skeptical, but he'd asked the right question.
I mumbled something and seemed to drift off. It took him longer to wake me. I made him work for it. That told me he was buying at least some small part of the bullshit I was dishing. My hovering twin seemed hopeful, nodding encouragement.
"Whitey," I finally whispered. "They won't miss 'im."
"The man with the patch of white hair?"
"Healthy. Clean blood." I closed my eyes, relaxing into stillness again.
Dugan made no attempt to wake me now, probably thinking.
Kroun was the best choice. If Dugan got the drop on him, Kroun would want to know the reason why and play along. He might even recognize him as the janitor. Though Dugan was immune to being hypnotized, he was laughably vulnerable to an old-fashioned strong-arming. It wouldn't take much for Kroun to break him.
That was my hope on how things could go. Kroun could fall into one of his black fits and kill him.
Just have to chance it.
Out of nowhere my body began shivering, violently. No act, I was really that cold.
"Fleming? What is it?" Dugan backed away, startled.
The shaking made things bad for my arms; I didn't fight it, knowing it looked damned ugly. I wanted him scared and off-balance.
The fit passed, leaving me exhausted and bleeding, but the involuntary dramatics had done some good: he brought me more to drink, and I took every drop. It gave me a stockpile of strength to fight the constant reflexive effort of trying to vanish.
"Your color is better. You're not dying just yet, Mr. Fleming."
"Ever eat paper?" I whispered.
"Fills you, but you can't live on it."
Dugan thought that over, apparently, since it shut him up for a good long time. I listened to his heartbeat, which was still too fast.
Lying there and resting, my belly full, I noticed my skin had not knitted itself to the rods again and I wasn't bleeding as much.
Maybe my body was actually getting used to the torture. Dear God.
He finally gave a small grunt and stood. "In three days-well, two now-I'll know whether you're telling the truth. Should that be the case, then I'm sure I can arrange to bring you what you need. A healthy human is not that difficult to find in a city of this size."
He went upstairs, my heart dropping a mile for every step he took.
Damnation, I should have seen that. Why try for Kroun when Dugan could pluck just anyone off the street? Chances were too good that he'd grab someone more easily managed, someone he'd see as expendable, a woman, or God help us, even a kid.
Once the door closed, I checked over my situation once more, desperate to find a weakness.
The L-shaped ends of the rods were at right angles to my arms, each pointing toward the wall behind the table. It was effective for holding me, but it would have been better to have them parallel, the ends toward my hands.
But that would have interfered with his being able to easily cut my wrists, though. If the ends were swung toward my head, I might be able to get free by pulling my arms inward. This was as good as it would ever get.
Before I could think about it first, I jerked my right arm up along the rod, twisting.
Flesh tore and I swallowed, literally swallowed my scream. It burrowed into my gut and tried to claw another way out. My body bucked, and my legs tried to kick, and some of whatever bound them came a little bit loose.
Collapsing flat again, I sucked air with my mouth and throat wide open to keep from howling.
Then I couldn't move for a long while. My arm burned so badly I kept looking to see if it had actually caught fire. The skin around the rod was cherry red under the seeping blood. Not much feeling in my hand; both were looking clawlike again.
The burning got worse. In weak moments I whimpered like a dog, and tears seeped from my eyes. Neither made the pain go away. The more I worked to ignore it, the worse it got, until I started moaning. I shut it off quick because it was too close to how things had been in that meat locker.
Dugan came down hours later, hurrying, clutching a milk bottle full of blood. He poured some into a glass, then lifted and held my head up so I could drink. I eventually drained the bottle. He was sweating, and I picked up that strange taint again, stronger now, acidic, like rotting fruit.
"You never had this much while I was following you," he said, sitting.
"I wasn't pinned to a table and bleeding, idiot." I hoped he wouldn't notice the fresh damage. He'd not cleaned me up; new blood was well mingled with the old.
"I'll get you more then, but it won't be human, not for a few days, yet. Such an expedition will require careful preparation on my part."
That was something. He liked to plan things out in detail. "Go to the Stockyards."
"But the butchers..."
I had to keep up the lies, hope to waste his time, and buy myself more. "Fresh stuff will keep me alive longer."
He didn't want to hear that but offered no argument. "I suppose I'll have to learn how sooner or later. It's the price one must pay."
I gave in to maniac giggles, the sound eerie as it bounced off the cement walls. Was his hair going up on the back of his neck? Mine was.
I laughed until he jabbed the scalpel into my wrist.