Bite Me: A Love Story Chapter 15


15. Head in the Clouds and Vice Versa

It was the words that brought Tommy back. For a week with the clutter of vampire cats, and for several weeks before, while trapped inside the bronze statue, the words had left Tommy. His mind had gone feral, as had his body after he escaped. For the first time since Jody had turned him, he turned to his instincts, and they had led him to the huge, shaved vampire cat Chet and his vampire progeny. Running with them he learned to use his vampire senses, had learned to be a hunter, and with them, he took blood prey for the first time: mice, rats, cats, dogs, and, yes, people.

Chet was the alpha animal of the pack, Tommy the beta male, but Tommy was quickly reaching a level of where he would be a challenge to Chet's position. Ironically, it was Chet who led him back to the words, which led him back to his sanity. In the cloud, merged with the other animals, he felt what they felt, knew what they knew, and Chet knew words, put words to concepts and experiences the way a human did, the very thing that had kept Tommy from being able to turn to mist in the first place. As a human, with grammar hardwired into his brain, he put a word to everything, and as a writer, if he couldn't put a word to an experience it had no value for him. But to become mist, you simply had to BE. Words got in the way. They separated you from the condition.

Feline Chet had not been a creature of words, as his kitty brain was not wired to file that kind of information, but as a vampire, a vampire sired by the prime vampire, his brain had changed, and concepts carried words for him now. As the cloud of hunters was streaming under the door to attack the Emperor (toward the smell of dog and recognition, for Chet had known the Emperor in life) the word "dog" fired across Chet's kitty mind, and in turn across the minds of all of the hunters, but for Tommy, it was transformational, as words, meaningless to the cats, cascaded across his mind, bringing with them memories, personality, identity.

He materialized out of the cloud in the dark storeroom, where he could see the Emperor in heat signature, huddled in a corner, holding his knife at the ready. Even if the room had been light, Tommy moved so quickly it would have been hard for the Emperor to see what was happening. The vampire scooped up the old man, stuffed him into the barrel, crimped on the lid with a grip that crushed the metal edges, then placed the barrel so the weight would rest on the lid. Instinct and experience told Tommy that the hunters wouldn't find enough space inside to materialize as a whole, so even though the barrel was not air tight, the Emperor would be safe as long as the lid remained intact. There wasn't enough room in there, literally, to swing a cat, and that would save the old man.

Tommy melted back into the cloud and moved out of the room, trying to will the concept of danger to the rest of the hunters, putting an image to Chet's word "dog" that the kitty minds would recognize, and slowly, the vampire cloud, its various tendrils having tested the room for prey and finding none accessible, snaked back under the door and away to look for blood that wasn't sealed so tight or smelled quite so dangerous.

They streamed up the elevator shaft, through the building, and out onto the street, where a few cats and Tommy solidified and dropped out of the cloud. Tommy, self-conscious now, looked around, realizing that he was naked. Everything he'd experienced from the time he'd been released from the bronze shell was a sensory blur in his memory, now that he was thinking in words again. But he remembered the Emperor, who had been one of the first people he'd met in the City, and who had been kind to him; had in fact gotten him his job at the Safeway, where he'd met Jody.

Jody. Both words and instinct overwhelmed him at the thought of her, memories of joy and pain as pure as the hunter state of mind. He searched in a whirlwind of words and images for a way to contain her. Jody. Need. That was the word.

He'd need clothes and language to move in the world where he'd find Jody. He didn't know why he knew that, but he knew it. But first he needed to feed. He loped down the sidewalk after the hunter-cloud, tuned again for prey, and for the first time in weeks, the word blood lit up in his brain.

The words brought him back.

"Your car's all fucked up," explained Cavuto.

"I know," said Stephen "Foo Dog" Wong. He stood aside and the two policemen walked by him into the loft. "Your jackets are done."

"Your apartment's all fucked up, too," observed Cavuto, looking at the plywood fastened across the front of the loft where the windows used to be.

"And full of rats," added Rivera.

"Dead rats," said Cavuto, shaking one of the plastic boxes with the lid taped on. The rat inside rolled around like-well-like a dead rat.

"They're not dead," said Jared. "It's daytime. They're undead." Jared wore a SCULL-FUCK SYMPHONY band T-shirt, over skin-tight black girl's jeans, with flesh-colored ACE elastic bandages running from midcalf to the midsole of his black Chuck Taylors. His Mohawk had been lacquered into magenta Statue of Liberty spikes.

Cavuto looked at him and shook his head. "Kid, even in the gay community there are limits to tolerance."

"I hurt my ankles," whined Jared.

Foo nodded. "We've had a few rough days."

"I gathered," said Rivera. "Where's your creepy girlfriend?"

"She's not creepy," said Jared. "She's complex."

"Home," said Foo.

"As was agreed in her black covenant with you," said Jared, as ominously as he could manage.

"Did you get an English accent all of a sudden?" asked Cavuto.

"He does that when he wants to sound more Gothic," said Foo. He was trying to stand in front of the ruins of the bronze statue of Jody and Tommy, but since it was twice his size, he only drew attention to it.

Rivera pulled a pen from his jacket and ran it over the sawed edges of the bronze shell and pulled it back with the red-brown clot on it. "Mr. Wong, what the hell happened here?"

"Nothing," said Jared, without an English accent.

Foo looked from one inspector to the other, hoping they would see how hopelessly smarter he was than them, and give up, but they wouldn't look away. They just kept looking at him like he was in trouble. He went to the futon that served as their couch, pushed a bunch of boxes of undead rats to the floor, sat down, and cradled his face in his hands.

"I thought I'd found some kind of scientific bonanza, a new species, a new way for a species to reproduce-hell, maybe I have, but everything's so out of control. The fucking magic!"

Rivera and Cavuto moved to the middle of the room, and stood over Foo. Rivera reached down and squeezed his shoulder. "Focus, Stephen. What happened here? Why is there blood all over that statue?"

"They were in there. Tommy and Jody. Abby and I had them bronzed when they were out during the day."

"Then they never left town like you said?" asked Cavuto.

"No, they had been in there all the time. Abby said that it wouldn't be bad for them, that when they were in mist form it was like they were dreaming. Mist form! What the hell is that? It's not possible."

"And you felt bad so you cut them out?" said Rivera.

"No, Jared let Jody out."

"Totally by accident," said Jared. "She was kind of a bitch about it, too."

Foo explained about Jared releasing Jody, Abby and Jody releasing Tommy, Jody throwing Tommy through the windows, and Tommy running off into the night, naked.

"So he's out there," Foo said. "They're both out there."

"We know," said Cavuto.

"You do?" Foo looked up for the first time. "You knew?"

"She was seen at the Fairmont Hotel, and we found bags of blood in a room there. We'll find her. But the Emperor saw Tommy Flood, naked, sleeping with all the vampire cats. He said that the one cat, Chet, isn't really a cat anymore. Explain that, science boy."

Foo nodded. "I figured something like that might happen. The rats are smarter."

"That helps," said Cavuto.

"No, what I've found is that the vampire blood carries characteristics of the host species. The further from the prime vampire, the old vampire that turned Jody, or that's who we think is the prime vampire, the less change takes place. Abby said that Chet was turned by the prime vampire, so he's picking up human characteristics. He's going to be stronger, bigger, smarter than any of the cat vampires. He's turning into something new."

"Something new?"

"Yeah. We found it with the rats. The first ones I turned from Jody's blood are smarter than the ones I turned from those rats' blood. Each generation away from her is less and less intelligent. I mean, we haven't had time to really test them, but in just the amount of time it takes them to learn the mazes, it's clear that the innate intelligence is higher in those closer to the human vampire sire. And they're stronger, because Jody was only one generation from the prime vampire. I thought I'd figured an algorithm that described it, but then they all turned to mist and merged and fucked up everything."

"Sure," said Cavuto, "we'll nod and act like we have some idea of what you're talking about until you tell us what the hell you're actually talking about."

Foo got up and waved for them to follow him into the bedroom. There was a plywood maze that covered the entire bed, with small blue LEDs dimly lighting every intersection. A sheet of Plexiglas covered the top.

"The UV LEDs are to keep them from turning to mist and escaping the maze," Foo said. "It's not enough to hurt them, just keep them solid."

"Oh good, a toy city," said Cavuto. "We have time for this."

Foo ignored him. "The rats who were turned from Jody's blood learned the maze more quickly, and remembered it faster than the ones turned from rat blood. It was consistent, until they all got loose and merged into a single cloud. After that, they all knew the maze, even if we had never put them in it."

Rivera bent down and pretended to be examining the maze. "What are you saying, Stephen?"

"I think that they share a consciousness when they are together in mist form. What one knows, the others know. After they had merged, they all knew the maze."

Rivera looked at Cavuto and raised his eyebrows. "The Emperor thought that Tommy Flood was in the same cloud as the vampire cats."

"We're fucked," said Cavuto.

Rivera looked at Foo for confirmation. "Are we fucked?"

Foo shrugged, "Well, from what I could tell, Tommy wasn't really that bright."

Rivera nodded. "Uh-huh, and if your girlfriend didn't have a crush on him, would we be fucked?"

Foo flinched a little, then recovered. "I think they'd be limited by the brain capacity of the species, so the vampire cats would be still be cats, but they'd be very smart. Chet, on the other hand-"

"We're fucked," said Cavuto. "Say it."

"Scientifically speaking, yes," said Jared, who stood in the doorway of the bedroom.

"How do we stop them?" asked Rivera.

"Sunlight. UV light will do it," said Foo. "You have to find them while they're dormant or they'll just run away. They're not invulnerable to physical damage. If they're dismembered or decapitated it will kill them."

"You did experiments on that?" asked Cavuto.

Foo shook his head. "We had some accidents when we were trying to get them back in their cages, but I'm basing that hypothesis on Abby's description of the swordsman who showed up in the street."

"He sounds badass," said Jared. "Did you find him?"

Cavuto took Jared by a hair spike, steered him into the corner, faced him there, then turned back to Foo. "So, these jackets you made us, they'll take them out?"

"If you're close enough. I'd say they're lethal to about twelve feet. I suppose I can rig something higher intensity, like a high-capacity UV laser flashlight. You could cut them down from a distance with something like that."

"Light sabers!" said Jared, his voice going up. He hopped around in excitement, then winced at the pain in his ankles. "Ouch."

"That's it," said Cavuto. "You're too much of a nerd to be gay. I'm contacting the committee. They'll revoke your rainbow flag and you will not be permitted anywhere near the parade."

"There's a committee?"

"No," said Rivera. "He's fucking with you." Rivera turned back to Foo. "What about something that will work on a wider basis-like a vaccine or something?"

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Foo thought for a second. "Sure, what is it, Tuesday? I'm curing Ebola in the morning, but I can work on your vampire vaccine after lunch."

Rivera smiled. "People are dying, Steve. Lots of people. And the only people who have a chance to stop it are in this room."

"Not you," Cavuto said to Jared.

"Bitch," Jared replied.

"I'll work on it," said Foo. "But it's not as bad as you think it is."

"Brighten our day, kid," said Cavuto.

"They can't all handle it. Four out of every ten animals that are turned vampire don't survive to the second night. They either just break down on the spot-sort of decay from the inside, or they go crazy-it's like the heightened senses overwhelm them and they just have sort of a seizure that scrambles their brains and they end up with no survival instincts. They don't feed or hide from the light. The first sunrise after they're turned burns them up. It's like accelerated evolution, taking out the weak the very first day."

"So you're telling me what?"

"The cat cloud won't grow exponentially. And the only way it will pass to other species is if they bite their attacker during the attack and ingest vampire blood-that's why you haven't had any more human vampires."

"Then why no dog vampires?" asked Cavuto.

"I'm guessing the cats tear them apart before they change," said Foo. "I'm not a behavioral guy, but I'd guess there's no brotherhood among vampires. If you're a vampire cat, you're essentially still a cat. If you're a vampire dog, you're still a dog."

"Except for Chet," said Rivera. "Who is kind of a cat plus something else."

"Well, there are anomalies," said Foo. "I told you, this is very fuzzy science. I don't like it."

Rivera's phone chirped and he flipped it open and looked at the screen. "The Animals," he said.

"And?" asked Cavuto.

"They're at a butcher shop in Chinatown. They say they have a way to kill the vampires but they can't find them."

"We can take them Marvin. Tell them we're on the way."

Rivera held the phone like it was a foul dead thing. "I don't know how."

Foo snatched the phone out of Rivera's hand, nine-keyed a message, hit SEND, and handed it back. "There, you're on the way. I thought you said the only people who could fix this were in this room."

"They are, and now they're leaving."

"Don't forget your sun jackets," said Jared. "We charged the batteries and everything. Do you think you'll be able to turn them on, or should I come along to help?"

"He's a kid." Rivera grabbed Cavuto's arm. "You can't hit him."

"That's it, kid. You're out of the tribe. If I hear you've touched a penis, even your own, I'm sending you to butch lesbian jail."

"They have that?"

Rivera looked past his partner at Jared and nodded, slowly, seriously.

The burned-up white girl was not healing very quickly and Okata was running out of blood. All he seemed to do was watch her, sketch her, and squeeze his blood into her mouth. While her red hair had returned, and most of the ash had flaked away to reveal white skin underneath, she was still wraith-thin, and she only seemed to breathe two or three times an hour. During the day, she didn't breathe at all, and he thought that she might be dead forever. She had not opened her eyes, and had made no sound except a low moan when he was feeding her, which subsided as soon as he stopped.

He was not feeling well himself, and on the second day he became light-headed and passed out on the mat beside her. If she did come alive as a demon, he'd be too weak to defend himself and she would drain the last drops of his life. Strangely, he was not okay with that. He needed to eat and recover and she needed more blood.

"We will have to find a balance," he said to the white girl in Japanese. He had been talking to her more lately, and found that he no longer flinched at the sound of his voice inside the little apartment that had been without a human voice for so long. A balance.

When it was light and she had been still for an hour, he locked up his little apartment, took his sword, and walked into Chinatown, feeling ashamed of the little, old-man steps he was taking because he had become so weak. Perhaps he would actually go into a restaurant and have some tea and noodles, sit until his strength returned. Then he would find a better way to feed the burned-up white girl.

He only spoke a dozen words of Cantonese, despite having lived near Chinatown for forty years. They were the same dozen words he spoke in English. He told his students at the dojo it was because Bushido and the Japanese language were inseparable, but in fact, it was because he was stubborn and didn't really like talking to people. His words were: hello, good-bye, yes, no, please, thank you, okay, sorry, and suck my dick. He made it a rule, however, to only say the last three in junction with please and/or thank you, and had only broken that rule once, when a thug in the Tenderloin tried to take his sword and Okata forgot to say please before fracturing the man's skull with the sheathed katana. Sorry, he'd said.

It had been over a week since Okata had been to the dojo in Japantown. His students would think he was testing them, and when the time came to face them, he would say through his translator that they should learn to sit. Should learn patience. Should anticipate nothing. Anticipation was desire and didn't the Buddha teach that desire was the cause of all suffering? Then he would proceed to trounce each and every one of them with the bamboo shinai as an object lesson in suffering. Thank you.

He didn't care much for prepared Chinese food, but Japantown was too far to walk, and Japanese food in his neighborhood was too expensive. But noodles are noodles. He'd eat just enough to get his strength back, then he would buy a fish, maybe some beef to help replace his blood, and take them home and prepare them.

After he slurped down three bowls of soba and drank a pot of green tea at a restaurant named Soup, he made his way to the butcher. Near the old man who sat on a milk crate playing a Gaohu, a two-string, upright fiddle that approximated the sound of someone hurting a cat, the swordsman passed two policemen, who had paused as if considering whether they should give money to the old fiddler or whether it might not be better for everyone if they just Tased him. They smiled and nodded to Okata and he smiled back. They were mildly amused by the little man in the too-short plaid slacks, fluorescent orange socks, and an orange porkpie hat, who they had seen walking the City since they were boys. It never occurred to them that he was anything but an eccentric street person, or that the walking stick with which he measured his easy strolls, wasn't a walking stick at all.

It took considerable pointing and pantomime to get the Chinese butcher to understand that he wanted to buy blood, but once he did, Okata was surprised to find out not only was it available, but it was available in flavors: pig, chicken, cow, and turtle. Turtle? Not for his burned-up white girl. How dare the butcher even suggest such a thing? She would have beef, and maybe a quart or two of pig, because Okata remembered reading once that human flesh was called "long pig" by Pacific island cannibals, so pig blood might be more to her liking.

The butcher taped the lids on eight, one-quart plastic containers containing all the nonturtle blood he had, then carefully stacked them in a shopping bag and handed them to a woman at the cash register. Okata paid her the amount on the register, picked up the bag, and was pocketing the change when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned. No one there. Then he looked down: a tiny Chinese grandmother dressed in thug-wear that made her look vaguely like a hip-hop Yoda. She said something to him in Cantonese, then said something to the butcher, then to the woman behind the counter, who pointed at the shopping bag, then she said something else to Okata. Then she put a hand on his shopping bag.

"Thank you," Okata said in Cantonese. He bowed slightly. She didn't move.

Being confronted by a Chinese grandmother while shopping in Chinatown was not unusual. In fact, more than once he'd had to push through a dog pile of Sino-matrons to simply buy a decent cabbage, but this one seemed to want what Okata had clearly already purchased.

He smiled, bowed again, just slightly, said, "Good-bye," and tried to push past her. She stepped in front of him, and he noticed, as he should have before, that a whole group of young men stepped in behind her; seven of them, Anglo, Hispanic, black, and Chinese, they all looked slightly stoned, but no less determined.

The old lady barked something at him in Cantonese and tried to grab his bag. Then the young men behind her stepped up.

"Have you been washed in the blood?" said Clint, the born-again ex-heroin addict to the detectives as they entered the butcher shop. He grinned over his shoulder. Clint was splattered head to toe with blood. Everyone in the shop was splattered with blood except the two uniform cops, who were trying to keep the three groups-the customers, the butchers, and the Animals-separated. They had the Animals lined up opposite the counter, facing the wall, their hands restrained with zip ties.

"Inspector, these guys say they're supposed to meet you here," said the younger of the uniforms, a gaunt, Hispanic guy named Muñez.

Rivera shook his head.

"He started it," said Lash Jefferson. "We were just minding our own business, and he rolled up on us all badass."

Rivera looked at the Asian officer, John Tan, who he'd worked with before when investigating a murder in Chinatown and had needed a translator. "What happened?"

Tan shook his head and pushed his hat back on his head with the end of his riot baton. "Nobody's hurt. It's beef and pig blood. The butcher says these guys attacked a little old Japanese man, a regular customer, because he had bought the last of the beef blood."

"We needed it for bait," said Lash. "You know, Inspector, like beer for slugs." He winked.

"You attacked an old man because he bought the last cow blood?" asked Cavuto.

"He attacked us," said Troy Lee. "We were just defending ourselves."

"He had a sword," said Drew, who turned back around quickly.

Officer Tan rolled his eyes at Rivera. "The butcher says the old man had a stick of some kind. He used it to defend himself."

"Just because he didn't draw it out of the scabbard doesn't meant it wasn't a sword," said Jeff, the tall, blond jock.

"It was a battle of honor," said Troy Lee.

"One little old guy with a stick, seven of you?" said Rivera. "Honor?"

"He told my grandma to suck his dick," said Troy.

"Still," said Cavuto.

"But she said okay," Troy said.

"That shit is just wrong," said Lash.

Grandma, who was standing with the other outraged, blood-splattered customers across the butcher shop, fired off a volley of Cantonese at the policemen. Rivera looked to Officer Tan for translation.

"She says she misunderstood what he was saying because his accent was so bad."

"Don't care," said Rivera. "Where's the guy with the alleged stick?"

"He ran out before we got here," said Tan. "We called in backup, but we put the responding unit on finding the victim, when these guys didn't resist."

"Resistance is futile," said Clint in a robot voice.

"I thought you were Christian," said Cavuto.

"What, I can't love Jesus and Star Trek?"

"Oh for fuck's sake. Rivera, let's just arrest these morons and-"

Rivera held up his hand for silence. "Officer Tan, I'm afraid I do need them. You have their names if the stick guy shows up and wants to press charges. Have all those people leave their names with the butcher. These guys will pay for their dry cleaning."

"Yes, sir," said Tan. "They're all yours. You want me to clip the restraints?"

"Nope," said Rivera. "Come along, boys." He led the Animals, their hands cuffed behind their backs, out of the butcher shop and into the flow of the Stockton Street sidewalk-a river of people.

"You'd better bring Troy Lee's grandma," said Lash, rolling to the side as a vendor with a handtruck full of crates bumped by.

"Yeah, Grandma has a secret weapon," blurted out Troy Lee.

"I heard," said Cavuto.

Jeff, the tall jock, said, "Hey, did anyone wonder why a little old Japanese guy would need eight quarts of animal blood?"

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