I want to know I belong to you
... say you'll haunt me.
... say you'll haunt me. The transition from human to vampire was far less traumatizing. The blood boiled, the teeth extended, the irises luminesced, and then ... then there was thirst, a ceaseless desire to plunge the fangs into soft skin and drink.
And as soon as they uninterred Grand Count Mazza from his moldering coffin, he did just that, sinking his canines into the arm of Shelbie from Human Resources. She tolerated his abuse with little more than a momentary yelp at the flash of pain. "Nice to see you too, Grand Count. The limo will be here in just a moment. Your secretaries will be glad you're back, they've been practically underwater with paperwork."
"That bad?" he asked. He licked his lips, relishing the fragrance of warm blood on his lips. It was pouring gas on a fire, the cravings were so intense. Even as a human he had never forgotten that wonderful scent, or the way those first warm sips felt against a ravenous tongue. It had been too damn long since he'd been able to indulge himself.
Shelbie quickly staunched the wounds with gauze and hid the wrap on her wrist beneath her long-sleeved tunic. "I'm afraid so. Pretty foolish to build a town atop an old quarry if you ask me, but the tunnels had been filled in, and people wanted the mountain views, so they just built more and more ... and it all got to be too much." She scanned her memo as they waited for the town car to arrive. "It seems that a few individuals continued to excavate deep tunnels searching for mineral deposits, there was erosion, mudslides, flooding, more erosion and slides, and then an earthquake. After the quake it was discovered that the material that was used to fill in the tunnels had degraded away. The town was sitting on a bubble. And well ... the bubble popped."
She shuffled papers. "Barbara and Frederique will have more information, of course."
"Of course." The limousine skidded to a halt in front of the main gate. A mummy climbed out of the front and shambled towards them to open the back door for them. After two minutes of watching the creature hardly get anywhere, Matthew groaned. "You've got to be kidding me."
"I'm afraid not. The mummy contingent threatened a complete strike if they weren't allowed into jobs that involved significant mobility. They said it was demeaning to their culture to be assumed incapable of moving quickly. So ... here we are." The mummy was still walking. It hadn't reached them yet. Matthew lost patience and let himself into the car. Shelbie hesitated. "Sir, I think we should wait, so that he can do his job--"
"Go for it, Shelbie," Matthew called as he got into the car and sank back into the heavy leather seat.
Eventually, she gave up waiting for the chauffeur to open the door and let herself in as well, so the mummy had to walk all the way back to the front of the long car. Five minutes later it was still walking. Matthew made no attempt to hide his impatience, and Shelbie was cringing. "Sir, I'm so sorry. But we have to be in compliance with the new regulations." "Regulations?" he repeated, annoyed. "He's blind, for god's sake! Isn't there a regulation against driving with your eyes covered in wraps?"
"Well, I'm not deaf," the driver shouted back. Shelbie shot Matthew an exceptionally accusing look. They suffered in silence through the ride home. The chauffeur was driving so badly that the limousine spun out repeatedly simply trying to navigate right-hand turns. By the time they arrived at his house, Matthew was seething. "Whoever made this regulation is going straight to the top of my hit list. See you tomorrow. If you survive until then, that is." The next morning he was back at work. He waved hello to some of the other employees, acknowledged their surprised greetings, and took the elevator, which thankfully worked and seemed to be mummy-free. Up ... up ... up ... up to floor 41. He passed through the carpeted lobby and unlocked his office doors. Inside, his secretaries were in the middle of a dance-off. Barb seemed to be winning. "Wow," Matthew said after a few minutes of watching this spectacle, unnoticed. "Here I was thinking the two of you were actually working for once. No raises this quarter, girls!"
That earned him groans, a few playful smacks, and a very affectionate 'welcome back' from Barb, who made some very lame excuse about needing to 'debrief the boss so that he wouldn't be overwhelmed by all of the new information.' So Fred went back to work and pretended not to notice that this debriefing session seemed to be taking place on a couch and that Barb was giggling, not talking. It probably wouldn't do to tell Barb's husband, Nita, about this. Not at all.
So life went on. Back to the grind, endless boxes of paper, typing, researching, climbing up and down the monstrous flight of stairs to reach the endless archives nestled in the bowels of the mountainside. There were elevators available, but they were almost always in use by the other corporate employees who had their own caseloads to resolve. Traversing those steps was a Herculean task in and of itself, and Matthew had to do it several times a week to gather the needed information on the various former inhabitants of Coldwater Crossing. Barb eagerly offered to accompany him, and he let her. Fred, on the other hand, stayed in the office to answer the phone, work on the intel that Matthew and Barb passed on to her, and perform various administrative duties. It was fairly obvious that she would be the third wheel if she chose to follow her sister and her boss down to the archive rooms. It was also fairly obvious that despite Barb's many charms, Matthew was depressed. At least, it was apparent to Fred. Barb was just so happy to have her make-out buddy back that she seemed utterly oblivious.
"This is Frederique."
"Are you sure?"
She rolled her eyes. "Hi there, sir." "Did you just roll your eyes at me?"
A hiss of laughter. "Yeah, right. I'm going out for lunch. It'll be the usual, of course. Want me to get anything for you?" "A raise?"
"You wish. See you in an hour." Fred hung up slowly and wandered into Matthew's part of office, carrying her latest compilations. This part of the job really got to her, having to document the fates of the families who lived in a dying town. Some moved out in time and put down roots elsewhere. But that other pile was far larger, and all paperwork inevitably ended in the same six words: "Subject found deceased on --," fill in a date.
She tried not to think too much about it. They were 'subjects,' 'data.' She was just here to fill up a database with their information. That was all. One day she would be a statistic too. With a morose sigh, she set the freshly-printed files in Matthew's chair and rested against his desk to stare out of the picture window. Had Barb decided to eat lunch with him? It would be just like her.
A blank piece of company letterhead fluttered to the ground. She shook her head at her carelessness, picked it up and placed back on the desk-- ...
That paper had certainly been blank before. Fred set the paper down and moved away from the desk. The writing faded from sight. The paper returned to its former pristine state.
But as she moved back, the words reappeared.
She was hovering over the desk, reading the letter before she realized what she was doing. If the writing faded in and out, that meant that letter had been written with penumbral ink. No one except top executives had access to penumbral ink, and they were never to use it except for high-level corporate correspondence. Whatever this was, it was confidential. Trembling, she walked back to her own desk and sat down. She had read too many of the words to forget. Despite being written on company letterhead, that letter was personal. Matthew had been writing a love letter.
... and why had she been able to read it?
Oh, she shouldn't. She dashed back into his office, her heart pounding. She bent over the letter again. Nothing.
... what ...
As soon as she placed her hand on the desk, the words flared into life.
... oh! Her ring? ...
It must be her ring. Her husband Sean had given it to her. Four karats of pure woohooium.
... so that was it? That was how you decoded those super-secret letters that top brass passed around? With a chunk of red rock?
She was SO going to get fired for this ... 'I've been working myself like a dog for the past six months trying to wash you away and it's no use. Every day I wake up knowing I've made a mistake. That mistake was loving you. And yet, I can't blame you for rejecting me. I put you in an impossible position. I was stupid, stupid in the way that only fools in love can be.
I wonder sometimes what my life could have been if I had just done what my parents wanted me to do and gone to work at the local hospital back in good ol' Hayseedville. I'm sure I would have found a good girl to marry and had a few very cute kids, and I would have left them behind one day too. And somehow I think that would have hurt less, because that wife would have moved on and the kids would have mourned for a while and then eventually put it behind them. But from the minute I met you outside that hospital I knew you were different, and special. I should have never spoken to you, never gone for drinks with you. I should have never told you the truth. But I couldn't lie to you. I told you the truth about me because I'd hoped it would make you see that I could be trusted, but it drove you away. Now I have nothing but a pocketful of memories and regrets.
Do you miss me at all? Or do you spend your days on your investigative reports and your nights trying to forget what you don't have and what we should have had? Do you have bad mornings now, Renee? I know I do.' Fred read it over, and over again. She didn't even realize that she wasn't breathing until Barb came back in the office and shouted for her. She came back out front.
"Hey sis, I got shakes! You want one?"
"Yeah," Fred said in a shaky voice. She sipped in silence while Barb nattered on happily about shoes and curtains and god-knew-what. Finally there was a lull in the conversation, and Fred busied herself with looking through Matthew's old expense reports in search of a name that came up over and over again.
"So this afternoon Matthew and I are gonna--"
"Actually," Fred interrupted, "you've had enough fun to last you for a while. You are not going anywhere. You are going to stay right here and do some research for me."
Barb began to say something, but one look from her sister made her turn towards her computer monitor, cringing. By late afternoon Fred had what she wanted--a short biography of Renee Emmanuelle Littler's major career accomplishments, several of her most famous stories, a set of magazine articles recording her current struggle with a terminal illness, and most importantly of all, an address.
That blank piece of company letterhead was rolled up and carefully concealed in a sturdy mailing tube along with Sean's ring. Fred figured he wouldn't notice that she wasn't wearing it. He didn't usually notice her hands anyway. He was more focused on her ... other ... assets.
"We're leaving, sir," she called into Matthew's internal office as Barb shut down the computers. He nodded and waved without looking up. Buried behind books as usual. They walked out.
The perfect crime. He would never know.
Fred tossed the tube down the nearest mail chute, where it would depart HQ in the morning. Reuben came into the steamy bathroom and wiped the condensation from the mirror. It immediately fogged over again. Lately Renee didn't leave the tub until she had to. She would soak for hours, simply adding in more hot water as it cooled off. And she stared up at the ceiling, looking at something that only she saw.
"I have to go into the office today, but I'll be home as soon as I can," he said. There was no answer from her. "And I opened that package you got, but it was empty except for a piece of paper. I wasn't sure if that was some kind of joke or misdirected mail, but I threw it out." He finished tidying up as best he could through the steamed-over mirror and turned back to look down at her. She hadn't moved.
He knew that her behavior would change during her treatment, but this frightened him all the same. He had never seen someone simply fade away before his eyes like this, and worst of all, she seemed to have no inclination to fight anymore.
"... so, um, see you later?"
She nodded, silently. It was only when she heard the front door close that she dared to breathe. She lifted her hand from beneath the water, forced her shriveled fingers to open. Concealed in her clenched fist was the ring of red woohooium.
Renee Littler was an investigative reporter for a very good reason.
She had read the letter hundreds of times in the past twenty-four hours. She had memorized the phrases that cut so deeply. She had seen the blotches in the paper where tears had fallen as those words were written, and she had pored over the precise handwriting, wondering what Matthew's face had looked like as he wrote it. He had clearly never meant to send it, and yet here it was, drawing blood from wounds that had no hope of healing. If only he knew how many bad mornings she'd had.
She slid under the water, trying to stop shivering. *ding*
For once, an empty elevator car. Fred got in and immediately began thinking about the books that she would need to revise today. There was probably a stack of them already waiting for her.
Barb drummed her manicured nails against the wall and stared at her designer pumps. She was pouty lately, had been ever since Fred forced her to stop trailing Matthew around with a gleam in her eye. Not even the explanation that he was heartbroken seemed to help her understand why she needed to leave him alone. "I already know he's sad! I was trying to help him get over it!"
"Sis ... just keep your hands off him, okay? I'm surprised Nita doesn't wonder why you come home late so often!" She unlocked the main doors. "Get us some coffee, would you? I get the feeling it's going to be a bad day." As she stepped into the front office, she saw Matthew sitting at her desk, holding part of a newspaper. He was frowning.
Yup, bad day.
"Mrs. Collina," he said in a voice that reminded her, ominously, of getting a call from one of her children's teachers. "A piece of letterhead seems to have gone missing from my desk. You already know what I'm talking about. Did you have something to do with it?" "Why would you ask that, sir?" Fred asked, too calmly.
Matthew stood, glowering at her. "You had no right, Frederique. No right. I should fire you." He swallowed hard and turned away to go into his office. He left the paper behind. Frederique glanced over the headline, which announced that Renee Littler, award-winning investigative reporter for KSIM and the scourge of Bridgeport's big business sector, had died last night at her home. For days after this the working atmosphere was very cold. Even Barb, as blissfully unaware as she could be, had noticed that Matthew didn't laugh much lately. His brow was pinched, and he didn't speak to Fred directly, instead sending her emails to ask routine questions. And Fred stubbornly responded to each and every one with her mouth set in a grim line. The day finally came when a problem that could have been resolved in less than a minute through a regular conversation instead boiled over into a non-stop back-and-forth argument via email for almost forty-five minutes.
Barb watched in mounting horror as Fred hammered out a message on her keyboard and viciously punched the "send" key. Then the sounds of angry typing echoed out of Matthew's office for several minutes straight. Then Fred. Then Matthew. "Stop it!" Barb shouted, and both sets of hands fell slack. "Just ... stop! What is WRONG with the two of you!?"
Fred stood up and reached for her jacket. As she rounded the desk, she nearly ran into her boss, who had come storming out of his office. They glared at each other, tension mounting. Fred broke first.
"I'm going down to archives."
"That's fine," he said dismissively. "I'm leaving for the day." He pushed past her and walked out. Barb looked at her sister, who hadn't yet left for archives. Instead, Fred wandered over to the window and stared out dejectedly.
"I was only trying to help," she mumbled to no one in particular. Matthew walked through town, passed by the elaborate facsimile park and into the town square. Even though the land was sterile and the ground utterly barren, some psychology "expert" had assured the city planners that productivity and morale would improve if residents had views of lush foliage. Now every bit of exposed ground was covered with fake grass and fake trees, and the environment had the added benefit of being completely hypo-allergenic. And sure enough, there always seemed to be someone hanging around now, which was a real hindrance for a guy who just wanted to brood in peace. That letter was written in anger, and it was meant to be cathartic, after a fashion. He had meant to throw it away. He thought he HAD thrown it away. But it wasn't in the trash, or under the desk, or anywhere else it rightfully should have been--and then Nicholas from accounting showed up at his door asking for conformation that he intended to send a 0.6 oz. package stateside, express mail, at the astronomical rate of §89.67 for guaranteed next-day delivery. He had been too flabbergasted to even question it until the bean counter was out of sight. Then he had bellowed at the empty hall when it was too late. After calling Renee repeatedly and unsuccessfully, it occurred to him that she might have changed her number. That was when he searched the internet ... and found that newspaper article.
Horrified, he had run downstairs to the main lobby and found the latest copies of the international press. It was in every paper, complete with a photo of her angular face and caustic smile.
It tore him apart that the last memory she had of him was such a hateful one. And he could never change that now. He watched the fountain throw its glistening spray across the afternoon sun and thought about his surrogate parents. He futilely wondered if they missed him, or if he had faded from their minds and just become that son in the big city, the one who never wrote or called. He gruffly apologized to Fred the next morning. But only for the way in which he had expressed his frustration, not for the words themselves. And Fred accepted the apology, but only because she wasn't about to quit and leave Barb there alone.
The work dynamic was badly off-center. Matthew felt strangely vulnerable around Fred, like a turtle that had ventured too far out of its shell only to find itself in the hands of a curious child. They were civil to each other, but little more. As for Barb, she was on eggshells when he came in the room. Her beautiful smile was shaky, and she couldn't always meet his eyes. He worked harder than ever, trying to dull the edge of his pain. The re-writes were produced with such efficiency that the higher-ups commented very favorably on his work ethic and mentioned that his vacation must have suited him very well. Matthew accepted the compliment graciously, walked a few floors down in the building and smashed a very expensive antique vase into very expensive shards.
He didn't cry, though. He hadn't cried once through all of this, and he wasn't going to.
He sank deeper into this dismal state of mind. He continued working without a break. He forged on alone long after Fred and Barb had gone home for the night. He worked until the janitorial crew came by and flashed the lights at him.
He hated those damn mummies. It was on one of those nights when he had been forcibly ejected from the corporate headquarters that he walked home the long way. He wandered through town, hearing the store's shutters open and close, the voices of happy customers enjoying an after-work drink. He thought about having one himself, but sighed and turned back to the well-lit street. He suddenly felt very tired. As he crossed the old stone bridge, he caught a glimpse of blue far in the distance, moving amongst the river reeds. It was not one of the glowing moths, or a trick of the light. It was stumbling forwards into the water, making for the other bank.
A ghost. He watched idly for another minute or two before turning away and looking up. The moon was high in the sky. Its light left pale flickers over the artificial landscape and sparkled on the water. It was beautiful in its own strange way, but he tired of the static view easily. It was no Bridgeport.
He thought about his former life. This time of night he'd be in a club showing off for some girl. Or studying, maybe. Or putting the finishing touches on a juicy steak and adding it to a plate alongside roasted carrots and grilled asparagus. It was odd that he missed cooking so acutely. He could still acquire food and cook for himself if he really wanted to, but in this world, the desire for blood ruled all. The visceral taste and texture of food was blunted and softened into nothing, something less than nothing. He might as well chew straw as eat. The ghost was coming onward. Its phosphorescent form flickered dimly against the swarthy grove of trees. It was not wandering. It was coming on. Slowly. But coming.
Without knowing why, he walked towards it. He walked past the other stone chateaux, past the vacation homes, the quiet single-family dwellings, the large hostels. He walked. Through the marsh and the stiff grass, through the dead mud, towards the bedraggled ghost that came ever onwards and left puddles in its wake. Poor Renee.
Poor sweet drowned Renee.
He was running now, his breath coming in painful wheezes. Not that it mattered. He ran until he reached her and he pulled her close. He met her cold lips and tasted the water in her kiss, and finally, finally, he cried. Fred and Barb were at their desks right on time. Matthew was not there. But, Barb reflected aloud, he could just be in a meeting. Fred shrugged and checked messages.
By nine a.m., Barb had begun to wonder openly where their boss was, and Fred kept glancing at the door.
By ten they had stopped speaking about it. Chances were that he had been promoted. His elevation did not necessarily extend to them, so while he would get a new office and a new secretary, they would just get a new boss. Barb mused on whether the new boss would be cute or not, but one sharp look from Fred sent her back to the books with a sigh. A few minutes after eleven a.m., Matthew came strolling in with a lazy grin plastered on his face.
He looked at both of his secretaries in turn and began to laugh at their expressions. Relieved, Barb laughed too. Fred just looked exasperated. "Sir ... couldn't you have called if you were going to be late?" "I'm the boss, Fred. I get to be late." He tossed something shiny into the candy dish on her desk and turned back to Barb. "Hey, if you have time, I need help with the archives today. Could you head on down to storage room 32? I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Be right on it!" Barb said cheerfully, and left the room right away.
Fred was about to ask another question when her computer monitor chimed with an incoming email notification.
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected], [email protected]
CC: [email protected], [email protected]
Subject: Supplemental request
Request for employee(s) raise submitted by manager. Pending executive approval.
[-end of message-] "Going to talk to Shelbie in HR, Fred," Matthew said casually when he came back out of his office. That was the closest he was going to come to a real apology. She reached into the candy dish and fished out her ring.
"She ..." Fred began. Matthew stopped, looked at her. Fred cleared her throat. "She must really be something special."
"Yeah," Matthew agreed, and smiled. "She really is."
"Could we possibly meet her sometime?"
"One miracle per day, Collina. Take your raise and be happy." He walked out laughing.
~ fin An enormous thank you to my entire readership, both acknowledged and anonymous. I am very grateful to anyone and everyone who took the time to read this story, and I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing --
A belated and heartfelt thank you to the talented creators of TSR, who make such awesome clutter --
And a very special thank you to FredBrenny and Spitzmagic, for without Fred n' Barb to save the day, Chapter 5 would have ended ... differently. Heh.
A Bloodsucker's Holiday: Finale
Feb 13, 2011 by spladoum
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