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If you’re listening to this I’m dead.
Could be that’s maybe only funny to me right now. Listen to a little more of this and could be it’ll be funny to you too. But probably not. My guess, anyone listening to this won’t find much amusement. If you believe it, that is. You don’t believe it, you’ll probably just about die laughing. I would.
I wonder how I did die.
So many goddamn options. The mind fucking boggles. But probably I just got plain shot. Course, seeing as how many times I’ve been shot before, it must have been a well-placed bullet. Or just a lot of them all at once. Then again, I knew a guy in my line who got machine- gunned more than once and lived to tell about it both times.
Lived to tell about it. That’s funny. But you got to be in on the joke.
I was put in on the joke when I was sixteen. Happened in a bathroom at CBGB during a Ramones gig in ’77. What it was, a guy was paying me twenty bucks to hand-job him, and while I was doing it he chewed a hole in my neck and started slurping.
Okay, maybe you had to be there.
That guy, if I could have ever got my hands on that guy. I got my hands on plenty of other people I had a problem with. But I’m not the type to keep score.
Trust me, the jokes don’t get any better the rest of the way.
What I notice about getting older, things that seemed funny before just seem boring or stupid or sad. Things that shouldn’t seem funny at all suddenly have a lighter side. No, that’s not it. Nothing lighter about it. More that things you never thought you’d laugh at you find yourself laughing at because you got no other choice. Like the alternative is you go digging under the sink for some Dra¯no to guzzle.
See what I mean.
Tell the truth, this is the most I’ve laughed in forever. Not literally forever, I’m not that old. But, yeah, something about this is hitting the funny bone.
Probably it’s the idea of you, whoever you are, listening to this. For you, this is one of two things. Either it’s the lamest prank ever, or it’s too little too late. If you’re listening to this, either everything has blown up and everyone knows everything, or it hasn’t. Either way, I’m gonna tell it.
So, hey, here’s some trivia for you. Did you know a pregnant woman has about forty percent greater blood volume than a woman who’s not pregnant? Take a woman, she’s a hundred and ten pounds. Her blood volume is about seven percent of that. Eight point eight-seven pints. Or thereabouts. Call it nine pints. Over her first two trimesters she’s gonna add forty percent more volume. Little over three and a half more pints. Going into her last trimester, she’s hauling twelve and a half pints.
More than a fat man.
That much blood, you can stretch that two or three months. One body in the ground and you’re above it for another sixty to ninety days.
Well, two bodies in the ground.
What’s that worth, that extra forty percent, over a regular person and their seven to ten pints, what’s that extra worth?
The blood of a pregnant woman and her baby, what’s the price on that?
I’m not laughing ’cause I think it’s funny. It’s just I’m all out of Dra¯no.
Just tell it like it happened. That’s what she said. Like talking is a gift I have or something. Well, better talking than writing. You had to make sense of this by reading my chicken scratch you’d be crying not laughing.
And that wasn’t a rhetorical question by the way. I know the price. The blood of a pregnant woman goes for about twenty grand. That’s the price in dollars anyway.
There’s all kinds of prices you can pay for such a thing. Parts of yourself that will never grow back.
But that’s the story. And I’m supposed to tell it. Like it happened.
So I’m a Vampyre. Spelled with a Y instead of an I. Capitalized like it’s a name. Don’t ask me, just tradition I guess. Anyway. Vampyre with a Y, that’s the real deal. With an I, that’s for scaring babies.
I’m the kind that scares everyone.
And when this started, I was a secret. Lived in an apartment, just like you. Well, just like you if you kept a mini-fridge of blood. When it ended, I was living in a sewer. Downward mobility being a danger to my kind.
Should be a punch line for something: Vampyre in a sewer.
But it’s not.
It’s my life.
Still, it makes me laugh.
This is what happened.
I can feel it, that little extra bit of heat. And smell staleness in the air. Heat and carbon dioxide, a combination that equals life. Something breathing and exhaling, the air filling its lungs, the oxygen being absorbed. Something warm and breathing, you can count on at least one thing about it. It’s full of blood.
Ahead of me in the dark, something alive.
Alive for now anyway.
I didn’t expect him to be so much trouble to find. When he ran down Freedom Tunnel he was soaked in the cripple’s blood; so not like there was much chance I’d lose the scent. I figured to stroll after him, kick some garbage every now and then to let him know I was there, keep him running until he keeled over gasping and wormed his way into some crack in the walls. I figured the hardest part would be deciding if I wanted to let him cut me a little while I reached in to drag him out, or if I wanted to look around for something I could ram down his hiding place a few times until I cracked his head open.
Then he went shit-diving.
I don’t know if it was a plan he had, the way he went spastic and cut up the cripple makes me think planning isn’t his forte, but when he dropped out of the train tunnel and wallowed in a bank of sewage that had washed up in the storm drain below he put me off the scent.
Went from tracking a guy who smelled like an abattoir to a guy who smelled like a porto-potty. Which pretty much describes the way everything under Manhattan smells.
Got dicey after that. Cagey little fucker realized I wasn’t right on his ass, he started to calm down a bit, caught his breath some, stopped panting so much, stopped stumbling so much, started picking spots he could hole up a minute at a time and be quiet. If there’d been any kind of light at all I’d just have started throwing rocks at him until he went down. All I needed was one of those odd reflections you get down here sometimes. Sunlight filters through the grates over the train tunnels, a spear of it finds its way down a sluice, it reflects in some runoff from the sewers and you find a whole section of drain takes on a haze of light. Enough so you might see an idea of your hand if you held it an inch from your eyes. That’s you. Me, I’d see a damn sight more than my hand. But even my eyes need some light to work with. Something to reflect off the surfaces and show me what they are.
Instead I’m blind. Whether that means it’s night up top I couldn’t say. Been some time since I’ve kept track of the hour. Used to be I knew sunup and sundown like my own heartbeat. But after you miss a couple hundred of each you start to lose that sense.
The guy ahead of me is just as blind, but he knows the drains. Been down here I don’t know how many years. Since he was a kid most probably. Since someone kicked him loose to make his way on his own and he realized the tunnels might be dark, but they were a better place for not getting fucked with than the streets. In the land of the lost, no one empties a gas can over you and lights a match just to see what happens next. Sure people kill each other, but not for no reason other than you’re sleeping in a gutter in their neighborhood. Everyone down here has slept in more than one gutter. They got nothing to prove. When they kill down here it’s for something that matters. Stove fuel. A bottle of wine. A dead guy’s good boots.
What the guy breathing out carbon dioxide up ahead of me killed the cripple over I can’t say. What it was made me take off after him is a little easier to figure.
Figure it was because he did it near the mouth of Freedom Tunnel not far from where the graffiti kids come crawling around to see the work that Amtrak never bothered to paint over when they started running trains through there again. Figure there’s no telling if one of those kids might have seen it happen and might be up top right now talking to the cops about murder in the tunnels. Mostly the cops are pretty fucking happy not to do any enforcing down here. Let justice take its own course. But a nasty slashing witnessed by a Columbia fine arts student might encourage them to put together a squad of troopers with helmets and shields to come down here, break up the shanties, club some skulls and drag some asses up top for a grilling and a few days in one of their holes.
Not that I’m any too likely to get caught up in a sweep like that, but I have an interest in the moles maintaining something like a stable community. More stable it is down here, the less likely they’ll get spooked and spread out. More stable it is, the more moles get drawn in. The more moles, the more camouflage for someone looking to be lost.
And the more to eat.
I’m not fattening up or anything. Far from it. Rarely been leaner have I. But in a population dominated by drunks and junkies, it’s generally not too hard to find someone passed out or on the nod who you can tap for a pint in the darkness. Don’t get greedy and you can hit a vein just about any time you need one.
So figure that’s one reason I took off after the guy. To keep my good thing from getting fucked with. But figure it was probably more about all that blood hitting the wall in a spray. The smell of it was a punch in the face. My eyes and my mouth watered and I was on my feet and running after the guy before I even thought about cops. Before I thought about anything else, I was thinking how nobody was gonna care what I did to this guy. How it was gonna be dark in the tunnels while I ran him down. How good it was gonna be to rip a hole in him and drink until I was so full I was gagging on him. How I wanted a damn drink after all the sipping I’d been doing.
No, I don’t know why he killed the cripple. And I don’t much care. I just care that I’m blind right now and he knows the drains better than me and he’s just there, him and his blood. Question is, did he stop because he hit a dead end, or because he thinks he’s got a play he can make.
Cold shit is bumping against my ankles and flowing toward him. There’s a loud gurgle and suck a few yards ahead.
My first month down here, I found myself in a drain like this, just trying to map out the new turf, thought I was as deep as it goes, took a step and found out it goes deeper. Dropped straight about eight yards, hit brick and cobbles, a shard of rust snagged the back of my thigh and ripped it knee to ass. Lost enough blood before the wound started to clot that I went spinny-headed. That time I had a flashlight on me. Hadn’t been using it because I wanted to learn how to work the dark, but I had it on me. If I hadn’t, if it had broken in the fall, I’d maybe never have found my way out.
I don’t have a flashlight this time. I go down a suck hole and I’ll be gone. Little fucker up there, laying for me, thinking he’s got this wired now that we’re on his turf, he’s got me wanting to make things hard for him. But I got to know where he is first.
I wonder how crazy he is.
And I make a play to find out.
—Let me ask you something.
—Why’d you go and kill the cripple?
He inhales, like a guy about to say his piece, then lets it out, says nothing.
I keep up my end of the conversation.
—Mean, just because he was a cripple, that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a reason for killing him. Just ’cause the guy didn’t have a lower body, that doesn’t mean he didn’t do something to deserve it. I knew a guy, blind, blind as a bat blind, couldn’t see shit. Know what being blind did for his personality? Nothing. Guy was a prick. A blind prick. A drunk, blind prick. Closing time at this bar I used to work the door, someone had to always walk this blind prick home. When I drew that short straw, I’d walk the fucker to a vacant lot, let him pass out on the ground. He’d come in the next night, be a prick about the deal, tell people what I’d done. Know what they did? They patted me on the back. All of them knew he deserved it. A guy’s a cripple, that doesn’t mean he’s charming.
I hear him licking his lips, just dying to say something. But he doesn’t.
—Maybe not, though. Maybe your cripple was a great guy. Could be you’re a crazy asshole who lost his shit and cut up a perfectly good cripple for no reason other than you got tired of listening to his wheels squeaking.
—He stole my fucking girlfriend.
That was really all I need, just the sound of his voice, the echo behind it as it bounced off the drain walls and ceiling, that pretty much pins him down for me. Close enough I can jump over anything between us, a few yards maybe, no worry about going down a suck hole. Once I’m on him there won’t be anything at all to worry about.
But my curiosity gets hold of me.
From the Trade Paperback edition.