|Publisher:||Night to Dawn Magazine & Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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Leslie floated through a gray mist. The whisper of the woman's footsteps faded; everything went silent. The numbness and pain didn't seem so awful. Nothing seemed bad except the pointed teeth and hungry look in the woman's eyes, until what felt like a hammer rammed her left chin.
From far away, the woman's laughter, then slurping sounds. The breeze on her face,
(OH! OWWW! How it hurts, it HURTS, my jaw what did you do)
and her eyes snapped open. Blood was dribbling from her nose, pooling on her neck and the sofa cushions. Her jaw seemed to burn in rivers of fire. Only dimly aware that she was sobbing, Leslie gazed at the woman in the white dress. She saw the fangs, still nested in the woman's hideous smile, and the gray dots spiraled up before her eyes again. The woman sat on the sofa facing Leslie.
(My jaw, she busted my jaw)
She was licking maroon stains from her right fist. Leslie refused to give into the grayness. Instead, she pushed herself up on one elbow . . . oh, how it hurt, it was like being stabbed with knives-and faced her attacker.
"Oh, my God," she heard herself murmur.
The woman's voice, laced with what sounded like a thick European accent, wafted through the cloud of pain. "I wouldn't run if I were you," she said, smiling.
And if you try, her smile said, I'll pulverize you. It gave the message loud and clear, without any accent.
Leslie looked up at the overhead chandelier. Spiked crystals hung from its brass plate. Like fangs. "I'm sorry," she blurted between swift, harsh breaths. "I didn't know anyone lived here."
The woman sidled forward, pressing her leg against Leslie's hip, chilling like a cold beef slab. "You're thesorriest woman I ever met," she said amiably.
Too much. The gray dots again, the woman's voice fading into an eerie tunnel. Leslie waited for the sensation to pass, then continued. Her rattling teeth drowned out the sound of her whimpering. "I got sick...dizzy. Your door was open, and I thought I'd rest."
"That doesn't surprise me." The woman smiled again. "We know each other well, Leslie. Quite well."
God, she knows my name. Another hostile stranger like those bitches at Ross. Only this one uses her fists. Looking at the woman, Leslie sensed emptiness, a black hole. Her host's vacant stare hinted that she'd become unhinged from the familiar landmarks of her life. Her pupils were dilated black marbles. Leslie recognized that look. It was the look of someone high on drugs. It was--
Don't look at her eyes, a voice inside screamed. Leslie flipped her head sideways. She paid for the sudden movement with a thousand kilowatts of agony. "I don't remember meeting you."
"I'm Drusilla Mason. You give sick people breathing herbs, right?"
Leslie gulped, choking on the coppery taste of blood. The pain was now radiating to her head. "I'm a respiratory therapist," she said. "I banged my head in a car accident, and the last two years became blank. Did we work together?"
"In a way," Drusilla said. "Your lost years became mine."
"I don't understand." Grabbing a tissue from her pants pocket, Leslie blotted her nose. The tissue came away soaked with blood.
"Don't be coy, Leslie," Drusilla said in a steady voice. "You threw yourself at my husband."
"You've got the wrong person. I never chase after married men. You can take that one to the bank."
"His name's Kenworthy." Drusilla licked her lips, clearing the blood off her chin. "Somehow, you got his attention. He married me because I look like you."
Leslie swallowed again, tasting more blood. The grayness dissipated, leaving behind terrible throbbing in her jaw. "I don't remember anyone named Kenworthy either," she said, struggling to a sitting position. "I'm talking amnesia here."
"I don't know about amnesia, but you look awfully nervous," Drusilla said in a sugary voice. She go up and paced around the room, eyes on Leslie.
Damn straight I am, Leslie's mind screamed, because you busted my jaw. You've gotten into bad dope, Drusilla, something that made you crack, and there's no telling where the pieces will fall. "I didn't mean to intrude," she said, fighting the tremors in her voice. "Please don't..."
"Don't hurt you? You have no concept of real suffering," Drusilla sneered softly. "Frankly, Leslie, I think you lack manners. Here you lie, bleeding on my couch, and staring at me as though I were garbage, the way my masters used to look at me. I find that very offensive."
ALEX! ALEX WALLACH! WHERE ARE YOU? Leslie looked down at the blood that was now soaking the cushion. Her blood, which was still dripping from her nose. You rescued me from the bitches at Ross, why not this monster? Why not Drusilla before she kills me? She got no answer, of course, but images rushed through her head, memories of her and Alex. Alex comforting her near Saunders' office. Alex swabbing alcohol on her cuts. She'd scratched her throat on some rose bushes before her accident, but she still felt the scabs. Then a voice floated from her subconscious.
How did you really get those scratches, Leslie?
Not scratches, but love bites...the sound of drinking. "We're tied," she remembered Alex saying. "If anyone tries to hurt you, just think my name."
But that didn't sound right. People did not drink blood or communicate by thought. Alex wanted her to telephone him. "I wish I could fix whatever you think I've done," she said, reaching for her sneakers and coat. "But I can't. I'd like to go, but I'll need help getting home. May I use your phone?"
Drusilla swept the room with eyes that burned like smoldering coals. "I don't have a phone," she said coldly. "Find your own way home."
In the next instant, Drusilla's foot, clad in a shoe with a spiked heel, lashed out, torpedoing Leslie's left hip. Ungodly pain like ground glass shattered through Leslie's side. The room spun around her, and she felt herself fall in slow motion. She got a look at the bloodstains on to the velvet rug; a glimpse of the light playing on the gold-lined patterns embroidering the velvet. The lines merged, forming skull faces. The gut wrenching screams she heard came from her throat.
"I used to beg for mercy when my masters chased me with their whips. They never listened. You look just like them with your shiny clothes and painted face." Drusilla's cherry-red lips curled into a sunken and rather horrible grin. "Where you're going, you won't need shoes or a coat. Get up."
Leslie wanted to-badly needed to get up and run. But the shattered fragments in her pelvis ground against each other, flashing sharp, hot, terrible agony. Sprawled on her side, she looked up at Drusilla, who now stood over her. "I can't," she cried, her voice sobbing. "You've broken my hip."
Folding her arms across her chest, Drusilla gave Leslie a piercing gaze. "Perhaps you'd like to wait for Kenworthy. Big mistake. He won't find you so desirable after I finish with you."
Leslie tasted hot salty tears mixed with the blood. She thought about Warren, her dad, and Shelly, and how they'd welcomed her home with a family dinner. The Last Supper, she thought crazily. What made her run to those trees?
"You want to kill me?" she sobbed. "Go ahead."
"Now, why would I do that?" Drusilla twirled her red curls with a manicured finger. "The fun's only beginning."
"If Kenworthy cares for me, like you say, he'll be furious."
"Kenworthy will never know. I can get away with anything because I'm an immortal. Know what that means?"
Leslie huddled on the floor, shivering, though beads of sweat formed on her skin. Signs of incipient shock. The pain came and went in waves. Nothing Drusilla said made sense, but she'd rather talk than get beaten. "It means that you're a ghost."
Drusilla resumed her pacing, still watching Leslie. "Kenworthy and I are vampires. Plain and simple."
"Damn!" Leslie clawed at her neck, where she felt sudden and intense itching. Had Drusilla-
"Relax. If I bit you, you wouldn't live to remember it."
Leslie lifted her gaze to Drusilla's face. The black hole loomed large, threatening to swallow her. "Certain diseases cause craving for blood, but vampires don't exist."
Oh, yeah? The voice inside yammered. Drusilla's teeth look very real. And, while we're at it, how did you really get those neck scabs?
"Where I live, blood drinking is a way of life," Drusilla said. "I grew up in Adria, a very old country belonging to the gods. You cross dimensions of time to get there. Humans can't make the trip unless escorted by immortals."
Leslie rubbed her arms, trying to ease the goose bumps. Her surroundings took on a nightmarish quality, but the pain made everything real. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her rosary, a present given by the hospital chaplain.
Drusilla's fist reared out and snatched the rosary. "Idiot!" Her voice seethed with contempt. "Religious symbols don't hurt me."
"I guess not." Leslie squeezed her eyes shut, praying for rescue or death. She opened her eyes again and turned her head. Stabs of pain muttered through her cracked jaw. "You say that my memories became yours. What did you mean?"
"My mind absorbed your memories...birthdays, holidays, work days, as if I'd lived them. I remember your father's stroke and the way he hassled his healers, even though I never met him."
"Was I a good therapist...healer?"
Stepping back, Drusilla howled with laughter. Moments passed, and then she composed herself. "I'll tell you what you want to know after we go for a walk."
Grabbing Leslie by the armpits, Drusilla hauled her to her feet. Jolts of pain flared through her battered hip. Her right leg buckled. She bawled, fresh hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
"What? You want more?" Drusilla yanked Leslie again, bony hands wrapped around her left arm. Sharp burning followed, accompanied by the sound of Leslie's arm tearing from its socket the way a drumstick tears from a turkey. "Want me to break your neck? I could do that very easily, you know."
"I can't take any more," Leslie screamed. "Go ahead and kill me."
"In due time." Drusilla hoisted Leslie in her arms like a sack of potatoes. "You lived a soft life, hiring machines to do your work. I saw them in my visions before Kenworthy made me a vampire."
"What kind of visions?"