“The Fear Inside” is a long(ish) short story from back in the days when I was mostly writing horror, science fiction, and fantasy. This one was published in 2009 but the first draft is a few years older—maybe even several years older.
I wrote this one after reading Stephen King’s The Green Mile. I’ve long been fascinated by prisons and thought it would be the perfect setting for a horror story.
Originally published in Absent Willow Review, 2009.
The Fear Inside
By Lee Wright
“A murderer is one who is presumed to be innocent until proven insane.”
There is no sound in Heaven, Hell or Earth more terrifying than the one made when that steel door slams shuts. I still remember how it sounded the first time I heard it, and that was more than sixty years ago. The way those cold cement block walls magnify and distort the crash of metal on metal can only be described as the sound of a human heart breaking. The echo dies slowly and reluctantly in these dreary halls. Sometimes, lying awake at night in that foggy place between wakefulness and sleep, I can still hear it.
“They always do that,” Remy said. “They always stan’ there lookin’ out t’rough th’ bars, like any minute th’ warden gonna come down here and say, ‘Oh, shit, boy! We done fucked up! You ain’t s’posed to be here. Go on home, now!’”
The new guy stood with his back to us for a long time. Like Remy said, they always do that, but something was different about this one. His hands were in the pockets of his standard issue orange jumpsuit, not white knuckled on the bars. His back was straight, his shoulders were squared and his head was held high.
Butch Sipe, the de facto leader of Cell Block D, crushed his cigarette under his boot then heaved his massive body off the bench with a grunt. He crossed to the new guy and tapped him on the shoulder with a meaty, nicotine-stained finger. Slowly, the young man at the bars turned to face us. His hands were still in his pockets and the son-of-a-bitch was smiling.
I’ll never forget the sound of that door closing and I’ll never forget that smile. Cold and completely devoid of humor, it was more an expression of blissful emptiness than emotion, while the face that bore it was a long triangle of harsh lines with the ironic beauty of a free-form pencil sketch. His eyes—icy flakes of cobalt—swept the room slowly and methodically, pausing on each of us for the briefest of moments before drifting on to the next. In spite of the fact that they stood just inches apart, Butch was the last to receive the emotionless scrutiny and, despite Butch’s imposing presence, the new guy calmly dismissed him as casually as he had the rest of us.
Butch’s right fist clenched and a vein on his right temple began to throb rapidly.
“Name’s Logan,” the new guy said. His voice was musical, but in a harsh, gritty way, like an electric guitar in a good blues band.
“I’m Butch,” the giant growled, moving even closer to the new guy, “and I’m sort’a the Saint Peter of this particular circle of Hell.”
Logan’s smile changed, becoming even colder. “Okay.”
“First thing I’m gonna do,” Butch said, “is teach you some fuckin’ manners.”
But the lesson was Logan’s to deliver.
Butch looked at me and opened his mouth as if to ask a question, but there were no words. A glistening red bubble ballooned from his trembling lips and exploded silently with the force of his dying breath. His knees buckled and he sank slowly forward onto the cold cement floor. Butch lay on his stomach as his glazed eyes stared at the ceiling.
Logan stood with his back against the bars and his hands in his pockets. He still wore the same cold smile that had been on his lips since they slammed the door in his face.
Remy chuckled. “Looks like this circle of Hell just got a new gatekeeper.”
– 2 –
“Green Beret,” Cracker said, nodding vigorously to prove he was correct. “Gotta be a Green Beret. Nobody else could do something like that.”
“Maybe a ninja,” Juan suggested. “A ninja could do that.”
Vin agreed. “Yeah. A ninja could kick a Green Beret’s ass.”
“A ninja’s got a code of honor,” Cracker protested. “They don’t kill for no reason like the government does. Did’ja see his eyes? He didn’t even blink. Only a government-trained killer could be that cold.”
Juan’s leaned in toward the group, his eyes wide. “Maybe he’s a ninja trained by the government.”
At this last hypothesis, they all nodded enthusiastically.
I shook my head, chuckled softly and slipped farther down the long bench to where Remy sat alone at the other end of the table.
“Everybody’s got a theory,” I said. “What’s yours?”
He shrugged. “You’re the ed’acated one, Ol’ Man. You can prob’ly come up with somethin’ better’n that gov’ment trained ninja shit.”
I hesitated for a moment then said, “I think Logan’s a vampire.”
Remy laughed in his peculiar rasping-hack sort of way and slapped the table with an open palm.
I let him laugh for a bit then said, “I’m serious.”
Remy stopped laughing and looked at me with a crooked grin. “You done gone ‘n’ got senile on me, Ol’ Man,” he said amid a chuckle full of humor, pity and phlegm.
I shook my head and pounded the table with a fragile fist. “Goddammit, Remy, I’ve seen them! They do exist! They do!”
He held up his hands. “Okay, okay. Don’t have a heart attack, Ol’ Man.”
“I thought you’d be the one to believe,” I said. “Coming from swamp country and all.”
He shrugged and gave me a crooked grin. “It’s true I seen some strange stuff ‘n’ heard some weird tales… But, vampires?”
“Come on. I’ve heard you talk about Voodoo.”
“Sure I believe in Voodoo ‘n’ Black Magic,” he conceded. “But those is religions, ‘n’ even if’n they ain’t real, any man that’s got alota both hatred and religion is dang’rous ‘nuff to take seriously.” He lit a cigarette and shook his head. “But vampires, now that’s somethin’ altogether dif’rent.”
Remy started to say something else but, before he could, half the lights in the common room went off, stayed off for a second then flashed again.
“Light’s out’s early tonight,” I said.
I looked at the catwalk above our table. The guards all had their billyclubs out and were shifting nervously in their positions. “Everyone’s been on edge since this morning,” I said. “And they don’t even know what they just put in their cage.”
– 3 –
“Rats,” Juan said at lunch. “The coroner said it was rats that ate Vin’s throat after he was already dead.”
It was the morning after the death of Butch Sipe. Logan was doing what would turn out to be a five day stint in Solitary and, after a morning in lockdown, the whole block was buzzing with rumors about what had happened to Vincent Cappi sometime the previous night.
“It wasn’t rats,” I said, my voice low and thin.
“Ever’body knows there’s rats as big as your foot in this nasty ol’ place,” Hawke said.
“We’ve all seen ‘em,” Remy said quietly.
Juan held up his hand to show a thin scar. “Some of us even been bit a time or two.”
I stood. “It wasn’t a rat. And, if any of you dimwitted delinquents had half a brain, you’d know that.”
“If it wasn’t rats,” Cracker said, “how’d Vin’s throat get ripped all to shit?”
I sighed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
There was a pause then Cracker laughed and the others joined him.
I said, “Fuck you,” to no one in particular and walked away. I went to my cell and lay on my bunk. I was beginning to shake uncontrollably and I felt bile rising in my throat.
– 4 –
Logan had been back in Gen Pop for only a few hours when he appeared in my doorway and said, “Hello, Mister Poe.”
Lying in my cell with a book, I instinctively glanced toward the other end of the bunk where my mother’s weathered old crucifix hung on its well-worn rosary. Logan followed my gaze and smiled. The crucifix was not more than a foot from his head. He reached up and reverently, almost lovingly, caressed the silver figure for several seconds. “A beautiful artifact of a dead movement,” he said.
“What do you want?” My voice was barely a whisper.
“I’m told that you have a rare gift for insight,” he continued, his eyes never leaving mine. “It often serves you well.”
“I find that I have a surplus of free time in which to consider the nature of things.”
“Then why did you stop writing?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Fear of failure, maybe.”
“There are far worse things than failure,” Logan said. “Just remember: Sometimes, the things you know are more terrible than the things you imagine.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I looked at him again, Logan was no longer smiling.
“I’m tired of waiting and I’m tired of playing games,” I said, the words coming slowly and with great difficulty.
Logan smiled. “All shall be resolved tonight.”
– 5 –
Remy sat at one of the concrete tables in the exercise yard. He smoked a cigarette and stared at something in the distance only he could see. I sat across him, picked up his rusted Zippo and took a cigarette from his pack on the table. I lit it with shaking hands.
I inhaled deeply and almost choked before the sweet poison found its old hiding places in the dark corners of my brain. “It’s been a while.”
Remy smiled. “Better when you start back, ain’t it?”
“I’m not starting again,” I said. “I’m just having one to calm my nerves.”
Remy slid the pack to the middle of the table. “Well, they’ll be right here when you get ready for ‘em.”
“Do you know why I’m in here?” I asked.
“Jesus Christ, Ol’ Man, ever’body knows why you’re here.” His voice was a nearly reverent whisper. “I was just a kid when it happened, but I reckon a man never forgets a story like that.”
“You don’t know the whole story.”
Remy leaned slightly toward me and rested his bony arms on the table.
“I am guilty of killing my wife, Rachel,” I said matter-of-factly. “I stabbed her in the heart then decapitated, eviscerated and incinerated her.”
Remy swallowed hard and nodded. He may not have known what all those five-syllable words meant, but he knew this was the first I had spoken of Rachel’s death in over six decades.
“I did kill her,” I said, “but what the jury didn’t understand—what no one understood—was that I had to do it.”
“’Cause she was a vampire.”
“Exactly.” I took another long, satisfying drag off the cigarette. “But Rachel wasn’t like the vampires in the movies and pulp novels of my youth. She was more like the beautiful Sirens of the Old World that lured sailors to their death with enchanting songs and smiles.”
“A devil in disguise,” Remy said.
“Yes. Unlike the blood-suckers of popular fiction, she bore no distinguishing vampiric features. Her eyes were a calm and bright shade of emerald and her teeth were a work of orthodontic perfection. In the sunlight, her skin did not smoke and wither into ashes; on the contrary, she achieved a deep, golden tan to compliment her long sun-bleached hair. She was also quite comfortable in front of both mirrors and cameras and, in every instance I was witness to, her image was flawlessly reproduced.”
“What about crosses and such?”
“Sacraments of the Church had no ill effect on her. She even wore my sainted mother’s Confirmation Day crucifix to mass each week and accepted Communion.”
I inhaled more smoke, letting it warm my throat and lungs before I continued. Remy was right. The first one after quitting was the best.
“I know I should have recognized Rachel for what she was much sooner than I did but, in my defense, I was blinded by what I thought was love. Even now, more than sixty years after I had to kill her, I sometimes find that I miss the way she used to touch me when I was writing, that subtle, soft and oh-so-tantalizingly brief caress at the base of my skull. I could always feel the muscles relaxing and unknotting as the blood began to flow and my fingers pounded the well-worn typewriter keys in time with my accelerated heartbeat. Then she’d brush my cheek with those full, sweet, tender lips before moving on, silently, through our tiny apartment like a leaf in an autumn breeze.
“She would sit on an old sofa as I typed maniacally. ‘I like to listen to you write,’ she’d say. ‘The clicking keys remind me of rain on the tin roof of the house I lived in as a child.’ In fact, when we were newlyweds, she would just sit for hours listening to me pound the keys and sometimes (quite often, actually), I would type nonsense just to make the staccato music that soothed her. She was a cobra and that old typewriter became my reed flute.
“She’d bought that typewriter for me the first Christmas after we were married, but, when I discovered her secret, it was one of the first things I destroyed. She was furious when she found the shattered machine in the dumpster but, somehow, I convinced her it was an accident and she resigned herself to a prolonged pouting session on the periphery of my vision.
“Free at last of that damn machine’s mind control devices, I was finally able to write again. I went back to producing my first drafts—and, often, my final drafts, as well—in long hand just as I had done before we were married. I started keeping my stories, notes and poems in loose-leaf notebooks that I locked away in a safe to which only I knew the combination.
“Of course, Rachel feigned hurt disappointment when I stopped letting her read my work, but I told her I was writing something special just for her and the effect would be lost if she read anything other than the finished product. Rachel sighed and looked at me with those big sad eyes then gave me a hug, telling me that she understood and thought it was sweet the way I always thought of her. She understood all right. She understood that I was getting wise to her little game.”
“I still don’t un’nerstan’,” Remy said. “How’d’ya’ know she was a vampire if she didn’t look like one ‘n’ didn’t show no signs or nothin’?”
“Well, it was the little things mostly—at first anyway—that exposed the secrets her kind try to hide. Things that once seemed like rather ordinary occurrences eventually began to form a pattern. A pattern that led me to suspect something was not quite right with my sweet Rachel. But I guess you could say it really started with the dreams.
“They were frightening montages of blurry, flickering images that danced in the dark corners of my tortured subconscious as I fought for sleep on those long and humid summer nights when I was writing my second novel. In the dreams, I was usually trapped in a small, dark, coffin-like box with the sense that, above me, the damp, thick earth pressed down on my tiny, molding prison. My chest would constrict and my head would swim with bleak, desperate fear. I’d try to scream but find my voice unresponsive, muted by the muddy taste of hopeless terror. Then, from somewhere above, Rachel’s voice would float down to me, calling me to join her and I would begin clawing frantically at the boards above me until my fingers split open and the blood flowed back into my upturned face. I would taste my own blood and I’d start to laugh.”
“Laugh?” Remy was was holding a lit cigarette but kept forgetting to smoke it. The ash was nearly two inches long.
“Laughter is often the first sign of insanity.”
Remy nodded. He knew something about insanity.
“As the summer wore on, the dreams became more detailed, more direct. I can’t say how exactly, or why. I just know that, one night in mid August, I awoke drenched in sweat with a scream stuck in my throat and a new terrifying knowledge in my head: Rachel, my wife, my love, was a goddamned vampire.
“At first, being an educated and reasonable man, I discarded the notions as paranoia most likely induced by the illicit substances I often used to stimulate my creativity. But, when nearly a week with not more than an ounce or two of the stuff had passed, I began to realize my suspicions might be rooted in truth. In fact, my virtual chemical abstinence had so thoroughly cleansed my senses that there could be little doubt my worst fears were true. Blessed with this new clarity of vision, the pieces of the puzzle slipped slowly and orderly into place.”
I crushed my cigarette on the table. Remy offered me another but I waved it away. I had no intention of resuming the habit.
“Like a world class chess player, I anticipated all her possible moves and motives. That’s not a particularly easy task when dealing with the supernatural, mind you, but I carefully devised counter-moves and defensive strategies to thwart her nefarious plans, whatever they might be.
I took another of Remy’s cigarettes and stuck it between my moving lips. Remy leaned across the table and, with a smile, lit my cigarette with his Zippo as I talked.
“I barely slept, partly out of fear and partly because of the chemicals. Since Rachel controlled my dreams, I kept myself awake as long as possible by any means necessary. I gave up most of alcohol and opiates and relied on almost exclusively on stimulants. Anything that would keep me awake for a few more hours I gladly took in great quantities, regardless of the risks.”
“For a good part of that time, I wrote like a man possessed. I produced page after page until my right hand was so cramped that I had to literally pry the pen free with my left. For a time, I even tried writing with my left hand while the other recovered. It seemed like a stroke of genius, but, looking back a day or two later, I found the left hand pages to be mostly illegible.”
I laughed. “Actually most of the writing from that period makes very little sense now. I still have some of it in a big folder on the desk in my cell and, from time to time, I get it out and try to figure out what the hell I was thinking. I know it was some of my best work. I remember that. The drugs helped me write some of the greatest prose ever put on paper, but, now that I’m clean sixty years, I can’t understand a single word of it.”
“The truth ain’t meant for rational minds,” Remy said.
I removed the cigarette from my mouth and looked at it for a long quiet moment. Eventually, I put it back and inhaled slowly. The second cigarette after a long break was pretty goddamned good too.
“I searched out books on the subject and read every one I could get my hands on, but they all lead nowhere. Silver bullets, crosses, garlic, wooden steaks and variations of those tactics were all I could seem to find and, although I hadn’t yet attempted the wooden stake approach, Rachel’s immunity to other traditional anti-vampire talismans made me afraid to try. The last thing I wanted was to have her alive and furious because I’d splattered blood all over the sheets while she was sleeping. Nothing gets blood out, you know.”
Remy laughed at that but I did not.
“I was at my wit’s end when, by chance, I happened into a little bookstore in the French Quarter one evening simply to get out of the rain. That’s where I found it. In the back, on a bottom shelf, scientific facts! The book was The Facts Behind the Fear: A Scientific Study of Lycanthropes, Vampires, Zombies, Ghosts and Other Things That Go Bump In the Night by Doctor Abraham Schreck, a professor of paranormal psychology. I purchased the book then found an all-night diner and read it in one long sitting.
“Doctor Schreck had determined through extensive research that, although vampires were supernatural beings, they weren’t actually undead as legend tells us they are. Neither were they evil incarnate, at least not in the religious sense. Schreck said that God and the Devil, in all their forms, were created by humans to explain what they don’t understand because Man has no greater weakness than his fear of the unknown.”
Remy nodded. He knew something about fear of the unknown.
“Anyway, Schreck said that vampires, werewolves and such were just products of a slight fork in the road of human evolution.”
“You believe him?” Remy asked.
“I did. I had always considered myself a disciple of Christ—and I still find it hard to let go of the trappings of that belief system—but, since the books of my god weren’t offering any usable advice, I decided to look at things from a more rational and logical perspective. After that, it was just a matter of luring Rachel into a trap.”
“And the trap was up in the mountains.”
“Yes. An old college buddy offered me the use of his cabin, so we packed our bags and set out. We got there around dusk and I knew that Rachel had to be dead before sunrise. But I don’t mind telling you that it was all I could do to keep from screaming in terror. If it hadn’t been for the calming effect of the pills, I don’t think I could have stayed sane.
“After we unloaded the car, Rachel suggested we take a dip in the lake.” I paused and closed my eyes. “God she was beautiful. But I knew it would be too easy for her to kill me in the lake and drowning had always seemed to me to be one of the worst ways to die.”
“Didn’t know much, back then, did’ja?” Remy asked with a chuckle.
I stared at the table for a while. The next part would be hard to recount. Remy waited patiently. Finally, I said, “I told Rachel I was tired from driving but she should feel free to indulge herself while I got settled in. She agreed somewhat reluctantly then stripped right there in front of God and Nature and all the critters in the woods and trotted off for the lake, her muscles rippling like…”
After a long moment of silence, Remy asked, “Ripplin’ like what?”
I shrugged. “I’ve never been able to adequately describe just how beautiful Rachel was and I don’t suppose I ever will.”
Remy nodded. “The best things are the ones that you cain’t tell people about. That’s what makes ‘em yours.”
I smiled and finished my cigarette.
“While Rachel was swimming, I went inside and prepared for what I had to do even though I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. My plan involved shooting her to take her down. I had an old army issue .45 and it was loaded silver bullets. I didn’t know if the silver would have any special power, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.”
“Where’d you find silver bullets?”
“I ordered them from a magazine. The Lone Ranger was big back then so people all over were trying to cash in on his popularity by melting down coins and dinnerware and turning them into bullets they could sell to kids.”
“Never cared much for that Lone Ranger guy,” Remy said. “I don’t mind the mask but I jus’ cain’t trust a man that lives in a cave with an Injun.’
I wasn’t quite sure if he was joking or not but I laughed. Remy just looked at me and grinned.
“I waited behind the cabin’s door, intending to shoot Rachel in the back of the head when she walked in. But I guess my hands were shaking too badly. The first two shots went wide and the third clipped her left shoulder. She spun around to face me and there was this savage glare in her eyes. Rachel opened her mouth like she was going to scream, but all she did was make a hissing sound like a scared snake. I closed my eyes and fired again. And again. I don’t know how long I kept pulling the trigger but, when I opened my eyes, my finger was still working as fast as it could. The hammer fell on empty chambers, I could hear the hollow click echoing off the wooden walls.
“Rachel lay on her back in a rapidly spreading pool of crimson. Her arms and legs were splayed at odd angles but her eyes were wide and focused. She was still nude from her swim and, in spite of the ragged hole in her abdomen, she was still magnificently beautiful. I felt that old, familiar stirring and, for a moment, lust overwhelmed reason. I sank to my knees, dropped the pistol and cradled her tenderly in my arms. Her eyes were suddenly opaline quagmires and I was sinking fast into their murky treacherous depths. Her right hand rose and brushed my cheek. She started crying very softly, but my will was strong.
“Screaming like a madman to drown out her siren song of pity, I raced to the back porch and grabbed the axe I had seen there by the pile of firewood earlier. After a few wild swings, I brought the axe down just below her right shoulder. My aim was decent but most of my energy was being expended in panic so it took me several whacks to completely sever her arm. The left one came off a bit quicker, but maybe that’s because she was moving less by then. By the time her legs were gone, Rachel had quit screaming. In fact, she barely made a sound. She just watched me with what seemed like detached interest, her full lips trembling with rage. I wanted to say something sufficiently bitter and scathing as I took her head, but all I could manage was, ‘You’re so beautiful.’
I took a long breath, held it for a moment then exhaled slowly before finishing the story. “Once her body was in the stove and the fire was going good, I lay down on the floor and laughed myself to sleep.
Remmy nodded. “Laughter’s often the first sign of insanity.”
– 6 –
Somehow, I slept that night and, as I slept, I dreamt of Rachel and I dreamt of being buried alive. I awoke from the nightmare with a scream (or perhaps an insane laugh) lodged in my throat. I swallowed the sound and pulled myself upright. The clock glowed green in the darkness. Midnight.
I swung my feet over the side of the bed, onto the floor, stood and steadied myself with a hand on the edge of Cracker’s bunk. Blood flowed across the floor in a great lethargic pool. I felt the blood, warm against the soles of my bare feet, before I saw it. My eyes adjusted to the low light and I traced the path of the blood to Cracker’s bunk. Even in the sparse light, I could see his severed head resting between his feet.
Perhaps it was due to the calming effect of the handful of multicolored pills I had taken before bed but the gruesome scene neither surprised nor upset me. After all, I had once done far worse to someone I had loved.
I turned to find the door to our cell open. I stepped into the dimly lit corridor beyond and looked down toward the guard room at the north end. It was empty. I stepped back inside my cell and dropped to my knees. Crawling quickly and quietly, I skirted the pool of Cracker’s blood and slipped under my bunk.
More than thirty years earlier, while suffering from one of my frequent bouts of insomnia, I had found a loose block near the rear corner of the cell and managed to work it free. There was no hope of tunneling out to freedom but I had spent countless hours in the dark of night slowly and quietly hollowing it out to create a secret hiding place for my contraband. Guided by instinct, habit and fear, I pulled the stone free and groped in the darkness.
My hand moved quickly across the plastic bags of narcotics, the syringe and pages of fresh prose. I smiled to myself in the darkness as the cool metal of the .38 slipped beneath my trembling fingers. The small semi-automatic pistol had been my next-to-last purchase from Vin the Scrounger. The silver bullets, the last. I had been sickened when Vin told me the price of the gun and I had been even more repulsed when I paid it. Now, however, with the satisfying weight of the gun in my hand, I felt like a god.
Laying the gun aside, I reached back into the hollow block for the bag of drugs. I selected several pills of undetermined composition and dry swallowed them. Then, moving as quietly as possible, the gun once more in my trembling hand, I crawled from under the bunk, stood up and made my way down the hall toward the chapel. The guards had simply vanished and every cell I passed was devoid of life—each a tableaux of grotesque horror rivaling the one in the cell I shared with Cracker.
The chapel was at the south end of the main corridor, adjacent to the rec room. As always, a single votive burned on the crude wooden altar.
My bare feet made muffled whispers on the threadbare carpet as I crept down the aisle.
“Silver bullets won’t save you tonight,” Logan said.
I whirled to find him half-silhouetted in the doorway. I brought the gun up and my finger tightened on the trigger but I seemed to lack the strength to fire.
“You won’t shoot me,” he said.
I tried again to pull the trigger but my finger was weak, my arm was suddenly heavy. I let the gun drop to my side.
Logan stepped into the chapel.
With his advance, I found the strength to put the gun to my temple. “I may die tonight,” I said, “but I won’t let you kill me.”
“Why the hell would he want to kill you?” Remy asked.
I spun quickly and moved so that my back was to the south wall. Remy stepped out of the shadows in the back of the chapel and sat on the altar. He was to my right, Logan to my left.
“You were right, ya’ know,” Remy said to me as he lit a cigarette with his old Zippo lighter. “He won’t kill you long as you got somethin’ he wants.”
“You were the best,” Logan said, taking a small step toward me. “There was never another like you. So much talent yet so little understanding.”
As Logan moved deeper into the chapel, the candle glowed brighter, flooding the room in soft, flickering light. His skin seemed to ripple like water with each step. He moved slowly toward me, his eyes widened and his hair swept back from his face as if blown by some mystical wind.
“You’ll never drain my life away again!” I screamed.
Logan raised an eyebrow and smiled. Again his face rippled. “I never drained you,” he said, his voice softening, the rough edges smoothing along with his face.
“I know what you are,” I stammered, as if the truth itself would save me. “You’re a vampire.”
Remy laughed. “You always talkin’ so big, Ol’ Man, ‘n’ you don’t know diddly shit.”
I looked at Remy then back at Logan.
Logan’s hair fell across his shoulders in full golden waves. His face was shifting, changing.
“I protected you from those who would hurt you,” Logan said. “From those who didn’t understand you or your art.”
Once his voice had been like an electric guitar in a blues band. Now it was the gentle song of a lyre of the gods.
“You didn’t really think those oils, ointments, herbs and shit you got from Vin were what was keepin’ you safe, did you, Ol’ Man?” Remy asked with a rasping chuckle. He seemed genuinely amused.
I let the gun fall away from my temple.
Another wave rippled through Logan’s body, transforming him into something more haunting, more familiar. Radiant in a soft white cotton dress, Rachel looked exactly as she did the first time I saw her. Her eyes were opaline quagmires and I was sinking blissfully into their depths once again.
“I don’t live off your blood,” she said. “It’s what you do that sustains me. Your writing, your art. I won’t let a parasite like Remy rob the world of your voice.”
“I, on the other hand, don’t give a skunk’s ass about your fuckin’ talent, Ol’ Man,” Remy said. “I just wanna rip off your goddamned head and drink your blood.” He accented the statement by licking his lips and slurping loudly.
“You’re a vampire, too.” I said it as more of a statement than a question.
“Call me what’cha want, Ol’ Man,” Remy said, his voice like sandpaper on wood, “just don’t call me late for dinner.”
He laughed and licked his lips again. His tongue was nearly a foot long.
“Remy’s nothing but an emotionless parasite,” Rachel said. “He exists without feeling.”
“Logan’s kind lives on love,” Remy said, displaying obvious distaste with the whole concept. “But for the last sixty-five years, you been so bottled up inside yo’self you couldn’t love.”
I looked to Rachel, a question unspoken, asked with my eyes. She nodded. The movement was almost imperceptible yet it was like a knife through my heart. I staggered backward and sank onto one of the wooden pews. I tried to speak, to repent, recant, but there were no words.
“Like most great artists, you have a troubled soul,’ she said softly. “And, sometimes, it misleads you.”
Remy had moved closer to me yet I never saw him take a step.
“He’s mine, Logan,” Remy said, his voice low. “He’s always been mine.”
“Over my dead body,” Rachel said, her voice Logan’s once again.
Remy smiled, showing a mouthful of sharp, glistening teeth. I raised the pistol and pointed it at him.
“Be careful, Ol’ Man,” Remy hissed. His face quivered and flowed as if searching for a new shape. “You don’t know what you’re doin’.”
I looked back toward the door. Rachel was gone. Logan moved slowly toward me, his hand outstretched.
“You’re not thinking clearly,” he said.
“Listen to him, Ol’ Man,” Remy said.
“This ends now!” I screamed, swinging the gun around to Logan.
I moved as if submerged in a sea of molasses, but Logan was catlike and swift. His long, thin fingers wrenched the gun away from me and tossed it across the room. It slid under one of the pews and out of sight. I closed my eyes.
“Whatever happens, tonight,” Rachel whispered, wrapping her arms around me, “it’s not over. Remember that.”
Her grip was iron, her breath a raging desert wind against my neck. When she released me, I buried my face in my hands and slipped to the floor, laughing like an idiot. As the battle began, I continued to laugh. Laughter, you know, is often the first sign of insanity.
© 2009 Lee Wright
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