Rounding the corner of the creaking staircase, I catch a violet glimmer on the floor below. Leaning over the handrail, I search the stairs winding around the pit to the lobby four floors down. Decay and rot flow down the steps. Dampness rises up the well. Thumping music permeating the walls nearly drowns out the carnal sounds of lovemaking. Nothing stirs on the stairs.
Reaching into my coat, I wrap my fingers around the handle of my gun strapped under my arm. Tingles race down into my legs. It isn’t nerves, or the sinking feeling in my gut that holds me. I know it’s him. His scent rides on a wave of mold.
It’s not amnesia. That’s for damn sure. Maybe Steve doesn’t have memories of his own, instead surviving on the memories borrowed from others. Like his knowledge of history, and how he knows how I like being kissed. And backwards. Except for the borrowed memories, everything seems new to him. He doesn’t remember our past because it’s in his future. Like him wearing a modern suit over a century ago, appearing out of nowhere to rescue Yasmine. The creepiness of it all sends shivers down my arms.
The dead should stay dead and out of my head.
I listen to the gasping breaths, squeals of delight, and bedposts banging the wall behind me. If Steve is here, he is on the other side of the shadows. Purple Hell. Stepping away from the handrail, I lean against the wall letting the beat creep inside. The booming electronic music upstairs works into the wall shattering bliss. I consider slipping inside, watch the sweaty bodies move to their music, listen to their heartbeats. Laughter rumbles upstairs. Hunger calls.
The room is three doors from the stairs. Music thunders within. There’s a party here nearly every week, and plenty of tasty morsels. Without knocking, without opening the door, I step into the shadows, my foot passing through the ethereal door. It’s a trick Steve taught me. Glancing around the rising purple mist, I search for him. Nothing, not even one of those creepy shadow things. I slip inside the smoky den.
The chatter roars fighting the blaring stereo system for attention. On the table near the door, sticky pizza leaves cheese trails back to stained boxes. Beer bottles in hands, they chat in small groups taking chugs between chortles or drags on cigarettes. On the sofa, two topless women bounce and dance spilling beer. Orange and yellow auras rise from their warm flesh.
Intoxication makes it easier, but too much alcohol spoils the meal.
Riding the edge of shadows in and out of the silence, I make my rounds. Stepping back into the world, music thundering, I let a man catch a glimpse of me. Gliding behind a woman in dark clothing, I slip back into the silence. Drifting deeper into the shadows, their forms pale into ethereal, nearly frozen shapes. Selecting another, a topless girl on the sofa, I position myself in her line of sight and return, the thud of music and laughter slamming my ears. She spots me and returns my smile, then turns her attention back on her dance partner. Looking at the other topless girl, I recognize Sabrina painted in dark mascara and black lipstick. What is she doing here? Slipping back into the shadows, I continue browsing the selections nearly frozen in their time. Finding potential targets at the back, I return to the world.
In the corner, a man leans in close to a woman talking her up and out of her blouse hanging from her shoulders. His finger traces the black strap onto lacy fabric. She bats his hand away and grins into a giggle.
I lean against the wall between the amorous couple and door opened a crack. Tapping my leg and nodding my head to the beat, I scan the room. A girl topples backward off the couch knocking a lamp over. Laughter erupts, and several men raise their bottles in a cheer. Taking advantage of the distraction, I push the door open and peek inside. A bathtub rests along the wall on the far and toilet on the near side. Empty. Turning my attention back to the party, I find the couple in the corner hugging each other. The woman runs her hand over the prickly unshaven face while the man watches me.
They tell me their names. Monica is a student of economics, and Tim enjoys riding dirt bikes. I tell them I’m looking to party and motion at the bathroom door.
“Three hundred,” says Monica. Her grin could melt a man. “For the both of you.”
Tim steps back, and his jaw drops. “You’re a hooker?’
The night is looking up. I consider offering another location, somewhere discreet, but my gut churns telling me to get on with it. I’m not like one of those girls that tries to call it cravings or other pretty words. This is an addiction, and I damn well need satisfaction. Feeding is messy, and the tub will do nicely.
After Tim storms off, I separate my prey from the herd leading Monica into the bathroom and close the door. I slide the lock home and turn around finding the woman dropping her skirt. I tell her I like to bite.
“Okay,” says Monica, laughing. “But I’ll have to ask for extra. You know, marks and all.”
Clearly the prostitute isn’t knowledgeable of my kind, so I’ll have to work my dance. Removing my coat, I nod my head to the beat pounding the apartment. I slip the holster off my shoulder and set the gun in the sink.
“Are you a cop?” Monica stands there holding her breasts in her hands. “You look like a cop.”
“No,” I say, smiling. “Self-defense. And I have a permit to carry.” It’s true. I’m fully registered, but not with this gun. I hold up a pair of hundred-dollar bills and drop them on the edge of the sink.
Monica climbs into the tub, starts the shower, and begins dancing to the music. Turning in the spray, she wiggles and grooves. At my age it’s hard to tell, but the girl appears young with tits too perky and flesh too tight. Scrawny, for my taste. And my bite. Fleshy is less painful for the victim, and easier on me.
A knock rattles the door.
“Occupied,” I say. Setting my hands on the sink, I hang my head. Sometimes it takes concentration, especially when the hunger is this bad. I need to focus.
“Hello?” It’s Sabrina. She knocks again.
Monica continues grooving in the shower.
Looking at my hands, I see a wristwatch on my left arm. A man’s accessory and it looks similar to Steve’s old analog watch. I stare at it trying to recall putting it on. Did he leave it the other night? On the nightstand. That must be it. Having a thing for a mark is bad for business. A thing for a dead guy could be considered crazy under normal circumstances, but there isn’t anything normal about Steve.
After the third knock, I spin around and throw the door open.
Bouncing on her toes, Sabrina holds her crotch in one hand and covers her bare breasts with the other. “Sorry,” she says. The girl seems a foot shorter somehow. Spotting Monica in the shower, her face sours. “I really have to pee.”
A familiar chuckle catches my attention, and I search the crowd spotting Zee standing beside the pizza table. Talking to three young men, swaying in his strange way, he waves a wired tray of glass vials around. After Sabrina squeezes inside, I hold the door nearly closed and peer through the crack watching the old Itoril talk the men up. One of the men holds a vial up in the light. The contents appear a milky.
Keeping my eye on Zee, I ask Sabrina about the skinny man in leather.
“Vampire ice,” says Sabrina. “It’s bullshit, but that’s what he says.”
Closing the door, I lean against the wall.
Panties hanging around her ankles, Sabrina sits on the toilet with her hands cupped over her breasts as if shyness has overcome her. She tells me about how Zee is spreading word about some guy named Julio.
The only sensible reason is that Zee is trying to pin the venom thing on Yasmine. On the other hand, coming around my hangouts makes it look like he’s trying to get me into trouble. It’s no secret this is one of my stops.
Monica laughs and says, “Steve Reynolds told me Necropolis has vampire ice. I thought it was some new drink, not a party drug.”
I give Monica my confused, but very concerned look. Steve would never spread rumors. Besides, how does she know Steve?
Monica stops wiggling, and shrugs at the door. “Torx, I mean. He likes to go by Torx.”
It’s too much of a coincidence that the kid renting this apartment shares a name with Steve. Is this where it started? Shaking my head, I turn my attention back on the vials of whatever concoction. I need to talk to Zee. Put off snacking and deal with this fake venom issue.
“Hey,” I say, snapping my fingers. “How about we go back to my place? The three of us.”
Monica shakes her head and frowns.
Standing, Sabrina snaps her panties in place and returns to cupping her breasts. Seeing the sour expression dipped in fear on her face as she passes, I feel my gut drop. The girl is acting peculiar. Icy prickles race into my legs.
Looking at the watch, I find a masculine hand. Touching my head, I feel short prickly hair. His hair. In a step, I’m standing before the mirror and into the face of Steve Reynolds and his menacing blue eyes. I grab the gun from the sink. Stumbling back, I’m consumed by Purple Hell, the walls turn misty as I pass through, and a violet storm of clouds erupt overhead. Catching my footing, I spin around on the cracked desert landscape, and come stomping back onto the carpeted floor of the apartment meeting the sound of breaking glass.
Beside a pizza box, smashed clear shards rest on the moist table. The stuff smells a little like vinegar mixed with some chemical, nothing like venom. And my hand on the glass shards. It’s my hand, slender fingers and all dripping blood from a cut. The wristwatch is gone as well. Catching my eye, I see it. A dark shadow, a wraith, sits at the table staring at the smashed vials.
Rising violet smoke surrounds me, Purple Hell swallows me whole, the silence slamming down.
My scream beats the walls, and I open my eyes to near darkness, and the smell of my satin sheets soaked in sweat. Throwing off the covers, I grab at my head finding strands of long hair. Slapping my hands over my chest, I squeeze my breasts confirming they are mine. I sit alone in my bedroom with a groggy weight pulling my head down.
My hair, my boobs, my bed.
Feeling doubt creeping under my skin, I race across the bedroom, throw the door open, and take the stairs three steps at a time feeling the cool air rushing over my damp flesh. Lucifer leaps out of the way, his white fur glowing on the dark staircase. At the end of the hall, my bare feet slip on the cold tile as I grasp for the sink. Latching on, I pull my face to the mirror.
In the darkness, I can see my aura glowing from my arms. Hotter than normal, it almost appears violet with a touch of red instead of the cool blue. I find my face in the mirror. Auras never reflect, but I imagine my face on fire burning red. And it’s my face, my dark eyes looking back at me. I brush my hair back and touch my breasts making sure I’m real.
My hair, my face, my boobs. I run my tongue over my teeth feeling the comfort of my slender canines.
Leaning over the sink, I look closer at my eyes. “Steve,” I say to the reflection. “Are you in there?”
None of this makes sense. Back at the apartment, was that his memory? No, it had to be mine. Somehow, he’s in my head. That’s all. Before I met Steve I didn’t know how to find Purple Hell, but now it finds me transferring me from one place to another like a bad dream. Steve is pulling me over.
My thoughts return to twenty years ago, Steve laying on the checkerboard floor. At the end of my sword, his body fades into violet smoke leaving a pool of blood behind.
Something moves in the reflection, and I spin around finding the wraith standing in the doorway. The creature is all shadow with deep purple accents, but I can make out the tie and the buzzed haircut of Steve, dark tendrils rising like smoke. From the dark pits of his eyes, nebulous violet smoke pours out curling around his head.
A yelp escapes my throat, and I tumble over, the cold tile slapping my flesh.
Light explodes, and I smash my eyes shut. Sabrina’s voice, a whimper of concern crawls closer. She asks if I’m okay. I nod my head feeling my insides sloshing around. Pulling my eyes open, I see Sabrina in her pajamas kneeling beside me. Orange radiates off her flesh, and her heart pounds like a drum. The doorway behind her is empty.
“You look terrible,” says Sabrina, shaking her head. “Do you need a bite?”
I do. My gut feels empty, my tongue is dry, and my hands shake like an addict.
“But not my arm,” says Sabrina. “My arm is still sore.” She pulls her pajama bottoms down. “How about my leg?”
“Steve,” I say. I grab her leg feeling her warm thigh. The sound of her heart pounds into my head. I’m uncertain how much I might be able to restrain myself. “Where’s Steve?”
Sabrina scrunches her face. “Who?”
“Torx?” Sabrina crawls out of her pajama bottoms and tosses them on the floor behind her.
“No, the guy that was here.” Looking up, I find confusion on the girl’s face that sends my gut lurching. “Tall, buzzed hair,” I say, describing the wraith I just saw. I leave out the smoky tendrils and glowing violet eyes, and get back to the man.
“He was shot. We took care of him, and he stayed with me after I got sick.”
Sabrina shakes her head. “Sorry, Kandy. You’ve never brought a guy home.”
Of course she doesn’t remember. With so much of my venom in her, Sabrina doesn’t remember much of anything anymore.
Resting my face on her warm thigh, I kiss her flesh. “What about at Torx’s place? Do you remember seeing me there?”
“Sure.” Sabrina leans back on her elbows. “I don’t know why you bother when you have me. Don’t you love me?”
The sound of my fangs breaking flesh crawls into my head before Sabrina’s scream fills the bathroom. Cool toxins flow out, warmth rushes inside. Some of it gurgles out from under my lips, and I chase it with my tongue feeling my insides heat into a raging fire. As I lay there lapping blood from Sabrina’s thigh and off the gritty tile, I can’t help but wonder if Steve is sharing this memory with me.
[Next: 27. My Ghost in a Party Dress]