3 Weeks from Now


 

All the signs seemed against them as the frantic group drove under the cover of morning’s last darkness to the relative safety of the deli. It was Sunday, normally light on morning traffic except for this morning, a dawn-breaker marathon for some new en vogue health cause kept all the main surface streets in downtown Bellevue clogged. For the last few days, the Pacific Northwest had been socked in by morning fog and dark grey afternoon skies but this morning, the fog was lifting early, forcing one passenger even deeper under his hooded cloak. It was if the universe was trying to have its say with all these impediments.

And as for the blood, it seemed to keep spilling out of everywhere, regardless of what they tried. By the time they cleared the last stoplight and parked behind the old building, the interior of the Range Rover was soaked red and dawn was breaking through the wispy clouds.

It was going to be a beautiful day in Seattle.

Nick sprang in through the front door of the Deli, pulling down all the shades, making it as dark as he could. Jesper, the vampire, entered next, carrying his bloody burden while Morena trotted along beside him, flipping the deep hood of his cloak back once inside so he could see where he was going.

“Nick, clean towels or sheets, anything you can find. These are soaked,” Morena called to him.

He nodded as he watched Jesper pick a clean Formica table to lay Sophie down on. He watched it as if removed from reality, like it was a movie. It was the beast that craved and drank blood, carrying a helpless woman seemingly bathed in it but making no move to devour her. Quite the contrary, Jesper laid her gently down, as if she weighed as much as a feather, his hand cradling her head until it gently met the table. He took his hands away then tore his cloak off, bundled it up, and again lifted her head carefully to lay the cloak underneath.

“Nick,” Morena called.

“Right.”

Nick hurried into the back, noticing as he rushed past that Sophie’s book, the Memento, had somehow come to sit on the deli counter, near the cash register. He couldn’t remember how it had gotten there but he only spared a thought for it. He needed linens. As he heard behind him the sounds of Sophie’s gurgled breathing, he knew he needed lots of them.

Jesper took a step back to let Morena take a look. She ripped open the leather jacket that was holding their makeshift dressings in and gasped at the puddle of blood already forming on top of the wading. She started to peel the drenched dressings off, revealing Sophie’s bare stomach that was ruined by claw and bite marks. It looked as her stomach had simply been torn away.

Jesper croaked, “Why is there so much blood?”

“I don’t know. They ripped open some arteries.” Morena tried to apply pressure while waiting for the clean dressings but there was nothing to apply pressure too. Her innards, they seemed to be simply gone.

Jesper didn’t pose his question again. Morena had clearly not understood him. He was not new to seeing traumatic injuries of this sort inflicted by all sorts of creatures. But that her attackers had left her mostly intact, he puzzled over. He’d noticed earlier the scratch to her neck. But other than that and her ruined torso, she was in one piece.

Not the way of most hungry packs. Nor the way of hungry covens looking for a meal to let so much blood go spilled, wasted. No, this was some sort of message. This method of ripping her open meant something to him. He struggled to understand it, to take responsibility for it.

Nick arrived back, arms full of the morning’s fresh laundry in the form of table cloths, tea towels, and napkins. He passed them one by one to Morena as she repacked the barren inside of Sophie’s torso with them.

“She’s bleeding to death,” he said.

Sophie again struggled to breathe. It was the only sound they’d heard from her as she lay mostly still.

“More likely, she’s drowning in her own blood,” Morena corrected him.

Jesper felt the truth tugging at him and it drew him forward with a purpose only to be met with the Kukri held to his throat. He couldn’t remember Morena having it in her hand but he realized she must have had it available all along. Just in case.

“You try to drain her and you’ll end up killing her more quickly.”

Jesper looked down into her determined face.

“What?” Nick asked, not understanding.

Jesper continued to look. And listen. They could all her Sophie’s gurgling breath, her gasps for air. And see. They could all see her utter lack of movement. At the very least, her back was broken even if her spine was not entirely severed.

He saw the determination in Morena’s eyes begin to crumble as the wheezing and gurgling slowed.

She dropped her hand, turned back to Sophie. “I just don’t know what to do. Nick, maybe some of that styptic powder. Under the counter.”

Nick’s thoughts were grinding to a halt. He was stuck on the last moment when he’d perceived Morena treat Jesper more like foe than friend. What was that? What did that mean?

“Nick, the styptic!” Morena shouted, louder than she needed.

Nick moved, vaguely conscious of his body going back to the deli counter and searching underneath until his hands found the jar of powder. Something was happening and he couldn’t get his mind around it. He wasn’t a fighter, he’d never do in the military, and here, his boss, his friend was bleeding out on the table of her own deli. Her friends were seemingly squaring off. What was happening to his world? Why couldn’t he think through this fog in his mind?

Jesper could tell Morena would not look him in the eyes again. She had her back to him; her resolve devastated by each struggling breath. It had been her call to avoid the emergency room, even when Jesper had begged they go without him. But he trusted her so had let Morena decide. And she knew that these injuries were worse than they’d suspected. They had all assumed she’d endured a claw attack, not that she had been eviscerated.

He put a gentle but firm hand on her shoulder, felt her tremble. It wasn’t fair of him, using his touch link with her to move her out of his way, but he could no longer rely on her. He folded back the collar of Sophie’s jacket to look at her grazed neck. As he leaned down to her, the tears formed. No sobs. No cries. Not even a shred of emotion. But still, the water pooled in his eyes and rolled off his face, onto her neck.

Sophie’s eyes opened for the first time in a long while. She saw him leaning over her. She tried to shake her head.

“No,” she croaked.

“I cannot let you die,” he said simply, his other arm reaching over to her other shoulder, his hand creeping under her neck.

Morena shook her head, horrified. The cries and panic were building in her but for the moment, she seemed unable to move.

“I don’t know what to do. Her injuries…she’s been ripped open.”

“I can save her,” Jesper said, eyes locked with Sophie’s. This was exactly what he’d wanted for so long. Somehow, there was no victory in them arriving at this place in this way. He’d thought of it less and less over the months, but it had always involved a candlelit dinner of some sort, quietly holding hands in some dark but splendid place, maybe a mountain top, and always, always, her loving eyes asking him to do it.

Her eyes were loving but denying.

“No, you can’t.” She swallowed, her voice just a hair stronger. “Get the Book.”

“No,” he protested.

It was the old argument over again. Even here and now, when she needed him most, when everything he was he could finally lay at her feet to deliver her from certain death, she pushed it all away. He couldn’t find the anger at this point. Only the horror of time running out freezing whatever ran through his veins.

Nick stood up, hearing the mention of the Book and somehow, instead of the jar of Styptic powder in his hand, he found he had taken up the Book, as if it had driven him by its own will. He remained stunned and lethargic. Sophie kept meaning to tell him everything about the Book but there was always some other thing to teach him, tell him, something so much more urgent in the world he now found himself moving in. But he’d spent long laborious hours with the Book. She’d asked him to read it, not to transpose it but it had seemed so foolish not to, if it was so important to her. Paper was so fragile, so susceptible to the elements.

The leather-bound tome with pages discolored and aged from seemingly the very beginning of time was monstrous in size. Some eight inches thick with vellum paper, it resembled more an ancient cookbook than the life and times of Sophie Quinn. Or lives and times, he guessed would be more accurate.

“Here it is,” Nick spoke, hurried back over, knowing it was the most important thing that he get her the Book. As he tried to give it to her, she pushed it towards Jesper.

“Keep it safe,” she whispered. “… so I can remember.”

“I will not do it.”

Her will seemingly giving her strength, clearing some of the clutter from her voice, she insisted, “It’s the only way I can find you.”

He rose up, as if in protest, tears still dropping from his eyes, all over her. “I cannot wait for you again.”

As if awoken from a daze, Morena looked around her. “Nick, the powder.”

Nick looked at her, agitated, “It’s no use.”

The cobwebs cleared from Morena’s mind and here it was, her good friend, bleeding to death in front of her. And she had been the one that had made the call to avoid the emergency room and all its dangerous questions and suspicions. What had she done?

“I don’t know what else to do.”

Nick could see it was breaking Morena apart and just as suddenly as the will of the Book had imposed itself on him, he felt it free him. He pushed the Book against Jesper’s chest, blocking his view of Sophie.

“Take it,” Nick insisted.

Jesper didn’t need to see Sophie’s eyes to know she would never be with him again. They had skirted around the inevitable for months now. To be together, he needed to end his vampire life or she needed to embrace it. But she believed he would be forgiven, that he would return to the path if he ended his soul’s unnaturally long existence in this form. That it might take more lifetimes but that they would meet again. And be together.

But those were her beliefs. He knew only fear and ultimate doubt when he thought about gods or religion. All there was in this life was what he had now. He had managed to make the most of what he’d been given. He’d begun a fearful, stupid youth worlds away. He couldn’t relive it all. He couldn’t believe that by good deeds alone fortune would shine on him and give her back to him yet again.

He’d done much in this long, long existence, much of it against any human or spiritual laws or rules. How she could pretend that any god she believed in would not deliver her into Heaven long before pardoning him from Hell had, at one point, amused him. Now it simply brought the horror of this moment into true fruition.

“Take it,” Nick repeated, with much more force. Morena was falling apart by the second. He needed to comfort her. He needed to tend to the living. It was what Sophie had always told him he was best at.

Jesper looked down at the tome that was his enemy and gingerly took it from his young human friend, although he knew that Nick had no clue what that simple act meant. He held it tight against his chest. He would end his fight with it. He would accept the result.

His taking of the Book allowed Nick to move around behind him, put his arm around Morena, let her collapse against his shoulder, covering her face with her hands. She had always been strong, through everything. It was her turn to be vulnerable, to need comfort.

Jesper looked down at Sophie and saw her eyes shining. “You cannot ask this of me.”

She smiled up at him. Her innards ripped apart, a terrible secret between them that caused this vicious attack, and the Book that spoke of their eternal separation, and she smiled up at him. There even seemed to be some color back in her cheeks.

“The only way to save us both is to let me go.”

She believed it so completely, he almost believed her.

He looked her over, his eyes having cleared for a moment. He pulled back the linens Morena had tried in vain to staunch the bleeding with and watched as blood flowed anew. His eyes watered again as he leaned over to inspect her ruin. It was clearer to him now what they had been after by how low the original attack had been and how far back into her abdomen they had dug.

And the horror of what they had done to her because of him shook all hesitance and regret from his entire being even as the teardrops fell over her again. She had no idea what they’d both lost.

“You have to promise me.”

He must have paused for too long. She reached out her hand, grabbed at his arm.

“Love, please let me go.”

Jesper moved his head back to her face, brushed her cheek just as her eyes rolled back into her head, body beginning to quake with seizures. He gripped her shoulders hard to hold her down.

“Don’t worry. I’ll save us both.”

Jesper kissed Sophie’s cheek as she suddenly went still, air leaking out of her mouth. His eyes suddenly cleared of moisture and he straightened stiffly. Without a look to Nick and Morena, he knew that their human senses would take many seconds more to realize, rationalize Sophie’s end and it was the very time he needed. Before they blinked aware, he had moved to stand before the front door of the deli, clutching the Book against his chest.

“Sophie? Sophie? Oh no!”

Jesper heard rather than actually saw Morena grab at Sophie and begin to shake her as Nick tried to hold Morena back. But none of that mattered now. He’d promised to save her, even if he had not spoken the words. But he knew what he now must do was not what she had meant.

He stepped to the front door, aware of the beautiful sunny morning beyond it trying to leak in through the door’s edges, and took the doorknob in hand. In a millisecond, he was through the door, standing on the front steps before Nick and Morena had even registered that Sophie was gone.

But as the front door slammed shut behind him, Morena suddenly became aware. A shift in her thoughts, something that had been muddling them suddenly dropped and her senses sharpened. She didn’t need to understand what happened before. She just knew. She couldn’t say how. But she knew.

“No!” she breathed. She turned toward the front door, moving as quickly as she could before Nick even registered the sound.

Outside, the air was chilled. Jesper blinked up into the first sun he had seen firsthand in centuries, feeling the sun’s light, a powerful burning roar somehow captured within his skin. He began to glow. Blinking up into the light, his eyes surprised him with how clearly he could see the sun, as if it hung just above his reach. So close he could touch it. So strange that it would be the last thing he ever saw, gaseous flames in such grand detail. He patted the Book, wishing he could hurt, damage whatever soul was kept in the inanimate object but even that rage was gone and all was acceptance as he realized there was no shame in this end. He did it for her. He remembered her smile just as he let go of any resistance left within him to his fate.

Morena had almost made it to the door as outside, Jesper’s body, the glow becoming white hot and brilliant, exploded into a giant fireball, consuming all of him and the Book. The explosion blew the front door into a shower of glass and fire, shaking the building and triggering the brand newly installed sprinkler system to flood the deli with 20 gallons of water in 10 seconds.

In the street, all that was left was a pile of ash and a few scattered burning pages. Both the Book and the vampire who had gifted it to his beloved many moons before were no more.

*************

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire…

Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

Considering I’ve perished more than twice and have recollections of it all, I have a pretty good opinion that the odds on fire are pretty good. But this isn’t the end. And it’s definitely not the beginning. But sometimes the middle of the story tells you more of what you need to know to understand all the rest.

And so a new book begins…

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One Response to “3 Weeks from Now”

  1. OMG!!!!!!

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