Always Have an Exit Strategy


The first time I administered the Jugular Reflex test was strictly an accident. I had lived in the hills of Darjeeling at the base of the Himalayas, completely unaware of my previous lives. My mundane life as an upper caste bride of a handsome, charming but moody older man came to a calamitous end when I had brushed the side of his throat trying to calm him during one of his increasingly common rages. He had transformed in front of my eyes, revealing gnarled hands and a mouth full of jagged fangs. He had ripped my throat open before I could move my hand.

As I lay bleeding to death in my wedding garb, the blood matching that of my hand beaded dupatta, he had sobbed over me, confessing that he was rakshasha, an ancient vampire who had always used his abilities to fight for good. He had tried to find some way to sooth his soul as he aged and became more restless. When he’d met me, he had felt calm sweep over him and proposed, certain I could calm the gathering darkness in him.

He had been right about what I had been meant to do but at the time, I had no way of forcing myself to remember my past. And it had taken more time to understand what the reflex meant in vampires struggling with age depravity. But I hadn’t understood in that lifetime. Past lives had flashed before my eyes, maybe only four of them, as my current life had bled out and I had neither time nor inclination to be able to do anything with that knowledge. There was only a moment’s fleeting remorse at not being able to help him before I passed into the unknown again.

The smell of sand, blood, and some floral perfume washed over me before I jolted back to the present, to the problem at hand. Having a lap full of Danish vampire wasn’t really my plan but something so familiar kept tickling the hairs of my neck that I literally felt frozen to the floor.

“Please…stop…”

His voice was barely a breath, not recognized by my head until after my hand had already complied. Once I stopped caressing the back of his neck, Jesper pushed himself up and off me, stumbling back into the exam table. He blinked, looking around as if he had no idea where he was or how he got there. Then he saw me still sitting on the floor and met my eyes for the briefest moment.

“I, uh, I gotta go.”

He turned, knocked into my bag, almost spilling it over but righting it before pushing past the crowd at the door. All but Lucy followed him and I heard him grumble to Nick, “Can I borrow your jacket…thanks.” Then I heard the door open, heels clicking quickly across the floor, a whoosh of wind, and a loud thump.

“Hey!” I heard Nick yell.

Lucy watched the scene in the reception area unfold while I remained stunned on the floor, hands held up in front of me. The smell of flowers threatened to pull me back into my memories. Looking at my hands, sunshine began pouring down on me and sands were running through my fingers. Far in the distance, I heard Lucy call out my name but the memories gripped me.

I was digging in the sand. Not the loving act of making the sand tomb as before but clawing at the sand with every fiber of my being. But the sand from the dune kept filling in what I uncovered. For a moment, my fingers brushed through golden hair, felt warm skin, but sand rushed over those places my fingers touched.

As I dug, cold crept over me, tightening my hands, making my fingers numb. At first, I thought it was the abrasiveness of the hot sand. But when I looked down where I kneeled, the sand was wet with red. It reminded me of sitting in the Scout, the blood flowing just the same.

I snapped back, gasping. Lucy had her arms around me, gently shaking me. I grabbed her shoulders.

“Don’t tell the others. Please.”

Heels and feet moved back toward the door. When I looked up, Nick and Morena appeared in the doorway. Lucy, without another word, gently hoisted me up and neither human noticed my fingertips pressing tightly into the vampire’s skin.

She leaned me against the exam table, where I put my hand down flat to steady myself. I didn’t look at her, afraid another memory flood might be triggered. Instead, I looked to Nick, knowing he was new and different and not connected at all to my past.

He smiled tightly and leaned against the doorjamb, “Are vampires always such dicks? He stole my leather jacket.”

“Borrowed, I think is the correct term,” Morena spoke.

“Yeah, right, borrowed.”

“He took it to cover his wounds. Why would he possibly want to keep it?”

“Well, he’s lucky it’s a balmy night. It can be a cold ride across the I-90 late at night.” Nick sighed. Then perked up again, “And did he actually poof into smoke?”

“No, just disappeared.”

“Oh.”

The light banter brought me all the way back to the current living and as Lucy sensed this, she stepped away. I glanced up at her movement and saw her pulling her hair forward to cover her burned ear. When I tilted my head, she spoke.

“I’ll be ok in a few days. I don’t think Maurice will notice it.”

I tried my voice, found it worked. “I wouldn’t mention any of this to him.”

“Who’s Maurice? Your head vampire?” Nick asked.

Morena slapped him on the chest. “This isn’t Lost Boys.” Then she threw a look at me. “They don’t have to be with their maker, do they?”

Before I could reply, Nick pointed at Lucy.

“Say, does that Maurice dude look like you?” Nick asked her.

“Why, yes. We’re twins.”

“Dude’s creepy as shit. He gave me Sophie’s cell phone when I finally made it to the Ice Lounge.”

Lucy and I exchanged a look. She and I would have to find time to talk about just how much Maurice could be called upon in my current endeavor. But not tonight. I didn’t have the nerves for it. I put a hand on my doctor’s bag, just to feel something familiar to ground me and glanced in. A smile crossed my face. At least I was getting through to him. On his way out, Jesper had grabbed a few lemons out of my bag to take with him.

I should have tried not to think about him right now but somehow, with the lemons, a more pleasing memory came into my mind. My grandmother had had a lemon tree at her house in El Cajon. I still carried seeds from that original tree with me, hoping to sometime find a climate that I could cultivate them properly. Apparently, seeds of a thought had taken root in Jesper’s mind.

I sighed. He hadn’t killed me. I’m not sure what had happened but he hadn’t harmed me in any way. That instinct of mine, from when I had first met him, seemed to be holding true. And he trusted me. Trusted me enough to take the lemons of his own accord.

“I take it class is over for the night,” Morena said when the silence had lengthened.

“Gee, ya think?”

Morena slapped Nick lightly on the arm again.

We all walked back into the wrecked reception room where I noticed the Memento was sitting on the floor just near the door. When I tossed a look back at Nick, he explained.

“Oh, I had the book in my jacket and when Glowy Vampire Guy grabbed the jacket, he touched it or something.”

“He tried to take it with him?”

“Uh, not really. It sorta tried to follow him.”

“What?”

Morena spoke up, “You probably knocked it over.”

Nick violently shook his head. “No, I didn’t. It was in the jacket, then he headed for the door, went POOF out the door, it sorta vibrated or something and flew across the room just as you closed the door.”

I made my way over to the book.

“It did not fly across the room. That’s impossible,” she argued.

“How the Hell would you know? You were looking outside. You had your back to it.”

“It’s just a book. Books don’t fly across rooms unless someone throws them.”

“Look, do you really think I need to make this shit weirder than it already is?”

Morena was just about to start in again when Lucy asked, “Sophie?”

I leaned down to the book, careful not to touch it. Jesper had inadvertently touched the book. And it had moved. Moved towards him.

That sealed it. There was no more doubt. As sure as I was of Nick’s newness in my history, I was just as certain of my prior acquaintance with Jesper. Somehow, somewhere, he and I had met before, the tale of which was hidden somewhere in the pages of the Memento, pages kept currently hidden and protected between hard leather covers.

I flipped open the top cover. Nothing more happened. I started slowly flipping through pages.

“What’re—?” Nick started.

“Don’t you ever stop talking?” Morena asked.

Lucy chided them both quickly back into silence, a small twist of Vox in her reply. “Shush.”

With her voice, pages seemed to flip on their own, her and Maurice’s page wavering aloft for a moment before flipping one more forward. I knew this page, its edges well worn. It was the same page the book had flipped open to when I’d first arrived. Jesper’s page. Something told me the story on this page could not be revealed unless both he and I wanted it to be.

Time for another email to Bruno, the current guardian of the Memento. There were secrets here that needed telling before someone else was lost to this lifetime.

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2 Responses to “Always Have an Exit Strategy”

  1. You’re weaving a good story here. Keep it up. Can’t wait for some more of the history 🙂

    Pamela

  2. Love it! The weaving is compelling!

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