The Truth About Blood
by J. Crispin-Ripley
Dylan missed the 'up' button by an inch. He could have run his finger the short distance along the wall and pressed, but didn't. Instead he let his hand fall to his side. He'd missed? Could it be a portent, or was his subconscious telling him what he already knew? He should leave; he never should have come. This wasn't a good idea. Cowardice was a survival trait.
He took a deep breath and counted to seven, twice. He wasn't going to back out. If he did, his mother would win. Or, more to the point, he would lose. He doubted his mother had ever fought each other in the same battle. That would have required communication, understanding, maybe even empathy--qualities his mother had never shown.
Still, like he had told Janice earlier, the past must become the past before the future could begin. If he kept saying the words, he might understand them, or even believe them true.
Dylan raised his arm, took aim and told himself that if he missed again, he would take the stairs. He would never give up. Never. His aim proved true. He pressed the call button square on, like a pro. The threat had worked.
Or maybe not. It might have been unnecessary. He would never know. The elevator doors opened. He stepped in. The doors closed and the elevator started rising.
Dylan had avoided dinners with his mother since he ran away, eight years back. He'd only seen her a couple of times in that time, anywhere, and hadn't found the courage, or the inclination, to visit her ever-shifting home. It wasn't that he had nothing to say, but whether he could steel himself to say it. After he turned sixteen, his mother invited him at least once a month. He ignored every offer. This time he'd accepted giving her one "yes" after five years of "no."
It was time. By ancient standards he had just become a man and should square his shoulders to face the past straight on. Besides which, she'd offered the perfect bait. It was Dylan's twenty-first birthday, and she was going to introduce him to his father.
In the thirteen years he survived under her roof, Dylan had met countless 'uncles', his mother's lovers of the moment. Also 'aunts'; his mother didn't limit herself to half the human race. Officially, Dylan's father was Saul Perfect but everyone knew that was legal fiction. Angela had broken her wedding vows the day she made them.
She moved out of Saul's house a year later, a month after Dylan's birth. All she kept from Saul were his last name and a generous settlement. She'd always promised Dylan would meet his real father when he turned twenty-one. Dylan hadn't believed her. He still didn't, deep inside, but hoped that, perhaps, she had told him the truth. Either way, he saw the evening as a rite of passage. It would end, and he would move on.
The elevator arrived at the top floor. The doors slid silently open. Dylan got out and stood in ankle-deep carpet. It wasn't too late to turn back. Janice had advised him not to come or, if he must, to bring her along.
"Angela's up to something, Dylan. You need me there to protect you."
"Oh yeah, you're a great bodyguard." Without heels, Janice was less than five feet tall.
"You need your big un-sister there to look out for you."
Dylan had lived with Janice since leaving his mother. He hadn't known where else to go and Janice had always been kind to him, though she was Saul Perfect's daughter--from his first marriage, the one Dylan's mother had destroyed. Janice was five years older than Dylan. When he'd been thirteen that had seemed an immense gap. At twenty-one it didn't look as wide.
"Joking aside, I'd feel much safer with you there, Janice. Thing is, she said I was to come alone."
"I'm sure she did." Janice paused, as if deciding whether to say what was on her mind. As always, she did. "I've got a bad feeling about all this. Sorry."
"Professionally or as my big un-sister?" Janice made a good living as a psychic. At sixteen, her voices and the abuse from her older brother, Elvis, had convinced her to move out on her own. Her father still didn't accept either reason had been valid. Elvis was king and the supernatural, crap.
"I don't know," Janice said. "Where you're concerned my feelings have always been confused."
Dylan looked down into the deep brown eyes he knew so well. His serious girlfriends to date had been older women. Tiny intense brunettes, like Janice. Janice preferred her partners tall and fair, like him.
They joked about it, but knew it wasn't funny. If Janice were exclusively gay, physical attraction couldn't become an issue, ever. Unfortunately, she did like men as well. In her words, it was the only thing she had in common with Dylan's mother. A soul was a soul and people were people. If you limited your horizons, you might miss something.
Dylan sighed. "This isn't the right time to talk about that."
Janice had smiled in half-agreement. "Maybe not, but it will be soon."
Dylan stood in the hallway to his mother's apartment. He should turn back. What good would it do to meet another of his mother's lovers, even if it was the one who made her pregnant with him? The man had left. Dylan could understand anyone wanting to get away from Angela, but that didn't change the fact that his father was a stranger.
Janice and he were all the family either of them had, in real terms. More would be nice, but unlikely. Dylan wished he'd taken Janice up on her offer. It wasn't too late; she'd insisted he take a cell phone and call if he needed her. He expected she had followed and was nearby. Dylan wasn't at all psychic but he knew his un-sister.
He also knew he had to do this on his own. Dylan walked up to his mother's door and knocked.
It opened instantly. "Dylan."
Dylan took a quick, involuntary step backwards. Her charisma remained her most potent weapon.
"Are you scared of me or yourself? Yourself, expect." Her gentle laugh sent shivers up Dylan's spine. "Never mind. Tell me I'm beautiful and come in."
"You're beautiful, Angela." It was only the truth. Her dress was white and scant, and showed her to advantage. A few inches shorter than his six two, at forty she had the figure of a high-fashion model half that age. Her hair was thick ash-blonde, the same as his. She wore it long, to below her shoulders. It hung straight.
Considering the life she'd lived, her face should look ravaged; instead it was pale and smooth: flawless alabaster. The only place her perversity shone through was in those icy-blue eyes--eyes Dylan saw every time he looked in the mirror.
His mother laughed again. "Thank you, Dylan. You are beautiful also. Judgmental and in denial, but truly your twisted and loving mother's son." She stepped back, out of the doorway. "But where are my manners? You look like you could use a stiff drink or a joint. Or a line?" She took another step backwards. Dylan felt himself pulled forward, into her parlour. Janice had been right. Coming, and especially coming alone, had been a big mistake.
Dylan looked around. The woman hadn't acquired good taste in the past eight years. The furniture was overstuffed white leather and the carpet and drapes, garish red. "You said my father was here, Angela."
"Angela. I suppose Janice told you to call me that instead of 'mother'. Have you screwed her yet? No? So sad. It's such a shame to see your soul so sadly repressed." His mother's voice had a hint of hiss. "Have I offended you? Sorry. The truth is so unsanitary, at times." She turned and started for the bar. "Your father is in the bedroom. He fell asleep after we fucked. Men!" She shook her head, setting her heavy hair swinging. It glinted gold. "Sit. Make yourself comfortable. Sure you won't have a drink?"
"No thanks. I don't drink. Ever."
"No, I suppose you wouldn't. You might lose control. That would be such a shame. If you did, you might discover who you are."
"I gather we're going out for dinner?" The table wasn't set and he couldn't smell anything cooking. If he'd known, he would have arranged to meet them at the restaurant.
The answer came from behind. "You will not be going anywhere, young one, not ever again. Yes Angela, he is all you said, and more."
Dylan turned to face the deep voice. "You're my father?"
He was a large man, even by Dylan's standards--six and a half feet tall, with broad shoulders. His hair was brilliant red, cut close to his head, his face sharp and his eyes deep-set blue.
"I am your sire, and I claim you as my own." The air shimmered, as if with waves of heat. Dylan felt faint, his legs unsteady. With an effort, he stood straight.
"I don't like the way you said that, Red Squirrel," Angela said.
Dylan took a deep calming breath. Janice would be pleased to know he'd used her meditation training in real life. The man came back into focus. Red Squirrel? He looked like a Viking from a bad Hollywood movie--if that wasn't redundant--not a North American Native. The name probably came from his hair and the fact that his narrow face that did make him look a bit like a squirrel, like a tree-climbing rat.
"Too bad, Angela. He's mine like you are mine. Mine to do with as I will. Were he not half human, he would be a son worth keeping. He fights me by instinct, without knowing what he does. Overall, he's a brilliant lad." Red Squirrel walked past Dylan towards Angela.
"This youngster is even stronger than you, Angela. Feel glad he left. Had he not, he could have destroyed you, which would have deprived me of that minor delight."
"You're evil," Angela said. "Please leave. Now."
"Evil?" Red Squirrel's laughter thundered in Dylan's ears. "You're a fine one to talk, woman. You broke the holy oath you made to your husband and owner. Hence, no one is obliged to keep their word with you. Ever. Die knowing you are a traitor, and a fool."
With great effort Dylan turned to see his mother and his father standing together, for the first and what he knew would be the last time, however the day ended. His mother might be cold, but she'd never been cruel. Compared to this Red Squirrel creature, she was a saint.
"Good lad." Red Squirrel looked at Dylan, and smiled. "Still managing to resist my powers, are you not? It's almost a shame that I need your life to extend my own but I can offer you something." Red Squirrel slipped a casual hand down the front of Angela's dress. "To repay all she did to you and failed to do, I give you her scraggy body to use. Also, her worthless life to take. Enjoy!"
"Come on now, my son. Admit the truth in your bones. You hate the woman and want her. Do as thou wilt, and abate thine rage. Force her to know your pain. Shame her. Then extinguish her pathetic flame."
"No," Dylan repeated. "I'm not sure why I even came here tonight."
"You came because you are too human not to, son. You are naught but a curious monkey, a child longing for a mother to share its bed and a father to worship. Do as I tell you."
"No." Dylan said for the third time. He reached into his jacket and pressed an auto dial button on his cell phone.
"Dylan?" Janice's voice came from his pocket. "Dylan? Is something wrong?"
"Give me that." Red Squirrel held out his hand.
As Dylan's hand obeyed a rebellious finger tried to touch the button that would disconnect.
Red Squirrel grabbed the phone. "What is wrong, young and unfortunate lady," he said. "Is that your lover has doomed you to die, as he also must. You will come to me, immediately." He crushed the phone in his hand and dropped the remnants to the floor.
"Since you are offering me one you care for, on whom I can slake my puissant masculine need, this shell can be dealt with quickly." Red Squirrel reached back and pulled Angela to him. He put a hand on either side of her head and closed his eyes. His brow furrowed with concentration. Dylan managed a half step towards them before Angela went limp and collapsed to the floor. Red Squirrel narrowed his eyes as he opened them, and furrowed his brow. The air in front of Dylan suddenly felt solid.
"Her essence has been added to mine, son. Yours will give me so much more, but hers should prove adequate to control you further." He advanced on Dylan. "Yes, you want to ask something? I will permit a discussion while we wait for your beloved."
Dylan swung at Red Squirrel's chin with all his might. Red Squirrel caught his hand as if it were a poorly thrown baseball. "I believe you had a question, son?"
Dylan could think of any number of things he'd like to ask, like what was going on, if Red Squirrel was really his father and if his mother was truly dead.
"I am and she is," Red Squirrel said. "As for elucidating your doom's underpinning, answering properly would take more time than remains, for you. The short answer is that I am what you would call an elf, which makes you an abomination known as a half-elf. As such you might live a normal human life-span, or an elf's thousand years--if not for the fact that I begot you so I might take and use your life force as my own. Be not downhearted, lad. You have had twenty-one summers. If I fail to end your life, someone else is certain to do so in my stead. Half-elves have long been hunted, as have all miscegenations. People from my world take a dim view of the races intermingling."
"There are humans like that."
"So there are. There are indeed, but the difference is…" A knock sounded on the door. "Ah well, as they say in your armies, you do not need knowledge in order to die." Red Squirrel started for the door.
"I understand why me and why Angela," Dylan said quickly. "But why Janice?" He shouldn't have involved her. He'd killed his un-sister, the one person he loved.
"Because your dam mentioned her in passing, saying the lass is a seer. I covet that talent. Take the life, gain the power. Survival of the fittest. Both perfectly natural rules, lad. Both the way things must be in a proper world." Red Squirrel opened the door.
Dylan tackled him low. "Get out of here, Janice. Run!"
"Not a chance. Especially not when I brought backup."
Backup? Dylan rolled away from Red Squirrel, barely avoiding a vicious kick.
A new voice entered the fray. "Well Father, we meet again, and this time you're thirty floors up with nowhere to run."
Dylan rolled to a sit, turning so he could see. Janice's backup was gorgeous. Dylan didn't doubt she was Red Squirrel's daughter. Her hair was the same fire-engine red and her shoulders almost as broad. She lifted a foot and pushed the door closed without looking. For an immense woman her movements had remarkable grace.
"I have no need to run from you, Melody." Was that a quiver in Red Squirrel's voice?
"You're such a liar. As for you, little brother, one shouldn't ogle one's sister's tits."
He hadn't! Okay, maybe he had--they were difficult to ignore--but she hadn't even looked his way.
"Our kind are telepathic, Dylan. Especially among kin." Melody said. "That's how I know Daddy is befouling his britches. No, don't you try and help me. Don't. I can handle the bastard."
Dylan had his doubts. She would need help. Melody was a big woman but Red Squirrel, their father, was a giant.
"You've obviously never met a giant," Melody said. "Janice, please keep Dylan out of my way. Come on, geezer, attack me. If you dare." She moved towards Red Squirrel. He retreated.
"Are you okay? No concussion or anything?" Janice knelt in front of Dylan, her obsidian eyes filled with concern. She was blocking his view. "That was so brave," she continued. "So brave, the way you tried to protect me."
"Where did you find her?" Dylan asked, getting to his feet so he could see the action. "I'm just fine, thanks."
"I didn't find her. She was following your father. Isn't she splendid, a total marvel?" Melody and Red Squirrel were standing motionless, gazes locked, an arm's length from each other. "Her aura's so powerful," Janice continued. "She's a rainbow. I've never seen anything like it. Never."
"I'll take your word about the aura. What are they doing?"
"Trying to overwhelm each other. It's like fireworks between them. Can't you see it at all?"
"The air looks a bit thick. Stuff on the other side is slightly blurred. So who's winning?"
"No one. They're an even match. Don't interfere." Janice clutched at his arm as Dylan stepped towards the combatants.
Dylan shook her off, grabbed a bottle from the top of the bar and swung it full force against the side of Red Squirrel's head. Lightning shot up his arm. Red Squirrel staggered and toppled. Dylan heard a scream. Janice? No, it was his own voice. His head was going to explode--his body rip open. Strong arms caught him as he fell.
"I could have taken him on my own, but thank you," Melody said. "For a man, you have balls." She hugged him to her. Her body was pillowy solid. His pain went as quickly as it had arrived. "I healed you," she said. Her voice sounded in his bones. "It's the least I can do."
Could she hear everything he thought? That could be embarrassing.
"Don't worry about it," she whispered in his ear. "It's the excitement of battle."
Battle. Red Squirrel. Was it over? Had he killed him? His father? Dylan pushed himself away from Melody and stood on his own. Janice was right; Melody did glow. Why hadn't he seen that before?
"You absorbed a good bit of his power," Melody said. "If you didn't have so much of your own, you'd be dead, I expect. His shielding was concentrated on defending against me and he neglected you. You're lucky... No Janice! No! Don't touch Dylan!"
Janice touched. Dylan bent to kiss Janice. He lifted her off the ground. Her legs wrapped around him in a passionate grip. She moaned into his mouth as he carried her to the couch.
"No!" Melody's shout was a bolt into his brain. It didn't hurt, but it severed consciousness from desire. His body still wanted Janice but he didn't. Except, to his shame, he did--just not this way. Their lips unlocked, slowly.
"I'll take her from you," Melody said. She pulled Janice from Dylan. "Are you over it now, beautiful?" she asked.
"I could get over anything with your help," Janice said. "For the moment you can just give me a kiss and put me down."
Melody returned Janice to the floor without the asked-for kiss, and turned to Dylan. "The effect will wear off soon, if it already hasn't. Once I help her improve her shields, it won't happen again. Or maybe it will," she added with a grin. "If you both so chose."
"We won't," Dylan and Janice said together.
"Right. Still, that's all long term." Melody winked at Dylan. "Right now I need to pay attention to our father."
"I didn't kill him?" Dylan asked.
"Don't sound so disappointed," Melody said. She knelt by the fallen Red Squirrel. "You did well, but you lack the necessary experience and training. It's tricky, snuffing out that strong a flame. If you leave even an ember, it can burst forth again, strong as ever." She placed a hand in the centre of Red Squirrel's forehead. Red Squirrel's body heaved twice and then, seemingly, deflated.
Melody stood. "My apologies. You got more of him than I thought. Odds are, you could have done it on your own. You're a born vampire, brother dear."
"I thought he was an elf," Janice said.
"Half elf," Melody said. "Half, although that's just among the three of us here." She paused until both Janice and Dylan nodded agreement. Dylan at least understood why, a little. He was surprised Janice didn't ask. It wasn't like her to take anything on faith.
"Anyway," Melody continued. "Elves are a race, or perhaps a species--depends on how you look at it--but being a vampire is a talent, like being musical. Anyone can develop the ability to some extent but some of us, like we lucky members of Red Squirrel's line." She kicked the body. "We fortunate ones inherit the natural ability from our cursed forebearers." She kicked the body again, harder. "Get on your feet, you heap of harpy dung."
Red Squirrel's body twitched. Slowly, it bent in the middle and moved to a sitting position. The eyes opened to show white orbs.
"A zombie." Janice shuffled backwards. "There's no aura. None. I've never seen one before, but that's a zombie." She reached back for the knob of the door. Her other hand traced a cross in the air in front of her.
"Would you rather help me carry him out of here?" Melody asked. "Through the lobby? Past the doorman? This way he can walk. Don't worry, I only gave him enough juice for an hour or so. He'll wander off and expire, ostensibly of natural causes. Isn't that neater?"
Melody laughed. "You don't sound convinced."
"Everyone knows zombies are evil."
"Says who? Hack writers? Who also claim vampires drink blood, shun the sun and get burned by crosses? Don't be a fool. Fiction is fiction, and zombies aren't evil unless they're used in evil designs. Intent is all."
Janice's hand dropped to her side. "I've got a lot to learn."
"Not as much as Dylan does," Melody said. "You're a gifted clairvoyant, who obviously has worked hard to develop her talent. Far as I can tell, Dylan's never worked at much. Dylan? What's the matter?"
Nothing, except his world had shifted and was still quivering under his feet. He was an elf, a half elf anyway, and a vampire. He was watching a zombie push itself to its clumsy feet, a zombie who had been his long-lost father. His father who had killed his mother.
"My mother," Dylan said. "My mother is dead. I've lost both my parents. He killed her." Without looking, he waved towards where Angela had fallen. Melody started in that direction.
"Praise the Lord," Janice said. "Even evil can do good. Melody, can you make Angela into a zombie too, and keep her around? I doubt anyone would notice the difference."
Melody stopped and turned to stare at Janice. "Your convictions change pretty quickly, girl."
"Well, I'm sorry," Janice said, "but Angela was wicked to her bones. You can't tell me you're going to mourn the thing that was your father, or that Dylan will mourn her."
Melody shook her head and continued to where Angela lay stretched on the floor. Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse--Dylan couldn't get the saying out of his mind.
Janice was being too hard on Angela. He hadn't run away because she was abusive. He'd done it, in part, hoping she'd show she cared and try to get him back. At least that's how he remembered it now. She hadn't tried, and it had hurt. Yes, Angela might have been evil, in a benign way. He looked from her body to the zombie Red Squirrel. If she'd been evil, however, he was too. How could he be anything else with such parents?
He met Janice's deep eyes. "I think she couldn't love me because she didn't love herself. That should make her the object of pity, not hate. She found her joy in life where she could, and who can blame her for that? I don't. Damn it, I'm her son, like it or not. I wish I'd known her better." He sank to the couch and covered his face with his hands. Janice couldn't understand his loss. She couldn't comfort him. She didn't understand, which was just as well. If she understood, she would despise, and hate him. "I think Angela did love me, in her way."
"Angela loved Angela," Janice said. "Give me a break! She wasn't sick. She was wicked to the core. So, can you do it, Melody? Zombie the child-neglecting bitch?"
Melody knelt by Angela and put a hand on her temple. "No, it's not possible." She stood. "The door's that way, folks. Time for us to go."
"She's alive," Dylan said. If Melody couldn't make Angela into a zombie, it could only mean one thing–Angela wasn't dead. "My mother is alive."
Melody turned to face him. "She's got you to thank, I expect. Red Squirrel had his hands full fending you off. She'll recover, but it will take time. If you chose to look her up again, you might find she's changed, or that you have. Give it time." You've got more immediate problems, Melody added softly in his head. Tell Janice she isn't your sister--that I am. Tell her you'll love her to the end of time. Knock her off her exquisite little feet.
He couldn't. He wasn't sure it was true, and wouldn't risk losing what he had. He couldn't see it. It couldn't work with Janice. Not that way.
Melody sighed and shook her head. "I'll take Angela into the bedroom. She'll be out of it for some time. After we dispose of the zombie, I'll come back. She'll need some care and comforting. I don't think either of you could provide it."
"You've got that one right," Janice said.
"I thought you'd come home with us," Dylan said.
"I'll be along in a while," Melody said. "Don't worry, little brother, the danger is over, for now."
Not if he was going to be alone with Janice, it wasn't. He didn't trust himself, and feared what might happen, not to mention what might not happen at all.
Don't worry. Melody's voice sounded gently in his mind. Like a river, life flows in the direction it must.
The thought seemed plausible, but Dylan sensed Melody didn't believe it. Yes, but like a river, a life can be damned, he thought in return.
Melody laughed out loud. "Little brother, I think we're going to get along." She smiled, bent and scooped Dylan's mother from the floor, and carried her away.