As I prepped my notes for work on Ties of Blood, I noticed that I have a lot of side characters who, for one reason or another, don’t get any “me” time. so, I’ve decided to remedy that in a collection of short stories called…
(You can find Elsa in Shades of Gray. She is the one who turned Michael. This story takes place in the early 1980’s.)
Elsa stared at him and he stared back. A long moment dragged past and then he gave what amounted to an apologetic shrug and strode away in the rain. She watched him go; watched him climb into his black car and disappear into the night, and then she went inside and cried.
She hated him, but she hated herself even more.
When the tears stopped coming she wiped her face and went to the kitchen. In movies people always splashed water on their face, but what was the point? It was damp enough. Though, that would be a good excuse if her parents saw her.
“Why is your face wet?”
“Because I just washed it.”
She opened the refrigerator and stared inside. Her eyes skipped from item to item again and again, as if they might conjure something new and infinitely delicious, but they didn’t. There were vegetables and fruit and cold iced tea. None of it would help settle a broken heart.
But what would?
She closed the door and dropped into a kitchen chair. The coffee pot light blinked in the darkness and the rain splattered noisily on the window. It was just the kind of night to be miserable, wasn’t it? The kind of night that practically screamed for the company of the depressed and lonely. Even if it was their own fault. Which it was.
She knew he didn’t want anything serious. She knew he had a life that was as different from hers as night was from day, not to mention a girlfriend he’d never leave. Still, she’d hoped anyway, hadn’t she? Deep down she’d believed that he’d stay. That was why she was so shocked when he said goodbye.
“Bye, babes. It’s been fun.”
What fantastic parting words. Those were the kind of words you could frame and hang on a wall. As if. Couldn’t he come up with something better? He had enough practice that he should have a little speech memorized just for the occasion. Did he say that to all the girls, or was she just the one lucky enough for such a poetic verse. Didn’t immortality require something better from him?
She ran her fingers through her brown hair and took a deep, cleansing breath. She wished she could wash him away, the way she’d washed the blood from her skin after their first night. He’d shown her what he was and she’d accepted it; welcomed it. He was beautiful and charismatic, and when she looked in his eyes the world jumped.
And now he was gone.
She abandoned the kitchen and her silent coffee pot companion. The front room was awash in whispery shadows. She stopped by the tv and turned it on, but there was only static. It was too late for programming. It was as if the station managers were all saying in unison “Go to bed!”
She threw herself on the couch and absently picked up the phone from the stand. She stared at it. Nothing happened. With a sigh she snatched up the receiver and tapped in Jennifer’s number. She was her best friend and this was the kind of situation best friends were supposed to be for.
Elsa counted off the rings. One. Two. Three. Four. They rang on and on, until she ticked off number eighteen. That was when the line clicked and a sleepy voice muttered, “Hello?”
Elsa gripped the phone in a strangulation hold and tried to find words. “Jen-“ A thick sob cut her off and she broke down. “Tristan. He- he’s gone!” she wailed.
“What? Who’s gone?” Jen yawned and slowly came to terms with the conversation. “Elsa, is that you?”
“He’s gone!” she sobbed again. “He just left! God dammit, he just left!”
“Oh, that dude who thought he was a vampire?” Jen was suddenly awake and her voice dripped sarcasm instead of sympathy. “Look, he was hot – maybe not bringing back sexy hot, but still hot, I admit that. But, Elsa, he thought he was a vampire.”
“He was!” she cried. “Goddamit! He was! And he left!”
“Yeah, I get that he left. But you’re better off without the psycho. What would your parents say?”
Elsa watched the streaky shadows the rain threw across the carpet. This was all wrong. Jennifer was supposed to tell her it was all right. She was supposed to understand . She wasn’t supposed to lecture her. “I’m twenty. I can do what I want.”
Jen imitated her father, “Not while you’re under my roof.” When Elsa didn’t so much as giggle she sighed. “Okay, look. I’m sorry, all right? But there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”
Elsa caught her breath and held it. Plenty of other fish. That was a line straight from the annals of cliché comfort, and so she quit listening, though Jennifer kept talking. And talking.
Elsa cleared her throat loudly, and cut into the rambling spiel. “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”
She didn’t. She hung up the phone and then, for good measure, she unplugged it. Tears dripped down her cheeks like the rain on the window. She wished she’d done something besides stare at him. She wished she’d thrown herself at his feet – her pride be damned! Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away. Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.
That was what she needed to do.
Elsa stopped in the bathroom and splashed water on her face. As she thought, it did nothing to help, and soaked her shirt. She changed, threw on her raincoat and, without leaving so much as a note, she slipped out the door and into the storming night.
She slid into her car and started it. The heavy engine roared to life and she wished for the millionth time that she could afford one of the cute cars. The radio crackled and Madonna bled through the static. Her tiny, high pitched voice was no comfort, so Elsa turned the radio off.
She turned on the lights and the wipers, put the beast into gear and backed out carefully. Under the streetlights the road was a glare of slick reflections that made it hard to see. She navigated slowly, though she was only half focused on the task. Most of her attention was turned on where to go.
Twenty minutes later she parked outside of the Roockwood Inn where Tristan had been staying. The vacancy light flickered eerily, and the raindrops echoed off the car; ping, ping, ping. The darkness seemed to watch her like a tangible, malevolent creature. She shivered at the thought and climbed out of the car.
Room 622, around the back. That was where he’d been, but no one answered her knock. She pounded again and again, until someone in room 623 shouted at her to be quiet. She couldn’t give up, so she hurried through the rain and into the shabby motel office. The walls were stained with tobacco and smoke hung thick in the air. The bell was broken, so she banged on the counter impatiently.
A voice came from behind the nicotine tatty blanket that served as a makeshift door between the office and the back rooms. “Yeah, yeah, hang on.”
She didn’t have time. Each second might be taking him farther away from her.
The blanket was thrown aside and a short fat man dressed in a horrible Hawaiian short waddled out. He took a puff from his cigar and eyed her critically. “Yeah, what can I help you with?”
“I’m looking for someone. Tristan Shelby. He was in room 622.”
The attendant shrugged. “Room 622 checked out earlier. Sorry, sister.” He looked her up and down again. “Just as well. I’d let that one go, if I was you.”
“I can’t!” she cried passionately. “Do you know where he went?” Tears trembled at the edges of her eyes, ready to drop.
The attendant scratched his stomach thoughtfully. Indecision flickered over his face, but finally her tears swayed him. “I don’t know where he went for sure, but he was runnin’ with a local crowd. They hang out at the old fair grounds most nights, so he might be down there. But-“ he lowered his cigar and met her eyes. “I wouldn’t go lookin’ for any of them, if I was you. They’re not what you think they are.”
Hope blossomed inside her. The old fairgrounds were a popular hangout for teenagers and, having grown up there, she knew them well. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Remember I warned you!”
His words were lost as she dashed out the door into the rain. If she could only catch Tristan and say all those things she should have said earlier, then maybe she could stop this.
The drive was short. The fairgrounds were on the edge of town, and had been abandoned since the late 70’s. She parked in the overgrown lot and got out. The tall, wet grass wrapped around her legs like grasping hands. She shook it off and forced her way through it towards the peeling gates. A wooden sunshine cut out still hung above them. Its toothy grin was faded and chipped, and the colors were bleached almost gray. “Have a Happy Day” was just visible on the reverse side in faded rainbow letters.
The ticket booth was dark and silent. The windows were a spider web of cracks that told stories of bb guns and rocks. Scattered beer bottles glittered in the flashing lightning and weeds grew through the cracked pavement. The rusted Ferris wheel hulked to her left. Vines covered it and hung down in long, thick tendrils like something from a nightmare scape.
She could feel eyes in the darkness again; feel the night watching her. She forced the silly superstition away and told herself to grow up. There was nothing to be afraid of. She’d been there before.
But never alone.
Am I alone now?
No one answered her except the rain. She pulled up her courage and walked deeper into the fairgrounds. The carousel loomed ahead of her. The dirty mirrors still tried to glitter on the canopy, and the silent horses stood in a frozen circle, waiting for riders that would never return.
She stopped next to it and waited as a bolt of lightning sliced through the sky. In the instant of light, she looked around madly, but didn’t see anyone. Her heart sank as she realized that she’d missed him. It was too late. Tristan was gone.
Her body sagged and she used the nearest carousel horse to hoist herself onto the large, disc-like base. She felt too morose to do more than sit on the edge and stare at her dangling feet. What was the point? Maybe she’d get lucky and the carousel would get struck by lightning.
She glanced up to her silent, painted companion. Dark streaks ran down the horse’s face, like old tears. Oddly, that made her smile. “You know what it’s like, don’t you? With no reason to go on anymore?”
Thunder snapped and she sighed. She should go home and have a cup of coffee. She should change into her pajamas and go to bed. In the morning she should get up and put on her make up and go to work. Again and again the same routine. Meanwhile, he would be doing what? Or who?
She heard something. Her head snapped up and she looked around, but there was nothing. Only rain and dark and rusted rides. It was probably just a rat, anyway. Yeah. A rat.
A rat with fangs.
A man stood in front of her. To her terrified mind he was only a black shape with snarled lips and long, pointed teeth. A vampire, like Tristan. But, it wasn’t Tristan. It was someone else. Someone she needed to get away from.
She gasped and tried to throw herself backwards, but the carousel horse blocked her escape. He was too fast and she was suddenly pinned down on the old carousel. He held her by her wrist and growled into her face. His eyes were strange, not human but more like a wild dog; a wild starving dog.
He didn’t ask who she was, or what she was doing. He only stared into her eyes for an agonizing moment and then tore into her neck. She screamed, but the sound was drown out by the rolling thunder. Lightning sliced across the sky and in the brightness she could see the rain drops, suspended in midair and the sad, weather stained face of the carousel horse, watching with chipped eyes. The darkness crashed back, but the image stayed in her head, like a still frame. Perhaps the last thing she’d ever see.
With her last breaths she screamed for Tristan.
There was a blur of motion and suddenly she was free of her attacker. She tried to move, but she was too weak to do more than roll her head to one side. The carousel horse and its neighbors were broken and strewn in the mud. The dark vampire lay nearby, hanging half off the carousel, his face covered in blood. From the shadows a second man stepped forward. He had bright red hair, like a punk rocker, and though he was soaked he brushed at the mud on his long coat as he approached them.
“Sorry, Lennon. But I think I need her alive.” The new vampire hopped lithely onto the carousel platform, stepped over the bloody and angry Lennon and came to a stop next to her. He peered down at her like a vulture, his brow puckered. “You are alive, aren’t you?”
Her answer was a gurgle. Terror engulfed her. She tried to raise her hands to her gaping neck, but her arms wouldn’t work. All she could do was plead with silent eyes.
Lennon stood and wiped the blood from his chin. “What do you need her for?”
The red head arched a single brow. “Unless I’m much mistaken, she was shouting for our friend Tristan who, if you’ll recall, I am trying to locate. It seems that if she knows him, she may well know where he is.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Or maybe not.” He shrugged as if it was suddenly of no consequence. “It appears she’s useless to me, after all, so you can do what you want with her. Either kill her or turn her.”
“Turn her?” Lennon stared at him as if he’d gone crazy. “Why would I do that?”
The world shifted into shades of gray and Elsa choked. She tried to concentrate, but the conversation slipped through her fingers like tears. Tristan. Where is he? Why isn’t he here?
“Why not?” the red head asked cheerfully. “She seems to know all about us already. That’s hard to come by in a fledgling, and it’s not like you have any, yet-“
“- Besides, it might be fun-“
Where are you?
“-Of course, it’s up to you. I don’t care one way or the other-“
“-better decide before it’s too late-“
Goodbye babes, it’s been fun.
The thunder cracked, but the sound was muted behind a wall of black. There was something in her mouth. The taste was bitter and sharp, like sucking a knife blade. She swallowed. It burned like fire. She swallowed again. And again.
It was an hour or more before she could move. The first thing she did was sit up and touch her neck. The wound was gone. Even the blood had been washed away by the steady drum of rain.
Lennon sat nearby, his knees up and his eyes on her. “I’m Lennon,” he said pointlessly. Then he half-lifted a hand in greeting. “Hey.”
Her eyes skipped around, but they seemed to be alone. “Where’s-”
“That red haired guy?” She nodded and Lennon shrugged. “Went back to work, I guess. He’s hunting them. Tristan and his partner. “
“Hunting them?” she echoed. “He’s not going to – I mean he won’t…”
The words were too horrible to contemplate, but there they were, just the same. Lennon didn’t explain further, so she forced the question out, “Will he?”
Lennon’s expression softened. “Were you guys, you know?” The answer was in her eyes, and he suddenly looked away. “I don’t know. It depends, I guess. If he just goes quietly then probably not.”
Despite his attempt at reassurance, it was impossible to combat her panic. “But why is he after Tristan?”
“I don’t know. They’re wanted for something. Hard to tell.” Lennon fished a soggy pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He tried to slide one out, but it crumbled in his hand. With a mournful sigh he tossed it away. “Maybe because the guy’s obviously telling humans about us.” She opened her mouth to ask what he meant and he added, “You are – were – human, and he told you.”
Elsa couldn’t argue with that, though the word “were” disturbed her.
Lennon threw the ruined cigarettes away and stood up. “We better go. I’ve got to find my brother, then we need to get back to the den before sunrise.”
“Where’s that?” she mumbled, still lost in the intricate twists of the night’s events.
Her attention snapped to him. “I can’t go to New York! I have to go to work tomorrow-” The sentence died on her lips as the full realization of her new status crashed down on her. She struggled to come to terms with everything that had in the last few hours. Hours. Was that all it had been? A few hours had taken Tristan away and changed her?
Changed her like she’d once asked Tristan to do.
“Have fun with that.” Lennon stood and offered her a hand. “I hope you don’t act this stupid when you meet Claudius.”
A mixture of panic and elation coursed through her and she fought to master it. “Is Claudius your brother?”
“Hardly!” He snickered. “He’s the coven master. We’re supposed to get permission before we make fledglings.” He frowned. “I’m not really sure what to tell him. I’m not really sure why I did it.” he squinted ta her. “You’re not bad looking, I guess, but we need to work on a better story that this.” He waved his hand around the abandoned grounds as if to indicate the truth.
She had no answer for him, though he didn’t seem to expect one. He tugged her to her feet and led her through the rainy fairgrounds towards the exit.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear Jennifer’s voice echoing, “He thought he was a vampire.”
That’s because he is, and now so am I.
The sign over the exit made her giggle softly. “Have a Happy Day”. Bizarrely, she would never have another day again. There would only be night after night from now on. But it was all right; or it would be once she found Tristan. Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away. Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.
And now she had an eternity to do it in.
Next up is either Herrick or Jeda, depending on my mood. (Herrick is so minor that his only contribution is he dies and Jorick and Katelina inherit his coffin, so he may get skipped.)