The Morning After
Willie was standing on the beach, clutching at his abdomen. A gigantic gray shark with fangs had taken a big chomp out of him, and guts and innards were spilling out all over the place. On his knees, the young man tried to shove his organs back where they belonged, but they were getting covered with sand and he figured that couldn't be good.
It was risky, but the ocean seemed calm and there was no ominous music in the background, so Willie made his way back into the water to rinse off. He walked too far, too fast, got pulled out by a riptide and down by the undertow, disappearing under the waves. The boy scrambled futilely but sank like a stone, deeper and deeper, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
Then the music began, a pulsating rhythm muffled by the water as the shark appeared in the murky depths, first above him, then diving beneath with gaping jaws.
Willie grappled at the air as he woke up screaming. His heart pounded as the servant slowly realized he was in his old third-floor bedroom. The oil lamp burned warmly and Barnabas sat complacently at his bedside, looking more pleasant than he had in months.
"Oh good, you're awake." The master smiled cheerfully. "Forgive the intrusion. I know this sounds absurd but, in truth, I have somewhat missed your company of late. Your return promises to be a refreshing change."
The young man felt his midsection under his shirt to make sure all the pieces where there, then collapsed back onto his mattress with a wave of nausea.
"Of course, Julia is a fine companion. One could not ask for a more devoted wife, and she is very attentive to one's needs, if you understand of which I speak—"
Bile rose in his throat as Willie listlessly waved the man away.
"Except on one subject," the vampire continued in confidence. "She won't permit me to—you know—on the neck. Personally, I think it's a control issue. She supplies me with more than enough blood, but in those antiseptic, plastic hospital bags." He made a sour face. "Dear woman doesn't realize the thrill of restraining a breathing creature in one's embrace, smelling its warm flesh, sapping its strength…"
Willie leaned over the side of the bed and puked into the waste basket where Barnabas, with his nimble reflexes, had placed it seconds before.
"Poor lad. Here I am, going on about my personal predicament, while you suffer." With a damp washcloth, he dabbed the servant's face. "Julia says you have a dreadful fever, although I cannot tell. I thought your reaction rather extreme, as if you had never been bitten before. Why is that?" His eyes lit up. "Ah, perhaps it is a result of all those transfusions during the procedure in which you transformed from vampire back to human. That must be it, don't you think?" The vampire gently cleaned dried blood from Willie's neck, looking slightly embarrassed by the large, unsightly bruise present. "And I'm afraid I overindulged myself," he said with a small smile.
Willie deposited Round 2 of his stomach contents into the trash can as Barnabas discreetly backed away from the distasteful odor, holding a scented handkerchief to his nose.
"You must rest now; we want you back in top form, and tomorrow will bring new adventures." The master reached behind him for the doorknob. "The time has come for me to retire for the day, and so I shall take my leave of you."
The master silently closed the door behind him.
You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal… except my life… except my life…except my life.
Willie next awoke when his butt hit the floor, and he looked around, again dazed and disoriented. How could he fall out of bed? He and Maggie kept the mattress on the floor to prevent just that from happening. It was unnaturally quiet and he had been sleeping in the middle of the day. He felt cold and sweaty at the same time. The room smelled unpleasant. Dr. Hoffman was in the doorway.
"Not again." She pulled Willie up and tucked him back into bed, then gave the young man a cursory once-over, peering into his eyes, feeling his forehead. "I have never seen anyone squirm around in their sleep like you. Do I need to restrain you to the bedpost?"
"Don't do that."
The doctor held out two pills and a glass of water, but Willie backed away. "It's just Tylenol, for your fever. Now, please, I have other things to do." Julia mopped the sweat from his brow. "There's a tray on the dresser with orange juice and beef broth, which, of course, is cold now."
The boy shook his head. "Not yet, but thanks, Doc. I'm g-gonna sleep some more." He buried his head in the pillow until he heard the door close and footsteps retreat down the hall.
Willie sprang upright, but the sudden momentum made his head pound and he almost went down again. The room was still spinning as he forced himself to stand and felt his way to the dresser. Food smell. The young man turned away, stomach lurching, and searched for—what did he need? Shoes. Jacket. Escape.
He tiptoed, partially slid, down the back stairs and could have snuck out the servants' entrance except for his keys. The young man was not up to hotwiring the truck but, fortunately, Julia's pocketbook was in the foyer and inside was what he needed.
Driving was especially difficult because the road kept moving up and down, and sometimes there were two at once, but he got to the apartment without hitting anything and reached for the knob just as door swung open. Maggie stood at the threshold with folded arms. His wife was not happy.
"Oh my, look what the cat dragged in. You look horrible." The young man was about to pass out again and stumbled toward the mattress. "Do you mind telling me where you've been since yesterday?"
"Old House." Willie crawled under the covers.
"That is a downright lie. I called there last night, worried to death, and Mr. Collins said you never showed up for work. Then I saw Dr. Hoffman this morning and still no news."
"Why would you see…oh, I don't feel good."
"No, hangovers don't feel good. Well, I guess you're not going to work again tonight, not in this shape." There was no response. "Are you planning to sleep in your clothes again?"
Willie slid off his jeans and pushed them out onto the floor. A couple of dollar bills and a condom fell out.
"What is this?" She held up the packet.
"Nothin', I dunno. It was in Burke Devlin’s wallet.” He fumbled with his shirt buttons as she knelt on the mattress and reached over to assist.
"You’re making no sense.” She stopped short at the sight of his injured neck. “I guess that's nothing, too."
"Congratulations, it's the biggest hickey I've ever seen." All of a sudden Maggie was crying—and clobbering him with flying fists. "You rotten, lying jerk!"
He tried to grab her but had no strength in his arms. It was all he could do to ward off the blows as his wife continued to batter him. Finally he garnered the momentum to push her away and she yelped in surprise, falling backwards.
"How dare you!" she spat, clumsily pulling herself up as he tried to explain. "Shut up, I am not speaking to you, do you hear? I'm going home. Don't follow me and don't come to the diner ever again. You're fired!"
Willie fell back onto the mattress. Maybe this is what Julia meant by a trial separation.
It was past sunset when Willie next awoke. His strength had returned and his head no longer felt like it was stuffed with cotton as he reached for the lamp. Her clothes were still in the closet, but Maggie was gone.
Once again, Willie belonged to the vampire, body and soul. It would be looking for him soon, calling to him from the corridor in his mind, the one only he and Barnabas shared. But this second time around the young man was better informed. Willie knew now he had the power to close his door and block the master's thoughts and commands, even if he was incapable of betraying or harming the monster.
Once again, Maggie was in danger.
She knew too much to live.
Had Barnabas said that to him for real or in a dream? The vampire was sure to kill Maggie, probably tonight, and Willie knew it was all his fault because the nonsense that tumbled out of his mouth never seemed to check in with the brain beforehand. Not everything he did was crazy; some things were just stupid.
Collecting his thoughts, Willie resolved to save the woman he loved, and not muck it up like the last time and the time before. It wouldn't be easy, because she was very pissed at him at present. The young man grabbed his duffle bag and started to pack, beginning with a fistful of clothes and his collection of prescription drugs.
It took several trips to get everything set up and Willie worked tirelessly. That mental door was sealed shut in order to shield himself from Barnabas, but that also meant he had no idea what the vampire what up to. Willie showed up at the diner with a thermos just as the young woman was turning the sign on the front door.
"I told you not to come back here." She tried to close the door in his face. "Get out of my diner."
"Please, Maggie. Here, look." He held out the thermos. "I brought ya some tea."
"I work in a restaurant and am perfectly capable of making my own tea."
"This is your favorite, Darjeeling."
"It's too late—"
"Decaf." The young man poured hot liquid into the cup-lid and handed it to her. "I'm sorry, really sorry about last night, but it wasn't what ya think."
The manager began to count out her cash drawer. "Oh, then what was it?"
"I—can't tell ya. He won't let me, and it ain't safe for you to know." Maggie sighed in exasperation. "Look, uh, we gotta get outta here for a while, maybe take a trip."
"Are you going to start that again? I am not going to New York for Christmas."
"I was thinkin' more like the Bahamas. I bet you could use a vacation." He pointed to the register receipts. "Maybe we could, ya know, b-borrow some of that cash and then—"
"Whoa, whoa, hold it right there. Are you out of your mind?" Willie slumped in his seat, running fingers through his hair. "Or are you in some sort of trouble?"
"I can't say no more! Don't you get it? He's there, inside my head." Willie looked up to see his love staring back in dismay at her distraught husband as if he had lost his mind. "Never mind, forget it. Finish your tea and I'll drive ya home." She started to protest. "To your Pop's, I know…I understand."