Chapter One: Get Rich or Die Trying
You know that story about the kid who put his finger in a hole in a dam to stop the flood? Bullet wounds don’t work that way. A finger, a hand, a shirt, it doesn’t matter—the blood flows hard. When it’s coming from your chest, every second feels like your last. You scramble. You panic. You spout off all the sobbing nonsense your oxygen-deprived brain can come up with. Your friends and family eat it up, and they spout the same bullshit right back at you. How it’s going to be okay. How the dead guy next to you is going to a better place.
I’m bleeding out. I grab at my chest, trying everything I can to stop the flow. Everything hurts—not just the bullet wound. The August pavement burns into my back. My back hurts because of fucking course my back hurts. I scraped my knee when I fell to the ground. I’m hungry. I wish my body could just focus on the gunshot. I wish it was like those stories where the guy gets stabbed but doesn’t know it until someone tells him.
The pain magnifies every sense. Sirens down the street sound like concert speakers pressed against my ear, and look like tie-dyed shirts off in the distance. Every time someone grabs my arms and legs, it feels like a punch in the face. My blood smells like the welding room back at the Honda plant I worked at a few years ago. Guys in blue jumpsuits lift me onto a stretcher. I feel a thousand pounds pushing down on my lungs. I feel like I’m drowning, and I tell them I’m not going to make it. They tell me to stop talking, that I need to try to relax. Save my breath, they say.
The next few minutes bleed together. The ambulance shakes hard. They shove an oxygen mask in my face. The lights blind me. They strap me down. Why do they need to strap me down? I struggle. They jab something in my arm. I tell myself I’m going to make it, and go limp. The breaths stop hurting. The bullet wounds stop burning. My vision blurs just a little more. I forget everything but my hunger. I’d murder for a burrito full of pastrami, mustard, pickles, and french fries. I have no idea how I’d eat it when my hands are covered in blood. But I want it. Then I don’t. My stomach turns over, and I want to throw up all over the EMTs, but I can’t. I can barely even open my eyes.
Minutes later, they’re carrying me into the hospital. I’m sure they’re saying plenty. But I just hear “go, go, go!” like the hero of a shitty big budget action movie barking at his fashion model costar as they run away from a CGI explosion. I try to look around, but it’s just white walls and blue jumpsuits as far as my eyes can see. I try asking, but it comes out as groaning and drooling.
They bring me into a room and swarm. Eight, maybe nine faces. They pull lamps like spotlights to beam down on me. It’s blinding. They’re hot as sun on the boardwalk. I feel like carnitas under the grocery store heat lamp. I groan. They spin the same bullshit. “You’re going to be fine.” They all tell me that. “Keep fighting!” That one’s my favorite. Fight. Tied down. Barely conscious. Numb. Bleeding out. But somehow, I’m supposed to fight. Do I tell my arteries to stop pumping? Do I slow my breath to conserve oxygen? I wiggle my toes. I feel like a badass. A fighter.
My eyes close. My eyes open. Every time they open, I see a little more blood on their scrubs and gloves. Every time my eyes close, they stay closed a little longer than the last. I hear the beep, the long beep like on TV. I wonder if they’re going to use those paddle things. They don’t. One of the women says, “We’re losing him.” I try to open my eyes. To tell them they’re not losing me.
I wake up in a dark, tight space. Something is on my face. I reach up and out. I am in a bag. I scream. I panic. I punch. I fight. Nobody answers, and after a few minutes I realize nobody’s going to answer. So I feel around the bag, and grab the zipper. It takes a moment of struggling since the zipper wasn’t made to open from the inside. It was still dark outside the bag. I kick out, and opened a door. Light cracks in.
I slide out on a metal shelf. Naked. Like a filing cabinet for corpses, just like on TV. What isn’t like TV is the bag. White, with blue trim. I expected a heavy black bag. Why wasn’t I dead? Don’t they embalm people down here? Do they do that before filing them away, or after?
San Jenaro does a lot of things well. Street cleaning? Great. Feeding the homeless? We’re better than average. But the hospitals are the pits. Filthy. Smelly. Disorganized. Underfunded. I poke around in the morgue. There’s no hint of life. This is fortunate, since my cock decided to raise full mast. This is the kind of bulging, bordering on painful erection I’d usually stop to do something about, but, morgue. I have a brief flashback to being on the ER table. I pat my chest, feeling for the bullet wounds. They’re gone. Replaced by the erection of a lifetime. Great.
Worse? Everything’s still bloody, caked with dry, filthy blood. Old blood and motor oil and cigarette ash and dust and whatever else was on the streets. I smell like a 7-Eleven dumpster. Without even thinking about it, I hit the nearest sink, and scrub my hands and arms until the skin hurts. But I still stink. My skin is caked with filth, and it’s so deep I feel like a boiling bath is my only answer.
I follow the signs to the stairs. As I round the last corner, and see the old steel door out of here, a security guard walks through. I panic. I scramble back. I run tip-toed back to the morgue. I tuck behind a support pillar. I close my eyes, hoping like hell he doesn’t come through. Then my mind focuses on him. He’s got fifty pounds on me, but I can probably take him. He’s healthy. Alive. Vibrant. As he walks toward the morgue, I hear every step. He opens the door, and I hear his breathing. Heavy. Maybe asthmatic. Then I hear his heart. It beats fast. Once and a half a second. About as fast as Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”. The sound both soothes and exhilarates. I smile. I bob like I’m in a drum circle trance. I forget all the stress. I forget all the worry. I forget that minutes ago, I was dead on a slab. Everything in my universe existed for that sound. That beat. I wanted to take it within me. I wanted to move with his heart and get lost in it. And then the hunger kicked in. My stomach growled. I growled. He heard me. “Is anybody in here?” He shone a flashlight across the morgue.
Wait. I growled?
“Fuck. I’m a vampire.” He definitely heard that.
“What? Who is that?” The guard says, and rapidly pans his flashlight to every corner.
I hold my breath. I think about vampire things. I push my tongue to my teeth. Fangs? Check. They feel shorter than I expect. But I cut my tongue on them, so they can do the job. The job? Why am I thinking of biting this security guard? That’s sick. Are vampires immune to Hepatitis? And he’s a big guy. If he struggles, it’s going to make a hell of a mess. Or maybe my bite’s like in that game I played in high school, and he’ll get all orgasmic while I’m drinking his blood. Do I really want that big sweaty guy orgasmic in my arms? Not into bears. But it’s not a sex thing. Is it?
Fuck it. As the guard passes by my pillar, I turn on heel, grab him, and bite. The motion is way too comfortable, like I’ve been doing it all my life. Once I bite, I feel my fangs push up into my jaw, and I just start drinking like I’ve never drank before. It’s great. It’s like every terrible metaphor you can think of for good things. It’s like running into the bathroom on a cold day and pissing after you’ve been holding it in for an hour. It’s like you’ve just came inside someone, and you’re not quite ready to pull it out, so you just kinda sit there and everything tickles and you wonder if you can go again, and they clench up and squeeze your cock a little and life is perfect. It’s like that. And more. He didn’t seem orgasmic, but he also didn’t fight. He just kinda clenched up. He waved his arms a little bit and knocked over a tray table. But when I finally pull my face off his collar, everything in his face says scared. If that’s his orgasm face, I feel bad for anyone he takes home.
The heartbeat sound dies down, and I lower the guard to the ground. I see his little name badge. It says Tom Jones. Like the old actor. Or was he a musician? I don’t know. Tom Jones gasps. Whimpers a little. He’s alive, but his eyes keep drooping like I imagine mine did in that emergency room. I pick up his radio, and put my thumb on the button. I consider calling it in. But then I remember that I’ve still got to make it out. Besides, we’re in a hospital, right? If you’re going to get attacked by a vampire, a hospital’s the best place for that to happen. If he’s gonna live, he’s in the best place to do it.
In a fit, I grab Tom Jones’s pants, put them on, and pull the belt extra tight. I grab his shoes. On the wall near the door, I spot a hoodie, and toss it on. It’s all way too big. Like a kid in daddy’s work clothes. It smells terrible. But at least my erection’s gone.
It’s the dead of night. I check my pockets. Tom Jones graciously left me $65 and some change. Who carries that much cash? People who can’t get bank accounts, that’s who. Did I just murder someone who couldn’t even get a bank account? Fuck.
No. I didn’t murder him. I have no reason to think he’s dead. He’s in a hospital. That’s where people go to not die.
Unless they’re me.
I hop on a bus, and start home. My senses flare, and as the bus starts moving, everything becomes too much. The engine. The lights. The voices. The blonde girl closest to me talks into an iPhone. Last year’s model, with some Japanese cartoon girl on the case. From the phone, I hear some guy laughing. I know, just know, that he’s laughing at me. I want to kill him. I want to show him that nobody laughs at me. I grit my teeth. My fangs extend. This reassures me. Those fangs? They’re a gun in my hand. They’re power. I could grab and kill any single person on this bus, and nobody could do shit about it.
Holy shit, why am I thinking this? What in the fuck did these people even do? Calm down, Dylan. Besides, what are you going to do? Bite the iPhone? Crush it while hissing menacingly? You’d look like a jackass alpha male baboon, and she’d have to go argue about her phone insurance policy tomorrow. Does AppleCare cover bite damage?
The blonde’s conversation goes darker. She keeps trying to talk. He keeps cutting her off. She rolls her eyes, and pulls the phone a couple of inches from her ear. Whatever he’s saying, he’s pissed. I can hear every word, but I can’t understand them. He’s rambling. He’s guilty. He’s lying. But I don’t know the words he’s saying. He calls her Lyndsay. I can’t help but to watch her.
She’s had a long day; her makeup’s cracking around the corners of her eyes. Her eyeshadow’s a soft shimmering gunmetal over a black base, and it’s creasing bad. She looks at me and raises an eyebrow; I realize I’m creeping out on her so I turn my head. I can’t help it, and my eyes wander back over. The magenta on her lips is fading away. The dark liner is a little too obvious; I picture her clubbing or bartending or something in the dark.
Then my mind wanders. I imagine myself walking up to her in a bar, saying something clever. That magenta lipstick rubs off on a drink I bought her. We laugh, and I take her to a hallway. We start fucking, standing up, the way it happens in the movies but totally doesn’t work in real life. She’s wet, and warm, and perfect. I’m nailing her hard, lifting her up every time, and she throws her head back and tells me not to stop. I run my fingers through her hair and tug her back a little more. I bite down on her neck and keep on fucking her, and god damn it the erection’s back. I cross my legs.
Lindsay hangs the phone up and puts it in a purple faux snakeskin purse. I notice her shirt. A white, button-down blouse that’s been bleached a few too many times. It smells like dish water. Her hands are dry, and the red on her short fingernails is chipped all to hell. Black slacks. Definitely service work.
“Boyfriend troubles?” I say to her. God damn it, Dylan, you sound like an asshole. You look like a creep, in your stolen pants and XXXL hoodie.
“Yeah? I mean, kinda? Maybe?” She shakes her head. “I don’t know.” She sighs and looks across the bus, not at me.
“Sorry to hear it. Had a hard day myself. I’m Dylan.” Had a hard day myself? Dork. I hope I get vampire hypnotism or something, because I am so not smooth.
Wait. Hypnotism? That is not helping with the creepy factor.
“It happens.” She says with a shrug. “Look. My stop’s coming up.” She stands and forces the same smile I’m sure she forces a hundred times a night in whatever bar she works at.
“That’s cool. I just… I don’t want to sound like an ass, but since I stepped on the bus, I kept telling myself I had to try to talk to you. So…” Instinctively, I stand too. I look her in the eyes, like they do in the movies. Not trying to hypnotize her or whatever, I just can’t help but to look at her. “I just wondered if I could get your number? If not, that’s totally cool and I respect that choice.”
She looks either way. Away from my eyes. Then sighs, and pulls up her purse and takes out her phone. “You know, why not? Give me yours instead. I’ll text you.”
It worked all natural. Just Dylan smooth. Or did I accidentally hypnotize her? Maybe she would have given it to me anyway. Except there’s no fucking way, because I look like the Unabomber and I smell like… he used fertilizer bombs, right? I guess I smell as bad as him, too. But I don’t have my phone! It must be back at the hospital. I pat my pants, remembering I have Tom Jones’s phone. I pull it out, an old Nokia flip phone, hand shaking, and begin looking for the number in the settings. I notice the phone says it’s Thursday; it was Tuesday when I ate that bullet.
“I’ve got to get off here.” Lindsay says, sighing and edging toward the door. “What’s your number?”
“Sorry. I don’t call myself.” I find the settings. “It’s 555-555-5555.”
She dials and steps off the bus. “I’m Lindsay.” She says as the door’s closing.
“I know.” I say back, waving. I know? Oh my god I sound like a cretin. Worse off, I missed my stop. Lindsay’s stop was my stop. Maybe it’s for the best. I’ve filled my creep quota for this year already. Tom Jones’s phone buzzes. I look. “It’s Lindsay :)”
I take a deep breath and step off at the next stop.
Twenty minutes walking, and I’m home. I look at the old white house and march up the steps like I have a million times before. I put my hand to the doorknob. Mom’s car is in the driveway. I freeze. I can’t go back—I’m dead. Two days ago, the doctors or cops or whomever told her that she lost her baby. She’s probably not stopped crying once.
Then again, maybe it’ll help her if she knows I’m alive. Maybe I’ll walk in and she’ll hug me and everything will be all better. No fucking way. They file paperwork. I have a death certificate. How am I supposed to argue that? I don’t even know if vampires can go out in the sun, and government offices aren’t open at night. I shake my head and turn around.
But, it’s 4am. I stop. She’s asleep. Least I can do is get some of my stuff. Get out of these bags and into something that fits and doesn’t stink like formaldehyde. I pull the spare key out of the potted plant next to the door. The same key I’ve told mom to hide somewhere better a million times. I slip in and upstairs to my room. As I suspect, everyone’s in bed.
It’s silent in here. Sometimes a car passes by outside. But, it’s quiet enough that I hear every heart. Every breath. Mom’s in her room. Geena’s in hers. They’re through thick walls, but it still distracts me for a moment. Usually I can barely hear if Geena’s fucking her stupid boyfriend, let alone her breathing. I shake it off, and grab some clothes, and stuff them in my backpack. I look around, taking inventory. What else should I take? I grab my iPod; that might help distract me from all the fucking heartbeats. I look at my skateboard, and think twice about taking it. It’s too “me.” Anyone that knows me would know it was mine. So that’s it. Nothing else worth taking. I worked my ass off to fill this room with shit, and now none of it means anything. The only thing I want—my bank card—is probably sitting in the morgue or in an evidence locker somewhere. And don’t they close your accounts when you die?
The room explodes with sound. Blaring. I jump and look around. A voice breaks out. “Lord knows, I can’t chayayayayaynge!” Fucking Freebird? Seriously? Then I realize; it’s coming from my pocket. I pull Tom Jones’s phone. The screen says “Mercy Medical”. Guess they haven’t found him yet. I hang up on them.
Freebird? Really? At least I don’t have to feel bad about killing him.
Damn it, Dylan. No, no, no. Killing people is wrong, even if they have a Freebird ringtone. And you don’t get to play that cool if that ringtone’s coming from the phone you just stole from the guy you just murdered.
I return to the moment, to my house, to Freebird, to my mourning family. I run. I hear movement in the other rooms. Mom. Geena. Both waking up. Coming to see who the hell is blasting Freebird in their dead son or brother’s room. I bump a lamp in the hall. That god-awful woodcarving of a giraffe that mom thinks is so “real” despite being made in China. I catch it as it falls, and I just fucking throw it. The cord rips out and it splits in half right next to mom’s door. I keep running, and I go out the back because knowing my luck, cops are already out front ready to take me to vampire jail.
“Dylan?” Geena shouts out her bedroom window. I look back. She sees me. “Dylan?!” She shouts again. I shake my head, and I run. I tell myself I’m not Dylan. I’m not the guy she’s looking for. I’m the guy who broke in and stole some clothes and an iPod.
That’s me. A burglar in my own fucking house.