Winter's Nights: Eternity

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Night Two

Merry lay on her back, tucked under the white blankets, just the way Hunt had left her. She normally slept on her side, but she was so drugged that she didn’t even move in her sleep. The tranquilizer was very effective – and she’d been given a triple dose – so she didn’t stir. Merry also didn’t dream, which was VERY unusual for a vampire.

With a little practice, all vampires could learn to control their dreams. They still had normal dreams, often intersected by memories (theirs and those of other vampires), and they still suffered nightmares, but they could also travel into the minds of other vampires and connect with their dreams. Merry and Davide often shared their dreams – connecting subconsciously even when they were physically far apart.

Now, however, Merry was so deeply drugged that even her subconscious was dark.

The minutes after sunset found Davide standing on the roof of the building nearest the one Merry was locked in. He could feel her, but she wasn’t responding. She was in a deep, dreamless sleep that she couldn’t wake up from. He reached out to her tentatively through their link and he felt her move her hand up to the side of her neck where her link was. He pressed forward with his mind and Merry came awake. She opened her eyes for a moment, then closed them again.

Davide?

What happened, my sweet?

Drugged.

How?

She sent him the memory of the tranquilizer gun.

They know what you are.

Yes. The walls…. She trailed off, but Davide had felt it too. The walls were filled with ultraviolet light, the part of sunlight that could burn a vampire to ash in seconds.

I know. But you’ve figured another way out.

Yes. It will take some time, but I’ll get them from the inside.

Perfect. He paused. A car just pulled into the parking lot. A blonde woman.

Ah, her.

That easy?

She already trusts me. I’ll have her blood by dawn.

If you can move by dawn.

You can help with that.

Davide understood. He concentrated on their link and poured energy into her. Merry came fully awake and regained her strength.

Better, my love?

Much, thank you.

I don’t like this, Davide said.

All will be fine, my love. I promise.

Davide hoped Merry was right.

I wish I could do more.

Don’t worry, Dav, Merry insisted. I have everything under control. Go play your games and let me play mine. I’ll see you in a few days.

Alright, Davide relented. I’ll leave you now. He paused. Another car’s just arrived. Driver’s a dark-haired man with glasses.

I’m going to have fun with him.

I could kill him now.

Then they’d be suspicious. No, I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.

Alright. Take care, my love.

And you, my dear.

I love you, Merry, Davide added. I could not live without you.

Nor I without you, Merry replied. If I need help I WILL call for it, but I can handle this myself. Have no fear, my sweet, you’ll not be rid of me this easily.

Goodnight Merry.

Adieu Davide, m’amant.

Davide waited a few moments, then left the roof and disappeared into the night.

Hunt entered the control room and was greeted Josie's excited cries.

“Dr. Hunt! I just tried to call you. She moved! The vampire moved!”

Hunt hurried to the screen and stared at the vampire. She had moved. Her left arm was now across her chest and her hand was resting on the right side of her neck.

Interesting. Hunt made a note of it in the file she’d started on the vampire. But wait….

“That’s impossible,” she said as she leaned closer to the screen.

“What’s impossible?” Athens asked as he entered the room.

“She’s moving. You hit her with enough tranquilizers to keep her out for days, but she’s already awake.

“Well,” he replied, “then let’s go see her.”

Hunt hesitated, but Athens was already on his way. She checked the canister of concentrated garlic spray that was tucked in the pocket of her lab coat as she hurried after him. They stopped at one of the labs for a bottle of blood then continued down to the holding cell.

Hear me all who walk the night, Merry called out in her mind. I have found the humans who know our secrets, the ones who killed our brothers. I will take revenge for our losses. They think they can hold me, kill me, but they are wrong. They will fall before my fangs. If I need you, I know you will come, but wait for my call. There is no need to endanger our kind further. Soon our fallen will be avenged, and our numbers replenished. ‘Til next we meet, drink deep.

Around the world, vampires heard Merry’s message in their minds. It was a subtle thing, like wind, but they all felt it. Those nearer Merry focused on her location. They would be ready when she needed them.

The holding cell was actually two rooms: a main room with a bed, a small table, and a chair, and a full, private bathroom. It was very much like a boring, white, puck-board lined hotel room, but since it was designed to contain “criminals”, they called it a cell. The walls, ceiling, floor, and hollow steel door were filled with ultraviolet light and their insides were painted with garlic filled paint. One corner of the ceiling held a video camera that was protected by a clear, Plexiglas bubble and a sprinkler that would spray garlic powder if the bubble was damaged.

Merry heard the approaching footsteps in the hall and the beeping of the keypad that released the door lock. She opened her eyes slowly as the door swung open. She was still tired and stiff from the day before, but when she realized what was in the bottle that the man was holding, she sat bolt upright, her eyes wide and fixed on the bottle. She raised her arm with her hand in the “stop” position.

“Stop!” she ordered, surprising them with her English accent.

They froze in the doorway, their eyes wide and their mouths open in shock. Merry tossed the blankets back and hopped off the bed, pointing at the bottle of blood as she moved towards the scientists.

“Get rid of that,” she ordered, curling up her lip at the cold, dead blood in the bottle.

Merry knew full well that if she was to live in this place for any amount of time she would have to drink the lab blood, but she wanted to put it off as long as she could. Blood for vampires was much like coffee to caffeine addicts – wonderful when warm but disgusting when cold. Tonight Merry would wet her lips with blood from the blonde woman’s veins; later she would drink the bottled blood.

“It’s… breakfast,” the man stammered, regaining his voice.

Merry moved like lightning, backhanding the bottle out of his hand and sending it bouncing down the hall. The woman reached for her garlic spray but Merry caught her wrist and twisted her around, wrapping her arm around the woman’s neck and pulling her back against her body. She wrapped her other hand around the man’s throat and pinned him to the doorframe.

“If you want me to be nice,” Merry snarled, her eyes blazing red, “you’ll do as I say.”

She released them both and took a step backwards. She was weak and still dizzy from the tranquilizer. She leaned back against the wall to keep her balance.

“You need to eat,” the woman said as she cautiously touched Merry’s shoulder to steady her.

“No.” Merry looked up at her, her eyes normal again. “Not that dead stuff.”

The woman turned away, refusing to meet Merry’s gaze, and pulled her hand back. She nodded to the man, who was massaging his sore neck, and shut the door, locking him out.

“You should sit down,” the woman said.

Merry sat down on the end of the bed. The woman sat cautiously beside her.

“That was Dr. Alix Athens. I’m Dr. Amy Hunt,” she said, offering her hand to shake.

“Merry,” she replied, taking Hunt’s hand.

Hunt's wrist was still red where Merry had grabbed it. Merry didn’t release Hunt’s hand. She held it gently, so Hunt could have pulled away at any time. She didn’t.

“And why won’t you eat, Merry?”

Silence. Merry was playing with her.

“You can’t starve yourself to death.”

Still no reply.

“You’d just get weak and I’d give you an IV and you’d have to start all over, so you might as well do it the proper way.”

Hunt glanced at Merry. She had her head down, but she looked up for a second, then back down at Hunt’s wrist. She wrapped her other hand around Hunt’s wrist, just below where she could see the blood vessels through her skin.

“You’re right,” Merry said softly.

Hunt realized what Merry was up to.

“No,” she said, but she didn’t pull away. She had a strange feeling of not wanting to. The vampire’s touch was pleasant and soothing.

“Just a taste. I’ll do whatever you want me to after this and you have my word that I’ll stop the moment you speak.”

Merry stroked Hunt’s wrist gently, running her thumb down the soft skin. Hunt hesitated.

“You have your garlic, you’re perfectly safe,” Merry continued, “and you know I can’t infect you just by biting you.”

Hunt knew that what the vampire said was true, except perhaps for the “perfectly safe” part. It was dangerous. Alix would disapprove, but she didn’t care. She was his boss and she wasn’t his girl, so if he got mad, it would just be revenge for the last time he’d cheated on her.

Merry bared her fangs and lifted Hunt’s wrist closer. She already knew that she would say “yes”; she’d known from when she’d first touched her. The more Hunt thought she was in control, the more power Merry had over her. She didn’t bother to wait for Hunt to speak; she just leaned forward slightly and slid her fangs into Hunt’s wrist.

Hunt gasped, then exhaled slowly. It didn’t really hurt. She wasn’t sure if she’d expected it to. Her head felt… cloudy. She felt dizzy, like the room was moving, and she closed her eyes to make it stop.

No! I have to make it… “St….”

Merry pulled back instantly. She released Hunt’s wrist and sank her fangs into her own fist, biting down hard to stop the hunger as she stood up. She walked away from Hunt (who clutched her wrist even though it didn’t hurt and it was hardly bleeding) and leaned her arm and forehead against the wall. Merry slowly released her bite, freeing her torn and bleeding hand. Don’t let the hunger control you.

Hunt’s breathing was sharp and ragged. She stared at the vampire – clearly in pain for having kept her word and stopping before she killed her. She stood up slowly, never taking her eyes off the vampire as she moved towards the door. She punched in the code and slipped outside.

She nearly ran into Athens, who’d been waiting anxiously just outside the door. She was still clutching her wrist and she stared at him wide-eyed, unsure of what to say. He looked at her wrist, touched it, then looked her in the eye with a shocked expression.

“You didn’t….”

Hunt nodded.

“You let her?!”

She nodded again as tears began to trickle down her face. He hugged her and ran his fingers through her hair.

“It’s okay,” he whispered.

On the other side of the door, Merry was no more “okay” than Hunt was. Her hand had already begun to heal, but she didn’t notice. She pounded the wall with her other fist, denting it. She needed to release some energy. She paced around for a moment, then did a back flip, tapping the camera glass and ceiling with her bare feet before landing. She kicked the wall, denting it again, then paced around some more. Finally she decided to explore her “prison”.

In the bathroom Merry found a basket of hygiene items. She ran her finger across the bristles of the toothbrush, testing their firmness. She tossed the toothpaste into the garbage – using it would make her extremely sick. She opened all of the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc. and breathed in the lofty, fruit and flower scents.

In the closet she found the clothing that Josie had purchased. She approved, and opted to change her shirt for a new one that featured a golden lion. Merry returned to the main room and plunked herself down on the floor against the wall.

“She’s bored,” Hunt commented.

She and Athens were alone in the control room, watching the vampire on the monitor. Hunt had stopped crying and, at Athens’s insistence, was hooked up to a blood IV.

“She’s human,” Athens replied with a shrug. He was used to his discovery already and had forgotten that he hadn’t told Hunt yet.

Her jaw dropped and her eyes grew wide as she realized what he meant – and he was right.

“How? When did…?”

“In the van. She was sitting there, poisoned and chained up, and I realized that she wasn’t acting any different than a human would and that’s when it hit me: why would she, she is human,” Athens explained.

“But you’re right,” he continued, “she is bored, and bored minds think up escape plans. We’ll have to get her some books or something.”

“She already has an escape plan,” Hunt said absentmindedly. She was busy thinking about the vampire being human.

It made perfect sense. That was why she and Athens were still alive even though she’d had several chances to kill them. And that explained her actions in the alley by the club and why she hadn’t killed any of the police officers. She just wanted to live a normal life.

Athens repeated his question to her, “What escape plan, Amy? How do you know?”

“Huh? Oh! Well, she’s really smart, and old, and if she’s human too, then you can’t assume she doesn’t have an escape plan,” Hunt replied.

Athens nodded. She was right. He looked over at the monitor.

“What’s her name again?” he asked.

“Merry.”

Athens pushed a button on the control panel and spoke into the mike.

“Merry?”

She jerked her head around to stare at the small speaker on the wall. Her eyes narrowed into a glare.

“What?!”

“What kind of books do you like?”

“Why?”

“So we can get you some to read so you’re not so bored.”

“I wouldn’t be bored if you’d let me go.”

“But that’s not going to happen, so….”

“Fantasy, sci-fi, true crime, mystery, comics, magazines… and I wouldn’t mind a TV and a stereo too, while you’re out.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“And some artwork,” Merry added. “Rather boring in here.”

Athens sent Mark to get a bunch of books for the vampire. When Johnson returned he asked if he could deliver the books himself, but both Hunt and Athens refused – too many people had already suffered by her hand to risk any lives but their own. Athens headed down to give Merry her books while Hunt eyed the monitor, prepared to deploy garlic spray or open the door if Athens got in trouble.

Athens felt silly, but he knocked on the door before he opened it. The vampire stood up slowly, showing him he had nothing to fear. He offered her the bag of books and she stepped forwards to take them. In a flash she swiped the sunglasses from his jacket pocket with one hand and the bag of books with the other. She leapt backwards and landed on the bed in a sitting position. She snapped the shades on and flipped open a book as she settled back against the wall to read.

Athens hardly knew what hit him. One minute the vampire was in front of him, then next minute she was on the bed, reading and wearing his sunglasses.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Uh… yeah, no problem,” Athens replied.

He started to leave, then turned back. He rarely wore the sunglasses, since he rarely wore his contact lenses or went out when the sun was up, but he was still annoyed that the vampire had taken them.

“Uh….”

“No, you can’t have them back. The lights are hurting my eyes,” she looked up at him, “and I can’t hypnotize you when I’m wearing them.”

“Oh… okay.”

Again he turned around and turned back.

“Did you…?”

“Yeah, sure. I’m thirsty. And a glass of water too please.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks hon.”

Athens was thoroughly confused. First she’d tried to make him feel sorry for her, then she’d tried to kill him, now she was, for the most part, ignoring him. What would be next? Seduction?

Athens retrieved a bottle of blood and a glass of water for the vampire and returned to her room. She gave him an annoyed look, mumbled her thanks, and went back to her book.

“You don’t like me, do you?” he asked.

“Whatever gave you that impression?” the vampire asked sarcastically.

“Why not?”

She glared at him.

“Because you’re a jerk.”

“Wh…what?”

“You’re a jerk. You act like you’re better than everyone. And you’re a heartbreaker. You’ve hurt Amy.”

Athens was shocked and he couldn’t think of anything to say, so he left. He walked slowly back up to the control room where Hunt was waiting. She had a “she sure told you” look on her face, but he ignored it. He helped her unhook her arm from the IV and she left to check on things in the labs while he watched the monitor and collected his thoughts.

Just like that he noticed that the bottle of blood he’d left on the vampire’s table was empty. Immediately he began punching buttons on the computer that was linked to the video. It was designed for viewing without interrupting the live feed. He rewound the video to where he brought the bottle in and watched from there. The bottle was full, then gone, then empty – just that fast. He rewound again and then advanced the tape frame by frame. In just a few frames the vampire grabbed the bottle, crushed it between her teeth, finished it off, and put it back.

Athens was amazed. She’d moved much faster than any of the previous vampires had been able to. And the way she’d done it, biting through the bottle rather than drinking out of the top, was so much more efficient. This vampire was really smart.

Athens paged Hunt and showed her the footage. She agreed that they were dealing with a much more advanced vampire than their predecessors had, but neither of them wondered how they had been so lucky to catch and contain her. They didn’t realize that the things that had stopped the other vampires from escaping wouldn’t stop this one for long.

Hunt’s curiosity about the vampire led her back to her room much sooner than she had intended. She was still shaken from her bite and she opened the door very slowly and cautiously. Merry looked up from the book she was reading.

“I didn’t expect you back so soon,” Merry said as she looked back down at the page.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Hunt replied nervously. She rubbed her bandaged wrist subconsciously.

“Stop rubbing it,” Merry warned. “It’ll get infected.”

Hunt froze, then forced her hand away from her wrist. She didn’t know what to say. Merry closed the book and tossed it to the floor. Hunt flinched. She didn’t know if the vampire would be as cold to her as she had been to Athens, but she hoped she wouldn’t.

“Terrible book. Waste of paper,” Merry explained. She picked up another one from the pile she had made on the table and held it up to show Hunt. “And this isn’t funny.” She tossed the copy of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire to the floor beside the other book then cocked her head and smiled at Hunt. “So you’re curious about me?”

Hunt nodded.

“Before you ask your question, I have one for you,” the vampire offered.

“Sure.”

“You took some of my blood,” Merry said, her face wary.

“You can tell that?” Hun asked, surprised.

“And smell it,” Merry added. “It's dangerous. Where is it? It needs to be secure.”

“It's alright,” Hunt insisted. “I personally processed the blood so there were no active agents before it went to the lab. No one can accidentally infect themselves.”

“I wasn't worried about 'accidentally',” Merry clarified. “You never know what some idiot with a horror fetish might try.”

Hunt frowned at the thought.

“That hadn't occurred to me,” she admitted.

“Your whole project could have been ruined,” Merry added.

Hunt nodded.

“I drew the blood myself and it was never out of my sight before I processed it. No one else was even in the room with me while it was active.”

“Alright,” Merry said. “As long as you're certain.”

“I am.”

Merry leaned forward.

“If there were any 'accidents' where someone did get infected, you bring them to me IMMEDIATELY, do you understand?” the vampire said icily.

Hunt nodded. She could only imagine what Merry would do to that person, but the alternative would be a second vampire and an investigation that would shut down the project. A dead lab tech was much less trouble and paperwork. Workplace “accidents” happened all the time, and the government officials had a talent for making bodies “disappear” into a mess of lawyers and red tape.

“Now,” Merry said, leaning back and softening her expression, “you had a question for me?”

Hunt nodded.

“Why did you help that woman?” Hunt asked.

“He would have killed her.”

“So you killed him.”

“That was sort of an accident,” Merry replied, “but he deserved it. It wouldn’t have been his first murder.”

“A murderer with morals.”

“Me?” Merry smiled wider. “Occasionally yes, I do murder. I happen to be at the top of the food chain. My morals never waiver though, I chose my prey carefully.”

“Why didn’t you bite him?”

“I wasn’t hungry. And I didn’t want to. He repulsed me. I bite for myself, but I killed him for humanity.”

“So you are human,” Hunt said, still surprised by the thought.

“Of course. What else would I be?”

Hunt’s eyes went wide as Merry disappeared. She whirled around to as Merry spoke from behind her.

“An animal?” Merry asked.

Again Merry disappeared from Hunt’s view, moving faster than her eyes could follow.

“A demon?” Merry asked, grinning as Hunt whirled and stared up at her hanging from the ceiling.

Merry dropped to the ground in front of Hunt, inches from her face. Hunt stepped back, afraid. Merry was several inches taller that her and much, much stronger.

“No. Just human,” Merry finished.

Merry leapt up into the air and did a back flip. She landed on the bed and sat back down.

“Don’t rub it,” Merry said again, causing Hunt to release her wrist again.

Hunt stared warily at Merry.

“Don’t be afraid,” Merry said. “I like you. I won’t hurt you.”

“How do I know I can trust you?” Hunt asked after a moment.

“You already have your proof,” Merry said, motioning to Hunt’s wrist. “I could have killed you. I can always kill you. But I didn’t. And so long as I am in this room I won’t.”

Hunt licked her lip as she considered the vampire’s words. Merry held up her finger sharply and Hunt released her wrist again.

“Come here,” Merry said as she motioned Hunt towards her.

Hunt obeyed.

“Sit.”

Hunt hesitated, then sat down beside Merry. Merry took Hunt’s injured wrist and peeled back the bandage.

“Close your eyes and relax,” Merry said gently.

Hunt nervously did as Merry said. She felt Merry wrap her hand around the wound and she felt it get warm.

Merry closed her eyes and concentrated on the bond that she had formed between them when she bit Hunt. She used it to control the cells in Hunt’s wrist and to give them her own amazing healing power. She felt energy draining out of her as Hunt’s wrist healed and was glad that it was only a small bite. The more serious the wound, the greater the energy required of both the vampire and the human.

Watching from the control room, Athens had the strange feeling that he’d seen something like this before. The side of his neck tingled and he rubbed it subconsciously.

Over the centuries Merry had used her power to help several people overcome life-threatening injuries. Once, Merry had helped a small boy involved in a car crash to reattach his nearly severed leg, but it was very taxing on both of them. The boy had passed out and Merry had barely been able to walk to leave. She had snuck away moments before the paramedics arrived to revive him and treat the bite marks on his neck and the small scratch on his knee that was all that was left of his injury. His mother had been knocked unconscious in the accident, but all she had was a concussion, nothing more serious. The boy would probably never know how lucky he was that Merry had seen the accident and gone to help.

Hunt felt the warmth dull in her arm as Merry released it. She felt a bit sleepy but she opened her eyes anyway. She was shocked to see that the bite marks were gone. Merry gave her head a slight shake.

“What did…? How?” Hunt asked.

“It takes a lot of energy,” Merry replied. “Be glad it was just a little bite.” Not something like having your leg nearly severed, Merry added silently.

“That’s amazing.”

Merry nodded and yawned. She shook her head to try to clear the cobwebs and wished she’d taken more of Hunt’s blood so that repaying the energy wasn’t so hard on her.

“You trusted me and I repaid your trust,” Merry replied.

“Thank you,” Hunt said.

“You’re welcome,” the vampire answered. She ran her fingers through her hair and remembered that her hair elastic was missing. “By the way, what did you do with all my stuff?”

“You mean your hair band and your boots?”

“And my belt and everything else the police took from me.”

“It’s all safe,” Hunt replied. “It’s locked up upstairs.”

“Why did you take it all?” Merry asked.

“Well some of it’s dangerous,” Hunt answered, “like those boots.”

Merry grinned. “You were playing with them, were you? I hope no one was hurt.”

Hunt shook her head. “But you understand why I won’t give them back.”

The vampire nodded. She didn’t bother to tell Hunt that she would get back everything they had taken from her, whether they wanted her to have it or not.

“And it was you who undressed and redressed me?” Merry asked.

Hunt hesitated before replying, “Yes.”

The vampire nodded but didn’t speak. She turned away from Hunt, mostly just faking hurt to see how the scientist would react. The vampire got the reaction she was hoping for.

Hunt suddenly felt terrible for violating Merry that way. She was a scientist and the vampire was her subject, but she knew what she had done was wrong. She should have waited until Merry was awake and asked her permission.

“Harder than it looks, isn’t it?” Merry finally said. “To dress someone else.”

Hunt nodded.

“That’s why you didn’t bother with my socks,” the vampire added.

Again Hunt nodded.

“No matter,” Merry continued. “I like going barefoot.”

Hunt still didn’t really know what to say. “I shouldn’t have…” she tried.

“Don’t worry about it, Amy,” Merry said, finally turning to face Hunt. “You’re only human.”

It was incredibly strange to hear that phrase from someone who was so much more than “only human”.

“I still shouldn’t have,” Hunt insisted. “I had no right…”

“You have no right to keep me here either,” Merry pointed out, “but you’re doing that as well.”

Hunt stared at the vampire, again not sure how to reply.

“As I said, no matter,” Merry added. “I will have my revenge and I will escape.”

“You can’t escape,” Hunt replied, eyeing the vampire warily.

“I always keep my word,” the vampire answered. She smiled at the scientist.

Hunt leaned back instinctively, certain she had seen the flash of a fang. The vampire laughed.

“You are fun,” Merry said. Her tone became more serious. “You were honest with me and I know you are sincerely sorry, so I forgive you. Now don’t worry about it. I don’t want you feeling guilty and taking all the fun out of our conversation.” The vampire smiled again.

Hunt smiled back.

“Alright?” Merry asked.

Hunt nodded. “Alright.”

“Good,” the vampire said matter-of-factly. “Now that that’s out of the way, what should we talk about?”

Hunt thought for a moment before speaking. “What do you like most about being a vampire?”

“Hmm,” Merry considered the question. “I would have to say that having nothing to fear is the best part.”

“Nothing to fear?”

“Yes,” the vampire answered. “Nothing to fear. Even here, now, I am not afraid. There is very little in this world that can harm me and I know what lies on the other side of death. I have lived a wonderful life and death is just another great adventure.”

“You know what lies on the other side of death?!” Hunt asked in amazement.

“Of course,” Merry replied. “All vampires do. We don’t know everything, but we do know many things, like: Jesus lived. Muhammad lived. Buddha lived. We know the great truths of the universe. We know what the ultimate power is. We know what lies on the other side of death because we have seen it. I have seen it.”

Hunt stared silently at the vampire, thirsty for this knowledge.

“I can’t describe it,” the vampire admitted. She looked away, almost sad, and tried to think of a way to show Hunt. Merry shook her head and returned her gaze to Hunt. “I’m sorry. Words fail. Images fail. Even my memory of it wouldn’t help you. You’ll just have to see it for yourself someday.”

Hunt looked disappointed. She was a scientist but she still believed that there were some things that science would never be able to explain. Hunt saw that Merry was upset.

“I will see it for myself someday,” Hunt nodded. “And now I know, without a doubt, there is an afterlife.”

“Well, there is…” Merry hesitated, unsure of what word to use. “There is something. There is an after, let’s put it that way. You can call it whatever you want. I can’t describe it, but it is wonderful.”

Hunt nodded.

“It’s reassuring,” she admitted.

“What are you afraid of, Amy?” Merry asked.

“Besides you?”

Merry smiled and nodded.

“Death. Spiders. Being wrong. Being alone… I mean, being single, forever.”

“That you don’t have to worry about,” Merry said knowingly. “And for the rest: death is part of life and everyone makes mistakes – both are natural and neither is final. Spiders…” The vampire shivered. “…those I could do without as well. Too many legs.”

Hunt smiled. Merry smiled back and chuckled.

“I suppose you want to know the other half of the question, don’t you?” Merry asked. “What do I miss most about not being human?”

Hunt nodded even though it had not occurred to her to ask the vampire.

“Sunrise,” Merry admitted. Her eyes became unfocused and Hunt knew that the vampire was remembering something. “Early morning, spring, the garden behind my parents’ house… The smell of apple blossoms in the air, and flowers, and new grass. A cool breeze whispering through the trees and the birds singing, welcoming the day… The sky turns rose, then peach, then amber…” The vampire blinked. “It was the last sunrise I ever saw.” Merry sounded sad.

“Show me,” Hunt said. “Please.”

Merry stared at Hunt, surprised.

“I know you can,” the scientist continued. “Take off the sunglasses and enter my mind and show me your memory. I know what I’m risking but I trust that you won’t try to control me. Please. I want to see it. You make it sound so wonderful.”

Merry hesitated, studying Hunt, and licked her lip. She took a deep breath then nodded. The vampire reached out with her left hand and put it on the side of the scientist’s face, then leaned forwards and slowly lowered the sunglasses with her right hand.

The vampire’s pupils expanded and contracted rapidly, drawing Hunt in, then Merry slid into Hunt’s mind and gave her the memory. Hunt shivered but she couldn’t look away or blink, and she didn’t want to. The vampire’s memory played out in her mind like a strange movie clip. The sights and sounds were not all that came across – Hunt could smell the flowers and taste the air and the cool breeze made the hair on her arms stand on end.

“AMY!” Athens barked into the speaker.

Hunt didn’t move; couldn’t move. Merry held up one finger to the camera – the memory was almost over. The vampire blinked, releasing the scientist’s mind, and pulled her hand back. Hunt squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.

Merry pushed the sunglasses back up on her face. Hunt opened her eyes and looked at the vampire.

“Thank you,” Hunt whispered. “It was beautiful.”

“You’re welcome,” Merry replied softly.

“Amy, answer me!” Athens ordered, interrupting.

“What?” Hunt demanded, turning towards the speaker.

“What the heck are you doing letting her hypnotize you?” Athens demanded.

“She was sharing something with me,” Hunt replied, her tone angry.

“You have no idea what she just did to you. She could have just taken all of the security codes from you or ordered you to do something…”

“I would not betray Amy’s trust,” Merry snarled as she rose from the bed.

The vampire strode over to beneath the camera, her eyes blazing red. She leapt straight up and as she reached the right height she kicked her feet out sideways against the walls, catching herself from falling back down. She stood there, hanging impossibly, and folded her hands behind her back as she leaned close to the camera lens.

“So you needn’t worry about that,” Merry added, flashing her fangs. “Besides, if I wanted the codes, I’d take them.”

The vampire leaned back and kicked off the walls, propelling herself cornerwise across the room. She did a back flip in the air and landed in the far corner, above the bed, with her feet on the walls and her left hand gripping the ceiling. She gave the camera one last red-eyed glare before dropping lightly back onto the bed and sitting down.

The scientists were silent. Hunt stared warily at Merry. The red faded from the vampire’s eyes.

“I won’t hurt you,” Merry assured Hunt.

Hunt swallowed hard and took a deep breath, then nodded.

“I know,” she finally said. “That was amazing. I mean, the ‘flying’ and stuff just now was incredible too, but the memory…”

Merry smiled, pleased that she could connect so easily with Hunt. For all their differences, the two women really had a lot in common.

“You like gardens,” the vampire commented.

“Yes,” Hunt replied. “And sunrises. I don’t see them often either.”

“I miss that garden,” Merry admitted. “I spent a lot of time there. Happy memories.”

“My grandparents had a little garden in their backyard when I was a kid,” Hunt replied. “I remember chasing butterflies and picking flowers and helping grandma with the peas and carrots. Grandpa had a big old rotor tiller that he’d use to work up the soil every spring then grandma and I would plant things in the furrows and mark the rows with old wooden shingles at the ends.”

Athens glared at the computer monitor and exhaled deeply. Hunt and the vampire were ignoring him completely. They had picked up their conversation right where they left off when he had interrupted like he hadn’t bothered them at all. Hunt didn’t seem the least bit concerned about what the vampire might have done to her and Merry obviously didn’t think that Athens was any sort of threat to her.

All this annoyed Athens, and there was something else. In just a few hours the vampire had broken through Hunt’s hard shell and earned her trust; it had taken him years to do the same thing.

Athens turned his attention back to the monitor and the “girl talk”.

The vampire was smiling. She was sitting cross-legged, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands, listening to Hunt. The scientist was telling her about picking raspberries in the rain.

“I love the rain too,” Merry said. “And thunderstorms. I used to sit under the apple trees and watch the lightning cut the sky to pieces. Years later – decades later – I went to Australia and lay out in the desert and watched a storm… They have the most spectacular lightning in the world there.”

“I’ve heard that,” Hunt nodded. “I’d like to see it.”

“You and I will have to go sometime,” the vampire replied.

Hunt didn’t know what to say. The project team had no intentions of ever letting the vampire leave, and she was certain the vampire couldn’t escape. As much as Hunt liked Merry and thought it would be fun to travel with her, there was no way it was going to happen.

“I don’t think so,” Hunt finally said.

“Believe whatever you want, Amy, but I will walk out of here… with you,” Merry answered. There was no room in her words for doubt.

“As impossible as it is, and as frightening as it is,” Hunt admitted, “I believe you.”

Athens couldn’t believe his ears. What was Hunt thinking?! Encouraging the vampire like that could only lead to trouble. Athens reached for the speaker button again but stopped himself. He didn’t want to make the vampire angry again, not with Hunt in the room with her. Hunt might trust the vampire not to hurt her, but Athens didn’t. He didn’t trust the vampire any further than he could throw her, and considering the fact that she’d probably tear his head off if he tried, Athens didn’t think he could throw her very far.

“Honestly, Amy, would you like to come to Australia with me?” Merry asked. “Hypothetically.”

Hunt looked away, thinking. The farthest she’d ever traveled was halfway across the country to go to school. From there she’d moved here to work. She had never been out of the country and now she had no time to travel. She was sure she had weeks of vacation time stored up but her projects had always kept her attention. And now that “the Vampire Project” was fully operational, she doubted she would be taking time off for travel for quite a while.

“Yes,” Hunt replied. “Hypothetically, if you weren’t a vampire and could come and go as you pleased, I would go to Australia with you to watch a lightning storm.”

Merry smiled. She didn’t bother to assure the scientist that they would go someday. Merry didn’t know how she knew – sometimes she was just sure of things, and this was one of those times.

“I’ll be sure to call my travel agent when I get out of here,” the vampire smiled. “It might take a little while to make the proper arrangements for night flights and such, but it can be done.”

Merry smiled wider, then giggled and shook her head. Hunt chose to take the entire conversation as a joke and laughed back, despite the nagging feeling deep inside her that the vampire hadn’t been joking.

“We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?” Merry commented.

Hunt nodded, smiling.

“I’m enjoying this,” the vampire admitted. “You’re very interesting, for a human.” She grinned.

“I’m enjoying this too,” Hunt replied. “I’m sorry we had to meet like this, but I’m glad we managed to catch you.”

“You could let me go,” Merry suggested. “I promise we could continue our conversation in a more comfortable environment. A private garden, a dune on the Australian desert…” The vampire tilted her head down in a suggestive bow, putting the onus on the scientist.

Hunt was tempted. She was surprised at herself, but she had to admit she was tempted.

“No,” Hunt forced herself to say.

Merry nodded.

“I didn’t think so,” the vampire said, pretending that she didn’t know how hard the decision had been for Hunt. “I promise I would not simply vanish into the night,” Merry added. “I like you.”

“I like you too, Merry,” Hunt replied, trying to steer the conversation away from Merry being released. “I’m glad that we’re going to have many more nights together here to talk.”

The vampire smiled slightly, then nodded, pretending to admit defeat and drop the subject.

“Who pays for all this?” Merry asked before Hunt could speak again.

“The federal government,” Hunt replied.

“The government. Really? Interesting. I knew they studied aliens and every animal freak of nature that they could find, but I didn’t know that they were interested in the various human species off shoots. Is there a werewolf division too?”

Hunt gave her a confused look.

“I suppose you don’t believe in werewolves,” Merry said with a smirk. “And you probably wouldn’t know if there was research about them going on.”

“Probably not,” Hunt finally said. Werewolves? Seriously?

Merry understood Hunt’s pause.

“Yes, there really are werewolves,” she said, “and if you think vampires are undeserving of their reputation then you should see what a real werewolf is like. Those poor blokes are the sweetest people in real life. They’re always adamant about finding others like themselves and trying to stop the spread. They spend tons of money on containment facilities for themselves for during full moons and they’re often very lonely because they’re always afraid of spreading it or having someone find out. And they’re also very active about animal rights and protecting the environment.”

Hunt’s eyes got very big. She wasn’t totally sure that Merry was telling the truth, but she had a strange feeling that she was.

“Are all vampires like you?”

“You mean ‘normal humans with abnormal habits’?” Merry asked.

Hunt nodded.

“Mostly, yes,” Merry replied. “Some of us are really bad, just like some people are really bad. And some of us are really good, just like humans, and can’t handle the fact that they have to kill to live.”

Rule number three: Remember that others must die so you can live.

“What happens to them?” Hunt asked.

“Usually their sire can talk some sense into them, but if not… they die,” Merry replied.

“Their sire kills them?”

Merry nodded.

“It doesn’t happen often, and it’s not something that a sire enjoys, but it is his or her responsibility.” She looked sad.

Hunt almost asked if Merry had had to kill one of her sired, but she thought better of it and didn’t. She remained silent, waiting for Merry to say something.

“A sire always suffers the pains of the ones they've sired. It’s never pleasant when they die,” Merry added. She looked up at Hunt and as if she was reading her mind she said, “One of mine died in a fire.”

“I’m sorry,” Hunt replied. It seemed like the appropriate thing to say.

Merry nodded and looked away again.

“It must be a hard life,” Hunt said.

“Sometimes,” Merry agreed. “Sometimes though, it is more wonderful than you can imagine.”

Hunt waited for the vampire to elaborate.

“My senses are so powerful... Colors are brighter, sounds are clearer, smells more potent... And I'm so strong, so fast... I can do so many things...”

She smiled at Hunt.

“It's really a lot of fun most of the time. After all, what do I have to do all day besides whatever I want to do?”

Hunt nodded in agreement.

“I suppose.”

Merry straightened up.

“Sunrise is coming,” the vampire said.

“You can feel it?” Hunt asked in amazement.

“Yes,” Merry replied. “I can feel the UV lights in this building and I can feel the sunlight striking the earth as it rotates. Only when I’m asleep do the rays not bother me.”

“The lights in the walls bug you.”

“A bit,” the vampire agreed, “but I’m used to ignoring sunlight on a daily basis.”

“I can’t turn them off,” Hunt said.

“I know. It’s fine, really,” Merry replied. “You should go up to the roof and watch the sunrise,” she suggested. “Then come back and show it to me.”

Hunt pondered the idea.

“You don’t have much time to decide,” Merry warned. “Only another minute or so.”

Hunt nodded and stood up.

“I owe you this,” she said.

“And you owe it to yourself. You should take time to enjoy something beautiful every day.”

Hunt smiled at the thought.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“I look forward to your return,” the vampire smiled.

Hunt left the room and went up to the roof. She watched the sky turn color and the sun crest the horizon, backlighting the city skyline. It was beautiful. And the sky was so clear – no smog or fog or clouds. Hunt was amazed that the weather was perfect – according to Murphy’s Law it should have been hazy or storming.

Back in her room, Merry closed her eyes and focused on Hunt’s emotions. She smiled when the scientist did.

Hunt returned to Merry’s room and sat back down in the chair. She reached up and pulled the vampire’s sunglasses off.

“You have very nice eyes,” Hunt said.

“Thank you,” Merry replied.

Her pupils drew Hunt’s mind in and the vampire extracted the memory of the morning’s sunrise. Merry was pleased that the weather had cooperated and allowed her this opportunity. She released the scientist’s mind and pulled her sunglasses back on.

“That was wonderful. Thank you,” the vampire said.

“You’re welcome,” Hunt replied. “I’m glad you suggested it. It was nice to see.”

“Tell me about the others here,” Merry suggested. “How many people work here? I saw a young man with black hair and a young woman with a braid. And a tall woman with red hair at the computer. There were others in the shadows, but I was only really interested in you, so I didn't pay much attention to them.”

Hunt hesitated, not sure how much information she should give the vampire. Deciding that their conversations would probably go smoother if they involved both give and take, Hunt resolved to speak about the three people Merry had specifically asked about.

“Mark, Josie, and Susan,” Hunt offered. “Mark and Josie are our daytime counterparts. Susan works in the computer lab. Beyond that, I honestly don't know much about any of them.”

It was hard to tell what Merry was thinking with her eyes hidden behind the dark sunglasses, but she seemed satisfied with the information.

“I like Susan,” Merry commented. “She seemed very genuine. Was that her cane hooked on the back of her chair?”

“Yes,” Hunt replied, confused by the direction of the conversation and amazed by how much the vampire could glean from a single glance at a person. “She has a limp.”

Merry nodded.

“You must have traveled all over the world,” Hunt said, eager to change the subject. “What's your favorite place?”

“I love northern Alberta,” Merry replied. “Forests of coniferous trees that are so old... It's like stepping back in time to wander underneath them. They are so thick that the sunlight doesn't reach the ground, so it's safe for a vampire to walk in the middle of the day.”

“That sounds amazing,” Hunt agreed. “Can you stay up all day?”

“If I feed more often then I can stay up for days, but if I don't sleep I get grumpy.”

Hunt raised a questioning eyebrow at the short-tempered vampire. Merry ignored it.

“Besides,” Merry continued, “if I don't sleep, I don't dream, and where's the fun in that?”

Merry grinned and Hunt smiled back at her.

“So, you dream?”

“Vividly,” Merry replied. “Sometimes they are memories, sometimes they are other vampires' memories, sometimes they are just dreams. And sometimes I can even control them.” Merry left out the ability to communicate with other vampires in her dreams.

“What about nightmares?”

Merry's smile faded.

“Don't you have nightmares?” the vampire asked.

“Of course, but...”

“Then why would you think that I wouldn't?”

“I just... I don't know. I thought maybe that with 'nothing to fear'...”

“I do fear things,” Merry admitted. “I fear losing those I love. More than that, I fear leaving those I love to suffer my loss.”

Hunt nodded.

“Where else have you been?” Hunt asked, steering the conversation back in its original direction. “Are there places you go regularly?”

“I've been to almost every country on almost every continent. I've never been to Antarctica, I would never want to eat a penguin, but most other places in the world where there are people or animals. The places I visit most often are the places where my closest friends live: Rome, Seattle, Montreal, London, the Congo, and a small Alberta town called Elk Point.”

“I've heard of Elk Point,” Hunt exclaimed. “My grandmother had a friend there.”

The vampire smiled.

“It seems that most of the world has heard of or been to Elk Point,” Merry replied. “Everyone seems to have a friend or relative there, no matter where you go in the world.”

“Yeah, my grandmother used to talk about how nice a place it was. Her only complaint was that she couldn't fly there directly.”

Hunt smiled and Merry smiled back.

“I go there when I want to play a good game of hockey,” Merry said.

“Do you play many sports?” Hunt asked.

“I like to, but it's hard to play with humans. I have to be thinking about not moving too quickly, not hitting too hard, not jumping higher than a human could, and not destroying things. But there's nothing more fun that a game of hockey on an outdoor rink or a pick-up game of basketball under the streetlights.”

“I was never good at sports,” Hunt admitted. “I was so relieved when I didn't have to take gym class in school anymore.”

“You seem to be in good shape though,” the vampire noted. “You must do some sort of physical activity.”

“I, uh... I have a treadmill,” Hunt answered. She wasn't sure whether the vampire was complimenting her or sizing her up. “I run on it every second day.”

Merry nodded.

“That's good. It's important to stay active. Keeps you healthy. And if you did decide to try sports again, I would suggest tennis or something less dangerous than hockey.”

“Dangerous?”

“Ice hockey is the most dangerous sport,” Merry explained. “Think about it. Sharp skates, armored players wielding sticks, frozen rubber pucks flying around, and it's all done on unforgiving ice, surrounded by boards like the walls of this room. Players at every level risk injuries ranging from broken bones to lacerations from skate blades.”

“Yeah, I suppose. I'd never thought about it. I don't pay much attention to sports. Not even the Olympics.”

“Whereas I have managed to attend the Olympics every single year they have been held in modern times,” Merry replied. “As a spectator, of course. It would hardly be fair for me to compete against mere mortals.”

“Hardly,” Hunt agreed, smiling. “Who do you cheer for? I mean, what country?”

“England in the summer, Canada in the winter. The Americans are so good at all the sports, so I like to cheer for someone else. I like rooting for the underdogs. I don't really call anywhere 'home'.”

“No?”

Merry shook her head.

“No.” The vampire thought for a moment. “If I had to pick I guess it would be Rome. My friends keep a bedroom for me in their apartment. Other than that, I've owned properties over the years, but I try to live wherever I am, if you know what I mean. 'Home is where the heart is' sort of thing.”

Hunt nodded.

“Where is your home?” Merry asked.

“I live here in the city.”

The vampire waited for Hunt to actually answer the question, but Hunt didn't elaborate.

“Pick somewhere,” Merry encouraged, her expression soft and understanding. “If you could live anywhere, where would it be?”

Hunt sighed. She didn't want to answer the question.

“Let's say, Elk Point,” Hunt replied. “I've never been there, but I like the thought of living in a small town where everyone knows you.”

Merry nodded but remained silent. Hunt couldn't fathom why the vampire was interested in her.

“You're very easy to converse with,” Merry said, breaking the silence. She smiled, then yawned. “Unfortunately, I'm afraid I must say 'good night'.”

“I enjoy our conversations too,” Hunt said.

Merry yawned again and Hunt stood up.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night,” the scientist said.

Merry nodded and Hunt left the room. The lights went off a few minutes later when Hunt got back to the control room and flipped off the switch. She watched Merry settle under the covers and glanced at her wrist again. There was no indication that she’d ever been bitten. Hunt would never have guessed, could never have guessed, half the things that this vampire could do. She was incredible.

Hunt yawned and checked the time. A few minutes later she and Athens both left as the day shift workers came into the room.

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