Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Caretaker & More Vampire Crimes

The trend continues with folks digging The Caretaker of Lorne Field, first with a thoughtful review from Kevin Tipple, and then with an embarrassingly flattering mention in the Boston Globe's review of Stephen King's 'Full Dark, No Stars':

In “1922,’’ the issue is also whether we are in supernatural territory or whether Wilfred, the narrator, is imagining being haunted by his wife’s corpse and her pack of rats. But compared to how artfully Dave Zeltserman handles the similar question of reality or psychosis in his 2010 novel “The Caretaker of Lorne Field,’’ King never rises above pulp fiction.

Vampire Crimes is now available for Nook download for $2.99, and should be available soon for Kindle for the same price. This is probably my most noir and grittiest novel, and anyone who liked Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer or Outsourced are really going to dig this one. Below I continue with Chapter where I left off yesterday. Next week, Chapter 2.


(Chapter 1, CONT'D)

God he hurt.

God he was hungry.

To focus his thoughts away from the pain, he tried to hold Carol’s image in his mind. She was so damn beautiful. Long black hair that fell past her shoulders, her small heart-shaped face dominated by the most expressive dark brown eyes he’d ever seen. Those eyes could fill up so intensely with emotion, and when she’d look at him a certain way he’d get weak enough in the knees that they would start to buckle.

God she was beautiful…

She was only nineteen when they met. Three years later she looked so much older than she should’ve. World weary. That was the thought that came to mind. There was a tragic quality to her beauty now; her face more gaunt than it should be, thin strands of white occasionally showing up in her dark black hair. She’d pull them out when she’d see them—not out of vanity, but simply trying to keep him from noticing; afraid that if he knew how much he was aging her he might leave her. He couldn’t leave her, though. As much as he needed human blood to survive, he needed her presence even more. She was more addictive than any drug. He needed his daily fix of her—he needed to feel her small warm body against his at night, the side of her face resting against his shoulder and her thin legs draped over his body. The virus had left him with a highly acute sense of hearing and he needed to hear the soft pattering of her heart. He didn’t think he could stay sane without it. For her sake, he would risk it except he knew that she held the same addiction to him; that it would be just as soul crushing for her if they separated. For better or worse, they were each other’s soul mates, and as much as he wanted a better life for her he couldn’t inflict that kind of pain on her by leaving, not unless he thought she could survive and be okay some day. Somehow he knew she wouldn’t. That turned out to be the most damning curse of his infection.

His thoughts drifted to when they met. It was right after all that bizarre shit with Serena. He had somehow gotten out of New York in one piece and was trolling the mean streets of Newark half-crazed from hunger when he heard Carol screaming for help. She was two blocks away and had been dragged beneath an underpass bridge by a leather and chain jacketed, tattoo-encrusted street thug. The thug was more than twice Carol’s size and held a dirty rag against her face which mostly muffled her screams. Still, she fought like hell while he tried to bend her over and rip off her panties, her skirt already having been thrown to the ground. In a few heartbeats Jim was there, pulling the thug away from Carol, and at the same time yelling at her to get away from them. She collected her torn skirt but she didn’t run away, and Jim understood why she stayed there and watched. Even in the crazed, wild state he was in, he felt the connection with her when their eyes met. He had the same immediate longing for her as she did for him.

But he needed to feed.

The thug looked confused that someone as thin as Jim could lift him with one hand so effortlessly off the ground, especially since he outweighed Jim by a good sixty pounds. Up close the thug was ugly as sin; pockmarked, bald—and for a short moment before he had edged his switchblade out of his pants pocket—as scared-looking as any little kid had ever been.

Once the blade was open and the moonlight reflected off of it that changed and the thug transformed back to the brutish animal he was. Jim was grateful for that. It made it easier for him to do what he had to. He didn’t give him a chance to use the knife; instead he crushed every bone in the thug’s hand and sent the blade falling harmlessly to the ground—not that the thug would’ve been able to do much with it anyway. After that the skull was next.

While the thug lay as a lump of dead meat on the ground, Jim ripped open his throat and drank until the buzzing in his mind died down. He was ashamed doing this in front of this beautiful dark-haired girl but he couldn’t help it. He desperately needed to feed. So while she stood and watched, he submerged himself in gore. When he was done feeding he remained squatting over the dead body, frozen, wanting to run away but unable to move. He felt Carol standing behind him, could feel a moist heat coming off her body. They were like that for minutes until she touched him on the shoulder. When he turned and looked into her eyes he knew he was lost—he knew they both were…

A dog’s high-pitched whining knocked him out of his thoughts. A pickup truck had pulled up next to him and a Rottweiler inside the cab was going nuts, its paws scraping against the passenger-side window in a frantic attempt to break itself free. The owner, a big beefy guy with a buzz cut and goatee, looked like he had his hands full trying to subdue his dog. He yelled out orders for the animal to heel, all of which the Rottweiler ignored. After some struggling he got the dog on a leash. When he opened the passenger door, the dog shot out as if from a cannon and nearly dragged the owner onto the pavement. Cursing, he righted himself and, as his eyes met Jim’s, he shot Jim a pissed-off look as if he were blaming Jim for his dog’s bad behavior. Sonofabitch, the guy was perceptive, because it wasn’t as irrational as one would think. Jim knew that the dog’s reaction had nothing to do with fear but an odor that fell within the spectrum a dog could pick up but humans couldn’t. As best he could figure out, the virus caused a change in his body chemistry that resulted in the emission of an odor that affected dogs, along with a host of other animals and insects, the same way that mustard gas affected humans. They couldn’t help themselves with the way they reacted to it—they’d do anything to try and escape it.

Jim watched as the Rottweiler strained on its leash and pulled the owner away. The man looked like he wanted to tie his dog up outside the diner, but after some more struggling he gave up and let the dog go inside with him. Before the door closed behind him, the man turned and shot Jim one last enraged look.

The incident made him think of his old dog, Buster, a beautiful almost pure white Bull Terrier with only a few black smudges on his ears and some pink on the tip of his nose. That breed is so damn loyal, and as long as they have physical contact with you they’re content. Before joining the army he gave the dog to his sister, April. He often thought about Buster, wondering if he could still be alive, and if he were, whether he’d recognize him. In his mind’s eye he could imagine Buster whining in agony but still crawling over to him so that he could lay against his feet. Thinking about Buster reminded him of his previous life. It seemed so long ago now. A different lifetime ago. To think at one time he had been a human being…

The noise of a door slamming shut distracted him. Carol had left the diner, her face a hard white, a bag clutched tightly in her fist. She tried to smile when she saw Jim, but it didn’t stick. She stormed her way to their car and banged the door open, then slid into the driver’s seat.

“Those assholes. It’s okay for them to let some flea-bitten mutt walk in there without any argument, but you they treat worse than a dog. I want to find a payphone. I’m going to call the Department of Health and see those assholes shut down!”

“Babe, it’s not worth it.”

“You should’ve seen the way that dog was wheezing and drooling at the mouth. That’s okay with them. But with you, a little sweat… Goddamn it! I really want to report them! You know what that bitch cashier had the fucking nerve to tell me? That it’s customary to leave a tip for takeout food. I wanted to shove the change down her throat!”


“I’m so angry right now.”

Massive understatement…

Her lips curled up and nearly disappeared as she smiled a bare-fanged smile. Straight but slightly yellowed teeth showed through it. Shaking her head, she pulled a cheeseburger from the paper bag, unwrapped it and took an angry bite out of the burger.

“You’re not going to enjoy your food if you eat angry like this.”

“I’m not going to enjoy this greasy shit no matter how I eat it.” She took a hesitant look at Jim and apologized. “I’m sorry. God, I know with the way you’re feeling you don’t need me to act this way. I just can’t help it. I hate that they think they can treat you like this.”

“I know.”

She turned to give the diner one last angry stare. “Fuck them. Let’s just get away from this dump. The quicker we find a motel, the quicker you can lie down.”

She handed Jim the rest of her food to hold, then with the cheeseburger in one hand and gripping the steering wheel in the other, she put the car in reverse, hit the gas, and nearly spun out backing out. Sending up a cloud of dust, she shoved the car in drive, spun the wheels some more and, with her foot heavy on the gas, sped out of the parking lot and back onto 90 East nearly sideswiping a minivan. Fortunately the driver was too startled to honk or give her the finger.

“Are you okay?” Jim asked.

“Yeah, I just need a minute.” She hesitated for a moment, then asked how he was feeling.


She accepted the lie, but gave him a long uneasy glance as she took a bite of her burger.

“We’ll find a motel soon,” she said.

Jim nodded. He dug out of the paper bag a container of French Fries so she could eat them while wolfing down the burger. He knew she liked ketchup on her fries. He took a couple of packets, struggled for a bit, but got them open, and spread the ketchup on the fries. When she was done with the food, he handed her a chocolate shake. At least she’d have to take her time drinking that. Maybe she’d even end up tasting it. Jim turned the radio back on and found a hip hop station. She started to argue that he should find a classic rock and roll station for himself, but he told her this was what he wanted to listen to. She didn’t put up too much of a fight. She needed something to take the edge off her anger and listening to her music usually did the trick. He closed his eyes and tried to keep her from seeing how much he was hurting.

It was an hour later that she drove past the airport and then a row of strip clubs before pulling into the parking lot of a cheap motor lodge inside the Brook Park area of Cleveland. A sign out front advertised king-sized waterbeds, but other than that the motor lodge seemed typical for where they’d been staying since going on the run. Two stories, and mostly a grim dirty-looking concrete eyesore. The type of place that usually had shag carpeting from the seventies and a few mass-produced uninspired water colors hung on the walls. It was also the type of place where the furniture was bolted down, and more likely than not, had a bedspread growing more germ cultures on it than a lab full of Petri dishes—and if you were smart you didn’t lie down on it; if you were even smarter you’d cover your hand with something when you removed it from the bed. Also you’d keep your shoes on at night so you wouldn’t step on any needles left behind by one of the previous occupants. Carol sighed as she looked at the building. She gave Jim’s hand a quick squeeze, then left the car so she could rent them a room. When she got to the front office door, she turned to give him a wistful smile before disappearing inside. Five minutes later she came out of the office with key in hand.

“Forty-nine dollars a night for this rattrap,” she told Jim when she got back to the car.

“Sounds like a bargain.”

“Yeah, I just hope it’s not infested with bedbugs.”

Jim couldn’t help smiling. While there was a resurgence of bedbugs going on nationwide, and while this motor lodge seemed like a prime candidate to find an infestation, this was something they didn’t have to worry about. The only positive he could see about his infection was that blood-seeking insects like mosquitoes, bedbugs and lice reacted to his scent the same as dogs. If this dump did have bedbugs, they’d scatter as soon as he entered the room. Fuck, if he could only advertise he’d make a fortune clearing pests from motels and residences.

Carol brought him back to reality by mentioning how they were running low on cash.

“We’ll get some more soon.”

“We’d better. Three nights here and we’re broke.”

Jim nodded, then moved slowly as he pulled himself out of the car. Carol looked on, her hard smile turning fragile. She grabbed a suitcase—they’d been traveling light with only a couple of changes of clothing each—and walked slowly to keep pace with him so she’d be able to reach out to him in case he stumbled. She had gotten them a room on the first floor knowing he’d have trouble now with the stairs. The room did have a king-sized waterbed, but other than that it was as Jim expected; dirty, dingy, the walls concrete cinderblock, the ceiling water-stained and the furniture looking like it had been picked out of the city dump. It also had the unmistakable musty smell of a gym locker-room. Jim made it to a cheap padded wooden chair, dragged it away from the window and collapsed in it. Carol moved quickly to close the blinds. The room darkened enough to where Jim no longer felt like a fire was raging under his skin. He breathed a little easier, but now more than anything it was his hunger overwhelming him.

Carol pulled the bedspread off and kicked it away into a corner, then opened the suitcase and removed a small medical kit from her nursing school days. From inside of it she took out a rubber hose and a syringe. She wrapped the hose tightly around her upper arm, then walked over to Jim and sat in his lap while he pulled the hose even tighter and tied it. She walked back to her medical kit, sat down on the bed and flicked on her arm until she could spot a vein. She had such thin arms, and it was hard for her to locate a good vein. Once she had one, she pushed in the syringe and took a blood sample, her face a complete blank as she did this. Jim kept his eyes squeezed shut. He couldn’t risk seeing blood now, not in the state he was in. He heard her remove the plastic vial from within the syringe, then the rush of blood filling up a second vial as she took another blood sample. After a minute or so, he could hear the hose being untied, and then the door opening and closing. He was ashamed of the fact that he was salivating.

When Carol returned, she brought an ice bucket with her. On the bottom of the bucket covered with ice were her two blood samples. He’d have to wait until later to drink them—while there was far less than a pint of blood in those two samples, it would still revitalize him enough to give him the strength for what he needed to do. If he drank it now, though, it would make him want to keep feeding until he was satiated. It would be too dangerous. Carol knew this also. She placed the ice bucket in a drawer so it would be out of sight. Then she helped him out of the chair and onto the bed. While he lay flat on his back, she sidled up next to him and rested her cheek on his stomach and took hold of his arm so she could wrap it around her shoulders.

They lay together like that for several minutes before she spoke.

“Try and get some sleep, Darling,” she whispered. “In a few hours it will be dark. You’ll be able to feed then.”

He nodded, his chin moving up and down a fraction of an inch.

“It’s too bad you can’t feed on infected blood,” she said, sighing softly. “Otherwise you could just infect me and we could feed off of each other forever. How would that be?”

Again, he nodded because there was no harm in doing so. The virus changed a person’s blood chemistry, making drinking it intolerable to an infected vampire. Early on in his infection while in a half-dream-like state and without any real conscious awareness—only his hunger driving him—he had tried feeding on Serena. Only a bare taste of her blood left him as sick as a dog. Serena got a kick out of it, then explained the ropes to him while his body was wracked with dry heaves. It didn’t matter, though. Even if he could consume infected blood, he’d rather cut out his own heart than infect Carol.

Carol moved her hand lightly over Jim’s chest, trying to soothe him. “Sleep, my darling,” she whispered. “Just a few more hours…”

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