The Door’s Riders on the Storm was playing on the car radio and for a few blessed seconds Jim closed his eyes and let the music roll over him.
How long had it been since he heard that song, or even The Doors, for that matter? Years. Probably the last time was before he got infected. Since hooking up with Carol the two of them would usually have on a ‘90s alternative rock station—that was the kind of music she liked; her favorite groups Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and if she couldn’t find one of those stations, she’d either tune in a hip hop station or plug in one of her Kurt Cobain CDs, sometimes Green Day. It didn’t much matter to him. He put her through enough as it was, and if she could find some comfort and peace of mind from her music he was all for it.
With his eyes still closed, the line about a killer on the road brought a sick smile to his lips. Was his own brain squirming like a toad? It sure as hell felt like it. It had been a rough day so far. He had stretched things out and had gone too long between feedings, and now it hurt so bad he could barely sit still. The bright sunlight didn’t help; it made him feel like he was on fire, even with his dark shades and baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. He tugged at the cap, trying to pull it down still further, and sunk lower in his seat, drenched in sweat. It surprised him that he still had any fluids left in his body. He sensed Carol looking at him. He knew she was worried about him and had put on a classic rock ’n roll oldies station to try to keep his mind off of his illness—even though she claimed it was because all they had in Cleveland were classic rock stations, blaming it on their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But they weren’t even in Cleveland yet, still traveling east on Interstate 90, about forty miles outside the city.
Groaning inwardly, he opened his eyes a crack and shifted his gaze towards Carol and noticed her knuckles squeezed white as she gripped the wheel. He was always amazed at how small and delicate her hands were. His gaze moved upwards. She looked so deep in thought, her concern about his condition wrecking her face. He tried smiling at her. She moved one of her hands to grip his and gave him a squeeze.
“I never should’ve let you wait this long,” she said.
“I’ll be okay.”
It hurt just talking, his voice soft and hollow and rattling emptily in his throat; the sound of a saw pulled loosely over metal.
She shook her head, the skin tight around her mouth, her jaw pushed forward.
“I shouldn’t have let you do this,” she said. “Look at you. You’re so sick you can barely sit up.”
He cleared his throat, and again told her that he’d be fine.
“You’re going to feed tonight,” she said. “I’m not letting you push this out another day.”
There was nothing but strength and determination in her voice. He didn’t argue with her. He knew it wasn’t safe to wait any longer. Already he could feel himself slipping into this crazed state of consciousness, part hallucinations and part animal fury. It would only last for a few seconds, but he had a sense it was going to get worse if he didn’t feed soon, and God knows who he might feed on if he lost control altogether.
Carol let go of his hand to get a better grip on the wheel. It constantly amazed him that she loved him as much as she did. How could someone as wonderful as her love a monster like him? There was no mistaking that that’s what he was, at least what he had become since his infection. Before the infection he was a good-looking guy; six-foot, 190 pounds, dark complexion, muscular, a hardness about him from his time in the Army, along with a constant five-o’clock shadow. The infection dramatically changed his physical appearance. Zero body fat and his muscles lengthening and becoming tough and sinewy. It also lightened his complexion, his hair now white, and his skin becoming smooth with no beard or mustache to worry about. His weight had dropped significantly also, now at 140, and his body becoming lean, cat-like; even his head had changed shape, becoming angular, kind of like the elves in the Lord of the Rings movie. His teeth didn’t change, though, he didn’t develop fangs, but he was still a monster—what else would you call a creature that looked mostly human but needed to subsist on human blood?
The Doors Riders on the Storm ended, and the next song up was The Stones Sympathy For The Devil. The timing of that made him laugh weakly, his insides hurting like hell as his body shook. Sympathy for the devil, huh? How about any sympathy for him, not that he deserved any, at least not with what he has had to do to survive. If he hadn’t met Carol, he probably would’ve found a way to end his life—not that it would’ve been easy with what the virus had done to him, leaving his muscles and tendons as hard as steel and his skin close to bulletproof, and causing this weird kind of super immunity where his vital organs would regenerate on injury.
Before meeting Carol he had thought long and hard about what he would have to do to kill himself if it ended up that way. Explosives, maybe, but then again they could just blow off his limbs and leave him still alive. A guillotine with a sharp enough blade might do the trick; or if he cut himself open and pulled out his heart and made sure no tissue was left behind to regenerate into a new one. Those had seemed like his best bets. Later, days before meeting Carol, he learned first-hand that shoving a hand grenade down a vampire’s throat did the job just fine, but that was something discovered on the spur of the moment. Since Carol, he had put those thoughts out of his head and accepted that he would spend his life traveling aimlessly from city to city feeding when he had to. Nothing else was possible anymore. He cared too deeply for Carol to leave her, especially knowing what it would do to her.
A few final wheezes of laughter shook him, then with his teeth clattering he hugged himself tightly, trying to shrink his body from any exposure to the sun. Thin lines showed along the edges of Carol’s mouth as her concern for him deepened. She reached over and caressed his neck.
“I hate seeing you like this,” she said.
“I know. But I’ll be okay.”
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to wait until tonight.”
“I’ll be able to.”