Change Of Habit
Surrounded in total darkness, Duncan felt a soft warmth envelop him, touching him with gentle caresses — sensuous, and exciting. The darkness slowly gave way to rich, vibrant colours — deep reds, brilliant yellows, blazing oranges. Fire raced through his veins, threatening total consumption, yet, instinctively, he knew that he was not in any real danger. Deep down in his soul there was an incredible sense of well-being and safety. He floated on soft, billowy clouds of red. The world, and time as he knew it, ceased to exist. Everything was centered in this warm, colourful cocoon which seemed to surround him and yet was within him. He had never felt such sensations before.
Shadowy images faded briefly in and out of the swirling colours, like bad television reception — people, parties, cities, buildings, even journeys — fragments — speeding by like a VCR on fast-forward. But his subconscious had screwed up somewhere along the line because none of it was familiar, or made any sense to him.
Gradually, the euphoric state faded and he was plunged into soft, calming darkness again. Through the darkness a hazy red light glowed and he felt as if he were swimming towards it. The crazy thought entered his mind that this must be what being born was like. As he moved forward, the darkness receded and his eyelids fluttered open. What a dream!
“Hello, handsome. Welcome back. How do you feel?”
“Tired...lazy...but not too bad.” He looked at the owner of the voice, the beautiful pale oval face, long black hair, and full red lips, and recognition dawned. “What are you doing here?” He looked around. “Where the hell am I?”
“Don’t you know” A look of grave concern spread over Skyla’s face. She had been sure there was no brain damage. She drew a slow, deep breath. “Do you know who you are?” she asked.
“Duncan Power, race car driver,” he replied automatically.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-seven. What is this, twenty questions?”
“Humour me. Do you know where you are?”
Duncan looked around again as his vision cleared and focused. The muted grey walls and carpeting. The heavy black drapes at the window, tied back with blood red sashes, allowing a silvery beam of moonlight to fall across the black satin bedding. “Oh yeah, sure— your bedroom — but what am I doing here?”
“What do you remember last?”
He wrinkled his brow in concentration. “Well, I remember running out of here and taking off in my car like a bat out of hell. But before that — ” His eyes narrowed. “What have you done to me?”
“Be patient. It will all come back to you shortly. It just takes a little time to adjust.”
“Wait a minute!” He sat up abruptly, exposing the upper half of his naked body, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “The lights — it wasn’t a dream? It really happened?”
“What happened, Duncan? What do you remember?” she urged.
He drew a deep, ragged breath and spoke slowly. “Okay, I remember you telling me you were a vampire, which was pretty silly. Then I drove away, and the farther I went, the move convinced I became that it was all a dream, a bloody nightmare. I was so sure that none of it was actually happening, that I didn’t even try to avoid the truck coming towards me. Instead, I think — I think I floored the gas pedal.” He shook his head.
“The next thing I recall is some weird fantasy with a lot of bright colours, warmth — I was floating, or swimming — and I felt safe — protected.” It was clearer now, and his voice grew soft. “There were images — like I was reliving something — but it didn’t make any sense. Then I woke up.” He looked directly into her eyes. “What happened, Skyla? Have I been drugged or something?”
“The truck was real, Duncan, and the accident was terrible. Your car was totaled. You were in a coma, and the doctors said that, even if you came out of it, you would be paralyzed from the neck down. I simply couldn’t stand by and let that happen to you.”
“But they were wrong. Right? I’m okay. Right?” He rose, realized he was naked, grabbed a sheet from the bed and wrapped it around himself. Then he walked around the room, as if testing the validity of his words. “I can walk, and I feel pretty good.”
Skyla took some clothes from a drawer and laid them on the bed. “Meet me downstairs when you’re ready. We need to talk about this.” And she left, long black dress swaying gently around her legs.
Duncan dressed and ran a comb through dark hair that barely touched his collar. Time for a haircut, he thought. His own leather jacket was draped over the back of a chair and he took it with him when he went downstairs. He’d need that later for the nights were still a bit chilly at times.
Skyla looked up as he entered the spacious, black-and-grey living room. She was sitting on the black leather sofa. “Sit down, Duncan, and listen very carefully.”
He glanced at the clock as he sat down. “Make it quick then, because I have to get home. I want to be at the Brickyard early in the morning, so I can get in as much practice time as possible before my qualifying run.”
“You won’t be driving, Duncan. The trials are over, and so is the race.”
“You’re not serious?”
“Deadly serious. You were in that coma for two weeks..”
“Two weeks?” he echoed. “Are you saying the race is really over? That I’ve missed out again?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
He groaned in defeat. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” He paused. “Wait a minute — if I was in a coma, how did I end up here? How come the doctors let me out of the hospital in that condition?”
“They didn’t. As far as they know, you died a few days ago. Your funeral was yesterday. You would have been proud. Quite a few of the professional drivers were there, and a whole string of grieving women.”
“My funeral!” he exploded, feeling as if he would choke on the words. “Skyla, for the love of God, what are you talking about? How could there be a funeral? I’m here! I’m alive!”
“When the doctors gave me their prognosis for your recovery, I took thinks into my own hands. I changed you, Duncan — made you like myself.” She looked down at her clasped hands. “I posed as a private, night-duty nurse. It was easy for me to take — nourishment — from you in your comatose state. You weren’t even aware I was there, or that anything was happening to you.” She looked up, watching his face carefully, trying to read his thoughts. “During the process, I made sure that you received enough of the vampire viroid to change you.”
“You said I — died. How could that be? I’m not dead. I’m alive, Skyla, very much alive.”
“We — that is, vampires — have very strong hypnotic powers, Duncan. As far as they knew, I was a private nurse, hired by your team owner, so no one questioned my being there. I simply hypnotized them into thinking you were dead. Actually, when you received the viroid, your body went through some changes. Your heartbeat slowed so much that it was impossible to detect without a stethoscope and I prevented them from using one. Given the extent of your injuries, it was no surprise to anyone that you died.” She paused a moment, knowing it was a lot to accept at once. “They had no qualms about releasing your — body, to your team owner.”
Duncan looked down at his hands, his arms, and felt his face for evidence of injuries. “I saw no scars or anything when I was dressing,” he said flatly.
“It took several days for your body to rejuvenate to its original condition. During that time, I gave you more of the viroid to speed up the process, and to bring you back to a conscious state as soon as possible. The images — what you saw — was all part of my past. It sort of comes with — the blood. Duncan, you have come to mean a great deal to me and I just couldn’t deal with seeing you — incapacitated.”
“Who won?” he asked suddenly.
She looked at him blankly.
“The Indy 500,” he said. “Who won?”
“I don’t know.”
He laughed harshly and his voice was cold. “You don’t know. You ruin my chance at running in the biggest, and most important, race of all, and now you can’t even tell me who won? You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe all this?”
“Duncan, you can’t refuse to acknowledge this. You are no longer the man you were. You are a Sangroid, a vampire. You will need — blood — to stay alive.”
“Oh no! No way! Not me, lady! I don’t have any weird food fetish. I eat normal food — fast food, junk food — just like any other normal, red-blooded man.”
“You used to, but your system has undergone a drastic change and can no longer tolerate solid food. It would make you very ill. Why won’t you believe me?” she pleaded.
“Why? Because what you’re telling me is impossible. Because there is no such thing as a vampire. Because there has to be some rational explanation.”
“But it is true. Everything I’ve told you.” She crossed her arms, leaned back on the sofa, and looked up at him. “What else can I say?”
“I need solid proof. Cold, hard facts. You haven’t given me anything.” He paced the floor impatiently. “If you don’t give me some real proof, I’m going home. I can’t afford to mess up my qualifying run tomorrow — there’s too much riding on it.”
“Give it time and you’ll have all the proof you need. You are stronger, your eyesight is better — especially your night vision — you are faster, there are so many things and you will discover them all. I will help you to adjust.”
“Proof, Skyla! I said proof!” He stopped pacing, coming to a halt in front of her. “Right now!”
“I’ve told you the truth.”
He shook his head. “No!” He stood there, legs apart, hands on his hips. A frown creased his forehead. “This is some kind of a cruel joke — a conspiracy to keep me out of the car and off the track.”
“That’s the most absurd notion I’ve ever heard.”
“Is it any more absurd than what you’ve told me? No. Someone doesn’t want me there — someone who’s afraid of my driving ability — but who? Who would go to such lengths to get me out of the way? Who are you working for, Skyla?”
Dark eyes flashed dangerously and she pointed a red-tipped finger at him. “Be careful, Duncan. I will only let you go so far. I’ve told you the truth.” She pulled a file from the magazine rack and thrust it at him. “See for yourself.”
He opened the file and flipped through the newspaper clippings inside.
Skyla watched his face carefully as he quickly scanned the articles. His expression was unreadable.
- “Rookie driver seriously injured in head-on collision with transport truck.”
- “Duncan Power still in coma after six days.”
- “Weeping women turn Power’s hospital room into floral display.”
- “Racing fans jam hospital switchboard with inquiries about injured driver.”
- “Cause of accident involving Duncan Power still under investigation.”
- “Power was one of most promising new drivers of decade, says Pro.”
- “Loyal fans say tearful farewell to rookie driver, Duncan Power.”
- “The race is over for Power.”
“Anyone can have fake newspapers printed.” There was a note of uncertainty in his voice. “Give me something that can’t be faked, something I can’t doubt, or I’m out of here.”
She looked down at the floor and drew a deep breath before answering. “I can only think of one way.”
“Oh no you don’t! You’re not getting me to drink anyone’s blood!”
“That’s not what I had in mind. I was thinking more in terms of rejuvenation, watching your body heal itself. That’s something you consider impossible, and should convince you.”
“You want me to cut myself? You must really think I’ve gone off the deep end.” He laughed mockingly.
“Not a serious cut, just enough to draw blood, and then watch the rejuvenation process. Your body has already gone through a major rejuvenation which took a great deal of energy. You will need nourishment very soon.” She held out a knife to him. “Scratch the skin just enough to draw blood, no more.”
He took the knife. “Will this prove anything?”
“Listen to me, Duncan. A cut would normally take several days to scab over and heal completely, right? Do as I said and watch what happens.”
Duncan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t have much to lose.” He drew the knife swiftly across his left arm, causing the blood to well up instantly. Skyla was on her feet immediately, pushing him down onto the sofa. “Relax.” He grinned mischievously at her. “I’m not going to kill myself, but then, according to you, I’m already dead, aren’t I?”
“You fool!” she hissed between clenched teeth. “Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said? Your body isn’t ready for another major repair yet.” She looked at the cut. Not as deep as she had feared. “Now, sit still and watch.”
Duncan smiled and sat there, staring at the cut, fully expecting the blood to run down over his arm. He took the cloth Skyla held out to him and pressed it to the wound, soaking up the blood. He removed the cloth, expecting more blood. There was none. As he stared, the cut very slowly healed over until no trace of it remained.
“Now do you believe me?” she asked softly.
“So there really are such things as vampires — and I’m one of them — a creature — one of the living dead.” His voice had dropped to a horrified whisper. He stood up, moving slowly, like a man in a trance. “I’m a — this is — God! Why doesn’t someone wake me!” His voice grew louder, more intense, and she sensed the fury within him.
“Calm yourself, Duncan,” she cautioned. An angry vampire, out of control, would be devestating.
“Calm myself? Do you have any idea how I feel, Skyla?” he shouted. His face was contorted with rage. His hands clenched and unclenched into fists at his sides.
She realized that aright now he would be a formidable enemy. She would have to be very careful how she handled this. “Duncan,” she soothed, “don’t you realize what this means? I’ve given you the gift of eternal life.”
“Eternal damnation, you mean! Now I understand why you slept by day and I could only see you at night. Why you would never go out to eat with me. So many little things make sense now. But you’ve forced me to share your doomed existence. Condemned me to live like you, by drinking someone else’s blood.” He shuddered visibly. “Well, thanks but no thanks! It’s disgusting — revolting!”
“You will have no choice, Duncan. As for sharing my life, no, you will build a new life of your own. You are not dependent on me.”
He ran his hands through his thick hair. “Damn you, Skyla! How could you do this to me?”
She flinched at the hatred in his voice. She hadn’t anticipated such a strong rejection from him. “I couldn’t just let you die, Duncan. And the thought of you lying in a bed for the rest of your life, an active mind trapped in an immobile body was too terrible to even contemplate. You are a vital, intelligent man. A life like that would kill you emotionally. Please try to understand, I felt responsible for your accident, and I wanted to make it up to you.”
“Did it ever occur to you that I’d rather be dead?” He shook his dark head slowly, still unable to digest what had happened. “You, above all people — or whatever the hell you are — should know how much I enjoy life. Racing, socializing, beautiful women — Tell me, Skyla, will I still be able to race? Do a television interview? Make love to a woman — in the normal way , that is?” He laughed harshly. “God! There must be a way to change this.”
“The heat in the cockpit of a race car would be too much for you,” she advised, ignoring his last comment. “The television cameras will record your image only if you wear sufficient makeup...”
“I’ll never be able to enjoy a good steak again, will I?” He sat down on the sofa, mentally exhausted from all that had transpired in the last few hours, since he’d awakened in her bedroom. Or was he really awake at all? God, if this was a dream he wished someone would wake him. He’d had enough.
“Duncan,” she said quietly. “You can still enjoy life. You must let me teach you how to cope with this. And yes,” she added, with a little smile, “you can still make love normally. As a Sangroid, you have greater control over your body which will make you a better lover than before, though your sex drive will diminish.”
“Just until I want to bite someone’s neck,” he said sarcastically. “Well, I don’t want to live like that, Skyla. This isn’t life as I know it. I don’t want it.”
“Duncan, please, don’t tear yourself apart like this. You’ll get used to it — I promise. I did, and you’re so much stronger than me.”
“I don’t want it, skyla. How can I change it?”
“Okay, be pessimistic if you must, but give it a chance. Wait until you feel the hunger — the excitement of the hunt — the exhilaration of feeding — “
”How can you sound so calm? You’re talking about hunting human beings. Hell, you’re just like the monster in the movies.”
“There are many things about your new life which will give you power.” She struggled to remain calm.
“Power!” he said scornfully. “I had all the power I wanted. I had the world at my fingertips, and you know it.”
“You mean you had all the women in the world at your fingertips, just waiting to fall into your bed,” she lashed back at him. “You call that power?”
“It was enough for me. I enjoyed it.”
“Your new life can be enjoyable too, if you give it a chance. Your change isn’t complete yet. The sun’s just gone down and you haven’t felt the full power of the night.”
“Damn you, Skyla!” he grated through his teeth. “I loved the sun and you’ve condemned me to a life of eternal darkness.”
“Not entirely,” she pointed out. “You can go outside in daylight. Of course, you will have to protect your skin from direct sunlight and wear dark glasses to protect your eyes. Duncan,” she pleaded, “I had to do it. Don’t you understand why?”
“I know what you told me, but don’t do me any more favours, Skyla. I was disgusted when you told me what you are. What I don’t understand, though, is why you chose that particular night to tell me, the night before my Indianapolis qualification run. You knew I was almost guaranteed a position on the starting grid. And you knew how much it meant to me. Why that night, Skyla?”
“Because we were about to make love, and I felt you should know the truth,” she said softly. “Sometimes, at the height of passion...”
“Love!” he shot at her. “What you do isn’t making love. You cheated me, Skyla. You cheated me out of a chance at the Indy 500 — and a normal life.” He got to his feet, pulling on his jacket. “I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve done.” Then he stormed out the door.
“Duncan!” she called, but he ignored her and disappeared into the night. "You will return," she said quietly. "That I can promise you, Duncan."
© Fay Herridge
Published in The Vampire’s Crypt, Issue 8, Fall 1993
© Fayz World & Sugarwolf Designs