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Authors: Bryan Smith

Bloodrush

BOOK: Bloodrush
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FIRST EDITION

Bloodrush
© 2011 by Bryan Smith

Cover Artwork © 2011 by Zach McCain

All Rights Reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

DELIRIUM BOOKS

P.O. Box 338

North Webster, IN 46555

www.deliriumbooks.com

This one’s for Derek Tatum,

the vampire King

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, thanks first and foremost to my lovely wife, Rachael, who has gone through so much in her life. I love you and don’t know what I would have done without you this last decade. I also want to thank Cherie Smith, Jeff Smith, Eric Smith, Keith Ashley, Shannon Turbeville, John Barcus, Ben and Tracy Eller, Derek Tatum, Tod Clark, Mark Hickerson, Kent Gowran, Joe Howe, Jay and Helene Wise, Dorothy C. May, Brian Keene, Paul Legerski, Paul Synuria, Doug and Jamie Dobbs, Brittany Crass, Elizabeth Rowell, Shane Staley, KAOS, the Creeping Cruds, Kim Myers, John Hornor Jacobs, Jeff Burk and Deadite Press, and all the regulars at my Keenedom message board.

1: AFTERSHOCK

Awareness. Dim at first. Flickering moments of confused consciousness. The world was darkness, informed only by the grayest sense of existence, of
being
. Then smells, the first real sensory input from the world outside this cage of foggy consciousness. An array of pungent aromas assailed his nostrils, most strongly with a scent of…sick. Puke. Somewhere very near. The almost overpowering odor made his nostrils twitch and his eyes water. The return to consciousness gathered momentum. The tactile world returned. He felt something solid beneath him. Something pressing against his face. It was…it was…oh yeah…a floor. Rough hardwood planks. His fingers twitched, clawed weakly at the pitted wood. Left hand fingers only. No sensation on the right side yet. Which was vaguely worrying, but a faint signal from somewhere within the murkier depths of his subconscious indicated this particular symptom was not indicative of a debilitating injury. Which was great news. Totally awesome news. But all other indicators so far pointed toward a situation loaded with an array of negative factors. A clusterfuck, in other words.

The crawling, grasping fingers of his left hand touched something wet.

Something sticky.

He lifted his fingers out of the wetness and focused what he could of his still much diminished will on the physical act of bringing those fingers toward his face. It was a slow and complicated process. Seemed to take forever. As if it was happening in slow motion. Except, no, that wasn’t quite right. Slow motion would be akin to the speed of light compared to this. He thought of a saying he used to hear. Something someone close to him used to say often.
Slower than Christmas
. Yeah. This was slower than Christmas. Wait. What the fuck was Christmas again? Huh. Oh, yeah. Decorated tree. Lights. Songs. Gifts. Everybody drunker than shit. And no one drunker than his old man. Another moment of slowly-dawning insight.
Dad. It was Dad who used to say that thing about Christmas
. Said it all the time, applying it to anything that taxed his patience even a little. It had irritated him so much as a kid. Like, come on, pops, come up with some fucking new homilies already. But it felt oddly applicable now. It almost felt as if time was moving in reverse. As if…

As if…

darkness

DARKNESS

Nothingness.

And then…

His head jerked up a fraction of an inch. His eyes fluttered but did not quite open.
What…what…what’s going on here?

He remained very still, focused his concentration again. The very last bits of sensory information came floating back. The sick smells. The wetness on the floor.

I should really open my eyes
.

Even as some terrified part of him rebelled against the notion, he willed himself to do it.

Focus
.

Concentrate.

His eyes fluttered again, but only a little. He bit down on his lip, amped up his concentration. A sound disturbingly like the growl of a wild animal emanated from deep within him. He had to open his eyes. So much was still cloaked in darkness, even the most basic things A sense of who he was. Or of
where
he was. Nor did he have any idea what had happened to him. He might have fallen and hit his head on the end of a table. Or he might have been the victim of some kind of attack. He could be bleeding to death right now.

Who am I?

What the hell’s going on
?

“Am I dying?”

He froze for an instant, surprised to have heard the voice. Then he realized it was his own voice. Curiously, this did not reassure him. Or maybe that lack of reassurance made perfect sense. What if he’d been attacked in his own home by an intruder? Some scumbag looking for drug money.
Okay
, he thought.
Say there’s an intruder. Maybe he thinks I’m dead or close to it. And maybe in that case I should stay very, very still, play possum
.

It was no doubt the right course of action.

If
there was an intruder in the vicinity.

But what if he really was bleeding out all over the floor? He could die while waiting for this hypothetical intruder—who might not exist at all—to leave.

He absolutely fucking had to open his eyes RIGHT FUCKING NOW!

He opened his eyes.

Saw the blood-soaked fingertips of his left hand hanging limp right in front of his face. Full consciousness came screaming back in an instant. All thought of playing possum vanished in the same instant. A horrified roar came out of his throat as he braced his hands firmly against the floor and propelled himself into a sitting position.

He was in a house. Bright sunlight spilled through a large bay window, illuminating a vision straight out of hell. His breath came in short, sharp gasps. Sweat glistened on his face. Bile touched the back of his throat. His head jerked sharply from side to side, his eyes moving crazily in their sockets as his mind struggled to catalog and comprehend the scope of the horror. But true comprehension wasn’t possible. Everywhere he looked, he saw blood. He was in a living room. He saw a couch, a coffee table, a throw rug, a recliner. Blood spatters stained all these things. Other blood spatters described crazy arcs across the walls and the floor. The blood was bad. Very bad. Except that it sort of…smelled good, which was many different levels of fucked up. And there was so much of it. But the blood wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing was the bodies. Or, rather, the pieces of bodies.

One of them belonging to his girlfriend of the last several months.
Yesterday
, he thought, struggling against the urge to collapse back to the floor and curl into an insensible ball of human uselessness.
Just yesterday I was looking at engagement rings, and now

And now…

Her head was on the coffee table, wedged inside a basket containing magazines. The rest of her was somewhere else. Maybe elsewhere on the floor, with all the other pieces of bodies. Or maybe somewhere else in the house. It was hard to tell.

He remembered some of it now, including who he was.

And some of what he had done.

David Rucker opened his mouth wide and screamed until his lungs were raw.

2: RECOGNITION

He cursed his stupidity. His weakness. Because when you got right down to it, that weakness was the reason he was sitting slack-jawed and horrified in the middle of a sea of blood and puke. It was why he was surrounded by the ripped-to-pieces bodies of Janine and her family, the people who should have been his in-laws a few months hence.

His imminent proposal of marriage to Janine Martin had been a sort of open secret. Everyone knew it was coming. Members of both the Rucker and Martin families had been making sly, winking references to it for months now. They were perfect for each other. It was what everyone said. Hell, it was what they’d said to each other countless times. And today their engagement was to have become a reality. His plan had been to do it here at the Martin homestead, on bended knee in front of Janine’s entire family. It was to have been the kind of sweeping romantic gesture he’d hoped to make a regular part of life with his beloved.

He stared at the stump of her ripped-off head and choked back a sob.

What a joke that seemed now. No. Not a joke. An
insult
. He knew now he’d never been worthy of her love. She was gone. Irretrievably
gone
. She had died in unimaginable agony. And it was all his fault. All because he’d been so fucking
weak
.

An image flashed into his mind—those glass cases at the jewelry shop. It was there, during his hunt for the perfect ring, that fate had taken that first bitter turn. In hindsight, it was easy to pinpoint the precise moment when he’d lost his soul forever. It was seared into his brain. He would never forget it, even if he lived for another million years.

The thought chilled him.

He would not live for another million years.

Or even another second.

Because, technically speaking, he’d been dead since yesterday. He remembered that now, too. And how he’d died. And, in remembering that, a chain of other memories began to unlock, link by link…

3: THE LAST DAY OF DAVID RUCKER’S LIFE

Bright overhead lighting enhanced the glitter of the jewels displayed beneath the thick planes of glass, making some of the finer stones sparkle with a radiance that was breathtaking. His eyes zeroed in on one displayed prominently in the center of the nearest case. Ensconced in its cushion of black velvet, it seemed to emit beams of the most beautifully incandescent sunshine. He imagined slipping that stone on the slender finger of his wife-to-be. He could see her melting at the sight of it, beaming as tears of joy spilled down her cheeks.

He belatedly realized someone was speaking to him.

“Sir? Sir?”

He glanced up, saw a smiling, smartly-dressed woman on the other side of the case. “Yes?”

“I see something has caught your eye. Would you like a closer look?”

“I…uh…” His gaze drifted from the stone to the little white price tag beside it. Written in blue ink was a figure so astronomical it seemed impossible, the stuff of science fiction. No way could a number that high actually exist. He suppressed a flinch. His love for Janine was beyond quantifying, but the perfect stone for expressing that love was far out of his financial league. This was the kind of rock a Bill Gates or Donald Trump would give someone. And even those guys might flinch a little. It was disappointing, but—

A weird sensation tickled the back of his neck. A very light, feathery feeling. It was there and then gone. He frowned and touched his neck. Nothing there.

“Sir? Is something wrong?”

He realized he’d gone several moments without speaking. He felt strange. Just the slightest bit woozy, as if he’d had a glass or two of wine. His eyes watered a little, the brilliance of the stone morphing, becoming an indistinct blob of white light. He had to stop staring at it. He stood up straight and blinked slowly at the saleswoman.

“I’m sorry, I, uh…”

He felt it again.

That very delicate, feathery sensation at the back of his neck, again very brief, lasting no more than a second. In the next moment, he became aware of a secondary sensation, this one mental instead of physical. It was a feeling of being watched.

He turned away from the frowning saleswoman. She was still speaking, but her voice became fuzzy, her words indistinct. A pretty girl with pale skin and black hair sat on a bench a dozen yards or so outside the jewelry shop. The bench was nestled against the base of a gently trickling water fountain located in the center of the shopping mall’s main atrium. The girl was wearing combat boots, a short black skirt, and a black jacket over a plain black T-shirt. Her lips, however, were very red, like the color of freshly spilled blood. Even from this distance, he could see that her eyes were the most vivid blue he’d ever seen. The color was so vivid he suspected she was wearing colored contacts.

She was looking right at him. When she was sure she had his full attention, she crooked an index finger at him, bent it back toward her.

Come hither

He again felt that slightly woozy sensation. He shook his head to clear it and only then realized he was already walking toward her. The instant, unthinking obedience didn’t strike him as worrisome right away. He was distracted, consumed with the problem of finding a way to do right by Janine without putting himself permanently in debt. The decision to approach the girl had occurred on a subconscious level, was perhaps in part driven by a need to get away from the expensive stones on display in the jewelry shop and the maddening dilemma they presented. The girl wanted to talk to him and he was happy to oblige her. He told himself he would’ve been grateful for any kind of distraction. That was all she was to him.

A distraction.

A temporary diversion.

Nothing more.

Sure. Of course. He wondered if he knew her somehow. He didn’t recognize her, but he supposed it was possible. He smiled sheepishly as he came to a halt in front of her. “Hey. I’m sorry, but do we know each other? Because I can’t—”

Two things occurred simultaneously.

He realized she wasn’t smiling. Indeed, she had no discernible expression at all.

In the same instant, she patted the empty expanse of bench beside her.

“Sit down, David.”

He sat. Again, there was no conscious decision to obey. He became aware of a rushing sensation in his ears. At first, he figured the trickling of the water fountain had amplified somehow, but then he felt that wooziness again. It felt like he was deep underwater. Too deep. With his eyes and mouth open wide, and the surface somewhere far above him. His vision blurred.

The odd sensations abruptly ceased.

He gasped. “Whoa. What the…fuck. I felt like I was…like I was…”

Drowning
.

Huh
, he thought.
Strange
.

He realized then that something outside the realm of what he thought of as the normal world was occurring. It should have frightened him. He knew that. And, on some remote level, he did feel a faint concern, but the feeling was so far away it didn’t matter.

Right now, nothing mattered but this strange girl.

“How…how did you know my name?” His voice sounded strange to his own ears. He couldn’t pinpoint why at first, but then it came to him—he had spoken with a child’s wonderment. “Do I know you?”

She didn’t say anything.

The silence unnerved him, added to the already overpowering sense of surreality. It was a space that needed filling, so he filled it.

“You made me come over here.
Compelled
me. I know it sounds crazy, but I know what I felt.” He raised a hand to his mouth, swiped moisture away from the corners of his lips. “Why did you do that?”

“I can make you do anything.”

He believed it. “Okay.”

“I could make you kill yourself. Right now.”

A shiver passed through his body. “I believe you.”

“I could make you kill the people you love. Even Janine.”

“No.” This time he didn’t bother questioning how she knew something she should not know. She could read his mind. She knew things. Fine. About this, though, she was wrong. She had to be. “You couldn’t make me do that. Ever.”

For the first time, there was a perceptible change in the set of her features. Her left eyebrow—which had a single, almost understated piercing through it—arched ever-so-slightly. “Oh?” Her inflection, however, remained flat, unchanging. “Do you really think that’s true, David?”

Suddenly, he didn’t want to answer the question. So he asked a few of his own. “What’s going on here? Who are you? What are you doing to me?”

Her head swiveled away from him. She stared straight ahead. “I’m going to give you a choice, David. A simple matter of picking your destiny. You’ll choose your path with your own free will. I will not coerce you.”

David sucked in a big breath and blew it right back out. He was close to panicking. Shoppers were passing by in front of him. Men and women. Children. Teenagers. Back and forth, going here and there, many of them passing within a few feet of where he sat with this odd young woman. Every one of them utterly oblivious to his predicament. He put a hand to his chest, felt the rapid beating of his heart. It was going too fast, like the double-bass drumming common in the death metal music he loved when he was younger. Almost too fast to discern individual beats.

She touched his knee. “Calm down.”

His knee turned to ice.

Except that it didn’t. Not really. It just felt that way. The chill conveyed by her touch went down to the bone. He shivered. His heart rate began to slow almost immediately. His breathing became more regular.

He swallowed hard and shook his head. “What the fuck? How do you do that?”

She ignored the question and repeated her previous brief speech about a choice he had to make. Of his own free will, she again emphasized.

“Lady…what the fuck are you talking about?”

Her head turned slowly back toward him. Her expression was absolutely blank again. “Here it is, David. You can get up and walk away from here. You can choose to continue with your life as it was a few moments ago. You can marry that woman. If that is your choice, our paths will never cross again. This is my promise to you. And I always keep my promises, I assure you.”

David laughed. “Why would I choose anything else?”

“If your devotion to Janine was as strong as you imagine, you would have stated your choice immediately rather than reply with a question.”

He frowned. “Bullshit. It’s simple human curiosity. Anyone would want to know the rest of it. The rest of…whatever the fuck you’re talking about.”

She stared at him without speaking for several moments. During the silence, he found himself entranced by her lips, which looked…delicious. He felt guilty for even thinking it. It’d been a long time since he’d allowed himself to think of another woman in even a vaguely sexual way. It often wasn’t easy, but until now he’d managed to still his roving eye, which had been so active prior to Janine. No other woman could ever seriously tempt him when he had her to come home to every day. But this woman’s mouth changed that. He wondered if her lips were as soft as they looked. He wondered whether they would be as cold as the hand on his knee if he were to kiss them.

Her hand came away from his knee.

He drew in another big breath and expelled it. He only became aware of his physical reaction to her touch after she’d removed her hand. He was hard.
Achingly
hard.

A corner of her mouth subtly twitched, hinting at a hidden emotion. Was she smirking or smiling at him? Maybe a little bit of both. She was playing with him. Toying with him, like a spider prolonging the misery of a bug ensnared in its web. And it amused her to do so. This was her idea of entertainment. It should have bothered him, but he found he was oddly okay with it.

“Very well, David.”

He shook his head. “Um…what?”

“Here’s the rest of it, as you put it.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Here is your other choice. Please listen carefully.”

He shrugged, his brow furrowing again. “Okay.”

“Excellent.”

She clasped hands with him. He felt that bone deep chill again, only now it was many times more intense, probably because of the direct skin-to-skin contact. The chill spread from his hands up the length of his arms. She leaned closer to him, peered into his eyes, her expression very intent. There was still no obvious emotion he could read, but she was studying him as closely as anyone ever had.

“You can come with me to my secret place.”

“You mean…your home?”

“Yes. We can go there now, be there in a matter of moments, if you accept my offer. I’ll show you pleasures beyond anything you ever dreamed possible. You’ll have power. You’ll live forever.” A hint of a smile. “In a manner of speaking.”

David managed a nervous laugh. “You make it sound like an offer I can’t refuse.”

“I’ve already told you, you can refuse it.”

Obviously she’d never seen
The Godfather
.

“Wait. What do you mean…’in a manner of speaking’?”

She ignored the question and leaned closer still, until their faces were separated by just inches. Her cold breath frosted his cheeks. “If you choose to come with me, you can never return to your former life. I will own you. Completely and forever. You will do my bidding as long as you exist.”

Another nervous laugh. “Oh. Really?”

“Yes.”

The cast of her features still conveyed an intense curiosity, but was that a hint of something predatory in her eyes he was seeing now? Her grip on his hands tightened by a very small—but perceptible—degree. The chill her touch conveyed now permeated his entire body. She licked her lips. His heart stuttered at the sight of that pink wedge of tongue. She tilted her head slightly and her face came closer. Their lips were no more than an inch apart now.

“Do you mind if I kiss you, David?”

He blinked moisture from his eyes.

Janine
, he thought.

He knew he had to keep thinking of her. Understood suddenly that it was the only way to break this spell. More than anything else, he knew he couldn’t allow this woman to kiss him. Because if that happened, what remained of his free will would evaporate in an instant.

Janine
.

I can’t do this
.

I can’t
.

I CAN’T!

Her lips grazed his mouth. He felt her cold breath steal between his lips. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I need your answer, David. Now.”

He sniffled.

Janine…oh, God…I’m so sorry…

He swallowed thickly. “Yes.”

For the first time, a fully formed smile spread across her pale as snow face. “
Yes
.” Her voice dropped to a slightly huskier register. “You’re mine, David. All mine.” She cupped his face in her ice-cold hands and kissed him fully on the mouth. He groaned. An arctic chill filled his lungs, took root deep inside him, making his whole body tremble uncontrollably.

She broke the kiss off and clasped hands with him again.

“Now we go to my secret place.”

“And then what?”

She smiled for a second time. This time there was something secretive in it.

“You’ll see.”

“Okay.”

It was strange. Now that she’d kissed him, thoughts of Janine seemed far away. He was betraying her, but it didn’t seem to matter.

And yet, this woman scared him. No amount of mental trickery could disguise that. Or perhaps she was allowing him to remain in touch with his fear of her for obscure reasons.

He knew only one thing with absolute certainty.

She was right.

He belonged to her now.

Completely.

BOOK: Bloodrush
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