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Authors: Nancy A. Collins

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Darkest Heart

BOOK: Darkest Heart
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Darkest Heart

(Sonja Blue 05)

By

Nancy A Collins

Copyright (c) 2002 Nancy A Collins

Author's Note

Part One of Darkest Heart first appeared as an original chapbook published by Cross Roads Press in 1992

under the title Cold Turkey. It would later appear in 1995, in a slightly rewritten format, as Chapter Three of Paint It Black. Because Darkest Heart concerns characters and events from Cold Turkey, and since more than five years have passed since the publication of Paint It Black, I have chosen to reprint it here.

Part One

New Orleans:

Ten years ago

Oh I'll be a good boy,

Please make me well,

I'll promise you anything,

Get me out of this hell.

Cold Turkey,

- John Lennon

She had to give the dead boy credit; he had the trick of appearing human nailed down tight. He'd learned just what gestures and inflections to use in his conversation to hide the fact that his surface gloss and glitz wasn't there merely to disguise basic shallowness, but an utter lack of humanity.

She'd seen enough of the kind of humans he imitated: pallid, self-important intellectuals who prided themselves on their sophistication and knowledge of "hip" art, sharpening their wit at the expense of others. Like the vampiric mimic in their midst, they produced nothing while draining the vitality from those around them. The only difference was that the vampire was more honest about it.

Sonja worked her way to the bar, careful to keep herself shielded from the dead boy's view, both physically and psychically. It wouldn't do for her quarry to catch scent of her just yet. She could hear the vampire's nasal intonations as it held forth on the demerits of various artists.

"Frankly, I consider his use of photo-montage to be inexcusably banal. If I wanted to look at photographs, I'd go to Olan Mills!"

She wondered where the vampire had overheard - or stolen - that particular drollery. A dead boy of his wattage didn't come up with witty remarks spontaneously. When you have to spend conscious energy remembering to breathe and blink, there is no such thing as top-of-your-head snappy patter. It was all protective coloration, right down to the last double entendre and Monty Python impersonation.

It would be another decade or two before this vampire with the stainless steel ankh dangling from one earlobe and the crystal embedded in his left nostril, could divert his energies to something besides the full-time task of insuring his continuance. Not that the dead boy had much of a future in the predator business.

She waved down the bartender and ordered a beer. As she awaited its arrival, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror backing the bar. To the casual observer she looked to be no more than twenty-five.

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) Tricked out in a battered leather jacket, with a stained Circle Jerks T-shirt, patched jeans, mirrored sunglasses, and dark hair twisted into a tortured cockatoo's crest, she looked like just another college-age gothic chick checking out the scene. No one would ever guess she was actually forty years old.

She sucked the cold suds down, participating in her own form of protective coloration. She could drink a case or three of the stuff with the only effect being she'd piss like a fire hose. Beer didn't do it for her anymore. Neither did hard liquor. Or cocaine. Or heroin. Or crack. She had tried them all, in dosages that would have put the entire US Olympic Team in the morgue, but no luck. There was only one drug that plunked her magic twanger. Only one thing that could get her off.

And that drug was blood.

Yeah, the dead boy was good enough he could have fooled another vampire. Could have. But didn't.

She eyed her prey. She doubted she'd have any trouble taking the sucker down. She rarely did, these days.

Least not the lesser undead that lacked major psionic muscle. Sure, they had enough mesmeric ability to gull the humans in their vicinity, but little else. Compared to her own psychic abilities, the art-fag vampire was packing a peashooter. Still, it wasn't smart to get too cocky. Lord Morgan had dismissed her in just such a high-handed manner, and now he was missing half his face.

She shifted her vision from the human to the Pretender spectrum, studying the vampire's true appearance.

She wondered if the black-garbed art aficionados clustered about their mandarin, their heads bobbing like puppets, would still consider his pronouncements worthy if they knew his skin was the color and texture of rotten sailcloth, or that his lips were black and shriveled, revealing oversized fangs set in a perpetual death's-head grimace. No doubt they'd drop their little plastic cups of cheap Chablis and back away in horror, their surface glaze of urbanite sophistication and studied ennui replaced by honest, good, old-fashioned monkey-brain terror.

Humans need masks in order to live their day-to-day lives, even amongst their own kind. Little did they know that their dependence on artifice and pretense provided the perfect hiding place for a raft of predators, such as the vampire pretending to be an art-fag. Predators like her.

Sonja tightened her grip on the switchblade in the pocket of her leather jacket.

"Uh, excuse me?"

She jerked around a little too fast, startling the young man at her elbow. She was so focused on her prey she had been unaware of his approaching her. Sloppy. Really sloppy.

"Yeah, what is it?"

The young man blinked, taken aback by the brusqueness of her tone. "I, uh, was wondering if I might, uh, buy you a drink?"

She automatically scanned him for signs of Pretender taint, but he came up clean. One hundred percent USDA Human. He was taller than her by a couple of inches, his blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. There were three rings in his right ear and one in his left nostril. Despite the metalwork festooning his nose, he was quite handsome.

Sonja found herself at a loss for words. She was not used to being approached by normals. She tended to generate a low-level psychic energy that most humans found unnerving, if not actively antagonistic. In layman's terms, she tended to either scare people away or piss them off.

"I - I - " She shot her prey a glance out of the comer of her eye. Shit! The bastard was starting to make his move, hustling an entranced human in the direction of the back door.

"I realize this is going to sound like a really dumb, cheap come-on," the young man with the nose ring said, giving her an embarrassed smile. "But I saw you from across the room - and I just had to meet you.

Please let me buy you a drink."

"I, uh, I - "

The vampire had his prey almost out the door, smiling widely as he continued to discourse on modern art.

"There's something I have to take care of - I'll be right back! I promise! Don't go away!" she blurted, and dashed off in pursuit of her target for the night.

She scanned the parking lot, checking for signs of the vampire's passage. She prayed she wasn't too late.

Once vamps isolated and seduced humans from the herd, they tended to move quickly. She knew that much from her own experience at the hands of Lord Morgan, the undead bastard responsible for her own transformation.

The vampire and his prey were sitting in the backseat of a silver BMW with heavily tinted windows; their blurred silhouettes moved like shadows reflected in an aquarium. There was no time to waste. She would

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The imitation art-fag looked genuinely surprised when her fist punched through the back window, sending tinted safety glass flying into the car. He hissed a challenge, exposing his fangs, as he whipped about to face her. His victim sat beside him, motionless as a mannequin, his eyes unfocused. The human's erect penis jutted from his open fly, vibrating like a recently struck tuning fork.

Sonja grabbed the vampire by the collar of his black silk shirt and pulled him, kicking and screaming, through the busted back windshield. The human didn't even blink.

"Let's get this over with, dead boy!" Sonja snapped as she hurled the snarling vampire onto the parking lot gravel. "I got a hot date waiting on me!"

The vampire launched himself at her, talons hooked and fangs extended. Sonja moved to meet the attack, flicking open the switchblade with a snap of her wrist. The silver blade sank into the vampire's exposed thorax, causing him to shriek in pain. The vampire collapsed around her fist like a punctured balloon, his body spasming as his system reacted to the silver's toxin.

Sonja knelt and swiftly removed the vampire's head from his shoulders. The body was already starting to putrefy by the time she located the BMW's keys. She unlocked the trunk and tossed the vampire's rapidly decomposing remains inside, making sure the keys were returned to his pants pocket.

She looked around, but there were no witnesses to be seen in the darkened lot. She moved around to the passenger side and opened the door, tugging the human out of the car.

He stood slumped against the rear bumper like a drunkard, his eyes swimming and his face slack. His penis dangled from his pants like a tattered party streamer.. Sonja took his chin between her thumb and forefinger and turned his head so that his eyes met hers.

"This never happened. You do not remember leaving the bar with anyone. Is that clear?"

"N-nothing h-happened," he stammered.

"Excellent! Now go back in the bar and have a good time. Oh, and put that thing away. You don't want to get busted for indecent exposure, do you?"

* * * *

She was buzzing by the time she reentered the bar. She liked to think of it as her apres-combat high. The adrenaline from the battle was still sluicing around inside her; juicing her perceptions and making her feel as if she was made of lightning and spun glass. It wasn't as intense as the boost she got from blood, but it was still good. She scanned the bar for the young man with the nose ring.

Give it up, he's forgotten you and found another bimbo for the evening.

Sonja fought to keep from cringing at the sound of the Other's voice inside her head. She had managed to go almost all night without having to endure its commentary. A second later she was rewarded by the sight of him at the bar. After a quick spot-check for any telltale signs of blood or ichor that might still be clinging to her, she moved forward.

"You still interested in buying me that drink?"

The young man's smile was genuinely relieved. "You came back!"

"I said I'd be back, didn't I?"

"Yeah. You did." He smiled again and offered her his hand. "I guess I ought to introduce myself. I'm Judd."

Sonja took his hand and smiled without parting her lips. "Pleased to meet you, Judd. I'm Sonja."

"What the hell's going on here?"

Judd's smile faltered as his gaze fixed itself on something just over Sonja's right shoulder. She turned and found herself almost nose-to-nose with a young woman dressed in a skin-tight black sheath, fishnet stockings, and way too much make-up. The woman's psychosis covered her face like a caul, with pulsing indentations marking her eyes, nose and mouth.

Judd closed his eyes and sighed. "Kitty, look, it's over! Get a life of your own and let go of mine, alright?"

"Oh, is that how you see it? Funny, I remember you saying something different! Like how you'd always love me! Guess I was stupid to believe that, huh?"

Kitty's rage turned the caul covering her face an interesting shade of magenta. The way it swirled and pulsed reminded Sonja of a lava lamp.

"You're not getting away that easy, asshole! And who's this slut?" Kitty slapped the flat of her hand against Sonja's leather-clad shoulder in an attempt to push her away from Judd.

Sonja grabbed Kitty's wrist with the speed of a cobra strike. "Don't touch me."

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"Let go of me, bitch!" Kitty snarled as she tried to pull herself free of Sonja's grasp. "I'll fucking touch you anytime I want! Just you stay away from my boyfriend, bitch!"

C'mon, snap the crazy bitch's arm off, purred the Other. She deserves it! Sonja closed her eyes, fighting the urge to break Kitty's wrist in front of Judd.

"I said let go!" Kitty shrieked as she tried to rake Sonja's face with her free hand. When Sonja snared that wrist as well, Kitty was forced to look directly into her face. Suddenly the other woman stopped struggling and the blood-red rage that suffused the caul was replaced by a sunburst of yellow fear.

Sonja knew the other woman was seeing her - truly seeing her - for what she was. Only three kinds of human could perceive the Real World: psychics, poets and lunatics. And Kitty definitely qualified for the last category.

Sonja released the girl, but kept her gaze fixed on her. Kitty massaged her wrists, opened her mouth as if to say something, then turned and hurried away, nearly tripping over her high heels as she fled.

BOOK: Darkest Heart
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