Authors: Daniel J. Kirk
UNCOLLECTED BLOOD by Daniel J. Kirk
© Copyright 2015 DANIEL J. KIRK
Edited by A.R. Jesse
Cover Art by Turtle&Noise
THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION.
No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
First electronic edition 2015
Table of Contents
By Daniel J. Kirk
Ivy, once planted for beauty, breaks through brick and concrete—given free reign in an alleyway where the asphalt had divorced. A life left in clumps, a twisted ankle waiting to happen.
Darren tried to quiet his breathing. His chest heaved. How long would he have to hide? He tucked himself closer to the broken brick, feeling the ivy on the back of his neck. It made the rest of his skin crawl, as if he needed any more reason to tremble. Darren watched the end of the alleyway. Waited for traffic or a pedestrian to pass. He got it in his mind that he could slink in with them and escape his fate. He just needed someone other than who he was hiding from.
His knuckles were still red from where the door caught them as he ran. They hadn’t hurt until he stopped running. Now they pulsed, reminding him of the pain that was coming. He felt the ivy again. It was moving. Tiny little fingers, a gentle prickly touch. Just the ivy, he lied to himself. He refused to turn around and face his death. He lied until his breath was finally quieted.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Albemarle asked.
He yanked the test paper away from his student, Ben Stoler, a tall and lean guy who the wind had twisted, with jet-black hair also sculpted by the wind. Ben jerked back in his desk in protest.
“What are you talking about? Let me finish the test.”
“You are cheating.” Mr. Albemarle examined the test closely as if his bi-focal glasses were inadequate magnification.
“I’m not cheating.”
“You are, this is all from the police report. None of it is coming from the source.”
Ben squirmed in his seat. He could feel the eyes of his three classmates judging him.
“I…I…” Ben stuttered and put his head down in a shame more closely resembling disgust. “I can’t make a connection with Darren. I just feel panic. He doesn’t see anything, he’s just a ball of fear and pain.”
“That was the requirements for this exam, your peers seem to be having no trouble with the assignment, now tell me, how does Darren die?”
Ben straightened up. Clenched his eyes shut. His heart pounded within his chest until it matched Darren’s. H
e’s trying to quiet his panting, but he has just fled a scene of horror. The man in the shadows kicked the door closed as Darren tried to flee. It caught his hand
. No, Ben realized, there was more than just one. Darren hadn’t noticed, it was all happening too fast at the time, but Ben was capable of slowing it down and noticing the difference in the men’s shapes. Then the memory jumped ahead and he was back in the alleyway trying to slow his breathing and then dead again.
Ben smacked the desk and rolled his eyes, he dared not look at Mr. Albemarle and said, “So you’re saying the cops got it wrong?”
“You tell me, you were in the officer’s head, was he confident in his report?”
Ben knew that the officer had not been. He had merely been confident in his explanation, there were no facts to support a simple mugging, and none to suggest otherwise. Darren’s wallet and phone were not found on him, and later were not found in his home once the police identified him. The light bulb popped in Ben’s mind and his eyes lit up as they rose to meet Mr. Albemarle, who knew it just then. Ben could not feel the phone and wallet in Darren’s pocket. He could feel Darren’s mind earlier in the day, regretfully discovering he’d left them at home on the counter.
“Why would they go to his home and take his wallet?”
Mr. Albemarle tapped his lip with his pointer finger, staying mum. Then feeling the words on the tip of the other three student’s mouths he turned to them. “Let Ben figure it out, your exams are all correct, please turn them over.”
Ben was tempted to seek out his classmates’ thoughts, but they would know and they would rat him out. He closed his mind, tried to avoid Mr. Albemarle’s but it was practically yelling at him. Taunting him.
“You’re going to fail, Ben. All those hard hours you put in and you’re going to fail.”
Ben shrugged, what was the point? The case had been solved, the real culprits were brought to justice, and this was just an exercise to prove Ben could be a real detective.
Mr. Albemarle turned his back and shook his head, “What have I told you all since day one?” He only wanted Ben to answer. “There is no impartial set of human eyes. The second we see something it no longer becomes facts. It is tainted by how we perceive the world. Years of lying to ourselves compound to form the image we secretly wish to see. We all have the gift, yes, Ben, you have the gift to see into other people’s lives, experiencing their moments past. In this gift, we are to discover not just what people see and feel, but what led them to see the world the way they do. If that is too hard to understand then one must find the impartial viewer.”
Ben heard enough. He knew he couldn’t be special. His whole life had been like this. He was tall so he was supposed to be a good basketball player, but he wasn’t because he was so lanky and awkward that he almost always fell over when he turned fast. His fingertips were weak when the basketball bounced into his hands and any time he jumped, he felt the pain in his ankles shoot right into his knees when he landed. Ben was not good at anything. He only had the look of someone with promise. He wondered if Mr. Albemarle could feel that.
“Have you ever misplaced your wallet before?”
Ben nodded. “Sure sometimes I think I put it somewhere and really I just forgot that I put it somewhere else.”
“Is this poetry, class?” Mr. Albemarle joked.
Ben bit the sides of his mouth, he was willing to accept his failing grade just to escape this belittling. He dropped his pencil in an act of rebellion. Mr. Albemarle groaned.
“We have an invasive species. Much like the green ivy strangling the bricks and alleyway. Someone who cared what people saw planted it for beauty. It spread wildly out of control, killing other plant life. Altering the native landscape until everything from the insects up the chain to mankind was affected by its presence. The one who planted it didn’t know this. They just thought it would be a good idea. In your mind, Ben, is a thick patch of ivy, strangling your true ability.”
Ben dove into Mr. Albemarle’s thoughts. He didn’t think it mattered anymore.
He’ll get it. I know he can.
Ben felt Mr. Albemarle thrust him out, slammed the door on him. But that one thought he echoed in his mind. His teacher wasn’t taunting him, Mr. Albemarle believed in him.
“Finish the exam.”
Ben looked at the piece of paper on his desk, the list of names, the signals to enter their residual minds, the evidence. But it was something Mr. Albemarle had said prior to the exam that came to mind. His teacher had told them, “
the answer is not on the exam until you put it there
Ben looked up at the smirking Mr. Albemarle.
Then he closed his eyes and dove back into the alleyway.
He watched as Darren rounded the corner, dashed into the alleyway. He is panting; it is loud enough that his pursuers will know. But he’s too excited, too scared. He hunched over and clutched at the brick wall. Ben could feel Darren’s touch. He could feel his neck and the perspiration running down it.
The alleyway greeted two new visitors. For the first time Ben saw Darren’s assailants. They were Darren’s age, height, and social class. They attacked him before he could turn around. Ben remembered Darren’s fear had paralyzed him.
“Grab his wallet, make it look like he got mugged,” one of them said.
The other knelt down and scoured Darren’s body. He came up empty handed. “I bet he left it at the apartment when he ran out.”
“Well, let’s get back home then and get rid of it. Find some bum in the park and let him have his cards. If he’s dumb enough to run the card somewhere then he’ll take the fall. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Ben knew the two young men now. He had seen them in Darren’s mind before. But he hadn’t thought they were important. They were Darren’s roommates. He dove into their minds, but they were unlike any Darren wanted to wade through. He knew then the horror that Darren had witnessed. Why he had run.
Ben’s face was pale. “They raped some girl. Drugged her at a party and raped her until she was dead. Darren saw and they came after him, made it look like a mugging. He wasn’t going to tell, he was too scared, too shocked at what he had seen. His mind couldn’t believe it and that’s why the answer wasn’t within him.”
Ben didn’t have any doubts. He wasn’t searching for Mr. Albemarle’s approval. He knew what had happened. Every disgusting detail spread through his mind, he could feel the lies Darren’s roommates had infected themselves with, their justifications, and their purposes in life. If Mr. Albemarle failed Ben it didn’t matter. Ben knew it wasn’t a job that his gift was to be used for. It was a necessity that he stops the spread of evil, of those who can lie to themselves.
“You finally went deeper into the victim’s life, you inspected his roommates. Leave no stone unturned.”
“No,” Ben said, “I was in the ivy. I found the impartial viewer.”
Mr. Albemarle’s eyebrows reached for the heavens.
Anything living, Mr. Albemarle had said that on the first day of class. Ben’s classmates were shocked. They looked at Mr. Albemarle for an explanation, they had merely investigated everyone Darren had spoken to within twenty-four hours of his death, and searched ahead to their reactions to his death. That was something Mr. Albemarle had taught them.
But Ben realized he didn’t have to experience the world through jaded human eyes. His gift granted him access to all living things.
Mr. Albemarle smiled and took out his red marker. He made three marks on Ben’s paper. Ben looked down and saw the bright red ‘A’.
“Now, you are ready.”
We woke early on a Saturday. Not just early before the sun rose, but before the moon really got up to coming back down. Had to though, there was too much to do. My stomach hurt from cutting sleep short and breakfast looked about as appetizing as dirt, trampled dirt.
Staying out late and going to bed after the sun has been up, that I can do. I pay for it dearly for a few days after, but it’s easier to achieve. Waking up early, getting out of a warm bed that’s as hard as digging a ditch in concrete with a plastic spork.
Was I overdramatic? Sure.
The point is I’m not a morning person.
Neither were Eric, Sean, or Ben.
So four grown men cut a night short, a sleep shorter, and stood waiting by a pick-up truck we had been smart enough to load up the night before. I’m sure there were hunters who got up earlier or people who had to commute, but this was early for us.
I didn’t drink any of the coffee Sean brought, mainly because on an empty stomach coffee is not my friend. There was too much to do today to spend it on a porcelain bowl or Nature’s equivalent.
Perhaps it was only ten minutes that we had stood waiting, unable to start anything close to small talk, but it felt like forever. Two yellow headlights started bouncing down the road and turned into the parking lot we’d all agreed to meet in. It was our
Shelley was as butch as they come. She had that miniature linebacker frame and all the gusto to prove the fight wasn’t miniature. Conversations with her were like taking to a high school football player after a playoff victory. She slung herself out of her pick up like the after party was about to get started.
“Good Morning, Gentlemen.” She was all smiles and stunk of coffee and energy. “Truck packed?”
There were mostly nods but I think Ben had mustered an audible affirmation. She gave us the rundown again, covering all the bases asking for short responses and then dictated the order of our caravan. We were going to head west, essentially attempting to delay the rise of the sun.
We had to be finished before the sunset, so the plan to head away from where the sun rose made a lot of sense. Of course this early in the morning, if it was even morning, everything makes sense. The brain is dimly lit and doesn’t do too much arguing. There was only one thing my brain had been concerned with, and that was the death of a warm bed. It had lost and now it would accept whatever until it could find a new bed.
“Ted, you awake enough to drive?” Shelley asked.
My eyebrows answered before my mouth betrayed me.
I climbed into Shelley’s truck and all around was the smell of coffee and even the steam that came with it. The seats were warm and a country music station was just getting started playing the same six songs for the day. It was a new day. Most people forget we start and end a day sleeping and some of us don’t go to sleep until a day has ended. Used to be I could stay up and around midnight was when I finally knew how I was going to spend my night. Now reaching midnight on a night when I had nothing to do felt like a triumph. Like I beat my body’s age. After today I probably wouldn’t see midnight for a year. Sleep catches up to me.
For a few miles I knew where I was driving. Shelley sat beside me ready to navigate. Maybe she’d overdosed on caffeine. Her leg was just itching to get to work. I was too tired to reach over and restrain it. I knew what we were going to be doing had to be done. I even wanted to get it done as soon as possible and would’ve gladly worked all yesterday and into the night if that were possible.
But these things don’t operate on my sleep schedule. They operate on Shelley’s. They are the morning people.
Or will be.
We had to wait until the day before a full moon. These things are born under full moon light like werewolves. By morning the next day they are waking up everyone. Ruining all our warm beds. It was hard for me to think about something worse than Shelley’s lucidness at the moment. But these things were far worse. They didn’t even have the decency to be friendly about the whole ordeal and they certainly didn’t bring a box of doughnuts, which I’d just noticed on the dash and started to crave.
I didn’t take one because I thought it was rude to do until I was offered. Something had happened to the world I was born into. It changed. And for whatever reason we were getting along. Doing what was needed. I’m still shocked and that shock is sometimes enough caffeine for me. Just trying to remember what it used to be like before we had a common enemy.
I would’ve avoided Shelley at all costs and not for the fact that she was a morning person, but because she is a bitch. In the old world I would’ve been petty or at the very least talked behind her back if we worked for the same people. Here and now, I understand she has a purpose. The world is simpler; the sense of urgency, the sense of responsibility is felt, seen and heard. I know why I have to do the things I do. Before I couldn’t understand where my tax money went. I couldn’t understand why I had to start work everyday at the same time and lose the best parts of some of the most beautiful spring and fall days this earth has ever known.
Now, throwing away a Saturday made sense.
It meant I could enjoy those beautiful weekdays. It’s amazing how many there are and how many I must’ve missed.
It took the world ending.
Our caravan of three pickups stopped on the outskirts of our town. Each moon we pushed further and further. We even had reports from other towns that were trying to link up with us. We worked together to drive the things away. Maybe one day we’d see people we long thought were dead.
There were more eggs this time. That was my most unscientific way describe the pods. But even Shelley called them eggs and yelled:
“Time to crack some eggs! Let’s make this omelet.”
Like I said if the world was the way it used to be I would’ve avoided Shelley. So would Ben, Eric, and Sean. We wouldn’t have been better friends, but we certainly wouldn’t be waking up together before it was early enough to call it morning.
We went to work on the eggs until we were awake enough to ease the tension and the mood.
Who knows maybe after enough practice I’ll be a morning person like Shelley, and these early mornings won’t bug me so much. Either way I’ll have to get used to it. Until they’re all gone. Until the world goes back to the way it was, when we didn’t get along, didn’t have a purpose and really had a reason to hate getting up before the sun. I just hoped we got all the eggs this moon. It was the shot of caffeine I needed.
It was more than purpose, it was meaning.
Shelley offered me a doughnut. I turned it down and she offered again so I felt obligated.
“I like you,” she said. “You’re alright.”
We were arriving and sure enough there it was the field was pregnant a thousand times over, green and gold eggs sprouted like some absurd collection of stained glass watermelons. That’s how they hatched the first time. We thought they were pretty.
It was lunchtime before my head looked up from my shovel. My shoulders were sore from all the bashing. Shelley slapped my back and said something about team spirit.
Ben said, “Look over there.”
It stuck out, the words kind of hung there in my mind. I turned and wished it had been in slow motion, so that I could’ve braced for what I was about to see and react accordingly or at least have my scream deepened.
The figures stood at the horizon. They had come to stop us.
They’d have to catch us first. I ran and screamed and Ben, Sean, and Eric performed the variations of the same act. We were in the trucks before we noticed Shelley had stood her ground.
She said words I didn’t think females could pronounce. Heads and limbs shimmied off bodies and into the field of mashed eggs.
“They knew we were coming this time, man!” Ben screamed as he fought the engine. At least he hadn’t lost the keys, but the pop of the clutch almost threw me from the back of the pick up. Either way, I was awake now.
I pounded the roof of the truck and yelled something stupid, something only lack of sleep could’ve caused, “Turn around and run ‘em down!”
I kind of sounded like Shelley. It scared me, and the reaction in the rearview mirror showed it scared Ben, too. But he obeyed with a swift turn. I think Sean tried to talk some sense into him.
The first lot we struck sounded like a row of mailboxes, and then it was like driving in Arkansas as we bounced over a pile of their vile forms.
Eric leaned out the window and used his shovel to smack the few out of reach of the truck’s girth.
“Get to Shelley! I’ll grab her!” Again sleep deprivation deprived my sense of logic as there was no way I would simply grab Shelley and yank her up into the truck so we could ride off to safety. But Ben must not have been very much awake either because he obeyed another command.
We missed on the first pass. This was not entirely our fault, as Shelley was too busy smashing skulls. Ben yelled at her until she knew the plan and we made a second pass, which was almost successful.
The second pass included the braking of the truck, for a matter of seconds was the only intention. But seconds are where mistakes are made. In hindsight rolling up a window might’ve prevented the issue, but Ben had to yell at Shelley, and he had to hear my idiotic commands. I should’ve been looking on the driver side of the truck as one of them crawled up and took a chunk out of Ben’s neck.
Sean and Eric were quick. It was a new instinct. They kicked Ben from the driver’s seat, kicked him out of the truck and into the field of mashed eggs. Sean hit the gas and rolled up the window and Shelley and I bounced in the back of the truck as she gave out a horrendous war cry.
They answered back in their wretched wails.
We were miles away, exhausted from more than just the lack of sleep, but also the overdose of adrenaline. We had failed, and perhaps all over eggs would cycle towards births by the end of the day. And there would be more of them waiting for us the next time.
No, it wasn’t likely the world would ever be normal again. But Shelley didn’t seem to mind.
“That was successful,” Shelley said wiping some kind of biological fluid from her brow.
I almost said something about Ben being dead, but she was smiling and that was confusing so I blurted, “Was it?”
“Yeah, they were covered in red clay. I know where they’ve been laying low. We’ll go there first thing tomorrow morning and mince those bastards.”
I hear I thought maybe I would sleep in tomorrow.
Shelley looked at me like I was the insane one.