It was forty minutes before sundown when he returned to the apartment; he started to knock, instead tried the door and found it unlocked. Loryn, as she had said, was sitting in a chair by the main window, wearing the garlic-and-rose garland, the Bible open on her lap. She looked up as he entered, but didn't speak.
Jack was himself at a loss for what to say, so he simply nodded to her, propped the door open, and reached out onto the landing to maneuver a long, heavy lamp through the door. Loryn watched him, then said, "Ah. A sun lamp."
"Right." Jack set it facing the wall at an angle. "We got lucky, the salons have all gone over to tanning beds, so you can rent these pretty cheap if you can find them. I could have taken you to a salon, I guess, but I think this is better done in private."
"I agree." Loryn closed the Bible and set it aside. "I stay human during the day, so you're hoping we can use the lamp to artificially lengthen the day. It's an interesting thought."
This was not good. Her voice was dispassionate, and the shades had gone down behind her eyes. It was no use pointing out that she had asked him to kill her if things went wrong; what mattered was that he had deliberately deceived her. Well, he'd have to deal with that at some other time. Keeping his own tone equally neutral, he replied, "When you told me you felt like you were absorbing the sunlight, I wished that all this could have happened during the summer, while the days were longer. That's where the idea came from."
"It's worth trying," she said. "Should we go on and begin now? I'm getting less and less benefit from natural sunlight, it might be a good idea to … charge me up in advance."
"The same way we did at the church," Jack agreed, nodding. "I have a second lamp down in the car, why don't you change back into the swimsuit while I go get it."
Loryn was already in place when he returned, bringing the gym bag along with the second lamp. He put it down by the door, its presence and nature recognized but unacknowledged by either of them. "We'll set up so they overlap," Jack explained. "Cover you from both sides, with the mirror here to reflect some of it back at you."
She inspected the arrangement, and asked, "Isn't direct UV supposed to be dangerous to the retina?"
Jack stopped. "Damn. I forgot all about that, they use little eye protectors in the salons, don't they?" He looked to his watch. "I don't know if there's still time …"
"I'll wear a blindfold," Loryn said. Jack stared, and she returned his gaze levelly. "I trust you because I don't have a choice. Let's get on with it."
He found a bandanna for her to tie over her eyes, and she took her place. Though the lamps put out less heat than he had expected, they enveloped Loryn in a harsh glow. She stood in the convergence of light and observed, "I was worse last night."
It was a warning, and he took it as such. "I'll be careful."
"I don't want to hurt you," she said, so matter-of-fact that he wondered just how true it was.
They had begun half an hour before the sun would set, and waited now without conversation. Loryn occasionally did a slow rotation to give herself a more even exposure (like a chicken in a rotisserie, Jack thought inaptly), but that was the only activity. Within fifteen minutes, there was more light from the lamps than from the waning day; and by the time only five minutes remained, they both knew it wasn't going to work.
He could actually see it coming upon her, sweeping over her in shadowy waves. She twisted in the light of the lamps, her teeth showing sharp and white between parted lips, her reflection flickering in the mirror behind her. She had forgotten to replace the garland when she changed clothes, but she still wore the crucifix on the chain, and it skittered around on the surface of her skin like beads of water on a hot skillet. She fought the transformation while he watched, her hands clenched, breath coming in quick gasps of effort, perspiration starting from her forehead and temples —
With a blue-white spark and crack! of ozone, the crucifix shot away from her, snapping the chain and streaking across the room to star the glass of the window. In the abrupt silence Loryn relaxed and reached up to pull loose the blindfold. She stepped out of the halo cast by the useless lamps, and without thought Jack fell back before her.
She was different, no longer the drained, hollow-eyed wreck who had come to his door two nights ago; there was something new now, a dark erotic power that dwarfed the electric sexuality he had felt six months ago in Merise. Jack had never been able to understand the seductive subcurrent running through so much of vampire lore, but despair clutched at him as he saw the reality manifested in Loryn: white and gaunt, a mockery of human flesh, she nonetheless had the sleek, deadly beauty of a panther.
She moved toward him, and wild laughter swelled up inside him at the appalling incongruity of Loryn, the newly-born vampire, straight and terrible and fearsome beyond measure, in a lavender bikini; and he choked it back, sure it would become hysterical if he let it out. She stopped in front of him, impaling him with black, scornful eyes. "It failed," she said in a voice dry as cracked leather. "Your brainstorm failed, like everything else you've tried. So what do we do now? Tell me!"
Jack felt his strength sliding away beneath the whiplash of her anger, but he forced himself to meet her gaze. "I wouldn't say it failed completely," he replied, speaking quiet and steady with fanatic self-control. "Your body changed, but you almost held it back. And your mind is still your own." Let it be true let it be true let it be true …
Feeble as the response seemed to him, it scored on her; her mouth twitched, and she looked away. "I'm here," she said, subdued and soft. "It's still me, I'm still here, but … this is the last night. I know. At nightfall tomorrow I'll finally be dead, and nothing we can do will change it."
Fear and adrenaline had stretched him to twanging tension, and at the fatalism of her words he had to clamp down to stop himself from erupting. "No," he insisted. "No. You keep saying that, like it was written on your palm by the finger of God. Well, I won't accept it!" He wheeled and stalked through the kitchenette, jerking open the door of the refrigerator. "We've tried increasing your humanity quotient. We've tried smothering and delaying the change. Well, now we're going to work on this side of you directly." He took out a bottle of orange juice (one he hadn't spiked with holy water, he wasn't crazy), and returned to where she stood. "Vampires don't take normal food or drink. You're going to, and we'll see what it does to you." He held out the bottle. "Here."
For several seconds Loryn didn't speak; then, in a voice that shook with revulsion, she grated, "Get that away from me."
Jack twisted the cap from the bottle, held it out again. "Go on, take it. It may be —"
The blow was too fast to see, too fast even for him to feel except as impact; he knew only that he was hurtling backward, the bottle tumbling to the carpet as he smashed into the couch. He fought for consciousness, pulled himself up to teeter on wobbly legs, warm stickiness oozing from a cheek suddenly radiating pain … and stared into the face of horror.
Loryn stood frozen, eyes riveted on the blood that welled from his battered cheek. She took a spasmodic step forward, her body stiff with unwilling lust, and Jack staggered and almost fell headlong as he tried to retreat. Her hand darted out to close on his wrist with cruel tightness, and the other hand, fingers bent into skeletal claws, began to move toward his throat in small jerks.
Terror flooded him with strength, everything inside him shrieking at him to act, to move, to hurl her from him with a lightning seoi nage or hane goshi, throw her against the wall and run, run …! No. He couldn't defeat her, couldn't escape her. With a tearing effort of will he silenced the screaming voices, and found his own.
"Help me, Loryn," he begged. "For the love of God, don't leave me now."
Something struggled deep in those molten eyes. The reaching hand halted, her every muscle locking in total, unyielding contraction, her arms like bars of rolled steel. Her mouth worked, twisted, agonizing conflict etching itself into the lines of her face —
— and then her hand hooked into the collar of his shirt, tearing it from him like rotted paper as she forced him down onto the couch, cold heat surging from her in a black tide, vile and rapturous and impossible to resist.
Taking the only alternative still open to her.
Burying one lust with another.
~ – ~ – ~
When it was done, and the dreadful compulsion eased, Jack dashed to the bathroom and was violently, explosively sick.
He returned, ashen and spent, after he had donned a new shirt and covered the split, throbbing cheek with a gauze bandage. Loryn was still sitting on the couch, naked and alien: face set, eyes closed, motionless as carved stone. He stopped a few feet away from her, a muscle twitching at the corner of his mouth. "Loryn —"
Her voice was a toneless murmur, coming from nowhere. "Don't touch me."
There had been no danger of that. "Loryn, please, listen to me. We're not through yet; I mean, you haven't been beaten, you managed to … fight it."
Her eyes flicked open. "I didn't fight it," she informed him with flat softness. "I just changed it to something else. To the succubus role you told me about."
"I don't care if you played Muskrat Love on your toenails!" he said angrily. "The point is, you beat it. You aren't — gone yet." He hesitated, then went on, "I'm ready to try something else."
Loryn lifted her head, staring at him. "Are you insane? After everything that's happened, after what I just did …?" She broke off, turned her face away from him.
"That's over," he said with all the resolve he could project. "I'm still alive, you still have a human soul, and we keep trying or we start digging a grave for you. Me, I'm not in a mood to dig."
She was silent for so long that Jack began to wonder if she would respond at all. Then she stood and said, "Whatever you're planning, I should probably be dressed for it."
When she came back he had switched off the sun lamps and moved them into a corner. "All right," she said. "What are we doing this time?"
Jack sat down at the dinette table, motioned for her to join him. (He wasn't going near the couch again. In fact, it would probably be best to burn it.) "Before, you told me you hypnotized yourself to help you leave your body. Can you do it again, here?"
"I don't think that's wise," Loryn said. "This body has … instincts. There's no telling what it might do if I left it unattended."
Jack shook his head. "I didn't mean astral projection, I just want to know if you can put yourself into a trance state again."
"I'm not sure. Probably." She looked to him. "Are you thinking we can stifle my 'dark side' by hypnotic command?"
"Just checking out possibilities, really."
"We'll see." She took a seat. "Do you have a candle?"
He brought one from his room, set it in front of her. "Anything else?"
"Just light it," she said. "The moving flame provides a point of concentration. The rest is … internal. Give it ten, maybe fifteen minutes. If I can do it at all, it'll happen by then."
When the candle was lit, he sat across from her. He watched her eyes follow the shifting motion, and gradually they became empty and fixed. It went more quickly than she had predicted, but he waited until the full ten minutes had passed before speaking. "Loryn?"
Several seconds went by before the response came: "Yes." Flat and soft, without inflection.
"Close your eyes," he told her. She did so. "Open your mind, let it become clear and receptive, a … a still pool that catches and reflects everything around it." He paused, giving the command time to take hold. Then, insistently, "Something is out there, Loryn. Something your mind can touch, sense. Reach out for it, hunt it, find it; and tell me what you feel."
She sat without speaking as the wall clock swept away the minutes. Jack was about to repeat the instructions when she said woodenly, "There are lights. Shadows on the pavement … soft wind … moving quietly, listening, searching …"
Her eyes flew open, her face transfixed by wild shock and an expression of such insane savagery that Jack jumped up, his heart lurching inside him. She opened her mouth and uttered a piercing cry, strident and terrible, that paralyzed him where he stood; then she was on her feet and across the room in a blur of motion, yanking the door open with an impetuous force that snapped one of the hinges, and she was out and gone.
With a hoarse shout Jack leaped after her, snatching up the gym bag as he plunged through the fractured door. Loryn was already halfway down the lamplit street, moving with unbelievable speed. Jack threw the bag through the open window of his car and flung himself into the driver's seat. He started the engine and spun out onto the street, tearing after the flickering figure ahead of him.
It was four blocks before he caught up with her, and he saw with numb amazement that she was running at nearly forty miles an hour. She cut across a lawn and over onto another street while Jack was still looking at the speedometer, and he executed a tire-shrieking swerve that missed a sloppily parked Volkswagen by razored fractions of an inch. He steered perilously through the car-lined residential streets, desperately trying to track Loryn's path while he drove. It was almost impossible to keep up with her, for she kept changing direction, taking shortcuts that Jack's car couldn't duplicate, threading her way through the occasional traffic with mad heedlessness. At one point she rounded a corner and went directly for a group of four girls walking together, and Jack clutched at the wheel with impotent fear … but she crossed the street again at the last moment, making another turn, the girls swiveling to stare as he fishtailed after her. Driving like a maniac, he managed to keep her in sight, Loryn racing before him with never-slacking speed and he hurtling headlong in her wake.
They left the residential section, and Jack caught up with her again as she kept a straight course down Devereau. A nine-foot chain link fence appeared ahead of them as the street ended in a cross-lane; Loryn went over it with staggering ease, almost without stopping. Jack stomped the brake and spun the wheel, screaming to a sideways halt scant inches before smashing through. He jumped out and threw the gym bag over the fence, then scrambled up the steel links, tearing his arm on barbed wire at the top. He hit the ground on the other side with a jolt that went up his legs to land in his stomach; grabbed up the bag and pounded after Loryn, just as she disappeared around the corner of a corrugated metal building ahead of him.
They were in a cluster of warehouses, and the smell of salt air told him the docks were nearby. With dizzy logic Jack realized that this place, or one like it, was ideal for a vampire; with cargo being loaded and unloaded at all hours, men could be found at any time of the night. He rounded the corner and looked frantically around. When his eyes found Loryn she was hopelessly far ahead, but he drove himself after her, sprint-hardened legs straining to the utmost. At another corner he ran into a pile of empty boxes and went sprawling, the gym bag whirling away into the darkness. He stumbled to his feet and ran on, sobbing for breath. No time to look for it, no time …!
It was going all wrong, it wasn't the way he had planned it! He had read in Dracula how Mina Harker, after being bitten by the infamous Count, had developed under hypnosis a telepathic link to him. Even though Dracula was unquestionably fictional (or, at the very least, highly fictionalized), he had hoped Loryn might show the same ability; but the violence of her reaction had caught him completely by surprise, and now he was losing her!
He found himself on a loading dock, and glimpsed Loryn at the far end; though still moving at Olympic speed, she had perhaps slowed slightly. He went after her, pushing himself mercilessly, but when he reached the spot where she had been, he found his way barred by a great sliding metal door, firmly chained and padlocked. Fragments of broken glass still tinkled downward from a window fifteen feet up the adjoining wall, but there was no way he could follow. He looked around, desperate for some means of entry. A crowbar leaned against the wall, probably used for opening crates; he caught it up and thrust it through the chain, snapping the links with a titanic wrenching heave, and threw all his weight against the door to slide it open.
A work yard stretched out before him, illumined by poled lamps and crowded with broken crates and parked forklifts. And as he stepped inside, he saw Loryn and the other vampire — without a doubt the one that had killed her — frozen in stark confrontation. Then the tableau broke, and before he could move or even begin to think, Loryn launched herself at the other with a wordless howl of rage.
Vampires were traditionally supposed to be thin, almost emaciated, with demonic strength hidden by an anemic appearance. It was so with Loryn, for she had been slender even before her transformation; but her opponent was built like a heavyweight wrestler, with a barrel chest and thickset arms. Loryn's assault on him was as mismatched as a wolverine attacking a grizzly bear, speed and hate and ferocity pitted against mass and brute power. For terrible seconds they struggled, striking and tearing at each other like maddened leopards … and then Loryn went down with a cry of feral despair, and the other bent over her, clawlike fingers reaching for the vulnerable throat.
At the last second he seemed to check, as if sensing danger, but it was too late. Jack had been moving even as Loryn fell, and now he struck from behind, bringing the crowbar down on the vampire's skull with berserk fury. The thing reeled, clutching blindly at him, and Jack hit it again, again, four times, five, six, swinging with every ounce of his strength, muscles tempered by years of stubborn exercise and driven by all the power of horror and loathing and fear. With maniacal blows he beat the other to the pavement, never letting up, never allowing an instant for recovery … and then Loryn was on her feet, an empty crate rending and splintering in her hands, and with a movement of inhuman swiftness she stabbed a spearlike shard of wood completely through the thing on the pavement. The body arched in voiceless agony, and then shuddered into noxious ash.
The crowbar clanged to the ground, and Jack fell to his knees, whimpering with exhaustion and terror now past. He had forced himself beyond every imaginable limit, and with the immediate need gone there was no strength left to sustain him. A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see Loryn take an unsteady step backward and then crumple to the pavement.
He crawled to her, breathing in harsh jerks of breath, and laboriously lifted her to a sitting position, cradling her head against his chest. Beneath his hands he felt her skin warm with the slow pulse of life, and he held her tight, closing his eyes and sobbing with relief.
It had worked. It had worked. Some legends said that a person carrying the seed of vampirism, but not yet dead, could be saved by the destruction of the vampire who had infected him, but Jack had been unsure if this would hold true for Loryn's near-vampiric state. So he had taken a desperate chance, praying for success … and now she was alive again, her body delivered from the taint that had possessed it, the invader forever gone.
She lolled in his arms, barely breathing, and concern stirred hazily inside him. Even though she was free now, she was still weak, deathly weak. "Loryn," he whispered. He shook her gently, pressing his lips to her forehead. "Loryn, listen to me." Her lashes fluttered, and she looked up at him with glazed eyes. "That's right. It's over, Loryn; it's over now, and we have to go home."
Somehow he helped her to her feet, both of them moving like sleepwalkers, and together they started for the loading gate. "It'll be okay in the morning," he told her fuzzily. "If we can just make it until morning, we'll be all right."
But even as he said it he knew that, for them, the shadow of night had already ended.