Always Our Protector



"We need someone. A protector." Eli stood and reached for Oskar's hand. The train had been warm, but the hotel was cold. She didn't feel it. Even for appearances sake, she sometimes forgot to wear a coat.

Oskar felt the cold, but he ignored it. Mostly he was used to it. He licked his lips. They were chapped. "I don't want anyone with us."

"I know. It's necessary. I can't sign anything or conduct any business. You're too young, and I look too young."

"Do we have any more money after the train?"

Eli nodded. "I paid the clerk for the room, didn't I? I told him Mother was ill in the restroom. I always get by. You'll see."

Oskar pinched his lower lip between his fingers and worried it. "So where do we look for a place to live?"

Eli shrugged. "Anywhere. I have to hunt, but there's lots of people here to pick from." She frowned. "Håkan tried for me, but he wasn't good at it. I'll have to be careful."

"We don't need anyone else. I'll be your protector."

Eli smiled slightly, her eyes dark and knowing and warm.

Oskar flushed, his shoulders drawn up tight. "I can."

"I'm not laughing at you. It's nice." Eli squeezed his hand. "We have a little time."

Over the next week, Eli and Oskar tried twice to pay for an apartment. Even with cash they were refused. Eli said they'd have to go for something seedier where they'd take the cash with no questions.

A man disappeared that same week less than a mile from the hotel. He left a pub sometime in the dark of early morning and never made it home. Oskar wondered, but said nothing. Mostly because he already knew.

Ten days after they'd first checked in, Eli brought someone to the room. He was big and burly and in his fifties, iron in his blond hair, wearing a sweater that made him look broader than he was. He and Eli sat on the bed together.

Oskar came in just as the man put a hand to Eli's cheek, touching her as if she were something delicate. Oskar walked over to stand beside them, his pale skin hectic, pulse hammering in his ears.

Eli heard his beating heart. Her eyes widened. She reached for Oskar and touched his arm. "Oskar, this is Alrik."

Alrik smiled, looking a little anxious. It looked odd on his weathered face. "Oskar, hello."

Oskar didn't hear. The blood in his ears was very loud. He turned and picked up the bedside lamp and smashed it into Alrik's face. Blood poured from his nose. Alrik cried out and grabbed at Oskar.

Eli leapt onto Alrik, shoving him down on the bed. She grabbed a pillow and straddled him, pushing down hard over his face. Alrik thrashed, his voice muffled and deep through the pillow. Oskar beat his body with the lamp.

When Alrik was limp but still alive, Eli fed from him. Oskar watched as Alrik died.

Finally Eli looked up, blood slicking her chin. A strand of her hair stuck to it. "Do you want to pick our protector, then?"

"I'm your protector. And you're mine."

Eli nodded. She stood slowly and went to the bathroom. Oskar heard water running. He sat on the bed by Alrik's cooling body, waiting.

When Eli finished washing, she came and sat beside Oskar. She pushed his blond hair off his forehead.

He leaned close, his body relaxing against hers.

"Don't worry. We'll always get by," Eli whispered in his ear, then kissed him. Her fingers tapped out "love" on the bloody lamp between them, and Oskar smiled against her mouth.