Paradigms Lost – Chapter 06

Chapter 6: Fright and Flight

I ejected the magazine from the .45, checked it, returned it to the gun.

“Believe me, Mr. Wood. I have no reason to tamper with your weapon. Your captors were instructed to bring any weapons they might find; not to interfere with them.”

I clicked the safety off. “It isn’t that; it’s just always wise to recheck your weapon before you might need it.”

“Indeed.” Verne Domingo touched my arm suddenly, and pointed.

From our concealment to one side of Tamara’s Tanning, I saw the tall, angular figure of Elias Klein emerge from the Silver Stake. There was no mistaking the long black hair of the person with him. “Sylvie! He’s got her!”

Domingo’s hand almost crushed my bicep. “Wait! Can you not see that she is leading him? Obviously he has not yet revealed himself to her; she is probably trying to aid him. When they enter your office, then will be your time.”

“My time? What about you?”

For a moment I thought I saw conflict on his face, a shadow of a feeling of responsibility. But then his face hardened. “I have done all I intend to. If you fail, then I may have to act more directly. I prefer, however, to let you finish the job at hand.”

I glared at him, but he simply gazed back with expressionless eyes. “Are you sure he can’t sense me?”

“Quite. Any vampire can cloak a limited number of mortals from the senses of other vampires; undoubtedly our friend Klein used that to conceal whatever partners he worked with. Mr. Klein will not notice you until he actually sees you. At that point, my protection will be gone.” He glanced outward. “They have entered. Good luck, Jason Wood.”

I gave his hand a quick shake. “I wouldn’t say it’s been fun… but it has been interesting.”

Carefully, I started for my front door. I slipped inside and walked with great care along one side of the hallway. As I approached my office, I heard Klein’s voice.

“Where else? Think, Sylvie! That negative may be the only thing keeping Jason alive now!”

Sylvie’s voice trembled faintly. “I don’t know, Elias — wait. He kept really important data in a safe, over there behind the wall panels.”

Footsteps as they went from the upstairs towards my workstation; then a rattle as the panel was pushed open. I peeked around the corner from the den.

Sylvie was standing behind Elias, who was bent down over the small safe. “Sylvie, do you know the combination?”

“I don’t know if I should tell you that.”

He turned towards her; I ducked back just in time. “Sylvie, please! Domingo knows that negative is the only hard evidence we have! Without it we don’t have a thing to bargain with.”

She sighed. “All right. It’s 31-41-59-26.”

He snickered a bit. “Of course. Pi.” I heard him turn back to the safe.

My only chance. As quietly as I could, I stepped through the door and snaked an arm around Sylvie, clapping my hand over her mouth and nose so she couldn’t make a sound. Then, as Elias was swinging the safe door open, I yanked Sylvie’s head towards me enough so she could see me. Her eyes widened, then narrowed when I put a finger to my lips. I could see her glance towards Klein as I let go. One nod told me she’d figured out the situation. She slowly started back out the door.

“Sylvie, it’s not there! Where else — you?!” As Elias turned, he caught sight of me. I’d never seen someone’s jaw literally drop before. He stood there for several seconds, just staring.

“Hello, Elias.” I raised the gun.

“Wood? Wood, what the hell are you doing? How did you get away from Domingo? We were worried to death about you!” He started forward.

I gestured with the gun; he stopped. “No, I don’t think you were worried at all, Elias. You were sure that after I called Domingo he’d cancel my ticket for you. Save you the trouble.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t try it, Elias; I can see you thinking about moving. It must’ve been a shock to you when you came in and saw all those vampire books on my desk. You knew right then that I was closing in on you. You saw one chance to send me off on a one-way chase after the wrong guy; that negative. All you had to do was call my attention to it; you could rely on me to imagine the rest.”

I shook my head. “Even then, you almost blew it entirely by pointing out that SLR — Single Lens Reflex — cameras show exactly what’s in the picture. You see, SLRs use mirrors to send that image to the viewfinder. I knew that, but with everything else I didn’t think of it at the time. Anyone taking snapshots of a vampire through an SLR would’ve known something was funny… if, of course, he wasn’t a vampire himself.

“I don’t know if you even realized you’d made a mistake there, but whether you did or didn’t the whole thing was fantastic control on your part; you must’ve noticed the books as soon as you came in, and you never gave a sign. And your shock at seeing them — only after you’d made sure I knew the significance of the photo — oh, that was perfect. But Domingo wasn’t quite the ruthless guy you thought he was.” I clicked the safety twice, so he knew it was ready to fire. “There’s only one thing that puzzles me, Elias.”

He dropped the pretense. “What, Jason?”

“Well, two, really. How’d it happen?”

Klein shrugged. “I don’t really know, to tell the truth. I was on a job a while back, got jumped, put into the hospital, remember?”

Now that he mentioned it, I did. About half a year ago; he’d been taken out of a regular hospital to some rehab facility.

“Yeah,” he said, still watching my hand with the gun. “So I actually don’t remember much after the accident for a while. And when I came back, I knew what I was, and that there was another one here. One that I couldn’t afford to have around. But if I took the right course, I could get rid of Domingo and clean up the streets. Get the drug traffic shut down, and at the same time make sure Morgantown’s undesirable population went… down.”

Undesirable population? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Klein hadn’t ever talked that way before. “What the hell, Elias? Why?”

He sneered. “It just seemed a lot clearer. People like Lewis, and that Corrigan woman — wastes of space. And since I needed something to eat…”

“But you didn’t… I mean, does it have to be human blood? And do you have to kill?”

His hands twitched aimlessly. “Human blood has… more of a kick to it, I guess. And when they die, you get this incredible rush, a feeling of such power …” He’d been looking at his hands. When he raised his face, my guts turned to ice. Deep in his eyes was a hellish red glow. And as he spoke, I saw lengthening fangs. “Besides,” he continued, and now his voice had an edge of hysteria, “besides, they had to die. They saw me, you see. And it wasn’t as if they were anyone important.”

“Not anyone… Elias, they were human beings!”

“You always did take the liberal view, Jason.” His face was distorting, somehow shifting before my eyes. “I really liked you, Jason… But now you have to die too.” He smiled, and there was very little of the old Elias in that deadly smile.

“Don’t, Elias. I don’t want to kill you.”

He started forward slowly. “Let’s not pretend, Jason. You can’t arrest me, and I need blood.”

I backed away, trying to make myself pull the trigger. But, Jesus, Elias was my friend! “Stop, Elias! For God’s sake, you’re… addicted, that’s what you’re talking about! Think about it! A big rush, something you need, something that you’re going after for that rush…”

He laughed. “That’s funny, Jason. Should I go to AA? ‘Hello, my name is Elias, and I’m a vampire?'” He shook his head. “I didn’t want to kill you, but I have no choice. Neither have you. It’s a shame that you can’t do anything about it.” He was barely human now, a Hollywood vampire straight out of Fright Night. “Good-bye, Jason.” He rose straight off the floor, a nightmare of fangs and talons.

My finger spasmed on the trigger.

There was a roar of thunder.

Elias was hit in mid-descent. The force of the round, as it mushroomed within him, hurled him back over my desk. He rose, only a scorched bullet hole in his suit showing he’d been hit.

“So much for silver,” I said as I sprinted out the door. I almost bowled Sylvie over as she came running back. “Go, Syl, Go!” I heard jarring footsteps behind me, whirled and fired the second bullet.

The bullet caught him square in the chest; Elias’ scream shook the windows as white flame exploded from the incendiary bullet.

“Wood! You bastard! That hurt!” As I backpedaled away, I could see the burns healing. “I think I’ll break a few things before I kill you!” He ducked away before I could get another clear bead on him.

“Crap. Anne Rice failed me too. I should have known better than to trust a book with a punk vampire.” I glanced around nervously. If I were a vampire, where would I come from next… ?

I whirled, in time to see Elias coming through the wall like a ghost. I leapt through the doorway to the kitchen, but Elias’ hand caught me just as I reached the side door. “Gotcha!”

I tried to pull away, but I might as well have been pushing on a vault door. He bent his head toward my neck. I screamed.

Then it was Elias who screamed, a yell of utter shock and agony. I fell to the floor and rolled heavily away, looked up.

Sylvie stood there, holding a large ankh before her. “Back, Undead! By the power of Earth and Life, back!”

The incantation sounded silly; Elias obviously saw no humor in it. As he turned away, trying to get around the looped cross, I saw a black imprint on his back where the ankh had hit him. I raised the .45, fired the third bullet.

The heavy shell hit him like a sledgehammer, spinning him completely around, smashing him into the stove. He put a hand to his chest, where a red stain was beginning to spread. His expression was utter disbelief. Then he fell facedown.

“What did you shoot him with?” Syl demanded, face pale.

I looked down at the body. “A wooden bullet. Thank you, Fred Saberhagen.”

“Who’s he?”

“He wrote The Holmes-Dracula File; that’s where I got the idea.” I holstered the gun and started out of the kitchen—I didn’t want to look at the body while I tried to figure out what I was going to say to the cops.

Elias’ hand shot out and grabbed my ankle.

I felt myself lifted like a toy, smashed into Syl, sending her ankh flying. Then there was a crash and I felt slivers of glass cut me as I was hurled out of the window. I remember thinking vaguely that I’d gotten the genre wrong. It wasn’t a mystery novel; it was Friday the 13th, where the psycho never dies.

I landed badly, barely rolling. I heard the gun skid out of the holster. I scrabbled after it; but then a leather-skinned hand closed clawed fingers around it. “You almost had me, Jason,” said the thing that had been Elias Klein. “Too bad you missed the heart. It still might have worked, but you must’ve used an awfully tough wood; most of the bullet went right on through.” He squeezed. The barrel of my gun bent.

I got up and ran.

I didn’t get twenty feet.

Talons ripped my shirt; he pitched me the rest of the way across the street and through a storefront. A shard of glass ripped my arm, and my ankle smashed into the edge of the window. I looked up, seeing Elias approach me, the inverted neon letters above lending a hellish cast to his distorted features.

Neon letters?

I scrambled away from the window, limped towards the back of the store, grabbed the doorknob, ducked inside.

It was a tiny room with no other exit. I was trapped. The door opened. “A dead end. How appropriate.” Elias smiled. No reluctance now, he was happy to kill.

I tried to duck past him; his hands lashed out like whips, lifted me clear of the ground. He turned while holding me. “Trying to get out the door?” He shoved me through the doorway, pulled me back. “It’s over, Wood… and I am hungry.” He bent his head again.

Suddenly the crystal hammer went warm against my chest. Elias cursed and dropped me. “Damn that bitch! She made that, didn’t she?”

I didn’t answer. I hurled myself towards the switch by the door.

Elias caught me with one hand. But I swung my body and kicked the switch up.

The tanning booth blazed to life, uncountable rows of sunlamps flooding the air with concentrated sunshine. Elias shrieked, dropped me, threw his arms across his face. “Shut it off! Oh, God, shut it off!”

I took a limping step back.

“Please, Jason, please!” Elias stumbled blindly towards me.

I swung my right fist as hard as I could.

He was off balance already. He fell backward onto the tanning bed. “Oh God oh God I’m burning alive Jason please!!”

Blisters popped across his flesh. There was a stench like burning meat. I felt my stomach convulse, turned away.

“Oh I’m sorry I’m sorry oh just help me Jason!”

“I’m sorry too, Elias,” I choked out. I put my hands over my ears but I couldn’t drown out the sound of frying fat.

HELP MEEEeeeee …

Slowly I uncovered my ears. Then I opened my eyes and turned around.

On the tanning pallet lay a blackened, scorched mummy, mouth gaping wide, revealing the razor-sharp fangs. One hand was frozen above the clouded eyes, clawing the air in a vain attempt to fend off the radiance, blistered skin drawn tight over the bone. As I watched, the skin began to peel away and turn to oily smoke.

I managed to make it just outside the door before I was violently sick.