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«Blood Memories», Barb Hendee

For J. C. and Elaine, who never quite got the hang of people, but always save lost kittens from the rain.

Chapter 1

I was with Edward the day he killed himself.

It happens to us sometimes, especially the old, the ones who've lost the joy of then and can't quite grasp the now. I don't know why. But I'd never seen it until that morning Edward jumped off his own front porch and exploded in the sun like a gas fire.

We'd been friends for a long time. I know everyone else thought we were mad for living in the same city. But he stayed out of my hunting territory, and I stayed out of his. Besides, sometimes it was nice to talk to someone without lying.

I was on my way out at about two o'clock that morning when the phone rang.

"Hello."

"Eleisha, it's me. I wanted to tell you good-bye."

He'd never called me before, but Edward's accent combined traces of a British accent with a New York pace. I'd have known it anywhere.

"What do you mean, good-bye?"

"This house is bright and loud," he whispered. "I don't think I can live here anymore."

That didn't make sense. He'd been in the same house since 1937.

"Did you buy a new place? Do you need me to help you move?"

"No. That wouldn't help. One place is the same as another. I don't belong now, Eleisha. A new house would be worse."

Something in his calm whisper frightened me, like tiny invisible fingers digging under my skin.

"Edward, stay there. I'm coming over."

"Do you think that will help? I don't think so."

"Just stay there."

Money isn't really a problem for me, so neither are traffic tickets… although attracting police under any condition is a bad idea. But not caring who pulled me over, I hit ninety on the freeway that night driving to Edward's. I just couldn't see him freaking out. He wasn't the type. We'd both been warned about time adjustments, but he did all the right things: read contemporary magazines, updated his wardrobe, and saved a collection of personal items from the past to keep his history intact.

Everything.

I tended to interact a lot more with the general populace than he did. He might have been a bit of a recluse, but not to the point of being unusual. He even took occasional trips back to Manhattan or London just to unwind.

When I pulled up to the house, the music of his Tchaikovsky album was pouring out the windows at max volume, loud enough to wake the neighbors. Thinking about his albums made me remember I'd been buying him CDs for the past five years and he never played them.

"Turn it down," I said, slipping through his front door, "before some pissed-off housewife calls the cops."

"Eleisha," he said, smiling. "What are you doing here?"

I almost backed up when he stepped onto the soft carpet of the front hallway. Dressed in an old pair of sweatpants-and nothing else-he looked half starved, with blue-black circles under both eyes.

"Edward, what are…? What's wrong with you?"

"Wrong? Nothing. I've been cooking. Do you remember cooking? I went shopping last night and found a leg of mutton in the meat department at Safeway. Can you believe it? In this cultural wasteland? A leg of mutton?"

I felt cold. "Jesus, have you been trying to eat?"

"Cooking. Cooking is a lost art."

He looked about thirty-three, with mink-brown hair and dark green, bloodshot eyes. I'd never seen the whites of his eyes completely clear. He loved simple pleasures and elitist luxuries like imported tobacco and suits from Savile Row. People were attracted to him because he played the perfect, sweet, vogue, vague snob. He was the sanest vampire I'd ever known.

"What did you eat?" No wonder he was sick.

"Come and see."

"Turn the stereo down first."

The smell from the kitchen nauseated me. Looking through the bar-styled doors, I saw what he'd been doing, and I'd never felt so lost.

A dead Doberman lay on the table, dried blood crusted on its black and brown muzzle. Three decomposing cats had been thrown into a heap of rotting vegetables on the counter. He'd also been shopping. There were brown Safeway bags strewn all over the floor. I couldn't take it all in at once: cartons of spoiled milk, broken lightbulbs, whole fryer chickens, mashed potatoes, and dirty dishes. Streaks of dried blood smeared the walls.

He pushed past me and picked up a grocery bag.

"Paper or plastic?" He smiled.

I grabbed it out of his hand. "We've got to clean this up. What if somebody comes in here when you're asleep? Are you listening to me? What do you think will happen if someone sees this? They'll think you've lost it."


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