Monday, January 1st
It was afternoon when Patrick woke up. The apartment was dim, but sunlight seeped around the edges of the blinds and made patterns on the wall. He squinted at the lines and counted the heartbeats pounding through his skull. His ribs hurt, and he could feel that his nose was swollen.
“Hey, you awake?”
He rolled over with a groan to see Anthony flopped on the couch, an icepack on his head and a glass in his hand.
“You look like shit, Pat.”
Patrick’s grin was more of a sneer; it hurt too much for a full smile. “So do you.”
“I’m not the one who got used as a punching bag last night. You better lay low for a while, man, give them some time to cool down, you know?”
Patrick closed his eyes and pressed the memories of the party away. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all. “I don’t need them,” he announced. “It’s a new year. Out with the old, in with the new, and all that bullshit. Mom always said the whole bunch of ‘em were trouble.”
Anthony snickered. “Yeah, she said that about me, too.”
Patrick smiled wider. “Maybe she was right.”
Anthony dropped Patrick off at his mother’s. Five o’clock shadows stretched across the tiny yard. A fresh layer of snow hid the grass, as if to whitewash all the sins of the last year. But it didn’t improved the shabby trailer. Paint peeled around the windows and the roof sagged. An array of old junk littered the back porch, covered in tarps; the remnants of a thousand things he and Michael were going to get to “someday”.
The back door was unlocked, so Patrick let himself in. “Hello?” he called as he clumped up the narrow hallway.
“Pat?” came his mother’s reply. He found her in the front room, feet propped on the coffee table, a hangover in her eyes. “I’ve been calling you all day.”
“Sorry, phone’s dead.” He dropped on the couch and focused on the TV.
“Why didn’t you charge it? Or did you even go home last night? I suppose it’s too much to ask that you hooked up with a decent girl?” She caught his chin and gave him a hard look. “What happened to your face?”
He pulled away and took a swig from her beer. “We went to a party at Mark and Hailey’s.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, Pat. Not Hailey again? That girl’s bad news. I don’t know why you can’t move on.”
“I have.” He gulped the last of the beer and crushed the can. “She’s with Mark, and she’s not my problem. I’m stupid, Mom, but I’m not that stupid.”
She sighed and put her arm around him. “You’re not stupid. You’re… you’re a sucker and she’s a bitch who takes advantage of it.” She mussed his hair and took her arm back. “Have you eaten yet?”
They watched TV over plates of spaghetti and shared halfhearted comments about the show, the people, the commercials. The hours slipped away, and finally his mother asked, “Are you working this week?”
“I’ve got three days in a row; tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday. I don’t know about Friday.” He eyed her cautiously. “Why?”
“I just like to know what you’re doing. I am your mother. Maybe I haven’t always been the best mother, but I did what I could and I’ve always loved you.”
Patrick groaned silently at the familiar speech. He could quote it, word for word, so he tuned it out in favor of a commercial for weight loss.
“—after your father left, I had to do it all on my own. Someday you’re going to understand how hard that was.” She paused for a breath and Patrick prayed something would shut her up.
Her tinkly ringtone did the trick.
She fished the phone out of her pocket, frowned at the ID, and flashed it at Patrick. “Do you recognize this number?”
“Me either, and I’m not answering it.” With the tap of a button the cell went silent. She tossed it to the coffee table and settled back. “What was I saying?”
With a straight face and no guilt, Patrick said, “I don’t remember.”
“Must not have been important.” She turned back to the TV, but she looked unsettled, and her silence didn’t last. “You don’t suppose that was one of Michael’s friends?”
Patrick bit back an impatient sigh. “He’ll show up when he feels like it.”
“If he can. God, Pat, he might be dead.”
And he probably is. But he couldn’t say that. “He’s not dead. He’s probably with a girl. He’ll be back when he needs money.”
The phone rang again and they stared at it until the tones died away. His mother started again, and Patrick decided he’d had enough. He already felt guilty, he didn’t need this.
When he got a chance, he climbed to his feet and grabbed his jacket. “It’s getting late and I have to work tomorrow. I’ll see you later.”
He was to the door before she called, “Don’t you need a ride?”
His fingers brushed the cold doorknob and he groaned inwardly. “Nah, I’ll walk. It’s not that far.” Before she could object, he added, “See ya!” and dashed out the door.
Orange tinted streetlights stabbed bright holes in the darkness and threw shadows over the streets. Cars crowded against the curb and houses hunkered in the snow, their windows dark. As Patrick walked, he turned the party over in his mind. He could see Hailey clear as day; picture her tears and taste her kiss.
Then hear her silence.
Why didn’t she tell her jackass brother that I didn’t do anything? She stood there and let him hit me.
His mother’s words came back to him, “That girl’s bad news. I don’t know why you can’t move on.”
But the darkness didn’t believe the lie any more than he did.
Patrick’s building was made of old brick with a rusted fire escape on one side. The windows of his apartment stared down at him, two yellow squares to welcome him home. He’d left the light on again.
He pushed through the lobby door and paused at the wall of mailboxes. They’d been painted so many times that the corners were rounded and the lids stuck. He gave an extra hard yank on his, but it was empty. No news is good news, as his mom always said. It meant no bills.
That’s because it’s New Year’s Day. Duh.
He leaped and spun around. Leaning through the half open lobby door was his brother Michael, looking just as he remembered.
“Mikey?” It couldn’t be. Michael was dead, body stuffed in his own trunk—or in Mexico. Right. Mexico.
Whether re-animated or back from the south, Mikey looked relieved. “Pat! Thank God I found you! Mom said—”
Patrick choked. “Mom? What the hell? When did you talk to her? Where the hell have you been?”
Michael held up his hands, cautioning Patrick to silence, then stepped inside. Patrick recoiled; not just physically, something inside him drew away —or wanted to draw away. He couldn’t describe the feeling or explain it, but something was wrong with Michael —very, very wrong—and he didn’t want to be trapped in the enclosed space with him.
Michael was impervious to his feelings. “I talked to Mom on the phone a little bit ago. She said you got your own place?” He blinked, as if seeing him for the first time. “What happened to you? Did you get beat up?”
Patrick’s hands went for his pockets and found his dead cell phone and his cigarettes. “Sort of.” His eyes darted around the room, seeking an escape, and landed on the handwritten “No Smoking in Lobby” sign. He jerked his head toward it. “Um, hey, you mind if we go outside? I need a smoke.”
“Oh, sure.” Michael stepped back out, and Patrick suppressed a crazy desire to run for his apartment and lock the door.
What the fuck is my problem? I should be happy to see him.
Being outside only made Patrick feel marginally better. He tugged out a cigarette, lit it, then stared hard at his brother. “Where the hell have you been? And why did you steal Mom’s gun? She’s been driving me fucking nuts. We thought you were dead.”
Michael looked around, as if checking for observers, then leaned close and whispered urgently, “It’s worse than that. Pat…I’m a vampire.”
Patrick choked on the smoke and stepped away. “What did you say?”
Michael’s voice grew louder and edgier, “I said, I’m a vampire!”
Patrick stared at his brother. He looked from his wild eyes to the pointed teeth peeking out of his open mouth, and rejected the image. This cannot be happening. “Mikey, I don’t know what you’re up to, but if this is some kind of joke…?”
“Dammit, Pat! Why don’t you believe me? Look at this!” He opened his mouth wide and gestured to his long pointed teeth.
Patrick blinked at the irregular canines and suppressed an unreasonable shiver. He’s wearing costume teeth. Does he really think I’m going to fall for this? But the feeling was still there; the nagging desire to run like hell. Though he refused to give in, maybe his instincts were on to something.
He drew another puff from his cigarette and dropped it to the snow. “Mikey, I don’t have time for this. I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve done to yourself, but there’s no such thing as vampires.”
“What the fuck? That’s it? I’ve spent the last month trying to get away so I could find you, and that’s all you’ve got?”
Patrick edged toward the lobby door. “I don’t know what you want from me.”
“How about some help. You’re my goddamn brother!”
Help. Help with what? Still, the responsibility hit home and Patrick’s shoulders sagged a little. “Look, if you need a place to crash, you can sleep on my couch for a few days, but I don’t want tangled up in your shit.”
Michael exploded, “I don’t need a place! I have to sleep with Claudius and the others. What I need is free of them.”
Patrick took another step backwards. Dilated pupils, agitated delusions; it was obvious Michael was tweaking on something, and this so-called Claudius had probably given it to him. “Mikey, if you’re involved in some kind of gang—”
Michael roared and tackled his brother to the ground. Patrick threw up a protective arm and Michael ripped into it with his teeth, tearing through the leather jacket and into the flesh underneath. Burning pain shot through Patrick, and he screamed, his only thought escape. He kicked, and bashed Michael in the head with his free hand. His brother held on, like a bulldog with a steak, while Patrick hit him again and again.
Finally, Michael let go and sat on his haunches, snarling, his lips pulled back from his long bloody teeth. His eyes burned with rage and something else; something Patrick didn’t understand and didn’t want to.
He used his good arm to scramble backwards, like a crab. When he was clear of Michael, he pulled himself to his feet and stammered, “What—what the hell?”
Michael stood slowly, licking his lips. He took a cautious step forward and Patrick jumped back. “Stay away from me!”
The fire in Michael’s eyes was replaced with penance. “Pat, I’m sorry—”
“No! I don’t wanna hear it! Just get the fuck outta here!” Michael didn’t move, so he shouted, “I said go!” and lunged at him. With a yelp, Michael took off, moving way too fast.
Patrick staggered backwards and slouched against the building. He wiped his damp brow with a trembling hand.
Mikey is fucked up.
Patrick stumbled up the stairs and stopped in front of his apartment door. He fished through his pockets but his keys were missing. I probably lost them outside when Mikey—
He broke the thought off and imagined going down to get them. Michael would be there and he’d —he’d what? Attack him again? Bite him? Drink his goddamn blood like he really was a vampire?
Patrick used an old plastic gift card to jimmy the door. Before he opened it, he glanced over his shoulder, afraid he’d see Michael peering at him from the end of the hallway, but he wasn’t there.
Unless he’s hanging from the goddamn ceiling.
Ridiculously, he glanced up. The ceiling was clear, so he shoved his way inside and slammed the door. He clicked the lock, and wished for a deadbolt.
I need to calm down.
He peeled off his jacket and threw it on the couch. The sight of his bloody arm did little to soothe him, so he headed to the bathroom and cleaned it. It looked worse with the blood gone. The skin and meat were torn, like an animal bite.
An animal. Yeah, that was what Michael was like. He sure as fuck hadn’t seemed human. But drugs could do that. They could turn you into something unrecognizable.
But they don’t do that to your teeth. Costume teeth don’t fucking rip someone’s arm like this.
Patrick closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the cold mirror. He didn’t know what Michael was, or what he was mixed up in, but he knew one thing: he needed something strong to drink. About fifty gallons of it.
Good thing I have a stash.