3LBE #14
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Demon Seed

by Kevin Oatley

 

Maggie yanked the chain and a hollow face appeared in the mirror. Her eyes brimmed with tears under the safelight as she spilled her photos into the developer sink and wept. She wept and closed her eyes and pretended the swaying beam of the naked orange bulb was soothing. She wept and pretended hypnosis was the bulb’s fluid back-and-forth rhythm. She wept and thought of the drama and beauty that death had once allured, and all the glory of vampire lore, while she knew that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“Maggie?” groaned a voice from the living room.

I want you to bring me back a live one, Maggie-pie.

The dead man’s gristly voice from the bed returned her to reality like a slap in the face. She understood then that there was no soporific for her pain. There was no hideaway. There was no relief in weeping. Don’t try to think there was. She didn’t deserve any. She’d brought this on herself and she would belly this sucker out, just as she had promised Weasel when she had lost the bet, just as she’d always thought herself capable of doing.

She took the photos out of the stop bath and held them to drip, developed just enough to reveal two lovers on her bed. She felt nauseous.

That’s Derek Arvedson, honey, don’t you remember? The one that’s dry and dead on your bed right now?

She opened the toilet lid and vomited. For two straight minutes she filled it, unloading all the blood she had ingested.

Maybe that was good, seeing the slop in the toilet bowl and not in her stomach; maybe that was her body trying to tell her something. Trying to tell her to get as much of that diseased fluid out of her body as quickly as she could.

She had gotten a bad taste from him, hadn’t she? Like a…

“Maggie?” groaned the voice again.

Like a…

Don’t think it.

A…

Don’t fucking think it.

She moaned and cursed herself for being so stupid. First she had gone over top and fed on the guy despite all the risks, and then she had forgotten to twist the wood into his belly and finish the kill.

Oh forgotten, Maggie? Please. Don’t kid yourself. You didn’t forget, you chickened out. You left your balls at the door when you brought him in and he told you how nice your hair looked. You left your conviction when you fucked him, when you felt that something with Derek, that pull. But that wasn’t the right word for it. It was more like she had felt something give, as if a weight had just fallen out of her belly when she had come. Derek had been different than other men. Not good — she wasn’t going to kid herself that she had picked someone hot for a change — but necessary, as if Derek had needed a hole to fill.

But the fear crawled back into her belly as she remembered Weasel’s instructions that night, his words distant in her ear as she’d sprawled drained and empty on the bloody mattress behind the billiards.

“You kill anyone you like Maggie-pie, but you kill them the bad way, and they become something like you. Then, my gal, you’ve just disobeyed my first order.”

“What happens then?”

“Then? I get mad. I get pissed. But that, Maggie, won’t matter. What’ll matter is the boyo you just fucked the bad way, cause then you got yourself a Demon Seed.”

“What does that mean?” All she could think about in her daze was her shitty hand of clubs, how black they looked.

“It means there ain’t nothing I can do for you then.”

She yanked on the safelight chain again and strode across the room to her camera. She bent down and unhooked it, doubled checked to see if the tape had recorded. She only had time to rewind through a couple of minutes of her ride on Derek, so fast they looked like a couple of insects, but she decided it was enough. She would just have to trust the tape had recorded the first hour. She was already late as it was. In an hour, Derek’s murder would already be in Weasel’s porno studio on Churchill Street, being mass processed and copied for the black market, and soon after that, would be shown on a live feed across seventeen closed-circuit television stations and internet sites across the country. Sickness to the masses.

She turned to the wriggling mess on the carpet, nearly vomiting at the sight of minced up freeze-dried body. She had messed up. She had messed up big time.

“What have you done to me?” Derek Arvedson cried. He suddenly reminded her of her grandfather, all gums and no teeth, tears coursing down his cheeks and snot running like raw egg out his face.

“What you deserved, you monster. Poetic justice, and all that.”

That was right, you tell him, Maggie. He wanted to get drained, didn’t he? He wanted to let loose. He wanted to you to run him dry, he was so horny. Jesus, and did he ever. The kid on the carpet was as parched as the Nevada Badlands.

He let out another gut-wrenching groan from the TV room before smashing the television screen with the remote. Her lower neighbours probably heard that one downstairs. But did she care? No way. One was a war veteran who’d only think it was Nam memories on the rise again, and the other was a twenty year-old pot grower from Milwaukee who’d probably just be glad she was on the other end of the wire for a change.

Okay, so fuck them, but she still had her decency, hadn’t she?

Decency? What a laugh. If she hadn’t lost her decency with that sixteen grand on the five spades, then she’d lost it with those four litres of mortal blood Weasel had pulled from her like whiskey. “Sixteen grand for a bathtub of blood, Maggie. That sound like a good trade-off to you?”

So what, you want to ditch this? You think you can take Weasel and his bloodhound gang?

It had occurred to her — had even kept her awake in her coffin more times than one — but it was too risky. Ever since she became black-market ’Maggie-pie’, that sleazebag had been sending five-millilitre vials of her own blood to Maggie’s P.O. box for every successful job. They were pittances, of course, and at that rate it would take her another hundred black market jobs to get her life back. But even if it did take five years of mutilation and rape tapes to Berkowitz fanatics — she’d get her mortality back, ounce by shitty ounce. And she believed Weasel would return it, too. He was slime and sleaze, not to mention one hell of a card player, but he knew if she was going to give him top-notch services, he’d have to hold the carrot-stick. If he was going to milk her to the very last drop, so be it.

She unsnapped the lid of her Canon camcorder and popped out the tape. She wrote down on the strip of white label paper the title of their little soiree that evening. Article 78: “The Lawyer Gets Drained.” Cute. Real cute.

Sirens wailed in the distance. She estimated them at St. Joseph Boulevard, going east towards her apartment. Alta Vista was over six miles away, but the ambulances still pounded her eardrums like nookular fucking missiles. She gave herself that, at least. When she wanted to, her ears could hear a mouse squeak in any dumpster in the city.

She pulled him by the cock across the floor to the kitchen, snapping the Canon as she went. A little too hard, though, and sent the camera to the floor with a jarring thud. She heard Weasel’s voice.

I want The Sloppy, you hear me?

And you got The Sloppy, Weasel. Not only did she spray Derek’s sour-milk blood across the room, she had over-sucked and sent tissue out in the same stream. She had the bits of his stinking flesh in her teeth to prove it. You want The Sloppy, Weasel, you got it. Perhaps the sloppiest you’ve ever seen.

But as Maggie put the tape in an envelope and started switching off the umbrella lights, she bit back the resentment. If they wanted their gritty, they could bloody well taste the nitty: they could bloody well taste his ass blood. The cleanup, however, would be even sloppier.

The sirens were drawing closer. She stopped pulling and listened. They were on the Expressway now, heading downtown.

“Want to go for a ride, Derek?”

His response was a violent cough-up of red slop.

“I thought so.”

She left her apartment a slaughterhouse, but decided it could wait to be cleaned. Priorities first, she always said. Weasel had been expecting her over two hours ago, and she needed to move, fast. Normally, she would say screw him, let the bastard sit and wait, but after the poker on Friday she just didn’t have the balls.

She decided to skip the stairs and glide down, careful to not lift her feet too far above the steps in case someone saw her. She hit her remote ignition and heard the rumble of her Explorer outside the parking lot door.

“You know why they call me Weasel?” he had asked her that night. “Cause I get the leftovers, dove. And you, girlie, are looking like dog-scraps right now.”

She hadn’t had the balls to get back to the table after her mother had died a year ago, but she had found herself in the basement of Weasel’s all the same, pulling on a Players and rolling the serrated chips across her fingers. Age-old habits she had locked away for a rainy day, it seemed. It turned out that rainy day was really a subzero night in downtown Hull, and it turned out those age-old habits were really age-old debts.

He had grabbed her arm before she could rise from the table to go to the washroom to pass the dizziness, and he had told her, through that black, Mckelvie’s Rye breath of his, a stern warning. “Babe, I suggest you quit thinking that we ever going to see those debts in bills.” She had tried to fight back the tears, and when she couldn’t and she saw that every gambler on the table saw them too, they had fed on themselves, just like tears tend to do. She had pleaded with him and told him he would see it. He would see it in bills, god rest her soul. But he waved her off like she was a bad whiff of something annoying, and for the first time that night she had seen a bulge beneath his jowls she didn’t like much at all. “Maybe I don’t want it in bills, anyway, honey.”

She slammed down the trunk and looked at the long strip of sodium-lit boulevard that passed in front of her building, her breath steaming in the fluorescent glare of the parking lot lamps.

“You won’t put me in the trunk.”

“Why not?”

“Because you want me clean for your pimp.”

Lucky guess, she concluded. She opened up the back door and dragged him in.

“You know what your problem is?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m lactose intolerant.”

“No. You got to stop thinking too much.”

“I’ll do whatever I want, asshole.”

“Fine, but it hurts my head, listening to you think.”

She slammed the door and got in the driver’s seat. She had thought after Weasel had told her he didn’t want to be repaid in bills that Maggie was home free. Weasel was a pimper, she had concluded, nothing more than another horny bastard she could tame with the right hip muscles. She had visibly loosened and actually thought things would be okay. But then those jowl bulges had opened, and those pair of gleaming points as sharp as pins in Weasel’s mouth had said otherwise. Then she’d known she was fucked. Royally, sideways, every damn angle she could think of.

You’re a black-market girl now, Maggie-pie.

The ambulances passed her at a good clip heading towards the East Arms. When she saw them go by, she felt a terrible sadness, a feeling of loss. They represented a human world, a world where faith was put into security and where love could be found in it. And Maggie wasn’t part of it anymore. Nothing applied to her any longer. She was alone. The only thing she had now was the night, and the gaping hole that was her debt. She had lost so much more than her blood that night, lost even more than her mortality.

She watched the needle creep up to 55 and held it there. It was crazy, in a way. If she were alive right now, if she were Maggie Anderson, the right-wing hometown girl from Hamilton, she would see that needle at thirty clips higher. But it stayed at 55 because, even though she was undead, her mortal life was still out there in that kingpin’s belly, where it would stay there if she ever did lose control. There was no ambulance to save her at the end of the road if she didn’t pay up. There was no one there to throw over the shroud and tell her lovers they were sorry for her loss. Maggie was alone now, and in every respect of the word.

A thump awoke her from her hypnotic gaze at the yellow paint rolling past the car. She looked in the rearview mirror.

“You okay back there, D? If anything happened to you, you know I’d never forgive myself.”

“You bitch,” he said, raising his head.

Ah, she thought, observing the first unmistakable protrusions of canines in his lip. “I see he’s got the fangs now.”

“Disease,” he spat. “You put a fucking disease in me.”

“I just put you on TV, Derek, the road to fame and fortune. Is that any way to talk your agent?”

She watched him snap a Players out of his breast pocket and light up.

“Don’t smoke in my car.”

“Fuck you.”

She tapped the break and his face hit the seat with a thump. She thought she heard a snap in there as well. That was understandable, considering he had been dead four hours and without blood for six. Two hours after a drain would leave bones like match sticks, let alone eight. She could remember her first time that gambling night after Weasel fed on her. Everybody experienced the change differently; some spent weeks vomiting out their useless insides piece by bloody piece, others hid in dumpsters and let the maggots do the work for them. Either way, they always shed their skin in the end.

“I tell you what to do. Remember, padre?”

He put the rest of his pack in his pocket and shut up, a bitter pout on his face.

She laid out the best route to go. Weasel’s warehouses were east of the city on the north shore of the Ottawa River, about ten minutes from Rockcliffe Park and about twenty from Hull. She would take the Aviation Parkway and run down from there.

Or U-turn right here and the get the hell out of the city. For good.

Ah, yes. The familiar cowardice creeping in again. There was always a place for it, even when things were going right.

Going right? That was a joke. She had sixteen thousand dollars of gambling debt trailing between her legs, was driving 2 hours behind schedule to Weasel’s, and she had crippled Weasel’s boy-toy. Hell, the Derek kid was so messed up, Weasel would have to create a bondage theme to make any sense out of his film.

He’s also dead, honey, did you forget that part too?

What you need is to pray Weasel’s going to forget that part, or else you can kiss those debts good-bye.

“What if I mess up?” she’d asked him that night.

He’d shrugged. “Then can forget getting your blood back.”

What she really needed was a coffin to lie down and rest her dead flesh.

“I’ve read Anne Rice, bitch. Don’t think I haven’t got a clue what’s going on.”

Maggie let out a sharp laugh. She couldn’t help it. She had forgotten that there was mortal world out there with little mortal observers trying to make sense of Maggie’s kind. She had forgotten vampires had let themselves out of the bag a few times, and the pitiful minions had actually snuck a peek. It was a yarn, the kind of stuff some authors and filmmakers punched out in the millions to get their billions.

“You’re a regular fucking expert, then.”

She pulled of St. Joseph and merged onto the parkway. There was little traffic on the road this late at night. Come to think of it, there was little traffic on the roads at all in recent weeks, and she’d be lying if she thought she wasn’t partly responsible for some of that.

“Okay, forget Rice. I still read the papers.” He scrambled up from the seat and whispered into her ear. “Forget the papers, I got a kid on the force, and he tells me what the papers don’t dare.”

“Then I guess you know why lights go out before midnight around here, huh?”

“Sickos.” She smelled whiffed that urine breath again, same smell from when they were on the bed, and she nearly lost control of the car it was so powerful. Garlic would be a favor to this guy.

He reached across her armrest and flicked on the radio. She grabbed his arm and snapped between the two seats leaving a wet snapping sound in her ear and a chalky stain on the seat’s fabric.

He cursed loudly and sat back on the seat, massaging his arm.

“Get up, you baby. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Just turn to 580, will you?”

“You want the eleven o’clock? I’ll spare you. Fifteen people went missing tonight and they’re all deadbeat hobos nobody cares about.”

“What are you afraid of? Just put it on.”

Fine. After all, she had just cracked his arm in two, and the every time the guy opened his mouth he stank up the car. And something to break the monotonous drone of the engine might do something.

Phone lines down south of Orleans. Robbery at Pronto south of Vanier. Search for fourteen missing persons still ongoing. Then the weather came on.

“Satisfied?”

He said nothing, just looked out the window under the rhythm of the street lamps.

There were flashing lights up ahead.

Maggie slowed down to forty-five and squinted at the road ahead.

A roadblock. Three cop cars wedged in at angles, orange-striped barricades across the asphalt.

“Shit.” She turned back to Derek and said, “Get down.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

This was bad news. She looked around her but all she could see was fast-food joints and parking lots, all well lit, and no side streets. Even if she did turn down a corner, they would see her bolting and come after her for sure.

“You’re in one mess of a jam now, vampire girl.”

“Oh yeah? What about you? Mayor’s son goes out to play one night and ends up with a hooker in a Hull strip club. How you think that’s going to look?”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Good intuition.”

“Still, it ain’t half as bad as your blood in Weasel’s belly.”

Had she just heard him right? “How do you know about Weasel?”

“He’s a crook.”

She kept her eyes on the road ahead, a little dazed from what Derek had said. The blockade was about a mile up.

“What, you think I don’t know what’s going on inside that pretty little head of yours? It’s been screaming ever since we left the parking lot.”

It hurts my head, listening to you think.

“How long were you out on the bed?” She hardly noticed the rise in her voice.

“The fuck should I know?”

“Listen you fat slob, I think something happened back there at my apartment. I need you to tell me how long you were out for.”

“I’ll say something happened. You came my brains out.”

“I’m flattered. I mean the second part, asshole. The part when I drained your corpse carcass and dressed your carcass like butcher meat. Remember?”

“What are you talking about?”

She thought of that feeling again, from after she had fed on him. When she had realized.

…you got a Demon Seed, and ain’t nothing I can do for you then…

“When I was killing you, I… left something in you. Something bad. I didn’t know then, but I do now. And I’m not talking about vampire blood.”

The guy was silent now. He had lost his edge and was looking down into his lap.

She made herself block out the thoughts of the other powers. If this guy was for real — if he was anything what Weasel had warned her about, she absolutely had to shut those thoughts up. He must never know…

“That something bad was what I messed up with,” she continued, “You got some…powers that most people I kill don’t usually get.”

“Like telepathy.”

“That’s…one, yeah.”

The barricade was so close now she could see the flashing badge on the cop’s jacket.

“Now I’m going to ask you again, and if you don’t answer me before those cops over there, something worse than bad is going to happen.”

“I don’t think so, honey. Tell me what else I got.” He wore a hideous grin on his face.

Stupid. She had thought about it too much, and now he knew she was hiding something. If she didn’t think about that she was home free. Well, not home free. She still had a little something called a police barricade a hundred yards and closing.

“First, tell me what else I have.”

“After the cops, now answer my question,” she nearly screamed.

“No. Tell me first.”

Too late, Maggie. He’s seen the look in your eyes. You’re too fucking scared and he saw through you like a window.

“You’ve got a Demon Seed,” she said quickly.

“What’s that?” He was smiling.

“Powers. All sorts.”

“Telepathy, yeah, and…? What else?”

She took a deep sighing breath. She might as well spill the beans, every last one. The roadblock was now inescapable. They’d get her plates, and Weasel would be ratted out. And that meant she could say goodbye to those three litres of Maggie’s AB Positive.

I want this one feisty, Maggie-pie.

“You got everything, Derek,” she said, shaking her head. “The whole mess. Everything.”

He laughed wildly and jumped up and down in the car. “Count Fucking Dracula!” he screamed.

The cop was waving her down. She slowed to a stop and squinted into headlight beams pointed at her face. He knocked on the window and she unrolled it.

“Can I see your license and registration, please?”

Police were so polite, weren’t they? Always say please and thank you and watch yourself and ma’am, even when the fuckers were sending you to the slammer.

She fished in her purse for her license, contemplating which one to take. Her face was too puffy for Madeline Howe, and Jennifer Henson looked richer than she did right now. So she picked out old faithful.

“Maggie Reynolds, could you put your hands on the dashboard, please?”

She did as he said while Derek leaned forward and whispered into her ear, “Weasel don’t mean nothing any more, girl.”

“You. In the back. Hands where I can see them.”

He kept whispering into Maggie’s ear. “That kid’s too young for a gun, don’t you think?”

The kid was reaching for his belt now, hands shaking, looking back towards his fellow officers.

Derek rolled down the window slowly.

“Hands where I can see them!”

“Stop it,” said Derek. And there was such a deadness to his voice that the cop took a step back. Maggie shivered. The cop dropped his hand from his side, bent over and vomited out his supper on the pavement. It sat there steaming, a mess of Chinese food and pastry.

I want this one feisty, Maggie.

Maggie closed her eyes and gripped the steering wheel now. It didn’t smell like plastic anymore, it didn’t smell like stale cigarettes and hamburgers. It smelled like death.

Then, for the next few minutes, things went wrong. Maggie remembered only bits and pieces.

She remembered the officers come trotting over from the barricade to aid the kid. The snow, which had been one looming mass above their heads since they left the Queens Arms, started shedding down in blankets. In the background, the radio was still spewing out the eleven-thirty program.

…driving them to kill? One word: society…”

She remembered the barricade in front of her eyes splintering like an invisible anvil had just been thrust through its middle.

The door behind her seat opened and Derek was outside, bunching the young cop’s collar in his fist and whispering something in his ear. She didn’t know what he had said, but the next moment the cop took the gun out, put it in his mouth and fell to the ice.

…telling Larry King that today’s kids feel more alienated than the kids of the sixties…”

The other cops were now firing full blazes. The windshield shattered in her face and she took a bullet in the collarbone. Derek left the kid at his feet and started walking into a barrage of fireworks and pelting snow, all the way screaming he was the Devil Reincarnate, that he was Dracula in the flesh.

…and the ideas come from where else? Television, specifically…”

She sat frozen in the driver seat watching the carnage unfold, a twisted look of sickness across her face. The snow-floured pavements streamed with red rivers from under the bodies. The Impala cruisers smashed inward with screeching metal sending showers of glass to the ground. It was messy, the messiest goddamn thing she had ever seen. And in the center of it all was her creation, baying at the winter sky.

…even Berkowitz said screen violence drove him to kill…”

Maggie thought desperately about getting out of there, just shoving the stick into first and gunning it. She would jump the curb and scream through the shopping mall if she had to. Just get Maggie out.

She turned the ignition. Nothing but a squeal as the key burned the wires.

Derek ripped the cop’s limb from the socket, and a gruesome tearing sound wrenched through her ears with sudden ferocity.

She tried the key again, getting only that awful whine. Then the car shook with a thud. She looked up and saw the ragged stump of a thigh, still clothed in blue uniform, rolling down the hood of her car. Derek was looking straight at her, a burning fire glowing in his pupils.

…but don’t blame it all on film, not while there are desperate people out there…”

She tried the key once more, knowing it was useless, knowing that she should never have taken the black-market job in the first place, never had set eyes on that harmless looking lawyer outside the Cabaret Le Pink. She was on her last breath, and if it didn’t turn over, she would let the Devil sic her ragged ass till the sun came up.

But the dash lights were suddenly lighting up in a frenzied fury and the Explorer, the one she had first seen in her driveway on a Christmas Eve three years ago, suddenly roared to life.

There was lurch in her chest that she could only recognize as hope. She had gotten a little gift from God, and she bloody well better not waste it. She slammed the car into gear and crunched her tires across the battlefield towards the roadblock. Three meters and she plowed through the wood, sending it to splinters.

Then it was gone. The next thing she remembered was her tachometer flipping to 8 like a pinball pedal and the sound of her wheels screaming through nothing but air, and the sight of her car lifting up into the night. She felt a shower of glass on her neck as the sunroof gave way, and before she knew what was happening, Derek was sitting in the passenger seat staring through black eyes.

…really think about it all? I think it’s American society, I think our culture’s been festering wounds for years, and its finally rearing its ugly head…”

Amen, thought Maggie. Amen. And then he was upon her.

 

 

Kevin Oatley finds time to write fiction between work and school. This is his second piece of published fiction, also marking his return to 3LBE. He is an avid reader of science fiction and horror, especially the works of Pohl, Niven, Lovecraft, Simmons, and McCammon.


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ISSUE #14

Winter 2004

FICTION

ART