This week we have sharp teeth, willing blood donors and a gift that works a little too well.
“What’s this?” Ray asked, looking down at the pendant in his hand, afraid he already knew the answer.
“It’s an Attractor,” Thanos said, bumping Ray with his shoulder and turning the heavy silver piece over in Ray’s palm. “See, the drawing crystal isn’t exposed like it is on some of the weaker ones. This one is top of the line,” he said excitedly, thumbing a tiny clasp on the edge and revealing a glowing blue crystal.
“I, um,” Ray cleared his throat, “it’s too much,” he said weakly, taking a step back as Thanos took the Attractor and unclasped the chain.
Thanos smiled, eyes cast down for a moment, his pointed teeth showing over his lip. “It’s the least I can do after all you’ve done,” he said, closing the space between them and looping the chain around Ray’s neck.
“I didn’t really,” Ray tried to protest, knowing it was too late. He could already feel the power of the crystal pulsing through his skin, bonding to him.
Thanos’s face was suddenly serious, his red eyes glowing, his teeth showing white and impossibly sharp. “You did. Selena is here because of you,” he said in a fierce growl.
Ray fought down a shudder even as Thanos drew back and clapped him on both shoulders, smiling again. “I don’t know what to say,” Ray said truthfully.
Thanos put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “Say you’ll come to the ball on Sunday. It’s officially for the visiting Elders but Selena would love it if you came.”
Ray put his hands in his pockets, mirroring Thanos’s posture to keep himself from touching the pendant burning ice cold against his chest. “Of course I’ll be there,” he said. It was another gift he couldn’t refuse. Shouldn’t want to refuse. Identifying the Elders was the whole reason for this assignment.
“Good! Excellent!” Thanos said, clapping his pearly white hands together. “Now I have to get to work. You go and have fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He followed this pronouncement with a wink that looked strangely boyish on his weathered face.
Ray shook his offered hand and was pulled into a tight hug that tested the strength of his ribs. He didn’t cough or do anything but smile until he was out on the street. Even then he didn’t grip his throbbing ribs or touch the pendant. Instead he donned a pair of mirrored glasses and drew the brim of his hat low over his eyes.
Dusk had drawn down over the city and a thousand pale faces appeared on the streets to mingle with the healthy glow of the living. Ray, in his black suit and mirrored glasses, his skin the palest white with bold blue veins, blended seamlessly into the stream of nightdwellers making their way to the shops and restaurants.
He passed mixed bars, blood parlors, talisman dealers, and shops that sold clothes in only black, all tucked between the bodegas and dry cleaners that stood open during the day. He was so distracted by the cold crystal that it took him several minutes to notice that he was being followed.
Ray stepped into a tiny shop that seemed to sell nothing but sunglasses and casually removed his, revealing his deep red eyes for a moment before trying on a pair of dark aviators. Unlike his own clear lenses, these cut the light in the shop to near blackness, but he spotted his tail in the mirror just as he pulled them off. He kept up the pretense, trying on several others pairs, catching glimpses of her in the mirror. Her black hair was cut severely over her forehead, she wore dark makeup and was dressed in black from head to foot. He returned the glasses to the rack and drew his own on, heading back the way he’d come, casually passing within feet of his pursuer.
He breathed a sigh of relief, seeing the flush on her face as he passed. But his relief was short-lived. She wasn’t a vampire, wasn’t wearing white face to try and pass: she was fully human, but still following him. And it wasn’t until the pendant shifted under his shirt and made him shiver that he realized why. He could actually feel the thing pulsing harder the longer the woman followed him.
Ray stopped at the corner, waiting for the light to turn, trying to figure out the best way to duck his new admirer when he noticed the man beside him staring. Another full human, dressed in a deep blue that clearly indicated his availability as a donor. Ray looked away quickly and cursed under his breath when he crossed the street and both woman and man followed behind.
The next block was no better. A woman in yoga pants carrying a mat over her shoulder joined the little parade, crowding close behind him at the corner.
Ray was beginning to feel something like panic. He was bound to draw attention and that was the last thing he wanted.
He wandered over to Second Street thinking he could lose them in one of the mixed bars but dismissing the idea when the first bar he passed yielded three more followers. Half the bar would try to leave with him if he actually went in. “Christ, how many susceptible people can there be in this town?” he muttered as the little crowd milled behind him while they waited to cross Broadway.
“If you take one of them the crystal will focus itself,” an amused voice informed him.
Ray whirled on the spot; he’d been so intent on the crowd behind him that he hadn’t noticed the short woman in the black dress standing at his shoulder. “What?” he said loudly.
The woman had a narrow features and her smile made the thousand thin lines on her face crease into a white mask of mirth. “Your new Attractor, the crystal needs help focusing,” she said, tapping a finger against his shirt, over the cold burn of the pendant.
He stared at her, not recognizing her face, trying to detect any flicker of recognition in her eyes.
Her eyebrows crept up, at once haughty and amused. “And you might want to do it soon, or you’ll attract the police.”
Ray frowned and watched the woman cross the street, her walk identical to his, the fluid motion of a predator.
He had almost forgotten his admirers when the donor in blue edged up to him, his toes curling and uncurling against his sandals. “You can take me anywhere,” the man whispered, his brown eyes cast submissively down, his fingers casually brushing Ray’s sleeve.
Ray saw an empty cab approaching and felt the others shifting closer. He shook his head roughly and held up his hand.
The cab pulled over to the curb and Ray, swallowing heavily, opened the door and pulled the donor inside with him. “Amsterdam Avenue and 66th,” he said, knowing he could catch the train home from there.
He flinched when smooth fingers slid through the hair at the back of his head. “No touching,” he said stiffly.
The hand withdrew instantly.
Ray drew a deep breath and bit his lip with a sharp, capped tooth; he could feel the man next to him practically vibrating and saw the cab driver watching them knowingly. “Turn your face to the window,” he ordered, twisting his wrist so a smooth metal cylinder fell into his palm.
Ray heard a quick intake of breath beside him. The man’s head was turned by the time he steeled himself to look. Above the open collar of the blue shirt the donor’s pulse was beating wildly. Ray could see the man had waxed his neck instead of shaving and that his hair was cut carefully short in the back to reveal as much smooth skin as possible.
Ray flipped the cap on the cylinder and drew his arm around the man’s waist, fingers brushing just under the hem of his shirt. He felt the smooth skin of the donor’s stomach and bent his head to the offered neck. With perfect timing he scraped his teeth over the man’s throat and pushed the needle into his belly.
The donor jerked as though his throat had been opened, letting out a long sigh as the sedative took effect and Ray kept his mouth over his neck. Ray capped the injector and slid it back in his sleeve, counting the seconds before he could properly withdraw, flexing his throat as though swallowing. When he’d counted two minutes he sighed and carefully positioned his teeth to cut a shallow hole in the skin against his mouth. To his surprise the trickle of blood on his tongue made his stomach clench with the desire to bite harder and the crystal vibrated fiercely against his chest. He was grateful to back away, making a show of wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. “You can pull over now,” he told the cab driver.
The driver grunted his assent and pulled over to the curb. “$6.25,” he said, tapping the meter.
Ray fished three twenties out of his wallet and held them up. “He should wake up in a few minutes. Take him wherever he wants to go,” he said, showing his teeth.
The driver looked between the sharp white teeth and the money and shrugged. “Whatever you want.”
Ray gave the driver the money and got out of the cab. He didn’t realize the crystal had stopped pulsing until he watched the cab disappear up the street.
With a sigh of relief and a last look after the cab he turned west and quickly ducked into the subway.
His car was crowded and he kept a careful eye on his surroundings, wondering when the Attractor would go off again. If it was as good as Thanos claimed he would have at least a month before the crystal died and he could take it off. He frowned at the thought of four weeks of people throwing themselves under his teeth and being forced to make a show of biting to satisfy Thanos and the others. The train shuddered to a halt and he was grateful when the crystal remained still and no one followed him.
Desperate to be home, he barely kept himself from running straight to the building. Instead he took a deliberately wandering path around three blocks and approached from the rear. He used his key and went in through the basement door, removing his sunglasses and hat as he went. He took off his coat and shook his shoulders, shifting into his natural ambling walk as he approached the elevator.
Inside he unclipped his caps and pocketed them, running his raw tongue over his blunt teeth with satisfaction. His eyes itched and he looked forward to taking out his contacts for the first time in a week. There was a bounce in his step as he exited on the sixth floor, humming softly. His hand was actually shaking a little as he put the key in the lock.
He heard the dog and Mary telling her to shut up before he’d even opened the door.
As soon as he was inside he found himself pressed hard against the closed door, Mary’s arms tight around his neck, her face buried in his collar. “Miss me?” he said, breathing in the scent of her hair and smiling over her shoulder at the dog turning circles in excitement.
“Every day,” Mary said, drawing back, her brown eyes bright, her lips parted in a smile that showed her even white teeth.
Ray felt his heart race as she tilted her head invitingly. The pleasant lurch in his stomach was matched by a sharp pulse from the crystal.