The Angel from the Dead

by David W. Landrum

Someone helped her out of the alley that runs from Weston to Fulton and comes out across the street (ironically) from the police station. She remembered laying in the snow, dazed, her neck burning, heat coursing through her veins, unable to get up. Snow came down heavily. Jancinda saw, though her vision had blurred, someone bend down and touch her. It was a young woman, about her age, wearing a long leather coat and boots. After contemplating a moment, she slid her arms under Jancinda’s back and picked her up.

Though confused and overwhelmed by the strange sensations coursing through her body, she wondered how such a small, slender woman could heft her with such ease and carry her so effortlessly and with such adroitness for five long blocks and then up three flights of steep wooden stairs.

She felt warmth, seemed to doze, and opened her eyes. Blurry at first, then clearer, the head of the woman from the alley came into view. Jancinda squinted, trying to focus. Her shoulders hurt. Her neck burned on one side.

“Can you hear me?” the woman asked.

She had blonde hair, a thin face, big eyes and a straight nose. Her mouth was wide, her lips full.

“I can hear you. Where am I? What happened?”

“You’re in my apartment. My name is Bonita Perez. I found you in the alley behind the Tap House.”

“Somebody hit me,” Jancinda said.

“Yes. Sort of.”

“Sort of? My head and neck hurt.” She reached up and touched her throat. She felt two abrasions an inch or so above her left collarbone. “I probably ought to go to the Emergency Room.”

“What do you remember, Jancinda? I looked in your purse and got your name off your driver’s license. Sorry for snooping.”

“That’s fine. You have my purse? The guy who mugged me didn’t take it?”

“No.”

“I remember hearing footsteps—snow crunching. I turned and saw someone. He must have hit me because I don’t remember anything after that. It was a guy, I remember that much—a tall guy with long hair. Have you called the police?”

Bonita looked at her thoughtfully. Jancinda touched the two burning spots on the side of her neck.

He must have scratched me or clawed at me,” she said. “These places really burn and hurt.” She started to get up but winced in pain and sank back down to the couch cushions. Bonita touched her with long, pale fingers.

“Just lie still.”

“Go ahead and call Emergency. I want to get those scratches looked at.”

She heard noise. A young man came into the room. Like Bonita, he was tall, trim, and good-looking. He wore a white colorless shirt, black slacks, and a black sports jacket. His short hair was dark.

“This is Ivor, my boyfriend.” She turned to him. “Did you get hold of Vivian?”

He nodded.

“Who was it?”

“Julian.”

“Damn. Of course, it had to be. She’s lucky to be alive.”

“He wouldn’t hurt a fledgling once he knew,” the Ivor said. “He had to know right away.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him.”

Jancinda followed their cryptic conversation with puzzlement. She felt a little better and now. Annoyance began to gather in her heart because this Bonita girl kept ignoring her requests to call Emergency.

As if reading her thought, Bonita turned to her. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to call Emergency,” she said.

“Why not? I’ve been attacked and hurt. I want to see if anything needs real medical attention. I’m concerned the scratches on my throat.”

“They’re bites. He bit you.”

Fear coursed through Jancinda’s body. Her assailant might have AIDS. And Bonita’s odd behavior bothered her as well.

“If they’re bites, I really need to go to an ER and get them looked at. You got a mirror?”

Bonita’s eyes seemed to brighten. She glanced at Ivor.

“There’s a hand mirror in my room,” she told him.

He went to get it. Bonita came over and knelt beside the sofa.

“Why don’t you think I should go to the ER?” Jancinda asked. She felt a little less apprehensive given Bonita’s more compassionate and more normal behavior.

Ivor came into the room. He handed Jancinda a blue hand mirror. She held it up and stared for a moment. She looked at Bonita.

“I can’t see myself. What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Jancinda peered into the mirror once more. She could see a reflection of the room, the walls and furnishings behind and around her, but not her own face.

“You don’t have a reflection anymore,” Bonita said.

Jancinda’s alarm revived. She looked up at the two nicely dressed, attractive people in front of her.

“What is this? Are you people crazy?”

“Come over here and I’ll show you what I mean.”

Bonita helped her up. She felt dizzy but glanced back at the door, planning an escape strategy if things got weirder. Bonita held her arm. Ivor gazed at her thoughtfully. Their expressions were oddly sad and sympathetic.

“Okay, what now?” she asked.

They walked over to a full-length mirror on the front of a closet. A cat came into the room and mewed. Bonita spoke to it. It nuzzled her shins. She picked it up. Jancinda turned to face the mirror.

She gaped. The wall behind them, a desk, a sound system, and a stack of CDs showed in the silvery glass. The cat floated as if in midair on the mirror face. But she did not see her reflection or Bonita’s.

Her heart pounded.

“What is this? Is this some kind of joke?”

“Not a joke.” Bonita handed the cat to Jancinda. Horror and amazement made her take it in her arms without resistance. Turning to the mirror again, she saw the cat reflected exactly in the configuration it had taken in her arms. She did not see herself.

“Why don’t I have a reflection?” she asked, barely able to speak.

“Because you’re a vampire now.”

She screamed, dropped the cat, and bolted for the door. She got her hands on the knob and pulled the door open an inch or so.

“Jancinda, no!” Bonita screamed, lunging for her.

Just as Ivor and Bonita seized her, the pain of fire or boiling water scorched her wrist. She screamed, hearing her flesh sizzle, half-fainted from the agony she felt, and fell backwards. She heard someone kick the door shut. Bonita knelt beside her. Jancinda sobbed and trembled. Ivor hurried off and came back with a wet cloth. He slapped it on her wrist.

“I told you to lock the goddamned door,” Bonita snapped at him.
He did not reply. The cool cloth brought a tiny measure of relief to Jancinda. Bonita put her arms around Jancinda and lifted her off the floor.

“That,” she said, “is what the sun will do to you. You must not go out in the sun—ever again. You see what will happen if sunlight even touches you for a moment.”

Jancinda cried. Her arm throbbed with searing pain. Ivor put Neosporin on it, which helped a little. She wept and shook Bonita hugged her.

“I’m so sorry, baby,” she whispered.

As Bonita held her, Jancinda remembered what she had seen when she opened the door. Sunlight—but the minute her eyes rested on it, she felt its threat to her, as the body senses the threat of poison or miasma or the lurking presence of an unseen predatory animal. Somehow, she had simply known light would harm her. This confirmed the damning reality of what Bonita had told her more than anything else. She managed to stop crying.

Bonita and Ivor helped her back to the couch. She lay there and saw them share an embrace. Bonita apologized for snapping at him about his failure to lock to door. They kissed. After a moment, Bonita looked back at her. She came over, knelt on the floor and touched Jancinda gently.

“It’s true,” Jancinda said. “I can feel it. It can’t be true, but it is.”

“It’s true. But I’m here for you, Jancinda. I’ll help you through it.”

“Why? Why are you doing this for me?”

“I’m your angel.”

“Angel?”

A bitter twist came on Bonita’s mouth.

“That’s the term we use. Remember that word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger.’ When someone crosses over, our elders know it. They send those of us who are designated as angels to find them.”

“Cross over?”

“Into our world. When you were bitten, you didn’t die. Most do. You crossed over. You were transformed and now you’re one of us.”

Jancinda’s arm throbbed with pain—so much she began to cry again. Bonita put her head against Jancinda’s.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. We’ll get you a doctor, but she’s one of us so she can’t get here until night. Maybe some Tylenol will help the pain. Your burn doesn’t look as bad as it could have been. It’s early morning and the sunlight wasn’t bright.”

“I’ll get some more Neosporin,” Ivor said.

Jancinda watched him walk out of the room. She looked up at Bonita.

“If you hadn’t brought me back here—if I’d lay out there until the sun came up, I would have died,” she said.

Bonita smiled, bent down and kissed Jancinda’s forehead.

“That’s what angels do,” she smiled.

#

When Jancinda asked if she would have to sleep in a coffin Bonita and Ivor laughed good-naturedly.

“That’s one of the many myths you’ll find out are not true,” Ivor said. “A bed is much more comfortable. You just have to keep sunlight out of your bedroom. You can do that with heavy curtains.”

“We can talk about sun-proofing your house later,” Bonita put in. “For now, you need to rest. All the systems in your body have changed, and that is hard on a person. These next couple of nights are crucial and you will have a thousand things to do. Do you have a job?”

“I have my own business. I do grant writing and editing.”

“Do you do it online?”

“Yes.”

“Then you won’t have to find a new source of income. You job doesn’t require you to be outside in the day.”

“Do you have a job?”

“I’m a photographer. That was a little harder to switch over, but I managed to do it. I only work at night. People think it’s a little weird, but if you play it smart no one starts asking questions. Do you have family?”

“My Mom and Dad are gone. I have a brother, but . . . well, he’s a crack-head. Lives in Dallas. I don’t see him very often.”

“That’s lucky too. You can deal with family and job pretty easily. Dealing with family is the hardest thing—and the most heartbreaking. You need to try to sleep now. Tomorrow night, the most important thing happens.”

“What’s that?”

Bonita looked into her eyes, meeting her gaze.

“You have to eat. You have to taste first blood.”

She slept in a soft bed. She heard the alarm go off, got up, showered and dressed. To her surprise, the three of them enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, orange juice and coffee.

“One of the nice things about this life,” Ivor said, a bright glass of orange juice in his hand, “is that you can eat all you want and not gain weight.”

“Do you”—Jancinda blurted and then stopped, embarrassed.

“That’s a logical question and a good question,” Bonita answered. “Don’t be shy about asking questions, Jancinda. Your body functions just like it used to. Yes, you’ll go to the toilet and need to shower and shave your legs. You won’t have periods anymore, though. You can’t have children.” A moment of sadness passed between them. “But,” Bonita continued, pushing past the tragedy of what she had just said, “your body can’t be nourished by regular food, even though you will eat regular food and enjoy it. You have to have blood.”

“I have to kill someone?”

“Yes. It’s the only way you can survive.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll take you hunting later tonight. In the meantime, you need to do some planning and take care of business so no one gets worried and starts looking for you.”

Another thought had crossed Jancinda’s mind. She put her fingers in her mouth and ran them along the ridge of her top teeth.

“I don’t have fangs. You don’t either. Neither does Ivor. Is that a myth too?”

“It isn’t a myth. You get fangs—and talons—when you need them. Your body can make new hormones now. When the desire of the hunt seizes you, you will transform. Now, why don’t you start taking care of business?”

She logged on to Bonita’s computer. Her emails had piled up. Jancinda was pleased to find she had landed six new contracts with large stipends. It was harder to see the emails from her friends inviting her to the beach and to lunch—and emails from the two guys she had been seeing. She would have to dump them, or at least change her interactions so she only saw them at night—something that seemed impossible to her. Confusion and despair crept into her heart.

A knock came at the door. It was the doctor.

She examined Jancinda arm as Jancinda eyed her curiously. The doctor was maybe forty, a little on the plump side, but brisk, friendly, and competent.

“Only a first-degree burn,” she said, after examining her arm. “You are a very lucky girl.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Well, your lack of knowledge taught you a good lesson.” The doctor gave her ointment to ease the pain. “Use it only when you really hurt. Remember that with a burn you want it to dry out, so don’t keep slathering ointment on it all day long. It won’t heal completely until you get some nourishment in you. Have you eaten yet?”

Remembering breakfast, she almost said yes, but then she realized what the doctor meant and answered, “No.”

“You need to as soon as possible.”

“I’m taking her hunting in a couple of hours,” Bonita said.

“Good. She needs to eat to spur healing. Do you have your cell phone here, Jancinda?”

“Yes.”

“Give me your number. You’ll probably need to see me again soon.”

“Why?”

“You’ve crossed over and you’re learning what it takes to be a vampire. Your mind is occupied with all the business that goes along with that. But when you settle into the life, the enormity of what has happened will hit you. A lot of us sink into severe depression the first few months after crossing—I did. I know Bonita did too. I can help you through that when it does happen, and most likely it will.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Jancinda said.

They exchanged phone numbers.

The doctor gave her final advice: let the burn dry out, don’t scratch it when it itches. She gave her a painkiller, too, to take during the day so she could sleep. With that, she left. Jancinda stared at the door after it closed. Bonita sat down beside her.

“We have doctors—a whole network of people who support us. You’ll learn all about it. It’s 10:00. Are you ready?”

She nodded.

“I’m ready.”

#

Jancinda cringed when Bonita opened the door to her apartment. This time, however, no paralyzing wave of pain stabbed her flesh. Night had fallen. The bulbs in the hall shone dimly, but through the wide plate glass window at the end of the corridor, she could see the moon and the lights of the city brightly reflecting off the snow.

“Is Ivor coming with us?” Jancinda asked.

“He’s going out with friends. We only have to eat once or twice a month, and he ate a couple of days ago. If we can finish up early enough, we’ll go see him. He likes to hang out at Dr. Grins.”

Dr. Grins was a comedy club in downtown Grand Rapids that stayed open until 2 a.m.

“Does he have”—she did not know how to say it.

“Friends from the living? Sure he does. I have them. You will too. There is no reason to jettison all your friends. You only have to adjust how and when you see them. It’s tricky, but it can be done. You don’t want to dump your human friends and only hang out with vampires. It’s not good for you.”

“Why not?”

“You get ingrown and self-focused. Come on.”

They trudged through the snow, covering several city blocks, and came to the Gerald R. Ford Bridge over the Grand River. They walked into Ab-Nab-Awen Park, past the Ford Museum, toward the trees at the east end of the park by Bridge Street.

“You can usually find someone down her smoking dope or making out. Stay close to me. I can smell someone already.”

Formerly, Jancinda’s the last remark would have seemed odd to Jancinda, but she had also caught the scent: of sweat, dirt, the smells that rise from the different orifices in the human body—all of that mixed with the strong fragrance of marijuana.

More sensations seized and energized her. Her hearing grew acute. She seemed able to see in the dark. And her teeth felt odd. As she raised her hand to feel her mouth, she saw that their ends had changed from soft pads of flesh and fingernail to hard black talons like those on the feet of carnivorous birds. She ran her tongue over her teeth. Her canines had grown. They had turned to long, sharp fangs. The hunger for blood, too, had risen from deep inside her with unbearable poignancy.

She glanced at Bonita. The young, pretty woman who looked so gentle and kind now looked predatory. Her eyes blazed with dark purpose. Jancinda could see her fangs and talons. She also felt a dark, conspiratorial kinship with her. They were out to kill and to share the prize. The human smells grew stronger.

“Two of them,” Bonita whispered. “A man and a woman. I’ll knock the woman out. We’ll kill the man.”

Jancinda nodded. Without being told, she circled wide as Bonita moved forward. Through the winter dark, she saw two people bending over a can of Sterno and puffing on a marijuana cigarette. They were “old hippies,” the woman tall and thin with long grey hair, the man, heavier, with long grey hair and a grey beard. Both were wrapped in heavy coats and smiling as they puffed the joint. The two vampire women closed on their prey and sprang when the moment was right.

Jancinda felt as swift and lithe as a cat. She saw Bonita rush through the snow and hit a woman on the head, knocking her out. The man turned in surprise, dropping the joint he had just lit. He reached in his pocket, probably for a gun, but Bonita swiped at him with her talons, striking him in the jaw. He fell back, hurt but still conscious, and sprang to his feet.

Without thought, operating entirely on instincts she had never before felt, Jancinda leaped, reached out, and spun the prostrate man around. He gaped at her in horror. He had apparently not heard her behind him. Her mouth was open and he saw her fangs. In the second of his terrified immobility, Bonita hit him from behind. He fell heavily to the ground.

Bonita stood over him. Her eyes blazed. She gesture with a snakelike movement of her arm.

“Take him,” she hissed. “He’s all yours.”

Jancinda dove to the ground. The passion for blood pushed her like a raging river. Hands planted in the deep snow, she used her fangs to rip open the man throat and then put her mouth to the hot well of red that spurted from him. Its sweetness filled her mouth and coursed through her body. Strength and ecstasy rang through her like a paean to the new life she had entered. She lost herself in the orgy of drinking until satiety slowed her passion. Able to reason once more, she remembered Bonita. She looked up, blood running down her chin.

“Do you want to eat?” she asked.

“I ate a couple of days ago.”

Jancinda stood.

“Finish him. I’ve had enough.”

Bonita handed her a tissue from the pocket of her leather coat.

“Wipe your chin. Remember, we’re going to Dr. Grins. You don’t want blood all over your blouse.”

Jancinda wiped her chin. Bonita, her eyes burning with desire for blood (despite what she said about having recently eaten), sank down into the snow and finished draining their victim’s life.

She stood, licking the blood from her lips.

“Thank you, Jancinda. That was a nice little treat.”

“Thank you.”

“You know how to do it now. I’m happy this went off so well.”

Jancinda thought they would walk away, but there was more. Bonita emptied the man’s wallet of money and took his wedding ring. She went through the woman purse, took her money and rings and a silver necklace she had on. She also stole their stash of marijuana.

“Smell like good stuff,” she said.

They stepped back. Jancinda thought they would head for Dr. Grins. But Bonita took her arm.

“Watch,” she said.

After a few seconds, a creature—Jancinda felt a shock of fear—it was a gigantic bat—materialized out of the air. It dove silently, hooked its feet around the dead man’s body, lifted it off the ground and, as its broad wings flapped, disappeared into the darkness above the ice-clogged river.

“What in the hell was that?” Jancinda gasped, her voice stiff with fear.

“A bat,” Bonita smiled.

“I saw that part. It was a very big bat.”

“They come from another world or dimension or something and carry off the corpses of our victims.”

“What do they do with them?”

“I don’t know. Eat them, I guess. This is why we don’t have to worry about getting rid of the bodies of the people we kill. The bats do it for us. If we left bodies around or had to bury them, it wouldn’t take long for before people got on to us. And that must never happen.”

Jancinda nodded. She felt strong, vibrant, and invincible, like she had felt after winning an event in her days of running track in high school and college. Tired but feeling the strength of her body and the satisfaction of the mastery that led to victory, she would revel in pure physical joy and exult in her body’s power and grace. Now she felt that sensation once more. She turned to Bonita. Her fangs and talons and the predatory intensity had gone. Jancinda assumed these things had ebbed out of her as well.

“You’ve made a good beginning,” Bonita said.

“I had the help I needed. Thanks so much.”

Her new friend shrugged. “Like I told you before: that’s what angels do.”

She put her arms around Bonita and kissed her. They pulled apart. Tiny flakes of snow began to fall. Bonita looked at her watch.

“Midnight. Let’s head to Dr. Grins and have a drink. Ivor performs at one.”

“He does stand-up?”

“Sure he does. He’s very funny.” Then she smiled wryly. “Only performs at night,” she added.

They stepped over the body of the unconscious woman whose life they had spared and began walking the three blocks to Dr. Grins Comedy Club.

The End