No matter how many times I stand beside their bodies hearing the subtle crackling of their flesh cooling and smelling the decay of organs creeping towards death—it never changes the feeling that it wasn’t meant to end like this—not for Shantel Cummings—not for any of them.
There were a million other scents in this room of death—some from the room itself—some from the building that housed so many living and dead. None was pleasant—not to me. Sometimes, I challenged myself to establish how long the scent had been present and where it had come from. When had the female at the front desk returned from her repast of eating some sort of curry flavored dish? How long ago had the heavy floral-scented female walked by this room? What about the older male whose body was terminally ill—what had he been carrying into the office two doors down thirty-six minutes ago? Today, I did none of that, though.
I blocked it all out and forced into my mind the scent of her. Sweet. She smelled sweet like something creamy and decadent. I knew her scent so well that it was tangible in my mind, and I could block out this mortality that hung around me like a shroud. Beautiful. Never had I imagined an odor to be so, but hers was. I concentrated on it until I could taste it on my tongue.
Her curling, long, black hair was scented slightly differently from her pale, ivory skin.
I’d switched out her shampoo again, trying to find the least fragrant concoction so that it wouldn’t detract from the smell of her. I’d washed all of the vile fabric softener from the three batches of clothing I’d used it on—so it was no longer over-powering, though it was still there in subtle trace amounts. She’d liked it, but it was a slight scent to her—though stronger than her own smell.
Sometimes, she wore moisturizer on her skin—though it was rare. I was grateful she wasn’t enamored of cosmetics of any kind. I was, on occasion, grateful that she was as small as she was. At four foot ten, her shorter-than-average frame was so sweet-smelling that—were there any more skin—she’d be irresistible. I’d thought of mentioning this to her, but she didn’t take comments regarding height so lightly.
It was unfortunate that I had to share her scent with my Brethren. I’d wanted to insist they ignore it, but it was hardly a rational request—I’d known that even before the Master had laughed when I’d admitted to it.
When her heart sped up, the perfume of her body wrapped around me as her blood warmed her skin. Its heat slipped into the air so quickly and so completely that it seemed to defy all laws of the physical world. Perhaps it was just because I was constantly waiting for it—inhaling it into every inch of me the moment it passed from her skin—absorbing it into me—wishing it was her inside me and not just the scent of her skin. Beautiful.
I was so focused that my mind bridged the twenty-three miles between us.
‘Hey, Shiny,’ she said in my head.
‘Hi. What are you doing?’
‘Is this the mental line of what are you wearing?’ she asked, amusement in her voice.
‘What?’ Often, she was a few emotional steps ahead of me in idioms.
‘Never mind. I was just getting ready for bed.’
My mind quickened at the thought. She was getting ready for bed. I had a much better reason to be done with this. I searched the scents around me briefly. One of them would be due to return to this room soon. I could wait—a few minutes. The impulse to return to her side was intense. It nearly broke through hundreds of years of forced behavior and control.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
I looked around the cold room that tried for a clinical sterility but really was anything but. There was no reason for description, and I’d learned that she wasn’t asking that. She was asking for a time not an action. It was a learned pattern of speech.
‘Just finishing up,’ I said.
‘How bad?’ There was so much sweet concern in her voice. It was nearly my undoing on patience to leave.
‘Not too bad. I arrived soon after it happened. She told me she was dying anyway. She had nothing to settle in her mind or life. It was most tragic to see her so prepared for her end.’
‘So that’s not as bad,’ she said, trying to quantify it. It was odd—but nice.
A male was coming toward the room.
‘I need to speak with someone. I’ll be there in thirty-seven minutes,’ I said.
‘Exactly thirty-seven minutes?’ There was humor in her voice again. She found my exactness to be amusing. I’d never found it to be so before I met her. I was still struggling to realize when exactness was a poor choice and when it was acceptable. I didn’t mind that she was amused. In fact, I liked it. Her smile was worth it. Her happiness was worth it. Besides, she was never amused in a cruel way.
‘Well, alright. Hurry home.’
My muscles seized at the command. My mind tried to push motion beyond desires and intentions. ‘Okay.’ The word slipped out—was pushed out. ‘Uhh,’ I said, while I still could.
‘Never mind,’ she said quickly, realizing she’d activated that blood bond. ‘Take as long as you need. It doesn’t matter.’
My body and mind relaxed. ‘Thank you.’
‘Sorry,’ she said, never intending to force my will.
‘It’s fine. I’ll see you in…thirty-six minutes.’
‘Okay, I’ll set the timer.’
Would she? Or was that a joke?
I knew the scent of the male coming, and I pushed the awareness of my presence into the room. There was no reason to hide from him.
The thin, thirty-eight year old Being pushed through the doors while pulling on the latex gloves. His heart sped up slightly when he saw me, but only slightly, and he tried for nonchalance—as if this non-reaction was a game between us.
“Jack,” I said, smiling.
“Hey, blood boy. Haven’t seen you for a few months,” he said. He was from Fresno—originally, but had lived in Seattle for over five years now. It was in his voice—as was the lack of sleep and stress he was under.
“Your wife had her baby.” I noted the scent of formula and diapers on his skin.
He froze in his movements. The intimacy of my knowledge of his life outside of this place clearly discomfiting.
“You smell differently,” I explained, lest he think I was following him. They didn’t like to know that we followed them—for whatever reason.
“Oh. Yeah, she did,” he said relaxing. I knew before he did so that he was about to change the subject away from his life. He didn’t like me knowing about him. He didn’t like knowing about me—if he was being honest with himself. Looking at the body I’d set on the metal table, he said, “It looks like we’ve got a pro here.”
“Pro?” I repeated. The female was hardly pro-anything. She just… was. It was still a shock to me what they put themselves through in order to make money to spend on things to destroy their bodies.
“She’s a prostitute,” Jack said.
“Oh. Yes, she was.” Technically, she wasn’t anything anymore.
“Did you get a name?” He picked up a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard.
“Shantel Cummings. Age: Forty-two years, six months, twelve days.”
I watched as he did the math.
“Did you get any next of kin information?” he asked.
“If her sires or siblings were still alive, she had no knowledge of that. Her mother was Sonja Cummings and her father, by birth, was Samuel Clark. She was born in Everett.”
“How fast will we need to get her in the ground or fire?” he asked, scratching his eyebrow with the cap of his pen. Once again, there was that attempt at nonchalance. He knew things that he didn’t want to know, so he pretended they didn’t matter.
“She was bitten eight hours ago. I wasn’t able to attempt any type of recovery potion because her body was already compromised due to this disease you call AIDS.”
“Whoa. She has AIDS?” Jack said, taking a step back. His heart rate picked up slightly. “Lead with that, blood boy. Always lead with that.”
“My apologies. I will in the future.”
Their bodies are so fragile.
I was losing time that I could spend with her—she might already be in bed. Jack might be able to move faster. “You could ascribe that as her cause of death,” I suggested, pushing it into his mind. Normally, I wouldn’t use persuasion with him, but I wanted to be done.
His pen paused, and he said, “Hey, I don’t tell you how to do your job—whatever it is—you don’t tell me how to do mine.”
“Again, my apologies. I’m anxious to be with my mate.”
“Your mate?” he repeated, a smile on his face. This knowledge of my personal life made him feel strangely powerful—I could tell, though it made no sense to me. Perhaps he was just relieved that there was something he understood about me.
“Yes. I’d like to be done here within the next forty-five seconds if possible. I still have a bit of a drive to make tonight.”
“You drive—you don’t fly?”
“It wouldn’t make sense to go to the airport before going back to the Sovereignty Heart,” I said.
“No, I mean wings. You don’t turn into a bat or a….”
“Myth,” I said.
“That’s too bad. I always thought that could be useful.”
“I eat bats,” I volunteered. I wasn’t sure how far I was to take this sharing of information, but if it encouraged his cooperation—and hurried him, I was willing to tell him anything.
I sensed this was sarcasm.
The seconds were ticking away as he continued to write on the paper.
“You’ll bury or burn the body within the next six hours,” I told him, adding a slight suggestion to it.
“Yes,” he repeated in a monotone—before shaking his head and frowning. “Hey, I cooperate—you don’t need to get into my head.”
“To be exact, I’m not getting ‘into’ your head, I’m merely….”
“UHH…tut tut tut,” he interrupted me, shaking a finger. Jack was odd—even for a human. “Let’s keep the mystery alive, blood boy.”
“Very well. My anxiety to be gone is becoming more sincere.”
Another smile. “This mate of yours must really be something. I’ve never seen any of you anxious to be doing anything. It’s… humanizing.”
I sensed that he wasn’t intending to be insulting, so I smiled.
“In fact, she—is it a she?” he asked.
Once again, no insult was meant—he was merely unfamiliar with our ways.
“Yes, she is female.”
“I’ve never seen a female of your kind,” Jack said.
While not technically a Hunter, she was a Shadow Hunter, but this was a distinction he wouldn’t understand.
“There are not many. There are only three females currently in the Sovereignty Heart.” Two Shadow Hunters and one vampire—though he also wouldn’t understand this.
“And you have one of them. You lucky dog.”
Slang. It was so unpredictable to perceive its intent. Jack was not the type to level insult, so I guessed that he was merely being humorous.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Okay, I think we’re done here,” he said.
“You’ll spray the body with saltwater soon?”
“I’d heard we’re doing that now,” Jack said. “Some new vampire policy?”
“It’ll help deter the Shifts, though I’ll have one of our Hunters check back within six hours to ascertain that none have traced her back to this repository for the deceased.”
“We like to call it… the Morgue,” he said, amused again.
“Very well. We’re done?”
“Yes, Hunter or whatever. Off to your mate.”
“Please, call me Reeve.”