Last Rites

The sound of the creaking study door jolted him back to reality.  He looked up to see his wife standing next to him, carrying his dinner on a tray.  A quick glance outside confirmed his fears—the sun had already set.  He’d gotten distracted and missed breakfast.  Again.

“Do you think it will work?” she asked, setting the bottle down onto the desk next to him.  “It’s not that I don’t trust you, of course, but…”

“No, it’s fine, I understand.  It’s hard to believe that something like this would exist, I get it.  I don’t blame you for being skeptical.  But every other spell I’ve found in that manuscript has worked.  So it’s got to work.  It just… it has to, you know?”

She smiled, and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.  “I’m just worried about you.  Ever since… well, you know… you’ve been so depressed.  I can’t blame you.  Lord only knows how I’d do if I were suddenly transformed like that.  But as much as I love seeing you happy like this, I just worry that it’s for the wrong reason, you know?  Two weeks after the attack, and you just happen to find something that will reverse all your troubles?  Dearest, it just sounds too good to be true.  You’ve spent so much time and effort into translating that grimoire, but what if it’s just snake oil?  What happens then?”

He reached up, wrapped his fingers around hers, and smiled.  “Well… I guess if that happened, I’d just… try and figure out what went wrong, and do whatever I can to fix it.  I’m sure it’s possible.  Yeah, okay, no one around here thinks it’s possible, but… that… that doesn’t mean anything!”  He spun around on his work stool, and stared into her eyes.  “This is going to work.  I know it.  If I had stopped working just because I didn’t think something was possible…”

He paused.  “Is that a new blouse?  It looks nice.  I like the collar.”  She clutched her neck, her face growing pale, but he was too distracted to notice.

“Look, two months ago, we didn’t even know magic existed.  And maybe I was a bit reckless.  I admit that.  I went too far, I ended up over my head, and I created a huge mess.  If I had known then what I was really dealing with, I would never have gone through with it.  But I did, and… well, the point is—if I can go my whole life without knowing that magic is real, then those witches can go their whole lives without knowing that there is an antidote.  I refuse to live the rest of my life as a vampire.  Okay?  I will figure out how to become human again.  I promise.  One day, we’ll both look back on this and laugh.  And until then, we’ll just… honey, what’s wrong?”

“You haven’t stopped looking at my neck this whole time,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.  “I should… I should leave for work.  Please drink your breakfast.  You know what happens when you get hungry.”

“…O-oh, right.”  He sighed, and picked up the bottle of blood she had placed on his desk.  Chicken blood again, he noticed.  He tried not to grimace.  It tasted awful, but there was no way they could afford large amounts of pig blood, even if there were a way to obtain it without raising suspicion.  “Are you… sure you can’t stay?” he asked.

She stared at the ground, refusing to make eye contact.  “Yes, I’m sure.  They… found the body,” she said.  “The body of a missing child, found dead two days later, floating in a lake.  Official reports say he drowned, but… if you look closely at the photo, you can… you can see the puncture marks in his neck.”

“I… look, honey… no, okay, look, I…  I can explain…”

She took a deep breath.  “Then it really was you.  It could have been any other vampire… but you didn’t deny it.  I wanted to believe it was someone else…”

He froze.  “Oh, well… that’s… that’s what I was going to explain…”

She shook her head.  “We both know you’re a terrible liar.  If you weren’t responsible, there would be nothing for you to explain.  You… killed him.  He was just a little boy, and you killed him!”

“Honey, please!  You don’t understand!  I can’t control myself when… I mean, it’s hard to control, if… if I don’t take the proper precautions, but I can…”

“No, you were right the first time.”  She raised a hand to silence him, before turning to leave the room.  “You can’t control yourself.  I don’t know what you are but… you… you’re… you are not the man that I married.  Whatever you are, I share partial responsibility for your actions.”  She closed the door behind her with a loud click.  “I had to do this.”

“No, wait, I’m sorry, would you just— what was that sound?”  He paused, staring at the back of his office door.  It was a cheap, interior plywood door.  Nothing should have made a clicking noise.

“That was a lock.  I installed it over my lunch break, while you were still asleep.  It was there the entire night.  You just haven’t noticed it.”

“Darling… why did you install a lock on my door?”

“I told you.  You’re… not the man I married.  You have an hour before the sun rises through the trees and into your window.  If your cure actually works, we can have a good laugh about this.  But… when it doesn’t work… this ends today.  I cannot be responsible for any more deaths.  I’m sorry.  When I come back from work, I’ll be sure to give your ashes a proper burial.”

“The cure is going to work!  Look, please, I’ve almost got it figured out, I know it!  Please!  Can we just talk about it?  You don’t have to do this!  I love you!  Honey, I would… I would never…” He sighed, clutching his head in his hands.  There was no use in discussing it further.  She had already left.

“That’s… fine.  It’s okay.  This is okay,” he said, pacing around the room.   “I want to be angry, but I know why she did that.  Even if she is over-reacting.  The point is, this cure will work.  I know it will.  And it’s already done.  I wanted to test it more, but… that’s okay.  It doesn’t need testing.  It will work.”

He poured the chicken blood out onto the floor, and used the empty bottle as a mixing bowl for the various ingredients he had researched.  “And when you think about it, pressure is a great motivator.  So of course this will work.  I translated the recipe, and I obtained everything it listed.  There’s no reason this won’t work.  Everything will be fine.”

He walked over to the full-length mirror her parents had given them for their fifth anniversary.  A t-shirt and jeans stood upright, and a murky bottle floated in midair.  Out of all of the weird traits of vampirism, no longer having a reflection had taken the most time to get used to.  He absent-mindedly stroked the chin stubble he could no longer accurately shave.

“This is going to work,” he announced, brandishing the bottle around the empty room before downing its contents in one, swift gulp.  He stood in front of the mirror, arms akimbo, waiting for his reflection to appear on the mirror’s surface.

“Any moment now.”

Neil Siemers grew up in Derby, Kansas, a comparatively small town south of Wichita. He moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas, and hasn’t left since. Neil likes to pretend that he is a big shot full time writer, although it’s probably closer to a hobby. Either way, it’s funded by a full-time job in the insurance industry, where he happily works as a cog in the machine for The Man so that bills can be paid.

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