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Flesh and Blood

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One has not known the true torment of hell until one has worked at Wal-Mart.

“Your total is $48.15,” said Patrick, audibly trying to add some feeble level of enthusiasm to his voice. It wasn’t working.

“Did you take off the coupons yet?” asked his customer. She was an aging woman with pink-tinted sunglasses and (terribly) drawn-on eyebrows. She tipped her glasses forward to squint at the numbers on the screen to Patrick’s left.

“Um, yeah, they came off at the bottom.” Patrick pointed.

“There’s only three on there. I had four.”

“Um...You gave me three.”

“I could’ve sworn I - oh, here, it was in my purse.” She handed over the coupon with talon-like acrylic nails.

Patrick looked down at it and said, “Each of these coupons requires a separate twenty-dollar purchase. You already used two, so you’d have to have a sixty-dollar purchase in order to use this one.”

There was a silence. Well, not a silence, per se, because it was a Wal-Mart in the middle of Chicago, and just before dinnertime at that. Other registers beeped and bustled; children screamed for candy; “Don’t You” by Simple Minds played over the loudspeaker for the third time that day. If the job itself didn’t entirely drain Patrick of his will to live, the ceaseless repetition of the same 80’s songs day in and day out sure did.

The woman was still squinting at the screen. Patrick watched as her incomprehension gave way to indignation.

“You mean I...can’t use the coupon?”

“Ah, no, sorry. You can keep it, though, and use it later? It doesn’t expire until - ”

“Unbelievable! That is ridiculous. That small print all at the bottom of these damn ads, scamming an old woman out of all of her money. It’s a damn shame.”

“I’m really sorry,” said Patrick, though he had no control over the font size of the Wonder Bread coupons in Walmart’s most recent ad.

“Oh, you’re sorry. Well, if you’re so sorry, why don’t you take off the two dollars?”

Patrick spluttered for a second before the woman cut him off, thrusting the two loaves of white bread into his arms.

“I don’t even want them. Take them off.”

“Ok, one second, I...ok, there we go. Your total is $44.37.” A receipt spluttered out of the little machine in front of him. “Really sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am.”

The woman rolled her eyes, snatching the receipt from his hand.

“Have a great day,” he said feebly.

Patrick rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses as the customer walked away. He’d been getting migraines lately, and this job probably wasn’t helping. He had been working there since he was seventeen, and he’d thought that by now, at age 21, he would have moved on to bigger and better things. He probably would have, too, if it hadn’t been for Brendon…

Well, it wasn’t his fault, of course. It’s not like he had died to condemn him to a life of scanning barcodes and being yelled at by crabby old women. That’s just the way it went.

Not that he was complaining. After working the same job for the last [number] years, he had gotten enough raises to increase his pay grade a lot. By now, it was almost enough to support himself: all he really needed was food, water, and shelter (and repairs to his weapons every once in awhile.) He was also pretty sure he had some type of life insurance, although it probably didn’t cover getting his throat ripped out by a vampire. Still, all in all, it wasn’t terrible (a fact that he had to remind himself of every single day). His other two roommates weren’t as lucky as him. Joe worked at a gas station, and he came home every night smelling like oil and gasoline. Andy worked at a local diner and came home smelling like cooking grease. According to them, Patrick “came home smelling like despair.” If despair smelled like Walmart, then they were probably right, Patrick thought. Even so, both of them paid minimum wage, a fact that he liked to rub in their faces when they got too annoying.

It could be worse, he told himself every day while punching in. You could be cleaning toilets or babysitting two-year-olds. You could be homeless, or a hooker. You have it easy.

He looked at the clock for what must have been the fiftieth time in the last ten minutes. He spent most of his days doing that. It was 4:52. He left at 5:00. Thank god. Even on the days where his job wasn’t particularly unbearable, it was undeniably mundane, especially in comparison to what he did after he punched out. Scanning groceries seemed pretty pointless when he was out killing vampires and saving people every night.

The next customer that came through Patrick’s line was much more tolerable than the angry coupon lady. She was a younger woman with a sleepy baby boy strapped to her chest. She paid for her rotisserie chicken and can of green beans, and said “you too” when Patrick said “have a nice day.” And then it was 4:55 and Patrick put up his closed sign and cleaned his register as fast as he could and got the fuck out before his manager could ask him to work overtime this weekend.

Driving home, he made a mental list of the things he had to do tonight. He had to pick Joe up from the Gas n’ Sip, do a few repairs to the weapons they’d used the night before...oh, shit. It was his turn to do dinner tonight. The first week they’d all moved into the warehouse together, Patrick had spent a whole afternoon creating out an intricate chart that told them all what chores they were responsible for that week (dusting, mopping, organizing their tools, and so on.) They switched off “making” dinner every three days, and though they’d been using the same system for almost two years now, Patrick always forgot when it was his turn. Looks like they were having pizza. Again. Not that either Joe or Andy would be complaining: their diets mostly consisted of pizza, Chinese takeout, and frozen dinners on nights they were feeling really uninspired. According to Andy, “pizza is the perfect food. Contains all the main food groups: wheat, dairy, vegetables, and grease.”

After a few minutes of driving, Patrick pulled into the gas station where Joe worked. He was already outside, leaning against the side of the building with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He almost looked cool until he saw Patrick pulling up and bounded over to his car, his face lighting up like a Christmas tree. It was almost endearing how excited he got every night when Patrick came to pick him up. He was kind of like an overgrown puppy who flipped shit every time his owner walked through the door, even if he had just gone out to get the mail and came right back. Yanking open the passenger door, Joe flopped down on the seat next to him, grinning.

“Hey,” said Patrick.

“Yo.”

“How was your day?” he asked.

Joe rolled his eyes.“You’re such a mom.”

“Can’t help it. Answer the question.”

“It was fine. I don’t know. It was like every day.” He put his feet up on the dashboard. “What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

Joe sighed. “Did you forget it was your turn again?”

“What? No.”

“You totally did. You’re a shit liar.”

“No, I’m not. I was just in the mood for pizza.”

“We just had it last night. There’s still leftovers in the fridge.”

“No, there’s not.”

“Yes there is.”

“Well, it’s probably gross by now. That fridge kinda doesn’t work the best anymore. Remember the incident with the eggs?”

“That was a while ago.”

“So it’s probably only gotten worse. Besides, it’s either pizza or Chinese, and the Chinese place is on the other side of town, and I don’t feel like driving.”

Joe put his head back and did this extended whiny groan that made Patrick wince.

“Stop that. You’re so annoying.”

“Annoying? You know what’s annoying? Having pizza every day for the last four months.”

“Oh, suck it up.”

Patrick and Joe had a relationship that was three-parts arguing and one-part grudging affection. Most days, it was hard to tell if they were best friends or if they really, truly hated each other’s guts. The distinction was sometimes blurry even for them. It was mostly Joe’s fault: well-intentioned bullying was the only way he knew how to show he cared. Patrick wasn’t like that, but he adapted, and they met somewhere in the middle. It was weird, but it worked.

The same could be said about the rest of their lives. All the unusual parts of their lives were condensed into orderly schedules, which made them seem more normal. They got up in the morning, Andy usually being the first one awake, and they had their coffee and went to their respective jobs and got yelled at by their respective customers. They took their respective lunch breaks at around the same time in the afternoon, and when the day was over one of them ordered dinner and they ate together and one of them did the dishes (they had a section of the chore chart devoted to dish-washing, but for whatever reason, Patrick usually ended up doing them on his own. He didn’t mind too much, because he figured it was sort of payback for how often he forgot to pick up dinner.) Then after they were all cleaned up, they went out and killed some vampires and came back and went to bed.

Of course, this wasn’t every day. That would get exhausting. It was usually only a few nights a week, depending on how many cold ones they were able to track down in the area. Sometimes, they went out hunting every night of the week; other times, they would go weeks without hunting once. They were good at finding vampires to kill, but at the same time, the vampires were good at not being found or killed. It kept things interesting.

Soon enough, they were parked outside of their regular pizza place. Joe insisted on going in to order, because he wanted to visit Marie, the cute delivery girl that worked there. He had been trying to get her number for the past year. So far, it hadn’t worked.

“Today’s the day, man, I can feel it,” said Joe confidently.

“Best of luck,” said Patrick.

A few minutes later, he re-emerged from the shop with their usual (one small veggie pizza for Andy and one extra-large pepperoni for the rest of them.) The look on his face was also their usual.

“Today wasn’t the day?” asked Patrick, trying to turn his amusement into sympathy.

“No.” Joe sounded crestfallen.

“Maybe next time. Everyone has a breaking point.”

“She’s not a prisoner of war, Patrick, Jesus.”

Joe was cranky for the rest of the ride home, but thankfully, the ride wasn’t long. When they got home, Andy was already there, sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by disassembled gun pieces. He had this weird obsession with taking apart his weapons and putting them back together in more flashy and less practical ways. He also had an obsession with sitting on the floor even when there were chairs or couches readily available to him. Patrick wondered what it would be like to have two normal best friends. Guys who watched football and graduated from college and objectified women and stuff. He guessed he’d never know.

Andy barely looked up from the gun barrel he was fussing with. “Forget dinner again, ‘Trick?”

“No, I just - ”

“He totally did,” said Joe, throwing the pizzas down onto the kitchen table and heading to his computer. “Kitchen” was a generous term. A more accurate description of the setup was “an electric griddle, a microwave, and a coffeemaker on a card table next to an industrial sink.” An ancient refrigerator was strategically shoved in the corner to cover up the huge rat nest they had discovered a few months ago. It wasn’t exactly a kitchen you’d find in Better Homes and Gardens, but it worked for them. They had all they needed: a machine to warm things up, a machine to cool things down, and a machine to make coffee. The electric griddle was a bonus commodity that Joe’s mom gave him for Christmas one year. For a while, they had considered investing in a toaster, but that was before Patrick discovered the miracle that was making toast on the aforementioned griddle. He was still proud of himself for that revelation.

Patrick grabbed a piece of pizza and collapsed on the couch that had somehow ended up in their kitchen. He was suddenly very, very tired. Dimly, he realized that was probably because they got home at around three last night, and he woke up at seven to go to work at eight. Grand total of four hours of sleep. Andy and Joe were already bickering about something, and Patrick took off his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“I’m going to bed,” he decided out loud.

“Dude,” said Andy, “it’s five-thirty.”

“Don’t care,” Patrick replied, and grabbed another slice of pizza as he headed to his room.

“You’re such a grandma,” Joe called after him.

“Don’t care,” Patrick said again. He was at the end of their hallway, turning the knob of his bedroom door when -

"Hey, ‘Trick, wait!” Joe yelled. “Come look at this!” Patrick groaned quietly, letting his head rest briefly against his door before turning around and trudging back to the main part of the warehouse. Joe was in his “office,” a corner of the warehouse that held his computer and a small family photo on a tray table. He was sitting upside down on his rolling chair, legs in the air, pizza in one hand, spinning back and forth slightly. What is with my roommates and their inability to sit on chairs properly? Patrick thought to himself. Andy got up from his spot on the floor and squatted next to Joe, while Patrick wearily approached him from the side. Joe motioned towards his computer screen with his foot. Whatever was on the computer looked like a homemade, heavily-bedazzled MySpace page. “Found this at work today,” he said. “You gotta see this.” Patrick sighed internally, but obediently started to read. It was about vampires. Of course. What else would it be?

After a moment, Andy groaned.  "Seriously, man? That can't be legit. It’s just an old wive’s tale or something, we don’t - ”
"Pretty much everything we do is an old wive’s tale,” Patrick pointed out grudgingly. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was helping Joe out, seeing as he was the only reason he wasn’t asleep right now. "I’m not giving the author any points for web design, but it might be worth checking out. What’s the main concept, exactly?”
Joe took a disgustingly big bite of pizza and scrolled down, finding his place on the screen. "Okay, so, basically...” He cleared his throat and began to read. “‘Many legends concur that if a virgin boy rides a virgin horse through a graveyard at midnight, during the full moon -’ ”

“He’s the main character of a shitty 80’s slasher film,” Andy finished.

“Bro.”

“And he gets stabbed within the first five minutes of the movie.”

“Are you gonna let me finish?”

“What? Oh. Sorry.”

“‘Many legends concur that if a virgin boy rides a virgin horse through a graveyard at midnight, during the full moon, the horse will balk every time it passes a place it senses vampires.’”


Joe shook his head.  "I don't know what these guys' deal with virgins is, but as primary authority on the subject, Hurley, what do you think?"


Andy shrugged. "I mean...like ‘Trick said, it’s worth a shot. I’m not sure where you’re going to get a virgin horse, but - ”


"The horse wouldn't be a problem, Hurley, don’t you worry. So you’re on board as our abstinent guinea pig?"


"Wait, no, I didn't-"


"Good talk.  By the way, I looked it up. Dandies can fly, even if they can't turn into bats.  So technically , I win."


Patrick smiled as Andy heatedly replied, "You do not!  You said they turn into bats. I said they don't. I win."


"No, sweetheart, you implied that they can’t fly at all. So I'm more correct as far as that goes."

"Bullshit, man. You lost, own up."


Patrick rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving them to their arguing.  The full moon was less than a week away, and if they were going to try Joe’s idea, they needed a horse…

 

Whatever. If Joe was so crazy about this idea, he could figure that out himself. Right now, Patrick was going the fuck to sleep.
***
"You're kidding, right?" said Andy.

"Oh, come on. Twenty-first century horse.  It’ll work just fine.”


Andy hesitated, and then sighed. A noise of resignation that Patrick knew well.  "Okay. You know what? Whatever. If... when it doesn’t work, you’ll be down $400, and I’ll be laughing my ass off. Just so you know.”

They all stood in silence for a moment, staring at the sad-looking heap of refuse that was sitting in the middle of their warehouse. Joe had bought it off Craigslist the morning after they’d all decided to test out the theory he’d found. Patrick wasn’t sure whether or not it was a mistake. Well, they’d find out tonight…”

“Think about it, Hurley,” said Joe. “‘Virgin’ means ‘never had sex,’ right? This motorcycle” - here he patted the peeling seat fondly - “has never had sex. Just like other people I could name.”

“Motorcycles can’t have sex,” Andy pointed out.

“Exactly. So we know for a fact that this one didn’t.”

“That logic is lacking,” said Andy. “But okay. Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.”


"That's my girl.  Don't worry, we'll be right behind you."  Joe revved the motorcycle and motioned for Andy to get on.   


"I hope you're closer behind me than last time,” said Andy, grudgingly pulling on a helmet as he straddled the bike.

“Oh, come on, that was months ago.”

“I still have the scars.”

“Forgive and forget, man.”

“I could have died!”

“But you didn’t. Stop being a pussy.”

“Um, ladies?” said Patrick. “Can we get this started sometime today?”

“It’s not fair, Trohman. I’m always the bait.”


"Not always ,” said Joe brightly. “Just mostly. And for all the right reasons. You’re the prettiest.” He smacked the side of his helmet lovingly and took a step back. “Have fun, don't go too fast, keep your earpiece in.”

"Okay, mom."


Joe blew him a kiss as he turned on his earpiece and rode out onto the street. "Okay, so, it's 11:58, I'm heading over towards the corner of 4th and Freemont.  Can you hear me?"


“Yeah, you’re good,” said Joe, but he seemed distracted. “The motorcycle’s too damn loud, they'll hear it a mile away. What a stupid idea, who suggested that?"

“You,” said Patrick. Joe ignored him. They got into the car, Patrick sitting shotgun, and listened to the static coming through their earpieces. Now that Andy had gone silent, all they could hear was the dull rumble of the motorcycle and the traffic moving around it. Joe bounced his leg nervously.

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” he said, after a minute or so. “I mean, even if it does work, where does that leave Andy? He’ll be all alone in the middle of a nest of vampires that probably just woke up thanks to the motorcycle - ”

“You know, I can still hear you,” said Andy over their headpiece.

“Oh yeah.”

“Has anything happened yet?” asked Patrick.

Before Andy could respond, a groaning buzz, followed by the screeching of tires, filled their speakers.

“You okay? What’s going on?” said Joe. His leg-bouncing had ceased.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, I just - the bike just randomly stopped in front of this alleyway. It’s in front of this old factory. Maybe it’s a fluke, but it looks like somewhere vamps might gravitate to. Dark, abandoned by the looks of it. I think this might actually be working."

Joe did a little victory dance in his seat, but didn’t say anything aloud, so that Andy wouldn’t be pissed at him. To test his theory, Andy went around the block again The other two listened as the motorcycle sputtered in the same place.  "Yes!  Corner of Fifth and Eighth. Across from the bank. I’ll look around, you can catch up with me, ‘kay?”

"’Kay," answered Joe .  "We'll be there in three."

"Hours, probably," Andy muttered, switching his earpiece off.  After driving a safe distance away, he parked the motorcycle and continued on foot, his hand on his favorite silver knife tucked in its sheath.

The alley wasn’t silent, because nowhere in this city was. Cars passed. A dog barked. Miles away, a siren wailed.  But here, between two concrete walls, everything was muffled: the noises took on a distant quality to them, as though they were underwater. Or Andy was. Or they both were. Anyway, the combination of the quiet and the darkness was getting to him. He jumped as a pigeon warbled from the corner and took off. There was a door around here somewhere, there had to be. Someplace for the vampires to be hiding.

Maybe the motorcycle had just stopped on its own. Who knows where Joe had found it? His hand still on his knife, Andy was turning around, getting ready to go check it out, make sure it had enough gas and whatever -

He let out an embarrassing yelp as a vampire flew out of nowhere and crashed into him, knocking the knife from his grip.  Snarling, it subdued him almost instantly, putting a knee on his chest and pressing him to the pavement.  "You smell amazing, you know," it hissed.

It was a female, a young one. Blonde hair, lots of makeup. Dead eyes.

“You’re a virgin, though, really? I wouldn’t have guessed, handsome boy like you.”

Andy sighed.

“Carden said that any of the hunter’s scouts should be brought to him right away, but surely he’d let me have just a taste ….”

She leaned in further, speaking right against the side of his face. Yeah, no. Andy was not having any of this shit.

“You smell so good…” she purred.

"Thanks,” Andy replied flatly.  “I did just take a shower."

The vampire laughed, and in the split second that her eyes were closed, Andy twisted hard beneath her, managing to shake a different knife out of his sleeve and slash it at her arm. He rolled, grabbing his other silver knife from his side as he did so and plunging it into her stomach. As she recoiled in pain, Andy unsteadily got to his feet.

“New shampoo,” he continued. “Axe hasn’t really been doing it for me lately, so I decided to make the switch to - ”


Suddenly, a bang ripped through the air, and the vampire collapsed, dead, in front of him.  Patrick strolled out from around the corner, closely followed by Joe.  Andy sighed.  "I had it under control, you know."


"Because letting yourself get disarmed and pinned down is a very good thing to do when you have things under control.  That one must have been a guard, which means we're getting close.  We can get through that warehouse the back way if we go around that store next to it.  Come on."  

Patrick started walking briskly across the road and Joe strolled up, sniffing Andy's shoulder.  

"You do smell nice,” he said.

“That’s so gay,” said Andy.

“That’s homophobic!” Joe yelled. Everyone shushed him. “That’s homophobic,” he repeated in a whisper. “‘Trick, did you hear that? Andy’s being homophobic.”

Patrick shot them both a withering look.

"So. Stump,” said Andy. “Are we trying to get in under the radar, or are we kicking open the door with guns a-blazing?”


“I personally vote for the second option,” said Joe.


"We’re gonna try to get in as quietly as we can, scope it out as much as we can before we’re seen. The second they spot us, we attack.”


"Okay. Should we split up?"


"No. That’s what white people in horror movies do. Obviously, warehouse rooms and storage areas are big, so we should all stay at least in the same room if something goes wrong.” No, when something goes wrong, he thought to himself.

“The back door will definitely have at least three guards,” said Joe, “so I say we try the side door over there.” He motioned to a small inlet in the far corner of the alley. In it, there was a rusty door locked shut with an even rustier padlock. “My gun has a silencer, I’ll just- "  

He aimed at the lock and pulled the trigger. Patrick gritted his teeth at the muffled bang, but the doorknob fell off and the door creaked open an inch or so.
"That was really loud.  Now everyone nearby knows we’re here.”
Joe huffed.  "Let me check if my silencer is defective - oh wait, it's not! That's as quiet as you're gonna get, bud."  Patrick shushed him again and they crept forward towards the door, guns out and ready.  Joe signaled to Andy and they flanked Patrick, getting on either side of the door and holding their weapons ready as he nudged it open.  

The door creaked on its hinges, and all hell broke loose.

Dandies, dozens of them, swarming from every corner of the cavernous warehouse room, already armed and ready, like they’d been waiting for the hunters to arrive. It was almost like like they’d been alerted of their presence by the deafening motorcycle engine, or by Joe yelling about homophobia in the alley, or by their doorknob being shot off. Patrick would have to lecture the two of them about that later, but now, it was like he was a different person. He went into drill sergeant mode, yelling orders, motioning forward. Carden was standing on a crate behind the mass, calmly giving orders in a voice that seemed to be coming from everywhere at the same time. Patrick ducked a dagger, rolling on his shoulder and shooting upwards, but the crowd was too big and too violent. They were outnumbered at least ten to one. Joe's gun, still equipped with the no-longer-necessary silencer, was making muffled explosions, and out of the corner of his eyes, Patrick could see the occasional flashes of Andy's silver knife. They had waded almost halfway through the crowd uninjured when somewhere in the corner, out of their weapon's range, a vampire shrieked in surprise and agony.  The three hunters were almost forgotten as the crowd collectively turned, and swarmed on something - someone? - they couldn't see.  More screams rose from that spot, as well as shrieks of "TRAITOR!"  


The three hunters glanced at each other. A pause in the battle wasn’t typical, but they couldn’t dwell on it. Now was their chance: they rushed forward, but Carden had disappeared off of his crate and into the crowd. They slashed and shot and stabbed through the ring around whatever was in the middle, until the dandies seemed to realize that they were losing. They scattered like a swarm of birds, going off in every direction.  

Standing alone was a single figure wearing a dark-green hoodie. He looked at the three of them, smirked.  Casually, he dropped to one knee and pulled a knife out of a nearby corpse.  

Instantly, Patrick raised his gun. The figure, still kneeling, looked vaguely amused. “Is that how you hunters say ‘thank you’?”

As he spoke, his teeth  - no, his fangs - were visible.

Patrick stiffened. “Put down the knife.”

“Put down the gun.”

“I’d rather not.”

The vampire sighed. “Well, then, we’ve hit a wall, I guess.”

Andy raised his hand, and the two men broke eye contact to look over at him. “Sorry to interrupt your masculinity contest, but I have a question,” said Andy. “Who the hell are you?”

“I like that one,” the vampire said, going back to addressing Patrick again. “Very direct. Cool haircut. And to answer your question, I’m Pete Wentz. Nice to meet you all.”

“Nice to meet you too, I’m - ” Andy started to say, but Patrick cut him off.

“You’re a vampire,” he said harshly. “You’re one of them. What are you doing here, killing your own kind?”

The vampire just smiled. “I’m doing the right thing, just like the three of you. I hate those motherfuckers just as much as you do.”

Patrick paused, letting the weight of his words sink into him. The tip of his gun dropped minutely. “I...I don’t understand,” he said.

“What can I say? I’m a complex person. Now, if we’re all done here -”

“We’re not.” Patrick raised his gun again.

“Ooh, I get all tingly when you act all tough-guy like that.” His expression darkened. “But we’re done.” He took a step back. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

He crouched down, and before Patrick could even cock his gun, he had straightened up again and jumped (flown?) right through the fucking window.

That went well, thought Patrick.

They stood there in silence for what seemed like forever, processing what had just happened. The implications of what the vampire had said, of what he had done. The feeling that the encounter left in Patrick’s stomach, forest-green and churning.

“I like him,” said Joe.