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BRUTALLY EXSANGUINATED BY A THIRSTING BEHEMOTH

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So it's after a show, and he's drunk, like super drunk, which is normal, and he's with this girl, and she has soft black hair and awesome tits and he's just gotten her pants off and her panties in his hand when she shoves him - surprisingly hard shove - shoves him away and says "Oh fuck."

And he says "What. What's the problem."

And she picks her tiny bright pink panties from his hand and points with her thumb to a dark spot in the middle of them. It's kind of a dried brown-red at the edge and shinier in the center.

"Fuck," she says.

"What," he says, because he's too drunk to parse, and she hisses, "I'm on my period."

"What," he says, because he's still too drunk to parse and she rolls her eyes and points at her crotch and says "I'm bleeding."

"What?"

"I'm BLEEDING. You know?" She waves her hands in front of his face. "From my vagina."

"Oh," Nathan says, fuzzily, and looks down. there's a streak of blood on either side of her inner thighs and her - her girl parts, the like, the, the lip-looking girl parts, which she has carefully shaved, they're bright red. Bright red and sticky-wet.

She mutters under her breath and sighs, puts her hands on her eyes. "Sorry. I'm really sorry. I'll leave."

But Nathan's curious. He's never seen this before, not up close. He pokes at her labia. His finger comes away red.

"Wow," he says. "That's, like, real blood."

She stares at him. Her lipstick is smudged a little at the bottom. Makes her mouth look bruised.

"Brutal," Nathan hears himself say, and he settles with his elbows on the bed. "That's - that's, like, a lot of blood. Wow."

"I guess," the girl says.

He pushes her legs apart for a better look. He's used to fake blood onstage, and to Pickles having bloody noses, and to throwing up blood in the mornings before Charles carefully suggests he renew his liver transplant, but this is different. It's weird blood, it's all sticky and bright and it smells kind of aquatic and not coppery. Probably tastes funny. He considers, and he sticks his finger in his mouth, and yeah it tastes like - like blood. But, like, weird blood. scabby blood. Yeah like when he eats his scabs. It had half-dried on her underwear and some of it's dried here, on her lady parts. He can scrape it off with a fingernail.

"Um," says the girl, and fidgets.

Nathan sucks at his fingernail. It tastes good. Salty. The blood is coming. Like, dripping. Like, out of her, uh. Vagina. What's inside vaginas? Besides that, like, nice, soft, hollow part? He last had sex ed in sixth grade and can't remember anything. Tubes, he thinks, a series of tubes. Like the internet. Dripping blood. He's very drunk. He sticks his finger in her vagina (she squeaks) and extracts more too-sticky, almost solid blood (did it, like, dry inside her?). He licks his finger.

"That's a lot of blood," he says again, to no one. "Brutal."

She doesn't say anything. She doesn't say anything when he sticks his finger inside her again (he's too drunk to feel her grinding back down on him). Eventually he decides it's too hard getting it out fingerful by fingerful and the inside of her thighs are wet, not really, like, scrapable, so he starts licking it up, ignorant of her body, fascinated only by the blood. It's like licking ice cream off a paper cup. Except it's blood. Fuckin. Fuckin brutal, man. He's drinking blood.

(He doesn't notice her hips rolling, or the hand she's stuffed in her mouth.)

So when she's, like, clean, except for red tongueprints, she seems pretty, like, okay, and Nathan sits back on his legs and sucks at his teeth. The room is swimming but he can concentrate on the salt in his mouth and it's. It''s. Yeah. He feels the bed bow and hears the door slam and she's gone. He remembers vaguely that he had an erection at some point, but, like. uh. Uh. Who cares.

She left her panties there, on the bed. The dark shiny part in the middle is drying fast. There's a smear of blood on the bedspread. He palms it but it's just that, just a smear, just a dusting, not wet or anything. Just. There. Blood.

Blood.

"Huh," he says, and then he falls asleep on the floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toki's in a towel at the kitchen table, arranging and rearranging his bacon, humming. Nathan sits across from him with a cup of coffee. There's a hangover driving nails through his eyes. His liver twitches. There's quiet except for the humming, and then a clatter.

"Ow," Toki says, almost conversationally, and holds up his finger. There's a red crescent shimmering on the side. "Fucking knifes."

Nathan reaches across the table. He takes Toki by the bony wrist and sticks the bleeding finger into his mouth. He lets it bleed into his mouth and when he sucks it once, lightly, the flow stops. He lets go of Toki's wrist and sits back. He should put whiskey in this coffee. Yeah.

When he comes back with the whiskey, Toki has his hand in his lap, towel twisted around his finger, and the bacon is in little pieces. They sit in silence.

Eggs, Nathan thinks. He could do with eggs.

"Nathan," Toki says.

"What."

"Why you licks me?"

"Uh. You were bleeding."

Toki looks at him.

"Okay," he says, and goes back to his bacon.

Nathan gets his eggs.

 

 

 

 

 


The door to Pickles' room is open, and he's complaining about something. Nathan doesn't have anything better to do, so he sticks his head in, just in time to see Pickles jab himself in the arm with a syringe. The needle comes out clean and he hisses and shakes it. "Feckin."

"What are you doing," Nathan says, as if it wasn't obvious.

"This ain't fair," Pickles whines. He palpates the crook of his arm and frowns. "I drank a lot of water today. Where the feck are my veins."

Nathan comes in the room. The air is redolent with sweat and tequila. Pickles is only in his underwear. Up close Nathan can see a lot of fresh needlemarks on his arms.

"Do me a favor, Nathan," Pickles says, and hands him the syringe. "I think there's a vein on my shoulder. Stick that in there."

Nathan takes the syringe and looks at it. "What is this."

"Heroin." Pickles blinks. "I think."

Nathan circles the bed, looking for blue on Pickles' back. He finds a long line going from shoulder to spine and knee-walks onto the bed to get to it. He aims and pushes the needle in. A thin trickle of red leaks down and Nathan zeroes in on it. His mouth immediately goes dry.

"Uh, Pickles."

"Yeah."

"You're bleeding."

"You got a vein!" Pickles claps. "Okay, now you gotta actually inject me. Just, ya know, push the button."

Nathan injects him. Pickles stiffens momentarily and then relaxes. The blood-track gets bigger. Nathan wiggles the needle and the skin rips. Pickles twitches. "You done?"

Nathan pulls the needle out. The tip is red. Pickles melts backwards but Nathan half-catches him and puts him on his stomach.

"Good shit," Pickles says into the bedspread.

Nathan's staring at the line of blood down pickles' back. The injection site is leaking slightly, there's a second line running down his shoulderblade, and it looks, uh, good. Real good. He wipes his thumbnail up the first track and sticks his finger in his mouth. Salty.

The line is drying up. No. He kneels over the bed and pulls Pickles' skin apart at the injection site. blood wells up around his fingers.

"Whaddarya doing."

Nathan licks the pooling blood. Pickles lifts his head and tries to catch his eye. "What the feck, man. Did you just lick me?"

Nathan sucks at the hole, but the blood's already tapering off. He sits up and looks down. The wound is indistinguishable from a large freckle.

Pickles rolls over. His pupils are blown. "Why'd you just lick me?"

"Blood," Nathan says. He looks down at his hands. There's a crust of red-brown under his chipped fingernails. He needs to get a manicure. "There was, uh, blood. So I. Uh."

"You - what?"

Nathan scratches around in the blank inside of his head for something to say. Pickles can't quite keep focus on him and sinks back on the bed. His hand twitches.

Nathan has the feeling that he's watching an overdose in action, which is usually fine, happens a lot, to the point where he can ignore it, but he like. Doesn't want to watch it now. Not exactly. He wants to. He kind of wants Pickles to pass out so he can - something. The syringe is still in his hand. The needle is still red. He licks it.

"Dude." Pickles waves his hand. "Don't do that. You're going to get like. Hepatitis."

Nathan narrows his eyes. "You have hepatitis?"

Pickles burbles and rolls off the bed. His head connects to the floor with a clunk.

"Good shit," he says, and giggles.

Nathan tosses the syringe on the bed and leaves. On the way back to his room he catches his reflection in a suit of armor. There's a little red stripe on his lip. He stops and looks at it, and looks at it, and his chest feels kind of funny, and his liver is definitely doing something weird, but that's, that's okay. That's definitely okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it's two days later and Nathan is on his bed, looking at the ceiling. He'd been eating popcorn out of a mixing bowl, but it's empty now, and he's feeling weirdly antsy. Like he needs a drink. Except he's had a drink. Three. Three, in fact, and he has a bottle of gin on his pillow, but the needs-a-drink feeling isn't going away. He pokes at the transplant scar and very gently taps his head against the wall to get his thoughts in order. The girl with the soft black hair keeps popping up. Parts of her, anyway. Girl, okay, girl with her panties off, he must be horny. He unzips his pants and frowns at his flaccid dick. No, not that either. The low animal part of him that's usually around begging to jack off is mysteriously absent. Zipper goes up and he stares out the window. Clouds coming. Thunderstorms remind him of dozy days as a kid in Florida when the monsoon heat washed up from the ocean and he had to stay away from the side of the road because there were alligators mating in the ditches. Not that he was afraid of alligators, even as a kid. He'd fuckin punch an alligator.

If he puts his head to the wall he can feel his heartbeat in his temples. That's a good sound. Comforting.

The door creaks open and Pickles sticks his head in. "Hey, uh, Nathan?"

Nathan is busy listening to his heart thump. "What."

Pickles nudges the door shut behind him. His green eyes on Nathan's. 

"So," he says. "When I was shootin' up. You licked me."

"How the hell do you remember that?"

"It was just heroin, jeez," Pickles says, offended. "Jaysus you think I can't deal with a little heroin?" He hesitates. "So, uh, was that a, a, a, a gay thing?"

Nathan's internal world has gone completely blank except for the word NO, which he guesses he's been saying out loud repeatedly because Pickles has his hands up and is like "okay, all right, Jaysus, it's not a gay thing. So what was it?"

"Dunno."

"Oh," Pickles says, and "Oh. Oh. The, uh, blood. You said something about blood, right? You were looking for that."

Nathan blinks. "I guess."

He half-turns away, but Pickles is on his shoulder like an excited bird. "Nah, man, this is - this is feckin' cool. This is good. I used to do this in the eighties. Like, way back in the eighties, before Snakes'n'Barrels was makin money. When you run out of shit to take, you just, like, feckin' stab yourself in the arm and that makes you go all high and woozy, and the blood loss makes you - when you actually do get shit, it hits way, way harder. And I have shit!" He punches Nathan in the arm. "Let's do this."

Something large and taloned moves out from the underside of Nathan's soul. It prods at the lizard part of his brain and that kicks on fast as a sleep twitch. He's kind of dizzy. Not horny, weirdly enough, but that's fine. Horny is a surface feeling. Whatever-this-feeling-is exists deeper down. He burps.

"I have," he says, slowly. "My dad, he sent me this hunting knife, for, for my birthday and - "

"Nah nah nah man you gotta do it right. Knives are all messy and shit. Stay put."

He darts out. Nathan's still kind of dizzy. He picks up the gin bottle from the pillow and takes a swig. It does absolutely nothing for him.

Pickles comes back five minutes later with a deflated plastic sack connected to a length of tubing with a needle at the end. Nathan recognizes it as an IV bag. Pickles tosses it to him and Nathan just barely misses catching it.

"This is going to be so cooooool," Pickles says, and bounces down on the bed. He starts feeling around on his arm for veins.

"Why do you have this?" Nathan picks up the needle and holds it to the light. It's huge. "Where did you even get this?"

"You know how we have saline drips before shows so we don't get dehydrated onstage? I took one." Pickles waggles the bag and starts unscrewing it from the tubing. "Filled this with dope and jerry-rigged it to one of Toki's old insulin pumps. Best three-day weekend ever."

He tosses the bag on the pile of laundry in the corner and tugs on the tubing. "I think there's a vein in the crook of my arm. That one's a bitch to get, it's kinda scarred, but it's thick." He spreads the skin between his fingers and squints. "Yeah, that looks nice. Stick it in."

"Just - like, just stick it in?"

"Not straight down. You kinda hafta angle it." Pickles demonstrates with his other hand. "Just like injecting, 'cept the needle goes in deeper and you kinda hafta wiggle it. You know you get it if the tube turns red."

Nathan's really dizzy now, 'cept he can see straight and walk straight and his hands aren't shaking. Maybe dizzy isn't the right word. He can't think of a good word. It's kinda like the feeling he gets before going onstage, or at least the feeling he used to get, and it's tingling down his spine and making his heart thump really loud in his ears, and Pickles wiggles on the bed and says "come on come on come on, Nathan, what's the holdup?"

Nathan gets himself up on the bed and kneels. He doesn't expect to get the vein on the first try - he has big hands, the needle's huge, he's clumsy even without this weird sort-of-dizziness roaring through his body - but Pickles sucks his lip and says "oh" almost under his breath and the tube starts filling up. Slowly, though, with a lot of air-bubble gaps. Doesn't look like blood much at all. Too dark. Almost black. Maybe Pickles is so metal he has black blood. That would be cool.

Seems to be getting stuck in the tube, though. Like halfway it won't flow down anymore. Nathan tries to wiggle the needle and Pickles yelps. "Dude you almost pulled it out."

"Sorry."

Pickles flicks the tubing. "I think you have to suck on it? Like to make it come out more? Shoulda brought tape, they tape the needles down when they do blood draws...oh," he adds, as Nathan pushes the needle in a little deeper. "Ow. Oh."

The blood strings down about three-quarters of the way and stops again. Pickles puts his fingers on the needle, pressing it into his skin, and Nathan picks up the end of the tubing and frowns at it. Sucking blood out of Pickles like margarita out of a straw seems kind of gay, in a detached way, but he puts the end of the tube in his mouth anyway and after a few false starts the blood comes out in hot wet spurts. For a second he nearly chokes on it and then he gets a rhythm and his brain, which is barely functioning as is, takes a spin towards the catatonic and the only thing he can concentrate on is the copper. Salt. Not aquatic like that lady's blood had been but hot. Reminds him of steaks. And. And. The scent of it fills his head and it seems to be coming out of the tube in a beat that matches the pattern of his flip-flopping heart.  

Pickles makes a weird noise and the cloud lifts somewhat. Nathan glances over at him. Pickles has his arm over his eyes and he's smiling with his teeth bared and breathing harsh out of his nose. 

"Jaysus," he says. He cracks an eye open. "Jaysus Nathan you look like a feckin horror."

"Like - whoa." The blood's like, spurting out of the tube. Nathan's getting blood on his hands. He fumbles with it and sticks it back in his mouth but the taste of it is making him a little - not sick, not dizzy, but - overwhelmed? Is that the word? Pickles is alive because of his blood like everyone is alive because of blood and Pickles' blood is draining into him and it's like he's eating Pickles which is kind of gay but also Cannibal Corpse as shit.  He's making Pickles die. There's a song in here. DRAINING LIFE-GIVING FLUID FROM A WILLING VICTIM. He could - the tempo - his heartbeat. They could use - 

He's vaguely aware of blood running down his chin. Pickles swipes at him. "Dude."

"Not done," he mumbles around the tubing.

"Me neither." Pickles groans and sets his arm against his eyes again. "This is good shit." 

"Didn't you want to do something else?" This between quick sucks.

"What?"

Nathan kinks the tubing and the blood slows to a drip. "Drugs. For that extra kick, or whatever."

"This is drugs, man. This is natural drugs. Endolphins. Endelphants. Endorphins." Pickles shudders. A blood droplet blooms on Nathan's pillow. "Dude just - untwist that. Keep doing that."

But Nathan's body is already complaining about so much sodium at one time and he's going to get kind of nauseous. His foot clinks against the popcorn bowl and he drags it over and puts the tube down in it. It starts filling up. Nathan zeroes in on it. The tube leaks like an oil pipe. When the blood's an inch deep he puts both hands in it and stares at how the liquid parts under his fingers. The pool is dark but it gets a brighter red where it's thin and splashed up the side. Pickles is breathing harsh and heavy and muttering somewhere a thousand miles away but Nathan's entire internal world is bright red and salty and throbbing. Blood wet on his face and up his arms and his heart is fuckin crashing through every capillary, dun-dun-dun. Time fades. The blood goes up to his wrists. Drowning in it. Thunder crackling outside. Florida. Warm wet ocean washing over his feet when he walked out to the beach at night to smoke without his mom freaking out about the smell. Kneedeep waistdeep aquatic-copper-salt scent and the waves muttering to him things he didn't really understand but could scream out later over a decrepit drum machine he'd stolen from the Dumpster behind the Guitar Center. Black sky above and black oceans beneath except this is thicker around him and it cools like ocean water doesn't 'cause it's life and life outside a body shrivels up and turns to ash. 

Thump of his heart. The world has shrunk to infinitesimal proportions. Only red and black and the sweet stink of it. He grays, motionless, vaguely aware of his breathing.

Time passes.

A clunk. Rattles the bottles on his nightstand and the tube rips out of the bowl with such force that the bowl rocks. Nathan wakes up from whatever trance he's in and rubs his forehead with the back of his hand, which is probably a mistake because he just smeared blood like all over himself. It's in his hair. Gross. He blinks and rolls his shoulders and notices the tubing leading off the bed. Knee-walks over and looks down to the side and there's Pickles. On the floor. He's very, very white. Kind of gray, actually. His chest goes up once, twice, falls.

Nathan stares at him. 

Pickles doesn't move.

"Pickles."

Pickles' chest hitches. The tube's leaking onto the bed. 

Nathan sticks a foot over the side of the bed and nudges him, expecting something, but Pickles doesn't move, or groan, or open his eyes. He just lies there. Like a dead fish.

Dead.

Nathan twists around and - wow, shit, that bowl is like - full. Slopping over the sides full. He looks at it but it's not - it's not shutting his brain off anymore. He's very alert, actually, and there's a twisty sensation in his belly, and, uh, Pickles still isn't moving, and now his chest isn't going up and down, and he's beyond white now, he's kind of gray, and kind of waxy, and. 

This is probably bad.

Nathan clambers off the bed and kneels over Pickles. Tube. Tube is still dripping. Flowing. He pulls the needle out of Pickles' arm - there's a hesitation, a feeling that the universe is considering, and then the big hole where the needle once was starts dripping. Pickles' eyes move very slightly under their lids, and then nothing. Nathan watches him for a long time but there's nothing else. Chest goes up. Chest goes down. Long pause. Chest goes up. Chest goes down. Chest stays down.

He fumbles in his pocket and his phone is slippery in his hands but he can dial. Charles picks up on the second ring. "Hello, Nathan. What is it?"

"Uh, it's, uh. It's Nathan. And, uh." Nathan gets a glance at Pickles, who is still disconcertingly motionless. "Can you come to my room."

"To your room. Of course. May I ask why?"

"Pickles."

"Pickles."

"I think he, uh, you know."

"What, Nathan?"

Nathan coughs. "I think he. you know. Hamburger timed."

There is a brief, careful silence, one that Nathan recognizes and instinctively winces away from, and then Charles inhales. "I'll be right there," he says. "Please don't touch anything."

And then he hangs up.

Nathan sits back on his haunches. He has enough presence of mind to put the bowl under the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

They didn't have enough Type AB+ blood in Mordhaus so Pickles got stuffed in an ambulance and they took him to a hospital. Charles followed in a limo and Nathan sat in the passenger seat wiping blood onto his T-shirt. Nathan hates how hospitals smell. He hates the buzz of fluorescent lights, he hates the dented coffee machine in the corner, he hates the nurses giving him funny looks as they pass by, and he hates that he can't stop folding and unfolding his hands on his lap. He is faintly aware of being embarrassed, and even more faintly of being terrified.

The swing doors at the end of the hall open and Ofdensen descends upon the rows of beaten chairs like a reckoning angel. He sits across from Nathan and steeples his fingers under his chin.

"Well, Nathan," he says. "I just talked to Doctor Catafalque, and it seems like the transfusion went just fine. Pickles is going to be all right. Probably."

Nathan blinks at him. "Uh," he says. "That's. That's good."

"Yes." Charles doesn't move a muscle. "It was very good that you called me when you did, Nathan. That was very, ah, responsible of you."

Usually Nathan hates being called responsible but it's okay now. Sort of. "Yeah. I guess."

Charles sits up a little straighter and laces his fingers together. "Now, Nathan. Why did you do this?"

Nathan grunts. He catches a scrubbed-up guy in dreads staring at him from the nurses' station and gives him the evil eye.

"Were you, perhaps, angry at Pickles?"

"What?" Nathan jolts. "No."

"He didn't do anything to, ah, piss you off?"

"No. No! No, it, uh, it wasn't like that."

"Well then, what happened?"

Nathan stares at him. His tongue feels like a dried-up plant. The constant beeping in the background is making him nervous.

"Nathan," Charles says, "you drained at least - at least three pints of blood from Pickles. I'm, I'm honestly at a loss as to why you would do this. Please, help me out here."

Nathan keeps staring. The faint terror surges and he defeats it by letting himself go red. Charles lifts an eyebrow. "All right, let's get - let's get one thing out of the way. Were you trying to kill pickles?"

"Why the fuck would I try to kill my own drummer?"

"Okay, so you weren't trying to kill him and you said you weren't angry at him." A pause. Charles' eyes are boring into Nathan's skull. "Nathan, are you and Pickles, ah, romantically involved?"

"What?"

Charles' eyebrow twitches. "Are you having sex with Pickles?"

"No." Nathan's almost relieved, for some reason, even though this is the second time in a day someone has asked him that and that probably means he should change some shit up. "That's gay. I don't do gay shit."

"So this wasn't a sex game either. Well then." Charles stands. "Frankly I've exhausted all my avenues. If you'd like to talk to me about this, give me some kind of explanation...mitigate some potential intra-band lawsuits..."

"Lawsuit?" The faint beeping has implanted a headache in the very back of Nathan's skull. "What lawsuit? Why the fuck would there be a lawsuit?"

"Nathan," Charles says, "you almost killed Pickles."

Nathan throws his hands up. "So? So what? I didn't - I didn't want him to die, and he wanted it, and, uh, you said he would be okay, so. He didn't die. I don't - I don't see what the fucking problem is."

"He wanted it."

"I just told you that."

"He wanted it," and Charles draws that out. "Okay. Okay then. I'll just, ah, go talk to the doctor."

Nathan grunts.

"Nathan."

"What."

Charles leans in. Really leans in. Nathan's never been so close to his face before. His eyes are very sharp behind his glinting glasses.

"Do not do this again."

He leaves.

Nathan sits looking at his hands for a while. Then he goes outside into the rainy night and picks a fight with a parking lot attendant. The guy smears his face against the brick wall of the hospital before running off into the emergency room dock and Nathan looks at the black mark of his blood before the rain washes it off and it kicks him in the stomach a little, shakes his animal hindbrain, but it doesn't make him feel better. Pickles waxy and gray on the floor. Pickles not moving.

Sucks.

He staggers back to Mordhaus alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pickles comes back two days later, a little pale but otherwise normal. Nathan is uncharacteristically antsy. The little minnow of terror that had been swimming around him in the hospital thinks that Toki, Murderface, and Skwisgaar are going to, you know, Find Out, but they barely give Pickles a hello. Stupid for him to worry, really. Pickles overdoses and gets hospitalized all the time. They probably just think that happened.

He's still worried, though, so he gets drunk.

After divesting the haus of all the kahlua he can find, he stumbles back into his room, misses the carpet, and his foot clunks at something under the bed and oh gross it's the - the bowl of - yeah. Somehow he thought Charles would have found that and gotten rid of it.

He sits down on the carpet and pulls the bowl out from under the bed. There's a black crust around the edge and there's, like, a skin on top. So this is basically, like, liquid Pickles, left fermenting for two days. He wonders if it's alcoholic. The skin breaks around his fingers and it tastes - fuckin -

The ocean breaks around his waist with a roar and he's going deeper deeper to where the sun hasn't warmed the water and he's apelike, caveman, hunched over a bowl of rotted clotted blood taking great handfuls of it and he can't stop. Like eating chips. Except it's blood. Which is way more brutal. And he's not really eating it he's getting his hands wet in it and his lips wet but it's. More than that.

The door creaks. Nathan could shove the bowl back under the bed and follow it but the step is too light to be Charles' and anyways he's paralyzed with. Something. Not fear, 'cause he's not afraid of anything, but, like. The thought that he shouldn't be doing this.

"I have steaaaaaaaaaaaaaks," he hears Pickles say, as if from far away. "The doctor said I had to eat a lot of red meat and Charles ain't lettin me into my stash so I'm just piggin out." A toe nudging his back. "They're really good."

Nathan wishes desperately for a towel, or a wet wipe, or something. He glances up at Pickles. "I'm not hungry."

"Jaysus, Nathan!" Pickles sounds impressed. "You're like. Cannibal Holocausted."

Nathan wipes his hand on his shirt.

Pickles looks down. "Oh. Is that, uh, me. Me juice."

"Do you want it back? We can like - I still - " Nathan waves in the general direction of the laundry heap, where the needle and tubing have been lying. "We could, uh, un-drain it? Or I could re-inject it into your, uh, arteries."

Pickles shakes his head. Nathan notices he's got a bandage round his elbow. He puts the platter of steaks on the bed. He watches Nathan. Nathan's always surprised by how bright his eyes can get. Even when he's way down, heroin and booze and pills at the same time. even with that, his eyes will shine.

"Gotta say, Nathan," he whispers, conspiratorial, "that was the best high I've ever had."

Nathan doesn't say anything. He's drunk. He's got clotted blood dripping down his face, pooling at his collarbone.

Pickles grins. "You said your dad gave you a hunting knife?"

"Charles said - "

"Ah, feck what he says."

Nathan points. Pickles takes a while extracting the knife from the general clutter that is his closet. He tosses it into Nathan's lap, and then he pauses. He picks up a steak and tears a chunk out of it, pops it in his mouth. He chews thoughtfully.

"I think - they tell you to go down the road, not across the street, but that's if you wanna die. I think you can just go across the road. That'll be. That'll work."

The knife is heavy in Nathan's hand, and then it's not, any more than his hand isn't heavy. It's like there's a surgeon inside him, telling him where to cut. Pickles gasps and crinkles up his nose but he doesn't turn away, and when the knife bounces on the floor he grins and pulls the cut open wider. "Come on, dude!"

Nathan lowers his head.

Something. Florida. Not Florida. A whale who isn't a whale singing in the depths, telling him, eat, eat, feast, my child. The water red. Slit the throats before they throw the bodies in, not deep enough to kill but enough so that the sharks know where to go. The sharks. His friends. In the water. He is in the water, he is the water, he is the sea, the hot tropical sea, warm as blood, it is blood, the blood of the earth. Heaving out of the surf with the blood of the earth sticking his hair to show himself to those who are in agonies of terror for their love. The moon lights him up and he is unknowable, he is the world. Behold him. Behold.

Pickles falls off the bed.

Charles won't let Nathan ride in the ambulance.

 

 

 

 

 


"Where am Pickles?" Toki has his booted feet up on the table.

Charles has worn his striped tie today, which is bad. Very bad. Nathan decides to look out the window. Or at the window. He's not sure which.

"Pickles is under the weather," Charles says, clipped. He looks directly at Nathan. "Would you like to explain why, Nathan."

"I, uh." They're all staring at him, he hates being stared at. "I. Stole his blood."

They keep staring at him.

"And?" Charles prompts.

Nathan tugs at the table but it won't flip. Bolted, he remembers vaguely.

"After I was, uh, specifically told not to." A beat.

"And, ah, what did you do with it?"

Nathan puts his head down on the table and mutters.

Murderface jabs his shoulder. "Whadddya shay?"

Nathan wants to die. Or actually, he wants everyone else in the world to die. Right now. Painfully. Especially Charles. "I put it in a bowl. And. I drank it."

There is a long, thoughtful silence.

"Brutal," Toki says.

"Oh great," Skwisgaar says, "Nathan ams a vampire. That aint's brutal. We is not shitty goth-rock outfits here."

"That's black metals," Toki corrects him. "Is brutal."

"Amn't," Skwisgaar says. "Black metals is bloods for Satan. Vampires is Hot Topics."

"Vampires is black metals," Toki insists.

Skwisgaar rolls his eyes. "Hot Topics. And anyways black metals is tryhard Norskwegian babies."

"Heyyyy," Toki whines. "I is a Norskwegian!"

"Youse a tryhard baby," and they're off, squabbling like cats.

"Did you touch - any of my knives?" Murderface lolls towards Nathan, his beady eyes glinting.

"Gentlemen," Charles interrupts. "I called this meeting to discuss a problem that Nathan is having. If Nathan is having a problem, we are all of us having a problem. We have a show in two days. We need Pickles - we need everyone - firing on all cylinders, excuse my French." He taps the table and looks directly at Nathan. "We're not firing on all cylinders if we're, ah, actively injuring our bandmates."

His glasses flash,

"This is a blanket warning, boys. Some things are inevitable, accidents happen, but you cannot and thus will not actively injure your bandmates. If you do, there will be Consequences." The capital letter drops into place with the finality of steel on stone.

"Fine."

"Okay."

"Whatshever."

"Nathan?"

Toki cut himself shaving, Nathan notices suddenly. Two little lines on his chin. Nathan lasers in on them. They've scabbed. His throat feels all closed up. A hurricane moon bobbing in the sky. Tide coming up. Copper in his mouth.

"Nathan," Charles' voice comes down, slitting through the ocean like a motorboat.

"Yeah," Nathan says, and he tears his eyes away from Toki. "Yeah."

"Good," Charles says. He stands. "I'm going to the hospital, to visit Pickles. He should be discharged by tonight."

"Okay," Nathan says.

Charles threw out his blood-bowl. Nathan lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling. He sticks his thumb in his mouth and bites. A prick of blood comes out but it's not satisfying. The ocean has retreated.

He gets drunk.

Dreams blood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They do a show. He stands at the edge of Mordhaus, watching the heaving mass of groupies. They come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and they're all screaming for him.

"Heyyyy," he says. "Hey, hey. Shut up. Are any of you on." He tries to think of what it's called. "On your period."

The screaming stops. There's some mutual blinking with the crowd. After a few stunned seconds a girl in a miniskirt and knee-high boots raises her hand. She has red hair, Nathan notes, and something in his chest does a weird flip.

"How about you, uh - "

She follows him.

She tastes. Yeah. Nathan's happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pickles shoots up in his bathroom out of half-abandoned habit. Tries to, anyways. He pokes and pokes and pokes at his arm but nothing's coming up. He curses and feels around on his leg, and then paws around between his toes, and then he tries to stand up so he can get Nathan to stick a needle in his back again but he's too drunk and his legs aren't really cooperating.

"FINE THEN," he says to the empty air, and he finds his jugular, which he HATES doing because it STINGS, and he jabs himself, and three minutes later he's giggling on the toilet seat, and everything's fuckin glittery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her pants and underwear are down around her hips and she's leaning against the sink and - "Christ," she says, "Explosion, KNOCK."

He takes her hand before she can put the tampon in. "Um."

"What are you doing?"

He drops the tampon on the floor. It lies there like a dead mouse.

Abigail softens, very slightly. Her lips are still pursed. "What do you want?"

It occurs to him, after the ocean retreats, that she might count this as going down, and that'll be the second time, and so she might come to expect it in the future, and that's, that's actually, uh, fucking horrifying, but the thought doesn't enter his head until she's shuddering and his mouth is all, you know. Sticky.