There Goes the Neighborhood
"OK. Tell me again why this is a good idea?" I ask.
"It makes perfect sense, Alex," says Heather. "I mean, really, like your sire will ever think of looking for you there."
"And I can do all the security wiring and even wire your coffin…" says Ralph.
"Oh, hell no!"
"OK, not the coffin, but the basement…"
So apparently Heather and Ralph developed this bright idea that instead of living on campus where they constantly have to worry about curfews and nosy roommates and the occasional explosion from one of Ralph's experiments, they should get their own place. There's this house for sale for only $75,000 as a fixer-upper about five blocks from the school that they want me to believe they can afford. Of course, no bank is going to give a loan to an unemployed 21 year-old college student, let alone a 12 year old.
So guess who they want to become a homeowner?
"So, am I supposed to pass you two off as my kids or something?"
"Well, technically, I was almost your niece," says Heather.
Ralph, meanwhile, wraps himself around my leg. "Mommie!"
I look down at him and feel my face curl into a scowl. "I'm going to hurt the two of you very badly."
"No you won't, because you love us," says Heather as she puts her head on my shoulder. She bats her eyelashes as she tries to look adorable.
"Please!!!" begs Ralph as he looks up at me with puppy-dog eyes.
"You two don't play fair."
"Is that a yes?" asks Heather.
"Fine, Martin will be happy I'm getting my own place."
I go to the club to let Martin know what is going on. Surprisingly, Martin is NOT happy.
"What do you mean, you're moving?" He says as he looks down at me from the cross. He pulls a hand free from the spike holding it in place. "It's not safe for you to be off by yourself."
"I won't be by myself. I'm moving in with Heather and Ralph."
He stops short of pulling his other hand free and gives me a blank, confused stare.
"Did you eat a kook recently? I think you've contracted dementation."
"They want to get a place off campus and they need a grown-up to sign the papers."
He pulls his other hand free and rips the spikes from his feet. He stands on the little ledge with his hands on his hips.
"You actually intend to put your lair in the same house as the hellspawn?"
"Ralph's not that bad. He's just a mage."
"Yeah, I'll bet that's what Saulot thought about Tremere and look what happened."
"Besides, Heather can keep him in line."
"Oh, so the HUNTER will protect you from the MAGE. That makes perfect sense, Alex."
"Oh, how sweet. You really do care."
He jumps down from the ledge and walks toward me shacking his head.
"You're too close to these mortals, Alex. You're too emotionally invested. And it's obvious you're emotionally invested. All it takes is one punk getting information back to Belzitane and he will use them to get to you."
"So what am I suppose to do, Martin? At least if I'm living with Ralph I can keep an eye on him. Could you see me trying to break all contact with him? He'd just follow me anyway. And whatever it is that talks to Heather led her to me. They'll just find me again. At least this way we're all on the same page."
"Keep rationalizing. Maybe you'll convince yourself."
"You don't get it."
"I get it. You don't get it. He's not your son. You'll never have a son. Because you're a vampire. She's not your family. Just because you were engaged to her uncle when you were mortal doesn't make you family. Because you're a vampire. And the next time you look into her pretty blue eyes and see the reflection of her uncle there, remember that Belzitane killed him and there was nothing you could do to stop it. And when he does get to her and kill her, you'll slip that much closer to the beast. Because you're a vampire. And that is what we do."
"I'm going out to get something to eat." I turn my back to him and head for the door.
"Rage, rage, against the dying of the light, Alex."
"Rage against this." I turn around and give him the finger.
"You're level of maturity never ceases to amaze me."
I leave in disgust.
About an hour after I filled out the application for a mortgage, I get a call from one of the Prince's retainers asking me if it is my intention to maintain a permanent residence in New York City. I choke back the urge to make a smart-ass comment and tell him yes. He then reminds me that the Prince's acceptance of me in the city was on a probationary level. My "application" will be reviewed by the Prince's advisors.
A half hour later I get a phone call saying my application was approved. The mortgage would be held by Greater Metropolitan Holdings and Securities. The papers would arrive by courier the following evening. The retainer suggests I not miss a payment.
Now on the one hand, I should be happy because this means I'm officially accepted as a permanent resident of New York City. So the next time I see the Sheriff, I don't necessarily have to worry that he's revoking my green card. On the other hand, the Prince is my mortgage holder. And if I DO miss a payment, that will be one hell of an eviction notice.
I can't win.
A few nights later, we all meet at the house to go through it with the housing inspector. The house is a two-story faux-colonial about twenty years old. The front yard is all of three feet long, but there is a decent backyard with a substantial privacy fence. The allegedly finished basement is anything but, as the walls and carpet show evidence of serious water damage. Every time the inspector points out a problem, Ralph replies "I can fix that!" The inspector gives me a confused look.
"Dude, just go with it. It's easier." I say.
The inspector really didn't want to give the house a Certificate of Occupancy. The roof leaks. The plumbing in the downstairs bathroom leaks. The wiring in the kitchen needs replacing. There's evidence of termite infestation. The concrete in the driveway is being pushed up by the root of the tree that fills what there is of the front yard. But after a little sit down discussion, he finally signs off on it. It really is amazing what looking someone in the eye and telling them what you want can do.
Heather starts to get second thoughts, though.
"Maybe we should reconsider this whole thing."
"Oh no you don't. I already got the Prince's fleas jumping all over my bed about this."
"But I don't think this house is worth $75,000."
"Well, duh. Of course it isn't. That's why the owners agreed to sell for $45,000."
"How'd the hell did you negotiate that?"
"Don't make me answer that question."
Heather's face gets stone serious. Then she picks up a broken tree branch and charges it with blue fire. Ralph and I jumped back.
"Jesus, I'm sorry!" I scream.
"Whatever it is, I didn't do it!" yells Ralph.
She storms pass us and heads across the street.
Ralph and I sit in the dirt for a moment.
"Wow, I thought you were a gonner there for a minute," says Ralph.
"She should warn me next time before she does that with a piece of wood. I coulda frenzied."
"She looks like she wants to kill…um…maybe we should follow her?"
We run across the street to the sound of a door getting kicked down. By the time we hit the porch, she is already up the steps. We follow after her. A wolf spider jumps out of the way of her feet and just misses Ralph's head.
As we hit the second floor, several small black spiders get crunched beneath our feet. Heather doesn't notice the spiders. Ralph notices but doesn't seem to think it odd. I think its weird that a very clean house in a relatively nice neighborhood of New York has this serious of a spider infestation. Heather kicks down the door to the attic and we find out why.
The spider is about the size of a VW Bug. It's fangs are deep into the stomach of a guy wearing gang colors. His gun is still in his paralyzed hand.
Heather throws the charged branch at the spider. It gets intercepted mid-air by a huge strand of web. The flame burns through the web easily enough, but still falls short of its mark.
"This is so cool!" exclaims Ralph.
I push Ralph back and fire into the gut of the spider. The round goes through the creature and lodges in a beam behind it. There is a brief spurt of thick red blood, then fist-size spiders pour out of the wound and jump toward us.
One lands on my hand and bites down. I smash it against the wall and aim again. One crawls onto Heather's shin and bites her. She collapses to one knee.
"Ralph, shield her!"
Ralph pulls out what looks like a plastic light saber. With the flick of his wrist, the plastic toy glows green with neon light. He hits one of the spiders, leaving nothing but a burn mark behind.
I fire again. This time I take out one of its eight eyes. It pulls itself back and lets out a hellish squeal. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the faint glimmer of Ralph's domed force field. Spiders crawl over it trying to get in. Heather is on her back. I can't hear anything through the shield, but I can see she's screaming in pain. As spiders crawl up my legs and bite through the denim of my jeans, I turn back to the creature. I hear the crunching of its exoskeleton as it shifts into a new form. I holster my guns deliberately.
"You're really starting to bug me." I call up the shadows around it.
From out of the depths of the shadow, the creature takes a hybrid form between a human and a spider and shoots a rope thick strand of web at me. As I try to force shadow down the thing's throat, the web hits me and starts pulling me toward the hybrid. With enough strength to flip a SUV, I try to break out of the web. It doesn't budge.
Realizing it's near the window, I wrap the shadow around both of us.
"You want me that bad, here I come."
I charge the hybrid full force. We both smash through the window and crash down onto the grown. Hidden by the unnatural darkness from nosy neighbors, we continue our fight in the front yard.
Soon, it's choking in shadow and I'm choking in web.
"Are you insane?" gasps the hybrid. "What are you doing?"
"You tried to kill us," I reply as I struggle to reach my guns.
"You broke into my house! What did you expect me to do?"
"You were eating a human."
"Oh, and I suppose you're a vegetarian?"
Suddenly, I realize he has a point.
"What did you do to Heather?"
"Normal spider venom. Hurts like hell, but she'll be fine. She threw a blue glowing thing at me. And you shot me. With phosphorous."
"I'll drop the shadows, but you gotta release the web first."
"No way, you first."
"Oh, you don't trust me but I'm suppose to trust you."
"No, moron. If I drop the shadows first, the neighbors see you looking like something out of a Spiderman comic with me wrapped in web."
He changes to human form and drops the web. I drop the shadow. I hear a woman scream. After looking around for a second, I realize it's his neighbor on the porch.
"Shit, you're naked! Get inside." I push him toward the step. He runs up onto the porch and into the doorway. "I'll be right back." I turn my attention to the neighbor. "I can explain this."
"Don't hurt her!"
"Get inside and let a professional handle this!"
"I'm calling the police," says the neighbor.
"What a minute."
After a brief conversation, I convince her that she was sleepwalking. The sound of the broken glass brought her to the porch. I help her into bed and she goes back to sleep.
As I get back to the house I hear Ralph exclaim triumphantly "Ha, I got you now Spidey!"
I get into the living room to see Heather limping down the step and Ralph jumping around the ex-spider hybrid who was apparently trapped in some sort of a force box.
"Ralph, let him go."
"Will you get your evil little minion here!"
"Don't call him that! You tried to eat us!" yells Heather.
"You people attacked me!"
I put what is left of the front door back on the hinges so passerby don't peek in.
"Ralph, please. Let him go."
"OK." He releases the force cube and goes in a corner to sulk.
"Alright. You're a vampire. I'm seen you shadow-users before. Eddie Munster over there is a mage." He points to Heather. "What the hell are you?"
Heather's eyes glazed over for a moment. "I am one of the Embodied. Chosen by the Heralds to cleanse the world of that which is impure." She shakes her head violently for a second. "Um, but you can call me Heather."
"Alrighty, then," I say. "Must be the venom talking."
"I offered to suck the venom out but she wouldn't let me."
"I wasn't bitten on the breast, you little pervert."
"I thought I saw one crawl up your blouse."
"That was your hand."
"You noticed that?"
I shake my head.
"My name is Alex. This is Heather. That's Ralph. We're buying the house across the street."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Alex, why are we NOT killing him?" asks Heather.
"Because it's not neighborly."
"He eats people!"
"So do I, Heather! Or did you forget that little detail?"
Heather puts her head down. Our host finally realizes he is naked in front of two women and puts a pillow in his lap as he sits on the sofa.
"What's up with the gangbanger upstairs?" I ask.
"Some punk I picked up near the airport on my way home. He had the bright idea to try and jack my car. My name's Jason. I'm an airplane mechanic."
"Nice to meet you, Jason."
"No, no, no, no!" cries Heather. She gets up and runs into the kitchen.
I follow after her.
"What am I suppose to do, Alex?" cries Heather. "Who am I to say 'oh, it's o.k. if monsters eat these people but not those people.' I'm listening to him and a part of me says it's alright that he's a blood-drinking spider monster so long as he doesn't eat innocent people. What kind of logic is that? It's the same logic I use with you. Every time I see you use the shadows there isn't one part of my being that doesn't cringe, but I tell myself it's different because you're killing the bad guys. But it's not different. Who am I to say who deserves to live and who deserves to die?"
I sit down at the kitchen table. "Guy goes surfing off the coast of Australia. Great White comes by, thinks he's a seal, attacks. Is the shark evil?"
"It's not the same thing."
"Is the shark evil?"
"No. But you're sentient. The shark doesn't know better."
"The survival instinct is the same. I feed or I die. Just like any other predator. The only difference between me and the shark is that I can consciously try to make feeding choices that have the minimal negative impact. There is no moral compass. There is no logic. Feed or die. That's all there is."
"So where does that leave me?"
"I can't tell you what to think, Heather. You gotta figure that one out yourself. Only thing I can suggest is that maybe you should follow your instincts instead of your reason. Your instincts have always seemed pretty solid to me."
"I should go apologize to our new neighbor."
She slowly walks pass me to go into the living room.
"One more thing."
"Next time you plan on charging up a wooden stake, TELL me you're gonna do it first!"