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June 24, 2024

Blood Brothers

By Devin James Leonard (short, PG-13)

Cover image.
Image credit: Public Domain. More info.

Devin’s job as a night watchman comprises sitting at a desk monitoring a county building, which allows him eight uninterrupted hours of reading and writing (best job ever). His interests include painting, reading, writing, and exercising.

~~~

Whenever the doorbell rang, Jesse believed it would bring news of his little brother’s death. From adolescence to his teens, Andy was in and out of trouble—fights, thefts, drugs, you name it, Andy dipped his toes in it. Jesse’s earliest, most vivid memories were the times the police showed up at the house, either to inform him of his brother’s arrest or suspicion of a crime, and Jesse would think, One of these days, there will be a knock at the door, not because Andy was arrested, but because he’s dead. It appeared now, when the bell chimed and Jesse’s childhood fear gripped his adult heart, that today might be the day.

Andy had been off the radar for over two years. When he’d turned eighteen, mom and dad forced him to enlist in the army, hoping it’d straighten him out. It was the last resort, the best place to get him some discipline. Jesse hadn’t seen or heard from him since he left, but now here he was, standing at the door before him. He wasn’t dead like Jesse had feared—he was very much alive—though his ghastly complexion was as pale as death itself. Drugs was Jesse’s first assumption, but no, that didn’t explain Andy’s eyes, what were once a vibrant blue but were now lifeless black orbs. Didn’t explain the razor-sharp, gnarled fangs where his straight white teeth used to be. He looked like something out of a horror movie. Paralyzed with fear, Jesse couldn’t speak, nor look away from his brother who, apart from the conflicting distinction that it was the middle of the day, and the fact that they didn’t really exist, was almost certainly a vampire.

“Thanks for not slamming the door in my face,” Andy said, smirking. Despite his facial features, his voice did not resemble that of an undead creature. His usual light-hearted manner and aw-shucks tone was undeniably apparent. He even smiled like Jesse remembered, that wide grin of mischief. Only now that stretching smile showed anything but playfulness. It displayed a hunger, a great white shark’s mouth, full of piercing serrated teeth.

“I could use your help with something,” Andy said.

Jesse couldn’t find his voice, but thought, Typical. It was the same as when they were kids—Andy only bothering with him when he was in a bind and had to be saved. Whether he’d needed money to bail him out of jail or a debt, he always came crawling to his big bro to clean up his mess.

And here he is, after two years of no contact, back with his hand out.

“Invite me in,” Andy said, and before Jesse could refuse him entry, he found himself turning sideways and gesturing him into the house as though he were being hypnotized to do so.

Andy strolled on inside with his normal carefree swagger, his arms swinging as he strutted into the living room and plopped onto the couch.

Jesse shut the door and leaned on it, reluctant to move. His face felt cold and numb, as if all the blood in his body had drained to his feet.

“Don’t be afraid,” his brother said, and pointed to the recliner across from him. “Come. Sit.”

Jesse swallowed a lump in his throat, and his voice crept up in a hoarse, choked whisper. “I don't want to sit.”

Andy rolled his eyes and held out his hands as though he were just as perplexed as Jesse was. “I’m sure you have questions.”

“Yes.”

“Fetch us a drink and then we’ll talk.”

“I don’t want a drink,” Jesse said.

“You need some lubrication, or else you’ll never get your questions out. Allow me.”

Andy got up and went to the kitchen, filled two glasses with water from the sink. Came back, placed one in Jesse’s hand that did not reach for it, and sat. He took a small swig, smacked his lips, and said, “This stuff doesn’t nourish me in the slightest. Like an alcoholic, I’d have to drink an excessive amount to feel anything.”

Jesse raised the glass to his mouth with a shaky arm, drank a sip, and conjured the strength to move forward on legs that felt like jelly—like they weren’t his own legs—and slowly sat, eyes never blinking or leaving his brother’s sickly looking face. He took another swig and found his voice. “Are you what I think you are?”

With his hand raised flat and wagging side to side, left to right, Andy said, “Sort of, kind of, but not really.” Smiling with those fangs, finding amusement in this terrifyingly odd interaction. Every single tooth in his mouth was sharp and hideous, like ivory teeth on a chainsaw.

“You’re a creature of the night,” Jesse said. “A vampire.”

“I know it appears that way, but no.”

“Are you…dead, or—undead?”

“I suppose I’m sort of in between the two. It’s hard to describe.” Andy crossed his leg, interlocked his hands behind his head, and leaned back. “I can be killed, yes, so technically, I’m still among the living. They call us bats.”

“Bats?”

“It’s an acronym. It stands for biologically advanced tactical soldiers.”

“And they would be who? The army?”

Andy dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. “We’re enhanced soldiers. Our makeup is similar to vampires, but not exact. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s daytime. We’re nocturnal, but the sun doesn’t hurt us. It’s more of a minor nuisance.”

Jesse chuckled, but there wasn’t a shred of humor in it. It was out of confusion, nervousness. Fear. “What do you mean, you’re nocturnal?”

“Our enhanced abilities work better at night. Notice the peepers?” He pointed to his black eyes. “My baby blues are no more, but I can see much clearer in low-light environments. Sight, sound, smell…taste…all the senses become amplified in the dark.”

“Taste,” Jesse said, that nervous snicker escaping once again. “What are you tasting these days, Andy?”

Andy hesitated and winced before saying, “Weeellll—”

Jesse sprang up from his chair. “Oh-my-god, you are a bloodsucker, aren’t you? You came here to kill me.”

Andy chortled, choking back his laughter with his hands raised in surrender. “Settle down, man. Do you really think I’d kill my own brother?”

Jesse pointed a finger accusingly. “You son of a bitch, that’s why you told me to invite you inside. Vampires can’t come into someone’s house unless they’re invited. You made me invite you!”

“I didn’t want to just barge in, Jesse. For Christ’s sake, I might not be the old Andy anymore, but I still have manners. Besides, this was once my home, too, you know. If I was a vampire, I wouldn’t need to be invited into the house I grew up in.”

“I compel you—no, I command you—to leave at once. You are dis-invited.”

“Jesse, my dear brother, if inviting me inside isn’t a rule, then making me leave wouldn’t be one either.”

“Get the fuck out of my house!”

“Technically, this is mom and dad’s house.”

“Not anymore,” Jesse shouted. “They moved down south. You’d know that if you ever checked in on us—asshole. Now leave!”

“Will you please sit down and be quiet?” Andy said. “I have something important to tell you.”

“I’m gonna douse you in the face with garlic powder if you don’t get out.”

“That wouldn't do anything except annoy me.”

“Well, what vampire defenses do work on you, Andy?”

“I already told you I'm not a vampire.”

“Right. You only look like one and suck people’s blood. Got it.”

“I didn’t say I was a bloodsucker, but that’s neither here nor there. You need to sit down, relax, and listen to me.”

Jesse sighed heavily and yielded to his brother’s demand. He collapsed into the chair, panting, and waited for him to speak.

Andy just sat there, looking off in contemplation and scratching a faint hint of stubble on his chin, the sound like a knife scraping the scales off a fish. Jesse now noticed his brother’s fingernails for the first time, how long and sharp they were, like a cat’s claws. And along with the wispy patches of facial hair, these were signs Jesse had heard of happening to dead bodies. Hair and nails appear longer on the recently deceased, the misconception being that they continue to grow for a period after death. The true reason was because when a person dies, their skin retracts from dehydration. Either way, it was one more sign that Andy was closer to dead—or undead—than alive.

With a snicker, Andy finally spoke. “Do you remember in high school when Kimmy Lagrange and me were messing around in dad’s Chevy going down Rock Ledge Lane? Kimmy’s riding on my lap while I’m driving—I can’t see where I’m going with her bouncing in front of me—and we went off the road and flipped the truck. No seatbelts. Kimmy was fine, but I got cut all to hell from the shattered windshield. I lost a lot of blood, and you…you gave me some of yours.”

Jesse stared at Andy, stone-faced. “That’s a long way around to you telling me I gave you a blood transfusion.”

“I know. I just wanted to gloat for a minute.”

“And now that you’re finished bragging?”

“Well, you hit the nail on the head already.”

Jesse frowned.

“I need some blood,” Andy said.

Jesse shook his head. “You son of a bitch.”

“Jesse, listen—”

“You said you weren’t a bloodsucker.”

“I’m not.”

“But you want my blood?” “Yes.”

“Then you’re a bloodsucker.”

“Nobody’s talking about sucking your blood. I need a transfusion.”

“Why?”

“Do you remember why it was your blood they gave me?”

“AB negative,” Jesse said, nodding. “It’s compatible with all blood types.”

“And the rarest,” Andy said. “Less than one percent of the population has it. Do you have any idea how astronomically low the odds are of me knowing someone with AB negative blood, let alone two people?”

“Two?”

“Yeah, I know another guy. He’s a bat, too. It’s the reason I’m asking you for help.”

Jesse narrowed his eyes to a squint. “What kind of help?”

“So, these bats,” Andy said, “there are twelve of us altogether. Ever since our—transformation, I guess you could call it—we’ve been training night and day, mostly night. Learning our new skills, our nocturnal abilities. We’re being molded into super soldiers, and starting tomorrow, we’re taking part in what’s called the Night Trials. We’ve already been training as a team, but now we’re going into the field, for real. Still as a team, but with each trial, one soldier gets eliminated until there are only six of us left.”

“What happens if you get eliminated?”

Andy spread his arms as if to imply that the answer was obvious.

“They kill you?” Jesse said.

“We don’t go back to what we were before, that’s for damn sure.”

“Why only take six of you?”

“It’s because of our strict diet,” Andy said. “It’s, uh, quite costly.”

Jesse repeated the phrase—strict diet—as if he was unfamiliar with the words.

“We eat people to survive,” Andy clarified.

Jesse dropped his face into his hands. “Oh-dear-Christ.”

“Christ ain’t got nothing to do with this, big bro. We eat roughly every ten days, one human per bat. That’s a lot of civilian casualties. Think of them eliminating half the team as cutting costs.”

“Them being the army?”

“Forget about the army for a second.”

Jesse spoke in a slow, tired drawl. “What does this have to do with you needing my blood, Andy?”

“There’s this one guy of the twelve named Ranheim,” Andy explained. “He’s a super soldier and a super beast. Six-foot-five and stronger than hell. I’m telling you, this man was a monster before he was ever altered. His skills surpass the rest of us a hundred times over. And guess what? He’s got AB negative blood.”

“And his blood type has got what to do with it?”

“A scientist involved in the program said it’s his unique blood type that’s responsible for his heightened abilities.”

“Why’s that?”

“How the hell should I know? I’m not a scientist. The point is, if his blood is what’s giving him an extra enhanced power boost, then your blood, Jesse—your blood pumping through my veins—it’ll be like taking a mega dose of performance-enhancing drugs. I need you so I can be on par with Ranheim. So I can make the team and not end up with a wooden stake through my heart.”

“I thought you said you weren’t a vam—”

“I was kidding about the last part.”

Jesse rolled his shoulders, groaned, and sank back into his seat. It was all too much; his little brother, a super soldier, an undead biologically enhanced being who feasts on humans.

And now he wants my blood. Because my blood was, what, steroids for vampires?

“I know this is a lot to take in,” Andy said, “and I understand your hesitance.”

“Hesitance ain’t even close to the right word.”

“I’m still me, Jesse. I’m just different.” Andy’s tender, innocent voice, that which reminded Jesse of when he was a degenerate youth, pleading for rescue, once again returned. “But I’m still your brother. And I would never come here and ask you for your help if I knew it’d put you in danger. All I’m asking for is a small dose.”

“Couple drops of blood, huh?” Jesse said with a sad smile.

“A bit more than that. But don’t worry, I won’t bleed you dry.”

“How would I even give it to you?”

“I’ve got supplies outside in my car I snatched from the infirmary where I come from. I’ll hook us up, arm to arm, vein to vein. We’ll do an hour, see what happens.”

Hunched over, Jesse shook his head, looking down at the floor. “This is crazy.”

“You don’t know the half of it, bro.” J

esse sat up and peered around the living room, as if in search of his parents. As if they still lived here, were lounging in another room, and he could just shout for them to come discipline their youngest. ‘Mom! Dad! Andy’s in trouble again!’

He said, in a sharp spew of disappointment, “For God’s sake, Andy, mom and dad sent you to the army to set you straight and you’re still messing up.”

“I know, I’m sorry, bro. But this? This is different. I got hooked up with the wrong type of people—”

“You were always hooked up with the wrong people. How is this any different?”

“For one, these people aren’t a couple of punks looking to kick my ass for sleeping with their chicks, or some trailer trash dealer I owe money to for some crap dope. This goes way beyond the military. This is black ops government within the government. Look at me—I can’t turn back now. I have to survive these trials, and I’m not strong enough to make it into the top six. I need your blood, brother. I need you.”

Jesse thought about it for a while. Remembered all the times he would hide Andy from some jock banging on the door with a baseball bat. Or lending him money he knew he’d never see again so he could repay a new slimy drug dealer because he’d already ripped off the old one. Hiding Andy. Protecting Andy. Getting him out of a pinch. I-need-an-alibi-Andy was the running joke of a nickname he’d given his brother when he was a prickly little fourteen-year-old punk. How was this situation any different?

Well…Jesse supposed it wasn’t.

He pushed himself out of the chair and, the same as he’d done countless times in the past, he looked down at his desperate, shame-faced brother, and shook his head in disapproval.

And true to form, he gave in, as he knew in his heart that he would. “I should probably eat something before we start,” he said. “Are you hungry?”

Andy smiled. His eyes, though black and lifeless, sparkled with gratitude. “I don’t think you have what I’m eating these days.”

* * *

They started twenty minutes later after Jesse made a sandwich stacked with turkey cold cuts, lettuce, bacon, tomato, extra mayo on toasted rye. He devoured it in five bites, but chewed slowly, his appetite dissipating every time he stole a glance at his brother and imagined his gnarly fangs munching on human flesh.

Once Jesse finished eating, he lay on the couch, and Andy plugged the intravenous needle into his right arm. Then, Andy inserted the needle on the other end of the tube into his own arm and settled on the floor beside him. Within seconds, the clear tubing gradually filled with red as Jesse’s blood flowed towards his brother’s vein.

Both lay in silence for a few minutes, Jesse’s eyes fixed on the ceiling while Andy tapped his thighs and hummed a melody, as if he were listening to music only his ears could hear. Maybe he actually was hearing a song. After all, he’d mentioned his enhanced abilities. Perhaps he was homing in on the next-door neighbor’s stereo.

Jesse checked his cell. He’d set a timer, and it now said seven minutes had gone by. “Feel anything yet?” he said.

Andy ceased humming and said, “A little hungry.”

“Sorry I asked. So how long have you been like this?”

“Close to a year.”

“And you’ve been eating people the whole time?”

“Every ten days.”

“That means you’ve killed and eaten, what, thirty-some-odd people?”

“Math was never my favorite subject. I never kept count.”

Jesse scoffed. “Who were they?” “Huh?”

“Who were the people you ate?” Jesse said.

“How should I know?” Andy said. “We don’t go out and hunt for our food like animals. The people above us supply them. Most likely they were someone who needed to be disappeared in the first place. Witnesses or insubordinates.”

“Do you eat them cooked?”

“What?”

“How are they prepared?”

Andy chuckled. “You mean do we have our own personal chef who butchers them up into fine cuts and sears us steak dinners?” He shook his head. “No. We’re on what you would call a raw diet.”

“Maaaannn,” Jesse said, and thought: No more questions.

But he couldn’t help himself. He asked, “What was it like the first time?”

“Like when mom and dad force-fed us veggies when we were kids. I threw up the first time. It was a leg, a woman’s. It wasn’t the taste that made me sick. In fact, as soon as I became a bat, all I craved was human flesh. No, what turned my stomach? I’m gnawing on this chick’s leg, working my way up, and I see along the inner thigh a tattoo with someone’s name on it. Tucker, I think it said. Probably the woman’s husband or son or something. Made me feel human for a split second and I just chucked it all back up again.”

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Jesse said.

“Hey—you asked.”

Thirty minutes went by, and Andy sat up from the floor and began fidgeting. Jesse rolled over on his side and propped himself up on his elbow, mindful not to pinch the tube and cause a kink.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Andy said. “As a matter of fact, I feel great. Your blood’s like an energy drink. I can’t sit still.”

Jesse considered the needle in his arm. “You want to stop?”

“Hell no, let’s keep going.”

By the time the hour was up, it was five o’clock and the sun had set. Wintertime in December, you got more night than day.

Andy removed the needles and fetched his brother a Band-Aid to cover the pin prick wound. The brothers threw on their jackets and went outside, the full moon illuminating the snow-covered front lawn.

Standing in the winter elements, they hopped up and down, Jesse because he was cold, Andy because he was teeming with energy.

“Feel any different?” Jesse asked.

Andy gazed out at the barren landscape of snow and forest around the property, his face scanning from right to left. “I can see a hell of a lot better. It’s like I’m wearing binoculars over owl eyes.”

“What do you see?”

Andy faced his brother and beamed with delight. “Everything,” he said, his fangs glimmering in the moonlight.

“Then it works, uh?”

“Let’s see what else I can do,” he said, and took off in a flash, running down the driveway with such a velocity Jesse had never witnessed in his life. Andy swooshed away so fast he left a blur behind in Jesse’s eyes, here one second and light-speed sprinting the next, and then he was gone, at a great distance out of sight.

It seemed like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, and then he came whooshing back to the place where he had started. Andy halted beside his brother and huffed, but he was far from winded. He laughed triumphantly.

“Man, what a rush.”

“Where did you go?”

“The cemetery entrance by the firehouse.”

“That’s like three quarters of a mile from here,” Jesse said, amazed.

“And, brother, it was nothing to it,” Andy said.

Jesse wrapped his arms around himself and huddled, shivering. “I need to lie down. Watching you take off like that made me dizzy.”

“Feeling a little…drained, are we?”

“Funny,” Jesse said. But he was, in fact, drained, literally and figuratively. He was lightheaded, exhausted, beat. His eyes drooped and his legs wobbled, off balance and weakened. Andy put his arm around him, the first moment they’d touched since his arrival, and assisted him into the house. He held him while he pulled off his coat, then helped him to sit on the couch.

“We ought to get some fluids in you,” Andy said. “Maybe some solids too.”

Jesse shook his head as he nestled into a pillow and shut his eyes. “I wasn’t hungry before.”

“Gotta have something to fuel you up. Got any apple juice in the fridge? OJ?”

“Water’s fine.”

“How about food? You still off the red meat?”

“I don’t think I will ever go on the red meat again.”

While Andy rummaged through the refrigerator, Jesse pulled a blanket over himself, the sudden warmth bringing on lethargy twice as intense. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. All he wanted now was to sleep. What he really wished was to already be asleep. That this was a dream. That this day wasn’t real. Sleeping and dreaming and hoping that he’d wake up tomorrow and find his brother gone. Not gone-gone, just not here. And not undead. Not a bat. Not a creature of the night.

* * *

He awoke to pitch black and couldn’t see a thing, nothing but the moonlight through his curtained living room window. He sat up from the couch in a lightheaded daze.

“Andy?” he said to the empty house.

He glanced around, saw no one.

Quiet.

He looked at the recliner across from him and his heart jolted. For a moment he thought he saw his pasty-faced brother sitting there, but then he got hold of himself and settled his chest with three deep breaths. There was nothing there but a moving shadow cast from a shaking tree limb outside the front window. No vampire brother. Because that was just a dream.

* * *

In the morning, the doorbell chimed, and Jesse peeled his eyes open and sat up from the couch. Drowsy with a touch of delirium, he wondered who it could be. He never had visitors, certainly not at the ass-crack of dawn in the middle of December. Nobody ever came by until yesterday when—

No. Wait. That was a dream.

Jesse flung the blanket off his legs and set his feet to the floor. Hands on the seat of the couch, he readied to push himself up when—

He noticed the Band-Aid on his inner elbow. He pressed a finger to it, a small twinge of pain, like rubbing a bruise.

No.

Three hard knocks hit the door, and a muffled voice followed: “Jesseeee, where are youuuu, big broooo?”

He got up and walked on cold, stiffened feet. Reached for the doorhandle, and opened it.

Andy looked the same as in his dream that wasn’t a dream. He wore the same outfit as yesterday, a black coat, black pants, only this time he had a hood over his head and dark shades covering his eyes.

“Took you long enough,” he said. “You get a good night’s sleep?”

Before Jesse could answer, Andy brushed past him and came in. He pulled the hood back, removed his sunglasses, saying, “Bright outside today, huh? When I tell you these eyes don’t work so good during the day—shit, it gives me a migraine worse than any hangover I’ve ever had. Takes everything not to squint.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” Jesse said.

“Nice to see you, too.”

“I thought I had a nightmare. I thought I was dreaming.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.” Andy licked his lips, wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. Jesse cleared his sight by rubbing his knuckles into his eyes and saw that his brother’s mouth was bloody. Small bits of flesh were wedged between his teeth, and he was picking at his gums with one sharp, elongated fingernail.

“What is that?”

“It’s feeding day. I just ate.”

Jesse palmed his face with both hands and groaned.

Andy said, “I need you again.”

“Need me for what?”

“What do you think? Some more of that special juice coursing through your veins.” “More!” Jesse said, astounded. “What happened to your abilities from last night?”

“That’s the thing,” Andy said. “Unfortunately, the dose you gave me yesterday wore off before sunrise.”

“Okay, well, that’s simply not my problem.”

“Jesse—”

“Don’t Jesse me, Andrew.”

“Don’t call me Andrew, mom.”

“I’m not giving you more blood,” Jesse said. “I can’t.”

“How come?”

“Because it’s too soon. It’s dangerous. I’m pretty sure when you give blood, you have to wait at least a month, maybe even two, to donate again.”

“And why’s that?”

“How the hell should I know?” Jesse said in a mocking tone. “I’m not a scientist.”

“Don’t be an ass,” Andy said. “I need it for the trials.”

“Andy,” Jesse said emphatically, “I cannot help you. My body needs time to replace the blood I gave you last night.”

“How long do you need?”

“Like I said, it takes some time.”

“You have—” Andy looked at his wrist even though he wasn’t wearing a watch. “You have twelve hours to replenish. So toss some food and water down that gullet, lie down, and rest up.”

“All right, let me get right on that.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“What do you think?”

“My trial starts at ten o’clock,” Andy said as he rose off the couch and sauntered past Jesse. “I’ll be back before six.”

“I’m not giving you my blood, Andy.”

Andy reached for the door but halted. He didn’t turn around. “Last,” he said.

“Last what?”

“I’m in last place.” He spun and confronted Jesse directly. “Dead last. I’m no good, Jesse. My stats are the worst on the team.”

“Oh.”

“If you don’t give me some blood, I’m gonna be the first to get cut. You know what that means? Means when you get the cut, you get the chop.” Andy looked at his feet, his voice softening. “I need you, Jesse.”

“I’m not the one who got you mixed up in this mess,” Jesse said. “This is the same as when we were kids. Always getting into trouble, always coming to me for money, for something, to bail you out. Me. Always me.”

Andy shrugged. “Isn’t that what big brothers are for?”

Jesse shrugged back. “Not for this—whatever this is.”

“If you don’t help me, I’m a dead man.”

“I thought you already were dead.”

“I guess just dead to you,” Andy said, and left with his head bowed.

* * *

The rest of the morning, Jesse paced about the house, contemplating. He was still fatigued from last night’s transfusion, and with the number of steps he was generating in his anxious traipsing, he quickly tired and took a nap on the couch.

Around noon, he woke up and decided he’d do it. Andy was his brother, his family, his blood. It didn’t matter what he was or what he had become. He was going to help him.

Jesse chugged a glass of water, finished the remaining half-carton of orange juice from the fridge, and fried six eggs on the stovetop. He furiously devoured his late breakfast and felt sufficiently replenished, also bloated and lethargic. A full belly made him tired, but that was okay. He needed the rest. So that’s what he did. He fell asleep, and three hours later, he awoke, relieved himself in the bathroom, and went to the kitchen for a second meal. He wasn’t even certain filling his body with sustenance would help speed the process of replenishing the lost blood, but he ate anyway.

Cupping his distended belly, he dozed off.

* * *

Jesse’s eyes flew open, not because he’d set an alarm—he forgot to do that—but because Andy was frantically shaking him and yelling in his face. “Jesse, Jesse, wake up, Jesseeee!”

With a sudden jolt, Jesse sat up from the couch and shoved him away. A rank smell wafted from Andy’s breath, causing Jesse to recoil and pinch his nostrils shut.

“Christ, don’t you brush your chompers after you eat?”

Andy theatrically smacked his lips. “I like to savor the flavor,” he said. “How are you feeling? Rejuvenated, I hope?”

“I’m knackered.”

“Look, before you say anything,” Andy started, then removed from his jacket pocket a rubber tourniquet, a vacutainer needle, and three plastic vials. He set everything on the coffee table, except for one vial, which he held between finger and thumb to show Jesse. “Since your blood-booster doesn’t work for long, we can take just enough for me to inject right before the trial starts. I promise it won’t be as much as last time.”

“How thoughtful of you,” Jesse said.

“Come on, bro. Please.”

Jesse palmed his face and yawned—it was more of an aggravated sigh—and said, “Okay.”

Andy shook his fists in the air in celebration, smiling so happily that he bit down on his lower lip and drew blood. He poked his tongue out and lopped it up.

Jesse winced as he peeled the Band-Aid off his arm, the tape sticking to his skin. “Let’s not make a habit out of this.”

“Yeah, sure,” Andy said. “Once the night trials are over—”

“No, no,” Jesse said, and thrust a finger at him. “This is it.”

Andy chuckled nervously. “But, Jesse—”

“No.”

“This will only help me get through the first trial,” Andy said. “I need to make it through six.”

“Figure something else out, ‘cause you’re not using my blood to dope you up anymore.”

“Figure it out.” Andy scoffed. He shook his head in opposition, but then nodded and said, “All right. Okay. Last time.”

Jesse locked his eyes on Andy, trying to discern if he was being sincere or if he was simply appeasing him.

“I mean it, Andy. No more after this.”

“Got it.”

“You do not come back after this.”

“Understood.”

“Say it,” Jesse said.

“I won’t come back,” Andy said.

“Promise. Swear to me.”

Andy raised a hand, scouts honor, and said, “I swear I will not come back.”

* * *

Jesse had undoubtedly expected him to show up the next day, requesting more blood. Sure, he’d promised he wouldn’t return, had sworn to it, but Andy’s word never meant much. It was almost futile, Jesse thought, to even force his brother to declare such a promise. Andy never held up his end of a deal back then, so why would he now?

He kept checking the front window, certain of his brother’s imminent arrival, but every time he looked, there was nothing out there.

How did Andy’s trial go? Did he make the cut? Or did he lose?

Was Andy dead? Dead-dead, that is.

If Andy was gone, it would certainly be a massive weight off Jesse’s shoulders, a hefty burden no longer on his back. Because he couldn’t give him another transfusion, not today or any other day, no matter how badly Andy came crawling back, begging like a mooch, a drug addict pleading for his next fix. Even though he’d only given him three small tubes of blood yesterday, significantly less than the pint from the day before, Jesse’s body simply could not afford to spare another drop.

All afternoon in his sluggishness, Jesse checked out the window, but Andy never arrived. And he worried about him. He couldn’t help but wonder if his absence meant he’d kept his promise not to return, or if it was because he was dead. Like a parent—or a sibling—who shuns their drug-addled child, they hated when they came around, but feared for their safety when they were out of sight.

This is the same as when we were kids.

Worry. Worry. Worry.

Was he still alive—alive as an undead vampire-man can be—or dead?

This gave him more alarm than anything else, more than his brother being an advanced super soldier, a nocturnal human-eating creature of the night. More than the knowledge that somewhere out there, in the deepest darkest corners of the world, there were nefarious top secret government organizations turning men into monsters.

No. What concerned him the most was the uncertainty of Andy’s well-being.

The same as when they were kids.

* * *

The afternoon went by without a visit, but late at night, while Jesse slept, the doorbell rang. It took him what seemed like five minutes to climb out of bed and drag himself to the door. His body was still weak, his head light with delirium. The short walk across the house was as trying an endeavor as coming off a mountain after an all-day hike. He could hardly grip the doorknob, let alone turn it. But he worked it open, and standing before him were two men dressed in the same black outfit as his brother, both with gnarly, sharp fangs and faces as white as a fish’s belly. At first glance, he thought he was seeing a double image of Andy—his eyes were blurry and unfocused—only one man was bald, and the other had a full head of long blonde hair. This wasn’t a double vision. These were two different undead men—Bats—and neither were Andy.

“Good evening,” the blond one said. He flashed a jovial salesman’s smile, but Jesse suspected—no, he knew—that these guys weren’t looking to sell anything.

“We are friends of your brother,” the bald man said. “Can we come in for a minute?”

“No,” Jesse said flatly, and slammed the door in their faces.

No sooner did he turn away and take one languid footstep did the knocks begin. Three rapid taps, then one man shouted, “Let us in, Jesse!”

Jesse slumped to the couch, laid his head back, and shut his eyes. “Go away,” he said.

“It’s your brother,” one of them said. “He needs you.”

Jesse had gone through this ruse before. He was familiar with this trick. Should have seen it coming. Back in Andy’s troublemaking teen years, and when he’d abused Jesse’s kindness and generosity until it wore out to nothing, he’d send his friends to do his bidding. They’d make up a story of Andy being in serious peril, and if Jesse didn’t help, it’d be the end of his brother. It was a scheme to get Jesse to dole out some cash. Only Jesse never fell for these ploys, refused to hand over money to the delinquents his brother had sent.

And he sure as hell wasn’t handing over his blood to a couple of undead goons that had come knocking in his brother’s stead.

“Let us in, Jesse,” one of the men shouted. “Your brother needs you.”

“Go—away,” Jesse said.

And the door burst forward, flying off the hinges and jetting through the living room, where it fell flat on the floor beside the couch where Jesse sat. Jesse didn’t even flinch or jump at the sudden inhuman act of his door sailing through the house. He was too weak, too tired, to be startled.

The two undead men marched inside and stood at ease in front of Jesse. “Andy needs a blood transfusion,” the blond said.

“Oh,” Jesse said without expression.

“He’s had an accident. He’s in critical condition, barely hanging on.”

“Doc’s got him on blood bags,” the bald one said. “He was conscious enough to tell us about you. He says your blood will save him. It’s special.”

“He sent us here to take you to the infirmary,” the blond said, “for an emergency transfusion.”

“Is that so?” Jesse smacked his lips. His mouth was dry, tongue like sandpaper, and his voice was so low and strained he sounded like a dying man. “Fetch me some water, will you?”

The blond one got a glass and filled it and brought it to him. Jesse sipped slowly, just enough to lubricate his throat, and said, “I’m gonna have to ask you two to leave.”

The blond said, “But, Jesse—”

“If I hear one more But-Jesse, I swear to Christ!” Jesse said, raising his voice. “I told him no more. Whatever he’s got himself into, he can get himself out of. Or not. I don’t care. Let the doctors give him someone else’s blood. I’m sure it’ll work out just fine.”

“It’s not working,” the blond said. “Only your blood will save him.”

Jesse sneered at the two pale faces. “What happened?”

The two pale faces frowned back, speechless.

“You said he had an accident. So? What happened?”

The bald man spread his palms and stammered. “It was, uh, you know, an accident—you know—he was in an accident, and he needs your blood.”

“Uh huh.”

The blond leaned close to the bald one and whispered, “Told you he wasn’t gonna go for it.”

As if annoyed by Jesse's resistance, the bald man threw his arms in the air with a theatrical shrug. “Listen, bub, you’re coming with us. It’s up to you how much force we use.”

Jesse said, “No,” and took a sip of water.

“We don’t want to hurt you, but we will get rough if we have to.”

“I’m so scared,” Jesse said, not moving.

“You should be scared,” the bald man said. “Don’t you see?” He bared his teeth, two rows of sharp ugly fangs. “We’re just like your brother. We’re vampires.”

“No, you’re not.”

“The hell you mean we’re not?” the bald man said, his voice rising with irritation. “Look at us.”

“I don’t know what you are, but you’re not vampires. Now get out of my house. You were not invited to come in.”

“That rule doesn’t work on us.”

“Then you’re not vampires.”

“Shut up,” the bald man screeched, and wrenched Jesse off the couch. He tossed him to his partner, and together they clutched him by his arms and legs and carried him outside into the cold, dark night.

A black windowless van sat parked at the head of the driveway. Jesse made no attempt to resist as they hauled him to the rear doors and threw him inside. He didn’t have the strength to retaliate.

* * *

It was a long, dark trip. While the blond guy was driving, the bald one had come into the back and zip-tied Jesse’s wrists together and blindfolded him. In the closed quarters of the vehicle, all he could smell was their rancid breath, the hot stench of human meat rotting in their mouths, between their gums, their fangs.

When the van finally stopped and the back doors opened, Jesse was steered to walk out into the cold. Hands with sharp fingernails clasped his elbows on both sides. Whichever undead man was on his right was squeezing too hard, the bruise from his needle pricks tender and throbbing with pain.

Jesse was made to halt. There were four chirps that beeped, possibly a key code for a door, and then a buzz, followed by the audible sound of a heavy lock turning and a door opening. The hands gripping his arms moved him forward. His feet touched a hard surface, his footsteps echoing. Warm air brushed his face where the blindfold didn’t cover.

They stopped again. There was another beep, the sound of air whooshing as another door opened. Jesse stepped forward, the door closed, and he felt his stomach drop while what he presumed to be an elevator went down. The stink of spoiled breath permeated, making Jesse feel nauseous, queasy, unwell. By the time the elevator halted, the overpowering smell made him lightheaded, causing his legs to buckle. The undead men had to hold him up to move him, his feet dragging along the floor behind him.

He fainted before he got to wherever they were taking him.

* * *

Jesse woke up on a bed with an IV bag of clear liquid dripping into his left arm. He fell back asleep immediately, and dreamed of voices, two of them conversing, whispering around him in the dark.

“Hold him down so he doesn't wiggle.”

“How much are we taking?”

“Just a little taste for now.”

“How many tubes did Andy say he took?”

“Tubes?”

“Vials.”

“I didn’t bring any vials. I just have these pint bags.”

“Shit, that’s too much.”

“Screw it. Fill the bags.”

“Don’t be greedy—it could kill him.”

“Right, right, right. We need him alive if we wanna come back for more.”

“If this blood works like Andy says, I’m definitely coming back.”

“We’ll just fill one bag up part way. Hand me the tourniquet.”

“Here.”

“Now the needle.”

“Here you go.”

Jesse dreamed of fire piercing into his inner elbow and lava being sucked from his arm. He couldn’t move, and the more he tried, the more tired he became. He couldn’t raise his head. It felt as if he had no neck to hold it up. He saw nothing in the darkness, only feeling the frigid grip on his arms and the hot, putrid breath feathering against his cheeks.

“Mmm,” one of the dream voices hummed. “That looks tasty.”

* * *

Four undead men dressed in black were sitting in chairs alongside his bed. The bald one and the blond one were there, and another two Jesse had never seen before. They all fidgeted with anticipation—or withdrawals.

“Feeling better yet?” the blond said.

“Where’s my brother?” Jesse said.

The blond considered his friends and smirked. “Andy won’t be, uh, up and running any time soon. He’s taken a turn for the worse.” They all chuckled as if they were in on a secret.

Jesse raised the inside of his arm, noticing the purplish bruise from his needle mark. What had been the size of a dime yesterday had now grown darker and much larger. And he remembered his dream, the voices, the removing of his blood.

“Were you guys in here last night?”

Sharp snickers and amused glances were shared between the four undead men.

“We took a little hit,” the bald man said. “Sample the product.”

“Good shit,” a third man said, nodding.

“Andy,” Jesse said. “Did my brother set this up?”

“He told us how special your blood was,” a fourth man said, “how it gave him enhanced abilities.”

“And now he’s got all you blood junkies on the hook, huh?”

“And we’ve come to get our fix,” the bald man said.

All four men stood at once, each taking a step closer to the bed. “Now,” said the blond, “are we feeling lively enough for a little withdrawal?”

Smiles stretched across their pale white faces, drool gushing from their jagged fangs. Spittle foamed in the corners of their lips, salivating like addicts watching a flame boil heroin in a rusty spoon.

Jesse shut his eyes, wondering how much Andy was making from this scheme. He thought about all the years his brother had taken advantage of his generosity. All the lies he’d told, the deceit, the crocodile tears. All the money he’d drained from his wallet.

Andy milking him for everything he had.

Down to the last drop.

Jesse rolled over on his side and exposed his arm. “Here you go, you fiends. Come get your juice for the night trials.”

“The what?” said the blond.

“The night trials,” Jesse said. “The competition.”

“Never heard of it,” the bald one said.

Jesse sighed, then winced as the needle punctured his arm.

“Fucking brothers,” he said.








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Article © Devin James Leonard. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-06-24