Beta and Snow

NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) never did anything for me because whatever social or mental mechanic it has to encourage people to write didn’t work on me. I got to writing a novel in a month or less because it was a ghostwriting job that paid well, my husband didn’t have a job because he was looking for one while going to school, and I won’t let my writing degree go to waste. Also, it’s because I’m always writing. Stories are my crack and I am helplessly addicted. Why only have one NaNoWriMo when every month can be NaNoWriMo?

Before I figured out all that, however, I thought I would give it a go. This was my first and only attempt to write something for NaNoWriMo.


Beta and Snow

By T.S. Lowe


Prologue

“You are nothing!”

She coiled in, hands over her face, knees to her wrists.

“You think you’re trying to be someone’s friend, but you’re not! Always disrespecting me—I put a roof over your head, feed you, clothe you, work myself to keep you alive when no one in the world wants you—and you—don’t you dare say you’re sorry! I know you ain’t!”

The word had started sputtering from her mouth, but at his snap she jammed it closed.

“And stop huddling up like I’m punching you or something, you want to make me feel guilty, eh? You know what, to hell am I helping you anymore. That’s it. You better get out of this house, I’m done—you won’t ‘preciate and respect me I don’t care no more—Get out!”

“But—“

“I don’t want to hear, you stupid child, you’re old enough you can take care of yourself, aren’t you? Always acting so independent, thinking you know everything—GET OUT!”

There was a pain in her tongue as she fled. A curious thing, to cramp in your tongue and throat while being yelled at. It was like she had run too much and the pounding of blood pushed against vessels that hadn’t had to deal with such pressure, but she hadn’t been running. She had just been sitting there. Sitting there, with sweat pooling under her armpits and her long hair sticking to her neck. Just sitting there, getting cold all over as she went to a calm place deep inside her chest and whispered to herself to become stone, to become unfeeling, and to wait till the storm died down.

But when she opened her eyes the storm hadn’t gone away. Because, although Father wasn’t yelling, she wasn’t home. She was outside, attracting the stares of curious strangers because of her bare feet, and miles away.

It was cold. The leaves had just started to turn yellow. She breathed in the musky holiday air, but it came in too thin. So hard to breathe. So cold—colder than the air around her.

Why did it hurt to swallow?

Oddly enough, though it was completely unrelated, it reminded her of a time when she had been little and had a bad cold. Back then her mother had been so sick that the idea of bothering her or her step father with something like a cold was laughable. Thus, no one had stopped her when she left the house with a small fever to go play at the park down the street. No one had thought of kidnappers or child

molesters back then either, but then, as she had mentioned, her parents and step siblings had been a bit preoccupied.

And she had a hard time being in that house too long, with the wheezing and beeping of all Mom’s machines, that she wasn’t about to correct them. No, she needed the park.

Nevertheless, when she got to the playground, rather than practicing the monkey bars as she had been intending to do, she found herself curling up in one of the plastic tubes with her fingers stuffed under her armpits and her eyes drooping. The plastic had already warmed up to her body heat and no one else had come to play. Just her, the sand, and the giant plastic and metal playground equipment. It was no wonder she fell asleep.

A cold hand on her forehead had woke her up. The moment the boy noticed that she had opened her eyes he drew back his hand and backed away awkwardly. Through the haze of sleep and fever, she first thought he was bald, like her mother, and that frightened her a bit.

“Sorry,” he said. “But you’re nose is all snotty and I wondered if you had a fever.”

In a rush of panic her fingers flew to her upper lip to find that, while she had slept, her congested nose had dribbled past her mouth. She wiped at it furiously.

“What do you care?” she asked without thinking.

“Well it’d sort of suck if you died or something.”

“I’m not going to die, it’s just a cold.”

“Shouldn’t you be inside eating soup in bed and all that?”

The honest concern in his voice made her feel a bit sorry for snapping at him. Also her sleepiness had passed enough to notice that he wasn’t bald, but had very short hair that covered his scalp in a thin, fine black fuzz. It made his eyes look too big for his face. They had been dark brown. She remembered that because, back then, she had thought it strange that dark colored eyes could look so bright.

Thus, she tried to sound kinder when she asked, “Why is your hair so short? Does it have a hard time growing?”

His hand went up to it. “Oh, no. My mom was just getting frustrated with combing it. It’s really super curly, you see. It’s a pain.”

“Oh…”

An awkward silence fell between them. As her groggy, muddled brain tried to figure out what to do next, she peered out the little round holes cut into the tube to see a woman who could only be his mother sitting next to a stroller and reading a book.

She sniffed and checked her nose again with her dry sleeve. The other one was wet. Then she shivered

and regretted not bringing a blanket to wrap over the pink hoodie she wore.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Winnie.”

The boy snorted. “Winnie? Like Winnie the Pooh?”

She was too sick to hold on to her decision to be nicer to him. “Well what’s your name? Buttface?”

He scowled. “Benjamin. Like Benjamin Franklin, you know that really smart guy who found electricity?”

She rolled her eyes. “Boring. There’s three Benjamins in my grade, but I bet I’m the only Winnie in the whole school…wait,” she took a closer look at his jacket, which was black along with his black pants. “You’re Benjamin Tanner, the boy who always wears black. Are you really trying to be Goth?”

“Ugh, for the last time, my dad’s a techie! You know, those stage people that work all the lights and stuff? They have to wear black so they aren’t seen. Not like you would know that, though, what do your parents do?”

She didn’t want to talk about that and she opened her mouth to make an excuse, but was broken off by a hacking cough which tore at her sore, raw throat, followed by a sneeze that exploded boogers all over her arm.

Her head felt funny. As though her eyeballs had swollen up and taken up the space where her brain was suppose to be.

“Eww…” said Benjamin.

“Shut up…” Her swollen eyes started to burn and she screwed up her face to stop the tears. She’d have to use up the sleeves of her hoodie to clean this one up, which would only make her colder.

“You really should go home.”

“I don’t wanna.”

“Why not? Did your mom try to make you drink really nasty medicine?”

“Just shut up and leave me alone.”

A set of rebellious tears rolled down her cheeks. Now her nose would stream in earnest, and even stuffing the bottom of her hoodie to her face didn’t help. It filled her mouth with salt and slime.

Winnie hid her face and waited for the shuffle of jeans against plastic to signal Benjamins departure.

But he didn’t move.

“What’s wrong?”

She crunched up so she could covertly move her crying eyes and nose to her knees instead. “Nothing. My mom’s just dying and I feel like poop, what of it?”

He didn’t say anything to this. After a full thirty seconds of complete silence, he scrambled at high speed out of the play tunnel, crying for his mom in terror as though Winnie had the plague. If she wasn’t so surprised, poor little ten-year-old Winnie would have burst into howls of dismay.

But before she could even breathe in for the coming sob, Benjamin’s words to the dark haired woman on the bench floated over to her.

“Mom! We have to take this girl home with us! She’s sick and her Mommy’s dying and she’s all alone!”

Winnie blanched. Was that really how she was? She couldn’t be that pathetic.

But as Benjamin’s kind, dark-haired mother coaxed her out of the tunnel and her soft hands, not unlike her own mother’s, but warm and full rather than cold and thin, Winnie realized she really was that pathetic. Benjamin had one of his little sister’s burp rags, which he used to clumsily wipe the tears and goo off her face. The scared look in his eyes was FOR her, not of her.

That made her cry all the harder.

Because being pathetic wasn’t as fun as movies made it out to be, even when you had someone there to comfort you.

Now, six years later, her bare feet numb from the cold side walk and looking at another playground, one thousands of miles away from the one she had met Benjamin in, she remembered him and that sour-milk smelling cloth on her face. His mother had contacted hers and thoughtfully didn’t mention how upset Winnie was, just introduced herself and her son and asked if she could come over to play. After talking to Benjamin and his mother, and a few words with Winnie (“No, I’m not crying mom, I just got a bit of a stuffy nose, that’s all.”), she said she could and Winnie spent the rest of the evening wrapped up in quilts and sipping chicken noodle soup with Benjamin. He had played episode after episode of Walking with Dinosaurs, but Winnie didn’t care. He let her cuddle on his shoulder and doze without a fuss, even when her nose dribbled all over his T-shirt.

After mother died, though, her step father had picked up and moved far away—away from the memory of her. She hadn’t even had the chance to get his number or email to stay in touch. Or had she just been swallowed up in the great hole where her mother had been to think of it?

Winnie picked her way across the wood chips and sat at the swings. As she gave her feet a chance to recover, she moved on to more current matters, such as where she was going to sleep and how she was going to eat. It didn’t frighten her as much as it should have, for this wasn’t the first time her step father had suggested the idea that she leave. She had a general idea of what to do and where to go. She just wished she had managed to find a job before he finally snapped.

But…why had he? For the first time Winnie wondered what she had done to make him hate her so, other than simply existing. She had kept her head low, kept her grades up…

But she stopped there. It wouldn’t do to brood. Daylight didn’t last long in October, and she needed to find some shoes.


Chapter 1

This had to be the worst Christmas yet for Beta, and for some reason he found that funny.

But there was nothing funny about being knee deep in snow in nothing but your street clothes and every inch of your body pounding at the doors of your mind with spiked mallets. If the snow had actually managed to numb him up with cold by now, he would have been grateful, frost bite or no, but his vision blurred and even he could catch the tall tale signs of fever in the incoherency of his own wandering awareness. Not to mention he couldn’t see or hear a freaking thing through the wailing storm. It always looked so cozy from inside with a blanket and cocoa. Winter wonderland his ass.

Maybe it was one of those laugh or cry situations.

“Thanks a lot, Gramps,” he muttered past his cracked lips. “I’ve always wanted to be a lab rat. Oh, super powers? You shouldn’t have.”

Super powers…yeah. Feelers coming out of your face, back twisting up like Quasimodo, bad nail problems, lots of charming romance there, unless Gramps had hid all the really pretty experiments under the bed. Best for last, right?

But ugly, pretty, cool or not, there was just one little detail Beta just couldn’t let slide, and that was the insignificant fact that all said experiments were floating about in jars of formaldehyde. Each subject Beta and his friends knew of had died as assuredly as if the injection had been arsenic.

For the millionth time, Beta cursed himself. All his pride on keeping close tabs on the lunatic gone to waste. He should have seen this coming. He should have been able to prevent this.

It took him a minute to realize his world had suddenly turned dark and the wind had quieted a bit. For a brief, jarring breath of a moment, he thought he had died. But then he gritted his teeth at the wracking pain of his limbs and realized he had just fallen face first in the snow.

Pathetic. Parkour champion, kick boxing demon, Youtube kung fu’s best student, and he had just toppled over face first into the snow without realizing it.

Yep. He was going to die.

Even so, he still picked himself up, ignoring his trembling arms. He spat out a bit of phlegm that had dribbled down from his nose.

“Love you too, Gramps.”

He should get him a mug: best grandpa of the year…nah, that’d be laying it on too thick.

But as Beta found himself stuck there on all fours, unable to so much as push himself to his knees, the dry sarcasm he had been running on since he watched the needles press into his arms dropped. He reached at that well of smartass and found nothing but air. Because, through the pain, he was cold, he was alone, he felt more sick than he ever had in his entire life…

And he didn’t want to die.

Even as he fought his throat from tightening his face screwed up. He couldn’t cry. Hell, Beta DID NOT cry. He was going to get his sorry hide up and die on his feet, he wasn’t going to let his eff’d up grandfather’s mojo juice have his way with him so he could become another floating formaldyhide decor, he was going to get up, keep walking, maybe scream up some choice colorful words into the sky…

Beta’s arms gave out without his consent. His face went back into the snow, snot and all.

And no amount of mental or audible screaming could make his body listen to him.

So this was how it was going to end. All that training, all that practice, all that…that living, for this?

Damn, he hurt. He hurt a lot. In fact, his shoulder hurt so much it felt warm. Now it was moving up to his neck. Wait, that actually didn’t feel too bad, that warmth. Maybe the rest of him would hurt enough to feel warm.

And suddenly, he found himself on his back. The only way he could tell was because the wet sensation of the snow had started crawling down his shirt and he thought he could feel his snotty face being whiplashed in the blizzard wind. He opened his eyes just to clarify that he had just been flipped on his back to see something that confused and dismayed him. An angel, it had to be, some angel of death. Guess it wasn’t so bad that she was a girl, and a beautiful one at that.

Her face drew nearer to his, growing clearer. Had his vision gotten so blurry? Dummy fever. Ha.

She had long hair. Silver. Silver hair. No, white? White gold? Blond?

Pretty lips. They were saying something. Pork ay? Wait, wasn’t there some Spanish word that sounded like that? Why was she speaking Spanish?

Then the next unbelievable thing—the angel had ducked down to him, swathing him in that long mass of weird colored hair. He was just trying to clear his nose of enough snot to see if he could smell it (girls’ hair always smelled so nice)—when a blinding pain from his throat made him cry out. Sharp-as-a-knife awareness cut through the feverish delirium.

Is this what death angels did? Did they have to suck out your soul by necking you? No, necking was suppose to feel nice, but–Oh God above, please don’t say freaking vampires were angels.

But that warmth was spreading. The cold was going away, and even as he gagged on his breath and his cry gurgled away to nothing in his ears, the pain…the pain was leaving…

The wind didn’t howl. Her hair could have been his satin sheets. Dreaming. He was just dreaming.


Chapter 2

Winnie had been found by them at a blood drive trying to sell her plasma just a day after being kicked out. If she had stumbled upon some other way to make money, they probably would have found her all the same. They looked for those society wouldn’t miss.

When two tall men in black suits had inconspicuously pulled her into the adjoining room, her mind had been busy trying to think of what heinous crime she could have committed in the 48 hours she had been away from home. Had they mixed up her blood with someone else and thought she was some sort of druggie? What kind of idiot would even go to a blood drive high on something?

But the older man that had slid down in front of her on the worn, plastic school chair had looked kind, grandfatherly, even. He even wore a brown tweed sweater that she had seen grandpas on TV wear. It was his soft smile that had put her at ease, however. After being glared at for being bare foot and trying to sleep in restaurant lobbies, it was like he had thrown a warm blanket over her shoulders.

He had given her an offer to participate in a medical experiment. The details couldn’t be discussed here, but it had to do with genetics and, if she said yes, she could walk away with ten thousand dollars once the experiments were complete. They would only take a week, at most, during which she would have housing, the best food, medical attention, and a warm bed.

How could she have said no? Any natural fear for the side effects or the suspicious silence he held concerning the details were lost in her empty stomach, bleeding feet, and aching loneliness.

Then they blind folded her. Only the grandfatherly tone of his voice kept her from fleeing.

“The facility I’m taking you to protects highly sensitive government secrets,” he had told her. “It’s a requirement from those higher up that you don’t know its location. The fewer who know, the better. I hope you can understand.”

She didn’t start to seriously doubt her decision until the small hot shower they provided for her turned off, locked, and started to fill with stick, heavy blue fluid. An oxygen mask was stuck to her face by metal arms and her ankles were hooked to soft rubber wires.

Then the walls fell away, revealing her naked, thin body to a room of people blurred by the strange, thick liquid she had been suspended in.

She hadn’t been asked to sign any papers. She hadn’t been told of anything. They had just offered her the shower and made promises of a warm meal afterwards. They had vaguely mentioned taking a test before hand while her stomach was empty, but surely this wasn’t it. She had thought of a blood sugar test or something, not floating in a man-sized tube of transparent goo.

The air she breathed in from the mask smelled sterilized and plastic.

Then she felt the needles, long, hard, and digging to the very marrow of her bone.

She tried pushing these memories back as she pulled the gasping boy’s arms over her shoulders. He was lighter than she had expected. Freakishly light, even. Wondering if it was an affect of his blood on her system, the taste of which still spun in her head, she gritted her teeth against the cold and went back to where she had come from. Even now she wondered why, when she had picked up his voice beneath the raging of the storm with her hyper-sensitive hearing that she went out to help rather than hid. Whatever the reason, she was glad she did.

The hopeful part of her whispered of a Christmas gift from God while the louder, more truthful part of her said he’d probably be dead in a few hours anyways. Merry Christmas, Winnie, here’s a dead body to dispose of.

But she shook off both those thoughts. Neither would help her get him out of the cold any faster.

The little shed which she had set up next to the old water spout and transformer sat sure and strong amidst the bramble and untended trees. It was made of simple pine and, while it was designed to look like a little toy house, it had actually been meant as a tool shed and which she had bought on clearance from a hardware store. She had them deliver it to this tiny, abandoned squat of land—which she had also found the title for in the old city records. Amazing what you could do when you set your mind to living on your own and off the system.

She was starting to regret her choice of home once she tugged him inside and closed the door. The little house hadn’t been made to keep out cold (why would hoes and rakes need to be insulated?), and nor had it been made to be lived in, let alone hold two people. It had been cute and cozy when it was just her, but now, glancing around, she found a new problem. No matter where she put this boy, he would be sleeping with her, whether he liked it or not, both because of space and because of the cold that her space heater just barely kept up with.

Either way, she couldn’t just leave him in the snow, even with CM in his blood. She would recognize the taste of that stuff anywhere. Not to mention his heart still pounded wildly against her fingertips, just as as it had when she pressed her teeth to his neck.

Light or not, she unceremoniously dropped the much bigger boy onto her pad of futons and old quilts, then went to peeling off her wet clothes. She squinted at his face as she did so, not because she worried he would see her undressing, but because her poor eyesight made it impossible to tell whether he was unconscious or not in the first place. But he didn’t twitch and she managed to pull out fresh, dry clothes from the drawers in the walls. The room glowed orange and fuzzy from the coils of her heater and her lone little lamp.

She rubbed her eyes hard and squinted at him once more, but there was no helping it. She’d have to get closer. She dropped down and leaned nearer, so close she could feel his breath on her lips and smell the CM on his breath. Only then could she make out the flush of fever on his features. Her heart did a little squiggle at his fine, sharp cheek bones, soft mouth, and the curls her bad-eyesight hadn’t been able to make out in his dark hair. She had almost been worried she had been carrying a little boy with his light weight, but no, this was a young man through and through, though his features clung on to a trace of his boyhood.

She put a hand to his forehead and bit her lip at the heat. That was it. There was nothing else she could do. CM reacted violently to even the simplest of medicines, and though she had sucked out as much as she could, there was no saying how much had already absorbed into his system.

For now, she could only keep him warm and wait.

After setting up a pot of snow in the corner of the shed, she listened to the fwoosh of the young man’s racing blood, careful for any skips in his heartbeat, although there was nothing she could do if it did. He had fallen unconscious after she had spat out his blood and she didn’t need a thermometer to know he burned with fever—the same fever she had had when they injected her. She had never dreamed of meeting another like her outside of the…whatever it had been. In all likelyhood, she probably wouldn’t. He was in a bad way.

Once it had melted most of the way, she slipped it off and started up another pot of snow for her morning tea. She slipped a rag down from the rafters and soaked it thoroughly in the icy water before folding it and placing it on his forehead. His eye fluttered, but he just ground his teeth in pain. The low, grating squeak made her wince. How would she sleep through that?

She hesitated from pulling her hand away, then moved by impulse, running the tips of her fingers down his face. When had she last touched someone? Felt another’s warmth? She didn’t want him to die. She had hoped by sucking out most of the CM from his blood he wouldn’t, but she still knew so little.

And he had felt so light…perhaps that was how his body would react to it. Perhaps that was the specific genes they had given him showing through.

But even if he survived through the change…he had left them. He had left those who would be able to keep him alive.

Shivering, she went to curl up in front of her heater and grabbed a library book from a nearby shelf. It was still an hour or too until her bedtime. She did her best to throw herself into the words, but her attention kept going back to the boy in her bed and the unease in her heart.

And somewhere in there, within the background noise of, she remembered another boy. One she tried not to think about, because she had thought of him too much ever since…

You are nothing!

The teapot started to whistle. She jumped and nearly forgot the hot pad in reaching to take it off. One would think, with such sensitive hearing, getting lost in one’s thoughts wouldn’t be so easy.

She had just finished pouring the water into her mug when her guest groaned and swore. She bit her lip. But then her concern overruled her nerves.

“Are you…are you awake?”

“Unhappily,” he grumbled, and she was happy to note he at least managed to speak quietly.

“W-w-would you l-like some tea?”

“Ibuprofen would be awesome.”

“I’m sorry, but…I don’t know how, uh, ibuprofen will mix with what they gave you.”

He groaned again, then raised a hand to his forehead and peeled off the rag. For a moment, in the cheap, but warm light of her little lamp, he stared at it as though unable to register what he was seeing. Then he dropped it back down on his forehead along with the rest of his arm, which shook with chills.

“Who are you?” He sounded airy and thick, almost as though he hardly heard himself.

She hesitated, then went to take down the second mug she owned just in case he proved coherent enough.

“Winifred. Y-you can call me Winnie, if that’s, um, too hard to remember–”

He snorted and she flinched.

“Like Winnie the Pooh? Winnie Winnie fo fan finnie…”

Heat curled up in the back of her neck. Images of a mass of quilts and a little boy came to her mind as dinosaurs played on an old TV. ‘Fee fi fo fannie, Winnie—I’ll figure it out eventually.’

“Wh-what’s your name?”

“Beta Benjamin Franklin something-or-other Thomas fe fi…ugh…” Another trembling arm rose to his face and he moaned out another colorful curse.

Winnie had froze. It couldn’t be. After all these years, after moving so many times, in all the places…

“Benjamin Tanner?”

“What?” he moaned.

“D-d-do you remember me? Winnie? The girl from the park?”

“I think your house is on fire, and I could really use a drink or fussits or sumpthan—shit, my head…ugh. Stupid effing grandfather…”

As he mumbled off into further coherency, Winnie thought she might cry. This boy even had dark curly hair as Benjamin’s would be if he grew it out. Yet, even if it was him, he was so far gone, and so very sick. Why did she bring him in here? What if he did turn out to be that little boy who had cared for her so many years ago? Wouldn’t it just be the tragedy to top all tragedies of her life if her best friend from childhood ended up dying in her arms without even recognizing her?

The thought made her want to reach for him, touch him, curl about him and snuggle up on his shoulder. Benjamin or not, she had been so lonely, so cold…

Instead, she pulled out her tote of teas beneath the coffee table she used as her cooking counter and tried to pick which one would be the best for pain and the least likely to react badly to CM.

“Ibuprofen?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any.”

“Tylenol? Advil? Motrin?” He was getting louder. She covered the ear closest to him, hoping he would just pass out soon.

“I don’t have any medicines. I, um, don’t know how it will react with, uh, what they gave me either.”

Her sharp ears picked up the rustle of blankets and clothes as he shifted. The wet cloth made a little splat as it hit her carefully scrubbed floor. He didn’t say anything for a minute, and she caught a glance at him that she hoped was covert, but he wouldn’t have noticed anyways, as he was but a tuft of black, curly hair above the blanket’s edge.

She picked a peppermint and dropped the teabag into the mug. “Benjamin, do you like peppermint?”

“Hmmva?”

“Peppermint tea?”

“House on…fire…” he mumbled.

Sighing, she made it anyway. Being hydrated never hurt and, lucky for her he was coherent enough to sip at the mug once she had propped him up on her shoulder. Half way through the mug, however, he fell asleep, and she had the trick of not spilling the tea as she lowered him back down into the quilts.

After finishing her own cup, she made sure the hot pad was turned off, put the mugs away, and turned off the lamp. In the darkness she felt her way to the mattress and tried not to think about it too much as she wiggled into the blankets besides him. He smelled of CM and sickness, but beneath it all, coating his skin, was an almost familiar tinge of something like thyme and fresh cut grass. She tried to focus on that as the wonderful white noise of the blizzard lulled her into the best sleep she had had since she’d left her step father’s home.


Chapter 3

Beta woke up with a groan. He ached, but at least the fire and sickness that had possessed him for what had to have been an eternity was gone. Not only that, but he felt wonderfully warm and comfy. It was almost like waking up back home in his bed, but nothing would ever make him mistake that particular nightmare for a dream.

It wasn’t till he had found his hands to sit up that he recognized the shape of arms curled up against his back, as well as knees twined down somewhere with his own.

Outside, a bird twittered, but all he could make out was the orange coils of an electric heater. There was a buzz, a click, and the orange lines started to die.

Light headed, shaky, and wondering whether to sing or throw up, Beta weakly crawled out of the warm covers of the bed. His limbs and body didn’t feel…quite right and he found that, although they were heavy with fatigue, they kept outshooting him—moving too high up when he just meant to lift off the bed, zooming forward when he had only meant to ease up an inch. It was almost as though he had lost all the flesh and was only bone. The image of one of his grandfather’s more gruesome floating experiments floated to his mind along with a new wave of terror. He had to find a light, had to make sure he wasn’t covered in feelers or scales or really HAD lost all his flesh.

He fumbled about in the dark, his limbs and fingers knocking against each other, bits of wet shoes, scratchy wool walls, and a hard floor until he found something that could have been a camping lamp and switched it on. His heart thudded wildly in his ears as yanked back his jeans and sleeves to take in his pale, but very normal, limbs. His eyes blurred, however, as though out of focus and didn’t clear up even after he blinked them several times.

Finally, after pressing his eyes hard, they managed to clear to somewhat normal levels. Only then could he take a closer look at his savior.

He had been right. It was a girl, a beautiful girl, even though he could only see half of her face above the blankets she had nuzzled up in. She had the natural kind of looks that could get away without make up, with thick, long lashes, smooth skin, and full, pink lips.

But as he drew nearer with the light, he couldn’t quite place the color of her hair, just as he couldn’t before. Blond? No, a darker blond—closer to gray than actual blond, but thick and straight as falling rain.

Without warning, his aching arm that had been alone in holding his weight gave out. Boy and lamp crashed to the floor with a bang.

She bolted upright with a cry and clapping her hands over her ears. Blankets went everywhere.

“It’s alright! Sorry!”

“Who—what?” Her voice sounded small, quiet, and high with alarm. A part of him mused on what it would sound like if she sang. Probably just as beautiful as her face—a sweet soprano.

He shook himself. Must still have a fever or something to be wondering junk like that. “Just calm down a minute, you’re the one who brought me here, remember?”

She fluttered a bit more before stilling with her wide eyes on him. Strange eyes, they were. Bright blue, with a too small pupil in them, despite the dark lighting. Even as she looked at him, she squinted, as though trying to read fine print. Then she went slack with a quick sigh through her nose and closed her eyes.

“Oh…you…sorry, um,” her cheeks, which he only now realized were smothered in caramel freckles,

flushed red as she lowered her hands. “Uh, I’m sorry about the sleeping arrangements, it was…” she gestured weakly to the tiny room. “Are

Even without saying it, the same thought occurred to him with the force of a punch to the gut, which pushed him back to the floor. That’s right. He had been dying. He should have died. But then, how could he? He had that—that…poison in his blood, he had been destined for the big jars of formaldehyde, unless he hadn’t been hallucinating the pain on the side of his neck. With a spurt of effort he reached up to his neck to feel, sure enough, the two bulbous scabs where her teeth had sunk in.

He screwed up his face and turned it back into the wood floor with a groan. He hurt too much for this.

“So, you drink blood?” Vampire slave was better than nothing, he supposed.

“N-N-No! I’m the same as you! Well, sort of the same. I explained back…but you probably don’t remember, um…H-h-how did you escape? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“How did you know I escaped from somewhere?”

“Didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but…” A new thought occurred to him—a horrible thought, one which moved his exhausted funny, awkward too-light arms beneath him. “Shit, you work for him, don’t you?”

Before she could answer, a sharp pain, like an arrow, tore across his head. Beta saw a blinding flash and slapped his palms to his temples with a hiss.

The warmth of her hands appeared on his wrists. “You s-s-should lie down, you d-don’t look good ….”

“Why didn’t you just turn me in or—“ Another white flash and an arrow to the head. He gagged on an empty retch and bent over. Damn it, just as he thought he was done hurting.

She was pulling at him now with surprising strength. He could feel the floor slipping away beneath him.

“Please lay down.” The futon was beneath him and he could feel those small hands tucking the quilts about him, then the click as the electric heater was turned back on.

“Just who are you? How do you know all this? What is—“ he bit his tongue from another flash of pain and tasted blood.

She had slapped her hands over her ears again with a cringe. “Whisper! Please!”

Not that she had to worry about that. The white flashes were coming more quickly now, and unless he wanted to chop out his tongue next time around, there could be no more talking for him.

But, after a few minutes in the darkness behind his closed eyelids, the pains ebbed away. Soon he was back to his aching, foggy, misfitted state.

“I think I’ll be alright now…” he said, in case she was holding her breath for his moment of death.

She says nothing and makes him tea.

“So you are like a real vampire.”

She scowled at her tea. “No I’m not. I like the sun and—the scientists, they made me like this, not a vampire; the one’s who injected us with CM. I-I don’t know what they’re called, d-d-do you?”

“I never met any scientists, and my crazy Gramps hardly qualifies for one, so how can you know we got the same stuff?”

The heat bled into her face and she ducked further down. “I-I-I tasted…it…when I…” (CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE FIX LATER)

She couldn’t say it. She wouldn’t.

After a long moment of silence, where a fwump of snow falling from the roof could be heard outside, she heard him groan again and mutter about ‘feeling weird.’ Eager to please, and afraid of not doing so, she filled the mug with water and pushed it to him. He looked at it for a second before giving her a quiet thank you and wrapping his hands about the warm mug.

“So…you’re not a vampire. Course, you said you weren’t, but, then…what are you? And if you got what my Gramps gave me, how are you alive? What are you doing out here? And why don’t you have, I don’t know, weird growths all over your face?” And almost as though wondering it himself, his free hand went over his face and he sighed with relief at feeling smooth skin. “Do you frequently suck people’s blood?”

She cringed and suddenly wanted to hide. “Of course not. It’s…it’s just the…oh jeeze. It’s…don’t you know what CM is?”

“Weird juice that messes with your genes?” He took a sip of his tea and she thought she could make out a smile. The sight made a small shiver run up her spine and she turned her gaze away once more.

“More or less. But usually it’s, uh, more specific than that. D-do do you know your, um, host animal?”

“Why do you keep saying um? And host animal?”

“The one whose genes you got.”

He blinked at her. At least the blurry shine she recognized as eyes vanished for a moment. “You mean the feelers and the fur—that’s sick.”

“So you don’t know…” and since his face was still rotating through blurs of expression she couldn’t make out from this distance, she said, “Mine was a vampire bat. Because of that I have really, really sensitive hearing and, uh…bad eyesight.” The blood stuff was a bit obvious already.

“What did you say? Sorry, you’re so quiet.”

She sighed. “Nevermind.”

“Are there more like you? Does anyone survive after getting CM injected in them?”

“Um, a few, but they’re all back there. L-l-look, you should probably be getting back to your grandpa—“

He choked and put his mug down a bit too hard and he hissed in pain through his coughing. She jumped for the pot of cold water and offered it to him, but he ignored it.

“Are you crazy? After all I did to get away? He’s the one who gave me this stuff!”

“But i-it’s not—you need medicine to stop—look, whatever is in the CM will mess with your body and unless you get more shots afterwards you’ll die—“

“You’re not dead, why can’t you just give me whatever you have?”

“Because I don’t have anything, I-I’m just okay with…dying.”

There was a full, pregnant pause. She could feel his eyes on her and took a sip of her black licorice tea to calm her. Her hands had started to shake and a rock was starting to build up in her throat. He’d have to leave soon. She didn’t know how much more she could take. Already she had spoken more in the past five minutes than she had in the last three weeks.

“How do you know you’re going to die? That you need any medicine?”

“Please–“she didn’t want to go into this. She just wanted him to leave.

“Did you see someone die? Are you dying right now?”

“I don’t—“

“Or are you really not dying at all? Are you doing an experiment right now? How do you know they weren’t lying just to control you?”

She put her mug down and stood up. Her hands felt cold and she kept her chin down to her collarbone. The burning in her eyes had already started to brim against her lashes, and what was left of her vision had begun to blur even worse.

“Just who are these people? Wait, where are you going? Winnie?”

She didn’t even bother to grab her coat or shoes. Just yanked the door close with a woody chunk, slid down to the end of the tiny, decorative porch, and slid down into a corner. She could still hear his heartbeat and breathing through the walls, but the cotton blankets and wood made it faint enough to ignore so she could pretend he didn’t exist.

Winter air nibbled on her exposed skin and toes. She shivered and hid her now wet face within the crease of her elbow. But she could still feel it, and that was the point.


Chapter 4

A warm blanket fwumped over her, making her jump. She hadn’t realized how cold she had gotten.

Beta closed the door behind him with a firm snap. He too had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, but had his wet shoes back on his feet. He dropped down on the ‘otherside’ of the porch and leveled a business-like glare at her.

“Once my jacket’s dry enough, I’m leaving.”

She tucked the corners of the blanket about her. Her fingers had gotten cold enough where it hurt to move them.

“Thanks.”

“Yeah,” she said.

One of the overgrown trees in front of her house let go of a load of snow. It thumped as loud in Winnie’s ears as if it had been solid.

“W-would you like some food?” she asked.

“No thanks.”

Oh yeah. If he was anything like her it’d be two days before he felt like eating anything. She had hoped the peppermint tea would have helped with that…

The silenced stretched on. She glanced up every now and then to find him staring out at the surrounding glen and she took the opportunity to search his features for the little boy of six years ago. But, although sharp, her memory wasn’t perfect, and the only thing she could find was that dark, curly hair of his, though it was more wavy than curly.

Then, on her last peek, he met her eyes. Before she looked away she noticed the color of them: brown, like cinnamon, but they hadn’t any of the brightness she had been so fond of.

“I’ll be inside if you need me.”

The refuge of her tiny house wasn’t much, but it was enough to breathe. She preoccupied herself with setting up breakfast for herself in order to thaw her face and fingers a bit. When Beta finally came back in she had bacon sizzling away. Before she could offer it to him he ducked back out with a retch.

Stomach tight with guilt, she couldn’t manage to swallow the bacon and tucked it away in her cooler for later instead.

He didn’t say anything about the bacon when he came back in, though. Just asked if the nausea was normal and how long it lasted, then picked up his jacket from her heater.

“This’ll do.” He slipped his arms in. “Thanks again.”

“Wait…”

He glanced up at her but didn’t stop, just zipped up his jacket. She bit her lip. What was she thinking? Did she really want to be around when his body gave out?

But she still had the memory of the night before when he had said her name in that sing-song voice. Winnie Winnie fo fan finnie.

Idiot. She should have been insulted, not touched.

“What?” he said flatly.

She shouldn’t ask. It was stupid. This was her home! She was safe here.

But not really. She was going to die soon, wasn’t she? It had been so long since she had had the injections herself, and if she was going to die, shouldn’t it be with him? With Benjamin? Because she suddenly knew, deep down in her gut, that even if he was aloof and cool now, even if his brown eyes didn’t have that nameless glow to them anymore, this was the same boy who had wiped her tears away and taken her home.

“Can I come with you?”

He blinked, maybe not expecting that. But his expression said nothing as he shrugged and said, “If you want. Hurry up, though, I’m not going to wait for you to pack up your whole house.” His eyes roved the tiny shed as he said that and the corner of his mouth twitched.

She wasn’t about to give him a reason to have second thoughts. In five minutes flat she was dressed and had a small knapsack with her wallet, some food, and her library book. Next thing she knew she was trekking through the snow and just keeping up. For someone who still had CM in their system, he sure didn’t act like it. Unless those long legs of his had been imbued with some sort of polar bear genes or something.

“Wait up!”

“Catch up,” he said back. “I got places to be.”

“Like what?” she wheezed.

He didn’t answer, but he did slow down a bit. Before she could think he was actually being thoughtful for her he snapped out a cell phone. Once he had finished his call he went back to his normal pace.

It took longer than she remembered to finally reach the road, and when they did Beta already had a silver cabbie waiting for them. She tried to ignore how her stomach twisted and her hands went even colder as she slid in after him. It wasn’t the car. She liked cars.

Beta rattled off the address to the Hispanic cabbie and slipped in a twenty with the words ‘step on it.’ Winnie just had time to snap on her seatbelt before being thrown into Beta’s shoulder.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” she asked.

“I’m an escapee, remember?”

“But you said it was your grandfather that injected you, not the same people who injected me.”

“All the more reason, don’t you think?”

“But where are we going?”

“To a friend’s.”

“Why?”

“Lord, Winnie, where did you think we were going? Wal-mart?”

She fell quiet, though she wanted to argue back. Maybe her gut had been wrong. The Benjamin she had known had been a lot nicer than this. She could always ask, but, then, did she want him to recognize that pathetic, sick little girl snot covered girl in her? What if he thought she expected him to be okay with having her cuddle up on his shoulder and slobber over him again?

She shuddered. Maybe it was best he didn’t remember.

The house the cabbie pulled up to thirty minutes later wasn’t a house as much as it was a trailer. It made her shed look rich and had faded orange and brown stripes from the seventies. An old Nissan truck was parked next to it with elk antlers wired on to its grill.

Beta didn’t waste a second. He just walked up to the trailer, opened the door, and stepped inside.

“Oy! Chief! I need you!”

A high, surprised girly voice piped up from somewhere inside. “Jeeze, can’t you knock? I could’ve been naked for all you know!”

“We’ve got trouble. Where’s Jake?”

Another voice, this one male, piped up from what sounded like further back in the trailer. “Sleeping, you insomniatic freak, do you know what time it is?”

“It’s morning, Jake, open your blinds for once. Your dad gone?”

A snort from the boy. “What do you think?”

“I’ll get my laptop,” said the girl.

Winnie hesitated in front of the door, her hands folded up to her chin. Was it okay for her to just walk in too? It wasn’t like she was expressly invited.

The next minute she had to step back so Beta could push back the door. He had a little frown on his sharp features. “You coming?”

A wave of warm air wafted out to her, scented like a computer store made friends with an Italian restaurant. Not what she was expecting from the obviously white trash home.








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