Small hands held the struggling man, limbs thrashing, mouth wide in a rising howl of terror, terror becoming agony as mouth after mouth plunged downward, fangs striking deep into his flesh, blood spattering, running across the floor in crimson rivulets.
Larry averted his gaze only to have it drawn inexorably back to the crowd of feasting children, the man’s scream fading, legs twitching; the precursor to the death spasm.
It’s almost over, Larry thought, closing his eyes, the echo of nausea rising in him like a tide. The images remained in his mind; fangs falling, blood splattering and running, weakening struggles amidst almost sexual moans from childlike throats. Similarity to his own death caused nausea to pulse in head and gut, pressure looking for release.
Fat chance. Ghosts can’t puke.
That was the second thing Larry had learned. Haunting a nest of Vampires wasn’t easy, but he had no choice.
The man in the midst of the feeding frenzy shuddered and went still.
Then the Light rose from his chest.
A scintillating kaleidescope of color rose through the small crowd around the corpse, invisible to them, coalescing into the shape of a man in terrible fear and pain. His expression one of utmost horror, he stared at his remains, fully cognizant of what had just happened and driven to the brink of madness by it.
“Hey, hello?” Larry began, but the newest ghost spun away, running through the crowd of gray Old Ghosts, as unseeing of them as they were of him. He ran and wailed, probably trying to cry; he’d soon find that he couldn’t.
That was the first thing Larry had learned.
Being murdered should be the worst thing, Larry thought, following the New One. But it’s not. The worst thing in this little Hell is the constant reminders I’m drawn to…
And he was drawn to them. Whether the similarity to his own horrific end did it or simply Death, no matter where he fled in the house he was drawn, pulled to the scene of a Feed. They all seemed to be. He and the Old Ghosts would gather, Larry the only one aware of anyone else, and they watched the feeding. Remembered it. Experienced it. Again and again, suffering their last living moments, moments filled with mindless pain and terror.
His own torment was mirrored in the faces of the Old Ghosts. Fear. Terror. Revulsion. It was the only emotion he ever saw on the faces of the old gray shades that populated the mansion. Normally they moved about the house completely unaware of their surroundings. Though he tried, Larry couldn’t rouse them. They had moved so far from Life the force that maintained them Faded so far they had no color, emotion, or awareness. It was like being in a house filled with insubstantial Alzheimer’s patients, mindless zombies lacking even flesh.
Until there was a feed. Then they were drawn, as Larry was, gathering in a crowd. Only then could they feel.
Fading terrified Larry; winding up like them, aware of nothing, but reliving his death again and again, never having any other thought, distraction, or relief.
If that wasn’t Hell, Larry didn’t know what was.
And it was beginning. He could tell.
He had been fine for months, keeping track of his days, learning about the vampires and this house that was now his world, wondering why spirits didn’t form at every Feed. Those that did always Faded within hours, Larry the only one in all this time to be trapped here.
Then he had lost a few hours — just blinked, and they were gone.
Then an entire day.
He checked his hands and body every day, trying to gauge his color, checking himself for vibrancy, but as more and more time was lost he could see it.
He was Fading.
He strove every day to remember, to be aware, to be! To be… Larry. But he was losing it, losing his Larry-ness, and he was terrified.
Larry was yanked from his reverie as the new ghost, face twisted with rage, charged from the shadows. New ghosts usually saw Larry only when he sought them out. This one, however, leapt at him!
“You! You did this! You!”
Maddened by his violent transition he attacked, fighting as a man would fight, swinging his memory of arms again and again, confused by his inability to touch, to feel. His memory of fists plunged through Larry’s memories of chest and chin, striking Larry’s core, each swing dashing out bits of Larry-ness, like wood chips flying from an axed tree. Panicked, Larry fought back instinctively, trying to envelope the other in a hug, intending to calm him, take away his pain—
At the thought, it was like Larry drew in a great breath without lungs; a mental intake of … of… Steve Hammond.
Without conscious thought, acting on a hunger he hadn’t recognized, Larry took Steve, pulled him in, drew upon his very Steve-ness. Steve fought back but was still thinking physically, thrashing wildly with his memories of limbs, crying out in terror, fully aware that he was being devoured again.
Larry absorbed that awareness, absorbed the memories, absorbed Steve. Suddenly he was Steve— all of Steve. Steve as a boy, as a young man, Steve… dying in terror and pain as mouths bit and sucked, draining him, leaving him a husk. That memory was strongest, most recent.
Larry reeled at experiencing Steve’s death, but then Steve, what had been left of Steve, was gone— and Larry felt energized! Memories he had lost to the Fade without even knowing were back! He looked at his hands, his body; his color was back, solid again! He marveled until Steve’s death memories slammed into him again, and he retched.
Realization struck, and he fled to the farthest reaches of the house, knowing it would do no good. Another Feed would begin soon, and he would be drawn to it, as always, unable to help himself.
And if a spirit should form, what then? Would he be able to resist absorbing them, feeding upon them, a psychic vampire to match those of flesh who had created him? Would he relive their deaths as well, because he was unable to simply let go of his Larry-ness, of his self?
He thought he knew the answer.
As he hid himself away in the darkest reaches of the house, Larry cursed Fate and wished he could cry...