Don't know if this is confusing, calling this chapter one, since there were three chapters of prologue before it. Anyone, anyone?
Yes, this is the chapter I had the epiphany about in my car, which made me smack my steering wheel and accidentally engage cruise control. If you don't know about the epiphany, then you're probably one of the billions of people I am not yet friends with on Facebook. If you want to get my status updates in your friend feed, friend me on Facebook (and include a note that you're a fan of the novel).
Even after that epiphany, it still kicked my butt. I don't want to ruin any surprises, so I'll post an after-note in the comments about some of the issues I encountered while writing this chapter.
When we last left the story, Sodom was destroyed and God put a binding on the angels Azazel and Shemhazai not to fight again or to make major efforts to influence the course of humanity's development until the spring of 1946. And just so you don't have to go back and try to figure it out, the World War II sequence in the last novel ended in the late summer of 1943.
Hell on Five Dollars a Day:
Sodom All Over Again
A Novel By Greg Bulmash
Copyright © MMIX - Greg Bulmash - All Rights Reserved
International borders are easy to miss when you're chasing two vampires through a forest over the course of many nights. For a couple of weeks after Alain decapitated and burned Reese, he thought he'd done it in France. Turned out it was a Belgian barn that burned down around Reese's corpse and reduced it to ash.
The barn was in the French-speaking region of Belgium and Alain, being from Louisiana, was no expert on regional accents. The barn-owner's daughter, Marie, was born and raised in Paris. On her 19th birthday, the first day of spring in 1940, her French mother pulled her out of her university studies in Paris and sent her to stay with her Belgian father, reasoning that being out in the forests was safer than being in a big city...
Alain shook his head as he crept through the forest. He was letting his thoughts get muddled and he needed to be sharper as he circled around the periphery of the campsite. The soldiers had come through a nearby village in an American military WC-6 truck, wearing American uniforms, so it was obvious that Father Lamont would be excited to tell Alain about them. He was one of the few in the village who knew about "Marie's American Husband," having secretly performed their wedding last year. In general, though, Alain's identity and even his existence, were kept under wraps. The Nazis had better things to do than set up a permanent presence in an area with such a low population density, but they had a regional force that swept through periodically to keep the residents in line.
It was dusk when Father Lamont arrived, and shortly thereafter, Alain lit out after the Americans. He'd heard they landed in France during the summer, but they really hadn't pushed this far in, even ten days before Christmas. The four men father Lamont saw would have been foolish to alert so many people to their presence when they were technically still behind enemy lines, but they didn't seem concerned. Something was fishy.
Alain came from downwind, catching them setting up a camp by the side of the road. They smelled like they'd been eating American field rations, but only recently. Underneath it was the smell of nutmeg, and garlic, and vinegar, smells he associated with German mess halls. The American rations were on their breath, but the vinegar and spices were in their sweat. It was snowing lightly and there was a good ground cover, but the exertion of putting up a tent in their cold weather gear still worked up a lather.
They moved about quietly as they set up camp. When they did talk, their English was perfect. But as one was hammering a tent peg, his hammer slipped and Alain heard him mutter "scheisser" under his breath. The guy could have had German parents, maybe that was how his dad cursed, but it just didn't add up for Alain.
Alain walked slowly into the periphery of their campsite, his arms raised. He wore civilian clothes; a pair of pants Marie had sewed for him, a coat and sweater of her father's, a shirt she'd bought after selling the meat of a boar Alain trapped. He wore his general issue boots with some thicker socks. In one hand, he held his dog tags. "Hey fellas," he called, trying to be loud enough to get their attention without startling anyone enough to shoot first and ask questions later.
The one who'd banged his thumb with the hammer was the first to notice Alain. His hand immediately went to the knife on his belt. He didn't pull it, but he kept his hand on the hilt while he stood, sidestepped over to his rifle, and picked up the gun. He whistled for the attention of the others as he slung his rifle over his shoulder. Seemingly secure with the rifle in his possession, even though he hadn't yet pointed it at Alain, he took his hand off his knife.
One of his squadmates came around from the other side of the tent. He had his rifle on his hip. One, who had been unpacking some supplies from their truck, looked up and took an interest, heading over. The last, who was working on getting a fire started needed two more whistles before he looked up from his task and saw the meeting happening over by the tent.
The sergeant was the one who'd been unpacking the truck and he looked to be in his late twenties. The other three were within a year or two of Alain's 25 years. The sergeant had been smoking a cigarette. He took a last drag, then pinched off the end, letting it drop into the snow and fizzle out. "You speak English," he asked, stashing the butt in a pocket.
Alain tried not to stiffen. This was going to be the first of many questions and he hadn't given a whole lot of advance thought to his answers. He'd never planned on what he'd say to American soldiers if he ever ran into them, because he figured he'd either get shot as a deserter or taken in as if everything was okay and then killed to cover up the Army's mistake. The Army had declared him and the other four men in his squad dead months before they shipped them to Europe. They'd held funerals and notified families. There wasn't going to be a magic resurrection if he survived the war. For those many reasons, he'd just planned to avoid American soldiers.
But the moment he heard about American soldiers nearby, all that went out the window and he was running at top speed through the snowy evening straight toward them. "Yes, sergeant," Alain said, trying to breathe what looked like a sigh of relief. "'Sokay if I put my hands down?"
The sergeant looked him up and down. "Suit yourself. You American?"
"You keep sayin' 'Yes, sergeant.' You military?"
"Yes, sergeant. U.S. Army. Sergeant Alain Beaudreaux." Alain followed it with a salute just to add a military feel to it, but then felt like an idiot. Enlisted men didn't salute each other and salutes between sergeants were rare.
The other sergeant waved the salute away. "Where's your unit, sergeant?"
"And your mission?"
"And was being out of uniform part of your classified mission?"
"I can't say, sergeant." Alain tried to throw a conspiratorial wink, but he'd never been good at winking and it came out more as a palsied blink.
The sergeant looked down and raised his helmet slightly, rubbing his forehead and then running his hand down his face. "Taylor," he said, nodding to the thumb basher, "and Johnson, with me. Henry, you keep sergeant Beaudreaux company."
The one with the rifle on his hip was apparently Henry and he hadn't lowered it. The other two walked off with the sergeant, heading about thirty feet away. Generally that would be far enough away to muffle their conversation, but they were upwind and Alain's hearing was uncommonly good. It wasn't so good, however, that he could carry on a conversation with Henry and pay attention to another conversation thirty feet away. Despite the uncomfortable silence, Alain made no attempt at small talk, just smiling and nodding to Henry as he tapped his foot.
"What in hell," the one apparently named Johnson exclaimed in a loud whisper as the three men huddled together. "There weren't supposed to be any Americans this far east!"
"Keep it down," the sergeant counseled. "Anyway, we don't know he's American."
"I don't remember him from training," Taylor said. "You think he could be ours?"
"Stielau," the sergeant asked, using a German word Alain didn't know. "I don't think so. I think he's really American."
"So what do we do with him?"
At this point, Henry decided to strike up a conversation. "You like Jimmy Cagney," he asked Alain. Alain looked at him quizzically, trying to hear the conversation in the distance.
"You think that's the best..." Johnson said.
Henry's chatter drowned him out. "I love Cagney. 'Angels With Dirty Faces'... 'You slap me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.'" Henry snickered as the group turned and walked back toward them.
Taylor and Johnson split off from the sergeant as they reached the tent. Johnson went over to Henry, put a hand on his shoulder and pulled, guiding him away and back toward the other side of the tent. Taylor went back to his tent pegs. The sergeant walked up to Alain and nodded away from the tent, back the way Alain had come. "Walk with me."
As Alain turned, the sergeant put his left arm around Alain's shoulders. "Where you from, sergeant Beaudreaux?"
"Little town in Louisiana you never heard of."
"Probably right," the sergeant said, following it with a genial laugh. He led Alain deeper into the woods, away from the road, away from the camp site. "I'm from North Dakota, myself. Williston."
"So this is summer weather for you," Alain said jokingly.
The sergeant laughed again. "Yeah."
They walked on silently a bit farther when the sergeant stopped, pivoted on his left foot, swinging his right arm up. His arm-around-the-shoulders pose had effectively blocked Alain's right arm from use. If Alain had been ordinary, he would have been slumping to the ground with a knife buried in his throat. Instead he caught the sergeant's right wrist with his left hand. The sergeant's momentum brought him around and Alain was able to bring his right arm up, wrapping it around the sergeant's lower back. For a moment it almost looked like they were dancing, and Alain was leading.
He squeezed the sergeant's wrist, applying just a fraction less pressure than it would take to break it, causing the sergeant to drop his knife. Alain's right foot swept around and hooked the sergeant's left foot while he grabbed the sergeant's coat from the back and pulled, taking the sergeant down to the ground. Before the sergeant could shout an alarm, Alain was on him with a hand muffling his mouth.
"You're not American, are you," Alain asked as he leaned in close, staring at the sergeant's eyes and trying to get a sense of the man's emotions. The man began to sweat, the sweat carrying the scents he'd smelled before mixed with a new one... fear. Fear had a smell sort of like brown gravy in a diner; a little savory, a little greasy. Alain had only ever really smelled it before he fed, and as if by a Pavlovian response, his fangs dropped and he felt hungry.
Alain hadn't been expecting that. He'd buried himself under six feet of dirt for eight days to ensure he was free of the blood thirst. In the early days after that, when Marie would snuggle up close after sex, and the smells of their sweat mingled, he'd felt a brief pang of desire, but it had been mild and it got milder as time passed until he stopped feeling the hunger altogether. It had been at least 6 months since he'd even had a twinge. This, though, was different than those twinges of desire. He didn't just feel like he could do with a snack. He was hungry.
Alain could hear the whoosh-whoosh of the sergeant's blood pumping through his veins and his mouth began to water. He tried to will his fangs back up, but they wouldn't go. He opened his mouth wide and reached up to touch his fangs, forgetting that he sat on top of an enemy soldier who had just tried to kill him.
"Achtung," the sergeant yelled. The hand Alain had brought up to touch his teeth was clenched into a fist and came down sideways on the sergeant's nose. The sergeant had lifted his head up when he yelled, so besides hitting the sergeant's nose with enough force to break it in 4 places, the blow also pounded the back of the sergeant's head into the lightly frozen ground. Even with his helmet on, the jarring impact from the front and back did the trick. The shout cut off immediately as the sergeant lost consciousness and blood flooded to his nose, some of it trickling out.
Alain leapt backward off the sergeant as the smell of the blood hit his nose. Back in the Army's locked infirmary ward, when he, Vinnie, Reese, and Sampson had been given an object lesson in the pain of blood withdrawals, the scent of the fresh blood had relieved their cramping long enough for them to crawl to the tin mugs and drink. But the smell of blood provided no relief this time. It intensified an ache in the pit of his stomach that he hadn't felt in a year and a half. All he had to do was bite in and drink as the beating heart pumped blood out of the open vein. It would taste so good, feel so good.
The rush when he tasted real blood, fresh human blood... Imagine if you'd gone through your entire life with a hangover and hadn't realized it. Imagine that up until now the headache, the grogginess, the nausea were just how you thought being alive felt. And then someone gave you a hangover cure. Just the taste of blood on a vampire's tongue was like that. It was benzedrine, steroids, and a B-12 shot with a little heroin mixed in for a euphoric sense of well-being. It showed you how much background noise you'd become accustomed to in your normal, everyday life, because it all just stopped and you had this moment of clear thought, perfect quiet, and absolute strength. It felt better than good and Alain wanted to feel it again.
He shook his head. "No," he muttered to himself under his breath, not entirely convinced he meant it.
He was rudely torn out of his self-absorption when a bullet kicked up dirt and snow by his foot. He turned and saw Taylor, Johnson, and Henry running toward him, firing their M1 rifles. Those rifles were hard enough to control when you had time to aim. On the run, they were about as useful as clubs.
Forgetting the sergeant beneath him, Alain focused on the immediate threat. His first instinct was to charge the closest one and tear out his throat, and he was already in motion before he caught the desire to draw blood and got a rein on it.
None of the men had been expecting his speed and he was on Taylor before the man had time to reorient on the nearly-blurred human figure rushing toward him. Taylor clutched his rifle, which suited Alain perfectly. He grabbed it, using it to swing Taylor into Johnson, and the two men went down in a heap as Alain wrenched the M1 from Taylor's grasp. He leapt forward in a twirl, swinging the stock of the rifle into the side of Henry's helmet like DiMaggio swinging for a home run.
Henry dropped limp while Taylor and Johnson struggled to get untangled. Taylor was on top of the pile and Alain pounded the rifle stock into his helmet, three quick and powerful impacts in rapid succession. Taylor fell still as Johnson struggled to move the other man off of him.
Alain moved around to the side and aimed the rifle's barrel at Johnson's head. "How about you tell me what's going on here?"
"Ficht dein mutter," Johnson said quietly, his hand going quickly to his mouth. Before Alain figured out what was happening, Johnson had clenched his jaw and swallowed.
"What did you do?!" Alain watched as Johnson smiled at him, pain slowly filtering into his face. He gasped repeatedly, shuddered violently for about a minute, and then died. Alain watched in horror as it happened, a macabre fascination not letting him turn away. He'd never seen a suicide or a death by poisoning before. As horrible as it was, he couldn't stop watching until it was over.
He heard Johnson's heart stop, but he still had three live hearts beating on the forest floor and he had absolutely no idea what to do with them. Whatever appetites had been stirred by the sergeant's fear and blood were killed by watching Johnson's suicide. There was no more hunger. Alain's fangs had retracted. All he felt now was a mild nausea accompanied by an urge to panic. He was miles from nowhere in a snowy forest with three Nazi prisoners who had almost passed for Americans.
Alain could almost imagine the cliche angel and devil on opposite shoulders. "Kill them," his devil said. "Any Nazi, pretending to be an American and heading toward the front, is obviously up to no good. No one will know. Kill them and go home to your wife."
"These are human lives," his angel said. "If you'd kill them for the sake of convenience, you might as well just drink their blood."
That's how, twenty minutes later, Alain found himself driving a stolen U.S. Army truck over a maliciously uneven road through the Belgian woods, three German prisoners hogtied and bouncing around in the back with their cyanide pills confiscated, heading west.
Two of the prisoners woke up about 30 minutes into the trip, but he'd had the foresight to gag them. When they made too much of a fuss, Alain drove through the roughest parts of the road and gunned the engine, making them flop around like fish on a dock. A couple of those experiences and they settled down. Alain doubted that they were going to accept their fate with grace, but they were quiet.
Alain questioned what he was doing. If these Nazis had come so close to his home, he needed to get back to it. He had a life here in Belgium, if you could call it that. He had a wife and they lived on a small farm her father had owned before one of Alain's squadmates fed upon and killed him... before Alain killed that squadmate. Alain took up her father's profession of hunting and trapping to get skins and meat they could sell, keeping a few barnyard animals for milk, eggs, and a little more variety in the meat they ate. They were young, they met under traumatic circumstances, they were in the middle of a war, and he was a vampire. But somehow they were happy.
The road smoothed as Alain entered the outskirts of a large town. It was absolutely dark, no lights on anywhere. He was pretty sure it was Saint-Hubert, though in the craziness of everything, he'd mostly lost his bearings. A compass told him he was heading generally westward, but that was it. He sped through the town. The wan moonlight reflecting off the snow was enough to make the way clear.
Alain skidded the truck to a stop as he spotted the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul, the three men in the back sliding forward and thumping against the forward row of seats, grunts of protest rising from them. He knew for sure he was in Saint-Hubert now and he knew how to get home from there. He gunned the engine and drove the truck up to the front the abbey.
Alain jumped out and ran up to the door, his vampire strength enough to make the sound of his pounding bounce throughout the building. He was sure the monks would fear the worst and he suspected he might be delivering it, but he couldn't spend days driving around a U.S. Army truck full of German prisoners pretending to be Americans, trying to find Allied forces he could transfer them to while German forces might be moving toward his home with Marie. Despite what the Army had done to him, turning him into a vampire against his will, he was still an American and he felt an obligation to his country and the war effort. But if he lost Marie, none of it meant anything.
As he paused his pounding, he heard soft footsteps approaching the door from inside. A voice called out in French from behind the door. "Are you trying to break our doors down?"
"I beg your pardon," Alain called back. "There is a truck in front of your abbey. In it, three soldiers are tied up. They are German soldiers pretending to be Americans. I trust the good people of Saint-Hubert to deal with them accordingly."
Alain waited for a reply, but there was nothing. "Did you hear me," Alain called.
Slowly, the large door opened. In the opening stood an older monk, dressed in a nightshirt, robe, and nightcap, carrying a candle. "Germans pretending to be Americans, you say?" As the old monk peered out, the stairs were empty. He looked down at the American military vehicle at the bottom of the stairs. "Pierre," he called back into the abbey, "get young Michel dressed and send him to wake up Monsieur Colbert at the constabulary office."
[To Be Continued June 8, 2009]
Hell on $5 a Day: Sodom All Over Again is a work of fiction, serialized by its author on Brainhandles.com. Excerpts may be used for blog posts or articles about the novel. The length limit on excerpts is 4 paragraphs. Any more extensive usage requires permission.