“The Edward System,” Concluded

 

The Edward System

VII

Untying the ropes around his ankles replaces the numbness in his fingers with a warm prickling, something in between the sensation that his fingers have fallen asleep and the feeling that they’re being repeatedly stabbed by sewing needles. Trent isn’t sure if that’s an improvement or not. Feet free, he stands, happy to find his legs can still support his weight despite how wobbly he is from the loss of blood. He has a chill, not a surprise considering he’s standing on bare concrete in a basement wearing naught but the pajama bottoms he was sleeping in, but he’s sure that having lost a liter or more of blood probably has something to do with that too.

Trent pulls at the shock collar around his neck and feels his sphincter tighten when he finds the tiny padlock on the buckle. His fingers are too weak and whatever space-age fabric the collar’s made out of too tough for him to rip the damn thing off, and there doesn’t seem to be anything in the basement capable of sawing through it. As long as he’s wearing the collar, Noelle has an obvious advantage over him, but there doesn’t seem to be anything he can do about it now.

Besides, his main concern is getting the hell out of here without Noelle noticing him. The thought stings Trent’s pride, but even without the shock collar in the equation, Noelle could probably overpower him now. He’s lost too much blood, and it sounds like she’s been feeding regularly. Hell, she probably drank whatever was in Murray, and who knows what side-effects come from eating another vampire. If Trent has any hope of getting out of here alive, it involves slipping out while she’s busy running his bath or whatever crazy-ass thing she’s doing. So how does he escape before she comes back?

A basement window sits maybe eight feet up the wall and looks promising at first. Trent places one of the chairs beneath the window and stands on it, but he’s still four inches short of reaching the latch. He tries stacking another chair atop the first and gets a grip on the latch, but it won’t turn, locked or possibly rusted shut. The chairs almost go tumbling out from under Trent on his way back down to the basement floor. He paces from one end of the basement to the other and finds that there’s only the one window, which he can’t imagine is in line with the fire code; maybe the bad economy has nothing to do with this place still being on the market.

That leaves him no choice for escape from the basement except the stairs up to the living room. Before he begins the climb, Trent picks through the pack Noelle left behind, hoping to find some kind of weapon, but all that’s left is a blood-spattered art pad and a plastic bag full of markers. No lighter, no more of those razors—no luck. None of the aforementioned chairs are wooden either, so there won’t be any improvised stakes.

Trent climbs the stairs, feet making horrible sticky noises like he’s walking on a dirty linoleum floor, and though he’s leaving a trail of bloody footprints in his wake, he’s fairly certain that’s from the pool that had collected under his chair and not any ongoing bleeding. The cuts in his arms have mostly gone dry, though that’s more a sign that they’ve run out of blood to spill than of any supernatural vampiric healing abilities. Trent wonders what’ll happen if he really does bleed out every last drop of blood in his body. He’s never seen a vampire starve to death, but Murray’s told him—no, no more thinking about Murray. Not until he’s out of here.

He jumps when the third stair from the top creaks under his weight and almost goes tumbling back down the whole flight. Finally at the top of the climb, he pauses and puts an ear against the door, but he can’t hear a damn thing. Praying that Noelle didn’t lock the door from the other side, Trent puts his hand on the knob and wheezes his relief when it turns.

The basement door lets out at the back of the living room, and all he can see without going around a corner is the staircase going up to the bedrooms. Trent pulls the basement door shut as quietly as he can and stands still listening for the sounds of Noelle’s immediate presence. He hears the sound of water running into the tub in this floor’s bathroom, which lies at the far end of the hall on the other end of the living room. He can just barely hear a wordless hum accompanying the splashing, which tells him that Noelle is still on this floor. A few pops and hisses from around the corner suggest she must have relit the fire he had going earlier as well.

That’s enough to make up his mind before he realizes he was considering his options. His clothes, his laptop and most importantly his car keys are all upstairs in the bedroom (or they were, and he doubts Noelle moved them). If he runs now, he can make a clean getaway—but only on foot and mostly naked. Not to mention he’d lose everything in the laptop, including all the work he’s done revising the Edward System and several gigs of torrented music. Maybe he’s being stubborn and exercising poor judgment out of wounded pride, but Trent refuses to run without something of his dignity, “dignity” in this instance defined as “all of his worldly possessions.”

So up another set of stairs he goes, again as quickly as he can manage with his feet blood-sticky and the muscles in his legs quickly going from wet noodles to dried concrete, trying to remember if any of the stairs squeaked during his earlier trips up and down them. He throws on the dirty clothes lying on the floor in his bedroom, tosses his laptop in his suitcase, pockets his car keys and, suitcase in hand, has a nasty case of déjà vu that freezes him to the spot when he imagines he can hear Noelle knocking on the bedroom door. Trent cusses, shakes his head—which leaves him dizzy and makes him wonder again just how much blood he’s lost—and hurries back to the stairs as quietly as he can.

Getting the suitcase down the stairs without making a racket takes a few minutes. Trent’s fingers don’t want to grip the suitcase’s handle as securely as he’d like; he wonders if he’ll ever be able to hold a pencil or type properly again, but those are things to worry about more down the road. Right now he’s more concerned about all the noise it’ll make if his luggage goes bouncing down the stairs. Trent uses both hands to lower the suitcase a step at a time, resting more and more every time as the pain creeps up from his wrists and forearms into his shoulders and back like twin cracks spreading in glass.

He rounds the corner from the staircase, headed through the living room toward the front door, when the sight of the figure sitting on the couch puts a halt to his feet that his brain doesn’t notice until several precious seconds have passed. Of course he knows who the poor, rigor mortis-stiffened bastard in the Union Falls letterman jacket sitting on the couch across from the fireplace has to be, even with the plastic and faux-fur werewolf mask hiding his face. As Trent approaches the couch he can see the flames in the hearth reflected in the marble eyeballs of the mask. His nose wrinkles against and rubber-and-putrefaction stench when he pulls the wolf mask off Dominique’s head. The boy’s eyes are rolled up toward the ceiling, and the way the tip of his swollen tongue protrudes between his purple-brown lips makes it look like a distended rectum lies between his nose and chin.

“I drank too much from him,” Noelle says. She’s watching Trent from the hallway at the other end of the living room. To Trent’s relief, she doesn’t seem to be holding the remote for the collar. “Trent, baby, what are you doing up here? And dressed? I told you I was running you a bath.”

Instead of answering her, Trent grabs the pointiest stick he can see in the pile of firewood. He isn’t sure that he has the strength to jam it through her ribcage, but what’s his other option?

Noelle saunters toward him. “Baby, I’m so disappointed in you. I’ve given, and I’ve suffered, and I’ve done everything I could to make this relationship work. Talk to me, baby. What do we have to do to make this better?”

Trent sets his feet apart, hoping his legs don’t give out beneath him. “I should have killed you on the way to the fair, you psycho bitch.”

That does it. Something in the girl’s brain snaps; he can see the heretofore simmering crazy explode behind her eyes. Her feet might touch the floor thrice in her dash to reach him, and when she tackles Trent he feels like a girl scout going to scrimmage against a bull elephant. The stick flies from Trent’s fingers in the first two seconds after Noelle takes him to the floor. The girl’s teeth rip into his shoulder; when she jerks her head back it feels to Trent like Noelle’s just taken a pound of skin and muscle with her, and in exchange he gains yet another wound to leak precious blood from.

Noelle’s hands wrap around Trent’s throat, costume sleeves tickling against his face. She howls and squeezes his extraneous undead windpipe, obviously not having thought this one through. Trent pantomimes shock and pulls at her arm with one hand as he tries to grab the stick with the other. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have to breathe because the way things are now he couldn’t fight the bitch’s grip on his throat if he tried. The damn stick’s too far away so he changes tact and, feeling a little guilty but willing to fight dirty if it means preserving himself, grabs a fistful of hair and yanks Noelle’s face down to his own. He bites a chunk from her cheek on size with the one she took from his shoulder, but instead of jerking back like Trent expected, the girl headbutts him in the nose, shattering his bridge and sending a fresh cascade of blood dribbling down his cheeks and into his eyes.

Then for a moment it seems he’s free of her, but Noelle is only shifting position. She grabs Trent’s leg when he tries to stand, then he bellows in surprise as much as pain when her teeth sever his left Achilles tendon. His effort to kick her only places his right leg in her grasp, and she severs that tendon as quickly as the first. Trent screams, but in the madness of the pain he’s able to twist himself around and give Noelle a mighty shove that sends her stumbling backward into the open fireplace.

The flames catch Noelle’s gauzy getup, and a half-second later her undead skin ignites as well. She hits her feet running and screaming as the flames spread. Unable to see a thing through the fiery haze that’s engulfed her, she crashes into the couch, sending Dominique’s corpse to thump on the floor as both his letterman jacket and the upholstery begin to burn. There is neither order nor meaning to be found in the sounds Noelle makes as she scrambles over the back of the couch, charred press-on nails clawing at her face as the flames spread to her hair and hit the caked layers of spray therein with a whoof. She trips coming back down to the floor and goes skidding into the far wall, then hints her feet and runs down the hall from whence she came.

Trent tries to pull himself to his feet, but with the tendons in his legs severed it’s a pointless attempt. He can hear Noelle screaming down the hall, then her babbling ceases in a splash and a sudden hiss like the world’s biggest kettle is boiling over. Serves the crazy cunt right.

The couch and Dominique’s body are both burning in earnest, and flames are rising up the wall and along the floor where Noelle passed. Trent crawls along the floor on hands and knees, grunting with every necessary expenditure of what little energy he has left. The blood in his eyes is making it hard to see where he’s going, but every time he spares a hand to try to rub it away he falls on his face, and that gets his nose spurting again. If he can just get through the front door, he keeps telling himself, if he can get that far before the flames spread there—Shit, what about his suitcase? It’s still over by the stairs. Leave it. He has his keys in his pocket, right?

Sweat pours down Trent’s forehead, mixing with the blood in his eyes to produce a new elixir of stinging blindness, as the temperature rockets and the room fills with increasingly darker smoke. He’s made it maybe fifteen feet when he hears the pounding of footsteps cross from the hallway and Noelle pounces on his back. Her weight brings Trent crashing to the ground, and his limbs splay out in four directions. The crazy girl wraps her char-crisped arms around his waist and lays her bald, blistered skull against his back.

“How romantic.” She sounds like a ninety year old lifelong smoker when she speaks. “I always knew it would be fire, my love. To hell with this world. Let’s die together, baby.”

Trent tries to pull himself the last few feet to the door, but her weight holds him to the spot. His arms are too weak to lift his chest off the ground with Noelle on his back, and his jelly legs won’t propel him another inch despite his efforts to slither forward. The flames wrap around the wall, engulfing the front door and dashing any hope he had of making it out before he either burns to death or the roof collapses on him.

Though he has no need to breathe and can’t suffocate, the smoke that fills Trent’s lungs has the effect of preventing him from making a sound, and so as the flames close in and the crazy bitch who ruined his unlife hugs him tighter in morbid ecstasy, he laughs, soundlessly but without a sense of irony, until his skin begins to melt and the inaudible screaming begins.

His last thought before his brain boils out his ears is that he wishes he’d never read Twilight.

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