“The Edward System,” Part II

Welp, there goes my plans to finish this one by the end of tonight. Doing a Cadence Ohana review eats up a lot more time and writing mojo than I’d like.  Oh well. Here’s the (shorter) second part of “The Edward System,” which is mostly character development for our girl-eating vampire. The next part (which is what I thought we’d get to in this part… oh well) will consist of Trent and Noelle’s ill-fated (if Trent has anything to say about it, at least) date. If you haven’t read the first part, it’s here.

The Edward System

II

The boy in the letterman jacket from Noelle’s drawings is a Union Falls senior classman named Dominique. As far as Trent can tell, Dominique is the only offline friend that Noelle has, and he discovers from listening to their conversation that they’ve known each other since elementary school. Their introduction comes when Trent sits with Noelle at the lunch table on Wednesday. The boy offers Trent a hand to shake as he sits down across from them; Trent returns the gesture with a nod, wary that the coolness of his skin has been known to raise questions he isn’t in a mood to lie his way through today.

“So what are you two doing on Friday?” Dominique says after he and Trent have felt each other out a bit.

Noelle grins. “Are you jealous, Dominique?”

“Why would I be jealous?”

“Oh whatever.” Noelle slugs her old (and possibly only) friend on the arm. Trent doesn’t say a word. He’s long ago grown past the age of his hyperhormonal teenage mentality, both because he’s several decades old and because his undead body just isn’t capable of making all of those chemicals in the necessary abundance for a sustained amount of time anymore, but his constant proximity to high school students these past few years makes it easy for his mind to pick the mental flotsam out of the currents of their interactions much in the same way that living in a foreign country for long enough will acclimate one to an alien language and culture.

Trouble’s brewing if Dominique wants Noelle as much as the girl’s drawings hint that she wants him. In her passive-aggressive prodding, Noelle is all but encouraging the senior classman to challenge Trent to pistols at dawn for her affections. Is her head too full of trashy Mormon soft-porn and debates about cartoon characters’ romantic destinies to see it, or is she just the type who purposefully creates drama to alleviate the boredom of her daily life? Trent hopes the bitch isn’t going to be more trouble than she’s worth—but oh, how that wonderful coppery scent fills his head when he’s sitting next to her. What is that?

After more none-too-innocent talk, Trent agrees to take Noelle to the county fair opening this Friday. That’s a more public venue than he’d usually pick when he’s looking to make a kill, but he figures he can get her alone at some point during the night, maybe stray a bit away from the fairgrounds on the promise of a kiss and give her something she won’t live to tell about once they’re beyond the sight and mind of the crowds. Hell, if he has to, he can just eat her in the car at the end of the night, though that usually means replacing the bloody seat covers afterward. Besides, it’s been a while since he rode the Gravitron or had an elephant ear, and Trent thinks it’s important for the health of an eternal predator’s mind to enjoy unlife’s small joys once in a while.

Date set, and with an eye toward the drama Noelle might raise between himself and Dominique in the next few days, Trent fakes a dentist appointment on Thursday to avoid going back to the school. The Maverick is past due for an oil change, so Trent jacks the car up in the motel parking lot and goes to it, the simple repetitive motions of the task so familiar to his nervous system that his hands move as if by their accord.

Trent doesn’t like having to think about things. He likes it when he can follow instructions from point A to B to M to Z, one thing after another, delineated and sensible without the need for bothering over how to accomplish this task or wonder what he should do now. That’s why he came up with the Edward System.

It’s true that the System sometimes puts Trent at greater risk than would plucking victims off the street at night like his old friend Murray does in Detroit. But that’s too damn chaotic for Trent; taking victims at random like that, you never know what you’re going to get for quality, never know what you’re going to have to do to take them down if they surprise you, never know until it’s too late if you’ve bitten off more than you can drink. Neither crucifixes nor holy water nor garlic hold any fear for real vampires, but Trent has seen what a jagged piece of junk lumber or a flame from a Bic lighter can do to his kind, and the risk that some asshole in an alley is going to get lucky and stake you just isn’t worth it. You have to stick your neck out in public a bit more with the Edward System, and there’s always the risk that the police will someday realize they have a serial murderer posing as a transfer student at high schools across the country to satisfy his cravings, but there’s just no other way to ensure such a consistent quality in his meals, and outside of shows on the WB, high school girls don’t fight back against vampires and win.

After the car’s done, Trent spends the better part of Thursday afternoon watching reruns of Gunsmoke in his underwear. His stomach is growling by the time the local news comes on, and though the sun’s still higher in the sky than he’d rather it was while he’s hunting, it’s not like the motel is hurting for empty rooms, and he doubts anyone will notice him if he goes out for a snack. Trent throws on some fresh clothes and slips out to the back lot of the motel where the green industrial trash bins sit amid long-congealed puddles of grease. A rat, a stray cat, a pigeon; it’s just a matter of waiting for something to come by looking for a meal so Trent can have one of his own.

Some vampires look down on eating vermin, which seems plain crazy to Trent. Popular media may have suggested to you that vampires need human blood to live (if “live” is the appropriate term). Not so. Any mammal’s blood will do so long as it’s warm. Of course, humans remain the most desirable of victims for a number of reasons. They’re big enough to provide a full meal, for starters; drinking every last liter in an adult gives a vampire enough blood to run on comfortably for a week, two if the vampire in question doesn’t mind a bit of a rumbly in his or her tumbly the last couple days before the next feeding. Besides that, humans are plain delicious; in a world of vermin that tastes more or less like chicken, humanity is a quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger and a Cherry Coke. Human blood is easiest on the gut, too, because vampires start off as humans, and their bodies have to go through more trouble to digest the blood of other species, whereas fresh human blood can more or less be absorbed right into the drinker’s bloodstream. On top of all that, killing a human tends to be a lot easier and safer than killing any other animal of comparable size; they lack claws and sharp teeth, and thanks to the sedimentary culture of modern America, a good many of them are as fat and slow as a paraplegic baby seal.

Something’s different in Trent’s room when he returns. Sucking the remains of a pigeon’s lifeblood off his right index finger, Todd walks through the bedroom to the bathroom and back again, trying to make conscious the difference that his unconscious mind has noticed. The bed’s still made up the same way; his mother had him making his bed every morning as a child and not even three decades as a sociopathic man-eater has robbed him of the habit. All the lights that were on are still on, and the converse holds true for those that were off. Then he notices the oil-splattered t-shirt that was on the floor by the bathroom door has migrated onto the back of the thin-padded chair by the writing desk.

Housekeeping? Except he told them to stay out when he checked in, and if it was housekeeping they didn’t stay for long and did a piss-poor job while they were here. Trent looks out the window and wonders if someone’s finally caught on to his game, but he refuses to let paranoia get a grip on his brain. He’s not running now, goddammit. Not when he has a proper meal all lined up for tomorrow.

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