“The Edward System,” Part VI

I knew this last chunk would run long. I’m going to toss up what I have done of the Part VI thus far with the hope of finishing the rest tomorrow. Not caught up? Here’s parts one, two, three, four and five.

The Edward System

VI-A

It’s the scent of the blood trickling off the tip of Trent’s nose that brings him back to consciousness. The blood is dribbling down the ridge of his nose from a cut on his forehead that, considering the situation he’s awakened to find himself in, he probably acquired when Noelle was dragging him down the basement stairs. Trent has to blink his left eyelid a few times before it will open all the way; some of the blood on his face has dried enough to glue his eyelashes together. Funny how even the smell of his own blood can make him hungry. But this is no time to be thinking about his stomach.

The basement that Trent finds himself in is well lit, though it’s about as empty as the rest of the house. A few abandoned chairs are stacked against the far wall by an old washer and drier. Trent’s sitting in a mate to those chairs, wrists tied behind the backboard with what feels like nylon rope and ankles lashed to this particular chair’s front legs. The floor is dark grey cement that could use sweeping. Noelle stands before Trent wearing what looks to him like an aftermarket Elvira costume (sans wig, thank god) that she just doesn’t have the figure to pull off. She flashes her teeth in what’s probably supposed to be a reassuring smile when she notices that Trent is awake.

“Sorry I had to do that, my love, but I didn’t want you to run off again before I could tell you that I understand what you’ve been doing. It’s okay.” She steps forward, the hem of her gauzy black robe noisily swooshing against the dusty floor, and she strokes Trent’s cheek with a black-press-on-nailed hand. “You don’t have to test me anymore. We can be together forever now, Trent.”

Trent pulls his cheek away from her hand as well as he can. “What the hell are you talking about, you crazy bitch?”

For a moment Noelle’s face twists into something subhuman; her nose crinkles, her brow drops, her cheeks twitch, and to Trent she looks more like some kind of mutant hobgoblin from the disturbing late night cartoons he used to watch in the eighties than the forever young corpse of a seventeen year old girl. But in the next instant she’s herself again, bubbly and grinning, with that crazy in her eyes that he should have picked up on from the start. Noelle flicks her fingers against his chin. “Baby, I just told you. We don’t have to do this anymore. I understand that you had to test me. That’s why you left after you changed me. You had to know that I could hunt and track; you had to know I could feed myself. And you had to know that my love was true.”

“I didn’t mean to change you, it was a fucking accident. I had to leave before I was done drinking every goddamn last drop of blood in your loco body because Domi—”

The rest of that sentence turns into a high squeal when Noelle pushes the button on the remote for the shock collar still tight around Trent’s throat. At least she doesn’t keep it going until he passes out this time, but his toes twitch for a few seconds after the pulse subsides, and even if he wanted to pick up that sentence where he left off, his tongue’s temporarily incapable of forming the necessary syllables.

“So it doesn’t work if you take too much blood. I was afraid that was it.” It sounds to Trent like Noelle’s thinking out loud instead of addressing him, but he’s not long spared her attentions. “Trent. Baby.” She kisses him on one of his blood-sticky cheeks. “I told you to stop testing me. I know damn well it wasn’t an accident. You changed me so we could be together. That much is obvious from all the clues you left so I could follow you.”

Trent’s mouth works in silence for a moment before he gets out, “Clues?” He neither knows nor cares what she’s talking about, but as a longtime viewer of the kind of movies where the hero inevitably pulls off an escape while the villain dialogues, Trent’s determined to keep Noelle talking as long as possible while he tries to work his wrists loose. If that doesn’t work, his only other hope is that she either lets him loose, which is about as likely as Trent starting to breathe again, or that Noelle’s “love” for him will prevent her from killing him until Murray comes for a visit and inadvertently comes to Trent’s rescue. But something tells Trent he shouldn’t count on Noelle’s affection for him to translate into any meaningful chance he’ll survive to see another sunset; there’s a new smell hanging around the girl now that’s undead, not the coppery scent of slit wrists but the rancid butter smell of a rabid animal, and while she’s playful now, Trent suspects it’s just a matter of time before she bites.

“The girls, silly. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Tell me about it anyway.”

She grins, happy that he finally seems to be playing along. “Well, once I rose from my grave—which was really hard, by the way!—I had to find out what direction you went when you left town. But it was hard to find any more clues, and I was hungry all the time. I knew you’d left me alone so I could learn to be self-sufficient, so I traveled from town to town feeding and asking if anyone had seen you or your car. Then I finally found someone who’d seen you in the Maverick and I knew I was on the right track.”

Trent grunts. He knew he should have ditched the Maverick once he was far enough away from Union Falls, but he just couldn’t make himself do it, not after losing the Coupe. That sentimentality may have been the death of him.

“After a while, I started seeing a pattern. I’d go by motels and ask about a boy in a Maverick, and there were people who’d seen you. Then someone in Ames told me they thought you were going to the college, but when I got there all anyone was talking about was a girl who’d been murdered in her dorm room. They said her throat was ripped out like a dog attacked her. I knew it was you. After that, I knew all I had to do to follow you was read the news and look for stories about college girls turning up missing or dead. I wanted to rush and tell you that I understood everything when I caught up to you in Chicago, but I was afraid you’d run again if you didn’t know how much I’d learned, if you didn’t know that I was ready to join you.”

The ropes still don’t want to give Trent so much as a centimeter of slack. “So you broke into my car and left me a drawing?”

“I had to let you know!” She sniffles and puts her hands to her breast. “Oh, Trent, I wasn’t sure what to do. And I didn’t know that there was still one more test for me to pass, but I did it, baby, I beat him! I did it for you!”

“Who? What?”

In answer, Noelle goes back to the stairs and picks up a backpack leaning against the bottom step. It’s the same backpack, Trent realizes, that she was lugging around the day he first approached her in Union Falls. She unzips the pack and pulls out what Trent at first thinks is a stuffed animal until she flips it around so he can see the shock in the staring dull eyes and he realizes he’s looking at Murray’s severed head.

For her part, Noelle looks proud as a cat who’s just delivered a wild bird on her master’s doormat. “In a lot of ways he was the hardest of all your tests, Trent. He wouldn’t tell me where you were. He wanted to keep us apart. He was a bad man, Trent, and he deserved everything I did to him. Do you understand me?” There’s nothing gentle about the way Noelle grabs Trent’s chin this time. “I’ve passed all of your tests. I understand it was necessary for me to learn how to be a vampire so I could be with you, but it hurt me so much, Trent.”

She raises her arms and brushes back the sleeves of her gauzy black costume so Trent can see the fresh criss-crossed scars running from her wrists to elbows, half-healed brown-caked canyons dug into her pale flesh. “And just as I suffered to learn what your life is like as a being of the night,” she says as she pulls a razor blade from her backpack, “now you have to feel the pain I went through, my love, so that our souls might be intertwined for all eternity through our shared misery. Hold still for me, baby.”

Holding still is the last thing Trent intends to do, but it quickly becomes apparent that no amount of squirming will dissuade Noelle from her mission. The first time the razor splits Trent’s skin he jerks so hard that three of the chair’s legs leave the basement floor; Noelle lays a hand on the top of the backboard to keep him steady afterward. Contrary to Sheryl Crow, the first few cuts that Noelle makes are shallow, drawing only beads of blood at regular intervals like buttons down the front of a dress shirt. Though Trent can’t see the damage for himself, Noelle narrates the scene as she goes, her vivid descriptions of his wounds accompanied by gentle cooings and assurances of “There, baby, that’s not so bad” and “It’s okay, honey, it’s alright.”

Still, Trent’s grunts of pain don’t seem to be enough for Noelle, so the girl cuts deeper again with the razor, splitting fat and muscle. More of Trent’s precious borrowed blood dribbles down his arms, dripping in what sounds to him like slow motion off the tips of his fingers into the dust on the floor. “You’re doing so good for me, baby,” Noelle says, then she scrapes the razor along the bony protrusion of Trent’s right elbow and digs down to his ulna, carving a hair-width line in the exposed bone down to just above the ropes still around his wrists.

Finally he screams, one of those sphincter-tightening, oh-god-someone’s-fucked screams that he’s been on the other end of a few times over the course of his career. It’s the kind of scream you get when you don’t sever your victim’s vocal cords on your first bite, the kind of scream his meals would make when they still had the voice to express the bitter certainty that they were going to die and couldn’t do a fucking thing about it. The chair wobbles despite Noelle’s grip on the backboard.

Noelle wraps her arms around Trent from behind, linking her crimson-stained fingers across his chest. “Poor baby,” she whispers in his ear. One hand shoots up to stroke Trent’s hair, razor still perched between her fingers; at least the sharp end’s facing up and away from his scalp. “You get it now, don’t you?” She slides around in front of him again, hand never leaving his chest. “How much pain I went through for you?” Noelle tilts Trent’s eyes up to meet hers with a finger to his chin. “I’ll go draw you a bath so we can wash you off, my love. After that…” She purrs and plants a gentle kiss on Trent’s mouth.

Only after the door at the top of the stairs has closed with Noelle’s passing does Trent allow himself to slump in the chair and sob. His arms are on fire; his fingers, icy numb. Just wiggling his fingers enough to ensure that the bitch didn’t saw through the tendons—that his fingers are even there—makes his stomach retreat to somewhere below his belly button. But the experiment leads to a surprising discovery: the now-blood-soaked rope binding his hands has become slick and, with a little back and forth that nearly leads to him dislocating his left shoulder and leaves his fighting for consciousness again, he manages to pop a hand free.

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