I am nothing if not persistent. Flinging myself into the Mississippi didn't work: I no longer needed to breathe. I floundered around on the muddy river bottom for half an hour before giving up and slogging my way back to shore. Neither did grounding myself while I held onto a live power line (though it did awful things to my hair). I drank a bottle of bleach, and the only consequence was a startling case of dry mouth. I shoplifted a butcher knife from the nearby Wal-Mart-the place to shop if you're dead, it's three a.m., and you don't have any credit cards-and stabbed myself in the heart: nothing.
I was walking dispiritedly down Lake Street, trying to figure out how to decapitate myself, when I heard low voices and what sounded like muffled crying. I almost moved on-didn't I have problems of my own?-when good sense returned and I walked through the alley and around the corner. I saw three men hulking around a woman. She was holding hands with a big-eyed girl. The girl looked about six or so. Fear made the woman look about fifty. Her purse was lying on the ground between them. Nobody moved to get it, and I had a quick, clear thought: she tossed it at them, and tried to run, and they cornered her. They don't want her purse. They want-
"Please," she said, almost whispered, and I thought the acoustics must be very good, for me to have heard them from almost a block away. "Don't do anything to me in front of my daughter. I'll go with you-I'll do whatever you want, just please, please-"
"Mommy, don't leave me here by myself!" The girl's eyes were light brown, almost whiskey-colored, and when they filled with tears I felt something lurch inside my dead heart. "Just-you go away, bad men! Leave my mommy alone!"
"Shhh, Justine, shhh..." The woman was trying to pry her daughter's fingers free and made a ghastly attempt at a laugh. "She's tired-it's late-I'll go with you-"
"Don't want you," one of the men said, his eyes on the girl. Justine burst into fresh tears, but not before kicking the ground, raining pebbles and grit on the man's feet.
"I'll take you back to my car-the engine's dead but I could-with all of you, just don't-don't-"
"Hey, assholes!" I said cheerfully. The five of them jumped, which surprised me...I wasn't the world's quietest walker. I couldn't believe I was doing this. I wasn't exactly the confrontational type. On the other hand, what did I possibly have to lose? "Er...you three assholes. Not the lady and the kid. Fellas, could you come over here and kill me, please?"
Hugely relieved, Justine smiled at me, revealing the gap where she'd lost one of her baby teeth. Then the men moved forward, and Justine grabbed her mom's hand and started dragging her toward the relative safety of Lake Street.
"Come on, Mommy!"
"Don't you dare," I snapped. "If you mess up my murder, I'll be furious." One of the men had grabbed my arm, was dragging me back toward Justine and her mom. "Just a minute, pal, I've got to-" He poked me, hard, and without thought I shoved.
The rest of it happened awfully fast. Jerkoff #1 hadn't poked me, he'd stabbed me-for all the good it did. And when I shoved, his feet left the ground and he sailed back as if hurricane-force winds had blown him. When he finally touched ground he rolled for a good ten feet before he regained his feet and ran like he'd had one too many chimichangas and needed a bathroom.
While I was staring and making my usual vocalization when I didn't understand ("Wha...?"), the other two moved in. I reached up and grabbed them by the backs of their necks, then banged their heads together. There was a sickening crunch, and I heard-yech!-their skulls cave in. It was the sound I'd heard at my cousin's wedding when her groom stomped on the glass. The bad guys dropped to the ground, deader than disco. Their faces were frozen in eternal expressions of pissed-off.
I nearly threw up into their staring faces. "Oh, shit!"
"Thank you thank you thank you!" Justine's mom was in my arms, reeking of fear and Dune perfume. She was clutching me with not-inconsiderable strength and babbling into my hair. I wriggled, trying to extricate myself without hurting her. "Ohmygod I thought they were going to rape me kill me hurt Justine kill Justine thank you thank you thank you!"
"Err...that's fine, Miss-uh, miss. Leggo now, there's a nice hysteric."
She let go of me, still babbling, staggered a few feet away, knelt, and started picking up the items that had fallen from her purse. I instantly wanted to grab her back. Something about her-the blood, the-she had scraped herself, or one of the men had cut her, and she was bleeding, the blood was flowing beneath her shirt, on the inside of her upper arm, and it trickled steadily and suddenly I was so thirsty I couldn't breathe.
Justine was staring up at me. Her tears had dried, making her cheeks shine in the moonlight. She looked very, very thoughtful. And about five years older than she'd looked five minutes ago. She pointed. "Doesn't that hurt like crazy?"
I looked down, then jerked the knife out of my side. Very little blood. "No. Thanks. Uh...don't be scared. Anymore, I mean."
"Why'd you ask them to kill you?"
Normally I wouldn't share unpleasant confidences with a strange child, but what could I say? It had been one of those nights. Plus, she had pointed out the knife sticking out of my ribs; I felt obliged to give her an honest answer. "I'm a zombie," I explained, except I was having trouble talking, all of a sudden. "I'm trying to thtay dead."
"You're not a zombie." She pointed at my mouth. "You're a vampire. A good one, so that's all right," she added.
My hand came up so quickly I actually bit myself. I felt the sharp tips of new fangs, fangs that had come out when I'd smelled her mother's blood, fangs that seemed to be taking up half my mouth.
"A vampire? How ith that pothible? I died in a car ackthident, for God'th thake! Aw, thon of a bith!"
"Are you going to suck our blood?" Justine asked curiously.
"Blood maketh me throw up. Even the thight of it-ugh."
"Not anymore, I bet," she said. This was the most level-headed first-grader I'd ever met. I was tempted to make her my evil sidekick. "It's okay. You can if you want to. You saved us. My mom," she said, her tone dropping; it was low, confidential, "was really scared."
I clapped both hands over my mouth and started backing away. "Run," I said, but I didn't have to bother; Justine's mama had finished gathering up her things, taken one look at my new dentition, picked up her daughter, and run in the opposite direction.
"There'th a gath thtathion at the end of this block!" I yelled after her. "You can call triple A!" I stuck my fingers in my mouth. My lisp was going away, and so were my fangs. "And what were you thinking, having your daughter out at four o'clock in the morning?" I shouted after her, freshly annoyed. "Dope!"
People think because Minneapolis was in the Midwest, rapes and murders and burglaries didn't happen there. They do, just not as often as, say, in Washington D.C. I'd bet a thousand bucks the car that had broken down on them was a rental.
Well, the mystery was solved. I was a vampire. How, I had no idea. Car accident victims did not rise from the dead. So I'd always thought, anyway.
Unless...could it have something to do with my attack a few months ago? The attackers had been savage, snarling, barely human. Until tonight, it had been the most surreal thing to happen to me, and that included the tax audit and my folks' divorce. Could the attackers have infected me?
And why was I still me? Now that I was a ravenous member of the undead, I should be sucking little girls dry and then lunching on their mamas. The men in the alley had been asshole predators, but I was still horrified when I accidentally killed two of them. I'd let Justine and her mom go-had ordered them to go. I was thirstier than I'd ever been in my-uh-life, but it wasn't ruling me. I wasn't an animal. I was still me, Betsy, desperately in love with fine footwear and ready to give my eyeteeth (or my new fangs) for Russell Crowe's autograph.
Russell Crowe...now there was someone who'd make a delightful snack.