He woke to pitch blackness, and for a few seconds he couldn’t remember where he was. Panic rose, but he was too sluggish to react to it.
And he was hungry. So fucking hungry. Even paralyzed in the blackness, his body and brain not quite transitioned to nighttime consciousness, he was hungry.
The blackness receded, as if his eyes hadn’t quite started working yet when he’d awakened. Returning consciousness prickled along his arms and hands, his brain, like circulation returning to numb limbs.
He was never going to get used to this.
As soon as he could, he sat up and groped for the bottle of pills on the nightstand. He popped two into his mouth, letting them dissolve on his tongue. The hunger eased, feeling more like a normal early-morning craving for eggs and a bagel and less like a crazed badger setting up a home under his rib cage.
He made his way downstairs, tiptoeing because the silence of the place seemed far too...silent. He was loath to break it, not because he liked the quiet but because he was afraid it might become corporeal and attack him if he disturbed it.
Downstairs seemed more normal. He could hear the vague sounds of traffic from below, a siren wailing somewhere, a screech of brakes as someone narrowly avoided an accident. The refrigerator hummed. He opened it, took out a bottle of blood.
He felt like he was physically holding the hunger back as he waited for the blood, transferred to a highball glass, to heat in the microwave. Don’t try to rush it, he remembered, watching the LED numbers count down.
He had to concentrate to keep from chugging the blood, instead rolling it over his tongue, letting the flavor settle. He savored it, feeling the hunger recede as the blood washed warm through him. He’d finished the first glass and set the refill in the microwave when he heard his cell phone tweedling from the bedroom. He dragged himself away from the hypnotic spectacle of his breakfast turning around and around on the carousel to go find it.
By the time he retrieved the phone from the bedside table, it had stopped ringing and made the beeping noise that alerted him to a voicemail. He looked at the call history. Marc. He called back as he made his way back downstairs.
“Hey!” Marc answered on the second ring. “Turn on CSN Chicago.” The connection clicked off.
Travis grabbed a TV remote and did as told. As the microwave dinged in the kitchen, his own face appeared on the TV screen in all its widescreen, high-definition glory. His pores looked like a small child could swim in them.
“...makes his debut tonight at Cobra Stadium in the team’s third game this season against the Detroit Damnation. These teams are bitter rivals, and their last confrontation ended in a shootout, with Detroit coming out on top after the fourth round. Sources from inside the Cobra organization say Payne’s more disciplined, team-based play style has already had an effect on the Cobra’s practice sessions...”
The door swung open and Marc ambled in, joining Travis in front of the TV. Travis gave him a startled look.
“I still have the key.” He eyed Travis sidelong, the corner of his mouth curling.
Travis nodded, wondering if he should ask for the key back. The smirk on Marc’s face made Travis think he probably should, or Marc would take advantage. Mulling, he turned back to the TV.
“...in the meantime,” the announcer continued, “controversy continues to rage over Payne’s right to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup after the Hawks’ victory last spring. Payne played in all but two regular-season games and every game in the playoffs until the finals against the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Under normal circumstances, he would be eligible for inclusion on the Cup, but the league has shown reluctance due to questions regarding his changed status.”
The NHL commissioner’s face appeared on the screen then. Travis was happy to note that his pores looked even more spacious than his own had.
“We still don’t know the circumstances of this incident. If Payne chose to be Turned, then he has no reason to complain. And it’s my understanding that very few full transformations are involuntary. It requires a certain level of cooperation from the ‘victim.’”
“You smarmy motherfucker,” Travis muttered. Then he fell silent again as Susan’s face replaced that of the commissioner.
“Travis Payne was Turned involuntarily, and there is a pending police investigation regarding the identity of the individual responsible. Mr. Payne is no more responsible for his change in circumstance then was Vladimir Konstantinov of the Detroit Red Wings after his devastating car accident in 1997. And, as we all know, Konstantinov’s name is, indeed, on the Cup. In fact, it’s on the Cup for the 1998 win, during which season he never played due to his injuries. Travis Payne’s should be allowed, as well.”
“And there you have it.” The main announcer dominated the screen now. “Yet another blatant act of prejudice against the vampire race. Only this time it looks like we have a human on our side. Best of luck, Ms. Harris, with your crusade for justice, and best of luck to you, Mr. Payne, in your LVH debut tonight.”
The coverage switched then to a story about the Eastern European vampire rugby league. Travis flicked off the TV, a little stunned.
“I just called her last night. Or way early this morning. She wasn’t even awake.”
“She’s a good agent,” said Marc. He punched Travis in the shoulder. “And you, my friend, are a big fucking deal.”
Travis just shook his head. He’d known all this was going on, but seeing it on a fifty-inch TV was a bit different from watching clips on YouTube.
There was a moment of silence, not quite awkward but not quite comfortable, then Marc said, “I’m keeping your key.”
Travis didn’t look at him. “Fine. God knows when you might have to bust in here to save me from myself.” He finally gave Marc a sidelong look, his mouth twisting into something that didn’t really feel like a smile. He knew damn well that wasn’t why Marc was keeping the key. “Let’s face it—I’m still kind of a shit vampire.”
Marc chuckled and dragged a hand across Travis’s back, the touch lighting up Travis’s skin in ways he wasn’t entirely comfortable with. “Not going to argue with that,” Marc said. He waved toward the kitchen, where the microwave was still blinking. “Finish your breakfast. Game’s in four hours.”