The Donor

Chapter fifteen

      The first two times that Terry tried to dial Jack's number his fingers tripped on the buttons and he tapped in gibberish. He dropped his hands briefly, closed his eyes and let his hand dive to the job without thinking about it, and that time he got i right.
      Jack didn't sound displeased to hear from him. "What's up?" he asked lightly.
      "Nothing much," he said, just as lightly. "Just called to share a joke from work."
      It was a stupid joke. But it was long, because after the first memo about incentive bananas went through the place, there were addenda from all over, elaborating on banana demands and monkey business and being made a monkey of.
      Jack approved. "A sense of humor might even lead to a sense of outrage, who knows," he said. "Beats acting like zombies."
      "No need to be so harsh," Terry teased. "I've checked out everyone there, at least the guys, and so far as I can see, they can' be zombies: they don't have any body parts falling off. Though come to think of it, Marcia dos seem interested in eating my brains . . ."
      This was so hard. He had to hit the right tone, and why did he feel like he was lying about something?
      Jack sounded careful too.
      Terry found a movie for both of them. Bunuel, old enough to interest Terry, and eccentric enough to interest Jack. But the expedition did not serve the purpose. Jack kept frowning at his coffee cup afterwards, almost starting to say something and then stopping.
      "If you have something unpleasant to say to me, maybe you should just say it," Terry finally whispered. "Then it will be said."
      "No. I don't have anything to say. Nothing new, I mean. But I'm afraid I'm being unfair."
      "What?" How many conversations were they having at once? "I thought it was pretentious too. I was just giving it slack because Bunuel didn't have Bunuel for a precedent."
      "No, I mean us. I mean I'm dragging you around with me like this and I probably won't keep it up. I mean – this is fun. I like you a lot. But – well, you know what I mean. I've said it before."
      "And I really don't care," Terry said. "You don't have to be fair. I cherish your ambivalence, I really do. And, you know, if -- when – you decide you've had enough, just be polite on the way out and you'll have been fair enough." He squeezed back something sentimental that wanted to be said, and said instead, "You didn't promise me anything, you don't owe me anything, I didn't ask for anything. But as long as you want to hang out I want to too."
      Jack shook his head. "You settle for so little."
      "I'd settle for a lot just as easy, you know that."
      September had brought with it a virulent flu, a harbinger of a dreadful season. It decimated the cubicles, taking out the workers one by one. Except for Terry. Others were out for a week or even two at a time, returning ash-faced and mumbling, blinking their glassy eyes against the ceiling lights. Terry earned their resentment for his unbroken good health, even as he ran around the floor putting out fires in their projects in their absence and picked up overtime hours when they could not last the whole day in their convalescence.
      Marcia grumbled about Terry's own work taking more time.
      The disease was not limited to adults. Dylan brought home his own nasty case of the flu. Terry could hear him through the walls, whining about his headache in the afternoons. The next day Terry brought him two sets of finely-molded plastic predators, one contemporary and the other extinct.
      Mary had dark circles under her eyes when she opened the door. "He's actually doing kind of okay right now," she said. "But his fever goes so high at night I have to run him baths at midnight, and everything hurts."
      Dylan was propped up in his bed. For once the room was dimmed instead of being flooded with light. Eurick was sitting on the bed, reading to Dylan from a book called The Time Garden. He looked as luminously weary as Mary. Terry's wrist throbbed twice at the still-tender little scar.
      Later, Terry asked Eurick, "Do you have the flu too?"
      "No," Eurick said. "I don't get the flu."
      "Then what's wrong?" Terry asked, sensing the answer in Eurick's hungry eyes But it shouldn't be like this so soon, and Terry shouldn't like the idea so much.
      "I'm doing a little experiment," Eurick said, and then gave Terry a look which prevented more questions.
      The chain around Terry's neck felt heavier than it had in a long time.
      Mary dragged herself through Dylan's illness, and barely got him out the door on his way back to school when she collapsed herself. She pulled herself out of bed and crept around the house, weakly batting at her work and getting none of it done. The time for her turn came and went, and Eurick had obviously not been fed though Halloween was right around the corner.
      Eurick was almost as disturbing to be around as he had been last winter. His hunger was like a magnetic field, attracting and repelling, and Terry felt like a lump of lodestone, stroked day by day into alignment with it. till he was pointing right at him.
      Jack liked to take Terry home to his own place, and Terry was glad of it,m because he thought that the distance lessened the effect on him. As it was, his hands shook when he took off his talismans and when he put them on. And Jack noticed Terry was different.
      "Are you all right?" Jack suddenly interjected into a conversation which had been about snow, and winter camping in the Sierras.
      "I'm fine, why?"
      "You seem tense. Upset about something?"
      "Maybe I'm getting Dylan's flu. I feel fine though."
      Jack studied him. "You should get more rest. Your eyes are funny. Are you sure you feel okay?"
      "I could do with people asking me that less. Other than that I feel fine."
      "Here, lean your head back. Close your eyes."
      Terry complied, but Jack's hand on his forehead did not help him find his way back to the conversation about the Sierras.
      The next day Terry approached Mary huddled in a torn blanket staring unblinking at the pages of a novel.
      "Can't make any progress with my work," she said. "Should really try to read either with this headache but I'm tired of staring into space."
      "Where's Dylan?"
      "Down at Juan's. Spending the night, thank god."
      Terry hesitated. "I need to ask. What are you planning to do about Eurick?"
      She pulled the blanket closer around her. "I was planning to get well very fast but that's a little obsolete now."
      "I could take your turn for you."
      "I wouldn't ask you to do that."
      "I'm not asking you to ask me. I'm fine, and you're both wrecks. He looks terrible."
      Mary hesitated. "I'd be grateful," she said with careful dignity. "But only if you promise to take care of yourself."
      "It will be better all around," Terry urged. "It's insane to have him so hungry."
      "I know what you mean. It shouldn't be so bad. He's waited longer before."
      "He says he doesn't get the flu."
      Mary shook her head. "Go work out the details with him. And thanks."
      "Whay are you here?" Eurick asked, harshly. He lay flopped back in his chair, the screen before him bright and empty. His eyes were the same as the screen: bright and empty. His skin was flaccid and discolored, and his brooding manner was almost malignant.
      Terry. startled, struggled to begin. "I just -- I came to talk about, to make arrangements with you -- maybe later."
      Eurick's head snapped up. "What do you mean?"
      "I talked it over with Mary. She needs to let this one go, she's sick, I'm fine." Now, he thought, he could do it now, he could tear off the necklace right now. There was no reason not to.
      "I'd plan on waiting until she was well. Or when it was closer to the time you'd normally take your turn." It cost Eurick to say that. It cost him to put Terry off, and it cost him to openly acknowledge what he was accepting.
      "You're really a wreck, Eurick, you're hard to be around." Terry bit his lip. "You're so hungry all I can think about is how hungry you are."
      "That's my probelm," Eurick said.
      "No. It's our problem. Please. Tomorrow night would be good. Jack will be busy."
      Eurick wiped his long fngers across his full lips. "All right," he said, in bare acquiescence, but "Tomorrow night," sounded much more eager.
      "After soccer practice."
      Terry started to leave.
      "Thank you, Terry."
      Terry nodded. Outside the door he took a deep breath. He kept telling Eurick and Mary there was nothing to fear. Now he repeated it to himself. It would be all right. Eurick wouldn't hurt him. Eurick couldn't hurt him.
      He was careful. If Jack's plans should change -- if he shoudl decided to drop by on his way home -- Terry locked the door. He was careful too about setting the alarm clock. He had to work the next day. He put a shoebox next to the coffee table so he could sweep all the evidence into it and hide it with a minimum of effort.
      He hugged himself closely as he watched the pressure cooker gauge rock. When he turned off the flame he went to unseal the livingroom in the minimal way he had worked out with Mary. It should be getting easier, he thought, not harder, as he gazed at the scalpel he fished out of the pressure cooker. He didn't want to do this, to cut himself. He did want to give Eurick blood. He wished it was tomorrow. He wished it was just later, when Eurick would be partaking and he would be calmer.
      "Okay," he said softly. Then, louder, "I'm ready for you. Eurick, please hurry."
      Terry felt his mind slowing, but he wasn't calmer. His pulse was thumping everywhere. Eurick took the scalpel from hius hand. Terry opened his mouth, but Eurick scowled. "Wait."
      Eurick turned Terry's arm over and for a second Terry breathed relief, thinking Eurick was going to make the puncture for him, make it all easier. But instead Eurick traced the blue paths of the blood vessels with his fingers, just looking at them.
      "Remember what you said, Terry? You said I'm stronger than the thing. I can wait as long as I decide to. I can stop when I've had enough. Right?"
      "So if I decide to I can leave tonight without taking any."
      "You shouldn't."
      "I would prove what you said, though."
      "You don't know what it feels like to be around you when you're like this." It seemed to take a long time to say anything. "Please."
      Eurick laughed bitterly.
      "Why are you so hungry already?"
      "I'm trying to adjust to a different schedule. I almost made it."
      "You and Mary make the choice. Everytime. It's your generosity. The rabbits don't have any choice. And they die. Either I kill them, or Mary does. They're help[less. They're victims." He paused. "I'd like to do without victims."
      "You haven't had any since --" He was taking too long to say things. Eurick finished for him.
      "Since a couple weeks aster your last time. I wasn't counting on the flu. I thought four weeks was not so long for someone like me. In the stories they lie around for years sometimes."
      "But they don't live. Like you do."
      "Right. And also I realized they take more each time."
      Terry shook his head. Not more. He put his hand out for the scalpel.
      "I'm going to take a little more. Only a little more than last time. It will be okay. But if it feels like too mich, tap me and I'll stop." Eurick murmured gently, encouragingly, but Terry knew that it Eurick did take too much there would be no way Terry could do anything about it. He had to trust to Eurick's sensibility.
      Terry tied off and pumped up the blood, holding the scalpel lightly as if it were a living thing. He had to work to get his veins to rise from the flesh.
      "No more rabbits" he asked as he prepared to make the cut.
      "I wish. It's not so easy. I have to wean myself. I feel bad about it."
      Terry looked up, saying, "I bet the rabbits aren't as much fun, either." Eurick grimaced. "I bet they don't taste so good." He plunged the scalpel in.
      "Don't talk about it like that."
      Terry pulled the scalpel out slowly as his nerves screamed at him. Drops of blood collected around the edge of the wound. "It's the silver lining," he said, offering his arm, letting the scalpel fall into the box at his feet. Eurick glared at him and accepted his arm. Terry snagged off the tubing and dropped it in too.
      "It is good," he whispered as Eurick began to take the blood. "It is," in spite of the ache that grew as Eurick pulled fiercely at the wound.
      Eurick really was hungry. He sucked at the blood with real force. A wash of fear rolld over Terry right under the wave of satisfaction.
      But it didn't seem to be so much. Terry was able to tape the wound and to ask Euirick to take the box away and unlock the front door before he left.
      The alarm was going off, far away. Terry was still on the couch in yesterday's clothes. It was hard to stand, to stumble across the house and to fumble for the button on the clock. He had plenty of time to clean up and get to work if he was efficient. But how could he be efficient?
      Everything took too long. His head was achey and dull, and he felt dessicated and weak. He gulped a quart of water and took stock of the devastation in the mirror. The worst thing was the way his eyes were dilating as if he were on some drug. A pity a person couldn't wear shades to work all day. He stared into the light, meaning to shrink his pupils, and planned to stay out of everyone's way.
      He made it down the hill to the bus stop, feeling his old familiar sense of well-being in spite of fatigue, and the thirst, and a scary shortness of breath. Clearly, he thought, Eurick hadn't really taken too much, otherwise he wouldn't be here walking on the bright street, crunching the loud leaves under his feet. It wasn't that hard for the body to make blood, anyway. He'd drink a lot of water and bounce right back.
      But it was a difficult day. Standing up was difficult. He nearly fainted a couple of times. He felt as if he'd never get enought to eat or drink. He caught himself staring stupidly at his hands hovering over the keyboard. Never again on a weeknight, he told himself.
      Near the end of the day Marcia has to ask him about some work he had submitted for another person the day before. By the look on her face Terry knew he wasn't putting up such a good front. He made sure to rub his eyes and to remark on the flu that had run through the place the month before. "I almost never get sick," he said. "I hope this ins not my turn."
      "I hope so too," Marcia said. "I have three people waiting on your product."
      "So far I'm ahead of schedule. I'm pretty confident that I wouldn't cause any big delays even if I did get sick."
      He lost the time after he signed out, floating down the stair to the lobby. He barely recognized Jack's car on the sidewalk. He hadn't been expecting it. He didn't want Jack to see him subpar, but it was a relief not to have to look forward to standing up on the streetcar. He fell into the seat, cracked a grin, and hoped he wouldn't black out or call attention to himself.
      "What's wrong with you?" Jack asked.
      "You sure say that a lot," Terry said. "I have a headache. I have aspirin at home."
      Jack took him home in silence. As they walked in Jack kept scanning the house for signs. Terry was confident he wouldn't find anything. Even the wound was in a new place, well covered up by his long sleeves. Terry moved painfully into the bathroom, downed a handful of pills with three glass of water.
      In the livingroom Jack was at the phone, gazing at the copy of Dr. Loria's letter. Terry leaned dizzily against the door jamb. "I'm all right," he said. "You don't have to do that."
      Jack didn't answer him. He spoke into the phone. "Yes, I'm a friend of Terry Revier. He's a patient of Dr. Loria's. I wonder if he can be seen tonight? Or tomorrow? No, I don;t think he can come to the phone himself. He's not in good shape."
      "I can too," Terry said, though he could hear himself that his voice was very weak. "There's no emergency."
      "Thank you, yes. My name is Jack Kagan. Yes, a friend of Terry Revier. You saw him in August. Yes, that one, It seems to me to be just like that, only worse. I'm scared for him."
      "Be fine in the morning," Terry said softly, picturung himself crossing the room, taking the phone from Jack and hanging it up before the conversation could continue. But it was more work than he could do to move away from the wall.
      "Yes, that would be even better," Jack said, and gave Terry's address.
      Jack hung up and turned to Terry. "He's going to drop by after his last appointment leaves."
      "They don't do that. He doesn't have to." Terry hauled himself away from the wall and made for the phone. "I'll call. Make a regular appointment. Not in my house."
      Jack touched him on the shoulder. "Just sit down and rest."
      Terry slid to the floor where he was, not a foot from the doorway. Some time passed, he didn't know how much, and a bowl of rewarmed soup appeared, smelling richly and comfortingly of garlic.
      "Here's some other stuff," Terry said, placing a plate on the floor next to him. "You've got a little automat in there, all pretty little dishes wrapped up and ready to go."
      Jack squatted and started in. "It's the same thing, isn';t it? Yopu look the same, you sound the same, I even think you smell the same. You cut yourself again, didn't you?"
      "It's going to pass. You don't have to worry."
      "You're worse than before."
      "I don't need the shrink."
      "He's a doctor too, right? You can hardly stand up. Just see him. Make me feel better, okay?" That calculating look. Jack knew what his trump card was. Terry sighed.
      "Okay." He would have to begin assembling a story for Dr. Loria.
      Jack was certainly not giving him time to get used to losing him.
      Terry didn't get his story assembled, though. He dozed off, waking up thoroughly disoriented on his couch. He had been dreaming something about a conversation between Jack and Dr. Loria, but it was really going on in the kitchen. He listened, not moving.
      "And what explanation does he give?" Dr. Loria was asking, not, Terry thought, for the first time.
      "None at all. Or the explanations are so bad they might as wel be nothing. I want to respect his privacy. But scary things keep happening and I can't ignore them."
      "You feel responsible."
      "I suppose."
      "Why? You say you haven't known him that long. That your relationship is a tnetative one. Many people would back off from a situation like this. Nobody would blame them."
      Terry lay very still. He waited. Disappointed when Jack said, "I suppose I always feel responsible for things."
      Dr. Loria murmured something and then said, "Let's go see if's he's ready to waken."
      Terry opened his eyes when he heard the footsteps come close. Quick -- what would he say? Dr. Loria bent over him, calling his name, sweetly.
      Terry started to sit up. "No, don't bother yourself," the doctor said. "In fact -- Jack, could you bring those pillows for under his feet? terry, how are you feeling? Do you know why I'm here?"
      "I'm fine. I guess I look like shit, because Jack was worried."
      "Well, let's see how you really are, then," Dr. Loria turned to Jack. "By this time I think it's unlikely he's in shock, at least."
      The doctor's toolkit looked like an oversized overnight shaving kit, not like the satchels in old picture books. He directed the floor lamp right on to Terry and had Jack turn on the overhead light. He took Terry's hand and examined it all over, touching the skin, feeling at the wrist for the pulse. He seemed to reluctantly decide that he liked Terry's pulse and blood pressure. He tested Terry's reflexes, took his temperature, and shone a light into his eyes. Jack stood behind the doctor, his hands in his pockets, frowning at the notepad on Loria's knee.
      "Do you always leave these objects on display, or only when you need them for rituals?" Dr. Loria asked.
      Terry looked around and decided that he must mean the cluster of talismans that hung from the overhead light cover.
      "It's just artwork of my upstairs neighbor. She does that for a living."
      "The same who made that interesting necklace?"
      Terry nodded.
      "Do you remember what you told me when you came to my office?"
      "Yes," Terry said reluctantly.
      "Was it the same last night?"
      Terry didn't answer.
      "I should start over. Can you tell me what happened last night?"
      Terry shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
      "Would it help if your friend left the room?"
      Terry shook his head.
      "Okay, let's talk about how you feel right now."
      "I had a headache but it's gone."
      "How about your vision? Any changes?"
      During the day he had had that light sparkly stuff ar the edge of his sight, but he wasn't going to say that.
      "No. I'm not hearing any voices."
      "Ringing in the ears?"
      And suddenly, "Where did they bleed you from this time? Where did they make the cut?"
      Protectively, Terry's hand moved to the inside of his elbow even as he said,. "I don't know what you're talking about."
      Pressing his lips together, Dr. Loria nodded. "I need to look at the wound," he said. "You need to take your shirt off."
      Terry didn't move.
      Apparently, he had created an impasse that easily: Dr. Loria didn't say anything. There was a slight movement from Jack, but when Terry looked at him, he was just closing his mouth as if he had opened it to speak and changed his mind. He looked miserable. He caught Terry's eye, and mouthed what was on his mind: "Just let him look at it."
      Terry sat up, blinking his eyes against the shift of weight in his head, and unbuttoned his shirt, slipping it off in slow motion. He let Dr. Loria turn his arm over and pull the bandage off the little incision inside his elbow. The wound came open also, leaking quite fast for such a small wound. Dr. Loria dabbed at it with cotton from his kit, inspecting it closely and nodding his head with satisfaction.
      "Somehow they think it makes them more civilized to use scalpels and antiseptic. Or as it a scalpel? It could have been a razor knife, or even a specially-made ritual knife." He flicked a glance back at Jack, who was suitably horrified. "What did they use, Terry? How did they prepare you for it? Where were you?" He turned around, said to Jack, "Sometimes they get very elaborate about it. Altars. Restraints."
      "Nothing like that," Terry said, surprising himself. He thought he had decided not to speak. "Just me by myself right here."
      "All alone? And what did you do with the blood? Of which there is not a trace here. What became of the blood? There appears to have been a lot of it. You seem to have lost almost enough to go into shock. Do you know what that means, Terry?"
      Terry looked away, feigning indifference. Loria was exaggerating about how much blood Eurick had taken. Too much, yes. But not that much too much. Terry had put in a day's work.
      "If you had lost just a little more blood and no-one had intervened, you would have died."
      Jack stepped forward. "Why? What is this for?"
      Terry allowed his head to float up so he could look Jack in the eye. He kept his mouth closed and shook his head.
      "He may not be able to tell you," Dr. Loria said as he studied the wound. "Besides the blood loss, there may be other things. . . ." He put on a new bandage. Terry couldn't believe a psychiatrist would have bandages in his shirt pocket like that. Not normally: he must have put them there before he came over. "His consciousness seems to be a little off -- maybe a post-hypnotic state. Could be drug induced, or partly so. But he's possibly acting under suggestion."
      He paused, gauging Jack's reaction, and Terry's. "An ironimc word for it. More like command than suggestion."
      "Nobody tells me to do anything," Terry said.
      Jack laughed.
      Terry frowned. "What's funny?"
      "You saying that. 'Nobody tells me to do anything.' You asked me to tell you what to do. Not just once,. a lot of times. You said you'd do anything you anted me to do."
      "That's not the same thing. I was talking about you and me. He's talking about something else."
      "That's different how?"
      Dr. Loria stood up. "Well, I'm satisfied well enough on the physical front. A little rest, some warmth, and a lot of fluids ought to be enough. We should do a hematocrit in a week or so to see if iron pills would be helpful. " He reached for his sportcoat . "But the state of Terry's mind is a much bigger concern. Terry, you know you are doing something dangerous, not only for your body, but for your mental well-being also. All the pills and fluids in the world won't help you recover from the primary problem here. Unless and until you decide to make the changes you have to make you will still be very much at risk."
      "But what is it?" Jack asked. "What's been happening to Terry's blood? What's he doing?"
      "We'll never know. Unless and until Terry tells us his version of events. But in my line of work -- you meet a lot of people. Doctor-patient confidentiality forbids me to say much. But I have met people who have ideas about blood. Some of them formed by superstition or popular culture. Some of whom actually fancy themselves to be vampires. You can imagine what they do. Sometimes quite theatrically. Their donors may be willing or unwilling. Terry's attitude suggests complicity, but his physical state suggests that unusual means may have been used to secure his cooperation. A narcotic, maybe with or without hypnosis, or emotional or maybe physical coercion. Or maybe more subtle coercion, taking advantage of and playing on his more specific needs? Emotional, maybe sexual, perhaps?"
      Jack's expression was rich with everything Terry didn't want to find there: nausea, pity, fear.
      "You're crazier than I am," Terry said. "Get out of here."
      Jack laid a hand on Dr. Loria's arm to keep him from leaving. "Terry, I know it's your house," he said. "So you get to say that. But I think you need to let the guy have his say. Unless you have a better explanation."
      "Bullshit," Terry said, standing up, shaking his head to clear away the stars. "I can't believe you're even listening to that crap. Doped up by vampires, rituals, rope, perverts and hypnosis. That's what's crazy."
      "You bleeding yourself into a faint for no reason is crazy."
      Dr. Loria demurred. "I haven't said that those things are happening," Dr. Loria said reasonably. "Only that vI have know those things to happen and that they fit the evidence at hand. I'd be pleased if you had a different story to tell. What can you tell us, Terry?"
      "Go away."
      Jack shrugged into his jacket and picked up his bag. Jack looked from one to the other, torn.
      "You too, if you're buying into that crap," Terry said.
      Jack waled the doctor out. By the time Terry had gotten into his bathrobe and turned on the television Jack returned.
      "Did you forget something?" Terry asked morosely.
      "No." Jack came very close, but Terry kept his eyes glued to the television. "I'm sorry."
      "What for? Going along with that insulting garbage? Believing the worst of me?"
      "Maybe. I don't know. I just feel sort of sorry about everything."
      "You don't trust me."
      Jack stood a long moment, hands in his pockets, before he said, "I would like to. I would, if you gave me a reason."
      "You know what? Loria gets to you because he knows what you really want," Terry said, exhilirated suddenly by the certainty that he was speaking a dangerous truth. "You want a liability, not a lover."
      "That's not remotely true," Jack said. "You think you know something because you heard about Mickey. I so do not want a repeat of that. If I'd suspected you were going to be another crazy-boy invalid for me to take care of I'd have stayed away from you from the beginning."
      "You could always start staying away now. I don't need a keeper." Terry bit his lip. It wasn't the sort of challenge you ought to be making when you are not confident of the outcome.
      "Is that what you want?" Jack's low voice made the question another challenge.
      "No, of course not," Terry said, seizing the chance to take it back. "I just don't want to be your responsibility.,"
      "People are responsible for each other. What eklse could you have in mind?"
      The woman on the television climbed on to the hood of a luxury car, throwing her head back, laughing deeply, and the camera pulled back and around so that she seemed to spin off into space.
      "You could just love me. Everything else would be all right then." Appalled that he had said it aloud, Terry covered his mouth with both hands. "You don't even have to do that," he said. "Really."

back to The Donor index
back to chapter fourteen
forward to chapter sixteen
back to The Crystal Egg