Sam screamed when Jason sat down beside him. This was unusual, but then it was the first time it had happened since Jason's death. Sam backwards-crawled over the arm of the couch, across the basement floor, fetched up against the dryer, and tried to cower behind a basket of laundry.
He stared as Jason picked up the game controller and started machine-gunning zombies on the screen. "You're dead!"
Jason mowed down a row of undead monsters. "I know. You're only on level three?"
"I just started a new game. But I was at your funeral!"
"So was I. There's a cheat code that takes you to level eight."
"It's not just about high score: I like playing the lower levels. But you're DEAD!"
"Well, undead, actually. To be completely accurate, I'm a vampire. You only like to play these levels because the zombie princess on level five looks like Carol."
"I do not and she does not. But you're dead!"
Jason paused the game and looked at Sam. "Yes, Sam. I am dead. I am a dead Jason. I am not pining for my native fiords; I am stone cold dead. I am not, however, letting a little thing like that cut into my social life."
Sam straightened up a little and set the basket down. "Um, you never had a social life. You just hung out here and played games."
Jason looked annoyed. "Well, I have a social life now. Look, are you going to stay over there, or are you going to come sit down? You don't need to be afraid; if I wanted to hurt you I'd have done it already." He started playing again.
Sam slowly made his way back to the couch, his eyes never leaving his friend. Jason's hair and face were the same as they had always been, but his clothes...
"That's not what you were wearing at the funeral."
"Well, you're not wearing what you wore at the funeral, either. By the way, thanks for being a pallbearer. That meant a lot to me."
"No problem. It was the least I could do. So, is this the official vampire look? 'Cause I gotta tell you, black leather pants are a bit much."
"Well, I could never wear them before, 'cause I'd get all sweaty and they'd get sticky and clammy. But sweating is something that I don't do any more." He focused on the screen again. "Damn, this guy is slow."
Sam watched Jason play, and it seemed so normal that it was hard to keep in mind that he was dead. Fear gave way to curiosity. Sam wanted to know how Jason had become a vampire. He wanted to know what Jason had been doing for the last three months. He wanted to know when he would get his game back.
"Um, we could start over in a two-player game."
"Nah; the split screen is too much of a hassle."
If there was any lingering doubt whether this was Jason, that answer killed it. Sharing had never been Jason's strong suit.
"So. This vampire thing. How does that work?"
"It's pretty much like in the books: I got bit by a vampire. That isn't enough, but the idiot got distracted by something, and bled me to the point where I died. He kind of freaked, because he wasn't supposed to kill anyone, and he could get into a whole lot of trouble, so he tried to put some of my blood back into me. The fool didn't realize that once the blood was in his body, it was his, and when he put it back in me it turned me into a vampire." Jason finished off the level, and sat back as the story in the game set the stage for the next level.
"Wow. Harsh. So, is it like in the books where he's your Sire and you have to do what he says?"
"Well, it would work that way, except he got into even more trouble for making me a vampire than he would have been in if he just killed me. So some of the other vampires re-killed him. A couple of them wanted to kill me, too, but the others decided to give me a chance. I'm sort of on probation: if I don't cause trouble that gets noticed for a year, then they'll let me live. Or un-live."
"Wow. That is amazing. Can I play the next level?"
"Is that all you can think about? Here you have a real not-live vampire in your basement and all you can think about is the damned game? No, you can't play the next level! You played the first two before I even got here!" As if to prove a point, Jason started playing level four.
"Well, it isn't like I was waiting for you to get here before starting; you're dead, after all, and you didn't call or anything. I haven't heard from you since before you died." Sam moped a little, but saw that it wasn't having any effect.
"So what was the whole suicide thing about? The hose from the tailpipe? You really upset a lot of people."
Jason seemed subdued. "Yeah, I know. I had to do something. If I just disappeared my parents would have raised a big fuss looking for me, and it would have made it really hard to stay in the area. But after you are buried, people don't search for you so much. And if they happen to see you some night they just think it's their eyes playing tricks on them, because they know you're dead. This guy is barely moving! What the Hell is wrong with him?"
"How did you fake the autopsy?"
"I didn't. They examined me, and determined I was dead. They were freaked at the amount of carbon monoxide in my blood, because I had to inject it into my veins to get it there, and I guess I had like a thousand times more than it takes to stop someone from breathing. THAT took some straightening out, let me tell you." Jason paused the action to flip to the inventory screen.
"How did you get out of the grave?"
"The cemetery knows when a grave shouldn't be filled in until the next day. Geez, Sam, you're supposed to go through the levels, not pick them up and take them with you! You're hauling around a steamer trunk!"
"That's luggage! You don't take luggage with you to the apocalypse!"
"You might. And it will get easier when I get the hand truck from the loading dock."
"What have you got in this thing?" Jason opened another screen. "Wow. OK, I have to respect one hundred and four pounds of ammo. And the six extra weapons, though I don't know about the stun gun. And a hundred feet of rope might come in handy. But what is the fishnet for? And what are the fur-lined handcuffs for?" Jason pulled his head back, then stared. "Where the Hell did they come from?"
"On the second level, if you climb the fire escape and go in the third window, there is a zombie little old lady. The handcuffs are at the bottom of her knitting basket."
"What are they for?"
Sam shrugged, "Her little old zombie boyfriend? I just though they might come in handy." He got up and went to the small refrigerator. "Can I get you something?"
Jason started playing again. "No thanks. I had something on the way over here."
"Don't get all freaked out; I said some-thing, not someone. And on a somewhat related note, you won't have to listen to Mrs. Anderson's stupid little dog yapping at you when you ride your bike to school."
"Oh." Sam thought about it as he pulled a Dr. Pepper from the 'frig. "That's cool." He popped the can and took a swig as he headed back to the couch. "So, you can't eat or drink regular stuff, huh?"
"I can, but I'm dead, so it doesn't process. No saliva, so solids are a problem. Except for blood, liquids come out the same color they went in. I stick to apple juice, white wine and Mountain Dew. And say what you will about turds, but they're a lot more comfortable coming out than undigested Doritos."
Sam flinched as sphincter muscles clinched in solidarity. "So you get blood from animals?"
"Mostly. I didn't at first, because fur on your tongue is just gross, but now I carry this," Jason held up an electric razor. Sam recognized it as one of the high end ones they advertise at Christmas. "I use the beard trimmer, mostly."
"So if you get your blood from animals, does that mean you're not, like, Evil?"
"Most vampires aren't evil, at least not Evil evil. Most of us are just extremely amoral. Not so much Neo-Nazi; more Republican. But I get blood from people, too. Part of the reason I stay around here is there are so many homes I've been invited into. I can sneak in, get a quick bite, and sneak out again."
"I haven't heard of anyone saying they've been bit."
"I bite them on places that can't be seen with their clothes on," Jason continued talking, but Sam's mind was looping on the thought of biting girls in places that couldn't be seen in public. Jason snapped his fingers in front of Sam's face. "Pay attention when your Dark Lord is speaking."
"What? Oh, sorry." Sam stopped. "Are you really the Dark Lord?"
"Well, I wouldn't call myself that in front of other vampires. Anyway, about the biting. Focus, Sam. I bite where it doesn't show, and I can cause the wounds to heal quickly, if I want. And I can make them think that it is just a dream."
"So who have you bitten?"
"Lots of people. The first were Rick Jefferson and Lorie Jones. Did you know they actually went to the cemetery to have sex on my grave?!? How sick is that? The night of my funeral. That shows no respect at all."
"Jefferson is such a jerk. I'm not surprised he would do something like that. Lorie's pretty nasty, too. I saw them at school today, so I guess you didn't kill them."
"No, I just adjusted their minds a little bit. I can do that when I feed on someone. I made Rick hopelessly in love with Lorie."
"She's gay, now."
"Well, I am evil, at least a little."
"So, who else?"
"Let's see: Nicole, Carmen, both Susans. Tanya and Crystal and Peggy all in one night, because they were having a sleep-over. Jeanie, Nicole a couple more times, Tommy Fredrick's mother..."
"You bit Tommy's MOTHER?!"
Jason grinned. "Yeah."
"There's a mother I'd like to fang." Sam thought for a moment. "So, are you leaving out the guys, or do you just bite girls?"
Jason's body language said that he would blush, except he didn't have the blood to spare. "I bite guys occasionally, but it feels really weird. And if I bite them where their clothes hide it, there's that hair issue. But mostly I stick with girls. The ones who were nasty to me when I was alive get something in the way of payback. The ones who were nice to me get some help with something, sometimes."
"While I am clouding their minds I can make suggestions. Actually, I can control their minds completely, but that takes a lot out of me. Usually I add some strength to something they want. I helped Tommy's mom to stop smoking. Crystal eats a lot less chocolate, but she enjoys it more, and Jeanie got up the nerve to ask Dakota out."
"That was a disaster! I was there! She did it in the cafeteria when he was sitting with Cindy. It took three people to pull Cindy off of her."
"Well, if Jeanie had told me that Dakota was going with someone, I would have helped her some other way. Hey, I'm undead, not perfect."
A look of dawning realization lit Jason's face. "I know what the fishnet and the handcuffs are for!" He jumped up, remembering to pause the game first. "You're going to capture a zombie!" He pointed at Sam. "You're going to capture the zombie princess!"
"You are so going to try to capture her! You're going to stuff her in the damn steamer trunk and haul her off!"
"You're going to take her to Mad Marty's Market on Level Six and trade her for all his coolest stuff!"
"No! I can almost buy everything I want with the money I've found already."
"Then you're taking her to the lab on Level Nine, to use the Allegiance Device to make her your servant!" Jason looked down at Sam and gave a sly smile. "You've downloaded the Carnal Knowledge upgrade package, haven't you?"
"Maybe." Sam desperately tried to change the subject. "So, all these people you've bitten: None of them remember you latching hold of them and sucking their blood?"
Jason let himself be steered back into talking about himself and his exploits.
"Well, there are two. The first was Carol."
"Carol?" Sam tried to keep his voice casual.
Jason smirked at Sam's response. "Yeah. I kind of got jammed up, and I didn't break into her bedroom until it was too late to get back to my lair, so I controlled her mind to make her a loyal minion. Then I hid under her bed all day. You would not believe the stuff she has under there. Anyway, that was when I was just learning how to use my powers, and I didn't do a great job. She's a loyal minion, but not an enthusiastic one."
Sam considered Carol being under the control of Vampire Jason, and didn't much like the idea. He let it rest for the moment.
"Who is the other one?"
"Nicole. Did you know she had a crush on me when I was alive?"
"I know she cried a lot after you died. They had to practically carry her out after your funeral."
"I wish she had told me. It might have changed things. Anyway, she was really happy to see me again, so after I bit her I let her remember, but just not talk about it. We have kind of a steady thing going. I generally go over to her house Friday evening, hang out, maybe go to a movie, suck a little blood; that kind of thing."
"Jase, you have a girlfriend? That is so cool!"
Jason smiled shyly. "It is kind of cool. All through my sophomore and junior years I was dying for a girlfriend, then in my senior year I did die, and I got one."
"Dude, are you required to make all these death and dying jokes? 'Cause I gotta tell you, it gets old."
"Carol says the same thing. Nicole says she thinks it's cute."
"A girl telling her boyfriend his annoying habits are cute. Gosh, that's never happened before."
"OK, OK. I'll try to keep it under control." Jason sat up straight. "Wait a minute; who's the vampire here? I don't have to do things to make you happy. YOU have to do things to make me happy!"
"If you don't, I will EAT you?"
Sam looked unsure. "Really?"
Jason deflated. "No, not really. The other vampires would not like the trouble killing you would cause." Jason brightened. "I could give you a deep obsession about Pokemon, and the desire to share it with the world."
Sam reflected on that. "So, Dark Lord, oh Master, how may I do your bidding?"
Jason looked uncomfortable again. "I sort of have a problem that I think you could help me with. You see, Nicole and I are getting along really well. I mean REALLY well. And she says she wants to, and I want to, but I can't."
He hung his head.
"I'm dead. I don't produce any hormones. Mentally I am ready to go, but physically,..."
"So you can rise up in your coffin, but not in your pants?"
"I thought you wanted to can it with the dead jokes. But, yeah, sort of."
"What do you want me to do? Have sex with Nicole for you?"
"NO! No, not that at all. I just need some blood with the right hormones in it. Then I can use them."
Sam thought about it. "If I can choose my own gift for participating, sure." He pulled up his sleeve. "I want to be able to do better on my homework, while watching TV."
"I'm a vampire, not a fairy godmother. Besides, your regular blood isn't enough. You've got to be, um, excited."
"You've got to be, um, kidding. What am I supposed to do? Look at dirty pictures and play no-card solitaire until you think I'm ripe?"
"Actually, that would probably do nicely."
"Actually, that is not going to happen."
"Well, then how about a double-date? You and Carol, me and Nicole. This Friday you come over to Nicole's house around eight o'clock. Go around to the basement door in back."
"Does Carol want to?"
"She wants what is in my interests, and I'm pretty damned interested in making this happen. But even if she didn't want to, she does what I say, now."
Sam kept his face and voice calm. "OK. What about Nicole's parents?"
"Ever since Nicole and I started hanging out together, her parents have developed the habit of going to their bedroom around seven and doing it to the songs of their youth. They are so enthusiastic that it is embarrassing, sometimes. Nicole would like me to dial them down a bit, but I don't want to mess with a good thing."
"OK, Nicole's at eight. And I still want my present."
After Jason left, Sam sat thinking for a long while. Then he pulled a binder off the shelf where he kept his games, and found his notes about how to find the Voodoo Priestess on level fourteen, and what she would demand to undo the zombie curse on someone, and give them their free will again.
He knew Jason had looked through his notebooks before, and he would rather not share his plans with his now-dead friend. Besides, the mission had changed.
He took the pages out to his father's barbeque and burnt them.
* * *