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The Guard on the Night Shift

Wayne James

I should have killed Corrections Officer Vivian Graves the first time I saw her. Or tried to -- her kind are hard to kill.

           Five years ago on the Donaldson Unit, she came walking down the hall with the 10:00 p.m. shift change. She moved with aloof confidence, her gait slow and ease, her hips loose, her pelvis thrust forward like the prow of a ship. Her body was small and slight, her skin pale, almost translucent, and her hair the tawny shade of brown that turns blond in the sun. She had fine features and a certain allure. I found her unremarkable.

           Until I saw her eyes.

           They were -- still are -- the color of winter clouds, a grey so cold it makes me shiver. And so deep I felt as if I were looking into an abyss.

           Only a short time after Officer Graves' arrival, I became involved in an unfortunate incident which resulted in a stabbing and my immediate transfer. Before I left, though, I heard many rumors about her, blood, and sex. But rumors always hound female guards -- especially when they're new.

           Due to a string of unfortunate incidents, I bounced from one prison unit to another for the next four years. During that time a number of strange stories filtered through the system's grapevine: an unusual anemia striking first one unit then another; prisoners found dead in their corpses drained of blood.

           Always connected with these stories was a certain female guard on the night shift. But, word was, nothing had been proven--many of the allegations being too outlandish for serious contemplation. Even so the prison system doesn't like noise; wardens want their units to run nice and quiet. So she was shunted from unit to another in much the same way I was.

           When I landed on the DeSharon Unit a year ago, I discovered literature -- Eliot, Joyce, Hemingway, Stoker, Melville, and Poe. The unfortunate incidents stopped, and I've been here ever since. DeSharon being the system's dumping ground, it was inevitable that Officer Graves and I should meet again. She showed up six months ago, still on the night shift. I was lying on my bunk, taking advantage of the early morning's silent hours, reading Joyce, Molly Bloom's monologue in Ulysses -- yes! -- when I noticed her outside my cell.

           She stood at the edge of the light cast by my reading lamp, half hidden in shadows, a faint smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

           "What do you want?" I said.

           "Roger Court?" Her voice was deep and compelling, disproportionate to her slight frame.

           "Yeah, so what."

           "Word is you're trouble."

           "Seems I've heard the same about you."

           She laughed. "So they say."

           "Look," I said, "I don't know what your game is, but I'm not interested."

           "Would it help if I wore a red flower in my hair like the Andulusian girls used?"

           She fixed me with her eyes, and I felt myself falling into them, disoriented and confused.

           A moment later there was a red flower in her hair.

           "Call me Vivian," she said, moving closer. "I want us to be friends."


           "Because we have so much in common."

           "Like what?" I picked up my book and tried to ignore her.

           "For one thing, we both appreciate great literature. And for another -- blood."


           "Yes, blood. You like to spill it, and I have my own uses for it."

           She stepped to the door, looked at it. Her eyes flashed. The lock snicked. The door rumbled open.

           She moved into the cell, the fragrance of her perfume filling my nostrils. She took my book, switched off my reading lamp, and sat on the edge of my bunk. I had been six years without a woman, and to say her effect on me was less than profound would be disingenuous. I tried to speak, but the words died in my throat.

           "Relax," she said and smiled. Her teeth glittered like ivory daggers.

           Some primordial instinct within me awakened, and I knew then what she was. But a subtle connection crackled between us, opened our minds to one another, and I felt not fear, but the opposite -- heart pounding excitement.

           "I have other needs than blood." She smashed her lips to mine, slipped her tongue into my mouth. Wild and pulsing, it reached deeper and deeper into me, probing my secrets, penetrating my inner self. My pulse quickened, my breath caught in my throat, and my consciousness rose to meet hers. Our spirits converged and wrapped one about the other.

           She pulled away.

           "Next time -- after you prove yourself worthy -- I'll stay longer."

           She took the flower from her hair, placed it on my chest, and left. When I awakened the next morning it was gone.

She returned two nights later, her power over me complete -- I was Renfield, she the master.

           "It's time to earn your rewards," she said, opening the door.

           I put my copy of Eliot's Collected Poems away and followed her through the sleeping cell-block and into the main corridor.

           The prison was quiet and empty except for a few guards -- all of whom acted as if we didn't exist, finding some task that required their attention when we passed and turning away. Like most people, they saw what they wanted to see. Nothing else. She stopped in front of J Wing -- the psych dorm. Lit only by scattered sixty-watt bulbs, it lay smothered in silence.

           "Let us go and make our visit," she said, pushing the door open. She smiled. Her teeth were enlarged, eyes dilated, breathing quick and irregular.

           Near the back of the wing, she turned, said, "Watch for me while I'm -- uh-- indisposed."


           She pulled me to her, kissed me. Her tongue darted between my teeth for an instant, probed my consciousness.

           "If you see anything, I'll know it." She pushed me away, forced the lock, and entered the cell.

           A voice thick with sleep, said, "Hey, what's g---" before being cut off.

           There was no other sound, but I felt a terrible struggle taking place inside the cell. When the struggle ended, Vivian began to feed.

           Though our connection conveyed only a mere shadow of her sensations to me, these were so powerful I had difficulty keeping my attention directed down the cell-block. The elation, the power, the excitement-sexual yet more, an all encompassing lust for blood, darkness, death -- of the feeding rapture flooded over me, left my body weak and trembling.

           When the victim's blood vessels gave up their last precious drops, the tsunami of feelings tapered off. The feeding rapture left a residual effect, however -- like a drug high but with a crystalline purity drugs can never match.

           I had to have more.

           Next morning, when they racked the doors for breakfast, they found the body. The stiff's name was LeRoy Wallace -- Crazy LeRoy to everyone on the DeSharon Unit. LeRoy was hanging by his ankles from the cell's exhaust grill, head inside the toilet, eyes level with the stainless steel seat, hair trailing in the water. A shiv lay on the floor in front of him. His throat gaped open from the corners of his jaw on either side. There was almost no blood. The water in the bowl was stained pink, there were a few drops on the shiv and the floor, but that was all.

           The Administration cleared the psych wing and shut down the unit's regular activities and industry while the county sent an investigator and a forensics unit. But by the time they arrived, Unit Staff had so contaminated the "possible crime scene" that nothing useful was discovered. There was nothing to find anyway, Vivian left no evidence. In time the Administration ruled LeRoy's death a suicide -- typical prison system whitewash. Of course no one bought it, but no one cared, either. An habitual criminal and a diagnosed depressive, LeRoy had no family and no friends -- no one to claim his body, much less insist on a real investigation. They planted him in potters field, and that ended it.

           I was asleep when LeRoy's body was discovered. By the time I awakened the county investigators were gone, and the Unit was open and running. Tension and rumors, though, ran thick.

           As the day wore on I began to feel guilty about Leroy's death. Though I was far from innocent before following Vivian to the psych wing, this was different from the unfortunate incidents that littered my past. In each of those cases I acted to protect some interest of mine -- often my interest to continue breathing. In LeRoy's case I enjoyed it.

           That night as I lay on my bunk, torn by guilt, I resolved to refuse to participate in Vivian's dark game any longer. If she killed me, well, that was possibility I must prepare myself to deal with. Vivian must have known what I was feeling, though -- she made no appearance that night. She came the next night.

           "Over your sudden fit of conscience yet?"

           I glanced up from my book, Hemingway's To Have Or have Not. She stood outside my cell, at the edge of the shadows as she had that first night, as she always stands in my mind. A cynical smile twisted the corners of her mouth, glinted in her eyes. I turned back to my book without answering.

           "You might as well get used to it," she said. "It's the way of the world -- some die, some feed. Always been that way, always will."

           Still, I didn't answer. The lock snicked, the door rumbled open, and she was standing over me, shaking her head.

           "I thought you were made of stronger stuff. Some Renfield."

           She reached for me. I reached under my pillow. Grabbed my shiv. Adrenaline raced through my body. My heart pounded.

           "Don't be difficult, Roger. I have no desire to harm you."

           "Go away and leave me alone. I'm done with it. I won't play your game anymore."

           "Not that easy, love. In four hundred years, I've met only one other mortal I can achieve the merging -- the sharing of mind and emotion -- with. And I'm not giving you up."

           "You have eternity, find someone else."

           She sat on the edge of my bunk and fixed me with her eyes. I tried to turn away but couldn't -- her eyes held me hypnotized. The world spun, my book slipped out of my grasp, fell to the floor with a crash.

           Her voice came from far away. "You have no choice in the matter, Roger -- you belong to me. We'd both be happier if you'd quit fighting and enjoy it."

           Her hands slid down my body. They were warm and soft. Someone else's blood, life pulsed in her veins.

           I shoved her away. She pushed back, anger coming into her eyes.

           "You dare try me!"

           The light bulb exploded, plunging the cell into darkness. She forced me down and held me clamped me between her knees. Coarse prison sheets rasped against my back.

           "You fool, I can break you into pieces so small, they'll never be found!"

           She slapped me. Her hand was hard as steel, my face burned. She struck me again, sparks danced across my eyes. The world went black.

           The moon had risen when I came to, and Vivian stood with her back to me, staring at it through the bars. She spoke without turning.

           "The choice is yours: Be my partner, or be my victim."

           I lay there, silent for a long time, my resolve weakening with each passing moment. She must have read my thoughts as they formed, for when I tried to speak she reached over and caressed my cheek, her touch as soft now as it had been hard a moment ago.

           "The thing you have to remember, Roger, is that whatever else I am, I'm a woman first.

           "Just because I'm a---"

           "---Vampire," I said.

           "That's one word for it. Nosferatu's another. But there are many more. Regardless, I have feelings, human feelings -- a woman's feelings." She unbuttoned her shirt, pulled it open.

           She was naked underneath, her skin smooth and white and etched with a delicate tracery of veins. Her breasts were small and firm and jutted from her chest with a provocative upward tilt.

           She leaned over and kissed me -- lips hungry and insistent, tongue probing my mouth, my being. Pulling away, she flung off the rest of her clothing, removed mine, and straddled me, our minds joining even as our bodies did. Skin gleaming in the moonlight, she swayed above me, up and down, back and forth, faster and faster, until, together, we shared one another's pleasure before returning to our own sweat slicked bodies.

           I didn't speak, afterwards, but, instead, lay there convincing myself she was telling the truth, not lies designed to keep my cooperation. To drive the doubts from my mind, I pulled her to me and made love to her again.

Over the next three months I became more entangled in Vivian's twisted life, our lusts -- her's for blood and mine for her -- binding us together in a macabre dance of darkness and death. In that time I learned that while it isn't necessary for her to kill to feed, she must kill at least once every lunar cycle to survive. Though blood nourishes her, only the Ka, the life force given up at death, extends life.

           She restricted her kills inside the prison to necessity, supplementing her diet with occasional vagrants and transients. But when killing time found her unable to procure a handy victim, the prison was always there -- a vast concrete and steel warehouse filled with warm bodies, warm blood, and life force free for the taking looming in the night. I was always there, too -- waiting, watching, worshiping. Then, last night, things changed.

           "It's time," she said, appearing outside my cell, tense and excited.

           "Time for what?" I asked, laying my copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost aside.

           "Time to get acquainted with the night." She entered the cell. "Time to receive the blood of darkness."

           "I'm not interested in the blood of darkness."

           "What makes you think you have any choice in the matter?"

           She grabbed me and pulled me to her. I sensed the turmoil and determination seething in her mind and knew I was helpless to stop her. Her mouth found my throat, her lips cold and unyielding. Her teeth tore my flesh, warm blood spurted. She consumed my mind even as she consumed my blood, drawing me deeper and deeper into the core of her being, licking up the clinging bits and pieces of my self and sucking them into her maw. I felt a pull from below and, twisting and turning as if caught in Poe's maelstrom, descended a dark tunnel into the recesses of her mind.

           I found myself standing naked on a black rock at the pit of her being. Around me far as the eyes could see lay a silent sea of blood. Overhead hung a grey firmament, flickers of blue light flashing across it like electrical impulses hurtling down dendrites. A breeze began to blow, gentle at first, then increasing. Waves lapped at my feet, staining them red. The wind became a gale. The sea tossed, waves swept over me, washed me into the sea. The tunnel yawned before me again, and I entered, its sides contracting against me pushing me back to a rebirth in darkness.

           After a moment I saw a glimmer of light, heard a voice, but the light was dim, and the words flew apart. Then the light grew stronger, the words found their center and held Vivian was calling me back.

           When I opened my eyes, Vivian held my head cradled on her breast. The taste of blood -- her blood, my blood-was heavy in my mouth. I lifted my head, licked the blood from my lips, and gazed around. My senses exploded with preternatural acuity -- a clarity and strength unlike any I had ever known.

           First I noticed the low murmur of the prison, then the scent of blood. But I heard it, smelled it in a way I never had before -- as a carnivore hears the breathing, smells the blood of prey.

           I sat up, tried to speak, but a shudder passed through my body, and I fell back to the bunk.

           "The weakness will pass," she said.

           "Then what?" I said, finding my voice. "What happens tomorrow morning when the sun comes shining into this cell, and I have no where to go?"

           She seemed puzzled for a moment, then laughed.

           "You read too many books, Rog."

           "But you always come at night."

           "By preference, not necessity. We're creatures of the night -- it's our natural habitat. But daylight will not harm us. Besides," she said, "this place cannot hold you any longer -- you're free to leave anytime you want."

           Free. . .

           The thought was overwhelming. And frightening.

           She placed her hands on my shoulders, gazed into my eyes. "Soon, you'll have to feed -- to the death the first time."

           Contradictory feelings raged through my mind: the bliss of the feeding rapture against the guilt -- the thrill of the blood rush at the cost of an eternity of darkness. Immortality purchased with cold blooded murder -- life for death. Death for life.

           I reached to Vivian's mind for guidance, but the place where she dwelled was empty.

           I looked at her, confused and alone.

           "The merging doesn't work between those who have shared the blood of darkness," she said as if still reading my thoughts. "Only you can make this decision."

           The weakness was passing, being replaced by power, and hunger. I reached my decision. The dark blood won; the outcome never in doubt.

           "I'm ready."

           "Good," she said. "I've already selected your first victim."

           My excitement growing with each step, I followed her through the sleeping prison. When we arrived at the victim's cell on L Wing, I stood there -- heart pounding, perceptions heightened, power coursing through my muscles. It was a feeling beyond comprehension, beyond description.

           She opened the door. "Go ahead, I'll be right here if you need me."

           The darkness inside the cell was thick, almost palpable, the air redolent with the smell of blood. There was another odor, too -- an underlying chemical smell that seemed familiar, but I couldn't place.

           I moved farther into the cell, stopping at the head of my victim's bunk to look down on him. He stirred as if my presence disturbed his dreams but did not awaken. I leaned over him, pushed his head to the side, exposing his neck. His carotid artery pulsed with life.

           I sank my teeth into his throat. The skin didn't tear, though; it was tougher, more elastic than I expected. I bore down harder, and my teeth punctured his flesh. Blood welled into my mouth.

           I drank deep, drawing the blood over my tongue, down my throat. Waves of pleasure washed over me, became a torrent, and I found myself caught in the midst of the feeding rapture. The waves became an ocean, his pulse the pounding of the surf. The flow slowed, become sluggish. His heart expanded and contracted in a frantic search for blood, spasmed, and stopped. I lifted my head and stepped away from him. Vertigo swept over me. My ears roared. I reeled against the wall, clawing for purchase. I heard excited cries outside the cell but couldn't understand the words.

           Shadowed forms rushed through the door. Strong arms grabbed me, threw me against the wall.

           I tried to resist, but my body refused to respond. I was helpless. Broken words and distorted images swirled through my mind.

           I'd been drugged.

           My hands were pulled behind my back, the handcuffs' cold steel ratcheted tight around my wrists. I stood there, face against the wall, forcing the world back into focus.

           "We got him, LT," a voice said. "He was drinking the victim's blood -- still has it on his lips."

           "Yeah, a real weirdo."

           "Thinks he's a vampire or some shit,"

           "Bring him out an' let's see who we've got," the LT said.

           Arms spun me around and pushed me through the door. Lieutenant Brooks stood waiting -- Vivian at his side.

           "So, Court," Brooks said, shining a flashlight in my eyes. "Always thought you were strange -- sittin' up all night readin' those old novels and that faggy poetry crap." He turned to Vivian. "Good work, Officer Graves."

           "Just doing my job, Sir." She smiled -- the anger flooding my mind gave me a burst of strength.

           I broke away from the guards and lunged at her; teeth bared.

           I took three steps before a great weight slammed into my back. Concrete floor rose to meet my face. Sharp pain.


When conscious thought returns, I find myself in a dark cell, curled up on a cold concrete floor, unable to stretch out for lack of space. The steel grill over the hole in the floor that serves as toilet cuts into my back. The walls and door are sheet steel. It is a place I have been before -- double door isolation, the hole.

           I stand and push against the door, then the lock, first with my body, then with my mind. But it avails me nothing. Though my hands have been freed, the strength, the power I possessed earlier has abandoned me.

           I fall back to the floor, weak and shivering. What happened to my strength? The drugs, I assume. All part of Vivian's plan. Vivian's betrayal.

           Sometime later footsteps echo in the corridor outside my cell. They grow closer, stop outside the door.


           She forces her way into my mind. The connection has never before been this powerful, this clear. Another of her lies.

           I direct a blast of anger and loathing at her in an attempt to force her from my mind, but it does not work.

           "Save your anger, young one, you'll need it." Her words sound in my mind, not my ears.

           Once again I push against the lock with my mind, but it avails me nothing.

           Her laughter lilts through the door. "It takes many years to learn such things, young one. I'll teach you -- if you survive."

           She sends an image of the corridor outside the cell -- rows of windows facing east -- then continues in a mocking voice.

           "I must go now, young one. Soon the sun will rise, and you know what happens to our kind if the sun falls upon them.

           "But you said---"

           "So I lied." She laughs, the sound brittle, filled with contemptuous amusement. "There is a way out young one."

           I reach into her mind, try to glimpse the way out she speaks of, but she's too strong for me and conceals it.

           "You must find It on your own to prove yourself worthy. I'll be waiting."

           Her footsteps fade back down the corridor.

An hour passes, and despite the sheet steel walls and doors, morning light begins to bleed into the cell. Tiny shafts break through unseen crevices, paint bright yellow spots on the cell's dull walls. One falls on my leg.

           Smoke rises from my flesh, my skin boils, blackens, chars to grey ash before I can scramble away from the burning. I curl up in the cell's darkest corner, but still the light grows brighter. I lose consciousness, but pain awakens me.

           It is pain like no pain I have ever felt before. Showers of pain flow over my body, my skin seems a raw wound. Each breath is agony, each heartbeat torment. I am impaled on an eternal instant where pain is all and all is pain. . . .

           Keys jangle outside my cell. The lock in the outer door turns, the door creaks on its hinges.

           The light inside my cell doubles. My pain triples.. I thrash against unyielding walls. Only one door separates me from the sun's annihilating rays.

           The key grates in the second door.

           I hear the tumblers subtle movements.

           Panic returns a portion of my strength. Anger rises like a cold black wall to help it. I nurture it, draw from it.

           I reach down, grab the grill set in the floor, and wrench it out of the concrete. The sump beneath is filled with stagnant water.

           I force my head under the foul water, scrabble against the sides of the sewer pipe with my fingers. But the pipe is too small.

           The door swings open. Light lances into the cell, sears my skin.

           I pull my legs in, set my feet against the sump's concrete side, and push. Bones shift in my skull, and my head slides into the pipe, but I stop at my shoulders. I push again, harder. My shoulders collapse, my body changes form, becomes long and sleek and furry, and I slide into the pipe. I scurry beneath the water, lungs screaming for oxygen. The bottom of the pipe falls away, and I slide out of control down a steep precipice, claws scrabbling for purchase on the pipe's slime covered bottom.

           My head breaks the surface, and gasping fetid air, I shoot out of the pipe, arc through the air, my body returning to its natural shape as I fall.

           I float in a cistern, deep underground. The air is chill and dank and filled with the stench of raw sewage. But here I feel safe -- the weight of the prison above comforts me. And here I shall stay, feeding on the lives, the blood above until I grow strong -- until I am ready to visit the Old One.

About the Author (click here) © 1999 Wayne James, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

EDITOR'S NOTE: This work will appear in an anthology of Wayne's fiction and poetry, schedule for publication in 2000, from Hadrosaur productions. The tentative title is When Only the Moon Rages.

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