"Everybody knows that you live forever."
In the end, it happened too fast for Frankie to stop it. He saw Mikey lunge from the bed to the door and even though he was closer, Mikey's arm slipped through his fingers and he got tangled in the bedclothes and then Mikey was fumbling with the lock, throwing the door open, his arms wide, shouting "Pete! Thank God! Where the fuck --" before Pete's teeth were in his neck and Mikey was screaming and Frank was on his hands and knees groping for something, anything to kill the motherfucker with.
And then Pete was standing over him, a fence post in his hand, smiling. "Oh, I don't think so, bird," he said, and swung, and everything went black.
His face was wet. His face was warm and wet and something smelled like wet pennies.
Frank leapt to his feet almost before his eyes were open, groping for the edge of the bed to steady himself. He flailed around blindly for the light, hitting the switch on the wall almost by accident, blinking against the sickly yellow cast.
The room was empty.
The door hung open a bit, wind and rain seeping in through the crack onto the ugly carpeting. There was a splash of blood, dark and dried, on the mirror over the bureau where Mikey had been pushed when Pete had come in, and there was another one on the pillow on the other bed that had been Ray's, but there was nothing else. No other signs to tell him what had happened. He didn't know what time it was, whether he'd been out for hours or days. He didn't know where they were. Frank went to the door. The van was still out there, silent and white in the darkness. He pushed it shut with one hand, feeling the latch click under his palm.
Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and pressed his hands against his face, breathing deep and slow. His stomach trembled with the effort it took not to cry. They were gone, all of them. Gerard. Gone. Gone and turned ... turned or dead.
"What the fuck good is it?" he said softly into his palms. "What the fuck good is it?"
No one answered.
Eventually, he got off the bed. He would keep driving. There was nothing left to do but keep going, back to New Jersey. Maybe his mom was okay, although she hadn't answered her phone the last time he called. Maybe Jamia. Maybe he would see the woman and her little girl again and they could form a team. A flock of birds. He laughed weakly into his hands. A flock. He was so fucking stupid.
He packed his clothes into his duffel bag and piled the stakes on top of the bedspread. He'd have to keep them handy, now that he was alone. Gerard's black hoodie was crumpled in a heap near the head of the bed. It was the one he wore everywhere, because he got cold in the overly air conditioned restaurants and buses and he hated to be cold. Frankie put it on over his t- shirt and zipped it up.
He went into the bathroom to grab his toothbrush and fell back against the doorframe, his hands clapped over his mouth.
He was in the rust-stained motel bathtub, his head tipped back over the lip of the tub, the gaping wound on his neck exposed. His skin was pale and blue, paler then he'd ever been. Paler than Gerard had ever been. He'd lost his glasses.
"Mikey," Frankie said sadly. Mikey had been his best friend in the world, better even than Gerard. He remembered moving into Mikey's little apartment in Belleville, the two of them hauling a ratty brown couch off the curb to use in their living room. Mikey had been at the bottom of the couch because he was taller and they had to go up three flights of stairs, and Frank remembered his face, red from exertion, his glasses askew.
"fff..." the body in the tub said.
"Mikey?" Frank asked.
Mikey's eyes opened.
"frank," Mikey said. It was more of a groan.
"Jesus." Frank dropped to his knees next to the tub, his hands curling around the cool ceramic. "Mikey?"
"Pete," Mikey said. Frank could see the muscles in his neck move through the bloody wound in his neck, like a Discovery channel video about surgery, only maybe six inches from his face. He tried to ignore it. Mikey.
"He's gone," Frank said. He touched Mikey's hair up by his forehead. It wasn't bloody, just slick with product, the way Mikey's hair always was.
"I. I ... uhh ... I." Mikey's breath gurgled and gasped. His eyelids fluttered.
"No, no," Frank said. "It's okay. You didn't know." He stroked Mikey's hair. "You didn't know."
Mikey sighed. "guh," he said. "grr."
"He's fine," Frank said. "We're getting ready to go. He's. Um. He's in the van."
Mikey nodded, his head jerking like it was on a string.
"So," Frank said. His voice sounded abnormally loud in the little bathroom, strangely cheerful. "You ready to go, Mikey? You have your stuff packed?"
"No," Mikey said, clearly. His hand flopped onto Frank's knee. Frank fought the urge to jerk away -- Mikey'd been bitten, after all -- but Mikey's hand just unfolded to reveal the familiar brown pharmacist's bottle. Frank looked. Gerard's antidepressants.
"How many?" Frank asked, grabbing Mikey's wrists. "How many did you take?"
Mikey shrugged, one shoulder going up, his mouth slanting into a smile, and for a moment he was himself again. Shy, sly Mikey. "all of 'em," he said, his voice no more than a sigh.
Frank bowed his head to the edge of the tub, breathing in and out through his nose. He could smell mildew, and Mikey's blood, and death. Mikey's hand thudded against his shoulder. When Frank lifted his head, Mikey was looking at him, his eyes clear in his bloody and battered face.
"guh. Go," he said. "yuh an' Gee. Sa' the worl'." His eyes drifted closed. Frank watched him for a while, the rise and fall of his thin chest. Then Frank stood up and left the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
It was still dark when he stepped outside the room, pulling the door shut behind him. The rain had stopped for the moment, and the air smelled fresh and clean after the blood-drenched stench of the room. Frank stopped for a moment to breathe it in, his lungs swelling, his eyes sinking closed.
He pulled open the rusty van door and dumped his stuff on the passenger side floor, making sure to put one of the fence posts on the seat where he could reach it in a hurry. Out here, there wasn't anyone around, but when he got to New Jersey. There were a lot more people in New Jersey, that was all. He patted the stake once, like a child, before shutting the door and heading around to the driver's side.
There was a bloody handprint on the door, black in the sodium lamp light, as if someone had groped for the door handle and missed. Frank took a breath and put his hand over it and pulled the handle. It tingled under his palm, a vaguely electric sizzle.
For awhile Frank just drove, focusing his eyes on the dark wet road in front of him, hypnotized by swipe of the windshield wipers. His mind was blank. He had no plan -- Gerard was the planner, he thought once, blinking water from his eyes -- and no place to go, but there was no point in stopping either, so he didn't. He cried a little, for Mikey mostly, lying alone in a bathtub in a cheap motel, but also for the others: Bob, lost to the demon that had gotten inside him while he was fighting to get to Frank; Ray and Gerard, who were simply lost. He hoped they were dead, and then cried some more for even thinking that. What good was this thing that he had, this power to resist them, when everyone he loved was dead anyway? All he had been given was the power to witness their deaths. It felt like a sick joke.
"Maybe if we stayed in one place," he said to himself. Maybe stockpiled some food, barred the windows and doors, maybe then he could have protected them from --
"It probably wouldn't have helped," Gerard said.
Frank yanked the van to the side of road, tires spinning on the gravel of the berm, and leapt out the driver's side door, falling to his knees and scrambling into the wet grass before looking behind him.
Gerard was leaning out the door. "You okay?" he asked.
Frank squinted at him. The rain had started up again, a steady fall, and it flooded his eyes. "Um," he said. "Are you okay?"
Gerard smiled. "Never better," he said.
"How did you get away from Pete?" Frank asked. Water was soaking through the knees of his jeans, the canvas of his tennis shoes, chilling him. "Did you kill him?"
"Eventually," Gerard said. He smiled again, and that was when Frank knew. He thought of Bob's face, pale in the sunlight of the parking lot, and the coppery smell of Mikey's blood and Ray. What had happened to Ray? And Gerard. The only person besides Jamia and his mom that he'd ever loved. Gerard, who was so good at everything and thought he was good at nothing. Gerard, who was leaning out the door of the van, one hand draped over the window frame, angular and artistic, fingers curled slightly.
Gerard was changed.
"So how long are you going to stay out there?" Gerard asked.
"Until the sun comes up," Frank said. Gerard craned his neck and looked at the sky, the paler blue that was creeping over the horizon, and there it was, the bite mark, the dark circle of fate.
"Oh," he said. "Well, the van is pretty dark. I'll wait inside." He shut the door, and Frank could hear the thunk of the door locking. The keys were inside. The stakes were inside, and his cell phone (as if there was anyone he could call), and his clothes and his toothbrush and --
Gerard popped out of the door again. "It just seems like there's no point," he said. "Are you just going to walk? To where? You might as well get in."
Frank stood up brushing his hands against the thighs of his jeans. He looked around. There was a barbed wire fence running along the side of the road, separating the berm from a field of something green and knee-high, but there wasn't any other sign of people. No farmhouse. No barn. And even if there were, what would he find there? How would he defend himself? He had no answers to the questions. He had nothing. He was empty. Frank sighed, and headed back toward the van.
"That's my boy," Gerard said happily.
He backed up as Frankie approached, retreating into the dark belly of the van. Frank climbed in and turned in the driver's seat. "What now?" he said.
Gerard shrugged. "It's not really up to me," he said. "You're the bird."
Frank touched the steering wheel with both hands. "Yeah," he said. He turned the key in the ignition.
While he drove, Gerard moved around in the back of the van, sitting in the seat right behind him and then moving to one of the seats in the far back, then after a few minutes coming back up to the front. It had unnerved Frank at first, the shuffle and rustle of Gerard behind him, but then it had stopped frightening him and started annoying him.
"What the fuck, Gerard?" he said finally. "Sit still!"
Gerard moaned, a strange sexual sound. "I can't," he said softly. He was in the seat behind Frank for the moment, his voice low. "You're so. You burn me."
"I'm thinking about it," Frank muttered. A wave of guilt washed over him. "Is there. Do you know of any way to...cure this?" he asked.
Gerard shrugged. "Kill the original vampire, I guess," he said. "That's the only way I've ever heard of."
"I don't suppose you have any idea who that is?"
"Nope," Gerard said. "I'm not telepathic. Just hungry."
When the sun came up, Gerard hung shirts and other clothes over the windows, taping them up with a roll of Bob's beloved duct tape, and lay down. Frank watched carefully, hoping for some sort of unconsciousness that would allow him to pull over and remove the shades from the windows. But that would...he could take Gerard out of the van so that it wouldn't be ... full of him, and then he could keep going. But Gerard didn't really sleep, just lay there with his arms crossed over his chest, humming to himself. It was a new song, something he'd been working on with Ray on the tour, something for the next album.
The sob surprised him, catching in his throat, and then his tears were flooding his eyes and he had to pull over, steering with one hand, the other clapped against his mouth.
"Frank?" Gerard said. He was up again, moving toward the front of the van. "Baby, are you okay?"
But he wasn't okay. His friends were gone and his boyfriend smelled of old blood and there wasn't going to be another album, not ever again, not by anyone. The world had ended and he had been forced to watch.
After a while, he stopped crying. Gerard was leaning over him, wanting to touch him, his hand hovering over Frank's shoulder. Frank lifted the hem of his shirt and wiped his face off with it. "I'm fine," he said over his shoulder. "Get the fuck away from me."
Gerard retreated a couple of steps. "Okay," he said.
Frank wiped the last few tears off his face and pulled back onto the highway. He felt strangely better.
"Can I ask you something?" Gerard's voice was cautious.
"What. Um. What happened to Mikey?"
"He's dead," Frank said. "He died in a bathtub in a crappy hotel room."
"Oh," Gerard said. "Um."
"What?" Frank snapped.
"It's just. Are you sure? He didn't ..."
"I'm sure," Frank said. "He took your pills."
"Oh," Gerard said. He sounded relieved. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Frank said. He didn't feel better anymore.
They drove. When the sun began to set, Frank pulled off to get food at a rest stop plaza. There were a few other cars there, but Frank didn't see anyone inside except the clerk, a fat girl whose face was missing a big chunk and who had bled out behind her counter. He grabbed a couple of boxes of pop tarts and a large bottle of water without really looking at her. He ate a package of the pop tarts sitting on top of a metal picnic table, considering the bug-spattered front of the van.
When it was almost completely dark, Gerard stepped out, stretching, his pale stomach showing under the hem of his t-shirt. The gesture was heartbreaking in its familiarity. Frank turned away.
"It's a nice night, huh?" Gerard said.
Gerard came over and hopped up on the table next to him. "I didn't do this on purpose, you know?" he said. "It wasn't my fault."
That was true, Frank thought. It wasn't Gerard's fault. It was his. "I know," he said.
"Okay," Gerard said.
They sat there for a minute, like they used to when the band first started, when all they had were their instruments and a crappy white van. Fucking irony. Frank watched bugs circle the parking lot lights, swarming dizzily, bouncing off of the glass. "Why?" He sighed. He didn't want to ask, but he couldn't help it. He asked Gerard everything, before. "Why do you think it's. Why do I have this?" He waved his hands at his chest.
Gerard tipped his head to the side and stared off into the darkness beyond the edge of the parking lot. It was his thinking look, the look he always had when he was puzzling something out. "I don't know," he said finally. "It hasn't really worked, has it?"
Frank laughed a little at that, surprised. "No," he said.
"I dunno," Gerard said again. "Maybe it's because people used to believe in shit like this."
"Well, like, okay," Gerard said. His pale hands made shapes in the air, painted out the words "Gerard Has A Theory" in the white fluorescent light. "In the olden days, when people like you were, like, invented or made or whatever. If someone had showed up and bitten somebody, they wouldn't take them to a doctor, man. They'd have sent you out to chop the guy's head off and then they'd burn the corpse and scatter the bones. There wouldn't have been any of this 'see a physician' crap."
"So there were fewer vam--guys like you."
Gerard nodded. "Probably. And more belief. It's, like, a balance. That's completely fucked up now." He smiled at Frank, his broad bright smile. His teeth looked normal. Frank smiled back. They were so close that their shoulders were almost touching. Frank could feel the electric tingle of Gerard on the skin of his arm. "You're beautiful," Gerard said.
Frank laughed, a harsh bitter laugh. "Yeah, thanks," he said.
"I mean it," Gerard said. He was leaning in, his mouth near Frank's. "You always were."
Frank closed his eyes. It wouldn't be so bad, would it? If he just -- He opened his eyes. "You're cold," he said.
Gerard blinked. "What?" he said.
Frank grabbed Gerard's wrist. The pain was immediate, the electric tingle he'd felt soaring into hot agony, but the flesh of Gerard's wrist was cool to the touch. Cold.
"Jesus!" Gerard screeched, yanking away, cradling his wrist in his other hand. The skin was red and raw, like it had been burned, the outline of Frank's hand plainly visible. But once he'd let go, Frank's own pain had disappeared. "What the fuck, Frank?"
"Nothing," Frank said. "I'm going to bed." He picked up his pop tart wrapper and got in the van, locking the door behind him. It was almost completely dark inside, the fluorescent light of the parking light barred by Gerard's makeshift shades. Frank made a bed of sorts in one of the back seats, fumbling around in the dark for clothes to use as covers. He lay down on his side, his back pressed up against the back of the seat, his arms folded over his chest. He didn't feel tired. He felt alone and desperate. He wanted his guitar. He wanted his guitar and his mother and his girlfriend and his friends and Gerard, and he was asleep in minutes.
He was looking down at the ground from high up, branches between his feet and his view of the grass. A fresh breeze lifted his hair from his forehead. He could feel bark rough under his fingertips. He smiled.
"Hey!" Mikey said. Frank could see him standing at the base of tree gazing upward, his glasses shaded from the sun by one long hand. Bob was on a blanket next to him; Frank could tell from his pale blond hair. "What are you doing up there?"
Frank spread his arms out, only his fingers touching the trunk of the tree.
"What are you doing up here?" Gerard asked. Frank turned and there he was, sitting on a branch up and behind him, his black tennis shoes dangling in the air, his eyes merry. Frank smiled at him.
"I'm flying," he said, and stepped off the branch.
Frank woke gasping, hands out. One swept through the chilly air, but the other thudded into something solid and cool. Gerard.
"Are you okay?" Gerard asked softly. He was no more than six inches away, sitting on the floor between Frank's seat and the one in front of it. Frank could make out the pale circle of his face, the faint red glimmer of his eyes. His red eyes. Frank scrambled back toward the window.
"How did you get in here?" he demanded. "What are you doing?"
"I had the keys," Gerard said, holding the key ring up. The keys jangled faintly.
"Oh," Frank said. "Oh. What are you doing?"
"Watching you sleep," Gerard said.
Frank blinked. "Well. Don't." He slid to the end of the seat and got up, staggering down the aisle to the driver's seat. "Gimme the keys." Gerard leaned forward and handed them over.
"You can sleep more, if you want," Gerard said. "You seem tired."
"What were you dreaming about?" Gerard asked. "You were smiling."
The image came back to him suddenly, Gerard sitting on a tree branch, his eyes dark and happy, his feet swinging in the breeze. "Nothing," he said.
"You're such a bitch," Gerard said.
"Yeah," Frank said. "Whatever."
"God, Frank! What the fuck?" Gerard said. "I don't know what your problem is! All I'm trying to do is-" He stopped.
Frank backed out of the parking spot and pulled away from the rest stop. His eyes ached from weariness, but he must have slept for a while, because the edge of the sky was getting light. "You can't hurt me, Gerard, you know you can't. So what do you want?"
Frank could see the flash of Gerard's white teeth in the rearview mirror, but he didn't take his eyes off the road. If he drove fast enough, far enough, this would all be over. He knew it. He could feel it.
"Who said I wanted to hurt you?" Gerard asked. There was shifting noise and then the cool brush of breath on Frank's neck. It smelled like meat that had been in the refrigerator for too long. Frank closed his eyes briefly. Gerard, he thought. "It doesn't hurt. Not after."
"Fuck off, Gerard," Frank said. He didn't turn his head.
"Fuck off, Gerard," Gerard repeated, his voice high and mocking. "The way I see it, you got two choices, Frank. Let me help you out." His hand slid over Frank's t-shirt, inching toward his neck. "Or pull the car over and let's go. Me and you."
"What part of 'bird' don't you understand?" Frank asked. "You can't hurt me."
"No," Gerard whispered. Frank felt the prick of something cold near his ear. A knife. A fucking Swiss Army knife that Frankie had put on his fucking credit card not three days ago. Tears burned hot in his eyes. "I can't bite you," Gerard whispered.
Frank sighed. "That's what you want?" he asked. "You want to turn me the way Pete turned you? You want me to be a fucking monster?"
"No, Frank, no. Come on," Gerard said, his cool hand on Frank's shoulder, squeezing. "I just want you to be with me. You remember. Better a vampire than dead," he said, and laughed.
The way he laughed sounded the same. The thing in the backseat with the red eyes and the bloody teeth and the rotten breath had Gerard's voice and Gerard's laugh and Frank couldn't help the tears that welled up in his eyes, because it had all those things Gerard used to have, and that was a fucking rotten memory to have of person he'd loved most in the world.
He saw it then in the faint light of dawn, the white farmhouse set back from the road, the lawn sloping down toward them, toward the little split log fence. There was an enormous tree in the front yard, so old and tall that it looked like a giant. It was bare of leaves, even though it was only late summer, and it seemed to Frank that maybe the tree hadn't ever had leaves, not for years. It was eternal. As they roared toward it, Frank saw something flutter up out of the branches, a hundred somethings, a flock of sparrows.
"I'd rather be dead," he said, and turned the van toward the edge of the road, the fence that separated him from the tree. He stood on the gas pedal, clenching the steering wheel so hard that the cords on his arms stood out. There was an enormous crash and Frank felt a thousand tiny pin pricks of glass against his face, his hands, and the van lurched over the fence rail and hesitated and Frank thought for a second we're not going to make it and he heard the thing that used to be Gerard howl -- in triumph or fear, Frank couldn't tell -- but then that was it, they were through, and the van arched off the edge of the road over the culvert and toward the trunk of the giant tree, its branches reaching out to him, and the air rushing at Frank through the broken windshield and ripping him from his seat, windshield glass showering down on his face, his hands jerked from the wheel, and he was up, he was free. He was flying.