This is how I world build. I don't put things into moleskine notebooks or on Post-It notes, draw diagrams or make wikis. I've tried, it doesn't work. Instead I take bits of the world I'm putting together and write scenes, short stories, bits of dialog. It's all a jumbled mess in my head but once I can put it into a story I've got something I can go back and look at.
This is a bit of the world where my urban fantasy novels CITY OF THE LOST and DEAD THINGS are set. This isn't in either of those books, they're not vampire novels, and probably won't ever show up in any future ones, either. But it helps me keep all the bits in my head.
This is also the first vampire story I've ever written. They don't sparkle.
"Vampire's just another word for junkie," Mitchell says, looking at Lillian like she's less than a bug. He takes the IV bag, a whole unit of blood in there, and slides it across the table toward her. He stops just before it gets close enough for her to take it.
"Cash. Up front. You know how this works."
Lillian nods her head, eyes down. She pulls out a thick wad of bills from her pockets. Singles and fives, a collection of loose change. She dumps it out onto the table with shaking fingers. Mitchell laughs as she does it.
"Jesus," he says. "You people are worse than the fucking tecatos."
She looks up at him then. Blinks in the clinic's harsh fluorescents. Eyes haunted, sunk deep in a pasty white face. She's afraid, yes, but there's more than fear behind those eyes and she knows he can see it.
He scoops up the bills and change onto his side of the table. Doesn't count it. She smiles a little. Now he's a little afraid, too.
She takes the bag of blood, looks over her shoulder at the bathroom door behind her. "Can I-"
"No," Mitchell says before she can finish. "Take that shit out onto the street. You don't fucking do that here. You understand me?"
"Okay," she says. She slides the bag into the inside pocket of her anorak.
"I don't want to see you here, anymore," Mitchell says. "Understand me? Find somebody else. I'm through with you. Through with all of you."
She stops at the door, crossing him off her mental list of dealers. That's three down this month. She's going to have to find somebody else soon. She has a stray thought that maybe she could kill him. Take his blood. But she knows the rain of shit that would come down on her isn't worth it. Not yet.
She pulls the hood of her greasy coat over her head before going outside. It's been raining steadily for the last week. The streets of L.A.'s Skid Row shimmer with water and reflected streetlights. Smells of rotting cardboard, wet pavement, slick oil. They drown out the scents of all this meat walking around.
Weather's no friend to the homeless. It's either too hot, too cold or too wet. Shelter's hard to find, privacy even harder. She spends a lot of time hanging out in porta-potties near freeway construction sites until security runs her out.
That's fine when all she's doing is some heroin, or smoking a joint to dull down the edge. But blood doesn't keep and she needs to find a cool, dry place she won't be disturbed. Shooting up enough blood for a high takes time. Not like the old days when a little bit went a long way.
All of the doorways are already taken, covered over with plastic trash bags and threadbare sleeping bags, their occupants trying to stay dry. A few of them flash red eyes at her as she passes.
They're her people and they know she's holding. They can smell it on her. She hurries past them as quickly as she can.
The Normals on the street avoid her. Nobody wants to get near the wet, stinking homeless lady. Even the ones that know what she is, the people in the life who know that the magic's real no matter what the rest of the world believes, they give her an ever wider berth.
Like Mitchell said, vampire's just another word for junkie.
Only it's not like that, she thinks, crossing Sixth Street, making little hop runs from the awnings of one building to another to keep as dry as she can. It's not like that at all. If Mitchell knew what she could do, what she used to do, he'd be more afraid than contemptuous.
She finds a dumpster in a Little Tokyo alleyway sheltered by a fire escape. One side is an art deco building housing a silk flower company and the other is exclusive lofts for the hipsters paying 5K a month for the chance to pretend that they live in New York.
It's not dry, but it's better than nothing. She wishes she hadn't had her shopping cart stolen last week. If it had been a Normal, a cop or some asshole gangbanger looking for easy pickings, she would have been fine.
It's not easy, but sometimes she can still pull up enough of her old power to put the scare into somebody, make them leave her alone. Was a time it would have been just as easy to make them fall in love with her.
But this wasn't a Normal. Demon, maybe? Some unnamed monster trying to pass for human? Lot of those around. Beat her senseless, took all her stuff. Left her unconscious out in the sunlight all day. She's still got blisters.
At least it didn't take her works.
She pulls the kit from one jacket pocket and the bag of blood from the other. O positive. She laughs, a dry cracked sound. Remembers when she could tell the difference. Remembers when she cared.
She hovers over the blood bag to keep the water off, pulls her syringe, cotton balls, tubing, tape and a penknife. She used to have alcohol swabs and occasionally she'll get clean needles from one of the homeless church groups nearby, but she's been using the same ones for a while.
It doesn't really matter. It's not like disease is going to kill her.
The bag will last a couple of days, even a week if she's stingy. No good for humans, but it'll feed her just fine. She likes to stretch it out as long as she can. Who knows when she'll get another.
She pops the bag's seal with her syringe, draws out enough for a hit, seals it back up with a piece of tape.
Hands shaking. So close she can taste it. Hates herself for wanting it so badly. Tubing around her arm, bunching her fist to make the veins stand out.
And then an awning far above her gives way, dumping a shit ton of water right on top of her.
The needle falls from her hands, rolls into a puddle. The bag pops open, the pressure spraying blood over the pavement, the dumpster, her. She scrambles at it, but it runs away from her on a current of brackish rainwater.
When she finally gets hold of the bag, it's spent. Nothing but a thin film of red left on the inside. She carves a fast slice into her arm with the penknife, squeezes the watered down blood into the wound, but she knows it's no use. The best she can get is a little electric tingle in her arm.
She drops the bag, stares at it floating in a puddle, her breath coming out in hitching gasps. She thinks she might be crying, but mostly she's just stunned.
It's all gone. Between losing her shopping cart and her works there's nothing left but the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet. She wants to die.
The fucked up thing? She can't.
The cops find her sitting against the dumpster a couple hours later. The rain can only wash away so much. Her anorak is soaked red to the point it's almost black. Her hair, already stringy from not being washed in two weeks, is caked in the stuff. Blood has run into the wrinkles and crevices of her face, the lines around her eyes.
"Ma'am?" one of them says, squatting in the rain and shining a flashlight into her face.
She doesn't say anything and when he nudges her with the flashlight she falls over and lands in a puddle with a small splash.
"Shit," the cop says.
"She dead?" says the other.
"Fuck, I don't know."
"Flip you for it." The other cop pulls a coin from his pocket, flips it off his thumb, catches it and slaps it on his forearm.
"Heads," the first cop says.
"Nope. I'll call it in from the warmth and comfort of our luxurious Crown Vic. Enjoy baby-sitting."
The second cop blows a kiss to the first and walks away laughing.
She's been picked up by the cops before. They'll occasionally pick her up on a 5150, an involuntary psychiatric hold. Let her back into the streets a little while later.
Except this time she won't be here.
She gives it a few minutes to make sure the other cop is out of earshot. She'll probably have about fifteen or twenty minutes. More than enough time to do what she needs to do and get away. And that's the key there. Getting away. Because there's no going back.
Before she can talk herself out of it she moves with lightning speed, grabbing the penknife from the ground and shoving it deep into the cop's carotid. She moves so fast he doesn't even have time to draw his gun and the only sound he can make is a thick, wet gurgle.
She doesn't weigh much, but it's enough to knock him down. Instead of trying to shove her off the cop is trying to go for this throat, stop the bleeding. She pretty much puts the kibosh on that plan with a half a dozen other quick jabs through his larynx. Soon his only movement is a series of fast, shallow gasps as his body tries to pull in oxygen to feed the blood that isn't there.
She pulls the syringe from her coat pocket, jams it into the spasming artery, fills it full of blood. She's tempted to shoot it up and ride the high, but if she loses her concentration and gets caught up in it she's fucked.
Though she gets the rush when she jabs the syringe into her arm and shoots the cop's blood into her desiccated veins, she's able to push the high away, keep her focus. But just barely.
She doses up the syringe four more times, squirting the blood into the spent blood bag. It's not much but it will last her a few days if she only takes small hits. She doses herself up once more and though the rush is nothing like the first time, what, ninety years ago A hundred? It's enough to wake her up, remind her of who she is. Of what she is.
She scoops up her works and the blood bag in a rapid sweep that's too fast to register. She hasn't had that much blood in a long time. And sure as shit not that fresh. Her veins are thrumming with it. Her brain is on fire. She watches the crevices in her hands, the wrinkled skin disappear as the flesh plumps out. She stands up straight and hears the bones in her spine crack from being bent over too long. Her hair goes gold, cascades in shimmering ringlets around her face.
When's the last time she had fresh blood? She can't remember. Can't remember the last time she killed a man. Fifty years ago, maybe sixty. Before everything went to shit.
Before she took The Deal.
And now she's broken it.
The fear's a distant echo through the singing blood, but not so far away that she can't hear it. She needs to go before the second cop shows, before the paramedics get there.
Before THEY come for her.
She leaps from the ground to the second story fire escape, climbs one handed up the iron frame like a mad monkey. Giddy from the power, the memory of the power. It's like being a paraplegic who can suddenly walk.
When she gets to the top she runs to the far edge, takes a leap that sends her flying across the alley to the roof of the next building. She does this half a dozen, a dozen times, until she comes to the 101 freeway and its traffic of late night truckers. One more jump and she's scot free.
Grab the top of an interstate truck and ride it out to Nevada or Arizona. Maybe take it up north. By the time the sun comes up she'll be far enough away that she can find a place to hole up. And it's not like she can't handle a couple hours of sun without blistering, a few days without really feeling the hit.
She'll start a new life. Go back to the old ways. Taking blood, like she should, not blowing junkies in alleys for spare change to get a hit. She'll set herself up like she did in the Twenties. A fine house, fast cars, full blooded men.
She sees a truck coming down the freeway with Arizona plates. Perfect. Another minute and she'll be getting out of this shit town with its shit rules.
"Where do you think you're going, Lillian?" The voice stops her dead.
"I'm leaving, Brady," she says, turning to face the man. He's tall, heavily muscled. Looks young, but looks are deceiving. He's almost a hundred years old. "I'm leaving and I'm not fucking coming back."
"You know the rules," he says. "You think they'll be any different anywhere else? You can't do that. I can't let you do that. You too The Deal."
She can hear the capital letters.
"It was a shit deal," she says.
"You knew what you were signing up for."
"Yeah, a life scraping along lower than the low while you fuckers in your corner offices laughed at us. Where you could protect us for our own good. And if we don't sign up, well we just conveniently disappear. Where do you get your blood, Brady? Huh? You got a stable of Albanian houseboys who's dicks you suck to get a hit? What makes you so fucking special?"
He pauses and Lillian expects him to spout the party line. "We're just like you," he'll say. "We're better equipped to handle things. We can't draw attention. We have to maintain order."
Instead he says, "Numbers."
She blinks in surprise. "What?"
"Come on, Lillian. You and I both know it's bullshit. We've always known it's bullshit. It's a fucked deal for you because we don't like you and there are more of us than there are of you. You're all just a bunch of fucking animals."
"Yeah," she says, knowing that this admission from him means she's got nothing left to lose. "I'm an animal. And if it were the other way around, you'd be an animal, too."
"You killed a cop, Lillian," he says, and she can tell he's back to spouting to the same political bullshit he always has. "They're going to hunt you down. They're going to kick over the hill and find all the termites and one dead cop will be the least of our problems. This is going to fuck all of us. You, me, the people on the street. So come on. I promise I can make your death painless."
"Bullshit." Vampires don't die easy. Most don't die at all. Wooden stakes, silver bullets, that's all a crock of shit. Want to get rid of one of her kind you pretty much have to dump them in acid. And even then you better let them stew for a good long while.
Brady's face hardens. "We wanted to do this easily," he says. "Why do you always have to make things so fucking hard?"
"You said we," Lillian says, looking around. Her night eyes are freshly blooded and she can see a squirrel under a dumpster from fifty feet away. There's nobody around but the two of them.
She answers him with a leap that would put a tiger to shame. Slams into his chest with the force of a freight train, ripping through his clothes, his chest, pulling on bone and meat, taking him apart. Tearing him into pieces.
Even then he struggles. She's got the advantage. Fresh blood, he's on his back, she got the first shot.
But most important, she's really pissed off.
He gets a few good shots in, tearing deep furrows into her face and arms, tears out her left eye. But she's so high she can't even feel it. A month or two of some decent blood and it'll grow back.
He finally stops moving when she tears out his heart. Before the light fades in his eyes, she holds it over him, smiles, makes sure he's looking.
And takes a big bite like it's an apple.
He won't be dead long, but it'll be long enough.
She collects her stuff, wipes the blood out of her remaining eye and turns back to the freeway.
A promising truck with Minnesota plates barrels down toward her. She'll have to get a shower soon, some new clothes. Figure out a cover story and a place to hole up. But it's not like she hasn't done that before.
This time she won't let anyone stop her.