Dependable grad student Ardeth Alexander finds herself trapped in a nightmare as the unwilling blood source for a captive vampire. When she discovers that her fellow prisoner is not the worst monster she faces, she realizes that the only way to survive is to make an irrevocable choice.
These aren't your ordinary vampires. (They don't sparkle either, thank goodness.) Grad student Ardeth Alexander finds herself trapped in a nightmare as the unwilling blood source for a captive vampire. When she discovers that her fellow prisoner is not the worst monster she faces, she realizes that the only way to survive is to make an irrevocable choice in The Night Inside by Nancy Baker (with a new introduction by Suzy McKee Charnas). – Sandra Kasturi
"Baker evokes the various figures from Japanese culture familiar in the West—yakuza, samurai and medieval court ladies and their pillow books—but she goes beyond clichés and invests these characters with a solidity and poignancy that contrast sharply with the simpler Canadian horror of The Night Inside. This is a more contemplative offering, and while it is not always successful, it has moments of great effectiveness. Ardeth's nocturnal cross-country hitchhiking trip is particularly noteworthy for its undercurrents of violence and loneliness."– Paragraph
It took him two days to wake.
His heart, which had beat only once every day, gradually began to expand and contract more rapidly. The blood that had crawled along the interior miles of his body as sluggishly as a glacier now began to melt and flow. Nerves sparked into life and set muscles twitching in reaction as contact was re-established with the long-forgotten territories of hands and feet.
As his body woke, so did his mind, drifting up from midnight oblivion to a twilight plain where dreams bloomed like Rousseau flowers, bright crimson, with teeth.
Finally, after two nights of the moon's rise and fall had dragged his blood like tides through his body, he opened his eyes and stared into utter darkness.
His hands jerked then flopped back, twitching like pale fronded sea creatures. As his control over them returned, they moved again, lifting up to touch the wood that surrounded him. Nails now long and sharp as razors clawed desperately at his prison walls before he overcame the suffocating panic. He was not trapped, he told himself, the thoughts coming sluggish and heavy. This was his hiding place, his sanctuary.
The hands sank to his sides, as reason subdued his rebellious body. He took a deep breath (there was next to no oxygen, true, but that hardly mattered). Wait, the slow pulse in his body told him, wait.
Several timeless hours later, when the moon had reached its zenith over the silent city, he moved again. This time, his hands raised to brace themselves against the wood above him. He pushed, and waited for the creak of the lid rising, the tearing sound of nails dragged from their beds. There was only silence and darkness.
Irrational panic suddenly raced through his mind, snapping at his barely re-established reason with teeth of terror. Be calm, be calm, he told himself, fighting the fear. He had never experienced this before, this failure of his body to obey his commands. But then, he had never waited so long before. Could he have misjudged his strength so? Had it been too many years, and now he was too sapped of strength to escape from his hiding place? If he were trapped here, then what? Could he starve here, hunger accomplishing what bullets, swords and more than four hundred years could not? If so, how long would it take? Would his mind crack before his body could rot away? For a horrifying moment, he contemplated an eternity of gibbering, ravenous madness, trapped in the twin tombs of wood and bone.
A sound escaped his lips, a hoarse guttural groan of denial, and he thrust upwards again. He held the pressure until he heard, over the roar in his temples, the crack of the wood as it split above his hands.
He opened his eyes again. There was no light, but he needed none, not to see the three-foot crack in the wood above him. He thought he could scent the wild sweetness of the night air and the illusion gave him strength.
Ten minutes of thrust and claw and there was a rent in the wood large enough for both his arms. The fraying cloth of his jacket ripped on the wooden splinters as he snaked one arm out through the hole to grip the edge of the lid. Hard, ragged talons slid beneath the edge and tugged until, with a faint shriek of protest, the metal nails yielded their grip on the wood. One more thrust and he was free.
He rested for an hour that for the first time seemed that long, and then clambered slowly to his feet, leaning on the wood box for support. The space was not much wider than the box. He looked about slowly, feeling the weight of the building over him. He reached for the wall at one end, felt a sudden dizziness sweep over him and clung to the box again.
He bent there for a long moment, letting his muscles readapt themselves, and then became aware of the ache deep inside him. The exertion of the last hours had awakened his slumbering hunger. His belly cramped and nausea shook him again. He would have to feed, and soon, to maintain even the shadow of strength he still possessed.
He shook himself slightly and reached for the hidden mechanism that had sealed him into the wall years ago. For a moment he thought it too would not open, but then the internal machinery crawled into creaking life and the hidden door opened out into the darkened warehouse.
He stepped out into the deserted upper floor and felt a rush of strength as the clean air touched his face. This part of the warehouse had been empty when he had locked himself away and was empty still, except for the heavy iron pulleys and winches hanging like skeletal ribs over the barren floor. The great windows that lined one wall were dirt-caked and blackened, but the faint moonlight crept through the narrow cracks to lie like a shining web on the dirty floor. He stepped into one shaft of pale glow and breathed in the quicksilver light.
Closing his eyes, he lifted his face to the faint gleam of sky above him, then stretched out his mind slowly, feeling for some scrap of life, some tiny heartbeat in the upper emptiness of the warehouse. There, oh there . . . he felt a faint pulse, and the dim awareness of a rodent brain. "Come," he breathed, a dry dusty sound. "Come."
The rat chattered nervously, its squeak echoing in his ears, but it crept from the wall and began to scurry through the sea of dust towards him. He watched it come, then bent down to let it crawl onto his hand. For one moment, the tiny black eyes stared up into his and he had a dizzying vision of himself through the rat's eyes—a grey, grimacing monster whose glowing eyes were almost obscured by the tangled, ashen hair.
He felt fastidious disgust then, but the hunger was so much stronger and the warm life pulsing in his hands too tempting. He drowned his ancient revulsion in an act even more ancient.
After a moment he dropped the lifeless body and crouched there, panting. The creature's blood ran like fire down his throat and through his veins. It was sweet, oh so sweet . . . but not nearly enough to assuage the maddening hunger he felt. If anything, the brief satiation had only heightened his need.
He wiped his face, licked his stained fingers absently and stared back up at the moonlight, its mercury-silver glow brighter now. How long had it been, he wondered. More than fifty years, he guessed, but perhaps less than one hundred. Rising, he went slowly to the stairs that led down to the main floor of the warehouse. The cracking of his leather boots creaked with each step, the floor echoing the sound to a reverberation that throbbed in his head. He started down the stairs, clutching the railing whenever his head spun again.
Halfway down, he realized he was not alone.
Heartbeats sounding like thunder in his head, breathing like a hurricane in his ears . . . the sensations flooded through his mind with a power that shook him. More than one, more than two . . . that was all his confused senses could make of the input for a moment. Then he lighted his head and saw them, flaring bright and hot in his nightsight. They were clustered at the other end of the empty warehouse, three of them standing over a machine that hummed a maddening frequency in his hypersensitive ears.
Stay away, his reason cautioned, they are many, you are weakened . . . stay away. But the smell of their blood was intoxicating, the hunger a red-blooming flower in his mind. Only one. Only one and he would be strong again, strong enough to take the others too, if need be. Only one—and then he would be free.
He moved down the rest of the stairs carefully, clinging to the scraps of cunning that kept him in check while the blood-hunger raged. They mustn't see him, mustn't know he was there until he was ready. The machine's whine filled his ears, battering his tightly strung nerves.
At the bottom of the stairway, he moved into its shadow and waited. There was no cover in the empty warehouse, concealment existed only in the darkness of the shadows and in his own impossibility. He stood very still, and though his body ached with hunger, he waited while the voices of the men filtered slowly into his consciousness, past the annoying thrum of the machine.
"One more pass and we'll have finished this floor," one announced.
"'Bout time too. You know Roias said we weren't supposed to do night work," the second said.
"Shit, Tucker, he'll never know. We get the five grand whether the job takes a week or a month. Me, I could use a vacation."
"Me too. But this place gives me the creeps," Tucker replied.
"If you can't hold your water, you can leave. Simpson and I will split your share," the first man suggested.
"Not a chance, Theo," Tucker snapped back, then glanced around the warehouse nervously. "Do you ever wonder what the hell he's looking for?"
"Al Capone's hidden vault?" the third man drawled, fumbling in his pocket. Their laughter scraped along the watcher's nerves like dull razors.
"It'd serve Roias right if all he found was a dirty bottle. . . . Oh Jesus, Simpson, put that shit away. You know I can't stand that stuff."
"That's why you're pussy, Theo, my man," Simpson said, as he struck a match that burned and beckoned.
"Oh, go smoke that shit over there," Tucker intervened, and Simpson shrugged and started to stroll across the barren floor.
Under the stairway, the vampire felt his muscles tense in preparation for attack. Predatory instincts honed in a thousand ice-sharp nights moved him out to the edge of the shadows as Simpson moved closer, pacing casually beneath the halo of aromatic smoke. The tip of the hand-rolled cigarette glowed faintly, the only spot of light in the dark figure silhouetted against the circle of lights at the far side of the warehouse.
Three steps more, two . . . the count sounded like bells in the vampire's mind. The man paused suddenly, stared into the darkness, and the vampire froze. Then Simpson took another slow drag, tilted his head back and exhaled. The movement exposed the dark curve of his throat, outlined its arching strength against the lights. The vampire could feel the beat of the blood, and the scent of the life in the man's veins filled his nostrils. It was more than he could bear, and he came out of the shadows in a feral leap that brought him almost to Simpson's side.
The man's eyes opened suddenly, the glaze over the dark depths fading as uncomprehending shock took the place of drugged pleasure. "Holy shit. . . ." He had time for only those words, then the vampire's hands had closed on his shoulders as his second lunge tumbled them both to the floor.
Distantly, the vampire was aware of the other men turning, crying out, but then there was only the hot flesh and hotter blood filling his mouth. Simpson thrashed beneath him, head whipping from side to side, until taloned hands closed on the man's forehead, drawing blood from the temples as they held his head still. Even then his strength was barely enough to hold the man down until he could tear open the throat wide enough to turn the frenzied struggles into death spasms.
Then he was deep in the blood-thrall, the hot liquid burning down his throat, splattering on his face from the pumping artery. The world narrowed to the taste, the scent and the dizzying pleasure that coursed along his veins with each gulp of the sweet blood.
When someone seized his shoulders, tried to pull him away from that rich fountain, he struck out, dimly aware that it was Theo he sent sprawling across the floor. He could hear Tucker shouting, a thousand miles away, then suddenly the dull mosquito hum in his ears shrieked up into a knife of sound that sent him staggering to his feet, clutching his head.
He forced his eyes open to find this new threat. It was the man called Tucker holding something in his hand, a small device strung on cables to the strange machine that must be the source of the agonizing sound. He was halfway to the man, holding his ears, snarling and gritting his bloody teeth against the pain, when the sound jumped again, arcing off into a stratosphere beyond his imagination.
He screamed then, howling in sudden, mindless anguish, and fell to the floor, writhing beneath the last of the white-hot pain in his head. He barely heard Theo's obscene shouts. But he felt the man's heavy boots as they thudded into his ribs, Theo's fury driven by the blind determination to obliterate the creature that had dared to terrify him and, most importantly, shame him with that terror.
The blows that hammered his sides could not kill him, or even shatter his bones, but that did not stop them from hurting, an agony he felt even above the roar in his mind.
When the sound at last eased, the blows went on, sapping away the strength he had found in the blood. Arms wrapped around his head, he retreated back into the darkest corner of his mind. Distantly, he heard the men talking, sharp, panicky voices no more than ragged peaks of sound over the steady wail of the machine.
"Jesus fucking Christ, what is it?"
"I don't know! How the hell would I know!"
"Is it dead?"
"I don't know! But it fuckin' killed Simpson."
"What are we going to do?"
"I'm gonna call that bastard Roias, and tell him to get the fuck down here, that's what I'm gonna do. Hold the machine on it and if it moves again, crank it up."
Dimly, he knew he had to get away, before these men called others and he was trapped. It should not have been like this, it had never been like this before . . . he was stronger than they, smarter . . . he was the predator and they the prey. He started to lift his head, to see where the men were, if Tucker had lowered that infernal device. The sound stabbed through him again, full volume this time, and the vampire screamed wordlessly, arching backwards until the pale moonlight filled his eyes, and then he passed back into darkness.