Writing | Leeches by Danielle Willis

"In Danielle Willis' short story 'Leeches,' about an inter-species lesbian junkie relationship, the vampire lover belittles the narrator's desire to be immortal. 'She wouldn't drink the blood from my veins because she didn't want to make me a vampire ... I told her that as a child I'd leave my window open and my nightgown unbuttoned to expose my throat and pray that a beautiful lady with black leather wings would carry me away to a land where the undead held costume balls in moon-drenched graveyards. She laughed at me and said I should just go jerk off to an Anne Rice novel...' - Danielle Willis

Iíve been too sick to feed for the past few days so my skin is well below room temperature for my date with Jacob Keane, proprietor of Keane & Sons Funeral Home, with whom I have had an appointment every Sunday night since 1966 when I opened my eyes just as he was getting ready to stick a tube in my neck, a potentially ugly situation that instead worked out to our mutual benefit: I got a steady $300-a-week client and he got a dead girl whoíd never go bad.

Itís a fabulous arrangement other than the fact that I have to take a cab to and from El Cerrito because BART doesnít run after twelve and Jacob wonít have me over until heís sure the apprentice embalmer has gone upstairs for the night. This time I didnít get the go-ahead until two-thirty and now I have to deal with this irritating-as-fuck cab driver who, after I tell him where Iím going, launches into a monologue about how burial is environmentally unsound and everybody should be cremated.

Itís obviously one of his pet peeves, so I just let him rattle on and stare out the window at the endless rows of Burger Kings and tanning salons until finally we pull into the parking lot of Keane & Sons and it occurs to him that he might have upset me. "I hope I didnít offend you or anything," he says.

I tell him itís okay like Iím on the verge of tearsónot all difficult considering I havenít had a shot in almost ten hours and my muscles are beginning to feel too short for my bones. The cab driver tries to apologize and I throw the money at him and slam the door on my way out, figuring this way he wonít have the balls to confront me when he notices Iíve shorted him five dollars.

Keane & Sons Funeral Home looks like a somber, ivy-covered International House of Pancakes, a similarity made all the more striking by the fact that there is an actual International House of Pancakes directly across the street. I go around back where the hearses are parked to the private entrance and ring the bell. Jacob answers the door in a tattered bathrobe that reeks of medicine and sour milk and gives me a trembling hug.

"Itís so good to see you, Miranda," he rasps, his voice strange and gristly through the tracheotomy bandages, "Iíve missed you all week." His cock presses against me like a lump of damp putty, leaving a trail of pre-cum along my upper thigh. Hoping to bring matters to an early conclusion, I reach down and curl my hand around the drooling member, careful not to let my claws slide out. It twitches in my grasp and just when I think Iím going to be able to get him off without spending any time beneath his flaccid belly he grabs me by the wrist and stops me.
"Not yet. Iím too excited. Thereís someone I want you to meet first... " His breath is sweet with subtle hints of decay.

He ushers me down the hallway past the chapel and the display room full of gleaming coffins to the prep room in the back. Thereís a blonde girl lying on one of the tables, her skin grayish yellow under the fluorescent lights.

"This is Camille," he says as though he were introducing us at a swing party, "she killed herself."

"Hi Camille."

I was hoping Iíd just get to fake rigor mortis for twenty minutes or so but watching me tongue the wounds on Camilleís arms gets him off almost as quickly. Heís got a shriveled little mushroom of a cock that dispenses an alarming amount of semen and of course some of it gets on me when we hug afterwards.

"Youíre so cold tonight," he mumbles into my hair, his hands like dry, brittle twigs up and down my spine. I wonder how much longer heís going to live. Heís only 63 but his heart is completely shot, not a subject I really like to contemplate after more than twenty years of being guaranteed at least $1,200 a month, plus access to all the formaldehyde I need to keep myself intact from now until the year 2000. He might have made some provision for me in his will but Iím not counting on it and itís not like I legally exist anyway.

While Jacobís taking a shower I go to the front office and call my equally decrepit dealer, Jimmy Hudson, whose attendant answers the phone and says heís had a stroke and wonít be home from the hospital for at least two weeks. I try a few other numbers with no success before finally resigning myself to scoring from Alexis. I rummage through my purse until I find his card.

(insert actual cardóthe most obnoxiously Gothic engraved thing possible, the words Alexis du Mal in florid prancy letters.)

The line is busy, so I leaf through a copy of American Funeral Director ("ALL: The First Name in Cremation Equipment") and try again a few minutes later. I still havenít gotten through by the time Jacob comes to find me and drags me into the stateroom to show me Camilleís coffin and rave about how her hair is going to look arranged against the quilted lilac interior until he finally pays me and I can leave.

Alexisí phone is still busy but I figure that means heís home and most likely doing business, so I call a cab anyway and have it leave me off in front of his building on 16th and Valencia. I only live a few blocks away on Mission , so itís no big deal. I call him from the pay phone on the corner and he says I can come up in five minutes, so I sit down on the steps to wait.

After about fifteen this old Mexican bag lady wanders up and starts staring at me. I offer her a dollar to make her go away and she crosses herself and mutters the word "Diablo" but keeps right on staring, the corners of her eyes caked with a gummy brownish substance that cracks a little whenever she blinks. I hate being in this neighborhood looking like something thatís just clawed its way up through six feet of gravedirt, which is exactly how I look when I let myself go to this extent, all fishbelly pale with bright yellow eyes and pupils just beginning to slit.

I show her my teeth just to fuck with her and she backs up a little but will not go away. Then this ragged girl comes stumbling out of the corner store crying and clutching something wrapped in a dirty white sweater to her chest. The old woman whispers in her ear and she shuffles up to me and offers me the bundle. Her nose is running and thereís a plastic hospital band around her wrist.

I wave her away and the old woman snatches the bundle from her and shoves it at me. "Take it, Diablo," she hisses. I wonít and she drops it at my feet. Glass and rotten blood, pigeon from the smell of it, spray everywhere. For some reason she was trying to give me a Mason jar full of blood. Maybe she thinks Iím responsible for the girlís sickness and need to be appeased with a gift or some other such nonsense. Anyway, the girl screams and curls up in a fetal position in the gutter and the woman drags her off down the street. I know Iíve seen the two of them around before but Iím not sure where.

Finally Alexis buzzes me in. His fag hag Claudia, an overweight Siouxsie clone with poison rings on all her fingers and an ankh the size of a cow bell hanging from her neck, answers the door, the smell of incense and cat piss looming in the stale air behind her.

"Your eyes look cool like that," she mumbles.

I follow her down the black-draped hallway to the kitchen where Alexis and his boyfriend Jeremy are sitting at the table picking listlessly at a bowl of gum drops. They look like a pair of dissipated Perriot dolls in their soiled Victorian nightshirts and yesterdayís whiteface, hair stinking of smoke and AquaNet.

"Sorry for the delay," says Alexis, his voice slow and smug with really good heroin, "itís just that things are taking longer than usual this evening." Alexis fancies himself a character out of an Anne Rice novel and right now, with my muscles beginning to feel too short for my bones, his affected speech patterns are especially annoying. I start to hand him a hundred dollars and he waves it away and unbuttons Jeremyís shirt.

"Just go ahead," he says. Jeremy giggles and strokes his track-marked throat.

"Iíd rather just shoot my own," I manage as civilly as I can, "You know my systemís too fucked up to handle human blood."

"Thatís a pity. Jeremy and I did the last of our stuff just before you came up. Youíre welcome to as much as you want, though. Itís quite, quite good." He traces his veins with his fingertips. I should have known something like this was going to happenóAlexis and Jeremy are always trying to manipulate me into making them vampires. No doubt they think theyíre very clever right now, having caught me jonesing my brains out with no way to get my fix except to drink their hepatitis-ridden blood.

Alexis knows heís got me because thereís nowhere else to go at 4 a.m. on Monday morning. Heroin dealers keep hours like bankers, unless you feel like scoring a decidedly inferior product on the street, and besides, the sun is coming up in just a little over an hour.

"Just get me a clean razor blade and a glass."

"No, use your teeth."

"Itíll just give him an infection."

"I donít care, just do it."

I bend over Jeremy, who has nodded out in his chair, and sink my teeth into his throat. The sudden gush of blood is lukewarm and sickening, like a mouthful of copper-flavored castor oil. Itís all I can do to keep on swallowing as Jeremy moans and shoves up against me, hands clawing at my back. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Claudia and Alexis staring in rapt fascination. After a minute or so Jeremyís hands fall away and he goes limp beneath me.

"I hope heís had a tetanus shot," I gasp, struggling to keep from vomiting. I stagger backward a few steps and brace myself against the counter feeling like some monstrous swollen tick while Claudia inspects Jeremyís throat.

"Heís still bleeding," she says, dipping her fingers in the wound.

"Take him to the bathroom and clean him up." I tell Alexis.

Jeremy groans and flutters his eyelids as Alexis and Claudia pull him to his feet. The collar and left sleeve of his shirt are soaked with blood and he leaves a trail of fat red droplets behind him as they drag him down the hall to the bathroom.

"I donít want the bleeding to stop," he whines," I want to keep on bleeding forever."

I decide this would be a good time to leave and throw up all over the wall in the elevator going down. It looks like someoneís been murdered.

Outside, the streets are deserted and the sky is beginning to pale, but by some divine providence I am able to hail a cab almost immediately. Huddled under my coat in the back seat I feel myself getting sick again, clamp my mouth shut and swallow hard. The driver asks if Iím okay, his face a wattled blur in the rear-view mirror. I answer "yes" through blood-filmed teeth, nearly delirious with nausea. Fortunately I only live on 18th and Mission.

My apartment smells like an infected sore. Two of the rats are dead in their cage, probably have been for days. The others scuttle hysterically across the piss-soaked newspaper, tiny red eyes brilliant with fright. They neednít worry, itíll be days before Iíll even be able to think about feeding.

I gingerly arrange myself on the bed so as not to jostle my stomach before the heroin has had a chance to absorb. It takes the better part of an hour to feel even the slightest buzz, after which I canít stand it any more and vomit copiously into the salad bowl I keep on the nightstand for that very purpose, the blood coming back up cold and clotted like oysters in bile sauce.

Now itís fucking morning and the sun is pouring in through the rips in the blinds and the downstairs neighborsí baby has begun to squall uncontrollably. There was a time years and years ago when that particular noise would have made me drool but now I just burrow under the tangled sheets and wait for it to stop, knowing all too well that by the time it finally does the upstairs neighbors will be banging around on the ceiling. At least itís better than the 1400s when I had to sleep in a sweltering asshole of a cave with anywhere from five to twenty other vampires, none of whom ever bathed because the prevailing superstition was that running water would melt the very flesh off your bones.

Judging from the angle of the light itís about six a.m., which means I have to wait at least three hours before any of the Mexican dealers turn on their beepers, let alone start delivering. I page a couple of them anyway, on the off chance one of them was out late partying and wouldnít mind stopping by on his way home.

No one calls back and I spend about forty-five minutes trying to fall asleep between bouts of dry-heaving before finally giving up and getting into the shower. I slump down in the corner of the stall, so dizzy and weak the soap keeps slipping through my fingers. Any semblance of a nod has long since fled my body and it feels as though Iíve spent the entire night being kicked in the stomach.

There arenít any clean towels so I just grab one of the sheets from the bed and wrap it around me, then shuffle into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of hummingbird food, which I rationalize as being good for me on the grounds that blood is mostly just sugar and water anyway.

Something crunches under my foot, a desiccated rat from at least two weeks ago. I kick it and it skitters across the ugly brown linoleum like a dried leaf.
(To be continued...)