A Ghoulish Tale from Phaedra Weldon


As the Halloween guest madness continues here at the League, we have a cool short story from Phaedra Weldon's Zoe Martinique Investigation series. It's called Ghoul and in it, Phaedra takes a break from the more spectral side of things depicted in Wraith and Spectre to lets us all have a peak at how vampires work in her world.

GHOUL

Phaedra Weldon

Jason heard the soft patter of her bare feet behind him as he stood on the roof's edge, the October wind toying with his dark hair, his long coat billowing out behind him. Below, children moved along the street in the dusky light, dressed in dark costumes--witches, goblins, bats and yes--vampires. They carried treat-filled orange bags, escorted by parents seeking solace in numbers.

"Jason," she said on the wind.

He heard the anger in her voice, felt the hunger echoing in her soul. 'You don't love me,' she'd accused him when he'd denied her his blood, denied her the fulfillment of the fantasy she'd created, to become like him.

She hadn't listened to him then. Would she listen now?

"What's wrong with me," she hissed at him. "What am I?"

He closed his eyes and sighed, feeling the demon inside of him stir. The creature that saved his own life over fifty years ago and irrevocably changed it. It smelled blood in the air. But not her blood. The blood of a recent victim.

"Look at me," she said.

He didn't move.

"Look at me!"

It was there--an echo of the power she thought she could take from him. Her soul called out, searching for peace that it would never know. Jason turned slowly, the wind at his back, as he faced her.

His lover.

His abomination.

"What's happened to me?"

His Ghoul.

Jason expected the worst at seeing her--having recalled all the memories of the ghouls his demon had created over the centuries. Whether on purpose or by accident. In comparison, Rene had handled herself admirably when it came to appearances. Ghouls--once the madness took them--usually allowed themselves to wither, no longer caring about outward appearances--succumbing to the hunger churning inside of them. It was a hunger that only two things could slate.

His blood--or the ghoul's true death.

For Rene there would be no reprieve for her crimes, no blood to ease her pain. There would be only death.

"I tried to tell you what would happen if you took my blood. I can't turn you into-"

"You did this to me..." she said as she pointed at him. Her eyes had the tell-tale gleam of red.

"Your foul blood. I can feel it inside of me. Damning me. Slowly killing me-"

She didn't understand she was already dead.

"Don't do that, Rene," he said as he took several steps closer to her. She was too close to the children below. Too strong now. And he knew she could smell their blood, sense their living souls just as he could. "Don't blame me for your greed. I warned you. I tried to protect you-"

"You kept it from me. You tricked me," her voice grew low as she bent down in a crouch. Again he was amazed at the newness of her dress. Her make-up. Her cheeks were plump and ruddy-she had recently fed. But that satisfaction would last only for a few hours before the hunger would strike again and again.

And she would kill. Again.

Rene had been an aging model. She'd lost two well paying contracts because she was 'too old.'
At twenty-three.

And then she'd met Jason. In her he'd found a companion, for a while. He was always looking out for a suitable lover--one that he could share his secret with--and if he were dealt a wrong hand--someone who could replace him and be the host for the demon.

"You refused to give me immortality."

"I can't give you immortality, Rene," he put his hands on his chest. "This isn't an immortal body, Rene. It won't last forever. Two or three hundred years--maybe. It's not like in the movies--my blood isn't the elixir." Jason gave a long sigh and lowered his arms. "I didn't drink blood from another vampire. Mephistopheles gave me this life. And in return, I give him blood and he experiences life. With me. And I have all those memories of all the other humans he's inhabited--"

"Liar."

He stared at her. "I never lied to you."

"You left me--abandoned me--"

"You wouldn't listen to reason, Rene. I had no choice."

He let his guard down and she was on top of him before he could react. This body was still young, and still unsure of its power. Though he--Jason Lawrence--had lived in it since birth, the demon that now dwelled within his soul was still adjusting, still testing his physical prowess. Another hundred or so years and perhaps the two of them would meld.

Her nails--the demon blood within her veins sharpening them, thickening them into talons--raked across his neck and chest, ripping away his clothing. He screamed out, pushing at her with a strength that still amazed him. She flew backwards--landing on all fours like a cat.

A large dangerous cat.

Careful, Jason.

"I know, I know," he said aloud to his demon and mentor. The wounds across his flesh would heal--though not as quickly as legend would have one believe. Nothing was going to stop the agony but medical treatment. But he'd have to get home for that and let his new lover Christina sew him up. "I didn't expect her to attack."

She's rabid. She must be put down now or more innocent people will die.

But Jason had backed away. He stared at Rene--a tiny part of him wishing--hoping--searching through Mephistopheles' memories of one time or one instance where a ghoul could be saved.
You know it's never been done, Jason. Once they go mad, there is no turning back. I never lied to you.

No. His mentor had never deceived him. Not intentionally.

"Is he there, Jason?" Rene said as she inched her way closer again, a cougar stalking its prey. He knew she could smell his blood, what her body craved. "Can you hear him--this demon inside of you?"

She'd never believed him. That the demon, Mephistopheles, was there. Inside of him. Changing him as the decades pass. He knew on the outside he still looked the same as the day he died--a man of thirty. But on the inside--he had lived for over eighty years.

Jason had been honest when he'd confided his secret to her--much to Mephistopheles' dismay. That being a vampire wasn't what she'd read in books, or seen on TV or in the movies. Blood had not transformed him. Blood had not saved him. Blood had not give him immortality.

His transformation had come in the form of a nightclub singer--fatally shot in an alley on the docks of Manhattan in 1928. He had been in the right place at the right time.

"Yes Rene," Jason moved back from her. His wounds burned but he continued to stand straight, pulling from the centuries of combat memories his demon gave to him. His weakness was that he was still young and hadn't yet mastered how to integrate the experiences into his own body. "He is always with me."

"You still expect me to believe that?"

"It's the truth."

She actually hissed at him as she tried lunging again. But this time Jason was ready and moved away, putting himself behind her. He thought for a second she would go over the edge of the roof, but stopped herself gracefully on the ledge. She continued to stare over the edge--and he knew she could smell the life beneath her and he was worried for the helpless trick-or-treaters below. And if the blood demanded to be sated—she would be a slave to that monster again. But then--to his surprise--she turned slowly and looked at him. "You fear for these children, Jason? You? The real monster?"

"Leave them alone, Rene."

The corner of her mouth lifted into a half smile. "Would you trade their lives for the truth?"

It was no use. She would never believe him. "Come to me, Rene. I can ease the pain."

"So you would give me the truth?" She glance back at the ledge. "But the children tonight would taste as sweet as the Halloween candy they eat, wouldn't they?"

"You will not kill another innocent child, Rene."

She straightened up. "Then what about Christina? She's not innocent. What about me dropping in on her while she waits up for you?"

Regardless of what the legends said his heart still beat. Strong and healthy. But at that moment it broke. He thought he'd been careful to keep Christina hidden from Rene. All thoughts of her were hidden from the ghoul--kept masked from their connection.

But somehow she'd known--

Jason stumbled back as he took another look at her. He knew now why she was in better shape than he expected. Why her make-up was perfect. Her teeth cleen. The dress un-marred. He'd seen it earlier that day--worn on the body of another woman.

Oh no. Oh Jason...I am so sorry.

Christina.

In that instant as Rene began to laugh he knew. He realized the scent of blood he smelled was his lover's. Rene had gone to his home--probably to find him and finish the job she'd started a week ago--when she'd come to his home and stabbed him before stealing a pint or so of his blood. Only she'd found Christina there.

He pulled his hands into balled fists. "You killed her!"

Rene put her hands behind her back, bent her knees and tilted her head to one shoulder. "Aw...is Jason mad now?" She moved a hand around to her front and licked at each of her fingers. "She was good, Jason. Delicious."

She's baiting you!

But Jason didn't care. Anger burned deep inside of his stomach and he felt the stirring in his upper and lower jaw. Strength surged through his muscles, poisoning them even more than the toxins Mephistopheles' presence released every year. He crouched low as the animal instinct of his ancestors ascended--but she met him in the middle--attacking him at the same time.

Without fangs she used her talons, slashing at him again, barely missing his jugular.

He knocked her arm away, his strength nearly tearing it from the socket. She screamed out, startling the trick-or-treaters below as she skittered across the roof's tar, her arms and legs scrapping and bruising. And Jason was over her again, straddling her, pulling her up by her head. Her arms lay at her sides, and he realized they were both dislocated. Broken.

And she was laughing at him. Her breath wreaked of old blood, spoiled and dead.

"I have my revenge..." she laughed up at him. "I have my revenge."

"You think by killing my lover you have control over me?" He could drain her. Take every last drop of Christina's blood back. But she was ghoul--her blood fouled.

No, there was a more fitting way for her to die. He leaned in close to her, allowing her to see the demon through his eyes.

Her eyes widened and her mouth opened into a perfect O. But there was no scream. Mephistopheles wouldn't allow it as the demon connected with her mind and burned it out.

Once he knew she was brain dead he twisted her head quickly to one side.

He let her head fall back on the roof, her eyes opened wide, her mouth parted in an eternal scream.

It was several minutes before he could catch his breath. The adrenaline that kind of power pumped throughout his body was sometimes draining and he eased himself off of her. He could hear the voices below--who made that noise? Was that a scream? Is someone on the roof. He needed to go. It was time to disappear.

Mephistopheles spoke to him as he pushed up on wobbly legs. She didn't kill Christina.

He nodded, again amazed at how easily they could connect thoughts, and yet how their thoughts often remained separate. "I know," he said breathlessly. "She forced her...to drink blood."

You could see it?

He nodded again. "Yeah...while you were looking. I could actually see some images this time."

Ahh... and he could feel the demon's satisfaction. We are truly merging now.

But this wasn't the time for a celebration. He'd seen enough to know that Rene's revenge had not been to kill Christina, but to turn her into a ghoul, like herself. Only she'd done something worse.
Rene had put Christina on a plane. Within a few days without Jason's blood, the hunger would come, and then the madness.

Then the killings would start.

"I didn't see..." he stumbled to the opposite edge of the roof. The building was only four stories--but still--his human side still suffered from acrophobia. All he had to do was jump down, and the demon's will would lower him gently to the ground. "Where."

Atlanta.

He could hear footsteps on the stairs. Soon there would be people on the roof. Jason found it was often better not to think about jumping when he did it, and felt the familiar rise in his stomach as he half-floated to the ground in the shadow. He moved behind a tree and watched as a police car and ambulance arrived, lights flashing.

Touching his neck and feeling the tattered puckering of his skin as it tried to reconnect to rendered flesh, he turned and began to shadow-walk away from the building to his BMW, parked several blocks away. He pulled the iPhone from his pocket and dialed a number.

"What kind of trouble are you in now?" said the voice of Nick Shay, Jason's personal assistant.
And ghoul.

"New ghoul. On a plane to Atlanta."

"Name."

He sighed. "Christina Bergstrom."

"Aw shit, Jason. I'm sorry. Did Rene do that?"

"Yeah..."

"Damnit...I should have stayed at the condo with her."

Jason slipped from shadow to shadow. "I told you it would be okay. It's not your fault."

Nick was quiet. Then, "You want me to call our contact there?"

"I'll call her. She might be less grumpy if it's me."

"She really needs to get over me eating the chicken, Jason."

He smiled. "Normal people cook it first, Nick. Oh and have the salves ready. I'm afraid I got a little damaged."

Nick made tsk-tsk noises before hanging up. Jason held the iPhone out in the darkness and touched the screen. He found the number and checked his watch. It was just after eight o'clock.

She should still be there.

He hoped.

After two rings, "Nona's Botanical and Tea Shop, Zoƫ speaking."

"Hello. I know it's late, but is Rhonda Orly still there?"

***

:) For those who've already read Phaedra's books, you know exactly who Rhonda is (not to mention Zoe) and why she's the right person to call.

If you'd like to know more about Phaedra's work, be sure to check out her website or go ahead and zip on over to Amazon and snag yourself a copy of Wraith and Spectre. Thanks for the story, Phaedra! Everyone make sure to leave a comment to let her know how much you enjoyed Ghoul. Plus... if every comment were being tracked for some secret give away... Oh never mind. I'm sure none of us over here at the League are that sneaky.
** Did I mention that Phaedra will be giving away a copy of Spectre to one lucky commenter? Comment away folks; there's a book to be won!

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