Rebel Without a Clue
- - -
Quick Summary: In a not-so-pretty future, Jane makes a fairly unorthodox choice. All in all, I'd say that this is somewhat more humorous than you'll initially think. Inspired by the song "Rebel Without a Clue" (written by Jim Steinman), and the second entry in the "Dreaded Steinman Cycle."
- - -
Disclaimer: Jane was created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis, is copyrighted 2000 by Viacom and MTV, and is used without permission. Everyone else (namely, the narrator) is of my own creation.
- - -
Thanks, Apologies, Dedications: As always, apologies to Eichler and Lewis. Additional apologies to Jim Steinman, who inadvertently inspired this one. Thanks to the beta readers on this particular piece - Robert Nowall, traP, Ssd, NomadX, and YesMadame - for both their interest and their comments.
- - -
I absently drummed my fingers on the table in time to the music that was drifting through the bar; the opening strains of "Don't Fear the Reaper." A classic, I could listen to that song almost any time and not get tired of it. This night, however, I had other things on my mind, and didn't really pay attention as the vocals kicked in. I checked the door, waiting almost impatiently for she of the red lipstick and raven hair. For Jane.
I'd known her back in college, and even dated her once or twice. After graduation, we'd stayed fairly close, and I could track her career through all of the journals. She was a promising artist, then - always on the verge of some great offer from some museum or collector. They never came, and she gradually just lost hope. Jane'd dropped out of sight a few years previously, and, busy with my own life, I hadn't tried to track her down. Until I found her phone number, and decided to give her a call. Lucky for me, she was still at the same number, which meant she was still at that cramped old loft she called a home. Alone, if the number of times the phone rang before she answered it were any indication.
I didn't really know what to expect. I guess I hoped against hope I'd see her happy, with a wedding ring on her finger and a newborn in tow. When she walked in that door, though, I swear I didn't recognize her for a second. She'd aged ten years in three. The hair was streaked with grey, and her face was severely lined. My own, I knew, wouldn't be showing any signs of aging for a long time. When she saw me, though, she smiled, and the crumbling facade fell away for an instant, showing me the vibrant and carefree girl she once was. I stood up to welcome her over.
"Jane," I said warmly. "How have you been?"
"Better," she said, rapidly but not without a trace of the ironic humor that had initially drawn me to her. "And yourself?"
"Busy. Have a seat. We've probably got a lot to talk about." We sat in silence for a few moments, until the waitress came over to get our order.
"I'll have a Sprite," I said. "And a Bud Light for the lady." The waitress went off with the order, leaving us in relative silence and darkness. A good thing, for bright lights tended to give me severe migraines. One of many wonderful new developments in my life over the last three years or so.
"How'd you remember what I drank?" Her question was not unexpected. After all, she and I hadn't had a drink together since senior year in college.
"How many times did you and I wind down after exams at the old Student Union? There was no way I could forget what you drink. Lord knows I paid for enough of the damned things," I said with a smile. I paused for a moment, then, thousands of questions running through my mind. Yet it was she who broke the silence.
"Well, Russ, how've you been keeping yourself?"
"Traveling abroad, mainly. I... uh... got lucky with some investments a couple of years ago, and I've been pretty much free to do what I want ever since."
"You always did have that go-for-the-jugular approach to business, didn't you?" She didn't know how right she was.
"You could say that." She smirked. "And how about yourself?" She lost the smirk.
"I've been doing... a few odd jobs here and there, so at least I can eat." Her eyes said it all. Prostitution, I thought.
"Still do any painting?" I tried to keep the conversation light. If my suspicion was right, she sure as hell didn't need me calling attention to how poorly her own life had turned out. Especially when seeing how well mine had. If you could call it life. So far as I know, there's been no scientific research on it, so I don't really know.
"Some. Every once in a while, when I have a bad week. Helps me to clear my head." The conversation lagged again, and as I silently studied the face of my friend, I marveled at how sharp time's knife could be. And how subjective. I made up my mind then to do something to help her out. Who knew what, though? She wouldn't like being like me, I didn't think. Or would she?
In the background, the song changed to some old Sisters of Mercy tune; she sang along to it under her breath, and I smiled a little as I thought about the number of times we'd had to pull her off of the karaoke stage at the S.U., right after yet another drunken rendition of "This Corrosion." Odd, what's recalled at times like that. The drinks arrived, and we accepted them with near-silent thanks.
"How's Daria doing these days?" Once upon a time, Daria and Jane had been damned near inseparable. She and I had never really been close, though - the only thing we'd really had in common was being a friend of Jane's.
"I haven't spoken to her in a few years," she replied. I was amazed at that, figuring that the two would always stay in touch.
"Really? I find that hard to believe. Did you stop talking to her when you dropped out of sight, or what?" The words were spoken lightly, again so as to avoid intentionally clawing open any old wounds. She nodded.
"Well, I didn't really want to talk to her right then, either. The bottom had sort of fallen out of my art career, and I just felt like distancing myself from everyone and everything."
"Which explains why you pretty much disappeared off the face of the Earth," I said.
"Right. And I've just never been able to get up the nerve to call her again. Whatever you might believe, I don't exactly have a great life, Russ." She'd taken on that quiet, emotionally-distant tone of voice she had whenever she had anything particularly personal to say. In that, she was exactly like her old friend. "And I don't want to be reminded of how much better everyone else is doing then me. All I ever get is abuse, and when I do get a free night, loneliness in the loft. It sucks," she said with a grim little laugh. She didn't mention Trent, and neither did I. We were both there when the call came in. Car accident.
I thought quickly, and came up with an idea that might help her feel a little better. And that might allow me to help her out more a little later on. I hated seeing my friends in rotten positions in life.
"Well, sweetheart, how's about you and I go out and get something to eat so you don't have to spend tonight by yourself?" I asked, using the Bogart imitation that had served me so well at picking up girls in high school and college. It never worked on Jane, but it usually got her to laugh. It did so now, and I relaxed a little.
"Why not? It's not like I've got anything else to do," she said. "Anything that can't wait, anyway."
* * *
"I've got to admit, this is about as much fun as I've had in years," said Jane later on, as we sat on the roof of my black Chevy, staring out at the sea and the skyline of the city across the water. The towers of New York glittered in the clear night air, and the waves broke gently against the beach. A picture-perfect night, really. The sort during which it seems like anything can be accomplished, no matter how unlikely it seemed.
"What?" I asked. "Dinner and a movie, and that's the most fun you've had in years? It wasn't even all that good a movie." I was still hungry, as Italian food wasn't exactly the sort of thing that gave me sustenance. At least I could still enjoy the flavor of it all, though. Much less salty then my usual.
"But it was fun to make fun of."
"That's true about anything starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in a dramatic role," I said. "Especially if it's based on Shakespeare." She laughed a little again, and I felt better.
"I don't know. It wasn't that bad." I gave her a quizzical look at her reply. She said, "At least it didn't have that girl from the Blair Witch Project in it."
"Good point," I said. Jane looked at her watch, and sighed.
"Well, it's been wonderful, Russ, but I need to go home now. Much as I wish I didn't have to." For some reason, call it temporary insanity, that was the line that really got me. Started up my minor humanitarian leanings. For all of my failings and general dislike of humanity as a whole, I'd like it to be said that I always tried to support my friends. However, if pressed, I'm not quite sure I could say why I made the offer.
"Maybe you don't have to," I said. I'm sure it puzzled her. I know it puzzled me. Maybe I didn't relish the thoughts of being alone, myself.
"What are you talking about?" She looked at me curiously, but I could see a glint of hope in her faded blue eyes.
"You could always come with me," I said. "Get out of this city. I'm really only passing through for a few weeks, before I head on somewhere else down the road."
"Would you really take me with you?" Her voice was so desperate I nearly laughed in befuddlement. How could someone as apparently strong as she had been fall this far?
"Of course. You know me, right? Always there for my friends. I don't know exactly what it is you do for a living," I said gently, "but I can tell you don't like it." I paused for a moment. "And when we get to someplace you do like, you can always go out on your own and try again."
"You're serious, right?"
"As a heart attack. There is one condition, though."
"What is it?"
"That you listen to what I'm about to tell you, and not dismiss it out of hand. It's pretty serious, and it does tend to scare a lot of people off." What the hell are you doing, you asshole? You're trying to help her out, not get yourself killed! I mentally screamed at myself, but somehow couldn't stop myself from speaking.
"I'm all ears," she said.
"I'm a vampire." She gave me what I have decided to call the Mental Patient look. That is to say, the look that one receives when they say something utterly unbelievable that causes the other person to think you're a mental case. In cases like this, humor is often an excellent way to deal with the situation. Mainly because it makes me seem less like a psycho until I can get the other person to believe me. Despite my previous assertion that it was serious.
"Did you say umpire?" Inevitably, if one doesn't believe what one's told, one tries the most believable alternative.
"Nope. Vampire. Bloodsucker, nosferatu, undead scourge of the Earth. All that sort of stuff." The good humor was bubbling through in my voice. I didn't take it very seriously, anyway. After all, what's the point, when the only things that can actually kill you are impalement or sunlight? And when you have almost all the time in the world to be serious about things?
"And I'm supposed to believe you because...?" Good old skeptic Jane. I knew she wouldn't believe me, at least not without some hard proof.
"No real reason, I suppose. It's just that it's true." I gazed coolly into her eyes, and I could see her disbelief beginning to waver.
"But you had a reflection," she said. "And you were eating extra garlic at the restaurant."
"Of course," I said. "Don't believe everything you hear in urban legends, Jane. You've heard of evolution, right? Who hasn't?" I chuckled slightly, revealing the fact that (by technical definition) I had no fangs. Contrary to popular belief, most fangs are only slightly sharper versions of the usual canines. Makes it easier to blend in. "Thanks to that little fact, I can do everything you can, except of course for that whole daylight thing."
"You know, Russ? I think you're absolutely nuts. Nice, but still nuts."
"You've been saying that since college, Jane. Remember that incident with the rutabagas and Professor Turlington's car?" Her resolve to disbelieve was continuing to weaken. I reached into my pocket, and pulled out a Swiss Army Knife. I started using one as a key chain right about the time I realized I could make a few bucks out of wasted dudes at parties by doing this next stunt. "Check this out," I said as I pulled the knife out and slashed a wrist. The cut sealed up as quickly as I made it. She gaped at me.
"And now, for my next trick," I said. "I'll demonstrate the wonders of flying."
"No, not really. Just having a little fun with you. Can't fly. It's not in the rules."
"I see." Her voice was still skeptical, but after the wrist demonstration, was significantly less so. She took my wrist in her hands, and even held it up to her face.
"Let me guess. You're looking for some sort of prosthetic skin, or a blood bag, or something. Right?" She nodded. "Sorry, no such luck. I don't have one. That was all real."
"Jesus Christ. You are one, aren't you?"
"Russ Mankey, vampire, at your service."
"Why the hell'd you tell me? Aren't you afraid of me killing you, or something like that?" I chuckled again.
"Not really. Like I said, I figured you ought to know before you agreed to travel with me. That way, you'd understand why I wasn't big on day travel."
"What's it like?" She was curious. I should have known what she was thinking, but at that moment, caught up in the apparent good humor of the moment, I wasn't much for paying attention to what thoughts may have been running through her head.
"Not really any different. About the only thing different is that you can't go out in the day time. Big loss, there. You know me, I always was something more of a night owl anyway. Otherwise... just look at it from my point of view. I don't worry about having to cram everything into one little lifetime anymore, so I'm free to do what I like. I don't age. I don't get sick. I don't even need much in the way of blood. A pint every week or so suffices, and I can get that from blood banks or butcher's shops." She sat in thought for a few moments. "You're taking this rather well, Jane. Most people I know would have gone running off into the night by now. And come back with a cross, a giant stake, and a burning torch."
"I don't really know what to say, Russ. It seems so... unusual."
"I'll say. Imagine my surprise when I found out. See, I went into the hospital for a routine checkup, and the damned doctor forgot to clean his syringe off. Evidently, the last guy he'd stuck was a vampire. Who knew? So I get this tetanus shot, and - bam! - it was coma time. Three days later, there I am in intensive care, and I've got this doctor standing over me. Real ugly guy, with bad breath. And he says to me, 'Well, Mr. Mankey, how are you feeling? By the way, you're a vampire now, so don't go out in the sunlight.'"
"You're kidding me, right?" She was actually smiling at my account of the events.
"Nope. Maybe the doctor didn't say things quite like that, but more or less, that was it."
"What did you do then, Vlad?" She looked at me with one eyebrow raised in curiosity.
"I sued the bastards for malpractice. What did you think I did?" She laughed openly, then, and I knew that everything'd be all right. Or at least, that the cops wouldn't be finding a body like mine with a stake through the heart floating in the river. "Turned out the hospital didn't want the case to be publicized. So, they settled out of court for eight figures, and now I am as you see me. Rich, undead, and living it up in New York for a few weeks."
"It doesn't sound all that bad to me, Russ," said Jane. "At least, you seem pretty content with it."
"Why shouldn't I be? Hell, I got rich out of the deal, and that money is only going to increase with time. Which I now have a hell of a lot of. About the only real downer I can think of is watching all of my friends get old and die, but I never had a whole lot. And most of them I'd never see again, anyway."
"You make it sound like some sort of blessing." She was speaking seriously, in that distant way of hers, and a small voice in the back of my head started screaming at me. Warning! Warning! I couldn't really hear it.
"Don't get me wrong, it does have it's drawbacks. You don't get to be woken up by those damned birds in the morning anymore, and you do tend to miss some of the sunrises and sunsets. But it's not really any worse then what I had before."
"Could you make me one?" I think I coughed. I know damned well that I gaped at her openly at some point, and I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped.
"Could-you-make-me-a-vampire? I hate it when people need things spelled out," she said lightly.
"Well, technically, I could, but I think the better question is, 'Will I'" Now, I was the serious one. An odd reversal. "Why the hell would you want to be one? I've adjusted, but then again, I also got rewarded for it, in a way. I didn't ask for this, Jane. I don't know why anyone would."
"Russ, look at me. I'm a thirty-two year old hooker who looks forty if she's a day. I've got nothing to live for, and no one to turn to right now. You're giving me a chance to get out of here, and get somewhere. I've got nothing to lose." I was, I'll admit, amazed by her forwardness, and the fact that she pulled no verbal punches.
"Jane... there's a lot you have to take into consideration."
"Well, Drac." I could see what I was in for if I did convert her, and she did stay with me. Jokes, jokes, and more jokes. Yippee. "Like I said, I've got nothing to lose. I've seen Hell. It can't be worse then being a vampire."
"You haven't been to the meetings yet," I replied. "Now, that's a special Hell all by itself."
"You didn't mention any meetings." Her tone was mock chastising, and I was amazed at how lightly she was treating all of this. I'd taken it damn seriously, at first.
"You didn't ask about them. All you said was, and I think I'm quoting you here, 'Could you make me a vampire?'"
"Come on, Russ. I'm begging you, here." I sighed.
"If you're sure you want to do this, then we'll have to continue this discussion tomorrow."
"Because it's," I checked my watch, "about five a.m." The watch was a cheap Timex Indiglo, twenty bucks at the nearest Target.
"Well, in that case," said Jane. "Why don't you drive me home, and I can put you up for the day?" I sighed again. Somehow, I just knew she wasn't going to leave me alone until I relented. This was the sort of thing that could curb those humanitarian urges I'd spoken of earlier. And yet, somehow, it all had the unmistakable ring of Jane to it.
"Fine," I said, getting off the roof and into the car. "But it's your funeral."
"I know," she said with a smirk as she got in the passenger side.