20 Twenty

    Keats retreated to San Antonio in terror. Every time he closed his eyes, Leonard's kind face seemed to be there, offering him breakfast.

    Keats had been fired from his hacker job, but after a week of begging (a week that his supervisor probably spent interviewing inept young men and women, a week that Keats spent pacing and waiting to be arrested), he was allowed to go back to work.

    He was sure that that was the end of his trouble. Some demon had gripped him and forced him to attack an old man, but no one knew, and now he could forget about it and continue with his life.

    He couldn't seem to eat, but he blamed that on the flu. He could smell the blood in everyone around him. He ignored it.

    But it kept getting worse.

    As part of his denial technique, Keats didn't think too hard about the way his pulse now seemed hard to find or about how his skin hurt whenever he touched the pots and pans and cutlery in his kitchen. He stayed out of the sun, telling himself that it was time to start thinking about skin damage and the danger of UV exposure. He bought a baseball cap and a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses and gloves, and he wore them all, even though San Antonio was rarely cold enough to warrant long sleeves.

    Keats thought he could live with all of this. But the thirst kept building on him, and he noticed that his face, though clear of blemishes except a few scars, was beginning to look too thin, like a long-time drug addict who had forgotten that food was also necessary for survival.

    Keats went back to work and sat beside his coworkers all day long, trying not to breathe in their appealing scent and ignoring how easy it was not to breathe.

    Later, he was only thankful that he was out of the office when the thirst took him over for the second time.

    He stumbled into a situation I looked for; a drunk man tried to pick a fight with Keats as he was heading home from work.

    Keats tried to avoid him at first, tried to keep walking, but the drunk stumbled after him.

    Keats felt the monster taking over again, the horrible brightening, his dry throat demanding relief.

    The monster walked into an alley, leading the drunk away from the crowded sidewalk. The monster shredded the veins in the drunk's neck and drank the blood as fast as he could suck it out.

    Keats screamed between swallows.

    Because he knew what he was.
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