The floor was hard and uncomfortable, but the discomfort of the rough surface on his bare flesh seemed a better anchor to reality than the worn springs and ancient quilt of the bed. Jacob had been laying on the splintery surface for well over three hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette as tension worked its way from his shoulders down his entire body while his mind whirled with static and disorientation. Empty pill bottles were strewn all over the floor, their contents proving less and less effective as time went on.
He’d put on a record that seemed to be little more than noise with some random male screaming loudly into a microphone in accompaniment to various thrashings on guitars and drums, but even this trick had lost its edge. The noise in his head continued to shriek over the sound of the music, which was pretty impressive given just how loud he had the stereo turned up.
He reached up blindly for the last of the cookies he’d been given by his neighbor earlier in the week, not bothering to move from his position on the floor. With a single bite he knew they were well past their prime as stale crumbs broke off and fell apart onto the floor around him, mixing with stray ash. He finished it regardless before reaching for yet another cigarette, only to find his last pack empty. He didn’t even need to check the bottle of vodka under his dresser; he already knew that had nothing in it.
It was going to be a bad day.
With a final frustrated outburst, he grabbed the nearest book and threw it full force against the record player that had once belonged to his great uncle. The music stopped with a strangled screech, which, sadly, had little to no effect on the chaos in his mind, though he did get a fleeting hint of satisfaction from the sudden physical silence.
He dragged himself up off the floor and yanked on the nearest pair of boxers. The midday sun was blessedly filtered through a layer of clouds, but it was still enough to make his eyes water. Despite the discomfort, a growing pull within his cells moved him toward his bedroom door. It was early enough in the afternoon that it would be fairly easy to avoid any direct sunlight spilling through the cloud cover and into the windows downstairs; if it had been later in the evening he’d have just waited out his hunger until sunset, but there was nothing more to worry about than a slight headache from the light at this point.
He headed down the rickety stairs, stepping around Mr. Twinkles as she twined herself around his ankles. He’d been paying so much attention to avoiding his cat that he didn’t even notice his great aunt leaning against the kitchen counter until he almost walked straight into her.
“I’m surprised to see you up and about; having trouble sleeping again?”
“’Course you are. There’s a bit of leftover spaghetti in the fridge if you want it; I’ve already had lunch.”
He didn’t bother responding, but instead opened the refrigerator door and began digging around its random contents for the bottle of blood he knew had been in there the night before.
“Your boss stopped in earlier, by the way,” Lois continued. “He’s got some really fantastic news for you when you go to work tonight.”
“Did you clean anything out of here?”
“Just some milk that had gone off. Aren’t you in the least bit curious about what he had to say?”
Jacob shut the door hard enough to disturb several glasses and plates in the cabinets before turning to face Lois. It was bad enough having to deal with his own issues, let alone his great aunt’s dementia.
“There’s no need to break the door off its hinges,” she scolded.
“Was the ‘milk’ in a glass bottle?”
“Of course, and it was completely disgusting. You really need to do better at keeping up with your chores around here,” she replied sharply. After looking mildly confused for a split second, she took a deep breath and seemed to refocus herself. “Now, I don’t want to turn this into a fight, but I’ve been more than accommodating to your moodiness the last few months, and it needs to stop.”
In his years of dealing with his great aunt, he knew the quickest way out of the situation required little more than simple cooperation. After he was able to convince her he’d be up at dawn mowing the lawn or doing the dishes or whatever else she expected of him, he could go back to the quiet darkness of his room and wait out the remaining daylight before restocking. Something had changed; if only he could focus on anything other than his hunger…
The virus in his body seemed to vibrate for a moment at the thought of blood.
“Good. I know you don’t mean to be ornery, but you’ve gotta help out if you’re going to be staying here.”
“Jacob, is there something troubling you?”
He stared at her blankly, completely surprised by her question. This was the point where she’d normally say she was glad he understood before sending him on his way, most likely with some random object she’d decided was going to be his lunch that day. Surprises were generally good; they often meant something interesting was happening. In a way, it was keeping his great aunt safe from his growing hunger. He only wished his head didn’t feel as though it were inflating so he could focus better.
“What do you mean?”
“I know things haven’t exactly been easy around here… well… ever, really, I suppose,” she started. “I’ve been thinking in the last hour or so about just how difficult this situation has been for both of us. If there’s something going on in your life that you need to talk about, I want you to know I’m here.”
“Is it a girl?” his great aunt asked.
“I don’t understand.”
“Are you having girl troubles? Or… boy troubles?” his aunt fumbled. “Oh cripes. I really wish your uncle Jon was still around; he was always better at these sort of things.”
The pressure in Jacob’s head was growing by the second. He suddenly wanted nothing more than to be upstairs buried under the quilt he’d shunned earlier, curious or not. It wasn’t as if he could concentrate on the implications of his Aunt’s change in behavior very well anyway.
“Nothing like that,” he answered, his voice a step above a whisper. Lois looked him over once, then shook her head.
“Well, I won’t prod. You should probably head upstairs and try to get some more sleep before your shift tonight. You’ll have to let me know what you think of your boss’s proposal when you get home; I’m sure I’ll be awake.”
Jacob had hardly been listening to what the old woman was saying, instead focusing on how the buzzing in his head seemed to be miraculously fading along with the oppressive brightness of the room.
He felt the muscles in his face pull into an easy and reassuring smile.
“I’ll do just that.”
“Good. I worry about you.”
“It’s really unnecessary. I shall retire to my room now, if it pleases you.”
“Don’t forget to set your alarm!”
He nodded once before leaving the kitchen, stopping only briefly to retrieve a pair of sunglasses from a drawer in the front hallway before moving silently up the stairs and back to his room. He slipped into the cleanest set of clothes he could find, curling his lip in disgust. He couldn’t stay in these peasant clothes; he’d have to find something much higher class. A top hat was also a necessity. Then there was the matter of his accommodations. His soul’s match was so very close, he could feel it, but none of this would do at all. She was a queen, and deserved so much more than this run-down, lower-class establishment had to offer. He hadn’t made contact with a solicitor out here for nothing; he had vast amounts of real estate waiting for him to claim.
First order of business, however, was the matter of his wardrobe.
He drew open the curtains and blinds on one of the windows and slipped away into the misty daylight.