Pandora Syndrome (Part 1)

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Witten by: April Wahlin

Edited by: Mike Dolnick and Travis Noble

Chapter 1~Beginning of the End~

So there I was, encased in about ten feet of solid cement, and walled into the basement of a local Ahab’s. My skin ached. Not because of the cement, but because it was morning. Okay, so I didn’t make the best life choices, but I was still pretty new to this vampire stuff.

After the initial shock of being buried in cement finally wore off, I found myself in an uncomfortably reflective state. What else could I do? Every time I attempted to move my muscles clenched and burned with the effort. It was just easier to try and stay still.

My friends always told me I had the worst taste in men. I thought they were just making fun of my eating habits– okay, lame joke. Seriously though, even when I was human I was a horrible judge of character. At this point I was only hoping to hear the huge ‘I told you so’ from my Maker.

By the way, my name is Pandora Grey Blackheart. I know, with a name like that I’m not surprised I got turned into a vampire either. Being born in the sixties, my parents were literally hippies. My mother, Mary, was rebelling against her own name when she dubbed me Pandora. Mary is the most common female name in history; I looked it up.

If you think I got it bad, my brother’s name is Prometheus Jackson Blackheart. No one was shocked when he started going by Jack. My friends call me Adora or D; I’ll even respond to Dora on occasion, but no one calls me Pandora unless they want to piss me off. The only people that get away with it are my mother, because she gave birth to me, and my Maker (the one that turned me bloodsucker) because he refuses to call me anything else.

As the vampire books say (and yes I’ve read them all; there isn’t exactly a “Vampirism for Dummies”), I was “created” in the ‘80s, the height of the slacker era. It was an easy time: Reagan was President, there were no wars to protest, no drafts, and there was a rapid influx in fashion and technology. My generation was the last to be raised by our parents, instead of colorful cartoon characters. Bowie and Billy Idol ruled the radio and ‘MTV’ was steadily growing in popularity. America had survived the hippy revolution and was just starting to wade its way past the horrific invasion of spandex, which held a death grip on the fashion industry. Though it has finally passed, it lives on to this day all across Middle America… like Elvis.

It was strange to watch technology change so drastically. I remember when only rich people had access to cell phones and the Internet. Now if you don’t have Internet on your cell phone, you are left in a technological wasteland. Toddlers have cell phones these days. What is the world coming to?

I’m curvy for a twenty-first century girl. I would have fit in better with Betty Page’s generation than the stick-thin super models of this day. I’m an average girl of medium height with black hair and eyes so dark brown they’re nearly black. Booooring. I get hit on enough though; then again, I’ve seen guys hit on couches after a few drinks.

All in all, I’m not the best vampire. Clearly. Not that I’d given much thought to joining the rank of Bloodthirsty Night Stalkers. I still like the taste of food, though it does nothing for me. I hunt to eat and not for sport like many vamps. Above all, I abhor politics. You think human politicians are bad? They haven’t had millennia to practice. Not to mention, I am a huge pop culture geek. This is weird for three reasons:

One: I am a girl.

Two: I am not ten.

Three: The geek factor pretty much ruins the whole Bloodthirsty Night Stalker image.

If my Maker hadn’t been in the right place at the wrong time, I’m sure I would have been his last choice for a Tyro (apprentice, pupil, new vamp). I’m just not vampire material. Heck, I’m not even vampire bait. I’m not Mina Harker; I’m not innocent or sweet, and I am not particularly virtuous. I’m a modern woman who lost her virtuousness at sixteen along with her drinking, cursing, and smoking virtuousness. I am, however, honest (if not brash), loyal to a fault, and brave in a somewhat Lucille Ball kind of way.

I don’t have a job– well, not a real job anyway. I’m confined to working nights, for obvious reasons, but feel more contented now. Mostly because I don’t have to worry about what I’ll do with my life, since I have eternity to do something with myself. I work to get by, hang out with my friends, and play video games, which I’m much better at now that I have extra special abilities.

Man, the cement was really getting on my nerves. You don’t realize how good it feels to move your neck around until you no longer have the luxury. I hoped I wouldn’t need the little vampire’s room any time soon. Then again, since I could practically feel the cement leeching moisture from my body, I wasn’t in any danger of that. Of course, needing the bathroom was the least of my problems.

How had I got myself into this mess? I never killed anyone; well, not permanently. I never hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it. I didn’t manipulate people. I only took blood from willing donors– and dumb guys who thought they were getting a hickey instead of donating blood.

My captor was smart. I tried to use my connection with my brother to call for help but my handy vamp powers weren’t so handy on a supernatural high ground. The land itself disrupted any magical current that came near it. Go figure the coffee chain Ahab’s would be the supernatural ‘it’ place. Just further demonstrates how much I knew about this world. In fact, not long after I discovered that little fact, I was told that their rival Coffee & Tea was run by Hunters (agents of a supernatural enforcement called The Order.) Next they’d tell me Bigfoot runs Tacoma’s Best.

I imagined the ways I’d kill those who had done this to me… If I got out of there.

 

Chapter 2 ~My Human Life~

I have to admit, my human life was not so different from my vampire life. I would love to say that I had a fabulous life before I turned vamp and that it just got better once I joined the supernatural ranks, but I can’t.

Whoever said vampires are rich and have hordes of ghoulish servants never met Adora Blackheart. I’m not well-to-do, I’m not influential; I wasn’t even an overachiever in high school. I wasn’t voted most likely to succeed and the only thing I ever won was a beautiful baby contest. That was before I could even form memories.

In my human life I lived in San Diego, which is beautiful, but when you grow up there, it’s just commonplace. The beaches never excited me, I don’t like to surf. I barely held down a job as a cashier at a supply store, which provided me with nothing but an irrational hatred for incentive plans and extended warranties.

Yes, I was living in the fast lane with my super exciting sales job. On top of that, I was a full time JC student with no direction. I still lived with my mother and had a stoner boyfriend who was little more than a masturbatory aid. The only break from this monotony was the occasional junior college keg party or movie night with my friend, Rosetta.

I hardly remember the breakdown I had just before I turned twenty-one, but I’m glad it happened, even though it inadvertently led to my early death.

When I was human I had a bit of a temper; okay, maybe more than a bit. So when one of my coworkers “accidentally” grabbed my butt while looking for staples, I felt justified in stapling his forehead. I might as well have stapled my resignation to his head. My manager wanted to talk, but I’d rather staple my tongue to the counter than sit through the “is something wrong?” speech. Yes, there is something wrong; my life is going nowhere and I’m supposed to be in my prime! I don’t know what I wanted, but nine to five, then school, and perhaps a beer after work was not it.

My brother Jack on the other hand had just graduated from a university. He had always been good at school and I hated him for it. He could sleep through Calculus and get an A, whereas I studied my ass off and couldn’t get better than a C… in Beginning Algebra.

Unfortunately, Jack couldn’t get a scholarship since he was both white and male, thus putting him out of the running. Apparently scholarship programs assume that those in this category either have money or are trailer trash and not planning to matriculate.

So, since Mom wasn’t rich, Jack worked the graveyard shift at Lenny’s to put himself through school. Somehow, he made it all happen and became a production assistant on movies in Los Angeles. He’s a lackey now, but if I know Jack, in a few years he’ll be running the place. Needless to say, when Jack asked his mentally deficient sister to come help with rent on a duplex, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, before I could pack my Star Wars figurines and pose a Jerry-Maguire-like “I quit” scene at the store, there came a death in the family.

Smoking a pack a day and demolishing a gallon of Vodka every couple weeks, my Grandmother Millie—who lived with my mother and I—died of heart failure. Yes, after years of smoking and drinking, it was her heart that failed; not the lungs, not the liver.

Take that, Surgeon General.

My grandmother had been an ornery old woman, but I loved her and couldn’t believe that I was too busy having a breakdown to realize that Granny had been rushed to the hospital.

She was dead by the time I got there.

Somehow her death put the misery in my life into focus, further ingraining my need to get out of Dodge. It could be worse. I could be homeless, or have some disfiguring illness, but I felt like my life was spiraling into a void. My only hope was to escape San Diego. When the funeral was over I would move to Los Angeles, even though I had no clue what I would do there.

I should probably mention that my grandmother never liked me. I think it had something to do with me being born with dark eyes and hair, unlike my Germanic blue-eyed, blond-haired family. “Devil Girl, get out of the refrigerator!” she’d yell when I came home from school wanting a snack. It was her cute pet name for me. The way she shouted it across the house, she sounded more like some creole lady from the bayou, instead of a scrawny white woman from Minnesota. I’d call her an old witch, we’d argue, and then it would be over. The name never really hurt my feelings; she’d been calling me that since infancy, but Grandma’s nickname for Jack was Angel Boy.

You could tell who her favorite was.

My brother and I helped Mom pack Grandma’s things, separating keepsakes from Salvation Army donations. When we went through her photos I received a big surprise. Sure, she had pictures of Jack and me, photos of the whole family, but I was convinced she only had me in pictures because it would be rude to cut me out. However, as I looked through her album, I found pictures of just me, old high school photos and baby pictures. I sat stunned as I looked at them. I guess she liked me after all.

That was when I cried. I had been kind of numb to her death. At that moment, I wished all the more that I could have said goodbye. However, I would never have a chance; it was too late.

 

Chapter 3 ~Funeral~

A few weeks later, we held the funeral at the local crematorium. Despite my groaning, it was open casket. Why go through the trouble of all that makeup and embalming fluid if they were just going to burn her afterwards? It didn’t make any sense to me, but my mother insisted that it was Grandma Millie’s last wish. Guess the old witch wanted to traumatize us all before going up like a traditional broom rider, in a blaze of glory.

I had a strange feeling as I walked into the funeral home. I have never liked funerals. It all started with my grandpa’s. I had only been six, and forgot much of it, but I remembered the feeling. It was the same feeling I had now, the feeling I got when passing graveyards and museums, like I could sense the death on them. I couldn’t explain it. I wasn’t scared, didn’t want to run away. If anything, it felt more like it was calling out to me.

The air in the parlor reeked of formaldehyde and lilac, like when you tried to aerosol over the smell of burnt food. It smelled better, but you could still tell there was something bad around.

“You okay, sweetie?” Mom asked, concerned as I stood in the doorway staring at my grandmother’s coffin.

“Yeah, I’ll be alright.”

I wanted to walk toward the box. It was weird. I always thought open casket funerals were such a horrible idea, but somehow, I was longing to see my grandmother one last time. If not for Jack, who escorted my mother and me to our seats, I might never have moved.

People were gathering around a blown up picture of my grandmother from the early BC’s. She looked a bit like my mom then. I didn’t see the point of putting up a picture that looked nothing like Grandma, but I guess I wouldn’t want the last picture everyone saw of me to be old and wrinkly either.

The crowd was small, just my aunts, cousins, and a few family friends. My grandma hadn’t had too many buddies near the end, probably because she spent most of her time complaining and watching Wheel of Fortune.

My best friend, Rosetta, came by to pay her respects, but had to leave before the actual viewing. She’d always been a bit squeamish when it came to dead things. We’d met in elementary school and had been instant friends but, unlike me, she hated horror movies. Rosetta could hardly watch The Fog, and that’s just a bunch of movie smoke. Just the idea of death freaked her out. When she left, I was envious. I had to stay and talk to people I hadn’t seen since last Christmas.

We greeted the relations and accepted condolences on the loss of my 90-year-old grandma. I have to say, they looked more grim when they saw her alive than they did now. No one had expected her to live as long as she did. I was pretty sure she had stayed alive out of pure stubbornness.

When everyone was finally seated, Mom nodded to the preacher. Silence filled the room as he began Grandma’s eulogy.

I couldn’t wait for this to be over.

The priest had a nice generic speech prepared. I’d never met the man before. My family wasn’t religious. We were Lutheran, but not even Sunday Lutheran. I could pretty much count how many times I had stepped inside a church on one hand. Mostly weddings. I suppose we had a priest to lead the ceremony because it felt like the right thing to do, though the man made my grandmother sound like an angel struck down in her prime. She had been a private woman. Grandma didn’t like to talk about her past or family matters. And certainly not religion. So with that in mind, he was doing an excellent job.

Once the speech was over, it was time for the personal accounts. They were nice and rehearsed; nothing about grandma’s vices or her temper. It made me feel like I didn’t know her at all; I didn’t like it. I wished people would be honest and tell stories about her telling off the mailman for losing her magazines or kicking a pit bull square in the jaw when it tried to bite her. The woman was fearless. By these pleasant accounts she sounded like an old woman who knitted in a rocking chair and handed out hard candies to children. I never got a single piece of candy from her, not even on Easter.

Looking over at her preserved face, it seemed like she was scowling. I couldn’t blame her. I would be upset too if a bunch of people were misrepresenting me on my deathbed.

I was relieved when the eulogy was over, but now we had to line up and speak our last to the tarted up corpse of my grandmother. I felt nervous for some reason. I think it was because I didn’t know what to say. Not like she would hear me anyway, but I still wanted it to be something good. Something true. Something I meant.

After most of the family had gone through, it was my turn. I stood at the side of the coffin looking down at her. It was my grandmother, but she didn’t quite look like herself. It was the makeup. She never wore that much makeup, and the lipstick was far too dark. The skin color was off as well; it looked like they had fake-baked my grandmother. I was glad that she couldn’t see herself like this, and yet I wished she would wake up. Just for a moment.

I’d seen the people before me touch her crossed hands as they said their respects. I figured this was part of the tradition, so against my better judgment, I placed my hand on hers. It felt so wrong; there was no life in her. It felt like touching a fleshy skeleton, but I forced myself to leave my hand there. I looked back to her pancake makeup face and tried to imagine that she was just taking a nap.

Suddenly I knew what to say. “I am not a devil girl,” I whispered to her with a smile.

That felt right. It wasn’t particularly respectful, but it felt nice to tell her off for once.

Then, just as I started to pull my hand away, she twitched. Slowly her face began to move and I froze. There was no way I could be seeing this. I rubbed my eyes and looked down again. She looked up at me and her lips ripped free of the glue that had been keeping them together.

“Yes you are,” she told me, but it wasn’t malicious. “I love you anyway.”

There was a kind look in her eyes. The look I only ever got on my birthday or when I brought home an A on a test (which wasn’t often). I had no idea what she was talking about, but for some reason her voice was soothing.

“I miss you,” I told her.

Why wasn’t I running away or screaming? For some reason I was just happy to be talking to her, grateful that I could say goodbye.

“I miss you too, Devil Girl,” she replied with a smile, which did strange, awful things to the glue on her lips. “It’s alright to let me go. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

I nodded, feeling terrified and relieved at the same time.

“Adora? What have you done?”

I turned to see Jack looking over my shoulder, his eyes round with horror.

I didn’t know what to say. I looked back down at my grandmother who smiled and closed her eyes. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Her body was spinning away from me. Soon the room, Jack, and the ceiling joined her, like paint swirling together down the drain.

I just barely felt my head hit the thin carpeting of the crematorium.

***

I woke up on a pew to discover Jack and mom staring down at me. I looked around in shock. I hadn’t had a blackout in a long time. Just then, I remembered what had happened. Jack stared down at me bewildered. I could see it in his face. He had seen what I had seen.

“Thank goodness you’re alright,” my mother sighed.

I looked toward the casket. It was closed.

“Grandma called me Devil Girl, but she said she loved me anyway,” I muttered in a daze.

Mom and Jack exchanged worried glances. It was obvious they didn’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me either.

Then I noticed another person there, a man with dark eyes. I stared, confused until I finally recognized him. It was my mother’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Rick. When did he get here?

“Jack,” I pleaded. “You saw Grandma didn’t you? I know you did.”

“You passed out,” he replied, but I knew he had seen. What a liar.

I didn’t try to argue; I just got up and headed back to the coffin.

“No, honey, don’t!” mom called as I pulled up the casket lid.

I looked down to see my grandmother, dead as before. I had imagined it. I couldn’t believe that I could create something so real. Luckily, most of the family was already heading to the house for appetizers. This was a little embarrassing. Was this a side effect of my blackout? I shook my head and started to turn when I noticed the flecks of glue around her parted lips.

Suddenly Rick was behind me. “Are you all right, Pandora?”

“It’s Adora,” I corrected mindlessly. I did it so often the words were automatic now.

I turned and just stared up at him. The man never smiled, but the edges of his mouth were turned up, as though he were trying to be comforting. It didn’t work.

I turned and looked back at the room. Mom was worried and Jack looked like he would be sick. I had no idea what I looked like; I can’t imagine it was good, though.

Just then, I felt Rick’s hand on my shoulder. I jumped. The man was never closer than a couple feet to me, let alone within arm’s reach. Somehow, despite my own reasoning, I was soothed. He didn’t seem afraid of me like Jack, who didn’t talk to me the whole way home.

Mom asked me if I was all right at least a hundred times before we reached our street. Once there, she helped me inside. Jack came in silently behind us. Our dog Sarge greeted me happily with a round of slobbery kisses. Sarge was a big husky with one blue eye and one white. He always knew when I was upset. Today was no different.

Sarge was a stray I had found in the street when I was six. I had been walking home from school with Jack when we saw him lying on the sidewalk. It took all sorts of begging for me to keep him. Mom said he smelled putrid, but eventually she came around. However, grandma didn’t, so she decided to name him after me, only ever calling him Devil Dog.

After much convincing, my mother got me to lie down.

I had weird dreams that night. Dark dreams about graveyards, Grandma and Grandpa, Sarge, and a strange shadowy man. The man was more imposing than the graveyard itself. For some strange reason, I didn’t feel afraid of him, just curious.

The next day Mom tried to talk to me about what happened. I just brushed her off. I wasn’t even sure that what happened had actually happened. How could it? Dead people didn’t wake up just to say good-bye to their granddaughters. It sounded like some crazy dream. Maybe I had eaten something bad or taken too much aspirin. Jack was acting like it hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t I?

I planned to be in L.A. with Jack the next morning. But Mom insisted I stay for another week. She wanted to keep an eye on me. I wanted to get out of town as soon as possible, but staying home for a while sounded nice, too; especially since it would give me more time to say good-bye to Mom. I had never lived anywhere else. It was hard to leave. However, now that my grandma was gone, the place seemed foreign somehow.

I felt bad for leaving Mom alone. First Jack, then Grandma, and now me; I felt like I should keep her company. At the same time, I knew I would go mad if I didn’t get out of there, and soon. Or even worse, I might chicken out and stay. L.A. was an exciting, yet scary concept. I couldn’t wait to celebrate my 21st birthday there but I knew I would miss Mom and Sarge. I would only be a two-hour drive away yet it still felt like I was moving across the country.

The day Jack came to pick me up ended in an argument. Mom told me that I shouldn’t be going off to L.A. in my condition. Then Jack, much to my relief, argued in my defense. I guess he had gotten over the funeral incident and was back to his normal happy-go-lucky self.

After about an hour of rehashing the pros and cons of moving, Mom conceded. She reasoned that she still had Sarge, but I could tell it was hard for her to see me go. Mom had nearly thrown herself in front of Jack’s car when he had moved.

Once I pried Mom and Sarge off of me, I got into Jack’s car and waved good-bye to San Diego. We hit traffic all the way up to L.A. Two hour drive my ass. I should have taken that as an omen of bad things to come.


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