The orderly opened his eyes; I waited patiently for the reality of his dire situation to set in.
His eyes darted around in panic, finding himself in a hospital bed rather than tending one. I watched his shoulder lurch as he attempted to use his hand, but I had already told him he couldn’t use his arms or legs; he’d simply forgotten — also my doing. Did you know screaming sounds a lot like someone gasping for breath when they can only whisper? That was when I stood up from my comfortable chair. He recognized the illusion I had planted into his mind.
“Ms. Johnson?” he whispered. I could have heard him were I on the opposite side of the assisted-care facility, but I was playing a part: the kind, gentle, and elderly Vivian Johnson who had come to stay a week before.
I leaned in close, feigning confusion. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“Help me!” he said, sounding a bit horrified.
“No, no. You said something else before that…”
“Please!” he gasped again, but his inability to achieve any actual volume only terrified him more.
Good; I had his attention.
I took his chin into my hand and forcefully turned his head toward me. “It feels different when you’re on this end, doesn’t it? Helpless and entirely dependent upon someone else. You can’t walk around, you can’t lift anything, and that bed is your entire world.”
“How…how did I get here? How did I get like this?”
“Tsk, tsk. You’re asking the wrong question.”
The terror in his eyes turned to confusion. I glanced down at his uniform, reminding myself to use the name on his badge.
“Tucker, do you think you’ve treated your patients with the dignity and respect they deserve?”
A slow realization set in as his features softened and reflected genuine guilt…or at the very least the acknowledgment he’d earned his predicament. He wasn’t a complete idiot.
“I’ve been watching you, Tucker. You’re cruel and thoughtless. You’re too rough with your patients, you don’t listen to them, and they hear you when you dismiss them under your breath. The only thing that gives you any pleasure is seeing the fear in the eyes of your charges when they realize it’s you being sent to assist them. Do you enjoy that kind of power, having trained everyone to be afraid of you?”
Confusion played across his face. With luck, maybe he realized there was no excuse for his actions.
“Well, I don’t have the kind of time you’ve had to earn that fear, so I’ll skip ahead if that’s all right.”
I let Tucker watch my transformation. In his mind, Vivian opened her mouth to show him her piercing fangs, looked upon him with blackened eyes, and snatched up his arm with taloned fingers. As his heart raced and his skin oozed sweat, I ran my mouth close over his arm, even letting one fang rake his flesh ever so slightly. The entire bed vibrated with his trembling.
I wouldn’t have bit him, of course. I imagined his blood tasted like hate and raw sewage.
“Am I dead?” Tucker asked. “Is this Hell? Did I die?”
I couldn’t resist a toothy grin. “Is that what you want, what you think you deserve? I can grant your wish…”
“No!” He didn’t blink; he didn’t even breathe.
I casually released his arm and placed it next to him. “No? Then what do you deserve for your sins?”
Oh — he wasn’t going to cry, was he?
I pulled in the fangs and talons and allowed my eyes to become normal. “How about we consider this a preview, hmm? A taste of things to come, when you’ve reached your golden years and things begin to break down — ”
“I’ll do better,” he pleaded. “Just fix this!”
“That won’t do, Tucker,” I explained. “You’re going to quit. You’re going to find another profession where you can’t intimidate people who have to depend upon you. I want you to think hard about the way you’ve treated others and how you’d like to be treated.” I leaned in close, lowering my volume to a whisper. “Because I will be watching you for the rest of your life. If you return to your old ways, I’ll know, and while I may not come to you immediately, rest assured I will…and you’ll wish you were only bedridden after what I’ll do to you.”
Tucker nodded, still looking afraid.
I looked him dead in the eyes. “You can move your arms and legs again, Tucker, and your voice is no longer restricted to a whisper. After you leave this room, you will be able to see me as I am and see the real Vivian Johnson again.” While the thrall was in place, he wouldn’t remember I had given him any commands. I released him and said, “You can go now.”
He tested his arms; his hands worked. He cleared his throat and spoke in a normal tone. “Thank you…”
Still appearing as Vivian, my eyes blackened and my voice deepened. “Don’t thank me — get the hell out of my bed!”
Tucker scrambled like a caught cockroach to get out of the room.
Vivian couldn’t help but laugh. “Thank you,” she said after he was gone, “for putting the fear of you in him.”
“People like him should never be hired to work in places like this, but limited resources and finding good folks to help take care of others isn’t easy.”
“Or a good vampire?” she added.
“What I did just now wasn’t exactly good…”
Vivian touched my arm. “I know Cedarcrest Sanctum doesn’t have the resources to monitor every assisted-living facility in West Virginia, but this thing we did, dropping me off and looking around a bit? We should keep doing that.”
I smiled. “It’s still risky. Something could happen to you.”
“Not ghouled on your blood, it won’t. So…where to next?”