Chapter 4: What Bela Does At Home

It was around 4am when I managed to get home last night, so it came as no surprise when I opened bleary sleep-filled eyes to discover the green digits on my clock-radio read 2:37pm. Damn, it was lucky I didn't have a day-job- I don't know how Buffy does it, spending all night patrolling then all day in school.

Well, except for the parts where she's running around solving supernatural mysteries, but hey, girl's gotta have a hobby.

I sat up on the couch, letting the turquoise and azure crocheted rug Nana Isabela had made me three years ago slide off me and onto the floor, before stumbling towards the window, where I wrenched clumsily at the black-out curtains.

Light seared my eyeballs.

Damn, fuckity fuck! Stupid daystar!

For fuck's sake, anyone would think I was becoming a vamp myself, what with the aversion to light, preference for black, nocturnal waking patterns, tendency to kill those I seduced...

Oh. Shit.

I ran to the bedroom, nearly tripping over my boots that lay in the middle of the hallway, and standing in front of the full-length mirror, proceeded to strip off all of my clothes.

Slowly, I checked every inch of my skin for bite-marks, feeling my heart skip a beat every time I noticed a discolouration, only to feel a rush of relief every time it turned out to be a mosquito bite, a pimple or a bruise.

Huh, I don't remember where I got that one on my arm... fucking Coutts must have clipped me when he jumped on top of my albino lad. Ouch. Meh, I'll get him back later. Might "let slip" the fact that he originally tried to break into this business with a name like Damian motherfucking Centurion of all things...

Hell, I'm a vampire slayer, not a saint.

Focus Bela, focus! You're trying to check whether or not you've been infected or not, what did Nana tell you about the three things to check, TMT, Traits, Marks... but most importantly, Taste!

Slapping myself in the head, I run to the kitchen and open the fridge, yanking out the bottle marked "Tomato juice experiment". My hands are shaking as I fumble with the lid, taking a deep whiff of its contents- human blood. Hey don't look at me like that. The blood's mine. I didn't rob a bloodbank or something. Sheesh.

The immediate feeling of nausea brings me a simultaneous rush of relief. Nope, it was just me being paranoid again- I haven't been turned.

Thank the fucking Lord.

Jesus. One of these days I'm going to give myself a heart-attack.

As I slowly start to settle down, as usual after one of these episodes, I feel incredibly stupid. I didn't even go out trolling for vamps last night, and so I had an even lower chance of having been bitten without noticing. And being bitten wouldn't exactly be the sort of thing anyone, especially a slayer like me would miss...

Man, I seriously don't know how the slayers on TV do it sometimes. I mean, anyone you know, anyone, and I'm talking family members, friends, that little old lady who only ever seems to come out of the house to water her gardenias and go shopping with her ancient, rickety trolley with the brown and orange stripes, that bored teenager who hangs out at the bus stop, Ipod shoved in his ears and ratty paperback in his fingerless-glove covered hands...

Man that kid's going to be a heart-breaker when he gets a little older- he's got that whole silent mysterious artistic type thing going, and assuming that guitar case he sometimes has is more than an affectation, damn he's gonna have some pulling power.

Not my type though- apart from the fact the kid's only about fourteen or so (hahah I don't think so!) I have a thing for graceful people. Gawkiness just makes me think of sharp corners, having my feet stepped on while we're dancing, leaning on someone to keep from tripping down the stairs outside Spark despite the fact that he isn't much steadier...

Tao.

I swear, that guy looked like he was all elbows and knees, even though he was 18, so you'd have thought he'd finished filling out by then. Wasn't all that tall, either, but he had the most gorgeous brown eyes, and the kinda smile that included you, made you feel like you were part of what was making him happy, just because you were there, you know?

Ah, forget it. I sound like some sort of pathetic sap, I know it. It's been, god, more than half a decade since I saw him die, and remembering his smile still makes me want to cry, just because it isn't there any more, just because it's highly unlikely that any place that Tao managed to get into in the afterlife is going to be open to a bitter whore of a killer like myself- sure, everyone I kill is a vampire, but they still show human characteristics.

That's why they're so easy to draw into my clutches.

An Aware but non-slayer friend of mine, Georgie once said that I reminded her of the femme fatale.

"The femme fatale?" I asked her, "what, you mean I remind you of the 1950s-style archetype of a 'deadly woman'?"

Georgie giggled in that nervous fashion of hers, eyes huge behind her wispy fringe. "No, no, I'm not talking about people, Silly, I'm talking about the femme fatale beetle, though you picked right so far as where the name came from."

I should have guessed it'd be something with at least six legs. Georgie had first become Aware through an unfortunate incident with tiny demonic aphids, that she had been studying as part of her research for her Ph.D. in entomology. That's "bug science" to us laymen, though Georgie would probably be pissed off at me for generalising- I mean, I once had to sit through about half an hour of her lecturing me about how "bugs" were actually an order within the class Insecta, blah blah blah, insert academese here.

Don't get me wrong, Georgie is one of my better friends... so long as I can keep the conversation away from what she does for a living. I'm glad she enjoys her work, I just... really don't want to sit through another lecture.

Oh right, I was telling you about the femme fatale beetle-y thing.

So anyway, apparently there's this type of firefly that looks quite similar to all other fireflies, and it's in the same family- Lamp-something*, if I remember rightly... but they're from a completely different genus to the more common types of firefly... but that's all the boring scientific shit.

The point is, these femme fatale beetles look just like the mating females of the other type of firefly... they draw in the males of the victim species with their sexy flashing lights, then wham! they kill them and eat them.

I told Georgie at the time I thought these beetle-y bugs sounded sorta like vampires to me, and she just nodded, and giggled that giggle of hers.

Thanks a lot Georgie, you really know how to reassure a person.

The phone jangles loudly, a half-metre from where I'm still standing, naked, in front of the fridge, and I swear, I nearly hit the ceiling. Goddamnit, why am I so fucking tense today?

I pick up the phone and answer it. It's Gareth, calling to tell me that Tristan took Coutts on, only now Coutts is called "Cain Hawke". Well, it could have been worse, though he sounds like he's from the US Deep South, chewing a piece of straw while he carries his rifle around on a duck hunt or something. I have to admit though, if my parents had been bastards enough to land me with a name like "Cody Cornelius Coutts", I'd jump at a chance to change it too.

Some people should have to get a license before they're allowed to name their kids, but whatever-the-hell. If the worst thing you ever do to your kids is give them a stupid name, you're doing pretty goddamn well in my books.

I thank Gareth for telling me, and listen for a while as he fills me in on the latest goss- I mean information, of course- from Tristan's little squad. Before I go any further, I'd like to categorically state that whilst I've slept with Tristan, and I respect him for being able to keep a fairly efficient slaying team going, I think he is a complete and utter fuckwad son of a pig.

I slept with him before I figured out the fuckwad thing, because I try not to sleep with utter dickheads when I'm picking up humans. If it's my night off, and I'm getting less technical brilliance than usual from the person in my bed, then I want some common human decency to make up for it- I tell you what, knowing that the person you're fucking isn't wondering about how delicious the bouquet of your blood might be, and whether you're O, A, B or AB can be a major turn-on.

I'm not saying for one second that Tristan isn't hot. Fuck no. He's fucking gorgeous, what with his steel-blue eyes, chiselled jaw and a build that most athletes would turn green over. He's also dedicated to the cause of destroying vamps, forever finding newer and more brutal ways of eradicating them. He used to have a wife and baby daughter, until they ran into a pair of vamps on the prowl. Tristan had fallen behind, having paused to tie his shoelace, and then had heard the screams from just around the bend.

He'd rounded the corner just in time to watch his wife get silenced via having her throat ripped out, before the vampires had spotted him and bolted.

Which brings up the question as to why, precisely the vamps found him so scary, until you've seen Tristan in a murderous rage.

This is if the stories are true, though. He never told me any of this, but word tends to get around amongst the Aware, so far as what caused peoples' Entries and how likely they are to completely freak out and do something really stupid like trying to broadcast this shit to every Blinkered in the area.

The only thing that's preventing civil war between us and the vamps is the fact that most of the population is unaware of their existence. The vamps like to keep it this way because it makes Blinkered better targets, and slayers like to keep it this way because having more people in the know complicates things like you wouldn't believe. I'm not going to even start on the mess that would be caused if governmental organisations were to get involved, and that's before you consider the sheer number of people who think drinking blood from their fellow humans would be a fair trade for immortality. Vampirism would spread faster than Communism, and trust me, this is one Red Terror that would be real, bloody, and the stuff of nightmares.

Fuck, what a tangent. Listen to me, getting all vampiric Armageddon conspiracy theory on you. I'm starting to sound like Gareth.

Since I was in front of the fridge already, I decided that I'd grab some breakfast and get some work done before I got ready for another night of hunting. My night off was royally fucked, but I reckoned dwelling on it or trying to recreate it afresh would be a lame move. Last night, a vamp somewhere had killed, while I was dancing and trying to fuck albinos, a vamp that I could have stopped. A vamp that had only got a night of reprieve, because tonight, that bloodsucker was going to get more than they bargained for.

I pulled out a mandarin and the remains of the spaghetti I cooked on Tuesday. Seeing as today is Thursday there's almost definitely nothing wrong with it yet, so I stick it in the microwave before I switch on my computer, peeling the mandarin as the Welcome windows pop up.

My food is ready before my computer is, but only just. Having finished the mandarin, I grab the spaghetti out of the microwave and balancing the bowl on my knees I eat with one hand as I open up my website with the other.

I bet you were wondering how it is I can afford to spend every night clubbing, fucking and staking- and I'll tell you now that I'm no Batman. People say that Batman has no powers aren't looking with their eyes open- it's really quite obvious what Batman's powers are.

Supreme Badassery, and a seemingly inexhaustible pile of money.

I can tell you right now that I wish I had those powers. Though the first might get in my way a little when it comes to luring in vamps. I often play the ingenue, complete with fake giggles and girlish hair-twirling. Normally that sort of ploy would make me want to spew, but when you're dealing with vamps, particularly the ones from eras where women had about the same rights (and were considered to have the same brains) as cattle, it's best to play up to their expectations.

It's totally worth it for that split-second expression of thunderstruck rage that they get in the moment between being staked and turning into just so much vacuum cleaner fodder.

Where was I? Oh yeah, telling you about how I fund myself.

Well, you remember about how I told you that vampires like the shiny things, particularly of the jewellery persuasion?

Well it turns out that vamps like to wear their bling about as much as the next person, assuming the next person is some kind of americanized rap artist.

And when I stake them, the clothes and the jewellery remain, so...

I sell it for 100 percent profit on my website, . , your one-stop site for genuine silver, gold and gemstone jewellery, with the occasional piece of vintage clothing (assuming I can dry-clean out the "dust") also up for grabs. All of this sold at prices that are high enough that so far I've avoided drawing any attention in regards to my suppliers (re: I don't sell at dirt-cheap, fell-off-the-back-of-a-truck prices that might cause the police to get suspicious) but low enough so that the serious collectors walk away feeling smug in the feeling that they've hoodwinked me into selling them a one-of-a-kind sixteenth century garnet pendant for two thirds of its real price.

Truth is, I've done my research, and I know what I'm doing- the fact that I am selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars objects that cost me the price of a ridiculous-looking cocktail, a sexy outfit and some garden stakes means that I simply don't care. Keeping my customers regular is more important to me than pulling out that extra five hundred, and as it is, I tend to make half of it back in what I make them pay for shipping, anyway. Besides, they're doing me a favour- the more stuff I can shift, the lower the chance that one day a vampire spots a ring that was a favourite of one of his cohort... now that is one bullshit situation I never want to deal with. Ever.

Fuck, clusterfuck would not even begin to cover that one... Ooh! I sold seven items yesterday!

Sweeeet.

Now to just package up the goods, wait for the funds to come through and then mail everything to the addresses provided...

Was that a knock at the door?

Huh, weird, I don't get people visiting me all that often- and definitely not without calling me first.

My suspicions are immediately aroused, and so I slip on my dressing gown and grab a
handful of pencils and my favourite meat cleaver- my mother bought me a set of good quality knives for my 22nd birthday, and they are all wicked sharp.

Probably one of the most thoughtful gifts she's ever given me, even though she's convinced that I use them for sashimi and other such exotic dishes.

Well, I use them for that too, but it's always nice to have some back-up blades...

I stalk towards the door, calling out "I'm coming," in the sort of false-cheery voice that would immediately put anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with me on edge.

With good reason. This is the voice I use when I am Imogen the ingenue, all sugary smiles and bright eyes... right before I go in for the kill.

Where vampires are concerned, this is literal. With humans I just tend to rip their egos to shreds, as it wouldn't make sense to spend all this time fighting for humanity and then to go out and stab every assfucked progeny of a bow-legged whore... even if they deserve it.

Serial killers don't count. I've met a few in my day as I've trawled the shadier areas and they're almost worse than the vampires, because they haven't been infected by the demon-virus, but they still get off on torture, rape and murder, though not necessarily in that order.

I do my best to get them off the streets though, because if I don't, it's likely enough that a vampire might "recruit" them, and in that scenario we would all be in deep fucking shit. The very thought of a turned serial killer gives me cold shivers.

The knocking ceases, and I can see the shadow of whoever is out there beneath the door. They look big, whoever they are.

"Who is it?" I call out in a sing song voice, tiptoeing closer to the door, cleaver held at the ready.

"Delivery guy." The voice is masculine and croaky, like the guy has a bad cold. I'm proved right when the self-described Delivery Guy sneezes loudly.

He sniffs. "Are you Ms Bela? I have something for you."

Warning bells go off in my head. Only people who know me in the slaying business call me Bela- my parents and sister call me "Izzie", and old friends tend to call me "Hagger", a hangover from the days when we used to all hang together and read silly books about wizards and owls and boarding school. Don't ask.

Whoever was sending me this "something", even assuming Delivery guy was legit... they had my attention.

Slowly, I cracked open the door, squinting in the bright late-afternoon sunshine as I examined the uniform of Delivery Guy. Damn, he was tall. A little fuzzy too, by the looks of it. Probably got through high school with a nickname like Wookie or something.

He didn't look like a vampire- he wasn't wearing sunnies for one thing, and it was a glarey day outside. And though he was fuzzy, he didn't have quite the right level of alertness to be a were. Weres were notoriously jumpy, the often enhanced senses tending to make them pretty over-sensitive to little things like sandalwood incense or blood... I knew for a fact that to a were, my house fairly reeked of dead vampires, and this guy was far too bored-looking to have picked up on that.

Fuck it. I opened the door wide, hiding the cleaver behind my back, as I saw the coffee-table sized cardboard box on the front verandah.

"Just sign here love, and I can get on with my work," said Delivery Guy, or "Neill" as his name-tag called him, thrusting out a clipboard. He didn't seem to notice or care that I was in my dressing gown, and I would have been insulted if I wasn't so freaked out. Meh, he wasn't my type anyway.

"Rightio then." I scribbled something illegible on the dotted line and waited as Neill gave me my receipt, then plodded down my front steps back to his truck, leaving me with the box.

The box... now what the hell was in it? I certainly hadn't ordered anything- things I order come under my middle name Magdalena... in order to alert me to anomalies like this.

Cautiously, I pulled out the cleaver and cut the tape on the top of the box, and then jumped back so that I could open it with a broom handle. I doubt any munitions expert would approve of my methods, but I figured if the vamps had taken a leaf out of the Taliban's book, I was pretty much fucked anyway. Bombs weren't their style, but no one ever said vamps couldn't be inventive.

Well, no one who lived for long, anyway.

Bracing myself behind the verandah table, I flicked the top of the box open, flap by flap...

Nothing happened.

Nothing fucking happened!

Goddamnit!

Pissed off, relieved and almost disappointed, I stomped over to the box and peered inside.

Okay, this was just fucked up.

Somebody had decided that sending me what looked like about two dozen long-stemmed blood-red roses in a box was a good idea.

There was a piece of paper inside, all artificially yellowed to look like parchment, though I could tell that it was just that specially printed paper you could buy from any old stationery shop.

There was something written on the paper in a cramped, but careful hand. Someone trying to send me a message?

"She stalks in beauty, like the night,
Her raven locks that flow in light,
The sharp click clack of her stilettos,
I'd like to divest her of those,
And other pieces of her clothes,
Like that black leather or that hose,
Oh Bela, belladonna sweet,
I wish that some time soon we'll meet.

A secret admirer"

Okay...

What.

The.

Fuck.

Is going on here?

A secret fucking admirer? Bad fucking poetry? Blood-red fucking roses?

Fucking bloody hell!

Okay Bela, breathe. Whoever it is, they know you as a slayer, they know where you live... which shouldn't be possible, as I never bring home the slayers I fuck- I make sure I end up at their places. It'd be just fucking weird to fuck a colleague in the same bed that I've dusted vamps in- hell, I don't sleep there, that's why I was on the couch.

Focus Bela.

Okay. Fact: they know you by your slayer name. Fact: they know your address. Fact: they had terrible taste in flowers- I mean ugh, what a rotten, expensive cliché... and don't even get me started on that poem. It sounded like the efforts of a creepy lovesick adolescent... I'd go kick the crap out of Coutts, but I never showed him where I live, and I was fairly certain that he hadn't followed me. Damn. Well there went the only stalker in my acquaintance that I was aware of.

Fuck.

This was fucking weird. If it was a joke, it was pretty twisted, even for your average slayer... and thinking that there's such thing as a non-twisted slayer is like assuming that I'm a paragon of virtue, who thinks "Golly gee whillickers" counts as swearing. You'd have to be pretty damn blind not to notice, and in any case, you'd be dead wrong.

And what was that shit about wanting to meet me somewhere? That was annoying. Obviously they knew who I was, and wanted me to start playing some kind of game with them.

Well fuck that shit. Looks like I'm going to make a trip to the delivery company to find out who sent me the package- if they had paid with a credit card or something, then they were going down.

No one fucks with Isabela Hagelow without her invitation.

This fucker was never going to know what hit them.

And neither would the vamps tonight. This fucker had made me feel vulnerable, and the best way I knew to offset that feeling was to do a take-and-stakeathon. I was going to hit as many clubs as I could tonight, and see how many of the bloodsuckers I could fuck to death... before I ripped their hearts to shreds.

No puns intended or present.

*The genus of fireflies is Lampyrinae, in case you were interested.