By Blood We Are Bound

Steven Bergom

My husband. My poor, dear husband. He sleeps now, and for a time he is at peace, but I know that he will wake up before too long and his torment will begin all over again. But I will be there for him. I will hold him when he shakes, and dry his tears when he cries. He isn't alone.

I don't want to disturb him from his sleep so I set out bandages on the bedside stand before we started. Moving slowly so I don't wake him from his slumber against my breast, I clean the blood from my arm and wrap the cloth and tape around the cut on the inside of my elbow. He mumbles through his dreams and I caress his hair like I did for our children when they were younger.

He wasn't always like this. When we were first married he was every wife's dream; he brought me flowers, he cooked supper, he took the garbage out without complaint. He took time out for our kids, he coached soccer and he even managed to smile when we went to my sister's for one of her infamous 'home-cooked meals.'

Now, he still does those things, but the smile no longer reaches his eyes and he looks a little more tired every day. My David is sadder now than he was two years ago and I would do anything to get that David back.

David loved his hockey, and every other Friday night he would go out with some of his old college buddies and find a hockey game, whether it was one of the teams at the local rink, or at a bar on a big-screen TV. I didn't wholly approve of his ventures but every man needs to have a vice, and it got him out of my hair for a couple of hours to relax.

The one thing that I especially didn't approve of were his friends. They were as loud and obnoxious as they were fifteen years ago when we met and didn't show any signs of slowing down their drinking. Chris, the apparent ring-leader of their circus was the worst of the lot; he was crude, often smelled of stale beer, hadn't held a job for more than a year or two since college and often made comments that would make even the most hardened male chauvinist cringe. The final two members of his trio weren't quite as bad as Chris but that was only because they were too busy laughing at Chris' antics. Even for all of this David stuck by them. "You just have to know them the way I do, honey," he told me one time. "I know how they think, and they're not as bad as they look."

I knew David never picked up their bad habits because, even though he smelled of smoke and beer when he came home, the smell was in his clothes and not on his breath. He looked out for them, driving them home when they had too much to drink, and stopping them from doing anything stupid that would land them in jail. He seemed to think that, eventually, his personality would rub off on them. David was always the optimist.

It was on a Friday night when it happened. I was sitting up in my nightgown in the living room, watching a movie and waiting for David to come home while the children — Tabitha, ten and Mitch, eight — were asleep in their bedrooms, oblivious to the late hour. It was past the time that he normally came home, but that was no cause for concern since he had called to tell me that his friends were, once again, too drunk to drive themselves and he volunteered to chauffeur them to their homes. In the back of my mind, however, I worried, because there had been an increasing number of reports in the news of people, mostly homeless, found mauled, and they tended to be on the side of town that David's friends lived. Witnesses reported that the deeds were done by large wolves or beast-like men, but that didn't make the danger any less real. So I sat and watched the efforts of a talk-show host followed by a horror movie that made Ed Wood features look like masterpieces, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, sometime after midnight had long since passed, I heard a thump at the front door. I turned off the TV and looked out the bay window in time to see David's friends' battered old Chevy Nova race off down the street. That was odd since David was the one driving everyone else home, and he had taken the car that evening. I went to the front door and looked out the window, and only when I was sure that no one was outside did I carefully open the door and looked out. I didn't see anything in front of me, but when I looked down I found David, battered, bruised and bloody on the doorstep.

I shook him and repeated his name until he became conscious because I could not carry him by myself into the house. "What did they do to you, David?" I exclaimed after we had moved to the kitchen and I attempted to remove his ripped up coat. "I was afraid something like this would happen some day, but why did it have to be to you? David, are you okay?" He was fading in and out of consciousness and I knew that he must have had a concussion. I stopped my attentions and went to the phone.

"What're you doing?" he said groggily as I began to dial.

"I'm calling the police. They can't get away with this, David! You got hurt this time and I don't want there to even be a next time because it could be worse!"

"No," he said, shaking his head and trying to stay awake a little longer. "No police. Just… It'll be okay. Just need to rest…" I knew I shouldn't have, but I set the phone back in its cradle and walked over to where he sat on the floor with his back against the cupboards.

"Why are you protecting them? What is it you're not telling me?" I searched his eyes for an answer but that was difficult since he had one eye that was already on its way to swelling shut.

He swallowed, and I could see that that simple act pained him. "I'll be okay… honest!" His lips crooked into a smile. "No more hockey, deal?"

I had to chuckle; he was going to be all right. "Deal, but you have to tell the kids what happened," I said but he was already asleep.

I didn't call the police, but I did take a few Polaroids as a reminder of what happened. After putting the photos in a cabinet to develop and to be out of the prying eyes of the children, I retrieved a washcloth and proceeded to clean the blood from his face and chest. His shirt, a long-sleeved tee with the Detroit RedWings logo large on the front, was ripped beyond repair and it took several tries to remove it. Every time I moved his arms he grimaced in his sleep and I worried that he had a broken rib or two. There were cuts on his face, neck and chest and it looked like he lost a lot of blood. The washcloth, white when I started, was now a permanent red color that no amount of bleach could repair.

I knew I couldn't clean any more of his wounds without dumping him underneath the shower so I roused him again to move to our bedroom. Though he helped I still had to carry most of his weight and I was glad that we had bought a ranch-style house. I wasn't too gentle when we finally reached our bedroom and I dropped him on our bed. I crawled in next to David and pulled the covers over us, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day.

I awoke the next morning disoriented. David was not beside me in bed where I had expected him, but when I heard the water running in the bathroom I had to wonder how he could even walk after last night's beating. Hesitantly I put my head into the bathroom and saw David clothed only in a towel brushing his teeth.

He was unmarked.

Every cut and bruise that I had so meticulously cleaned earlier in the morning was gone, showing no sign of ever having been there. "Ah, good morning, hon!" he said after he rinsed out his mouth and glimpsed me in the mirror. "Sorry to keep you up so late last night. Chris'd once again drunk a little too much and I volunteered to take him home. We poured him into bed around midnight but there was an accident downtown that we had to detour around to get back here." I could only watch in stunned amazement as he pecked me on the cheek and made his way back into the bedroom. "As it is, I think Chris'll have a nice headache this morning to remind him of what too much celebratin' will get him. Maybe now he'll slow down a little.

"Anywho," he continued while starting to dress casually for his Saturday off. "I thought I'd go over to the hardware store and get some oil and a new blade for the mower. Heh, maybe I'll actually be prepared when spring shows up and gets the grass growin' again this year!" He slid his wallet and keys into his pants pockets and looked for a moment around the room. "Let's see, did I forget anything?" Satisfied, he gave me another kiss, told me he'd be back in a couple of hours and left me standing in the doorway, dazed.

I didn't move again until I heard the car start up and leave the garage. I rushed to the front door, again only to witness a car — our car, this time — leaving our driveway. Was it only a dream? Did I just have an anxiety attack the previous night over the worry that David was hurt? I raced into the kitchen cupboard where I stored the pictures I had taken and pulled them out only to find that I had several Polaroids of a healthy, albeit tired, David.

I couldn't have been dreaming! There were pictures! Not the ones that I remembered taking, but pictures none-the-less. Frantically I ran to the washroom where I had thrown David's shirt and coat before attending to his wounds. They were still there, ripped apart just as I had remembered them, but all signs of blood and grime were missing. The washcloth that I used was also as white and pristine as the day that I bought it.

What was going on? What had happened to me and my memory? All of it made no sense and it was with a certain amount of confusion that I prepared a breakfast for myself and started my day.

David was no help when I mentioned my concerns to him. He looked thoughtful for a moment but shook his head of whatever thoughts had invaded it before dismissing my fears to being normal motherly worries. I agreed with him but I watched him carefully the rest of the day, hoping to find some indication of what had happened last night.

Sunday came and went with nothing out of the ordinary happening just as Saturday did. On Monday David woke up early and left for work and I began to put what happened three days prior out of my mind as some kind of fancy brought on by too many bad horror movies. On Tuesday he came home more tired than usual but it wasn't until Wednesday evening at the dinner table that my suspicions began to reassert themselves.

We were having pot roast that night. Pot roast, potatoes and, my children's least favorite, green beans. Mitch and Tabitha were trying all of the tricks that they learned to avoid eating the beans, hoping that either they would turn into chocolate chip cookies or that I would relent and tell them that they didn't need to eat any green vegetables ever again — though neither were likely to happen — while I studied my husband. He was slumped in his chair, more tired than usual and, like his children, he was just playing with his beans. "If you don't eat your beans, you're not gonna' get any d'sert, Daddy," Tabitha informed him.

David started out of his reverie to blink at his daughter. The corners of his mouth were pulled into a smile when comprehension dawned on him but quickly drooped as the energy to maintain the expression faded. "I know, honey, I know. I guess I'm just not feeling too good right now. I had a hard day at the office and I'm a little tired." He continued to stare at his plate a little longer. "Y'know what? I think I'm going to lay down now."

"But, Dad! You're gonna' miss d'sert!" Mitch said.

David ruffled his son's hair as he passed him on the way to the kitchen and said, "Well, then, I guess that I'm going to have to miss dessert for one night." He smiled briefly and made his way to the back of the house.

Tabitha looked after her departing father before turning back to the table and declaring, "If Dad's not gonna' finish his beans then I'm not gonna' too." After I stared significantly at her, though, she dropped her stance and began to scoop the last of the vegetables into her mouth.

When I finished with the dishes I looked in on David. He was stretched out on the bed but was not asleep and the condition of the sheets showed that it wasn't for a lack of trying. "Are you okay, David?" I asked from the doorway.

"I'm fine. I'm just tired. And hungry."

"Well, you should've finished your supper. Mitch and Tabitha finished theirs…"

"I don't need you patronizing me like a child! I can take care of myself!"

"Are you sure you're all right? Maybe when your head got hit Friday night—"

"How many times do I have to tell you that nothing happened last week?! I'm fine and everyone else is fine! Stop—" David stopped and took a deep breath, calming himself. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell. I— I've just been under a little stress lately."

I nodded, shaken by his outburst. "Yeah, it'll be better in the morning. Just get some rest." He laid back down and I left the room quietly.

It wasn't better the next day. David was surlier than before and even the children stayed out of his way. On Friday I took the kids over to my mother's in hopes that a quiet night together would ease some of his tension. He was starting to remind me of a caged animal, pacing along the bars and wanting something but not knowing what that something was.

I had rented a movie earlier in the day and as we watched it David held me possessively. I barely noticed the words being spoken on-screen and I doubt David did either with the way that he kept rubbing his chin on my head and stroking my hair. About halfway through the movie we heard a knock at the front door. "Stay here," David told me roughly as he stood up. "I'll see who it is."

I set the movie on pause and tried to listen to the conversation that was happening between David and whoever had decided to visit so late in the evening. I couldn't hear any of the words distinctly but from what I was able to discern Chris and his friends were at the door and David wasn't too happy that they were there.

"What are you doing here? Go away."

"But David, we were just in the neighborhood and wanted to check on our good buddy. Come on; what's say we git outta' here and get plastered? It'll be a hoot!"

"No. I'm staying home with my wife tonight and I don't need—"

"The little woman? Come on guys, we gotta' say hi to the lady of the house, don't we?" There was a sound of a tussle and then I saw Chris and his two shadows move into the living room with David shortly behind them, his face red with anger. "Heya, toots! How's life treatin' ya?"

I was confused and scared at Chris; usually he was rather rude but tonight something was different. He looked at me almost ferally and I was afraid for my life and for David's.

"There, you've seen her. Now go away." Unfortunately Chris wasn't quite finished and moved closer to me. I had gotten up when Chris came into the room and now backed away as he came nearer.

"Have I ever told you I found you ravishingly beautiful?" he asked me. "How'd you like to come away with me, sweet thing? I got all you need right here!"

"I told you to stay away, Chris! Now leave!"

Chris was having none of it and started to caress my cheek. The light glinted off his chipped teeth and the plaque on them matched his long, greasy blonde hair. "David's pack now, baby, and pack shares all. What's say we have some fun, hm?" Chris was very close and I could smell his breath. Rancid meat smell came from his mouth and I backed away as much as I could.

David chose that time to come to my defense. I had finally been pushed to the far wall and so had nowhere to go. My husband's face was livid as he spun Chris around and yelled at him. "I said go away!" he said and slugged him.

It wasn't a punch; it wasn't that well aimed. Instead it was a fist that reached back into the depths of time and aimed directly at Chris' jaw, rattling glasses on the shelves as it made contact. Any normal man would have been laid flat by a hit like that, but Chris just smiled and rubbed his jaw as if he had only been slapped. "Not smart, David," he said and then literally threw my husband across the room to land at the feet of his compatriots who were taking in the scene with undisguised amusement.

"Come on, David!" Chris said as he walked across the room. "Like I told the bitch, you're pack now! You're really one of us! Don't'cha gettit? We are brothers, bonded by a shared blood! We now rule the streets together!"

When Chris reached David he crouched down. "Oh, but I see you've forgotten that, havn't you? You forgot what I gave you and all the little perks that come with it."

"I— I thought it was a dream…"

"But it wasn't, David. It really happened, and now we are together. You're just like us."

David stared at his tormenter for a long time. I didn't know what they were talking about but David was horrified by something. For a moment it looked like he would give in but he marshaled what energy he had and hurled himself at Chris. "I am nothing like you!" he screamed.

Chris just laughed and threw him across the carpet with one hand like a bowling ball. David came to rest at my feet. He painfully pushed himself to his hands and knees and I grimaced to see that his trip across the floor had scraped his exposed skin bloody. Chris just shook his head at the sight. "David, David, David. What am I going to do with you? You have the spirit, but what you lack is focus! You've forgotten in such a short time! You just need a refresher, that's all, and I got just what the doctor ordered!"

He held out his hand and one of his stooges placed a wine bottle in it while the other walked over to the China cabinet, smashed through the glass and pulled out a goblet of Venetian crystal that I had inherited from my grandmother. Chris smiled a lopsided grin as he took the goblet and decanted some of the dark liquid. He bent down and swirled the contents under my husbands nose. "You're gonna' need this before too long, David. Just don't wait. You don't wanna' wait." When David didn't move he just harrumphed and set the bottle and goblet on an end table. Chris turned to me and smirked. "I'll be seeing you 'round, baby." He winked at me and then motioned to his two lackeys. Before long I could hear their car starting up and then screaming out of our driveway.

When I was sure they were gone I bent down to David and put an arm around his shoulders. The back of his neck was covered in blood but when I wiped some of it away with my fingers I found no wound. "What is happening, David?" I asked showing him my fingers. "What's happening to you?" He stared blankly at my fingers before bringing them to his nose and sniffed. Something in his brain snapped because when he got that sniff he began to suck furiously on them. He sucked, and before long he was gnawing on my fingers. "David!" I said while batting at his head and back with my remaining hand to get his attention. "David, stop it! You're hurting me!"

He fell back and gasped, staring at the hand I was now cradling. It hurt and the blood that was on my fingers was my own, not his. I sobbed while David stared at me unmoving. "David," I sniffed out. "David? What's going on?" He gave no answer. "Can't you hear anything that I'm saying? David?"

David continued his reverie unbroken until he sharply breathed in and lunged for the glass on the end table. He brought it to his lips and gulped the contents like a man dying of thirst. When it was empty he dropped the goblet and turned his attention to the bottle, his throat distending as he took great swallows of the liquid.

When he was done he held the bottle up to his mouth and breathed heavily while staring straight ahead. Finally with a sudden gasp he dropped it and ran from the room. I stared after him in confusion before I picked up the goblet and studied the red liquid which still coated the crystal. The liquid had no texture that I could discern when I touched it with my fingers and had no smell. When I tasted it I could distinguish a salty, metallic flavor but nothing more.

I found David in the kitchen, hunched over the sink and still breathing heavily. His face was dripping from the water he splashed on it. "What was in that bottle, David?"

"Blood," David answered quietly. "Human blood."

The goblet shattered when it struck the hardwood floor of the kitchen.

That was two years ago. Now he hides his craving from the children, but I can see how much strain it puts on him. We have bottles of cow's blood in a small refrigerator that the children don't know about, but it doesn't satisfy him at all times. When the nights come that animal blood turns David away I oblige him by giving my own, just as I do tonight. He doesn't drink much, less than what a blood donor gives, but I know it's not enough and it tears him apart. In a few days I'll be having my period and I know that the smell will drive him beyond a simple craving. He becomes a beast those nights; a real beast.

The first time it happened I watched in horror as he turned into what I can only describe as a giant humanoid wolf. When he finished he shook himself and advanced on me until I started screaming. He leaped through the window then, shattering the glass. Tabitha had heard the crash and sleepily wandered into our room asking what happened. "Nothing, dear. Just some vandals throwing rocks at windows, is all. Daddy's… Daddy's chasing them off right now. Go back to bed." Tabitha went back to bed and didn't remember a thing the next morning.

I continued to read in the newspaper about the mauling victims but after a while it changed; the victims weren't just the homeless and destitute, but rapists and criminals. As even more time passed I noticed that the number of innocent victims that got hurt went down. I don't know what David does on those nights that he goes out, and I don't want to know. All that I know is that the next day he is a little healthier looking and his step is a little less lethargic. But his eyes lose just a bit more joy…

For now I just hold him and let him know that someone is there for him when he awakes. Some would leave their husbands if they knew, but I am bound to David by marriage, and I am bound to him by blood.