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"Honey, I'm home!"

Who wouldn't have been excited? It was a very special night for Raymond and Esmaralda. The celebration was set to start at midnight and with the clock showing 11:30 they had a half an hour of preparation and anticipation before things got underway. Raymond was especially excited. He sat down on his rough hewn chair and rocked back and forth, a maniacal smile radiating from his face.

"Did you remember to draw fresh blood for the ceremony? We don't have enough on hand."

Esmaralda's report knocked the smile completely off of Raymond's face. He went white. The distress was evident. In all the excitement of the annual Ceremony of Blood he had completely forgotten to run his assigned errand that afternoon. At this hour it would be impossible to get enough blood in time for the ceremony. Raymond began to panic. Sweat pouring off his brow, he tried to think of an alternative. He knew he had to think fast. Esmaralda was waiting on his reply.

"I completely forgot. I'm sorry.

It was all Raymond could manage to get out. Relief came to him when Esmaralda did not charge into the room and menace towards him with a frying pan. She was known to have diabolical influences that resulted in violent urges and responses. For once, perhaps it was the joy inherent in the night's ceremony, she responded differently.

"Go next door to Don and Jim's house. They usually keep extra on hand for the night of the ceremony."

Good idea, thought Raymond. He knew there was a reason he was having an extra-marital affair with this woman. She thought fast on her feet when she wasn't making him kiss them.

"But they aren't the cleanest people in the world, Esmaralda. Can we trust that the blood they have is safe?"

"Shut up before I come in there with a frying pan and make you sorry you have a mouth. Go next door and get the damned blood."

Raymond regretted the fact that he rarely thought about what he said before he said it. In the past he learned just how painful that can be. Unfortunately, he hadn't learned enough to keep from repeating his mistakes.

Raymond left the apartment and knocked on Jim and Don's door. Don answered, already in his long white bloodletting robe, and knew immediately what Raymond wanted. With a smile, he ducked back into the apartment a re-emerged with a jello mold filled with warm blood.

"Careful, Raymond. We have no cover, so it could spill if you aren't careful."

Raymond nodded, thanked Don and carried the jello mold carefully back to Esmaralda's apartment. Looking down, he noticed a number of insects, mainly fleas, had tried to make a landing in the blood. Their tiny insect corpses were now floating lifelessly in the warm liquid.

"Sheesh, Esmaralda is going to be pissed now. I'll be lucky if she doesn't make me clean her boots with my tongue, which is already completely devoid of taste buds thanks to sensory deprivation night."

Esmaralda looked into the jello mold when Raymond put it down on the butcher's block table in front of her. Sitting next to the head of a deer Esmaralda had successfully hunted at the petting zoo, it didn't look all that bad. She hardly seemed to notice the flea population at all. Looking at the clock, she pointed out to Raymond that they had fifteen minutes to complete the preparations. She handed him two wine glasses and a insulin syringe by which he was to draw the blood from the jello mold and distribute it into the glasses.

"Esmaralda, are you sure this is safe to drink?"

Esmaralda nodded vehemently and grinned at him. She grabbed a pair of thigh high boots with stiletto heels and shook them in the air where he could clearly see them. His teeth marks were still clearly visible from weeks before.

"Don't make me tell you again. Prepare the blood for the ceremony. We must drink and renew."

...damned nodeshells speak to me in my sleep...

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