Part 2 – Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light
I drifted in a sea of unconsciousness, no notion of time, of death or life. I was neither male or female, and good and evil did not exist. I was just was, bereft of mortal trappings. Death, it seemed, would be far more peaceful than my life. I remained there for an eternity of moments, and within each moment, all of the ages of men were contained.
I did not remember or care of what troubled me. It didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t matter anymore.
Liquid fire down my throat. Conscience, confusion, fear. I clung to that sleep of ages, only to find myself denied. The red hot blade of pain crossed all over me, starting at my mouth and sliding slowly down my throat, slashing me on the way down until it reached my stomach. It exploded in blinding agony, and then it began coursing through my veins, forcing me back to awareness, to the self. My spine arched, and I tried to scream, but I couldn’t, because my mouth was filled with liquid pain, and every time I screamed, more of it went down, cutting me mercilessly. Every fibre of my being burned in cold fire, and I could feel every of my cells screaming as they were brought back to life, ripped mercilessly from the warm womb of death, and dragged out into a second – and as traumatizing as the first – birth, and a new life that began with pain.
Every fibre of my being lit up in unbearable pain, all at the same time, and I couldn’t breathe, suffocating in the taste of metal and flesh, the taste reminding me of a slaughterhouse hit by the sun at noon. I gagged, choked and wept, the taste of death still bitter in my mouth. I could deal with pain – I had been in pain before – but not like this. Not like this. I struggled, feebly, and more of the thick, syrupy death went down my throat. To my surprise, it did not worsen the pain, this time; there was an imperceptible pang of pain as I didn’t swallow for a moment, but it was faded, muted, a note of blooming red in a dark background. I felt my mouth filling up with something, a thick, syrupy liquid, and I had to swallow again; the pain subsided. It no longer hurt; it no longer burnt. Each mouthful was relief, like breathing after holding your breath for so long your lungs began to hurt. I swallowed, again, and again, and finally managed to breathe again. The pain was now a long, distant memory, and all that mattered were those tiny moments of bliss whenever I swallowed. I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t stop. I needed to swallow, because I was so very cold, and warmth was fleeting, only to be found when the mouthfuls went down. They broke the cold, and slowly made me warm again. I woke up again, and cast away the shackles of foolish dreams – I was awake, fully awake, and my senses cascaded. I tasted heaven between mouthfuls, the kiss of a lover, and the hug of a friend; before, as I died, I had tasted all the good things that life had held for me, but this?
This could not be compared. This was beyond earth and life; this was heaven, made poorer and not richer by words. It was as if one had lived forever blind, finally opened one’s eyes to take in all the glory of existence, colours of the entire spectrum, the stars and the sea, everything in a jumble of magnificence; It was love, rage, life. Each drink was like swallowing the sky hole, like loving all men made into one, like shedding one’s mortal coils, and becoming one with the universe. It felt so right that I could not conceive, not for one moment that it could stop. My heart would surely break, and so, I drunk greedily, as sound and smell and taste returned to me. Closed, my eyes could not see, because this was a moment of communion, as I became perfect, whole. Sight would surely ruin that moment, because this transcended me. Even if the taste itself made me giddy and weak at the knees, it was more than tasting good. Taste is about nourishment and survival. This was about becoming whole again, finding the missing part of divinity that I had denied and walked around without – this was about finding my divinity. It tasted of my lover’s mouth, and my beloved’s skin; it tasted of childhood memories, and phantom birthday cakes; it tasted of meadows after spring rain, and the crackling of flames.
This was the taste of perfection, the flavour of eternity.
I heard words, but I didn’t understand them, nor did I care, because there was no other reality than drinking. They became louder, and I ignored them – and suddenly, it was gone. I swallowed, and nothing came, just air. I could still taste traces of it in the wind, and I lunged towards it, trying to recover which I had lost. I had to open my eyes to see, and the light was a sharp knife. I saw that I was holding an arm, but that notion meant nothing to me because the scent of divinity reached my nostrils, and its precious crimson colour called me again. I dove over it, and managed to taste a few drops, before something hard slammed against the side of my head. My vision went dark for a moment, and I staggered, trying to find where the liquid pleasure had gone first, and my balance second. The world was a confusing place to my eyes, and I watched it as a newborn would, all confusing shapes and strange colours. I heard a whimpering sound, high pitched and annoying, like an hours-old kitten mewling for its mother, too weak to stand and seek her. It sounded again, and, to my surprise, I realized I was doing it. My body seemed unable to react to my orders; it felt awkward and rubbery, and as I became self-aware once more, I realized that I was now far – so very far of that which I wanted, that which I needed. I tried to stand up; my legs folded under my weight. So, I crawled, dragging my useless legs behind me. At each step, the world became sharper, more focused. And still I crawled. I could taste it from the distance, I could feel it, taste it, hear it across the room. The world was a confusing place, and I craved for the divine simplicity. Each moment away from it was pure agony, hell, pain beyond human comprehension. I would have curled up in a corner and begged for death to free me, but each moment away was more pain than I could bear, so I pushed myself forward. One step at a time, pulling my weight with my arms only. Each moment that went baby without it, I felt myself growing just a little bit colder, my soul becoming just a little bit more silent. I was almost there… almost. My fingers caught the rough cloth of a trouser’s leg. I could feel the pattern of the tissue, the exact shape and angle of how each strand crossed another, forming a whole. I could not see it, but my touch was sharp enough, precise enough to tell me how it went. I gasped, and tried to use have a handhold to grab and force myself upwards. I found cloth, more cloth, draped over someone, a mountain in the shape of a man, but I didn’t care. The tiny, meowling sound once more, as I needed to rest for a moment, my cheek pressing against rock-hard chest. I was starting to be tired, so very tired, but the notion of stopping was not one I could accept. A face peered down at me, electric blue eyes, surrounded by blonde lashes, so light they were almost invisible; I could see the hair matching them, like a crown of gold, framing the soft, youthful face of Jens, who watched me with a kind of imposing, noble attentiveness.
“Enough.” He was saying, but those were words, meaningless to me, just sounds stringed tougher without rhyme or reason. The world focused just a little more when his free arm surrounded me, and held me in a rib crushing hug against his chest. My cheek was pressed against his shirt, and I could sense each and every fibre that made it, crisscrossing in perfectly parallel and perpendicular lines, that became bent and wavy as they followed and moulded to the muscles underneath. I could feel tiny bumps under the shirt, the markings of old scar tissue. I could hear the sound of air whistling in his lungs as he sighed, and that same air going upwards, and finally to spread out of his nose and mouth. I could hear the soft grind of cartilage on cartilage, when he shifted, and his shoulders moved ever so slightly. I closed my eyes, and the sounds became clearer, more focused. I listened to the sounds of Jens’s body, the subtle creaking of his fingers as he moved them to grip my shoulder firmly, but almost tenderly. I could hear those sounds, all of them – and yet, I could not, much as I tried, hear the sound that was so absent that it was almost painful, almost absurd. I could not hear the sound of his heart.
That made me pull back for a moment, to look at him. He looked down at me, his pale hair slightly tousled, even if he had a close cut; his eyes were weary now, expectant, and no more alight with blue electric fire. I pressed my ear against his chest again, and closed my eyes, willing myself to focus, to hear the thundering of his heart that should – had to be there.
There was only the silence of the grave.
No pun intended.
I stayed like that for the longest time, not sure if I just needed to hug, and the reassurance I was not dead, or if I was completely stunned and disbelieving that I could not hear a heart beating inside his chest. He was alive; he moved, thought, smiled. He had kissed me. Or had it been a dream? Was I maybe dying, and tuning to a strange channel in the television network that had been my life as I flashbacked? Every now and then, he let out a soft sigh, but outside those particular moments, I did not hear air get into his lungs. I did not feel his chest swollen as he inhaled. His lungs were as still as his heart.
If his arm was not around my shoulders, holding me tight, I would think him to be dead, or simply not exist. I could not explain this. It made no sense. Maybe I was just not listening right. I pressed my ear against his chest again, and closed my eyes, trying to close the sounds and any other distractions. He had to have a heartbeat. Everyone did. Again, I pressed my cheek against his chest. Again, I heard nothing but stillness.
Denial is not just a river, it seemed. It was my turn to sigh. There was only one explanation, one reason for this to be as it was, for the man holding me tight, the man who I knew had killed me, to have no heartbeat.
“I am dead, aren’t I?” My voice did not belong to me, but to someone else, for I did not recognize it, at first. It sounded exotic and foreign, with a hint of an Italian hard edge that I never noticed I had before. I could have sworn I hadn’t got my grandmother’s accent – my mother did not have it.
“Yes.” Jens answered after a long moment of silence, as if he sought a better way to deliver the news.
“You killed me.” I felt, suddenly very tired, and my death now seemed so unimportant, now that it was fait acompli.
“Yes.” He said again. He didn’t sound remorseful, but he squeezed me just a little more against him. Strangely, I found that comforting, even thought I should be beyond caring, with me being dead and all. I have to admit, really, I imagined death to be slightly different than this. I didn’t imagine Jens would be the face of the Grim Reaper I’d see, although it did make some sense, if he had indeed killed me.
“I don’t feel that different.” I felt as if my world had ended (it had, to a point), but I was expecting to feel slightly… more terminated.
“Yeah. I don’t really feel – dead.”
“That’s because,” he rose his other hand, the one not around me, and I noticed it was stained with dark and crimson, his black shirt sleeve rolled up to expose his forearm and wrist “you are not entirely dead.” And the moment I laid eyes on it, the most delicious, mouth-watering aroma hit me; suddenly, the world came into focus, and I felt a hunger like I had never felt before. His words, as strange and rather senseless as they were, were, suddenly, not at all important – because only one thing drew my immediate and complete attention: the gnawing, all-consuming hunger that made it hard for me to swallow or concentrate. I knew hunger, and I knew what it felt like to spend several days unable to stop to eat, when people’s lives were on the line and petty things as our own well being had to be set aside; my insides seemed to be attempting to devour themselves, and then started to go numb. But this was worse. This was a thousand times worse – this was actually painful, as if someone was driving a sharp blade slowly through my middle, twisting it just as slowly, before pushing it further inside. I couldn’t even breathe, as I realized just how hungry I was. Until now, I hadn’t been able to think of food – and, hell, on second though, I couldn’t think of it. It was not food I wanted, not food I craved. Not even my grandmother’s BlackForest Chocolate Cake could tempt me now, even if it was a decadent piece of absolute chocoholic heaven. I was hungry, but not for food.
I wanted to lick Jens’s arm.
That made absolutely no sense, and it was such an absurd notion that I had to take a moment to ponder exactly why I was torn between needing nourishment so desperately (I had eaten not many hours ago, I shouldn’t be starving now, as peckish as I might have been before this entire thing began), and wanting to so something so blatantly sexual as lick a grown man’s arm. True, he had kissed me, which means he wasn’t entirely opposed to my charms. Except he had killed me (his words) immediately afterwards, which might actually mean he wasn’t entirely into me. I felt a strange twinge in my pride, because I had myself in high regards concerning my kissing abilities.
“Has anyone told you,” the big blonde man said “that you think too much?”
His statement made me pause, and stare at him. He stared right back, with a face that was a mix of exasperation and ever so mildly amusement. I was taken aback for a moment, but I finally found my bearings and looked him in the eye and told him: “No, nobody has ever told me that. Why? Do I think too much?” And more importantly, how did he know? Was I thinking out loud?
“Yes, you do think too much. What you want – what you hunger for is… this.” At that moment, his free arm passed right under my nose, and I felt my mouth water again. I had to swallow hard to focus, to not just let myself slip into a waver of lust and wanton desire I could not comprehend. I wanted it badly, to lick his arm clean; the notion of it filled me with tingly feelings, just like when you’re realizing you will get to kiss the hottest guy in school. It made no sense, especially because how could his dirty and stained arm quench my hunger. But, more than that, I _needed_ to do it. Just thinking of not doing it let my heart tight, anxious, fearing. A promise of pain if I did not satisfy – it was more than a craving, it was a need. But what was it that I wanted? Why did I want to lick someone’s skin to comfort my aching stomach – no, not my stomach. It wasn’t my belly that craved for satisfaction. It was my entire being. Each and every of my fibres needed that; it was an imperative I could not deny.
I leaned forward, towards the tempting arm, and pressing my tongue against the dirt that marred the perfectly pale skin. Jens swallowed under his breath, and stifled a sharp intake of breath, almost a gasp. I let my tongue drift down, towards the crook of his arms.
And, my God, it tasted like heaven. I think I made a sound, a gurgling, happy sound, because this gave me true pleasure. A moan escaped my lips as I let my tongue trail up, moving towards the back of his arm, where there was still some smudges of paradise. When I was done cleaning it perfectly, I carefully held his arm in my hands, and turned it around, seeking for a spot or two I might have missed. I found some more on the other side of his forearm, and again I polished it with a quick tongue. Another examination of his skin told me I had indeed cleaned it up completely, and there was nothing more to find. I felt a pang of pain, of longing when I realized it; however, I could swear that there was more to be hand. The divine scent was just here, somewhere, closely. I inhaled deeply to try to locate the elusive scent. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint it, but, I realized that, when I ran my nose up and down the pale arm I was holding, I could feel that delicious aroma much more strongly. To make sure, I pressed my nose against his pale underarm, tracing its length with my nose. It smelled delicious – and I could scent it, hot and tempting, right underneath his skin.
Oh, bliss so close by, eluding me, tantalizing me. I had t get to it. I would do anything – anything – to reach it. All my previous logic, sense, the intellect I had slowly been recovering, enough to debate with him the matters of my lost life and other philosophical considerations, were now, suddenly gone. I just wanted to bite down on his arm, and make the nectar gush. I wanted, god help me, to bite down and have mouthfuls of delicious temptation, to help ease the pain, the gaping hole of hunger I felt inside my soul.
I paused, as I realized exactly what I was proposing to do, in order to get what I wanted – what I needed. I wanted to bite into Jens arm – and I wanted to drink it. I felt ill to my very core, as it became clear to me that what I wanted to do was use my teeth to cut into his flesh and drink his blood. I almost fell over myself in my haste to get away from him. He didn’t stop me, but the way I looked at me, I could tell he knew what I was thinking. He made no effort to come close to me, to pull me back to him. Me? I was too scared, too confused. What had happened to me? Was I dead? Was I alive?
“What…” the voice that would be mine, again felt foreign, almost alien. It didn’t sound like me. “… what happened to me?”
I noticed, for the first time that I was in a bedroom, a hotel bedroom, it seemed. It had a large, low bed, where Jens sat, and a built-in closet, against which my back was pressed. The spread on the bed matched the curtains, which had been pulled back – I could see the night sky outside, and hints of the city’s skyline. There was a long narrow desk where a TV set was placed, giving enough room for the rest to be used as a writing place. There were books set on the surface, and I could read the titles as easily as if I had them but an inch or two off my face – but they were in a language I could not comprehend. All of this was exceedingly confusing, and I was finding myself suppressing the will to start screaming; I bit down my lip hard, because I knew fully well what a panic attack meant, and, if I lost control of myself, this was going to be the mother of all panic attacks – I had the distinctive impression that if I started screaming, I would be quite unable of stopping. I wound up wrapping my arms around me, and put my head between my knees, as I had always been taught to do when I was starting to feel lightheaded. I wasn’t exactly feeling that, but I figured it could only help getting myself under control again. I wasn’t going to freak out and scream like a little frightened girl – even if I was feeling exactly like one. It took me a while to calm down enough to stave off the sudden need to scream to the top of my lungs and run all the way home screaming; however, I was also now beginning to realize how very cold I was and felt. I hadn’t noticed it before, but I guess that was because I had quite a lot of things in my mind. I was freezing, I noticed, as I pressed my hands to my neck and forehead; to my cheeks – and even lips. I was dead. I was really dead. And I was just as cold as the dead.
I pressed my hand against my chest, trying to feel my heart, trying to get something – anything – that would prove this was just a humorous and perfectly explainable situation; one that had nothing to do with the fact that I wanted to bite people and lick them; or the fact that I was several degrees beneath what a normal human being could have not to be pronounced clinically dead.
Or, worse, the fact that I had no heartbeat whatsoever.
“I am older than you can imagine, and I have sired at least a dozen of others like you.” Jens looked weary, as if this was some sort of chore he had to undergo. “They all go through the same stages -- denial, anger, grief, -- before they finally accept what I have to tell them and what I have to offer. I am growing tired of seeing it, and so, this time, I will try a new approach. Go home.”
I blinked “What?”
“Just go home. Think of what you want to do, see if you can fit to your present life, then return to tell me if you’re ready to accept of if you’re going to continue burying your head in sand and fight the change.”
“You’re just letting me go?”
“Yes. What I did to you – I had not exactly planned to do. Not—here. Not like this.”
I watched him, and part of me wanted to make him tell me exactly what he had done, what had happened to me. I wanted him to spell it out for me, to leave nothing out. I guess I was in the stage of denial, and I needed to be slapped with the truth on the face a few times to make sure I didn’t just pretend all was okay. “But… I… can’t!”
“You’re moving and talking—quite a lot of talking, too. Are you sure you are dead?”
“You said I was—”
“Has it occurred to you that I might have not been entirely truthful?”
“I—What about Lucious?”
“What about him?”
“I – he attacked me. You attacked me!” I felt my anger starting to overcome my shock, which had always been a good way for me to focus over.
“Yes. He would have killed you for what you did to him.” A pause as he looked at me, making no motion to approach, treating me as if I was a skittish animal. “It was impressive.”
“I-what?!” A compliment about the fact that I had permanently blinded and possibly disfigured his friend was not what I would expect. Unless he really hated him “He’s going to need to go to the hospital—”
“He’s NOT fine! I had by thumbs in his eye—”
My disagreement with him seemed to rather upset him because I saw something in Jens’s eyes for the first time since our paths had crossed. Anger? Frustration? The electric blue gleam returned if only for a moment. “Lucious. Get in here! The girl is worried – we can’t let her anguish about the fate of her would be murderer, now would we?” That had definitely a bad ring to it, and Jens was, I’m pretty sure, rather upset. He did disguise it well – impressive: it did seem I have a talent to get under people’s skins, even when I wasn’t actively trying. My ponderings were cut short, because in comes Lucious, and he looks right as rain: his hair is damp, and he seems straight out of the shower, and looking even more boyishly handsome than yesterday – earlier today, I hadn’t had the time or inclination to ponder on whether he looked attractive or not, because I had been quite sure he was intending to kill me. He didn’t seem to bring any marks from our little encounter: his nose was as straight and perfect as before, and his eyes were, I noticed, light green. No marks, no scars, no blood. It was as if nothing had ever happened. He was still barefoot, and he walked over, to sit on the bed right in front of me. I had to force myself not to cringe and scoot away. He was a predator; I knew now with a certainty what I had suspected before. If I showed fear or cowered, it would be an invitation for him to give chase. He seemed to sense my discomfort, and it very clearly pleased him. He watched me almost benevolently. “You left without warning last night.” He said, softly. “I looked all over for you – if only you hadn’t left…”
“Let her go away, Lucious.”
“I’m not stopping her.” Lucious countered, before giving me a wink. A wink, of all things. “But I do think she should stay here with us. She’ll have a lot to catch up – and you should train her well, old boy, because you know I will tell the Archon that you sired without asking the Old Man first. And you know how very picky he is about that sort of thing, especially when those who might be a danger to him are involved.”
“If that is a problem” I said, finally, starting to grow annoyed at Lucious smugness “then just don’t tell ‘the archon’” I made quotation marks with my fingers.
“Oh, you sweet girl – you think I’m going to get you in trouble voluntarily? No no no. That is not what I intend at all. I’m actually quite glad this turned out like this –” he sighed significantly “although I would have been happier if I had been the one laying a claim on you. Still.” He leaned towards me, and that motion, even if clearly not meant to be threatening, made me scoot back and press against the closet even more. “you can always pledge yourself to me and I promise, I will take care of you forever.” I didn’t even see him move; I blinked, and when I realized it, he was very close to me; his fingers caught a lock of my hair, almost dreamily.
And, suddenly, there was a blur, and Jens was standing up in Lucious’s place, and the latter was fallen on a heap of arms and legs and absolutely fabulous hair, next to a wall, all across the room. The little ember of emotion I had seen in Jens before was now a raging fire, and the electric blue flame had returned to his eyes: “She has a Maker and a Pater, and until she is recognized by your Lord and his advisors as worthy, she remains of my bloodline, and my possession. Remember that, Serpent – unless you would like to try to defy me.”
Normally, I would very strongly object, in a wide vocal range, to be addressed as someone’s property. However, looking at Jens, I decided that would be a terminally stupid thing to do; since I wasn’t yet sure whether I was alive or dead, I was determined not to risk it, lest it turned out to be the former rather than the latter. “I apologize, Elder” Lucious’ said, and there was something in his eyes too, something wild – dangerous, inhuman “I will, of course, refrain from challenging your will.”
“Then get the hell out. And remember that if you talk to her, I will know; and I will act upon it and very decisively.”
The other was already bringing himself to his feet, not even grimacing, although I was pretty sure that that sort of impact would have killed a lesser man. As I had mentioned before, I have exceedingly strong objections to being considered someone property, and Jens’ was coming across as all kinds of possessive, which was fine if we were dating, but, since we weren’t, just came across as rude. Lucious had bowed his head and gotten out, leaving me again alone with the blonde man.
“Stay away from Lucious!” He advised me after a long moment.
“I was planning on. Especially after what I did to him.” There was a pause as I considered what I wanted to say; I settled for the truth. “You realize I am not your property, right?”
He watched me again with those weary eyes, as if he ha been through this conversation many times before. “Before you start that sassy and independent woman talk, know the kind of mess you’re into. You’re welcome to rescind my protection, but do you know what will happen? Are you willing to risk your life for your perceived freedom?”
“Yes.” I said stupidly. What can I say? I have a thing about possessive jerk boyfriends that just rubs me the wrong way, and this striked too close for comfort.
“Then, then door is over there, this will be the last time we will meet. Have a good life. Or death, as the case might be.”
“You can’t just… do whatever you did and then kick me out!”
“Oh, yes I can. Watch me.” He pointed to the door. “You want to be free because your stupid sensibilities are more important than your survival. Go right ahead. I am not going to beg and plead with you to stay.”
My pride wanted me to leave, to just stalk out, because he was starting to seriously annoy me. However, he did have a point. A very good point, and I wasn’t that sure if pride was worth my life. I mean, sure, I could be acting overly dramatic, but I was still dazed and unsure of what had happened to me. I am pretty sure I was also totally in denial (no heartbeat!) but that is how I always handled things – compartmentalization. I dealt with one problem at a time, and put the others on hold until I had figured it out. Otherwise, I would start screaming, and I wouldn’t stop for hours. “Tell me what you did to me.” I said, determined to find a reason to stay without compromising my pride.
“You accept my protection for a month, and I will tell you. Otherwise, you get the ‘saved you life’ answer and you get out of my room.”
I clenched my teeth, and, by god, I wanted to punch him in the face, hard. I’m pretty sure my rage was visible and quite noticeable; and, yet, he was smiling. Oh, the bastard! He knew he had me. “Does that protection have strings attached?”
“All you can think of.”
“Yes, I’m aware.” That little irritating smile was what made up my mind. I knew I would regret it eventually. I knew I would wish I had not been prideful and stupid. But I could not help myself.
I left, slamming the door behind me.
When I reached outside, I realized that the night had fallen long ago and I hadn’t checked on my mom. I went to my pocket and realized my cell phone had been destroyed. I cussed mentally, but got into my car. I was going to drive to her place, but the day had been strange, agonizing, and I wanted nothing more than to go home, have a long shower and convince myself all was fine. I drove without incidents, and arrived to my darkened apartment. It seemed similar, except… I had never noticed how my neighbours were noisy. I could hear their conversations, they arguments as if I was standing next to them. I rushed to the bathroom, only pausing to kick my stereo on, and start the first selection of Metal I could find, rising the volume into near-unbearable decibels, thankfully drowning the sound of the chattering. I bolted to the shower, and remained under the steady flow of water until it had long turned cold. I reluctantly got out of it when my phone began to ring.
“Jess? Thank God, we’ve been trying to reach you for hours! Where have you been?” Gert.
“I’m sorry. Had a little incident with my cell phone, and just arrived home.”
“Did you find anything?”
I hesitated. I had found something. I had, but I didn’t know how to explain it. And frankly, I wanted Lucious behind bars. I didn’t trust him, and his weird change of heart in regards to me only worried me more. “Yes. They’re staying at the Geneva Hotel, downtown. 6th floor, not sure of the room, but 613 or something. Their goth groupies seem to act as their bodyguards or something, because they were watching out for them and covering up.”
“What does that mean?” I spent a few minutes explaining what had happened, plus the fact that Lucious had attacked me, but I left out Jens’s involvement. Gert whistled. “And you fought him off? He seems very guilty now.”
“I… don’t know if he did it, but yes, it seems like it. Just… warn the cops to be careful, okay? I didn’t harm him that much.” If I explained that he had apparently recovered from crippling injures to his eyes, I’m pretty sure they would think I was mad. Hell, even I couldn’t figure that one out yet.
“Why don’t you call Europa and Matt to tell them that?”
“Frankly? I had a really rough day. I just want to check on my mum, have a spot of dinner and then get between the sheets.”
“Your mom? She’s fine. I came over to bring her dinner, and she had a host of friends over. I wound up having to run away, because they were many and were armed with baked goods. I also think she might have been hitting hard on the painkillers, because she was remarkably happy. Moreso than normal. No you get some rest. I’ll take care of calling Matt.”
“You’re an angel.”
“Don’t mention it. You’re the one who went around risking her neck and doing all the hard work.”
“Kiss kiss. Still expecting to get paid.”
“You will, and get an extra something. Just take care.”
I hung up, and plodded to my kitchen. I wasn’t feeling like eating, but I decided I needed a good night’s rest and it wouldn’t do to wake up with a growling stomach in the middle of the night. I snatched some cold pizza from the fridge, and heated it, fixing a quick lettuce and strawberries salad while I waited. Normally, this was what I’d eat when I needed to and wasn’t hungry. But not even my favourite gourmet olive oil was opening my appetite. I brought the plate with me to the living room, but, I kid you not, I tried to have a bite, and it just tasted like—nothing. Ash. Sand. I really had no appetite and set the plate away. I decided I was just in shock, and needed a good rest. So much for that. I spent the night tossing and turning, stubbornly determined to get some sleep, even if it killed me. But the excitement was probably too much because I just couldn’t get too relax enough to fall asleep – the sun was rising when I finally managed to close my eyes and drift to dreamless sleep. My alarm was set for eight, so I wouldn’t get much sleep, but a couple hours were better than none.
I woke up to darkness. Blinking, I checked my nightstand and I realized that I hadn’t heard the alarm clock or the cell phone, beeping constantly with new and unread messages and indications of missed calls. I usually had a very light sleep, born out of a propensity for anxiety and being in a less than recommendable line of work. It’d been years since I slept like a log, but I guess the stress had finally gotten to me. I am usually a wiseass and refuse to take anything seriously or commit to avoid having exactly to deal with these things; I mean you don’t expect me to go around cracking jokes all the time because I like it, do you?
Glad to finally be feeling some hunger, I headed to the kitchen in my lovingly worn, thus incredibly soft and perfect to sleep tee and panties; while I considered if I would give the pizza a second chance or if I should instead go for a ham omelette, I was returning all the calls I had gotten, lest people think I was dead. My mother was very satisfied with her happy pills, and was telling me she should get her legs broken more often, because it allowed her to be snippy and bark orders and people would forgive her; Gert was telling me that they hadn’t caught anyone that matched the description of Lucious, and that there was going to be an eulogy for Carrie later today, and if I wanted to show up; Europa was telling me the same thing as Gert had, minus the eulogy part, and asked me to call her to schedule a day for me to drop by and leave a statement for the investigation. Other than that, it was just odd family members asking about my mom – I dispatched that as quickly as I could, and settled for my omelette, because I was starting to be rather hungry. I ate quickly, but it didn’t come across as what I wanted – I mean, it was wonderfully delicious, I had never been able to distinguish all the flavours, and how they combined perfectly before – but I polished it off and I still wanted to eat.
I spent the next two hours cooking everything I had available, trying complex dishes I reserved for parties – and I was still starving. Okay, my nerves were showing up in really strange ways – first, I didn’t want to eat; now I was starving and could get my fill. Eventually, I went out, deciding I had had enough to eat. I headed to my mom’s and wasn’t surprised to find her surrounded by her court of little goth girls and boys – my Nana was there too, her mother, and I’m almost certain she had called her “minions” (as she fondly called them) to shock and outrage Nana Cecilia. I think I would have followed her instinct (I do have this thing for shocking figures of authority) if my mother wasn’t who she was – and impossible to shock. I tried to be nice and funny, but I had to admit it was exceedingly hard for me, because I was so damn hungry. And there was that annoying thumping sound – their little shrill voices were absolutely irritating, as if I had never noticed how high pitched they were. Actually, I had, but they had never bothered me before. I could hear Nana’s asthmatic breathing, the whine on the end of her inhaling – except she was breathing very softy. I could heart her heartbeat, and the tiny arthritic dissonance in it; really, we had to take her to a specialist – a good strong blow in the right place could easily stop her heart.
Christ, what was happening to me!?
I wound up saying goodbye to everyone, and bolt out as fast as I could – I noticed my mother’s disapproving glare, but I couldn’t endure any more of it. I could hear the dozen thumpings, in different rhythms. I don’t know that was that sound, or why I was so sensitive, but it was starting to get me really annoyed, and, worst, hungry. I picked up a large pizza on the way home and tried to eat it. I scarfed it down, alright, but I was still hungry. I tried to pick up a book, watch a movie, listen to music – but all I could think of was how hungry I was. Half and hour and a comfort food raid to the local 7\11, and I was curling on my couch and eating all those things that were bad for me and made my trousers shrink and become tight around the waistline (it was ME getting fat, it was the trousers shrinking and increasing – well proved scientific fact).
I ate enough to need to do aerobics for three months to recover from the entire calorie intake – and I was still hungry. I decided I was going insane, probably some strange version of PTSD, and I determined that I’d go to bed, and if this didn’t stop, I’d call the doctor and get him to check my head. Again, as a result of my sleeping all day long, I wasn’t sleepy at all. I tossed and turned, only to manage to fall into a fitful sleep when the light of the new day was already visible behind the curtains.
Again, I woke up when it was fully night, seeing that I had stupidly forgotten to set my alarm clock. My boss, apparently having heard of my little incident hadn’t said anything when I missed work the previous day, but had left a message for me – with some wiseass remark about how I probably had some bust ribs and, just like our mother, too afraid to go to the hospital, and I should get to it now, because she needed me. She did have a point in regards to my distaste for hospitals (icky places of death), but I was feeling fine. Just really cranky, and really hungry. I tried to have some fruit – I heard somewhere that when you’re missing important nutrients, your body will notify your brain, and that adorable bit of grey mass will start going you strange cravings -- like fish’s eyes or ice cubes – for things that contained those same things that your body desperately needed. Okay, so maybe I was seriously deficient in vitamin A or C or Y, and I just wanted something to compensate for it. Except I didn’t know what – it wasn’t fruit, or any of the few and old things of “healthy food”. I frankly didn’t know what to do.
Going out was better than staying in the house moping, so I decided to take the chance and go outside – maybe going to see Matt and Europa, get my statement over with, and then head to the agency, see if I could get some work done, and not get fired. The Boss lady was also my sister Chastity, but I didn’t want special favours, so I’d have to pull my weight just as anyone else.
When I got to the police station, I had to walk past a barrage of greetings – I had gone to school with many of the cops, and with a few of them to police academy – before they got sworn in and I decided I’d rather be a PI. I guess word had spread fast about the ass-kicking I had delivered, and even though there was no proof, they’d take my word for it because I’m not the kind of girl to go around making stuff up. Oh, and I actually had fought a few of them; I am not a particularly competent fighter, nor do I have a physique that compensates for my lack of skill – but I fight dirty and as viciously as I can, so I guess it gives me a fake reputation of being far better than I really was. Still, like I mentioned before, I don’t get into fights unless I can avoid it. If I can’t, then I will commit to it. I did get a few weird looks too, but I didn’t know why until I found myself face to face with Matt, who had just gone on a coffee run, and was now sipping his oversized mug – which declared shamelessly “#1 Son” with several hearts printed in bright red – obviously, a gift from his mom; nobody dared teasing him over it, and not just because Matt had more issues than national geographic – his momma was an Amazon of a woman. She had raised a litter of hell-raising boys, on her own, and Matt was the smallest and tamest of the bunch – somehow, she had managed to raise them on the straight and narrow, and despite all of them being scary as all hell, they were reliable – especially if she was around. Nobody dared to diss Momma Jackson. She was an old school lady – and I couldn’t shake that feeling that she would be totally mean in a knife fight.
“You look like shit.” Mathew said. Ah, Matt, always with a way with words.
“I feel like it too. Been having a rough couple days.”
“We didn’t find your cellophane, but we found bits of it – embedded into the fucking wall. Someone cleaned the rest – some blood too.”
“Ah, glad to see I’m not entirely insane.”
“We couldn’t find the guy you mentioned, though, neither of them – nor the blonde or the red. Their “friends” swear they don’t know that person.”
We both fell silent for a moment, not knowing what more to say. I don’t remember having traded this many words with Matthew like… in forever -- not counting the time he spent the longest time screaming abuse at me because of that stupid hedgehog incident. Don’t ask. It was an accident; even if Matt is still convinced I did it on purpose. I admit I had no idea what I looked like, because I hadn’t bothered looking myself in the mirror since this entire mess had begun, mostly because I knew I looked like crap – hell I felt like crap, and seeing just what a mess I was didn’t help me focus. So, yeah, been avoiding mirrors lately. I must have been looking pretty bad, because Mathew didn’t grill me for once, and instead just nodded me into his office “Let’s get this over with.”
I followed him, and about an hour later, I had everything read, and signed; again, I must really be looking like something the cat dragged in because he didn’t so much as give me more than his normal amount of snark; finally, I headed outside. I felt myself going to la-la-land on a speed boat: during the interrogation, I couldn’t stop staring in rapt fascination at Matt’s temple, and the little vein it was so very noticeably there; I could see it distinctively thumping and throbbing, pulsing so hypnotically that I just wanted to reach over, and, very slowly run my tongue over it.
Yeah. I wanted to lick Mathew’s temple.
I definitely needed to get my head checked.
After delivering my statement, I headed downtown to find my boss lady. Chastity, as always, was the polar opposite of me: light hair perfectly combed, impeccable tailleur, flawless makeup, and packing heat. It was one of the many things in which we didn’t see eye to eye, but I was starting to consider that she might be right. I was getting the feeling that I might have handled the whole situation with Lucious much better, if I had been armed at the time.
“Jez.” My sister had inherited Nana’s ungodly and bat-like sense of hearing. She knew it was me just from hearing me come in and slamming the door. She had also inherited the full bosom and a noticeable derriere that was the bane of her existence. I have no idea why, mind you. It made her look damn sexy, and men couldn’t stop staring. “Good God, Europa was right. You look awful.”
Ah, the grapevine working at its best. “Been having a rough couple days, my sleeping schedule has been tossed upside down since mom broke her leg.”
“Yes, she told me you’ve been flitting about her like some worried puppy. She’s a grown woman; she can take care of herself.”
“Chaz, please. We’re talking about our mother. Capable? Yes. Wanting? No.”
“You’ve been weird lately, I had always pegged you as the daddy’s little girl.” I couldn’t help groaning. I was tired, cranky and frankly tired. I wanted to do nothing but get some rest and food, and yet, here I was, getting into a teasing contest with my older sister. She did have the decency to look somewhat embarrassed, and petted my shoulder. “Come on, you’re off the hook. Just finish the paperwork and the report for the Gouldstone case, so I can close that. Then go home, and take a couple days off to straighten yourself up. Go to a doctor, get some vitamins—” Ah, my sister and her almost religious fervour for vitamins and how a proper balanced vitamin supplement can solve any ail or trouble “—lots of rest, and then report back to duty.” My sister had been the one of us three that had overcome genes, and gotten my father’s height, so she was tall and willowy, with a long neck. I could see the veins pulsing. I mean, I know that sounds weird, and that I am somewhat obsessed with neck and blood and veins – but no, I’m not becoming gotherrific. I never had any obsession for bloodplay or anything like that. It’s just… now, I couldn’t help noticing it. The veins were an intense blue, and with each beat of her heart, they’d become just slightly more visible, fuller, darker – and then, almost vanished under the skin.
“—reports on the way out.” I must have looked at her so dazed that she sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Jez, just… just tell me something. Please tell me you’re not doing drugs.”
“That’s a relief. Really, you were getting this really weird look in your face, all glazed. You sure you can handle the paperwork? If you want, just leave it for tomor—”
“I can handle it.” I said, feeling somewhat irritated that she’d consider I’d allow myself to be deterred by mere reports. Besides, I didn’t want to come to work tomorrow. I just wanted a few days without guilt to get my bearings, sleep as long as I needed, and then put my life back in order. I am sure it is pretty obvious right now that I was trying very hard to forget the very strange shit that had happened in the hotel, and that my denial was reaching epic proportions – but, hey, I didn’t like things that I didn’t like to explain, and besides, we all know that covering your eyes and pretending nothing happened solves everything, right?
I wrestled with reports, and they were a pure work of willpower. I was tense, angry, and I just wanted to go home. I had to literally force myself to sit down and type until my in-tray was cleaned of my backwork, and I could go home feeling virtuous. It was well past midnight when I finished, but Chaz was still at her office – the blinds were pulled down, and I could see a man’s legs sitting on the couch in front of her desk, which meant she was with a costumer. I left her a note on the reception area, to make sure she’d see it, and I finally headed out.
My grumpiness had now hit new, never before recorded levels. I was starting to feel a gaping hole in my stomach – but the pains of hunger were now spreading over the rest of my body. You know how when you don’t eat for a long time, your stomach starts to hurt and trying to eat itself (as my Nana said?) – well, I was feeling the exact same thing, except slowly spreading all over. On impulse, I dropped by a fast food place, grabbed myself a few hamburgers before heading home, and realizing I wasn’t craving for whatever (hahaha) nutrients the burgers might have. Leaving the first half uneaten, I went to have a long bath, and try to relax. It’s almost 3 in the morning when I hit the sack, still hungry, but a little more relaxed. I can’t sleep, however, and I toss and turn until my bed is a mess, and I’m cocooned in my own sheets. The sun is almost coming up when I fall to a dreamless sleep.
This time, I didn’t feel guilty when I woke up and I realized it was night. I allowed myself to lounge in bed and try to get more sleep. Clearly, I was exhausted and needed to make up for lack of sleep – except, it didn’t come. I was more awake than ever, and I could hear everything around me, the conversations of the neighbours, the dogs barking in the distance, so loudly I could swear they were in the room with me. It irritated me, that metallic twang to their annoying little dog voices. The hunger was now making it hard for me to focus, because it has hit the pain levels. I got some painkillers from the bathroom, and, for the first time in many days, I see my face in the mirror.
And they were right. I look like the living dead: deathly pale, almost pallor – which looks even more disturbing when it’s underneath the well-tanned skin. My eyes were feverishly shiny, their greyness having acquired lately, it seemed, a bluish tinge of an intense, almost turquoise colour. My hair was a mess, still as thick and dark as ever, but dishevelled, no doubt from my habit of running my hands through it. I don’t know why, but the person in the mirror irritated me, angered me so deeply, for reasons I cannot comprehend that I just had to scream, venting my frustration and my pain for the first time in days. The mirror cracked in a spider web pattern, but the sound was muffled by my loud roar. There was a moment of silence – absolute silence, the first I had heard in days, as if the world had collectively held its breath – and then, the dogs began howling in the distance. I was close to insanity, I knew, as I looked at the cracked mirror, my hand still stuck in the centre of the spider web cracks, the pattern decorated with my blood. I felt tears coming, and I wiped my face angrily. I was too damn young to be in the menopause and have mood swings. And I sure as hell wasn’t pregnant. I realized, stupidly, that I had just used my injured hand to wipe my face, and now had blood and glass all over it. A sob wracked my body as I saw the deep gashes into my hand, as I knew I was going insane; I could see, for a moment, my other grandmother, the one we did not talk about, because she had gone insane, and had to be confined to a padded cell and restraining strips. And now I was starting to go down the same way – distractedly, I took my fingers to my mouth, to suck the blood and stop the haemorrhaging. The notion made me giggle as I licked and licked at my hand – the gashes were so deep that I’d need stitches, medical attention – not kissing it better. But I licked and licked and licked, and nicked my tongue in the shards of glass that were still embedded into my skin. I continued to lick and lick and lick, determined not to leave a drop left; I don’t know if I was trying to subconsciously prove myself that I could still get my life under control, that I wasn’t loosing it, and that I wouldn’t have a padded room with orderlies giving me sponge baths in my near future. Strangely, the sharp taste of blood made me focus, almost sizzling on the tip of my tongue, sharp, delightful metallic flavour. I licked with wild abandon – maybe I needed iron. Anaemia would explain my lassitude – okay, so that was a wild guess. When I noticed, I had licked my hand clean, and it had stopped bleeding. I lay on the floor of my bathroom, and willed myself not to notice it, using all my willpower to keep myself controlled, and not burst into tears. Hour after hour, I lay there, broken, helpless, clinging desperately to my last shreds of dignity. I don’t know how long I had laid there, hearing things I didn’t want to hear, feeling my entire body pulse with pain, when I started to feel really tired; suddenly, sleep seemed a very good idea. I managed to wash my face and teeth before I stumbled out of the bathroom, feeling very lightheaded. I collapsed on the bed, not even having time to draw the covers back, and fell into a sleep as deep as death.
When I wake up, there was nothing but silence.
It was night again, and, this time, I couldn’t hear the dogs in the distance, or the sounds of my neighbours arguing. I couldn’t even hear my own breathing, I realized, after a while. Might as well – I had died in my sleep, and now my soul was waiting to leave my body. Strange. I would expect the afterlife to come much faster and not letting me linger and wait. I mean, dying is bad enough; we had to hang in a sitting room to wait to be taken to the great beyond too? Geez.
I lost track of the hours, and I was too tired to try and get up to look. So I waited. And waited. And waited – for something, anything to happen. For the white light or the white angels or the men in white to come to take me. Nothing came. I would fall asleep for tiny, fitful moments, then wake up again. Then fall asleep once more – time lost all meaning, and I just waited. I’m not sure how much time went by. Days? Hours? I know I slept for another whole day at least, because I remembered seeing the early rays of sun lighting my heavy curtains, before passing out again. I don’t know how much longer I lay in that bed, too weak to move, too broken to care.
“God, you could hurry, goddamnit.” I heard myself say, in the midst of delirious visions of my childhood, and reruns of the Power Rangers. On my death bed and I fantasized with a group of teenagers dressed as coloured condoms. Freud would have a field day with me.
“God isn’t coming, I’m afraid.”
The stranger voice jolted me awake, bringing some reaction to me for the first time ever in god knows how long. I forced myself to peek up. “Jens.” Before letting myself fall back on the pillow. In fact, I didn’t need to peek to see it was him. I could recognize his voice anywhere. Strange, on itself, since I had an awful ear for voices, and that had been the root of a few humorous incidents before.
Actually, it was as if I knew it was him before he even talked. I can’t really explain. I just knew. His voice was really unimportant. I felt the mattress give in under his weight as he sat down next to me. For the longest time, we sat in silence; him watching me, I too weak to care or be able to look at him. I don’t know why, but his presence was… strangely comforting. As if I had finally released my breath after holding it for so long. It could be I was in love with him; or, possibly, something less complicated like we having some sort of mystic bond, forged across centuries of reincarnation. Yeah, that’s me: between love and crappy mystical mumbo jumbo, I’ll always go for the latter. Fewer headaches.
“You know…” he finally said “I’ve seen it all with my other scions. Some accepted my gift with glee. Some turned on me. And some, like you, went into denial – those are easy to spot. And, invariably, I’d let them grow into despair, until they broke – some ended up killing the ones they loved, when the thirst became too intense to bear. It taught them a good lesson – to those who survived.”
“A good lesson? Killing those who they loved?”
“Oh, not that. Rather, that running away from your problems won’t solve anything, and can actually make it worse.”
“You mean, had they come to you and ask for your help?”
“Not the only option, but yes, the simplest one.”
I was growing too tired to argue, to talk to him. I just wanted this to be over, whatever it was. But here I was, the girl who could never walk out on a dare or an argument. “What did you do to me?”
“Saved your life.”
“You… want me to believe that.”
“Lucious would have killed you.”
“He hates me?”
“Yes. And is a little in love with you too—”
“Not… all bad news, then.”
“—which is why he hates you even more.”
“Ah. Good to see that at least something is unchanged; too bad it’s my rotten luck.”
“For someone who’s fading, you are rather quirky and full of sly words.”
“I feel better now that you’re around.” I had said it before I could measure my words. When said like that, it sounded really stupid.
“Do you know why?”
“You’re my long lost twin! I always wanted a sister my age.”
That made him laugh, and, god, it was as if I could feel his laughter in my bones, a wave of warmth inundating me “You know, had things gone differently—I might had come for you out of my own volition. You are—”
“—amazing? Delicious? Strawberry flavoured?”
“Oh, entertaining, is it? I’m glad I can be of assistance.”
“Do you always joke this much?” His tone was… different. I could tell he had been enjoying or little banter, but this was no longer a jest.
“Only when I’m scared.” I admitted quietly. He didn’t answer, and instead set his cool hand on my forehead.
“You joke a lot.”
I shrugged. It was true, but I didn’t want to vocalize it. This was the ugly, definite true. I was scared a lot. I was scared of the future and I was scared of ending my days alone. I was scared I’d outlive those I loved. I was scared of being helpless, and of dying begging. I was scared some idiot I was investigating would come knock on my door and shoot me dead. I was scared I’d end up opening the wrong box, and end up getting thrown to the fishies. I was scared of falling for the wrong guy and getting my heart broken. I was scared of the IRS coming over to break my knees.
So, I dealt with fear the only way I knew how – by getting in as deep as I could and facing exactly that what scared me most head on. Because if you don’t face fear and turn it into an ally, it will become your enemy. And in my line of work, I had too many of those as was. With some ups and downs, my plan had more or less worked: I had been attacked by one of my disgruntled mark, after his wife got her divorce and half his property – but I had broken his nose and two fingers, with nothing but a small dent in my car to show for it; I had my heart broken by the only jerk I had become serious with, the day he proposed to me, because he had decided to celebrate our engagement by banging my cousin; still, since his prized Mustang ’68 spontaneously combusted, I felt somewhat avenged, anyway. Still, I had to admit that this technique had served me well, most of the time. Nothing to fear but fear itself, and all that.
Except the IRS.
That was the only fear I couldn’t overcome.
“IRS.” Jens said, sounding somewhat surprised.
“You are thinking of the IRS.”
“I—what? How did you know?!”
“You are thinking of the IRS. With all that happened to you, and the IRS is on your mind.” It was as if he was unsure on whether he should be horrified or amused. Or both.
“You can read minds too?”
“Well, pretty much. But I wasn’t reading yours.”
“Then how did you know?” The whine and petulance on my voice was too much for me, even despite the entire situation. I took a mental note to tone it down a notch.
“You’re one of my brood. Your blood tells me.”
That was a new one. I’d have to start using it on parties. “My blood tells you?”
“Are you sure you want to play that ‘Turn My Answers Into Questions’ game? Because my patience is starting to grow dangerously thin.”
“No. I mean it. Seriously, man, my blood told you?”
I could feel a wave of annoyance from him. Even without opening my eyes, even without him so much moving – I could damn feel it. “I’m through. Look at me, Jezebel James, and tell me what happened to you; tell me what you became.”
“I… what? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
His annoyance turned to anger, and suddenly, an irresistible force had pulled me out of bed, dragging me by my loose sleeping t-shirt. I really didn’t have a choice on whether I followed him or not, and I stumbled on myself to keep up. He dragged me to the bathroom, hissing in frustration as he saw the shattered mirror. So, he turned around, and marched to the hallway, with me stumbling awkwardly behind him. With my T-shirt bunched inside his fist, I really didn’t have a whole lot of options but to trudge on behind. Without warning, he turned me to him and slammed me against the wall.
And then, he proceeded, to let out the most horrifying, hair-rising, vicious snarl I had ever heard, right in my face – his canines were not human, extended – fangs. His eyes were again that same electric blue. Something stirred inside me. I was terrified, because that was so wrong in so many ways that I couldn’t explain. I felt fear bubbling upwards, but, instead of screaming, I roared right back at him – a predator challenging another.
Without so much as spending a heartbeat, he turned me around and almost slammed my face into the full length mirror I had to make the tiny hall look larger. My mouth was still frozen in a rictus of anger, and two-inch fangs were visible – impossible to miss, rather; under the right light, my grey eyes could be called blue, but never this eerie, supernatural electric blue, just like Jens’s.
“Say it!” He snarled on my ear, and, when I struggled, he shook me with as much ease as if he was a mother wolf, and I was the cub she was carrying around in her teeth.
That was when I snapped from the shock of suddenly discovering I had developed a frankly worrisome orthodontic problem – and noticed Jens had to face a much more complicated affliction.
He had absolutely no reflection.
I stared at it for a long minute. Then, slowly, turned to face him. Yep, still behind me. Then I looked at the mirror again. Just me. I placed my fingers on the wrist connected to the hand gripping the front of my shirt. Yet, they were solid. Still there. Apparently, I noticing it had stopped him from prodding me again with the whole “tell me”.
“You have no reflection.”
“But I do.”
“Yes.” Geez. Monosyllabic much?
“What are you, Jezebel James?”
Oh, boy. We weren’t moving past this point, were we? In fact, for all my bravado and insistence, I just didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to admit to this, because this was just not possible. This was not something I believed in – something that could happen to me, in this age and time, the ramblings of a mad Irishman, the sexual fantasies of a bored Mormon housewife, or of an insane raving New Orleans lunatic. This couldn’t be anything more than fiction.
“What are you?” He asked again, quietly. The tone in his voice was so much cooler, so much more dangerous that I felt my heart freeze. His patience had run out. I could read ‘last chance’ in it. I feared for my life, and I know he’d kill me there and then if I didn’t comply.
So, I forced myself to say it, even against my better judgement and every rational fibre of my being. “Vampire.” I whispered.
He released me, and his anger seemed to have evaporated, but now that I had taken the brunt of it, I could still sense it on the edge of his presence, faded, muted, but still there. “You still have a human soul.” He said. “That’s why your reflection is still there.”
“Yes, because my chairs, and my walls that are, incidentally reflected there, also have a human soul.”
“Science doesn’t apply here. You can’t quantify us or study us. We defy every rule it has, so drop the humour or attempts to rationalize it. Otherwise, I’ll start thinking you’re less of a smartass, and more of a disrespectful whelp.”
I sighed, and made an effort. My inappropriate humour had gotten me in trouble before, but usually only at family functions. Not with something that could very obviously rip my heart out. “Look, I’m sorry—I… don’t know how to handle this.”
“Listen more, talk less. Stop interrupting me.” Okay, sound advice. “Your reflection fades as your humanity does. It will eventually, like all of us. When you’re older, you too will stop having a reflection or a presence in camera. It’s as if reality reject us as we reject the laws it imposes on everyone else – death, disease, permanent injury…”
“What if I stay as I am? What if I don’t want to lose my humanity?”
“I wish I could give you the comforting hope you crave for; it’s painfully obvious. But I can’t. If you want to survive, you will have to lose your humanity.”
“Why? Why do I have to lose it to survive? Is it mandatory by law that all vampires are ‘evil’?”
“No. Not mandatory by law; but, rather, necessity.” He finally released me, and I turned to face him “You will have to feed. Of blood, and life. And the more of it you take of it, the stronger you’ll become. But that which makes you truly powerful – is sacrifice. Your humanity and the life of your victims. If you take a small sacrifice – a sip of blood here, a sip there, nobody will notice it – you will not evolve. Your powers will come with each life you drain – blood is power, and lifeblood is the most powerful of them all. If you really want to become powerful enough to survive, either you stay with me, as my scion and servant forever, or you start killing. When you start killing, your humanity will fade – and so will your reflection, as a cruel, eternal remembrance of your sins. First it goes faint, transparent, and then it begins to blur and fade. And one day, it will be completely gone.”
“So I can…drink blood without killing anyone?”
“If that is your choice, yes.”
“Won’t that turn them into vampires?”
His lips twitched in a start of a smile: “If that were to be truth, and everyone we bit turned into one of us, then the earth would be overran with vampires by now. No, feeding of someone won’t turn them. Now, come. You need to get dressed. We will hunt tonight – I could give you my blood, or have brought someone for you to feast on, but it is important that you learn.”
Despite everything, I found myself liking the way he thought. Okay, so I was also heavily in denial. I was figuring I would be waking up soon. But I still liked it how he did not flutter about, was trying to make me self-sufficient, and the pompous, overly elaborate manner of speaking only slipped into his speech every now and then. I also liked, I realized, his powerfully drawn face, the strong jaw, the surprisingly soft mouth, and the pale eyelashes that made him look younger, almost vulnerable, wide-eyed. I hobbled back to my room, to slip into some jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, and run a brush through my hair. I wouldn’t be earning any beauty awards any time soon, but at least I was now back to the ‘human being’ scale. Like a gentleman, he had waited for me to get ready, not even trying to sneak a peek. I think. Can’t be sure with vampires, you know? On my way back to the hallway, where he waited, I picked up my long leather jacked and pulled it on. “I’m ready.”
He nodded. “We should hurry. Normally, I’d use a more inductive method to raise a fledgling, and let you stumble across your mistakes, and learn from them but you’re—”
“—too adorable? You find me spunky and energetic? The daughter you never had?”
“—too stubborn. Would take too much time for you to actually accept what you are and what you must do. You’d end up getting in trouble with the Old Man’s lieutenants.” Funnily enough, I heard him capitalizing the “Old Man”. At times, it was as if I was inside his head.
“Who’s the Old Man?” I finally asked. We were outside by then, and the night was a chilly, crisp, November one. No clouds in the sky, and not a lot of people outside. The few ones around were scurrying outside, hurrying to the warmth and safety of their homes. A funny notion struck me, on whether vampires had to hibernate during wintertime. People were more scarce, less likely to be out at night. On the other hand, the night-time was longer, therefore, it was more likely for them to be active. And, well, unlike other predators, they could actually follow their prey into their dens and meeting places. People were still active during winter. They just stayed indoors. It was then I realized he hadn’t answered my question. “Who’s he?” I insisted.
“He’s the most powerful of us all in the area. He’s not exactly located here, but he has dominion over us all, and we give him deference. Out of respect for his age—and power.”
“Was he the one who made you?”
“No. Usually, after a few decades, young fledglings try to escape their Paters or Maters. Their makers” He clarified, although I had gotten the meaning. Fathers or Mothers. “And to get as much space possible between them.”
“Why? I thought it’d be safe to stay with your maker. I mean, he’s more likely to like you than some stranger vampire.” I liked Jens. I didn’t want to have to strike out on my own while I didn’t understand exactly what I had become. Besides, he’d been quite nice to me. I didn’t see a reason for me to go.
“You noticed you can catch at times glimpses of my thoughts and emotions?” He asked, and I nodded. “Well, it works both ways. I can know pretty much how you feel and even catch stray thoughts. And… I can force my will on you, if I wish it.”
“What? You mean, mind control?”
“No, nothing that crass. You will want to please me, to do my bidding so I am happy with you. My blood is in you, and that is power. Each time you drink of me, the closer we’ll be, and the more you’ll want to make my will your own.”
I paused, nearly stumbling looking at him in disbelief. “No way.”
He gave me a tight-lipped smile “You see now why we try to escape our Makers as soon as we can? To stop being their scions, and instead to go out on our own?”
I didn’t answer immediately, searching in myself the will to please him that he spoke of – I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t see myself going ‘yes, Master’ or ‘anything you want, Master’. Besides, he had been pretty nice to me all this time. Why wouldn’t I like him – oh, other than the fact that he had killed me and made me into a blood drinking marauder. Or maybe that was why I was taking this so well, and not trying to stab him and get a stake through his heart.
“They say,” he began so abruptly that I nearly jumped “that maternal love is actually chemically induced to ensure mother and children bond, and that the mother will do all she can to raise the cub and continue to increase the population. Maybe something similar exists between a vampire and his fledglings.”
I glared at him; he shrugged, as if to say he didn’t mean to read my mind. I didn’t answer and increased my stride. I wasn’t sure where we were going, and he didn’t say, so we walked aimlessly for a while. Finally, I was calm enough to ask: “What about sunlight? Crosses? Running water—hey, does it mean I can’t shower?”
“Mythos. We are just like any other creature in creation. You don’t need to shower, however, because you don’t have natural bodily functions – no sweating. But you can easily, if you want. Crosses? Never affected me, but I was never confronted by someone with true faith. I’m not even sure if, in this day and age, anyone capable of such pure belief even exists.”
“So, in theory, we could be repelled with crosses?”
“Or any other instrument of faith. Once, a witch that lived in Kilsbergen held me at bay with a crooked old knife. Turns out it was the badge of her office, the leader of the coven that inhabited the area. The thing she believed most in.”
Witches existed too? What would be next? Werewolves? Elves? The Chupacabra? “Oh? What happened then?”
His smile was sharp and scary in its icy beauty “I killed her with an arrow to the heart.”
That made me shiver, but I reproached myself mentally – he had killed a lot of people by now, because if he had been around witches, he’d have to have a couple centuries on him – and he had absolutely no reflection – nor did he show up on film (at least it explained his absence from the security footage). It had to mean that he had taken his share of lives. On second thought, I was starting to worry about how cavalierly I was taking all of this. I should be screaming, throwing a fit, running around in circles. But I wasn’t. I was strangely calm and detached. Could it be he had—
I stopped and stared at him. He just looked back, but I could see amusement in his eyes. AS if he knew exactly what I was thinking. He said nothing, and after a while, I started to walk again. Did I want to know?
I didn’t ask.
Coward, I told myself. I still didn’t ask; and, instead, followed him. He was now leading, walking determinedly, as if he had an idea where he wanted to go. We walked in silence for a few hundred yards, until I had to break it, and speak – I blame it on my Italian genes: can’t shut my mouth for my life “So, sun doesn’t work on us?”
“The older you become, the harder it is to stay awake during the day – or to stand the light of the sun. You can walk in it, if you must, but it is a painful, gruelling task. None of our—abilities work under the sunlight, and we are severely weakened during the day – too long under it, and you will start to actually sustain injury, and it might prove fatal on older vampires, if they stay out for too long; moreso if they haven’t fed for long. You are still within your lifetime, you won’t start to truly fear the sun until you have half a century or so on you.”
“Coffins? Silver? Garlic? Dressing in capes? Never drinking… red wine? Compulsively counting grains of rice?”
He gave me a sharp, hardly amused look. “Don’t be a smartass.”
I insisted, despite his annoyance. Hey, I wanted to know what I could count on, in case this turned out not to be a nightmare or a prolonged bout of insanity. “Do we have to sleep in coffins?” I wasn’t claustrophobic, but the notion didn’t exactly make me comfortable.
“No, we do not. And before you ask, you don’t have to sleep on your native soil either.”
“Then all the legends are bullshit?”
For a long moment, he didn’t answer, as if he was pondering on how to explain it. “We are a varied and complex lot. Some of us, when they were turned, believed the legends – the garlic and the silver, chief amongst them, as well as running water – and so, to them, they really could affect them. Belief is a powerful tool, especially in the darker ages, when information and knowledge was not so readily available. We started as humans, and when we died, we brought over pent-up frustrations, mental instability, personal issues – that only get worse as we grow old. There are obsessive-compulsive humans – now imagine taking one of them and make him immortal, then letting a few human lifetimes go past. After a few centuries, it’s not a surprise that his mental issues have been seriously aggravated and reached an almost caricature-like level. Our body doesn’t decay, but our minds, eventually, give in – either they break or they become something… not human. The human mind was not designed to last for several centuries.”
And that was my fate, apparently. Fuck.
“So, we can’t… have children?”
“You are dead. So no, no you can’t. You can make your body emulate bodily functions if you really must, breathing, sneezing, leaking all those fun fluids, being warm to the touch, but it is a conscious effort you have to make, and you spend your strength to do so. So, after a while, we stop doing it, as it is just a waste of energy. We do it at times to help ups hunt, to blend in, but eventually it just becomes another tool in your arsenal.”
“Do you miss being human?”
That question seemed to catch him by surprise. He wasn’t just pausing to think what to say, or how to better explain it – the pace of his footsteps actually shifted rhythm, and I was surprised I had unconsciously been aware of it. A long moment went past and he finally had to answer, reluctantly. “I don’t know. I can’t remember it any more; just bits and pieces of it.”
“You forgot your past?!”
“I told you already that the human mind is not designed to last for much more than a century or so. It has its limitations.” He sounded grudging, as if admitting this weakness irritated him. He seemed so irritated, in fact, that he almost dragged me into a narrow alleyway. “Now, we do as all hunters. We wait.” I wanted to point out that unlike most hunters, we were very visible and our “prey” could very well spot us and wonder what we were doing in waiting there. But I knew better than to further provoke him so I just followed his lead. “Consider yourself fortunate I’ll be here to tell you when to stop, or you’d be killing a few people on your first outings.” Oh, I had apparently struck a chord with him because his usually pleasant and relaxed demeanour was gone. Note to self, next time avoid the topic.
“So, I just run to the next guy who comes in and bite him on the neck?”
“You might want to avoid the jugular. Dirty blood. Go for the carotid, but be warned, you can kill someone in little more than a couple of minutes.”
That notion made me feel a chill down my back. I would be having, literally, someone’s life in my hands. A distraction, even small, could cause death. “What… how… but then I can’t feed from there. I wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding.”
“Our saliva can easily heal a small, fresh wound – like, say, two puncture marks on someone’s neck. It will still leave a mark, bruising most often, but nothing noticeable.”
“Like mosquitoes? Coagulating enzymes?”
“Y-yes, I suppose just like mosquitoes.”
“Ho do I know where to stop.”
“You don’t. It’s something you train and learn, eventually. How to time it, how to tell that the heart rate is dropping under the safe limits – trial and error, most of the times.”
Except ‘error’ here meant someone would die. No pressure at all.
“Won’t they scream when I bite them?”
His smile made a brief, split-second reappearance. “You didn’t, did you?”
Touché. Actually, I didn’t exactly remember him biting me. Just the sharp pain, and then… the pleasure. I can see how easily the former could be so easily forgotten in the onslaught of the latter. Like mosquitoes again – one tiny prick, and lo, and behold, no more bleeding or pain. Except mosquitoes still itched slightly. I guess it was one of those evolutionary things – if a full-grown man bit you on the neck and it itched slightly, you’d be complaining like hell, and not being at all cooperative. Comparatively, if you got something close to an orgasm at the same time, you’d be far less likely to notice – or mind – the blood sucking in progress. Funny to think of vampires as evolutionary darlings as well. Was there a vampiric equivalent of the Cro-magnon?
I heard the footfalls approaching at the same time Jens said “Someone’s coming.” I glanced around in search of a place to hide, but he paused me with an imperious gesture. I froze in place, and an old woman in rags, a coat too large for her emaciated frame, her greasy, wild hair stuffed under a black woollen cap, appeared, walking with laboured breathing and effort. A few seconds after, the irregular sound of her heartbeat reached my ears, sharpened by hunger; its siren call drew me irresistibly, and I motioned forward, but his arm moved faster than I could see, barring my path. I glanced at him but said nothing. As the woman vanished, and I could no longer heart her steps – or heartbeat – I looked expectantly at my companion “You should avoid contaminated or polluted blood.” He said.
“We can get diseases?” Yuck. That was going to make my feeding doubly problematic. Risk of infection and moral dilemmas. This was getting better and better.
“No.” His smile was nasty. “We do not show the symptoms – or internal organs do not work unless we put an effort into it, our blood is dead, the diseases that would kill or cripple a human system have no effect. Eventually, the contagion fades. But, in certain cases, we can be carriers.”
“Okay. Any last moment advice?” I meant it, too. And not even one tiny joke. Now that I was about to do the deed, I was getting as nervous as all hell. So many things could go wrong.
“You can get drunk or high.”
“If the blood has enough alcoholic content, it can affect you. Same thing for intravenous drugs. Nothing particularly debilitating.” Jerk, this was his way of teasing me. “Just thought you should know.”
“I will go on a limb here, and say I trust you to be enough of a gentleman to stop me when I start pulling off my clothes.”
He held my hand, and took it to his lips, his cold lips pressing against my skin, and holding it for a second more than necessary. His blue eyes were watching me right above the line of my knuckles, and they were intense, and strangely warm; they made me wonder what kind of human being he had been while he was alive. “Your virtue is safe with me, min vackra dam.” He didn’t say what it meant, and I didn’t ask, but I liked the intonation he had put in it.
Feeling a little more confident, I turned to face the silent footsteps of a young man, who, judging from dishevelled, sleepy look, and piles of books under his arm, was a student. For a moment, I caught a stray thought of him falling asleep on the library, and missing dinner – and then, as fast as it had appeared, it was gone.
“Run, now.” Jens whispered behind me. I didn’t even question his voice or hesitated. I knew it was the right thing to do. The steady, strong heartbeat lured me, and the world crawled to a standstill as I rushed the boy. My approach was clumsy, and I jumped him from behind, onto his back. Before he could complain or even stagger, I had my teeth on his neck, biting down. Damn, I had forgotten to ask him exactly where the carotid was located. That was the last conscious thought I remember having – once you’re in the prowl, when the hunt sings through you, it stops being about rationality. It suddenly becomes all instinct, all about the laws of prey and predator; you body takes control, and the need to hunt – to feed – is the primary instinct. It gets inscribed into us upon our birth – or perhaps awakened upon our death – and we need to follow that imperative. To refuse it is simply delaying the inevitable, because our instinct will eventually take over and gain control if we deny feeding the hunger for too long.
Were I not so enticed into the hunt, I would have admired just how quiet my footsteps were, how fast I was moving, and, despite feeling awkward and clumsy, I had moved with unerring accuracy for the blood that sung in those luscious veins, beckoning me. I had a flash of conscious that lasted a second, where I remembered old biology and anatomy classes, and I had the vague notion that the carotid was further to the front. I bit down hard, to as much to the front as I could, but that was as much as I could do to seek the fresh blood.
It didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered the moment my sharp teeth pierced the vulnerable skin, and a hot gush of warm blood kissed my lips and filled my mouth. It was glorious – as finally taking a pained breath after suffocating. The edge of the pain I hadn’t realized I was feeling dulled, and faded. I felt rejuvenated, all fear gone – nothing mattered but the taste of blood. It was precious, unique, and worth any risk. Warmth spread all over me. In my arms, student made some soft, gasping sounds, struggling so faintly in my grasp before going still, but he didn’t matter at all. It only mattered that him and me were united in this perfect of bonds – for a second, I knew his secret fears and desires, his thoughts and old memories, too garbled and confused for me to understand, but I knew him as no-one else had known him in his life. It was absolute intimacy.
I took another mouthful.
It was just as glorious as the first, stars exploding behind my eyes, unbridled savage joy, and I think I laughed. Or maybe I cried. I couldn’t tell. The world was awash with red, and I could see infinity.
I took another—and it was then I felt an iron vice crush my shoulder. I released my prey for a moment to hiss at the invader – he’s mine! Mine! His blood is mine! – but I could only see the electric blue eyes staring back at me. His will pinned me down for a moment, a split second, but it was enough for me to recover a sliver of my rationality. The massive backhand that ensued, and that made my jaw rock, my neck snap, and my ears ring, brought the rest of it along.
“Your prey will die at this rate. Lick the wound.”
Still stunned by the impact and the unbearably delicious taste in my lips, I obeyed, tremulous. I licked it several times to make sure it was closed. On inspection, at least in the dark light of the alleyway, there were no traces on his neck – no gaping wound, no dual puncture marks. Now completely in control of my thoughts and actions, I searched for a heartbeat. I found it very faint and fluttery, like a tiny bird; fumbling in my pockets, I pulled out for a cell phone and dialled for the emergency services. The operator’s cold voice brought me back to reality enough for me to make up a good story on the spot, and say something about him just collapsing, maybe low blood pressure. I looked at my Pater, as if quizzically asking if we should leave, but his countenance was stony – I was on my own. My own decision now. He had helped me control myself; now it was up to me. If I was smart, I should run away now, without anyone being able to identify me, leave him to his luck, maybe he’d still have his wallet and belongings when the ambulance arrived.
I chose to stay.
He might remember me, he might not. But I had just endangered him to get my fix, and stolen some of his life to sustain mine. The least I could do was to send him off in safety.
I crouched to adjust him, so he wouldn’t be a crumpled pile of arms and legs on the floor, putting his head on his folded jacket.
The ambulance came and went, taking the limp form of the studded, sirens wailing. They told me he’d be okay, and whether I knew him. When I said no, they nodded, thanked me, and left.
Not a single glance to my Pater, who was standing but a few yards away, alone.
Then, they were gone, the alleyway was silent once more.
With the gift of life still heavy in my stomach and warm in my lips, I turned to face my maker, and together, we walked to a world of nightmares.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."
— Audrey Hepburn