The House of Dreams

by Craig Saunders

 

The essence of dreams, the stark reality that makes the mind doubt what is real and what is not, is the suspension of disbelief. For a time, most often whilst asleep but sometimes while the dreamer sits with a mug of ale, or a glass of fine wine, time is forgotten and a moment can seem drawn long and pulled out of shape. With a smoke wheel burning, a man might hallucinate and see his lost wife, a child he never had, or in a darker moment his own death come to him with a blade in hand and steely teeth bared in a snarl.

Perhaps, you might think, a dream will come true. A daydream, holding the local barmaid’s full breast in one hand while your wife is forgotten. A dream of a young princess, sullied by your attentions in a deserted hallway, hallowed ground of royalty and your body tense with excitement while you imagine your hands drifting over forbidden flesh… even the evil have daydreams.

But daydreams our not our concern for they do not come true.

Daydreams, sweet dreams. These are not our dreams. Our dreams lurk in the night. They haunt the sullen hours when the moon does not shine and we forget that starlight comes from other suns than ours.

Ours are the dreams that another gives us… the sneak illusions of the vampire… the befuddled mind… the glamour that covers the approaching stench of decay.

The nightmare. That is our province tonight.

* * * * *

Shawford Crale knelt on the hard floor and took a fine brush and palette from his manservant. His servant stood ready behind his master holding a lamp for better light while Crale painted. He began with a circle. It was a perfect circle, drawn by hand.

He painted a pattern of intricate design within the circle.

An hour later and dusk had fled.

“Night comes, my lord.”

“I feel it, too. It is time. I must begin the incantations. You know what to do.”

“A courtesan, this time?”

“No, I have a taste for the seedy tonight. A wench, I think. One that nobody will miss.”

“As you will,” said the manservant. He turned without a further word and left the dining hall.

Shawford Crale sprinkled sand on the design to dry the paint. Then he placed a chair within the circle and took a sip from the wine glass that was beside him on the cold stone floor. He took a steadying breath and began to chant. It was not easy, conjuring demons, and they were ever hungry. But he paid the price in blood and they were sated.

The rewards, though… they were considerable. His returning youth and newfound wealth that came with the foreknowledge to play the markets. He was fast becoming an immensely wealthy man. A man to be reckoned with, even though Ulbridge was just a small town… one day it would be bigger. Perhaps he would even take to the wider world.

The price? Blood. As always.

But never his.

* * * * *

A cockerel crowed the evening call over Ulbridge, signalling nightfall, if not bedtime for some. On the King’s Row sots walked wearily from their daytime lives to drown their sorrows in their cups. Wives wiped evening meals from careless children’s mouths. Careless children pulled their covers high, snuggled into their pallets and straw mattresses. Horsehair, for the few.

On Sunday Street in the Pauper’s Green a small child pulled a rare book from under her covers and brought her candle closer to the bed. She had read the story cover to cover since her mother bought her the book. She knew they could ill afford books, but she loved her mother for the expense and the thought. It was the most beautiful story she had ever read.

It was called a “fairytale”, her mother had told her. There was a lord in it, and he took a pauper’s widow for his wife, and her daughter for his own.

It was her favourite story, but this night she felt restless.

The front door closed quietly as her mother left her once again for the night. The little girl wished her mother safe from harm.

Her mother joined her neighbour. Together they walked the streets. They walked from Sunday Street along the canal, hitching their skirts high as they stepped over a puddle on the canal way. They would be hitching their skirts aplenty tonight.

A short walk later, a kiss for good luck, and Ellisindre stood alone under a lamplight. It was early yet, for a courtesan. But she had no illusions. She was no lord’s filly, bought with a ruby and a smile. She would not be spending the night perfumed and drunk on fine wines. She was a common whore. A penny and she would perform, for the fat and toothless, for the rough and shy. For old men angry with their dirks for their rusty steel, young men drunk in their cups thinking of their wives in distant cities or perhaps a lazy walk away on a different street.

A man walked by and she swung her hips to one side and pulled her skirt to show an ankle.

“’Tis early yet, love,” said the man with a kind smile, unusual for most. “Perhaps later, if I have the time.”

She smiled back and shrugged sadly. He moved on and the street fell quiet. It was too early for most gents, but she worked a full night. She was no stranger to hard work. And it was hard work. But she could earn no more working the fields or sweeping the Thane’s manor. Pulling mugs of ale for the drunk? No longer. Perhaps, had her life taken a different turn… but not now. Not now they knew her for what she was.

And what of her, when she grew too old to turn an eye with her ankle and too old to turn a trick?

Another man walked past and ignored her a little too forcibly. Too good for her, he thought, now he was sober. But she was a good judge. He’d be back after he’d sunk a few and was perhaps one or two to the good.

She shivered and pulled her shawl ’round her neck tighter. She could drop it an inch or two when the next gent came a-by, but she felt the chill more than usual tonight. She looked up through the lamplight to gauge the stars, but there was naught to see but a low bank of clouds moving down. Fine luck and an ill night for work. Fog rolling down from the sky and in from the lakes. A dangerous night for a girl on the streets.

And a poor one for working. She could hardly bark her wares out loud on the street. Fog would hide her from her gents and dampen their ardour. No one wanted to be out in the fog. Men were a superstitious lot. Creatures prowled the night in the fog. It bred stories like a man bred children.

It was coming in fast. Coming down the street. A dark, starless night and damp fog a-rolling.

Madal’s horns, an ill night for her kind of work.

The taverns down the street were growing in noise. On a night like tonight she wished she could afford to give a percentage of her takings on a license. Then she could work the back rooms of the taverns. Work in comfort… well, at least the warm. But she could not afford a groat, let alone a penny.

An hour passed slowly, muffled carousing coming from down the street and across the cobblestones. Occasionally she heard a boot heel walking unevenly through the deadening fog, a gent passing by on the other side of the canal, unaware of her and another penny passing her by.

Each time she heard footsteps in the distance she cursed her luck.

Her little girl was sickening. The priest could do little and her daughter shrivelled in the light, becoming a creature of the dark like her. She had tried all that she could think of and it had availed her little. The poor child withered like a dry shrub, like she had at the age of thirty after she had birthed the child and her no-good husband had sold her to the street for a mercenary’s life on the border and, no doubt, a stream of women he could buy for a penny and feel no guilt about.

She turned tricks for a penny and her husband was off paying others a penny for what she had given him for free.

Useless bastard. She could ill afford to lose the business. If he’d paid her a penny for all the times she’d spread her legs for free…

Well. Perhaps her daughter would not have sickened the way she had. Perhaps she had some unheard of pox she’d passed to her daughter. There was more guilt in her head than she knew.

In many ways she was a simple woman. She’d paid the priest with all she had to offer. Every penny she had, and then with every ounce of her flesh. And still her daughter sickened. He came back still, but she was simple, not stupid. He didn’t come back for her daughter but for her.

If he knew the sickness was in her, too, perhaps he would be a little less eager.

She sighed and puffed in the chill air, fog swirling around her breath. Her hair was damp and lank on her cheeks. All that time curling it as was the fashion among the high-class courtesans. Who did she think she was?

A waste of time, she thought, as the sounds of a horse clopping along the cobbled streets came to her. Some lord slumming it tonight, she thought… the horse came nearer, its location unclear in the fog. She could not tell how near or far it was. She chanced to hope… perhaps the lord would pass her way and throw her a silver for a roll along the canal bank.

Fog curled in the murk and a black horse came into view.

Ellisindre forced a smile onto her pale face and pushed her hip out, her hand resting on the swell, her skirt hitched.

The rider came close and looked down at her. His cloak was dark and hung loose over the horse’s flanks. His head was covered by a low hat, the brim pulled down to hide his eyes.

A fine cloak, she calculated. A silver, at least.

“Good evening, my lord. A sad night to be alone, for sure…”

“Save your wiles, my love. My master requires a woman’s company tonight, and you will suffice. A gold piece for the journey, and one for the work.”

Two gold!

“I’m game. To where, my lord?”

“Just a squire, whore. I’ve no time for your games. Get astride the horse and shut your mouth. You can open it later for my master if you like, but I’ll not suffer you to sully me. Come or as not, it makes no difference to me.”

He held out his hand.

She was no stranger to men with ire at her, for what she never knew. Perhaps they hated her for what she was. Mayhap they hated her for what they were.

She did not care. For two gold he could call her all the names under the moon. She took his hand and pulled herself up.

* * * * *

On Sunday Street the little girl wheezed and coughed. She put her book down and listened in the night. In the distance she heard a horse clipping down the street… two streets over, she judged. Riding heavy.

She did not know how she knew these things she did. She was more awake this night than she had ever been when she had known the kiss of the sun.

She worried for her mother. She worried for herself. No longer could she take the sun. Her hands were weak but her eyes were strong. Even in the flickering candlelight she could make out the picture that hung on the wall, hung there by the priest. The priest who had used her mother in the other room while she was supposed to sleep.

She did not know how she felt about that. But she could feel something… something indefinable. A pull. She’d felt it for about a week now. She didn’t know what it was.

Tonight it was strong. The night was calling her.

The horse’s hooves clapped on the stone perhaps two streets over. For some reason she felt she should see what the ruckus was. She’d never seen a horse. Her mother wouldn’t be back until the dawn’s first light… she’d never know.

The little girl pulled open the window and hied herself over the windowsill into the night. Her bare feet slapped on the uneven stone and she walked slowly toward the sound of the trotting horse.

Reveling in the smells of the night and the smooth refreshing feel of the silken fog on her skin, she roamed the night. She walked by a man taking a piss in the canal, the steady splash beside her. She was silent for a moment, then passed on. In the fog, she was invisible.

And free. Finally free of the confines of her room. She was enjoying herself. She marked her route and decided immediately that she would do this every night while her mother worked the streets. Perhaps she would find a purse or a gem… yes! She would search the streets for a gem… just like in her book.

It was her favourite book. In her book a little girl found a gem. Her mother took it from her and gave it to a lord… the lord had lost the gem, of course. By chance they fell in love and the lord took the little girl and the mother and they became his family… they were happy…

It was just a story though, she thought, and her mood nearly dropped. But the night was magical. It was a night for a little girl to dream.

* * * * *

Ellisindre dismounted ungracefully and put her feet on the solid ground. Her rump was sore from the ride.

Not for the first time.

The squire had not spoken a word to her, but now he tossed her a gold coin which she snatched from the air and tucked away in her skirt with a smooth, practiced movement.

He slid from the horse and took her elbow.

“Come, my lord awaits. His ardour is rare and he is impatient when the mood is upon him. Do not keep him waiting.”

She said nothing but allowed herself to be led by the arm toward a grand door. She could see little else of the house but she got the sense that it was a large estate. They had passed the last house a few minutes ago, and headed through iron wrought gates onto a long paved road with carmillion blossoms on either side, their night blooms full and fragrant.

The squire pushed open the door with one hand and guided her through perhaps a little roughly, but some of his rudeness seemed to have left him.

“Through the door to the right. My master waits in the dining room.”

She nodded and walked, brushing her damp hair away from her face. She put a smile on and tried to hide her disquiet. She felt more than out of place. The house was grand and full of artefacts. She was pleased that the squire had trusted her to walk through such riches without trying to plunder the hall and escape before he could find her.

Somehow she had the impression, though, that she would not get far.

She walked into the dining room and a small gasp escaped her lips. It was immense. But she was here to work, not gawp, and her gent was watching.

She pushed her bosom out to its full advantage and walked toward the man seated at the end of a long table who was smiling at her. She watched his eyes. They seemed black at this distance.

“Please, my lady. Take the seat at the end. I presumed you would be hungry at this hour and have taken the liberty of having a small repast prepared for you.”

“My lord, such kindness!” she exclaimed breathlessly, pouting.

“For such a beautiful lady… I would go to the ends of the earth.”

Oh, she thought, at least he made the pretense of charm.

“Might I have the pleasure of a name?” he enquired solicitously.

“Ellisindre, lord.”

“And I am Shawford Crale, my lady. Now we are friends. Please,” he waved a hand.

She sat where he indicated, at the foot of the long table. She watched him over the candlesticks… gold, if she was not mistaken. The table, too, was the finest. It seemed to be made of some stone she did not recognize but it had the solidity of stone, even if it was finely polished and seemed to have flecks of gold within it.

She happened to glance down and saw a strange design drawn below her chair. She pulled the chair in and returned her gaze to the man at the head of the table.

He was watching her like a hawk. His eyes had not left her since she had entered the dining hall. She tried to regain her composure and keep a smile on her face, even though her heart pounded in her chest.

The gent clapped his hands and a bent old man entered bearing a tray of delicacies, which the old man placed before Ellisindre.

“Please, business can wait. You must be hungry…”

She tried to pick but the food was delicious. There were sea oysters and plums, a fine strong cheese and a salty hunk of fish which she tore into. The servant returned and filled a glass with a deep red wine which she sampled and then gulped.

It was a meal like she had never imagined. The flavours exploded in her mouth and she used the napkin to wipe the juices from her lips between mouthfuls, until she forgot all efforts at deportment and set to with a passion.

The man seemed content to watch her eat. She watched him from under the cover of her hair which fell over her eyes, wondering that such a fine man could show one such as her such courtesy, a simple woman who made men happy when she could for a pretty.

He smiled at her and motioned for her to continue eating.

She gladly obliged, until she could eat no more.

“Thank you, my lord. It was a meal like no other. It was the best I have ever had. I have no doubt, you too, will be the best…”

The man laughed and his long salt and pepper hair fell across his eyes.

“My dear lady, you are the sweetest thing. Please, allow me to pour you some more wine… then, perhaps, we can get down to the business of the night.”

She smiled coquettishly at him and put a hand to her breast.

He approached with a bottle of the fine wine in his hand. His other was hidden behind his back. Ordinarily it would have troubled her, but she was utterly disarmed and not a little drunk.

* * * * *

The little girl had taken a while to find the horse. It had fallen silent some time ago, but for some reason her senses seemed more alive than they had ever been. She could smell it in the night, now approaching midnight by her inexperienced reckoning.

She stepped up to the horse and it whinnied at her and sniffed her hand. She stroked its nose and whispered gently to it, calming the beast.

It was a beautiful creature. So large she could barely reach its soft nose even though it craned its head down for her attentions.

Through the fog she heard her mother’s voice, startling her.

What was her mother doing here, in a lord’s manor?

Tonight was turning into some kind of adventure… perhaps her mother had met a lord… and they had fallen in love! Tomorrow they would come for her on this beautiful horse and they would all ride across the downs!

A mystery to be solved. She crept on stealthy feet closer to the voices and peered through a misted window.

* * * * *

“So, my dear. To business? Shall we?”

“Where do you want me, my lord? What do you wish?”

“You look beautiful just where you are… no, no, stay seated,” he said, coming to stand behind her.

She had been mesmerized by his walk. He was a solid man, well built and of middle years. He seemed confident… and more handsome than most of the gents she had known.

His hand touched her shoulder and she sighed. His hands were warm, her shoulder cold. Always cold.

“Such a beautiful neck, my lovely,” he said, and caressed her gently. She felt herself warming to him, a sudden rush of blood. Her mind swam from the wine and his hands were so soft.

She didn’t feel the knife that sliced through her neck. She was only aware of the blood when she felt its warmth flooding down the front of her dress.

She tried to scream at the sight of all the blood but only a drowning gurgle came from her slit throat.

Shawford Crale turned suddenly as a scream of rage rent the night from outside the window, bringing the knife to bear. Then the window shattered and Ellisindre’s daughter flew across the room… it was a leap no mortal could have made.

Ellisindre heard a startled cry escape the lips of her murderer and then the man was thrown across the table. Her daughter jumped on top of him and like a nightmare she was at his throat, tearing it open with her teeth. Tearing his flesh and drinking his blood.

She drank, Ellisindre aware only dimly of the slurping, gurgling noises coming from the table… then she felt flesh held against her lips.

“Drink, Mother. Drink.”

She could do little else. She drank. The blood from his throat mixed with her own and came out through the hole in her throat… then the hole was closed and she was drinking the pumping warmth from the man down into her full belly. But his blood warmed her through like the food had not. Her throat felt better. The stinging pain subsided and her head cleared.

Her daughter dropped Shawford Crale back onto the table, and for a moment Ellisindre marvelled at the strength it must have taken for her little girl to hold the man for her.

But she was no longer the weak little girl who had been wasting in her room this last month. Her cheeks were ruddy again and her flesh full and plump.

“I understand the sickness now, Mother,” said her daughter. “I feel it. I feel the life pulsing through me. Do you?”

Shawford Crale’s blood trickled out from his torn neck, staining the light marble crimson.

Ellisindre nodded and took her daughter in her arms. Tears dripped and mixed with the blood on her breast.

“I understand now, sweetheart, but my god, how I wish I did not.”

“Don’t weep, Mother. I dreamt of this day. That my father would be a lord! That you would be his wife and you would no longer have to haunt the night for a penny.”

“But you killed him.”

“No, Mother. I don’t think so,” said the little girl, new and frightening wisdom in her voice. “I understand. He will be your husband. We have given him life! You will rule him and this house. I read it in a book, Mother. The book you gave to me.”

“This is no fairytale, daughter of my heart.”

“But if we let it, it could be,” her daughter said, her eyes pleading.

Shawford Crale’s blood dried. Ellisindre sat watching, her daughter eager on her lap, as the master of the house’s throat slowly healed.

By morning the hole had closed. A new day dawned with dreams fulfilled and hearts full of hope.

* * * * *

And so, just like in the fairytales, a kiss brought the lord back to life, and they all lived happily ever after.

Dreams do come true.

And so, in the still dark hours of the night, do nightmares.

 

The Last Resort

by J.G. Walker

 

Richard shifted in his chair and surveyed the other people sitting in the waiting area. Not wanting to look anyone in the eye, he looked back down to the pages of the nature magazine he’d been pretending to read. He had the distinct impression that everyone’s eyes were on him, but that wasn’t unusual. Growing up fat had drilled that into his brain.

Over the years, Richard had become more and more aware of his size. His clothes never fit him properly and he was always afraid that, at any moment, he might somehow embarrass himself. He was sure his pants might split if he sat down just the wrong way, or his shirt would rip if he turned too quickly.

A red-haired nurse Richard could easily have mistaken for a man in a dress marched into the waiting room with a clipboard and called his name. He rose from his chair and trudged over to her.

The nurse smiled, revealing two perfectly shaped rows of oversized teeth. “All the way down on the right, hon,” she said with a voice that sounded like it had survived a thousand cigarettes. “Exam room one. The doctor’ll be there in a minute.”

He returned her smile and muttered his thanks, walking down the long, barren hallway. Reaching the end, he turned right and opened the door to the examination room.

He shivered as he walked through the door. He’d always hated anything having to do with doctors or hospitals; the bare, featureless walls of this examination room looked vaguely imposing. But there was some pleasant classical music drifting down from a speaker in the ceiling, and this calmed him a bit.

Richard had tried every diet under the sun during his adult life, but none had ever worked for him. He’d once eaten nothing but grapefruit for eight weeks. He’d taken supplements and consumed shakes that had left him perched upon the toilet many a sleepless night. He’d also taken in more cabbage than he’d ever thought possible, but it only left him gassy and unfulfilled.

He’d taken a shot at everything designed to help him lose weight except hypnotism, and that was why he was in this office. His sister-in-law had recommended this doctor, said she’d heard “good things” about him. But up until now, all the clinic had done was take his blood, give him Vitamin B shots, and send him on his way. He’d lost five pounds in the month he’d been coming, but had yet to talk to the doctor, and still no hypnosis. Today was the day he was supposed to meet the doctor, and for some reason that made him feel nervous.

He sat in one of two chairs, each of which faced its twin across the room. There was no other furniture in the room, and the only decoration, a small painting, hung on the wall directly opposite him.

The door opened and a tall, thin man in a white coat walked in. “Are you Mr. Sims?” he asked.

“I am.” Richard stood, feeling uncomfortable again.

“I’m Doctor Ives.” The doctor reached out to shake Richard’s hand.

“Hi.” Richard leaned in. He noticed the doctor’s long black hair was drawn up into a ponytail, and his hand was very cold.

Ives sat down in the chair across from Richard and crossed his thin legs.

“Yes, now. I know why you’re here, Mr. Sims, but can you just tell me a bit about yourself?”

Richard had been through this hundreds of times with hundreds of people, with everyone from diet counselors to other fat people. He’d bared his soul to countless people—at least all of it he could bare and still retain a bit for himself—and it had never gotten him anywhere. People claimed to understand, but they never did.

Deciding the direct approach was easiest, Richard plunged ahead. He took a deep breath.

“Basically, I’m fat and I want to be thin. I’ve always wanted to be thin, but it has nothing to do with my health. My blood pressure isn’t high, but if it were, I wouldn’t care. I mean, I would care, but that wouldn’t be the reason that I wanted to lose weight.” He shook his head and continued. “I just want to be thin. I want to be able to cross my legs like that.” He pointed to the doctor’s legs, which he immediately uncrossed. “I want to be able to tie my shoes without propping my foot up on a chair. I want to be able to walk by a mirror or a window without avoiding my reflection. I know I’ve got a problem with food, but I can’t do anything about it.” He sighed and sat down in his chair. “That’s it.”

The doctor smiled. “Mr. Sims, I know what you’re thinking. ‘How can this man who looks like he weighs about one hundred pounds understand what I’m going through?’”

“That’s part of it.”

“Part?”

Richard nodded. “The other part is I’ve done this kind of thing a hundred times, at least. I’ve lost a little bit of weight, but it always comes back.”

The doctor blinked. “Do you think this will be any different?”

Richard shrugged. “I don’t know why it would be.”

“What if I promised you it could be different?” the doctor asked. “What if I told you that, on my program, you’d never gain any weight back?”

“I’d say ‘prove it.’” Richard replied. “And then I’d ask you how much it’s going to cost me.”

“Indeed you would.” The doctor stood. “You’re a smart man, Mr. Sims, and I admire your skepticism.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a glass tube, stoppered at the end. “May I?” He pointed at Richard’s arm.

Richard nodded, rolling up his right sleeve. Ives walked over and gently took hold of his elbow.

“You understand this is routine.” The doctor attached the tube to a hypodermic needle. “But I really need this.” He looked Richard in the eye and laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m very good at finding veins.”

“That’s okay, I’m used to it,” Richard said, feeling the prick of the needle.

The doctor grunted, apparently satisfied with its placement.

“You know, Mr. Sims, I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen many people try to do many things. Do you know what all the successful people had in common?”

Richard looked up at him. “You mean aside from their success?”

“What they had in common was they were willing to pay a price for their success.” He removed the needle from Richard’s arm. “The price was different in each case, of course, and some more dear, but each was willing to pay.”

Ives popped the needle from the syringe, looked at the tube of blood in front of the overhead light, and smiled.

“You’re a healthy man, Mr. Sims. There’s no denying that.”

Richard looked down at where the needle had just pierced his skin and noticed there wasn’t a mark. He rolled down his sleeve.

“About this price, though. How much are we talking?”

The doctor glided over to his chair and sat down, crossing his legs again.

“It’s not really a question of how much it is, Mr. Sims. It’s more a question of what you get for it.” He quickly added: “Don’t let that alarm you. I assure you that I have honorable motives.”

The vague feeling of dread Richard had been experiencing began to gnaw at his stomach.

“I have found that there is only one way to do this sort of thing,” Ives continued, “and that is to just get it out.”

Richard nodded.

“Mr. Sims, I am going to ask you to open your mind a bit, and stretch it beyond its present boundaries. You must understand that what I am about to tell you is quite true. And if you hear me out you won’t be sorry.”

The doctor raised the tube of blood, peered at it once more in the light, and popped the top off. Then, much to Richard’s amazement, Ives turned the tube up and drained its contents into his mouth. Richard sat in silence, not knowing what to say. Finally, he found his voice.

“Why did you do that?” was all he could say.

The doctor wiped his mouth. “I am what you would call a vampire. But that that is not what we call ourselves.” He stared at the painting on the wall for a moment. “But there are not many of us now. When I told you before I had been around a long time, I meant it.”

Richard narrowed his eyes. “How long have you been around?” He didn’t believe what the doctor was telling him, but nevertheless found himself willing to participate in the conversation.

Ives answered. “I’m five hundred and twenty years old. I came from Europe to America in 1823, and have lived here ever since. I was made what I am today by a virus that mutated my genetic structure. I won’t bore you with the mechanics of it, but I am human.”

Richard nodded, thinking of the others in the waiting room and wondering if they’d remember his face when the police came looking for him.

“Through the years,” the doctor continued, “I have done what was necessary for my survival, but it has been difficult.”

“Difficult?”

Ives sighed. “I’ve long refused to take blood from people without their consent. However, it is impossible for someone such as me to commit suicide by self-starvation. It’s simply not in my nature.”

Richard shook his head. “Of course not.”

The doctor leaned forward. “The bottom line is if I don’t take blood, I will eventually become so starved that I’ll be unable to resist the urge. I would be unable to control myself. That could lead to my taking a human life, and that’s something that I could not bear to do.”

Richard sized the doctor up, figuring he outweighed the man by at least two hundred pounds. He had no doubt Ives could outmaneuver him, but knew if he could manage to wedge the thin man against the wall, it would all be over. He congratulated himself on maintaining a calm exterior in the presence of such a lunatic.

The doctor frowned. “Mr. Sims, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d appreciate your attention. You’ve come to me for help, and if you listen to me I will explain everything.”

Richard guessed Ives must have seen him drifting. He nodded and mumbled an apology.

“The goal was clear to me,” Ives continued. “But the solution was not readily apparent. I needed to find a way to take blood from people, but needed to make sure they weren’t harmed in the process.”

“Why?” Richard asked.

“I’m out to survive, but I also care about others. Is that so hard for you to believe?”

Richard shook his head. “How did you solve your problem?”

“One of the advantages of my long life—and there have been many—is that I have had many years of learning to use my mind in ways unknown to most humans.”

Richard raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t say this to seem superior,” he said. “It’s merely a fact. As a result, I eventually came across a solution to my problem.”

Richard looked at the clock on the wall behind the doctor, afraid to look down at his own watch. He realized he’d only been in the room with Ives for fifteen minutes and wondered how long it would be before anyone thought to check on him.

“Mr. Sims,” the doctor said, standing up from his chair. “Please tell me what I can do to allay your fears. If you insist on ignoring me, I’ll have to end our meeting and let you go on your way.”

“I was listening,” Richard lied. “Your story is very interesting.”

“Please don’t insult both of us, Mr. Sims. I know exactly what you were thinking. You were wondering if someone might come along to check on you. Am I correct?”

Lucky guess, Richard thought.

“Tell me what I can do to prove I’m telling you the truth,” Ives said. “The obvious way would be for you to actually lose weight on my program, but I can see you’re more impatient.”

Richard shrugged. “What do you usually do to prove to people that you’re a vampire?”

The doctor rubbed his chin and smiled. “Would you like to see me to turn into a bat?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Despite Richard’s efforts to maintain a stoic exterior, his eyes widened.

The doctor laughed. “Sorry. I always get the same reaction when I mention the bat.”

Richard laughed nervously. “So you can’t turn into a bat?”

“Of course not,” Ives replied. “That’s just a story made up by people with overactive imaginations.”

“Well, what can you do?” Richard thought Ives had no right to criticize anyone else’s imagination.

“Anything. Just ask.”

“Well,” Richard pointed out, “You couldn’t turn into a bat.”

The doctor’s expression grew dark and he breathed in deeply. “I’ll give you a demonstration.” He stood and folded his arms across his chest. “Concentrate on something.”

“On what?”

Ives sighed. “If I told you what to concentrate on it would defeat the purpose of the demonstration. Concentrate on something—anything you want to think about. Something unusual.”

Despite himself, Richard imagined a dog being elected President of the United States.

Ives smiled. “Ah, the Golden Retriever. Such a stately beast.”

Richard concentrated on the most strange things he could think of.

“You really have quite an imagination,” the doctor said. “Sea lions competing in the Olympics and baboons designing a spaceship.”

“Well, I read a lot,” Richard said, dumfounded. “It’s not like I have a life.”

“So you believe me, then?”

Richard shrugged. “I suppose either you’re insane or I’m insane. Or maybe we’re both insane. All I know is I’m fat and I want to be thin and you’re the most interesting person with a solution I’ve come across so far.” He chided himself for humoring Ives, but part of him hoped the doctor wasn’t as crazy as he sounded.

“May I continue?” Ives asked after a few moments.

“Okay.”

“The plan is this, essentially: I’m able, through ingesting a certain amount of your blood occasionally, to help you with your eating problems.”

“Like hypnosis?”

Ives grinned. “Very much like hypnosis, but more effective and much easier.”

“How so?”

“Most people who claim to be hypnotists really aren’t. They know a small part of what it takes to probe into a person’s mind, but it’s mostly trial and error for them.”

“But not for you?”

The doctor shook his head. “I’ve been doing it for five hundred years,” he said. “I’ve had quite a lot of experience.”

“What if I say no?”

“You leave here today and never remember our conversation.” Ives held up the empty blood vial and shook it. “Much like hypnosis.”

Richard nodded, thinking again of all the diets he’d tried over the years and all the clothes hanging in his closet that he couldn’t wear. He imagined being able to see his toes without bending over. He had to swallow twice before he was able to speak.

“What about the cost?” he said.

“Ah, the cost.” Ives folded his arms across his chest. “Twenty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents a month. Does that fit within your budget?”

“That’s it?” Richard asked, amazed.

“That’s it.” The doctor’s eyes narrowed as he watched Richard closely. “Did you think I’d ask for your soul?”

Richard stared at the doctor for a moment, not knowing how to respond. After a moment, he smiled nervously.

Then Ives grinned and the two men burst into laughter.

* * * * *

Richard shifted in his chair and looked around at the other people sitting in the waiting area of the doctor’s office, catching the eye of a pretty blonde woman across the room. She smiled at him and he returned the favor, feeling his face flush. He looked back down at the nature magazine that he’d been reading, but his thoughts remained for a moment on the woman.

Richard’s sister-in-law had recommended this doctor, saying she’d heard good things, but all the clinic had done in the past three months was take blood samples, give him Vitamin B shots, and send him home. He’d lost fifty pounds, but hadn’t yet met the doctor. And still no hypnosis.

But today was the day that he was supposed to finally meet Doctor Ives, and that made Richard feel like things might actually work out.

 

Eternal Poetry

by Laurel Anne Hill

 

I stare at Mom, can’t believe what she’s just said. Dad invited Gunther to the family party next Friday? Gunther the Gross? The lecher from the blood lagoon? That letter Gunther sent me five years ago—the description of my vulnerable white throat—bordered on vampire porn. No explicit sexual language, but I could read between the lines. Mom can’t possibly expect me to show up and meet him face to face, can she? Besides, I’ve got a date with Lenny, the non-Gunther… the sweetest man ever.

Oh, god. I may have to tell Mom and Dad about Lenny.

“Gunther’s rather crazy about you. You shouldn’t make yourself so scarce when he comes to California.” Mom minces an onion, her shoulder-length auburn hair swept back with silver combs. Her knife blade taps against the wooden chopping board. She blinks, eyes watering. “He’s just lonely. You ought to give him a second chance.”

Excuse me? Mom’s ignoring basic facts again. I’m twenty-five years old. Gunther’s three hundred. I eat raw vegetables. He prefers raw steak. I want a loving, nurturing relationship. He wants to lay me and drink my blood. Gunther’s more than “rather crazy” if he thinks he’ll attract me. He’s insane.

“We’ve nothing in common.” I wrap a lavender muffler around my neck and button my black leather coat.

“But he’s one of your dad’s best friends.” Mom’s voice has that quiver. Her big brown eyes widen, as though she could shapeshift into a cocker spaniel.

I’m about to get “The Lecture.” How Gunther smuggled Dad out of Paris during the French Revolution. How Dad smuggled Gunther into Paris during World War II. I don’t need to hear yet another rendition of this male bonding saga. Time to tune out, get out and bring Lenny dinner.

“Let me think it over,” I say and retrieve my handbag from a kitchen chair. “I’m meeting friends in San Francisco. Don’t wait up.”

The think-it-over period ends five seconds later. Sorry, Mom. I’ll head for S.F. this Friday night, too.

The screen door squeaks and closes behind me. The chilly December air feels good against my face. I climb into my white Honda and drive toward our local Italian deli. Dad’s so traditional. Preparing garlic bread at our house is politically incorrect. Lenny adores garlic. He’s my kind of vampire.

Mom and Dad… they’re so dear. They should back off, though. Sure, a dot com downsized me two years ago. Yes, I had to move back home. But I design websites and don’t ask my parents for money. I’m capable of running my own life. And I intend to run it with Lenny around.

Light shines inside of Delano’s Deli, although it’s past closing time. I knock on the door. My order’s packed and waiting. I place the warm bread and pasta on the floor of my car, near the heater vent. The Caesar salad goes into the trunk to stay cold. Soon I’m approaching the Golden Gate Bridge. The aromas of garlic and parmesan inside my car are amazing. Lenny is going to love this meal.

I Googled websites for supernaturals three months ago and met Lenny. He’s thirty-some. Works nights as a museum security guard. I’ll hang out with him until dawn. He occasionally does the blood experience thing—not with me—but never obsesses about it. I don’t drink blood at all, although the trait’s in my genes. I’m just not ready. Besides, I haven’t been through “The Change” yet. That might not happen for another ten or twenty years. There’s no predicting when. Lenny respects my feelings, doesn’t try to push me. And he writes free verse for Poetry Flash. Totally cool.

Traffic slows a little on the bridge. A stream of headlights blazes from across the divider. Holiday shoppers heading home to Marin County. The holidays… I’d really love to see Aunt Millie and Uncle Claude this Friday night. My second cousin Vinnie, too. But Gunther might arrive before I leave to meet Lenny. Okay, so what if he does? I’ll tell Gunther to stay out of my space. He’s got no right to ruin my family’s reunion.

Five minutes from the museum, I ring Lenny on my cell. I park in the usual spot. My headlights illuminate a tall, hairy form. That face… like Disney’s Beast on a bad hair day. The figure wears a guard’s uniform. Must be Lenny. I didn’t know he could shapeshift. Most vampires can’t. And what set him off? I roll down the window a few inches.

“Is it safe for me to open my door?”

“All clear.” Lenny breathes hard. “Couple of punks just tried to spray paint a statue in the courtyard. I scared the shit out of them.”

“Awesome.”

But, is it? Are there other major things about him I don’t know?

Lenny grins and shrugs, resembles a huge stuffed toy. God, he’s so cute, cuddly and kissable. I could curl up next to him in bed. We haven’t had sex together yet. Maybe he planned to surprise me this way the first time. That must be the reason he didn’t reveal his shapeshifting talent before.

If only I could introduce him to my parents, be more open about our future. But security guards don’t earn big money. And his mom lives in a trailer in rural North Carolina. He sends her a check whenever he can. Gunther owns a Manhattan penthouse. A private jet, too. Dad probably won’t approve of Lenny. But, wait, don’t I want to run my own life? I should ask Lenny to our family party now.

I climb out of my Honda, then picture Gunther meeting Lenny. I’ve never actually seen Gunther, not even his photo, although I once sent him mine. Bet he looks like the Terminator, only with Goth makeup and fangs.

I envision a confrontation. Gunther paws me. Lenny sprouts hair, snarls and leaps to my rescue. Fur flies. Mom screams. Neighbors dial 911 and Animal Control. I die from embarrassment. No, I can’t invite Lenny to this particular party.

“About Friday,” I say, as I remove the salad from the trunk. “My family is having a gathering. I might get to S.F. an hour late. Is that okay?”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about.” Lenny sounds excited. He picks up the foil bag of pasta and garlic bread. His fur recedes. He’s almost back to normal, now. “I’m reading my latest poem this Friday night. At this incredible new literary bar in Sausalito. You won’t have to drive anywhere. I’ll pick you up at nine-thirty.”

“My place?” If hearts could sink, mine would beat between my toes.

“That’s all right, isn’t it?” He scrunches his eyes. A lock of his curly black hair dangles between his bushy eyebrows. “I mean, if it’s a problem for you…”

My mind gropes for words, like a mountain climber struggling for footholds. Lenny’s sensitive about his iffy financial situation. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. And this isn’t the right time to mention Gunther.

“A storm’s predicted,” I say, “and your truck needs new brakes. Let me drive you.”

“A friend promised to work on my truck tomorrow.”

“Then… there’s no problem.” I flash a quick smile. “Hey, I’m really excited for you. This could take your writing career to the next level.”

And I am happy for Lenny. Except, what am I going to do on Friday night?

* * * * *

The minute hand on our mantel clock advances with a muted click. Eight o’clock. Guests should arrive soon. I straighten the holly garland festooning a nearby mirror, then curl a strand of my cocoa-brown hair around my first finger. The crimson sequins on my dress shimmer. Bare shoulders, calves and knees. Perhaps I should wear something less revealing.

Mom sets a platter of rare roast beef on the buffet table. Sprigs of parsley rim the border. Bloody juices ooze from the slices and pool beneath the garnish. Christmas colors of the macabre kind.

I place cocktail napkins near the crystal punch bowls. The smaller bowl contains eggnog. The larger one holds Dad’s infamous red punch. That color and texture don’t come from tomato juice. I’ll stick with eggnog tonight. I’m sure Cousin Vinnie will, too.

Gunther could be here any minute. Yet there’s still time to tell Mom about Lenny. She hums “Jingle Bells.” Looks so happy. Dad, dressed in a charcoal gray suit and green shirt, stuffs another oak log into the fireplace. Sparks scatter, like a flurry of red rain. A velvet ribbon decorates his thick salt-and-pepper ponytail. He glances toward Mom and smiles. This is their special party and they want to include Gunther. I would be selfish to darken their festive mood. Tonight, flying sparks are only permitted in the fireplace. And that’s exactly what I must say to Gunther—somehow—when we are alone.

The doorbell rings. I wait near the hearth. Mom gushes out a greeting. Dad calls my name. I straighten my posture. My three-inch heels clunk against the hardwood floor. This is it.

Dad’s hugging someone a little shorter than he is—a man, medium build and approximately Lenny’s size. Must be Gunther, although I expected a body builder. The guy has dark hair. I can’t see his face, though. But, wait… his hair appears so familiar… is as black and wavy as Lenny’s.

Then Dad steps aside. It is Lenny! But they don’t even know each other. What the hell is going on? And Lenny’s wearing an expensive tweed sports coat. He only owns uniforms and jeans.

“And you must be Angela,” Lenny says to me. He winks and extends his arm. “That high school photo you once mailed me hardly does you justice.”

But I’d sent that photo to… Gunther. Oh, no! I stammer the “F” word, run to my bedroom and slam the door.

Gunther stalked me. Used someone else’s name. Baited an electronic trap. Never wrote a poem in his life. Right now, he’s probably laughing with Mom and Dad. Telling them the whole ridiculous story, including the bit about his mom in North Carolina. I was so stupid and gullible. Totally out-of-touch. I sit on the edge of my bed and sob. If this were a reality T.V. show, I’d be voted off the island.

The doorbell rings. Relatives must be arriving. I refuse to endure Gunther’s smirks of satisfaction. I’ll stay where I am.

Then I remember. I wasn’t completely honest with him. Couldn’t even admit to Mom and Dad that I dated him. But Gunther’s—Lenny’s—betrayal of me is a far worse offense. Yet, when we were together, he was so much fun. Those words in the website ad. “One in search of another. Objective—eternal poetry.” How does he really feel about me?

Someone knocks on my bedroom door.

“Honey,” Mom says, “are you okay?”

I hadn’t wanted to spoil the party. I stand and face myself in the mirror. Vampires do cast reflections, despite the urban legend. And I’m twenty-five. Ought to be able to handle what’s just happened.

“I’ll be out in a minute.” I apply fresh mascara and lipstick. Raindrops dot my window, now.

The house buzzes with vibrant conversation as I walk toward the living and dining rooms. An array of platters smother the buffet table. Aunt Millie’s squash roll-ups… Cousin Vinnie’s artichoke frittata… raw carrot and celery strips… crisp snap peas. These are food gifts from my family. There for me.

Dad motions for me to hurry. He stands in front of the fireplace and claps his hands.

“My good friend, Gunther Morris,” he says, “has joined us for this special occasion. Few know, but his poetry has been published under a variety of names for two hundred years. I’ve asked him to read.”

So at least that part is true. Gunther doesn’t look at me. Just as well.

Then he reads. Words flow from his mouth, like a gentle stream tumbling over smooth rocks on a bright spring day. The volume intensifies, ebbs and flows like tides. He could be thirty or three-hundred. His verse is timeless—beautiful.

But who is he really? Dad’s friend and ally? The sensitive poet? Or the creep who wrote me that disgusting letter five years ago, that page I flushed down the toilet before anyone else could read it? Perhaps he’s a combination of all these people. Or, entirely different.

I can’t sort out his identity now. Only one decision matters. Do I, or don’t I, walk away from our relationship tonight?

He finishes reading. Aunt Millie daubs her lace handkerchief against the corner of her eye. Mom sniffles. Gunther proposes a toast. His gaze locks to mine.

“One in search of another.” He raises his cup. “May we share eternity with the true love we each find.”

Everyone raises a cup of Dad’s red punch, even Vinnie. I don’t have any cup. Mom gestures toward the eggnog. All wait for me. I’m old enough to serve myself. I approach the table.

The eggnog sits to my left—smooth and palatable. A symbol of my life until now? To my right is Dad’s red punch. My inevitable future. Which beverage should I choose?

Gunther’s letter… I sift through the memory of his written words. I once told him I read Anne Rice. Maybe he got the wrong impression. Lightning flashes beyond our picture window. Thunder rumbles. Gunther probably didn’t mean to offend me, just crafted a message for a real vampire.

One in search of another? He found me. Yet I continue to hide from myself.

I ladle red punch into a clear cup. Tiny clots dot an ice cube. Will this stuff make me gag? The mantel clock chimes, as though answering my question. Time to find out.

I raise my cup.

And whatever else happens before dawn, I’ll finally tell Mom and Dad about Lenny.

 

The Final Straw

by KT Pinto

 

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

–Lewis Carroll

…She twists my heart.
…She torments me.
I hate her.

–Vanity

The Lady Celeste is the most beautiful, the most exciting, and the most evil person that I know. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone, ever.

It’s a shame that I have to kill her.

You would think that, after 2000 years, the fact that I am to forever be her bodyguard wouldn’t chaff so much, but as the years pass, the torture that I know I will endure at the hands of my own family has become insignificant compared to the angst that she is causing me. And it all started with us returning to America.

I had thought that after the horrible drug-induced visions that she had experienced at Woodstock, we would never come back to this insane place… and technically, we didn’t. She had sunk her teeth into some bleached-blonde singer back in the eighties, leaving me to chase them all over Europe and Asia, and then eventually back to the USA.

By the time I finally caught up with them, my lady had grown tired of the wealthy humans and their wonton ways (Celeste bores easily when she can’t shock people). On top of that, the bimbo that she had hooked up with had turned away from the sex and drugs scene, becoming the image of the Earth Mother, and giving Celeste that extra push that she needed to leave the humans behind and establish her place amongst the monsters again.

While back in the States, I had made quite a life for myself in the Northeast. I had my own club in Boston, and it had become the most popular nightspot for supernaturals. Although my heritage usually gave me more grief than not, being half fae and half werecat actually paid off this time—it made me the link between all of the various beings that were patrons of my place. Fae bumped shoulders with weres of all breeds. Among them walked the vamps, who were there in the hopes of seeing (and most probably killing) the powerful vampyres that have crossed my path since I started guarding Celeste and, of course, there were the humans—drawn in by the pull of the supernatural, and wearing the standard gothic dress in the hopes of blending in…

I had spoken with Celeste a week before to invite her to come to my club in order to discuss our situation. After many hours of her telling me what I can do with and to myself, she agreed that she would arrive ‘as soon as the mood moved her’. As is her norm, she only gave me a half-hour’s notice of her arrival, making it impossible for me to have the security I knew I needed to be there when she arrived. My club, as usual, had a crowd at the front door, which meant my lady was going to have to come in through the back, and she was not going to be pleased.

My appearance was also going to displease her—a minor problem with most people, but Celeste wasn’t like most people. The first time she saw me, I was wearing a kilt. Granted, I was saving her life at that time, so I could see how the outfit would be sentimental to her. The problem was that, every time we had been reunited since then, I had worn a kilt… unless I was disguising myself from her… Would she take one look at me and in her warped mind decide that I was out to deceive her, or would she just take it in stride? I looked at myself in the mirror and said screw it. She was about to arrive, and a kilt takes a long time to put on. Besides, I was a respectable businessman; I had to dress appropriately. So my lady was going to have to deal with the leather pants and fishnet shirt.

She arrived, as usual, with an entourage of over twenty people: some were bodyguards, some were assistants, some lovers, and I was betting that there were one or two who served absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

She walked into my office alone, almost glowing with the power that was in her. She was dressed in a pleated mini-skirt, and her baby doll shirt had a sinister Cheshire cat on it with the infamous words ‘We’re all mad here’ emblazoned across her chest. The shirt worried me slightly, because she has called me her Cheshire cat on numerous occasions. It made me wonder what in the world I was in for…

I shouldn’t have been worried about my outfit, if her tongue down my throat was any indication. Her hands also couldn’t seem to stop running up and down my legs… yes, I’d have to say that she liked the leather.

“Oh, Vanny!” she purred in my ear, “You grew your hair long! I love it!”

I cringed slightly. I have had various names over the centuries, but she insists on calling me Vanity, a name I had for almost a thousand years, a thousand years ago. I still believe she calls me by that name as a partial insult, saying I was vanity personified.

But I have been told that I read too much into things.

“Celeste,” I whispered, trying to regain my composure, “you know I am no longer called that.”

She sighed, running her fingers through my hair and nuzzling my neck. “I still call you that.”

Her hand had moved slowly up my thigh and, amazing as she felt, I knew she wanted something. I grabbed her chin and lifted her head to look at me. “What do you want, Celeste?”

Her eyes were glazed, as if just the smell of me had sent her over the edge. “We’ve been apart a long time, my love.”

Warning bells started going off in my head. I pushed her away, anger bristling over my body. “What trouble have you gotten into now, Celeste?”

“I?” she replied, “I am not the one in trouble—this time, at least—Ali is after your head, not mine.”

Ali and I, compatriots at one time, severed ties because of something long ago, and that something was standing right in front of me. I, because of my family, had to protect Celeste at all costs. Ali wanted to use her as a weapon of mass destruction. You could see where our opinions clashed. The problem was that it would have been very easy to manipulate her the way Ali wanted… it was very tempting. Unfortunately, the fae believed she had a higher purpose, and I was to protect her until that purpose was fulfilled. Ali didn’t want to wait that long.

“What do you know of Ali?” I snarled.

Celeste’s face had gone from wonton seductress to petulant child. “Your suspicions hurt me, Vanity. I have come to help you, protect you. And this is the thanks I get?”

“Protect me?” I said before I could help myself, “Exactly how are you going to do that?”

“I’m going to be your bodyguard.”

I had to laugh at that. “So, what? You get to be vigilant all day, and I get to do stupid shit that puts us both in danger?”
She frowned, and I had the sinking feeling that I had gone too far. “That’s not the way it works. If that’s the way you’ve been handling things, then it’s a wonder that I’m still alive.”

She was damn lucky we were in my office; otherwise I would have had to hurt her. “Then what,” I said through clenched teeth, “do you plan to do?”

She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck, pressing her body to mine. “I plan on not leaving your side until the danger has been taken care of.”

I felt my body react to her even though I didn’t want it to. She knew just what to do to set my heart racing, and if I didn’t focus, I would be useless to myself and everyone around me. I inhaled deeply, breathing out my mouth as her hands slid under my shirt.

“How do I know Ali didn’t send you here?”

Her warm lips brushed my stomach as she laughed. “No one sends me anywhere.”

I grabbed the hair at the crown of her head and forced her to look up at me. Her nails dug painfully into me in a flash of anger as her blank eyes stared into mine. “Celeste, if I just showed up at your door one day and offered my services, would you trust me?”

“Are you seriously asking me that question?” she finally answered, pulling away from me, “Need I remind you of Greece? Germany? Scotland? Rome? America? Constantinople? Egypt? Shall I go on?”

“No,” I replied, “You’ve made your point.”

“So now I’m here to return the favor,” she continued, “Ali is out to get you, and I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

I stared at her for a few moments, but her face was an unemotional mask. “You and Ali are friends, aren’t you? Why turn against him for me?”

“Because you don’t want to use me to destroy the world.”

I hadn’t known she knew of his plans. I thought I had sufficiently kept that information from her. I must have had an expression on my face, because she had switched back to the seductress. She walked towards me, and I felt my breath get shallow. Her hands slid across my waist and she pulled me to her, rubbing her hips against mine. I felt myself grow hard as she moaned against my chest.

“So, shall we celebrate my return?”

I couldn’t help it. My hands went instinctively to her tight, perfect ass, and just the feel of it inflamed me with a desire I hadn’t felt in ages. She arched her back and I slid my hands under her skirt, feeling her warm flesh against my fingers. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw her on my sofa and mounted her, ripping her skirt off in one quick motion. The rest of her clothes were on the floor before we ever made it to the couch, and her nakedness surrounded by leather made me almost burst out of my pants. I just had to taste every part of her…

“Rhys!”

I put my head between my lady’s breasts and sighed. I had to remember to start locking the door, especially when Celeste was involved. I felt Celeste breathe my most recent name incredulously as I turned my head to see my betrothed standing over us.

“Good evening, Nastasja. Back from your trip early, I see.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Would you at least get off of the whore so she can put on some clothes before I kick her ass?”

I sat up, but Celeste didn’t reach for her clothing. She just lifted her knee, and rested her elbow on it, propping her head in her hand. “And you are…?”

Nastasja scowled and grabbed my arm. “I am Rhys’ bride-to-be.”

Celeste smirked. “Of course you are.”

I didn’t like the look in Celeste’s eyes. There wasn’t any specific emotion in them, and I think that’s what made her even scarier than normal. “Celeste,” I said warily, “this is Nastasja.”

“Are you planning on getting dressed any time soon?” Nastasja asked.

Celeste stretched languidly. “Actually, I was hoping you would get the hint and leave since… Rhys… and I were in the middle of something.”

“I’m not leaving, you are.”

I looked from one female to the other, knowing Nastasja was outmatched by Celeste—as were most beings on the planet—but it was proven when Celeste just made eye contact with her, said the word ‘leave’, and Nastasja left.

Celeste closed the door behind her and leaned against it, sliding the lock into place. “Now, where were we?”

I stared at her for a few moments, trying in vain to figure out what was going on in her head. “What was that?” I finally asked.

She smiled. “That’s what I was going to ask you. What was that? She’s a shape shifter, but she’s no cat… or a wolf, or any other form of predator. Is she a horse or something?”

I have no idea how she guessed it.

“She is a horse!” She folded her arms across her chest. “You do know your kind eats her kind, right? And I don’t mean in a good way.”

I looked at her for a moment, confused. There was no anger or jealousy in her voice, just idle curiosity. Usually Celeste is more emotional than this—cold and calculating aren’t adjectives to describe her, at least when the situation involves me. The warning bells started tolling again.

There seemed to be only one way to handle this: telling her the truth. Nastasja’s family was powerful among the were society, even thought their animal was… well… prey. My family was trying to legitimize themselves in this country by marrying me off to her. It would give them a foothold in the Americas, without giving up anything they considered important. No, I am not held in high regard by my family, in case you haven’t realized it by now.

Celeste had listened to my explanation in silence, standing by the door, still naked, reminding me of the Amazon warriors that you see in comic books and B-movies. If it hadn’t been for the guarded expression on her face, we would have been back on the couch.

She stared at me for a few moments more before commenting. “So, you don’t love her?”

“Tell me you’ve never heard of an arranged marriage?”

“Having lived at court for years, I’ve seen my share.”

“So you know the answer already.”

She nodded, an odd expression crossing her face. “Good to know…” She then walked over to me and ripped my shirt off. “Now where were we…?”

By the time we left my office, my club was packed, and by the scent of them, many were unfamiliar beings. Celeste stood in front of me, looking down at the crowd. “Is this place always this busy on a Tuesday?” she asked.

“It’s busy, but never this busy.”

She turned and gave me a slight smile. “Well then. It’s a good thing I’m here.”

She looked down again and made eye contact with a large man in a muscle shirt. He signaled to another man, who nodded to another. Throughout the crowd the signal went up, and then the first guy nodded back at us.

“Are you ready to greet your guests?” she asked me.

I held out my arm to her, but she shook her head.

“I am your bodyguard, Milord, not your date.” She looked through her hair at me. “Besides, what would your horse lady think?”

Again, there was no jealousy in her voice. “I ask that you not call her that, Celeste.”

“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” she replied, starting down the stairs, “By the way, you may want to let your betrothed know of the danger and have her escorted home.”

I followed behind her, interested in her logic, as well as the view. “And she would be in danger because…?”

“Because even though there’s no emotional attachment for you, she is still politically important. An easy pawn for Ali to use against you.”

I stared at her back in amazement, and she paused, sensing that I had stopped moving.

“Is something wrong… Rhys?”

“No,” I answered, turning away from her, “I’m just trying to find Nastasja in the crowd.”

“My people will handle that,” she said, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. I noticed that the men she had nodded to had cleared a path to a baroque throne that hadn’t been part of my décor before.

I stood next to her on the bottom step and turned to her. I noticed that her lids were half closed—she was communicating with someone telepathically. “Won’t me sitting on that chair be akin to wearing a target on my chest?”

She smiled slightly. “You just being you is like having a target on your chest.” She turned to me, eyes fully opened. “Can you name any other half fae, half werecat in this country? No, my love, your best bet is to be where I can see you at all times.”

I tilted my head slightly; she was speaking in that playful tone again. “And where, exactly, do you plan to be?”

She gave me a wicked look, but didn’t respond. Instead, she grabbed me by the elbow and led me to the chair. It wasn’t until after I was seated that I realized that no one had seen us as we crossed the room. I was getting sloppy. I had thought the tingle I had felt at her touch had been sentimental, but it had been her power. I kept forgetting how powerful she was… and how dangerous.

Once I was seated, Celeste slid down the chair and sat at my feet, her head in my lap, her arms draped across my legs.

“Is this how you’re going to protect me?” I asked.

“I’m not the only one here, love,” she replied lazily, “I’m to protect you from personal attacks. Others will do the rest.”

I looked down at her, and felt a stirring in my loins at the seductive way she was sprawled. I had to swallow a couple of times before asking, “Do you trust them?”

“As much as a goddess can trust her devotees.”

She wasn’t speaking in comparisons. She had survived all of these centuries by convincing others she was a deity, and the more powerful she became, the easier it was to convince others that she was immortal.

I played with a lock of her hair. “And they are protecting me because…?”

“Because I desire it.”

“Can you tell me why I have to leave here?” asked my betrothed, suddenly standing in front of me with two men behind her.

Celeste lifted her head slightly. “Because, Nasty…”

“Nastasja.”

“Because your man’s life is in danger, and I don’t have enough resources to protect both him and you.”

Her eyes narrowed, and I began to wonder how much her family would mind me having a mistress.

“I don’t need you to protect me.”

Celeste shrugged and put her head back in my lap, deliberately closer to my crotch, I noticed. “Okay,” she finally replied, waving the men away, “No one can say I didn’t try.”

Nastasja didn’t move, her small eyes throwing daggers at the vampyress. “Can you please take your hands off of him?”

Celeste slowly shook her head, purposefully rubbing her head against my growing erection. “Sorry Nasty…”

“Nastasja.”

“Whatever,” Celeste drawled, lifting her head, her hair covering the growing bulge between my legs. “Look, I need to touch him so my power flows over him, keeping him safe.”

“So, why can’t you do the same for me?”

She put her head back down and sighed. “Because, Nasty, I just don’t give a damn about you.”

My betrothed snarled and stormed away.

I watched Nastasja leave and, surprisingly, I didn’t feel any remorse at her departure. I was slightly worried that she was going to complain to her father about me, but if I lived through this evening, I would worry about that later.

Celeste stood and put a hand on my shoulder. “So, did I get you into a lot of trouble there?”

“I’m sure that I’ll hear about it.”

“Ah, the joys of pre-marital bliss,” she replied with a smile, “one of the many reasons why I always seem to find myself widowed very shortly after the marriage vows…” Her grip suddenly became painful, but her smile stayed fixed. “Ali just came in the building.”

I slowly surveyed the room, my face neutral. “Are you sure?”

She didn’t respond, but she had someone announce that I was eager to meet my patrons. A line quickly started to form like I was a shopping mall Santa Claus… I noticed that Celeste’s people were herding the stragglers into the line as well.

With each one I met, Celeste ‘read’ them, her face never changing expression or showing any interest in the proceedings. I noticed that a couple of people, after speaking with me, were escorted out of the building. I decided it was best not to ask any questions.

What surprised me most was when Ali stepped forward. He was cordial, greeted me by my modern name, and spoke of times past and things to come. What struck me as odd was that Ali never acknowledged Celeste, nor she him. When he bowed and walked away, I looked up at my bodyguard and noticed bloody droplets of sweat shining on her skin, although her face remained passive.

“Celeste?”

“He had many shields up,” she replied, not looking at me, “I couldn’t read him. But he is planning on killing you.”

“How do you…”

Celeste pushed me to the floor and in a blur of speed, caught the four knives that had been flying towards my chest. She then stood statue-like in front of me, the club buzzing around us as if nothing had happened.

“Okay,” she said quietly, “It’s safe, for now.”

“That’s it,” I growled, my power flowing over me, “I’m going to kill him.”

She shivered slightly, but didn’t move. “Someone has done their homework,” she murmured, then turned to me, “Oh, you’re not turning all monstrous and hirsute are you?”

I felt the subtle shifting of my body as I tried to rein myself in. “Why not?”

“Because you are the respectable businessman here,” she smiled wickedly, “I’m the monster.” She then held out the knives to me. “You smell that?”

I had smelled it when the knives first appeared. Two of them were cold iron—deadly to any fae, myself included. And, just in case those failed, the other two were pure silver—the bane of the were. Someone had meant business.

Unfortunately, they meant business in the wrong club. The problem with clubs like mine is that the clientele is young, in many ways. So, instead of wolves and cats, fae and vampyres, you’re dealing with puppies and kittens, faelings and baby vamps, all trying to curry favor, and none having any experience with the subtleties of civilized assassination. It’s like playing chess, and the game doesn’t go so well when the pawns keep telling the black king what the white king is up to, and that’s essentially what happened that evening. The young ones, trying to curry favor with the mighty fairy werecat, relayed any information they thought that I would deem important, whether it was Ali’s plans to murder me, or how many onions the bartender put in a gimlet. After a few hours, it got extremely tedious.

“Can’t we just call him out and get it over with?” I asked.

Celeste’s lip twitched slightly. “Sure, why not?”

It didn’t turn out the way I had pictured it. Although I did get to bare my fangs once or twice, and my claws ripped through some well-deserved flesh, Ali’s death was not worthy of a man such as he. As young as my patrons were, you put enough vamps, weres, and fae together, and you’ve got a formidable killing machine.

The vampyre that used to be Ali was reduced to gobs of flesh sliding down the walls in a trail of thickness, innards spraying blood and worse like a sprinkler and grey matter with pieces of skull splattering across the bar and splashing into drinks. The last time I actually saw him, he was a faceless husk, the remains of his eyes oozing down his cheeks in milky rivulets, before he disintegrated into a pile of dust.

I stared forlornly at what was once my friend and sighed. How in the world did things get this far? I turned to my lady, my emotions all in an uproar. “Celeste, I…”

“Rhys! What the hell…”

It happened so quickly. Before I could stop her, Celeste threw a knife into Nastasja’s chest and, from the blood that poured out of her mouth, I knew it had to be one of the silver ones. My betrothed fell to her knees, her hands on the knife handle and her eyes full of hatred. Then, with a wet gurgle, she fell to the ground and moved no more.

Not that I had any love for Nastasja, but she had represented my way out. Once married to her, I had planned to have one of her kin take over my bodyguard responsibilities so I could begin producing heirs. Then, when my children got old enough, they would take over my burden, and I would finally be free! Free from the stress and danger. Free from the insanity. Free from… her.

“Oops,” she purred.

“Oops?” I seethed, “Oops! Do you know what you have done?”

“I’m sorry,” she replied with no sorrow in her voice, “but hey! At least now you’re free!”

Irony is an amazing thing. “Free? No, I am not free. I’m forever stuck with you!”

Yep, I had done it. I had stepped over the line between what you can and can’t say to Celeste. I felt the stillness fall over us like a velvet curtain as my words hung in the air, and I waited for her to explode. Instead, her face became passive.

“No,” she whispered, her body turning transparent, “You’re not.”

“Celeste,” I growled, grabbing for her arm. But my hand went right through her, and she disappeared, her wicked smile staying a moment longer than the rest of her.

I was back to square one: Celeste was missing, and if she gets harmed in any way, my ass was in the fire. And so I began tracking her down… again.

While my business fell by the wayside in Boston, Celeste’s wealth and popularity grew in Albany, the Meadowlands, Columbus, Stony Brook, and Seattle.

While my betrothed’s body rotted in a grave, Celeste shared her bed with humans, vampyres, fae, weres, and a specter or two.

While I lurked in shadows and hid in alleys, Celeste went to lavish parties and slept on satin sheets.

And when I tried to approach her, Celeste brushed me aside like I was so much flotsam.

…She twists my heart.

…She torments me.

I hate her.

The Lady Celeste is the most beautiful, the most exciting, and the most evil person that I know. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone, ever.
It’s a shame that I have to kill her.

–Vanity

Mortal Is The Hawk

by David Frank Daumit

The stars and moon lend this night very little light. And true, the street lamps cut bright angles out of the darkness, but their intrusions do not penetrate this alley. Here, shadow is the predator of illumination, chasing it back into corners and under dumpsters for refuge. Colors in this place without light are deep, thick. They have mass, substance; they weigh.

Now, who comes forward out of the lit world? A silhouette stops before the alley, her gait paused by, perhaps, curiosity. She leans to the side, leans forward, and strains to see down the unresolved pathway. Does she not realize she is her own foil? The sparse light from the street, blocked more so by her own form, cannot begin to feed the hunger of her eyes. Unable to see, unsatisfied, she moves slowly into the dark. Small, unsure steps carry her farther, deeper into it. What can she be thinking? What can draw her onto such untested land? The scenario begins to hold interest.

An awakening, or some unperceived revelation, stops her. She looks back to the street where lamplight paints the city a haven. She turns again to face the corridor of tangible, infinite darkness. Her breath is loud, rushed. She begins to walk again, her arms outstretched; immersed now in the dark, she is blind. With faltering steps, she moves off to the side of the road and soon stumbles into a solid wall. She falls to it, turns around, and leans there, panting. What keeps her here? What internal drive allows her to walk, alone, into a dark alley at night and does not permit her to leave? Ultimately, the question is irrelevant, however intriguing.

The hunt begins. There is, of course, no chase with she all but presenting herself to the hunter. But it is still a hunt, and its result will be the same as always.

I drop from above and alight on the ground. As I near, she senses me and gasps. I could strike now and end it, but I desire to know her; there is time enough. She stands within reach. I grab her, draw her close, and enshroud her in folds of darkness. From within her envelopment, she screams; a single, shrill note pierces the night like the shriek of a bat, caught, caged, and knowing it is to die. I smother her voice, and as if never there, we fade.

* * * * *

“There you sit, aware of so much and so little. You know that your life is at an end; your breathing speaks it, your eyes scream it out. Yet, you have no knowledge of where you are, who has brought you, or how you will die. Is it fear that keeps your mouth clenched, your questions bitten back? Or is it that same, indiscernible trait that drove you into my grasp? How I wish to know of that forcible, crippling trait.”

The woman sat in an old, worn chair, listening to the dry, jagged voice of the man who stood before her. She sat leaning forward, her arms crossed and her hands clenching them. Through quick, panicked glances, she viewed the room around her: wide and expansive, with high ceilings and square columns, it held nothing but the chair and the two occupants. It was lit only by the dim nocturnal light that seeped in through several large, boarded windows.

“So tell me,” the man continued, “of the hauntings within your head, the demons that flourish in your guilt-ridden mind, and the tainted juices that sour your brain, waiting for just the right prescription to purify them again.”

He walked towards her, and she lowered her eyes to the weathered floor. He hooked his finger under her chin and lifted. His stare caught and held her own, and she shuddered beneath it.

“Tell me.”

She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight with visible effort. He dropped her chin and moved away from her. Slowly, she re-opened her eyes. She peered at him, watching as he paced a rhythmic pattern across the floor. His was a motion of grace and poise, not of athletic origin, but stemming from fearlessness and unabashed confidence. He stood tall, but his form remained hidden under layers of loose, dark clothing. Enthralled by his enigmatic image, she followed him with her gaze. In a moment, though, he turned back to her, and she again dropped her stare.

“My curiosity regarding your strange behavior must be satiated. Were you to disappoint me, your death would be imminent and of the most discomforting nature. Were you, however, to reveal to me the answers that I seek, those cryptic thoughts of yours that presently intrigue me, then I might think to reconsider the options that I can afford you. So, then, speak to me.”

Hesitantly, she looked up at him. He smiled down at her. The grin was taut and reptilian.

“Okay, okay,” she agreed finally. “I’ll tell you. You want to know why I walked into that alley, right? I felt—I don’t know—drawn there. Something made me go in.”

“Describe this ‘something.’”

“I don’t know what it was.”

“Describe it, in detail, and do it quickly.”

The voice behind his smile scraped like steel on stone.

“Please—I’ll try, I mean, I’ll tell you! I just—Jesus!—I don’t know what made me go in there. I knew something was going to happen. It was like, why go into a dark alley at night? I mean, I’m not stupid, but I had this feeling that I had to go in there. Why did I do it? I don’t know! I didn’t want to be attacked or raped. I didn’t want to die. I don’t—I don’t want to die!”

“What of this compulsion, this feeling you obeyed against all sense of logic? When did it begin? Has it occurred previously?”

“No, no, I’ve never been compulsive. I always think things out. But tonight, I don’t know—outside the alley, it just struck me. Please, please don’t kill me! I’ve told you everything! I’ve done what you said! Please!”

He stepped back from her, turned, and walked away. He paced with his shoulders hunched slightly and his hands splayed before his chin. She watched him for a moment, then glanced cautiously behind her. Some twenty feet away, across a boulevard of creaking floor boards, the door to the room stood closed, its lock bolted. She focused on him again. He continued to walk about the room with a controlled yet energetic gait. Apparently he was deep in thought, pondering some aspect of the mystery she had presented to him.

Her face hardened. She set her jaw, sat up straighter, and stared at him.

“Now you know about me,” she said. “Who are you? Why did you attack me?”

The pacing stopped. He glared at her, instantly perceptive of the change.

“Your fear is gone,” he noted aloud. “Insanity, I see, must not be ruled out as an option. A shame, if such is the case; the possibility of my possessing unconscious magnetism would be so profitable, as would be telepathy.”

“I want to know why you attacked me. Hell, if you’re going to kill me, at least tell me why. Yes, I know you’re going to kill me, so you don’t have to lie about my even having a chance.”

He closed the distance to her in the span of a heartbeat. She drew back, startled.

“Until tonight, I always had to hunt for my sustenance,” he said. “But tonight, you came to me. Drawn out, pulled in, or simply unbalanced and unlucky to a terminal degree for being so, you came.”

“You hunt… people,” she stated coolly. “Are you a cannibal? A serial killer?”

“Why do you ask questions as if you already know… I see, of course, that you do know. You have known, perhaps all along, and so have played me the fool, scheming to delay your fate. But your efforts, however effective until now, are futile. Time means nothing to me in the winter night; I have hours left until the hell of daylight, and I need but instants, so few as to not beleaguer a counting child, to make the kill.”

Still reptilian, his mouth opened into what was not a grin.

“You don’t scare me,” she declared, though as she spoke, she pushed herself and the chair back from him with her legs. “What are you, some lonely wolf prowling the city after the sun sets? Do you howl at the moon?”

“Your bravado does not interest me.”

“But it does. Everything about me interests you. You’ve kept me alive just to get inside my head. You’re a curious wolf.”

“I am no wolf.”

“Aren’t you?” she said. “Prowling at night, hunting, feeding. Aren’t you just a wolf?”

He crouched to her level, leaning forward into her face. She swallowed hard and tilted her head back.

“People do not fear wolves,” he sneered. “Overgrown, slobbering dogs with matted fur do not inspire such an emotion. But despite your facade, so quickly and stealthily built, so shiny and decoratively faceted, you fear me. You should. I am no wolf; I am a spider. My web you have seen and tread into. My fang you will feel, and its venom you will know; it is a pain not merely physical, but much deeper.”

He extended himself farther, until he stood almost diagonally over her. She gritted her teeth, unable to force her body back any further.

“And you thought I was crazy?” she accused.

“Had you ever seen a spider hunt, seen it spin, snare, kill, feed, you would know I name myself true. And you, you are a bird, a delicate, fluttering creature who knows not when she is snared. Have you ever seen a spider eat a bird? My kind do indeed prey on birds; they are in fact called by names that recognize such habits. Birds, mice, fish, snakes, and all manner of beings weaker than we fall prey. As you have done, little swallow.”

“Okay, you’re a spider. I believe you. So tell me, why do you—”

His hand gripped her suddenly under the jaw, his finger and thumb reaching back behind each ear. She choked beneath his hold and threw her arms up in order to grab him. Her hands found his wrist and clawed at it desperately, uselessly.

“Enough telling,” he said. “I have heard enough of your lies; you have heard enough of the truth.”

In a fluid, unhurried motion, as if performing a pantomime, he bent her to one side and pulled her close to him. She shut her eyes, seeing all too clearly then the black, scissoring fangs and the spindly, craning forelimbs that he did not in reality possess.

“Help,” she gasped.

She had few breaths left, and she knew that she would die, strangled, before she was ever bloodied. With all her weight and remaining strength, she tried to wrench herself away from his grasp. Her attempt failed, except to partially open her throat for the barest instant.

“Help me, dammit!”

Across the room, the door shook and then buckled. A burly man charged into the room shoulder first, knocking the door aside and bellowing a war cry. Stunned, the dark-clothed man froze. His mouth hung agape, opened first to engage in the kill, then held there in surprise. The woman struggled against his still solid grip.

“Do it, Warren!” she yelled.

From a leather sack on his shoulder, the burly man pulled out a rifle of sorts. He aimed and fired it in under a second. But the dark-clothed man knew he was not the predator just then, and he reacted even as the burly man pulled the trigger. The woman found herself an abandoned interest, suddenly free and falling to the ground. The dark-clothed man darted faster than eyesight out from the path of the gunshot. He lunged toward his antagonist in the doorway.

Not truly a rifle, the burly man’s weapon had four barrels, and each barrel held a javelin-like projectile. These javelins were made of soft wood that almost always splintered on impact. As the dark-clothed man leapt toward him, the burly man fired thrice more in the space of a second. He aimed at wherever he thought his attacker was not. With all his barrels empty, he heard a shriek of pain just ahead of him and saw a shape of total darkness strike the floor.

The woman and the burly man walked to where the dark-clothed man lay on his back, a twitching, wailing form. From his belt, the burly man produced a battery torch and shined its cone of halogen light down on the dark-clothed man, whose face was a pale, veined contortion beneath the electric brilliance. Also illuminated was his chest, now soaked with flowing blood and pierced just right of center with a thin, wooden spike.

“Good shot, Warren,” the woman said. “I think it was luck, but credit where credit is due.”

“Why’d you wait so long to call? I’ve been outside ever since you got here. I could’ve been in any time.”

“I had to know if he really was one. He could’ve just been some psycho, some serial killer. Someone the cops could’ve handled themselves. I played along till I knew for sure.”

“Cutting it close, but okay.”

The dark-clothed man squirmed, not dead, and not totally incapacitated. The two hunters stepped back warily as he struggled to rise. Despite the monstrous effort, the pain left his face and the calm of the killer returned. He made it to an upright sitting position before exhausting his strength.

“This is not over,” he hissed. “You, cursed with mortality, cannot hope to comprehend the scope of my power. I live eternal; I return from all seeming deaths.”

“The man has a point, Warren,” the woman said. “It’s not over till it’s over.”

“Right,” the burly man agreed. He reached to the back of his belt and took a small, silver hatchet from a holster. From his pants pocket he brought forth a pouch of sharp-scented, bulbous herbs.

“Just a minute,” the woman said, then she crouched down and addressed the bleeding, dying killer.

“Let me tell you a couple of things. First: I’m going to outlive you. I don’t think you realize it yet, but regardless, it’s going to happen. Second: You may be a spider, and I a bird, but I don’t see it quite the way you do. Call me a hawk. I’m a far better hunter than you, and I’m not bothered by your stringy webs or your tiny bite. You, on the other hand, had better fear my claw.”

She took hold of the javelin lodged in his breast and pushed it deeper into his desecrated heart. Ignoring his agonized scream, she rose and stepped back, allowing the burly man to move in and finish the kill at the end of the hunt.

 

Literary Legacy of a Vampire

by Peter Huston

 

Somewhere, thought Jeanne, there may exist a clean bus station. But it wasn’t this one. Even at night, the place was squalid, the people unwholesome, adrift and sickly. And she was here with William. William honed in on the worst aspects of any situation, absorbing the negative energies of wherever he happened to find himself. What way was that to spend eternity?

She followed William down a side street, into the darkness, seeking the people whose lives revolve around watching bus stations from hiding; those who hide from the light, hide from others and ultimately hide from themselves, observing and cowering in an ugly state of semi-survival, night by night, day by day, until, inevitably, comes one night that they just don’t make it anymore. They were William’s favorite sport.

Jeanne watched the man, half a head taller than her, gaunt, and pale. (Of course he was pale. But William had been known for being pale while still alive.) With those hollowed out cheekbones, the man had always looked like a vampire, even before, when he hadn’t been one. “William, must we?”

“But of course, my dear.” He turned and smiled, the crannies of his face half hidden, half exaggerated under the awkward lighting.

“But, William,” she said, her voice tired and chiding. “Hasn’t this game of yours worn thin yet?”

“Trolling for drug addicts?” William’s eyes filled with excitement as he spoke. “Why, it’s great sport indeed.”

“I would think this activity would have worn thin long ago, and besides,” she said, “it’s cannibalistic.”

“Cannibalistic? But that’s half the fun. For if there’s one thing an addict knows, it’s to never trust another addict.” She watched as William turned and headed further into the intermittent light and shadows, still grinning widely. Jeanne followed, half trotting, half tip-toeing as she worked her way through the trash and discards that cluttered the filthy alley.

“Hey mister, do you have money for food?” The woman’s voice came from the shadows. Weak and quavery, it sounded half-asleep yet worn near breaking.

“Money for food?” said William, sounding pleased. “Why you poor thing. You must be hungry indeed.” He fished in his pocket and soon held out money. “Here. Will twenty do? Take it. You need it.”

A woman rose from the shadows, and tentatively stretched out her hand. Dirty, unkempt, eyes unfocused and tired looking, jeans unwashed and the slogan on her t-shirt so faded as to be unrecognizable, her age was completely indeterminate. Twenty whole dollars in the outstretched hand of a stranger. “Twenty?” She hesitated, hand still half outstretched. “Er, thanks mister, but what do you expect for this?”

William made that rapid snorting noise that Jeanne had long ago learned to recognize as repressed laughter. “Expect for it? Why nothing at all, my dear. You remind me of my daughter, now long lost, too, on the streets. Take it.”

The woman hesitated, then snatched the money. “Thanks,” she muttered as she half-trotted down the alley with a shuffling gait.

William turned to Jeanne and grinned.

“William,” she said. “I’ve told you before, there are easier ways to feed.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But no greater way to get the other thing I need.” And with a leer, off he followed, stalking the broken woman from a distance like a predator follows a wounded deer.

Jeanne sighed, wondering why he didn’t just straighten out and quit. Drugs, and the never-ending frantic search for the drug-thinned, chemically-altered, opiate-laced lifeblood of broken humans was an addiction that could so easily cause a person to waste an entire afterlife. “William,” she said. “Just remember, get what you need and get gone. This isn’t the time for elaborate games. Somewhere out there, there’s a vampire hunter.”

“Another one?” he cried. “This is tiring. When will they cancel that stupid TV show?” And then he was under a streetlight, following the woman out the alley, down a side street in a bad part of town, Jeanne following at the rear.

* * *

It was a struggle to hold William up as they walked, but Jeanne trudged on, gripping his arm tightly with both hands. “Are you proud of yourself?” she asked, her tone like a schoolteacher.

“What do you mean?” said William, his voice slurred.

“You’re a mess. You can hardly walk.”

“But you know why I do this, right?”

“I know why you say you do this.”

“I do this because I am a sensitive soul.”

“You eat drug addicts because you are a sensitive soul. Does this mysterious sensitivity also explain why you tend to focus those same predatory, sensitive energies on somehow preying upon the skankiest, dirtiest, puke-covered, garbage-headed drug-addicts you can possibly find?”

William stumbled and came to a halt, turned his head and struggled to focus his eyes on Jeanne, who, less than a foot away, still gripped his arm, steadying him carefully. Eventually, apparently satisfied that he could see her well enough to speak, he spoke. “I am,” he said, “indeed, a sensitive soul. I am, after all, a writer and a poet.”

“A writer and a poet,” she said. “I see, but, William, you stupid junkie who feeds on junkies, what have you done for the world lately?

“I still write,” he said swaying as he did.

“And what happens to this writing, William?”

“Well, nothing much… They say it’s derivative.”

“Then don’t you think it’s about time you find another creative outlet?”

“Hmmmf,” he sputtered. “You forget that they say it’s derivative of myself. You see, these stupid publishers, these stupid unimaginative publishers, are unable to look beyond their own naïve and stupid little paradigms and see the world for what it really is. They think, you see, that I am dead.”

“You are dead, William. You’ve been dead for years. We both are. That’s what being a vampire’s all about. It comes with the territory, I’m afraid.”

“Ha!” he laughed. “Well then if I’m dead, then I don’t have to do nothing anymore. And when I was alive, I was, in fact, the author of over a dozen books, many award-winning, and innumerable poems. My work was translated into seventeen different languages, some illegally, and the cause of several ground-breaking obscenity trials.” He laughed some more. It was the sputtering, awkward, half laugh of a man (or vampire) heavily sedated.

Jeanne purposely let go of his arm, and, soon, he fell over, landing in the street with an audible thud. “Hey,” he said, “that wasn’t very nice.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Jeanne. “You’re dead. Remember?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Yes, you’re a writer. Now, William, hurry and get up and get straight. We’ve got to get home before dawn and besides, there’s a vampire hunter out here somewhere.”

“Hmmmf,” he sputtered. “I don’t like vampire hunters. They’re derivative. Not creative at all. Very few of them have had their work translated into seventeen languages.”

“That’s right, William. Very few. Now hurry and get to your feet.”

Awkwardly, he managed to rise and soon they were on their way.

* * *

The apartment was small. Curtains and blinds were tightly drawn to ward out the early morning sunlight. (When involved in a project, William habitually refused to go to sleep before noon or later for days at a stretch, staying up late until exhaustion finally overtook him. This was yet another inefficient personal trait that Jeanne regularly chided him for, but had long ago given up on ever correcting.) Its decorations, a wide assortment of collectibles, books, art works, objet d’art, and more, were, if not exactly ornate, then plentiful to the point of clutter, but cluttered in the sort of way where each individual item was somehow worthy of its own entire conversation. The result was that while the collective assemblage of sprawling knick-knacks, books and diverse items of interest was, perhaps, quite museum worthy, the overall effect was less evocative of the baroque than of border-pop kitsch.

“William,” said Jeanne, again using the same tired school teacher tone. “There is a corpse in the hallway closet.”

“Sorry,” said William calling from his office room down the hall. “I’ll take care of it later.”

“That’s not the point. I thought we’d discussed this sort of thing before, hadn’t we? No luring victims into the apartment. Now wasn’t that a rule we’d both agreed on? For mutual safety perhaps?”

William made the sound that indicated repressed laughter. “Well… there were special circumstances.”

“Oh really, and now who is he anyway?”

“Someone named Matt. He said he was interested in discussing writing with me. Said he wanted to be a writer himself.”

“So? You found a fan at last and what do you do? You eat him. That’s hardly the way to develop a fan base.”

“Don’t be so judgmental. It turns out he wasn’t really interested in my writings at all. Well, at least not the ones I wanted to share. All he wanted to talk about was the same old, same old ones that impressed everyone way back when. I tell you, it’s so frustrating sometimes. He said he could tell that I was big fan of myself. I mean myself before I died. Again he didn’t realize we were one and the same. I asked what he thought of the new stuff, the stuff I’ve recently done and all he could tell me was that the influences were obvious. At least he carefully danced around that word—derivative! That’s why I killed him quickly. I said, ‘Let’s talk about these writings.’ And I’d show him my latest works and he’d soon be trying to redirect the conversation to something that I did twenty years before I died. And I’d say, ‘Yes, but isn’t this new piece here better,’ and show him something I’d done lately but along the same lines of exploration.”

Jeanne gave him a hug. “Oh you poor thing. It seems I’m your only fan left, and even I’m deceased.”

William smiled. “Well, I had to bring at least one admirer over with me, when I changed, and you were always my biggest fan. But I’d thought if I became immortal I could simply create forever.” For a moment, William sat in silence, looking dejected.

“But then what happened?” prodded Jeanne.

As if startled, William sat up straight and looked at Jeanne with a leer. “Well, we were sitting here, discussing our writings. I showed him mine. He showed me his, and what meaningless, sophomoric, angst-drenched trash it was indeed, and then, finally, do you know what he did?”

“What did he do?” said Jeanne.

“That bastard looked me in the eye and he just said, and in such a condescending tone, ‘Sir, I respect your attempts at writing. I really do. I’m a writer myself,’ he said, that bastard. ‘But don’t you think it’s just a tad bit egotistical of you to claim to be outdoing the late, great William S. Burroughs?’ And he smiled as he said it, and then, then that bastard said, ‘Sir, I don’t know you well enough to really say this, but, one writer to another, don’t you think you should really try to find your own style? Burroughs was great in his day, unprecedented, groundbreaking even, but his strength was his very pushing of boundaries. Friend, you can’t copy that. Burrough’s time has come and gone and we must, as writers, each find our own muse and seek our own literary path.’ And then that cock-sucking bastard grinned at me like a fucking undertaker.”

“So you ate him?” said Jeanne.

“Yes, so I ate him,” said William. “And I’m glad I did.”

“Well, obviously you had a legitimate grudge, but that still doesn’t excuse leaving his corpse in the hall closet. Besides you know you have no one to blame for your publishing problems except yourself.”

“I’ll take care of the corpse tomorrow.”

“You’d done the research. You knew the way all the other undead writers handle their careers, but you just had to be different. Has death stopped Hubbard from being published? Far from it. Tolkien? Herbert pretends to be his own son, for goodness sake. You, too, could have been producing a never-ending stream of so-called ‘undiscovered’ and posthumous ‘lost’ works, but you just had to be different. You were the one who decided it would be ever-so creative to fake your own death. ‘Won’t it be creative?’ you’d said. You know you brought this problem on yourself.”

“Bah! An eternity spent spewing a never-ending stream of meaningless pulp sequels. Dead writings from dead men. They’re nothing but hacks. And, you have to admit, my so-called death was indeed quite spectacular. Very creative indeed. Pulp. Is that what you want from me?”

“But when Philip K. Dick became a vampire, he used the opportunity to get all his mainstream novels into print. Didn’t he? You could have done something like that.”

“Dick? That neurotic flake. He couldn’t take it, could he? Vampiric undeath and the guilt from endless feeding on mortals were just too much for him. One day he walked right out into the daylight and burst into flames like an exploding sun. Is that what you want from me?”

Jeanne’s reply was cold. “Maybe it was the drugs. He was an addict, you remember.”

William looked at her stone-faced. “But he was a very creative soul.”

Jeanne sighed. “William, what if someone should come? We’ve discussed this sort of thing before. We do not leave corpses in the apartment.”

“No one will come. I’ve installed a burglar alarm.”

“Electronics do seem to be your new thing. But why, pray tell, a burglar alarm?”

“It’s this damn vampire hunter. Vampire hunter! Ptth! Nothing more than an irritating, imitative media parasite who should get a life of his own, carve out his own icon, and stop bothering his betters. I don’t have time for wasting on some idiotic fan-boy run amok who thinks he can find satisfaction and self-worth by running a stake through my heart. Ptah! Vampire hunters inspire vampire hunters who inspire vampire hunters. It’s like someone eating his own shit and then shitting it out and eating it over and over again until it just gets darker and stickier and tarrier.”

“William, don’t make me say it.”

“Say what?”

“The D-word. You’ve used that image of people eating recycled shit before, and, in fact, did so long before you died.” From behind his chair, she put her arms around him and gave him a hug. “You know, William-dear. I’m only saying these things because you know I do care for you deeply.”

William tensed, gripped his arms together and then waved his hands in the air, shaking them like a soldier trying to surrender to the enemy. “I’m a very sensitive and creative soul, I tell you. I’ve got work to do. Things to create. Horizons to expand. Did I tell you I’ve found a new medium in which to work?”

“No,” cried Jeanne. “Now that is, indeed, interesting.”

“Yes, and like everything else these days, it’s going to be digitalized and computer-driven. A whole new field. I’m going to take some of these TV sit-coms, the most vapid, sappy, putrescent and unoriginally suburban, petty bourgeois value reinforcing one that I can possibly find, digitalize it and use a computer to inter-splice contrasting images. And I’m going to use the most repulsive images I can find. Kiddie porn, starving children in the Philippines, Mexican women doing donkeys. Nazi death camp imagery, the worst god-damn stuff I can find, the most nauseatingly, repulsively human imagery I can find, and I’m going to combine the two, contrasting them, into one new and original wholely repulsive mess. And then I’ll bypass these god-damn publishers who accuse my work of being derivative, derivative of myself, I might add, and just post it all on the internet. The world won’t know what’s hit it when they see what I come up with.”

Jeanne just stood there for a moment saying nothing. Then she spoke, choosing her words carefully. “William… William, my dear. That’s been done before. In fact, high school children do it all the time. And not only do they usually get ignored, but when they do get noticed, they’re more likely to get suspended from school, instead of being showered with positive attention from the art world.”

“Hmmmf!” William rose from his chair and threw a pen at the wall. “Well, I’ll just have to find a new creative outlet. For the moment, I’m going to go out and eat a junkie.”

“William… William, dear. Just wait until tomorrow. It’s daylight and it’s not safe to go junkie hunting.”

“Hmmmf!” Without further comment William stormed down the hallway to his coffin.

* * *

Two hours later the phone begin to ring. Each time the answering machine would turn on and record a message that never came. Just a click, a repetitive never-ending nuisance that went on long enough to wake the undead, until, finally, Jeanne decided enough was enough, and rose to answer it.

“Hello,” she said.

The voice on the phone was harsh, menacing, demanding, desperate yet cruel. “William, you god-damn blood sucker. You thought you could hide, lurking in your lair, emerging to prey upon the blood of the innocent, feeding upon women and children who’ve never done you wrong. Yet, know you now that justice is at hand. Your time is near. I know who you are and I know where you live and my name is justice, you undead feeder upon the innocent. When we meet, I shall show you no mercy.”

Jeanne cupped the phone with the palm of her hand and called down the hallway. “William, dear, the phone is for you.”

“Hunh? I’m sleeping,” muttered William. “Tell them to call back in the evening.”

“William, dear. I think this is the sort of thing you’d like to take care of yourself.”

“Is it important?”

“Well, it is to them and I think it’d be best if you spoke to them directly.”

“Is it a publisher?” The eagerness in his voice was obvious.

“No dear. It’s the vampire hunter.”

“The vampire hunter? Oh.”

Jeanne hated to disappoint him this way. Soon William was slowly stumbling down the unlit hallway.

She handed him the phone and William put the receiver to his ear slowly, like someone half asleep or half dead, which was only natural, for William was both. “Hello,” he said, voicing the word tentatively, apparently, for once, unsure of himself.

Jeanne could hear very little of the remaining conversation. Just an occasional something about “lurker in worm-eaten graveyards” or “evil feeder upon babies and other innocents” and, of course, a never ending stream of cliched, hackneyed phrases about “justice” and “retribution” and “cleansing the Earth of half-living fiends.” By the expression on his face, William appeared to be as bored with all this as she was.

“Well,” said William finally speaking into the receiver, “there is no choice but to settle this honorably using the code. Vampire and vampire hunter together. Each facing the other in a tradition that predates known history.” William paused. “What? Surely you know what I’m talking about. You aren’t new at this, are you? Why the code of demonic dueling has been around far longer than either of us. Probably longer than mankind itself. I’d think you’d at least have heard of it. What kind of vampire hunter are you, anyway?” Another pause. “Tomorrow soon after sunset will be fine. Nice to hear you’re getting into the spirit of this thing. Oh of course, bring all the stakes and weapons you want. I am a vampire after all. You’ll need your weapons, I’d think… Who are you calling a weak-kneed drug addict? Have you ever been published? Have you? I thought not. Well, you just bring your weapons then. My place will be fine. Well, yes, you just chose the time so under the code I choose the place. You did know that, didn’t you?” William paused and nodded his head a bit more, finally finishing with a smile. “Why thank you. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you and I look forward to finally meeting face to face.”

“How’d he find us?” asked Jeanne.

“Who knows?” said William. “It’s the information age. Privacy’s a thing of the past. Perhaps he somehow learned a bit about skip tracing. Perhaps he purchased a couple of Paladin Press how-to-be a detective books. Maybe he somehow gained access to my library card records. Or, maybe, one of those fine colleagues of ours, the ones who were so good to let us know a vampire hunter was in town in the first place, felt it would be in their best interests if this foolish media-inspired wannabe somehow learned where we live. In any case, that’s ultimately unimportant. What matters is that he’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Was that wise to invite him over, William? What shall we do when this vampire hunter arrives?”

“Relax.” He smiled showing his fangs. “He was coming anyway. At least, now we know when he’ll arrive and can plan accordingly.”

“You may have a point. But William, really now, ‘the dueling code of the vampires?’ Where did that come from?”

William smiled. “Relax,” he said.

Jeanne shuddered.

* * *

The next day, not long after sunset, the moment arrived. The knock on the apartment door came.

“Who is it?” said Jeanne.

“It is I,” came the deep solemn voice from the far side of the door. “Marcus Finklewitz, Vampire Hunter. Remember that name for it is the last name you shall ever hear.”

Jeanne rolled her eyes and turned to where William waited with a pair of police officers. “That’s him officers,” said William. “I know that terrible voice anywhere. That’s the one. The crazy man who’s been stalking me for weeks. I don’t know how he decided I was a vampire, or even why. But he’s crazy. I’m telling you, officers, I’m so lucky to have you here. God bless the police department. Whatever would we do without you guys? Our brave boys in blue! It sure can be difficult sometimes being a major literary figure, I’m telling you. Thank god you’re here to protect me.”

The older police officer looked at William. “Literary figure?”

Jeanne intervened quickly. “Never mind officers. He was published long ago. The important thing is the crazy man outside.”

“Unh, okay,” said the cop, rubbing his nose and salt-and-pepper mustache with the back of his hand. “Well, then let’s open the door.” He drew his baton with his left hand and held the small canister of pepper spray with his right. His younger Hispanic looking partner followed suit and did likewise.

Jeanne opened the door to reveal a man standing there dressed in a long black trenchcoat, several long pointed stakes held in each outstretched hand. “Die minions of evil!” he shouted. “It is I, Marcus Finklewitz, Vampire hunter!”

“Hold it right there, buddy,” said the lead cop. “Back off.”

“Take this, spawn of Satan,” cried Marcus Finklewitz. “I am a vampire hunter. Police uniform or not, I know your true face, Bloodsucker.” Shifting the stakes to one hand only, the vampire hunter quickly reached in his pocket and tossed a half-filled, loosely tied condom of clear liquid at the police officer, which burst and splashed over the dark blue uniform. “Holy water!” cried the vampire hunter. “Prepare to burn.”

“You stupid dipshit,” cried the cop. “I’m wet.” The police officer steadied the pepper spray canister, depressed his thumb and let the liquid spray over Finklewitz’s face. Finklewitz began to scream and rub his eyes as he stumbled, half-blind, gasping for breath. “Stupid crazy-assed dipshit,” said the cop. “Cuff him, Santos.” Turning to William, the cop said, “Sorry about this mister. Make you wonder sometimes, what’s wrong with the world that all these half-baked wackadoos are out on the streets. It’s the liberals who don’t have the backbone to keep them in the mental hospitals that does it.”

“Yes, officer. It’s sad indeed,” said William. “Those nasty liberals and all.”

The police officer turned his head to watch Santos dragging the now-handcuffed screaming vampire hunter down the apartment stairs. “Hey don’t drop him like that, Santos. We got in trouble for that last week, you know.” With a snicker, he turned back to William and began speaking. “Yeesh. It’s bad enough that the kook thinks vampires are real, much less than he’s going to attack someone about it. But at least we’ve got him now. If it’s not too much trouble, it’d help if you could come down to the station and fill out some paper work on what happened.”

“Er. Officer,” said William. “Can we fill out that paper work at night?”

The officer looked at him funny. “Of course,” said the officer. “I do work the night shift after all. And the sooner the better.”

“Very well, officer,” said William. “We’ll be by the station shortly.” And with that, the police officer turned and headed down the stairs where the sound of a screaming, pepper-sprayed vampire-hunter wannabe had been joined by several mysterious thuds as if someone had somehow fallen down a short flight of stairs.

The police officer’s voice was a bit quieter as it came from the base of the stairs. “Oh, what a pity,” he could be heard to say. “It looks like the vampire hunter fell down by accident. Well, we’ve got to take him back to the station anyway.” Jeanne and William heard another thud, another scream and the sound of the building’s front doors slamming open and shut as the cops left.

With a contented sigh, William looked at Billie. “You know, my dear.”

“What William?”

“Somehow during all this, I had an inspiration. Perhaps even an epiphany. Undoubtedly it’s of literary significance. I was thinking that if one were to simply take a long enough novel, and remove occasional words, yet, and this is the significant change, the thing that makes this ever-so significantly different than what I did back during my ‘cut-up’ phase when alive, I WILL KEEP THE WORD ORDER EXACTLY THE SAME! You see, I shall simply remove words as necessary, and sometimes even entire sentences, paragraphs or pages. And, when I’m done, and the remaining words are read in sequence, then, my dear, we shall have a work of immeasurable literary significance. And do you know what will only add to the beauty of this project?”

“No William,” said Jeanne, her voice dull and showing little interest.

“What shall make this project, this work of creation truly exquisite, is if I choose my target piece with appropriate care! I must use the eye of an artist and a counter-cultural icon. Something plebian, dull, uninteresting and without the least bit of inherent worth or interest. Some Danielle Steele or some Sidney Sheldon perhaps. Maybe a Harlequin Romance, those pieces of petty bourgeois, heterosexist trash. At least if I can find one sufficiently long enough. Remove enough words from the middle of such a thing, keeping the sequence intact, and I think, that, ultimately, I shall prove that subversive thought can be found anywhere. That shall be my sub-text.” He stood there grinning broadly.

“William,” said Jeanne. “I think it’s been done.” She waited, knowing that soon he would be suggesting that they go trolling for junkies. It’s what he always did at these times.

 

Secrets

Secrets

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by Rochelle Mitchell

 

You’ve seen me working at the corner bar.
You sip your weak beer
While your bloodshot eyes follow
The seam of my fishnet stockings,
But, honey, you aren’t my type.

My friend, Sarah, who works at the blood bank,
Gives me the discarded blood,
Tainted blood,
Spoiled blood,
In sterile plastic sealed containers.

She says I’m kinky
When I bite her neck or her thigh.
She coos in delight
And laughs at the truth,
My truth.

Vampires are chic now.
All the rage.
The kids into the gothic scene
Wear black eye make-up on
Ghoul white faces.

You see another Goth Girl.
I am pale skin and moonlight,
With black hair and a pierced tongue.
I keep my secret safe
By hiding in plain sight.