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© Copyright 2016, Pierce Nahigyan, All Rights Reserved
NOTICE: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.
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More and more often the rain was invading the city, pounding upon its gates, frightening its children indoors—forcing them thither on reluctant feet, their tiny bodies craving to dance in the splatter but their cold noses insisting otherwise—and chilling the weeds deep to their shallow roots. The rain came.
At first it had been cold and bitter, snapping at fingers, tumbling out of the high eastern hills that loomed black against the gray horizon, sifting into old women’s hair and melting unfurled newspapers. But now, now the rain was warm and subtle with its descent. It would not stop falling, save for a precious few hours of the afternoon, hours which the schmoe had not dallied in for years. Even if he could, the humidity would have been no more or less tolerable. The city had always been more or less tolerable.
The schmoe’s name was Joseph, and his mother had read the Bible. She had died. When he was a baby, Joseph had curled against the frail woman, ignorant of the world and her illness, for he knew no more than she told him.
Before bed, every night, his mother would read him her favorite stories from the old book, recounting each tale with her soft willow’s voice. But she did not merely regale the boy with the Psalms, or those parables firmly buttressed by moral fortitude. She read to him about King David fornicating with the wife of another soldier, of Adam and Eve severing God’s trust for all time. Even Samson, with his strong arms and his abundance of women, was buried beneath a tide of sin. Yet at the end, Samson’s faith had redeemed him. As did King David’s, though he was made to repent and repent and repent.
But Adam and Eve, Joseph knew, never got their happy ending. Adam lived for a very long time, nearly a millennium, and he’d had to live with his guilt for the duration of his time on Earth. Outcast from paradise, ignorant of how long his natural span would be, the first man rose every morning to the newborn son and wanted to crawl back into sleep again, or just die and be rid of himself. But God decreed murder a sin.
Joseph had always harbored such a fear: to live for so long with a memory so terrible. His family shamed him for how queerly he behaved when forced to see his grandfather in the hospital, impaled by the very machines that kept him alive––unnaturally alive. His grandfather was one-hundred and two and had served in two wars, first on the battlefield, and then sending others to it. Joseph couldn’t imagine the nightmares he must have had.
But his grandfather had no nightmares, Joseph’s mother told him. His grandfather did not dwell in the past. He lived alone in his bed and slept the past away. That was what his mother told him. And it all came back to his mother. She read him the Bible because she liked the Bible. Her son often thought that even if she hadn’t believed in God that she would still love the Bible. His mother loved to read.
The rain was picking up speed now, and pelting the rusted lids of rusted trash cans with tinny tat-tats, dribbling from above down a busted drainpipe. Everything was busted. Joseph was sitting in an alleyway, the slanted roof of some old shanty shielding him from a deluge of scat water.
The sun had set one half-hour ago. As far as he knew, he was the only one awake at this hour. He could have been out here sooner; the sun could not be seen through the thick sweater of clouds that fit over its head––it would have had to poke its shiny fingers through and pry the seams of the sky apart. A smile brushed Joseph’s face at the thought of a large, balding man with shiny glasses, sweating, trying with all his might to separate a cloud. He laughed aloud into the crooked alley, startling a pigeon that had been resting below him, managing the invisible until sound drove it to slam flying into a wall of rain. It hit the cataract and plowed through it, but Joseph was both sad and amused to see it falter and crash into the rubbish on the other side.
He thought to help dig it out, but it was over now, the calm that preceded the storm. There was a scent of incipient lightning in the alley as Joseph prepared himself.
The old woman. Her hair was still a frizzy blonde though her age was not under eighty. She wore orange sunglasses over her crinkled eyes despite the clouds and the cascades that narrowed her path. Her grocery bags bounced against her old hips but her squat footsteps did not falter. She was a tough old woman. Had Joseph not been hungry, she might have made it past without even noticing him. Except she did notice him, the young man with a whisker or two protruding from his chin, sitting cross-legged atop a garbage can. She stopped in the old alley, her yellow umbrella stem tilting back, diverting the rain behind her. The old woman stared at Joseph, and he regarded her with heavy eyes.
“Hello,” she said to him.
“Hello,” he said back.
No more words. Maybe in the absence of light her eyes were hidden from the street. But Joseph saw them. The regret that welled within him washed down his back in a current of fortified indifference. He could not help himself; a statement truer as time progressed. The apathy before sating was reflexive. Hunger was growing in him, neither the lust that preceded a kill nor the gnawing that demanded nourishment but the empty feeling of neglected fulfillment––made more painful by the foreknowledge that he would receive none. This was simply the surcease to a temporary urge, just like a jogger eased himself by urinating after a marathon. Joseph’s lip quivered.
The old woman set down her bag on the damp street and watched for a minute the brown paper suck up the cold water and sag under its added weight. She opened her mouth to say something, but there was nothing. Sometimes old people just kept their mouths open. There was always something more––
Joseph’s lunge was grace itself. His teeth found her throat with a near-lifetime of experience. His arms wound their way around the woman’s fragile body and he tore out her life and drained everything away. He drank. And as her heart slowed, he kneeled with her on the cold pavement, watching the old woman’s hand and the grasp on the yellow umbrella soften until it clattered to the ground. Then the rain came down on them both, and it was cold again.
Good. It was better that way.
The rain beat at the windowpanes, splattering against the glass like clear kamikaze. Feebly, Baxter thought, attempting to force their way into his room and bother him. But in the end they were only raindrops, and his attention could not be swayed. He was writing—yes, writing—on a scrap of paper, his white hand directing the ink stream that ejaculated from the tip at near-diabolical speed. He wrote with a quill, a new one.
Upon the crinkled paper, Baxter’s rapid scrawl could have turned out illegible. He wrote so quickly that the ink should have wet the page in a most embarrassing manner. And it had, up in the far corner, but he was more careful now. It didn’t take him very long to learn new tricks, not at all.
In the bed downstairs, below the floorboards, the girl was waking. He stopped briefly, wondering if he could remember her name. Then he shrugged and returned to the paper; he really didn’t care anyway, and the page was almost filled.
On the last lines of it now, his eyes scanned above, hand still penning furiously. What he saw made him smile, his lips drawing back over fantastic teeth. The girl’s arm draped across his shoulder and his eyes stayed fixed on the page. She breathed on his neck scentlessly, and without warmth, and made for it baring her fangs.
Baxter’s hand snapped up, wadding a hank of her hair betwixt his deft fingers. “Not yet,” he said. In some pain, but smart enough to remain silent, the girl leaned back; she almost sniffled.
When the last word was writ, he laid his quill down. Then, as an afterthought, he took it up again and threw it across the room. He flourished the paper, his eyes reading it in an instant, and dangled it before the girl’s slow eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Call me Jefferson,” Baxter said, “because this is our Declaration.”
Baxter smiled easily, forgiving the girl’s naiveté. He laid the paper back upon the table and took her up in his arms. “And a terrible beauty is born,” he muttered into her soft neck. The girl sighed against him, then arched her back as his sharp teeth penetrated her white flesh. Baxter drank heartily, and the girl, the girl’s eyelids fluttered, her lips parted to moan––once––as her mind gurgled away.
The rain stopped at ten o’clock, and by eleven most of the soggy clouds had been washed away. Joseph’s footsteps were audible, bouncing off the alley walls with a rhythmic celerity. When he noticed this, he stopped. The echo bounced back and fell dead.
The corner of Joseph’s mouth bent.
When he resumed his walk, the alley was without echoes, the pavement misty quiet. Joseph burst out laughing and broke into a run, his footsteps and voice alternating between fully audible and utterly noiseless between each sidewalk crack. He made his way like this for several blocks, his body propelling him the distance in mere seconds, until he stopped so suddenly his body hurtled to the pavement.
As he crashed, the neon lights of a too-familiar bar zipped through his vision and were replaced with the shattered remains of concrete. Where Joseph’s hand came down on the pavement, it left a permanent claw mark, as though pressed there before the cement could dry. But then his elbow buckled, and he went back down again. A thick knot of something bound its way tightly inside his throat. He clawed at it but it would not leave. Something of a sob wretched out of him, but he devoured it, swallowing as many times as he had to.
Joseph’s body shook. Such a display of vulnerability was dangerous; it was a signal to the others. He did not fear them, but in large numbers they were trouble. And Joseph knew they were simply waiting for an excuse.
He stood up. His head was pounding with thoughts long left in the past. A glassy fingernail massaged his temple and he shuffled to the door of the bar. His head was buzzing, and he wondered if he was finally going mad. This was not the first time this had happened.
He almost wanted to laugh again, but that was probably more dangerous than weeping.
Sliding through the door, he jammed his hands into his pockets, eyes already fixed on the floor. The bar was dark, but there was no need for his eyes to adjust. He knew what was waiting for him inside.
Fluorescent paint smeared the walls, glowing in the deadly black light to spell out inane, cryptic epithets. “We are the dead, now / walk with us,” “Drink deeply,” and Joseph’s favorite, “We are the miners of the bloody golden veins.” It was almost ironically bad, but irony was sparse in these parts.
This was an urban bar, filled to its frothing brim with “Les enfants du sang.” Many of the pale creatures skulking around appeared no older than twenty, and when they had died, perhaps they were not. But since the last century, teenage men and women in need of expression had turned to the codified macabre and painted themselves into pictures of ghouls and undead beasties. To be offered the real thing was an honor the children coveted. The usual nausea built up in him whenever his eyes lifted from the floor, but Joseph choked down its coppery aftertaste.
He sidled up to the bar and sat, then swiveled in his seat. No drinks had been served yet. Some years back they had experimented with keeping a number of men and women in stock, draining them and storing the blood, filling the glasses like wine. But it wasn’t the same. And there were screams.