When I first open my eyes I have no idea where I am. For a moment there is peace and calm, and then it all comes back. The memory is raw. Everything replays in my mind, everything from the moment I saw the dark figure in the hall at sanctuary, right up to.... to the moment I head him scream. Of it all it is that which hurts the most. I did that. I hurt him so much that it made his soul scream.
At that moment I wanted to go back, I wanted to turn around and run to him... but then what? Then I would just make the pain last longer. No. I must keep remembering that it is better this way, kinder in the long run. He is hurting but he will get over it. He has May, and Gabriel. I am sure that Gabriel will comfort him, or at least will want to.
I close my eyes and wonder what time it is. It is all the same here where daylight never penetrates. Getting dressed I am surprised, yet again, by how strong I feel. Beth made me feed last night, on the way here. I was happy to do it, happy to turn my rage and pain to violence and the knife wielding punk I chose never had a chance. Although he did manage to plunge his knife into my side before he died, that was because I wanted him to... I would have been happier if he had found my heart.
It is healed now, the wound. The skin is smooth as marble, as if it had never felt the kiss of steel. It was still there when I went to sleep and now it is gone. I sigh. I want the pain. I want to remember why I am doing this. I want to be weak and sick and tired so that I can know I am doing the right thing. I am not even heartsick any more. The disgust and abhorrence I felt about what was done to me is gone and all that is left is emptiness.
The only parts of me that is still obviously hurt are my wrists. I glance at the bandages that Beth put on fresh last night, they are soiled, not with blood but with the greenish ichor that constantly seeps from the wounds which are inflamed and sore, the flesh around them purplish and swollen. I wonder how long it will be before I feel the poison spread, what it will be like, if it will hurt. I WANT it to hurt.
Wandering downstairs I check the clock. It is ten o’clock but whether that is morning or night I neither know nor care. The house is deserted. That is no surprise, there is only me and Beth here right now, not even Pan is here, although he was briefly when we arrived. He has gone off on some job for Sanctuary. I didn’t listen to what. I didn’t care, I still don’t and I would rather not think of Sanctuary at all.
There is no coffee in the jar. I search the kitchen but there is nothing anywhere. This day gets better and better. During the course of my search I find that there is no alcohol either. Of course there is no food but that is not a problem in a vampire house.... coffee and alcohol though are quite another matter.
Pulling aside a curtain the room is flooded with light. Ten in the morning then. Is it the same day or the next one? It must have been past four before we went to be; have I been asleep for six hours or thirty? I remember that Pan said something about a money jar. He said to help ourselves if we needed anything but be sure to replace it at some point. Yeah right... as if.
The jar is stuffed with money, notes and coins. There has to be a couple of hundred pounds. I take a twenty and write a note on the pad at the side of the jar owning up to it. There were a number of such notes and if I had been more interested I might have read them.
It is good to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, although it hurts my eyes quite a lot at first. I’m going to have to get sunglasses... oh... no, no I won’t. I keep forgetting. It’s hard, walking in the warm sunshine, feeling strong and alive, to remember that I am dying. I don’t feel like I am. It just doesn’t feel real. If it wasn’t for my wrists I would think that it was all a big mistake, but they are not healing. I have even tried to actively heal them, just to see if I could, and I can’t.
On the way in I noticed a large superstore just around the corner and this is where I am heading. Until I get there I don’t really see too many people but, once inside I find the crowds, the harsh lighting, the colours and noise all a bit overwhelming.
I find the coffee and spend ages choosing which one to take. Suddenly it seems important that I get it right. And then there is the alcohol. So many different kinds, so many bright colours and shiny surfaces. My head is aching with all the noise and colour and choice and people. I close my eyes and rest my head against the cool bottles.
Everything feels strange, as though all the noise and movement in the background has blurred into one sense of ebbing, flowing, formless, meaningless noise. I take a deep breath and realise that someone is touching me. I open my eyes and there is someone speaking to me. It takes some time to disentangle the thread of the voice from the weave of the general sound.
“Are you alright? Do you need to sit down? Can I call someone?”
“Someone to come and get you. Are you ill?”
“I... “ Am I? “No. I.. I’m alright. I was.... was ... I felt a little... I’m alright now.”
There are a lot of people looking at me and I am suddenly embarrassed. I grab the nearest bottle and make for the checkout. Everything feels strange, wrong, as if I am in a dream. Standing in line I find that it is hard to stand still. I feel as though I am on a boat and the floor is listing under my feet. I try to focus on a single point, outside, in the car park and I manage it so well that I don’t realise it is my turn until someone shoves me irritably in the back.
The woman at the checkout gives me black looks as she serves me and when I glance around there are others who are doing the same, some with pity, some with censure. Seems that everyone is judging me. They probably think I have taken drugs or something. I know I am acting strangely, I can’t help it, everything IS strange.
The woman is staring at me with an annoyed look on her face. I can’t work out why she is annoyed and so I turn and start to walk away. I just want to get out of here now. I want to be home... home? I am halfway to the door when someone grabs my arm. They are lucky. If I had been feeling myself they would have been flat on the floor in a heartbeat. As it is I simply turn and stare at them. It is the man who was behind me in the queue, the one who had shoved me.
“Your change.” I look down at his hand, it has money in it. I don’t understand what he wants me to do. “What the fuck are you on?” I look up at him. I don’t understand that either. Suddenly I don’t understand anything.
The man lifts my hand and presses the money into it. He puts a bag in the other hand and walks away shaking his head, and I stand looking after him. Suddenly the noise and movement, the bright lights, smells, colours, all start to press in on me. My head is aching even more now and all I want is to be outside in the fresh air. I thrust the money into my pocket, hold tightly to the bag and run.
I bump into people, I stumble over bags and crash into trolleys. I don’t care, I just want to get out, I have to get out. When I am outside it is easier to run and so I do. I run and run and keep on running until it occurs to me to wonder where I am running to. I look around. I have no idea where I am. I have no idea who I am. I have nothing, nothing but a burning, prickling pain, not too great but enough for me to be aware of it, all through my body, as though my veins are itching.
I look around, confused. There are houses in a street, cars, people, but not too many. I need to hide, to be safe, to sleep. There is a derelict building nearby, with boards over the windows. I fall into its shadow and melt away. Carefully keeping close to the wall until I am out of sight of the street I find a door and it is easy to wrench it open.
Inside it is cool and dark and smells musty. I carefully close the door and venture through a small room filled with stacked chairs and dust. There is a feeling of space somewhere nearby, a feeling of something familiar. And then I am in a great open space. The hall... if hall it is, is cavernous. I walk out into the middle, my footsteps echoing and raising dust with every step. I turn around and suddenly realise where I am. It is a church. All the pews are gone, the stained glass, such as it was, removed and the windows boarded up... but the vaulted ceiling remains, the biblical scenes painted on the wall behind the alter... and the alter itself, that is still there.
I have no idea why it calls to me so strongly but I stand for a very long time looking up at the painting of an angel, the gold paint on the halo still gleaming through the grime where slanting beams of sunlight, forcing themselves through cracks in the wooded boards across the windows, find it.
I stand for ages and ages, until I can’t stand any more and then I have no sense of falling, no sense of hitting the floor only now I am looking up at the carved ceiling far above. Dust is settling on my face and I have no strength to brush it aside, no strength even to blink, I just stare and think.... Yes, it is real.
I don’t remember closing my eyes. I don’t remember opening them. I am still staring up at the ceiling but the light has changed, there are no longer spiking shafts of light poking through the boards across the window and I am seeing with my vampire sight through pitch blackness. There is something tickling the back of my mind. I sit up and look around. How did I get here? Where the hell IS here?
The tickle in the back of my mind resolves into a soft touch. Beth. She is looking for me. I open my mind and call out to her, it is a cry of confusion. I didn’t intend it to be... it just came out like that, and I have the uncomfortable feeling that it was a bit too... ‘general’.
Getting to my feet I wander around the church, not really looking at or for anything, just liking the way my footsteps sound, the feeling of space and coolness. My head aches and my wrists are throbbing painfully. Is this how it begins... is this how it ends? I want to lie down and go to sleep, but I don’t.
When the door opens I am looking at the angel again. It is not a great depiction, as Christian symbolism goes, and is too stylised to be really familiar but it is somehow comforting. The echoing footsteps are light and I barely register the approaching figure until..... It’s not Beth! The realisation comes in the same instant I spin and.....
Salem! I am angry. I want to strike but something stops me.
“I have been looking for you.”
“I told you that I would find you when you needed me.”
“I also told you not to run away from him.”
“You need him Marc. Now more than ever. And he needs you. Your transformation is not complete. You must complete it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. You just don’t realise. You are the fool, you are both fools. You have stood on the edge, now you must jump and trust to your wings to carry you. Fall Marc, let go and fall, before it is too late.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry, you will, you must, and soon. Call for him tonight. By tomorrow you will be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To die. To live.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I know. It is hard. It is too hard, too hard for you now. But it will make sense soon.” He is very close to me now, so close I can feel his breath on my face. He leans close and I think for a moment he is going to kiss me. I can’t pull away, can’t move. I am lost in his eyes. Damn, I should have remembered about his eyes. This time I don’t have the strength to break away. I feel curiously disembodied, as if I am floating. “Sleep now. Sleep and dream. You will find the answers you are looking for in dreams.”
I know what he is doing. Even as I feel my body and mind grow heavy, my eyes flicker and close. Even as I sink beneath the blanket of sleep, I know what he is doing and I am powerless to stop him.
This time when I open my eyes I am aware of it because it is hard. My head aches unbearably and I am shivering. I am lying on the floor of the church and it is icy under my cheek.
“Marc? Are you alright?”
“Shade? No, it’s me, Beth.”
“Beth.” I sit up and the room spins, I grab for her hand to steady me and she falls to her knees pulling me against her.
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. I was in the supermarket, getting coffee and.... and.... I had to get out, had to run and I got lost and... it was day... Then Shade came.”
“Yes. He... I don’t know. Maybe it was a dream. I don’t feel well.”
“No, you don’t look well. Do you think you can stand? Walk?”
“I think so.”
With Beth’s help I manage to struggle to my feet. I am a bit unsteady but it’s not too bad. “I can manage.”
“Then let’s get home.”
I lean on Beth and it is nice to feel an arm around me again. Suddenly I feel desperately lonely and I long for a different arm.
“How long were you there, in the church? You feel awfully cold.”
“I don’t know. What time is it now?”
“It was about ten thirty or just after. Almost fifteen hours. No wonder I’m cold. The floor was freezing.”
“Do you think that this is the snake venom beginning to affect you?”
Biting back the sarcastic comment I even manage to smile. “Yes. I think that is very likely.”
“Do you think it will get worse?”
“I expect so.”
“Do you think...?”
“Beth... I don’t really want to think right now.”
“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t think. I don’t suppose it’s easy, getting sick and knowing you’re not going to get better.”
“No. Not easy.”
“What does it feel like?”
“What does what feel like?”
“Beth, please.... I’m really not comfortable talking about this.”
“Oh, okay. I’m sorry. It’s just that I have hardly known anyone who knew they were going to die so they could tell me what it was like. It has almost always come suddenly and.... well... I have often wondered.”
“Beth. I can’t tell you what it feels like to be dying. I don’t know. I know what it feels like to have a really bad headache, to feel sick and ill and tired. It is nothing that I haven’t felt before. I don’t feel any different.”
“Oh.” She sounds surprised, almost disappointed. At first I am a little annoyed, even hurt by her apparent lack of care and consideration but then I realise it is just Beth.
“Beth, don’t get me wrong hun but... well I know you say what you think and that’s a good thing... but sometimes it sounds a bit... well, harsh, uncaring.”
“Because... sometimes things are.... hard... and it doesn’t help when people remind you and... when they sound like... like it’s something interesting and not something awful and... and... well you just don’t say that kind of thing.”
“I’m sorry Marc, I am not good with people. I know it. I don’t know how I am supposed to be, what I am supposed to say. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“You didn’t. It’s okay. It’s just that it is really hard for me to think about what’s happening to me. I... I suppose.... I suppose that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.”
“There is something that I have not told anyone, not for a long time, a very long time. I think that I would like to tell you. When we are home.”
Something about the sound of her voice that stirs me. It is wistful, sad, far away. Fortunately we are not far from the house, which is good because I find myself leaning more and more heavily on Beth and I am getting very quickly exhausted.
I have never been so glad to sit down on a sofa. It feels so soft, so comfortable. Immediately I feel my eyes growing heavy and I have to force myself to sit up straight and remain alert for Beth who is sitting on the edge of her seat chewing a strand of hair. She looked like a little girl trying to tell her mother she had forged her signature on a bad school report.
“I have not always been alone. Once.... once there was... there was someone who was very close to me. We were together a long time. He took care of me. He.... loved me.”
There are tears in her eyes and for some reason that makes me feel strangely disquiet. Beth is such an oasis of calm. “Don’t cry Beth. It’s alright.”
“Yes, I know. But it is sad. Sometimes I still miss him.”
“What happened to him?”
“We were in Spain and everyone was alive with news about the new world, Eldorado. Streets of gold and opportunity beyond our wildest dreams. Adda was always adventurous, he was calling himself Dante at the time, he was a noble, at the court of the king, I was his wife and it is one of the happiest times I have ever had.
“He couldn’t help himself, he had to go. And I, being as I am, or was then, I could not let him go alone. I am stronger than a human man so it was easy to disguise myself as one and, at sea, where are no women it is not so strange that the men become.... close. But only him... no one else ever but him.
“In Peru we became disillusioned. The soldier and adventurers were greedy, they were... inhuman, vile. We were sickened by the way they treated the natives, how they behaved between themselves, their greed, their arrogance, their ignorance. We decided to strike off on our own and we did.
“We found a place, in the jungle. It was very beautiful. We were... we were happy... for a time. As happy as I have ever been. Just the two of us, and the animals. We hunted and we even ate fruit and berries.... we watched what the animals ate and mostly that was safe. And there was a waterfall with water so pure.... We bathed in the pool and.... and it was...”
She closes her eyes, locking herself in a world of her own, one that I cannot penetrate. I want to reach out to her but I am finding it hard enough to listen to her words. My body is sinking into the sofa. There is a hollowness inside me that is spreading outwards and my heartbeat is echoing into it. I need her to carry on, or I won’t be able to make it to the end of the story.
“I’m sorry Marc. I am getting lost in memories. It is a long time since that happened to me. I ... I suppose that I have hidden from it. One day... one day we were hunting deer. Only we were not the only ones. There were natives, they had bows, their arrows were tipped with poison and ... and Adda was hit. It was not a bad wound and we were not concerned at first.
“I cleansed it and I gathered what healing herbs I could, that I knew. And... at first it seemed... it seemed that he was getting better but... but... then I woke in the night and he was... he was delirious with fever. I nursed him as best I could but... Over the next few days he grew weaker and weaker. There were times when he was unconscious or raving but there were times when he was... when he knew what was happening to him, that he was dying.”
“Oh Beth I.... I didn’t know.” Suddenly I feel cold. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be putting her through this again. If I was stronger I would get up and walk out now. When I have rested I will.
“Of course you didn’t know. I have not told anyone for a very long time, no one who would have told you. It took six days for him to die and in all that time he never complained. He cried out sometimes when he was in pain or afraid, but he never complained. He said that... that he had been happier with me in our home in the jungle than he had ever been anywhere, and that he would not have given up those months, not even for a thousand years of life.
“He took every moment, every second that he could and filled it with joy for me. Every breath he could spare he used to tell me how much he loved me and that he would die happy knowing that I loved him, and that we were together.”
She is crying harder now, the tears flowing from her eyes. Suddenly I feel... I feel.... lonely.
“Wasn’t it hard on you? Wasn’t it painful? Watching someone you love die.”
“Oh yes, it was the most painful thing I have ever done. But... but.. it was also the most beautiful. We had never been so close. We cherished every moment that we had together, right to the very end. For the last day the fever left him and he was more clear headed. He was too weak to get up from the bed but I gathered soft moss to pile behind him so he could sit and watch the stars. I was holding him in my arms when he died and the last words he spoke were words of love and beauty. I have never forgotten, they have given me strength in times when I felt like giving up. Because he didn’t give up... he didn’t give up on us, right to the end.
“Yes it was hard, yes it was painful, yes it tore out my heart but I was so... I have gained so much strength from it, from him, so much inspiration from the depth of the love we shared in those last days. I would not have had it any other way.”
She looks up at me and there is something in her eyes, something more than her own pain, something more than the story she is telling me, something for me.
Almost as a reflex I shake my head. It was not done with thought, when I think I am not so sure.
“I know. I know. I.... I....” I am exhausted, too tired to think, too tired to deal with this. “Let me just rest for a while and I’ll think about it.”
“If you rest now, it will be tomorrow night before I can bring him to you and that.... that will have wasted a whole day of precious time. You have already wasted too much.”
I turn away from her, as if by blocking out the sight I can block out the thought. I feel tormented. My heart says one thing my head another and I have no idea which to listen to.
Beth comes and sits down besides me, her hand stroking my head is cool and comforting. “Don’t think about it. Don’t say what you think, say what you feel. What do you feel Marc?”
“I...” It hurts my head to think, makes the hollowness more hollow the weariness more profound. “I need him Beth. I want him. I want Kai.”
She draws me into her arms and I turn to her. I had not noticed the tears but they are flowing down my face and I bury my face in her shoulder and sob while she strokes my hair and allows her own sorrow to flow from her in a healing flood.
The tears fill the hollow space within me until it feels that I am drowning in them. If I was weary before I am so much more so now. I cannot lift my head, cannot speak. My body is like lead, my eyelids too heavy to keep up. I sigh and Beth slides out from under me, lowering me onto the cushions. She lifts my feet onto the seat and tucks a rug around me.
“I will bring him to you. Sleep now, and when you wake we will be here.”
I want to tell her how thankful I am, how grateful to her but I can’t. My eyes are closing and there is nothing I can do to stop them. I am so comfortable, so warm. If it were not for the pain in my wrists, the sickening throb in my head, I would be content. I try to speak but it comes out as a sigh and then... and then.