We returned from Greece
to find our apartment infested with fruitflies. Erik had bought some bosc pears and left them on the counter before we left and we had both neglected to dispose of them before the whirlwind tour of Greece. Little, red-bodied flies with delicate wings flew in clouds through the air and covered surfaces of the kitchen in baroque
profusion. I was both disgusted and fascinated by this sudden exuberance of life. Erik was merely disgusted. The apartment was perfumed with the sickly sweet smell of decayed fruit and mold
. I considered selling my things and moving to another place but Erik found that idea preposterous
, "We just need to clean up the dead fruit, spray the bugs and everything's back to normal".
I realized that his solution was the more logical one, but years of viewing my possessions of temporary luxuries had left me attached to little that belonged to me. Even my books were expendable. And so we cleaned, and we sprayed. But the fruitflies were resilient. It took four separate sprayings of the apartment to finally be rid of them, and each we thought was the last only to find a lone fly drifting around in the air and the next morning a miniature cloud of them ruining breakfast for us both. Erik grew increasingly irritated with the bugs, but I was secretly thrilled that we spent so much time on such a trivial domestic chore and did not grow tired of each other. It is easy to love in luxury, more difficult when the real world interferes in its small, persistent ways.
We had not talked again of his proposal to me, but always it was in the back of my mind. He had asked me to marry him; that seemingly small thing had me thinking in ways that were new and surprising to me. I imagined our life together and how distressed I would be when he began to grow old and I stayed the same. Growing old with someone is a comforting thought, but it is not a luxury I would ever have. I imagined us raising children, or buying a house or collaborating on some strange and wonderful art project. I imagined him in his thirties, still dyeing his hair according to his moods, his arms now covered with tattoos, the youthful vigor gone. These visions occupied my waking hours. At work I would stop and dream of the future, neglecting a project. But there was such harmony between us. We would finish each other's sentence, laughing and smiling at the sudden synchronicity of thought. And I began to more seriously wonder what it would mean if he wanted to live forever. Would I be capable of bestowing eternal life on him? How would that change him? What would that mean for us. But at times, it seemed to me the only answer, the only way to keep him by my side.
After the initial month of elation after returning from Greece, a pensive melancholy settled upon me. I wondered what it would mean for us if Larissa had began her methodical stalking of me. As he was, I knew I could not take Erik with me. He would be too slow and too much of a liability. And Larissa would kill him in the most cruel and painful method she could devise, if only to bring to pain to me. I did not want to lose Erik. For the first time in nearly a century I had found someone who was dear to me, someone whose very presence could bring me joy and I wanted that in my life. I did not want to lose the day-to-day meaning he had brought rather than the dull stretching towards eternity I had grown used to. And, I reasoned, if I made him an immortal Larissa could never really harm him permanently; although I did not doubt that she would do her best to bring him to long for death.
But the reasons I wanted to make him one our kind were selfish and I wondered what the daily hunger for the blood would do to him. The age I was born in was in many ways more savage. We were heir to more violence and intimate depradations than Erik could possibly know. He lived in an age where wars were waged by computers and where slavery was an abstract concept taught in classes where heavy-lidded students dozed and stared at the clocks. To steal little bits of life from another person-- even if that person found it pleasurable-- to prey on the weak would surely weigh heavy on his conscience and change his consciousness. He was such an innocent despite all his protestations of savagery.
And this dilemma took its toll on my relationship with Erik. I dared not bring the subject up to him, afraid that his answer in either the negative or the affirmative would be for entirely the wrong reason. And because I had long since stopped keeping secrets from my beloved, he noticed the changes in my moods and my increasingly excessive silences. Never one to keep a subtle silence or discreetly pose sensitive questions, Erik soon snapped.
"What the Hell is wrong with you lately?" he barked at me one evening while I was preparing dinner.
I sighed, I knew that this moment would come, but I had hoped to avoid its inevitibility until I could get a better grasp on my emotions and could come to a logical plan of action. I continued chopping shallots and without pausing a beat responded, "There have been some heavy things on my mind lately. I'm sorry if I seem distant. It's just certain things require consideration. "
"What the fuck are you considering that's making you act all moody and grouchy? What's that fuckin' deep that you act like another person?"
I sighed, thinking of how to put the entire situation in the most inoffensive manner possible, "Well, it began when you asked me to marry you..."
"Goddamn it," he scowled, furrowing his brow and pinching his lips, "if I had realized that this would make you go all weird and psycho, I never would have asked. I love you, David.. but if you think this whole thing is silly or--"
I cut him off before he could begin to second-guess, "No, no it's not that. I don't ever want you to go away. I love you so much, Erik. More than reason is able to allow for. It's just that I keep thinking about what being married really means, 'to death do us part,' I think the phrase is and I just-- I just don't want you to die. And it's selfish and silly but it's been on my mind so much lately," I turned away from him so he wouldn't see the tears welling up in my eyes, even though I was chopping shallots and could have blamed my tears on the oniony smell.
Erik rubbed my shoulders and kissed the back of my neck. He asked, "Why are you thinking of all this now? There will be time later to worry about things like death. But we have each other now. And I'm not leaving any time soon. I love you, David. Let's worry more about this stuff when I start to get gray hair."
"Like I'll be able to tell under all that color!"
We both laughed. It was laughter to cover up the tears. I was not the only one hurting, Erik was beginning to understand that loving me would require more than just adjustment to what I was; it would require some adjustment in who he wanted to be as well.
We ate the quiche lorraine and the salad that night in silence. I still was pondering the cruel twists of fate that had brought me to love someone who had lived only a small fraction of my long life and would be gone long before I had resigned myself to his absence. But I did not want to thrust my way of life onto him if that is not what he wanted. And he was so young, I felt that I owed him the chance to grow naturally before offering him what I wanted so badly and was so afraid of. And I do not know what thoughts went through Erik's head that night, perhaps if I had the fabled ability to read the minds of others, I would have been able to prevent some of the terrible things that happened.
Erik went to bed early that night. I did not join him. I sat on the balcony and looked at the stars as if I could discern some sort of meaning or reason from their configurations. Fortune telling, Claudius told me long ago in a makeshift laboratory in Paris, is nothing more than wishful thinking from weak people who want to make meaning of their little lives; the real power is in shaping destiny to your will. And still, there I was wishing on stars, hoping for the best, believing in fate instead of realizing that we are all instruments of our own fate.
I watched the sun rise in the morning, something I rarely do because its light pains me so. I watched the sun and marveled at how everything glows in the early morning. This illumination was painful but I withstood the pain because I could feel the life stirring and waking in that golden light. And their lives were demarked and bounded by pain; why should mine be any different? My eyes were naked. I was without my customary dark glasses but though my eyes burned and I wanted to withdraw from the light, I stood there as if somehow this would purify me, as if the mortification of the flesh would grant me greater understanding into the lives that I touched on my cold way through eternity. I unbuttoned my shirt and bared my chest to the sun, revelling in the fear and pain that I had seldom experienced throughout my long life. I stood there, for nearly an hour, alternately recoiling and gathering courage. Finally, exhausted and itching, my skin taut and tingling from the burning sensation, I pulled back the screen and the sliding glass door, and half-crawled into the living room to find Erik waiting for me. Mercifully, he pulled the blinds shut as I collapsed onto the shag carpet.
"Here I catch you up early. I thought you didn't like the sun. If not, why were you trying to get a tan?"
Between gasps, I managed to force out a coherent answer, "I was... trying... to figure some things out... and then thought, well why not? and stopped to watch... the sun rise."
"Awfully masochistic of you, love.
He knelt down beside me and laid his head gently on my shoulder. He ran his fingers through my hair and I said, "I was wondering what a world without you would be like."
He whispered into my ear, so close that I could feel his lips nuzzle against me, "Maybe you won't have to worry. If you can make me into what you are, we could be together forever. Nothing could separate us, not even death."
And I blinked in confusion. This was what I wanted, wasn't it? But did he know enough to make an informed decision about what this would mean? How could anyone know enough in one lifetime to be prepared for a lifetime that does not end? Wearily, I struggled to my feet and staggered over to the chaise longue. I sat, put my head down into my hands and began to cry. There were too many questions without answers and too many emotions and I didn't know what to do with them all. Long life does not protect us from those things that loom too big over us to ignore; a two-hundred year lifespan is no guarantee that the questions which plague existence will reveal their answers to us.
Erik began to pace and I could almost feel the temperature in the room change as his temper began to flare. I don't think he understood why I was distraught or any of the fears I had. In his hotheadedness he barked at me, "Why are you such a drama queen all of a sudden? What the fuck is wrong with you? I don't have to die! And I'm not dying now, so why are you acting like you're at my fucking wake?"
I waved a hand for him to stop his onslaught. I choked out, "You don't know what it's like. I want you to stay with me forever. I just want to make sure you're ready for that choice before you make it, because there's no going back."
"Jesus! I'm not some fucking illiterate dumbass who thinks I'm going to be some super-elite Blade wannabe running around with fangs as accessories. I know that the sun hurts. I know that I'm going to have to drink blood from people. I know that my family and friends are going to vanish and die and I'll have to leave them behind before anyone catches on that I ain't getting any older -- I know all that and I still want to be with you. Don't you understand that!"
"Erik," I said, attempting to mollify him, "I know you're not stupid. I never said that. And I never doubted your love for me. Not once. I don't want you to make this choice just to make me happy, though. I want you to want it too. It's not something that's so simple."
Erik clenched his fists and bit his lower lip, "I'm not just being kneejerk about this. I have thought it through. Why can't you just trust that I'm able to make the right decision?"
I covered my eyes with one hand and replied in a voice so low it was barely above a whisper, "I do trust you. And you're right, it is your decision. If you really want this and you're sure about this then I'll proceed with the preparations."
Erik's temper receded, his face became more serene. It was as if a storm had passed. But now it appears that I was merely standing in its eye and could not see the destruction and despair that waited beyond. He ran his palm across my cheek, kissed my chin and lower lip and said, "I love you. You worry too much."
What could I have said to that? And he had made up his mind. I began the preparations for the ritual so that I could perform it that night; I decided that if I were allowed to put it off any longer, my nerve would fail and I would never again get the courage. I had never performed the Ritual of Eternal Life, but had been well-trained in its components and execution by Claudius, my mentor. The necessary objects are simple, salt to make a protective ring, candles to bring heat and light and to focus concentration, blood which is the symbol of life and the Words, which name and call things into being. The salt is earth, the candles are flame, the blood is the water and the sea on which humanity floats, the words are the air -- the simplest part, but something which binds the others. The salt, I knew needed to be pure, and we had only mortons and a box of kosher salt. So, I went shopping.
I find ritual magic both constraining and pretentious; and while I have seen evidence of its effectiveness, I wonder how much of this is because of belief in the symbols and the will behind this rather than the power of the symbols themselves. Still, because I have seen its effectiveness, I still use the highest quality ingredients in those few rituals I perform. Erik and I first went shopping at one of those places that specializes in New Age items, but I quickly dismissed them as a viable source of ritual components. Not only were most of their objects magically inert, but they were often cheaply made and the candles were all annoyingly perfumed. We went instead to one of the health food stores that specialize in organic crafts. There were beeswax candles (I preferred tallow, but finding those sort of candles with the right sort of resonance is increasingly difficult) and imported sea salt. I could not find a chalice with the right sort of feel and instead decided on crystal. Very expensive crystal is quite potent because of his purity and harmonics. I bought a lalique wine glass (the saleswoman was very confused because I only wanted to buy one). I also bought a lovely silver letter opener that I planned to use only once. Erik seemed confused by my bustling around to different stores in search of things I needed but he did not ask very many questions. This served my purpose well because I realized that to his modern mind, what was going to happen would seem both pompous and ridiculous. I did not have any ritual robes and did not want to spend the time having some made or sewing them myself and blanched at the idea of wearing any of those silly things those New Age ninnies who call themselves witches prance around in. Intead, I bought myself a shirt made of white linen with mother-of-pearl buttons and drawstring trousers of exactly the same color and material. This prompted the first question from Erik, "Why are you buying yourself a new outfit?"
"All for you, darling. Buying myself expensive stylish clothes is necessary for the magic," I teased.
Erik cuffed me gently on the head, "You dork. You're lucky I love you."
"Very lucky," I smiled back at him.
After the sun set I became the preparation for the ritual, Erik seemed almost sheepish when I informed him that the spell would require him to lie still and completely naked for quite some time. When I pointed out that he slept in nothing more than boxer briefs, he released how ridiculous his sudden bashfulness was. I could not blame him, it is one thing to be naked in bed with your love, quite another to be naked while someone intones strange things in dead languages over your prostrate form. I bid him lie on the floor spread eagle, and I began to call on long-dead spirits as I walked slowly around him counter-clockwise making a barrier with the salt. I frowned, it would be murder to get this out of the carpet. I placed the five candles in places along the salt barrier that approximated his legs, arms and head. I rolled back the sleeve of my admittedly very comfortable linen shirt and held aloft the silver letter opener. With great dramatic intent, I sliced into my arm, deftly collecting the rivulet of blood in the Lalique crystal wineglass before healing my wound closed. I pricked Erik's finger with the letter opener and squeezed out a single drop of blood that I also collected in the wine glass. I held up the glass and presented it to each of the four directions, each time entreating a silent blessing from the winds. From my pocket I pulled out a calligraphy brush that I had bought to write chinese characters with but had never used. I dipped the brush into the glass brimming with our blood and painted sigils on Erik's forehead, chest, belly and crotch. I then placed the glass at his right hand and the letter opener at his left. I was ready to begin. I stepped outside of the circle and lighted each of the candles and intoned, "Before you is gathered mortal clay. It crumbles and dries and fades. Only the soul is immortal. As this salt exists, as flame winks back into existence, so does the soul."
I walked slowly in a half circle around Erik. I clasped my hands together and concentrated on the fire of the flames, on the whiteness of the salt. I concentrated on the beam of moonlight that illuminated the room beyond the small flickering of the candles. Then I raised my head and said aloud, "I ask first for protection of this mortal clay. May the salt from the earth and from the sea keep out those things that wish this child ill," I was rewarded with a pale, argent glow from the circle of salt and a subtle shift in the color of the candles' flames.
I continued, "Head, heart, appetite, lust. Are these all that makes a man? These have been marked by our blood, my blood which is eternal and contains the eternal soul and his blood, which is yet imperfect," the sigils I had marked on his body seemed to glisten and darken as I said these words, "We are joined. His blood in the pool of my blood. His clay with my clay," the candles burnt blue in response and I lifted my hands above my head.
I closed my eyes, preparing myself emotionally for what I knew would be the most difficult portion of the ritual, "Now, you spirits who listen and do not judge, now you powers that bind and make and unmake the world hear my entreaty: I who have wrangled your power, I who have stolen fire, I who dare command the elements call forth a portion of my essence," I felt a sudden tugging at my breast, but continued knowing the ritual would fail if I hesitated, "let my essence combine with his as our blood has combined, let his flesh grow incorrupt as the soul is incorrupt. Let this blood pact bind him to the infinite. Let this be done because I command it!"
A sudden, strong wind gusted in from off the balcony, but the candles did not blow out. Rather, their blue flames arched impossibly high. From the center of my being I felt a part of my life fly out from me, through the circle and into Erik. The candles burnt red for a moment and then their flames extinguished. Clouds covered the moon, and I fell to my knees, weakened by the expenditure of energy. As I sagged forward I noticed that the room was illuminated, but not from the light of the moon or from the candles, rather Erik was glowing with a soft, blue light. And then, his eyes opened and this light was gone.
In the voice of a deeply sleeping dreamer who has suddenly awakened he asked, "Did it work? Why do I feel thirsty?"
It was my duty to instruct him although I felt weak and fatigued from the experience, "It is the need for blood. Drink what remains in the wine glass, it will be enough for a moment. There's also a pack of plasma in the fridge. Use a straw."
Erik greedily gulped down the contents of the glass, then ran over to the fridge, knocking over one of the candles in the process and getting wax on the carpet. Rather than using a straw, he bit open the pouch and guzzled it down, standing with the refrigerator door open, illuminated in its harsh light. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and turned to me, "You didn't tell me that blood tastes so delicious."
"It is a necessary component of your new life. It's fitting that we would derive pleasure from something we need."
He nodded at this and said, "So, I can't die now. And I can heal any wound that's done to me?"
"Yes," I replied wearily, "This would include piercings, so I'm afraid you're stuck with what you have now, at least until you learn the art of shaping your body."
"Any wound," he repeated, then plunged a steak knife through his right hand and through the counter beneath. I winced at the sound that it made. He jerked back his hand roughly, breaking off the handle and stared in wonder at the flesh that was already begin to knit, skin that was already beginning to re-grow.
I was disturbed by his immediate attempts to self-harm and his fascination with his new flesh. This trend would only grow worse as my mistake made itself more manifest.
Erik was fascinated with his body's resilience and began putting it to the test in horrible ways. He was distracted and would not listen when I tried to give him gentle instruction in the use of the powers of the blood. He still claimed to love me, but that fiercely innocent gleam in his eyes was no longer there. This was the beginning of his decay and his fall into madness. However, first he kissed me and kissed me and cried, "thank you."
Erik was well-pleased at the prospect of eternal youth. In the first days after the ritual things were not so bad. Erik was perpetually doing things that were harmful and frightening to test his body's recuperative powers. He stood in the sunlight, (although only for a few seconds, he screamed and ran back to the safety of darkness shortly after), pierced his body with various sharp objects and crushed the bones in his hands with heavy, blunt objects. But outside of his experimentation he was much the same as the young boy I fell in love with. We went to plays. He painted often, bursting with new ideas and new influences. And we talked of many things, but strangely his eyes would glaze over and he would grow impatient and bored when I attempted to teach him about the ways in which he could focus his will or strengthen his limbs. The question of marriage was brought up again and gingerly we both began planning some sort of small ceremony to cement our commitment together.
I taught him how to hunt. I was disturbed at both his facility and non-chalance in doing so. He did not seem to regard taking blood from innocents as a necessary evil, but as a pleasure. As he had been both the recipient and the giver of the bite, he was well versed in its pleasures and began to feed probably more often than he needed to, sheerly for the savage joy of it. Blithely, I ignored all of these trouble signs and dreamed of a happy future together where we would travel to the ends of the earth always in love.
Erik stopped eating food. And while it was true that we did not require food, I still found it pleasant to create, and it was relaxing to me to prepare dinners. I would make elaborate meals only to have Erik talking amiably through them without so much as taking a bite. This bothered me, and I confronted him on his sudden loss of appetite, "Why don't you eat anything anymore?"
"I don't need to eat. I don't even really get hungry, not for food. Anyway, the blood tastes much better and there's something more vital about tracking down dumb shits who offer themselves up as dinner."
His cavalier attitude troubled me and I responded, "These 'dumb shits' you refer to are people. You would do well to remember that and to be respectful of the lives you touch."
"People," Erik snorted in disgust, "these things are so fucking stupid, they're little more than sheep."
I was disturbed to find my old mistress' cruel sentiments echoed so neatly and I said nothing more for the remainder of dinner. Erik did not seem to notice at all my sudden silence. His lack of sensitivity in the short time since the ritual worried me, but I was afraid to bring it up. After all, I knew it would take him some time to adjust, it would be childish and hypocritical of me to take him to much to task for adapting to the strange new ways his body was behaving.
I had planned a trip to the art museum the next day. Although Erik was still very young and thus still very fearful of the sun's rays (and rightfully so, the younger one of our kind is, the more painfully those rays burn) , I had decided that he must learn to be able to conduct himself normally during daylight hours. We need not be the creatures of legend, cowering from the dawn in sealed coffins, wearing tattered opera capes and out-of-date evening wear. My car was parked in the underground garage. My windows were specially tinted and I had bought Erik a sturdy pair of sunglasses. With hats and proper clothing I minimized our bodies' potential exposure to the sun. The weather was on my side that day; it was heavily overcast with very little ambient daylight. Grabbing Erik's hand I dragged him out of my apartment and down to the car. He protested the entire way, "Where are we going? There's sunlight out there! Are you suicidal?"
"Sunlight does not kill us, my darling. It hurts, yes, but if you pay attention and are careful we shall get through this with very little pain at all."
"Why do we have to go through any pain?"
"We are going to the art museum. There's an exhibit that I want to see and it's summer. I'm afraid there aren't any hours the museum is open after dark," I explained.
He scowled petulantly and snarkily replied, "Why don't we just open the museum ourselves after sunset and save ourselves the trouble of baking."
"Because musuems tend to have excellent security, and you cannot outrun a police car, nor can you dodge bullets. Do you really want to find yourself in a nice well-lit jail cell when the next morning comes?" I snapped.
Erik was silent and brooding the entire way to the museum, often biting his lower lip and glancing away from me. It took fifteen minutes to drive to the museum, and our only real exposure to the daylight was the brief amount of time it took for us (I walked, he ran) to traverse the distance between the parking lot and the front door. Just after I had paid for our tickets, Erik snarled at me, "That fucking hurt. No wonder Dracula hid himself in a fucking coffin. You didn't tell me it was going to be like sticking your face onto a barbecue grill. And it's cloudy and gloomy out!"
I sighed, "You'll get used to it. Besides, you stabbed a knife through your hand. I don't think a little discomfort from sunlight should bother you unduly."
"You keep fucking bringing that up. Are you trying to start an argument?"
I lowered my gaze, "I didn't mean that to sound so harsh."
He seemed mollified by this but said nothing else. Together we went into the special exhibit, a restrospective on the life and career of reclusive italian painter Giacomo Fiorintino. He was one of my kind, and one of the few who dared risk exposure by seeking some small amount of public notoriety, even though he was very discreet. All of his paintings, from still lifes to portraits to fantastic landscapes that existed nowhere else besides his own mind took place at night. Most of the painting had a lonely feel and the portrait subjects all looked as if they had terrible secrets that they would never speak of. There was a brochure outlining Fiorintino's revolutionary use of blues and cold colors as the illumination in his painting. Despite himself, Erik was fascinated. Even more so when I whispered Fiorintino's little secret in his ear.
On the drive home, Erik was captivated by the art that he saw today and his mind began taking off in fifty different directions. He peppered me with questions and I saw the return of some of that innocent, youthful exuberance I had grown so accustomed to. And for a while, things did seem to return to normal for us. Erik still disappeared during the night for hours during the week with no explanation and stubbornly persisted in his refusal to eat solid food. But much of our life together seemed to regain its normal resonances. We talked again about the concept of marriage. Erik began to paint more. I did not find him slashing his arms to watch the skin knit anymore and decided he had given up on his fascination with his body's recuperative powers. I thought that he once again the Erik I had fallen in love with.
But I was deceived. He was clever and knew that certain things disturbed me and so he hid them from me. I would later learn that he amused himself by getting tattoos and piercings only to watch them disappear. And there were worse things that he was doing. But in the meantime, I lived in a fool's paradise believing that all was well and all was well and all wi' be well.
It was not until several weeks later that the edifice of carefully constructed lies and half-truths that Erik had built began to develop cracks in its foundation. The beginning was a newspaper article. The headline read, "Savage Killer Stalking Lower Downtown?" and in smaller caps, "police beginning to see a pattern". The possibility that killer might be anything else than a deranged mortal did not enter my mind at all and I read part of the article to Erik in disgust. Erik was strangely quiet. In my passion I did not pay attention to his recalictrance and continued on my rant, "this just disgusts me. This killer is preying on the weakest and most desperate. Rent boys and street kids."
"Maybe he's after people who won't be missed and have no desire to live," Erik quietly opined. I did not realize the significance of those words.
"Fah! I think you're being too compassionate towards that sort of monster. He just wants easy, weak prey. I should pretend to be a rent boy, then show him weak prey."
I stormed around the apartment for a little while cursing in French and in English, then drew myself a bath, I knew that the warm waters would calm my temper and soothe my soul. When I dried myself and left the bathroom, Erik was gone. He would not return for three nights.
I was beside myself with worry and fear. Had Larissa at last found me and taken Erik as ransom? Did he go for a drive and have a terrible accident? Was he lost and hurt somewhere; slowly healing and cowering from the sun's rays? Why would he leave without a note? More outlandish hypotheses began to formulate; perhaps someone had seen him feeding and the government had kidnapped him for study in some secret underground lab. Everything but the truth occured to me, whether from denial or stubborn faith in Erik I cannot say. I called in sick to work. I tormented myself with my failure to protect him. I wept and fasted, wept and prayed. And then, three nights later he returned. Only not in the same manner that he had left.
I had gone out that night. Not precisely looking for Erik but rather looking for ways to distract myself from his absence. Still, there were reminders of him everywhere I looked and I was sick with worry. I went to a coffeeshop and drank a terrible cafe au lait and heard a laugh that reminded me of his youthful chuckle. I went to the bookstore and was reminded of the day we met. I came home defeated and exhausted, only to notice a breeze issuing from the balcony. I had closed all the doors and windows before I left. Quietly, and with great trepidation I approached the balcony, preparing to call up a spiritum in case there was something or someone inimical. Crouched on the balcony railing like some sort of mythical bird of prey was Erik. His fangs were bared. His eyes were sharp and cruel in the wan evening light.
He smiled at my approach. But there was no warmth in the smile. His lips were curled back into a hideous caricature of his former serene expressions and he said, "I thought that I owed you a goodbye, lover. So I came back, only for one night."
Erik hopped down, smoothly and fluidly. He had reflexively learnt some of the skills of the blood, although he was, to my eye, still untutored and slightly clumsy. He walked towards me and put a hand on my chest, purring softly, "I still do love you, so much. It hurts me. But I think it's best for both of us that we part ways."
I was confused and hurt by this. I blinked back tears and asked the obvious question, "Why are you doing this? What can you gain by leaving me? I don't understand."
He looked away from me, "No. You don't understand. And that is the problem. I have awakened to what we truly are, you remain asleep. That is the problem. That's why we can't be together."
"What are you talking about?" I clenched my fists and narrowed my eyes at the stranger the beautiful boy I'd given my heart to had become. A dull, painful suspicion began to grow.
Erik spread his hands in front of me as if in apology, "We are predators. We need the blood of humans because they are prey. This brings pleasure to both. We are also killers, something you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge as you live the life of a parasite!"
A dead, sinking feeling developed in my gut, "What are you saying?"
"I am the killer you were pissed off about, David! I have been killing those who want to die and look for death in the dark streets. Mercifully and quick and because I need their blood to live."
"You don't need blood to live! You don't need to kill! What have you done?"
"Only what I have been created to do. It is not my fault that you're too fucking sentimental to realize what we are!"
I turned away from him so that he could not see the tears spill down my face. "Go!" I choked out. And when I turned again, he was gone. It was that night that I resolved to correct my mistake. I had made Erik into a monster. I had done this despite my apprehension for selfish reasons. There was only one thing to do. I must undo it. I must destroy Erik and give his soul rest before my selfishness resulted in any more innocent deaths. And I went back inside my apartment to study magics I had not used in over a century.
It had been a week since my last meeting with Erik. The sky was an ominous gray with clouds that lay low and heavy. Periodically lightning bolts illuminated the night in blues and yellows and whites. Absentmindedly I practiced spells and conjurations that I had let lay dormant for the better part of a century and was grimly pleased that they came to me as easy as ever. Claudius had taught me well, and I had expanded upon his knowledge with my own experimentation and study before turning my back on these powers. And though I had sworn not to take life again, I found myself strangely calm at the prospect. There was no other answer. Erik must die before he became another of legions of monsters that prey on the weak and unsuspecting. I paced around my apartment, heightening my senses until I could hear the heartbeat of my sleeping neighbor through the wall. Good, it was time to begin. One of the skills I had learned was a spell of tracking. It was ritual magic, and despite my admitted distaste for the things of ritual, this spell had served me well on more than one occasion. Erik had lived with me, and it was easy to find an object that had belonged to him and had meaning to him. He had left his favorite paintbrush. I picked up the crystal glass where our blood had mingled and ran my finger gently across the rim. I was comforted by the melodic hum that was produced. I was ready. I called upon powers and held aloft the paint brush. Then, with deliberate violence, thrust it through the glass. Blood slowly dripped from my hand onto the paintbrush and I focused my will upon it with all the intensity I could muster and asked, "where?"
The sky became vibrant with color as purple and blue flashes of lightning arced across the clouds. In my minds' eye I could see Erik and I could feel where he was. I nodded to myself. I carefully placed the paintbrush in the pocket of my jacket and went downstairs to start the car. As I exited the garage, it began to rain. Torrents of water spattered the car, washing over its sleek blackness in rivulets. The streets were shining and treacherous as I naviagated my way inexorably towards Erik. With hellish determination I weaved my way through traffic, ignoring the honks and beeps of other drivers. Once or twice someone swerved to avoid me. The heat emanating from my breast pocket became more insistent and the paint brush began to pulse and throb like a second heart beat.
My destination loomed before me, a multi-storied apartment building that was the tallest thing for several miles around. Lightning bolts sometimes danced atop its height. I stopped the car. I got out without bothering to lock the doors and walked towards the tower. This was a fitting place for a final confrontation. Rain soaked through my jacket and my shirt became translucent under the relentless downpour. I pushed lank hair out of my face and walked towards the front doors. They were glass security doors, the kind with a voice box that allows a caller to gain access from an occupant. Annoyed with this, I focused my will upon the locks and outstretched a hand, I muttered a word in a long-dead language and thought "open". There was a click and then the double glass doors flew inwardly on their axes, nearly knocking over potted palms that flanked the narrow entranceway. I walked into the lobby and paid little attention to the doors slamming behind me. The paintbrush grew warmer yet, and I could almost feel it glowing in the little space of my breast pocket. He was still here, I knew.
I heard the click and ding of an elevator arriving on the floor, and walked towards its doors, not yet knowing which floor he was on. Inside the elevator was a tired-looking old Russian woman with a handkerchief tied tight around her steel-gray hair and a sodden paper bag held tightly against her narrow, withered chest. She eyed me with evident distaste as I stepped onto the elevator and huddled tightly against the back wall as if in defense. I ignored her and pulled out my paint brush charm, now as warm as human flesh and making a low, humming sound in resonance to the energies I had poured into it. It pointed to the thirty-second floor, and I pushed the button that said thirty-two. I heard the woman behind me mutter something unpleasant in Russian, and I responded to her in that language, "You really should be politer, Madame. You never know who can understand you."
Her eyes widened in surprise and terror and she grunted, squeezing her precious groceries closer to her sagging bust. After the sixth floor, I was alone on the elevator with my thoughts. There was remorse, and guilt, and the pangs of love that could not be, but most surprising, the greatest emotion I felt was relief. At the thirty-second floor, the elevator doors opened and I stepped out into the hall. The smell of mildew was overpowering here and the fading wallpaper on the walls was damaged in several places. Waterstains marred the plaster friezes that ran along the ceiling. The carpet was tan with a pattern of burgundy fleur de lis. It was threadbare in places and patched in others. I could hear the soft dripping of a leak and hear the electrical crackle of the televisions of the residents. Muffled sounds of arguments emanated from behind doors as I slowly made my way down the hall, clutching the paint brush in my right hand. It burned, it ached to find the source of its need and so did I. Finally, after passing door after door, I stood before 3238, the place where Erik was now. I heard masculine laughter from inside, and slow, low moaning. He was not alone. That was something I would remedy very shortly. I extended my left hand and focused my will on the locks in his door, and thought, perhaps, too forcefully, "open"
There was the sound of breaking wood as the door swung open, creaking and cracked in several places, the deadbolt was lying four feet from the door in a steaming, useless heap. There were three occupants in the filthy, tiny space: a dazed looking, palely corpulent young man, lying languidly at Erik's feet; a tattooed girl with purple hair in black lace standing at Erik's elbow, and the object of my affections himself, Erik. He was naked to the waist and his mouth was smeared with blood. In one hand he held a ridiculous looking curvy dagger solemnly, as if he were in some bad film about witchcraft. I stared at the girl and again focused my will into command and snarled, "get out!".
She ran past me, barely bothering to shriek. Erik smiled at me without humor and said, "It's so lovely to have old friends visit. But you could have knocked."
The young man at his feet rolled his eyes back in his head and promptly lost consciousness. I stepped into the room and the door slammed behind me. I looked around at the debris in the room, evidence that Erik had been attempting to augment his strength. Broken furniture lay in ungainly heaps, and crushed cinder blocks crumbled softly under the sickly fluorescent light. I snarled at Erik who seemed amused by everything so far, "So it has come to this."
He licked his lips slowly and with obvious parody of his sexual appetites, slurped every trace of blood from them. He sat down, reclining on the prone body of the obese gentleman who had provided his evening amusement. He placed his elbow on one knee and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. He stared at me with a mixture of amusement and contempt and said, "So, what does bring you to my humble abode, David? Or should I call you Achille... or perhaps," he smiled at this, "Joseph."
Although I did not recall telling him about my days as Joseph St. James, I tried hard not to let the surprise in my eyes register and continued, "You have become a disappointment to me, Erik. Although I will admit that much of this is my own fault, to my sorrow."
He snorted, "I'm a fucking disappointment? Well, Joseph, from what I hear about you, I'm not the only one. We all get used to it, I suppose. And if not, there's always forever."
I clasped my hands behind my back and sighed longingly, "Erik, there is no longer forever for you. I have come to destroy you."
He laughed at this. He threw back his head in a hearty chuckle and laughed, long and loud and deep. Then, without warning he lept at me, hands outstretched with murderous attempt. But I was ready for this, before he could cross the distance to me, I had unclasped my hands and willed blades of air into being. I parried his attack with a viciously accurate slash that rent clothing and flesh, spilling blood onto the floor. I stood in a defensive stance, with my shimmering silvery blades between us, humming ominously. He got to his feet and had healed the small wound with alacrity. He clenched his hands into fists.
I scowled, "You are no match for me, child! Why do you fight? I do not want this to be painful."
He struck out at me. I easily dodged his roundhouse swing and countered with a quick thrust that sliced between his ribs. He swung again, this time I severed his right hand with the blade in my left. He cried out in agony, and I willed my blades to vanish. I cupped my hands in front of my mouth and called upon one of the earliest and most devastating spells I had learned, the spiratum. I exhaled and that breath became force that smashed into his body, breaking his bones and throwing him backwards like a ragdoll. He landed on his back in a heap in front of what must have once been a couch. He moaned incoherently as I crossed the space between us with slow deliberation. I stood above his crippled, mangled body and allowed myself to shed tears for what might have been. I spoke to him, tenderly,
"I love you, Erik. As I will continue you to love you in memory. But I cannot allow myself to become responsible for what you have become," I caressed his cheek, he spit in my face.
I reached into my lapel pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. I carefully wiped off the spittle. I sighed, "You hate me now. And I cannot blame you. But I don't do this to you out of hate. And it is not without regret that I do this. At first I had hoped only to return you to your normal life, but I see now that you are tainted and there is no hope of doing that."
He choked out, "fuck you. Asshole."
I nodded,"You're right. Although maybe monster is a better term. I am sorry Erik, that I have done this to you. And I don't doubt that the rest of my many years will be colored by regret and remorse. But I cannot allow these things to continue."
I split the flesh of my right palm. I marked his forehead with my blood. He attempted to bite at my wrist, but his injuries were too grievous to allow such a range of motion. I kissed him on the top of his head tenderly. I looked into his brown eyes that still had their flecks of gold but now were nearly unrecognizable because of the feral hate that burnt deep within them. I raised my head to the heavens and called upon the powers, "Now you spirits who listen and do not judge, now you powers that bind and make and unmake the world hear my entreaty! I who have stolen fire, I who dare command the elements call forth from his mortal clay the portion of my essence that gifted him with the divine. Let my essence separate from his as now our hearts beat separate. Let his flesh grow weak and corrupt as his soul has become weak and corrupt. Sever the blood pact that binds him to the infinite! Let this be done because I command it!"
He exhaled. A faint luminescence surrounded him and then faded. I felt a sudden surge of power and hunger, and I saw his sudden pain as the broken bones and crushed organs transformed from an inconvenience into mortal danger. His face became creased with pain and tears flowed from his eyes. And I still loved him. My fangs lengthened, and as gently as a lover's kiss, I drank away his life and closed finally those beautiful brown eyes.