Vampire Story - Rhea Daniel
The Vampire Siege swept over the turrets of the Cathédrale de la Nuit . There were hundreds of us then. Archemon the First was our leader.
It wasn’t much of a siege in the first place. They had no army against us, just a pack of vampire slayers trained in sword-fighting and martial arts, their bodies trained to withstand the physical exertion required to chase vampires, their eyes trained to pinpoint our undead hearts even in the darkest of nights; running up and down the sloping alleyways of Delmar with wooden arrows and stakes. The finest specimens of a weak race who thought they could be better than us.
They trained in vain. We squashed them like flies, punched holes in their necks with our teeth and drained them like goblets of finest wine, absorbing their erythrocytes into our systems and redoubling our strength. One loss on our side, three hundred on theirs. Thank you Archidiacre, I haven’t had a meal like that in about six hundred and seventy-three years. We had won yet again.
It was Archemon himself who betrayed us, our race, unknowingly as he might have done so. Our leader fell for the tenets of a religion he did not believe in. I wouldn’t blame him. Those frail humans with their feeble crosses couldn’t induce a rash amongst the weakest of us. Who would have known it was not religion but faith that failed them. They came to fight us with fear in their hearts, they perished with the same fear locked within the confines of that elusive, tireless organ they all took for granted. All this because they wanted the Cathédrale back. Our home, our haven, our refuge.
What did they want from our cathedral, what did they crave? Was it buried treasure? Or was it just the ego of the Church that needed to be satiated, a possession that needed to be retrieved to save face? Silly question. We were evil, and needed to be destroyed, that was all. And a holy relic in the hands of such evil? Abomination! Yet they failed to recover their precious cathedral, again and again, for hundreds of years.
In the end it was a small, inconsequential priest who defeated us. Reminds me of a story from their own sacred text, about a boy who felled a giant with the single throw of a stone. It seemed the story had some truth in it, after what happened to us.
The priest crept into the Cathédrale that fateful night. He poured some water into the marble chalice at the alter. The chalice was held up by angels that had long ago lost their expressions of saintly beatification. He began his low drone of prayer and it began to steam, that liquid, like it was actually reacting to the air around it. That was the sign that Archemon should have paid attention to, but we had been the victors too long to take our adversary that seriously. Archemon watched him curiously from his perch on a pillar.
Here now, this priest is interesting, thought Archemon. He walked in here, at night, into the vampire’s lair, and brewed himself a bit of holy water. He dropped silently to the mosaic floor of the cathedral and walked up to the priest. The priest jumped as Archemon spoke over his shoulder.
“Making ourselves a bit of soup, are we?”
The priest was young, so young he had barely sprung a few feathery hairs on his chin. His eyes shone blue and innocent in the flickering light of the torches. His eyebrows were finely curved and betrayed the worry of confronting the vampire of all vampires. He swallowed, but did not speak.
Archemon’s face took on the expression of amusement. He did not attack immediately. Us vampire like to tease our prey. He merely stared at the boy’s face, for Archemon did appreciate beauty, and the boy's face radiated sweetness like the virgin herself.
“You’re a pretty one. How old are you, boy?” he asked, almost affectionately.
“Twenty-one,” replied the boy.
“Aren’t you a bit young to be a priest?” Archemon began to circle him, sensing a degree of repressed fear, also of innocence in the aura of the boy, the quickening of breath that preceded death.
The boy did not reply.
“Are you afraid, boy-priest?” Archemon finished his circling and faced him.
“A little,” the boy replied truthfully, after some thought.
“Have you come to kill me?” he asked, a smile playing on his lips.
“I have come to kill the evil that dwells within you….and this place,” the boy, looking down and clutching the flask in which he had brought his precious water to his chest.
“You think you can, with this?” Archemon nodded at the steaming chalice.
“Yes,” said the boy simply, looking up and holding Archemon’s gaze.
Archemon stared back, and there are not many who could withstand his gaze. He gave a silent, mocking laugh.
“And you give your life, despite the knowledge that your religious excrement, your prayers and your crosses have never worked on the weakest of us?” His face took on an amused expression.
“Yes,” said the boy again, with some self-assurance. But utterly artless.
“Hmm,” murmured Archemon. He didn't feel amused anymore . He noticed that the boy did not clutch the cross at his breast and cantillate his useless prayer like the others before him had, so close to death. He still wasn’t as scared as Archemon would have liked him to be.
“Who sent you, boy?” Archemon asked, irritated with the priest’s lack of fear.
“God sent me.”
“ ‘God sent me,’ ” mimicked Archemon. He crossed his arms and turned to the cross that held the bleeding figure of Christ. Archemon was a large man. Together at the altar, he looked like a giant next to the priest.
“That which you swear on….this man whom you call the son of God, what if he fails you?”
The boy remained silent, as if he preferred not to answer. Archemon picked up the heavy chalice without effort and slowly, deliberately gulped down its contents, and then threw it away with one wave of his hand. It crashed into a thousand pieces when it hit the floor. Archemon wiped his wet chin with his sleeve and waited for the boy’s reaction. He sighed, disappointed with the boy’s silence.
“Your turn boy,” he said, grabbing the priest by his hair and twisting his neck backwards, forcing him to his knees. The boy gasped, his eyeballs rolling backwards and his eyelids fluttering. The Vein pulsed against his marble skin, a beautiful sight for any of us, especially for the one to whom the priest yielded so easily on that terrible night.
Archemon drained the boy and threw his limp body across the pulpit, over the pews, where it landed and slid all the down the aisle and stopped at the door.
Archemon sucked his toungue because it hadn’t seemed enough. “Mmm,” he murmured appreciatively.
* * *
Nothing calamitous occurred, not for days. But we sensed something was wrong. It began slowly. We couldn’t consume as much. Then our gorge seemed to rise the moment we’d had our fill. We still lusted for it, but our bodies seemed to repel it. A chain reaction that went through all of us, from the oldest to the youngest; all of those who had been initiated by Archemon. Including me. But most of all, the memory of the chalice and the young priest lay stark in our minds, the memory that Archemon could not hide from us. He finally called me to his chambers.
“I can’t Andros. I can’t do it,” he said to me in a stricken voice, bent over his desk.
“What happened, Archemon,” I asked.
“Aarrgh, I don’t know, I don’t know. I want it so and yet it makes me sick to even think of it,” he groaned again, “I can’t bear it.” When he looked up his eyes were bloodshot and sunken and his normally bright hair hung lank and dirty over his face.
“Did you have to go and show off?” I asked, annoyed with his weakness.
“I should have known something was wrong,” he put his face in his hands and groaned again.
“Arrogant shit. You had to ruin the lot of us,” I thought darkly inside my head. He looked up as I thought this, then buried his face in his hands again and wept.
His will and testament lay at his desk, sealed in his dark vampire blood.
* * *
We weakened. None of us could stand the sight of anything that resembled it. Soon we were all going mad with hunger. Some turned on each other.
I saved us, or at least a few of us. My interest in human science that had seemed a waste of time to the others had now found its purpose. I found a replacement, an imitation of human blood. The stuff was white and sticky and lacked its original counterpart’s appeal, but it kept us alive. Not before Archemon and most of the others put an end to themselves. A few stepped into broad daylight. Archemon, the most dramatic of the lot, threw himself on to the wooden spire of one of the cathedral domes. A cowardly act for a leader, now that I think of it. True to say wisdom and age do not always go together. Many followed him, and their bodies crumbled to dust on that very spire.
* * *
I spent most of my time in my study, in the new home our vampire wealth afforded. Hundreds of years of loot came to our rescue. It paid for our artificial sustenance and our new abode, for the library I’d painstakingly put together and laboratory I carried out my experiments in. I managed iron hand over our resources. The others followed my every whim, for it was I who kept them alive. They didn’t like it though.
We did not follow the old ways any longer. It was Archemon who had been insistent on ritual and public façade. Even the Church had forgotten us. Five remained. Blaine, Tariz, Kern and Delano, besides myself. It had been fifty years since we’d been living half-lives.
It showed. We were thinner, there was less of a bounce to our step. Our skin had an unhealthy pallor. Our hair fell lank and lifeless across our foreheads. We resembled the human junkies that prowled the streets at night. And yet, our minds hung desperately to the hope of this curse ending. Paranoia often guided our actions. Blaine’s arms were covered with cuts, to see if his blood ran white. He sucked his own wounds before they healed, though it made him nauseous. Tariz chewed continually on something, his teeth were soon blackened by it. Kern and Delano haunted the nightclubs of the city, and I saw puncture marks on their inner elbows while they slept.
We met on the rooftops, for we did not hunt any longer. Kern and Delano snuggled together and snickered about their latest conquests. Blaine scratched at his scabby wounds. Tariz was popping something into his mouth every two minutes.
“Tariz, what is that you’re chewing on?” I asked. Tariz mumbled something in response.
“What’s that again?”
“Chocolate,” he said loudly, like a petulant child, looking at me shiftily from the corner of his eyes.
There had emerged a pattern of behaviour among us, and I found some answers in the human study of psychoanalysis, that the adult behaviour of a human could be influenced by childhood experiences. It was no doubt that the memories from our human lives were returning to influence us now. Usually, when we are initiated, we are reborn and all memory of human emotion leaves us. Our senses turn sharper; our blood runs cold through our veins and most of all, our bodies gain an unnatural strength, twenty times to that of any man. That strength was useless now, for we couldn’t pursue our prey any longer. The knowledge of it drove us to idle pursuits that were perhaps influenced by our individual characters, emerging from the memories of when we had been human. It was an engaging thought, and it seemed to fit my own overwhelming need to find a partner for myself. I wanted something besides the quiet of my study, my dabbling with chemicals in my laboratory. I wanted to experience human emotion yet again. Especially that of love. Memories came unbidden, unexpected. It was much like hunting, it had the same anticipation, the same desire, the warmth of the kill would spread through my body right to my fingertips, and I’d crave for more. But unlike hunting, my heart would be filled a sudden pain I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t prolong the feelings for the memories were fleeting. I needed more, I needed the real thing, and it wouldn’t be answered for by an act of physical love. Somewhere in past, in my life before this, I had loved someone deeply, and lost them. Perhaps it was the reason I had chosen to be one of the undead.
I followed my vampire instincts. I began to frequent the public library, hoping to find someone like-minded. It was a large, pillared monstrosity, still better than the sleek, grey monstrosities that had cropped up like flies in the last fifty years. You would think the smell of all those humans drove me crazy. They would have, but my mind took precedence over any animal lust, plus the knowledge of final revulsion at the sight of its red limpidity assured my restraint more than anything else.
It was what was wrong that drew me to her in the first place. An incongruity, a weakness in the blood that made her shine like a beacon, and it didn’t take long for me to figure what the cause of it was. I had dabbled with samples of the tainted blood myself, and had some knowledge of it.
She sat all night, like I did, surfing through piles of text for anything that she could find out about her incurable condition. I could sense that she was deeply spiritual, in a naturalist sort of way. Her investigation consisted of, besides medicine, a wholesome research of history, mathematics, botany, psychology, philosophy; anything she could lay her hands on. She had begun with an urgency about her search for an answer, and as time passed that began to change to a sort of relaxed understanding. After watching and waiting for a whole year, I was curious to see what she had found, so I finally approached her.
“Found anything?” I asked. She looked up, startled.
My vampire grin and black clothes would have made anybody’s bowels loosen up. Besides, I had only pursued humans for one reason till then, and my manners by their standards were abominable.
My initial bungle aside, I did manage to ‘connect’ with her. We spoke all night until it was time for me leave. We caught up again the next night, and the night after that, until the librarian threw us out. After that we held our conversation on the library steps below the heavy head of a stone gargoyle.
She was in the last stages, and relied completely on medication to keep her standing. She spoke freely about her condition. She accepted it, strangely, as a need for nature to balance out an ever burgeoning attack on itself by its human population.
“You’re saying you deserve it?” I asked.
“I’m saying that things balance themselves out eventually, in horrible ways sometimes. We may be free from blame but…we’re paying for the sins of our ancestors. I believe that if you take something, you have to compensate for it eventually. May be not in one lifetime but…eventually.”
“And what if you give something?”
“May be it works the other way round as well. I don’t know. But I believe the rewards are…spiritual, more than material.”
I was secretly derisive of her beliefs. It didn’t make sense to me that the world was one big mathematical equation. May be I lacked the understanding because I lacked a soul. But I liked her optimism and I wanted to help her all the more. Perhaps that desire by itself spoke of love. I wanted her to join my kind, but I was afraid of how her tainted blood would react. I watched her shrivel up slowly instead.
I spent long hours in my laboratory, dabbling desperately with my own blood although it made me sick. My kind could easily resist the disease and the solution seemed to lie there. I was too late. She was finally too weak to stand, and she succumbed, her body ravaged by the virus.
* * *
In the event of her death I finally felt what eluded me all that time. So that was what it had been like to be human, to be lost in the anguish of losing a dear one. And it all centered there, in my heart, which was supposed to be apathetic to anything but power and blood. I did not want it any longer, but it persisted, that gnawing, undefinable sensation. Did she guess what I was? Did it make a difference? What had she thought of me, of my kind? Why didn’t I tell her how much she meant to me? I was soon questioning my beliefs again, my ‘condition’. How I badly I wanted to return to my earlier, powerful, individualistic, untouchable self. What a fool I’d been to step into this quagmire of human emotion. That’s when he came along, dressed in a trench-coat, possibly in an effort to appear inconspicuous. He made me a proposition.
“I know you, your kind. I’ve been watching you for years. I know there’s only five of you left. I know about your…weakness.”
He received a yawn in response to his threats, but I allowed the exchange for a sum, nonetheless.
“I’ll be back,” he said, dropping the vial into his briefcase.
* * *
It took years for the cure to finally make it through the meandering by lanes of every possible bureaucratic clap trap and procedure. There was money to be made for the pharmaceutical corporations, besides saving lives. I chose to remain anonymous through it all, and I couldn’t care less. I wanted to be alone, lost in torment as I was.
“Hmmm-nnmm-mm,” he murmured, perusing the newspaper at his desk. We sat in his capacious office in one of those sky-scrapers that swung at the slightest hint of a breeze. “A wise choice to stay anonymous. The remedy is sending waves throughout the world. You’ve saved millions of lives. They would suck you dry for want of more of that marvelous stuff that flows through your veins. ” He chuckled as he folded the paper and then looked up at me. I must have looked bored, my chin resting in the palm of my hand.
“You should be proud,” he said, scratching at a cut on his chin.
“What’s that?” I asked casually, beginning to salivate at the scab that had broken.
“What? Oh, nothing. Just cut myself shaving,” he withdrew a bloodied finger and jumped at the sight of it.
“Whoa, that’s a big one,” he smiled and reached for a box of paper tissues at his desk. I was quicker than he was, and before he knew it his finger was very efficiently licked clean.
“But--” we both stared at his finger and then at each other.
He didn’t last a second longer. I made a bit of a mess, but it was glorious. It spread through my veins right down to my fingertips and the effects were instantaneous.
Was there truth in it? Was it like she had said? The world was balancing itself out? Perhaps the problem in itself had been ‘spiritual’, since the perpetrator of the curse had won over us by his faith alone. I had saved millions of lives, the curse was lifted, I had compensated. I could hunt again. The irrational fear had left me.
Perhaps we did belong to the chain of life and death, in a strange, hybrid sort of way.
I jumped from one rooftop to another, whooping for joy, heading for the Cathédrale. The others would soon feel it as well and begin to hunt. There were several hours before dawn, and there was plenty of prey to go around.
And….I hadn’t had a decent meal in years.
* * *
- Rhea Daniel