By D.A. Madigan



She was no longer in the apartment, but she'd been there. I could smell her. Well... no, not smell, precisely; vampires have no scent. But it felt like I could smell her. She'd been there, and then left.

"She's not here," I said aloud, hearing the words echo in the empty living space. I got no reply but angry silence. The wrathful, bitter stillness of someone who has had their life taken from them untimely, by another whom they foolishly trusted. Everywhere I go this last week, it seems like the air pulsates with that specific flavor of rage.

I suppose she has a right to hate me; this isn't at all what she planned.

There was a body here, though, somewhere, and having walked through three of these scenes in the past twelve days or so, I had a good idea where it would be. I went down the long hallway that the front door had opened into and stepped into a living room furnished in Late 20th Century Yuppie Male - good electronics scattered around the perimeter like the Stations of the Cross (PC and cabled up PC accessories to my left as I came in, entertainment center with its black and chrome modules stacked up on shelves one atop the other like some weird Bauhaus chest of drawers directly in front of me on the opposite wall, big screen TV to my right against the far wall with a large metal open fronted display case of DVDs standing at attention to its side), sterile looking, mid range modern furniture, ostensibly matched because he'd obviously bought it as a set, clumped around the center of the floor. The big couch was at a slight angle in front of the TV, on a rectangle of faux Arabian Knights carpet; a glass topped coffee table could be seen jutting out past the right corner of the couch when I looked in that direction.

I wondered what she'd thought, when she came home with him, or any of the other men she'd come home with. I wondered how old she was. I wondered if she could discourse lucidly on the differences between bachelor flats in America over the last several decades... or centuries. I thought about her a lot, actually, even when I wasn't getting flashes from her that told me where she was at the moment, and what she was doing.

In the other three places that I'd been drawn to by her flashes of imagery, I'd found the bodies in a chair in front of the TV, on the rug in front of the TV, and in one case, out in the back yard, under the starry night sky, lying in a chaise lounge next to an empty, tarp covered in-ground pool. This was a second floor apartment; I was betting on the TV. I turned and walked towards it.

Behind the TV was a large bow window, shades undrawn, looking out over North Salina Street. Putting the TV in the window would block access, but on the other hand, it was the one place in the room where you could have the curtains open in the daytime and not get glare on the TV screen... something very important to us Modern American Males who watch a lot of sports on weekends.

I wondered if she watched TV. Did vampires have favorite shows?

I stepped around the couch and found him, sprawled out there naked, still half clothed. I didn't have to look but as always, I did; taking his chin between thumb and forefinger (before 9/11, I'd imagine he'd been wearing a stylish goatee, he looked like the type) and turning his head this way and that, studying the pallid column of his neck. Nothing. There never was. The old mythology is correct; the bite marks only show on living victims, and vanish once they die.

I didn't understand that, but there was a lot I didn't understand.

The TV had been playing as I came into the room and I'd paid little attention. Now music came up and I glanced over at the screen; Amber Benson was beginning to serenade Alyson Hannigan in a sequence I recognized from a recent, ratings gimmick episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I shook my head and sighed without making a sound. Any BUFFY fan should have known not to invite strange women home with him, especially gorgeous ones.

Benson has a voice that was probably the pride and joy of her college musical theater program, and the song she was doing, "I'm Under Your Spell", is one of the better ones in that episode. Perhaps because of that, the TV clicked off abruptly. People can be spiteful.

I got a flash of image, exactly like the one that had brought me here too late: an old fashioned merry go round, spinning slowly, mostly empty other than a few kids and couple of obvious parents, a small crowd milling around. It was in an indoor court; to its right I could see the neon blue frontage of a theme restaurant called Malarkey's. She was watching the carousel and I got no hunger; but hell, she'd just fed. If she stuck to her pattern, she was good for another three days now, without a kill. Maybe she was just shopping. Do vampire women like to shop?

"She's at Carousel Mall," I said aloud again, once more expecting no response and getting none, except, again, that palpable sense of silent anger. I spread my hands in an exasperated gesture, and looked down at the corpse. My quiet fellow; in a way, my brother in stillness. "I'll get her for you, buddy," I said, and I knew it wasn't true; I'd get her for myself.

The drive over to Carousel was quiet, of course. I could have snapped the radio on but I preferred to fill the noise musing out loud. "That's three of her death scenes I've been at," I said, and might as well have been talking to myself. "And there's something about all three of them... I can't figure it out, though. Maybe you could give me a clue?" There was no response, of course. She's always with me, but she won't talk to me. She's too angry.

It doesn't matter. She'll get over it.

I got to Carousel and parked near the food court entrance, which is where the actual carousel is. I'd had no more flashes on the way over, but this close, I had a strong feeling of connection. I'd find her. I flipped open the glove compartment, took out the two sharpened chairlegs from my old apartment I'd prepared, looked at them... then made a decision, and kept one for myself.

I didn't know anything for certain, but so far the old mythology had held up. The bite marks vanishing. Her modus operendi strongly indicated that she had to be invited in. And of course, I knew the bit about the victims of a vampire becoming vampires themselves was true. That had always bothered me when I was just a fan of nosferatu fiction, because any 6th grader can tell you that if you posit one vampire, who has to kill every, say, three days, and their victims all become vampires, within a very short period, geometric progression will have the planet ass deep in starving vampires and no living humans to feed off. Modern vamp fiction writers from Hambly to Whedon have posited ways around this...the standard one is that to 'turn' a victim, a vamp has first to drink your blood, then you have to drink theirs, which is basically just your blood back again, but now contaminated with some kind of infecting agent. However, I knew that wasn't true from direct experience; someone killed by a vampire will become a vampire themselves in the natural course of events... well, natural may not be the right word there. Still, I knew it was true, and it bothered me. It made no sense.

There was something I was missing. Something about those three death scenes, and what I knew from my own experience... but I wasn't putting it together. Annoying.

Well, maybe I'd ask her before I staked her. In person she might be more forthcoming.

I made a few arrangements and then moved towards the mall. My sense of connection pulled me in that direction; I assumed it would strengthen as I got closer and I'd know when I was right on top of her.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions.

I felt an impulse to stop, hold still, and be quiet. I can't say I heard a command, because it didn't come to me as a voice in my head, but it may as well. I stopped, held still, and was quiet.

She stepped out from behind a car, and she was glorious in the sodium lit night.

She didn't look the same as last time I saw her, she looked deader. Her body had a stillness to it. She had no extraneous movements, no nervous twitches, no real body language at all. You don't realize someone isn't breathing unless you're looking for it, but your eyes and your brain and maybe your soul, I don't know, notice it anyway. Not that that last would matter for me any more. She was pale. Her hair was limp, a little straggled and matted. Her mouth and chin were stained in a layered pattern, with what I could smell was fresh blood smeared over what were probably generations of ancient blood slicks, all but tattooed into the Undead cells of her flesh. She was naked, and skinny to the point of emaciation. I realized analytically that vampires must, as a matter of fact, cast glamours on the living, since when I'd seen her, she'd been much more alive seeming, with perfect hair, a stylish skirt and sleeveless blouse combination, muted gold jewelry, a clean, smiling, fashion model's face.

All this I noted, but I really could only see her eyes, which were just the way you'd think they would be from reading vampire stories... blank, and black, and shot through with changing streaks and swirls of red.

And still, she was glorious; the center of my world and the entire focus of my attention. My reason for living. So to speak.

She had a stake of her own in her hand.

Now she did speak; her lips moving and everything, although I couldn't swear she actually made an audible sound, and since vampires don't breathe (this I do know), she most likely didn't. "Worthless," she nearly hissed, "do you know how much trouble I could get in if anyone saw you?"

I couldn't answer, no more could I move. But she was in my head and had been, of course, and I tried hard not to think of anything but my questions. "Of course you were a mistake," she all but spat at me, moving closer. She tapped the sharpened point of the stake on my chest, and even through my shirt I felt a hot stab of pain. "I'm not even supposed to kill as often as I do, but it's suffered as long as I don't call attention to myself. But now I've inspired a thrall without permission." Her eyes didn't widen, but I felt terror lazily intertwine itself through her rage. "It's a chaining offense." The image I received was of another figure like herself, far more emaciated... I knew that was what a vampire looked like, if they chose not to feed for a week or more, or weren't allowed to... its flesh both pale and dark at the same time, somehow, as if it had been a black person when it was alive... hanging from what looked like a gallows, feet off the ground, wrists above its head in fetters. The air was full of light; the sun was less than a minute below the horizon. She was watching from a shelter, like a baseball dug out, surrounded by some other young vampires, their masters... no, masters wasn't right, they called themselves Muses, those who had inspired the younger ones... in the deeper darkness behind them. This was an example...

The sun came up, and the figure in chains simply went to pieces... skin sloughing off in a huge drift of flakes, muscle tissue underneath melting like wax, bones crisping and blackening; the whole thing happening so fast that the rain of skin flakes, rush of melted fat, and scattering of charcoaled bone all hit the ground beneath the scaffold in a seconds long, whispering, clattering shower.

And it all made some sort of sense to me, abruptly. Sunlight...!

"Yes," she said, tapping my chest pointedly (heh) with the stake, making pain shoot through me in bolts. "We don't like silver much, and silver backed mirrors will reflect our true appearance, so we avoid them, but it's really sunlight that kills us. Against our flesh, if we're stupid enough to be caught outside by daylight, or caught breaking covenants... or concentrated by photosynthesis into a stake and pounded through our centers..." She smiled, and I heard an awful cruel laughter in my head as she jabbed the stake at me teasingly through my shirt, making me feel like I'd been shot with a crossbow. "Hurts, does it not? You stupid worthless thing." She paused, and looked me over. "I barely remember you... three or four kills back, weren't you? Tell me how it was you were not bathed in sunlight before the change occurred."

That was the thing I hadn't gotten before, about all three death scenes, and what I knew of my own. She arranged the bodies so they'd be bathed in sunlight... apparently, whatever infects a vampire victim and forces the change needs darkness to work in, or at least, is killed by sunlight. Maybe it was a supernatural curse, or maybe just a photosensitive bacteria...

"My girlfriend came home early," I found myself telling her. "Amy. She was supposed to be coming back the next day, but she caught a red eye. She liked saving money..." I tried not to think about Amy. Tried hard. She wasn't something I wanted to think about right then; she wasn't something I wanted this bitch to have in her head.

I could tell she was going through that in her mind. Amy finding my body arranged in front of a window, like the others, calling 911, the ambulance taking me somewhere... eventually, to the medical examiners. I'd lain on a shelf in the wall long enough, obviously. I remembered waking up in that box, battering at the cold metal walls, knocking the heavy door off its hinges. I remembered that poor idiot of a security guard on night duty; he hadn't even had a gun, and had been so terrified when I'd crawled out of the rectangular opening in the long chrome handled wall, he hadn't even been able to run, or struggle...

I remembered realizing I must be a vampire, after I'd let that poor idiot's blood drained corpse slump to the ground... and knowing that the hot blonde I'd gotten lucky with... the last thing I remembered previous to that... must have been one too.

"Decades," she said, and I could feel how angry she was. "I've been doing this for decades and never had any problem, and..."

"Well," I said, since she hadn't told me to be quiet again yet, "you were due." I still couldn't move. "So you're going to kill me now?"

"Of course," she said. "I can't let anyone know I made a mistake..." She looked upset... well, not looked, but she seemed upset. "I'll have to go back to burning them now... but the cattle will investigate a chain of arsons... I'll have to space out my kills more... DAMN you!" she finished, sounding petulant. "I look terrible when I don't feed often enough."

"But," I said, "I mean, you don't need to kill me, you seem to have me under your control..." And I'd kind of thought she would, too. But the more she told me before this was over, the better. There were apparently a lot of rules.

"Of course," she said, "I'm your Muse, but you're illegitimate. They consider me too young to Inspire." She sounded petulant at that. "Anyway, I'd have to feed you, and there isn't enough for me as it is." She sighed silently and raised the stake. "May as well..."

"So we don't need to feed?" I asked her, quickly. "I mean, you feed every three days, I know from following you around, but it can be less often?"

She rolled her eyes, the first visible body language I'd seen from her... probably one of her last living mannerisms, not quite eroded away yet by decades of walking death. "Don't be an idiot. Vampires are dead. We don't need anything but darkness... but we crave life, and without blood, we're little but animated mummies." I could feel her disgust. "Vampires are supposed to feed, not sit around in the dark studying and... and... being clerks!" I got a flash of a windowless room full of Undead, sitting at computer consoles and desks, doing something I vaguely felt had to do with banking and the stock market. This sounded like an old grievance. Apparently, there was some whole vampire organization out there that sat around... investing and doing real estate transactions and... lobbying? Well, I suppose it made sense.

"And keeping track of lineages," she said. "If you ever meet one of them, the first thing they will ask is who your Muse is, and they can check instantly as soon as they get to a computer. It's all online now. They'd have you hanging from a sun-tree and an inquisitor hunting for me in an instant." I felt her smile. "But you won't, of course."

"You called me here," I said. "It wasn't just a connection between us... you've been calling me."

"Of course, shit for brains," she said, and tossed the stake up in the air, flipping it to change her grip so she could bring it down overhanded and slam it into my chest. A living human would need a hammer; Undead flesh is tough. But a vampire can do it with one hand.

I felt a question in my mind, and I knew she'd feel it too... and that was probably all I'd get out of her anyway. So I said yes, and willed it to happen.

There was a dry thunking sound, and a stake protruded from between her small, shriveled breasts. There was a splatter of brackish blood; she had just fed, after all.

"No," she whispered in my head. When she dissolved, it was from the center of her chest outward, with her skin shattering into a storm of flakes and settling onto the quickly evaporating puddle where she'd been standing.

Amy stood behind her, glaring at me, that same silent rage I'd been feeling from her for the last week or so pulsing in the night air between us. She was holding the stake that had killed my Muse. Her eyes were black, shot through with red. We were young vampires, and I hadn't known about the glamour, so we were both clothed.

She spoke for the first time since I'd turned her. "I hate you," she said.

I shrugged. "You'll get over it," I told her. I smiled and took her hand and of course, she let me. I was her Muse. Nice word for it.

"Let's go get something to eat," I said.