They’re gone from my side, and my door ran off. Mara, Survival, his corn friend, and that awful god-bear. I took my steps through my door—the door slick with the familiar taste of my blood, red like it used to be so many years ago. I long for that color pushing out from the cuts on my skin. Now it’s hot onyx—no, just black—goop. It’s not even blood anymore. They did extensive studies on it a couple centuries ago, just before we became such a hot media commodity. Liquid ashes of our organs, our red and white blood cells, even the blood that we consume—that’s all it is. A dark mixture of human innards that sits, unmoving, under our skin. I think that’s why we became so popular soon after the studies on us terrible creatures of the night were made public. When people think they understand how something works, they don’t fear it quite as much. And then they figure out how to trap it and sell it.
A wolf. Unlike vampyrs, it’s a creature that can be killed by many means, but it will suffice as a metaphor. There was a time when wolves were the bane of humanity, picking them off in the dark. But the humans learned through their own kinds’ numerous deaths how to fight its trickster ways. Traps, sheer numbers, cunning and weapons. The enemy became a food source, a currency, and a companion. They think they know the wolf, so it does not scare them anymore. Every once in a while, though, one surprises them with the tearing out of a human throat—the death throes of what they once were. I was that wolf—that vampyr—who tried to tear through decades of romance novels and film chipping away at our status.
I should have been violent and terrible. I should have led the other vampyrs by example. Where has peace gotten me? Into a twisting and unclear world of gods and apes and trees and corn.
I’m in a field of long grass—old grass long dead and replaced in Akil’s time, but alive here. The air is fresh, it washes over my skin, and I take a hardy, unnecessary breath. I know where I am. A memory of mine. The night I met this Vespertil, and the night my blood went black. My father’s burnt-out castle should be—yes, there it is. It’s right up on that same crooked hill, looking down on all the villages. Smoke rises from the bottom of the hill. The pyres, I remember them—their stench. I move closer to the castle across the field. The Southern Carpathian mountains surround me. They always did trap the wind in this dancing, cloak-whipping way. Perfect for the image of us my father wanted to convey to the villagers.
Human figures come into view, but only one—in the moon’s and mountains deep shadows—is standing on ground and living. The rest are hung and skewered on long, smoldering sticks. Yes, I recall. A disease had come over my father. It was only mental at first, and he became distant and far more conniving in his daily life and role. He increased taxes on his land, crushed pitchfork-wielding mobs that rose up against him, and took to flicking the farm cats in their little noses every day. And then the cats disappeared into his room around dinner time. And then the servants. He still tried to pretend with me, joining me for breakfast but never eating. His regal belly slimmed, his shadow lengthened; his eyes hollowed, and it came to pass that he looked like how I do now: a gaunt creature with the faintest hints of humanity.
“Vlerd,” he said to me over our last breakfast together, in his slashed voice. “I don’t believe you’ll be needed to take over anymore.”
He then cut his wrists in front of me with one of the fancy silver knives and laughed as his black blood pooled on his roast duck until the slits closed on their own. I was twenty-four or five years old, but I look at that moment as my one childhood trauma. A couple decades is a pittance to me now; I was a whelp, and I wept like one for a time, as he fell deeper and deeper into his new state. For days and weeks, he did as he pleased. Skewering his enemies on stakes at our door, biting his friends. I stayed in my room until I couldn’t—until I drained myself of my childhood tears.
My father had become a demon—something he once told me around bedtime could only be cleansed with fire. And so that’s what I used. On the day, I gathered the remaining servants and the guards, all as frightened as I was. Father slinked through the shadows at night, but he had been getting brazen with his feeding. Talk and rumors swirled in the castle—they covered the walls. So we set fire to the castle, starting in my father’s room. His bed, to be exact. He screamed, for a minute, like a trapped bat. Then he stopped, his resting, charred figure immobile in the flames.
We fled to the bottom of the hill and watched the fires peter out, losing their battle against the old world stone. But the insides became ash, and that was good enough for us. I sent the guards and servants away; they were eager to leave my side. I stayed and went back for the remains of my father, a husk of melted demon, warped by the heat. I brought it down to the pyre stakes and used a torch to burn it again. And again. I was something of a mess.
And then, it stirred in the ashes.
My past self is standing at the pyres, on his knees and weeping again.
Did I really think I looked good in that beard? In that coat? Awful. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Vlerd,” I say, “You should go now. With the guards. Leave with their families.”
“This isn’t time travel,” he said, “You’re just here to watch it happen.”
I figured, but I had to try. I keep my hand on his shoulder, thinking he’ll need the comfort for what comes next. But he pulls away, stepping closer to the pyres. My father’s body, bone and ash and melted flesh, lunges from the field of bloodied stakes, heading straight at my past self. The body is too quick for a human. He is knocked to the scorched and red ground.
“Dad, stop!” says my past self, knowing full well that he is under a demon’s weight now. Not even a demon, just the disease trying—needing—to spread. Its blood falls in endless streams on his face. Into his mouth, too. I remember the taste. It is one that lingers.
I muse as I watch the scene unfold. “Vespertil must be half a land away, sitting in a throne room or some place, content with her drones infecting for her. I was nothing but another body to take in this moment. It’s insulting.”
The body sinks its black teeth into my past self’s neck, and then it goes limp, its purpose fulfilled.
“Damn,” says my past self, lying still on the ground. He blinks. “Now what?”
The door is back; it walks up to me like one would expect a door to walk. The blood waterfall is black now. I take a few steps away from it, so it takes a few steps towards me. I think it would chase me if I ran.
“Now,” I say to my past self, “you do what a vampyr does. You follow the guards and servants home and free them from their lives. Consume their blood ”
“I don’t want to,” he says, rising to his feet. The drain of color and fat from his stained face has already started.
“You will in a few hours. Trust me. And you won’t stop until centuries later, when it loses its luster, and you become—” I shudder for effect. “An idol.”
“That sounds fun.” He sits back down, to wait for the hunger to strike his tongue.
“It does now, but you’ll see, Vlerd.” I shake my head a bit.
I don’t exactly walk back through the door so much as the door walks me back through it. And I’m back in the hallway, facing my companions and the bear and Survival’s corn friend.
“I’m sorry,” says Mira, looking like she wants to comfort me.
Survival says, “Fire and blood.” He shrugs. “That is our world.”
Mr. Reno speaks next, looking contemplative and assured. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine, bear,” I say. “I never hated being this, and I still don’t. I’ve been able to outlast everyone: the great thinkers, the tyrants, the commoners. I suppose it is more my choices that have led me here that I regret. No offense.”
“None taken,” they say. And we move on, to Mira’s brain matter door.
They hear my W’s as V’s, don’t they?
The stakes—that image—still weigh on my mind.