I always found Michelle beautiful, from the first night I met her, and more so, each time thereafter. At first sight, her lines were soft and supple, and her hands small and her breasts like apples. She wasn't a whore, not to me, at least. You could never compel me to believe that, no matter how eloquent the facts might speak. She was no more that than I, a human. And as young as she was, I am old, to the point where I'd stopped counting the years.
The first time I saw her, standing on a corner on Sunset, after dusk, in short tight pants and wearing a lacy white blouse, with long blond hair. I was on a bus, on the hunt for blood to satisfy my millennium long craving, in order to maintain my longevity. But my life has not been what it once was, not for many centuries now, and the taste of blood I no longer savor.
My kind looks down on me. They say I am spoiled and ungrateful
and vain, like a sour note, unpleasant and unfit. They're right,
but they still paid me due respect because of my age. For they
know, with pre-eminence, they have no sway over me. They are
young, and I am old. The oldest is no more than 400 years, so our
differences, you might say, are generational. On a psychical
plane, I appear as young as the day I first became
However, respect does not stop their murmurs, which, no matter how far removed from me they are, I hear them chattering like crickets. To them, I'm the old vegetarian, because I've long lost my taste for blood. I still imbibe. I have no choice. But instead of draining a single victim until they're dead, I make a small meal of several, so none are lost, and thus, none are cursed. They keep their mortality, and with it, their souls, while I sate my thirst, and quiet the pounding in my head.
I was eighteen, and the first victim of my father, who became like me, during the Norman Conquest of England, in the 11th century. My father was wicked, but he passed onto me, not his iniquity, but rather his power for longevity. He was about to make my mother like us, so I took his life instead. How I did this, is another story for another time. I have not thought about it, or have chosen not to think about, for almost a thousand years, now, because this life, if it can be called that, has been nothing but a curse and burden, until that summer night when I first saw her.
I got off the bus, and felt a hesitation in my step. I was nervous, like young boy, and uneasy, as if dawn were about to break. She was two miles away, but I could see her every detail, as if we only inches apart. A middle-age man was about to proposition her, but in less than a breath, I grabbed her hand. She turned towards me, and teased a gentle smile, and asked if I wanted a date. For the first time back when I was mortal, I felt my heart beat. It was strong and unfettered, and fluttered like butterfly wings. I must have mumbled, because she laughed and asked me again if I wanted a date. The man behind us sneered, but my eyes turned red as hot coals, and he fearfully ran away.
"What's your name?" she asked.
I turned and looked at her. Like a foolish schoolboy, I had to stop and think. "Edward," I said, like I was out of breath.
"Well, Edward, what are we doing? Do you want a date?"
"Yes, I would like that. But I would like to take you out on a real date."
"A real date? Huh, I . . ."
"Don't worry about money. I know what you're doing. I have a lot of money, more than enough. I just want to take you out."
"That's nice, Edward, but I have to make money," she said, looking into my eyes and stirring my passions.
"I'll give you money. But I don't want to take advantage of you; I just want to take you out."
And then I saw a man looking at us. He appeared hard and very muscular, and quite mean. She turned away and whispered: "Edward, we either have to do something or . . ."
"You're afraid of that man, aren't you?"
"I . . ."
"I don't know why you're afraid of him, but you'll never have to fear him again."
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and the man put his face inches from mine.
"Hey! Are you gonna get a room, or are you just wasting her time?"
"I'm not going to get a room and I'm not wasting her time."
He grabbed her and jerked her arm. She winced in pain. He was about to throw her to the ground, when I seized his hand and broke it, along with his wrist. Then I grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him off his feet and held him up like a balloon.
"I don't know who you are, and I don't care. However, you will never touch this woman ever again, do you understand?"
His only response was a groan.
"I said, do you understand?"
"Yes! Oh God, yes, I won't touch her."
Then I threw on the ground like the trash he was. He rolled several times and got up and ran. People had gathered around us. Ignoring them, I turned to Michelle. She was visibly afraid of me. Her arm was red where he had squeezed her. I was about to say something when suddenly, she started to run. Before I could stop her, I felt somebody holding me by my shoulders. He spun me around.
"What are you doing with that girl? Uh?"
He was a large biker, standing over six feet, five inches, and must have weighed over 300 pounds. He was drunk and spoiling for a fight.
"That man attacked her. I stop him," I told him calmly. "Now, take your hands off of me. I don't have time for you."
"You what? You don't have time for me??? I'm gonna whip you to jelly, boy!"
He threw a roundhouse punch toward my head. I reached up and stopped his fist in midflight. It was dark and I moved quickly. I was hungry, so I seized him by his throat and drew a sufficient amount of blood before anybody realized what I was doing. Then I held him up and whispered in his ear.
"You're tired now, and you're feeling sick. All you want to do is go home and sleep it off."
"Yeah, I'm not feelin' too good. I . . . I feel like I'm gonna throw up. I . . . better . . ."
"You're not going to throw up, at least, not on me," I whispered. "You're just going to leave and go home and sleep it off. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I got to get out of here."
Then I put him gently on his feet. There were other bikers looking on, about to move in, when he told them: "No, this guy's okay." (I whispered in his ear: "He was just helping the girl.") "He was just helping the girl, that's all. Hey Sonny! Take me home. I'm feelin' awful." Then looking at me, he said: "Hey, thanks buddy." Heaving forward, he covered his mouth and turned away. "I got to go."
Michelle was several blocks away, hiding in a store. I touched her shoulder. She jumped and was about to scream, when I put my finger on her lips and smiled. An elderly man must have thought I was accosting her, and exclaim: "What are you doing?" I looked serenely at him and said:
"Nothing. Everything is fine, sir."
He smiled. His entire expression changed, as I knew it would. I had such power over people and after centuries of practice, I was very good at it. I could make a person feel like I was their best friend or dearest loved one, except her. She trembled as the old man walked away.
"I don't know who you are, but I want you to leave me alone!"
"I'm not going to hurt you. I saved you from that man."
"Save me? Oh God, I'll never be able to work around here, ever again. Who are you? You can't just come over here and ruin my life." She struck me on my chest and started to cry. "What am I going to do? I need money to go to college."
"All right, Michelle, but for now, don't worry about that."
"Michelle? How do you know my name?!?"
"You told me."
"I did not! I would never tell a john my name!"
"Well, I'm not a john, I'm Edward. And I still want to take you out."
"Are you some kind of crazy lunatic?"
She was impervious to my powers to calm her and to inveigle her mind. Nobody had ever resisted me like this ever before. I was intrigued. There were people around us, but with a wave of my hand, we were all but invisible. Then I put the thought out that there was nothing interesting in the corner where we were standing, so nobody approach that area.
The only power I had over her was the power of suggestion, and even that was feeble. I had never met another mortal like her. She was breathtaking, but it wasn't just her beauty that attracted me. She was familiar. She was otherworldly. She was somebody I knew, yet I had never met until that night. She wasn't like me, but I knew, I was like her.
She eased up finally, and asked: "What do you want?"
I have seen beauty in all its form, all my natural days, and unnatural, for more than a thousand years. I've known it physically and ethereally, by sight and soul, or thought I did, until the night I met Michelle. It was as if I knew her. As if I had looked into her eyes and had touched her eons ago before I was cursed with this wretched immortality. Her skin was lusciously delicate and white. The flush of her cheeks stole my heart, like a helpless boy, enamored. Souls were made for me to possess, but hers was elusive and unfettered. She was irresistible.
She looked at me fearfully, but she wasn't really afraid. Not of me. Not like all the others. Them, I could take their hearts and turn them any direction I desire. With a thought, I could make them throw themselves into danger, or sever their ties from family and friends, and follow me wherever I would have them traverse. I am not evil, nor am I good, for such constraints are for those who are mortal. But with her, I sensed she was different from all of rest.
I made a date with Michelle for the following night, and gave her 1,000 dollars to take the rest of the evening off.
"You want to give me 1,000 dollars to do nothing?"
"No, I want you to go home and rest and do whatever it is you enjoy, and tomorrow, I will give you this and more, for the pleasure of your company."
"What are you, rich?"
"I am more than the sum of my material possessions."
"You're weird, is what you are," she laughed. "I didn't mean that. I . . ."
"No, it's all right, Michelle, if you mean I am like nothing you have ever met before."
She smiled at me. Her lips made my dead heart beat. I live, but not in the sense people think. I smiled back at her, which made her smile again. Her eyes shined like a day in summer. I held my the back of my right hand up to her face, closed, and then opened, and in between my forefinger and middle, was a 1,000 dollar bill.
"Oh, my God, I've never seen a 1,000 dollar bill before. How am I supposed to break it?"
"This?" I turned my hand around, and there between my fingers were, not a single 1,000 dollar bill, but 10 one hundreds in a fan.
"Edward, that's a lot of money! Aren't you afraid to flash it around all these people?"
I put the money in her hand. "We're fine. Don't worry. But please, put this in your wallet."
"I don't know, Edward. This is very nice of you, but . . ."
"I'll meet you at your place, tomorrow; say around nine in the evening."
"Why so late? What are you, a vampire?" she laughed.
I smiled. "Nope, I'm just an ordinary guy. Tomorrow then?"
"Okay. --- Wait a minute. I have to tell you where I live."
"I know where you live."
"You what? Have you been stalking me???"
I was glib, which was stupid. Now she was wary. Though I didn't have the same ability on her that I had on other mortals, I concentrated and strained myself until I finally felt her succumbing to the point of omitting what I said. Then she repeated:
"Okay. --- Wait a minute. I have to tell you where I live."
"Do you live in Hollywood?"
"Close, I'm in Santa Monica, on Ocean Park, 1751, apartment 5. Got that, or should I write it down?"
"Got it, Santa Monica, on Ocean Park, 1751, apartment 5; and how
about your phone number?"
"Let's see how tomorrow goes."
"Tomorrow then" and I lean over to kiss her. Michelle smiled and turned her head and I kissed her cheek.
She was as coy as she was beautiful. Her eyes were hazel brown, and dreamy. I looked into her and knew that she hadn't been a prostitute for very long. In fact, she had just started barely a week ago, and I sensed, against her will. But I stopped probing her thoughts. For the time being, I didn't want to know anything other than what I knew about her. And what I knew was ancient. The details were nebulous, but her essence was familiar. She let go of my hand and said goodbye. Watching her leave, I felt breathless, like I once did, a thousand years ago, when I was once like her.
As Michelle left the store, I turned around and beheld two disembodied fiery eyes staring directly at me. Nobody else saw them, just me. Then I heard a laugh, a wicked and mischievous snicker, as lips appeared and then the rest of this specter. Laryssa had found me.
Laryssa is a tight 5 foot 5, 105 pounds of unbridled sensuality, as well as insatiably perverted and sultry. Her hair fell well below her shoulders and had a glossy shine, like Japanese black lacquer. She had charm and vivacity; but for fools, she had neither the time nor patience. She materialized exactly where Michelle had stood, throwing her arms around me, attracting attention. I closed my eyes and opened them. We were walking on the streets of Santa Monica, arm in arm.
She was in a sleek, low cut silk black and red dress, and high heels and black nylons, turning heads and lining up victims. She could smell my hunger. She knew I needed five more small meals to make it through the night. She made it tempting to want more, but I was deliberate. Not a drop of blood from an innocent, but only from those whom, as best as I could determine, deserved it; but even for them, I was hardly an inconvenience. I took three unsuspecting dregs and finished before they could swap their necks, imaging mosquitoes had bitten them, even though I exacted from each, a pint. It was enough for now. Laryssa called them, my "happy meals."
Then Laryssa took her turn and left a cold white sheet of a man, lying dead in an alley. She was as discriminate as me, but only for the grade "A", prime cut type. But then, so were the rest. There are a few like me, but we, of course, were the anomalies, the "Ginger Snaps," as we are derisively called. Nobody, except Laryssa would say it to my face, because I am old and powerful and much respected; but perhaps more, because I am at times, bad-tempered and not obliged to chatter.
Age for us, is not a matter of chronology, but the intangible quality of longstanding endurance. We call ourselves immortals, but not in the literal sense of the word, because we can die, or more likely, be destroyed, and thus like all vital things, death punctuates the meaning our lives. It is that uncertain inevitability, makes the wise reflect and the fool turn blind. Laryssa was a little of each, and just a bit more of the former, to be ancient even by our standards. She was "born" in her early 20s, a rich heiress to a family of old money and pure pedigree of fine English stock. On a cold autumn evening, she heard the cry of night, and followed its voice ever since. And now, she stood next to me, beautiful and impish, holding my hand and flaunting her "spontaneity."
"Still making friends with the livestock, I see," she smiled. "Really, Edward, you might as well open a PETA branch for humans. Why do you deny what is yours by nature?"
"Nature? There is nothing natural about us. We were born with beating hearts and of finite years, and everything after that, is hardly what I would call nature."
"Ha! And you long for what, to live a few fleeting decades, to grow old and fat and feebleminded, and followed around by an old woman, as senile as youself? "
"I long to feel purpose, Laryssa, and have meaning in my life, rather than deny others theirs."
"They're food, Edward, food for us, as we ourselves once were for others. Change them to be like us, if you choose, but I know you'll never go back to being one of them, no matter how much you yearn for your old mortal self, which nobody else wants, except you, Edward. And why is that? You are a bright, splendid star, who envies mere asteroids, which serve no other purpose than to acknowledge your own omnipotence. Now, take two bites more and let us lie on the seashore and make love until the end of the night."
Her nipples were hard and protruding as she heaved her chest sensually with deep, intense breaths. She took my hand and placed it on her left breast, and pulled me close. A nearby group of adolescent boys, heckled aloud. For their sake, I brushed them away like scattered leaves and withdrew myself from her, to which, Laryssa responded with amused indifference. She grabbed a nearby soul, a young teenage boy, and kissed him, and left a hickey on his neck and then spun him around gracefully. He was fortunate. She only gave him a taste, since she was already satisfied, and was playing to arouse me. She licked her lips and laughed. That's when we heard a terrible crash behind us.
"There Edward, a smorgasbord just for you."
"Did you do that?"
"What? Did I cause the accident? Well, a nice thought, but no, it was happenstance, Edward. You know, like rain in a desert. But if you want me to put on a feast . . ." she was about to snap her fingers.
"No, I don't want your bloodlust. In fact, I just want to get out of here."
"Yes, with me?"
"No, I want to be by myself. I'll grab whatever I need, but I just want to go home and be alone."
"Well, admit you need blood, but don't tell me you want to be alone. I can see in your eyes how you desire that woman. She is nothing but finite package of flesh and bones, a wink and an afterthought. But I am the same as you, yet you push me away. Would you still embrace her if she had what I already possess? Explain, please, are you going to make her one of us?!?"
"No, of course not; to live long and watch nations rise and fall and count the centuries with your fingers, what a dreadful fate we have been condemned to. What is it Edward, is it her anemic pallor that you lust for?"
"I don't lust for her."
"You don't lust for her? Then why don't you lust for me?!? What is it, Edward? How did she charm you into a puppy dog , all goggled-eyed and happy."
"Not here! Let's move. You're attracting almost as much attention as that accident."
"What? You're concerned about these humans? Here! (She exploded into a burst of fire and sent nearby people running.) There, they can't harm you now!"
"Stop it! Stop patronizing me. I don't appreciate it."
"Appreciate me! Appreciate me, not a whim or fancy that's a morsel today and gone forever."
And then I heard somebody say: "They're vampires! Over there!" This was followed by a single gunshot. An older man was hit in his right thigh by the bullet, piercing his femoral artery. Laryssa turned and disappeared. I reached for the man, but felt an excruciating pain in my left shoulder. The bullet went through me and exited into the old man. My arm fell limp. A crowd gathered. I felt a shockwave of pain throughout my entire body. Then I collapsed and lost consciousness for the first time since becoming immortal.
Groggy and sore, I woke up with an enormous headache, which felt like splinters of glass shooting through my brain. Nauseam inundated me. But it wasn't just about last evening. Dawn was approaching, I could feel it. I had to get home and away from this place. I was confined to a bed with tubes in my arms and mouth. I wasn't alone. I heard people speaking. A miniature flashlight probed my eyes and a man said something about how lucky I was that the bullet had exited where it did.
"A quarter of an inch to the right, and it would have went through his heart."
"Will he need a blood transfusion?"
"Maybe. Probably. His pulse rate is weak. What's his blood type?"
"We don't know, doctor. His blood type must be really rare, because we don't have it on hand nor is it listed in any of our records."
I pushed the flashlight away from me and sat up. "I'm fine. I don't need a blood transfusion." I started to get out of bed.
"Sir, wait! You have to stay put. You've been shot," the doctor
insisted. "Your condition is critical, but stable; however you
must lay still and rest."
My injury was grave, at least, initially, but recovery for someone like me, is more rapid and comprehensive than it is for humans. More lethal for me, was the light of day. I wasn't going to argue, I needed to leave. I looked at the doctor and his assistants.
"There's a fire out in the hallway," I told them. The fire alarm sounded. "You need to leave immediately. There are no patients in this room. You have to go now in order to save yourselves. Move!"
"What are we doing in here?" The doctor asked.
"I don't know," answered the nurse. "We better leave."
As they panicked, I pulled myself forward. I'd lost more blood than I had taken in, leaving me irritable and lightheaded. The strained gauze around my chest was tight. I needed nourishment and soon. I tore the I. V. tubes out of my arm and stood up. The room went completely dark. I felt my strength reviving. A nurse tried to enter the room, but before she could, the door shammed shut with a loud bang. There was somebody here besides me. The smell of burning almonds filled the room; follow by the stench of human waste, which is indicative of something demonic. I grabbed the door, the handle was locked solid. It felt like a solid single piece of steel, welded in place. Outside dawn was breaking. In a few minutes I wouldn't be able to step outside.
"Is there somebody in here? Why is this door locked?"
"Go away! There's a patient in here that's resting," a voice replied slow and final. The person outside the door hesitated. "LEAVE NOW!!"
It wasn't an after-life or a spirit or something like me. It was different and profoundly evil, sucking the warmth out of the room and leaving it cold and icy like a freezer. I could see my breath. This was something not to engage. Walking to the window, I grabbed the blinds, and found they were shut solid like a sheet of steel. Then I heard a young woman's voice weeping. It was soft and mournful. All of a sudden there was a metallic ringing noise, like a plate spinning on its flat side. It rang louder and louder and just as suddenly, it stopped. Something pushed me to the ground. I struggled to stand up. It pushed me again. This was followed by other voices, chanting nonsensically in an unworldly language and above my bed was a large, black cross, hung upside down.
"Licentia suus unus! Licentia suus unus! Ego sum . . . ego sum . . . caligo pectus pectoris of caligo nox noctis! (Latin: Leave her alone! Leave her alone! I am . . . I am . . . the darkest heart of the darkest night!)!"
A loud razor-edge scream rattled the room. I made a final attempt to escape. Closing my eyes, I concentrated and grasped my ears. As I did, the rattling started again. Something lifted me into the air.
"Licentia suus unus! Licentia suus unus! Ego sum caligo pectus pectoris of caligo nox noctis!!!"
"Let me go!"
"Etiam vado! Vado quod somnus! Is est non vestri hora (Yes go! Go and sleep! This is not your hour.)."
Then it let me loose and I fell hard to the floor, like a bag of rocks. A wicked, childlike laugh croaked faraway. The foul smell grew more intense. Sleep overwhelmed me. The floor was cold and solid. Consciousness faded away taking my strength with it. I could not resist. Cold and hungry, I did not have the strength. Sleep overtook me like death. The last thing I heard was a little girl humming a nursery melody.
I opened my eyes slow and deliberate. I was home lying on top of my bed. The large rosewood grandfather clock in the living room struck seven o'clock. It was evening and I was still dressed in the clothes I was wearing last night. I felt my chest. No wound, no hospital gauze, nothing to indicate that I was injured. What happened in the hospital felt like a dream, but I knew it wasn't. Hope would incline me to make such an assumption, but I knew evil like that can never be dreamt. It was an incarnation of something familiar, if not immediate, a verboten avatar of the past that's old yet ageless. There are crossroads in this world, where good and evil intersect, but this is all one thing and shares nothing with the former. I had been touched by iniquity, which never raises its head randomly, nor enters the material without a reason. It gave me due warning, which in its own perverse way, was a courtesy, never owed and never lightly given. I doubted it had anything to do with Laryssa, though I know she's spent time in that world. My only other conclusion is that it had to be Michelle, and that meant being drawn to her had nothing to do with happenstance. Something made her stand out. I was fearful, but in equipoise, I was intrigued.
I was also malnourished and felt a gnawing urge pressing inside. Vampires have a lower tolerance for hunger than humans. I had eaten enough last evening, but I was still weak. This alone convinced me that I had been shot and had lost a considerable amount of blood, which meant the bullet that penetrated me, wasn't ordinary. Only genuine unalloyed silver is injurious to the likes of me. Whoever made that shot knew what I was and had deliberately tried to murder me. As you know that's hardly unheard of these days, since it's all but legal to attack vampires without provocation. That it's driven the murder rate up in the entire country. The spike in random killings is tolerated for the simple fact that we are feared, even though we are indistinguishable at a glance; and even though there are good and bad vampires, like there are humans, it makes absolutely no difference. And while our genetic makeup is almost exactly the same as humans, we are in the flux of evolution, and destine on a radically different trajectory; but that has nothing to do with now. I had a foremost urgency for Michelle and her wellbeing.
I took off my clothes, which were neither torn nor bloodstained, but as if I had just put them on. They even had the smell of being freshly laundered and pressed. I live in a large, twenty thousand square foot, six bedroom house by myself with servants, deep in the Hollywood hills. The servants are vampires, too, of an old family friend going back several hundred years when my mother was still living. Actually, they're more friends than employees. Everything is done at night here. Nobody is allowed on the property during the day, and of course, never at night, unless invited. My two Rottweilers Plato and Socrates make sure of that.
I took a shower and dressed for the night. In order to curve my hunger, I imbibed on blood kept in the refrigerator in bottles, for emergencies like the one I faced last night. There was also a supply of frozen blood stored in a freezer down in the basement. Neither are as satisfying as fresh, but better that than feeling the desperate impulse for a quick kill. I haven't taken a human life for many decades now, and the last time was in self-defense, and I spare him of his blood for no other reason than the contempt I felt for him.
Outside the orange-red sun slipped into the sea. Tall trees surround my residence, giving shelter to my servants and me from the severity of daylight. Eight chimes rung as I prepared for the evening. Before rendezvousing with Michelle, I decided to feed early and get that out of way rather than risk any potential nuisance like last night. The Maserati was in the driveway, warming up. I was dressed all in black, not for the reason of who I was, but because I simply like black. The stereotypes for vampires can be amusing.
On my way to Michelle's, I made several brief stops to satiate my hunger. The last host (I prefer this word to victim) was a heroin addict who evidently had just fixed leaving his blood with a rancid taste. I hate waste, but I had to spit out. There was a bottle of blood next to me, which I brought just in case. I threw it into a public waste bin on a street corner, as I drove by, almost hitting a trash picker on his head. The poor man was drunk and fell backwards, cussing and yelling at me and waving his middle finger with a great determination. He was very comical.
Thinking about last night and its implications, I knew that kind of evil, even in a world like this, was a very rare and very refined sort of impiety, which only raises its malignant head once or twice in a century, typically disguised in a human form while manipulating humans for the sake of its own entertainment. This time, it was unmasked and not amused. What was its interest in Michelle? That she was in grave danger, I did not doubt. But I did not understand how she was involved or why I was drawn to her; however I was sure it wasn't coincidence that brought us together. I needed to speak to someone who specializes in such matters. I would have to have to talk to Spencer; and that too, I had no doubt.
John Spencer is a young, tall and handsome, albeit disgraced Jesuit priest, who had a famous television show on the Ghost Channel, which presented theatrical "exorcisms" on the pretext that they were real. He was defrocked subsequent to a sex scandal after he was caught in flagrante delicto with a woman in his office. He was also forced to confess his "casting out of devils" was for amusement only, so the network took his show off the air. Spencer was always a bit of a rouge and was never a believer and had used his position like a rock star for fame and enrichment, until his demise brought him over to the real world of demonic forces and possession, almost by accident, or so it seemed, but there are no accidents when it comes to Dark Matters, only misconceptions.
His debrief in God was total going back to his days in seminary school, when he was a prodigious consumer of opiates and drink, and womanizing. He enjoyed his double life and the easy access to all sorts of debauchery that his religious façade gave him. He had no conscience and would have none today if fear had not overwhelmed him to reappraise his prodigal ways. He was 27 at the time of his "conversion", and ever since he has become the world's leading exorcist, though he remains defrocked to this day. That was 10 years ago.
I dialed his number on my cell phone, while waiting at a light on N. Western Ave and Sunset. A patrol car drove up and signaled me to pull over. The cop noticed I was making a call while driving. I smiled and waved at him. He drove ahead, forgetting the incident.
"Yeah," a baritone voice answered.
"John, this is Edward."
"Edward! Haven't heard from you in the longest time. It's been a year at least. What's going on? Please tell me this is pleasure and not business you inquire."
"For me it's always a pleasure to speak with you, but you're right, something's up and it's very important that we speak."
"Right now? I have a dinner engagement to attend. Can it wait?"
"Yes, I have my own appointment to keep, but I do need to talk to you as soon as possible, perhaps later tonight."
"All right, about what time?"
"I'm not sure yet. I'm taking a woman out to dinner and I'm not sure what time I'll be free. Wait a minute. I know that sounds awful of me, but the reason for my call involves her."
"Involves in what way?"
"Well, I met her yesterday and right after that, I was subject to a demonic attack."
"Did the attack involve the woman?"
"Apparently, I mean, it told me to "let her go" in Latin; and it also said . . . I'm trying to remember exactly . . . oh yes, it said: "Ego sum caligo pectus pectoris caligo nox noctis!"
"I am the darkest heart of the darkest night."
"Yes, correct. Does that mean anything to you?"
"Maybe. Botis perhaps."
"Botis? Is that a man?"
"No, demon. He has a flare for theatrics. And he has a thing about you."
"What do you mean? I've never heard of him.I rarely engage that world. Not like you, of course. Why would he be interested in a woman? Well, I could guess why, but I mean, I've never witnessed a direct attack, or huh, well, approach."
"Where are you?"
"On my way to see her."
"A vampire dating a human? I would call that a perversion, except in your case, Edward,you're a strange and rare kind of nosuferatu. Does she have a history of possession?"
"I don't know. I met her only last night."
"How did you meet her?"
"I . . . huh, I met her while she was working."
"What does she do?"
"Well, it's a . . ."
"She's a what?"
"She's a prostitute, John. But that's not why I'm taking her out."
"Of course not, you're not the kind of individual to indulge in sucha thing; but tell me, how did you meet her, and I must also ask why are you interested in her?"
"Well the second question bears on the first, but I have to be honest, how and why I am not sure, except to say I was compelled. She was a couple of miles away when I first noticed her. However, why I noticed her, well there must be a reason, of course."
"You mean you were drawn to her on purpose, by something or someone who obviously wanted you to involve yourself with her. Is that what you're saying?"
"I don't know. But seeing her up close John, something inside me connected with her. I know I'm not saying this right . . ."
"A romantic, Edward? I thought you were too old and too jaded for something like that."
"Maybe, however I don't believe it was happenstance that brought us together."
"Nor do I. Especially with your encounter with that entity you had in the hospital. And the fact you were shot."
"How did you know that?"
"It was on the news. A vampire was shot on Santa Monica blvd. while molesting innocent bystanders. The report said the bullet exited out of the vampire and struck and killed an older gentleman. Another report stated that the vampire escaped out from the hospital he was taken to. From what you told me, I assume the vampire was you."
"Yes, you're right. Although I wasn't aware of the attention the incident generated."
"Well, don't worry. Shooting vampires these days are so common, people hardly paid attention."
"How fortunate for me," Edward replied drily.
"Look, will you please call me back? I have to be somewhere a half-an-hour ago."
"I will. Tonight?"
"Not too late."
"Is midnight too late?"
"I'll be up."
"Good. I'll call you after my date with Michelle."
"Edward, regardless if it's Botis or some other dark being, your friend Michelle is in grave danger."
"Yes, that's why I need your help. I'm very concern."
"You should be."
John Louis Spencer:
Spencer placed the phone down on its cradle. Its touch was ice cold, the touch of evil. Just speaking of "it", endowed it with an unavoidable presence, making an indelible place in one's thoughts, even for someone like Spencer, who was more accustomed to evil than most. He had seen evil face to face, unvarnished and undisguised for a thousand years crowded into a little over a decade. He knew it at once, this profound iniquity, and that it reared itself never by chance, but always on purpose. He was afraid, because his fears never deceived him. The cup was his, and he could not pass it to another. All he could do was wait; wait for the next move and respond as well as he could. There are no rules, no books to be read, or even past experience to guide his steps. Evil has a spontaneity that defies limits and precedents or even common sense. All you could count on was, once it's in play, the next move was not necessarily yours to make. Perhaps the only logical conclusion that could ever be consistently drawn is, whenever it manifested itself, it was there for its own, unambiguous pleasure and nothing else, and nothing more thoughtful than that. Its purpose was to mock decency and to play the game. He, his friend Edward and the girl Michelle were pieces, not players, as far as the demon was concerned.
His dinner appointment wasn't important and he could have excused himself, but Spencer knew the instant that he heard Edward's voice that there was something malevolence nearby. Though he did not reveal it, the entire time he spoke to Edward on the telephone, he heard the sound of breathing, raspy and old, crackling in the background. The fear it creates is so superfluous, you have to absorb it piecemeal or it would consume you outright; but that's not how the game is meant to be played. Only old and experienced hands are invited. The faint of heart are mere window dressing, atmospherics for the reality that is slow to unfold. If you cannot control the palpitations of your heart, it will arrest you before the game even starts. That is why nobody is invited to the contest unless they are made of special stuff. While Spencer had exposure, it was Edward who had the overall experience. Evil had stalked him relentlessly, ever since his rebirth as a vampire, a millennium ago. It was always his part to play the crucible in his nomadic search for peace. He was caught up in an endless cycle of being chased, but like a fox that's never been captured or cornered.
Tonight was going to be a long and trying, this and many nights to come. These "encounters" have no specific time elements. They can be short as a moment and as long as a lifetime, though the latter is quite rare. They usually pass the when the game becomes tiresome to the entity that provokes it, but that largely depends on its personality. Some are more given to play than others. Botis, the one who came to mind, is the most forbearing and intricate of all the ones Spencer had ever come across. He was also among the oldest of demons. If he was the one, then the game was further in progress than Edward imagined. He never moves until all the pieces are set and that could take years. The first time Spencer confronted him, it took over a year and a half to exorcise him from a young 10-year-old boy; and the child nearly lost his life as well as Spencer. An assistant lost an eye.
Spencer poured himself a double shot of bourbon, pulled out a Padilla cigar and cut off its end. He a made a good living as an exorcist, though he no longer promoted himself as one. People knew, and they were willing to pay him for results. He never asked for a specific amount. Whatever he received was always whatever the victim or family or friends gave him. At first he refused compensation, but they almost always insisted. Only the most destitute would he refuse any payment from. The IRA was forever hounding him and demanding records, until he finally got an accountant and a full-time lawyer to handle his affairs. He was a millionaire several times over before he had turned 30.
He had a place off Mulholland Dr. with a Beverly Hills address, though his home wasn't really in Beverly Hills. The only thing it meant was that he had to pay more in property taxes, than the people down the road. It was annoying, but he could afford it.
He stood by the picture window in the dining room, overlooking Hollywood and Santa Monica, and lit his cigar. It was late in the evening. Harpsichord pieces by Bach played on the stereo. The surround system was on. He also left the television on in the living room, parked as always was on CNN. The sounds of each gave Spencer some solace. Better than the stillness of night and all its eerie quietude.
There was a loud knock on the front door. He was expecting that. He went to answer it, but there was nobody there. Spencer was expecting that, also. The game had begun. No manner no many times he had participated in these dark contests, he was always afraid. He never got used to them. Never felt jaded. His first, real encounter happened after his show was cancelled. A desperate mother begged him to help her youngest daughter, who was possessed by a very powerful and malicious spirit. It was not by accident. The entity lured him into the ritual, and pushed him to a nervous breakdown. That was the start. He was defeated he but came back, and exorcised the demon in an all night struggle. He tore it out of a young girl's soul and left it wandering days on end. This episode made his reputation, both in the material world and the next. It was shortly afterwards when he met Edward.
Edward knew very well the danger Spencer faced. He took an interest in him and like an older brother, nurtured Spencer through the dark, hostile paths he had embarked upon, giving him succor when he was lost and courage when he was afraid. They had become friends as well as collaborators. Even the demons knew them by name.
Standing again in front of the picture window, Spencer pondered the events that were sure to come. Every time when he stood at this juncture, thoughts about quitting would fill his mind. He wondered how long he could take it. But then, he would think about all those tortured people he had helped, and that would give him the strength to soldier on to the next event. The fear, however, never abated. Certain things he had grown accustom to, like faceless voices or objects thrown through the air; but he never got use the evil behind it all. It was always the same, always utterly debased and ever sadistic. In the beginning he thought he could establish a dialogue, an understanding with whatever was opposing him, but it was never like that. To them he was an adversary, a plaything and a source of amusement, until he actually exorcised one. Then they were angry, and when a second one was expelled, they were piqued. This was followed by a third one, leaving them engaged. The combat between them grew fiercer, but Spencer never lost a contest. And the more he prevailed the more they would rise against him. After 10 years he was tired and needed a break, but rest eluded him. He wasn't strong like Edward because he was still human. But he was stronger than most people, and from one fight to the next he grew stronger in ways only the demons and Edward could appreciate.
Still standing in front of his window, an amorphous mist appeared before him at eyelevel. Spencer felt his heart beat quicken. It started taking shape. It was gray and waxy like anemic flesh. Eyes formed and then a mouth and finally a head. Spencer knew who it was. His greatest fear was confirmed. Botis was in the game. He smiled coldly at Spencer as if to acknowledge the part that each will play against the other. Spencer did not flinch, but it was resignation rather than courage that fortified him.
Their last confrontation left a young girl deranged and in a mental institute for several months. She recovered somewhat, but only after her memory suppressed the ordeal she endured. Spencer kept in touch with her mother. Her father was very bitter and blamed his wife and Spencer for the things that happened, though he knew Spencer had saved the girl's life.
Spencer blew a whiff of smoke and turned away. At least now he knew. He picked up the telephone and dialed Edward.
"It's him. It's Botis." And then he hung up. That's all he needed to say. Edward on the other end shut his cell phone closed and sighed. He felt fear, but not for himself. Michelle who was sitting across from him at a table in a restaurant was in very grave danger. Last night was only the opening gambit. The next move was Botis'. He wondered: should he wait, or tell her now? She wouldn't believe him, of course. But when she did, the whole thing might be all but over. Edward pondered his thoughts.
Dinner at Andre of Beverly Hills
I put my cell phone back in the top pocket of my dinner jacket and resume my conversation with Michelle. She was beautiful. She wore a red florid silk dress and matching high heel pumps. Intelligent and well-informed, Michelle was 21-years-old and had arrived in Hollywood barely a month ago. She was from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She has two sisters, one older and the other younger, and a brother who had just turned seven. Her father is a doctor, a cardiologist, and her mother a middle school teacher. Her last name is Whitman and she is a distant relative of the American poet, Walt Whitman on her father's side, of course.
"So why did you move here?"
"Truthfully? Well, I guess to get away from my parents. I don't get along with my mother. Dad's okay, but he's hardly ever home. Honestly, I think he's having an affair with one of the nurses at the hospital. I know that's what my mother suspects, but she pretends everything is fine. That's how she handles all of her problems. She ignores them."
"You're a very smart girl. Can I ask you why . . . huh . . .?"
"What? Why was l acting like a prostitute the other night?"
"Well, yes, but I guess I'm being a busybody. I . . ."
"No, it's okay. To be honest with you, I don't know how I fell into it. I met this man, an older man, very dignified and very wealthy. I met him just after coming here. He offered me 2,000 dollars to take me out. I told him no way. Well, I mean, I didn't want to take his money, but he was so nice and insistent. Insistent? God, he was downright pushy."
"What's his name?"
"You know, I think it's Boris, at least, that's what I call him, but I'm not really sure if that's his real name. He never corrects me, so I just keep calling him that."
"Is it possible it's Botis?"
"Maybe, it sounds almost the same. Anyway, we went out, and afterwards, he gave me 2,000 dollars. I tried to give back to him. No really, I did (I didn't say anything, just smiled), but he wouldn't take it. In fact, he demanded that I keep it."
"Two-thousand dollars? And all I gave you was a thousand?"
"Yes, that was very sweet of you. I'm getting the impression that all men out here are generous and wealthy, but I know that can't be true."
"Not all men. I am, but I hope you won't hold that against me."
"Ha! You're charming. Why did you give me 1,000 dollars? Were you afraid I'd say no?"
"So why did you ask me? You don't seem to be the kind who would have any problems finding women to go out with."
"No, you right. I don't."
"Okay, so then why me? Because you thought I was a prostitute?"
"No. I don't know. I just noticed you and I felt this incredible urge to talk to you. It was like I had to meet you."
(Our waitress refreshed our wine glasses. Neither of us looked up.)
"Thank you," I told her. "Michelle, I can't explain it, but when I saw you on the street, I needed to meet you. I'm not compulsive like that. I mean, you're very beautiful (she blushed), but more, you're very thoughtful."
"That almost sounds like a line, Edward."
"It's not. I mean it. You're very bright."
"Well, let me tell you, Edward. I'm not really a prostitute. I mean, the night we met was my first attempt at it. I don't why I was doing it. Boris sort of talked me into it. Again I kept telling him no, and again he kept insisting. Wow! What an excuse that must sound like. It's so weird. I wasn't raised that way. I mean, my parents are strict Catholics and if they knew I was running around like that . . ."
"How could he talk you into doing something like that?"
"I don't know. I know it sounds like a lot of nonsense, but he has this way of convincing you, you know, when it's just you and him. He's very convincing. He gave me the clothes I was wearing, and he looked at me, in my eyes, and told me he'd never seen a woman as pretty as me and that I would make more money than I could ever imagine. But you know, I didn't do it for the money."
"No. I know this is going to sound really strange, but the more he talked to me, the more I felt like I had to do it. You know, like how you said you 'had to meet me?' I felt the same way. I had to dress up and go on the streets that night, even though I kept telling myself I wasn't going to, this urge kept growing inside me. I kept hearing his voice, you know, in my thoughts, telling why I should. And the more I tried to ignore it, the more it persisted." Then she looked at me and laughed. "I hope you don't think I'm a crazy person or something."
"No, I understand what you're saying. I really do. Let me asked you, did he tell you, you had to do it for college?"
"It's funny you mentioned that. I don't know. When I was talking to you that night, it just popped into my head, but the minute I said that, I almost started laughing because I have money for college. In fact, my parents set up a trust fund years ago, and there's more than enough to go any college of my choice. But you know what's even stranger?"
"I'm not even sure why I came out here! I was supposed to go to Columbia University next fall. It's the only college I've ever apply to, and before coming out here, it was the only I've ever want to go to. You talk about how you had this urge to meet me, well, I had every intention to travel to New York, until I got to the airport and then all of sudden instead of getting a ticket for New York I got one for California instead. That's weird, isn't it Edward? I've never been to California. I don't know anybody. I didn't know Boris at the time. I met him out here. I had every intention of purchasing a ticket for New York that day, but when I spoke to the person selling tickets, I asked her for the next flight to Los Angeles. Just like that! I was about to correct myself, but I just took the ticket and when I did, the boarding announcement was made for Los Angeles and I got on the plane. Again -- just like that! I don't know why. I don't have any relatives or friends out here. But so far, everything's worked out, like it was all planned that way. In fact, I haven't thought about it until right now."
"Do you believe in fate, Michelle?"
"No. Not really. Do you?"
"Not in the same sense most people think. I mean, I don't believe everything is destined or that our lives are predetermined to unfold a certain way, but I do believe there are forces that every so often intervened and influence us to do certain things."
"Like how? What do you mean by forces? Are you religious?"
"Well, yes and no. I don't belong to any religious group, but I have seen and experienced things to make me believe that there is more than just the world you see."
"Well, I'm kind of like that, but I don't really don't think about it much. My parents are both real turnoffs when it comes to religion. I know my dad cheats on my mother all the time. And of course, she's not happy. She hates teaching in middle-school. They both argue with themselves all the time. They don't love one another. The acrimony's non-stop. Still, somehow, they manage to go to church every Sunday and they donate money and time to church activities. In fact, you want to hear something really funny?"
"They've been named parents of the year by our church twice in the past three years. Well, the first time they were, it was seemed funny to me and my brother and sisters, but the second time we just rolled our eyes."
"Why were they named parents of the year?"
"I'm not sure. I think it had something to do with all the donations they give to the church. It's a lot. I'm remember hearing our accountant say something about 100,0000 dollars going to Catholic charities, and how much they could write off for their income taxes. I don't know. That was like two years ago."
"Does your family know you're out here?"
"Yeah, I've spoken to my older sister, Caroline. She's the only one I've talked to since coming to Hollywood. She said mom and dad are angry, of course! Dad told her that he wasn't ever going to speak to me unless I come home. Mom didn't say anything, but I know she's not happy. Still with all the problems between her and my dad, I don't think she has time to care. I think she's probably glad she doesn't have to deal with me and dad at the same time. Do you have any family, Edward?"
"Me? Well, I haven't spoken to my family in a long time."
"So you're not from here?"
"Actually, I'm from Coventry."
"Where's that? Back east?"
"You can say that. I'm from England. I moved here, I mean the States, years ago. I haven't seen my family, oh I guess, well it's been centuries."
"Centuries, huh," she laughed. "Yeah, that's a long time. Do you keep in touch?"
"Not really. It's been so long now, I've lost contact with everyone."
"You don't sound English. I mean, you don't have an accent."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. I've been over here so long, I lost it."
"Centuries!" she laughed again. "How old are you? Let me guess. Centuries!"
"How many centuries?"
"Ten . . . about ten. I lose count."
"You're so funny. Let me guess. I'm pretty good at guessing people's ages. I'd say you're somewhere around . . . 28-years-old?"
"I guess you can say that." --- I was actually 27 when I was made a vampire. "Michelle, you're not going to pursue . . . uh, you know . . ."
"Are you asking if I'm going continue doing the prostitute thing? No. When I met you, I had no idea why I was doing that. In fact, you were my first customer. I guess. I don't know, were you trying to pick me up last night?"
"No. I mean yes, but not for that reason. You don't look like a hooker."
"Well, thanks, but why do you say that?"
"You have too much going on. You're smart, and despite what you've told me about your family, it's obvious that you were well raised."
"Well, my parents would agree with you."
"And you're much too beautiful to be one."
She smiled. "Really? Wouldn't I make a lot of money if I am?"
"Because I'm not going to let you throw your life away."
She laughed out loud. "Now you sound like my dad. But, I kind of like that. You're kind of different, Edward. Edward? That sounds so formal. Is that what your friends call you, or do they ever call you Ted? Or Ed? Or how about Eddy?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"You guess what?"
"You can call me Ed or Eddy if you'd like."
Our waitress came up to us that moment. "Would you like to see the dessert cart?"
"Not for me. How about you, Michelle? Would you like some dessert?"
"No, I'm stuffed. I'm going to have to exercise for a week straight when I get home."
"But you've barely touched your plate."
"I ate all my salad. I'm a light eater."
"You make me feel like a glutton."
"You're a man. What does that commercial say? "Eat like a man?"
"Well, you look good enough to eat."
"I beg your pardon!" She laughed.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . ."
"I know what you meant. I really had a great time, Eddy."
I said to the waitress. "Just the check, and containers, please." Looking at Michelle: "Can I see you again?"
"I'd like that. I don't know how I'm going to stay out here."
"You're thinking about going back to Michigan?"
"Well, you know Edward, I still not sure why I came out here. I guess I can always apply to USC or UCLA, but my goal is still Columbia University. I have my trust fund, which I was granted full access to when I turned 21. It's about 750 thousand dollars, which must be chump change for a guy like you?"
"No. That's a lot money from where I come from."
"Coventry," she giggled.
"Hollywood. I have a place up in the hills."
"So are you taking me there for a nightcap, or are we going to my place?"
The waitress brought the check. The bill came out to nearly 150 dollars. I took two one hundred dollar bills out of my wallet. "Keep the change." I looked at Michelle. "How about your place?" Then I asked our waitress: "Can you please get me two bottles of Don Perignon to go."
"We have the 2,000 vintage for 150 dollars a bottle."
"Good. And tax? Say altogether 350 dollars?"
"No. Not that much, sir."
Pulling out 400 dollars: "Take it and keep the change, you've been an exceptional waitress, dear."
I turned my eyes toward her and staring down at me was Laryssa
dressed in a black and white waitress uniform, smiling. Living
for nearly 1,000 years gave me the advantage of controlling my
reactions. I smiled back at her and handed her the money. I stood
up and gently pulled the chair from under Michelle. I looked up
again and Laryssa was gone.