It is only on the way back that the shock of what has just happened overwhelms me. Ordinarily, killing a couple of jerks would occupy my mind for less than ten seconds. But now it is as if I feel the trauma in every cell. My reaction is entirely human. As I stum?ble off the beach and back onto Ocean Ave., I shake visibly. I scarcely notice that I'm still carrying the gun in my right hand. Chiding myself, I hide it under my sweatshirt. If I was in my right mind I would throw it in the ocean in case I'm stopped and searched. But I'm reluctant to part with the gun. I feel so vulnerable; it is like a safety blanket to me.
There is a coffee shop open three blocks from the sea. Staggering inside, I take a booth in the corner and order a cup of black coffee. It is only when the steaming beverage arrives, and I wrap my trembling hands around the mug, that I notice the faint mist of blood splattered on the front of my gray sweatshirt. It must be on my face as well, and I reach up and brush at my skin, coming away with red-stained palms. What a fool I am, I think, to be out like this in public. I am on the verge of leaving when someone walks in the coffee shop, heads straight to my table, and sits down across from me.
It is Ray Riley. The love of my life.
He is supposed to be dead.
He nods slightly as he settles across from me, and I am struck by the fact that he is dressed exactly as when he ignited the gasoline truck outside the warehouse filled with Eddie Fender's evil vampires and blew himself to pieces. When he sacrificed his life to save mine. He wears a pair of black pants, a short-sleeved white silk shirt, Nike running shoes. His brown eyes are warm as always, his handsome face serious even though he wears a gentle smile. Yes, it is Ray. It is a miracle, and the sight of him stirs so much emotion inside me that I feel almost nothing. I am in shock, pure and simple. I can only stare with damp eyes and wonder if I am losing my mind.
"I know this is a surprise for you," he says softly.
I nod. Yes. A surprise.
"I know you thought I was dead," he continues. "And I think I was dead, for a time. When the truck exploded, I saw a bright flash of light. Then everything went black and I felt as if I were floating in the sky. But I couldn't see anything, know anything, even though I was not in pain. I don't know how long this continued. Eventually I became aware of my body again, but it was as if I was at a great distance from it. The strange thing was, I could feel only parts of it: a portion of my head, one throbbing hand, a burning sensation in my stomach. That was all at first. But slowly, more parts woke up, and I finally began to realize someone was trying to revive me by feeding me blood." He pauses. "Do you under?stand?"
I nod again. I am a statue. "Eddie," I whisper.
A spasm of pain crosses Ray's face. "Yes. Eddie collected what was left of me, and took me away to some dark cold place. There he fed me his blood, Yaksha's blood. And I began to come back to life. But Eddie vanished before the process was complete, and I was left only half alive." He pauses again. "I assume you destroyed him?"
I nod again. "Yes."
He reaches across the table and takes my hands. His skin is warm, and it quiets the trembles that continue deep inside me. He continues his impossible tale, and I listen because I can do nothing more.
"Still, I continued to gain strength without Eddie's help. In a day--maybe it was two--I was able to move about. I was in a deserted warehouse, tied with rope. I had no trouble breaking out; and when I did I read about all the strange goings on in Las Vegas, and I knew you must be there." He stops. "It was me who was at the door."
I nod for a fourth time. No wonder the voice sounded familiar. "Why didn't you identify your-self?" I ask.
"I knew you wouldn't believe me until you saw me."
He squeezes my hands. "It's me, Sita. I've come back for you. It's Ray. Why can't you at least smile?"
I try to smile but I just end up shaking my head. "I don't know. You were gone. I knew you were gone. I had no hope." My eyes burn with tears. "And I don't know if I'm not just imagining this."
"You were never one to imagine things."
"But I'm no longer the one you knew." I withdraw my hands from his and clasp them together, trying to hold myself together. "I'm human now. The vampire is dead."
He is not surprised. "You let go of my hands too quickly, Sita. If you examine them, you will notice a change in me as well."
"What do you mean?" I gasp.
"I watched you at that house. I watched you enter it, and I watched you leave it. I knew you were not the same, and I wondered what had happened in there. I explored the house, and found the basement: the copper sheets, the crystals, the magnets, the vial of human blood." He pauses. "I performed the same experiment on myself. I am no longer a vampire either."
The shocks keep piling one on top of the other. I cannot cope. "How did you know what to do?" I whisper.
He shrugs. "What was there to know? The equipment was all set up. I just had to lie down and allow the vibration of the human blood to wash over my aura as the reflected sun shone through the vial of blood." He glances out the window. There is a kind of light in the east. "I did it this afternoon. Now the sunrise will no longer hurt me."
The tears in my eyes travel over my cheeks. My mind travels with them as my disbelief washes away. Swallowing thickly, I finally feel as if my body returns to my control. In a burst I realize I am not imagining anything. Ray is not dead! My love is alive! Now I can live my life! Leaning across the table, I kiss his lips. Then I brush his hair and kiss that as well. And I am happy, more happy than I can remember being in thousands of years.
"It is you," I whisper. "God, how can it be you?"
He laughs. "You have Eddie to thank."
I sit back down in my seat and feel my warm human heart pounding in my chest. My anxiety, my fear, my confusion--all these things have now transformed into a solitary glow of wonder. For a while now I have cursed Krishna for what he has done to me, and now I can only bow inside in gratitude. For I have no doubt Krishna has brought Ray back to me, not that mon?ster Eddie Fender.
"Let's not even speak his name," I say. "I cut off his head and burned his remains. He is gone--he will never return." I pause. "I'm sorry."
He frowns. "What have you to be sorry for?"
"Assuming you were dead." I shrug. "Joel told me you were blown to pieces."
Ray sighs and looks down at his own hands. "He wasn't far wrong." He glances up. "I didn't see Joel at the house?"
My tower lips trembles. "He's dead."
"We both have to stop saying that." I smile a sad smile. "I made him a vampire as well, trying to save him. But it just killed him in the end."
"Who created the equipment that transformed us back into human beings?"
"Arturo--old friend, from the Middle Ages. I was in love with him. He was an alchemist, the greatest who ever lived. He experimented with my blood and changed himself into a hybrid of a vampire and a human. That's how he was able to survive all these years." I lower my voice. "He died with Joel. He had to die."
Ray nods. One didn't have to explain every detail to him in order for him to understand. He knew Arturo must have still been after my blood; that he was dangerous. Ray understood that I could kill those I loved, as I had almost killed him. Ray reaches for my hand again.
"You have blood on you," he says. "Surely you're not still thirsty?"
"No, it's not like you think." I speak in a whisper. "Two men attacked me at the beach. I had to kill them."
"I shot them in the head."
Now it is Ray's turn to be shocked. "We have to get out of here, away from here. Besides the government, you'll have the police after you too." He glances toward the door of the coffee shop. "I know you have Seymour with you."
I understand what he wants to say. "I have told him he has to go home."
"He won't want to leave you. You'll have to leave him."
"I have been thinking about that. I just don't know how to explain it to him."
Ray is sympathetic, but a curious note enters his voice. For a moment he sounds like I used to as the pragmatist.
"Don't explain it to him," he says. "Just leave him, and don't tell him where you're going."
"That seems harsh."
"No. You of all people know that to keep him with you will be harsh. You'll expose him to danger for no reason." He softens his tone. "You know I speak from experience."
"You're right. He's asleep at the hotel right now. I suppose I can sneak in, grab my things, and be away before he wakes up." But inside I know I will at least leave him a note. "Where are we going?"
It is Ray's turn to lean over and kiss me. "Sita, we can go anywhere we want. We can do anything we want." He whispers in my ear. "We can even get married and start a family if you want."
I have to laugh, and cry as well. My happiness lingers like the warmth of the sun after a perfect summer day. It is the winter outside, the darkness, that seems the illusion.
"I would like a daughter," I whisper, holding him close.
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