I do not need much sleep, two hours at most, which I usually take when the sun is at its brightest. Sunlight does affect me, although it is not the mortal enemy Bram Stoker imagined in his tale of Count Dracula. I read the novel Dracula when it first came out, in ten minutes. I have a photographic memory with a hundred percent comprehension. I found the book delicious. Unknown to Mr. Stoker, he got to meet a real vampire when I paid him a visit one dreary English evening in the year 1899. I was very sweet to him. I asked him to autograph my book and gave him a big kiss before I left. I almost drank some of his blood, I was tempted, but I thought it would have ruined any chance he would have had at writing a sequel, which I
encouraged him to do. Humans are seldom able to dwell for any length on things that truly terrify them, even though the horror writers of the present think otherwise. But Stoker was a perceptive man; he knew there was something unusual about me. I believe he had a bit of a crush on me.
But the sun, the eternal flame in the sky, it diminishes my powers. During the day, particularly when the sun is straight up, I often feel drowsy, not so tired that I am forced to rest but weary enough that I lose my enthusiasm for things. Also, I am not nearly so quick or strong during the day, although I am still more than a match for any mortal. I do not enjoy the day as much as the night. I love the blurred edges of darker landscapes. Sometimes I dream of visiting Pluto.
Yet the next day I am busy at dawn. First I call the three businessmen responsible for handling my accounts--each located on a different continent-- and tell them I am displeased to learn that my finances have been examined. I listen to each protestation of innocence and detect no falsehood in their voices. My admiration for Mr. Riley's detecting abilities climbs a notch. He must have used subtle means to delve into my affairs.
Or else he'd had help.
Of course I know he had help, but I also believe he turned against the man who sent him to find me. When he realized how rich I was, he must have thought that he could score more handsomely by going after me directly. That leads me to suspect that whoever hired Riley does not know the exact details of my life, where I live and such. But I also realize he will notice Riley's disappearance and come looking for whoever killed him. I have time, I believe, but not much. By nature, I prefer to be the hunter, not the hunted. Yes, indeed, I vow, I will kill those who hired Riley as surely as I wiped him from the face of the earth.
I make arrangements, through my American businessman, to be enrolled at Mayfair High that very day. The wheels are set in motion and suddenly I have a new identity. I am Lara Adams, and my guardian, Mrs. Adams, will visit the school with my transcripts and enroll me in as many of Ray Riley's classes as possible. It has not taken me long to learn the son's name. The arm of my influence is as long as the river of blood I have left across history. I will never meet this fake Mrs. Adams, and she will never meet me, unless she should talk about her efforts on Lara's behalf. Then, if that happens, she will never talk again. My associates respect my desire for silence. I pay them for that respect.
That night I am restless, thirsty. How often do I need to drink blood? I begin to crave it after a week's time. If a month goes by I can think of nothing other than my next dripping throat. I also lose some strength if I go too long. But I do not die without it, at feast not readily. I have gone for as long as six months without drinking human blood. I only drink animal
blood if I am desperate. It is only when I feed from a human that I feel truly satisfied, and I believe it is the life force in the blood that makes me hunger for it more than the physical fluid itself. I do not know how to define the life force except to say that it exists: the feel of the beating heart when I have a person's vein in my mouth; the heat of their desires. The life force in an animal is of a much cruder density. When I suck on a human, it is as if I absorb a portion of the person's essence, their will. It takes a lot of willpower to live for fifty centuries.
Humans do not turn into vampires after I bite them. Nor do they change into one if they drink my blood. Blood that is drunk goes through the digestive tract and is broken down into many parts. I do not know how the legends started that oral exchange could bring about the transformation. I can only make another vampire by exchanging blood with the person, and not just a little blood. My blood has to overwhelm the other person's system before he or she becomes immortal.
Of course, I do not make vampires these days.
I drive south along the coast. I am in Northern California before I stop; it is late. There is a bar off the side of the road, fairly large. I make a smooth entrance. The men look me over, exchange glances with their buddies. The bartender does not ask me for my ID, not after I give him a hard glance. There are many more men than women around. I am searching for a particular type, someone passing through, and I spot a candidate sitting alone in the comer. He is big and burly, unshaven; his warm jacket is not dirty, but there are oil stains that did not come out from the last cleaning. His face is pleasant enough, sitting behind his frosty beer, but a tad lonely. He is a long-distance truck driver, I know the type. I have often drunk from their veins.
I sit down in front of him, and he looks up in surprise. I smile; the expression can disarm as well as alarm, but he is happy to see me. He orders me a beer and we talk. I do not ask if he is married--though it is obvious he is--and he does not bring it up. After a while we leave and he takes me to a motel, although I would have been satisfied with the back of his truck. I tell him as much, but he pats my leg and shakes his head. He is a gentleman. I won't kill him.
It is while he is undressing me that I bite into his neck. The act makes him sigh with pleasure and lean his head back; he is not really sure what I am doing. He stays in that position the whole time I drink, hypnotized with the sensation, which to him feels as if he is being caressed from the inside out--with the tip of my nails. Which to me feels like it always does, sweet and natural, as natural as making love. But I do not have sex with him. Instead, I bite the tip of my own tongue and let a drop of my blood fall onto his wounds. They heal instantly, leaving no scar, and I lay him down to rest. I have drunk a couple pints. He will sleep deep, maybe wake up with a slight headache:
"Forget," I whisper in his ear.
He won't remember me. They seldom do.
The next morning I sit in Mr. Castro's history class. My cream-colored dress is fashionable, on the rich side; the embroidered hem swings four inches above my knees. I have very nice legs and do not mind showing them off. My long wavy blond hair hangs loose on my shoulders. I wear no makeup or jewelry. Ray Riley sits off to my right, and I study him with interest. Class will begin in three minutes.
His face has a depth his father's never imagined. He is cut in the mode of many handsome modern youths, with curly brown hair and a chiseled profile. Yet his inner character pushes through his natural beauty and almost makes a mockery of it. The boy is already more man than boy. It shows in his brown eyes, soft but quick, in his silent pauses, as he takes in what his classmates say. He reflects on it, and either accepts or rejects it, not caring what the others think. He is his own person, Ray Riley, and I like that about him.
He talks to a girl on his right. Her name is Pat, and she is clearly his girlfriend. She is a scrawny thing, but with a smile that lights up whenever she looks at Ray. Her manner is assertive but not pushy, simply full of life. Her hands are always busy, often touching him. I like her as well and wonder if she is going to be an obstacle. For her sake, I hope not. I honestly prefer not to kill young people. Pat's clothes are simple, a blouse and jeans. I suspect her family has little money. But Ray is dressed sharp. It makes me think of the million I offered his father. Ray does not appear upset. Probably his father often disappears for days at a time.
I clear my throat and he looks over at me.
"Hello," he says. "Are you new?"
"Hi," I say. "Yes. I just checked in this morning." I offer my dainty hand. "My name's Lara Adams."
"Ray Riley." He shakes my hand. His touch is warm, his blood healthy. I can smell blood through people's skin and tell if they have any serious ailments--even years before the disease manifests. Ray continues to stare at me, and I bat my long lashes. Behind him Pat has stopped talking to another classmate and looks over. "Where are you from?" he asks.
"Really? You have a slight accent."
His comment startles me because I am a master at accents. "What accent do you hear?" I ask, genuinely curious.
"I don't know. English, French--it sounds like a combination."
I have lived in both England and France for extended periods of time. "I have traveled a lot," I say. "Maybe that's what you hear."
"Must be." He gestures to his side. "Lara, this is my girlfriend, Pat McQueen. Pat, meet Lara Adams."
Pat nods. "Hi, Lara." Her manner is not the least defensive. She trusts in Ray's love, and in her own.
That is going to change. I think of Riley's computer, which I have left in his office. It will not be terribly long before the police come to look around, and maybe take the computer away. But I have not taken the machine because I would have no way of explaining to Ray what I was doing with it, much less be able to convince him to open its data files. "Hello, Pat," I say. "Nice to meet you." "Same here," she says. "That's a beautiful dress." "Thank you." I would have preferred to have met Ray without Pat around. Then it would have been easier for him to start a relationship with me without her between us. Yet I am confident I can gather Ray's interest. What man could resist what I have to offer? My eyes go back to him. "What are we studying in this class?" I ask.
"European history," he says, "The class just gives a broad overview. Right now we're talking about the French Revolution. Know anything about it?"
"I knew Marie Antoinette personally," I lie. I knew of Antoinette, but I was never close to the French nobility, for they were boring. But I was there, in the crowd, the day Marie Antoinette was beheaded. I actually sighed when the blade sliced across her neck. The guillotine was one of the few methods of execution that disturbed me. I have been hanged a couple of times and crucified on four separate occasions, but I got over it. But had I lost my head, I know that would have been the end. I was there at the start of the French Revolution, but I was in America before it ended.
"Did she really say, 'Let them eat cake'?" Ray asks, going along with what he thought was a joke.
"I believe it was her aunt who said that." The teacher, Mr. Castor, enters the room, a sad-looking example of a modern educator if ever there was one. He only smiles at the pretty girls as he strides to the front of the room. He is attractive in an aftershave-commercial sort of way. I nod to him. "What's he like?"
Ray shrugs. "Not bad."
"But not good?"
Ray sizes me up. "I think he'll like you."
The class starts. Mr. Castro introduces me to the rest of the students and asks me to stand and talk about myself. I remain seated and say ten words. Mr. Castor appears put out but lets it go. The lesson begins.
Ah, history, what an illusion humanity has of the past. And yet scholars argue the reality of their texts until they are blue in the face, even though something as recent as the Second World War is remembered in a manner that has no feeling for the times, for feeling, not events, is to me the essence of history. The majority of people recollect World War II as a great adventure against impossible odds, while it was nothing but an unceasing parade of suffering. How quickly
mortals forget. But I forget nothing. Even I, a bloodthirsty harlot if ever there was one, have never witnessed a glorious war.
Mr. Castro has no feeling for the past. He doesn't even have his facts straight. He lectures for thirty minutes, and I grow increasingly bored. The bright sun has me a bit sleepy. He catches me peeking out the window.
"Miss Adams," he says, interrupting my reverie. "Could you give us your thoughts on the French nobility?"
"I think they were very noble," I say;
Mr. Castro frowns. "You approve of their excesses at the expense of the poor?"
I glance at Ray before answering, I do not think he wants the typical teenage girl, not deep inside, and I have no intention of acting like one. He is watching me, the darling boy.
"I don't approve or disapprove," I say. "I accept it. People in power always take advantage of those without power."
"That sounds like a generalization if I ever heard one," Mr. Castro replies. "What school did you go to before moving to Mayfair?"
"What school I went to doesn't matter"
"It sounds as if you have a problem with authority," Mr. Castro says.
"Not always. It depends."
"Whether the authority is foolish or not," I say with a smite that leaves no doubt I am talking about him. Mr. Castro, wisely, passes me over and goes on to another topic.
But the teacher asks me to stay behind when the bell rings. This bothers me; I wish to use this time to speak to Ray. I watch as he leaves the room with Pat. He glances over his shoulder at me just before he goes out of sight. Mr. Castro taps his desk, wanting my attention.
"Is there something wrong?" I ask him.
"I hope not," Mr. Castro says. "I am concerned, however, that we get off to a good start. That each of us understands where the other is coming from."
I stare at him, not strongly enough to cause him to wilt, but enough to make him squirm. "I believe I understand exactly where you're coming from," I say.
He is annoyed. "Oh, and where is that?"
I can smell alcohol on his breath, from the previous night, and alcohol from the night before that, and the night before that. He is only thirty, but the circles under his eyes indicate his liver is close to seventy. His tough stance is only an image; his hands shake as he waits for me to respond. His eyes are all over my body. I decide to ignore his question.
"You think I have a bad attitude," I say. "Honestly, I am not what you think. If you knew me you would appreciate my understanding of history and ..." I let my voice trail off. "Other things."
"What grade are you hoping to get in this class?"
His question makes me laugh, it is so ridiculous. I lean over and give his cheek a pinch, a hard one that makes him jump. He's lucky I don't do the same to his crotch. "Why, Mr. Castro, I'm sure you're going to give little old Lara just about any grade she wants, don't you think?"
He tries to brush my hand away, but of course it is already gone. "Hey! You better watch it, miss."
I giggle. "I'll be watching you, Mr. Castro. Just to make sure you don't die of drink before the semester's over. I've got to get that good grade, you know."
"I don't drink," he protests feebly as I walk away.
"And I don't give a damn about my grade," I say over my shoulder.
I fail to catch Ray before my next class starts, which I do not share with him. Seems my pseudo guardian was unable to match my schedule exactly to Ray's. I sit through fifty minutes of trigonometry, which naturally I know almost as well as history. I manage to refrain from alienating the teacher.
The next period I don't have with Ray either, although I know fourth period we will be together in biology. Third is P.E. and I have brought blue shorts and a white T-shirt to wear. The girlfriend, Pat McQueen, has the locker beside mine and speaks to me as we undress.
"Why did Castro ask you to stay behind?" she asks.
"He wanted to ask me out."
"He likes the girls, that guy. What did you think of Ray?"
Pat is not excessively paranoid, but she is trying to ascertain where I am coming from. "I think he needs lots of love," I say.
Pat is not sure what to think of that, so she laughs. "I give him more than he can handle." She pauses, admiring my momentarily naked body. "You know, you really are incredibly beautiful. You must have guys hitting on you all the time."
I pull on my shorts. "I don't mind. I just hit them back. Hard."
Pat smiles, a bit nervously.
Phys ed is currently educating the boys and girls of Mayfair in the rudiments of archery. I am intrigued. The class is coed and the bow and arrow in my hands bring back old memories. Perhaps, though, the ancient memory of Arjuna, Krishna's best friend and the greatest archer of all time, is not one I should stir. For Arjuna killed more vampires than any other mortal.
All with one bow.
All in one night.
All because Krishna wished it so.
Pat follows me out onto the field, but tactfully separates herself from me as we select our equipment. I have already spooked her, and I don't think that is bad. I wear strong sunglasses, gray tinted. As I gather my bow and arrows, an anemic-looking young man with thick glasses and headphones speaks to me.
"You're new, aren't you?" he asks.
"Yes. My name is Lara Adams. Who are you?"
"Seymour Dorsten." He offers his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
My flesh encloses his, and I know instantly that this young man will be dead in less than a year. His blood is sick--how can the rest of his body not be? I hold on to his hand a moment too long, and he stares at me quizzically.
"You are strong," he says.
I smile and let go of him. "For a girl?"
He rubs his hand on his side. His illness has startled me. I have bruised him. "I suppose," he says.
"What kind of name is Seymour? It makes you sound like a nerd."
He likes my forthright manner. "I've always hated it. My mother gave it to me,"
"Change it when you get out of high school. Change it to Marlboro or Slade or Bubba or something like that. And lose those glasses. You should be wearing contacts. I bet your mother even buys your clothes."
I am a revelation to Seymour. He laughs. "She does. But since I am a nerd, shouldn't I look the part?"
"You think you're a nerd because you think you're so smart. I'm a lot smarter than you and I look great." I gesture to our bows and arrows. "Where should we shoot these things?"
"I think it would be best if we shot them at the targets," he says wisely.
So that's what we do. A few minutes later we are at one end of the football field sending our arrows flying toward the targets that have been arranged in a neat row on the fifty-yard line. I impress Seymour when I hit the bull's-eye three times in a row. He is further impressed when we go to remove the arrows from the target and they are stuck in so deep he has to use all his strength to pull them out. He does not know that I could have split the shaft of my first arrow with the next two if I had wished. I am showing off, I know, and it is probably not the wisest thing to do, but I don't care. My mood this day is frivolous. My first day of high school. First happy thoughts about Ray and Pat and now I have taken an immediate liking to Seymour. I help him pull the arrows from the target.
"You have shot before," he says.
"Yes. I was trained by a master marksman."
He pulls out the last arrow and almost falls to the ground as it comes loose. "You should be in the Olympics."
I shrug as we walk back toward the goal posts. "I have no interest," I say.
Seymour nods. "I feel the same way about mathematics. I'm great at it, but it bores me to death."
"What does interest you?"
"What do you like to write?"
"I don't know yet. The strange and unusual fascinates me." He pauses. "I read a lot of horror books. Do you like horror?"
"Yes." I start to make a joke of his question, something about how close it is to my heart, but a feeling of deja vu sweeps over me. The feeling startles me, for I haven't had it in centuries. The sensation is intense; I put a hand to my head to steady myself, while searching for the source of it. Seymour reaches out to help, and once more I feel the sickness flowing beneath his skin. I am not sure of the nature of his disease, but I have a good idea what it is.
"Are you all right?" he asks me.
"Yes." A cool film of sweat has gathered on my forehead, and I wipe it away. My sweat is clear, not tinted pink, as it becomes when I drink large quantities of human blood. The sun burns bright in the sky arid I lower my head. Seymour continues to watch me. Suddenly I feel as if he has come so close to me his body is actually overlapping mine. Like the deja vu, I do not like the sensation. I wonder if I have developed a greater sensitivity to the sun. I have not been out like this, at midday, in many years.
"I feel as if I've met you before," he says softly, puzzled.
"I feel the same way," I say honestly, the truth of the matter finally striking me. Already I have said how I can sense emotions, and that is true. The ability came to me slowly as the centuries of my life passed. At first I assumed it was because of my intense observatory faculties, and I still feel that is part of it. Yet I can sense a person's feelings even without studying them closely, and the ability baffles me to this day because it suggests a sense that is nonphysical, which I am not yet ready to accept.
I am not alone with this ability. Over time I have met the occasional human who was as sensitive as I.
Indeed, I have killed several of them because they alone could sense what I was, or rather, what I was not. Not human. Something else, they would tell their friends, something dangerous. I killed them, but I did not want to because they alone could understand me. I sense now that Seymour is one of these humans. The feeling is further confirmed when once more I pick up my bow and arrow and aim at the target. For my vision is distracted. Mr. Castro stands in the distance behind the school gymnasium, talking to a perky blond. Talking and touching--obviously making a move on the young thing. The teacher is perhaps three hundred yards distant, but for me, with a bow in my strong arms, he is within range. As I toy with my next arrow, I think that I can shoot him in the chest and no one will know--or believe--that it was really me who killed him. I can make it so that even Seymour doesn't see where the arrow flies. Killing Mr. Riley two nights earlier has awakened in me the desire to kill again. Truly, violence does beget violence, at least for a vampire--nothing quite satisfies as does the sight of blood, except for the taste of it.
I slip the arrow into the bow.
My eyes narrow.
Castro strokes the girl's hair..
Yet out of the comer of my eye I notice Seymour watching me.
Seeing what? Sensing what? The blood fever in me?
Perhaps. His next word is revealing.
"Don't," he says.
My aim wavers. I am amazed. Seymour knows I am thinking about killing Castro! Who is this Seymour, I ask myself? I lower my bow and look over at him. I have to ask.
"Don't what?" I say.
His eyes, magnified behind their glasses, stare at me. "You don't want to shoot anybody."
I laugh out loud, although his remark chills me. "What makes you think I want to shoot somebody?"
He smiles and relaxes a notch. My innocent tone has done its work on him. Perhaps. I wonder if Seymour is one of those rare mortals who can fool even me.
"I just had the feeling you were going to," he says. "I'm sorry."
"Do I look so dangerous?"
He shakes his head. "You are different from anyone I nave ever met."
First Ray notices that I have an accent, and now Seymour reads my mind. An interesting day, to say the least. I decide I should keep a lower profile, for the time being.
Yet I do not really believe he has read my mind. If I did, like him or not, I would kill him before the sun set.
"You're just so dazzled by my beauty," I say.
He laughs and nods. "It isn't often a beauty such as you is caught talking to a nerd like me."
I lightly poke him in the belly with the tip of my arrow. "Tell me more about the kind of stories you like." I nock the arrow onto my bowstring. Mr. Castro will live another day, I think, but maybe not many more. I add, "Especially your favorite horror stories."
So for the rest of the period Seymour tells me about an assortment of authors and books he has read. I am delighted to learn that Dracula is his all-time favorite story. I miss the bull's-eye a few times on purpose, but I don't know if I fool Seymour. He never takes his eyes off me.
The next period I am off to biology. Ray sits in the back at a lab table. I waste no time. I walk straight back and sit beside him. He raises an eyebrow as if to say that someone else has that seat, but then seems to change his mind.
"How did you enjoy archery?" he asks.
"You talked to Pat?" I ask.
There she is again, the girlfriend, between us. Once more I think of the data files at Mr. Riley's office. If the police do examine them, and do decide Mr. Riley has met with foul play, they will be paying me a visit. If I cannot access the files soon, I will have to destroy them. I decide to hasten things, knowing that I run the risk of destroying my whole seduction. I want to look at those files tonight. I reach over and touch Ray's arm.
"Can you do me a big favor?" I ask.
He glances at my fingertips on his bare arm. My touch is warm. Wait till he feels it hot. "Sure," he says.
"My parents are gone for a few days, and I need some help moving some things into my house. They're in the garage." I add, "I could pay you for your help."
"You don't have to pay me. I'd be glad to help this weekend."
"Actually, one of these things is my bed. I had to sleep on the floor last night."
"What a drag." Ray takes a breath and thinks. My hand continues to rest on his arm, and surely the soft texture of my skin must be a part of his thought processes. "I have to work after school today."
"Till what time?"
"Nine. But then I'm supposed to go over and see Pat."
"She's a lovely girl." My eyes rest on his eyes. It is as if they say, yes, lovely, but there are other things in life besides love. At least that is my intention. Yet as I stare into Ray's eyes, I can't help but feel that he is one of those rare mortals I could love. This is another startling revelation for me, and already, even before noon, it seems the day is to be filled with them. I have not loved a man--or a woman for that matter--in centuries. And none have I ever loved as much as my husband, Rama, before I was made into a vampire.
Yet Rama comes to mind as I stare at Ray, and at last I know why Ray looks familiar. He has Rama's eyes.
Ray blinks. "We've been going out for a year."
I sigh unintentionally. Even after fifty centuries I still miss Rama. "A year can pass quickly," I say softly.
But not five thousand--the long years stand behind me like so many ghosts, weary, but also wary. Time sharpens caution, destroys playfulness. I think how nice it would be to go for a walk in the park with Ray, in the dark. I could kiss him, I could bite him-- gently. I sigh because this poor boy doesn't know he is sitting beside his father's murderer.
"Maybe I can help you," Ray says clearly. My eyes do not daunt him as much as I would expect, and I do not know if that is because of his own internal strength or because my glance is softened by my affection for him. "But I'll have to check with Pat."
I finally take my hand back. "If you check with Pat, she'll say it is fine to help me as long as she gets to come along." I shrug. "Any girl would."
"Can she come over, too?"
My answer startles him. But he is too shrewd to ask me why. He simply nods. "I'll talk to her. Maybe I can come a little later. What time do you go to bed?"
The lecture in biology is about photosynthesis. How the sun's energy is changed into chemical energy through the presence of green chlorophyll, and how this green pigment in turn supports the entire food chain. The teacher makes a comment I find interesting--chlorophyll and red blood cells are practically
identical. Except in chlorophyll the iron atom is replaced by a magnesium atom. I look over at Ray and think that in the evolutionary chain, only one atom separates us.
Of course, I know that evolution would never have created a vampire. We were an accident, a horrible mistake. It occurs to me that if Ray does help me examine his father's files, I should probably kill him afterward. He smiles at me as I look at him. I can tell he likes me already. But I don't smile back. My thoughts are too dark.
The class ends. I give Ray my address, but not my phone number. He will not call and cancel on me. It is the address of a new house that was rented for me that morning. Mr. Riley will have my other address in his files, and I don't want Ray to draw the connection when and if we go into his computer. Ray promises to come over as soon as he is able. He does not have sex on his mind, but something else I cannot fathom. Still, I will give him sex if he wants it. I will give him more than he bargains for.
I go to my new home, a plain suburban affair. It is furnished. Quickly, not breaking a sweat, I move most of the furniture into the garage. Then I retire to the master bedroom, draw all the shades, and lie down on the hard wooden floor and close my eyes. The sun has drained my strength, I tell myself. But as I doze off I know it is also the people I have met this day that have cut deep into me, where my iron blood flows like a black river over the cold dust of forgotten ages, dripping onto this green world, onto the present, like the curse of the Lord himself. I hope to dream of Krishna as I fall asleep, but I do not. The devil is there instead.
Yaksha, the first of the vampires.
As I am the last.
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