"No, really! I'm a vampire!"
"Sure. Love the fangs…"
It's rare that I want to throttle someone but tonight was looking like it would be the night. "Look, not all vampires drink blood, right? Some of us thrive on energy, on essence…"
She rolled her eyes and made a show of looking bored. "Look, fella, this is a vampire bar. Unless I see fangs and a reasonable make believe of being a bloodsucker, out of my face!"
My ears burned a little as the idiots in line, plastered with fake blood and fake leather, pushed forward and I moved away. I have nothing against that sort of crowd, but I frankly didn't need that crap right then. Saturday nights are usually my favorite night of the week because of the sex. Really. Incubi need it to live. We thrive on it. We demand it. We can't exist without lust. Especially female lust, though some of us have branched out to men who would never admit it outside their dreams. We think it's funny. But this Saturday night, I was in trouble. This Saturday night, I was locked out of every single bar, club, party and get together where blood would be pulsing and libidos rising… I blamed the vampires. No, not the wannabes. The real ones.
"Asmodeus…how are you doing, love?"
That one, in particular. "Just dandy, Sam. And you?"
"Ooof…stuffed…" He flashed me a grin, fangs barely showing but obviously recently bloodstained. I could smell it on him like cheap cologne. "You look so sad, little incubus."
"Just bored with the mundane sexual fantasies of these Londoners." I yawned and shrugged. "Only so much leather and spanking I can take in one night, you know?"
"Lucky me then. So long as they have blood, I could care less what their kink is. Walk with me a ways, Asmodeus old man…"
Like I had a choice. I may be immortal, but in human form I still bleed. He flopped his heavy arm over my shoulders like a restraint and led me down the dark street to a side alley, then out onto another street where traffic was sparse and prostitutes plentiful. "This is a veritable buffet for your sort, isn't it? Why don't you pick one? No disease worries for you, eh?" he laughed. Sam always made the same joke and it was never funny. Not even the first time.
"Mmmm…sorry, mate. Unlike you bloodsuckers, we demons require a little more…finesse and…" I smiled fully and let my eyes shift from plain brown to their usual red-gold, "well, frankly, Sam, your choice in humans leaves something to be desired."
His smile never faltered but he knew as well as I did that we were having a pissing contest over prey. "Little incubus, you are quite mouthy, aren't you?" He laughed at his words. "I suppose it is compensation."
"Suppose so," I sighed. Samael had the worst sense of humor of any deader I'd ever met. And that's saying something—vampires are not known for their funnies.
Samael fell silent as we walked up the street, the prostitutes offering wares we were far from interested in. "Asmodeus, why do you come here?"
"You brought me."
"No, here, to this plane…" He frowned and bit his lower lip, the tiny wound healing instantly. "There are so many to choose from. Aren't there?"
"What do you know of the planes?" I paused to look in a darkened storefront. "You're bound here."
"I hear things," he shrugged. "But tell me…"
"There are many, yes…" I searched for an answer he would accept and understand. I finally seized on, "But this one is the easiest to feed on."
"Of course," he smiled. If I didn't know better, I would swear he looked sad. "Tell me something else, Asmodeus old man…"
I didn't like the pause. "Yeeeeeeeees?"
"Why do we do it?"
"Are you having some sort of crisis, Sam?" I have to admit—I would have loved it if he were. It would have brightened my millennia.
"Not as such." He chose a corner of the nearest stoop and sat, hands dangling between his knees. "You know, I honestly cannot remember my life before I became a vampire."
Great. It was going to be an even longer night than I had anticipated. "Is that a bad thing?"
"I don't remember if I had a family…a job…a birthday…"
"Don't your sires remember this sort of thing?"
"Sire…whoever made you…"
"Oh. Her." He lay back on the stone steps and stared up at the sky. "I think I'd like to sell shoes."
"Shoes. Useful things, you know. I'd like to sell them."
"Sam…you don't need a job, you know…"
"I know, but I'd feel useful."
"Yes…" His face became something like it's old self again and he laughed. "Just like shoes."
Samael was not given to moping so his mood surprised me. I had seen him angry, maudlin and ecstatic, sometimes all at once, but never mopey. "I think I had better be going. The night won't last forever."
"No, it won't," he sighed, rising to his feet. It struck me how oddly human he was in that moment. He moved slowly for a vampire, his skin barely translucent under the glaring streetlight. "You're staring."
"Are you…okay?" The words left my mouth unbidden. I tried to avoid blood drinkers at all costs, usually, but for some reason I felt a twinge of pity for the one before me. He made my life Hell, baiting me, harassing me and generally being an ass, but I felt obligated. One life sucker to another.
"I'm fanfuckingtastic," he sighed. He turned his face up to the light and closed his eyes. He did not even bother to pretend to breathe, as he must around humans, so the appearance of true death was strong. "I have walked this earth more years than I can truly remember, Asmodeus," he murmured. "And only recently has my existence displeased me."
If there is a vampire equivalent of drunk, Samael was it. "Then sleep," I suggested. "Take a dirt nap. Isn't that what you all do when you get that overwhelming sense of ennui?" Two teenagers coming, young couple, left to their own devices and scurrying around town like rats on a sinking ship, trying to cram as much life into their precious few hours alone as possible… their approach distracted me so I missed the first part of Samael's rant. "Huh?" I rejoined inelegantly as he paused for my response.
"I said," his voice had taken on a thick quality. His fangs were out. He felt them, too. "That my sire, as you refer to her, has died. Truly died." His eyes closed and he seemed to sway slightly on the balls of his feet. They were getting closer, close enough now for me to hear them clearly. They were talking about a girl who had gotten mugged just a street over from us the night before and drawing a comparison to Jack the Ripper. "Messy work," Samael murmured, a smile flitting over his face. "Impressive drive, though."
"You're not doing much for the stereotypes," I grumbled. The footsteps stopped. They had seen something in a shop window and were looking, talking… I exhaled slowly, almost relieved. I needed to feed, but for some odd reason did not relish the idea of Samael being part of this, injecting his dark humor into the seduction. "Samael, what do you mean your sire died?"
He seemed irked at me changing the subject back to the original. "She died. Dust. Gone." He opened his eyes again and fixed me with his sharp gaze. "How are you useful, Asmodeus? Why haven't I drank of you yet?"
I could not see the correlation between the two questions at first but it dawned on me as he swayed closer, his fangs ivory with age and blood. "Demons taste like seaweed," I responded tartly. "We're not that good to drink."
He looked at me for a moment as if he would tear my throat out with his bare hands, then he laughed. It was oddly hollow, ringing metallically off the street and buildings. Unlike a human's laugh, his did not seem full of joy and life. His seemed to come from some place within the earth itself and fill the small street for a few moments. The teenagers had stopped again and I could taste their nervous fear at the sound of his laugh. "Asmodeus," Samael sighed, letting the laughter fade, "you are a complex creature. You're not like the other incubi I've met. You lack a certain…"
"Charm? Je ne sais quoi? Suavity?"
"Aroma, I was going to say, but those will do." His quick grin was an attempt at showing me he was being funny again, or trying to. "Definitely shoes. My dame—you know, that's the proper word for a female sire—had the most amazing pair of black boots with these small silver buckles all the way up to her thighs…" His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared, but I could not tell if it was in memory of his dame and her boots or because the teenagers, their blood pumping hard and breath coming in short, nervous gasps, were drawing closer. "She wore them the night she Died."
I could hear the capital in his voice. "How did it happen?" I asked casually, shifting to put myself between Samael and the humans. I did not value human life as such but I did not want to see two such innocents die brutally. His fangs were fully out, thickening his voice and giving a slight slur to his words.
"I killed her."
I paused, my mouth open, uncertain of what to say. "That's so…" I paused again. "Trite."
"Pardon me?" His fangs retracted almost fully. "Trite? The death of my maker at my own hands is TRITE?"
"Well… yes…" I couldn't help it. I had to giggle at his outrage. "How baby bat can you get? It's like those stories you see all the time in those bad Gothic bookstores… all have titles like Love's Grave or Grave Love and willow girls swan about in black, moping in the night, while wraithlike boys pine and whine for their lost love and then end it all with a spectacular dive off a mausoleum or something messy…" I was really giggling now, partially at the look on his face and partially at the antics of humans who fancy themselves to be some sort of dark lords and ladies of Death."
Samael's gaze nearly flayed the skin from my bones as he crowded me against the shoe store behind me. "I killed her because she asked me to. She was tired of this half life we live, tired of our existence… she had ceased to feel pleasure at all, ceased to feel anything! I drove the stake through her heart myself and left her corpse where the sun would find it!"
His speech had taken on a distinctly archaic cadence despite modern words. I was quickly becoming nervous. He seemed to be slipping in the control department and I could feel the cold touch of his skin on mine as he leaned closer. "Samael, stand down," I said softly. The teenagers were close now, mere yards away. They might think we were lovers, I thought, or I was being mugged. I doubted they thought we were two immortals, or mostly immortals, having a snarkfest.
He tilted his chin and stepped back, regarding me as one might regard a particularly annoying child. He turned away then and walked several paces back in the direction we had come from, away from me, away from the teenagers. I sighed and pushed away from the wall, starting after him, but he was faster than I had expected. In a blur, he turned on his heel and rushed the humans, a roar rising from his gullet and exploded in the silent street. The couple screamed but still he came at them. They ran down the street, screaming wordlessly, the girl tripping and falling, the boy dragging her by her wrist, tearing the skin on her knees and her right palm. Samael did not stop until they had reached the last street light.
"That," I said a tad shakily as he strolled back, his fangs retracted and hair slightly askew, a few locks tumbling from the red ribbon holding it back off his face, "was entirely uncalled for."
"It was either scare the hell out of them or bite the hell out of you," he said mildly, his mood entirely changed. "Pardon the pun."
"That wasn't a pun. It was poor humor. And if you were going to go to all the trouble of scaring them, why didn't you just bite them?" I did not draw away from him but neither did I welcome his closeness as he leaned against the wall next to me. It was all beginning to make my head ache, the story of his dame, the irrational moods… I was tempted to ask him if he had some sort of vampiric PMS but I doubted he would appreciate the question.
"I haven't felt useful for a long time, Asmodeus," he said quietly. "Before, I would say that I fed on the blood of those who craved death, then later I fed on those who had done wrong. One evening, my dame asked me how I could determine who had done wrong. I told her it was because I could read it on them, smell the crimes and vile stains on their souls. She said no… how could I, who had lived for centuries, who had killed and destroyed and made war countless times, who had done things even the most reprehensible human could not conceive of, could determine who had done wrong. How dare I? she asked."
I did not speak then. I let the silence stretch. Being next to a silent vampire is unnerving. They do not breathe, really, nor do they move. When they hunt, or scent prey, they take the air in through their nose and mouth, tasting the fear and heat of their intended, and when they decide to move, it's with a purpose, controlled and strong steps, moving so silently it's no wonder most humans never know what hits them when these creatures hunt. But just standing there, next to Samael, I was reminded how he had come to be this fearsome creature. He closed his eyes and resembled the corpse he would be in a few hours when the sun rose. "You want to feel useful," I said finally when the silence became too much, "because you don't want to die."
"I died once already and I do not remember it," he sighed. "I have been told it is painful, the way I perished. I do not remember my native tongue. I don't think it even exists anymore. I don't remember my family, my friends…" His eyes opened and shifted to fix on me. "I think you are my only friend, Asmodeus. After all of my centuries, you are the only friend I have."
I stared back at him. I didn't know if I was supposed to hug him, laugh at his attempt at humor, or do the manly thing and nod, tightlipped and understanding. I just stared. "Samael…"
"It's late, Asmodeus," he cut me off, pushing away from the wall. "I have yet to feed and you're looking worse than usual." He glanced skyward, looking for signs only one with his eyes could see. "I have but a few hours before I need to return home."
"I understand there's good feeding to be had north of here," I said hesitantly, "near Grove Park. A group of Americans are here on vacation and don't lock their doors at night." I paused, adding, "One of them is supposedly a murderer though his friends don't know it yet."
He raised a brow. "How do you know this?"
"People get chatty," I shrugged, smiling. "They don't realize what they think during…" I let it trail off, implying my particular feeding method.
He laughed softly, a ghost of his early, full throated laugh. "You are useful sometimes, Little Incubus. Good night, then. Be safe."
"I'll be leaving London tomorrow," I said suddenly, not sure why I was telling him this. "I'm going to Barcelona, then Dallas, and maybe up the east coast of the United States for a bit…" He nodded and I took his forearm in the ancient gesture of friendship, neither of us saying another word. I did not know when I would see him again but I did know he would find me when he wanted to visit. He disappeared into the darkness between the buildings and I could have sworn I heard him whistling as he vanished.
Several months had passed before I returned to London after that night.
I had seen all the places I had set out to see but found I missed the city where I had last seen Samael. I thought of him often during my travels and wondered if I would see him in some dark corner in a Manhattan club or waiting for me when I returned to my hotel room in some small town between here and there.
I found myself back in London on a summer night, the streets still wet with evening rain and the stores closed for the night save for a few news stands and curry shops. The street had not changed very much in the months I had been gone. Maybe a new coat of paint on some of the storefront signs but nothing remarkable.
It was easy to remember the conversation, if it could be called that, with Samael.
No humans were out, at least none nearby. The weather had driven them indoors to clubs and comfy living rooms where televisions and music kept them distracted from the knowledge that work would be waiting for them in a few days and their relaxation was fleeting.
I thought of going to one of the clubs, of trying to feed, but the idea left me, pardon the pun, cold. I had been thinking too long of Samael and his story, of how he had felt useless and too long-lived. I wondered, standing near the spot where I had last seen him, if he had done himself in, maybe sired a new little vampling for the duty or even done it on his own, laid out on some beach to await the sunrise and turn into the sand and tide.
A faint wind picked up around the corner and scuttled down the block, sending some bits of paper and street debris scurrying ahead of it. A blue piece of paper, slightly damp and stepped on, blew against my leg, begging for attention it seemed.
"Good bye, Samael," I sighed softly. Absentmindedly, my imagination still churning out images of Samael in death throes, wondering if I should grieve or just go on, I glanced down at the flyer.
OPEN FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, the words screamed out at me. CRAZY SAM'S SHOE EMPORIUM FOR ALL YOUR FOOTWEAR NEEDS!
copyright © 2005, Meredith Holmes