This is the vampire tale before it was converted for the Pathfinder Chronicler competition.
The body crumpled like an old sack of laundry in the vampire’s grasp. He licked his lips and stared into the fast dwindling light of his victim’s eyes. This passing of life never failed to captivate his attention. The vampire suspected, during these brief moments of sobriety after feeding, that once he had been like this man in his arms. But that was long ago, and the vampire could not remember if it was so. When the life had at last passed out of the body, when all tension had eased from the cooling muscles, the vampire let the husk fall to the ground. One more, perhaps two, and the bitter cold and ice prick pain would be driven back for another night. Then the vampire would sleep, awaken to new, graving pain, and the cycle would begin anew.
“Tommy!” cried out a small voice.
The vampire’s head snapped up, a cat startled over its kill. Here in the gloom, back in a narrow driveway between two houses, it was very dark, and the night encompassed the vampire in a Stygian pitch. The buildings, as most of the neighborhood in this part of town, were old and in disrepair. Paint peeled and flaked off the housing sides like dead leaves from a tree. Behind the houses at the end of the drive sat a splintering, squat split garage with grimy, cracked windows. The vampire felt comfortable here amidst the crumbling facades and smell of age. It had been here he discovered the man taking his garbage out. He hugged one wall. Chips of faded yellow paint stuck to his frazzled cardigan. His dark eyes scanned the driveway entrance. The small voice called out again, and the vampire’s blood hummed.
A young girl, her ebony skin darker still in the night, took several tentative steps into the deeper dark. She called, more softly this time, “Tommy?”
The vampire watched her from beneath the dark brown locks of hair that spilled down his forehead. The moonlight cast her form in perfect silhouette, and she glided up the driveway as if she were no more than shadow. Her approach became more cautious the deeper she plunged up the drive, her arms and hands spread out in front as her eyes strained to find the way. The vampire could see her clearly now, watched her pale nightgown trail the ground ever so slightly about her. He could smell her in the air, like a touch of jasmine. And he could smell her young, fresh blood. There was something else there as well, something the vampire had encountered night after night, victim upon victim. So familiar he was surprised it stood out to him. Death. The breaking down and virtual corruption of living tissue that kept these mortal beings alive. This child was sick. The vampire could see her life slipping away through this world, water through a sieve. Her time, like time for all the living, drew near. She came closer still, brown eyes skittering from side to side.
“Tommy, c’mon out. Where are you?”
She was nearly on him now, but still her young eyes could not pick out his form from the deep opacity. She turned in a slow half circle, feet shuffling, eyes searching, ears listening. The vampire could see the vein pulsing in her neck and could hear the rhythmic thud-thud of her heart. His sharp tongue, black and dry, flicked over one canine tooth. She was small, but enough to keep back the pain for a time. And her time was soon. It fulfilled the natural order of things, and his body howled for him to take her. He prepared to snatch her just as the girl, sensing some presence, spun and faced squarely towards him.
“YAAAH!” she squealed, fallings backwards on her butt. She scrambled to her hands and knees to stand up. “Jeez, mister, you scared me! Holy crud! What’re you doin’ out here?”
The vampire hesitated.
“Are you a friend of Mr. Johnston?”
The vampire glanced back where the corpse lay folded in darkness and wondered if that had been Mr. Johnston. He had friends once, didn’t he? Or was that the dream? Sometimes, though, it felt as if it must have been real. The young girl looked at him, brave, but he could hear how her hopeful heart now beat faster with the fear of the unknown. Then the vampire, unaccustomed to being addressed, did something he had not done in many, many years.
“Yes, we were close for a short time.”
The words felt strange on his lips, the sound of his voice that of an old friend from another time, another world. But the vampire found it pleasurable to speak, and the words and thoughts so disused came easily to him while the dead man’s blood was still alive within him.
“Ah,” she said, nodding her head as if that explained everything. “My name’s Angela. What’s yours?”
“Marcus,” the vampire replied at last. And perhaps, once, in that forgotten time, that was true.
“I’m looking for my cat, Tommy,” Angela explained, looking around now with better night-grown vision. “Sometimes he gets locked out at night, and I want to find him so he don’t get hurt. Sometimes Mr. Johnston would leave food out for him. He’s all black, with one white paw. You seen him?”
“Little girls should not be out so late. It is dangerous.”
How long had it been since anyone faced him with such fearlessness, such unassuming guilelessness? Ever? This child was too young to see her danger, to feel the fear that others felt when near him, when his dark eyes looked into theirs. Even if they didn’t know what he was, they understood what he meant.
“I only live a block down. Besides, I’m almost seven. I can take care of myself.” Angela’s eyes looked the vampire over. “You the one better be careful, white dude walkin’ round at night. Jake and his gang, they’ll be all over you they see you out here. Mom says they’re just cheap hooligans, but that they’re still dangerous.”
“I will bear that in mind. We had best take you home now, though.”
“What about Tommy? That’s why I was lookin’ for him, cuz Jake might catch him just to be mean to him like they did to our neighbor’s dog.”
“Your animal will return. Come, now, you must go home.”
The vampire nudged the girl back towards the entrance, his fingers touching lightly upon her shoulder. He could feel the vibration of her blood coursing beneath his touch. Already he felt the cutting, piercing cold pain crawling back into his extremities and his conscious mind fraying ever so at the edges. Soon that cold would begin to burn and his lucidity crumble into a single pressing desire to feed. The little girl’s heart continued to beat in his head, a gentle and constant thud-thud that stimulated his senses. His lips couldn’t help but quiver in delicious anticipation. The vampire squinted his eyes as they stepped out into the moonlit yard.
“Which way is your home?” the vampire whose name might be Marcus asked.
Angela pointed with one golden painted nail, and they silently set foot upon the sidewalk in that direction. The vampire kept his attention focused sharp on the concrete as it passed beneath him, his eyes peering into the many cracked canyons and around each weed blade that poked up through the weathered substance. The thud-thud grew stronger, more persistent, with each passing step.
“You wring your hands a lot,” Angela said, her voice chiming in the vampire’s ears. “I have a grandma who does that too. She says it helps keep her hands warm and improves her circ’lation.”
The vampire glanced over but said nothing.
“So you stayin’ with Mr. Johnston? I know he helps lots of people out, like when they don’t have a job and stuff. Mom says he does it cuz it’s his Christian duty.”
“Yes, Mr. Johnston was…very kind to me.” The vampire recognized the duplicity in what he was saying, and was surprised to find himself troubled by it. But how could he be as guileless in turn with this child as she was with him? She could never understand. The vampire realized then that he would be disappointed with this child’s rejection, this child he did not know, when she realized the truth of his own existence. He would miss her when she was gone. As much as he could miss anything, as all his past experience was a fog. Once, he imagined, he had been a man of culture.
Angela skipped along beside him, and bent over to pick up a dandelion.
“I’m so glad it’s summertime. I hate the winter, don’t you? I don’t like cold weather. And there’s no school in summer neither.” She paused. “But I kinda like school, too, cuz I get to see my friends. Least when I’m not sick.”
The vampire glanced at her again. So the girl knew her condition. Would that make things easier on his mind when his splintering thoughts had coalesced once more and her body lay before him? Or would he remember her at all?
“What illness do you suffer from?”
“Leukemia. I could die from it, but Mom doesn’t like to talk about that.”
“Everything has its own time,” replied the vampire, his tongue traveling about the inside curve of his lower lip.
Leukemia. Cancer of the blood. It mattered not to the vampire, who was already a walking infestation of disease and decay. He had drunk the sick blood of many people, absorbed their taints along with the sweet nectar, before he was left the next day a dried out dirty sponge. He was the plague in walking form. This girl would soon enough know what death was, when her mortal shell had shed its hold to this existence. Mortal. What did that really mean after all? Did he not live after his own way, fueled by the same forces that drove the warm-hearted? Was his role any different than that of wolf to lamb, vulture to carrion? And would not his existence cease without feeding? Were they not both, in their own way, victims? It had been long seasons since the vampire had pondered such thoughts, as thinking had become more and more difficult and the time his brain could rally together a cohesive whole became briefer between each kill. But the girl, this fearless girl and the way she spoke to him, had rekindled something buried within and the vampire fought this night to keep his thoughts aright, to savor the moment. Even so, he could feel his ability for thought and speech sloughing away as the needles of numbing pain shot through his extremities and hunger pangs twisted his gut.
“Are we near your home yet?”
“Yep!” The gold fingernail flashed in the moonlight once more. “Right over there.”
The vampire gazed about them. The street and surrounding areas were empty of people. The vampire leaned his head back, the stars glittering like silver beads in his dark inky pupils, before returning his attention once more to the girl. Her body was a tiny furnace, the only source that could relieve the cold that now felt like millions of needles piercing his very being. Perhaps he could take just enough of her to melt the cold away for a little while and still spare her life. No. No, that would never be. Once he started he would not stop. Everything had its own time, its own purpose to fill.
“Here we are,” announced Angela.
They had stopped before one of the many unremarkable time-neglected houses along the street. This one had a porch with steps that might once have been painted green leading up to battered screen door. The vampire could see that the screen was torn and shredded, damage form the feline friend the girl sought no doubt. Beyond that a heavy oak door stood slightly agape, and around it spilled the soft ambiance of television light.
“Thanks for walking me home, Marcus. I keep tellin’ Mom white people are okay. If you see Tommy, tell him to come home.”
The vampire, teeth grinding, clenched his left fist tight and pointed with his right. “Go inside now, child, and never come out at night alone again.”
“Sheesh! You’re worse than my Mom! See ya!” And she ran and bounced up the steps.
Her heartbeat grew fainter and fainter in the vampire’s ears, and when the oak door shut, he was left only with the cold fire worming its way deeper and deeper into his body. His thoughts dissipated, words lost in mad scrambles until they became words not at all but animal hunger. The vampire stood, motionless, watching the young girl’s house, his instinct telling him to go knock on the door, trick her out, feed, when he felt something brush against his leg. He looked down to see a black cat bearing a single white paw winding itself between his legs. In an instant the cat was in his grasp, and his teeth sank in around the soft black fur. Moments later the vampire let the carcass fall to the ground and took one step towards the house.
He stopped then, and looked at the corpse on the ground. One word, less than a whisper, escaped his lips. “Angela.”
The vampire turned away and disappeared into the night.