Povídka: Dopis 06: Ghost Site

Short and dark episode from Charles’s refuge. I kept some details from the Alternate Universe episode, where everything went sideways. I’m in a very grim mood most lately (life sucks, I screw up and it still sucks) so poor poor characters. Unless I photograph some flowers and butterflies my content is always all kinds of dark. Some of you probably noticed. It was always like that. I read some really dark poems from years ago and I had to delete it from my harddrive, I was scared of myself. But you know what, writing stuff down makes me truly happy.

There is always some hope in the end. These guys are the two halves of my rotten brain at the moment, so forgive them. I also realized that I held back in past years, because „what people would think of me“. Well, it is the biggest mistake a creator can make. Life is too short to be ashamed of your own existence. And haters gonna hate anyway. So..

Story takes place back in Scotland, where it originally started. It is amateurish, contains typos, bad grammar and unclear parts, but my desire is to continue writing because I enjoy it. I’m always tinkering and correcting. Accept my apologies for any unclear thoughts and bad grammar, though, and enjoy the rest.

I admit that I will have to translate the Czech episodes, especially the first one, which is most important but also rather complicated, I don’t feel like translating it, really. My English is far from that kind of level. And machine-translation isn’t good either.

Tags for your consideration: Original Character, Mature, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Blood, Gore, Violence, Vampire, Supernatural.

Words cca 7,700.

Episodes

Chapters

Evening at the Estate

Wandering back into the woods, where events took place 42 years ago was my friend Charles‘ idea of expedition.

At the moment he was everything from the past I – William Anderson, former infantryman and now Private Investigator associate – have possessed. He was also my very good friend and the most important fact that binds us together in a very unique way, he happens to be my maker. And I stood beside him through most of the unpleasant events and dangers of the new era.

He had lost a woman he held dear to his heart, even when all they shared was the hard work in medical unit tents back in Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan conflict. Decades years later he avenged her with my help, but the string of previous experiences had him scarred deeply. The shell shock sneaked in and his confident and strong soul fell apart.

As it comes to me I was his steady rock. Being endangered and shot at on numerous occasions didn’t make me any weaker. I had my share of grief, but I did my best to get him from the darkest of places he ever fell into. Everything that was happening to him was stacked somewhere within his mind, waiting for that last drop, exploding eventually. The trigger seemed to be the near-death experience in a torture chamber of sorts, where he was held prisoner by his enemy. I did all I could to get him free.

I was always seeking the solution, some quite physical, often ill thought-out, as he was looking for answers using a deduction and logic. Our changed nature kept us going into the ends unknown and into the deep dark woods where the burial site was.

The first seizure, as a result of a shell shock, knocked Charles flat after we rescued little Mary from the mob and returned to his Victorian mansion at Melbury Road in London. Luckily enough I was there with him and he sweat it off in my arms. The other seizure could have killed us in a possible car accident. I let him drive my four-door Nash. It was my bad decision, but we managed and my car is alright too. As it got that bad we had to decide what to do. We were on our way to a meeting with Dr. Thomas Carr, Mary’s father, who knew our true nature, but sided with us. Charles saved his kid earlier this year and Mr. Carr wasn’t a superstitious person. He was a doctor of medicine, seeing us as any other humans, just with a special health condition. I asked him once more for a little favour consisting of few spare blood cans and advice. He was against modern drugs and for good reasons. It did a lot of harm in humans and it would not stay for long in our system. I’ll have to help Charles to recover his depleted willpower on my own. There are no manuals for immortals. And we cannot piss against the wind and expect everything to be peachy for eternity. Crystal clear.

Charles wished to face the misfortunes, beginning with the excavation of our predecessor’s remains, if there are any left, and bury him properly in a hallowed land. We can be at peace with him in the end. We caused this avalanche by our utter curiosity and obsession with all things supernatural, we travelled the world in search for clues and answers, following stories of folklore. And such things don’t go unnoticed. We marched towards our destiny slowly but surely and it was fulfilled in an old cellar under the crumbled manor in deep woods of Scotland near Charles‘ hunting lodge, which he bought in the previous century and made it his very own refuge.

I have spent great times there, especially in his huge library. I missed the old house atmosphere. Table lit by a tall kerosene lamp, old leather-bound books with all kinds of wisdom, a huge globe for planning trips in the middle of the room. The library was situated in the upper floor above the open main hall with dominant ornate hearth, fire blazing inside, making old stonewall manor slightly warmer. We can recall many good things among the bad ones, happening within those walls.

„I remember coming back to you from London the other autumn. I was still teaching the history class at the university and you spent your days up in the North.“ I told him after we arrived and settled in the lodge. The firewood was prepared for many cold nights, everything was taken care of. Charles employed young lad Henry in later years to be his caretaker and custodian. After a few decades he still stayed in his service, growing older, yet he was a strong man, loyal and trustworthy. And he wasn’t here tonight. Charles sent him to the city of Aberdeen as a precaution. He spent a little fortune on some fancy place to be sure Hank is safe and sound. The experience with little Mary’s abduction teached us a valuable lesson about mob’s morale and no scruples for taking hostages.

„Yes, Will?“ He glanced at me. I wasn’t sure where I was going with that yet, but I kept talking.

„You went through that change all alone. I never asked you what you remember. I wanted to be all respectful but maybe it’s time to uncover that dark spot.“ I noticed his posture froze in stiffness for a brief moment. His heartbeat went faster. He closed his bright blue eyes and tried to relax.

„Charles..“ I reached for him and touched his hand, clenched to the armrest of a big leather armchair. Slight golden aura marked the very spot on his skin.

„William, I know you want me to talk about it.“ He whispered. „To go back there and face it. Analyse the roots of my shattered mind.“ He paused, then continued. „That’s why I have to go out there to find him. Killing him off didn’t bring me any peace. It went just wrong..“ He said no more.

„Yes, I very much desire to know what happened. I believe we can go through it together right to its core. You are the strongest individual I know. You always were. Let’s see into it, please, so it won’t control you any further. Our flesh can regenerate so why not mind..“ I spoke to him in the most steady and soft voice I was capable of. It brought him back before and I wanted him to be alright and feel comfortable in my presence. I did love my best friend dearly and some things are not easy even for us. But what is easy in this life?

He arose from his chair and paced to the small bar with few whiskey bottles, the best stuff. There was a mirror above it, reflecting the entry hall on its surface. A little dusty corner but otherwise untouched. And believe it or not we could drink it without any ill effects people often face. Last time I felt only a little lighter in my brains but could function, oh, and my fingertips were somewhat sensitive to touch, that’s all, really.

„You want some?“ He asked with a hint of grin in his bonny face of aristocratic features, framed with short blond hair. He was tall and on the lean side, ethereal. His hands were of a pianist’s hands, yet he served as a surgeon in those times of human life. I had to look up to him, when I stood up to accompany him at the bar, as I was of a few inch shorter figure. My short cut hair was very dark brown, little wavy and as his, very rich and healthy. It must be the diet. My eyes were of hazel colour, switching to full green under various circumstances, cheekbones bit more prominent and lips, nose and eyebrows in proportion to the rest of the face. My trademark were my eyes and almost porcelain white and soft skin. A fresh blood intake could cover that. But we didn’t bite unconscious ladies in their boudoirs, sneaking around in opera capes under the moonless sky. The presentation of our kind in the media was very unfortunate, especially with that new movie with a mesmerizing Hungarian guy as a lead actor. And Charles doesn’t endorse the picture at all. I can relate to that. People tend to believe what they see in the movies. I could go on on that matter forever.

„Sure, anytime.“ Charles was open to debate, I could tell. He poured the golden whiskey into two crystal tumblers. The fluids were glistening in the orange fire light, reflecting on the walls. Charles raised a toast and inhaled the first round swiftly.

„Let’s make this one double.“ I suggested. He provided.

„You want to go medieval?“ He produced a real smile.

„Yeah, I feel inspired.“ I accepted the drink and went to occupy the other armchair. He halted for a moment, then returned back to the bar and took the bottle with him. He put it on a small octagonal mahogany table between us. I nodded in agreement.

He was nursing his drink in his hands as his sight was drifting away, recalling some unpleasant memories. I was ready to jump up and provide support or CPR, depending. He sensed it, raised his glass and told me not to worry.

„You’ll need the booze more than I, my dear fellow.“ And with that he sipped a few drops. Well, I cannot say different about that, I’ll probably need a lot of it. So I forced myself to ease my efforts and slack a bit, drink a bit more to be an efficient listener.

„You already know how my foolishness freed the evil from its tomb.“ Oh, I knew very well. I made some missteps too.

„But I cannot tell more until I admit that my approach was and still is misfortunate. My words choice may implicate the reason to believe that he was the ultimate evil, therefore I had all rights to use any resource to annihilate him. Oh, no. I had no right and the pain I felt, when he died in the explosion, surged through my very heart and mind like a white-hot blade.“ He paused for a drink.

„But did we have a choice? He was feral and very much violent.“ I noted. He thought for a moment.

„Yes, he was. On the other hand, look at me now. I shot several people without blinking an eye and I’m losing my mind.“ I heard slight sadness in his voice.

„You cannot be serious.“ Did he really believe that he is going nuts? „Charles, it’s a shell shock. Very tough enemy. You know what that thing is and what it does to people. You saw it back then and you saw it on the guys returning from trenches in France. You are not crazy, I would notice.“ I said.

„Or we are both crazy, don’t you think?“ He leaned against the leather back and studied the oil painting of misty autumn forest with beautiful god rays of morning sun, coming through the colourful treetops, enlightening the path under the trees. He once painted it and put it on the wall next to the fireplace.

„Yeah, probably.“ I sipped from my drink, not in full medieval mode yet.

„I should not participate in such black and white approach, but we didn’t have much of a choice. I endangered you and had you killed in a way, but I never anticipated it. I would let you make the choice if you were responsive to my calls. You were dying and I couldn’t let it happen. I couldn’t let you go from all my guilt and selfishness and yet I could let him go easily, because he tortured me. I was hurt down to the core. He broke through my defences, he broke my bones and he tore my throat apart. I was supposed to die quickly. Instead he fed me his blood. My body was unconscious and he brought me back just to take it away again. You know how it feels being helpless and left behind.“ I remained silent and frozen in astonishment as my imagination re-enacted horrors of the past. And then he continued.

„Helpless and in pain for most of the night when he drained my veins dry. Something stopped him, preventing the final blow, which could send me to oblivion. My carcass was weak after the violent blood exchange. I knew there must be another way around, how to do it properly. I also noticed how a blood loss makes us vulnerable to a degree. I sponged up all the knowledge I could and held onto the tiniest hope that I’ll get the chance to warn you. You see, you were my hope. And I survived in the end. He left me there and I fainted for good. It was all my fault, my curiosity, why I end beaten up. I possessed the darkest of gifts via an agonizing process. That left some scarred tissue inside. Same as the episode with the knife and cyanide negotiations, which results you witnessed in that basement. They truly used me for a punching bag, but the physical pain I shut off consciously.“ He closed his eyes, resting. His lean figure lost some of the tension from all the talking. He looked smaller in that chair, radiating over half a century of wear and tear under the visage of a twenty-five years old lad. I took the glass from his fingers gently and poured another generous double.

„In such chaos, you, my friend, are my anchor.“ The mellow fire light sprinkled over his long eyelashes as he opened his eyes and rested his look at my face.

„And yet, you went through it, when I was nowhere to be found. You survived and you fought back. You can fight back anytime, because the power stays within you. The past left you scarred, leave it to the past then. And when you feel it sneaking back, I’ll be very much obliged to help you bury it out there again.“ I assured him, waving my right hand in the entry door direction.

„Is this a marriage proposal?“ He winced.

„Pal, we have been married since the day you touched my bare chest.“ I was pulling his leg of course, I couldn’t help it. We lived in an era where showing skin was very inappropriate, but in a war it didn’t really count. He played along, though.

„Oh, that hot and sweaty day in the desert.“ A corner of his mouth curled in a distant smile.

„Yes. And you stitched my shoulder remarkably well and saved Ollie..“ I had to stop speaking. Oliver was my wartime friend, I dragged him all the way from the battlefield to the medical unit.

„Let’s keep it at that. Unless you wish to talk about your own dark times further. Please, feel free. Tonight is a good night for such things.“ He rested his look on the display cabinets along the wall, where he still kept his weapon collections. Studying details, thinking. His gears were running at full speed.

„Oliver found his happiness in New York but I didn’t seek him there. Not after the war at least as I spent some time studying and especially not after the change. You also didn’t contact Amelia, she was free spirit and you became a blood-sucker. Such a diet might be discouraging, but I still think we both made mistakes in that matter.“ There. The painful spot under my ribs.

„I was sure I made my choice for the greater good. It seemed to be better that they didn’t know. Things could be different. Yet I don’t feel entitled to endanger people around me by revealing I no longer eat, occasionally don’t have to breathe either.“ He concluded.

„True. See? It may actually work both ways.“ Meaning I needed this talk too. I smirked and tried to redirect my thoughts back to our coordinates.

„Charles, did you learn something from the vampire’s past?“ I knew he looked into it a long time ago. What he did or didn’t find I wasn’t aware of.

„Yes, in fact I did. Local archives were vague. It has been a few hundred years since his time. The manor no longer existed and his owner, I believe, came from southern France. I heard him in my head with a very distinctive accent, but didn’t understand what he meant. He wasn’t at his full power back then and his mesmerizing act couldn’t work. I also went to Aberdeen in hope to find the name of the owner in the archives and I contacted the man I bought this house from since they shared borders. He didn’t keep any papers of his ancestors. Young’s just don’t stick to old stuff. The hope was lost until I decided to go through this building thoroughly. And in the attic full of old stuff I found the small writing table with a jammed drawer. Inside was a pile of papers which should be in some lawyer’s office and not in my attic. Well, the papers were orphaned and forgotten. I checked them and discovered a contract establishing borders between two estates from, I believe, the beginning of the sixteenth century, with the very old and ornate signature of Adrien d’Aumont. The name is genuine.

„I seek it further and with help of my French contacts I discovered that a nobleman of that name once lived in the city of Montpelier, in the very Lion’s Bay of the Mediterranean Sea. He was of a Spanish descent. A son of a prominent merchant, he studied at the Medical Faculty of Montpelier, which was as famous as the schools in Padua or Paris and under the protection of the kings of France. Very wealthy. As you know the Black Death and its recurrences decimated the world just a century earlier. We are talking about a vast amount of casualties. Multiples of those lost in the Great War. It’s uneasy to admit that fact, that he was really lucky to be alive at his age. It is also known that he lost his life in a sword fight with an experienced swordsman over God knows what. It could be anything from argument, involved damsel or a lost dice game. We can also assume that it was his way to disappear due to his changed nature. He would survive most injuries.

„Fast forward and he ends up buried in a tomb. His carcass sleeps dormant until I open his grave. Was it his choice to let them slay him? Did they hurt him so much that he could not prevent what was coming? And why be so careless, if everything in that chronicle I own is based on the facts? There is no one to ask about old events. In the end he probably wanted to live after all, yet I cannot tell anything about the state of his mind. It was rather clouded and ruthless survival instinct took over. Was there a coherent thought behind his words? If we somehow manage to be careful, we might live as long as him. And here comes the question of our origin.“ He took a deep breath and a moment to think. I was surprised by how much he knows.

„You want to intercept the clues to Montpelier?“ I asked. The trace was long cold, we were several centuries late, but Charles is a miraculous worker, he would dig something out.

„No, not now. If there is still someone, well, he or she doesn’t seek company, otherwise we might notice supernatural presence and as far as I can recall I didn’t sensed anyone’s mind anywhere we have been to. I believe we are very secretive species, living secluded lives. Just look at us now.“ A smile.

„Yeah, we have nice and calm refuge since you bought every piece of land you could put your hands on, so it stays calm and peaceful.“ Charles was fortunate and also rich.

„Charles, is your family from France, the southern part perhaps?“ I felt I was close enough at least in terms of continent. Of course he had French name, but his ancestors could live in England for generations and I never asked him and he didn’t talk about his folk at all.

„Oh, Paris. I don’t remember the city. My parents left France when I was little. We moved to Colchester and I lived in London on my own some time later, you know my house. Only our wealth had to do something with it. You didn’t see anything giving away my predecessor’s life stories because I wasn’t very popular for my life choices. I only used my great army general father’s name when I needed things moving and I didn’t feel proud of that, to be honest. I bet you know a similar situation from your own experience as a professor of history, especially with your approach to reveal the reality of it. There is nothing interesting to say, really. It won’t help us today, Will.“ He added.

„Alright.“ I didn’t say anything about being sorry, he wouldn’t accept it anyway. It was purely his business. I nodded slightly towards the bottle.

„Sure.“ He gave me his glass and I poured more Scottish medicine.

„I’ll be right back.“ He disappeared from the armchair and before the sudden draught settled, he was right back, sitting, holding a yellowish folder in his hands. Such quick movements might be unnerving for an untrained and non-vampiric eye. I got used to it some decades ago so it was perfectly fine with me.

„Yes, it’s the file on him.“ He answered my unspoken question and handed me the file. I took a good look at the perfect ornate handwriting, a document in French and a photocopy of the small painted portrait of a young man with sharp facial features, angular jawline, mesmerizing eyes of dark colour and rich dark hair tied with bow.

„Then the name has a face.. his face.“ I had to look away from the papers for a moment or two.

„Are you alright? My apologies for such an obvious question but I really want to know.“ A concern in his voice. I had my answer ready.

„You know I enjoyed your style a lot more.“

„Your approach never ceases to surprise me.“ He actually looked quite cheerful for a change. I closed the file envelope and put it aside.

„We shall resolve this tomorrow, what do you say?“

„Agree.“ He was ready to deal with it.

„And this other thing. Your new ability to stir human and vampire’s brains alike, till they obey or fall apart. I’m volunteering to be your test subject. You already know I can recover unlike ordinary men, but I have trouble defending myself in the first place. Are you willing to do it now, please?“ My vulnerability was puzzling me and Charles was against any kind of experiment.

„One session, Will. You only think you can recover easily.“ He put his drink away and leaned closer, palming my face in his warm hands. He didn’t hesitate as I thought he will and caught me unprepared. There won’t be any warning in real situations either. The Last thing I knew, besides drowning in his blue eyes, was this nasty surge deep within my brain, any coherent thought simply vanished and I found myself studying the wooden panelling on the ceiling from the floor perspective moments later. I said something unintelligible until I gathered my mental strength and was able to think. I noticed he was sitting next to me on the floor, waiting for my return and again he looked all sorts of tired.

„I’m fine.“ I assured him.

Sad smile changed his expression slightly.

„Will..“

„You know, affection is dangerous.“ I pointed out when he hesitated. „You should try harder.“

„No, I should not.“ He caressed my cheek gently. „I cannot.“ He resumed his drinking posture in the other chair and I put myself vertical again. „I enjoy your company way too much to try to fry your mind. I already went too far. Your nose is bleeding by the way.“ He was handing me his handkerchief. I didn’t notice until the blood tickled my skin and circled over my lips. „You get there, Will. You already possess the power, trust me. In the meantime avoid any eye contact with unknown immortals.“ It was his no.

„Is it awake under the circumstances?“ I asked, meaning his latest adventure.

„It’s part of us so I conclude it’s a natural development. You’ll evolve eventually.“ He finished his drink.

A sigh left my lungs. I cleaned my face and put the bloodied cloth in my trouser’s front pocket. The evening was over. I might take a night walk under the moon to the lake later and see if I can also get some beauty sleep.

up ^

The very next day

„The woods didn’t change much.“ I observed the ancient trees with their limbs covered in moss and silvery lichen.

„No. Luckily it wasn’t wiped out and with my care it might survive another century and become a very unique piece of primeval forest in the land of sheep pastures. We’ll see how the site looks like. There might be some trees already. I disturbed the land quite a lot with those explosives.“ Yes, I felt it on my own hide. I’m a master of bad decisions and halting on an escape route was one of them. I got hit by shrapnel from debris. I already lost a lot of blood in the brutal attack and it was a matter of time when I’m going to bleed to death. It pushed Charles off the cliff and forced him to make me who I am. I was thinking about such a decision many times. And I would do the same for him. How do I determine what is right and what is wrong? There is no real answer to that.

And now we were on our way to excavate the body of a man, so we can have some sort of conclusion. Charles brought a pickaxe, he also found some geological hammer, a few brushes and a canvas bag. He switched to his outdoor leather overcoat in a cowboy style he used to wear here. His thigh leather holster held a heavy recoil-operated Webley-Fosbery revolver. I sported shoulder rig with Webley Mark VI, a handy gun with a hair-thin sensitive trigger. Charles always owned some special models for a self-defence, even as a field surgeon and it saved our human lives. It was a Remington 1875 Army model with Long Colt ammunition. Reliable weapon. A chance existed that we might need a strong argument for negotiation. Our actions often provoked counter-actions of angry mobs.

We reached our point of interest a few hours later. The fallen oak tree I remembered marking the entrance to the underground, has rotten away and the entrance itself didn’t exist any more.

We stood side by side, just staring at the surface depression several yards ahead. That’s where the main cellar storage was. Behind us a crooked memorial stone marked the place of a few centuries old events.

The remains of a man, who gave us some nightmares and we took his life in return, were buried in south-eastern part of the main cellar. We should start there. I heard my own heart go faster.

„I feel a little bit upset too.“ Charles noted. „Though I’m not sure if it’s the presence of his bones or that something feels odd.“ He went ahead to explore.

„What do you mean, Charles?“ Curiosity redirected my thoughts.

„There is definitely something, Will. Come, help me.“ And he started uncovering stones under a thick layer of moss, roots and dirt. We removed the natural carpet and also all kinds of stones and stone shards, some really sharp, no wonder it sliced me into ribbons. Charles specialised in making explosives and ammunition a lot more lethal.

Reaching the floor level was a hell of a work. The walls collapsed inside, the blast went through them directly to the bedrock. I could imagine what would have happened to the soft tissue and fragile bones in the epicentre. We’ll be lucky if we find some crumbs. Speaking of..

I noticed a few round shapes of different colour and material in a finely ground rubble almost immediately. We both knelt next to it and carefully removed several pieces of porous bone. We put it on a sheet of linen cloth. I studied the edges of the cracks, meanwhile Charles pulled out some more pieces of skull, arranging it neatly so the edges faced each other at the correct angle. I bet his medical background will be of use. I also sensed his uneasiness, yet he remained silent. Few pieces were still missing.

„It was all harsh, dark and bloody, but as far as my experience and education go this is a skull of a human man. The most obvious..“ He spoke as he pulled another piece of the puzzle from the ground and put it next to the others. „..is the lack of a weapon very distinctive for our kind.“ I saw what he meant. The retractable fangs from the upper jaw were not present. The teeth line looked very human and not at all animalistic. There was something else to be noted.

„The cracks in the bones are post-mortem. Someone knew and switched the body or the carcass of our interest is animated and very much alive.“ I added my own observations.

„Indeed. If he did this then he wasn’t out of his mind for good.“ Charles held the straight face. I on the other hand felt nervous.

„Cunning.“ Yes, I was scared. Humans can be lethal and fatal to each other and to us, but a vampire with all the reasons for revenge is a whole new level of danger. I was no match to him back then, losing it in an instant.

„What do you remember from London a few days ago from the evening you saved me?“ He turned to me, studying my face. I thought for a second.

„Yes, you mean the strange feeling? It made me so uneasy. I can’t describe it precisely. It felt like something was sitting right behind my neck, watching my every step. I thought we had been followed by the guys with machine guns. You anticipate it was him?“ I had to sit down on one of the stones for a moment.

„It’s hard to kill us. We don’t know every odd and end. He put himself together, put the volunteer to the rest in a hole to derail possible investigation, lick his wounds and strike later.“ This theory consists of a lot of loopholes unless Charles is right and the guy is few steps ahead.

„If this is the case, let’s finish our research. The remains can tell us more. Let’s work with the possibility he lives. I don’t think he’ll show up just for the tea, though.“ I was truly ashamed that the very basic fear overtaken me in such an obvious manner.

„My dear friend, let’s face our nightmares together once more. We might as well just overreact over some crushed bones. We’ll look into it and rebury this poor fellow.“ He put it in perspective so I gathered myself together and helped him recover the skeleton from its stone grave. I was working carefully. He truly didn’t look like a victim of the explosion. Torn and jagged edges of the fractures might indicate it happened a lot later on already dry bones. The lack of clothing made any identification impossible.

„We will continue in my old lab. I think we are done here.“ Charles decided some time later. I packed the tools and let him carry the sad burden back to his manor, where we could clean ourselves and proceed to further investigation.

In the laboratory Charles lit several antiquities with concave circular mirrors so the parallel light was reflected towards the examination table. He also prepared magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers for a closer look.

„Is there a chance that someone knew?“ I asked, standing at the foot of the table.

„No. He was planted there for a distraction. By the lighter colouring at the edges mostly of right angle fractures I suppose he was tossed there and buried or shall I say reburied long after his original departure. Decades, to be more precise. See, the bone is more brittle and the damage came from handling and inconsiderate burial, as you pointed out earlier. The lack of clothing makes it harder to pinpoint the time period in which he lived yet I’m getting some idea. If you recall our unwelcome guests at the front porch shooting gallery he might be one of them. This area is very much deserted and dragging bodies over half a country seems very unlikely. Our John Doe is probably one of the marauders. Let’s find out which one.“ Oh, God.

„So it is a setting then.“ I concluded the obvious, I’m that smart. „I don’t like where this is going.“ And what it does to me. I moved around the table to a skull. Fractured bones of all sizes were spread out on the table in order to join each other in the correct angle. Cranium was crushed but the entry hole right in the middle of the forehead was recognizable.

„And you’ll find one other in the sternum, there.“ He pointed to the disintegrated rib cage.

„Your gun and my aim.“ He paused and looked at me.

„Is this really the case or are we making things up?“ I didn’t want to believe it for a few more moments. We were ambushed by marauders once. I didn’t see them coming, they were very careful. My fatal mistake gave away Charles’s true nature, that’s when I realized he was very much different from the Charles I knew two years prior to the events. I was that slow in my observations.

The still air in the room was suffocating me suddenly, I had to loosen my black silk cravat and unbutton my shirt collar. I still kept the vest on with my shoulder holster over it. The weight of the revolver gave me some confidence and lessened the fear flooding my guts. We need more data for such a conclusion. Maybe we should excavate the others and see if someone is missing. My head was spinning and I went green at the edges.

„If you need some air or booze, please, feel free. I can finish this by myself and I’ll let you know if I manage to discover something of importance.“

„Thank you.“ I felt embarrassed as I left the room. I beelined for the bar and shouted to Charles if he wanted some too. I didn’t have to yell. I just somewhat forgot about the telepathy thing altogether.

„Yes, bring it on.“ Was his answer. Whiskey gave me a sense of normality in unsure times. I was a little nervous and poured a bit too much. Few drops landed on the top glass covering the furniture so I grabbed the cotton napkin from the cabinet below and wiped it dry. I had to focus to steady my hand before pouring the other drink. I checked the room in the mirror above the bar in the meantime. I did it subconsciously. It’s a good habit of safety precautions.

‚Put it down and step closer.‘ Was the answer to my clumsiness. My heart missed several beats. I just couldn’t unsee the tall stature in a modern black suit standing in the middle of the entry hall, in the rays of sunset, coming through the stained glass of the window next to the entrance door.

‚Cha..‘ rles.. My inner voice just froze.

‚No! Step. Closer.‘ Such simple order. I had to listen to him. His deep voice was..

‚Come, young one.‘ ..was so calming.

‚One step at a time. Come, jeune homme.‘ ..and alluring.

His eyes were as dark as a starry sky on a winter night. His pale handsome face framed with a rich waterfall of shoulder-length dark wavy hair. He locked his eyes with mine, probing my mind. I felt the touch of his cold fingers on my right temple. He got this close to me without any effort.

Oh, no. Wrong.

I approached him at a command.

Panic.

My irises went all green as the mental pressure progressed and surged through my weakened mind.

‚No!‘ A cry. I fought it. I tried and I failed again. My defences were thinning and then disappeared in the void. I felt a warm stream of blood coming from my nostrils. I couldn’t defend myself any more. My sight was losing its sharpness rapidly and I’ll follow my senses soon and then he’ll focus on Charles.

‚There.‘ He withdrew my gun and turned me around. His fingers encircled my neck and my blood flowed freely over them. I couldn’t stop any of it. I was facing the entrance to the laboratorium. Charles stood in the doorway. I sensed his anger and his fear, radiating from his posture. I also felt the hardness of the gun’s muzzle pinned against my heart from behind. I knew what was coming. I become a puppet and a shield. The vampire represented the embodiment of higher powers. His flesh healed but his anger reached the stratosphere. We won’t survive this.

I lost most of my eyesight. The blood kept flowing over my mouth, down to the neck. My shirt was soaking wet with crimson abstraction. A splinter cutting through my mind. I was still aware.

„Not him.“ Charles. My dear friend, please, flee. His voice sounded distant and echoey.

„Yes, him. Where it hurts most, Charles de Romanet, outcast of French noblemen.“ A string of events knocked me down to my knees. I lost control over my limbs.

„Forgive.. me.“ I broke through the mental barrier at last, but my words were drowned in rapid, deafening gunshots. The bullets went through my chest and their energy dragged me down towards Charles. I’ve heard someone screaming in agony and then the final blinding flash surged through my skull, behind my eyes, exploding out of my right temple, followed by silence and soft darkness of painless nothingness. I blacked out.

Charles risked his hide and caught my falling body before it hit the floor. He eased me down gently so my head was in level with my torn heart. He pressed his hands against my chest wounds. The exit hole in my head must have been a macabre picture. The vampire let him do it, why?

„You are young and foolish. I might understand why you did that to me but you couldn’t expect my utter forgiveness. I let you live since we are a rare breed and you share my bloodline. Even your own offspring is going to survive my surgery. You are predators but you are not invincible.“ An ultimate lesson is the answer.

„How is that possible, Adrien d’Aumont?“ Charles‘ voice was shaken, he also risked a little give-away by calling him by name. Vampire stopped and turned back to the room, to my friend with my unconscious carcass under his hands.

„So, you know who I am.“ He tilted his head to the side a bit. Reconsidering. The initial anger didn’t come back to his voice.

„Yes. I had to know. You existed in a very dark era.“ Charles continued, when he realized that the vampire isn’t going to rip him apart in an instant for his audacity.

„Only lack of knowledge makes the era dark. It was as dark as your world.“ He said no more. Maybe confused. He wasn’t here to debate over tea, though. He was here to settle the debts and set the borders. Charles couldn’t expect much, yet he had this last opportunity to speak with his maker.

„I would like to learn more, please, you are the only one.“ Vampire was very private to open up willingly after such a mayhem. He decided to share some of his concerns he discovered, though.

„Stay in the shadows. People know about you. London’s mafia boss knew about you. You are very exposed. Don’t you dare to bring your world’s madness onto me. I have no desire to deal with that.“ That was very reasonable.

„As far as I know you were unwise in the past also. How dare you hurt us like that.“ Oh, stepping on a very thin ice seems like a deep cold death’s void to me, Charles.

„You better check on your boy, medic.“ Vampire decided to ignore Charles’s last remark otherwise there would be two fresh bodies and no one to bury them. To preserve the fragile truce, the vampire turned away and disappeared. Only the entrance door made a squeaking noise. Charles was defeated, but still breathing and able to help me.

I was so weak. A demonstration of what could happen if we decide to perform something stupid like following Adrien to the ends unknown was enough of a stopper. My wounds were knitting themselves up, leaving only blood puddles behind. My sight was clearing itself up and I saw my friend, leaning over me, still in slight shock.

„Charles..“ I touched his white face. His shaken mind landed back on Earth.

„It will get better, trust me.“ I said. Face and upper body completely covered in gore.

„Oh, God. I’ll get you some relief. How’s your head?“ Oh, good. He can talk.

„Better.“

He pushed a small pillow from one of the chairs under my head carefully. I’ll ruin it with my blood-letting but he didn’t care. He brought me a blood can with a rubber tube and a wet towel. I let him clean my face except my oversensitive temples.

„Not yet, please.“ I touched the hand holding the towel.

„Help me with that bottle?“ I asked him. I couldn’t do much by myself at the moment. The „surgery“ was precise. And it kept us in place too.

„Yes, of course.“ He put the end of a rubber tube in my mouth so I could get some nourishment. The effect of fresh blood in my system was almost immediate. I felt better with every sip. It really is something, it’s the ultimate cure. I let it repair the damage within me and enjoyed the horizontal position for once.

Charles stretched his bones next to me, staring at the ceiling.

„How do you feel about Chicago, William?“ A steady emotionless voice.

„Are we running away?“ I turned my head slowly to face him.

„No, not running. I love it here despite the latest events.“ He looked into my eyes.

„I was thinking about a vacation at the lake shore.“ He was serious but not quite.

„Charles, you don’t enjoy doing nothing. And doing nothing in Chicago sounds very unlikely. So what do you want to do up there, tell me.“ I knew him too well.

„Taste the New World perhaps.“ He sighed.

„It sounds dangerous to me, smells of cordite too. And the freezing winds from Lake Michigan howling in the background.“ I went poetic.

„Well, my Private Investigator license is legitimate even within the U.S. of A.“ So is he healed then, seeking more bullets?

„Sounds like the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre to me. We also have our Little Italy, Chinatown. We have Gypsies, Jews and gangs. You would love it in Birmingham too.“ I actually didn’t care much where we were heading. I was OK with London. I just wanted to know how serious he is about switching the shores.

„New York City, perhaps? Big high games? And you already know the place.“

I sipped the last ruby drops. „If it makes you happy.“ Intercepting villains was his form of relaxation after all.

„I need to know you are happy too.“ He confessed.

„I’m also your weakness, don’t forget that part, Private Agent.“ Which can be misused.

„You definitely are. And I cannot do anything about that.“ He said with an infinite calmness.

„I can relate.“ I picked up the towel and cleaned some more blood from my face and my neck. The drying out fluid felt like a cement crust with all its discomfort. I steadied myself on my right elbow, resting my hand on his left forearm. I almost fell over. „Uh.. need little help. I would like to make myself presentable.“ My head was spinning again.

„Don’t get up yet. I’ll bring you more. Just lay down.“ There was no space for arguing. I had to lay back and halt my movements.

There are such moments when I don’t feel really badass, powerful or mesmerizing. It’s a reality and as far as I wish to be truly invincible and indestructible I have to work hard for every little piece of such power.

In the end I needed two more cans to put myself together and he patiently waited till I did so. He got me up to my heels. I held onto a door frame and he opened the bathroom for me.

„I’ll be back in a week or two.“ I announced and went inside. ‚Or rather in a month or six.‘

„No worries. I have to reclaim my poor house and make something disappear.“

We parted our ways for the time being. I made myself a presentable gentleman and Charles reburied the skeleton in the woods. I never knew where exactly and I was OK with that. When he also emerged from the bathroom later I handed him a drink. Logs in the fireplace were burning with a soft crackling sound.

„This is to us and for better days ahead.“ I raised a toast and got a sincere smile in return.

„Indeed, to us.“

This might be the most peaceful evening in a while.