She looked like an apparition in the moonlight, her skin pale, her hair black as deep space. I watched as she put a toe in the water and slowly walked out in the shallows until the water reached her waist, then slipped into it, smoothly as a kelpie. Slim figured with the broad shoulders depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings, she swam effortlessly. Transfixed, I noticed the roll of her shoulders and her supple Piscean fingers, the ones artists love to paint, and wanted her to turn toward shore, that I might see her face. Patiently I waited as she moved through the water, barely disturbing it, her strokes long and graceful.
At last, she rolled over on her back and floated like a child, her breath silver in the air tinged with crimson. She flipped about, and slipped deeper into the water, vanishing for a moment, before emerging, her long arms parting the surface in breast strokes until she was in the shallows again and could put her feet down. She stood and tossed a thick mane of wet hair, droplets sparkling in the moonlight upon the face of an Egyptian dancer, with delicate features and large almond eyes. A wave of happiness rolled over me. She was like me.
Undead. A vampire.
Thus began our crimson nights and silver days. I knew her as Bas and she knew me as Jess, for we had long ago shed the names we had at our making, Nephthys and Christine. That magical night she took me to a small ruin on the other side of the island, one avoided by the locals of Isla Mujeres. They considered it taboo, the abode of Star People, and would not go near it. It was a pyramid much smaller than Tulum and in the safety of the inner chamber we took refuge from the rising sun and bedded down together.
“I was made before Alexandria existed,” she said, sleepily. “Tell me,” I urged.
“It is best to go slowly,” she began, “or the years will overwhelm us. It was long before the mutilations of girls began, the brutal wounds used to break women’s spirits. My body was beautiful and whole, and I chose to use it to serve the Goddess Isis at Abydos, near the tomb of Osiris, the God of Resurrection. I practiced the Law of Maat, that all healing is a healing of the heart, and my parents bid me farewell with gladness and blessings. I took only my sacred name, that of the sister of Isis, Nephthys.
“A priestess, I was given the role of Dream Tender. One evening as I tended an injured charioteer, the force of his dreams overtook me – there must have been a rip in my prayers – and I was tossed under the wheels of his chariot and mangled in the sand. As I lay dying, the charioteer’s archer leaned over me and said, ‘It is not your time.’ I felt a sharp pain, as if he
had unloosed an arrow, but it was his teeth penetrating my throat, his mouth sucking, consuming my blood. I arose, intact, from the bloody sand that had already erased much that occurred, to face my maker.
“Having delivered my destiny, the archer’s grip eased and I found myself standing at the bedside of the wilted charioteer. All of the blood had been drained from his body. Horrified, I fled.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Much of it you know, having been made yourself,” she replied, giving me a small kiss on the lips, delicate, like a dragonfly undecided about whether or not to land on a lotus. “I fled Ra’s wrath and began my entreaties to the Goddess Nephthys, she who understands death.
With magical prayers I sought the aid of her son, Anubis, he who protects tombs.” “Were they able to grant safety?”
“Yes, it was Maat who saved me, for she saw my heart was good. My appetites were changed, but my heart was light and rosy.”
“We are often misperceived,” I acknowledged. “The deaths we cause are tiny compared to those of wars and pestilence.”
“I’ve used both on occasion,” she conceded. “I was there when the locusts came. I was there on the battlefields at Abydos, and watched the healers pass over empty crusts I left behind. But you must be wondering how I ended up in at Isla Mujeres.” She got up, placed a chunk of copal in a burner resting on an altar, withdrew a zippo lighter from her gown, and ignited it. I laughed.
“You laugh but we, of course, adapt,” she beamed over at me. “Adapt or shrivel. But let me tell you why I left Egypt. I’ll keep it short, for I long to hear of your beginnings.” She rejoined me in our bed made of spongy moss and shawls, and pulled up the thick blanket to fend off the chill of the night.
“I embraced immortality,” she resumed, “Egypt was devoted to it, but I had to conceal my habits and consider the sun. There were few overcast days in the lands embracing the Nile, but by working in temples I managed. Supplicants demanded privacy and if they disappeared, families assumed they’d answered a higher calling.
“Things changed during the time of Cleopatra. Egypt was already weakened by foreigners and when Cleopatra gave birth to Caesar’s child, the people were not pleased. To them, he was far short of divinity.
“As Cleopatra’s maidservant, I shaved her head and rubbed it with precious oils each day.
I kept her wig clean and braided it with gold and turquoise. I enhanced her eyes with kohl,
lapis lazuli and malachite. She was beautiful unadorned, but these small touches made her irresistible. It was said even the torch in the lighthouse turned to watch her pass.
“Egypt was blessed with the riches of Nubia and other lands and we also had the viper. I’d used the viper for a long time – two holes suited my need. My Queen turned to me in her time of trouble and I agreed to bring the asp to her in her tomb. She was relieved. She knew the cruel Romans would fail Maat’s test.
Expected to accompany her in death, I found a young servant girl as a replacement. Thus, I assisted Cleopatra and sated by her blood, fled Egypt to the barbarian lands. For centuries, I witnessed their depravity, then escaped on a ship departing for the New World.
She stretched. “But what of you? How were you made?” “That tale, my lovely, must wait for the morrow.”
We laughed, knowing our morrows would be spent in sweet dreams. It was the crimson nights that would mark our waking hours.
Dusk came and the moon sailed silently across a sky filled with stars. We left Isla Mujeres and headed for Cozumel, an island further south, just off the Yucatan peninsula.
“Be wary of the old women,” she shouted, as we took to the air and sailed along the Caribbean shore. “They have powers. Like us, they conceal them from the tourists, passing as simple grandmothers, but they know our kind and do not welcome our presence.”
“How do you evade them?” “Pretending to be drunk works best.”
We alighted and crept toward the sound of a mariachi band spilling out of the jungle. A party was underway and tourists from a cruise ship were happy to be onshore for the night. The partyers had already explored the town and were enjoying refreshments and dancing on the hotel patio. It was the perfect setting.
Soon, a man slipped off into the jungle to take a piss, too lazy to use the hotel’s facilities.
Bas was upon him first, grabbing his hand as it shook the last drop free, and silencing him with a quick bite to the Adam’s apple. He groaned and toppled and I joined her in the feast, the warm blood tinged with tequila, the trace of a worm tingling upon my tongue. We took turns drinking, using two puncture holes. Bas came up for air and traced my lips with her bloody finger.
I nudged the body. “About 190 pounds?.”
“At first. He’s 15 pounds lighter now,” Bas chuckled.
Lifting him, we bounced along the ground as if it were a trampoline. In minutes we stood on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean. We kissed, and I was swept up in the scent of ocean breezes fluttering her hair, moonlight rippling off waves, and the thrashing of sharks tearing a body.
The small hotel by the water’s edge was perfect, the drapes more than adequate in our suite overlooking the sea on one side and an interior courtyard partly shaded by a yellowed skylight on the other. We cuddled in bed. “People have so many false ideas about vampires,” Bas mused, slipping away from my arms and heading toward the kitchen. “Hot cocoa?” she asked, not waiting for an answer.
“Like what?” I shouted over the sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing. “Not knowing we eat ordinary food, for one.”
“Just the food?”
She placed our mugs on the bedside table, and crawled in beside me. “Take the myth of a stake driven through the heart. Or the rubbish of being held at bay by a cross.
“Don’t forget garlic,” I added. “The last time that happened, it ended up in my soup. But the one that makes me laugh the most is the idea that sunlight fries us. A vampire probably created that so he could walk about in the daytime undisturbed.”
Thoughtfully, she took a small sip before resuming. “If they knew our true weaknesses,” she ventured, “that ordinary food fails to sustain us, for example, they would find a way to deny us blood. If they knew that we tolerate the sun, but it turns everything silver, affecting our depth perception, they would hunt us during the day. So the myths grant us a measure of freedom. No one suspects us at the lunch table or hunts us in the daylight hours.” Bas jumped up and peeked out the seaside window.
“What are you looking for?”
“Sirius. He’s all I have left of Anubis.” “Why does Anubis matter?”
“Anubis is special.” A dreamy look came over her. “He moves much as a scorpion does, by starlight. He comes for us when we’re ready for the next journey. I had to leave him in Egypt — there’s no counterpart in the New World. There’s Coyote, the trickster, but he’s more of a foil than an Opener of the Way.” She rejoined me and asked how I was made.
I hesitated. “It’s so humdrum compared to yours.”
“Nonsense.” She fluffed the pillows, and propped herself expectantly against the headboard. “Stop stalling. I want to hear everything.”
“It was wealth that made my family a target. We had an estate at Guzow, outside Warsaw. As Polish nobility, my life was one of opulence — I knew nothing of want. My father collected rare gems, mostly from South Africa. Topaz. Diamonds. Sapphires. He especially prized amber from the Baltic Sea and jet from the ancient forests, but this love was nothing compared to his love of music. An amateur violinists, he held music salons in our home. I remember the night Grazyna Bacewicz came. She’d not yet gained renown, but was brilliant even then. My father approached Bacewicz about giving me lessons and she agreed. It was a sideline for her, nothing more, but I digress with these details of my upbringing. Bacewicz made me into a violinist, not a vampire.
“When the Nazis invaded Poland, my father instructed our maid to sew jewels in my hems. He knew they would be coming and schooled me in the art of escape.
The Gestapo came for us in the early morning hours. From my hideaway, I heard blows and father pleading for my mother to be spared. Terrified, I remained hidden for days before I summoned the courage to run to a neighbor, who took me to my Uncle Jozef in Warsaw. I was seventeen. That was the end of my innocence.
“In Poland, the underground was never completely asleep. Uncle Jozef stayed behind with my aunt, whose infirmity ruled out travel, and I joined a small contingent of refuges. We made our way through the dense forests to Krakow, then on to Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. This difficult route was chosen because the mountain passes were not yet guarded. We slept in smuggler’s caves, and it was in one of those, I was made.
“I’d bedded down when a man slipped beside me. Before I could make a sound, he pierced my neck and sucked swiftly. No one noticed, or if they had, mistook us for lovers. Stunned, I could neither scream nor fight. He ceased and, pleased with his creation, cradled me. I was forever changed. He gave his name, Andrzej, but said I could call him Wal-sie. At first, I thought he was joking – that’s polish for ‘screw you’ or ‘suck it’ — but he assured me Wal-sie was his chosen vampire name. From then on he protected me, helping me over the mountains and teaching me about what it meant to be a vampire.
“Wal-sie and I fed on members of our party. Other refugees assumed the fallen had succumbed to the harsh conditions of the mountain.
At Slovakia, it was clear we could not stay, so we journeyed to Croatia and took a fishing vessel to Malta. From there, we made our way to Lisbon and took a berth on one of the passenger ships headed for New York.
“On the open ocean, we posed as man and wife. We were confined to steerage in the lower deck, but decks cannot confine a vampire. We tossed bodies overboard with impunity, our activity masked by noisy engines churning the waters.
“The ship docked in New York and Wal-sie chose to remain there, while I boarded a train south, robbing or selling a gem whenever I needed money. I purchased a small bungalow in Savannah. Savannah was ideal. Tourists came and went, and no questions were asked.”
Sunlight spilled through the bottom of the shade and Bas got up and sealed it with a towel. “So, I am older than you,” she said.
I laughed. “By a lot! But tell me, how did you end up in Isla Mujeres?”
She languidly arched her back. “Oh. A lot of us are at Isla. We hop over to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel. And there are always the ruins. All beautiful. No one asks questions if someone stumbles into a sacred cenote. Bas yawned and rubbed her eyes. “I’m tickled you were Polish nobility, made in a smuggler’s cave. Time to sleep, my little pirate.
We’ll do something special when crimson comes.”
Wakening, I rolled over to gaze upon a face with the sweet innocence of a child. It comforted me to see her sleeping there. I watched as the twilight slowly became bathed in crimson, a light that smudged boundaries and expanded my senses. I listened in wonder to distant hearts drumming, lungs gently bellowing, and tiny creatures joyfully flittering through air and sea. Everything was aging about me, deteriorating in a time-honored cycle, while I remained untouched by death’s approach.
Another crimson was here, one in which blood would nourish me and I would enter the bliss of oneness. It was a state I longed for each time it passed. Bas understood this craving, was also compelled to fulfill it.
Bas’ eyes fluttered open and embarrassed, I looked away. I rubbed my eyes, pretending I’d just awakened.
“Weren’t you thrilled when your vision changed?” she asked, plucking my thoughts before they could vanish.
“Hunting would be difficult without the world crimson brings. I miss sunlight but I’m happy to have the day, even though it comes dipped in silver.”
“Sunlight,” Bas groaned, “In Egypt I could not escape Sekhmet’s fiery breath. Silver is restful.” She grabbed my hand. “I have a great idea! Let’s go to Chichen. I want to show you my Chichen Itza!”
It was a special night to be arriving at the ruins on the Yucatan peninsula. The serpent had just descended into the earth along the steps of the great pyramid and a crowd of spectators murmured delightedly. A small lizard darted away as I knelt behind the rack of skulls, neatly piled, as predictable as bricks in a storefront.
A man stumbled onto the ball park alone. Disoriented, he twirled about and we instantly surrounded him. Bas took the first deep draught from his throbbing neck and I took the second. We passed him back and forth, dripping blood, his limp body unresponsive. Licking the blood off her lips, Bas looked up, her eyes afire. She glanced around and, reassured the crowd had left, began biting his head off, shaking the body loose like a terrier. Horrified, I watched as she crunched through the neck bones and tossed the body aside. She scooped the eyes out with her strong nails and swallowed them in two gulps. She peeled off the skin and licked the skull clean.
“You’ve not tried this before?” she asked, mischievously. I shook my head, unable to find my voice.
“Well, you must. You’re not a vampire until you’ve dined on skull.”
Placing the skull on top the grim wall, she acted as if it were a finial that had toppled from the post of a bannister. “A little treat for the groundskeeper,” she added, patting it and grinning at me. Its whiteness burned into my eyes burdened with too much seeing.
“Help me take him to the cenote.”
Fazed, I took his shoulders and she his feet and we hopscotched along earth and air to the sacred spring. I peered over the edge of a seemingly bottomless hole. The crimson made it even blacker, the walls alive with tiny creatures, wiggling in the glimmering moonlight that penetrated the jungle vegetation. It looked like a portal and I understood why it was sacred. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“The spirits are long gone. Can’t you feel the deadness?”
I didn’t want to open up to energies but did so despite my efforts. Nothingness. “Yes,” I said, as we released the body and watched the blackness gobble it up.
We returned to Cozumel and the little hotel by the water’s edge. I tossed and turned in dreams, skulls coming toward me, menacing, their jaws slack, their eye sockets as cavernous as the cenote. The look in Bas’ eyes haunted me. Who was she, this woman who commanded my heart? Half-asleep, I rolled over and reached for her.
In the silver sheen of daylight, she reminded me of the goddesses of the screen. During my early days in America, I hunted in cinema palaces, silently feeding as theatergoers sat transfixed by the images before them. There, beautiful faces loomed, large and luminous, but
it was not all beauty. Newsreels brought horrifying images, dreamlike in the moon-glow of the pre-Technicolor age. It was a relief to have other images in silver, ones dominated by Bas. Bas making coffee. Bas smiling at me. Bas looking over her shoulder. Bas slumbering. I especially loved watching her sleep.
Bas stirred. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I thought you’d love the ruins.” “I did. But that bit with the skull upset me.”
“Don’t be silly. I was just having a little fun.” “Fun? You desecrated a body.”
Bas roared with laughter. “Don’t you think sucking the blood out of one is desecration?” “That’s different. We may be vampires but we don’t have to lose our humanity.”
“You romanticize humans.”
“You went too far.” There was a long pause before Bas responded.
“Sorry if I offended your delicate sensibilities but I’ve been a vampire longer than you. You’re in babyhood. Characteristics of humanity weaken over time. You have to live among humans to retain it in its fullness, not just feed on them. Flaying the skull was crumpling a beer can to me. It was fun. For a moment, I was Sekhmet.”
“She’s scary. Why be her?”
A smile spread across her face, slow as the rising tide. “She’s an avenger but she’s more than that. She’s a helper, loosening the skin of those about to meet death. Sekhmet is there when you hunt. You sense her, do you not? She can be very quiet or very noisy. She does not always finish her meal. In that way, she shares with others. To her, humanity is another life vessel, with troublesome habits.”
Bas placed a piece of el cocotazo in my mouth. “Finish your breakfast. I know a place you might enjoy. We’ll go there this crimson. It’s time to meet the cousin of Sobek, the crocodile. My surprise.”
The balmy air of Wakulla Springs greeted us. The scent of water snuggled among the mixed breath of flowers, moss, cypress and pine. The air hummed with insect songs and I watched a darter trace the glyph for feather on the water’s surface. An Anhinga, roused from sleep, glided by and vanished beneath the inky surface. We crouched by the windows of the dining room and zeroed in on a student alone, making notes at a corner table, his backpack claiming the seat beside him. Bas tugged at my sleeve. We slipped inside and requested a table near the lone dinner.
During his meal he did not lift his eyes from his book. Finally, he rose and quietly gathered his things. Unnoticed, we trailed him down the long corridor flanked by doors. He glanced back as he turned the lock, and Bas fell upon him, dragging him semiconscious into the room. Powerless against her strength, he loosed his grip on the book and it thudded to the floor. Proust.
Bas eyed it and said, “Good taste my little tea cup.”
She drank her fill and invited me to take the last dregs. He was so young, I vacillated, but need overcame me and I took the lean body in my arms and rocked it as I drank his sweet, rich blood. Any concerns about right and wrong vanished in one sip. Just one.
“Wake up sweetheart,” Bas said. “Time to remove all traces.”
Drowsily, I retrieved his things and Bas flew out the window to dispose of them. She reappeared shortly and said, “Come. We’ll share with the alligators.”
An onlooker gazing into the night sky would mistake the dark silhouette for a pterodactyl breaking through time, the body swaying slightly in the winds, legs extended. Circling the water in lazy loops, we searched until Bas spied a form lurking in the undergrowth. A quick dive, release, and splash, and the thick grasses parted. An alligator slithered into the water.
“Our offering is accepted,” Bas said.
Later, Bas brought me coffee in bed. “Are you still upset?”
“I can’t get the wall of skulls out of my mind,” I answered. “Last night, Mayan priests came to me. I tried to awaken but was held fast by old women. We violated sacred law. And you, a healer!”
She took a sip of coffee. “Croissant?” she asked breaking off a piece from a plate on the bedside and holding it out for me. “Surely you know healers understand death,” she continued, licking butter from her fingers. “The soul moves on. That skull was but an empty eggshell.”
“It gave me the creeps.”
“Horus rips apart dead meat without apology.” “We are losing our humanity.”
“We already have. We are hybrid, my dear, both human and vampire. Your maker must have explained that – what’s his name, ‘Suck You’? A jokester. Cease this craziness for it makes us careless. You’ve spent too much time around ruins, the power houses of the dead. This crimson, we’ll delve into the superficial playgrounds of those we crave. When you’ve been a vampire as long as I, you will learn to be like a child and play with your food.
The strong rays of the sun bounced off the ocean in a crazy lattice pattern when we arrived at Tybee. Bas kept a small cottage in back of the condos that lined the beachfront. There, we donned floppy hats, scarves and sunglasses, before heading out to a beachfront café. Over a lunch of shrimp, salad, and Chardonnay, I asked Bas to tell me more about her life as a vampire.
She stroked my hand. “Much of it is dreary. Avoiding the burning sun of the Levant.
Escaping the slavers. Fleeing hysterical villagers. Enduring the filth of cities, the sewers of rivers. Feeding on battle grounds. Weaving my way through the horrible stench of plagues and walled cities breached and razed. Dreary. Too, too dreary. And much of it alone.”
“You did not meet others of your kind?”
“Dearest, there’s no safety in numbers. I didn’t learn how to enjoy myself until I came to the New World. The vampire tales the puritans brought became superstitions in the New World and I enjoyed greater freedom. I traveled the rivers for awhile, preying upon voyagers and working the riverboats that plied the Mississippi. That brought me to the south.”
“It sounds like a great adventure.”
Scowling, she reached for a black olive. “It looks more adventurous when you’re not living it. The hazards were of certain types. Shamans and medicine women were dangerous. Preachers looking for a way to rouse their congregations were quick to find the devil when it suited them. And then there were the outsiders, the hermits who sensed my nature, the wild men of the mountains who believed their eyes, women with second-sight, and the lunatics who always have more truth than is wanted. Then, I feared mystics and visionaries, now it is the feds.”
“They’re capturing us. Haven’t you noticed? Hungry to unlock the secrets of immortality, they think we hold the answers. They’ve always been interested in that. Immortality and the secret to tolerating aloneness.” Her gaze softened. “I was lonely, weary of being a vampire, and then I found you.”
“I found you.”
“There you are mistaken. I saw you first and did a little dance in the water. An old trick – older than Salome – she took it from Egypt.” Bas pushed her chair away from the table. “Enough reverie. I must be gone for a few hours, but I’ll return before crimson. Will you wait for me before you hunt?”
I nodded, suppressing my fear that she would not come back.
Reading me, she quickly responded. “If I wanted to disappear, I wouldn’t announce it.”
Twilight was hanging on, loath to surrender, when Bas arrived with a large case under her arm. “This is for you,” she said, placing it in my lap. I opened it carefully. Thrilled, I jumped up with a beautifully crafted violin.
“How did you get it?”
“You must learn to ask fewer questions. It was not difficult. But for now, put that aside.
It’s time to hunt, while the crimson is young.”
It was hard to leave the violin, I longed to hear it with my vampire ears, but Bas was ravenous. We flew to Savannah and changed clothes at my place. We were some pair! Bas delighted in a Nehru jacket and I tossed on a scarlet blouse and turquoise blazer. She wore jeans and sandals and I chose cargo pants and red puma tennis shoes.
At Delilah’s Café, Bas leaned across the table and said, “You will be the first to attack tonight. Are you avoiding killing?”
“No. I was being polite by letting you have the first drop.” “How did you kill before we met?”
“I took them during slumber or in movie theaters.”
“How genteel,” she whispered, a smile playing on her lips, and I couldn’t tell if she was being appreciative or making fun of me. “You need to be Horus rather than Nekhbet.” Seeing my confusion, she added, “Nekhbet, The Vulture Goddess. And that reluctance about the boy at Wakulla. Vampires can’t hesitate.”
Uncomfortable, I looked away. A woman was staring back from across the street. Too blond to be born that way, she leaned against the brick wall in a cocky stance. She waved to get my attention, and gestured for us to come over. We casually strolled across the street.
“What are girls like you doing in a place like this?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Bas countered. We introduced ourselves, pretending to be tourists, and learned she was Betsy, a Savannah native.
“How about going somewhere where we can have a few drinks and get to know each other?”
“Just what I was thinking,” Bas responded flirtatiously.
Betsy guided us to a small yellow storefront and rapped on the door. A peephole slid open and a voice asked, “Who sent you?”
“Lavender Jane,” Betsy responded, and the door swung open, releasing a blast of Patsy Cline singing “Crazy.” Betsy hummed along happily as a waitress escorted us to a table on the
rim of a tiny dance floor. We had a few drinks and Betsy suggested the party move to her place. “It’s a few blocks,” she slurred.
A myna squawked, “Give me a kiss,” and followed up with the splash and gurgle of a flushing toilet, when we entered her darkened apartment. “Pay Birdy no mind,” Betsy said, flipping on the light. “She don’t get out much.” Betsy eased around chunky furniture in an over-crowded living room decorated with a deep-pile burgundy carpet, frilly see-through curtains, and hanging begonias. She disappeared into the kitchen and moments later reentered with drinks, salsa and chips. We settled on the couch and Betsy entertained us with stories of the hidden Savannah. She was a good storyteller, her gravely voice making everything more interesting than it was. Seamlessly, she proposed we take things to her bedroom, a space dominated by a huge four-poster.
“No need for formality,” she said, stumbling toward me and unbuttoning my blouse.
Naked, the three of us slipped under a light sheet with Betsy in the middle. Betsy looked up, eagerly, as I pinned her hands to her sides. “Oh! Prison inmates,” she said, a slight warble in her voice. She turned toward Bas for a kiss and I buried myself in her throat, the blood gushing in a wide arch, splattering the curtain and cameo pink linen. Bas fed at her wrist and I held her body as it collapsed, taking in the warm sticky blood, tainted with whisky. Fearful of becoming inebriated, I withdrew and Bas finished her off.
“You see,” Bas said, groggily. “I can exercise restraint.” “We can’t fall asleep,” I cautioned.
“Of course.” She will be our gift to the sea. When the crabs are done with her, she’ll be unrecognizable.”
“What about dental records?”
“No need. The police will call it suicide.”
Back home, I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts squirmed with crabs waving pinchers as they came for me. Over breakfast, I brought it up. “Your delight in gore sickens me. Did you have to mention feeding that harmless woman have to the crabs?”
“You want a proper burial? Again, you confuse the empty wrapper with something that matters. That ‘harmless woman’ is gone. Unlike us, she dies and moves on.”
“It’s heartless to discard her like trash …”
“We need not revere potato peelings,” she interrupted. “No golden barque awaits her. No Anubis comes to guide her way.”
“Weren’t mummies emptied skins?”
“Symbolic. Commoners need to see the dead divinity encased in gold. The voices of the winds at Abydos, the whispers of the dead pharaohs, travel better wrapped in gold.”
“Still, it sickens me, this life of killing to live forever. That poor woman.”
“Darling, the blood that grants eternal life is a dubious reward. Betsy is freed of her mortal coil, while you and I are stuck in the bardo of immortality. Which of us is truly poor?”
“No matter. I’d feel better if we fed on the dregs of humanity. Predators. Batterers.
“We are not avenging angels,” she sighed.
Having decided our next prey would be someone contemptible, we flew to Chicago in search of pimps and explored Little Saigon, where prostitutes cruised during the wee hours. We strolled hand in hand, Bas dressed in fishnet hose and a leather jacket she’d taken from a former meal, and I dressed in a white pheasant’s blouse and jeans I’d picked up in a consignment shop. I questioned a clutch of hookers on a corner and they pointed us down a side street.
Within minutes, footsteps closed in and a crazed man reached out for me, almost bumping me over. Bas stunned him with a jab to the jugular and dragged him, confused, into the alleyway. She sank her teeth beneath his left ear and crouched over him, drinking hurriedly.
Sated, she moved aside so I could feed.
“I know that was not our plan,” she said, a drop of blood clinging to her lower lip, “but I was hungry.” She bent over and disfigured the puncture wounds, making them into slashes. “The loss of blood is telltale but in this ignorant age, the police will think it a vampire imitator.” Concerned, she looked at me. “You must be disappointed. Shall we find a wife- beater?”
“Next time,” I answered.
We were in the air in a blink, gliding above the rooftops. At Tybee, exhausted, we tumbled into bed. Bas fell asleep immediately. My eyes meandered, taking delight in a slight pink dancing along her cheekbone, a hint of turquoise trying to be born upon her lips, a glint of silver-gold in her closed eyelids, and hair the purplish black of raven’s wings. I inhaled her scent that changed after feeding into a faint mix of nutmeg and vanilla.
The following afternoon, we lay in bed, languidly discussing our plans. “Hunting a batterer is like being vampires of the Last Judgment,” I said, pleased with my analogy.
Bursting into derisive laughter she jumped out of bed. “What do you know of such topics?
You who are so new to this life? At Abydos we understood Maat’s power, accepted our inability to grasp Divine Mystery. We cannot usurp her.” Agitated, she paced about the room, “You with your childish ethics, charge toward Maat waving a plastic feather as if it had power.”
“Come back to bed,” I pleaded. “You know that’s not what I meant. I’m ignorant. I fear our hearts are becoming heavy with wrongdoing.”
“Who are you to know the living truth? You are a vampire and don’t want to be. One moment you choose preying upon the repugnant, and then even that does not satisfy your baby-like morality. Soon, there will be no one left to satisfy your hunger. But no more talk of judgment. Let us renew our choice to seek those who abuse the weak and see it for what it is: a way to placate your conscience.”
That night we went back to Chicago in search of a wife-batterer. I hoped we would not be sidetracked as we had been with the man looking for sex. We booked a room at a small hotel on the north side near a movie theater. Sounds of guests coming and going drifted in from the hallway and I realized the hotel served strangers seeking anonymous encounters. It amused me. Our last kill had been a man seeking sex. Hotel guests were seeking sex. And we sought a batterer. Everybody was seeking something.
It was cloudy when we left the hotel and took to the air. Over a side street, I picked up thuds and a voice shouting, “Don’t you turn away!” Another dull thump followed. I descended to the window ledge and peered through a dusty pane. A woman cowered in a corner, a man straddling her, punching. I crashed through the window and seized him from behind, biting his neck above the collar bone. I fed, hovering near the ceiling, and dangled him like a rag doll. Bas joined me and we shared. The woman stared through tears, her bloody mouth agape.
“She must not be blamed,” I mumbled, once I could take a breath.
Bas understood immediately. Carrying the body, we flew across back yards, barely off the ground, undulating like warblers over fences and patio umbrellas. At the lakefront, Bas chewed off his fingers to hamper identification and we scraped him across the rocks to grate off most of his skin. “It’s times like these I miss the crocodile,” Bas said, fighting sleep.
Satisfied, we watched the corpse slip beneath the gentle waves.
Later that night, lying beside her, I realized I was happy. Happy with Bas, with her wild thirsts, her ungovernable passions. I had resisted being a vampire, but it was only as vampires we’d been able to cross the bridge of time and be together. Contented, I drifted off.
In dreams Anubis came, a handsome beast, black as her hair, and waited for me. A new thirst compelled me to follow wherever he led. The moon touched desert sands of rich gold, the air pulsing with a strange light. Anubis paused and wrapped me like a mummy in bands of starlight that sparkled and thrummed. In this way, loved and protected, I traveled through space and time and came to rest at the rim of a lustrous black hole, the pupil of Eternity.
Peering inside, I found myself swimming there. Happy. At peace. Buoyed by a good heart. My choice was clear. I was undead, condemned to feed on human blood, but I could choose how to be. I would model my myself after the dolphin, and be guided in all things by its nature.
I awakened excited, and roused Bas. Relating my dream, I added, “I want to be with you. We’re different but you helped me understand that judgment is Maat’s realm. Maat weighs my heart. I choose to follow the heart of the dolphin and take on a new name, Delphinus.”
“You awakened me for that!” she blurted out, exasperated. “Eternity is long.” She reached over and caressed my cheek tenderly. “Yes, my curious one, my reluctant bloodsucker. As you wish. I will call you Del, and you may call be Bas.”
As many teens, Sharon Cogbill started out writing poetry. She wrote fiction and struggled to find her voice, writing guidelines for a tarot she created. But it was writing a seven-volume fantasy series (“The Tara Sagas”) that freed her of the fears that blocked progress. A memoir soon followed, and since then, she’s been writing short stories, working on a novel, and developing her craft. Livelihood has been convoluted. Visual art was her first calling. From teaching art, she jumped to other fields. For more than a decade, she worked as a technical editor at a research center, then landed a job with a travel magazine. Promoted to managing editor, she reinvented herself after economic downturns. For a time, she free-lanced, then entered the stability of the corporate world (accounting and banking). These experiences continue to feed her imagination and she draws upon them freely.