Blackrandl1958 invited a number of authors to participate in an event where we each wrote a story influenced by gothic horror. This is one of my two contributions. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of the stories by other writers and they’re fantastic. I strongly encourage you to check out the “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” story universe and read to your hearts content.
The stories aren’t interconnected. The only commonality is the influence.
I’ll stay with you darling now,
I’ll stay with you till my seas are dried up
Words by Pete Brown and music by Cream
Newark, New Jersey
He didn’t need the light to see, which allowed him to linger in the shadows. In spite of his monstrous strength, he felt hollow and weak. It had been more than a fortnight since he’d fed. The alley was a block from the nightclub and drunken stragglers stumbled past with regularity. Too anemic to hunt, he allowed his prey to come to him.
There was no choice. It was consume or perish but feeding was fraught with danger. The hunters were being stalked by an enemy older than even the strongest among them. Fear ran rampant through his kind and it was a unique sensation. As apex predators, they didn’t know how to cope with fear as humans did. Their stalker’s mere presence upset everything in their existence. Protocols, hierarchies, and alliances were all frayed.
One. He just needed to snatch one and slake his thirst. Going back into hiding after feeding, he could wait out this storm. Maybe he could even grab two. Feast now and keep the other alive for later. Patience. Wait for two. Ignore the hunger ravaging his body and mind. There! Fools. Like docile prey, they come so sure of their safety. Weaving, laughing, fumbling in pockets for keys, clumsily groping each other.
As they grew close to the alley, he became discorporate and slowly rolled forward, like an English fog masking a murderer stalking prostitutes. Sensing their approach, he longed for the satiation he would soon enjoy. Awareness of a glittering, silvery chain slicing through the air and his being filled with fear before the pain began.
He had little to compare it to but imagined it was what humans felt when electrocuted. Forced back to a corporeal form, he was flung into the brick of the alley wall. Able to see again, he saw the short squat man catch the end of the silvery chain he was swinging, ball it up and put it in a pocket.
The man spoke with that odd unaccented speech newscasters used. “Hello, Jacoby. I’m afraid that this is going to be your last night.”
“You!” The man was physically unimposing, but there was a hideous radiance that the vampire almost couldn’t bear to look at. It wasn’t the man himself, but he was touched somehow, and that essence emanated from him and fragmented the vampires very being. There was a sweet aroma to him that turned the creature’s stomach, leaving him weak and unsteady.
“Yes, me. We’re going to talk, Jacoby, and you’re going to answer questions. Questions about Fred German, also known as Gustav Oberlein, also known as Dr. John Dee, also known as Mansur Al-Hallaj, also known as Simon Magus. It’s time to find out just how immortal the immortal man is.”
December 17, 1925
Hannah Templeton knocked three times, paused, knocked twice, paused and knocked again three times. A small, metal sliding window slid open in the door and a man peered out. “Hannah!” The sound of sliding locks being opened preceded the door opening and the tuxedoed man pulled her into a hug.
A huge man with a broad face, he seemed to have the familiarity of a big brother. “Where’s Laz? Your husband joining you?”
Strains of Armstrong’s “West End Blues” wafted over them along with the cigar smoke from the dinner club. She still felt a thrill at his words. Her husband. They had been married five years now and the people at the club still weren’t sure what to make of him. He wasn’t a Negro, but he was with Hannah, so he was accepted.
She had been married before. Charlie had worked for Laz before the Great War. He thought President Wilson a coward and left her and their daughter to travel to France and join in the fight. Laz sent her money while Charlie was in Europe, still paying his salary in spite of his fighting the Germans instead of working for his employer.
Their love was deep and true and survived their separation, but Charlie returned a changed man. His lungs had been ruined while in the trenches of that brutish war, low hanging gases destroying men that bullets couldn’t reach. He never went back to work for Laz, but the money kept coming.
Hannah sang in the club while Charlie fought with other men of color against an evil regime. His courage and dedication to the ideals of equality espoused by the French ultimately cost him his life. After Charlie passed, Laz stopped by more frequently, looking after her and Sally. He had taken responsibility for his friend and employee’s wife and daughter. Loyalty, friendship and responsibility were cornerstones of who Laz was.
Their relationship grew slowly but surely. In spite of their differences, she never doubted his love. Laz always seemed to have a larger perspective, as if skin color and national borders were small, trivial concerns. There was something large, pure and decent in his compact body. He was a truly good and uncomplicated man, and that was a rarity.
Hannah was his wife and he treated Sally as his daughter. She knew how lucky they were. Hannah would have accepted his proposal even if the love wasn’t there, but it was. She thought she’d never love a man again after losing Charlie, but her heart knew different. Her love for Laz wasn’t the same as for her first husband, but it was just as deep and just as strong.
Mrs. Stacco was watching Sally, allowing her to spend the evening with her husband amongst friends, listening to wonderful music, eating great food and maybe indulging in some alcohol.
She sat at a secluded table for two and enjoyed a gimlet while waiting for her husband. A large candle sat in a bowl and a glass with ouzo awaited Laz. As time ticked by, she checked her Minerva Chronograph. It was a gift from Laz to Charlie before he left and was now a constant reminder of her first love. A man’s watch, it was elegant enough to be worn by a woman.
The club was lightly attended this evening and was losing rather than gaining customers as time ticked by. She felt poorly for the band and the singer. They were practically playing to an empty house.
As Hannah checked her watch again a thin man with delicate features approached her table. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Templeton, I’m afraid he won’t be joining you this evening.” He wore an eggshell-white floor-length overcoat over a tasteful blue suit.
“May I join you?” he asked as he sat. There was something magnetic about him and Hannah had barely noticed the large man who accompanied him until he handed the seated man an orange with his white gloved hand.
Taking the orange, the seated man inserted an elongated thumbnail into the rind and started peeling. His movements were precise and measured, removing the peel in long strips. “My name is Gustav Oberlein, Mrs. Templeton. I realize that I’m a poor substitute, but maybe I could offer you the companionship that your husband can not for,” he checked a pocketwatch, “the next few hours at least.”
“How do you know us? Where is Laz?”
“He is doing what he does best. Right now, he is in New Jersey, dealing with some overly ambitious members of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Leaving you alone, prioritizing his mission over his family. As always.”
Her hands were shaking slightly as she sipped at her gimlet. Using the action as an excuse to look away, she realized that the club was almost vacant and many of those that were left were of wan complexion and studied her with a predatory gaze. “You know nothing of my family.”
“Oh, but I do, Hannah. I do.” Finished peeling his orange, Gustav placed it on a piece of bone-white china the large man placed on the table. As he divided it into segments, a third man approached and placed a glass on the table.
“Orange?” Gustav smiled as looked up at her, extending a segment. She remained silent. “No? All right. Let’s see, where to begin? Your husband, the first husband, he told you he went to France to fight the good fight, no? To stand shoulder to shoulder with the people who championed the rights of the Negro? Not true. A lie. He was still in the employ of Laz, as he calls himself. Charles was there looking for me. That’s what your husband did, Hannah. He was a brilliant man and worked as the eyes and ears of the beast who has pursued me off and on for two millennia.”
“That’s a lie.”
Gustav ran the rind of the orange around the interior lip of his glass as he spoke. “No, no it is not. I assure you of this. I do not lie. It is a point of pride for me. I am beyond lying. You only lie to gain something or to hide something. There is nothing you can give me that I cannot simply take, and I have no need to hide. You have no concept of who and what I am. Lying is beneath me. It would lessen me in my own eyes, and I would prefer to burn half the world before allowing that to happen.”
The muscles in her legs tightened as she stared at him, knowing what was to come. She considered all of her husband’s extensive training. “You are wrong, creature. I do know what you are. You and the rest of your group. You’re soulless cockroaches that wear human form. You’re parasites, vermin that my husband will stomp under his heel.”
“Again, you are very wrong. They,” he waved his arm expansively, taking in the room and its occupants. “are of me, but I am most assuredly not of them. My genius is the font from which they flow. I am not what you would call Nosferatu, Hannah. I am a man of science.”
Gustav held up a hand and extended a finger. The man that brought his drink now brought a covered platter and placed it on the table. “Please, Mrs. Templeton, enjoy. Buon appetito.”
When Hannah didn’t move, the server lifted the metal cover from the plate. Under it lay the head of Mrs. Stacco. Hannah’s eyes shut tightly as her stomach clenched. She knew what they wanted. They needed her to panic. A vampire’s demeanor is determined to a large degree by how they felt as they were being turned. They wanted her frightened and cowed. Hannah controlled her breathing and avoided thinking of her daughter and the decapitated babysitter.
Springing to her feet, both of her hands shot out. One grabbed Laz’s ouzo, and the other grabbed the bowl with the candle. Hurling the liquid first, she saw the shock in Gustav’s face as the lit candle and wax followed. As if controlled by a hive-mind, the voices of his minions rose up as one and yelled in panic.
Slamming Gustav to the floor and trying to suffocate the flames, his large escort was preoccupied as Hannah flipped the table on its side. It took her two kicks to break off the table leg. The end that had connected to the table was splintered, jagged and sharp enough for her goal. As the sycophantic creature bent over its master, she plunged the leg into its back and through its chest.
The creature started shaking violently while its body aged rapidly, putrefied and turned to dust, all within seconds.
She stood over the viscera and dust covered man who was still aflame while she held the impromptu stake aloft. An unnerving chorus of “No!” erupted from dozens of undead throats. A body slammed into her, knocking Hannah to the ground. A seeming teenager reached up towards her throat as they rolled on the floor and its hand began to smoke and then sizzle as it came into contact with the crucifix on the chain around Hannah’s neck.
Using the creature’s pain and distraction, she pivoted her hips, shifted so that it was below her and forced the table leg into its chest. This creature’s end was as fast as the others had been. The rest moved forward. They approached her carefully, with measured steps, two dozen of them creating a line between Gustav and the woman.
She caught a glimpse of him from time to time as two of his creatures worked on Gustav. Finally, he spoke. “Bravo, Hannah. Bravo. You are a woman worthy of both Charles and Laz.” As he tapped two of his creatures on the shoulder, they parted, allowing Hannah and Gustav to stare at each other.
Puckered red skin covered much of his face, but his voice and elocution were unchanged. He gestured to his cheek. “This will heal quickly enough. Until it does, I’ll accept it as a grim reminder of what a remarkable woman you are. They were instructed to leave you unharmed. I’m glad that one of them was strong enough to override that instruction and knock you from me. I like you, Hannah, I truly do. More importantly, I respect you. My mesmerism and other parlor tricks would be wasted on you. Your faith is almost unbelievably powerful. It rolls off of you in waves.”
She was unnerved by how effortlessly he was able to ignore what would be debilitating in anyone else.
Reaching over, he grabbed a chair and pulled it towards him. Wincing, he started to undo his tie as he sat. “As much as I’d like you to be a feral surprise for when Laz returns home, you’re not going to panic, are you? In your next stage of existence, you will remain much as you are now. All right, I can use that. Be rational. Let Laz know that I always have and always will be able to reach those that he loves. Be an example of why he should stay out of my way. Most importantly, be the contrast to your daughter.”
Hannah lunged forward at the mention of her daughter. Gustav dismissively waved a hand. “Stop her.”
They surged forward. Two, then three, then five. Some approached and were repelled by the now bared crucifix. Others pressed forward. They held her at bay while Gustav patted his suppurating face with a once white handkerchief.
“Don’t you touch my daughter!”
“I have not and will not. I use others for that. She wasn’t as ... composed as you, Mrs. Templeton. She will be a handful. Do you have anything to say before we continue?”
Hannah spat at the man. “He’s going to kill you. Run and hide, creature. Today, tomorrow, a year from now, 50 years from now, he’s going end your miserable existence.”
Her guesses fell far short. It was almost a century before Laz had actual, concrete proof of where his ancient enemy was to be found.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Hannah Templeton had been in the shower for 45 minutes. Even after all these years, she still loathed what her body had become. As warm as she kept their home, her body always had a slight chill and she didn’t want Laz to feel that. Not tonight. The water cascading over her body was as hot as it could get before it started to cause damage.
She stepped from the shower, dried off and glanced at the thermostat next to the sink. 82 degrees. Looking down at the sink, Hannah remembered so many decades ago when she first touched Laz’s blood shortly after her change. He had been shaving over a different sink in a home they hadn’t lived in in decades and nicked himself. Thinking nothing of it, she grabbed the Bab-O cleansing powder and a rag, deciding to clean the whole bathroom while she was at it.
Hannah woke up on the floor hours later, her finger almost burned to the bone where she accidentally touched his blood. His very essence was an anathema to what she now was. In many ways, they were now opposites but their love sustained her through her hunger, through her pain.
She couldn’t participate in the sharing of the consecrated bread or wine, but she went to Mass with Laz every week. Her body rebelled and the pain bordered on the unbearable as she sat in the pew, clutching his hand and begging to be released from the horror her life had turned into.
The sound through the open window of his pickup pulling in the driveway alerted her to his arrival. As it always did, his voice calmed her and warmed her like the water couldn’t. She listened as he spoke to their neighbor from their respective driveways.
“Hey, Billy. Recyclables night?” She heard the clatter of the cans as Bill Condon dragged them to the street.
“Yeah. Hey, you try Medici Pizza? Just opened on Main? Really good. We tried ‘em last night. Coupon’s in today’s paper.”
“Haven’t tried them. Thanks. We’ll give it a shot. How’s your mom?”
“Hanging in there, Laz. Thanks for asking.”
“I’ll pray for her, Bill. Say hi to Marcie for me.”
“Will do, buddy.”
Hannah checked her appearance in the mirror, smiling at the lore that said she shouldn’t cast a reflection. Patting a few hairs in place, she walked out into the living room, avoiding the doorway he’d be walking through and the possible final dying light of the day that lurked like a predator, always ready to snag her if she wasn’t careful.
As Laz walked into the room, he gently placed the leather satchel on the couch. “Hello, my love.”
She desperately tried to keep her eyes on her husband as he approached but she could smell the blood through the plastic bags and through the leather. New Brunswick was the home of several hospitals, medical schools and some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. If you were resourceful and had money, enough blood for one child and one woman was easy to come by.
Hannah hated the look in his eyes, a mix of love, pain, and pity. He cupped her cheek as he spoke. “Why don’t you spend some time with Sally while I order dinner? Billy recommends that new pizza place. I’ll call it in and wait for the delivery.”
When he put the phone down after ordering he noticed the satchel was gone and his daughter’s moaning from behind the steel door had stopped. For now.
They spent the evening playing games as a family. Sally would vacillate on her entertainment choices. She was a child who was over 100 years old. Her brain wasn’t even close to being fully developed physically and that limited her ability to control her impulses and employ logic.
Hours were spent playing games on the X Box mixed in with some tabletop board games. Sally was able to concentrate at first, but Laz noticed her looking out the window towards the street more and more frequently. She’d gaze with interest when people walking their pets passed their home and as the night grew deeper, he saw her unconsciously lean forward, eyes dilated whenever someone was in the vicinity. She tracked them, like a cat tracked a cricket, eyes never blinking or slipping from their grim determination.
As much as he loved Sally, he knew that she saw them as portable food, meat sacks that carried blood. They called an end to their game night and Laz took her to her room where he read to Sally from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. Hannah showered again once her daughter was safely behind the steel door.
She was determined to show her husband how much she loved him.
Over the decades, Hannah had developed a phobia about putrefaction and her own aroma. She knew that she exuded nothing abnormal but knowing intellectually didn’t abate what she felt. Laz never commented on her over-use of perfumes and lotions and she loved him for it. Going through the room, she lit 12 candles, dimmed the lights and waited on the bed under the cover of an electric blanket.
Her thoughts were consumed with how much he deserved someone better, someone real. Hannah denied him nothing, but he asked for so little.
When she heard his hand on the doorknob Hannah hurriedly flipped off the power to the blanket and tossed it to the floor behind her. He paused at the doorway, standing at the entrance, staring at his wife. She thrilled at his gaze and the love she found there.
Her diaphanous purple negligee came strategically layered, obscuring areas best explored by hands, fingers and tongues. The layered look was reminiscent of the style popular when she was in the prime of life, the roaring 20’s. Rolling from her back to her side, she slowly moved her left leg towards her hip, pulling the negligee higher.
After a hundred years, her body could still captivate Lazarus. Hannah’s voice was husky as she spoke. “Come to bed, my love.”
Stripping as he made his way to her, his eyes never left his wife’s body. Kneeling on the bed, he leaned over, kissed her lips and moved on to her temple before using his lips to caress her earlobes. Hannah never knew for sure how much the danger added to their fierce loving but she could hear his blood pushing through his veins as his throat glided past her nose, her lips, her teeth.
It would kill her to indulge, both the betrayal and the contact with his blood, but the temptation was always there. Would this be the day her resolve failed?
Laz moved down, back to her lips as he slipped the straps of her negligee from her shoulders. She tasted so much on his tongue. Who and what he was had been imprinted on every part of him for those with the senses to tell. His sweat, his blood, his come, his saliva all told a tale for those able to understand.
His ministrations moved down her throat as the cloth slipped from her breasts. Fingers working magic, he pulled and lightly twisted her nipples with one hand as the other made its way to her center. It was always new with Lazarus. His touch on her clitoris sent a shock through her and she arched her back, forcing her breast further into the grasp of his other hand.
Lifting her effortlessly, he pulled her up as he scooted back, her negligee now appearing as a gossamer belt, the top at her waist, the bottom at the crest of her hips. His lips worked their way down her pubis to her entrance where he lapped at her nectar. Focusing, he teased her sensitive clit with his tongue as his index and middle finger joined in the hunt for his wife’s pleasure.
“Laz, Laz ... Oh, don’t, don’t stop!”
Her bucking hips left the mattress and soon she reached her crescendo, calling out his name. Moving off her sensitive nub, he went back to her firm breasts as she shuddered in the afterglow of her ecstasy. Gaining a modicum of control, she again shifted her hips, this time downward, like a sheath searching for a blade.
Laz moved his member up and down along her opening, mixing their moisture, ensuring she was ready. Before he could move in, she pushed upwards, taking him inch by inch. Slowly, gently he joined her efforts, allowing her to get used to him. As their rhythms were synched, they both increased their speed.
His guttural utterances were timed with his thrusts. “So. Beautiful. So ... I. Love. You.”
Gazing into his eyes, Hannah placed her hands on the side of his face as they went on second after second, minute after minute. She never felt the tears falling from her eyes as she made love to the man she adored. 15 minutes later she reached her peak again. Five minutes after that, he joined her.
They lay there, wrapped in each other’s arms resting peacefully before the inevitable rising of his ardor.
She took his hand and lifted it to her lips. After kissing it, she held it between her breasts. “Laz, you need to find someone you can live a life with. We ... Sally and I will make our own way. Marguerite is a lovely girl. You need someone like her. Someone normal. You know that I love you. Find your happiness, Laz. It would mean the world to me.”
Pulling his hand roughly from hers, he sat up and on the edge of the bed, his back to her. “Why do you keep circling back to this? How many times do we have to go through this? 100? 200? Just, please, don’t bring it up again.” He slowly turned to her. “I love you, Hannah. You’re my wife. We’re one. Don’t you know how much it hurts me to hear you talk about this over and over again?”
“I’m ... I’m sorry. It’s just that I see other families and what you’re missing and ... you’re too good for this Laz. I’ll stop. I’m sorry.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “Have you heard from her?”
“No, not since she left for Poland.”
Marguerite Henshaw walked through Old Town in Warsaw and attempted to look as inviting as possible. She was seemingly defenseless but healthy and reasonably large. Bigger was better when it came to bait for what she was hunting. Healthy but large humans contained more blood.
The cobblestone streets wreaked havoc with her prosthetic leg, but she was willing to deal with the discomfort. She’d been walking slowly, window shopping, sitting on benches and doing everything possible to send out the ‘potential victim’ signal. It hadn’t worked.
Lights were too close together, streets were too wide. Too many tourists walked hand-in-hand, often with children. These creatures were arrogant, but they weren’t going to strike where half a dozen people had camera phones at the ready. It was time to move.
Passing through the Old Town Market Place, Marguerite followed her nose to one of the tented stalls selling forms of kielbasa she couldn’t recognize or pronounce. Her pidgin Polish worked with the vendors sparse English and she walked away with sausage and fried potatoes on a roll with some spicy mustard.
She ate while walking to Savior Square and Plan B, the pub that was so popular with the growing hipster crowd in Warsaw. Still moving slowly and projecting the ‘come eat me’ vibe, she relished the constant exercise of the walking. It seemed as if Polish food was neither dainty nor small in portions, and Marguerite needed to burn off the calories.
As always, she was always acutely aware of her surroundings, while maintaining a façade of indifference. It was approaching midnight and the pub was packed. Marguerite sat at the bar and sipped from her Zywiec porter while thinking about how she wound up in this ridiculous position.
She came from a family of staunch but unaggressive atheists. Her parents were members of the JREF skeptical society and often attended skeptic gatherings. Marguerite was raised to be the ultimate rationalist, and here she was working to eliminate creatures of myth that seemed to outnumber rats in old-world European cities.
A young looking 34, Marguerite had done a tour as Personal Security Detachment in Iraq and eventually mustered out of the Military Intelligence Corps where she last served in INSCOM. She easily found work as a threat analyst and infrequent on-site security specialist with a large firm in Manhattan. Her last assignment had been after Billy Graham’s own security people had received reports of credible threats during a trip to New York where he was scheduled to appear and preach at CitiField in Queens.
The aged evangelist would be one of many speakers, in deference to his physical frailty. Earlier in his career it would be Graham, a microphone and a spellbound audience for hours. Regardless of how much he had to share the stage, he was much beloved, and his appearance would draw tens of thousands to hear the Good News.
They were at a hotel near LaGuardia Airport while senior staff was engaged in a prayer breakfast. Marguerite and some colleagues were in a room outside the small hall where the food was served when the lights and power went out. It wasn’t a huge inconvenience, as there were huge windows in the hall allowing light in for the participants and the three smaller windows in the exterior room provided enough light to get by unhindered.
She lay her laptop on a chair next to her, stood and nodded to two men who joined the others near the door. Marguerite opened the interior door and interrupted the breakfast.
“Sorry.” She spoke with a smile. “Seems to be a problem with the power. Hopefully, it’ll be sorted out in a few minutes.” She walked the room, looking out the windows for exterior threats. Speaking into her lapel, she spoke softly to her colleagues. “This is Mags. I’m headed to room two.”
Opening the door to the second room adjacent to the hall, she quickly slammed it shut again. “Everyone get back! Tip over that table, pull it back and get behind it.” She spoke into her lapel again. “We have people down in room two. One assailant that I could see.”
She shook her head. This couldn’t be right. A seven-foot-tall pale blond man had been holding aloft one of Marguerite’s colleagues. His hand had been in his victim’s chest up to the wrist. Franny, another colleague, had lain in the corner, on her side, moaning.
Helping them tip the huge table over, she kept waiting for a response to her communications. None came. The doors had burst open almost simultaneously. The tall blond strode forward, face smeared with what looked like blood. The frightened staff crouched behind the upturned table and two of his own security stood in front of Mr. Graham, guns drawn.
A man and a woman casually strolled into the hall from the first room and Marguerite could see signs of carnage behind them. All three of them wore jeans and tee-shirts and all had long hair. The blond wore a faded denim jacket. It was as if Billy Graham was being hunted by evil Grateful Dead groupies.
The two guards started shooting at the couple and she fired at the blond giant. Marguerite assumed that he had to have been wearing something under the shirt as the bullets didn’t even slow him down. When he reached her, he struck out with contemptuous disregard, as if she were a gnat. Ducking under the blow, she put her gun against his knee and pulled the trigger.
Bellowing, the man staggered but didn’t fall. With incredible speed, he reached out, grabbed her by the throat and lifted. She fired again until she was out of bullets and what she was now convinced was a creature offered a gleeful, maniacal smile.
Looking around for some help, she saw a short man calmly walk into the room and slam a polished wooden stake into the back of one of the other Deadheads. It quivered and fell to the ground. Its partner turned and Marguerite saw its look of shock. The man had his hand wrapped in some silvery chain and punched her in the jaw. Literal sparks flew when the chain made contact. She was down and out.
The giant dropped Marguerite and took a step towards the man. She kicked him in the throat as hard as she could. As he went to push her out of the way, she launched another crescent kick. It caught her leg, used it to lift her off the ground and bit deeply into her thigh. She felt a burning sensation in her leg as he dropped her and moved forward.
Lying on the floor in a slight delirium, Marguerite didn’t know how much time passed before she saw the short man smiling gently over her. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought he cut his hand with an ornate knife and held it to her thigh.
“You’ll live. You’re a very brave woman. Minister Graham was lucky you were here. I’m sorry about your friends. I’m going to have to leave soon. Do as your conscience dictates, but it would be better if no one knew I was here.”
The burning feeling intensified. He pulled a clerical collar from his pocket and slipped it over his throat. Pulling out a pair of glasses, he winked at her. “The Clark Kent trick.” He put the glasses on, reversed his jacket so the blood wasn’t visible, and strolled out the door.
Marguerite passed out. She woke up weeks later in a hospital, missing a leg. Laz visited her at both the hospital and later at the rehab center. Her bills were being taken care of and she was considered a hero who had saved America’s Preacher from home-grown terrorists. She didn’t set anyone straight, knowing that she wouldn’t be believed.
Once she was released, she went to work for Laz. Her background in intelligence served them well as she parsed and sifted information to find pockets of vampires, map out communities and lineages and help coordinate her bosses’ attacks.
When she was fully mobile, she began field operations. Three years later, she was sitting in a bar in Poland, hoping to grab one of the creatures that could let her know how close she was to the center of their web. The easiest way to find one of them was to have them find her.
They were close to finally finding Simon Magus. Marguerite could feel it in her bones.
On her second trip to the bathroom, she spotted two likely candidates and they seemed to have spotted her. Feigning near intoxication, she returned to her seat for another 20 minutes and then left the pub with the slow deliberation of the semi-impaired.
Turning left, she made her way down the sidewalk. When a car turned on the block she was on, Marguerite hurriedly crossed the street. She was surely just hurrying out of the car’s way, nothing more to it than that. It put her almost directly in front of the Church of the Holiest Saviour, but that had to be happenstance.
She knew she wasn’t fast enough to avoid the creature, so she accepted and redirected him instead. It had crossed the street in a dash and seemed intent to slam into her. Marguerite stepped slightly to the side and used her hips and a grip to its torso to keep its momentum going. It went up and over the five-foot fence surrounding the church.
Once on sacred ground, it started hissing and rolling, struggling to get to its feet. Marguerite used one hand to leap over the fence and knelt with one knee on the creature’s chest and her prosthetic leg stretched to her side.
“Hello, filth. I want to know where Simon or Gustav or whatever he’s calling himself is. I want his home, and you want to give it to me.” She pulled out a metal vial. “You really do.”
Thrashing on the ground, the creature gave a half-hearted attempt at pushing her aside. She unstoppered the vial and poured some of the Holy Water on its face. The hissing and steaming lifting from the mobile cadaver was accompanied by high-pitched screaming.
“Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll stop.”
The deep voice from behind her spoke in an Italian accent. “No need for that. We will take you there.”
She turned to see a thick man of Mediterranean coloring approaching. He wore a black suit and a dark grey overcoat. Marguerite saw him grimace and tilt his head as he moved forward across the sacred ground, his will enough to sublimate his pain.
Tossing the vial at him, she reached into her pocket and pressed a button on her cell phone.
20 minutes later she was tied up and in the back of a panel van. The creature in the suit went through her pockets, took the phone and tossed it out the window. “I’m sorry, Ms. Henshaw. We value our privacy. No tracking apps today.”
Marguerite forced herself not to grin. Fuck you, creature. Just wait. Death is finally coming for you.
A small electronic pulse emanated from her mechanical knee was relayed across the Atlantic and was detected in a tasteful home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
“Lazarus of Bethany, my oldest friend, welcome to my home.”
The voice pierced his gloom. Vision blurry, Laz was able to open one eye before the other popped open. He couldn’t remember ever having slept so deeply. As he tried to sit up, he realized he was restrained. Unable to turn his head, he cast his eyes down and to the right and left. Leather straps held him in place, arms, legs, and forehead.
Confusion swamped him as he tried to discern where he was and how he arrived there. The voice interrupted his thinking.
“You are blessed, Lazarus. We both know that I mean that literally. On the other hand, I’m lucky. I always have been. I’ve spent countless years studying you. Poisoning you wouldn’t have worked. If it was done by someone else, you would have just shrugged it off. Apparently, you can be affected if you are self-medicated. Who would have thought that the feared and mighty Lazarus, the Avenging Hand of God, Smiter of Monsters, would be laid low by the flu and too much Sudafed? Such amazing luck. For me, not so much for you.
“So, now you are my guest, old friend.” A rolling, metal cart slid into view to Laz’s left and Simon Magus followed. “We have a unique opportunity, you and me. A man dedicated to science and another man who can not die.” He unfolded a leather parcel and started to remove thin, sharp metal tools. “Your sacrifice shall be greatly appreciated.”
Laz marshalled his thoughts. “Where is Marguerite, Simon?”
“Lazarus, my friend, we are each other’s only contemporary and you wish to spend time talking about your employee? Your new Charlie?” He waved his hand in a manner encompassing not just the room they were in, but the greater area. “She is around, and she is fine. My servants were sorely tempted by the blood running through her veins, but I wanted her alive and human to act as a baseline to measure you against. They have her locked in a room somewhere.”
Laz tried straining against the leather. His strength was greater than normal, but the constraints wouldn’t budge. “You’re not my friend, Simon. Not then, not now and not during the two thousand years between.”
“Well, that is a matter of perspective, I believe. Maybe you are not my friend, but I consider myself to be yours. For example, your wife and ward will be well taken care of. They will continue to live and live well, in the home you provided. Money will be available, as will sustenance. I do this for you, and, well, you know...”
Laz released a small laugh. “I do know, Magus, and it’s fruitless. You think I’m favored and are trying to buy good will from my Master. It won’t work. How have you cheated the wages of sin, Simon? How are you still alive?”
“Unlike you, I had to work for it. Study and, I admit, some natural talent. Egyptian, what do they call it now? Mystery schools? I studied, I learned, and I surpassed all my mentors. Elongation of life gained me more time for study and experimentation. Soon enough, the shadow of death no longer loomed over my shoulder.
“I have learned much over my lifetime. Sometimes I have merely uncovered what other men had known before, like how to create my servants. Other things were new unto me, like my immortality. I have pored over hidden esoterica from the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Desert Fathers, from the Sumerians, from the Peruvians and Mayans. I’ve gathered, collated and improved on their knowledge.”