In Life and Death

Ice cold tap water spilled into the fake marble sink basin. I cupped my hands to catch the clear cool liquid between my fingers and splash it upwards onto my face. It had a surprisingly calming effect on me after the instantaneous jolt back to reality. The water ran in rivulets down my face, dripping off my chin and down to the base of my neck. With no towel nearby, I wiped the excess liquid from my brow with the edge of my shirt. My skin was coarse and dry so the fabric would probably leave behind a trace of pink. The edges of my chin length hair lay plastered to my cheeks. Had I had a reflection, looking up into the large rectangular mirror hung above the basin, I would have seen blood red hair, framing sharp features. The rich crimson of the damp hair contrasted with emerald green eyes to make each look brighter then their natural colourings. I haven't seen my reflection in centauries, all I could see in front of me was a dirty, cracked mirror with graffiti carved onto the surface.

I often excused myself to the bathroom to perform my little water ritual when the information the teacher was trying to force feed me became too much to handle. Sitting still for lengthy periods of time proved to be problematic. The fact that I had survived for hundreds of years without knowing all of this so called "vital knowledge" did not exactly fuel any burning desire within to learn it now. In addition, I only joined the schooling system for a new experience. I found it interesting how much the human social structure changed through each passing generation; so different from my lifestyle.

The hallways were practically empty, save for a few students running errands. Every other was most probably slaving over a textbook within the confinement of a classroom under a teacher's watchful eye. I wasn't ready to return to that routine as of yet.

I wandered amidst dirty walls and dented lockers. The metal storage boxes were the pride of the students here, each a visual reflection of its owner. It was personal space; sacred territory. Mine was as plain, mysterious and uncustomized as I kept my image. I kept myself inward and guarded amongst all society and I have a reputation for being a fidgety worrier. No matter how hard I tried to mask it, I could not control how much I displayed my lock of self confidence.

The cafeteria was sparsely spread with various students. Some were sitting on table tops socializing in groups. Others were stooped over mounds of work, studying hard in couples or individually. I didn't like being in a large room when there were too many people. The noise and the mass of bodies created a chaotic tension I wanted no part in. As long as the atmosphere of a stufy hall was maintained in the caf, I didn't mind being there. Surveying the scene that lay before me threw thick strands of hair, a girl alone in the corner caught my eye.

Waist length hair, so black it looked blue in the light, framed a delicate, slightly tanned face. Her features were so soft and frail, she looked like a china doll; each detail carefully painted on with a tiny brush and skilled master hand. Thick black eye makeup outlined slightly upturned, almond shaped eyes. Eye shadow, only a shade darker then her actual skin, perfectly accented dark eyes the colour of melted chocolate. Faint traces of violet swirled into the irises like a child's glass marble. Pearl earings dangled against her neck, exhibiting temptingly smooth, soft skin. The neckline of a sky-blue shirt was cut low in a v-shape, decorated only by a tiny key suspended from a black satin ribbon. An assortment of pencils lay on the table in front of her, on top of an array of sketches. An artist; and from what I could see of her work, a most talented artist.

A few strides across the tiled floor brought me closer and the details of the pictures came into clear view. Crying eyes, shaded to life like quality, were a common theme. Wilted and bleeding roses, so realistic they could be mistaken for photographs at first glance surfaced often in her pile. The thing that struck me with the most feeling was what appeared to be her favourite theme; broken hearts. A wave of emotion hit you at first glance of her art. You could actually feel the hurt, anger, sadness and hate well up inside of you as if you had been dragged into the picture. Each was drawn in black and white. Each was bloody, morbid and broken. The images were so heart wrenching you could not tear your eyes away, yet the artist sat there with a calm serene. She looked almost happy, sitting there sketching, as if none of the emotions portrayed in her work were her own. She was mysterious; it was intriguing.

Had I been an average youth at this secondary school, I would have sat with her and struck up a conversation. Had I not been awkward and shy, I would have simply smiled and walked away. Being none of those, I stopped and stared. What caught me completely off guard was the fact that she returned my gaze.

One cannot hold a vampiric gaze unless willed to by the vampire. No mortal meets my eyes unless under my spell. Weak as I may be for an undead immortal, I still possess the powers of seduction our shadow people are famed for. Yet this mortal met my gaze without my will. She saw past all the barriers I had created to keep the world out. This mortal had penetrated me without even knowing it. This young woman was the only person who had ever seen me; the true me and she did not even know it.

I tried to speak but no words came out. My lips were dry and my mouth had temporarily forgotten how to form sounds. I just stood there, stupidly staring, without saying a word. Breaking eye contact, I pulled my black surfer shirt higher up my neck, the flames that licked the bottom edges almost match exactly the colour of my hair, and jammed my fists into well wore denim pockets. The artist smiled at me, kind an welcoming, and indicating for me to join her. Nervous and shy I sat awkwardly on the bench beside her.

"I don't think I've seen you around here," she began softly, "are you new?"

Her voice was silky smooth, like the sound of music floating by longing ears.

I shook my head in response to her question. Words had not yet returned to me.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I've just never noticed you before." Her smile was encouraging, her tone mild and friendly. "My name's Kathleen."

Kathleen, I thought, Gaelic for pure. How fitting. The thoughts tumbled into my mind out of nowhere. Names are one of the few things that never leave my memory bank.

"I . . . I'm Damian." I think I managed to mumble.

"Damian, I like that name. It's cute, it suits you."

Her comment made me smile. No one had ever said anything about my name before and the way she rolled the syllables off the tip of her tongue made it sound so much more than a word. It was a name, a name is sacred; she understood that.

"It means 'tame'." I informed her, my cheeks burning from sharing such unless information with her with she probably didn't care about.

"Well then, it definitely suits you." she laughed. I liked her laugh. It reminded me of a brook running its course over smoothed pebbles in a riverbed like the one that had been near my house when I was a child.

I picked up one of her drawings to study. A bleeding rose was intertwined around a woman lying dead. A dark male bit his fangs into the rose drawing blood. Had the drawing been done in colour the rose would have still been black; the symbol of the vampire. I looked up at her with the drawing still in my hand, questioning written all over my face. The colour drained from her face.

"You're one of them." she said softly. "I should have known it from your eyes."

I swallowed hard and nodded. My heart stopped as her face turned to a porcelain white.

"Tame Damian, how can you be one of them?" she whispered. Anguish was threaded into each word she spoke.

"What do you mean?"

"My father was a vampire. One of you shadow people or whatever you call yourselves. He left my mother before I was born. I never knew him but I know enough to hate him. My father was a beast, he destroyed my mother and me. My mother helped the slayer who was after him, she was so angry, and he was executed. You are all monsters and monsters should die!" Rage rose and feel with each carefully annunciated phrase. She spoke softly but her words were daggers that pierced my heart.

"Not all are monsters." I am no monster, I was not the way I was by choice and her father most likely wasn't either but it was clear from her infuriated state that she was not about to believe or trust me. Especially after the fact that we had just met a few moments ago.

"Prove it. Prove it to me tame Damian. How can something that should be dead not be a monster? You have no souls no hearts, those died with your humanity. You cannot care, you cannot love. You are monsters; every single one of you."

Flushed with anger, she hurriedly gathered up her belongings and fled. In her haste, she left behind an old, black, leather bound sketchbook. I picked it up. There was no use in pursuing her now in her present state to return it. The leather was soft and worn and the pages no longer lay flat within their confinement. Inside the cover, in neat cursive writing, read the name "Kathleen Lyonesse". An ancient name of european background, I speculated. Her mother must have given her the name for she had vampiric features, most likely from her father, and she looked anything but a daughter of the British isles. Just below the name was written her address and phone number. I would return her book to her later after the storm had passed.

The incident with Kathleen remained in my mind for the remainder of the day. She was a girl who stood out. She saw through me and had looked me, a vampire, in the eyes according to her own will. She had smiled at me with a kind, warm, smile and had spoken with me in friendly tones. She was the only one who saw me for who I truly am and it had hurt her to see. She didn't deserve to be hurt. Her broken smiled echoed pain from the ghosts of former heart break. I hated each person who had wounded her and forced her to continue on as if nothing had happened. I hated how they had broken her so that she would not even speak to me under the impression that I wished her harm. I hated them for destroying the prospect of befriending someone who could truly see me. I hated how she behaved as if it were perfectly normal, and accepted it as if it were the only way she was supposed to live her life.

The black book lay on the table in front of me beside the telephone. Its leather caver was open, exposing the phone number penned in blue ink within. I sighed, trying to gather up the nerve to make the call. It's a simple task really, holding the plastic receiver between cheek and shoulder while dialling the code into the numbered buttons. Such a simple task that required me to muster up all the courage within me to complete. My mouth was dry and my stomach felt as if someone had used it as practice rope for sailor knots. I licked my lips, already dry and chapped from repeating the nervous habit and chewing on them. Drawing a deep breath to calm my shaking wits, I willed everything I had to dial Kathleen Lyonsesse's telephone number.

My heart raced as the call connected. One ring. I was sweating. Ring two. I could feel the beads of perspiration dancing on my forehead. The phone rang a third time. With each thud my pounding heart beat against mt rib cage, I pleaded with her to answer. After the fourth ring, a click signified connection. My heart was thundering and my breathing was so quick and shallow I was about to start hyperventilating.

"Hello . . . " Kathleen's voice trailed off, followed by a thud and the crash of plastic hitting hard tile flooring.

"Kathleen?"

Her end of the phone was silent except for the sharp, laboured, in takes of breath.

"Kathleen, I'm coming."

Determination stilled my heart and evened out my gasps for oxygen. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong and for some reason, I was very much afraid.

Even now, in the age of automobiles, I can get where ever I want faster than any mortal. I may not be able to fly as fast as others, but I try. The night air was cool and crisp with a sharp bite. The kind of night where the air is clear and fresh to breathe if you dare brave the temperature, or lack there of. The navy skies were overcast, quilted with silver clouds, forbidding light from beyond to shine onto the earth's sleeping face. The only lights shining into the night were artificial, electric lanterns. Oh, how I miss the days of candle light flickering into the midnight hour.

Her house was dark with the exception of the bathroom which I blew into like a tornado. Amidst the mess I had created with my entrance, I spotted Kathleen and gasped in horror.

The cordless telephone lay on the floor a few feet away from her, still beeping out a dial tone. Her almost lifeless body was leaned against the bathtub. Her head was bowed forward, hair askew, and eyes closed. She was limp and unmoving, her pulse in her temple slowing and she breathed with visible difficulty. My eyes moved to the puddle surrounding her. She was soaking in a pool of ruby red blood, still pouring from a cross shaped, self inflicted wound on her wrist. It had been sliced deeply with the precision of a sharp blade. Her arm was scabbed and scarred from previous slashes. The other hand held a knife, stained and still dripping with her own blood. Her life was flowing from her open wrist with each faint beat of her broken heart, A single tear rolled silently down her cheek without her lifting her eyelids. One crystal droplet; her goodbye.

Had I found my voice to scream, I would have. Instead, I threw myself to the floor at her side. The warm liquid slowly seeped through my clothing and clung to the skin beneath. I raised her elegant wrist, still bleeding, to my mouth as if to feed from it. My tongue licked the wound clean and the saliva clotted the cut. The sweet taste of blood, warm and creamy, filled my mouth and trickled down the back of my throat. I rested her arm against her weak body and lifted her effortlessly into my lap, rocking her and whispering encouragement into her ear. She was till alive, but on the verge of death from lack of blood. Her eyes flickered open for a moment and the closed, having not the strength to hold them so.

"Who . . ." she managed to whisper.

Supporting her with one arm, I pried the knife from her loose grip. Shifting her body away from my neck, I drew my hair from the left side and cut it with the knife. It stung for an instant but was only a small shallow wound.

"Drink." I ordered, raising her lips to the cut. Still weak, I held her to my neck as my blood flowed into her mouth. Her pulse quickened and her breathing stabilized. Strength returned to her body, she closed her mouth around my skin and drank from it. Her lips were as soft as rose petals and her breath against my body was sweet. She pulled herself in close to me until I was holding her in my lap, on the floor in a pool of fresh blood.

She sighed as she finished and she pulled away. Timidly she raised those beautiful marble eyes to mine. My shyness melted away like the last of the winter snow in the sunshine and my heart raced within my chest. Hesitantly, I brushed that silky, black-blue hair from her china doll face. I tried to smile as I choked back tears. She was beautiful, oh so beautiful.

"Tame Damian," she said softly, lowering her eyes, "what are you doing here?"

I indicated to the cordless, still lying on the floor.

"I . . . I uh . . . I called you." I stammered, suddenly realizing that we had just met that day and I was cradling her in my lap. She blushed.

"Lucky timing on your part."

"Ya." I breathed a sigh of relief, pulling her closer. "Why did you do it?"

She rested her head against my chest, closing those enchanting, almond shaped eyes. The wetness of salty tears dampened my shirt. She didn't bother to hold back with me. She didn't mask her emotions as she had done at school; she sobbed. Her broken heart spilled from her sad eyes in diamond droplets soaking through the past absorbent cloth onto my skin. I didn't know what else to do. I just sat there, holding her, the both of us drenched in blood as I rocked back and forth to soothe her cries.

"I was so alone and scared." she sobbed. "I was so alone."

"Shhhh, shhhh, it's ok." I murmured. The pain in her voice was almost too much for me to bear. I wanted to take away all the hurt, I needed to. I wanted to make ger everything alright. I wanted to make her smile, to see her true smile. Without thinking, I planted a soft kiss on her downcast head. I wanted to take away al the hurt she felt inside, but all I could do was hold her close, trying to stop her crying. I couldn't even think up the right words to say.

"I wanted someone to care." she said so softly, it was almost as if she was speaking to herself. "I just wanted somebody to be there. I wanted someone to notice me, to see me for who I really am. I've been torn apart inside for as long as I can remember. The vampire part of me has kept everyone else away. I'm half monster, I don't belong. I'm half monster." She shuddered too wrapped up in emotion to cry any longer. "I just wanted to be loved."

I looked at her almost as if she was a new person in my eyes. She had just voiced what I had kept locked away inside me for more years than I could remember.

"So did I." Was all I could manage to say.

Without warning I felt her soft, velveteen lips brush mine. I could taste my own blood in her mouth just as she could undoubtedly taste hers.

"No longer half vampire." I breathed into her silken cheek. The blood that had replace what she had lost had been vampiric, replacing what had been human in her. She no longer would feel torn, she had become whole; she belonged.

"Unlock your heart and give it to me. You freed me from the chains my human body was bound in. I am free, I owe my life to you." She fumbled with the ribbon I had seen earlier around her neck. Once she had freed it from her body, she tied the black satin to my wrist. A tiny, metallic key dangled from the ribbon, the top of which was moulded into the shape of a heart.

"You would give your heart to a monster?" This all seemed to good to be true. Earlier I had been some dangerous beast and now . . . now I seemed to be the one who had changed her life. Could it be real? Was I dreaming?

She met my gaze as she had earlier in the cafeteria and held it. Her eyes were like mirrors, revealing everything I felt at that moment. In that instant, I saw my reflection for the first time in half a millennium.

"You are no beast, far from it. You are the only one who cares. You're the only one who can make me whole."

"Call my name and I will come to you."

"Damian, I already did."

I pulled her close, closing the distance between our lips. Alone in life, loved in death.