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We were back in Bridgeport.

Camryn was overjoyed to see me healthy and normal. My patients were also happy to see me looking so well, and the hospital staff as well. There were many jokes about the fresh air in France being some kind of miracle cure, and half serious thoughts of vacationing there themselves.

I started back at work with my normal enthusiasm. I had a better appreciation, now, for health and well being, and for life in general.

But my curiosity was aroused. Sophie had had contact with Kale Alder, who was quite agreeable about meeting with us. I knew next to nothing about him, except he was a vampire around the age of 200 or so (apparently still quite young?), who liked plasma fruit soup, according to ‘Vampire Lore in the 21st Century’, in which there was a recipe for such that I had used while in France; this tasting much better than the soup from the food truck.

I was looking forward to meeting him. If we were successful, everyone who had been bit could be cured.

These thoughts made me shiver.

I was still fearful of the man I recall being named Drake. Or at least that was the name he’d given, and how was I to know if that was his true name? Was he still out there? And what of my mystery savior? I owed him much, and I wished to find and thank him.

___

A week after my return, on a night that Sophie, Camryn and I all had off, we waited at my apartment for Kale. It was the night we’d finally meet him.

Sophie was especially eager, and paced my cramped living room constantly. I feared she would wear a hole through the floor.

On my tiny table were stacks of old books from France.

On my coffee table lay all of the notes we’d collected, in notebooks, papers and burned onto discs, and a bottle of plasma fruit nectar I’d concocted in France, a thank you present for Kale for his time.

At eight, precisely, he phoned up, and I let him in. We waited in suspense for his knock at my door.

At that moment, my phone rang. Irritated, I motioned for Sophie and Camryn to let Kale in, while I stepped into my bedroom to answer the phone. It was the hospital, with questions about a patient.

As I answered, I could hear Sophie, Camryn and Kale greet each other, and begin to converse lightly. Kale’s voice was soft, but light and pleasant. And strangely familiar. I frowned slightly as I hung up, and walked thought the kitchen to my living room.

I stopped, incredulous.

“It’s you!” I blurted out.

___

Indeed it was.

My rescuer. My mystery man. Standing in front of me, mildly surprised himself, and every bit as handsome as I’d remembered.

“I should have known,” he smiled slightly.”I didn’t know your name, but I don’t think I could ever forget your scent.”

Camryn and Sophie were staring at me.

“Layla, you know him?” Sophie cried.

“I didn’t know it was him,” I said in my defense.”I’d noticed him before, and he saved me when I was attacked, but I didn’t know who he was!”

“Under the circumstances, there wasn’t really time for introductions,” Kale explained mildly.”I was more concerned with obtaining aid. I only regret I wasn’t able to stop the attack in time.”

I nodded, momentarily unable to speak.

“Now, shall we move on to business?” he asked.

Sophie readily agreed, and they began to pour over the files we’d collected. Kale went through everything we had, nodding now and then, and adding his own collection of notes and files.

When he came to Sarah’s file, he hissed angrily, a vicious sound.

“To steal the life of a child is a terrible sin,” he explained, eyes flashing furiously.”Would that we knew of it then, the vampire that was responsible would have met a swift end.”

“So it really was a vampire that killed my sister?” I asked hesitantly.

“All the evidence points to yes,” Kale nodded.”I am sorry it happened.”

“If you have all of these rules, why did it happen then?” I exploded, unleashing more than two decades of repressed anger. Kale didn’t blink so much as an eye. Sophie and Camryn were very quiet. They, too, wanted to hear his answer.

“We cannot watch or listen all of the time. Sometimes we miss things. There are those of our kind that are not pleased with the rules. Wild animals and plasma fruit are a poor substitute to them, and they do not wish to curb their hunting instincts. They go rogue,” Kale admitted.

“For some time, I have been working with others to track down one particular rogue individual. We’ve had our…suspicions, for quite some time. The night I first encountered you, Miss Cobain,” he smiled.”I was watching him. When he followed you out-”

I gasped.

“Yes, you, my dear, were his chosen prey that night. I followed him out, and was hard pressed to keep up. You reached safety before he could do anything. He disappeared before I could intervene. I had no choice but to set more to watch his movements.

“But it did no good,” he snarled.”We could never stop him; he’d leave, and lead us a merry chase, before returning to strike again. The attacks increased, and we were never in time. His appetite seemed insatiable, and there were more attacks, more victims surviving when he didn’t finish them off, and more new vampires. We had our hands full enough trying to stop this madness, and now there were new young vampires to track down and educate.

“I should have been working harder,” he muttered, pacing.

“There’s nothing more you could have done,” I said.”You…you did your best.”

“But I didn’t,” he whirled back to me.”I should have been keeping a closer watch on him. But I wasn’t. I was watching you.”

“You-!” I gaped at him. Was he trying to blame me?”But…why?”

“I was worried,” he said simply.”He’d tried to take you down once. It wasn’t like him to fail and not try again. So, when I had time, I watched you. And as time passed, I made it my personal mission to make sure no harm came to you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re a very interesting creature. I feel something akin to…possessiveness, when it comes to you.”
“What!” I yelled, jumping up.”What am I? Food? Is that why you watched, so he couldn’t steal your own snack?”

Camryn tried to calm me down, but I wasn’t having any of it. Kale looked hurt, deeply wounded and positively offended.

“To me, you were not, and are not, food,” he said quietly.”To me, you are a strong and beautiful woman who was dragged unknowingly into something terrible. As time passed, I began to care for you, though you didn’t know it and know nothing of me. Hunger and thirst never played into it. My feelings are of respect, admiration, and perhaps, even a little attraction.”

I was staring at him, trembling. After a moment, he continued.

“I was called away on a lead about our rogue. It turned out to be false. The moment I found out, I rushed back to Bridgeport. I followed his scent, and when it crossed yours, I prayed I wouldn’t be too late. I almost was.

“He hadn’t fed in awhile, we’d kept after him so. He’d always slipped through our traps and escaped, but we’d kept him from hunting. He was all but starved and most likely desperate. It was probably a chance encounter that brought the pair of you so close to each other. Tell me, when you noticed him, did you perhaps feel strange?”

“Well, yes,” I admitted.”I found it very hard to think. Then I felt like I wasn’t in control.”

“It’s part of the hunting,” Kale explained.”To keep prey from escaping so easily. The older the vampire, the stronger his power of control is. Once you’re under a vampire’s control, there is almost nothing you can do to escape. And this one was very mature, older by far than I am, and very strong.”

Sophie, Camryn and I all shuddered.

“I know now he took you to a nest of vampires, gloating over you, showing off his prize.”

“I saw them,” I exclaimed.”The people who disapeared. Why didn’t they-”

“They were afraid of him,” Kale explained.”He’d threatened many of them, though we reassure them they cannot be hurt, and they are under our protection, they still believed him and kept out of it.

“He then took you away from the others to enjoy you privately. He doesn’t share,” Kale said grimly.

“He said…he said, I was a woman who improved with age, that he…he…” I could barely get the words out.”He said he’d let me age-”

Kale nodded slowly.

“He’s been watching you, likely since childhood.”

Tears were dripping down my face, and I felt like there was a fist lodged somewhere under my ribcage.

“He killed my sister, didn’t he?” I said, and it really wasn’t a question.”He all but admitted it!”

“It’s…a possibility.”

I thought I was going to throw up.

“I found you in time to save your life, but the damage was done,” he said, anguished.”I knew what would happen. What you’d become. Any who survive are infected, and will become a vampire themselves. But there was nothing I could do to stop it, save end your life myself, but I couldn’t bear to-”

“You may as well have!” I shrieked.”What kind of life is it, having to survive the way you do, whether I want to or not? What kind of life is it, where I hate myself to the very core of my existence for wanting to consume blood? I’d rather have starved to death first! I almost did!

“If that weren’t bad enough, I couldn’t do my job properly because I wanted to eat my patients! And then there’s the matter of the person who turned me into a vampire in the first place. I don’t know where that psychopath is now, and it scares me!”

Kale didn’t seem to notice when I raised my voice, merely giving me a compassionate look.

“You needn’t worry about him,” he said.”I’ve…taken care of the matter. When I pulled him off of you, I ended it.”
He bared his sharp teeth in a grimace of hatred.

“He won’t kill again.”

It didn’t matter to me, I realized. My heart and soul were too badly hurt by this point. I felt like a half healed wound deep inside of me had been ripped open violently. I was battered and bruised, reason warring with psychological torment.

Even hearing that the one who had attacked me, changed me, tormented me in my dreams, was dead, did no good. Even knowing that there was finally justice for my beloved sister did little to help.

I could bear no more of this. I couldn’t stand being near a vampire now, even one who had saved me and ended the filth responsible for over two decades of pain.

“…with all of this documentation, we should have everything resolved very soon,” Sophie was saying. They’d been speaking and I hadn’t noticed, being lost in my thoughts.

“Thank you for your help, Mr.Alder,” Camryn said.

“No, we should be thanking you for your hard work,” Kale replied.”We shall be in touch very soon.”

He hesitated.

“Perhaps, after this is over, we can become friends?”

“Of course,” Sophie beamed. Camryn nodded.

“Will you take the cure, if it’s offered?”

“I don’t know,” Kale shrugged.”I’ve been this way a long time. It’s my way of life. It’s become…comfortable.”

“I understand,” Camryn smiled.

“I shall take my leave. Good evening, Mrs.Malone, Ms.Bleu, Ms. Cobain,” Kale said, extending his hand to me.

I didn’t take it, merely staring with hollow eyes. I tried to convey what I was feeling, the pain for which I didn’t think there could possibly be a cure. Without words, I tried to tell him to keep his distance.

He seemed to get the message, though it caused him considerable pain.

After he left, I sat down and cried.

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