Tuesday, September 13, 2016

DUSK

Genre: Horror




DUSK
By Daniel Skye




As the sun set and disappeared below the horizon, Lucius awoke from his diurnal slumber.

Contrary to popular belief, Lucius did not sleep in a coffin as it has been depicted in film and literature. Coffins were meant for the deceased, a category Lucius didn’t quite fall into.

Lucius found coffins to be cramped and confined, and he never understood where this myth had spawned from. Lucius wasn’t so different from you or me. He slept in a king-size bed every night…well, to be technical, every morning.

He sat up in bed and checked his pocket watch, a relic from the 19th century that he couldn’t bear to part with. Digital watches were abundant and inexpensive, but they could never replace his vintage pocket watch. As long as that watch kept ticking, it’d never leave his side.

The windows in his bedroom were boarded up from the inside, so Lucius went straight from the bedroom to the living room. He peeked out through the venetian blinds and watched as a fading twilight paved the way for a gloomy dusk.

Lucius released a sigh. But this was not a sigh of discontent. This was a sigh of relief, gratification. This was his favorite part of the evening. There was something so eerily satisfying about watching the darkness slowly creep in and envelop everything around it.

            The red brick fireplace was already stacked with cordwood. Lucius crumpled a few pages of an outdated newspaper and stuffed them into the fireplace, under the firewood, and lit it with a long match from a box on the mantle.

            Lucius could not feel the cold, nor the heat, for that matter. But every winter night, he made a fire and sat in his favorite chair, clutching a snifter of brandy with his thin, claw-like fingers. And this night was no exception.

            He went to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of brandy from a bottle he got from the cabinet under the sink, then he walked back to the living room and sat by the fire in a chair bound with red leather.

            Wind traveled down the chimney, causing the flames to dance and sway. His eyes perused the fire with a clear lack of enthusiasm. The fire did not intimidate him; it never did. But it didn’t stimulate him like it used to, either. He used to appreciate sitting in front of the fire with his brandy, but it had lost its charm. He’d grown bored with this ritual. Truth be told, he’d grown bored with life in general.

            He sipped his brandy and tried to keep the memories at bay. This constant isolation gave Lucius nothing but time to ponder his misdeeds. But he never asked for this life. He wasn’t born into it. He wasn’t a vampire by choice. He was like an untamed animal, loose in the wild, doing whatever it had to do in order to survive.

He finished his brandy, got up, and refilled the glass with a red, viscous liquid that he poured from a vial he’d taken from the freezer. There was just enough to fill the glass halfway.

            He took his seat again by the fireplace and stared lifelessly into the flames, contemplating his immortality. But immortality came at a heavy price. Low on blood, Lucius would have to hunt again soon in order to subsist.

He had survived war, famine, plagues, and pestilence. He had lived since the 18th century. Watched the times changes, watched the world perpetually reinvent itself, watched us evolve from primitive savages to sophisticated savages.

He wondered if he was getting greedy. Overstaying his welcome. All those innocent people that had to die for him to survive this long. But his avarice far exceeded his compassion for humanity. If society knew that monsters like Lucius walked among them, he’d be hunted down and killed. Or worse, the government would keep him alive to experiment on him.

Lucius had seen visions of his own demise. He’d envisioned an angry mob chasing him through the streets with torches like Frankenstein’s monster. He saw the mob lining up to plunge stakes through his heart or saw off his head. In these visions, not all the townsfolk had stakes. Some of them carried axes or pitchforks or baseball bats. Some of them were toting shotguns or wearing crosses around their neck. But all of these visions shared the same ending. It ended in Lucius’s death.

            Lucius could not see his own reflection in the mirror, but aside from his pallid complexion, he was virtually ageless in every other aspect. His jet-black hair was thick and full, and he always kept it slicked back. He wasn’t trying to impress; he just liked how it looked. His skin, though pale, was taut, not saggy or wrinkled. He hadn’t aged physically since the day he was turned.

            The snifter rested in his hand, the blood untouched. This evening, his mind was overwhelmed with thought. Something was nagging at him, something that refused to let up.

Lucius was a walking thesaurus. You don’t live over two hundred years without soaking up knowledge and language like a sponge. But one word had been plaguing him for years.

           He scanned the archives of his brain for every synonym he could conjure up. Malevolent. Sinister. Creepy. Baleful. Malicious. Wicked. Sinful. Vile. Vicious. Fiendish. Diabolical. But there was one word that truly summed it all up in four letters.

“Evil,” he said. The word rolled off his tongue and exited his mouth as a harsh whisper. “Am I truly evil?”

He stared into the fire for hours on end, until the wood was nothing but small chunks of glowing red embers, debating that question for half of the night. He tried to count the number of people who had suffered at his hands, but he lost track several times and inevitably stopped trying to figure it out.

The number was big enough to inspire guilt in even the coldest of hearts. And Lucius had the coldest heart of them all. But a small part of him was still capable of feeling regret. Arguably his biggest regret had been the Pickman incident.

Christmas 1997. Lucius was prowling the streets that night and his hunger had gotten the better of him. He did something he had never done before. A light was on in the upstairs bedroom of a house on Pickman Street.

Lucius had never learned her name, but her face stayed with him after all those years. Shoulder-length chestnut brown hair, light hazel eyes, with a scattering of golden brown freckles across her rosy cheeks.

The woman was getting ready for bed when Lucius crawled in through the window and gave her the fright of her life. Her son, only six years old at the time, heard the scuffle that ensued and thought it was Santa Claus coming down the chimney. He rushed into his mother’s room to tell her of Santa’s arrival. And what he saw that night would change his life forever.

The sheets and pillow cases were saturated with blood. Lucius saw the boy watching him and looked up, retracting his fangs from the mother’s neck. The boy stood at the threshold of the door, paralyzed with fear. Lucius could have taken that child’s life, but instead he slipped out through the window, and disappeared into the night.

Lucius never saw the boy again, but knew the mark he’d left on him. That boy would never be the same again. And he knew the boy would never forget his face, just as Lucius could never forget the face of his mother. And no amount of brandy or blood could ever wash away that lingering regret.

Lucius never did solve his internal debate. In the end, he simply couldn’t decide. Good? Evil? It all depended on the definition that society bestowed upon the words.

In the time that had passed, he hadn’t even touched his drink. The blood was warm now, but it made no difference to Lucius. Vampires can’t afford to be particular. It wasn’t like taking your pick at the buffet. He took whatever he could get.

He emptied the snifter and wiped the blood away from his lips. But it still wasn’t enough to quell his thirst. He craved fresh blood. And fresh blood he was going to get.


* * *


When his hunger flared up, Lucius took to Ravensville Park. The park wasn’t so much a park as it was a refuge for hobos, stray runaways, junkies, and denizens of the city. And no matter how many bodies piled up around Ravensville Park over the years, the cops didn’t bat an eye.

Most of the victims had no immediate family, no relatives or friends, nobody to mourn their loss. And the cops didn’t have the time or the resources to pursue these investigations with more pressing priorities at hand.

Lucius moved quietly through the park, his footsteps producing no sounds. The winters were cold in Ravensville, meaning a large number of the homeless population had sought refuge at actual shelters, where they had food and cots and heat. But Lucius eventually came across a park bench where a young man was resting.

The top of his head was covered by a wool cap, and the lower half of his face was covered by a gray scarf. All that was visible were his eyes. He wore a red parka, gloves, and boots, but even those didn’t help fend off the cold.

“What’s your name?” Lucius asked, startling the young man.

“Ra-Ra-Ray,” he stammered. “Raymond Kessler.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kessler. I’m Lucius. And what is your story.”

“My story?”

“Yes, your story. Are you a junkie? You homeless?”

“I got kicked out by my foster parents. They don’t approve of my lifestyle choices.”

“Lifestyle choices?”

“I’m gay.”

“That’s alright. I don’t discriminate. You all taste the same to me.” Lucius grinned just to flash his razor-sharp fangs to Raymond.

Raymond recoiled at the sight. “Are you…are you Dracula?”

“Don’t be preposterous. Dracula is only a myth, a horror tale. Vampires do exist. But there’s no Dracula. No head vampire. Vampirism started as a genetic curse. There was no explanation for it. Some babies were born with no genetic defects. Other were born with fangs and a thirst for blood. It didn’t start spreading until they learned they could pass on the curse through their bites.”

“Is that what happened to you?”

Lucius yanked down his shirt collar to reveal the two bite marks that were still visible after all this time.

“Holy shit,” Raymond exclaimed.

“I’ve never understood that expression,” Lucius shrugged. “What is holy about shit?”

“It’s just an expression,” Raymond said, trying to keep the conversation going and buy himself some time.

“While you’re at it, can you explain to me why most people assume vampires sleep in coffins?”

“That’s usually what they show on TV and in movies.”

“And I suppose you think I was born in Transylvania or something?”

“Now that you mention it…”

“I was born in Italy before your great-great grandparents were even born. I’ve seen more than most people would ever wish to see. Horrors you could not imagine.”

“Then why would you want those horrors to continue? Why feed on the blood of the living?”

Lucius pondered his question; the same question he’d been pondering all night.

“Just let me go,” Raymond continued. “My parents are tough, but they’ll come around. They’ll learn to accept me as I am. But they can’t do that if I’m dead.”

“Who said I was going to kill you? I could just drain some of your blood and turn you if I wanted to.”

“God, please, no,” he cried. “I’d rather be dead.”

Lucius took no offense to his protests. In fact, he was starting to see it from Raymond’s point of view. If Raymond would rather be dead than be a vampire, what did that say about Lucius? It told him that he was a monster, plain and simple. It had brought closure to his endless debate. He truly was the personification of evil.

And looking down on this boy, trembling and on the verge of wetting his pants, Lucius felt something he hadn’t felt in the longest time. He felt pity.

He sat down on the bench beside Raymond and looked at him, looked past the fear in his eyes. He saw a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. And Lucius saw no reason to cut it short.

Raymond stared back at him, and Lucius saw the fear in his eyes had been replaced with something entirely different. The look Raymond gave him was a look of recollection.

“It’s you,” Raymond whispered. “I could never forget that face. You killed my mother. So, what? After all these years, you’ve come back to finish me off? Go ahead. Get it over with. Id’ rather die than be anything like you.”

Raymond had removed his cap and scarf so Lucius could get a better look at him. It took him a moment to recall his face, but there was no doubt in his mind. This was the same boy that had lived on Pickman Street back in 1997. And this revelation did more than persuade Lucius to let him go.

“Raymond Kessler, this is your lucky day. I’m going to spare your life, on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“You must wait here with me for the sun to rise.”

“But won’t you–”

“Yes, when the sun rises, it will destroy me. I will cease to exist. And the world will be a better place without me.”

“But why?"

“For years, it’s been gnawing away at me. But tonight helped put it all into perspective. I can’t deny it any longer. I am a monster. And monsters have no place among the living.”

In the hours that passed, Lucius regaled Raymond with stories of his past. He’d lived through it all, and he wanted to pass along some of the better memories before his time ran out. And seeing as how he wouldn’t be needing it anymore, he decided to pass along something else to Raymond.

“It still works,” Lucius said, taking the pocket watch from his coat and placing it in Raymond’s hand.

Raymond looked back at him with a hint of gratitude. “It’s almost morning,” he said.

“You should go,” Lucius told him.

“No, I promised I would stay to the end.”

“Then at least step away from me. Things are about to heat up, if you catch my drift.”

Raymond took his advice and got up, stepped away from the bench.

“The last time I saw the sun rise was 1758 in Ancient Rome,” Lucius shared. “Too bad I won’t live to remember this one.”

As the sun rose above the vast trees, Lucius felt a warm sensation overtake him. It was a sensation he was certain he had lost forever. And although that feeling signaled death, he embraced it.

The flames came gradually, sprouting up on his chest and back. Soon, his arms were swords of fire. It hurt more than Lucius had imagined. But pain was something he had long forgotten, something he thought he’d never feel again. And it was a surprisingly welcome change from a life of apathy.

The fire consumed his body, until all that remained was a pile of smoldering ash that was quickly swept away by the wind.

Raymond, still grasping the pocket watch, tucked it away in his parka. He put his wool cap back on, wrapped his scarf around his neck and the lower half of his face to shield himself from the cold. Then he started walking.

He had some cash on him, but he wasn’t hungry. And he wasn’t ready to face his foster parents again, not yet at least. Raymond had only one destination. The cemetery. He needed to see his mother’s grave.

Raymond often visited her grave with flowers. He’d sit and talk to her for hours. And there was certainly a lot he had to share with her that morning. When he got there, he planned to leave the pocket watch at her grave, as a sign of victory. The nightmare that had plagued him since childhood was finally over, and he believed his mother could finally rest easy.

On his quiet morning walk, he remembered what Lucius had said. About how he wasn’t the only vampire. He couldn’t help but wonder how many other monsters were out there, blending in with society. The thought would continue to haunt him for many years to come.

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