Roman smiled, enjoying Drake’s shock.
Drake saw the shape of his death in Roman’s fangs; saw it augured in his black eyes. From the folds of Roman’s clothing, his wings came, shattering the chair as he stood. Blue veins webbed his skin. His jet-black, shoulder length hair danced-macabre, flowed and swayed as if underwater.
Patiently, he’d held back, fought the call of Drake’s blood and the purity of his evil. It was well worth the wait. His nostrils flared, then gilled, slit open along the septum. He found Drake’s scent succulent, his aroma ambrosial, the taste of his terror tantalizing.
Paralyzed with fear, Drake watched as the creature stepped toward him. A voice boomed like an explosion and erupted within his mind.
This madness shall now come to an end. I am what you wish to be. I am the vampire Roman, a true vampire, an evil you cannot begin to understand. Roman’s eyes glinted, gleamed from flat black to polished onyx, a liquid darkness. Their weight fell on Drake. “What you wish for will kill you.”
“A vampire?” Drake screamed. “My minions must protect me! To arms! To arms!”
Roman grasped Drake’s neck and forced him to his knees, made him face the dead children. “Are these your minions?”
“Rise now and squash this so-called vampire! Rise and protect your king!” Drake roared.
Roman looked at the dead. They did not stir. They remained murdered.
“You’re afraid now, aren’t you?” the child-killer said, a lunatic grin deforming his face. “Look upon my court as they rise against you!”
The only thing that rose was a sob, reminding Roman of the living child. He looked at her. Meeting her gaze filled him with shame. He pitied her quandary and looked away.
He knifed a black-clawed finger into Drake’s jowl and lifted him off his feet. Blood streamed down Roman’s hand. “I see a circle of your foulest deeds. I see a circle of the dead.” He flicked his wrist and flung Drake across the breadth of the room.
Drake hit the wall with a wet crunch and crumpled to the floor. The drapes went down with him. He tried to rise, but Roman was already there. Roman lifted Drake and slammed him back into the wall. He grasped Drake about his neck and dragged him back to the circle, forced him to look at the dead children again, at his depraved labor.
“Perhaps it is time for you to see what I see,” Roman said. His essence flowed into Drake as he reached for a cadaver’s hand; the one Drake had called Roderick.
It’s the eve of Rodney’s eleventh birthday. He’s dreaming deep, of cakes, of presents, of friends, and family, of another year past, of what lies ahead. In his dream, his mother is holding a cake pierced by lit candles sparkling and bright. She’s smiling; he feels its warmth. Her eyes join the smile. They always do. He only wishes his dad were still alive. But the thought passes with the sound of his mother’s voice, singing happy birthday, soft yet clear. She reaches that part of the song where you insert the name of the celebrated. He never gets to hear his name sung. Her flocculent voice turns shrill. That mellifluous magic unravels. High-pitched screams shatter the song and the dream. When he wakes, he still hears the screams, clearer, louder. He’s afraid to open his eyes. He squeezes them shut. The screams stop. He hears a sliding sound followed by a thud, then, footsteps.
“Where’s my new recruit! Where’s my next knight!”
The footsteps draw closer, but Rodney won’t open his eyes.
“There you are, Roderick.” Footfalls stop by the foot of the bed. Then, Rodney feels weight on the mattress, that end is slightly sloping downward. He opens his eyes. There’s a man there, his knees pressing into the mattress. There’s blood on his hands; it drips on the sheets. The man pounces on the bed while reaching for something behind him. There’s a flash of silver when he pulls the hand back.
“I am the vampire Drake, your liberator and king.”
The pipe descends.
“Roderick! Roderick!” Drake said, looking to his right, his profile stretched and grimaced. He saw Rodney sitting in a rotting wooden chair closest to the throne, as he really was, young and dead. “The others will take you.”
Roman heard the doubt in his voice, the fear. Soon Drake’s world would unravel, though not until Drake saw the truth. Roman reached for another corpse.
His name is Peter. He’s naked, bleeding to death, tied to a chair. The scene shifts forward, mere seconds later. Peter’s body is now on the floor, lying on his face. Before the body grows cold, Drake mounts the boy, takes him as he does every other child he has killed.
Molted carpeting washed over marbled tiles. Drake now saw two dead children sitting in their chairs. Moist and sweating, his body shook, spasmodic, each revelation hitting him like a physical blow. Roman grabbed another body.
Her name is Janice. She never makes it past the removal of her eyes.
Three dead children sat in the circle. Their glorious garments were gone. They wore the costumes their killer had clothed them in.
Roman repeated the process eight more times.
The world dissolved around Drake; it was now as Roman saw it. He had Drake’s unitary attention, with nothing to hide behind. All that remained was Drake. All that remained was the child-killer. And for the first time Drake saw the horror of himself.
“As if the excuse of madness was something evil could hide behind,” Roman said. He felt soiled; the foul, slick sheen of Drake’s soul clung-damp.
If Roman wished to see remorse, or hear it in Drake’s voice, he was to be disappointed.
“Are you the punisher of dark deeds?” Drake said, glaring at him. “I found peace in their deaths. I enjoyed their misery and regret nothing.”
The forgotten girl dragged herself to the far corner of the room. She squirmed under one of the drapes and curled into a ball.
Suddenly, Roman felt weak. Sleep hammered his lids. His frame started to stiffen. His wings retracted. He looked to the window. Past the drapes day broke the sky. He had to seek shelter. From Drake’s mind, there was a flash of a cellar. A coffin. The coffin wasn’t required; the cellar’s shade was.
Drake tried to rise; he was met by Roman’s fist. His forehead split and cracked; he was unconscious before his body hit the floor.
Roman walked to the girl’s hiding place and reached for her. She recoiled. Sleep, Roman said, in her mind, not forcing, but suggesting, for he couldn’t make those with benign souls do his bidding. His voice was soothing, tranquil. Sleep, he said again. Her lids fluttered twice and then shut.
As he was leaving her mind, he heard those blaring chimes, accompanied by fragments of that faint majestic melody; the one he’d heard at home.
Time was waning and there wasn’t enough of it to ponder this mystery. His warming blood shouted for shade as he felt the weight of the day pressing down on him. Reluctantly, he exited her mind. He picked her up and cradled her in one arm. He removed her saliva soaked gag and threw it to the floor. There was something strange about her mouth, specifically, her upper lip. It had a smooth philtrum, no intranasal depression. He slipped the tip of his claw under the manacle on her arm and popped it. The remaining three shackles came free just as easily.
He walked over to Drake’s limp form and kicked him toward the winding stairwell. The body vaulted over the railing and out of sight. The sound of its impact brought a smile to Roman’s lips. When he reached Drake on the next landing, he kicked him again, down the final set of stairs leading to the basement.
Sprawled before a cement door, Drake laid, his legs broken at the knees, bent the wrong way. One of his arms was wedged within the cellar door’s steel handles. Bone peeked from his wrist.
Roman shifted the girl to his other arm and opened the door, swept Drake’s attached body across the floor. Legs and torso blocked the threshold. Roman marched on them, pressing down as he went. He enjoyed the crackling sounds of Drake’s breaking bones. A prelude to what was to come.
The walls and ceiling were stone; the floor was dirt. Piles of children’s clothing lay in all four corners of the chamber. Twelve, four-foot tall, wrought iron chamber sticks encircled the room, each crowned with a lit candle. Shadows streamed across the wooden coffin at the room’s center in undulating waves of illumination and darkness.
He carried the girl to the coffin and noticed how much stronger he felt now that he was below ground and away from the sun. The earth called to the dead; the earth soothed them, and Roman was no exception. When he reached the coffin, he noticed that the candles were flickering toward it. A draft. But it wasn’t coming from the open door. It was coming from above. Roman looked up. Vents lined the ceiling. Six along the top of each wall. Perfect for Drake to monitor the sounds of the house. To monitor their suffering.
He shut his eyes and gave in to the vision.
Screams fill the cellar, wails made metallic streaming from the vents. Inside the coffin, Drake lays. In his arms, a boy, two days dead. Both are naked. Dry blood and semen wed their skin.
Roman came out of the vision, metallic screams still echoing in his ears. As they faded, he opened the coffin’s lid. And although he was reluctant to lay her upon the filthy soil, where Drake had slumbered and shed innocent blood, he didn’t know where else to place her while he dealt with Drake. Though he’d swooned her, and she wouldn’t wake until tomorrow night, he wasn’t sure what her subconscious mind might record while she slept. He meant to shelter her from further horrors. And whatever barrier the coffin provided against Drake’s screams would have to do.
“You are a riddle,” he whispered to her. “A parable I plan to solve.”
He returned to Drake and dragged him inside, closed the door and engaged the deadbolt.
The human coughed. He was awake. Good. Roman knelt down beside Drake, drew him near and whispered into his ear. “It is going to be extremely painful for you now.” He paused, then continued, this time in the opposite ear. “You see, I am going to make you suffer as they did, save for the sex.”
“Must it be this way?” Drake whined. A child’s whine.
“How dare you ask for mercy?”
“How dare you judge me? How-”
Roman whipped his hand into Drake’s mouth, wrenched out the tongue, and tossed it across the room. “I wish not to hear you speak.”
Tears streamed down Drake’s face. Blood pumped from his open mouth and sloshed down his chin. Roman stood up and called his essence. He allowed the mortal to see it, to increase his terror, to further his fear. It swirled about Drake whirling white. Yet the earth was unmolested by it. The candles’ flames were undisturbed by it. Drake’s body, however, left the ground. Wisps of white mist whipped into his mouth, seeped into his ears, and plunged up his nostrils.
Roman reached for one of Drake’s hands. He began with the pinky. He yanked it backwards, towards the wrist. It snapped with a brittle pop. Next was the ring finger. It suffered the same fate and joined its palm mate at the back of the hand. Drake’s three remaining fingers followed suit. A kaleidoscope of blue, purple, and black erupted along swelling and ballooning skin.
Without pause, Roman’s hands roamed up Drake’s arms. They moved with an unnatural speed as they shattered every bone they touched. None remained intact. Roman moved to the next hand.
Sweat poured down Drake’s face and Roman smiled. “I can hear your soul scream.” He reached for Drake’s feet. He started at the toes and worked his way up, his hands blurring as they went.
Roman released him. The child killer crashed to the floor, puffed and bloated. With his essence, Roman willed the human to a sitting position, then sat down by him and casually threw his arm around him. “We are not done yet.” He brought a clawed finger to Drake’s eye.
Jesus, stop. Oh God, no! Drake’s mind screamed.
Roman stopped, his clawed finger poised to dig out the orb. “God is not here.” He plunged his claw into Drake’s eye socket and fingered loose the eyeball. “Nor is his son.” The eye dropped onto Drake’s formless lap. It was still attached to its socket by strings of optic nerve fibers. Roman severed the threads with a claw.
“We are almost at the end, dear Drake.” Roman removed the second eye. “I am not going to take your life now, but you will not live to see another night. I am going to drain you, though not completely. You will remain here tongue-less and eyeless. I shall take rest in your coffin. Your mind’s screams will lull me to sleep, as theirs did for you.”
Roman slammed his face to Drake’s neck; his fangs punctured flesh. Minuscule holes on their pointed tips siphoned nourishment like a mosquito’s stinger. His ivory canines flushed pink, filled with blood, and his gums soaked up what blood the fangs missed. Roman’s pale pigmentation darkened and became something closer to human. Blue veins receded into his skin. Now robust lips reddened, swelled, thickened. Black orbs gave way to white. Irises turned blue as they mimicked their host. No blood escaped the lipped seal. No drop was wasted.
Roman felt his dead organ stir as it woke in his chest. The sensation filled him with both sorrow and joy. It reinforced the wretchedness of his existence. In order for him to live, he had to kill. In order for him to survive, someone had to suffer. But now the bloodlust was upon him and the despair faded. Abandoned for ecstasy. Discarded for delight. And what were once gentle laps became frenzied gulps. His throat bulged.
He felt Drake’s heartbeat ebb and pushed him away. His own heart stuttered, then came to a halt, returning to death until the next feed.
He walked to the coffin and gently lifted the girl off the dirt, brushed away the soil clinging to the back of her shirt and released his wings, then wrapped them about her, leaving her head exposed against his chest and crawled inside. Before shutting the lid, he looked at Drake. He’d left him weak. He’d left him broken. Soon Drake would die. Maybe in an hour. Maybe in minutes. Nevertheless, for Drake, a small forever.
Roman opened his mouth and aimed his breath at the candles. The flames froze, fell to the earth and shattered. He shut the coffin’s lid as Drake’s mewling moans led him off to sleep.