Of Shakespeare And The Vampire Hitman
I revel in darkness and slumber through light. That’s how it’s told, anyway. It’s the story I daydream. For a moment I forget who and what and where I am. But there’s no escaping the taste in my mouth—or the knowledge of humans to come. They complain about their dreams. Humans do. Nightmares, they call them. I never understood that. How can anyone fear an escape from reality? Then again, it wholly depends on the reality in question. From my standpoint, evil has its very own perspective. And it’s impartial to human worry and consideration. It doesn’t dwell on things as they do. It just is. If they’d learn to accept that, embrace it even, then things might get easier for them—eventually. If not, well, it certainly makes things easier for me.
A former retainer summed it up accurately when he said: “There are vampires. There are hit men. Then there’s nature’s most perfect mistake. There’s the vampire hit man. The utter absurdity of such a cartoonish combination is precisely what allows it—you—to thrive beneath the surface. This realization becomes a religious experience. It’s about revering that which escapes the eyes, acknowledging a power far greater than man, and kneeling to pray that it’s on one’s side.” There was a casual eloquence in his words. And I think of them often. He was right, after all. People don’t know. They never have. Even if they did, it wouldn’t particularly matter. Humans refuse to entertain such extraordinary possibilities. A preternatural creature as an assassin is too exotic for their blood. It’s what comic books are made of. Fortunately for me, their denial sucks them dry. It feeds the masses. And it pays me well. It’s the biter or the bitten. And the receiving end is always less desirable. I should know. I blink through their nightmares.
Solar-powered blinds retract with the setting of the sun. I’m greeted with the hot, busy lights of a vast and treacherous city. I smell them down there, the sickly humans, playing out their tragedies under the cover of night. Their musky bodies seek refuge beneath dark, silky sheets, as they lose themselves in the arms of others and their easy dreams. They retreat to the filthy alleyways, to dank shadows, where they wretch out their insides, purging themselves of simple, bitter lies. I hear them, too—fucking and hating and loving and killing behind stout doors and in the streets. Their paved sanctuary pains my ancient ears.
I am at once reminded of Shakespeare, of a certain conversation I shared with him, long ago—in terms of human years. I was traveling through England, where I moonlighted as a playwright. In that capacity I was lucky enough to have made his acquaintance. Shakespeare was himself well versed in vampirism. He became a well-regarded confidante. We had many noteworthy discussions concerning the fact that most of his work, albeit on a surreptitious level, dealt with the humor and drama of humans and vampires coexisting in an uncertain world. On one occasion he confided in me the truth of Hamlet’s soliloquy. He smiled when others perceived it as a poetic contemplation of life and suicide. “To be or not to be, that is the question.” The context of those words has never been understood. Shakespeare was weighing the possibility of joining my ranks, of becoming one with the darkness. The decision tortured him relentlessly. Another time, he admitted that Romeo and Juliet was nothing more than a literary expression of the utter impossibility of integrating his species with my own. Shakespeare struggled as a man, always treading the line separating the two.
One uncomfortably warm and hazy summer’s night, under the influence of much fine drink, he inquired as to whether or not I considered the gift of potential immortality worth the price of having to spend eternity among the likes of humanity. Furthermore, he took keen interest in asking me about the eventual fate of mankind. He wanted to know if someone privileged enough to have wandered through a remarkable amount of time—someone higher on the food chain—might lend an insight into the probability for a collective betterment of mankind. Then he questioned the cognitive ability of future generations. He was woefully concerned they’d lack the acumen to uncover the truths within his writing.
I furnished no answers, and he wholly understood my silence. Then his curiosity got the better of him, as it does with most everyone given the opportunity to cross over. He pleaded for the bite. Eventually, I gave it to him. And I watched him turn. Then the two of us visited a local tavern, where we happened upon several individuals critical of his work. We feasted until sunrise.
History faked his death on April 23, 1616, and placed a curse above his grave—one warning against moving bones that were never his. He had disappeared.
“Darkness falling,” I say, in an easy whisper. My voice activates an audio sensitive electrical circuit, illuminating the penthouse apartment with a soft glow of warm light. Everything is black and white and glass. The floors are cold marble. Postmodern art adorns the walls. The furnishings are elegant and spare. Jazz plays lightly in the background.
I’m on my back, lying in a long, rectangular bed. My entire ceiling is a mirror. I see everything beneath it, everything around me—everything except myself. It serves as a constant reminder. There is nothing up there, not for me. Not for my kind. No one is watching. No one is waiting. And no one cares. On the other hand, it’s quite a bit simpler to do what I do, when I don’t have to look at my reflection.
I recall a moment when life was much different. I was reclining upon a luxurious mountain of soft, cool pillows, looking to the stars from Castle Čachtice: a massive stronghold atop a rugged mountain in Slovakia. My sculpted body, a pale and naked shadow under the fullness of the moon, was entwined with a lady of nobility—one I’d met in the course of my journeys through Hungary. Her wondrous skin was unnaturally soft and white, and covered a smooth, rounded face that contrasted starkly with her ravenous, amber-colored eyes and thick raven hair. She possessed a sublimely devilish charm, in that she was both hauntingly beautiful and masterfully cruel. Her agenda was sinister. She abducted hundreds of young women, tortured them wickedly, and partook of their blood. She bathed in it, drank of it, and considered it the key to retaining her youthful luster. She was Countess Elizabeth Báthory, later known as Countess Dracula. And she was human. It was December 30, 1590.
On that frigid winter’s night, she expressed her desire for my company. She wanted it for the remainder of her life. And she welcomed me to make a home for myself, there, in her late husband’s castle. I was able to escape daylight by retreating to the catacombs, or to the dungeon—where she maintained a generous stock of healthy young bodies from which the two of us extracted our nourishment.
The conversation turned to her fondness of astronomy, her family’s dealings in Transylvania, and finally, her infatuation with my otherworldly capabilities. Then she unleashed her omnipotent lust, as if an offering of flesh might have summoned a deeper understanding of her unquenchable yearning for blood. She needed to explore the source. And she did so.
But she professed no desire to experience the bite, claiming that the monotony of human rituality was easily overcome by the willingness to lose one’s self in the utter indifference of nature. She was of the opinion that nothing I could do, never mind the extent of my power, would increase her passion or capacity for evil. She merely enjoyed the camaraderie of an equally violent and soulless counterpart. The feeling was mutual.
History, however, had other plans. It was exactly twenty years later, during the night of December 30, 1610, on which occasion I was untold miles away, relaxing outside a London café, where I was breaking bread with Shakespeare. Assigned by King Matthias, György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, confirmed his own suspicions of the Countess’s behavior by executing a midnight raid into Čachtice. Upon entering through open gates, torches in hand, he and his men beheld a drunken New Year’s orgy of deliberate depravity. One woman, grotesquely slouched, was found to be entirely drained of her blood. Others were caged, fat and healthy, awaiting the order to contribute their fluids. The evidence was overwhelming. Shortly thereafter the Countess was put on permanent house arrest, and bricked up in a single room within her castle—where she spent the last four years of her life in perpetual darkness.
By the time I made my return, she’d known solitude for many nights. I floated in the wind outside her chamber, speaking softly through narrow slits in the icy stone walls. I offered to free her from her prison, so that we might rekindle what the two of us had known. She made me feel as I imagined a human might, and many things became clear. But she was happy there, quiet and alone, away from the light. And there she died, without the blood to keep her young. Perhaps at the end, more than ever before, she felt most like a vampire. Things were different, indeed.
Once again, I experience the familiar taste in my mouth, working its way into my closely filed incisors. Hunger pains, though ever-present, are easily addressed. Swooping out of night skies to gorge from bare necks was a necessary evil of times past. Not anymore—not for me. Free-range feeding has become more of a time-consuming, personally hazardous, and generally unpleasant necessity for those common vampires lacking the comforts of technological sophistication.
These thoughts creep in my head as I look to a yellow inhaler fitted with a red, cylindrical tube. It’s on my night stand. I need it much more than I want it. That’s what humans will never understand. It’s beyond addiction. It’s a rule. And in terms of essentials, it’s a prerequisite for life. My mind wanders while my hands inspect the components. I shake the inhaler, gently, and place it between my lips. Then I squeeze, activating the release mechanism. My chest heaves as I inhale deeply, filling my lungs with molecularly enhanced and pressurized artificial blood.
Rather than infusing me with a creaturely aggression—an insatiable hunger—the privately manufactured designer supplement keeps the wrath at bay. I equate it to a nicotine patch from hell. Beyond that, it’s a convenient method of sustenance, lacking the innumerable blood-borne diseases, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle-related carcinogenic toxicities that have become such a commonplace in the men and women of the twenty-first century. It’s also proportionately balanced with red and white cells and possesses a precise ph balance of 7.40. Most importantly, its host to exact amounts of glycoprotein, immunoglobulin, and serum albumin—components integral in both maintaining internal equilibrium and preventing a condition vampires’ flinchingly refer to as “batting out.” I call it night thrashing. I’ve witnessed the spectacle first-hand, and liken it to a case of rabies to the tenth power, coupled with limitless strength and a profound mental clarity. It’s far from pretty, and one may as well forget about stakes to the heart. At that point, even God is of no help.
I’m left pondering my most recent hit, seemingly incapable of shedding the experience: Florence, Italy; September, 2013. In the midst of his self-consciously lavish forty-second birthday celebration, a one-eyed international arms dealer with a ten million dollar bounty on his head decided to use an expertly carved South American blow gun on two of his beautiful, unsuspecting friends. The darts were tipped with a novel compound containing seventeen ultra-fast-acting neurotoxins designed to complement one another in synergistic lethality. The artist, on his third bottle of the finest Napoleon Brandy, was a fine shot. In the time it took the significantly intoxicated couple to decide what vintage of port might best accompany their crème de menthe chocolate torte’, two perfectly placed slivers of wood sent them tumbling to the highly polished stainless steel floor.
The eleven remaining guests, seemingly oblivious, remained in amicable conversation, as the husband and wife of twenty-three years fell prey to paralysis and asphyxiation—their faces as blue as the Italian dessert ware.
I witnessed the incident from above, circling through invisible clouds, knowing it was half-past one in the morning. An hour passed. His servants removed the bodies and the attendees parted ways. Then the arms dealer adjourned to his balcony, jutting from an elegant high rise, where he used a long wooden match to light a fresh Havana Corona. He too watched from above, through swirling smoke, studying the metropolis pulsing beneath him.
And then I was there, from the shadows, sitting as his side. His thick face, though drained of color, was taut with sinewy muscle. It revealed no hint of panic or surprise. His pale-grey eye, adjacent to a hollow, puckered socket, shone silver in the moonlight. It appeared unconcerned. And his voice was both strong and steady. I detected no trace of fear as he offered me a cigar. I accepted it and thanked him. He smiled, revealing large, white teeth.
“Nature teaches beasts to know their friends,” he said. “Cariolanus, Act II, scene 1,” I replied.” “Ah, indeed. I wholeheartedly appreciate anyone who finds joy in a Shakespearean conversation,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you for quite some time,” he continued. “You hear things out there,” he said, waving his fingers, “chillingly dark things, when your profession assists in the eradication of a dominant species. And I’ve been hearing about an extraordinarily complicated gentleman. A vampire, if I understand correctly. He’s been known to fulfill contracts in blood—to even out the gene pool for mortals lucky enough to have avoided the endeavors of men such as myself. It’s my understanding that he’s been in operation for well over a thousand years. A fly-by night institution, if you’ll excuse the humor—with a contract-for-hire status. That’s what I’ve heard. Then someone had the decency to inform me that said services were retained in relation to my own well-being. I wasn’t especially impressed. And I’m even less surprised to see you here. Death salivates over men like me. And it assumes many forms beyond the obvious. Soul or no soul, I have dues to pay…And how it will hurt. But we all lie in wait, don’t we? Whether or not we choose to distract ourselves from the inevitable is only that—a choice. Like that couple, earlier tonight. I knew them well for twenty years. You saw them, didn’t you?” “Saw all,” I said.
He chewed on the tip of his cigar, crossed his spindly legs, and continued. “They were hopelessly consumed by their own devices, drunk on themselves…And with an air of unquestioning self-entitlement. It’s not that it took me two decades to reach such a conclusion. Birthdays are a time for unsubtle reflection. As it is, perhaps I’m growing less tolerant in middle-age. But don’t let that fool you. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. The weapons I’ve sold have proved rather useful in their capacity to move man one step closer to extinction. Fundamentally speaking, we were given a fantastic chance to achieve a great balance of purity and understanding…An untainted ball of clay to shape and form to our every specification…And with it, the opportunity to create and sustain a truly beautiful world. But we faltered in our approach. We succumbed to our inability to nurture the better half of our primitive natures. We bowed to our demons. And we raped the earth along the way. So, you see, we have no place here. Not any longer. And that, ironically enough, puts us in the very same business. So, I am ready. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” he added, quoting Shakespeare. Then he stood, smiled slightly, and spoke once again: “Do your worst, strange friend.”
I crawl from bed and make way to what I call my “cavern of reconstitution.” The specially constructed room is walled with lava rock, and has several smooth benches chiseled from stone. Ultra-low wattage ultraviolet lights, encased in a specially tinted glass polymer, run the length of the ceiling. Once inside, I activate a switch and stretch out my naked body. First, the lights jump to life and an uncomfortable heat radiates throughout my skin. The sensation is familiar, and I bear it well. Then, diluted holy water spiked with traces of allicin, an active component in garlic, flash boils in a tank within the walls. Steel pipes feed the hot steam to my opening pours. Initially, there is a substantial discomfort, a kind of tense inner-burn. Then it subsides, leaving me sweating and unconcerned.
The pain is nothing like it used to be, five hundred years ago, when I began swallowing a garlic shaving steeped in well-cut water of the church. The last quarter of a century has afforded me the liberty of reclining under the lights in preparation for the sun. And for fifty years now, I’ve subjected myself to bi-weekly intra-cardiac injections of lignin, a complex chemical compound derived from wood. At first, I thought I understood what humans meant when they described a heart attack. The suffering was unholy. Then the accompaniment of chest pain was less frequent. Soon, no sharpened stick will pose a threat. Then there are crosses. Though once a threat in the right hands, they no longer present a problem. Humans have lost their conviction.
Another century, give or take a decade, and the immunization process will be complete. I’ll no longer be constrained by the few but inescapable rules that keep a vampire from invincibility. It’s told that I revel in darkness and slumber through light. And it’s true. For now.
Copyright ©2008 Jon Neralich