Chapter 10

I stand on a vast grass field of many gently sloping hills. It is night, yet the sky is bright. There is no sun, but a hundred blazing blue stars, each shimmering in a long river of nebulous cloud. The air is warm, pleasant, fragrant with the perfume of a thousand invisible flowers. In the distance a stream of people walk toward a large vessel of some type, nestled between the hills. The ship is violet, glowing; the bright rays that stab forth from it seem to reach to the stars. Somehow I know that it is about to leave and that I am supposed to be on it. Yet, before I depart, there is something I have to discuss with Lord Krishna.

He stands beside me on the wide plain, his gold flute in his right hand, a red lotus flower in his left. His dress is simple, as is mine-long blue gowns that reach to the ground. Only he wears a single jewel around his neck-the brilliant Kaustubha gem, in which the destiny of every soul can be seen. He does not look at me but toward the vast ship, and the stars beyond. He seems to be waiting for me to speak, but for some reason I cannot remember what he said last. I only know that I am a special case. Because I do not know what to ask, I say what is most on my mind. "When will I see you again, my Lord?" He gestures to the vast plain, the thousands of people leaving. 'The earth is a place of time and dimension. Moments here can seem like an eternity there. It all depends on your heart. When you remem?ber me, I am there in the blink of an eye." "Even on earth?"

He nods. "Especially there. It is a unique place. Even the gods pray to take birth there." "Why is that, my Lord?"

He smiles faintly. His smile is bewitching. It has been said, I know, that the smile of the Lord has bewildered the minds of the angels. It has bewildered mine.

"One question always leads to another question. Some things are better to wonder about" He turns toward me finally, his long black hair blowing in the soft night breeze. The stars reflect in his black pupils; the whole universe is there. The love that flows from him is the sweetest ambrosia in all the heavens. Yet it breaks my heart to feel because I know it will soon be gone. "It is all mayo," he says. "Illusion."

"Will I get lost in this illusion, my Lord?"

"Of course. It is to be expected. You will be lost for a long time."

"I will forget you?"

"Yes."

I feel tears on my face. "Why does it have to be that way?"

He considers. "There was this great god who was master of a vast ocean. This ocean-you may not know its name, but it is very near to here. This god had three wives. You know how hard it is to please one wife? You can imagine how difficult it was to keep all three happy. Not long after he married the three, two of them came to him and asked for gifts. The first one said, 'O great Lord. We are the finest of your wives, the most beautiful. Reward us with special presents and we will be most pleased.' And the second one said, 'We have served you faithfully and love none other than you. Give us treasures and we will stay with you for the rest of your life.' The god laughed at their requests, but because he was pleased with them, he fulfilled their wishes. To the first he gave all the jewels in his ocean: the diamonds, the emeralds, the sap?phires. To the second he gave all the colored coral, all the beautiful seashells. The third wife, of course, asked for nothing in particular. So he gave her the salt."

"The salt, my Lord? Is that all?"

"Yes. Because she asked nothing from him, he gave her the salt, which she spread out in the ocean. All the bright jewels became invisible, and all the pretty seashells were covered over. And the first two wives were unable to find their treasure and so were left with nothing. So you see the salt was the greatest of the gifts, or at least the most powerful." Krishna pauses. "You understand this story, Sita?"

I hesitate. There are always many meanings in his stories. "Yes. This nearby ocean is the creation we are about to enter. The salt is the maya, the illusion, that covers its treasures."

Krishna nods. "Yes. But understand that these treasures are not evil, and the goddesses who own them are not simply vain. Dive deep into this ocean and they will cause currents to stir that will lead you to things you cannot imagine." He pauses and then continues in a softer voice, once more looking at the sky. "I dreamed of the earth, and that is how it came to be. In my dream I saw you there." He reaches out and his hand touches my hair and I feel I will swoon. "You go there to learn things that only earth can teach. That is true but it is also false. All of truth is paradoxical. With me, there is never any coming or going. Do you understand?"

"No, my Lord."

He removes his hand. "It doesn't matter. You are like the earth, unique. But unlike the others you see before you, you will not come and go there many times. In your dream, and mine, you will go there and stay."

"For how long, my Lord?"

"You will be born at the beginning of one age. You will not leave until the next age comes."

My tears return. "And in all that time I am never to see you?"

"You will see me not long after you are changed. Then, it is possible, you may see me again before you leave the earth." Krishna smiles. "It is all up to you."

I do not understand what he means by changed, but have more pressing concerns. "But I don't want to go at all!"

He laughs so easily. "You say that now. You will not say that... later." His eyes hold mine for what seems a moment, but perhaps is much longer. In that brief span I see many faces, many stars. It is as if the whole universe spins below and completes an entire revolu?tion. But I have not left the hilltop. I continue to stare into Krishna's eyes. Or are they really eyes and not windows into a portion of myself that I have striven so hard to reclaim? A tiny globe of light emerges from his eyes and floats into mine, a living world of many forms and shapes. He speaks to me in a whisper. "How do you feel now, Sita?"

I raise my hand to my head. "Dizzy. I feel somehow as if I have just lived..." I stop. "I feel as if I have already been to earth and been married and had a child! It is all so strange. I feel as if I have been something other than human. Is that possible?"

He nods. "You will be human for only a short time. And, yes, it has all happened already. You see, that is the mayo. You think what you have to do, to accomplish, to perfect yourself to reach me. But there is no doer-ship. You are always with me, and I am always with you. Still, it is deep in your heart to be different from the rest, to try to do in one long life what it takes others thousands of lives to accomplish. So be it. You are an angel, but you wish to be like me. But I am both angel and demon, good and evil. Yet I am above all these things. Dive deep into the ocean, Sita, and you will find that the greatest treasures you find are the illusions you leave behind."

"I do not understand."

"It doesn't matter." He raises his flute to his lips. "Now I will play you a song made up of the seven notes of humanity. All the emotions you will feel as a human and as a vampire. Remember this song and you will remember me. Sing this song and I will be there."

"Wait! What is a vampire?"

But Krishna has already started to play. As I strive to listen a sudden wind comes up on the plain and the notes are drowned out. The dust rises and I am blinded, and I can't see Krishna anymore. I can't feel him near. The light of the stars fades and all goes dark. And my sorrow is great.

Yet I have to wonder if I have lost the song because I have become the song. If I have lost my Lord because I do indeed desire to be what I will become. A lover who hates, a saint who sins, and an angel who kills.

I awake to a world I don't want. There is no transition for me. I am in paradise, I am in hell.

"Hello?" a voice says.

Actually, I am in a cheap motel. Looking around, I see a chipped chest of drawers, a dusty mirror that reflects bare walls, a dumpy mattress. It is on this mattress that I lay, naked, covered with a sheet. In this reflection I also see Special Agent Joel Drake, who sits on a chair near the window and waits anxiously for me to respond to his query. But I say nothing at first.

Ray is dead. I know this, I feel this. Yet, at the same time I hurt too much to feel anything. I hear my heart pump inside my chest. It cannot belong to me, howev?er. In my long life I have drunk the blood of thou?sands, but now I am an empty vessel. I shiver even though the room is warm.

"Yes?" I say finally.

"Sita." In the mirror I watch the reflection of Joel come and sit on the bed beside me. The soggy springs respond to the weight, and my body sags in the middle. "Are you all right?" he asks.

"Yes."

"You're in a motel. I took you here after the explosion at the warehouse. That was twelve hours ago. You have slept away the entire day."

"Yes."

He speaks without believing his own words. "I followed in your footsteps. I went to see the mother. She was in a strange state, incoherent, like a broken record. She kept repeating the location of the ware?house that blew up. She said little else."

"Yes." Clearly I pushed the mother's brain too hard, etched my suggestion in her psyche, set up an echo. I have done this in the past, and the effect is seldom permanent. The woman will probably be all right in a day or two. Not that I care.

"I immediately drove to the warehouse," Joel con?tinues. "When I got there you and your partner were confronting that guy. I was running over just as the explosion happened." He pauses. "You were thrown free, but I was sure you were dead. You bit a brick wall with incredible force, and your clothes were all on fire. I covered you with my coat and put out the flames. Then I saw that you were still breathing. I loaded you in my car and was taking you to the hospital when I noticed ... I saw with my own eyes." He has trouble speaking. "You started to heal, right there in front of me. The cuts on your face closed, and your back-it had to be broken in a hundred places-just knit back together. I thought to myself, "This is impossible. I can't take her to a hospital. They'll want to lock her away for the next ten years for observation." He stops. "So I brought you here. Are you following this?"

"Yes."

He is getting desperate. "Tell me what's happening here. Who are you?"

I continue to stare in the mirror. I don't want to ask the questions. Simply to ask is to be weak, and I am always strong. It is not as though I have any hope. Yet I ask anyway.

"The young man near the truck..." I begin.

"Your partner? The guy who was on fire?" Yes." I swallow. My throat is dry. "Was he thrown?"

Joel softens. "No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"But is he dead?"

Joel understands what I am saying. My partner was like me, not normal. Even severely injured, he could have healed. But Joel shakes his head, and I know Ray was blown to pieces.

"He's dead," Joel says.

"I understand." I sit up and cough weakly. Joel brings me a glass of water. As I touch the rim of the glass to my lips, a drop of red stains the clear liquid. But the color does not come from my mouth or nose. It is a bloody tear. Seldom have I ever cried. This must be a special occasion.

Joel hesitates. "Was he your boyfriend?"

I nod.

"I'm sorry."

The words really do not help me. "Did both tank?ers, at both ends of the warehouse, blow?"

"Yes."

"Did you see anyone run out of the warehouse after the explosion?"

"No. That would have been impossible. It was an inferno. The police are still going through the mess, picking out the charred bodies. They've cordoned off the whole area." He pauses. "Did you set those tank?ers to blow?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"To kill those inside. They were your killers. But I don't want to talk about that now. What about the other man? The one who was with my boyfriend and me? Did he get away?"

"I don't know where he went. He was just gone."

"Oh." That means he got away.

"Who was that man?" Joel asks.

"I'm sure you can guess."

"Edward Fender?"

I nod. "Eddie."

Joel sits back and stares at me. At this young woman whose body was crushed twelve hours ago, and who now appears completely well except for a few bloody tears. I note the dark sky through the cracked window, the glow of neon signaling the beginning of another long night. He wants me to tell him why. But I am asking myself the same question. Why did it take five thousand years to find someone to love again? Why was he then taken from me after only six weeks?

Why time and space, Krishna? You erect these walls around us and then close us in. Especially when those we love leave us. Then the walls are too high, and no matter how hard we jump, we cannot see beyond them. Then all we have are walls falling in on us.

I do not believe my dream. Life is not a song. Life is a curse, and no one's life has been longer than mine.

"How did you heal so fast?" Joel asks me.

"I told you, I am not normal."

He trembles. "Are you a human being?"

Wiping away my bloody tears, I chuckle bitterly.

What was that in my dream? That part about me wanting to be different? How ironic-and foolish. It was as if I were a child going to sleep at night and asking my mother if I could please have a horrible nightmare.

"Ordinarily I would say no," I reply. "But since I'm crying, and that's a thing humans often do, then maybe I should say yes." I stare down at my red-stained hands and feel his eyes on them as well. "What do you think?"

He takes my hands in his and studies them closer. He is still trying to convince himself that reality has not suddenly developed a pronounced rip.

"You're bleeding. You must still be injured."

I take my hand back and wave away his question. "I am this way. It is normal for me." I have to wipe my cheeks again. These tears-I cannot stop them. "Everywhere I go, everything I touch ... there is blood."

"Sita?"

I sit up sharply. "Don't call me that! I am not her, do you understand? She died a long time ago. I am this thing you see before you! This ... this bloody thing!" Not minding my nakedness, I stand and walk to the window, stepping over my burnt clothes, lying on the floor in a pile. He must have peeled them off me; the material is sticky with charred flesh. Pulling the curtain farther aside, I stare out a landscape that looks as foreign from the world of my dream as another galaxy. We cannot be far from the warehouse.

We are still in the ghetto, still on the enemy's turf. "I wonder what he's doing right now," I mutter.

Joel stands at my back. "While you rested, I went out and bought you some clothes." He gestures to a bag sitting on a chair in the corner. "I don't know if they will fit."

"Thank you." I go to the corner and put them on: blue jeans, a gray sweatshirt. They fit fine. There are no shoes, but I don't need them. I notice my knife sitting on the chair beneath the bag. However, the leather strap that I used to secure it to my leg is not there. I put it in my back pocket instead. It sticks out a few inches. Joel follows my moves with fear in his eyes.

"What are you going to do?" he asks.

"Find him. Kill him."

Joel takes a step toward me. "You have to talk to me."

I shake my head. "I cannot. I tried to talk to you on the pier, and you still followed me. I suspect you will try to follow me again. But I understand that. You're just trying to do your job. I'm just trying to do mine." I turn toward the door. "It will be over soon enough, one way or the other."

He stops me as I reach for the knob. Even after all he has seen of me. He is a brave man. I do not shake his hand from my arm. Instead, I stare into his eyes, but without the intention of manipulation, the desire to control. I stare at him so that he can stare at me. Without Ray, for the first time in a long time, I feel so lonely. So human. He sees my pain.

"What would you like me to call you?" he asks gently.

I make a face. Without the mirror I don't know if it is very pleasant. "You may call me Sita if you wish ... Joel."

"I want to help you, Sita."

"You cannot help me. I've explained to you why, and now you've seen why." I add, "I don't want you to get killed."

He is anxious. It must mean he likes me, this bloody thing. "I don't want you to get killed. I may not have your special attributes, but I am an experienced law enforcement officer. We should go after him to?gether."

"A gun won't stop him."

"I have more to offer than a gun."

I smile faintly and reach up to touch his cheek. Once again I think what a fine man he is. Consumed with doubts and questions, he still wants to do his duty. He still wants to be with me.

"I can make you forget," I say to him. "You saw how I affected the mother's mind. I can do that kind of thing. But I don't want to do it to you, even now. I want you just to get away from here, get away from me. And forget any of this ever happened." I take my hand back. "That is the most human thing I can tell you, Joel."

He finally lets go of my arm. "Will I see you again?" he asks.

I am sad. "I hope not. And I don't mean that cruelly. Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

I walk out the door and close it behind me. The night is not as warm as I like it, nor is it cold, as I hate. It is cool and dark, a fine time for a vampire to go hunting. Later, I tell myself, I will grieve for Ray. Now there is too much to do.

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