The smell of Eddie, even from four blocks away, is clear to me. Not that he makes any effort to sneak up on me. I assume this is because he values his mother's life as much as his own. His car stays at the speed limit. He parks out front. Two sets of feet come up the porch steps. Eddie actually pays me the courtesy of knocking. Standing on the far end of the living room with my gun to Mom's head, I call for them to come in.
The door opens.
Eddie has broken both of Joel's arms. They hang uselessly by the agent's side. Despite his intense pain, Joel strives to appear calm, and I admire him for it. He has many fine qualities-I really do care for the guy. Again, I have to tell myself that I cannot risk all of humanity for this one life. Joel flashes me a wan smile-almost in apology-as he is shoved through the door before Eddie. But be has no need to apolo?gize to me, even though he has done exactly what I told him not to do. True courage, in the face of almost certain death, is the rarest quality on earth.
Eddie has found himself a gun, a 10-millimeter affair-standard FBI issue. He keeps it close to Joel's head and Joel's body close to his own. Eddie really does have a serious complexion problem. It looks as if when he was an adolescent he tried to treat his problem acne with razor blades. The experiment was a distinct failure. But it is his eyes that are the scariest. The green centers look like cheap emeralds that have been dipped in sulfuric acid and left out to dry in a radioactive dust storm. The whites are more red than white; his eyes are not merely bloodshot but hemorrhaging. Perhaps a local pollen irritates them. Maybe it's the sun I dragged him out into earlier. He looks happy enough to see me, though, and his mother. He flashes us both a toothy smile. Mom doesn't reply, not with my fingernails around her throat, but she does appear relieved to see her darling boy.
"Hi, Mom," Eddie says. "Hi, Sita." He kicks the door closed behind him.
"I'm glad you were able to make it on time," I say. "But I didn't mind waiting. It's been pleasant talking to your mother, getting to know what Edward Fender was like as a young man growing up in troubled times."
Eddie scowls. "You're a bitch, you know that? Here I try to be friendly in a difficult situation, and you try to insult me."
"I don't consider your trying to kill my boyfriend and myself an act of friendship," I say.
"You drew first blood," Eddie says.
"Only because I was quicker than your friends. Drop the B.S., Eddie, please. Neither of us is here to kiss and make up."
"Why are we here?" Eddie asks. "To play standoff again? That didn't work so well for you last time."
"I don't know. I destroyed your silly gang."
Eddie snickers. "You're not sure of that."
I smile. "Now I am sure. You see, I can tell when someone lies. It's one of those great gifts I possess that you don't. There is only you left, and we both know it."
"What of it? I can make more whenever I feel the need."
"Why do you feel the need? So that you can always have someone to order about? And while we're on the subject, what is your ultimate goal? To replace all of humanity with a race of vampires? If you study the situation logically, you'll see that it won't work. You cannot make everyone a hunter. There will be nothing left to hunt."
Eddie appears momentarily puzzled. He is intelli?gent but not wise. His vision is sharp but also myopic; he does not look beyond next week. Then, just like that, he is angry again. His temper conies and goes like flares in a lava pit. Logic is not going to work on him.
"You're just trying to confuse me with that witchy voice of yours," he says. "I'm having a good time and that's all I care about."
I snort. "Well, at least now we understand your priorities."
He grows inpatient. Pulling Joel tighter, he digs his thumbnail into Joel's neck, coming close to breaking the skin. "Let my mother go," he orders.
I act casual, even as I dig my nail into his mother's neck. "You have a problem here, Eddie. I hardly know this guy. You can kill him and I won't bat an eye. You're in no position to give me orders."
He tries to stare me down. There is power in his gaze but no control. "I don't believe you will just kill an innocent woman," he says.
"She bore you," I say. "She's not innocent."
In response Eddie pricks Joel's neck. The ice-cream man has a good feel for deep-rooted veins. The flow of blood is immediate and thick. Joel shifts uneasily but does not try to shake free, which he probably knows is impossible anyway. So far he has allowed me to play the game, probably hoping I have a card up my sleeve that I'm not showing. All I have is Krishna's abstract tale. But as Joel feels his life draining away, soak?ing his white shirt a tragic red, I understand his need to speak. Yet he has finally begun to grasp the stakes of this particular pot and is not afraid to die.
"He's not going to let me walk out of here alive, Sita," Joel says. "You know that. Take your best shot and be done with it."
The advice is sound. Using Mom as a shield, I can simply open fire. The only trouble is Joel is not Ray. He will not heal in a matter of minutes. He will certainly die, and still I won't be sure of killing Ed?die. This problem-it is age old. To do what is right and save the day without destroying the very thing the day is lived for. I hesitate a moment, then dig my nail deep into Mom's neck. The woman lets out a terri?fied gasp. Warm blood spurts over my fingers. Which pump will run out sooner? I honestly don't know. Mom shakes visibly in my arms and Eddie's face darkens.
"What do you want?" he demands.
"Let Joel go," I say. "I will let your mother go. Then it will just be between the two of us, the way it should be."
"I will beat you to the draw," Eddie says.
I am grim. "Maybe."
"There is no maybe about it and you know it. You're not going to release my mother. You're not here to negotiate. You just want me dead."
"Well," I say.
"Just use your gun," Joel says with feeling. His blood drips off his shirt and onto his pants. Eddie has opened the jugular. I estimate Joel has three minutes to live. He will be conscious for only half that. Slumping slightly, he leans back into Eddie, who has no trouble supporting him. Although Joel struggles to remain calm, his color is white. It is not easy to watch yourself bleed to death. And what makes it worse is with his broken arms he can't even raise a hand to press over his wound. Naturally, Mom tries to stop the bleeding, scratching me in the process with her clawlike fingers, but I keep the red juice coming. They will both die about the same time, unless I do some?thing quick, or Eddie does.
But I do not know what to do.
"Release him," I say.
"No," Eddie says. "Release my mother."
I do not reply. I begin to panic instead. I cannot stand by and watch Joel die. Yes, I, ancient Sita, the scourge of Krishna, who has killed thousands. But maybe my unchanging nature has finally been rattled. I am not who I was two days ago. Perhaps it is because of the loss of Ray and Yaksha, but the thought of another death on my hands chills me to the core. A wave of nausea sweeps over me, and I see a red that is not there, a deeper red than even the color of blood. A blotted sun sinking below the horizon at the end of the world. It will be the end of humanity, I know, to surrender to this maniac, but the mathematics of human life suddenly won't add up. I cannot spend one life to protect five billion. Not when that one life begins to wobble and sink before my eyes. Joel's blood now drips off the hem of his pants, onto the dusty floor. Mom's blood does likewise, through her frumpy nightgown. What is wrong with Eddie? Can't he see the seconds ticking by? His mother cries in my arms, and I actually feel sorry for her. Yeah, I know, I picked a wonderful time to turn into a softy.
"In less than a minute your mother will be beyond help," I explain. "But if you act now, I will heal her neck and let her go."
Eddie sneers. "You can't heal. You can only kill."
I harden my voice. "I can do both. I can show you. Just let him go. I will do the same with your mother. We can do it together, simultaneously."
Eddie shakes his head. "You're lying."
"Maybe, maybe not. But your mother is dying. That's a certainty." I pause. "Can't you see that?"
Eddie's cheek twitches, but his will doesn't. "No," he says.
Joel sags dangerously to one side and now has to be completely supported. There are two pints of blood on his shirt, two on the floor. His eyes are the color of baking soda. He tries to tell me to be strong and he can hardly get the words out.
"Just shoot," he begs.
God, do I want to. A bullet in the brain to put Joel out of his misery, then another five bullets in Eddie, in more choice spots than at the Coliseum. With his mother's life still in balance, I am confident I can get off all six shots without taking a bullet myself. But the balance is on the verge of tripping; the scale is about to break. Mom sags in my arms. There is no longer enough blood in her veins to keep her heart from skipping. She has strength left for her tears, however. Why do they affect me so? She is a terrible person. Krishna will not be waiting to welcome her on the other side, if there really is such a place. Yet, ironical?ly, it is her very wretchedness that makes me pity her so. I don't know what's wrong with me.
I don't know what to do!
"Joel," I say, showing Eddie just how lousy my hand is by letting pain enter my voice. "I didn't want any of this."
"I know ..." He tries to smile, fails. "You warned me."
"Eddie," I say.
He likes to hear the weakness in my voice. "Yes, Sita."
"You are a fool."
"You are a bitch."
I sigh. "What do you want? Really? You can tell me that much at least."
He considers. "Just what I have coming to me."
"Christ" I want to throw up. "They'll kill you. This planet is only so big. There are only so many places to hide. The human race will hunt you down and kill you."
He is cocky. "Before they know what's happening, there won't be many of them left to do the hunting."
Joel's dripping blood is like a river, a torrential current I cannot free myself of no matter how hard I try. Once upon a time I enjoyed such red floods, but that was when I believed they flowed into an ocean. The endless sea of Krishna's grace. But where is he now? This great God who promised me his protection if I but obeyed his command? He is dead, drowned by the indifference of time and space like the rest of us.
"Krishna," I whisper to myself. "Krishna."
He does not appear before me in a vision and explain to me why I suddenly release my grip on Eddie's mother. The surrender is not an act of faith. The despair I feel in this moment crushes the breath of either possibility. The woman stands at death's door but somehow manages to stagger toward her son, with a twisted grin on her face that reminds me of a wind-up doll's. Her darling son, she believes, has conquered again. A sticky red trail follows her across the wood floor. Bereft of my mortal shield, I stand helpless, waiting for the shots that never come. Of course, time is on Eddie's side, and he probably has worse things planned for me. He waits while his mother comes to him.
"Butterfly," she says sweetly, raising her bloodless arms to embrace him. Shifting Joel into one arm, Eddie acts as if he is ready to hug her.
"Sunshine," Eddie replies.
Yet he grabs his mother with his free hand. Hard.
He yanks her head around. All the way.
The touch of the demon. Every bone in her neck breaks.
Hitting the floor dead, her eccentric grin is still plastered on her face.
Guess he wasn't that crazy about Mom, after all.
"She was always telling me what to do," Eddie explains.
The next minutes are a blur. I am told to surrender my gun, which I do. Joel is deposited on the couch, where he stares glassy eyed at the two of us, still alive, still aware of what is happening, but unable to do anything about it. Eddie does allow me to stop Joel's bleeding, however, with a drop of blood from my own finger. Eddie probably just wanted to see how it was done. On the whole, as Yaksha predicted, he is very interested in my blood. By remarkable coincidence he has a syringe and plastic tubing in his pocket-don't leave home without them. The modern medical de?vices no doubt facilitated his manufacture of other vampires. Pointing his gun at me, Eddie has me take a seat at the dining room table. He also has a tourni?quet, which he instructs me to tie around my upper left arm. I am a role model of cooperation. My veins pop up beneath my soft white skin. It is odd that I should notice a mole on my elbow right then, one which I never knew I had, even though it must have been there for the last five thousand years.
I cannot believe that I am about to die.
Not taking his eyes or his aim off me, Eddie fetches a couple of glasses, and ice, from the kitchen. Clearly he wishes to celebrate his conquest with several toasts. I do not flinch as he sticks the needle in my largest vein and my blood traces a dear plastic loop into his glass. I'll have a Bloody Sita-on the rocks. The glass fills steadily. We look at each other across the dining room table. Joel is lying semiconscious ten feet off to my left, his breathing labored. From vast experience I know a large blood loss can cause a person to smother. In a few minutes I may even know it from personal experience. The grin on Eddie's face is most annoying.
"So I win," he says.
"What do you win? You're a miserable creature, and when I'm gone you'll still be miserable. Power, wealth, even immortality-they don't bring happi?ness. You will never know what the word means."
Eddie laughs. "You don't look so happy right now."
I nod. "That's true. But I don't fool myself that I am. I am what I am. You are just a caricature of a hero in one of your perverted fantasies. One morning, one night I should say, you'll wake up and look at yourself in the mirror and wish the person staring back at you weren't so ugly."
"You're just a lousy loser."
I shake my head. "I am not just talking about your ugly face. If you live long enough, you're going to eventually see what you are. It's inevitable. If I do fail to kill you tonight, I predict you will eventually kill yourself. Out of sheer loathing. One thing for sure, you're never going to change. You'll always be some?thing sick that the creation just happened to vomit forth when God was looking the other way."
He snorts. "I don't believe in God."
I nod sadly. "I don't know if I do, either."
A wave of dizziness sweeps over me.
My blood, my immortal blood, is leaving me.
It will not be long now.
Yet I cannot stop thinking of Krishna, even when the tall glass is full and Eddie raises it to his lips and toasts my good health and drinks it down in one guttural swallow. It is as if my dream of Krishna and the story he gave to Yaksha have become superim?posed over each other in my mind. Actually, it is as if I have two minds, one in this hell I can't block out, the other in a heaven I can't really remember. But the duality of consciousness does not comfort me. The memory of the bliss of my imagined conversation with Krishna on the enchanted hilltop just makes this bitter end that much more difficult to accept Of course, I do not accept it. Even though I have surren?dered, I have lived too long to lie down and be sucked dry like this. Krishna beat the demon by playing the enchantress. How may I play this same role? What is the key? If only he would appear before me now and tell me. Another glass fills and Eddie drinks it down.
"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."
Why did he tell me that? Or did he tell me anything at all? Did I not just dream the whole thing? I had just lost Ray. My subconscious must have been starving for comfort. Surely I created the whole thing. Yet, if I did, the joy of the creation brought me more joy than anything in this world has. I cannot forget the beauty of Krishna's eyes-the blue stars wherein the whole of the creation shines. It is as if I trust in his beauty more than in his words. His love was a thing that never needed to be understood. The day we met, it was just there, like the endless sky.
The day we met.
What did he do that remarkable day?
He played his song on his flute. Yaksha had chal?lenged him to a contest. Together they went into a large pit filled with cobras, and it was agreed that whoever came out alive would be the victor. Both carried flutes and played songs to enchant the serpents and keep them from striking. But in the end Krishna won because he knew the secret notes that moved the different emotions inside all of us who were present. With his song Krishna struck deep into Yaksha's heart and brought forth love, hate, and fear-in that order. And it was this last emotion that defeated Yaksha because a serpent only strikes when it senses fear. His body oozed venom by the time Krishna had Yaksha carried from the pit.
I have no flute on which to play that song.
Yet I remember it well. Yes.
"Sing this song and I will be there."
From that day, and that time outside of time, before there even were days, I remember it. My dream was more than a dream. It was a key.
Staring Eddie straight in the eye, I begin to whistle.
He pays me no heed, at first.
He drinks down a third glass of my blood.
My strength begins to fail. There is no time for love, even for hate. I sing the last song Krishna sang to us, the one of fear. The note, the tone, the pitch-they are engraved in my soul. My lips fold into the perfect lines of Krishna's flute. I do not see him, of course, and I doubt that I even feel his divine presence. Yet I feel something remarkable. My fear is great, it is true, and that emotion goes deep into my blood, which Eddie continues to drink. Anxiety crosses his face as he takes another sip, and for that I am glad. Yet beyond this I sense the true significance of my body, the instrument through which this song of life and death is continually playing for all of us. The realiza?tion even gives me a sense of the player, my true self, the I that existed before I stepped on this wicked stage and donned the costume of the vampire.
Again, I remember wanting to be different.
Eddie pauses with the bloody glass in his hand. He looks at me strangely. "What are you doing?" he asks.
I do not answer him with words. The tune continues to pour from my lips, a poisonous note with which I hope to save the world. The influence of it spreads throughout the room. Joel's breathing becomes painful-my song is killing him as well. It is irritating Eddie, that's for sure. He suddenly drops his glass and shakes his gun at me.
"Stop that!" he orders.
I know I have to stop, at least this melody. If I don't he will shoot me and I will be dead. But another note comes to me, and it is odd because it is not one that Krishna played the day he dueled with Yaksha. Yet I know it, and once again I believe that the dream must have been a genuine vision. Before I entered the creation, Krishna gave me all the notes of life, all the keys to all the emotions a human being, and a monster, could experience.
I sing the note of the second center in the body- the sex center. Here, when the life energy flows, there are experienced two states of mind. Intense creativity when the energy goes up, intense lust when it goes down. Leaning toward Eddie, holding his eye as if it were his pleasure button, I pierce that secret note through his ears and into his nervous system and I send it down. Down even into the ground where I wish to bury his stinking body. It does not matter that I do not lust for him myself. It only matters that I have finally understood the meaning of Krishna's fable. / am the enchantress. The gun in Eddie's hand wavers and he stares at me in a new light. No longer does he just want my blood. He wants the container as well - my flesh. I pause long enough to give him a nasty grin. He resisted my suggestions before and my lover died. He will not resist me now and he will die.
I am that cheerleader he never had in high school.
"You have never had someone like me," I say softly.
Another note. Another inhuman caress.
Eddie licks his lips.
"You will never have someone like me," I whisper.
I do not sing the note. It sings itself.
Eddie fidgets, beside himself with passion.
"Never." I form the word with my wet lips.
One more note. I barely get it out
Eddie drops his gun and grabs me. We kiss.
I pull back slightly to let him adore the whole of me.
"I like it cold," I say.
Eddie understands. He is an ice-cream man, a connoisseur of frozen corpses. It is his thing and we should not judge him too harshly. Especially when he falls for my suggestion and drags me in the direction of the rear of the house. Toward the huge freezer where he used to go searching for Popsicles in the middle of the night. I am so weak-Eddie drags me by my hair. Yanking the fat white door open, he throws me inside, into the foggy frost, the cold dark, where his eyes are not as sharp as mine, and both our aversions to cold will stand or fall in critical balance. Landing on my ass, I quickly stand and find Eddie staring at me in that special way. I do believe he is not even going to give me a chance to fully undress. Tossing my head and hair to the side, I raise my right hand and place it on my left breast. One last time, just before I speak, I whistle the note.
"I do so prefer the dark," I say. "For me, it makes it that much more dirty."
Eddie-he has many buttons. This one makes his leg lash out. Behind him, the door shuts. The over-head light either doesn't work or doesn't exist. All is dark, all is cold.
I hear him coming toward me.
More than that I can distinguish a faint outline of him, even in the total absence of light. And I can tell by the lack of focus in his movements that he cannot see me at all. Also, already I can tell the cold has dulled his vampiric blood. This is both good and bad. The slower he is, the easier he will be to handle. Yet the same effect applies to me as well. My only advantage is that I know the dullness is coming. Unfortunately, snakes never mate on a winter night. The freezer puts a hold on his reckless passion just when I need it most. Before I can sing another note, he pauses in midstride, and I see that he realizes he has been tricked. In a flash he turns for the door.
I trip him. He falls to the floor.
In the event a large freezer door gets jammed and a person is locked inside, it is required by law that an ax be kept inside at all times. That way, if need be, the unfortunate individual can chop his way out In Eddie's freezer the ax is strapped to the inside of the door, which is normal. As Eddie falls, I leap onto his back and over his head and grab that ax. It is a big sucker. Raising it over my head, feeling the weight of its sharp steel blade, I know true happiness.
"What's your favorite flavor, little boy?" I ask.
Eddie quickly goes up onto his knees, searching for me in the dark, feeling with his hands, knowing I'm near but not realizing what I have in my hands.
"Huh" he says.
"Cherry red?" I shout.
I bring the ax down hard. Cut off his goddamn head. Black blood gushes out and I kick his amputated coconut into what could be a box of ice-cream sand?wiches. Dropping the ax, I rumble in the dark with the door, barely getting it open. My strength is now finished. Even with the ax, even being a vampire, I would not have had the energy to chop my way out.
I find Joel dying on the couch. He has a minute more, maybe two. Kneeling before him, I lift up his sunken head. He opens his eyes and tries to smile at me.
"You stopped him?" he whispers.
"Yes. He is dead." I pause and glance at the needle still in my arm, the tourniquet and the plastic tubing. I twist the latter to keep it from leaking my blood onto the floor. Searching Joel's face, I feel such guilt. "Do you know what I am?" I ask.
The word comes hard. "Yes."
"Do you want to be like me?"
He closes his eyes. "No."
I grab him, shake him. "But you will die, Joel."
"Yes." His head falls on his chest. His breath is a thing of resignation, a settling of ripples on a moun?tain pond that prepares for a winter's frost Yet he speaks once more, one sweet word that pierces my heart and makes me fed he is my responsibility: "Sita."
The seconds tick. They always do. The power of an entire sun cannot stop them even for a moment, and so death comes between the moments, like a thief of light in the dark. Eddie had brought a spare syringe. It sits on the dining room table like a needle that waits for me to poke in the eye of God. Krishna made me promise to make no other vampires, and in return he would grant me his grace, his protection. And even though I did make another when I changed Ray, Yaksha believed I still lived in that grace because I gave Ray my blood to save him, only because I loved him.
'Where there is love, there is my grace."
I believe I can save Joel. I feel it is my duty to do so.
But do I love him?
God help me, I don't know.
Stumbling into the dining room, I fetch the extra syringe. It fits snugly onto the end of the plastic tubing. Because I still wear the tourniquet, the pres?sure is on my veins and my blood will flow into his. Like Ray, six weeks ago, Joel will be forever altered. But staring down at his unconscious face, I wonder if any creature, mortal or immortal, has the right to make decisions that last forever. I only know I will miss him if he dies.
Sitting beside him, cradling him in my arms, I stick the needle in his vein. My blood - it goes into him. But where will it stop? As I sink into the couch and begin to pass out, I realize that he may hate me in the morning, which from now on will always come at night for him. He told me not to do it. He may even kill me for what I have done. Yet I am so weary, I don't know if I even care. Let him carry on the story, I think. -- Let him be the last vampire.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
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