“Scott, I…well, I guess I’m dead…” There was a sound in the background of the recording like something liquid being pored into a glass. Scott turned up the volume on his car stereo.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Like why did the uncle you hardly know leave you his house and everything in it? Or, why was your mother’s brother always so cold and antisocial?”
“I just thought you were a jerk,” Scott said to the empty car.
“As to the first question, I can’t tell you that here. You’ll find the answer in my library. Look inside the pages of the first book I ever gave to you, but make sure that you are alone when you do.”
Scott frowned at the stereo. What the hell did that mean?
“And as to the second question, I can only say that it wasn’t to be mean, but to keep you and your mother safe. It was hard for me to be that way – to pretend indifference. I swore that one day I would drop the mask and make it up to you. But if that doesn’t happen – if my death comes too soon – I would ask that you not judge me too harshly. Go to the house. Find what I have left for you.”
There was another pause while, from the sound of it, his uncle took a drink.
“I know this all sounds dramatic, Scott…and I guess that’s the one thing I really need to tell you right now. Life can be dramatic and important and dangerous in ways that most people only experience in their dreams.”
One year later…
Scott walked quickly down the street with his groceries tucked under one arm, keeping the other arm free in case of trouble. He kept his eyes moving, watching the rooftops of the aging brick buildings of Old Town and checking the reflection of the street around him in windows as he passed.
As he was crossing the street, he turned his head for a second and thought he saw a woman looking his way. His pulse quickened. He walked another block north, and then turned right. As soon as he was out of sight, he ducked into a doorway and waited.
Seconds went by, and then a minute, and then two… No one came. No one was following him. Scott slumped down to a sitting position. In twelve months no one had ever been following him.
“This sucks,” he said aloud.
He stood up with his groceries and resumed his walk home, now and again making halfhearted attempts to look for pursuit but mostly just looking dejected.
When he reached the house, he bolted the heavy iron-bound oak door and took the groceries to the kitchen before heading to the library. There, he crouched down under the table in the center of the room and moved a small rug to the side. Underneath was a trapdoor with a keyhole set into it. Reaching down the front of his shirt, he removed a leather cord with a key hanging from it, and with this he opened the lock and pulled the trap door upward. Descending into the dark, stone-lined tunnel was a metal ladder.
Scott swung himself into the space, reached up, and pulled the trap door closed overhead. Then he felt against the stone under the ladder until he found a knob. He turned it, and a gentle white light flooded up the tunnel from the room below.
He didn’t really need the light for the climb. After all, he’d made this descent at least twice a day for the last year. That was the ritual – once in the morning and once in the evening and anytime that he returned to the house, he checked The Sacred to make sure that it remained undisturbed. Of course, it was always undisturbed.
He felt weary, bored, depressed. The effort it took to climb down just felt…pointless. When he was about halfway to the bottom he just stepped off and dropped the rest of the way.
He hit the ground hard, his knees buckling. His body reacted as it had been trained over the last year at the nearby martial arts studio, and he rolled, slapping his hands into the stone to absorb some of the impact of the fall.
“Unnngh…” Gingerly, he stood up. His legs hurt – especially the left one, and his forearms were turning red. “Brilliant, Scott, brilliant,” he said to himself, feeling more like an idiot than ever. Limping, he made his way carefully past booby traps and into the chamber where The Sacred rested…undisturbed.
Scott was just pulling himself back up through the trap door when he heard something. He paused and listened. There it was again – a series of quick wooden thumps.
“Someone’s at the door!” In the entire year that Scott had lived there, no one had come to the door, not even the religious types. Clambering out from under the table, he hurried in a half limp half jog to the front hallway.
When he was a yard away from the door he stopped at an antique armoire. Inside were various weapons that his uncle had accumulated and that Scott now kept cleaned and ready.
Always be prepared for trouble. Any situation could be a trap. The words of his uncle echoed in his head as he removed a small crossbow from a shelf and loaded it.
On the left side of the doorway, there was a peephole that was hidden from the outside in a small glass mosaic design. Scott pressed his eye to the lens.
The man who stood outside was tall, thin, and deathly pale with black hair that stood up in short spikes. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and black pants, and he wore dark sunglasses in the late afternoon light. There was a cigarette in his right hand, and his left held an old paint can with a piece of paper taped to the front. As Scott watched, he took a long drag on the cigarette, dropped it to the ground, and lifted the can in front of him like an offering bowl.
Scott checked the crossbow once more. “Please let it be an ambush,” he whispered. Then he unbolted the heavy door, and pushed it open about four inches, the crossbow held just out of sight in his left hand.
“Hi. I’m collecting donations to help treat unnaturally low blood levels of fermented starch in people who suffer from a chronic case of regular cardiac pulsations.” The man smiled. “We could really use your help, even if you can only spare a few coins.”
“Sure,” Scott said. He waited, but nothing happened.
“Uh, great,” said the man, eyeing Scott expectantly.
“Yeah,” said Scott. He pushed the door open another eight inches, readying himself for the moment when they would spring their trap.
There was a long silence.
“So, I, uh, I’m taking donations right now, you see, in this can.” The man smiled again and lifted the can up a little higher.
“Huhhh… You’re not going to attack me, are you?” Scott said.
The man’s eyebrows shot up. “I wasn’t planning on it, no.”
Scott’s shoulders slumped, and his arms dropped loosely to his sides.
“You seem disappointed,” said the man. He eyed the crossbow now resting against Scott’s leg.
Scott followed his gaze and gave a sheepish grin. Turning, he walked back and sat the crossbow on top of the armoire. “Who did you say you were trying to help? People with low fermented starch and chronic cardiac…pulsations?”
“Uh, that would be sober people with a heart beat,” the man said, a smile appearing beneath his dark glasses.
“That’s an awful lot of people to help.”
“Well, I sort the list based on geographic proximity to the available funds.” He rattled the paint can. “It seemed the most efficient way.”
Scott rubbed his eyes, then folded his arms and let out another sigh.
The man looked into his paint can. “You know it looks like there might be enough of a funding reserve to help more than one needy individual. Now usually, I try to keep a little in the can in case the aforementioned needy individual should happen to encounter a member of the opposite gender in desperate need of companionship, but given that there appear to be two people with such depressingly low blood alcohol levels in such close proximity to the funds… You want to go get not-sober?”
Scott looked at him, and then he looked back in the direction of the library. “Fuck yeah. Let’s go.”
“Ahh…dim lighting, a comfy booth, and a pint of something red… My name’s Byron, as it happens,” said the man, examining his raspberry wheat ale.
“I’m Scott.” He lifted his own drink to the light, watching the dark liquid rock back and forth with the motion of his hand.
Around them, an eclectic mix of punks, Goths, and college students crowded the pub’s tables and booths – some of them sitting with a book in one hand and a beer in the other. Weaving in between the words of their conversations and the sounds of clinking glasses, a soulful song by the band Artemis played through the house speakers.
Byron hoisted his glass. “Here’s to helping the needy.” He said it with his head turned as if he was directing the toast over Scott’s shoulder.
“Can you see in here with those sunglasses on?”
“Sometimes…” He sighed and took them off, blinking hazel eyes in the light. “Do you believe in vampires?” he asked suddenly.
“You do? Really?” Byron leaned forward, his left eyebrow raised.
“I do,” he said and pointed his index finger at Byron’s chest. “And I know that you’re not one of them. For one thing, when you showed up at my place, the sun was still out.”
“I didn’t say that I’m a vampire. If I was, I couldn’t accept the donation money.”
“You suffer from a ‘chronic case of cardiac pulsations?’”
“Put the emphasis on the word ‘suffer.’ Having a pulse is not my idea of a fun time.”
“So you’re hoping to become a vampire?”
“Sort of…” He took a big swig from his beer. “Actually…I used to be one.”
Scott frowned. “Let’s just assume for the moment that the beer in my hand lends your story some sort of credence. How exactly could you have,” he made little quote marks in the air with his hands, “‘used to’ been a vampire?”
“I encountered a relic. It changed me back.”
“How? What was it? And what do you mean ‘encountered?’”
“Magic – alien technology – I have no idea. It looked like a ring – a black ring, maybe onyx, which was why I dug it. When I put it on, it pricked my finger, and I passed out. I say ‘encountered’ instead of ‘found’ because just before I passed out I got this weird feeling that it was alive, or at least really smart.” He frowned. “It was like hearing a lot of voices talking really fast – except it was all one voice.” He rubbed his forehead with his right hand.
“Where were you when you found this ring?” Scott asked, turning out a little to stretch his sore left leg.
“A museum. Actually, I was in their archives.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Just fooling around.” He looked away for a second. “So anyway, when I woke up, I was stuck like this.”
“You mean alive?”
“Yep. I nearly got busted, too. I set off at least three alarms, and I almost got smashed by this big steel door that came crashing down.” He took a big swig of his beer. “It sucked.”
“How long ago was this?”
Someone dropped a glass near the bar, and the noise was greeted with whistles and cries of “nice one!” from the other patrons. Scott turned around to look and saw a woman in early thirties with short blond hair cleaning up the glass with one hand and hoisting her middle finger with the other. Scott turned back and noticed Byron checking her out.
“So what have you been doing since then?” Scott asked.
“Drinking, panhandling, trying to quit smoking…” Byron shook a cigarette out of a pack and stared at it. “I started when I was turned. I never thought that I’d have to worry about lung cancer, you know?” He rolled the cig back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. “I didn’t worry about any of it anymore. That’s what I loved about being a vampire. I could go wherever I wanted – do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about bills or the lawn or the goddamned nine to five. I was ‘supernatural.’” He shoved the cigarette back into the pack.
“Well, now that you’re, uh, natural again, are you going to go back to all of that stuff?”
“Impossible. Everyone thinks that I died ten years ago. I have no ID, no credit cards, and no permanent address. I don’t exist.”
Byron sighed and scratched at his stubble. “But what about you, Scott? I saw that crossbow, and you seemed pretty disappointed that I wasn’t at your door to kill you. Where did all of that come from?”
Scott’s glass was nearly empty. He set it down on the tabletop, straightened his back, and lifted his chin. “I guard an ancient and powerful secret.”
“What’s that like?”
He slumped forward with one elbow on the table and propped his chin on the palm of his hand. “It blows.”
“Really?” Byron finished the last of his beer in one gulp. “It sounds like it would be exciting.”
“It’s supposed to be! For centuries, evil men and women have been trying to discover this secret. Hundreds of people have died protecting it through the years.” Scott sat up and folded his arms over his chest. “I’ve been reading my Uncle’s journal – he was the last one to do this before me – and he got attacked twice in his first week on the job!”
“How often have you been attacked?”
“Including you?” Scott held up one finger. “When I first found out, it seemed like the most serious, important thing that had ever happened to me – or anyone I knew. It was danger, and ancient secrets, and an epic struggle, you know? I had a life, but I had to leave it all behind for this. I worked my ass off everyday, training and studying, just hoping to be able to survive. But it turns out, I could have just locked everything up and come back in a year.”
Scott tilted his glass and watched the last drop of beer slide along the bottom.
“Hah! So you don’t have a real job either!” Byron grinned.
“My uncle left me some money, but it’s just about gone. He said in his notes for me that when bad guys came looking for him, there was, without fail, money involved. All he had to do was find that money, and he was set until the next time they tracked him down. Of course he didn’t tell me what to do if no one came after me.”
They sat for a minute, just watching the crowd. Finally, Scott stood up.
“Come on – let’s go get another round. I’ll buy this time.”
They walked up and leaned against the bar.
“Ay Dios Mio…”
Scott turned to see what had caused Byron to suddenly become religious. At the opposite end of the bar, a woman with dark Hispanic features, near-perfect curves, and a dress that hugged her body like a second skin was sipping from a martini glass. Her eyes flashed over them for a second, and then she went back to staring into her drink.
“Damn she’s hot,” said a female voice. Scott turned and saw the woman with short blond hair that had been cleaning up the broken glass earlier. She was standing behind the bar, smiling faintly and shaking her head from side to side as she stared at the woman. “She’s been ignoring everyone in here for the last half an hour.”
“Doesn’t she seem a little over dressed for this venue?” Scott asked.
Byron wiggled his eyebrows. “You’ll get no complaints from me.”
“Me either,” said the bartender. She turned back to face them. “What can I get you fellows?”
“I’ll take another IPA.” Scott watched as she filled a fresh glass from a tap. He could just make out a black tattoo that ringed her left bicep right where her sleeve ended.
“Do you have any red beers on tap?” Byron asked.
“Have you tried the raspberry wheat?”
“Yeah. I was kind of hoping for something that looked a little more…red.”
“What do you want me to do – bleed in a glass for you?”
“He’ll have another raspberry wheat,” said Scott.
She poured it and set it in front of Byron. “I always fall for the exotic looking ones, but it never works out.” She leaned on the bar and turned to stare again.
Suddenly, a door a few feet past the end of the bar burst open.
“Aaaghh!” A man ran screaming into the room, raced between the tables, and stumbled out through the door that led to the street.
“What the hell was that?” said the bartender.
“Where does that door lead?” asked Scott.
“The bathroom,” Byron answered.
The two of them stood up at the same time. Scott’s face was serious, his eyes focused, his mouth set in a thin line. Byron took a big swig of his beer, grinned, and set the glass down. They started walking towards the door. None of the other patrons got up, but Scott could hear bits of their conversations as he walked towards the door.
“You see what was up with that guy?”
“He was completely fried. Like that time in Seattle…”
“What are those guys doing?”
“Maybe they haven’t cleaned the bathrooms in a while. I get right pissed when they don’t clean those things.”
Scott opened the door, and they walked through into a short hallway with doors leading to each of the bathrooms. Walking to the end, he pushed open the door to the men’s room, and the two of them stepped inside.
“Hey, maybe we’re gonna be in a horror film,” said Byron from behind him. “They could call it ‘The Stall of Death,’ or maybe just ‘Don’t Go in There.’ Get it? Don’t go as in I’ve got to go…”
Scott turned and lifted an eyebrow.
“Okay, well how about ‘The Bowl of Terror’ or something kind of creepy, like ‘The Reaper Flushes Twice?’”
“Wow, Byron. Those all sound really…bad.” Scott grinned, but when he turned back to the stall doors, he frowned. Kneeling, he checked under the walls. In the far stall, he could see two black-clad legs.
“Hi, um, excuse me, sir? Can you hear me?”
They walked forward, but the door was only partially shut. Byron gave it a push with his boot, and it swung open.
Scott’s eyes widened, and Byron let out a low whistle. They both took a step back.
“Wow,” said Byron.
“Yeah,” said Scott.
They stood a moment longer with their mouths hanging open.
Scott rubbed his eyes. “Have you ever…”
“Seen a dead ninja before? Only in the movies, Scott… Only in the movies…”
posted by D @ 9:43 PM
I love stories - especially speculative fiction, and I named this blog Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else because I think of each story as a window into another world.
If this is your first time here, I recommend "Legacies" and "The Great Puzzle", both of which were nominated for a 2006 Parsec Award. You can also find "Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart" as well as "Late Shift at the Souleater" in the podcast anthology Voices: New Media Fiction available at podiobooks.com.
[About The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)]
The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)
Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart
The Great Puzzle Part III
The Great Puzzle Part II
The Great Puzzle Part I
Late Shift at the Soul Eater
[The next two weeks...]
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