Black Blood (The Last Vampire #2)

Chapter 11

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On foot I return to the vicinity of the warehouse. But as Joel said, the entire area is cordoned off by numer?ous police officers. From several blocks away I study the remains of the warehouse with my acute vision, perhaps subconsciously searching for the remains of Ray. The investigative crew, however, is working the ruins. Whatever was lying around outside has already been picked up and deposited into plastic bags with white labels on them. With the many flashing red lights, the mounds of ash, and the ruined bodies, the scene depresses me. Still, I do not turn away from it. I am thinking. "But what he did do was tie Heather up in his bedroom closet, standing up and wearing his high school letter jacket-and nothing else-and force her to suck on Popsicles all night."

The night I met the newborn vampires, I heard an ice-cream truck in the vicinity, its repetitive jingle playing loudly. In the middle of December in the middle of the night. Then, when 1 visited Mrs. Fender, I learned she had a large freezer in her house. Finally, after parking my tanker outside the warehouse, I saw out of the corner of my eye an ice-cream truck. From where I stand now, I cannot see that same spot to tell if the truck is still there. But with the security in the area I think that it might be there, and I believe that it might be important.

What kind of thing did Eddie have about Popsicles?

What kind of fetish did he have about frozen corpses?

Were the fetishes related?

If Eddie did get his hands on Yaksha's remains and Yaksha was still alive, Eddie would have been forced to keep Yaksha in a weakened state to control him. There are two ways to do that-at least, only two that I know of. One is to keep Yaksha impaled with a number of sharp objects that his skin cannot heal around. The other is more subtle and deals with the nature of vampires themselves. Yaksha was the incar?nation of a yakshini, a demonic serpent being. Snakes are cold-blooded and do not like the cold. In the same way vampires hate the cold, although we can with?stand it. Yet ice thwarts us as much as the sun, slowing down our mental processes, hampering our ability to recover from serious wounds. Going by Eddie's obvious strength and knowledge of my identity, I hypothesize that he has indeed gotten a hold of Yaksha alive and is keeping him in an extremely weak state white he continues to drink his blood. I suspect Eddie keeps him impaled and half frozen.

But where?

At home with Mom?

Doubtful. Mom is crazy and Yaksha is a treasure too dangerous to leave lying around. Eddie would keep his blood supply close. He would even take it with him when he went out hunting at night.

I find a phone booth nearby and call Sally Diedrich. Before leaving the coroner's office, I had obtained her home and work number. I am not in the mood for idle gossip, so I come right to the point. Before going into the stiff business, did Eddie used to be an ice-cream man? As a matter of fact, yes, Sally replies. He and his mom owned a small ice-cream truck business in the Los Angeles area. That's all I wanted to know.

Next I call Pat McQueen, Ray's old girlfriend.

I don't know why I do it. She is not someone I can share my grief with, and besides, I do not believe such a thing should be shared. Yet, on this darkest of all nights, I feel an affinity with her. I stole her love and now fate has stolen mine. Maybe it is justice. Dialing the number, I wonder if I call to apologize or to antagonize her. I remind myself that she thinks Ray perished six weeks ago. My call will not be welcome. I may just open wounds that have already begun to close. Still, I do not hang up when she answers after a couple of rings.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Pat This is Alisa. I'm sure you remember me?"

She gasps, then falls into a wary silence. She hates me, I know, and wants to hang up. But she is curious. "What do you want?" she asks.

"I don't know. I stand here asking myself the same question. I guess I just wanted to talk to someone who knew Ray well."

There is a long silence. "I thought you were dead."

"So did I."

An even longer pause. I know what she will ask. "He is, isn't he?"

I bow my head. "Yes. But his death was not just an accident. He died bravely, by his own choice, trying to protect what he believed in."

She begins to weep. "Did he believe in you?" she asks bitterly.

"Yes. I like to think so. He believed in you as well. His feelings for you went very deep. He did not leave you willingly. I forced him."

"Why? Why couldn't you just leave us alone?"

"I loved him."

"But you killed him! He would be alive now if you had never spoken to him!"

I sigh. "I know that. But I did not know what would happen. Had I known, I would have done things completely different. Please believe me, Pat, I did not want to hurt you or him. It just worked out that way."

She continues to cry. "You're a monster."

The pain in my chest is great. "Yes."

"I can't forget him. I can't forget this. I hate you."

"You can hate me. That's all right. But you don't need to forget him. You wont be able to anyway. Nor will I be able to. Pat, maybe I do know why I called you. I think it was to tell you that his death does not necessarily mean the end of him. You see, I think I met Ray long ago, in another place, another dimen?sion. And that day at school when we all introduced ourselves, it was like magic. He was gone, but he came back. He can come back again, I think, or at least we can go to him, to the stars."

She begins to quiet. "I don't know what you're talking about."

I force a smile, for myself. "It doesn't matter. We both loved him and he's gone, and who knows if there is anything else? No one knows. Have a good night, Pat. Have sweet dreams. Dream about him. I know I will for a long time."

She hesitates. "Goodbye, Alisa."

Hanging up, I stare at the ground. It is closer than the sky, and at least I know it is real. Clouds hang overhead anyway, and there are no stars tonight. I call my old friend Seymour. He answers quickly, and I tell him everything that has happened. He listens without interrupting. That's what I like about him. In this world of gossip a good listener is rarer than a great orator. He is silent when I finish. He knows he

cannot console me and he doesn't really try. I respect that as well. But he does acknowledge the loss.

"Too bad about Ray," he says.

"Yeah. Real bad."

"Are you all right?"

"Yes."

His voice is firm. "Good. You have to stop this bastard. I agree with you-Yaksha is probably in that ice-cream truck. All the signs point in that direction. Why didn't you wait until you checked it out before calling me?"

"Because if he is in there, and I get him away from Eddie and the cops, I won't be of a mind to make phone calls."

"Good. Get Yaksha. He'll heal quickly and then the two of you go after Eddie."

"I don't think it will be that easy."

Seymour pauses. "His legs won't grow back?"

"This might surprise you, but I don't have a lot of experience in such matters. But I doubt it"

"That's not good. You'll have to face Eddie alone."

"And I didn't do so well last time."

"You did well. You destroyed his partners. But you have to act fast or he will make more, and this time he will not allow them to gather in one place and be so easily wiped out."

"But I cannot beat him by force. I have proved that to myself already. He is just too fast, too strong. He's also smart. But you're smart, too. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it."

"I can only give you some hints. You have to place him in a situation where your advantages are magni?fied. He probably cannot see and hear as well as you. He is probably more sensitive to the sun."

"The sun didn't slow him down much."

"Well, he may be more sensitive to cold than you. I suspect that he is and doesn't know it. He certainly seems sensitive when it comes to his mother. He's what? Thirty years old? And he's a vampire and he's still living at home? The guy can't be that fearsome."

"I appreciate the humor. But give me something specific."

"Take her hostage. Threaten to kill her. He'll come a-running."

"I have thought of that."

"Then do it. But get Yaksha away from him first. I think it's Yaksha who can give you the secret of how to stop him."

"You read and write too many books. Do you really think there is a magical secret?"

"You are magic, Sita. You are full of secrets you don't even know. Krishna let you live for a reason. You have to find that reason, and this situation will resolve itself automatically."

His words move me. I had not told him of my dream. Still, my doubts and my pain are too heavy for words alone to wash away.

"Krishna is full of mischief," I say. "Sometimes, so the stories went, he did things for no reason at all. Just because he wanted to."

"Then you be mischievous. Trick Eddie. The foot?ball players at our school are all bigger and stronger than I am. But they're all a bunch of fools. I could whip their asses any day."

"If I survive this night, and tomorrow night, I will hold you to that proud boast. I might tell your football team exactly what you said about them."

"Fair enough." He softens. "Ray was enough. Don't die on me, Sita."

I am close to tears again. "I will call you the first chance I get"

"Promise?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

He groans but he is frightened for me. "Take care."

"Sure," I say.

Sneaking into the secured area is not difficult. I simply leap from one rooftop to the next when no one is looking. But getting out with an ice-cream truck in tow will not be so easy. There are police cars parked crossways at every exit. Nevertheless, that is the least of my worries. Moving silently a hundred feet above the ground, I see that the ice-cream truck is still in place. A palpable aura of pain surrounds it like a swarm of black insects above a body that has lain unburied. Dread weighs heavily on me as I leap from my high perch and land on the concrete sidewalk beside the truck. I feel as if I have just jumped into a black well filled with squirming snakes. No one stands in the immediate vicinity, but the odor of venom is

thick in the air. Even before I pull aside the locked door to the refrigerated compartment, I know that Yaksha is inside and in poor condition.

I open the door.

"Yaksha?" I whisper.

There is movement at the back of the cold box.

A strange shape speaks.

"What flavor would you like, little girl?" Yaksha asks in a tired voice.

My reaction is a surprise to me. Probably because I feared him for so long, it is difficult for me even to approach him without hesitation-even while seek?ing him out as an ally. Yet, with his silly question, a wave of warmth sweeps over me. Still, I do not stare too hard at what he has become. I do not want to know, at least not yet.

"I will get you out of here," I say. "Give me ten minutes."

"You can take fifteen if you need, Sita."

I close the compartment door. Only police cars are allowed in and out of the area. Not even the press has gotten through the roadblocks, which is understand?able. It is not every day twenty-plus bodies are incine?rated in Los Angeles, although, on the other hand, it is not that unusual an occurrence in this part of town.

My course is clear. I will get myself a police car, maybe a navy blue police cap to cover my blond hair. I walk casually in the direction of the warehouse, when who do I run into but the two cops who stopped me outside the coliseum: Detective Doughnut and his young prodigy. They blink when they see me, and I have to refrain from laughing. A box of doughnuts is set out on the hood of their black-and-white unit, and they are casually sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups. We are still a block from where all the action is going on, relatively isolated from view. The situation ap?peals to my devilish nature.

"Fancy meeting you here," I say.

They scramble to set down their nourishment. "What are you doing here?" the older cop asks politely. "This is a restricted area."

I am bold. "You make this place sound like a nuclear submarine."

"We're serious," the young one says. "You'd best get out of here quick."

I move closer. "I will leave as soon as you give me your car keys."

They exchange a smile. The older one nods in my direction. "Haven't you seen the news? Don't you know what's happened here?"

"Yeah, I heard an atomic bomb went off." I stick out my hand. "But give me the keys, really. I'm in a big hurry."

The young one puts his hand on his nightstick. Like he would really need it with a ninety-eight-pound young woman who looks all of twenty. Of course, he would need a Bradley Tank to stop me. The guy has a phony prep school demeanor, and I peg him for a rich dropout who couldn't get into law school and so joined the force to annoy Daddy.

"We're running out of patience," Preppy says, acting the tough guy. "Leave immediately or we're hauling your tight ass in."

"My tight ass? What about the rest of me? That sounds like a sexist statement if I ever heard one." I move within two feet of Preppy and stare him in the eye, trying hard not to bum it out of its socket. "You know I have nothing against good cops, but I can't stand sexist pigs. They piss me off, and when I get pissed off there's no stopping me." I poke the guy in the chest, hard. "You apologize to me right now or I'm going to whip your ass."

To my surprise-I could pass, after all, for a high school senior-he pulls his gun on me. Backing off a pace as if shocked, I raise my arms over my head. The older cop takes a tentative step in our direction. He is more experienced; he knows it is always a bad idea to go looking for trouble where trouble does not exist. Yet he does not know that trouble is my middle name.

"Hey, Gary," he says. "Leave the girl alone. She's just flirting with you is all. Put away your gun."

Gary does not listen. "She's got a pretty dirty mouth for a flirt. How do we know she's not a prostitute? Yeah, that's right, maybe she is. Maybe we should haul her tight ass in on a charge of soliciting sexual favors for money."

"I haven't offered you any money," I say.

That angers Gary. He shakes his gun at my belly. "You get up against that wall and spread your legs."

"Gary," the old cop complains. "Stop it."

"Better stop now, Gary," I warn him. "I can tell you for sure you won't be able to finish it."

Gary grabs me by the arm and throws me against the wall. I let him. When I am upset, I like to hunt Actually, when I feel any strong emotion, I like to hunt, to drink blood, to kill even. As Gary begins to frisk me, I debate whether to kill him. He is way over the line as he pats down my tight ass. He is not wearing a wedding band; he will not be missed much, except perhaps by his partner, who is soon headed for a heart attack anyway, with his diet of greasy dough?nuts and black coffee. Yes, I think as Gary digs into my pockets and discovers my knife, his blood will taste good, and the world can do with one less creep. He holds the weapon up to his partner as if he has found the key to a treasure. In his mind it is that way. Now, because I am a certifiable criminal, he can do what he wants with me, as long as no one is videotaping the proceedings. No wonder the people in this neighborhood riot from time to time.

"Well, look at what we have here!" Gary exclaims. "Bill, when was the last time you saw a knife like this on a college coed?" He taps me on the shoulder with the flat of the blade. "Who gave this to you, honey? Your pimp?"

"Actually," I reply, "I took that knife off the body of a French nobleman who had the audacity to touch my ass without asking my permission." I slowly turn and catch his eye. "Like you."

Officer Bill reaches out and takes the knife away from Officer Gary, who tries to stare me down. He would have more luck staring down an oncoming train. Carefully I allow a little heat to enter my gaze and watch with pleasure as Gary begins to perspire heavily. He still grips his gun but has trouble keeping it steady.

"You're under arrest," he mutters.

"What is the charge?"

He swallows. "Carrying a concealed weapon."

I ease up on Gary for a moment, glance at Bill. "Are you arresting me as well?"

He is doubtful. "What are you doing with this kind of knife?"

"I carry it for protection," I reply.

Bill looks at Gary. "Let her go. If I lived around here, I'd carry a knife, too."

"Are you forgetting that this is the same girl we ran into outside the coliseum?" Gary asks, annoyed. "She was there the night of the murders. Now she's here at the burned-out warehouse." With his free hand he takes out his handcuffs, "Stick out your hands, please."

I do so. "Since you said please."

After bolstering his gun, Gary slaps on the cuffs. He grabs me by the arm again and pulls me toward the patrol car. "You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that right, anything you say may be used as evidence against you. You have the right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or ap?pointed-"

"Just a second," I interrupt as Gary starts to force my head into the rear seat.

"What is it?" Gary growls.

I turn my head in Bill's direction and catch his eye. "I want Bill to sit down and take a nap."

"Huh?" Gary says. But Bill does not say anything. Too many doughnuts have made him gullible. Already he is under my spell. I continue to bore into his eyes.

"I want Bill to sit down and go to sleep," I say. "Sleep and forget, Bill. You never met me. You don't know what happened to Gary. He just vanished tonight It's not your fault."

Bill sits down, closes his eyes like a small boy who has just been tucked in by his mother, then goes to sleep. His snores startle his partner, who quickly takes out his gun again and points it at me. Poor Gary. I know I am no role model for the war against violence, but they should never have let this guy out of the academy with live ammunition.

"What have you done to him?" he demands.

I shrug. "What can I do? I'm handcuffed." To illustrate my helplessness, I hold my chained hands up before his eyes. Then, smiling wickedly, I snap them apart. Flexing my wrists, the remains of the metal bonds fall to the concrete, clattering like loose change falling from torn pockets. "You know what that French nobleman said before I slit his throat with his own knife?"

Gary takes a stunned step back. "Don't move. I'll shoot."

I step toward him. "He said, 'Don't come a step closer. I'll kill you.' Of course, he didn't have your advantage. He didn't have a gun. As a matter of fact, there were no guns in those days." I pause and my eyes must be so big to him. Bigger than moons that burn with primordial volcanoes. "Do you know what he said as my fingers went around his throat?"

Gary, trembling, cocks the hammer on his revolver. "You are evil," he whispers.

"Close." Lashing out with my left foot, I kick the gun out of his hand. Much to his dismay it goes skidding down the block. I continue in a sweet voice, "What he said was, 'You are a witch.' You see, they believed in witches in those days." Slowly, deliberate?ly, I reach over and grab my pale white victim by the collar and pull him toward me. "Do you believe in witches, Gary?"

He is a mask of fear, a bodysuit of twitches. "No," he mumbles.

I grin and lick his throat. "Do you believe in vampires?"

Incredibly he starts to cry. "No."

"There, there," I say as I stroke his head. "You must believe in something scary or you wouldn't be so upset Tell me, what kind of monster do you think I am?"

"Please let me go."

I shake my head sadly. "I'm afraid I can't do that, even though you did say please. Your fellow cops are just around the block. If I let you go, you'll run to them and tell them that I'm a prostitute who carries a concealed weapon. By the way, that wasn't a very flattering description. No one has ever paid me for sex, at least not with money." I choke him a little. "But they have paid me with their blood." His tears are a river. "Oh, God." I nod. "You go right ahead and pray to God. This might surprise you, but I met him once. He probably wouldn't approve of the torture I'm putting you through, but since he let me live, he must have known I would eventually meet you and kill you. Anyway, since he just killed my lover, I don't know if I care what he thinks." I scratch Gary with my thumbnail, and he begins to bleed. The red liquid sinks into his clean starched shirt collar like a line of angry graffiti. Leaning toward his neck, I open my mouth. "I am going to enjoy this," I mutter.

He clenches his eyes shut and cries, "I have a girlfriend!"

I pause. "Gary," I say patiently. "The line is 'I have a wife and two children.' Sometimes I listen to such pleas. Sometimes not The French nobleman had ten kids, but since he had three wives at the same time, I was not inclined to be lenient" His blood smells good, especially after my hard day and night, but something holds me at bay. "How long have you known this girl?" I ask.

"Six months."

"Do you love her?"

"Yes."

"What's her name?"

He opens his eyes and peers at me. "Lori."

I smile. "Does she believe in vampires?"

"Lori believes in everything."

I have to laugh. "Then you must make such a pair! Listen, Gary, this is your lucky night. I am going to drink some of your blood, just until you pass out, but I promise you that I won't let you die. How does that sound?"

He doesn't exactly relax. I suppose he's had better offers in his days. "Are you really a vampire?" he asks.

"Yes. But you don't want to go telling your fellow cops that. You'll lose your job-and maybe your girlfriend, too. Just tell them some punk stole your car when you weren't watching. That's what I'm going to do as soon as you black out. Trust me, I need it." I squeeze him a little just to let him know I am still a strong little bitch. "Does this sound fair?"

He begins to see he has no choice in the matter. "Will it hurt?"

"Yes, but it will be a good hurt, Gary."

With that I open his veins farther and close my hungry lips over his flesh. I am, after all, in a terrible hurry. But only as I drink do I realize that his having a girlfriend has nothing to do with my letting him live. For the first time in my life the blood does not satisfy me. Just the feel of it in my mouth, the smell of it in my nostrils, revolts me. I do not kill him because I am tired of killing-finally. My prattle with the cops was a diversion for myself. The weight of knowing that I am the only one who can stop Eddie, the pain of my loss-they send sharp stakes into my heart that I cannot pull free. For once I cannot drown my trials in blood as I have drowned so many other difficult times over the centuries. I wish that I were not a vampire, but a normal human being who could take solace in the arms of someone who does not kill to live. My dream haunts me, my soul desire. The red tears return. I no longer want to be different

Gary barely starts to moan in pleasure and pain when I release him. As he slumps to the ground, dazed, I reach over and grab his keys and cap and get in the patrol car. My plan is simple. I will put what is left of Yaksha in the car and then slip through the barricade with a tip of my cap and a hard stare at whoever is in charge of security. I will take Yaksha to a lonely spot. There we will talk, of magic perhaps. Of death, certainly.

12

I drive to the sea, not far from where I killed the woman the previous night. On the way there Yaksha rests on the seat beside me, what is left of him-a ruined torso shrouded at the base in an oily canvas sack that protrudes with the steel stakes Eddie has driven into him to keep him in pain. We do not talk. As I loaded him into the patrol car, I tried to pull off this hideous sack and remove the spikes, but he stopped me. He did not want me to see what had become of him. His dark eyes, still beautiful despite everything that has happened, held mine. The words passed unspoken between us. / want you to remember me the way I was. And I prefer to. The surf has quieted from the night before. The sea is almost as calm as a lake, and I remember a time Yaksha took me to a huge lake in southern India only a month before we met Krishna. It was at night, naturally. He wanted to show me a treasure he'd found under the water. Yaksha had a special gift for locating precious jewels and gold. He was simply drawn to them: secret caves, buried mines-they grabbed him like a magnet. Yet, when he found these things, he never kept them. It was as if he just wanted to see what beauty the past had left behind for us to discover.

He told me, however, that this particular lake had a whole city beneath it, and that no one knew. He believed it was over a hundred thousand years old, the last remnant of a great civilization that history had forgotten. Taking me by the hand, he led me into the water. Then we were diving deep. In those days I could go for half an hour without having to take a breath. Yaksha, I think, could last for hours without air. Being vampires, we could see fairly well, even in the dark and murky water. We went down over a hundred feet, and then the city was upon us: pillared balls, marble paths, sculpted fountains, all inlaid with silver and gold, now flooded with so many drops of water that they would never again sparkle in the sun. The city awed me, that it could simply exist completely un?known, so beautiful, so timeless. It also saddened me, for the same reasons.

Yaksha led me into what must have been a temple. Tall stained-glass windows, many still sound, sur?rounded the vast interior, which rose step by step in concentric circles, a series of pews that climbed all the way up the wall to a stone ceiling. The temple was unique in that there were no paintings, no statues. I understood that this was a race that worshiped the formless God, and I had to wonder if that was why they went the way they did, into extinction. But as Yaksha floated beside me, there was a joy in his eyes I had never seen before. He came from the abyss, I thought, and maybe it was as if he had finally found his people. Not that they were demons like him, certainly, but they seemed to come from beyond the world. I, too, in that moment felt as if I belonged, and it made me wonder where I had come from. Yaksha must have sensed the thoughts in me because he nodded, as if we had accomplished our purpose in coming, and brought me back to the surface. I remem?ber how bright the stars looked as we emerged from that lost city. For some reason, from then on, the stars always shone with a special luster when I was near a large body of water.

In the present moment the clouds have fled and the stars are bright as I lay him on his back not far from the water, although the light of nearby Los Angeles dims the definition of the Milky Way. How much modern civilization has lost, I think, when they lost the awareness of the billions of stars overhead. Unfor?tunately, my awareness is also rooted to the earth this night. Eddie has actually sewn the canvas bag cover?ing Yaksha into his flesh. The unseen spikes twitch under the material, or maybe it is the dissected muscles that shake. A wave of nausea passes through me as I think of the torture he has endured. Reaching out, I touch my hand to his still cold forehead. "Yaksha," I say.

His head rolls to one side. His lustrous dark eyes stare at the water with such longing. I know somehow that, like myself, he thinks of the lost city. That afternoon had been our last intimate moment togeth?er, before Krishna came on the scene and put a halt to the spread of the vampires by making Yaksha swear to destroy them all, if he wished to die with Krishna's grace.

"Sita," he says in a weak voice. "There must be many hidden cities beneath the ocean."

"There are."

"You've seen them?"

"Yes. Under this ocean and the others." "Where do you think all these people went?" I ask. "They did not go to a place. Time is a larger dimension. Their time came, their time went. It is that way."

We allow some time to pass. The lapping of the small waves on the sand rhythmically echoes my breathing. For a minute they seem as one: each in?halation is a foam wave pushing up on the sand, each exhalation the pull of the receding tide. Over the last five thousand years the waves have reworked this coast, worn it down, carved out fresh bays. But even though my breath has moved in and out of my lungs all that time, I have not changed, not really. The ocean and the earth have known more peace than I have. They have been willing to change, while I have resisted it. My time went and I did not go with it. Yaksha is telling me that. "That night," I say. "What happened?"

He sighs, so much feeling in the sound. "The moment you ran out the front door, I had the urge to walk to the window. I wanted to get a better view of the ocean. It reminds me of Krishna, you know, and I wanted it to be my last sight before I left this world. When the bomb went off, I was blown out of the house and into the woods, in two pieces. Landing, I felt myself burning, and I thought, surely I will die now." He stops.

"But you didn't die," I say.

"No. I slipped into a mysterious void. I felt as if I drifted forever on a black lagoon. The next ice age could have arrived. I felt bitter cold, like an iceberg drifting without purpose in a subterranean space. Finally, though, I became aware of my body again. Someone was shaking me, poking me. But I still couldn't see and I wasn't completely conscious. Sounds came to me out of a black sky. Some might have been my own thoughts, my own voice. But the others-they seemed so alien."

"It was Eddie asking you questions."

"Is that his name?"

"Yes."

"He never told me his name."

"He is not exactly a warm and fuzzy kind of guy."

Yaksha grimaces. "I know."

I touch him again. "Sorry."

He nods faintly. "I don't even know what I told him, but it must have been a lot. When I finally did regain full awareness and found myself in his ice? cream truck, I also found myself the captive of a madman who knew a great deal of my history, and consequently yours."

"Did he withdraw your blood and inject himself with it?"

"Yes. When I was in the morgue, he must have noticed what was left of me trying to heal. He has kept me alive so that he can keep getting more of my blood. He has taken so much, he must be very powerful."

"He is. I have tried twice to stop him and have failed. If I fail a third time he will kill me."

Yaksha hesitates, and I know what he is going to ask. His vow to Krishna, to destroy all the vampires, is in jeopardy.

"Has he made more vampires?" he asks.

"Yes. As far as I can tell he made twenty-one new ones. But I was able to destroy them all this morning." I pause. "I had help from my friend."

Yaksha studies my face. "Your friend was killed."

I nod. Another tear. Another red drop to pour into the ocean of time and space, which collects them, it seems, with no thought of how much it costs our supposedly immortal souls.

"He died to save me," I say.

"Your face has changed, Sita."

I look at the ocean, searching for its elusive peace. "It was a great loss for me."

"But we have both lost much over the centuries. This loss has but uncovered the change that was already there."

I nod weakly and put a hand over my heart. "The night of the explosion, I took a wooden stake through the heart. For some reason that wound never really healed. I am in constant pain. Sometimes it is not so bad. Other times I can hardly bear it." I look at him. "Why hasn't it healed?"

"You know. The wound was supposed to kill you. We were supposed to die together."

"What went wrong?"

"I stood and walked to the window. You probably beheld your beloved's face as you passed out and prayed to Krishna to give you more time to be with him."

"I did just that."

"Then he has given you that time. You have his grace. I suspect you always get what you want."

I shake my head bitterly. "What I wanted more than anything was for Ray to be by my side for the next five thousand years. But your precious God didn't even give me one year with him." I bow my head. "He just took him."

"He is your God as well, Sita."

I continue to shake my head. "I hate him."

"Mortals have always exaggerated the difference between hate and love. Both come from the heart. You can never hate strongly unless you have loved strong?ly. The reverse is also true. But now you say your heart is broken. I don't know if it can be healed." He stops and takes my hand. "I told you this before. Our time has passed, Sita. We don't belong here anymore."

I wince and squeeze his hand. "I am beginning to believe you." I remember my dream. "Do you think if we do leave here that I will see Ray again?"

"You will see Krishna. He is in all beings. If you took for Ray there, you will find him."

I bite my lower lip, drink my own blood. It tastes better than the cop's. "I want to believe that," I whisper.

"Sita."

"Can you help me stop this monster?"

"No." His eyes glance over his mined body. "My wounds are too deep. You will have to stop him alone."

His statement deflates what strength I have left. "I don't think I can."

"I have never heard you say you couldn't do some?thing."

I have to chuckle. "That's because we've been out of touch for five thousand years." I quiet. "He has no weak spot I don't know where to strike."

"He is not invincible."

I speak seriously. "He might very well be. At least in a fight with any creature walking this earth." I feel a sudden wave of longing for Ray, for love, for Krishna.

"I wish Krishna would return now. He could stop him easily enough. Do you think that's possible? That he will come again soon?"

"Yes. He may already be here and we don't know it. Certainly, when he returns, few will recognize him. It is always that way. Did you know I saw him again?"

"You did? Before he left the earth?"

"Yes."

"You never told me."

"I never saw you."

"Yes, I know, for five thousand years. When and where did you see him?"

"It was not long before he left the earth and Kali Yuga began. I was walking in the woods in northern India and he was just there. He was alone, sitting by a pool, washing his feet. He smiled as I approached and gestured for me to sit beside him. His whole demea?nor was different from when we saw him the first time. His power was all about, of course, but at the same time he seemed much gentler, more an angel than a god. He was eating a mango and he offered me one. When he looked at me, I felt no need to explain how I had been doing everything in my power to keep my vow to him. We just sat in the sun and soaked our feet in the water and everything was fine. Everything was perfect. Our past battle was forgotten. I felt so happy right then I could have died. I wanted to die, to leave the earth with him. I asked him if I could, and he shook his head and told me this story. When he was finished, I didn't even know why he told it to me." Yaksha pauses. "Not until this night."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"I believe he told me this story so that I could now tell it to you."

I am interested. 'Tell me."

"Lord Krishna said that there was once this demon, Mahisha, who performed a great austerity to gain the favor of Lord Shiva, who as you know is really no different from Krishna. Because there can be only one God. Mahisha kept his mind fixed on Shiva and meditated on him and his six-syllable mantra-Om Namah Shivaya-for five thousand years. But Shiva did not appear before him, and so Mahisha thought to build a huge fire and offer everything he possessed to Shiva, believing this would surely bring him. Mahisha put his clothing and jewels and weapons – even his fifty wives – into the fire. And still Shiva did not come to him. Then Mahisha thought, what have I left to offer? I have renounced everything I own. But then he realized he still had his body, and he decided that he would put that in the fire as well, piece by little piece. First he cut off his toes, and then his ears, and then his nose. All these things he threw into the fire. Seeing this from his high mountaintop in the blessed realm of Kailasha, Shiva was horrified. He didn't want any devotee, even a demonic one such as Mahisha, cutting himself up like that. Just when the demon was about to carve out his heart Shiva appeared before him.

"He said, 'You have performed a great and difficult austerity, Mahisha, and proved your devotion to me. Ask anything of me and I will grant it.' "Then Mahisha smiled to himself because it was for this very reason that he had undertaken his austerity. He said,'O Lord Shiva, I ask for but two boons. That I should be unkillable and that whoever I should touch on the top of the head should in turn be killed.'

"As you can imagine, Shiva was not too happy with the request He tried to talk Mahisha into something more benign: a nice palace, divine realization, or even a few nymphs from the heavens. But Mahisha would not be swayed, and Shiva was bound by his word, to grant anything asked of him. So in the end he said, 'So be it.' And then he quickly returned to Kailasha lest Mahisha tried to touch him on the head.

"As you can imagine Mahisha immediately started to cause all kinds of trouble. Gathering the hosts of demons together, he assaulted Indra, the king of paradise, and his realm. None of the gods could stop him because he was invincible, and, of course, every time they got near him, he would put his hand on the top of their heads and they would be killed. You understand that even a god can lose his divine form. In the end all the gods were driven from heaven and had to go into hiding to keep from being destroyed. Mahisha was crowned lord of paradise, and the whole cosmos was in disarray, with demons running wild, knocking down mountains, and raising up volca?noes."

"Were there people on the earth at this time?" I ask.

"I don't know. Krishna never said. I think there were. I think the ruins of the races I have found might have been from those times. Or maybe in the realms we speak of there is no time as we understand it. It doesn't matter. The situation was desperate and there was no relief in sight. But at the bequest of his wife, the beautiful Indrani, Indra performed a long austeri?ty himself, with his mind fixed on Krishna and his twelve-syllable mantra-Om Namo Bhagavate Vasu-devaya. Indra was hiding in a deep cave on earth at the time, and he had to meditate for five thousand years before Krishna finally appeared and offered him any boon he wished. Of course Krishna realized what was happening in heaven and on earth, but he did not intervene until after there had been great suffering."

"Why?" I ask.

"He is that way. There is no use in asking him why. I know, I have tried. It is like asking nature the same question about itself. Why is fire hot? Why do the eyes see and not hear? Why is there birth and death? These things just are the way they are. But since Krishna had offered Indra a boon, Indra was wise enough to jump at the opportunity. Indra asked Krishna to kill the unkillable Mahisha.

"It was an interesting problem for Krishna. As I have already said, in essence he is the same as Shiva, and he could not very well undo a boon he had freely granted. But Krishna is beyond all pairs of opposites, all paradoxes. What he did decide to do was appear before Mahisha as a beautiful goddess. The form he took was so ravishing that the demon immediately forgot about all the nymphs of the firmament and began to chase after her. But she-who was really a he, if the Lord can be said to have a particular sex – danced away from him, moving through the celestial forest, her hips swaying, waving her veils, dropping them along hidden paths so that Mahisha would not lose her, yet always staying out of arm's reach. Mahisha was beside himself with passion. And you know what happens when your mind becomes totally fixed on one person. You become like that person. Krishna told me that was how even the demons can become enlightened and realize him. They hate him so much they can't stop thinking about him."

I force a smile. "So it is all right if I hate him."

"Yes. The opposite of love is not hate. It is indiffer?ence. That is why so few people find God. They go to church and talk about him and that sort of thing. They may even go out and evangelize and try to win converts. But in their hearts, if they are honest with themselves, they are indifferent to him because they cannot see him. God is too abstract for people. God is a word without meaning. If Jesus came back today, nothing he said would make any sense to those who wait for him. They would be the first ones to kill him again."

"Did you ever meet Jesus?" I ask.

"No. Did you?"

"No. But I heard about him while he was still alive."

Yaksha draws in a difficult breath. "I don't even know if Jesus could heal me now."

"You would not ask him to even if he could."

"That is true. But let me continue with my story. In the form of the beautiful goddess, God was not too abstract for Mahisha. Because she danced, he in turn began to dance. He mimicked her movements exactly. He did so spontaneously, of his own free will, not imagining for a moment that he was in danger. He was fearless because he knew that he could not be killed. But the paradox of the boons granted to him was also the solution to the paradox. He had asked for two gifts, not one. But which one was stronger? The first one because it was asked for first? Or the second one because it was asked for second? Or was neither one stronger than the other? Maybe they could cancel each other out.

"As the goddess danced before Mahisha, in a subtle manner, at first almost too swift for the eye to see, she began to brush her hand close to the top of her head. She did this a number of times, slowing down a little bit on each occasion. Then, finally, she actually touched her head, and because Mahisha was so ab?sorbed in her, he did likewise."

"And in that moment he was killed," I say, having enjoyed the story but not understood the purpose of it.

"Yes," Yaksha says. "The invincible demon was destroyed, and both heaven and earth were saved."

"I understand the moral of the story, but I do not understand the practicality of it. Krishna could not have given you this story to give to me. It does not help me. The only way I could bewitch Eddie would be to show him a snuff film. The guy is not interested in my body, unless it happened to assume the form of a corpse."

"That is not true. He is very interested in what is inside your body."

I nod. "He wants my blood."

"Of course. Next to mine, your blood is the most powerful substance on earth. He must have figured out that the two of us have grown in different ways over the centuries. He wants your unique abili?ties, and he can only absorb them by absorbing your blood into his system. For that reason I do not believe he will simply kill you outright when he sees you next."

"The first time we met he had a chance to kill me and didn't."

"Then you see the truth of what I say."

I speak with emotion, for all this talk does nothing to soothe my torment. Ray is dead and my old mentor is dying and God takes five thousand years to respond to a prayer. I feel as if I drift on the icy lagoon, hearing only gibberish whispered down to me from a black sky. I know Eddie will kill me the next time we meet. He will slowly peel off my flesh, and when I scream in pain, I know Krishna will not heed my pleas for help. How many times must Yaksha have cried out to Krishna to save him while Eddie pushed the steel spikes deeper into his torn body? I ask Yaksha this very question, but he is staring at the ocean again.

"Faith is a mysterious quality," he says. "On the surface it seems foolhardy-to trust so completely in something you don't know is true. But I think that trust, for most people, vanishes when death stands at the doorstep. Because death is bigger than human beliefs. It wipes them all away. If you study a dead Jew or a dead Christian or a dead Hindu or a dead Buddhist-they all look the same. They all smell the same, after a while. For that reason I think true faith is a gift. You cannot decide to have it. God gives it to you or he doesn't give it to you. When I was trapped in the truck these last few weeks, I didn't pray to Krishna to save me. I just prayed that he would give me faith in him. Then I realized it was all accomplished for me. I saw that I already had that faith."

"I don't understand," I say. Yaksha looks at me once more. Reaching up, he touches my cheek where my red tear has left a tragic stain. Yet he smiles as he feels my blood, this creature who has just been put through such incredible pain. How can he smile? I wonder. There is a glow about him even in the midst of his ruin, and I realize that he is like the sea he loves so much, at peace with the waves that wash over him. Truly, we do become what we love, or what we hate. I wish that I still hated him and could therefore share a portion of his peace. With all I have lost, I fear to approach him with a feeling of love. Yet I lie even to myself. I love him as much as I love Krishna. He is still my demon, my lover, my enchant?er. I bow my head before him and let him stroke my hair. His touch does not kill me but brings me a small measure of comfort.

"What I mean is," he says, "I knew you would come for me. I knew you would deliver me from my torment. And you see, you have. In the same way, even as he stuck his long needles into me and then injected himself in front of me and laughed and told me the world was now his, I knew that after you found me and heard Krishna's story, you would destroy him. You would save the world and fulfill my vow for me. I have that faith, Sita. God has given it to me. Please trust in it as I trust in you."

I am all emotion. I, the cold vampire. I shake before him like a lost little girl. I was young when I met him, so long ago, and in all that time I have failed to mature. At least in the way Krishna probably wanted me to. I know I am about to lose Yaksha, that he is going to ask me to kill him, and the thought devastates me.

"I do not know what the story means," I whisper. "Can't you tell me?"

"No. I don't know what it means, either."

I raise my head. "Then we're damned!" Gently he takes a handful of my long hair. "Many in the past have called us that. But tonight you will make them repent those words because you will be their savior. Find him, Sita, bewitch him. I was every bit as powerful as he when I came for you that night I made you what you are. I did not come back willingly. You had bewitched me – yes, even then – and I was a monster every bit as corrupt as this Eddie."

I take his hand. "But I never really wanted to destroy you." He goes to speak and I quickly shake my head. "Don't say it, please."

"It must be done. You will need the strength of my blood. It is the least I can give you."

I hold his hand to my trembling mouth, but I am careful with his fingers, keeping them from my teeth. I do not want to bite them, even scratch them. How, then, can I drain him dry?

"No," I say.

His eyes wander back to the sea. "Yes, Sita. This way is the only way. And I am closer to it this time. I can see it." He closes his eyes. "I can remember him as if I saw him only yesterday. As if I see him now." He nods to himself. "It is not such a bad way to die."

I have had the same thought, and yet lived on. I do not deny him his last request, however. He has suffered greatly, and to make him go on as he is would be too cruel. Lowering my head and opening his veins, I press my lips to the flesh that brought my own flesh to this mysterious moment, which has sadly become a paradox of powers and weaknesses, of hopeless char?acters lost in time and space, where the stars turn overhead and shine down upon us like boons from the almighty Lord, or else curses from an indifferent universe. Yet the flavor of his blood adds color to my soul, and drinking it I feel an unlooked-for spark of hope, of faith. As he takes his last breath, I whisper in his ear that I will not do likewise until the enemy is dead. It is a vow I make to Yaksha as well as to Krishna.

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