He said nothing at first, but I saw the suspicion on his face, especially in his strange eyes, eyes that seemed devoid of color. I knew he was wondering if I had read his thoughts, or if I had simply made a supposition based on his last statement.
"What about the medallion, my dear?" he asked. He closed his eyes again, and it was just as well since his colorless irises were creepy as hell.
I told him about my son, opening up to the strange man and telling him secrets that I told few mortals. He might hold the answers to my son's return to mortality, and that was enough to keep me talking, to keep me babbling until I finally caught him up to date.
As I spoke, he sat quietly, no doubt watching me in ways that I couldn't quite fathom. When I was finished, he said, "You have spared your son from death. Is that not the goal of most parents?"
"The goal of most parents is not to turn their children into blood-sucking fiends."
He nodded. "So you've turned your son, and now you wish to turn him back?"
"You are playing God, Samantha. Granting immortality and then taking it away."
"I'm using the tools I've been given to save my son. No more, no less."
He nodded. "The medallion. Is it in your possession?"
"It is somewhere safe."
"And you seek to unlock its secret?"
"I seek to give my son a normal life."
"Normal lives are overrated."
The energy in the room had shifted a little. It was moving a fraction faster. I think my own anger and frustration was charging the room. The old man continued sitting still, while his looping white noise continued filling my brain. What kind of secrets was he keeping from me? Perhaps it was better that I didn't know.
"I do not have strength to argue the point," he said. "Keeping you out of my thoughts is highly taxing. Tell me, what exactly can I do for you?"
"I need help in unlocking the medallion."
"And reversing your son's vampirism?"
He sat quietly. He was tiring. The whispery phrases that cluttered my thoughts seemed to be faltering, skipping words here and there. His defense was breaking down, and I idly wondered what mysteries might be lurking in his brain.
"There is a way, of course," he said. "There's always a way. But for my services I always requirement payment."
My eyes narrowed. Any woman's eyes would narrow when she hears a creepy old man utter the words: I require payment.
"What kind of payment?" I asked warily.
"Life, of course."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that for my service I require life, usually in the form of years removed from yours and added to mine."
So he was a vampire, after all. Or a type of vampire. One that sucked life, not blood, no doubt through the use of arcane magicks.
He went on, "But you have no years to remove, my dear, being immortal. To remove years implies that one's life has an ending point." He opened his eyes and looked directly at me. "You, lass, will live forever, if you are lucky."
Indeed. For creatures who are immortal, we tend to die easily enough if we find ourselves on the wrong end of a silver dagger.
My eyes narrowed. "So what are you getting at?"
"Your son's life, of course, Samantha. For my help, I require three years from your son's life, that is, of course, if you are successful in your bid to return him to his mortality."
"How will this be done?"
"Delicately, my dear. Your son will not be harmed."
I felt sick all over again. Jesus, what had I gotten Anthony involved with? "He will lose three years of his life?"
He opened his eyes again and now that his psychic shell was cracking, I saw something monstrous about the man. A darkness appeared around him, swirled briefly, and then disappeared again. The man was possessed by something dark. Of that I was sure. Something that required the years of the living to sustain it.
"Or your son can live forever," he said. "The choice is yours, my dear."
The air in the room had grown agitated. The calm, beautiful lights had been replaced by crazed, dancing butterflies of all colors.
"And what are you offering me in return? Do you know how to unlock the medallion?"
"I know of one who does. An alchemist older than even me."
"So you are not a vampire?"
He grinned wickedly. "No. At least, not the blood sucking kind."
"And that's all you're offering me? The name of an alchemist for three years of my son's life?"
"And what, exactly, does that mean? Three years of his life?"
"Your son's life, should he become mortal again, will be cut short by three years. Years which will then be transferred to me."
"No," he breathed. "I'm alive, as I plan on being for many years to come."
He explained further: my son's life would not necessarily end tragically. It would simply end as it was meant to end, only three years earlier.
Lord help me.
"Where do I find this guy?"
"I know not, my dear. In fact, no one knows. And those who have seen him claim that he has found them."
Great. I closed my eyes and took in a lot of air, and held it for seemingly an eternity. "One year," I finally said.
"Three!" he hissed angrily.
Sweet Jesus. I was bargaining with my son's life. His years. "One," I said. "Only one."
"Two," he screeched. "Two! And no less!"
"Okay," I said weakly. "Two."
He clapped his hands thunderously. "Then it is done!"
Before crawling into bed, I called the hospital. According to the doctor on staff, Anthony was sleeping quietly and showing signs of marked improvement. I could hear the relief in his voice.
I thanked him for everything and hung up. My daughter, I knew, was with my sister. I was alone and exhausted. My body was shutting down. I sent texts to Danny and my sister, too weak to call. I told them the good news, that Anthony was miraculously recovering. I didn't explain the miraculous part. I hoped I would never have to, either. I told my sister to tell Tammy that I loved her, then set my alarm for noon. I had just slipped into bed when I felt the sun rise, felt it in every fiber of my being.
Oh, what a night.
And just before blackness overcame me, I thought of the name I had been given.
I awoke sluggishly, reluctantly, painfully.
During the day, I felt mortal. During the day, I felt less than human. I dragged my tired ass out of bed, hopped in the shower, where I stood under the scalding hot spray until I used up all the hot water. In the bathroom mirror, other than a few beads of water that seemed to be floating in mid-air, I saw nothing. Neither follicle nor fingernail.
How is that possible? What the hell is happening?
My son would see nothing, too. Forever nothing, unless I found him a cure. And with that thought, as I gazed at nothing in the mirror, I realized that I would forever be undead.
Recently, I had held out hope that I might someday use the medallion for myself, the thought never occurring to me that I would need it for my son instead.
An eternity on this earth.
I continued standing before the empty mirror, dripping on the bathroom floor. I looked down at the puddle forming below me…there was no reflection there either.
I don't exist, I thought.
Panic gripped me. It had been quite a while since I had had a full-blown panic attack, but I was close to having one now. I circled the bathroom, slipping in the puddle once. There was no image pacing alongside of me in the bathroom mirror. Nothing.
Not seeing yourself in a mirror, or window, or fucking puddle has a way of playing on one's nerves. And my nerves were shot.
Completely fucking shot.
I circled, breathing deeply, trying to calm myself, until I realized that breathing deeply didn't calm me. Breathing deeply didn't do shit.
I broke out in a sweat.
Maybe I really don't exist. It's a fear I've had over the years. A fear that I was still back in the hospital, recovering from my attacks so many years ago. In a coma. Or worse. Maybe I was dead. Maybe all of this is happening in my dead mind. Was that even possible?
I continued sweating, continued pacing in the bathroom. I looked to my right, in the mirror. Nothing except a ghostly, wet outline of a curvy woman.
That's just not right. That's just fucked up. I mean, who can't see themselves in mirrors?
Vampires can't, Sam. Vampires.
Calm down. Relax. You're okay. You're here. You're really here.
Naked and still dripping, I found myself in my living room, at my house phone. I called the only number I trusted to call. My sister Mary Lou answered immediately.
"Hi, love!" she said excitedly. "I've been waiting for you to wake up. Such great news about Anthony!"
I agreed and her excitement buoyed me, but I was far from better. I was far from thinking reasonably. A great panic had taken hold and I was a woman drowning in her own fear.
"Mary Lou," I said, and her name caught in my throat.
"Sam? Is everything okay?"
"Mary Lou, I don't understand."
I tried again, my mind racing, my heart beating faster than it had in quite some time. "Mary Lou, is this really happening?"
"What do you mean, Sam?"
I started crying, so hard that I could barely hold the phone. I was losing it. You would, too. Anyone would. Trust me, there's only so much a person can take. "Am I really here, Mary Lou…please…I need to know. Is this real? Is this really happening to me?"
"Is this about Anthony? But he's okay, Sam. He's – "
"No. It's not about Anthony. Please, Louie. Please."
"What do you need, Sam? What is it?"
"I don't understand what's happened to me, Louie."
I wept harder than I had wept in a long, long time. I sank to my knees. It took a full minute before I could speak again. "Is this all a dream, Louie?"
"It's not a dream, honey. This is real. Everything's real."
I thought of the empty mirror and shook my head even though my sister couldn't see me shaking my head.
"No, it can't be. It's impossible."
"Honey, listen to me. Something very bad happened to you, but you're going to be okay. I promise. And now Anthony's going to be okay, too."
I thought of Anthony and what I had done to him, and found myself sobbing nearly hysterically. The last words I heard from my sister was that she was coming right over.READ MORE >>