The Art of Dating (With Your Vampire Granny as Wingman)

This is part II of the story about Vanessa Riley. It works perfectly well as a stand alone, but if you would still like to read part I first, you can find it here


Her father’s mother once told her that love conquers all, and this might very well be true. But in that case, and Vanessa learned this early on, it normally doesn’t conquer anything for very long. Love at first sight, especially, seldom manages to conquer her attention for more than a messy quickie nowadays. To be fair, though, she should probably ascribe this to her own disinclination towards getting people killed rather than anything else.

She’s sitting at the glossy table, sipping her drink and letting her eyes wander the room. Window shopping doesn’t do it for her anymore, but then again not much else does either. She sighs, and the exhalation turns into drunken laughter before she’s able to stop herself. How the fuck did her life take this turn?

“Well, it’s not rocket science”, she tells the guy leaning towards her across the table. “It all started with the vampire.”

She tells him everything, because she’s bored as fuck, and he listens – of course he listens, it’s a fantastic story. He’s more drunk than her but still manages to nod in all the right places, his hungry eyes making it perfectly clear that he expects this social deed to yield some kind of reward later. She’s a little disappointed that he doesn’t freak out when she tells him about her mother decapitating her junior high sweetheart, but hey some people are just hardened assholes. He probably doesn’t believe her anyway.

“So now I’ve been living with my vampire godmother for seven years, protecting her from hunters and the sun and her own bad taste in men. And women. And me myself… Well, I try to stay clear of either. At least as far as relationships go. You can call me Vahri, by the way.” Neferthali taught her early that names have power, and that if Vanessa Riley wanted to become older than twenty she’d do best to shed her true name, at least publicly, and don a new one. A shadow name, as it were.

The stranger nods and nods and realizes too late that she has stopped talking seconds ago. To his credit he swiftly collects himself as soon as he does. “Ehrm, oh. So, well, are you, you know… A vampire too?”

She rolls her eyes and bites her lip. Don´t snap at him. He might be stupid but he’s hot as hell… as well. You don’t need him for conversation once we leave this place. “No, I’m not a vampire. I’m what they call a magician. No, not like Harry Potter but almost. I read and control minds, amongst other things.” Yeah, boyo, I wouldn’t be telling you all this if I didn’t. You won’t remember any of this tomorrow.

“Ah, okay”, he says, again disappointing her with his all too apparent non-out-freaking behaviour. “Can you show me something then?”

Oh, not again… “No. Definitely not.”

“Oh, comon. Some little trick. Please.”

The terror in Brian’s eyes. The sound of his steps disappearing down the stairs. Brian’s dead body… Snap. “No. Fuck you. What’s wrong with you, anyway? You’re not supposed to believe any of this.”

He looks at her in silence for several heartbeats, neither taken aback nor affronted by her suddenly lashing out at him. “There’s many things wrong with me. I’m broke, I’m probably on the brink of becoming unemployed and apparently I’m also extremely easily fooled. As a direct consequence of this, I am also a djinn. My name is Chino. Questions?”

“A… djinn?” She can’t even pretend to be cool about this. Okay, boyo, you win. She leans forward.

“Yeah, but not by choice. I was tricked, you see. It’s a long story, but suffice to say I promised to look after some guy’s flowers and his cat, and this ended me up as some kind of vacation substitute with magical powers. And yeah, his cat wasn’t really a cat either but some terribly obnoxious guy who was turned into a feline three hundred years ago because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut or whatever. And I was stupid enough to un-cat him so to speak. He’s that guy over there at the bar, if you were wondering. The one with his hands all over that pale woman in black.”

Vanessa turns towards the bar and instantly lets out yet another fit of involuntary laughter. “Him? Are you serious?” The dark haired man in the crimson suit looks handsome enough, and not a bit like a cat, but it is his company that surprises her. “That’s Neferthali”, she laughs. “My, well, the woman I told you about. The–”

“The vampire?” Now it’s Chino’s turn to look surprised, finally.

Vanessa nods. “Yeah, exactly. And they seem to be pretty… well acquainted.” As she speaks she can see how the couple merge in a deep kiss that seems to have no end at all. Suddenly Neferthali opens her dark eyes and meets Vanessa’s gaze over the man’s shoulder. She smiles. Before Vanessa knows it her ancient governor is leading the man in the crimson suit across the room towards her.

“For fuck sake, no…” The djinn at the other side of the table looks away as they approach, apparently not very keen at all about Vanessa being confronted with his friend, the ex-cat. Still, he’s obviously not un-keen enough about it to wish the situation away, because just a few seconds later the two are standing beside their table.

“Vahri, meet Ivers”, Nefethali says as she allows the man to wrap his arm around her waist. “I have known him for nine centuries, but haven’t seen him for three. Thus we have much to talk about.”

Who even uses the word “thus” in speaking? Vanessa can hear Chino’s sarcastic thought as clearly as if he had spoken the words. It’s almost a wonder the others can’t hear it too. Out loud he says: “There’s a good reason you haven’t seen him in so long. I’m sure he’s been eager to tell you why?”

Neferthali raises one of her delicately shaped eyebrows as she turns to her cavalier. “Oh, is that so?”

The one called Ivers bites his lip and clenches his free hand. “Well, no. I mean, of course there’s a good reason, but non that I would wish to bore my lady with”, he says and even manages a gallant smile.

“He’s been a cat. There, now you have one more thing to talk about.” Chino flashes Ivers a victorious face, but then accidentally meets Neferthali’s eyes and is instantly caught.

“A cat, you say?” Her voice is like golden nectar, and when Vanessa sees Chino’s face melt before the vampire’s gaze she knows that her date for the evening has been effectively ruined. Once again.

She takes a long draught from her ceasing drink and pretends not to pay attention while her audaciously gorgeous ancestress talks Chino up and gracefully inquires about everything from his name to his preferences in women. She is not angry, she is pissed off. Why must this happen every fucking time we go out together? She snaps out of her frustrated thoughts at a cold but delicate hand caressing the side of her face.

“Vahri, doll. Me and the young djinn here are going for a stroll. He has such interesting stories and I’m just starving to hear them. You do not mind, I’m sure?”

Vanessa waves her off with an irritated frown. “No, gran, of course I don’t mind. I just laid eyes on him first but please go ahead. Just remember to wipe his memory afterwards because I accidentally slipped and told him everything. You know, like I always do.”

Neferthali gives her a long look, then shakes her head. “Vahri dear, you worry too much. He’s a djinn, remember? It is alright for him to know these things.” And with this she lets her arm slither around Chino’s waist and leads him off into the crowd. Within seconds Vahri can’t see either of them anymore.

She shakes her head in not-so-surprised disbelief. “Oh, of course. How stupid of me”, she mutters and turns back to her glass, just to once again discover its miserably empty state. Then somebody settles down beside her – slightly too close – and she looks up again. It’s the other guy, the one in crimson. Ivers.

He smiles broadly at her and on any other night he would have been a catch. Tonight, however, has taken a turn for the sour and she is definitely not in the mood to be talked up by her godmother’s sloppy seconds. “What the fuck do you want?”, she mutters and once again tries to drink from her empty glass. This time she succeeds. She doesn’t realize she should be surprised until after several deep gulps.

“I’m Ivers”, he says and extends a meticulously manicured hand. “Do you wanna go somewhere, or…?”

“So you’re a djinn too?”, Vanessa sighs as the reason behind her unexpected refill suddenly sinks in. “Wonderful.”

And with that she rises from her chair, grabs her bag and leaves the table.

“Wait, I thought we could… talk.” The voice of the older djinn sounds almost mopish behind her, but Vanessa doesn’t turn around. Instead she extends a gracious middle finger before elbowing her way towards the exit. She’s had enough of bullshit for one night.

And as she exits the club and walks off into the late summer gloom a realization strikes her. Love doesn’t conquer all, she muses bitterly. It’s shamelessly well preserved, antediluvian fucking vampire grannies that do that.


(You can find the next part in the story about Vanessa Riley here.)

Into the Dark

Vanessa Riley’s problem wasn’t that she fell in love with idiots – it was that she fell in love with everybody. She only needed to talk to somebody for ten minutes to fall irrevocably head over heels. No wonder that the morons got to her; they were the ones that made the moves, after all. And to make things worse, she herself was not your average girl-next-door – nor was her family the most average of families. This fact, without a fault, tended to secure her the less-than-average moronic suitors as well.

The first one, not counting all the cute elementary school flings littering her back story like embarrassing piles of unicorn poop, had been a vampire. She had been fourteen years old, mesmerized by the writings of a certain Mrs. Rice and consequently swiped right off her feet by his charm, bottomless eyes and knowing, poetic voice as he spoke her name. It was an intense, crimson and incredibly sexy affair. She had given him her overrated virginity and lots and lots of blood. He had given her almost as much in return and promised to take her “into the night”, as he had so eloquently put it. The romance ended almost as swiftly as it had begun, with her mother finding out and chopping his head off with a rusty shovel – it being all that had been readily at hand in the heat of the moment.

Turned out, though, that he had a family of his own. Fierce old things that didn’t take lightly the death – much less murder – of one of theirs. The fact that his beheading, by some, was unfortunately interpreted as an escalation of the age old cold war between vampires and mages didn’t exactly make things better. The final price and outcome of this seemingly innocent high school romance thus became an increased enmity between two up until now passively warring factions, the violent death of her mother and the turning, as it was likewise eloquently termed, of her own twin sister. They haven’t spoken much since then.

After that she lived with her father for a time, long enough to finish high school. He and her late mother had already been divorced for some time before her death. However, due to him priding himself with having a werewolf somewhere far back in his lineage, nobody had deemed it necessary to intervene in the name of secrecy when their relationship ended. What this intervention would have meant, though, Vanessa didn’t learn until later – and then it was the hard way.

What she did learn at this time, however, was the complete, merciless and entirely uncensored truth about her unusual family tree. Vanessa had already been made aware of her mother’s abilities, that she had been a magician of some renown and that Vanessa herself was expected to someday develop some degree of powers of her own. She hadn’t been aware, though, of the fact that her mother’s family could trace their lineage as far back as ancient Egypt, and that as good as every generation up until now had sported their share of supernatural creatures. Those who never displayed any magical abilities of their own were quickly swept up by the vampires, changelings and ritualists surrounding the family at all times. Thus they had made themselves a name over the millennia, and thus the prospects of the normal life Vanessa Riley had always hoped for instantly seemed farther away than ever. But time had passed and Vanessa had made due and eventually learned to cope with the new state of her world.

Her second boyfriend, not counting all the high school one nighters littering her teens like secretly thrilling but forbidden cigarette buds, had been a magician himself. She had been almost eighteen and had fallen head over heels before his cunning eyes, sly smile and somewhat rough ways. Being finally together with someone who was actually allowed to know her family’s deepest secrets had been a great relief. Up until then none of her friends or partners – save for that one who “got away” – had been residents of the proverbial world of darkness that her own family of secret mages, werewolves and general misfits were a part of.

She could talk to him about all the things that confused and frightened her, and the fact that he was just two years her senior sat really well with her father. They shared one intense summer and then he went to prison. Not your usual, mundane prison, mind you. Rather it was the kind of prison where mages are sent if they, gods forbid, meddle with things more dark and dangerous than what is considered sound, safe and sane by the local coven leaders. The people who came for him made sure to perform thorough interrogations of Vanessa as well, but soon lost interest when it became clear that she hadn’t even awakened to her powers yet. Without them, it was impossible for her to have broken any arcane laws serious enough for them to care. She later learned that he had been exiled from the city, but by then she had already moved on.

Vanessa Riley’s third real boyfriend had actually been an ordinary, human guy. He was the same age as her and they met by chance through a language class they both took after finishing senior high. She was nineteen years old and had only three months earlier discovered that she could see people’s auras and read their minds. Her father had been delighted hearing about her powers, but also somewhat saddened. He had told her that before long the rest of the family would take interest in her and that she then might have to move on with her life – whether she wanted it or not. That this moving on would occur sooner rather than later, and that it would rip open the seams of a world she already believed entirely upside down, was nothing he had told her, though.

The ordinary guy’s name was Brian and when she was with him Vanessa could almost allow herself to believe in a normal every day life where the most groundbreaking thing that could happen would be the neighbours coming by for a cup of sugar. She stayed over at his place more and more frequently and was soon endowed with an empty drawer in one of his closets. They talked about enrolling to the same college, buying a car and skipping town, renting a flat and moving in together and many other things. It all felt so serious that one late and drunken night, as they lay gazing at the stars out on Brian’s balcony, Vanessa decided to tell him everything.

They were both drunk and when she began talking about telepathy, auras and mind control his first reaction was to laugh uncontrollably. She couldn’t help but to laugh as well, but when she realized that he thought the whole thing was a joke she stopped.

This is real”, she said. “I’m not fooling around.” She sat up and stared at him and eventually he stopped laughing as well – at least long enough to draw breath.

Okay, I hear you.” He had to fight back another fit of laughter before continuing. “So you can read minds and make people do stuff. And why haven’t I noticed this before?”

She sighed impatiently. “Because it’s a secret and I was afraid you would freak out. Besides, I learned to do these things only recently.”

At this he finally stopped laughing and managed a somewhat serious look. “Alright, babe. Show me. What am I thinking about?”

Me. You’re thinking about me.”

Well, okay, but that one was easy. What about now?”

You’re still thinking about me, stupid. But without clothes now. You’re also thinking about fish for some reason. Kinky.”

This made him pause, but only for a moment. “I don’t know how you did that, but come on babe, just admit that this is a joke so I can kiss you already.”

But it isn’t –” He reached for her and started pulling her closer, seemingly already haven dismissed the subject as a drunken prank.

She panicked. She had just opened herself up to him like she had never dared before, and here he was, on the edge of joking it all away. “Stop”, she said – and he did. Way to quickly.

Brian stared at her, frozen at an arm’s length’s distance. The terror in his eyes spoke for itself. “What the hell did you do?”

An icy hand gripped her spine. What did I do? What have I done? “I’m… I’m sorry, Brian. I –”

But he had already gotten to his feet and quickly backed away from her. “Don’t”, he said. “I don’t know what you did but I… I can’t…” He backed into the darkness of the apartment. She tried to follow but he held up both hands and shook his head violently. “No, please. Just don’t. I need to…” And with that he turned his back on her and fled out the door.

She stood in his dark living room for several seconds, just listening in shocked silence as his echoing footsteps disappeared down the stairwell and were finally cut off by the sharp sound of the main entrance closing far below. Not until then did she sink to the floor, collapsing in a sobbing pile and feeling the tears stream down her face.

They found Brian’s body the next day. She had fallen asleep on the floor of his apartment and did not awaken until she got the call. The policeman on the other end had gotten her number from her father and was empathetic but matter-of-fact when he told her that Brian was dead. He had been found in a park close to his home, lying under a bush with his neck broken. The police wanted to talk to her in person as soon as possible, seeing as she was possibly one of the last people who had seen him alive.

Vanessa was numb when the call ended and almost couldn’t bring herself to answering when her father called a few seconds later. He came to pick her up and the subsequent ride over to the police station was an eerily silent one. The investigators asked her about the night before, what they had done and why he had left home. She told them that they had fought over some trivial thing – couldn’t very well tell them the truth. They asked her many questions but in the end seemed to accept that she didn’t know anything about his potential enemies, debts or addictions.

On their way home in the car that evening her father tried his best to check on her, console her or at least make her talk. He failed on all three points. As they entered the driveway she still hadn’t spoken a word that wasn’t in reply to a direct question. She was in shock and walked through fog on broken glass. They walked into the house and her father went to the kitchen to make her some chamomile tea. Then he froze on the threshold. When Vanessa caught up with him and saw Her, the woman sitting on the couch, she wasn’t even surprised. She had never seen this woman before and still she knew who she was.

“Neferthali”, she said tonelessly. She didn’t have any tones left.

The woman nodded and rose. “It’s time”, she said and strode over to them, her crimson silk dress flowing behind her as she moved. Vanessa thought that her long raven hair reflected the darkness outside the windows.

“You, you can’t –” Vanessa’s father stuttered as he tried to speak.

“Yes, Jim”, the tall woman said. “I’m taking your daughter. It’s clear as day that you can’t handle her.”

And with that she grabbed Vanessa’s hand and walked her back towards the door. Vanessa tried to turn, to seek her father’s eyes, but Neferthali stopped and grabbed her chin. “You stupid girl, you don’t understand anything, do you? Running around and telling sleepers about the Family and all. Obviously you can’t even handle yourself.”

Her grip was firm as rock and Vanessa could do nothing but stare into those deep, dark eyes that had seen civilizations rise and fall. She shivered involuntarily. “I didn’t tell him about the Family”, she said, tears welling up in her eyes. Tears of shame that she didn’t herself know the origin of.

“No, but you would have”, the woman said. “It always starts this way, with a stupid little girl telling an almost as stupid boy about magic. The rest is history. That’s how it started with your mother and father, and that’s how it started for your mother’s parents before her. Were it not for your father’s animalistic heritage, I would gladly have killed him as well when that sad relationship ended. Yes, Jim”, she said and turned her head halfway towards Vanessa’s father for a split second. “That’s the truth and you know it.”

Vanessa’s father didn’t say anything, but Vanessa could see from the corner of her eye that he was gripping the door frame tightly and stared intently at them. She herself snapped out of her frozen state for a moment when Nerferthali took her ancient eyes of her.

“What… do you mean ‘as well’?”, she whispered.

Neferthali met her eyes again, absolute controlled calm emanating from her eyes. “Like I killed your sleeper boy last night, of course”, she said. No malice in her voice, no sadistic pleasure. Just coldly, calmly establishing a fact.

“You, you killed Brian?” Vanessa felt her legs go weak and her voice tremble as she uttered the terrible words. “You killed him. You.”

Neferthali nodded. “I did. He was leaving you and he knew too much. I had to.”

Vanessa felt the tears break forth again and could do, would do, nothing to prevent it. “He wasn’t leaving me. We would have worked it out. He would have come back, just needed… He just needed some time, that’s all.”

The ancient woman sighed – more as a rhetoric gesture than because she needed the air. “Maybe he would have. But he would have left again, he was a lost cause. Not made for this kind of darkness. You know this, Vanessa. You always did. And still you told him. This makes you the real killer, not me. I’m just protecting the family, like I have always done. I only wish your mother would have let me take you sooner. That would probably have left her alive to one day see you learn from your mistakes.”

So many thoughts, so many disturbing, provoking, heartbreaking concepts. Brian’s death her fault. Her mother’s murder and her sister’s turning just as much. Learn from my mistakes… Yes, she thought. Maybe they were all because of me. And the prospect broke her, pulled her apart with such force that she couldn’t even try to resist it. She would have fallen to the floor if her vampire godmother had let her. She who had, according to the family myths, guarded over her progeny for thousands and thousands of years.

Neferthali picked her up, cradled her in her cold, hard arms like a baby and carried her out through the door. Vanessa shook uncontrollably and her only anchor to sanity then and there was the vampire singing softly to her in a language lost to all but the dead and forgotten gods of yore.

And behind them inside the house her father let out a roaring bellow that was not of a human throat, but still dared do nothing to save his last living daughter from this creature older than modern time itself.

“His first change, finally”, Neferthali mused smilingly as she carried her young ward away. But by then Vanessa Riley had stopped listening to anything but blind panic a long time ago. And thus she was carried off into a night more dark and dangerous than what any coven leader, however hardened, would consider sound, safe and sane.

And that was only the beginning.


You can find part II of the story about Vanessa Riley here.

Chris Smedbakken 2017-05-24

Night Shift

It wasn’t really a party per se. More of a business like reunion between old friends with individual careers. And he wasn’t actually using as such – he just accidentally accepted some substances that were offered to him, that only later turned out to be slightly illegal. How was he to know that? He was frigging drunk for heaven’s sake. And last time he checked, that – at least – was something he was entitled to be whenever he so chose.

David tried telling all this to the police, but they didn’t listen to him and he was forced to spend the night in an embarrassingly small and unsanitary cell at the local station. Luckily, his feeling of hurt indignation at this didn’t last long. He fell into a drunken stupor almost right away and didn’t wake until morning.

He tried telling all this to his loving parents as well, but of course they didn’t listen either. Instead they told his older brother, who then called him for a long and provoking talk about life, choices and consequences. Then they sent him back to Edinburgh for the autumn semester in disgrace.

He would get no more money from them until he proved that he could make grown-up decisions, and they in no uncertain terms made it clear that they would send him to a boarding school in Berlin if he made one single mistake from here on. How unspeakably bothersome. Thinking about it, his current situation is actually all their fault.


There’s blood on David’s hands. Luckily, he’s professional enough not to have forgotten to bring the rubber gloves. Their blue surface stands in sharp contrast to all the red as he works the shivering flesh with his instruments. He’s read about this but never seen it being done – much less so done it himself. His heart races in pace with the man’s frantic breathing.

What’s taking you so long, man? He’s dying here, for fuck sake. What’s wrong with you? Glen told me you’re a doctor, aren’t you?” The short, smoking man pacing around with his gun drawn isn’t helping one bit.

Shut the hell up, can’t you see I’m busy?” He hopes his voice doesn’t give away his fear.

The man on the table screams. David can see the tall one, the inked muscle brute, stepping forth from the corner of his eye. “I’m not hurting him, I’m trying to find the bullet!” The fear is clear in his voice now and he is starting to sweat. Are they going to kill him if he’s not quick enough? But the man behind him stops. Towers just close enough that David can hear his heavy breathing. And then he sees it.

With a sigh of relief he starts working the bullet out of the injured man’s leg. The poor bastard should be given heavier sedatives, but this call was sudden and David didn’t have time to bring more than the very basics. Some aspirin and moonshine had to do. Now the man screams again and David is glad that the third guy is holding him down. Just as he gets a firm grip around the bullet and pulls, the doors of the warehouse are thrown open and all hell breaks loose.


Eddie whistles softly along with the music in his headphones as he makes his way down the corridor. He can’t afford Spotify so this is FM radio. He moves slowly, carefully. Wouldn’t want to miss a spot, this is a hospital and people would notice. Eddie is a helpful and empathetic person, everyone knows that. And hygiene and cleanliness are imperative in a place like this, he is doing important work. Or fuck it, who is he trying to fool? Everyone, apparently.

If people find out he works as a janitor here at night he will never hear the end of it – and that would be the end of it. Being a nightly cleaner at the same hospital where he does his medical training by day is not something he is proud about. The rest of his class come from wealthy backgrounds and probably have all their expenses covered by rich parents or impressive scholarships. Eddie has nothing, but they can’t know that. Can’t know that even though his school fees have already been paid by his parents, he’s forced to do this in order to afford living in Edinburgh at all. He has to make due and keep up the pretence.

He shivers as he thinks about what would happen if they found out – if David found out. David Cowen who is always so perfect, who has everything and knows everything. David who fits in so well and who has condescended to becoming Eddie’s best friend despite their severe differences. Eddie would die of shame if David found out about him cleaning toilets every night as the others study or party or do whatever it is the pretty people do when he’s not around. That would probably be the last drop that would make David give up on their friendship out of embarrassment once and for all.

Eddie quickly passes by the locked door of the main medicine storage. It has been cleaned once today already and doesn’t need another go. Only medical staff ever enter that door and the hospital is restrictive with giving out clearance to unlock it. And even though Eddie’s intern status gives him such clearance, as a puny janitor he certainly isn’t supposed to go there. He has heard rumours about stuff vanishing from in there the last couple of weeks, and he definitely doesn’t want to be connected with that.

He thinks about his parents as he doubles back through the corridor to get the cleaning supplies he left by the elevators earlier. A sting of shame always goes through his body when he remembers what they did for him. He can’t even relate to the size of the land they sold in order to pay for his education, to enable him to be here. It has been many generations since the Llwellyn family was actually wealthy, but this “investment” has probably sealed the line’s fate once and for all.

They say they’ll be able to buy everything back in time, but Eddie knows that’s just talk. They’re buying him a future and he’s too slow and stupid to make any good use of it. He can’t even read properly, for fuck sake. The letters just keep jumping around and he has to go over every page four times to make any sense of it at all. Thus far he’s made due in school by watching informative YouTube channels, but he knows they’re getting farther ahead of popular science every day. He’s already aware that there isn’t any video instructions online for the subject they’re going over next week. He’s screwed. He picks up the bucket and swears as dirty water sloshes over the edge and soaks his left pant leg. He’s really glad David isn’t here.


The pain is so severe that he can’t even think straight. There is chaos all around him and people are screaming in horror, anger and agony. The man on the table tried to rise, only to fall and hit his head on the concrete floor. He’s the only one not panicking right now. David certainly is. He’s been shot and the police are going to take them all away. Everything is over.

He pictures his parents’ faces as they find out about this. He can almost hear his brother William’s voice in his head, preaching to him about decency and morale. Hello, Berlin, he thinks bitterly as the short man with the gun is forced onto the floor by one of the armoured cops.

I am arresting you for armed bank robbery. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention…” David zones out, doesn’t want to hear the rest.

He crawls further in behind the stacked boxes he has thrown himself behind, hoping against all odds that they will not find him here. Then he sees the bloody trail his bleeding leg is leaving behind and all such hope dies. They’re going to think I’m one of them, a simple bank robber. The shame at the thought out voices the pain for a second and gives him new strength. And that is when he notices the door.

The crates have been stacked so high as to make the small back door invisible from within the room, but from this new vantage point it’s impossible to miss it. David crawls towards it as new gunshots echo on the other side of his fragile barricade. It’s only a matter of moments before the police get their maths together and realize one person is missing from the room. He has to act quickly.

He crawls the last couple of steps towards the door. It has a turning knob that looks rusty and he suddenly becomes afraid that he won’t be able to open it. He hears the muscle brute bellow something incoherent on the other side of the crates, followed by more gunshots. One of them goes straight through the crate to the left of David and burrows deep into the wall only inches above his head. His heart races and he has to collect himself before he even dares thinking about reaching for the knob. He has lost a lot of blood and his field of vision is shrinking with every shallow breath. I will go into shock soon and then everything will be over.

His brain starts replaying a myriad pieces of medical knowledge that he’d rather be blissfully unaware of right now. He doesn’t have a plan as he finally struggles into a sitting position and reaches for the door handle. It gives resistance as he tries to turn it, and for a moment he almost despairs. Please, please, please, open. Dying from blood loss outside would be a mercy compared to what will happen if the police catch me here, David’s exhausted mind contemplates. Then the knob gives in and he tumbles onto the wet asphalt outside.


He first met Glen Wilson at a bar. Not the kind of place that he usually visits, mind you, but none of the places he commonly frequents is the kind of establishment where he’d want to be seen drinking his brains out. The bar was called Alison’s and he’d found it by chance by following the sound of the loudest voices and the cheapest music from the old town square. He’d been desperate and lost and all he wanted then was to become so drunk that he wouldn’t remember why the morning after.

Alison’s was – is – a simple place for simple people. At least that’s the image the pub’s owner wants to uphold. But David didn’t know that back then – he didn’t know anything. This was six weeks ago and so much has happened since then. He got a table all for himself and the bartender – a fabulously beautiful girl with red hair with whom he would later fall hopelessly in love – brought him all the glasses he asked for without asking any questions of her own. Before the night was over he would be working for her father, as so many others in the bar. But, of course, he didn’t know that yet either. He just drank and drank, and then Glen Wilson showed up.

David can’t remember any more when he stopped paying for his own drinks that night, but somewhere along the way Glen took over the bill. Another thing he can’t remember is why he ever started telling this stranger in the grey beanie about his problems – but he did. Oh yes, he did.

“…and now my parents won’t pay for my medical studies any more. Or my apartment. Or my car. I’ll have to… you know, pay for it all myself. As if they were never high or whatever when they were young. Fucking hypocrites.”

And Glen agreed and poured him another drink. And another.

Must be hard on you, mate. I know how parents can be. Unreasonable, that’s the word. Wouldn’t you say?” Glen smiled crookedly and chewed on the unlit cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth. David remember being fascinated by the fact that he did not light it. Everyone else at the bar was smoking openly.

Yeah, I know, right? As if I could work any common job, you know.” He laughed as if the mere thought of it was totally absurd. And it was. “Me, mopping floors? I don’t think so.” He downed another one and felt a brief surge of sulking satisfaction as he heard Glen laughing at his bizarre joke. At least someone understood the ridiculousness of his situation. When he lowered his glass he realised that Glen was looking straight at him, almost appraisingly.

What?”, David said, suddenly very aware of how drunk he really was.

I think I’ve got the perfect job for you, mate”, Glen said.

I’m not working at a bar”, David hurried to reply. “Or anything similar.”

No”, Glen said and his smile returned. “What I have in mind is something much more… in line with your current career choice, so to speak. I know my boss has need for that.”

This instantly caught David’s attention. He almost toppled over his glass as he leaned forward to listen. “I’m all ears”, he said and Glen’s smile broadened. And now he actually lit his cigarette.


He thinks about this meeting now as he floors the pedal of his too expensive car and wishes for the best. He knew so little back then, he was so naive. Somewhere he always knew this day would come – he was just stupid enough to think it was far in the future. Now he knows better.

Reality is a bitch and she was always out to get him. Life isn’t fair. He is being abused by everyone and still has to clear out this mess himself – even though he has done nothing to cause it. This isn’t fair. But so be it. If you want something done you’d better do it yourself. I’m obviously getting nothing for free here, he thinks as he turns to fast onto the parking area of the huge glowing building. And then the car crashes into the damn willow tree and the world grows even more painful.


Eddie walks slowly towards the basement locker rooms after leaving his supplies in all the proper places. The music in his headphones has been interrupted by a news broadcast and now they are going on about some kind of bank robbery and a police shoot out in the harbour. He turns down the volume.

He keeps all his clothes and things down here, even by day. No point in moving stuff around when all his days end in the cellar catacombs anyway. Sometimes he is forced to pretend using his upstairs locker like all of his class mates, but it still only contains his unused extra scrubs. The things we do for the guise of normality, he muses as he rounds a corner and sees the blood.

He freezes in his tracks. Forgets to breathe for a second or two. He steps forward carefully, his heart racing. This wasn’t here half an hour ago. Someone is here. The dark trail starts right in front of the emergency exit and stretches on into one of the basement’s many narrow corridors.

Apart from the apparent drops and slide marks there are also footsteps in that red substance. Dark hand marks on the left corridor wall jump out at Eddie in the eerily flickering halogen light, making him think suddenly of a thousand bad horror movies. Except this isn’t a movie.

He stares, realises that he has stepped in one of the red puddles and quickly takes a step back. His indoors slippers leave even more bloody marks on the floor and he wants to throw up so badly that he can barely hold it back.

But I’m a doctor, a part of Eddie reminds himself. I’m a doctor, and someone is injured. Someone who has come to the hospital but used the wrong entrance. Yeah, that must be it. Eddie starts walking carefully into the corridor, following the bloody trail. He’s going to help whoever is at the end of it. What kind of doctor would he be otherwise?

Or it is a junkie, another part of him counters suddenly. The same junkie who has been looting the medical closet for weeks has returned for yet another hit. But this time he has cut himself on something and is bleeding to death. He probably has a gun – and maybe Aids as well.

Eddie stops. Tries to breathe calmly. This was not what he signed up for when he started working these shifts. Not at all. He picks up his phone and dials the emergency number. Keeps his thumb on the green button that will hopefully connect him with all the king’s men – and their aunt – before whoever is down here jumps out from the shadows to drink his blood. But for some reason he doesn’t press it.

Instead he follows the trail around a corner and sees it end in front of the door to one of the old disused shower rooms. He slowly approaches the door. Now he can hear someone breathing heavily, painfully inside. This someone is in deep pain, maybe dying. Eddie is the only person here. He opens the door and then he can do nothing but stare.

He stares at the man sitting on the floor surrounded by a pool of blood, digging in his own leg with a pair of pliers. For a moment he doesn’t understand what he is seeing. Who he is seeing.

David?”, he stammers. This can’t be real. But it is.

David Cowen looks up at him with shock and fear almost outshining the expression of pain on his face. Their eyes lock for an eternal moment, both terrified about secrets finally out in the light.

Eddie”, David whispers finally. “Help me.” And then he collapses onto the floor, blood still pouring from the gunshot wound in his left leg.


David is dreaming about Bethan Carlingham. Her red hair is all around him and she whispers his name again and again. In this moment he feels completely safe and doesn’t give a single fuck about the stupidity inherent in secretly dating the one daughter of Edinburgh’s most dangerous mobster boss. He simply doesn’t care right now. He’s whispering to her that he’s going to save her. Take her away from all of this, far away. Just like that guy in “My Fair Lady”. She deserves so much better, he just has to sort out his economy and finish his studies. He’s not afraid of her father. Not now, not here. Trevor Carlingham can’t touch him here, because… Because…

David!” He opens his eyes slowly, groggily. That’s not Bethan.

Eddie stands over him with a worried look on his pale face. David can’t remember what has happened. He’s lying on a bed in a room he recognises all too well for Eddie to be here.

What are you doing in my apartment?”, he says and tries to sit but falls right back down, struck by a fit of nausea.

I saved you”, Eddie says sternly. “I plucked that bullet out of your fucking leg and patched you up. What the hell were you thinking? A bullet, David. A bullet.

David just stares at him. Doesn’t know what to say.

Eddie shakes his head. He’s angry, frustrated. “You’ve been shot, David. Who did this to you and why? And why the hell didn’t you go straight to the emergency entrance? Why did I find you bleeding to death in the basement?” He’s not pale any more

Things are starting to come back to David now. About the late night call, about the warehouse, about the four men. The bank robbers. He shivers, his head spins. What the fuck should I tell him?

He clears his throat and swallows hard. “Because I… I couldn’t risk it”, he says finally.

Eddie looks like he is inches away from hitting him across his face. “You couldn’t risk it? Oh, okay. But you could risk dying in a nasty shower hall, now could you? Well, in any case we’re going back to the hospital now. I don’t even understand why I let you convince me to drive you here in the first place.”

David doesn’t even remember convincing him, but he knows he can be pretty persuasive so that’s probably true. He definitely doesn’t want to go back to the hospital. He can’t. That would ruin everything. “No”, he says. “We can’t go back there.”

Oh, and why is that?” The question is rhetorical – Eddie is already reaching to drag him up from the bed. David feels the desperation welling up from inside. I can’t go there –

…because of the –


Eddie has stopped in the middle of a motion. I can’t have heard that right, right? “The… police?”

But David nods. Sinks back into the pillow with a defeated look on his face. “Yeah, the police.”

And why would the police be looking for you?”

A heavy silence drapes itself over the room, over the two of them. Eddie can see how something in David’s eyes gives in, surrenders. David takes a deep breath and then he tells Eddie everything. About the job offer from Glen Wilson, about the stolen drugs, about the shady medical services he has been performing for cash in downtrodden apartments, garages and back rooms the past six weeks. About tonight. He tells Eddie how Wilson called him around ten at night to order him out to the old warehouse where he met up with the fleeing bank robbers.

Eddie is speechless. “So you helped… the bank robbers? The ones from the news?” Of course it’s the ones from the news. How many frigging banks have been robbed tonight, stupid?

David stares at him. “Yeah, I helped them. They couldn’t very well drop by at the hospital now, could they? Oh, hello, I’ve just been shot. Nothing weird about that. A robbery? No, kind sir, we don’t know nothing about that. Now please stitch me up if you’d be so kind. We’ve got some stuff in the car that we’d like to get home with as soon as possible.”

Eddie shakes his head in disbelief. Was David always this stupid, deep down? “And then they shot you?” He holds up his hand when David tries to interrupt him. “David, we must get you to the hospital. You’ve lost a lot of blood and I’m not sure I’ve done all the right things with the wound. And we have to call the police. Seriously, David. You can’t go on protecting these people after they–”

They didn’t shoot me, Eddie. The police did.”

Eddie meets his gaze and suddenly he understands everything. All the pieces fall into place. The basement, the pleading, David’s crashed car at the back of the hospital.

Eddie can’t stop shaking his head. “You stupid mother fucker”, he says silently.

David hesitates. “And, Eddie, there’s another thing.

No, Eddie thinks. No, there’s not. But he doesn’t say anything. Just waits for David to spill the last of it.

I owe these people money, Eddie. I have to keep working for them, they expect me back tonight.”

You can’t work tonight, David”, Eddie says. “And you’re definitely not working for them.”

No”, David says and for a moment Eddie almost believes that he is listening to him. Then that delusion shatters. “No I can’t. You have to help me, Eddie. You have to step in for me.”


He sees Eddie go from shocked to angry to really fucking mad in just a matter of seconds. He listens as he argues, as he tries to reason with David. As he curses and pleads and finally runs out of things to say. And through all of this David is absolutely calm. The initial terror at having revealed his secret has faded, replaced by a feeling of relief at not being alone any more.

And he is entirely content with Eddie yelling at him, because he knows that he will help him in the end. That’s just who Eddie is. And no matter what Eddie thinks right now, David is actually doing him a favour by bringing him into his business. I mean, does he really work as a janitor? Bitch please, you’re going to thank me before this is over.

Then his phone rings.


Eddie falls silent as David answers his phone, right in the middle of his rant. Was he even listening at all? The anger wells up again as David ignores him for the caller, but vanishes in a heartbeat as he hears David utter his name to the person on the other end of the line. Then he hands Eddie the phone.

I think you’d better take this”, he says. “Wilson wants to talk to you about tonight.”

And Eddie wants so badly to kill David right now. To strangle him with his bare hands. To take the phone and throw it straight into David’s face. David can see this in his eyes, but they both know that Eddie won’t do it. He’s too caring for that. Too empathetic and helpful. Their eyes lock for a moment – then Eddie accepts the phone.

Chris Smedbakken, 2017-03-09

They Are Always Watching

This story has taken me several months to write. I’m going through a pretty heavy dip right now and inspiration is a scarce commodity. Therefore I am doubly happy with at long last being able to produce something creative. Feel free to comment, I’d love to hear your feedback.


She was singing when they found her. The forest was dark and the swamp was hungry. The small shape on the log almost blended with the humid and murky night crawling forth from beneath rocks and amongst drooping branches. But only almost, because murky nights do not sing pentatonic songs in seven disparate languages under perfectly aligned stars – and neither do they commonly come in the shape of a five year old child.

Later, the Pascal women always told her about the knowing darkness in her eyes as she watched them approach. Later they told her that the first words she uttered after she ceased singing and they stopped one man’s length away from her and asked for her name was a warning in perfect French.

“Fear”, she said as she turned to face them. “All of them are watching.”

Then she slumped from the log and into the water as if invisible strings had been suddenly cut from her naked body. When next she awoke in a warm bed and with seven silent and wondering women standing over her she did not speak a word of the languages they had heard her use in the midnight forest. She did not speak a word of any language at all.

They taught her French and magics and the ways of men and she was a quick learner. With the ease and efficiency of someone taking in knowledge for the second time she picked up on everything they told and showed her until she could barely be told apart from any other child her age in New Orleans – save for the magic of course.

But if her saviours had been hoping to learn the mystery behind this child when at long last she was able to speak, they were soon to be dreadfully disappointed. For at the very same rate as she was learning new words and names and customs, her memories of what had passed before drifted from her memory. In the end even she could barely tell herself apart from the other children – save, of course, for the magic and the fact that most other children knew at least one of their parents.

Her seven mothers slowly learned to be content with not knowing, with silently fearing whatever it was the child had warned them about but would apparently never be able to explain further. With time they almost learned to forget that she was more and less than other children, and that they had initially doubted whether or not she was really human at all.

Her seven mothers endowed her with many names, one at a time, but none of them stuck. They all glanced off of her like mercury poured on ice. They were all girls’ names and she didn’t listen to them because she was not a girl, and in the end her seven mothers gave up and let her decide. The name she chose for herself was Seth, and before long none of the seven Pascal women could even understand how they had ever thought of any other name for this child.

They wanted her to let her hair grow long, just like theirs, but she always kept it as short as the blade of a sharpened knife would allow. They wanted her to wear flowing skirts and ornate jewelry just like them, but she chose to dress simply and practically and never wore any symbols or signs that rigorous and concentrated study had not made her choose to really believe the meaning of. Some of the superstitious symbols worn by her seven mothers she made the choice never to don at all. She made her own choices and her own way and her only regret was her inability ever to remember what she had been before she was a dark eyed human with olive coloured skin.

That starlit night was long ago, but the dark eyed child was me.

I repeatedly catch myself thinking about stars as I make my way down the rain soaked pavement below oh so many blankly staring windows reflecting the cloudy night sky. I decided long ago that I am not a star, that I might once have been many things but never that. However, the stars have always fascinated me. If I were only able to hear their music and musings, I am positive that I would like it.

I see a glowing point rising on the sky before me like a shooting star in reverse, and from beyond the heavy clouds I hear the thunder of a roaring engine. My bag is not heavy but still I am weary of carrying it. I hurry to the waiting cab fighting off the warm rain with frantically dancing screen wipers. The airport behind me never sleeps, but I long to crash into bed and not wake for days.

The backseat of the taxi is warm and smells like too much subtle perfume. I need no psychic powers to tell that we are being followed. If I knew that I had something to gain from it, I would bet my left eye on the pursuer being the same man I have spotted several times on my journey here from Los Angeles. I don’t like his vibe, nor his suit, and would rather just return home, hoping for my intuition to be nothing more than paranoia this time. But I know better, and I’m not so stupid as to lead a fox straight into a rabbit hole. So I tell the driver to turn left and left again.

The forest is dense and the darkness is scraping against the sides of the car like soft, slender fingers clad in heavy velvet. Looking out through the rear window I can see the headlights of the other car illuminating the trees from behind a bend in the broken road. Not so smart, this one. That, or entirely confident in his own ability to take down his prey even without being in the least discrete. Possibly – probably – both.

I almost feel sorry for the driver, I know he didn’t sign up for this. But such is life, that you seldom or never get exactly what you bargain for or deserve. I calmly ask him to stop the car, pay him what he is due and then step out into the night. I leave my bag in the trunk and when the driver tries to remind me of it I give him one of those glances and he is off along the road again. I shouldn’t do that to people, I think. I really shouldn’t.

The light from the cab isn’t even entirely gone behind the trees before the road is again lit up, by a colder type of light this time. It is almost as if the headlight of the pursuing car reflect the aura of the man behind the wheel. I don’t know enough to estimate his abilities, but still I wait by the tree line a few more seconds to make sure that he spots me. Just before the anonymous car comes to a halt on the rocky forest road I start making my way into the woods.

There is no path here but I can hear the trees and the moss and the breath of the rocks on the ground. I need no light in this place, I don’t know why but I suspect it has something to do with me once having been born under these crowns and amidst these trunks. I am in no hurry, I can hear him too as he stumbles forward through the vegetation. He is probably armed but shouldn’t be able to get a good shot just yet. Maybe I should be afraid, but I’m not. Because somehow I feel I know something that he doesn’t.

He doesn’t gain on me and I keep on going. I wonder who he is, why he wants to hurt me. Because I can feel clearly that he wants to do just that. If he wanted to kill me he could have done so much more easily many times on our journey here. He wants something else, but it isn’t something good. Not for me at least. Then I wonder suddenly if he, too, can hear the song of the stars, or if it’s just me.

And then I step into the clearing and the darkness gives in to the soft illumination of the moon and the glowing clouds and the singing stars. I don’t know where I lost my shoes but now my naked feet tread softly upon the moist moss and the shiny rocks in the dark puddles. When I get to the middle of the clearing I can feel his eyes and his gun on me. I brace myself and turn around.

“Did you really think that you could run from me?” His voice is as neutral as his ashen suit and nondescript features. The only thing alive about him is the light reflecting off the worn silencer fastened to his weapon.

“No”, I say. I really didn’t think so. I watch him choose a better stance upon the porous ground without taking his eyes off me for even a second.

“Good”, he says. “Do you know who I work for?”

I shake my head. I don’t know. I want to tell him that neither do I care, but maybe that would be pushing it too much.

He seems to be looking at me, but in reality I know that he is looking down on me. He knows that I cannot run, he knows that he can afford to slightly prolong this finale of his victorious hunt.

“You’re not going to kill me, are you?” I feel strangely calm and this is not really a question.

He laughs softly, falsely, imperiously and almost invisibly shakes his head. “No, I’m not. I am going to subdue you and put you in the trunk of my car. If you force me to I will hurt you, but I’d rather not. That would probably take away from the sum I can get for you. But make no mistake, damaged goods is much preferable to no goods at all.” And I can hear that this is hubris talking, in this place of all places.

“Goods? What is this, some kind of trafficking?”

He nods and smiles viciously. Takes one step forward on the swampy ground. “In a way, yes, you could say that. The people I deliver to pay well for exotic specimens like yourself – not entirely human but not entirely not, either. Or your friend in L.A. I’m sure you’ll want to tell me all about him in a couple of hours.”

I feel cold suddenly. Not frightened, just cold. “The Enjoyment Club”, I say.

He stops two men’s length away from me, a surprised smile spreading across his face and his gun still trained on my forehead. “So you have done your homework. Good girl”, he says.

“I’m not a girl”, I say softly.

“What?” But he doesn’t care for me to repeat myself. Instead he starts walking again, talking to me in a calm voice all the while. Like a mendacious predator striving to lure its prey into a false sense of safeness before going in for the kill. “The Club love their little treats of vampires or werewolves or maybe even the odd djinn every once in a while. The rarer the better – and the more expensive. You’re going to make me rich, little witch.”

“I’m not a witch either”, I say and start backing away from him.

“No?” He laughs softly and follows. “Not a girl and not a witch. What are you then?” He is so close now that I can see straight into his eyes and detect all the truths hidden in them about what he plans to do with me. The Enjoyment Club consists of ruthless humans with way too much money, time and arrogance on their hands. They feast on paranormal creatures in every thinkable and unthinkable way before disposing of them in ways that are probably just as unspeakable. This man works for them, and he is planning to make a fortune by selling me to those human monsters. I can hear the stars singing clearly now as the clouds are dispersing.

“I am Seth Pascal, a freelancing priest”, I say and stop. We are in the middle of the clearing now and both ankle deep in murky water. I can feel the cold mud and soil and moss beneath my naked feet.

He reaches me in one big step and puts his gun to my forehead. The metal is cold and resonates with anger and excitement. The look on his face is one of victory, he know that he has me now.

“Witch, priest, potato potato”, he smirks. “You have nowhere to run now, little girl. But don’t you worry, I’m sure they won’t eat you or make you into a rug. With those dark eyes and slim body you’re probably gonna be put to much livelier work.”

I meet his gaze along the barrel of his gun and see him flinch involuntarily. Underneath my cold feet the ground is stirring restlessly, boiling and throbbing deep down in the nameless darkness. He hasn’t felt it yet.

“Aren’t you afraid?” He tries on one of those patronizing smiles but it doesn’t quite go with the glint of sudden fear in his eyes.

I shake my head slowly, the barrel of his gun moving together with my forehead. I am cold, but not afraid. Because the ground is pulsating beneath my feet and a memory has come to me suddenly. I smile, broadly.

“What?”, he says and darts a glance around the clearing. “What’s so funny? Remember what I said, I will hurt you if you try to pull something.”

I form the long unused words with my mouth, trying them, tasting them. I realize that I like the taste and smile even wider. He knows so little about the world, this little man with the gun.

“What? What?” He is yelling now, his finger trembling on the trigger. “What did you say?”

I look up at the congregation of stars gathered above the clearing, listen to the last stanza of their thundering crescendo and then lock my eyes with his once more.

“Fear”, I say calmly. “Because all of them are watching.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but before he can form the words the heart blood of the clearing, of the world, boils over and gushes up to engulf him. He screams as smoldering mud and soil and water explodes all around him, melting his skin and crushing his bones. He fights for his life against the earth that crashes into his eyes and his ears and his mouth. It fills his lungs and smothers him. He whimpers, he cries and sobs as he is pulled down into the mossy water, before the pressure from inside his soil packed lungs becomes too much and they explode in a cascade of blood and mud spurting forth from his mouth and his nose. He struggles pathetically in the shallow water for half a heartbeat before finally he becomes still and the hungry clearing devours him entirely. The surface in front of me calms instantly and all that remains of him is a speck of oil and dark blood floating silently on top of the murky water, and the worn silenced pistol lying uselessly where he dropped it in the dark moss.

I pick up the gun and turn it in my hands. He was never going to kill me, but there are things worse than death and that was the fate he had in store for me. I wonder how many people and unpeople he has wounded or murdered with this gun. I put it in my deep pocket, not wanting to desecrate this place by leaving it here.

The clearing is silent, but I know that it is not empty. They are all watching. The memory that felt so lucid and clear just moments ago is slipping. I try to hold onto it, but I know that the struggle is useless. I remembered briefly because I was told to, by the stars or by the forest or the darkness, I don’t know. And I realize that the loss of this memory is perhaps what makes me human, what allows me to carry on this sort of existence. The thought strikes me that maybe my oblivion is a gift, and that without it I would become again the something that was once found here, in this very clearing, and was made human only through the care and love and teachings of seven mortal women. Perhaps forgetting was a choice I once made by my own volition, in order to become what they wished me to be. Perhaps I made that very same choice again just moments ago. I wouldn’t know, because I cannot remember anymore. I stare into the darkness between the trees and wait for an answer, but there is none.

With the gun weighing down my right pocket I then turn around and make my way back across the clearing. I don’t need to watch my footing, the ground tells me where to tread. I watch the stars, listen to them, but they are silent now. I enter the woods and feel roots and thorns caressing the soles of my feet. When I reach the road I seat myself behind the wheel of the dead man’s car and narrowly turn it around. The headlights cut like knives through the old darkness and I turn them off. I don’t need them right now. I floor the pedal and make my way back to the airport from whence I came. The man who got eaten by the world spoke about my friend in Los Angeles, and I know that I have to warn him.

My name is Seth Pascal. I am a freelance priest who wears no symbols that rigorous and concentrated study has not made me choose to believe the meaning of. Other than that I wear the mark of every plausible god and deity just to be sure, and I know the incantations and rites of every religion commonly known to man. I never curse, because you can never be sure who is listening, and I am up for hire by anyone who needs my services – whatever faith they might follow.

Apart from that there is much that I don’t know about myself, about who I am and what I was before I was human. But the thought doesn’t scare me as much as it used to and I don’t feel as lonely anymore. Because at least I know one thing, and what I know is this: They are always watching.

Chris Smedbakken 2017-02-06

Sleepless

The alley was gloomy but the red sky prevented it from being truly dark. It was never really dark in Las Vegas, the sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams. Still she herself had come here in mindless flight from her own. When closing your eyes means reliving the end of your world, the screaming, the blood, the silence afterwards, the best place to be is somewhere that will stay awake with you. Or so she had thought.

After spending several nights, all her money, herself and her final resolve on this her aimless vigil she had done more than to change her mind about the city. It never slept, yes. And it was cold and heartless and anonymous enough for her to consider it a fitting purgatory for what she had done. But these nights in wakeful self destruction had also made her realize that even coming to this place had been pointless. She might deserve this agonizing emptiness and all the terrible things she let happen to herself here, but in the end all she really wanted was for the memories to go away, for everything to go away. And finally there was only one bullet proof way to do that.

She had decided to kill herself three days ago when she had awoken in an echoing stairwell to a stranger touching her, and had realized that she did not care. The man had pulled away when he met her eyes, maybe shocked by the emptiness he saw there. She had just looked at him as he scrambled away, hadn’t said anything. She had known then that there was nothing that other people or she herself could do to her that would drown out the numb pain that grew and grew inside.

Since that morning she had found some solace in preoccupying herself with planning how she would go about ending her own life. After considering several options she had come to the conclusion that shooting herself was the way she’d prefer to go, and for that she needed a gun. And so here she was, in this gloomy alley that was denied total darkness by the light pollution of the distant Vegas sky.

When a dark shape emerged from the shadows at the other end of the alley she found herself almost hoping that he was a psycho killer, here to do her job for her. When he approached, however, it soon became clear that he wasn’t. His age, probably only a year or two older than herself, and his sympathetic looks even made her doubt that he was the fixer she had expected to meet here tonight.

“You’re the one they call Aiden?”, she said.

He nodded. “And you’re looking to buy a gun.” It was not a question.

“Yes”, she said and produced the stolen wallet. “How much?”

He laughed quietly. “Don’t you want to see it first? Decide if it’s any good?”

“Does it fire bullets?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then it’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

He shrugged and walked up to her, closing the gap that separated them. She stiffened but did not move. When he was standing right in front of her he stopped and produced a small package from inside his jacket. It was wrapped in newspapers and from the headlines she could tell that the packing had been done today. He started folding the newspapers back but then seemed to catch himself.

“You’re not a cop, are you?” He shot her a sly smile.

“Do I look like a cop to you?”

He thought about it. “Nah, way too young. What are you, fourteen?”

“Fifteen”, she snapped. “Look, are we doing this or not?”

His smile broadened as he made a face of theatrical defeat. “Okay okay, take it easy sister”, he laughed and resumed the unwrapping of the package. “Looks alright to you?”

In the dim light she could see that the gun was old and worn, but of course this did not trouble her at all. She took out the money and threw the wallet aside. She didn’t need it anymore. “Yeah. As I said, how much?”

He named the price and she started counting the bills, realizing that she could actually hand him the whole bunch but still having some idea about fair being fair. Besides, if she was going to give away her last money in this world, it should not be to some lowlife criminal like this guy – no matter how nice he looked. She handed him the money.

“I’m curious, what are you going to do with it?”, he said as he accepted the money.

“Kill myself”, she said flatly and nodded towards the package. “Now give it to me.”

He made a shocked face and started to reply, but then his eyes went to something behind her shoulder and the shock turned into fear. He backed one step. “Who are –”

She turned around, frightened by his reaction, but only got halfway before something struck her hard across the back of her head. Before she hit the ground, however, she heard the fixer scream in terror or pain.  Then everything went truly dark.

***

A warm summer night, junior high graduation done and the world at their feet. She has been kissed tonight, kissed for the first time. She doesn’t know if she should tell Indiana, it seems like one of those private things that make her separate from her twin sister and she kind of likes that feeling. Besides, Indiana would of course counter with having gone a lot farther, a lot earlier.

They have all been sitting on the roof of Dennis’  mom’s house for hours now, drinking and looking at the sky. She is lying on her back, smoking a cigarette and listening to her friends talking drunkenly about their dreams and hopes for the future.

This will be their last summer together. Most of them will start new schools next semester and even though they all promise to stay in touch they all know that is just words. They have to make the most of this time and tonight’s party is supposed to set the bar high. And thus they have been drinking and smoking tonight like there was no tomorrow.

Then Dennis’ mom gets a call from one of the neighbors and rushes home from wherever she has been. All hell breaks loose and everybody runs for their lives – except for Dennis of course, who has to stay and face the consequences.

Indiana shakes her sister and wakes her from her drunken thoughts. Reminds her that they have taken their own parents’ car to the party and that they are dead if it isn’t back by morning. She cries and says that she forgot about it, that she has been smoking weed and can’t drive.

She herself looks at her sister Indiana and says that she can drive, she will get the car and the both of them home before their parents notice anything. They can hear Dennis’ mom calling the police from inside the house as they drop down from the low roof and laughingly rush to the car. But they  don’t come home that night.

The impact is sudden. Either she fell asleep behind the wheel, or something jumped into the road. She loses control. The car crashes into something. The noise and the fear and the pain are terrible as the windshield breaks and the universe explodes.

Consciousness returns in flashes. Pain. Confusion. Hard to breathe. Blink. Indiana lifeless. Not breathing at all. Blink. Feels for her pulse, finds nothing. Only blood. Blink. Shocked. Nauseous. Terrified. This cannot be real. Blink.

She is walking down a road. Walking. Walking. Walking. No shoes, torn clothes, broken mind. Half of the time she can’t remember what she’s doing here or why her whole body is hurting. No cars here at this hour, no one to ask for help. Help with what?

She sees a building suddenly. A gas station. Her feet leave bloody footprints on the brick floor as she enters. A worried face says something she doesn’t hear. She needs to borrow a phone. Knows the three digit number by muscle memory only. Tells the voice on the other end that something has happened. Her sister Indiana won’t wake up. The car is ruined. She has lost her shoes. She doesn’t tell the voice that she was kissed for the first time that night or that the world is at her feet, because those things don’t matter anymore. Nothing matters now.

She puts down the phone and doesn’t know suddenly what to do. She doesn’t want this to be true. Doesn’t want to see the sirens when they come to get her sister. Doesn’t want to face her parents or her feelings or the cold truth. So she exits the gas station and continues walking, as if refusing to return to the car wreck can make all this go away. But deep down she knows that it can’t. Her sister Indiana is dead and it is her fault. And nothing can make that go away. And still she walks and walks and walks.

 ***

Her eyes blinked open slowly. Her head hurt and everything was spinning. The world was awry, she was lying on her side and could feel the hard concrete against her face. She blinked again. It was hard to focus and she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing in front of her. The fixer was lying on his back farther into the alley, arms outstretched and eyes closed. A dark shape was sitting on top of him, seemingly tearing at his throat with its bare teeth. She gasped in terror and the creature turned towards her.

It was a man, but judging by his pale skin and dead eyes he might as well have been a walking corpse. Blood poured from his open mouth as he smiled manically, revealing rows upon rows of razor-sharp, deadly teeth. She screamed and tried to crawl away, but her back hit the wall and then the creature was over her.

It was fast and strong. She tried to break free, she tried to call for help, but everything she did only seemed to make the man-shaped monster all the more eager. Her head was forced to the side as it tore at her clothes to get to her neck. The terror she felt when its teeth broke her skin made her realize that she did not want to die after all. It pressed her head against the wall as it drank, and all she could do was to stare at the body of the fixer who lay just a few steps away from her, blood still pouring from the wound in his neck. He was not moving at all and soon neither would she. And then she laid eyes on the gun.

The fixer must have dropped it as he tried to flee from the monster, and now it lay glistening in the shadows just within her arm’s reach. She tried to ignore the weakness and pain as the monstrosity on top of her killed her slowly by draining her blood, and she tried to refrain from giving in to the panic that was growing inside of her with every slowing heartbeat. She reached for the gun, the gun with which only moments earlier she had been planning to take her own life. She felt her fingers go numb, her consciousness slip away. And then she felt the cold metal in the palm of her hand. She grasped it desperately, hoping with the last remnants of her waking reason that it was loaded.

The darkness at the edges of her vision covered almost everything now and she could feel her body shutting down. With her final strength she raised the heavy piece of metal and put it against the creature’s head. More than anything else it was the muscles in her fingers acting reflexively that made her succeed in pulling the trigger. Then an explosion of sound and recoil blew away the remnants of her senses and she finally lost consciousness.

***

Heavy steps approaching. She blinked, felt terrible, weak, wanted to throw up. She didn’t know how long she had been out.

“Holy shit, you sure made short work of that motherfucker.”

Her eyes had been resting on the worn, black boots moving towards her through the alley. Now she struggled to look up. As she did so she noticed the bleeding corpse lying collapsed across her legs. Before she could react the big man in the black leather jacket bent down and pulled the creature away. Drops of warm blood spattered across her face from the crater in the creature’s head. She was too weak and shocked to do anything else than to stare as the man routinely stowed the body into a trash bin, sprinkled it with liquid from a pocket flask and lit a match. The smell was terrible as the corpse’s hair caught fire and the rest of it started to burn.

“What…” She tried to speak but realized that she didn’t know what she wanted to say.

“Hank Hooligan. Pleasure.” The man took a sip from the pocket flask and lit a cigarette with a match from the same box. “You freelance?”

She shook her head, confused. “What, no, I –”

“Nah, never mind. I know this guy. Real good at getting things done, this kid.” He had walked over to the body of the fixer and was now checking his pulse. “You with him?”

This was getting more absurd by the minute. “No… He, I, he was selling me a gun.”

“Ah”, the man called Hank Hooligan said and threw the lifeless body over his shoulder. “Well, you made good use of it at that, didn’t you? Anyway, can you walk?”

She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure about anything right now. Who was this man? What had just happened to her? Was she going mad? Somehow she managed to climb to her feat and then stood there, leaning heavily against the wall as the world spun all round her.

“That won’t do”, Hank said. “I have to get this Aiden kid help quick as fuck if he’s not gonna die. Would be a waste. Either you get your shit together or I leave you here.”

That did it for her. She definitely didn’t want to be left alone in this dark alley with a burning, bloodsucking corpse as her only company. The mere thought of it almost made her panic. Hank nodded as she took a deep breath and started walking after him, using the wall as support for every step.

“Good”, he said. “I left my ride just down the street, you don’t have to walk far.”

“Who are you?”, she breathed strainedly while fighting not to collapse onto the ground.

“Told you, I’m Hank”, he said. “I hunt vampires and you just did my job for me. Means I owe you some help in return, don’t it? Looks like you could use some.”

She stopped. Only hours earlier she would have thought him mad. Now she didn’t know what to think. She looked back at the gun that lay dropped and forgotten on the ground next to a drying puddle of her own blood. She realized that she didn’t want it anymore, had probably never really wanted it.

She had come here looking for a sleepless place with terrible shadows to cut herself on. Tonight she had found exactly that, but also something else. She had found that the purgatory she had come here seeking for herself went so much deeper than she had ever dared dream of, and that the shadows concealed more than saner people realized. This could be more than a punishment for her – this could be a new start.

“You coming?” Hank had turned around at the end of the alley.

She nodded and struggled to catch up with him. He seemed to realize now the bad shape she was in, and offered her his free arm. Together they walked towards his car that stood parked further down the street. Hank put Aiden’s lifeless body in the back seat and she caught herself wondering if he would actually survive. He then opened the passenger door and helped her inside.

As he started the engine he turned to her again. “What’s your name, by the way?”

She was tired. Didn’t have the strength to come up with a lie. “Samantha”, she said. Nobody had called her by that name since the night her sister died.

“Samantha”, Hank repeated. Seemed to taste the name. “Nah, it’s too long. I’ll call you Sam.”

Samantha nodded. Might as well leave her old name behind as well. And as Hank Hooligan pulled out from the sidewalk and started driving at high speed through the city, she made a decision. The old Samantha might as well be allowed to have died there in that alley tonight. She had gone there to end it all, and that was what had happened. It was the old Samantha who was burning in that metal bin. Now remained only Sam, and Sam was not going back to the world of sane people. She was going to see just how deep this rabbit hole purgatory went, and she would never look back.

And as the car sped through the streets the sun rose upon Las Vegas, a sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams, and a new world started.

 Chris Smedbakken, 2016-12-03

Digital Drawings

This is a gallery of my (more or less) finished digital drawings to date. I will add to this page when something new emerges. Some of the pics are speed works, others I have put more time into. The gallery begins with the newer drawings and progresses with older ones. Most of them are drawn on-screen using my old HP TouchSmart TM2 or my newer Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I’m still learning and would really appreciate your constructive feedback, so please comment away. 🙂


The Sound of Silence

When Sarah Johnson woke up it was well past noon – she could tell because the sun was already up. This far up north that didn’t happen early in the day during winter. She groaned as she moved and felt how stiff her arms and legs were. Her head hurt like hell and she realized that she was lying on a flight of concrete stairs. One of the steps pressed painfully against her right temple and as she drew closer to her senses a heavy nausea grew alongside the pain. Somewhere in the distance she could hear traffic passing but where she lay sprawled only the ringing in her ears broke the silence. Fuck. She had done it again.

The palms of her still numb hands slipped on a thin layer of ice as she tried to rise. With clumsy movements she managed to maneuver herself  into a sitting position on the stairs, and that’s when she saw the blood. She shivered. Where her head had been, the ice coating the concrete step was tinted a dirty, dark red. Her hand moved to her temple and the nausea rose as she felt the jagged edges of the cut there. The blood had coagulated or frozen and it was impossible to know how deep the wound was – but what she could feel of it was enough to make her flinch. Being drunk and falling asleep in stupid places was not entirely new to her, although most often it at least happen indoors. It was stupid, but usually it had ended well. This time however, she realized with a pang of fear, she was actually lucky to still be alive.

She dragged herself up with the help of a metal handrail running alongside the stairs. For several seconds she just stood there, panting heavily and trying to get her pulse to calm down. No matter how much her lungs worked, she couldn’t quite seem to get enough air into them. She felt lightheaded and the ringing in her ears persisted as she took in her surroundings. Below the stairs was a walking trail emerging from a tunnel running beneath a now silent railway track. She realized that she actually wasn’t that far from home. This was not the road she usually took from the bus but occasionally she did. It was a bit shorter but ran through a somewhat bad part of her area and was not the smartest choice after sunset. Drunk, badly dressed for the cold and unconscious in a bad part of town at night. She understood that she should count herself lucky to have woken up at all, even not considering the nasty cut to her head.

Using the handrail for support she managed to climb the stairs and ended up on a small yard surrounded by unkempt tower blocks. A chill wind tore at her sparse clothing and she hugged herself as she started staggering homewards. The prospect of a hot shower and a nice cup of tea afterwards kept her moving forward even as her entire body protested violently. That, and a promise to herself that she would never get so drunk again. At least not soon.

***

There was something wrong with the thermostat. She had turned it little by little until it was now all the way towards red, and still the water was lukewarm at best. She stood under the shower head and shivered like a leaf, desperation kicking in. This was the third shower she took tonight. The first one had managed to warm her, but once out in the living room and wrapped in four blankets before the TV she had quickly begun to feel cold again. Her lungs ached and her throat and mouth felt dry and sore. Spending the night out in the cold had certainly left its marks and she had understood that she was running an increasing fever. It had not been long before she was back in the shower again, but by then the real shivering fits had already begun kicking in.

Now she stood here for the third time. It was almost midnight and she was freezing like hell despite her best efforts to turn up the temperature of the running water. She had to call somebody, get them to fix this. But first she needed to take something for the fever. She stepped out of the shower and tore a dry towel from the rack, desperately draping it around her shaking body. When she turned to shut off the water she suddenly stopped dead with her hand on the tap. The soap bar resting on a plastic shelf right beneath the water spurting from the shower head had shrunk to an unrecognizable size. Like it had somehow melted away. She stared, blinked and then quickly turned off the water that to her trembling hand did not feel hot at all. Resolutely ignoring the heavy steam that had formed on her bathroom mirror she then hurried towards the kitchen, desperately hunting for aspirin.

***

When she awoke it was already dark outside again. She had slept through the entire day and the fever had given way to a numb and weak feeling in her entire body. She had expected her sheets to be all sweaty and damp but they weren’t. Instead, a disturbing, sweet smell had filled the room as she slept and she sighed as she looked over the edge of the bed to see if she had thrown up during the night. When she couldn’t find anything on the floor or in the bed she settled for opening up the window and hoping that it was just her illness-wrecked senses playing tricks on her.

Down on the street people were going about their business as usual, cars and pedestrians filling up the winter darkness far below her. She was struck by a strange feeling of unreality, as if she were watching everything through a thick two-way mirror, unable to be seen herself. This illusion was suddenly broken, however, when she noticed a person standing on the other side of the street with his eyes fixed on her building – staring straight at her. There was something deeply disturbing about his whole character and she began feeling sick again. Shivering she hurriedly closed the window, ignoring the putrid smell that still clung to everything in the room – especially to her. It was nothing, she was seeing things. She should call somebody, but the reception at the hospital had closed already and she didn’t feel ill enough to call the A&E.

***

Three sandwiches and a large glass of orange juice were staring accusingly at her from the low living room table between her and the television set. She knew she should be hungry but still couldn’t bring herself to eating or drinking anything. Instead she focused on the TV screen where the third season of Gilmore Girls  was served in marathon by her old and struggling DVD player. She really loved that series, had re-watched it four times already over the years. Laughing at the witty dialogues made her temporarily forget that something was very, very wrong with her.

She opened her mouth to burst out laughing at yet another absurd situation in the fictional family, when sudden panic struck her. She couldn’t make a sound. She tried screaming, but there was no air in her lungs and she realized that she had not been breathing for a long time. As if she had simply… forgotten to do it. She drew a deep breath and finally the noises from the TV were accompanied by her own sounds as she started sobbing uncontrollably – but no tears came. She then sat there in the couch, fixedly breathing deeply and rhythmically for a long time as if that could somehow erase the strange experience she had just had. Could a person die from forgetting to draw breath? She had never heard of it. Didn’t the body do those things on reflex?

She jumped as the phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but wanted so badly to hear another person’s voice that she answered anyway.

“Hello?” Her voice was rugged and dry. She was surprised at how hard it was to form words.

Silence. The sound of… not breathing, something else. Maybe a faint backdrop of traffic. Then, suddenly, a voice.

“Have you realized yet?” And somehow she knew. That guy on the street.

She dialed off, more frightened than her internal logic could account for. She got up and frantically closed the curtains. After hurrying through the apartment and turning off all the lights she wrapped herself in blankets and curled up at the edge of the couch, listening and shaking in the darkness and silence. Her pulse didn’t go up, however, and she realized that she had once again forgotten to breath.

***

She knew that she must be dreaming, but still she didn’t wake up. It was night. She was on the concrete stairs again, but facing their base. The frozen blood from the cut on her temple still glowed dark against the icy white covering the steps. She knew she should be freezing in the cold air, but she felt nothing. Below the stairs the narrow walking trail begun, barely illuminated by a flickering street lamp. The circle of its light didn’t stretch far from the base of the stairs, and beyond it reigned darkness. At the edge of the visible world she could see the mouth of the tunnel gaping at her. For the first time she shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. She knew that she should be able to see light at the end of that short tunnel, but she saw nothing but blackness in there.

Despite herself she started walking down the stairs, step by step and fear growing inside her. She didn’t want to know what waited for her in there and still something beckoned her closer with its terrible silence. She stepped down onto the walking trail but stopped in the middle of the light circle cast by the lamp, feeling herself shrinking as she stared into the pitch dark. There was something very wrong about everything. It looked exactly like the tunnel she had walked through on so many ill advised night strolls, but she knew from the bottom of her very being that it was nothing like it. This was something much older, darker, deeper, something masquerading as the well known just to draw her in. She realized that there was faint sound echoing from deep within the tunnel and she knew that she had heard it once before. In the background of a strange phone call. She turned and ran, but the staircase was dark and slippery and before she could do anything the sharp concrete steps rose up to meet her.

 ***

She woke with a start to a dark room filled with silence. Not even the sound of frantic heartbeats pulsing in her ears broke the eerie calm anymore. She got up, almost retching from the putrid taste sticking to her tongue and to her teeth. The smell was everywhere now but she didn’t even dare open the windows. What if he was still outside?

Her entire body felt stiff and almost didn’t obey her command to move into the bathroom. On the way there she glanced at the answering machine. She had been away from work for three days now and people were starting to call. She was desperate to talk to somebody, but somehow she was too tired to reach out. As if it would require a tremendous effort to penetrate the two-way mirror she had imagined earlier.

She tuned on the light in the bathroom but was instantly blinded and had to turn it off again. Her eyes didn’t seem capable of adjusting to the light anymore. She splashed some water into her face, hoping that it would make her feel better. It didn’t. She met her own eyes in the mirror and drew a shocked breath. She was so pale. Dark rings under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks made her look almost… dead. The insight frightened her and she hurried to turn on the light. And then she screamed.

It was not the mattness of her hair and her eyes, or the blueish tone of her skin. No, it was the sight of the scar at her temple. It had not healed at all and the edges of it seemed to have stretched and torn, as if the skin was beginning to come off from the skull. Reflexively her hand went to her mouth, and she stared into the mirror in horror as she realized that only two of the fingers on her right hand had their fingernails left. She bent over the toilet to throw up, but nothing came out. Nothing moved inside of her. It was as if all her organs and processes had actually stopped.

She screamed, a rough, parched scream that scared her even more, and dug her fingertips into her scalp as she staggered away from the mirror. Large bits and pieces of hair came off without her even tugging at it. She screamed again and ran into the living room.

She grabbed her phone and frantically dialed the emergency number, failing two times before her trembling fingers got it right. They left a viscous, sticky residue on the blinding screen but she didn’t care about that right now. She was falling apart, she couldn’t breathe and when she brought the phone to her face she realized that the putrid smell was actually emanating from her.

She almost couldn’t hear the operator’s voice as they took the call – were her ears shutting down as well? She groaned inarticulately, unable to make her tongue obey her.

“Miss? Can you hear me?” The operator’s voice fought its way through the two-way mirror and Sarah made another desperate attempt.

“Aheullph ghe”, she screamed and then realized that she could not close her jaws anymore. A guttural sound escaped her throat, but now she could barely hear herself. The world was growing silent. Even her vision was fading by the minute. Desperately she stared at the screen of her phone as it went from blurry green to an even blurrier red. The operator had ended the call. She tried to find the redial function, to find any function, but all she could see now was light and darkness.

Sarah screamed again, but this time there wasn’t even an attempt at coherent language. She didn’t know what was happening, but her body was shutting down all around her and there was nothing she could do. She didn’t even know if she was still sitting on the floor or if she had fallen over, all her senses were an ambiguous mess of dull impressions now and even her thoughts were sinking into a thick, clammy fog.

Then suddenly: a sound. The doorbell. The small vestige of her that could still feel panic and hope started kicking and screaming, forcing her near numb body to crawl towards the front door. She had heard the doorbell ring, she was sure of it. Or at least as sure as she could be of anything in this state. It must be someone from work, come to see how she was doing. They would help her, drive her to the hospital, everything would be alright, she would not die, she would not fall apart, she would not… She could not reach the door handle. Panic. She started scratching at the inside of the door. Faintly, uselessly, like an old, weak cat. She heard the doorbell ring again, closer this time. Don’t go away, she thought. Don’t leave me. I’m in here, I need help…

“Ah, fuck it”, a voice muttered on the other side of the door. She somehow recognized that voice. Then there was another sound, a scratching and then a click. Warm light flooded over her as the door opened towards the stairwell, blinding her again and making her try to shut her eyes. She realized that she couldn’t. A dark shape towered over her where she lay on the hallway carped, its silhouette a blurry blackness against the yellow light from outside. The shape stepped over her and closed the door, then bent down and looked straight into her dry, half seeing eyes.

“Well, there you are. You are a terrible hard one to reach, you know that?” Then she knew who he was and all she could feel suddenly was fear. What has this man done to me?

She tried to scream at him, to accuse him, to plead with him to leave her alone, to let her live, to help her…

“What was that?”, he said and she could have sworn that there was an unpleasant smile in those words. “Oh no, you’re not dying sweetie”, he said in a voice that didn’t try good enough to actually sound kind or caring.

She tried to protest, but his blurry silhouette just shook its head and put a finger to its lips to silence her. “No, not dying. Dead already, rather. Matter of fact, darling, I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t noticed. What with that smell and all. But what do I know, people never cease to surprise…”

He was silent for a moment, seemed to be eyeing her over. Sarah made a final attempt at speaking, but only succeeded in making the last trace of air leave her lungs in a tortured groan.

“Come, come, none of that now”, he said. “Being dead is not that bad, there are many perks to it actually. But yeah, you have obviously let yourself go way to far. But no worries”, he added and rose to his feet, “Vincent’s gonna fix you right up.”

She could hear his steps retire as he walked into the living room. She couldn’t even draw breath anymore. “Vincent, by the way, that’s me”, he continued from the other room. “In case you were wondering. But I reckon you’re not doing much of anything right now. Dead and walking for three days without feeding, well, that must be considered a rather crazy feat.” He was doing something over there in the living room, but it was not until he reemerged in her field of vision that she realized that he had removed the carped from the floor.

“People will probably talk”, he breezily continued, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. “Sure, they’ll say that it was mostly my fault for not reaching you sooner, but as I said honey, you’re a terribly stubborn specimen to say the least! Anyway, enough about that now. We have to get your rotting ass out of here so that my people can clean out the apartment. Can’t leave it stinking like this now, can we. Oh, is that your finger on the floor? Never mind, I’ll have someone bring all your parts later. Now, I hope you’re not offended if I do this…”

She could only stare blankly, flaccidly, as he bent down, put the carpet on the hallway floor and started wrapping her in it, rolling it around her layer by layer until all she could see was darkness and all she could smell was her own rotting body.

He lifted her up and carried her away, closing the door behind him as he went. He might have put her in a car, because soon she could hear the faint sound of an engine. All the while he kept on talking in that jovial, carefree tone of voice. She could hear him distantly through the thick fabric of the carpet.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. You’re no Miss Universe right now, but as soon as we figure out what your vitae is we’ll get you right back on track, you count on it. We’ve all been like you once, nobody’s judging. Or, well, maybe some, but not I. I’ve seen worse, I tell you. Having died and still not being able to, you know, leave the body… Well, I’ll tell you this. The first couple of weeks will be quite rough on you, I’ll be honest. Eating human flesh or souls or whatnot, I’ll admit it’s a bit different. But you’ll get used to it. I sure did. ”

The man called Vincent kept on talking, but Sarah had stopped listening. Something was drawing closer, she could feel it. Something old, something dark. The car stopped and he picked her up again, started walking. Entered a door, passing through an echoing corridor and then descending some kind of stairs. And that’s when she heard it, that sound. A sound she had heard only two times before, but which she had learned to fear more than anything. It was the sound of silence, the sound of darkness. The sound of beyond. And the terror she felt at the realization of where he was taking her awakened finally the last remnants of faltering force within her and she screamed.

***

Vincent stopped talking as the muffled hysteria from within the carped made it clear that she was not listening to his friendly explications anymore. He sighed and glanced around to make sure that nobody was close enough to hear her. Of course nobody was, he was too good to make sloppy mistakes like that.

“Now, now”, he said tonelessly and realized – not for the first time – that empathy and reassurance were not his strongest points. “No need to panic, darling. We’re just going home.”

Then he jumped down onto the subway tracks and started walking into the crossroads darkness where things were not as under the sun and where people like him – and her – could live in secret and shadows and madness. “Welcome to Dusk”, Vincent murmured, half to himself, as he crossed the line where the light from the platform couldn’t reach them anymore, and they were gone.