Vedergällning som inte kan delegeras

(The English version can be found here)

”Hur fan kunde bilarna vara tomma? Vår snubbe i Ventspils kollade och plomberade ju hela jävla skiten alldeles innan färjan avgi–”

”Jag vet inte”, avbröt han skarpt. Han sneglade på Maks ur ögonvrån innan blicken återvände till vägen. 

Han låg i tunnelns omkörningsfil, körde så förjävligt fort att omgivningens lampsken förvandlades till långa neonstreck i periferin.  

Varför i hela jävla helvete var man fucking tvungen att köra ända ned på Kungsholmen för att ta sig från Värtahamnen till Tomteboda?

”Det här kommer gå åt helvete, rakt åt fucking helvete”, mumlade Yousef från baksätet. Han trummade nervöst med foten i golvet och paniken i rösten var omisskännlig. ”Vad kommer hända nu? Vad sade han? Varför ville han träff–”

”Men käften för i helvete, jag vet inte säger jag ju.” Han stirrade vasst på Yousef genom backspegeln. 

Blicken rörde sig sedan mot mobilen i knäet, till meddelandet på skärmen: Möt mig på det vanliga stället. Nu.Numret var förstås nytt, men det fanns inga oklarheter kring avsändarens identitet. 

”Lambert vill säkert bara snacka med oss”, hörde han sig själv säga samtidigt som bilen lämnade Norra länkens tunnel och passerade ut under den ljusförorenade natthimlen. ”Vi löser det här. Vi får dra i en del trådar bara, casha in lite gentjänster. Kompensera honom för skiten som är borta. Vi fixar det.” 

Hans röst var som vanligt förrädiskt samlad och lugn, men på insidan ville han bara skrika och slå i ratten tills händerna domnade. Det här var så helvetes fucking jävla dåligt.

Varor för hundratusentals kronor var spårlöst försvunna, och oavsett hur det hade kunnat hända var det hans fel, och hela skulden skulle falla på honom. Hela. Jävla. Skulden. Klumpen i magen och halsen växte sig allt större medan han navigerade bilen genom Stadshagen, över Ekelundsbron och upp mot Solna. 

”Han vill bara snacka”, upprepade han mumlande, så tyst att de andra kanske inte ens kunde höra honom. Men orden lät tomma till och med i hans egna öron, och efter det var det ingen som sade något över huvud taget förrän han rattade in bilen på det ödsliga industriområdet.

Det stod redan två bilar parkerade utanför det nedsläckta magasinet. Han undrade vem eller vilka – förmodligen det senare – som Lambert tagit med sig till mötet. I vanliga fall skulle det ha varit han, Maks och Yousef själva, men det här var inte i vanliga fall. Inte alls.

”Ska vi… gå in alla tre?”, frågade Yousef tveksamt när bilen svängde in på en av de dussintals tomma parkeringsrutorna och stannade. 

”Självklart”, bet Maks tillbaka. ”Vi är fan tre om det här, ingen ska behöva stå själv och ta ansvar för skiten.” Sedan öppnade han tvärt och demonstrativt dörren och klev ut i mörkret, och missade därmed den trött tacksamma blicken han fick från förarsätet.

Yousef nickade bara tyst, kanske skamset, från baksätet och klev ut även han. Han kom runt och öppnade förardörren.

”Förlåt”, sade han. ”Jag menade inte… som det lät. Klart jag inte lämnar dig i sticket här.”

”Det är lugnt”, sade han och klappade vännen på axeln medan han klev ut ur bilen. ”Vi ska bara in och snacka lite. Ut på tio, sedan drar vi och köper pizza.”

Han böjde sig in i bilen igen för att plocka med sig pistolen från mittkonsolen, men ändrade sig mitt i rörelsen. Att komma beväpnad till det här mötet skulle bara sända konstiga signaler. Moraknivens skida lät han dock sitta kvar i bältet under huvtröjan. Present från pappa. Gammal vana. Fuck knivlagen to hell and all that jazz. 

Maks hade satt sig på motorhuven och tänt en cigg, men knäppte genast iväg den när de kom fram till honom.

”Jahapp”, sade han spänt. ”Låt oss få det här överstökat då.”

Utan att säga något mer – det fanns liksom inte så mycket kvar att säga – började de sedan röra sig över parkeringen, mot det tornande magasinet och den smala ljusstrimman som skvallrade om en gläntande dörr i fasaden. 

Han såg hur Maks sträckte sig mot dörrhandtaget, och lade en hejdande hand på hans arm.

”Nej”, sade han och skakade på huvudet. ”Det här är min fuckup. Jag går in först.”

Sedan öppnade han dörren och klev in innan Maks hunnit protestera.

Ljuset i det stora magasinet var dunkelt, men det hindrade honom inte från att genast känna igen gestalten som stod och väntade på dem mitt i gången mellan övertäckta lådor och tunnor. Lambert Ferek mötte kallt hans blick och skakade sakta på huvudet.

”Jacob, Jacob, Jacob… Jag måste säga att jag är väldigt besviken på dig.”

Det knöt sig i magen på honom, och han hade inte ens hunnit slås av det underliga i att Lambert var ensam förrän han hörde Yousef skrika till bakom sig. Han vände sig snabbt om – och stelnade till. 

Maks och Yousef, som klivit in bakom honom, stod fasthållna av två andra gestalter – med vapen riktade mot sina huvuden. När han insåg vilka angriparna var slog ett brinnande raseri som en glödgad spik genom hans ryggrad.

”Christoffer, ditt jävla as”, morrade han mot mannen som höll fast Maks. ”Jag borde fan–”

”Ta det lugnt, kapten”, flinade Christoffer skadeglatt. ”Jag och Danne ska bara ta med oss herrskapet här på en liten promenad, så att du och chefen får prata ostört. Som jag har fattat det så finns det… en del att reda ut.”

”Släpp dem för i helvete, jag–”

”Det är lugnt, Jacob”, avbröt Maks sammanbitet. ”Vi håller oss chill så går det här bra.”

”Just det, lyssna på lilla underbefälet nu”, skrattade Danne, som aldrig tidigare ens vågat höja rösten mot honom. ”Vi ska bara ut och ta lite frisk luft. Du kommer inte ens hinna märka att de är borta.” Han skrattade igen, som om han just sagt något osedvanligt fyndigt. 

Till och med Christoffer skrattade åt skämtet, och Jacob tvingades sedan maktlöst se på medan hans två vänner eskorterades ut i natten igen. Han mötte deras blickar innan de försvann ut genom dörren. I Maks blick såg han mord – i Yousefs endast ren, oförställd skräck. 

Så”, sade Lambert Ferek när dörren slagit igen med en ekande smäll. ”Jag förstår det som att du har förlorat mig en hel del pengar ikväll, Jacob Hellström.”

Jacob vände sig långsamt, motvilligt tillbaka mot mannen. Märkte med en rysning att denne hade tagit några steg närmare, tills bara knappa tre meter betonggolv skiljde dem åt. 

”Jag… Jag vet inte vad som hände”, sade han och kämpade för att få rösten att hålla. ”Vi… Jag hade kollat allt, alla detaljer, kontakter, moment… Samma folk, samma metod som alltid. Det har aldrig–”

”Nej, men nu gjorde det det”, avbröt den andre. ”Och från vad jag har hört vet du nog mer om det här än du vill låta påskina, Jacob. Är det något du vill berätta för mig?”

Jacob stirrade oförstående på mannen framför sig – på hans bleka ansikte, avgrundsmörka rovdjursögon och kusligt orörliga hållning – och när orden väl sjönk in kände han hur hela hans kropp började skaka. Han tog chockat ett steg bakåt och höjde händerna framför sig. ”Nej. Nej, nej! Jag vet ingenting, jag lovar”, stammade han fram medan tankarna rusade.

Han hade vetat att Ferek skulle bli förbannad över det här, att han själv förmodligen skulle få skit för att ha botchat bort en så stor leverans. Men nu lät det plötsligt som att han stod anklagad för något…

”Jag vet inte vad du har hört”, sade han och försökte återfå den lugna tonen som räddat honom ur så många jobbiga situationer tidigare, ”men jag har ingen aning om vad som hände i natt, eller varför. Och jag kommer att göra mitt allra yttersta för att gå till bottnen med det här, och kompensera dig för det som gått förlorat. Om du bara låter mig–”

Han tystnade när Lambert Ferek började skratta. Ett pulvertorrt, glädjelöst skratt som inte riktigt kom hela vägen från lungorna. 

”Men Jacob”, sade Lambert kallt när han skrattat färdigt. Hans leende var inte mer än en oengagerad imitation som inte ens nådde halvvägs till de svarta ögonen. ”Efter den här fadäsen är ju mitt förtroende för dig förbrukat, förstod du inte det?” Han skrattade till igen.

”Eller trodde du att jag skulle låta dig vandra ut härifrån och potentiellt ställa till med ännu värre skada? Om det jag hört är ens till hälften sant… Ja du, jag är nästan imponerad över hur dumdristigt djärv du måste vara för att försöka dig på ett sådant dubbelspel. Synd att du inte valde att investera den kvaliteten bättre – du kunde förmodligen ha gått långt i vår organisation. Men som det är nu… Synd, som sagt. Riktigt, riktigt synd.”

”Men nej, jag vet inte vad du pratar om! Vem är det som har sagt det här? Tala om vad du har hört så kan jag–”

All luft klämdes plötsligt ur honom när Lambert Ferek slöt sina långa fingrar runt hans hals. Jacob hade inte ens hunnit se honom röra sig. Han kände hur fötterna lämnade marken när mannen som inte riktigt var en man klämde åt sitt grepp kring hans hals och lyfte honom från betonggolvet. Han kunde inte andas, fick inte fram ett ljud. Blodet dunkade allt hårdare i öronen och det började svartna för ögonen. 

”Det spelar ingen roll vilka källor jag har, jag kan bara säga att de är övertygande”, sade Ferek medan Jacob maktlöst kippade efter andan i hans grepp.

”De kontaktade mig redan igår natt, med information om att du och dina två vänner planerade att förskingra den här leveransen. Jag bestämde mig för att inte agera förhastat, utan istället testa er. Se om varningen verkligen stämde. Och, som det skulle visa sig, var det riktig information jag fått – lasten försvann faktiskt. Så du ser, Jacob – du är avslöjad. Ni är avslöjade. Jag tog inte hit er i natt för att få en rapport eller dela ut reprimander, jag tog hit er för att ett sådant här svek kräver den sortens vedergällning som inte kan delegeras.”

Jacobs tankar skenade okontrollerat sida vid sida med paniken i hans huvud. Han sparkade med benen, försökte lossa på Fereks grepp med sina allt mer kraftlösa händer. Han behövde tid, han behövde syre till hjärnan för att räkna ut vad allt det här betydde. Någon hade sålt ut honom, baktalat honom, fått det att se ut som att…

”En… setup”, kämpade han fram med den lilla luft som fanns kvar i lungorna. Varje ord rev som sandpapper mot hans hopklämda stämband. ”Det är en jäkla setup, ser du inte det?”

Men Lambert Ferek bara tittade på honom där han hängde – granskade honom på samma sätt som en konstkännare kan granska en särskilt svårtolkad målning. Den här gången nådde leendet ögonen, men det gjorde ingenting för att minska obehaget hos betraktaren – snarare tvärt om.

”Jag är ledsen, Jacob”, sade Ferek med en röst som faktiskt antydde någon sorts perverterat medlidande. ”Men spelet är slut nu. Dina vänner är redan döda, och nu ska du göra dem sällskap. Se det som en ynnest att jag åtminstone låter ditt blod leva kvar genom mig – den respekten kan jag i alla fall ge dig efter alla de här åren.”

Jacob hann inte ens processera allt Ferek sagt innan mannen drog honom till sig och sänkte tänderna i hans halspulsåder. Blodet började rusa ur honom med en kraft som fick det att vråla som av stormvågor i hans öron. Synfältet fylldes av svärta och alla nerver började domna bort. 

Men samtidigt som livet rusade ut ur honom var det även en annan sorts kyla som spred sig i hans ådror. Dina vänner är redan döda. Så hade Ferek sagt. Dina vänner är redan döda. 

För sin inre blick såg han Maks och Yousef som leddes iväg genom magasinets dörr, om och om igen. Vreden i Maks blick, skräcken i Yousefs. Och så Dannes ord: Du kommer inte ens hinna märka att de är borta. Han hade vetat. De hade vetat. När de ledde iväg Jacobs vänner var det för att döda dem, det var det som Dannes skämt anspelade på.

Den jäveln visste, och han skämtade fan om det. Som om det var… Och nu…  Dina vänner är redan döda. 

Och med ens visste Jacob vilka Fereks källor var. Vilka det var som ”förvarnat” honom om Jacobs fabricerade svek, och som sedan själva saboterade leveransen från Lettland. Som nu förmodligen skulle upphöjas till ledande positioner, få makten över allt det som Jacob, Maks och Yousef varit med om att bygga upp. Ta deras plats…

Den glödgade spiken av vrede från tidigare flammade plötsligt upp inom honom igen, djupt inne i den begravda, bortdomnade del som fortfarande andades, kände, kämpade. Den del av honom som fortfarande inte hade gett upp.

Och från någonstans fick han kraften att röra sig, att göra ett allra sista, desperat utfall. Han kände knappt när hans fingrar slöts kring moraknivens handtag, visste inte om armen rörde sig på riktigt eller bara i hans desperata tankar, förrän handen stumt slog i Lambert Fereks käkben och han insåg att moraknivens egg satt djupt uppborrad i mannens huvud.

I nästa sekund föll han handlöst till marken när Fereks krampande hand tappade taget om hans hals. Han både kände och hörde hur saker i honom gick sönder när han träffade det hårda underlaget och blev liggande.

Ferek stod upp i ännu några sekunder, innan även hans ben vek sig och hela hans kroppshydda kollapsade på betonggolvet alldeles framför Jacob. Blod började genast spridas i en mörk pöl under mannens huvud – en pöl som hastigt överbryggade tomrummet mellan dem och snart värmde högra sidan av Jacobs sönderslagna ansikte.

Han mötte Fereks blick där de låg invid varandra på golvet, och han kunde utläsa både chock och hat i den bläcksvarta blicken. För ett ögonblick kände hans döende hjärna en kick av seger, av hämndens tillfredställelse.

Sedan mindes han plötsligt Christoffer och Danne, och känslan forsade genast ut tillsammans med livsblodet som fortfarande pumpade ut ur hans hals för att blandas med den andres i pölen på golvet. Han kunde inte låta dem komma undan med det här. Kunde bara inte. Ville inte. Fick inte…

Hans snabbt bleknande medvetande famlade panikslaget efter strån, efter trådar, efter vad som helst som skulle kunna rädda honom. Och plötsligt fick den tag på något.

Han visste inte vad Ferek och hans sort var, men hade sett tillräckligt många dåliga filmer och tv-serier för att våga sig på en kvalificerad gissning. De var bleka. De andades inte. De drack blod. Jacob jobbade för fucking vampyrer for fuck sake, även om han alltid dragit sig för att använda just det ordet. Det var alldeles för otroligt. För sjukt. För… vansinnigt.

Men nu när han låg där och kände hur livet sakta rann ut ur honom kändes det plötsligt inte så vansinnigt längre. Kanske berodde det på att majoriteten av hans hjärna redan hade klappat ihop, eller på rent och skärt önsketänkande in the face of death, men det här kanske kunde vara hans räddning.  

Han visste inte hur mycket av filmernas mythos som faktiskt stämde, hur sådana som Ferek faktiskt blev till, men… Men tänk om…

Den andres ögon spärrades upp när Jacob mödosamt och med sina allra sista krafter krälade fram till hans kropp. Tog tag kring hans nacke. Drog honom så nära som det gick… Och satte munnen till den blödande kratern i hans haka.

Ferek försökte dra sig undan, men Jacobs fingrar hade stelnat i den döendes krampaktiga grepp och det gick inte att komma loss.

Han visste att han bara hade sekunder på sig innan det sista livet skulle rinna ur honom, och han drack desperat från det utforsande blodet. Svalde munfull efter munfull medan alla ljud sakta tonade bort och synfältet förvandlades till ett svart töcken, enda tills sväljmusklerna i hans egen hals började stänga ned i takt med att kroppen sakta dog. 

Han märkte inte när Lambert Ferek slutade att kämpa emot, när blodet i mannens hals sakta sinade till en svag ström mot hans läppar, eller när kroppen under hans händer undan för undan började lösas upp i ett finkornigt pulver.

Mot slutet låg Jacob bara där och lapade kraftlöst från den dammiga blodpölen på golvet, för svag för att varken röra sig eller dra ordentliga andetag. Han kunde inte se längre, hörde inga ljud. Allt som fanns var blodet. Blodet som kanske, kanske, kanske kunde rädda honom. Som kanske kunde ge honom någon form av hämnd för det han och hans vänner utsatts för.

Och sedan upphörde slutligen andningen, pulsen, tankarna och de sista spasmiska rörelserna, och Jacob Hellström var död.

Han slog upp ögonen, drog in ett djupt, desperat andetag. Ögon, mun och näsa fylldes genast med kall, tjock jord. Paniken grep tag i honom och han började hosta okontrollerat. Slog runt omkring sig för att ta sig loss från tyngden som höll fast hans armar och ben.

Men tyngden var överallt, och han insåg att han blivit levande begravd. De hade grävt ned honom, lämnat honom att sakta kvävas till döds under marken. 

Paniken bara växte och han visste att han inte hade många sekunder på sig att ta sig upp till ytan. Desperat började han dra armarna till sig, kämpade med allt han hade för att få dem närmare kroppen så att han kunde börja gräva sig uppåt. 

Han krafsade uppåt med ömmande fingrar, sparkade nedåt med värkande ben, gjorde sitt bästa för att hålla andan, för att få det sista syret att räcka tillräckligt länge för att– 

Hud. Hans hand slog emot kall hud – inte hans egen, någon annans. En kropp. Och han tappade kontrollen helt. Slog vilt omkring sig, kände hur ben gick av inuti kroppen när han hämningslöst pressade sig själv mot den tjocka, tätpackade jorden.

Han kippade desperat efter andan, fyllde ofrivilligt mun och lungorna med fukt, mylla, rötter. Hans händer slog emot mer och mer hud. Blött tyg. Ett ansikte. Paniken var allt nu, det fanns inget annat. Det här var en jävla grav, och han var inte ensam i den.

Han märkte först knappt när högerhanden bröt markytan, men när han väl gjorde det fylldes han av nytt hopp. Med förnyade krafter tog han sats med benen och pressade sig själv uppåt. Struntade i knakandet i huvudet, det krasande ljudet i axlarnas små ben, den outhärdliga värken i hela kroppen. I en kaskad av jordsjok exploderade hans huvud upp genom jordytan, upp i den kalla nattluften.

Likt en drunknande kastade han upp armarna på marken och höll sig fast för glatta livet, som om jorden skulle ångra sig och börja suga honom tillbaka. Så låg han länge, kände det kalla gräset mot kinden medan han drog djupa, regelbundna andetag och lyssnade på det avlägsna ljudet av trafik. Minnen pockade envist på hans fortfarande halvt nedstängda hjärna, men han ville inte kännas vid dem. Inte ännu.

Sedan mindes han plötsligt kropparna, och glömde med ens helt bort att dra nästa andetag. På darrande armar hävde han sig upp ur gropen han kommit ur, satte sig på knä och började gräva.

Han grävde med en frenesi kommen av minnen han fortfarande inte ville släppa tillbaka in, grävde tills fingrarna blödde och han nästan hunnit glömma bort varför han ens grävde. Tills hans hand slog emot något som inte var jord, och då stannade han upp.

Han ville inte det här. Ville inte veta. Visste att om han fortsatte gräva nu, skulle han hitta något som han inte kunde ta tillbaka ovetskapen om. Något som skulle tvinga honom att minnas saker. Att inse saker. Han tvekade. Mådde illa. Ville egentligen bara resa sig upp och gå därifrån.

Men det gjorde han inte. Istället böjde han sig försiktigt ned och borstade bort den sista jorden från det han hittat. Borstade bort mer och mer, tills han hade blottlagt ett ansikte. Han mötte, först oförstående, sedan allt mer panikslaget, Maks stela, matta blick. Ilskan i de blå ögonen var borta nu, och kvar fanns bara tomhet och tystnad.

Först tänkte Jacob surrealistiskt att vännen levde, att han tittade tillbaka på honom där nerifrån jorden. Men bara ett uteblivet hjärtslag senare sjönk det in hos honom att Maks var död. Död. Död. 

Christoffer och Danne dödade honom, tänkte han konstigt kallt. Och de stängde inte ens hans ögon. 

Kylan i hans sinne spred sig som gift i ådrorna medan han sakta fortsatte att gräva. Han grävde med en saklighet som han visste att han egentligen inte kände, men som han dragit över sig som en kall, blöt filt för att mäkta ta sig igenom det här. För han behövde se.

Han behövde veta. Och sedan hittade han även Yousef. Hans ögon är i alla fall stängda, tänkte han när han varsamt förde undan en blöt, jordig hårslinga ur vännens bleka ansikte. Båda två hade blivit skjutna i huvudet på nära håll, noterade han. Snett uppifrån, rena avrättningarna.

Han stirrade ned på sina två bästa vänner, tänkte att det bara var alldeles nyss som han hört deras röster, hört deras steg bakom sig på den ödsliga parkeringsplatsen…

Och så kom minnena. Han mindes bilfärden, industriområdet, magasinet, Lambert Ferek, Christoffer och Danne… Och han mindes setupen. Insikten. Ilskan. Blodet… Han insåg plötsligt att han inte hade andats på flera minuter, att luften i hans lungor var densamma som han dragit in när han först hittat Maks. Och då kom även känslorna.

Han föll ned på händer och knän, skrek rakt ut, kände hur tårar forsade från ögonen och när han tittade ned såg han att det var tårar av blod.

Han kollapsade på marken, drog upp knäna mot hakan och grät hämningslöst tills det inte fanns några tårar kvar, tills han hade skrikit sig hes, tills hjärnan inte längre orkade processera den fruktansvärda verkligheten om vad som hänt hans vänner, vad som hänt honom, vad allt det här betydde…

Han låg där i gräset länge, kände de kalla stråna mot ansiktet och bara stirrade framför sig längs marken. Månen lyste ned på honom, på skogspartiet han låg i, på jordhögarna framför honom och gropen jorden kommit från.

Han tänkte att han skulle vilja kräla tillbaka till hålet, krypa ned tillsammans med Maks och Yousef och hoppas på att aldrig behöva vakna igen. Kanske jorden skulle ta honom tillbaka, låta honom vila i sin drömlösa glömska ännu en gång…

Men det gick inte, det visste han. Det fanns ingen plats för honom där.

Han såg inte kropparna, inte från den här vinkeln, men han visste att de fanns där. Visste att de låg där, döda och orörliga, och väntade på att han skulle göra något med dem. Gräva upp dem eller gräva ned dem igen. Ringa polisen eller låta bli. Se till att deras anhöriga fick closure, eller låta dem undra för alltid.

Han visste inte vad det rätta svaret var, vad han borde göra. Vad han visste vid det här laget var dock att han inte hade någon puls. Att han kunde skita i att andas om han ville. Att de brutna benen redan höll på att läka under hans hud. Att han hade klarat sig – men inte överlevt. Att han var död.

Och han insåg att det inte spelade någon roll vad han gjorde med kropparna. Det var inte därför han var här, inte därför som han hade grävt sig tillbaka upp ur den kalla jorden där all världens rimlighet sade att han fortfarande borde ligga kvar.

Han var inte här för att hedra sina döda vänner, för att ge closure till familjerna eller ens egentligen för att skipa rättvisa. Han var här för att utmäta straff, för att utkräva hämnd. Det var som Lambert Ferek själv hade sagt: Ett sådant här svek kräver den sortens vedergällning som inte kan delegeras.

Han reste sig på ostadiga ben. Noterade vagt att hans fingrar inte längre blödde, och att de krossade och brutna benen inte längre gjorde ont. Han gick fram till hålets kant igen, tittade ned på sina vänners döda kroppar en sista gång. De låg där i månskenet, bleka och tysta som uttömda behållare.

Han tänkte på Jonathans ord i Bröderna Lejonhjärta: ”Det är bara skalen av dem som ligger där.” 

Ja, tänkte han tyst. Så är det. De är inte här längre, det där är bara tomma skal. 

Sedan böjde han sig över en av högarna och började skyffla tillbaka jorden i hålet igen. Kastade tillbaka den över de livlösa kropparna tills gropen var borta, och trampade sedan marken platt tills allt som syntes var ett aningen mer upprivet område i undervegetationen. 

Han tyckte synd om de anhöriga som skulle undra i resten av sina liv, men kropparna fick aldrig hittas – i alla fall inte förrän han var färdig.

Om de hittades skulle nämligen Christoffer och Danne undra var hans egen kropp tagit vägen, och i värsta fall räkna ut att han fortfarande var vid någon form av liv.

Att de trodde att han var undanröjd var hans största trumfkort mot dem, och han ville inte spela ut det förrän stunden då det kunde göra största möjliga skada mot dem och allt vad de stod för. 

Han hade klamrat sig fast vid livet, sparkat och klöst sig tillbaka från underjordens tysta omfamning, för att döda dem som gjort det här mot honom och hans vänner.

För att sticka hela deras värld i brand och sedan se den brinna tills inget fanns kvar förutom grå aska och förvridna, brända lik. För att sedan salta jorden de vandrat och utplåna deras minne.

Då, och inte förrän då, när allt detta var gjort, skulle han vara klar. Först då skulle han tillåta sig själv att sjunka tillbaka ned i jordens kalla, tysta djup och låta glömskan och mörkret slutgiltligen ta honom. Men den stunden var ännu inte kommen.

Med jordiga händer och tungt hjärta vände han ryggen åt den gömda skogsgraven och började gå tillbaka in mot staden.

Det ensliga lätet från en kråkfågel ekade i fjärran, och han undrade tyst hur stor del av Stockholm som skulle behöva brinna innan det här var över.

Vengeance that cannot be delegated

(The Swedish version can be found here)

”How the fuck could the cars be empty? Our guy in Ventspils checked and sealed every fucking thing before the ferry left the har–“

“I don’t know”, he snapped. He glanced at Maks from the corner of his eye before his attention returned to the road.

He was in the fast lane and speeding so goddamned fast that the surrounding lights turned into long neon lines in the periphery. Why the hell did you have to fucking drive all the way down to the Kungsholmen island to get from the Värtahamnen harbor to Tomteboda?

“This whole thing is gonna go to hell, straight to fucking hell”, he heard Yousef mumbling from the backseat. His foot was drumming nervously against the floor, and the panic in his voice could not be mistaken or anything else. “What’s gonna happen now? What did he say? Why did he want to meet–“

“Shut the fuck up, I just told you I don’t know.” He shot Yousef a sharp look through the rear-view mirror.

His eyes then moved to the cellphone in his lap, to the message on the screen: Meet me in the usual place. Now. The number was new of course, but there were no doubts about the identity of the sender.

“I’m sure Lambert just wants to talk”, he heard himself say as the car left the Northern Link tunnel and emerged in the open beneath the light polluted night sky. “We’re gonna figure this out. We’ll just pull some strings, cash in some favors. Compensate him for the shit that’s gone missing. We’ll figure this out.”

His voice, as usual, was deceptively composed and calm, but on the inside he wanted nothing more than to scream and slam the wheel until his hands were numb. This was so fucking bad.

Wares for hundreds of thousands of kronor were gone without a trace, and no matter how this could have happen, it was his fault and the entire blame would fall upon him. The. Entire. Fucking. Blame.

The knot in his stomach continued to grow as he steered the car through Stadshagen, over the Ekelunds Bridge and up towards Solna.

“He just wants to talk”, he repeated, but so quietly this time that the others might not even have heard him. The words, however, sounded empty even in his own ears, and after that no one spoke until the car turned into the desolate industrial area.

Two cars were already parked in front of the dark warehouse. He wondered who – probably more than one person – that Lambert had brought to the meeting.

Normally, it would have been himself, Maks and Yousef, but this was not normally. Not by a long stretch. 

“Are… all of us going in?”, Yousef asked hesitantly as the car came to a standstill in the empty parking lot in front of the building.

“Of course”, Maks snapped. “There’s three of us in this shit, and no one is gonna face the consequences alone.”

He then opened the passenger door and stepped out into the darkness, as if to prove a point – thus missing the tired, grateful look afforded him from the driver’s seat. 

Yousef nodded quietly, maybe ashamedly, and exited the car himself. He walked around to the driver’s seat and opened the door.

“I’m sorry”, he said. “I didn’t mean… what that sounded like. Of course I’m not gonna leave you in the lurch here.”

“It’s okay”, he said, patted his friend’s shoulder and stepped out of the car. “We’re just going in there to talk. Out within ten. Then we’re going for a pizza.”

He leant back into the car to retrieve his gun from the center console, but then changed his mind mid-motion. Bringing a gun to this meeting would just send the wrong kind of signals.

The knife sheath, however, he let remain on his belt beneath the hoodie. A gift from dad. Old habits. Fuck the knife legislation and all that jazz.

Maks was sitting on the hood, smoking a cigarette that he instantly flicked away when the other two approached.

“Well then”, he said tensely. “Let’s get this thing over with.”

Without another word – there really wasn’t all that much left to say – they then started walking across the parking lot, towards the towering warehouse and the thin strip of light that hinted at a backlit door in the façade.

He saw Maks reaching for the door handle, and grabbed his arm to stop him. 

“No”, he said and shook his head. “This is my fuckup. I’m going in first.”

He then opened the door and stepped inside, before Maks had a chance to argue.

The light in the large warehouse was dim, but that didn’t stop him from instantly recognizing the figure waiting for them in the central isle between the lines of covered up crates and barrels. Lambert Ferek looked at him coldly and slowly shook his head.

“Jacob, Jacob, Jacob… I must say I’m very disappointed in you.”

Jacob’s throat tightened, and before it even struck him how strange it was that Lambert was alone, he heard Yousef cry out behind him. He quickly turned around – and froze.

Maks and Yousef, who had entered behind him, had been grappled by two other figures and now stood there with guns pointed at their heads. When Jacob realized who the assailants were, a burning rage hammered through his spine like a heated nail. 

“Christoffer, you fucking asshole”, he growled at the man holding Maks. “I should–“

“Relax, captain”, the man smiled mockingly. “Me and Danne here are just taking these gentlefolk out for a little walk, so that you and the boss can talk without distractions. From what I’ve heard there seem to be some things to… straighten out.”

“Let them fucking go, I–“

“It’s okay, Jacob”, Maks said tightly. “We keep it chill. It’ll be alright.”

“That’s right, listen to your little lieutenant”, laughed Danne, who had never even dared to raise his voice to Jacob before. “We’re just going out for some fresh air. You won’t even have time to notice they’re gone.” He laughed again, as if he had just said something unusually funny. 

Even Christoffer laughed at the joke, while Jacob was forced to powerlessly watch his two friends being escorted back out into the night. He met their gazes before they disappeared through the door. In Maks’ eyes he saw murder – in Yousef’s nothing but pure, unmasked horror.

“So”, Lambert Ferek said when the door had slammed shut. “I understand that you have lost me some serious money tonight, Jacob Hellström.”

Jacob slowly, reluctantly turned to face him, and shivered at the realization that the man was now so close that all that separated them were three meager yards of concrete floor.

“I… I don’t know what happened”, he said, fighting to keep his voice from breaking. “We… I… had checked everything, all the details, contacts, stages… The same people, the same methods as always. It has never–“

“No, but now it did”, the man interrupted him. “And from what I’ve heard, I think that you know more about this than you pretend to do, Jacob. Is there really not something that you want to tell me?”

Jacob stared uncomprehendingly at the man in front of him – at his pale face, abyssal predator’s eyes and eerily motionless posture – and felt his entire body begin to shake as the words sank in. Shocked, he took a step backwards and raised his hands. 

“No. No, no! I don’t know anything, I promise”, he stammered.

He had known that Ferek would be pissed about this, that he himself would probably be in trouble for botching such a big transaction. But now it suddenly sounded like he stood accused of something…

“I don’t know what you’ve heard”, he said, struggling to regain the calm tone of voice that had saved him from so many fucked up situations in the past, “but I have no idea what happened tonight, or why. I will do everything in my power to find that out, and to compensate you for the losses. If you just let me­–“

He silenced when Lambert started laughing. A powdery dry, joyless laugh that didn’t entirely seem to come all the way down from his lungs.

“But Jacob”, he said coldly. His smile was nothing but an impassive mimicry, not even halfway reaching his pitch black eyes. “After this little faux pas, my trust in you has been entirely depleted. Didn’t you realize that?” He laughed again.

“Or did you think that I would let you walk out of here and potentially cause even more damage? If the things I have heard are even remotely true… Well, I’m almost impressed by how recklessly bold you must be to attempt such a double cross. Too bad you didn’t choose to invest that quality better – you could probably have gone far within the organization. But as things have turned out… A shame, as I said. A real goddamned shame.”

“But, no, I don’t know what you’re talking about! Who told you this? Tell me what you’ve heard so I can–“

All the air was pressed out of him when Lambert Ferek’s long fingers suddenly closed around his neck. Jacob hadn’t even seen him move. He felt his feet leave the ground as the man who wasn’t really a man tightened his grip on his throat and lifted him from the concrete floor.

He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t make a sound. The blood thundered in his ears and his vision started to black out.

“It doesn’t matter who my sources are, just that they’re convincing”, Ferek said while Jacob struggled for air in his grip.

“They contacted me last night, with information about you and your two friends planning to… misappropriate this delivery. I decided not to act prematurely, but instead to test you. To see if the warning had any truth to it. And, as it turned out, it had – the cargo actually disappeared. So as you can see, Jacob – you have been exposed. You have all been exposed. I didn’t bring you here tonight to receive a status report or to issue reprimands. I brought you here because betrayal like this demands the kind of vengeance that cannot be delegated.”

Jacob’s thoughts raced wildly side by side with the panic in his mind. He kicked with his legs, struggled to loosen Ferek’s grip with his own increasingly nerveless hands. He needed time, he needed air to his brain in order to figure out what all this meant. Someone had sold him out, backstabbed him, made it look like…

“A… setup”, he pressed forth with the little air he had left in his lungs. Every word tore like glass paper against his compressed vocal cords. “It’s a fucking setup, can’t you see that?”

But Lambert Ferek just looked at him where he hung, regarded him like an art appraiser might regard an especially difficult painting. This time the smile reached his eyes, but this did nothing to lessen the discomfort of the beholder – rather the contrary.

“I’m sorry, Jacob”, Ferek said with a voice that actually hinted at some kind of perverted sympathy. “But the game’s over. Your friends are already dead, and now you’re going to join them. Think of it as an act of goodwill that I’ll at least let your blood live on through me – that, at least, is a respect I can pay you after all these years of service.”

Jacob didn’t even have time to process everything that Ferek had said, before the man pulled him in and sank his teeth deep in his carotid artery. Blood begun gushing out of him with a force that made his ears roar like crashing waves. His vision went black, and all the nerves in his body started going numb.

But at the same time as his life flooded out of him, another kind of cold started spreading in his veins. Your friends are already dead. That’s what Ferek had said. Your friends are already dead. 

In his mind he replayed the sight of Maks and Yousef being led out of the warehouse, over and over again. The rage in Maks’ eyes, the fear in Yousef’s. And then Danne’s words: You won’t even have time to notice that they’re gone. He had known. They had known.

When they took his friends away, it was to kill them – that’s what Danne’s joke had inferred. That fucker knew, and he joked about it. As if it were… And now… Your friends are already dead.

And at once Jacob knew who Ferek’s sources were. Who had “warned” him about Jacob’s fabricated betrayal, and then themselves sabotaged the delivery from Latvia. And who would now probably be promoted to leading positions, be given power over all the things that Jacob, Maks and Yousef had been part in building. Take their places…

The heated nail of rage from before suddenly ignited inside him again, deep within the buried, sore part of him that still breathed, felt, struggled. The part of him that still hadn’t given up. And from somewhere he got the strength to move, to make one last, desperate lunge.

He barely felt it when his hand closed around the knife’s handle, didn’t know if the arm moved for real or just in his desperate thoughts, until his fist hit Lambert Ferek’s jawbone with a muted thud and he realized that the knife’s blade sat deeply buried up through the man’s head. 

Next thing he knew, he was plunging towards the ground as Ferek’s cramping hand lost its grip on his throat. He both felt and heard things break on the inside as he hit the hard floor and landed in a helpless pile.

Ferek remained standing for a few more seconds, before his legs gave way under him and his entire frame collapsed on the concrete right in front of Jacob. Blood immediately began to form a dark puddle under the man’s head – a puddle that quickly bridged the distance between them and soon warmed the right side of Jacob’s ruined face.

He met Ferek’s gaze as they lay there on the floor, and he could read both shock and hatred in those night black eyes. For a moment his dying brain experienced an emotional spike of victory, of successful revenge.

Then he suddenly remembered Christoffer and Danne, and the emotion instantly gushed out of him together with the lifeblood that still pumped from his neck to mix with Ferek’s blood on the floor. He just could not let them get away with this. Would not. Must not…

His quickly fading mind grasped desperately for straws, threads, anything that might save him. And suddenly it got hold of something. He didn’t know what Ferek and his kind was, but had seen enough bad movies and tv-series to venture a qualified guess.

They were pale. They didn’t breathe. They drank blood. Jacob was working for fucking vampires, for fuck sake – even though he had always avoided using that particular term. It was just too unbelievable. Too weird. Too… mental.

But now, as he lay there feeling his life slowly drain from his veins, it suddenly didn’t seem as mental anymore. Maybe it was due to the majority of his brain having already shut down, or to desperate wishful thinking in the face of death, but either way he thought that this just might be his chance of salvation.

He had no idea how much of the movie mythos was actually true, how creatures like Ferek were actually created, but… But what if…

The other man’s eyes widened in horror as Jacob used his very last strength to crawl closer through the blood. Grabbed his neck. Pulled him as close as possible… And put his mouth to the bleeding crater in his upper throat.

Ferek struggled to get away, but Jacob’s fingers had stiffened in the final iron grip of the dying and there was no getting away.

Jacob knew that he only had mere seconds before the last spark of life would trickle out of him, and he drank desperately from the gushing blood. Swallowed mouthful after mouthful while all sound slowly silenced and his vision faded into a black nothing, right up until the moment when even the muscles in his own throat started shutting down as his body slowly died. 

He didn’t register when Lambert Ferek finally stopped struggling, when the blood from the man’s neck slowly dwindled into a weak trickle against his lips or when the body beneath his hands little by little started dissolving into a fine-grained powder.

Towards the end Jacob just lay there and lapped weakly at the dusty puddle of blood on the floor, lacking the strength even to move or draw sufficient breaths. He couldn’t see anymore, heard no sounds. All that was left for him was the blood. The blood that maybe, maybe, maybe could save him. That maybe could give him some kind of retribution for what he and his friends had been subjected to.

And then his breathing, heartbeat and thoughts finally stopped, together with the last spasmic movements of his body. And Jacob Hellström was dead.

He opened his eyes and drew in a deep, desperate breath. His eyes, mouth and nose were instantly filled with cold, thick dirt. Panic gripped him and he started coughing uncontrollably. Flailed wildly to get away from the weight that pressed down on his arms and legs.

But the weight was everywhere, and he realized that he was beneath the ground. They had buried him alive, left him to slowly choke to death under the mud and soil.

The panic increased and he knew that he didn’t have many seconds to reach the surface. Desperately, he started pulling his arms in, struggled with all his might to get them closer to his body so that he could start digging.

He clawed upwards with sore fingers, kicked downwards with aching legs, did his best to hold his breath, to make the last oxygen last long enough to–

Skin. His hand struck against cold skin – not his own, somebody else’s. A body. Now he lost control completely, flailed wildly in all directions, felt bones breaking inside his body as he mindlessly pressed himself against the heavy, densely packed dirt.

He struggled for breath and felt his mouth and lungs fill with moisture, earth and roots. His hands struck against more and more skin. Damp fabric. A face. Panic was everything now, nothing else existed. This was a fucking grave, and he was not alone inside it. 

At first he barely noticed when his right hand broke the surface, but when he did he felt a pang of new hope. With renewed strength he braced his legs and pressed himself upwards. Ignored the cracking noises in his skull, the creaking of the small bones in his shoulders, the unbearable pain in his entire body.

His head exploded up through the surface and into the cold night air. Like a drowning man he threw his arms up onto the ground and held on for dear life, as if fearing that the ground would suddenly change its mind and start sucking him back down again.

He lay there for a long time, feeling the cold grass against the side of his face while he drew deep, even breaths and listened to the distant sounds of traffic.

Memories nudged persistently at his still slightly offline brain, but he didn’t want to acknowledge them. Not yet.

Then he suddenly remembered the bodies, and instantly forgot to draw his next breath. On shaking arms, he heaved himself out of the pit, crouched down and started digging.

He dug with a frenzy born out of memories he still didn’t want to let back in, dug until his fingers bled and he had almost managed to forget why he was even digging in the first place. He dug until his hand struck something that was not dirt, and then he stopped.

He didn’t want this. Didn’t want to know. He knew that if he continued digging now, he would find something that he would not be able to reclaim the ignorance of. Something that would force him to remember things. Realize things.

He hesitated. Felt sick. Wanted nothing more than to just get up and walk away. But he didn’t.

Instead he carefully leant down and brushed away the last layers of dirt from that which he had unearthed. Brushed away more and more, until he had uncovered a face.

First uncomprehendingly, then with increasing panic, he met Maks’ stiff, flat stare. The rage in the blue eyes was gone now, and only emptiness and silence remained.

For a surreal moment, Jacob thought that his friend was alive, that he was looking back at him from down there in the dirt. But only a defaulted heartbeat later the truth sank in: Maks was dead. Dead. Dead. 

Christoffer and Danne killed him, he thought with a strange cold. And they didn’t even bother to close his eyes.

The cold inside him spread like poison in his veins while he slowly continued digging. He dug now with a pragmatism that he knew wasn’t really his, but which he had pulled over himself like a cold, wet blanket in order to get through this at all. Because he needed to see. He needed to know.

And then he found Yousef as well. At least his eyes are closed, he thought as he carefully caressed a moist, dirty strand of hair from his friend’s pale face.

They had both been killed by gunshots to the head, he registered. Up close, slightly from above. Pure executions. He stared down at his two best friends, thought that it was only moments ago that he had heard their voices, the sound of their footsteps behind him in the desolate parking lot… 

And that’s when the memories finally returned. He remembered the drive, the industrial area, the warehouse, Lambert Ferek, Christoffer and Danne… And he remembered the setup. The realization. The anger. The blood… 

And he suddenly realized that he hadn’t breathed for several minutes, that the air in his lungs was the same as that he had drawn in when he’d first found Maks.

And then came the feelings.

He fell down on hands and knees, screamed his lungs out, felt tears start streaming down his face and when he looked down, he realized that they were tears of blood.

He collapsed on the ground, pulled his knees up to his chin and cried without restraint until there were no tears left, until he had screamed his throat raw, until his brain couldn’t process this horrid reality anymore. The reality of what had happened to his friends, what had happened to him, what all this meant…

Then he just lay in the grass, feeling the cold blades against his face and just staring straight ahead along the ground.

The moon shone down upon him, upon the copse in which he lay, upon the piles of dirt in front of him and the hole from where the dirt had come.

He thought that he wanted to crawl back into that hole, lie down next to Maks and Yousef and hope never to wake up again. Maybe the earth would take him back, let him rest in its dreamless oblivion once again…

But it was impossible, he knew that. There was no place for him there. 

He didn’t see the bodies, not from that angle, but he knew they were there. Knew that they lay there, dead and immobile, waiting for him to do something with them. To dig them up or bury them back down. To call the cops or let alone. To make sure their families were given closure, or to let them wonder forever.

He didn’t know what the right answer was, what he should do.

What he knew by then, however, was that he didn’t have any pulse. That he could cut out the breathing if he wanted to. That his broken bones were already healing beneath his skin.

That he had made it through – but not survived. That he was dead. 

And he realized that it didn’t matter what he did with the bodies. That wasn’t the reason for him being here, for him having clawed himself back up from the cold earth, where all sound reason dictated that he should still remain.

He wasn’t here to honor his dead friends, to give closure to their families or really even to administer justice.

He was here to mete out punishment, to exact revenge. It was as Lambert Ferek himself had said: 

Betrayal like this demands the kind of vengeance that cannot be delegated.

He rose on unsteady legs. Noted that his fingers weren’t bleeding anymore, and that the crushed and broken bones were no longer hurting.

He approached the edge of the hole again, looked down at the dead bodies of his friends one last time. They lay there in the moonlight, pale and silent like emptied containers.

He thought about a line from the children’s novel The Brothers Lionheart. “That’s only their husks laying there”. 

Yes, he thought silently. That’s how it is. They’re not here anymore, those are just empty husks. 

Then he knelt down and started scooping the dirt back into the hole. Shoveled it back over the lifeless bodies until they were gone, stomped the ground until all that could be seen was a slightly more agitated area in the underbrush. 

He felt sorry for the families who would suffer in a state of unknowing limbo for the rest of their lives, but the bodies could never be found – at least not until he was done.

If they were unearthed, Christoffer and Danne would start wondering where his own body had gone – and in the worst-case scenario that would cause them to realize that he was still in possession of some semblance of life.

The fact that they thought him obviated was his strongest trump card against them, and he wanted to save it for the moment when it would do the uttermost damage to them and everything they stood for.

He had clung on to life with tooth and nail, had kicked and clawed his way back from the silent embrace of the underworld, to kill those who had done this to him and his friends.

To put fire to their world and watch it burn until nothing remained but grey ashes and twisted, scorched corpses. To then salt the earth where they had trod and obliterate their memory.

Then, and only then, when all this was accomplished, he would be done. Only then would he allow himself to sink back down into the cold, quiet depths of the earth and let darkness and oblivion finally take him.

But that time was not now.

With dirt smeared hands and a heavy heart, he turned his back to the hidden forest grave and started walking towards the city.

The harsh, lone call of a solitary crow echoed in the distance, and he silently wondered how much of Stockholm would have to burn before this was over.

Elevated Remains

Janice leaned across the desk and called after him as he got out of the elevator.

“Tom, your wife called earlier. And a man who said he would rather call back than to leave a message. It sounded important.”

Ex-wife, he wanted to correct her, but didn’t. “What was his name?”, he asked instead as he continued towards his office. When she didn’t answer him immediately he stopped with his hand on the door handle and turned around to shoot her a questioning look.

Janice was biting her lip and seemed genuinely embarrassed. “I… Well, I’m sure he told me, and I was just about to write it down. But as soon as I had hung up the phone… Well, it just slipped my mind. I’m sorry, Tom. But he said that he would call again later.”

He sighed and shook his head. “Let’s hope he does then”, he muttered and disappeared into his office.

Thomas Smith was a very practical man, and as such he also had very practical dreams. He put all his waking time – and all his money – into building his business and making it grow. And it did. In a relatively short time he had managed to secure himself quite a prestigious office in a central part of the city, and a handful of equally prestigious clients.

Now he just waited for the business press and the secret fraternal organizations to discover him as well. To this end, missing out on important calls was definitely not one of his favourite pastimes.

He was sitting behind his desk inside the spacious and expensively furnished office when his phone started ringing. He had developed a routine for how he handled such events, so as not to come on as too eager or too available. He waited until right before the fourth signal was about to sound, then cleared his throat and answered the phone in a sober voice devoid of all emotion or expectation.

“Smith and Smithson, you’re talking to Thomas Smith”, he said. There actually was no Smithson involved in the firm. There was just him, but a double cognomen company name sounded more serious and memorable.

“Ah, finally I get ahold of you. I had the privilege of talking to your lovely assistant earlier, but you were not yet in by then.” The man’s voice was dry but jovial, with a slight British accent.

“Ah, yes. Janice mentioned your previous call.” Thomas straightened up in his chair. This was the guy who had called before. Had he said his name now? Thomas wasn’t sure, and didn’t dare to ask in case he’d come across as inattentive. “How can I help you?”

“Janice, yes that was her name. Remember now. Lovely voice, that one. A delight to talk to. Well, anyways. I’m calling on behalf of an organization that I represent, to invite you to a dinner party later this evening.”

Thomas’ heart skipped a beat. An organization. A dinner party. This sounded like just the kind of attention he’d been eagerly waiting for. He swallowed and fought hard to keep the excitement out of his voice. “Oh, is that so? And what kind of organization is that?”

The voice on the other end chuckled. “Oh, I’m sorry if I misspoke. Not an organization, Mr. Smith. The Organization. Not anyone attracts their attention, sir, and you’ve been hand-picked. Our by-laws prevent me from giving out any additional information about us before you are dedicated, but I can assure you that this dinner will be a real game changer for your state of life.”

Thomas had gotten up from his chair now and was pacing back and forth in front of the large windows. His composure was slipping between his fingers like sand. “This… This definitely sounds interesting, Mr…?”

“Ah, excellent. Then I’ll arrange for a car to pick you up at your office by eight. Formal dress code is observed.”

“Oh, eh, thank you. I’m… Looking forward to it. And I’m hoping to speak more to you later as well.”

“Yeah, there’ll probably be some time for that too. Well, I’ll see you tonight th–”

“Wait! Ehrm, what did you say your name was again?”

Now there was a smile in the entire voice. “Ah, I am Vincent. See you tonight, Thomas.”

And then the call was ended.

***

Thomas didn’t get any more work done that afternoon. As soon as he had put down the phone he picked it up again, called Janice and asked her to get him a really nice tuxedo. Then he booted up his computer and started researching Freemason etiquette, intellectual conversation subjects and a thousand other important things he suddenly realized that he didn’t have the slightest clue about. Mildly put, he panicked there for a while.

Then Janice knocked on his door and entered with his evening attire in a fancy package.

“What did the man say? Where is it you’re going?”, she asked as she put the clothes down on his desk.

Thomas shook his head without looking up from his computer. “I can’t tell you, Janice. It’s part of a secret rite of initiation.”

Janice pressed her lips together and stifled an irritated sigh. “Well then”, she said and crossed her arms across her chest. “I guess I’ll leave you to your secrets then, Mr. Smith. And you’re welcome.” Then she marched out of the office and slammed the door shut behind her.

He didn’t even notice that she had left until thirty minutes later.

He got dressed and ready well before time, and when the clock neared eight he was already pacing nervously on the sidewalk outside the office building. This was his chance to really become something, to prove himself and to make the right kind of connections. He had to pull this off and make a good impression.

Then a black Mercedes pulled up in front of him, and he instantly stopped pacing. He hoped that the driver hadn’t seen him doing it, but knew that such an instance of luck was highly unlikely. Before he had decided whether he should jump into the car on his own accord or not, the driver’s door opened and a man stepped out.

His leather coat and pompadour hairstyle went entirely in black, and stood in stark contrast to the pallor of his skin. He tilted his head to the side and regarded Thomas over the top of the car.

“You’re shorter than I imagined, but I guess that’s okay”, he said. Thomas recognized the voice. “Jump in, mate. I’m your driver tonight.”

“But you’re… You’re the one I spoke to on the phone, right?” Thomas was really confused now, and not just by the casual insult.

“Very observant of you. Yeah, I’m Vincent. But I’m also your driver.”

“I thought you said–”

“Come on now, we can talk on the way. Nice tux, by the way.”

Then Vincent returned to the driver’s seat. After a moment’s hesitation, Thomas seated himself in the back. This was not what he had expected, but then again, this was also the first time he was ever in contact with an esoteric secret society. Maybe this was just their eccentric way of things. I’ll hopefully be given the opportunity to get used to it, he thought.

“So, how come I was hand-picked?”, he said as the car started moving.

Vincent met his gaze through the rear view mirror. “Ah, yeah that’s a good question. Well. You see, I was tasked with scouting for a dinner guest, based on a list of very strict criteria. The aspirant would, amongst other things, have to be raised in the city, be between twenty eight and thirty three years old, an up and coming businessman, and of average height.

You turned out to be a promising candidate – except for the height, it turns out. But I’ll blame your misleading profile pictures for that. Anyways, mate, don’t fret. They’re going to love you.”

***

The house was old and classic, with tall windows overlooking the busy street from half a dozen expensive floors. When they arrived, Vincent actually got out of the car and hurried around it to open Thomas’ door for him. The latter was positively surprised by this, the former having shown very little of this kind of courteousness during the drive. This might actually turn out to be something fancy after all, Tom mused.

Vincent kept up the gallantry by holding up the entrance door for him as well, and then proceeded to calling down the elevator for them. The stairwell was classy and impressive, with real art on the walls and such shine in its marble floor slabs that it was almost possible to use them as an enormous rose mirror. As they got into the elevator, the impression of unblushing wealth was only strengthened; there was a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and on the small floor was a Persian carpet.

“Wow, this place is… really something”, Tom said as he admired the intricate patterns on the brass key set panel.

“Yeah, I guess”, Vincent replied, but didn’t sound all too excited himself. He pressed one of the shiny elevator buttons, and they rose smoothly upwards to the soft notes of Cello Suite no. 1 in G major playing from cleverly hidden speakers.

They arrived on the sixth floor, and as the elevator doors opened before him Thomas suddenly wished that he had put much more effort into his clothing. The music from the elevator, he realized, was the same as was playing in the grand parlour that the doors opened upon. There was a party going on here, alright. Catering personnel moved skilfully amongst the smartly dressed attendants who were mingling, drinking and eating canapés from silver plates all across the room.

As Tom stepped out of the elevator, trying to adopt as confident and stately an air as possible despite almost panicking on the inside, many of the eyes in the room were turned towards him. Vincent hurried across the room to say something to a plump man in a ceremonial uniform, consequently leaving Thomas all to his own, terrified self. He thus gratefully accepted the drink offered to him by one of the well-dressed servers, and took a deep sip as a quick fix to his revolting nerves.

“Are you the dinner guest?”

He almost choked on the champagne. The woman was beautiful, dressed in green silk and suddenly standing next to him. Her eyes seemed to be boring into his, and he could not for the life of him have looked away – even if he had wanted to.

“Ehm, yes”, he managed to reply as he fought desperately against the impulse to cough up the liquid he had just accidentally inhaled.

“I expected you to be taller”, she said and smiled dangerously. “But I’m sure you have other delicious qualities that I can’t wait to explore.”

He didn’t know what to say, but immediately decided that he really, really wanted this new acquaintance to explore him. Thoroughly.

“Ah, there you are”, Vincent said. “The dinner’s about to begin any minute, they were just waiting for you. Come.” He ushered Tom across the room, away from the woman in green.

“See you at the table then”, she called after him with a sly smile. He really, really hoped so.

“Oh, and don’t drink that shit”, Vincent said and snatched the champagne glass from his hand. He snapped his fingers and a waiter left his post by the nearby wall and hurried over with a silver plate with a single glass on it. “Here. This is the real deal”, Vincent said and unceremoniously handed Tom the glass from the plate.

Tom accepted the glass and sipped from it as they walked across the large room. “Who are all these people?”, he whispered to Vincent. “Is this the Organization?”

Vincent shrugged. “Parts of it. Some of them. The ones attending the separate dinner are. The rest of them are just… people, I guess. They don’t know anything.”

“Oh”, Thomas said, unsure what that even meant. “What should I do? I mean, what’s expected of me?”

Vincent smiled and patted his shoulder. “Don’t you worry about that, mate. You’ve done your part just by coming here. Just relax and drink your wine, and the rest will take care of itself, sort of.”

They entered a separate dining hall where a long table had already been arranged with beautiful china, iron candlesticks and several sets of gleaming silver cutlery. One end of the room was taken up by a low stage, and Thomas realized that this was where the music was coming from; it was not a recording at all, but a live performance being delivered by a sextet of highly skilled musicians.

The room and the table was already filling up with beautiful people in beautiful dresses and uniforms. Waiters moved around the table, offering up different kinds of wine and other types of alcohol. Thomas just stood there beside Vincent and admired the almost surreal wealth and class on display before him. Oddly enough, he didn’t feel the panic anymore. In fact, he felt strangely relaxed despite being so obviously misplaced amidst this distinguished company. He took another sip of his wine.

Before long, everyone was seated except for the two of them. Tom’s eyes wandered in search for an empty chair, but to his bemusement there didn’t seem to be one. Then the music silenced.

“Welcome, brothers and sisters”, a deep voice spoke up. Tom realized that it belonged to the same man that Vincent had been talking to previously. “I am tremendously pleased that you could all join us here tonight, and I am also very pleased to introduce you to this evening’s special guest – Mr. Thomas Frederick Smith.”

At this, the entire table exploded in a thundering round of applause. Tom nodded, smiled awkwardly and again didn’t know what to say. He suddenly locked eyes with the woman from before and could have sworn she was licking her lips as she looked at him.

“Thank you, Vincent, for bringing him in – though I would like a word with you later about your definition of the words ‘average height’.” Large portions of the table burst out laughing at this, but were quickly silenced again by a gesture from the man in the uniform.

Vincent muttered something that Thomas couldn’t quite make out, despite standing right next to him. In fact, he was suddenly having trouble making words out at all. Or faces. Or thoughts. Oh my god, did I drink too much already? Am I really that drunk? Will people notice? Have I fucked everything up now?

People were looking at him. Had someone asked him something? He wasn’t sure. He grabbed the backrest of a chair and hoped that nobody would notice how difficult he was finding it suddenly to remain standing on his own two feet. “Vincent”, he whispered, “I think that I…”

“Relax, mate”, Vincent said and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all as it should.”

Somewhere people were laughing. A woman in green was staring hungrily at him. A waiter entered the room with a gleaming slicer on a plate. The entire room was spinning.

“No, I… I blew it. The party. The dinner. I was invited to eat dinner with…”

His limbs wouldn’t obey him anymore. The glass slipped from his hand and shattered against the marble. He didn’t even hear the sound. His legs gave way beneath him and he sank to the floor.

Vincent, his hand still on Tom’s shoulder, appeared within his shrinking field of vision. “Oh, darn. I’m sorry if I misspoke. Not to eat dinner, Mr. Smith. To be the dinner.” He smiled widely. “Not anyone attracts the attention of the Organization, sir, and you’ve been hand-picked based on a list of very strict criteria. These people have very particular tastes, you see.”

Tom shook his head, or at least he tried to. Everything was spinning colours now, and he realized that he had slumped over on the floor. He was lying on the cold rose marble, watching helplessly as the man in the uniform approached him with the gleaming slicer.

“Let’s dig in then, shall we?”, the man in said. Thomas tried to scream, to fight, to crawl away, but could do none of these things. The thought struck him that he had been poisoned, that nobody – not even Janice – knew where he was, and that these people were going to kill and eat him.

And then the very last shred of consciousness left him, and he never thought anything ever again.

***

Vincent shook his head as he re-entered the dining hall in the grey hours of morning. The party was over, the guests gone since long. While the lonely, bold and beautiful people had grandiosely and ravenously satisfied their hunger for vitalem with the flesh and blood of poor Thomas Smith, Vincent himself had prowled the streets and back alleys of the city for much less glamorous contentment of his undead thirst.

There were times when he didn’t mind this degradation, or the less moral, pleasant and decent parts of his job. But then again, there were also times when he did. But such was his lot in life – and lonely unlife, for that matter – and there was nothing to be done about it.

He was the fixer of needs, the dealer of goods and the solver of problems – and as such he was only welcome in the grand parlours to deliver wares before the feasts, and to take out the glorified, elevated remains when they were over.

After this particular feast, those said remains had certainly been elevated indeed. All over the place.

Vincent sighed. “You’re welcome”, he said to the empty room as he started unwinding a roll of black garbage disposal bags. Then he got about his grizzly task with the routine of someone who has done the same thing many times before, humming Eleanor Rigby all the while. It seemed only fitting.

Where did they all come from, after all?

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-03-05

This story was written in response to a title writing prompt, 

It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?

I have, by the way, previously written three other short stories set in the same universe. If you want to read them as well, they are called The Sound of Silence, The Forest and Substitution.

 

 

The Tale of a Man Who Wanted to Eat the World

(This is part IV of the story about Vanessa Riley. If you want to read the previous three parts, you can find them here, here and here.)


“Once upon a time, child, there was a man with a heart like a stone and a soul like miles and miles of waterless wasteland. Although his mind did not lack in inspiration, nothing of warmth and beauty would ever grow there. But what he wanted in goodness and creativity, he made up for a thousandfold in wealth. And so it was that when boredom inevitably struck him it meant two things: that the remedy for said boredom was in plenty within his grasping reach, and that this remedy did without a fault spell misery, suffering and downfall for all those who struck his fancy as ingredients thereof.

In the beginning his victims were people, ordinary humans who had for one reason or the other fallen outside the sphere of societal respect and protection. They were the outcasts, the prostitutes, the slaves and the vagrants. They were the ones of whose disappearance or demise even the hungry tabloids did not write. They were the ones for whom nobody but the most religious would weep, and then only in the most duteous manner. They were the nobodys, the involuntary citizens of our civilization’s underbelly – and thus they were easy prey.

But this man was no vampire. He was human himself, and thus he was also a gregarious herd animal. He started off alone, but soon became many. As he converged with like minded predators a horde formed – a pride of lion men who all shared one mutual hunger; the hunger for ending boredom – the hunger for feeling, fucking and eating the world.

Over time, however, the abuse of outcasts, prostitutes, slaves and vagrants became prosaic routine for these mad, wealthy lion men. Boredom began sneaking its way back into their petrified hearts and their desolate souls. And with this came fear. Was this it? Was this all there was to life and its mysteries? For a short while there was chaos in the horde. Lion slaughtered lion just for the thrill of it, just to feel truly alive again. For a short while it looked as if the mad pride might collapse in on itself and be devoured by history. But then the Discovery was made.

To this day it is still not clear who is to blame. Is it the vampires, the changelings, the mages or the maybe the werecreatures of the night? Chances are we will never know. But somehow, in its intermutual chaos, the mad pride found out about our world, about us. And the existence of forces, elements and creatures so far beyond their wildest and most intoxicated dreams instantly granted them renewed, frantic focus; if there really were such things, the mad pride realized, they had actually not felt, fucked or eaten all of the world just yet. Far from it, in fact.

Then and there began a rabid hunt for everything so called “supernatural”. Like senseless poachers on hunt for lions on the plains of what is now known as Tanzania, these bored and wealthy men and women set out to catch us, to cage us and to slaughter us – all for their own wicked pleasure of course. This marked the perpetual end of boredom for them, and the start of the endless flight for survival for us. None of us went safe, vampires, changelings, mages and werecreatures alike.

This was long ago. The memory of the first hungry man would long since have been devoured by ignorant history, were it not for those of us who live and remember. I too have loved and lost, my child, and I too hold grudges. But my retaliation lies not in bloody iron or oaths of vengeance. No, instead it lies in the telling of this tale and the struggle to, through the passing on of knowledge and wisdom, prevent the mad pride from bringing harm to my blood ever again.

Remember this, my child: while once they went under the name of Fruitio Societatis, they might well have come to change their denomination in alignment with the prevailing time and age. They have been known to do so before. However, two things about them do not change, and those two things are these: Firstly, without a fault they ever brand their members with their mark of fealty, their seal of brotherhood. You shall know them by this mark, so remember it well. Two lines run like the foundation of a twisted Christian cross, only it is vitiated by six warped circles, each of them representing a sense that the mad pride believe themselves to be in possession of. Do not forget this, Vanessa, my child.”

And what is the second thing that never changes about them, aunt Thali?”

The second thing, child, is their unending blood thirst. Avoid them at all cost, because if they catch you… If they catch you, my child, they will feel, fuck and eat you. And not necessarily in that order.”


You can find the next part of the story here.

Chris Smedbakken 2017-06-14

On Dreams, Myths and Not-So-Ordinary Hunters

This is part III of the story about Vanessa Riley. It probably works as a standalone as well, but if you want to read the two previous parts you can find them here and here.


A sudden noise and sleep is gone like a spell. Deep, black shadows drape the room. It’s impossible to see. She sits up in her bed. No, some other bed, but still hers. Confusion, like in a nightmare. Where is she? Who is she? Her eyes wander the room. A sudden movement over by the door catches her attention. Her heart skips a beat. She freezes.

Don’t you fucking move”, he says. She is staring straight into the barrel of his gun.

She doesn’t fucking move. “You’re… that guy from before. From my party”, she hears herself stammer – though it’s not her voice. Far from it.

The stranger nods. “Yeah. And you’re the djinn we’re looking for. So now just tell me. Where’s Walter?”

Her eyes grow even wider. Djinn… What the f— But she doesn’t even finish the thought, because now she realizes there is a tattoo on his right hand and she has seen that symbol somewhere before and this is bad really bad and–

“Shit!”

She sits straight up in her bed. No, not hers, she remembers. Neferthali and that guy Ivers have turned hers and her vampire godmother’s floor into a love nest, and Vanessa herself has taken refuge in one of the exclusive hotel rooms that make up the lower floors of the tall building.

She’s breathing heavily, fear still clinging to her every cell. Fear still lingering from the nightmare, from what she saw in it. Who she saw in it. And as her breath catches up with her and her heartbeat and racing thoughts slow down just a little, she realizes two things. Firstly: the tattoo she saw in the dream. It belongs to that boogeyman group, or club, Neferthali has warned her about. And secondly: That wasn’t a fucking dream at all. The djinn we’re looking for… “Shit”, she repeats and jumps out of bed.

Vanessa is already out the front doors before she realizes that she has forgotten her phone. The hell with it, she decides. She has already wasted enough precious time. Frantically she hunts the street with her eyes for a taxi cab. As she stands there a red Ferrari pulls up right in front of her by the curb. It stops, and an expensively dressed youth with an expensive haircut climbs out of it.

“You the valet?” He lifts his expensive sunglasses for a split second to look at her over the roof of the car.

She… nods slowly, not entirely believing this is actually happening. “Yeah”, she murmurs, not sure if she’s even making herself heard.

He flashes her an expensive smile and throws her the keys as he breezes past her. “I’ll buy you a drink later, okay sugar?”

Vanessa slowly turns to stare after him as he enters the hotel and disappears. What the fuck just happened? She holds up her hand and looks at the car keys in disbelief. Nobody is this lucky. Nobody, if it’s not with the help of– And suddenly she remembers why she’s even out here in the street. Who needs her help, who is probably desperately wishing for help – maybe not even consciously. That settles it. She dives into the low car, head first, and has the engine running before the hotel doors have even closed properly behind the car’s original owner.

Chino. She hasn’t seen him since two nights ago at that club, but she heard his thoughts that evening and would recognize their resonance anywhere. It’s like a color, but… loud. As she races through the night city in her not-exactly-stolen car she knows that it was Chino’s room she saw in her dream, that it was his mind she must have slipped into by mistake. It has happened before with others, though not often. She knows that everything she saw and heard in the dream was real, and that it happened in real time. She floors the pedal and hopes against hope that she will not be too late. He had such kind eyes…

The only reason she knows his address is that she was bored and looked it up the other day – and the only reason she was able to do that is that the stupid mother fucker is dumb enough to be using his True Name in the address register. It must have been a simple thing for the hunters to find him. Idiot.

But anger leaves her and is replaced by something that is embarrassingly similar to fear as soon as she pulls up outside his building and stops the car. She knows which window is his, and it is dark. Not just to the eye, but to the mind as well; as she lets her mental tendrils wind their way past the glass and the walls and the doors she feels instantly that there’s no one inside Chino’s apartment. It is completely empty.

Fuck, shit, ass!” She beats her palms against the wheel and screams straight into the silence. Of course they’re not here anymore, they’ve taken him. They’ve taken him for the Club, and now he’s going to be– And then she hears it. Or rather, she senses it. Like a tingle at the back of her soul, or a twitch inside her thoughts. Like a color, but loud. And she realizes that it’s him, calling. Not to her, but to anyone with the sense and senses to listen.

The weakness of the call, together with its crudeness, makes her believe that he’s not even aware he is calling out. That he is only desperately fumbling in his mental darkness for random straws to free himself with. She tries to answer him, but his loud colors are already lost again in the astral buzz of the mad city. No matter boyo, she thinks to herself as with revived resolve she restarts the stolen car. I know where you are now.

As she drives through the neon city and finally out of it she struggles ceaselessly to keep track of his movements. Every now and then she feels a flash of his presence far away and knows that she is still on their track. Suddenly, however, the presence disappears entirely. A cold hand clutches her innards; this can mean many things but none of them is good. She swallows, tries not to panic. By now she has already left the city behind and is speeding down a night black desert road. They cannot be far ahead of her now, and there are no alternative routes for them to have taken. For good or bad, and whatever has happened to Chino, she has them now.

Then she spots it. Further down the empty road, parked right at the border between asphalt and hard packed sand, sits an old, white Volkswagen – lights off, doors open. She doesn’t slow down. Out in the open landscape to her right she can also see shadowy shapes moving. Then the moon breaks through the clouds and for a heartbeat she can see them clearly.

There are three of them, one of the shapes standing a few feet away from the other two and aiming a gun, as one of the other two slowly circles the third shape in a fashion that seems both wary and mocking at the same time. The third shape doesn’t move at all, is standing still as a statue, and that’s what worries Vanessa – because she knows without a doubt that this third shape is Chino. What the fuck have they done to him?

And suddenly she catches herself and realizes that she is actually pissed off. That it’s not just the hunters, slash kidnappers, that are pissing her off – and that she probably hasn’t really ceased being pissed off since last time she saw him that night at the club. Also: that tonight’s events haven’t changed anything about that. You stood me up, you fucking idiot, and for my vampire granny at that. And now you have the nerve to disturb my sleep and drag me out on a rescue mission in the middle of the night. And to… to worry me, damn you.

She hits the brakes a bit too fast and the car, with its brand new everything, literally jumps to a stop. She lounges forward and for a heartbeat she is certain that she will go though the windshield. But thanks her lucky star (or whatever it is that people like she have) she has somehow, despite everything, remembered to fasten her seat belt somewhere along the road – and the air is just knocked out of her.

“Yolo”, she breathes painfully as she leans back from she strained belt, unfastens it and stumbles out of the car. She leans against the door for a couple of seconds as she catches her breath and decides that no ribs have been broken by the impact. Understanding that this is both a dangerous and embarrassing position to be caught in, she then hastily straightens up and walks around the car. It has come to a halt only a few yards behind the white Volkswagen – the kidnappers’ car. She casually draws her trusty knife and punctures the back wheels before she starts walking into the open field by the side of the road.

The three dark shapes still loom there, seemingly without having moved much at all. She keeps a steady, determined pace and doesn’t for a second take her eyes off the small congregation still far off in the field. As she draws closer she can hear voices in the distance.

“We only need to know where Walter is, you know. If you tell us we won’t hurt you”, the circling shape is saying.

“Well, not so much anyway,” the one with the gun adds.

The first one is silent for a moment, perhaps shooting his partner an angry stare. “If you tell us, no harm shall come to you. Or to your loved ones. If you don’t–”

“If you touch them I will kill you, you hear me?” Chino’s voice. Desperate.

“…if you don’t, on the other hand”, the unarmed man resumes after a deep sigh, “I want you to know that the little circle you are trapped in right now is spacious compared to, say, a bottle. And I will put you in one and leave you on a dusty shelf if you don’t cooperate.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Chino sounds confused now, and afraid of that which he don’t understand. But Vanessa understands all too well. Ritualists. Damn. She starts walking faster.

The unarmed man laughs. “Oh, so you don’t know? There are many things I can do to you. I know you’re a djinn and that djinns can’t die, but there might be worse things than dying, you know. And I just so happen to have an entire catalog of such things. So be a good boy now and tell us where we can find Walter, and this whole unpleasant business will go away. Just like that.”

The man with the gun must have heard her approaching, because now he turns around with a surprised look on his face. He nervously re-aims his gun at her. “Mike, there’s someone –”

The man called Mike tears his eyes from Chino and turns to her, an irritated look on his face. “Look, lady”, he says. “We’re in the middle of something here, so if you could just–”

But Vanessa, the old-blood magician also known as Vahri, just waves her hand and the armed man’s gun is knocked out of his hand. “Shit, Mike, she’s a–” She reaches out, places her hand on his forehead and causes him to instantly slump to the ground. In the flash process of forcing his mind into temporary slumber she also learns his name. Pete. How convenient.

The one called Mike adapts quickly to this new turn of events. “Back off”, he commands as he swiftly reaches behind his back and draws a gun of his own. In the light of the moon she just about catches a glimpse of the arcane silver symbols engraved on its sides. Jeez, I don’t want to be shot with that thing.

Vanessa doesn’t back off, however. She’s tired of backing off – sick of it, actually. “Fuck you”, she says and snaps her finger. And his time stops. He doesn’t die, mind you – he just, well, stops. Frozen in one single moment the one called Mike can do nothing but stare as Vanessa, Vahri, steps forward and with her brand new golden Converse shoe smudges out part of the circle drawn in the dirt surrounding Chino.

“Come”, she says as Chino stumbles out of the broken circle. “Before they come to.”

“But… What did you do to him? And that one on the ground, is he…?” He is confused and scared and she has no patience for this at all.

“No, he’s just sleeping. Come on now. I’m not sure I can do this again any time soon.”

“Why? Are your… powers, like, used up?”

“No, stupid. I’m just not angry enough anymore. Hard to be, what with you looking like a lost puppy and all. Let’s go.” She walks a few paces, then stops. “On second though, well, fuck it.” She walks back towards Mike, who is still standing just as she left him. She gives him one of her wriest smiles, knowing that for the moment he can do nothing – but that he still sees and hears everything. “Big bad ritualists like you shouldn’t play with guns, hun. It doesn’t become you. Here, I’ll take care of that for you.” And with this she reaches out and plucks the engraved gun from his tattooed hand. The symbols make her shiver, but she hides it well. “Until next time, sugarplum”, she says, turns her back on him and walks away with Chino close behind her – just like a lost puppy.

She keeps the gun in her lap on their drive back to the city. She doesn’t trust it, doesn’t know it. But she likes the weight of it, and for some perverted reason the closeness to those dangerous runes thrills her. Makes her feel alive.

She doesn’t tell Chino that the car is stolen, or that he is stupid for using his True Name when he is so obviously stalked by hunters – especially when those same hunters seem to also be expert ritualists, and maybe something more as well. She doesn’t tell him much at all, actually. Because she has her own troubling thoughts to ponder. Thoughts that she is apparently young and stupid enough herself not to have thought until now, when the damage is already done. After the initial panicky babbling on Chino’s part it thus becomes very quiet in the car for several minutes.

“Vahri, I–”, he starts finally.

“Don’t thank me”, she interrupts him.

“I wasn’t going to, I–”

“Yes you were. You’re an open book to me. So don’t thank me, because I think I have just made everything so much worse than it already was.” She doesn’t take her eyes off the road, except for the flash moments when she scans the rear view mirror to make sure they are not being followed. Yet.

Chino casts her a frightened glance in the mirror. “What… what do you mean ‘worse’?”

“Just what it sound like, I’m afraid. Worse. I suggest you take your friend Ivers and check into some incognito hotel tonight. I have to check on Neferthali.”

“But–”

“Chino, those were not ordinary hunters, okay? They weren’t prepared this time, but next time they will be. And we can’t let them get the first strike when that happens.”

“You called him a ‘ritualist’… is that what you mean when you say ‘not ordinary’? Because not much of what happens to me nowadays is ordinary to me, and if you expect me to know stuff about–”

“Sorry for interrupting you all the time, but that’s the exact reason why you should listen to every word I say like they were quotes from the Bible. Well, or the Quran, if that’s what you prefer.”

“I’m not religious.”

This actually surprises her. For a heartbeat. “Alright, well, then you listen to me like I had the key to your maths test or whatever, okay? Whatever rolls for you. When I say you have to hide, you hide. Understand? And I suspect your friend has to hide as well, because now those hunters are pissed off and they won’t settle for truth anymore. They’ll go for dare. And in their dare, you die. Capish?”

A moment of slight hesitation. “Okay… I guess I’ll hide. For now. And I guess I’ll be able to stand Ivers. For a while. But you have to tell me what’s going on, Vahri. You said before that those hunters weren’t ‘ordinary’ hunters. What did you mean by that?”

She bites her lip. Just thinking about the possibility of her fears being true is making her feel sick. They were just supposed to be myths, ghost stories to scare young, reckless mages into submission with. Gods forbid, can they actually be real? “Did you see their tattoos?”, she says finally.

“Well, no”, he snaps back. “I was totally busy with not being killed or tortured or whatever sick stuff those people were threatening me with. Of course I should have paid better attention to their gang tattoos instead. But please enlighten me, were they of the Azusa 13, the Bloods or the Crips? Because that really makes a difference now, doesn’t it?”

She shoots him an angry glance, and he falls silent. “You fucking idiot, you haven’t grasped one thing I’ve told you so far, have you?” She takes a deep breath and chews at her thumb nail. “You’d be lucky if it was one of those gangs that came after you instead of what I suspect this is. Have you every heard of the Enjoyment Club?”

He opens his mouth to reply, then just shakes his head.

“No”, she sighs. “Of course you haven’t. I wouldn’t have, either, if it weren’t for my, well, special family conditions. Neferthali knows just about everything, and I guess she thought this was one of those things I needed to know as well. But I always thought… I never suspected that the Club was real. Never.”

“But… What is this club?” Chino must have picked up on her change in attitude, because now he sounds worried as well.

“The Club is… Well… If they’re real, it’s really, really bad.”

“What the fuck, Vahri, just tell me!” Fear is turning into anger now. An entirely human reaction, she observes.

She considers for a moment. “No”, she says.

“But–”

“I can’t tell you anything about them yet, because I don’t know how much of what I think I know is reality and how much of it is fairy tales and ghost stories. I have to find out more first. It might be that I’m entirely wrong, and then telling you about them would be just stupid in all ways. Give me a couple of days and I’ll find out more, okay?”

Chino doesn’t seem entirely pleased with this answer, but finally he nods. “Okay”, he says. “A couple of days. But after that I’m not hiding with Ivers any more, okay?”

She says nothing, just concentrates on the road until they are well within the city limits again. She lets him off outside his apartment, after making him promise to just go inside to pack the most important things – and then leave. Contact Ivers and go into hiding. He actually promises before disappearing into the darkness of the stairwell.

Vanessa herself lingers outside for a few minutes, until she sees the light go on in his apartment windows. Then she starts the not-exactly-stolen red Ferrari again and drives off into the dawning Los Angeles morning. I have to make sure Neferthali is okay, she thinks. And get that damned Ivers out of our home. He’s nothing more than trouble waiting to happen. And then… Then I’m not going to rest until I find out what the fuck all this is about.

And as she drives homeward for the last time in very long, she can’t yet possibly know that in a few days’ time she is actually going to look back on this very moment and wish to gods she never believed in that she had simply walked away and let this whole thing just be.


(Part IV of the story about Vanessa Riley can be found here.)

Chris Smedbakken, 2017-06-10

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

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

A Dream In Blue

It was late. Jonathan was late. He parked his car by the curb and drummed impatient rhythms on the wheel. Completing his errands had taken too long, and he had barely had time to get properly dressed before hurrying here. When she showed up in the doorway, however, he instantly thanked himself for sacrificing those extra moments in front of the mirror. She was a dream in blue and deserved far better than him, but at least he had given it his best.

He hurried out of the car and opened the door for her. Was awarded with a little kiss in return. He smiled, said the right things. He wanted her, had wanted her since they first met six days ago, but it was impossible and he knew it. It was part of who he was, of who she was. If she found out… No, he would be gone before she did, if she ever did. He wouldn’t be able to look into her eyes when that happened. Better enjoy it while it lasted and not think ahead. He returned to the driver’s seat and started the car again.

She told him about today’s rehearsal. She was a singer of some renown, and that was also how he had found her. He had heard her in concert the previous week and instantly known that she was the one. Long, dark hair, pale eyes and a voice to kill and be killed for. He knew the right people and they were introduced at a party two days later. They had met a couple of times since then. Coffees, dinners, even a movie. He had needed to get close to her, and as the days went by he had found himself wanting it as well.

He told her about his day, his work and his thoughts on tonight. The first consisted of vague generalities, the second of believable half truths and the last of outright lies. But she didn’t call his bluff and he found himself, again, enjoying talking to her. She didn’t judge, she didn’t measure and she didn’t demand. He had money, sure, but so did she and something told him that she wouldn’t mind overly much having to make due on a far more humble income. Everything about her was so different from what he was used to. He bit his lip and took a deep breath. He could not let himself fall in love with her. There really was no way.

As they approached the house he could see that several limousines and cabs had aldready been parked in the spacious driveway. All the windows were lit and through them could be seen glamorously dressed people mingling, drinking and dancing.

”Oh my god”, she laughed as he parked his car next to another of the same make. ”I can’t believe that you invited me to come with you here. This is amazing, thank you!”

”Don’t thank me”, he said as he opened the door on her side and helper her out.

”Don’t be humble”, she smiled and kissed him again, obviously misinterpreting his tone of voice. ”You’ll have to introduce me to everybody, I can’t imagine that I know anyone here.”

”I’ll introduce you to those who matter”, he said truthfully and tried not to feel, but it was hard.

They entered through the tall double doors and were instantly greeted by smiles and welcomes and enthusiasm. All fake, of course, and all according to the rules of play. He smiled back and shook hands and answered politely. They knew him very well, knew that he was below them but also that the one he worked for was not. Nobody would dare to touch him, but many would love to touch her. Luckily for him, she didn’t know this. Yet.

And she was lovely. She conversed delightfully with anyone she was introduced to, asked the right questions and laughed in the right places. She caught the attention of many, but it was when Albert Limestone – a corpulent man with a fondness for art and artists – began talking to her about potential bookings that Jonathan knew he had to get to the point with all this. He made an excuse and pulled her away from the crowd, and tried not to listen to her thrilled voice as she told him how happy she was to get to know all these new contacts. He had to do this before she killed his resolve entirely with her lovey smile and entrancing voice.

Jonathan found him at the top of the stairs. ”Tanya, here’s someone I’d like you to meet.” He led her to him, felt his pulse quicken at the sight of the predatory smile on the man’s lips when he looked at her. At the hunger and the fire in those dark eyes.

Stefán MacCormach took her hand and kissed it. ”It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tanya. My name is Stefán. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”

She smiled and blushed and Jonathan knew what effect those eyes must have on someone not used to meeting their gaze. Terrifying and exciting and deadly, and she had no idea.

”Nice to meet you”, she said. ”Are you a friend of Jonathan’s?”

Stefán laughed humorlessly. ”Not quite. Rather of his… employer, I would say. Now, if you would be so kind as to come with me, I will tell you everything about how I know Jonathan.” He grabbed the hand he had just kissed and started leading her away.

”But… Jonathan?” She tried to turn, but Stefán just shook his head and whispered something in her ear, and she followed him.

And Jonathan remained where he was, following them with his eyes until they were gone in the crowd. These people always got what they wanted, and he hated himself more than ever.

Dawn was approaching and the party would soon be over. People were leaving, and Jonathan was hoping to be allowed to drive Tanya back home. She would hate him, of course, but she would be safe. He had never harbored any illusions, he knew he would never see her again after tonight. There was no room for her in his life, anyway. But then he was called to the basement, and that’s when he knew.

She lay on the floor, unmoving and silent, but he saw that she was breathing. He felt sick as he stepped out of the ancient elevator and approached her. They were alone, but escape was not an option. Other things than fear prevented him from leaving this place.

Stefán had wanted a singer for the party, a dark haired beauty, someone whose laughter was clear and would be interesting for him to break. Jonathan had obliged, searched and delivered, as was always his job. Now the people above had decided that she had seen and heard too much and must be dealt with accordingly. That was why Jonathan was holding a knife.

He sat down beside her and stroked her hair. He couldn’t help himself, he had fallen for her. He didn’t want to do this, but when she looked up at him and screamed he slit her throat anyway just to silence her. Now she would never sing again.

Jonathan held her as she trashed and turned and fought and bled out. He had blood all over his hands and clothes when it was over and he just sat there for a moment, realizing what he had done. But it was late now, and his masters expected him to be done with this before daybreak. So he picked her up and carried her through the basement, past the boiler room and into the small corridor with the hatch and the secret room beneath it.

And it was not until he had lowered her body into the darkness and watched it disappear amongst the floating shadows that he sat down and cried. She had been a dream in blue, and he had betrayed her and killed her. He had known somewhere that Stefán would not let her go afterwards, that was not his way. He was merciless and impulsive and hungry, just as all the others of his kind. And Jonathan could have done nothing to save her, once he had led her into the predators’ den. He was just a servant, bound by blood to do his masters’ bidding. And now he would never hear her voice again.

But then the time came for the sun to rise, and Jonathan dried his tears. There was much to be done, and he could not afford to dwell on these feelings. He had to clean the basement, sleep briefly and then wake in the afternoon to prepare the house again for tomorrow night’s guests.

The Kindred were terrifying and deadly, and their world was a banquet where lives were served each night to quench their undying thirst for blood. Jonathan was their servant, and not just fear but also greed and hunger and ambition bound him to this place. There was no room in his life for regret, and there definitely was no room in it for love or for dreams in blue. The sun rose and life went on.

On Blood And Dreams II

This text works as a stand-alone, but if you want to read the first part you can find it here.


The brave new world she stalked through was filled with brave new lives and brave new loves, but not for her. Never for her. She would taste the warmth of innocent hearts and let it awaken in her for a moment memories of a time when she as well had felt and dreamed and hoped, only to leave them just as empty and dying afterwards as she had been left herself so long ago. But whilst the blankly staring eyes of these new lives were doomed to fade not long after she walked away, her own two eyes were cursed to remain forever open.

She saw cruelty, she saw suffering and death and all of these were far worse than the pain her own hunger and cold would ever be able to afflict upon a humanity that was slowly torturing itself into hardened submission.

Sometimes she took lives in the name of souls too defeated to extract their own vengeance upon murderers and oppressors. It was during such brief moments of chimeric justification that she came close enough to feeling to actually remember that the word had a meaning attached to it.

For the most part, however, she took lives in the name of her own vices and did not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent any more than the blind distinguish between light and darkness. It was during such moments of liberating numbness that she realized that feelings and principles were constructions belonging to the living, and that monsters such as herself were meant to thrive and thirst in the regretless shadows of apathy. And so she did, until the night when she heard again the words of a monster long dead being spoken into the night like painful phantoms of the past.

The boy was young, but still older than she herself had been when the night had swallowed her heart and slowly begun hollowing her from the inside. He had dreams in his eyes and fight in his voice when he recited verses forgotten by the new world but remembered in the hearts of lovers and warriors, and she stood in the shadows and waited and hated as memories too painful to keep but too precious to lose struggled towards the frozen surface of her soul.

His borrowed words were embraced by those who heard him speak and she realized that he was known and loved and respected for knowing and speaking them. She also realized that he had broken something inside of her by doing so, something that was bleeding and would not mend on its own.

Mad with memory she stalked him through the night. She learned his name and his passions and saw him dance and laugh and live. He was a poet and a dreamer, but unlike the monster whose words he worshiped he was no thief and would not steal another’s heart unless freely given. She realized she saw in him something she had vainly looked for in her long dead killer and lover, and she hated him for it because the thought frightened her more than she wished to admit.

Nights went by and unseen she followed him through them even as the wound inside of her kept bleeding. For full a year she listened as he spoke the words of others and of his own, and watched him struggle with life and words and dreams. She was drawn to him in ways that she could not explain and for a time forgot to be the thirsting monster in the regretless shadows.

But time affected him as it did all mortals, and she heard his words and thoughts growing heavier and deeper for each moon that passed. The dreamer boy was turning into a man, and she knew that soon he would be old and withering and dying. His inspired words and dreams would slowly harden into pragmatic philosophy and then he would die, like they all did.

But he had made her feel, if only just so slightly. She knew that the uncaring apathy was ready to embrace her again, but having seen the light anew through this living thing she knew she would have to die all over again if she let it. So in order to save her mind and her memory of a soul from drowning, she stepped out of the shadows.

She stared into his eyes, she touched his face and she watched cold realization creep over him. Then she snapped his neck and drank his blood and listened as he drew his final, chocked breath.

And as she watched him die she slit her own wrist and let the red darkness pass from her to him. He would never grow old and die, and his words and dreams would never change.

“I have all the time in the world”, she whispered as life left him and made room for something new. ”Make me love you.”


This is the second part of an installment of three. It was inspired by a writing prompt, and you can find the first part here. Stay tuned for the third and final part, and feel free to leave comments!