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A FALL TO AN ASCENSION

A Fall To An Ascension

I have always been clumsy.  As I lie here looking up at the broken stained-glass window, the thought won’t stop repeating itself in my mind.  I was clumsy when I was alive, and I have been clumsy for the entire time since.  That’s not to say that my clumsiness hasn’t had its benefits; I wouldn’t have been made into what I am had I not been clumsy.  I never would have attracted his attention.  But, as it is, here I lie, staring up at the broken stained-glass window high above me in this church, the last place on earth I will ever see.  And all I can think is, I have always been clumsy.

            It’s ironic really, to think that I, an immortal, will not have lived an entire human life before I die.  I imagine he would find this rather hilarious.  Solomon, the one who gave me this life after death.  He told me just after my transformation that he had been watching me for some time.  He’d seen me working the night shift at the old construction yard on 27th St, seen me continuously dropping things on my feet or banging my head into beams of iron or steel.  When he followed me to my home at the end of my shifts, he said it was “deliciously funny” to see me trip and fall on my porch steps.  He believed I did it at least once every three nights, though I’m sure this is an exaggeration.  He said the thought of a vampire as clumsy as me brought tears to his eyes.  The idea was “too rich” for him to pass over, so he took it upon himself to persuade me into wanting it. 

            I remember it clearly.  Before my birth into this new life, I was a wreck of a human.  Early in my life, I had been bad at schoolwork, and I couldn’t seem to understand what appeared to come so easily for the other kids.  I struggled with high school, but managed to graduate on time.  Upon my rejection from every college to which I applied, I was forced to begin working very early.  My father saw me as a failure, and promptly kicked me out of the house.  Having nowhere to go, I moved into the city, a place so filthy and full of twisted people that from the moment I got there I was making plans to leave.  I jumped from job to job, working as a custodian, a mechanic, a garbage collector, and a host of others before finally coming to construction.  Each job I undertook seemed to grow weary of me after only a few months, and I was fired from them all.  The construction job was my last hope before I would have been out of money and forced to go... somewhere.  I don’t know where I would’ve gone.  I was completely alone in the depths of a city so dark and dirty I could hardly remember the last time I had seen the sun unobstructed by a thick layer of smog and clouds that would rain down water sometimes capable of eating away the metal statues in the park.  Worse than this, I was on the lowest rung in the hierarchy of the city.  My neighborhood was a war zone, I had barely enough money to keep my tiny apartment, and I was eating only two meals a day with nothing between.  Women wouldn’t talk to me, I didn’t have money to drink, and each day I could think of fewer reasons why I should even get out of bed.  I was living in a nightmarish haze.  I felt dead.

            At my lowest point, when I was struggling every minute of every day to find a reason to survive, he came to me.  I was walking home from work and the sun, or rather, the impression of the sun behind the curtain of clouds, had already set.  Thinking about the argument I’d had with my boss before being allowed to leave, I didn’t notice at first the strangely pale man staring at me from an alley.  When I did, I picked up my pace to avoid him.  I heard no footsteps, but when I reached the next alleyway, he was there again, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets, a smirk in the corner of his mouth.  Those wide, glaring eyes were fixed on me.  I started to run, crossing the street even, but around the next corner, he was waiting.  My heart began beating more quickly and I reached into my pocket. 

            “I have no need of your money,” he said.

            “What do you want then?” I asked.  “Get out of here.”

            He laughed at me, this tall, slender man with blond hair reaching his chest and eyes of the most brilliant blue.  “You have no need to fear me.”

            “What do you want?” I asked again, preparing to defend myself.  I scanned the streets hoping to find someone nearby.  I doubted they would have helped me even if there had been.

            “I want you,” he said. 

“Sorry, Pal.  I’m straight.”

When he laughed again, I took the opportunity to run for my apartment as fast as I could.  I reached my building fumbling for my keys, but he was already there, not even breathing heavily. 

            “That wasn’t very polite,” he said.  I screamed into the night for help, but I knew anyone who heard would just lock their doors.  This man could rob me and stab me in the heart, and the grime of the city would simply swallow up my body, leaving my suffering unknown to the indifferent people of this horrible place. 

            “I’m not going to stab you in the heart,” the man said.  “I want to give you something.  Something beyond your wildest dreams.” 

            “I don’t want anything from you,” I said.  His skin in the faint moonlight was eerily luminescent, and I noticed how absolutely smooth it was, like the stone of a statue. 

            “You don’t like your job at the construction site, and you’re unhappy in your life outside the job as well. You want a release from it more than anything else.  I am offering you that release.  Not only that, but I am offering you the chance to become someone important, someone powerful, in control his own destiny.  You’ll never have to work for anyone else ever again, and not even death will hold authority over you.  You will be...perfect.”

            I was at a loss for words.  How did this beggar know of my job, or my life?  I stuttered a reply to the offer to buy some time, something about the man being a scam artist.  I felt the key to my front door slide into my fingers and as quickly as I could I had the door open and was inside.  I looked out the window, but the man was gone, vanished as swiftly as he had appeared.  I breathed a sigh of relief to be free of him, but my heart was racing, and I had never been so afraid in all my life.  I thanked God for my safe escape, the voicing of gratitude to God being the first time since confirmation that I seriously meant it, though I wasn’t sure if God existed or not anymore. 

But I didn’t know then that the man would return, not once but many times, each time offering me more and more of the power and freedom I so desired. 

            His promises became better and better each night, and each night he added to the offer as if he would not relent until I gave in.  Riches beyond my wildest reckoning, women in every city in the world falling helplessly into my lap, a luxurious mansion on the coast of the ocean, the ability to scale walls with my bare hands, the power of seduction and manipulation contained in my eyes, the gift of flight.  All these and more did he offer me, and I continually rejected him.  But each time he spoke to me it was as if the possibilities grew larger and larger in my mind, and slowly, he was wearing me down.  He told me long stories about his own power, of his dominance over every other living thing in the city, and the luxurious life that he led because of this power.  He showed me the way he could hover in the air at will, and he would simply look at women we passed and they would be at his side begging him to take them with us.  I was not a fool.  I was afraid of the things he showed me, but I also wished for nothing more than to be free of my horrid life, and the man’s offer was so alluring, so unbelievably tempting.  Even in my dreams he was there, showing me displays of the power he promised and begging my trust.  It lasted almost two months this way; the man appearing to me every night as I walked home from my job, speaking to me of power and dominance, freedom and independence, never having to worry about money again, being able to do anything I pleased. 

            At the end of those two months, I could fight him no longer.  His words were so full of everything I needed to hear, as if he were taking the ideas straight from my mind to convince me.  I finally agreed to him, being able to live my life no longer in the conditions I had been living.  He followed me home from my job that last night, and I invited him into my apartment.  As soon as the door was closed, he was upon me.  He’d moved so swiftly I was still clutching my keys as we sank to the floor.  My mind reeled, my muscles let go their struggle, and I felt the sweet numbing of death caressing my body.  He spilled not a drop, then let a few drops of blood fall onto my tongue from his wrist.  The warmth I felt was indescribable, and without a thought I was sucking back from him the life he’d stolen, my life, feeling every inch of my own body tingle with its return.  He separated us when he could stand it no longer, and for a moment I was in agony as my body let loose all the waste and products of life which it no longer needed.  Then I was a creature of the night.  I felt more alive than I had in years, and I felt powerful beyond anything I’d ever known.  It lasted only a few hours.  After that, I quickly proved myself to be the “clumsiest and most pathetic vampire in the history of the world,” as Solomon took to calling me. 

In the beginning, Solomon taught me the few tricks of the trade to keep myself alive, taught me the myths about our kind and the contradictory truths behind them.  He taught me to hunt, though he spent most of his time laughing at me as I struggled to control my newfound powers and got myself into more difficult situations than I thought any vampire before me could possibly have done.  He stayed for only a few months in which he coerced me into places where my clumsiness would provide him the most enjoyment, and then he was gone.  Vanished as abruptly as he’d come.  I was a song overplayed, a film seen too many times, and his interest had departed.  It took only a few nights for me to realize all his promises of the perfect life were dissolved and gone with him.  I had nothing more than I’d had when he first appeared to me, only I could no longer walk outside during the day.  I was left to wallow in my eternal life, and I felt as though I had somehow given up my soul for naught but a title and a pair of fangs.  I can’t help feeling that he’s still around though, flitting from shadow to shadow, watching me and laughing as I repeatedly rob myself of kills by tripping at the wrong times or giving my presence away in my clumsiness.  I’m sure he’s watched my every botched attempt at wooing women to my home, as when I spilled an entire bottle of wine on a young woman who was five minutes away from letting me take her home.  I’m sure he’s seen every clumsy thing I’ve ever done.  All except this one; the one that tops everything else.

            The church that surrounds me, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on Main St., is very nice compared to most I’ve been in.  The place is dark, though I can sense that the sun is rising steadily outside.  The inside of this church is very ornate, classical, with relics of Christian iconography everywhere.  The smell of incense lingers on the air, though it is only early Friday morning.  The altar is big, with a large depiction of the crucifixion of Christ hanging on the wall just behind it.  It’s the traditional version of the event, with Christ’s head lolling to the right of his body, Mary crying out standing on the ground below him.  The disciple John is there as well, though he doesn’t appear to be crying.  It is fitting that in this city they chose a scene of suffering for the altar instead of Christ warmly opening his arms to the congregation.  Going out from the altar into the rest of the church are the long rows of pews, the knee-stands folded neatly against their backs.  I’m lying on the cold stone floor in the center aisle, the shattered glass of the window above all around me.  As I look around, I can see that decorating the walls of this place are cold, white marble statues of the saints, their frozen, dead stares not unlike my own.  They can move no more than I, and their stone-carved, emotionless faces are much like mine; smooth and cold, lifeless as corpses.  The only real difference between those statues and me is that I was once alive, while they have stood frozen the way they are now since some unrecognized artist chiseled them from their prisons of stone.  I say that I was once alive as though I’m dead already, and the reality is, that’s not far from the truth.  But for now, I can assure you I am not dead just yet.  No, instead I am somewhere between the light of life and the darkness of death, or in my case the darkness of life and the light of death.  I lie here and stare at the ceiling, the ceiling that seems so high above me it would be impossible to reach.  The mere fact that I fell from that high place somewhat dumbfounds me.  The large circle on the ceiling directly above me is a broken stained-glass window, a large image of Christ upon it, his hands cupping the hole in the window’s center I made as I plunged through it.  Apparently not even Christ himself could prevent my falling.  There he is, looking down at me from above, a smile on his face that puzzles me.  I can’t decide if that smile is there because he’s glad I’m dying in a painful way, or that I found him in my final moments.  That was always the thing that left me uneasy about religion; the uncertainty of the meanings behind things.  It seemed that every time God gave man a command or told him some important thing crucial to man’s salvation, the wording God used left a lot of room for question, and he never clarified himself.   I had faith in God of course, but how were we on earth to obey the commands of God if we weren’t sure what the commands really were?  As a human I’d attended church and had been brought up in “the ways of God.”  I was confirmed and led my life the best I could according to the teachings I had learned from the church, but once I became a vampire, I didn’t see the point anymore.  Didn’t the legends say I was damned just for being a vampire?  Either way, I won’t spend these final moments of my life pondering faith and the unknown.  No, instead I fixate my attention on the hole I created in the window high above me.  It’s through that hole that I feel the nearing of the dawn, and the end of me. 

            As I look up at the hole, the memories of last night come flooding back to me.  The choosing of my would-be victim, the pursuit of my prize, and ultimately, my long fall to where I lie now.  Oh, how I had wanted to taste her blood, to fill my veins with her life.  But it was not to be, and instead I am here, in Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, with a large piece of wood from the window above piercing me through the heart.  I know how strange that must sound, a vampire with a wooden stake in his heart lying here, not yet dead.  The image of my kind one gets from movies and books will say that wood through the heart is a sure way to kill us, resulting in our bodies burning up, or exploding into a cloud of ashes.  I can assure you this is not the case, though now I wish it were.  In truth, wood through the heart simply paralyzes my kind, making it possible to burn or behead us without a fight.  These are the only ways to kill a vampire, these and sunlight, which seems to be how I’m going to exit this world.  Actually, thinking more on it, paralyzed is the wrong word.  I can move my arms and legs a bit, though it is excruciatingly painful to do so, and I can move my head a little.  I simply can’t move from my position on the floor.  You might envision it in terms of a crime scene.  The dead guy can’t move out of his chalk outline, and neither can this one.  So revised, I suppose my statement should be that wood through the heart severely retards a vampire’s movement, allowing for only minimal movement.  That almost sounds like something out of a textbook.  Perhaps I should have recorded a book of the things I’ve learned about vampires from my time as one of them.  I could have made a fortune that way.  I suppose it doesn’t matter now; my end is drawing near.  I can see the first rays of sunlight coming over the lip of the hole in the window high above me.  The light is trickling into the church now, illuminating the wall above the altar up near the ceiling.  I can already feel its heat on my skin, and I know that as the sun climbs higher in the sky, that spot of light coming through the hole will creep down the wall towards me, bringing me closer and closer to my inevitable incineration.  The funny thing is that thought does not scare me.  No, for now I’m at ease with watching the sunlight slowly make its way down the wall.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the sunlight, and though it burns my skin a bit already, it is a sight I have sorely missed.  So I will lie here, and remember the night that led me here, something to keep my mind off the scorching death that grows closer with each passing second.

            I awoke from my daytime slumber around 7:30 p.m.  The sun was below the horizon, but a bit of its light was still in the western part of the sky, a faint orange color on the clouds which turned dark blue by the time it met the ground again in the east.  Though it was a Thursday night, the city was buzzing with life.  The sounds of traffic and the milling about of the denizens of the city reached my ears from the moment I rose from my coffin.  As I stepped outside into the night air, the scent of blood on the gentle breeze stirred something within me, the creature of the night I had become.  I stood on the front porch of my small home, and listened to the sounds of the night for awhile.  One can always find the hot spots for hunting in the city by listening for the shouts and yells of a crowd.  Solomon told me that when he first made me, but I tend to believe I would have figured it out on my own.  Standing there on the porch leaning against the rotted banister, the soft wind cooling my skin, I watched a group of young people walk by, probably heading for the bars to get drunk before continuing on to some stranger’s house where they’d crash for the remainder of the night, to sleep or to take part in other affairs in which I, as a vampire, am no longer able to partake.  Then they’d wake in the morning, or more likely the afternoon of the next day, to drag themselves home, where the cycle would begin again.  Early in my life as a member of the so-called undead, I followed one such young man throughout a full weekend of binge drinking and getting laid at parties by girls he had just met.  When I had eventually decided to take him, I introduced myself and made conversation with him to gain his trust.  It was during this conversation he made it clear through his answers to my questions that he could only scarcely remember the events of the previous two nights to that one. 

            “Hello, Adam,” I had said, and in his drunken state he didn’t question the fact that I had read his mind to learn his name. 

            “What’s goin on?” he replied. 

            “I wondered if you’d like to come to a party I’m throwing.  There will be girls there from the party you were at last night.  I seem to remember you quite enjoyed the company of a young lady named Sarah.  Perhaps you might bring her with you.”

            He grunted and took a gulp of beer, replying, “I don’t know any Sarah.  You must have had a few too many tonight, Pal.” 

            “You don’t remember her?” I asked, seeing if he was simply avoiding the memory.  “She was the one with black hair, shoulder-length.  She had deep brown eyes and was wearing a gray sweater-vest, at least until you got your hands on her.”  I said that last with a wink and a nudge on his shoulder.

            “Look Buddy, I don’ know no Sarah, alright?” he replied, disgusted with me but not because he remembered her.  He didn’t, and therefore couldn’t know of the fear she now felt, having forgotten to use protection in their drunken lust.

            “Perhaps I was mistaken,” I said, now sure of my desire to take him.  “Either way, come to my party.  It’s starting in an hour.  I promise it will be a good time.” 

            I gave him a card with the address of a house I had “inherited” from one of my richer victims, and making sure he knew how to get there, I left him alone at the bar.  I remained where I could watch him without him seeing me though, for I wanted to make sure he would come.  Sure enough, after forty-five minutes, he rose and headed for the door, card in hand.   

            Later in the night as I drank his life, his body still quivering in my embrace, I had wondered to myself if it was truly a life worth ending in such a glorious manner.  His blood ran down my throat to fill my stomach, so warm and filling that I lost myself in the sensation.  My mind swam with the blood, and I could stand no longer.  Sinking to the floor, careful not to spill a single drop, I laid down next to Adam as I continued to drink.  The feeling is unlike anything else.  His life becoming mine and his soul escaping this place, freed of its mortal prison.  In that way, I was happy I had chosen Adam.  But as I drank, I couldn’t help feeling as though his corrupt nature was somehow being absorbed into my veins along with the blood.  So many times had I tasted the blood of the people in the city, the creatures only adding to the dirt and grime rather than cleaning any away, and each time I worried that my own soul was suffering for it.  How many horribly unclean lives could I take before I became as tainted as were they?  My victims often disgusted me, and were it not for the indescribable ecstasy that came with their blood, I should have wished to stop drinking it altogether.  How could these people go through life this way?  In more ways than one these people, “the hope for tomorrow,” were more dead than I.  And yet, here I was, watching them once again walk past my house to enter the bars of the city, to add more dirt to the already filthy world around us, as if they were cattle being led to the slaughter.

            After about half an hour of standing there listening to the wind, I decided to head for Charles St.  It sounded like there was an outdoor music festival going on, an event which promised big turnouts of single young people.  But it was not them I was hunting.  No, the young drunk kid had been one of my last “innocent” victims, and I use the term loosely in his case.  Instead, I decided to concentrate my hunting on those who were criminals or would willingly bring harm upon someone else.  Call it what you will, an excuse for my killing, a justification for my ending a life, whatever you want.  The fact is that I just enjoy taking the life of these people knowing I’m ridding the city of evil, however small my impact might be, and it is well known that criminals flock to the outdoor events around here for some easy pick-pocketing and other petty crimes against the masses.  It was there I decided to find my prey. 

             On the corner of Charles St. and 64th, there is a small grassy area with a raised platform in the center of the field that serves as a stage for local bands and such to play for any who will listen.  The place has spawned a few groups into stardom, so it is an important event for the members of these bands when a music festival is held.  I saw seven or eight bands still waiting for their turn to play as I arrived.  Dressed in black dress pants, a white silk shirt, and an open black suit coat, I was a bit overdressed for the crowd of t-shirt and blue jean-clad youth.  I unbuttoned a few of the top buttons on my shirt and untucked it, fitting myself into the fad sweeping the area lately.  My long hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and I let it down to match my attire, the strands of brown falling to just below my shoulders.  All around me, sitting or laying in the grass, were about three or four hundred young adults, the average age of the group probably somewhere around twenty-three.  There were some younger ones, in their late teens probably, hoping they could mingle with the crowd and get their hands on a few drinks without anyone noticing.  By contrast, there were also some older ones, most likely the high school and college grads trying to relive their years in school by partying as kids again. 

            I looked over the crowd, using my heightened senses to smell the fear or hear the accelerated heartbeats of those who planned to be a little less than good before the night was through.  They were my bread and butter victims, please excuse the pun.  So far though, it seemed that this crowd was pretty innocent.  Either that, or the reek of alcohol and a bit of marijuana was masking the more natural chemicals in the air.  I made my way through the mass of people, all swaying in time to an amateur version of an old U2 song.  Not a whiff of fear could be found among the crowd, save for the small amount the next band in line was producing.  I continued to move throughout the crowd unnoticed for the most part, except for my tripping on a beer bottle during my second pass, eliciting drunken laughter from the nearby twenty-somethings.  It was not until my third pass however, that I saw her. 

            It’s a bit embarrassing to say, but my would-be prey for the night actually found me.  I had just walked through a group of about seven guys, all of whom toting cans of beer in those plastic helmets with the straws, when I noticed a young woman staring at me through the crowd.  She was very attractive, and I guessed her age to be about twenty-one or twenty-two.  Her white-blond hair combined with her beautifully fair skin gave her an ethereal quality, almost a glow of her own among the bright, flickering lights of the stage.  Her hair was full and thick, dropping down to end in wavy curls just above her breasts.  She was dressed in a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and tight blue jeans with matching holes on each of her thighs.  I remember thinking to myself how pure and innocent she looked, and this immediately excluded her from the group I consider to be my choice victims.  But there was something in her eyes that pulled me towards her.  Big, bright blue eyes looked at me from her slender face, as if pleading with me to go over and talk to her.  I couldn’t do it though.  I was here to free the soul of a criminal, a bad person, not to entertain a beautiful girl.  I looked away from her and scanned the crowd for my preferred prey, but I could not seem to keep my gaze from returning to her.  It was when she smiled at me that I lost control and made my way to her side.

            I should never have gone to her.  I was a vampire, a creature of the night, a slayer of humans; I was not the young man my looks deceivingly made me out to be.  I did not want to drink of this girl.  Why was I even bothering to talk to her?  And yet, there I was, introducing myself to Laurel.  That was her name.  Her voice was light and airy as she spoke, and she smiled at just about everything I said.  She seemed as though nothing in the world had ever stripped her of a moment’s happiness.  There was something wrong though, something that was too perfect.  She didn’t fit in with the crowd around her, and she had no friends anywhere that I noticed.  Still, the allure of her scent and her beauty was overpowering, and I did not want to leave her.  She and I talked for most of the night, the music around us changing as band after band took their turn on stage.  Laurel had me so entranced by her that I almost forgot about the thirst in my veins.  It was as if her voice alone were sustaining the dwindling supply of blood that coursed through my body.  I knew that had I still been a human male, my plans for the night would have been made.  But I was not, and although I did not wish to end my time with her, I knew I needed to drink soon.  I looked around us for the first time since introducing myself to Laurel, and I noticed that the crowd was almost completely gone, and those who were still there were either too drunk to walk home, or passed out where they lay.  What a fool I was!  I had let this woman, this mortal woman, keep my attention for so long that I had missed my chance to catch an evil soul at work.  I could not drink the alcohol-laden blood of these people.  It was then about 2:30 am, and the sun would be rising in just three hours.  That was definitely not enough time for a clean, well-planned kill.  I was going to have to force death upon someone that night. 

            As I thought about where I could find a cruel person at work at 2:30 in the morning, the most unexpected thing happened.  Laurel put a soft, warm hand on my cheek, and she actually asked me to accompany her home.  I think it was then, looking at this perfectly beautiful woman, her warm hand on my icy cheek, that I first wanted her.  It was a stirring inside, and then the wanting for her spread through me.  I’m not talking about a human lusting, as in a sexual desire.  Since my birth into darkness, I have been incapable of desiring anything sexually, for I am ill-equipped in my vampiric state to perform that act.  No, this was a much deeper wanting.  Actually, thinking more on it, it was not unlike a human lusting, I suppose.  I wanted to have her in my arms, her neck spread wide and my fangs penetrating her skin, her blood being spilt for me.  One could see that as a sort of sexual metaphor, if one were so inclined.  But where it became a deeper wanting was that I wanted our hearts to beat as one in that mystical rhythm as her life ran down my throat and became my own.  I wanted to have her so completely that her life would literally sustain mine.  I wanted to set her soul free, to help it escape the dark, dirty world so it would never be tainted by its surroundings.  I had seen the vileness of the city, and I knew goodness such as hers could not survive in a setting where evil and hatred reigned supreme.  All this I felt in my wanting of her, and I agreed to go to her home. 

            We walked down Charles to Howell Drive, then to Grand Ave., and finally to Main.  All the while we had walked hand-in-hand, as if lovers out for an early morning stroll.  I felt a bit guilty that this wonderful person was leading me by the hand to her own death, but my wanting of her still burned strongly within me.  It turned out that Laurel lived in a building which was adjacent to a church.  Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, a fair-sized medieval-looking establishment that reminded me of pictures I’d seen of the grander churches of Europe.  They were beautiful and gigantic, truly awe-inspiring buildings.  This was nowhere near those in comparison, but still, a nice looking church for this part of the city.  Its spires reached high up towards heaven, if there is such a place, as if a penitent man throwing his arms up to God.  Looking at the church, I wondered what it said of the world that both buildings surrounding it were taller than the church’s highest spire by at least three floors.  Laurel unlocked the door to her building and pulled my hand, leading me inside.  Down the hall and to the right were the elevators, and once inside one, Laurel keyed the 12th floor.  There was no thirteenth floor in this building; 12 was the highest residential floor, with fourteen being used for storage.  The elevator was a bit shaky on the way up, creaking as it went.  Laurel told me it was only like that going up; the way down was a quick, smooth ride. 

            Once on the twelfth floor, Laurel led me to room 66.  On each side of the golden numbers was a small wooden placard in the shape of a bookend hanging on the door.  Laurel was telling me how she loved the building’s view of the city, how she had acquired the room, and other things about her past in the building.  Honestly, at that point I wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying.  The bloodlust inside me was almost overpowering, and even the simple warmth of her hand in mine was fixating my concentration.  It seemed as if unlocking the door took her forever, but soon enough we were in her apartment.

            The apartment was not big by any means, the whole of it only two rooms, a small bathroom, and an even smaller kitchenette.  There were three floor-to-ceiling windows, which was nice, but still, the place was small.  I guessed that for a single, young woman it was big enough, though it made me appreciate my own house even more. Laurel went into the bedroom, leaving me in the living room.  I saw before she disappeared into the room that there was a large crucifix hanging on her bedroom wall.  It looked very similar to the one hanging around her neck on a small gold chain.  I remember being afraid of the first crucifix I had seen after my turning, much to Solomon’s delight.  I had seen too many movies where the vampires burned up from gazing at a crucifix, and I did not want to be one of them.  I quickly learned crucifixes do not hurt my kind.  I walked over to the window and looked out.  From the apartment, I could see much of the downtown area, for the moment still dark, though I knew the sun was only about an hour and a half below the horizon.  Looking straight down, I saw that Laurel’s apartment faced the church next door, the roof of which was about four floors down.  Contained within the thickness of the angled roof were two big circles of stained-glass.  Rose windows, I believe they are called, though these were not designed to look like the petals of a flower.  From that high vantage point I couldn’t tell what the pictures on them were, since the windows’ brightly-colored sides faced into the interior of the church.  Just above the glass of the window, beams of wood criss-crossed each other, bracing the roof’s frame around the windows.  I supposed the beams allowed the sun’s light to shine through the windows while still keeping the roof structurally stable. 

            I turned from the window of the apartment at the smell of Laurel’s blood in the air behind me.  She was standing in her bedroom doorway, one arm bracing itself against the doorframe, the other bent at her side, her hand lying on her trim waist.  She had changed her shirt and now wore a white halter-top, her perfectly formed midriff exposed, as well as nearly her entire arms.  I recalled a few images of the sexual fantasies I had as a human adolescent.  When I didn’t say anything, Laurel giggled in a girlish way and approached me.  She put her arms around my neck and smiled, asking why I was so quiet all of a sudden.  Her body was pressed tightly against mine, her warmth enveloping me and making me realize how long it had been since I’d last fed.  I literally ached for her.  Her sweet smell filled my nose, and had I had my mouth open, I probably would have started to drool.  She stood on her toes and gently kissed me, sinking back then so her big blue eyes could gaze into mine, as if inviting me to make a move of my own.  Then, to top it off, she actually laid her head on my shoulder, exposing her slender neck to me as her hair fell away from it.  She was unconsciously giving herself to me, and not in the way she was thinking.  My lips parted and lifted away from my teeth, my fangs fully exposed for the first time all night.  I bent my neck to put my mouth on hers, kissing her skin gently.  She warmed to me instantly, squeezing me tighter and whispering a soft sound of pleasure.  She was not going to stop me, even if she knew what was coming.  I prepared to take her life.

            Strangely enough, I found I couldn’t do it.  It was as if her very innocence barred me from taking even a drop of her life.  My fangs were bared and ready, she was not going to prevent me from biting her, and yet, I could not bring myself to do it.  In that moment, my resolution to take only the lives of those who are cruel came back to me, and holding Laurel in that fashion, I realized I admired her too much to harm her.  I didn’t love Laurel or anything like that, but I admired what she represented—that rare innocence and purity that is so hard to find.  I tried convincing myself that the fact she was giving her body to me in a sexual manner stained her purity, and that she might be some sort of beautiful prostitute or something who only appeared innocent on the outside.  But it was no use.  No prostitute could look or feel as pure as she did.  I could sense when a girl was involved in that sort of work.  I could smell the men on the prostitutes I had killed in my day.  I also doubted a prostitute would have a crucifix in her bedroom.  But it was more than the outward look and feel of her that kept my teeth from entering her veins.  It was a feeling inside me, as if she was radiating goodness, and try as I might, I could not hurt her.

            Disgusted with myself for even thinking to take this woman’s life, I pulled my head away from her neck and closed my mouth.  Laurel’s head rose from my shoulder and she looked into my eyes.  She asked me what was wrong, and I told her that it just didn’t feel right.  Surprisingly, she didn’t seem hurt by that.  She almost seemed relieved.  Laurel hugged me tightly, and I returned the gesture.  She kissed me gently on the lips, then let go of me to go into the kitchenette, but as she turned, she dragged her foot, moving the rug under our feet, and tapped my chest with her hand.

            I said before that I was clumsy.  As the rug moved, my feet went with it, and in that unbalanced state, Laurel’s tap on my chest tipped me backwards.  I managed to take one step back before completely losing my footing.  I fell backwards and crashed through Laurel’s window, falling out of her twelfth story apartment.  Laurel didn’t scream as I fell, and neither did I.  Instead, I watched the tiny glass shards falling around me, how they glittered in the pre-dawn light.  They reminded me of falling stars.  One third of the glass that made up Laurel’s windows was falling beside me like a group of falling stars.  I wasn’t too worried about the fall; my vampiric body would heal itself in my daytime slumber.  The thing I didn’t think of though, was the church between myself and the ground. 

            I hit the church roof hard, and my body broke through three wooden beams before crashing into one of the circular stained-glass windows, pieces of each object I hit plummeting with me into the church.  Once inside the church, it was still seven floors before I hit the ground, the various pieces of things I broke through landing all around me.  As I landed, the sound of my body colliding with the hard stone floor echoed throughout the church, the snap of bones breaking mixed with the high-pitched tinking of the falling glass ringing out as well.  I was lying on my back and positive I had broken something in my spine, because I couldn’t move.  Slowly, and very painfully, I found I could move my arms, and I started feeling myself to find which bones had broken.  It was when I was gently prodding my chest for broken ribs that I discovered the large piece of wood from one of the beams I had broken through.  It was coming up through my chest, and I knew immediately from its position that it had stabbed clear through my heart.  I had actually managed to stab myself through the heart with a wooden stake.  Did I not say that I was clumsy?

            My thoughts return to the present and I can only chuckle at the irony of my situation.  I am an immortal vampire, slayer of hundreds of people, stronger than three men put together, and yet here I am, lying paralyzed in a church waiting for the sun’s light to reach me, ending my life in a burning flame.  A fitting end for Solomon’s gag-reel.  He guessed after making me that I would not last one year as a vampire.  I am proud to say that I at least proved him wrong; it has been about fifteen. 

            I hear someone entering the church somewhere behind me.  What a surprise they’re in for when they see me here.  Imagine a priest coming in and finding a bloody vampire inside his church.  I slowly move my head to see who is approaching, and standing there in the doorway is my vision of beauty, Laurel.  She sighs and comes to my side, kneeling next to me.  Taking up my hand, she says, “You did well.”  What does she mean?  I did well by falling twelve floors into a church to die?  Laurel smiles her lovely smile and says, “No.  You were tested last night, and you did well at the test.”  I look at her, confused, and she puts a hand on my cheek, the warmth of it feeling wonderful on my face.  Laurel says, “I know what you are.  I knew the second I saw you what you are.  It is my job here to find those like you, to test their souls to see if they are still worth saving.”  Worth saving for whom?  Laurel smiles again and without saying anything at all, simply looks up at the stained-glass window high above us.  God?  God is going to save me?  I’m going to heaven now?  Me, the murderer of countless lives?  Laurel’s eyebrows go up as she looks at me, like when a parent is trying to mask the truth from their child.  With that look of knowing, she says, “That is for him to decide.”  I look back up at the image of Christ, the sunlight coming through the hole now almost at my feet.  Laurel says, “You were going to die this morning either way.  I was to give you your last chance to do something good, to show that there is still a soul within you.  For so very long you have been living as if you have forgotten him, but he never forgot you.  I was sent here to see if you had truly forgotten him, or if you were simply blinded by the one who made you this way.  The world has become a place full of temptation and evil is present all around.  You were tempted by Solomon, and you let yourself be taken by him, but I was to find out if you had also given up your soul.  I know that you did well, but as to where you’re going, I cannot say.  That is always up to him to decide.”  As I lie here and look up at Laurel, the circle of light on the wall now behind her head, I realize for the first time what she is. 

            I turn my gaze upward towards the window, and look at Christ’s smile again, only this time as I look, it seems completely benevolent.  I feel as though a cloth which was draped over my eyes when I was born into darkness has been pulled away, and I see the image of Christ more clearly now.  My worry about where I’m going now slowly disappears, and instead I feel a sense of peace.  As I smile back at the image, I silently pray for forgiveness; forgiveness for all I’ve done, and all I’ve said against him.  Most important of all though, I pray for his mercy.  As the light moves again, Laurel squeezes my hand and closes her eyes.  I take it as a good sign— I don’t feel a thing as the light touches my toes, and my skin starts on fire.           

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