True Immortality: The First Chapter

Dear Readers:

What follows is the first chapter of my full-length novel, True Immortality. I will soon publish the entire manuscript on Amazon Kindle. If you enjoy the excerpt below, please look for the full novel or contact me for more details on how to find and download it. If you enjoy vampire fiction, and believe that vampires should be frightening, read on!

 

Prologue

 

 

 

I am your perfect predator.

I have never been mortal. I have never been human.

I evolved alongside you, darting through the shadows in the mud you crawled from, watching as you staggered upright and babbled in the infant tongues of your race.

I have always been there.

In the days before the Flood I ranged over the earth, drinking the blood of living things to sate my unending thirst. I came in the storms, in thunder and lightning. When the sky darkened and the clouds gathered, beasts fled the meadow and creeping things bowed low to the ground. In curtains of cold rain I descended and culled the wandering tribes of men. In every place they settled I came to them and hunted them.

I was there, when you cowered in your mud-hovels during the night. I was there, when you poured your sweat and blood into the foundation-stones of temples that no one would remember. I was there, listening to your grunting as your took your pleasure in one another, as you spat out blood-soaked children from your wombs, as you labored in the fields, as you withered on your pallets while the priests of your clans muttered their base incantations.

I was there until the flood-waters usurped the earth. I languished in the deep places, listening to the echoes of your dying. The earth became silent. Even by my reckoning the earth remained silent for many ages.

I heard again the tongues of men, seeping into my awareness like a blotch of ink crawling through the fibers of a paper. My thirst was rekindled and I arose, finding the world changed. The place of my origin had been lost to the waters, and in my long slumber the knowledge of it had passed from me and from the collective memory of my prey. I searched for it, passing over the earth in the storms, but I could not find it.

I adapted as you adapted. You learned to wield iron, I learned to withstand its sharp touch. You learned to fire thunder, I learned to relish the flame. Civilizations rose and fell, ages of wonder followed ages of darkness. And still I came in the storms to drink the wellspring of your blood, and in my silent predation I went unknown and unseen, becoming a thing of tales, legends, and fictions.

Another age began to dawn. The meaningless superstitions of your childish imaginings were replaced with the equally meaningless jargon of reason. Towers rose above temples, coins replaced icons, and the watchful ancestors of your tribes faded into murky remembrance. Your history died, and from its carcass came spurting and squirming the promise of a new era: an age of industry, where the fires that had warmed your fragile flesh in the winters and cooked your kills would now fuel the machines of your irrepressible greed.

I cannot die. There is neither art nor industry that can end me. I am eternal. My thirst is eternal.

I look for my place of rest. Only there can I let go of the storms that follow  me, and abide in utter darkness. Only there can I make another in my image, and consummate the sacrament of my pilgrimage with the gift of true immortality.

 

 

Chapter One:

Laying it Out

 

 

Now

 

I turned off the water and punched the shower stall. The pain gave me something to focus on. Drying my face with a clean towel, I was momentarily startled by my appearance in the mirror; my thick brown hair was tangled and unkempt, my face was pale and haggard, nearly lost in the dark moss of an unshaven beard. My gray eyes gleamed underneath a troubled brow, encircled by the rough marks of many sleepless nights.

I dressed and went downstairs to join the old woman for dinner. A glass cabinet gathered dust in one corner of the dining room, the shelves lined with trinkets collected from every corner of the world. Family portraits spanning several generations stood in tarnished silver frames on an old cherry wood table topped with handmade doilies. A tall ceramic vase holding dry reeds and old cattails stood underneath a painted copy of Degas’ ballet dancers.

She had prepared a banquet fit for a king. I was her only guest, as far as I knew—I had asked her that question when I checked in—but there was another place setting put out.

I nodded toward the place setting and asked, “Is someone else staying here?”

The old woman smiled, her warm eyes crinkling at the edges. “No,” she said wistfully. “I keep a place for my husband; he’s been gone six months now.” She looked over at the plate and silverware, arranged to perfection on the table.

“I’m sorry,” I said, seating myself. A plate of soup steamed in front of me, and I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I asked myself how long it’d been since my last meal. It was days ago; a diner, just before I said goodbye to Mary. I remember looking at her across the marbled table, saying nothing, watching her red hair tumble across her forehead as she looked down, unwilling to meet my eyes.

“…there was a storm,” the old woman was saying, and I looked up. She was staring at a picture of her husband on a small table. “A terrible storm. We didn’t see it coming. It knocked out the power lines. We were sitting here, huddled beside the fireplace…” her eyes narrowed as she braced herself against the memory. “He heard someone calling for help,” she continued, “out there in the storm. You couldn’t see your hand if you held it out in front of your face; everything was covered in ice and buried in snow. Everyone here knows better than to go outside when it’s like that. But my husband…he heard someone calling for help.” She smiled. “He could never turn away someone who needed help,” she said proudly. She sighed and a distant look came into her eyes. “He was lost in the storm.

“They looked for him, of course,” she continued, noticing that I had finished my soup. She rose and took my plate into the kitchen, returning to load another with buttered toast, venison, and a generous portion of spiced potatoes. “Everyone pitched in; he was a well-respected man. I keep a place setting out for him, hoping that he’ll find his way home.”

I glanced at her, trying to gauge whether she seriously believed that her husband had survived the storm and was wandering around in the wilderness, looking for a way back. She did.

She sat down again and watched me with a warm smile. “Do you like the food?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I answered earnestly. “It’s the best I’ve had in a while.”

“You know,” she went on, hardly touching her own plate, “you remind me of a man who passed through here six months ago, just before the storm came.”

I looked up at her. She was gazing abstractly into her memory, oblivious to the whitening of my knuckles around the silverware I was holding. I already knew who she was talking about, but waited breathlessly for her to remember. When she looked at me again she smiled and said nothing.

“Who was it?” I said, struggling to control my voice. “Where did he come from? What did he look like?”

The old woman was taken aback. I had questioned her too fiercely. I looked down at my plate and took a bite of food, trying to mitigate my intensity. The pain of her husband’s loss was still fresh, and here I was rubbing salt into the wound. But I needed to know.

“He looked rather like you, come to think of it,” she said cautiously. “He didn’t say where he was from.”

“What was his name?”

“I’m sorry, young man, but I don’t remember.”

I looked away. “My father passed through here, six months ago,” I said. What I didn’t say was that he was looking for a journal written by Jonah Daniels, his great-grandfather. Jonah died over a hundred years ago.

He sacrificed his life to put the vampire in the ground for a century.

Six months ago, on a somber Tuesday in the middle of a wintry February, my father discovered the ruins of an old market town. It was deep in the wilderness of northwest Alaska, near the gray Pacific, nestled in a knot of mountains blanketed by pine forests and laced with glaciers.

Over a hundred years ago, an ancient evil had destroyed an entire town in that place. Not a single person was left alive. Everything from surveyor’s maps to civic records were somehow erased. Everyone who knew anything about it vanished or was killed in apparently unsuspicious ways; a string of deaths and disappearances that would appear meaningless to anyone but those directly involved.

Jonah Daniels’ sacrifice had spared my family two generations of death and suffering, but at the end of the day, the vampire had crawled up out of the bowels of the deep earth. My father’s recovery of Jonah’s journal guaranteed that it would hunt down every member of my family until the vampire repaid my ancestor’s victory with the blood of his descendants.

“Oh!” the woman exclaimed, “that was your father…”

She would have said more, but a knock at the door abruptly cut her off.

The old woman paused and looked momentarily bewildered. “Goodness,” she said, “it’s already dark outside; who would come knocking now?” She rose from her chair. I felt a wave of apprehension sweep over me. I wanted to stop her from answering that door. I knew beyond doubt that nothing good would come of it. I kept my place, watching her walk past me and into the foyer.

I got up, turning to see her peering through the windows of the door.

“Don’t do it,” I managed to whisper, but it was too late. Her eyes widened, her hands flew to her mouth in surprise, and after a moment of speechless disbelief, she burst into a weeping shriek of joy. I moved closer, feeling the steely terror that a prisoner feels when faced with a firing squad.

It was happening. The vampire was here.

 

* * * *

 

Two weeks ago

 

“Let’s start with what we know,” Mary said.

“Let’s start with coffee,” I said, flagging the waitress over. Mary shook her head and smiled. She tried to start again, but I put a finger to my lips and grinned. She huffed, blew a wayward strand of red hair away from her face, and sighed. When the coffee came a few minutes later—the first brew of the day—we took a few minutes to enjoy it. I was grateful for that.

“We can’t fight it, we can’t outrun it, and we can’t outthink it. It is older than the pyramids. It is immortal, impossibly powerful, and virtually unstoppable. It manipulates an army of Changed Ones across the world, like pieces on a chessboard. It changes shape, rides the storms, and damn near nothing can hurt it, much less kill it.”

Mary glanced out the window, lowering the coffee cup as her eyes focused on the sky above the small street outside the diner. I heard the clink of the cup as it shook against the saucer. Mary noticed it too and her eyes snapped back to the table, immediately fixing on the old journal between us.

“It wants two things above all else,” I said. “Blood, and this journal,” I reached out to tap the leather-bound book. “I’ll bet you wish you’d never read it.” I put down the empty coffee mug, ignoring the emptiness in my stomach. I was too tired to eat. Too tired, and so knotted up with fear and anxiety that I found myself daydreaming about running out there and shouting up at the storm, having it out with the damned vampire and finishing it. I just wanted to end this godforsaken torment. I had reached my limit with it.

I willed myself to snap to and focus my attention on the present moment. I narrowed my eyes at the journal and cursed it, cursed my father for finding it, cursed the trail of poison breadcrumbs that had led him to it.

When the waitress came around again I started to motion for the check.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Mary interrupted, taking the poor girl by surprise. “You’ve been subsisting on nothing but trail mix and vitamin water. You’re going to look at the menu again, and you’re going to order something…” she looked for the right word, “…positively gluttonous.”

I stared her for a moment. I broke into a grin—the vampire can go to hell, I thought—and ordered something that would fill my belly. I caught Mary smiling at me across the table. I knew what she was thinking, clear as if she’d outright said it: Paul wouldn’t have reacted the same way.  He would have ignored her.

God, how he wanted to run with her forever! To the edge of the world, even; but he knew that there was no place they could go the vampire could not follow. The only question in my mind was what we were going to do about it.

“My father and brother died for that journal,” I said. “Every instinct is telling me that we should just burn it. We’re endangering everyone around us. That journal has left nothing but horror and misery in its wake. I wish you had never read it, to be honest.”

Her green eyes pleaded with me. “I had to, Harper. After what happened in New York, I started to remember…” she cut herself off. I could tell she was weighing how much she wanted to tell me. How much had she told my brother? She must have guessed my thought when she looked into my eyes. “It was already too late to tell Paul,” she said. “He couldn’t possibly have known that the bloodlines of our two families have been entwined from the very beginning.”

“What’s the plan, Mary?”

She looked out the window—first at the clear blue sky, then at the street. They were just outside of Albany, New York. “Come with me, Harper. You don’t have to do this. We can do this together.”

“Mary,” I said, “you know what this thing is capable of!” We both knew. My father and older brother were dead. Behind us, all was pain and sorrow. “You haven’t told me where we’re going, Mary.”

“The same place your great-great-grandfather went, after he fled Italy with this journal and long before he found himself in central Alaska: the place where I was born and raised, Harper. The place where my mother entrusted me with secrets that I have since buried so deep that I remember nothing but a childhood dream-world of phantoms and mysteries. There is something there, Harper; something that my mother believed would help us against the vampire.”

I grabbed the journal off the table and stuffed it violently into my satchel. I didn’t want to look at it anymore. I knew what I had to do—the decision was already made. I hadn’t been able to focus on it because of how I felt about her, but my feelings were the reason I knew I had made the right choice.

Mary glanced outside the window again—it had become second nature to us both, in so short a time—and she saw the bank of dark clouds gathering to the south.

“I see it,” I put the fork down and slid the plate away. “I’ve lost my appetite. I really do wonder,” I said, looking at the incoming storm, “with all those satellites, telescopes, cameras, and high-end toys used by the governments of the world…can no one see it?”

“You know the answer to that, Harper.”

“Incredible. Listen, Mary—it’s better if I play the bait in this game. Don’t…” I put my hand up to forestall her interjection, “…just don’t. If it’s the two of us running, there’s just no chance. No chance in hell. We have to split up, Mary. I’ll lead it on a merry chase, and you get yourself to this place you keep talking about. And don’t tell me where it is. You can’t. If I know, and if…no, when…the vampire catches up to me…I can’t know anything about where you’re going.”

“So you expect me to just leave you? That’s brilliant.”

I played it more cavalier than I felt, but she saw right through me. “It’ll be alright,” I tried weakly. I didn’t want her to penetrate into my reasons—now wasn’t the time for her to know how much I felt for her. I was ready to sacrifice myself for her.

“Everything will be alright once you find this artifact,” I said. “You find it, bring it back, and we’ll use it to put the vampire in the ground. Only this time, it won’t be for a hundred years. We’ll destroy the journal once it’s done and make sure this never happens again.”

“What if I’m wrong? What if it’s not there anymore? It’s been years since…”

I shook my head. “What do you want me to tell you? That’s it’s a long shot? It’s the only shot we got, Mary. You told me yourself, not too long ago—one of the only things you’ve told me—is that your mother knew this would happen. You didn’t believe it then, but you sure as hell believe it now…”

“Paul’s dead because of me, Harper,” she began to say.

“My brother is dead because my father retrieved Jonah’s journal, and my father’s probably dead because it doesn’t make sense that the vampire wouldn’t tie up every loose end we’ve left behind. Right now, my ignorance is the only thing I can use to defend you, Mary…”

That was it; I had given myself away. She knew then that I loved her.

She also knew that she couldn’t stop me.

“I’ll try,” was all she said.

 

* * * *

 

Now

 

“Henry!” the old woman cried, “you’ve come back!”

I shook my head, reaching out toward her. I may as well have been moving in slow motion. She tore open the door, her hand clutching at her heart as if to steady it. There was a man standing outside; he looked to be in his late sixties, and his face matched the picture on the table—but something was wrong with him.

His skin was as white as his hair and laced with a fine network of tiny cracks. His face was almost translucent, shimmering beneath the drops of rain that traced his countless wrinkles. His eyes were cold above a strange, disconcerting smile. His wife didn’t notice any of this; she was transported with elation. All she knew was that her husband had come back. She was right, she knew he would, and now everything was going to be alright again.

“Susan,” he said. She rushed forward to embrace him. A peal of thunder rocked the house, and I looked up to see the stars blacked out by a night-storm flashing with lightning. Snow fell mixed with rain, and it was so cold that the water was already freezing on the ground.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“No!” I shouted, but my warning went unnoticed.

“God yes,” Susan whispered breathlessly, disengaging from the embrace and stepping backward into the house. “Come in where it’s warm,” she said. She turned to me. “Young man, won’t you go into the kitchen and prepare some water for a hot tea?”

“I…” she wasn’t listening. She ushered her husband over the threshold and guided him toward the fireplace in the living room.

“Henry, you must be freezing,” she cooed. “Where were you all this time? Are you alright? Oh, I have so many questions! Goodness, but you must be famished! I’ve made some dinner…”

“I’m not hungry,” he said.

She continued to fuss over him, but he gripped her by her frail shoulders and held her at arm’s length. “Susan,” he said, trying to keep her from flurrying about and seeing to comforts he no longer needed, “Susan!” She stopped at last and focused on him. She looked into his eyes and I knew that she was beginning to realize something was utterly wrong.

“Henry, are you alright?”

He smiled coldly again. “I’m fine,” he said. “Susan, listen. There is someone waiting outside, in the cold and dark. He’s a friend of mine, someone I’ve been waiting all this time for you to meet. Can he come in?”

“Susan,” I said, “you can’t…”

“But you must,” Henry said to her. She looked at him and nodded mechanically.

“Of course,” she said, “you know I wouldn’t turn anyone away.”

“That’s my girl,” Henry said darkly, pushing her toward the open door. I saw something outside. In the cold and dark. Glittering eyes and writhing shadows. Susan must not have seen the same thing I did, because she smiled and invited it inside.

I glanced at the mirror opposite the entrance. The glass fractured with a sharp report, blackening as if a blot of ink had burst behind it. The wall behind it sighed and a crack sprang up from underneath the floorboards and raced across the ceiling. The mirror fell with a crash. The hanging Tiffany lamp trembled and its bulbs burst, scattering darkness over the foyer. A quiet thicker than a winter’s night in the empty wilderness swept into the house.

The vampire crossed the threshold.

It was draped in shadow and blurred edges, and I tried to focus on it. I couldn’t; it was like trying to look through a broken camera lens at an image underwater. The vampire’s features sharpened for a moment, then became indistinct. I looked at its clothes and saw only shapes and suggestions. It was frustrating and agonizing and it didn’t make sense. I clenched my teeth and stared and tried not to blink but it didn’t work. 

There was only one constant: its eyes glinted from dark, shadowed sockets, regardless of the light, regardless of whether it turned its face this way or that. There were no clear features around its eyes at all, neither the vague outline of lids or crow’s feet, nor the bony ridge of an emptied skull. It was only shadow, and those pinpoints of light shifting through colors as if prisms were suspended where its eyes should have been, catching and refracting stray bits of luminance.

I knew it was staring at me, but I couldn’t look at it. It was like looking at a black hole.

The old woman began to tremble and quiver; she was staring fixedly at the floor. Henry came near her, wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and led her away from the vampire. He sat her in front of the fireplace, kneeled before her, and whispered something I couldn’t hear. She nodded weakly. Henry got up and walked toward me.

“Harper Daniels,” he said to me. I didn’t reply. “The vampire told me all about you. I met your father, did you know that? I met him when he passed through here six months ago. He was carrying something.”

I said nothing.

“A journal,” Henry continued. The vampire stood behind him, silent.

I took a deep breath and tried to get my heart to stop rattling my chest with its thunder, tried to stop my stomach from crawling up my spine into my throat. It wasn’t working, and the effort was bringing on a fierce headache that was making this nightmare a good deal worse.

“A journal written by your great-great-grandfather. Where is it?”

This was good. Things were going exactly as I’d expected; the vampire had come after me. Right now, hundreds of miles away, Mary was getting herself to safety.

“Don’t play games with the vampire,” Henry snapped. I glanced at his wife; she was trembling. I began to fear for her life. Henry smiled, catching my look. “You worry about my wife?” he asked. “How noble of you. She’s a nice old woman, isn’t she?” Something in his eyes flickered, some trace of humanity lost six months ago, the day the vampire called out to him from the storm.

“Aren’t you worried about her?” I demanded.

Henry glowered at me, turning to look at the vampire. I wondered how he could bear to look at it. I tried again, and it felt as if my mind were suddenly seized by a rough hand and pulled through a meat grinder until nothing remained but a mess of madness and fear. I tore my eyes away and watched Susan instead, weeping in front of the fire. God, that poor woman—

“Harper,” Henry said, turning back to me. “You’d better just talk to me. Don’t try and play the hero, because it won’t make any difference.”

I shook my head. “No? Jonah made a difference. He put the vampire in the ground for a hundred years. His sacrifice spared countless lives. I’m willing to make the same sacrifice,” I declared, clenching my fists.

Henry looked dejected. “You seem like a nice boy, Mr. Daniels,” he said. “Six months ago, I would have applauded your bravery. I would have turned to Susan and said, ‘this world would be a better place if there were more like him.’” He shrugged. “I look at things somewhat differently now. In the end, the vampire will always come back, whether it takes a hundred years or a thousand. In the end,” he said, “the vampire will continue its pilgrimage until it reaches its destination.”

“Its pilgrimage?”

Henry nodded. “That’s right. The vampire’s just trying to find its way back to where it came from. That’s what all this is about…”

“I told you,” I said, “I don’t have the journal.”

“But you read it, didn’t you? You know what’s in it. You can give the vampire what it wants. Do it, and all this can end right now.”

“No,” I answered.

“So it’s back to the basics, eh?” Henry asked sadly. He turned away and walked into the living room, disappearing around a corner for a moment. He continued to talk. “Every pilgrimage has a destination. It is both a journey and a sacrament validated upon completion.

“This is a pilgrimage that has lasted for as long as men have killed one another over plots of land and proper sacrifices,” he said, reappearing with a hunting rifle in one hand, a box of ammunition in the other. He set the weapon on a small table across from the door and proceeded to calmly load it.

“Do you think you’re in a position to stop it?” he asked, cocking the rifle. “Do you think anyone’s in a position to stop it?”

He turned and pointed the weapon at his wife.

“What are you doing?” I roared. “That’s your wife…!”

“I know,” Henry said, a tremor in his voice. “I don’t want to do this…” he whispered, his own pale hand trembling. The rifle barrel shook in the tensioned air. I was conscious of the vampire pivoting in place, turning its masklike face toward Henry. “I can’t do this,” Henry said, raising his voice.

“I won’t let you do it,” I said. I started to run toward the living room. Henry stood aiming the rifle at Susan, who had turned in the chair to stare incredulously at her husband. She shook her head pleadingly.

“You can put an end to this, Harper,” Henry yelled. “Just tell the vampire what you know about the journal. Tell it where the journal is!”

“I don’t have it! I can take you to it!” I lied, trying to infuse my voice with as much angry sincerity as possible. In truth, I was terrified. I couldn’t say anything that would point the vampire in Mary’s direction, and I needed to say just enough to pull its attention away from the old woman. I was excruciatingly aware that her life was hinged on my every word and action.

“Liar!” Henry roared. “Don’t make me do this,” he raged, his eyes wild.

Susan rose from the chair, extending her arms in supplication towards him.

He fired.



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