The Stone Man
He sat slouched on the floor next to the grand fireplace as he had before in times gone past. Back pressed against the solid marble of the hearth, heavy crystal ampule of amber liquid clutched loosely in one hand. Legs and feet sprawled out in a most casual, ungentile manner.
Apathetic to the wrinkling of his fine, expensive suit. Apathetic to the ashy shambles of all his carefully laid plans. Apathetic to the punishing, seductive sun. Apathetic to all.
She was gone. She had asked. He had answered. And now she was gone. Forever.
So he believed, to the dust of his broken soul.
He took a swig of the amber liquid. Felt it slide down his throat into his empty stomach. It would never intoxicate him no matter how much he imbibed. But he drank it nevertheless.
It was then he heard it.
"A rare treat."
That melodic, clear voice drifting to him out of the gloom. He blinked heavily and looked up from the glossy floor, certain this must be another vision, another dream.
Only his lips moved when he dared speak, hesitant to break this spell of her. Her here. Could she really be here? Surely not.
"Sunshine. 'It's a rare treat', you said."
Her voice trembled little as she spoke. But underneath the fragile emotional surface resided her enduring strength and unquenchable curiosity.
She finally materialized into his field of vision, lovely pale face still blotched from shed tears and emotion. Tears caused by him. Him and his monstrous curse.
"You weren't exaggerating."
He was wholly astonished at her presence. How was she here? How was this possible? He managed to respond to her, his voice low and husky.
She approached slowly. Tears gone now, her liquid eyes examined him closely. His blue-green orbs followed her every movement. Was she really here?
"You. A . . . vampire. You were truly grateful to be walking in the sunlight."
He did not dare move a muscle for fear that her lithe form would suddenly shimmer and dissipate as mystical vapors into the lurking shadows. It was all he could do to manage the beauty and compassion of her words.
Reaching the flickering firelight, she knelt modestly on the floor across him. Lowering to his level, as it were.
"And the night we danced at the hospital. Your hands were trembling. You hadn't . . . taken blood, had you?"
More of an honest statement than a true question.
He continued to watch her, still as a stone man. Wanting so badly to believe she was really here.
Her deep, intelligent, questioning eyes searched his. And she spoke directly yet again.
What was this whispering faintly from deep within him? Could it be a tremor of hope?
"I thought I could stop. I never chose to be this. I wanted to be . . . human."
She was listening carefully. Considering his simple words. This cannot be real, he thought plainly. It cannot be. Cannot.
"Did it work?"
He relinquished the coveted sight of her, concentrating on the faint oscillations of the amber liquid within the crystal container he held.
And spoke only one rueful word.
Silence sat there between them, greatly pregnant with regret and sorrow.
"I took it from someone who had committed wicked deeds. If that helps."
His eyes moved cautiously up to hers once more. She was gazing into the flames, inspecting the apparitions only she saw there.
"It doesn't," she answered quietly after a long moment.
"No. I thought not."
The fire sparked and crackled, muffled by the thoughtful machinations of her churning mind.
"I have to go."
Her unsteady voice was quiet, yet resolved.
"Yes, of course," he answered, dead emotion beginning to burrow yet again into the rotting, rogue, pomegranate of a heart in his undead chest.
She stood once more and slowly walked away. He did not look at her directly, only watched her retreating shadow as it withdrew from him. He would not stop her. No matter the cost. She was free. She must be free.
At the archway, she turned and looked back.
He gazed at her for the last time without speaking.
"I'm coming back."
"Why?" he asked after a moment, astounded.
She stood still, quiet, unmoving for a space of time.
"You belong to me. And I belong to you," she replied.
Then she walked away as his entire being thrummed in astonishment.
Rats. Rats. Rats ran all through her mind. That was all she could think of. Rats.
The carriage rolled on slowly. Mina Murray sat quiet and still inside, lightly swaying with the movements of the transport. Her thoughts dashed in feverish, random trails within the confines of the carriage as it moved through the streets of London. So distracted was she by the rats that she had quite forgotten where the carriage was heading. Such unimportant facts were of little importance to her just now. She was too engaged in watching the rats.
Dead rats. Living rats. Still rats. Moving rats.
How could rats so important at a time like this?
They were small rodents. Ran through the streets. Haunted the sewers. Hid in dark, secret places. They were not important creatures. They were poisoned, trapped, killed, fed to cats, used in science exp . . .
She gasped suddenly as if she had just broken through a watery barrier and inhaled life-giving air seconds before drowning. Her racing mind careened on, faster and faster inside the slow moving carriage. Pictures. Thoughts. Words. Rats.
Rats. Blood slides. Cheek cells. Microscope. Needles. Bottles. Red liquid. Medical bag . . .
Thoughts were converging in the far recesses of her brain. She couldn't quite see them yet. Not with all the rats running to and fro in chaotic droves. But the thoughts were there nonetheless. And they were important. So very important.
They were skittish little things just now. Scuttling away from her into the darkness as she turned to look at them. She could just glimpse their hazy outlines from the corner of her eye. Perhaps if she left them alone in the gloom, they would creep forward and reveal themselves in due course.
Her carriage rolled on through the dark night.
And Mina Murray sat within, heedless of it all, beckoning patiently to the rats.