Dead & Living

By Artie Gallezi

Action / Romance

Dirt Nap

"Who are you?" I asked, my eyes narrowing and my arm still holding my sword to his throat.

"Oh, come on." He rolled his eyes. "I know you guys can hear a pin drop in a thunderstorm."

"I heard you." I said. "But I don't believe you."

"Why not?"

"Because I am Dominick Valentino."

"Then shouldn't you be there?" He pointed to my feet. "Instead of up here?"

I looked down and then turned to see the headstone. The small candle that gotten my attention was still sitting on top of it, the flame dancing the slight winter wind and slowly eating away the wax. There were some flowers as well, a typical assortment one could find in any random flower shop, that had died , but had not been cleaned by the caretaker.

Someone had quite recently visited the grave and placed an expensive bouquet of red roses. I noticed the roses had a strange scent around them, a faint trace of perfume mixed with Were. I briefly considered the possibility that I had known a Were and was simply not aware of it, but I pushed it aside to think on it in my leisure.

Like many of the headstones in the area, it had the words like 'Adored by friends, Loving brother, Doting son'. But the name carved under all that praise was my own, Dominick Valentino. I looked at the date saw it was accurate, at least as far as anyone that had known me as a human was concerned. My birthday, the twentieth of June 1969, sat under my first name while the date of my death, the fourth of August 1990. Part of me realized I had been twenty-one years old for hardly three weeks before I met Wilhelmina.

So Wilhelmina had led me to my own grave, or rather the grave that would have been mine if she had not turned me and my body had been found. I had often wondered how exactly wondered how Wilhelmina had arranged so it appeared I had died more traditionally. I always assume she had glamored a police officer to say there had been one more body then there was or had a coroner misplace a body.

Wilhelmina could have easily had me write a letter saying that I had grown tired of a smothering father, it wouldn't have been that much of a stretch, and had chosen to strike out on my own. If I had done that, and with the apparent lack of a body, the police would have to assume it was true since I was legal adult and free do so. Without me, my family wouldn't be able to collect the money to hire a private investigator to bring me home.

I looked to the specter, who was patiently waiting my response, and begun to see exactly how she had faked my death. Wilhelmina had found someone who was roughly my physical doppelganger. Whomever this was, I was almost certain this was a ghost, had been close enough to pass as me, at least physically. He did not look like me but there were plenty of methods to disfigure a body so even if a seasoned investigator had a photography, like a car fire.

They would be forced to use other less surefire methods to identify it. To be safe, Wilhelmina would have likely taken my wallet with my driver's license and planted it to erase any doubts. On the off chance enough of it survived the fire and the fact the body was the right age and build, it was the perfect little cherry on the proverbial sundae. It probably had taken her less than ten minutes to think of way and five to carry it out, even killing an innocent bystander which she had been doing for centuries.

"I didn't exactly die under normal means." I said carefully.

"That makes two of us." He folded his arms and frowned. "Who was Wilhelmina? It sounds like a girl's name."

"It is." I nodded. "Have you seen her?"

"Was she the one with red hair?" he asked. "Or was she the really tall one?"

"Red hair." I said. "The tall one is Regina."

"Yeah, I've seen her."

"Really?" I asked. "When?"

"Two years ago." He said.

"What?"

"Well, I think." He relented. "Give or take a month or three. Time ain't exactly passing like it used to."

"Then who lit that?" I motioned to the candle. "You?"

"No. I can't really touch or hold anything." He admitted. "It just popped up there. Already lit and everything."

"So who are you?" I asked. "A ghost?"

"What gave it away?" He huffed. "Was it the fact you can see through me?"

"I — " I began to say, but stopped when I heard beeping.

I looked down and saw my watch, a cheap digital one I bought from a street vendor. I had gotten into the habit of setting the alarm each night right before I went to sleep for the day. I always made sure to set it one hour before sunrise. All vampires can sense the approaching dawn, but I reasoned any more time to find shelter would be welcomed if circumstances, like the present one, forced me far from the nest.

"You were saying?" He leaned to the side and smiled. "Oh, I see. Little Dominick has a curfew."

"Damn it!" I began to look around frantically. "Shit!"

"What's the matter?" He asked mockingly. "Mommy will ground you if you're late?"

"Ground?" An idea formed in my head. "That's it!"

I blew out the candle and began walking between headstones, looking for a fresh grave. I knew it would not be comfortable, but it would be safe. No one visiting the cemetery during the day would give a fresh grave a second thought since the earth would already be disturbed. Once I rose, I could hide evidence that I had been there.

Fortunately, I did not have go all the way to the other side of cemetery.

I found a large mound of dirt hardly twenty feet away. I saw many fresh bouquets of flowers were laid on and around the headstone of Duane S. Langley who, going by the dates carved on the headstone, had lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven. He had been a caring father and grandfather and had been loved by all when he was alive. There was also a photograph of the man. He appeared to be smiling to the camera, holding up a large fish in one hand and pole in the other, as sat on a boat in the middle of a lake on beautiful sunny day without a care in the world.

On a whim, I looked to the adjacent headstone and saw Dorothy M. Langley had died almost three years previously. There were significantly less flowers on her grave and there was no photograph, but I think it was safe to assume she had been the late Duane's wife.

I zipped my leather jacket, making sure all three of Wilhelmina's letter were safely in the interior pockets, and dove into the earth. I might not have need to breath, but that did not help the smell of moist dirt filling my nostrils. I fought the urge to rub my eyes for a moment before I had the presence of mind to shut them. While I never learned to swim, it was the best way I could put it into words as pushed farther and farther down. It was impossible for anyone to not notice that the dirt had been disturbed, but it was also impossible for me to arrange it and still be under. I would have to assume that they would think it was the work of the wind and perhaps a stray animal or two and not a vampire seeking a safe haven for the day.

I suddenly reached something solid and polished. I tapped it with a knuckle and realized I had reached the coffin where the remains of Duane S. Langley sat. I relaxed and turned onto my back. As I settled there, trying to ignore the unnatural feeling of dirt covering every inch sink under my shirt and pants and the dozen of little pebbles digging into my back, I thought back to Wilhelmina's letters and what she had been saying.

Was it possible that she truly meant what she said? Did she really think it was time for our time together to end? If so, why had she not ever mentioned it to me? I couldn't recall a single time she said, even remotely hinted, that the time would come for me to leave. If she had grown tired of me, I highly doubted she would've hesitated to tell me so. I was adamant about that. For one so old as Wilhelmina, patience and mincing words tends to happen rarely. But then another thought came to me, just I began to feel sleep take me.

What if she had merely written those letters to make me chase my tail?

- 0 -

I awoke to the taste, smell, and touch of cold dirt which is not a pleasant sensation for anyone. It took a moment, but I recalled that I had crawled into a fresh grave to escape the sun's lethal light. Now that I wasn't in a frantic state of mind, I noticed how the dirt was crushing my body. It took a bit of effort but I managed to to begin the chore of digging myself out of a six foot hole.

Sitting up completely was too difficult, the earth was far too cumbersome for that, but pushing the dirt aside like a swimmer underwater with my arm made it much easier to accomplish it. I continued until I was sitting, on Duane's coffin, and began again so I could position myself so that I could stand.

Once my feet were firmly planted, I leapt and I felt my hands break the surface of the earth and felt the cold night air. I dug in my fingers and began pulling. I'd had seen this done in films and such, but it was another world entirely to perform it. It was never mentioned the power it took to pull oneself out of a six foot hole with the weight of a small car weighing you down.

With one brutal tug, I broke the surface and pause to look and saw that the rest of my lower body was still in the earth. Luckily, it did not take nowhere the effort it took before and I yanked my legs out of the mound of dirt. I was glad Wilhelmina had merely tucked my body away when she turned me. I don't I would have been able to cope both waking up and having dig myself out. For one thing, I'm fairly sure I would have thought I had been buried alive.

"So that's what they mean when people say dirt nap." said a familiar voice.

I rolled onto my back and saw my ghostly friend from the night before was looked down at me with amused look on his face.

"Never thought it was so literal." he mocked.

I rolled my eyes and forced myself to stand. "So what's your story?" I began brushing the dirt from my hair and clothes. "Unfinished business?"

His smile quickly faded and he folded his arms across his chest. "You could say that?"

Normally I'd threaten his life or something similar to get him to talk, but there wasn't anything left to really threaten. If this apparition had information, I assumed whomever made the candle appear had to of visited the grave recently, I was going to have to put up with all of his sarcasm and insults.

"Why don't you tell me about it?" I began walking back to my headstone.

I didn't hear his footsteps, but I heard his voice and it was full of suspicion. "If you wanted to know, why didn't you ask last night?"

"We didn't exactly have time to talk." I said. "You remember when my watch went off?"

"Yeah."

"It's a warning." I told him just as we reached my headstone. "To let me know I have an hour before the sun comes up."

"Can't you guys sense it?" he asked.

"Yeah." I reached into my pockets and emptied the dirt. "But you can never have too much time to find a safe place for the day."

"I guess." He shrugged

"So how do you know about us, vampires?" I had emptied the dirt and found my cigarette case and lighter were in the pockets. "Mind if I smoke?" I was feeling hungry and it would hold me over for a while.

"Didn't know you could."He seemed annoyed, like he was a vegetarian and I was eating a hamburger in front of him. "Sure, go ahead."

"Thanks." I lit one and my hunger was momentarily pushed aside. "So, for starters, what's your name?"

"Henry." said the specter. "Henry Carbone. You aren't the first vampire to come here."

"Passing through?" I puffed in an attempt to calm myself.

"Most of 'em." Henry motioned behind me. "One stayed for a bit, but he left last week. Its cause of him that I managed to make sense of what happened to me, for the use its been."

"You met Wilhelmina." I motioned with my free hand. "About this tall with long red hair?"

"At a bar." He said coldly. "She was real sweet."

"A bar?" I recalled there weren't that many bars in Westbury and someone would have noticed two people missing.

"Yeah." He scowled. "After a bit, she made it clear she wanted to do more than talk."

"She would do that." I said gently.

"We went out to her car and drove for a bit." He seemed to be becoming more and more agitated, and considering I had gone through what he had, I couldn't blame him. "I wasn't really paying attention to where we were going, but I did think it was strange when she pulled into that empty field over there." Henry point to his right.

I turned my head to my left since I was facing and saw he meant Eisenhower Park. Technically he meant the golf course portion of the park. It had been a popular place for homeless drifters and teenagers seeking privacy. Since the maintenance crews hardly ever cleared dead branches or mowed the tall grass that made it look a convincing replica of a savannah, waist high yellow grass and thick bushes. The section would be the perfect place for anything you did not want witnesses for.

"I didn't know at the time, but she wasn't alone and had one of her friends remove a big section of the wooden fence." I noticed he was clenching his fist, but I said nothing as he continued. "She eventually stopped and we got out." He looked down. "She led me farther in and just I was about to ask what she was planning, I tripped . . . over body."

I wanted to scream for him to get to the point, but I settled on tightening my grip on my cane and waited.

"That was when another car's headlights came on and I saw there were three bodies just sitting there, all of them young women." Henry's voice sounded distant and quiet. "I heard her laugh at me. She just laughed at me like I said something funny and then she was on top of me before I could scream."

"She bit you." I said quietly to myself. "She wouldn't risk breaking your neck."

"Not right away." He seemed to be lost in memory and he did not like it. "She said, 'you could be his twin brother. How fortunate.' Then she bit me and everything went black."

"And that was the last you saw of her?" I asked knowing that was well over a year ago.

"Yes." He looked up suddenly, his face confused. "You said she wouldn't have risked breaking my neck. What do you mean?"

"She was looking for someone that matched my description." I motioned to the both of us. "We're almost identical. Same build, same hieght, same age."

"But why?" he asked, almost pleading. "Why did she do that? I never even met her before that night."

"It wasn't personal." I said. "It hardly ever it is."

"Then why?"

"Vampires aren't born. They're made." I told him. "She did want someone risk being tracked down. She turned me, but she knew someone would come looking for me."

"So?"

"No one would look for a dead man." I said. "She told me she torched my car with bodies inside. With those bodies it would look like some just young kids had drunk driving accident. Tragic, but not rare enough for people to look to closely." I motioned between us. "We don't have the same face, but fire would make that impossible to tell and she took my wallet, probably to plant it on you."

"You mean . . . "

"She killed you so everyone that knew me would think I was dead and wouldn't come looking for me." I told him. "Normally once vampires are made, they need to leave their home areas right away, but she didn't want to leave the city."

"You mean to tell me the reason I'm dead and stuck in this fucking cemetery is because she didn't want to move?!"

"Yes." I flicked away the butt. "So that was when you saw her last?"

"What?"

"I'm looking for her." I said. "I think she was kidnapped, but somehow managed to warn me. She left me letters and her last one told me to come here."

"You want to save her?" he asked, like I had suggested I was Batman. "After she killed you?"

"Its . . . complicated." I said after a moment's hesitation. "Have you seen her or not?"

"If you think I'm going to tell you anything, after what she did, then you're crazy!" He snapped. "Let her have a taste of her own medicine for once."

"Forget it then." I began walking away to the north where the train station was and my motorcycle.

"What?! That's it?!" He called after me, his voice telling me we was following. "I tell you she killed me and set my body on fire so people thought I was you and you just walk it off?"

"You were asking for it." I grunted.

Suddenly he was in front of me and I stopped short. "What did you say?"

"What do you want? An apology?" I narrowed my eyes. "You followed a woman you didn't know to her car, let her drive to place you weren't familiar with at night, you ignored every one of your instincts and warnings she threw at you, and followed her deep into a dark place far away you might be seen. For what? Because you thought she might sleep with you?" I shook my head ruefully. "You want me to feel sorry for you? Well, I don't. You were acting just like those idiots who jump out of airplanes or swim with sharks for fun."

"That doesn't make it right." he protested. "It isn't fair."

"Fair?" I repeated. "Life isn't fair. Do you think it was fair that an idiot had his pick of colleges because I did his work for him while all he did was throw a ball? Do you think it was fair that, despite my near perfect grades, I was turned away from scholarships because that same idiot decided to play an amusing prank that ended any chance I had of attending those same colleges?" I was seething and my fangs were running out, the word just running out like fire hose "Do you think it was fair that I watched others squander the chance I would have given anything to have? Was it fair that I worked my fingers to the bone, sacrificing even the smallest luxury, so my father could toss it aside like garbage?"

"But — "

"But it could just be coincidence? I'll grant you that." I demanded. "What about the hundreds in the country without a home and wondering where their next meal will come from? To say nothing of the millions of others suffering as I speak. Ethnic cleansing in Africa, drug cartels fighting in South America with thousands caught in the crossfire, child sex trafficking in Asia, war and famine in the Middle East, ruthless dictators decimating their own countries and people all over the globe!" I tapped the side of my head in astonishment. "And you want me pity from me? Did I wish for this to happen to you? No, I had nothing to do with what happened. While she was killing you, I was laying dead and motionless under the floorboards of an apartment in Soho. I died just as you as did, alone and terrified while my body struggled with what little blood had been left."

He simply stood motionless and speechless.

"Let me tell you this, Henry." I pointed a finger at him. "Life is not something that can be predicted or controlled. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa and at the end of the day the world continues to spin." I stormed past him. "That's the world. Learn to live in it. Accept you were thinking with your dick like I was and it got you killed."

I did not look back and neither did I hear him again. I suppose it could be argued that the last bit was highly insensitive, perhaps ironic in a way, but he clearly did not have the information I needed. Even if by some slim chance he did, there was no way of making him talk. He truly had nothing left to lose and therefor it was completely up to him to when and if he decided to divulge or not.

I climbed the fence I had vaulted over the previous night and walked to where I had parked my motorcycle. I saw I had received a ticket and realized that I had parked in a space reserved for the handicapped. I crumbled the paper and tossed it aside before I sat on my bike to think of my next move.

I couldn't shake the feeling I was being toyed with, being made to jump through hoops like a dolphin at Seaworld. I pretended to stretch, throwing my arms out as I craned my neck, to see if I was being watched. I saw and heard nothing that gave away the presence of a watcher, but if my watcher was something more than human then it was possible I did not see them. I stowed that thought aside for a moment and remembered I had yet to read Wilhelmina's third letter. I reached into my jacket, but I was distracted by strangest thing.

To my left, hardly ten feet from me, rang a public payphone.

Like an idiot, I looked around to see if anyone else was going to answer it before I recalled I was the only one in the entire station. I hopped off my motorcycle and walked to it, the ringing quite loud in the silent night.

I picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Bonsoir, mon amant." A gentle female voiced greeted me before switching to English. "How was last night? I was concerned that accident might have made things difficult for you to leave the city, but I see now that I was not the case."

"Wilhelmina?" my grip on the receiver tightened. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you? What do they want?"

"Who?" She asked calmly.

"The werewolves that took you." I hissed.

"Oh that." She said like she had forgotten. "Did you not read my letters? I assumed you had otherwise you would not have been at the train station."

"Yes. I have them, but I only read the first two. I was about to open the third when this phone rang." I could barely contain myself. "Please, Wilhelmina, what's going on?"

"I thought I could have not been more clear." She said sounding a bit confused.

"Yes, you were very clear." I assured. "I went to Ryuu's nest and then to the cemetery. I understood everything."

"Except, it seems, what was right before your very eyes." She sighed. "But I suppose that was to be expected."

"What are you talking about?" I shook my head. "Never mind that. Are you safe?"

"Quite." She said. "Although this old woman's stench is very intolerble. Then again, it is not like the alleyways before indoor plumbing was the norm for buildings."

"Never mind that now." i said quickly. "Do you know where you are?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Look to your left." She instructed. "Top floor. Balcony window to the far right."

I looked and saw The Bristol. If you had not known better you would find it strange that a luxury five star hotel sat next to a train station and adjacent to a cemetery and church. The Bristol, which sported a long dark green canopy from the front door to the street and had several levels of beautiful balconies running up the middle of the building, was a high end senior retirement home. While I had lived less than mile away, I couldn't recall I ever saw someone actually entering or leaving and there was never any car pulling in or out of the driveway.

At least her comment about the smell of an old woman became clear.

All of the lights were off, even the most nocturnal human would have gone to bed at this hour, except for one. Like she had said, I saw that balcony on the top floor to the far right had it lights on. I could see a silhouette of young woman standing as if she was watching out all that might happen in the train station parking lot. I squinted and saw she seemed to be holding something to her ear, like a cellphone. No, she was holding receiver to her ear and the phone in her other hand.

"Do you see?" She asked and gave me a slight wave. "You should be able to."

"Yes." I croaked. "What did you mean by I didn't see what was in front me?"

"While you saw the message I left between the lines, visiting Ryuu and the cemetery," Wilhelmina said. "You failed entirely to observe the message that I wrote in the first place."

"So the part about . . . " I struggled for the words. "You were . . . "

"Serious?" She offered. "As the grave."

"But . . ." I shook my head. "No, someone is there with you. Making you say this."

"Whom?" She asked. "You would hear them breathing over this phone or see their shadow behind me. I am alone in this room." She paused. "Well, the only one awake in this room."

"Not unless it was another one of our kind." I said.

"For what purpose?" She countered. "You have done nothing but amass allies among our kind and I would have warned you to any enemies I had made over the centuries that I did not deal with personally."

Suddenly, I saw it all. I knew what she was going to say, mental pictures of her messages. Messages that were clear as day and I refused to even acknowledge for smallest fraction of a second.

"To reiterate," She began. "I am leaving you the apartment to with it what you will."

Dread began to form and tie itself into a knot in the pit of my stomach, something I did think possible since I had stopped using it. I knew then, if I could, I would have felt nauseous enough to vomit. God only knew what would come up after a year on a liquid diet.

"It is time you left my side and found your own place in the world." She continued. "I have instructed you the best I can, considering the circumstances, and you have learned quite quickly. That is why I left those hidden clues in my letters. I needed to be sure you were able to keep our kind out of the view of humans, even under extreme duress."

It had been so long since I last needed to, but there it was. It was the same feeling I had when I realized I had just killed an innocent girl when I first arose and how foolishly I said I couldn't breath. Now I felt that same suffocating crushing pressure on my chest, my body rebelling against what my mind had accepted so long ago.

"Please, not again." I whispered and my legs gave out from under me. I began to feel tears running down my face. "Don't do this to me again."

"Again?"

"You took everything from me." I cried. "You took my family, my home, and even my body when you made me."

"That is hardly a comparison." She said coldly. "You once said yourself you would have no doubted continued on your current path until your father perished which would have left you to support your ailing mother and less than intelligent brother." She did not stop there. "Then there is this girl, the one whom you desired. Your destitution combined with your profound delusions of women and their desires would have left you silently pining for her until she either married or died."

"It may have not been much, but it was all I had and I had made peace with it." I croaked. "Then you came along and shattered everything."

"I merely shattered the walls of your own ignorance that your weak human mind built in an attempt to protect itself from reality." She corrected. "Now you do not have make yourself a slave to others or work like one for a few stale crumbs of bread. Your fortune is your own do with as you please, as it should be. Never again will you be ordered around like some lowly peasant. Instead of lusting after one woman who showed a grain of pity, you can have any you desire."

"You don't understand!" I protested. "Yes, I wanted all that when I was human, but not anymore." I wiped my eyes, tears continuing to run down my face. "I told you the truth when I said you were all I needed." I choked back a sob. "I love you."

"No, you don't." She said, sounding oddly gentle. "You never did in the first place."

"W-what?"

"I've told you before, the bond between child and sire is strong." She said firmly. "While it is not always the case, they can become lovers as we were. What you feel now for me is merely that, the bond." She then added. "It most likely was not helpful that I was the first woman that you ever shared a bed with. Not to mention the first to have an intimate relationship with. I've seen it happen enough times to have been more cautious. For that, I do apologize."

"No, it's not." I brought my knees close to me. "A bond works both ways! You can't just tell me that everything we did, every touch, every kiss, every smile for the past year was me letting the bond cloud my mind!"

"How would you? No human is capable of comprehending the connection between sire and child." She asked. "Have you ever been in love before?"

"Yes!"

"To that human girl, Christine Willis." She reminded me. "The same girl whom you took one single month to stop agonizing over. If you had truly loved her, why not return to her the moment I trusted you to leave the nest?" She then asked. "If you do still desire her, why not seek her out and bring her over to be at your side for eternity?"

I was at a loss for words.

"Accept this." She ordered. "Our time together has come to an end. Do not look for me and do not pursue me. If we are to see each other again, it will by my summons or destiny's will."

"No!" I shook my head frantically as I cried. "Please, don't go!"

"Good bye, Dominick." Wilhelmina said ever so gently, like the countless times we laid together and talked. "Do me proud, mon amant"

"No! Wait!"

Then I heard the unmistakable click of a phone being hung up just as the light in room went out.

"Wilhelmina!" I shouted as I sprang to my feet.

I ran, through the empty parking lot, to the front door of the Bristol. I knew she could outrun me. I knew she could order me away, but I didn't care. I just needed to speak with her face to face. Maybe there something I could say, some feat to accomplish, anything that would keep her from leaving me. Then the strangest thing happened.

A loud horn sounded to my immediate left and a very bright light

They grew louder and stronger and I wondered what it was or what it could be. Just as I turned my head to see, some large and powerful force slammed into my body and I was flying for a moment.

The last thing that went through my head, before it collided and cracked on the pavement, was how even with my gift and all it could do — Wilhelmina had gotten one over me.

And once is all it ever takes.

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