Charles keened long and low.
The thirst had grown in him like a fury ready to unleash, a wild primal urge that could no longer be tamed by his former glory. As his body and mind crumbled, so did everything else that had defined him, his noble birth, his aristocratic upbringing, his pride and eloquence, his humanity. He was now reduced to a savage beast out for blood alone.
He had been walking with slow and sometimes unsure steps along the Potomac Beltway Park. Joggers rushed past, taking no notice or interest in him. For all intent and purposes Charles could just as well be a withered old post stump that shuffled along. He thought about taking one of them, but he no longer possessed the physical dexterity needed to give chase and hunt down his prey. It would have to be an easy conquest.
He didn’t have to wait long as he wandered off the lighted path and into a dark section of the park. As two young Hispanic males approached him from the shadows, Charles could make out the gleam in their eyes, sly and cruel. At the very least, they planned to mug him, at the most, rob and beat him up. Both wore ball caps with the bills backward, hoodie jackets, tee shirts printed with the slogan, I’ll Whip Your Ass, Dude!, high-top tennis shoes, and oversized cargo pants that hung down their flat asses. Stupid, ignorant American kids, Charles thought. They never knew how to dress for the proper occasion.
“Hey, viejo,” the taller and heavier of the two greeted him. “Give us your wallet, pendejo, or we’ll cut you.”
Since neither one produced a knife, Charles knew they were bluffing, figuring the old man who stooped before them would be a cinch to overpower and rob.
“Come on, gramps,” the shorter, skinnier one coaxed as he fluttered his fingers in a gimme gesture. “Hand it over.”
“You really want it?” Charles challenged in a quavering voice.
“Yeah, you old fart, hand it over!”
“All right.” With strength born of a deep desire to quench his thirst, Charles lunged forward and took the tall, beefier one by surprise, swiping the kid’s neck with his special thimble. As he drew blood from the carotid artery, it spurted in the air and splattered across the tee shirt of the little guy. He screamed in shock and took off running as his “homey” crumpled into Charles’ arms.
Now Who’s Whipping Whose Ass, dude?
Tipping back the kid’s head to expose the slashed throat, Charles drank deeply, each drop like sweet nectar or even warm brandy, so intoxicating and rich. He felt much better as the blood filled and renewed him. Perhaps this was all he needed to return to normal... In the dark, he couldn’t see his hands, but they felt stronger and more flexible, his body stronger too as he dropped the now-drained kid and stood straight.
He would go home, look in the mirror and see if he had changed any. Charles longed for the return of his handsome features, his head of lush hair, and his taut, lithe body. He had always taken such pride in his appearance, and in one day, it had all disintegrated.
Is this what it’s like to be dead, he thought as he wiped the excess blood from his bloodless lips, like a corpse that has risen from the grave after rotting in the ground for who knew how long? The thought not only saddened him but made him feel disgusted and frightened. Death had never scared him, at least a regular, Christian death, but he wasn’t normal and he wasn’t dead in the usual sense. His fate remained unknown. Would he continue to age and degenerate, become no more than a skeleton, a pile of bones, maybe a heap of dust?
Ellen had lied to him, told him that the others in her life had simply expired. She had no reason or explanation for their untimely demises. She simply cremated their remains and stored them in those memorial casks up in her sanctuary—everything all neat and tidy. And Charles would be next, her next victim. Many, many years before, Ellen had singled him out, had beguiled him, and then had promised him life everlasting, a life filled with endless riches, love and sex. She told him the story of her own transformation, how it came about through her ancestor’s pagan rituals. They practiced human sacrifices, bloodthirsty rites in which the victim was torn apart and devoured by the worshippers. Blood—the drinking of it—became an important, holy ritual sanctioned by their gods. It sustained those carefully-chosen beings who had been granted immortality, a communion of god and mortal. But once transformed, these chosen ones became trapped in their own desires, forced to seek out victims for their sustenance, their thirst for blood overpowering.
As Ellen walked the earth, she took what she needed, leaving bodies in her wake. And when she craved love and companionship, she strived to create another like herself. Yet, each one had been a victim of her selfish passion—Charles no exception. He believed in her promise of life ever after, the promise of having the world at his feet, the promise of making him a king over all mortals. Thus he allowed her to mold him into what she wanted him to be without questioning her motives. Yes, he had been naïve, headstrong, careless and greedy, but Ellen had been the greatest offender.
She not only offered empty, hollow promises, but she lied to him. Worse, their relationship had been nothing but one, long, fucking lie. Now as his life wound down and he became useless to her, she planned to dispose of him as she had the others.
But Charles knew he had to fight back. He refused to be shut up in a box forever. So, maybe, just maybe, if he continued to drink pure, unpackaged blood, and also added some of the elixir she kept locked up in her sanctuary, then maybe, just maybe, the combination would restore him.
And maybe, just maybe, Charles Henry Edward Lambert, the Fifth Earl of Worcester, had a chance to live again.
Now taking his victim by the arms, he dragged the lifeless body to a clump of evergreen bushes and deposited it beneath the thick brush. It wasn’t a perfect hiding place but it would due for the next few hours. The kid’s buddy had probably gone to the police already, and Charles knew he had to get out of the area. He wanted to run but he found his feet and legs would not cooperate. The vitality he had experienced just moments ago seemed to have faded quickly, leaving him tired and achy, just like an old, old man...not to mention confused. He couldn’t remember where he had been and where he planned to go. Turning up the collar of his jacket against the cold night air, he kept walking and walking, staying close to the street lamps so he could see the way. When he finally recognized some landmarks, he realized he was close to P Street, his street.
Charles breathed a sigh of relief. He wanted to go home now. Despite his misgivings, he knew home would shield him, keep him safe and warm. Yes! He would return to the townhouse...and to Ellen.
When Ellen saw her lover, what he had become and what he had done, she wanted to break down in tears. He seemed to have regressed further than any of the others, into some bestial man-creature covered in blood from a recent feeding. Blood had seeped into the deep crevices of his aged skin, soaked into his impeccable clothes, and stained his teeth and mouth an ugly blackish red hue.
Trying now to ignore her sadness, pity and revulsion, Ellen helped her lover to the bathroom where she stripped him naked and took him into the shower. There she used a soft cloth and a thick mound of body wash to cleanse his pitifully wrinkled and decrepit body. Charles seemed in some kind of shock. His eyes had turned opaque and rheumy and he seemed unable to speak. But Ellen knew he understood when she talked to him softly, hoping her voice contained a modicum of the love and concern she still felt for him.
After the shower, she would dress him in his favorite pair of silk pajamas and put him to bed where she would keep him secured and quiet, giving him sustenance as needed. For Ellen could not allow Charles—in his horrid condition—to leave the house any more, to roam the streets and kill at random. She would have to become his nurse, jailor, feeder and priestess, as much as she hated to do it.
But it had to be done.