Chapter 30: The Last Day of Hunger (Part II)
I didn’t know Mikael well.
I knew of him - he was the late Tia Valeria’s novitiate. One of them. The other had died with everyone else in her House, leaving him as the sole survivor. He was young like the rest of us - an infant in voodooism.
He was a lengthy, skinny man; I only ever saw him dressed in white which commonly swallowed him whole. This time, however, he was in pajamas close to the color of his skin - a light brown. Caramel, I suppose. His eyes were tired and heavy but his posture was alert and rigid. His hair, short and curly, was frizzy. His mouth had a natural pout, and his nose was narrow but a bit rounded at the tip. A handsome young man Mikael was, but clearly naive and impressionable - a victim of trauma. I’m surprised he volunteered to come with us, especially since he would be face-to-face with Tia Valeria’s killer down in the undercroft. But regardless of his reasoning, he was here. Present. He was also staring at me expectantly. Or maybe he was analyzing my character; we didn’t know each other well, but I knew that he was aware of how “close” I was to Hezekiah. “Close” was subjective, though; I was closer to him than anyone else in the house, which wasn’t that close at all since they all kept a considerable distance from him.
“So, what now?” Rocio asked. She wasn’t her usual attitudinal self. She was scared. She didn’t conceal this fear from us like she usually did.
“We go to the undercroft.” Kizzy’s eyes lit up like she had an epiphany. “I need to get my crossbow first.”
No one questioned her as to why - we knew why. It was cautionary. The reality of how dangerous this expedition was hit us when Kizzy said those words, though. Hezekiah hadn’t eaten in a long time, and the last time I was a blood bag to him, my blood literally turned into burning acid in his lungs. I was well aware of how vampires got when they were starved - desperate. Animalistic. Deadly. Hezekiah was an Elder vampire, though. He was well aged. These symptoms weren’t as “potent” to him as, say, to a leech. However, it was safe to expect anything with him down there.
Kizzy left with Rocio and Esther to get her crossbow. I stood with Imani and Mikael and waited. I didn’t hear anything downstairs or outside. My curiosity was piqued but I didn’t dare look out the window again. I didn’t want to see Abraham looking up at me, a smile stretching across his dead face. I had to focus on the journey ahead of us. A short journey, but a difficult one. I wondered how much of my blood Hezekiah required in order to be “functional” or at least willing to negotiate with Abraham and his clan. I also wondered if Hezekiah would even be willing to negotiate on our behalf. Maybe he’d rather starve himself out. That wouldn’t be wise.
Abraham would become violent if Hezekiah wasn’t in his possession again.
“What do you plan on doing once we get to the undercroft?” Imani asked me. This was a question that made her restless, waiting for the answer.
“I give him what he wants in exchange for what we want.”
“And what is that?” Mikael asked me. This was the first time he had ever spoken to me. “What is it that you’ll give him?”
The answer was simple. In fact, it was an answer that all of us knew already - blood. But I didn’t give him a reply, because by the look on his face - this look of disgust and contempt - he wanted me to think of a different answer. An answer that I had already given Hezekiah before. An answer that wasn’t blood. It was clear then, how Mikael saw me - a harlot. A whore. A fool, maybe. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt - he hated Hezekiah. With every fiber of his being. The thought of me having sex with him and interacting with him in any other way besides that probably made his blood boil. It probably made the acid in his stomach turn. He probably hated me, or I probably disgusted him. Perhaps I confused him. But he confused me, too:
If he was so frightened by Hezekiah - if I disgusted him - why was he here?
Kizzy had arrived with her crossbow, just in time for me not to ask Mikael the burning question that lingered in my mind. I should have asked him, right there and then; it would have saved us much trouble in the upcoming endeavor. But I put my inquisitive nature to rest for a moment against my better judgment.
The silver crossbow in Kizzy’s arms brought back painful memories. She had that crossbow in her possession when we went to visit Sajida the Shunned. It was precautionary then but ended up being necessary when Leeches tried to kill us in the forest. It’s precautionary now; I hoped it was only precautionary.
“Is everyone ready?” Kizzy asked. No one answered, but we knew what would have been the answer if everyone was honest - no.
It was a comical sight - six young adults treading the halls of a voodoo safehouse, in pajamas, planning on negotiating with a vampire. We were well acquainted in the thought that we were descending staircases leading to our death, whether it be from Hezekiah or Abraham and his clan. We were unsure. It was a thought that we all carried with us. However, I carried a bit of hope with me. It didn’t hurt to - it didn’t hurt to hope that everything would be perfectly fine for once.
The living room was completely empty when we set foot on the ground floor. Dark, empty, desolate. My heart sunk in my chest as I wondered where everyone had gone, but a whisper near the kitchen filled me with initial fright that dissipated into thankfulness.
Mambo Nene, crouched underneath a table with a few others, urged us to continue onward. And upon straining my eyes in the dark, I saw that everyone was hidden around the house in different areas; shadows and silhouettes, cowering. I looked for Mama but couldn’t find her. Kizzy urged me to continue to the undercroft, so I did. In a single file, Kizzy in front, me behind her, and everyone else trailing, we tiptoed to the undercroft door, opening it slowly, feeling the chill overtake us as we stared at the abyss waiting for us at the bottom of the staircase.
Esther flicked on her flashlight she brought; none of the candles against the walls were lit.
The wooden stairs creaked beneath out weight as we descended, one step at a time, one foot after the other. Mikael, who was last in line, shut the door behind him. We were completely alone.
I couldn’t hear Hezekiah. Not even the shift of a foot. When we reached the bottom of the staircase, Kizzy and I exchanged one look to each other. Even in the dark, I could still see her hard features pressed even harder together to form a frown. The air was damp and uncomfortable, the whole basement dark. In the corner - the corner - he sat there. His back, however, faced the wall. We couldn’t see his face; he was hunched over, body stiff.
I took the flashlight from Esther but made sure not to shine it on him. He was clearly in a very fragile state, and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. We needed his cooperation.
“Hezekiah,” I said gently. I took steps forward but held a hand out to Kizzy, gesturing for her not to follow me. She stayed behind with everyone else.
“Hezekiah,” I said again, and again, with no response. However, he did expel a soft, strained breath. Almost like a wheeze through blocked airways. The strained breath came out again, and the muscles of his back began to move slowly. I turned to Kizzy, but she didn’t know what was happening, either.
“Abraham’s here,” I began. “He’s here for you. Mama doesn’t want to hand you over, though. I thought of an idea. I...I’ll let you feed on me again. For as long as you want. In exchange, you have to help us negotiate with Abraham while he’s here. I promise, my blood won’t do to you what it did last time.”
Growling. He growled. Lowly. His muscles began to get comfortable, contorting and moving around in the small corner space he was in. And somehow, I had built up the courage to approach him, making the space between us smaller. I wanted him to know that he could trust me. I wanted him to know that I was confused and trying to navigate this mess as much as him. Making sure the light was facing away from him, I knelt down and reach out my hand. I reached out until I touched his back, hard like stone; cold like stone. He flinched away from me immediately, making me jump back a bit. But somehow, beneath the stone, there was a soft spot to him I could reach. So, I tried again. I rested my hand on him, only this time, he didn’t move away from me. He sat still, his breathing heavy and laborious. I didn’t say anything else; I waited for him to come to me, regardless of what state he was in. I waited for him to look at me. To show me his face. To see how serious I was. To know he could trust me. I would have waited forever if I had to, but forever was cut short. Quickly.
“Mikael, no!” Imani screamed. There was a struggle - a thud on the ground, a grunt and scream. Several screams. I heard the crossbow stretch, lock into place; it happened so fast. So fast, that right when I turned around to see what was happening, Mikael already had the crossbow in his hand, loaded. Kizzy was on the ground, as were Imani and Rocio. Esther clung to the wall, frightened. My eyes locked onto her, then shifted to Mikael, whose eyes were filled with hatred and loathing, drowning in tears. Hezekiah’s instinct had kicked in inhumanely fast, and a millisecond before Mikael fired the crossbow in our direction, Hezekiah grabbed me and threw me onto the other side of the wall away from him. There was no gentleness in his hold on me; his nails had dug into my skin, his grip rough and tight, the force of him throwing me leaving me in excruciating pain on the ground. But I fought against this pain to look up through the dust on my lenses. I saw a silver arrow glistening in the light of the flashlight spinning on the ground. It was lodged into Hezekiah’s shoulder. That arrow would have been in my neck, had Hezekiah not thrown me out of the way. Mikael didn’t want it in my neck. He wanted it in Hezekiah’s neck or heart or wherever he meant to aim. But Mikael didn’t have any sort of aim, so the arrow would have pierced me. But it didn’t. It pierced Hezekiah like Mikael initially wanted.
But Mikael was naive and foolish, for a measly silver arrow wouldn’t have done the damage to an Elder vampire that he thought it would.
Hezekiah didn’t wail in pain. He didn’t curse. He didn’t laugh, cynically, at Mikael’s failed effort. He didn’t do anything, at least for that moment. He sat there for an entire thirty-three seconds; I counted. Then, he pulled the arrow out of his shoulder and threw it on the ground uncaringly.
Mikael was speechless.
And as Kizzy got up and grabbed the crossbow from him, Hezekiah finally turned around. He showed us his face in the weak illumination of the flashlight now still on the ground. But it wasn’t Hezekiah’s face. I mean, it was, but it wasn’t. To me. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t a him - it was an...it. A thing. It was a thing sitting in that corner, turning to face us and look us in the eye. Mikael stared in shock and horror - we all did. Frozen by dread, mouth agape, bile teasing our throats, we stared at this thing in the corner looking at us. It growled at us, but more specifically, it growled at the man who shot him. The dark shadows aided this thing, for we couldn’t get a good description of its face. But we soon did, as it crawled forward into the light.
It still fills me with unease to describe what this thing looked like. Although this “thing” was Hezekiah, I refused to believe it was. Deep down, however, I knew it was him. And I knew why he looked like this - he was at his last day of hunger and the transformation had begun. Aza knew this more than anyone. She knew what happened when you didn’t feed a vampire for too long. I knew this, too, but not as well as she did. No amount of books could have prepared me - prepared us - for what we saw.
I’ll start with his eyes.
They were completely black, except for the pupils - yellow, almost white. Small but prying and dangerous. Two small orbs of fire surrounded by a consuming, hungry black abyss. His face, once a beauty to marvel at forbiddingly, had completely morphed into something monstrous. His cheeks caved in on themselves, leaving these pockets of stretched skin, dragging and pulling the skin around his eyes so the lids were stressed and lifeless, revealing the pink, fleshy tone underneath his eyes. His nose was gone; it had grown upwards and into the bridge, leaving only nostrils exposed. His jaw was deformed as well. Broken, slanted, and elongated. His body was preparing him to not only feed but feed large amounts at one time, sucking all of the blood from a victim out in mere seconds, perhaps. That was the best explanation - the only explanation - for his jaw contorting that way and his mouth ridding Hezekiah of his lips, only allowing gums and teeth to be exposed; sharp teeth. Long teeth. And a large, wide mouth filled with more than just one set of razor-sharp incisors; there were rows of them, stretching as wide as his mouth had grown.
“What the fuck is that!?” Rocio exclaimed, but none of us could give a definite answer at the time. It was a vampire - this is what a vampire looked like, underneath the humanistic looks and hypnotizing charm, this is what they were underneath. And if they were starved, this is who they became on the surface. I fought with myself for years after, trying to understand if vampirism became you or hid who you were?
We were left no time to process what we saw. Hezekiah, or whatever had overcome him, had become angry. And a loud, ear-blistering, heart-stopping screech left his throat. Suddenly, his mouth widened to reveal all of his teeth, and his eyes, once black with yellow pupils, turned completely yellow and Auburn, reddening on the exposed lids underneath.
We knew nothing else but to run.
I grabbed the flashlight with whatever strength I had left and forced myself to get up and run. I stumbled forward, following the screaming herd, pushing and shouting through the undercroft to the staircase. Kizzy grabbed my arm to bring me upright and dragged me forward; I wasn’t running as fast as I thought. In fact, I had trouble moving, even though I thought I was running; I was in shock. Kizzy picked me up and forced me to move my legs.
As we ran, the flashlight shone on him in frames, synced with the movements of my arms. One moment, it was dark, the next, I could see him. One second, darkness, the next, Hezekiah strained against the chains that held him. One second, darkness, and in this darkness, we heard more of the barbaric groaning and moaning before a rumble from the wall, and as the light shone on him again, he was on the wall, his long, sharp nails puncturing the concrete and suspending him above the floor with the chains still dangling from his wrists; slabs of broken concrete were attached to the end of each shackle. He screeched at us again before crawling rapidly towards us against the walls.
“Go, go, go!” Esther begged loudly. Mikael opened the door and ran through with alarming quickness. I remember the last frame of Hezekiah I saw in the undercroft - the last frame that the flashlight allowed me. I looked behind me once, struggling to get to the door, and he was there towards the bottom of the staircase, looking up at Kizzy and I with eyes that looked like hellfire. Crouched, staring up at us like a demon or a possessed animal. He charged towards us, crawling up the stairs as the concrete stuck to the shackles on him dragged behind him and destroyed the wood of the staircase. Kizzy and I made it through and shut the door. The six of us scurried around in the dark to find whatever we could to hold the door - a bookcase, the coffee table, a chair, and the couch. We turned on all the lights, and there they were - the Coterie and the rest of the House members. They had heard us screaming and came from outside; they were with Abraham, negotiating. Buying us time. But that ended once we saw what Hezekiah had become.
Mama saw all of us, shaken and in tears; hysterics. Completely fallen apart. Imani and I pushed the couch against the door as much as we could. With the lights on, there was nothing concealed - we were all crying, covered in dirt and sweat, shaking uncontrollably. Esther began running around, gathering all the fallen items on the ground and throwing it on the couch to add weight - books, broken vases, pillows. She was in a complete frenzy. And once everyone in the house saw this, they began to panic. But they didn’t know what we saw.