Betrayal burned through Semka’s veins. His position had been betrayed by his closest friend, a man who now lay in a bloody heap before him. If the now-dead bastard hadn’t betrayed him to their enemies, they could’ve held their own a bit longer.
They could’ve held onto their homeland before it wasn’t theirs anymore. The foreigners had invaded with such force that they had to retreat and hide in the forest. Very few men made it out of the Carpathian Forest alive. Legends spoke of a creature that dined on human vitality...but the forest had been their last resort. Within hours after the sun had set, all but Vlad and Doran had been slaughtered by the foreign soldiers.
Quickly, the enemy had outnumbered them and while his men fought valiantly...they could not win. In the end, Doran turned on Semka, Doran driving his blade into Semka’s stomach. The pain had been almost blinding.
“I’m sorry, Semka. This was the deal. I tell them the location of our stronghold in exchange for the safety of our people!”
The words will rang in his ears as he knelt on the ground holding his wound trying to quell the bleeding. Rage had taken over him and he slaughtered Doran in front of the soldiers. Wisely, they had decided to leave once Doran breathed his last. They probably feared him mad but he didn’t care. Semka was lost in his pain as he beat Doran to a pulp before slotting his throat with an animalistic cry.
All that was left for Doran was sadness, sadness that he would never share another laugh with him. He would never strategize with him again, nor would he watch the sunset with him.
His best friend. His lover.
All of that was gone now, leaving nothing but this pain in his belly from the knife that Doran had plunged inside it. He could barely remember the tears that had formed in his eyes as he asked his companion, “Why?”. Tears spilled down his cheeks as the weight of what transpired sat upon Semka’s shoulders. His lover was dead and he was to blame.
What was that? What was that noise?
A rustle of leaves nearby drew his attention. A gentle breeze blew as the night grew cold - but beneath the fluttering leaves was the sound of footsteps crunching the dry Autumn leaves.
Before him lay an empty forest with no animals, the only sound coming from the rustling of the wind and the leaves in it. Darkness hid the furthest view of the forest around him. Moonlight bathed Semka in silvery rays as he sat beside Doran’s corpse in the tiny clearing. Huffing, he turned his body to survey what he could see of the forest, scanning it for more enemies.
Perhaps they were waiting for him to die, so they could take his head for the foreign general to mount on his wall as a trophy. Surely his head would be the only handsome face around.
He snorted at the idea. Damn right he would be. The Romans were all ugly bastards in his eyes.
With his dagger in hand he eyed the dark forest around him, waiting for the straggler to attack. Whoever it was surely was taking their sweet time to finish him.
It pissed him off.
“Show yourself, bastard. I haven’t all night!” His teeth gritted while he fought through the pain and dizziness that started to overcome him. There wasn’t much time left for him and he wanted to die with dignity. Better to die fighting that on his knees doing nothing. A true warrior’s death.
Another rustle of leaves occurred, his attention snapping to the direction to find someone unexpected standing there.
A woman stood a few feet away. Dark hair hung in waves to her waist over a thick brown cloak that partially covered her white dress. In the darkness her eyes glowed red, the sight inciting fear into Semka. He could feel his heart pound rapidly in his chest at the sight of her.
Was this the creature of the forest that legends spoke of? The creature that fed on the blood of men? A...vampire? It wasn’t possible, but there she stood, watching as Semka fought to stay alive a little while longer.
“You fight your demise. Accept it, Semka the Ruthless.” Within seconds she was behind him, her arms wrapped around him in a motherly embrace. Her features that would normally be beautiful looked sinister in the moonlight. His arms were pinned to his sides as she tilted his head back, exposing his neck to her glistening fangs. The creature’s hot breath fanned across his skin sending shivers down his spine.
He could not die like this. Especially not by this creature.
“Let me go, beast. Unhand me so I can kill you while I still breathe.” He fought against her grip but it was no use. He was too weak and nauseous.
His strength was waning.
“I can give you life everlasting, you foolish mortal. Hush now and let me give you the gift of life.” A sharp pain pierced his skin.
Semka’s scream rang through the forest frightening birds that took flight at the sudden sound, the fluttering of wings filling the subsequent silence. Every nerve in his body was on fire. A burning pain raced through him that quickly overpowered his senses. He felt like he was being roasted over a spit like a hog. The only sound he was capable of was screaming.
“Shhh, child. Your new life will begin shortly.” The hold around his body held tight as he fought to claw at his skin, wanting to end the burning sensation. Slowly but surely the woman’s cold skin grew warm against his own as the burning dissipated into nothing. The wound from Doran’s blade bled no more leaving only the stain of it on his clothes. Like magic the pain was also gone.
“What have you done, wench? Why do I feel no pain?” Semka’s vision was sharpened and his hearing changed. Every little noise was thunderous.
The night sky above came to life, brighter than he had ever seen, each star glowing with potent clarity for the first time. He could see the tiniest of insects fly in the night sky far above. A change had occurred within him that he couldn’t comprehend.
He forced the woman’s arms apart and clambered shakily to his knees. His strength was twice what he remembered, the movements fluid and catlike. Everything within him burned with a feeling he couldn’t understand. Doran’s body rolled over in his quick movements as he acclimated to this new agility.
“Semka the Ruthless, I will teach you everything to know about what you are now.”
“What am I? What did you do to me?!” He yelled, his voice hoarse with dryness.
Semka could only stand there and gaze down at Doran’s lifeless body as he grappled with his new reality. A reality that was permanent and everlasting. A simple betrayal had changed his life, whether it be for the better or worse, he was yet to find out. This creature had changed him somehow.
Doran’s glassy eyes met his own as he rolled his corpse over, noticing that a sweet smell drifted from it. The smell filled his lungs as he inhaled deeply. His stomach rumbled with hunger as he knelt before the corpse, tasting some of the blood that seeped from the mortal wounds he himself had inflicted minutes ago.
It tasted sweet and he wanted more.
So much more.
“That’s right, Semka. Feed.” Chuckled the female creature behind him.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
The blood pills popped open from Semka’s fangs as he ate them like candy from the freezer bag in his hands. He didn’t like having to use Blood Pills but, it was a last resort since most of the population would still have alcohol in their veins after the New Year’s festivities. Drinking blood from a drunk human would make him drunk in return; he hated the feeling. Thank goodness there were more industrious vampires in the world who had invented Blood Pills. They had saved his ass many times despite not being the same as fresh blood.
Something about fresh blood made his body feel alive and electric, like he could run a human marathon. Semka could easily outrun the mortals, of course, being a vampire and all.
He briefly glanced at the flavor spelled out in a simple font across the Blood Pills’s package, Cherry, before he returned it to his fridge to sit with the rest of his stash. Leaving the kitchen in a flash, he pulled on his coat as he gagged. The artificial flavor of cherry wasn’t his favorite, leaving a weird metallic taste in his mouth. Too bad that flavor had been all that the local vampire-owned convenience store had left.
Waiting a few weeks for a new shipment of flavorless ones was out of the question. He’d be a drunk mess from having to drink from inebriated humans. A drunk vampire was very bad.
Tonight, he needed to be well fed and looking human as possible. He had an important meeting with a possible new housekeeper, a live-in maid of sorts. Passing as a human and looking the least scary was important. The slight misstep may fuck it all up and he really needed her. Taking care of his big estate was too difficult on his own with his line of work. Hell, he was frankly too lazy to upkeep the house and regretted buying one with so many rooms to clean.
If she accepted the position, he’d have to purchase human food so she wouldn’t starve. One chore on a long list of others to do.
He made one final pass at his appearance in the mirror, brushing his fingers through his thick wavy hair that fell a little past his shoulders. A glint of his ear piercings shone through his thick mane as he fiddled with it. It had been a long time since he has gone through such lengths to appear presentable, centuries even. Not looking like one of those crazy estate owners in the motion pictures was important.
Huffing to himself, he straightened his black wool coat and smiled to himself in the mirror, his fangs flashing in the low light.
Yeah. Fine. I look like fine. I don’t look creepy or non-human at all. Perfect.
He had to reassure himself a few more times as he flashed to his black 1967 Chevrolet Impala. With a smile he patted his beloved car’s hood before getting behind the wheel. On the way to the restaurant, he blasted the radio letting the tunes of the classic rock station carry him forward. Soon enough, the signs on the highway alerted him of his approaching exit. A few minutes later he parked on a side street a few blocks from the restaurant.
The smell of burger grease and warm blood assaulted his nostrils, the latter filling him with a twinge of sadness that his dinner hadn’t been so fresh. A bright neon blue and green sign on the side of the old brick building lit up the wet sidewalk, still wet from the earlier rains of the morning. Humans walked along the sidewalk, some in a drunken state and clutching half-empty souvenir cups from Beale.
Tonight, Downtown was very much alive thanks to the New Year.
Chuckling to himself, he enjoyed the sight. If they were as old as he was then every new year would be just another year gone by. At this point, it was mostly a blur. The years tended to blend together when you stuck around long enough.
Semka crossed the street at a human pace once the streetlight bid him, a group of women laughing as they trailed behind him reminiscing about the previous year. The neon sign for Ernestine & Hazels grew larger as he approached the door, a dizzying blend of sounds and smells hitting him in the face while he went inside. The old dive bar was a local favorite and he had seen it change greatly in the decades since he moved to Memphis. Once a brothel and speakeasy to now being a hole in the wall with the best burgers, it had a crowd of regulars very loyal to the establishment.
The old checkered floor still remained and the old walls covered in photographs of all the famous people over the decades who had eaten there were displayed proudly along with old posters of famous singers that had recorded at the Sun Studio. Laughter rang out from the small crowd of humans who sat in the booths and various tables littered about. Alcohol permeated the air, clogging Semka’s sensitive nose. This was a scene he was all too familiar with, his decades of patronage making him at ease.
No one really batted an eye at the weird Eastern European guy and kept to their own; something he greatly appreciated. The less prodding the better.
His iPhone read ten till seven so he had a few minutes to request to sit in the back bar, the old speakeasy, while he nursed a Memphis Made Fireside IPA. He ordered the usual and with a nod made his way to the back, the intimate lighting filling him with ease once he escaped the hustle and bustle of the pre-New Year’s crowd. Perching in the corner near the old stage, he leaned back in his favorite chair. Guitar rifts from Aerosmith’s Welcome to the Jungle occupied him while he waited for this woman.
Only five minutes had passed while he nursed his beer before he sensed her. She smelled different than the others on the other side of the wall. Nervousness tainted the sweet scent of her blood. In her chest her heart thundered in anticipation, trepidation somewhere in the mix. The sound thundered pleasantly in his ears.
The door opened to reveal a plump young blonde in her twenties, a pink plastic portfolio tucked in the crook of her arm. Gently, she closed the door with her foot and shakily approached him once she located him. Her eyes widened slightly at the first sight of him.
She shook like a leaf in the wind as she approached him, lovely hazel eyes drinking him in. Surely she saw how menacing he looked in the low ambient light. Surely she wondered what kind of asshole would plan the interview on a holiday.
Holidays were meaningless to him.
Ya know, walk a little faster lady. Gods, just let me get this over with so I can go home.
“Happy New Years, Mr. Semka.” Her tiny hand reached towards him, the shaking largely diminished once she touched him.
They shook hands, “Happy New Years, Ms. Alice Colt. Pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I’m sorry for the terrible timing of this meeting but I’m afraid I’m not patient.” Taking out the toothpick he had been gnawing on, he gave her an assuring smile, hoping it’d ease her nerves.
Hastily, she sat in the chair opposite him, her shapely legs tucking underneath her chair while she presented her resume. He merely skimmed the words since he had already researched everything about Alice prior to their meeting. She had a record of housekeeping for rich folks in Germantown, tending to the more menial tasks like laundry and the like. A good number of former employers had glowing reviews and her record was impeccable.
“Well, Ms. Colt, put your mind at ease as you’re hired. You can start immediately on Monday and move in to the guest suite of the house. I’ll have your set of keys ready on your arrival. I’m a very busy man at night so you’re services will be...appreciated.”
A large smile broke across her pale face, her hazel eyes glittering with relief. In the background someone had qued another Aerosmith song on the jukebox in the mail restaurant. Semka watched as Alice started to thank him profusely, shaking his hand excitedly.
“This is life changing. Thank you, thank you, Mr...?”
“Semka. Calling me Semka is fine. No need for formalities.” He flipped an errant thick strand out of his face as he leaned back into the old cushioned seat.
Desire flashed across Alice’s face momentarily, giving him pause as she continued thanking him. She thanked him so much he swore he would develop a headache, which wasn’t possible for vampires. Vampires didn’t have human illnesses.
He now wondered how much of her prior nervousness was actually attributed to landing the job. Briefly, her eyes had widened with clear desire when he was drawing his ever-wild hair out of his face. Typically humans weren’t attracted to him; not since the 1800’s at least. Semka thought himself average at best and not someone to be desired.
Well this is going to be awkward. Will finding me attractive affect her work ethic? I hope not since I really need her around the house.
“Look, you’ll have benefits and vacation whenever you want. Healthcare, dental, you name it. Those who live under my roof are well taken care of. I work nights, but I do make sure my own are wanting for not.” As long as she lived under his roof, she’d also have protection from a strigoi attack as well as other vampires who weren’t so friendly to humans. He stuck to feeding from petty criminals but others weren’t so discerning as he.
If only these humans were aware of the danger they are in just by breathing.
Alice and Semka parted ways, the walk to his Impala seeming to take forever. He tore out of the parking lot and headed straight home. Tonight, he’d clean up the house in anticipation for Monday to roll around. It was only Saturday so he had two days and he was expecting her at nine o’clock in the morning. Waking up so early would fuck his sleep schedule but he could adjust. Creatures of the night were good at that.
As he drove home, turning onto the ramp for his exit, he couldn’t shake that look of desire in those hazel eyes. It was the briefest moment, but he had seen it. Doran’s betrayal still burned to this day some one-thousand one-hundred years later. Doran’s earth-brown eyes still glimmered with sorrow and regret in his mind. Many hours of peace had been stolen thinking about it. That pesky memory just wouldn’t stop. He hoped with a few more centuries it would finally fade away so that he could move on for good.
The wise words of his mother still rang true.
“Pain never goes away. We learn to live with it. Adapt. That’s all we can do so we’re not held back from living our life.”
He had been home for thirty minutes, yet he was lost in his own head like usual. Sooner or later he’d have to cave in and see a therapist. Perhaps having Alice around would provide a good distraction instead. Surely, she’d occupy his time since he had nothing better to do with no strigoi located in Memphis in a while.
Sighing to himself, he left his beloved Impala to down some Blood Pills to relieve the dull ache in his heart. Since alcohol did nothing to vampires, he might as well overindulge in some shitty cherry-flavored Blood Pills.