… and the stake, solid Bavarian oak hewn to a rough point, slammed between his ribs.
The shock of it awoke him from his dreams of bloodied maidens. The closest he’d come to feeling such pain was when he caught a shaft of sunlight on his face and, even though he found refuge in shadow a mere split-second later, his eyeballs boiled. Carelessness, that: he’d eluded the Hunter by hiding out in an empty warehouse in Gdansk, but was thoughtless enough to glance out of a broken window for a sign of the man just as the sun’s rays broke over the horizon. He’d been left blind for five days. His pain had grown in step with his thirst as he crawled on all fours, debilitated by agony, reduced to hunting rats by smell and holing up in an empty shipping crate during the daytime. Worse than the slow burning in his eyes as they reconstituted themselves had been the sightless confinement in his own self, the lack of an outlet for his hunger. On the last day before he’d re-emerged into the night, he clawed open his veins and drank his own blood, gagging at the taste and reeling from the raw throbbing of his self-inflicted wounds.
But – this pain. What was this? A stake in his chest. It couldn’t have burst his heart yet; he could still feel a slow and steady beat inside him. A wooden stake. A mallet. And a familiar face above him. Fifteen years had passed since the man had chased him to the warehouse, but there was no mistaking the puritanical aspect of the face, the severe cast of his features. The man’s eyes were slits and his mouth screamed in exultation, the long grey whiskers around the bloodless lips bristling. It was the Hunter. And, as he raised his mallet for the second blow, the Hunter was in ecstasy. His reek, redolent of erotic violence, roiled through the vampire’s violated sanctum sanctorum, strong enough to be seen through undead eyes as faint green threads moving in the air.
The vampire gripped the stake with both hands. He’d pull it out before the mallet came down, and then he’d drive it into the suddenly obscene, orgasmic rictus that gaped above him. His claws drove deep into the wood and he began to work the stake out. It was jammed tight between his ribs and he had little leverage, but it began to shift, to move, the point scraping his useless lungs. The shaft emerged slowly from his chest, the grain of the wood blackened by his blood. Yes. Now he’d end this decades-long duel. He’d tear the Hunter apart. Now.
The mallet connected with the stake with a solid wooden thwack …
… and the pain that radiates through the vampire’s chest is like sunlight roasting his innards, his heart and his brain, the very marrows of his bones. He knows his heart has been pierced. He knows that but cannot accept it. The injustice of it: tracked down to his lair by this buffoon. The strength ebbs from his fingers, his hands, his arms. He can no longer try to pull out the stake. He cannot move. His eyes lose their focus. He is being hauled from his coffin now, then dropped. The room spins as he rolls onto the floor and he finds himself staring at the ceiling again. His hands lie flat against the cold stone, unable to strike up at the face of the Hunter that floats into view, a tan oval framed by black and grey, scrawled over with lines and dots. A bright bar rises up to bisect the smeared face. The glare that erupts from the bar hurts the vampire’s eyes and he would turn away if he could, but his muscles are tautening, becoming rigid, even his eyeballs are parched and immobile. Then the bar rises, held in a fist that seems out of proportion to the face. The light it gives off stretches to infinity above the Hunter and then flashes down. There is an interval of redness. When the crimson fades the vampire sees his blurred body on the floor. The Hunter must have grabbed his head by the hair, must be holding it triumphantly over the body. Already, the neck stump is turning grey somewhere down there below him. All the extremities of his body are flaking, becoming ash. It must be dry to the touch but the floor and his body are smudges now, moist smears of color. Everything he sees is coming apart like a sodden jigsaw puzzle. The rot must’ve got to his eyeballs. Ashes fall down through his field of vision. Then there’s nothing to see. He feels himself disintegrate.
Consciousness does not fade; it merely becomes softer. Diffused. He is aware of stone. There is a great mass of rock underneath him, above him a structure through which air moves fast and slow, carrying with it the intermingling smells of the Hunter and the vampire’s heartblood, of salt, nightsoil, spunk, copper, urine, dust: somewhere above him, birds take flight, panicked by the sudden stench of his death.
For a time there are only the smells and stone and faint intimations of countless unknowable movements and presences. Then there is a sudden blooming of a familiar scent, delicate yet ripe. Arousal. He can see again: pale flesh, bared breasts, and long hair swept back from the curve of a neck. She is offering herself to him in exchange for the ultimate pleasure, but he cannot see her face, for she has no face, where there should be features is a vague blur that now erases the rest of her. He tries to picture her again but cannot, then attempts to remember something else, knowing he not so long ago had the capacity for recall. Nothing comes to him. Some random principle is at work. That much he knows. It has something to do with the currents of air and the shifting of his ashes.
There is a sense of greater cohesion now. He has become aware of motion. Now he can imagine the woman again. She has a face. Or, rather, a layer of faces, one over another, thousands of them. But he dare not peel them away now, even though the hunger stirs in him. For he senses that if he concentrates on her, he will miss a momentous event. It is easy to turn away from her faces and veins. There is neither regret nor anger.
The quality of the air has changed; the mass of stone below him is shifting relative to him. He feels the proximity of surging flesh and coiling muscle. That reek whose source he cannot quite remember is strong around him. He is being carried upwards through a thin shell of stone buffeted by winds. He has a memory of a tower stairwell. Yes. This was how it felt to be up in the tower. There is a difference, though, an awareness of a heat, of the same fire that once blinded him. He senses myriads of creatures flourishing in this heat, each slow or fast in its fashion, each with the same capacity for hunger and pain.
But it does not hurt now. Nothing does. He desires nothing. For a moment, there is stillness, and the proximity of a beating heart.
His thoughts dissipate. All he knows is that the vastness of air is all around him and in him. He senses his separate particles losing their awareness of each other as the wind scatters them. For a moment, he feels joy. Then there is only the air.
(c) Joel Kuntonen, All Rights Reserved
Tags: Ashes, Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Joel Kuntonen, Short Story, Vampire, Vampire Fiction, Writers
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