TO COME: 5.2 BEING WORKED ON R/N OMGZ
WARNING: GORY PAGE
All around, the monsters clapped and laughed. Anselm struggled to sit up and slipped in coagulating blood. Not his blood.
Otumbo boomed with laughter and called out, “You are free, boy!
You have become
a lord of this city.”
Anselm gripped his torn belly and shook his head in mute horror. The crowd found this amusing or cute and let out little coos and chuckles. Von Hechten knelt by his side. Von Hechten, his murderer. Anselm fell back to avoid him, fell onto the soft body of some fellow murder victim. It was still warm. Glinting eyes watched him, but
the less patient vampires returned to their conversations or sucked at
the beautiful limbs of the dead. The dead— everyone in the party.
The ambassador, the actress and everyone else. How many of them had he personally eaten? He took in a breath but had no desire to do it again. No breath. He hadn’t been breathing. He was dead and so were these monsters. Arms slid around his torso and he was lifted.
“How does it feel?” Von Hechten steadied him. “You won the grand prize— eternal life.”
Regen, the chesty, long-haired woman bolstered him on the other side. “Can he even speak right now?”
“I didn’t injure his throat. I suppose there is no rush; we have eternity for conversation.”
The crowd dispersed into indolent repose, daintily cleaning themselves after their messy feast. Regen glanced to the corpse pile and winced.
Von Hechten smiled smugly. “Don’t feel bad Regen. It’s not your fault, it's just that your hypotheses were unsound. Science is science, even failures advance knowledge.”
She rolled her eyes and looked to Anselm as he teetered on dead legs. “We should get him wrapped.”
“Yes,” Von Hechten hoisted him into his arms, “Where did we leave the plastic?”
The ceiling ducts circled overhead, around and around. Anselm’s limbs wouldn’t move, but was it rigor mortis, or was it the plastic wrapped up to his chin? Von Hechten held him tight and the wrappings could be imagined to be tightly wound blankets.
Snug as a bug, and all that. He flexed his ruined fingers and their broken bones ground against each other. It didn’t hurt, exactly. Because he was dead. Dead meat. His guts sloshed inside his flayed belly. How could this be real? Was he really a corpse, forced to be conscious through his decay? The true afterlife— no animal friends or magical forests. Just rotting forever.
Regen followed them down the spiral stairs and Anselm caught upside-down glimpses of her.
She asked, “You think they’ll follow your plans unsupervised?”
“That’s their problem,” Von Hechten said, “Mostly.”
“If you say so. Well then, my car, my place?”
“Your floor is easier to clean. Modern materials.”
“But not the halls on the way up.” She sighed and looked away, “I guess it’s late enough. Probably won’t run into anyone.”
Von Hechten shifted Anselm’s weight like a burdensome pile of
dry cleaning, “Is this mundane blather an attempt to undercut my achievement?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…”
That’s me, Anselm thought. A thrilling story for the next fete.
They gathered at a sleek sedan, clean and new as a rental, devoid of personality.
“How big is the trunk?” Von Hechten asked. “It’s not like he needs to breathe.”
“No room,” Regen said, “There’s a shovel back there.”
Von Hechten tucked Anselm into the emptied back seat— just a bag of trash that needed to be taken out. Were they taking him to the graveyard? That’s where he belonged. Tossed in the earth to sleep forever, to feel the flesh fall from his bones. He deserved it; better dead than to be a cannibal. Ugh— that thought, he pushed it away.
Regen took the driver’s seat and opened a package of moist towelettes. The chemical stench of lemon mixed with viscera and blood.
Von Hechten cleaned his hands. “Not much point to this while we're caring for the bloody boy.”
“True,” Regen started the car, “But I just shampooed.”
Anselm’s plastic crinkled as they pulled out of the space. He craned his neck to look out the windows. Hot light flickered inside the church.
Regen tutted at the sight, “Should have waited until everyone left. They still have cars in the lot.”
Von Hechten adjusted his seat back and shoved against Anselm’s legs. “Not executing my plan perfectly— just as you predicted. We shall see how this influences the news reports.
Ah… a once in a century party draws to a close. Pity all the guests died in a terrible fire.”
Disposing the bodies. All those people. Actual people. Not monsters. Anselm couldn’t will himself asleep, back into the delusions and dreams of strange little animals. Come back… Save me from these monsters.
Regen glanced back at him and nodded to Von Hechten.
“Anselm!” he turned in his seat, “Good to see you more alert. I’m sure you’re quite disoriented at the moment, but listen to me— You are going to be well, you will be comfortable and content forever. That is, if you can make it through a bit more discomfort. The worst is over for you. Do you understand?”
Comfort, didn’t they talk about that already? Anselm nodded, his neck strung too loose. A broken doll.
“Good, good. We are on the way to Auntie Regen’s house.”
Anselm mumbled a wet syllable and coughed up a clot of blood the size of a plum.
“Ooh,” Von Hechten furrowed his brow, “How unappetizing.”
“What… is this…” Anselm croaked out.
Von Hechten gazed blankly a moment then gestured loosely.
“We turned you into a vampire.”
Anselm looked down at his wrapped body— a useless, mangled corpse. “I’m dead…”
“—But in the best possible way! You are a lord of this city, beautiful and immortal.”
The clot of blood splatted against Anselm’s neck and slipped beneath the plastic. “Why… all this?”
“The great effort? You see, day to day we must be scrupulous in taking our blood to avoid being noticed. It can be quite stifling, so we like to cut loose once in a while. Pity you won’t be able to take part for another century— unless we’re lucky.”
“Clearly,” Regen said, “He’s more interested in the personal aspect.”
“Ah, as for your evening’s events, it was an experiment to see if we could create a master vampire. And it worked!”
Anselm squinted his bleary eyes, “Master?”
Regen glanced in the mirrors every so often and drove at a steady, even pace. Fire alarms sounded through the city.
“Master vampires,” she said, “Or ‘progenitors,’ are naturally born to their condition after dying. The rest of us are born in
a simpler way.”
“I will explain it better,” said Von Hechten, “But I’m frankly exhausted. I hope you know how much work that was.”
“Eh—” Regen said, “I’m sure he’s exhausted too. Let’s leave him
Von Hechten adjusted his seat again, shoving further into Anselm’s wrapped legs. “Yes, yes…”
The scenery rolled by out the back window. On and on and on, black silhouettes of looming pines. Anselm watched them, his body jostled by the bumps in the road. He shouldn’t be seeing any of this. He was brain-dead. They had drained every drop from him and left him to die. How could his eyeballs still work? Would they gum up and freeze in place? A vampire… No. Silly. But why was being
a cannibal more believable? And he was certainly dead, no denying that or explaining it away by imagining he'd been drugged. This was real.
The jagged tops of the forest whirred past, denser and denser. The car bumped and jostled over rough concrete and into an empty, darkened lot. Trees ruffled in the light wind and hid the park from the rest of the world. He had parked here before with Edi. They’d spent only one night. The cops loved prowling for amorous teenagers and didn’t find as much romance in slumbering drug addicts.
Sirens clamored in the distance. Von Hechten stepped outside and shuffled in the trunk. He walked across the soggy lawn and disappeared into the dark. Regen laid her head against the steering wheel, and the world was silent. Anselm looked up after a moment.
“Are you nicer than him?”
She jolted at the sound. Did she forget he wasn’t a true corpse?
“Nice…” she gazed off into the darkness, “It’s a word children use. Am I less cold-hearted? Yes. But I did murder someone tonight, and it was pointless and cruel.”
“I’m sorry,” Anselm said on reflex.
She examined her stained cuticles, “I don’t know how I get in these situations.”
“It was faster for her. I guess everyone had to
She looked over her shoulder, “That’s kind of you to say.”
Why was he comforting a monster?
The trunk clanged shut and they both jerked. Von Hechten peered in the back window.
“Now that’s the right attitude! Human death is inevitable. What a wise choice I made with you. I'm so astute!”
Regen hung her head.
Von Hechten spent the rest of the trip chattering about unknown people and their conversations and fashion choices for the evening. Regen said little more than ‘hmm’ and ‘oh really.’
They arrived at a modern nautically decorated building near the riverside, and into another concrete coffin of a garage.
“Deal with him,” Von Hechten stepped out of the car, “I’ll carry the bags upstairs.”
“I need someone to clean up after us,” Regen said, “We can’t leave a blood trail right to my door.”
“Fine, fine. You are the host after all.”
He carted away heavy garbage bags and Regen hefted Anselm out with surprising strength and leaned him against the trunk.
“Can you support yourself?” she asked, “Can you walk?”
He cleared his sticky throat. “Maybe…”
She tore open his wrappings and clots of coagulated blood plopped and dripped on the cement. His entrails began to slip free, and he clutched himself with punctured arms. His hands lay in limp, useless tatters.
“Gross,” he murmured.
Regen averted her eyes, “Just hold that in.”
She supported him, and he worked his rubbery muscles into a hobble. Von Hechten passed them in the hall, a bucket of soapy water at his side. He waved, hands in elbow-length dishwashing gloves. Anselm shrank away and Regen had to catch him from toppling over.
They entered her condo and shuffled past a stiff cream-colored sofa and a vase of pointless glass squiggles. Inoffensive and uncomfortable furniture, empty floors and bland art tastefully arranged to approximate a human’s domain. Anselm left bloody footprints on the laminate flooring— those modern materials. How much blood had splattered here over time?
She lifted him into a spotless bathtub. He could hardly feel the coldness of the porcelain with his dead skin. He stared up at the ceiling while she taped his belly closed with a roll of duct tape.
“Ugh, push that back in.”
The tape gapped and a bit of pinkish organ protruded. She laid down a few more layers of tape, then scrubbed her hands at the sink, the boiling water sent out plumes of vapor. Blood everywhere, everywhere Anselm touched. Smeared up the tiles and on the floor in dark earthy reds.
“Stay here,” she said. He laughed silently. “—Err, you know what I mean.”
She left him and Von Hechten’s jolly laugh echoed through the condo. “I found a chunk of flesh in the hall, and for a moment
I wondered where it came from!”
“What?” Regen said behind the wall, “It’s not that bad here!”
“Ooh, do you recognize this? What does a pancreas look like?”
“Ugh! Don’t put that nasty thing in my face.”
Anselm listened as they bustled around the rooms, unfurling plastic and shuffling cloth. The murderers cleaning the crime scene. And what of him? The corpse. It wasn’t like they could kill him again— or could they? Maybe there was a worse fate than simple death.
Von Hechten loomed into sight. The murderer. Anselm turned his head, but the monster scooped him up under the arms and yanked him upright. Anselm’s shoulders cracked and his spine popped all the way up like a rusty zipper. He swayed and slumped against the murderer’s shoulder. Nothing he could do. He followed the monster over a ream of plastic— his red carpet— and into
a room with a tall ceiling. Regen stood by a tarp-covered bed, shaking dark earth out of garbage bags. She spread the soil around with her gloved hands, laying an even coat. Were they going to plant him? What terrible things would grow from this ruined body?
The monsters placed him on the bed, his limbs now useless, stiff with death. The nude, immobile corpse. He said nothing, his mouth dried out to uselessness, his tongue a gluey slug. Regen hovered over him and bent his arms, crossed his mangled hands on his chest.
Von Hechten said, “Cute. Just like the kings of old. But where is his sword and shield?” He looked down. “Ah, there they are…”
Regen waved him away, “You swine! This is my apartment, and he is my guest.”
“Naturally.” Von Hechten leaned against the door jamb, “—Anselm, this night you will heal. It will be unpleasant, but afterward you will have the rest of your immortal life ahead of you, free of disease and pain.”
Regen pulled up a chair at the bedside. Too late for a deathbed visit, madame. She looked down at him, pupils dully gleaming. He closed his eyes. A silent moment passed and she began to sing an old nursery rhyme. Be a good boy and the Gallant Knight will bless you. Be courteous, polite and diligent. When he opened his eyes again, she was gone, and the room was dark. Pain wicked up from his belly and he clutched his churning guts. His fingers mashed through the gummy tape, through the open wound like an overripe and bruised fruit. He shuddered and forced himself under the tide of unconsciousness. Terrible dreams, waking and coughing up strange hard objects. It was cold, so cold. He shivered all night in his the mess of his mutilated flesh. Softness drifted on to him, powder. He woke to see his body buried under downy snow.
He staggered upright, nude in the icy wasteland. All around him untouched dunes of glittering snow, freshly laid piles of sugar. Trees surrounded him, frozen hard and brittle. He forced himself to move, his pale feet crunched through the snow. Irregular shapes dotted the ground, lumps of ice.
As he drew closer, he made out the stiff texture of fur sparkling with frost— stuffed animals, fused together and dormant. He recognized them, they'd been long lost but not truly forgotten. He continued through the graveyard of familiar faces until a larger lump that blocked his path. A smooth glint of glass, a metal curve. A car. A car he knew well.
He rushed up and tossed away the snow with his bare shaking hands. The body in the driver’s seat was frozen solid, eyes squeezed closed. She never got those blankets out of the trunk.
| “Edi, Edi no…!” His skin stuck to her, the surface of her sweater glittering and frosted. “No… It's impossible. It’s not real…”
“It isn’t.” A child’s voice came from behind him.
He turned. Rehkitz and Rotkehlchen— the animals, the deer and the robin.
“It’s not real, Anselm," said Rotkehlchen the robin, "It’s a dream. You are dead, not her. She is happy somewhere, and you are
The deer, Rehkitz, glanced around with shining black eyes. “Come with us then and wake up.”
It bounded off and Rotkehlchen fluttered behind it. Anselm couldn’t bear to look at the sad remains of his friend, even if it wasn’t real. So he followed.
Through the snow, over knotted roots and hidden stones that scoured his naked feet. Wood smoke drifted in acrid strands. The animals almost lost him in the labyrinth of trees, falling out of sight even as he sprinted to keep up. They stopped at a clearing and he scrambled to meet them.
“It’s the witch.” Rehkitz stamped its hooves.
Anselm peered past them, the smoke emanated from a chimney on a quaint wooden cabin. “Is she good?”
“She is not good or bad,” Rotkehlchen lit atop Rehkitz’s head,
“She knows the rules and she will tell you.”
“You must know the rules! Tell everyone the rules, and everything will be right,” the tiny bird blinked its beady eyes. “You can break the curse.”
Anselm approached the clearing, “I can?”
“Talk to the witch,” said Rehkitz, “She knows the rules.”
Rotkehlchen chirped, “Erklär die Regeln! Erklär die Regeln!”
The smoke rose from the chimney in pleasant little puffs. “Die Regeln? The rules? What rules?”
“Die Regeln! Die Regeln!” the animals said in unison, “Talk to the witch!”
He wavered a moment, then stepped past them toward the cottage.
Slisch! Slisch! Metal swiped through the air. A man in a colorful medieval jerkin swung a giant sword in reckless arcs. Anselm hopped back, and the man attacked the branch of a nearby tree, pine needles exploded in his wake.
“Watch your fingers!” said Rehkitz.
“You know what happens to absent-minded boys.”
Anselm folded his hands under his arms and edged away. The swordsman sheered the branches off the thin tree. Were those twigs raining down or fingerbones?
Anselm came to the cabin door and tapped it with his foot. Nothing stirred inside. Slisch! Slisch! Closer and closer. He kicked the door.
A strange woman peered outside. “Isn’t it a bit rude to use your foot on a lady’s door?”
“I’m sorry,” Anselm couldn’t bring himself to glance over his shoulder. “He’ll cut off my fingers.”
“Isn’t it a bit rude to come to a lady’s house naked?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any clothes.”
She narrowed her featureless black eyes and her face reddened with inscrutable emotion. “Isn’t it a bit rude to not offer a lady a gift when you come calling?”
“Ah, uh,” Anselm shook his head, the sword swung closer, “Forgive me, I have nothing to give!”
The woman gripped the door, her face a fiery scarlet. “Then you have no reason to be here, rude little boy.”
“No!” SLISCH SLISCH! “Please, let me in. I need to know the rules!”
“Oh, die Regeln? Very well.” She stepped aside.
The breeze from sharp steel rushed over Anselm’s neck as he hopped into the warmth of the cabin. The woman shut the door and the blade ceased its swinging. She led him to a crackling fire and sat on an unvarnished bench. “What are the rules?”
“What do you mean?" Anselm asked, "I thought you…”
Oh, that face. He recognized it now. “Regen?”
“Regeln,” she said, “What are the rules? What do we want?”
“I don’t understand.”
She shook her head, stringy hair fluttering, “What do you want more than anything? What do you wish?”
He flopped on the bare wood in front of the fire, his frost-hardened skin began to soften.
“I want… I want him to…” he gazed into the fire, “I want him to understand how wrong he is, how evil. I want him gone, I don’t want to see him ever again.”
Her mouth curled into a smile around those giant fangs. “Revenge. Your wish shall come true if you let us help you.”
Sweat trickled down Anselm’s forehead. “I can’t kill him.
I couldn’t… I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“You can if you try. Tell him the rules.”
“But I don’t—”
“We will tell you what you need to know.”
Sweat poured down his back, ringed around his eyes, yet his limbs remained frozen stiff, glued to the wooden floor.
“Listen to us,” said the woman, “We will show you the way. You will break the curse and everything will be right.”
Anselm twisted in his gore. He coughed and shuddered as his old body sloughed away. His teeth fell down his throat, his eyes were reborn after an hour of blindness. His skin turned purple-black and blistered. It peeled open to bare the fresh undead body beneath. At last the sun tucked behind the hills, and night washed in.
He woke in a cold bed of soil and viscera. The smell would have been nauseating if he had a stomach left to turn. He scrambled off the soiled tarp and flipped up the edge to stop it from spilling. Why? Why bother to keep this place clean? Polite even to your murderers.
“Thank you,” Regen leaned in the door, “Good evening.”
“Good evening.” His voice was clear of blood, his body weightless, limber, but still coated in gore. He picked at the tape on his belly.
“I can help you,” Regen said. Tonight she wore baggy cut-offs and a lightly blood-stained hoodie. Whose blood? Anselm raised his arms and she peeled the tape away in sticky sheets and revealed smooth belly beneath. He marveled at it and examined his blood soaked hands, his arms. No wounds, no trace of injury save for the filth that coated them.
“Thank you,” he said. Thank you for being such a helpful murderer.
He imagined he heard hooves tapping, but it was only blood dripping from the sheet. Traffic rumbled by outside, the wind rushed past, voices echoed two floors below and he could understand every word. An electric razor buzzed somewhere nearby and the organs on the tarp sloshed and slurped while he and Regen cleaned. Teeth and bone floated in the vile mess, strings of bloodied blonde hair. His body, his remains. Regen worked quickly and efficiently, had she been a nurse once? A mother? How awful.
Footsteps approached. The light in the room cast hazy coronas from the dim lamps. Von Hechten emerged from a glowing halo, Dorein’s angel. “Good evening, good evening,” he said, “Welcome to immortality.”
Anselm spun away from the monster to fuss with the messy sheets.
“It’s true,” said Regen, “This is the rest of your life. Likely a long one.”
Anselm folded out a crease in the gore-encrusted plastic.
“You don’t need to thank me immediately,” Von Hechten said behind him, “I don’t expect you to bow down. Certainly that is beyond my authority, but I hope you will realize the favor I have done for you.”
Anselm arranged the filthy tarps with busy hands.
Von Hechten continued, “The circumstances that lead to the birth of a progenitor are notoriously cruel. To ensure the best chance of success I had to be as cruel as possible. But the cruelty is over and you’re ennobled for it.”
Anselm turned to ask what was so noble about his current state when a movement on Von Hechten’s shoulder caught his eye.
“Well?” Von Hechten said. “Can you put aside whatever silly emotion you're having right now so we can enjoy our evening? We have much to do and it would be inconvenient for you to sulk all night.”
The bird pecked at his earlobe and he made no move to brush it away.
Regen stepped in front of Anselm and blocked his view, “No point standing in this bloody mess all night, let’s get you clean.”
Von Hechten clapped his hands together, “Let’s all get clean!”
The bird fluttered to the bookshelf to stare down in judgment. It turned its beady eye to Anselm and watched the three vampires step over the trail of plastic to the bathroom.
Small shapes moved outside the shower door. Shadows of creatures that milled about the bathroom floor. Feathers fluttered and hooves clicked on tile. The vampires washed him and themselves with no modesty, no propriety. He’d been nude in front of them for hours, but he felt more naked without the thick coating of gore. The two monsters were both larger than him, more sexually dimorphic. Stylized visions of man and woman. Mother and father. What did that make him? He let them jostle him about,
let them scrub the caked blood from his body. Just another part of cleaning the crime scene. Hands ran over his dead skin, bodies pressed against him. Dead bodies. Corpses pretending to be alive.
He turned to the wall as the other two got out and pretended to wash his hair again. Their wet feet joined the clicking hooves. Von Hechten was already chattering about the evening’s plans. Go here, go there, see so-and-so. Vague shadows moved behind the frosted glass, the broad-shouldered man and the large-breasted woman, perhaps even more cartoonish in silhouette. Flutter— the little bird landed on the stall door and fluffed up its ruddy feathers.
Anselm coughed and ran his head under the water.
Regen paused from drying herself. She looked to
Von Hechten. “Leave me with him a moment."
“Oh?” Von Hechten reached for a robe and chuckled. “Don’t exclude me from the fun. We're all beautiful people here and friends besides.”
“Go, you swine!” she pushed him out the door.
Anselm pressed his face against the shower wall. The bird’s shadow fell across him, stretched out to the size of an eagle.
“What’s going on?” Regen asked behind the frosted glass.
He let the water drum on his head. “Nothing. I feel—
It’s just strange.”
“It certainly is, but what aspect is bothering you right this moment?”
“…I think I’m seeing things.”
“What kinds of things?”
“Uh, it’s like—” Should he even tell her? He’d gotten good at ignoring hallucinations. “—like halos on everything.”
“Heat light. You can see the heat radiating from the hot water and the lights. The world looks very different at night, but you will grow accustomed to it.”
“Ah, that must be it.”
He lingered a moment. The longer you wait, the more they’ll be interested, the more likely they’ll notice. He stepped out of the shower, and something small and dark darted past his foot. He snatched the towel bar and barely stayed upright. “Whoa, haha, uh, slippery…”
Regen caught his arm and steadied him.
He cast about for the creature— where did it go? Nothing on the floor save for a few tiny puddles left by wet feet. No bird on the shower rod. The busty woman was still nude, holding him, watching him, but his eyes were fixed on the door. It was closed, nowhere for anything to escape. How?
“What is it?” she asked.
“Does… does being this way cure you? Completely?”
“Of what? Sickness?”
“I didn’t— well, I didn’t have visual hallucinations before…”
She pushed him down to the edge of the bathtub. “I already explained heat light to you. Is there something else?”
“I saw something move, but I don’t see it now. Maybe it was just the way the shadows fell.”
“Your senses have changed. Hallucination shouldn’t be your first assumption anymore. Don’t be alarmed, the world is safer for you now as long as you stay calm.”
“Okay, thank you.”
He clutched the bathrobe to his chest and stared at the door as though he could see through it if he tried hard enough.
“Right…” Regen said, “I’ll let you get dressed.”
She glanced back, still in the nude. He was too busy staring at nothing, mind reeling. Then he was alone, the muggy air sucked away through a powerful exhaust fan. What could he do to calm himself now? He used to bend at the waist when anxiety struck him, take deep, even breaths. Useless. Breathing was just sucking down air, no relief, no oxygen hit his blood. There was nothing to help him. He rocked in place and clutching the bathrobe. His wet hair dripped cold rivulets down his back. Fluttering— he spun— nothing there. No, no…
A stack of clothing was laid out for him in the bedroom, folded as neatly as a department store display. The bed was cleared, but little spatters of gore had not been wiped. He dressed in an overly long shirt and trousers he had to cinch on like a street urchin. No shoes. He rolled the sleeves up several times and the trousers pooled at his feet. Papa’s clothes.
In another room Von Hechten said, “It’s going to be fine.”
Before Anselm could wonder about the kindness, Regen replied. “If you say so, but it’s your burden either way.”
Spray bottles spritzed and water sloshed.
“It really will be fine,” Von Hechten said, “All young vampires are disoriented, and it is worse for progenitors.”
Anselm hesitated at the threshold. Just go, go, suffer through this and escape later. He forced himself down the hall. Regen mopped and Von Hechten sat at a fine marble table, reading a newspaper, legs crossed. Unseen street lamps lit them in pumpkin-orange. Anselm’s shadow preceded him and spilled into the room. The vampires looked up, their eyes glinted emerald in the dim light.
Anselm stepped closer, eyes focused on his bare feet.
“There is the man of the hour,” Von Hechten folded his newspaper,
“I trust you find yourself in exemplary condition, save for being dead. Now if you could steel yourself emotionally, we’re sure to receive all manner of visitors tonight. Better to meet them on our own terms, yes? Can you do that?”
“It’s fine,” Anselm glanced up to make eye contact with his murderer. The tiny bird hopped around Von Hechten’s shoulder and pulled at a sprig of pale, wet hair. Von Hechten made no change in placid expression, no twitch to brush away the little creature. Anselm looked down. Don’t be crazy. Not now. It wasn’t like this before. Voices are one thing, but seeing things…
“Very well then,” Von Hechten said, “We need to get you proper clothing first. It won’t do to have you looking like that in front of respectable people.”
Anselm glanced back, surely the bird would be gone. It was not.
It cocked its head to gaze at him.
Anselm spun away and focused on a bland watercolor.
“Wonderful. I shall do a bit of shopping and Auntie Regen will
care for you.”
Hooves clicked on the laminate floor.
Anselm nodded and examined a tidy abstract-expressionist painting. Yes, very nice, yes. Something fluttered behind his head.
DON’T LET HIM ESCAPE KILL HIM
The murderer waved goodbye, and left with a bloody bundle under his arm. A bundle of Anselm’s flesh and organs.
KILL HIM HE BROKE THE RULES KILL HIM HE BROKE
THE RULES ANSELM THE RULES
“Die Regeln…” Anselm mumbled.
“Yes?” Regen said.
“Did you say my name?”
TELL HER THE RULES
“I don’t know them,” he whispered.
“—Sorry… I feel strange.”
Regen gestured to a stiff-backed chair. He complied, eyes down. Wings beat through the air.
She leaned the mop against the wall. “It could take a hundred years to forget last night. But you’ll find being a vampire, being a progenitor, is as good as it gets in this world. We’re here to help you and you’ve obviously got problems. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about that with Von Hechten, I’m here right now.”
“It’s nothing,” Anselm said, “I don’t want to be a bother.”
She sat on a cushy ottoman and folded her gloved hands. “You are a progenitor— a noble. Von Hechten and I are not. So take your time recovering, but understand if I’m not completely sympathetic. Even if I live a thousand years, you will always have more power in this city.”
“Why? Because I can make new vampires?”
“I could make them too but I would have to get permission from my progenitor. Understand? It isn’t the only reason I’m unsympathetic.”
He gave her a quick, sidelong glance and bowed his head.
She continued, “Normally a progenitor just rises on its own like
a ghost. Von Hechten thought he could recreate the circumstances, cause a progenitor to be born. But to be a proper experiment, there would have to be multiple attempts. Multiple hypotheses, as he likes to say. Otumbo was to create a progenitor and so was I.”
“The actress… Elise.”
“I tortured her to death for nothing. It was pointless. She died horribly for no reason at all. And if I had paid more attention to
Von Hechten, maybe she would be here with us right now.”
A tiny deer peered around the sofa.
KILL HIM KILL HER TOO IF SHE GETS IN THE WAY
Klingeling! The doorbell chimed.
The creatures gathered at the door and turned away.
Regen frowned and peeled off her rubber gloves.
“Ah,” Regen said, “Loisa and friends.”
‘Loisa’ craned her neck and made eye contact with Anselm.
Her underdressed companions to either side looked at him too. Vampires. They were all dead.
“Is it true?” the small woman asked. “There was room for doubt. We all applauded, but what if he had just taken blood from someone in attendance?”
“Oh, he’s a progenitor alright.”
“Dallmann will be very interested to see him as soon as possible.”
“Won’t they all? Well, I’ve got work to attend to.”
Anselm caught a whiff of something strange— not just opiates and blood, but something else. Biological.
Regen began to close the door, “We’ll see you all tomorrow night I’m sure.”
“But can we—”
She latched the door and leaned against it. The strangers’ light footsteps faded down the hall. “Did they come here straight from bed?” She turned away, lip curled. “At this hour?”
Ah, that’s what the smell was… Apparently blood and murder weren’t the only sources of fun for these monsters.
“Dallmann is a vampire?” Anselm asked, “A progenitor?”
“That’s right, one your fellow nobles. She’s quite old. Chronologically, anyway.”
“How old is ‘quite old’ for us?”
“Depends on your point of view. Most are less than a hundred years old, she’s closer to a thousand.”
“A thousand…” Anselm stared off and did the mental calculation, “It’s unthinkable. How old is… Von Hechten?” His tongue tripped on the name.
“Ask him yourself.” She returned to cleaning and he sat with folded hands, ignoring the creatures and pushing away horrible memories.
KILL HIM DON'T LET ANYONE STOP YOU
“Anselm… what are you thinking about? Are you still having these hallucinations?”
“I don’t know…”
The little deer sat at his feet, the bird perched on its fuzzy head.
KILL HIM KILL HIM CUT OFF HIS HEAD DRAIN HIS BLOOD SET HIM ON FIRE REMOVE HIS HEART RESTORE THE ORDER ANSELM HE BROKE
THE RULES AND HE MUST PAY
Regen leaned close, brow furrowed, “What are you doing?”
Anselm jerked away from the creatures and shook his head. “Nothing, I was just thinking about something.”
Regen narrowed her eyes, “I don’t—
Klingeling! A phone call. Regen groaned and slumped
to the entryway.
Von Hechten’s voice came through clearly. Apparently phone calls weren’t private anymore. The deer hopped on the sofa next to Anselm, the bird on his knee.
KILL HIM KILL HIM
They spoke together in their childish voices, wet eyes fixed
KILL HIM IT’S THE RULE BREAK THE CURSE ANSELM WE LOVE YOU ANSELM
“I love you too but—” he murmured.
Regen turned to eye him, but Von Hechten’s yammering kept her from focusing.
“—I sussed out his size but everything will have to be hemmed. What a pain! If only I’d prepared in advance but how are we to know these things, right?”
“Right,” Regen said, “So should I take him over?”
“Please do. And can you pick up some trash bags and the like? He’ll need his soil.”
The creatures bounded off to wait at the door, eager for him to get on with the murder plans.
The car ride was silent after Regen filled him in on vampire basics. She went on about the details and prohibitions as though training him for a menial job. He wouldn’t explode in the sun, garlic and holy symbols meant nothing, he’d be able to do supernatural feats if he practiced.
“With fangs your size,” she said, “You’ll need to use something else. A razor or a syringe perhaps.”
“Fangs… I guess we have them.”
She gave him a pitying glance. “Yes, but I don’t think you’ll find yours very useful.”
“Why? Are they too small?”
She chuckled. “No. Yours are quite unusual. Wonder what your creatures are. A lion? A tiger?”
Anselm looked over, mystified.
“Ah,” she turned the corner down a familiar street, “You should talk of this with Otumbo. It’s not really of my interest.”
Creatures… Anselm glanced in the rearview mirror. The animals waited, curled up on the backseat. The deer with its legs tucked neatly, the bird fluffed up and peaceful. My creatures…
Regen pulled the car alongside an all too familiar building.
The neighborhood hadn’t changed at all, save for the glowing coronas that centered on every streetlamp. Stability— another perk for the wealthy. He stepped on to the rough concrete in bare feet, lucky no one was around to see him in his urchinhood. Regen walked behind him, and he wondered for a moment if she would take his hand and march him across the street. She did not, but kept a watchful eye on him until they reached the door. No room for escape. Von Hechten answered the door with a neutral smile.
“Hello! It’s my favorite people. Old and new.”
Anselm turned to study the entryway and Regen sorted out her keys.
“I’m just dropping him off, as you requested. I’ll be back shortly.”
“Of course, of course.” Von Hechten moved aside, and Anselm darted past to avoid close contact.
Here he was again. It seemed brighter now, was it his new eyes? The dust had been cleaned from some spots and migrated to others. A few of the paintings had been rearranged. But otherwise, like stepping into a terrible, vivid memory. Were there any traces of him left behind? Were his fingerprints still pressed into the dust? He looked down at his hand, the tiny scars and imperfections sanded away. A recreation. Did he even have the same fingerprints now?
He padded through the room, bare feet on hardwood. No hooves— the animals had not followed from the car. Could they not enter this unholy place?
Von Hechten looked back at her, “What?”
“For a moment I thought he had some bizarre power to
ignore invitation, but I realized you must have invited him
here as a human.”
“That I did. Well, see you later!” He sphinx-smiled and closed
the door in her face. He turned to Anselm and gestured broadly,
“What do you think? A vampire’s home. As yours will be.”
Anselm couldn’t bring himself to look at his murderer, instead
he focused on a tepid landscape painting. “You’ve really been here
a hundred years?”
“A bit more than that.”
“Ah…” He turned to wander the dusty museum.
Get away, get away from him.
He could see now in the brighter light, the dust gathered even thicker under the furniture, laid in a thin film on even relatively new and clean objects. Two silverfish writhed on the floor near a bookshelf. There— the wrestling figurines, locked in their eternal combat. And next to them, under eight years of dust was a rectangular shape. He lifted it by the corner and revealed the clean wood beneath. The cocaine packet. A gift from the past, a gift from a dead boy.
“What is this?” Von Hechten approached. “Enjoying
a little treasure hunt?”
“I left this here,” Anselm held it up.
Von Hechten tittered merrily. “Oh, how amusing.
Just now I wondered what the shelf-life was, but then I remembered you can no longer snort it. But why would you remember such a trivial thing? Are you filled with regret?”
“No, just a… funny memory.”
He returned it to its rightful spot. How many more years of dust would it gather?
Von Hechten folded his arms and meandered, gazing at the art like he wasn’t in his own home. “How do you plan to continue your career once you’ve settled?”
“I don’t have a career. Don’t you still have stacks of my books left unsold?”
“Why would you think that?”
“You said it. That it hardly sold.”
Von Hechten waved the thought away, “That was just for the torture. Many of the things I said were untrue. Your edition did as well as anything I publish. Other than reprints by the big stars, but you understand…”
Anselm kept his face turned from the monster. Murderer, my murderer. He poked me full of holes, flayed my hands, tortured me. Don’t forget it.
“Well?” Von Hechten asked, “Your career.”
“I’ll figure something out. It doesn’t matter what I do.”
“Tsk! That modesty again. You know I don’t care for it, but we shall see what we can do with all the time in the world…”
He stepped closer.
“Oh hell,” he spun on his heels and marched to the door.
The doorbell dinged again and again and someone outside chuckled in a deep voice.
Von Hechten let out a long sigh. “Mihailo, why are you being a pest?”
“Not I.” The man’s voice was rich, a singer’s voice.
Anselm stood on his toes to look over Von Hechten’s shoulder. A tiny bird bounded up ‘Mihailo’ and perched
on his hand. It wasn’t his familiar Rotkehlchen, this bird was even smaller, a vivid yellow and black.
“Ignacio,” Von Hechten said flatly, “What is your excuse?”
He addressed the tiny yellow bird. What a terrible fairy tale this was.
The bird bounced back and rose as another fancy man with wavy hair. Anselm blinked a few times. That really happened…
The newly arisen man spoke, “The sorceress foresaw that we could find him here.”
“Of course,” Von Hechten said, “Why not? It doesn’t take a sorcerer's magic to look for him in the most obvious place. She could have simply waited to meet him like everyone else. Eichel will visit everyone in time.”
Eichel… Would he be known as ‘acorn’ to everyone? Too bad it wasn’t something regal like ‘Von Eichel.’
Ignacio spoke again, “She is keenly interested. May we…” He looked to Anselm.
Anselm looked back quizzically, “Do y—”
“—You’re not invited,” Von Hechten barred the door with an arm,
“But if Eichel wishes to speak with you, that is his prerogative. Eichel, would you care to speak with the representatives of another progenitor, or would you prefer to wait for a more appropriate occasion than this little invasion of my privacy?”
“Ah,” Anselm said, “For a moment?”
Von Hechten fluttered his eyelids with irritation, and stepped back. The two dignitaries smiled and Mihailo addressed him with his rich voice, “Madame Teufelkunst would like to send her kind regards, and welcome you to Reckenburg.”
Ignacio appraised him, “You’re already from here though, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but it is a nice sentiment. Thank her for me.”
“We will,” Mihailo handed him a business card. Large letters ‘GT’ embossed in gold leaf and a phone number on the back. More ornate than Von Hechten’s.
“It’s lovely,” Anselm said, “Thank you.”
“Fantastic,” Von Hechten loomed behind him, “Best regards and all that. Perhaps you two should scurry back to your mistress; she may need something polished.”
Mihailo gave Anselm a knowing look. “She told us to say—”
Anselm hopped out of the way of the slamming door.
“Well!” Von Hechten said, “Teufelkunst’s little men. How lovely,
I’m sure. Now, what shall we do with this moment of calm before the celebration?” He gestured to the couches.
Anselm pretended to be absorbed with a vase of long dead flowers.
“Hm, don't know…”
“Come, come,” Von Hechten gripped his shoulder, “Sit. Don’t lurk about this way.”
Anselm dragged himself from the wall and took a seat on an unfamiliar chair. Other ones might stir regrettable memories.
Von Hechten perched on a chair across from him, “Now that we’ve gotten rid of those annoyances, we can consider what’s ahead of us tonight. Indeed, the next several nights. Whenever a new progenitor is about, everyone in town will want to meet him. Fortunately for you, I am here! I can forewarn you of their peculiarities and schemes. Where would you like to start?”
Anselm scoured his mind for a name. “Dallmann wants to see me. And this Madame Teufelkunst.”
Von Hechten eased back in his chair and began his practiced oration. “Dallmann was, they say, beautiful in her day, but preferences change and she does not have a fashionable figure. She looks a bit gawky if you will, like a peanut supported by twigs.”
Anselm fidgeted; what a way to talk about people… “She’s a thousand years old?”
“True. You know art history, the art of the time. Picture one of those bizarre portraits come to life. Gigantic forehead and odd proportions.
She has the personality of a small child with dolls. I suppose that’s the worst risk for you, that she may try to pose you or crash your genitals against her children.”
“Indeed, it’s quite distasteful. As to Teufelkunst, she was a sorceress first. Since
dying she has left the schemes of wizards for
our company. As for her curiosity about you,
I anticipate it is in pursuit of her metaphysics
and nothing too wicked.”
He moved on to discuss other progenitors with long, colorful anecdotes all the while gesturing grandly. His dulcet voice mixed with the even tick of the grandfather clock.
Anselm stared off at the dust swirling under a glass lamp when something nudged at his knee. A wet nose. The shiny eyes of a deer
caught his gaze.
ANSELM ANSELM LISTEN TO US DO NOT IGNORE US
WE LOVE YOU WE KNOW WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU KILL HIM
DO NOT LISTEN TO HIS LIES KILL HIM
Rotkehlchen hopped on Von Hechten’s shoulder and fluttered about, pecking at his half-lidded eyes.
TELL HIM THE RULES HE MUST PAY BREAKING THE RULES IS FORBIDDEN TELL HIM THE RULES TELL HIM NOW
“But I don’t know them,” Anselm whispered.
“Exactly,” Von Hechten said, “That’s why I’m telling you. So, as
I was saying…”
ANSELM TELL HIM THIS—
“That’s fine,” Anselm said, eyes unfocused, “But you can’t touch a red cloth or your glass will fall.”
“Why did you say that?”
“Say what?” Anselm snapped out of his reverie.
“Let’s see, if I touch a red glass— no, a red cloth, my glass will fall?”
“Oh… I don’t know,” a swirl of thoughts tickled him, but the more he tried to remember, the further it dissolved. “I must have been remembering a dream. Go on…”
“What’s the point if you’re this distracted? How many children does Sabet have?”
“I’m sorry, it’s hard to keep track of all this.”
Von Hechten groaned and covered his face. “Okay then, I shall resume and keep the details to a minimum. Now, we have a number of guests in town you shall meet…”
ANSELM REMEMBER THAT WE LOVE YOU YOU MUST KILL HIM AND RESTORE JUSTICE IT’S THE RULE KILL HIM
YOU MUST DO IT KILL HIM
“I can't do it,” Anselm murmured, “I can’t.”
Von Hechten watched him curiously. Anselm looked off at the deer standing on the coffee table.
YOU CAN ANSELM YOU CAN DESTROY HIS HEART AND
DRAIN HIS BLOOD
“How am I supposed to do that?”
WITH A BLADE A GUN PIERCE THE CHEST
DESTROY THE BODY AND BURN IT
“Impossible. Please, just—” Anselm jerked away and noticed
Von Hechten’s silence. “Uh—”
“You’re having some sort of hallucination. Visions, perhaps.”
“Oh, I— I don’t know.”
“If not, what are you talking to?”
Rehkitz and Rotkehlchen hopped on the chair, eyes pleading.
“It’s…” Anselm resisted the urge to pet the sad animals, “Perhaps… perhaps… I thought I heard someone.”
Von Hechten sighed dramatically and crossed his legs in a huff.
“Did you have experiences like this in life? Was that what your medication was for? It tasted terrible, whatever it was.”
Anselm cringed. “…I guess so. In part. Being dead doesn’t cure it?”
“It depends, some types of mental illnesses are helped by death, but
not always. I wish you’d been more forthcoming on the nature of your condition before we undertook this.”
“Undertook… killing me?”
Von Hechten crinkled his face. “Elevating you to the status of a vampire lord. Please. But if you are to spend eternity with distracting hallucinations, it will be less enjoyable than it should.”
HE MURDERED YOU MURDER HIM IN KIND IT’S FAIR
MAKE IT RIGHT AND BREAK THE CURSE
“I didn’t think it was polite conversation,” Anselm said.
“I specifically asked you in privacy after we’d gotten to know each other so well. Don’t I seem trustworthy?”
Anselm flexed his jaw and stared down at the animals.
“…Do forgive me.”
“You will live with the consequences, not I.”
“You had already decided back then?”
“I was entertaining possibilities, it was serendipity I should meet you.”
Rotkehlchen fluttered at Anselm and he swiped it out of his face.
HE IS A MURDERER FEEL NO SYMPATHY
“Quite convenient really,” Von Hechten continued, “Perhaps better if you’d been younger at the time. You could have enjoyed a more youthful appearance for eternity. Though I suppose your lack of aging will go unnoticed for longer.”
HE KILLED YOU IT’S UNFAIR YOU CAN FIX IT
YOU CAN BREAK THE CURSE
“—The weariness around the eyes, you know. Though it does seem to have been improved by your death. How nice.”
TELL HIM THE RULES YOU MUST KILL HIM NOW
KILL HIM NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND
“I can’t…” Anselm whispered, “Please stop.”
“Do you need blood?”
Anselm looked up with a start. “Oh— How do I know?”
“Do you have the urge to do violence so you may take of it?”
DRINK ALL HIS BLOOD KILL HIM KILL H—
“Maybe I— maybe so,” Anselm clutched his head, “I feel strange…”
Rehkitz leapt on to his lap and Rotkehlchen pulled at his hair.
PLEASE ANSELM LISTEN PLEASE DO IT
KILL HIM KILL HIM KILL HIM KILL HIM
“Hm, how to fit this into the evening…” Von Hechten lolled his head and gazed off, “Sadly I do not keep a reserve on hand.”
NOW HE HAS TO DIE DO IT NOW GET A BLADE AND
SLIT HIS THROAT
Von Hechten eyed him, “What do the voices tell you to do?”
“…I think they want blood.”
“What did they tell you when you were alive?”
“That everyone hates me and I should step in front of the train.”
“How dreadful. Well, now I know where that ridiculous self evaluation comes from. A waste of talent, of merit, to be unable to value yourself correctly. But what choice do you have? It’s romantic in a tragic sort of way.” He pulled a phone book from the shelf, “This problem is easier to solve. How hungry are you? Distractingly so?”
“I don’t want to kill someone.”
“Then we shall find someone with plenty of blood to spare.”
The animals leapt about on Anselm’s lap.
NO HIS BLOOD WE LOVE YOU KILL HIM ANSELM KILL HIM
WE LOVE YOU TAKE HIS BLOOD
He slumped over and buried his face into the chair’s arm. They ran
up and down his body, their claws and hooves scrabbled over him.
Von Hechten dialed the phone.
With no effort at all, Von Hechten convinced the man to come and sit, and knocked him out with a look. Anselm would have been amazed by the parlor trick or the inferno of the man’s body heat, but the thought of blood had consumed him. The animals danced around the man’s flames.
IT’S BLOOD ANSELM DRINK IT AND BE STRONG
DRINK IT SO YOU CAN KILL
Von Hechten beckoned, “Dinner has arrived.”
USE YOUR TEETH BITE AND DRINK UNTIL YOU ARE FULL
IT WILL MAKE YOU HEALTHY AND STRONG
Anselm felt his mouth go strange. Von Hechten smiled.
“That’s right, just like that. Those teeth are a bit much, but you have the right idea.”
Anselm squinted and could barely make out the person beneath the wreath of fire.
DRINK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
Von Hechten held the man’s beefy forearm. “Perhaps for your convenience
I shall pierce the skin for you. Remove your shirt.”
Anselm didn’t hesitate to pull off the baggy shirt and approach the slumbering human. Any doubts about the morality had faded from his mind. Von Hechten produced a bizarre beak-like tooth and punctured the man’s skin. He pressed his hand against the wound.
“You mustn’t spill a drop.”
DRINK IT UP GOOD BOY ANSELM WE LOVE YOU
Von Hechten moved his hand and Anselm was quick to fasten his mouth over the wound. The blood seeped into his mouth and a wonderful sensation bloomed through him.
This is it, this is it, you’re a monster forever.
GOOD ANSELM YOU WILL BE STRONG
When to stop? Could he stop himself?
“To avoid making things more complicated,” Von Hechten said, “Restrain yourself somewhat. Take the edge off, then press your hand over the wound, careful not to drip.”
Anselm pulled away and pressed his thumb against the wound.
Just like a good junkie. It didn’t drip, but a trickle ran from his lip,
off his chin and traced down his chest.
“Hm,” Von Hechten observed a moment. “To reseal the wound, you need only apply a bit of your own blood…”
The animals snuggled against Anselm’s legs while he completed
He sat on his knees, head swimming, until Von Hechten touched his bare back and turned him around. The pizza man was gone, he hadn’t even noticed him leave.
Von Hechten licked his finger and wandered away to fetch a wet rag.
“Let’s go upstairs. I allow the cleaners to keep it in better condition. It is my personal space after all.”
Anselm sat up rigid. This ‘personal space’, what horrors lurked where that monster slept?
He cleaned himself and followed as though in a dream. The stairs were narrow and stifling, hardly creaking with their undead weight. They emerged into a cramped hallway littered with pointless side tables and fragile antiques. Dust shimmered through the air, stirred up by their motion. Von Hechten flicked on a lamp. What was likely meant to be a stately bedroom was now a clothing store dedicated to a single fashion victim. Racks and racks of coats and shirts and suits, worn once or twice and stowed away until they came back in style decades later. Jewelry glittered in grand displays, stacks and stacks
of shoes gleamed, freshly polished and unscuffed.
“So much…” Anselm murmured.
“Sadly your choices are more limited. You may have your pick of what I was able to gather.”
He took Anselm past the racks to a broad table with an array of clothing. A wild assortment of colors and textures, silks and satins and velvets. Each garment worth vastly more than Anselm’s entire thrift-store wardrobe.
Von Hechten leaned against the wall and watched him sort through the exotic items. Clothing for some other person, an exotic costume for a role he’d never get. Unfortunately, nothing in black or grey.
Von Hechten groaned and reached around him.
“Here, these will do. Should be flattering to short limbs.”
He handed Anselm a pair of burgundy velvet pants, gathered at the bottom into ornate whorls.
“Oh, okay,” Anselm said, “And um, on top?”
Von Hechten chose a white, strappy shirt, “I don’t know if this was meant to be worn anywhere but the runway, but somehow it found its way to the shops…”
Anselm turned the garment around a few times and tried to decipher it.
Von Hechten took his place on the wall again.
“Should I…?” Anselm held the clothing to his chest.
“It’s what you’re here for.”
He hesitated a moment and unbuttoned his trousers. Too creepy.
Too familiar. I was already naked in front of him this morning,
we showered together…
TAKE HIS HEAD OFF DON’T LET HIM HARM ANOTHER
He pulled on the velvety pants and Von Hechten watched with
no comment. But the shirt— which end was the front?
“Here,” Von Hechten stepped forward, “Let me. It’s less complicated than it appears. Turn around.”
Anselm complied and cringed at the presence behind him.
“Put your hands back,” Von Hechten said, “As though you were under arrest…”
Anselm closed his eyes and feathers ruffled around him.
ANSELM ANSELM LISTEN TO US
“There,” Von Hechten gestured to Anselm’s reflection, “Very chic, yes?”
“Oh yes,” Anselm mumbled, “Wonderful.”
His hair had returned to its natural shade, the bleached strands fallen out in the night and disposed with the rest of him. The face in the mirror was surely him, but something was off.
A realistic sculpture of the dead boy, a flattering vision. No under-eye circles, no pockmarks or scars. The animals glared at him in the reflection.
“I guess we can see ourselves then…” he said.
“Ah, that old myth, the reflectionless vampire. Was that Lord Demos?”
“I think it started with the Wish Pond, but they used it in some of the films.”
“Well, it’s silly. How would it even work? Would your clothing just be floating there? Utterly ridiculous.” He bustled about and to a pair of glossy shoes and gestured for Anselm to sit.
Anselm smile-grimaced. “I can do it myself…”
“Oh— Fine.” Von Hechten lifted back a red velvet curtain and peered outside.
“She’s here. I suppose we can’t be too wild with our fun.”
“So then—” Von Hechten turned and his elbow bumped against a table lamp. It rocked to the floor and shattered the glass shade. “Ooh, butterfingers. I must get someone to take care of that. Tch, such a pity. Everything I own is so valuable.”
Anselm relaxed, a bit of tension had melted away
but he couldn’t imagine why.
Von Hechten opened the front door. “Are you ready to enjoy
the company of the Finsterwalds? I spoke with Albertine and
Club Dämmerung is the place.”
Regen hadn’t changed out of her sweats. “Eh. Maybe I’ll be fortunate and they won’t be as randy as usual.”
Anselm trailed behind, listening from the stairwell.
Klingeling! The telephone. The same one from eight years ago. He shuddered at the memory.
“Just a moment,” Von Hechten slid across the floor with supernatural flair.
Anselm tiptoed from the stairs and stood with Regen in the foyer. She looked at his new outfit. “Ah. Von Hechten's fashion sense.
He got me last night. Never again.”
In the other room, a musical voice— “Von Hechten residence!”
“YES!” boomed a man on the other end, “I’ve caught you! Where is my new friend?”
“Eichel? He’s going to see Finsterwald tonight.”
“What? Finsterwald comes before Otumbo now?”
“Alphabetically… It’s been prearranged in any case.”
“It won’t do, you know it won’t do. I must! They’ve got their own diversions, I simply must be the first!”
“Oh dear. I wish you’d made that more clear beforehand. Albertine is already waiting and I don’t want to upset him.”
“Blame it on me if you must. But I can’t let Finsterwald learn our new lord’s secrets before me! Come now, I’ll meet you at the graveyard. He can go to the others after.”
“Well… he’ll require his soil. Two birds as they say.”
“Indeed! It was meant to be. I am thrilled! THRILLED!”
Von Hechten trudged back, no supernatural zeal this time.
“Right. Away with us.”
The graveyard was in the suburban neighborhood of Boling Strasse, not far from Von Hechten’s bindery. They filed out into a dreary parking lot, lit with weak, sputtering lamps. Regen stayed behind and unloaded trash bins from the trunk. Otumbo waited at the gate, bouncing on his heels.
“WELL!” the little man said, “The adventurous trio is reunited and the success of our adventure is the occasion. Eichel! Welcome to power, Lord of Reckenburg!”
Crickets and frogs chirped in an oppressive cacophony. Stone obelisks, old metal plaques, and polished marble gleamed in the moonlight. The vampires walked over a wet, grassy hill and convened at the peak that looked out on the headstones and statuary. Wind rushed through the holes in Anselm’s shirt, the damp grass tickled his exposed calves. Yet, he did not shiver. The cold was just a vague sensation.
Von Hechten raised his arms like an old-fashioned orator.
“In this privacy, we can discuss the supernatural powers you will need to learn.”
“Yes!” Otumbo said, “You will learn and I shall observe! What new, exciting abilities will you discover? It’s been far too long, I’m going mad with curiosity.”
Von Hechten steepled his fingers, “Not too mad, I hope. Eichel has a rather retiring disposition.”
Anselm chuckled self-consciously.
“Nonsense,” Otumbo said, “We are all friends! Let’s see what he can do!”
“What can I do?” Anselm asked.
Von Hechten said, “As a progenitor, it is likely you have unique powers which we will see in the future. But for now,
we can determine what animal forms you possess.”
“YES!” Otumbo shouted.
“That’s right,” Von Hechten said, “Vampires can take the form of particular creatures, depending on the nature of their progenitor. You are unlikely to take a complete form any time soon, but we can see a hint of it in the appearance of your eyes, fangs, claws.”
“I saw those teeth!” Otumbo said, “Quite impressive! Not as impressive as mine, but who can match my ferocity!
Ah ha ha!” His mouth stretched wide as he laughed. Wider and wider and his sharp teeth protruded more and more.
Anselm jerked back in shock.
Otumbo held his belly, “Ha ha ha ha!”
“Now Anselm,” Von Hechten said, “There’s nothing to
be afraid of. We should very much like to see your fangs again.”
“Uhm…” Anselm ran his tongue over his teeth. Nothing, of course. “How?”
“Think about hunger, think about blood. Just wish
for it to happen.”
“YOU CAN DO IT, BOY!”
Anselm set and reset his jaw. After a moment of trying, something fell from his gums.
“HA HA! I wonder what horrid beast those belong to?”
“Aw,” Von Hechten said, “They’re not horrible. They’re rather extreme though. Not many animals with fangs like that.”
“I can’t imagine!”
“I g-cet— kk—” Anselm couldn’t move his lips to speak. He covered his mouth with a hand. The teeth felt hard and blunt as poorly sharpened pencils.
“So soon?” Otumbo asked, “That’s just a start, my friend! Let’s see your eyes! Your claws!”
Anselm finally retracted the tusks. “How do I do that?”
“It’s harder to describe,” Von Hechten said. “Otumbo,
do you have any advice?”
“Feel your animal nature! Sense within yourself the inner beast, GO WILD!”
Anselm chuckled and rubbed his arms. “I’m not sure that
“You can,” Von Hechten said, “Do a clawing motion with your hands and make a fierce expression. Think of attacking something.”
Anselm curled his fingers and cycled through a variety of uncomfortable expressions. “Oh… I don’t know.”
“YOU CAN!” Otumbo raised his fists, “Imagine Von Hechten insulted your honor! ATTACK!”
“Or whatever,” Von Hechten said. “Just do it.”
Anselm clenched and unclenched his hands.
“I’m not sure…”
“Remember what a brute this man is,” Otumbo said, “Give him a slap. Just a little one!”
Von Hechten raised his palms, “The slapping is not strictly necessary, perhaps you can take a swipe at the tediousness of this conversation. Metaphorically.”
Anselm spread out his fingers and tried to concentrate. They seemed to darken a shade or two, but he lost his bead as Otumbo bounced around in his periphery.
“Go on!" the little man said, "Let’s see it!”
Anselm furrowed his brow and glanced at the monsters. He thought of Iraia falling to her death. Of Von Hechten’s stupid leering grin as he poked him full of knives. Anselm's hands darkened again to an ashy grey, but wavered there, more knuckly but otherwise human shaped. His eyes went pitch black and his eyelids turned ruddy and eyelashy.
Von Hechten nodded, “Let’s see the claws, just a bit more.”
Otumbo bounced from foot to foot with a wide, sharp-toothed grin.
Anselm strained himself to recall being packed around as a corpse, of all those stupid fake conversations, of der Taubemann pecking him to death. At last the fingers grew longer and knobby, the nails turned black and sharp. The redness from his eyelids traced down his face, down his neck and under his collar.
“Hooray!” Otumbo shouted. “Fantastic!”
The shock snapped Anselm right out of his rage,
and he faded back to a human appearance.
“Not bad,” Von Hechten said, “Thank you.”
“Ooh, what is it?!” Otumbo hovered a few inches off the ground. “A wild boar? And a bird, obviously. An eagle?”
The creatures lurked behind a headstone, eyes glimmering.
GET STRONGER GET STRONGER
WE LOVE YOU
“Perhaps you’ll be inspired if we show you!” Otumbo said.
“Certainly,” Von Hechten said, “You can see the most powerful forms possible. One day you will be able to achieve such a feat.”
Anselm folded his arms, he had seen that eerie bird beak come out of Von Hechten’s mouth. How much worse could it be? He steeled himself.
Von Hechten took a deep bow, then rose, and kept rising until he became a giant, bloody faced vulture. It loomed over Anselm, blinking its uncanny eyes.
Anselm stumbled back, eyes wide. If he’d been alive, he’d have sworn he was having a stroke.
The monster made an avian equivalent of a blithe expression. Otumbo hopped up and down on thin air.
“HAHA! Isn’t it exciting? What fun! AH HA HA HA!” He laughed open mouthed, his mouth grew bigger and bigger, until his head itself grew bigger and bigger like
an inflating balloon.
“AH HA HA HA HA!” The voice reverberated through the graveyard. Anselm’s legs itched to to race from this horror.
A demonic chorus rumbled from the throat of the
Von Hechten monster, “YOU SHOULD DEMONSTRATE YOUR SPECIAL POWER, OTUMBO.”
“YES!!” The deafening roar blew out Anselm’s eardrums and they struggled to re-stitch themselves. Otumbo tore his head from his neck and rolled it like
a car-sized bowling ball. It picked up speed as it thundered closer. No! No!
Anselm leapt back, and broke into a sprint, smaller and lighter than ever before as he bounded toward a distant forest.
“OH HOW NICE,” said the giant bird, “HE HAS ACHIEVED AN ANIMAL FORM.”
“VON HECHTEN!” The head rolled back and bounced onto
its body. “How could you scare him that way? The poor lad.”
Von Hechten melted back to human shape, “Excuse me? Have you no self awareness? Clearly, you’re far more terrifying than myself.”
“NONSENSE!” Otumbo’s hand grew to the size of a kitchen table, and he smacked Von Hechten across the graveyard.
Anselm galloped through the grass. He leapt into a line of trees, easily cleared gnarled roots and logs. Get away! Get away! Deeper and deeper into the thick brush. He hunkered down and crawled under a dense bush. Those monsters! Unbelievable! He couldn’t go out there again, never, never. He settled down and looked around the giant leaves that surrounded him. His mind calmed. What was this odd position he was in? He glanced down at a felty brown chest.
He wiggled his ears— wait, he could wiggle his ears? A centipede
the size of a sausage scurried by. His tiny fluff of a tail twitched and his oversized fangs scraped the ground. It was his wish! He’d run away to live with the animals! No, no… don’t be silly. He laid his head on the soft earth and listened to the forest creatures in their nocturnal rest. Those monsters would come pull him back to their terrible world. Back where he must devour and hurt and kill.
A large creature rustled through the trees and he pushed himself even lower. What if it was a bear? What would happen if he was eaten in this form? Hooves hit the earth. Not a bear. He lay flattened, unbreathing, unmoving. Go away… go away…
The creature moved through the brush and sniffed at the ground. A deer— a gigantic deer! Bigger than the biggest horse! It crept along with its body nearly as low as his own. It cocked its head one way, then the other. Its black eyes focused on him and it bowed, watching him silently. A nice deer? He smelled the air
but the jumble of scents bewildered him.
The doe backed away with a curious expression. Could she tell he wasn’t a real animal? He poked his head out between the leaves, ready to flee if the creature made an aggressive move. It did not, it just twitched its ears and gazed back.
He stepped forward on spindly legs, awkward as a newborn fawn.
The doe shrunk in on herself, her hooves spread out into human fingers and she reared back, standing tall into the form of a giant woman— Regen! Right, right, she was normal, and he was tiny. He still bristled at the transformation, ears flattened with fear.
She gave him a pitying look, “You’ve discovered one way to get into your animal form— to be frightened into it. But seriously, you have nothing to be afraid of right now.”
“Ee-ohh…” he said.
“Come on. Come to me.”
He trotted over shyly.
“Closer, I’ll help you stand up so you can remember what it’s like
to be human.”
She held him by his chest and hoisted him up onto his hind hooves.
He faltered and shuffled around weakly. She patiently held him upright.
“Try to stand up all the way.”
The deer nodded and stretched his neck. He stood up and up, unfolded
like a ladder until he fell limp into Regen’s arms.
She sighed and helped him on to his feet. “They were just demonstrating their different forms. They are rather fierce looking,
but it’s not a problem because neither of them want to fight you.”
He fluttered his eyelids and leaned on a tree. Dirt smudged his shirt and his palms were stained with wet soil and grass. It was real. He ran through a forest on all fours. A creature, he became a creature.
She continued, “I’ll convince them to buzz off for the night, you’re clearly not in a state to deal with rambunctious types. Come with me.”
He followed her, his human feet tripped over the roots and stones that had been so easily navigated before.
Von Hechten pulled himself out of a muddy ditch. He’d carved a tunnel through the soft earth when he landed. A few headstones listed along his trajectory, some fallen completely. A huge speckled eagle swooped over and perched on a wobbling headstone. It transformed into a tiny man.
“Do forgive me, friend.” Otumbo said, “But you ought to be more careful with your pupil. At least he can’t have a heart attack, ha ha ha!”
“Oh yes, I am the worst.” Von Hechten shook out clots of dirty grass from his jacket.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t think so! Apparently not if he hasn’t tried to get his revenge yet.”
“Revenge? Why do you say that?”
“It’s a funny part of being a progenitor. Our spirit guides teach us when we are born— oh damn, we could have just asked him what his animal guides were! Although, I suppose it’s more fun to guess.”
“And…? What of these ‘guides?’ ”
“They teach us to feed, to hide from the sun. And often they exhort us to murder our executioners. I guess that would be you!”
“Pardon? Did yours?”
“Oh yes, definitely. It was hard to track them down, but indeed, I slew them all! Quite satisfying.”
“Hm. Would you say you were compelled? Or that you had a choice in the matter?”
“I’m always compelled for a fight when a fight is due! I’ve heard of a few cases of a progenitor failing to find their killers. Certainly those executed by a mob.”
“But what of refusing the call because it is irrational and silly and one really ought to be feeling gratitude?”
“Ah, you refer to our young lord. It’s a special circumstance, isn’t it?
I don’t believe it’s ever happened before, so who can say? I’m certain you have nothing to worry about.”
“…Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“No trouble! Haha, I suppose no Finsterwald for you tonight!”
“Why, do you think that lad will be stuck as a creature all night?”
“No, your get up! I’m not sure that pattern is in style!”
Von Hechten looked down at his muddy jacket and sighed.
| September 4th, 2016
| By: Kelly
Hey everyone, thanks for your birthday wishes! I had a great time and ate too much popcorn. I hope you enjoy this next installment of Anselm's story. Sorry it was a bit slow coming out, I nearly had it done and then decided to add three more illustrations because I love making myself miserable. Part two will come shortly!
TRANSCRIPT: This is visual description of the illustrations, for purposes such as accessibility and internet searches.
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