I followed O’Malley to Dodger’s building in uptown Arlington, and we dumped him safely in his apartment. He was so out of it, he was snoring before we could open the door to leave.
“I should get him drunk more often,” O’Malley said as we exited the building. “I love driving that car.”
“Yours isn’t too bad, either,” I complimented, tossing her her keys.
I rounded the corner of the building, suddenly finding myself pushed against the wall with a knife to my throat.
“Wallet,” the man in front of me demanded.
In a flash, O’Malley grabbed the back of his jacket, yanked him back, and punched him hard across the face. He fell on his ass with a grunt, put his hand to his face, shocked to see it come away covered in blood. He didn’t know what hit him.
“Aw, you didn’t have to do that,” I said to her. “It’s not like he could’ve killed me.”
“Still wasn’t very nice of him,” she muttered, glaring down at him.
We waited for him to start fighting back, like they always do, cursing and spitting and stabbing at us. Oddly, he didn’t; just tried to gather his senses. I crouched down by the dazed man. He cried out and held the knife up between us, but defensively, not threateningly. I caught his wrist and pried it from his fingers. “I’ll hold on to this,” I said, waving it at him before sticking it down in my boot. He watched us, eyes darting back and forth between us. There was fear in those eyes. “You haven’t done this before, have you?” I observed.
“Done what?” His voice wavered.
“Pulled a knife on somebody.”
He shook his head. I could see he wasn’t lying. He was too terrified.
“You think you really could’ve done it?”
He didn’t answer. Just gazed up at me, shivering. But, it wasn’t very cold out. That was enough of an answer for me.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Th-thirty six,” he whispered.
“Wife… T-two girls…”
I considered and asked, “What would your girls think if they saw Daddy putting a knife to a guy’s neck?”
His lip trembled and he hung his head in shame. Blood dripped off his nose to the concrete.
“Stand up,” I said, grabbing his collar. “C’mon, on your feet.”
I pulled him up, but he kept his head low.
“Look at me,” I told him.
He lifted watery, bloodshot eyes.
“Go home. Find another way to make ends meet. Because if I catch you out here again, threatening someone’s life for their money, I will kill you.”
He stared at me, trembling, and I let go of his jacket. He stumbled back on the ground, staggered to his feet, and ran away at top speed.
I turned to O’Malley. She was watching me with a hint of a smile, hands on her hips. “Why’d you let him live?” she asked.
I shrugged and continued toward the car. “He’s not my type.”
She laughed. “Your ‘type?'”
“Yeah. You know, pushers, murderers, rapists… real evil. Not desperate people.”
“He pulled a knife on you. What if you had been someone else? Someone mortal?”
“If he used that knife and I was around to see it, yeah. I totally would’ve killed him.” I reached over my shoulder for a cigarette as we climbed into O’Malley’s car. “But he wouldn’t’ve done it. I could tell. He was hoping with everything that the threat would be enough.”
She shook her head and gunned the car to life. “I dunno, Grin… People lie.”
I knew that. But I also knew that, even though I’d lost a lot of compassion for the people I killed, I had just enough left for those who needed it most. Sure, I could kill some random dude just for being around when I was hungry, but hey, shit happens. People get hit by trucks, fall and break their necks, drop dead in the street from some heart problem or brain aneurysm they didn’t even know they had, or get attacked by vampires. Death doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes it’s even merciful. But sometimes it grabs hold of you, makes you think about what you’re doing and what you could be leaving behind, and just when you think it’s about to drag you away, it releases you. It shows you where you were going, and it gives you one chance to turn back. Dickens was right about that.
But before you think I’m going soft, let me tell you my favorite thing about death: it comes to those who deserve it, in ways so horrible that they get a little taste of hell before they even get there. And trust me, when I tell you what happened later that night—the thing that changed me into what I am today—”soft” is the last word you’d use to describe me.
It happened when O’Malley and I were hunting. We cruised the streets in her car, searching for suitable victims in a run-down neighborhood, when I saw something that would’ve made my stomach turn if it had still been capable of such a thing.
“O’Malley, stop the car,” I said.
“What is it?”
“Stop the fucking car!”
She slammed her foot down on the brake and I jumped out. She rolled the car back a few feet to where I’d stopped, and when she saw what I saw, I could hear her whisper, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…”
Between two big dumpsters, cowering against the wall, was a little girl in pink pajamas, crying, sitting with her knees to her chest, holding her hands between her legs. Blood stained her pants there.
She looked up at me and gasped.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I want to help you.”
I knelt down in front of her. At first, I’d thought that she may have gotten her first period and didn’t know what was happening, but now that I could see her better, I realized there was too much blood, and she was way too young. She couldn’t’ve been older than six.
“How did you get hurt, sweetheart?” I asked gently.
After a long silence, “I’m not ‘posed to tell,” she whispered.
The corners of her mouth pulled down in the most heartbreaking frown. “Uncle John said I’ll be in trouble.”
I swallowed the sudden lump of rage that formed in my throat and whispered, “Did your uncle John do this?”
She started to cry, putting her forehead against her knees, and I knew I was right.
“Hey, hey. Listen,” I soothed, lifting her chin. “It’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna take you somewhere safe.”
“Don’t take me home!” she cried. “He’s there! He’s gonna hurt me!”
“No, no. I’m taking you to the hospital so the doctors can fix you up, okay?”
She took a few gasps and nodded, looking suddenly weary. Blood loss. Carefully, I scooped her up and carried her to the car. O’Malley leaned over the seat and opened the door.
“Help me get her in. Be careful,” I said. O’Malley helped me lay her on her side in the middle of the seat, resting her little head on her lap. “This is my friend,” I told the girl. “She’s gonna take you to the hospital. Now, where are your parents?”
“They went on a date,” she said.
“Is there any way you can call them?”
“Mmhmm,” she nodded. Her eyes closed.
“No, no, no. Stay awake, honey. Keep talking,” I said. She opened her eyes again. “Do your parents have cell phones?”
“Yeah,” she sighed.
“Good. Now, here’s what you need to do,” I said. “When my friend takes you to the hospital, you need to call your parents, and they’ll come get you. You know their numbers, right?”
She nodded and recited them methodically, like she might her ABC’s.
“Perfect. Tell them what Uncle John did. I promise, they won’t be mad at you. Can you do all that?”
She nodded again and sighed, “I’m sleepy.”
“Don’t close your eyes, okay? You gotta stay awake,” I instructed, and looked up at O’Malley. “Stay with her until the parents show up. I’m gonna find her uncle.”
She may have been a murderous vampire, but in that moment, I saw a kind and loving part of O’Malley come forward. I closed the door, seeing her stroke the little girl’s hair, asking what kind of music she liked. As she drove away, I heard her scanning through the stations until soft jazz music began to play. Then she hit the main street, tires screaming and engine roaring away toward the hospital.
And then I stalked the streets for the bastard uncle. He had to be close. The girl couldn’t have wandered far from home. He had to have realized she was gone by then, so I went onto a nearby street lined with houses and strolled down the sidewalk. With any luck, I might be able to see into the windows and catch someone who appeared to be looking for something. It was a long shot, but if there was even a small chance I could get my hands on him, it was worth the try.
But even as I was walking around searching for him, he was out searching for her.
“Karen?” a drunken voice called. I stood still and listened closely. “Karen!” he shouted again. It was coming from the grid of tall, brick buildings behind the houses to my left. I gritted my teeth and followed the sound.
I found him stumbling around, leaning against the brick walls, looking behind trash cans and into alcoves. He was a chubby guy, maybe in his thirties, in a beer-stained t-shirt and gray sweat pants.
“Where are yooou?” he called out playfully, giggling to himself. “Here I come… Here comes the, uh… the big bad wolf!”
“Hide and seek?” I muttered.
“Holy shit!” he gasped, spinning around and falling backward, knocking over a trash can. “Dammit! Y’shouldn’t sneak up on people like that, man!”
“Sorry,” I said congenially, reaching down to him. He took my hand and I pulled him to his feet. “Are you looking for the little girl?” I asked.
“Oh, good, you’ve seen her!” he cried in relief, slurring so badly a deaf man could tell he was drunk. “Yeah, yeah, she’s my niece. She snuck outside.”
I nodded, knitting my brow, pretending to think. “Was she wearing pink pajamas?”
“Yeah, that’s her!” he
said excitedly. “Where’d you see her?”
“Was she crying?” I asked, becoming more severe.
He started to get uncomfortable, taking a wobbly step back. “Uh… I dunno… Maybe?”
“Was she bleeding?” I growled, coming toward him.
He tripped again, but steadied himself, holding onto the wall as he backed away. “C’mon, man, you’re freakin’ me out!”
I rushed at him, grabbed him by the neck, and threw him across the alley like a doll. He hit the wall and fell on the ground, groaning.
“I know what you did,” I said, walking toward him again.
“What’re you talkin’ about?” he moaned.
I bent and took the collar of his shirt in my fists. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
He looked at me and saw my fangs and black eyes. His face twisted in horror. “Shit! What the fuck are you?”
“You all ask the same damn question. I didn’t expect it to get old so fast,” I said, and straightened back up, dragging him across the alley by his greasy hair. He screamed and struggled while I explained, “Normally, I’d be the thing that’s going to rip open your throat and drink your blood until you die.” I pulled him over to sit beside a dumpster. “But I think that’s too kind a death for you.” I pulled my jeans up from my ankle a bit and took the knife out of my boot.
“What’re you gonna do?” he whimpered, too drunk and tired to fight now.
“I could wait for Karen’s parents to turn you in. It’d be nice to know you’ll spend the rest of your life in prison, getting raped in the ass every day, until someone finally shanks you to death,” I said conversationally, pushing the blade up under his chin. “But, I’m not sure that would teach you much of a lesson.”
“What’re you gonna do?” he whispered again, tears running down his face.
“I’m gonna make you suffer like you made her suffer,” I said. “Now stand up.”
He pushed his back against the wall to support himself as he staggered up on his feet.
“Drop your pants,” I commanded.
“No…” he pled, shaking his head.
“Fucking DO IT!” I roared, almost scaring myself with the monstrous sound of my voice.
He started to cry, pushing his sweat pants down to his knees. Before I could think, Holy shit, am I really gonna do this? I shoved the knife beneath his cock. He cringed, a quiet squealing trapped in his throat.
“Please, no…” he begged. “Not that…”
“I don’t think you deserve to keep it if you won’t use it properly.”
“I’m sorry! I was drunk! I won’t ever do it again! I swear!”
I pretended to consider it and lowered the knife. “Well… okay,” I said.
He stared at me. “Really?”
I let out a contemptuous laugh. “Hah! No.”
I grabbed his dick with one hand, and with the other, sawed at the root of it with the knife. He screamed, trying to fight me off, but it made no difference. Blood ran down his legs and dripped from his balls. I wasn’t going to do it quickly. I wanted him to experience the worst pain possible, for as long as possible. I kept seeing that little girl, maybe six years old, just a baby in the scheme of things, with all that blood on her pink pajama pants. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s the sickest of crimes, the evilest act, the most vile, disgusting, horrible atrocity that a human being can commit. I would make this monster suffer. Oh God, would I make him fucking suffer. I watched the pain and disbelief on his face. He couldn’t even scream anymore. His jaw worked itself open and closed, but he could let out nothing more than a few squeaks.
And after what felt like a very long time, the prick ripped free. He fell down on the ground, his face going pale, his groin spurting blood.
“Feel that?” I asked. “That’s what Karen felt. You didn’t just hurt her physically, you stole a part of her that she’ll never have again.”
His breath was getting shallow, his eyes filled with terror as he looked at his dick, separated from his body.
“As for you, you can have this piece of shit back,” I said, and shoved it in his mouth, followed by the knife. I stabbed the blade through the severed penis and into the back of his throat. “Choke on it, you fuck,” I growled, and spat on his face. Then I straightened up, lifted my boot, and gave the hilt of the knife one good stomp.
He gagged and twitched, eyes rolling back in his head. I stood and watched him die, blood pooling on the ground around his legs, running down his face. His head fell forward and red gushed from his mouth, spread across the front of his shirt.
I turned my back and started down the alley. Then I looked at the blood on my hands and shuddered in disgust at having touched a dick. “I need a shower,” I muttered, and made my body shatter into bats, flying away toward Lanigan’s.
I’d been standing in the bathtub with the curtain closed and the showerhead spraying scalding hot water at full blast, but when I heard the door to the loft open and shut, I turned the knob off and stepped out. Soon, O’Malley knocked on the door and called, “Grin? You okay?”
“I’m fucking fine,” I murmured, throwing my hair forward and toweling it off.
She asked cautiously, “What did you do to him?”
“I disarmed him,” I said, wrapped the towel around my waist, and came out of the bathroom.
She stared at me in horror. “You… cut off… his…?”
“And shoved it down his throat,” I told her, and walked past her toward the bedroom. I didn’t feel like talking. I wanted to be alone to think.
She sighed, following me. “I think you’re taking this ‘monster’ thing a little too far…”
“I’m the monster?” I barked, spinning around to face her. “I’m not the one raping little girls! I’m not the one getting wasted and beating my girlfriend! I’m not the one that would cut a man’s throat for his wallet! I’m not the one selling drugs and ruining lives! I’m not the one bludgeoning people to death because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their religion! I’m not doing any of the shit you see people doing on the news or in the papers! People like that, those are the fucking monsters!”
She was silent, and so was I. There was nothing but the sound of my hair dripping on the hardwood floor.
“Then what does that make you?” she asked calmly.
“I don’t even fucking know anymore.”
I turned my back and went in the bedroom, slamming the door behind me like an angsty teenager.
For an hour, I sat on my closed coffin, filling up my ashtray. I lit a new cigarette with the end of the one I was finishing. It wasn’t like I was going to get cancer, so what the hell? I’d chain it if I felt like it. And damn, did I feel like it.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel remorse for what I’d done. That man had committed one of the worst possible crimes, something so awful that even hardcore murderers and gangbangers in prison kill anyone who’s done it. I didn’t regret any of it. If given the chance, I’d do it again, and find a way to make it even more brutal.
So, I wasn’t feeling bummed, but I wasn’t really happy, either. I mean, I was glad the fucker was burning in hell, and I was pleased that I could make his last moments so painful and terrifying, but I wasn’t exactly bursting with joy. I was just wondering what this meant. It was different than all the others. He wouldn’t just be another part of the mystery. He wasn’t a bloodless, woundless corpse. Karen’s parents would call the cops when they found out what he did. They would find him beaten, dick cut off, shoved in his mouth, knife stabbed through it into his throat. They would find him, they would know he was murdered, and they would know why.
I lifted my head and stared across the room at nothing. The cigarette fell from my lips, onto the hammock formed by the towel as it draped between my thighs.
They would know he was murdered, and they would know why.
“You’re sort of like… Eric Draven.”
I’m gonna go Johnny Gruesome on their asses.
“…finding out what you’re good at… discovering your purpose…”
As the pieces fell into place, I saw the picture laid out in front of me. And it was perfect.
I emerged from the bedroom after pulling on a pair of jeans and sat down next to O’Malley, on the sofa. She put down her book and looked up at me pensively. I gave her a little smile to show her I wasn’t pissy anymore, and said, “How was the girl doing?”
“She was sleeping when I left,” she sighed. “Blood transfusion, stitches… She’ll be fine. Physically, anyway.”
I nodded. “And the parents?”
“Sped over from the theater. After the worst was over, we talked a bit. She told them everything.” O’Malley laughed gently.
“What is it?”
“She said the cutest thing,” she went on, smiling. “They said when they walked in to see her, she asked them if the angels were still there.”
“Us,” she said.
I chuckled. “That’s adorable.”
“It makes sense if you think about it,” she explained. “Little kids… they don’t see the world like the rest of us. They’re not skeptics by a long shot, because they haven’t been taught how to look at things yet… They see them how they really are.”
I began to understand. “She knew we weren’t human.”
We shared a long gaze, and I think after what we’d done, we did feel kind of like a pair of dark guardian angels.
That reminds me…
“Let’s watch a movie,” I suggested, jumping up and going to the shelf. I scanned through the titles and wasn’t surprised to find she had it. I turned on the TV and popped the disc in. After turning the lights down, I went back to the sofa and slouched down beside her.
Surprisingly enough, she pulled her feet up beside her and leaned into my side, and I put my arm around her. Her hair was like silk against my cheek. I breathed in her scent and sighed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Just… thinking about you.”
I felt her laugh. “I mean, what’s the movie?”
“Oh. It just sorta came to mind, and I wanted to watch it.”
The DVD menu came up, and the voices of Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery recited:
“And shepherds we shall be
“For Thee, my Lord, for Thee.
“Power hath descended forth from Thy hand
“That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command.
“So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
“And teeming with souls shall it ever be.
“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.”
I selected “play” and placed the remote beside me. As the movie began, O’Malley asked, “Just out of curiosity, what were you thinking about me?”
I smirked and said, “You don’t wanna know.”
She lifted an eyebrow at me and replied, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
I laughed and kissed her hair. No way was I going to tell her what I was really thinking, because I knew where that kind of thinking would get me—beaten, face slashed open, jugular vein cut, and left to bleed out.