By H. M. Garber
The yellowed walls, peeling paint and cracked molding appeared sinister. Brent felt his betraying body decaying like the old mansion. He existed here with only Aunt Agnes and his private nurse, Robyn. Brent wondered how his parents and his sister justified leaving him when he was eleven years of age. Yes, their money supported him, but they never visited, called or even sent flowers. He didn’t know if they were alive or dead, and he sometimes wondered why he still cared.
Brent navigated his wheelchair through the study’s book-lined walls and high ceilings. Dusty crystal chandeliers swayed and tall leaded glass windows rattled with the oncoming storm. This epitomized Brent’s feelings that all wealth and power were useless against life’s obstacles.
Dr. Kline explained that his latest CAT scan showed faster growth in the brain tumor than expected. The inoperable menace had squeezed the left side of his brain for a decade, and now it would kill him. He would be dead within the year.
Brent daydreamed being like Neo fighting the computer virus in the Matrix. Today, on his twenty-first birthday, he thought instead about his nurse. Robyn Flynn. She had worked and lived with him for three years. With thick black hair, and turquoise blue eyes, he knew the moment they met, they would be together. She shared his disdain for the shallow and arrogant people. They treated him like a useless burden on their tax dollars because he was in a wheelchair. His wealthy family provided his medical care without help from any government agency.
He was also angry at how others treated Robyn. She was a medical professional who wore dark clothing and kohl makeup. He wore black jeans and eyeliner in solidarity
Before his last doctor’s visit, he wanted to convince her to go out with him. She never dated. He wondered if there was something wrong with her. Maybe she didn’t like men. She liked him well enough. After she straightened the room they talked about horror stories. Her favorite authors were Poppy Z. Bright and Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc.
She never mentioned what he couldn’t do. He used modifications to perform everyday tasks to gain independence. She only looked at him with admiration and respect.
Now, he needed to think of a way to tell her that he never wanted to see her again. He wanted to save her from as much pain as he could. Last month he admitted to himself that he loved her. She was amazing, never accepting the status quo, always pushing the envelope. He knew that the best thing was to encourage her to find someone else or at least stop caring for him.
Robin provided hospice care to patients that needed it. As the tumor progressed, his body would break down while his mind remained sharp. He couldn’t handle the idea of her watching that happen.
Brent liked the play of shadow and light on the walls from candlelight. Dusk came and went, but Robyn still didn’t stop by. Usually, she would come early and talk with him before she assisted him with his nightly ritual.
A light tapping on the door signaled a visitor. Aunt Agnes and a stranger surprised Brent. The man was tall, lean, and dressed in a black silk shirt. His pants, no, trousers cut to flare over shiny black boots. He wore long black ringlets pulled into a low ponytail. He tied it with a ribbon. A black silk ribbon, of course. A plum velvet waistcoat popped against his monochrome outfit.
“Brent, this is your distant cousin from Prague: Viktor Kalman. I asked him to come for a visit.”
I have a cousin in Prague who is visiting me now? Where has he been this entire time? Why haven’t I heard of him?
Aunt Agnes kept her distance from Viktor. He radiated some dark energy that intrigued Brent. He didn’t understand why Aunt Agnes feared this man. He reminded Brent of someone who didn’t conform to any rule or standard like him and Robyn. He even wore lipstick.
“Viktor,” Brent nodded.
“Well, I’ll leave you two alone.” The heavy door slammed at her hasty exit.
“I hear you haven’t been feeling well, cousin. Did Agnes explain how I may help you?” His memorizing voice bounced off the walls and ceilings, with only a trace of a Czech accent. His pale skin glowed in the flickering light.
“No, she didn’t, and no one can help, Viktor. I feared this day would come since the doctors found my tumor. I’ve wished for a savior for a decade. It’s all I’ve ever wanted since I was eleven.”
“I can extend your time here on Earth. Longer than you ever dreamed of.” Viktor moved closer to Brent and squatted down to his eye level. “I want to help you, Brent. I want you to come with me to Prague. We can bring your Robyn with us if you want, but there are risks. I need one thing, Brent. I just need your permission.”
“Viktor, I do want to live, but what do you want to do? And if you know about Robyn, you know she’s not mine. How could I ask her to love… this?” Brent sighed and waved his hand across the dead weight in the chair.
“I know everything about you, Brent, including your feelings for your nurse. There is a way to save you. It might kill you, and it might drive you insane, but it could keep you with us for a long time.”
Brent sighed. His cousin offered false hope. Brent wished for an easy solution since his first diagnosis. All the specialists said no options remained. Medical science failed him. No one would ever know how he felt about Robyn.
“I know you think I am deluded, but what do you have to lose?” Viktor used all his powers of persuasion and seduction. He ran his cool hand up the side of Brent’s neck. “Just one prick… one small taste.” Viktor murmured as he sniffed and licked the side of his neck.
“Yes.” Brent moaned as Viktor’s sharp teeth pierced the artery then he drank his life.
Brent’s cousin offered him death, but his confused mind rejoiced. He didn’t need to watch his body betray him and collapse upon itself any longer. He could spare Robyn the pain of watching as he deteriorated into nothing. He felt sleepy freedom as his body became weaker.
Brent heard a slam and saw Robyn enter and scream “Stop!” then Viktor gestured. A thump and crash signaled Robin falling unconscious.
Almost unconscious, Brent smelled something metallic then tasted hot, salty liquid. He grabbed at the arm and sucked until Viktor yanked it away.
Power and vitality rushed through his veins. A drop of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
“What have you done?” Brent asked, still confused, but euphoric from the elixir traveling through his veins.
“I’ve made you like me. Now we must go back to Prague and take Robyn with us.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Brent rolled his chair over to her still body. “Why is she like this?”
“She distracted me. It was not easy, what I did. You would have died. I needed to silence her. She’ll be fine.”
“Would have died? I should have died.” Brent looked at Robyn. He heard her heartbeat, saw the fine hairs on her arm, and smelt the clove cigarette she smoked that morning. “What am I, Viktor?”
“Stand up, Brent,” Viktor commanded. He lifted Robyn’s body with one hand and draped it in an overstuffed leather chair. “Help her if you desire.”
“What? I can’t walk. I haven’t been able to in years. Why didn’t you just put me out of my misery?”
“I need companionship. You are family and needed this gift. Now stand.”
Brent rose from the wheelchair. The apprehension on his face turned to incredulous wonder. His legs remained strong and steady.
Viktor looked luminous and proud with glossy black hair and crimson lips. The antique furniture and threadbare rugs glowed vivid and alive. Robyn’s pulse thumped in her neck. A filter lifted from his eyes. He no longer doubted that he would continue to live.
“What am I? What have you done?” Brent found himself, unlike Aunt Agnes, drawn into the force of Viktor’s aura.
“You are Vampyr like me,” Viktor smiled. He found Brent’s mix of curiosity and fearlessness toward him pleasing. “We cannot exist in the sunlight. We need to drink blood to survive. There is more, much more. I will teach you later.”
“Drink blood? You mean from a living person? I’m never going to kill someone, Viktor. I know what it feels like, waiting to die, and I can’t do that to someone else.” Brent remembered all the vampire movies he and Robyn watched and wondered how much of it was true. Could he change his shape, control wolves, people’s minds?
“We don’t need to kill. We can survive with a small drink.” Viktor said. “But to change another? It is dangerous. You are family, so I risked it for you.”
“Then I might kill her if I try to make her like me? Like us?” Brent knew the answer before Viktor nodded the affirmative.
“I can’t do that to her. I can’t cut her life short.” He ran his fingers through her hair and gazed at her unconscious face.
“Then we must leave now while night remains. Agnes will tell her a lie. After some time, you may visit her again.”
Brent pressed his lips to Robyn’s, kissing her for the first and last time.
“I love you, Robyn.”