Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Revenant

Okay, here's my second short story. It is, thankfully, shorter than the first. Enjoy :)

THE REVENANT
By
Tonya Bryan

The events that led up to my suicide seem pretty unimpressive in retrospect.  Predictably enough, there had been a breakup.  I have to think hard to even remember the girl’s name now…Jillian?  Yes, Jillian.  The one detail that remains very clear to me after all of these years is her hair; long and golden like molten metal pouring down her back.  I still remember breathing in the scent of her, feeling the silky blanket of her hair draped across my chest.

Foolishly I’d been waiting for the perfect time to propose, but she left me before I had the chance.  The absence of her affection, the utter emptiness of my life without her had left only one path open to me.  Of course I had heard all of the warnings about suicide, but what tortures could purgatory possibly hold that could compare to the agony of never seeing her again?  When I put the gun in my mouth I had expected the burning retribution of Hell, but hoped for the quiet blackness of oblivion.  After pulling the trigger I experienced neither.

My prey picks up the tempo of her steps, breaking me out of my memories. I know she can feel me near and my jaw starts to grind maniacally as I perceive her terror.  The warm smell of her blood fills my nose.  Something feels poetic about my quarry today, perhaps it is the fact that my intended victim has lush, golden blond hair just like Jillian’s.  I feel anticipation building up as I watch the indecision play across her face. I can tell she feels foolish for venturing down this dark alley and doesn’t want to embarrass herself further by taking flight with the busy sidewalk just a few feet away.  She glances over her shoulder often and picks up her pace again.

In a few seconds she will leave the shadows and the closeness of the ally behind.  I reach my hand out towards her but she jumps ahead one little skip of a step and my fingers curl around empty air.  A vexed sigh hisses out from between my teeth as I spring straight up, landing lightly on my feet on the roof of a five story building.  I watch as the girl turns back towards the alley, her eyes wide with terror, only to shudder delicately and then merge into the crowded sidewalk traffic.

I notice a pigeon sitting on the roof ledge a few feet away from me and spring forward, snatching it up before it can even think about flying away.  I tear at the still living bird with my teeth, ravenous and impatient to feel its warm blood filling my cold empty veins.  After the initial relief associated with feeding fades I feel unsatisfied and angry.  I have run into others of my kind over the hundred or so years I’ve lived as a revenant.  I grunt with disgust, subsisted seems like a better word.  Those others had been bloated with the blood of their victims, smugly well fed while I remain desiccated and raw with hunger.

I hurl the emptied remains of the unsatisfying bird down towards the street and mentally smirk when I hear a woman screech below.  Now that I’m up on top of this stupid building the sun seems to scorch at me with avid intensity.  I shield my eyes, not caring that my hands are covered in blood and gore from the bird, and consider my options.  I should keep hunting.  I haven’t tasted human blood in over ten years and the pain of my hunger is excruciating.  Just then the wind picks up, whisking away the few scanty clouds that were partially blocking the wretched sunlight.  The brightness assaults my sensitive eyes and aggravates my aching.

Pulling the hood of my sweatshirt tightly around my face, I duck my head and jump down into the dim ally way.  Running comes easily to me, but I decide to take things slow just in case I find a new opportunity to hunt.  I slide along walls and creep down allies like a specter.  When I do pass by humans, they flinch away and their faces go tight.  For all of my thirst and pain, I can’t bring myself to attack any of them.  I wasn’t even capable of bringing down a helpless girl.

I hiss to myself again as I climb over the wreckage that is my front door.  I have taken up residence in an abandoned building on the south side of the city.  Other than painting the windows black and hauling in as many kerosene heaters as I could salvage from the junk yard down the street, I haven’t done anything to clean the place up or protect myself from outsiders.  Stacks of refuse tower precariously here and there and I weave though them effortlessly as I consider my inadequacy as a monster.

This building seems to scream “Please squat in me!”  to the vagrants of the city.  And what easy prey they would be!  And yet here I sit, feeling relief over the fact that so far no one has wandered into my lair.  I scoff at myself, even if a blind beggar stumbled in here I probably wouldn’t be able to kill him.

As I move further into the cool dark confines of the building I detect something faint and appetizing in the air.  I stop, close my eyes and breathe in deeply.  The scent is warm and moist, I take a few more steps forward and it fully assaults my nose accentuating the burning ache in my dry veins.

“Hold it right there asshole.” A distinctly female voice commands me.

My eyes pop open and I see a woman standing a few feet in front of me propped up on a pile of garbage, wielding what appears to be a modified harpoon launcher.  The woman isn’t pretty in any conventional sense.  She’s wearing men’s clothes and her body looks bulky underneath.  Her hair is the wildest shade of red I’ve ever seen and it’s sticking out every which way in a big frizzy mess.  A generous smattering of freckles cover her cheeks and nose and her eyes are a wolf like yellow color that I’ve never seen in a human before.

One leap would take me to the top of that pile.  In just one move I could take the woman down and her warm blood could fill my veins.  I feel my muscles contract, preparing to spring.  But at the very last second I find myself unwilling to harm her.  I duck my head and pull the sleeve of my sweatshirt over my hand, running it over my face in an attempt to clean away the bird mess.  There is something endearing about this wild looking woman standing fearlessly before me.  My lips twitch, the closest thing to a smile I have experienced in over a hundred years, and I raise my hands slowly.

“The last time I checked, this was my house.  Why don’t you explain what you’re doing in here, asshole.”  I grimace at the sound of my own voice.  I can’t remember the last time I tried to speak, my throat is so parched the words barely come out as a whisper.

“I’ve been following you for about a week.  I’ve been studying your…kind for most of my life.”  She snickers at me and lowers her weapon slightly so she can get a better look at me.  “I gotta say, you’re the most incompetent vampire I’ve ever met.”

Keeping my hands in plain sight so she won’t feel threatened, I move off to the right stopping in front of one of the several kerosene heaters I have scattered around the room.  I’m pretty confident that the weapon she’s holding can’t hurt me, but I know if she attacks I won’t be able to hold back the instinct to defend.  I mess with the wick on the heater for a second, wondering why I care.

“You’ve met others like me?  How is it that you are still alive then?”  I cock one eyebrow at her and move to the next heater.

Her chin lifts with overblown bravado and she pats the crosspiece of her weapon.  “This baby packs quite a punch.”  She smirks at me dryly and lifts the weapon back up to her face, lining up her shot.  “Over the years I’ve figured out the best way to kill a vampire is to plug him straight in the chest.  But you’ve gotta get a lot of velocity behind the shot, enough to break through the chest cavity and puncture the heart.  And you can’t stop there.  That’ll only slow the bastard down.”

She somehow manages to hold the harpoon gun in one hand and reach down to a concealed holster strapped around her thigh with her free hand to bring a massive hunting knife to bare.  The blade on the thing is at least ten inches long and it has a nasty serrated edge.  “No, if you leave him like that the only thing you’ll manage to do is piss him off.  If you really want to kill a vampire you have to cut his head right off his shoulders and tear the brain out of his skull.  Then he’s dead for good.”

In a lightning quick motion she drives the knife into an exposed wooden beam beside her and raises her ranged weapon again.  I move to the last heater in the room and light the wick.  The room is bright with the warm glow of their fire now, but this light doesn’t bother my eyes as much as the burning sun.  I lay my bare hands against the top of the heater.  Within a few seconds the metal is hot enough to scorch my flesh but I don’t feel any pain.

We stand in silence for a moment.  I notice her hands start to shake and wonder why she should be suddenly afraid.  Another moment passes and I start to feel annoyed.  “Well if you’re going to shoot me and rip my brains out, would you please just do it and get it over with?”

She smirks at me as she lowers her weapon, seemingly more interested in continuing our banter than killing me.  “You realize it’s the middle of the summer right?  It’s absolutely stifling in here as it is.  What’s your deal anyway?  You’re the weirdest vamp I’ve ever come across.”

I close my eyes and take in another deep breath.  The warmth of her blood calls to me, so much more satisfying than the warmth a thousand heaters could produce; definitely more appetizing than the rodents I usually live off.  My instincts tell me to take her.  I could be on top of her before she could ever get her cumbersome weapon leveled against me.  I would do it quickly, cleanly so she would feel as little pain as possible.

Some tiny part of me, perhaps what is left of my humanity, continues to struggle against my longing to kill her.  My eyes open and my lips twitch in a half smile again.  “I get cold.  And I’m not a vampire, not that I’m certain there is such a thing as a normal vampire anyway.  I am a revenant.”

She flops herself down on top of the trash heap crossing her legs and laying her harpoon gun across her lap.  I balk at her in shock.  I haven’t had a conversation with anyone since…before I died.  Human emotions that I haven’t felt in over a century overrule my desire to sink my teeth into her warm living flesh.  I turn around and dig through a pile of scraps until I find an old coat and wrap it around myself as I sit down.  I would be just as comfortable standing indefinitely, but I can tell the woman is more at ease this way so I mimic her position.

“What the Hell is a revenant?”  I can see the wheels turning in her head and it makes me almost smile again.

“The damned and twisted soul of one who has committed the ultimate sin.  The reanimated corpse of a person who has taken their own life.”  I shrug and feel the corners of my mouth twitching again.  “I don’t really know the best way for you to kill me.  But I guess we could try the heart piercing, brain ripping technique and see if it works.”

“So this happened because you killed yourself?  You weren’t bitten?”  Her voice and expression are incredulous and I notice her fingering the trigger of her weapon.

“Nope.  It was 1902 and I was twenty years old.  A girl broke my heart and I couldn’t see any way to live without her.   It all seems pretty ridiculous now.  I barely even remember her.  What I really remember is the taste of the metal in my mouth when I stuck the barrel of my father’s gun between my teeth.  I couldn’t imagine Hell being any worse than my life.  I was young and stupid, and very wrong.”

I look her over again.  It must be very hot in here because a thin sheen of sweat is dewing up on her forehead.  Now that she isn’t brandishing a weapon I discover that my initial analysis of her was way off the mark.  She is attractive in an odd sort of way.  She could definitely run a brush through her hair, but the shade of it reminds me of a flame.  Everything about her seems soft and inviting.  For a split second I long to touch her, yearn to lay my cold hand against her warm cheek.

“Well love is a bitch.”  She mutters.  “I wonder if vampires actually exist or if I’ve been chasing down revenants all this time.”  She shrugs her shoulders and pats her weapon.  “Either way, still needs to be done.”

“And how exactly does one get into the practice of vampire hunting?”  I ask and I’m surprised by the tinge of amusement in my voice, it’s been a very long time since I’ve found anything funny.

Pain suddenly twists her features and for a second it looks like she’s going to cry before she shakes her head briskly and shrugs her shoulders.  “I watched a vampire murder my father when I was a girl.  I didn’t have any other family so I ended up in a Catholic orphanage.  The church knows all about monsters like you, and they’re very good at spotting people who are cut out for hunting them.

I’ve killed about fifty undead, but the beasts I’ve come across look different from you.  They’re big and bloated, their faces are covered in blood and gore.  You look so skinny and dried out.”  She crinkles her nose up at me.  “That must be the difference between your kind and vampires.”

“No, those ones you saw before are just better fed than I am.  It has been over a decade since I’ve had a proper…meal.”  She shudders in revulsion and I shrug apologetically.

“Why didn’t you take the girl in the ally today?  I watched you stalk her, all you needed to do was reach out a second sooner and she would have been yours.”  Her voice sounds surprisingly accusatory.

“I don’t know why.”  I snap back at her.  “Why are you still alive?  I just can’t do it anymore.  I did something wrong, something horrible, but I can’t continue to punish innocent people for my actions.  So please harpoon me, cut me open, burn me.  Whatever it takes.”  I close my eyes and wait for the massacre to begin.  I hear her pull the knife out of the beam and move off the pile of garbage. As her footsteps move closer I brace myself against her scent, her warmth, and force myself to remain very still.  No matter what I will not fight back.  I will hold myself in the fire if need be.

Then the most shocking thing that could possibly happen, happens.  Instead of dicing me into a thousand pieces or decapitating me, she kneels down before me and lays her warm hand on my cheek.


*

I have no idea why I’m doing this.  What I should be doing is driving my knife through this thing’s chest and then stomping its brains out.  Instead I’m kneeling in front of it like an idiot.  My hand moves of its own volition and rests lightly against its cold cheek.  Every muscle in my body is tense. Every instinct is screaming at me to attack, but I can’t.

As soon as I touch him a shiver runs through his body and he turns his face into my hand.  When he opens his eyes they are bright with excitement, excitement to tear my throat open and drink my blood.  I watch as his jaw begins grinding and his fingers twitch, but I still can’t bring myself to harm him.  A tense moment passes and he seems to regain control.  The light leaves his eyes and he appears to be holding his breath.

He pins me with his gaze and I find myself drowning in the black depths of his eyes.  Pure black.  No white, no discernable pupil.  His flesh has a sickening purplish cast to it, similar to a corpse that has been decomposing for quite awhile.  His hair is also black and hangs dankly around his shoulders.  Despite my revulsion, I feel pity.  The hard frozen lump in my chest that has been serving as my heart for all of these years begins to thaw.

“What is…what was your name?”  I whisper.  I wish I could get up and run for it since I obviously don’t have the guts to do my job anymore.  I have spent my entire adult life chasing down and killing monsters like him, everything about this situation just seems downright wrong.  Despite all of that I am captivated by his tortured soul.

His eyebrows knit together and another moment passes before he answers.  “Declan.”  He whispers back.  “I’d almost forgotten that.  Thank you for reminding me.”  Both sides of his mouth pull up and he finally manages to smile.  “What’s your name?”

“Sheila.”  The word comes out in a rush of breath and I struggle to keep my composure as fifteen years of anger and questing for revenge war with compassion inside of me.  A traitor tear escapes my eye and begins rolling down my cheek.  Very slowly, Declan lifts one finger and wipes it away.

Every fiber of my being screams at me to stop, but I raise my other hand to cup his face.  His body begins shaking but he makes no move to attack me and after a moment he goes still again.  As my face moves closer to his I feel his jaw lock under my fingers.  Despite all logic I continue to move slowly, but inevitably towards him until I press my lips against his icy mouth.  I pull back slightly leaving my lips close enough to brush against his as I speak.

“Declan?”

“Yes?”  His voice trembles and he begins shaking more violently than before.

“I forgive you.”  I slide my knife as smoothly as possible into his chest, ramping up the pressure as my blade slides through his rib cage and finally hits its mark, his dead heart.

Suddenly a searing blast of white light fills the room blinding me and sending me sprawling backwards.  I hear Declan gasp in pain, but my mind is too overwhelmed by the light to respond in any way.  What could be an eternity or a few moments pass and I feel my consciousness slipping away as my brain shuts down in self defense against the overwhelming, ripping, agony produced by the other worldly.  Then everything goes black.

When I open my eyes again the room is still bright but not in an uncomfortable way.  I’m laying down and immediately start struggling to get up but a cool hand presses against my arm.  I turn my head around and see Declan kneeling beside me.  Everything about him is different.  His eyes are a warm brown now and they are full of concern and love as he looks down at me.  His skin is pale, but a normal human kind of pale.

“Don’t try to sit up Sheila.  You fell and hit your head.  Just lie there for a minute.  I’m sorry I can’t stay, but I wanted to say thank you before I go.”

“Where are you going?”  I demand.  I feel my heart splitting in two inside my chest at the thought of him leaving me.  The pain seems all wrong to me, but I  feel it deeply regardless.

He smiles at me and the expression lights up his now handsome features.  “I really don’t know.  But I feel like I’m heading somewhere good.  I have a lot to make up for, but thanks to you I’ve finally forgiven myself.  I’m ready to move on now.  And it’s time for you to move on as well Sheila.  Life is too beautiful and too brief to waste on hate and revenge.”

Voices fill up the room and Declan stands up, turning towards them.  The sound is so beautiful it hurts my ears.  I want to follow him, but the light intensifies again and the singing voices continue to amplify until I’m forced to cover my ears with my hands and squeeze my eyes shut to keep from passing out again.

When the light finally subsides and I open my eyes, Declan is gone.  I stand up shakily and look around. His empty, rotting corpse is laying on the floor in front of me.

“I guess that’s what you would call killing them with kindness.”  I mutter, trying to laugh through my tears as I methodically dismember his corpse, cutting it down into manageable pieces and wrapping it in the coat he was wearing.

I make my way quickly through the streets back to the church and burst through the door to the private chamber of the archbishop of the diocese.  The man leaps up from behind his desk in surprise, then crinkles up his nose in disgust when he smells the contents of my makeshift bag.

“What is the meaning of this my child?  Surely your visit could have waited for the morning.”  He demands angrily.

I roll my eyes and storm across the room, dumping the macabre contents of the bag out onto his desk.  “Actually, it couldn’t your holiness.  I need to bury this body properly.  Now.  Do you guys keep a shovel in this joint?”

And so finally Declan’s remains are laid to rest along with his soul.  I visit his grave often, always going under the comforting light of the moon rather than the harsh glare of the sun to remember him.  I tell myself that I’m there to pray for him and thank him for ending my path of vengeance, but mostly I want to make sure he stays dead.

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