By Chris Caldwell
Ash crouched on a rooftop, his features twisted into a savage caricature of their former serene grace. The warmth of the Santa Ana winds buffeted him and whipped his long, dark hair around his face, but he gave no sign of discomfort. Ash was focused on a second story window in a house a few yards from his perch, his eyes seeming to glow in the gloom. A figure moved near the window, backlit by a lamp and further obscured by the half-drawn horizontal blinds. A single word formed on Ash's lips, his face further contorting with rage and hatred. His eyes took on a unholy fervor as he half-whispered, half-snarled the word, "Father".
The memories were returning to Ash unbidden. Evoked by seeing his father's form after so long, they bombarded him, forcing Ash to deal with pain he had long ago locked away. Ash was five again, his mother still alive. His hands clenched as he remembered what the smoothness of plastic building blocks felt like. He could hear his mother's voice humming in the kitchen. He was building a fort wherein his action figures would defend against sieges and launch counter-attacks. A shadow fell on him, shrouding Army Mike and Gatark, the Inter-galactic Robot, in darkness. A voice from what seemed like thousands of feet above thundered down at him, "Goddamnit, Ashley! What did I tell you about leaving your fucking toys all over the house!"
A massive hand, fingers distended grotesquely by memory, hurled a robot with a snapped arm at his head, Ash's own small hand coming up too late to block the projectile. There were no tears or cries of pain that he could recall, only the thunder of his father's fist pummeling him. His mother was pushed away into the hallway, unable to defend him against the angry giant. The robot's broken arm seemed, in retrospect, a parody of his own.
His mother, his strong, silent mother never made good on her promises of escape. Ash sighed softly as he remembered her voice, the way her hair cascaded down her back and her promises, "Ashley honey, we're going away as soon as we both get better. We're not going to come back". She died of cancer less than a year later, leaving Ash with no buffer between him and his increasingly savage father.
Ash was nine, his father about to introduce him for the first time to Melissa, the woman that would become his father's wife. Never Ash's stepmother. He remembered the dulcet tones in the woman's voice that afternoon, so different from the harsh screeching he would get so used to hearing. Her coif was hairsprayed into place with military precision, her face painted with strict attention to the latest beauty magazine. Her smile was too wide. In his short life, Ash had already learned not to trust an adult whose smile is too wide.
Melissa's forms of torment were different than his father's. When she was sober, she was largely indifferent to Ash's existence. He was an inconvenience at most, they did their best to genially ignore one another. Melissa was not always sober, however. When she was drunk, she was a vicious harpy who would spout anything hateful and cruel that she could devise. She seemed to delight in Ash's tears. When she was drunk, his father would beat her and she would laugh and call him names so foul that Ash plugged his ears with cotton in order not to hear. As time went on, the occasions when she was sober were fewer, and Ash could count on her tongue to be sharpened by liquor, seeking out someone to cut.
Ash shuddered as he remembered the changes that his puberty had brought about in Melissa. When he was only a child, he could predict her behavior, either cold or insulting. He knew that when he saw her drinking that it was time to leave however he could. She was, until then, at least a known quantity, unlike his father whose volatile side could be triggered by just about anything, and you never knew when to expect a slap or a swift punch to the ribs. But one day, when Ash was 13, a drunken Melissa had come up behind him and surprised him, grabbing him from behind, cooing into his ear, "You're growing up now, aren't you?" Ash could still smell the liquor on her breath. She had grabbed him, turning his face upwards. She kissed him, her tongue rudely forcing its way into his mouth. He pushed free, ran down the hallway. He could hear her laughing as he threw up, his fear and shame warring with revulsion. From then on he tried never to be home alone with her, but there were times when he still felt an unwelcome grope, or was suddenly kissed by a woman noticing his budding charms.
Ash looked up, for a moment free of the recollections that were demanding notice, one by one. He stared harder at the window, as if the force of his gaze could shatter the glass, sending brilliant shards into the house that had become a prison to him. Ash could discern a lumpen shape in the king-sized bed, his father crawling in next to it. Ash bared his teeth like a mad dog, displaying wickedly sharp, elongated canines. Fangs. Ash felt a new thirst rise up in him, one that would not be sated until he gave in, ended his father's life in terror and in gore and drank and drank and drank..
"No!", Ash cried out, shocking himself with the sound of his own voice. Although it was barely audible above the howl of the wind, his voice had reminded him that whatever had happened to him, he was still first and foremost a human. His vision clouded as tears began to well up in his eyes and stream silently down his face. The memories of that day, that awful day, were returning to him, and where they would take him with his terrible new powers and new hungers, he could only guess.
The sun on that day had risen angry and red, like a canker sore. Ash had cried himself to sleep the night before, his pillow muffling the sounds of his anguished sobs. He was seventeen. When you are seventeen and a relationship ends, especially your first relationship, it seems like the end of the world. Ash had looked down at his slender, elegant wrists and wondered what it would be like to hold them under hot water and watch a thin ribbon of red appear as he applied a razor to them. Ash had loved Christian, and he had been betrayed.
It was the morning after high school graduation, a day that should have been filled with elation and perhaps a little bittersweet nostalgia, not the heartbreak that Ash had felt. His beloved Christian had lied to him and cheated on him. The memory was painful to Ash even now, as he recalled Christian's soft blond hair, his seemingly guileless blue eyes. College-educated, well- mannered Christian had sadly told Ash that he would not be able to spend graduation night with him, he complained loudly about the tyranny of the office. Ash gave a feral half-smile as he remembered his gullibility. He would spend the night celebrating and carousing with Rena. There would be plenty of time to have a private celebration with Christian.
Ash and Rena had strolled hand in hand down Santa Monica Blvd, peeking into the trendy boutiques and cheesy gifts shops, sneaking into the bars for as long as they could. While whistling tunelessly through a darkened alley on their way back to Rena's car, Ash noticed a familiar face. Although his ice-blue eyes were closed, and his face deformed by pleasure, there was no mistaking the aristocratic nose or the remarkably clear brow. Christian was in a car, getting a blowjob from a stranger. Ash was stunned into silence. Rena's voice grew high and shrill as she recovered from her shock and screamed in outrage, "You cheating, lying motherfucker!"
Ash collapsed, soundlessly into a heap while Rena strode forth, first embarrassing, then enraging Christian.
"What the hell were you two doing, checking up on me?" he shouted, indignant.
"You smug bastard, I was out with your boyfriend who was fucking depressed because you were working, and we find you getting head in an alley!" Rena seemed to tower, her righteous anger radiating from her. A volley of words flew back and forth, Ash contributing few. The stranger had long since slunk back into the night. Finally, exhausted and disgusted the combatants quit their war of words, Rena stood by Ash's side and attempted to comfort him. Christian stared down imperiously at Ash and asked, "So, is this it? Do you want us to be over?"
Ash, too tired and distressed to do anything but nod assent, wearily inclined his head.
"Stupid high school kids. You'll be sorry you didn't just look the other way," Christian zipped up his pants and lurched back into his car, slamming the door and speeding off into the night.
The next day, the day of the dead red sun, Ash washed and dressed, feeling more dead than alive, and walked the six block to Rena's house. Ash and Rena did not need words. They just spent the day together, feeling and understanding. Near dusk Rena walked him home, both of them unaware of the horror his return would bring. They came in the garage, Ash turned to give Rena a kiss on the cheek goodbye when out of nowhere came a fist, stunning Ash and sending him sprawling backwards.
"A goddamn faggot, I might've known! I'd rather have you dead than a cocksucker," Ash's father snarled, something gleaming in his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rena pushed back, then brilliant colors blossomed behind his eyes as the blows rained down on different parts of his body. A wrench.. he's got a wrench, Ash realized as consciousness mercifully began to ebb. There was a sudden sound like the tolling of a bell, and the blows stop, as did the stream of expletives coming from his father's mouth. Ash's father's eyes rolled up in his head, and he fell slack onto Ash. Rena stood behind, a shovel in her hand, looking every inch the warrior woman.
"Motherfucker tried to kill you. Come on Ash, you gotta get the fuck out of here before he comes to," Rena said, almost placidly as she brushed the hair from her eyes. She had given him the money to take a bus out of the city.
Ash wiped the tears from his eyes. His rage starting to subside as worries about Rena grew. He had left her in the apartment alone with Mercutio. He had to return. There would be plenty of time to worry about retribution for his father, Christian and Melissa. Ash began to wonder if they were even worth the effort, or if he should let them slide away. Gracefully, soundlessly Ash fell from his perch, his coat billowing out behind him. He ran light-footed over to the car and drove off into the night, leaving the house and his past behind him.
Upon returning to the apartment Ash saw Rena seated at the kitchen table looking confounded. "You're pale. You haven't fed yet, have you?" Rena said, almost distractedly.
"No. I went home. I saw my father.... I wanted to kill him, to drink his life.. I didn't"
"You're a vampire now. You're going to have to start getting used to it."
"It's permanent?" Ash asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yes, you don't have to kill, but you do need to drink, and the longer you go without.. the more likely you are to kill. I thought I had wanted to be what you are... I'm starting to be glad Mercutio didn't -- Look, Ash we have to kill Mercutio."
Ash looked up, startled. He noticed the pain and conflict in Rena's eyes.
"I loved him Ash. I still love him. But he's evil, I know that now. He hurts people. Look what he's done to you! Turned you into one of ---" Rena began to sob.
"Rena, how do we do this? Garlic? Holy water?"
"Don't be dense, Ash. You can see yourself in the mirror, can't you? Those don't work. Sunlight. He's still weak from making you last night, but tomorrow he'll recover. He's in the other room, we can drag him over to the blinds and --"
"But if we kill him, how will I know how to control what I am? Who will teach me about what's happening to me?"
"He's not the only one, Ash. There are others."
Rena sighed deeply, and looked up at him, tears welling up in her eyes, "Alan Michaels is one".
Ash and Rena stared at each other for a long time, then noticing the light changing in the east, set upon the task at hand.
... read part five...