By Christopher Caldwell
Ash was in Richard's car for the second time, but this time there was no amiable chatter or loud music. Richard was quite noticeably pensive, he almost seemed to be brooding. Richard looked over at ash without quite making eye contact and said in a low, cheerless voice, "You'll get to meet everyone tonight. Wow, you did Mercutio in. Quite a feat. How did it feel to kill one?"
"Kill one?" Ash said quizzically.
"Kill a vampire. I want to be one, although from the looks of you right now, maybe it's not all that it's cracked up to be. But how did it feel to kill something immortal?"
"Uh... I really didn't think of it. He hurt Rena and she wanted to get rid of him."
"Rena, that's your friend. Where'd she go? I didn't see her hangin' around when I came on up to get you," Richard said this mildly, but there was a slight quirk to his lip that denoted suspicion.
"She went to Minnesota to stay with her sister. She didn't think she was safe here, and I wanted to get away."
"So Alan's the only friend you got in Southern California, now?"
Ash smiled at Richard, "You and Alan are my only friends, yes."
"Yeah, me and Alan," Richard smiled completely without humor.
The two in the little red car were winding through the streets of Laguna Niguel, expensive homes towering over them on the hills above. It was not very late, just after dark in fact, but Ash noticed the near complete lack of any other cars on the road. He reflected that this was unusual for Southern California, even in a residential neighborhood. Richard made a left turn onto an out-of- the-way cul-de-sac and slowed the car to a stop in front of a stylish house of moderate size. Richard unbuckled his seatbelt and glanced over at Ash as if to say, well, we're here. The pair got out and Richard led them up to the front door of the house, there was a jangling of keys and Richard opened the door, beckoning for Ash to follow.
He led Ash into a parlor where the others were waiting for their arrival. Ash glanced around the room to take everything in. Valentino Storm was sitting on the floor, glaring sullenly out of his one eye, the other eye was covered by his lank, black hair. Sitting open-legged on an ottoman was Jaysin, his blond hair spiky and unruly, his expression reminded Ash of a kicked puppy. Leaning against a wall was a beautiful blond woman that Ash had never seen before.
She had large, ample breasts and a tiny waist. Her full red lips seemed to naturally form a sex-kitten pout. She was wearing a faded T-shirt, torn jeans and heavy, muddy boots. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. Seated next to the woman was Alan, looking resplendent in green silk and cream- colored linen. Alan looked up at Ash, almost as if surprised to see him and said, "Ash, I am so glad to see you again, even if the circumstances are somewhat unusual. I believe you have met Valentino and Jaysin, the lady to my right is Persephone, one of my closest friends"
"And your bodyguard," Persephone intoned, almost angrily.
"Indeed, she is also my bodyguard, and a most amazing fighter"
Ash's eyebrows raised at this, he was somewhat surprised that a woman who seemed more fit for the runways of Paris was chosen to protect Alan. Persephone noticed Ash's shock and seemed somewhat amused by this, she spoke in a harsh, almost guttural voice, "Wanna see why I'm his bodyguard?"
Before Ash could answer, Persephone reached down and twisted an iron fireplace poker into a mobius strip. Pleased with Ash's widening eyes, Persephone smirked and looked over at Alan, "Hey Alan, if all you're gonna do is introduce me to newly made bloodsuckers, I'm gonna bail. I've got things to do. "
"Of course, Persephone, by all means leave. I am in no danger in my own home, and I commend you for your vigilance," Alan replied, almost with an air of nobility. Persephone tromped out of the room, her boots leaving muddy marks on the marble floor.
Alan smiled up at Ash, "I'm glad you chose to come to me, Ash. I am surprised and disappointed at Mercutio's decision," Alan glared sharply at Jaysin, who suddenly coughed suspiciously, "At Mercutio's decision to make you one of us. We are creatures that linger upon the edge of nightmare, but that does not mean our existence must be filled with horror. We are still capable of love, of hope and of beauty," Alan's expression changed from rhapsodic to concerned, "Ash, you look pale. Have you fed yet?"
"No.. I can't bring myself to k.. to kill a human being.. and animals hate me since the change," Ash looked tortured as he said this.
Alan chuckled, deep and throaty and looked at Ash with something that resembled pity, "Mercutio taught you nothing, that much is clear. We do not need to kill to feed. Indeed, the small amount we subsist on is not enough to harm a healthy human. I will take you out tomorrow night and show you how it is done. But in the meantime, Richard, get Ash one of those large, vulgar cups to drink," Richard nodded and disappeared into the gloom beyond the parlor.
"Is Richard one of us?" Ash asked.
"No. He will be, eventually. But if done properly, becoming one requires many years of training and discipline. An unruly vampire is a dangerous thing," Alan sighed, "Mercutio was such. He made you and Jaysin long before either of you were prepared to deal with the idea of immortality, or the inability to look upon a sunset again."
"Mercutio made you, Jaysin?"
"Yeah, and Alan was kind enough to rescue me," Jaysin replied, looking down at the floor.
Ash wondered if he had imagined the sarcastic tone to Jaysin's voice. Alan smiled icily at Jaysin and without one trace of humor said, "Yes Jaysin, I imagine that if I had not intervened, you would now be where poor Mercutio is. Destroyed. Immortal society can be cruel to those who do not conform to its rules and mores. Ash, I'm afraid you're going to have to take a crash course. The most important rule is this; never let mortals know that we exist."
"What happens if I slip up and make a mistake?"
"Then you will be destroyed. That is the law. Make sure you never slip up," Alan's eyes were hard and compassionless as he said this. Alan glanced over at an ornate, heavy grandfather clock and frowned slightly. At that precise moment, Richard returned with a 32 ounce plastic cup, brimming with red fluid, he handed it to Ash.
Ash drank greedily, recoiling somewhat at the chill of the blood, but his thirst drove him to drink more, nonetheless. I am drinking life, Ash thought, feeling his body respond and clamor for more and more. Ash up-ended the cup, pouring as much down his throat as he could muster, closing his eyes and savoring is his vampiric nature alchemizing it from the salty, coppery taste he had disliked so into a rich full flavor, far more delightful than wine or chocolate. Too soon the cup was empty, Ash's tongue was greedily questing for any last drops when he realized how savage he must appear. He slowly dropped the cup from his mouth and looked around fearfully. In a halting, cracked voice Ash cried out, "What have I become? A monster? I would have done anything for that taste.. I was lost in it, I wanted more.."
Ash felt Alan's arms around him, his hair was being stroked. Ash fell into those comforting arms, as warm as any human's, and sobbed incoherently. Alan murmured comforting sounds and embraced Ash tightly, "Shh, shh my darling. You're not a monster, you just went too long without feeding. You'll be fine."
Blinded by tears, Ash felt himself being drawn out of the living room. He followed Alan's lead almost mindlessly, clinging desperately to the man who had become his anchor. He sighed as soft, gentle kisses touched his cheek. Ash heard a door being pushed open, blinking back the steady flow of tears, he saw a bedroom, beautifully decorated and furnished. There was a large, four-poster bed. Alan closed the door behind him.
Alan looked up Ash, caressed his cheek and whispered, "I know what this must look like, leading you into my bedroom. But it's not what I meant. I just thought you needed to be away from the others..."
Ash did not speak, but grabbed Alan close and kissed him deeply, his tongue pushing its way into Alan's mouth. Alan drew back, seemingly in surprise, then his eyes took on a half-lidded seductive look, and he pulled Ash close, tipping his head upwards to meet his mouth. Alan's skilled fingers began slowly unbuttoning Ash's shirt. Desire washed over Ash like the inexorable pull of the tides, he pushed Alan back onto the bed, and clumsily climbed on top of him. Slowly, methodically, Alan began removing Ash's clothing. A shirt was flung haphazardly onto the floor. Ash felt long graceful fingers undoing his belt-buckle, unsnapping the button in his jeans.
Ash kissed Alan hard, as if he wanted to devour him, his tongue probing deep recesses and tracing the lines of elongated canines. He reached down, and not bothering with buttons, ripped open Alan's shirt to reveal a smooth, hairless chest. Alan's skin was the same delectable caramel color all over, and seemingly without flaw.
The two tussled, kissed, wrestled and cried out in passion. Their limbs were so entangled that any onlookers would be hard pressed to discover where one ended and another began. Ash felt Alan's hardness, and his own, and began to realize that blood still flowed through the veins of the undead. Exhausted and spent, Ash fell into a deep sleep with Alan's arms still around him.
He awoke with Alan no longer next to him. In the gloom he could make out a figure standing at the foot of the bed. As his eyes began to adjust, he realized that it was Jaysin, whose teeth were bared in a feral smile. Jaysin's eyes gleamed dangerously in the darkness as he ran one of his hands over a rosewood poster, "You know, he has you now. And soon he'll get tired of you and throw you away.. and I'll still be here. I can't hurt you now... but I can wait"
Anger welled up in Ash and before he completely realized what he was doing, he leapt from a near-sitting position and tackled Jaysin to the ground. Jaysin began to laugh. Infuriated, Ash began to pummel Jaysin with all of his might, repeatedly slamming Jaysin's bleach-blond head into the marble floor. Ash began to yell outloud as he beat upon Jaysin, "You stupid, jealous, motherfucker! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"
There was the sound of feet in the hall outside the room, the double doors were flung open and Ash felt something crash into him and knock him off of Jaysin. Ash looked up to see Richard restraining him, a looking severely annoyed. Jaysin was still smiling. Richard glared down at Ash and asked somewhat caustically, "What the hell is going on here?"
"What's going on, servant-boy.." Jaysin began.
"I didn't ask you," Richard said icily, "I don't care what went on in that peroxide-clouded brain of yours."
"I.. uh... I don't know," Ash said, his temper cooling, "Jaysin came in here and started taunting me. I don't know what came over me."
Richard glanced over at Jaysin, "If he had ripped off your head you would've deserved it. Get the fuck out of here."
Jaysin pouted, "I didn't even hit.."
"I said, get the fuck out of here! Before Alan comes back and breaks your pencil neck!"
Jaysin slunk out of the room, his smug grin replaced by a petulant scowl. Richard released Ash and climbed off of him. He seemed to notice for the first time that Ash was naked, and threw a sheet at him, almost in disgust. Richard cleared his throat, "I'd expect stupid behavior from Jaysin, hell, I'd be surprised if he failed to ask stupid. But what's up with this enraged bully act?"
Ash looked down towards the floor, ashamed, "I don't know.. I was just suddenly so angry and I couldn't control it.. and I.. I don't know what's wrong."
Richard's gaze was impassive, "Well, you'd better start learning to control that temper. You can't just try to bash in someone's head every time you get pissed off."
"I.. uhh.. almost never used to get angry, and almost never fought.. I don't understand what happened."
Richard nodded, "That explains it."
Ash furrowed his brow, "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, just because you look human, and for the most part think human doesn't mean you are. You're different now. You're a predator, you're faster, stronger and more dependant on instinct than humans."
"Instinct? But.." Ash began.
"Instinct. Jaysin threatened your place in the hierarchy, so you reacted. It's natural, wolves do the same sort of thing. There are two types of people who have trouble with controlling the darker side that comes into play after the change.."
"What do you mean?"
Richard smiled at Ash, almost patronizingly, "Well, people who give in too much to the temptation for violence or destruction, and people who keep to tight a control on their tempers. Like you. You just weren't prepared for a whole new level of savagery in yourself"
"What do I do?"
Richard stood in the doorway and regarded Ash with a cool, even gaze for a long time before speaking. Finally, in a voice that seemed almost tinged with pity, "Adapt. Or you'll be destroyed."
Alan sat watching the empty doorway long after Richard had left.