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A shimmering, ghostly mist rose off the sluggish waters of the Houston Ship Channel and mingled with ever-present fog swirling around the dock area. I stood at the rail of my converted freighter, the Nightrunner, and listened to distant fog horns moan their lonely songs. The dank night air, fish smell, and darkness closed around me like a shroud and crept within my flesh to chill my bones. I longed for the warmth of sunlight, a dimly remembered pleasure, but such was not to be for me and my kind--never again. I sighed and strolled into the interior of the ship, trying to enjoy the night and the fog. Darkness has been, after all, my domain for the past two hundred years.
Entering the captain's quarters, I spun a dial on a safe mounted in a wall over my antique writing desk. The combination was the year of my birth--1-8-0-1. I swung the door of the safe open and took out a large leather-bound journal. I sat at the desk running my hands over ancient leather, tracing a fine cobweb of cracks and wrinkles in the material with my fingers, reveling in the feel of this journal of my life. Finally, with another sigh I opened the book. The date at the top of the first page was faded but legible. June 24, 1870, had been written with a quill pen and india ink. I smiled with nostalgia as I reread the page...
It has now been fifty years since my "conversion" and I am finally becoming at ease with my new powers, and with my new limitations. I miss the sun terribly, and long to feel its warmth on my face. Not aging is a mixed blessing, for I have had to become expert at the art of using grease paint and chalk dust to appear to age normally.Close personal relationships are impossible, both due to my lack of aging and my inability to venture out in the daylight hours.
I have arranged several alternate refuges and stocked them with supplies in case my secret is found out, and have been acquiring what wealth I am able in order to be prepared for whatever may happen in the future.
I am still troubled by what I have come to call the Hunger--my unending lust for human blood--and the fact that my survival depends on the life force of others. I have compromised with my conscience as best I could by endeavoring to take only the very worst of society and to try to control the Hunger until such people can be safely acquired, and fed on, in small amounts without causing their deaths. My mental abilities allow me to wipe the terror of my assault from their minds and prevent them from alerting others to their ordeal. So far, there is no dearth of the baser elements and I have had no problem feeding almost without risk. Of all the animals on earth, surely humans are the easiest prey.
I will keep this journal, putting nothing in it that could compromise my identity, as I try to solve the mystery of what has happened to me. I hope that I may be able to find a way to reverse what has happened. I pray to God that when that time comes, I will still WANT to reverse it.
I quickly flipped through the remaining pages, stopping here and there to reread some passages that had special meaning or brought back pleasant memories. Finally, I was at the end of the journal, where I had made my last entry many months previously. As I read those words, I marveled at my previous na?vet?....
It is becoming more and more difficult to feed safely. As the Sickness becomes more widespread, danger of inadvertent infection becomes more acute. The lower stratum of society is so rife with the Sickness that it would be virtual suicide to feed on them randomly. Therefore, I have managed to tap into the hospital computer in order to have a list of people recently checked for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, known in medical circles as CJD, and found to be free of infection. However, I fear I may have learned of the Sickness too late to save myself. There is a possibility I may have already acquired the deadly particle that causes the illness, a prion. It is difficult to know with certainty in my kind, for the symptoms appear much later than in the Others.
There is another danger to my survival besides the Sickness. The people on my list of "safe" victims are from a higher stratum of society, and possess more intelligence and sophistication. That makes approaching and isolating them for a successful nonlethal feed much more difficult. Because of this difficulty and the additional time between feedings, I have trouble controlling the Hunger enough to stop before they die or even to hide the manner of their death.
This may lead the authorities to become aware of the pattern of killings by exsanguination. I fear it is only a matter of time before investigators discover my trail of victims and their computers narrow the hunt to those who have access to my list. I am at a crucial point in my research into finding a cure for the Sickness, and an investigation into the deaths of my victims cannot be tolerated.
In all of my two hundred years, I have managed to keep my existence a secret, and so, for the most part, have the other Hunters that exist throughout the world. Now, I have to make a choice whether to leave this area and abandon my research or whether to intervene and try to sidetrack the investigation.
I shook my head, amazed at the innocence that had inspired those words, the faith that somehow the horror of my existence could be reversed. Well, the time for such faith is almost over and I will try now to write the complete truth, with no hiding of my identity or the terribleness of my actions. Ready for this night's entry, I took out quill pen and india ink and began to write my final entry.
In my current identity, I am a doctor, and with a physician's career-long attention to detail in writing careful patient histories in medical charts, I'm transcribing this as a record of what has happened--to me. If found, this journal and the tales of the events within will sound too unbelievable, too incredible to be accepted by my medical peers or anyone else. I believe I may be suffering from CJD, the so-called Sickness, but not as an innocent victim as one might expect. I contracted the prion, a Proteinaceous Infective Organism, by virtue of what I am, not because of my profession. There was no careless accident involving tainted blood or dirty needle. I am a well-trained doctor. I know how to handle infected blood samples and I understand the consequences of a mistake. In order to understand what has taken place you must first know some things about me, about who or what I am, and what I became. I'll ask you to suspend your disbelief just long enough to hear my entire story, my "history." What I am about to tell you is medical fact. Granted, little is known about my condition by the general public, but it is true, verifiable in medical textbooks.
I am now, through no fault or wish of my own, a member of a race descended from a small group of gypsies from a mountain area in Europe called the Carpathian region--actual geography does not matter now. Over a period of hundreds of years, due to inbreeding, some mutant gene arose in my racial ancestors, causing a rare disease known as Erythropoietic Uroporphyria. Symptoms of this genetic birth defect are pale skin that blisters and burns upon exposure to sunlight, phosphorescent teeth that glow in the dark due to abnormally high accumulations of phosphorus in tooth enamel, and a congenital hemolysis or rupture of red blood cells causing red, bloodstained eyes and bloody tears from tear ducts, along with progressive anemia. Over time, these people learned to control this anemia by feeding infants whole blood mixed with milk. Other apparent genetic traits seem to have been "second sight" or precognition, even mind-reading capabilities. As genetic selection took place, the average age of my race's gypsy ancestors rose to over one hundred and fifty years, or longer.
At some time during this period, an infection of bacteriophage became common, a microscopic viruslike particle transferring genetic material from one cell to another. In this part of the world, those affected with the strange glowing teeth and red eyes became known as Vampyri. And with their lengthened life spans came a mixture of folklore and fact including the belief that they lived so long because of their consumption of human blood. These gypsies have survived as an almost secret race due to increased intelligence and psychic abilities, living in relative obscurity after being hunted down and almost exterminated because of strange practices, such as drinking human blood and rituals having to do with a form of gypsy religion. From the Carpathian mountain race of gypsies has arisen a dark folk legend renaming them vampires, attributing many absurd characteristics to these gypsy descendants, such as the ability to turn into bats. To people who show physical signs of being infected by Erythropoietic Uroporphyria, some of these tales are easy to believe. Their appearance can be frightening, their abilities astounding. Yet, my race's ancestors do indeed drink human blood. Among my people, it is called the Hunger.
With the infection of bacteriophage and its ability to transfer genetic information, Erythropoietic Uroporphyria and the other genetic traits of the gypsies did not have to be inherited at birth, but could be passed to another in a ritual named the Transformation. Merely by being forced to drink the blood of one of the Vampyri, a human could be "infected" and, if he survived, would become one of the new race, with all of their characteristics and abilities, along with their never-ending curse of being forever dependent on human blood to survive.
This is what befell me in 1820. Forced by a blizzard to spend the night in a cabin in the Maine woods, I was drugged and induced to drink the blood of one of the Vampyri, thus becoming a monster in my own right. This happened not because of any wish of mine, nor through any moral depravity on my part. Like many of my later victims, I was cursed simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When I tell you everything, you will find it difficult to feel compassion for me. I became, and am now, a despicable creature unworthy of sympathy. After many years of fighting the Hunger and endeavoring to feed without killing, I began to try to find ways to reverse the curse of my becoming a vampire. I researched and traced the beginnings of the race in hopes of finding some clue, some way to retrace my path back to humanity. In order to find the means to do this, I used my "gift" of long life to train many times over in many different institutions as a medical doctor, a man of science. My training instilled in me a regard for the sanctity of human life. I learned to save lives, treating the sick, a savior of sorts, or so I let myself believe until the Hunger would come and grow within me like a monstrous tumor in my brain. Then, within a short while, in spite of my desperate desire to resist, I would begin ... to feed.
At times I could control the Hunger and only take what I needed to survive, leaving my victims stunned and violated, but alive. Sometimes, however, blood alone was not enough to satisfy the Hunger--it needed more, much more. It needed to destroy, to rend, to tear, to show its complete mastery over me by causing me to do the very thing I had sworn an oath not to do--to kill another being. Afterward, in the dark aftermath of one of my killing sprees, blood-soaked and despairing, I remained behind closed doors. The image I saw in a mirror was too horrible to contemplate and I soon rid myself of all mirrors. I despaired and thought of suicide, while a stronger urge kept me alive with a desire, a craving, a desperate need for human blood. During the time of the Hunger, my physical appearance would change ... my canine teeth became elongated until they became like grotesquely shaped pinpoints, my tongue would grow and sharpen, like that of a terrible serpent, and my face would change. My features shifted like melting wax until I no longer resembled anything human but looked like a gargoyle from hell feasting on sinners' souls. Except, my prey weren't sinners, but victims of random chance, of the luck of the draw so to speak. Their only fault was being there when the Hunger took ascendancy over my soul.
The Hunger is overpowering. It consumes every other thought, all rational cognitive processes within my brain, and now it pervades my waking hours, even my sleep.
Thus, when the genetics and heredity of my enforced infection gave me no other choice, I began to feed on human blood. No, I am not schizophrenic, nor openly psychotic, nor am I merely imagining this. The Hunger is as real as fever or septicemia or any other physical ailment. I have succumbed to a black legacy handed down by my assailant in 1820, as perhaps it was handed down to him. I became one of the Vampyri, a vampire. I killed innocent people to drink their blood.
The genetic mutation infecting the race of the Vampyri had never been exposed to an infection like that of the prion, so powerful it could not be stopped by internally produced antibodies. Perhaps, long ago, they encountered blood-borne viruses and adapted genetically, across many generations, to accommodate them, to survive them. I do not claim to know all the secrets of the long lives and immunity of the Vampyri, only that they must be beheaded to truly die and not return as I did, from the dead. In some way, unknown to me, the combination of genetic mutations and infection by bacteriophage has made the Vampyri immune to most diseases and our recuperative power after bodily injury is so rapid as to be almost instantaneous. I do, however, know from experiments on other Vampyri who have acquired CJD that its effect on us is devastating. Though it does not kill us as it does the Others--our immune response is too strong for that--it does cause progressively worsening deterioration of the brain and progressive dementia until we become insane beyond all redemption. By that time, most of us would count death as a blessing were it to be offered.
But more about that later. My fear is that I may soon suffer a similar fate. Traditional blood tests for CJD infection are worthless in Vampyri, and we do not know if we have CJD until the dementia begins to grow in our minds like flowers after a spring rain. If such is my fate, I will surely choose death over the lingering torture of wasting away, mind and spirit eaten by the voracious prion until there is nothing left that can still be called me.
As I described earlier, one manifestation of my Carpathian genes is second sight, or precognition. I sense someone is closing in on me now, on the brink of discovering who and what I am. Before I am exposed I feel compelled to tell my story.
I do not expect your understanding or your sympathy.
Save your sympathies for my victims....