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'I see the world through ancient eyes.
'But they are not the eyes of an old man, dimmed by age and clouded by cataracts. And, unlike humans, while my mind is always filled with memories, I am rarely lost in the fog of recollection of the lassitude that accompanies the Ennui. My time on earth has been tenfold that of the oldest living man. But I, myself, am no relic. I stand outside that which ages mortal flesh and turns bones brittle as glass and makes teeth snap like chalk. I need never fear that my world will telescope down to what little light and sound can be strained through failing sensory apparatus.
'I often look upon some of the aged creatures I once sported with, years ago, and marvel at their irretrievable descent into decay. A breast that was once succulent and firm becomes a withered dug.
A proud penis, rampant and full of the malt of life, is now only good for the elimination of waste—all what seems to be the blink of an eye.
'For this is mankind's heritage. It's destiny. All of humanity's triumphs and advances –its art, science, technology, and philosophy – in the end, can be summed up as nothing more than an attempt to escape death through sex.
'Denied immortality as individuals, humans must seek eternal life as a species. Highborn king or lowly beggar, they are all nothing more than a lump of sweating flesh, straining on a nameless bed. And while I consider such attempts at eternity laughable, I must admit that their relentless breeding has succeeded in maintaining a certain continuity.
'As for me, what memories I have of my life as a human are nothing more than faded ink on crumbling pages. The sentiments, dreams, and fears expressed in those earliest entries belong to a creature forever beyond my ken, thanks be to the forces that Made me. I have kept a journal for over five hundred years. There are literally a thousand volumes, stored in a hundred different hiding places. Why do I continue to write my thoughts down in such a manner? For no other reason that it has become a habit; and one I am loath to break.
'Now where was I? Ah, yes. Humans. Of course, they provide my kind with sustenance: that deep red vintage that is so much sweeter when stolen. That much goes without saying. But there are more subtle, more rarefied pleasures to be had at their expense, as well.
'Dawn is close at hand, but I do not fear its intrusion. I am not some lowly revenant, scuttling from the sun's rays for fear of being reduced to a pile of oozing sores. I evolved past such worries decades before the invention of the steam engine. True, my powers are somewhat diminished during the daylight hours, and, like all of my kind, I find it necessary to lapse into a death-like 'sleep' in order to restore my vitality, but I am far from helpless during the daylight hours.
'My driver cruises the streets of the Lower East Side. He asks me if I have a destination in mind. I almost give him an address of a low dive in Five Points, only to remember that the neighborhood was demolished over a century ago. Too bad. There was a brothel there operated for and by children that provided me with great amusement now and again.
'The whores who are still out this 'late' are, at best, careworn. Most of them are crackheads or junkies, the ravages of their addictions obvious even to the most obtuse human gaze. Even if I were still prone to the human sexual urge, I would never dream of copulating with one of these horrors. They are rarely beautiful, and often they aren't even women. But they are expendable, and when one of them disappears no one notices. That is all I require of them.
'I order my driver to stop the car. A prostitute stands in a nearby doorway, fidgeting expectantly as she eyes the Rolls. The night must have indeed been slow—or her habit immense— if she is still working the streets this close to daybreak. She is tall with dark hair and high cheekbones, and is too thin and too dirty, but she will do for now. She saunters forward as I power down the window.
'"Need a date, mister?" She coos, her breath redolent of gum disease, as she bends down to look into the interior of the car. When she smiles, I see that she is missing some of her teeth. She has what the humans call 'meth mouth'.'
'I say nothing as I open the car door. She hops in with an excited squeal that could almost pass for delight. The Rolls is already pulling away before the door closes.
'"I'm Cheryl," the whore says, rubbing the front of my pants with all the finesse and speed of a Girl Scout trying to make a fire without the aid of matches. When I look at her, I can see the virus gestating within her, eating away at the T-cells in her blood. I slap her hand away, and I see fear spark in her eyes as she gets her first really good look at my face. I reach inside my jacket and produce a roll of twenty dollar bills the size of my fist. The whore's eyes widen as she licks her lips.
'"Do you want this?" I ask.
'"What I gotta do t'get it?"
'"All you have to do is come home with me and play a little game."
'"What kinda game?" She asks hesitatingly but does not take her eyes off the money.
'"Dress up," I reply.'
'Nasakenai, my Renfield, has the costume laid out in anticipation of my return. I lead the whore into a large room, empty save for a marble-topped table. She frowns at the leather jacket, stained T-shirt, ripped jeans and scuffed engineer's boots awaiting her. She had, no doubt, been expecting something without a crotch.
'"Is this it? Is this what you want me to wear?"
'I say nothing, but simply smile. The whore shrugs and peels out of her working clothes. The room is cold, and I watch with detached interest as her flesh creeps and her nipples harden. She is awkward, and it takes her a few minutes to complete the change. As she shrugs into the leather jacket, it creaks with her every move.
'"So, do I look okay? Is there anything else?" she asks, holding her arms up and out, modeling the costume for me.
'"You just need two more things for the costume to be complete. You'll find them in the inside breast pocket of the jacket."
'She reaches inside and removes the sunglasses and the switchblade. Her frown deepens upon seeing the knife. "What am I supposed to do with these things?"
'The excitement is starting to stir within me, and my words come out as a breathy whisper. "Put the glasses on. Put them on now."
'The whore is confused, perhaps even a little frightened, but she is unwilling to forfeit the money I promised her. She puts on the sunglasses.
'She is dirty and smells of her previous johns. Her hair is too long and very oily. Her motions lack grace and suppleness. But there is a tenuous resemblance, and that is enough. She is not the one I want, but she will do for now. I move closer, my arousal growing acute as the image of the one I desire shimmers behind my eyes.
'"Show me the knife." It is all I can do to keep the shiver out of my voice.
'"The knife!" I snap, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Show me the blade!"
'The switchblade leaps from its hilt, like a minnow darting out of shallow water. She holds the knife cautiously, but, not without some familiarity. Perhaps she and the object of my desire are not so different, after all.
'"Now what?" she asks.
'"Are you fuckin' crazy?" There is genuine indignation in her voice. This is far kinkier than she bargained for. She had figured me for some garden variety pervert, the kind who wants to drink piss or be shat upon; but this is too much. Even whores have their limits.
'"I said stab me!" I have lost all patience with the trollop. If she will not willingly give me what I want, then I shall bring it about by force. I grab her by the throat and begin to squeeze. She raises her knife-hand. I catch a glimpse of metal as her fist drives into my chest. There is a cold sharpness as the blade enters me. I continue to squeeze her throat. Again she stabs me. And again. Blood sprays from my wound splattering both our faces. I close my eyes, imagining it is she who is ramming the knife into my heart.
'The fear that radiates from the prostitute as I slowly choke the life from her is amongst the sweetest I have enjoyed. I groan in ecstasy as I hold her death rattle in the palm of my hand. I open my eyes, half expecting to see my beloved's face before me, contorted in death. Instead, there's nothing but a dead whore with a blackened, swollen tongue protruding lewdly between her painted lips. The sunglasses have come loose during her struggle, and I can see her eyes, filled with burst blood vessels, starting from their sockets like those of a grotesque insect. Disgusted, I let the corpse drop.
'It is only then that I realize that the switchblade is still lodged in my chest. I stare down at the hilt protruding between my ribs. My white silk shirt is now the color of port wine. Chuckling to myself, I pull it free.
'I close my eyes again and see my love moving like a panther tracking its prey, her eyes burning in the darkness. She wants me. Her passion for me radiates from her like a dark halo. But what she lusts after is not my touch or kiss. No, what she desires is my death.
'When I look into her mirrored eyes I know fear and joy. She is so beautiful and so deadly. I stand in awe of her; my lovely, lethal masterpiece. To think that I was responsible for creating such a terrible beauty is both humbling and exhilarating. Is this how Pygmalion felt when he saw his Galatea step down from her pedestal—? But in my case my creation split my face open with a silver knife for good measure.
'I touch the scar that pulls the right side of my face into a rictus grin and think of my fatal beauty. I have suffered countless mutilations throughout my existence, and have recovered from them all. But I shall carry the wounds she dealt me forever.
'I close my remaining eye and I see her standing there, naked save for the mantle of power that crackles about her like fox fire. The scar over my heart puckers.
'Gods of the Outer Dark help me. I love her.
And that is why I must destroy her. Again. And again. Until I am certain I can bring myself to do the deed for real, and obliterate my darling Sonja Blue, once and for all, from the face of the earth.' —From the journals of Sir Morgan, Lord of the Morning Star.CHAPTER 2
William Palmer woke the same way a swimmer emerges from the sea: gasping for air. He laid on the bed, staring up at the cracked plaster ceiling for a long moment before really seeing it, the last of the nightmare bleeding away from the corners of his eyes.
Dream. Thank God. Just a dream.
He'd been dreaming of Ghost Trap again. The house had been built in the early Twentieth century by a gifted, if demented, architect who designed it as protection from the vengeful spirits of his slaughtered family. The mansion had been a crazed conglomeration of rooms without windows, blind stairways, secret passageways, and other mad fancies, using non-Euclidian geometric principles that not only confused the restless dead, but disoriented the living. And for someone like Palmer, who possessed psionic abilities beyond those of normal humans, Ghost Trap was the psychic equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits.
Two-and-a-half years ago, he had found himself lost in Ghost Trap and at the mercy of the dead that roamed its contorted halls. He'd entered in search of the woman who had helped him learn to deal with his psychic powers while dragging him into her blood-feud with the vampire known as Morgan.
Palmer had survived that night in Ghost Trap—if just barely. He had lived to see the horror house consumed by flames, freeing its spectral occupants, once and for all. Ghost Trap was no more, yet it still existed inside his head, where it housed his nightmares.
Palmer stared up at the ceiling fan mounted over the bed, watching the rotors beat the heavy, humid air in near-silence. No doubt the stickiness and heat had contributed to his bad dreams. It was uncomfortable sleeping inside, but the mosquitoes were too fierce this season for him to retire to the hammock on the front porch.
He sat up, tossing aside the sweat-drenched sheets. He wasn't going to get back to sleep, at least not anytime soon. He swung his feet onto the floor and stood up with a groan, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror opposite the bed. He ran a hand across the ritual tattoo that covered his entire chest. It was of Mayan design, as were the jade plugs that stretched his earlobes, and was the symbol of the House of the Jaguar Lords.
Palmer didn't hold with past-life regression therapy, channeling, Space Brothers, or any of the other New Age crap. But it just so happened he was the reincarnation of a pre-Columbian Mayan wizard-king. He was also an ex-private investigator, a pardoned felon, a telepath, and the proprietor of a moderately successful specialty-export business.
Palmer padded down the hallway, naked except for a pair of boxers. He paused at the nursery, quietly opening the door so as not to wake Lethe.
I really should stop calling it the nursery, he thought to himself, not for the first time. It took him a second or two to locate her amidst the stuffed animals and dolls she shared her bed with. Her hair, as dark and sleek as a sable's, peeked out from between a Raggedy Ann doll and a teddy bear.
He was going to have to get her some new clothes pretty soon. She'd already outgrown the ones he bought last month. She had grown another three inches, practically overnight. Palmer's eyes wandered to the closet door he used as Lethe's official growth chart and the series of overlapping pencil marks with crabbed notations as to date and age. As of her last measuring, she stood five foot one. Pretty impressive for a child who wasn't three years old yet.
One of the shadows near the foot of Lethe's bed detached itself and moved towards Palmer. Two points of golden light, set about the height of a man's eyes, suddenly blinked on.
"Don't worry, Fido. Nothing's wrong. I'm just checkin' in," Palmer whispered.
The hulking apparition, which resembled a mound of dirty laundry sculpted into the form of a human being, nodded dumbly and returned to its silent vigil. During the two and a half years Palmer had spent in the company of the seraph, he still had no idea what the creature thought—or if it thought at all. While it appeared to be Lethe's appointed guardian, it had never once attempted to communicate with Palmer—at least on a level that he could understand.
Satisfied everything was under control inside the house, Palmer paused at the sliding glass door that led out onto the patio, with its expensive Spanish tile and three-tiered fountain that constantly burbled to itself.
As he stepped outside, he found the humid Yucatan night to provide no relief from the oppressive heat. Instead, it felt as if the world's largest dog was breathing on him. Palmer wiped at the sweat on his brow and upper lip as he peered up at the moonlit sky.
'Where are you?' his mind whispered into the night The sound of a radio scanning through a thousand different competing signals filled his head. Some were strong, others weak. Some were in languages he understood while the majority was a jumble of nonsense. Some were angry, some were sad, some were happy, many were confused. The signals blurred and clashed, waxed and waned.
'Where are you?' He boosted his own signal, hoping to cut through the drift of muted voices that filled the ether. This time he was rewarded with a response made faint and blurry by distance, but still recognizable.
'In New Orleans.'
He smiled at the sound of her voice in his head. Even though she was not there to see it, he knew she felt it.
'When are you coming back?'
'Soon. But I still have work to attend to here.'
'I miss you.'
'I miss you, too.' She smiled then. He could feel it.
'No sign of him yet, but I have a hunch or two as to where he might be hiding.
How is Lethe?'
'Fine. I guess.'
'Good. I have to go now. I'm on the hunt.'
There was no reply, only the squawk and squelch of the minds of a million strangers babbling into the void.
Excerpted from Paint It Black by Nancy A. Collins. Copyright © 2013 Nancy A. Collins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted February 6, 2014
Posted July 25, 2005