Cornelius was able to roam freely among the streets of the city undetected for one simple reason. If that man next to you on the train or that woman at the theatre told you that he or she was a vampire, would you believe them? After being turned into a vampire during transport to America to become a slave, he was thrown overboard and drifted ashore on the New England coastline in 1804. Now, hardened from a lifetime of death and solitude, he sensed a void within that left him feeling so very alone. In search of something or someone to give his life some meaning, Cornelius had walked the earth for centuries. Finally, he found what he had been endlessly waiting for, her name was Rita. But Cornelius had many secrets, most importantly, a frightening reminder of his past that had plagued him for over one hundred years. Inescapably, that past could no longer be ignored and would prove to be an obstacle that would prevent Cornelius and Rita from ever being together. If neglected further, it also threatened to end both of their lives, a life Cornelius saw as a new beginning. Even if he chose to confront his demons to find some closure and stop running, was he powerful enough to accomplish it? Staring deeply into the face of such an overwhelming situation, were they foolish to believe that they could be together?
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Vampyre 2000LIFE TO THE LIFELESS
By CHRISTOPHER F. BENSON
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Christopher F. Benson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn old Victorian home sat near the outskirts of a small and quiet suburb. It was a two story dwelling with a second story balcony and a provincial tower. The house included all of the ornamentation of the era, right down to the wrought iron railings on it's covered front porch and balcony. It had been a beautiful home once, now it's decaying exterior was nearly naked of paint. Only large peeling flakes of what was previously a light grey paint were clinging to its walls. At one time its landscaped grounds had berms and mounds, bushes, flowers, trees and green grass.
Today all of that was gone. The grass had been replaced with dead, brittle, knee high weeds in a lot full of dirt and lifeless trees. This old Victorian had been abandoned and vacant for sometime. For decades actually and it came complete with all of the reputation and legend that an eerie, old abandoned house can have attached to it. Children were afraid of this house and respected it, fueled by their parents' stories and myths about its occupants and it's past. This house was simply forgotten about and left quite alone. It was the perfect place for a creature of the night, the undead. And so it was, now it was Cornelius' home. Inside the house its floors were scattered with debris. It was covered in a thick layer of dust and some of its walls had been destroyed, apparently by vandals. There was very little left behind, as far as furniture, by its previous occupants. There was an old wooden chair against the living room wall, an end table with a lamp in the corner and some electric sconces that looked like candles on the walls. They hadn't been lit in years as this house had no electricity. Oddly enough, the stained glass and lead crystal windows remained intact. Near the back of the house, through the parlor, was a heavy, solid wood door to what looked like a closet. Behind the door was actually a staircase that led down to a cellar. Only, the stairs were no more, they had fallen out years ago leaving a drop to the cellar floor below. This was an attractive feature to someone who could merely jump up or down to travel between floors. It was no surprise that Cornelius chose to put his den down there.
Although he had been safe here for sometime, years actually, the isolation and the loneliness of this house had never made him feel completely safe and secure. It was because of Cornelius', shall we say, individualist personality, that he took his chances in this house alone. That, combined with his rather transient lifestyle, made it difficult for him to choose and have a familiar to watch over himself and his place of rest. It was just a matter of time, he understood, before this little community removed the frightening eyesore that was this house. His hope was that by then he had found somewhere else to dwell or he had moved on. It was a gamble he was willing to live with and he relied on it. Cornelius lived and worked alone and it was by design.
Down in the cellar, in it's farthest corner, was an old bed. Over the years Cornelius had lain to rest on many things, crypt floors, graves, coffins, pine boxes even concrete tables. But in this home he had found an old bed that had been left behind. He took apart the frame, the brass foot and head boards and moved them down into the cellar. It was on this bed that this cellar and this house would serve its only function, to protect Cornelius while he lied dormant throughout his days. Now the sun was disappearing behind the horizon and another day was coming to an end. As the evening was soon approaching, his slumber began to lighten. Then, as the cloak of night replaced the light of day, Cornelius awoke.
Cornelius did not awaken every night, he didn't have to. Of course, when the hunger within him became great enough that he had to venture out and feed, he awoke. On those evenings he had to, he must and it was beyond his control. Cornelius, using a self-taught technique involving the power of suggestion, had developed the ability to awaken at a predetermined time. Putting it to use like an alarm clock he would lie undead for short periods of time, sometimes weeks or months although it was a good idea to wake periodically, weekly perhaps. He did this to make sure that he was in no danger. In other words, that his lair wasn't' aflame or that he didn't have a stake through his chest or had been beheaded. Cornelius knew that he could probably hibernate for years at a time, albeit he had never had the chance or desire to. He just never had anyone to teach these or any other things to him. His chronic condition came with no rulebook and throughout the decades Cornelius had rarely crossed paths with beings of his like. All of that aside, he had managed to take care of himself successfully for quite some time. Deep and lengthy slumbers became a way for him to pass his time, it made it easier for him to get through his "life". Imagine if you could live indefinitely and you could sleep for as long as you like. If you could remember only the days that you were awake and none of the days that you slept, how long would it feel that you'd been alive? How old would you feel? But tonight he just awoke, he hadn't planned on it and he had no acute hunger. Tonight, there was something else.
Now fully awake, Cornelius was still lying in his favourite, yet traditional position of slumber, on his back with his hands placed on his chest. His mind was wandering. His last memory was going out on a kill, a rather easy one as well, another poor unsuspecting woman whom he had met in a bar. He had taken the subway home that night and returned feeling sharply aware and powerful. After the kill he felt strong and all of his senses were sharpened and hyper-sensitive, but they were coupled with feelings of regret because he had once again snuffed out the life of someone so innocent and unknowing. Innocent and unknowing to the fact that they are not on the top of the food chain. Left with little choice, Cornelius had to kill to survive, he had never wanted this life nor asked for any it. Year after year, decade after decade, two centuries of ending the lives of strangers so that he should survive. He began to think back on how this long, dark and evil nightmare all began.
Although he hadn't heard it spoken in two hundred years Cornelius would never forget his given name, it was Cobonansa. He was a young man and had already undergone and completed the social rites of manhood. That achievement signified his being able to go out on the hunts with his elder tribesman. Cobonansa was strong, fast and agile, he was in fine physical condition and had become a cunning hunter. On that beautiful day, in the magnificent West African jungle, his mission was to bring back fresh meat to the women and the young of the village. A knife under his belt, a quill and bow on his back, a spear and his craftiness were all the tools he had with him to complete that mission. The men had begun to quietly spread out and soon they had surrounded the target. The prey was a family of wild pigs and the expertly trained hunters were closing in and tightening the noose. The hand signal was given to Cobonansa, he was to move up into the trees to gain a strike from above. Slowly, very slowly, he crept to the trunk of a tree. Being careful to not make a sound, he ascended the tree and settled into its lowest branch. The strategy was flawless, the outcome now depended on their execution. They would attack simultaneously from the perimeter around the animals and Cobonansa and a few other men would deliver the final blows from above. Suddenly, many loud bangs were heard around them and groups of strange men broke through the bushes and rushed them.
Cobonansa and the hunters were caught completely off guard and were under attack. Wild pigs trampled over each other in panic and fled into the bushes. The strange men were yelling and armed with clubs, they were beating the hunters back and out of the trees. One of Cobonansa's tribesmen turned to fight his attackers. Quickly surrounded by a group of strangers, he was met with a rain of club blows. They savagely beat the man until he was dead, then quickly returned to the fight. Cobonansa, still in the tree, could see groups of men beating the hunters, they were beating them back and into the center, where the wild pigs once were. A strange man was quickly approaching him, he was screaming words at him that he did not understand. Cobonansa did not know what was going on, but he could see what was happening around him. He must fight, or die. To hit this oncoming stranger with his spear was his only hope. As he raised it into a throwing position, he could see the man raise an unfamiliar weapon and point it toward him. A deafening bang rang out, a cloud of smoke and then an intense pain ran through Cobonansa's body. He had been shot! Cobonansa clutched his leg in pain, his blood was running through his fingers as he fell from the tree and slammed into the ground. He yelled out in pain, what was happening? Who were these mysterious men? He looked up just as two men entangled him with a thick rope net, Cobonansa had been captured.
The foreigners had chained Cobonansa to a man in front of him and a man behind, as he looked around, he could see that all the villagers were in bondage this way. This jungle was very familiar to him, it was his home and it was easily recognizable which direction he was headed. Men, women and even the children were all in heavy, cumbersome chains and were being dragged and prodded through the jungle toward the sea. He was wounded and although the bleeding had stopped, he was in considerable pain. Cobonansa couldn't have known at the time that he had a bullet in his leg, or that things were about to get worse.
"Who were these strange pale men?" he thought to himself. "Where had they come from?" They were like people he had never seen. Why were these strangers doing this to him and his people? Several of the hunters had lost their lives in the attack from either being beaten or shot. They had been tracked and hunted and thrown under nets like they themselves were wild animals. He had never seen his own villagers attacked and certainly not killed. Their deaths were ruthless and bloody and Cobonansa could still hear their screams in anguish and horror. Cobonansa was experiencing death, violent death, for the first time in his life and it was done by the hand of these strange, sickly looking men. The people here had no war between themselves and these colorless men, what would drive them to attack and capture Cobonansa and his people? By now he and the others had learned that struggling or fighting back meant painfully meeting the end of a wooden rod. Yet, defiantly, he yelled out to one of his captors,
"Where are you taking my people?" It was clear that the man could not understand him, nor did he care. Cobonansa was again introduced to the stick. The march continued on and soon his question was answered. The jungle had receded and opened up to a lush green plain, they had reached the coastline. There before him was a most frightening sight, yet it was something so beautiful he was struck with awe. Out in the water, some distance from the beach, was what looked like to Cobonansa, a massive floating wooden house. Tall trees on it's top held these strange white wings.
There were many people on the shore, mostly villagers like himself and they were surrounded by these foreign men holding those long rods and the strange loud sticks that wounded him. He could see that there were several smaller boats on their way out to and returning from this huge monster and that is exactly what it was. Cobonansa knew right then that that was where he and the others were being taken. He was to be taken aboard "The Marquis Romana". In time, he would learn that it was a slave ship.
That entire experience had been such a nightmare, it was so horrible and never got any better. He was inside of this huge floating house, the men had been separated from the women and children and were now being held together in the dark belly of the ship. Cobonansa was naked and chained in a sitting position with his back against a wall. There was a man packed very tightly on either side of him, he had no room and could barely move. The cell was almost completely dark and all that could be heard was the crying and lamenting of the prisoners. Some of the dialects were unfamiliar to him, but he understood what was being said. The same questions he had: where were they, who had done this to them, why was this happening and where were their families? The stench down in this holding cell was incredible. The stink, combined with the swell of the ocean and the rocking of the ship, caused a lot of men to become seasick and vomit. The prisoners could not move and they could not get up, when it was time to execute their bodily functions they had to be done right there where they sat. They were taken up to the deck in groups to get some sun and to be splashed off every few days. The sun would blind their eyes and the seawater would burn their sores, then they would be returned to their shackles and the belly of the ship. The ship's crew did their best to rotate all of the prisoners to the deck, but there were a large number of them and it was a daunting and dirty task. That became Cobonansa's new life and things went on that way for weeks. The life he knew and loved had been taken away, at that time he had no idea of exactly what that would come to mean and to what extents.
Twice each day, the crew of The Marquis Romana, entered the decks were the prisoners were kept and opened the portholes. This did two things, bring a bit of fresh air in to help weaken the stench and to allow a little light for them to perform their duties. The crewman would come in and look over their cargo. The sick and especially the dead had to be unshackled and removed. They, whose health was determined to be beyond their limited repair, were deemed expendable. They would have no monetary value to the slave traders and were ejected overboard into the sea along with the dead. After that had taken place, the crewman got to work feeding the prisoners. Up and down the aisles they went, carrying large buckets containing a cereal meal and a ladle. They would pour a full ladle of gruel into their mouths. Those who would not eat would be punished and would have their mouths held open and then made to swallow. Cobonansa noticed the man next to him had not eaten willfully in some time. He was concerned for the man, if they thought he wasn't eating because he was sick, then the crewman would take him away. After the feeding and the portholes were closed, Cobonansa tried to communicate with the man.
"You must eat, you must keep up your strength." He didn't know if the man would understand his dialect. It seems that he did.
"I cannot," he said. "their food, it hurts my stomach."
"Are you sick?"
"Then you mustn't let them know or they will take you away and you know what will happen to you."
"Yes, I need to eat. But I cannot eat their garbage. If they take me away, then so be it. Better to die than to live like this. If I am sick then maybe this is the way that I should die."
"That is nonsense, you must eat. Then, one day we will attack."
"When I attack, I will do it to die. That is the way that I should end all of this."
He was weak and having said that, he slumped over and closed his eyes. It was clear that the conversation was over. Cobonansa couldn't argue with the man, he fully understood why he no longer wanted to go on. They had been attacked, taken from their homes, been imprisoned with their friends and family, kept in darkness, barely fed and forced to live in their own filth. If that wasn't enough, this man was also sick. As Cobonansa sat there shackled in the darkness, so many thoughts were going through his mind. Mostly, that when the time was right, the able bodied men and the hunters should rise up against their oppressors. He had no idea of just how long they had endured this misery, without being able to see the sunrise or sunsets, he had no way knowing how long it had been. However, he did know that he hated these men and everything that they'd done to him and his people. The sway of the ship lulled him to sleep.
Excerpted from Vampyre 2000 by CHRISTOPHER F. BENSON Copyright © 2010 by Christopher F. Benson. Excerpted by permission.
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