(Novel in progress)
It was raining. Nor was determined to get some answers now that she wasn’t cowering in a dark doorway. She had picked Flatbush Avenue, a very busy street, to meet him. She caught sight him walking towards her, dressed in his long leather coat and black and white scarf but despite the rain, he was wearing sunglasses. Nor glanced around once more, comforted by lots of people but when she turned back, he was right beside her. She startled.
“How do you do that?”
“Just…appear and disappear so fast.”
He chuckled. “Lots of practice.”
He didn’t seem so menacing in the daylight. Still, Nor vowed to keep to guard up.
“Why the sunglasses? Not exactly the sunniest day.”
“My eyes are…sensitive… to light.” She waited for a longer explanation but he took out a pack of cigarettes and held them to her.
“No, thanks.” He lit one and took a long drag.
“So. You had questions.” We started walking. She glanced his way again then pulled out the picture of the person who looked like him and Grams. He stopped and took it tenderly between his fingers. Nor couldn’t see his eyes but he seemed to melt a little.
“She kept it.” The wistfulness in his voice could not be missed.
“So you are saying this is you.”
He handed the photo back, took another drag and exhaled slowly before he answered.
“Yes, it is.”
“That’s not possible.” He huffed and took another long drag before grinding the cigarette butt with the toe of his combat boot.
“And yet, here we are.”
“You are telling me you are the same age as my grandmother but you look…what…23, 24? What are you, a vampire?” Nor laughed at her joke.
He watched her from behind the darkness of his glasses. Unearthly still, like he had the other night. The laughter choked in Nor’s throat.
“Wait…you believe and you want me to believe…that you are a vampire or some kind of mythical creature.”
“Myths are only realities you don’t accept.”
“So let me get this straight. You want me to trust you are a vampire because you say you knew my grandmother when you were both young and I found a picture.”
“Let’s ask her.”
Nor stopped walking. He actually said that. He didn’t know her after all. She felt foolish. This was nothing but a scam and this guy was a psycho. Nor plotted her escape.
“Hey, look, thanks for meeting with me. I appreciate it.” She turned to leave but he was suddenly right front of her.
“It’s hard to believe, I know.” His voice was a low whisper. “But I need to warn Eleanor. Years ago, after her son was killed, I sent her a letter. I didn’t tell her it was me because –well, for obvious reasons. She thinks I’m dead. I told her that to keep her safe because the person who had threatened her was in prison in Siberia and no longer a threat. But now, he is. I need to warn her!”
They were interrupted by a scream. Across the street, a piece of scaffolding with a window washer clinging to it, had come loose just above a young mother with a stroller. She was looking up at the swinging beam and the man about to fall but the shock of the moment froze her. Nor’s scream caught in her throat when impossibly, Dante was there catching the swinging piece of scaffolding, holding the man and bringing both safely to the ground. He turned to the young mother and swept her and the stroller away from the danger. It took seconds. The people on the sidewalk were frozen in a tableau of disbelief.
The baby in the stroller started howling and broke the spell. Suddenly everyone was talking at once, and a bunch of cell phones began snapping pictures from all sides. Nor barely knew where to look when suddenly, Dante was beside her.
“Can we get out of here? I know a cafe nearby.” He grabbed her elbow before she could respond and hustled Nor down the street and into a small cafe. A bell tinkled as they entered.
“Dante!! As-salam alykum, my friend! Shlonak?” The jovial man behind the counter came around, and kissed Dante on both cheeks.
“Wa’alykum assalam. Zehn, zehn.”
“Welcome, welcome to you, and your friend,” he winked as he took Nor’s hand, “I always told Dante he needs a good woman.”
Nor blushed as Dante glanced at her but she was completely shaken by what had just happened and had a million questions.
“She’s… a family friend…” he began to explain…
“Of course, of course!” he winked again, “Zamir at your service, miss. What can I serve you?”
“Tea would be good,” Nor was trembling but noticed Dante’s obvious discomfort. He suddenly looked very young and unsure of himself but he, too, nodded.
“Yes, tea, Shukran.” Zamir moved back behind his counter, busy with the order. Nor stared at Dante as they sat, stunned silent. The scene outside had been surreal.
“Could you take off your sunglasses? It’s hard to talk to someone when I can’t see their eyes.” Nor had chills that wouldn’t stop.
Dante regarded her a long moment. Then he took the glasses off. His eyes were deep midnight blue but his irises were rimmed blood red.
Nor started and pushed back. He stared at her another moment.
Nor steadied herself, regarding him more slowly. He was stunning to look at, an unearthly sheen making his skin look alabaster, his dark hair, his haunted eyes. He didn’t look so young anymore, and Nor felt she was in free fall. How could anyone not see how different he was? She turned away, staring at the sugar bowl just as Zamir brought over a teapot and two glasses, the mint scent wafting from the pot. He made a show of pouring the tea, lifting the pot high above the small glass yet not missing a drop. He bowed when he was finished, and left the table. Nor glanced at Dante to find him watching her, the look in his eyes intense.
They sat in awkward silence. He broke his gaze, staring down at his hands, looking like a shy young man of twenty-three but it was deceptive. When he did finally look up at her, Nor could see his eyes were old and full of pain, before he glanced down once more, seemingly at a loss for words.
“What happened back there?” She finally broke the ice.
“What do you think happened?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question.”
Dante didn’t respond. He glanced up once more, his red eyes scaring the hell out of Nor. She wanted the glasses back on.
“How did you become… what you are?” She blurted out.
Dante chuckled darkly, but Nor saw a flash of fear in his eyes just as they slid away. She almost thought he wasn’t going to continue but he started talking.
“It was…during the war. World War II. I was badly injured during a battle in France, on death’s door to be honest. In the aftermath, I was lying in the mud, staring at the sky, waiting for death. But the US Army has a deadly secret.” He paused, staring down at his hands for a long moment, and she almost thought he was not going to tell her. Then he looked up once again, the red in his eyes bleeding.
“Almost dead soldiers were turned into vampires by a secret group of officers who roam the battlefields and morgues following a battle.” He leaned forward when he saw Nor’s face, wanting to convince her, “I know it sounds crazy but think about it! An army of soldiers almost impossible to kill because they were dead already. Lethal. Fast and deadly. Fearless! Although, I can’t be sure my fear is completely gone. But that may just be a lingering vestige of my long, lost humanity.”
They sat silent for a moment as Nor stared at him incredulously before shaking her head.
“Are you joking? The US military is turning dead soldiers into vampires.”
She could tell he bristled at that but he just sat back, and shrugged.
“Believe what you want. You asked me a question and I answered it.”
“I didn’t ask for a fairy tale.”
“Stop being a child. Not all stories are fiction!”
“Look, this is a mistake.” Nor wanted to run out of there as fast as she could but he grabbed her wrist to stop her, his grip crushing her bracelet into my skin, the heat of it painful. Suddenly he let go as if he had been burned. Nor pulled her arm away from his reach.
His response felt like a slap, and Nor sat back to catch her breath. They stared at each other for another moment then she gathered her things, angry at herself for being gullible.
“Your bracelet. It’s pure silver. It…burns me.”
Nor froze. They stared at one other, and the room faded into the background until there was only them. Her breath caught in her chest as she glared at him, and tried to decide what to do. He didn’t move but watched as Nor struggled with her decision. She felt cold inside even as her bracelet burned her wrist. The room swayed. Dante moved to grab her elbow to steady her as she backed toward the door.
“Please.” His voice was low, and almost pleading. “I need you to listen to me.”
“Why? Why are you here? Who are you, really? I feel like I am getting caught up in some sick game.”
“It’s no game! I just…please, just hear me out. It’s important. After that, if you still don’t believe me, I’ll…I’ll leave you alone.” Somehow, Nor wasn’t convinced of that but her curiosity overcame her fear. What happened on the street was super human. He had some kind of power, she wasn’t sure yet what. But it was clear he was not wholly human.
They scrutinized each other warily.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he began.
“Really? Why should I believe that? You are asking me to trust a complete stranger.”
He stayed silent, watching Nor under hooded eyes, the redness turning more burgundy than blood red.
“You are so much like her.” Nor didn’t know how to respond to that. Although she had heard this many times before, from him it didn’t sound like a compliment.
“If you want me to hear what you have to say, don’t change the subject!”
He had the grace to look chastised. After a few moments, he sat and took his tea glass in his hands, seemingly trying to urge the warmth into his hands.
“I apologize. I guess I have lived with this for so long that I just assumed…” He stopped a moment before continuing. “Your grandmother did you a great disservice not telling you about your history.”
Nor bristled at his criticism of Grams even though she was feeling somewhat the same. She sat and took a sip of cooling tea, calming herself before responding.
“You must realize how bizarre this all is for me. I am not even sure I believe what you are or what you have told me. How is this real? Is everything a lie, or, a secret, or…what? I didn’t know anything about you before you found me.”
The hurt skimmed across his face, the sadness naked in his eyes, but he composed himself quickly.
“Your grandmother thought I was dead. I…there was no way to tell her otherwise. I wanted her to have…a life like we had dreamed of. I can’t say why she didn’t tell you about me, maybe things are less painful if you try to forget about them and move on.”
Nor allowed his words to sink in a minute, sensing the anguish behind that confession. She realized he had never forgotten Grams.
“I feel like I’ve been pushed into some kind of sick fairy tale. Vampires, coins, family secrets. I mean, who could make this stuff up? I’m not trying to be rude but, again, why are you here, exactly? What do you need to get out of all this? You stalk me,” his eyes flashed darkly at that, “and tell me this outlandish story that I can’t even confirm because my grandmother has lost her memories.” He looked shocked for a moment. “Put yourself in my shoes! If you had someone tell you this happened to them, what would you advise them to do?”
He regarded Nor for a long moment, “I would tell them to run the other way as fast as they could.” She stared at him, and, suddenly, inexplicably, they both burst into laughter.
“Okay, well, thank you for being honest about that, anyway. You must know that was my first instinct.” He smiled, and Nor was struck again by how incredibly beautiful he was although his beauty seemed fixed. Like a statue…or a fly caught in amber, never to age or change, if she fully believed his vampire story. She drained the tea glass. What he said next sent a quiver of fear into her gut.
“Your bracelet is beautiful.” Her hand instinctively went to her wrist, still tingling from its heat moments ago.
“Thanks. Grams gave it to me…for my fifth birthday.” She hoped to impress what it meant to her.
“The number five is auspicious in Chinese culture. I noticed you have five charms. And you say it was on your fifth birthday.” Nor realized that he had been collecting details about her.
“Yes…I did know that.” She waited for him to continue, suddenly feeling all of the alarm bells going off in her head at once.
“So, it seems she has told you something of your history.”
“What? I don’t understand. What does my history have to do with my charm bracelet? And why did it burn you?” She was growing uncomfortable but he sat back another moment without speaking. The need to get out of the cafe almost choked Nor. She stood up quickly.
“Thank you for the tea but I really do need to leave now, and process everything. I’m…overwhelmed.”
“Yes, of course,” He stood as she stood, “I would like to meet again. Please. I know I am asking you to believe an unbelievable story but I think we can help each other.”
“Maybe. I need some time. I haven’t forgotten the part where you told me Grams’ life is in danger, and you have not explained that.” She hung a moment, giving him an opening but he didn’t speak. “Well, goodbye then.” She turned to leave but his voice called her back.
“Take as much as you need. I’m not going anywhere.” Those dark red rimmed magnetic eyes read her once more, and she shivered, surprising and chastising herself for the rush of desire she suddenly felt for a beautiful face, and ignoring the utter danger she was in.
His sentiment was not comforting but she nodded, and left the cafe.
all rights reserved. Tina Celentano 2022