The water around the watermill was running still and quiet. The wheel barely moved into a full circle. The stars shined upon the dark sky, sparkling like diamond sprinkles. Fireflies soared in the air, and a frog would occasionally jump out of the bushes and into the stream. It was wonderful to come back home after so many years. The silhouettes of small hills melted into meadows, and an owl would sometimes break the silence, flapping its wings and calling out its kind in the dark. The green sea and the black waves. Soft whispers of the wind spread between corn stalks. She missed the speech of the soil. She was ready to make the final step, but she had to return to her homeland before she did anything else. A part of her still could not believe that the search was over. She feared that something might spoil her plans before she managed to set herself free. The trip was long, so she needed to move at first sign of daylight. After all, the salvation was in her grasp. She was a bit sad because she would not see the sight before her again.
The dawn was approaching. The sky got a brighter nuance of blue. The clouds, those few that were there, crumpled in the far north, above the shades of a mountain in the distance. She caught the freshness of the morning and touched a couple of sunbeams. She always recoiled at first, but then she stretched her arm and absorbed all the warmth and light that caressed her skin. The feeling was pleasant. However, she had only those few moments to enjoy. She turned to face the watermill and sighed. Her hut once stood there, instead of white walls and clay roof. Times had changed and people changed as well. That is why she had to move, but the tales had already been spread. The tales became a late night entertainment around the fire, and the entertainment became a legend. And, as it usually happens, the legend created fears. By that time, she had already been far away, but the rumours of peculiar incidents reached her. Hunted forests, forbidden places, burning of the corpses in their graves, all of that echoed in her thoughts while she travelled the unknown roads. She was fine in the northwest, for a while. The people there were good and caring, but her spirit was adventurous and curious. Therefore, she journeyed south, and then east, to enjoy the sandy shores and soft Mediterranean breeze. Unfortunately, Europe soon became very violent, too violent for her. Ironically, she could not stand the bloodshed, even though blood was her life. As soon as the first king of Rome was crowned, she left the southern area and moved to the mountains and the east. It took her a while, until she came to Persia, and then Himalayas, until she finally reached the Chinese Empire. She came to the coastal China, built a house there, and started a business. Early in life, she realized that the world she happened to inhabit was much different from her own private one, so she decided to play by its rules. She opened a printing shop and started to make paper. The Emperor himself took a notice of her fine work and called her to move to the capital. Thus began her rise to power. Soon, she learned that having power also includes having powerful enemies. Yet, she had the greatest advantage. Their blood was so sweet, and her thirst endless.
She was running. Like a gazelle, or a cheetah, or a rabbit. Still, she could not run over the ocean. She had the option of trying to swim across it, but it would have taken long, and besides, it was most inconvenient. So, she stormed down to the airport and booked the first flight to New York. In the airport toilet, she took the last bag from her stash, and quickly poured the red content into her mouth. She could not stand blood older than seven days, but it was all she had. Of course, she could grab a man and drag him into a dark corner, but drinking blood like that was messy. She heard the last call for her flight. Entering the airplane, she thought about human progress. She was there with it from the beginning. It was always her opinion that the human inability was the enhancer of their tendency to invent. Their innovations and discoveries were the product of a gap between their desire and their capacity. She could run at great speed, and she did not need a car. She could not fly, but she could jump high enough to touch the wings of the eagles. Humans could not run fast, nor jump like that, so they needed a mechanical replacements.
She took her seat and quietly refused the flight attendant’s offer for a drink before the take off. She put her head on the window and watched as people and buildings disappeared in front of her. She felt the smooth lift of the plane, and then everything seemed in order again. She was in the first class, she could afford it. The wealth was collected over the years and decades and now was the right time to spend it. The seat next to hers was empty, she would always buy both to prevent others from disturbing her. Sometimes, it seemed pointless to her, because people who travelled by first class usually did not show interest for anyone but themselves. Yet, the vain silence they made was perfect for her. She did not know whether or how many stops there would be, because it was her first time to fly from Belgrade to New York. She smiled, because a whole century had passed, and she could not find time to fly between the capital of Serbia and the capital of the world. She wondered what she missed to do, too. Ten thousand years is too long for a lifetime, but not long enough to solve all the riddles of the world. She fell asleep.
The airplane was slipping between the clouds, when a little shake woke her up. She was not sure how long she had slept, but she soon found out that the next airport was near, because the seatbelt signal was on. If a plane would crash, she would survive. In the beginning, she found it amusing to jump off the cliffs and forcefully hit the rocks below. Then, after a second, she would get up, as if nothing happened. It was fun to look at frightened expressions of road robbers when they would realize that she was still standing, unharmed after several strikes of a sabre. Once, when she was bored and went to Spain to witness the horrific Spanish Inquisition. She loved the horror on the faces of priests and lesser clerics. They would whip her, beat her and cut her, and then watch as her injuries faded from her skin. They would curse her and try to run away, but everything would usually end when she got hungry. Their screams melodically announced the inevitability of their demise, as she would stand up and plunge her fangs deep into their throats. While she prepared her journey back to China, she was surprised how the western world had changed during her absence. She had to be a part of it. Upon her return to China, she told the Emperor that she would move. The Emperor mourned the day of her departure, because of all that time she spent with his family. She was the symbol of his dynasty. She abandoned the paper business long ago, and became a councillor for the Emperor. However, she wanted to leave. The Emperor could not stop her. First, she went to Japan, and spent several years fighting against rebellious shoguns. However, she constantly felt that she must go west, to discover new people, new places. She went to America. There, everything around her was red. The sky was red, and so was the ground. Canyons were stretching far across the borders set by humans, while the little rivers patiently flowed through the rock and dust. She was happy there. Soon, she learned to control and anticipate her cravings, so there were no incidents. During the day, she would ride a horse or help the natives. In the night, she would watch the stars and listen to the coyotes’ elegies. There she met someone like her for the first time. He looked like a native, but he was actually her kind, not theirs. He called himself Niyol. She called him Nexus, feeling a bond growing and thickening between them. He liked it. They spent a century together, discovering each other and their true abilities. She hoped that he could give her the answers about her origin, but Nexus was as confused as her when it came to that. They were a mystery. An only sure fact what that he was younger than her, at most a thousand years younger, based on what he had told her. And, it was logical to assume that they were not the only two of their kind. He agreed to follow her to Europe and explore the world he had not seen before. She put feathers in his long black hair and told him stories about misty mountains of Japanese islands and dark rivers of Central Europe, full of fairies and their cursed gold. Nexus was impressed and imagined himself fight the dragons and other creatures to conquer these new lands called France, Spain and Holly Roman Empire. He was so excited, and she enjoyed watching his enthusiasm flourish.
The next flight started the same way as the previous one. She hoped she would find him in New York, and that the information she got were correct. He was the solution for her problem. She was unsure how he would react to her, though. It was difficult enough to explain what she was, not to mention why she needed him. She took a paper out of her pocket and looked at the address that was written on it. Convincing him to accept and practice her demands would be hard. But, she could not give up, not now. Her friends for the past would probably despise her, but she did not care. She remembered the way Hadrian died, how he fought until the last moment when the hunters dragged him into sunlight. His skin immediately burst into flames and soon he was nothing more but bone dust. She watched it all from a castle tower, wondering why she did not have the same end. Ever since then she would shiver every time sun would shine upon her. Hadrian had weaknesses that she knew nothing of. He was similar, but not entirely like her and Nexus. Hadrian was a watered down version of the two, he was a human before he became an immortal. Humans started calling all of them vampires, because they fed on blood, but never realized that there were two kinds of bloodsucking creatures. She was still horrified by the vision of Hadrian’s death after several centuries. He was half of a millennium old and he was not ready to die. That memory raised a question. Would she be able to fulfil her desire, or would her survival instinct prevail over her melancholy when the moment comes?
The ocean backed down in front of the shore, as the airplane approached the airport. It was night outside. She was aware that her search for her saviour would have to wait until morning. She was tired. The cause of her exhaustion must have had been the running from Srem to Belgrade and the excitement she felt in the last couple of days. Now, she only wanted to move away from the noise and the crowd. She came to her apartment, and threw her bag on a sofa in the living room. She finally reached a safe place, a place of comfort and peace. She went to bed, which only had a sheet over the mattress, no pillows and no covers. In the darkness, she was back in the fields, surrounded with grass, corn, wheat and memories. She saw the old willow by the stream, on the other side of the meadow, how it waved its twigs and leaves, back and forth. It was a long summer day, when the air was dry and hot. That land was hers, officially. She bought it after the World War 1, when the territories of the countries were finally settled. Every time she needed to get away from reality and misery, she thought about that place, where the days were quiet and warm, and nights were fresh and filled with songs of the crickets. Walking down the stream, from the watermill to the old well sweep. Looking at rabbit’s ears peeking from the high blades of grass and listening to the mice digging holes in the ground. Then, when winter came, everything would turn white and silent. The surface of the stream froze, but below the ice one could see water running.
The light of the streetlights and neon advertisements struggled to get inside her room. Yet, she was surrounded by dark, slowly slipping into dreams about better places and better times. It was mid July, and evening breeze was more than welcome. Life gave her so much, so she had nothing to regret. She only had herself to lose.
Her search for the house from the address she had was not long. After breakfast, she left the apartment to look for it. It was a common, suburban house, with a nice fence, a porch and an upstairs. Judging by what she saw, she made a correct assumption that the owner inherited it from his parents. After she rang the doorbell, a girl in underwear and tight sleeveless shirt opened the door.
“Is Richard here?” she asked, while the girl was checking her out.
“He’s here. Why are you asking for him?” the girl replied.
“I would like to talk to him,” she replied and listened to the noise coming from inside. Not long after the girl disappeared from the door, Richard appeared, the man she needed.
“Good day. How can I help you?” he asked.
“Good day. You’re not at work? I won’t take much of your time, but I would like us to have a conversation,” she said.
“I have just returned from an archaeological site in Asia, so I took a few days off. Am I in some kind of trouble?” he replied.
“No, of course not,” she said and smiled.
“Alright, I’ll be ready in a minute,” he said and went back indoors.
“Take your time,” she replied.
They walked for a while, talking about his profession and history, and then they same to a small restaurant with a Central Park view. She slowly drank hot coffee, and he ate tortillas and fries dipped in chilli.
“Why was I talking the whole time? You haven’t told me anything interesting about yourself,” he said.
“Now is the right moment, now when you are sitting,” she said.
“Why? What do you have to tell me?” he asked.
“I require your help. It will not be an easy task. Please, consider my offer.”
“I surely will.”
“First of all, I want to officially introduce myself, I think I haven’t got the chance. My name is Constance Morrigan.”
“I am Richard Phileph. You seem like a nice person, and I would surely like to work for you, but you have to give me more information about my duties.”
“Phileph, yes… You are the one I was looking for, indeed. Your last name is shortened form of the name Philephebos, which is Greek. Am I right?”
“My grandparents were Greek immigrants, and then my grandfather changed the name.”
“He changed it to fit into the new environment, but also to escape from the past and the obligation.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Do you think there are other creatures in the world? Not plants and animals, but others, unrecognized yet.”
“Are you one of those who want to convince people that we are not alone in the universe?”
“Certainly not, because I’m not referring to the entire universe. I am asking you about this planet, Earth.”
“I guess, there are others…”
“And, do you think that bloodsuckers exist?”
“Bloodsuckers? Like mosquitoes?”
“Like vampires,” she said. He grinned.
“You are really imaginative,” Richard replied. She was obviously a poor soul, one of those who go around and gather in covens, pretending they are not just mere mortals.
“Your scepticism is understandable,” she said calmly. Constance did not expect him to believe her immediately, but she surely had no intention to spend the entire afternoon displaying evidence of her nature in front of him.
“Vampires? Look, I like you. You seem nice, and you are attractive. Have we ever had sex, and I haven’t called you back? Is this some sort of your little revenge, to make ridicule me? Is there a camera out there, waiting for my reaction? If I have insulted or hurt you in any way, I’m sorry, really. But, this is unnecessary,” he said.
“We never have had a sexual intercourse. Is that your first assumption when a woman tells you something unusual? Besides, if we had sex, you would remember it,” she replied. Richard laughed and nodded.
“That’s a good one. But, vampires? Couldn’t you think of something more original?” he asked.
“I didn’t create that name, you did.”
“I? I didn’t do anything.”
“Not you, Richard Philephebos. You, humans.”
“There are us, the humans. And there are you, the vampires.”
“It is the truth, no matter how strange it sounds,” Constance said. Richard was amused by her claims, but at the same time, he thought about ways to get rid of her. Apparently, she was convinced in her own delusion, and it was going to be difficult to get away from her. However, he was surprised by her confidence. Either she lost every contact with reality or everything she said was true. But, it was impossible. There are no vampires.
“If you are a vampire, why don’t you burn in the sunlight? That is one of vampire traits,” he said finally.
“I am a bit different than those classic vampires,” she replied.
“So… Now, you’re not even an ordinary vampire anymore? You’re something else, special?” he teased her, proud of himself for breaking her tower of dangerously unreal convictions.
“It seems like you need a proof to confirm my honesty,” she said. Constance picked up a knife next to his plate and put the sleeve of her shirt up. Richard was confused, moving restlessly in his chair, afraid that she might attack him. She was peaceful. Then, she stabbed her upper arm with the knife. Constance pulled the knife through her flesh, leaving a bloody gap behind.
“Stop! Someone, help!” Richard shouted, jumping off the chair. But, no one answered his call for help. He turned around and realized that the two of them were completely alone in the street. There were no other customers at the other tables, and no member of the staff came outside to see what was going on.
“You wanted proof, I gave it to you, Richard,” Constance uttered. To his surprise, the blood stopped filling in the wound. He observed how even the smallest cells and parts of tissue were drawn back together. It was as if an invisible needle was sawing and closing the cut, while the red life liquid pulled back into the body. Richard could see how the threads of muscles and skin shivered. Reflexively, and out of curiosity, he took her arm and carefully examined the wound.
“Unbelievable… This must be a trick…” he said. Constance smiled, waiting to heal completely.
“It’s not a trick. It is real. I am real, and I need you,” she replied.
“What could you possibly need me for? You can heal automatically… I am just a human… A human…” Richard whispered and fell back into his chair.
“Healing, if I may say, is a part of my problem. There is one more mountain top I need to conquer, but I cannot do it by myself. Death still remains a mystery to me,” Constance said.
“What can I do? And where are everyone else?” he asked.
“They remembered that they have business elsewhere. My abilities are not solely physical in nature. I would like to show you something, but you’ll have to follow me to my apartment,” she said, getting up and leaving money on the table.
“You won’t suck my blood?” he asked. It seemed that he was joking, but he was very serious. What was he thinking? She was a complete stranger, and he decided to come along. Perhaps this was his last adventure, and he would be found dead the next day. His body would float among the waves, drained and bloodless, because this mysterious woman wowed him into her twisted game. And he still did not find out why she wanted his help. But that was obvious, wasn’t it? He is the next meal and she likes to play with her food.
“I have eaten this morning, you have nothing to worry about,” she replied. Richard was still not relieved. Her apartment took an entire floor, at the top of the building. The kitchen consisted of one table at the centre of it, a refrigerator, which was placed over the whole wall and a sink on the opposite one. In the fridge were bags full of blood and nothing else. She let Richard look around for a while and then called him to the library.
The library was a broad round room, with shelves taking up the most of that one, circular wall, and no windows. It was also filled with tall, square tables, and on each table, there was an antique silver or gold candelabra. Richard’s heart skipped a beat as he was looking at all the scrolls, papers and books Constance owned. Phileph thought it could have been a dungeon in the past, or some sort of a place where terrible tortures had been done. The light inside was dim, but warm, in shades of yellow and orange. The library room in general differed from the rest of the apartment. While everything else was modern, the chamber of books looked ancient, as if it was transported from an old, abandoned castle at the cliff to this luxurious New York apartment. Just by looking at it, Richard believed that it was somehow connected to Constance, that it responded to her, as an animal would respond to its master. The paintings that showed people and landscapes seemed alive, glowing and shimmering in misty light. It was a chamber of the entire civilization. Every story told was there, in its place among other documents, witnesses of her eternal life. The world was a chart marked by her steps. Little bottles filled with unknown green, blue and white liquids were placed on the floor, next to the pile of maps. All the knowledge of the world was there, under her feet. All the questions of history could have been answered if she shared the information she held in that room. Various artefacts and small sculptures of clay occupied some of the shelves. Richard came closer to examine the statues and realized that they were probably thousands of years old. He had only seen similar ones in the Louvre. He wanted to ask her about it, but he knew that he probably could not handle the answer. Instead, he turned back to the books.
“This is all yours?” he asked quietly, as if he was afraid that he would wake someone up.
“In ten thousand years, I had a chance to collect many valuable works,” she replied.
“You’re ten thousand years old? This is…” he felt a bit dizzy.
“Would you like a glass of water?” she offered.
“No, no I’m fine. How is this possible? How are you possible?”
“To be honest with you, I do not know. My origin remains ambiguous even after all this time. I have explored my kind and found some information, but never got the answer to the initial and final question. Where do I come from? It is unknown.”
“And in all this time, you never wanted to show this to us, humans? This is our history, right here. We could have read it and it would have resolved so many issues of the past.”
“Reading does not mean understanding, and you need to understand in order to have a resolution. Besides, I don’t think you as a species are ready for it. There is a part of the history that is better left as a myth, a story.”
“And the story about classic vampires and you being special, what about that?”
“Vampires were humans once. They died, but they have risen from the grave because of certain reasons. Vampires are stronger and faster than humans are. My kind is stronger and faster than vampires are. I am a Basic. We feed on blood too, but we don’t die when we come into the sunlight and we can consume other food, as long as it is liquidized. You must have noticed that I have drunk coffee, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but I thought you are one of those people who pretend to be vampires and witches…”
“Sometimes I wish I were pretending. But there is a way to kill even such creature as an indestructible Basic.”
“This is why you need me? I’m a historian, so you want me to find an artefact or something like that, right?”
“Your profession of a historian serves no purpose for me. At least not a direct one. It is a bit more complicated than that. On the other hand, you could argue that it is quite simple. My request is simple, indeed, but it might complicate your life.”
“Because of you, Richard, I have travelled all the ages of this world. You are the light so sorely needed. You are the reward for all the centuries of solitude. That is why I shall ask you. Will you kill me?” she whispered. Richard turned pale. The situation got a violent tone, one he was unwilling and unable to handle.
“I can’t kill you. I’m not a killer, Constance,” he spoke and his mouth dried.
“But, you are the only one who can. And it won’t be a killing. It will be a favour, for I wish to die,” Constance replied.
“It’s not just about you. What about me? My life is on the line as well. Where am I going to put your body after I kill you? The police will investigate the case if they find it,” Richard complained.
“The disposal of my body is not your concern. Once I die it will quickly disintegrate, so there will be no traces,” Constance assured him.
“Why me? Why does it have to be me who should kill you?”
“Because it is your heritage. You come from a family whose members constructed the weapon against the Basics.”
“My family? Come one, this is getting stranger by second… You are completely wrong about me…”
“There are seven billion people in this world. If I could choose any of them instead of you, I would.”
“So, my family is a family of vampire hunters?”
“Basic hunters, to be precise. But, they’ve killed vampires as well. However, you are the last remaining carrier of their legacy,” she explained. Richard still believed that he was dreaming. He would wake up soon. Anytime, he would wake up. Because if he did not, his entire life would turn upside down.
“My grandmother told me stories about vampires, witches and werewolves. I never thought it could be true. I should have known, her tales were too believable to simply be products of imagination,” Richard admitted and looked at the paintings and tapestries between the bookshelves. He saw heralds of noble European houses, put next to each other in a chronological order. Then, there were paintings, all portraits of a young woman. Their styles were different, but the face was the same.
“Painters seemed interested in my life’s story. I guess I was quite an inspiration for them,” Constance said, gently touching the frame of her portrait painted by Munch. The Norwegian’s manner blended perfectly with her personality. Both the painter and the model were desperate, lost souls.
“I like this one. Is this Picasso?” Phileph asked.
“You’ve noticed very well. It was painted at the beginning of his career, before he made history with his blue period. I had told him that his talent was obvious, but he didn’t take my words seriously for years,” Constance replied.
“You had encouraged Picasso to be a painter?” Richard said in wonder.
“I wouldn’t say it was encouragement. I was simply a satisfied costumer,” she smiled. Richard looked at some other works and approached a shelf filled with scrolls and old, dusty papers.
“You hold a treasure that every historian dreams of. You have witnessed the history… Amazing…” he whispered.
“It doesn’t seem like that, though. It is different when you live it,” she said.
“Then, why do you want to die? Look at you, you are wonderful.”
“I grew tired of life, Richard. All dies and so must I.”
“Obviously nature has a different take on that. If you are made like this, unlimited and unthreatened by time and death, use it, enjoy it.”
“I did enjoy it. However, I realized that sometimes my happiness brought sorrow to others. I was cruel and violent. Yet, what hurts me the most is that I lose people dear to me. After a while, their faces turn greyish, their hands that touch me become wrinkled. Their eyes see, but their minds do not always remember. They wither away, in front of me, they slowly shut down. Humans feel death’s grasp around their loved ones in a lifetime of a hundred years, at most. I felt it during thousands of years. You might think I am accustomed to watching others perish. On the contrary, it gets worse. Each death of another that happens, I experience it as if it was my own.”
“But you can do so much. You can be anybody, anything you wish to be. An endless life is a very seldom opportunity. It is a gift.”
“Your perspective of immortality is corrupted by the truth about your predetermined existence, an existence which has to end. I was anything and anybody. What do you think I was doing in the past nine millennia? Now, I want to be myself. And, myself is weary and burdened with pain and guilt.”
“Are all vampires depressed as you?”
“Remember, vampires were once humans, so becoming almost indestructible is their lifelong dream. But, most of them rarely celebrate their first thousand years. Some are not precautious enough and the sun burns them, others are killed by hunters.”
“I would like to read this,” Phileph said and showed her scrolls tied together by a thick, red thread.
“Good choice, I was about to recommend it. These papers contain a story about the Basics and your family. It reveals how your lives and ours intertwined during the development of the civilization. There you will find all necessary information about the subject in matter.”
“Thank you. I’ve been to many sites and have done a lot of research, but this is special. This document is perhaps the most valuable one that I have had in my hands.”
“I read about you accomplishments. Actually, I have found you when my donator mentioned a brilliant student he used to have. It later turned out that the student was you, the last of the Philephebos family, the person I needed.”
“Blood donator. A century and a half ago, I had decided to drink blood of those who would voluntarily give it to me. Currently, my blood donator is Professor Alastair, from the History Department at New York University. You haven’t forgotten your Professor, have you?”
“No, of course I haven’t. We haven’t been in touch lately, but I remember him. His classes were the best part of my studies. After my graduation, I applied for the position of his assistant, but he turned me down. He said I should travel, explore and participate in diggings before I commit myself to the office desk,” Phileph said with an honest smile.
“Perhaps it is time to remind the Professor of his words,” Constance replied.
“What do you mean?” Richard was confused.
“You will do me a great favour. Thus, you will receive a favour from me in return. It is at least I can do,” she said and nodded.
After hours of conversation with Constance, Richard went home. Jenny was not there, as he assumed she would not be. She was probably angry at him for leaving like that with an unknown woman. He was too tired to call her and tell her that everything was fine and that Constance was not his lover. Sometimes she would become obnoxious with her doubt and suspicion. On the other hand, she was refreshment in a mould that his life was.
He made a bacon sandwich and sat down on the couch to look through Constance’s scrolls. He thought about her library. Her collection was amazing. Maybe he should ask her to leave it to him, so he could study it when she is dead. When he would kill her. But, he could not kill her, he could not kill anyone. She was some poor, stressed soul. She did give him evidence in the restaurant, but perhaps it was all a trick. She was probably some rich, bored with life woman who did not have enough courage for suicide. What if she changed her mind at the last moment and accused him of an assault? He did not need that sort of trouble. He was trying to put his life in order.
Nevertheless, what he read in the scrolls amazed him. There was a drawing of his family tree and on the next paper, there was the Basics bloodline. Constance’s name was at the bottom, and the name Niyol was at the top. There was also a record of his family making the only weapon for killing a Basic. Richard still hardly believed what he read, but a part of his mind started to consider all of that as true.