Monday, February 21, 2011

"A Study in Shadows" by: Aaron Smith

"A Study in Shadows"
by: Aaron Smith

in PRO SE PRESENTS Fantasy and Fear #3


Looking back, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so worried about the big mess I’d just made while trying to do the right thing. Within less than ninety minutes, it was all cleaned up. It had been one crazy night and day and second night. It seemed as though more had happened in those thirty-six hours than in my entire thirty-two years of life before then. Of course, the fact that my companion on that night was almost three hundred years old also contributed to the surrealistic feel of those events. That, combined with the loss of quite a lot of my blood, had me dazed, to say the least. But I shouldn’t have worried. My new friend, who was somehow very, very old and very, very young at the same time, did one hell of a job cleaning it all up. I’ve always had an interest in the past, an attraction to things or places that feel like they still exist in a previous era.
I’ve always had a habit of seeking out places like that. They give me a break from the realities of day to day life and provide a shift in mood that does me a world of good. I call them the Quaint Places. I had gone out and driven to a little diner, the Paradise, in the rural town of West Mountain, looking for a bite to eat and that peaceful feeling of taking a swim in the ocean of the past. To put it mildly, I got way more than I’d bargained for.
I found myself joined at my diner booth by a stunning woman, young I thought, but older, far older than she seemed to be. Siobhan was a vampire who claimed to be nearly three-hundred years old. Strange as it sounds, it turned out to be true. She asked me to help her and I agreed. When vampires, as she explained to me, get to be about a hundred thousand midnights into their lives as blood-drinkers, they go through a change that they call the Eldering, which alters or magnifies the powers that vampires all have, though this event seems to affect each one differently. It turns out there’s also a sort of being, kind of robotic in some ancient way, that some call angels, that can sense when a vampire is about to go through the Eldering and tries to kill it while it sleeps through the day. It also turns out that the angel things are forbidden, by some programming imprinted on them, from harming or killing a human being.

So, I spent the day after my drive to the Paradise Diner standing guard in the bookstore where Siobhan has a little apartment in the basement. Sure enough, the angel thing showed up, calling itself Michael. I tried to keep it away from Siobhan and finally, desperate to stop it from killing her, I slashed my own wrist with a box cutter, convincing it that its actions had led me to harm myself. That little gamble made the damn thing lift me up and take me to the hospital. It saved my life, and by making it do so, I saved Siobhan. I couldn’t believe that worked! By the time Michael made it back to the bookstore, the sun had gone down and Siobhan, now stronger after her Eldering, ripped him to pieces.
So there I was, at well after midnight, not having been home in over twenty-four hours, with my entire idea of what was real and what was fictional turned upside down. My arm was bandaged and my head still spun from the loss of blood. There were bits and scraps of shredded angel-robot thing all over the floor of the bookstore basement, and my new friend, a 292-year old vampire who looked like a nineteen year old girl standing there grinning from ear to ear as she looked down at the wreckage of her would-be assassin.
“That was fun,” Siobhan quipped. “I don’t know exactly what the Eldering’s done to me, but I feel incredible!”
I said nothing. She finally turned and saw me sitting there with my head in my hands. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“No,” I admitted, deciding to skip the brave lies. “In one night my whole life just turned upside down. I bled half to death, I’m exhausted, and the cops are probably out looking for me. I assaulted a doctor when I was trying to escape the hospital and get back here to see if you were okay. I can’t get arrested! I’ll lose my job! I’ll get tossed out of my place! Look, I’m glad you’re okay…but this has been too much for me! Everything is different; nothing seems the same anymore. You’re a vampire! You just destroyed a…thing that called itself an angel, except it wasn’t an angel. It was evil…or at least automated to do evil things. Oh hell! What am I supposed to do about all this?”
Siobhan walked over to me. I felt her hand light on my shoulder. “I should use those mind tricks you saw me use on the waitress last night,” she said. “You’d feel better fast. But I won’t do that. Let’s just go and fix this all right now, okay?”
Siobhan, moving more quickly than anyone I’d ever seen before, cleaned up the debris of Michael and tossed it into the store’s trash compactor. Once it was gone, we were outside and in my car within minutes.  Siobhan drove, as my injured arm would have made it quite painful to steer and my lightheadedness and tiredness would have made things even worse. We arrived at the hospital shortly. We parked and Siobhan escorted me to a little-used back entrance.
“Why do you even know this door is here?” I asked her.
“I’ve stolen blood from here a few times,” she answered. From the beginning of our first conversation within the Paradise, I admired her honesty and openness. She did not try to hide what she was or how she lived her afterlife. She was a vampire, and I got the impression that I could either live with that fact or get lost.
It didn’t take us long to locate the doctor who had treated me and then been mistreated by me. The hospital had a limited overnight staff, so we managed to catch him alone. He looked alarmed when he recognized me, but Siobhan’s presence had an immediately calming effect and he sat quietly down on an examining table. I watched as Siobhan stared into the doctor’s eyes, doing her best Béla Lugosi impersonation while speaking softly but firmly, leaving no question as to who was boss.
“My friend hurt his arm by accident. You cleaned it and stitched it and bandaged it. He was a calm, good patient and did nothing harmful toward you. You’re not going to press any charges against him or cause him any trouble. Now you’re going to give him some painkillers and something so his wound doesn’t get infected. Then you’ll write a very nice note to his employers so he doesn’t have to work for at least a month. Are we both speaking the same language here, doctor?”
The doctor nodded slowly and docilely. Siobhan and I walked out of there with a note to get me off work and two little prescription bottles. We left the hospital by the main entrance and got back into my car.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” she asked me as she put the car in drive.
I had to laugh. She was right. “Not bad at all,” I told her, “but what am I going to do with a month off from work? I live alone. I’ll be bouncing off the walls in three days.”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Siobhan giggled like a schoolgirl, making me forget how vastly old she really was. “I’ve got plans for us.”
After the night and day and night I had just had, I cringed to think what that might mean.

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