French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 10
New York City, 1980
The air was crisp and cool against his cheeks. Dylan turned his face toward the welcoming breeze as it tossed the hair from his eyes and away from his face. He inhaled, tasting the bitter stench of gasoline, grease, garbage and human sweat. It was a new world to him. The smells alone were overwhelming. He had never imagined how acute the sense of a renfield were. If he focused, he could make out nearby individual smells: the tar of the roof, the scent of fried beef from a burger joint across the street, Anna’s familiar baking powder mixed with flour aroma intermingled with her sensual vampiric musk, and the faint distant stench of the polluted Hudson a few blocks away.
He wondered what Bridget would have thought if she had survived. Painfully, Dylan forced the thought back into the hole in his heart. He wasn’t ready to think about her yet.
Taking it all in, the young man turned in a circle, scanning his surroundings. They stood on the roof of the SoHo Rehabilitation Center. Stretching out before him was the city, like a sea of lights from which rose glowing giants. The sky was a deep blue, and the city lights made it difficult to see the stars clearly, but he could make out a few if he squinted. It was still early yet.
People moved about the restaurants and galleries below, and Dylan heard bits and pieces of words, though not clear enough to gather the context of their discussions. He could see the bricks on the buildings across the street, and into the dark alleyways as if it were daylight. It was unnerving. “Is it like this for you?”
“Yes.” Anna stepped up to the edge of the building and looked down at the street, clearly knowing what he meant. “If I focus, I can hear your heartbeat, and hear the blood moving in your veins.”
“Gnarly.” He joined her and rubbed his arms. It was cold, and he wished he brought his sweater. Instinctively he drew close to Anna, and realized she radiated no heat.
“Oh, it’s the bee’s knees, Dyl! Think about it! We’re hearing the rhythm of existence itself!” She looked up at him. She was one of the first people he had met in years who actually had to look up instead of down at him. “I find it beautiful.”
With a shrug, Dylan looked down the street. “I don’t know; I just see more dirt, muck and noise. Suppose it would be different if I were home. The country would be different.”
“Peaceful, I’d think.” Anna tapped the tip of her toe against the cement roof pensively. “I’m a city girl, never stepped foot in the country, born in Belfast, moved to New York as girl, lived here ever since. Don’t know what I’d do in the country. Too quiet.”
“Lay in the grass and look at the stars.” Dylan pointed to the sky and opened his hand. “You wouldn’t believe the stars in the hill country. The sky is full of them like one big blanket of black purples, deep, deep blues, and ebony blacks with showers of gold sparkles, big bright lone stars and clouds of black-streaked silver. The entire Milky Way is the prettiest thing you’ll ever see. My daddy used to stargaze with us.” He looped his fingers in his belt, and fondly smiled at the memory. “We’d lay out on a blanket and look for constellations, watch for falling stars.”
The woman’s dark green eyes sparkled in the streetlight as she listened, entranced by his words. “Sounds lovely! I never really thought about it that way. I love being surrounded by people. The heartbeat of human civilization is the city.” She lifted her arms and turned a circle. “Art, music, theater, food, business, humans living together, sharing thoughts and ideas, everything happens in the city! It’s the cat’s meow! And I’m here to see it and share it with them!”
“Then why don’t you dance anymore?” Anna had mentioned she’d been a dancer once.
“Because I live a different life now. I’m exploring confections.” Anna gestured to the world. “Art isn’t stagnant, you know. It’s ever-moving. I still dance occasionally; I love it, always will, but I want to learn all the arts I can.”
Dylan thought of the last few years. He had traveled, but most of it was to dark places with dead things and the trips always ended in blood. He was a high school dropout with no idea what he wanted for his future. “I wanna live life too. Just… hard to start after everything that happened.” He looked over at her. “How about you? How’d you end up… like this? Were you attacked?”
The grin on Anna’s face grew. “I met this hip drummer,” she said in a dreamy voice. “The man was rhythm incarnate, Dyl. He taught me, this skinny little white Irish bird from Belfast, everything he knew about hoofing it.” She stepped away from the edge of the roof and danced her way to the center. “It was a big scandal, of course. My parents tolerated my dancing, sort of, but they went through the roof over Reggie. No daughter of theirs was going to date a black musician from New Orleans.” Anna laughed. “They had no idea he was a vampire. No one did. But he was everything to me! He taught me to look beyond the divided human world and see people for who they were and not what society wanted us to see them as. I learned how to live life and embrace everyone in it. ”
“He was a vampire?”
“He was ancient, Dylan. A real sheik.” She paused when she realized he was trying to puzzle out her words. “He was a hot dude, Dylan.”
“Guess his real name wasn’t ‘Reggie’.” Dylan felt a hint of jealousy.
“Of course not. He’s had many names. Though I did like Reggie, it suited him. He came from Mali, but was tight-lipped about it; he missed the way it used to be, so he just followed the music.” She looked wistful. “To avoid the whole issue with my parents, we staged an accident, and then he made me. The plan was to run to New Orleans together, but something drew him away and I was left in the care of Liam.” She bowed her head sadly. “I haven’t seen him since. I can’t even feel him. I worry that something horrible took him away, and Liam refuses to discuss it and refuses to let me leave to find him.”
“I’m sorry.” Dylan touched her arm tentatively unsure if she’d reject him or not. “This Liam dude, he swings a lot of weight around here.”
“Liam? Reggie told me he’s been a fixture in New York for over a hundred and sixty years, and he’s a lot older than that.” She shrugged. “And he’s a good man, bit harsh at times, but his heart is in the right place. He took over as community Elder when Reggie left.” To his surprise, Anna leaned into him. “Well, what do you think, bit better out here then that stuffy sterile old room? Even if it does stink of city?”
It was one of the most awkward moments of his life. Dylan peered down at the blonde head leaning into his shoulder and found himself slipping his arm around her waist. She was dressed in a short, tight blue mini-dress with a thick red belt and a red scarf. The dress’s hem was above her knees and showed her shapely legs. She also wore knee-high brown boots. He didn’t know why she’d insisted he come up to the center’s roof. The way she was dressed, he worried she’d freeze. Yet she had insisted.
At first he’d thought Anna just wanted to cure his stir-crazy agitation. Anna hadn’t explained why, but now he wondered if she was just attempting to show him something that was important to her. But then why brave the cold in a blue mini-dress and go-go boots? The young man leaned his cheek into her hair. It wasn’t proper, and she was a vampire, but it felt right to him. “It doesn’t stink that bad. Pretty, when you think about it. All those people making the world a prettier place. Even the lights are pretty, like the Milky Way.”
Anna smiled up to him. “I’m glad you see it that way. Not so country-bumpkin, are you?”
“Guess I am sometimes,” he said, but his mind was still focused on her nearness. Anna was just trying to make him feel better, wasn’t she? Dylan wondered if she was lonely as well. Why else would she lean against him? “So, you don’t, um, have anyone?”
“Bunny. Liam. Jason and Douglas, my employees, a few friends. But no, nothing romantic.” Her eyes suddenly widened. “Oh, bugger.” She pulled away from him — gently, not as though she was scared, but firmly, and stood a few paces off. “I’m sorry, Dylan, I was giving you the wrong idea. My fault. I’m not looking for anyone right now, and even if I was…”
“… I’m not your type, huh?” He felt a bigger letdown than he really should. Come on, Dyl, you’ve hardly known her a day or three.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re a child, hon. I know, I don’t look that much older than you, but I did my scandalous elopement back in the Roaring Twenties, Dylan. I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”
“Then why the cuddling?” Dylan knew this wasn’t really something to argue about, but he felt irrationally upset. “Back where I come from, a girl does that ‘lean into you’ bit, she’s telling you she likes you a lot!”
“Not all that different where I come from,” she admitted, and sighed. “That’s why I said I was sorry, Dylan. And part of why you’re so upset. The blood connection works both ways. We feel comfortable with each other, whether it makes sense or not. I wasn’t thinking about it at all until you started asking. I should have been watching out for that right from the start, not let you start thinking that way and then shut you down. That was rude and you’re right to be a little put out.”
That did at least explain why he wasn’t feeling even a lingering worry about being around a vampire. Normally you ain’t getting over lifelong conditioning that fast. “Okay. I get it. Sorry for snapping back at you.”
“No worries, mate. Look, there’s another reason I couldn’t anyway; I might be assigned to be, well, your case-worker, your counselor as part of our world. And that means no personal involvement — professional ethics and all.” He saw her grin. “No, that’s not an excuse. Really, I’m not seeing anyone, and right now, not really looking, either.”
Anna wasn’t dating? Well, after her sire left her, he couldn’t blame her; he could hear in her voice how she’d felt about Reggie. Then again, she was a vampire, didn’t they need to feed? Did she just drink from blood-bags like John, or go out on the town, snacking at clubs? He tilted his head, a frown on his face. “Um… do you blood-bag it?”
“Sometimes, or I’ll go clubbing. There are Sanguine clubs around. They volunteer, and we don’t need that much to keep running,” Anna said. “A girl’s gotta live.”
“But, isn’t that supposed to be, um, romantic?” He couldn’t finish asking without a blush. Dylan looked down feeling embarrassed that he had even asked the question. Everything he’d heard about vampire bites said they were sexual. It was one of the ways they brought you under their spell. On the other hand, as he’d learned over the last few weeks, he really didn’t know anything about vampires.
“Romantic?’ Anna raised a brow. “Sometimes. It depends on how it’s done. Yes, I can make it very sexual, and I have in the past. It makes it easier on the donor. But the culture and habits surrounding feeding have changed since the invention of transfusions and blood bags. A vampire has to be careful, and it’s no longer necessary to play mind games or use sexuality to get a nip. I tend to eat in these days.”
The idea of vampires bagging it in front of the TV, like regular folks ate TV dinners, struck him as funny. Dylan shook his head, chuckling. “Never even thought about that. Should have, I guess, but I was too busy remembering the stuff I was taught…”
She nudged him gently on the shoulder. “Well, you know better now, mate.” She led him to the ledge and sat down with her feet dangling over the edge of the building. City lights sparked in her soulful green gaze as the young woman tapped her heel against the wall. She was more careful to leave some space between them as they sat. “When it gets darker, you can see the lights stretch for miles. Granted, it’s not the Milky Way, but it reminds me just how nifty humanity is.”
Vampires with a sense of wonder? He would never cease to be amazed. Dylan watched her full pink lips stretch into a bright smile as she watched the cars and people pass by the buildings below. The scent of fresh baked bread and roasted chicken floated by on the breeze. His mouth watered. “I could get used to it.”
“Good, I was hoping you could. If you’re going to stay in the flat above the muffin shop, you’ll have to. I’ve even arranged for Doctor Frasier to come by and tutor you. You’ll get your high school diploma and be able to start college next year, if, that is, you work your arse off.”
Dylan hadn’t realized Anna took his proposition to remain with her seriously. Granted at the time he was serious, but he was still struggling with the logistics of his plan. “Dr. Frasier? Is he a vampire too?”
“He works at The University of New York. He teaches evolutionary biology, brilliant man, and fully capable of teaching you a basic high school education. He works as a tutor for the kids at the center in the evenings.”
“But is he a vampire?” This Douglas could be anything, a vampire, a skin changer, a ghoul, a zombie, anything. He watched the young woman’s face as she kicked the bricks behind her heels.
“A daywalker vampire. Like Liam, but different.” She grinned at the non-explanation she’d just given him.
“I’ve been hearing that name a lot tonight. When am I going to meet this Liam?”
“When he decides you’re worth his time, Dylan,” Anna said. “He is something of a recluse.” She pointed to a tall five-story gothic brownstone across the street. “He just sits there, rarely coming out unless something catches his fancy or someone pisses him off.”
“And tosses money at his projects?”
“Basically; Douglas does most of his leg work.” She put a hand on the cement wall. “Doctor Smith and his butler do the rest.”
“Is it because he can’t deal with the changes in the world?”
Anna’s pale face watched the street life, distant. Her fingers tapped the wall. “You might think so, but no, he likes seeing the world change. I think it’s more about his past. Guilt, maybe?” She shrugged and leaned back, looked up at the sky. “What I can say is, he can be very harsh. He’s protective of those in his charge and is highly judgmental. But he also depends on the opinions and ideas of the younger ones around him. He was livid when I brought you here, yet he let Douglas and me talk him into taking you in. I won’t lie to you Dylan; he doesn’t fancy you being here, but is willing to give you a chance.”
“I killed your kind, I’d expect that.” He thought a moment. “Do you think he’ll approve of my hunting down Keith Blackwell?” He hoped he knew the answer; someone like this Liam would be an ancient vampire, from an era when personal honor and vengeance mattered.
“As long as it doesn’t cause him trouble, I don’t think he’d care.” Anna told him, but frowned with concern. “But by the time you get out of here, Dylan, you’ll be human again.”
That would be a problem. He frowned. “My choice, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… What if I want to continue being a renfield?” It was against everything his father taught him as a hunter, but in truth, it was the only way he knew of to challenge someone like Keith.
“I’m not going to make you a renfield so you can run off and play tough guy,” Anna told him. “Power isn’t a good enough reason, Dylan. Being a renfield is about responsibility.”
“Wow. You’re giving me the Ben Parker speech.”
“The who?” She looked perplexed.
“Ben Parker. Spider-Man’s uncle. With Great Power comes Great Responsibility, and I get that. I wanna help people with it, like a superhero.” Her blank expression made him scratch his head. “Well, that settles it. I’m sitting you down with some comics. No one should live in New York City of all places without knowing about Spider-Man. Or the Avengers, or the X-Men. In fact, I think John has a few of them in his room. We can start tonight if he’s willing to let us borrow a few.”
“Superheroes? Aren’t they violent?” It wasn’t the answer he expected. “I remember reading the Captain America books during the War.” She stared at him, dubious. “And It’s wrong to assume John would be willing to loan you his books, they are his.”
He didn’t understand. John was a nice geeky guy, of course he’d share his comics.
“I love Cap.” For a moment he thought they had some common ground.
She laughed. “I didn’t have a love affair with the book, but they were entertaining. I did have an affair with big bandstand though.”
Dylan never liked big band music, his grandma did. Somehow, the musical preferences brought it home; Anna and he were from two different worlds. She was an artist from the twenties, when the modern world was still young, and he was a product of the dawn of media and information. He was a hunter. She was a vampire. He liked comic books, movies and TV. She liked big band music, theater and dancing. She liked the city. He missed the country.
“Do you read?” Anna asked. “I mean, besides comics? I like mysteries.”
“Not much time, but I have read some fantasy, and science fiction. I like Tolkien and Terry Brooks. Watch more TV, and films though.” He helplessly shrugged. “Hunting doesn’t give you time to read big books.”
“We can read together some time,” Anna offered. “And if you wish to show me some of this Spider-Man…”
“Really?” She didn’t sound very enthusiastic, but at least he hadn’t made a complete fool out of himself. Here he was, flirting with a vampire girl, and she wasn’t just kicking him off the roof. No, not flirting. Well, maybe I am. This blood-thing is confusing. But she isn’t flirting with me, and I have to keep that in mind. Still, nothing wrong with finding something in common.
Then his past came rushing back and dimmed his enthusiasm. “Anna… have you ever made promises you couldn’t keep?”
The young woman studied him, surprised by the shift in subject. “A few, why?”
“I promised myself I’d save my family. We… lived in terror all the time,” Dylan said. “I wanted us to stop the hunting and change the world; that’s why I wanted to expose the Blackwells as vampires.
“But I let my family down, and now they’re gone. All of them. I know it would have hurt good people like you, but still, I failed my family.” Was he disappointing her now? The young man searched Anna’s gaze. “I have to stop Keith, if not for my family, for the people he’s harming, or going to harm, here.”
“Dylan, you need to let it go,” Anna told him. “It’s too dangerous for you. Let Jason and the other enforcers deal with finding the killers of your friend and sister. You need to follow the path of peace if you want to stay human. Hunting and fighting… that will just make you change faster.”
Nodding, Dylan leaned his elbows on his knees and cupped his chin in his hands, thinking. He didn’t want to die and become a revenant, no… but if he killed Keith, he would complete his revenge. He’d be saved. “So, you won’t Renify me again once I’m let out?”
The frown reappeared on Anna’s face again. “Dylan, no. I just don’t go around making people immortal to play superhero. It’s got a heavy cost. I’d rather you not fall into that. And mark my words, every time you drink, a little bit of you will slip further away, until you can’t escape.”
“But you said seven times.” Dylan told her. “It’s only going to be twice.”
The vampire licked her lips. “I know, but what if he doesn’t show up until a third time? Hmm? Or a fourth? Each drink binds you tighter. Seven is the point of no return, but believe me, you’ll be caught up in the power by three.” She held up three fingers to emphasize her point. “I’d rather you take your time and get your life together before you run off for revenge. There are other ways to change your fate. Letting go of the anger and finding a new path can help, help a lot. I’d much rather you have that. You only need to hunt him down if you have no choice.”
“I can quit.” Dylan told her. He appreciated her concern and didn’t blame her for not agreeing with him. She wasn’t raised as a hunter. “In fact, we can wait until we get a bead on him, which could be months. Though I kind of wanted someone, maybe this Jason guy you’ve mentioned, to train me to fight like this. I need to learn control; right now if I throw a punch I just go through something, even if I didn’t want to break it. Training could take weeks.” He was being practical. Anna wasn’t a fighter. So she wouldn’t understand his motives. “Anyway, let talk about it when we get there. It’s a beautiful night, and I think it’s about time I get to know the lady who saved my life. ”
Anna shook her head, frustrated. “All right, we don’t need to discuss it now.” The concern failed to leave her features but her posture relaxed. “But keep in mind, I saved you because I want you to live a peaceful life, Dylan. Not follow a path of destruction. Okay?”
How ironic; the vampire was trying to save his soul. Dylan shook his head and wondered if it was too late for him already, and if Anna had a place in heaven carved out for her yet. Did it matter? They needed to live in the now. The life of a mortal was short, even if he had gained a month of immortality. “Okay, I won’t forget. Deal?” He extended his hand.
She smiled. “Deal.”
Her hand was icy cold. “We should have brought up sweaters.”
“Bit of an oversight on our part, next time we’ll remember, right?”
The sky was darker and he saw the stars winking dimly down upon the streets, but it was the glow of thousands of windows that struck him with awe. It was as if the entire city was a glowing like a field of giant fireflies…