Chapter 1: A Theory is an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action.
The thing about the vampire was, he wasn’t especially scary.
Until he got hungry.
Earl’s phone kept cutting out, as he tried to shout extra instructions to Kay. That, combined with the noise of the airport behind him and the sound of his wife shouting at him that it was fine, that Kay knew what she was doing, meant that she hardly heard a word he said.
Which was fine. He had gone over everything three times before leaving, left detailed notes and lists on his desk, the counter, the computer, and her voicemail. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been annoying, and she reminded herself - again - that he was leaving his first and favorite child in her hands, and for what would be months, so she shouldn’t blame him.
Still, it was hard to remember that when he was yelling at her about remembering to lay in salt before December when it was September and that it was on the one hundred and twenty-seven point list that she was looking at. Order salt, along with such other winners as -
Take the deposit to the bank every day, except Sunday.
Don’t leave the coffeemaker on.
Clean the bathroom once a week
Special orders are placed Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
In other words, those things Kay and the other six employees of the store had been doing all along while Earl was mostly cocooned in his galley and invoice crammed, fire hazard of an office, placing publisher orders, updating the website and social media, and smoking. For the nearly twenty years since he’d bought the store, he’d not taken more than two or three days off, and those mostly to go to ABA events.
Even when he’d married Solange, Kay had thought that one of the reasons he’d proposed to the professor was she was nearly as much of a workaholic as he was and disinterested in things like honeymoons and weekend getaways.
But when she’d received a grant to study the role of local folklore in the syncretic religions of South America, Solange had dug her heels in and insisted that Earl travel with her. “I won’t let you die having never gotten farther from this ridiculous town than Milwaukee!” Her Quebecois accent grew stronger as they had fought in the science section.
Earl had pulled himself up to his full 5’5 and glared up at his wife, his dark brown skin almost purple with how offended he was, “For you information, Green Bay is farther from here than Milwaukee and I’ve-”
She shook her head, a hand up, “No, no, going to a so-called football game is not the same as traveling. You are going with me, we are going, no arguments.”
There had been many more arguments, though they had occurred while Earl had gone through the process of getting his passport, training Kay on running the elements of the store that she hadn’t learned yet, and putting aside a stack of books for the trip. A stack that was added and subtracted from constantly and would require its own luggage.
Finally, Solange managed to get Earl to say his goodbyes, grabbing his phone long enough to tell Kay that she at least knew the store was in good hands. “The girl has worked for you for three years, idiot.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t know ab-” she heard before he finally hung up.
Kay put the phone down and sat back on the chair behind the register, surveying the store.
Flitcraft’s was the oldest bookstore in town. The oldest store, full stop, having opened two years after the university was founded. For over a hundred and fifty years the massive, three-room store, with its twisted alleys made of overstuffed, ceiling-high bookshelves, and tiny, open spaces where comfortable, sagging chairs had been dragged and abandoned to time and questionable stains, had served both town and gown with a chaotic selection, something approaching organization - at times, and customer service that ranged from pedantic and annoyed to overeager and annoying, depending on the bookseller and the time of day.
And for the next four months, it was hers.
Sipping her now tepid coffee with a grin of triumph, she got up and started the opening procedure, setting up the till, turning on the computers - one for the register and one for placing orders and receiving, though it being Sunday they wouldn’t be getting stock unless someone came in to sell books. With a flourish, she reached behind the high, display case behind the counter - which had not been used for display for at least as long as she had worked there, but rather for held books - and flipped on the lights for the main room.
The store had originally been only one storefront, but had acquired as if by attrition and sheer force of stock, the two that had been on either side of it, and had never been rewired, so each room had its own lights and switches. The west room - sciences, history, social sciences, politics, classics, and foreign language - had been a laundromat in the 70s, and still had the ugly pink and beige linoleum from that incarnation, though it was mostly hidden beneath a monstrous mix of throw rugs held down by electrical tape. Even through the musty smell of old books Kay always thought she could smell the ghosts of fabric softener past.
The east room - Fine and Performing Arts, Architecture, Poetry, Philosophy, and Antiquarian - was the most open of the three, with an open center with a sofa, two wing-backed chairs, and an actual Tiffany lamp that was missing several panes of glass. Unlike the west room, the outside door had not been removed and turned into a window, but was still there, albeit blocked by a heavy, low display case currently featuring a run of a jazz magazine produced in Weimar Germany before the Nazis had imprisoned and later killed its Jewish editor for promoting decadent art.
Turning on the overhead and the Tiffany, Kay frowned at the faded, probably knock off Persian rug that case rested on. Normally Earl opened the store, even on the days he took off, coming downstairs to get the lights on before Kay came in to take over, but every now and then he had left it in her hands.
Most of those times nothing was unusual. But a few times that rug had been pushed a bit, the end of it up as if something had shoved the case - which had to weigh a few hundred pounds when full.
As if someone had come in the door, which was impossible since the lock was rusted into place and the keys for it long since lost.
When she’d jokingly mentioned it to Earl he’d just mumbled something about her imagination.
Even the morning the first winter she had worked at the store, when she’d found the rug disrupted and a few drops of slushy water melting onto the rug and the warped wooden floorboards, leading towards the bookcase that covered the door to that side’s basement.
“Must be ghosts, then,” Earl had laughed. “Shit, that basement was a death trap when Flitcraft himself still owned this place back in the day. Bad wiring, mold, that’s why he had that case built. To keep fools from going down there. Of course, if I don’t get some money to fix the floor in there one day that whole room is going to be in the damned basement.”
Ghosts made a sort of sense to Kay, though she had never said so to Earl, knowing he would laugh himself to death at her for believing in foolish things like ghosts. The last thing she needed was her boss, who thought of her as sensible and level-headed to know the truth. None of which had kept her from doing a few… investigations around the doors in question.
Thus far she had learned that there were scratch marks, deep gouges actually, under the rug near both doors where it looked like someone had pushed the heavy cases.
Earl pointed out that they were clearly old scratches.
She had learned that there was air flowing from under the hidden basement door, which could be seen if one sprinkled a little flour on the floor in front of it.
Earl grabbed a handful of flour and showed her that there was air flowing everywhere in the three stores because they were old and everything was warped. Then he told her to get the damned vacuum.
She had noticed that there was every now and then a slight, low humming noise that seemed to come from the basement.
Earl had shrugged, “So? There’s wires and whatnot down there, girl. You want to go to trade school and come back and fix the electric, for free , I’ll let you in the basement. Hell, I’ll bust open that door myself. Now go check in that Norton order. They shorted us last time, so they better have those critical editions of the Fairy Queen for me. Semester’s already started. Stupid, just stupid.”
The store cat - an old black and grey striped monster, with fringed ears and an attitude just shy of feral who lorded over the aisles and shelves with bland cruelty - would never enter the east room and from time to time would stand just outside of the doorway, hissing and growling at it and scaring the shit out of any customers in there.
Earl had looked at Kay like she was crazy, “He’s a fucking cat.”
And there were other, unexplained things about the store as well. Things that Earl waved off as the normal peculiarities of any old business, especially one as overcrowded and dusty as his was.
Of course, Earl had his quirks too, she thought, as she went to unlock the store and let in Genie, one of the part-timers, who normally did not work on Sunday mornings and was looking a little rough. College , Kay thought to herself, though she had not been the party type even then.
While Genie went to the breakroom to make herself an Emergent C and grab a donut, Kay indulged one of those quirks. Or traditions, he would call them. Every morning, the first piece of music played was always something by Henry Purcell.
Kay settled back in her chair and listened to the melancholy, simple song swim between the stacks and fill the high ceiling, sipping her coffee and planning. She had over four months until Earl was back.
Those secrets were going to be uncovered.
The thing about the zombie who worked at the bookstore was, well, she was really rather brave - for a zombie.
Which, considering what I am, makes her rather stupid as well.
“ O solitude, my sweetest choice! / Places devoted to the night, /Remote from tumult and from noise, /How ye my restless thoughts delight! / O solitude, my sweetest choice! ...”
Adam should have been asleep, or what was sleep for his kind.
Perhaps not sleep so much as a rehearsal for the death to come, taunting him.
The force of the sun on the earth pushing him down and down and down into that impenetrable, silken blackness, it’s weight apparent even through the layers of masonry offering him shelter from the sure and painful death it would happily offer him.
But the sound of Nancy Argenta’s glorious soprano found its way to him, even through the soundproofing he had put in his ceiling and his personal layers of exhaustion.
The heavy grey batten hanging from the ceiling and the musty, dust-laden books and rugs, normally blocked the scents from above, but again this morning something he could smell had also invaded his sleep. His muscles hurt from want of rest, burned even, like he was a zombie who had engaged in a run or used one of those bikes that went nowhere, or some other ludicrous, zombie thing.
Two of the usual clerks were in, as was one customer who he also knew as a regular. Coffee. Fake citrus. Deodorants. Liquor sweats on someone. Expensive yet grotesque perfume, though not much of it. A sandwich wrapped in plastic, made of turkey, spinach, and a spread that was so far divorced from nature he could not tell what it was. A donut covered in cinnamon.
What was it?
One of the clerks, the one who was more or less the default manager of the store, had changed her shampoo. Rather than the overly floral, hippie stuff she had used the last few months she had changed it to something herbal, with a matching conditioner. It was less offensive, actually, he thought.
With a relieved sigh he rolled over, pulling the layers of felted wool blankets and shredded silk quilts over his head, to fall back asleep, or whatever it was, content to be within the quiet void again.
Kay let herself back into the store at midnight, recognizing that it was a very dramatic time to pick. But it was also perfect. The store was closed on Monday, so she wouldn’t have to get up in the morning and it gave her time to poke around, on the one night of the week when most of the bars and clubs that catered to the university were closed so the neighborhood would be quiet. She would even try out her EVP recorder - which she had just gotten but was certain she knew how to use, and figure out where to set up some cameras.
When she could afford cameras.
She could get in a lot of groundwork and be out by dawn and get rested up before coming back to open on Tuesday.
Over five hours later, dusty, tired, and disgruntled, Kay dropped onto one of the chairs in the East room, wishing she had some chips or a pizza, having learned that the bookcases allowed for no good video angles for either door, and that an angry cat sounds fucking terrifying through an EVP recorder, even if you know that’s what you are listening to.
Even more unsettling was that the EVP had picked up nothing else. Nothing. Even if there was no spirit activity in a place it was Kay’s understanding that there should at least me some sounds picked up. Ambient noises that were undetectable normally, or sounds that it would catch at a distance, possibly resolving into pareidolia. Even the cheap one she had, with terrible levels of sound compression, should have at least gotten something other than Cobweb’s garbled yowls.
Trying to remind herself that this was a marathon and not a sprint, Kay pulled her journal and a pen from her supply bag and started taking notes, adding, at the end, “Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit, Moliere.”
There were few things in life, Kay found, that were not better said by another person who had died long before she had been born.
Having resolved to buy herself breakfast, even though she probably shouldn’t spend the money, she had just finished packing up and shrugging into the sweater she left behind the counter, when there was a heavy, scraping sound from the east room.
She had to put a hand over her own mouth to keep from screaming, and quietly and quickly she skirted displays and shelves, phone out, ready for video of… of… anything, everything! - she was in the room when the heavy, scraping started again.
A tall, dark shape had manifested itself near the sealed entrance to the storefront, steamrolling around what in a person would be its shoulders. It turned with inhuman speed, quicker than her eye could track - Kay prayed her phone was faster. This was it!
The entity frowned at her in irritated fury.
She dropped her hand, frowning back, though less in anger than confusion.
The entity/book appraiser crossed his arms, “Why the hell are you here on a Monday?”
“But you’re the… you’re the Antiquarian guy…. Why are you here at all?”
Chapter 2: The Antiquarian Guy
A little recent history.
He had a face.
Of course, he had a face. I knew that he had a face before. I mean, I’d never seen much of his face but I knew it was there.
With the light from the streetlamp behind him, and the darkness of the room I still couldn’t get a very good look at him. Even the image on my phone was weirdly blurry.
Then he got closer and I could see him much too well.
Some winter before …
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Bianca clattered and skittered in her impractical shoes towards Kay, who was sitting on the cold floor with the majority of the astrophysics selection of the store on her lap and surrounding her in the narrow aisle between the physical and formal sciences. Two drunken grad students had come in earlier and ‘fixed’ how they were organized based on how they judged the worth of the authors. While part of her sympathized with the concept of merit-based merchandising, it didn’t change the fact that the alphabet was both their friend and master, and thus should be treated with respect.
“The Antiquarian guy is here,” Bianca announced with a nervous smile. She was Earl’s niece and worked at the store between acting gigs. Though she was nice enough, her shelving left something to be desired in Kay’s opinion.
Also, she read internet poetry and quoted it regularly.
“He’s probably here about that Vulgate bible and maybe the Incunabula of sermons, although I think that’s in such bad shape th-”
Bianca cut her off, which Kay hated, though she was willing to excuse it since the Antiquarian guy made most of the staff nervous. Or horny. Both in Bianca’s case.
“ The Antiquarian guy is here , and Earl isn’t. He went out to grab a slice and he isn’t back yet.” She used the special, emphatic emphasis that she’d used last summer when playing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Kay hadn’t been impressed then and was no more so now.
“So? He’s only down the block, it-”
Again, Bianca cut her off and making Kay grind her molars, talking more quickly, “The Antiquarian guy is here, and Earl isn’t, and Nolan is talking to him.”
“Well, shit,” Kay muttered, gently setting James Condon and Carlo Rovelli aside, standing up and straightening her skirt, slipping back on her saddle shoes, and making sure her ponytail was neat.
Nolan was one of their regulars, who was either a construction worker or a professor of Ethics, no one knew which. He read vintage noir and modern police procedurals by the bagful, selling them back for credit, and was perfectly lovely, except when he was drunk. Then he would come in, talk a mile a minute, some of it in French, call whoever he was talking to ‘pigbelly’. Then he would be banished from the store until Earl decided to forgive him.
“Is he drunk?” she asked, as Bianca followed her to the main room.
Ahead she could hear Nolan’s fast, slurring voice.
“And then, and then, and then, pigbelly, then she said, ‘ Personne n'aime un pécheur, mon garçon .’ What do you think of that?”
Kay sighed. The stress of the end of the semester was hard on everyone.
Nolan was leaning on the counter, probably to keep from sliding to the floor, wagging a finger upwards at the victim of his latest monologue - though not rudely, but loosely, making a point in general rather than emphatically.
Even from behind, Kay could tell the Earl’s Antiquarian guy was irked. The tall, lean man’s shoulders were clearly tight even through the heavy, old, grey wool coat he wore. His long legs were close together, and his crazy hair was only partially hidden under a black knit cap.
From the back, he looked like an irritable, anthropomorphized, exclamation point. “ Personne n'aime un saint non plus ,” she heard him mutter back, his deep, whispery voice almost lost in the swath of silk that wrapped around his neck and mouth.
Bianca made a little keening noise.
“Nolan…” Kay said in her best warning voice.
“Pigbelly!” he said, happy to see her.
“Out,” she flicked a finger towards the door. “Earl’s going to be back soon, so if you leave now he’ll never know you were here.”
For a second he looked like he wanted to argue, but then she put her hands on her hips. With a sigh, he picked up his backpack and left, head down, walking into the snow.
“Sorry, about him,” she said, walking behind the counter. Wanting the expanse of wood and glass between her and the Antiquarian guy. She may have been one of the staff members who he made nervous, though it offended her sense of professionalism. This was her house, so to speak, and she would not be intimidated. “Earl should be back shortly. Can I get you some coffee, or tea?”
Normally he would come in and Earl would be waiting to usher him straight to the back room where he did book repairs and kept the safe, so she’d never had to say more than hello and goodbye. The only things she knew about the Antiquarian guy were that he was English, infallible when it came to provenance, hated small talk, was the only non-employee allowed behind the counter where they kept an entire bookcase just for his special orders, and Earl had known him forever.
Oh, and he never paid for anything, nor did he seem to be remunerated for his work. After finishing an appraisal he would fill the old attache case he always carried with whatever he might want before leaving. A 1960s illustrated version of the Kalevala in Finnish, the entire collection of the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, a special holiday issue of Leg Show from the mid-90s, Electric Arches by Ewing, random volumes of collections of folksongs, musty paperback romances in Urdu, Sounder , A Life Full of Holes , Bleak House, a two-volume biography of Hank Williams that was privately published and never distributed, Confederacy of Dunces , Theory & Design of Loudspeaker Enclosures , and a guide to hydroponics, were just the ones Kay could remember.
Not that she was paying special attention, but over the years she’d developed a good memory for putting faces to books.
Or in the Antiquarian guy’s case, sunglasses to books.
Like most of the oddballs who bookstore owners collected, the Antiquarian guy had some quirks. He only came in at night. He hardly spoke to anyone. He wore leather pants and velvet shirts like a decadent rockstar. And the lower part of his face was always covered. When it was warm outside he wore a medical mask. When the temperature dropped he would swath himself in black silk or cashmere scarves.
Over the cloth-covered prow of his nose, he wore sunglasses. Kay assumed he took them off in the backroom when examining the books. She assumed. She was never allowed back to see his process, even though she had hinted to Earl any number of times she would love to see do an appraisal.
Earl had snorted, “Sure. We’ll sell tickets. Watch a man turn the pages of a book! Whooo! The man does not want an audience. Look at how he dresses.”
No matter how hot it was out, he was always covered in either a coat or a leather jacket and driving gloves.
Only his black, scarecrow hair and pale forehead were ever visible.
Despite this, several of the staff members were a little … fixated on him.
“C’mon, Kay,” Genie had said after he had left the store one night with a German edition of Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison under his arm, bumping her shoulder to Kay’s, “so tall, dark, and that voice? Like he’s just going to make you do the most terrible things? Tell me he doesn’t set off some vibes in you?”
She had shaken her head, confused, “Why would those be good things? While he does have interesting taste, and is clearly quite knowledgeable, there is a decidedly sinister quality to him. Or he’s just another lost soul.”
Genie nodded eagerly, her eyes big, “Yeah, that’s the point. Hot, right?”
Marco rolled his eyes, “Forget it, G, let’s see if we can figure out where he’s going. Kay is looking for Prince Charming, not the Prince of Darkness,” he added as they left the store, stalking the Antiquarian guy. Not that they would be able to follow him, they never had in the past.
“I’m not looking for anyone,” she had called out softly after they were gone.
“I don’t drink … coffee,” he said, looking to the door as if willing Earl to show up. “But thank you,” he added as an afterthought, stepping away to look at a shelf of new arrivals.
His voice was muffled by his muffler, Kay thought, amusing herself. She laughed a little.
“Is something amusing?” he asked, not looking at her, sounding put out and bored at the same time.
Kay felt hot pins of sweat break out on her back, hating having to explain anything, and hating the concept of small talk. Talk should be large or not at all. “Um, I was thinking your muffler is working. On your voice. It’s … er … muffling it.”
He turned his hidden face towards her, “It was first used in the sense of covering, later it was also obturare . To stop up. So yes, I am muffled.”
Then he went back to browsing until Earl came in, carrying a clam-shell container of pizza and a bad attitude because of the wait at Mancini’s and hustled him into the back.
It was the longest conversation Kay had ever had with the Antiquarian guy.
She was prim and prickly and walked with a slight bobble, though in perfectly straight lines, and dressed like a virgin in a Wes Anderson movie. A director whose work I cannot abide.
Other than Rushmore. And maybe the Gene Hackman character in The Royal Tenenbaums.
Yet, Earl trusted her and swore that she knew intuitively where every book in the store was, and she could actually sense when something was misshelved.
I had watched her and the other clerks waiting on the customers often enough to recognize she was the best of an iffy lot, even if Earl liked her a great deal. He certainly liked her more than his niece .
Apparently she also believed in ghosts.
Zombies are ridiculous, even the best of them .
The store was supposed to be empty. It was always empty from sevenish on Sunday night until 8:30 AM on Tuesdays. On the few occasions that Earl or someone else needed to be in the store during that time, he would always be certain to notify Adam well in advance. Days, when at all possible.
Yet here was one of the employees, bold as life and filming him on her no doubt nearly obsolescent phone - planned obsolescence being one of the most disgusting of the many assaults against the earth by the zombies infesting her.
The store was supposed to be empty. His rooms were supposed to be peaceful, with no human scents invading, no sounds making their way through his carefully installed sound dampeners. After the sun was down far enough to not come in the windows he would be able to come up and spend time in the stacks, use the store’s internet access which was superior to his to research instruments and send messages to his lawyers and gofers and move some money around when there was no other choice than to do it himself.
“But you’re the … you’re the Antiquarian guy…. Why are you here at all?” she cried out, her own outrage just as obvious as his.
For a moment Adam almost didn’t recognize her. Rather than wearing one of those prissy jumper dresses with the pixie collared blouse under it, or those stupid short pants and a little sweater set like it the fucking 60s, with her hair pulled back, she wore jeans and a sweatshirt, and her hair was loose. Even then, the jeans were pressed and the shirt looked new, as did the running shoes she wore.
“It’s her ghostbusting outfit,” he thought, mentally rolling his eyes.
For a moment Adam thought it was fate. He had been discovered. It was done. This safe place, carefully picked to be in the middle of goddamn nowhere, but not so in the middle of nowhere that he couldn’t acquire those things he needed to get up each night and make it through to the sun without blowing his brains out. His lair, if you were dramatic, hidden from the world and those few people who knew he was still in it, was blown.
Blown sky fucking high by a woman who seemed to enjoy ABBA, The Magnetic Fields, and Aphex Twin all on the same level and did not seem to recognize the dissonance. A woman who was the only employee at the store not bright enough to be scared of him or weird enough to want to fuck him without actually knowing what he looked like.
Even worse, he remembered the night she’d finally broken up with her last boyfriend and had blasted Little Willy by Sweet, Beethoven’s Ninth, and Run Runaway whilst victory stomping through the store - after closing the register, settling the x-tape, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, restocking the kids’ picture books, and generally straightening up - in her little oxblood oxfords.
She was deranged.
Of course she believed in fucking ghosts. How many times had he seen her, afternoons when then the store was quiet, picking shyly through garbage like Ghostland, or Haunted Heartland , or Passing Strange , the last of which was at least entertaining? Then her hastily setting them down or covering them with another, hipper title, when anyone approached the counter?
Looking for one undead, unreal thing, she had stumbled across him instead, which meant the world’s sense of humour was just as shit as it always had been.
For a moment Adam embraced it, the idea that he was ruined now. That this zombie had found him out and there was nothing to do but turn around, walk outside, and wait for the sun to burn him to shadow and ash as he should have let it do years ago. Or, perhaps, go to the basement, pull out his trusty, well cared for, .38 and let Earl have to answer some uncomfortable questions and deal with his moldering skeleton in return for not looking after his interests the way he had promised, no, the way he had SWORN to, all of those years ago.
You could never trust a zombie, even the good ones.
He was resigned to finally meeting death, even if it wasn’t entirely on his own terms as he had always craved. But then-
She - Kay, her name was Catriona but she went by Kay, he remembered - cocked her head and stepped forward, and then again, and again. Not put off by him, but curious, her head cocked like an eager spaniel.
Unbidden, he heard Eve’s voice, reading aloud from a peculiarly tiny, leatherbound copy of the First Folio under that imposter’s name.
Use me but as your spaniel , spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
Marlowe, it always came back to Marlowe, didn’t it?
Her brow crinkled, her lips grew thin, her eyes narrow, leaning a little forward as she pursued him, his back hitting the glass of the door he had just entered, making the sheet of glass making up the storefront beside it tremble. She studied him and it for that moment he was transfixed by her gaze when he should have moved away from its weight.
Like the weight of the sun.
Then, like a character in a rather silly movie, she leaned back, eyes wide, mouth open.
“You’re A. J. Clarke!”
He hadn’t heard that name since the 90s.
Actually, he had heard it tons of times, just not to his face.
“Everyone thinks you’re dead!” she exclaimed. “Paul, he works here, he looooves your mus-”
Before he had time to consider that walking out into the rising sun might still be the best idea, Adam stepped to her faster than he knew she could see, spinning her around so her body was against his, locking one of his legs around hers, and put two fingers against her carotid, pressing firmly upwards just the few seconds he knew were needed, letting her fall to the floor in a heap.
Staring down, trying to catch a breath that he no longer needed but still found himself chasing when stressed, he gathered himself and pushed open the door to the basement, the bookcase swinging out with a loud thump, then grabbed her arm, hoisting her over his shoulder, looking outside to make sure no one on the other side of the window was observing the abduction before taking her to the basement.
Bitching the whole way.
Chapter 3: I always start with characters rather than with a plot - Jim Jarmusch
Adam tries to not kill Kay. Kay just wants her glasses.
Chapter Three -
I will admit I … panicked a bit.
That name. That fucking name…
What I didn’t know was that I should have kept right on panicking...
... 1995 …
“This is Kurt Loder with an MTV News Special Report. Confidential sources at DGC Records have confirmed that famously reclusive, cult musician, producer, and songwriter A.J. Clarke has gone missing under sinister circumstances. Clarke, named checked as an influence for bands such as Nirvana and Joy Division, as well as for producing for acts as diverse as Tom Waits and The Wu-Tang Clan, was overdue with the last three tracks for his own latest album. After being unable to contact him, representatives for his label traveled to his private home studio in Red Bank, New Jersey. Reports say that the door was unlocked and the interior of was in shambles, and what, according to police that were called to the scene, appeared to be a large quantity of dried blood was found in the sound booth….”
Everything happened very fast.
Adam knew he only had ten, fifteen seconds before the woman - Kay - came around. Using the speed that he rarely needed to call on, he deposited her on his couch, after hastily pushing books, albums, and bits of electronic equipment off and wincing when he heard a leather spine crack, then ran back up, swept her fallen eyeglasses from the floor, resealed the door to both the store and then the basement, and paced back and forth in the small, open space in his lair about five times, whilst stroking his hands through his hair as he tried to calm down and think.
What was he going to do with her? Kill her? Even if he did, and disposed of the body there was no way that Earl wouldn’t know that he was responsible, which would not only ruin one of his few remaining friendships, it would mean he had to move.
Helplessly, he looked around the massive basement and his belongings.
He was not moving.
God, he could have just taken this as a sign that his time was up and walked outside. Seen the sun come up one last time and gone on to terra ignota , to the nothingness, that he had craved even more since his losing Eve. Granted, how much he would be able to enjoy it as he smelled his own flesh cooking and screaming in agony was questionable.
As if sensing his thoughts the zombie bookseller groaned and rolled over, her face pushing into the horsehair upholstery, but didn’t wake up.
Fuck ! Had he done it wrong? It wasn’t as if he had ever actually used the move on anyone. Back when he still fed directly from the source he hadn’t needed subtleties, and it would have been useless on one of his own kind.
Despite not wanting to touch her, he reached out a gloved hand and lightly shook her shoulder. Even though the heavy leather and the thick cotton of her shirt he could feel the refinement of her clavicle and acromion. He could feel skin warmth and the rush of her blood.
How long had it been since he had touched another creature - zombie or … otherwise? More than an errant brush when in an unavoidable crowd, or his hand accidentally touching that of his connection when handing money over for his supply? More than twenty years.
“Hey,” he said, softly, leaning closer, trying to look at her head, thinking that when she dropped she might have hit it, “hey, wake up.”
With a scream.
Scrambling up and over the back of the couch away from him, which was easier because that piercing shriek so close to his ear scared the living fuck out of him and would have deafened a zombie, and did send him reeling backward. Wild eye’d, she looked around and then ran for the door. There was a little disorientation to her movements, and he wondered again if she had hit her head, or if he had cut off her blood flow for too long.
If he had unconsciously let his touch linger where he felt the pulse of -
Adam took three steps, reaching the door first, leaning his back against it. She stopped just before she bounced off of him, and he put up his hands, making her flinch. “I’m not going to hurt you, but I can’t let you leave. Not just yet.”
She looked around, probably for a weapon. Considering the number of instruments laying around, along with broken bits of machinery and metal he was planning on fixing or repurposing, there was pretty much no end of things that could be used to hit someone over the head or even stab them with, if you were determined enough.
With a start, Kay felt her face, and then around her person, “Where are my glasses?”
Adam fiddled with them where they rested in his pocket but said nothing. She wasn’t that blind.
For a few seconds she was more concerned with where they were than with she was frightened of him, digging through the cushions on the couch, pushing even more debris to the side. Rather irrationally she started looking around the room, as if she had set them down somewhere.
He let her go on like that, until she became less frantic and more calculating, her eyes screwed up, taking in his bed, his monitors, the guitar stands, the rack of violins and violas, the open wardrobe nearly bursting with his clothing, and the wine glasses which, thankfully, he had cleaned just that day for the first time in ages.
“You live down here?” Then she paced over to his bank of monitors, fear clearly forgotten at the moment, leaning in and squinting myopically as she looked at the six different views of the store, as well as the front and back doors. “You live here and you spy on us? Does Earl know you live down here?” Her ladylike voice was full of maidenly outrage, straight from the 19th century. It would have been funny if he was inclined to laugh.
Adam rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. Not answering. He had resolved some time during the Enlightenment to never answer a rhetorical and/or idiotic question again. It was the same time he had resolved to never again drink blood mixed with applejack and for much the same reason.
She rolled her’s right back at him, “Of course he does. That jerk.” Taking a few unsteady steps, she lowered herself to the couch, sitting very straight, her knees primly together, “At least there isn’t one showing the bathrooms.”
“I’ve done a lot of disgusting things in my life, but I’m not a voyeur,” Adam said, frowning.
Sweeping her hand towards the monitors, Kay said, “I beg to differ,” then dropped her head into her hands. He could see and smell sweat breaking out on her forehead and she was looking pale. “I think I’m having an aneurysm. AJ Clarke is alive, living in the basement of the store, and is surveilling us and appraising books for a living.”
“That’s for security.”
“Does Elvis live under the pharmacy? Cause my grandmother is still in love with him.” Her voice shook a little, and so did her hands.
“No, Prince lives there. Elvis moved to Dayton about four years ago.”
That got him a little laugh. Hoping to keep her calm, he slid his back down so he crouched, still against the door, with his hands dangling loosely between his thighs and spoke in his smoothest, calmest tones. “I know this has to be more than a little shocking to you. Frankly,” he lied, “Earl wanted to let you in on it, but I pay him rather a lot of money to keep his mouth shut.”
“How do you know Earl?” Then, more softly, she asked, “Do you have my glasses?”
“He had a brief career as a studio musician in Memphis in another lifetime. One of his last gigs before he quit and bought this place was on one of my records.” Then, even though she didn’t ask, he added, “ A Document Regarding Abandoned Factories. All instrumental. He played bass and piano on three tracks.” Adam ignored the second question.
“I never heard of that one.”
“No one did,” he said, ruefully.
“It sounds pretentious.”
“It was 1989,” he shrugged. “It was supposed to be a soundtrack for a film that never got made. I never got paid for it, now that I think of it.”
Even though he didn’t need it, it still pissed him off that that bastard Jarmusch still owed him money.
“Why are you … why are you here?” She looked at him, her great, blue eyes seemed weak and tired without her regulation, black-framed hipster glasses. “So many people think you’re dead… Please tell me that Biggie and Tupac have made up.”
“Why is it that so many of you find it impossible to communicate without pop culture references?” He tried to keep his voice down, but the whole situation was stressing Adam badly and his fangs were scratching at his gums. He wasn’t even hungry and they were aching to burst out.
Unconsciously he appraised her and thought, the great saphenous , that’s where he would take her blood. High up in that juicy, lovely leg, blood that had fed their organs and now tasted of their life, rich and dark. Tasting just of her, not plastic or metal or even crystal, with the salt of her skin and maybe, hell, probably, a touch of the wet crawling down her thigh for savor.
He might as well have been one of the others , thinking like that. Might as well have been back in the Thirty Years War, if he was going to be a fucking animal.
She was speaking.
“So many who? Millennials?”
He felt his fangs go quiescent. As if there were any differences between zombies based on something as ridiculous as when they were born. Twenty years was a blink of the world’s eye.
“Just-! Never mind. Listen,” he reached slowly into his jacket pocket and pulled out her glasses, holding them out as far as his arm could reach with moving towards her, “I am really, very, very sorry for what happened upstairs. I shouldn’t have overreacted that way, shouldn’t have touched you, shouldn’t have-”
“Knocked me out?” Hunched over, she took two little steps from the couch and reached out as far as she could in turn, snagging the arm of her spectacles with the tips of her fingers and putting them back on, adding a layer of armor to herself. Taking her prim little seat again, she now stared at his face. Probably noticing that he looked pretty good for what she thought his age was.
“Er, yes. I know this is all a bit of a shock,” he ignored the smirk she gave him, “and you probably want to talk to Earl about everything. But I need your word that you won’t tell anyone I’m here.”
For a few seconds she didn’t say anything. Adam wondered if he would have to kill her after all, find a new place to stay. Lairing was such a drag, and he didn’t want to kill anyone. Any zombies, that was. He wondered if he should offer her money. He wondered how long he should wait for her to answer.
Finally, Kay frowned, “I am going to need to talk to Earl, yes.” She nodded a little, more to herself than him. “While there is a part of me that feels I should call the police, I won’t. I should. But I won’t. For Earl’s sake. He would hate to have them and the press all over the store. He hates the police. Except for Officer Page. She’s our beat cop,” she added, as if he might care. “Can I go now?”
Her eyes met his with no hesitation, but liars always looked you in the eye.
They were stronger, behind the lenses, but less blue.
He should probably kill her.
Instead he stood, his back sliding on the door, “I’ll have to let you out. The door at the top of the stairs is a little … tricky.”
Unless you were preternaturally strong, he added silently to himself.
She kept a few steps between the two of them and waited for him to push it open, pretending to fiddle with the knob. The bookstore was already getting light as the sun was rising. God, he was fucking tired.
There was just a little space at the top of the stairs, and even though they both pressed as far as they could in opposite directions they ended up touching. When he’d been carrying her down the stairs his adrenaline - or whatever he had in its place since there had never been a proper medical study done of his kind - had overwhelmed his senses.
Just the barest brush of her forearm to his hand sent wild images into his head.
Fuck fuck fuck. He was going to have to start eating more. The austerity diet he’d had himself on for years, to keep from overtapping his source, was clearly not enough. Just outside of the doorway, she turned and put out her hand like she as a banker finalizing a loan or some other bullshit. “Please don’t come into the store any time soon.”
It would cost him to touch her hand.
At that moment, because as he had thought before, the universe was a bastard, a car drove by.
Light from the sun bounced from it’s side mirror, through the plateglass of the store window, catching the screen of Kay’s dropped phone, and lashing out like a whip of fire to catch his wrist where his hand was extended, just about to take hers.
Like a fucking character from a shit movie, Adam reared back, clutching his burned flesh, hissing, his fangs extending from the pain.
Kay, her brain clearly one shock over the line, backed up, one step, two steps, then more and more and out of his reach on the other side of the sun line. Then she ran.
Having no other choice, Adam retreated, the door of his lair slammed against the light, the smell of his own cooked skin in his nose, trapped until dark.
Or until the torches came.
Chapter 4: No One is Getting Any Sleep Over It
Kay tries to find out more about vampires, Adam tries to sleep.
Kay ran home.
Leaning on her building, wiping and smearing her sweat fogged glasses, she remembered she had left her purse and her car at the store, which was unlocked. Standing upright, holding her chest while trying to catch her breath, she wondered if it was safe to go back. Yes, the vampire had burned his hand in the sun, which should now be flooding the store, but for all she knew he had some kind of sun-proof suit down in that pile of junk he called home and was now donning it in anticipation of following her to rip out her throat in order to keep his secret safe.
Then she reconsidered.
There was no version of such a suit that would be cool enough for someone who dressed the way the vampire did.
“For someone who dresses the way the vampire does…” Kay said it out loud, hand loosely laying on the handle of her apartment building door. “Good morning Ms. Ramirez,” she said distractedly, opening the door for her neighbor who was a night shift manager at one of the big hotels near the campus.
“‘Morning, Kay, early for you.”
“Uh, huh,” she answered, having not really heard the other woman.
“ For someone who dresses the way the vampire does ….”
There was a vampire. She had met him. Many times, but now she had actually met him met him. If there was a vampire who knew what else there was…?
She could have lived without her purse, and her car, but she felt too guilty leaving the store unlocked, so Kay steeled herself and turned to walk back. Then she turned half back towards her neighbor, reminding herself of the social contract, “Yes, I have to go to the store. Have a good day.”
“You, too, dear.”
The streets were mostly still empty, but a few people were out, errant joggers primarily.
Considering how badly out of breath she had been from the few blocks she’d run from the store Kay decided to look at her schedule and find a place to fit in some exercise. When she was younger she had jogged a few days a week and to the best of her recollection, it was something she hadn’t hated. The newest revelation that the world had shared seemed to imply that being able to run for a sustained time was probably wise as well as healthy.
With ghosts, it had never seemed like it would matter.
Though she remembered that the vampire had been very fast, faster than she could see, faster than she would ever be able to run. She almost walked into a man walking a dog. The dog was delighted and wagged its tail, jumping up and putting its damp paws on her jeans. “Did it rain?” she asked while giving an ear scratch. The man, who gave her an annoyed look, gestured to the puddles in the gutter and on the old, cracked sidewalks, and jerked the leash to make the dog follow.
Stopping for a coffee at Java Joan’s was both a delaying tactic and because she really needed it after being up all night - apart from the short time the vampire had knocked her out. After adding three sugars Kay remembered she had ordered a mocha. She drank it anyway. Though she knew it was impossible she could feel the heat and sugar moving through her body and she wondered if she might be in shock.
The store looked exactly the same as it did every morning.
The windows needed to be washed, but the service wouldn’t be there until Thursday, and it was time to change out the display in the center window - it was held for new releases. The other two were themed and would wait until it was time to put up the Halloween books. Through the door, she could see her bag.
Dithering made her angry. Dithering was illogical and wasteful.
Inside, the store was quiet and shadowy. Rather than grabbing her bag and hightailing it, Kay turned the lock on the door behind her and headed to the deepest part of the stacks, by way of fiction.
To another person the store, especially the middle section, might seem ominous, gloomy, and sinister. Even if they didn’t know there was a monster in the basement. The shelves in this oldest part were all slightly out of true and overly jammed, the air was thick with dust and the smells of cracking, dried out paper, must, and slightly funked leather, and with even a light step the floors creaked and so did the shelves. Some rocked a bit, and from time to time a book would fall for seemingly no reason.
Kay, despite knowing about the monster in the basement, felt safer here than anywhere else she had ever been. The stacks were her armor, the books her weapons, she felt stronger among them. Which was exactly the sort of thing she had spent most of her life training herself to not say out loud, though she had never found a way to stop thinking them for very long….
Just past History, around the corner from Religion, crammed on a few shelves between Christianity and Folklore/Mythology, was Flitcraft’s Occult section, apart from a handful of books on haunted locations in the state, which were in Local Interest. Such as it was.
Like many subjects in books, the occult went in and out of fashion, and with the exception of a few horror fans, some goths and metal fans, and few less predictable types of which Kay herself was one, it had been decidedly out for some time. Yet even with her own near obsession with hauntings and manifestations, in addition to some slight curiosity about non-Wicca witchcraft, she had never gone through the ‘vampire phase’.
For one thing, she’d look silly in black.
Fortunately, there were a few titles - most probably bought used by Earl years before she had started at the store - from during and after the vampire craze of the early to mid-90s. She sat in the narrow space between the shelves and sorted through them, losing hope as she went.
There was that Ramsland thing about people who lived as vampires, and the one about the disappearance of a reporter researching the lifestyle. Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, and Montague Summers were all represented in multiple printings, of course. More fun but even less useful was an old, beat-up paperback from the 1970s collecting encounters with the undead through the ages. A big book called The Vampire Gallery looked promising but turned out to be more about how the image of the vampire had changed over time and probably belonged in Pop Culture or Lit Crit rather than Occult. And last and certainly least, almost lost behind some larger volumes, was a skinny, self-published thing that was little more than a pamphlet with a lurid purple cover, that turned out to be rather gruesome erotic poetry about a woman being devoured by her bat-like lover.
Which she seemed to be enjoying.
Frustrated as well as getting nervous again, not to mention hungry, Kay returned them to the shelves, re-alphabetizing as she went. Needing to eat was making her shake, and she dropped the Vampire Gallery and knocked a few books on astrology over as well.
After getting something to eat she would need to go to the library, even though she was in dire need of a shower it couldn’t wait. The idea of stripping off her clothing before she knew if she could do anything to protect herself wasn’t possible. While giving the shelves one more scan on the off chance a customer had put exactly the book she needed away wrong, her phone rang, the LaLaLa song from AHS echoing in the quiet store.
Kay didn’t recognize the number so she let it go to voicemail. Whoever it was didn’t leave a message.
It rang again.
She hung up on it and Googled the number, but nothing came up.
They rang again.
It was probably her father. He never remembered to tell her when he had a new number and refused to leave voicemails.
“Do you have any idea how much noise you’re making? It’s like there are five of you up there.”
It was the vampire.
Rancid fear sweat prickled all over her body, and she could taste bile in the back of her throat.
Kay hung up, slung her bag over her shoulder, and headed for the door. Her phone rang again, just as she touched the door. She tried to ignore it, but finally, unable to stop herself, jumping up and down in little, annoyed and frightened hops, she finally answered. “And that’s not only loud, you look like an idiot. Which you must be, coming back here.”
His deep, resonant voice was snippy and irritated. Kay was grateful for it, that nasty tone being just what she needed for her temper to overcome how scared she was.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping? Or dead?” she hissed at him. Then, “Wait, I- are you watching me?” She looked up and saw where the tiny camera was positioned above the counter. When she’d asked Earl about it, he’d said something about ‘security firm’ and ‘none of her business.’
“Of course. I hear someone tromping around up there when the store is supposed to be closed am I not going to look? I thought you’d have run all of the way to Canada by now. Or’d be collecting stakes and pitchforks and flaming fucking torches.”
He sounded exhausted.
She flipped off the camera.
The sound of his eyes rolling was deafening.
Then he sighed, a very human sound, “Kay … Miss Tilney,” his voice was raspy and his accent was heavier, as if the weight of staying awake was bearing down on it as well, “we clearly need to talk. I hope you take it as a sign of … good faith that I didn’t try to hurt you when it would have been really easy.”
Kay considered. Her hands were shaking worse, her head was throbbing. “Ok, talk.”
There was silence on his end and then a grunt. “What? Oh yes, I was-”
“Did you fall asleep ?” she asked, outraged and incredulous.
“Listen, do you know how debilitating it is for someone like me to be awake at all this late in the day? Especially when I am trying to heal?”
“No, I don’t,” she hated how huffy she sounded, but then he sounded huffy too. It was just that when you were a man with a gorgeous baritone and an English accent huffy sounded sexy , whereas she knew she most likely just sounded childish.
Which made her wonder how old he was. Was asking a vampire how old they were considered rude?
“Alright. You need to sleep. I am probably going to fall over once my adrenaline stops bouncing like a super ball. How about we meet somewhere?”
He snorted, “No. I don’t go out in public.”
“I’m not having you over or going downstairs.”
“We could meet in the store.”
Now she snorted, “Fuck that.”
Her’s was the only breathing that could be heard.
“Fine! Fine. Pick somewhere and a time.”
“Paul’s Lounge. 8:00.” She hung up before she could change her mind.
Adam scowled at the baseball hat.
The worst hat in the history of hats, ubiquitous and beloved of the zombies, ugly, cheap, and stinking of the oil and chemicals wasted in making the thing. Managing to make everyone who wore one look shitty and bland at the same time, usually marking allegiance to some larger organization that was very happy to take money in return for the privilege of offering them free advertising, he hated even touching it, let alone putting it on.
It was one of the perfect fucking symbols of the modern, zombie world.
Adam knew he’d had one somewhere, and sure enough he found one in the back of the mahogany armoire he used to store most of his clothing, it having been tossed in ages ago. God knew where the fucking ugly thing came from. Maybe Earl had given it to him, or he’d found it in box of albums he’d purchased at an estate sale.
This was the stupidest idea he’d had in decades, if not a century. He broke three rubber-bands trying to pull his hair back before he finally managed it. One of them twanged out of his fingers, unerringly hitting the mostly healed burn on his wrist.
Why had he taken off his fucking gloves? After depositing the woman on his couch it had been an unconscious act, proof that even the undead suffered from being on automatic.
Even more goddamn frustrating was wanting to know why had he taken her hand?
In one way he was thankful for the burn. That bit of contact, the slide of her fingers across his palm, then her small palm pressed against his, the warmth of it on his skin and seeping deeper. The first skin to skin touch he’d had since … Eve.
Her voice was a phantom that he, like some Heathcliff wanna be, begged to haunt him - clear and lush and ever-smiling was his Eve’s voice.
For a moment, his eyes closed and they lay in their little bed in the Villa Lucia, moonlight silvering the room, his head on her lap as she stroked his hair and recited from memory. “O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair…Oh, Marlowe…”
Bending over him, her pale hair a halo, their lips had done as hands did. One of her fangs nipped his lower lip, and she’d lapped at it like a kitten….
Even worse than feeling of Kay's skin, even worse than feeling how the blood moved through the veins of her wrist - blood whose scent reminded him of bittersweet chocolate and oranges - when his fingertips brushed them was the sense flash of her. Kay. The unavoidable knowing that came from touch, one of the cursed blessings of his kind, which grew stronger with time. Forced into knowing that her toes were pinched in those new trainers, she had been born a month early, there was a scar near the small of her back, she had never-
His eyes snapped open, and Adam yanked on his gloves, slammed the cap over his head where he could swear he felt it poisoning his mane, then fishing a pair of sunglasses from where they had fallen under his desk, idly noticing three more pairs, two paperbacks, and a cathode-ray tube he’d forgotten he even had. Even Adam knew he needed to do something about his space. At least the noisy bookseller offered him an excuse to not clean up.
Normally he wouldn’t leave the store so early, and since classes at the university had only been in for a few weeks, the streets were filled with giddy, excited, hormone-addled students and tired, bored adults bouncing from store to store to bar to bar to restaurant to restaurant.
Phones and headphones and air buds and consuming all working to cocoon them in a safe little prison on half-assed engagement with the world.
Overhead, the bubbly sound of a bobolink - dolichonyx oryzivorus - singing to his mate could barely be heard over the sound of traffic and chatter. The shirring noise of wind through a sugar maple - acer saccharum - that was just barely beginning to turn pinkish-red around the edges of its leaves accompanied it.
Not, he thought, that they would get a proper turning of leaves this fall. Every year since he’d moved here Adam had seen that glory decline to a pale shadow of what it had been. Climate change, that mealymouthed way of describing the end of the world, had put paid to that yearly marvel.
The lights from the stores polluting the dark.
The cars burning oil.
The stink of diseased blood, not so common here as in other places it was true, but still more of it burning his nose every day.
It all combined to put him in a less than happy frame of mind when he reached the bar. The windows were darkened, but he could easily see through them. He’d never been in there before of course, but it was a fixture of the town since the 80s, with low old couches as well as the standard table, a vintage pinball machine that Adam could tell needed to be tuned up, an upregulation pool table, and a massive, fake tree with wide plastic leaves and twinkling fairy lights, shading the already dark room.
People loved it. It was legendary.
Of course they did. Of course it was.
Kay was seated right in the middle at a round table, nervously fiddling with a bottle of cheap beer. He watched her for a few moments, in her pixie collared blouse and her yellow cardigan, and her hollow, scared eyes behind those big, black glasses. At her elbow were several library books, and Adam couldn’t help it, he almost smiled.
When he entered she looked up, the sight of him making her straighten her spine and her sweater.
There were five other patrons at the bar, and an additional twelve all around the room. Other than the bartender there was a waitress working the floor.
He could kill them all before any of them would reach the door.
Despite everything, he really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Chapter 5: Detente, or Scenes From Something Approximating a Friendship
Adam and Kay talk.
Adam took the seat across from Kay, his back to the door, which he didn’t like but there wasn’t much he could do about it unless he sat next to her, which would be awkward and, based on how hard her heart was beating, might cause her to pass out from stress. He didn’t feel that all that different, stresswise. Being in public, around zombies, around their smells and their blood and their noise, and there was always the possibility someone would recognize him.
They stared at each other for a full minute. The waitress dropped another beer for Kay, breaking the tension, “Do you want anything?” she asked him.
“No,” he said. Then, when she had walked away, he added in a low, portentous voice, “I don’t drink… beer…”
Kay slammed her hand on the stack of books, “Stop doing that!”
“Sorry, but you were tense enough to shatter.” Then he half shrugged, “ I thought it was funny.”
“Then you don’t have a very good sense of humor, Mr. Clarke,” she said, taking a long pull of the shit lager she seemed to favor.
“Adam,” he said through gritted teeth. “Just Adam. I haven’t been… that other person for a long time now, and I don’t plan on being him again.” He looked around, paranoid and certain this was a bad idea. “Don’t say that name again.”
She put the bottle down and frowned at him. “No one here is going to recognise you. That was a long time ago.” She gestured to the ugly, blaring, and bright internet jukebox hanging on the wall, playing Post Malone. Sunflower. “I am pretty sure that no one in this place is going to be playing your greatest hits. Besides which, you look so much like you looked twenty-five years ago no one would ever think you were you. Adam.”
“You knew who I was.”
She shrugged, “I’m extremely good with faces, and I was in shock. If you’d played it off I would… well, I would still wonder what you were doing there, but I wouldn’t have believed you were you-know-who.” She whispered the last part.
She was probably right.
Adam hated that. He hated himself for having outed himself not just as AJ Clarke, but as… as what he was, to this woman. “Fine,” he said, crossing his arms and not speaking.
Kay drank a bit more beer. “Um… are… is there… um.” As she stumbled over her words, she tapped her fingers on the stack of books. “Is there... anything…”
A nicer person, which Adam hadn’t been even when he’d been a person, would have taken pity on her. Instead, he gave her a bland look. Finally, she straightened that prim little sweater, and the demure little skirt she was wearing, and put her oxford clad feet next to each other, folding her hands and asked, “Is there anything in these books that might be of use to me understanding you as we go forward?”
Frowning, he cocked his head and looked at the stack. “What makes you think I’ve read any of those? Do you read every book about nosy booksellers that comes out?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
Actually, he did, too.
The trees had finished turning and some of them were already losing their leaves. Adam had come into the store just before closing to look at some books that Earl had sent from Brazil. A two-volume Vulgate Bible from the 16th century that had been translated by a monk into what he thought was a phonetic version of Tupinambá, that would be useful in converting the indigenous people. He’d scoffed at the idea, “Yes, because using the Latin alphabet to make up a false version of an existing language is going to make the idea of Jesus crystal clear. Still,” he tenderly turned the pages, his fingers stroking the air just above the vellum, “at least he could be bothered to learn to speak to the people whose way of life they were about to destroy. But his work is exquisite. Look at the depth of color. That blue, I’ve never seen anything like it. Not just lapis.”
He looked up at her from over the scarf covering his nose, “You know, the Egyptians invented the concept of blue? Before them it doesn’t exist in art. If someone with your eye colour had been around previous to them there would be no word to describe it. Fuck,” he turned another page, shaking his head at the weird writing, “but God has a lot to fucking answer for.”
Afterward, when the last customers had been ushered out, and Adam had finished his notes on the book he’d turned to her while pulling his leather gloves back on, “Did you bring your car tonight?”
“Do you need a ride somewhere?” Behind her Genie was giving her a thumbs up. The rest of the staff had decided that there was something going on between her and Antiquarian Guy since he actually bothered to talk to her when he came in now.
As if that were possible. But what could she say? “Even if I were interested in having sex with the most grumpy man on the planet he’s not interested. He’s not interested in me”
Though it had made her wonder, did he have sex? Could he even have sex? Wouldn’t there be vascular issues?
It was suddenly very hard not to look at the front of his black jeans and speculate.
“No, I have a car. I wouldn’t get into that dinosaur burning piece of shit you drive. It’s not raining for the first time in a while, and I thought if you were walking I’d walk you home.” Then he leaned closer and whispered, “You told me you wanted to learn more about me, about what I’ve seen and done. It would give us a chance to talk.”
“I’ll lock up!” Genie practically sang out, while Kay was having a little vascular trouble of her own from that whisper, which her coworker had mistaken for being romantically intimate.
Even after a month in which she hadn’t seen a hint of fang or claw, the idea of walking on a dark street alone with Adam scared her. Now, looking at him she realized that he was testing her in some way. “Sure. As soon as I’m done with the deposit.”
He lifted a copy of a Tana French mystery - The Likeness. “It’ll give me a chance to read this.”
The book he was holding was from her recommend shelf. Oddly flattered, Kay grabbed the cash drawers and headed to the office.
“Are you saying you want me to tell you which books might give you useful information on… what I am? That’s pretty gutsy for a girl wearing a pixie collar.”
“I don’t see what bearing my clothing has on it. I like this blouse,” she said, looking down at herself with a frown. Maybe yellow hadn’t been the best choice for tonight but otherwise, she looked fine. “And since we are at a power imbalance I would rather not be at a knowledge imbalance as well. But if you don’t know anything about these-”
The vampire, grumping in silence, motioned for her to hand him the stack of books. Grabbing the one on top of the stack, he flipped pages almost more quickly than she could follow, passing his hand over each in turn. Over the years it had been a secret pleasure of hers to watch him go over the books he appraised. There was a ritual to it. Earl insisted that everyone, including himself, wear latex gloves when touching the rare books, everyone but his pet appraiser.
Kay would find things to do around the counter when he worked. She told herself that it was because she was interested in learning more about the rare book trade.
That it was educational.
He would slowly slide off the leather gloves he wore all of the time otherwise, exposing his big, elegant hands. Those hands that seemed far too large for those long, lean arms. Then, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, as if about to do something physically taxing, he would slowly open the cover, with reverence. With care. His examinations very thorough and his fingers nimble and sensitive, as if he were learning as much by touch as he was by sight.
Now and then, if a book was especially unusual, a small sound would escape him, causing him to stop and gently brush a fingertip over and over a spot, his eyes closing. Caressing raised lettering, or the embossed and tooled leather of the covers, or the gilding on the edges of the paper.
It was intense. At times too intense and Kay would have to find a task elsewhere in the store, not wanting to accidentally meet his eyes. That would be too intimate.
Now in less time than it took for her to finish her Rolling Rock he had gone through all five books, carelessly shoving them away as he went. “Trash. Trash. This one has a chapter worth reading. Trash. Not even trash,” he said, as closed the last one.
“I- you-,” she leaned forward, whispering furiously, “are you telling me you just read all five of those books.”
“Yes. It was like upending a used litter box into my brain, but yes.”
Unsnapping her handbag, Kay pulled out her favorite Moleskine notebook - the classic with a soft cover - and a pen and added to her notes.
Or tried to. With that same unnatural speed, he had plucked it from her hands and was rifling through it. “Hey, that’s private!”
“Not if you’re writing about me it isn’t.” He frowned at the pages, “Is this shorthand?”
“Yes. I have five brothers, so I taught it to myself so I could keep a journal and not worry about my privacy. I didn’t take vampires into account.”
“We don’t like that word,” he said distractedly as he read. Unfortunately, it looked like he could read shorthand, too.
Very little in her book was about him, but she refused to try and get the book back from him, knowing she’d fail and look stupid in the process. “What do you like to be called.”
“Adam, in my case.” He flipped pages back and forth, brow furrowed, “We all have our own names. Just like you zombies.”
He motioned to the rest of the patrons in the bar. Some were on their phones, the rest were watching a reality show with no sound. “Zombies.”
Now it was her turn to frown and cross her arms, “I am not a zombie.”
He closed her notebook and tapped it on his palm, “Maybe not, it’s too early to say. Your taste in music is fucking terrible, still.”
She stacked the books neatly, putting the one that wasn’t entirely useless on top, folding her hands primly on the table. “While I was at the library I spent most of my time doing research into crimes in town, as well as the other ones in the area. Looking for -”
“I can guess what you were looking for,” he said, impressed despite himself. He had known she was an intelligent woman, but it took a really cool head to spend the day looking into unsolved disappearances and peculiar murders, not just folklore and fantasy, let alone to come here and confront him.
“Then you know that I didn’t find anything. At least nothing that struck me as… supernaturally suspicious. Or, er…” she hesitated.
Adam huffed and leaned back in his chair, his head tilted, “Nothing involving fully exsanguinated corpses, or cattle mutilations? It’s always the cattle mutilations that make you people think of werewolves and little green men, isn’t it? Instead of just assuming drunk teenagers or purely mortal maliciousness? But, if my word means anything to you, no, I have not killed or even drunk from anyone here, or anywhere else for that matter, in decades. Nearly a century at this point.”
He realized he was speaking at a normal volume about things that were only meant to be spoken of in whispers, but the zombie lack of curiosity had its advantages. No one could be bothered to put down their devices long enough to eavesdrop. What was the goddamned world coming to when they weren’t even nosy any more?
At least not in person. Adam hadn’t the slightest doubt that any one of the other bar patrons could tell him all sorts of lurid and private details of the lives of the rich, famous, and banal zombie they each chose to worship like a household god of old.
“Stop that,” Kay’s voice was snippy and annoyed.
“Sneering. You are just sneering. Anyway, yes, no strange cattle thingies.” He rolled his eyes at her and sneered harder, she frowned back at him and doubled down, “Thingies, or bodies with most or all of their blood missing. Although,” she leaned forward, “if a regular human stomach can only hold about a quarter of a gallon at a time, and a human body has over a gallon of blood, unless you, um, others , have weird stomachs I don’t know how you would drink a whole person dry. Do you have weird stomachs?”
“How did you know how much a stomach could hold and how much blood was in a body?”
“When I was looking into the crimes I started to wonder how exactly it would work so I looked it all up. I mean, I didn’t go too deeply into it, just Google and a few books.”
Adam was impressed.
He hated it.
“As far as I know the size of our stomachs is no different than one of yours,” he stopped himself from saying the Z word.
She made a note.
Watching her write her little notes, Adam tried to remember the last time he’d just talked to someone. Really talked, not exchanged information and goods and services, but had a conversation? And who with? Earl, probably, when he’d first moved into the basement. Even then, his old acquaintance was even less inclined to chit chat than he was, and the dust in the basement bothered Earl’s allergies, so it had been ten years or more easily.
Finishing her writing, she closed the book, capped her pen, and put them back in her bag. “Considering that you have been down there for such a long time, and that you have done no harm, I see no reason for anything to change going forward.”
“How magnanimous of you. What makes you think that I feel the same way? What makes you think I won’t follow you home - to 999 Williams St., apartment 4-B, which is a fucking ugly building by the way - rip open that cute little collar and sink my fangs nice and deep into you and test just how much volume my stomach can handle?”
Her mouth grew primmer and tighter, and her face paler, and her pupils much, much bigger. Adam could feel his fangs wanting to descend and it made him feel malicious, “You’re B+, aren’t you? I can smell it from here. Pretty rare and utterly delicious.”
“Stop trying to scare me.”
“Ugh, no, please, stop. That sounds like when someone is having an anxiety attack. In fact, it may be giving me an anxiety attack.”
The vampire stopped playing, but stared down at the keyboard for a full minute before he lifted his head and scowled at her, “The harpsichord is one of the most delicate and refined instruments ever created. With the woodwork involved in the making of even the simplest one they are works of art that create art in turn. Just one simple passage,” he played the quick, spritely beginning of a piece that he had told her before was by Handel, in a way that made her believe he had known the composer personally, “also works as a time machine, taking the listener back to the more graceful and intellectually curious time that it is a symbol of.”
“Sure. I’m sure it was wonderful. If you were a white male. A wealthy white male.”
He rolled his eyes. Again. This time when they reached their apex he stopped for a moment, as if asking the ceiling to give him strength.
His eye rolls were an entire language unto themselves and she was just starting to understand it. “You said you wanted to know more about Baroque music, didn’t you?”
“Violin or guitar please,” she said, setting back onto the couch with Neil Stephenson’s Quicksilver. Then she sat up to over the back of the sofa at him again, frowning, “How did you get that thing down here anyway.”
He gave her an enigmatic look, then delicately picked a violin made with golden wood from a rack of string instruments and lifted it to nestle under his chin, raising a bow that he held gently in his spidery fingers, making a point of not answering her .
The arrogant jerk almost smiled at her, his eyes narrow, the tip of his tongue barely visible in his open mouth. “I’m not trying to scare you, I am scaring you.”
“Of course you are, I’m not stupid. Even if you weren’t… what you are… I’d be scared. I’d be right to be scared. You’re a man, who’s way bigger than I am, who’s fast and strong and knows where I live and where I work and I have no way of defending myself from you except, you know, by setting the store on fire and I would never do that.”
Abruptly he sat back, looking down and away from her, his mouth a fine line, “Shit. Fuck,” he looked up at her, “I’m sorry. That was… I didn’t even think about that part. I haven’t spent much time around people in a while and I forget… No. That does not signify. It is no excuse for my unpardonable behavior, yet I ask your pardon nonetheless,” he said, putting his right hand over his heart and bowing his head.
In those few sentences he’d gone from edgy, asshole rockstar to a courtly creature of another time. He was history captured in a tall, beautiful body. Kay was stunned.
And even more fascinated.
“I’m sure we can find a way for you to make it up to me,” she said, signaling for her check.
The vampire looked apprehensive.
She’d been in his lair a few times by now and the closest he’d come to attacking her was when she told him that she liked some Fleetwood Mac. “They are my mom’s favorite band!”
“Bad genetics is not an excuse for liking garbage music.”
“I like Aerosmith, too. And at least a few Justin Timberlake songs…”
He had pointed at the door, “Get out, or I can’t be responsible for what I do next.”
He agreed to it. What else could he do? Kill her? Turn her?
As he walked towards the hospital for his second appointment of the night, Adam reasoned, at least it would give him someone to play for, even if her taste in music was for shit.
On Tuesday nights he would walk her home when the weather was good, it had turned into a sort of ritual for them. She would stop and get a coffee and they would take the long way, so they could avoid the bars and restaurants on the strip, cutting through the park that ran along the river. Adam would pedantically tell her the names of the trees and plants. She would try and get him to tell her more about the others of his kind.
That was what he called them, ‘the others.’
Getting him to talk when it was a subject he didn’t like was about as easy as it would have been to beat him in a footrace. Kay had started running again after all, figuring that even if she couldn’t outrun one of his kind, Adam stood as proof that there were things out there that needed to be run from, and some of them might not be sprinters.
Finally, one night, Adam told her about one of them, in hushed tones. A secret. He’d been in a good mood, sort of, which usually meant he’d had a drink recently, which he made a point of always keeping secret from her, but she’d learned to see the signs. The biggest of which was he would almost smile at her.
Which is why she later she felt a little guilty that she stopped and yelled at him, her voice very loud in the empty park, “That is horseshit! Horse! Shit! Christopher Marlowe did not write the Shakespeare plays you elitist jerk!”
His upper lips snarled back, his fangs coming out of the first time since the morning they met, and he was gone in a whirl of fallen leaves before she could finish.
Anger carried her the rest of the way home, through taking off the dress she wore to work, into her pajamas, and pouring herself a glass of wine before she sat down on her couch, fretting that she might have made a very serious mistake.
She called him, leaving a message.
He didn’t call her back.
She sent him several emails, apologizing for her tone if not for the gist of what she said.
They bounced back.
Finally, she drew him out the only way she knew how. Playing music. Terrible, loud music in the store. It was finally Sweet’s “Little Willie” that was the last straw. Even the sound of his calling her was angry, “Turn that shit off.”
“Only if I can come down after the store closes.”
“I’m playing Gary Puckett next.”
“Fine,” he growled. “But we aren’t talking about it.” Then he hung up on her.
That night she sat on the couch and he played the most experimental music he had ever written for her, with extra feedback because he knew how much she hated it, and she left the book that her father had written about the origins of the anti-Stratfordian movement on his desk before she left, where it remained untouched for weeks.
Chapter 6: Taking Steps and Then Retreating Is No Way Advance
Adam and Kay take a walk
“ It’s very late or very early, depending, which way you held the day ,” Kay read.
After a moment of not registering the rest of the page she folded the book closed and thought of Adam for a while, then looked at her watch. It was a vintage, 80s, Velvet Underground swatch that she’d found in her mother’s jewelry drawer, unworn for decades. She loved it’s purple, plastic strap, and the teal and black lace face, and the utterly unnecessary, black ‘Swatch guard’ covering the face.
Adam thought it was hideous and looked especially wrong on her. “That looks like something that a janitor swept up after a Love and Rockets concert,” he had jeered. Then shrugged, “I suppose at least it's not clogging up a landfill somewhere.”
Flitcraft’s was open for another five minutes.
While Earl was gone she had to close the store every day that she worked, because he didn’t trust anyone else to do the deposit. Due to that, the only two nights she wasn’t at the store lately were Monday when it was closed, and Wednesday that was her day off.
Earl was willing to let the drawer count wait that one extra day since it was the least busy of the week, though if he’d had his way she would have gone in and done it on Wednesday after the store closed. When he’d brought it up it had been Kay’s first instinct to say yes. He’d been expecting her to agree, she could tell by the offhanded way he had asked.
Instead she had told him that during the weeks before Christmas she would, especially since they would probably need extra change those days, but otherwise her day off was her day off. The surprised disappointment on his face had almost made her cave.
Approval was a problem that she’d been working on.
Her phone had slid between the cushions of her little, overstuffed sofa, muffling it so she had not noticed that one of her brothers - Joel the youngest - had texted her several times about if he could get a Christmas job at the store when he came home from Columbia. So had the second youngest, Malcolm, who was at Caltech.
She sighed quite loudly and thought Adam would be proud of the ooomph she put into it. The real depth of annoyance. There was no question that their mother had put them up to it. If Kay was going to be an underachiever the very least she could offer their family was a store discount and temp jobs for her younger brothers during Christmas and summer break.
Malcolm would be fine. He was personable and his amazing memory made him perfect for helping people trying to remember authors and titles, and his boyfriend was going back to England for the holiday so he wouldn’t be distracted.
Joel, however, took after dad…
Retail would be torture for him.
Kay pulled out her Moleskine and made herself a note to call Liz from her book group to see her flower shop would need extra delivery drivers during the holidays. Joel was extremely timely, and a very safe driver. It would work.
She looked at the time again. The store had been closed for ten minutes. Genie and Bianca always sped through closing on Wednesday, doing a very poor job of vacuuming, so they would probably be just about to set the alarm and walk out. Fidgeting with her phone for a few seconds, Kay waffled, turning to sit cross-legged.
Then she called him.
“Why are you calling me?” His voice was distracted and clipped, and there was the sound of something falling in the background, followed by him softly cursing.
There were times that Adam reminded her of her father - not physically, of course - Armin Gemmill was stocky, sturdy, and as blonde as she was, not to mention uncomfortable with eye contact and prone to long monologues, given in an excited rush when a topic that he was interested in came up.
But like Adam, he had little in the way of social niceties. In her father’s case, because he didn’t understand them. In Adam’s case because he did, and he saw no point in wasting them on zombies.
Kay, however, did. “I was going to see if you wanted to get together, but since you are being so rude, I’ve changed my mind.” She was about to swipe to hang up when she heard a ghostly sigh that may have been the word, ‘wait.’
After counting to five, so as not to look too anxious, Kay put the phone back to her ear, “Yes?”
“I-” he stopped, then started a few times, and she could almost see him opening his mouth to speak and then slamming it closed like a cat trying to not cough something up. Which reminded her she needed to buy cat food for Cobweb before going in the next day. While she waited for him to say more than ‘I’ she wrote herself a note about it.
“I’m sorry, I was in the middle of something,” finally rushed out of him in a babble of aristocratic awkwardness. During the few weeks of what on Kay’s side was a growing friendship she’d never seen or heard Adam sound or behave awkwardly, no matter how rude or easily annoyed he was. There was a preternatural grace to his motions and a haughtiness behind his cranky behavior.
“Then why did you answer the phone?” she asked.
The silence on the other end was irked. She was learning to understand the language of his not speaking, but he was an old crank and there was a lot to pick up on. He ignored her question, “What can I do for you?”
“It’s my night off-”
“I know,” he interrupted.
“And we haven’t done anything since a week ago Tuesday. You, er, didn’t walk me home last night.”
“As I said, I am working on something.”
When Kay’s father was writing, or structuring a new lecture, and when her mother was deep in a formula, she had learned to never disturb them. She’d also learned to make Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and a salad for dinner for herself, and later for her brothers.
“I am sorry to have disturbed you. Good night.” There was a slight prickling along her arms and back, caused by embarrassed adrenalin.
“Wait! I’m due for a break. Would you like to take a walk?” He sounded disinterested.
Not liking how happy she was to have been asked, especially like that, she still said yes.
When leaving the store when it was early enough for there to be people in the street Adam went up a winding set of black metal stairs that opened into a little room only Earl knew was in the store. The entrance to it had been walled off by a bookcase containing horror novels.
Because Earl always thought he was funny.
One wall was taken up by a fireplace, and there was a large chair covered in a sheet, which had led Adam to believe that it had probably once been part of a larger room that had been divided off. Through it he was able to exit into the alley behind the store.
When on what passed for a high street in the university town, Adam walked with his hands in his pockets and his head down, eschewing his usual scarf or medical mask. Kay had persuaded him that all he was doing was attracting attention to himself. “In a college town do you know how many guys look like ‘musicians’?” she said making actual scare quotes, for fuckssake. “The worst anyone is going to do is assume you are here on tour and ask where you’re playing. But with that permanent grimace of yours even that isn’t going to happen much.”
He still wore his sunglasses when there were people around, at least if he hadn’t just fed. Moonlight and hunger made it clear that the eyes of his kind were not those of a human.
A bit of rain had come down earlier, enough to drive down the auto exhaust and freshen the air. Leaves - red and yellow and green alike, more vibrant this year than he had expected, had fallen with it, covering the cement with a lovely blanket and muffling the click of his boots. Once he was off the main road and into the residential blocks here and there Jack-o-lanterns flickered on porches and in windows. Yards were littered with fake tombstones, most of which were non-biodegradable nightmares purchased at some big box store, though a few were handmade of plywood and paint by people who could be bothered.
He stopped to admire a massive green snake that had been constructed out of canvas and metal that was twined around a tall, narrow house. Its head rested on an upper balcony, staring at him with lazy, slit red eyes. Someone, probably several someones, had worked very hard on it. When he met up with Kay he’d ask her to take a picture of it for him during the day and email to him.
Paper-mache witches cackled on porches.
Little ghosts danced with linked hands around trees.
Cutouts of black cats skulked and slinked.
Halloween was in two weeks, and the town was dressed already.
Though appalled by the vampiric imagery, which was either campy or romantic, Adam was as fond of Halloween as he was of any zombie holiday. At least a few of them tended to show a little imagination and artistry in celebration of it. Though the year before he had seen a woman dressed in a premade costume as a sexy Reuben sandwich and had nearly been enough to make him decide to take up sunbathing.
For whatever reason, Adam was feeling mildly in the wrong about snapping at Kay, knowing that she was right, that he should not have picked up the phone.
The last week, and for the first time in who knew how long, he’d been composing. Though it came in fits and starts, like an old car that’s owner was trying to coax it through one more year, the work was happening. He lured it and allowed it to make him skip meals and forget everything as he played and put down the notes, many of them to only be scratched out and replaced, and then perhaps restored again. But it was happening.
For the first time since-
He had very nearly missed the meeting with his connection on Sunday night, so entrenched was he in the work. Thankfully the sight of one of the Waterford sherry glasses he used to drink from sitting still dirty on his coffee table reminded him at the last possible second.
Yet despite this when he had seen Kay’s number come up he had answered it before he had even stopped to think about it, and then was angry at himself, which he took out on her.
Turning the corner onto her block, he saw her waiting in front of the ugly building she lived in, dressed in an old fashioned raincoat, a bright blue pair of what were once called pedal pushers, and penny loafers.
With pennies in them.
She had a furled black umbrella, the kind that had a metal spike on the bottom, that she was concentrating on spinning. When it fell over, she put her hands on her hips and frowned at it.
Adam forced himself not to smile, and didn’t like the way his dead heart seemed livelier when she gave him a little wave and walked to meet him. “The lake?” she asked.
He grunted his agreement.
Their silence was companionable as they covered the few blocks to the waterfront.
The large lake that served as a sort of front yard to the town was beautiful and surprisingly clean. A massively liberal local government and the environmental sciences department at the university worked hand in hand to keep it that way as much as possible. Adam loved the sound of the water, and fish and plants were almost all he could smell from it. The mosaic stone walkway that skirted next to it for several miles had been made as an installation piece by a famous artist who had graduated from there and wanted to give something back.
No sooner had they stepped onto it when Kay asked, “What were you working on?”
“Hmmm?” Adam picked up a pebble and skipped it along the surface. The sound of it skimming and then the final plop were very satisfying. “What did you do on your day off?”
He knew that for Kay not answering a question, and doing so thoroughly, was impossible. “I had breakfast, blackberry jam on toast with coffee, and then did laundry. I had to go to the laundromat because one of the machines is broken, but that was fine because I had dry cleaning to pick up as well. Then after lunch - I made a turkey sandwich and finished the coffee over ice - I spent the day reading. What were you working on?”
She was also not to be put off most of the time.
“What did you have for dinner? You left that bit of excitement out.”
He could feel her tense next to him as she answered, “Pasta salad. It wasn’t exciting. Nothing I do is exciting. I know that. And if you don’t want to tell me what you are working on you could just say so rather than have me list off the boring elements of my life. We can not talk at all.”
There were odd things about Kay that he didn’t understand. Yes, her intelligence and deep curiosity were the reason that their approximation of a friendship worked for him - God only knew why it worked for her, since even he found himself a tiresome ass a lot of the time - but it was that ingrained peculiarity, her weird preciseness, as if worried about getting things wrong, the need to be comprehensive about even minutiae, and her persnicketiness about certain things, made her…
Fascinating. Loathe as he was to admit it, she fucking fascinated him.
With a side dish of infuriation.
He had not read her father’s book and he wasn’t going to.
“I was composing.”
She stopped, “Oh.” It was cool enough that he could see the sound leave her mouth. He wondered if she was cold. Her coat certainly wasn’t heavy and he couldn’t smell the wool or cotton of a sweater beneath it, and Kay didn’t wear artificial fibers if it could be helped. Adam was pretty certain that was why she smelled so good.
“Look, I’m sorry for being a bastard about it, earlier and now. It’s just,” he slicked his gloves over his mane, “it has been a very long time since I’ve even thought about working on a new piece, let alone actually doing the work, so I’m a bit protective of it, and worried that talking about or stopping for too long, means that the inspiration will be gone.”
She cocked her head at him, her eyes soft behind her glasses, “Oh, then you should go back. We can do this another time.” She started to turn around and without thinking he reached out and grasped her arm just above the elbow.
They both froze.
Adam was not a toucher and Kay did not like to be touched. Indeed, he noticed over the years that other than an occasional handshake she avoided even brushing another person’s hand when giving change back. One night, when he’d been in on appraisal, a woman who she had gone to grade school with had stopped in the store while on a visit back home and they had a long, friendly talk. When she was ready to leave she surprised her with a hug.
He’d been fairly certain Kay was going to faint. Luckily she had pulled herself together before the other woman noticed.
“Sorry,” he said, letting her go as if they had burned each other. He certainly felt burned. “I meant it when I said I needed a break. Let’s just walk.” She hesitated. “You can ask me five questions and I’ll answer three of them.”
With a nod she turned on her heel and they strolled together. He could feel her thinking. When they reached where the green part of the mosaic ended and the purple started she asked, “Where are you originally from? When were you born? What is your real name? Have you ever met anyone famous? How did you end up like this?”
“England, in Surrey. 1620. Yes.”
“Yes.” she snipped at him. “You know that I want to know what famous people.” He knew she was mostly mad because she had been hoping against hope he would answer the last question. She’d already asked him a dozen times.
“Yes,” he snipped back, “too bad you didn’t ask that. Famous people. Fuck, I wasn’t a starfucker, if that’s what you are asking, though I have… never mind.”
“Name one pers-! Wait!” Now she grabbed his arm, but let go so quickly it felt like a leaf brushing his sleeve. “1620? That means next year is your four-hundredth birthday!”
“I had realized,” he kept walking and her footsteps scurried a little in catching up with him.
“That’s… you should… we… I’m going to throw you a party!”
“No you fucking won’t.” Now he put his head down and walked faster. Fast enough that she could keep up, too fast for her to want to talk while she did it. He thought.
“A little party. You. Me. Earl.”
“And what,” he hissed over his shoulder, “you eat cake and I get blood from a diabetic? Play games? I beat you both at trivia and then you play pin the tail on the werewolf? I hate parties, even small ones, and my birthday is well past irrelevant.”
“So what do your kind celebrate? Your being made day?” her voice was breathy with effort and for the briefest moment, Adam felt himself get hard. Just a flash of hardness, almost painful, and then nothing.
Another thing he hadn’t experienced since-
“That you celebrate your being made days?” She sounded excited as well as almost out of breath.
“No, that I probably should get back to work. Let’s turn around.”
Slowing down his walk, Adam turned, allowing himself only the slightest glimpse of her flushed and disappointed face. Trying to be a little conciliatory, he told her, “I died in 1650. If we are still fri- in contact then I’ll let you throw me a wake. You must be freezing, and I have do get back to work, so let’s get you home.”
They did talk on the way back, mostly Kay telling him she had finally added some of the music he had recommended to her Spotify account, which was a typical one step forward one step back victory as far as he was concerned. “I very much like The Magnetic Fields,” she added, which came as no surprise at all. “Especially ‘The Book of Love,’” she said wistfully. Which did surprise him. Kay seemed profoundly uninterested in romance.
Even the boyfriend that she had victoriously stomp danced through the store after breaking up with him those years before she had only dated briefly and the few times Adam may have incidentally seen them out and about they had seemed about as intimate together as two homophobes worried that having dinner together alone would make them look gay.
When they arrived at her place, she gestured to the door, “It’s probably good you have to get back. I was going to be polite and ask if you wanted to come up, but since you can’t eat or drink anything I’m not sure why you would.”
Adam’s cock, who again made itself briefly known, unfortunately could.
“Me, either. Good night,” he said, leaving her still standing there.
The notes poured out of him. There was the sound of the stone on water. The hiss of wet, dying leaves as the wind stirred them. His bootheels clicking on the mosaic stones. Kay’s hurried breaths.
When he finally fell into bed as he felt the sun rising and bearing him downwards, Adam closed his eyes with a greater sense of satisfaction than he’d felt since-
Eve was whispering to him.
He found her in the garden where they had married for the third time. England in high summer, filled with moonlight, and scent of sunlight could still be detected on the warmed soil. Moonflowers, and lilies, and night-blooming jasmine were thick enough in the humidity for Adam to lick off of the surface of the air.
On a swing, dressed in yards of silk and lace, Eve swung languorously back and forth, stilling at his approach. When he was close enough he fell to his knees and put his head on her lap, wrapping a hand around her leg, that he could barely feel beneath the miles of tulle that made up her petticoats. He buried his face and wept, “Eve. Oh my Eve, I’ve missed you.”
He took in her scent. The skin, and the peppery cornflower oil of it, her mane, rinsed in camomille, her ancient blood moving slowly.
“My darling,” she crooned, tracing her long fingers through his mane, over his shoulders, “I have longed for you. But we have only a little time. All of these years and still so little time. I must warn you. You must not….”
He sat back on his heels, her voice had grown weaker and weaker, trailing off. Eve was fading, like a photograph. The edges of her seemed to curl and there was a smell of burning, and even as he shouted her name and reached toward her she turned to a sheet of ash wavered and then collapsed, covering him in grey.
The next night, when Kay called, he let the phone ring.
Chapter 7: The Past is a Different Country, and Some of Us Still Live There
We learn a bit more about Adam
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
London - 1650
Jem’s father, his second father, Ambrosius, had warned him that what he hungered for could not be fed by blood. “You, my beautiful boy, you are twice cursed. All of our kind are cursed to starve for blood and shun the light. For God and His beloved Son have turned Their backs upon us. Beyond that suffering, you are one of those, much like my brother in death Gildas, for which blood is not a mere appetite of the flesh, but of the essence of life itself. When you drink you join too deeply with those you sup from.”
When he’d found Jem dying as he had crossed the field of the dead in Dunbar those weeks before, praying for the fallen and searching for those who might be saved, Ambrosius had been unable to leave him to his fate.
He was the most lovely man Ambrosius had ever seen, even in a thousand years of life and he had knelt beside Jeremiah to pray for his soul.
When he touched his hand, music had flooded his senses and he knew that he had to save him, to bring him over, he had told him this when Jem had woken in the darkness, clutching at his chest, expecting the ruin left by musket fire but feeling only cool, whole flesh. In that dark place, a tomb, it had turned out, Ambrosius, with a gentle smile that split his heavy grey beard and the eyes of a regretful murderer, had fed him on blood from a stone bottle and started his tutelage in the ways of their kind before setting them off for London.
Their kind were safer in crowds.
And better fed.
That night, the night he had first learned what Ambrosius had meant, he had put a hand on Jem’s shoulder, where he crouched at his feet cradling the dead maiden, her golden hair trailing in the muck of the London alleyway, his bloody tears staining the white kerchief that covered her bosom.
When Jem had first tasted her, the week before, it had overwhelmed him. He felt…
He felt everything she was. The tenderness of it, and the closeness, and the unexpectedness, and the fear, and the anxiety, too, were enough that she was able to flee as he stood stunned and half in love with her from those few drops that made who she was blossom within him.
Her blood was like golden honey suckled straight from the comb, still hot from the hive, warming him through and he walked the London streets til dawn, dazed with the sense of her.
For the next week he had stalked her, waiting. She had not told anyone what had happened, knowing that though she was a virtuous thing it was too easy to be taken for a whore. Jem only wanted to feel the warmth of her love of her sister again. The pleasure she took in the lace she made to help her family eat. The laugh of the tall, red-haired boy that had given her a posy once, before going north to find work. The joy she felt at prayer. Even the pain coming from the bad tooth in the back of her mouth.
When he found her again, his eyes held her captive. This time he knew what to do to bring her to him willingly. Jem held her so closely, so tenderly, nuzzling and kissing and only when she was pliant did he bite and suck. He drank her simple yet loving sister and her clever fingers that made such pretty lace and the laughter and the red-haired boy and the posy and her love of God, and the rotten tooth that ached.
Not enough , he thought to himself through a haze of lusty need that he could not glut.
He felt her heart slowing as the blood throbbed into his greedy mouth, killing her because he couldn’t get close enough to her. Her blood was the cure for the loneliness of life for him, if only for a time.
The father of his new life had suspected and cursed himself for being too late to save both the girl and, in a way, his child. Jem had felt the girl die in a way that most of their kind would never experience.
For the rest of his undead life, Jem would grieve for a girl whose name he never knew.
Versailles - 1700 -
It was easy to kill in Versailles.
That was what Phillipe had told Jem when he had lured him from Amsterdam. The Dutch were too orderly a people to allow bodies in the canals to go unexamined or investigated. Even the poorest wretches, most destitute streetwalkers, and depraved artists were looked for when they disappeared, not out of any sympathy or fellow feeling from those in power.
They just liked to keep things tidy.
But in Versailles - Versailles the gorgeous, Versailles the gaudy, Versailles the crowded and filthy and disorganized and glorious you could kill a pretty boy come up from the country with a petition, or a plump breasted serving maid scurrying between salons, stuff them beneath the rug, and no one would even notice the smell. What a delight it was, Phillipe had crowed, to lure a lovely through the Hall of Mirrors, enjoying their confused longing as they saw their own transitory beauty reflected back at them over and over, and then to kill in an alcove beside a room where the Queen was losing at cards?
Jem hated to kill. But he was so hungry.
He was always hungry.
Ambrosius had learned over hard-fought centuries to control his hunger, and his work as a chirurgeon and tooth-puller meant he had ways to gain blood without killing or turning those he drank from into thralls who would eventually waste away anyway for the sake of their thirsty master. Jem could not bear such filthy work, surrounded by the stink of the living. Once he and his maker had separated he found himself again hunting and taking life.
At least he had learned that if he drank swiftly, he could save himself from the swooning, weak, ridiculousness of his particular condition. That, and taking care of whom he chose to fill himself with.
Men, he found, were less likely to create such fragility in him. Cruel, murderous men whose own viciousness recoiled upon them with Jem as its medium. Parliamentarian soldiers, freshly back from Ireland, having murdered and burned and raped in the name of their nation and ending the tyranny of the Pope. Beaters of those women and children they were meant to protect and care for, and glutted themselves on gin because they felt themselves the be the ones wronged. Be they bravos, millers, foot-pads, rapparees, badgers, swaddlers, tatars, kidnappers, or shankers, each found himself hoist on his own petard.
Jem kept house near the River Fleet, hard by Hampstead Heath where many of those he preyed upon chose to prey on those forced to travel through that wilderness. He would drink deep and return home, fiery with rage and drunk with their blood, to compose works that none would hear. Moving from spinet to viola de gamba to lute and back again until the sun rose.
For close to thirty years he had haunted London, hiding from the few familiar faces of those he knew who had not fallen to Cromwell’s men, at first from them recognising him, and then from his pain at seeing how old they were, of watching age take them.
Afterward, he had gone north, living in Scotland for a time, having plenty of furious Border raiders, and the English soldiers to feed on, then drifted over to Ireland, where the sight of what had been done to the people and the land drove him across the sea to Norway, then Sweden, then Amsterdam, where he met again with Phillipe, one of the only of the others of his kind he had met in the past.
When Phillipe had suggested Jem join him on a trip to France he’d been so sick of himself and London that he jumped at the chance, even knowing how travel would go. At least there, unknown and with no fear of being recognised, he might be able to publish some of his work.
“You hell-born babe!” Phillipe had laughed at him as they sat in the salon of the most notoriously depraved brothel in the city, waiting for a specific, pox-ridden gentleman to be finished spending himself for the night. “You’ve been counted amongst the glorious dead for fifty years and yet you think any soul would know you? Still,” he leaned forward, his blue eyes avid, his golden curls falling forward to frame the series of lies that made up his beautifully innocent features, “with such a face it makes good sense to know you’d be remember’d. I thought myself the farthest fallen angel, till I saw you.”
Decadent Phillipe, who God-fearing Ambrosius had loathed both for his rude contempt of the mortals and for his disgusting love of feeding on the sick and dying, had none of Jem’s maker’s fears of being discovered by the mortals. “Come to Versaille! You will love it, they will adore you, your music will be played, your belly filled with the blood of bad men, and your bed filled with the bodies of pretty, plump titted coquettes.”
“And,” Phillipe had gone on, wiping his mouth with the back of a gloved hand as he let the poxy body of his meal fall into a puddle of rain and horse-piss in front of his own home where they had stalked him after leaving the bagnio, “you can meet my beloved, perfect queen of love, ancient as days, fresh as dew upon a petal.” He kicked the corpse over so he could more easily remove his purse and watch.
“I have word that she is traveling from Vienna to Versailles as well. You will adore her as I do. Or,” he laughed like a drunken man, “I’ll kill you!”
“Aren’t you going to dispose of him?” Jem asked, as Phillipe set his cane to the paving stones to saunter away from the dead man.
“Why? The humans have people for that sort of thing.”
Jem hated Versailles.
Golden and glorious, with perfect gardens. Filled with marvels of art, science, and nature, books on every subject, most never opened and easy to borrow, furnishings more perfectly structured for appearance than use.
The world’s most magnificent toliet.
It stunk worse than Phillipe had warned, the aristocrats who lived there, forced to do so to be close to their Sun King, relieved themselves like beasts everywhere. So did their beasts, actually, he thought as he watched a ridiculous, nervous little dog be set on the floor by its mistress - an aging beauty dressed in pink - toddle with shaking legs a few feet, and shit on the carpeting before returning to be fed another sweetmeat, no doubt the reason for the ghastly fug coming from its droppings.
Additonal to its horrendous stench, was the casual viciousness of the powerful to those seeking their favor. Though such behavior had always been, the pure concentration of it at Versailles, where every creature wanting advancement or the King’s notice gathered, meant their taste for the hateful pleasure of toying with their victims - those in need of their favor, their money, or their love - grew worse and worse, never to be glutted.
Louis himself was not especially malevolent, his power being so absolute that he knew that there was nothing he could not do, therefore making him less likely to do it.
No wonder Phillipe loved it, Jem thought, as he sat down at the harpsichord that the Duchesse who was sponsoring tonight's soiree had arranged for him.
While cards were played and lovers flirted and gossips spread scandal, Jem played.
Those courtiers and aristocrats who bothered to listen, who gathered about him and sighed and made a great dramatic show of appreciation were those who, like the Duchesse, were enamored of him. They waved fans as if their delicate systems were taxed beyond endurance by their love of music, when he knew their cheeks and loins were flushed by him and the sight of his hands spanning the keys, not his work.
After he finished, the applause and orgiastic sighs and cries of happiness were enough to make Jem want to take his heels.
When he had finished his bows and they dispersed, after dropping jewels and billet-doux where he might take them from the filthy carpet, he saw Phillipe approach, a woman dressed in pale gold on his arm.
She was as tall as Phillipe, as fair as the gentle sun of winter, and her peculiar exquisiteness was like no one Jem had seen before. Her eyes were filled with a kind of mischievous wonder at his music.
Before Phillipe could proffer an introduction, she raced a few steps forwards, boldly taking his gloved hands into her own, her slender fingers covered in the finest kid. “Mastro, I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do,” she quoted. “Like the music of the spheres moves the planets and stars, so your music moves the worlds within me.”
Jem was taken aback, by her fearlessness, by his dead heart longing to beat, and, taking in the sight of her animal-keen eyes and powdered mane, by the knowledge that she was one of his kind.
“Who are you?” he asked in astonished wonder.
“As I was about to say,” Phillipe smirked, “Jeremiah, this is, finally, for she has kept me waiting for her, is Eve.”
She laughed kindly, “Jeremiah? That doesn’t suit you at all .” She tapped his chest with her furled fan. “We can do better than that, I think.,” Eve said before offering him her arm.
Adam’s fingers were dark with ink, even their immortal tips were tired and worn from two weeks straight of working. He was starving.
The store had been closed for hours, and he sent a quick text to his connection, even though he hated to communicate that way. Not that it could be called communication. It could barely be called an information exchange. But it was the one concession he was willing to make since everything else in their business arrangement was handled the way Adam wanted things.
Considering the amount of money he paid, it was only reasonable.
Ten minutes later he shrugged into his leather jacket. He used to dress in scrubs and pretend to be a doctor when he went to see her, but being a university and teaching hospital there were plenty of students and faculty around at weird hours so half of the time he didn’t bother.
He kind of missed the surgical mask, though. At least tonight it was cool enough out to wrap a scarf around his face, which he did as he climbed the stairs.
On the top of the landing, he could see a small, light green envelope, trimmed with a border of black eyeglasses, and “Adam” written in very legible cursive across the front.
Just in case someone else found it behind the secret door that led to his lair and thought the note might be for them, he thought, mentally rolling his eyes.
For a moment he almost crumpled it up. The scent of Kay, her warm skin scented by the lavender lotions she favored. Her hair had brushed across the paper at some point, leaving a trace of rosemary. Just a bit of the sugar she buried her tea in.
Overwhelming it all, the distinct, personal, impossible copper of her blood.
He knew that if he were to open it he would be buried in her.
Before he could stop himself he took off one of his gloves and ran the barest tip of his forefinger over his own name, tracing where her pen had written. A shudder ran through him. Everything was too sensitive. Annoyance, righteous anger, worry, melancholy, an ache that he knew too well, and a touch of humor at the absurdity of herself.
Quickly putting his glove back on, Adam tucked the note into the inner pocket of his jacket, pushed the bookcase out his way, and went into the night in search of the safely boring blood of strangers.
I have taken Adam's pre-death name, but not his backstory, from Jeremiah Clarke, an English composer of the period after the Civil War, who killed himself when he fell in love with one of his students, a beautiful woman of high birth who he could not have.