The spring. The spring. My mind is awash in the memories of Spring.
It was then I had my beloved friend by my side. I used to visit her and happily take a break from my responsibilities as tutor to the CHAIRPERSON’s daughter. She understood me, she supported me. In her face I saw the good-old-times and forgot for a moment the exacting, unforgiving nature of the present. It wasn’t long ago that she and I had lived out of a travelling wagon and sold snake oil to any who’d listen. Times were good then: the peoples trusting and docile.
She listened to my sermons and tried to instill upon the fledgling the wider vision. We had a clutch of vampires loyal to us, each with their own helpful position in the food chain.
But I was busy, I was angry. The new vampire, VANESSA, wasn’t adapting well. She would drain the bodies completely dry, leaving the husks for the police to find and threaten our mission. There was only so much the NSR could keep from the eyes of the ordinaries. AVAELLE tried to correct this behavior but I asked her to do too much. I should have been there; I should have been the one to teach her this lesson.
I pushed them too hard. AVAELLE went missing.
// THE CLINIC //
Day in and day out, I tried to reassure myself. GAGARIN’s making inroads into the spellcasters. The Moon Court would be there when we need them.
If I can just make it one more day, then I can keep going. Tomorrow will be another day. The day after that will be another day. If I’ve made it this far, then I can keep going. The Visitors will present themselves as our Friends and I’ll be able to regain my youth. My old face. I’ll be able to stop hiding behind this stranger’s mask.
‘Another day, another dollar’.
The other doctors make small talk in the break-room. I hate coffee but I’ve learned to stomach it to keep up appearances. The smell was once appealing to me but it’s grown old and tiresome. I try to blend into the illusion. At least until I can retch the stuff up in peace.
My phone buzzes. I punch in the passcode to open it up.
Lenard -- please return to the train house.
I hate receiving messages from her. In AVAELLE’s absence, she’s become solely my responsibility. But I hate her, revile her. I blame her for the disappearance of my friend.
She’s not entirely sane, and I don’t know how to fix her.
She is impatient and tends to send multiple messages in quick succession, forcing a reply.
Lenard -- please come back.
You'll thank me later.
I don’t bother sending a message back to her. Not only do I have nothing to say, it seems important that I train the girl that she shouldn’t always expect me to say something in return.
I don’t have the time to entertain her, nor do I want to reward her clinginess.
Instead, I intend to reward her patience by showing up at the door, just as she’s asked. I’ll show her that I always listen to the words coming out of her mouth, even if I have nothing but my action to grant her in return.
Appointments shed upon another doctor in the practice, I’ve relieved myself of duty for the day.
I walk out upon a secluded porch. The other physicians use this area for smoking cigarettes. I fill my lungs with the scent.
‘You’re obsessed’, GAGARIN had said to me. She wasn’t wrong. The smell disappoints, it’s not the variety to which she was accustomed.
I look around, seeing no eyes upon my person. The NSR’s patronage had seen the security camera removed from this location. It was a boon having friends in high places.
I melt into a bat and fly off into a repulsively sunlit morning.
// THE CONVERTED TRAIN STATION //
The brick building is unsupervised in a remote area of Brooklyn. No one dares enter the fenced off property. The few vagrants who try find the doors securely locked and secured. They don’t have the credentials to enter the building. The breeze here will seem especially cold and forbidding to trespassers. They may even imagine the howl of a siren in the distance. It is perfect for our needs.
I enter the domicile using a crack in a basement window. I rematerialize into a unlit room, slightly damp from autumn’s chill. I push open a heavy door, the creaking of which is intended to alert the woman to my presence.
VANESSA? YOU HERE?
Her stench emanates from upstairs. And with it…?
With it is something familiar. But I can’t place it behind unknown perfumes.
She wheels around to throw her voice into the stairway.
I walk up the stairs to enter the first floor’s hallway. Dusty tapestries and paintings line the walls, dotted between with candles.
VANESSA drapes her form around the kitchen’s doorway, begging me to pay her attention in exchange for passage.
I CAME AS QUICKLY AS I COULD.
Her smile is cloying. At least her teeth are straight.
LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN.
She stands, presenting her arms to point toward the kitchen.
Seated at a stool, face hung into a circular, is a woman with the bright auburn hair I recognize immediately as belonging to AVAELLE EASTON.
Presumably listening to VANESSA’s announcement, she turns around and looks at me, face relaxed as if trying to contain a shame.
SEE, I TOLD YA SHE’D COME BACK.
My voice softens and threatens to break. I extend my arms as I walk toward her, hoping she’ll accept my request to embrace.
Her eyes still diverted, she stands up.
We hug and I feel myself smile.
When the hug is concluded, we catch each other’s gazes. She smiles, if weakly, seeming tired.
IT’S… NICE TO SEE YOU.
AVAELLE… IT’S SO GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK.
Where she’s been, where she’s gone, I’m not sure I want to hear. I take in her scent and finally find a familiar note, covered by strange soaps and shampoos.
I dislike the strangeness.
She sits back down, eyes still on me.
IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK.
THE CAT’S STILL MAD AT ME.
AVAELLE EASTON kept a Russian Blue she called XIB. It was presently nowhere to be seen.
WHAT… WHAT HAPPENED?
Her eyes dart away as the shame returns.
I… I LOST MY MEMORY, FOR A TIME.
I DIDN’T REMEMBER WHERE I WAS.
I RAN AWAY.
[interj.] IT WAS PROBABLY MY FAULT.
But no one looks toward her.
IT DOESN’T MATTER.
HAVE YOU HAD ANYTHING TO EAT? ARE YOU HUNGRY?
I WOULD HAVE BROUGHT SOMETHING IF I’D KNOWN…
I CAN GET SOMETHING IN A BIT.
I JUST WANTED TO GET BACK HOME.
FIGURED I’D SORT THE REST OUT LATER.
We embrace again.
IT’S SO GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK.
CAT’S BEEN MOODY WITHOUT YOU.
I BEEN FEEDING HIM THOUGH. AND LOTS OF TREATS.
We look back at her.
Some of my revulsion melts away in the face of my current joy.
I’M SORRY TO PULL YOU AWAY FROM WORK.
AW, TOOTS, IT MEANS NOTHING.
THINGS ARE GOING WELL.
I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU.
She smiles up at me.
I’VE BEEN WORKING HARD, TOO.
I NEED A NEW PHONE.
I LOST MINE.
NO PROBLEM. I’LL LET GAGARIN KNOW YOU NEED ANOTHER DEVICE.
I want to ask where she’s been, the thought nags at my consciousness, but I try to insist to myself that I don’t actually want to know. She’s back now, and that’s all that matters.
She seems pre-occupied, but it’s overwhelming to make her reappearance, I’m sure.
I THINK I’LL DO BETTER THIS TIME IF YOU HELP ME RE-INCORPORATE MY MEMORIES. THERE IS SO MUCH THAT YOU KNOW THAT I DON’T.
I CAN’T DO IT ON MY OWN.
THIS HAS SHOWN ME THAT.
I CAN HELP BUT…
ISN’T IT PROBABLY TRUE THAT VANESSA PREYED UPON YOU –
AND THAT’S WHY YOU LOST YOUR THOUGHTS?
I DON’T KNOW. BUT THIS SEEMS DIFFERENT, SOMEHOW.
I WAS HAVING TROUBLE BEFORE I RAN AWAY.
I’M NOT EVEN SO SURE VANESSA DRANK FROM ME.
OH, I… UH… PROBABLY DID.
SHE WAS UNABLE TO CONTROL HERSELF.
SHE’S STILL HAVING ISSUES, BUT SHE’S IMPROVING.
WE DON’T HAVE PROOF OF WHAT HAPPENED, VANESSA.
I DON’T WANT TO PUT THIS ON YOU WHEN WE DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW THE TRUTH.
She seems so eager to free VANESSA from guilt. It’s… diplomatic, to say the least, but why?
I CAN RUN AN ANALYSIS.
YOU WOULD PRESENT WITH ANTIBODIES.
IT’S IN THE PAST.
I DON’T CARE ANYMORE.
THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT I CAN’T TRAIN YOU IF I CAN’T REMEMBER WHO I WAS.
WELL, THAT WAS PART OF THE PROBLEM.
I WAS PUTTING TOO MUCH ON YOU. TOO MUCH WEIGHT.
YOU WERE TOO STRESSED. YOU’D NEVER HAVE RECOVERED YOUR MEMORIES IN SUCH A STATE.
I INTEND TO DO BETTER THIS TIME.
YOU HAVE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES, AS DO I.
WE’LL DO IT TOGETHER.
And, as if she’d nearly forgotten, she motions to VANESSA.
ALL OF US.
I HAVE SOME IDEAS FOR HOW WE CAN BECOME STRONGER.
I’VE QUIT SMOKING.