Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, Readers

I thought this Valentine's Day, you all could use some Cyrus. - Jen

Hatred of Valentine's Day isn't reserved solely for the living. I have hated St. Valentine since the fifteenth century. That's when all of this nonsense got started. Courtly love may have made it incredibly easy to lure women to their deaths, but it's almost too easy. There's no sport in it, especially when it's a church sanctioned holiday. Vampires think of Valentine's Day as amateur night.

This Valentine's Day would be different. I'd already promised myself that no matter how easy the pickings, I would not give in. I'd been following the Movement's stupid protocol, stubbornly and in total absence of any guidance, since my father's embarrassing failure to achieve Godly status. Since the Oracle destroyed Movement headquarters, the world has become... different, for vampires.

But I can't bring myself to hurt anyone. Not anymore.

So, rather than avoid the temptation of the easy kill on the night when humans are at their most vulnerable, I drove out to the desert. I made my journey in a rented cargo van, sleeping my days in the windowless rear compartment on a bed made of furniture pads and still-folded cardboard boxes. It took me a year to make the trip, the first time. I'd driven to the little desert town shortly after my second resurrection and my father's entirely justified death. At the time I'd been lost, mourning the death of yet another woman I'd thought I'd loved.

I'm proof, as much as anyone, that death doesn't always stick.

This time, the trip was not about licking my wounds. I'd gone to Nevada the first time to see Mouse's grave. Her body had been interred, along with the body of the poor priest and nun who'd perished in the terrible tragedy at St. Anne's. Police had determined that an unidentified assailant had violently raped, murdered, and mutilated all three victims before burning the church to the ground. I knew better, and so did Carrie, where ever she might be now. I'd visited their grave, in the churchyard at the diocesan seat, but I hadn't had the courage to drive out to the ruins. I'd gone to see Mouse, and found only a cold inscription carved into the stone: "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; The Lord accepts my prayer." Fitting, as I'm sure there were all manner of pleas for mercy in those days that The Fangs used St. Anne's as their headquarters.

I hadn't felt Mouse's presence at her grave. I'd hoped, with every slow mile that had passed on my journey, that I would. When I'd been faced only with that unhelpful psalm and her terrible given name, Stacy Pickles, I'd known that she was well and truly gone.

Yet nothing could have stopped me from making the drive a second time. I had stopped for the day at a rest area, dreading nightfall and hoping for it all the same. Some self-destructive impulse had convinced me that at the site of her death, some presence would remain. I clung to that when I woke and climbed into the driver's seat, clutching a bag of donor blood as I pulled onto the crumbling desert highway once more.

I don't know what I was expecting to find. It had been nearly five years since our imprisonment in the basement rectory of St. Anne's Catholic Church. Yet I'd still imagined I would come upon a pile of still smoldering ruins in the desert. Far from it, I found a construction site, ringed by chain link, the hulking shapes of building machines visible against the desert twilight like some modern stone circle. The workers had left for the day, and a padlocked chain held the gate closed.

I'd brought flowers. It seemed natural. It was what one did when visiting a grave. Now, seeing the former site of St. Anne's parish littered with evidence of ordinary, human activities, the flowers seemed overblown. I left them on the passenger seat when I parked the van across the road.

No shock of memory touched me as my feet hit the road, though my mind had come to consider this place a holy site. The fear that my pilgrimage would end in the same bitter disappointment as my visit to her grave formed a hard knot beneath my ribs. My two hearts might both break, then, and I'd be just another lonely, angst-ridden vampire. The world seemed to like those, but I had no desire to be a part of the world.

Scaling the fence was easy enough, and I dropped to the other side, brushing off my knees. There was a prickly feeling to the place, though it might have been my imagination, fueled by the nightmares in my memory. I closed my eyes, trying to remember where the footprint of the church would have been. Not here, this was almost certainly where the tar-patched asphalt of the parking lot had lain. The ground was level, the basement filled in. That seemed impossible to me; a place I once was, a place that had significance, no longer existed. I'd experienced the feeling many times, but it had never seemed so poignant, so important as now.

I'd almost given up in my quest when, after stepping through the shadow of an enormous crane, I saw her. Blue and transparent against the night sky, she was exactly as I remembered. She stood with her back to me, drifting slightly in the breeze. Her feet didn't touch the ground; in fact, her feet weren't there at all, the apparition ending raggedly, just below her knees. She wore the thin cotton dress she'd worn all through our captivity together, and her hair stirred in the warm desert night.

I approached her cautiously, wondering if I should bother. Ghosts were funny things. Some, like Clarence, my former servant, clung tenaciously to their physical forms and their earthly life. Others existed only as a memory of themselves, and to startle them into consciousness of their death was a fearful thing for both parties. I didn't want to frighten her. I didn't want her to leave. But I had to make her see me.

It was foolish of me to think she wouldn't know I was there. The moment I put a hand out toward her, she felt me there, a fellow creature of the night, someone who had walked on both planes, as she did now. When she turned, her face was terrible, burned and mutilated by the violence of the fire and the teeth of the vampires who'd killed her. Then, before I could turn my eyes from the sight, she became herself again, and something like joy transformed her. She reached out, her form moving toward me, propelled only by her will and, perhaps, mine. But when she came close enough to me, she saw the bloody tears that streaked my face, and she stopped.

"It wasn't my choice." My chest ached with a grief I hadn't felt so intensely since the day she'd died. "I never would have chosen this life again."

She lifted her hand to touch my face, her eyes two sorrowful pools. Her hand passed through me, and the cold chilled me to my bones. In life, she had not been unusually beautiful, but death had transformed her into a creature of beauty, and of mercy. She forgave me. Though she did not speak, she forgave me.

Drifting away, she beckoned me to follow, and soon we stood, side by side, where I'd found her. She smiled and pointed into the distance, where one star shone brighter than all the others in the night sky.

"Is that what you were looking at?" I asked, and she nodded her reply, beaming. I'd seen so few smiles from her; I could only remember one, and that itself had been tinged with fear. Her mortal life had ended in violence, it seemed fitting now that she radiated only joy.

We stood together in silence, staring at that far off star. Perhaps the reason she didn't speak was because nothing we could say would matter. Though I ached to tell her I was sorry, that I wished I could have prevented her death, that in some small way, the love I'd had for her was real, fractured as it was. Maybe she already knew all of it, and didn't need to hear me say it aloud. But I was content, as she seemed to be, to stay beside her through the night, admiring that star that held some untold meaning to her.

It was near dawn when the star disappeared below the horizon, and with it, so faded Mouse's spirit. I could have begged her to stay, but it would have been unfair. Whatever form her existence had taken, I had no part in it. I left the construction site with more grief than I'd brought with me, but more solace, too. How many nights had I prayed, hating myself that I still held that faith, for death to be kinder to her than life had been? My prayer had been answered; now, there was nothing left for me in the desert.

The flowers still waited on the passenger seat, wilted and cheap-looking. Daisies, most of them, and carnations. I left them in front of the gates of the site, and drove away, the dawn on my heels.

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