From the Life and Curse of Sean Becker
“My name is Sean Becker and I’m a vampire. There, I said it out loud like I’m at some sort of Vampire’s Anonymous meeting. Satisfied?”
They met for the second time in a ground floor apartment in an abandoned tenement slated to be torn down. It was the first time he’d been to Pittsburgh, and from Sean’s point of view, the “pitts” part of this burgh fit perfectly.
Sean stared at the other and shuddered at the thought of the first time they met. This was the man, if you could call him that, who he hated more than anyone else on Earth. Sean wasn’t used to hating anyone. Before the change, he thought of himself as a pretty nice guy. Somewhere inside, he still was that guy, but the man who had tracked him down imposed something else on him, something horrible.
“I suppose you have a lot of questions.”
The other looked to be about fifty years old and spoke with a slight accent Sean couldn’t identify. He was totally bald, which in his case suited him. He dressed like what the kids call “Goth,” all in black, which also fit not only his appearance but his function.
“Starting with how you managed to find me. I thought I covered my tracks pretty well.” Sean had been running away from everything he’d ever known since he had died six months ago. Died that is, as far as his wife, kids, the rest of his family and friends all knew. Three days after death, in spite of being embalmed and buried, he rose again after sunset as one of the undead, a vampire.
“Give me some credit young man. I’ve been around a lot longer than you have and I know how to track one of our kind.”
The other had a casual posture, putting one foot on top of a chair with a broken back and leaning slightly forward, subtly smiling at Sean. For him, this meeting, who they were, what they did, all appeared perfectly normal and ordinary or so it seemed to the younger man.
Sean, by contrast, was standing rigidly with his back to the doorway, ready to make an escape, though now that he was a vampire, he couldn’t imagine he’d be much prey to another nightwalker.
“Questions. I know you have questions. I did when I first turned, though the creature who created me didn’t have the courtesy of looking me up so I could ask them.”
Sean had a lot of questions, but could he push down his hatred of the other, his hatred of what he’d become in order to ask them?
“Come, come, Sean. I don’t have all night. I have prey to hunt. I imagine you do as well.”
Sean took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. “Okay, let’s start with who you are and why you did this to me.”
“Very well.” The stranger removed his foot from the chair and took a few steps to Sean’s left. “I’ve used many names over the years. I’ve had to change identities periodically, to keep the authorities and various sorts of hunters off my trail. I was once known as Moshe Cohen. Long ago, my father was a Rabbi of a small village in what is now known as the Czech Republic.”
“Is that such an impossibility?”
“I thought Jews were forbidden from consuming blood. If your father was a Rabbi…”
“Yes, I was raised religious, and yes, the irony is not lost on me. However, I live under the same curse as you do, and the curse is what dictates our appetites. Hashem has chosen not to intervene.”
“You mean God.”
“Yes, that’s correct. If I’m not mistaken, you are, or rather were, a Christian. Is this not so?”
“I am a Christian, Cohen!” Sean surprised himself at his sudden outburst of anger.
“I understand your feelings. How could your Jesus abandon you this way? How could he allow you to be turned into a bloodsucking monster? Now that you have achieved a practical immortality barring certain circumstances, will you ever die and go to Heaven, or because of what you are, is your final destination the Christian Hell?”
Sean hated Cohen all the more now because he was exactly right, but hate gave way to a profound sorrow and grief. He felt the tears welling up behind his eyes.
“Do you even…pray to God anymore?”
Cohen sighed and walked a step toward Sean. He seemed to have lost some of his arrogance and bemusement and even appeared a bit pensive.
“I used to pray. I know. Ironic, right? A Jewish vampire donning a tallit, laying tefillin, and davening with a siddur. I even joined with other Jews at synagogues on Erev Shabbat, that is, for Friday evening prayers. I did that for years, how many, I don’t recall. I had hoped that continued devotion would somehow mitigate the many sins I had committed.”
“What do you expect? I woke up one evening and discovered that Hashem had abandoned me to my fate. I suppose what happened to me is what happened to many of the Jews who survived the Nazi camps. I lost my faith.”
“Some Jews came out of those camps stronger in their faith.”
“Don’t tell me about being Jewish and faith! All of that has been consumed by the vampire!”
Sean was startled at Cohen’s yelling and took a step backward.
“Forgive me, Sean.” Cohen paused to take another deep breath. “I like to think I’ve made peace with myself over who and what I am, but obviously there are times when that peace is broken.”
Sean could only look upon Cohen with a kind of pity, as if the older vampire were a reflection of what he himself would one day become. Would Sean walk away from Jesus and let a vampire be his only identity?
Cohen visibly composed himself to continue. “I’m sure you’ve already figured out about sunlight. We cannot tolerate it and if exposed to direct sunlight long enough, it becomes toxic, fatal.”
“Yes. I only go out by night.”
“You have also discovered, no doubt, that many of the legends of the vampire popularized in books, and later in films and television are not quite accurate.”
“I can look at and even touch a cross and I don’t actually have to spend the day in a coffin if that’s what you mean.”
“Quite true. As far as a stake through the heart being the only method of extinguishing us, even I am not so sure about that. I have seen a few of our kind executed in this manner, but I believe that any sufficiently catastrophic injuries, such as severe dismemberment, might accomplish the same thing.”
“I’ll try not to let myself be torn apart by a crazy mob of villagers.” Sean was remembering the old Universal Studios horror films he watched as a kid, everything from Frankenstein to the Wolf Man, and of course, Dracula.
“Blood, principally human blood, is our only nourishment. We can consume other foods, but they no longer provide us with life. This curse we are under leaves us with a single option for survival.”
“Is it a curse? Is this the supernatural? Are we servants of…” Sean didn’t want to end his last sentence with the obvious conclusion.
“We don’t turn into bats, Sean. Perhaps there is a supernatural element to what we are, but I am more inclined to believe that this is as much a disease as it is an other worldly curse.”
“How many of us are there?”
“That’s difficult to say since, by definition, we must hide who we are from the world. I can track our kind from time to time, but it is easier to discover those who have recently crossed over. Those who have lived this life for decades or longer are too practiced in concealing their activities.”
“But every time we attack someone, we leave a very telltale injury, one that practically screams that vampires exist in the world.”
Cohen chuckled. “Have you wondered why few of your victims have reported their attacks to the authorities?”
“I didn’t know they hadn’t. I’ve kept on the move. Never looked back.”
“As I said, I’ve been keeping an eye on you. Only two of the people you fed upon spoke to the police, and that’s only because they had cried out and attracted attention. Even then, they had no memory of the attack or of the attacker. A fringe benefit of what we leave behind when we feed.”
“Oh, we take blood from our victims, but we leave behind a sort of substance, a biological defense mechanism, that robs the victim of any memory of the attack and disinclines them to disclose it. If you are careful, you can feed on any particular individual on a more or less regular basis. If you do so too often, they actually become dependent on what you give them, making them particularly susceptible to your suggestions, even your whims.”
“You mean we can make slaves?”
“Of a sort. I avoid it myself. I use people enough as it is. I normally only take what I need, and then I too move on.”
Sean felt himself go cold inside. “Why did you kill me?”
Cohen didn’t immediately answer. He took several steps backward until he was fully engulfed in shadow.
“It was not my intension, Sean. Like you, I do not want to make anymore of our kind.”
“Then why did you kill me you son of a…?” Sean’s fists were clenched, his posture aggressive. For an instant, he almost attacked Cohen with the full fury of his fangs and his claws.
Cohen was only a voice in darkness when he finally spoke again.
“I was starving. I had denied myself victims for many weeks. It will happen to you too, I suppose. The loss of will to continue. The empty existence. No family. No friends. No purpose except to survive and to feed. But the ancient drive is too strong. It finally caught up with me. I saw you walking in that dimly lit parking lot.”
Cohen stopped talking. What more could be said?
“I was visiting a sick friend and was leaving the hospit…I thought you said victims have no memory. I remember what happened that night in exquisite and horrifying detail!”
“Only if you live. I took far too much from you for you to survive, and that is the greatest curse of all. I am truly so…”
“Sorry? What do you know of being sorry? Do you know what you took from me?” Tears were streaming down Sean’s cheeks. Grief and rage consumed him as much as his bloodlust.
“No more than was taken from me. Do you not believe that I too had a wife, children, a family, a life? The thing who made me took all of that from me for all time. If anyone understands what you have lost, what I have taken from you, it is I.”
Both of them stood for minutes without speaking or movement. Two tortured souls, two monsters, two victims of fate and time and darkness.
Finally, Sean broke the silence. “What do I do now?”
“I cannot say. Perhaps your God will listen to you more than mine has listened to me. Maybe He will release you. If He does not, then you can choose to feed and live, if this is any sort of life, or to stand in the sun long enough to burn and die.”
“Why do you keep going, Cohen? What’s the point?”
“I have asked myself that question many times, especially since that night when we…met. I have made a choice, Sean. If I live long enough, maybe Hashem will have mercy on me. I have lived long enough to see the world change. There have been many tragedies but many wonders as well. Like some Jews, even today, I suppose I’m waiting for Messiah to come and to make things right.”
“So if I live long enough, I’ll see the second coming and Jesus will save me?”
“I wouldn’t have put it that way, Sean.”
“If we live long enough by nightly drinking human blood, do you really think God will have mercy on us?”
“Neither of us asked for this life, Sean. Our only way out is suicide, and taking life, even our own, is forbidden. I assume you have similar beliefs.”
“So we sin by drinking blood and living, and we sin if we try to die.” Then it occurred to Sean. “I thought you said you’d lost your faith.”
“I would seem I did not. In spite of everything, the teachings of my father have lived on in me, even through all this.”
“I’m not sure it’s worth it, Cohen.”
“What choice do you have but to nightly submit yourself to the mercy of God?”
Sean didn’t reply. He couldn’t. It was too fantastic. A Christian vampire, praying in the name of Jesus at sunset and drinking human blood at midnight?
“I see you don’t have an answer for that one. I don’t blame you. However, the night grows old and I hunger, so if you’ll excuse me…”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Do you seriously desire it?”
“There’s no one else to talk to. No one else would understand.”
“Perhaps. It is not always wise for those of our kind to congregate, at least too often. In the meantime…” Cohen moved closer to a glass-less window allowing moonlight to illuminate him. “…you know who will always listen.”
Sean stood mute as Cohen took his leave without looking back. The younger vampire stared out the window long after the older had vanished into the night. Then he collapsed to his knees and placed the palms of his hands together.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily…bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory,
forever, and ever.
An hour later, Sean was drinking the blood of a nineteen-year-old college student just after she left a dorm party.