The Seventh Chapter in the Undead Life of Sean Becker
The sigil left in his place made no sense.
Raquel was the first to see it amid the rubble. Even the firefighters and arson investigators hadn’t been able to get down to this level yet.
Clearly the carved sign had been substituted for the vampire Antonie, but it was in the shape of an inverted pentagram accompanied by a number of other symbols. She only recognized the “all-seeing eye” which is found on the dollar bill and she had no idea how to read the Latin.
The sigil was etched into the concrete floor below what Antonie had once called his throne. Raquel hadn’t known a time when he hadn’t been the cult leader of a group of vampires inhabiting the lowest level of what had once been an abandoned warehouse on the San Francisco waterfront.
When she was sent here five years ago by Artemis and his Coalition, she was assigned to infiltrate Antonie’s “Family” of the undead and recruit any vampire she thought might be an asset. She represented a group of people who supported vampires in getting out of the life…well, “existence” of preying on human blood and sleeping among the dead so they could restore some tiny bit of sanity to their nights, perhaps even contributing to the greater good of both the living and the dead.
She’d met only four in her time serving as a bartender at the vampiric nightclub “Delirium,” the most recent being Sean Becker who was hidden in her flat alongside Artemis awaiting the setting of the Sun.
Raquel took several photos of the sigil with her cell hoping that would be enough, then took a five-pound hammer from the tools she’d brought with her and hit the concrete as many times as she could shattering the demonic seal and hoping neither the firefighters nor the mysterious organization of vampire hunters called “The Van Helsings” would be able to make out what it had been.
She scanned the charred remains of the crypt where the Family had slept by day, noting only the ashes of those who had been here when the fire above started several hours before dark. Maybe a hundred of them died the second and final death here. She’d known most of them and a few even called her “friend.”
Somehow Antonie, and maybe Dolgren, Marishka, and a few others had gotten out, but the majority of the City by the Bay’s vampire population were gone forever.
Time to get out the way she came, the only tunnel in and out of the crypt that survived.
There was nothing here to tell her whether the fire started as an accident or an act of arson caused by the Van Helsings. Artemis suspected the latter and sent her here to see if she could find proof. It was a vain hope. She wouldn’t even know what to look for unless they had left a bunch of gas cans behind with a sign that said “The Van Helsings were here.”
The tunnel led back to the sewers and she had a half a block trek through human waste and rats because she got to the closest manhole cover in the alley where she’d parked her car. The combination of odors wasn’t endearing but she’d have time for a shower and a quick supper before her “guests” awoke.
Artemis said something under his breath as he was looking at the photos on Raquel’s handheld. She had just finished a plate of Mu Shu Chicken left over from yesterday’s lunch when Sean opened the panel in the back wall of her spare bedroom. There was a space between the inner and outer walls just big enough for two people if you didn’t mind crowding. The floor was damp Earth which was helpful in providing a rest to their kind. For as long as she’d been doing this, it was still difficult to get used to.
It was also difficult to get used to storing several pints of fresh human blood in her refrigerator. The Coalition had their own covert “blood banks” across the country, but unlike the Red Cross, their donors offered generosity for the denizens of a shadow world most people didn’t know existed outside of horror movies.
Raquel still had to turn away while the two fed. When they were finished, she took the empties and would exchange them for full bottles tomorrow morning. For tonight, it was over. Artemis and Sean wouldn’t have to suffer the torture, the insatiable craving for human blood that would drive them into the night to prey on the innocent or the guilty.
“What did you say, Artemis?”
“They must have gotten to him, although I’m surprised that even the Van Helsings could have committed a vampire such as Antonie to the second death.”
“That’s the sigil for the Van Helsings?”
“Yes.” He kept staring at the image as if it held some sort of power over him.
Artemis could pass for a college senior or maybe a playful elf. He was a little shorter than medium height, pale complexion commonly associated with the undead, a large bush of dark, curly hair over the same sort of eyebrows. He wore what some people still call “John Lennon” glasses but with tinted lens regardless of how dark or light it was. He’d changed into a “Grateful Dead” t-shirt but was wearing the same jeans and Nikes he had on for the past few nights.
“What does it mean, Artemis?”
“It’s hard to know exactly what it means to them. For us, it’s the symbol of the second death and the Van Helsing’s commitment to exterminating all of our kind.”
“What about those words at the top?”
“It’s Latin, Raquel.”
“Yes, I figured that part out for myself, but what does it say in English?” Normally Artemis was fairly approachable, but ever since seeing the sigil, he’d become distant, remote, as if he were bound by the talisman to another place and time.
“‘From blood to the Sun’. It’s their motto. A less than cryptic way of saying they will purge us from the darkness and the blood to the light of the sun…our second death.”
“And the symbols? You said they’re religious fanatics and that’s a pentagram. Are they Satanists?”
“They don’t think of themselves that way, Sean. The pentagram can be said to be composed of two ‘Vs’ which stand for the name of their fictional founder, though they’re far older than Stoker’s novel. The spaces around the pentagram contain angelic or demonic symbols.”
“I recognize that one. It’s Egyptian.”
“Yes, it’s the one Egyptian symbol most people know, Raquel. It’s the Ankh, the symbol for eternal life. The one at the very top is the Leviathan Cross. To the left is the demonic symbol for the Abyss. At the bottom left is the symbol for rebirth, and the bottom right is reserved for the symbol of Satan which is also composed of two ‘Vs’.”
“That’s the all-seeing eye at the center.”
“Right again, Raquel.”
She was getting tired of him being aloof. “So why does this make you so moody?”
Artemis suddenly wheeled upon her, bared his fangs snarling, and screeched, “Because death is upon us all and the streets of San Francisco will run red with blood before they give us up. Human or vampire, it doesn’t matter. For centuries the Van Helsings have pursued their sacred calling of destroying the spawn of Satan here on Earth, the Lamia, the Vampiro, Vampires, which includes our allies!”
Raquel recoiled backward, tripped and fell at the base of her living room wall. Sean reached out to take Artemis’s forearm and was backhanded hard enough to send him crashing into the dining table and the tumbling to the floor.
“Wait.” Artemis seemed to come back to himself. He looked around as if seeing the two of them for the first time, and then suddenly realizing he was the one who had terrorized them.
“I’m sorry.” He lowered his head speaking just above a whisper.
Raquel looked over at Sean who was crouching at one leg of the table, eyes glowing with rage, fangs bared, claws poised to strike. She tried to get his attention but he kept staring at Artemis.
Then the moment passed and he too transitioned from monster to man, or what passes for a man in the realm of the undead.
“So what now, Artemis?” Raquel slowly stood but kept her back to the wall.
“We have two choices. We stay and fight or we leave.”
“What happens if we stay?”
“I wasn’t kidding, Sean. The streets could potentially run red with blood, both of those they hunt and the innocent. The Van Helsings consider collateral damage acceptable in the cause of the greater good.”
“You mean getting rid of us.”
“Yes, and anyone who gets in the way, including you, Raquel.”
“How can we fight them? We don’t even know who they are, where they’re hiding?”
“They found us, didn’t they Raquel? As far as how to fight them, there’s only one way. It’s the same way they fight us.”
“You mean murder.”
Artemis trembled and for a moment Raquel and Sean thought he was going to lose control again. Sean didn’t know what he’d do if the other vampire went berserk. When Artemis struck him, he felt the same rage, the same bloodlust. If they fought there was no telling how much damage they would do. Raquel could he killed even by accident.
“No, Sean. It’s not murder,” he hissed. “It’s survival.”
“What about if we run?” At that moment, running sounded perfectly acceptable to Raquel. Her job at Delirium was gone. All the surviving vampires would go into hiding or, as Raquel wanted to do, leave the Bay Area. She had nothing to keep her except the first, last and deposit she’d put down on this flat.
“If we run then we hope the Van Helsings don’t track us, that they stay occupied with hunting down the remaining Family members who chose to stay. Their deaths would buy us escape time.”
“How do we choose?” Sean was torn in different directions. If Dolgren and Marishka were still out there, one or both of them might be able to explain why he had been cursed for the past twenty years to become one of them. And even though he could never see his wife and children again, he still felt that being this near somehow connected them. If he left, he was leaving them behind too, although if his death and unlife wasn’t the final “leaving,” he didn’t know what was.
“There are too many of them and they’re too well-organized. They can move around both in the day and night. The remaining undead here are scattered, terrified, most of them not able to function without a leader like Antonie. We’d never stand a chance. We have to leave.”
“Abandon our own kind?”
“Sean, it’s time you realize that there’s a war going on and its being fought on many fronts. The Van Helsings are a centuries old Christian religious order whose roots may go as far back as the Illuminati. They are well-funded, organized, and absolutely ruthless. They are capable of anything as long as they believe it will accomplish their mission of totally eliminating the world of vampires and the underlying vampiric curse. That’s one front.
“The second front is actually three. Vampires are either organized in cult groups like Antonie’s, in Coalitions like ours that seek to transition vampires from a predatory to a cooperative existence with human support, and then there are the independents who don’t give a damn either way.
“The Van Helsings are against all vampires, but we’re divided among ourselves. When we’re backed against a wall like this, the only thing I can think to do is find safe haven and wait it out. The Van Helsings don’t want to be exposed anymore than we do so their attempts to strike at vampires has to look like accidents, natural disasters…”
“Or acts of terrorism which is how Antonie explained my disappearance. It seems that vampires and religious fanatics aren’t that far apart.”
“That’s what the Coalition is trying to change, Sean. We want to provide a safe environment for our kind, a place where we can be free…or at least as free as we’ll ever get.”
“You keep saying stuff like that Antonie, but what does it mean?”
“If you agree to come with us, I’ll show you.”
“L.A. for starters. If you don’t fit in there, we’ll try to find you a more suitable placement.”
Sean stared out the window into the darkness. An invisible war had been going on for centuries and the latest battle was going to be fought in San Francisco tonight. Even before all this, every evening when he watched the news with his wife after the kids were in bed, they remarked how far Creation had fallen away from God. They prayed that Jesus would come soon as Lord and Savior and restore the human race to repentance and obedience.
He thought the world was a virtual hell on Earth even back then in what he now thought of as his “innocence.”
Now he realized it was much, much worse.
Sean turned back to his two new friends. “You’re right. We can’t fight. I wouldn’t even know how.”
“You looked like you did a few minutes ago.” Raquel seemed more relaxed now but she was still trembling and sweating. She had allied herself to Artemis and Sean, but the events of just minutes ago told her that under the wrong circumstances, they were very capable of turning on her just as they would any other…prey.
Artemis was still holding onto Raquel’s cell phone and he gave it back. Then he pulled another out of his hoodie’s pocket and started some rapid finger movements. “Raquel, I’m transferring enough funds into your private account so you can rent a small truck. Sean and I will ride in the back during the day. You’ll be able to tie up whatever loose ends you have here. Needless to say don’t even try to go back to Delirium or access your public account. They’ll be able to trace you that way.”
“The Family or the Van Helsings?”
“Both. I’ve sent you an email with the details of when we’re leaving and where to take us. The truck rental place is open until Seven so you should just make it.”
“Yeah, now. We’ve got to get out of here. Take only what you absolutely need. We’ve got to blow town.”
Sean looked at Artemis. They were really leaving. He’d lived in the Bay Area most of his life and only went to school in Southern California. Dying and being reborn a vampire was the ultimate form of “leaving,” but even in this form, the surroundings were familiar and he took some small comfort in that. Now he was taking the next inexorable step in the unlife he had never chosen for himself…or maybe he had. Maybe that was part of the curse.
He’d have to discover that another time.
“Okay, I’m leaving. I’ll have to tow my car behind…”
“Leave the car. Remember your private account is tied to a different name, different credit cards, different driver’s license. You’re leaving Raquel behind along with the life she led. Leave the car a few blocks from the rental place. While your gone, we’ll pack up your stuff.”
“You told me this would be dangerous, Artemis.”
“I told you there would be sacrifices. This is one of them. Now get…”
“I’m going, I’m going.” She already had a jacket on. Grabbing her purse, she was out the door.
“Is it always like this, Artemis?”
“What? Running? Hiding? Sometimes. We’ll find a place for you to hide, maybe even blend in. Start a new life of sorts.”
“A night job? Maybe I can work in a morgue.”
“Actually, you’re not far off, Sean. You’re not far off.”
Sean thought back to the photo of the sigil carved in concrete and how Artemis described the Van Helsings. They were an ancient, secret organization, well-funded, dedicated, and networked. He saw how much Artemis had transferred into Raquel’s alternate account and it was substantial. Secret bank accounts, well-funded, fake IDs. So if some creepy religious order called the Illuminati were somehow behind the Van Helsings, then who or what was behind the Coalition?
I wrote this for the First Line Friday writing challenge hosted by Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to take the sentence presented and use it as the first line for a short fiction story. As you probably know, the line is “The sigil left in his place made no sense.”
I rewrote this story for a challenge at “The Daily Post.” The challenge word for the day is Carve which seemed to fit well with both the “sigil” prompt and allowed me to write a story to fit the Sean Becker “canon.”
Here are the previous chapters:
You first met The Van Helsings in last week’s flash fiction tale The Burning.
You can find out more about vampires such Dol, Verona, and Bobby in the story Stop Me From Falling.
BONUS: Learn more about Marishka’s past in the story A Quiet Evening’s Conversation.
The next chapter in the series is They Will Run You Down in the Dark.