By Mike Dunagan
Gowan Macgregor stood outside the castle, the wooden cart carrying the body of his dead son resting behind him, and beat on the massive wooden door.
“Open to me, vampire!” He screamed. “I mean to see you!”
The waning moon, like a bleached cat’s eye staring down on the scene, illuminated the early evening with a pallid light, draining all color, all life, from the world it fell on. It had been dark for over an hour now, Gowan knew the vampire would be awake. Knew he would be preparing to feed. Inside he could hear the echo of his hammering rumble down the lonely hallways and empty chambers.
“Do you hear me, vampire?” He shouted. “Do not ignore me! I stand at your doorway, you can not turn a blind eye to me!”
So silent was the shadow of darkness that Gowan did not know the vampire was behind him until he spoke. “Nor shall I, foolish man,” said Viktor Yarik, master of the castle and elder of the vampire clan in northern Scotland.
Showing unnatural reflexes, Gowan spun to his left, allowing his legs to buckle as he did. The vampire’s claws raked empty air where Gowan’s head had been; a millisecond slower and his skull would have been laid open, his brains spread across the cobblestone path like slop flung out to the hogs.
Gowan used his momentum from the tumble to somersault off the ground and back into a crouched position five feet away from Victor.
“I underestimated you human,” said Viktor, surprised by Gowan’s reflexes.
“You underestimate me, but I am not human.”
Viktor’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, then narrowed in anger. He tilted his head back, his nose wrinkling as he inhaled deeply, tasting the smells on the air.
“A half-breed! How could I have missed the stench? How dare you foul my land, my home? How dare you come…”
“I’m here to beg help of you, vampire.”
“You’re here to die werewolf!”
Though prepared for the charge, Gowan let the vampire attack unimpeded. Even as he fell backward with the vampire’s hands at his throat, he did not move. Did not offer resistance. Viktor raised his arm, poised to strike…then held.
“Why do you not struggle? Why do you not fight for your life?” He said, hissing like a snake through barred fangs.
Gowan struggled to draw enough air through his constricted windpipe to force an answer. “Mine would be…a fool’s fight. To win would…be worse than death. To lose…means to forfeit all hope…I am…at your mercy.”
His lungs burning and his chest beginning to spasm in need of oxygen, Gowan gasped, suddenly able to draw a deep lungful of air. Yarik had released him and now stood several feet away.
“First a werewolf dares enter the grounds of a vampire, then he won’t defend himself. What peculiar behavior are you trying to baffle me with half-breed?”
Gowan lay perfectly still, afraid the vampire would interpret any change in body position as an aggressive act. “I come to you as a beggar, not a warrior. You are the only one I can turn to. I need your help!”
“Don’t lie to me half-breed! No werewolf would turn to a vampire for help. What is your game?”
Still, Gowan did not move, though the desperation in his voice was unmistakable as he spoke. “No games, Viktor Yarik. I would not be fool enough to beat on your door the first night past full moon, to attack you as a human-wolf. I do not come for battle, but for your benevolence. I have no other place to go, no one else to turn to.”
Overcome by emotion, Gowan raised his face to the impotent moon and screamed; a sound more wolf than man.
Viktor spit on the ground in front of him. “Spare me your bays half-breed. I cannot stomach your sight or sound. Tell me why you’ve come to my home, and why you drag a corpse with you like some dog’s offering to its master?”
“I need you to help my son. It’s him I carry with me in the wagon.”
“What do I care of a werewolf’s dead son – it’s of no interest to me.”
“My boy was killed last night. Fourteen, maybe fifteen hours ago,” said Gowan, glancing at the moon to gauge his estimate.
“Days pass, boys die. Last night or last year, dead is dead.”
Anger sparked through Gowan’s body. Course hair sprouted from his temples and across the back of each hand. Viktor watched as the half-breed struggled to maintain his composure, control his temper and his tongue. His blood burns, thought Viktor, if not for the phase of the moon, he would have turned.
“That’s not true! He is not beyond help! You don’t understand,” said Gowan, lowering his eyes, unable to meet the vampire’s stare. “I killed him…it’s my fault!”
Viktor stared at the human-wolf in front of him, confused but intrigued. “I warn you half-breed, I have little patience. I’m ready to feed and my temper is foul. You have very little room for mistakes or time to misspeak. Make your point.”
“I’ve always kept him locked in his room during the full moon, to keep him safe. He got out last night. I don’t know how, but he did. I caught him in the woods just before moon set – when the urge is at its peak and there’s nothing but the drive to hunt and destroy. I didn’t even recognize him. I woke this morning, still protecting my kill, still holding my boy.”
Gowan stood and walked to the wagon behind him. “I come begging for an exchange. I offer you my life in trade for the return of my son’s. There’s still time!””
“Time for what, werewolf? What is it you want?”
“I come asking…begging…you to conduct a Resurrection.”
“I know of the ritual! Please, I beg you!” Tears ran down Gowan’s face. His voice broke as he rushed forward, raw with emotion and despair. “He’s my only son. I cannot bear life without him. It can still be done! If we hurry, he’s not too long gone!”
“A werewolf…a half-breed…dares bring his pup to me, crying like a weak human, wanting me to save his boy? You waste my time.”
“No, you don’t understand! He’s not a pup. The curse skipped him. His blood is pure, unspoiled. He’s human, not a half-breed. The ritual can work on him!”
“You know nothing, half-breed. Yes, the Resurrection exists. But it is a last resort. Used only for vampires, to give eternal life, not to save a werewolf’s son!”
“Please, he’s my boy! By everything you hold or have ever held dear, you must help me! Folklore says it has also been used to convert humans – to bring back those who died from infected bites before the change could occur.”
“Yes, to complete the transition, to resurrect them as a vampire!”
“I would rather see him a vampire, than to never see him again. I love him. Resurrect Him. Bring back my son.”
The passion, the grief, of the werewolf was obvious. Viktor saw it on his mottled face, heard it in his quivering voice, and hated it. It was the beast’s human side, his weak side. It was the fundamental difference between their kinds.
Sensing his mood, Gowan spoke. “I trade you my life for his. I will call you master and do as you command.”
“That’s a heavy burden, half-breed. A life of servitude and slavery…all for the life of a boy?”
Gowan fell to his knees. “Please! What hardship is servitude when I already carry the burden of his death?”
Silence settled between them, one deep in thought the other deep in prayer.
Werewolves were bizarre creatures to Viktor. They were vicious enemies and fearless killers when under the spell of the moon; easily the most savage predator in the forest. Yet for all their strength and cunning, they could not escape the frailty of their human form. This was the true curse they endured – possessing the instinct of a manslayer and the conscience of a man. They were half-breeds, eternally torn between two realities. He hated them, and to his surprise, found that he pitied them as well.
“Stand up half-breed. If I am to lighten your load and you are to be reunited with your son, we have much to do and little time left to do it. Get him from the cart.”
Afraid that any response would risk the vampire’s anger, Gowan dared not say a word. With the uncanny grace of the wolf, he rose, moved to the cart and carefully lifted his son to a sitting position in the wagon’s bed. He delicately brushed the dried blood from the boy’s face and swept the hair back from his forehead.
His voice was a whisper on the wind as he lifted the boy in his arms. “Do not be lonely Ian, you will see me soon,” he said, and kissed his son’s cold cheek.
Viktor watched the half-breed cradle the boy to his chest. Despite his lack of emotion – his lack of soul – he felt a distant ache in his heart, a memory of whom he once was, of how he had once loved. In an act of uncharacteristic mercy, Viktor stepped behind Gowan and ripped open the werewolf’s throat. His fingernails, forged steel and slivered glass, sliced through skin, muscle, cartilage and bone.
The attack was swift and fatal.
Gowan lurched forward several steps, blood flowing down his shirt, washing over the body of his son -- celebrating death and delivery, sin and salvation. He could feel life drain from him like water from a tub, the sound of blood gurgling from his wound strengthening the image in his mind. He stumbled, lost his balance and collapsed.
As the fog of dying faded to the darkness of death, Gowan heard the vampire speak softly in his ear.
“I will not resurrect, werewolf…I cannot, but I will let death reunite you with your boy. It is the best I can do. And the most you can hope for.”
Gowan exhaled for the last time, then set-off to find his son as a single red-tinged tear landed on his lifeless cheek.