prologue for a vampire novel
| Crossover Bridge might have been a pub, though one would not have thought it was that night. Where there was usually filled with good natured shouts, a keen of mourning took its place, rising through the winter's chilly air.
Inside, the patrons spoke in whispers, all telling tales of the legendary Humphrey, who, on this night, one year ago, walked away towards the bridge, never to return.
The bridge was stable, I'd imagine it would be, so that the city would let it stand. Years of tales about the bridge brought the an air of brilliant defiance and horror. In the river below, the water ran deep an d fast, so the pillars had been laid, deep and fast. The first haunting account of the bridge came shortly after its construction. Someone, the wife of one of the workers, said that they had buried him in the bridge; concrete hardening around him, without any way of getting him out.
Such was the workmanship of The New Deal, which in reality brought more pain and suffering to communities than one could've imagined.
The town, La Crux, had only escaped the aftermath of such devastating blows dealt by politicians in far away Washington by clinging to its roots. The people began introducing themselves, and soon a social network was formed. If someone was in need, the town would provide. La Crux might be haunted, but it was proud of its citizens, and as time passed a University had been built, and the town began to prosper again. For every city block that had been occupied, four more had been built. For every four, there soon came yet another set of additions. All of these were necessary for the community to grow as a whole, and to allow the establishment of a University.
"Your journey has led you to a crossroad. You decide where you go from here."
The school's motto, which was slightly intimidating at first, drew attention. The University became known as a place of learning, where those who had the drive could earn a degree. For my part, I have always suspected that it was not the motto that drew the attention, but the price. Crux University was filled with new teachers, new ideas, new ideals to meet, and was still one of the cheapest schools to attend.
It was landscaped well, set to match our community, filled with green grass and tall trees. The buildings were even made of stone, similar to many houses around the area. When you attended the school, you felt as though you belonged, even if you knew no one. The town would take in anyone, new or old, and greet them with hope and a sense of community that most small towns which had simply up and disappeared did not have.
Eddy, Marie and myself had met each other there. Before everything changed, we were friends. Eddy had the muscle, I had the wits, and Marie had the looks. With those charms combined with a large house, we had quickly surged through the ranks of the greek system which had always regarded us with a quiet wariness. Our parties were bigger, and better. The greek system had been shunned, quietly, away from such spectacles, but every one who had not bought a friend in some Sorority or Fraternity found themselves welcome to all that we had. There were many good times to be had, and ours were the best.
A year ago, that came to an end. The house where people thronged became a place where most were quietly turned away. We were all in mourning. The passing of a friend, Dr. Humphrey, who was as much a mentor and friend as a teacher, weighed hard on our shoulders. Marie sought me out for comfort, and that in an of itself turned into a brief spark of hope, something new being brought into a world, an actual relationship, which Marie, Eddy and I had always forsworn, putting ourselves as friends who transcended such petty romantic whims.
It was Eddy that put an end to it.
The evening was somber at the bar. I play guitar every so often, much to my friends' amusement. I'd prepared a set list for tonight though; each song a soft offering up to those that have passed. It was a strange assortment of music, but by the time I'd decided that the room needed to hear some Bob Dylan, they were all focused on me. It was a nice focus, a kind gesture on their part, to give me such attention. By the time I'd finished my set the audience was weeping, quietly if not openly. I sighed and grabbed my beat up guitar, and returned to my seat.
Eddy looked flushed and angry, and Marie stood up to hug me. "I'm gonna head out now," she told me, her eyes glancing toward Eddy.
"No worries Marie, I'll keep him occupied. God knows there are enough women around here who'd fall for the lummox."
Marie laughed, and kissed my cheek. "See you at home later, love." Then she began her sinuous sultry stride, headed for the door. I watched her go, smiling a little bit. I was proud that she was mine, and I hers.
Eddy's face was flushed. He hated to see public affection flouted about between Marie and I. He'd been that way since she chose me over him. It was a shame, seeing how petty Eddy could be, as to hold a grudge against one of his oldest friends. Such was his way though. Eddy was built, and I'm sure a lot of the reason he worked out so much was to work through his frustration.
I bought Eddy a drink, which only brought a bit of a smirk to his face. "Pity liquor," he said. "That's how we go about doing things now?"
Quiet, almost a whisper, but loud enough for Eddy to hear. "It's what Humphrey would do, eh?" I missed my old mentor then, staring my beer down. I guess Eddy had finished his in one gulp, and then turned around in his barstool so he could lean back on the bar. I could almost see his blurred gaze move over the place. He got up from time to time, to talk with classmates. Female classmates mostly. If I had had to place a bet on Eddy looking for a pity fuck, I would've won. Unfortunately for him, none of the fish were biting, and he came back eventually and ordered another shot, 151, for him and for me.
"Let's just get outta this dump" Eddy said. He slammed his shot glass down on the table, and I followed suit, if only to make Eddy feel more of the comradeship that we once had. I followed him out. "It was Humphrey's night, just came to the Crossroad to show my respect. I guess we can leave."
I set my guitar down behind the bar; they were kind enough to keep it safe from harm, and to prevent me lugging the thing around. I freely admit that I am not a strong man, physically. Mentally, if a problem arises, I'm like a dog with a bone.
We set out then, across the bridge where Humphrey died. I could see Marie down on the bank, trying to skip stones. She was so quiet, and so alone. It could be that we're all alone, grieving this matter in our own way.
"You say it's his night, eh?" Eddy asked. I nodded. "He's dead, he doesn't have nights anymore, Nathaniel."
I stared into the water below. The temperature was freezing, and the only thing that kept the river from freezing over was the momentum which drove it onward.
"Nate . . . you really think of Humphrey still, as alive. You trusted him, and he left you. Remember that saying, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." Eddy's eyes looked like cinders, boring into my soul. "If you want to understand him so much . . . " Eddy grabbed me under the arms and hoisted me aloft. "If you miss him, if you see him, tell him we miss him, eh? Oh, and don't worry about Marie . . . she won't find you, then she'll grieve, & I'll take old Humphrey's place as her mentor. Only I'm stronger, younger, more vital. She seems like a good woman. I wonder how I'll go about getting her to understand my . . . point of view." Eddy shook me then. "I'm just as good as you, damn it. Just as good, but they both wanted you more . . . why, Nate? Why?," he screamed out to the night.
"I waited so long to make my move. Humphrey's death has made us all vulernable, but some it made more than others. These people, they'll think you joined him, wherever it is that you go when you die." Eddy turned, one hand shifting to the back of my shirt. The front pulled up against my throat, choking off any pleas, or logic. My shirt, his hands, versus gravity, holding me out over the fast water below. "It's been a good run, but remember this while you're dragged down there & out to . . . wherever. There is a time for subtly and at time for brute force. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a way for me to get closer to Marie with you in the way. That's all well and good. Goodbye, Nathaniel."
There are times in a man's life where the world slows down. Times when you can feel every breath, hear every gasp of air, or the soft music the world around you makes. This was one of those times. For a brief moment, I remembered everything. The next thing that struck me was ice, cracking against my back, and then icy water closing over my head. I found the energy to fight. I would beat this, protect Marie, and fucking send that bastard traitor of a friend to the hospital.
At least, that's what I thought. Marie skimmed across the ice, rock in hand, and shattered the bit that was in front of me. It wasn't perfect, but it was enough.
"Nathaniel, hold on. Please, dear God, hold on."
I was holding, with all of my strength, grasping her arm. It was an ill fated struggle though. In the end I found myself face up on the bank, freezing in the cold. She was covered in water, which would have been quite appealing, under different circumstances. "Where are we, Marie?"
"Down the river a-ways. How did you fall in?"
One word, a whisper, was all I could muster: "Eddy." My teeth were chattering, and hers were too. It seemed like every breath was precious, then. "Marie, you shouldn't have jumped in. We might die, you know? It's too cold. Too cold." I could feel the frostbite beginning to bite at my limbs.
"At least we'll die together, then." I looked into her eyes, and saw no hint of cynicism. She really was willing to die for me. I pulled her close, trying to give my warmth to her. We surrendered to lust, keeping most of our clothes on, still wary of the cold. Afterward we were both much warmer, and I noticed Marie was bleeding on her neck. Our coupling was always rough, but I'd never drawn blood before.
When a drop of it stained the white snow around us, she laughed. I shook my head, thinking that I would never understand her cynicism, her wit, which was keen in even the direst of situations.
"I'm going to make a fire. I don't know if i can, but I can try."
"There's no use, love. We're too cold. We couldn't warm each other . . . and you can't make a fire."
"Actually, I can. Eagle scout, remember?" That made her smile. I grabbed her and held on for a moment, kissing her, afraid that it would be the last kiss. Then I set out in search of kindling. I came back with the first load, and noticed Marie turning white, so pale you could see the veins underneath. I checked her breathing, and immediately started CPR, when I felt my own arms give way. My chest heaved, a hacking cough, and my eyes became blurry. I knew then.
I was dying.
I held onto Marie, cursing Eddy. With Marie in my arms, we both sank into the eternal nothingness that lies beyond this petty world. It was like sleeping. Slipping deeper and deeper into sleep, and then finally giving way to weariness.