Same Story, Different Approach


At first the rain was soothing as it came down in sheets with claps of thunder acting underscoring the rhythm as it shook frosted glass windows of the old factory. But around six-thirty the rain began to taper off going from soothing to annoying as the gutter filled up with water and poured out onto the dilapidated concrete below.

James got up, grumbling loudly as he crawled from the bed to his old 8-track player on the other side of the room. After rummaging through a small box he pulled out a copy of KISS and popped it into the player, cranking the volume up and hitting play. With a new rhythm in his head he crawled back into the dilapidated mattress and fell back to sleep.

What it lacked in newness the machine more than made up for in sound. Soon the windows throbbed, turning the lyrics of Detroit Rock City into formless noise puzzling any of the evening commuters who might be passing by. A tremor of sound ripped through the old building, awakening the building's owner two floors down, but James was oblivious to anyone else's discomfort as he writhed in bed and began to play an invisible guitar in his sleep.

It was 1979 at Madison Square Garden and the stadium was packed with an endless sea of screaming fans who had come from around the globe. Most had bought their tickets months in advance, others camped out in tents and RV's waiting in line so they could get their chance. In the backstage area the lucky few who were able to get their hands on passes were jockeying for the best position to see the performers as the burly security guards tried to keep them in check.

A flood of search lights touched the stage, illuminating instruments and revealing Johnny, the drummer, Marcus and Billy on guitar and base and Peter Feagan, who added an old world sound to some of the selections with his classical instruments and was now lovingly caressing the bass with a custom designed bow that was made to look like a pitchfork. But one search light danced across the stage as the fans cheered and cried out for their hero, the man they were here to see, the man who had redefined rock and gave this generation the weapon of sound in their war of independence against The Man.

“I see an angel,” his voice, soft but penetrating, carried across the stadium silencing the crowd except for a gasp from women as they looked up. “I see an angel standing there. All alone in the dark, apart from what I've known.”

The search light flew to the top of the stadium, finding James on platform slowly descending to the stage as he continued to sing the lyrics in a low and humbling voice. When he reached the stage the silence shattered with an onslaught of drums, followed by the guitar and base and underscored by Feagan's bass as James ripped into the audience with his voice and his dance moves.

Some held up homemade signs decorated in large red hearts, flowers and glitter that declaring their never ending love for him or one of the other band members in over a dozen languages. Others shouted blew him kisses that he accepted and returned with a kindness that was both practiced and natural as he made eye contact with the fans closest to the stage, making them feel like the concert for them only. Others declared themselves his future bride-to-be and flung their panties onto the stage as their dowry.

The sound cut out and the band, the fans, the Garden and the 70's disappeared in a flash of shock as the bedroom door flew open and someone yanked the plug out of the socket. James shouted as if someone had splashed him with ice water. His eyes were still blurry from sleep as he looked from the 8-track player to the large, ominous figure standing at the foot of the mattress.

“Don't touch my stereo,” He shouted. James stumbled out of bed and did a half-leap, half-trip as he swung out his arms.

Odhran merely stepped aside and let James tumble under his own weight, headfirst into the brick wall. The sudden pain and the shock of the fall brought woke up James up fully as Odhran grabbed him from behind and spun him around so they were face to face.

When his brain finally caught up with him James recognized the tall, somewhat portly form of his landlord. With flecks of gray on his slowly receding hairline, the old Irishman seared James dark brown eyes and a look that James had long ago learned to associate with a throbbing headache. How appropriate.

“Now that you are awake,” he said, calmly, though his agitation was more than apparent. “Perhaps you will remember that the terms of your lease with me include a period of relative silence in the evening hours.”

“I never signed a lease, Old Man.” James groaned. He rubbed his forehead with the heal of his hand checking for damage. “In you old age you seem to be forgetting little things like that...oh, and not touching my stereo.”

“Your memory is worse than mine it would seem. Perhaps you've forgotten that while I own this building it is technically abandoned. No one is supposed to be here and every time you blare that garbage you risk drawing unwanted attention from the authorities. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS!”

James winced. Odhran stepped back as the boy sunk to the floor in a gesture of submission.

“Yes sir,” he muttered.

“Good,” Odhran said. “I won't warn you again.”

Satisfied with James for the time being, Odhran left, closing the door behind him. James sat there for a few minutes trying to will the pain away and failing. His ego was hurt more than his body and since he didn't smell blood he knew he'd be fine physically. But he was sick of the old man speaking to him like a child and treating him like an irresponsible punk. He let the anger run it's course, allowing every possible variation of mean old fart run through his mind as he inspected the damage to the stereo.

The cord was fine but the prongs were bent so far to the right that he could see they would break if he tried to fix them. As he considered various ways to avenge his lifelong companion he got up and took some clothes out of the metal locker that served as his closet and made his way for the bathroom.

James lived on the third floor of an old paper mill. Odhran lived downstairs were the machines were once kept and rented out the two upper floors. James still wasn't sure of how the old man came into possession of the building but he appreciated it nonetheless. He had more space than a person could get used to, though if a pretty young welder with dreams of becoming a dancer ever needed the space he wouldn't say no to her.

The shabby old sofa in the center of the room and a tiny bookshelf standing beside it was all of the furniture he owned. Like the bedroom he kept it as spartan and bare looking as possible so that if someone were to come in and inspect the place they would think that maybe a squatter was living here.

James threw his clothes on the sofa and undressed in the living room, tossing his shirt and pajama bottoms on the floor. The bathroom, which was once two separate single toilet restrooms for the men and women who had worked here was now one. Odhran merged the two rooms and replaced one of the toilets with a shower and tub. This made maneuvering very difficult with the precious little leg room between the tub, the sink and the toilet so he made a habit of dressing and undressing in the living room.

Ten minutes of letting cold water slide down his pale skin refreshed and awakened him more fully. As he brushed his teeth and combed his hair a nineteen year-old man stared back at him from the darkened mirror. Pale and thin, he was in reasonable shape if not very muscular. Bright brown eyes tried to make sense of the blurred images staring at him as he combed his shoulder length brown hair with practiced ease.

His headache died down long ago as the blood did it's work and all ready his body was sending it's signals, telling him that it needed food badly. James got dressed and made his way downstairs. On the way down he caught a strong whiff of vanilla extract and felt a wave of warmth coming from an oven on the second-floor apartment.

Barnard was back from Alaska, no doubt archiving his findings. Whenever James was bored or it wasn't safe to enter the city, Barnard could usually be found in his apartment, sitting in a big easy chair and enjoying a tall glass of Bailey's Irish crème studying one of his old manuscripts. Or, as was probably the case now, baking muffins and other pastries that he would bring to soup kitchens in the wee hours of the morning before sunrise. One of the easiest people to get along with, James wanted to stop in and say hello, but his stomach and veins were beginning to ache. Pleasantries would have to wait.

The driveway was still soaked from the rain. Large puddles formed in places where the gravel ended and the muddy hill began. Bushes and weeds grew from the cracks in parts of the pavement giving the old brick building the image of a place that was long abandoned. A wall of trees surrounded the old brick building, separating it from the miles of fields that surrounded them.

James snorted at Odhran's logic. Nothing would make any potential investigation from the supposed authorities more interesting than if they were to stumble upon the old man's museum of artifacts and personal belongings. Eight hundred years of the old man's life sat in locked display cases throughout the climate controlled first floor, arranged like a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute. Yup. No way anyone would suspect people were using the space, unless of course someone were to find the place in a travel brochure.

He obviously paid a lot of money to buy the factory and to have it refurbished. Not to mention the electricity needed for his security system and the gas and hot water. Humans could be obtuse but they weren't stupid. Someone at some point had to know that people were living here and James chalked up their supposed ignorance to two things.

One was money. Odhran had a lot of it and vampire or human, the right dollar amount could keep anyone's mouth shut. Two was the most obvious fact of all: The old man just didn't like him. Plain and simple.

Sure, he gave James a place to live for a thousand dollars a month and for the most part he kept his distance. But Odhran considered James a child for the most part and in his mind children respected their elders.

Screw him, James thought.

He went to the shed where his gray dodge sat beside Odhran's '57 Chevy. Bernhard's motorcycle was sandwiched on the opposite side of the Chevy, with the helmet dangling from the right handlebar. Though the bike and the saddle were dry the helmet itself was still covered in rain, leading James to think that Bernhard had only arrived an hour or so ago.

James climbed into his dodge and let the engine run as he searched for a good station. For a moment he considered revving the engine loudly, just to piss off Odhran, but he thought better of it. He did need a place to come home to after all. He pulled out of the shed slowly and listened for the sounds of traffic before getting onto the road. It wasn't until he was a few miles from the factory that he turned his headlights on.

The November breeze filled the car with a smells of moist soil and the sounds of living things scurrying in the trees and fields. The smell of warm blood filled his nostrils and he could hear the sounds of individual squirrels and rabbits as they scrounged for food in a forest filled with foxes and coyotes.

In the distance a halo of artificial light shined against the receding clouds, like a lighthouse beacon assuring weary sailors that they were heading for a safe harbor. James kept his eye on the road but found the city comforting as he depended on it for food, money, and entertainment. There he knew of several shop owners who specialized in keeping old machines like his 8-track player functioning so long as he came up with the cash that kept them in business.

Headlights touched a large green and white sign marking the border of Orson came up just a mile before the exit. James watched his speed as he pulled onto the exit lane. Although the road was relatively empty at night he still tried to obey traffic laws. State troopers were rarely impressed by pale skin and fangs and these days they asked just too many darned questions that you didn't want to not have answers to. So to avoid being stopped and winding up as a primary target for the rest of his kind, not to mention the other unsavory members of society that would line up to take a whack at him he played by the rules.

James drove for another mile before the beginnings of an old sidewalk marking the beginning of Eastland Terrace came into view.

Why they would build a sidewalk this far out was anyone's guess. Who'd they expect to walk out here, James often wondered.

He pulled into Mama Louise's Diner about a block or two from what was considered the bad part of town. Here was where the other law enforcement met with business associates to conduct their shady dealings. Occasionally a state trooper or a cop would stop in for lunch, but after seven pm the drug dealers and members of the mafia made up the bulk of Mama Lousie's customers. Very rarely an actual arrest would be made and all would be right with the world until the next year around when someone's quota of arrests fell short and the threat of a pink slip lit a fire beneath the asses of the thin blue line.

Unlike with the cops, however, James actually felt safe leaving his dodge here. The late Ella Louise's son Billy Muller was the current owner and a proud NRA member with a mean trigger finger. He didn't care what kind of business went down so long as it was quiet and didn't disturb the other customers. You try to steal someone's car or you cause shit that disturbs the customers and Billy will treat you to a belly full of his world famous, homemade lead salad special. He'd even cater at your funeral if anyone cared about you enough to show up.

James parked the dodge close to the diner and locked the door. The warmth of the diner and the smells of food assaulted his senses making him salivate. As he left the parking lot and drew closer to the neighborhood the smells of human life changed from food to alcohol, tobacco, gasoline, sweat and other less than savory aromas. Having heightened senses wasn't always the blessing that people imagined it could be.

He glanced up at an apartment building where he thought he could smell marijuana coming from an open window. He knew kids lived in that building and half of them were making extra money by selling the stuff at school. It was easy cash until they got busted and wound up with a record. And the ones who were really good at it got it into their heads that they would never have to work for a living.

If life were like the movies, James thought with a snort, he could be The Hero and kill the evil pot grower. The kids would realize the danger and the stupidity in what they were doing and the world would be a better place in the space of an hour or two, depending on how long the movie's running time was.

Odhran believed in that sort of thing. Trying to make the world a better place through guidance and experience. Of course James might have been impressed if Odhran ever spent time in places like Orson and other places that people in his circle lovingly referred to as “slums” if they were being generous. Whenever the old fart gave one of his speeches about helping humanity out he was usually referring to one of the many university students he had taken under his wing, or a noble charity he was currently sponsoring.

Reality was such a bitch though. In reality even if some horrible accident were to befall that guy, another drug dealer would move in and take his place and would likely get the kids to sell something even worse than a dance with Mary Jane, not to mention getting them addicted to it in the process. There weren't that many local business that would hire the kids in this neighborhood to begin with and in a climate where everyone was itching to sue someone else, the usual childhood ventures like baby-sitting and mowing lawns were out of the question. When it came right down to it that drug dealer was an integral part of the community, however messed up it was.

As he turned onto Porter Avenue James sniffed the air. The powerful stench of old wet clothes filled his nostrils and drew him to an alley between Eve's Garden and the old tool shop. James approached slowly, watching for other people and sniffing cautiously as the heat from the homeless man merged with the warmth of the bar and James had to rely on sight and sound as he searched the windows of homes and parked vehicles for signs of curious onlookers. What he couldn't see or hear he had to try to smell but beyond that his abilities were no better then that of the average human being.

Live music drifted from Eve's Garden. During the week it was a bar like any other. A brief getaway for low income tenants, tortured artists and the homeless to escape the tortures of the real world in a haze of an alcohol induced paradise. On weekends, however, the owner locked up the alcohol and opened the doors to patrons of all ages who wanted to have a good time.

As James neared the alley way he could see the homeless man pissing against the wall of the bar. His matted hair was plastered against his head. Wet, paper thin clothing hung from his sickly form like a loose layer of skin and months of filth gave the fabric and his body a uniform color and texture.

James grimaced at the stench but was unable to keep his fangs from extending in anticipation of the meal. His vision became clearer in the dark and although he couldn't see his eyes he knew they must be glowing. It was a result of a “luminescent” fluid that allowed him to see better in the dark, according to Bernhard anyway. James just took his word for it.

When the man was finished he zipped up and put his hands in his pockets. James threw one arm around his waist and the other over his mouth, dragging him further into alley behind the Dumpster. He gently pulled back the man's head, exposing the jugular. The man probably hadn't eaten anything substantial in over a week but the surge of adrenaline gave him the strength to fight as James tried to whisper soothingly into his ear.

“This will be over soon,” he said softly. “Die peacefully.”

The man continued to struggle. He may or may not have been a religious man. He may or may not have known a vampire from any other street punk or gang banger in the city but he knew his life was in danger and he was determined to survive, no matter how badly things might have turned out for him. For a moment James felt sorry for the guy. The drug dealer in the apartment had a roof over his head while this man struggled to get through the day, only to wind up as an easy kill. Before his sympathy could get the better of him James sank his teeth in.

Music resonated in the alley as the man continued to fight, his heart pumping mouthfuls of blood into James' mouth. It was a softer kind of rock-what kids these days referred to as “alternative”. Not what he considered dinner music, he only hoped the homeless man didn't regret it being the last thing he would hear.

The man stopped struggling and James gently laid him down against the cold brick. He made sure there were no pieces of fabric from his own clothes and found a jagged piece of glass underneath the Dumpster. He used it to make a deep gash in the throat where his fang marks were and got just enough blood on it to make it look like he was really desperate to end his life. Even if the police suspected something more sinister, or began to question the lack of blood, it was the medical examiner's call to determine the cause of death. Neither James, nor any other vampire that drank human blood would be identified as their victim's killer so long as they cleaned up after themselves and the person didn't have a high profile.

That was how the world really worked. There were wolves, coyotes and carrion eaters and then there were rabbits and squirrels. James wasn't sure if he was considered a coyote or a wolf but he damned sure wasn't one of the latter. For that matter he didn't know which was the rabbit or the squirrel, this guy right here or the dope dealer at the apartment building. He just knew that when it came right down to it he was going to get the easiest meal possible and not shed a tear over it.

James left the alley as quickly as he could, hoping no one had seen him exit. The rent was due in two days and he needed to catch the train to the city. But he stopped in his tracks as a voice drifted out from the bar accompanied by a guitar solo that was strangely compelling.

“Let me in to your heart/let me melt the ice and heal the pain/let my love be your soothing rain-” her voice sent tremors up James' spine. He stood there on the sidewalk looking at the door into Eve's Garden. For the first time the irony struck him as he began to feel like Adam, knowing full well that he shouldn't be doing this but finding himself like a dog on a leash as this Eve tempted him with her voice.

She's just a kid, He tried to tell himself. This is an all ages night and she can't be old enough for you.

Of course, since the average lifespan of a vampire was a thousand years, that made almost every girl and guy too young for them. And propagation of the species eventually meant boy vampire had to meet girl human.

James shuttered at the thought of his own mother writhing in on a hospital bed while he stood and watched at the helpless age of ten. The product of a one night stand with his father, he had no family to go to after she finally succumbed to the pain. No one to explain to him what he was or help him through the painful metamorphosis.

“Let me be the RAAAIN!” Her voice struck a high note silencing the internal voice of James' logic.

He looked in the direction of the train station as her voice wrapped around him like the coils of a serpent. Logic and experience told him he should get as far away from here as possible and try to forget about her. Logic and experience could kiss his ass. The rent would have to wait. This apple was looking way too good at the moment and he wasn't entirely sure he had ever been in paradise to begin with.

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