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Alice went up and down the hallways clicking off lights just as I was getting ready for my six o’clock appointment. Although the rest of the clinic closed at half past five, this particular client was only privy to me in the seasonably early evening hours of winter.
With my usual clientele and the workload that follows, I normally have no real need to take on the extra case. There is never a question of money of course, I make enough to keep a decent home and provide well for my wife and three children. But in my fifteen years as a psychiatrist, working in this small town in the midst of a heavily rural area, I could never consider myself luckier than when I get to spend an hour of each Thursday with this most unique and unusual patient.
I readied my tape recorder and lowered the lights enough so that I could see my own work without disturbing his photosensitive eyes. While I waited I spent the half hour reading the patient’s evaluations done by previous doctors and therapists.
Kevin Holden was first evaluated when he was eleven years old. The interview revealed a complex and intelligent mind working within this handsome and well-groomed individual. An only child, Kevin’s parents held jobs that took them away for long periods of time, leaving him with a relative or a babysitter. This was thought to be the cause of the strangely obsessive nature, which brought him to us early on. But he seemed very insistent upon explaining that nothing anyone did was an influence to his “ways” as he referred to them.
And it was true that while most children his age were latching on to sports figures and other idols Kevin had an aversion to role models, often explaining this choice as his being “smarter and therefore not as blind to follow like a weak little lemming”. Occasionally he would read Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe and during sessions share his insights into the thoughts of specific characters, such as the hopelessness of their situations leading to Romeo and Juliet’s tragic relationship.
Future sessions revealed that Kevin, while seemingly compassionate and devoted to his preferred subjects, had little regard for other people’s feelings. A target of bullying and taunting from his peers Kevin only had one or two close friends, a fact he admitted with a seemingly dispassionate attitude.
To further complicate matters, in spite of his intelligence, Kevin’s grades were constantly in danger and detentions and trips to the guidance counselor were of seemingly little use. He openly argued with his teachers, something they admired at first, but were quickly growing annoyed with. Especially when he openly referred to them as idiots or morons thus earning him another detention. This went on until he was about fifteen and diagnosis after diagnosis. Nothing seemed to improve or motivate him.
One colleague prescribed Ritalin for a year, but this meant one parent having to stay home to make sure he was taking it on time. Because true to his nature Kevin would find any excuse, or use any reason to get out of taking it when he was with relatives or even on his own. Once again, the medication was ineffective. Ritalin is used in cases when a young patient is hyperactive or out of control, and while Kevin was argumentative and socially inept he was definitely not out of control or hyperactive. If anything, the medication seemed to make matters worse, as he would get into explosive arguments with his parents over why he had to take them. The prescription was removed in favor of some peace between the family, and Kevin was referred once again to another doctor.
Somehow Kevin made it into high school, and in the course of his freshman year he seemed to show some improvement in his grades, though his relationships with people were still lacking. At one his last sessions with my colleague, Doctor Penn Kevin, clearly frustrated and exhausted with people’s interference with his life, declared his position.
“For three straight years you people have done nothing but criticize my every move. I don’t get along with people, I obsess too much over little things, I don’t respect authority and the laundry list just keeps going. Well I’m sick of it. That’s who I am and if you and my parents can’t deal with that than it’s not my problem. While I’m a minor I have very little control over what you pricks do to me, but I will not change for you or for anyone else. When I turn eighteen you can pretty much guess where you can stick your diagnoses, your medications, and your petty little social etiquette.”
Now Doctor Penn didn’t take this as personally as one might guess. On the contrary, he admired Kevin’s speech and respected his feelings greatly. But there was no doubt in his mind that he recognized the correct diagnosis, and even though he no longer needed to see Kevin weekly, he kept in contact with the parents.
Asperger’s Syndrome was the official term. A mild form of autism, though as Doctor Penn explained to the parents, every patient with the disorder varied in personality and the range of symptoms. He faxed whatever literature he could on the subject, and it helped the Holden family to understand what was going on with their only child.
For six years after high school, Kevin simply disappeared. No one knew where he was nor did he leave anything indicating his whereabouts. Police searched and private investigators were called in. Missing person’s reports were filed with every station in the country, but he was never found. The end result was his parents, grief stricken and guilty that perhaps they had something to do with their son disappearing, quitting their jobs, neglecting their health, and eventually divorcing and going their separate ways.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Kevin returned to his hometown, forever changed, but in need of a friendly ear. That was why he came to me. Knowing his rights as an adult and knowing that I would be able to access his personal history through Doctor Penn, he approached me one evening and asked that he be able to speak with me.
Six o’clock came and for now I was the only living thing in the building. A nasty wind howled around the building, and I turned up the heat. For a few minutes I wondered if he would arrive. I glanced out the window. The clinic was set in a wooded area at the top of a hill, which was beautiful and comforting during the spring and summer with the trees and flowers in full bloom and the birds and animals livening up the scenery. But in the dead of winter with the tress stripped bare and covered in deathly white snow, the scene was far from comforting.
Then, in the parking lot that was empty save for my car, bathed in lamplight, was my client. From the window I wasn’t sure if he had been waiting for me to see him or if he had just arrived but it was unmistakably him. Dressed in a heavy gray windbreaker and black jeans, he stood in the parking lot, apparently impervious to the blistering cold wind as his blue eyes glistened in the light. His hands were at his side and I noticed he wore no gloves. When he saw that I was the only one in the building he came.
Like an ethereal vision Kevin swept across the parking lot and up the stairs that lead to the front door of the clinic. Possessing talents and abilities I was not yet entirely familiar with, he tricked the locks and the security system and entered the clinic. By the time I turned away from the window the door swung open and he had entered my office.
Without a word he removed his jacket and placed it on the coat hook beside the door, and as he took a seat in the orange swivel chair I made a note of his appearance. Smooth and angel faced, Kevin’s cheeks had a reddish contrast to his otherwise pale complexion. Nothing had changed about his appearance since my colleague Doctor Penn last examined him six years ago. His hair was short and wavy, somewhat muddled from the wind but otherwise neatly parted. He wore a simple navy blue sweater with the name of some small college in Idaho in large black letters.
“It’s good to see you Kevin.” I greeted him, taking a seat at my desk. “You know, one of these days your going to have to show me all of your little tricks and gifts.”
“Are you sure they’d be worth it?” Kevin asked with a grin. He relaxed and interlaced his fingers comfortably, finally giving some semblance of humanity. “Those little tricks and gifts come at a big expense.”
At this moment I started the tape recorder. “Point taken. How have you been since our last session?”
“Bored mostly. During the last week or so I’ve been thinking about what we talked about.”
I nodded. In the recent week Kevin was sorely depressed. After being in his hometown for a few short weeks, he was beginning to realize the damage he’d caused by leaving without so much as a hint to where he was going. During the session he expressed some guilt towards his parents and wondered if they would ever forgive him for what he had done. And at the end of the hour I asked him to spend a little time during the week thinking about why he did what he did.
“They weren’t trying to hurt me,” He continued. “No one was. They just wanted to help me make the most of my life when I left high school. But I think the reason I just left the way I did was because I got tired of them planning my life for me.”
“You felt like you had no control.” I surmised. “Once you had total freedom you felt like you were punishing them.”
“Exactly.” There was a hint of guilt in his voice. Not overwhelming guilt, but rather a simple acknowledgement of his actions. “All I needed to do was wait for eternity to take its course and I would have been rid of them.”
“And what was it that finally brought you back here?”
“You asked me that question on our first session.”
“That’s right. But I don’t think the answer will be the same.”
Kevin looked at me with an odd grin. “All right, you got me. Yes, guilt has a deciding factor in why I came back, but it wasn’t for the damage I did to my parents. There’s no way to fix it now is there?”
Briefly I wondered whether or not anything could be done for the Holden’s. When Doctor Penn last spoke with them Kevin’s father was gaining weight fast and his mother had taken to drinking. Unlike Kevin guilt took its toll on his parents and it appeared as though little could be done to help them out of it if they weren’t willing. And what if they knew the truth about Kevin’s new life? Would it only increase the suffering to unbearable limits?
“I suppose you’re right.” I responded simply.
“Well then the real guilt is obvious now isn’t it? One made more obvious by default of my new nature.”
“Your need to kill?”
“Exactly.” Kevin grinned sympathetically. “Though it was amazing what brought about that guilt. Six years I have killed and fed upon humans, but I never stopped to think about what I was doing until I remembered an experience I had when I was still human.”
He paused as if waiting for my permission to go on. I nodded and he continued.
“The year before my eighteenth birthday I had a part time job at one of the grocery stores nearby. I bagged groceries at the checkout area and cleaned the store when it was necessary. Nothing spectacular but since I was terrible at math I had very few other options. Anyway, the evening was winding down and I was in the vestibule, where the redemption machines are kept, mopping the floor and emptying out the garbage cans.
“As I was mopping I noticed an ant crawling on the service counter where people turn in their deposit slip. Now I absolutely hate ants and never give a second though to crushing them with my bare hands if I see them where they don’t belong. But right on top of the counter was a spray bottle of glass cleaner and without thinking twice, I picked it up and sprayed the ant twice.
“Then, perhaps out of sheer morbid curiosity, I made sure no one was watching and I leaned in to view the results. Soaked in cleaning fluid and struggling to get to a drier portion of the wood, the ant’s hind legs were useless as it tried to pull itself through the liquid like it was molasses. In less than a second, I watched as it stopped, dead in its tracks, and began to curl up. It was like I could feel its last breath as a single feeler continued to wiggle for another second.”
Kevin paused for a second and sighed. For the first time since I met him, he wore a truly remorseful expression.
“I crushed hundreds of them all the time.” He went on. “And I didn’t think twice about killing them, nor did I dwell on it later. But for an entire hour after I was finished with the vestibule I could not think of anything but the gnawing feeling of guilt deep in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself why I did that, and what right did I have to force this creature to draw its last breath so impulsively? As I walked home I tried to justify why I did it, reminding myself of how much I hated ants, but it did no good. Even though I know it couldn’t have been possible then, I literally felt as though I had seen its life force vanish in the instant it died, and as if this single ant had been a human being I regretted what I had done.”
“It was just one ant though,” I tried to console him. “I mean, when I was a kid I used to throw salt on slugs just to see what would happen. I’m not saying it was right of me to kill them, but it never had a big enough impact on me to make me feel sad for their deaths.”
“But don’t you see?” Kevin tried to explain. “To you or anyone else, stepping on bugs isn’t a huge deal. And for you it even satisfied your curiosity. Consider my position for a second and you’ll see where I’m coming from. Blood is a necessary part of my life, just as knowledge is for a curious child, but when I kill someone how is that different from when I sprayed that ant to death?”
I could have easily explained to him the obvious difference between the two. Of course pointing out that Kevin didn’t need to kill the ant would be tactless, and only have made him feel worse. So I decided to focus on what I felt was the underlying issue.
“Last week you told me that you need warm fresh blood, so butcher shops and blood banks were out of the question. Have you tried what I suggested about only taking a mouthful from each person? With your abilities you could easily make them forget about the experience, and you wouldn’t be killing them.”
“I did consider that, yes.” Kevin placed his hands on the arms of the chair. “And I tried it once last week. It was getting darker and a kid; no older than I was when I was human, decided to take a shortcut right through a dark alley on Main Street. I attacked as quickly as possible and clamped his mouth shut while I took a small mouthful from his arm. With a quick glance into his eyes I tricked his mind into forgetting the whole experience, and the bite marks coagulated moments after I withdrew. But rather than move on and find another victim I decided to follow him and watch as he continued down the path towards his home.”
“What happened?” I asked, curiously.
“He got dizzy and he began to stagger. His mind may have been easy to trick, but his body just lost a substantial portion of blood and it was beginning to react. I helped him out to the open and left as soon as the ambulance arrived, but God only knows what happened to him.”
“If they didn’t find any alcohol or drugs in his system they’d most likely think it was some other chemical imbalance.” I pointed out. “This is the twenty-first century after all. Even with the bite marks if he didn’t test positive for rabies they would have come up with another perfectly rational explanation.”
“No, I know all that. But it makes the job a little more difficult. When I out right killed someone I didn’t have to check their personal histories because once I marked them as prey anything else was pointless. What if that boy had been hypoglycemic? Losing a mouthful or all eight pints would have defeated the purpose all together and he would have died.”
“What about animals then?” I suggested. “Animals die in the wild all the time. And even cattle’s blood is fresh, so a quick trip up to the local farms to take that little nip could work just as well without all of the risk.”
Kevin thought about this for a long time, stroking his beardless chin with his right hand.
“I hadn’t thought of cattle’s blood honestly.” He said finally. “Although there is a problem with drinking the blood of other animals regularly. In order to get the amount of blood I require I’d have to kill quite a number of them, and that would be like taking syrup from trees. Plus there’s the equally inconvenient problem of disposal. Again, to get the amount of blood necessary, and before sunrise no less, I’d be hard pressed to destroy them or else rumors about a strange creature in the woods would stir among the populace.”
My mind flashed briefly to the Puerto Rican legend, Chupacabra, and its notoriety for draining the blood of game and other animals in the area. Aside from wondering whether or not there was some truth to this legend, I also had a startling image of the kinds of stories it would generate were Kevin to even attempt drinking blood from animals in such a fashion. But it did bring up one question.
“Doesn’t that problem eventually come from killing humans?” I asked. “I mean in a town like this if you were to kill even just one person a night someone’s going to question that just as quickly.”
“Which is why I can’t stay here for long.” Kevin responded with a hint of regret. “Since arriving a few weeks ago I’ve had to be particularly ruthless for blood, stooping low enough to enter nursing homes and hospitals where I could find someone close enough to death to kill without drawing attention. Problem is there’s no easy solution to our way of life, there never was.”
“If you’ve always known that, why feel guilty about having to kill?”
An ironic grin brightened Kevin’s pale face replaced by a look of surprise at my observation. “Yes, I suppose you have a point. Perhaps it’s all in my mind, this guilt.”
“No, I don’t think so. I do feel your guilt spawns from what you have done, even though you acknowledge that there may be very little you can do to fix it. As for your feelings about the ant in relation to the need to kill, perhaps you feel even guiltier because like the ant, you know you could have avoided this all together. As you explained in our first session, you went out of your way to become what you are, all so you could make quick and easy work of vengeance against your parents. Now you have to pay for that vengeance by taking countless innocent lives and it’s just starting to occur to you.”
Kevin stared at me for a long time silent and composed. His hands were resting comfortably on the armrests as his blue eyes, beautiful but lifeless, studied me.
“You know what’s amazing?” He asked finally. I shook my head. “You’re right. I never quite thought of it that way. I did in fact go out of my way to do this and when I think on it, I had no other motive but to leave without any need to keep my few connections here. But you’ve also made me realize something to help me put some of this guilt to rest.”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m not responsible for how my parents reacted to my disappearance. For the longest time I considered the symptoms of the so-called disorder that I was diagnosed with. How can anyone be so critical of my human life when they became so co-dependant on me that they practically destroyed themselves at my disappearance? They could have adopted, or even had another baby, options I’m sure your colleague Doctor Penn suggested. No I’ve done what thousands of kids in this country do when they’re of age, I left the nest. Sure it was a tad extreme, but it’s not like I’m worse off because of it. I get the immortality, the eternal youth and health all in one package.”
Kevin was very resolute as he said all of this. From a professional point of view, I had to admit, the signs of Asperger’s Syndrome were even stronger in him now than they were when he was human.
“You’re an amazing psychiatrist,” Kevin said smiling. “When you speak to me, I do not feel as though you are condemning me. You are simply helping me to understand myself and my feelings a little easier, just as you would if I were simply human.”
I was taken aback by the compliment, but flattered to the point of blushing nonetheless.
“Well I appreciate that.” I responded with a grin. “But does it make your new life worth it, the peace of mind I’ve given you?”
“It makes it easier. And you know you can use the word vampire, it’s not an offensive term. But let me ask you something. Knowing what I am, knowing what it means to be a vampire and knowing that vampires are real, how do you remain so calm? How do you continue to trust me even though I kill to live? Do you ever feel as though you are harboring a killer?”
Glancing up at the clock I simply smiled and stopped the tape recorder. There was no short answer to his questions, but knowing that I might never see him again, I wanted to answer it as best I could so that he might truly know he has a connection with humanity if he should ever wish to take advantage of it.
“I don’t believe I am harboring a killer,” I explained, looking him straight in the eye. “Rather, I prefer to believe that I am a very talented psychiatrist to be able to help and befriend such a unique patient.”
I expected him to press me for a more detailed answer, but he just smiled knowingly and stood to get his coat. What amazed me most about Kevin, and it continued to amaze me long after I had begun the drive home, was his implicit trust in my moral character.
Those tapes remain in my office and I listen to them whenever I have a free moment. Because I believe it is a milestone in my career that only I am privy to enjoy, and that I can truthfully say that I made eternity a little easier for a vampire.