Dance of the Undead, the first in a proposed series of short stories and novellas about Alexander Drakos, an individual in search of peace and redemption, was completed on the 26th of July in 1987 E.V. and originally published in a small magazine on the eastern seaboard in the spring of 1988 E.V. Annoyingly, the magazine butchered the story, shortening it and worse, adding a great number of errors that were not in the original manuscript, representing me as a very careless writer. Adding insult to injury, when I was finally paid for the story the cheque was considerably smaller than I had anticipated and the very day I received that payment I helped a stranger move into his new apartment and grateful for my help he stuffed some money into my shirt pocket ... approximately twice as much as the cheque I had received from the magazine publisher. For a moment I weighed matters. In one hand I had a small cheque that was payment for a story I had written and in the other a much larger sum of cash for helping someone move furniture. Writer or furniture mover? I chose the former. This first story in the Alexander Drakos saga will not be the last. However, to keep body and soul together I am resigned to the fact that I may have to occasionally take a little time away from my writing to help another person move furniture.
"So I said to the guy, 'Listen, buddy, you ain't puttin' the bite on me!'"
Gary smiled and nodded as if he could hear his friend Denny above the jarring cacophony blasting from the dual speakers in the Night Gallery. The stage, a wall of smudged mirrors behind it, lit by red and ultraviolet lights, was empty for one clangorous song between sets. Madonna was asking Who's That Girl? An "exotic dancer" named Judy had just finished her set, and after her last dance, her G-string decorated with a few one dollar bills folded lengthwise, she walked off the stage to the sound of light half-hearted applause. Between sets some of the patrons tried to converse, but the music never let up and hearing anything else was practically impossible.
The Night Gallery, certainly not the classiest lounge in town but better than such toilets as the Edison, was filled with the usual Saturday night crowd. There were the blue-collar workers, the older of which were big burly men in their forties, pushing fifty, while the younger men were usually relatively slim with wide shoulders. These "lower class" working men were generally far more reserved and respectful towards the dancers than the white-collar businessmen who ranged from the very skinny to the extremely obese. These upper-middle-class "gentlemen", the younger of which were model yuppies outside of the club, were often loud, annoying, crude and quite rude to the dancers. Thinking themselves clever and macho they never failed to produce expressions of disgust on the faces of the other patrons as well as some of the girls despite their attempt to always appear friendly in the hope of increasing the number of tips they might receive.
Scattered about, mostly at the bar, there were a few women, some of whom were just as big and burly as some of the men, and there would always be an old retired dancer or two who now managed the younger girls.
"Hey, Gary, whaddya think of this shit?" The blond man wearing the glasses was tapping the folded newspaper laying atop their table in peverts' row. The headline screamed: ANOTHER MISSING PERSON! Gary shrugged. "Well I think it's pretty damn spooky. Somethin' ain't right. Know what I mean? Sure, people are reported missing all the time, but there's something that ain't normal about these ones. Men and women just disappearing for no reason at all? It just ain't normal!" Expressing himself with an abrupt gesture, Denny nearly knocked his bottle of Stroh's from the table but caught it in the nick of time.
Gary frowned. "Bullshit. All you have there is a reporter making a story out of nothing. They do it all the time."
Denny looked at the bearded man for a moment, thought to say something, then shrugged and turned his attention to the empty stage.
A skinny fellow with a beak befitting a condor caught sight of the next dancer and despite the incredible din the word spread quickly and clearly.
The male patrons as well as some of the females at the bar seemed to heave a collective sigh of adoration laced with electric anticipation.
Adria Valborga was a new favourite at the clubs and lounges in the city. Following no set schedule she danced in various places throughout and around the once heavily industrial town, always in demand but refusing to work more than three nights a week. Certainly, as she stepped onto the stage, one could immediately see at least part of the reason for her popularity. Adria, dressed in a skin-tight black lace affair that covered, well, almost covered, everything but hands and face while leaving little to the imagination, was an extremely beautiful, statuesque woman of indeterminate age. She had a strong supple body with long, slender waist, full, firm breasts and perfect hips and legs. Adria was an enchanting woman with sensually full red lips, bright green catlike eyes, and a mass of bright, fiery hair that reminded one of highly polished copper - very thick, long and waved. However, above all there was something very special in the way Adria moved when she danced, as well as the way she looked at a man. There was something in her eyes that was far more powerful than the flirtatious look in the eyes of most dancers who are really looking more at the man's money on the table than the man himself. It was a look of hunger - a hunger that needed, that craved, satisfaction.
Men tended to interpret this look as nymphomania when perhaps a better word to describe the burning fire behind those eyes was hemomania.
The music changed. The classic strains of I Wanna Be A Cowboy would not be heard when Adria danced. She always brought her own music. It helped her get into the mood, reminding her of the good old days when the wine flowed like water, every day was an orgy, and she sighed at the thought of poor dear Cal. It really wasn't fair the way they had all betrayed him in the end. He just wanted to have a little fun. What could he do? He was a party animal! Poor dear Caligula.
As Adria gracefully stepped up onto the stage, the men, many of whom rose to their feet, applauded her arrival with great enthusiasm. When the music began everyone quickly sat back down with silent anticipation. Slowly and sensuously the music began and Adria's body moved in perfect sympathy to the rhythm, she possessing far more experience in the art than most "exotic dancers".
Like a serpent she moved, bewitching the men with her body and eyes. The normally obnoxious businessmen sat on the edges of their chairs just as spellbound as the other patrons, men and women alike, uttering not a sound. Perspiration beaded their foreheads as the tempo gradually increased, hearts pounding to the beat of the archaic music updated with synthesizers and wrapped in a gothic techno envelope of sound.
As Adria slithered about the small stage she very slowly, very teasingly removed the skin-tight outfit as if she were a snake shedding skin. The costume had been designed for easy, graceful removal and soon, but not soon enough thought many of the men in the audience, the dancer was stripped to the smallest, sheerest G-string allowed by State Liquour Control Board regulations. Gradually the rhythm and beat of the music picked up, the back beat more insistant, and with it Adria's dancing took on a more energetic pace. She writhed on stage as if she were in the throes of sensual ecstasy, her incredible body sheathed in a glistening layer of sexually charged perspiration.
As the redhead seductress danced, casting her spell over the patrons of the Night Gallery, her manager sat at the bar, a sly smile playing about the corner of her deliciously cruel lips. Unlike the other managers present, this woman was relatively young, in her mid-thirties, very tall, well built as a result of constantly working out, and very attractive in a dangerous kind of way. She wore her blonde hair short and in her lightweight cream-coloured skirt and jacket Yvonne Nelson looked very smart, very chic.
The music went wild and so too did Adria's dance. Like a Voodoo priestess she gyrated on the stage, whipping her hair back and forth, her ample bosom alone providing a most hypnotic show. The room seemed charged with electricity and more than one man found his slacks suddenly grown tighter and more constricting.
At this point Adria picked out a certain man in the audience. Every man there hoped that he would be chosen for her special attention, and everyone not chosen, when they had a moment to think about anything else other than Adria, wondered why the dancer had picked the florid, over-weight businessman.
Before the man Adria danced, her crotch nearly in his face for a time, the heady musky scent of her body enticing him. This was a far cry from what would be waiting for him at home!
Her emerald-green eyes on his the whole time, Adria dropped to her knees on the stage and moving her shoulders and waist, tempted the man with the movement of her magnificent breasts. The businessman, not usually a tipper, found that he could not help himself. It was as if her eyes had bored into his brain and taken control of his every move. He ignored the one dollar bills laying on his table and picked up the two twenties. Adria, in taking the bills from his hand, held his fat fingers in hers for a moment, then lowered her head briefly so that her lips seemed to lightly brush the underside of the man's wrist. He hardly noticed the brief sensation of being pricked by needlelike points and lost in the dancer's eyes immediately forgot about the quick pain as she slid the bills from his hand, seductively placing them in her G-string. Adria then stood up, her movement like flowing mercury, and returned to the centre of the stage to finish her dance.
When Adria finished her set the crowd applauded even more enthusiastically than before, giving her a standing ovation. Before disappearing around the corner to retire to the dressing room, she gave one final glance in the businessman's direction and lightly caressed her upper lip with the tip of her tempting pink tongue. Her afterimage fading from the man's retina, he gazed down and realize for the first time that a small note had been surreptitiously slipped into his hand. The printing was block like, reminiscent of Roman numerals, with a sensual thickness that for some reason made the man think of the Carpathian mountains.
The corpulent businessman was so excited, flush with anticipation, that he never noticed the two little beads of blood that had congealed on his wrist.
Damn, he thought, she suckered me out here and now I bet she won't show up! Bet the lying bitch was just playing with me. She's probably having one hell of a laugh with the others now. Miserable little cock-teaser!
Adria Valborga exited the Night Gallery via a back door and approached the florid businessman in the dark alley.
"And you thought that I was only a tease." Her voice was soft, silky and surprisingly deep for a woman, but nonetheless sexy and with a hint of a foreign accent.
"Me? No. No, I wasn't thinking anything like that," he lied.
The dancer merely smiled as if to say that she knew better - that perhaps she knew what was going on inside of his head better than he himself knew.
"So where do you want to go?"
"Go?" she asked, raising her perfect eyebrows. "We don't have to go anywhere." Adria moved closer to the man until her hips were pressing against him. Her long-fingered hand with sharp red-painted nails held him close to her, clenching the lapels of his jacket in her fists. Her green eyes flashed almost as if with a light generated from within. The man was a little startled to see that the perfect white teeth that the tip of her tongue played over were actually slightly pointed and very sharp looking.
"You mean ... here? Now?"
"Why not?" The woman's breath was warm, moist and sweet, perhaps a bit too sweetish, and her eyes bore into his until the man began to feel dizzy. It was as if he were being sucked into a whirlpool, swirling down, down, down to the very depths of her being. It was as if his soul were being sucked out of his body and devoured by this esoterically beautiful woman whose voluptuous body was pressed so tightly against his.
"But ... but ..." His protests were weak.
"It won't take long, my darling. Not long at all."
Tiny pinpoints of crimson light seemed to burn in the centre of her eyes. The man was fascinated. Paralyzed.
"In no time, my darling, we will be one. Your life will course through my veins and you will know my body as only few men are able to know it. Soon," she whispered in a soft, husky voice, "you will be deep within me, my darling." Adria kissed the businessman and her tongue teased probingly. "I'm going to consume you." The sparks of crimson light grew brighter, more pronounced. The man remained entranced, unable to move, to protest - willing to give himself wholly to this woman anywhere, at any time.
Adria pulled her head back, her eyes gazing deeply into the man's - her glowing blood-red eyes.
She parted her thick, sensual lips, then opened her mouth and with wonder the man watched as her canine teeth seemed to elongate and sharpen. He was horrified, yet fascinated at the same time, and completely without the desire to flee. His desire, in fact, was to be devoured by this woman. It had become his only real thought, his sole passion in life.
Hissing like a cat, bright scarlet lips parted, lips that needed no cosmetic colour enhancement, stained as they were by centuries of blood drinking, the woman's jaws clamped down on the man's neck. Dagger-sharp fangs penetrated his pulsating jugular vein, and as she held the man's body in a vice-like grip Adria Valborga sucked the very life blood out of his veins. The buinessman succumbed to an exquisite ecstasy he had never before known in his life and in minutes it was over. Every drop of blood had been drained out of the man's body. Veins collapsed. Within the now loose-fitting suit there was only the shrivelled remains of a human body, oddly discoloured due to the lack of blood. Adria let the body fall, discarding it as a person might discard a candy wrapper. The bloodless corpse almost floated to the ground and hardly made a sound when it hit the pavement. Out of the shadows the tall blonde woman appeared. She approached Adria, the blood-drinker looking up from the fallen body, the red glow nearly gone from her eyes, her teeth returning to a more normal appearance.
"You didn't play with your food tonight. You didn't savour it." Yvonne gently wiped away the blood from Adria's lips with her fingertips. "Has your hunger been satisfied?"
"For the moment," the vampiress answered. "His blood was full and rich, heated by his desire, but it was mere meat and potatoes. Why are there so few really vital ones these days? Back in the days of the Empire," Adria said whistfully then sighed, "but that was a long time ago and men were different then."
"Humans are weak, my dear, and getting weaker all the time." Yvonne lightly kissed the other woman's red lips. "There is little vitality in them because of their weak minds and weaker spirits."
"You are human," the night walker cynically replied.
"Only for now ... but you promised, Adria, you promised ..."
"And I will keep my promise. You will one day be immortal like me." With the tip of one long sharp fingernail Adria stroked the side of Yvonne's neck. Beneath the scarf she wore there were two half-healed puncture marks. Marks made by the redhead every time they made love. Wounds never allowed to fully heal because from time to time Adria would drain a little of Yvonne's bloody and then give the blonde some of her own stolen and transmuted blood to drink.
Adria kissed Yvonne briefly then became distant and businesslike. Disdainfully she glanced at the corpse at her feet.
"Get rid of this."
"Of course," Yvonne answered. She lifted the body as if its weight was of no consequence, then she carried it to the open trunk of their car, placed it within a large heavy plastic liner and closed the lid on the remains. Before making sure that Adria was safe and secure and then retiring to her chambers, Yvonne would incinerate the remains. One more person would soon be reported missing without a clue as to what had happened.
Adria smiled to herself as she watched the blonde move. Everything was working out just fine. Yvonne was the best servant and lover she had ever had. She could go on like this for another two hundred years.
Everything was just perfect. Well, almost perfect. If only she would stop having those disturbing dreams that invaded her daytime slumber. In the quiet dark within her coffin, day after day for the past few months, Adria's rest would be disturbed by frightening dreams of a dark presence which threatened her existence. She could never discern the specific nature of this dark presence, although she felt in it intense power, masculine power, and she also felt very threatened by it.
Adria shivered at the thought of another day, condemned to lie dreaming, while that unknown presence invaded her mind, probing, searching, perhaps seeking her out.
"Cold?" Yvonne had never seen Adria effected by the things that mortals reacted to.
"No. Let's get out of here.  There are a few things I wish to do before sunrise."
The women entered the Lincoln Continental, closing the doors behind them. As Yvonne turned the key in the ignition to start the perfectly tuned engine she glanced over at the deadly dancer, a far away look in her normally sharply focussed eyes.
"You're thinking about him again." It was not a question.
"Yes, and I'm not sure why."
"He made you. He gave you The Gift. There will always be a strong bond between the two of you, Adria, as you have told me."
"Yes," Adria agreed, her mind somewhat distant, "but that was so very long ago ... even for me."
"Among these puny mortals you miss his strength, his vitality."
"I suppose," Adria sighed then said no more.
The women soon drove away into the night, sunrise still several hours away.
Anton hated the night shift. Working the front desk at night, even in the Sussex Arms, a very high class hotel, always gave him the creeps. Weirdos, he thought, not only came in all shapes and sizes, but also in all tax brackets. He still remembered quite vividly the time he tried to eject an obviously wealthy socialite on the grounds that pets were not permitted in the hotel. The man insisted that the sheep was not a pet and it was Ulysses S. Grant that convinced the desk clerk that the man was in fact accompanied by a close personal friend.*
Everything was quiet in the lobby. Anton sat at the front desk reading a newspaper article about yet another missing person, but while each story fed the interest of some it was beginning to bore him.
"Have you ever seen this woman?"
Anton's heart skipped a beat and he looked up, startled. He could have sworn that no one had entered the hotel. There was no sound from the front door, which was unusual, and he had not heard the footsteps of the approaching man as he normally would have. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, there was the deep masculine voice that scared the hell out of him. He looked up from his newspaper and there stood before him a very tall, slender man. He had wide shoulders and wore a long dark coat almost regally. In his hand he held a picture of a woman, not a photograph, but a small handpainted miniature of indeterminate age. The image was that of a beautiful woman with ample cleavage and bright "red" hair. Yet it was the man's hand that Anton's gaze concentrated upon. It was a powerful hand, but pale and with long supple fingers. Although his fingernails were short they came to slight but very sharp looking points.
"The girl. Have you ever seen her?" he repeated with some irritation.
Anton tried to concentrate upon the small painting in the stranger's hand.
"No. If I would have seen her I'd remember!"
The desk clerk looked up at the man's face and then quickly away, averting his eyes, pretending to study the picture once again. A shiver ran up and down his spine.
"You are certain?"
"Oh yes, sir! I have never seen her."
The night visitor put the miniature away and took from his inside jacket pocket a simple but elegant looking white card. On it was the name Alexander Drakos in Gothic letters. Quickly, in an ornate script, the mysterious man printed a telephone number on the back of the card and handed it to the desk clerk.
"If you do see her call me at this number. I am generally unavailable, especially during the day, but you can leave a message on my answering machine and if need be I will respond in person."
"Yes sir. Of course, sir. But ... it won't be necessary to go out of your way to ... respond in person. If I see or hear of this woman I will be certain to tell you everything I know over the 'phone."
"I will see to it that you are reimbursed for your trouble."
Anton forgot himself for a moment, forgot the giddy sensation of falling into the stranger's eyes the first time he did it, and looked back up at the tall man's face. A chill ran through him as their eyes met. The man who called himself Alexander Drakos had a very strong face with a firm jawline. His hair was thick and black, jet black, as was the mustache that he wore. However, it was his eyes that froze the desk clerk's blood. The eyes of Alexander Drakos were black - extremely black. Looking into them was like looking into the very depths of hell, knowing that what could not be seen in that darkness was far worse than anything that might be seen or imagined.
There was also about Drakos an impersonal, cold quality, not only to his eyes, but to his whole manner. Everything about the stranger gave the impression of great strength and power, yet also the feeling of something that is not quite alive. Not dead, but not quite alive.
As the desk clerk watched the man leave he admired his grace of movement and it was not until after Drakos had gone that Anton realized that the man's shoes did not make a sound as he walked across the ceramic tile floor. Detective? He dismissed the idea. Alexander Drakos was neither a police officer nor a private investigator. In fact, every possibility he considered failed to satisfactorily describe the night visitor.
Anton wondered just what kind of a man might this Alexander Drakos be?
Adria could only go a few days without feeding, and to avoid attracting too much unwanted attention she often roamed the seamier side of the city's night life in search of derelicts, prostitutes and all manner of street people. After all, when the hunger arose in her, even a connoisseur like Adria Valborga had to accept the fact that blood was blood. It is better to have a poor man's meal than to long after a rich man's feast.
Two women stood outside of an all-night hamburger joint and Adria watched them for a while. As the younger one left, Adria swiftly took off in her direction. To the observer Adria's move seemed easy and casual, but it was her grace of movement which disguised her haste.
Nancy was new to the streets. She had only been hooking for a few months. However, a girl her age, seventeen, and with her looks, easily made a lot of money. True, her pimp got most of it, but she did pretty well for herself. As long as she stayed away from the drugs. And it was certainly better than living at home with her step-father, being raped at least once a week, often with her mother elsewhere in the house drinking herself to death.
"I'm sorry," Adria said. Her voice was soft and husky, wrapping the young woman in a comforting embrace. "Did I frighten you? I did not mean to."
"No. It's okay. I just didn't see you there."
The thought occurred to Nancy that this woman might be a paying customer, certainly she seemed too classy to be a working girl. She'd serviced only a few women so far and didn't care for it, but she thought she might like this one.
Adria smiled down at the lovely little brunette.
"You are new to the business."
"So?" she said defensively. "What are you ... a cop?" Nancy looked the redhead over. "Too classy to be a hooker ... at least on this street."
Adria laughed. It was a rippling laugh that should have been warm but which for some reason left Nancy feeling very cold.
"No. I am not a police officer nor am I a prostitute, but ..." the woman lightly caressed the girl's bare shoulder with her cool fingertips, "I am interested in your welfare."
Maybe a customer, but Nancy was suspicious.
"Why should you be?"
"A beautiful young girl like you, working the streets ... these streets," she added with disgust, "it is a terrible waste of talent. You could do much better."
"Oh, so that's it. You're a pimp."
"No," Adria chuckled with all the warmth of ice cubes being dropped in a glass, "I am not a ... a pimp. I would rather you think of me as a business manager. I may even be able to get you some legitimate modelling jobs."
Nancy's eyes lit up. It had been her life's ambition to be a runway model, even though everyone told her that she wasn't tall enough.
"Sincerely? How did you know I want to be a model?"
Adria shrugged. "You are young and beautiful ... and you have the right face and figure for it."
"Everyone else has told me that I'm not tall enough."
"Then everyone is wrong," Adria replied dismissively.
Then the light went out of Nancy's eyes. She glanced nervously over Adria's shoulder and her own shoulders slumped dejectedly.
"Forget it. There's my man. He'd never let me do it. He says I'm the best money maker in his stable."
Adria glanced behind her. She had actually sensed the approaching man well before Nancy. He was black, big she determined by the sound of his footsteps, and not exactly the most pleasant human being one could meet. As he was crossing the street, moving in their direction, Adria looked back towards the young prostitute and smiled.
"I think we can come to a simple business agreement. Would you like to come with me, Nancy?"
The young girl shook her head enthusiastically, never once wondering how this woman could have known her name, especially as her street name was Precious.
"Then there is nothing to worry about. You stay here while your present manager and I have a little discussion."
Adria turned her back on the girl while the pimp came up to them.
"Listen, sweet thing," he said addressing the girl, "you ain't gonna make no money unless you sell some honey." Rather theatrically he looked over the tall redhead. "And unless you're buyin', sistah, you're interferrin' with my little enterprise here."
"I am not a customer," Adria cooly replied.
"Well you ain't no workin' girl either," the pimp said, "and it's a good thing too since this is my street, my ter-it-toree. Course," he smiled, "if you was workin' for me, well ... I could use a fine lookin' thing like you."
Adria frowned. "I am sure you could, Mister ... ?"
"Sweets. Just call me Sweets, honey."
Adria's smile was dripping with venom. "Well, Mr. Sweets, I would like to talk over a little business arrangement, if you do not mind."
"All right. Now you're gettin' smart. Workin' for Sweets is sweet work, sistah."
"I had something a little different in mind. I would like to take Nancy with me ... buy her contract."
"Buy her contract? Well," Sweets said, considering his options while studying his property, "I don't know about that, lady. She's worth an awful lot to me. Her ... contract ... would cost you plenty."
"Price is of no consequence, Mr. Sweets. I would be glad to pay whatever you deemed a fair price."
Sweets' grin faded and a look of suspicion covered his heavy black face.
"You got that kind of green on you or was you plannin' to pay me with American Express?"
"I understand that a gentleman in your line of business prefers cash."
"You understand right, lady." The pimp was thinking as fast as he could, never realizing that the woman was purposely giving him time to think things out. Why sell his prize piece when he could still have the cash by rolling this bitch in the alley for it and perhaps have a little fun in the process? "Say listen, lady, why don't you and me go over there in that alley to make our little trans-action. We wouldn't want no lowlife seein' all that cash you got."
"Of course, Mr. Sweets. I understand perfectly."
"You wait here," the pimp said to the girl.
The tall redhead and the big black man crossed the street and were soon out of the young prostitute's field of vision, hidden by the darkness.
"What do you think is a fair price, Mr. Sweets?"
The black man turned to the woman in the alley and smiled as he removed something from his pocket. "Whatever you have on you will be just fine." A silvery blade shot out from the dark object with a hiss of metal against metal, locking with a solid sound, and glinted in a stray beam of light. "You just quietly give me your money and maybe I won't be too rough with you. Old Sweets is goin' to show you how he got his name, sistah."
Adria held her ground, no expression whatsoever upon her face. Her lack of fear concerned the pimp.
"Mr. Sweets, is this how you conduct business?" A tiny red light began to glow in the woman's eyes.
"Yeah, bitch. You got any ob-jections?"
"Well," she sighed, "I am afraid that we cannot do any business then, Mr. Sweets ... but I will be taking the girl with me."
"Over my dead body!"
Adria smiled. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
The light in Adria's eyes intensified and the pimp noticed the fine sharp points of her teeth for the first time. His own eyes grew wide with fear and instinctively he thrust forward with the switchblade and drove it into the woman's abdomen.
Adria smiled, her long sharp canine teeth clearly visible.
"Holy Jesus Christ!"
"He will be of no assistance, Mr. Sweets."
Adria's right hand shot out and took the pimp by the throat. As her sharp fingernails, virtually talons, dug into his flesh, drawing blood, the vampiress extended her arm and raised the big man completely off of his feet. Her eyes were now glowing bright red in the dark alley and her white teeth were very sharp, the fangs glistening in that stray beam of light that had earlier fallen upon the knife blade. With her left hand she pried the man's fingers away from the hilt of the knife and very slowly she pulled it out of her abdomen with no apparent pain. Casually she threw the switchblade aside.
"Not very polite, Mr. Sweets. Not very polite at all. Certainly no way to treat a lady."
The pimp tried to scream but could only make choking sounds, the hand clamped on his throat like an ever tightening vise.
Blood flowed from the wounds her nails had inflicted upon his neck and onto her hand, catching Adria's attention.
"You will do nicely for tonight, Mr. Sweets." She glanced behind her as a dark car, headlights extinguished, pulled into the other end of the alley. It was Yvonne. "Very nicely indeed."
Adria pulled the man closer and without further preamble sank her fangs into his throat.
Too involved in her feeding, overcome by bloodlust, Adria failed to notice the young Latino who sat transfixed in a dark doorway. He had, only moments before when alone in the alley, injected heroin into his arm and now sat in the shadows paralyzed with fear, trying to convince himself that what he was witnessing was only a hallucination.
In moments it was over and Adria, now appearing quite normal again, went back to the young girl.
"It is all settled, dear. You will be working for me from now on. I bought your contract."
Nancy tried to look around Adria towards the alley but the redhead blocked her view.
"Where's Sweets? I didn't see him come out of the alley."
"Do not worry about him, my darling. He left by another route and will never bother you again. Will you come with me now? I am, after all, your new ... ah ... manager."
"Sure. Yeah. I guess so. Can you really get me some legitimate modelling jobs?"
The Lincoln Continental pulled up to the curb, Yvonne behind the wheel and the trunk full of disposable cargo.
"I can do anything I want, my darling," Adria Valborga said, opening the back door for the girl to enter the automobile. "Anything I want."
As they drove off, Yvonne was the only one upon whose face satisfaction did not express itself.
The city streets were dark, damp and empty. Adria ran down the centre of Fifth Avenue, her black cloak flapping behind her like wings. As she ran, frightened for her very existence, she occasionally glanced behind her and in the distance she could make out, only vaguely, her pursuer. He seemed to be nothing more than a dark shadow but somehow masculine, powerful and menacing.
"Surrender yourself to me, Adria Valborga!" The deep voice of her pursuer echoed throughout the deserted city street. "Give up. You cannot escape me!"
"Can't I?" she breathlessly replied, then suddenly leaped into the air. The long cloak transformed into leathery wings and in the shape of a large black bat-like creature Adria took to the cold night sky. However, only moments later powerful jaws clamped down on one of her wings and dragged her back to earth. The pain and the agony forced her back into human form as she laid on the wet pavement, and there before her stood a great dark snarling wolf, salive dripping from its fangs.
"Who are you?" she screamed. "Why do you pursue me?"
The wolf arose on its hind legs and then expanded until it appeared to be the living shadow of a man. From its Stygian depths the deep voice answered: "I am the one who pursues you, Adria, and I do so in order to save my immortal soul, to free myself from the curse I live under by destroying those who would prey upon the innocent." The shadow moved closer. "I am, Adria, your judge, jury and executioner. I am your saviour."
As the shadow enveloped her the vampiress screamed.
And in screaming she achieved consciousness within her coffin, relieved to realize that she was safe within it's confines.
Another day had passed and the sun had set. It was time for her to leave her sanctuary and wander into the coolness of the night.
"Psst. Hey, Jack." The tall man turned toward the sound of the voice in the dark. "Heard you was looking for someone." His dark eyes had no trouble seeing the man in the shadows. "Maybe I can help you." The young man was leaning against a wall in the loading area of a warehouse. The overhead lights were out and he was hidden from normal sight by the darkness.
Alexander Drakos walked over to the young man whose hand was in his pocket, a slightly nervous look in his eyes. Although most people would not have noticed, Drakos heard the breathing of two other men beside that of the one who had spoken to him. There was as well a smell in the air that his sensitive nostrils detected, but he could not immediately identify it. Heroin. Junkies. There was also another subtle odor. although in the midst of a city, his senses had no trouble whatsoever identifying that familiar scent. Gunpowder. At least one of the three men was armed. He continued to walk into the darkness toward the young man.
"So what you willing to pay, Jack?"
"Fifty if you can tell me where the woman I seek may be found."
"Fifty? Say, Jack, that don't hardly buy what I need. Suppose I want more than that?"
"Fifty is all that I am offering. If you want more you will have to try and take it."
"Try, he says. Sheee-it, mister. Try nothing!" From his pocket the junkie pulled a Saturday Night Special, aiming it at the big man that he could barely see in the darkness. From the shadows two other young men, another Latino and a black man, came to stand beside Hector, their leader. "So why don't you just hand over your wallet now, Jack."
Drakos took a step forward so that a stray beam of light fell on his cold dark eyes. Perhaps if Hector had seen those eyes earlier he might have decided to leave this man alone. Now, however, he could not back down - not in front of Lester and Geraldo.
"Put the gun away and tell me if you know anything about the woman."
"What do you mean 'put the gun away'? Who the fu...!"
"The gun, Hector. Put the gun away. Put it down." Drakos' voice was calm but firm. His dark eyes bore into the young man's frightened eyes. "Put it down, Hector."
The young man's bruised and inflamed arm slowly began to drop. It was Geraldo who then grabbed the gun out of Hector's loose grip and aimed it at the tall dark man. He squeezed the trigger ... once, twice, three times ... then the pistol was torn out of his hand and thrown towards the loading docks. Geraldo didn't know how he could have missed the man three times at that close range, nevertheless he thought that he must have since the man was apparently uneffected and was grabbing him by the shirt front. As if he were a rag doll, the Latino was lifted into the air and thrown against a wall. His back and head hit the bricks with such an impact that he was unconscious before he came to earth.
Lester was frantically pulling a knife from the sheath attached to his belt when the tall man's long white hand clamped down on his wrist. Nerveless fingers dropped the weapon to the pavement as bones were crushed like so many tiny dry twigs. He would have screamed with pain but before he could do so Drakos grabbed Lester's throat in his free hand, lifted him into the air, and threw him so far away and with such force that his thigh bone was broken in two places. He passed out from the pain.
Drakos turned once more upon Hector, grabbed him by the front of the shirt, and pulled him very close. The dark man's eyes glowed with an eerie red light and right before Hector's frightened eyes his teeth took on a sharper appearance while two of them lenghthened into fangs.
"You have seen her, Hector. I know you have. Now tell me where she is."
"No ... no, man, really. I don't know where she is now ..." Drakos hissed and drew the Latino closer to him. The stray beam of light glinted off of the shiny white fangs. "I don't! Honest! But I saw her the other night ... in an alley ... not far from here. She killed a man. Killed old Sweets. She ... she ..."
"She what?" Drakos hissed.
"She was like you. Just like you, man. I was high. Thought I was hallucinating or something. But it must have been real. I couldn't believe it. She just bit right into his neck then dropped Sweets when she was finished ... just like he was so much garbage."
"Then this tall foxy looking blonde came up in a car and put old Sweets' body in the trunk. It kind of reminded me of a stuffed animal with most of the stuffing knocked out of it, you know? Then the woman you're looking for, that redhead whose picture you've been flashing all over the place, she took this little hooker home with her and that's all I saw. Really. Honest, man. I don't know nothing else!"
"This hooker have a name?" Drakos was beginning to feel distracted. The young Latino's heart was beating so hard and loud that it seemed like a drum to his sensitive ears. He could feel the blood coursing through the young man's body. He could smell the blood in his veins.
"Ah ... ah ... Precious. No. That's her street name. Um. I think it's Nancy. Yeah. Nancy! Don't know the rest of her name. Cute little brunette, white, new to the streets, maybe seventeen, eighteen years old." A low growl issued from Drakos' throat and he pulled the man closer. The scent of the man's blood was tempting. "That's it. Honestly! I don't know anything else! Please, mister, please! Don't kill me! Not like that! Please, mister!"
Drakos threw his head back, opening his mouth and hissing like a cobra about to strike. At the last moment he stopped himself and threw the young man to the ground, as far from him as he could. The dark man lowered his head and passed his hand over his face. When he looked up again his eyes were dark once more and his teeth appeared normal.
With his back to the young Latino sitting on the pavement he asked, "Which alley?"
"C ... corner of Fifth and Market. There's a hamburger joint across the street from it."
Alexander Drakos grunted and walked away without looking back at the man he had nearly killed. A fifty dollar bill fell to the pavement but it was some time before Hector even thought about picking it up.
The music was blasting in Anthony's Lounge and the Asian dancer was just finishing her act. She gave a toothy smile and, her G-string bristling with tips, stepped off the stage and dashed back to the dressing room. During the interval that followed the man hidden in the dark corner studied the room. He had to consciously block out the sound of the music for its rhythms and volume were harsh to his sensitive hearing. The man, however, was able to adjust and concentrate upon everything else in the lounge while cutting out the sound of the music almost entirely. To his hearing it seemed as if the music were turned down to a whisper while at the same time the voices of those who spoke in the bar were turned up. Through a conscious effort, concentrating upon a certain area, he could hear, quite clearly, everything that was spoken in that place while tuning out the other sounds in the strip joint.
Alexander Drakos turned toward a far wall of Anthony's and concentrated upon the conversation of a blond-haired man with another wearing a dark beard.
"Sure she has about three-hundred teeth, Denny, but I still go nuts every time I see a beautiful Oriental like that."
"Great. No problem. She's all yours, Gary!"
"Yeah. Right. Sure."
"But I'll take the redhead any day!"
"You and your redheads with big boobs."
Drakos sat up straight and sharpened his concentration. Could it be her?
"So what's her name? You know them all."
Denny turned to Gary with eyebrows raised. "You saw her once before. Adria."
"How the hell could I forget! Okay, you take the Oriental and I'll take the redhead!"
The music was changing and Drakos tensed. Z.Z.Top sang She's Got Legs while Drakos considered what his move should be. Adria was too smart to concern himself with subtlety. Once he saw her he had to take her, otherwise she might escape. The second dancer of the evening came out and stepped up to the stage. Drakos was about to spring forward, but at the last moment he stopped himself. It was not Adria. The dancer was young, probably too young to be dancing there legally. She was a pretty girl with brown hair and dressed in a little white lace outfit that would not remain upon her body for long. About her neck she wore a pretty white ribbon.
The ribbon attracted Drakos' attention. He could smell the blood, the tainted blood beneath it, and despite the distance and the deceptive red lighting he could see two slight bumps under the ribbon ... swollen wounds.
Something at the bar caught Drakos' attention. A statuesque, elegantly dressed blonde stood out among the seamier people. She had just come out of the dressing room and was watching the young girl with a mixture of admiration and obvious jealousy. Drakos looked back to the dancing girl. He heard one of the patrons call her Precious. Nancy. Suddenly everything was clear.
Adria had found a new girl, a companion she would slowly change into one of their kind. Drakos glanced back at the blonde. Yvonne was her name. He could read it. Her change was near completion. He could feel it. And she was not at all happy about Adria's most recent acquisition.
Adria? She had to be in the dressing room - essentially trapped.
Drakos, pushing his table over, leaped to the stage, ripped the ribbon from the girl's neck to expose the two small wounds, and holding her tightly by the wrist looked into her eyes. "It is not too late," he hissed with insistance. "If you leave now, if you never see her again, you can escape. The infection is not strong enough to take hold. Do you understand?" She was stunned and he shook the girl as if to wake her up. "Do you understand?"
"Y ... yes. Yes! I understand."
Drakos gazed into her eyes and felt certain that at least for the moment her situation was clear to her. It was then that the bouncer jumped up on stage. He was a big man, an ex-football player, and he obviously spent all of this daylight hours in the gym.
"All right, fella, you're outta here!"
The vampire turned on the man, eyes glowing with a blood red inner light. He opened his mouth with a hissing sound, his gleaming white fangs glistening in the ultraviolet and crimson light, then he backhanded the bouncer and sent him flying. The bouncer landed on top of a table, crushing it under his bulk, and that was it for him. He was out for the count. No one else in the bar moved after that. They were all paralyzed with fear and amazement.
Drakos glanced once more at the young girl, felt certain she could now free herself before the curse could take hold, then dashed off of the stage, heading for the dressing room.
Yvonne suddenly appeared in front of Drakos, blocking his access to the dressing room. She made a growling sound deep in her throat exposing sharp teeth and fangs, her eyes glowing evilly in the dimly lit lounge. It was too late for her. She was too far gone. Yvonne leaped at Drakos and they struggled for a moment. She would have easily overpowered any mortal man, but she was no match for the vampire. Drakos turned her around, wrapping her arms around her and holding her as if wrapped in a straitjacket, then quickly he bent down and bit into her slender but strong neck as she struggled and hissed. It only took him moments to drain her of every drop of blood while the people in the lounge remained transfixed by the unexpected and horrifying event.
Drakos let the body of the woman fall to the floor. It almost floated. The corpse seemed somehow shrivelled, but at the same time at peace - normal. Yvonne would not rise from the dead.
Precious moments were lost in dealing with the two women so the vampire ran to the dressing room in search of the one he had really come for. At the same time the barmaid finally realized what was going on and she was dialling 911.
The door was locked but Drakos shattered it with one simple blow of his hand. There was a window which shattered at the same time as the door and as Drakos entered the room Adria Valborga, dressed only in the skin-tight black lace catsuit, was in that window. She turned, red eyes glowing, fangs exposed, a hiss escaping from deep in the back of her throat, then she turned, leaped through the window and was away.
The vampire wasted no time. He too went through the window to go after the vampiress. At the same moment three police cruisers, sirens blasting, lights flashing, came on the scene and drove between Adria, whom they had not seen, and Drakos, now locked within the high beams of their headlights and spotlights.
"Freeze! Police!" Officers flew out of their vehicles and aimed their automatics at Drakos. In the distance, with his extraordinary vision, the vampire could see Adria stop for a moment to gloat, then turn and run off. Drakos growled like an enraged animal and ignoring the pistols aimed at him ran towards the officers to get past them and to the fleeing vampiress.
The police opened fire. Point blank range. Bullets tore into the vampire's body but seemingly without effect. The projectiles failed to even slow him down and simply passed through him as if he were no more substantial than smoke. However, he was a creature of substance. The officers that he threw aside and pushed out of his way with very little effort were certain of that. Then Drakos literally leaped over the two squad cars directly in front of him and disappeared into the night.
Injured, terrified and amazed police officers stood about wondering just what had happened, unable to think clearly enough to make an immediate call for assistance. The whole thing was just too bizarre, too far beyond their comprehension, their perception of reality.
Adria had a big lead on Drakos, but the vampire had been around for a very long time, much longer than the female, and his powers were sharper, more developed. Although the vampiress was well out of his sight he could smell her tainted blood in the air, isolate it from the distracting city scents, and more efficient than any bloodhound track her down. Despite the fact that Adria was fast, faster than any mortal could be, Drakos was faster, much faster, and he was quickly catching up to her.
His mind ranging ahead, Drakos grinned with satisfaction as he ran. Adria was ahead and she had cornered herself in a cul-de-sac, a tall building on either side of and behind her. She might be able to scale them, but not before he could get to her.
Drakos turned the corner and there she was. Adria Valborga.
"You!" she hissed.
The tall vampire stood firm in the dark street.
"You cannot escape me now, Adria. Do not struggle. Let me release you."
"Release me? You! It was you, Alexandros the Dragon, you who made me into what I am today. It was you who gave me these powers, this Gift. You who made me superior to mortals. And I enjoy it. I enjoy being superior."
A shadow of sadness passed over Drakos' face. Sadness and guilt.
"We are not superior, Adria. We have heightened senses, we have abilities that normal mortals do not possess, or which they have not developed, but we are not superior to them."
"We can live forever!"
The vampire spread his arms out as if to encompass the night.
"Do you call this ... existence ... life, Adria? To always hide in the night and never see the light of day? To hide from the sun, never to feel its warmth, to lay in a coffin in a state of almost complete vulnerability ... never to know the joys of love, never to create new life from our loins ... never to ..."
"Enough of your maudlin rubbish!" Adria screamed, her eyes glowing preternaturally in the night. "Your mind must be growing soft with age, Alexandros! Perhaps you are growing senile. What are you? Nine-hundred ... a thousand ... Two-thousand years old?" The vampire did not answer. "You were once a king even among our kind ... our kind ... but now look at you! Why do you pursue me? Why can't you leave me alone?"
"Because," the vampire replied with regret in his voice, "I created you. I am responsible for what you are, as you say, and every victim who dies or suffers at your hand is a victim that I am ultimately responsible for. I pursue you, Adria, because I am one of the few ways you can find release from the curse, and only by releasing all the souls that I have enslaved can I find release for myself. I want to die, Adria. I cannot exist like this any longer. I do not find pleasure in the false sense of superiority as I once did ... as you do now ... and I tire of never feeling the warmth of the sun's rays. I am tired of the night, of the killing ... of the loneliness."
"To die is easy, Alexandros, even for a vampire. Plunge into fire! Bare your breast to the stake! What is preventing you from taking your own life?"
"You know. At first," he continued, his wide shoulders slumped dejectedly, "I could not help myself. I was as you are now. Too proud and too intoxicated with power to understand the nature of the curse that enslaves us. I did not want to die. Then when suicide seemed the only answer I could not force myself to commit it. At the last moment something within me that wanted to continue on would turn my hand aside. My mind would stretch out, contact others, notify them of my presence, and I would ready myself for their killing blow, but at the last moment I would fight back, against my own will, often murdering the very person I drew to me to end my miserable existence.
"As my powers increased with time and experience I began to overcome the part of the curse that would force me to defend myself. Adria, more than once the stake has been driven into my heart ... but I returned. It did not, it could not, kill me. My body was paralyzed by the piercing of my heart, by the stake thrust into it, but my mind went forth and each time I found some mortal that I could draw to my resting place, some poor unsuspecting fool who would release me from the paralysis by removing the stake from my heart." Drakos looked to the ground and would have shed a tear if he had been able to. "Some innocent unsuspecting fool that would then become my victim and satisfy my long unquenched thirst for blood."
Adria was obviously amazed. She always believed she was immortal so long as she continued to feed her hunger, but felt certain that the stake could always end her immortality. Could it be true that eventually the vampire could even overcome this?
"But fire? The rays of the sun?"
Alexander Drakos shook his head sadly.
"Even that, Adria. Even that failed to release me from the curse and give me death. Once I had been set afire, cast into the rays of the sun after being trapped by a mob. My physical form was completely incinerated. Burned to ashes. But my mind lived on. I retained my consciousness and reaching out I found a mortal, a young and innocent girl, drew her to me, even against my own inner will and desires, and there, upon the spot I was burned she committed suicide for what she thought was love and her innocent fresh blood mixed with the ashes of my physical form and regenerated it. Before the night was half over I was whole again and free to range the world of mortals, taking life, spreading the curse. Free ... but free only to live under the curse, to be enslaved by it and to enslave others.
"I want to be entirely free of the curse, Adria. I am tired of all the killing. Tired of all the innocent souls I have destroyed and corrupted. I want it to stop. I want to die, Adria."
"And you are convinced that only my death will give you freedom?"
"Adria, as you yourself said, I was once king of our species. I have survived a very long time. Longer than you know. It is not what I believe. It is what I know. I must release you from the curse, and all of those I have condemned before I can find freedom from the curse myself. This ... this ... Gift, as you call it, is a disease, but with time it becomes much more, much worse, and the longer one lives, often despite one's self, the more wise one becomes, and I know that this is no way to exist in this world. I know that eternal life at the price of one's humanity is no life at all and that beyond the physical there is much more. Please, Adria, won't you let me release you from the curse so that you can be free to experience the life that is beyond life rather than to maintain this horrid existence, this sham, mocking death-in-life?"
Adria Valborga seemed to think about it for a moment, then she screamed, "You are mad! Something has happened to you! It is all lies! Lies!" Her last words were uttered in a banshee-like scream as, with burning eyes, elongated fangs and talon-like fingernails she flew at the vampire in a murderous rage.
Drakos caught her wrists in his powerful hands, but not before she managed to tear at his face. They fought like animals in the dark cul-de-sac, tearing at one another, hissing and growling. Vampire against vampiress. No mortal could have withstood the onslaught of either vampire, the sheer ferocity, but for a time it seemed as if their power was evenly matched.
Then Drakos had the vampiress on the ground. He kneeled over Adria and pinned her arms to the pavement. Slowly he lowered his head as she hissed and spat, her bosom heaving with a fatigue and exhaustion she hadn't expereinced since the night she left her mortality behind.
"It is only an excuse!" the vampiress screamed. "You will maintain your life by taking mine from me, by drinking my blood!"
"Yes, Adria, I will exist on your tainted blood. I will exist as long as I must to end the curse, to release all of the souls I have enslaved, but only that long. Then I will die. Hopefully I will die."
"The innocents! How many innocents will you destroy until you find the next one of our kind?"
"Hopefully none, Adria. Hopefully none." He took one last look at her horribly transformed features. "Now rest in death, Adria, and forgive me."
Quickly he buried his fangs into her throat and as he drank her blood she screamed horribly and struggled fantastically - but only for a while - only for a very short while.
"Murderer! Murderer! Vampire!" Adria weakly screamed, blood choking off the last word, bubbling up from her mouth as Alexander Drakos drew most of it through the jugular vein. Then the quality of her voice changed. The light dimmed in her eyes while her teeth and nails resumed their human appearance. "Thank you," she whispered then choked. "Thank you."
And Adria Valborga was dead. Truly dead as she should have been well over a century ago.
Drakos pulled back when her veins and arteries were empty. He stood up and gazed down at the corpse. Even drained of blood, capillaries collapsed, Adria Valborga was beautiful in death. There was no doubt in the vampire's mind. She would never roam the earth again. He had given her freedom to find the life beyond life. He had released her from the curse.
The vampire turned his eyes heavenward and gazed up into the starry night, barely visible to mortal eyes due to the city street lights, but clearly visible to his keen vision.
Her soul was free.
However, Alexander Drakos himself - his soul was still imprisoned, enslaved by the vampires' curse. He could not even hope for death as yet. He was unable to enjoy life as one of the undead, nor could he seek the life beyond life. There was still much for him to do. He had survived a much longer time than Adria and in that time he had brought many men and women under the curse and he was responsible for every one of them, and for every one of their victims. It would be a long time before he could be free - but there was hope. It was not much, but there was at least a little hope that one day he might free himself from the curse, but only if he sought out and released each one of those vampires in the world that he had created, that he had condemned with "The Gift".
Only then would he know peace. Only then could his soul either rest, free from the curse, or go on to the other life.
Until then the vampire was a being who was not even human, a monster trapped between worlds, neither alive nor dead, to be despised even among the undead. Only after he completed his mission, only after he released all of the souls that he had enslaved - only then would it stop.
Only then could Alexander Drakos end the dance of the undead.
* No doubt the reference to Ulysses S. Grant had to do with something I had read while studying the American Civil War but I cannot now remember what it was.