Ismael looked my way. His arms folded tight against his chest.
I cleaned my blade and sheathed it. Put it back in the case. I stood there, waiting for the scolding I knew was coming.
His arms unfolded and he waved me over.
I walked over to him. Little else I could do.
“I talked to Lumis. He’s gone to the emergency room. I talked to him. He told me… a lot of stuff. Care to clear it up for me?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“OK. Please, keep an open mind and don’t dismiss things just because they don’t make sense.”
“I’ll keep an open mind. Don’t abuse my patience or our friendship.”
The look in his eyes made me sad. He thought I lost it. Even with the evidence right in front of him, he still could not believe what was happening to us, to our city, our world. If I had not been in the middle of it, maybe I wouldn’t believe it either.
“I don’t know why or how, but we have a supernatural problem.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Ismael, hear me out. This guy, he told me his name was Vry Kolakas. This guy came to see me and warned me to abandon the cannibal case. I looked him up and found a sort of… I guess you could call it a vampire story, but these guys consume the liver, rather than drink blood.”
His right hand came up to eye level. His index finger and thumb tips about an inch apart. “You are this close to getting your ass kicked off the force on a psych discharge. I’m in no mood for games.”
“I know how this sounds. Do you think I don’t? This hunts me.” My voice had risen steadily, so I paused, swallowed, and tried to regain my calm. “Look, let me show you my research.”
“OK, but this better be good.”
We went to my office. I unlocked my safe.
“I didn’t know you had a safe here. That’s new.”
“I had it installed after… well, let me show you.”
An hour went by. I showed him my internet search. My forensic findings. Several witness accounts that had been discarded because the people giving testimony were vagrants or drunks. The evidence and the lore. A combination of modern facts and old tales from different countries.
“Let’s say I was to believe any of this, and I’m not saying I do. Why didn’t you come to me with this?”
“Come on, Ismael, would you have believed me?”
He reclined back in the chair. Shook his head. “I guess not.”
“I’m in the middle of it and can hardly believe it myself. I took up fencing with a katana because beheading is just about the only practical way of killing these guys.”
“But you shot them. The ones that came after you, you shot them.”
“Yes, I thought they were familiars, people waiting to be turned. I never thought actual vrykolakas would come after me. Not yet.”
“Waiting to be turned? Why on earth would anyone want to be turned?”
“Vrykolakas are immortal for all practical intent and purpose. They are also very strong and fast.”
“You were faster with the sword.”
“They weren’t expecting it. I’m not sure I could take one of them if they were ready for me.”
“So, what now?”
“They are coming after me, the head guy, the one that called himself Vry Kolakas must have lost control of the fringe group. They are the ones that were careless and left the bodies for us to find.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean there probably are a lot more victims we don’t know about. The ones they drained the blood from? That’s for their new members, they have to grow in the dark arts and for that, they drink blood, for a while. Essentially for a year, they must drink fresh blood every day. Eventually, they become mature and require ingesting human livers. From a fresh kill. Raw. There is some mystical explanation, but my sources have conflicting information, so I don’t exactly know how it all works. Not yet, anyway. Frediano may have more information about that. At any rate, the liver confers onto them longevity and the energy, the magical side of it, I guess, replenish their powers.”
“OK, let’s say I believe what you are saying. So, what happens now? How do we stop them? There must be a way to stop them, they are not common and I have never heard of one before.”
“Well, again, from what I’ve been able to gather, and Frediano too, by the way. We keep in touch, but it’s hard because we did not want to show our hand. The reason they were wiped out a long time ago in Greece is that if you kill the patriarch, all the others can die, they can be killed. They become unable to absorb whatever mystical property from the liver of the victims. They live for a while, but they shrivel and die. Eventually.”
“And how did you discover this?”
“I didn’t. Frediano has been doing some discreet inquires in Greece and Europe, in general. Those are his findings. I haven’t been able to get the full story because communicating is hard when you can’t be open.”
“Alright. Tell you what. Let’s leave this mess for now. Tomorrow morning early,” he looked at his watch, “Or rather later today, let’s say seven, we’ll meet in my office. I’m not a happy camper, just so you know.”
Yeah, well, I wasn’t either, but there was no point in going into that at this point.
It’s been a year now. We have cleaned several dens of vrykolakas. We now know that incinerating them works too, but they have to be reduced to ashes. If they are just superficially burnt, they come back. Mad and angry, but they come back. You have to burn them down to the bone, and then burn the bones. A large pile of ashes is the only way to be sure.
The city is up in arms about this. Groups that don’t know or understand what’s happening are trying to hold us back from murdering perpetrators. They claim that no matter how heinous a crime, even cannibalism, people have the right to a fair trial and should not be executed on the streets.
If they only knew. I agree with human rights. These things are not human.
I’m tired. This is sort of a vacation. I’m in a beach house. I had to take a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m still in shape, but that’s because I practice with the katana every day for at least an hour. I’m still not one of the best swordsmen, as the sensei says, but I’m pretty good if I do say so myself. My mental health has taken a hit too, I’m depressed all the time, no matter how much we advance, how many we kill, more come up to take their place. It’s like trying to hold back the sea with a broom.
I can see the beach from the living room window. The crashing waves are soothing. The sun is gently kissing the horizon. A cool breeze makes the wind chimes give off happy notes. I’m thankful for the open front sweater that keeps me warm. The fireplace is going, but the weight of the heavy fabric gives me comfort.
I serve a little bit of cognac in a snifter. Sitting on one of the two large leather chairs by the fire is comfortable and the crackling of the flames lulls my senses.
I’m practically alone. None of the other properties have cars on the sidewalks or the garages, it’s the end of winter, so no one is here to enjoy the beach. Light snow fell the last couple of days and everything is covered in a sugary white coat that reflects the scant sunlight during the day and makes a full moon night like this one, almost luminous.
I realize with a start that I drank the liquor. I get up to serve myself some more.
“I hope you are enjoying your time off, Doctor.”
I jump and almost spill some of the cognac on the floor, only the balloon shape of the snifter prevents it from sloshing off to the ground. I’ve only heard it once before, but I can recognize that voice anywhere. It haunts my dreams. I really should say, my nightmares.
I turn slowly to see the same man that showed up in my hotel room, so long ago.
His hair is still a happy salt and pepper, but now white is winning. The tenor voice has steel in it, used to command. I detect some tiredness there though.
My gaze sweeps the room. It lands on the case with my katana in it. Impossibly far from me right now.
“Doctor, please, that’s very rude.” He laughs quietly. Wags an elegantly manicured finger at me. “You’ve caused me quite a bit of trouble. You and the Italian, Frediano. He will no longer bother me.” The cold smile gives me all the information I need. Frediano is dead.
“What do you want?”
“I asked you politely to leave us alone. You chose not to. I’ve come to prevent you from meddling with things beyond your ken.”
“And how, exactly, are you going to do that?”
His booming laughter is terrifying.
“I’m going to kill you, Doctor. I will consume your liver. It will fortify me immensely.”
I placed the snifter on the bar. Slowly, I back off towards the door, away from the case with the katana, hoping that’ll give me a chance to move away.
He stands effortlessly. He is taller than me, impeccably dressed in a charcoal gray silk suit. The shirt is blindingly white, it must be satin or silk. The tie, a shiny midnight black, is a thin strip of darkness on his chest.
“Oh, come on, Doctor, no need to run away. When I decide to kill you it will happen, there is nothing you can do.” His smile is absolutely chilling, he does believe what he is saying.
“I’m not running. I just don’t want to be close to you, you freak.”
Again he laughs, this time when his eyes seek me I see them turn a luminous red. I’ve seen that before, many times now.
“I’m a GOD, you simpleton. I’m not a freak. I have been alive for over to two centuries now. I was old and frail when I first turned. Now, look at me.” He opened his arms wide. His small waist evident even under his suit jacket, the broad shoulders transmit power and raw physical strength.
“That’s a common psychosis, the god thing.” I shrug with a nonchalance I don’t feel. “Nothing new. Some think themselves to be Napoleon, you think you’re god, nothing new.”
A terrible smile creeps over his face. His teeth morph in front of my eyes. First, his fangs get thicker and longer, his incisors become narrow, needle-like. I’ve seen many wounds attributed to just those kind of teeth.
“You are paling, doctor. Maybe you are not as confident as all your bluster indicates?”
“You have aged since we first met, Vry. May I call you Vry?”
“It’s just your endless meddling that has kept me from feeding regularly.” He runs a hand through his hair. “It’ll be alright once you are gone. And that’ll be soon.”
We have been moving around the room. The picture window to my right still looks over the sea, a way out perhaps, but he is faster than me, I’d never escape that way. The ample family room has the fireplace along the wall in front of me, the two wing back chairs facing the roaring fireplace. Vry is between the fire and me.
“I think it’s time to test how quick you really are.”
He laughs, throwing his head back, carelessly, and I spring forward, tackling him. The solid thud of my shoulder hitting his mid-drift is very satisfying. I pump with my legs as fast and as hard as I can, pushing him back, towards the fireplace.
It’s like pushing a marble column, but I have surprised him, he loses his footing for just a second, which is all the time I need.
I push with all my might and jam him against the fireplace screen and beyond.
His head falls on the roaring logs and I back away, running to the case with the katana. I yank open the lid, pull the sword out, and turn.
Vry is up already, ripping the burnt suit jacket, shirt, and tie of his body. A lot of his hair has burnt away and the smell of sulfur is thick in the air. His neck and shoulders are badly burnt, surely his back is burnt too.
“Good opening gambit, Doctor, very good. This will be immensely pleasurable. Killing an unwilling pray is always best. The juices are sweeter and the mystical nourishment more plentiful.”
The eyes are now completely red. The fangs protrude from the lips and flash outside the mouth.
His nails are now pointy and black, claw-like on the tip of his fingers.
The sheath of the katana hit the ground as I slip in my guard stance.
“Well, come and get me, freak.”
He moves slowly, deliberately, circling as I pivot to keep him in front of me at all times.
He faints to the left and makes a quick swipe with his right clawed hand.
I thrust and slice, but catch only air. His hand moves blindingly fast and is gone before I can connect.
“Bravo, doctor. Bravo. I believe you will make a worthy adversary. All of this will enrich my feeding.” A flame-like flare in his eyes tells me he is actually enjoying the fight, the cruel cat and mouse game he is playing with me.
Slowly and deliberately I move my feet, always keeping my balance, my stance easy and effective, ready for the attack I know is coming.
The blur in front of me is the only signal before the burning sensation of three deep claw marks that rip my chest registers.
I back up quickly, only to be hammered by the peals of laughter for the monster.
“Doctor, doctor, you are not going to retreat now?” He is almost breathless with mirth. “We are just starting.” His tone loses its playfulness. “I will kill you slowly, painfully. I’ll make sure you are still conscious when I rip you open and start to feed on your liver.”
He jumps forward intending to hit me again, but I’m ready this time. I drop to one knee and swing my sword at his legs and catch the thigh. The katana thirstily slices its way into the muscle, a fountain of deep dark red blood, almost purple, floods out. I follow up as much as I can, but the monster retreats quickly and effectively. I can’t follow, I’d be dangerously off-balance and vulnerable.
Damn! I didn’t even hit the bone. It’s a deep flesh wound, but not nearly enough to even slow him down.
“You clod. Enough of this! Time for you to die.” His voice is dark now. He means to end this.
I can see his leg is bleeding freely. He can not possibly be steady on that leg. The katana cut deep into his thigh, not to the bone, but close enough to make no difference. All this flash in my mind, I’m jumping and swinging before he has finished speaking.
He retreats, but his leg hampers his move.
My slice is perfect. The timing, impeccable. The elegant move would cut through a thick bamboo shaft wrapped in tatamis. I’ve done it many times and I know this move is perfect.
But the practice bamboo doesn’t move. Vry does.
I cut the throat but he grabs my lead arm in a vise-like grip. My wrist bones grind against each other generating excruciating pain.
I open my right hand and pull with my left pressing as much as I can, but I already know I don’t have enough force to cut his head off.
He backs away from the cut thrusting me away.
I fall heavily on my back and the katana perversely skitters off to end up under a chair. Out of my reach.
A gurgling laugh escapes his lips, now stained with his own blood bubbling from the neck wound.
“Time to die, doctor, time to die. You don’t have your sword anymore. You are mine!”
Terror chills my bones, my heart pummels my ribs and blood thunders in my ears.
I may have miscalculated, I may not be able to kill him, even though my ruse has worked, perhaps too well.
My aching right hand disappears under my sweater as the monster jumps towards me and opens his maw impossibly wide, I can see pointy teeth all the way to the back, a black tongue that thirsts for my blood wagging inside.
My 45 comes out and barks three times in rapid succession.
The bullets hit the head and destroy it while the monster is in the air. The huge shape falls on me, smothering me with the heavy dead weight.
With extreme effort I push it off me and, panting, I get on my hands and knees.
I quickly turn to the corpse on the floor, pointing at it with the gun.
I drop back and sit on the floor.
All three bullets hit the mark and there is little left of the head still attached to the body. It was destroyed by the impacts that pulverized the bone and flesh above the neck.
Not as clean or elegant as a slice of the sword, but effective and, hey, I was alive, so I’ll count it as a win.
A long time must have passed, it’s a deep dark night when I’m finally able to move again. My chest hurts a lot from the wounds.
I put the gun back in my shoulder holster. My fingers refuse to open when I try to let go, I’ve been holding it tight for a long time.
I pick up my phone and call Ismael.
“Hello? Elian, you are not going to believe this, the vampires, the monsters, they die now. We shoot them and they die.”
“I know.” I swallow. My voice rough.
“Kolakas paid me a visit.”
“What? Are you OK? Do you need back up?”
“No. I… killed him. He’s dead. Gone. This is over.”
“Elian, how… nevermind. I’ll have people there immediately. I’m leaving now, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I hang up. There’s no point telling him how the monster died and has been out of the game for hours now.
I look at the corpse. It’s gotten smaller. It’s just skin and bones now. An old man’s body, not the perfect specimen that fought me.
I get up, pick up my katana, and flick it a couple of times, before cleaning it.
I go to the bathroom to wash my face. When I turn the light on I jump back, the blood-covered face in the mirror scaring me all over again. But it’s just me, I was under Vry when he died, I’m drenched in his blood.
I look at myself. I can see where he ripped my chest with his claws. It’s not bleeding anymore. Good.
I clean myself up. I close the wounds on my chest as well as I can, I’ll let the ambulance take care of it when they get here.
I walk back out of the bathroom but don’t go into the family room.
The faint sounds of emergency vehicles approaching give me a measure of peace.
I’m hoping this is the end of this strange story. Vampires, monsters, undead in our modern-day and age. Who would have thought, right?
Well, it was over now.
I’m sure it’s over.
Vry is dead.