A TALE IN BLACK AND WHITE
The flash of lightning illuminated the rain-drenched gray stones of the castle walls. The deep rolling thunder shook his bones soon after.
He ran a trembling hand over his brow. Sweat and rain mixed with the dirt and mud covering him.
The high wall’s stones suffered the elements for many years, for centuries. Deep cracks and crevices were visible even in the poor light of the overcast dying day.
He must climb the walls. The solid door of the castle withstood the explosions and the windows were too slender for him, or for anyone, to get through. The only alternative was to climb the exterior walls and penetrate the castle that way.
By himself, all others sprawled dead on the fields around the castle, he was the last hope. The last obstinate obstacle in the path of destruction the mad man in the castle followed.
Climbing, his mind wondered. His hands moved from handhold to handhold. Never moving more than one limb at a time. Always three firm points of contact against the weathered walls. First a hand, then a foot, then the other hand. His muscles trembled, the white puffs of his exhalations punctuating every grunt. He concentrated on the careful, deliberate moves. But his mind wondered. He could not help it.
Vividly, the memories of the past months dominated his thoughts. Pulling himself closer to the wall he allowed his raged breath to slow a little. The air was sharp as knives as he took in deep desperate gulps. Just a minute or two, he could not stop for long. He might cramp, he might fall. He was the last one. The last obstacle. The last hope of a scared, terrified world. He climbed on.
He reached the machicolations. A proper castle, then, not a modern copy.
They had thrown everything at it. Missiles, particle beams, an arsenal spent trying to penetrate the walls. The point defense systems were state of the art and defeated all their attacks.
A tight fit, but he made it through despite his backpack. The battlements were bare. There were no more henchmen to defend the castle. At least not out here on the outer wall. He paused for a minute to catch his breath. Leaning his head back, he opened his mouth wide to allow the heavy rain to wet his parched throat.
He expected to see many of the mad man’s minions dead. He knew there were none alive since he had not been killed approaching the castle. There was nothing. No cadavers, nothing.
He stood and looked out over the surrounding lands. People littered the fields. All dead. There were no wounded. He checked a few on his way in but gave up quickly. None moved, none whimpered or cried. The only sound, the calls from crows and ravens, feasting on the dead. He knew then, he had to finish it. Somehow. He had to gain access to the castle and stop the mad man from accomplishing his goal.
The castle was a marvel of modern science encased in an ancient historic building. The wealth the mad man had at his disposal was impressive. He purchased the castle. The island. He then fortified his position, it must have been a long-term plan. It certainly could not have been a whim or a carelessly executed indulgence.
Three days ago, the first ships of the fleet started their attack. What they believed to be a surprise overwhelming final attack. They failed miserably. Every cruise missile defeated, every aircraft wing, brought down. Then the counterattack took many ships out. Those that did not sink immediately limped to their home ports. According to the few reports he got, not all of them made it back.
They landed on the island and attacked with everything modern technology allowed. Their attack vehicles, destroyed. Their particle beams were defeated by an energy shield that the best minds said could not exist, yet, here it was. A shield which was effective against energy weapons and some missiles, but, ironically, he was able to walk right through, just a tingling sensation marking his passage.
The infantry clashes degenerated quickly into close combat situations. With no quarter asked for, or given. The mad man’s forces fought like berzerkers. Once the firearms munitions were gone, the fight devolved into melee combat. Bayonets, tomahawks, knives, “k” bars, any edged weapon that could cut and slash came into play. Some used their rifles as clubs, others picked up fallen tree limbs. In this era of smart missiles and energy shields, people still could kill each other with their bare hands. And did so.
He walked to the inner second wall, he simply did not have the strength to run. The large door was not completely closed, it had been damaged somehow. Evidently, some of the artillery they threw at the castle made it inside. It held together somewhat, but there was room enough for him to wiggle through, even with the pack on his back.
Night had fallen by the time he was on the other side. The chill in the air robbed his body of heat. Thankfully, the rain abated. For now, anyway.
Few lights were on behind the slender windows. Weak light from the full moon cresting the walls barely illuminated the piles of bodies, stacked everywhere. The defenders, no doubt. Who had collected them? And why? They were out in the open, in rough piles, the carrion birds and rodents still devouring them with abandon and without care.
He moved on. Finally, he reached the impressive inner sanctum. The enormous knockers on the doors were bronze fists holding snakes biting their tails. The metalwork was mesmerizing. The snakes seemed alive, the attention to detail amazing. He ran his hand over them, in awe.
The heavy doors opened as he leaned into them. A pleasant surprise. He expected them to be closed tight. Locked. But they readily opened when he pushed.
Walking in, the heat from the hearth at the end of the room greeted him like the embrace of an old friend. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth but froze before it could bloom in full.
Men lay sprawled all over the monumental entrance hall, his men.
Some were wounded from the battle, sure. Others…
He approached them, his cold and tiredness forgotten. Looking frantically around for anything he could use to render aid. None were able to stand. A few were beyond help already.
He tried to speak to them, but they were all too far gone to be of any help. None were able to tell him anything. Just moans and cries. The wounds on their necks, however, spoke volumes.
Picking up a flagon of water from a nearby table, he gave some to a few of them, covered others with whatever blankets he could find. Making sure they were as comfortable as possible, he moved on, frustrated at not being able to render any more aid. His medic pack had been depleted hours before.
The castle was big, they could be anywhere. However, it made sense that the mad man to be towards the center, well-protected. His cowardly ilk always tended to protect themselves, even at the cost of his troops.
Some people were on the floor in the corridors. All weak and some close to death. Clearly visible marks on the throats of many of them. Pale, haggard faces, sunken cheeks, dark bags under their eyes. Eyes that searched their surroundings, but were vacant, indifferent.
Indignation burned hot in his chest. He could not allow the mad man to do this. He must bring this to a stop.
A tall dark door, twice his size, barred his way. Rich dark mahogany, carefully carved by talented artists, depicted the paradise scene with Adam and Eve taking the fruit of knowledge edged on by the serpent.
At first, the door resisted his push, but his trembling arms eventually overcame and the doors swang free.
The deep cackling laughter echoed from the walls of the vast warm room. In the fireplace, tall flames roared, seemingly the only source of light. The gigantic man rested easily in the high back leather chair.
“Welcome. Welcome to my humble abode, Frederik. Juliet has told me all about you and what you’ve been doing. I hoped you’d perish in the attack, but here you are.”
“Darcel. You maniac.”
Darcel got up, his back to the flames, embraced by shadows. His tall athletic frame moved with feline grace, the flames glinting of his high black boots. He threw his head back and laughed again. “Yes, a maniac, as you say. But my mania is genius too.”
“Where is she?”
“Nearby. She will be here soon enough. Fear not. Or rather, fear her coming?” The cold half-smile on his lips showed not humor, but cruelty. “It all depends on what you want to do.”
“Don’t be dense. She must die. She has to die. There is no other way.”
“No.” The scream echoed in the large chamber. The flames in the fireplace flickering as if with fear. “She can not die. I brought her back from the brink. But you could never understand. You are so limited, so… inferior.”
“I love her. And she chose me, she is engaged to me. We were to be married, we were happy. The sickness took her and she was about to die, despite all the medical attention. The best medical care her family or I could provide, she just could not be saved.”
Darcel covered a yawn. “Very touching. I accepted she chose you. I thought being with you would make her happy. If she was happy, I’d move out of the way. But when it mattered most you turned your back on her. You were going to let her die, and I could not permit that.”
“That’s not true, I tried, we all did, we tried to cure her, we looked for an alternative, for an answer.”
“And when nothing worked, you chose to let her die. I could not allow that to happen. So I saved her.”
“You call what you did curing her? You turned her into a monster.”
Again the deep cackle bounced off the walls.
“A monster? Hardly. You saw the troops, you saw that for every ten men you sent, one of mine took them down. She will be my queen.” His head leaned forward a little, the light from the fire playing in his hooded eyes, making them look aflame.
“Queen? What on earth are you talking about?”
“We will rule the world, fool!”
“What are you talking about?” He repeated in a strangled voice.
“Perhaps I should clear it up for you, Frederic.” Her voice was angelic.
He turned towards the voice. An ethereal vision at the door.
Her mocha skin was now alabaster white. Her hazel eyes had turned to an icy blue. Her long midnight black hair had given way to a shiny silver mane. But it was undoubtedly her.
“Juliet! What happened to you? The last time you were seen was when you left the hospital, when you…” His voice trailed to nothing. He was shocked by the woman that stood before him. Tall, strong, imperial.
“Darcel came to me when you all had given up, just waiting for me to waste away and die. He came and tenderly asked me if I wanted to live. Asked me if I’d allow him to save me. He asked my permission. He asked! You… all of you, gave up on me and were just waiting for me to die. When he told me what he was going to do, I accepted it. I did not want to die. He bit my neck and sucked some of my blood. Then he opened the vein on his wrist and allowed me to drink. It was a miracle.” Her eyes shone with religious-like fervor. “Almost at once, I felt stronger. He told me I’d need a day or two to get strong enough, promising he’d come back for me.” She glided over to Darcel’s side, her long blood-red gown covering her legs and feet, she seemed to float in the air. “It took a day and a night.”
“You feed on people.” Screamed Frederic, bunching his fists. “You killed some of them. The nurse in the hospital had been good to you, Juliet, and you drained her. You did it on camera, the surveillance video is,” he swallowed, “disturbing.”
“I saw the video. The nurse wanted to change her IV bag. Juliet simply skipped the middle part and took blood from the source.” Darcel crossed his arms over his powerful chest and cocked his head to the side. “You look tired, Fred. You should sit here, by the fire, and rest.”
The days of fighting gnawed at him. The seductive embrace of the warm hearth whispered an invitation to come closer, to sit by the fire and let the warmth reach his chilled bones. He swayed on his feet. “No. I have to finish this.” He drew the long knife from the sheath on his calf. “I’ll get rid of you and then I’ll take care of her. Neither of you can’t be allowed to go on killing.”
“And you say you love her.” Darcel shook his head, a sad look in his eyes. “That’s why she came to me. She knew you would not understand, she sensed you’d not side with her. And she knew I love her unconditionally.”
“She’s becoming stronger. She broke an orderly’s back before she fed on him. It’s all in the surveillance video.” His breath was ragged now, the point of the knife quivering lightly. He tightened his grip. “She escaped and went to you. Then you unleashed your horde on the world. Those infernal vampires decimated many cities. The world united against you.”
“Yet, I’m still standing. You must admit, you can’t reach me, I’m invulnerable here. I can take the combined might of the world and come out ahead. I have been the primary arms manufacturer for the whole world for many years, and I always kept the best for myself. When my people came up with something superior, we let the governments of the world have a new toy to play with. But make no mistake. They only have toys, I have effective weapons as you have experienced in the flesh.”
“It ends here.”
“You don’t understand, Fred, do you?” Juliet asked, her gaze boring into him, “Humanity is an inferior species. We are the next step in evolution. Survival of the fittest, that’s us, is a law.”
“You’ve lost your mind, whatever he did, it’s warped your thinking.”
“Enough.” Darcel’s voice thundered, putting a stop to the conversation. “Time to decide, Frederic. I’m going to offer you a choice. You can join us. As a human. I will not turn you. Or you can die here and now.”
Frederic was shocked. He had expected to fight to the death. Expected Juliet to turn the tables, perhaps, and regain some of her humanity. But this? To be asked to join them in their infernal campaign? He didn’t expect that.
“We will rule humanity.” Juliet glided to the other chair by the fire and sat down. “It’s inevitable. We now need humans for food, so we must rule them. It’ll be a new era of order and peace. Because any who disobey will be…” a lazy smile spread her lips and the delicate points of her fangs showed, “consumed.”
Darcel also sat, completely at ease even in the presence of a man with a naked blade who had already estated was going to kill them. “You can survive this. If you choose to join us. If not, you will be consumed. I will not turn you. That is not your destiny.”
Frederic’s legs trembled. He was exhausted. He didn’t know if he had it in him to finish this.
“You would rule the world? What kind of hell on Earth are you envisioning?”
“Not hell on Earth, Fred. We would be fair and kind. We’d not convert more than we need to maintain the population in check, so there will always be many more of you than of us.” Darcel steepled his fingers in front of his face.
“Many more for you to feed on.”
“Well, yes. Your assessment is crude and rude, but accurate.”
“And you will go along with this?”
Julie again smiled. “I will rule with Darcel, yes.”
Frederic’s left hand reached for his forehead, kneading his tired skin. He swayed a little.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Frederic. Sit. You are making a further fool of yourself.” Darcel’s tone conveyed his annoyance.
Frederic’s head slowly bent forward, he stumbled to the chair opposite theirs. He fell into the embrace of the leather.
“All you have to do is say yes. This will be over. You will be on the winning side.” Juliet’s voice was almost a whisper.
“I loved you.” The murmur was barely audible. “I did. I can not condone what you’ve become. I simply can’t.”
“You can’t stop us.” Darcell extended his hand to Juliet, who took it.
Frederic leaned forward and returned the knife to its sheath. He unslung the pack on his back, threw it against the wall by the fire, and sat more comfortably on the chair.
“Why can’t I? Not me, personally, but rather, what makes you think you won’t be killed? A large enough bomb would do it. A shot between the eyes, something. You must have a way to die. I know you can move in sunlight, so that’s not it. I know crosses didn’t work against your troops, so that’s out too. Holly water is just water to you all. So, how do we kill you?”
“You can’t,” Darcel said.
“You are right, of course, a large enough explosion would damage us beyond our ability to regenerate. I’m living proof that no disease can kill us. None of your weapons can harm us. We can regenerate from horrific wounds that would kill one of you.”
“As long as you feed.” Frederic made a statement, it wasn’t a question. His jaw clenched.
“As long as we feed. Yes.” Darcel said with finality, crossing his legs and folding his hands on his lap. “It’s time. Decide.”
“Alright. I know when I’m beaten. What’s next?”
“You call your superiors. Tell them to stop these futile attacks and that we will meet at the UN soon, we will let them know when. Our troops worldwide will stop their attacks and will return to their garrisons.”
Frederic looked towards the far wall, almost as if he could see the fields beyond, the dead and the dying. “Can they make more of you?”
Darcel’s low laugh was more menacing than mirthful. “I’m the only one that can make more of us. In time, Juliet will be able to do so too.”
Frederic’s brows furrowed, then leaned forward, and put his elbows on his knees. “Why? What is special about you?”
“I’m the first. The original. I too suffered from a disease, the cure had an unexpected side effect. It turned out to be a bonus.”
“And when did you discover you were the only one that could generate more vampires?”
“Enough of this. Come, you will make the call now.”
Frederic didn’t move. “You were willing to carry on this war to the end? You would have destroyed the world.”
Darcel turned to look at Juliet. “A world without Juliet in it was not a world I would be willing to live in. If she died, I did not care if the world died with her.”
“But she was alive. All you had to do was wait it out, or negotiate.”
“The world, as you put it, decided they would not tolerate her change. They demanded her death.”
“And yours,” Frederic added.
“Irrelevant. It was her life that mattered. Without her, the world had no meaning. I’d rather destroy it than let them harm her.” Darcel got up. “Come. Now.”
Frederic stood and started after Darcel. He turned his head, “Should I bring my pack? It has my things in it. I don’t think there are any more servants of yours in the castle.”
“Not in any shape to help or serve, no. We sustained many injuries this past few days and have had to feed on them. Unfortunately, the rest grew restless and made the mistake of thinking numbers would prevail. Yes, bring your pack. After you make your call, I’ll take you to some quarters where you can rest.”
He winced as he tried to put the pack back on, he couldn’t and let it hang from one shoulder.
They walked down several passageways.
They reached the radio shack. A room with small glass-covered slits of windows to the outside, the thick metal door, turned on well-oiled hinges.
“As always, the communications station is well protected. Hard to fall.”
“I can see that although you are a medic, or do they call you core man? No matter, you still know a thing or two about what’s tactically important.” Darcel smiled and for the first time, Frederic could see the menacing fangs.
“Yes. Interesting the things that stick with you over time.”
They walked in, Frederic in the lead.
He was rummaging in his pack and brought out a cantine. He shook it, but it was empty.
“We’ll go to the servant’s kitchen once this is done. You can drink water and have some food there.” Juliet said.
Frederic stumbled a little and his pack ended up below a desk over to the far wall. Darcel sat in front of a powerful communication suite, “You’ll rest soon.”
Frederic made a run for it. Slammed the solid metal door and applied a termite cord to the opening, igniting it immediately.
He jumped back and the heat still singed his eyebrows, his arms, and some of his hair.
It was sealed, welded shut.
A brutal pounding reverberated from the door.
He ran, as fast as he could.
The explosion lifted him off his feet and the falling stones all around him threatened to entomb him there.
Daylight made its way through some cracks and crevices. His whole body ached. He tried getting up and found himself under stones and rock. After a moment of panic, he could move some of the rock off him and stood up.
He’d been out, unconscious for a long time. The sun was high in the sky.
He retraced his steps and found the hole where the communications room had been. Nothing remained. No equipment, no walls, no bodies.
He started to dig through the rubble.
He had to make sure.
A swath of red velvety material, drenched in blood. Some more material and… remains. Juliet was gone.
A long time later, he found a large boot. Covered in stone dust and blood. The leg and foot were still in it. Darcel was dead too, then.
It was over. They would mop up the remaining vampires. If they could not make more of their kind, it was simply a matter of time.
How did Darcel turn himself into a vampire?
He didn’t know and would never know.
He wandered the halls of the empty castle, only the dead littered the corridors.
He finally found the kitchen, drank water. Sat down to eat.
Along with his dog tags, another chain hung from his neck.
He took it out.
He opened the locket.
The hazel-eyed beauty on the picture smiled at him. The inscription on the opposite side read “You are my world.”
He closed the locket. Pulled and felt the chain bite into his neck as it broke. He threw it as far as he could.
Darcel, the mad man, was willing to sacrifice the world for her. Frederic sighed deeply as he finished his meal. He sacrificed her to save the world.
He got up and started walking to the shore. Somehow, he’d get a message out, and get picked up from this place of death.
The last man standing. Alone. Now and likely forever. He promised himself never to love again.