To the north a rapid-transit train sped along elevated rails. Beyond it he saw the skyline of the city, a patchwork of light and looming shadow against nascent darkness. Evan paused, leaning against the concrete edging of a roof and stared. Shadows drifted down the graffitied walls of factories. Moonlight washed dully from the sloping corrugated metal that covered the unused loading dock below. It had never felt this good, being alive. He might not be able to take air into his lungs but he could feel the stone beneath his hands. The night. Lord, how he loved the night.
Across the city, lights blinked.
In the streets beyond the elevated rails cars sped to their destinations. He paid them no attention.
He stood away from the edge of the roof and threw back his head and tried to forget the memory of air rushing into his lungs, the sensation of releasing sound into stillness. They were gone; his existence had changed. He told himself the past did not matter and resumed his journey.
His route lay across the roofs of abandoned factories and warehouses, through an empty railway freight yard, and then along transit system tracks. By the time he reached his destination the light was on in her window.
Her bedroom was on the second floor of an apartment house across the street from a rail station. Evan sprawled on the stationís roof and watched.
She was a slender woman, her small face with its pointed chin framed by short black hair. The most striking of her features were her eyes. Even at this distance he could tell how large and dark and sad they were.
A train rattled into the station and stopped on the tracks below him. High overhead the wind chased scattered clouds across the moonís partial face. With the silence of the dead, Evan watched her remove an earring to answer the phone. She spoke and he tried to guess what her voice was like. Not a silky voice. Clear. Not too strong. Definite. Distinctive.
Who was she talking to? Her mother? Boyfriend?
He neither knew nor cared. Heíd been watching her for some time now and never let himself analyze his reasons. Maybe, deep down, he was just a voyeur and death had brought that out in him. Then again, maybe there were no reasons.
Or possibly it was only her eyes.
After a time she turned out the lights and went into the back of the apartment to her bedroom.
Domestic practices of a vampire:
In a sense Ė in a sense Ė even he had to live.
He moved through the hollow vastness of an abandoned factory, listening.
Dust and cobwebs flavored the darkness but the taste of them was as prohibited to him as the taste of air.
He moved silently with the sureness of a cat not even disturbing the dust. Like a catís his vision pierced the darkness easily.
Something scurried in the night. He moved to intercept, pounced and snatched its gray-furred squirming body to his mouth. The creatureís squealing barely registered on his awareness. His teeth snapped together in its neck. A salty liquid warmth filled his mouth.
That taken care of, Evan returned home.
Home was in another empty factory. It was a loft. The stairs leading up to it were rotted away, severing its association with the buildingís main floor. That didnít matter; he entered by a window.
His bed was constructed by bracing boards into a box with cinder blocks found in another part of the building.
Into this he had poured a shallow layer of soil from the cemetery in which his remains no longer reposed.
That was not the dirt he was concerned with now. He spent an hour or so straightening and dusting, sweeping the floor and checking the makeshift plastic curtains hung around the bed as a further shield against the daylight. House cleaning.
Then he was finished and now the night was his.
The moon was gone. Where it had drifted, clouds were now racing. Far beneath them, across his rooftops, Evan also raced.
It was the deepest part of night. The rapid transit system was shut down until morning. Only now and then did the movement of a distant automobile remind him that there was anyone at all alive in the city. Streetlights pooled their hoardings of brightness in little enclaves along the curbs. Most houses and apartments were dark. He sped high above the ground across what roofs he could, taking wing when necessary to ride the wind and darkness of the cold, bleak air he would never breathe again.
And then he heard a scream.
Self protection was his first reaction. He dropped to his stomach to lay flat against the roof of an apartment house. He listened intently. In a bedroom below him someone stirred, half roused by the noise Evan made throwing himself prone, then went back to sleep. He waited. The night was still again but his fear did not vanish.
The scream was a womanís, loud and piercing, ended abruptly. Evan lifted his head and gazed in the direction he believed the cry came from.
He was looking into the upper window of a house. There was no light inside the room but there was no shade or curtain on the window, either. His vampire eyes could see a blonde woman sprawled across a bed, held there by a man whose hand was clamped across the lower portion of her face. Evan could see her eyes. They were wide and filled not just with fear but with pain and disbelief as well.
Fear and disbelief joined a strangling brand of pain in seeming to pound where Evanís heart no longer beat in his chest. His fingers curled into claws that scraped the shingles of the roof on which he lay. He pushed himself into a crouch.
He saw her struggle and squirm under the weight of her assailant. He saw a glint low on the bed where she could not see it a glitter of stray light from the sharpened edge of a knife.
He never felt the transformation just the rush of air against his flying body. As quickly he was at the window, rattling the screen.
A stream of blood ran from the woman across the bed and struck the bare wood floor with a sound that, to his sensitive ears, was like the fall of rain. The man was gone.
Evan heard the hollow slam of a screen door behind the house. He caught a glimpse of a figure running in the darkness away from the house. He dropped to the ground and ran after it. The killerís shoes beat a rapid tattoo on the pavement of the street.
Fifty yards away a van stood by the curb. The killer reached it and yanked frantically at the door. Evan caught up with him before he could get it open. The killer whirled around, slashing with the same knife that had killed the woman in the house. Evan ignored it; it could not kill him.
The man was bur ly, older than Evan. In spite of his size, Evan would probably have outmatched him if they had both been alive. Now there could be no question of a contest. Evanís hands found the killerís neck and tightened their grasp.
The two of them fell beside the van. The man squirmed loose and tried to run but Evan caught him. They fell into the brush beside the road. The man had small, hard eyes that seemed to glitter like the point of his knife. The ground on which they struggled gave way to a weed tangled slope that fell toward a shallow creek. They slid. Evan smashed his fist against the killerís face, heard something break.
They tumbled over and over one another until they crashed against the trunk of a small tree. Evan heard the killer cry out in pain but could only see the small hard glittering eyes. Over and over in his memory the coruscating arc of the knife plunged into the womanís throat.
Evanís fist kept time to the memory. He pounded again and again into the killerís face. The manís cries were disconnected and distant to Evan, his struggles futile. Evan kept pounding him.
The man twisted rolled free. Trying to get away he slithered on his stomach like a snake but Evan grabbed his shoulders, turned him over on his back so that the cold, ugly eyes glared up at him. Too bad.
Evan acted with no thought behind what he did. His teeth clutched the killerís neck, sought the vein, bit. The skin seemed to burst like a sac. A salty warm liquid burst into Evanís mouth and he drank.
He drank, greedily.
He reached his loft only minutes before sunrise.
In his mind he wanted to throw up though whether it was because of what he had seen or what he had done, he couldnít say. He had never killed a human being before. Only the mice and squirrels and pigeons that roved the rooftops. But the blood lay satisfyingly in his stomach as the blood of no squirrel ever had. It made him drowsy, calmed his excitement. He felt no pain; there was never any lasting pain in his new condition. Just the moment. A momentís chill, a momentís warmth, a momentís ache.
A momentís regret?
Outside the sun rose. He was protected by the walls and the loftís darkness and the plastic sheets that hung like a canopy over and around his bed. He slumped forward on the soft, dry graveyard dirt and closed his eye. For a moment in his bones he could feel the rising sun. Then that feeling left him and all that remained was the comfortable feeling of what was in his stomach. Warmth rose and engulfed him and it was very, very easy to sleep.
He wasnít hungry when he woke the following night.
He climbed to the roof and waited in the shelter of an air conditioning shed for at least an hour, watching the sleek and speeding rapid-transit trains, hearing the traffic sounds of night, enjoying the chill of air against his face.
Then he rose and set out across the forgotten, empty factories of the inner city, seeking he did not know what.
Or, rather, seeking something he could not let himself admit. When he reached the train station across from her apartment, her window was dark. He stretched out like a resting bat and waited. Presently a car pulled slowly into the driveway and went behind the building where he could not see it. But he knew who it was. Below him a train pulled in and stopped to unload passengers. A light went on in the downstairs half of her apartment. Moments passed and a light in an upstairs hall sent exploratory fingers into her bedroom.
He saw her vaguely, then, an outline of form and shadow in the door. She paused a moment to turn on the bedroom light.
There was something he found melancholy in the way she moved. Graceful and stately yet unaware.
Yes that was the word. Alone. She sat on the edge of the bed and for several minutes just sat there staring into empty space. He stared at her. Underneath him the train made loud noises then resumed its trip. In the station people moved toward the exits never knowing he was there.
The woman stood and drew her loose white blouse over her head. He could see the shallow lineation of her ribs above her waist. She bent to remove her skirt and then her hose and he watched in wonder at the gentle, artless of her small, lovely breasts. The taste of blood from the night before seemed to well up in his throat but he couldnít let himself think of that.
How beautiful she was. How far away.
When she was dressed for sleeping she did something she had not done before while he was watching her. After she turned off the light, instead of crawling in the bed as she usually did, she came to the window and sat there, looking out.
That she was sitting in darkness made no difference to his eyes, of course. He looked at her face as he never had before. Her dark, hurt eyes ignored the roof where he lay. Not that it mattered. He hugged the building in the safety of dense shadows and was still as only the dead can be. If she had looked his way she would not have noticed him. She proper her chin on her hand and leaned forward to peer downward at the street. What was she thinking he wondered. What had happened to cause all this?
After a moment she looked up again and almost stared in his direction. Her unhappy eyes lured his soul and would have drunk it in like blood if she were the vampire and not him.
It was after midnight when he left and began his nightly hunt. His appetite was back. He found a nest of squirrels and gorged himself with a fury he had never felt before.
The next evening, when he began his trek back across the factory rooftops to his hiding place, it was 3 A.M.
Moonlight fitfully limned the shapes that rose like blasted trees here and there upon the roofscape. Evan felt alive. A flight of bats lifted from the trees to his left, wheeled in the air and flew away from him. They were not his kin tonight.
A sound Ė the scrape of a shoe sole Ė the clatter of something dislodged Ė made him turn. He saw a distant figure. It stopped. Evan started back toward it.
There was no mistaking that burly figure. He leaped the distance between two buildings and ran to where the men had stood. He was gone; it was impossible to tell what direction.
When night came again, Evan climbed to the roof above his loft and waited. The moon, nearly full, was rising.
The sky was almost clear of clouds. The stars, cold and stark, sent their silence down to intervene with the noise of the city.
Finally, from his hiding place he saw the burly man standing on the upper level of a neighboring parking deck.
Evan made his way toward the edge of the building, careful to stay hidden as long as possible. But when that was no longer possible, he darted from cover and leaped across the alley. His heels caught the edging badly and he pitched forward to the concrete surface. He scrambled to his feet, looking for his prey, but he could not see him.
He crossed the empty parking area to the down sloping ramp. He paused a moment to listen, then moved in and down to the next level.
Here it was quieter than it was outside. Evan paused a moment, then continued on. At this hour no cars remained, only horizontal concrete barriers, walls open to the night, floors lined with shadows that fell across unused spaces.
As he started to the next level, he saw the woman and knew she was as dead as he was. Long red hair was spread shroud-like across her face, leaving the throat uncovered. There, a gaping cut mocked a smile. Blood from that wound and others on her pallid torso, spread untasted on the floor.
Untasted. There was too much blood for the burly man to have killed her in the way he was so especially equipped for now. He had chosen the method he was more familiar with. He had not yet sacrificed old lusts to new ones.
Something bumped and thudded in the darkness off to the left. A shadow briefly appeared where the wall opened on the night, then was gone as quickly as it came.
Evan ran back to the roof. He welcomed the touch of the cold night air against his face. He peered first at the abandoned factory from which he had come, but saw nothing. There were others buildings. Movement in the shadows of one of them told him his preyís direction.
He pursued him over buildings and across alleys and parking lots, catching no more than an occasional shadowy glimpse of him. They reached the edge of the industrial district and followed the rail line east. Cat and mouse. Anger flamed in Evanís gut, blinding him to their destination until suddenly he saw it standing darkly in front of him.
The trains had stopped running for the night. Evan listened, hearing nothing. He stretched like a shadow across the shallow slant of the roof and looked around. There was no indication where the man was.
The window of her apartment was dark. Her bed was empty and unused.
In his gut, fear began a second fire, next to the first.
In the parking area behind her building, he found the car he recognized as hers. The door on the driverís side was open.
Desperately, he searched the parking area and adjoining grounds for any sign of either of them. He found nothing. He searched in the bushes and among the trees at the edge of the yard. He ran through the neighboring yards and up and down the streets on both sides. Nothing. He searched a second time and would have searched a third, except that he knew he was running out of time.
He could think of nothing else. He had no clue to suggest a pattern that might tell him what the burly manís next move, other than murder itself, might be.
He stood in the shadow if the small rail station, leaning against the wall, wanting to yell, to scream: to take a deep lungful of air and send it forth in an outburst of rage and hatred. He could not. The air could touch and cool his fevered face, but he could not touch it.
There was nothing he could do but go back and hope he was wrong about what had happened.
In the moonlight the roofs of the factories and warehouses formed a shadowscape of Gothic nightmare. He moved through it with the sureness of a native, the isolation of an alien. Thoughts as wild and disordered as his surroundings tumbled numbly in his brain.
He was almost home, crossing the roof of a closed mill, when someone sprang at him from behind the frame of a skylight.
There was only time to see the small hard eyes, a-glitter with hatred. Something swung at him, striking his shoulder, sending him slamming to the tar and gravel roof. He rolled as he landed and barely avoided a second blow from the club.
As he scurried to his feet, he heard it clatter across the roof, thrown away.
His attacker was gone, out of sight; but he could hear him. He bolted after and rounded the corner of a shed in time to see the burly man leap to another building.
Where someone waited.
Evan stopped. She stood under a crossbeam Ė a part of a scaffold Ė her arms raised above her head and fastened somehow to the steel.
Her eyes did not seem haunted now. They were oddly calm, almost at peace. Resignation. Even so, the small pointed chin trembled.
The killer paused to look back, as if making sure Evan was there. He placed his hand under her chin and turned her face toward Evan. For the first time she looked at him. Her eyes were full of fear and confusion. Her head moved as if trying to free itself from her captorís grasp. The killerís teeth flashed, ready to rip the flesh of her exposed throat but he made no further move.
Evan ran to the edge of the building and leaped.
Fast as he was, the burly man was faster. Letting go of her, he reached the edge as Evan landed. Evan felt a blow against his legs. He slipped and fought to regain balance. Something grabbed his left heel and pulled his foot out from under him.
He got one quick look down as he started to topple. Far below he saw stakes set into the ground, pointing upward.
There was no time for transformation. He felt a hard, solid blow against his back. Something tore through flesh and bone, then flesh again, ripping upward like the horn of a goring bull. Pain seared through his body like a white-hot fire.
He lay there, held like an insect with a pin through its thorax. His hands clenched and unclenched; fingers dug furrows in the ground. He stared at red-edged blackness.
His hatred grew into ferocious and impotent rage.
He was immune to shock but not to pain. He fought to maintain consciousness.
Somehow he maintained it. Somehow even his vision cleared.
Around him he saw about a dozen makeshift stakes Ė most of them lengths of rusted metal pipe like the one he was impaled on Ė driven into the ground. Enough to make it likely he would fall on one if he were thrown from that section of the roof.
But though he had fallen on one, it protruded from his abdomen not his heart. And the impact had loosened it from the dirt. He could feel it move when he did.
The killer leaned over the roof, stared down at him.
Evan strained and twisted and, despite the pain, worked the pipe free of the ground. He lay for a time on his side, almost paralyzed from the effort.
He looked up again. The killerís face had disappeared.
He struggled to his knees, fighting his own desire to just lay there. At least two feet of pipe protruded from his front; he couldnít tell how much from his back. He made his way to the building and, back toward it, set the end of the pipe against the wall and pushed. It shoved and sent new waves of agony through him. When it was pushed as far forward as possible, he clutched it in both hands and pulled. The pipe jerked free. Evan fell to his knees.
He wanted to fall to his face but dared not because he believed he would stay there. He made himself stand up, then threw the pipe as high as he could to clatter against the building.
Now he had to transform.
He had supernatural strength and animation but the pipe had broken bones in impaling him. The transformation would not heal the entire wound Ė blood was needed for the healing of flesh Ė but it would heal the bones.
But even transformation wracked him with pain. It was harder than it had ever been before. Yet he managed.
He spread the wings and lifted himself up above the building, then down, diving toward the burly man. He had only the briefest glimpse of the woman and though he saw no wounds on her neck, he could not be sure she was unharmed. The killer turned, lifting a sharpened piece of wood.
Evan twisted in the air, avoiding the stake, and landed behind his prey. The transformation back to human form was easier, and quick. The pain of his wound was almost gone now, the bones stronger within his lacerated flesh. The killer twisted and jabbed the stake at Evanís chest.
Evan twisted aside and closed both his powerful hands on the killerís thick wrist. With all his strength he twisted.
He felt the rip of paper dry flesh, heard the tree-limb snap of bone. The stake fell from the injured hand and clattered to the roof.
Bending, Evan snatched up the fallen stake and brought it up and under, into the manís ribcage, thrusting it to the heart.
The burly man stiffened and his mouth opened in a scream that never sounded. Both hands clutched at the stake.
He fell to his knees, then heavily to his side.
Evan waited until he was certain he was dead, more than dead. Only then did he look up at the woman. She was crying. He could hear her choked, terrified sobs, see the agonized fear reflected in her eyes. He thought, What must I seem to her?
Perhaps if he could have talked to her he might be able to reassure her, convince her that everything was all right now. But he couldnít.
Perhaps it wasnít even true.
He went over to her and saw no wound on her throat. He reached out to release her.
His hands stopped in midair and he stood there, gazing at her throat.
He had always known why he spied on her. He was lonely. He spied on her from a simple feeling of loneliness. Just that.
Or was it a deadly feeling of loneliness?
In the moonlight her unblemished throat was pale and very white. The vein stood out at the side. One bite would bring her a fleeting moment of pain, less than the sting of a hypodermic needle. It would bring to him the taste and healing strength of blood. His wound still ached.
Other, older wounds ached also. What remained of his humanity was one of them.
One bite would the loneliness as well as the wound.
Wasnít she as lonely as he was?
How simple it all was if you wished really hard to make it simple.
Her eyes were wide with terror.
Did his thoughts show on his face? She whimpered.
Without conscious thought he bent toward her neck.
His teeth clicked together close to but not in her flesh.
She could be, he told himself, like me.
Only Ė that was the problem. No one should be like him.
He felt his lips touch her throat and the intended bit became, instead, a kiss. A foolish, adolescent gesture; but an action that saved her life and eased his soul.
He had always wondered about the powers of hypnosis. Heíd never used them. He hunted rats and pigeons for his meals and one never had the need of hypnotizing them. So this was a first. He found it an amazingly easy way to put her to sleep. He did not know if he could make her forget and there was no way to tell. He tried.
Keeping to wooded sections and shadows he somehow got her home. He took the keys from her car and found one that opened her apartment door. He put her to bed and stayed only long enough to be sure she was peacefully asleep before he left.
The moon was gone now. More clouds had gathered, blotting out the stars. Already light was showing in the eastern sky. How much time before sunrise?
Not long, he guessed. Only minutes.
The trains were running again. One blew its horn and came into the station, rattling under him.
He eased himself down and stretched out on the roof to watch her window. Presently, in his bones he felt the rising sun. Then all feeling left him.