As I safari through the dilapidated cathedral, cobwebs ply my skin like jungle leaves or a wall of Sierra sand floating in desert air. In the navy darkness, amid a copper stench, I walk through patterns of decaying silk, feeling a twinge of remorse bite my brain. I am to spider what Godzilla is to Tokyo, I think to myself. I feel my face frown a little as visions of homeless baby spiders fill my thoughts.
I’m a monster.
“Hey, man,” Jesse whispers in my ear. Her voice is quiet, mouse-like. I’m assuming she’s being cautious as not to give away our position to our enemies. “Why so sad all of sudden?”
It’s like she can feel my mood without sound or light.
“I just wrecked some poor spider’s home,” I say. My voice is quiet too. I guess we’re both on edge.
In the dark, I imagine her blue eyes rolling backward in irritation.
“So what?” she replies. The sarcastic tone of her voice makes me want to drop this conversation altogether. I know where it’s leading. “Name one person who would give a shit about something that small.”
“Yo, Buddha wouldn’t kill no spiders,” I answer back. “I’m horrible person. Horrible.”
In the darkness, I see her silhouette, her shaking head.
“James. Buddha wouldn’t destroy an entire lair of vampires either, but that’s what we’re doing,” she says, trying to ease my mind or force her opinion on me; either one, I suppose. “Are you gonna get all teary-eyed then, too? Are you going to cry for having to do a hero’s work? A saint’s work?”
“Then shut the fuck up. Get your head in the game.”
I’ve hunted vampires for a year now, ever since Jes rescued me in the park after an ambush. I was innocent to this then, ignorant to this mythical world around me. And now this is my life, trudging through ruins with Jes, the driven hero with a heart of ice.
But despite my constant brushes with death, I’ve yet to grow as cold as she. On some level, I still despise this job with all of my heart but I can’t find the motivation to quit. The world needs us, I tell myself. A peaceful life is a selfish life.
“Killing vampires and killing spiders aren’t the same,” I argue. “We have to kill vampires. If we don’t, they’ll kill us or start the apocalypse and end the world. That’s the only reason I kill anything.”
I hear her scoff.
“That’s the most naïve reasoning I’ve ever heard,” she says. “That’s not why we kill vampires. That’s not why I kill vampires at all.”
Her statement irritates me, confuses me, makes me want to argue. But something urgent interrupts our petty war of words. I hear support beams creaking above us. We’re not alone.
“Shhhh,” I say. “You hear that?”
“Move! They know we’re here!” she says, but it’s too little too late.
A horrible cackling surrounds us as I hear a high-pitched squeal slice through the air for a quarter of a second. A needle breaks my skin immediately after, puncturing the vein in my neck.
Suddenly, I feel no pain. I feel nothing. A strange drug courses through my veins, some sort of poison.
My knees buckle and my powerless muscles let the weight of my body collapse onto itself. My vision begins to blur, and in the brief space between consciousness and dreams, I hear Jes call out to me.
“Damn. Worst vampire hunter ever,” she says. Her words trail off as my mind morphs her voice into the sound of a purring cat.
In a dream, I’m hanging five hundred feet in the air off the side of a building, wishing my hands were free enough to pray for an angel: something to save me from this untimely death. I’m soaking wet, bleeding like crazy and I don’t know why. Out of the cascading gray clouds above, the rain lashes so hard against me that it feels like it’s going to open new wounds.
I don’t want to die tonight, I think to myself. And for a second I debate whether there’s been any night I’ve actually wanted to die. Nope is all I can think.
I guess there’s never a good time to go.
I watch as a blade of lightening slices across the black, lonely sky. The thunder’s bass sends shivers through my epidermis as I gulp deeply. I cough a little. I huff a little and my vision becomes a little less hazy.
My grip is slick from a fatal cocktail; two parts my blood and one part rain.
Hold on, I tell myself. Hold on.
My weak fingers struggle to grasp the fire escape railing as my body continues to dangle. No one sees me, and I see no one.
What would the holy do in this situation, I wonder?
I picture Shiva using one of his extra arms to pull himself to safety, or Jesus turning the rain into wine for the hell of it.
I shake my head in disgust. What am I thinking? All these random thoughts help me none. My mind shifts back at the task at hand.
“Help…” I try to scream, but all I can muster is a lowly whimper.
“Meow,” I hear a stray cat closing in. It’s another distraction. Think. Think. But there’s a kitty… sweet kitty… here kitty, kitty…here…
“What the fuck is a cat doing this high up,” I wonder aloud. “That doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t…cough…cough… make sense at all.”
I swivel my head looking for it, my haggard eyes trying to focus. I spot it three feet from me, perched on the rail. It’s black, collar-less with green eyes, and kempt fur, which seems unusual for a stray.
“Great,” I say. “More bad luck…cough…”
The cat hisses at me.
“Fuck off,” I say. “…cough…can’t you see I’m having a bad day?”
It looks me dead in the eye. For a second, I think it understands me. For a second, I think I’ve gone crazy.
“Did I say something wrong…cough…?” I ask the cat. My grip slips a little, and I ponder the shittines of having my last words be directed toward this feline stranger. It keeps staring.
“What?” I ask.
“Why are you talking shit on black cats?” it asks.
I’m dumbstruck. Questions begin to fill my brain. Did the cat really just talk? I wonder. Now I’m hallucinating, I tell myself.
“What?” I ask again, this time meaning it.
“Mother fuckers are always talking shit on black cats, calling them unlucky. Fuck you. Like being Oriental is anything special. An Asian dude walked past me the other day. Guess what. A dog ended up chasing me for six hours,” it says. “Asians. Asians are unlucky. Suck on that reality, dipshit.”
For a second I ignore that craziness of an existing, talking cat and try to rebut its rant.
“I’m just superstitious, I guess.” It’s all I can think to say. “Relax.”
“Pegging all this bad luck on black cats. Mother fuckers are always talking, saying ‘it’s superstitious. I’m just superstitious.’ Superstitious? Fuck you. That’s racist. Just call it what it is, asshole. You’re racist.”
For a second, I ponder universal questions like ‘are cats a race?’ The answer is no. Cats aren’t a race.
“Well, if this is a hallucination, it’s an awful one,” I say. “And if it’s not, I’m about to die anyway so fuck it.”
I let go of the railing to plummet to my end. As I fall, I wonder if any of this means anything at all.
I wake up under humid air, my shirt soggy from sweat. My arms and legs are bound. I try to break free, but the stiff cloth tied around my wrists cruelly reminds me how weak I really am.
“Fuck,” I curse to no one in the seemingly empty room. Everything’s shrouded in darkness. I could be anywhere now.
“Don’t try to struggle,” I hear a sultry voice call out. It steals my breath for a moment, and I listen. “It’s not in your best interest to struggle, hunter.”
To my right is a pale woman with a charming face. She’s holding a steel lantern in her right hand. Her hair is long, fiery red. Her eyes are blue.
“What the hell happened?” I say, my memories coming back to me surely but slowly. There are so many gaps. “Where’s Jes?”
“The girl?” asks the woman. She grins a little and I can see her fangs. “What if I told you she’s in my tummy? What would you do then, child?”
I grow solemn in an instant. I know Jes is gone. I picture her hobnobbing amid saints and deities. It’s a nice thought that quells my sadness.
“What did you do with her?” I ask, fighting back the tears. I’m surprisingly emotional. During the course of this year, I hadn’t realized we’d grown so close.
“The rest of the pact and I are playing a game with you, a game where I ask the questions,” she says. “Are you in?”
I scan the room for anything: an open candle to burn my restraints or a loose nail to cut them. I find nothing. The woman continues to watch me. I’m sure she can see the hope fading from my eyes with every passing second.
“Well,” she says. “Are you in?”
There’s no use struggling. Maybe I can buy time by playing along.
“What choice do I have?” I say. “Let’s do it.”
“Smart boy,” she says.
She edges closer, the long strands of her dress flowing like wind. Three feet from me, she decides to sit beside me on the ground. She pulls her crossed legs beneath her and for a second she looks like a meditating monk. Her eyes meet mine.
“Why did you come here?” she asks.
“To kill you,” I say truthfully. There’s no point in lying.
“Brave answers,” she says. “Why would you want to kill me? Why would you want to kill any of us?”
“What kind of question is that,” I say. “You’re a vampire. You drink human blood. You kill humans. You summon vampire messiahs and work toward bringing about the Apocalypse. How can I not kill you?”
“Really?” she says wearing a sarcastic smirk.
“Really,” I say, my voice unwavering and full of hate.
“I guess all Asians suck on soy sauce as they eat cats, and watch Dragon ball Z reruns,” she shoots back.
“What the fuck?” I say, slightly surprised by her racism. “Where did that come from, you fucking vamp?”
“Ignorant,” she says. “You’re so ignorant…”
Her voice begins to break up as water begins to fill her eyes.
“What’d I say?” I think to myself. Suddenly, I feel like I’m the bad guy, but that’s impossible. Vampires are evil. That’s what I’ve always been taught.
She swallows deeply and chokes the tears.
“What just happened?” I ask, confused.
She ignores my question and shoves her slender hands in my front jacket pocket, pulling out three cloves of garlic.
“And what is this?” she asks. “Garlic?”
“Yeah,” I say. My muscles are tense. I really don’t know how I should be reacting to this situation, this assault on my character.
“For what?” she asks.
I purse my lips and shake my head. “I don’t know.”
“For what,” she repeats, her voice growing stern.
“You’re not gonna like the answer.”
I decide to concede.
“To kill you with, I guess,” I say.
She shivers at my words, and in an instant I regret speaking.
“Oh,” she says. “Because all vampires are allergic to garlic!”
I nod slowly, unsure of what she wants me to say.
“Typical,” she says. Her hands are flailing in the air. “I’ll show you.”
All of sudden, she throws all cloves of garlic in her mouth and begins to chew with aggression. Her face doesn’t change. To my surprise, she doesn’t get sick or keel over.
“Whoa,” I say. “So you’re not allergic?”
At this, her eyes grow wide. And she stops chewing. There’s cold ferocity to her demeanor now. Without warning, she spits out large chunks of garlic onto my face.
“How’s that for allergic?” she asks sarcastically. She still seems offended, more so even.
“Listen,” I say. “If I offended you, I’m sorry. I thought all vampires were allergic to garlic. I guess I’m just superstitious.”
This enrages her more.
“Superstitious? Superstitious?” she asks. “Why don’t you call it what it is? That’s racist. Racist against vampires.”
This takes me by surprise.
“What the fuck?” I say. “Racist? Racist against vampires? That’s bullshit!”
“Well, you hate vampires don’t you? Enough to kill them?”
“Yeah. But that’s different. Vampires kill humans and drink their blood.”
“Now that’s bullshit. Conservative ignorance spread by media giants like the Gaylords,” she says wiping her eyes. My heart quickens as my muscles tense.
“Bullshit? You killed Jes! And a year ago, your kind attacked me in the park!”
“Wait a second. My kind? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I pause for a moment then nod.
“All right,” I say. “I gotta admit, that last part sounded kind of racist. But you did kill Jes.”
She shakes her head.
“We did no such thing,” she says. “She’s being interrogated in the other room.”
“Don’t talk to me like you’re all innocent,” I say. “Even if she’s still alive, you’re still the ones who attacked us.”
“You broke into our home.”
Suddenly a wave of realization washes over me. I’m a monster who tears through cobwebs. I’m a monster who stereotypes black cats. I’m a monster who kills vampires because someone told me it was that right thing to do. I want to vomit on myself, I’m so sick.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I should’ve known. I should’ve…”
Suddenly, from the darkness, Jes appears. Her ropes have been cut. I see her tiptoeing toward us holding a wooden stake. She presses her finger against her lips as if to shush me. I look at the mystery woman in front of me.
“Jes! No!” I scream, trying to resolve this matter peacefully. But I’m too late.
Jes thrusts the stake into the woman’s back. The vampire’s face contorts in pain as her eyes roll back into her head. She collapses in front of me.
“You’re welcome,” Jes says with a smile.
My face is dead and for a second, I don’t know what to say. Jes rushes toward me and cuts my ropes with ease using a knife she keeps stowed away in her boot. She probably used it to escape as well.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I say, standing to my feet. “We don’t have to do this ever again. Vampires are people.”
“That’s why you’re naïve. You killed vampires because you thought it was the right thing to do. I kill vampires because I hate them.”
“No,” I say. “Never again. I won’t let you.”
“Well, you can’t stop me.”
She turns to walk away, but I grab her wrist.
“Yeah, I can,” I say.
We begin to struggle. With all my force I push her against the wall. But the wall is composed of rotten wood and it gives easy. We tumble out. I’m surprised to find we’re three stories in the air. Suddenly, I remember where we are: in an abandoned cathedral, almost destroyed by fire.
Jes and I hang from a ledge. All of a sudden, it begins to rain.
“I’m going to kill you,” Jes says, kicking me in my ribs.
I wince in pain but manage to keep me grip tight against the ledge. I try to think of a plan. I try to survive.
Suddenly, I see a black cat edging toward us.
“Fuck,” Jes says. “More bad luck. But at least, it’s for the both of us.”
Suddenly, lightening falls from the sky and hits Jes directly in the back. She falls to her death.
“That’s what you get for being racist,” I say.
The cat meows from three feet away.
“Amen to that, cat,” I say. “Amen to that.”
(c) Khoa Xuan Pham All rights reserved.