“Call me Ishmael”.
No, not really. My name is Steven, but “Call me Steven” doesn’t quite have the same effect. Moby Dick was, no is, Tristan’s favorite book. He always said it was the best and worst book he ever read. He used to like to read the last part to us, the part where Moby Dick destroys the whaler, and even though the sailors know they are doomed, they allow Ahab to beckon them on in pursuit of the great white whale. In the end, when the ship and all the boats are destroyed, and the sailors killed, Ishmael survives thanks to Queequag’s coffin.
Tristan is a survivor, just like Ishmael. That’s why I don’t believe he and Isolde are dead. Tristan would never give up on living and he’d never let Isolde die.
Chapter One: As I Lay Dying
The night I met Tristan and his lover Isolde was both the best and the worst night of my life. It was the last time I saw Julie, the girl I wanted to marry, if she’d have me. It had been one of those nights that you remember in a relationship. We’d gone to watch the Huskies play UCLA, and afterwards we took a slow, romantic walk back to my fraternity. Our walk was filled with kisses stolen in alleys, our hands all over each other. I was so hot for her at that night that I was ready to drag her into a darkened doorway and have her right there; but I decided I’d wait until we got back to my fraternity. I had it all planned: I’d propose and then we’d do all those things we’d been whispering in the other’s ear.
Maybe that’s what I should have done, but that is all in the past. We heard some people walking behind us, but paid them no mind. Our basketball team was having a really good year and each game practically sold out. There were people walking all over campus, you could hear them talking about the game, or debating where to go to celebrate. I wasn’t worried about the footsteps behind us, not until it was too late. There was an air of celebration that everyone could feel. I expected that whoever was walking behind us would either stay behind or pass us, maybe saying something like, “Great game, man, huh?” That’s the reason I wasn’t panicking until the footsteps came too close.
Everything changed in an instant. There were four of them; two with guns, two with wicked-looking knives. Both Julie and I offered our wallets without a word; then the tallest one smiled, and aimed his “Glock” and gut shot me, a guarantee that I’d die if I didn’t get help and soon. That’s what I think he intended, to watch me slowly bleed to death as I lay helpless on the sidewalk. All I knew is that as I lay waiting to diethey surrounded Julie. I could not move or cry out for help as I listened to the sounds of tearing clothes and Julie screaming. Then, after a while, heard the sound of a gunshot and deathly silence.
The tall one with the lousy aim put one more bullet in me. I would have appreciated it if he had better aim and killed me. I wanted more than anything else to curl up next to Julie’s body and die at her side. Instead I lay paralyzed and bleeding to death as our assailants took off down the alley and I saw the ruins of my Julie lying there. I began to weep like a child. I should be dead, like her, with her. They had not only taken her life, they had deprived me of being able to die next to her. Why was I still alive anyway?
“You are alive so you can avenge her death.” A stranger appeared at my side, seemingly out of nowhere, and had matter of factly answered my thoughts. He had curly blond hair and even in the alley his complexion had a pale luminescence. He squatted down next to me and stroked my forehead. I couldn’t tell if he was French or maybe French Canadian, but though he spoke excellent English, it was definitely with an accent.
Where I should have been frightened, fear had somehow irrationally disappeared. He seemed like an angel to my dying eyes, an angel who had come to rescue me.
“You’re dying, mon ami, but I can help you if you’re willing to pay the price.” How had he read my mind? He was offering me a chance to salvage the life that was slowly fading out of me? I wanted to live and pay those bastards back more than anything in the world. But what did he mean by “pay the price”?
He ruffled his curls, “I can help you get vengeance, or better still, give you to the tools to get your vengeance. And you will have eternal life or eternal life as I know it. It will be both rewarding and a curse, but I think you would find it worth your while. You could even make those barbarians pay. But I need your consent: you must be ready to accept the consequences of your choice.”
“Price?” “Choice?” What did he mean? All I knew for certain was that my life was bleeding out of me and I didn’t want to die. I didn’t know what he planned to do, but I nodded. I think he knew all along that he’d have my consent, whatever he chose to do. I was half dead, and this beautiful angel in the half-lit alley was offering me my life, and what I wanted the most--a way to avenge Julie. I was all for that, if I could truly have it, I didn’t even stop to consider what that price might be.
“I’ll have to be careful, he’s almost dead” he muttered to himself, and picked up my dying body like I was a child, and held me. Suddenly I felt something sharp sticking into my neck. Even if I’d known at the time that he was draining my blood, I was too far gone to care. I didn’t have the strength to fight him. And I wouldn’t have cared if he was the Devil himself. I was not about to let those scumbags get away with Julie’s rape and murder if I could. I was dying and he was offering me a chance to live.
Suddenly he propped me up, and then bit his own wrist. “Drink,” he urged and pushed his wrist to my mouth. What he asked seemed strange and I turned my head from him. He was insistent, telling me I had to drink or I’d die, so I gave in and began to suck the blood pouring from his wrist.
As his blood flowed into my body I felt my life force returning, and the bullets popped out as my wounds abruptly healed. My strength began to return as if by magic, and life coursed through me. I was overcome with a crazy urge to laugh for the joy of being alive and cry over the loss of my Julie all at once. Tears poured out of my eyes as he pulled his wrist away and bound it with a handkerchief.
I was alive! I felt a force rushing through me; the pain of Julie’s death was still fresh in my mind, but I no longer felt the intensity of it. I could feel the grief, but it somehow had pushed itself to the back of my mind. I had not been able to save her, but somehow someone had saved me. Until you are at the brink of death, then suddenly jerked away, you have no idea how I felt.
Then the pains hit, pain so intense it felt like a knife was piercing my gut. He laughed gently at me as I curled up into a ball. He laid a cool hand on my forehead and told me to be patient, it would be over soon.
He took my hand and held it. “Your body is changing; it is a baptism that every vampire goes through when he loses his mortal life. It will pass. We’ll wait for your body to go through the change, and then I’ll take you to my house.” He held up his hand when I opened my mouth to protest. “No, you can’t go back to your Fraternity. Sooner or later your roommates will know something is wrong. I’m going to take you home with me. If you choose to go back to school that will be your choice. There’s much less risk attending classes than there is living with mortals.”
How did he know about my fraternity, and Vampire? That’s what he said? He’d seemed normal sitting at my side, waiting. I knew now he was some unnatural creature, but the word “vampire” was a shock to hear. I didn’t believe in them or anything supernatural. Yet here I was, experiencing all of it. And my very existence now was proof that such things were, not a myth, and one of them had taken pity on me and given me back my life, a life that had changed forever.
Maybe someone might ask me what the transition was like. All I can tell you is I don’t know. How do you describe being dead and then coming back to life? How did I accept this sudden transition? What was it like to suddenly find myself a vampire?
I was only 20. I had seen my girlfriend brutally murdered, I was dying from a gut shot wound in the belly. Then, out of nowhere, came a man with a face like an angel, who knew what I thought, what I was feeling. He could do nothing for Julie, but he succored and saved me. I didn’t want to die and he had given me back my life. How would you feel?
He suddenly picked me up as easily as if he were lifting a child. He ran through the streets so fast that buildings flew by me in a blur. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t be sick, and when I finally opened them, we were standing on the porch of an old home in the Ravenna District, not far from Children’s Hospital.
The door opened. “Tristan”. A tall, slender woman, middle aged but very attractive, stood there as she were expecting us. She stepped aside to let us in. “Bring him inside and put him on the sofa,” she said, “And get him some clean clothes. Yours ought to fit him.” She laid a warm hand, so different from the cold of the vampire’s, on my forehead. “How are you feeling?” The expression on her face was both welcoming and concerned, like a mother’s might be.
She had no French accent. The inflections in her voice made me think she was from Seattle, like me. And there was another thing--I don’t know if it was the transformation or not--but I had a very strong feeling that this was no vampire I was looking at, but a mortal woman.
She smiled, pushing her short auburn hair back in a gesture that mirrored Tristan’s. “You’re right; I’m not like you. Tristan and I have lived together for many years. He keeps shying away from changing me. I keep telling him he’s a coward to keep me mortal.”
“Hush Isolde, you’ll scare the boy. And don’t read his mind, it’s not nice.” Tristan came into the room and laid slacks, a silk shirt, underwear, and socks on my lap. “You’ll feel better when you change clothes. Go clean yourself up in our bathroom, it’s at the top of the stairs in the only bedroom on the third floor.”
As I headed up the stairs I heard Isolde say to him, “Has he fed yet? You know he needs to feed; you need to take him out. But take the car this time, Tristan. He’s too weak to be out on the street just yet.”
The bathroom was huge, littered carelessly with male and female toiletries. I took a shower in an old fashioned claw-foot tub that could easily have held me and Julie. I lathered my body with olive oil soap and used shampoo that smelled like fresh apples. The bottles all had labels printed in French. My high school French was just adequate enough to let me guess at the ingredients. I dried myself off with the softest, thickest towels I’d ever seen, and put on Tristan’s clothes.
Everything about this house said “money”. I was wearing pants that were made out of tensil fiber and a silk shirt. The t-shirt and shorts were of pima cotton, and the socks I slid on my feet were also made of the same cotton. I felt guilty when I put on my dirty Nike Airs over them, it seemed disrespectful somehow. I want back downstairs feeling a little guilty for wearing Tristan’s clothes.
Isolde looked at me and gave me smile of approval that made me blush. I felt strange all over. Healthy, well, but strange. It was only thinking about Julie that brought my mood down and Isolde saw it.
“Later, child, later. Now is not the time to feel it.” Normally I would bristle at being called “child”, but there was something about the way Isolde looked when she said it that made me not mind. And she was old enough to be my mother, I reminded myself.
Tristan kissed her. “I won’t keep him out long. He can meet the rest when they return. And don’t worry, I’ll take the car.” He put his hands behind her head and pulled her close. “Lock the door, cherie. The boys have keys.”
I followed him downstairs to the garage. There was a silver Jaguar sedan, a black Porsche Boxter, and a red BMW. I would have given anything to own one of them. Tristan seemed not to notice. He opened the door of the Jag for me, then slid into the driver’s seat. He pressed a button on the key ring and the garage door opened, then closed when we pulled out.
He seemed to drive aimlessly, but I noticed we were heading towards the University District. His keen blue eyes flicked back and forth, looking for something. He found a parking place on the “Ave”, then parked and motioned me to follow him out of the car.
“Come,” he commanded, and I got out of the car and followed him. “This is your first lesson,” he explained, “You’ve become a killer, out of the many killers in this world. For me, the only way I justify doing what I need to survive is to try to never kill the innocent. You are not God, but you can do God’s work, so to speak. Some day you may decide to give up hunting humans altogether. Some of us do. It’s a noble way to live but not an easy one. For right now it will be best if you stay close to home and do your hunting here.”
We walked along the “Ave”, him elegant in his raincoat, silk pants and shirt. Compared to him I felt gauche and awkward. So uncaring did he seem that when he came upon a girl being robbed at knifepoint, the perpetrator didn’t even seem to notice him until he grabbed his shoulder. His grip must have been powerful because the creep he had hold of was wincing and saying, “Ow, ow, let me go.”
“Go,” he said to the girl, pushing her away from him, “You do not want to see this.” She looked with terrified eyes, then turned and fled, not looking back.
“Now watch,” he told me and sank his fangs into the hood’s neck just long enough to weaken him, then he beckoned me and directed me to pick up where he left off.
I was both horrified and fascinated. Something must have been changing in me that was affecting my mind as much as my body. I walked slowly over to the thug trapped in Tristan’s arms and sank my teeth awkwardly into his neck as Tristan watched.
It wasn’t the easiest thing I’d ever done, I didn’t have a vampire’s fangs yet, but I managed. Part of me felt aghast at the fact that part of me felt exhilarated.
As I finished, then I felt his blood flow into my veins and his life force pour into me. I did not know what this was, but I did not want to quit. Tristan gently pushed me away and instructed me to stop when his heart stopped beating. I swore I could hear this guy’s heart beating in my ears, the sound almost hypnotic, seeming even to continue even after he was dead.Tristan told me I could leave them almost dead if I chose, but it was best to learn to feed until the heart stopped.
Had I become a killer? Was that what I was now? I took one last look at the body lying on the sidewalk and wondered how it was me who could have done that. I had a feeling that my old self was slipping away from me. I was as distant from my old self as that body was from its life. Tristan looked at me, sympathy on his face.
We got back into the Jag, and he warned me that I may not feel very good by the time I got home. It was my first time, but after I made a few kills and got used to it, the nausea would go away. When we returned home, Isolde held my head while I got sick in their elegant bathroom, helped me onto the couch, and threw a soft afghan over me.
A fire was now burning merrily in the marble fireplace. She and Tristan sipped cognac in companionable silence and watched as the flames flicker, sending shadows around the living room. When she finished her cognac, she stood up and kissed him good night.
That left the two of us alone. Tristan threw another log on the fire and sat back, stretching out his long legs.
“How do you feel?”
The question was unexpected. I didn’t feel really bad now, except maybe my stomach felt simultaneously crampy and queasy, but no worse than having a mild stomach flu. I shrugged my shoulders. “Terrible, but maybe not so bad as all that. Tell me about Isolde, who is she?” I wanted to know about her. She was so warm and human amongst these vampires, she felt like my mother.I wanted to know more.
He was quiet for a long while, staring into the fire, then started talking.
“Isolde is my companion, my soul mate if you will. She’s not young, but she’s beautiful and incredibly sensitive and intuitive. When I found her, she was beaten so badly that she was near death. Someone obviously assumed that she’d die, because they left her for dead in a dumpster. I hadn’t fed in a while and here were ripe pickings, it would been so easy to take her, her pain would have been over.
“But her mind touched mine. ‘I don’t care, do what you will.’ she said. Her eyes looked dead, she had endured so much that she had given up. But somehow, with that sentence, she touched me. Maybe if she’d begged and pleaded, or screamed, the outcome would have been different. But her plight touched something still human in me.”
“I took her to this house and watched over her that night, because I knew it was likely she had a concussion. I gave her just the tiniest bit of my blood to strengthen hers. I broke into hospital pharmacies and stole painkillers for her. I bought her silk nightgowns and sheets so that only the softest and smoothest of fabrics would brush against her painfully bruised body. I bathed her in lavender water and rosemary soap, and laid her in my bed.”
“Little by little, she grew stronger. She had no memories, save of me standing over her while I debated whether to kill her. Though the smell of human food nauseates me, I cooked for her, watched her gain weight. She confessed to me that she loved chocolate truffles, and one day I brought the truffles, but also had a florist fill the house with flowers.”
“I could see her age, but it mattered only to her, not to me. I didn’t know what I had planned to do when I first rescued her, but suddenly I found that I could not wait to get back to her at night after I’d hunted. I bought clothes for her that I wanted to see her wear. I hired the best cook I could find to prepare her meals until she was strong enough, or wished, to cook them for herself.”
Every night I hold her while she sleeps. Every night I thank Providence for bringing her to me. She has made what was merely a place for me to sleep a home. I spoil her. I lavish gifts on her. I do this because I feel guilty because she can no longer work and take care of herself because of her lost memories. ‘Isolde’ is the name that I gave her; she does not even know who she was before.”
“There are other young vampires living here, she looks after all of them. She calls herself their “Den Mother”. They each know that if one hair of her head is harmed I will exact a vengeance on them that they could only imagine in their worst nightmares. ”
“I cannot bear the thought of changing her yet. I treasure her mortality, her fragility. I am afraid to change her, fearing that she will change and perhaps no longer need or want me. That I could not bear. She is the light of my life and to be without her would not be life at all. Do you understand?”
“My name is Steven.” I don’t know why I said such an idiotic thing, it just came out. “And I understand about Isolde. If Julie were alive, I don’t know if I could make her a vampire, I just know that I love her.” As I said the word “love” the reality of her loss hit me. I would never see her again. I loved her the way Tristan loved Isolde.
“Good, then we understand one another.” He got up and placed one more log on the fire. “When the others come in, tell me if they bother you. You have had enough trouble for one day. Isolde wakes early, she will see you in the morning. Until then, bon nuit.”
Instead of sleeping, I lay awake, wrestling with what had happened. I was living something I didn’t even believe in and I didn’t want to think about it. I thrashed around, sleeping for a while, only to wake up, aware of my surroundings yet wondering if this were all a bad dream.
I wanted to lose consciousness, and certainly the comfortable sofa, the warmth of the afghan, and the fire now burning low seemed to invite it, yet somehow sleep kept eluding me. I craved the release of sleep, but it flirted with me like a fickle lover. I wondered if this was part of what I had become.