Title: He Asked Me A Question, I Answered With Truth
Genre: Paranormal (vampires)
Celeste lived in solitude for well over a century—never a word about her true identity, never a hint about her bloodthirst to anyone.
Given the loneliness and the fatigue from hiding her true self, is it such a big surprise that she told the truth, for once, in response to an incredibly honest question?
But soon, the uncontrollable fallout from her simple, truthful answer unfolds…
*A novel about vampires, cults, and lies.
When I reached his office, I was surprised.
First of all, the door stood open. He hadn’t attempted to lock himself in for protection. Also, he sat behind his immense oak desk, looking tranquil and calm, facing the windows of his plush corner office instead of me. It was as if he’d noticed absolutely nothing that had taken place within this twenty-story building in the past ten minutes.
Of course, he couldn’t have smelled me coming. He couldn’t have perceived the reek of blood from the ruptured surface vessels of dozens of people, as well as from their deepest buried organs, recently torn out and forced to breathe the external air. I stood only a few feet away from him, and still, he probably couldn’t smell me. Neither could he detect the blood of his friends and coworkers on my leather clothes, black from top to bottom, from jacket to boots. Black and bleak, like tonight.
Unlike him, I’d smelled my way to this office. My entire body reacted to the crimson life force that his kind could gift mine. Particularly, the life force that was so familiar to me: his.
Lush, like the greenery under the brilliant sun after a refreshing shower—like our time together.
Fleeting, like the smoke from burned leaves—like my lost twenty years.
And bitter. Like his betrayal.
My heart pumped in a frenzy. My pupils were dilated. I could taste my own excitement.
But him? The opposite. This level of composure was unexpected, even from a human who, as a species, had dull senses. It was as if he’d gone deaf and hadn’t heard the screams, alarm bells, and the incessant phone calls that still shook the building with the maddening optimism of those outside—those who weren’t our target tonight. Someone’s got to be alive in there, they thought. Someone.
“Henry,” I said.
“Celeste,” he said, and lifted his left hand in a sort of wave without facing me. “Are you Celeste, still?”
Celeste, Emma, Sophia, Charlotte.
Madison, Victoria, Penelope, Zoe.
What did names matter? He could memorize the dozen names I’d used in my lifetime, and still he wouldn’t know me. And I could call his one name, Henry, however many times I wanted, and it wouldn’t be any different for me. I didn’t know him.
“Sure, Celeste. Why not,” I said. “For tonight.”
He chuckled softly. It was the sound of waves rippling in the center of the ocean. Hiding something.
His hand was wrinkled, as the hands of middle-aged men tended to be. I’d expected this type of deterioration. I knew of the force of time, from common sense, from years of living among his kind, and from seeing him on TV. Yet I cringed. These weren’t merely the wrinkles on the skin of some random passerby on the city streets. These were wrinkles right in front of me, tangible and real, on Henry.
Once upon a time.
This man wasn’t him anymore. I had to remind myself of that. Instead of jeans and a T-shirt, he wore black clothes that resembled a priest’s, though he was no priest. The golden watch the governor had gifted him last Christmas reflected the light beams from the helicopters outside. I could clearly see the silhouettes of those flying tanks, despite the strong backlight and the dancing white snowflakes. But there was no way Henry could distinguish their shapes. His eyes weren’t built for nocturnal performance. Night vision for humans was basically nonexistent. And piercing searchlights, when targeted at you, didn’t exactly help solve that problem.
The helicopters chop-chop-chopped from nearby—almost as infuriatingly as the unceasing phone calls from the adjacent offices. Why couldn’t these humans just accept that they’d lost? Why couldn’t they admit that, for once in their modern history, we’d won? They could’ve remained the victors. We’d had no desire to claim the throne as the dominant species on earth. In fact, we’d liked that humans thought we were imaginary creatures. So, they were the ones who pushed us out of our hiding. The result was this. Their defeat.
They could try to rescue their Henry Ward, sure. The many framed photographs hanging on the wall proved that to them, he was worth the risk. In one, he shook hands with the president. In another, he raised his glass while one NBA MVP mirrored this act next to him. And many more photographs filled the walls. Photographs with politicians. Celebrities. Business luminaries. These were evidence of his social status. His glory. His power.
Carefully sprinkled among them, however, were the photographs of charity. One, where he knelt to beam amidst a dozen hairless children with cancer. Another, where he lured a street dog from its hiding place to rescue it. To top it off, one where he’d taken off his helmet and wiped off the sweat from his face while the sun blazed on a construction site, a sign clearly reading: New Life for the Homeless.
Because of their strategic placements, the photographs of his victories and the photographs of his philanthropy reflected the beams from the helicopters in equal amounts. Henry’s world was fair, oh so honorable. He, the master of fakery, knew exactly what he had to show to make his target fall irresistibly in love with him. In a way, I appreciated the craft behind this carefully calculated setting. I guess a master recognizes another master. Though, in so many ways, Henry was a grander master than I’d ever been.
But I had other advantages. Well before the infatuated world of humans could take the first step of rescuing him from this building, I could cut his throat with the smooth swipe of my pinky nail. Not that I wouldn’t cut his throat anyway, with or without action on their part. But unlike my former self, these days I liked to get all the information before acting.
What else could the humans do, besides trying to rescue him? They could try to eliminate me. How were they going to accomplish that without risking Henry’s life? They weren’t. There was no way. Did they want to risk Henry, their savior, their prophet, their crusader of morals? No. Otherwise, someone in those choppers would’ve jumped through the windows already.
Then there was the third option: negotiation.
I glanced at the old-fashioned landline phone that stood on the desk, wondering why it didn’t ring like the rest of them. The governor, and maybe even the president, was probably preparing for political demands from my group. No beings, human or otherwise, would be stupid enough to ambush the Malcreature Eradication Headquarters “just because.” More importantly, no beings with a lineage as long as the humans’ killed almost all occupants of said building just for fun.
“I didn’t want to be interrupted,” Henry Ward said, still not turning around to face me. He tipped his head toward the edge of the desk.
There, the phone line, cut in the middle, dangled gently.
He’d read my mind. So, he still had that sixth sense. He knew what I was, therefore knew what I thought, without prejudice. He didn’t need to use his limited sensory organs. And logic, as recommended by the larger society, didn’t hinder his judgment.
I say “recommended” because frequently, what people call logic is actually just common sense. Most people who think they’re logical don’t use their brains at all as they go through their lives. They have set rules, set expectations, and live in set environments that rarely change even as their elements pretend to be developing (or even evolving) at an incredible speed, especially in these modern days. So, logic is just this: a recommended guideline that people think they follow as a result of their brain activity, when, really, it’s more like muscle memory. A habit.
Henry agreed with me in this regard. Used to, at least. He used to laugh at the idea of logic in most people. We were stuck up like that, back then. Back when we were together. He’d been one of the few people in my life who’d accepted the painful limits of the human brain. It streamlines to process the flood of information that bombards it every second. Simplification leads to omission. Inevitably. That’s why habits are, mostly, so helpful. So is common sense, or at least, the idea of common sense. Keeps you calm; keeps you thinking you’re prepared. And thusly the space for logic diminishes, in so many tragic cases, with each additional year “experienced” on this earth. Yet most people (and their overprotective parents) aren’t willing to let the sixth sense manifest. They force that all too feeble “logic” to take the reins. By the time a person is ten or twelve, the sixth sense has been so battered that it doesn’t dare rear its head.
But Henry still had it now, and he still had it when we met. And I guess no amount of intuition can prepare a vampire brain for a total anomaly: a human with an instinct as good as her own.