Marcus woke to the hunger. The little light entering the room caused him a kind of pain he’d never known. He was hungry, a hunger he’d seen in Gregor’s eyes and he knew he’d been changed in a way he could not understand. The rat lay beside him almost drained, still Marcus lapped up what remained. He wiped tears from his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he spoke through tears, tears Gregor would never see, “if I can do this. I did not know, only hoped. Once again I have lost.” His head fell into his hands. They trembled and he pulled away unable to still them. “This is a pain I do not understand. I do not know how to…” he shook his head, long tawny hair swinging about his face. He looked once again to the rat, wishing it had more blood to give. His voice growled. “Where are your kin?”
“How long have I lain here? I cannot tell.” The rock that had been his pillow invited him to try. Picking it up, he closed his hand around it, squeezing. He saw the rock, now sand spilling from between his fingers. His shoulders squared, back grew rigid. “I will get stronger now. I know what I must do. Will he remember that I did this once before? I have nothing else to offer. I will have that last look at the sun, when he can no longer see the dark.”
Marcus felt his neck, the wound had healed and he wondered how long he’d been out. He could not tell. He looked at his hands, willing the trembling to stop. They stilled.
Breathing slowly, his tears dried and he easily wiped away their traces. “I have been hungry before.” He replayed his victories. Watched Gregor’s growing hatred, his frustration and found himself smiling. “You will not understand, you never have, but even as this…whatever it is you’ve made me, I will still beat you.”
It was coming.
“Don’t stare.” His mother had held tightly to his hand.
He remembered turning quickly away.
“Marcus, I want you to look at him just like you look at everyone else.”
“Is a person.”
“Different.” She bent to look into his eyes. “No matter how different he is on the outside, he’s the same as us on the inside. That’s what I want you to see. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“It was hard for him, growing up, I mean. He has a special diet, can’t do things we take for granted. He’s done the best he can. It could have defined him, his disabilities. He could have chosen to hate. Instead he found a way to make the best of it.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I went to school with him. You know Marcus,” she squeezed his hand. “Sometimes we blame things, things that happen to us, for our actions.
He looked at her, confusion in his eyes. “Like blaming a broken leg for a reason not to walk. You may not walk like everyone, but you can still walk. Our responses to what life throws at us are a choice. A choice we make.”
She studied her son’s serious face. “It’s kind of like when you ate the apple pie.”
Marcus hung his head. “I didn’t share it.”
“Yes and it was wrong. You were hungry so you ate it. You didn’t think about us. Don’t look so upset. It was a long time ago. You learned to control yourself. Not everyone does. This may be hard to understand, but I’ll do my best.” They stopped walking and Marcus could not look away from his mother’s serious face. He could tell that this was important to her. “Not scratching an itch is a choice, a really hard one too. When you have poison ivy, you have to ignore the itch even though it’s more natural to scratch. It may seem automatic, but it’s still a choice. You need to understand. No matter what happens to us, our response is a choice. Do you understand?”
“Maybe. Is it like, we’re studying world war two in history, when people chose to ignore what was happening, then later said there was nothing they could do about it?”
“That is exactly what I mean. Sometimes, even if it hurts, you have to choose to do the right thing. Like him, he ignored the teasing. He didn’t let it make him bitter or mean. He could have hated those kids, hated the world. Instead he became the nicest person I know. ”
Marcus turned back, tugging on his mother. He smiled. “Hi.”
“Hi back at you.”
The smile transformed a face that had been born with unusual proportions, and Marcus had forgotten the differences.
“I will find a way. I don’t have to be a.. What am I saying, he turned to face the wall. “I am a monster.”
“I see you are awake.” It waited, but Marcus did not turn. “I can see that you are finally angry. Will you beg now? You can still die.” He growled. “Why won’t you ask me how? Surely you want to know. You tried to die.”
Marcus turned. The hands held behind his back began to bleed.
“I am glad you saved me.” He looked down, “I do not want to die.”
Gregor tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come.
“I have begun.. I do not know the words. The pain, I am used to it. It is the only life I know. I want to stay with you.”
Gregor backed away. “You lie.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
Rushing forward, it grabbed Marcus by the throat. “You’ve hardly ever spoken to me. I could send you into the sun, watch you burn.”
“Send me into the sun, if you wish.”
Grabbing the glass, covered with blood, he slashed Marcus’ wrist. Marcus watched, ignoring the pain. The wound healed.
“Will I always heal like that?”
“It is good to hear your voice. I feared you lost it. Over time I will tell you what you can and cannot do. I will explain the gift I have given to you. For that you must talk to me. No more silence.”
“I will talk sometimes, but I have lost many words.”
“You are hungry. I will bring back food. I do not trust you to hunt. Blood makes us strong. I have lived a very long time. The blood has made me stronger than you can imagine.”
Marcus looked at his wrists, “I do not have to imagine.”
“Yes. Of course you know. The chains will hold you. I will not feed you enough to break free. Do not think I have done this to you only to lose you now. Now you truly are my son.”
Marcus couldn’t help himself. “Did you not tell me how you, the son, killed the Father?”
The slap sent him sprawling. He did not look up. He heard Gregor leave. Alone, he angrily lapped the blood off his hands. “He will not trust me if I taunt him.” Still he grinned. “It felt good, but it cannot happen again.”
Marcus did not ask where the blood came from. He fought, trying to refuse, but the hunger was stronger, the smell intoxicating. He drank.
It left him then, heading to where it slept. Marcus had never seen the places it chose for itself.
“I do not have to kill people. Mr. Rat gave me meat. It must now provide blood. I am glad I cannot see what I have become. My time is soon to end.”
He looked at the dead animal. “I did not feel for you before, why does it bother me now.” He carefully hid the carcass. “It must be that this hunger is unnatural.”
The dead animal brought others looking for meat. It was not difficult to catch them. There were so many and he was faster now. “There will be other things to hunt when I am free.”
Marcus knew he must now be sleeping in the day, but day and night had meant nothing to him so there seemed to be no change.
Bored, he let his mind wander, remembering what he could, making plans, all ending in Gregor’s death.
It came to him, once again a bowl of blood in hand.
“This is for you.”
Marcus ignored the blood dripping from its chin.
“Don’t you want to know where it came from?”
“Why should I ask? It is yours to take, it does not matter who was sacrificed.”
Gregor lowered himself to the floor, sitting beside him. His face wore a keen expression as he looked into Marcus’ eyes. “Have you really changed so much?”
Marcus shrugged, moving closer. “Why should it surprise you? You, this life is the only one I know. I am what you have made me. I barely remember a before.”
“What is it you do remember?”
Marcus took a long time answering. There was so much he would like to say, so much he couldn’t. “I remember pain, darkness where there had once been light. I remember a farm where boys were used as slaves. The …”
He looked at the dark walls trying to remember. “He told me to call him Master, took me to his bed. I got away from him, the boys escaped and you rescued me.”
“I remember that too.” Slowly his forefinger tapped his chin. “Is that how it was, he took you?”
“Yes, no he took them all. It was my turn, but I did not let him. That is what I remember.”
He hung his head. “You came for me.” He turned to look at Gregor, who was still examining his face.
“Have you no interest in me now?”
“I have not been interested in you for a while.” He reached out, running his hand down Marcus’ cheek. “Do you have need?”
Marcus swallowed bile, forcing himself to keep the hatred from his eyes. “I am… I no longer know what to say.”
Gregor reached to him, pulling him close. He spoke in a whisper. “If it is something you want, I will not give it to you though I have waited a long time. I filled my needs tonight. Perhaps if you prove yourself to me, I will help you with yours. It is almost dawn. Time to sleep.”
Testing the chains, he made sure Marcus could not break them. “I think tonight you can have a blanket. It will be cold and we are already cold.”
Careful not to change too quickly, Marcus spent many hours not speaking. He did not ask Gregor the questions he knew Gregor longed to answer, but he carefully listened when Gregor spoke. When Gregor fed him, he made sure to touch his hand, stand closer than needed. The signs were not unnoticed.
It was early; the sun had not fallen when Gregor entered the room. Marcus, lying on the floor, heard him approach. This was the test, the price he had to pay. There was no choice. Hands reached around him. The touch was gentle. Marcus turned, returning it.
Time had passed too slowly, and Marcus had found it difficult to wait. She was there; the face that had once turned to him was turned to an older boy. Marcus felt anger rise within him. He had known, but still he had hoped.
Once again he found himself waiting. As the bell rang, students heading to class, Marcus caught her arm, turning her to him.
“What did you think, that this is a true enduring love? We aren’t even fifteen. It’ll be years before you become a man. I’m not throwing my youth away waiting for a boy, a poor boy.”
“I am,” his voice hardened, “more of a man than he will ever be.”
He’d pulled her to him, pressed her against him. The kiss was at first harsh, then it had softened and she’d leaned willingly against him. Marcus stepped back, holding her away. The longing that had once showed in his expressive grey eyes, faded and he’d turned away, walking quickly out the door.
“It is time to eat, my pretty one. I will return with food. Tomorrow we will hunt. I will teach you.”
Once again alone, Marcus struggled with the pain. “I had to. Father, Mother, I had to. I am glad now I can no longer remember your faces. What would I see in your eyes? Will I ever forgive myself?”
He had no answer.
Gregor removed the chains; careful to stand where he could keep an eye on Marcus’ every move. Marcus shook his arms.
“Yes the chains were heavy.” He looked out to where the suburbs surrounded the city. “I have been hunting here long enough for many to be cautious. The city is careful, but those around it feel immune. It is always that way.” Gregor’s smile was cruel. “Always those that have just crawled from the gutter despise those still crawling.”
“They feel safe.”
“Yes the disease is not where they are. We will feed there. It is a test. Stay close. You do not want me to chase you.”
“I do not want to leave you.”
They heard her long before they could see her. She sang, a joyous sound. Marcus had to force his feet forward. He was determined to escape, but knew he could not let her die for it.
A Darkness Descending
Gregor reached out, grabbing the swing. The young girl slammed onto the ground. Leering above her, Gregor pulled her into his arms. For a moment she could not scream.
“Take her. She will be easy. Your first kill.”
“I won’t.” It was a whisper spoken through tightly clamped teeth. She looked up to Marcus, blue eyes turning green. There was trust in those eyes.
Gregor’s eyebrow rose, surprised. “I will take her, but you will feed. It is time.”
“I won’t. She will not be my first. There will never be a first.”
“Oh there will. Will you beg for her?” A look of upcoming victory crossed his face.
Snarling, Marcus’ voice grew louder. “I will not have to.”
Stronger than Gregor believed he could be, Marcus squeezed Gregor’s wrists and he was forced to let her fall.
“Run. I will return for you,”
“You will pay for this.” Gregor began to chase her, but Marcus was able to push him away and she made it into the house.
There was the angel.
“Azazel.” Gregor howled.
Light flooded the yard, snaking into the woods. Gregor turned. Marcus saw the woman behind the light. He didn’t stop to wonder. Running into the light, ignoring the pain, he was free.
The blaring sirens were like knives to his ears but Marcus could not stop. He ran towards the sound, to the smell of fresh blood.
The road twisted and suddenly Marcus was there. Once, when he was alive, the misery before him would have forced him to look away, but today, there was only blood and hunger.
The man stood by himself, staring at the wreckage of what was once his car. The ambulance stood before him. The medics were working on a child. Her arm lay cruelly twisted, its pose unnatural. Two shrouds, again so small, lay to the side, where a weeping woman screamed her husband’s name. He did not move. Blood streamed down his cheeks, pooling in the road, mixing with the chill rain puddling by the roads edge.
“Are you close?” Marcus looked over his shoulder; afraid he would see Gregor there. It was the angel, his fear of her, her light that sent him running. The light Marcus ran to. He was alone. With no one watching, Marcus began to drink. He felt his muscles strengthen, a surge of energy giving him speed he was not used to. Once again he chose to run towards the lights. He saw the medics shiver as he passed.