"Go where?" I said.
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Blake crossed his arms. "To church. Think they have a midnight mass?"
He sighed. "David Parish isn't here. At least, I don't think he is. He could be one of those unidentifiable puddles of human over there, but my instincts say otherwise. I'd like to finish this business with him tonight."
"Is Morphine really dead?"
I considered. "Er...I think..."
"How did she die?"
"There was...she created a..." I hunted for the words to explain what I had seen. "I'm pretty sure she's dead."
Blake nodded. "Fair enough. But keep an eye open. This is Serwood. Sometimes things come back." He pointed at Cross. "Let's hope your wizard friend is not one of them."
We headed for the ladder.
"Blake?" I said.
"Who are you? Who are you really?"
Blake grinned. "I'm the man who sold the world. Now get moving, vampire. I've got a lot of work to do tonight."
I pushed open the remains of the plastic tarp and stepped out into the night. All was quiet, save a whistling wind that had sprung up late and chased the fog away. I turned to Blake.
"Shouldn't the police have arrived?"
Blake put a hand around my shoulders. "Renton," he said. "The thing you have to understand about this town: There are four officers and a chief. They come when they're called."
"Hasn't someone called them by now?"
"I mean 'Pavlov's Dogs', working-for-the-highest-bidder kind of called."
"Pretty soon they'll be along to mop up the mess and arrest anyone who's still alive. The police report will not include people made of glass or torn into strips. Nobody really wants to think about that sort of thing."
"Except for you."
"Except for me."
In the distance, the high-pitched warble of a police siren wound its way across the Doppler Effect and into our ears.
"Speak of the Devil," said Blake. "C'mon. Let's get the Hell out of here."
I spared the Royal Theater one last look. It stood as it had always stood; majestic and regal even in the dead of night. My eyes tried to make it uglier, tried to make it tawdry and broken-down. It was no good.
"I wish I had some gasoline," I murmured.
Blake turned. "No you don't," he said. "You just think you do. That building has been standing for eighty years or more. Probably more. To it, Cross was nothing more than a particularly unpleasant blip on an otherwise uneventful twilight. Torching the place would be doing his work, really. Now come on. I don't want to talk to police officers tonight."
As I followed him down the empty, windswept streets, I couldn't help wondering: Whose work? Whose work would I be doing? Something in my gut told me he hadn't meant Cross.
The church doors opened easily at my touch. I stepped inside, closely followed by Harmon Blake. The interior of the building was much as I remembered it: Elderly, mouldering, and lit almost exclusively by candles. Only three of those candles were lit now- the largest and most long-lived of the lot. By their feeble light, I could see David Parish quite clearly. Not that it was hard to pick him out: I need only have followed the trail of blood.
Parish was half-lying against the centerpiece of his lair; a huge gilded cross set deeply into the floorboards- and probably even the concrete beneath. I could see his blood- caked lips moving, but he made no sound.
What makes a person? What qualities combine to give a man tenacity, bravery, caution, and so on?
David Parish had dragged himself the mile-and-a-half to his own church, leaving behind a trail of blood and less identifiable bits. He had ended up here, at the foot of his own altar, his guts spilling out of his own stomach and onto the unvarnished floorboards. The old wood sucked greedily at the blood- the first in so very, very long. I stood there in the doorway and wondered about Druids and human sacrifices.
Blake held out his hand. "I would like to borrow your weapon, if I may. I've got a bit of business to attend to."
I handed it over without a word.
Parish was too far gone to scream. The best he could manage was a string of wheezy croaks, like a bullfrog with emphysema. They made a sound like: AGHHhhhh!
I hear them sometimes, in my dreams.
A little while later, it was over.
Blake wiped the sword on his undershirt and handed it back to me. I sheathed it- again, without a word.
"Thank you," he said.
We stepped out into the night.
Blake turned to face me. "So..."
I shrugged. "I think I'll go back to the city. This town is beginning to wear on me."
He nodded. "It can do that."
"What about you?"
"Me?" Blake chuckled. I liked the way it sounded; rich and real and alive in a way that so few people were alive anymore. He stuck his hands in his pockets. "Oh, I don't know. I've got some business to take care of here in town. Then maybe I'll head back into the city, say hello to some old friends..."
"Will I see you again?"
"I wouldn't be surprised." Blake looked up at the sky. I followed his gaze. The scrim of cloud was beginning to break apart, and through it I could see the gleam of stars. "You never know where our paths will take us. No, I wouldn't be surprised at all."
Blake flipped up the collar of his jacket. He faced into the wind.
"Goodbye, Renton," he said.
"Goodbye," I said.
I watched him until he was out of sight.
Just like that, I was alone again.
The door to the cathedral was open. The candles were all lit.
I stepped inside and waited my turn. There were several other people in line; one of whom, a very elderly black woman, looked ready to keel over at any moment. She did not.
I stepped into the booth and sat down.
Behind the screen, I could see the outline of a man. He was sitting much the same as I was, his back to the wall. There was no point in looking at the screen, after all. The person on the other side of the veil would appear as no more than a moving shadow.
Like me, he was looking at the screen. Like me, he couldn't help himself.
"Good evening, my son," he said.
"Good evening," I said. "Am I addressing Father Nicolas?"
"Ye-es..." The figure shifted uneasily. "Who is this?"
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
"Tell me of your sins, my son."
"I have killed, Father. I have killed and killed and killed. I have called myself monster, Father, and I have acted as a monster. I have drunk the blood of mankind. But that is not my sin."
"Who is this?"
"MY sin was to forget that no matter how monstrous I am, no matter how ghoulish and cruel and terrible I become, I can never hold a candle to the atrocities of Man. I have forgotten this, and because of it, I have been murdered. I come before you now, as a shade, to beg your forgiveness."
For a moment, the priest was silent. Then: "I know your voice..."
"Once upon a time, a pale and troubled man came into your church. You spoke briefly to him, and he told you of his poor relationship with God. You asked him why."
"And he had no answer, then."
"Yes. I remember you."
"I have returned to tell you that I have found the answer to your question. I know why I hate God."
"I hate God because God is the Universe, and the Universe is insane. The Universe is insane because we have driven it insane. This is very embarassing. God knows this, and uses every opportunity to remind us what we have done to It. Thus, I hate God because God is an embarassment to me. God is insane. I have made It insane."
"But I am not sorry."
My wanderings brought me back to the city, back to the house of an old, old friend. It never occurred to me to seek out the building where I had previously lived. That place held no meaning for me.
I stood outside the door to Collie's house and wondered.
I wondered because there was a light on inside.
My rational brain, the part of me that claims vampires don't exist, said: Don't waste your time. Collie is gone. It's probably just another nobody who's rented this house out from the owner. No purpose waking the poor bastard up at this hour of the night. Walk away. Walk away.
My creative brain said nothing. It just showed me a color blow-up of Collie. He was smiling.
"Oh fuck it," I muttered, and mounted the porch steps.
The door opened.
I was not able to see my own expression when the door opened, but I would guess, knowing me, that it was very comical.
It was not Collie.
It was Carissa.
"Renton," she said, and smiled a welcoming smile. "I've been expecting you. Please, come on in. We have a lot to talk about."
We did indeed.
Carissa filled me in on the details:
Collie and Sandy were fine and healthy- or at least as healthy as two hard-drinking, hard-smoking layabouts could be, all things considered. Sandy's sudden disappearance had been due to an unexpected family tragedy up north. Later that same night, after his unsucessful drunken invitation to sexual experimentation, Collie had recieved a phone call from his beloved, inviting him to the funeral- thus, his sudden disappearance the next morning.
Both of them were fine and living up north with Sandy's folks, while they decided whether they wanted to get married or not. I even spoke to Collie on the phone. He expressed worry over my own condition, and assured me that he and I would get together and do some heavy drinking in the coming months. I agreed.
He was lying. So was I.
I felt like a kid in a Coney Island mirror-maze: Everything that had happened to me during my time at the Royal Theater seemed both real and unreal; a dream that, upon waking, proves to be more interesting than the world one wakes up to. This bothered me profoundly, but Carissa was there to help, coaxing me through the mental processes, one by one.
One day I woke up, and everything was okay again.
Carissa invited me to stay in her sprawling, many-room apartments until I could find a way to make money and purchase a place of my own. She renovated a very nice master bedroom into a custom sleeping chamber for me. It is very dark in there when I turn out the lights.
Sometimes I'll go for long walks at night, down the winding, deserted streets that border on the forests to the south. Sometimes I will hear the mournful whistle of a train, far away. Sometimes I will wonder...
I would like to say that Christy escaped unscathed from the ordeal, and is out there somewhere now, making her own way. I would like to say that, and for all I knew it was the truth, right up until I read the headlines on page two of the Daily News last friday.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL STRUCK AND KILLED BY PASSING VAN
In broad daylight, no less.
This is only partially correct. Witnesses describe a Volkswagen Minibus as the culprit. One witness in particular got a glimpse of a bright white bumper sticker on the back of the vehicle. He wasn't close enough to read what the sticker said.
I could have told him.
There are no happy endings. There are no endings at all, for that matter. All stories stem from other stories, which in turn stem from other stories that begin somewhere else entirely; twisted branches with no discernable beginning or end. No one rides into the sunset. No one lives happily ever after. No one wins.
There are no happy endings. I have nothing left to offer. There are no morals to be found here. There are no reasons for why the world is the way it is.
All I know is that I am, and that every night that I awaken to the train-whistle's mournful sound is another night I spend in this world. Another night of being alive.
And that is enough.
J. Titchenal 10/19/02
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.