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A Cup of Tears

My soul is a cup of tears
That flows with every aching thought.
And all around is loneliness,
And all around is pain,
And all around is silence …
-- c. 1982 C. Loffreda

Chapter Four

Were it not for the strains of John Coltrane, the loft would have resounded with silence. Syncopated rhythm lent a life otherwise missing from the stark space. Saxophone and trumpet and drum and piano combined to drive away the air of death. The upbeat tempo stirred Nick from his dark thoughts, lifted him from despair.

The flask remained as placed, the rich liquid aglow in the orange-yellow light of the setting sun. A miniature furnace burned within the small glass carafe. Nick took a step closer, the whisper of silk on silk reminding him of his state of undress. Grateful for such a mundane task to attend to as his toilet, he turned his back on the gift. A surge of vampiric speed took him to the loft’s upper level. Humming the upbeat music, he stepped into the shower; the water warmed his icy skin, lending the illusion of life, however fleeting. A short while later, toweling his hair dry, Nick padded across the bedroom to his closet. The injured detective had booked off, on Captain’s order and Doctor’s suggestion, so a casual mode of dress was chosen. He donned black form-fitting jeans and a white poet shirt with billowing sleeves; a black leather vest and oxfords completed the ensemble.

His descent to the living area was more sedate, some of the restless energy burned off by the soothing shower. He thought to channel surf for an old movie, but his hand stopped before reaching for the remote. The announcer’s voice had caught his attention.

CERK radio presents the Nightcrawler. C-E-R-K, with you throughout your day.

Dropping into a leather chair, the flask all but forgotten for the moment, Nick settled in to listen to the resonant voice of his master.

Good evening, gentle listeners. The show tonight is dedicated to all those who have crossed with direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom, who have faced their innermost desires and took the road less traveled.

LaCroix’s soothing monologue flowed over the younger vampire. Suddenly he was back at the moment of his making, the night LaCroix had brought him across. Janette leaned over him, the scent of Muscat grape and jasmine embracing him, calling him back from the tempting light of salvation. The memory was so vivid, the heady aroma of fruit so inviting, that his hunger was newly aroused. The flask loomed large to his freshly awakened desire. Oh, to have unspoiled human blood again! he reveled, remembering the feel of it as it burned its way through his veins.

I feel again a spark of that ancient flame burning in one who has so recently been returned to me. A son, who even now straddles the fine line between dark and light; one who embarks, as we speak, down a path bending in the undergrowth.

Without conscious decision, he was suddenly on his feet, the contents of the flask a promise of ecstasy. ’Give your body what it needs,’ his young partner enjoined him. His legs took him a step closer, then another. The ruby liquid beckoned, called the animal out. ’Drink, Nicolas,’ his dream Raven urged, ‘drink to live.’ The flask was a mere arm’s length away. He reached for it, smooth skin closing over smooth glass. Some faint heat still remained, kept warm by the sun. He held it before his eyes, mesmerized by the depth of color swirling inside. A trembling hand pulled the stopper from the bottleneck. The cloying fragrance of purple-red cherries burst forth from the opening, ripe and seductive. Lids half-closed in desire over softly glowing golden eyes; nostrils flared, gathering in the redolent aroma of an orchard in full bloom. Nick raised the small bottle to his lips and upended it, quickly swallowing the precious elixir, absorbing all it could impart.

I savor each step of his journey; now he goes along the dark road, from whence they say no one returns.

Nick ingested half the contents of the flask before shakily pushing it away from his lips. The blood knowledge played a familiar tune in his veins, the song of sweet youth captured at its prime. The artistry of the guitar filled him with music, the serene strains of a cuna, a lullaby, brought to life by the youth’s extraordinary mastery. The tonal colors of the melody lit the vampire from within with a fiery incandescence. Nick’s heart pulsed in his ears, pounding as the inexorable surf against the rocky shore.

He abandoned himself to the blood drawn from a brilliant musician at the height of his talent. But there was no death present in this offering; the red liquid imbued Nick with such love of life, such joy of being that he forgot his graceless state. He had nearly pushed all memory of these feelings from his mind: the sense of well-being, the fulfillment, the strength adding to his muscles; how each sound sharpened, how each scent magnified, how each color deepened. Scaled arpeggios rolled over the vampire, building and growing to a blissful crescendo, until Nick overflowed with soulful emotion.

The ecstasy was cut short by the sense of a knife against the blue vein of a thick wrist. A moment of fear colored the blood yellow; though it was only a brief distraction, the melody quickly drained from Nick’s awareness, lost. Censure, sharp and painful, flooded him and he welcomed it home to familiar surroundings. He reached up with a tremulous hand and wiped the blood from his lips, hoping to expiate the guilt; the taste of cherries turned rancid in his mouth. Nick twisted away from sight of the flask (and all it represented) in disgust, leaning back against the piano, eyes tightly closed. Enervated by the struggle, he slumped forward. The atmosphere in the loft thickened, stifled him, pressed painfully against the half-healed wound in his chest. A shuddering breath was pulled into starved lungs.

Yes, my children, life is one long struggle in the dark. And from the heart of this fountain of delights wells up some bitter taste to choke us, even among the flowers.

A montage of broken memories assaulted Nick. Natalie’s beautiful features, pulled into sad lines, floated before his mind’s eye. Her voice reminded him that it was the blood that keeps him from coming across. Amalia’s sweet youth, spent too soon, gone to feed the ravening beast. Sylvaine’s innocence destroyed, her trust betrayed, by a monstrous ploy. Alyssa’s love torn from his grasp by inadvertant death - a death that he had caused. Countless souls ravaged by a fiendish appetite, sacrificed to a base desire. Natalie’s face, once more, superimposed over all the rest, brown eyes growing larger, deeper.

Do not lie awake in the darkling hours and weep for your sins. You, yourself, are just as much evil as good. Know yourself; be true to your Nature, as I am. I celebrate myself and sing myself. Join me in singing what belongs to you and no one else.

Nick brushed the cobweb memories aside. He was still for a heartbeat or two, his mind drifting in a quiet place. He reviewed everything that had happened in the past 24 hours - the surreal events surrounding the shooting, Natalie’s fear as she tended his wound (and her subsequent disappointment as he supplied himself with human blood), the strange talk with his young partner and the unexpected gift, and now these apropos words from his maker. Coming to a decision, he reached behind him for the flask. Hands closed around it, cradling it; he inhaled the nectar, sweet and inviting once more. Warmth flooded his veins in anticipation, a fire rushing to consume him. Eyes whirled golden with yearning. He would resist no longer.

Sensations sweet, felt in the blood and felt along the heart, the liquid fire burns in the veins. This then is life.

Spurred by LaCroix’s words, Nick took control of himself. With a sure grip, the blond vampire (now reawakened to the dark desire) raised the flask to waiting lips. He accepted the offering, drinking in the satisfying, nourishing blood. The haunting voice of the guitar suffused his soul; liquid fire chased boreal cold away. Dulcet fruit satiated his appetite at the cellular level. The tide of hunger fulfilled, the guilt was swept out to sea. A light clarified his thoughts; the surfeit of blood illuminated his mind. Man and vampire were whole once more, moving forward in a united purpose.

Raise a glass and swallow deeply, for shallow draughts do intoxicate the brain. And drinking largely sobers us again.

Energized by his master’s skillful monologue, somehow spoken directly to his psyche, Nick launched up through the skylight and into the night sky. The short flight invigorated, set his spirit free. The city was alive, teeming with activity. The darkness flowed over and through him. He felt a part of it all, at last.

Landing lightly in the alley beside the Raven, Nick entered the side door and pushed his way through the crowd of dancers. He reined in the vampire with astonishing ease, not feeling so replete in many centuries. Music rolled over him, the steady beat quickening his heart into a rapid rhythm. The illusion of life was his once more, life as it was meant to be: full of sound, awash with color, heavy with fragrance. Standing before the booth where LaCroix transmitted his shows, Nick looked in on his master, who returned his regard with a dark brow arched over light eyes. Suited in black and viewed against the dark equipment, it seemed to Nick that LaCroix’s alabaster head and hands floated free of his body.

Nick raised a hand and placed it on the glass in greeting. The elder vampire smiled knowingly, and lifted a be-ringed hand in a return acknowledgment; he beckoned Nick inside. Slipping quietly through the door, Nick came face to face with his master, his father. The final words of the show’s opening monologue delivered a whispered entreaty. An appeal such as Nick had unknowingly accepted 800 years past; a plea he answered yet again, but with eyes wide.

The prodigal son had returned.

Oh, yes, dear ones, walk out with me toward the unknown region where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow. Give the sign and I shall say the word to clear the path ahead endlessly. Reach out and surely I shall be there, subtle, clandestine, away beyond. I stop somewhere, waiting for you. I am he who knew what it was to be evil. For I am the Nightcrawler.

A slide was adjusted on the instrument board beneath his fingers, soft words replaced by the strains of Mozart. Startling blue-white eyes captured Nick’s and held fast. Much was passed between father and son; silent and swift, an understanding was gained. Yet, both realized the stairway to the light would not be abandoned. A new approach opened before the vampire detective, a path still novel and fresh.

Yes was the younger vampire’s thought. Now life begins anew.

LaCroix’s smile widened into a grin, arms spread apart in a gesture of acceptance. “Welcome home, my son. Welcome home.”

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