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Chapter 14

The cacophony of screaming voices and honking horns and clanging garbage pail lids lifted upward from the streets into Alex Mallum’s apartment. Alex groaned, lifted the pillow from his face and listened for a long moment to the sounds of the city and the pigeons cooing on his window ledge. As he awakened gradually at first, then with a start, he noticed that the pigeons were not only on the ledge outside; half a dozen or so were sitting on the foot of his bed. He turned his face toward the window, and saw that the glass was shattered. Jagged shards stuck out from the frame like the translucent teeth of a giant shark.

“What the . . . " Alex jumped out of bed, scattering pigeons and bedclothes, and walked to the window. Splintered glass was strewn over the outside ledge and the fire escape beyond. How could that be? If anyone had broken in, the glass would be on the floor inside.

His handiwork was still intact. The duct tape was in place around the door and the window frame. The powder he had sprinkled on the floor and sill was undisturbed. Alex shook his head, clearing the remaining cobwebs. What the hell was going on? Where had he been? It was impossible that he could have gotten up in his sleep and just broken through the window like that.

As he thought, his dream of the night before bubbled upward from his unconscious. The details were vivid, alarming, more real than mere dreamlike fantasy. There was the wolf again—the wolf in his apartment leaping through the closed window. There was the sound of shattering glass. And then, there was Danielle—.

God, how he ached for her. Danielle and her thug of a father were both in his dream. Concentrate now; he needed to recall the details. A hunter was stalking the wolf. No, wait. The hunter followed the wolf, not threatening, not stalking. The setting was vague, a vast blur. He couldn’t say where they had been. The wolf had charged and pounced, landing on top of Peter Dante, driving him to the ground. How good it felt. Dante screamed as the wolf’s paws held him down, its face inches from Dante’s throat. The wolf bared its teeth, drooling on Dante’s face.

Then there was laughter, pleasant and musical laughter from somewhere in the blurry background. The wolf looked up and saw Danielle. She was kneeling beside him, hugging him around the neck, nuzzling him behind the ears. She stroked the wolf’s cheeks. Then everything went blank. Alex could remember nothing else.

Alex pressed both palms against his temples. This was the first time he had dreamed of Danielle in ages. He thought of her often enough when awake. But she had never appeared in his wolf dreams before. Perhaps it was an omen that, somehow, they would get back together again. How incredible it all was. There were no footsteps in the powder. If he had walked in his sleep and punched out the window, he would have left prints in the powder and his fist would be bruised or gashed. But there was nothing, no blood, no bruise, no footprints. He had to find out what was going on before he went nuts—if he wasn’t crazy already.

The alarm clock jangled on the nightstand, and Alex went over and shut it off. He had to get ready to go to work; he had missed too many days already, and his boss’s patience was wearing thin. The job was menial, mostly clerical in nature, filing, sorting and delivering documents and folders, at the New York Times, but it was perfect for him in his new life, obscure, nonchallenging, a place to hide and make enough money to pay for rent and food. Alex was certain of only one thing as he stepped into the shower: there was a definite correlation between the full moon cycle and his wolf dreams and blackouts. That knowledge was not reassuring; it was downright alarming actually. But it was all he had to go on.

At work later that week, Alex sorted through the wedding announcements for the Sunday edition, when one in particular caught his attention. DANTE-FENRIS. Alex read it through in shock. Danielle and Luke Fenris? It couldn’t be. Say it isn’t so, Danielle! Anybody but Luke Fenris.

The mere mention of Fenris’s name was enough to make Alex’s blood boil. A week earlier a cover story in Barron’s entitled, “The Mysterious Pirate of Wall Street,” attempted to dissect the man and shed some light on his puzzling past and sprawling empire. That article had been no more successful than the ones that preceded it. Most of it consisted of rumor and innuendo and little if any fact. Luke Fenris exemplified—more than Peter Dante even—everything that Alex Mallum detested about contemporary America. The profile of Fenris and his business dealings had been bad enough, but buried in a paragraph toward the end was a comment that Fenris and Danielle Dante had recently been seen together at a party at Carl Navi’s house in the Hamptons. The line had practically jumped off the page when Alex read it, but he dismissed it as idle gossip. Danielle, with all her faults, would never sink that low.

Now, here it was in black and white in front of him—irrefutable proof. She was actually going to marry the bastard! Alex found it almost impossible to comprehend how she could violate every principle she once stood for, and marry an amoral buccaneer like Luke Fenris. It defied credibility. He could accept the fact that she had been swayed by her father, that she had been blinded by his money, betrayed him and their marriage, and maybe even have fallen a little out of love with him. But, in the back of his mind, Alex had always attributed her defection to exasperation, not lack of love—exasperation with him and his uncompromising devotion to a losing cause. Deep inside, Alex had felt that there could possibly be a slim chance that someday they might even get back together again. He took secret pleasure over the knowledge that her second marriage had ended so mysteriously. Perhaps one day Danielle would wake up and see that her father was really as evil as Alex said he was. But, with this notice, all hope was shattered. She was marrying a man who was the exact opposite of everything Alex stood for. He had never felt so alienated from her as he did at that moment.

Tears rolled down Alex’s cheeks and dripped onto the wedding announcement. The paper grew soggy, and Alex tore it into tiny shreds. “There will be no marriage!” He thought he had spoken to himself, but as he looked around at the alarmed faces of his colleagues he realized he had screamed.

“There will be no marriage,” Alex whispered this time. “Because you can’t marry a dead man, Danielle. And Luke Fenris is as good as dead.”

Alex knew for the first time what his revolutionary plan for CRUSH was going to be.

Ludwig von Dracula sat at his desk, sorting through the hundreds, no, thousands of letters he had received since his interview. He knew he should not have gone public with his confession. The world was not ready for the truth; perhaps it would never be. Every misfit, every psychotic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, lamebrain, kook, maniac, and moron in the country had written to tell him they thought they might be vampires. Was it always like this? Did everybody want to be Jewish, or black, or homosexual, or a woman, or whatever the new victim-of-the-month was? It was all so depressing. He had known before that the human race was really screwed up, but this was ridiculous. Space cadets! People who swore that vampires had landed in UFO’s in their back yards! There was no end to the lunacy.

All he wanted to do was share some knowledge, shed some light on a forbidden topic, and let other vampires know that they weren’t alone, that there was someone out there, just like them, who cared, It was time they came out of the coffin now and stopped pretending to be something they were not. For too long now they had lived in fear of stake-wielding religious fanatics. It was time to end their lives of silent, fearful suffering.

He didn’t expect everyone to believe his story about being a vampire or of his noble heritage. But other vampires would know he was speaking from his heart and telling the truth, and possibly be emboldened to do the same. And maybe, just maybe, a few caring humans would sympathize with their plight and join them in their fight for justice. But just the opposite had happened. Thousands of maniacs wanted to be vampires themselves while the diehard bigots—judging by the hate mail mixed in with the rest—were even more hardened in their opposition to his species. One correspondent from New Jersey thought the government should ship all vampires back to Transylvania—even though many of them had lived in the United States for centuries. And an old lady in Florida had written to say that he and his people should be rounded up into rehabilitation centers—sounded like concentration camps to Luddie—for their own good.

Luddie was close to despair, almost ready to take the remaining letters and toss them unread into the fireplace. He felt his energy flagging as the night wore on, and knew he must soon get ready for a good day’s sleep. He got up from his chair and went over to check the contents of his refrigerator; he was down to his last three vials of blood. He needed a pick-me-up, so he poured a few ounces into a rocks glass with some ice, knocked it back, and returned to his desk. He made a list of things that needed to be replenished—tissues, saltines, detergent, Oreos, blood, tangerines, paper towels; if it wasn’t one thing it was another, always something, as cousin Emily used to say.

He was about to abandon his search for intelligent life on earth, when he came across one letter that jolted him out of his lethargy. Who was this from? He didn’t give his name, but from the address and phone number Luddie could see he lived a few blocks away. A message for him from Lothar and Tanya? That could only mean that this writer had something significant to say to him, but preferred anonymity for the time being. Good Lord! He’d better check in with Lothar at once to see what it was all about.

“Yes?” Lothar answered on the fourth ring.

“Lothar? It’s me, Luddie.”

“Luddie! How’ve you been? I saw you on television a few weeks ago.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry I ever agreed to do the interview. You wouldn’t believe the crazies coming out of the woodwork.”

“Tell me about it,” Lothar said. "What did you expect anyway? Love? Kindness? Understanding? Nothing’s changed, my boy. It’s the same now as it was way back in the dark ages. But, then you always were the idealist, weren’t you?”

“Yes, well, listen. I received one very disturbing letter. It doesn’t say much, except that the correspondent has a message for me from Lothar and Tanya. How can this be, Lothar? Do you remember someone stopping off at your inn a while back who might have had an encounter with Tanya?”

There was a long silence on the other end, and then Lothar heaved a sigh and said, “Yes." Lothar paused for a moment, nervously nibbling at his lip. "It happened quite a while ago, five or six years now I should think. I . . . I had hoped nothing would come of it.”

“Did he spend any time with Tanya?” Luddie could not keep the alarm out of his voice.

“Well . . . yes, I suppose so.”

“What do you mean you suppose so?”

“They did spend the night together.”

“My God, Lothar! Did Tanya bite him?”

“A little bite, Luddie. Don’t get all excited."

"There’s no such thing as a little bite, Lothar. You know that.”

“Okay, she bit him. She bit him, all right? I prayed that nothing would come of it. Night after night for months I prayed.”

“You promised me you would sedate her during the full moon periods.” Luddie was almost in shock. “You know the risk.”

“It was such a rainy, stormy night. Horrible, horrible weather. Who thought anyone would be out in it? It tears me apart when Tanya goes through these changes. He arrived at the inn, hurt and exhausted. Half dead. Only Tanya knew the proper medicine to use. It all happened so fast, Luddie. I didn’t have the heart to stop her.”

“You should have called me right away.” Luddie made no effort to hide his irritation.

“I was going to at first. I swear. But when there was no news of anything unusual happening after a few months, I . . . I just let it slip.”

“I’m very angry with you, Lothar.”

“I never realized—”

“Do you understand what this means? This October there’s going to be an eclipse of the Harvest Moon, the first full moon after the autumnal equinox.”

“My word.”

“The gravitational confluences could result in permanent transformation of infected males. If this particular human male is infected, we have to find out what kind of creature he becomes. If it’s dangerous . . . I may have to kill it.”

“Luddie, I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how upset I am by this. Please don’t blame Tanya. It’s not her—"

"You must keep her sedated in the future during these critical periods! She’s a menace, Lothar! But we agreed to let her live because she’s the last of her line . . . unless this male she bit is infected and he infects others.”

Lothar was silent, properly chastised. What more could he say?

“I should be able to track him down,” Luddie said. “He’s obviously concerned that something’s wrong with him, and he’s looking for help. I only pray to God that it’s not too late. I’ll keep you posted.”

After he hung up, Luddie checked the eastern skyline and saw that it was already too late to take any action now. Soon it would be dawn and, just as an Eskimo could discern twenty different shades of white, he and others of his species were sensitive to the delicate gradations as night yielded to sun­rise. Urgent as the situation was, he could take no action until the evening.

Luddie walked over to his coffin, which rested atop a loft platform at the end of the living room. The soothing mineral-rich mud spread over the bottom was from his home village in Transylvania. Luddie mounded some of it at the top end to form a pillow for his head. Then he undressed and settled himself down inside. The early morning air was warm already, so he tossed his blanket onto a chair nearby. He pulled the lid shut above him, blocking out the grayness of the rising sun. Within moments, he dropped off into the nether reaches of pitch-black sleep.

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