A Stranger’s Door

     It was a dreadful night; cold and stormy and black as pitch this far out in the country. The perfect place to have your car stop short, never to go again at one in the morning. As Beth peered dismally through the night she realized that she couldn’t even see any house lights. Of course, this was farm country, sparsely populated and most of the people would have to get up in three or four hours. She decided not to wait. Surely if she knocked on someone’s door and explained her predicament, they wouldn’t be very angry. Her Aunt Lurie always said that you never knew what you’d get by knocking on strange doors but she had been the timid type.
By the time Beth found a lane leading up to a house, she was soaking wet and freezing. The lane twisted and turned so that the house couldn’t be seen from the road but it was in surprisingly good repair and shorter than she expected. When she topped a rise, there was the house, set in a dell. And there was a light on in the back of the house! Beth felt as though her luck was taking a turn for the better.
As she knocked at the door, the light came toward her and then she was standing inside. She hadn’t gotten a good look at the man who opened the door, but his voice was nice and he had asked her to come in and dry off before he even bothered about what she was doing there.
Beth followed the light (she couldn’t be said to follow the man, she couldn’t see him) into a large and homey kitchen. She only had time to notice that all the light was from candles before her host put a large towel and a terry bathrobe in her hands and led her to a bedroom to dry off.
She still hadn’t gotten a good look at him so when she returned to the kitchen he was the only thing she looked at. He was younger than she had first guessed, early twenties at most. He was too thin for his height which seemed to be about six feet, dressed in jeans and a striped button down. He had dark hair, too short for the current fashion but she caught a glint off a very small earring in one ear. His eyes she couldn’t see for the shadows cast by the candles. He was also very quiet, as he hadn’t said ten words to her yet. He was making coffee as she came back into the kitchen so she had a minute to study him before he turned and saw her. He didn’t seem surprised.
“That will be ready in a minute. Cream, no sugar, right?”
Beth laughed. “Exactly right! How did you do that?”
He smiled tightly. “Call it a good guess.”
“No, really.”
“You wouldn’t believe me.” His tone was final, end of subject. He pulled a chair away from the table and held it for her, a courtly gesture. Beth hesitated, then sat down. She was in his house, wearing his bathrobe (it must be, it swallowed her whole.) to not sit down because he was holding her chair was ludicrous.
Her host sat down, not across from her but with the corner of the table between them. She could see his eyes better now, most of the candles were on the table, and they were a dark liquid brown. She kept stealing glances at his eyes when she thought he wouldn’t notice.
“So, what is your name and how do you come to be out on such a night?” he said.
“Elizabeth. I was going up to the college library to do some research for a paper and my car broke down.”
He got up, fixed her coffee and sat back down.
“Thank you. Aren’t you going to have any?”
“I’m not the one courting pneumonia in January downpours. It’s turning to sleet even now.” He paused, listening. “Now. What a wealth of subjects you’ve given me to chose from. Firstly, my name is Aidan. Yours both is and is not Elizabeth. Do you perhaps go by a nickname?”
“Well, yes. I go by Beth.” She was too taken aback to ask how he knew.
“Ah. That would be the solution. What a lovely diminutive. Next, I seriously doubt that there is any library open at this time of night.” It was a statement but there was a question there too.
“I wanted to get an early start in the morning, so I was going to drive in and get a room until they opened.” Not quite true, she intended on getting a cup of coffee at an all night diner and staying up. She didn’t have that much money.
Aidan nodded but Beth got the feeling that she hadn’t fooled him at all. “I don’t think you’ll be getting there quite that early now. Finally, do you know what is wrong with your automobile?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea. It just coughed and died. Now it won’t even turn over. You wouldn’t know anything about cars would you? Or maybe a cheap mechanic?”
“I’m very sorry, I know little about automobiles. And no, I don’t own one, to answer your next question.”
She looked around. He was pretty far out in the country to take that attitude. “How do you get around?”
“I walk or ride a bicycle, or just run. There are other methods available if you don’t mind taking the time to use them.” He got up and refilled her coffee. He had an uncanny knack of reading her mind.
“I really don’t have that much time.” Beth teased.
“No, you don’t.” She couldn’t put her finger on why that matter of fact answer disconcerted her so much. She covered it with a question.
“Do you mind if I borrow your ‘phone?”
“I don’t have a telephone.”
Beth looked around her. The house was old as was everything in it. What kind of a person had no ‘phone, no car and, by the looks of it, no electricity.
“A very old-fashioned one.” Aidan said. For a minute, Beth thought she might have been rude enough to say something aloud but reviewing what she remembered hearing, she concluded that she hadn’t. She looked up at him, confused.
“Let’s just say I have other avenues of receiving information than sight and sound.” he said.
“Are you reading my mind?” she asked.
Aidan smiled. It lit up his face and was an expression all too seldom used from the look of him. “Not exactly. To be perfectly honest, most of it you’re sub-vocalizing. I can also feel strong emotions. You want very much to trust and like me but I frighten you a little. Also, you’re curious about me.”
“How did you know about the coffee? I promise I’ll believe you.”
“I can smell the flavour on you.”
To her surprise, Beth found that she could believe him. It was an unreal talent but everything she found out about Aidan seemed unreal, or at least very unusual.
“So. Your automobile is useless for the moment and the is no where we will be able to find to repair it at this time of night. Let me invite you to spend the night here and we shall see what can be done in the morning.”
Beth considered. She couldn’t really go anywhere else. “If you’re sure I won’t be imposing on you.”
“You shan’t. There are several bedrooms and I am the only one here. The room you changed clothes in should be the most comfortable and the door locks from the inside, should you feel it necessary.”
“Is it?” Beth was teasing but only partially. There was something about Aidan she didn’t fathom. He had a slightly odd way of speaking and he seemed…well, formal, somehow.
“I shan’t ravish you in your sleep. But old houses make curious sound sometimes. You need pay them no attention; you are safe here.” He rose. “I have some things to attend to, so if you will excuse me?”
“Of course.” There was that formality again, asking to be excused in his own house.
“Sleep well and good night.”
After he left, Beth discovered that she was very tired. It was close to three by the clock and she had been up twenty hours. She took a candle off the table to light her way to bed, then blew the rest of them out, all but two. She wondered where Aidan slept and, with that thought in her mind, uncharacteristically left the door unlocked and partially open.

      Beth woke late the next day. It was already afternoon and the light was very dim. She looked out the window and discovered that it was snowing. By the depth of the snow, it had been snowing the whole time she slept. She shivered and pulled on the bathrobe, still on the foot of the bed, then looked for her clothes. They weren’t on the hearth where she had left them but in looking for them, she found her overnight bag on an old-fashioned luggage rack in the closet. Aidan must have brought it up from the car while she was asleep. Hanging up were dresses of several colours and styles, all of them very old. Several pairs of button boots lined the floor beneath the dresses and her tennis shoes looked out of place among them.
On a whim, she tried on one of the dresses, a muted green silk with a thin old gold stripe woven into the fabric. It was a little large and she breathed a deep sigh of relief. If it had fitted perfectly, she would have knownthat she had fallen into a fairy tale. But enchanted castles, even disguised as farm houses, never had clothes discovered in the wardrobe that were too big for the princess; they always fitted her perfectly. Or, maybe she just wasn’t the right princess.
At that moment, there was a knock on the door.
“Yes.” Beth said absently, then realized that she was still wearing a dress that she had no business touching.
Aidan opened the door and looked in. Beth was in an agony of blushes and very pretty in her embarrassment. To her surprise, Aidan laughed.
“Don’t worry about it. They’re not family heirlooms or anything of that sort, just some clothes that I completely forgot were in that closet. Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful.” She had never worn dresses much but she loved this one. The silk felt like the last word in elegance.
“Then keep it.” he said. “It suits you.”
“You must be joking, I can’t keep this.” Beth was floored. An antique like this would cost hundreds of dollars in a vintage clothing store, and it was so well preserved it ought to be in a museum.
“Not at all. I’ve no one else to wear them. Most of the clothes in there are about the same size if I remember rightly. Wear any that please you.” He paused. “I came to see if you were hungry.”
Beth started to say that she wasn’t, then found that she was starved. As they sat down at the table she noticed the Aidan had only laid one place.
“Where’s yours?” she asked.
“I breakfasted earlier.”
Aidan’s concept of breakfast was a little odd. There were eggs, to be sure, and coffee and toast but she didn’t recognize the steak. It was lean though and very good, though she refused the pot of mustard that he handed her to have with it. (Mustard for breakfast?) When the edge was off her hunger, she looked out the large window to see the snow still falling. Then she blinked and looked again. Almost buried by the drifts now was her car.
“My car!” she turned to him in surprise. “How did you get it here?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“You keep saying that. Try me.”
“I pushed it.”
He was too serious to be joking and she found that she had to believe him. It really wasn’t that large a car after all.
“You should have let me help. But thank you … why are you being so nice to me?” she asked.
“Why are you letting me?”
That seemed unanswerable so Beth dropped it. Instead she changed the subject.
“Aidan, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to help me with my car.” He started slightly, he wasn’t used to hearing his own name, but gestured for her to continue. “I don’t know anyone around here or how to get in touch with any of the repair shops.”
“It wouldn’t do you any good.” He smiled slightly. “I’ve got a battery powered radio that I use once in a while. I’ve been listening to it and most of the roads here are closed. You’d not be able to get anyone to come out here even if we could call. Also, most of the telephone wires and almost all of the electrical wires are out of service from the storm.”
Beth was incredulous. “It doesn’t look like that much snow!”
“No, it doesn’t. It’s more than normal for this area but if I understand it correctly, the real problem is that the snow fell on top of the ice storm. That, I think, is what has disrupted everything so much.”
“You don’t seem disrupted.” She was curious about that. Wasn’t he worried about running out of anything at all?
“I use neither roads nor electricity nor telephone lines. The snow’s a bit of a bother, being so deep, but not really a disruption.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, it seems as though your unexpected visit will, by necessity, be extended. I hope you don’t mind.”
For a second she stared at him, then laughed. He was asking if she minded accepting shelter from a storm as though she were doing him a favor. Besides, she hadn’t felt this at home in a long time. Aidan looked a little bemused at her laughter so she explained. Instead of laughing, or even smiling, he replied
“But you are. I see very few people and have little company. Someone to talk with is very pleasant.”
“What do you do that you live such a lonely life?” Beth was genuinely curious and secretly sympathetic.
“The answer is rather prosaic. I’m a farmer, of sorts. I raise rabbits and sell them for their meat and fur. They’re grand company in their own way, but a bit short on conversation.”
“But why the lack of modern conveniences?”
Aidan quirked an eyebrow. “Do you find them convenient? I haven’t found them to be so. I suppose I haven’t gotten used to them.”
Beth thought she must have misheard or maybe he misspoke himself. Surely he meant that he had gotten used to doing without them. She let it slide.

      After dinner, Aidan lit several candles and, wrapping her up in a thick blanket, took her for a tour of the house. It wasn’t very large, three or four bedrooms, a library and a ‘parlor’ besides the kitchen and the bathroom. And another door he didn’t bother to open saying
“That’s only the other bath.”
Beth didn’t see any real signs of occupancy in any of the other bedrooms. He seemed to live mostly in the kitchen and the library. He also didn’t seem much effected by the cold. Though he had taken precautions to keep her warm, he wandered through the freezing house in only his shirt sleeves.
After her tour, Aidan built a fire in the library and they passed the evening talking. He had a wonderful way of telling her a great deal about a subject using only a few words, although without really telling her anything about himself. After he excused himself, pleading duties, Beth realized he had also drawn her out to the point that she had really done most of the talking. If she hadn’t told him everything about her life, it was only because she hadn’t remembered it.

      The snow had stopped falling by the next morning but the drifts were impossibly deep, so Beth chose another of the antique dresses to wear, with her sweat pants on underneath, for warmth. Somehow they seemed more in keeping with the house and Aidan than her own clothes.
However, when she went looking for Aidan, she found a warm kitchen, with breakfast and a note on the table to the effect that he would be absent until evening, please make herself at home. Beth was quite disappointed and went to find him.
She looked all over the house but the only living things she found were four rabbits in the second bathroom. She thought that a bit curious and decided to ask about it, then completely forgot the matter and became absorbed in the library. Aidan had quite an extensive collection of books, though some of the subjects were odd. He seemed to prefer philosophy and medicine to fiction by the number of works she found, though there was a fairly extensive section of religious works as well. Seeing the titles of some of them, she went back to the bedroom that seemed most likely to be his and, sure enough, there was an ebony and silver rosary about the bedpost. She giggled at herself for her successful detective work. He used this bedroom and was either catholic or episcopal, probably catholic. It was the first personal thing she’d learned about him.

      When she heard the back door open, Beth jumped up and ran in to meet Aidan. He was covered in snow and looked exhausted.
“Where have you been?” she exclaimed as she helped him off with his coat.
“They’re dead. They’re all dead.” he said dully.
Beth made him a cup of coffee and made him sit down next to the stove.
“Now. Who’s dead?”
“My rabbits.”
“Oh, Aidan. I’m so sorry.” She really was because it upset him, but she drew a secret sigh of relief. She though he might have meant one of the neighbouring families. “What happened?”
He shook himself a little and looked at her. “The door of the barn blew open. I thought I had the furnace built up well enough but it wasn’t. They’re frozen solid.” He started to take a sip of coffee then looked at it and put it down. Beth put it back in his hand.
“You need something warm to drink.”
“Yes, but I can’t drink coffee.”
“And why not? And please don’t tell me I won’t believe you, I will.”
“It makes me vomit.” He started to say something else but didn’t.
“So what can I fix you?”
“Nothing.” Aidan was thoughtful a minute then said “I have to go out again.”
Beth put her hands on her hips. “No you don’t. It’s getting dark, the wind’s rising and it’s getting colder by the minute. No one needs to be out there right now.” She stopped then continued. “You can’t do anything for them now.”
“It’s not the rabbits I’m concerned about.”
“Then what?” she said.
“You. I have to find some way of getting you away from here.”
As determined as he sounded, she was just as adamant. He had no business going out for any reason.
“I’ve nowhere to go if you did. Are you going to turn me out, then?”
He looked startled. “No, of course not.”
“No one’s going anywhere for a few days. It’s not safe.”
“It isn’t safe for you here anymore.” he said in a low tone.
Suddenly Beth was frightened. “Why?”
Instead of replying, Aidan looked at her for a long moment. “I don’t suppose you’d take my word for it?”
“I’ll take your word but I still want to know why.”
“Alright. Then maybe you’ll let me find some way of getting you away from here.” Aidan made her sit down and then, pacing up and down, he began.

      “You see, I have rather specialized dietary concerns. For the moment, they’re taken care of, but only for a day or so. After that, I will become a danger to you and I don’t want that. No one else is in danger, they are too far away and the snow is difficult, even for me.”
Beth had never even imagined Aidan as anything other than calm and his current agitation scared her. But knowing is always better than not knowing.
“You say you’ll be a danger to me. Why? Are you on some sort of medication that will run out or something?”
“Or something.” He flung himself into a chair. “You have done me the courtesy of believing what I have told you up until now. Please continue, it will save time and this is hard for me.” He thought for a minute, looking for the right words that weren’t there, then, in desperation, used the wrong words anyway. “I can’t eat anything. I cannot drink anything except blood. In short I’m a vampire.” His eyes were sad, as though he expected her to run screaming away.
Beth though about it for a minute. Then she looked outside. “But it’s daylight.”
He smiled. “You stay up all night at times, do you not? I’m naturally nocturnal, hunting is better, but sunlight won’t wither me, it just tires me dreadfully.
“And to debunk the other myths; a stake through my heart will indeed kill me, as will anything that disrupts the central nervous system. I am abnormally strong for my frame but not as much as you might have been led to believe. Heat and cold must be much more extreme to bother me, although I don’t know if I will freeze or not. I’ve not been curious to test the theory. Oh, and any mammalian blood will suffice, it needn’t be human. That’s why I raise rabbits.”
“What about crosses?” It was an inane thing to say but she couldn’t think of anything else.
“Crosses and crucifixes don’t bother me, not really. I suppose that they could burn, given a sufficient amount of guilt and enough faith. Religious hysteria is still hysteria.”
“Enough faith on whose part?” She just wanted to know. Beth couldn’t imagine ever needing to use any of this, besides, she was a lukewarm Christian at best.
“The vampire’s, of course.”
“But they don’t burn you?”
“Not that I’ve noticed.”
“Yes, but would you have noticed?” That was a silly question, he had a rosary. But maybe he didn’t use it? “When was the last time you….”
“I touched one? Last night.”
Catholic then. “A Catholic vampire?”
He laughed. “Excellent deduction, Watson. Why not?”
“It seems…. I don’t know, like a contradiction in terms.”
Aidan started to ask why, then stopped. “This really isn’t solving the problem of getting you elsewhere.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“But…”
She cut him off. “If I don’t believe what you’re saying, there’s nothing to worry about. And if I do, I’m not going to leave you here, alone, to starve. Not after all your kindness to me.”
“Why?” his voice was full of wonder.
“Don’t you understand compassion?” Not directed at him he didn’t, that was obvious. “Now. Let’s get down to nuts and bolts. You can deal with anything if you take it rationally. How much do you need?”
“Not much, maybe a cup?” Where was her hysteria? Rational responses were the last thing he had come to expect.
“Then where’s the danger? I give blood pretty often, this is just a little more personal.”
Aidan folded his arms and thought. “Well, the danger is twofold. First, that I will drink too deeply and harm or kill you. I’d rather starve, but with extreme hunger comes madness.”
“Is that likely?”
“Only if I’m very hungry.” he admitted.
“Then we won’t wait until you’re very hungry. Problem solved. Next?” The only way Beth could keep everything straight was practicality. Dealt with realistically, this wasn’t bad, just very unusual.
“The other is more subtle. I’m not sure how vampirism is transmitted. It may be like rabies and one bite will change you. Or it may take several. Or perhaps, there’s a family predisposition to it and you’re in no danger at all. It may well be genetic. However, I could inadvertently turn you and that’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. You are the first person who has heard the truth and still been kind to me, I won’t subject you to this kind of living hell.”
Aidan was so serious that Beth wanted to make him smile, just for a second. Plus, she was curious and curiosity overcame any nervousness she had.
“Can I be rude?” she asked.
“No.” The bluntness of his reply startled her until he continued. “You can ask me anything, I won’t find it rude.”
“Can I see your teeth?”
She sounded a little like a small girl asking for a treat and Aidan laughed. Then he grimaced at her, showing them. They were perfectly normal, white and even, no points anywhere.
Beth was a little disappointed. “You’ve been playing with me.”
“No, actually I haven’t. They’re not evident all the time.”
That made sense. “Oh. How does it work?” She realized she was being rude again.
Aidan smiled.”They’re only prominent when I’m ready to feed. Otherwise I’d bite myself. Watch.” He drew back his upper lip and ran his finger across the edge of his teeth several times. As Beth watched, all four of his canines extended and sharpened, rather like watching sexual arousal in progress. He closed his teeth together, then his lips carefully over them. Then, for a moment, he squeezed his eyes shut, as if it hurt.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned.
“I should not have done that.” Aidan smiled a bit wanly. His teeth had returned to normal. “It accelerates the hunger.”
“What causes it? The metamorphosis, I mean.”
“Touch. Or the sight and smell of blood. The smell more than the sight, I think.” he sighed.    

     Now that he had no secret to hide, Aidan seemed much more approachable. He no longer was reticent about his past life, or lives. Her initial guess of early twenties was sort of correct. He had been in his early twenties when he ‘changed’ as he put it.
When he was seventeen, his favorite uncle died. For a while he was inconsolable, but then he began dreaming of his uncle every night or so. It ended when he was twenty-one, ill with consumption. His father came in one night to see if he needed anything, found his uncle feeding on him, and killed him by breaking his neck. It was really too late for Aidan though. Between the illness and his uncle’s feeding, he also died within the month.
When he woke in the family crypt (thank goodness they had one! Imagine being buried alive.) he was cold and ravenously hungry. Aidan went first to where anyone would go, home. His family drove him away, shrieking that he was a demon and unclean. After that, he told no one. Moving frequently to disguise that he didn’t age and learning how to survive inconspicuously. He began to delve into philosophy and medicine in hopes of finding a way to reverse the process but so far had been unsuccessful. He reiterated that he didn’t know what caused vampirism on her fourth or fifth evening there. Beth grinned at him wickedly.
“Let’s experiment and find out.” She had been working up her nerve for this all day. She had checked the second bathroom that morning and knew that he’d run out of blood, all the rabbits were gone.
Aidan did not grin back. “Let’s not.”
Beth stood up and looked out at the snow, deeper than ever since they’d had light flurries all day. “Unless we have a sudden warm snap, this isn’t going to get any better. So…” She turned to him, came over and brazenly sat down in his lap, pulling his face to her throat. For a moment, he didn’t move. Then he lifted her and, turning, set her down in the chair.
“No.”
“Yes.” She reached up and stroked his teeth. They were already beginning to lengthen. “I can cut myself if I have to.”
“No!” He continued more quietly. “You’ve read too many books. Puncturing the carotid would kill you in about thirty seconds.” He was still kneeling in front of her; he hadn’t moved since her set her down.
“Then show me how, Aidan.” she said gently.
Her voice was like a caress to him and Aidan finally lost the internal battle that had been raging for days. Hunger, though it burned wrenchingly in his collapsing veins, was only a small part of it; loneliness was much worse and the promise of intimacy finally broke him.
“Like this.” As gently as he could, he took her hand and bent it backward with both of his. His index fingers pulled her index and little fingers back with his thumbs at the joint of the wrist, pushing the tender blood vessels outward. He looked searchingly at her face a long moment, with an apology in his eyes then looked down again at her hand. He bit swiftly, so fast that it almost didn’t hurt, lower teeth into her wrist and upper into either side of the heel of her palm.
Beth watched his face, fascinated by his ecstasy. The world doubled curiously for her and she could feel both Aidan’s emotions as well as the tenderness she felt towards him. There was a hot, bright taste in her mouth and it was sweeter than anything she’d imagined, soothing and energizing at the same time. All this overlaid with gratitude, bordering on worship and tinged with guilt.
When Aidan stopped, Beth made a small sound of negation. She didn’t want him to ever stop. He carefully unhooked his teeth so as not to tear her skin, then kissed the wound he’d made. He let her hand resume a natural position, turning it over to examine it in detail. After a moment, he let her go.
“I don’t think I’ve bruised you.”
Beth looked at the palm of her hand. The holes were so small as to be invisible and they certainly weren’t bleeding anymore. Finally she realized that he was waiting for her to speak.
“That was like …..nothing I’ve ever felt.”
“It isn’t.” The warmth of their closeness was still in his voice.
Beth thought *and you do this with rabbits?* irreverently and inconsequentially.
*It’s not the same.*
She looked up, surprised. Aidan had a half smile playing on his lips. She watched them very specifically.
*You can still ‘hear’ me.* His mouth hadn’t moved, but she heard him, clearly, inside her head.
*Yes.* she thought.
“Astonishing.” She could feel his pleasure at the discovery. “No, with rabbits it’s quite different, like this.”
Beth felt the soothing, invigorating feeling again, but much less strongly. The taste was similar but without the sweetness. There was no worship and no guilt. In her experience, it felt most like having a cup of hot soup on a cold day.
“Not much comparison.” she said. “And you live on this?”
“Yes.”
“Why? It’s so much better with people.” She couldn’t believe herself. She was encouraging a creature that drank blood, and life, to hunt people instead of animals. Then her world shifted and she was encouraging Aidan, who was no creature but gentleness personified, not to sell himself so short.
“No, it isn’t. What you felt is incredibly rare, and all the more precious for being so.” He sighed and settled himself cross legged on the carpet. She could feel his sadness. “Most of the time, it is either like rabbits, at best, when someone is asleep; or infinitely more horrible.” Beth glimpsed an instant which was almost all guilt and fear and rage, then he chopped the memory off. She didn’t mind, she shivered from that glimpse.
“What made this time different?” she asked.
“It was a gift, freely given. I did not force or frighten you; you know what I am and decided to give me a part of your life and blood out of compassion for my need.” He was guessing, she knew. It seemed more logical than any other theory though.
“Can you always hear thoughts, after?”
“I can hear them before. After, there usually aren’t any.” Aidan’s face was still but he was overwhelmed with shame at the words he spoke, underscoring that he had been a killer at least once before. Beth was puzzled, then realized. After he fed on people before, they were dead.
“Oh, why?” she asked. It hurt him so much to kill, why would he ever do it? He hadn’t with her.
“Survival. If they knew me for what I was and survived, they would hunt me down and kill me. It was before I learned to hide myself.”
Beth leaned down and stroked his bowed head. She wished that she could change the past.
When she touched him, Beth could feel a tingling, very like a mild electric shock. Aidan looked up and she could feel it faintly in him as well. Then he opened his heart and it became a loop, feeding back on itself and spiraling upwards. She couldn’t tell where she ended and he began and hardly remembered him carrying her back to her bed.
As Beth fell asleep against him, she could feel Aidan’s deep concern for her. He was afraid that their very closeness would turn her.

      Beth expected the following night to be very similar, but Aidan never even brought it up. They were in the library after her supper when she finally mentioned something about it, rather shyly.
He gave her a playful look. “Not tonight. Nor likely tomorrow either. Why, are you disappointed?”
She smiled. He knew she was. “But I thought… I mean… don’t you..?”
“I’m not sure that I understand it myself. With the rabbits, it is indeed every day. But with you… I don’t know, but I don’t feel an oncoming of the thirst at all.”
An idea occurred to her. “You’re not trying to hold off on my account, are you?”
He opened his mind to her. She seemed to have no control over what Aidan could and could not read in her but he had more discipline and could usually mask most of his thoughts and feelings. Now he was completely open again. There was an exuberance, a lightness that he did not normally have but no deceit and no hunger. “You see. Perhaps the intensity, the intimacy, is the difference.”
Matching his lightheartedness, Beth made a moue and teased “You may not need to feed tonight, but don’t you want to?” She struck a pose and batted her eyelashes at him.
Aidan laughed and caught her in an embrace. “Of course I do!” he exclaimed. Then he turned serious. “But I will not needlessly weaken you.” Bringing her close, he kissed her gently and she had to acquiesce.

      Over the next two days, Beth often found Aidan in the library, deeply engrossed in his books. He seemed to be hunting for something desperately but she could get no sense of what it was, only the frantic urgency of his mind.
She asked about it several times but he turned her questions deftly away. Finally he looked up in exasperation.
“Why do you ask the same question over and over?”
“Because you haven’t answered me yet. What are you looking for?” she persisted.
“Something that isn’t here, obviously.” he snapped.
Beth was taken aback; Aidan was usually so even-tempered. He saw her expression and dropped his book.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to speak so harshly.” he said, taking her hand. She laid her other hand on his forehead to see if he might be feverish, but he was even colder than usual to the touch. Then she guessed.
“You’re hungry.”
Aidan dropped his eyes and his voice was very low. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” she demanded.
“I had hoped to be able to hunt by now. Or at least find a means by which to… at least survive without.”
“You’re looking for a way to change yourself back?”
“Of course! Or for a substitute for my…sustenance.”
“Well, you can’t think on an empty stomach. It’s always what I was told and I think it’s probably right, even for you. Maybe especially for you.” She smiled and sat down next to him. “I’m beginning to feel like an Italian mother ‘Eata! Eata! Eata!’.”
“Will it make any difference at all if I protest?”
“Not in the slightest.”
Aidan couldn’t fight a war on two fronts, suborned both from within and now from without. He resigned himself and knelt at her feet, then bent her wrist back and her blood flooded his mouth like a benediction.
It was different from the first time. His hunger, when his mind opened to her, was so fierce and tearing that it frightened her. Beth’s first instinct was to pull away but she overrode it and froze, immobile. Looking back, she could see how that would set up an endless loop; fear making a person pull away while desperate hunger drove a vampire to hold even more tightly. She didn’t think of any of this at the time though.
Beth looked down. Aidan had felt her freeze and had himself stopped. He was looking at her, quietly waiting. She stroked a strand of his hair back into place.
“We’ll talk about it, after.” She forced a smile and gestured for him to go on. He obeyed, but slowly, watching her face for any sign of panic.

      Afterwards, Aidan again checked her hand carefully and bandaged a small tear on her wrist. Apparently she hadn’t overridden her instincts quickly enough. He sat down across from her, wary of frightening her again.
“You felt no fear the first time, what was different?” he said. The unspoken question in his mind was *What did I do wrong?* At least she could still ‘hear’ him.
“Nothing. I mean you didn’t do anything, you were just so hungry.” Trying to answer both questions at once confused her.
“Not so very. I could have waited another day at least.”
Beth paused to digest this. “You mean you’re usually hungrier than that?”
“Usually. I was only just beginning to feel it today.” Aidan’s voice was calm but the bluntness of it struck her.
“How horrible!” She thought *If that’s slightly hungry, no wonder starving drives you crazy.*
His lips quirked but he didn’t really smile. “You are very… understanding.” Beth reached out with her mind and tried to find what he was feeling. The hunger was gone but there was a dull ache of longing, something he didn’t even realize was there anymore. She got up and picked up his discarded book, forgotten on the hearth, then casually sat down in his lap. The subterfuge wasn’t lost on him, but he gratefully didn’t mention it.
“Let’s see what you were reading.” She opened it randomly and her eye lit on a paragraph.

      “Perecptio Corporis tui, Domine Jesu Christe, quod ego indignus sumere praesumo, non miki proveniat in judicium et condenationem: sed pro tua pietate prosit mihi ad tutamentum mentis et corporis, et ad medelam perceipiendam.”

      she read, only mispronouncing about a third of it. “What in the world is that? Spanish?” Beth had only had French and it wasn’t French so she guessed the next most likely. She privately thought it sounded more like Portuguese.
Aidan couldn’t suppress a smile. “No, it’s Latin. Don’t they teach Latin anymore? It’s part of a communion prayer.”
“Yes, in some schools. But not in mine.”
“Oh. Well, yes, it would follow. You’re not Catholic.”
Beth gave him a sharp look that dissolved into laughter. “Aidan, sweetheart, you are behind. Even the Catholic church has been doing their services in English since 1962. What does it say?”
He was taken aback, then grinned. “Well, loosely translated, it says

      ‘Let not the partaking of Thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, all unworthy, make bold to receive, turn to my judgement and condemnation, but by reason of Thy loving kindness, may it be to me a safeguard of both soul and body, and an effective remedy.’

I wasn’t reading that though. I was rereading the mass for the dead.”
Beth looked thoughtful. “Remedy.” she said “Remedy against what?”
“The sins of the world, I suppose.” he said. “I hadn’t given it much thought.”
“When was the last time you went to church, Aidan?”
“Before I was ill. Unless you’re counting the last rites which combines confession, communion and prayer. Why do you ask?”
Beth sat up and looked down at him. “Because I want to try something you haven’t.”
“And what might that be?”
“Wine. Holy wine, that is. If you don’t think it would hurt you.”
“Consecrated wine.” he corrected her absently. “I don’t know what it might do. I don’t think it would burn me. Probably make me ill, though.” He looked thoughtful.
“But aren’t you supposed to believe that it’s really blood or something?” Comparative religion, next semester, definitely. By then, of course, she wouldn’t need it.
“Transubstantiation. Yes. So it’s possible that communion might sustain me.”
“Or cure you.” Beth was excited, he’d obviously never followed this line of thought and it might help. Really help.
Aidan looked as though she’d dumped ice water over him. “It’s too much to hope for.” he whispered.
“Why?”
“Because it would hurt too much when I had to stop hoping.”
Beth was crestfallen. “Then you won’t try it.”
“Oh, I will try. Nothing could stop me from it now.”
“Well, look at it this way, the worst it could do is make you sick, right?”
He smiled at her attempt to lighten the mood. “Not exactly. If it can heal me, it’s just as likely to destroy me. Or perhaps both.”
She stared at him, then realized what he was telling her and abruptly changed her tack. “Then don’t. It’s too risky.”
“No. Either way, the deadlock will be broken.” Beth could feel his will, strengthened and honed by years of self control against inhuman odds, and was sure that he’d not be budged from the course she’d set him on. “If the thaw continues tomorrow, I’ll go tomorrow night.”

      Beth hadn’t wished for snow since grade school but she found herself doing just that over and over the next day. The sky stayed disgustingly clear and the temperature kept rising, even after the sun began to set.
When it was fully dark, Aidan began to pull on his coat plus. He stopped her from doing the same.
“You can’t come with me. stay and get some rest. I’ll bring or send a truck for your car by morning.” What he wasn’t saying was that he would see that she was taken care of even if he didn’t survive his experiment. Then he gave her a manila envelope, sealed. “Don’t open it until…” he left the rest unsaid.
Beth wanted to plead with him not to go or at least argue about going with him but she sensed that she’d loose. Just in case, she didn’t want her last words to him to be angry ones. She kissed him at the door.
“Come back safe.”
He smiled and was gone. The night was very long. And very lonely.

      What seemed interminable to Beth seemed all too short to Aidan. He ran until he could run no longer, then walked until he had caught his breath then ran again. Darkness had fallen early but, though Aidan moved with more than human swiftness, it was still late when he reached the edge of town.
At the first family garage he found, he hesitated, then went inside. the mechanic (probably the owner, the sign said ‘Johnny’s’) looked up. He was getting ready to close and had expected no one this late in the evening.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I hope so. I’ve an auto that needs towing and mending.” Aidan replied. His normal shyness around new people was in abeyance and he was scanning the man heavily. Usually he didn’t like to do this as it was rude, but tonight he had no compunctions about it. He couldn’t afford to trust that ‘Johnny’ was honest, he had to be sure. He gave Beth’s name and his own address, then assured the man that morning would be soon enough.
“Can you tell me how much it will be to repair it? Towing and all?” he asked.
The mechanic stared at him in disbelief then collected himself and remembered to be polite. “I couldn’t say. I’d need to know what kind of car and what year. And exactly what’s wrong with it. It would really be better if I could look at the car first because it could be something real simple or it could be a whole lot.”
Aidan contemplated this. “It looks like that one.” he said, pointing to one on the lot.
“Okay, so it’s a beetle. What year?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea, nor do I know what might need mending. Couldn’t you give me a worst case estimate?”
“The mechanic thought about it. “Well, if you’re right and it’s a beetle, if it needs the engine replaced, it won’t be more than three large.” Aidan could sense he was being a bit factious but truthful. The phraseology confused him somewhat, though.
“Excuse me, three large?”
“Three thousand. But you could probably get a new one for almost that.”
“Oh. Right then.” Aidan counted it off, straining his mental ears for the reaction. The mechanic’s eyes popped, but his only thoughts were about how well he intended to do this job. Relieved that he was leaving Beth in good hands, Aidan counted out another thousand.
“This is for you, for helping me out. If there’s anything left of the other, give it to the young lady.” He shook hands and turned to leave. ‘Johnny’ was too astonished to stop him. That left very little of the money he had unintentionally made farming, but it didn’t matter. Either he would make more or he wouldn’t need it. Aidan felt better than he had in a long time. The fun of astonishing people was almost as good as the sly pleasure of helping them.

      The church where Aidan planed to go, St Patrick’s, was all the way across town but walking here wasn’t the chore it had been in the country. The salt and sand trucks had made a big difference.
Part of the reason he had chosen St. Patrick’s was its all night hours. The other part was related. Since it was the ‘gypsy church’, the priest would be more likely to be open minded. The nomadic gypsies that passed through the parish periodically were a strange and disconcerting people and had likely expanded the credulity of the priests they claimed as their own.
Still, Aidan hesitated on the steps. Now that he truly had something to loose, life, or unlife, was sweet again. Was he really prepared to loose everything on a gamble for more? Only a century and a half of single minded determination kept him from turning back.
St Patrick’s was dimly lit with candles, votive offerings and others,as Aidan stepped through the door. The familiarity was comforting, somehow. Since the gypsies were liable to come and go at any time, there was always a priest available but Aidan had no idea where to find him. Consequently they were equally startled when they almost ran into each other around a pillar. After an awkward moment, the priest introduced himself rather irreverently as “Father Kevin, Rev Kev for short. How can I help you?”
Aidan was temporarily appalled, then realized that the very casualness that put him off could also help him. “Confession, Father. It has been… a long time since my last confession.”
If Aidan had been put off by Father Kevin’s informality, Father Kevin was equally put off by Aidan’s formality. Aidan agreed to dispense with the confessional booth a bit reluctantly and they sat down together on the altar stairs.
“So, what’s on your mind? It must be pretty important to drive you out on a night like this.”
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…. a very long time since my last confession.” It had, but he hadn’t forgotten the ritual.
“Ummm, you really don’t have to follow that, you know.”
“It is… comforting, Father. I am older than I look and, while the church has changed with the times, I’m afraid I have not.”
“Oh. Well then, go on, my son.”
“Since my last confession I have murdered at least fifty people, possibly more.” Aidan stopped and shame traced flames in his cheeks.
Father Kevin had no idea how to respond to this, so he said “Tell me about it.” while he tried to remember if he had heard anything about a mass murderer running loose. Possibly the boy had slipped a gear though he didn’t act like he was mental.
“There really isn’t much to tell.” Aidan was surprised at his calmness. “I suppose it could be called a form of self defense, as they would surely have killed me, knowing what I am. That really doesn’t lessen my guilt any, I should have let myself be killed before I harmed anyone.”
“Okay, so what are you that you feel like you don’t deserve to live?” There were a lot of other questions behind that one but it jumped out first.
“A vampire.” Aidan hung his head.
Father Kevin thought *Now I’ve heard absolutely everything. The kid’s delusional. Wonder why?*
Aidan looked up. “I am not delusional. You can’t remember hearing about it because it happened over a century ago. After that, I learned to hide and to steal blood from the sleeping rather than kill them. And I think the vampirism itself answers your questions as to ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘why are you so old-fashioned’. I told you that I was older than I look. Do you have any other unanswered questions?” He sounded sharper than he meant to, he wasn’t really irritated by the priest’s disbelief. He was afraid.
“I’m sorry. It’s just a little hard for me to believe.”
“I know. But it’s important that you do. I wouldn’t lie to you, I came seeking help.”
“What kind of help?” This was much more his line.
Aidan explained Beth’s idea and their uncertainty as to whether it would help him or not. Father Kevin was intrigued. His disbelief had fallen into the background. Besides, it wasn’t necessary that he believe Aidan to be a vampire, it was obvious that Aidan believed it and that was enough.
“So you think that communion might cure you?”
“Or sustain me.” That was the most he had allowed himself to hope.
“I wonder why no one else ever thought of that. It might cure you after all. There isn’t any limit to what God can do if only we let him.”
“Too obvious I suppose. I wonder that I didn’t think of it years ago.”
“But you have now. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead.'”
Aidan laughed. “Father, I am the dead past.”
Father Kevin grinned. “Not to me. Let’s experiment and see if we can change your mind for you.” He started to get up.
“But… we didn’t finish.”
“Was there something else you’d like to talk about?” Father Kevin stopped, one foot on the next stair up.
“No. But I can’t receive communion without penance and absolution.” Aidan was startled by his casual dismissal of the confession.
“Oh.” Kevin thought a bit. “Well, you’re sorry or you wouldn’t be here. I’d say you’ve spent the last hundred years doing penance, that’s enough.” He laid his hand gently on Aidan’s head and signed his forehead with a small cross saying “Pax.” as he did so, then went on up the stairs.
Aidan spent the time that Father Kevin was preparing reviewing his whole life. When the priest signaled that he was ready, he shook himself and came back to the here and now.
Much to his surprise, Father Kevin began the last rites, little changed from the last time he had heard them, instead of a simple communion service. Aidan gave himself up to the ritual and found that he was now curiously devoid of either fear or hope. It was out of his hands and he was content that it should be.
The last part of the ritual was communion. As he received it, Aidan waited to see what effect it would have on him. He felt nothing until after Father Kevin had finished.
Father Kevin came back to sit down next to him. “Well?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really feel anything yet.”
“Are you scared?”
“Not really. It’s done. I don’t think it will only make me sick though, that would have already happened.” Aidan didn’t even feel curious which he found strange, just at peace. His mood didn’t even change when he suddenly doubled over. The wine was searing in him, worse than any hunger he had ever felt, twisting his veins so badly that he couldn’t even reply to Father Kevin’s panicked voice.

      Beth’s night seemed as though it would never end. She tried to sleep and only managed to doze on and off. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t seen Aidan burning from the inside out every time she closed her eyes. Finally she gave it up as a bad business and tried reading with a pot of coffee for company. She couldn’t concentrate on the book, however, and even the slow ticking of the clock distracted her.
At last the sun began to rise and she looked at the clock. Aidan had been gone more than twelve hours, and she burst into tears. If he wasn’t back by now, he never would be.

      She had cried herself into a headache by the time that the tow truck from Johnny’s arrived. Quickly she splashed cold water on her face and went to the door to meet them. As Aidan climbed from the passenger’s seat, she ran out the door, heedless of the snow, and almost knocked him down.
He lifted her about the waist and kissed her exuberantly.
“You missed me?” he asked.
“It’s been forever since last night.” Beth said, hiding her face in his chest. She wanted to touch him until she convinced herself that he was really there.
“I wanted to get back sooner but I couldn’t. Let’s go inside while John hooks up your car. I’ve been given to understand that we’d only be in the way. Once it’s fixed, will you teach me to drive?”
“Why?” she asked as they went into the kitchen.
“Because,” said Aidan pouring two cups of coffee, “I don’t have that much time any longer.”

Word Count: 9206

2/19/97

 

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