Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"The Balance in the Blood" (conclusion)

Concluding a serialized novelette.

Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Old Willem Schliemann watches the sun drop beyond the Argentine hills. “It won’t be long now,” he says to no one at all, and it isn’t. The sky in the west is still violet when suddenly she is there before him. Her clothes are different, of course; fashion has advanced quite a lot in the fifty years since he’s seen her last. But she still looks the same: the gently curling hair, the unnaturally pale skin. In her right hand she holds a leather satchel that Willem has seen before, but not since that night when he last saw her. She does not smile. He wonders if she has ever smiled at all, through all the years since the Nazis came.

“I’ve brought you something,” she says in perfect German. She holds out the satchel, and he takes it. He does not look inside. “Should I call you ‘Father’? You gave me this life.”

“Life?” Willem chuckles at that. “Such as it is. You may call me that, if it pleases you. I always wanted a daughter.”

“Do you have sons?”

“I did, once. Maybe I still do.”

She sits down beside him. He hears something strange about her breath, and he realizes that she only breathes to talk. Do vampires respirate? he wonders, ever the scientist.

“What happened after the camp?” she asks.

“We went to Switzerland,” Willem says. “Doktor Muething’s brother – who controlled the money, being first-born and all that – had been quite the drunkard, which made it easy for the Doktor to steal enough of the family fortune to establish himself in Zurich when we got there. He told me then that he had no further use for me, and that I would be safer away from him in any case. So he paid my passage to Barcelona, and from there I was able to get passage on a steamer to Buenos Aires in exchange for my medical services on the journey. We were boarded twice by Allied patrols, but no one paid any heed to a German boy playing medic. I’ve been here ever since.”

“I know you have,” she says. “Except for your trips abroad. I’ve followed you everywhere. Except Cairo, of course. There is too much sun in Egypt.”

Willem only shrugs.

“I found him there, you know. In Zurich. He died there.”

Willem looks at her.

“Did you kill him?”

She shakes her head. “Heart attack. December 11, 1957. He took up smoking and became quite the drunkard as well after the war, you know. I did talk to him before the end, though. Did you know he was half-Jewish?”

Willem closes his eyes and nods, once. It is painful, even now. He still has that letter, the only one the Doktor ever wrote to him, despite the fact that it is evidence of his status as a war-criminal. “His father had a mistress, a young Jewish girl. She became pregnant at the same time as his mother – his father’s wife. The Jewish girl died in childbirth, and the wife miscarried. So they introduced the illegitimate child as both of theirs, and no one ever knew. Doktor Muething didn’t know until his father told him just before dying.” Willem shakes his head.

“He wanted to save us,” she says. “He believed that perhaps through vampirism the Jews could have power and freedom, which they had never had.”

Willem nods. The Reich is dead, and yet the hatred remains, Wolf Muething wrote in that letter. It will always remain.

“Am I to become one of your victims?” Willem asks.

“No. For something else.” She gestures to the satchel.

Willem opens the satchel and draws out a hammer and a wooden stake, one end of which is honed to a lethal point. He looks up at her.

“No balance lasts forever,” she says with a shrug. She stands and walks a few steps away from him. Her form is silhouetted against the deepening purple of the night sky. “They came for me in the dark of night. They came for us all, took us all away. They took away the world. You gave it back to me. For that I am ever grateful. But it must end.”

“I made you a vampire,” he says. “I gave you only the night.”

“It was the only way,” she replies. “There was no other. You could not give me Life after I was shot. But you could stay Death’s hand, at least for a time. I have walked the world for fifty-four years, and now I am tired. I want no more of night and dark. I want no more of blood, of corpses, of feasting upon death.” She turns to face him as a cool breeze stirs. “We are trapped in the cycle of death that they created. You can give me release. You can end the cycle.”

“That cycle never ends,” Willem says. He looks down at the implements in his hand, the hammer and the stake. Then he rises and walks over to her. She lies down on the ground in front of him, her hands at her side.

“No, I suppose it doesn’t,” she says.

He kneels down beside her and places the tip of the stake on her chest, directly over her heart. The palsy in his hands makes it shake. He lists the hammer, and then he hesitates. Tears form in his eyes, and one rolls down his cheek.

“Please,” she says.

He closes his eyes and is transported back to the night of her creation as clearly as if it were the night before. He and Doktor Muething had fled without the possibility of knowing what had become of their creation. He has known, since that very night of killing and creation, that she would someday come. And he has always been certain of why she would come, but this isn’t the reason. Not this. Never this.

“Our Father,” Willem says. “Our Father….who art….Our Father who art….” He searches for the words but they do not come. He wonders if Uncle Gunther would approve. He wonders what Uncle Gunther would say, what he could possibly say.

“Sometimes, Willem, all we can do is end the pain.”

And there, as he has done so often in his misbegotten life, Willem Schliemann finds the answer he needs in the words of his uncle. He lifts the hammer again and brings it down with all his strength. The stake drives through skin and bone, impaling the undead heart beneath. Blood, living and dead, erupts from the wound, gushing out in an impossible amount. She screams in agony and release, and when her scream ends her body ages again at last, accumulating fifty-four years in mere seconds. And then she is gone.

An hour passes as the sky darkens and Willem makes the preparations, and then he stands before the pyre as the flames consume his vampire. The words he recites are unheard by anyone, and yet he recites them just as he has practiced them for years. After all, the words are not for the living. They are for God.

A new century dawns as a Nazi says Kaddish for a Jew whose name he has never known.


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