Mahogany – Cord – Beyond

The night was singing, melodies of blood and grace and sweet, sweet flesh. The vampire lounged against the side of the ’88 Prelude, dabbing at his chin and cheeks with a stained old shop rag. Oil slicked on the pavement glowed rainbow hues, tinted and tainted by the red neon that glowed overhead, a prismatic sheen laid over the earth.

He wore a plaid flannel shirt wrapped around his waist, and the bloodstains on his white cotton tee-shirt blended into the many and varied spills, streaks and slops that had left their crude marks on his clothes. The moon glowed near the horizon, soft grey like fur, blue like velvet and white like silk, wreathed and sheathed amongst the low-hanging blanket of clouds over the city’s lights and motion. He threw the rag into the back of the car and grinned to himself, because life was good.
Mahogany had promised to meet him here, to show him the secrets of life beyond the reaper’s meat, to let him harness the power inherent in his vampiric flesh and soul. The ancient vampire with the wood-red hair and the wood-red eyes demonstrated enormous power, and the young one was eager to learn his ways. He untied the flannel from about his waist and shrugged into its sleeves, looking out at the city.
Silver and shit, poignant and profane, blooms and blasphemy, the young one thought to himself. When he’d been merely human, meat for the reaper, trapped on the mortal coil, his name had been Patric, but that was a name for the humans that bled and bred out in the daylight and the darkness. His eyes took in new worlds locked in the same old world he’d thought he’d known, he could see lust and hear virtue now that he was dead and walking, blood-hungry and bloodless, night-bound and enlightened. And Mahogany had told him that he would need a new name, something suitable to the nights and eternity, a name unlike those of the bleeding breeding cattle of men.
“Cord,” the plaid-clad vampire said the word aloud, said the world aloud, relishing his new name and his new path. He would be called Cord, and it was a name of strength in his mind, in his blood. He ran a hand through his short hair, too long now to spike up and too short to comb. My hair has not grown out at all, but it grew back when I shaved it off. I’m going to need a haircut forever, I’ll be shaggy and trapped in between hairstyles until immortality runs out. The thought made him grin, though he knew even now that in a hundred years it would irritate him to no end. But the fact that he would have that hundred years, that made him smile all the more. Immortality…

He’d first seen Mahogany when the two were out feeding, each going their separate ways and set on separate prey, but when they’d seen one another they’d known each other for what they were. The young one, with the scuffed boots and the plaid overshirt, had stood and stared at the tall man with the wood-red hair and the red-wood cane as the older vampire approached him. Eyes too dark to be blood red and too bright to be black had looked him over from top to bottom, then back up to the top, as if the younger blood-drinker were property, chattel. But the young one, who had been called Patric, had looked over the tall dapper man just as thoroughly.
Mahogany was whippet-thin, but he moved with such ease that his light frame had seemed to be supported from within, as if some inner strength more than made up for the leanness of his muscles. His suit was tailored exquisitely, his tie immaculate. Long white fingers with smooth knuckles and clear clean fingernails were wrapped over the silver head of his mahogany-wood walking stick, and a velvet half-cape was clasped and draped over his narrow shoulders, as if he’d only just left the opera house. His hat was tucked under one elbow, and his hair was lacquered against the skull from his sharp widow’s peak and bundled as a mass of rich red curls against his neck and cape. His face was arrogant, patrician, but beautiful and haunting nonetheless. The exquisite features of that face were too perfect to be natural, but too perfect to be the work of doctors and science, it was artistry in flesh.
“You are as one of us, but young yet,” the wiry old vampire had said, his voice carrying a timber and resonance that belonged to a deeper chest than his. “You are unschooled and inexperienced and that means that you are very dangerous to yourself, to us, and to them. You smell of blood and rubbish. I can see upon your face that you have fed when and where the hunger would strike you, and you have sought daytime sanctuary where you could, amongst garbage and vagrants.”
The younger one, Patric or Cord, would rarely stand to be spoken too thus, but the power that whirled around this elegant figure brooked no argument. Besides, nothing that the dignified anachronism had said was false. He shrugged, nodding slightly as he responded. “True, all of it. I lost my job and my home, my friends and my possessions, and there hasn’t been anyone to tell me what I’m supposed to do next. And I can’t even make sense of the world anymore.”
The refined figure sniffed delicately. “Indeed. You need a teacher then, someone to show you how to survive.”
“Not just survive, but thrive. I know that our kind has power, but I don’t know how to use it,” the new vampire had said. “I know that I am doing something wrong, but whatever it is you seem to be doing it right. Can you teach me how to use that power?”
The tall man quirked a smile, a hint of dark secrets and dead souls. “Absolutely. Meet me in one week in the parking lot of the Chris auto garage, just off Richmond and Greenridge. If you can keep yourself alive until then, I’ll take you in. It will take that long just to set my home up to accommodate another one of us. Now go and feed, and we will meet again.”
“My name’s Patric,” the young one said, extending a hand towards this greater power.
The tall elegant vampire inclined his head, a bow more than a nod. “Find a new name, one suitable for one of our kind. I am Mahogany, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Now that Cord thought back on those events, it had never even occurred to him that Mahogany might not show up. Susurrating winds trickled through the leaves of the trees like idle fingers, and the hiss and rustle of the tossed branches was a stream in the air, cold water over his ears. The force of the elder’s personality had overwhelmed him, had twisted his emotions and his responses so deeply that even a week later he felt the implicit, unwarranted trust that Mahogany had implanted into him. The wind calmed, stopped midstep like a waltz at the music’s conclusion and stood murmuring to itself, expectant and hushed and watchful; the world took a breath and held it.
Mahogany stepped from around the corner, his walking-stick tapping on the pavement as he walked with dignified deliberation. I can hear a pigeon’s heartbeat now. Why couldn’t I hear him until I saw him? The moon threw its grey and blue and white over the rich dark tones of the elder vampire, the pale nighttime light splashing over him but failing to wash out the deep, strong colors of his clothing, his hair, his eyes; but the moonlight washed out his pale, pale face until it glowed like a will-o-the-wisp in the marshes. Cord stood upright, glad that he’d wiped his face down before the dapper elder showed up so that Mahogany wouldn’t see him with blood dripping from his chin down his neck.
Eyes like dark stars in a white sky caught him, and held him fascinated like a bird before a venomous serpent. The dark red-brown eyes were deep bloody wells, and he stared down them with the morbid certainty that if he lost his footing, made one mistake, then he would fall forever and never hit the bottom of those yawning depths. He shook himself and watched Mahogany walk towards him, trying to throw off the morbid premonitions that his vampiric senses were offering him, he raised his hand in greeting to the elder.
“You have survived this week,” Mahogany sounded pleased. “I was hoping that would be the case. Now, may I assume that you have fed already? Alas, the majority of our bleak half-lives are spent in nothing more than the endless quest for endless sustenance, but if we are to make anything of this night, then you will need have staved off the grips of appetite as long as possible.”
“I just fed,” the younger one responded. “And I chose a name for myself. I will be Cord.”
“Yes, fascinating. Will you follow me? We’ve not far to walk.” He swept one arm out to the side, waving for the young Cord to walk at his side from the parking lot. He fell into step alongside the new vampire, and began speaking with his rolling, cultured tones.
“It should be obvious to you now that the vampire is made of equal parts elegance and grotesquery, with humanity made of a perfect blend of those two elements. You are still human in mindset and appearance. The power that you crave does not come from mixing those elements, only confusion and turmoil will reward your indecision. I have taken to the elegant half of the nature, I have refined myself with education and culture, I have dedicated myself to gentility and hygeine. I do not know about the one who brought you over, but he might have been as I, or he may have been grotesque. Some vampires achieve power by bowing to the basest parts of their nature, some achieve it by refuting their lower natures. Some have made the effort to maintain a balance, as you are now, but they have little power, little more than humans themselves. Turn here.”
They crossed the street, and Cord was amazed again at the rush of wind across his skin, the tickle of trickling air that awakened his nerves and brought the night to rushing, mumbling life. The rank sweet air of rotting fruit wafted from a stack of garbage by the sidewalk, wrinkling his sensitive nose but apparently bothering Mahogany not at all. The two vampires walked side by side, but only Cord could perceive the unpleasant, the stink, the seedy darkness. Mahogany walked in a world that refuted rot and ruin, he was impervious to decay and dirt. The mud did not cling to his shoes, and the reek did not reach his nose. This is part of what he means. I see the whole world, for better or for worse, and that is my division. He has found the clean and the sweet, and the rest of it doesn’t touch him any more.
“Every vampire has a choice to make, whether to pursue the elegance and beauty, the turmoil and the humanity, or the despicable and revolting. To truly make the most of what you can be, you will have to change who you are, not just what you are. All three are difficult paths to follow, though it gets easier with time. If you were to stay just as you are, you would eventually adapt to the confused perceptions and the divided worlds that you walk, though you would always straddle between power and power yet yourself be weak. If you decide to wallow in the filth, then you would struggle to make yourself disgusting and horrible inside, though it is said that reprehensible behavior is habit-forming. And I can say from personal experience that it was an uphill struggle to achieve the mannerisms and knowledge and appearance that I have cultivated, but now it is second nature.”
Drunken pedestrians passed them up, off the beaten path of the club district. The three humans staggered and laughed, chuckling at some private joke and their own inebriation. Cord stared longingly after the three of them, though he had fed only an hour before. To be a vampire was to need to feed, and it mattered little that he should be quite full, that he had taken over a gallon of blood so recently. The cravings were with him always, never slacking, he had hungered even as he fed. Only discipline and willpower could hold him from blood, and his discipline had hardened remarkably over the past weeks. It had long since occurred to him that he might not actually need to drink blood, he might survive without it indefinitely, though the idea of not feeding made him cringe inside.
Mahogany began speaking as the mortals moved out of earshot. “I can feel your attraction to them, you hunger for them constantly. When we have begun your training, you will begin to learn how you can alleviate the hungers by feeding through others, dispersing your aching appetite amongst mortals and minions, and also I will show you how to increase your resistance and your tolerance, your strength to resist the urges. All of our kind have been where you are, though few of us have tarried there as long as you have. Carrying such an appetite within you, I imagine that you have caused rather a lot of damage and pain since your creation.” The whip-thin vampire turned towards his young charge, his deep red-brown eyes burning in the lamplight. Those eyes asked a question, and Cord cleared his throat nervously.
“Well, yes I have. I’ve killed some people, and I had to do some pretty rough things to get away with it, to keep my ass clear of the cops. But the hunger didn’t stop, and I thought I’d go crazy if I had to feel like this all the time. No matter how much I took, I needed more.” Cord shook his head. “If I have to live like that to stay as human as I am, then it’s not worth it. I can’t walk this double-edged sword, I need to find a path with a conclusion, a sanctuary, a respite.” The younger vampire swallowed convulsively, talking about the hunger was making him so very conscious of the need that burned through him. God, this is worse than quitting heroin.
“Well spoken,” Mahogany’s voice was grudging. “You truly walk the divided path, I can hear it in your voice. But humanity in one such as us is no mercy, it is a hell without end, and so it is that you are to be trained and brought into the power. The secrets shall be yours, and then you shall have your sanctuary. But first, we must have my sanctuary. We are arrived.” He turned abruptly onto a walk leading to a grand old house wedged among the apartment complexes and restaurants, his stick tapping at the concrete slabs. The house was large, and had been added to at some point, maybe several times, and it stood with a quiet dignity that belied its age and its degraded surroundings. Even in this lighting Cord’s eyes could pick out the faded paint and the specked windows, signs of general neglect. In particular the front door had seen some bad times, the wood was battered and a crack ran down the length of the door from frame to floor. The hinges creaked like bones breaking as the door was opened from within.

The doorman was old as time, old as light, but stood strong and straight despite this. His hair had gone to white, almost translucent, but had not fallen out. His eyes were clouded with cataract, though they held a piercing stare. His skin was wrinkled and spotted and faded with the years, but the flesh beneath held bundled muscle and a thrum of tension. He bowed slightly from the waist, and Mahogany bowed slightly from the neck as the vampire crossed the threshold. “Jarvis, this is our new guest. Make the arrangements as necessary.” The aristocratic elder vampire was already unclasping his cape from about his shoulders and unknotting hs tie as he walked down a hallway to disappear from sight.
The old man nodded again, and Cord could hear joints creaking with the motion. His suit, very nearly a tuxedo, was starched and stiff as the rest of the old man, his shirt and tie just as pale as his hair. He held the door until the new vampire stepped inside, then smiled tightly to himself and pushed the door closed. The heavy door groaned like a ship in a storm when Jarvis pushed it closed with one neglectful hand, and then the butler gestured for Cord to follow him inside. With stiff stride and whistling breath the old man led the way down a different corridor from the one Mahogany had vanished through, leading the new vampire deeper into the house.
Opulence and taste were apparent in every furnishing, every fixture. Gold-leaf lamps and cherry-wood desks, velvet divans and silken curtains stood sentinel on every side, rendering a gross lie of the degradation and the neglect of the outside of the house. Cord did not have the words or the knowledge to describe some of the things he saw, he could only identify a Fabergé egg and he knew that at least one of these lamps had to be of Tiffany glass, that was all he knew of the life of luxury. But to an untrained eye the house was tasteful, pleasing to the eye, comfortable, and cultured. He walked past a library and a sitting room, a den and a parlor, before reaching the rear wing where the bedrooms were kept, following the shuffling pace of the ancient butler. Jarvis opened one of the bedrooms, and stepped back from the doorway. “Has sir any luggage with him?” the old man asked, his voice thin but heavily accented from the British Isles.
Cord shook his head, staring in awe at the Victorian opulence of the room. It was overwhelming, as much so as the rest of the house, from the rosewood wardrobe to the thick fur rugs and the broad bed with posts standing spear-straight at every corner to support a gauzy canopy. “If sir has no luggage, then perhaps we might recommend that he feed before making his toilette and settling himself?” It took the new vampire a minute to decipher the butler’s words, the involuted and archaic speech pattern confused the young American.
“Err, yes, I could use a little something to tide me over,” Cord said self-consciously. Following the creaking Jarvis again, he left the bedroom standing open and threw a glance over his shoulder at the style and luxury of his new life. He felt giddiness welling up in his belly, mad laughter at his incredible luck rolling back and forth inside him. Later, later he’d let himself laugh at his great good fortune. He would learn to control his hunger, he would harness the power he inherited as a vampire, and he would do it all in surroundings of gentility and grandeur and graciousness.
Another door was opened, and this one yawned wide and dark and deep as Mahogany’s eyes, a pit of hellish light and again Cord stood on the edge staring down. Jarvis stepped in, descending the stairs into the dimly lit basement, holding the handrail gingerly and favoring one knee as he moved down into the deeps. The walls were brown, some kind of mortared stone, but the single light bulb shone blood red, turning the interior into a deep and dark mystery, a dim and hidden secret. Cord stood there, gripping the door frame with his breath coming fast and hard, staring down at the silver-white hair of the straight-backed butler as he fell away further and further into that abyss.
Jarvis turned and looked up the stairs towards the new vampire, still standing at the head of the stairs. “Is sir feeling all right?” he asked with that stilted politeness, and Cord shook himself like a dog coming out of water.
“I’m fine,” he said, and stepped down after the butler. He gripped the handrail to keep his balance under the assault of images and emotions, but his feet were steady as they drew him down into the basement. “Is this where you keep Mahogany’s larder, in the basement?” He was secretly pleased with himself for remembering the old-world word for a pantry.
The ancient butler looked at him askance. “Did sir think that we would just let the humans run riot upstairs, with all the furnishings and the china?” He shook his head. “No, if humans are to be kept as cattle, then they must be penned as cattle. And for that we have the basement, and Bartholemew.” They stepped off of the stairs, and Jarvis motioned towards the thick-bodied man that loitered against the wall. “This is Bartholemew, the keeper of this place. I go no further than the stairs.”
Bartholemew nodded, and stepped up to shake Cord’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, mister. Let’s move on before Jarvis gets squeamish, eh?” His accent was British as well, but unlike the cultured and stately tones of the butler, Bartholemew’s voice was a reminder that Britain had slums, and gangs, and violence, and had those seedy elements long before America had inner-city ghettoes and drivebys. His broad meaty palms slapped against the vampire’s cool dry palm and gave it a single up-and-down jerk, then he gestured over his shoulder. “Come on, I’ve got just the thing for you.”
Cord followed behind the thick-bodied Cockney, walking down the long corridor. “Why do you keep the lights so dim, and red?” he asked. His eyes had almost adjusted already, but the red hue was unpleasant, filled with imagery and metaphor to his strong, double-senses. He could see grilles imbedded in the floor, thick cross-hatched metal trapdoors over shallow oubliettes, though all of them seemed empty.
“Keeps them from acting up, it has a calming effect. Besides, the master likes it well enough. Okay, here’s the one. Help me get this open.” Bartholemew knelt beside one of the hinged grilles, and produced a set of keys. After he had the heavy iron lock sprung and set to the side, he and Cord struggled with an hinged iron lever that lay flat against the floor, twisting it to the side so that the trapdoor could open. The rusted lever groaned and grated across the stone, finally clearing the slot that held the door down. With a heave, Bartholemew lifted the grille and flung the door wide, propping the heavy frame open. “Here now, you jump down and do him, I’ll just catch me breath,” the Cockney thug panted, mopping at his face with a white handkerchief.
Cord knelt at the edge, peering down into the pit and straining his vision to make out the bottom. Though the floor was only about ten feet down, the dim slanting red light threw it into complete shadow. Something was down there, something small. There was a flicker of motion, shadows moving… The grille slammed into his head and shoulders, sparks and streamers shot through his vision. The bridge of his nose cracked against the corner of floor and oubliette, small bones broke in his face. The hinges squealed as the grille was lifted up away, and then slammed back down with punishing force. In a moment he lost all feeling of his body, and his vision swam so very far away. Only his ears still worked, and he could hear the panting and grunting of Bartholemew the jailor as the thick-bodied Cockney heaved the grille up again, and propped it open.
“Bloody hell, mate, you do make it easy on a fellow, don’t you? Help me open the pit up, and then set yourself to get coshed and chucked on in. Would have been a dear if you’d have hopped in, rather than lurking up here, but it makes no matter to me.” With a prod of his foot, Bartholemew shoved Cord down into the oubliette. The new vampire could feel a moment of weightlessness, then a crashing that rang through his body anew as gravity brought him to the stone floor some ten feet below. He could hear the hinges squeal, and then he could hear the lever grating against the cobbled floor. His blood ran in a shower of cold, the realization striking out that he would be locked in here, locked down here in the stone walls and red lights. He tried to panic, to gasp, to scream, to escape, but his punished body lay broken and unresponsive to his frenzied will.
The lock clicked shut, and his fate was sealed. He screamed inside, wailed at this turn of fate. He managed to exhale slowly, the breath wheezing past his battered jaws and throat. No! This is wrong! I was a guest, I am going to be Mahogany’s student! I’m not a prisoner here! His eyes cleared slightly, he could make out red-lit stone on the wall in front of him, mortared closely together lest the prisoner try to climb out. “Well now, mate, the fellow down there might be a snack for you, but even still I’ll be back tomorrow. Cheers.” And heavy footfalls trod away from him, down the corridor towards the light. Cord watched the Cockney’s shadow shrink away.
He managed a gasping breath, and the sunbursts behind his eyes faded somewhat more. With an effort, he rolled himself over, onto his back. Pain stabbed up through him from his shoulders and back, and then the pain spiraled up his spine and settled into an ache in his head. He could hear the broken ends of ribs grating against one another, and his shoulder was obviously dislocated. With his good arm he pushed at the ground to get upright, and the sprained wrist screamed out just before the ache in his head exploded. He collapsed back to a bedlam of new pain, and wept. He dragged in air and shuddered it back out, pain breaking the sound into jagged splintery sobs, and pale red tears trickled from out of his eyes. Even crying hurt, his gasping breaths sent fire to his broken nose, smashed flat against his face.
Unable to sit up, the vampire rolled to his side, and stared at the corpse that he shared his cell with. Maggots crawled from its open mouth, locked in a rotting scream. But still, he could smell blood.

“Hello again, mate,” Bartholemew’s voice boomed out, full of good cheer as he set his bucket down. “Did you have a snack like I suggested?” The Cockney stood over the grille, looking impossibly tall from where the vampire sat curled. His heavy legs and arms were foreshortened into meaty tubes, and his face gleamed in the ruddy light like a beatific ifrit. “I was hoping you would have finished him off before he started to go off, you know. Come on now, answer up. Did you drink him?”
Cord glared up at the thuggish human. His arms were wrapped around him, and he curled in a corner sitting fetal-position. He nodded, and nodding hurt still. “Yes, I did.” His voice sounded strange, snufflig and gurgling through his mangled face. His body hurt everywhere, especially his dislocated shoulder and his ribs. The headache and the damage to his face was not as serious a pain, not as drastic damage, but probably much more demoralizing, humiliating. It had been an agony to drag himself away from the rotting corpse, to curl up in the corner.
“Well, good, it wouldn’t do for you to go too hungry, now would it? I’m sure your little belly is just chewing you up right now, it’s been so very long since you’ve had fresh blood. What, twelve hours, fifteen? I’ll bet you’re ready to chew your own arm off for the blood in your own veins by now.” Bartholemew had that boisterous cheerfulness of a natural-born sadist in his environment. “The good news is, you don’t have to chew your arm off. Though that idea migh come up later. The bad news is, you have to laugh.”
“Laugh?” Cord gurgled. “Hurts to laugh.”
“Well, I bet it hurts to go hungry, too,” Bartholemew shot back. “Here’s the deal, today. I tell a joke, and you laugh at it. Doesn’t have to be sincere, you don’t have to convince me, you don’t have to convince yourself. Listen to the jokes and laugh at them. Every time you do, I’ll take a spoonful of the blood from this bucket and put it into your tray. Then I’ll lower your tray down to you at midnight. Every night at midnight, I’ll lower the tray, whether there’s blood in it or not is up to you. Got it?” Cord glared up at the sadistic human that held him captive, just glared as if his gaze could slash the skin from that beefy warm body. “I said, do you got it?” Bartholemew repeated.
“I got it,” the young vampire answered. “You tell jokes, and I laugh. Then you give me blood.” The smell wafting down from the bucket had his stomach turning in knots. This was not weeks-dead blood festering in a corpse, this was still warm from the kill and cooling even as it sat, smelling of hot sweet metal. He probed at the wounds in his mouth, where his broken teeth leaked blood, and the lacerations in his mouth spilled more of the precious red fluid. His molars were a jagged mess, and the incisors were broken nearly completely off, but at least his fangs were intact.
“Okay, here’s the first one: Why did the dead baby cross the road?” Bartholemew paused, expecting an answer from below. If he was waiting for Cord to reply, he was in for quite a wait. The vampire agreed to laugh, not to participate as a straight man. The Cockney thug shrugged, then answered for himself. “Because he was stapled to the chicken.”
“Heh heh heh,” Cord said, the sounds jerking from him. They were cold dead sounds, dry and lonely, but they were laughter-type sounds, and the turnkey reached into the bucket with his spoon, and dipped a spoonful from out of the bucket and into the tray.
“Next one: Why did the necrophiliac pedophile cross the road?… because his dork was stuck in the dead baby!”
“Heh heh heh.” Another spoonful of blood. Sweet blood.
“How do you get a hundred dead babies into a telephone booth?… With a blender.”
“Ha ha ha.” Another spoonful of blood went into the tray, that much closer to the vampire.
“How do you get them out again?… With a straw.”
“Ha ha hah.”
By midnight, the tray was very nearly full, and Bartholemew let it down with a piece of string to the vampire below, all the while enthusing his encouragement, telling the vampire that at this rate the training would be over in no time. Cord didn’t hear him, he was lapping at the blood in the tray, tonguing at it like a cat with cream. His injured arms would not let him lift the tray to his face, and his broken teeth kept him from putting the metal rim to his mouth. He did not watch his jailer’s shadow disappear, he simply blessed the silence and the solitude.

The corpse had been shoved into the corner furthest from where the vampire huddled, shivering and moaning. The dead man had started sprouting blowflies, and so Cord had pushed him into a corner, turned him over and covered him with the remains of the vampire’s own flannel shirt, trying to ignore the fact that he shared his cell with a dead man. It was only minutes after sundown, and already the young vampire could hear Bartholemew approaching. “Good evening, mate. Happy to see me?” the thick-bodied sadist boomed as he lurched to a stop over the grille. “Here now, leave the tray in the middle of the cell, and I’ll pull it up on its string. If you try anything funny, the string will snap and the tray will be stuck down there, then there’s no more blood at all. So don’t think of getting at me that way, eh?”
Cord nodded miserably, but his jailor could not see the motion where the vampire huddled in the dark. “Just take the tray,” he groaned. His ribs hurt less now, but he could feel where they had healed badly, they had knit crooked and now his chest and back were deformed. He had relocated his shoulder just before dawn last night, and now it was a constant ache even if he could use that arm now. The headache was still with him, and he was starting to suspect that he had the vampire’s equivalent of a concussion, or at least some form of major head trauma. Whatever it was, it wasn’t acting like a head injury on a human.
“I’ll do that, now,” Bartholemew said. His voice rang back and forth across the cell like a clarion, or a recklessly cheerful bird in these bleeding-red walls. He wound up the string, lifting the tray away. “Well now, this night we’re going to make things a little tougher on you. This time you have to sound like you’re laughing. Giggle, chuckle, something. Don’t say ‘ha ha’, you have to fake a laugh for me. Got it?” Cord squeezed his eyes closed, his head spinning.
“Why are you doing this? Why are you making me laugh at jokes? Why are you feeding me? Mahogany told me he was going to teach me how to use my powers, what is going on here?”
“Don’t ask question mate, especially not of me. You ask me questions and I’ll just walk away and take a half-night off rather than baby-sit your silly arse. Now, do you understand what we’re doing here tonight? Do you get it?”
“I got it,” Cord said, weariness loading his voice down, barely carrying as far as the surface.
“Good. Now, why did the dead baby cross the road?” Again he paused, and again the vampire clung to the petty rebellion of staying mute. But as the night before, the human answered the question to himself. “Because he was stapled to the chicken!”
Cord forced laughter between his teeth. He fought to keep the sound light and lilting, it was so easy to whimper, to sob, and so hard to laugh. Bartholemew moved a spoonful of blood from his bucket to the tray, then said, “Why did the necrophiliac pederast cross the road?… Because his dork was stuck in the dead baby!”
The vampire dropped his head to his knees and tried again, tried to chuckle, to giggle. There was nothing funny in any of this. The sound was broken, lonely, weeping.
“No good that, mate. Sorry, no blood on that one. Okay, how do you get a hundred dead babies into a phone booth?… with a blender!”
Cord tried to remember happier times, tried to remember some real jokes, some funny jokes, not just this sick drivel. Tried to remember a reason to laugh. He let Bartholemew prattle on above, nattering away, and tried to find something funny, something worth a laugh.
Oh, my god. This is the training. But this isn’t training in elegance. He’s teaching me to be grotesque. He’s trying to turn me into a revolting monster. This is the training he promised. He barked a laugh, and it caught in his throat, then swelled out into a full-throated whoop and a chuckle. Above him, he could hear blood spilling from Bartholemew’s spoon into the tray. I was betrayed. Mahogany trapped me and now I belong to him. God I was naïve.
“So, what do you get for the pedophile that has everything?…. A bigger parish.”
The chuckle spilled out of his mouth again, snickering at himself. Again blood spilled into the tray. I have to laugh. If I don’t laugh, then the hunger will eat me. This is the only thing I have.
“What has five legs and three arms?… A pit bull on a playground.” And the cackle that sounded from the pit was dry and cold, but it was laughter and it was what Bartholemew had asked for. Another spoonful for the vampire. “How do you make a dead baby float?… three scoops of ice cream, a pint of root beer and two scoops of dead baby.” And the vampire giggled, and blood slopped from the spoon to the tray. When the tray was lowered at midnight, Cord lifted it to his mouth, but the metal rim grated against the raw nerves of his broken teeth, and once more he had been forced to lick at it, lapping it up with his tongue.

Cord was scraping at the mortar of his prison, trying to pick it away for handholds. His arms and legs were working again, and now he was ready to start trying to escape. The stones were imbedded closely in the wall and sealed up with cheap mortar, and the vampire was scratching away at them to climb away. Besides, he had to distract himself from the endless hunger that clawed at his innards. Earlier that night, he’d had an unpleasant experience, but it stood to reason that the blood he was drinking had to go somewhere. He had decided to foul the corner with the corpse in it, best to put all the disgusting remains in one place. As soon as he saw Bartholemew’s shadow appear on the wall of his cell in the red light, the hunger came back on him with a vengeance. He pushed the tray into the middle of his cell and stood off to the side, staring up at the grille.
“Here now, mate. Are you ready for tonight’s feeding? You’re probably quite parched now. Weak with hunger, eh? Desperate for the warm wet red, are you?” The jailor grinned as he appeared above the grille, looming over the cell. “You’re a quiet one, aren’t you? What, no screaming? No questions? No threats or pleas for mercy? Good then, I hate that mess. Don’t need none o’ that, I don’t. So, what about you step out into the light, let me ‘ave another look at you. Don’t be shy now, mate.”
Cord stared up at the ruddy human, holding his bucket of blood. This man holds the blood, and the keys. All the cards are in his hand, so I have to play his game. The vampire stepped out from the dark corner, and walked over to the red-lit wall, putting his back to the stone and glaring up at the sadistic jailor. Bartholemew stared at him for several long seconds, then grunted and nodded. “Not bad. More than I expected.”
“What do you mean?” the vampire asked in his gurgling, glottal voice, curious despite himself. He squinted at the weak light, accustomed to the deeper darkness on the other side of his tiny cell.
“Your face, mate. You’re coming along faster than I thought you would. Apparently we’ve got you moving in the right direction, eh? Tell you what, then, we’ll try something different tonight. You tell me a joke, a good one like I’ve been telling you. Just one joke, all your own, make it up and tell it to me. If it’s a good one, I’ll send down a full tray. And, I’ll let you ask some questions of me. I want to see if you’ve got the right kind of imagination for this work.”
The vampire grinned. “I thought of one last night, since you asked. How can you tell if the ASPCA isn’t paying attention?”
Bartholemew scratched his chin with one thick-fingered hand. “I don’t know, mate, how?”
“Wood chipper behind the animal shelter.”
The jailor stared down the well at the fiend he had caged, and howled with laughter. He chortled and snickered, then nodded his head. “No wonder you’re coming along so fast. It’s amazing you didn’t start finding the power yourself before Mahogany brought you in here. Damn me, you must have been a sick son of a bitch when you were alive.” He dipped the tray into the bucket and began lowering the brimming vessel. Blood dripped from it down into the cell, and Cord had to fight the urge to lick it up from the floor. He concentrated on the swaying tray on the end of its tether, and his body thrummed with the urge to snatch it out of the air. He waited, tense, until it touched the ground and the slack went out of its string. With a leap he was on it, lapping fiercely, pursing his lips to slurp it up out of the metal tray.
“Slow down, mate, make it last. You’ll stay hungry all the rest of the night, and it’s only eight o’clock. I ain’t bringing in more for you until tomorrow night.” Cord caught himself and pulled back from the precious, delicious blood. He sat back on his haunches and looked up at Bartholemew, confident that the shadows protected him from even this human’s night vision.
“Bartholemew, why is Mahogany doing this to me? I thought he was going to show me the power the way he got it, but instead I’m being locked down here like an animal. And you say I’m coming into the power, but why didn’t he let me do it his way?”
“Mate, I couldn’t really say, but I might hazard a guess.” The jailor sat down at the side of the grille, watching below intently. “First of all, it’s easier for him this way, he doesn’t have to trip over you. ‘E just hands you off to myself and I take care of it, rather than coaching you on his debonair ways. Besides, if you had the same sort o’ power as he, then you might try to challenge his power some day, but if he keeps you as a grotesque, then you will never be able to run away from him. You will be dependent on him, and himself has uses for you. It’s all about power, o’ course. He’ll unlock your power, and make it his own.”
“What’s the story with you and Jarvis? Why do you work for him?” Cord leaned down to lap at the blood again, savoring this time. He licked at his lips, abrading his tongue on the broken stumps of his incisors and the long sharp-edged fangs.
“Why, we need him, that’s all. He’s got into us so deep, that he could rip all the strength and life right out of us if we tried to leave him, or turn on him, no matter how far away we ran. Besides, himself shares his power with him and me, and keeps us alive despite the years. So I am strong, and fast, and sharp, when I would be a mouldering corpse somewhere. Like your friend Peter down there,” he gestured at the stinking corpse in the corner of the cell. “Now, of those two choices, my decision seems easy. Besides, he lets me do what I like to do.”
Cord did not want to ask what Bartholemew liked to do, did not want to know. “Okay then, what will he do with me when I become a grotesque?”
“Well, I believe that he’ll leech power from you, and give you a piece of his hunger, like he does to me and Jarvis. And he’ll worm his way inside of you, so you can’t get away from himself, and then he’ll give you orders and send you to find him more power, more pawns. But it won’t be all that bad, because you’ll hunt for yourself again, and you’ll be able to give your hunger out to others, and you’ll have more power. Some day, you’ll be one of his favorite servants, far above me.” Bartholemew’s voice was carefree, like the two of them were talking on a park bench, discussing the weather and sports, not murder and slavery.
“And how long will that take?”
“Maybe several weeks. Maybe a few years. It’s all right though, I’m patient if you are. Well, I’ll be back tomorrow night, think things over. The faster we can move on this, the easier on everyone.”

Cord was ignoring the walls today, he was busy checking himself over with his fingers. His broken nose was healed, or at least it did not hurt any longer, and his mouth was not the broken mess that it had been. But the nose had healed flat against his face, the nostrils splayed outwards like a snarling beast, and his teeth were not healing up the way he’d thought they should. The incisors had capped over, but they were still stumps between his fangs, and the molars were a mass of meshed edges and razors. It was the mouth of a predator, the mouth of a monster. And all those sharp edges were still lacerating his mouth when he was careless, when he would yawn or speak out or roll his tongue he would cut himself anew. There were so many open sores in his mouth that the insides of his cheeks were completely raw, seeping blood, and his tongue was whittling down from the edges.
“Here now, mate, I’ve got something for you. Did you miss me?”
Cord looked up at the human, dispassionate and cold. “Not really. More jokes today?” His voice was not clearing up, it was still clotted and gurgling.
“Naw, maybe later. Tell you what, I’m tired of Peter the festering mess down there, the smell is getting to me. You can smell it all down the hall now. I’m sure you’re quite sick of it. So, why don’t you be a sport and tear him apart for me. Rip him up into small pieces, and I’ll lift him out in the tray. When we’re done and Peter is out of your cell, then I lower a full tray down for you, just like yesterday. Deal?”
The vampire looked over at the rotting corpse that was his only constant companion. Would he feel lonely without the corpse? Of course not. He spent all of his time ignoring it. “What if I say no, Bartholemew?”
“Then I walk away and take a half-night off. Then I come back tomorrow night and I make you the same offer. One way or the other, that damn body is leaving that cell. I just don’t want that smell anymore.” Bartholemew shrugged. “Either I get rid of the stink, or I take a vacation. I win either way.”
“Go away, Bartholemew. I will not rip a corpse apart with my bare hands.” Cord shuddered at the way the words shaped in his monstrous mouth.
“Yes you will, mate. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe after that. But you’ll do it. The hunger will take care of that, you’ll see.”
When Bartholemew came back the next night, Peter was already broken into small pieces to be ferried up in the tray. Smashing the skull had been the worst part.

“Good evening, mate. Hard to believe it’s already been one month, eh? Thirty days with each other, how the time flies. Well, are you ready to start tonight?”
Cord crouched in his cell, shifting his weight from his palms to the balls of his feet, and looked up at the thick-bodied human in the reddish light. “What do you want tonight? I’ve already urinated on myself for your amusement, I’ve howled like a wolf, I’ve told you filthy jokes and I’ve ripped apart corpses. I’ve given up my clothes, I’ve gargled my own blood, I’ve torn out chunks of my own hair, and I’ve danced in the light. What more do you need?”
“Well, your dignity and self-respect went fast, but we’ve got to move on now, I’m afraid. We have to start moving into the hard part. First, I want you to scratch yourself. I’ve seen the damage you’ve done to the walls, I know that your fingernails are strong and sharp. Scratch yourself deep enough to draw blood, and I want to know how fast you heal it. Second, step over into the light. I’m going to send something down to you.” The jailor reeled up the tray, hand over hand.
“Scratch myself?” Cord was puzzled, already moving over towards the lit section of his cell. “You want me to cut myself with my fingernails?”
“That’s right,” Bartholemew replied. “Easy way to find out how much of your power you’ve gotten there. And then we can show you how fast you’re moving along.” He lifted the tray out past the grille, and set something small and hard in it. He started lowering it down towards the vampire, slowly. “Go ahead and scratch yourself now, before you change your mind.”
Cord shrugged. There would be no more blood if he disobeyed, and the blood was the only thing he had left, the only thing to work towards. He leaned down and scratched at his leg, using one of his thick long nails to cut into the skin until blood welled up. The thick red fluid dripped down his thigh towards his knee, and he scooped at it with his fingers and licked it off. Then he reached out and caught the tray, lifting out its contents. “A mirror. You gave me a mirror.” He turned it over in his hand, and brought it up, angling it for the light so that he could see himself. For the first time in over a month, he saw his own image.
He’d learned early that vampires could see themselves in mirrors, even if nobody else could see the reflection. So, that story was half-true. But now he wished that it was completely true, that he could not see himself, that the mirror had been blank. His hair was grown out long, black and wiry bunched around his face and ears, falling over his forehead. The eyebrows swept together, slanting in a permenent scowl. The sunken eyes showed blood-red, shot through with veins and yellowed. His nose was flattened against his muzzle, the jaws sweeping forward to lengthen the gape of his maw. The lips were thin and recessed from the horrible teeth, empty in the front and bordered by tusklike fangs that curved over the gums. His cheeks were torn from the inside, slashed away by the forest of bladed molars, showing through the teeth in places but still stretching vainly over the cutlery within.
Not much longer I’ll have chewed away the rest, and then I’ll have a smile like a skull. Jolly dead man with his joker’s grin. His body was stooped slightly, the skin showed a pasty, leprous mottled white. His chest was bowed outwards, bringing his shoulders down and forward. Like a dog on its hind legs, my shoulders are shaped for walking on. The hands that gripped the mirror were tipped in long talons, it was useless to call them fingernails now. His feet had lengthened, themselves, showing long and narrow between his ankle and his toes. As an experiment, he rocked his weight onto the balls of his feet, and lifted his heels from the ground. His knees buckled, and he rested with his legs light and springy under them, curved forward and then back, like the legs of a wolf. His body rocked forward to balance, and he held that pose. It just clicked, it felt so right.
Without a word, the grotesque vampire put the mirror into the tray, and without a word Bartholemew reeled it back up. The vampire looked up at the jailor, and the human looked back down at his captive. The cockney cleared his throat. “As I said, we’re moving on now. Is your leg healed yet?”
Patric, Cord, the prisoner, looked down for a second, then back up. “Yes,” he growled in his clotted, guttural voice.
“Good. I’m going to open this door and send a human down. Do what you’ve got to do. Now we teach you how to use the power.” Over the muffled, gagged screams of his other prisoner, Bartholemew bent down with his keyring to unfasten the lock on the oubliette. “If you learn quick, we could have you out of here in two more weeks.”
“I’d like that,” the vampire said, grinning through his torn face.