There weren’t many things worse in this universe than the events that had transpired in David Blade’s life up until his last day on this earth. Aside from having had the misfortune of being born into a family whose surname was “Blade”, David’s life had been nothing but one long, mathematically complex sequence of fuckups and unfortunate coincidences.
Born with an umbilical cord tied around his neck, the doctors had called it a miracle that he wasn’t born deaf, dumb, and blind, and said that he’d probably live the rest of his life never knowing the full scope and range of the vast, untapped intelligence he might have had had he exited the uterus just a few centimeters to the left. David of course only found this out when his mother told his ex-girlfriend, who used it against him in a particularly nasty public breakup five months later. It didn’t bother David that everyone knew. It bothered him that no one had ever told him.
Because of the unfortunate circumstances of his birth, David had never really lived a life half full. Always a deadbeat, always a failure. He hadn’t done well for himself in school, having been held back on multiple grades and always scraping by on the skin of his teeth despite pouring his best effort into it, trying as hard as he could. The disappointment was palpable. It had been the same when he’d gotten his first dead-end job out of many. His mother, his father, his teachers, his employers. They all said,
We know you could do this if you really wanted to
Why won’t you try just applying yourself a little more?
There’s no room in this world for failures
Do you want to be a nobody forever?
Is this really what you think you’re capable of?
We know you’re better than this, David
So show us
No, he’d told them time and time again. No I’m really not. I’m not who you think I am! I don’t care what you say! I’m not smart, I’m not a winner, and I’m not talented, so stop pretending like I am! You all know! I know you do! It’s your fault I’m like this to begin with, so stop trying to fix your mistake and listen to me!
He didn’t have high hopes for his life when his parents finally kicked him out. They said they weren’t able to afford him anymore and that the rent he paid them wasn’t nearly enough, but he’d had a sneaking suspicion they’d been meaning to get rid of him for a while. From there on out, it had been a sad cycle of sameness for the last six years or so. Find a new job, lose a new job. Find a new girlfriend, lose a new girlfriend. Find a new apartment, lose a new apartment. Slip in and out of poverty, barely staying clear of becoming homeless, then rinse and repeat all over again. His life was a step below mediocre. It was terrible.
And he’d had the gall to think that might have changed for once when he met him. Radio Brandy.
There was something special about Radio that David could never really place. When he looked at Radio, he felt safe. When Radio looked at him, he felt comforted. When Radio held him, he felt like he was always meant to be here, and that no one else could ever understand him or make him happy like Radio did. Best of all, Radio would show him things. Great things. Things so amazing you’d call them magic.
First came the nep. That was David’s feel-good when Radio wasn’t around (and sometimes when he was). It made him forget, relax and unwind after a long day of picking up trash, butchering meat, working construction, or whatever temp job he’d wrangled that week. When he and Radio made love in the nep smoke, it felt like a warm dream. Then came Red Dragon. Making love on Red Dragon felt like violence more than love, but David let Radio do it anyway.
Soma followed that, and berserkergang came after that once Radio started asking for his help in getting more drugs. He fell in with the wrong people, and began selling everything he owned for drugs and alcohol. At some point, David realized that Radio was probably just using him. For sex. For money. For drugs. But he didn’t care. Not an ounce, not an iota. Not in any single measurable way did he care, because for once, someone wanted him. Someone valued him. Even if he was using him, he acknowledged David. He cared about David, even if it was only for his own gain, and he valued David. That was something no one else had ever given him before. So it didn’t matter what Radio wanted from him, because he’d give it willingly. Everything he was and everything he had was free for Radio to take.
Then Radio died.
He’d finally been caught by the Prohibition agents who were after him for possession of alcohol and illegal narcotics, amongst other crimes David didn’t want to contemplate. The memories were still too fresh, and he didn’t want to remember Radio like that. He wanted his Radio, the Radio that comforted him and held him, not the Radio that had been shot to death by the police for killing an officer of the law.
But that Radio was gone now. He would never see him again. He could only contemplate the yawning hole where Radio used to be. The books he’d left unread. The clothes strewn across David’s apartment. The smell of the smoke and the memories he’d left behind. But most of all, the blood.
Oh yes. The blood.
As it so happened, Radio had been keeping more than one secret from David. All the times they’d made love on the floor of his dingy apartment or in his moldy, rotten bed, Radio had neglected to tell him he was carrying. Not a gun that is, but a disease. David didn’t know, like always. Always in the dark. So when he found out, the police had to tell him.
Radio was a vampire.
He’d never laid his hands on David, and all this time David had just assumed the supple Englishman was just naturally pale. He never saw Radio during the day, come to think of it. He would sleep in David’s apartment, working off the high while David went to work. He felt stupid for not piecing it all together sooner, but that was what he was, wasn’t it? Stupid.
He didn’t notice for weeks, thought maybe he was in the clear. He’d heard vampirism could spread through other kinds of fluid exchange besides biting, but he felt fine! Maybe it had passed him over like any other venereal disease. What David hadn’t accounted for was that vampirism was an affliction rooted in magic, not mundane biology. There were no maybes involved. If the cherry pops, the fluid swaps, and the vampire’s curse along with it.
The first incident happened when a coworker at deli received a package of freshly slaughtered lamb for processing. He remembered the blood, remembered smelling it. He remembered getting an erection as well. That first time, that first bloodlust was unforgettable. The fragrant, invasive aroma of iron and hemoglobin struck him, and suddenly it felt like the world was opening up, blooming into beautiful, violent life. For the first time David became acutely aware that in the world he’d grown up in, there was blood everywhere. Everywhere he looked it was impossible to escape it. He could smell it in the meat, hear it pumping through the veins of every living thing for miles, even see where it traced thin trails of warmth throughout the body with senses he never knew he had. He had always known but never understood. About blood. About life. Now he knew.
Everything was food.
It was like torture. The people he knew suddenly had two faces. Kind, friendly neighbors and… meat, like bags of blood walking on two fat drumstick legs, and although he tried to fight it, tried every second to remind him that they were people, people he knew, his cravings only acknowledged the scent. Would he describe it as temptatious, alluring maybe? Of course not. Would you ask a man dying of starvation if food looked tempting? The very nature of the question implies a choice not to drink, when in fact David never had such a choice. No vampire does. You don’t have to like it but you can’t escape it. A man can’t live without food, and a vampire can’t live without blood. There is no gluttony involved in survival. That is a truth so basic it doesn’t even deserve to be called harsh.
He tried everything to quell the hunger. Sex. Drugs. Binge-eating. Pornography. He found that each of them only made the problem worse. Drugs removed his inhibitions. The food he always used to eat only made him hungrier. And sex… he didn’t know how Radio had controlled himself around him. How he’d had the strength of will not to bite in those closest, warmest, most intimate moments where even greater pleasure was always only skin deep, a mere scratch away…
He couldn’t go to the doctor, because that would only affirm what he already feared. He tried hard not to be what he knew he was becoming, and so he isolated himself, emerging only for work. It helped cut down on exposure to sunlight, which he found he was becoming increasingly sensitive to. It was lucky for him they were in the middle of winter when Radio first died, or else life for him could have become impossible without leaving the coffin.
Sadly, David’s determination not to feed was admirable, but ultimately doomed from the beginning. Was he afraid to hurt others to satisfy his hunger? Probably. Was he more afraid to out himself as a vampire? Most definitely. So he tried to hold on as long as he could. If he could concentrate on not feeding, on ignoring that gnawing, aching hunger and the pain that wracked his body every day he went a little longer without giving it what it wanted, then maybe somehow he could keep living a normal life.
That concentration was broken the day when Eddy Rizzo sliced his hand open cutting roast beef.
David didn’t remember all too clearly what happened next. There was an eruption of something within him. Hunger, anger, temptation, lust? Whatever it was, it sapped his willpower and snapped him like a twig. He was on Eddy in seconds, all over him, trying to get inside of him and get as much of that sweet-smelling blood as possible. The lines blurred between hunger, violence, and sex as David forced himself on Eddy, trying to devour him. The bloodlust lasted only seconds, but by the time it was done he had taken ten men to restrain him, and Eddy had already lost over a pint of blood and all the muscle David could fit in his mouth. David barely could recall any of it.
There was one thing he did remember all too clearly though. Upon returning to his senses and feeling the spongy chunks of gore matting his lips and teeth, David clearly remembered vomiting, the things he’d taken from Eddy returning to him the only way they could. He remembered the vomits’ color: pink. It smelled like iron.
David didn’t kill Eddy, as luck would have it. His wounds were merely crippling, and while he’d never work another manual labor job again, he would recover and live normally sans the use of his missing right arm thanks to the techniques developed by doctors to treat soldiers coming home from the last Great War (not that David would ever know that). It was a tragic twist of fate for Eddy, but life would go on.
Although he pleaded with anyone he could, David had no such luck. Immediately sacked and saddled with half a dozen criminal charges, David knew there was no going back. He’d never work in this town again, and he’d be haunted by money and legal problems until the day he died. So that night he ran. Left his home and his family and everything else behind. The plan was to leave New York and build a home for himself with a new name and a new face somewhere else. Anywhere else. He hadn’t given much thought to it. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if he did or didn’t. Angry mobs have a way of disrupting even the most well thought out plans.
“Gah!” was the only sound David could make as he was speared in the chest by a man in a white suit with more muscles than David had brain cells. He grasped the white shaft of bone, trying to pull it out. He didn’t know how they’d gotten the drop on him, but he knew they had already hurt him more than he thought he could be hurt. How long had they been chasing him? How long had he been running? It felt like an eternity, but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, and already he was becoming tired, his body protesting his every movement. This lifeless shell needed blood to heal the wounds. He had made it this far on borrowed time, but how long would it be until Eddy’s blood, what little of it he had retained, exhausted itself?
David hurked as he was yanked backwards, the length of chain at the end of the spear dragging him towards his attacker for another round. The man in the white suit curled his free hand into a large, meaty fist.
“Please!” David said, holding his hands up in front of his face to show the large, scary bald man he meant no harm. “You don’t have to do this! I’m-I’m just an idiot, I don’t wanna hurt no one! You know what I’m talking about, right big guy?”
He was hedging his bets on this guy being just like him: not too bright. If he was working as hired muscle for the mafia, maybe he was like David and had just made some poor life decisions. Hopefully he could sympathize with a fellow idiot.
“Just please, let me leave and you’ll never see me again, I promise. We idiots gotta stick together, right?”
The man glared, his face scrunching up around his sunglasses like an angry potato. “Why, I have no idea what you could possibly mean, good sir. Forgive me, my hearing apparatus must be failing me, because as a man of wealth and taste-”
He hiked back and punted David like a pig skin, sending him crashing into a street lamp.
“-I cannot fathom why you would ever presume to call me an idiot. Unless of course you were judging me by my outwards appearance, in which case I must reprimand you for being an ignorant motherfucker who neglects his personal hygiene and physical fitness.”
David watched his own blood paint the curb underneath the orange light of the lightpole. The situation was bad. Worse than bad. David’s body couldn’t take much more of this. If he couldn’t run away, then he would attack again.
The broad-set man approached him at a brisk, leisurely pace. His instincts taking over, David lunged at the man, only to be caught off-guard again and slammed into a steel garage door. How? He was a vampire! Why couldn’t he hit him?!
“You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘How can this aged gentleman be keeping up with my speed? Is he perhaps a pugilist or world-renowned fighter pilot?’” the giant old man said as he casually dodged David’s feral attacks. “It’s time you learned that keeping up with a vampire really isn’t all that hard. The common man makes a big fuss about it, but really it’s no more different than catching a fly in the palm of your hand. Practice and a steady hand go a long way, and I always know where you’re going to land, little bug.”
The man in the white suit easily caught another one of David’s wild haymakers, and at that moment as he towered over him David noticed the man was wearing an iron cross. He started struggling even harder. He couldn’t help it. He panicked, his movements becoming erratic and unfocused as he broke free only to be wrestled into a one-armed chokehold, his face inches from the cross.
“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
With his free hand, the man put pressure on the left side of David’s head, pushing him towards the cross as every muscle and tendon in David’s neck resisted him, vertebrae popping and crinkling and making noises David was fairly certain they weren’t supposed to make. Fear overpowered his ability to even think about his own pain.
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
David fought him for every centimeter, but he could feel himself losing ground as tears rolled down his cheeks. He couldn’t. He didn’t want it. He couldn’t touch that thing! He’d die if he did! He’d rather die than touch it!
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
David felt his neck snap halfway as he slowly kissed the cross, its cold feeling disgusting to the touch.
“Please stop…” he sobbed. But the man was merciless.
“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land-”
“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
A slight and thinly shadow walked out of the dimly lit alley, revealing the beautiful capofamiglia of the Vitali crime family. The snowy, ethereal youth dressed in grey approached David and the large man.
“Ah, Romeo. Excellent timing,” the man said. “As the righteous right hand of our family commands, how shall we deal with this heathen, this modern-day Nimrod? What castigation, which punishment befits one as blind and ignorant as him?”
“Settle down, Felix,” Romeo commanded. “Let’s tone it back a bit. This is the neighborhood watch, not Broadway. You’re going to attract unwanted attention.”
“Yeah, so stop going all ‘alas, poor Yorick! I knew him’ on us, you friggin’ faggot. He’s a blood-sucking vampire, not a talent scout.” Another shadowed emerged from alley, this time a snickering, bug-eyed cockroach of a man. “Not that there’s much of a difference.”
“Shut the fuck up, Sylvester,” Felix said angrily. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”
Romeo sighed. “Watch your mouth, you two. A man of the Lord does not speak like that. Though I have to agree with him, Felix. The theatrics are uncalled for.”
The large man loosened his grip on David. “My apologies.”
“Remember, we’re here to do a job we’ve been called upon by the community to do. Just because it’s off the books doesn’t mean it isn’t official business, so try to keep it professional.”
“So,” Sylvester said, running a hand through his greasy black hair. “What crimes is this no-good sack of shit guilty of?”
“The crimes of heresy, sodomy, attempted murder, consultation with evil spirits, trespassing in the Lord’s domain; the power of life over death, and the capital sin of vampirism,” Romeo recited as if reading off an official transcript.
“So he’s a cocksucker too then?”
“Yes,” Romeo said, sighing. “Honestly, Sylvester. Were you even paying attention when I told you all of this earlier?”
“Nah,” Sylvester said dismissively, licking his lips. “You know how it is with me and our little midnight hunts. I get too excited to listen…”
Romeo frowned. “Well the hunt’s over now. It’s time get down to business.”
The lacy young man drew a 9mm and plugged David in the legs, destroying his kneecaps. David cried dryly, his screams barely audible to anyone outside his own small corner of Hell. After emptying a full clip, Romeo paused, reloaded, then shot again.
“That should prevent him from regenerating for a few minutes,” he said cooly. “No sense in wasting blessed Macedonian silver on a vampire who’s already half-dead. Sylvester, grab the rope. Felix, bring the car around.”
“What are you doing…” David said weakly. But Romeo wouldn’t hear him. To the young and beautiful capofamiglia, the dirty gunsel may as well not have existed, because all he did was keep ordering around his lackeys like he’d forgotten about David the moment he’d holstered his gun. Sylvester came back around, tying a length of rope into a knot with a loop at the end, and David knew exactly what they were planning on doing to him.
“No, stop! Please! You can’t do this, I’ve done nothing wrong!” David screamed as they worked the loop around his neck and tied it to the bumper of their car. “I didn’t mean to hurt Eddy, I swear!”
Sylvester got down on his knees, assuming a very beast-like stance. Smiling maniacally, he took his own weapon, a smaller version of that same bone-white spear, and shoved it into David’s chest, reopening the wound Felix had made. David screamed.
“Listen to that sweet honky-tonk music,” Sylvester said serenely. “That’s a replica holy lance, by the way. It keeps maggot fucks like you from moving around too much. It’s not quite up to snuff with the one that spilled the blood of Christ, but…” He laughed. “You’re a much shitter zombie than He was.”
“That’s enough, Sylvester,” Romeo said. “Felix, are we good to go?”
The large man nodded, and Romeo silently climbed into the backseat, Sylvester calling shotgun while Felix took the wheel. David weakly tried to remove the spear, tried to undo the knot, tried to do something. This couldn’t be happening, this just could not be happening! Where were the police? Where were the people? Someone had to have seen this, someone had to have heard him! So where were they? For christ’s sake, they couldn’t just execute him in the middle of the street!
The engine roared to life, filling David’s lungs with exhaust fumes. Shifting into drive, Felix took off and snapped David’s neck, ushering him into sweet silence.
David awoke hanging from a tree on the outskirts of town, the rope pressed tightly against his neck. He couldn’t breathe, but that was hardly the point. He couldn’t move.
Below him, the three men finished their business, passing around various tools to be loaded into the trunk of the car. Romeo motioned for Sylvester to grab something, and a sign was placed around David’s neck.
“Do either of you have anything you want to say?” he asked. Both men shook their heads. “Alright then, I suppose I will then.”
Romeo retrieved a pocket bible from the folds of his coat, and cleared his throat.
“Romans fourteen, verses seven through nine. ‘For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.’ Let your soul be cleansed as you are ushered into the kingdom of the Lord. Repent and let your sins be forgiven and washed away, as we have washed away this sinful form. Give thanks to the heavens, and rejoice with trembling as you are welcomed into the arms of the Almighty. Praise be to God.”
“Praise be to God,” Sylvester and Felix both echoed.
David struggled in his noose. He wanted to say something, tell them they were fucking idiots after all, or beg for them to let him go. Maybe both. But he couldn’t make a sound, not with the rope crushing his windpipe like this. What did they hope to achieve by this? Were they going to choke him to death? It would take hours for him to die like that.
David felt something pricking his eyes as he turned them to the horizon. After all the effort he’d spent struggling, he’d forgotten to take into account just how much time he’d lost after they’d carried him away in the dead of night. The darkness was giving way to smooth, cool blue as the stars started retreating back into the concealing embrace of the sky.
It was morning.
David felt the first few beams of sunlight crashing into him like a wave before he was engulfed by the tide of the rising sun, his body engulfed in light. His skin started to blister and peel like it was shrinking into leather, rapidly exposing the blood and raw muscle underneath. There was no smoke like he’d thought. No flames either. It was like he was being consumed by an invisible fire, his body turning into jerky of its own accord as his muscles tightened, tanned to a sickly brown.
All sense of self-preservation or reservations towards self-harm disappeared as David struggled wildly in the noose, his skin glistening with blood and sticky excretions as his body slowly burned away. This type of continuous damage would overpower his ability to regenerate, what little of it remained. He was dying. Romeo sniffed.
“Something the matter, Romeo?” Felix asked as the boyish capofamiglia turned away, averting his eyes.
“No, it’s nothing,” he responded.
“… Romeo, your father left Sylvester and I to care for you when he died. It would be negligent for me not to ask.”
“I’m fine,” he said curtly. “This needs to happen. The Vitalis have to get back on track and remember who we are. We are the hunters of monsters and those who would follow the heretical order of magic. After my failure-”
“-to apprehend that rogue homunculus and stop the Allesandris from getting their hands on yet another vital asset, our war plans have suffered incredible setbacks. I have to make up for that as a leader if I’m going to see our dream fulfilled in my lifetime, and our hunts help our cause immensely. It’s just…”
“How do you do it? I know what they are but they still look so human. Every time we hunt one it feels like we’re butchering one of our own kind.”
“But we’re not,” Felix reminded him. “Those things? They’re monsters. Every last motherfucking one of them. And we’re the only ones who can destroy them with lightning and fire and a strong oath, and wipe them off the face of the fucking Earth like Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re the only ones who can fight them, because we’re the only ones willing to see. The only ones willing to undertake this task of which we have been most righteously commanded.”
“… you’re right,” Romeo said, wiping away the weakness in his eyes. “We’re the only ones who can see them for what they really are.”
The Vitali’s boyish boss opened the car door, and looked back at the struggling David, his eyes strong and determined.
“They’re the monsters who killed my father.”
The three men piled into the car and drove off, leaving David to slowly cook in the light of the new morning.
That’s right. I’m the head of the Vitali family now. Our numbers may be few, but when the time comes, we will be the ones to cleanse this city of cancers like the five families, and wash away the blood and the filth of magic they leave behind. We are the forsaken, the believers who turn away from the light of God in order to do what must be done. No matter how ugly the means, our goals are worthy of pursuing. Saving people, hunting things, and protecting the innocent from the evils in this world worse than man. This is who the Vitalis are, and what we do.
When the police discovered David that morning, they found him quite literally hung out to dry, with a sign around his neck that read “our wrath hath been kindled”.