Poor old Adam.
He's not really cut out for the twentieth century, you know; that was when I first noticed it. We were in New York, and it was during the Great War – sorry, sorry, World War One, but 'Great War' just has a certain ring to it, don't you think? At any rate, I'd acquired a rather nice pied-a-terre just across from Washington Square Park from a painter chap of absurd means – I think his father was a coal baron or some such – and Adam and his darling Eve were visiting.
Oh, it was a teeming mess then, and still is, but goodness me, the verve of the place. Eve drank it in with her usual dash and brio, naturally, and Adam? Adam shrank from it. He hated the noise, the crowds, the dirt – and most of all, he hated the new machinery – factories, trams, motor cars. As Eve and I hunted (how simple it was then!), Adam hid, and haunted music halls, the only respite for that perpetually suffering soul.
Art is all well and good, you understand, but at the expense of all else? Piffle. I learnt that a very, very long time ago. But Adam, bless him, still hasn't learnt it, and at this late date I wonder if he ever will. Art, and keeping to the shadows – what sort of life is that? He grew even more slender and pale - poetically pale, naturally, but even we need a human blush from time to time. He hunted rarely, spoke even less, and then…then the poliomyelitis epidemic erupted.
It wasn't even blood-borne. Well, we'd all sorted things out the hard way; you knew back in those days what the symptoms of syphilis looked like, and malaria, and plague, and if you didn't know, good luck to you. Have you ever seen a vampire with malaria? Do you know how ignominious it is to have chills and fever all the time? And let's not even speak of leptospirosis. Ugh! But back then, we didn't have access to all the marvellous scientific instruments and methods of diagnosis that you have now, so it was genuinely frightening. Adam fled to Michigan, a really lovely place until the automobile industry really took off, to be sure, but dull? Oh dear, so terribly dull. Eve went with him, for a while at least, but even her intrepid spirit was eventually worn by the lack of activity, and later she joined me in…oh, I think it was Constantinople. I always did like a warm climate.
The point is, Adam's always been a lonely and solitary sort of fellow. He courts loneliness and solitude; it's a bad business, and he's just been lucky that Eve has rescued him from the eternal darkness more than a few times. What that girl's gone through for him….
A few times, though, he's come close to the fire of humanity and been burned. He doesn't understand that sometimes you've got to burn to be alive. Now I'm not saying this happened exactly the way I'm about to tell you, Mr. Stuart, but given what I know about Adam, I think it's a fair approximation. It won't take long, I promise. The night's almost gone, and I've got to get to bed soon, you see.
Ten minutes – he always told himself that. Ten more minutes, he might see something worthwhile, hear some new arrangement that tore a new slash in him, that got his blood to sing. So far, he hadn't. It was supposed to be a night of new work, eclectic, but so far he'd just heard the same old shit: Beatles rip-offs (he cursed the day Rubber Soul was released – it meant ten thousand zombies who couldn't play a lick suddenly went out and bought sitars), Stones rip-offs, Petula Clark rip-offs. Nobody knew how to be original anymore; Motown was still going pretty strong, at least, but if you didn't know from soul in Detroit, you were lost. It was fucking desperate.
The singer, a scrawny girl with white lipstick and a vinyl dress, bowed so far her wig almost fell off, and left the stage to cheers and applause. Pathetic.
If the next act was bad, he was leaving immediately. He hovered in the shadows, jostled by leather-jacketed hoods from the preceding decade, necking couples, kids stealing away from home to listen to music in a few glorious hours of freedom. It wouldn't last. He heard the next act announced but didn't listen to the name – what was the point? Most of them weren't worth it.
The band shuffled around on stage, and then – an amplified roar, the high whining buzz of feedback, and a riff that sounded like it'd been chewed up and spat out by a runaway freight train. He took a step closer.
The figure that threw himself into the spotlight was slight, young (sixteen? Twenty? He couldn't gauge these things any longer) and had a voice that snarled and spat and plummeted a hundred stories before soaring up to a shriek again, blending with and sometimes jarring against the buzzsaw guitar and thudding bass. He writhed and screamed; flailed his arms; tore his shirt off, letting it hang against his body in shreds.
The crowd hated him. They surged toward the stage, booing, hissing, but to no avail; the wails and crashing percussion and screams onstage were louder.
Adam stood still, letting the angry throng propel him forward, his ears, his throat, his veins throbbing. The tips of his fingers and the ends of his hair were electrified; the boy onstage crackled, and Adam was the ground.
Someone pitched a beer bottle, and the boy ducked adroitly, as if he'd had practice. The bottle shattered against an amp, spraying glass in all directions. The boy laughed, picked up a shard, and never ceasing his screams, drew the shard down his chest in a diagonal line. Bright red swelled, beaded, trickled.
Adam moved closer. It was new; this kid, this dervish, was new. For the first time in at least fifteen years, he felt…appetite.
It hadn't taken much persuasion to get the boy to follow him home. He'd called himself Curt and smiled. He wanted to go to England, he'd said; he heard that he might have better luck over there. His body gleamed with sweat, his tight jeans were dark with it, his hair separated into salty strands, as if he'd dived into the ocean. He threw on a battered leather jacket over his bare chest and climbed into Adam's rolling iron, a '46 Fleetmaster, a huge hearse of a car. As Adam pulled up to the house, Curt leant forward.
"You live here, man? It's, like, in the middle of nowhere."
He wasn't a chatterbox. Good.
Once inside, Curt wandered around a bit, curiously touching things, and then stopped, transfixed. "These are yours?" he asked softly.
"Yeah." Adam took a 1937 Martin down from its hooks and sat on the floor. He tuned it, then zipped through a quick three-chord progression and handed it to Curt. "Play something."
Curt took the guitar carefully. "I'm not that good."
"I don't care."
He watched and listened as Curt tore through a song – acoustic guitar was gentler, usually, but in Curt's hands, with his raw voice, it grew dark wings and flew, dissonant and trembling with barely suppressed rage. When he was done, he played another, and another.
It was new, and fucking glorious.
Curt held up his hand with its bloody fingertips. "Can't play anymore, man."
Centuries of experience stifled Adam's instinctive shudder of longing. "It's all right. You can stop."
"You got anything to drink?"
Curt laughed and brushed hair out of his eyes. He'd taken off his jacket, and though he was thin, there was a youthful roundness to his face, a softness in the flaring curve between neck and shoulder. "Got any beer?"
"'Kay." Curt shrugged and followed Adam to the kitchen. On the way he stopped and picked up a photograph. "This your old lady?"
Adam took the photo and set it back on the shelf. "My wife."
"Where is she?"
"I don't know. Paris, I think."
"You got one of those groovy things where you fuck anyone you want?"
Adam smiled without parting his lips. "You could say that." He let his gaze roam over Curt's body. He hadn't felt that particular urge in…two hundred years, almost; a young man in England, arrogant and awkward, but bright – so bright, like this one, luminous even in the darkness. They were different physically, Curt and the young Englishman, but they had the same glow, the same infinite potential.
But how times had changed; while the Englishman had been reticent, prudish, this young man canted his hip, flashed his wintry sea-colored eyes (makeup, he wore kohl smudged round his eyes like a silver-screen siren) and took a step forward.
"You want to fuck me?"
Adam reached out and drew Curt close. Curt reached down to unbutton his jeans, but Adam captured his wrists and held him still. He bent and closed his mouth on Curt's neck, letting his teeth rest there for a moment, just a moment. He sought and found the thudding pulse, and traced the tip of his tongue up and down, up and down, divining its quickening celestial rhythm.
They dragged each other to the floor. Curt tried to touch Adam, to open his shirt, but Adam held him still, brushing his lips against the dried blood on taut young skin, darting his tongue out to taste it, flickering over Curt's nipples. He wound his limbs around Curt's body, pinning him to the ground as Curt struggled upward, grinding himself against Adam's cock, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
"Do me, and I'll do you, I –"
"Shh." Adam pressed a hand over Curt's mouth for the span of two breaths. "Don't talk." He unbuttoned the tight jeans – obscenely tight, trapping bone and muscle and skin and blood beneath a layer of thick, clumsy, cloth – and pulled them halfway down Curt's thighs, freeing his hard cock. He grasped it lightly, tugging at the foreskin, then brushed the edges of his fingernails upward.
Curt gasped and arched up. "Oh, fuck, fuck –"
Adam pulled Curt up, crushed tightly to his chest. He wet two fingers and slipped them inside Curt's hole, circling round, slow and firm, pushing higher and higher. He ground his crotch against Curt's, feeling the wetness at the tip of Curt's prick. He was young; he'd spill soon, far too quickly.
"Oh, I'm gonna –"
The sensation of every singing vein drove Adam closer still. One arm wrapped round Curt's body, his fingers probing, he bent to Curt's neck and rested his lips against the pulse.
As he sank his teeth in and sucked, Curt threw back his head and howled.
What happened then? Well, you know the young man, of course. Of course you do, I knew it the moment you walked in. He had some modest success, but he was never the same afterward. Oh, yes, there had been talk of problems, mental health problems, but that wasn't really the case. He'd had that single moment of complete and utter euphoria, and once you have that, and we don't drain you past the point of no return, you can't forget it. If you're unlucky enough to keep breathing, you always yearn for it. That's why it's better to die…or to join us. Living in between is no life at all; your kind can't really cope with it.
So after that brief glamorous flash of success, he disappeared. Wandered quite a bit, I believe, and then after some time found his way back to Michigan. Rumor has it he met Adam again, and they…oh, what's the phrase? Cut an album together.
I hear he comes back to New York now and again, so if you look hard enough, you might find him. You journalist types are persistent – always have been.
But I wouldn't advise it, Mr. Stuart. He's changed, as I understand it. He might remember you, but that might not be for the best. It's better if he forgets. Better for you, that is. He's learnt a few things from Adam, you see.
You really can't put your faith in anyone who keeps to the shadows.