VIII. Cold Comfort
The rain was holding off just enough to only feel a cold mist saturating the air. The ominous roar of thunder still present in the distance. The night sky remained shrouded in darkness, but dawn was waiting just below the horizon. Huddled underneath the cottage porch, the group was preparing to part ways. Exchanging hugs and well wishes.
Paul and Dwayne helped Marko stumble down the porch, with one of them on either side of their sickly brother, arms supporting his weight. David was silently fretting over the condition the bikes were in, hoisting them out of the mud and brushing off debris. He struggled with a broken branch that had gotten wedged in the tire spokes. They’d have to clean them properly tomorrow night.
Ceryl tagged along behind the four vampires, with Nima kissing his cheek on the way down the stairs. She pulled him close as he passed, whispering in his ear. “Don’t get into trouble.”
He nodded at his mother, clasping her hand for a moment with a cheerful grin. “I’ll be back by morning.”
David turned to his brothers. “Take Marko back and get him started on some of Max’s blood.” He paused, watching Ceryl closely as the witch prepared to climb on the back of the David’s motorcycle. “We’ll get Marko’s bike from the pier and meet you there.”
- - -
Entering their home meant dodging the sharp coils of rusted chain-link fence that had been clipped free in the middle. Narrowly evading the crumbling cliffs. Shimmying between wooden planks that had been placed there as a barrier to entry by city officials, years before the boys laid claim to Hudson’s Bluff.
But the clan had moved with ease, like a deer on a well-worn path, knowing where every foot should fall, every hand-hold gripped with natural routine. It was home for them. Navigating it was like muscle memory. Ceryl struggled more than he let show, but he still managed.
They climbed down the craggy outcropping, reaching the ground of the main cavern with a short jump. The entry corridor snaked down past rows of candelabras, vast ruins of the old hotel, and emptied out into a large hollow space. In the center was a makeshift bonfire pit, bearing the blackened crust of frequent use.
A lighter was pulled out of a pocket and the thick, melting candles sprung to life, providing a source of light. Though the vampires could see quite well despite the darkness. The gesture was more for Ceryl’s sake, and a habit borne out of a lingering nostalgia for humanity’s frailties.
Around the center space of the cavern were a few tattered couches and arm chairs, salvaged from the wreckage. Dwayne sat on a tall leather chair, his boots propped up on a wooden crate. Across from him, Paul was lounging on the end of an ornately decorated victorian-era sofa, his legs crossed. Marko took up the rest of the couch, his body extended along it with his head resting on Paul’s leg. David and Ceryl had arrived shortly after them, mingling into the space.
“And how’s the patient doing?” Ceryl’s tone was mockingly serious.
“Better. Thanks. Still feel like shit though.”
“It’ll pass.” He let his fingers catch in the loose, sweat-soaked blonde curls, pressed the back of his hand against the smooth skin of Marko’s forehead. “His temperature is getting back to normal. Not as warm as before.” He ruffled the curls with a sweet smile, the way a caregiver looks down towards a child. He tilted his head upwards and directed his attention towards the others. “He’ll pull through. Give him a few days rest though, ok? No extra feeding except for his sire’s blood.”
He paused, giving some thought to their normal activities around town. “And nothing too wild.” He winked, with a coquettish smirk, triggering a round of impish laughter from the group.
“Hey, David. Can I have a minute?” Ceryl’s countenance grew solemn.
He nodded in response, with a curt but sincere “Sure.” He placed a hand on Ceryl’s back and guided him away from the group, towards the mouth of the cave. They could still glance over to see the other three talking jovially in the background.
“You heard the boss. You’re gonna be on bed rest this week.”
“I’ll be bored out of my mind.”
Their voices faded into the distance as Ceryl and David came to rest, leaning side by side against the far cavern wall. If the pair spoke discreetly, they were just barely out of earshot of the others.
“This isn’t about Marko, is it?” David’s apprehension was nearly palpable, fearing the private conversation was to convey bad news.
“Oh, no. No. I really do think he’s going to be fine.” Ceryl waved his hand in dismissal of the idea. “This is…” He hesitated. “More big picture. Its-”
“Don’t tell me. The council again.” David rolled his eyes, pushing up off from the wall and pacing in front of the witch.
The council. A commonly used moniker for the Southern California Council of Magic. A self-appointed group of powerful witches that had sprung up in the last century, dictating the rules for every supernatural group in their territory. And their territory was growing with each passing year. Encroaching up the coast further and further. Santa Carla had just recently been absorbed by them. It was a huge adjustment for every supernatural entity in the area. And an unwelcome one, at the least.
If it wasn’t for the council’s strength and size, the vampires wouldn’t have put up with their oppressive bureaucracy. They were anarchists at heart. But a small clan, the four boys and Max, stood no chance against a group of this enormity. So far, the clan had tried to do as little as possible to appease them from a distance, barely tolerating their new leadership. Patience was wearing thin on both sides. It was a source of growing tension between Max and his boys. And their already strained relationship was in no shape to handle this new challenge.
Ceryl ran a hand through his curly locks, exhaling deeply. “Yeah.”
“What is it this time?” David groaned, still pacing. “We’ve kept to ourselves. Cleaned up after ourselves. We’ve checked all their little boxes.”
“Not well enough, apparently. They’ve got eyes everywhere now, you know. Watching you, watching us. They’re bearing down on our coven too. You know Nima, she’s a tough old broad but we can all tell it's starting to get to her.” He tried to meet David’s eyes but the vampire was too caught up in his own anger. “Nima’s trying her best to vouch for you all, she fights to keep you out of this as much as she can. But she can’t keep defending you forever.” He paused.
“Our world is changing, David.”
“ Not mine .” He propelled the words from his mouth with all the intensity of a petulant child.
“Look, you can deny it all you want but sooner or later reality is going to show up on your doorstep.”
“And we’ll be ready to fight it.”
“You know that’s not true. We both know you’d never risk their lives.” Ceryl gestured to the three boys crowded around the center space who were smiling and laughing with each other.
David watched them, his sunless blue eyes studying their movements, their expressions. Three lives he felt entirely responsible for. Max was their sire, sure, but a good father figure? Far from it. Distant, harsh, self-involved. The boys had hardly any human blood relatives to speak of, and none that stood as a positive influence in their lives. David was more than willing to give up his own life to fight for his personal values, but he knew the others would be left in a cold and unforgiving world without him. There was a weight on his shoulders like no other, he had to take the path to maturity, the high road, as best he could.
Most days he still felt like a lost child himself. But he didn’t have the luxury to dwell on his own lost youth.
Suddenly, his demeanor changed, turning to face Ceryl again. “So? What message do our supreme overlords have for us this time?”
Ceryl smiled cautiously. “Rules still apply. Keep a low profile, killings to a minimum. For now, it’s respect they seem to be after. They were berating Nima about your...attitude. But, mostly, they want you to formally acknowledge them as your higher authority .”
“ Seriously ? Oh, piss off.” He brought a hand to his forehead. This was starting to get ridiculous.
“I think that’s exactly the attitude they’re talking about.” Ceryl smiled at his companion, the intensity of the conversation finally lifting. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“Wouldn’t know, never had one.”
“Which, a mother or a mouth?”
“A mother, idiot .” David let himself fall back against the cave wall beside Ceryl, hands in his jacket pockets, a slight smile forming on his lips.
“Good, because you definitely have a mouth on you.” Ceryl laughed to himself, gently nudging David’s shoulder with one arm.
Eyebrows raised, David turned his body towards the witch boy, pressing his shoulder into Ceryl’s. “I know how to use it, too.”
“Oh, don’t tease me.” Ceryl grinned and pushed him away.
In an instant, the vampire was pinning the smaller male’s body against the cave wall. David’s muscles were tense, his body in a predatory stance, threateningly dragging his teeth against the witch’s exposed collarbone.
Ceryl instinctively placed a hand on David’s hip, bare fingers captivated by the texture of the slippery black leather jacket. With their bodies this close, the air between them was pervaded with their mingling scents. In every breath, Ceryl took in the comforting medley: David smelled like warm bonfires and nicotine, like cigarettes and gasoline. Crisp notes of tanned leather, wrapped up in a sweet, heavy musk. It was the kind of scent that left you feeling intoxicated, seeking it out again and again and again, until it flooded your senses.
David let his lips brush against the delicate skin of Ceryl’s neck, elongating fangs pressing gently on hot flesh, feeling the rush, rush, rush of the surging blood just beneath the pulsating veins.
A scintillating peal of lightning branched out across the deep violet sky and down into the ocean, like a match struck aflame in the darkness. In the mouth of the cavern, the flash nudged its way through the crevices, illuminating their faces for an instance, giving Ceryl the light he needed to see the intensity in David’s milky red eyes peering back at him.
They’d all but forgotten about the storm raging outside.
“Wait for it-” Paul’s voice echoed in the distance, apparently having seen the lightning as well.
“Boom.” Marko nearly whispered, under heavy eyelids.
The crack of thunder nearly shook the rocks beneath their feet, eliciting a howling cheer from Paul, with Marko and Dwayne laughing in response.
The whole thing seemed to reel David back into reality, his emotions sobering up quicker than he had expected. He pulled his body away from Ceryl’s, almost immediately missing the warmth. He scolded himself internally. This was too strong an alliance to risk because of something as unimportant as…as... whatever this is...
“I think it’s past your bedtime, anyways, creature of the night .” Ceryl’s soft laugh snapped David out of his thoughts.
The monstrous contortions of his face gradually smoothed back out to reveal the soft features underneath, forever entrapped in the innocence of youth. Another flash of lightning found the pair locking eyes under the bright white light.
“You are a tease.” Ceryl grinned and loosened his stance, trying to sound less disappointed than he actually was.
“And you’re never satisfied…” David quipped back, eyes trailing down to the cavern floor. “Come on, let me take you home.”
“No thanks. I’ll walk. I’m quite fond of walking into the breaking dawn.” A playful jab on the surface, but truth be told Ceryl knew that was a sore spot for David. The vampire had confided in him once that he still had an enduring attachment to sunrises. One of the few things he’d admit to missing about humanity.
“It’s still raining. Won’t witches melt in the rain?” David grimaced, suddenly growing weary of this banter.
Ceryl let out a hearty laugh. “I think you need to update your taste in film, darling. The Wizard of Oz didn’t get it right forty years ago, and it’s not true now either.”
David turned away stiffly, looking a bit taken aback after having thought his reference was clever. It was true that he hadn’t really kept current on pop culture, or most movies for that matter. Theatres had once enthralled him as a child, but he felt as though they were a waste of time and money nowadays. Filled mostly with crying children in the front rows, chatty adults in the middle talking and eating so loudly that the film was barely audible. Teens in the back sucking face relentlessly. And all those rapid heartbeats were deafening.
Dwayne was ambivalent about it, seeming to prefer open air and concerts. Marko and Paul on the other hand were the definition of movie buffs. Pop culture enthusiasts. They had once begged David to let them get a TV set and bring it down into the cave. But he had denied them, citing practicality as the reason. It would have been too difficult to run electricity down into the cavern, he told them. Which was indeed true. They had a battery powered boombox and that would have to suffice.
Ceryl took a few steps deeper into the cave to say his goodbyes to the rest of the clan. “Feel better, Marko!” He hollered, directing his voice into the main gathering space so the others could hear him better. “ ‘Night, boys!”
“See ya, Ceryl.” “Later, bud.” “Thanks for everything.” The trio answered him all at once, their voices melding together as they wished him well on his way back home.
“Let me walk you out at least.” David placed a hand loosely on Ceryl’s shoulder as they climbed up and out the mouth of the cave to say their farewells.
- - -
A few minutes later, David returned alone, black jacket damp and slick from the rain.
He walked back in, just in time to find three pairs of eyes watching him intently, coy grins laid bare on his three brothers’ faces.
“And just what are you all so smug about?” His voice was steady, aloof. He knew what they were thinking.
Their answer came in the form of rowdy laughter, and a few lewd gestures. Ear to ear grins all around.
David maintained his cool composure as he leaned down to blow out the candles they had lit for Ceryl.
“Fuck you all, very much.” He said with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, continuing his solitary march towards their inner den, deeper within the cavern where no light could find them. “I’m going to bed.”
He paused for a moment. “Marko…? You still alive?”
“I’m good.” He called back, with a shaky thumbs up gesture to emphasize his point.
“Goodnight.” And with that, David slipped away into the darkness.
Dwayne stood up to join his elder brother, but first turned back towards the others, lowering his voice so that only they could hear. “I give it a year. Until they’re boning.“
“Less, at this rate.” Marko grinned.
“Don’t let David hear you say so.” Paul snorted and glanced off towards the entrance to their den as Dwayne ambled on in that direction.
Paul stretched, let out a yawn. He turned his attention towards Marko, who was still resting his head in Paul’s lap, eyes mostly closed, body sprawled out across the couch.
“Come on, bud, you ready to get some sleep?” Paul patted him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. But I don’t think I can hang up in the den tonight. My body feels like… like I got hit by a truck. Completely useless.” He shrugged weakly. “I’d probably fall down on my ass halfway through the night.”
“Uhh… Okay, I got an idea. One sec.” Paul slid off the couch, placing Marko’s head down on a pile of blankets as he did so. He grabbed one end of the tattered couch and began dragging it noisily as it scuffed across the rocky floor, with Marko laying listlessly atop it. He pulled it deeper into the cavern until it was just at the door of their den, far enough from the mouth of the cave to ensure no sunlight would disturb their slumber.
“Aw, you’re the best, dude.”
Paul smiled modestly, and patted the arm of the couch. “Night, bud.”
Marko opened his mouth to speak, but lost his nerve, feeling rather childish. He flipped over onto his side, feeling how cold, and how empty the grandiose antique couch seemed without his best friend there beside him. His nimble fingers found a threadbare patch on the upholstery and he silently toyed with the fabric.
“Hey, uh, Paul…?”
“What’s up, bud?” Paul turned back to face him.
Marko hesitated, avoiding his gaze. His eyes were keenly fixated on the thread caught between his nails. “I really don’t want to be alone tonight.”
He wished desperately he could be unapologetic about it, confident and stoic like David always seemed to be, instead of awash with anxiety. He wanted to take it back. As soon as the words left his mouth he wanted to pull them back in.
It’s stupid. What a lame thing to say. He kept his eyes down, focusing on the intricately woven threads. They’re always going to treat me like the baby and who could blame them.
Then he felt the shadow of the other vampire fall upon his figure. Felt the shifting weight settling onto the couch, cushions sinking and springs creaking. He felt Paul slide in beside him. He tugged Marko’s limp body up so that his head was resting on Paul’s chest.
In a voice soft as a whisper, the tender trills of a lullaby formed in the cool cavern air. Paul’s lips moved fluidly, lingering on every note. Marko had always thought Paul had a gift for singing.
“Dites-moi, pourquoi, la vie est belle.
Dites-moi, pourquoi, la vie est gaie.
Dites-moi, pourquoi, Chere Mlle-
Est-ce que, parce que, vous m’aimez?”
“What does it mean?” Marko asked in a low voice, laden with drowsiness.
“I dunno, actually. It’s French, I think. Nima would know.” He shuffled his weight around trying to settle in for sleep. “My great grandma always sang it to me when I was a kid. She would sing it when I was sick. When she was taking care of me. Guess it just stuck with me.”
“It's nice…” Marko was barely holding onto consciousness. His breathing slowed to a steady rhythm, aching muscles instantly loosening.
Paul closed his eyes, one arm folded behind his head. He listened to the low, rumbling snore that had started coming from Marko.
Paul could have easily recited the translated lyrics, he knew them just as well in English from his childhood.
But , he thought, that’s for another time.