I awoke the next night after dreams of thunder crashing all around to find myself adrift in the ocean — clinging to a ragged hunk of wood. The remains of the ship and a few pieces of the crew floated all around me — along with a few barrels of food I can't eat. The poor rats sank straight to the bottom.
Maybe it was pirates — or it might have been that war you all were having with your British cousins — or a French ship that saw a British ship — or vice versa — and that was all the reason needed! I couldn't tell or care — this just meant I had much longer until I found another place to feed from... It was only a week or three between the islands and Europe and I must have made half the journey in that longboat already — right?
I drifted for longer than three weeks. No other ships came — nothing came swimming up to meet me — not even a seagull showed up to calm the Thirst! I must have been awakening every other night at one point judging by the arrangement of stars — but I've never been that good at navigating. My skin grew tight and dry — even while soaking in the Atlantic. I could feel my lips drawing back, forming a death grimace... My hair even turned gray...
By the time I washed up on the Barbary Coast, I looked every inch the hundred and something dead man I was.
The sun couldn't have been five from bursting out of the horizon as I staggered onto that Hellish beach. The surf ran up to a cracked and broken land before retreating. A boy was already out — fishing or just looking for anything edible the tide might produce. He was squawking at me in whatever language they spoke nearby. I ignored the strange words — snatching him and bringing his neck to my lips — Que demonios! How difficult it was! I was as weak as an ordinary man! I maintained enough of my wits not to kill him — though I suspect he was anemic the rest of his life.
The fresh blood reinvigorated me — enough at least to go looking for some place to sleep for the day. I could feel myself grow younger with every step — but not enough — at least not in this barren land. God or some other deity had formed it for centipedes and scorpions lost sailors — not men. And God knows what might happen to me if I was forced to live off scorpion blood...
As the sun rose — igniting all the world around me — I found I had nowhere to rest. For the first time I was compelled to walk on — outside my natural time! Doctor, you cannot begin to imagine how horrible it is — like drowning in boiling water! I may have spent some time just wandering in circles — I couldn't even raise my head to look through that blinding light. I felt the weight of Atlas on my shoulders and finally gave in — collapsing in that empty, dead land.
— And awoke to those centipedes and scorpions crawling on me — along with some other less identifiable vermin. Can't blame them for I must have smelled as dead as anything else — though at the time my reaction was more "Yeeuch!"
I leapt up — shaking them off in a violent fit! Taking stock of myself, I found a dozen or so little scars from where they'd been nibbling but was otherwise intact. At least they hadn't laid eggs in me...
That boy last night must have people nearby — I thought. I needed more — as always — and I wouldn't mind some place sheltered to spend the next day. But the night was silent — not a thump to be heard for miles. I began walking along that ugly beach — wondering how I'd come to such a fate. Just a year ago I'd been in the most beautiful part of the world with my beautiful Anna and a never-ending flow of hot blood...
Don't worry, Doctor — I won't be stooping to melodrama. But I was quite depressed at the time and being shipwrecked at the end of the world didn't help any. I walked all night with nothing but the surf for company until just over the hill I thought I heard the dull hum of sleeping men. Could have been a mirage — I'm still not sure if I can experience those — but I was willing to be disappointed and sprang across the sands! Closing on what soon appeared to be a camp near the beach with several longboats arrayed nearby!
It was my own personal Thanksgiving! Seven men — tall and fit and dead to the world! I moved from one to the other — feeding the Thirst like I hadn't since those now long ago nights in the Caribbean. I began to feel so good to have a proper meal in me I even began to differentiate between the heartbeats — and noticed one was much too rapid to be a sleeper.
Just off from the camp was a native — chained to a stake driven into the ground and staring at me with strange eyes. Really, one of the irises seemed to be leaking. I wondered briefly if I could leap over and snap his neck before he raised the alarm — but he was silent. Taking in the scene as it were. Being bound, I realized, he probably had no love for these men — all the better for me. I was surprised when he spoke.
"Help, please!" Badly accented Portuguese — a language I barely speak to begin with.
I raised a finger to my sealed lips — hoping he would understand. Some things are thankfully universal — he nodded vigorously and I slipped over. Now, these men I'd been feasting on would likely be fatigued at daybreak — but not enough to be incapable of finding wherever I laid to rest. But if I loosed their captive...
"Help, please!" he said again — quieter — almost just mouthing the words.
Without responding, I took the chains binding him and snapped them apart with a good yank. He smiled, nodding and blubbering something that might have been "Thank you!" I shushed him again and hurriedly pointed that he should go this way while I went that way. He nodded again and scampered off — almost as quiet as me.
Again, I could feel the sun boiling just below the horizon — Madre Maria Coño — was there no night in this cursed country!?
I fled far from the beach — desperately seeking some ground I might burrow into. That earth was hard as granite and I scraped apart my fingers digging but finally managed a shallow grave for myself — thank the stout men and their blood.
The next night I burst out — quickly shaking off the vermin that had collected — some in my ear! That's not pleasant. I neither hear nor smell any trace of those men but a strange irregular rhythm I recognized... And a stink of mad blood...
The native I'd rescued was nearby — watching. Damn, I would have to snap his neck anyway. I was all ready to rush over and do just that when he came scrambling up to me and dropped to his knees like I was the Pope Himself!
"Please, sir! Please give me — use me — um..." Through his babbling, I could faintly make out that he wanted a job.
"Yes! You Il Diablo Blanco! Great power and gold! I give myself to you!"
White Devil. Literally. He wanted to sell me his soul!
"I work hard, yes? You give me power and gold and, um..."
What else could a native of this blasted land desire? Donkey pelts maybe?
"...And little girls?"
Well, that answered my question. Or he was just a garden variety degenerate. Either could be useful. He might be able to point me towards some form of civilization and translate into the local hooting when we got there.
"Why not?" I said. "Stand up... and lead us to a decent bed!"
He was eager to please, this native. He smelled something foul and that eye of his made my skin crawl — but he couldn't be faulted for devotion. We managed to communicate in a rough third language — I never did learn his name. Something with a K.
I took to calling him Kinch — low and grasping, much like him. Don't misunderstand me, Doctor. I was quite fond of Kinch. He kept the bugs off me during the day.
And he knew just where the locals had set up proper homes — proper for them. Not even at my lowest as a bandit did I sleep in a mud hut.
"I say you big business, yes? You come to buy, to take across water?"
A slave trader. Actually quite clever. "Right, tell them to bring me fresh women — for inspection! We won't be taking any tonight." And we'd be making a run for it before the chief-type asked for payment.
"Little girls?" he asked.
"No, Kinch!" I snapped. "That comes later."
We pulled our little con on a dozen or so villages along the coast. They were all so used to selling their own to the white man they didn't think twice when one appeared in the middle of the night — even alone! — save for a wild-eyed one of their own and demanding fresh bodies. Kinch for his part never tired of serving — whether talking our way into a town or sweeping the vermin off while I slept. You know he actually ate some of them? Seems beetles and such were a delicacy in native land.
It was good for the circumstances — or my faculties may have been impaired at the time. Yes, that’s a distinct possibility — that savage blood left me in a queer mood. I'd been wearing the same clothes ever since I washed ashore — I didn't change my boots so much as leave them once they fell off in tatters — going barefoot everywhere like Kinch. Same for my shirt. I even began to shamble some — like the Hag or my untrained offspring in those early nights. With Kinch doing all the talking, I had a buffet paraded before me nearly every night. It made me fat and soft and sloppy.
Of course, Kinch never ceased to pester me about power and gold and "Little girls?" I'm not sure how little he meant but I wasn't about to indulge him. It might give him reason to slack. He had to keep struggling for any reward — like a good Catholic. In retrospect, I should have granted him some reprieve, then we might have avoided that one incident...
Halfway through one of my inspections, the great big chief and some of his boys came charging in — all riled about something. I saw they had Kinch — down on his knees with a nasty bruise across his face. "Kinch," I said, "What are they yapping about now?"
"So sorry, so sorry," he mewled. "I took little girls. Should have waited, yes? Give not take, yes?" Something like that. With Kinch it was always a third of a coherent thought.
The big chief was certainly angry at whatever Kinch had been doing with their little girls. I couldn't blame him but I couldn't care. He'd handed over three women for me and I probably wasn't any more tender than Kinch.
"He say you leave," Kinch explained. "You not welcome. Never come back!"
Now maybe it was the local blood — maybe the consequence of going so long outside civilization — but I had no patience that night for being told what to do by idiot savages. Who did this fat-headed chief think he was? I'm a fucking vampire! I'll go wherever I please! And I particularly liked all that easy blood — so I didn't give it much thought before driving my fist all the way through his skull.
Not even Kinch could talk us through this — he didn't try, bless him. I went swinging at the chiefs boys without hesitation and he — Kinch, that is — took off running for the hills and whatever fate had in store. Best not to stick around when your boss is in a bloody mood.
Months of that savage blood did a number on me. The chief had insulted me — presuming to order me around like another of his slack-jawed locals — so his whole tribe was going to feel it! They tried to put up a fight but I was a well fed vampire with a full night ahead of me. Their strong men came apart like wet tissues in my hands! And no reason not to feed on something without a head, right?
It was my grief-fueled degeneracy of those final nights in the Caribbean — replayed as joy in slaughter. When the men were all scattered across the ground I turned to the women... Then the children... Bodies flung through the air... legless silhouettes in the moonlight... heads kicked about with gleeful abandon! It was Bohemia all over but without that small nagging fear of death!
I soon realized there was not a sound for miles. No cries, no screaming, no raising heartbeat of someone buried among the dead and hiding. Just a ragged howl like wolves in a well. I realized it was me — laughing like a maniac. A dumb maniac at that — with Kinch gone and the whole tribe cut to ribbons — I had no means to feed myself once the blood-high came down. I gathered some gourds — some animal skins they used for water — tried collecting what blood was left to save for traveling.
It all went putrid in one night.
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