/ Language: English / Genre:sf

Withered Gold, the Night, the Day

James Gardner

Part of Gravity Wells short stories collection (2005).

Withered Gold, the Night, the Day

by James Alan Gardner

The vampire Rogasz had taken to carrying a knife when he walked the streets on his hunt. It was not for protection; it was to slash the faces of his victims as they lay drained of blood, to cut them for being so stupid. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” he screamed at them... and sometimes witnesses heard his cries, drunks hidden under piles of trash or street kids waiting to turn tricks in darkened doorways. The witnesses sold their accounts to impatient Eyewitness News teams and so the story spread throughout the city, “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!” ran the headlines, and in the coffee shops, reporters from all the media brainstormed what they would call this latest novelty. The Stupid Slasher? No. Not menacing enough. And menace was what sold newspapers.

Meanwhile, Rogasz stalked through the city like a jaded library goer who can’t find any books he wants to read. Some rainy nights he would just stake out a territory, attacking anyone who violated the space: striking them down, cutting them with his knife, throwing them off his land without even drinking their blood. He couldn’t bring himself to feed on such meager feasts; they would taste the same as all the others, back through the centuries. Besides, he hardly needed to drink these days — the city air was so full of blood and desperation, it seeped into his pores by osmosis. In a more lucid moment, he wrote in his notebook,

I have the feeling I do not drink blood, but rather karma — the personal richness of a human soul. This explains the poignant flavor of a virgin as opposed to sluts... and yet, in this bleak age, the difference is nearly imperceptible. The best wine is but a hairs-breadth from vinegar. The world has lost its saints.

There came a steamy summer night when the city smelled of garbage — garbage rotting in Dumpsters as hot as ovens, garbage thrown into the streets by children whose mothers said, “Get this stink out of the house, I don’t care what you do with it.” Long ago, no one heaved decaying food onto someone else’s sidewalk, nor did people sit in front of overloud TVs, too desensitized to realize they were bored. Rogasz prowled past fortress apartment buildings and screamed at the flickering television light reflected in every window. “Poisons, poisons, poisons!”

(Lately, he had taken to saying things three times. He knew he did it; he couldn’t stop.)

On he walked, words pouring from his mouth and tears streaming from his eyes, until he reached a corner bus shelter, its glass thick with obscenities written in faded black marker. A man leaned against the doorway of the shelter; and as Rogasz drew nearer, he recognized the man as the Adversary — the Fallen One, the Lost One, the Morning Star Eclipsed.

“Good evening, little brother,” the Adversary said.

“Lord of Pus, Lord of Pus, Lord of Pus,” Rogasz replied. “I am drowned in the depths of your ocean.”

“Then it’s time you learned to swim, isn’t it? Whatever you’re doing now, try something different.”


“Yes, change your ways.” The Adversary paused a moment. “I’ve heard it can be pleasant to do good. Why not give that a stab?”

The Adversary smiled. His teeth were white and even. He had no fangs.

Rogasz thought how soothing it would be, to walk through the world so pure and clean.

That night, he killed a hundred pushers.

They died firing their guns at blackness, and their backup men, hidden in doorways or parked Cadillacs, also emptied their pistols into the dark executioner who seeped out of the night’s shadows. Seven innocents were injured in the panicked gunplay, one fatally... if you can use the word innocent for someone who has come to the Zone in search of a fix.

Police talked of gang wars and gritted their teeth — not that most of them cared about the scum who got killed, but they dreaded the media circus that would follow. Besides, the streets got jittery with so much death in the air. Teenage kids necking in stairwells might suddenly catch the blast of a shotgun, fired by some righteous citizen terrified at the sound of a kiss. People might park their cars in their own garage, then find they’d lost the nerve to step outside, to walk the dozen paces to their dark back doors; and maybe come morning, their blue-lipped corpses would be found by paperboys or postmen, once-living mothers or fathers reduced to inert depositories of carbon monoxide.

That’s what happened when death went on a spree: it was too contagious to be constrained by the hands of one person, even if that person had the ancient strength of a vampire. Rogasz killed a hundred pushers. Those higher up in the drug-peddling chain gunned down hundreds more, every rival or potential rival, every employee whose loyalty could be questioned, every wino or panhandler who sat too long across the street.

“I am cleaning up the city,” Rogasz told himself. “Cleaning up the city. Cleaning up the city. I am changing my ways by doing good.”

But when he killed a pusher, he never bothered to take the pusher’s stash. The next customers to come along usually ripped off whatever they could find, unless the drugs had already been picked up by dogs or rats or street kids woken by the noise of gunfire.

So a few more deaths got added to the tally, this time from clumsy overdoses. Coke-ravaged nostrils poured out blood. Junkies sat dead on the toilets of all-night doughnut shops, infinitely reused needles still dangling from their arms.

“STUPID, STUPID, STUPID” read one paper’s headline the next morning. The editor had seen no reason to change it from the previous day.

Rogasz stood in front of his soot-stained mausoleum and watched the eastern sky brighten before dawn. The weather looked like it would be lovely and clear. He felt changed, the claws of insanity easing their grip on his skull. Colors seemed more vivid — a dandelion growing beside his tomb had tiny yellow petals so sharply distinct, he could stare at them for hours. It took every drop of his strength to pull himself away, to retreat to his coffin before the sun’s corona inched a blazing bead above the horizon.

Yet the promising daybreak faded quickly to gray overcast. Cops, ambulance drivers, waitresses snatching sips from their own cups of coffee whenever they picked up orders in the kitchen... many of those awake to see the dawn were struck by the way its initial brightness soon bleached out of the sky, leaving a hot muggy gloom no forecaster had predicted. Thunder rumbled softly as parents laid out their breakfast tables in the muted light of morning; and a troubled few who had somehow freed themselves from the compunction to explain things rationally whispered that the city itself had created the clouds — that the pall of death simmering in the streets had ascended on its own convection currents to block out the sun.

Near noon, a riot broke out in Shantytown. Every TV station gave a different reason for how it started, but their footage was identical: the broken windows, the angry accusations, the weeping faces, all interchangeable.

In response, middle-aged men wearing business suits sat in air-conditioned conference rooms and discussed the possibility of martial law; but they only dithered and delayed. Perhaps it was the dispiriting gray overcast seeping down from the sky. Perhaps even middle-aged men wearing business suits could feel weighed down by the overwhelming sadness, the hopeless, restless sense of damnation that smoldered in the streets.

Rogasz felt it as soon as he woke: the crushing sameness, the sense that any change had only been for the worse. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he hissed, not knowing whom he meant. “Stupid, stupid, stupid... stupid, stupid, stupid.” Like steam, he gushed from his tomb and flowed through the open window of the first car to pass the cemetery. Death to the driver; then Rogasz sped through the growing twilight, never slowing for stop signs or traffic lights, seizing a new car whenever the one he was driving got T-boned at an intersection.

Once he heard the yip of a police siren. Just once. The city was somehow thinning out, as if all the forces that tried to keep it working were shrinking to wisps of thread, laced on a wide, wide loom with giant holes in the weave. A crazy man could drive straight up the middle and never be touched by anyone who cared about saving the last scraps of the city’s sanity.

At the end of a trail of wreckage, he reached a certain bus shelter. Abandoning his most recent car in the middle of the road, Rogasz stormed up to the Adversary.

“It didn’t work,” the vampire said. “I tried to do good, but it didn’t work. I failed, I failed, I failed.”

“Of course you did,” the Adversary replied. “You can’t do good if you don’t know what good is.”

“How do I learn what good is?”

“Not my department, little brother. I give tests, not answers. You have to find your own teacher.”

The Adversary disappeared. Rogasz looked back at the street, thinking he might return to his vehicle; but a twelve-year-old boy had already shinnied through the open window and driven the car away to a chop shop.

Fifty years ago, Rogasz would not have been able to enter a church... or a mosque or a synagogue or even a museum displaying sacred Egyptian antiquities. Something had changed since then: a weakening, a diminishment. Holy water was merely wet. The Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita — just paper and ink, with no more power to harm him than the Sunday funnies. One night, only a few months past, he had choked a nun to death by making her swallow her crucifix.

He knew he was not sane.

The church he chose to enter was normally lit with huge floodlights, bright enough to discourage graffiti artists and drug deals on the front steps. Tonight, however, the street was dark: the deep guilty darkness of shadows who know they shouldn’t be there. Something had cut the electricity on this block, whether the riot, or the drug war, or even one of the car accidents Rogasz had produced with his reckless driving. It didn’t matter; whatever the reason, night had closed in on the church like a hungry dog that had been waiting for a sign of weakness.

Every door was locked, dead-bolted and chained. Rogasz chose the one he wanted to enter and it flew open before him, the locks shattering on their own rather than waiting for him to use force. Within, there sounded a brief chitter of bats reacting to the vampire’s presence; then the little animals squeezed themselves out through chinks in the roof and walls, letting silence descend on the sanctuary.

Rogasz walked through the vestibule and advanced down the aisle, his ears and eyes scanning for... whatever one could learn from churches. Despite the darkness outside, the vampire’s preternatural vision could catch the background glimmer of the city filtering through the stained-glass windows. Time-bleached images of Christ and the disciples alternated with newer ones that appealed to urbanite longings — doves, and sheaves of grain, and grape-laden vines.

“Teach me!” screamed the vampire. He stood on the altar, arms stretched wide to the vaulted ceiling. His shoes left smears of dirt on the white altar cloth, gritty footprints tracked across the words I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.

“Teach me, teach me, teach me!” he cried into the darkness. “Change me into something different!”

No answer but silence.

“Make me better! Make me good! Make it stop being stale.”

He pulled out his knife and slashed it viciously across his own face. “See?” he shouted... but the cuts only oozed jellied blackness and shut themselves sluggishly. “See? See? Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Outside the church, things began to burn.

A few of the fires were started by deliberate arson — old scores being settled in a city stretched so thin it was flammable as paper. Other fires simply happened: people sitting in front of their television sets suddenly found themselves poised with a matchbook in one hand and a lit match in the other, seeing how long they could hold the match before its heat made them let go. Maybe the flame would go out as it fell, or the match would gutter on a dirty plate left over from supper and set on the floor beside the TV chair. In some households, however, the match landed on a rag rug, or in a basket of never-finished knitting that had long outlived the need for baby sweaters or booties. The burgeoning flames gave off an incense of paralyzed sadness, holding viewers in a melancholy trance until they quietly conceded it was too late.

The sound of fire sirens seemed so weak in the deepening night... like an infant’s last cry of starvation.

Rogasz sat at the church’s grand piano, softly playing one minor chord after another. He couldn’t remember how he’d moved from the altar to the piano bench. Any key higher than middle C buzzed unpleasantly; when he looked into the open piano, he saw his knife lying across the strings of the upper octaves, rattling with the vibration of the notes.

He pulled out the knife and jammed the blade into his thigh. After that, the piano sounded better.

One soft chord after another — it had been years since he had played. Long ago, when the sun still shone, every civilized man could read Latin, dance the minuet, and play Bach by memory. Rogasz had been doing precisely that, mere minutes before his tryst with a woman who called herself Juliet. He’d considered her a casual indulgence, the amusement of a moment... but that amusing, indulgent moment led to the short, sharp violation and centuries of night-bound withering.

“Juliet,” Rogasz called to the empty darkness. “I forgive you.” He said it mostly to curry favor with the god who was supposed to inhabit this church; yet he found that at this second, his heart held no hatred for the long-lost woman. She had drunk his blood and stolen his sunrise, but even rage could burn itself out. “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you,” he said aloud, striking a chord with each phrase.

A tiny rustle came in response... Hallucination, he thought at first, but his keen eyes soon picked out a shabby figure sitting in the darkness. A teenage girl, a street kid, sat in a back pew and silently tried to shift her weight to a more comfortable position. Of course it wasn’t Juliet — Rogasz had tracked that bitch down less than a century after she created him, and now she was dust on the boots of Prague — but this girl had something of the same look. Tired. Controlled.

“Is there anything you’d like me to play?” he asked, staring directly at her.

She jumped, apparently startled he could see her in the darkness. Then she shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

“Is that the name of a song?”

“Play what you want. Just keep your distance.”

He wanted to tell her what a fool she was — he could bolt from one end of the sanctuary to the other and sink his teeth into her throat before her brain had a chance to react. The words Stupid, stupid, stupid quivered on his lips.



After a few experimental notes, he knew his fingers could no longer manage Bach. Too many centuries had passed without practice... and his daggerlike fingernails clicked unpleasantly on the keys. He went back to slow minor chords, improvising a bittersweet tune to fit against them.

The next time Rogasz looked at the girl, her eyes were half closed.

Outside, the fires spread through the night — fires without noise, without fire chiefs yelling through bullhorns or alarms clanging into the darkness. To be sure, every fire crew in the city was making a stand, staked out around propane tanks, ammonia dumps, chemical manufacturing plants; but that left everything else to burn, spreading the flames unchecked from each building to its neighbors. Dispossessed families simply fled into the night... and none of them could say whether they intended to return, whether they would even file insurance claims on their homes or just wipe the ashes off their shoes and move on.

The stained-glass windows of the church grew brighter as the fires approached. Flickering light wavered behind the faces of saints; the dove of peace shimmered. One window read BEHOLD I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK... and the light in Christ’s stained-glass lantern glinted with a beam that shone goldenly across the pews.

The light showed a legion of rats, streaming into the church.

They were, of course, fleeing the fires: running from nests behind ancient basement furnaces or dashing from summer lairs inside the garbage heaps that cooked in every alley. Some had flooded up from the sewers — climbing through gratings and road-work sites as the sewer water began to steam from nearby flames. In other parts of the city the animals soon headed for water again, diving into cooler sewers, into the harbor, or even into backyard swimming pools, snorting against the sting of chlorine. But here, in the blocks around the church, they were drawn by the presence of Rogasz, diverted by the vampire’s aura to gather at his side.

Hundreds of rats poured silently into the sanctuary. They did not squeak. Their claws scarcely made a sound on the hardwood floor. Like an audience filing in for a concert, they congregated in a circle around the piano.

And the circle grew.

“Shit!” squealed the girl in the back of the church. Dozing with the soft music, she had just woken to find a rodent army surging through every door. In an instant, she had scrambled up to stand on the pew, climbing as high as she could above the invading horde... not that she was a timid little kid afraid of mice, but a thousand full-grown sewer rats, their fur matted with urine and feces, were enough to daunt any human.

“What the hell’s going on?” she shouted.

“It’s the fire,” Rogasz replied. “They’ve come to the church seeking sanctuary.”

“Rats? Are you crazy?”

“I expect so.”

“Fine,” the girl said. “You be crazy. I’m getting out of here.”

“You wouldn’t survive,” Rogasz told her, putting a hard edge into his voice. “Can’t you see we’re surrounded by flame?”

He nodded toward the stained-glass images. Firelight raged outside now, blazing fiercely through the windows on both sides of the church. “If you went outside,” Rogasz said, “you’d suffocate from the smoke.”

“So I should stay and burn instead?”

“Have faith,” he told her. He said the words because good people said such things, and because he wanted to win the approval of any deity who might be listening. “Have faith, have faith, have faith. Haaaaaave faith. Haaaaaaaaaave faith.”

The girl died an hour before sunrise. Some of the rats survived, though.

Fires on the horizon brought a false dawn to the city; but the vampire could feel true sunup only minutes away as he approached the Adversary’s bus shelter once more. Rogasz had not escaped the church unscathed — he had played the piano till it burst into flame, its strings snapping one by one with enough tension to drive the broken ends through the burning wood around them. One side of the vampire’s face was baked raw, oozing fluids. He had stopped playing because his right hand no longer worked.

The gray predawn streets were mostly empty, except for jeeps of uniformed men driving grimly through the smoke. Three hours ago martial law had been imposed at last, and already the soldiers had fallen under the city’s spell: an urge to scurry from one safe place to another, a willingness to blind themselves to everything in between. No patrols stopped the vampire. None even glanced in his direction... not because he had invoked some supernatural concealment but because the patrols had become their own islands of consciousness, turned inward and brooding.

Unchallenged, Rogasz made his way to the bus shelter. He walked with a limp; for some reason, he’d never removed the knife from his thigh. The Adversary was once more leaning in the shelter’s doorway, his face smudged with soot. “Busy night, little brother,” he said.

“I went looking for God, but I haven’t changed,” the vampire replied. “People die and I have no grief.”

“You can’t mourn for everyone.” The Adversary shrugged. “Only heaven has enough tears for that.”

“But I want to feel something. I want to be moved. Moved! Pushed away from wherever I am and over the line.”

“What line?”

“The dawn,” Rogasz said. “Over the edge of dawn into the light.”

“The sun rises every day, little brother. Don’t blame me if you decide to hide from it.”

“But it will kill me.”

“There, you’ve seen through my plan.” The Adversary laughed. “All this time, I’ve been secretly tempting you to suicide. That’s a big bad mortal sin.” His face abruptly turned grim and he looked at Rogasz in disgust. “Do you think redemption is free? Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

“But I tried — “

“Listen,” the Adversary snapped, “whatever price you’ve always avoided paying, that’s precisely what it costs. Understand? If you want things to be different, you have to let go of the thing you’re trying to keep the same. Simple logic.”

“I could think of a hundred counterexamples...” Rogasz began.

“Then I’ll see you back here a hundred more times.” The Adversary disappeared in a puff of smoke that smelled of burned rat hair and the screams of children.

Dawn came. The dark day of the soul. Rogasz greeted it.

In the first hour, there were still too many cinders in the air to admit more than a ghost of sun. The vampire felt his hair smolder, but that was all.

In the second hour, people began to come out of hiding. Some wept; some had faces of stone. One man walked through the ruins of a tenement, calling for his dog. Rogasz helped him shout, “Skeeters! Skeeters! Skeeters!” The vampire knew there was no life left under the debris, but he liked having something he could yell over and over, hearing his voice echo off the scorched masonry.

By the third hour, the ash was finally settling out of the air. Fires still burned in some neighborhoods, but a day fire is a sheepish thing compared to a night one. As the haze cleared, the sun broke through. Rogasz spent a few minutes dodging it, then gave up. The good side of his face burned to match the other, but it was a dry burn, like a piece of leather curing in the desert.

Sometime in the fourth hour, a beagle came in response to the vampire’s calls. By that time, the man looking for Skeeters had gone away, so Rogasz had no idea whether this was the right dog. “Skeeters, Skeeters, Skeeters,” Rogasz said, and the dog wagged its tail.

For much of the fifth hour, the vampire lay on a stone bench in front of a law office. A sign on the office door read CLOSED WHILE EMERGENCY CONTINUES. No emergency was visible. The dog lay on the ground beside the bench, sleeping in the sun. Rogasz didn’t sleep, but he closed his eyes, feeling daylight sear into him like a welding torch. “I am being purified,” he told the dog. “This is what redemption feels like.”

In the sixth hour, a policeman yelled at him, “You can’t sleep there, fella.” But when the officer got closer, he said, “Holy shit! Just stay put, don’t try to get up. I’ll call an ambulance.” No ambulance ever came — not in this city, on this day — and at some point the policeman left, too.

As afternoon drew on, the shadow of the law office fell across the bench where Rogasz lay, and after a while he felt strong enough to sit up. The dog followed him down the street, past an army checkpoint that waved him through with directions to the nearest hospital. When Rogasz turned the opposite way, none of the soldiers bothered to correct him.

In time, vampire and dog reached the church where Rogasz had spent the previous night. The walls had toppled in, but by some quirk of combustion, the massive pipes of the organ had survived the fire. They stood side by side, towering over the rubble like a stockade wall, their false gold paint leprous with blisters.

Rogasz searched until he found the body of the girl: peaceful looking, he thought, once he had arranged her limbs properly. He wrenched the metal frame from the grand piano’s skeleton and propped it, harp-shaped, over the girl’s head. With a blackened stick of wood, he wrote




on the frame, then called the dog to see what he’d done. “This is Juliet,” he told the dog; then he remembered Juliet was someone from long ago, and this was just a dead street kid whose name he’d never known.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he murmured. “I should have asked her name. That’s what clean people do — they ask each other’s name.” He leaned over the corpse and shouted, “Why didn’t you tell me your name? Stupid!”

The dead girl answered with silence... not a profound silence, just the flat silence of death. When the living don’t speak, they’re always saying something with their silence; but a lifeless body has no implied message, no secret it might whisper if coaxed or intimidated. The corpse was now an “it,” not a “she” — a thing lying on rubble, as meaningless as air.

“Oh, Juliet,” he said. “Where did you go?”

He bent down, and the dog came forward, too, snuffling at the corpse. For a moment Rogasz watched, wondering what the dog would do... if the smell of cooked flesh would stir its appetite. But then he thought he didn’t want the dog to do anything to Juliet, so he took a burned chunk of pew and threw it off some distance so the dog would have something else to occupy its attention.

The dog ran to fetch, although it was a small dog and a big piece of wood. Growling happily, the dog began to drag the burned lump back toward the vampire.

Rogasz turned toward the organ pipes rising at the front of the church: a wall of pipes, a barricade that must be hiding something — the god who lurked in this place. “I’d like to mourn,” he called to the god. “I really want to feel that something has happened here. That something important has changed. I knew her, I played music for her, and she died. That should change me. What was it all for, if it didn’t change me?”

The god gave no answer.

“I have a dog now,” Rogasz told the god behind the pipes. “I have a dog named Skeeters and I’ll take good care of him. He’ll love me and I’ll love him, and we’ll play together all day long... in the sun. I’ve spent a day in the sun and I have a dog who loves me. What else do you want?” He grabbed a blackened chunk of brick and stood up suddenly. “What else could you want?”

With all his strength, he heaved the brick at the organ pipes, striking the largest pipe dead center. Metal clanged and crumpled, leaving a teardrop-shaped dent.

“What else do you want?” the vampire screamed. “Isn’t this enough? Juliet’s dead. Isn’t that enough? I’m burned and I have a dog. Isn’t that fucking enough?”

He pulled the knife from his thigh, loosing a spray of burned red blood. With a roar of fury he scrambled over the ruins of the church — nuggets of stained glass, the altar with its charred swath of linen, the roof beams fallen on top of the pulpit — and he propelled himself in a frenzied leap onto the organ’s remains... a palisade of sooty, paint-blistered pipes, barring him from God on the other side. He could hang there by jamming his hand into the mouth of one of the pipes, sharp metal cutting into his fingers; and with the other hand, his right hand, too burned to play piano but still strong enough to hold a knife, he slashed at the pipe barrier and howled, “Stupid!



Rain fell soon after sunset... just a light shower, but enough to bring Rogasz back to consciousness.

He hung, arms outstretched on the rack of pipes, both hands thrust into mouth holes in the flues. His knife had fallen some time ago, after failing to do more than damage the false gold paint.

The dog had run off, upset by the vampire’s shouting.

Rogasz released his grip and dropped to the ground, landing heavily on the scattered debris. It was slick with the rain; he slipped and went sprawling. If he injured anything, if he broke bones in the tumble, he was no longer able to feel such insignificant pain.

Juliet’s face was wet in the twilight, her clothes lightly soaked. He didn’t like seeing her that way, but he didn’t want to cover her up. The rain had made the charcoal letters of her name bleed down the frame where he’d written them. Rogasz stared at them for a time, wondering if he should wipe the words away and write them again. No. The frame was wet, all the charcoal, too; he might not be able to write anything this time, and a streaky epitaph was better than nothing.

“I could have saved you,” he said. Gently, the vampire laid his hand on her cheek. “I could have made you like me; then you would have survived... like me. You wouldn’t thank me for that, not in the long run. Still, maybe I should have given you the choice. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

He bent over and kissed her cracked crusty lips. “You died in a church,” he whispered to her silent face. “You’ll be all right. And here...” His knife was lying atop the rubble a short distance away. He retrieved it and folded the girl’s limp hands around it, laying it across her chest. “This will keep you safe.” He was tempted to add, You need the knife more than I do; but he recognized the words were empty. Just said to prove something to someone. Rogasz had no need for such words — not in this quiet twilight.

Instead, he said, “I don’t know.” He kissed her again. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

He smiled and patted her hands, making sure they held the knife firmly.

When he lifted his head from Juliet’s corpse, the Adversary was leaning against the ruined piano. “So,” the Lost One said, “how are you feeling tonight?”

“I don’t know.”


Rogasz let himself take a deep breath. “Unlikely — I haven’t done anything to deserve it.”

“What did you want to do? Slay a dragon? Heal a leper?” The Adversary waved his hand dismissively. “Melodramatic crap. A childish need for flashy resolutions. Same as if you dropped to your knees and wailed that you were finally embracing God. That’s not salvation; that’s just trying to be the star in some grandiose show. Trust me, I know what salvation isn’t.” He laughed. “Still, you survived the whole day.”

Rogasz shrugged. “I’ve survived a lot of things.”

“True.” The Adversary pushed himself away from the piano and sidled forward over the debris. “Who’s the girl?” he asked, nodding toward the ground.

Rogasz opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Just a street kid,” he said at last. “I’ve been calling her Juliet.”

The Adversary raised his eyebrows. “And you’re Romeo?”

“No. I’m not Romeo and she’s not Juliet. She’s just dead.”

The Adversary stared at Rogasz silently. “You sound calmer,” he said. “More at peace than when we last spoke.”

“Just too burned out for rage. A day of shock therapy. Don’t expect it to last.”

“Nothing lasts, little brother. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Everything changes in time.”

“Have I changed?” He looked down at the dead girl. “She’s changed. She has definitely changed. But I’m still here. My injuries will heal like always, and then what? The same old thing?”

“That’s up to you,” the Adversary replied. “But if a vampire can find a moment of grace... who knows who might be next?” He gave the ghost of a bow. “Stay sane, little brother; I look to you as my inspiration. Stay sane, stay sane, stay sane.”

With a backward wave of his hand, the Adversary walked into the darkness. Full night had fallen: a night rinsed with soft rain.

Rogasz decided to wait beside the corpse a while longer — maybe the dog would come back.

Author’s Notes

I’m normally a pretty cheerful guy... but when I saw the movie Se7en in 1995, this story just came blurting out over the next three days. A story in which the world is withered, thinned out, shriveled. Where Everyman is a despairingly unbalanced vampire who seeks moral guidance from the Devil in a bus shelter.

I should know better than to see certain types of movies. If I’d seen a movie about the Care Bears, heaven knows what I might have written.