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When he thought too much of her, a pain that should not have been felt followed. As soon as it became unbearable, he emptied his mind. This was the reason not a single thought slid through his head as he strode through the graveyard, headed towards a site that he all too frequently haunted.
He listened to the wind that whistled in the air, louder in this graveyard than in any other place he'd ever been. Perhaps he was only imagining the words that it whispered to him as the sun began to set in the horizon; perhaps because of what he was doing. Because of who he was here to see.
He barely glanced at the graves that he passed. He already knew where he was going. He tried not to come here often, but his emotions tended to overcome reason. Just like what would happen to a human.
She's dead, the wind told him, an eerie voice that breathed into his ear words he did not want to hear. She's not far now. But when you go home she will be.
A slight pause.
“I know that,” he mumbled back thoughtlessly, having grown accustomed at this point to talking to nothing. “I have known that for years.”
Why do you keep returning? asked the wind. She is not coming back.
“She is not coming back,” he agreed quietly, not worried because there was no one around to see him – and he wouldn't even care if there was. “Nor will I join her.”
You waste your time. Her soul has moved on; it is gone forever. If you are destroyed, your soul will not move on, for you have no soul. You'll vanish.
“But it'd at least end my misery,” he answered. His voice was barely louder than the wind that he was speaking to.
She was human. You could have kept her with one simple bite, but you chose to let her keep her soul. You did not rid her of her humanity.
A second wind-voice seemed to join in. You chose well. Humanity is a precious thing. Life is a gift – life that ends, not the life that you have.
“I want my life to end.”
But it can't.
It never will.
He began to ignore the wind when he found what he'd been looking for. He approached the gravestone and knelt before it, gazing sadly at the name carved onto it.
He remained unnaturally still, frozen into that kneeling position. Stephanie...he believed that he had been in love with her, though at first he had been uncertain, with no one to turn to for advice. He would probably not have made such a fool of himself if he'd realized what he was feeling sooner. But he did know that when they first met, he had spent every minute of the day thinking of her and longing to see her smile. The sight of joy in her eyes reminded him of what it was like to be happy. When he met her, he'd been like all other vampires – cold as the frigid winter air that now surrounded him, caring only for himself.
Meeting her had made him realize the real blessing that it was to live. It was a blessing that he did not have, for the gift was to have one life and live it to its fullest, and then to rest later with death – and death was only the beginning.
“Steph,” he muttered. “You taught me what life is, and now I want to die.”
He felt himself smile sadly as memories barreled into him. Memories of Stephanie.
The day they'd met, he'd followed her up the hills away from the city. She hadn't known what he was. He had never told her what he was, but it was likely that she would have figured it out later after he'd vanished.
He remembered her smile as she broke into a run, enjoying the scenery and feeling the sun on her rosy cheeks.
“I'm not from here,” she had called over her shoulder as he followed her at a slower pace. His intention had been to catch her as prey, but after the conversation they had by chance, somehow he couldn't bear the thought of harming her. “I moved earlier this year. I needed to get away from home – find something different.”
She spoke to him in English, her native language, because she had grown up in Wyoming.
He felt curious, so he broke his usual silence to ask, “Why?”
“Because...I realized that there was much more to life than what I was seeing. Different, more interesting places than where I lived. Romania caught my eye, and so I moved here as soon as I was old enough to live alone.”
“Are you happy here?” he'd found himself asking.
“Well...” she mumbled, and her voice changed unexpectedly from content to sad. It took him a moment to adjust to the change. “No...I am finding it hard to adjust to living here. Nobody speaks to me in English. I speak their language awfully. I'm embarrassed to go to stores. Why do you speak to me in English?” she added suddenly, and he jumped a little when all of a sudden she turned to him.
“Because I'm from England,” he replied in a voice scratchy from lack of use, as he remembered his story.
“And what are you doing here?” she asked, looking at him.
“My story is just like yours.” Except for the chapter where I got bitten and remained twenty-two forever, he added silently, but knew that humans didn't swallow ideas like that very easily. He did not say it aloud to her, because after so long of not speaking to anyone, it felt oddly relieving to exchange a few words with somebody. If he told her what he was, it may scare her away.
“Have you adjusted to life here?” Stephanie asked, suddenly looking him directly in the eye.
He stared at her for a second, for he was unused to being addressed directly like this. “No,” he blurted out suddenly, averting his eyes.
No? Why did I say that? he had wondered later. But it hadn't felt like a lie then, and it still didn't now.
Kneeling here at her resting place, he remembered her laughter, sweet and shy and innocent and soothing. Though she smiled often, her laughter was rare and pleasing. It normally appeared during those awkward silent moments, for he knew that he had never been easy to speak to – though for some reason she kept returning to him.
“You're the only person I can speak to comfortably,” had been her reply when he asked her why that was. After this he assumed that she'd been referring to the fact that he spoke to her in English.
Her sorrows. It tore him in an odd way to see her cry, but she had a few times. He had never known how to comfort her, but instead he listened attentively to every word she told him. This seemed to calm her where words could not.
However, when she'd heard that her mother in Wyoming had died, she had been inconsolable. When he dared ask her why late one night, sitting alone with her on a bench somewhere, her simple response had been, “I love her.”
He'd wondered why she said it in the present tense, if her mother had already died. This he did not ask, though, because it felt like the sort of question that would only make her weep harder. That night he'd remained silent and listened to her recount some memories, and even at one point express regret for having left her parents to come here. This was a month after he'd met her, and sitting on that bench he wondered why he didn't abandon her already – go back to his home where he belonged, and stay there.
Even when she had been tired, something about it fascinated him. After a long day of work she'd be stumbling on her feet, and she needed to rest, to sleep, and sometimes dream. Dreams...he derived from her words that they were visions which came to her at the end of the day, when she went to sleep. Sometimes she described them to him, and he listened with interest, wishing that he, too, could dream. He wondered what he would see if he could dream.
The more he got to know about her, the more he wanted to know why. Why did she not like the color yellow? Why did she prefer her hair loose to tied back? Why did she like a certain drink, and why did she dislike a certain fruit?
With more time he spent with her, he began to 'swim with the river' again, acting more like a human than what he really was. He desired to try the beverages on the table when she invited him to a party, or have a bit of the fruit that she didn't like, merely to know what was wrong with it. His personality began to brighten; no longer did he hide himself in his home from day to night, but he began to interact with the people around him, and meet and befriend people that Stephanie introduced him. He began to enjoy life...until that night.
He tried to forget that night, but it was impossible. How could he forget the night that his life was ruined a second time?
That night he had forgotten that he was a vampire. He had lost himself in the crowd of humans, and believed for a few dreaded moments that he was like them. They treated him like one, but only because they didn't know the monster that he really was.
For so long he'd been taken away by Stephanie, who had shown him a world full of color and beauty. The world that belonged to humans, the beings that lived and died. He was not one of them, but it was a heartfelt wish to be one that caused him to lose his mind. It was after an upbeat, fun dance, the kind you lost yourself in. He did not realize that he was kissing her until they pulled away.
Gasping, he was stunned at himself. Where had he pulled up the nerve to do that? He'd stared at her, frozen, awaiting her reaction. To this day he did not know what he'd wanted her reaction to be, but when he saw what it was, he felt the world crumble beneath him.
She had taken a step away from him, and was staring as if he were something out of a nightmare. When she finally spoke to him, she said three words that reminded him of the monster that he really was.
“You're so...cold,” she had stammered, stumbling farther away yet.
He, also, took a step back. Yes. He was cold, because of the lack of blood running through his long-empty veins. Cold, because he was not like them. He was a vampire. He was dead on his feet.
At that moment he realized that the wonderful, magical life Stephanie had introduced him was reserved for the creatures like her, who lived – and died. He was an alien here, an intruder, he shouldn't even exist at all.
He'd stared back at her for several seconds, feeling joy drain away from him and disappear into the stuffy air surrounding him. How to respond to a statement like that, and not sound like the fool he now knew he was?
“I'm sorry,” was what he finally whispered. Hesitating, he added painfully, “Good-bye.”
And with that he strode away, ignoring her protests. He hurried to his home, where he locked himself away and felt himself die emotionally once more. But he did not die. His frozen heart did not give out. He was still alive because the privilege to die had been stolen from him. He was alone in a huge mansion, burning in his misery and longing to be what he could never become.
She came repeatedly and tried to get him to open the door. He merely stood there at the top of the stairs, listening to her pleas, but never giving in. He would not be a fool again, would not forget the beast he was for the rest of his long existence.
He wandered the halls of his home, just existing. Unable to even cry, he had no way to express his sorrow and longing to go back to the hills, where he had met Stephanie years ago.
Stephanie had died happily of old age with a family and a life of her own. He knelt before her gravestone and wondered if she had ever thought of him. Had she ever wondered what had become of him, as she grew older and older and eventually was granted the gift of death? Had she thought of him once, just like he now thought of her all day long?
He left a single flower on the ground under which she was buried. It was withering now, since he had knelt here reminiscing for much too long. But he did not intend to leave anytime soon.
Why do you disturb her grave, now that she is gone to you? the wind-voice tormented him. Why do you mourn her? She has been granted a privilege that you will never have. You should be jealous of her, not miss her. You should forget she ever came into your life. Why do you mourn her so?
To this he already had an answer, an answer that had been deep inside for a long time. “Because I love her.” He was not merely repeating the words Stephanie had told him once, when her mother had died. He was saying them straight from his own heart, his own feelings, his soul. It felt like he had a soul, for creatures without souls did not feel what he felt now.
If you love her, you should have kept her while you still had a chance. You could have halted your suffering before it even came. It would be a simple, quick thing – just a bite. What was stopping you?
He didn't respond immediately, for sometimes he wished that he could have done just that – stolen her soul so that she would not die, so that she could stay with him and keep him company forever. “No,” he whispered at last. “Humanity is precious. I let her live the life I could never have.”
And what will you do with yourself now? You are a loner, a waste, an empty shell of what a man should be. You've been around much too long. Keeping Stephanie with you would at least give you a reason to exist.
“I'll do the same thing with myself that I've always done – nothing.”
And slowly, he sank to the ground, out of his kneeling position, to lay on the damp grass and be nothing. To revisit old memories and dread them. To be alone with himself and Stephanie's gravestone. To be like the wind. He was here, he was always here, he would never cease to be here, and his misery would never end – no matter how hard he prayed for it to. Nobody listened to his prayers anymore.
Should he love or hate Stephanie? He couldn't even decide anymore. He wouldn't be suffering like this if he hadn't met her. But if he hadn't met her, he would never have tasted the delicious thing that was a human life, even if he had only lived it for a few weeks. He hadn't belonged there, it had been forbidden to him, but without her he could have never dreamed that the significance of living and dying was so great. He wanted to die now, but lived in torment, knowing that he never could.
Now he loved her, and that was that.