Robert Giles moved quickly enough that he was no more than a shadow flitting down the long, dimly lit hallways. It wasn't time for him to start work yet. This would only take a few minutes, and he had a full hour before anyone would expect him to begin his shift at the asylum. He drifted from room to room, listening to the babble, wails, and guttural sounds that emanated from behind the heavy locked doors. He had to listen because it was hard to find the right scent here. Unwashed bodies and the strong smells of raw human waste clouded the more subtle smells that indicated illness and impending death.
He had learned to find the weak and dying during the plagues of Europe and had resumed his pattern during the influenza outbreak in 1918. No one noticed when he took the not yet dead away from the wards of the living. This style of eating had become an easy habit, but the unwatched dying were now hard to find. Here in an asylum, however, no one saw or cared. Ironically, the families of his victims now were often relieved by his actions, and he loved the idea of himself as the giver of final mercy. It fit well with the god complex he had acquired with his rebirth.
He stopped at an ominously silent door. Silence was a sign of weakness in a place like this. Silence meant that there was not enough energy left to release the torture that these minds endured every minute of the day. Silence meant that his services as the undertaker here would soon be needed. Silence meant that he could bring final rest to troubled minds; he could bring his own type of mercy. In six months, no one had even noticed when Robert took the bodies out to be returned to their relatives, if there were any relatives who would claim them. More often than not, he simply buried his unwanted victims himself. They paid and even thanked him to do it. Yes, he was a blessing in this dark place. He chuckled to himself as he unlocked the door to the man's room.
The emaciated man lay on his cot breathing quick, shallow breaths. This one was restrained with chains for his violent outbreaks. Robert smelled the pneumonia on the man's breath, and knew it was the chains that had led to this; the chains and the drugs had kept him from moving enough to empty his lungs.
In twelve centuries it had never been so easy. He had been a Viking before he became immortal, Asvald the son of Advund. He had killed hundreds of times as a human and a hundred thousand times as a vampire. Here, he killed for a living in the presence of others with no worry of discovery. He worked at night. He wore tinted glasses for an "eye disorder." He was supposed to deal with the dead. No one wanted to be near him, but they appreciated his work ethic and his willingness to rid them of the unwanted bodies. It was perfect and so very ironic at the same time. He almost laughed to himself as he leaned over the thin man. The man's eyes opened briefly and then closed. It was so easy, he sighed as he sank his teeth into the man's neck. This one didn't have a family, so there was no reason to even hide the wound.
Robert still had thirty minutes left after taking the now shrouded body to the morgue. He would report the death and bury the body during the first hour of work. He again took to the halls. Normally, he ate no more than twice a week at the asylum, and then he only took one life a night. He didn't want to raise any alarm here. He had five or six more years left at this hospital before anyone would begin to get suspicious, and he didn't want to ruin those years by being a glutton. However, the dying man was small and thin, and his blood had tasted badly from the drugs and the coming death. Against his better judgment, Robert was moving through the lower halls again in his swift hunt. The place was massive, and there were so many doors to choose from.
He finally chose a door that held a female with a small human voice that often cried out for her mother when it wasn't having a conversation with the ghosts locked in her head. The room was silent. It was strange, this one was very young. He unlocked the door and peered inside. Young ones didn't often die without the telltale cough. The young woman was supposed to be in her late teens or early twenties, but it looked to him that a mere child of twelve or so years sat looking at him with blurred eyes. She must be on drugs, he thought, but I can't smell any. She shifted, and her eyes focused on him. Strange, she seemed to recognize him. Her scent was incredibly strong and pleasant and made his mouth run with venom. Ah, after so many drugged humans, her blood would be so sweet in his mouth. He lunged at her, but something in her face made him stop just inches from her body. He had no doubt that her blood would be his, but he paused for a moment as he tried to find the reason for his unease.
Had he been younger, or thirstier, he would have crushed her instantly. As it was, his throat was aching and his body tense as he looked into her oddly unfocused gaze. Something about the face and those eyes held him at bay for those few moments until he decided not to take her life, yet. Besides, her blood would taste best when he was truly thirsty. No need to waste it tonight with the blood of another still on his breath. He moved closer, his thirst nearly forgotten in her odd expression that was making him truly curious.
"I knew you wouldn't," she smiled to herself, but her voice was so very weak that even he barely heard it. "I'm glad you changed your mind," she continued and then slumped over on her bed as if the words had suddenly exhausted her. He moved closer still, closer than he had ever been to a non-victim. He moved the dark mass of short hair that now covered her face, and held her head up. Her hair was growing out of the institution's short crop that was meant for its worst patients. Soon they would cut it again. His eyes, perfectly suited to the utter darkness of her cell, noticed that a multitude of burn marks left by electroshock therapy covered her head. He felt a strange rage at this. Why had this slight girl earned such radical treatment? How could she possibly be such a threat to society that she would need to be shocked into a stupor for the rest of her life?
She moved slightly and placed her face against his cold hands, and sighed as if his hands brought relief to her somehow. He crouched there watching the frail creature as she drifted between a conscious stupor and fitful sleep. She seemed to find no way to rest from the workings of her mind. As he watched her, he realized that she was far too thin, sallow, and utterly unhealthy looking. Had her pale skin ever seen the sun? She was as pale as he. Her veins stood out blue against her skin, and the black circles under her eyes seemed almost as dark as coal smudges. Her thin skin seemed to stretch over her cheekbones and shoulders as if her skin was too tight for even her tiny body.
As soon as he was able, he lay her back down on the bed to which her leg was chained. He ran too quickly down the hall to the empty kitchen and grabbed bread and broth and brought them back to her. He tried to waken the child, but she seamed to only be able to half open her eyes. He placed the food at her mouth, and to his relief, watched as she began to slowly eat. He only had minutes now. He brought the cup of cold broth up to her lips and with some difficulty was able to get her to drink some of it.
"Thank you," she mumbled as he stepped out of the door.
As he left, he checked the twisted paper on the door that told him what he needed to know. Mary Alice Brandon, age 19. He would find out what had happened to this childlike woman.
It wasn't until almost dawn that he had time to check the records for Mary, or Alice, as her family called her. Her records were thick and full of relentless hopelessness. Her family had brought her here at the suggestion of her doctor. She was at best delusional but most probably severely schizophrenic, and this was the diagnosis from several of the psychologists who had tried to help her. They had tried to help her stop seeing and hearing the things that haunted her every waking and sleeping minute. It wasn't the normal odd object or voices that plagued her mind; she saw visions that were so real that she was transported into them. Even before the drugs and electricity began to destroy what mind she had left, she was totally unable to function in society. As a child, she would tell her parents that people were going to die or that the weather was going to change. As she grew older, it became clear that the constant visions were a hazard to her health and safety. The "fits" as her parents called them could occur any time and anywhere and leave her totally unable to function. She couldn't even leave the house. He thought it odd that no one paid any attention to the many entries proving that this wasn't madness but a gift. Even her uneducated and superstitious family admitted that what she saw often came true. They had wanted the doctors to not just fix her mind, but also remove the visions that were destroying it. They did not want her back.
He decided to find out more from one of the night staff. He went to find the tall, young doctor with the greasy, black hair that rarely left the main office all night.
"Doctor Keller, may I talk with you?" He was amused when the good doctor jumped. He had never spoken to this young man and knew him only as the one that looked more like a vampire than himself. Dr. Keller looked at him in shock, and Robert smiled smugly back. Dr. Keller was expecting a grave digger, but the man before him looked more like a blond angel, and the good doctor was astounded at this. So predictable, these pitiful and weak humans, he thought.
"Oh...Sorry...Is it Bill?" he asked.
"No, sir, it's Robert, Robert Giles. I work in on the building and grounds and run the morgue." Doctor Keller flinched as he mentioned the morgue. It was the normal reaction.
"I was checking on the sick, and I found Mary Alice Brandon sick in her cell, or at least I think she might be sick. Can you tell me much about her?"
"I don't know much more than is in her file. Hers is a very sad case. She has one of the worst cases of schizophrenia I've ever seen. Such a pity, too. She is so lovely. Such a waste, really." The greasy haired doctor sighed and smiled slightly. He obviously had some type of knowledge of the girl he said he knew nothing about. Disgusting. He didn't care about the mental health of this patient, just how lovely she was.
"Yes, but what is going to happen to her?"
"Well, we'll do all that we can for her, of course," he said brusquely. "I don't think there is any hope of her ever leaving here, though. She hasn't seen the outside of this place in six years. Unfortunately, our only options so far include the tranquilizers and shock therapy. Her mind is nearly gone now, though, so it really doesn't matter much what we do to her." The doctor said it in such a way that Robert knew exactly what this man might do to her, if he hadn't already. Robert didn't like this human who seemed so eager to find lovely girls in the dark halls of this place. He decided that this one would need to die. This mere human had offended him, and the penalty for offending such a powerful being had always been death in Robert's mind.
Robert was beginning to form a plan by the time he had replaced her file and left the offices to return to his macabre duties. What they had done to Alice made him growl in fury. She hadn't seen the sun in six years, and hadn't been without constant drugs in just as long. She was subjected to electroshock three years ago and now it was a fairly constant treatment. God only knew what happened when the good doctor's heads were turned. She had been tortured by these well-meaning but totally imbecilic doctors.
Robert went into her cell every night after that to try to unravel the mystery of her mind and to feed her. He had to take extra precautions before coming to see her because her incredibly sweet smelling blood was a constant temptation. He ate more than three times in seven days. If he hadn't, he knew absolutely that he wouldn't be able to resist her blood.
His mind had raced with the possibilities of what her gift could mean to him. Could she be helpful to him as a vampire? He had seen firsthand what venom could do for a broken body, but what about a broken mind? If he could manage somehow to change her without killing her, would she be as mad as she was in this asylum? Would she be what he wanted when the venom was done? More importantly, could he leave her here unchanged? Could he leave her at all? Her face was his constant companion now, and he craved being near her, even insane and chained in this place, he craved her company.
She was getting over the shock treatment, but that meant that the tranquilizers would soon be administered. Now that he had seen her without medications, he could understand the staff's willingness to drug her. She was constantly in and out of this place as she saw things that had not occurred yet. She reacted to each vision in a visceral way, and her screams and shouts could be heard far into the hallway. Her emotions were absolutely entwined in her trances, and she could no more disentangle herself from the visions than she could disappear from the building. The visions had made her truly mad and unable to differentiate between the reality of the cell and the reality she saw in her head. Was that because of madness or because of this place and what the doctors had done to her?
Each night she came out from her stupor to try to look at him, her eyes would search his face as if trying to see something. It was always dark in her cell, even when he brought a lantern. It took her two full weeks before she could talk, and for the first few nights, she kept saying the same thing.
"Is that you Jasper?" she would ask.
"No, I'm Robert. Do you remember me?"
"No, I don't think I do. I'm looking for Jasper, but I can't find him. It's very important, but I don't know why," she would say breathlessly.
"I don't know a Jasper, I'm sorry."
"That's too bad; I really do need to find him. It's so important..." and her voice trailed off. Often, it was only a few moments until the next vision had her in its unbreakable grip.
By the fourth night, she was lucid enough to expect him. He arrived well fed from an obese alcoholic who was dying of cirrhosis of the liver. This night, though, Alice looked at him with frightened eyes.
"Why are you afraid, Alice?" he asked in as gentle a tone as possible.
"Why did you do that? Why did you kill her? What were you doing?" She was terrified, and her weak voice trembled.
"I didn't realize you saw that," he said in voice that only slightly betrayed his shock. "I eat differently than you do. It scares you, but it's necessary. I promise, I will never do that to you." He was lying, but it didn't matter. "I brought you something." He held out two halves of an apple.
Alice looked at it with astonished eyes. She was obviously confused, and asked, "What is that? Is it food?"
"Yes, it's an apple? Do you remember apples?" She shook her head and held out a small hand. She took the apple and twisted it around in her hand. "It's beautiful. Look at the color," she muttered as it turned in front of her eyes. He wondered again how much damage had been done to this sweet, tortured soul.
He watched her intently as she took a very small bite and seemed to delight in the sharp crunch it made in her mouth. Her eyes were suddenly bright and alert. She ate it slowly, never stopping, and savoring every nibble. She even smiled a little, and this made her young face glow. While he watched her, he made up his mind to help her somehow.
"Alice, what do you remember of your life outside the asylum?" he asked slowly.
She seemed confused by the question, but then brightened. "I remember a person called Momma. She smelled good, and I think I liked to be with her. There were lots of people. There was so much blue and the rooms were big. There were trees, I think, and things weren't so dark." She paused and scrunched up her face. "That's all."
"Do you remember your name?"
"Alice what, what? I don't understand," she cocked her head to the side.
"Most people have more than one name. They have two or three, and they know how old they are, and where they came from," he answered quietly as the amount of damage slowly became clear to him.
"What is your name? How old are you? And where did you come from?" She fired back at him. He smiled at her spirit. At least she retained a little of her former self. Why not tell her the truth? No one on earth would believe her anyway.
"My original name was Asvald the son of Advund. I go by Robert Giles now. I was born twelve hundred years ago in Scandinavia as the son of a Viking clan leader. I was made into what I am now in medieval Scotland. That is where two vampires attacked us as we traded goods with the Scots. The townspeople frightened the vampires away with fire. I was the only one to survive, but I was changed into a vampire myself. That is why I drink the blood of the people here. It is my way of survival, and it is a gift I can give them. You see, I can give them peace."
"Oh." That was all she said. She wasn't shocked or afraid. "Could you give me peace, too?" she asked. He looked into her eyes and saw only innocence and desire. She wanted to be free of this life.
She deserved more than this, and he could save her, but he needed information first.
He had made sure she was well fed, and that no other shock therapy was planned before he took off to find an old acquaintance in Texas. Carlos was one of the very few survivors from the Volturi's attack on the southern covens. He knew all about gifts, and which ones were worthy of saving. They had met during one of the yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans. Robert had gone to feed, and Carlos had gone to find recruits for the wars that would eventually bring the Volturi. They had always had a good relationship, and Robert had hidden Carlos after the Volturi's attacks, so Carlos owed him.
In two days, he had found Carlos at a villa on the Gulf Coast. They reminisced about old times and went to survey Carlos's newly acquired area. Robert told him of his rare find, and he listened with rapt interest.
"You say her mind is almost gone and that the visions are totally uncontrolled?" he asked.
"Yes, she has no control whatsoever. She can't even remember her life outside of the asylum any more. I want to harvest her talent, but I don't want to create an insane newborn. They are hard enough to control as it is."
Carlos nodded his head in agreement. "This is a unique situation. I have never found a human so gifted. Perhaps we should start checking our asylums out more thoroughly. I can't tell you what she will turn out to be since the core of her mind is either gone or has been radically changed. She may well bring her madness into the new life. A mad newborn would be impossible to control and might bring down the Volturi on you. It is a real problem, my friend."
"Do you think it is worth the risk?"
"No. Not for you. Perhaps here, with several others who can keep her controlled or destroy her if necessary, but by yourself, there is no safe way to try it," he said dismissively. Robert knew that Carlos may well try to keep Alice for his own. A gifted vampire was always a welcome addition to the violent southern covens, but the debt he owed Robert was great, and Carlos was not the kind of man who liked to owe anyone anything.
"I will keep your offer in mind. I certainly don't want to start any trouble that can't be controlled."
"Do you have any idea of how to do it, Robert? It is far harder to stop yourself than you think. Perhaps you should practice on some of the peasants here first," Carlos suggested.
"Thank you, I would like to see how it is done and practice some, if you don't mind." Carlos was obviously trying to pay off the unwanted debt, and that suited Robert just fine.
Robert stayed at the villa a full two days learning how to create a newborn. Unfortunately, after six tries, and six deaths, not much progress had been made. Carlos was very helpful in giving him tips on how not to kill Alice, but Robert was still not sure he could do it. If he couldn't stop with these unappetizing peasants, how could he ever manage it with Alice? Her blood was so very sweet smelling. Even now, the memory brought venom to his mouth. Perhaps he would bring her here. It would be wonderful to see her in the sun. He had a lot to think about as he ran north to the asylum in the dark of night.
"I missed you," Alice said thickly through the haze of the drugs. Her speech was slow and labored. "Did you see Jasper...when you went there...to the South? Was he there?"
"No, I didn't see him, but I will continue to look for him." He wondered again who this Jasper was.
"Thanks," she breathed and sank back into her sleep.
He had to get her out of here and soon. He couldn't stand to see her like this, so he decided to take her out into the night's rain. He easily broke her ankle restraint and picked up her small body. She was so very little. He took her to the closest door and ran out into the rain. The wind and rain seemed to waken her, and she looked up at the dark sky. The rain on her unwashed hair and face made her scent even stronger, and his face was so close to her neck, that it nearly ruined him. He had to put her on the ground and walk away for a few cleansing breaths. She sat on the grass, cross legged and looking straight up at the sky reaching for the rain and tasting it on her lips. He let her sit in the warm rain until the sun was nearly up. The clouds were clearing and he could NOT be out in the sunlight. She looked mesmerized by the growing light, and her face was lost in childlike wonder. As far as she was concerned, this was her first sunrise. He reluctantly took her back and reattached the ankle chain.
The next night, he fed again before coming to work. He had decided upon the young greasy haired doctor's fate while in Texas, and his days were now ended. Something about the young man had bothered him, and the things that bothered him needed to be dealt with, so he took the doctor's life without so much as a thought.
He took Alice out again and ran with her through the woods that surrounded the asylum. She giggled as the wind rushed past her face. He tried to let her walk a bit in an open field, but she only went a few steps until she fell in a heap. She reached out and touched the tufts of grass and began to laugh. It sounded like a small child delighted in a toy. The sound made his heart sing. He decided then and there to take her to Carlos to have her changed. He couldn't risk killing her, and he could not let her stay human. He let her sit there for as long as he dared, then he picked her up and carried her back to the asylum. She laughed all the way to the fence surrounding the asylum, and her laughter caused his heart to lighten. She reminded him so much of a child that he began to spin her in the night. She laughed joyfully and he found himself laughing alongside her. It was in that moment that he smelled the predator hiding somewhere in the dark woods. Instantly, Alice was on the ground at his feet, and he went into a defensive crouch, growling loudly.
"Do you always play with your food so much?" the voice from the darkness to his left asked. It was an easy voice, very smooth and sure of itself. "She smells so very good. I followed her scent for a mile or more before I found you. I can hardly wait to taste her, will you share?" With that, the younger vampire sauntered nonchalantly out of the woods.
"She is mine," Robert growled. He didn't like the brashness of this one. He was too confident, and this made him worry.
"Don't be greedy, old one. I just want a taste. I enjoy a hunt, but this one won't be much of a challenge for me. Just let me have a taste to see if she tastes as good as she smells."
"No. I will not share her. I'm not going to eat her, I'm going to change her. I have chosen this young one for my mate, and you will not touch her." The shouts echoed off of the walls of the asylum. The smooth talking vampire merely smiled like he had won some small prize. Without warning, the younger one lunged at the older vampire, and the thunderous crash sounded like canon fire. Again and again the younger vampire lunged at the girl, but Robert had fought too many times before. The young one couldn't get past him, and he roared in frustrated defeat. Robert eyed him warily as he circled them. Suddenly, the younger vampire relaxed and righted himself.
"Relax, old one. Don't be upset. I'll leave you to it then," and with that, the younger vampire dashed into the woods. It wasn't until then that Robert heard the shouts from the approaching humans. He grabbed Alice, leapt over the fence, and had her in her bed within a minute.
Alice was quietly sobbing, but her sobs were quickly turning into screams. She had seen too much, and Robert knew he was out of time to help her. The night was nearly over and a sunny day was about to begin. He knew without question that the young vampire would never give up his hunt for her. He wanted her blood, but more than that, he wanted Robert to lose. The only way to protect Alice was to change her himself. Robert ran from the building with the first rays of the sun but stayed close to the asylum to watch for the young hunter who wanted the girl so badly.
That night, Alice was nearly comatose. He had found her in her cell with several new, deep electrical burns on her head. She had been too upset by the fight, and the doctors in their twisted mercy decided that this would be better than her constant screams.
He ripped off the ankle restraint, nestled her in his arms, and ran from the building so fast that he would have been a blur had any sane eye been watching. He ran for several hours in an evasive pattern, until he knew he was out of time, and then he dropped her on the ground when he was in a forest and several miles away from any humans. He had caught the scent of the other vampire several times during his run, and he knew he could not outrun him.
He had killed four of the patients so that he was full of blood because Carlos seemed to think this was a key point, and he hoped that would help. He looked down at the girl who was now in a fetal position on the ground.
She managed to open her eyes and look at him. She was terrified. Even through all that the doctors had done, the terror hadn't left her.
"Don't, please," she whispered. "You said you wouldn't." Had she seen this? Was this the terror of her screams?
It doesn't matter, he told himself, we are both out of time. The hunter would be there soon. He tilted her head back and sank his teeth into her neck. The taste of her sweet blood almost undid him. In two short seconds, he took several long drinks. He realized that her heart was becoming weak, and he knew that he was killing her. He knew in that fraction of a moment that he was not strong enough to stop himself, that he would be the cause of her death, but the taste of her blood made her death worth the loss. It was only the sound and scent of the hunter that caused him to stop. He looked up, her blood dripping from his lips, but her heart still weakly beating. The other one stood a few yards away with black fury in his eyes.
"It's ironic," Robert said as he turned to face the hunter, "that you were the one to save her." He laughed grimly. "I truly didn't have the strength to stop." He could barely hear her heart fluttering, but he knew that within a few minutes, her heart would strengthen and the change would be irreversible. All he needed to do was keep the other one away until the change was too far advanced to stop. The hunter would leave when he couldn't kill his victim anymore.
Robert knew this was a fight for his life, but he didn't care. His mind was filled with a fury that matched the young hunter's, and he would enjoy this fight. There was no doubt to him that this young one would be the one that died on this night. The brash, confident, and conceited vampire who had nearly ruined his plans would burn by Robert's own hand.
The furious fight lasted nearly forty minutes. Both vampires were skilled fighters, and each desired the other's death so fiercely that their minds held no other thoughts. Had any human been around, it would have seemed that the bowels of hell had split open and let loose two of its worst demons. Repeatedly, they lunged at each other, and the air was torn by the thunder of their clashes and the intensity of their growls. By the end, their fight left a permanent scar on the land. Each vampire had in turn nearly killed the other, but when the fire was lit over the pieces of body, it was the younger one who lit it. The hunter was more skilled at such a fight, and Robert could not fight and protect at the same time. The effort took too much, and the young vampire was able, at last, to get onto Robert's back and slice off his head with razor sharp teeth.
The younger vampire ran over to where Alice lay still on the ground. He had hoped that Robert had gone too far, and that the girl was dead. She hadn't moved since Robert stopped feeding, so he was surprised when he heard a strong heartbeat and smelled the change that the venom had begun in her body. The younger vampire screamed in fury and threw the girl's body several dozen feet into a clump of trees. He then ran over to her and grabbed her to shake her. She didn't respond, though her eyes were open.
What is wrong with her? She should be screaming and writhing in pain. How can she not feel the burning? What kind of freak is she? He wondered.
He watched her for several hours as Robert's body burned. She simply looked at the trees with unseeing eyes. It was as if no one was in the body to feel the pain at all. Finally, when his fury ebbed and the fire had grown cold, he again grabbed the girl and forced her to look at him. "I'm James!" he yelled over and over, "I'm James, and you will remember me! Do you understand? You will remember me!" Then he picked her up and strode off into the woods. He lay her nearly a mile from where the fight took place and hid to watch in silence as the newborn awakened on her own.