Tag Archives: gothic fiction

What Lies Beyond

A Gothic short story

A dark figure approached the cemetery, his heart heavy with memories of ages past. He’d been alive for too many years, and he found himself pushing past the cast-iron gates to escape the monotony of it all. Although the moon was high in the sky and all was clear, the city lights near the road blotted out the stars, and the sky cast a strange aura over the resting ground that revealed broken stones and gnarled tree limbs. Roots twisted and fought with marble as older stones were lifted from the ground, and as the figure walked deeper, a silence drifted about the monuments.

Once lost within the twists and turns, the cemetery became a forest of weathered stone and iron, the mausoleums and memorials standing the test of time. Statues wept black tears as age washed away the memories of those who laid beneath them, and the vampire paused to bask in their beauty. It had been some time since he’d wandered around a cemetery at night, but it was a call that beckoned to him every year around the same date. He closed his eyes and bowed his head in memory, his shaggy black hair falling in his face where it was swept to the side.

A soft breeze broke the silence as leaves rustled across the vampire’s path, and he looked off into the dark distance, his red eyes providing their own light. It was then that the peculiar feeling of being watched washed over him, and he turned to look in every direction to find nothing but stone, brush, and ancient gnarled trees. Curiosity became his guide as he followed the direction of the wind. It led him further along the path, and an old church that was small and long since abandoned came into view. 

He slipped his hands into his black leather jacket and continued until a small voice made him pause. It came with the wind and went just as soon with it, and sitting on a gravestone across from him was a figure that seemed to blend with nature itself. 

The being’s voice was melancholic, but coal-black lips curved into a smile as he set dark eyes upon the late-night visitor. “You can hear me?”

“And see you.” The vampire approached the specter as he became clearer. He was in the form of a young man, his pallor white with dark circles around large eyes. Staring into them was like gazing into the void itself, and dark short hair fell to cover his face upon noticing the vampire’s gaze. He looked off to the side and hugged himself as the vampire spoke, “Is that your grave?”

“No.” The entity glimpsed the vampire out of the corner of his eye. “I was never like you.”

“You’re a spirit, though?” The vampire smiled and bowed for flourish to humor them both. “I’m a vampire. My name is Lestan.”

“A vampire!” The spirit smiled and slid from the stone he occupied, approaching his visitor and resting a hand on the side of the vampire’s face. A wave of sadness and something dark enveloped Lestan upon contact, and his chest clenched tight with emotion. Seeing the look of despair upon the vampire’s face, the spirit quickly reclaimed his hand and became anxious. “Oh no… I am sorry! I forget that I cannot touch others.” 

The spirit turned to back away before Lestan grabbed his wrist to stop him, and the vampire was flooded with another wave of anguish. “No. It’s fine.” A lump formed in Lestan’s throat as the urge to weep overcame him, but he swallowed it down. “What’s your name?”

“I do not have one.” The spirit’s form began to fade as he phased through the vampire’s hand, floating backward as he curled into his black robe. He brought his knees to his chest where he rested in the air — visibly upset and unable to speak any further. 

Lestan noticed that the darkness consuming him receded with the spirit’s touch, but it didn’t deter him. It was too peculiar. “If you were never human and you don’t have a name, then what are you?”

“I am a guide.” The spirit unfurled and rested his bare feet on the ground, the loose dirt drifting aside as if a soft breath had disturbed its peace. “I was born from despair itself, and I guide those who have died a lonely and fitful death to their afterlife.” The spirit lifted his hand and upturned his palm, and in it formed a gristly heart that dripped dark blood onto the ground through his fingers. He then focused his void-like eyes on Lestan to search him, a look of understanding dawning upon him. “That is why you can see me.”

“I didn’t exactly die.” Lestan focused on the heart that flickered before an anguished moan drifted around it, cries fading into a crescendo before the organ flickered out of existence. The cries, thankfully, went with it. The blood that had dripped to the ground was gone. 

“In a way you have. But more importantly…” The spirit dared to come close again but kept a distance for fear of scaring Lestan away — now that the vampire knew what his touch brought with it. “You have lost someone. Although your heart barely beats, it aches for that person. That brought you here tonight.”

“You can tell?” Lestan smiled sadly as his hand drifted over his heart, his long black nails digging into his white t-shirt. “I guess you would.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” The spirit wanted more than anything to comfort the vampire. It had been the only time he’d been able to interact with another creature in decades, and the guilt ate away at him as he realized there was nothing he could do. He had only ever existed for one purpose, and to interact with the living was one thing he was forbidden to do — if the living could even perceive him — but this vampire stood before him, seeing him without fear. And Lestan was not among the living. 

“It was a long time ago. Over a few hundred years now. She was my sister.” Lestan’s hand slipped into his pocket for want of something to do.

The spirit was even more intrigued and obviously not experienced in the way of tact. “How did she die? Was her suffering great? Did you remain by her side?” The spirit was rapt with interest, the vampire falling silent as words caught in his throat. It certainly was inappropriate to ask such things, and it was bad enough he’d ended up there with enough hurt inside him as it was. 

He couldn’t possibly relive it again in explanation, and he most certainly couldn’t explain it in any way that any being would understand. “I held her through her last breath.” Lestan closed his eyes and lowered his head as the memories resurfaced. They’d already been fresh in his mind due to it being the anniversary of her death. He’d remembered every single year even though he’d told himself long ago to move on from it.

It seemed the spirit understood that he’d breached a sore subject and looked around nervously, his feet shuffling in the dirt below. Lestan opened his eyes and found it interesting how the earth responded to the specter. It was as if the spirit were corporeal at times but faded whenever something upset him. The vampire looked up and smiled.

“I… I meant no harm. Oh no.” A light blue lit up the spirit’s cheeks and he looked away. “I just get curious, you know? I find the ways in which humans can perish fascinating and it helps me to better understand human grief. Grief brings me joy, so…” Lestan extended his hand and waited in silence, the spirit stopping in his rambling to observe the outstretched fingers. “What… Why are you doing that?”

“A handshake in solidarity.” Lestan chuckled and wiggled his fingers. “It seems we’ve both seen some things in our existences.”

“You… you want to touch me knowing what will happen? I cannot.” 

“Please? I imagine I’ll become desensitized soon enough. Exposure therapy.” The vampire winked and caused the spirit to fall into another embarrassed fit. 

A partially transparent hand reached out to take the vampire’s briefly before withdrawing again. A spark of something the specter couldn’t explain formed within him as he noticed Lestan’s stern expression. “Are you alright?”

“I knew it was coming. I prepared myself.” Although it was a moment of great emotional pain, Lestan had brushed it off just as quickly knowing it wasn’t his own. It was merely the reflections of grief the spirit carried with him.

“Oh, you can do that? That is wonderful.” 

“Yeah…” Lestan wanted to call him something other than ‘spirit’ or ‘guide’. He racked his brain and settled with sleeping on it for the next day. “Hey, I have to call you something if we’re going to be friends.”

“Friends? Us?” The spirit felt the spark grow stronger, and it expanded until something was screaming at him to run away. Dread washed over him as if he’d done something out of line and he began to fade. Lestan moved to reach out for him — touch him as he had before — but his hands went straight through. The spirit’s voice quivered. “I am sorry. I cannot!” 

With that, the presence was gone and Lestan stood in the middle of the large cemetery alone.

He spun around in all directions, hoping to catch a drift of wind as a sign or a glimpse of something moving. He finally settled his sight back on the grave the spirit had rested upon and spoke into the night. “If you can hear me, I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll come right back to this stone and wait for you.”

With that, Lestan left the cemetery with a plan. To live in such misery and exist for nothing but that misery was no way for any entity to carry on. The spirit appeared to be a being of his own with independent thoughts and ideas and feelings. Now, he just needed a name.

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The wind rustled through the spirit’s translucent form, his hair unmoving in the breeze. He stared at the moon as if he were seeing every minute detail, its rocky and cold surface beckoning to him as did the vastness of space. He craved the void but only ever crossed into it when necessary. Otherwise, he was afraid he’d become lost and never return. That was not his purpose, and he knew his place and where he had to remain. To leave would be to abandon those fraught with grief due to their own unfortunate demise, and that was something the spirit would never wish upon any creature. 

He lifted his hand and the battered heart appeared, the agony contained within reaching a volume that could be heard throughout the cemetery. Every soul he led into the next world left their sorrows with him, and in his heart, he felt the weight of every single one. Hundreds — thousands — of cries and haunting screams rustled the energy around him, and the trees swayed with the sheer force of the energy until the spirit withdrew, the heart fizzling out to return to him.

He looked out across the cemetery before slipping off the tombstone he occupied. He didn’t walk often as mortals tended to, but after meeting the vampire earlier that night, he felt the need to think, and to think brought its own kind of melancholy. He’d never spoken to another creature at length. It had been enough to cause his entire existence to pause, but what was even more curious was the vampire’s persistence in wanting to know him. It simply wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, and a powerful anxiety claimed him, the grass beneath his feet flattening with an ethereal breeze as his energy sparked in the darkness. 

A name. The vampire had said something about a name before the spirit vanished. He knew the meaning of them and their importance, but he wasn’t anything important enough in his own mind to be deserving of one. He was just… there. He existed for his purpose and although he’d put a name to that purpose for the vampire’s sake of understanding, it wasn’t even close to the truth. The spirit sighed, a pale blue glow emanating from him as he walked among the shadows. Speaking with the vampire had brought more complications than he wanted to deal with.

Cold stone caressed the spirit’s body as he drifted through it, the mausoleum steps just below him as he hovered near the walls. Thin, vine-like branches wound their way through the narrow openings in the walls, their tendrils dry and clinging to life as they stretched over the worn surface. Silver strands of moonlight disturbed the peaceful dark and spilled upon the floor where the spirit drifted past, the stone steps leading down to introduce a wintry cold despite the budding spring above. Stopping once he was below ground, the spirit gazed around the quiet room.

Hollowed out shelves in the stonework lined the walls, their presence barely visible to the naked eye in the purest of darknesses. The spirit’s black, void-like eyes allowed him a glimpse into that world that none were able to perceive. He was as much a part of this darkness as it was of him, and within it, he could see bones lying neatly and untouched in their respective shrouds. The materials were wrought with decay and their jewels tarnished to never shine again, insects crawling over and between them on their path to devour what was left of the body beneath them. 

It was beautiful.

The spirit drifted over to a body that was much less decayed than the others, the bones jutting out where flesh had all but dissipated with time. His hand trailed over the skull that was thinly veiled with parchment-like skin, and he pressed his fingers gently into the eyes, his own falling shut as he felt a semblance of something that was once there. A sadness gripped at his chest and he pulled his hand away. These were his true friends and the only ones he could ever allow himself to have. They could not tempt him away from his purpose or claim to give him a name. They’d become just as meaningless as he, their own names lost with the passage of time. 

The spirit dropped to the stone floor among the spiders. The tomb wall behind him brought comfort as he welcomed its frigid chill, and the energy of the ever-changing earth seeped through him. He could hear every pulse within the womb of Mother Nature herself as he basked in it, and he closed his eyes once more as he took in the sound. A curious thought crossed his mind.

Perhaps the vampire would enjoy it just as much with him. If not, then all would return to as it should be and maybe he would understand.

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Lestan pushed past the cemetery gates and walked briskly through the grounds. He’d arrived earlier than the night before, the moon not quite high in the sky and the stars just visible. The sounds of humanity faded behind him as he went deeper among the trees, the natural darkness washing over all in place of the streetlight’s glow. He searched for any sign of the spirit and upon finding none, Lestan settled with trying to find the exact spot he’d come across the entity before.

Even with nocturnal eyes it took time, but Lestan was able to find the stone from the night before. Everything seemed as it should and there was nothing present but a slight breeze drifting through the leaves. Lestan looked to the ground as disappointment set in and he dropped to the grass, his leather pants wrinkling as he brought his knees to his chest. He watched the tombstone for some time, his will to remain stronger than his desire to forget anything that had happened. He was certain it had, after all. He wasn’t prone to hallucinating and he remembered most details that humans did not, and he was adamant on speaking with such an interesting specter once more. He refused to let it go.

After a time, the foliage stirred around him and he perked up, a human-like form fading into existence before the tombstone. Lestan jumped to his feet and waited for the spirit to fully manifest before approaching him. He held out his hand in greeting as he had the night before. The specter watched him with unease, his form shrinking back as he looked from the outstretched hand to the vampire’s smile. 

Lestan broke the awkward silence. “There’s no harm in a handshake, is there?”

“Quite a lot coming from me.” The spirit reached out despite his words, his form coming and going as his uncertainty built. 

Lestan grasped what he could of the ethereal hand and chuckled when his fingers faded through it. As it manifested into something more solid, the vampire felt the wave of grief as he had the night before, although he hadn’t been prepared for it that time. It hit him as if he’d been punched in the stomach, the shock of it causing him to jerk his hand back. The emotions faded almost as quickly and the spirit withdrew, hugging himself as he curled up in mid-air. 

“Please, don’t touch me anymore.”

“It just caught me off guard, love. Exposure therapy, remember?” Lestan smiled. “It won’t scare me away.”

“But it’s painful for you to experience that much grief. Vampire or not.” The spirit uncurled and stood upon the ground, his form manifesting into something less ethereal. “This is why we cannot be friends.”

Lestan lifted a questioning eyebrow. “I’m not like a human, and I definitely won’t break because of a brief emotional overload. I’ve had plenty of time to deal with my own anyway, and they aren’t pretty, I assure you.” Lestan chuckled. 

The spirit couldn’t understand why the vampire was so cheerful and it caused him to fall silent in question. No. They couldn’t understand each other. It just wasn’t possible and not meant to be. The energy around the spirit caused reality to warp as he became distressed. “We cannot exist as you desire, Lestan.” The spirit brought his hands to his mouth to cope with his looming anxiety. He had felt something that he couldn’t quite explain, and it wasn’t within himself. Something was wrong. He did not change and neither did his purpose, and it would not do so now. Yet, somehow, something was changing and he couldn’t figure out what. 

“And what divine law says we can’t?” Lestan crossed his arms, defiant and confident. “How do you know what’s forbidden if you’ve never experienced anything?”

“These are good questions.” The spirit’s form flickered as he became upset, and his voice reverberated and crackled like a radio with bad reception. “Questions I am not prepared to answer.”

“Then don’t answer them yet.” Lestan backed down and gestured to the cemetery before them — a portion that he had yet to explore. “Can we walk? Just exist together for a little while?”

“Just exist?” The entity was much more favorable to this decision and the flickering ceased, his gentle and quiet voice audible again. It was then that he remembered his thoughts from the night before. Surely, after showing the vampire just how different they truly were, Lestan would leave the idea alone. “Yes. Existing is fine. Follow me.”

The two drifted through the cemetery in silence. Lestan only spoke up as he noticed something unique in their path. The spirit was content with this, never replying but smiling back to acknowledge the other’s presence. He stopped them once they reached the mausoleum he’d occupied the night before, and he drifted around front to see that it was locked. A sadness enveloped him. He didn’t have to worry about those sorts of things. “I am sorry, it seems you cannot come with me to see what I have to show you.”

“In there?” Lestan approached the chain lock and held it in his hand. The rust flaked against his fair skin.

“Yes, inside. Below.” The spirit dispersed through the peeling green doors and was absent for a second, only to resurface as his face faded through the door. Lestan found it amusing and bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud. The spirit’s distressed expression didn’t affect his humor. “There is no way to let you inside from here, either.”

“A chain lock isn’t going to keep me out, love. Move back — or don’t, actually.” He finally chuckled. “It’s not like you can actually get in the way, can you?”

“No.” The spirit’s interest was piqued as he hovered beside the vampire, watching intently as hands curled around the chain and pulled tight. The lock popped away from the metal and rust crumbled to the ground as Lestan applied his full strength, and the iron gate swung open. The vampire smiled in victory and pushed against the green doors, the lock in them still intact. It went the same way as the chain, and Lestan stumbled inside. He was careful not to fall down the stairs and stopped before them, allowing the spirit to join him. It seemed the entity was able to manipulate objects in the basest of ways only, which allowed him to close the door behind them. Despite the streaks of moonlight inside, they were awash in darkness.

“So, what’s in here?”

“Down there.” The spirit drifted ahead and Lestan followed him down into an even darker abyss. 

The pupils in the vampire’s eyes enlarged like a feline’s as he adjusted to the darkness, seeing everything on par with the entity. “Did you know them?” He looked around at the decayed forms resting in their respective hollows. They’d been down there a while, otherwise the stench would be beyond what the vampire could handle. 

The spirit stood in the center of the room, glad that Lestan could see along with him. “No. I just like it here. Come, stand still.” Lestan did as he was told and stood before the spirit in complete silence. “We are beneath the earth now. Can’t you hear it?” 

Lestan shook his head. “I hear the wind outside and the insects.”

“There’s something else. Maybe you can’t.” The spirit became sad once more but was comforted by the dull hum of the earth’s pulse. “It’s the sound of life from the source itself.”

“You can hear that?” Lestan finally understood and was in awe. “What does it sound like?”

“Listen. If you can hear the insects, you can hear the pulse. Close your eyes.” The entity closed his own and a small smile was on his lips as he heard it, the thrum surrounding his senses as he became lost in the earth’s song. Lestan had closed his eyes for a moment as well, and they stood there in silence for some time before the vampire finally reopened his eyes. The spirit seemed so serene and at peace, and he wondered what it would be like to see other positive emotions on the melancholic being’s face. It suited him more than he would likely ever be able to imagine.

Moving on pure impulse, Lestan took a step toward the spirit. He was lost in Mother Nature’s thrum and ignored the vampire’s close proximity as Lestan paused right before the specter, their noses nearly touching. Lestan’s lips parted as he observed the entity’s face up close. He found a beauty in it — in its shockingly pale features with just a touch of humanity. The coal black lips… Lestan wondered what they felt like, if they had a feeling at all. He was able to touch the spirit’s hand at times, and he was sure that while the specter was distracted he would have his chance to find out. 

Lestan slowly ghosted his lips over the spirit’s, a faint feeling of something similar to flesh meeting his own. The being finally noticed their closeness and was uncertain of what to do, his body remaining frozen as the vampire slid his tongue along the ethereal lips that had started to tremble. He finally pulled away, his form more corporeal than ever as a light blue dusted across his face. He had felt a spark of something that he couldn’t put a name to. It was warm, which was something the spirit did not and should not have experienced. It was nice in all of the wrong ways, and he backed away until he was at the wall of the mausoleum. His form was fading.

“No, don’t go, sweetheart. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Lestan covered the distance between them and reached out to touch the spirit’s hand, but his own just bled right through. “Don’t you want to know the name I thought of for you?”

“I am not worthy of a name.” The spirit’s voice shook and became unclear again. “Please do not give me a name. I have no individuality and am not anything other than my purpose.”

“Jack. I want to call you that so I don’t have to keep referring to you as ‘spirit’.”

“Jack? No.” The spirit curled into himself as he flickered.

“It’s from a movie that reminded me of you, honestly.” Lestan smiled awkwardly. He was suddenly self-conscious. He’d never had to name anything before. What was worse was that it made the spirit highly uncomfortable, even more so than the kiss he’d attempted. 

“I must go. Please leave me and do not return.”

“I can’t do that!” Lestan panicked as the spirit began to fade entirely. “I don’t want to leave you alone. You have to be lonely by yourself existing in this agony all the time. You deserve to be happy.” His words resounded off the walls as he was alone at last. 

The vampire approached the stone wall the spirit had been huddled against and rested his head against the cold surface. “Jack — please let me call you Jack. If you’re still listening, I’ll be back tomorrow. Wait for me by the same tombstone, okay? I’ll be there until you show up. Even if it’s almost sunrise.”

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“J

   a

      c

         k

            .

               .

                  .”

The name echoed in the spirit’s soul as he rested within the void. It reverberated throughout the darkness like a strange sound, the simple syllable creating an energy of its own that burned within him. He curled into a ball, the sound of Mother Nature no longer there to comfort him as it had been moments ago. He was truly alone and at home in that darkness as he felt the agony within his heart reaching out — overpowering him. It was the only kind of pain an entity like him could feel, and it was… agonizing.

He was frightened. Everything was so unsure and he did everything he could to hold onto the memories of his solitary past, since before he met the vampire. Before Lestan moved in close and acted so peculiarly. He’d touched the spirit’s mouth with his, and then… 

A pale blue vibration rippled out across the expanse of darkness as the spirit’s form flickered. As if a candle flame threatening to go out, his form warped and formed again, its blue glow burning in a way he couldn’t quite understand. He knew what the souls told him when they’d crossed over — before he’d left them to discover their own afterlife. Many had mentioned that burning flame within themselves long after death. It was an emotion that stood the test of time and mortality, and one that he had only ever heard the name of before. 

It carried with it a need so strong that it reshaped a person’s soul entirely. For good or bad, the spirit had always seen it no better than something to tarnish what was underneath. The reality that it had tarnished him and had started to change him as well caused the tears to flow, their thin, black streams caressing his face and neck as they poured freely. 

The emotion slithered its way into his ethereal heart and pushed the comforting melancholia aside. He was lost with it and struggled to make the tears stop, but they flowed relentlessly as he curled his arms around himself. For the first time in his entire existence, he was considering a change and it wasn’t a voluntary one. Although he was not supposed to feel anything other than the grief that resided in him — the grief that lost souls stored within his form to be able to move on — he was feeling something that called forth a primal yearning that only man or beast could truly understand. 

The tears stopped and he gazed out into the void. The feeling rose up within him, caressing his form as if it were a pleasant breeze that brought forth a comforting omen. In the time he’d existed with the new emotion, nothing bad had happened. He remained just as he was and the void was still a comfort to him, and he thought no differently of anything he’d perceived before. Except for one thing in particular, and it brought the blue glow around him to a luminescence that pierced the darker edges of the blackness.

“Jack.” The name gained in familiarity as he uttered it again, and the new emotion within him fluttered at the sound. The vampire had bestowed a name upon him, and with it carried a freedom he wasn’t sure he was ready to, or could ever, embrace. There was a profound and greater reason for him to never be given a name, for his identity held one meaning that carried with it its own divine purpose. His sole purpose.

Death. 

One of many fractured beliefs and thoughtforms that spread throughout the consciousness of any living creature at any time. He had been born from a need for a figure to guide those who were lost, and whatever that had been called across millions of lips expanding through time, Death had been the universal word and purpose for the guide’s existence.

To be given a name as if he were among the living, as if he were a soul like those he guided, it was impossible. It was a disruption in the natural way of things. This vampire, however, had been interesting and unique enough to him to cause such a disruption. He had always been the last sight before a soul passed into a better, or worse, plane of existence. The vampire had seen him twice now, and the spirit had to decide whether he would meet with this strange creature a third time. 

“Jack.” The name was like a breath of fresh air upon its third utterance. The flame flickered within him until the melancholy moved further to the side, this new emotion expanding to create a vague warmth that comforted him. He closed his eyes and brought forth the vivid memory of the vampire’s mouth resting against his own, and an irrational fear came to the surface. It was as if the vampire had tried to devour him, for that was the only reason he could think of for such odd behavior. Was it just the strange creature’s way of connecting with him? What would something like that reveal, and what would the vampire have to gain?

The void faded and the spirit settled upon the roof of the mausoleum. The vampire, “Lestan,” was no longer in the cemetery. The spirit placed a hand over his chest and felt the slight warmth of the flame. It was the first time he’d used the vampire’s name aloud, and he was beginning to see the power a name brought with it. Was he allowed this power? He had no way of knowing other than to test it out once more, so he dared to utter it one last time.

“Jack.”

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“Jack?”

Lestan wandered around the mausoleum after having given up on the tombstone. It was well into the third night and the spirit hadn’t revealed any sign of his eventual presence, and Lestan was beginning to worry he’d gone too far. He often moved quickly and became familiar with people much sooner than was appropriate, but it was all due to his genuinely kind nature. He warmed up quickly and enjoyed the excitement that a new relationship of any sort would bring, but he’d never spoken with a being like the specter before. It had caused a strange sense of urgency.

The spirit’s presence held an importance to it that Lestan wasn’t ignorant of. He knew the entity had a much more important reason for being, but to see so much sadness wrapped up in one existence was unbearable. He’d tasted the grief and the raw agony on his own lips the night before, and although it had only been a small taste, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was any possibility of taming it. To see the spirit smile would make him happy enough, but he was doubting whether it would ever happen. There wasn’t even so much as a slight breeze that night.

Lestan dropped onto the steps of the mausoleum and looked down, the memory of the rusting chains still lying on the ground beside him. He remembered what the spirit had tried to show him, and he was disappointed when he couldn’t hear a semblance of what was supposed to be there. Coming to a decision, the vampire stood and opened the mausoleum doors. 

It was as dark as he remembered inside, although it was darker still due to the overcast sky. The moon and stars were hidden behind rain clouds that had only started to drip, but it became more insistent as Lestan made his way down into the crypt. The rain above met his ears as it echoed around him, the cold embracing him as if he’d walked into Hades itself. He closed his eyes as he stood in the center, a small smile creeping across his lips.

It may not have been the thrum of Mother Nature’s womb, but it was close enough. The sound of the soil collecting water as the rain poured outside, and the insects scrambling to get in, was like music to Lestan’s ears. The tapping of the drops against the roof and the panicked shuffling of a rabbit scrambling for shelter masked the wisp behind him. 

“I am sorry. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” 

Lestan turned around to see the spirit as he dropped to the floor at a crouch, the specter’s hands coming together as he nervously fiddled with his thin fingers. The vampire smiled. “It’s fine. It gave me some time to be down here by myself.”

“You were listening for the pulse, weren’t you?” The spirit hid a shy smile. “Did you hear it?”

“I think so. Maybe not in the way that you do, but I get it. I think.” Lestan chuckled but was rendered silent as the entity approached him. He remained still and allowed the cold palm hovering before him to touch his face, and he closed his eyes as he prepared for an onslaught of grief. It was muted that time, and he opened his eyes to see that a ghastly face was inches from his own, the specter’s mouth drifting across his parted lips. 

After a time, the entity pulled back to look upon the vampire with utter confusion. “I don’t understand. What does that do?”

“What does… You’ve never…” Lestan snorted a laugh and realized his own ignorance. Of course the spirit hadn’t done that before. What reason would he have had? “Sorry. I guess that probably seemed weird.”

“What is it?” The spirit stared into Lestan’s eyes with a childlike curiosity that would have been endearing on any other creature. It only brought a focus to the void that filled him, and the frightening awareness of a vastness beyond the vampire’s comprehension. 

He had to look away as something icy gripped at his insides. A shiver traveled up his spine and he felt so small at that moment — in the reality of the vastness of everything. Could the spirit’s eyes really do all of that? “You said you’re a guide for lost souls, right? That there was a reason why you couldn’t have a name. Answer that first and I promise to answer you.”

“It’s not so easy to explain, but I suppose I could try.” The entity looked off to the side. “You are not human, but you once were, yes?”

“Yeah. A long time ago.” 

“When you were human, you experienced a horrible death. Both yours and your sister’s.”

“Yes.” The memories erased any ounce of a decent mood that the vampire had managed to salvage. Despite it, he stood firm and dared a glance back into the entity’s gaze. It was staring back at him once again.

“What was your perception of Death?”

“It was the end. I was raised to believe in a Christian idea of God and Satan — Heaven and Hell — but beyond that, I didn’t know. After my faith was betrayed…” Lestan averted his gaze, old traumas creeping back to cause an agony in his own heart. He shook his head. “I thought I’d angered God with the way Carrie and I were. It took a while to be rid of that, but honestly, I don’t know what happens after death anymore. I don’t even know what would happen if I were to stop existing as I am.” Lestan hugged himself. “Do I have a soul?”

The spirit smiled sadly. “Every thing walking this earth has a soul of some sort. I believe you do.” He reached out to comfort Lestan but withdrew. The vampire quickly grasped his hand.

It was completely solid. 

Lestan moved closer, ignoring the emotional pain the touch brought forth from the other. From Jack. “You’re so much more than what I thought you were. You’re not just a spirit. You can be whatever you want to be.”

The entity looked down and flexed his fingers, frightened at the fact that he could feel as a corporeal being. The flame flickered within him and he realized that it was making him that way, and although he wanted to disappear and forget all of this madness, he could not. The emotion’s strength refused to let him, and he looked back into Lestan’s eyes as a pair of lips drifted across his own. “You haven’t answered my question,” the spirit whispered. The words shivered with his aura. 

“It’s called a kiss.” Lestan smiled, finally understanding everything. He lifted a hand to brush the hair aside that had fallen in the entity’s face, its texture softer than he’d imagined. “What kind of chaos would happen if I kissed Death itself, I wonder?”

“No! I do not wish for that kind of chaos!” The spirit’s hands pressed against Lestan’s chest to hinder him, but the vampire refused to budge. 

“It was an honest question. What could possibly happen?”

“I… don’t know.” The spirit stared into a pair of red eyes that were swimming with something mirroring the flame within him. A strange tingle of electricity ran up his back and he froze. The vampire’s thumb caressing his cheek was the sole source.

“I don’t have anything to lose by finding out,” Lestan drawled. “And something tells me you don’t either. So, can I make a proposition?”

“Oh, I do not know if that is a wise thing to do.” The spirit flickered, but Lestan remained.

“If I kiss you and nothing bad happens, can we consider that an agreement for your new name?”

The entity’s eyes darted about nervously and he did his best to retain his corporeal form. The flame within him was making it much easier than it normally would be, and he felt an unfamiliar sense of impatience. This kiss was the thing that had started the flame, and he was more than a bit frightened to fan it. However, nothing bad had happened as he’d feared. Nothing bad had happened during any of the three nights spent with Lestan so far. The vampire also knew his true identity at last. He’d wondered if it would come forth without having to utter it. 

The entity finally conceded, nodding as he watched the vampire closely. “Yes. Yes, I can agree to that.”

“Then close your eyes, love.” Lestan brushed their noses together and was pleased to find that the cold flesh he’d felt before was still there. 

“Why must I? Does it matter?”

“It feels better that way. It’s also a bit weird to stare.” He ghosted a laugh over the spirit’s lips before teasing them, diving in as the large void-like eyes drifted shut. 

The flame’s full intensity consumed Jack. He gripped the vampire’s arms tight as his mouth was coaxed open, and he could taste every bit of the flame on Lestan’s tongue. It was powerful enough to shove the melancholy completely aside and he was drowning in the sensation. His only idea of reality faded to nothing but the feeling of the lips against his own. A quiet, content moan left him as the spark grew.

Lestan’s fingers wandered down to feel the form pressed against him, a thin figure and small hips fitting wonderfully into his hands. That simple touches brought no ill effects only emboldened him, and he melded with a body he still couldn’t be certain was real.

Another sigh echoed throughout the crypt and Lestan’s curiosity wandered further. He pressed his arousal into the body clinging to him but found no response, and he pulled back just enough to speak between them. “How much control do you have over your form?”

“All of it, I am afraid.” Jack’s voice trembled as anxiety claimed him, although he had no desire to drift away. The strange warmth within him was pleasant and allowed him a small comfort he’d never known. He wanted to bask in it — to see what this vampire had cursed him with by giving him a name. 

“Can you feel this?” Long, glassy nails drifted up the spirit’s side, and a sliver of electricity sparked from the touch. 

“In this form I can. I think.” Jack clung to the vampire as Lestan continued to create shocks of electricity that consumed him. Another sigh.

“And here.” Lestan took one of Jack’s hands and pressed it against his arousal. “Can you do that, too?”

“I… am not sure if this body can do such things.” Despite his doubts, Jack focused on the flame, finally grasping the purpose of it. It was just like the thrum of Mother Nature, but it resided within him instead of solely in the earth around them. 

Lestan hummed against Jack’s lips as the spirit moved on his own. “Right there, that’s where the greatest pleasures lie. I can show you more if you want.”

“I do not know if…”

The vampire grinned as he observed the light blue covering the spirit’s face. “Use your imagination. You at least have one of those, I’m sure.”

“Yes.” The simple word sounded lecherous in the way it fell from Jack’s lips. He yearned for something. It was a need that bestowed a bravery he hadn’t known he possessed. He would shirk all possibilities of anything horrible to get a taste of what the vampire was alluding to. The flame flickered strongly as he closed his eyes and came to a resolution. He had never desired anything before, but it demanded everything of him. As he focused on that desire, it guided his form to manifest it.

It pained Lestan to part from the entity, but he did so only temporarily. “Hey, why don’t we get out of this crypt.”

“But… is it over now?” Jack’s voice quivered.

Lestan chuckled. “No, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused.” He held onto the spirit’s hand, the echoes of Jack’s melancholia all but absent from them both as they made their way outside. The rain had ceased and the moon was out, and the stars were equally alight to witness something that had never happened beneath them before.

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The spirit’s shroud returned and he sat up to better see the vampire kneeling before him. He took the time to observe Lestan’s naked form, entranced by the beauty of it. Before, he had thought nothing of the human body. It was a mere vessel that souls occupied until their passing, but now that he knew the delights it could bring, he saw its allure. He had taken that form himself long ago to connect with those he led into the afterlife, but now he was finding its use as a thing of pleasure. It was all quite strange, but it made sense at the same time.

“I know I said we were going to seal your name with a kiss, but I guess we went a bit further than that,” Lestan laughed. 

The sound graced Jack’s headspace like a wonderful melody. It was a music that drifted directly to the center of him, and it coaxed forth contentment. Laughter was such a beautiful thing even if he could not give it in return. He could at least bask in it as it bled through him from another. A small smile formed on his ashen lips. “Yes. Jack.” The entity extended a hand toward the vampire.

Lestan’s laughter paused and he reached out to grasp the pale hand, but it was in vain as his fingers faded through it. He sighed as he looked at the spirit with forgiveness, but it hadn’t seemed to be a bother.

“Hello, Lestan,” the spirit continued. “I am Jack.”

 Lestan’s smile grew, his fangs poking over his lip as an immense happiness consumed him. “Good to meet you, Jack.” He stood and reclaimed his clothing, redressing haphazardly as the spirit joined him. Once Lestan was decent, he pointed toward the gates in the distance. “Come with me?”

“What?” The entity’s good mood dissolved and the agonized moans within him intruded. Whispering voices surrounded him as if the wind were chastising him, their cacophony having been blocked out while he had been in such forbidden bliss. “No… No!”

“What’s wrong?” Lestan tried to reach out to comfort his friend, but it was impossible. The spirit had curled in mid-air, floating among a breeze that picked up around him. His hands gripped the side of his head and he buried his face in his knees, black tears streaming down his face. 

“I should have never done that.” He curled further until he was a trembling ball of a human form in the air. “Everything is wrong!”

“No, it’s fine, Jack.” Lestan tried to reach out once more, but he was shocked as Jack’s energy repelled him.

“It is not.” The spirit looked up, anxiety looming over him like a dark shadow as he realized all that he had done. How much he’d lost himself. He’d strayed so far, and the only thing he had ever known was now second to him. It was a disruption of the balance of everything that was his existence. “Death cannot experience love.”

“You felt love?” Lestan’s smile returned. “Don’t cry because of that.”

“But what is there for me now? I am no longer as I should be. I am frightened.” The breeze continued as the trees around them swayed in the wind, Jack’s emotions still a flurry of anxiousness. Lestan finally came to a realization as he observed it all. The way the environment reacted to the spirit was enough of a sign that the cemetery was very much a part of him, and he belonged to it. It all made sense — why the spirit had remained in that location and was so at home with it. 

But everything had been calm around them while Jack explored his own desires. If things were supposed to remain as they were, wouldn’t the protests have started long ago? It wasn’t the spirit’s changing nature that was the upset, it was his attachment and his fear of leaving. Lestan reached out again as Jack calmed, his hand bleeding through but remaining where it would grasp trembling fingers. “Hey, everything’s going to be okay. You can still exist as you are without staying here.”

“That is impossible. I have always been here. I have never been outside of this place.” Jack’s voice faded into a messy static.

“Think about it. Where do you go when Death is called for?” 

“The void. Always the void. They are… there.” Jack’s tears stopped as he thought about it. He stared into Lestan’s eyes, the agony in his own difficult to confront. “I go there.”

“Which isn’t here, right?”

“I do not know.” Jack began to uncurl and the wind died down, his feet touching the ground once more. 

Lestan’s fingers came into contact with a viscous memory of a hand, Jack’s form becoming more clear. “You can go there no matter where you are. You’re just scared. I understand.” The spirit watched him like a frightened child searching for answers. Lestan’s chest clenched with emotion as he saw it, wishing more than ever he could pull the entity into a hug. “Just come to the gates. I’ll prove to you that it’s okay.” He stepped backward, hand outstretched. “You can come back here anytime you want.”

“The edge. Only to the edge.” The spirit hesitated as he moved, his hand resting above the vampire’s as he followed. Each step was pure agony as the panic threatened to take control again, but Lestan had been good to him. He wanted to trust the vampire and believe that he would not be led astray. He had no idea what would happen once he crossed the threshold, but if Lestan said it would be okay, he felt it truly might be. He’d changed so much in such a short time as it was. It would be impossible to go back to the way things were without remembering the warmth. 

“You’re doing great, Jack. Just a bit further.” Lestan coaxed his friend forward, his heart growing lighter as the spirit continued. The roads were practically barren due to the late-night hour, and the streetlights came into view to cast a glow over the distant pavement. 

Jack’s void-like eyes reflected their glow as he stared in wonder. There was an entirely new existence out there that he’d never seen, and the newness of it filled him with dread.

Lestan’s own anxiety surfaced as the spirit stopped. “Just a few more steps. The gates are right there.”

“I do not know if I can do this.”

“You can. I believe in you, and I know you’re curious, aren’t you?” Lestan backed into the gate and it creaked open, the sound grating in Jack’s head. His form flickered slightly as he took another step. Lestan coaxed him forward once more. “Come on. You’re the embodiment of Death, you don’t have anything to fear.”

“Maybe.” The spirit’s feet stopped right before the gate.

“One more step and you’ll see that everything will be okay.” To drive the point home, Lestan stepped past the gate and reached out to take Jack’s hand.

The spirit closed his eyes and, with his form flickering, he made the final step over the threshold.

The gate clanked loudly as it latched. Lestan’s outstretched hand trembled. He hadn’t really known what would happen. He had expected Jack to disappear and retreat back into the shadows of the cemetery, but the spirit was still standing there, flickering as he had been before.

The vampire sighed in relief and smiled as anxiety ebbed away from the spirit. “You did it!”

Jack formed into something more visible and looked around, turning to look out over the dark cemetery. He had done it. “I am… fine.” He smiled.

“Of course you are, love. Now you have all kinds of things to explore.” Lestan was pleased when the entity’s hand solidified in his own.

Jack stepped close enough to wrap his arms around the vampire. “Please do not leave me alone out here.”

“I wouldn’t do something like that, don’t worry.” Lestan set his hand on the spirit’s head and rustled messy black hair. “I realize it’s not as easy to hear Mother Nature’s thrum out here, but there are a lot of other cool things to experience.”

“Yes, I believe that. And I think I can still hear it.” Jack stepped back and closed his eyes, a passing car not deterring his attention. He nodded. “Yes, I can still hear it.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

The city clock chimed four in the morning, and the traffic increased as the two wandered down the sidewalk. Rather others could see Jack or not wasn’t really a concern, but he would gain a greater appreciation for the souls he guided into the afterlife. A momentary fear gripped him as he remembered his true purpose, but it comforted him all the same to realize that it hadn’t changed. Everything was still as it should be save for his new sense of self, and he was more than agreeable to exploring it with his friend at his side.

©2020 Shane Blackheart