In the mirror Dan Kiernan saw a strange, macabre face glaring back at him.
Calmly, he stooped over the bathroom sink and spat out the remainder of the toothpaste. Hot steam rose from the gushing faucet, warming his damp skin. Looking up again, Dan peered back into the mirror with both apprehension and curiosity. This was the first time he had seen himself since his coma. He was startled at first, but the reflection was unquestionably his own. He just looked a little different. Sickly, like he was getting over a bad flu. Shit, I look as good as I feel, he mused. With the blood loss that he had suffered, it only made sense. His skin was a pinkish off-white. He brought his right hand to his cheek, directly beneath his eye, and tugged the flesh down. Tiny crimson vessels speckled the lower half of his eyeball, still somewhat bloodshot. Dan sort of laughed, and then noticed that his gums were swollen and bleeding. In the dim orange light of the dilapidated bathroom, he shuddered as he imagined himself appearing this way in an open casket.
Dan coughed and wiped his mouth with a towel. Supposedly they had given him transfusions, which had been days ago. Should he still be this way?
"A consequence of being fed from, I'm afraid."
He spun around toward the voice. Behind him, the priest had entered the lounge room and set his keys down on the counter. Dan hadn't seen the holy man since first emerging from the coma the other night. But now here he was, alone with him. Father D, the priest called himself, the head of this trio that held Dan captive here for who knows how long now and for God knows what reason.
"What?" was all the response Dan could muster.
The priest didn't even glance at him. "The ghoulish pall—the anemia—stays with you for a little while," he explained, laying his heavy gray coat onto the back of a chair. "Your body is trying to replenish the erythrocytes, the red cells. Give it some time to regain strength." Father D then retrieved a bottle from the cabinet and poured some into a glass. He took a sip before sitting down at the table, where he finally faced Dan. "I'd offer you some bourbon, detective, but we both know that wouldn't sit well in your condition, would it?"
Dan emerged from the bathroom cautiously. "I also know that someone your age shouldn't be drinking bourbon on a daily basis, unless you want an exploding liver for Christmas this year."
Father D smirked. "It's an old comfort. Besides, our life spans are already pre-measured." He then gestured toward the next chair at the table. "Please, have a seat, Daniel. Forgive me for not meeting with you until now; Molly tells me you've been quite impatient."
You got that right. Dan watched as the older man tiredly rubbed his eyes. Without a word he sat down on the old chair, making sure his hospital gown hadn't caught on any of the jagged plastic edges. Indeed, he had been so eager to get answers from the priest that the thoughts consumed his entire waking mind. In his room, he had thought of a million things he was going to demand explanations to. But now all of a sudden, sitting in front of him, Dan could barely think of anything to say. What could he say, after learning what he had learned?
Father D observed his silence. "I understand if your desire to know more about what's been going on is mixed with some uncertainty. You're anxious, I know." The priest sat forward now, looking Dan in the eye. "I also know that you feel an immensely heavy burden on your heart, at times so unbearable that you can almost physically feel it weigh down on your spirit. Innumerable thoughts and questions in your head, shaking everything you've been told so damned hard that you can't tell what's real from what isn't anymore. I know, Daniel…I've been there too. I was feeling everything you're feeling in this exact moment over twenty years ago. But I'm telling you now that there is a ladder out of that hole. That ladder is faith—faith in God and in yourself and in those you care about. That's the only way I made it out with my sanity intact, and it'll be the same for you." A pause. "The hidden world that you're about to discover contains many dark secrets and truths, Daniel. What you've seen is only a fraction of the vast space between Heaven and Hell. The truth of the matter is that vampires exist. Learn it, live it, accept it, and use it! With our help, I think that you'll find out that untapped strength within you to fight the good fight. So please, let's make this conversation informal and don't feel tense. It may be hard to see, but you are among friends."
Dan remained silent as Father D took a drink. The priest's words actually helped to melt away some of his apprehension. Something inside told him that they really were on the side of Good. He found himself wanting to believe them, despite the ever-guarding walls he put up.
"It's a hard concept to grasp," he found himself blurting. "About vampires, I mean."
"Yes, it is." Father D nodded solemnly.
"I mean, a part of me is still denying it!" Dan laughed to himself. "Telling me there has to be a rational, down-to-earth reason for everything that girl is and what she's capable of. But no amount of logical thinking is giving me any answers. I've never felt more alienated from my own brain."
"Tell me, Daniel, what do you know about vampires?" Father D shrugged in a friendly way. "Just tell me everything you know, or heard, or learned about."
Dan hesitated. "Well I only know from what I've seen and read from movies and books. Usually they are re-animated dead bodies with long canine teeth used to drink blood from the living, often by the throat area. They sleep during the day and only come out at night. Some can change into bats, wolves, or other animals. They don't have a reflection in the mirror. Most come from Transylvania or the Baltic region, living in castles. They are afraid of sunlight, crucifixes, holy water, and garlic. They can't cross running water. When they bite someone, that person dies and comes back to life as a vampire too."
"And how do you kill them?"
"Drive a stake through their heart, but the stake needs to be a special kind of wood, I think. You can shoot them with silver bullets. Also, you can cut off their head or put garlic in their mouths. If all else fails, they can be burned. You can sometimes catch them sleeping in their coffins." Dan paused to look at the priest, feeling very embarrassed by his knowledge or lack thereof. "You must think I know absolutely nothing about vampires, right?"
Father D only chuckled. "Actually, you're doing fine. But tell me, you've watched a lot of Dracula movies growing up, didn't you?"
"Well who didn't," Dan sort of laughed. A thought entered his head then, and he turned grim. "And they are very pale, and so are the victims."
"Why do you have that look on your face?" Father D asked curiously.
He thought for a moment. His grandfather's story about finding a corpse in the deep forests of Ireland years ago, with ghost white skin. Legend had it that a vampire was responsible. Dan would never forget that story, and he could never trust anyone to repeat it to. Or could he? He thought of his own father and his humiliation by believing in vampires. His mind pushed back on all the conflicts pressing on his brain. Dan didn't even know this man sitting in front of him, yet this man and his people were closer to these thoughts than anyone else in his life.
"My grandfather," Dan heard himself blurting again, "told us a story. When he was a kid in Ireland, his father and uncle took him hunting in the woods. They found a corpse that looked strange."
Father D sat back in his chair, observing Dan carefully. "How strange?" he asked, appearing genuinely interested.
"It was naked, but the skin was leathery and horribly white, almost like a skeleton. Like it was drained, leaving behind a dry husk. I've never forgotten that image." Dan shuddered. "He told us that it was a vampire who did it, but at the time none of us believed him. We thought he was just telling us a spooky ghost story. But I believe him now."
The priest nodded. "Did your grandfather tell you anything else?"
Again, Dan hesitated. He remembered the dream that night in the club, in the cathedral with his father and grandfather. He remembered speaking to them, asking them for help. He barely recalled what his Gramps told him, but Dan definitely remembered his terrifying reaction. Something about not taking the Body and Blood of Christ…but what did it mean? "That was the only story he ever told like that," Dan stated, trying not to sound evasive.
"I see." Father D took another drink, looking pensive. He looked older then, and the gray streak of hair above his ears suddenly became more prominent in the dim light. Only the low hum of the refrigerator kept the room from complete silence.
Dan deftly changed the subject. "So did I get anything right? About vampires?"
"You did. Most of what you said was the usual bullshit myths, but that's no fault of your own." Father D leaned forward again and looked Dan squarely in the eye. "Legends and myths are often borne out from fear of what we cannot understand. The vampire is no exception. In a society that makes movies and publishes books that explore, even glorifies the existence of vampires, it's sickeningly ironic to me. But I can tell you, detective, that not everything you see and hear in this corporeal world we live in is real. I know that you know that. What comes close to being 'real' in terms of vampirism is what we have learned for ourselves over the millennia. Vampires are indeed created from the corpses of the living. I use the term 'created' loosely. God is the Creator of all things, and everything He creates is Good. You were taught that at church or at grade school, correct?"
"Sure," Dan agreed. "But the age old question is, how did bad things come into the world when everything God creates is good?"
The priest nodded."Exactly. No human who walks this earth can adequately answer that question, because it gets a little complicated. The best way that I can put it is that although the Lord is perfect in all things, something slipped by one instant in Time. The Lord makes a mistake, is distracted one day, what have you. That's how Satan came to be. From that instant on, all evil in Creation emanated from this entity, this beast called Satan, and all human vices and unimaginable dark forces are given birth. Thus, when I say that vampires are 'created,' I mean that in an indirect way. God creates all things, yes, but he did not intentionally create evil. It simply exists in his otherwise perfect universe."
The priest stood and retrieved two golden chalices from one of the cabinets by the kitchen area. As he set the objects down on the table between them, Dan saw that they were communion chalices, covered with white cotton cloths. Having grown up in the church, as well as serving as an altar boy, he knew that they contained the bread and wine used in the Mass. They were to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. But why now?
Father D then spoke with conviction, his voice unfaltering. "What I'm about to tell you, very few of the living know. Before I go on, I need to be sure…do you want to go on with this, Daniel? Do you want to learn the truth of this sphere of our world? I've already made up my mind about you, and I think that you may be ready. But the decision is solely yours. After this point, there is no turning back."
Dan sat frozen in his seat, looking from the priest to the chalices and back again. He knew what his answer was, but the weight of this decision had previously eluded him. His entire life again flashed before him in mere seconds, and toward the end he thought of his partner Jo and how much he cared for her. But that image was soon replaced by the pallid, otherworldly face of that dark-haired girl, the girl with beautiful dark eyes that held secrets that no man knew and with lips that every man wanted to touch with his own, holding dark secrets and desires that he feared and wanted at the same time. Realization abruptly dawned on him…
…and his mind became a flash of white light, back to the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in his dream, where he stood with his dead father and grandfather. The only sound was his grandfather's voice, echoing over and over. But something was different this time. There was no anger. Only the hurt and pain in those words which was now a hundred-fold.
"You must not partake of the Body and Blood of Christ! You must not partake of the Body and Blood of Christ!"
And then they were gone, leaving him in the white space with the loneliest feeling imaginable.
"Daniel? Are you all right?"
Dan blinked his eyes, recognizing that he was back in the lounge room. Father D looked sternly at him with a bottle of water in his hand. That feeling of loneliness did not completely fade away, but Dan forced it aside. Instead he stared at the two gold chalices resting on the table covered with cloth, knowing what was underneath. He stared and stared, until he could no longer do so.
Now Daniel Kiernan knew that he was facing the most important decision of his life.