Alain saw the crow again. Or maybe it was a raven. He could never tell the difference. The damn bird was stalking him, though. He was certain it was always the same bird. He glared at it and it cawed.
“Get a life,” he muttered, sticking the key in the lock and opening the house door.
Another caw followed him inside the semidetached house in Greater London he shared with his mother and his uncle’s family but the bird remained outside.
He climbed the two flights of stairs to his attic room and found the bird on his windowsill. Nothing seemed to scare the damn bird away. And having just seen The Crow in cinemas, Alain didn’t know what to think. Was it carrying some dead spirit? Maybe his father’s soul was trying to contact him? Now?
“Alain!” His mother stepped into the messy bedroom with a sliding roof and the crow flew off. Not his father’s soul, then, or it would have stayed, wouldn’t it?
“How come you’re home so early? No lessons today?”
“Professor is sick,” he grumbled. “I’ll work on my project now.”
“Look at zis mess! You clean up first, zen you can play with your computer!”
She was French and still sounded French, in spite of starting to learn English at school. She would probably never get rid of her accent, in spite of marrying an Englishman.
“Oui, maman.” He rolled his eyes, but started gathering his clothes spread on the floor, desk, drawers and bed.
She stared at him pointedly for a moment, then closed the door again. He heard her go down the stairs and sighed, trying to sort the dirty stuff from the clean clothes.
Alain was born in Paris, but when his father had passed away too early, his distraught mother had taken him to London. She didn’t have any family left, but she got along very well with her sister-in-law Julie who had welcomed her and “the boy” to their home.
Alain hadn’t been happy with the move, but he was only thirteen at the time and already struggling with school. Now, seven years later, he had settled into a lonely routine and hadn’t made any new friends. His mother had given up on that.
They said he was dyslexic. That he had “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” as well as significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. They called it Asperger Syndrome.
He didn’t care what they said. He was a computer genius. He simply did what he liked to do and couldn’t be bothered with the rest.
He knew he was actually quite handsome, but his awkwardness came out as soon as a girl – or a boy – talked to him. So he didn’t date, went to the movies alone or with his cousins, and was building his own video game on his personal computer. His cousins affectionately called him Little Hacker, and they knew when to stay away from him.
When he plunged into programming, he forgot everything. After sorta kinda cleaning up the room, he sat at his desk and switched on the desktop and monitor. He skipped lunch and was startled when his mother came in and switched on the light in his room. He hadn’t realized night had fallen.
“Will you come down for dinner?” she asked, caressing his short hair.
He squirmed. He didn’t like to be touched, but Maman was Maman.
“Oui, maman,” he said obediently, saving what he was doing before switching off the computer and monitor.
He was bilingual as much as his cousins – nineteen-year-old Lucy and fifteen-year-old Nick – but the adults in the family definitely sounded from the country where they’d been born in.
Alain found his mind drifting off, the adult’s conversations bored him – until his cousins began to talk about films. Nick was always happy to go with his elder cousin, so they spent a moment remembering Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Lucy rolled her eyes, finding the conversation not to her taste.
“You know that new Mel Gibson film is out – Maverick. Maybe we could go see that?” she suggested.
Her brother grimaced, “I’d rather wait for Speed! I’m not interested in the wild wild west! How about you, Alain?”
“I would prefer to see Wolf,” Alain said, thoughtful.
“Yuk, no, enough horror for me, thank you!” Lucy said. “You can go with Nick to that one!”
Nick asked how the game was coming along. He was always eager to try anything Alain came up with and give feedback on it.
Since Alain was working on a female adventurer, a sort of modern Indiana Jones with boobs, Lucy was also quite interested in at least seeing it. She liked the Tank Girl comics and often saw herself as a heroine of some fantasy world instead of just a princess wannabe. In fact, Alain had been inspired by his feisty cousin for the game.
Finally, he was allowed to retire to his kingdom at the top of the house. Nobody was allowed in his room without his permission, and his cousins respected his privacy. Only his mother sometimes broke that rule.
A strange knock on his window made him look that way. Not the crow again! It looked as if it wanted to be let in! Huffing, Alain opened the window and the black bird flew in, landing on the room floor…
…where it turned into a tall man with long platinum blond hair tied at the nape of his neck and a gray suit.
Alain gaped. A wolfish smile flashed on the clean-shaven, pale face. Alain’s heart started beating faster, but he remained rooted on the spot. His voice wouldn’t come out, or he’d have screamed.
“Thank you for letting me in,” the man said. “I would like a word with you if you don’t mind. Please, sit.”
Alain stepped back and slumped on the bed, still staring at the strange man. Was that a new video game idea coming to life? Or an invasion of his privacy? Was he asleep and dreaming?
“No, you’re awake.” The man took his chair and sat down across from him, giving his back to the computer. “My name is Bran the Raven, and I know you’ve noticed I’ve been watching you.”
Alain recovered from his surprise. “So it was always the same bird, after all.”
“Yes, and it’s a raven, just to clear your doubts about it.” He grinned and again showed what looked like fangs.
“What are you?” Alain asked, frowning. Not a werewolf, or he wouldn’t turn into a raven.
His movies addiction brought back the memory of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that had come out a few years earlier. Gary Oldman could also transform in that movie…
Bran nodded, still smiling, and Alain gulped.
“Vampire?” he mouthed.
“That’s how they call us these days, yes,” Bran said. “But no, I’m not from Transylvania and I’m not like Dracula either.”
“Oh, you watch movies,” Alain said, sarcastic.
“And I read your mind,” Bran replied pleasantly. “But I’m here to ask for your help. I am two millennia old and I need someone to ground me in this century. You have a beautiful mind, projected into the future, and you’d be a wonderful help.”
“Me?” Alain asked, incredulous. “I have Asperger Syndrome! I am socially awkward! I can’t make friends!”
“And that’s perfect for someone so long-lived as we are. How many friends do you think I buried through the centuries because they were just mere mortals? I had to learn to detach myself from anyone, including my own fledglings – and trust me, I made many, and most didn’t make it to this century.”
“Oh. So how can I help you?”
“You can teach me to use this… new technology.” Bran pointed at the computer behind him with his thumb. “I feel completely out of touch.”
“I’m not the right person to put you in touch with the rest of society,” Alain said sourly.
“I don’t need to be in touch with the rest of society, I only need to learn to use current technology. And you’re a computer genius.”
“Okay.” Alain pondered. “So do you just want me to teach you or do you want to turn me?”
Bran raised his hands. “That’s totally up to you. I can tell you about my life and what it entails, and you can then make up your mind about what you want to be.”
“So you’re giving me a choice.” Alain scoffed.
But then, why not. He worked mostly at night anyway. He wasn’t interested in interacting with people. But he was curious about Bran. The man looked albino, but clearly wasn’t. The man could turn into an animal. The man professed to be centuries old.
Bran certainly had a strange aura, and the fact that he read Alain’s mind… unsettling and exciting at the same time. Alain didn’t have to explain anything, to work around his verbal block that allowed him answer direct questions but not start conversations. He felt somehow understood by the ancient man who stared back at him with a trace of a smile on his lips.
“Will you feed off me?” he asked.
“Only if you offer. And if you decide to be turned, you will be able to see the future, but be warned that it takes stamina to watch the centuries go by. Like I said, some of my fledglings didn’t make it.”
All sleepiness was gone as he asked the vampire about his life through the centuries. He couldn’t go back in time, but he could live forever and see the future. He’d lose his mother and his cousins, eventually, but that didn’t matter, did it?
Bran didn’t look as scary as Dracula or any other movie-vampire he’d seen on the big screen or on his TV. Bran was a Celtic druid who had become immortal sometimes in the fifth century before Christ, but hadn’t met the Nazarene, because he was somewhere else when Jesus had walked the world.
Bran had traveled the world, while Alain was stuck in England until he earned enough to live on his own. And vampires didn’t really need money, since they fed on blood, especially itinerant vampires like Bran…
Alain fell asleep while Bran described the lost library of Alexandria.
He woke up alone. Of course, vampires slept during the day, didn’t they? His window was still open, letting in the May morning air. He stretched his limbs and closed the window. He went to the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror.
Here was a healthy nineteen-year-old Anglo-French young man with dark hair and hazel eyes, and a stubble he’d rather get rid of now that he’d seen the smooth, almost transparent skin of Bran the Raven. If he was going to keep that look for the rest of his life, he might as well look at his best.
He washed and shaved, then went to the kitchen to have breakfast. His mother was there, washing dishes. She worked from home as a translator, and everybody else was out – be it work or school.
Alain noticed new wrinkles on his mother’s face. She looked tired too. If only she could be turned too… but she wasn’t so young anymore. Although Bran wasn’t young either.
He kissed his mother’s cheek as she gave him a mug of coffee. She looked surprised by his gesture.
“Alain, ça va bien?” she asked, worried.
“Oui, maman,” he answered, squeezing her. “Soon you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
She looked puzzled, but he put his index finger on his mouth to hush her. He winked and she smiled.
“Love you, Alain.”
“Love you too, maman.”
He knew he reminded her of his father. Growing up, he looked more and more like the smiling young man of her wedding pictures she still cherished so much. He’d have to find a way to leave her without hurting her. Maybe Bran could wait to turn him?
A crow, no, a raven cawed from the garden. Bran’s voice echoed in his mind.
Your mother is looking forward to joining your father. She stays on this earth only for you.
Well, that settled the matter, then. He glared at the raven as he sat at the kitchen table with his coffee. His mother brought him toasted bread and caressed his hair.
“If you need anything, I’ll be in ze office.”
Her office was the dining room next to the kitchen. He watched her leave, munching on his toasted bread with salted butter, and wondered what he should do. He glanced at the raven in the garden. Maybe it was that form that allowed the vampire to be out during the day.
He sighed. He better try to pay attention to his university lessons today, but he looked forward to another kind of lesson tonight.
Alain was proud to be part of the hackers from the programmers subculture. He worked openly and used his real name, focusing on creating new software and improving existing infrastructure for video games. He wasn’t interested in using his technical knowledge to make bugs or break into computer systems.
He was very eloquent when it came to explaining what he did on his computer, but most people glazed over after some time. Not Bran, though. He flew into his room in raven form after dinner and kept him up for good portions of the night.
“I read your mind, but it would be even easier if you allowed me to drink your blood,” the vampire said one night.
“Would that kill me?” Alain asked.
“No, you’d need to drink mine for that.” Bran shot him his fanged smile.
“Oh. Okay, then.” He pulled up his sleeve and offered his arm.
He watched, fascinated, as Bran’s fangs plunged into his flesh. He thought it would hurt, but it actually felt good. He felt a strange bond form between him and the vampire.
He stared with curiosity at the bite marks on his forearm.
“You better bandage that,” Bran said.
Alain felt light-headed, but obeyed. He went to the bathroom and found the first aid kit. It really didn’t hurt!
He went back to his room and saw that Bran was gone. But he still felt the lingering presence of the vampire, like a mind link that rocked him to sleep.
The next day he waited eagerly for Bran.
“Will you tell me more about the kind of vampire you are?” he asked, pointedly switching off the computer. He wasn’t going to show anything else until his curiosity was satisfied.
“Of course.” Bran smiled and sat on the bed as if it were a couch. Alain went to crouch next to him, watching the pale face as the vampire spoke.
“One is turned by being bitten by a vampire who almost drains one’s blood and then makes one drink immortal blood. At first, the fledgling sleeps all day and can still eat normal food, but throughout the centuries they tend to stay awake almost always.”
“So you never sleep?” Alain asked, impressed.
“No, and I can stand daylight, and direct sunlight burns me but doesn’t kill me. But this is possible only when you’re more than a millennium old.”
“Okay.” Alain’s head spun if he thought about millennia. He couldn’t even imagine the next century! “What other gifts do you have?”
“We may have different dark gifts,” Bran answered. “Some of us have the ability to prey on those with whom they form partnerships without actually taking their life, some are mind-readers, some are shape-shifters.”
“So you bewitched me.” Alain frowned.
“I asked you,” Bran replied. “And no, I didn’t force you to offer me your blood. I didn’t even suggest it to your mind.”
“So vampires don’t kill when they bite someone?”
“Usually no. Most vampires were human, and as a result usually have the same body plan as mortals. The human stomach can generally hold up to about a liter and up to four – think approximately a gallon of milk, or twenty-four standard-sized soft drink cans or two large bottles of soda. In an adult human body you’ll find more or less five liters of blood. So while vampires might be able to drain an entire body, they most likely will be too stuffed to go hunt down a second! And in this century you have stretchy clothes, but imagine those fashions with tight-fitting garbs, how uncomfortable it would be…”
“A vampire with a beer belly, except it’s a blood belly!” Alain burst out laughing at the thought. Well, that was a relief. Bran would never kill him. And he wouldn’t turn him whilst his mother was alive.
He didn’t mind feeding Bran. It made them feel closer every time they did, which was every fortnight or so. And in spite of so many sleepless nights, his mind felt sharper than ever when he went to university, so he managed to finish the year with good marks.
After the summer he asked his mother to allow him to go to San Francisco for the first conference devoted entirely to the subject of the commercial potential of the World Wide Web. He wanted to meet Marc Andreessen of Netscape, Mark Graham of Pandora Systems and Ken McCarthy of E-media. Since it was in November, he had plenty of time to request a passport and prepare for the trip.
Bran wouldn’t be able to go with him, but Alain promised to tell him everything when he came back.
He loved San Francisco and the people he met at the conference. The ideas floating around made him abandon his video game to start working on servers and web crawlers. The World Wide Web looked like Fairyland to him and he looked forward to see it come to life.
When he came back from San Francisco, he saw Interview With the Vampire in theaters and discussed it with Bran. He’d been giving the vampire his blood for six months and he didn’t feel any weaker. He felt more and more the bond between himself and the bloodsucker who could read his mind and seemed to know exactly when to stay away and when to show up.
America Online and Prodigy started offering access to the World Wide Web. Web browser Netscape Navigator and the first Yahoo! Search interface helped the first web surfers to find things with their 56K modems.
Months went by and Microsoft released Windows 95, and the first DVDs were announced. Then there was the Sony Playstation and Alain wandered into gaming again. His desktop computer became an IBM 2521 ThinkPad, a gift for his twentieth birthday by his whole family.
A video game with a female heroine came out, but he had moved on and didn’t bother checking Lara Croft’s adventures. Nick loved Tomb Raider, though, it was “the best game since Alain is not finishing his!”
Things might have continued like that for a long time – Alain feeding Bran his blood and technical knowledge – but the end of the millennium brought something far worse than the dreaded Y2K, at least for Alain.
On 19 September 1997, on the Great Western Main Line at Southall, at 1.20pm, a major train accident occurred. That day Alain’s mother and aunt had gone to Reading to meet some friends and were coming back to London when the train collided with a freight train.
Alain’s mother and aunt were rushed to the hospital, but what came home was just a shadow of his mother.
“I told you, she’s sick of living,” Bran said as he knelt by his mother’s bed, holding her hand. She had a small room at the back of the house and Bran had come in in raven form, as usual. Her face was as pale as Bran’s and she was asleep. “Let her go, Alain, show her you’re a man now.”
Alain clenched his teeth and didn’t turn. He was only twenty-two!
His mother’s eyes fluttered open.
“Alain,” she said feebly. “Je suis désolée…”
She was sorry? Why? Because she was leaving him?
“Monsieur, take care of my son.” She saw Bran and wasn’t scared? Was Bran using his powers to keep her calm or did she see something in Bran he hadn’t seen in the three years he’d been feeding the vampire?
She was bestowing him on Bran, as if she knew exactly what she was doing, some kind of clarity of vision in a post-traumatic state. Maybe she was delirious.
Anger and sorrow warred inside him. She was leaving him and joining his father. He’d be alone, all alone in the world… except for Bran.
Bran who was immortal, had lived for centuries and would probably live for a few more. Maybe it was time to really go underground, as a hacker and as a vampire. His mother was the only reason why he was still mortal, and if she gave up on him, he might as well embrace the eternal life Bran offered.
He rose and faced the vampire.
“Fine. Do it. Make me immortal.”
“And then you can give merciful death to your mother.” Bran nodded.
He moved so quickly, that Alan didn’t see him coming. He felt the fangs pierce his skin at the jugular and almost choked. He heard Bran suck and suck and suck. He had trouble breathing. Maybe he was dying. Of course, he was dying!
He collapsed on the floor, as darkness closed in on him. Something warm trickled in his mouth, the coppery taste of blood ran down his tongue and he grabbed Bran’s arm, drinking with unbearable thirst that nectar of immortality.
“Enough!” Bran snapped away his limb and Alain collapsed again, writhing, dying. His bowels emptied themselves and he shook uncontrollably for what felt like eternity.
Then darkness took on a different shade. The light in his mother’s room was off, but he saw perfectly well around him. He could hear the tiniest sound in the night. He slowly rose and headed for the bathroom to shower.
He threw the dirty clothes in the laundry and went to bed, feeling exhausted. He curled up under the bed cover and plunged into a dreamless sleep.
Alain awoke in the dark. He could feel the moon outside. He knew the sun had gone down. He was hungry, thirsty, needed to feed.
He emerged from under the bed cover and found Bran seated in his chair.
“Welcome to life eternal under the moon,” Bran said. “Will you give your mother merciful death and leave this house forever?”
Alain gulped but nodded. “Yes.”
He got out of bed and grabbed his travel backpack. He put in spare jeans, a few T-shirts, underwear and the notebook computer, then pulled on his hoodie and looked at Bran.
Bran followed him downstairs. His uncle, aunt and cousins were dining, but his mother was still in her room, asleep. Alain leaned over her and breathed her in. Her usual smell was stronger now, and he could hear her heartbeat and the blood run through her veins.
He wasn’t sure if he followed Bran’s directions or just instinct. His fangs pierced his mother’s skin and he sucked her blood. In her prostrated status, he didn’t have to drain her to kill her. When he pulled back, he saw she was smiling, eyes closed, as if asleep and dreaming something beautiful.
He caressed her long brown hair and rose, pulling up the hood.
Aunt Julie opened the room door and switched on the light. Then she screamed at the sight of Alain. Bran quickly closed the door in her face.
“Out, from the window,” he ordered.
Alain put the backpack on his shoulders and opened the window, jumping down to the garden. He could hear his aunt scream and bang on the door. When he glanced into the dining room from the garden, he saw his cousins and uncle rush upstairs.
“Come!” Bran grabbed him by the waist and took him over the back garden’s fence with a non-human jump.
Soon they were running in the darkened streets. Bran led him to an abandoned house where Alain dropped his backpack and slumped on the floor. It had started raining and he could hear water dripping in the house.
“What scared Aunt Julie so much?” he asked, frowning.
Bran signaled to follow him. There was a bathroom with a broken mirror in the house. Alain saw that his mouth was still caked in blood. With his hoodie, he looked like a real vampire who had just killed someone.
But his mother had died happy. The smile on her face proved it.
Alain took a deep breath. “I hope my parents are happy together now,” he muttered, turning his back to the mirror and cleaning his mouth with the back of his hand. He licked the residuals of blood from his hand and lips and went back to his backpack.
“Why am I so tired?” he asked, yawning.
“Sunrise is close,” Bran answered as he lay down, using the backpack as a pillow. “You will sleep all day for the first year and then…”
He drifted off in his dreamless slumber. He had eternity to learn.
This free fiction is part of The Infinite Bard project, which you can find here. A new story will be linked to the IB site every other week, so be sure to check back often!
Copyright © 2018 by Barbara G.Tarn
Originally published in “Nightly Bites Volume 2” 2018
Cover art © by rdrgraphe/Depositphotos.com
This story is part of the Vampires Through the Centuries series.
This story is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.