Memories of Sky
From a shadowed cave, William watched as reddish-orange dust wafted up and choked the Martian blue sky. His dark blonde hair disheveled, his once fine suit worn away into tatters, he leaned against a cave wall and slept the day away.
He awoke to a black sky and stepped out onto the cold sand. Though barefoot, he felt little discomfort; the soles of his feet had toughened like leather to replace the shoes he had lost.
In the light of the two lopsided moons, Phobos and Deimos, he studied the green-gritted skeleton again. Half buried in the sand, its many limbs poked out, along with its skull, which bore multiple eye sockets.
After glancing over the bones a final time, William trod on, trying to pick the bright blue Earth out of the night sky. He knew he couldn’t go home yet, not even if he had a way to get there. His hunger still gnawed wildly within him, sometimes causing his fangs to sharpen and his mind to ache, but there was no one to feed on, as he had planned.
Centuries ago, as a young vampire, William had left heaps of bodies trailing after him wherever he went. Unable to change shape into a bat or wolf like in many of the stories he had heard through the years, he hunted with advanced strength, speed, senses, and agility. His wounds healed quickly and he never aged.
He rarely sired any new vampires since he didn’t want anyone following him around for all eternity, thinking that he was now their father. Besides, he had never known his own sire.
In the 1980s, William had tired of the constant hunt. With his more than ample savings, he bought himself an estate and entered high society. He still fed, but always discreetly, and never off anyone that would be missed.
At the bar scene, his old world charm made him quite popular with the young ladies, including the silky, dark-haired Skye. He hadn’t been able to resist her, and brought her home, intending to feed on her, but ended up making love to her instead.
Eventually, after William fully disclosed the truth of his life to her, they married. Skye even went as far as to say, "I know you’d never hurt me, Will."
But after three happy years of marriage that saw William feed only off wild animals in the forests, one late night he lost control. The next morning, he couldn’t even recognize Skye’s body anymore.
Though he felt like hurling himself out into the sun, William feared meeting God’s wrath on the other side for all he’d done. He knew he couldn’t retreat back to the banality of vampire society where all that mattered was the hunt and the kill, not after he had lived a more meaningful life amongst humans.
However, he couldn’t continue living among them if he always longed to feed off them. Eventually, he realized why the drinking of blood was such an addiction when a vampire apparently didn’t need to do it. He had stowed away on long Atlantic voyages and survived without a drop of blood and not felt any weaker, not that that had helped with his hunger.
In a person’s blood, their memories, feelings, and experience flowed. A vampire tasted all of this, and felt as if they had lived it themselves.
William clearly remembered climbing across shining blue glaciers under a bright Arctic sun, firing cannons at a pirate ship off the Hong Kong coast, and watching his daughter marry a doctor in a massive French cathedral, though he had never done any of this.
Still, he had found living with Skye and other humans far more enriching since he had been creating his own memories to look back on instead of stealing them. But to go on with this, he had to break his centuries-old addiction, however long it took.
For purposes of self-denial, he tried hiding away in the mountains, in the wilderness, and in all the hidden pockets of the world, but he always smelled humans off in the distance. The urge kept him awake during the day, and, some nights, overtook his better judgment.
He decided the only way to completely isolate himself from humans was to leave Earth. Just a few decades ago, he would have laughed at that notion, but in that time, mankind had walked on the moon, orbited the Earth, and sent probes all over the solar system.
He knew he could survive on another world, not needing to breathe, and so chose Mars for its relatively short distance from Earth, and because he didn’t want to discover the effects of Venus’s intense heat on a vampire.
Finding a spacecraft proved easier than he had thought. On an unmapped tropical island, a place William had hoped to isolate him on, he discovered savages worshiping what after years of his own research he found to be a small alien spacecraft. After he shamefully lost control and wiped out the natives, he moved the craft to a mainland warehouse.
The craft resembled a large Portuguese man-o-war. Long, weepy tentacles hung from the ends of its slick, bell-shaped body. While transparent, it glowed eerily blue, and a ribbon of purple occasionally flickered across its skin. On its underside, a wide mouth opened, permitting the pilot access.
After twenty long years of study, William possessed a crude understanding of how to fly it. Then he didn’t hesitate, not even to change out of the silk suit and tie he wore. He climbed inside the creature through its mouth into its warm, interior fluid.
Tentacles with small claws at their ends clamped onto his limbs and chest. As though looking out through a blurry window, he gazed out of the creature’s transparent skin and said a silent farewell to Earth. He then mentally commanded the creature to lift off.
It broke through the warehouse’s ceiling and floated up into the night sky into the deeper night of space. Mars loomed, bright and red, in the distance, and the creature glided closer and closer, until they were falling through a rusty-red dust storm.
They crashed and skidded against the cratered, rock-littered plains. The creature’s skin had turned opaque to shield William from the sun, though that forced him to remain inside until nightfall. William bled, gashes running across his face, stomach, and chest. It took him a few minutes to realize that the creature was also bleeding.
Purple sludge seeped into the clear fluid William bathed in. He sensed the creature was dying, and that helped rationalize his decision, though his addiction and curiosity also fueled it.
He had fed off animals before, and should be able to feed off anything with memories. Though it had helped him, the creature would die anyway, and might as well help him further. It had been too many long days and nights of work and study, and then spaceflight, since his last drink. It’d be the last time, he swore to himself, before he stopped completely.
While its tentacles slowly unclamped themselves from him, William bit into the creature’s soft, opaque flesh.
He suddenly saw himself flying across a world filled with nothing but purple skies. Deep blue clouds floated above and released sweet rain that penetrated through his skin. Then the green spider people swooped down in their black, crystalline stars.
They drove hooks into William, and forced him to carry them from world to world, while their stars shattered into pieces in space.
The memory-dream faded and, once night dawned, William buried the creature. He wandered Mars ever since, losing track of the time he had spent there, but often wondered about the creature.
Were the green spider people from its memories related to the skeleton he had found?
The creature had seemed to know where it was going and had slammed into Mars’s surface as if it were furious. And, being a vampire, William couldn’t deny the possibility of Martians actually existing.
He always kept a lookout for more bones or even a live green spider man. He told himself over and over he only wanted to satisfy his curiosity, but he knew deep down that he just wanted another living thing to feed off of.
One night, he decided to climb Olympus Mons. The shield volcano climbed higher into the sky than anything he had ever seen. If anything else lived on this planet, its towering splendor would likely attract them there eventually as well.
Even with his strength, the climb seemed never-ending. Yet, he continued clawing handhold after handhold into the rock. As always, when daylight struck, he hid within a shadowed crevice or cave, even if he had to dig one out hours beforehand.
On one such occasion just before sunrise, William fell through a weakened wall and crashed down into a hidden cavern. He quickly scurried away from the entrance deeper inside so the sun’s rays wouldn’t touch him. With his night vision, he gazed around at the hollowed out great hall.
Painted on the walls, he found shining silver giants bringing suns down on the multitudes of green spider people huddled at their feet. Holes of varying sizes littered the uneven floor he trod on.
He bent over to inspect one and his head suddenly rang painfully. Blood seeped out of his eyes as he again pictured himself weeping over Skye’s mutilated body. Then he saw his wife’s beautiful pale face, her shy smile, but her name slipped from his mind.
Trying to shake off whatever was happening to him, he looked around. Green shadows had crawled out of the holes, at least a dozen of them. As they came closer, William recognized them as relatives to the skeleton he had found.
Rigidly thin, but their flesh plated like dark armor, they crept forward on six legs, which extended from a lower body that arched away underneath their torsos. Two arms, identical to the legs, stretched away from their chests, and ended in long, gnarled hands. Pulsing blue eyes wholly covered their faces.
As he struggled to recall his own name, the vampire realized they were tearing away his memories, feasting on them like he had done to so many others. Mixed with his blood, tears swept across his face as three precious years of marriage faded from his memory. He felt he had lost something, but could no longer even comprehend what.
His ears picked up a whistling on the heavy winds outside of Olympus Mons. The spiders lapsed in their attack for a few seconds and turned toward the way the vampire had come in. He felt like himself for a few moments then, even if he wasn’t sure whom that was.
Like a ghost, it floated into the cavern, its tendrils dragging behind it, scorched and burning from exposure to the newly risen sun. Hovering over the vampire, its tendrils grew fangs across their lengths.
They wrapped around their green spider prey and began sucking on their bright blue blood. The mouth on the creature’s underside opened and swallowed the vampire, right as he drudged up his name.
William! My name is William!
Soaking in the warm interior fluid, he recalled the crash and how he had drunk from the creature, and that he must have spilled enough of his own blood into it to make it like him. A vampire.
Its tentacles reached out and prodded into him, leeching away some of his blood and memories, but refusing to take too much. It finally finished draining the spiders and let them drop down, lifeless, to the floor. Then it and William slept until they sensed nightfall.
Connected by blood and tentacle, the creature asked William if he wanted to drink from it to replenish his strength, but he refused. While the memories the creature had drained away from the spiders and its own memories of following him through Mars fascinated him, he knew nothing could replace the memories he had already lost.
Home, he told the creature, just take us home. He passed out again, trying to remember if Earth’s sky was blue, like on Mars, or purple. He dreamed of the creature drifting up into space. As it soared, it hid in the shadows of worlds and the darkness between them from the long-stretching rays of Earth’s sun.
When William finally awoke, he looked out through the creature’s transparent skin at an enormous purple sky that seemed to go on forever. He bathed in the light of a blue sun and wondered if only yellow sunlight seared his flesh off. Glancing downwards, he saw other beings like the creature, gliding effortlessly through this world of sky. And he screamed when the creature swooped down to feed on them.
© 2006 by Michael McNichols
Bio: Mr. McNichols says, "I have an MFA in fiction-writing from Columbia College Chicago. My work can be seen in The Banana King, Worse Than Pulp, and AfterburnSF." It's nice to know that a degree in writing does not prevent one from actually writing something as imaginative and entertaining as this tale.
E-mail: Michael McNichols
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Lettercol
Or Return to Aphelion's Index page.