Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Vishnu's Beer Garden

by McCamy Taylor


David would have gotten through the alley without a scratch. Danny's older twin had a knack for getting out of sticky situations. He could make the toughest bully shake in his boots or win him over with his charm, depending upon his whim.

Danny did not have his brother's talents for manipulation. Indeed, if he had a gift, it was for drawing trouble to himself the way that shit attracts flies. He stood in the jaundiced light of the flickering streetlamp, swaying drunkenly, trying to count the men who had emerged seemingly from nowhere. There appeared to be three of them, unless one was a shadow. It made a difference. Danny was tall, big boned with long arms and fast legs. Two he could fight and maybe hope to overcome, but not three.

The sunglasses, which he was forced to wear even at night, limited his vision. If not for the eye disease which made him so light sensitive, he would not have been wearing dark glasses, and maybe he would not have wandered down the wrong street after midnight. The whiskey had not helped. He had never been drunk before, and he vowed that if he made it out of this alley alive, he would never do it again.

One of his attackers spoke in Spanish. Another answered in the same language.

Danny held up his hands to show that he was unarmed. "I am just passing through." He spoke slowly, enunciating each word.

The third man -- so he was not a shadow -- reached under Danny's raised arms for his pockets. Instinctively, he tried to stop him from lifting his wallet, but as Danny's hand closed over the wrist of the smaller man, someone punched him in the chest, knocking him backwards over a trashcan. He struck his head.

While he was flailing on the ground, one of the others kicked him in the head once, twice with hard, steel toed boots. His shades flew off. The streetlamp sent twin stabs of pain through his eyes, increasing his disorientation. He heard the sound of breaking plastic as the sunglasses were crushed under foot. One of the trio rolled him onto his back and searched his pockets until he located his wallet. After three hard kicks to his ribs, his attackers fled down the alley, leaving him to writhe on the ground, clutching his sides and groaning. He was not sure which hurt more, his stomach or his head. Every breath was agony, but his head felt as if it were going to split open with each beat of his heart. The light no longer bothered his eyes, because he could not see anything except a weird pattern of colored spots. His left arm began to shake uncontrollably….

He was still lying there a few minutes later when the owner of Vishnu's Beer Garden opened the back door onto the alley to bring out the trash. Virgil spotted the young man lying beside the over turned garbage can a couple of doors down, behind the vacant storefront that had, until recently, housed a souvenir shop. Tossing the plastic bag into his own trashcan, he approached Danny cautiously, one eye peeled for whoever had beaten the large young man to a pulp.

"Are you going to live?" he inquired. He leaned over Danny. Brushing his long white hair back over his shoulders, Virgil examined the prone figure. His expression darkened as he checked the boy's pulse. Muttering under his breath, he leaned forward and sank his incisors into Danny's neck.

When dark, heavy lidded eyes opened and squinted up at him, he sat back on his heels. "Should I call an ambulance?" Virgil asked.

"Hell no!" the young man swore. "No hospitals!" He staggered to his feet. "Three dudes jumped me. Took my wallet. Broke my glasses." He shaded his eyes from the light of the streetlamp. "You wouldn't happen to have a pair of sunglasses I could borrow, would you?"

"Sunglasses?" Virgil's eyebrows rose. "It's midnight."

"Yeah, well I have an eye condition. All the men in my family do. Light hurts our eyes."

The old man peered at him curiously. Abruptly, he held out his hand. "Virgil Tell. What's your name, son?"

"Danny. Danny Radusson."

Virgil nodded his head. "Radusson family. I should have guessed. Only the Radussons wear sunglasses at night." He flashed a dazzling smile that took twenty years off his face. He had clearly been a handsome man in his youth. "We had better get you inside, Danny Radusson and sobered up. How old are you? Not old enough for what you've been drinking."

Danny managed to climb over the garbage can that was blocking his way without falling on his face again. The world was inclined to list a little, but he made it to the back door of Vishnu's Beer Garden in one piece. "I'm not legal," he warned. "In case the cops come."

"No problem." Virgil lead him through the kitchen, out into the bar area where an attractive woman of about thirty with dyed red hair and a snake tattoo on her bare midriff was waiting on customers who looked shady, even for Wisteria Bay. "Honey," he said, letting his hand rest for a moment on her waist and dropping a kiss on the back of her neck. "Can you watch the bar?"

The red haired woman looked Danny up and down. The young man was six foot three and big boned, with jet black hair and heavy eyebrows that made him look older than his years. However, bartenders had their own ways of sizing up their customers. "Jail bait," she mouthed in silent warning.

"Oh, hush!" Virgil replied, laughing softly. "I'm being a good Samaritan. He got mugged in the alley. I'm going to take him next door and get him some coffee, try to sober him up."

"Next door" turned out to be a book shop connected to the drinking establishment through an unlocked door behind the counter. Virgil switched the lights on then off again as Danny swore and covered his eyes. "Sorry about that. Sit here." He pulled out a chair. "I'll make some coffee."

"I don't like coffee."

"Try mine. It's better than most, and you need something to clear your head."

Danny looked around. There was just enough light from the bar next door for him to make out the titles of some of the books which lined the shelves. They were old volumes, most of them about the occult, philosophy or Eastern religion. The air had the musty scent of mildewed leather, old paper and dust mingled with incense. He wondered what kind of beer garden had a library full of old magic books attached to it.

"During the day, I run a used book store," Virgil told him, as he thrust a steaming cup of café au lait into his hands. It was laced with vanilla syrup and so sweet that it might as well have been a dessert.

"It's good," Danny said after a couple of sips. The pain in his head began to ease, and his bruised ribs even felt a little less sore. If he had known that coffee was so beneficial, he would have tried it before.

Virgil pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. He had tied his shoulder length white hair back into a pony tail, revealing sapphire earrings. Up close, Danny could see that he was wearing some kind of tinted contact lenses. His legs were crossed at the knees, and his hands were folded one on top of the other. He had elegant hands, like a pianist or a surgeon, except that he was missing the tip of the little finger on his left hand.

"What happened?" Danny asked, nodding at the finger. "To your hand?"

Virgil held up the finger with the missing tip. "This? Sometimes sacrifices have to be made."

Danny wondered if he had heard correctly. He was still pretty drunk. He took another sip of his café au lait. "I'm sorry to trouble you. If I could just get those glasses---"

"I hear your grandfather passed away last Saturday." Virgil leaned forward and plucked at the collar of Danny's black suit, smoothing it where it had become creased in the back alley brawl. His own powder blue button down Oxford shirt was immaculate. "Did they hold the funeral today?"

"Yeah, they planted the old man." Had he been sober, he would have left it at that. Being drunk and desperately in need of sympathy, he added "They read the will afterwards. The old fart cut me out. Left everything to my brother. Said it was because David was the best one to lead the family. Meaning I'm a great big fat failure." Maudlin tears began flowing down his cheeks. He had never been drunk before, and he had not expected this. His weakness in front of a stranger made him feel both angry and depressed. He wanted to hide his head in shame and lash out at the world, all at the same time----

"You should stay away from liquor," Virgil suggested mildly. "Your father had a terrible drinking problem."

Danny blinked away his tears, distracted from his bout of self pity. "You knew my dad?"

"Many nights, I drove him home from this beer garden. In the end, I refused to serve him, not that it did much good. There are more bars and beer joints than churches in Wisteria Bay. Liquor destroyed his marriage."

"Yeah." Danny nodded his head in agreement. "He and Mom used to argue all the time. Me and David were only five when they broke up. The last time I saw him, I was eight. You don't know where he is, do you?"

"Sorry. I haven't seen him in years."

"I was hoping he might stop by for the funeral, but that was a pretty dumb idea. He and his old man never could get along. It's a good thing he didn't come. He got cut out of the will, too." Danny's expression darkened. "Everything goes to David. The house, the money, the property, the businesses -- not that I have any use for that stuff." He examined his own hands, turning them over to look at the lines on the palms. "Businesses" was a euphemism for the brothels, gambling joints and drug dens where his grandfather made his money. If Virgil Tell knew anything about the Radusson family, he knew the nature of their business operation. It was common knowledge on the island of Wisteria Bay. Even the police knew about the family and stayed out of their way.

Danny was hoping for sympathy. A kind word, maybe a pat on the back and an "I'm sure you have good qualities, too." Bartenders were supposed to be good at consoling people.

Virgil did not do any of those things. He sat in his chair across from Danny and watched him in silence. He seemed to know exactly when the alcohol wore off, because when the boy's head stopped spinning, the old man stood up and crossed the room. He pulled open the left bottom drawer of an old style roll top desk and rummaged around until he came up with a pair of dark aviator style sunglasses.

"Here. Try these." He lifted Danny out of his chair and steered him towards the front door of the shop. "Consider them a loan. You can return them later, when you get yourself a new pair. Do you want me to call a cab?"

"Huh? No, thanks. It's not too far to the house. I can walk."

"Stay out of alleys," Virgil advised. He stood under a blue neon sign which said, Vishnu's Beer Garden. The light from the sign turned his white hair and pale skin blue, like the Hindu god for which his bar was named.

Danny bunched his fists in his pants pockets and stalked away. Virgil had seemed like a nice guy at first, but he had changed his tune when he learned about the will. Well, what did he expect? People in Wisteria Bay only sucked up to the Radusson family for their power and wealth, two things that Danny lacked.

Though his house was only a couple of blocks away, he had no intention of returning home to the three story Victorian mansion that now belonged to David. In a few days, when his disappointment had subsided, he would sneak in during the early hours of the morning and gather up his personal possessions. College was due to start in three weeks. His tuition was already paid in full, thanks to the scholarships that he had earned, and he had enough to live on, because of his mother's life insurance. Though a nonsmoker, she had died the year before of lung cancer, a disease that was all too common in Wisteria Bay with its petrochemical refineries. He might not have inherited his grandfather's fortune, but at least he had his mother's IQ, and his intelligence was going to get him out of this shitty Texas Gulf Coast town where the only things to do where drill for oil, fish for shrimp, crab and oysters, cater to tourists and get drunk.

He found an empty bench in a gazebo in Prudham Park in the center of the Wisteria Bay town square. There was a suspicious stain on it, but he blotted it up with a piece of newspaper. Using his rolled up jacket as a pillow, he stretched out on the bench and tried to get some rest. However, the unfamiliar buzz of coffee, combined with the annoying whine of mosquitoes and other bugs kept him awake, and he lay there until dawn, nursing his anger.

Dawn brought the city cleaning crew. Danny was forced to vacate his park bench, even though he had not slept a wink. It had been many hours since his last meal. His pockets were empty. If he wanted to eat, he would have to go home and beg some breakfast from Manuela, the cook, before the others woke. David would be fast asleep. His twin never got up before noon.

Danny shuffled down the seawall road, with his hands in his pockets, staring out at the Gulf. The only thing he liked about this miserable town was the ocean, especially in the morning, when the rising sun turned the water silver, and the fog obscured the oil derricks and shipping vessels which cluttered the horizon.

A figure standing at the end of one of the stone jetties caught his attention. The young woman was dressed in a shapeless black trench coat over bare legs and feet. Her long, blond hair hung loose around her pale thin face. Her head was bowed, and her skinny arms hugged her body as if she was cold, though it was a balmy August morning. She looked malnourished and forlorn, but no more so than a dozen other homeless people that one could see every day on the avenues of Wisteria Bay. The island was popular with street people, because of the warm weather and the presence of a state run psychiatric hospital.

What made this young woman stand out was the monstrous creature clinging to her back. It was about the size of a chimpanzee but shaped like a gargoyle, charcoal grey in color with black feathered wings. Its clawed hands encircled the young woman's neck and were slowly strangling the life from her.

Danny blinked. He rubbed his eyes beneath his borrowed sunglasses and looked again. The black winged gargoyle was still on the young woman's back, and it was still strangling her. He looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, however the seawall was deserted except for one jogger wearing headphones who was oblivious to the world.

Muttering under his breath, Danny took off running in the direction of the girl. He reached her just as she was lifting a straight razor over her left wrist. Luckily, the sound of waves crashing against the jetty masked the noise of his approach, and she did not hear him as he ran up behind her and plucked the razor from her hand.

"Don't do that!" he exclaimed.

She looked surprised for a moment, then she began to fight him for the razor. The gargoyle was glaring at him over her shoulder.

Since he did not want to get sliced to ribbons trying to save her, he did the only sensible thing he could think of, which was throw the blade in the water. "Stop it!" he yelled. "You don't want to die!"

"You don't know what I want!" she howled.

He had a firm hold on her wrists, but his eyes were locked on those of the winged gargoyle. The beast had eyes like two black marbles, shiny, opaque and absolutely inhuman. It seemed to say Fuck off, kid, this one is mine. I am going to feast on her soul. Go find yourself another mortal to play with.

"I know," Danny told her, the knowledge coming straight from his heart. "You want the pain to stop. Look, I can make the pain go away." He released one of her wrists. With his free hand, he flicked the gargoyle in the forehead. The beast howled and flew off the woman's back. Her expression of anguish changed to fear

"Oh my god!" she exclaimed. "Please, help me! I don't want to die!" She fell to her knees and began to sob.

After some coaxing, Danny was able to get her to accompany him down the jetty back to the street where they hailed a passing police car. He explained to the officer that the woman had just tried to commit suicide and that she needed to go to the hospital. Somehow, he ended up in the back of the patrol car with her, but it was alright. As much as he hated hospitals, he knew that the only thing keeping the nasty little despair gargoyle at bay was him.

At the hospital emergency room, they had to wait an hour for a clerk to fill out paperwork for the blond woman. Her name was Emily Dougherty. There were donuts and coffee on a table in the waiting room. The coffee was bitter and nasty tasting compared to the café au lait which Virgil had made him the night before, but he downed a cup so that he could keep his eyes open, and he ate four donuts.

Around seven am, a nurse came out and asked what had happened, and Danny said that Emily had tried to cut her wrist. Then, a resident talked to them and got the same story. The whole time, Danny held a firm grip on Emily's hand. He knew that if he let go, despair would take over again. He could feel her fear and loneliness like a sinkhole steadily expanding in size, devouring all the joy and hope which her frail body could produce. Ordinarily, close contact with someone like her would have been intolerable. Her fear and pain would have become his fear and pain.

That morning it was different. Maybe it was because, for once, he had been able to help. It seemed to him that where his hand and her hand met, the yawning black pit of despair became a little less steep around the edges, as if something soft, warm and safe was filling it.

Finally, they had a room for her, and they wheeled her upstairs. Emily did not want to let go of Danny's hand, and he had to promise that he would visit tomorrow.

As the orderly vanished around the corner with Emily, the emergency room nurse tapped Danny on the shoulder. "Here." She thrust a pamphlet about drug rehab into his hands.

He was used to this. He touched his sunglasses and smile sheepishly. "I have to wear them. Even indoors. Familial iritis. My twin brother has it, too. In school they used to call us the Secret Service." That was one of the more polite nicknames the two brothers had earned for their strange habit of always wearing shades.

The nurse, a young woman, flushed pink. "Sorry. We see a lot of addicts in here."

Danny smiled back to show that he had not taken offense. "I believe you." There were at least three drug addicts sitting in the hospital waiting room at that very moment, two of them trying to figure out how they were going to get narcotic pills from the doctors. Danny could not have said how he knew what these people were thinking, but he knew it as sure as he knew his own name was Danny Radusson. He also knew that the pregnant woman clutching her swollen belly was worried, because her baby had stopped moving, and something inside him began to mourn for the infant which he knew would be stillborn even though no one had done any tests yet.

His eyes flickered over the faces in the waiting room, looking for someone whom he could help, the way he had helped the girl on the jetty. There was a middle aged man holding his hand to his chest, trying to be stoic. Casually, Danny crossed the room and allowed his arm to brush the man's shoulder.

He had a blinding mental image of a fountain of blood spurting up from a ruptured chest cavity. The blood drenched the ceiling of the emergency room waiting area, splattering the faces of those who waited. The man whose heart was bleeding was nailed to a cross and four crows were pecking his hands and feet while a skeleton figure draped a black sack over his face.

Danny stopped in is tracks. "You're in terrible pain, aren't you?" he whispered.

"It's just some gas --"

"Terrible pain!"

The patient clutched his chest and yelled aloud. "It's terrible! Someone help me!"

"Nurse!" Danny called out. "I think this man is having a heart attack! Or something's rupturing in his chest!"

"Why didn't he say so?" Immediately, a trio of nurses and orderlies rushed out from behind the desk and began applying stethoscopes and cuffs to the patient. "Heart sounds are muffled. He may be in tamponade. Someone call the CT surgery resident, STAT!"

Danny's heart was racing as fast at that of the heart patient. He stood in the waiting room, afraid to look at anyone else for fear of what he would see. He had never had psychic powers like this before. What the hell was happening to him?

Another nurse lead the pregnant woman back to a cubicle. A curtain was pulled. Danny waited, knowing that there would be questions asked first, and then they would apply a monitor to listen to the baby's heartbeat, only there would be no heartbeat----

The young mother's anguished scream "No! No! Not my baby!" echoed through the emergency room.

Danny turned on his heel and fled. It was two miles to his destination. He had a splitting headache from lack of sleep, and the cries of the bereaved mother still echoed in his ears. His funeral suit was not made for daytime wear. He stripped off his jacket and carried it slung over his shoulder, but even in the white long sleeved shirt and black trousers he was overdressed. By the time he reached his destination, he was hot, sweaty and in a lousy mood. The bar side of Vishnu's Bar Garden was closed, but the bookstore was open for business. Danny pushed open the front door. A bell jingled somewhere in the back, signaling that there was a customer.

A young woman can out of the back. She was prettier than the one in the bar the night before, with long brown hair pulled back in a braid, dressed in a denim smock over a floral print T shirt and flat sandals. "Hello! Welcome to Vishnu's Garden. Can I help you find something?"

"Where's Virgil?"

"Virgil doesn't come in until noon," she said sweetly. A long haired Siamese cat rubbed around her ankles. "Maybe I can help you---"

Danny brushed past her and headed towards the bar and from there towards the kitchen.

"You can't go back there!" she called. "Only staff is allowed---"

The store front in which Vishnu's Beer Garden was housed was two stories high. The night before, as he and Virgil had passed through the kitchen, he had noticed the spiral stairway leading up to the second floor. On a hunch, he took the stairs and found himself in a second floor apartment. Virgil was sitting over the morning newspaper, drinking coffee.

"What the hell did you do to me?" Danny demanded.

"It's the glasses," Virgil remarked without looking up. "If you don't like it, take them off."

Cussing under his breath, Danny tore off his sunglasses. The morning light blinded him.

"Here." The old man offered him another pair of dark glasses. "I promise, these are perfectly ordinary."

"Why?" Danny demanded, after the new sunglasses were firmly in place, and he could see again. "Why did you give me the power to see those things?"

"To prove a point. Money isn't everything. There are many things it can't buy. You may think that your brother David inherited everything, and you got nothing, but that's because no one has ever told you about the two kinds of power."

"Huh? What the hell kind of bullshit is that?"

Virgil folded his paper and leaned back in his chair. "It isn't bullshit. You were taught that there's one form of power, the power your grandfather had. He made people submit to his will by taking advantage of their weaknesses, their addictions for sex, gambling or drugs. He blackmailed them. He offered them money with strings attached. In exchange, he could demand whatever he wanted from them, and they gave it."

"Even if it killed them, yeah."

"Which it often did. It's the ultimate form of power. Or rather, it's one side of the ultimate form of power."

It was hard for Danny to concentrate, with his stomach growling and his head fuzzy from lack of sleep and Virgil talking to him nonstop. The guy must have been a teacher when he was younger or maybe a motivational counselor, before he decided to become a bartender. "This is some kind of Zen thing, right?"

Virgil's upper lip twitched. "A Zen thing. You could say that. There's another side of power. The other side gives. It gives loves. It gives health. It gives life. Even when it has nothing, it will continue to give."

"Yeah, well then it will die, won't it?"

Virgil shook his head. "That's your grandfather talking. That's what his side wants to believe, because in the quest to get more and more and more, it's intolerable to imagine that someone somewhere might give it all away and in doing so win. You look tired. Sit down. Tell me what's been happening."

There was a gentle compulsion to his words, so subtle that Danny did not realize that he was being nudged. He dropped into a chair and let his head droop until his chin almost touched his chest. "Oh man! I don't want to think about this anymore. You can't imagine the crazy morning I've had. First, I see a depressed woman standing on a jetty ready to cut her wrist. So, I take her to the hospital and get her squared away. Then, there's this guy who's sitting in the waiting room quiet as a mouse, too proud to complain that his heart is about to burst open inside his chest and kill him, right there, just feet away from the people who can save him, and so I have to get him help. And then there's the poor woman who doesn't know that her baby is dead inside her. There was nothing I could do for her but wait until they told her."

"Have you ever thought about becoming a doctor, Danny?"

The boy looked up, startled. "Me? My counselors are always after me to do that, but it's just because of my grades."

"Maybes there's more to it than that. Some people are meant to give. If you want to think of it in purely selfish terms that your grandfather would have understood, giving feeds their power."

"That sounds fucked up to me," Danny said bluntly.

"Did your grandfather ever tell you that his ancestors came from eastern Europe?"

"Huh? What does that have to do---?"

"Answer the question please," Virgil said tartly, and for a moment he really did sound like a school teacher.

"Sure. All the time. He claimed we got our name from some Romanian prince. We're supposed to be related to the real life Dracula. He liked to tell that story to people that he was gonna mess up. A load of horse shit if you ask me."

Virgil folded his arms across his chest. "It's true," he told him solemnly.

Danny's eyes widened behind his dark lenses. "You're kidding me. We're really related to Dracula?"

"The Radusson family gets its name from Radu, the younger brother of Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula. Had your grandfather understood anything about Dracula's younger brother, he wouldn't have boasted of the relationship."

"Why not?"

"Remember the two sides of power I talked about? While Vlad was murdering tens of thousands of people in order to acquire the supernatural powers that would eventually transform him into the undead creature that we call a vampire, his brother was studying with Islamic mystics called Sufis in the court of the Ottoman Emperor. He had inherited the same magic blood, but in him a study of oriental mysticism and esoteric magic rites which the Turks had brought with them from the Steppes of Central Asia combined to make him something very different."

"Like what?"

"A healer. Radu's gift was that if he drank the blood of another, that person's wounds or illness would heal. If he shared his blood, the effect was even stronger. And instead of draining him of his strength, when he gave of himself he grew stronger. Like his brother, Radu lived much longer than a normal mortal. Indeed, there are some who claim that he's still alive."

Danny realized that his jaw had dropped. He closed it. "That's quite a story, but what does it have to do with me?"

Virgil leaned across the table. His tinted contact lenses caught and reflected the light. "You're a descendent of Radu, and unlike your grandfather and your twin brother, you have inherited his gift. It's been diluted over the generations, so I can't promise that you will end up curing cancer or bringing the dead back to life. But I can say with some certainty that unless you become a healer, you will always feel that something is lacking in your life. You don't have to be a doctor. A social worker, a therapist, a minister---any of those professions will do." His smile broadened. "Even a bartender gets to comfort people in need."

Danny returned home. His mind was in turmoil. Had it not been for the evidence of his own eyes, he would have dismissed Virgil as a crazy old coot who had dropped too much acid in the sixties. However, he could not deny what he had seen through those strange sunglasses. And thanks to what he had witnessed, he had been able to save two lives today. The knowledge made him giddy.

Though it was almost noon, he found the house quiet. Manuela was in the kitchen. She offered him a plate of food. When he asked about his brother, she rolled her eyes and nodded towards the back of the house, in the direction of the family's private cemetery.

Danny was not sure what he expected to find out there. Maybe his brother had been overcome by grief and had gone to the grave to mourn. The old man had doted upon him after all.

What he saw in the cemetery shocked him. David had spent the night fucking his grandfather's mistress on the old man's freshly turned grave. The noon sun revealed the results of his debauchery. The ground around the tombstone was littered with red roses, empty wine bottles, a bong and a pair of black satin high heel pumps. A lace garter belt and a black mesh stocking were draped over the marble headstone, obscuring Vladimir Radusson's epitaph. Someone had scrawled the words Good riddance in red lipstick across the marble.

David was still wearing boxer shorts but Minnie was stark naked. Seized by a fit of chivalry, Danny covered her with his black suit jacket. Her pale flesh was already pink with sunburn. Maybe the coat would keep her burns from getting worse.

As Danny turned to head back to the house, his foot accidentally kicked one of the empty wine bottles. David's eyes opened. Squinting, he groped around for his shades. Once he found them, he rolled over and frowned up at his twin. "What're you up to?"

"I'm here to get my stuff."

"Huh? What for?"

"I'm starting college, remember?"

David made an impatient gesture. "Don't be like that, Danny. You're just mad, 'cause the old man left everything to me. I'm gonna take care of my little bro'. We can work together."

"I don't want to work together. I'm going to be a doctor." With that, he marched back to the mansion. In his room, he began throwing clothes into his suitcases. He left out a change of clothes, a pair of jeans and a T shirt. First, he needed a shower.

As he was lathering up, he noticed blood. It was coming from his hair. He had not noticed it before, because his hair was so dark. His hair was full of matted blood, and yet he could find no scalp wound, not even a lump. How odd! Looking back, he clearly remembered being kicked in the head by someone wearing heavy boots.

And his ribs---where were the bruises? He had been kicked in the side, but there was no soreness, no discoloration, no sign at all of last night's assault in the alley behind Vishnu's Beer Garden. He turned off the water and got out of the shower. After toweling off, he checked himself in the mirror. The only signs of injury which he could find were two red insect bites on his neck, presumably from mosquitoes.

Why had not he noticed before? He had had the shit kicked out of him last night, and yet he had been running around town, without even the benefit of aspirin, feeling as fit as a fiddle. It was not natural. His ribs should be aching. His joints should be stiff. His head should be throbbing from hangover. He should barely be able to walk.

His eyes went back to the mirror and the two bite marks on his neck.

"Oh man!" he swore aloud. "That bastard!"

He was still cussing when he left the Radusson mansion with three suitcases and several boxes full of his important possessions, his computer, his books, his telescope and a few odds and ends that he would need in the dorm. He had also raided the family petty cash box, so he would not be short of funds until he could replace the cards and checkbook that the muggers had stolen.

David had given up attempting to cajole him, and now he was making threats. "If you walk out of here now, don't think I'm going to let you come crawling back."

Danny ignored him. He realized that his twin needed him a lot more than he needed David.

He took one of the cars, the Toyota, because you can not get anywhere in Texas without a car, and he knew that David would never call the police to report a missing vehicle. On his way off the island, he made one stop, at Vishnu's Beer Garden. Virgil was in the bar, tallying figures with an old fashioned adding machine.

Without preamble, Danny marched up to him and said "You're Radu, Dracula's younger brother."

The old man did not seem surprised, but then he had all but told him the truth earlier, it had just taken Danny a while to put the pieces together. "I haven't used that name in a long time. I've also gone by the names Rudolf and Stefan."

Danny refused to be sidetracked. "You bit me!"

"You were dying."

The boy had guessed as much, but having it confirmed still shocked and frightened him. Only luck had kept him from turning into a statistic, one of Wisteria Bay's many violent homicide victims. He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. "Am I gonna turn into a vampire?"

"I'm not a vampire, why should you turn into one?" Virgil pushed his chair away from the table and rose. "Can I get you something to drink? A ginger ale? Club soda?"

"Those sunglasses you gave me last night, was there really anything special about them?"

"No," Virgil admitted. He went behind the bar and began to fill two tall glasses with ice. "They were just regular dark glasses. When I bit you, I didn't realize that you were one of my descendents. My bite has unusual effects on members of the bloodline. It can temporarily increase latent psychic powers. Don't worry. The effect doesn't last long. You won't be seeing anymore despair gargoyles. Here." He handed Danny a glass filled with something clear and bubbly.

My descendants. Danny took a sip from the glass. It was ordinary ginger-ale. "If you bit David, would he be able to see the things I saw?"

Virgil shook his head. "Danny, my boy, you've got to stop thinking of yourself as your brother's keeper. If David saw a strange girl about to cut her wrist, do you think he would go out of his way to get her help?"

The boy considered the question and was forced to admit the truth. Had it been David on the jetty, he would have watched Emily commit suicide as if it was some kind of reality spectacle designed expressly for his amusement.

Virgil laid his hand on Danny's arm. Something like an electric spark but slower, gentler passed from the older man to the younger. "Your twin has already chosen his path in life. It's time for you to choose yours."

Things suddenly seemed much clearer. David was not his family. The Radussons, with their protection racket and drug trade had nothing in common with him. With his father missing and his mother dead of cancer, this strange old man who was born God knows how many centuries ago -- assuming he was telling the truth -- was his closest kin, at least in all the ways that mattered.

Suddenly, it no longer seemed so important to get off the island. College did not start for three more weeks. There were plenty of things that he could learn here in the meantime. Danny sat down at the bar. "How about your eyes?" he asked. "Doesn't the light bother them?"

"My contact lenses are specially designed to filter light. You should get some. Sunglasses are good if you want to seem more sinister, but you won't foster a feeling of trust if you are always wearing dark glasses…"

THE END


© 2007 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor was Assistant Short Story Editor for Aphelion and a frequent contributor of short stories until health problems sidelined her. But she's ba-a-ack, as the new Serials/Novellas Editor and author of (among many other things) Magic and the Heart, a four-part serial that appeared in the August through November 2007 Aphelion.

E-mail: McCamy Taylor

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