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     Phantom, p.1

       part  #4 of  The Last Vampire Series  by  Christopher Pike / Young Adult / Horror
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Phantom

Chapter 1

Someone knocks at the door of the Las Vegas home where I stand. It is late evening; the living room is dimly lit, four walls of blurred shadows. I don't know who this person is. For that matter, I'm not sure who I am. I have just awakened from a dead alchemist's experiment. My mind is foggy and my nerves are shot. But before I embarked on the experiment, only hours ago, I was a steel-willed vampire--the last vampire on earth. Now I fear--and hope--that I may once again be human. That I may be a young woman named Alisa, the humble offspring of a five-thousand-year-old monster called Sita. The person continues to knock. "Open the door," he says impatiently. "It's me. " Who is me? I wonder. I do not recognize the voice, although it does sound familiar. Yet I hesitate to obey, even to respond. Of those few I call friends, only Seymour Dorsten is supposed to know I am in this Las Vegas home. My other friends--well, a couple recently perished in the Nevada desert, in a nuclear blast. A lot has been happening in the last few days, and most of it has been my doing.

"Sita," the person outside the door says. "I know you're in there. "

Curious, I think. He knows my ancient name. He even says it like he knows me. But why doesn't he tell me his name? I could ask him, but some emotion stops me. It is one I have seldom known in my five thousand years.

Fear. I stare down at my hands.

I tremble with fear. If I am human, I know, I am practically defenseless. That is why I do not want to open the door. I do not want to die before I have had a chance to taste mortality. Before I have had the opportunity to have a child. That is perhaps the primary reason I employed Arturo's alchemetic tools to reverse my vampirism--to become a mother. Yet I am still not a hundred percent sure the experiment has succeeded. I reach down with the nails of my right hand and pinch my left palm. The flesh breaks; there is a line of blood. I stare at it.

The wound does not immediately heal.

I must be human. Lord Krishna save me.

The knocking stops. The person outside takes a step back from the door. I hear his movements, even with my mediocre human ears. He seems to chuckle to himself.

"I understand, Sita," he says. "It's all right. I'll return soon. "

I hear him walk away. Only then do I realize I have been standing in the dark with my breath held. Almost collapsing from relief, I sag against the door and try to calm my thumping heart. I am both confused and exalted.

"I am human," I whisper to myself.

Tears roll over my face. I touch them with my quivering tongue. They are clear and salty, not dark and bloody. Another sign that I am human. Moving slowly, striving to maintain my balance, I step to the living room couch and sit down. Looking around, I marvel at how blurred everything is, and wonder if the experiment has damaged my eyesight. But then I realize I must be seeing things as a human sees, which means to see so little. Why, I can't even distinguish the grain in the wood panel on the far wall. Nor can I hear the voices of the people in the cars that pass outside. I am virtually blind and deaf.

"I am human," I repeat in wonder. Then I begin to laugh, to cry some more, and to wonder what the hell I'm going to do next. Always, as a vampire, I could do anything I wished. Now I doubt if I will ever leave the house.

I pick up the remote and turn on the TV. The news--they are talking about the hydrogen bomb that exploded in the desert the previous night. They say it destroyed a top-secret military base. The wind was blowing away from Las Vegas so the fallout should be almost nonexistent. They don't say any?thing about me, however, even though I was there and witnessed the whole thing. The experts wonder if it was an accident. They don't connect it to the mass police killings I committed in Los Angeles a few days earlier. They are not very imaginative, I think. They don't believe in vampires.

And now there are no more vampires to believe in.

"I beat you, Yaksha," I say aloud to my dead creator, the vampire who sucked my blood five thou?sand years ago and replaced it with his own mysteri?ous Quids. "It took me a long time but now I can go back to an ordinary life. "

Yet my memories are not ordinary. My mind is not either, although I suddenly realize I am having trou?ble remembering many things that hours ago were clear. Has my identity changed with my body? What percentage of personal ego is constructed from mem?ory? True, I still remember Krishna, but I can no longer see him in my mind's eye as I could before. I forget even the blue of his eyes--that unfathomable blue, as dear as the most polished star in the black heavens. The realization saddens me. My long life has been littered with pain, but also much joy. I do not want it to be forgotten, especially by me.

"Joel," I whisper. "Arturo. "

I will not forget them. Joel was an FBI agent, a friend I made into a vampire in order to save his life. An alteration that caused him to die from a nuclear bomb. And Arturo, another friend, a hybrid of hu?manity and vampires from the Middle Ages, my personal priest, my passionate lover, and the greatest alchemist in history. It was Arturo who forced me to detonate the bomb, and destroy him and Joel, but my love for him is still warm and near. I only wish he were with me now to see what miracle his esoteric knowledge has wrought. But would the vampire blood-obsessed Arturo have still loved my human body? Yes, dear Arturo, I believe so. I still believe in you.

Then there was Ray, my Rama reincarnated. My memories of him will never fade, I swear, even if my human brain eventually grows forgetful. My love for Ray is not a human or vampire creation. It is beyond understanding, eternal, even though he himself is dead. Killed trying to kill a demon, the malignant Eddie Fender. There are worse reasons to die, I suppose. I still remember more than a few of them.

Yet, at the moment, I do not want to dwell on the past.

I just want to be human again. And live.

There comes another knock at the front door.

I become very still. How quickly frightened a human can become.

"Sita," this person calls. "It's me, Seymour. Can I come in?"

This voice I definitely recognize. Standing with effort, I walk to the front door and undo the lock and chain. Seymour stands on the porch and stares at me. He wears the same thick glasses and hopelessly mis?matched clothes of the high school nerd I met in a stupid PE class only a few months before. His face changes as he studies me; his expression turns to one of alarm. He has trouble speaking.

"It worked," he gasps.

I smile and open the door all the way. "It worked. Now I am like you. Now I am free of the curse. "

Seymour shakes his head as he steps in the house and I close the door. He liked me as a vampire, I know. He wanted me to make him a vampire, to poison him through the metamorphosis, an act that was strictly forbidden by Krishna five thousand years ago. Now Seymour is upset. Unable to sit, he paces in front of me. There are unshed tears in his eyes.

"Why did you do it?" he demands. "I didn't think you would really do it. "

I force my smile wider and spread my arms. "But you knew I would. And I want you to be happy for me. " I gesture for him to come to me. "Give me a hug, and this time I won't be able to squeeze you to death. "

He hugs me, reluctantly, and as he does so he finally does shed his tears. He has to turn away; he is having trouble breathing. Naturally his reaction upsets me.

"It's gone," he says to the far wall.

"What's gone?"

"The magic is gone. "

I speak firmly. "It is only Yaksha's blood that has been destroyed. Maybe you don't like that. Maybe your fantasies of being a vampire are ruined. But think of the world--it is safe now from this curse. And only you and I know how close it came to being destroyed by it. "

But Seymour shakes his head as he glances at me. "I am not worried about my own personal fantasies. Yeah, sure, I wanted to be a vampire. What eighteen-year-old wouldn't want to be one? But the magic is gone. You were that magic. "

My cheek twitches; his words wound me. "I am still here. I am still Alisa. "

"But you are no longer Sita. The world needed her in order to be a place of mystery. Even before I met you, I knew you. You know I knew you. I wrote my stories late at night and your darkness filled them. " He hung his head. "Now the world is empty. It's nothing. "

I approach and touch his arm. "My feelings for you have not changed. Are they nothing? Good God, Seymour, you speak to me as if I were dead. "

He touches my hand but now it is hard for him to look at me. "Now you will die. "

"All who are born die," I say, quoting Krishna. "All who are dead will be reborn. It is the nature of things. "

He bites his lower lip and stares at the floor. "That's easy to say but it's not easy to live through. When you met me, I had AIDS. My death was certain--it was all I could see. It was like a slow-motion horror film that never ended. It was only your blood that saved me. " He pauses. "How many others could it have saved?"

"Now you sound like Arturo. "

"He was a brilliant man. "

"He was a dangerous man. "

Seymour shrugs. "You always have an answer for everything. I can't talk to you. "

"But you can. I'm a good listener. But you have to listen as well. You have to give me a chance to explain how I feel. I'm happy the experiment has succeeded. It means more to me than you can imagine. And I'm happy there's no going back. "

He catches my eye. "Is that true?"

"You know it is true. There is no more vampire blood, anywhere. It's over. " I squeeze his arm and pull him closer. "Let it be over. I need you now, you know, more than I needed you before. " I bury my face in his shoulder. "You have to teach me how to be a nerd. "

My small joke makes him chuckle. "Can we have sex now?" he asks.

I raise my head and plant a wet kiss on his cheek. "Sure. When we're both a little older. " I shake him, but not so hard as I used to. "How dare you ask me a question like that? We haven't been on a date yet. "

He tries hard to accept the loss of his world, the death of his magic. He forces a smile. "There's a vampire movie in town. We could see it, and eat popcorn, and jeer, and then have sex afterward. " He waits for an answer. "It's what most nerd couples do every Saturday evening. "

I suddenly remember. It has taken me this long. There must be something wrong with my mind. I turn away and swear under my breath. "Damn. "

"What is it?" he asks. "You don't like popcorn?"

"We have to get out of town. We have to leave now. "

"Why?"

"There was someone here a few minutes ago. A young man--he was knocking at the door. "

"Who was it?"

"I don't know. I didn't open the door. But this guy--he called me by name. He called me Sita. He kept insisting I open the door. "

"Why didn't you?"

"Because I didn't know who he was! Because I'm human now!" I pause and frown. "His voice sounded familiar. I swear, I knew it, but I just can't place it. "

"What makes you think he's dangerous?"

"Do you have to ask that question? No one alive, except you, knows me by the name Sita. " I stop again. "He said he would come back. He laughed as he said it. He sounded so sure of himself. "

"What else did he say?"

"He called himself my darling. "

Seymour was thoughtful. "Could Arturo have sur?vived the blast?"

"No. "

"But he was a hybrid. Half human, half vampire. It's possible. Don't dismiss the possibility. "

I shake my head. "Even Yaksha could not have survived that blast. "

"But you did. "

"I floated away at the last minute. You know, I told you. " I turn toward the kitchen, my car keys. "The sooner we leave the better. "

Seymour grabs my arm. "I disagree. You have said there are no more vampires. What do we have to fear from this person? Better we stay and find out who he is. "

I consider. "The government must have known Arturo was using this house. Such records were probably kept somewhere else besides the army base I destroyed. The government might be watching this house now. "

"But you said you knew this person. "

"I'm not sure about that. There was something in his voice, though . . . "

"What?" Seymour demands when I don't finish.

I strain to remember through my newfound human fog. "His tone--it gave me a chill. "

Seymour acts like a wise guy. "In the real world not everybody who comes to the front door wants to kill you. Some guys just want to sell you a vacuum cleaner. "

I remain stubborn. "We're getting out of here now. " Grabbing the keys off the kitchen table, I peer out the back window and see nothing significant. In the distance, the lights of the Strip come alive and shim?mer, colored beacons in a desert wasteland. A nuclear bomb just exploded but human vice will not be postponed. Of course the wind was blowing the other way, but I do not judge. I have always been a gambler. I understand better than most why the atomic dice did not betray the city of sin. Why the fallout fell the other way. Still, I swear again. "Damn. I wish I had my old vision right now. Just for a minute. "

"And I bet your old hearing. " Seymour comes up at my side and pats me on the back. "You're going to make that same wish a lot of times in the next few days. "
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