The last vampire, p.1
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       The Last Vampire, p.1

         Part #1 of The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike  
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The Last Vampire
Chapter 1

 

  THE VAMPIRE

  I am a vampire, and that is the truth. But the modern meaning of the word vampire, the stories that have been told about creatures such as I, are not precisely true. I do not turn to ash in the sun, nor do I cringe when I see a crucifix. I wear a tiny gold cross around my neck now, but only because I like it. I cannot command a pack of wolves to attack or fly through the air. Nor can I make another of my kind simply by having him drink my blood. Wolves do like me, though, as do most predators, and I can jump so high that one might imagine I can fly. As to blood - ah, blood, the whole subject fascinates me. I do like that, warm and dripping, when I am thirsty. And I am often thirsty. . .

  About the Author

  Christopher Pike was born in New York, USA but grew up in Los Angeles, where he lives to this day. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked in a factory, painted houses and programmed computers. His hobbies include astronomy, meditating, running, playing with his nieces and nephews, and making sure his books are prominently displayed in his local bookshop. He is the author of the bestselling CHAIN LETTER, SPELLBOUND, LAST ACT, GIMME A KISS, WEEKEND, SLUMBER PARTY, REMEMBER ME, the FINAL FRIENDS trilogy, SCAVENGER HUNT, FALL INTO DARKNESS, WITCH, SEE YOU LATER, CHAIN LETTER 2, DIE SOFTLY, BURY ME DEEP, MONSTER, ROAD TO NOWHERE, SATI, WHISPER OF DEATH and MASTER OF MURDER which are all available in paperback from Hodder and Stoughton.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Hodder Children's Books

  a division of Hodder Headline plc

  Chapter 1

  I am a vampire, and that is the truth. But the modern meaning of the word vampire, the stories that have been told about creatures such as I, are not precisely true. I do not turn to ash in the sun, nor do I cringe when I see a crucifix. I wear a tiny gold cross now around my neck, but only because I like it. I cannot command a pack of wolves to attack or fly through the air. Nor can I make another of my kind simply by having him drink my blood. Wolves do like me, though, as do most predators, and I can jump so high that one might imagine I can fly. As to blood--ah, blood, the whole subject fascinates me. I do like that as well, warm and dripping, when I am thirsty. And I am often thirsty.

  My name, at present, is Alisa Perne--just two words, something to last for a couple of decades. I am no more attached to them than to the sound of the wind. My hair is blond and silklike, my eyes like sapphires that have stared long at a volcanic fissure. My stature is slight by modem standards, five two in sandals, but my arms and legs are muscled, although not unattractively so. Before I speak I appear to be only eighteen years of age, but something in my voice--the coolness of my expressions, the echo of endless experience--makes people think I am much older. But even I seldom think about when I was born, long before the pyramids were erected beneath the pale moon. I was there, in that desert in those days, even though I am not originally from that part of the world.

  Do I need blood to survive? Am I immortal? After all this time, I still don't know. I drink blood because I crave it. But I can eat normal food as well, and digest it. I need food as much as any other man or woman. I am a living, breathing creature. My heart beats--I can hear it now, like thunder in my ears. My hearing is very sensitive, as is my sight. I can hear a dry leaf break off a branch a mile away, and I can clearly see the craters on the moon without a telescope. Both senses have grown more acute as I get older.

  My immune system is impregnable, my regenerative system miraculous, if you believe in miracles-- which I don't. I can be stabbed in the arm with a knife and heal within minutes without scarring. But if I were to be stabbed in the heart, say with the currently fashionable wooden stake, then maybe I would die. It is difficult for even a vampire's flesh to heal around an implanted blade. But it is not something I have experimented with.

  But who would stab me? Who would get the chance? I have the strength of five men, the reflexes of the mother of all cats. There is not a system of physical attack and defense of which I am not a master. A dozen black belts could corner me in a dark alley, and I could make a dress fit for a vampire out of the sashes that hold their fighting jackets closed. And I do love to fight, it is true, almost as much as I love to kill. Yet I kill less and less as the years go by because the need is not there, and the ramifications of murder in modern society are complex and a waste of my precious but endless time. Some loves have to be given up, others have to be forgotten. Strange as it may sound, if you think of me as a monster, but I can love most passionately. I do not think of myself as evil.

  Why am I talking about all this? Who am I talking to? I send out these words, these thoughts, simply because it is time. Time for what, I do not know, and it does not matter because it is what I want and that is always reason enough for me. My wants--how few they are, and yet how deep they burn. I will not tell you, at present, who I am talking to.

  The moment is pregnant with mystery, even for me. I stand outside the door of Detective Michael Riley's office. The hour is late; he is in his private office in the

  back, the light down low--I know this without seeing. The good Mr. Riley called me three hours ago to tell me I had to come to his office to have a little talk about some things I might find of interest. There was a note of threat in his voice, and more. I can sense emotions, although I cannot read minds. I am curious as I stand in this cramped and stale hallway. I am also annoyed, and that doesn't bode well for Mr. Riley. I knock lightly on the door to his outer office and open it before he can respond.

  "Hello," I say. I do not sound dangerous--I am, after all, supposed to be a teenager. I stand beside the secretary's unhappy desk, imagining that her last few paychecks have been promised to her as "practically in the mail. " Mr. Riley is at his desk, inside his office, and stands as he notices me. He has on a rumpled brown sport coat, and in a glance I see the weighty bulge of a revolver beneath his left breast. Mr. Riley thinks I am dangerous, I note, and my curiosity goes up a notch. But I'm not afraid he knows what I really am, or he would not have chosen to meet with me at all, even in broad daylight.

  "Alisa Perne?" he says. His tone is uneasy.

  "Yes. "

  He gestures from twenty feet away. "Please come in and have a seat. "

  I enter his office but do not take the offered chair in front of his desk, but rather, one against the right wall. I want a straight line to him if he tries to pull a gun on me. If he does try, he will die, and maybe painfully.

  He looks at me, trying to size me up, and it is difficult for him because I just sit here. He, however, is a montage of many impressions. His coat is not only wrinkled but stained--greasy burgers eaten hastily. I note it all. His eyes are red rimmed, from a drug as much as fatigue. I hypothesize his poison to be speed--medicine to nourish long hours beating the pavement. After me? Surely. There is also a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, a prey finally caught. I smile, privately at the thought, yet a thread of uneasiness enters me as well. The office is stuffy, slightly chilly. I have never liked the cold, although I could survive an Arctic winter night naked to the bone.

  "I guess you wonder why I wanted to talk to you so urgently," he says,

  I nod. My legs are uncrossed, my white slacks hanging loose. One hand rests in my lap, the other plays with my hair, Left-handed, right-handed--I am neither, and both.

  "May I call you Alisa?" he asks.

  "You may call me what you wish, Mr. Riley. "

  My voice startles him, just a little, and it is the effect I want. I could have pitched it like any modern teenager, but I have allowed my past to enter, the power of it. I want to keep Mr. Riley nervous, for nervous people say much that they later regret.

  "Call me Mike," he says. "Did you have trouble finding the place?"

  "No,"

  "Can I get you anything? Coffee? A soda?"

  "No. "

  He glances at a folder on his desk, flips it open. He clears his throat, and again I hear his tiredness, as well as his fear. But is he afraid of me? I am not sure. Besides the gun under his coat, he has another beneath some papers at the other side of his desk. I smell the gunpowder in the bullets, the cold steel. A lot of firepower to meet a teenage girl. I hear a faint scratch of moving metal and plastic. He is taping the conversation.

  "First off I should tell you who I am," he says. "As I said on the phone, I am a private detective. My business is my own--I work entirely freelance. People come to me to find loved ones, to research risky investments, to provide protection, when necessary, and to get hard-to-find background information on certain individuals. "

  I smile. "And to spy. "

  He blinks. "I do not spy, Miss Perne. "

  "Really. " My smile broadens. I lean forward, the tops of my breasts visible at the open neck of my black silk blouse. "It is late, Mr. Riley. Tell me what you want. "

  He shakes his head. "You have a lot of confidence for a kid. "

  "And you have a lot of nerve for a down-on-his-luck private dick. "

  He doesn't like that. He taps the open folder on his desk. "I have been researching you for the last few months, Miss Perne, ever since you moved to Mayfair.

  You have an intriguing past, as well as many investments. But I'm sure you know that. "

  "Really. "

  "Before I begin, may I ask how old you are?"

  "You may ask. "

  "How old are you?"

  "It's none of your business. "

  He smiles. He thinks he has scored a point. He does not realize that I am already considering how he should die, although I still hope to avoid such an extreme measure. Never ask a vampire her age. We don't like that question. It's very impolite. Mr. Riley clears his throat again, and I think that maybe I will strangle him.

  "Prior to moving to Mayfair," he says, "you lived in Los Angeles--in Beverly Hills in fact--at Two-Five-Six Grove Street. Your home was a four-thousand-square-foot mansion, with two swimming pools, a tennis court, a sauna, and a small observatory. The property is valued at six-point-five million. To this day you are listed as the sole owner, Miss Perne,"

  "It's not a crime to be rich. "

  "You are not just rich. You are very rich. My research indicates that you own five separate estates scattered across this country. Further research tells me that you probably own as much if not more property in Europe and the Far East. Your stock and bond assets are vast--in the hundreds of millions. But what none of my research has uncovered is how you came across this incredible wealth. There is no record of a family anywhere, and believe me, Miss Perne, I have looked far and wide. "

  "I believe you. Tell me, whom did you contact to gather this information?"

  He enjoys that he has my interest. "My sources are of course confidential. "

  "Of course. " I stare at him; my stare is very powerful. Sometimes, if I am not careful,, and I stare too long at a flower, it shrivels and dies. Mr. Riley loses his smile and shifts uneasily. "Why are you researching me?"

  "You admit that my facts are accurate?" he asks.

  "Do you need my assurances?" I pause, my eyes still on him. Sweat glistens on his forehead. "Why the research?"

  He blinks and turns away with effort. He dabs at the perspiration on his head. "Because you fascinate me," he says. "I think to myself, here is one of the wealthiest women in the world, and no one knows who she is. Plus she can't be more than twenty-five years old, and she has no family. It makes me wonder. "

  "What do you wonder, Mr. Riley?"

  He ventures a swift glance at me; he really does not like to look at me, even though I am very beautiful. "Why you go to such extremes to remain invisible," he says.

  "It also makes you wonder if I would pay to stay invisible," I say.

  He acts surprised. "I didn't say that. "

  "How much do you want?"

  My question stuns him, yet pleases him. He does not have to be the first to dirty his hands. What he does not realize is that blood stains deeper than dirt, and that the stains last much longer. Yes, I think again, he may not have that long to live.

  "How much are you offering?" he ventures.

  I shrug. "It depends. "

  "On what?"

  "On whether you tell me who pointed you in my direction. "

  He is indignant. "I assure you that I needed no one to point me in your direction. I discovered your interesting qualities all by myself. "

  He is lying, of that I am positive. I can always tell when a person lies, almost always. Only remarkable people can fool me, and then they have to be lucky. But I do not like to be fooled--so one has to wonder at even their luck.

  "Then my offer is nothing," I say.

  He straightens. He believes he is ready to pounce. Then my counteroffer, Miss Perne, is to make what I have discovered public knowledge. " He pauses. "What do you think of that?"

  "It will never happen. ""

  He smiles. "You don't think so?"

  I smile. "You would die before that happened. "

  He laughs. "You would take a contract out on my life?"

  "Something to that effect. "

  He stops laughing, now deadly serious, now that we are talking, about death. Yet I keep my smile since death amuses me. He points a finger at me.

  "You can be sure that if anything happened to me the police would be at your door the same day," he says.

  "You have arranged to send my records to someone else," I say. "Just in case something should happen to you?"

  "Something to that effect. " He is trying to be witty. He is also lying. I slide back farther into my chair. He thinks I am relaxing, but I position myself so that my legs are straight out. If I am to strike, I have decided, it will be with my right foot.

  "Mr. Riley," I say. "We should not argue. You want something from me, and I want something from you. I am prepared to pay you a million dollars, to be deposited in whatever account you wish, in whatever part of the world you desire, if you will tell me who made you aware of me. "

  He looks me straight in the eye, tries to, and surely he feels the heat building up inside me because he flinches before he speaks. His voice comes out uneven and confused. He does not understand why I am suddenly so intimidating.

  "No one is interested in you except me," he says.

  I sigh. "You are armed, Mr. Riley. "

  "I am?"

  I harden my voice. "You have a gun under your coat. You have a gun on your desk under those papers. You are taping this conversation. Now, one might think these are all standard blackmail precautions, but I don't think so. I am a young woman. I don't look dangerous. But someone has told you that I am more dangerous than I look and that I am to be treated with extreme caution. And you know that that someone is right. " I pause. "Who is that someone, Mr. Riley?"

  He shakes his head. He is looking at me in a new light, and he doesn't like what he sees. My eyes continue to bore into him. A splinter of fear has entered his mind.

  "H-how do you know all these things?" he asks.

  "You admit my facts are accurate?" I mimic him.

  He shakes his head again.

  "Now I allow my voice to change, to deepen, to resonate with the fullness of my incredibly long life. The effect on him is pronounced; he shakes visibly, as if he is suddenly aware that he is sitting next to a monster. But I am not just any monster. I am a vampire, and in many ways, for his sake, that may be the worst monster of all.

  "Someone has hired you to research me," I say. "I know that for a fact. Please don't deny it again, or you will make me angry. I really am uncontrollable when I am angry. I do things I later regret, and I would regret killing you, Mr. Riley--but not for long. " I pause.

  "Now, for the last time, tell me who sent you after me, and I will give you a million dollars and let you walk out of here alive. " He stares at me incredulously. His eyes see one

  thing, and his ears hear another, I know. He sees a pretty blond girl with startlingly blue eyes, and he hears the velvety voice of a succubus from hell. It is too much for him. He begins to stammer

  "Miss Perne," he begins. "You misunderstand me. I mean you no harm. I just want to complete a simple business deal with you. No one has to . . . get hurt. "

  I take in a long, slow breath. I need air, but I can hold my breath for over an hour if I must. Yet now I let out the breath before speaking again, and the room cools even more. And Mr. Riley shivers.

  "Answer my question," I say simply.

  He coughs. "There is no one else,"

  "You'd better reach for your gun. "

  "Pardon?"

  "You are going to die now. I assume you prefer to die fighting. ,"

  "Miss Perne--"

  "I am five thousand years old. "

  He blinks. "What?"

  I give him my full, uncloaked gaze, which I have used in the past--alone--to kill. "I am a vampire," I say softly. "And you have pissed me off. "

  He believes me. Suddenly he believes every horror story he has been told since he was a little boy. That they were all true: the dead things hungering for the warm living flesh; the bony hand coming out of the closet in the black of night; the monsters from another page of reality, the unturned page--who could look so human, so cute.

  He reaches for his gun. Too slowly, much too.

  I shove myself out of my chair with such force that I am momentarily airborne. My senses switch into a hyper-accelerated mode. Over the last few thousand years, whenever I am threatened, I have developed the ability to view events in extreme slow motion. But this does not mean that I slow down; quite the opposite. Mr. Riley sees nothing but a blur flying toward him. He does not see that as I'm moving. I have cocked my leg to deliver a devastating blow.

  My right foot lashes out. My heel catches him in the center of the breastbone. I hear the bones crack as he topples backward onto the floor, his weapon still bolstered inside his coat. Although I moved toward him in a horizontal position, I land smoothly on my feet. He sprawls on the floor at my feet beside his overturned chair. Gasping for breath, blood pouring out of his mouth. I have crushed the walls of his heart as well as the bones of his chest, and he is going to die. But not just yet. I kneel beside him and gently put my hand on his head. Love often flows through me for my victims.

  "Mike," I say gently. "You would not listen to me. "

  He is having trouble breathing. He drowns in his own blood--I hear it gurgling deep in his lungs--and I am tempted to put my lips to his and suck it away for him. Such a temptation, to sate my thirst. Yet I leave him alone.

  "Who?" he gasps at me.

  I continue to stroke his head, "I told you the truth. I

  am a vampire. You never stood a chance against me. It's not fair, but it is the way it is. " I lean close to his mouth, whisper in his ear. "Now tell me the truth and I will stop your pain. Who sent you after me?"

  He stares at me with wide eyes. "Slim," he whispers.

  "Who is Slim? A man?"

  "Yes. "

  "Very good, Mike. How do you contact him?"

  "No. "

  "Yes. " I caress his cheek. "Where is this Slim?"

  He begins to cry. The tears, the blood--they make a pitiful combination. His whole body trembles. "I don't want to die," he moans. "My boy. "

  "Tell me about Slim and I will take care of your boy," I say. My nature is kind, deep inside. I could have said if you don't tell me about Slim, I will find your dear boy and slowly peel off his skin. But Riley is in too much pain to hear me, and I immediately regret, striking so swiftly, not slowly torturing the truth out of him. I did tell him that I was impulsive when I'm angry, and it is true.

  "Help me," he pleads, choking.

  "I'm sorry. I can only kill, I cannot heal, and you are too badly hurt. " I sit back on my heels and glance around the office. I see on the desktop a picture of Mr. Riley posed beside a handsome boy of approximately eighteen. Removing my right hand from Mr. Riley, I reach for the picture and show it to him. "Is this your son?" I ask innocently.

  Terror consumes his features. "No!" he cries.

  I lean close once more. "I am not going to hurt him. I only want this Slim. Where is he?"

  A spasm of pain grips Riley, a convulsion--his legs shake off the floor like two wooden sticks moved by a poltergeist. I grab him, trying to settle him down, but I am too late. His grimacing teeth tear into his lower lip, and more blood messes his face. He draws in a breath that is more a shovel of mud on his coffin. He makes a series of sick wet sounds. Then his eyes roll back in bis head, and he goes limp in my arms. Studying the picture of the boy, I reach over and close Mr. Michael Riley's eyes.

  The boy has a nice smile, I note.

  Must have taken after his mother.

  Now my situation is more complicated than when I arrived at the detective's office. I know someone is after me, and I have destroyed my main lead to him or her. Quickly I go through Riley's desk and fail to find anything that promises to be a lead, other than Riley's home address. The reason is sitting behind the desk as I search. Riley has a computer and there is little doubt m my mind that he stored his most important records on the machine. My suspicion is further confirmed when I switch on the computer and it immediately asks for an access code. Even though I know a great deal about computers, more than most experts in the field, I doubt I can get into his data banks without outside help. I pick up the picture of father and son

  again. They are posed beside a computer. Riley Junior, I suspect, must know the access code. I decide to have a talk with him.

  After I dispose of his father's body. My exercise in cleanup is simplified by the fact that Riley has no carpet on his office floor. A brief search of the office building leads me to a closet filled with janitorial supplies. Mop and pail and bucket in hand, I return to Mr. Riley's office and do the job his secretary probably resented doing. I have with me--from the closet --two big green plastic bags, and I slip Riley into them. Before I leave with my sagging burden, I wipe away every fingerprint I have created. There isn't a spot I have touched that I don't remember.

  The late hour is such a friend; it has been for so many years. There is not a soul around as I carry Riley downstairs and dump him in my trunk. It is good, for I am not in the mood to kill again, and murder, for me, is very much tied to my mood, like making love. Even when it is necessary.

  Mayfair is a town on the Oregon coast, chilly this late in autumn, enclosed by pine trees on one side and salt water on the other. Driving away from Riley's office, I feel no desire to go to the beach, to wade out beyond the surf to sink the detective in deep water. I head for the hills instead. The burial is a first for me in this area. I have killed no one since moving to Mayfair a few months earlier. I park at the end of a narrow dirt road and carry Riley over my shoulder deep into the woods. My ears are alert, but if there are mortals in the vicinity, they are all asleep. I carry no shovel with me. I don't need one. My fingers can impale even the hardest soil more surely than the sharpest knife can poke through a man's flesh. Two miles into the woods I drop Riley onto the ground and go down on my hands and knees and begin to dig. Naturally, my clothes get a bit dirty but I have a washing machine and detergent at home. I do not worry. Not about the body ever being found.

  But about other things, I am concerned.

  Who is Slim?

  How did he find me?

  How did he know to warn Riley to treat me with caution?

  I lay Riley to rest six feet under and cover him over in a matter of minutes without even a whisper of a prayer. Who would I pray to anyway? Krishna? I could very well tell him that I was sorry, although I did tell him that once, after holding the jewel of his life in my bloodthirsty hands while he casually brought to our wild party. No, I think, Krishna would not to my prayer, even if it was for the soul of one of my victims. Krishna would just laugh and return to his flute. To the song of life as he called it. But where was the music for those his followers said were already worse than dead? Where was the joy? No, I would not pray to God for Riley.

  Not even for Riley's son.

  In my home, in my new mansion by the sea, late at night, I stare at the boy's photo and wonder why he is so familiar to me. His brown eyes are enchanting, so wide and innocent, yet as alert as those of a baby owl seen in the light of the full moon. I wonder if in the days to come I will be burying him beside his father. The thought saddens me. I don't know why.
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