Is there any place on earth more depressing than an inner city bus station? Despair seemed to permeate every pore of the grafitti-spattered concrete walls. A couple of dozen people tried to make themselves comfortable on the hard plastic chairs or extract some nourishment from the stale sandwiches sold at the news kiosk. A homeless man sifted through trash cans looking for abandoned treasure. Apart from a few fresh faced backpackers carrying their wordly possessions in improbably large rucksacks, the inhabitants of the bus station were almost universally tired and glum. An exhausted young mother desperately tried to keep a bored and grumpy toddler entertained. I wondered how far she had to travel tonight.
“You’re still sure you want to do this?” I asked Jamie.
“Like I told you at the sit… I think its something I have to do.” He paused. “You don’t have to come you know”.
“And like I told you… we’re in this together. No matter where it leads.”
I stared at the giant timetable board next to the ticket office. How anyone could make head nor tail of it was a miracle to me. The map was a spaghetti plate of coloured wiggly lines headed in every direction, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the endless, endless lists of stops and times. Fortunately Jamie seemed to know what he was looking for.
“We can’t do it in one bus. We can grab the Greyhound bus to Milwaukee. Then we can switch to one of the regional bus lines to take us north.”
“We can do the whole trip in one night? Getting caught out in the open when the sun comes up… well it won’t end well.”
“Couple of hours to Milwaukee, then we should arrive in Bend just before dawn. We won’t have much time to find shelter but there should be some.”
“Okay Chief Navigator lets do this!”
The ticket agent seemed a little suspicious and I’m not sure she totally believed Jamie’s story that our parents were waiting to pick us up at 5 in the morning. Jamie’s eyes widened a little when I pulled out the cash to pay for the tickets. Fact is, there are few legal ways for vampires to make money, but most of the time we don’t need a whole lot either. But our victims have wallets, and those wallets have cash in them. A lot of vampires have no qualms about spending that money and have funded some particularly lavish lifestyles by putting that money to work. But that’s not me. To me its tainted. Blood money. Hasn’t stopped me from stockpiling an emergency slush fund of notes for the times when you need to purchase stuff that simply can’t be procured easily any other way.
Just before eight our bus rolled in. We boarded and stowed our backpacks in the overhead shelves. I saw Jamie had kept “Life of Pi” to read during the long ride. He turned to me.
“Thank you Trevor. For this.” He indicated the bus. “For trusting me. For believing in me. When I’m not sure I even believe in myself.”
“I’m here for Jamie. Forever and always.” There were tears in his eyes. I think there were tears in mine.
“I killed all those people Trevor,” he whispered. “With no remorse at all. I could blame the drugs. But I knew what I was doing. Knew enough that I could have stopped. But I didn’t. I… I enjoyed it Trevor.” He lapsed into silence.
I thought back to when he had woken up after the overdose. The experience had drained him, in more ways than I could describe. He was quiet and withdrawn, lost in himself, until he had finally told me:
“I have to go back.”
I couldn’t tell you much about the bus trip. The night seemed to last forever. The Indian Trails bus we changed to in Milwaukee was three quarters full till we reached Green Bay. After that there were barely more than a dozen of us, and the numbers dropped throughout the night as we dropped passengers off. It didn’t matter to us. Jamie and I were in our own little world. Jamie was getting near the end of the book but eventually he had to put it down. He can’t get lost in them for days at a time like I can. So we talked. We talked about anything and everything. We talked as if it were our last night on earth. We talked about our childhoods, about every triumph and tragedy that had befallen us, from the trivial to the profound. I told him about how jealous I was of my older brother’s new bike. He told me about the procession of funerals for pets he had once owned. I couldn’t help laughing as he described the solemn ceremonies his parents would hold each time a new hamster found its way to rodent heaven.
I had been squirming for an hour, trying to find a comfortable position for muscles forced into one position for far too long when we finally pulled into Bend, Michigan. I felt a small pang of regret as the bus pulled away towards its final destinations, my little oasis of light in the inky dark of northern Michigan. Main street Bend wasn’t much to look at. A couple of streetlights illuminated the gloom badly. The boarded up and empty shops outnumbered the occupied ones by a factor of about three. Beyond the local bar, a gun shop and a tired grocery store, I couldn’t see too many active businesses.
Jamie pointed across the river to where the dark hulk of the pulp mill loomed over the town, a silent and forbidding sentinel.
“In the old days, it ran twenty-four hours a day. No matter what the day or time the place was always lit up.”
We left main street behind for the residential precincts. Bend was a town of modest houses on large sections. I chuckled at the typical Mid-West reluctance to flaunt wealth even when they had it. But the houses had all seen better times. While some lawns were still neatly trimmed, others had become overgrown from neglect. Fading “For Sale” signs adorned too many picket fences. The signs everywhere were of a town in decay.
The first thing I noticed was the chain link fence. Beyond that was an expanse of cracked concrete. Weeds were growing through the gaps. A rusting basketball hoop sat in one corner, half its backboard missing. And behind it, the orphanage itself, a three story brick building that might have come out of Victorian England, an architectural monument completely incongruous with the rest of Bend. Besides the main gate we found the much modified sign that gave the home its name.
We crossed the concrete yard to the main entrance. Boards were hammered haphazardly over the entrance. The entire building was dark.
“Umm, I don’t think anyone is here anymore.”
Jamie didn’t say anything. He jogged around to a back door. This was locked and boarded up as well. In frustration ho tore off the plywood panels and smashed a glass pane to reach the lock. The smell inside was musty. Cobwebs grew in the corners, and every step we took sent clouds of dust up into the air. Jamie was running now, opening doors and peering inside but every room was the same. This place had been abandoned, possibly years ago.
“Fuck.” Jamie laughed bitterly. “I don’t know what I was looking for. Revenge? Redemption? Maybe both. But Sully’s gone. They’re all gone. There’s no one left here but me and the ghosts.”
He slowly trudged up the stairs and along a corridor. He stopped before one door and opened it.
“This… this was my room. Some days it seemed like a sanctuary, and other days it felt like a cell.” The room was small and sparsely furnished: Just a single bed, a closet and a dresser. “Come on, I want to show you something.”
He led me up more stairs, then more stairs into an attic.
“You wanted to show me the attic?”
“Better.” He led me over to a small window and pushed it open. He scrambled through, and I followed him on to the sloping slate roof of the building. Jamie was heading further up the roof and I climbed after him. From the peak of the roof, it dipped into a small flat hollow.
Jamie smiled at me. “My secret place. Know one else knew it was here. It was the one place I knew I’d be safe from Sully.”
“Weren’t you afraid he’d find out about it sometime?”
“Terrified of heights,” Jamie giggled. He sat down, leaning against the slope of the roof. “Nights were the best. I’d lie here and just look up at the stars.” I sat down beside him and looked up.
I’ve always been a city boy. The night sky has never been that exciting when seen from Chicago. But this…. was something else entirely.
“So many… stars. I never knew… there were soooo many.”
“That’s Orion there. You can see his belt – three stars, all in a line.” He pointed to a different spot. “And that’s the Big Dipper.”
He sighed. “I use to imagine my parents were stars. Up there. Looking down on me. Watching me. Protecting me. You what my childhood dream was?”
“No, go on, tell me!”
“I wanted to be a star. Not as in famous, but an actual twinkling star. The universe must seem so big from up there.”
I turned to Jamie. Tears were tracking down his face, but he seemed happy. At peace with himself. Sheesh, he was practically glowing. I paused and corrected myself. Jamie was actually glowing.
“Jamie, I don’t want to freak you out here… but, ummm, you’re starting to shine…”
Jamie’s eyes opened wide. “What the…?!”
As we looked on his entire skin was changing. Different spots were glowing with varying degrees of intensity, but at the same time the rest of his skin was getting darker. With a start I realised Jamie was turning into a living constellation before my very eyes.
“Trevor, what the hell is happening to me?’
I took Jamie’s hands in mind. My palms tingled at the contact. “You don’t see it Jamie? It’s your Extra. You got your wish. You got your wish!”
I tenderly kissed my shining beacon of light. “You’re a star, Jamie. No, more that – a GALAXY of stars. And its the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” His tears were beads of searing brightness on his impossibly ink-black skin.
I don’t know how long we stayed up there, hand in hand, before the glimmerings of first light forced back down into the home. We slept in Jamie’s room. It just seemed right. He pointed out the spot where he had carved a picture of his family on the underside of the bed frame “where no one else could see it.” We ended up sleeping under the bed, too tired to get back up.
The next night we caught the bus back to Chicago. Jamie felt there wasn’t any reason to stay. He spent the entire trip reading his book. He seemed unusually determined to finish it before we reached Chicago.
He put the book down.
“Oh wow.” There was a stunned expression on his face. “I did not see that coming. That was… a very good book Trever. I’m glad you gave it to me.”
Jamie had been an odd mixture of cheerful and pensive for the whole trip, so I wasn’t completely surprised when he said he wanted to visit Grant Park before we headed home. I looked at the clock nervously.
“We don’t have a whole lot of time before daylight Jamie.” He looked at me with pleading eyes and I relented.
We sat down in the seats by the Buckingham Fountain.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to be a vampire any more Trevor”. A thick heavy knot tightened in my gut. “I never chose this life. You chose it for me. And believe me I’m grateful for the extra time. You’ve given me the happiest moments of my life. But to never seen the sun again? To have to kill people just to survive? I can’t do that.”
“But but… when you fed… you didn’t hesitate at all…”
“That’s the problem! Killing was EASY! And it SHOULDN’T be! It should be the hardest decision I have to make. I don’t WANT to be the person who kills easily. And do any of those people deserve it? Would even Sully deserve it? Trevor, right now, at this very moment, I’m happy. Happier I think than I’ve ever been. My extra was… wild. I don’t even know how to begin processing it. I want to go now Trevor, while that feeling lasts. Before I do something again that I regret.”
My mind was overwhelmed. “Now?” I whispered. “Right now?” He nodded.
“NO! NOOOOOO!!!!! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!” The tears fell freely now. “You can’t… You can’t go…. I love you Jamie. Do you hear me?! I love you!” He smiled sadly.
“I know. Forever and always.” He pressed something into my hand. “I want you to have this Trevor. To remember me by. It’s about a survivor. You’re a survivor Trevor.”
It was “Life of Pi”. Grey streaks began to show in the sky.
“NOW GO!” he shouted. “Dawn’s coming soon. So get out of here. Run! RUN! RUN FAST AND DON’T LOOK BACK!”
I ran. I ran as fast and as far as I could. I left a thousand pieces of myself behind in Grant Park that day, every single one of them a memory of Jamie. Back at the sit I wrapped myself in the blankets and wept tears of rage and loss. The last thing I remember before the daysleep claimed me was a sudden flare of impossible brightness. And then I knew he was gone.
The next night I burned the sit and everything in it. All the books, all the comics, everything. There were too many memories there. Too many painful reminders of the past. The only thing I kept was Jamie’s book. He’d written a message in it. “Always looking over you. Jamie.”
I’d been on my own too long. I’d heard about a group of vampires living in a junkyard, vampires my age (or had been when they crossed over), and it didn’t take me long to track them down and join their “family”. Having other people around helped distract me from the grief.
But I’m done with love. I can’t go through that again. I can’t… open myself up, only to lose it all. I’m rebuilding the armor and this time NOTHING is getting through. And if I have to be the biggest asshole on the planet to stop myself getting too close… well, I’ll do it.
I haven’t told anyone at the junkyard about Jamie. His memory is private. Special. But I hate to think that if I’m gone the memory of him… of what he became and how special he was, will be gone forever. So despite all scorn about the literary ambitions of the average vampire I’m writing this all down.
This is my vampire scripture.
This the Book of Trevor and Jamie.