Between Life and Death
To this day, I can’t remember the journey that led me there that day. My thoughts weighed too heavily on my mind for me to keep track of my surroundings and the path I took. It was only until I reached the edge of a cliff that I realized where I was.
Behind me spread a plethora of trees from which I assume I had emerged from. And beyond the cliff before me, the serene landscape you’d expect from a forest covered mountain. And not much further we’re the dazzling lights of the city I grew up in. Not a huge metropolis nor a small countryside town. Regardless of its size, the setting sun provided a new canvas for the lights of the buildings to shine on.
It was beautiful and peaceful to see it all come together, and so I sat down on a nearby bolder and watched it from afar, only desiring to clear my mind.
It was just me. No one, not a thing disturbed me. No birds sang their songs and not a single animal made a rustle in the leaves. The city was too far for me to be able to hear the cars’ horns and I was far beyond the nearest trail. I was just me.
I was alone.
The only thing I could hear was my own mind and my own breathing. But even those I quickly phased out. And all the while I sat contently admiring the scene before me.
A moment of silence, and then…
To my right, the rustle of the leaves of a tree, like if a bird had landed there, caught my attention. And a moment later, the dull thud of footsteps from under the tree.
Under the tree’s shade, only a few meters away, stood a beautiful girl about my age. She wore nothing but a simple, white dress and a pair of summer sandals.
But, without a doubt her most eye catching feature was her silvery, white hair.
“I didn’t expect to find anyone up here,” she said.
“Me neither, but how did you get up here? I didn’t hear any footsteps until I saw you under the tree.”
She smiled as if I was asking a stupid question and pointed to the tops of the tree canopies.
“I jumped from tree to tree until I made it here.”
“Okay, stop joking around.” That was completely absurd.
“No, really. I did.”
She said it with no change in tone and she frankly seemed confused as to why I was not believing her. But I wasn’t buying it.
“Sure…” I mocked, “because people can just jump from tree to tree.” If she continued, I was going to grow tired of her jokes.
“Oh, but that’s the thing,” she began as if she had forgotten an important detail. “You see, I’m a vampire.”
Needless to say, I laughed. What else would you expect me to do.
What kind of person just shows up in a secluded part of the forest and proclaims that they were a vampire.
It was comical. It was exactly what I needed to brighten up my day. I mean, there was nothing I could do but laugh. And I laughed for quite a bit of time.
All the while the teenage girl stood under the tree waiting for me to stop laughing. But I never did. Eventually, she grew frustrated with my ridicule and turned red with annoyance.
“All right, you can stop laughing, now!” she erupted with exasperated.
It took a fair bit of will power but eventually I calmed down.
“I-I’m sorry. It’s just that you said that with such a serious face. How old are you, eight?"
That seemed to only make her angrier and her cheeks puffed out as she blurted out, “Fine if you don’t believe me then I’ll show you.”
In that moment she rushed out from underneath the tree, her once porcelain like skin immediately turned red. A moment later, blisters covered almost the whole of her body, and her skin began to split as if it was being cut by razors and started to spew out blood. And before I knew it, her whole body, the entirety of her body was engulfed in flames.
It all happened in three seconds.
She was so close to me that when she erupted in flames, I was so startled that I felt from the boulder. By the time I finally dared to look, she had already returned to the shade of the tree with no damage to her skin still present whatsoever.
Even her white dress was unscathed.
I was dumbfounded.
She was completely fine.
It was a miracle.
“It’s a curse,” she said out right, almost as if she had read my mind. “That’s what I was told. A wish that came true only for it to then become a curse.”
I only looked on from behind the rock as she explained.
And I, a human.
“Would you please come out from behind that rock,” she yelled, exasperated.
“Because… You are a vampire.”
At my reply, she massaged her forehead the way you would try to alleviate headache.
She let out a big sigh and glared at me with all the annoyance and frustration of a mother at her limit.
“Are you stupid?! Do you think I’m going to kill you?” she asked. “I’m a vampire. If I wanted to, this conversation wouldn’t have gotten to the point we are at now.”
“Okay…” I said skeptically as I came out from behind the boulder. “Then why are you here?”
“Simple. I was wandering around the forest and I stumbled upon you. You were just sitting there, looking into the distance, and I thought that you might be fun to speak with.”
Her reasoning made her look like a stalker. But that might just be what vampires naturally do. Even so, I couldn’t say I was feeling any safer.
But if her reasoning was to be believed, why would she just want to have a conversation with a person she just met in the middle of the forest?
“You just seem like the kind of person who would have interesting opinions,” she explained with an unnaturally keen deduction. As if she had read my mind. “And I managed to catch you between night and day.”
“That’s it? You just wanted to have a conversation with someone?” I asked, not sure just how serious she was.
“If anything, shouldn’t you be elated by this opportunity?” she said as if it were an obvious line of reasoning. “After all, how many people have the chance to speak with a vampire. Many who do meet them end up as their lunch.”
“I feel like I should be running away.”
“A useless idea. I’d catch you in a second. And beside...” She cleared the ground below her of rocks and twigs with her feet before gently sitting down, careful not to crease her dress. “Like I said, I wish to speak with you.”
There wasn’t any malice in her tone or expression that I could sense. Running away from a vampire seemed like an impossible task, so I chose to sit back on the boulder.
“Then what is it that you want to talk about?”
“Hmm,” she hummed as she mulled it over. “I’m not quite sure.”
Here she was, vaguely threatening me not to leave so that she could have a conversation with me, and she wasn’t even sure of what she wanted to talk about.
She might as well be wasting my time. Although, to her that idea might be completely irrelevant.
“Well, I’ve been living around humans for quite some time, but to tell the truth, I’ve never spoken to a human at length. Vampires and humans have always been at odds. I guess I’d like to understand why.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Then that’s your answer.”
Ignorance. That’s why. The fact that she couldn’t see such an obvious thing was part of the problem. But why would a vampire care in the first place?
“Fine, fine,” she gave in with a disgruntled looked. “Keep to yourself. We can get back to it later. How you ask me something now. This is clearly your first time meeting a vampire, so you must be a little curious.”
“I suppose so.” Up to this point, vampires had always been creatures of legends and myths for me. But those stories all need to come from somewhere, right. So it was impossible to deny the possibility that they did indeed.
“Alright, how old are you?”
“I’m four hundred and sixty eight years old.”
“Almost a half millennium,” I pointed out in slight awe.
“Hey! You’re making me sound old.”
Vampires were known to reach ages in the hundreds of years, but her inherently young looks made it so that when her true age was revealed, it left me in a bit of shock.
“I’m guessing that you are sixteen years old, right?”
“Can you read minds or something?!” Frankly, her guessing my thoughts was a bit concerning and I inched further away from her.
“Nope,” she said, almost amused at my reactions. “I’m almost five hundred years old. I just know these sorts of things.”
“Say whatever you want. It’s still creepy.”
Still, I wonder what it's like to have been alive for that long?
I could ask her many things.
Where she was from.
What it was like as a vampire.
Anything, and yet.
“So what’s the reason you came up here all alone? Did you get lost?”
It was a simple question, so I didn’t mind answering.
“For the past month or so, I had been feeling pretty sick. After some testing, I was diagnosed with a pretty terrible disease. It’s almost incurable, but even so, I was given four months to live.”
She didn’t speak for a moment as she let the wind blow by. “I can’t relate,” she admitted. “I am immortal, after all.”
It didn’t surprise me. A human and a vampire. One dies from the smallest of wounds and the other walks on until the earth itself ends.
She would never be able to understand what it was like to walk around with a death sentence. And even more so if you had a rough estimate of that dreaded day.
“Though,” she continued, “you could say that, in a way, I am able to understand.”
“How so?” How could she possibly understand.
“I started off as human. And you could say that the event that turns me into this was my point of death. While a human’s life ends at death, ours begin with it.”
“So you used to be a human?”
“I do recall it being so,” she tried to remember as she looked to the sky.
She couldn’t even remember being human, so how could she possibly say that she understood.
“Don't blame me,” she said after I failed to say anything.
“You would do the same.”
“If you are referring to becoming a vampire then I would never do so.”
“You are dying, aren’t you?”
The way in which she said it got on my nerves. It was definitely her intention.
What was she trying to prove? That I was a lifeless monster like her? Needless to say, I refused.
“If you want, I could turn right now. You would never have to worry about that disease of yours ever again.”
“Like I said, I’m not interested,” I said bluntly. I would never forgive myself if I were to choose that for myself.
As to why, I wasn’t sure.
“Suit yourself. It’s not like it is our job to save humans. We’re supposed to feed off them.”
“Are you trying to get on my nerves again?”
“No. Just because I’m immortal does not mean I don’t get hungry. Am I not allowed to eat?”
I fell silent.
“Yes. I remember facing the same conundrum. But unfortunately, humans are the only food source suitable for my kind.”
As if she had read my mind.
Human turned vampire who killed other humans. Like she said. A conundrum. Could I even be mad at her?
The answer was yes. She chose this life, therefore, it wasn’t a conundrum.
It was deliberate.
She wasn’t even calling herself human anymore.
“It’s merely a matter of life and death. I chose to keep living, and so, I do what must be done. Humans just get caught in the middle. Starvation is one of the very few ways we can die.”
But if that was the case.
“Do you not feel any guilt?”
She dwelled on it for a bit before answering.
“Back then, yes. But hunger is a relentless enemy.”
That was just a disgusting thing to hear.
She was a former human and yet, she felt no empathy toward her victims whatsoever.
It was just disgusting.
“Though, I’m pretty sure I have never killed a human before,” she mentioned uncertainty as she stared at the tree boughs.
She was a vampire. How could she have not.
When she saw my dumbfounded expression, she covered her mouth in a futile attempt to hide her smug smirk.
“What?!” I wanted to punch her. Not that it would have any effect on a vampire.
“Don’t get too full of yourself. Your morals aren’t like everyone else’s. You’re nothing special, unlike me.”
“Oh-ho! Look who’s talking. ‘Don’t get too full of yourself’ my ass!”
“But it’s true,” she said as if it was the most obvious of things. “Say, if we had a caste system, animals would be at the bottom, right? Then they would be followed by humans who are followed by vampires. So, you see, if anyone is allowed to act all high and mighty, it’s me.”
I’m going to wipe that smirk off her face.
“Oh yeah?! Then explain this. What is it that sets us apart? Why are humans and vampires at separate stages in the caste?”
“Well, isn’t that obvious?”
I couldn’t help notice the parallels. It was as if she were mocking me.
But if I had to give an answer, wouldn’t it be their immortality? But if that were the case, couldn’t humans still be called humans even if they were immortal?
“Or maybe not,” she said as if she had read my mind. “Maybe it isn’t that obvious afterall.”
Then it would have to be their vampiric abilities. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who could still consider someone with such traits as human. So then that begged the question…
“Then the first vampire must have been a type of demon for them to be classified separately from humans.”
“Nope,” she said matter of factly. “She was originally a human.”
Well, there went my hypothesis.
“For some it might be hard to believe but for others it’s common sense. At least, that’s how I see it.”
“I’m guessing that we both see it in different ways, then?”
It wasn’t really common sense. I would assume that the first vampire would have been a sort of demon or something similar. But someone else might believe in a different origin.
“Most likely. Though, in this case, there is only one truth, or, to be more accurate, there is one story that is seen to be the truth,” she explained.
“What do you mean?”
“A while ago, I don’t remember how long ago,” she began, “a friend of mine, a woman much wiser and older than I, once told me the story of the first of our kind.”
Would you like to hear it? she asked.
“One day, a wealthy couple was returning home and took a path along the riverbank. From behind the shrubs and trees, a group of bandits revealed themselves bearing swords. The couple were told to give all money they carried, which they did.
But the bandits, not wanting any witnesses to their crimes, impaled both the wife and husband through their hearts. The bandits were about to throw them in the river when they noticed a man approaching and ran away.
The wife and the husband, though impaled by blades through their chest, crawled toward each other. And once they were both completely drained of their blood, they confessed their love for each other one final time.
But standing above them, witnessing their struggle, was a man who was equally terrifying and calming. He told the wife and husband that there was a way for them to continue to be together after death. He could either send them to heaven or he could make them both immortal. The only condition was that they both had to make their decisions separately.
The wife and husband agreed to the terms and the man plunged them into darkness, unable to see each other nor hear each other.
The husband thought of his son and daughter of ages 10 and 6. He thought of how he would be leaving them if he chose to go to heaven. But he believed in the humanity of those surrounding them to be kind to his children, and in their own humanity to help them be virtuous and eventually join him in heaven. If he could live in a place of eternal happiness with his wife, then he would accept.
The wife thought of her son and daughter as well. She thought of how hard it would be for her to leave them behind if she went to heaven. She thought that her husband would choose in the same manner. So, if she were to become immortal and spend eternity with her husband and be able to see her children grow, then she would accept.
Both the wife and husband made their decisions at the same time, knowing that they would both come to the same conclusion. But when they were pulled out of the darkness, the wife found her husband smiling before realizing his eyes were void of life.
The mysterious man told the wife that now only God was capable of killing her before vanishing, and the wife was left alone.
She returned to her children and buried her husband. For 53 years she watched her children grow while at the same time she herself never aged, and in fact, only grew more beautiful with every year that passed. Eventually she saw her children die.
For 7 years she prayed to God every day and every night, begging for him to kill her. But God could not bring himself to kill one of his children, especially one that had been so virtuous in life. But after all those days of prayer, she at last lost hope of death and fell into depression.
One night, on the way back from her family’s graves, she saw a man walking in her direction. Her frustration and anger at God finally reached a boiling point and she attacked the man, her canines growing into fangs before biting down on the man’s neck. She continued until she had drained the body of all its blood.
She promised God that she would continue to kill for an eternity unless he killed her. But God knew that if he killed her now after having sinned, he would have no other choice but to send her to hell. Her husband would become aware that she had been sent to hell and would certainly make a deal with the devil to be sent with her, and the devil would likely accept.
God knew that by doing that. he would be damning an innocent person. So he refused to kill her.
Realizing that God had refused her plea she continued to drink the blood of humans, choosing the most virtuous of them all to spite God and force his hand. After she hand killed 20 innocent people, God had had enough and cursed her so that the moment she stepped into the sun, she would be engulfed in flames that would bring her great agony. This way, people were less likely to be made aware of such a monster.
But her healing factor was far too fast for the curse to be effective. The pain that she should have felt was merely an inconvenience to her. She would have to spend 12 hours under the sun for her to die.
Eventually, she even gained the ability to control her curse of immortality and pass it on to others, it only serving as a way to spite God.
And so, she continued to kill, as promised, all the while laughing at God’s lack of power. To her, he was no longer all powerful.
Her dear husband spent an eternity in misery, though in heaven. And she continued to live an eternity in misery, though immortal, with not even God having the power to kill her.”
So the story goes, she added.
She stared into the forest with a solemn glare as she pondered on the story she had just told.
She never told me whether or not she hated that story.
“So as you can see,” she began, “all vampires originate from a single human.”
“A single human that chose to become a vampire,” I elaborated.
“Hmm. I’m not sure that’s right.”
“Huh?!” Didn’t she just explain to me how the first vampire came to be?
“She didn’t choose to become a vampire. She only chose to become immortal. To be able to live out her life. Becoming a vampire was just a...side effect, for lack of a better term.”
Well, I guess she had a point. The idea of becoming a vampire should have never even crossed her mind, or else I doubt she would have chosen it.
But, that still didn’t answer the question.
“That still isn’t much to go off of,” she mentioned as if she had read my mind.
“Her vampirism was just a side effect, like evolution, right?”
“Probably. Then, that means the difference between a vampire and a human doesn’t necessarily have to do with the presence of vampiric traits.”
“Nor was it their immortality.”
It was a tough question. A question that probably would have never come up in a conversation if it wasn’t for a human and vampire having met.
“They were offered a choice,” I began to mutter in hopes that recounting the story might bring light to some answers. “They could either be sent to heaven or be made immortal. The husband chose the former while the wife chose the latter.”
She chose to become immortal. No, it has more to do with the reasoning than the choice.
Like she had said—humans died while vampires, on the brink of death chose immortality.
Human turned vampire. A former human.
Human lives ended at death while vampires were born from it.
Then, that would mean—
As if she had read my mind…
She stood from her place on the grass and walked until she reached the edge of shade. With a blank stare she stretched out her arm until it was basking in the sunlight. Just like before, it erupted into an inferno.
“Like I said, He cursed her with this. A curse that was then passed down to all who took the same endeavor as her. A punishment, if you will, for not dying as a human, but, instead turning into something inhuman.”
We both had come to the same conclusion.
As she removed her arm from the sun she continued. “The husband believed in humanity and died with that mindset while the wife chose not to.”
“Therefore,” she continued, “the husband died accepting his mortality in exchange for keeping his humanity.”
“And the wife gave up her humanity in exchange for immortality.”
The difference between humans and vampires, quite simply, was in the name itself. She had even mentioned it at the start of our conversation.
All vampires started as humans. It was just a question of whether or not they chose to keep their humanity.
I looked back at her, and once again, she stared solemnly at the forest. Though, this time, a hint of pain was visible.
She never told me whether or not she regretted her decision.
Vampires were born when humans died and gave up their humanity.
That was the difference.
“Well, now I can die knowing that bit of trivia,” I said.
For whatever reason, the conclusion we had come to didn’t feel all that conclusive, nor did it feel climactic. Maybe because somehow, we both already knew that.
“So you’d rather die, after all,” she pointed out. “I guess you value your humanity.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve never been on the brink of death so I can’t say for sure what I would choose at that moment.”
“Well, if that day comes, I’ll be there to give you the option.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I thought you didn’t save humans?”
“I never said I would be saving you.”
It’s a curse, she reminded me.
“Anyway, I guess I was right. This was a pretty interesting conversation,” she said with a sly smile.
“I’m glad you had fun.”
“Yes, the most I’ve had in a few hundred years.
With that, she stood silently for a moment. There weren’t many sounds about except for the rustling of the tree leaves. So, for a while, it was quite, until…
She came to a decision.
“I’d like to ask you a favor. Even if you might dislike me for being a vampire, could you still hear me out?”
“Sure.” I had no reason not to.
She took a deep breath.
“I have lived for almost five hundred years. I have seen and experienced many things, an amount that would take up many lifetimes. But, though I may be immortal, that does not mean that I am unable to die. So,” she stared at me with her brilliant eyes, “if I ever decide to pass on from this life, can you be there to see me off?”
It was a simple request. One that, for whatever reason, I accepted.
The smile she gave me afterward was enough of a payment.
So, at the end of the day, a human and a vampire spent the evening having a conversation. A human who could never hope to understand a vampire, and a vampire who could never hope to understand a human.
We were on opposite ends of the spectrum and yet wanted to understand each other.
A futile attempt.
Instead, however, and maybe more importantly, we discovered why we were different. What segregated our two kinds.
We both saw our ends. We both came to accept that our lives would end regardless of who we were. It was the one thing we had in common. The only thing that bound us together.
But even so.
Or maybe because of that fact.
Whatever endings came to us in the future were still left uncertain.