Mother thought the day was over, but then came a knock at the door.
“Simon,” she hisses. “The garlic!”
He can barely reach the hook from which the cloves are supposed to hang, so he has to clamber up the side of the armchair to reach it. He strings up the garlic just as she opens the door.
They come straight in—they do not require an invitation.
There are three of them, all clergymen: two burly subordinates with white shirts tucked into black pants. Each wears a knife at his belt, a vial of holy water and a crucifix hanging from a heavy chain.
And there is the the Bishop, his face flushed and pink, shorter than the others except for the peaked crimson cap. He wears a red robe, lined with gold thread. There are gaudy rings on each of his fingers. Mother barely notices the resplendence of his dress, all that she can focus on is the sound of his tongue as it scrapes across dry lips.
The Bishop looks at the garlic hanging from the wall and raises thin white eyebrows.
“We’re due a fresh batch,” Mother says. “I’ll send Simon to get some. Simon—”
“No,” the Bishop says. “The boy stays.”
Mother tries to stop him, but the big men grab and hold her. Her foot hits a sidetable and something falls from it and breaks. Something also breaks inside of her.
“It’s okay,” Simon tells her. “I’ll go.”
The Bishop guides the boy to the bedroom.
Mother cannot hear anything that is happening beyond the door and somehow that is the worst thing of all. Every sound, real or imagined, morphs into something grotesque.
And yet, Mother is also aware that if she could actually see what was happening she would surely go mad.
But we are not so lucky—our vision fixed on the glossy white door—a few bubbles of paint, a brass doorknob that reflects the upside-down shapes of the living room, and a dark keyhole through which we pass into the room beyond…
Darkness, then: light.
“It is time for your Absolution, Simon,” says the Bishop. He licks his lips.
“Have you sinned, boy?” he touches Simon’s shoulder. His breath is hot against Simon’s ear. He licks his lips (again) and Simon can hear it up close.
The Bishop’s hand moves to the boy’s chest and a dark shadow rises behind him.
The shadow dwarfs the Bishop. It looms over him. Simon thinks that the shadow is merely an extension of the Bishop himself, his darkness given form. At first the Bishop does not even notice—and when he does, he thinks that a cloud has merely covered up the sun. In a way, it has.
But the shadow is alive. It collapses onto the Bishop and Simon starts to scream. He knows he shouldn’t but he can’t help it. Simon screams and screams as the Bishop’s eyes bulge from his skull and the shadow sinks its teeth into his neck.
The priests are already kicking open the door. Behind them Mother is screaming and saying his name over and over: “Simon! Simon! Simon!”
The Bishop’s men rush the vampire. One of them raises the crucifix, but the vampire takes it from him and uses it to crack open the skull of the other. There is now a smell like burning and smoke is rising from the vampire where the sunlight patches through the window.
Simon moves. He grabs the curtains and pulls them closed. For a moment the darkness in the room is blinding and absolute.
“Simon!” Mother is still screaming and he can get to her, but not without stepping over the body of the Bishop and the other man—a crucifix protruding from his head. He tramples over the bodies and into Mother’s arms.
The last man has drawn his blade and he’s slashing at the vampire. The vampire punches him in the chest: once, twice, three times. Then he reaches into the mess of cracked ribs and tears free the man’s heart. For a moment the arteries stretch and cling to the body like elastic bands, but the entire circulatory system is not so easily dislodged and there is a point at which they rupture.
Blood explodes across the room. Even Mother and Simon, in the other room, are splattered with it. It drips down from the boy’s dark fringe and she tries to wipe it away. It leaves bloody smears on his face.
The vampire is standing in the doorway—neither of them saw him move, but he is there. He is speaking to them, he is telling them to travel south.
“There is refuge there,” he says. “Beyond the foothills, through the forest, on the side of the mountain—there is a place called Sveta. There… you will be safe.”
Mother is shaking. Simon is not.
“Are there priests?” he asks. “Are there churches in Sveta?”
The vampire shakes his head.
“But…” Mother tries to speak but can only stammer. She can’t collect her thoughts or her breath. There is so much blood. She tries again and this time finds her voice: “Are there vampires?”
“Oh yes,” says the shadow, and grins. “There’s vampires.”
ROAD TO SVETA