the VRYKOLAKAS JOURNAL
I am Arabus Drake. Once mortal, with a name, a mother, and a future. Mikos was my name, born in Greece in 1473. Upon arising from the grave I left this name behind. This undead name represents this change from life to death to undeath—nothing poetic, nothing for you to remember for your grandchildren … should you live long enough to have any. No, I do not mean to threaten. Sometimes things just crawl out of my mouth. The most truthful remarks we make are those we cannot control.
Before I get too far for you to turn back, you need to know a little bit more about a Vrykolakas, no? The pronunciation is vre-KOL-ekus. But you can just call me Vryk-rhymes-with-shriek. I do not believe in wasting time, even though time spreads before me like the universe, unending and empty, if I do not find a way to fill these long hours with companionship.
I wish only to be liked. Not admired or honored. Just liked enough to keep company with. Somewhat like you, I would image.
I seek people not just for blood, but for acceptance of this ungodly soul. I share my tales with you now because the legend of the Vrykolakas must be made clear, but also because, unlike so many of you, I tire of this existence of seeking where I belong in this world.
Imagine me for an instant. Undead, blood sucking, yes, but should I knock on your door, I might wish nothing more than a little conversation. If you do not answer, I might get in anyway. Be the one who can friend me, and find it worth your time. But most times you will merely turn me away, annoying me into a killing mood. A vicious cycle, as the more I kill the less I find to befriend. Once my tales are finished, I must search that ultimate bliss for a vampire—death.
Though you might call me vampire, I prefer to think of myself as Vrykolakas. But that is such a mouthful and hard to pronounce, no? I fear ‘vampire’ has been overused and has become—what is the word?—trite. How much reality is in any of those Hollywood renditions? So call me Vryk, although I prefer Arabus, the name given me by one of my first innocent encounters after rising into undeath.
Even if what you will read here startles or terrifies you, trust your instincts to know the truth. That my soul has lingered trapped inside a demon-ridden corpse is very much a part of the story. We all—living, dead, and undead—have our demons to face, and the question becomes do we face them with courage and control, or allow them to run us amuck?
You would never know what I am at first glance. On the outside I do not appear monstrous. You may have already met me, and saw someone who appeared very near mortal, but perhaps a tad thin and pale. I don’t appear white-skinned, however, because I was Greek and well-tanned when I died. If I go without replenishing blood, my skin does take on a cold, white and pasty texture. My demons are inside me, as are yours. On the outside, except for needing to stay shaded from the sun, I am very near a dead likeness of mortality.
But since my soul is trapped in a corpse, you will hear my longing to be mortal again, without the courage to conquer the demons, destroy the corpse and free my trapped soul.
Oh yes, I know how all this must sound, but do NOT put this aside as a hoax. Please know that I speak only the truth. Let your instincts, that voice of your soul deep inside you, convince you that what I say is true so that when you dive into these romances with me you will understand why I have chosen to share these tales of my last 500 years. Truth often drives the sane to the brink but also holds your hand as you peer into the abyss. You can survive anything, if only you know what anything is.
As humans we live with the knowledge of mortality, of gods that control us and of evil in the world that we hope daily to escape. I lived blissfully unaware that I would someday lose control of my days and nights … ahhh, the nights! Then the demons overwhelm the consciousness of my soul and blacken my vision in their violent quest of blood. If I retain control of this corpse and demonic thirst, I can choose the targets. But ultimate control takes courage, which often I find lacking. Which is why I must kill this corpse. My reality is in the search for love, the one who could give me this courage has continued to evade me.
I despise witnessing this thirst. Only moments ago I witnessed the bus driver pass a scheduled stop where a tired old woman waited, so I jumped into the black void to the next stop and stood where the driver had to stop to keep from hitting me. I saw that he had no passengers before the attack. I did not want to learn that his wife had just gone into labor and so he got off duty early, as his soul screaming inside me reminds me even now.
The black void, the demons’ control, the trapped souls of my victims—all things you will learn in due time.
The demons are like my subconscious, because in undeath all mortal subconscious becomes conscious. Here when I switch the tale to third person, you will know that I have relied on other accounts to fill in the gaps. The demons, when in control, blind my consciousness so I avoid the pain of witnessing the attacks, but they will kill anyone. So I must try to control them and witness what abhors me. An ironic dilemma. A circular hell.
How have I managed to bear this undeath for 500 years? That you will discover a page at a time. For now, understand this much. Before abduction and eventual death I was the child Mikos with loving parents but also a coward who longed for immortality. When I first came up from the grave I could not believe what I had become and leaped back into my past—into my memories, to try to change this fate.
Allow me to introduce you to the demons with a recalling of my first moments of undeath. Shortly before my death I found true contentment in the form of an immortal love with Althea. Who can ever imagine, as mortal, that such happiness could lead to such misery?
As inevitable as events are when they happen, at age 30 I was murdered and my corpse settled into a grave. But anger lingered in my soul. These underworld demons grabbed my anger, trapped my soul and prevented me from traveling on to the afterlife realm. These demons come into existence and multiply through a putrid underground process of decay after centuries of burials and discarded bodies and souls, and they forced my soul to re-animate the corpse of the once-living Mikos along with them, because of their thirst for vengeance on the still-living human population …
AHHHHH! The memory crawls through me even now, of scaly demonic arms wrapping around my essence, sucking me back into this ungodly corpse …
---empty, hollow, as though worms have crawled into pores, the crawling creep of evil disguise, and conscious awareness, though in a state of forgetting, emerging from perpetual darkness into light and blood and the screaming begins with our many mouths from the minds of worms stretching and growing with claws and the thirst of revenge---.
I struggle to burst free of this grave, of the dirt prison where they so carelessly buried me, an unmarked grave of which is said a corpse cannot rest. But corpses often do rest in graves such as this, corpses that anger does not control. My struggles loosen the dirt but a swarm of bats, hungry for the night, fly over the grave. I hear their wings and wait, for the fear of bats I carried as cowardly Mikos remains…
---wanting to scream but this corpse mouth opens and fills with dirt, swallowing dirt, not feeling, not caring, the passionate wings of our thirst beating the skin with hate, and once again forcing up at the mound of dirt above us, harder, straining, activating the veins with dry lustful hate---.
My hands break free of the oppressive ground into air and seek vengeance, groping at the world. They are no longer mine!
---free, free, yes, escape, emerge---.
And my palms press against the ground. Anger forces me up through rocks and dirt in an explosion of soil that imprisoned me. First my face and then shoulders and chest, the ground birthing the evil hidden in its womb for centuries. All because the demons have taken control of my consciousness …
---the howl of the many trying to escape, but the corpse, now re-possessed, filled with the dirt of the ground, the worm of existence feeling no pain, no sensation, the moon’s rays lighting the eyes until we can see across the earth into eternity—hungry for revenge.
I puke up the dirt of the grave from my lungs, a thick puddle of mud forming as I wretch out the filthy existence in the final stages of awakening. And the howl I emit—the memory hurts my head as even now those feelings return as sharp as my undead birthing from the grave … I did not ask for undeath!
I see children running from my unmarked grave. As they run I see the boy Mikos staring at me, wondering over his fate and desire for immortality. He runs from me, runs from a vision he does not believe, and into the warm arms of his mother, but still, looking over his shoulder as though he can still see me.
And yes, now I am watching Mikos the boy as I seek a way to prevent this fate, knowing my undead self as the cold wind that stirs his bed at night, as the bat that flies swooping down but only succeeding to terrify him even more. Wondering, as I flee into these memories of my life, what had I done as Mikos to deserve undeath?
Vlad the Impaler
My life as Mikos began at the time of my birth in 1473 in a small part of Greece called Palamas. My parents preferred me to my two sisters and brother but I never asked them why, for, as any ten-year-old might, I enjoyed the attention.
I remember the day of play, terrifying myself by the sight of a swarm of birds, thinking they were bats. Myla, my older brother, laughed at me.
“No, no, they WERE bats!” I insist. “Bats are magical. They can change form.”
Foolish child, I was. Was that why I am now undead? The simple cowardice of bats? That same day my momma, Adrika, and I went to the village to hear the Taleteller—fear of him I handled because of her protective love.
And the Taleteller’s name … McKinaugh. No, that is not right. The Taleteller is here inside me, one of many souls trapped in my corpse through untimely demonic overkill. Odd that I cannot remember who McKinaugh is. Try to imagine yourself as possessing 180 different personalities, none of which are you. I can sometimes silence the voices of these trapped souls in my skull but not their presence lingering there, like ticks on a dog.
Everything that has happened to me since undeath exists in my expanded consciousness with perfect memory recall, a power gradually awakening as I visit the memories of my last mortal life. All senses are sharp as I recall them, so revisiting my memories causes me great pain. And yet I must, to understand why I have come back … and so I recreate for you those memories I had after bursting from the grave.
With Momma on this day in 1483 I was excited to hear the tales of this big dark-skinned Muslim called the Taleteller, and I led Momma hungrily through the crowd, past the markets of sweet bread, beans and fresh lamb meat. She acted rude toward an old bum who inquired about me, but would not tell me why. The Taleteller was a big solemn black man with flowing Muslim robes. He looked angry yet filled with great courage. When I saw him I hid behind Momma and as she made her purchases, but I caught admiring glimpses of him as he gathered people around with his wild gestures and teasing tales.
Finally she found us a place between the others in the grassy knolls and stone walkways to hear him talk of the terrible King Vlad of Wallachia. Vlad had died thirty years earlier, a man who ate the flesh and drank the blood of enemies, who impaled victims on poles outside his castle and ground his critics into hash to feed to his servants—an evil, wicked king who might not be quite dead.
I grabbed for Mikos as though to shield him from these horrible tales, thinking they were cursed, and Mikos shivered as though consumed by a cold wind from mountains.
Momma felt me shiver and wrapped her arms around me. “Mikos, did you see a bat?”
“No, Momma, but I am afraid Vlad Tepes Dracula will come back to eat me! They say he eats those who hear his stories.” Momma tried to hand me a piece of peeled cabbage leaf but I closed my eyes in the horror of being offered human skin.
“Nonsense. He has long since died.” She hugged me and brushed back my unruly black hair. “But this is enough fun for one day.” She guided us out of the square without disturbing the rest of the tale.
I shivered as we walked away from the borough. “Momma, when will I be brave and stop fearing bats?” But she did not answer and I did not ask again. When Momma had an answer she readily preached it.
Ahead in the road two gypsies argued over a cart that had lost a wheel. “Momma, can we help them?” But Momma pulled me in a wide circle around them as though they were diseased. “Who are they, Momma?”
“The devil sends them to curse us. Look away!”
A little girl popped her head up from the back of the wagon, holding a whimpering baby. The little girl was the curse? The love of my future—yes, love is often thought of as a curse. “Boy, did the Taleteller warn of the bhuta?”
Momma jerked me to her and hid my face so I could no longer see them.
“We have followed his trail since ancient times,” she called. “Beware the blood-drinking deities!”
Mikos stole a peek back at her, with the response of love welling up inside him. I mean, inside me. I tried to shake him away but could not physically grab hold of the memory.
When Momma and I reached our little house I stopped walking as though feeling my future fate block my path. I kicked up dirt and rocks as Momma pulled me forward.
“What is wrong, little one?” Momma felt only anxious need to move on to chores.
I pointed. “Papa.”
Papa came out of the house with a heavy mouth. “Vito,” Papa said.
Great Uncle Vito! He jumped off a cliff! Somehow I knew this as soon as Papa said his name, as sure as if I had seen him jump. Papa pulled Momma and me into his embrace but Momma broke away and ran inside. I did not want to see Vito dead. I wanted to find Myla and my sisters and playandplayandplay. But I followed Momma to the back of the house to a corpse on the group wrapped in wool.
“I cannot be here to see your next birthday, little soldier,” were Vito’s last words to me. Always called me “little soldier,” but I never knew why. I should have asked him. I should have been less timid! I asked Papa if Vito killed himself and at first he said no. But then Papa admitted that Vito was very sad all his life because he saw his younger brother taken by the Ottoman Turks in the service of the Muslims.
Then Papa would say no more but just sadly rubbed my head and started to sob. Foolish child, you couldn’t figure this out? He put his head down and kept sobbing, and I, thinking he sobbed for Uncle Vito, sobbed with him.
Allow me, before I step away from this memory for a bit of thirst quenching, to sever a few myths about a Vrykolakas. I do not hide in darkness nor own a coffin. I am able to walk about in the daytime as long as I keep my skin from being burned in the sun’s rays. Undead skin cannot heal, nor feel any sensation of any kind. Also this corpse never has need of sleep. I hide in darkness for days at a time, living in another memory until the need for blood pushes me into current existence again. A vrykolakas is not quite a vampire, you see, but more a cross between a bloodsucker and a wolf except I do not consume any fleshy morsels. I am not averse to going for blood anywhere on the victim, but the throat is most pleasurable and convenient. I am told my countenance becomes a bit wolf-like when the demons are in control.
If you should see me on the street today, you would not know me as a vrykolakas. I could brush against you and you would only shudder and walk on, not knowing you just had a brush with death. If you are rude, you may be tagged as a potential victim. Remember this the next time you are in a crowded train and do not know the people around you. No, there are no others like me that I know about. Stay involved with this journal and you will learn why. Do not expect me to tell you everything at once. My subconscious is open to the experiment but yours is not.
Most times when I have control, I do not kill. If you awaken with an unexplained tiredness, I could be the reason.
In the daytime I wear sunglasses, but that does not make me unusual—at least, not in your world. I made a rather odd-looking cowboy, however. Keeping a hat bent over my face is often protection enough as long as I am careful. Exposure to sun is not instant death—it takes a second or two for the frying of skin to begin—once it begins cannot be undone.
Do not attempt to foil me with holy water or crosses for I am not religious. Coming back from the dead tends to rip away one’s former religious beliefs. I am, however, quite spiritual because I have total access to my soul. What we see in the afterlife realm reaffirms this wholeness of connection to the universe—and that is the nature of true spirituality. Believe whatever else you want, but know that much.
There are things you can do if you wish me to attack you. If you want death then take drugs, such as those meant to hallucinate or stimulate you. Blood containing chemicals meant to alter those juicy corpuscles I happily feed to these demons. Any chemical—alcohol is another—that acts against the blood tends to gentle them for a short while. I love drunks for their defenselessness. And I am attracted to those who go out of their way to irritate or reject me. Anyone who appears to be a threat to himself or others, the aged, ailing—and, oh yes, I go for those injured in war. I enjoy wartime where men beg to be put out of the pain of their wounds.
I need no courage to kill a great number of people, like weeding a garden, but when I control, I often leave my victims alive. I rarely visit the same person twice. I have no desire to make you like me. That is the whole point of this journal. Creating others does happen, though, out of curiosity. And love.
Had my soul not been trapped in this corpse, I would be only evil. They trapped my soul because they do not like rebirth, or the pattern of conquering evil with an evolutionary procession toward the good. For they are the evil and hate the good. But that is only my guess.
When I first burst from the grave I was numbed by undeath and not yet thirsty, not knowing who I was or why I had been buried. I did not believe that I should have emerged from the dirt, feeling I should have instead grown into a pine or olive tree. Killing desires came only a short time later, leaving time to deal with lost mortality.
My apologies to my latest victim. I left him snoozing unconscious on a Greyhound bus. He may wind up in Atlantic City whether he wanted to or not. He will not think to be grateful for his life. Pity.
Should I apologize for something I cannot control? Do you apologize for defecation? You take your bowels for granted because you know you can toilet most every day. Not me. Not anymore. Now the demons fill me like bile in permanently constipated bowels.
Back to poor dead Vito. I loved Great Uncle Vito because Vito answered questions bluntly, as a man of his years does. If only I could have saved him! One night, as we observed the intricacies of the campfire, Vito coaxed me to see my own soul in those flames.
“Mikos, someday you will be tested. Someday your life, your blood, your very soul will be at peril. There are those who have no more desire than to make you kill. Give them your life, if you have to, but guard your blood and your soul well. Give not even a millimeter of that which kindles your mind.” He pointed to his forehead. “Your body may die, but your soul is you.”
“Uncle, is not my blood part of my body?” I tried to grab on to Vito’s arm and hold tight but this blasted memory remains non-corporeal.
“Your blood is your family, those who gave you life. Guard both your blood and your soul jealously.”
I promised Uncle Vito that I would guard them well, even though I did not understand against what. “Uncle,” I asked as the flames flickered like raging ghosts, “if there is so much evil in the world, why do we try so hard to keep living?”
Vito laughed and spit a wad into the fire, bursting the ghostly flames apart in protest. “Are the mysteries of the universe what you now ponder? We try hard because … what else is there to do?”
I felt myself about to say “live forever,” but then bats flew overhead and I hid, trembling, in his big warm arms. Vito laughed, making me smile up at him.
His death made me afraid I would never feel truly safe again. If a man like that could kill himself, what hope for the rest of my family?
I remembered, like a curse, the night the house crowds with mourners for Vito. Myla took us to spend the night in the vineyards. We were reminded of the art of fire tending and given two sheepskin blankets to sleep between. Chana and I gathered sticks and mounded them inside the circle of rocks, as Myla tended the flinted spark to the sticks to make flame and Yalana held her breath so she didn’t blow it out, like he told her to. She was a chatty little girl, Yalana, but always listened to Myla.
I watched Myla, but could not stop thinking about Uncle Vito. “Myla, will you miss me when I’m gone, like Uncle Vito missed his brother?”
At first I thought he might not answer, so hard did he concentrate on getting the fire lit. “You are the itch between my toes, brother. I would never miss that.”
“I will miss you, Mikos,” Chana said somberly.
Myla leaped up and grabbed her around the throat. “Trying to make me look bad, eh?” They tumbled on the ground while Yalana laughed and I tossed more sticks on the fire. Heaven help the night if this fire went out.
“You will tell the tales tonight, Myla?” Yalana asked as she helped me feed the fire. “You promised.”
“What tales?” I watched for bats, fearful of how they could bore holes in the day to leak in the night as they carried undead souls looking for new bodies. Foolish boy—if thoughts alone can curse Mikos has done me in a thousand times already.
“Yes, this fire will make the perfect setting for Dracula’s tales.”
“Myla! You will tell the tales of Vlad the Impaler, Dracul’s son Dracula? At night in front of the fire? With the little ones here?”
I leaped across the fire at Myla but this accursed undead body flew straight through him. Mikos only looked perplexed, frozen to the spot in a kind of horror spreading outward from his soul.
“They are just tales, brother. They cannot hurt.” The flames from the fire distorted Myla’s face under the black sky. Myla poked around in the fire as though trying to conjure Satan. Finally he looked up and flashed us a spooky white grin. “This is what they tell at my school. They hear this tale from others, who hear even more as truth from others. We do not know its source, but we know this. Tales such as this have their source from one who has been there. Or from Vlad the Impaler himself.”
The sisters scooted closer to me, each grabbing my arm, with me grabbing back.
“Vlad the Impaler was not the first vrykolakas. He will not be the last. He has fed off people, reveled in their pain…”
I never revel, when I have control.
“…in their agony, in their very blood. They say the Turks cut off his head to destroy him, because this is one of the few ways he could be vanquished. Until then he was one of the walking dead. Others say he was not killed in this way, that Vlad Dracula is still a walking dead. If the Turks, who we were raised not to trust, are not telling the truth and he was not beheaded, then he yet walks among them and does their bidding, feeding off Greeks and others who displease them.”
“We hate the Turks!” Yalana quipped.
“But at least we know they are human, they can die,” Chana reminded her.
“Are they the same as bhuta?” I asked.
“Bhuta? Where did you hear that word?” Myla spoke as though suddenly reeling back from the edge of a cliff.
“A girl on the road. Their gypsy wagon had broken---.”
“Mikos! A gypsy?”
“The wagon had a busted wheel, but Momma would not let us help them.”
“Because they can curse you, especially if they ask you for a favor that you cannot grant. Imagine if you had not been able to fix that wheel.”
Yalana tugged on Myla’s arm. “Myla, you are scaring me.”
“Go back to your tale,” I muttered as I rubbed at the shivers on my arms.
The girls sighed as Myla found his place in the story. “There are other ways to kill a Vrykolakas.”
I listened as though knowing I would someday need this knowledge. But from where I tell these tales today, I can tell you I have tried them all. Failed through lack of determination, that of which I am likely to find when my tales have all been told.
“A stake driven through the heart. The stake must pierce the heart and pin him to the ground or a tree connected to the ground. A Vrykolakas can be torched, but caution, make sure even his bones are ashes. Then too he will not return. But torching a body is the hardest way to destroy them. Garlic is said to ward them off but will not hurt them.”
“A heavy dose of garlic will ward anyone off,” I said. The girls giggled but shushed when Myla gives us the ‘look.’
“Vlad the Impaler, even as a mortal, did horrible things. He tacked heads of suckling babes to their mother’s breasts. Removed the skin from a Turk’s foot to rub with salt for the goats to lick. Drove a nail into a Turk’s turban when the Turk forgot to show proper respect, nailed this turban to his skull. Chopped people into hash to be roasted and served---.”
“EEuuuyyhhh!” Chana exclaimed as Yalana hid her face.
“Please, Myla, not so descriptive!”
“No, I like it, Mikos,” Yalana giggled at me. “Go ahead, Myla.”
“He served his enemies to his servants. He may still wander the earth, looking for souls to torment. If he finds yours, and takes all your blood, you will become like him. A Vrykolakas to wander through eternity. If the Turks are to be believed, then his body is interred in a monastery in Snagov. But no one looking for proof of his death has found the grave.”
The fire crackled, shooting up a jet of smoke. “I would have torched him, staked him, cut off his head and buried his bones,” I muttered as I watched the sparks being eaten by the night.
“How did he become this creature?” Yalana asked. “Was he born with this affliction?”
“The tales tell there are three ways.” Myla spoke with great authority. “Should a person die a violent, unresolved death. Should a person through his actions be condemned to hell by his own church. Or---.” Myla freezes.
“What? What? What?” we chorused in broken melody.
“If I tell, promise you will not linger awake and trembling in your bed tonight?”
“We promise,” the girls answered, each taking my hand.
I did not promise. I wanted to stop Myla from talking. Even if I had to kill him.
“The third is should a person take his own life.”
“Uncle Vito!” Yalana shrieked.
“Oh brothers, Uncle Vito is walking dead now!” Thrilled by her fear, Chana bumped her rear on the dry rocky soil.
I heard an echo in the hills. “Walking deeeaaad. Walking deeeaaad.”
“One does not always become a Vrykolakas when taking one’s own life,” Myla whispered. “Only sometimes. Besides, Vito slipped. He did not leap.”
I nodded. “And even if he leaped, he only had a chance to be one. It does not mean he is one.”
“Will he come for my blood?” Yalana shrieked and wrapped her arms around Myla. “Do walking dead people go after the blood of their family? Do Vrykolakas move back in with their families?”
“You see, Myla, the girls are frightened now!”
“The tale is finished.”
“No!” Yalana said as Chana laughed. “Tell us how Vlad turns people into undead. Tell that part!”
“A Vrykolakas thirsts after human blood. They have none of their own and need the fuel to keep moving, to stay young. Sometimes they take only a little and leave you alive so they may use you again. Sometimes they take all. And sometimes they appear in wolf skin and tear you to pieces. If you die from being sucked by a Vrykolakas, your corpse too will rise as walking dead. But the Vrykolakas that becomes in one of the three ways I told you before is the most powerful of all. He can chase the clouds and devour the moon. He can sense your thoughts before you think them.”
That is true—and some of you ought to tone down the volume a little.
Chana gasped. “Vito killed himself. He may come back and take all my blood.”
I shook my head. “Vrykolakas do not take the blood of family. If you treat them kindly and satisfy them in other ways, they leave you alone.” I grinned when Myla gave me a surprised look.
“Are you sure?” Yalana frowned. “Myla, is he right?”
Myla only shrugged. “The tales do not say.”
“Then Uncle Vito could come for my blood and take all! Oh brothers!” Yalana buried her head in my knees.
Myla grinned at me as I wrapped my arms around Yalana.
“That was a great tale, Myla!” Chana said.
Yalana looked up. “Yeah! I liked the tale too!”
The girls kept their promise and slept easy that night. I made no such promise, but felt undeath walking alongside my dreams that night. So I left that sheepskin bed and the others sleeping to tire myself with a walk under the vague light of a half moon. I did not plan to walk far but found myself standing at the edge of a cliff with a waterfall leading to the lake below, mist swirling up to soothe my fevered skin.
I realized too late Vito leaped off this cliff to his death. An icy hand clamped down on my foot and flipped me back. Vito crawled up from the lake, every bone in his body broken. He moved awkward and snake-like, mouth cavernous and sharp.
“Be like me, boy.” His voice crawled after me as I ran. “We will swarm the world and make all undead.” He lunged for my neck but I shoved a rock into his mouth. I broke free and ran again but he jumped up and spit the rock at me.
I fell backward with the rock embedded in my forehead. “But I am your nephew!”
He laughed, the fiend, and grabbed my throat. I found a stick on the ground, jagged and sharp. With firm hold I raised this jagged stick high over my head and jammed it down.
Into my own chest.
Uncle Vito laughed with crazy glee. And vanished.
Instead I saw Chana next to me in our sheepskin bed. I felt for this stick in my chest, pulled it out and blood gushed out all over the ground.
A dream yes, but also, I believe now, a premonition of undeath.
The memories become more difficult as I confront all that caused my undeath, yet I continued to try and change my fate. Bear with me and these memories—they must be known to understand the great impact of life on death. I did not understand why Vito seemed so unhappy, or why my parents favored me but I would come to find out, although in the worst possible way. As I played with the others in the field, four Ottoman Turk Janissary soldiers approached us. When Myla refused to answer their request, I pointed out our house.
“Myla, what do they want?”
Myla said, “stay hidden,” and ran to the house.
“To what do we owe the honor?” Papa asked the two Janissaries who had come inside the house. One of them remains trapped inside me yet today.
“You know why they are here!” Momma turned to the Janissary. “And their presence is no honor. That bum, Promos, he was the Sultan!”
The Janissary slapped her face, knocking her with enough strength to the ground.
Papa knelt to her and pulled her close before she lost her temper. “Wife, we have not been told their business.” He helped her up and held her back.
Myla broke into the house and grabbed Papa’s arm. “Papa, do not let them take Mikos!”
“You have two fine boys. You must give the younger to us.” The Janissary clamped a hand on Myla’s shoulder. “Be grateful we leave you one.” He pushed Myla backward. “Get the younger!” Myla fell to the floor.
Momma wrapped her arms around Myla as Papa stood in front of them. “Mikos is a small boy, with many fears. He will not make a good soldier.”
“He comes today. We will mature him.”
“Nooooooo!” Momma grabbed the Janissary’s legs and wept bitter tears against his leg.
The other Janissary grabbed Myla’s hair and pressed his saber against his neck, drawing a thin line of blood. “Then watch your family die.”
The other kicked Momma backward and grabbed Papa. Papa’s eyes squeezed shut as the Janissary drew his saber against him.
“Stop!” Momma collapsed on the floor, sobbing. She could no longer speak so the saber drew blood from Myla’s neck.
Papa tried to leap forward to Myla’s rescue but the saber broke a huge gash in his neck. He stumbled backward in pain.
“Promos!” Momma wanted to stop all of this, but did not know how.
Papa grabbed a towel to press to his neck, nodded sadly at her and stepped outside. “Mikos! Come to me!”
I can hear the tremble in his voice now that I did not hear as a boy. “Mikos, come-um to me-eee.” No harder words were ever spoken by a single mortal man.
Mikos saw Myla fly out of the house into the dirt. I saw Father with soldiers on either side of him, and a bloody cloth wrapped around his neck. The look on his face told me this was no honor. Myla bled and Momma cried. Both soldiers held bloodied swords.
Papa called my name again. Something bad had happened in that house, and now Papa wanted me to come to him. But I felt sure Papa would not call me to come to him if I were in danger. So Momma’s crying meant she worried that her men were hurt from playing with sabers and Myla screamed and clutched at the dirt because he felt shame over his clumsiness—maybe he had hurt Papa. Because Papa stood there, solid and firm and called my name. So I walked. Then I ran to him. And my arms were out, ready to be swung high in laughter.
Instead cold hands grabbed me. The soldiers had stepped ahead of him and grabbed me before I could reach his warm loving arms.
Papa did not reach back. He closed his eyes and pulled my sisters into those warm arms instead.
My feet no longer touched the ground as the soldiers carried me off. Papa walked into the house hugging my sisters. “Papa-papa!!”
“You put him down!” Myla tried to run to me but Momma grabbed him and held him in a great bear hug as he struggled and cried.
“Myla, help me!”
“Mikos!” Momma sobbed so hard tears filled her mouth. “You will always be our son!”
“Momma! Where are they taking me?”
In this memory I can hear her prayer of curses to our God, to all the gods everywhere, to destroy these men who tore her family apart. But at the time, all I heard were only my own cries.
Most Greeks treated this enlistment of second sons into the Islamic army as an honor. But because of Vito, and our past defiance, my parents could not. Because of this separation of trust between my family and Muslims, I was destined to spend my Mikos lifetime in anger. The Muslim conquest of Greece began long before I was born and Greece had much to be thankful for—but because of my parents, I came to feel shame in association. But was this enough to curse me to undeath?
The ship took abducted boys to Istanbul—this ship of lost hope with boys torn from homes that unfortunate ones like me reflected on in dreams. Did they believe this would make a man of me? Fear and hatred for my family for allowing this to happen threatened to erase the love I had for them. Forced to stay below deck the entire voyage, with little room to sit, no food or water, boys fell to the floor weak with hunger and groaned timidly when stepped on, while others did not even whimper. But only a few of us were dying inside. Unlike me, most saw this, and knew this, as an honor.
I did not hear anyone else’s pain. Betrayed. By family. Skinny arms slipped around my waist and shook me from this stupor, and I tried hard to remove them but could not. I met the scoundrel Dimitri as a small boy, another too young for the tortures of abduction. “Please mister, protect me. I do not want to die!”
“I do not want that either.”
“My gamma and brother were beaten because they would not let me go. Will you be my protector?”
Beaten? I imagined my family being beaten, their blood spilt, for not letting me go. The soldiers tried to kill them! I wrapped my arms around Dimitri. My family did not betray me—Papa had to save the others. Perhaps Papa would yet find a way to rescue me.
“I will be your friend. Stay close to me.” An odd feeling came over me, one I now recognize as anger. “We will keep our senses and someday grow to be men. Then we can kill them all.”
These images of the life I once had and lost, images I revisited when I first burst free of the ground and now share with you, have kept my humanity alive in an undead corpse. Because of these memories, I keep hoping to be accepted as mortal in this life that otherwise would be only vengeance. A forever friendship turned bad counts as another curse, does it not? Perhaps one can have only so many in life and then they spill over into death.
We survived the arduous voyage to Istanbul without food and water and for our reward were told to forswear our religious upbringing and pledge our loyalty to the Sultan and Muhammad. In the courtyard with so many boys, we were told to raise our heads and repeat the pledge to Islam. I opened my mouth---.
Vito’s voice rang out in my head. “Do not give them your soul!”
For my refusal to bow to Allah they threw me into a dirt cell with rats for company. Perhaps this sounds like courage to you. Instead I hoped for my father’s rescue. How slowly weeks travel when one is closed up in a prison, in a dark box with rats as food and company—how much the resolve weakens. The guards gave me very little water and even less bread but as hungry as I was, I did not eat rat feces. I will confess to licking the salt on the walls a few times and munching on dirt that no rat had poisoned.
One day a rat bit me back and I developed a cough. A guard outside heard me.
“Are you giving in, foolish child? You alone are left.”
Prison walls make valuable teachers. I learned that I could hide my true feelings while pretending to play their games. “Yes, I will foreswear to Muhammad. I will pledge my loyalty.” To myself I swore that someday I would find the way to escape, back home to my family.
Dimitri welcomed my return and I bowed to his youthful wisdom of giving the generals what they wanted, though I did so with partial heart and no soul. I longed to run every day, even as I watched for them to rescue me. But if I made good my escape, would the Janissaries come looking for my family. Would I end up killing them in my selfish need for freedom. That I would not risk. So I had to plan carefully.
Years passed as I planned, while anger became as much a part of my blood as its color. I used anger to train well, to become the obedient soldier as they wanted. Dimitri trained well, too, but as we grew I saw his sorrow turn into a willingness to please. He saw beauty in this existence where I saw dread daily.
But if I tried to run, they would kill me, and my family, too. Now I see it as an excuse for cowardice.
We were forced in training to run what you would today call obstacle courses. I had a particular lightness of foot in running but in leaping over obstacles, I tended to make myself bruises more than awards. We were given a spear to keep but swords and muskets had to be returned after each day’s practice, for fear of us hurting ourselves, and also because there were not enough for the army that was already trained. We had a specific drill with the sword, a kind of twirling and threatening advance we had to learn and from here boys were chosen to be bazouks, ruthless first in battle. I was not chosen, as I nearly cut off my foot. I could not master the quick loading of the musket, but was happy with my position in the back of the army, where the spear throwers walked. At one point I saw Dimitri get knocked down during a run through the river and rescued him, but was given reprimand and little food for two days as punishment.
We were also forced to march in formation for hours at a time, listening and reciting with the officers who brainwashed us into our new culture. “I hereby testify that there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is his prophet.” I would stop reciting and always someone would notice and hit me in the back of the head with a spear, sometimes hard enough to fall and get trampled. I learned to move my lips without speech after a few of those events.
When we got up in the morning at sunrise, we had to face east and pray. When we completed the sword training in early afternoon, we had to stop and pray the Dhuhr, standing with hands rising to our ears. Before we broke from marching for the late meal, we prayed the Asr, which is the same as the Dhuhr but louder.
One night during Asr I leaned to Dimitri. “I like that we pay this respect to the ground Oand the earth that feeds us. But I am still Greek.”
Dimitri by the time two years had ended had that look of rapture, and only shushed me.
When we were dismissed from training for the evening, we finished stacking the muskets and prayed the Maghrib. I always appeared to be reverent. It made the guards smile in satisfaction.
On the days we were gathered to listen to the Sultan address us, he always said the same thing: “Great things for those who prove themselves. All who compete and produce favorable in the Janizaries will earn the chance to be Grand Vizier someday. You will train hard. Even your dreams will compete. You are now Muslim. Hard training makes you physically prepared but the ideals of Islam will give you great inner strength. You will be trained in the 5 pillars of Islam. Belief in Allah and his prophet Muhammad, the 5 daily prayers with public prayer every Friday noon, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, the giving of alms to our poor and unfortunate brothers, and you will make a pilgrimage to Mecca some time during your life.”
When we heard the call to return to our bunks for the night, we broke up our games and conversations, and prayed the Isha. I learned what each one was, but out of respect I will not share them here. Because I never learned respect for them when I was Muslim.
By age 15 Dimitri was excited to do as the Turks demanded while I could not wake from bed as readily. Often my parents would return in my dreams and stroke my sweating brow. Their faces were gone from me in the glaring sunlight but in my sleep they were vivid.
“Mikos!” Dimitri waved his hand before my closed eyelids. “Are you planning your self-imposed exile again? Do not forget I, who am always by your side.”
“When I escape, I will think of you often, I vow.” I rolled from my sack to the ground. Though by this young age Dimitri had grown happy with this life, I felt he would escape with me if I asked him.
After we turned 18 came the night I knew I would never ask him. Dimitri aroused a new kind of anger in me. I saw him beckon another soldier to follow him out the door of the tent. I felt he headed for a rendezvous with a woman and chose someone else to share her with—and not I who had been his closest friend!
We had often talked in these growing years of the women we would love. Dimitri was generally crude. “I dreamt of a blonde last night, and she caressed parts of me I did not know I had.”
“Probably you do not.”
“Do not be jealous, Mikos, you know I always share with you. In my dreams!”
On this particular night, I slipped outside to watch. Perhaps he only woke another soldier to stand guard for him, and planned to keep the woman to himself.
The two men stopped at the water fountain. I looked around for the women, to intercept one if she came near me and was to my liking. And my liking would be … ah, red-haired or brown, bosomy or thin, I liked them all.
When I looked back at the water fountain, I saw Dimitri drop his pants and turn his back to the other soldier, who pulled his throbbing thing out with his hand. I scuttled back to my sack. Good friend Dimitri had bared himself to another man for the purpose of mutual satisfaction. I could not condemn Dimitri or the desperateness that drove him to that act. But now I had a fine line to walk in a friendship I wished had never happened.
Our friendship continued because such things are not easily discarded, not even as Dimitri earned promotions while I stayed a simple soldier and dreamt of love, not sex, in my sleep. Well, sometimes I dreamt of sex. I am, after all, a physical being. But in my dreams, sex and love coupled in satisfying symmetry. Sometimes I dreamed of that young gypsy girl I met on the road, the one who spoke of the bhuta. Once I dreamed we were lovers and even though our love drove us through the ground into the afterlife realm, we were always happy and content and no evil could touch us.
Are you aware that dreams are an alternate form of reality? When we dream our soul travels, no longer confined to the physical dimension. Some have adventurous dreams, while others remain trapped in their mundane existence, because our cowardice prevents us from taking chances. As undead, I have no dreams. I have vivid memories because I have no subconscious, and nightmares that are of demonic proportion.
As Mikos the man, I had lost all desire of escape. I could not accept this fate, but continued to be angry without release for that anger.
The Courage of Love
When I was 30, or around that time, in 1503, I was given leave from fighting to learn a trade on the island of Crete. Here the Ottoman Turks honor an agreement with the Venetian government on labor exchange. Thoughts of escape now were fewer, more dream-like, less desperate. This had become the way of life that I knew. I refused to believe I remained a Muslim because I was afraid. Instead I came to understand that this was my destiny. My fate. That my parents were wrong in making me feel shame, and had I gone willingly, I never would have known the sort of anger that still woke me from mortal nightmares—an anger without release. I decided I must accept this life now. There was nothing left to escape to and much to admire in my adopted Islam—such as their treatment of the natural world and their preservation of our ancient Greek world. And no political system, I’ve come to learn as undead, is any better, and sometimes worse.
Here on Crete, during an hour of freedom from the grape harvest as we waited for the buckets to be emptied and returned, I was given leave to walk to the sea’s edge to contemplate life’s mysteries. “Ah, life, what a fickle mistress, to keep me in chains until all desire is gone.”
The high splashing waves grabbed at my feet as though to pull me into the depths, the sea spray a pleasing chill down my warm skin. Jutting islands of black rock leading to the shore held the sea in place, like a stairway to the ocean floor and beyond. Those jutting islands of black rock, like the very sea itself, existed in one spot for so long in time that my own life felt reduced to a mere trickle. I wanted my Muslim god and Christian god to co-exist so that my death would be a happy mingling of ideologies, but this belief found no acceptance in reality.
I can remember what my thoughts had been as a vryk first visiting these memories, even as I tried with expanded consciousness to understand who I had been. Do cowards fear losing control of their reason? It is true we can never predict the response of anyone else, so anger must always be tempered. And that was what I did as Mikos. Not dissolve the anger, but buried it.
Only to have it re-emerge within a corpse.
Ah, we must enter the end of my mortal life, though I attempt to delay. As I watched the waters vibrate with the winds over the sea I heard a soft, lilting voice and turned. A woman stood on rock a few meters from me—dark-haired, olive-skinned, even darker than I—the vision of a goddess to calm my fears and answer long-night desires. That moment of turning I relive in undeath, over and over, like a broken melody.
I widened my eyes for fear of blinking away an image of desire conjured in a lonely mind. When she stopped singing and looked at me, I slid, startled, to my knees, barely saving myself from a wet and painful dunking.
She laughed at my antics. “Greetings, soldier. Do you not agree that each day that passes is more beautiful than the one before?”
I wore the garb of a Venetian grape picker, yet she saw me as a soldier. Has a goddess from hell come to claim my disloyal soul? I stammered, “But let us not forget the beauty of the day that passes and we make ready to welcome the next.”
“Wise words, Mikos.”
“You know me?”
“I am Althea. We met as children.” She traversed the slippery rock with sure feet. “I warned you of the blood-drinking deities.”
“The gypsy girl!” I held out my hand to guide her to sit on my rock and shuddered as she grasped it, feeling the chill of death and the approach of unbeckoned love as one and the same. “How did find me?” I readied my soul to follow her to hell. There were worse ways to die.
Althea laughed, a soft sound hidden in her throat. “The universe is a mysterious playground.”
Her eyes captivated me—at once playful and sad. I could not look away. If I could undo this encounter to remove centuries of undeath, I am not sure that I would.
She clung to my hand as she sat next to me. “Your mother would not let you help us fix the wheel.”
“She meant no harm.”
Althea pulled her hand back as she looked out over the sea. “Papa beat Momma because he could not fix the wagon. I could not save my sick baby brother.” She crossed her hands over her chest and tears dripped onto the imaginary child in her arms. “He died the next day, and I alone cared.”
I felt her anguish as my own and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Forgive me. I was a child and---.”
Startled, she forced a smile through her tears. “All is as is meant to be.”
How could I help but love her completely?
“You talked of a destination, a journey that would never end. What is this bhuta that you family sought?” The day shortened as we spoke, to my imminent despair.
“An answer to life’s many riddles. Do you never search for anything?”
“I have been searching these past twenty years. I must become more accepting of what life gives me, as Dimitri is.”
“Oh, no, be only you! When I recognized you some days past, I followed you. And here we are.”
“You followed me?” I slid my free hand across her leg, delighted with the feel of her cool skin brushing lightly against my sweating hand. “I am glad to have a goddess guide my destiny.” She laughed again and lightly touched my cheek, but then looked off across the sea with a frown. “Althea.” The name sparkled in my mouth. “Tell me more about that journey of your ancestors.”
“We seek an understanding of evil. A journey without end, perhaps.”
“There is no understanding of evil. Only avoidance.” I enjoy the battering of words, still do to this day. Nothing more pleasant than the conversation of disagreement.
“Are you superstitious? Quick, find the wood to knock the demons back underground!” She laughed at my uncontrolled expression of gloom. “Do you know karma?”
I shook my head. I preferred the sound of her voice to mine, and wondered how much closer I could get to her in the time left of this day.
“Then let me introduce you. My family comes from India, a land far away, and though I have been told I am too superstitious, I am always respectful of the gods below and above. They neither love nor hate us, but offer paths that we choose in each lifetime. Look over there.” She stood and pointed across the waters. “What do you see?” She held her hand down to me and I stood, precariously on wet rock.
I stood carefully and peered out over the waters. “Uhhh, waves. Ripples?”
“The water appears to be a single path leading into forever. But if you look with your inner eye, you will see that the waters divide, and not a single but many paths lead to our future. You have the ability to choose which one to take. But you must choose wisely, with all of your eyes open.”
Puzzled, I stared out across the water. I squinted and then opened my eyes wide. Startled, I moved a foot backward and nearly slipped off the rock. “It appears to be a series of lines moving in all sorts of directions!”
“We may seek favors of the gods, but our free choice enables us to move backward or forward in each lifetime.”
“You speak of past lives?”
“And future ones.” That sadness returned to her eyes again, those beautiful eyes that had the ability to move from violet to deep blue. “Especially future ones.” She smiled suddenly and touched my cheek again. “Mikos, your destiny and mine are intertwined.”
With a big grin to hide devious intent I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. “I wish to feel this intertwining.” I coaxed her to sit with me again and pulled her tight against me.
“To be with me, you first must be with yourself.”
I dropped my hands again. “I ask myself every day, who am I. I get no answers. I was taught that to show obedience would earn us a place in heaven. So I follow orders.”
“Obedience to other than the self? Your existence would mean nothing. Mikos, do you enjoy being a soldier?”
“There are worse things to be. Worse things to do.”
“That is NOT how we define ourselves. We are protectors.” I stared at her in defiance, but she returned my gaze every bit as hard. Finally I shuddered and looked out over the water again. “If I could choose to live my life over again, it would not be as a soldier.”
“Does not the sea appear different every day, yet is still the sea? So are we. Our bodies may change but underneath, ah, we are that same soul, always. Can your soul desire freedom from this life, today?”
I looked back out over the waters, concentrating. “Yes. Yes, I can desire this, as I have desired since the first day of my capture.” I turned back to her and pulled her into my arms, my love for her oozing from every pore. “Is this why you're here? To help? Are you the personification of a lifetime of desire?”
She squirmed away from me. “But are you deserving of my love in return?”
“Yes. Because I live every day to protect that which I love.” Let her do as she wished to me were the only thoughts I had. “Does not the wind blow in the rain where before the sky was blue? For I now believe something I never did, that love can rise out of a void!” My voice lowered in unforgiving need. “You make me feel as though I am a baby just born, or a youth who has just felt the first stirrings of adult desire.”
She looked off over the water. “Why are you still a soldier? Why have you not escaped?”
My heart, pounding with my love, rose into my throat as I thought how to answer this. “To keep my family safe. I put their happiness over mine, as I would do for you.”
“What if I wish your happiness over mine?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Would you do as I ask because I want to please you? Even if what I ask ends in my death?”
“Ah. You could never ask this.”
“To make hard choices takes freedom and courage. Without these two things, you remain a child. And a child has no control over the lives of others. If you fear for your parents, then escape and go right to them to protect them.”
I had no answer for this. Have I been so foolish all along?
Althea wrapped her arms around me. “Mikos, love this life you have or choose another. This is the true meaning of freedom.”
“I would choose to have you in my life.”
“And I you.” She drew her face close to mine and our noses touched. Her breath mingled with mine as her tongue gently protruded between her lips.
Mikos! Walk away! A strange yet familiar voice welled up inside me. She cavorts with demons and sucks at your soul. I thought Vito had returned, so I responded to him the same way. Leave me be. You are just a crazy old man who killed yourself by living in the past.
I stood and pulled her to her feet with me. I placed my hands on either side of her face and brought her warm sparkling eyes to meet mine, nearly losing my balance on slippery rock. “I was told that to be in love is hard. Now I am sure that to be without love is harder. You are the one my soul has longed for.”
“Not harder, Mikos. Impossible. For when I give my soul to you, and you to me, then to be apart is to lose the reason for existence.”
Our eyes captured each other’s and held firm, digging through the physical into the eternal and making our mark there, our lips nearly touching. “With this promise to you, I commit my soul, firmly and forever.”
We exchanged breath as we talked, so close and enticing were our lips.
“I accept your love and will devote whatever breath I have to guide your longing to happiness.”
I pulled her against me and felt our hearts beating together. I do not know, even now, how long we held this way but my next thoughts were of regret, seeing the sun sink low in the sky. “I must leave or they will discover one less head in the bread line.”
“Ah, Mikos, ever the Turk.”
“I will find a way to escape! You have given me new desire, even as I sought desire to accept my fate.”
“WE are fate.”
“When can I see you again?”
Our lips touched, a promise yet unfulfilled. “Did I not tell you we are destiny?”
“Tell me when.”
“Oh.” She laughed as she pushed away from me and leaped to the next rock with the ease of a gazelle. “Who can predict how soon we will see the next shooting star? For I am as free as the white bird flying with the cloud. Patience, Mikos. I will see you again.”
She leaped across rock without looking back, until she had disappeared as surely as she had once appeared.
Being away from her made a wretched existence worse, though I tried to appear the same on the outside. I had desired other women but none had ever touched my soul. Now my soul was not only breached but scorched, even as I drilled and marched and remained above all a Muslim soldier with a Christian heart.
Forgive me if I sound at times unreasonable. There is something to remembering love that defies logic. Should you ever love so deeply that you forget your head, I pity you—and yet, I believe the risk is worthwhile. Before knowing Althea, I was just as dead inside.
Dimitri rode his horse to me one hot afternoon’s march. “Mikos, I am told you have had no tongue lashings for two weeks now. What has silenced your caustic mind? Did the wine fumes on Crete swell your brain?” He leaned over his horse’s saddle with a light smile so commonplace I could not call it duplicitous.
“Where are we headed? I heard no orders to fight.” I fought back a cough in his horse’s dust.
“And you will likely not, for some knowledge is not to be trusted with peasants.” Dimitri looked at the trail ahead. “No doubt another fray is in the making. I am anxious for a little bloodletting to stir my soul.”
“Could your soul not be stirred by peaceful times?”
“Mikos, soldiers need to validate their existence. Ah, but you’re such a fool.” He waited for a biting retort but I had none. “Some change has come over you. Perhaps an indulgence with an island girl?”
I squinted up at the sky. “What a pleasant blue color the sky has. Sometimes a lighter blue straight above and sometimes not! And see how delightful the green of the tree contrasts to the blue of the sky? Surely a magnificent god is in control of our world.”
“Why do you shut me out? I have been your friend these many years, even though we do not always agree.”
“But one could make quite an argument for the blue of the sea as well. See the blue, how the sea reflects and absorbs the sky, and yet creates its own shade of blue, forming radiance beyond color. Look! Look and see!”
Dimitri pulled his horse up and I walked ahead without him.
Behind me Finley caught up to him. “Is Mikos playing the fool again?”
“I fear he is not playing. There are words for hearts like his.” Dimitri walked his horse with the more agreeable Finley.
“What is that?”
He was to learn the nature of doom, for I would gladly keep my current existence for the one he now suffers.
Had I known my fate for loving Althea, would I have scorned her? Yet there were so many paths I might have taken to keep undeath from happening. Destiny is a compilation of so many things, and altering just one of these would have changed everything. Though cursed in love, how can one ever change love?
I have noted over these centuries as vrykolakas, in my search for love and acceptance, the many discussions on the difference between physical love and love with the soul. Let me act as authority on the topic of love. To love each other’s body is sensual but will linger in the memory only as long as a favorite meal. To love with the soul is beyond the senses. This extra-sensual love has vibratory waves to be captured and absorbed by the lovers, becoming tied to their essence as part of their very identity, inescapable and unforgettable, to re-emerge lifetime after lifetime, the very essence of genuine caring that transcends physical touch.
If you are horrified that soul love is forever, be advised to follow your bodily instincts and shallow conquests. Perhaps your next life will be more fulfilling.
My love for Althea was not a changeable, regrettable one. Who she actually was and how she responded to that love, however, is something else.
Because of bravery in recent battle the general chose Mikos to run a message to the Sultan in Tyrinth, another trigger of destiny. As I ran with the message I realized I had been wrong, and so had my parents, and Uncle Vito—wrong to fight this way of life, which kept me nourished and which I only abhorred while fighting. I had heard of the Crusades from my corners and understood Muslim rage against Christians. As I ran I thought of many things, including that I would never see Althea again. I began to believe she had been a dream, sent to test my faith. Since that fateful dream I have been given other women, though I always turned them down, and found courage in battle because holding a weapon makes even a coward feel strong.
Now with this honor I had no need for anything beyond food to keep my spirit strong, for I am an Ottoman Turk.
But when I emerged through fragrant olive trees I stopped all thought, for there was Althea. She sat on the ground against a rock, her winter garment flowing from her shoulders as she wrote on parchment. When I breathed her name she looked up, dismaying me with her frown. I backed away until I saw her eyes shining with the love I so readily remembered.
I sat down beside her, adopting her somber frown. “You are not happy to see me?”
“I have thought much about you and how you came to be who you are.”
“I feared you were a dream.” I took her hand and pressed my lips to it. “I have been trying to figure out who I am. It is so good to see you because I nearly accepted myself as Muslim. Yet I thought only of you in my last battle where I tried not to kill, but killed one to save the general.”
“This general was worth saving?”
“He is a good man. And because I saved him, he honored me with this run.”
Althea threw her arms around me. “And thus you are with me! Mikos, you are meant to be with me, do you feel it now? With me, not here as a soldier. It matters not who you are. What matters is who you can be.”
I thought to pull away, as though some unbidden force had crawled into my head to tell me that she was more than she seemed. “I would feel it, if I did not think you would leave me again for months at a time.”
She looked stern as she placed her cold hands on my flushed cheeks. “You must learn to trust me. We are meant to be. It’s our karma.”
But she felt so natural in my arms, so like a part of my skin. “Karma? Is that the word for knowing my purpose from the moment I saw you?”
“Unless you would rather not be fated to a gypsy.”
Nothing else mattered but that I stayed in her arms. “If I could hold your heart pressed to mine every minute of every day I would have the courage of the hundred to protect that love.”
“Would you?” Cruel, wanton woman that she was, she ran her tongue across my neck and up to my ear where her breath drifted into my brain. I could barely breathe. “Then are you ready to run? Killing for any reason is barbarous, meant for animals and the demons of death that fear them.”
I cried out in alarm at this request. “I know this! And I hate myself for taking your love. I do not deserve you!”
“You can deserve me. Run with me.”
“My family could be killed.” I swallowed hard as a sudden taste of dirt filled my mouth. Death was imminent. I realized I felt that even then, although I did not recognize it at the time.
But she asked me to just walk away from everything I knew. Everything. How much does one have to give up for one’s love? Life itself? I felt cowardly anger and swallowed it down again.
“My family died, but I survived. I survived!”
I stood, wanting nothing less than to pull away from her side, but she deserved to understand the truth about me. I gave her the chance to walk away from me and never look back. She deserved better than what I had to offer.
“There is one way, Mikos.” She came up behind me, and lightly ran a finger down my back.
I turned to her, but held my distance. “Please tell me. I always hoped in my life I could have the freedom to love. But if I leave this life, they will hunt me down like a dog.”
She laughed with glee. “We could fake your death!”
“Fake my death?” I thought about this, and found the idea appealing. My grin matched hers as I pulled her into my arms.
“Do you not trust me now?” She pressed her lips savagely against mine, alarming me to a sensation I never before felt. With this lip pressure I inhaled her breath with the smell of ripe olives and felt I was taking part of her soul in the juices of her mouth. I massaged her lips with mine with as much eagerness, holding her tight enough to melt into me.
Finally, breathless, she pulled away. “They will find your weapons at the edge of the sea, as though you went bathing. A witness will say that you walked into churning waters and drowned, your body devoured by the monsters below. I will be the witness. I can be very convincing.”
“I am convinced. To live, to breathe, to die in your arms.” I pressed my lips to hers again to perfect this new skill of passion.
“Does our plan please you, my Mikos?”
I sat down against the rock and pulled her down with me. “I feel … much as Barabbas must have felt when he was freed by the Romans.”
“Barabbas? The one freed instead of Jesus?”
“He was a rebel and a murderer, yet they gave him another chance. I now have that chance. Barabbas. I hope he made good with his second chance, for I surely will, with you in my arms.” This plan was the culmination of my lifelong desire for escape. All I needed was someone who desired to escape with me, and that certainly was never Dimitri.
“Barabbas. We must take names of adventure, you and I, if we are never to be found.” She started kissing my chest and pushing herself against me, her voice ripe with sexual desire. And I needed little encouragement.
“Do you fear this plan may fail?” Fear continued, as I wondered what might happen in the attempt, but not what life might be like beyond this faked death.
“No fear, Mikos. This adventure will be for both of us. Together.” Before I could respond to this, Althea forced me backward, her willing captive, and laid on top of me. “Just be ready for the game fate plays with us.”
I realize now how little I knew about Althea, or why she would love someone like me.
I groaned, feeling the pain of pleasure seeking release. I did not tell her that I was a virgin in love, but not sex. Nor was she—but sex is never the most important thing in love. Now, for the first time, I would come to know love and sex together, with the soul.
Althea rocked her pelvis against me, and then guided me up inside her. “We have loved before this life and we will again in the next. Believe this, above all else.”
How can I express how our flesh seemed to merge, how I felt as one with her as she expertly moved above me? Her thoughts became part of me as I felt her rise and fall above me and lost all ability to concentrate on words. “Past lives? Incarnations? Always thought just a dreamer’s world.”
“We are meant to be. Always were. Always will. No matter what happens in this life. All things are made of atoms, and when we die, these atoms become us again.”
“Oh, good.” Curses, how could she keep talking?
“Yes! Makes death more agreeable, does it not?” Her hot moist lips again sought mine and chased away all thought—oh, cursed me, her warm body against mine, our passion as fiery as the sun’s to shine. “Make love to me, my Mikos, to show that you accept our destiny, today and forever.”
“Yes! Oh, Althea!” I flipped her on her back and worked myself against her precious point, so that together we would experience the bliss known only to forever lovers, ready to give all to each other, even life, both filled with the rapture of the uninhibited animal, as clouds chased gulls over the lazy sun.
At the moment of ultimate fulfillment a dark shadow passed across my mind—one that as undead I realize meant we had been observed. But as mortal, I wondered how in a bliss-filled state of ecstasy could I have entertained thoughts of death?
I recently took this exercise at the WWA conference and while the results surprised me, it wasn't surprising to learn that I like nature versus civilization writing. But how can I get that to relate to my vampire work? His 'nature' is dark, where his blood thirst comes from the undead evil creatures who have possessed him, while his civilization is that part of him trying to control the thirst. In other words, civilization controlling nature, which is exactly what I don't like to write about.
So how does this sound? He sees his good nature being buried by the evil one, so rather than civilizing conquering nature, it's his good conquering or learning to control his bad. That's pretty much the way I've always looked at him.
But my theme of what I should write then doesn't figure into the story at all. Or does it? He has always been, starting in his last mortal life, a human used to civilization. But since becoming undead, he's been off on his own a lot, or learning to exist in the dark undergrowth of nature. But it's a little lonely so he seeks a love who can share the beauty of his controlled, undying life with him. So yes, this is another book I was meant to write, which explains why I am so dedicated to it.
Do you remember when you said you were considering taking out the part of your book about the early Muslim Turks? It was weird because a day or so after that, we started discussing them in my Modern World Civilizations class! I was so proud of myself because I understood my professor when he talked about the Turkish soldiers taking the Greek boys. It's all thanks to having read that story! I thought it was a funny coincidence and wanted to thank you for letting me read that book. I hope you can get it published soon!
Hi Monette, My goodness, just like your vampire Vrykolakas, you have emerged from the depths of your own soul and resurfaced once again with myth-lit in hand, poised to take a bite out of this cruel world of literature. (You''ll have to forgive me, but this vampire stuff is fun and I get carried away) I took a look at your website and I read your first chapter and as always I can still say (even though I''m not a fan of this genre) that I really liked it. The opening works as a dream and everything that follows is interesting, and most importantly, fun to read. Nicely done Monette. Alberto <<Sometimes things just crawl out of my mouth. >> That line really grabbed me when I read your pages! Creepy, original, and intriguing, are the words I would use to describe this work so far. Becky I read your novel. Very intriguing. I could see it as a movie. The first part of the story is very graphic and very griping, too. I got from the synopsis that the reason Arabus came back to life was because of his anger that he and the woman he thought was his soul mate were killed. But the first part of the story does not tell that. If I had not read the synopsis, I would have had no idea why he was coming back to life or how it was happening. So, you wanted to know if the beginning grabbed me? Well, yes, it did. I am not totally a fan of vampire stories but I know lots of people are; just look at the following that Anne Rice has. Just as long as it is not confusing going into the main story, I think it will be great. I can even see how a movie could be made from this. Of course, parts of the vyrk story were a little graphic for me, but that is just me. If you can find a publisher who will relish a little blood and gore, they will love it. This clearly was the right change to make and I can’t wait to see what happens with the story now. Martha Mo, that vampire story creeped me out. How did you get into the mind of a vampire? I was never afraid of vampires before, but you made "Arabus" very real. Horrors! Your story was splendid! ............ tobyn I believe you when you say that this guy took you forever to build up ... its so thorough and the guy is so bad ass!! When he is talking to the reader as he is describing the story it feels like he is playing cat and mouse.. you know where the cat grabs the mouse then lets him go then pounces again … I like it super very much!! ... the way you explain things is amazing!! I wish I could write like you!! Hey BTW ... I hope you are still looking for a publisher for your Vampy story ... it’s soo good you NEED to get it published!! I love the details it really gives the window into what being a vampire would feel like and I have never read anything that explains that well!! I love it!! Your story is so great!! I dont understand why they dont take it but there is bound to be that one publisher that sees the great story here!! Arabus is great!! its really amazing how much detail you wrote!! I LOVE the part where he decides to have another guy have sex with the virgin sacrifice that he thinks is Althea before he can have her ... good job with not going the cliche route ... I guess right now its a popular theme to have a strong experienced man take the virgins girls virginity because of the 50 shades of gray ... I really like the story!! There is nothing wrong with it ~ I think its one of those stories that if you dont pay attention to what you are reading you wont understand because of all the details ... that is why I thought you should skip the beginning and send the publishers the 50 pages that start with the action scene :} Krystal I just finished Vrykolakas! Bravo, it was good. Very different than what I expected. Sarah
Hi Monette, My goodness, just like your vampire Vrykolakas, you have emerged from the depths of your own soul and resurfaced once again with myth-lit in hand, poised to take a bite out of this cruel world of literature. (You''ll have to forgive me, but this vampire stuff is fun and I get carried away) I took a look at your website and I read your first chapter and as always I can still say (even though I''m not a fan of this genre) that I really liked it. The opening works as a dream and everything that follows is interesting, and most importantly, fun to read. Nicely done Monette.
<<Sometimes things just crawl out of my mouth. >> That line really grabbed me when I read your pages! Creepy, original, and intriguing, are the words I would use to describe this work so far.
I read your novel. Very intriguing. I could see it as a movie.
The first part of the story is very graphic and very griping, too. I got from the synopsis that the reason Arabus came back to life was because of his anger that he and the woman he thought was his soul mate were killed. But the first part of the story does not tell that. If I had not read the synopsis, I would have had no idea why he was coming back to life or how it was happening.
So, you wanted to know if the beginning grabbed me? Well, yes, it did. I am not totally a fan of vampire stories but I know lots of people are; just look at the following that Anne Rice has. Just as long as it is not confusing going into the main story, I think it will be great. I can even see how a movie could be made from this.
Of course, parts of the vyrk story were a little graphic for me, but that is just me. If you can find a publisher who will relish a little blood and gore, they will love it. This clearly was the right change to make and I can’t wait to see what happens with the story now.
Mo, that vampire story creeped me out. How did you get into the mind of a vampire? I was never afraid of vampires before, but you made "Arabus" very real. Horrors! Your story was splendid! ............
I believe you when you say that this guy took you forever to build up ... its so thorough and the guy is so bad ass!! When he is talking to the reader as he is describing the story it feels like he is playing cat and mouse.. you know where the cat grabs the mouse then lets him go then pounces again … I like it super very much!! ... the way you explain things is amazing!! I wish I could write like you!! Hey BTW ... I hope you are still looking for a publisher for your Vampy story ... it’s soo good you NEED to get it published!!
I love the details it really gives the window into what being a vampire would feel like and I have never read anything that explains that well!! I love it!! Your story is so great!! I dont understand why they dont take it but there is bound to be that one publisher that sees the great story here!!
Arabus is great!! its really amazing how much detail you wrote!! I LOVE the part where he decides to have another guy have sex with the virgin sacrifice that he thinks is Althea before he can have her ... good job with not going the cliche route ... I guess right now its a popular theme to have a strong experienced man take the virgins girls virginity because of the 50 shades of gray ... I really like the story!! There is nothing wrong with it ~ I think its one of those stories that if you dont pay attention to what you are reading you wont understand because of all the details ... that is why I thought you should skip the beginning and send the publishers the 50 pages that start with the action scene :}
I just finished Vrykolakas! Bravo, it was good. Very different than what I expected.
Vrykolakas is pronounced vre-KOL-ekus, and it is the Greek word for vampire. We're talking a particular kind of vampire, and Arabus Drake, though he came to me in a dream, was fleshed out using mythology research. Arabus is responsible for me getting a history BA and this, of course, led to me doing other kinds of history work, including Bonanza novels, and my soon to be released non-fiction, for which I got a master's in history.
So who is Arabus Drake? What are his goals, his legacy? And why change the title to The Coward?
He wants what all mortals want--to be accepted for who he is. But as a child he was afraid of bats and longed to be immortal, to never die. He feared death. He also feared to forge in his own path in life, so although he talked brave, he could never follow through on his plans or dreams. He was abducted as a child into the Janissary Muslim Army and as a Christian boy rebelled against them but only on the inside. His inability to either accept this new life, or escape it, led to his death, along with the death of his love, Althea, and his one moment of rage was immediately after death--because he feared death. And that allowed the demons of the underworld to capture his soul and reanimate his corpse, turning him into a Vrykolakas.
Artistic Cover of the book drawn by Adam Reinhard