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Chapter One: A Bartender's Lament

           

An icy gust of rain pelted the windows of Who-Do-Voodoo Bar and Grill, shaking Wick out of his daze. He found himself sprawled on the floor of his quaint apartment above the bar, surrounded by empty prescription bottles, two bottles of sherry (with no sherry inside), and his pants down to his ankles. His shirt was still on, thank the spirits, but somewhere in between attempting suicide for the umpteenth time and passing out, he’d vomited on himself. Maybe that’s why the pants were down - he could only speculate. Giving a sturdy yawn, he stretched the muscles in his arms. Pain trickled into his wrists, and when he turned his eyes on them he noticed the scabbed lines of slit marks. Oh, so he’d tried that route again? The memory lapse most likely had to do with the sherry. It was awful stuff, but Trish never cared if a few went missing at the end of the night.

“Fuck.” Sitting up, he ran his tongue over his teeth and grimaced. His mouth tasted like shit, and he was sure he stunk to high heavens as well.

Knock, knock, knock. Someone pounded on the door.

“Coming,” he croaked out.

Wham, wham, wham!

“I said I’m coming, damn it!”

All three chain locks on his door began to vibrate at a bewildering speed until they finally rattled loose. The door swung open with a mighty groan, and Trish d’Heur, owner of the bar downstairs (and Wick’s current landlord), stepped inside. “Great Circe’s tit, Wick. Put some pants on.” She gazed over to the bottles of sherry, raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow, and placed her hands on her hips. “You can’t keep doing this.”

As if to agree, Wick’s stomach turned, and he upchucked onto the floor at her feet. Thick chunks of who-knew-what splattered across her boots. Disgusted, Trish kicked one of the sherry bottles under the bed and strolled over to the dresser, digging through its contents.

“You’re lucky I called Benny in to carry the extra load tonight.” She removed a pair of boxers, a wrinkled pair of black dress slacks, and a thin, white shirt that held a few faded ketchup stains. Giving it a quick sniff, she tossed it over her shoulder into the sick and continued ransacking until she found another white shirt, this time slightly cleaner. “Otherwise I would have had to fire you.”

Wick gave a snort and wiped the dribble from his chin. “As if you would.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Trish snapped, waving his clothes at him. “What does this make? The third time this month?”

“Mmh, fourth, but who’s counting?”

“You are, apparently.” Trish tossed the clothing onto Wick’s bed, glancing around at the variant posters of grunge rockers hung on the walls, careful to avoid his blood on the floor. “I’m docking your pay tonight. Half of your usual tips.” She shook her curls to add emphasis to her disapproval before reaching for the door handle. “Fifteen minutes. I expect you down there with a smile on your face and your wrists taken care of. The last thing I need is someone to take pity on you for acting like a shithead.” The next moment she was gone, slamming the door so hard the bottles on the floor rattled.

Wick peeled himself from the muck on the floor and carried himself to the bathroom, where he discarded his clothes, flushed his face with water for five minutes, and then fumbled around until he found his glasses. The world visually fell into focus, but internally, Wick didn’t know where he fit in the world anymore. Not that he ever really did. But this whole ‘immortal’ thing...it really was a drag. He glanced down at his wrists, cursing under his breath. So much for miracles.

“Happy birthday to me.”



 

~V~V~V~V~V~V~V~

 

Wickland O’Malley wasn’t like everybody else. Sure, there were common factors he shared with handfuls of the population, but to say he was ‘normal’ was stretching the truth so thin it could snap like a rubberband and hit someone in the face. Though, on the surface, one would think he might just be odd.

For starters, Wick didn’t own a car. Sure, there were plenty of people in the world who didn’t own a car, for either financial reasons or practicality, but Wick didn’t own one because he didn’t trust them. They didn’t have a mind of their own, and so they couldn’t be bonded with. And who wanted to put their attention, money, and time into a relationship that was so one sided?

Then, there was the whole ‘unable to die’ thing. To most people, this might have been put before Wick’s aberration of cars, but to Wick, this came second. After all, it was so blasé and second nature, he hardly thought about it...well, maybe that was an exaggeration. He tried not to think about it. And besides, not a lot of people knew about his inability to kick the bucket - almost everyone knew about his opinions on cars.

Lastly, and most importantly, he didn’t much care for life. Once a person passes their expiration date, they tend to go sour - Wickland was no exception. While humans, on a grand scale, sought out the meanings of the universe, love, and self-worth, the protagonist of this story (no one would call him a hero, by any means) indulged himself in toeing the line between masochist and depraved. Death fascinated him: mainly because he couldn’t die. And it was in moments like these that he would slip from normalcy and attempt to understand what the fuss was about. Not that it would ever work. Which brought him here, to this hole-in-the-wall establishment at the corner of Pere Antoine alley and Royal Street.

Who-Do-Voodoo was a lively joint filled with the usual tourists, drunkards, and criminals looking for cheap liquor and a good time. The bar had been in Trish’s family for generations, which was why she probably didn’t fire Wick when he fell off the wagon - good help was hard to come by, and firing her longest working employee didn’t sit well on her conscience. Especially when he made a mean Ramos Gin Fizz with ease.

Pulling out his favorite fedora from under the counter, Wick scanned the crowded bar top, catching eyes with Benny, the part-time summer college student who kissed Trish’s ass whenever socially acceptable. For the last three summers, Benny had been hired on to pick up the slack during tourist season, or at least, that’s what Trish told him. The real reason had little to do with out-of-towners and more to do with Wick’s mood - which ended up darkening around this time of year.

“About time you showed up, yeah?” Benny smirked as he set down a fresh rack of clean beer mugs. He wore his usual polo shirt with the collar popped up and sunglasses on top of his gelled hair, which was all that was needed to make a proper assessment of his personality. Nevermind he was on his way to becoming a veterinarian. His unusually white teeth nearly glowed against the pale ambience of the bar as he said, “We were real worried about you.”
           

All it took was one hardening glare from Wick to cause Benny to retreat to the other end of the bar top, submersing himself in conversation with a gaggle of properly sloshed bridesmaids and one seriously drunk bride-to-be.

“Oh, come on. Don’t be so hard on him. You were late.” Trish strolled up to the side of the counter and set a post it on top.

Wick read the orders and began pouring beer from the taps into the fresh mugs brought by Benny. “What ever happened to a man having the day off on his day of days?”

“Saturdays,” Trish answered simply with a shrug. “And you hate your birthday, anyway. Get to work, old man.”

Work was tedious. Hardly anyone was original with their drink orders: an appletini here, a draft beer there, and on occasion, someone would throw out a sex-on-the-beach or vodka cranberry. Then there was the sadistic, but entirely popular, frozen margarita machine, which crushed and ground ice just as well as Wick ground his teeth together at the sound of it. He’d told Trish he wouldn’t use it, and for the five years since its installment, he’d been good to his word. If he couldn’t talk someone out of changing their order, he would pretend not to have heard them at all and serve them something tasty (and far quieter) instead. Benny, however, didn’t adhere to Wick’s hatred for the machine and ran it at all hours of the night, drowning out the game on TV and forcing Wick to reluctantly pretend he couldn’t hear someone over the sound. Pretending he couldn’t hear was a far cry from pretending to hear someone when he hadn’t, but he hated lying, and pretending was just a lie decorated in glitter, seeping into his soul, unable to ever get rid of it. No doubt if he shook his conscience, a pile of the wretched stuff would be his reward.

Around three in the morning, when the stragglers who stayed well past closing began trickling out smelling like a brewery, Trish tossed her set of keys across the counter in front of Wick. “You and Benny close up.”

“Ah, come on!” whined Wick, throwing his rag down on the floor. “Don’t leave me here with Benny. You know I can’t stand him.”

“I’m right here, you know,” Benny muttered, continuing to polish the silverware in a nearby booth.

“Sorry, fellas, but Mama has a hot date.” Trish blew them both a kiss, slinging her purse over her shoulder like a fashionista ready for the runway.

“Moon child, fae, or demi?” smirked Wick, resting his elbows on the counter to lean in with interest.

“Why couldn’t it be a human?” she asked.

“Because humans don’t agree to go on dates at three in the morning.”

Trish gave a shrug and headed for the door. “Don’t tell your sister, yeah? You know how jealous she gets when she hears about me dating someone new.” With that, she was out the door quicker than the pass of a hot potato, the door slamming quickly behind her.

“You’re gonna tell me to take the trash out, aren’t you?” asked Benny.

“Damn straight I am…But first…would you mind..?”

“Not at all, boss.” Benny hopped up and took a seat at the bar stool in front of Wick, offering his arm out. “Dude, I’m impressed you made it through the entire shift as long as you’ve gone without.”

“Shut up,” Wick snapped, eyeing the exposed wrist with interest. Yes, it was enticing, but far too dangerous to draw from. “There’s a reason I don’t feed every day, Benny. It’s called self control. You should try it sometime.” From his apron he produced a pocket knife and flicked it open, noticing Benny’s uneasiness. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I know.”

“Trish would stop mentoring you if she knew.”

“Dude, I know.” Benny gave a frustrated sigh. “Come on, man. I’ve been waiting all night for this.”

Shrugging, Wick brought the knife to Benny’s hand and slid its cold surface against the skin, procuring droplets of fresh crimson. With a smirk, he set the knife on the table, brought the hand up to his mouth, and licked along the bloody cut.

A shudder sped down both men's’ spines. Benny closed his eyes, eyebrows creasing together in concentration to fight pulling away as Wick clamped down on the exposed palm and encouraged the warm, copper liquid down his gullet. The blood tingled in his throat, cool and refreshing. Between gulps he watched Benny fidget.

 “Do it,” he begged. “Come on.”

With a roll of his eyes, Wick forfeited his meal long enough to grab the knife again, prick his finger, and drip the few beads of blood into a shotglass for Benny to drink. He set back to work on Benny’s hand, taking his time, assessing Benny’s heart rate and enjoying the taste of a full, willing meal. Satisfied, he pulled away, dabbing at the corners of his lips. “You alright there, Big Ben?”

Benny sat in his chair, a broad grin across his face. The shot glass on the table had been licked clean. When he opened his eyes again, Wick could see the dilated pupils and smell the oxytocin simmering in Benny’s veins. “Dude…” he grinned. “Best. High. Ever.”

“Great. Go take out the trash.”

“Sure…” he stumbled out of the chair, snorting in laughter. High as a kite, that one.

While Benny handled the most disgusting part of the evening’s chores, Wick began stacking the stools and double checking the seasoning shakers. Closing up the bar wasn’t the highlight of his evening, but he didn’t have much of a choice considering he lived directly above the establishment. At least he wasn’t starving anymore. He knew he was lucky - other demis didn’t have the advantage of a donor. Of course, other demis didn’t have the control Wick did to stop. And stopping was the key to any parasitic symbiosis.

He ran the last rack of dishes through the industrial dish washer in the back, gave a quick spot mop to the floors, and chucked his work apron into the hamper near Trish’s office. With a yawn, he gave a light stretch, allowing his eyes to trail over his perfectly scar-free wrists. No one would have ever guessed he tried to bite the bullet earlier. What a shame...scars were masculine, weren’t they? They told stories. Left impressions. Even Batman’s Joker understood the importance of scars.

“Hey, Benny, you got any scars?” he called out as an afterthought, punching both of their time cards.

The bar answered only in silence.

“Ben jammin’! Where you at?” Wick paused, listening to the hum of the freezer and the spin of the fan. There was no Benny to be heard from. “Damn it.” Had he wandered off in the alley on his blood-induced high? Wick knew he shouldn’t feel responsible - this wouldn’t be the first time Benny disappeared after work without so much as a goodbye, but something in Wick’s gut tugged, and he couldn’t shake a very bad feeling. Intuition, perhaps? Or paranoia? Either way, he hastily made his way to the back door and wedged it open, peering out into Pere Antoine alley. St. Anthony’s Garden vines sat just across the way along the fence, blocking what little light the gardens spotlight gave off. He looked left and right, but Benny was nowhere to be seen.

On a normal night, Wick would have went back inside, smuggled two more bottles of sherry, and had a time in the bath with his hand, but once again, his stomach didn’t sit right. Benny was high off demi blood, and he couldn’t help but feel responsible for whatever the sod got himself into. With a groan, Wick rubbed his hands on his cheeks, locked the door behind him, and stepped out onto the wet pavement, headed toward the St. Louis Cathedral. He wasn’t sure why he knew this was the way to go, but he strode on, hands in his pockets as he inhaled the smell of a fresh rain. Though the clouds still hung in the night sky, only a light sprinkle trickled into New Orlean’s French Quarter. Wick liked the moments after summer showers; they were cathartic and pure.

The road ahead was quiet - New Orleans was a city that never slept, only rarely dozed, and tonight the rain lulled her into a gentle slumber that kept the streets sparse. Wick approached Chartres Street with his hands in his pockets when he caught it - the faint whiff of blood in the air. His throat tightened automatically, but he ignored it, quickening his pace and turning the corner. St. Louis Cathedral loomed overhead as if to warn him, and just a short ways off, he spotted Benny—curled up in front of the gated off front door to the church.

“Shit.” Wick searched around the street for witnesses, found none to be had, and jogged his way down the length of the building. The scent of blood grew stronger. “Benny. - Benny, get up.” He hopped over the railing and landed next to his coworker’s form. When Wick turned him over, Benny’s glossy eyes lifelessly stared up at the clouds above. His throat was slit, and painted on the door behind him in was a handprint -Benny’s handprint, and a word written in blood.

soon

Editorial credits go to Amanda Post. She kicks my ass when I need it, and she boosts my spirits as well. I couldn’t have done this without her.
— A.E. Taylor