Authors: Kevin Emerson
The Vampire's Photograph
Oliver Nocturne, Book One
For Annie, Chloe, and Hannah, my first readers
From the Half-Light Guide to Human Cities
If you are looking for a place to dwell in the human world, look no further than Seattle. A bustling, modern city, Seattle is filled with glossy buildings, fine restaurants, and many, many coffee shops. It sits on the shores of Puget Sound, an extension of the great Pacific Ocean, and the breeze often carries an agreeable aroma of brine and decay.
It rains quite a bit here, so most days are pleasantly dreary. You can count on gloomy evenings and dawns for your commute. The sun does appear now and then and, it's true, summer can be unbearable with the seemingly endless sunlight, but this is more than made up for by long and gloriously dark winters.
The humans here are friendly but not nosy. While they love a brief chat in the coffee line, they have little interest in your politics, home life, or personal habits. They won't ask about your complexion, or do anything tedious like invite you to a dinner party. It is easy enough to be among them and stay unnoticed. Also, due to their excellent fitness and healthy eating habitsâfresh salmon and craft beer; many vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free alternatives; and of course the city's near-fanatical obsession with kaleâ
dining experience will be world class.
The school system is excellent. The public schools are in session most nights from September to June, using the human buildings, many of which are charmingly cold and creepy. The sewers are in fine shape, with no pesky human mass transit clogging up the works, and underground shopping opportunities abound.
All in all, if a dank, dark, unobserved existence is what you're after, Seattle may be the ideal city for you.
AT THE CENTER OF
everything, stood a Gate.
The Gate had never been opened. It had been made, and then shut. Some said that the sound of it closing began the universe. No one knew what was on the other side of it. Nor did anyone know what would happen if the Gate was opened. No one was even completely sure what the Gate did, yet all agreed that it was very important, maybe the most important thing in the universe. Why it was important, though, was the subject of a debate as old as the Gate itself.
Most believed that the Gate was not meant to be opened, that keeping it closed was the point of everything. Some even believed that opening it would end the universe, by unhinging the many worlds and sending them crashing down on one another. Those who believed this were also usually the ones who found the universe to be tolerable the way it was. And they had it easy. Since the Gate seemed to be forever shut, few of them were worried.
But others wondered: Why make a
? Why not just a wall? Wasn't a gate meant to be opened? Thus, they believed that opening the Gate was the point of everything. That if it was opened, a better universe would finally
, and all of the unfair suffering would end. Those who believed this were also usually the ones who were suffering, whether at the hands of ruthless leaders, backward societies, or fate.
Yet they had been very busy. They had tried many times to open the Gate and failed, but doing what seems to be impossible requires a great deal of learning, perseverance, and vigilance. So, they studied the signs and oracles, and waited.
Until it was finally time to try again.
For the first time in a span longer than anyone could rightly measure, someone approached the Gate. He came on the only road. The first sound to break the silence surrounding the Gate was that of hooves crunching on the road's crushed volcanic glass surface. Wooden wheels whined to a halt.
A black stagecoach had arrived.
From it stepped a tall man in a crisp, pin-striped suit. He wore a bow tie and a fedora hat, and looked as if he'd just left a respectable banking institution. His eyes, while wizened and old, were surrounded by an ageless face, his features as clean and smooth as his hat and suit. He certainly did not bear the wear and tear one would expect after the long journey to Nexia, the center world of the universe, where the Gate stood.
The gentleman surveyed its striking golden form, which shone brightly against a backdrop of pure black and starlight. There was no atmosphere in Nexia, and so the tight clusters of galaxies, novae, and planets sparkled in the dark like glass ornaments, seeming to hang almost within reach. Rings of dust and solar flare arced overhead. Wormholes spiraled away into the black.
The gentleman looked off to either side of the Gate. Ripples of blood red land spread away to the horizon. Marble columns and spires of jade and amethyst stuck out of the red rock here and there, as if the ground had frozen in mid-stir. There had once been a civilization here, in a time before anyone could remember. Some believed that it was this civilization that had created the Gate, then departed through it. Some even called these people the Architects. Those who sought to open the Gate also wanted to ask the Architects a few questions, ideally at the point of a deadly instrument.
The gentleman turned to the two zombie horses that had borne his coach here and gave them a slap, sending them away. He watched them go, the stagecoach clattering behind them, until there was only silence, then he turned and walked toward the Gate. He stopped just inside its brilliant aura and bowed deeply, with a respectful tip of his hat.
Thirty years passed.
Then the Gate spoke in the gentleman's mind,
Why come ye?
The gentleman smiled.
I mean to open you
, he thought back.
And who are ye who comes?
the Gate asked.
I am Illisius
, he replied.
, said the Gate.
Illisius put down his briefcase and sat, cross-legged, on the road.
Another twenty years went by.
You are patient, for a demon
, the Gate observed.
I am waiting for someone
, Illisius said. He pushed back his finely pressed cuff and checked his silver watch. Seven dials spun at different speeds.
He'll be here soon
, the Gate agreed.
The young vampire
, said Illisius.
Silence resumed. Overhead, a wormhole siphoned off the debris of one of Nexia's rings, spun it into a planet, and sent it away. Later, there was a pop, as one overwhelmed world cleaved in two.
In the light of Nexia's Gate, Illisius waited.
The Intruder in the Mirror
OLIVER NOCTURNE HAD BEEN
having trouble sleeping, which was why he first heard the intruder. He had been lying awake as usual one November dawn, tossing and turning, when a floorboard had creaked somewhere upstairs. Going to investigate had seemed much more interesting than lying in bed with the worries that plagued him. Now, it was December, and the intruder was back for the third time. Oliver had expected someone else in his family to have noticed this morning visitor by now, but so far, he was the only one who knew.
Oliver had been having trouble sleeping for as long as he could remember. It had always been particularly bad around his birthday and Christmas, both of which were coming right up, but this year it was worse than ever. He was lying awake well into each day and waking up exhausted each evening.
Oliver was bothered most by one thought in particular:
There's something wrong with me
The problem was, Oliver didn't know what that
was. He just knew that he never quite fit in with those around him, neither at home or at school. Oliver kept this feeling to himself, mainly because he was embarrassed. Vampires weren't supposed to have these kinds of problems. And if his older brother, Bane, ever found out, there would be no end to the torment.
The one thing that Oliver did know about his problem was that it seemed to be about his future. Oliver was thirteen in human years, which meant that it wouldn't be too long now before he received his demon. But that happened to every young vampire, and his classmates talked about it like it was the greatest thing. What kind of vampire wouldn't want to get his demon? To finally be able to do the things adult vampires did, like Occupy animals and go out to the Friday Socials?
So there had to be something
about the future that was keeping him up day after day. Sometimes, he almost felt like he knew what it wasâ¦yet he could never quite put his finger on it. He would chase his thoughts around, one, then the next, always feeling like some truth was just beyond his reach.
This morning, though, his awful insomnia had brought something interesting: The intruder was back. Oliver could hear the footsteps echoing from upstairs. He quietly slipped out of his coffin and down to the stone floor. The underground crypt was silent, lit only by a faint crimson glow. Oliver's parents, Phlox and Sebastian, were asleep together in a wide coffin beside his. Bane's coffin was over by the wall, also shut tight. Oliver had heard his parents go to bed hours ago and heard Bane sneaking in after that.
He crossed the room and started up a stone spiral staircase, leaving the crypt, which was the lowest level of his family's underground home. His bare feet padded lightly on the stones, the slight ruffling of his pajamas the only other sound. The magmalight lanterns on the walls, teardrop-shaped crystal globes sitting in ornate lead sconces, had been drained for the day, so the staircase was pitch-black, but that was no problem for keen vampire eyes.
Oliver reached the main floor, and peered into the dark kitchen. The titanium appliances hummed softly, but otherwise, all was still.
Another footstep sounded above.
Oliver continued up. The stairs ended on the next landing. In front of him was a sleek steel door. He put his ear to it and heard more creaking steps from the other side. Technically, he wasn't allowed up hereâ¦. But Oliver pressed a red button, and the door slid silently open.
There was a narrow space, and then the back of a broken, rusted refrigerator. It was leaning at an angle against the wall, wires and coils hanging from it, like a great beast that had been clawed open. Oliver squeezed around the side of itâ
And saw the human girl.
She was standing in the center of a large room. This was the ground floor of the abandoned house that sat atop Oliver's home. The walls that had once separated the rooms of the house had been torn away, leaving a long, vacant space cluttered with rubble and junk. The whole place was supposed to look run-down and unsafe. Phlox had taken great care to make it feel not only neglected, but forbiddingâhomeless people
sleep here, but why would they want to? A gang of kids
hang out here, but wasn't there maybe a cooler place to go?
Beams of gloomy Seattle morning light angled in through two broken windows on either side of the front door. Dark burgundy wallpaper sagged from the walls, revealing pocked plaster and blooms of mold. A giant hole gaped just in front of the door. It wasn't a real hole but a design trick Phlox had perfected. The girl hadn't used the door, though. She always came in through the window, using a set of thick plaid oven mitts to navigate the toothlike shards of broken glass.
She stood now, mitts under her arm, silently surveying the room's contents. There was much to look at: In addition to the peeling wallpaper and bottomless hole, there was an ancient bathtub in the corner, full of putrid water and reeking of rot. A slow, steady drip plinked into it from the sagging ceiling, where a broken chandelier hung cockeyed. In the other corner was an overturned dresser, its filthy clothes strewn into the brown puddles on the floor.
On the wall above the dresser hung a dingy painting in a tarnished, cracked frame. It was a portrait of a wiry, dour old man in a tweed suit, with very little hair, and if one looked closely, even less skin. These details were mostly obscured by mold. His piercing eyes however, which seemed to glow with an unnatural amber light, remained bright; another one of Phlox's special touches. The picture was of Oliver's departed great-uncle, Renfeld.