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Story 2

Florin Purluca

 

This is not the first version of The Freaks. The first version submitted was set in the United States. The present version has more authentic locations in Romania. The editor, in collaboration with the author, provided the  Romanian context.

Editing translated fiction has its own unique set of problems. Ideally, there should be no indication that the story was not originally written in English. In this case, however, the editor decided to leave in some of the roughness of the translation to enhance the dystopic feel. Fortunately the interrupted translation was good enough to salvage, as related in the author's own words.

I made the changes you suggested. But as I corrected, I saw a detail that I forgot about. Then, at the suggestion of the translator I was collaborating with, I made some more changes. I have changed the names and places of action from USA to Romania. As for the translation, although I am still used to personally translating the texts I write, I do this at an amateur level, not specializing in literary translation, and this text was translated by a translator. Unfortunately, the translator I worked with withdrew from the activity, and I personally made the changes.

The good part is that the changes are actually a few minor changes. I changed the names of the characters and the places where the action takes place, plus some observations related to the characters' clothing, here and there, but those are not significant. -- Florin Purluca

FLORIN PURLUCA is a Romanian writer, living in Focșani, Romania. He has a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and works in a psychiatric hospital in his hometown. His fiction has been published in several Romanian periodicals, online and paperback. His work translations have been published in Samovar, The Singularity, SF in Translation and Aphelion. He has published ten novels and five short story collections so far.

 

 

The Freaks

By Florin Purluca

 

 

Back then we had to travel a lot. Because most settlements were usually abandoned, we had to walk long distances to find inhabited places. It wasn’t like we needed their help, it’s just that old habits usually become tainted with the aura of certain rituals, and then the process of forgetting becomes rather complicated. And me and Uncle Marin – especially him – truly loved the company. For old times’ sake. Or, to put it in a more simple way, we were just two homeless souls.

The people in such places hadn’t become fully accustomed to those of our stature, even though more than ten years had passed since the disaster. Thinking about it, we probably looked quite strange to them in our first encounter, slowly emerging from the crimson shadows of the dusk, through the nothingness. As we moved towards the heart of Brașov, the dust became intoxicating. The wilderness was eating the city, slowly, year after year. That’s probably why people decided to escape from this place, besides fear, of course. Since there was no clear patch of earth left to farm, those who stayed behind became used to eating out of a can.

Uncle Marin, a Valahian man in his fifties from a region in Romania, next to Transylvania – tall and strong – sensed what was going on from a mile away. Uncle had a worn-out (once beautiful fazan feathered) hat, eaten away by time, something I had the distinct conviction didn’t suit him at all. And he was wearing a white, red-striped shirt with small green and blue flowers, that was two sizes too big for him. As for me, a kid muffled up in rags, with a pair of shoes model year one thousand nine hundred, I had a small advantage. The difference was that I was always saved by appearances: a poor redneck kid, not more than ten years old. That always drew some form of sympathy, in those dark days.

I guess it was a miracle that we managed to get downtown without anyone shooting at us, especially at night, when people are more paranoid and scared of the dark and used torches made of clothes soaked in gas and wrapped around stakes as a light source. Because by all appearances, that small neighborhood was filled with old people. And those old people were almost always paranoid, and they would shoot you on the spot if they still had the guns to do so. And those who had guns would carry them everywhere. But Marin was being careful. He told them we were just passing through, we weren’t going to stay for more than one day – or maybe two – enough to regain our strength and then we would be gone. They agreed. Lowered their rifles to the ground and left us to spend the night in some dilapidated old house. Even so, we weren’t entirely sure they hadn’t smelled us. It was hard to believe they hadn’t, but maybe they were trying to keep up appearances for various reasons, the primary one being fear.

Even though they had good reasons to fear us, they shouldn’t have. Because we weren’t that type of freak. We were, somehow . . . different. And that was especially because of Marin.

Uncle – who in fact wasn’t even related to me, but the detail made our presence a little dramatic and sometimes managed to smooth things over – had an academic background in psychology. That helped him, somehow, to discover his inner power and the resources to face the hunger instinct. He also educated me the same way. I admit it hadn’t been easy to make me accept animal blood, but after an entire year of torment, he’d succeeded. I was, as he used to brag about it, his doctorate thesis in a messed-up world.

After we settled in the house we were about to sleep in – it wasn’t really an apocalyptic torture since we carried a small suitcase with us – we left towards some building of that old and almost abandoned neighborhood. It was a former bar that locals worked hard to keep standing. At least that’s what it looked like when we got there. An old man was cleaning the tables, another one was sweeping the floors, and another one was pouring beer into gnawed pint glasses. And we also saw a dozen old men and women, waiting at the tables.

We entered, and everyone looked at us and frowned. We headed toward the counter, walking close to each other. The people who used it were careful enough to put crucifixes and strings of garlic up on the walls. But the garlic was a bit old, and its scent was almost gone, so it didn’t help much now. We each chose a chair to sit on. The chairs were high, and I needed help to climb, which Marin gave me, as he always did. He grabbed me, pulled me up and I settled in the chair. I propped my elbows on the wooden counter and didn’t make a peep. Marin handled the talking. I was still new to the whole public relations thing.

Uncle looked closely at a foamy Caraiman pint – even the old man passing as the bartender noticed his look filled with desire – and then he lifted his skinny, bony hand and greeted him.

“I’m Marin. The kid’s name is Rareș.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked the old man, visibly irritated.

We heard a metallic click, somewhere in the back. Even I could recognize that sound. Someone had loaded a rifle.

“We just want to chat for a few minutes. We’re bored to death. That’s all.”

“Is that so?” asked the bartender. “What could you motherfuckers possibly know about death?”

A wooden chair scraping against the floor echoed from the back of the room. Marin’s psychology effect didn’t seem to impact anyone. I was never fond of these moments. They tended to create bigger, awful ones, with blood all over the walls, misery that doesn’t do anyone any favors.

“Hey, Ioane! Let’s take things slow, shall we? Maybe they are decent people, not the type looking for trouble. Right, boys?

“Of course we’re not looking for trouble!” said Marin with joy at discovering his ally, a woman with hair the color of cotton puff, thin, long and loose, shoulders drawn forward.

The bartender snarled, stifling all the nasty words he was about to throw at us. He finished pouring the beer and slammed the pint glass against the wooden counter. Uncle kept on smiling at him and said, “I swear I’d gladly give up immortality for a pint like that.”

The old man was looking daggers at him, malice still floating in the air.

“No shit!” said the old man.

“It’s no joke, mister”, I intervened. “Uncle Marin hadn’t had one of these since ages ago. And trust me, he was pretty good at drinking them.”

From between the tables, you could hear people snorting. Some forced contained smiles. And shortly after, someone eased the pressure that was floating in the air.

“My Dănuț still got it,” said a woman, amused by the situation.

Marin pivoted in his chair, and so did I. I saw everyone staring at us. Some had an obvious malice in their eyes, some had indifference, but most watched us with interest. We felt somehow like artists on a stage, and they were the audience.

“I don’t know which one of you is Dănuț, said Marin, but if I had the chance to ask him to a pint duel, I would have. I just had the misfortune to meet him a little too late.”

And Uncle was right. After the transformation, our digestive systems didn’t decompose the food and drink into harmless amino acids anymore. If we wanted to eat or drink anything other than blood, we would endure severe pain, like that of a woman giving birth. Well, for me it was pure theory, as I had not tried that even once. But he had impressed on me how painful it was to eat normal food and drink normal liquids as a vampire, instead of blood. He had had a few glasses of bourbon, years before, shortly after the transformation. It was an experience that made him go through excruciating pain.

“I felt like I ingested a moderate dose of garlic,” he explained. “A dose that didn’t kill me and didn’t let me live either. And that was over the course of several hours.”

He didn’t dare try that ever again.

As I watched the old men sitting at the tables, I began to feel sorry for them. Some looked strong, around sixty years old, and seemed like they could face a few threats. Others, however, could barely walk from old age. And because two of them were telling the others out loud what was happening in the bar, I assumed they were blind or almost deaf. How they managed to survive until now and why you couldn’t see any young men in the city were mystery that intrigued us. Then, Marin took advantage of the moment and told them he would’ve bought the gentlemen a round of beer and some fine drinks for the ladies if money were still in circulation.

We could’ve enjoyed our immortality, as all vampires did. But Marin couldn’t escape the world he once lived in. And me, I was six when I was bitten and could’ve forgotten my past. But Marin ensured that I didn’t, anyway. He drove me crazy with his nostalgic stories about the world before vampires.

“Where are you headed?” asked the bartender.

“We want to go to Sighișoara,” said Marin.

But the truth was we didn’t want to go anywhere. All we did was sniff the air and find people. Go into remote villages and, unlike others of the same race, feed on their memories about the world that was about to step into oblivion, but never feed on their blood. For us, sheep and cows, or even rats and beasts, were enough. And, anyway, there’s no significant difference between animal and human blood. After a while, like anything you get used to, it becomes normalized in an abnormal world.

Then Marin told them about the drama he had been through, how he was transformed by my mother, how he fought her to not bite me as well, but the damn woman managed to transform us both. And in the end, because of his inner will, told them in great detail how he confronted the vampire mother and how he beheaded her because of the curse she had brought upon us. Everything was made up. Except for the part about using his will.

Unlike him, after I was transformed, I had forgotten a great deal about my human life. But he remembered almost every detail of his previous life. He knew things about his brothers, about his friends and Dorina, his wife. He didn’t use to tell me much about her, but when he did, he always had tears in his eyes as he put his hand to his jacket pocket, which carried a picture of her. I always asked myself what happened with Dorina, but he always said that that was the only detail he couldn’t remember anymore. He said that one day we would go and find her. At first, I believed him, but in time I understood that something else was going on there – a mishap that Marin had buried deep in his memory. I preferred to let him live in peace, not to dig up painful memories.

At the end of Uncle’s false story, the old men fell victim to sentimentality. Some old women began to wail loudly. One of them took me in her arms, calling for Neculai – probably a relative of hers who died – and another caressed me for more than fifteen minutes. “Poor baby,” the old lady kept repeating. But I looked at them like a scared puppy.

And in this way, the respite offered by the old men turned into an invitation to stay indefinitely, which we took gladly. Although we knew we would leave that place eventually. Maybe not in the following months, but certainly in two or three years. Definitely no later because in all that time, every last old man in that place would be dead of old age. But hey, three years can fly by as if they were weeks, even for mortal man. We were more than happy we had someone to talk to. And, if you got to know them a little better, old mens’ paranoia starts to become amusing enough to make you look past certain fixations.

By far the most punctual was Bogdan, a slightly demented man in his eighties. He always carried two oxygen tanks with him in a cart with hilarious wheels that looked like it was some old dismembered wooden box. The old man bragged about being the last man in Valahia with chronic bronchitis. Despite all that, he never quit smoking, and every time he smoked his cheap stinking Carpați cigars, he left a thick trail of smoke behind him, like an old locomotive. Luckily, in his early days, he was a pharmacist. He managed the dispensar’s whole oxygen tank reserve and that allowed him to have a large personal supply.

            One day, I even saved his life with the help of Marin. As the old man was a little confused from time to time, he forgot to check his oxygen tanks. His asthma attacks caught us in some heated discussions in the middle of the bar. Ion, the bartender, kept saying that if the vampire apocalypse would’ve happened fifteen years earlier, he would’ve shown them.

            “Maybe wouldn’t have hurt to have some help from a young man,” suggested Uncle.

            Ion frowned. We knew he wouldn’t like the question, but we were very curious about something that tormented us for days: how did only the old people remain here, and above all, where were the young ones?

            “Are you insinuating that we don’t matter?”

            The old man was looking daggers at us. Marin lifted his hands in the air like he was suddenly at gunpoint. Judging by Uncle’s reaction, he was about to abandon the discussion, but he continued: “We’re just saying. Don’t get all worked-up.”

Ion softened suddenly, like a piece of hard bread in a cup of tea. And I must admit, he knew what he was talking about.

“Stop whining like a little girl, and say what the hell you want to say!”

We stared at each other. Uncle put his hands on the bar and began to tap it in a rhythm. He wanted to seem discreet. And succeeded quite well, if I think about it, like trying to sneak a hippo through an overcrowded market.

“How come you’re the only ones that remained?”

“You mean us, the old-timers?” I heard Bogdan paraphrasing him with an unnatural voice.

Marin shrugged defensive, and you could see his sharp shoulders, like two spear tips.

“Something like that,” he responded.

“Because that’s how things go, boys,” said Bogdan. “If you don’t make sacrifices for something honorable, nature will sacrifice you anyway, without asking for permission. Do you understand?”

The old man pushed Uncle, shoving an arthritic finger in his chest. He shook his head and started puffing a huge Carpați cigar and contemplating. Ion snapped his fingers and startled us both.

“They all left. It's that simple,” he explained. “You know it very well, the plague, or whatever the hell it was that resurrected the vampire curse again, broke out in some obscure, small village in Deva. Then, found its way to Alba Iulia, Turda, Târgu-Mureș, and Odorheiu Secuiesc, like a kitten pawing towards the milk bowl. Then, it came here, to Brașov. But the picturesque mountain district isn’t that slouch, you know, as they say. I can’t tell you for sure what the people in Alba, Mureș or Turda did, but I can tell you for sure what the old folks from Brașov did. Because you’re afraid of water.” He was right, after the transformation, water simply gave us the creeps, we couldn’t even look at a half-full bucket. “We asked everyone to run along Lake Noua, towards Prahova. The lake worked like some kind of a natural barrier and we were left waiting, the ones that didn’t have children or relatives alive, for the invasion of monsters that never came. Now you understand?”

Uncle smiled, and vigorously shook his head, as a sign that he understood quite clearly the whole essence of the plan. Although, in theory and probably unwittingly, because he told us we’re monsters and insulted us, we didn’t feel offended. And honestly, how could we have convinced him he was wrong?

“Even so,” simpered Ion, unmoved by the whole situation, “why are you so afraid of water? I can understand being afraid of the Holy water. Apă popească, as they say… But regular water? It makes no sense.”

We had no idea why, so we couldn’t offer any explanation, so Marin simply said: “Why are you afraid of the dark? Is not like the dark itself hurts you, but what hides in it. We’re probably talking about the same thing.”

The old man looked at us for a few moments. He seemed somehow vexed. But I probably imagined it because he immediately offered us a big smile. Then, the conversation became relaxed, and with Marin, we worked hard to convince him the vampire hunt wasn’t like the movies, and you needed more than young men and a bucket of water to bring them down. Without having any minor attacks, to predict the imminent seizure, Bogdan started to snort like a stabbed pig. Uncle immediately knew what was going on and left like a hurricane, overturning a few tables in his way.

Lenuța, Bogdan’s wife, appeared from across the bar and started to unhook the hoses from the juncture that connected the cylinder with the inhaler. Because the screws were tightened, she was struggling. I pulled her to one side, grabbed the iron with my right hand and turned with all my strength. The iron rasped a few times, but it finally gave in. A few seconds later, Marin returned with a new oxygen tank. I immediately set it up, and after we all waited impatiently, Bogdan’s breath began to sound normal.

A few minutes later, the whole bar was silent. I wasn’t sure what impressed them the most: the fact that we helped them or that we reacted so promptly? We didn’t dare ask, and a few days later we forgot all about it, and Bogdan began to joke on his account, about how he was about to die. Then, a few days after the incident, when he began to suffer from occasional osteoarthritis pains, he would curse us every chance he got. He kept saying we should’ve let him die so he could escape the torment of constant pain and suffering. But, after he calmed down, he would apologize. Anyway, we weren’t offended. Marin said every old man and woman there was suffering from paranoia, even before vampires existed. And I was happy I would never become one of them now.

And this way, two months passed without us noticing. One of them died during the time we were there. His name was Sandu, and everyone assumed he had had a heart attack or something like that. We helped them bury him on a quiet May night, where once stood an apple orchard, but now all that were left was trees with weirdly grown branches due to all the years it was left unkempt. They also said some old prayers – Tatăl Nostru and Crezul – and spiked his chest with a rose wood stake. Just in case, they all said to us.

After a while, Marin became very nervous. I could see it in the way he looked into the distance. Not because he was hungry. Because once every three or four days we would harvest blood out of a box full of fat rats. I kind of knew what was going on with him as I’ve seen his moodiness many times before. He was very grumpy and looked like an angry, growling coyote. He would lose his temper over nothing, and even the old men noticed. I was struggling to reassure everyone he wouldn’t cause any trouble, but I was sometimes worried he would do something stupid. The bloodlust always puts you to the test.

Sometimes, close to dawn, when we were alone, and the old-timers would snore like hell because of all those sleepless nights, I would ask him what was wrong.

“I’m fine,” he kept repeating.

Once he told me life had become boring, but I didn’t believe him. With Marin, nothing was boring. He loved life, and most of all, he loved the memory of the mortal life. And because of that, I was trying to convince myself he would never hurt the old-timers, although they didn’t feel this way. Poor them. They didn’t speak of it, but you don’t need to be an expert in psychology to know when someone looks worried.

Uncle’s moodiness lasted for almost a week, and then, one hot night in July, I found him sitting in the tall, yellowish grass, with his eyes fixed on the horizon. I was with Lenuța and Bogdan. I touched him on his right shoulder. He was startled, and he smiled at us like a wolf surprised at his next meal. Lenuța was about to scream when she saw his big fangs, sharp like knives and soaked in saliva.

“Marin, man, calm down” I said.

“They are coming, kid, they are coming!” he mumbled and began to drool slightly.

Unlike me, who did not have the same power of concentration, Uncle could sense our kind from twice as far as I ever could. However, he wasn’t himself for over a week, and that was the longest he ever sensed the presence of vampires. He behaved like Count Dracula himself was about to appear from a distance. But if that were the case, I would’ve felt him too, but I didn’t feel anything that night.

Eventually, after two days, I sensed them too: a strange thrill, like when you’re alone in the house and see a strange, slippery shadow behind the half-way opened door. Every time he felt them before, we would’ve run away. We avoided as much as possible any encounter with other vampires. Because even if they were like us, we were different just like dogs and wolves are different.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Marin.

“I don’t know, kido. In one or two days it’ll be here with his followers. It’s your call also.”

Truth was, we grew fond of the old, even if they were paranoid. In almost three months, we’d had good times, and they treated us like old friends. For me, it was a pleasant feeling, but for Marin, it was heaven on earth because he truly missed the old times.

If we left, the old wouldn’t be safe. If we waited for the vampires, we wouldn’t know what to expect as we never went through something similar before. But it wasn’t like we didn’t have an idea about how things would go. I wasn’t sure how many they were, but Marin sensed they were four. Two against one wasn’t exactly a fair fight for us, and we couldn’t ask for the old-timers’ help, as their arthritic bones weren’t fit for it.

The two days went by fast. In the end, without any planning in advance – or at least that’s what I thought – we were all gathered at the bar, waiting for them. Uncle had decided we had been running from too many fights and decided to stay. I agreed.

We were sitting at the center table, and the old gathered four or five at the tables around us. In the silence before the vampires’ arrival, you could hear them checking and rechecking their rifles dozens of times. Making sure they were loaded. I remembered what Marin said: paranoia was the primary feeling of the old, even before vampires. So no, their behavior wasn’t weird at all. But if I think about it, maybe it wasn’t just paranoia. Even we were terrified; I can’t imagine what they felt. Since they had an idea about what a pack of hungry vampires could do from movies or books, could we have blamed them? And at that moment, I realized Marin was the only vampire I knew since I was transformed.

            Uncle used to tell me that we, unlike vampires, were self-taught. But nothing he had told me could’ve anticipated Dorina’s dramatic entrance. If anything was left of the woman’s beauty in the picture Marin was holding in his chest pocket, it was the color of her eyes. But even they looked like something you wouldn’t want near you. At least that was my opinion, but Marin didn’t feel this way, he made big efforts to not yield to the temptation to embrace her. I could see it from a mile away, and I believe everyone could’ve seen it from his turmoil.

            “Oh my God!” Even if my expression wasn’t the most religious, since my allegiance to the night Gods, the vampire’s woman drama nature sent chills down my spine. A sharp cry mixed with the guttural grunts of a beast. At that moment I understood – and I was fully and irrevocably convinced –Uncle and I were truly different. With no doubt, we weren’t humans anymore, but still we were nothing like the creatures that were swirling around the front door.

Dorina was very anxious, confessing her love for Marin for anyone to hear. A great bloodlust was burning in her eyes, and it was so obvious that even a two-year-old would have seen it. The other three vampires, some thirty-year-old guys, pricked their senses and gravitated around the woman like undecided satellites, waiting for the command.

Marin lifted his bony hand in the air, and the old ones began to retreat, walking in reverse, step by step, one after the other. It was clear they couldn’t walk any faster, but the most important detail was the fact they stayed calm and didn’t run away. We all had our rifles pointing at the vampires. None were aimed at me and Uncle this time. The only one who did not take any steps was Bogdan. The old man propped his back on the tanks and was struggling to look threatening, moving the rifle’s barrel from one side of the room to the other.

Dorina wasn’t so beastly as I initially assumed because seeing our clear intention to protect the humans, she stopped that grotesque dance of love.

“Don’t be an idiot, Marin,” she said. “You treat them like they’re pets. When, in fact, they are just a delicious meal.”

Then she passed her long and bluish tongue over the irregular line of her pearly teeth.

“You’re not my Dorina anymore.”

Marin’s voice was a blend of pity and regret. And maybe a little bit of fear. I couldn’t agree more. Still, we were two against one. I wasn’t very confident. However, we were ready, with our muscles trembling from eagerness. Because I must admit, the imminent danger awoke a state of irritation, which until then was just in my head. The only time I felt like I was losing control was the time I was feeding. But I was distracted for a second, and after the first bites, I could account for my behavior. Only at that moment, it was about something else entirely. It was about the scuffle I was about to have and nothing else.

Marin lowered his hand quickly, like giving a secret signal. Somehow, I was surprised by his decision. I knew he was too self-contained to believe in miracles. I don’t know what he hoped at that moment for the old ones to accomplish. But it had to be attempted. Dorina’s heart didn’t have the resources to be softened anymore. It would’ve been the same as asking a wolf to eat salad. Marin’s self-control, I later realized, was possible due to his intrapsychic state – in his mortal life you could’ve driven a high-speed truck towards the inner wall that was his morals and, after the emotional impact, you still couldn’t budge him one centimeter. And me, I was tamed mainly because Marin discovered me immediately after I was transformed. I never got the chance to taste human blood, and that was probably why he chose taming.

The vampires’ eyes sparkled as they looked at the old-timers, and there was no doubt that you could never save their souls.

In the next second, rifles rumbled in unison, and the room was filled with a white smoke, a pungent smell of potassium nitrate. You could barely see anything. A few moments of lethal silence and the rifles roared for the second time. I narrowed my eyes so I could see through the smoke curtain; the old-timers fleeing and rushing through the back door. But the vampires weren’t stupid enough to become easy targets. A vampire can run several times faster than an athlete. And, judging by the way they climbed the walls and ceiling, none of the old-timers’ bullets hit them.

If I think about it, the things looked rather strange. I was myself, a vampire. Even so, I was staring at them, amazed by the way they ran backwards. I’ve never tried such tricks, and I thought it was a damn useful trick I needed to master. Again, I was looking at the possibilities. Between them and us, there were limitations strictly for intrapsychic reasons, not physical. Still, it was a good enough reason that I couldn’t imitate their performance. The answer was simple: the main culprit was the madness caused by the bloodlust. And with their inability to control themselves, beastly reactions were unleashed.

One of Dorina’s henchmen saw me and jumped at me – insane, imperturbable and incredibly fast. Until he came close, I propped my feet on the ground, ready to attack him. At the right moment, precisely calculated, I hit with all my strength.

It’s quite discouraging to know you’re giving your best shot and the result – in your opponent’s eyes – looks like a mosquito flying towards him. The man evaded my punch with  humiliating ease. I leaned on one side, following the descending momentum of my failed punch. And was hit by his own. I felt my stomach crunch like a wrecking ball had hit it.

I could see Marin somewhere on my right, or it could have been my left as I was tumbled in the air from the blow. The other two male vampires jumped on him. I could also see Bogdan struggling to load his rifle and Dorina displayed a huge rictus – shiny, white, clean fangs – and advanced slowly.

I passed through the brick walls like they were made of cardboard. Through a diffused dust curtain, I landed and saw Marin. He plunged in the air after me and fell a stone’s throw away from where I was. I stood still, watching him, hopeless. We were in big trouble. They were about to kick our asses for the indolence we showed.

Finally, I managed to move – I think my moment of deadlock was more about my self-confidence than my physical ineptitude – and I could see Bogdan through the hole in the wall I made when I was thrown out into the street. He stood glued to his tanks and waved something in the air. Something strange, which didn’t look like a rifle at all. The way Dorina and the other vampires cornered the old man wasn’t a good sign. I felt an overwhelming pity for the poor man.

“Run!” screamed Marin.

I couldn’t move a muscle. It was the worst thing that could happen to me in that moment, and the way Marin made a run for it really took me by surprise. If he had been near me, I would’ve berated him for his behavior. But it wasn’t like that because he knew something I didn’t.

At the beginning, there was a deafening blast followed by a heavy wave of debris, pushed in every direction over a ten-meter radius by the blow. Over ten thousand small, sharp pieces of iron and concrete hit my back. I was still following Marin, who was running rapidly. In the distance, I saw the old-timers. They were running like a bunch of old goats. I nearly burst into laughter when Bogdan’s tanks blew up. I suddenly felt a strong push, like a giant’s boot kicking me. It threw me in the air, and, of course, I didn’t die. I was at a safe distance. I only needed two hours to heal, although the entire process hurt like hell. Dorina and the three hooligans were toast. They had ultra-fast regenerative powers just like us, but to achieve that, they had to have something to regenerate, something to work on, and in this case, it was impossible. You can’t reconstruct vampires from a pile of debris and organic matter. Even Mother Nature, with all its mysteries, has its limitations.

Only later was I fully brought up to date. Those were Bogdan’s last oxygen tanks. Even if the attack didn’t happen, he knew he would die soon. And, given the situation, he offered to sacrifice himself to save us all. Marin knew about his plan, but decided to be cautious. He thought the vampire female could’ve tried to charm and manipulate me as she pleased. That made me angry for a while. Like I wasn’t capable of handling her, Marin insinuated. But after a day or two of staying angry, I completely forgot my troubles. It could’ve been worse.

As for Bogdan, what can I tell you? It looks like you can be a hero and don’t need to be a vampire or have superpowers to save the day. And if you happen to pass through that God-forsaken neighborhood, in case Brașov doesn’t perish under a pile of dust and nothingness, well, you can’t miss the monument dedicated to Bogdan, placed downtown. Two empty tanks, fixed in high metal pipe holders. No name, no slogan. Heroes live forever without such nonsense.

 

END

 

 

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