Een tijdje geleden was dit in het nieuws:
Eeuwenoude sarcofaag gevonden bij restauratie Notre Dame
En toen onstond in een vriendengroep de volgende vraag:
'Wat als het een vampier is? Een radioactieve vampier?'
Waarop het antwoord na een tijdje luidde:
'Als het dan een vampier is, kunnen we hem dan niet op het spoor zetten van mensen die het verdienen? Miljardairs ofzo?'
En aldus geschiedde. In fictie, dan, helaas Laat vooral weten wat je ervan vindt
EAT THE RICH
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ Claire asked.
Brandon put down the drill he’d been brandishing. ‘Claire, I’ve told you already. It’s already dented. One small hole will not make a difference, and this way we will at least have something to tell the journalists.’
‘Dented, yes,’ Claire said. ‘But it’s still closed. If you want to drill a hole in it that badly, should we not at least take it to a controlled environment? Or wear masks, or goggles or something? The thing is seven hundred years old, Brandon, who knows what kind of exciting fungi have been growing in there. Ready to release their spores…’
Unfortunately, Brandon seemed only to hear the word ‘exciting’. His eyes gleamed and he picked up the drill from the cracked flagstones of the cathedral again. It whirred to life in the hot afternoon air and Claire gave up, watching with exasperation and not a little fear as Brandon bent over the treasure they found only yesterday.
A sarcophagus. Made of lead. Not lined with lead, as was not unusual for the time period; no, made of lead. Entirely. Buried deep, deep beneath one of the largest cathedrals in France almost as if someone wanted to make sure it stayed buried. Claire had already decided the moment they pulled it out that there was no way in hell that the thing contained anything good, and that was before she had spotted the very small mark near the bottom right corner.
It had almost been too faded with age to be visible, let alone recognizable. But she had seen it and, being a PhD student whose thesis focused on the interweaving of the occult, the superstitions and the ‘official’ faith of the 12th and 13th century, she had also recognized it.
That recognition was the reason she had to at least try to keep Brandon from drilling a hole into the thing. Something she needn’t have done, apparently, because he was struggling with the drill, holding it at an awkward angle and unable to get it to grip. A high whine cut through the air and Claire gritted her teeth as Brandon cursed, the drill slipping to the floor and leaving behind a dully gleaming scar that almost but not quite cut through the side of the sarcophagus.
‘Tougher than it looks,’ Brandon muttered. He sat back and wiped the sweat off his face.
Claire shook her head and rolled her eyes, fingering the crucifix she had just that morning added to her Pandora bangle. For the same reason that she had also taken one of the wooden pickets that marked their digging area and placed it within reach, hoping and praying that it’d be sharp enough.
As if on cue, Brandon looked at her. Brandon looked at her often, and she usually pretended not to notice, but now he was holding out the drill as well. ‘You wanna give it a go?’ he said with a leer. ‘I’ve already warmed it up for you.’
Claire very much did not want to give it a go. She also did not want to hear Brandon say things like ‘warmed it up for you.’ But as he was the head of the dig and she a lowly PhD student who only was holding on to the spot because she did not complain about Brandon’s inappropriate jokes, there was nothing she could do. She took the drill, not looking Brandon in the eye.
The handle of the drill was indeed warm. And slightly damp. She made a face, hoping Brandon wouldn’t see.
‘Right there,’ he said, pointing at a spot near the lid. ‘We send an endoscope in there, we should get a good view of the inside.
Claire nodded and shuffled forward. The last time she had handled a drill it had been three years ago, when she had celebrated getting out of her dorm room and into a (shared) flat by hanging up her own shelves. They had come out crooked and her dad had redone them for her, and she had never touched a power tool again.
Still. That was not the reason why her heart was in her throat and her palms felt sweaty as she lined up the bit with the area Brandon had pointed at. The mark at the bottom corner was just visible from the corner of her eye and for one moment she debated drawing back and telling Brandon what she thought was in there. He’d laugh, of course, and she’d lose the place she had; and then he’d open it up anyway, without her. And then she’d have been wrong and there’d be nothing inside but the bones of a once very, very wealthy person.
She jolted forward as Brandon slapped her ass. ‘Come on, Clair-y! Haven’t got all day!’
Right. Claire gritted her teeth again and set the drill against the lead. On your head be it, she thought, and pushed the trigger.
The drill whirred, then groaned as it bit through the metal. Claire held steady, despite her slippery hands and soon, the resistance stopped. She had punched straight through.
‘Well done!’ Brandon crowed, his hand on Claire’s ass again. ‘That will do it! Now, where’s that endo…’
He never got the chance to finish his sentence. A thick white smoke coiled through the tiny hole that the drill had made, slowly first and then faster and faster until it enveloped them both completely. It smelled of earth and iron and dust and it felt gritty against Claire’s skin. Claire couldn’t see or hear anything and she held her breath and screwed her eyes shut, resolutely not thinking about what would happen if any of this stuff got inside of her. She only wished it could have been fungus spores.
Then, as abruptly as the smoke had appeared, it was gone. Claire opened her eyes just in time to see a dark shadow flash across the uneven floor of the cathedral before it disappeared between the pillars. She held still for a moment, struggling to get her racing heart back under control.
Around her, the cathedral was deathly quiet. There was only the distant hum of the traffic outside, a world away from where she sat, her hand still on the handle of that double damned drill. Through the high windows, sunlight slanted in and ancient dust motes danced in the golden rays.
The leaden sarcophagus stood beside her. The tiny hole in its side stared at her accusingly.
Claire breathed in. ‘Alright,’ she said, her voice unnaturally high. She cleared her throat. ‘Alright,’ she tried again. It came out only a little better this time. She blinked and wiped her face, breathing in her hands for a moment before she looked up.
And saw Brandon. Or what was left of him.
There was no doubt about it that he was dead, and as an aspiring archeologist, Claire would have put his death about a century ago. He had been a heavy guy, red-faced and sweating in the heat of the French summer; now he was mostly grey, and nothing but skin and bone. A skeleton, covered in paper-grey skin and clothes that draped over him like a shroud where he lay, curled up in a fetal position next to the sarcophagus.
Claire stared at him for a long time. Then her shoulders sagged and she sighed. ‘Well, I did try to warn you.’
It was much, much later. Almost midnight, in fact, and Claire had returned to her tiny studio apartment. It had been a busy afternoon; first, she had stowed what had remained of Brandon deep into the pit where they had been digging, hoping and praying that when he would be found, people would think his corpse was a good few centuries older than he actually had been. Then she had phoned Louis, the head of their dig and her actual boss, to inform him that Brandon had stepped out for a cigarette while they were investigating the sarcophagus and had not returned. Louis had not been worried; but he promised he would phone the police if Brandon did not show up tomorrow morning.
So, that was that and now there was nothing Claire could do but hope, wait and pray that if there was going to be any suspicion, it would not fall on her.
There was nothing else she could do. Because telling Louis, or the police for that matter ‘I saw something on that sarcophagus and I knew there was probably a bloodthirsty monster in there and I let Brandon open it anyway and now it’s loose in a city of over two million people sorry’ probably would not go over too well.
So she had gone home. And there, she had heated up some take out, made herself a small kiddie pool’s worth of tea and now she was sitting at her desk, frowning at her laptop.
There were three tabs open in her browser.
One was a YouTube video with the slightly sensational title: ‘Marie-Louise Marchant: vampire or victim?’ It was only twenty minutes long, and Claire had already watched it three times.
The second one was a Parisian news website. The top headline read: ‘Two tourists missing near Notre-Dame; police is investigating’.
The third one read: ‘Geoff Bazos ask Rotterdam municipal council to dismantle monumental bridge so that his superyacht can pass through’.
Claire had been switching between the three tabs for at least an hour. Outside it had gone dark, and the only light in the room was the glare of the screen and the yellow streetlight in front of her window. Her tea, half-drunk and tepid, sat beside her on the desk. On her other side stood a piece of chocolate banana bread by way of dessert, slowly going stale. Claire ignored both and stared at the screen, a deep frown on her face.
Then, all at once, she stood up. Her desk chair rolled away and clattered against the wall. Claire stalked off towards the door, grabbed her backpack and keys and slammed the door shut behind her. She hurtled down the narrow staircase until she reached the hallway and the front door of the building. There, she paused only a moment, breathing in the night air of the city, full of exhaust fumes, bad perfume and alcohol, before setting off towards the nearest Metro station.
If she had created a problem, her mother always told her, it was her responsibility to solve it; and that was exactly what she was going to do.
It was ridiculously easy to get back into the Notre Dame. As she slipped through the gap between two chain link fences, Claire thought for a moment that Louis really should tell Brandon to re-evaluate the security measures, before she remembered why she was here and the thought soured.
Getting her backpack through the fence was a bit of a struggle, but she managed without alerting anybody, although not without some muffled swearing. When both she and her backpack were finally inside, she paused, listening.
Nothing. No sound. No alarmed cries or running footsteps outside; ancient silence inside.
Claire put the backpack down and crouched low. The sound of the zipper seemed to echo against the walls and she paused again before pulling out her flashlight and switching it on.
She immediately wished she hadn’t. The light only seemed to cause the shadows around it to deepen and stretch out, vast and impenetrable. The pillars and statues soared into the blackness above her; behind them lurked more shadows in which anything could hide. Claire shrank back against the wall, slowly turning the beam of light from one side to the other and back. It skipped over the flagstones, loose tiles, the rubble that had not been cleared away. The pit. The sarcophagus, standing at the edge of the pit. It looked smaller than it had in the daytime.
And then the light hit something else. And stopped.
The humanoid figure sitting in a hunched position next to the sarcophagus looked up, straight into the beam of Claire’s flashlight. By all accounts the light should have blinded them, but Claire got the distinct feeling that the figure was not at all bothered. She shrank back further against the wall, heart hammering in her chest. Despite the relative coolness of the night, the sweat was gathering at the back of her neck.
‘You have come back.’
The voice was soft, but carried far in the stillness. Claire blinked and in that fraction of a second, the creature had crossed the length of the cathedral and stood in front of her, only three feet away. ‘You have come back?’ it said again.
Claire stared up, unable to speak. The thing… creature… she shook herself. The vampire, because she knew that was what it was and there was no beating around the bush about it, the vampire looked down at her, but without any hatred, or malice, or even hunger.
No. If Claire had to put any words to the look on the vampire’s face, it would be wonder.
That was the first thing that struck her. The second thing was how human the creature looked. It looked like a young women, not much older than Claire herself and somehow Claire felt a fierce stab of pity at the thought. She was small, not much taller than five foot if that, chubby and with a rosy tint to her cheeks that Claire did not want to think about. A wealth of glossy black curls spilled over her shoulders and her eyes were dark, far darker than that of any mortal.
She was also wearing nothing but a shirt that was three sizes too big for her. A shirt Claire recognized from the picture in the article about the missing tourists. The man had been wearing a garish orange Hawaiian shirt, with large purple flowers. Claire swallowed and tried not to wince.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ the vampire said. Her voice was low. ‘I will not harm the one who freed me. In fact, I mean to thank you.’
Oh. That was unexpected. Claire blinked and then finally found her voice. ‘You’re welcome,’ she whispered. ‘But I didn’t mean to…’
‘No,’ the vampire said, the corner of her mouth quirking into a smile. ‘I know you did not mean to. I could hear you, you know.’
‘You did? I mean, you were…’
‘Awake? Yes. I have been awake all this time. You… what is your name?’
‘Claire,’ Claire said before she could stop herself. Great. An immortal being that fed on human blood now knew her name. Fantastic.
‘Claire. The people who locked me into that coffin did not kill me. They merely subdued me. I have been waiting, waking, never resting, always hungry, all this time. And now you have freed me from a century of torment…’
‘… centuries of torment,’ the vampire went on, a little haltingly, ‘and I am grateful. I will not harm you.’
‘You did eat my colleague,’ Claire pointed out. ‘And two other people.’
The vampire had the grace to look a little guilty. ‘I was hungry. I… before, I never… Would you believe me if I told you that I tried to choose my, ah…’
‘I choose them very carefully,’ the vampire said. She looked distinctly uncomfortable now, biting her lip with a very pointy canine and crossing her arms over her chest. ‘I never… I never went on a rampage like this. But I was so hungry.’ She flopped down on the cathedral floor, hiding her face in her hands. ‘And I didn’t know where I was! I was so hungry and everything was so loud and everything smells weird and…’
Claire stared at the vampire as she burst into tears. ‘You went outside,’ she said slowly, her mind reeling when she thought about it. Someone who had last seen the world when it was mostly muck and hovels, with the occasional castle, now finding themselves smack dab in the middle of 21st century Paris. Once again she found she pitied the vampire more than she was scared of her.
She certainly did not look scary, sitting on her knees, wearing a comically large Hawaiian shirt and sobbing like a frightened child. Claire took a breath and before she could think about it, scooted over to put her hand on the vampire’s knee. ‘Hey,’ she said softly. ‘What’s your name?’
The vampire looked up at her with one red-rimmed eye. ‘Marie-Louise,’ she said, her breath hitching. ‘Marie-Louise Marchant.’
Claire swallowed her ‘I knew it’. Instead she gave a comforting squeeze. ‘Marie-Louise,’ she said. ‘It’s alright. I’m not here to hurt you either. I’m here to help you.’
The vampire’s sobbing stopped abruptly. She blinked, her dark eyes huge and wet and Claire felt that stab again, that pity mingled with something else. Something soft that she was not going to look at too closely right now. ‘Help me?’
‘Yes. How long until you have to eat again?’
‘Oh.’ Marie-Louise thought for a moment. ‘I… I used to eat about once a month. But I am very full now. So perhaps not for two months or more? I am not sure. I am sorry.’
‘That’s alright,’ Claire promised. ‘That’s alright. We’ll find out, in any case. Will you come with me?’
‘Come… come with you?’
‘Yes. You can’t stay here, you’ll be staked and buried again faster than you can say ‘Dracula’. Especially once they find Brandon, someone’s bound to figure out what happened.’
‘But…’ Marie-Louise frowned. ‘How… how would they… what’s a Dracula?’
Claire smiled. ‘Never mind. And they will. They will find out. So, I’ll take you out of here and if you only eat about once a month, I can probably help you with that too. Find you someone awful. I mean, tasty.’
‘You will really help me do that?’ Marie-Louise asked. ‘You will feed me your own kind?’
‘Because,’ Claire said, ‘you are an immortal being from the 14th century, and I need a primary source for my PhD thesis. Also, billionaires exist and they shouldn’t.’
'I don't understand.'
'You will. Now, are you coming? I can get us a cab… ah, a horseless carriage back to my house. You can stay there, it’s not big but it’s at least bigger than your coffin.'
For a moment they stared at each other, the vampire and the human girl sitting on the floor in the darkness of a ruined cathedral. Then Marie-Louise grinned hugely, displaying a row of very white, very sharp, very pointy teeth. ‘Very well,’ she said, standing up in one smooth movement. Claire followed a bit more clumsily. ‘I will come with you. You will show me this new world and help me?’
‘I will,’ Claire promised, holding out her hand. After only a moment’s hesitation, the vampire took it. Her grip was cool, not cold as ice but definitely not as warm as a healthy human either. Still, it felt unexpectedly pleasant in the sweltering July night. ‘But you must not say anything, to anybody. Leave everything to me until I tell you we are safe, alright?’
‘Alright,’ Marie-Louise said, but Claire was already pulling her towards the door.
The cab driver chuckled and shook his head at the two young ladies, one clad in nothing but a orange and purple shirt and leaning heavily on her friend. ‘You have good night, non?’ he said with a grin. ‘Good Friday night in Paris, oh yes!’
Claire smiled back at him and then proceeded to persuade Marie-Louise to get into the horseless carriage. This took some doing, and some sotto voce muttering but at last they were inside, seat-belted and all, and the cab drove off.
It took only a few minutes before Marie-Louise unbend from her terror enough to sit up and glance out of the window. ‘There are so many palaces,’ she muttered. She still held a death grip on Claire’s hand and her eyes were wide as she stared at the white buildings lining the brightly lit Avenue de l’Opera. ‘Everyone must be rich as a king.’
‘Not quite,’ Claire muttered back with a smile. There was something incredibly endearing about the vampire’s fear turned to wonder, and she was loath to ruin it. ‘But I’ll tell you later.’
With a sigh, Marie-Louise settled in her seat. She plucked at the seat belt for a moment, then looked up at Claire. ‘This horseless carriage smells strange.’
Claire tried not to laugh. ‘They all do. And the Metro’s even worse.’
‘What is the…’
‘Oh, alright.’ Marie-Louise went back to staring out the window. Claire went back to staring at the vampire. Her vampire now, and she would be lying if the thought was not a little thrilling.
Given that it was a Friday night in Paris, the five mile drive still took well over half an hour. Long enough for even Marie-Louise to get a little bored and slump back in her seat. She was still, however, holding on to Claire’s hand and Claire did not have the heart to pull away.
At last, they drew to a stop somewhere in the 18th Arrondissement. Claire paid the driver, then extracted Marie Louise from her seat belt and helped her out of the cab. It rumbled away into the night almost before they had had time to close the door behind them.
‘He went very fast,’ Marie-Louise remarked. ‘I did not know humans could go so fast and survive.’
Claire tried not to laugh again. ‘Yeah, that’s what they all said when engines were invited. Especially women, they said it would be very dangerous for them to get into anything that went more than 20 miles per hour.’
Marie-Louise frowned. ‘But we did just that. And you have suffered no harm.’
‘Oh.’ Marie-Louise thought for a moment. ‘Then they were wrong?’
‘Elderly white men,’ Claire began, but Marie-Louise already nodded. ‘Oh, I see. Yes. They were wrong.’
‘They always are.’
Marie-Louise snorted, an unexpectedly human sound. Claire could not help but smile. Then the vampire turned to look up at the building in front of them. ‘You live in a palace too?’
‘I wish.’ Claire shook her head. ‘I have two rooms and a kitchen to myself. And I have to share the bathroom with someone else. But it’s the best I could get, so.’
‘You have your own kitchens?’ The vampire looked impressed. ‘When I grew up, we had an oven and an open fire. You must be very wealthy indeed.’
‘Everything is relative, I suppose.’ Claire fished the keys out of her pocket and made her way up the steps to the front door. ‘Come. Let’s get you inside.’
Six months later, Claire found herself standing on the hardwood floor of a Ranch-Turned-McMansion just outside of Austin, Texas. It was nice place, if you liked opulent luxury and deer and bison heads mounted on the wall. Personally, Claire did not much care for it. It was too big. Too clean. Too styled, too not-lived-in.
She could not imagine someone leaving a crisp wrapper on the buffalo leather sofa, for instance. Or someone spilling cookie crumbs all over the sheepskin rug.
Speaking of the rug.
‘He tasted strange,’ Marie Louise said. She was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the aforementioned leather sofa and staring up at the ceiling in a daze that looked almost post-coital.
Claire should know. The memory made her smile as she looked up from the thing on the rug. ‘Strange how?’
‘Deficient,’ the vampire said. ‘Like… not real. Good, but almost too good. I’m not sure. Like I said, it’s strange.’
‘Huh.’ Claire paused. ‘Well, it might have something to do with the fact that you have to be a very strange and not-good person to become…’ She gestured at the house around them. There was an actual, honest to god, genuinely gold and crystal chandelier hanging over the coffee table. ‘… this.’
This. The son of an emerald miner in apartheid South Africa, who thought he could be an astronaut by hostile-takeovering a space company.
A man who had claimed he’d use his fortune to end world hunger if the UN could present him a plan to do so, and then never responded when the UN actually provided said plain.
A man who toyed with the value of companies like he was playing real life Monopoly, while the employees of those companies never knew from one day to the next if they would still have a job tomorrow.
Needless to say, Claire did not really feel any regret about her decision to bring Marie Louise here.
‘That might be it,’ Marie Louise conceded. She turned and gave Claire a slow, hazy smile. There was a trickle of blood in the corner of her mouth, crimson against her rosy skin. Claire’s stomach fluttered and she could not help the answering smile that spread over her own face. ‘Hey. You want to come here and taste for yourself?’
Well. Claire did not need to be told twice. She stepped over the thing on the sheepskin rug as if it wasn’t there and crouched down in front of the vampire, her vampire. ‘Hey you,’ she said, still smiling as she wiped off the blood with her thumb and then licked her thumb clean. It did taste strange, metallic and sweet and bitter. ‘Ah.’
‘Hey yourself.’ Marie Louise’s eyes were huge and dark in the expensive atmospheric lighting and Claire let herself drown in them for one long moment before bending over and kissing her. The kiss tasted of iron too, but it was sweet as well, sweet and light and cold as orange lemonade on a hot summer afternoon.
‘Come,’ Claire said after a long time. ‘We should go.’
She hoisted up Marie Louise, who was too sated and blissful to do anything but follow where Claire went. As they walked out of the room, Claire paused one last time to look back at the sheepskin rug. ‘Goodnight, asshole. And say hi to Jeff from us.’
The thing on the rug did not reply. It lay there in silence as the door closed and in the morning, there was nothing left but dust.
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