An unmarked grave stirred, as unmarked graves were rumored to do when not properly weighted with stone. This grave had been hurriedly and callously dug. As clouds swept the moon in overhead and a woman’s pleas to fight this evil drifted away, hands burst up through the ground, seeking freedom and vengeance for murder.
Three Bashi-bazouk soldiers, with hands dirtied from killings and a grave-digging, returned their friend Calab’s body to the encampment for disposal. They weren’t ready to sleep for the night, so they wandered to the shore where the sea sat lightly rippling to break the silence, the moon a sliver in the distance. The mellow fragrance of the night air swept around them in the wind.
“Such a lovely whore,” murmured Beck as he stopped to watch the sea’s ripples in the moonlight.
Toros nodded, feeling a similar stir in his loins. “I wonder what Dimitri did with her body. Do you suppose she still lived and Dimitri found her ripe for his thrust?”
“No matter, alive or dead, as long as she was limp. Most women act as though dead.” Beck swallowed hard at a sudden wet thickness in his throat.
“Oh-ho, for you maybe, for me they come alive!” Toros laughed with a thrust of his hip.
Beular paid no attention to their foreplay. “The foreboding has not left me.”
“Enough of your whining!” Beck punched Beular to the ground. “Call yourself Bashi-bazouk? Not by any proud reckoning of the word! We are fearless! We do not whine as women.”
Beular landed on his stomach in shocked surprise and sputtered with the dirt in his mouth before turning back, hands up in submission. “It is not womanly to fear a gypsy’s curse. What protection have we against air breathed with evil?”
“That was no curse.”
“She was a gypsy!” Beular stood and wiped off. “That means—”
“That meant nothing.” Beck walked across the rocks to the water’s edge. “One gypsy’s curse made one gypsy die. Now her sex, that meant something.” He walked into the sea and splashed some cool water over his sweat. “Such a body that one had! Walk on, both of you. We were promised a romp and were robbed by her unwillingness. I must quench this lingering desire.” He tossed his weapons to the shore and walked deeper into the water. “Unless one of you volunteers to service me.”
Toros laughed. “Oh no, you have never appealed to me. Come, Beular, let him have his fill of himself.” They walked on, laughing.
Alone, Beck submerged himself in the warm water and his thoughts heated his groin with pleasure, stimulated by memories of two lovers with blood mingling as they pressed their lips together. Someone was sure to write a ballad about this day and make him the hero. Heroes are well cared for, with women to feed their every desire.
Once satisfied, he swam out into deeper water, on his back first and then with easy strokes on his front. He often boasted that he learned to swim with the dolphins. No one knew that his father, in disgust over the boy’s perversions, threw him overboard to kill him. But Beck refused to die. He ignored the winged movement over him, still tingling with the ripe loosening of desire. But then it returned, a shadow too big for even an albatross. So, with caution as his natural state, Beck swam back to shore and crawled onto the rocks toward his saber.
Before he could reach it, icy cold hands grabbed his neck from behind. Beck slammed his fists against his back, but was lifted straight up off the rocks until he dangled in the air. He was flung backward but, with reflexive bazouk training, he rolled into the rocky shoreline without injury, still gripping his saber.
Beck leaped to his feet and slashed out at the darkness with the confidence of a man never having been bested. He gave a laugh and with a snort, took a stance ready to do battle. The shadow with the long arms and claws for fingers only faded as if a coward into darkness. Puzzled, Beck backed away. “Maybe the witches are out tonight.”
He turned to head back to camp, but tripped, cutting open his chest with the saber. “Aaah!” He clutched at his chest wound. “A Bashi-bazouk does not trip.” He searched the rocks for some track of lobster or perhaps a slippery otter had wrapped around his feet.
When he looked up again, Beck saw red eyes glaring at the blood on his chest and then the face of the shadowy creature leaned toward him.
“No! It cannot be you! We killed you! I saw your death!”
“You saw death? See it now.” The creature that had once been the mortal Mikos leaped onto Beck’s chest and ripped the wound open. Beck fought back, but with dwindling strength could not break the fierce weight holding him down. Beck’s screams died when the hand squeezed his neck until his eyes bulged and the wormy veins in his neck protruded.
The Vrykolakas tore at neck muscle and the blood exploded into his mouth.
As Beck died, the now undead Mikos collapsed backward in agony, hand clawing at his mouth. “What is this thing that I am? How did this happen to me?”
He grabbed at his head as the female’s voice returned. “Mikos, you did not heed the gods of the underworld and loosen your anger.”
“I did not ask for undeath!”
He leaped up and ran to escape her blame and to jump into the mortal memories of why this happened, and how might he prevent it.
Greece, 1483: Mikos fell backward on the ground, screaming, as the bat tried to get at his neck. He swatted and whacked and finally got up to run.
The ten-year-old boy had a cowardly fear of most things, especially bats, but also wanted to appear brave. So he ran to the others, bragging that he’d just beaten off a bat that tried to suck his blood.
His older brother, Myla, laughed at him and called him a liar.
With the larger part of his subconscious now conscious in death and the desire to be mortal again, the undead Mikos leaped into memories of his last mortal life.
“You have a wasp sting on your neck, boy!” Myla brushed his hand against Mikos’ neck.
“Ha! You were not there. It was a bat. A big one!”
“You are a baby with poor eyes.”
“No, bats are magical. They can change form.” Mikos heard his mother calling him and ran off.
“Saved once again by your mother’s love.” Myla watched him leave.
Undead Mikos remembered this day, the day of the Taleteller’s visit in the town of Palamas, where they lived and shopped. But why start here?
Quiet and listen, his trapped soul told him, even as the blood of Beck leaked out his death wounds.
The Taleteller was a big dark-skinned Muslim from a faraway land, or so Adrika told her son. Mikos led her through the crowd, past the markets of sweet bread, beans and fresh lamb meat.
Adrika acted rudely toward an old bum who inquired about her son, pushing past him without response. The Sultan in disguise! But Mikos could not alter the Sultan’s anger at his mother’s sudden rudeness.
The Taleteller was a big solemn black man with scars on his face, wearing a long flowing kaftan of bright orange and brown. His anger made him appear filled with great courage.
Mikos hid behind his mama as she made her purchases, and caught admiring glimpses as the big man gathered people around him with wild gestures and teasing words. Adrika found them a place with the others already in the grassy knolls and stone walkways to hear the Taleteller’s stories 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 dead.
Mikos shivered as he listened, not sensing that he was only a memory being watched, but believed he felt a cold wind from the mountains.
Mama wrapped her arms around him. “Mikos, did you see a bat?”
“No, but I am afraid Vlad Tepes Dracula will come back to eat me! They say he eats those who hear his stories.”
Mama handed him a piece of peeled cabbage leaf, but Mikos closed his eyes and shrank back as though she had just offered him a slice of human skin. She hugged Mikos and brushed back his unruly black hair. “Enough fun for one day.”
She gathered up their goods and led him out of the square without disturbing the rest of the tale.
Mikos shivered as they walked from the borough. “Mama, when will I be brave and stop fearing bats?” But he was distracted by gypsies in the road ahead who argued over a cart that had lost a wheel. “Mama, can we help them?”
Mama pulled him in a wide circle around them. “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. “Boy, did the Taleteller warn of the bhuta?”
Mikos stared at her, trying to figure out how to answer the question, until Mama hid his face so he could no longer see her. But he could still hear.
“We have followed his trail since ancient times,” she called. “Beware the blood-drinking deities!”
Mikos felt something stir inside him. “You know me, Mikos,” that female voice said to his undead self. “Just not well enough.”
When they reached their little house, Mikos stopped walking. He kicked up dirt and rocks as Mama pulled him forward against his will.
“What is wrong, little one?”
He pointed. “Papa.”
Promos came out of the house with a heavy mouth. “Vito.”
“Great Uncle Vito! He jumped off a cliff!” Mikos screamed as if he’d just seen Vito leap.
Papa pulled Mama and Mikos into his embrace, but Mama broke away and ran inside. Mikos did not want to see Vito dead. He wanted to find Myla and his sisters and play and play and play.
Papa led them to the back of the house to a corpse on the ground wrapped in wool.
“I cannot be here to see your next birthday, little soldier,” Vito said to Mikos only the day before. He always called him “little soldier.” Mikos never asked him why.
I should have asked why! Undeath is a curse given me for being a coward?
Mikos asked Papa if Vito killed himself, and Promos said no. Then Papa rubbed his boy’s head and started to sob. He kept sobbing and Mikos, thinking Promos mourned Uncle Vito, sobbed with him.
He had loved Great Uncle Vito, too, because Vito answered questions with blunt sincerity. One night, as they observed the intricacies of the campfire, Vito coaxed him to see his 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?”
“Your blood is your family, those who gave you life. Guard both your blood and your soul well.”
Mikos promised Vito that he would, even though he did not understand against what. “Uncle?” he 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 have three copies of the older cover novel available at $10 each, and you can get it from me with the new cover for $13 each, plus shipping (no international, sorry). It's $14.99 online (just lowered the price there today 2/24/18.)
Contact me for your autographed copy at email@example.com