by Robert A. Mitchell
I randomly snapped this photo of a Memphis sunrise about twenty years ago. I had just finished working the night shift at the grocery store. The exhaustion of working all night washed over me. My legs felt ensconced in concrete, every step was a concerted effort. The night had been particularly steeped in bullshit. One guy quit. Another dude called in sick ten minutes prior to the shift. Our normal six-guy crew was down to four. On top of all that, the truck with the groceries was an hour late. We were working behind the eight-ball and employed by a complete asshole. One thing I do not miss was the self-induced stress brought on by that fucking job. The fact that we finished unloading the truck, stocking the shelves and presented the store just prior to the shift ending was a minor miracle. Anyways, back to that sunrise. The early Saturday morning streets were devoid of life. The city was mine. I rounded the corner on to Union street and came face-to-face with the full brilliance of the morning. It was absolutely stunning in its radiance. Perfectly blinding. I’m glad my instincts were to take a picture. It would be the last sunrise I would ever set my eyes on.
At the time I was working six nights a week. Saturday night was my only night off. I usually stayed up for several hours and slept most of the night like a normal person. The day would be spent with my eyes feeling heavy with sleep and fighting the overwhelming urge to… Just. Fall. Asleep. I whittled the hours of the day away watching bad movies, washing the dishes and doing my laundry. On that day though, I resolved to actually go to sleep when I got to my bachelor apartment. I was growing tired of feeling like a zombie with no social life. I arrived at my apartment building, the elevator was not working as usual so I walked up the five flights of stairs. As soon as I unlocked the door, I did not bother getting undressed but flopped on the unmade bed and fell into a long dream-filled torpor.
I awoke. My flat was enshrouded in complete darkness. I lied in my bed slowly opening and closing my eyes My fore-fingers went to work removing the hardened bits of rheum that formed at the edges of my eyes. Losing the day and waking up well after the sunset, I was completely disoriented. My limbs felt as though they were in a semi-paralysis. It took several minutes for me to get my bearings. I rolled over and glanced at the flashing red L.E.D. lights from my alarm clock. It was 9:43 pm. I sat up and reached for my pack of cancer-sticks. I lit one up and inhaled and then blew out a long plume of smoke. The cigarette felt good. I noticed the red light on my voice machine blinking. I hit play. The tape clicked and then began to unwind.
“Yeah, hey man. Just calling to see if you were still down for hanging out tonight. We’re going to be out, probably start on Beale street but get out of there quick. Anyways, let me know. Ricardo”
Finally mustering up the motivation to get moving, I stumbled towards the bathroom and the standup shower. I cranked the hot water and nearly jumped out of my skin. I finished, toweled off and dressed. I decided to walk my way over to Beale.
The cool air in early March chilled me, and I zipped up my hoodie. The streets were quiet. Walking past Sun Studio I could make out the sounds of a band recording. Further on I saw a van baring blue and white Michigan plates. A guy was leaning against the van. I gave him the head nod. He nodded back.
“Excuse me, can I trouble you for a cigarette?” He asked.
“Sure.” I reached into my jeans and procured my lighter. He drew a cigarette to his lips. I lit his smoke. He puffed on the smoke until the tip glowed orange. Ash fell off.
“Thanks. My first time in Memphis. We drove down from Ypsilanti yesterday.”
“Cool. I then lit a cigarette of my own. “What do you think of the city?”
“I love the vibe of this place. We’re recording a demo tonight.”
“Yeah, then we’re heading down to Austin to play South by Southwest.”
“What kind of music ya play?”
“Straight up rock and roll. That’s why we really wanted to record here.”
“Cool. Best of luck.” I finished my smoke and tossed it to the gutter.
As I got closer to Beale street the amount of people increased. The basketball game must have just let out judging by how much blue and white apparel everyone was wearing. Based on their excitement, Memphis won. I arrived at the usual juke joint and met Ricardo. The place was bopping. A blues band was in the middle of their set. Several people were dancing around the stage. The room was bathed in hues of red and blue. My head was swirling making the adjustment to the loud acoustics and immediate rise in temperature. It took effort to make my way towards the bar. I stood at the bar scanning the room looking for a familiar face as well as looking for an opening to get a beer from the bartender. Spending most of my life in a supermarket working with several people in the middle of the night it’s always an overwhelming experience to be in a tiny space packed with people. It is in moments like this I realize how out of touch with the world I am. I began to feel the anxiety. I left.
I shivered as the cool night air surrounded me. I instinctively wandered towards the river. The smell of the Mississippi hit me as I got closer. Where was I in life? What was I doing? Thirty-one. Working for twelve bucks an hour in a grocery store. No friends. No girlfriend. Alone.
“Hey Mister. You got some spare change?” A voice invaded my reverie.
“Uh…” I fumbled in my pocket and my fingers found the crumbled up bills I was going to use to buy a beer earlier. “Here.”
The guy took the money and thumbed through the bills.
“Thanks brother. Thanks! God bless.”
He wandered off into the night. I walked back into town. As I passed a bar I looked inside. A couple of guys sat on stools. I entered and took up a seat at the end of the bar. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ At Midnight” was playing over the speakers.
“What’ll it be?” The bartender asked.
“Uh….I don’t….a PBR.”
The bartender brought the beer over. I took a sip. It was the first of many. Five beers later, a woman walked in to the bar. She was tall and slender. Her skin was like alabaster. Looking at her eyes was like looking at two large orange harvest moons. She sat beside me. She smelled like vanilla.
“Hi.” She said.
The bartender came over.
“Good evening. What’ll you have?” He asked.
“Oh I don’t know, how’s your Manhattan?”
“To be honest, rusty. Can’t say I’ve made many of those round here.”
“Well, let’s see how it goes. I’ll take a Manhattan.”
She looked over at me.
“My name is Alice. What’s yours?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Steve. You from Memphis?”
“Yes. Well, I moved here several years ago. You….are you from here?”
“No, just passing through. I love music, so I’ve always enjoyed my time here. What do you do?”
The bartender set down a coaster and the Manhattan. Alice swirled the cherry around the drink.
“I work nights in a grocery store.”
“Nights. That must be a drag.”
“Yes, yes it can be. I’m also a writer.”
“Ah, a writer! Anything I may have read?”
“No, not yet anyways.”
“Persistence. You’ll get there. If that’s what you really want.”
Our conversation flowed with ease. I felt quite at ease and comfortable speaking my inner most thoughts to Alice. The bartender came over.
“It’s just about closing time.”
“What’s the damage?” Alice asked. He set down a receipt. She looked it over. “I’ll get Steve’s tab also.”
“You don’t have to do that.” I said
“Nonsense, my pleasure.” She handed the bartender a black card. He returned with another receipt and a pen. She signed her name. A large bubbly signature.
“Thanks!” I said.
“Where to next?” Alice asked.
“I was going to head home.”
“How are you getting there?”
“Cool. It’s such a beautiful night; I’ll walk with you.”
We wound through the people walking and carrying giant plastic cups of beer on Beale street. Music from several juke joints, bars, clubs filling the night air. A giant circle of people were surrounding a troupe of three guys who were in the middle of an act comprised of juggling sticks of fire and doing gymnastic flips.
“Memphis is a really magical town isn’t it.” Alice said more as a fact than posing me a question.
“Show me your Memphis. Anyone can wander Beale street.”
“I don’t know if I have anywhere cool to show you.”
“Oh, come on now Steve. Don’t hold back on me. You tell me you write. You can’t do all of your writing in a tiny bachelor apartment.”
“I like the river.”
“Take me there.”
We left the lights of downtown and made our way towards the river. Somewhere along the way, we held hands. My heart began racing, and I felt dizzy with excitement. We walked along the edge of the river, past the faux steamboats moored alongside one another for the night.
“What do you write about?” Alice asked.
I thought for a bit. “Life. I write scenes from my life. However it can be quite uneventful most times so there are large stretches where I am not writing anything at all.”
“So, you need some inspiration.”
Alice stopped walking. “Kiss me.”
“Kiss me Steve.”
“It….it’s been quite some…..”
Her hands grabbed my face and brought me towards her. We kissed. It felt as though every nerve in me had simultaneously awakened. I was on fire. I was alive.
“Let’s get out here.” Alice purred as her lips grazed my ear.
“We can go back to where you’re staying.”
“No. Your place.”
“It’s…it’s a fucking dump…”
“I don’t care.”
We hurried back towards town. It took some time, but we got in a cab at Alice’s insistence and made our way to my place. I unlocked the front lobby door and held it open for her.
“We’re going to have to walk the stairs. The elevators broken.”
Once at my apartment it took no time at all. We were naked. Alice became animalistic. She threw me on to the bed. She straddled me. Furiously and rapidly kissing me. It felt as though she was attacking me. She began to lick and kiss my neck. She made loud noises with her nose as though she were sniffing me.
“I’m sorry Steven. You seem like such a nice boy.” She then hissed and bared what looked to be large fangs. She drove towards my neck. All I felt was pain. The worst pain I have ever felt. It was as though two large knives broke my skin and slowly, ever so slowly inched deeper and deeper into my neck. I began to thrash around. Alice calmly held me down. That’s all I remember. I blacked out.
I woke up. Alone. In the bathtub. The apartment was completely dark. My eyes immediately adjusted to the darkness. I sat up and looked around. It was hard to discern how much time had passed since Alice was here. I instinctually knew it was at least a couple of days. The red L.E.D. numbers on the alarm clock blinked 1:33 am. The red light also blinked on my answering machine. I got up and felt extremely weak. I hit play.
“Uh…hey man….it’s Ricardo. We’re all at the store wondering if you are coming in tonight.” Click.
“Hey, Ricardo again. You okay? Call me.” Click
“Good morning, Steve. It’s Mr. Gilling. I’m calling about your no show, no call last night. If you still want a job, I suggest you call and talk to me soon. Bye.” Click.
“It’s Mr Gilling. We are clearly getting the message here, Steve. Call me.” Click
“Hey dude. Ricardo. Yeah, people around here are getting pretty pissed. The night crew is cursing you up and down and well, Gilling wants your head on a platter.”
“Okay Steve, you’re fired.” Click
I got up and slowly dressed. I felt the side of my neck and did not feel any marks. Did I dream of Alice? Did anything happen? My mind was so hazy.
I then did what I always did. Walk to the grocery store. The walk took forever. I was so weak. I walked passed the night cashier and walked along the back of the store looking up the aisles. The guys were opening up boxes and hastily grabbing items and stocking the shelves. I finally spotted Ricardo working on the canned soups. I slowly approached him.
“Hey dude.” I said
He wheeled around. His box cutter in his hand. His eyes looked me over. It took a couple of seconds. Then the recognition flashed across his eyes.
“What in the fuck.” Ricardo said. “Yo man. What’s the story? I never thought I was going to see you again.”
“I don’t know.”
“You alright? You don’t look so hot.”
“I don’t feel so good.”
“You need to go the hospital?”
“I don’t think so.”
“So the guys are pissed at me?”
“That’s an understatement. I tried getting you on the phone. I left a couple of messages. After a week everyone calmed down. Then people started talking crazy shit, like maybe you got murdered or something.”
“You think I can get my job back?”
Ricardo started laughing. “Nope. Gilling never liked you in the first place.”
“I should get a move on. I’ve been gone a week?”
“Almost two weeks now.”
“Shit. That’s fucked up.”
“No shit dude. You going to be okay?”
“To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck I am right now.”
“Keep in touch.”
I left the store, avoiding the the really noisy night cashier. I pulled the hood up on my sweater and walked and walked and walked. Thinking. Or whatever tattered thinking patterns were weaving in my brain. My thoughts began and evaporated just as quickly. It actually felt as though I was a complete stranger inhabiting myself. Yeah. That makes no sense. Was there any sense anymore? Off in the horizon the black sky was beginning to take on a slight bluish hue. Something–call it instinct–propelled me to get home as soon as fucking possible. Nothing else mattered. Get. The. Fuck. Home. Shelter. Safety. Survival.
I got to the apartment lobby. Even in my weakened condition, I tore up the stairs. I made it. I sat on my bed. Birds began chirping outside. The sky was changing. Bluish hue gave towards violet, to pink, to reddish hue. Slowly and suddenly my skin felt as though it was on fire. Again. Instinct. Get. The Fuck. Away. From. The. Light. I ran towards the bathroom. I grabbed towels and stuffed them along the crack at the bottom of the door. No where else to sleep but the bathtub and crawled into it and fell asleep.
I awoke. I assume it was the next night. It then hit me. Hard. The CRAVING. Blood. I. Need. BLOOD. Am I going fucking crazy? What happened to me! BLOOD. I NEED BLOOD. I screamed. How in the hell am I going to get blood? I’m not a killer. My insides hurt. The worst cramps of my life. I crawled out of the tub and stumbled out of the apartment. I began to walk the sidewalks. My eyesight was perfectly adjusted to the night. My senses were extremely heightened. I could smell everything. I could hear everything. I have no idea what schizophrenia feels like but perhaps this was it? The sirens finally faded away.
A foreign instinct was taking ahold of me. Guiding me. It felt older then anything I could possibly ever know. I trusted it. To trust the instinct was to survive. That’s all that mattered now. Survival.
I heard a dog barking. I headed towards it. Some fences stood between me and the dog. I not so much climbed them as I vaulted over them like an olympic athlete. I arrived in someone’s backyard. The dog stood before me. A large Golden Retriever. It began to bark and howl at me. Then guttural noises took over.
“Ssssshhhhhh. It’s going to be okay boy.”
I lunged towards the dog. It began to try and bite me. Picking up the dog as it was violently trying to repel me took no effort on my part. The dog sensing things were not going to go it’s way began to whimper. As though it was begging with me to spare it. The dog was negotiating with a humanity that was no longer there. I broke the dog’s neck and bared my fangs and bore them into the dog. Its blood entering me. The warmth. I felt alive. I threw the emptied corpse to the ground and hopped over the fence. I began to wander. The haziness of my mind subsided. I felt good. I felt peace. I felt sickened. What the fuck did I just do? You survived. You did exactly what you had to do. You survived.
The blood of the dog satiated me for a night. Instinct. I knew I had to fortify against the light. I went to a 24 hour home improvement store. Many times walking past this store I would wonder, who in the fuck is in need of this shit at four in the morning? I laughed. I acquired black paint and rollers. Hitting up a corner store I picked up tin foil. A lot of tin foil. Once back at the apartment, I attacked the windows with paint. The tin foil would have to wait until the paint was dry. Instinct. This apartment was only temporary. I needed better, more secluded dwellings. Preferably in the earth. A basement. Safety. Survival. Instinct. Taking no chances I went to the bathroom to sleep.
The weeks that followed, I hunted more dogs. I killed so many that it had made the local evening news. My craving for blood was getting less and less satisfied. There was a secondary urging, the thrill of the hunt. Grabbing someone’s pet just doesn’t really pose much of a challenge. Instinct. Humans. The very thought made me ill. Some nights after rising I would just pace back and forth all night. My mind going to places I really could not control. Slowly I was accepting my next progression. My bloodlust was propelling me and the excitement of the kill was palpable.
I thought of my old boss at the grocery store.
He usually leaves the supermarket well before the sun sets. Eventually I just walked over to the grocery store in the middle of the night and got his phone number and home address.
The next night, I set out for the house of my former boss. He lived outside of the city and I drove out. My mind began wandering. What about his family. I don’t want to kill anybody I don’t have to kill. Have to kill? Humans are a plague. A pest. Kill them all. Kill. Them. All. You are a god.
The closer I was getting to the house the more my bloodlust kicked in. I became uncontrollably giddy. I arrived and parked a couple of hours away. I walked over to the house and cased it out. I went to the backdoor and tried the knob. It was locked. I looked under the mat. There was one tiny little bronze key. I picked it up. Stupid humans. I inserted the key and turned it. Click. I opened the door. An alarm went off. Loud buzzing sounds. Fuck. I could hear stirring above me. I stood in the kitchen and waited. It took about two minutes but in walked a very frantic Jim Gilling holding a handgun. He spotted me and immediately shot. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He emptied the clip. Two bullets hit me. I hit the tiled floor hard.
He was stunned. He slowly approached. He stood over top of me and leaned over.
I jumped up. He jumped back clutching his chest. Struggling for breath. Chest heaving violently.
“Oh my God, Oh my God. Holy FUCK!!!!!! Holy fuck! Holy fuck!”
It took a little while for the wheels to turn in his head.
“Steve….is that you?”
“What in the fuck are you doing here?”
“I came to kill you.”
No pleading. No begging.
“Where is your wife and kids?”
“Not here. We’re separated. How are you even standing?”
“Ha, that’s a long story.”
The sheer terror gave way to a sliver of rationality. He stood up and bolted. I looked on amused. Running through the house toward the front door, he ran smack dab into a coffee table and fell. I felt like a giant puma stalking a mouse. I walked towards him, taking my time and savoring the moment. I stood above a man who once had so much power over me. I am a god.
“Any last words?”
“I…..I…I regret everything.”
My fangs shot out. I dove into his neck. My fangs broke the skin and I began sucking. Oh! Ohhhhh. Oh fuck yes! The blood felt so good. At some point I had more than my fill, but I kept sucking and sucking until I could not take anymore.
I stood up.
Dizzy. Woozy. My insides stirred. I heaved. Then threw up. Blood. So much blood everywhere.
I sat down.
Slowly the bloodlust controlling me gave way to my usual thought process. I had just killed a man. I didn’t feel good or bad about it. Just indifferent.
I looked over the house and took any loose cash I found. I am now something vastly different but I am still existing in a human world. I looked over the scene. How anyone would make sense of the chaos of that living room made me smirk. I headed back to my car. I took the long way back.
Once the stories about murdered and missing dogs made headlines, I had become obsessed with watching the news. Now that I killed my first human, upon waking the next night, I turned on the TV. “Murdered Local Businessman” was the top story at eleven. “Police are investigating a scene that words cannot possibly describe. A violent and chaotic murder that took place in a usually quiet neighborhood. Police are asking for assistance from the community. If anyone has any information, please come forward and contact authorities.”
My appetite currently in check — even with the amount of blood I lost throwing up — I stayed in for a couple of nights. On the third night after killing my former boss, I wandered over to the grocery store to see the mood of my co-workers. I wore a baseball cap and sunglasses. I did not want their recognition of me to taint their current mood. They seemed to be happier, giddy even. They yelled over each other across the aisles and seemed to be moving faster, actually enjoying work. I walked out happy. I am a god.
I have come to learn that about five nights without feeding is about as much as I can push things before getting very weak. One of the nice things about Memphis is the high turnover of people passing through. Tourists, musicians, truck drivers, transients. People who could wind up missing and dead but the local heat would cool off faster. The less humans and their puny desires of justice interfere with my world the better. My instincts and survival mechanisms get honed and stronger with each passing day.
There was one night I had been in desperate need to feed. I wound up in one of my favorite blues clubs. A band was on stage. There may have been six musicians up there but I only saw one. The lead singer. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. She was mine.
I saw a poster that informed me that she and the band was performing here for two more nights. As much as I needed blood I saw her sing the next couple of nights. Though I sat in the back shrouded from the people and lights of the club, she saw me too.
After the band’s last set, they began taking down and packing up their equipment. Then she approached.
“Hey. You must really like our music.” She grinned.
“I really like the singer.”
“You’re too kind, thank you.” She said blushing.
“My name is Steve. What’s your name?”
“Why don’t you join me for a drink?”
“I really ‘ppreciate that. But I should help the fellows with the load out.”
“Oh, they’re big boys. They can handle it.”
“You know what, you’re right. Let’s grab that drink.”
“Let’s get out of here. I know a great place just across the street.”
“Sure, that sounds good.”
We walked outside. I took her hand and ran with her past some passing cars to the bar across the street. We took a booth. Michelle and I talked. Our conversation flowed with ease. We spoke about politics, art, music. I got lost in her voice. She was extemely funny. It has been so long since I had a good laugh. My loneliness rose to the surface. Perhaps I could turn her. Make her like me. We could spend eternity together. I couldn’t do that. Put this curse on her. Yes I can. I am a god. Yes.
“I should be getting back.” Michelle said.
We walked outside.
“This being my last night here and all, why don’t we take a walk down by the river and see a Memphis sunrise together.”
My heart broke.
“What about the band?” I asked
“Shoot, they’re probably passed out in the tour bus by now.”
“You know, no word of a lie, you are indeed the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
“Thank you.” She said and curtsied.
“Let’s take that walk miss.”
I took her hand and we walked down towards the Mississippi. It was a clear night. You could see all the stars in the sky. We reached the shore line. The water touching our shoes. I turned her to me and leaned in. We kissed.
“Michelle, I’m sorry.”
I then bared my fangs and attacked her neck. It felt so good. Her blood was so delicious, so alive. The thought crossed my mind to keep her alive and turn her. But it passed. I took my fill of her and then eased my fangs out of her veins. I then looked into her questioning eyes as she gurgled blood in her last breaths of air on this planet. I then broke her neck.
My routines for survival continued unabated. I killed and killed. However Michelle stayed with me.
I viciously killed someone so vibrant, so alive, so beautiful. Someone whom I entertained the thought that I could actually love. A foolish notion. There is no love in my existence.
I wandered the streets. Alone.
One night, I found myself at my old apartment. I hadn’t been there in years. I reached the lobby. Looks like the elevator was finally working. I pressed the button and rode it up to the top floor. I walked past apartments, quiet in the late night. At the end of the hallway was a door leading to the roof. I opened it. On the roof I looked at Memphis about to stir in another hour. Delivery trucks lined side streets. Far off in the eastern horizon I saw the beginnings of the oncoming sunrise. I wanted to see a Memphis sunrise again.
I dozed off. It was the birds chirping furiously around me that woke me. Closely followed by red hot searing pain. I opened my eyes and could barely see. The sun had risen. My flesh was slowly burning. It was a much more intense and sustained pain than the night the vampire bit me.
I jumped up and bolted back inside the building and stumbled to the elevator. I hit the button to the basement. Far past the laundry room was a tiny janitor’s closet. I got in and barricaded myself inside. Many hours later my internal clock woke me once the night had returned. I left and headed back to my current safe house. I carry the scars from that morning forever.
I fell into a routine. Days turned into months. Months into years. Time is a human construct that now means nothing to me. I am going to live forever.
Sometimes a feeling stirs from deep inside me and hits me like a tidal wave. The loneliness. It is crushing. I am powerful beyond any human concept. I am immortal. However the need for companionship is like an anchor. Sometimes it has such a hold on me I stay in my safe confines far underground, far removed from people. It is only the all consuming need for blood that stirs me enough to move among humanity.
When I was a human, I was oftentimes broke, lonely, stuck in my dead-end job. However I had hope. Hope that things would get better. I would change my situation. Find someone to love. Since I have become this thing my emotions swirl in a vortex of catatonic despair.
I like to cling to the idea that I still possess traits of being good but that is foolish. I am an energy of pure instinct.
Some nights I go back to that night in the bar. Meeting Alice. That thing that created me. I oftentimes think that I was a mistake. She did not kill me properly. I was supposed to die but I stayed alive just long enough to turn. In my travels I have never come across another thing like me. I have taken to calling myself a vampire but of course I cannot be sure. There was a period where I watched all of the movies and the books but that is a world of human fiction. I am something else.
I am a god.
I am an animal.
I am oftentimes haunted by my memories and feelings of what it was like to be alive. To be human. Quite sometime ago I printed out that picture of the Memphis sunrise and posted it up near my bed so that it was the first thing I would see upon waking. I think it is my soul.