Something in the Blood by Richard Purtill

I always arrive at Franco's Bar just after sunset. In the summer there is still light in the sky and on the water; the lights flick on in the town and gleam from the few boats you can see far down the cliff, on the ocean that fills the ancient volcanic caldera. Classical music wells out of the hidden loudspeakers at Franco's, a little too loud but all the more compelling for that.

I sat down at my usual table, and the tall, dark young waiter brought me my usual ouzo and mezedes in silence. As I took my first sip of ouzo, I saw her at the next table. The way she was sitting brought her head just in line with the stone harpy on the corner of the terrace, and my first reaction was a purely aesthetic pleasure at the juxtaposition of the soft young face of flesh and the ageless face of stone. Then I realized that the faces were alike in a deeper way. No face that young and beautiful should wear such helpless resignation, an expression that made her seem as ageless and as alien as the harpy.

When she turned to me and spoke, the expression was gone. Had I only imagined it, was it an illusion born of my own despair? "This must be the most beautiful place in the world," she said, her voice filled with wonder. "It was beautiful in the day, but now it's magical."

"I prefer it after the sun goes down, myself," I said. I couldn't quite keep the irony out of my voice, and she gave me a puzzled look. I had better give her an explanation she could accept. "The sun is my enemy," I told her. "My skin is very sensitive to sunlight. But even aside from that, I find the sunlight on our volcanic rock and ash too harsh. In the day, Santorini seems to me too bleak, too unfriendly to humans."

She nodded with a thoughtful expression. "I see what you mean," she said. "There is something eerie and a little frightening about Santorini for all its beauty. But you said 'our rocks'; are you a native of the island?"

"I've lived here a long time," I said, "and I consider it my home, but the local people still don't really accept me as one of them. Still, I probably know more about Santorini than most of the people who were born here. Is there anything I can tell you about the island or its history?" It was the first move in a familiar game, a game I had played with many of the young female tourists who streamed through the island every summer, enhancing my life and making the long winter bearable because of what I had gotten from them. But very few of them were as lovely as this girl, or as charming. Had I only imagined that deep sadness in her eyes?

She laughed a little self-consciously and said, "Oh, it's absurd, you'll laugh at me, but I am curious about... Well, do the local people really believe these stories about Santorini? I mean, someone on the mainland warned me about coming here; she was really serious. She said... well, she said that there were vampires on Santorini. Now you'll laugh."

I smiled and said lightly, "Oh, no, it's a well-known fact that we have vampires and all sorts of weird creatures. Take the man sitting down there on the lower terrace, the one with the bushy eyebrows. He's a werewolf. Only the other day he told me a sad story. He tried to save money by taking the ferry to Athens in wolf form-- he can pass for a very large German shepherd. But the steward saw him and put an iron chain around his neck before he knew what the man was up to. He spent most of the night tied up on deck with no food or water. If a softhearted English tourist hadn't let him loose, he might have been put in the dog pound in Piraeus."

She laughed. "All right, I asked for it," she said. "I guess my grandmother told me too many ghost stories when I was a kid. I still half believe that stuff. You tell a pretty mean story yourself, Mr..."

"Nikolas Tsouras," I told her. "Please call me Niko. And you are...?"

"Ann Morris," she said, "and I am very pleased to meet you. Let me ask you a more personal question, Niko. Can you get anything to eat here? I'm getting awfully hungry; I've been sightseeing too hard to eat much."

I shook my head. "There's a cold plate on the menu," I told her, "but usually they say they're out of it. I often just nibble at the mezedes all evening-- the little appetizers they bring you with the ouzo. But if you're really hungry, there are several good restaurants nearby. Let me take you to one."

She looked at me for a long moment while I tried to keep the predatory gleam out of my eyes, then she nodded. "All right," she said with a strange little smile. "After all, what did I come to the Greek islands for, if I'm going to turn down an invitation like that from a tall, dark, handsome stranger with an interesting pallor. Let's go."

I took her to Zorba's for dinner; a noisy, lively place where the waiters are friendly and the food is good. Ann enjoyed the food and the wine in a way that seemed to have a curious urgency to it, as if she hadn't eaten or drunk for a long time or expected not to for a long time. But though her enthusiasm was a little frantic, it was also delightful: she seemed charmingly eager to enjoy everything-- the food, the night air, the cheerfully impudent little boy who served as our busboy and wine waiter.

"I like to see kids doing something useful," she said. "At home they seem to think the world owes them perpetual entertainment. And of course in America they'd never let a kid this young work in a restaurant where they serve drinks, much less bring the wine and open it for you. By the way, the wine is delicious; I'm really sold on your Santorini wines."

This was my chance. I told her about out Santorini wine industry, about how our volcanic soil gives a special taste to the wine. Then I said casually, "I live in an old converted winery, and have a little cellar of vintage wines that were grown within a kilometer or so of my home. Perhaps you'd like to see my house sometime and taste some of the wines."

She hesitated, and I could see her getting ready to say "No"; she wasn't the sort of woman who'd normally accept an invitation like that so soon after meeting a man. then she looked at me and gave me a strangely sad little smile. "Why not?" she said. "I don't have much time lest, and after all..."

"After all, why did you come to the Greek islands," I teasingly finished her sentence for her. She laughed and rose to her feet. "Let's go," she said. I'll always remember Ann that first night saying "Let's go," to every suggestion, with that strange little note of recklessness, almost desperation in her voice.

There were no taxis to be had at that time of night, so we walked to Theotocopolous Square and took the local bus out to my village. At a stop just outside of town, Old Mavrodontes got on, and as soon as he saw me started cursing and abusing me in his high, cracked voice. "Vrykolakas!" he yelled, "Vrykolakas!" the conductor hustled him to the back of the bus, with an apologetic smile to Ann. If I had been alone, he would not have interfered between myself and old Mavrodontes. But Ann was a foreigner, and in Greece the foreigner is a guest, not to be bothered with local feuds.

"What was that all about?" Ann asked, a little shaken by the old man's vehemence.

I shrugged. "I'm not very popular with some of my neighbors," I told her. "When I converted the old winery to a home, some people lost jobs, though the ones who really wanted to found work elsewhere easily enough. Some felt injured because they had to go a few kilometers to work at other wineries instead of just walking down the road. And some people would like to buy my winery and put it back into production. The wine business is booming here."

"You seem to be proud of your local wines, but you let me drink most of that bottle at dinner," she said. "Of course you might have had ulterior motives for that," she added dryly.

"I don't drink much," I said, "not much wine, at any rate." Again I couldn't keep the irony out of my voice, and she gave me a thoughtful look, but said no more. When wee got to my little village, we got off the bus to the accompaniment of a last stream of abuse from Mavrodontes and walked up the little lane to my home. I unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and turned to usher Ann in.

She was looking at the little graveyard next to my house with a strange expression on her face, but when I touched her arm she smiled at me and seemed suddenly full of energy and gaiety. I put some records on my stereo, and we danced and tasted my wine and dances again. At the end of the last record, she put her arms around my neck and kissed me lingeringly. "Is that the bedroom behind that door?" she asked softly. "Let's go."

At first her lovemaking had that some frantic quality I had seen in her before, but after the first time she grew calmer and it was slow and sweet and good-- better than it had been for me in a long, long time. At last she seemed to sleep, but when I raised myself on my elbow and looked down on her face, her eyes opened. "All right," she said, "go ahead." She leaned her head back so that her throat arched, and smiled that curious smile.

"Go ahead?" I said, pretending to be puzzled. She laughed softly.

"Niko, I told you that my grandmother filled my head with stories-- not just stories, either; she knew. I think she was half a witch herself. From the stories my grandmother told me, you've got to be a vampire. Your face is pale, your lips are red, your teeth are sharp. You don't like the sun, and you come out only at night. You live next door to a graveyard, and the local people all act a little leery of you, except that old man. The name he called you means vampire, doesn't it? I ran across it somewhere reading about Greek legends and superstitions. Except they aren't just superstitions, are they? Go ahead, take my blood it that's what you want, what you need. I don't mind. Perhaps later I'll tell you why."

"All right, my dear," I said quietly. "But I won't mark your lovely throat. It's much better here." I bent over her thigh, found the femoral artery and entered it with one quick bite. She shuddered, and shuddered again when after drinking deep I withdrew. The wounds closed quickly-- something in my saliva has that effect-- but not before a few drops of blood had trickled out. She looked at them and then at me.

"That was... kind of kinky, but I could get to like it," she said. "You really are a real..."

"Vrykolakas," I said. "You didn't really believe it, did you? But there's something else hard to believe. You're dying, aren't you? Something in your blood is killing you slowly; I can feel it in what I drank."

Tears welled from her eyes; she made no effort to wipe them away, but lay there naked and defenseless with the tears running down her face. "Oh, Niko, will my blood hurt you?" she asked brokenly. "I didn't really want that. It was like a story I was telling myself; you were a vampire, but I'd fool you because my blood was... bad. I didn't think that..."

I shook my head; the familiar warmth was tingling in my body, and I knew that whatever was wrong in her blood did not affect the use my body made of it. There are advantages in being one of the Undead. "No poison can harm me," I told her, "including, it seems, whatever deadly thing is in your blood. Now I know why you seemed to be grasping so frantically at enjoyment. How long did the doctors give you?"

"They told me a month before I began to get really sick," she said. "And I felt that I'd never lived at all. I quit my job, sold everything I could sell, even borrowed money. I suppose that's dishonest; I'll never live to pay it back. Then I came here to the Greek islands, the place I'd always dreamed of visiting. If I was going to have only a month, at least for that month I wanted to live . Then I met you ..." She touched the almost-healed wounds on her thigh with wonder on her face. "Will I become a vampire now?" she asked. "What's it like to be a vampire?"

"So long as I only take your blood, no, you will not become what I am," I said. "I would have to reverse the flow and give you some of mine-- quite a bit, in fact. Then the parasite that makes me what I am would grow in you, and your body would adapt. What flows in my veins is not exactly blood, but it combines with blood, even diseased blood like yours. The mixture is very powerful. My body heals itself from almost any wound, casts off every disease. And so long as I get new blood periodically, I will never die. There are disadvantages, of course; my skin has no melanin at all, and I could get a serious sunburn from being out in the sun only a short time. But I'm sensitive to cold and damp, too. That's why I live in this climate."

"And during the day..." she began, then hesitated.

I laughed, "Lie down in my grave?" I said. "Well, in a way. Even a tiny bit of light or noise can bother me when I try to sleep, and I have a little sleeping room fixed up in the family crypt in the graveyard next door. It has to look like a real crypt in case anyone ever gets in there, but it's very snug and comfortable. Want to see it?"

"Let's go," she said a little shakily, and began to dress. I started to help her, and that caused some delay, but eventually we were dressed again and walked out of the house into the little graveyard. Someone had been taking out his hostility to me on the tomb that covered the crypt-- Mavrodontes or one of the others. The little ornamental chain that made a sort of fence around the top of the tomb had been wrenched from its supports and lay in a heap on the top of the tomb, and someone had battered the little frame that was supposed to hold a picture of the person most recently buried in the crypt. I used to put a mirror in the frame so that anyone looking to see the face of the dead would see his own face. But no one liked my little joke, and the mirror was always broken. I no longer replaced the mirror, but they still battered the frame.

Ann looked at the tomb and bit her lip. "Do the local people hate you so much?" she asked in a small voice. "Do you..."

I shook my head. "No, I leave the locals strictly alone," I said. "There are always a few young tourist girls who can spare some blood and think the whole experience is a rather kinky thrill. Half of them don't even realize what's happening, or what I am. Most of the local people know about us, though some pretend not to. Some are quite decent to me. I'll have to ask Father Athanasius [Note: athanasia means "without death"] to preach another sermon about the wickedness of desecrating graves-- even mine."

Ann was hurt by what I had said about tourist girls-- there was no way she couldn't be. But she said nothing about that, only asked in a steady voice, "You said the local peoples know about 'us'-- are there others... like you... here?"

I shrugged. "Not so many now as there once were, and some of them have grown very strange over the long years. There are those of them who take no food and drink at all, except blood. If you do that, your body changes in some ways I don't find pleasant. I try to keep at least some hold on humanity. The girls are as much for that as for the blood. But whether you believe this or not, Ann, you are much different from the others for me-- very different."

"I believe you, Niko," Ann said quietly. "We have something in common, you and I. We both have something in our blood that's-- different. Mine won't let me live, but yours won't let you die. I thought my problem was as bad as could be, but I'm not sure yours isn't worse."

In all the years, she was the only one who had come close to understanding, and my voice was not quite under control as I said, "The loneliness is the worst. I don't dare to love anyone. If they are not what I am, they will go and die and my loneliness would be worse than before. And I could never bear to make anyone else what I am, as some of the others have done. How could they help but hate me when they realized what I had condemned them to?"

Ann looked at me for a long time in silence. Then she said in an oddly expressionless voice, "Show me where you sleep during the day." The little moment of closeness was over; perhaps it had never really existed. Her problem gave her some insight to mine, but not enough. To be condemned to death is easier than to be condemned to life.

I led her to the little slab near the tomb that gave access to the crypt. The slab was carved with a skull and a motto in Greek. "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity," I translated for her. "Plenty of people believe that now, but they don't dare remind themselves of it. This slab was made by people who still believed in an afterlife; they didn't mind being reminded of their mortality. It's a different kind of reminder for me; I could die, but I'd have to choose to. I've never had the courage, even when things seemed worst. As Hamlet says, 'For in that sleep of death what dreams may come... Must give us pause.' But perhaps someday I'll loose something that I can't bear living with the loss of and, I'll make the choice to die... Sorry, it's chilly out here. Will you step into my grave?"

She gave a shaky little laugh as I lifted the slab and capped my quotation with another from Hamlet : "Indeed, that is out o' the air." A wave of desolation swept through me as we descended the narrow steps. I had more in common with Ann than with any other woman I had ever talked with, laughed with, loved with. But she had only a month before the sickness drained her of life. I was at last facing a loss I couldn't live with.

My little crypt is ancient and has some paintings on the wall; strange, wild- eyed saints with golden halos. I had restored them little by little over the years. So long as I am shut away from the sunlight, I can be active for much of the day. Perhaps I am shortening my extended life span by doing so. Surely the comalike state we normally enter during the day accounts for some of our longevity-- it is more like suspended animation than sleep.

Ann was exclaiming over the wall paintings when we heard a noise from above us. Someone was battering on the door of my house and shouting. It might have been wiser to pill the slab down and lock it, let whoever it was take out their rage on my practically impregnable door, but this interruption of my precious time with Ann put me in a red rage, and without thinking I ran up the stairs with her at my heels.

What we saw when we emerged was like a scene from an old, bad movie. Hammering on my door was a wild-eyed young man, obviously an American. Standing beside him with a flaming torch was Mavrodontes with a wicked grin on his face. When he saw us emerge, he pointed his finger at us and shouted melodramatically, "There is the vampire and his victim!"

"Fool," I spat at Mavrodontes in Greek. "This time you have gone too far! Have you forgotten that the house you live in is mine and on my land? Always before I have thought of your wife and daughter and left you the house, despite your mischief-making. But now I will give your wife a choice. Either you will behave yourself or the whole family must leave the house. How do you think she will choose, Mavrodontes? She is as tired of your antics as I am!"

The old man's jaw dropped and the torch almost fell from his hand. He was as lazy as he was mischievous, and his drinking was paid for by what his wife and daughter earned. Their home was important to them, and he knew very well that if I threatened him with the loss of it, he would get no peace-- and no drinking money-- if he made any more trouble. He took a step backward, and I knew that at the first opportunity he would slip away, abandoning his American ally.

As soon as I stopped speaking, Ann stepped forward and blazed out at the young American. "What the hell are you doing here, Harry? Before I left, I told you I never wanted to see you again! Did you follow me to this island?"

The young man flushed but looked stubborn. "What did you expect me to do when I found out you'd sold everything, including some stuff of mine, and told everyone you weren't coming back? Your doctor wouldn't tell me anything, but I know you fled off the handle right after you went in for that checkup. All right, maybe I gave you something; you know I play around sometimes. But I always come back to you, don't I? Damn it, Ann, I need you!"

Ann's voice when she replied was full of honeyed malice. "You need me, do you, Harry? Well, you're going to have to do without me. Do you know what I got from you, Harry? AIDS, that's what. If you were really gay, or even bi, maybe I could forgive that, but you don't even really like boys. You just have to show what a bit swinger you are, ready to try anything once. Well, you tried 'anything' once too often, Harry. The doctor told me I had only a few months to live!"

Harry's face was paler than mine in the light of the torch, and his voice was barely under control. "Oh my God," he whimpered. "If I gave it to you, I must have it myself. I've got to get to a doctor, to a hospital..." He turned and stumbled toward the road, where I could see a car parked, probably one of the rental cars from the town. Mavrodontes called a curse after him, seeing his last hope vanishing. Perhaps the old man had even hoped that he could egg on the young American to kill me; I saw that in his other hand he actually had a sharpened stake!

"On your way, old fool," I snapped. "And as for that stake, you can take it and..." But I had pushed him too far; he was both drunker and crazier than I had thought. He threw the stake like a javelin, right at my face. At that distance he could hardly miss; I felt a blinding pain in my head, and blackness descended on me. The last sounds I heard were Ann's scream and the fleeing footsteps of Mavrodontes.


I awoke in the crypt with an aching head, feeling strangely weak. Ann was sitting on the floor beside my coffin, leaning on the wall behind her. Her eyes were closed, and there was an odd looking tangle of stuff on the floor beside her; I recognized some old tubing left over from when the winery had been in operation which she must have found in my storage closet.

When I tried to move, a pain shot through my head and I gave a little involuntary groan. Ann's eyes opened, and she smiled at me. "Your head probably feels terrible, but that stake didn't hit you square on, and the gash it made on the side of your head was half closed when I started to bandage it-- I've never seen anyone heal so quickly."

She took a deep breath and went on. "If you feel weak, Niko, it's because you've lost blood while you were unconscious. I transfused about a pint of your blood into myself, and probably wasted almost another pint with my makeshift apparatus. I'm sorry, but I didn't think I could persuade you to do it yourself, your way. You said you'd never make another person... like yourself... because they'd hate you for it. Well, you didn't do it to me. I did it to myself."

I was already feeling a little better, and I raised myself on my elbow to peer into her face in the dim light of the fluorescent camp lantern that lit the crypt. "But why, Ann?" I cried, "why did you do it?"

She smiled at me. "Because I love you, you idiot. I won't say that it wasn't partly fear of dying, fear of the kind of sickness I'd have to go through before dying, but it was mostly because I wanted to be with you so you wouldn't be so terribly lonely anymore..." A thought struck her, and she looked at me with panic in her eyes. "Niko, will it work? Have I wasted your blood for nothing when you were already wounded?"

I sighed. "My darling fool, if you took a pint of my blood, the parasite should be well established in your body," I said. "And there's no reversing what you've done. Give me your hand. A little blood from your finger will tell me if the change is complete yet."

It was; the "blood" might as well have been my own, and had as little sustenance for me. "My dear, I said gently, "you've accomplished what you wanted to. I hope you'll never regret it. But now both of us will need blood. I can last for a while on what I took from my last night, and the conversion of your own blood will last you for a long time. But eventually both of us must... drink."

She smoothed the bandage on my head with gentle fingers and smiled. "I have plans about that, Niko," she said. "No more tourist girls for you, my lad. I'm a registered nurse-- that's why I know how to do the transfusion-- and if there's one thing I know about, it's blood. That's why getting AIDS myself from Harry was such a tragic irony. What you and I are going to do is open a blood bank."

I stared at her, speechless, and she laughed at me. "Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Two vampires running a blood bank. Bit it will work-- if you could tell I had AIDS from one drink of my blood, I bet you can detect other things wrong with blood that we get from paid donors. Hepatitis is a real headache, because people aren't always aware they have it. You can screen the blood, and we can take any "bad" blood for our own use. Brokering blood can be a profitable business, anyway, it it's efficiently run. I'll bet we can make a living at it as well as supplying our own needs. There's always a market for a reliable source of blood-- and who knows more about blood than a vampire?"

It was utter madness-- but it worked. It took time and a great deal of money to get established. For a while we thought we would have to sell the winery building. We had to take a Greek doctor into partnership to satisfy government regulations, but that gave us valuable contacts in the medical community, and Dr. Elias is too well armored with scientific prejudices to ever realize what we do with the blood that we screen out.

We have to be in Athens much more than we like, for Santorini of course is too small to support a blood service on the scale we need. With factor-twenty sunscreen and extra-strong photogrey sunglasses, we can stand brief exposure to the sun, and we usually take the overnight ferry to and from Piraeus. Our blood clinic in Athens is an old warehouse with no windows, lit by fluorescent lights. When the sun goes down, we enjoy the late leisurely Greek restaurant meals and the nightlife of the city.

But Santorini is still our home. We spend as much time here as we can. Ann has softheartedly bribed Mavrodontes into behaving himself with a "caretaker's" job where he does a minimum of work and earns enough for a maximum of drinking. Perhaps the old fool will drink himself to death soon, but I doubt it- - he's too tough. Ann's ex-lover, Harry, was not tough at all-- we found out that he had committed suicide when it was confirmed that he did have AIDS.

So we live untroubled by old enemies and have even made a few friends. Ann has hopes for a research program that may someday turn our curse into a blessing. We already can synthesize the substance in my saliva that heals bite wounds, and we use it at the blood bank. Perhaps we will tire of our life, perhaps we will even tire of each other, but I do not think so. There are deep bonds between us. My blood saved Ann from death; her companionship rescued me from loneliness and despair. We do no harm and perhaps a little good now.

For old time's sake, whenever we are on Santorini, we go for an evening drink at Franco's Bar. We always arrive after sunset.


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