A Tale Before Dying
“Why?” the man asked me, his breaths becoming shorter and harder as the life faded slowly from his body.
I wanted to give him many different answers. I do this, because you deserve no better that this for the life you lead. Because you and I are not so different, despite your perception of the situation. Because if it wasn’t you, it would be someone else. Because, because. I could carry on telling him my life story, who I am and what I have done, as I have so many times before. The stranger bleeding on the floor before me wouldn’t understand any of it however, nor would it matter in a few moments anyway.
In the end, I thought he should receive an answer he might comprehend in his final moments. I have always thought that a last request, meaningless as it might be, is still worthy of indulgence. “I do this,” I answered thoughtfully, “because this is who I am, and my station in this universe compels me.” It is an honest answer, and at the last moments of one’s life, honesty is all one really cares for.
“You see,” I continued, telling my story as I always do, partly because the man yet had life in him, and partly because I enjoy telling the tale. “I was born and raised in a small fishing village along the English Channel. At a young age, the entire village was ransacked by pirates. In order to survive, I stowed away on the enemy’s ship. Fate was not kind however, and I was found before we had even left the harbor.”
The man’s eyes watered, and I thought briefly of wiping them. I thought of it, but did not act. “Cruelty was taught early by these seafaring people, and my education in that art began when they spared my life. Learned though I was in the ways of keeping a sailing vessel, nothing could have prepared me for the boarding of innocent ships and the theft of their treasures. Many were killed in those early days, and as I grew into a man aboard increasingly better ships, I found I had a gift among the thieves of the sea.”
I took another sip of my drink, before it grew too cold to be appetizing, and wiped my chin on my kerchief. It simply wouldn’t do to let anyone see me a mess with the sweet nectar upon my face! The man blinked rapidly, clinging to the life that seemed to be aching to leave his body. There were only moments, I knew, before my story would fall on dead ears, so I attempted to reduce the remainder into a more palatable size.
“In time, I took control of the ship by murdering the captain in his sleep. Many years passed, and my crew grew to respect me for the leader I proved myself to be. Then, another cruel twist came in the form of lovely maiden. We boarded her ship as night fell on the water, and the crew was not yet all drowned as we attained the lower level of the ships’ hold. There sat a woman, just awoken from a day-long slumber, hungry for the blood of the crew we had just tossed to the sharks.
“Imagine my surprise when she slaughtered us all, the entire crew save myself, without a single weapon. She could not pilot a vessel of her own however, for it was far beyond her power as a nightwalker.” The man’s gaze began to become more dulled, as if his mind was faltering at last. “She made me like herself, a demon in a man’s form. A drinker of life. A vampire, and we sailed at night, pirates still. A tradition I carry on to this very day.”
I took one last drink from his neck, and spat it out. Thin and cooler now, his crimson nectar became bitter as he died. I began to stand, once more reaching for my handkerchief, and the man whispered something. Kneeling, I put my ear close to his mouth in the hope he would repeat. “How old?” he questioned, and I knew then that he was clinging to life, holding fast to the story I had shared with him over my meal.
“Somewhat more than two thousand years, I believe,” I answered. His head shook, but not from death throes. No, the man couldn’t, or wouldn’t believe that I had lived that long. “But it is true!” I exclaimed. “I had to do away with piracy for much of the twentieth century however, and the beginnings of the twenty-first. It wasn’t until I could leave our home world and plunged into the eternal night offered in deep space that I could begin my chosen profession once more. I pirate still, taking my treasure, lives like yours, from the ships which I commandeer along the trade routes between the habitable planets.”
The man shook his head once more, this one being the last spasm of life offered from his now defunct body, and I knew him to be dead.
“I am a being too often overlooked in all the literature of the worlds, the obvious result of a body that can survive the many ages of man.” I pushed closed his eyes to avert his glassy stare. “Telling a tale before dying, even as the end always falls on deaf ears, I am a vampire space pirate, stealing the most precious treasure for all of these years.”