It never ceases to amaze me. Up until just a few years ago, I hardly ever ran into other vampires. Now it seems they’re popping up everywhere. After the unfortunate Richard Warner incident last year, I told myself I wouldn’t get involved with any other vampire“friends.” It’s just too risky, not only for the safety of my identity, but because of that Van Helsing idiot running around trying to wipe us out. I felt it would be best if I shied away from my kind, other than Ernest and maybe Zakes. He kind of freaks me out sometimes. But then last night, I did something stupid. I got involved in the worst way.
I’ve seen most of the world by now, but only in snippets. I deliver to just about every place a man would want to see, but that’s just it. I stop to deliver, then move on. So this year, I thought I’d do something a little different. I took a couple weeks off from work so that I could pay a visit to one of my favorite countries, Italy. I’d seen most of Europe during WWII, but during those years it was an awful sight. Nowadays that part of the world looks much nicer, and Italy has never looked better. So I spent a while seeing the sights, doing the whole moonlit tourist thing. And that’s when I met Maria.
Don’t get the wrong idea, Maria’s just a child! Her mother, on the other hand... But I’m getting to that.
I was walking the streets of Venice a few nights ago, basking in the beauty of the city. All of a sudden, a little girl starts tugging at the back of my pants leg. I look down, and there she is. Maria. Adorable Italian kid. Not to sound stereotypical, but most Italian youngsters look alike to me. Black hair, dark eyes, olive skin. But Maria was different. Sure, her hair was dark and her skin had that old Sicilian tint to it, but her eyes... I can’t explain what it was, but they were different.
Anyway, I asked her in my best Italian (one thing about being a vampire, you can pick up foreign languages exceptionally well by reading minds), “How may I help you, little lady?”
She smiled and held up my wallet, saying, “A boy snatched this from your coat while you weren’t looking. I kicked him and brought it back to you. The money is still there.”
I laughed, for several different reasons. First of all, you have to be a seasoned pickpocket to get one by on a vampire. Secondly, not only was this child brave enough to stand up for what’s right and tough enough to take the wallet from a male, but she was also honest enough to do the right thing even when you’re not expected to. It could just be that it’s the Christmas season and everyone’s nicer this time of year... but then, that creep who picked my pocket hadn’t been full of the Christmas spirit, now had he? I made a mental note to bite him later in the evening. It wouldn’t be too hard to track him down.
I smiled at the girl and thanked her, saying, “What’s your name?” I already knew the answer, but nodded when she told me and replied, “Maria, that’s a pretty name!”
She shrugged and said, “I don’t like it, almost all the girls I know are named Maria!”
I smirked and said, “I don’t suppose I have to ask if you’ve been a good girl this year, do I?”
Maria smiled and said, “I have been! Mama says that we should all treat everyone else as we wish to be treated, so I do!”
“Your mama sounds smart,” I said.“Are you expecting anything good from Saint Nicholas this year?”
She frowned and said lowly, “Mama said that belief in Saint Nicholas is a luxury we cannot afford. I usually get new clothes, but never anything to play with. Mama is sick, she can’t work.”
I also frowned and nodded, making a mental note to track her down and give her something nice.
I didn’t know how I missed her my previous years in Italy, but I later found out. She lived in a dilapidated building that was marked as condemned. I silently cursed her mother for allowing such a sweet child to grow up in these awful surroundings, but once I saw her… my opinion quickly changed.
I’m ashamed of myself for what I did, but… I didn’t deliver to every house on my route last night. I got hung up. I delivered to the bases in Japan, the Christian homes in the former Soviet Union, France (very few deliveries there), and then back to Italy. By this time, it was about three o’clock in the morning, Venice time, so I didn’t expect anyone to be awake. But of course, I was wrong.
There was no Christmas tree in the dilapidated building that serves as Maria’s home, so I figured I’d leave the doll I’d brought her in her room where she’d be able to find it. I crept as quietly as I could through the house (which, as a vampire, is pretty quiet), but apparently wasn’t quietly enough, as I was caught off-guard by the condemned house’s chief occupant.
A knife appeared at my throat as a female voice asked in Italian, “What are you doing here?”
Calmly, I answered, “I met Maria the other night. She was kind to me and mentioned that Santa Claus never visits, so I—“
She laughed, then replied in English,“So you thought you’d play Santa Claus?”
I smiled and held up the doll in my hand. “Exactly.” And that was when my vampire senses kicked in. I cursed myself for getting slow in my old age: first the pickpocket incident, now this. I asked, “It’s a little late for you to be up, isn’t it?”
And I suppose her vampire senses kicked in at this point as well. “No later than it is for you to be out, SignorClaus. But I suppose you already know why I am awake. When I heard you intruding, I felt that I would feed. But I cannot feed on my own kind.”
I gestured toward the knife and asked, “Do you mind?”
She laughed and lowered the blade. I turned and laid my eyes upon the most beautiful Italian woman I’d ever seen. Her hair was curly as opposed to the usual straightness of the Venice natives, and her eyes were gorgeous, but… I noticed that they were not the same eyes as those of Maria. I commented on this, saying, “You have a daughter, but she’s not one of us. How did that happen?”
She looked over her shoulder and said, “That is a long story, and I’d rather not talk too much in here, as I don’t want to wake her. I also don’t want to leave her here, but as I mentioned, I have to feed. Do you mind bringing something to eat, SignorClaus?”
I smiled and said, “You can call me Nick. What’s your name?”
She offered a curtsy and said,“Isabella Fittilucci, pleased to make your acquaintance, Nick.”
I kissed her hand, saying, “The pleasure is all mine. And yes, I’ll be right back with some food. There’s someone I wanted to pay a little visit to anyway.”
And so, I set off. I don’t want to seem like I had high expectations, but… I kind of did. It had been an awfully long time since I had been with a woman (and to tell you the truth, I had never been with a female vampire before), and was a bit excited. For a vampire in this situation, blood can be like Viagra.
It took me a little longer than expected, but I found the creep who had attempted to steal my wallet. He was a teenager, and though I usually don’t kill anyone under the age of eighteen, I was both angry and excited. Besides, when I found him, he was attempting to steal an old lady’s purse. I sneaked up upon him and conked him out with a rock. I then told the lady whose purse he’d grabbed to go on home and have a merry Christmas. She did so without asking any questions.
I carried the young punk back to Isabella’s home, and she invited me down to the basement, as to not be seen by Maria should she wake up. I have to admit, it smelled quite ripe in that basement, so I could tell that this was where Isabella did most of her feeding.
The punk never did wake up, which was to our advantage. We didn’t want him screaming, or getting excited to the point where the blood would sour. And so, we fed.
Once we were finished, she looked at me and smiled, then licked the blood from my lips and chin and asked, “Where is my Christmas present, Signor Claus?” I don’t want to go into every little detail (I never was much good describing erotic encounters), but I thoroughly enjoyed what followed.
When we were finished, I let my curiosity get the better of me and said, “So tell me, how long have you been a vampire? Judging by Maria’s age, I’d guess not long.”
She offered a shy expression, then replied, “Actually, Maria was mothered by a surrogate. I have been… this way for a very long time, since about 1937.”
I nodded, then asked, “How did that happen?”
Once more shyly, she answered, “I was brought in as a chambermaid for Il Duce. He fed upon me and threw me into the streets to fend for myself.”
Having fought in World War II, I was more than just a tad familiar with that name. And of course, I was shocked. I asked, “Mussolini was a vampire? Are you kidding me?”
“No, Signor Claus, I am not.”
I shook my head and said, “Wait a minute. Italy was allied with Germany. How is it that Mussolini was a vampire without Hitler knowing? Surely, he would have wanted immortality for himself.”
She laughed, saying, “There was not much of an alliance. Il Duce and Signor Hitler were very similar, that is why they had not much to do with each other personally. Il Ducewas afraid of what might happen if Hitler discovered his secret.”
This time it was I who laughed, as I said, “They had plenty to do with each other! I was in that war, I kept up with the news! Mussolini was rescued by Hitler’s German paratroopers when he was arrested! Hitler formed the Italian Social Republic and made Mussolini the leader of it.”
She smirked and asked, “Is not much of the current war between the United States and Iraq propaganda? It was said that this man Hussein had stand-ins, so that he could hide. Mussolini did the same. And he did it first. By the time the false Mussolini was imprisoned and saved by Signor Hitler, the real Il Duce was dead. Those who opposed him within his country had uncovered his secret and captured him just as the sun arose, allowing it to act as his undoing.”
Still not believing any of this, I asked, “Then how is it that the people who killed him didn’t alert the rest of the world as to his secret? You would think that a renowned dictator being a vampire would make the front page of every newspaper in the world.”
She sighed and said softly, “Many of those who killed him were as I am. To reveal his secret would be to tell the truth of us all.”
I thought about that for a moment. It did make some sort of sense. And why would she, a vampire, lie about it to me, another vampire with whom she had just been intimate? Still… Maria had said that her mother was not well, and hearing this story of hers made me wonder if she was mentally ill, as Rich Warner had been.
“I am not ill in the mind,” she said, reading my thoughts. “I tell Maria I am sick so that she has no questions as to why I must live only in darkness.”
I sighed and nodded. “How did you come to have Maria in the first place? You said a surrogate mother had her, how did she wind up in your care?”
She offered the shy look again and said, “I fell for a young man ten years ago. We were very much in love, but I didn’t want him to know of my secret, so I only asked that we see each other in the evenings. But eventually he asked me to marry him and be the mother of his child. I told him that I could not bear children, and he was greatly disappointed. I loved him and did not want to lose him to such a thing as not being able to raise children with him. So I chose the surrogate. They…conceived the child together, and the girl agreed to allow me and my young man to adopt her baby. But as time grew on and her belly grew larger, she decided that not only did she want to keep her baby, she wanted to keep the father as well. My gentleman insisted that nothing was amiss, that he loved me and wanted me to raise the child. Of course, I used my own money that I had acquired over the years to pay for the finest pre-natal doctors. But once Maria was born, I read inside his thoughts that he and the mother were planning to take the child and flee the country together as man and wife.” She smiled thinly. “I tied them down as they slept and made Maria’s father watch as I sliced through his lover’s throat and drank from the cup into which she bled.”
I grew uneasy. “And what of the father himself?”
She shrugged. “I had to stop him from screaming. I sliced his throat, too. With the very knife I used to stop you in your tracks, Signor Claus.”
I gulped. “Does Maria know what became of her father?”
“But of course,” she replied without missing a beat. “I told her that he had fallen in love with another woman and left. This is true.”
I nodded slowly. “And you’ve had to live in poverty since then, to avoid persecution for what happened to your young man and his lover. Correct?”
“Si,” she answered.
“Was it worth it? Trading in your daughter’s welfare for your own vengeance?”
“Her welfare? Signor Claus, did she seem ill to you? She must do without finer things, but she has a loving mother and is very happy. She is all I live for now.”
Thinking back to my own son Robert, I sighed and muttered, “Yeah, it seems that way now. It won’t last, though.”
She looked me in the eye and said,“As long as I have her in my heart, it very well will last. And as long as you have your own in your heart, it will as well.”
It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise at all, her saying that; after all, I knew she could read my mind and I was thinking of Robert just then… But it did. What happened next surprised me even further: I kissed her. Not just because I was attracted to her and we had just made love, no; I was simply offering gratitude. No one had ever reassured me that Robert was still with me before. But then, no one else really knew about Robert, except for Ernest and Richard. So I was thankful to her. When our lips parted, I thanked her for a lovely evening, then asked her to give the doll I’d brought to Maria, and went on to finish my delivery route.
I spent about an hour longer in Venice than I should have, thus putting me way behind. I didn’t even get back to my bedroom before sunrise, I had to rent a hotel room in California, where I put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob and locked myself in the dark closet.
I do believe I’ll be looking in on Isabella and Maria again next year… if not sooner.