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I slip through the window of my wife’s room, the mingled smell of sickness and disinfectant sharp in my nose. The only sound is the low susurrus of hospital machines monitoring the failing systems of Lucy’s body, charting their inevitable collapse. She is a shadow within a shadow in the corner, a tiny, wasted thing beneath a white hospital blanket.
They put her in hospice care two weeks ago. I am almost too late.
I approach her bed, despair and the bright urgency of my discovery warring for control of my emotions. It’s been six months since the diagnosis and two since I left. I still remember Dr. Wagner’s face, his eyes, how hopeless they were. He delivered the news gently, but we knew a death sentence when we heard one.
We tried everything, borrowed and spent money for experimental treatments with a one-in-a-thousand chance of working. None of them did, of course, and Lucy accepted the inevitable, made peace with it. I couldn’t. I searched for other remedies, grew desperate, and it led me away from her. It led me into the dark, and, finally, to the ruins of an ancient monastery on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Within the crumbling edifice of black stone, I encountered a stooped monk, a pale creature who had not glimpsed the light for decades, maybe longer.
There, in the dark and quiet, I made a bargain that seemed inconsequential for what was offered. Maybe that decision will damn me, but I seized upon it and carried it with me back across the ocean.
I sit on the edge of my wife’s deathbed and whisper, “Lucy. I’m here.”
She turns her head, and her eyes flutter open. Her face is sunken, and her cheekbones stand out jaggedly against paper-thin skin. She wears the pink bandana I gave her months ago to cover the ravages of chemo. Only her eyes belong to her, cloudy blue but still clinging to life.
“Danielle?” she gasps. Tears slide down her face, each one an accusation I can barely stand. I left her alone when she needed me most. Neither of us had any family. Hers passed away when she was a child. I was a product of the foster care system. We had one another and nothing else. Two desperate souls who came together in the chaos of a world that should have twisted us both into human wreckage. No matter what happens tonight, my decision to leave will haunt me forever.
If Lucy could’ve summoned the strength, she might’ve struck me or raged at my selfishness. I would’ve accepted it, welcomed it for my sins. But she is long past such things, and she reaches up to touch my face. My own tears come, and I am thankful she cannot see their color in the dark.
“I’m so sorry I had to go. Nothing could help you here, but . . .” I nod at the night beyond her window. “I found something to make you well again.”
A sad, tired smile overtakes her face. “Danielle, you ran. . . because you couldn’t accept it, and I hated you.” She chokes back a sob, grimacing with the effort it takes. Her eyes cloud with pain. “But I don’t care anymore. I just want you with me.”
I take her hand and kiss it. “What if there is no end? What if there doesn’t have to be one?”
She sighs and turns away. I can tell even these small movements tax her. “No more treatments. I want to rest.”
“Lucy, look at me. Really look at me.”
I gently turn her head and lean forward into the moonlight streaming through the window. Lucy’s eyes widen. The bottomless fatigue remains, but something new takes hold: fear. “What did you do?”
“Don’t be afraid. I did it for us, for you.”
“Your eyes,” she says.
My eyes were blue before my trip to the Caucuses, like a winter sky. They are the color of the fading sun now.
“I know it’s strange, but I don’t feel pain. I don’t fear sickness. All that’s missing is you.”
“What . . . what are you saying?
“Be with me.” I touch her cheek. She flinches, maybe noticing for the first time how cool my skin is.
She reaches up and grasps my hand with surprising strength. “I’m so scared, Dani.”
I want so much to soothe her. “I love you, Lucy, more than life, more than death. Trust me. Please.”
She shudders. Her face contorts and her mouth trembles. “It hurts. Can you make it stop?”
“I can.” I gather her into my embrace and kiss away the pain.
Thirty minutes later, Lucy rises from her death bed. She stands in the moonlight, a pale specter so lovely my soul aches to look at her. Her hair has returned, falling around her shoulders in a cascade of liquid black. Her body has regained its flesh, her face its proper contours, and her eyes burn a soft red, like mine. She doesn’t appear sick anymore, she glows with dark purity, stark and beautiful.
I hold out my hand. Our cold fingers intertwine, and I kiss the top of her head, like I used to do and will do for a thousand years to come.
“What’s out there?” she asks, excitement and wonder in her voice. I push open the window and smile in the dark. “The night, forever, and us.”
Interview with Aeryn Rudel, Author of “The Night, Forever, and Us”
What inspired your story?
Well, I’ve always enjoyed writing about vampires. To a fault, some might say. I especially enjoy putting befanged bloodsuckers in unique situations and environments. I’ve written about vampires playing baseball, vampiric dentistry, and even, uh, a take-out delivery service for vampires. This time, I wanted something sincere rather than quirky, and I envisioned vampirism as not a curse but a cure, a way to save someone rather than damn them.
What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?
Sure, it’s a little cliché, but “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is hands-down my favorite gothic, well, anything. The reason for this is simple. My freshman English teacher, Mr. Aguilera, made us memorize the whole thing, and I can still recite most of it. That poem has stuck with me these thirty-odd years, and I’ll probably be shouting Nevermore! on my death bed.
How long have you been writing?
Oh, you know, always, but professionally for about fifteen years. Most of that time was spent in the tabletop gaming industry where I worked as a writer and editor. Now, I’ve struck out on my own, and though I still freelance on occasion for various game companies, most of my writing is focused on narrative fiction these days.
Do you have a theme you return to time and again?
Well, I keep writing about vampires, so I guess the themes of immortality, damnation, and loss are ones I return to often. Lately, psychological trauma and how it manifests in people and even monsters is a theme I’ve been exploring quite a bit.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
I’m a big Stephen King fan, and I find some of his quotes on writing particularly inspiring. This one has always stuck with me.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the revision of a novel called Hell to Play. It’s a supernatural thriller, black comedy, urban fantasy, noir mashup. I think. Anyway, I hope to finish it and ship it off to my agent in the next month or so.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
I have a blog called Rejectomancy where I promote my work, discuss writing-related topics, and practice the eponymous art of divining meaning from rejections and other editorial missives. I’m also fairly active on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.