“Tick, tick, tick, tick. He wondered what time it was. How long had he just been a miserable mess on the floor? He didn’t know if he wanted a break from all of this by fainting, or for the sun to finally reveal itself. It was a dark and stormy night, and he hated that. He wanted more lights than that from the street and the electric sky.”
A city doesn’t need the sun. Humanity has made so many artificial lights that some might call the one provided by Mother Nature obsolete. Now, the sun gave the living many benefits. But forces were at play all across the world. And beyond. The living were on their way out. A city doesn’t need a sun, and when these forces finally reached their claws up from the mists from which they were concealed, they planned to grab and extinguish the sun.
On a dark and stormy night in Hollywood, there was an actor named Billy Hart. He sat in his room and cried, for his dreams were falling apart. He just couldn’t keep a role. No matter how hard he tried, he was fired from every one of them. Did he just suck? Was he really that bad? To make matters worse, he knew that his sponsors wanted results. He got a lot of money from them, and they wanted something in return. Something he couldn’t give. As the clock ticked, ticked, ticked, his dread grew and grew. He supposed there was no reason for them to call, but he knew they would.
Tick, tick, tick, tick. He wondered what time it was. How long had he just been a miserable mess on the floor? He didn’t know if he wanted a break from all of this by fainting, or for the sun to finally reveal itself. It was a dark and stormy night, and he hated that. He wanted more lights than that from the street and the electric sky.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Billy jerked his head upwards, looking at the most expensive thing he owned in his apartment: a grandfather clock. He bought it just to feel fancy, one of the few times he could afford it. He had a particularly good part then, and as much as he loved that role, the movie went through production hell and never got released. The clock had been a manifestation of failure in his eyes since, and now it had released a new feeling: dread. The pendulum seemed to move to him with every Bong! like a swinging executioner’s axe. This symbol of fatalism seemed to mesmerize Billy, holding him still. He starred in silent terror for what felt like centuries.
When the clock finished its ghastly wail, there was a moment of silence. Billy let himself breathe for a moment. Then, the phone rang. It was a much quieter sound, a small little dingle-ingle-ing instead of the thunderous Bong!s, yet they too were foreboding. The phone rattled in its receiver, like a small, scared, trapped animal. Or perhaps more like an undead mummy in its tomb. Like one you’d see in the movies, of course. Mummies did not move.
It continued to rattle and squeal. Billy was terrified of the confrontation that laid on the other end, and it was not one he wanted to embark on. Yet, he could not stop himself. Both hands trembling, he used one hand to pick up the phone and bring it to his ear, and the other to press the button and then weakly and ineffectively wipe the tears from his eyes.
“Heh heh heh…” said the voice on the other end. “If it ain’t Billy the Kid!”
It was exactly who Billy feared it would be. His sponsors.
“Uh…” Billy nervously began. “Hey, Gianluca…”
“Billy, my fella, I told ya you can just call me Gi! We’re friends ain’t we?”
“Yeah, friends…” Billy timidly replied.
With much more enthusiasm, Gianluca responded, “I thought so! Heh heh…”
Now came the moment Billy was anxious about. “Uh… Gi… there’s… something I gotta tell ya.”
Gianluca interrupted him. “Ya don’t have to be the bearer of bad news, kid, I already know.”
Tears began to return to Billy’s eyes. “Gi, I’m trying my hardest, honest! I’m so sorry, man! I really want to pay you back! Heck, I’ll cut out my… other purchases too…” He looked back to the ground, where some leftover white dust was lazily laid out.
“Nah, I know how you fellas are. Ya don’t gotta stop,” Gianluca responded with what might have been sympathy. He then muttered, perhaps not intended to be caught on the call and heard, “Besides, we’d lose a bit of money if you’d stop…” Gianluca returned to speaking at a normal volume. “Well, Billy, these matters are complicated. I think we gotta talk it out in person.”
“Oh,” Billy responded.
“So I should stop at your office when tomorrow?”
“Actually,” Gianluca replied. “I’m in your neighborhood right now. Can I come on over?”
“S-sure,” Billy complied.
“Thanks kid,” Gianluca said in delight. “I’ll be over in five seconds.” He then added, “Heh. Count it, even.” He hung up.
Billy was confused, and slowly put the phone down. The last statement was sarcastic, right? Just a bit of humor that Gi was known for. And yet, Billy found himself counting. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. On “five,” lightning struck and thunder crashed. Billy felt a shadow loom over him. A second of silence, and there was a tap on his window pane. Heart pounding, Billy slowly turned his head to face the window.
And there he was. Standing in the window, hundreds of feet above the concrete, was Gianluca Hayden. The mouth of Yellow Crown Enterprises, holding a black umbrella, wearing a black trench coat and a black fedora, with a red tie and a white handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a gleaming smile on his face. It was the mouth of Billy Hart’s sponsor. He stood on the tips of his toes on the window sill, and below him were hundreds of feet of nothing until you hit the ground. Behind him, blinding light flashed on a sheet of dark grey.
With a tip of his hat, Gianluca said, “Good Evenin’ Billy!”
Billy was too terrified to speak. He always knew that the Yellow Crown was not the most trustworthy organization. And he knew that his “buddy” Gi was a bit… eccentric. But what was happening now was too bizarre to explain or deduce. It was otherworldly.
Billy felt his muscles moving without desire. He slowly began to stand and with his arms out like a zombie from the movies, made his way towards the window. Gianluca held out a single hand, and Billy stopped in place. Then, Gianluca turned his hand swiftly and without explanation, the windows unlocked themselves from the inside and slowly opened. Gianluca gracefully walked into Billy’s apartment, closing his umbrella as he did and flicking his hand again once he was inside, causing the window to close once more, though it remained unlocked.
“Sorry if I brought any of the rain in, Billy.” Gianluca casually began. “Hey, thanks for letting me come over at such a late hour. I think I work best at this time, actually. The boys and I consider ourselves to be a couple of night owls, ya know?” Making his way to the other room, he exclaimed, “Anyway, let’s talk business.”
Billy followed, slowly, silently, and still in shock.
Gianluca made himself at home on Billy’s couch. Billy finally worked up the courage to ask something, though it was certainly not the question that was the most important in his mind, for he was too shocked and scared to ask it. “So… you wanna drink?”
“Heh, nah,” Gianluca politely replied. “I have a… specific preference with my drinks. I plan on catching some of that later tonight, so I’m good at the moment. But thanks for the offer! So how about you get yourself something to drink and I can return ya with another one, eh?”
Billy did as he was told. Perhaps after a night of misery, dread, and crack, caffeine was not the best choice, but Billy wasn’t known for making good choices, especially on a night like tonight, when nothing made sense and stress was at an all time high. How was this happening? Was he even awake? Was he still high and did he imagine Gi in the window? Did Gi just come through the door? It hurt Billy’s head to think about it.
Returning with a cup of coffee, Billy sat next to his enigmatic agent.
“So,” Gianluca began. “Let’s lay down the facts.”
Billy nervously nodded, taking a sip at his coffee, hoping it would ease his nerves.
“So you lost the role. Again.”
“This is fine,” Gianluca assured him. “Really, it is. A minor setback. I can set ya up with another one real quick, trust me.”
Billy looked up.
“However, ya still don’t have enough money to pay us what ya owe us. In any capacity.”
“This, too, is okay. Billy, my man, the Yellow Crown is a flexible organization. When we can’t get money, we find more creative and manageable ways to create mutual benefits between us and our clients.” He quickly flashed a smile at Billy.
For a second, Billy thought he saw sharper teeth in Gianluca’s mouth, but he quickly dismissed this. “What were you thinking?” Billy finally responded.
“Well,” began Gianluca. “First of all, we might need ya to do a few more… favors for us? Don’t ask me what they are, because nobody knows yet. We’ll reach ya when we need ya. Does that sound good, kid?”
“Well, if I have no other way to repay you…” Billy warily agreed.
“That’s the spirit kid!” Gianluca encouraged, slapping him on the back as friends are for some reason known to do. Billy was startled, but he felt he wasn’t in a position to question anything Gi did.
“But there’s one more thing we gotta do for this bargain.” Gianluca continued. “If you’re gonna help us out on a few more projects, and we’re gonna continue supporting you, you’re gonna need to make a few… lifestyle changes. And I’ll help you out, don’t worry. So you okay with that?”
Billy was really unsure. He honestly wanted to say no. But he knew where his resources were coming from. If he wasn’t being supplied money or job opportunities from these people, his dreams would fall apart and he’d go broke in no time. He’d have to get a worse job or die on the streets. Probably both. He’d either have to settle later in a much more embarrassing way, or now, in the hands of a successful, albeit shady, organization.
Billy did not notice, but as Gianluca began speaking again, he subtly flicked his hand. Billy did not see this either, but it caused all the windows in the room to silently unlock and open. Mist began pouring into the room, unaware to Billy.
“Besides,” coaxed Gianluca. “It’d really improve your life. You’d probably start cleanin’ up your act, doin’ a lot more. It seems all the stress of this whole mess has made you age quicker than you should. We could help ya feel younger. So what d’ya say?”
Billy sighed. “Sure, Gi. Whatever you think is best.”
“Ha ha, great!” Gianluca exclaimed. “We can start right now, actually. Just let me do something first.” Gianluca turned so he was facing away from Billy. He closed his eyes and put his hands together, and began to mumble to himself. “Thank ya, Lord, for lettin’ me have this one. I promise I won’t fail you.”
Billy finally began to notice the mist in his apartment, how his couch was now adrift on a thick ocean of it. Everything seemed to have become grayscale. Like so many of the oddities of the foreboding night, Billy was incapable of asking about it. Once again, he responded with the wrong inquiry. “Uh, Gi. Ya prayin’ to God?”
Gianluca was completely silent for a moment. He slowly began to lower his hand, and then tilted his head up and cackled. He actually cackled. He then slowly turned his head to Billy, opened his eyes, and said quietly, calmly, and maliciously, “Not by a long shot.”
He then pounced at Billy like a predator in the wild. Billy quickly turned his eyes towards the face of his suddenly violent agent and “friend.” The last thing Billy saw before going under was that he was right with his earlier thought; his teeth really were quite sharp.
Billy felt Gianluca’s teeth pierce the skin of his neck. Billy couldn’t move away as Gianluca held him still with superhuman strength. Billy felt the worst, most excruciating pain he had ever felt in his entire life, of which was soon to end, for exactly 13 seconds, but he could not scream. His bodily functions stopped before his consciousness left. That went alongside his blood. And for a brief moment, the actor Billy Hart was dead and gone.
Gianluca removed his mouth from Billy’s neck. He took the handkerchief out of his breast pocket and made it match the color of his tie. Then, he knocked Billy off of the couch and onto the floor. His corpse splashed in the surrounding ocean and the mist flew up around him as it briefly parted, before it cascaded back down and covered him. He was now but a dark blot in it. But Gianluca knew what came next. Though he knew he’d risk dirtying the couch, Gianluca stood up, looking down on the corpse of Billy. It began to squirm and writhe. Billy was not awake for what happened next, but he sure as hell did move.
A loud sound came from below the misty sea. It sounded like a cross between a roar, squawk, a screech, and a moan. Then, the corpse of Billy began to rise, quivering. He was completely changed. All the pigment had left his skin, and he was white as paper. His eyes had already been bloodshot from the stress, but it seemed the blood vessels had all exploded, as they were now completely red and pupil-less. The point of his ears had grown very long, and they seemed no longer able to support their own weight. Every bone in his body could be seen through his skin, including each individual piece of his spine in his hunched back. He seemed to curl himself. His teeth were now similar to that of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger. His fingers had grown into long claws, which tightly gripped the floor. The tips of his shoulders somehow lengthened into long, bony pillars covered with stretched skin. Growling, Billy turned his tilted head towards Gianluca, and looked at him with a look of pure, concentrated, uninhibited rage and hunger. He barked at Gianluca as he pounced, prepared to rip him to shreds.
Billy was never able to, however, because Gianluca was prepared. He bounced up from the couch and levitated in place, and then twisted his hand once more. The mist rose up and twirled around Billy in midair, and even though mist was in most circumstances not physical, it restrained him. He squirmed in it and howled louder than before.
A voice spoke in Gianluca’s head. “Is it done?” It said with a thick Russian accent, almost as though it were a thought in his head.
Gianluca knew better, of course. “Yes, my lord,” he responded aloud. “The neonate is secure. Another to your all-powerful army of the undead, Lord of Darkness, Czar of Malice. I return to you now.” He gave a quick bow in Billy’s direction, though certainly not intended for him. Then, he raised his other hand, and the mist rose and became ever thicker. Now, nothing could be seen in the apartment, for even the two dark blots quickly faded.
From within the mist, Gianluca could be heard: “Billy Hart, you are invited to the manor of Count Gregor, lord of the vampires, master necromancer, bane of all that’s holy!”
Soon, the mist let up, and left through the windows where it came from. And not a soul remained in the apartment of Billy Hart, starving artist.