The Feast of Stephen
A "Vorare" Story
Start at the beginning of the Vorare series
Gordon leaned against the foyer wall, breathing heavily. His forefinger was now virtually glued to the doorbell of Sylvie's apartment, after repeated short attempts had gone unanswered. She was home. She had to be home. It was Christmas Eve, and even if there was anywhere to go, she'd said she was going straight to bed.
He pushed his glasses up and let go of the bell. What if she'd gotten sick, too? If the food was bad - the way it had affected him, it may have been worse for her. She could be laying in the apartment, on her floor, in the bed, next to the toilet ... Christ, she could be anywhere. He'd have to get in, or call.
He reached for his cell phone just as the door opened behind him, and a short, heavyset man entered the foyer. He was dressed in dark work pants and a heavy jacket, smelling slightly of beer, and he nodded to Gordon with a cheerful look in his eyes.
"Evening," he said. "Forget the keys?"
"Yes," said Gordon quickly. "Or, no ... the thing is, my girlfriend lives here, and I don't have keys. I'm worried that she might be very sick. I think we got food poisoning earlier, and if she's upstairs then she might need help."
The man's eyebrows went up, and he nodded slowly. "Huh. That's bad. You know if she might have gone to the doctor herself? Or called an ambulance?"
"She might have," said Gordon, "but I think she would've called to let me know if she was going to the hospital."
"Huh. Huh." The little man nodded again, then screwed one eye shut. "You don't look real sick, my friend. You look pretty good for a late night."
With a start, Gordon realized that the little stranger was right - he didn't feel so badly any more. He stopped reaching for his cell phone and put two fingers to his neck, feeling for his pulse. It was strong and solid. He took a few deep breaths, forcing himself to slow down and focus on slow and steady inhalations, and as the pulse slowed to a normal rate he was surprised at just how strong it seemed. He'd stopped sweating after a few minutes in the cab, and if he'd looked sick at all the driver hadn't seen fit to mention it.
"It must have been getting sick," he said. "I was throwing up a lot earlier. If I got it all out of my system, then maybe it's cleared up for me."
"Huh." With a short nod, the stranger reached into his pocket. "Well ... I'm not supposed to do this, but I take care of most of the units in here. Show them when they're being rented, that sort of thing. I got keys to the units. Maybe I could get us in – just to make sure she isn't too sick, I guess."
Gordon's heart leapt. "You could? Sir, that would be great ..."
"Don't sir me," snorted the man. "I work for a living. Thing is, if she is up there and she is okay, it could be my job, you know? Even if she isn't, if she doesn't like the way I come in, that could be it. I can't afford to lose it, either."
"Well ... I can promise, if she's upset, I'll take the blame."
"Sure, sure. It's an easy promise to make, though. Huh." He seemed lost in thought.
"Look, it's ..."
"Hold on now, hold on. I didn't say no, I've just got to think a bit. See, it's Christmas, so I ought to be helping you out. I need this job, though. So maybe it's a real test of faith, huh? Seeing to my fellow man."
Gordon spread his hands, anxious but not wanting to seem desperate. He didn't trust himself to speak, only to stand in mute appeal. It seemed to be enough.
"Huh. Okay then." The maintenance man opened the door, holding it for Gordon. "I got to get into my own place first, find the keys. What apartment is she in?"
"Three B. Honestly, I really appreciate this."
"Well, any other night, you'd be out of luck, man. What's your name?"
"Okay, Gordon. I'm Mike. You hang on just a second, or go on up to her place and try knocking. I'll meet you up there with the keys. Try to be quiet, though – plenty of folks asleep on a night like this."
"Thanks, Mike." Gordon nodded gratefully. "I'll be quiet." Despite the temptation to race upstairs, he set a normal pace, steadily avoiding those steps which he knew to creak underfoot. On getting to the door he couldn't help but knock, even knowing that nothing would come of it.
"Nothing?" The voice was a surprise - Mike had come up behind him without a single sound on the stairs. Gordon realized that in the close quarters of the landing, he hadn't even known the man was there. No sense of closeness, no sound from his work boots. It was as if he weren't even present.
"No, nothing. Do you have the keys?"
"Right here." Mike fit one into the door and turned, pushing it open only slightly. "You go on in. Call me if you find her – I'll be right here."
The apartment was dark and close. The rich smell of the roast combined with the pasty scent of candle wax still hung in the air, and it still called to Gordon even though he blamed it for his illness.
"Sylvie?" He raised his voice, left hand trailing along the hallway walls, feeling his way toward the bedroom. If she was fine, he didn't want to startle her by turning on any lights before announcing himself. "Sylvie, it's me." He pushed open the bedroom door, and in the slanted glow of a streetlight he could see that the bed was empty.
"Well, what the hell?" He turned on the light – to see a room stripped of everything but the basic furnishings. Everything that said someone had lived here was gone. The Chagall print from her wall, the bed sheets, the ever-present candles from her dresser. The closet stood open and empty of clothes.
Behind Gordon, the hallway suddenly filled with light. Mike had closed the door behind him, and stood now just inside the hall, hand still on the switch. His face was no longer that of a tipsy maintenance man. His eyes were dark and shining with the inner light of a televangelist or politician.
"She's gone, Gordon."
"But where? And why would she ..."
"We moved her out the minute you left. Personally, I'd have stuck around. She's a very pretty girl, but I suppose we all make our own choices."
"You moved her out? Why? And why didn't you tell me that before?"
"I didn't tell you because the security cameras downstairs pick up audio. We're on record now as having come up here without any idea she'd be missing."
Confusion was written all over Gordon's face. "But why? Why would she leave?"
"That's what I'm here to tell you, son. But I don't mean to do it right here. Take a seat in the dining room. We left the set."
"Like Hell! Tell me now."
Mike's mouth turned up into a smile. "No. Take a seat."
"Tell me or ..."
"Or what?" His smile remained as he crossed his thick arms. "Are you actually trying to threaten me, Gordon? What is it you do for a living again? I'll tell you what it isn't - it isn't lifting all day and boxing at night."
A horrible suspicion came over Gordon. "You son of a bitch. You killed her."
Mike laughed. "God, no. And I'm not going to kill you, either, so don't bother asking. Just sit down, will you? I know this is strange. If you'd stayed the night it wouldn't have been necessary. I'm trying to explain something to you, but I won't do it while we're standing here in the damn hallway. I've been standing all damn day."
Gordon wasn't sure what to think any more, but it was clear he'd get nowhere by arguing. The dining room was only three steps back, but he took them while still facing Mike and sat down in a chair facing the advancing man.
"That's better. Civilized." Mike took the chair next to him. "I want you to remember that. Civilization is key to your comprehension, and to what I'm about to tell you.
"You're a cannibal, Gordon."
The words were ridiculous enough to scarcely mean anything. "What?"
"You're a cannibal. You've eaten of the most forbidden fruits in the world tonight, served up by our lovely Sister Sylvie's hands."
The left side of Gordon's mouth opened with a short, explosive breath that was only half a laugh. "Okay. I don't know what kind of game ..."
Mike reached into his jacket and brought forth a small white bone, placing it on the table between them. Gordon stopped short, his stomach suddenly high and tight against his ribs.
"What is that?"
"It's a knucklebone. From your dinner."
He'd vomited himself empty, but his stomach still thrust itself against his lower ribs with a rushing heave. "You're fucking crazy. This is some kind of sick scam."
"Ask your body, Gordon. Ask your God. Why did you get sick in the church and not the cab? Why have you felt fine since leaving that consecrated ground? What kind of flu bug or food poisoning does that?" He shook his head. "You've been marked by the true fruit of knowledge, the meal of Abraham. You don't belong to them any longer."
"You're crazy." Gordon stood up, knocking his chair backward. Mike's hand shot out to grab his wrist, but Gordon snatched it back. "You've killed her and now you're playing with me."
"No, Gordon." Mike stood. "I'm welcoming you. Ours is a small and select number, and Sister Sylvie was and still is one of us, like her grandmother before her. Like your great-grandfather before you."
"You can prove I'm not." Mike shook his head. "There's leftovers in the refrigerator, all wrapped up nice and tight, signed and marked in Sylvie's hand. You'd recognize the writing, and a lab would be able to tell you just what that meat is. A crime lab, a health lab – wherever you saw fit to take it, they'd tell you it's human flesh. Of course, they'd immediately arrest you, too; and I don't think that prison would be the best thing for a handsome young ghoul like yourself."
Gordon was shaking now, scarcely able to think. "You ate her."
"No. She's one of us, young and faithful. She's not made for the pot and plate."
"Who are you?"
"I'm still going by Father Mike, Gordon. But we are the gentleman ghouls of America, and our history is long and fruitful. Your family never belonged, officially. But your great-grandfather was spiritually one of our own."
"You keep saying that, if it makes you feel better. But your body knows I'm not. You've become too accustomed to letting your thoughts drown out your soul, letting the chatter of everyday existence subsume what we all know to the be the truth deep inside. Mankind was made a hunter and a carnivore. We were formed in God's image to accept the burnt offerings of fire, fear and flesh."
"That's insane." Gordon was backed against the wall, next to the oaken hutch Sylvie had been so proud of. One hand closed around the brass handle of a drawer.
"It's not, Gordon. It's destiny." The light in Mike's eyes was sharp and bright, throwing the darkness outside the windows behind him into heavy contrast as he stepped forward. "The world was given unto lions, not sheep. You're among the pride of America, the pride of the world. It's in your blood. Blood into blood, flesh into flesh ..."
Gordon tore the drawer out of the hutch and swung. The sharp edge of the wood connected with Mike's left temple, tearing away a bit of scalp. The madman's head spun to the right, body following. He grabbed for the table as support, but Gordon's right leg flew forward and connected heavily with his hip.
Gordon was shocked at the crunching sound. His foot had stopped against Mike's hip, but he'd never kicked a man in his life, and Mike was solid muscle, but he couldn't doubt that the sound he heard was the grating on bone on bone, shard against shard. He couldn't doubt it when Mike sank to the ground with blood on his lip, biting heavily down to keep himself from shouting. Gordon leapt over his body and ran into the kitchen, toward the windows that led to the fire escape and freedom.
"You see?" Mike's call was exultant. "Do you see now? The flesh and blood, the power and the glory! You're as God made you now – blessed by blood and ancestry!"
Gordon's hands smashed the window, too frightened, too confused to think of working the latch, flying on instinct alone and propelled by a terrible new strength.
"You will bleed – you will see! You are still one of us, Gordon! We will find you, we will embrace you, we will see you to your destiny! You will become the ghoul of your God and great-grandfather!"
Gordon was gone, but the raving continued as Mike stood, fired by pain and the unnatural strength he shared with the gentleman ghouls. He loped to the telephone and punched a number stored in its memory from Sylvie's tenure.
"He knows. He doesn't believe, but he knows."
"He's gone?" The voice on the other end was that of a cultured Southern gentleman.
"Runner. He knows. He got me good."
"He's already strengthened, then."
"Hell yes. After one meal he puked up in a churchyard, he's felt it."
There was a moment of silence. "I assume there was noise. Grab the meat and get out. We'll send one of the medical teams."
"I'm not bad," said Mike, a momentary fear in his eyes. "It's just my hip. It'll heal."
"Fear not. You've done well. Wait in the drop zone and they'll be sent."
Mike hung up the phone and threw open the refrigerator door. Wrapped in butcher paper, covered in Sylvie's neat and tiny handwriting, sat the remains of the evening meal. He seized the package, almost overcome by the desire to wolf it down on the darkened floor, surrounded by broken glass and with the scent of prey all around him. It would heal him – he could escape at his leisure.
The sound of oncoming sirens snapped him back to the reality of the situation, and with a snarl Father Mike launched himself onto the fire escape, slid down the metal railings and dropped two floors onto his feet, ignoring the pain of his shattered hip. With an awkward lope he set off for the park, leaving the empty apartment behind him. There was a bit of his blood there, he remembered. No matter.
The gentleman ghouls would look after their own.
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2006
Photo by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2006