The Charity Vampire

   No one is immune to its power. Not even I, something people believe to be invincible—a sort of mortal god that walks among us all.
   The power I speak of is one of the worst catastrophes ever to hit the human race, a power that cannot currently be conquered.
   Before I tell you more about this power, you will probably want to know whom—and what—I am. It is not an uncommon question, and though it is one I’m not willing to answer, I believe the time is right.
   To put it simply, I have been called many things throughout my life, but in our twenty-first century—a time when iron and metal rule the modern world—I have come to be known as Markus, or, better yet, Mark. I chose the name simply because it is common, but also because it cannot by easily remembered. If you met me on the street, you would be hard-pressed to remember it should a friend ask, and should our conversation have only been brief.
   What I am though, that is another story, one that would take a long while to tell. But instead of wasting our time with a long, drawn-out tale of how I was born, how I grew up, and how the happenings of my life shaped me into the being I am today, I will do my best to tell you the most condensed version I can.
   I was born in seventeen-century France on a small farm, where I lived with my widowed father and two older brothers. I breathed, ate and slept that life until I turned seventeen, when I left the countryside for the grand city of Paris.
   There, some would say, my tale turned tragic, while others would say I’d been blessed with the ultimate gift, one that would ultimately allow me to transcend the ages and tell you the story I now speak of.
   The moment I arrived in the city, I found a whole other world just waiting for me. Fine drinks, food, women—all existed on one place. And unlike the country, which smelled of burning animal skin and dung, the city held scents much more pleasant to the senses. The smell of bread wafting out of the bakeries, of alcohol from the bars, the fine, rich scent of a woman’s perfume. As far as I’d been concerned, I’d stepped into a piece of heaven.
   But, like all good things, it came to an end.
   One night, when walking home from the bar, I stumbled down an alley that had no end. Much to my grief, I growled, turned, and prepared to walk back out into the empty street, but stopped when a figure approached.
   “Excuse me,” I said, hoping to slide past without much trouble.
   I’d heard rumors of people stalking others in the night, cornering them in alleys and killing them with ease. But until that moment, I had never considered that it could happen to me. So while I prayed the stranger would leave me alone, I pressed myself against the wall and hoped that I would be able to leave without trouble.
   That didn’t happen.
   Instead of moving aside, the stranger stepped in front of me, barring access from the road. Then, when I tried to leave again—this time going right instead of left—he spread his arms to keep me from advancing.
   “What do you want?” I asked, reaching for my pocket.
   I had never been one to carry a gun, but I usually had a knife or something similar with me. If only I had just done what my father had asked and took his extra pistol to the city with me.
   “I want you,” the stranger breathed.
   The large male advanced until my back struck the brick that separated the dead-end from whatever lay behind it. He leaned forward, breathed in my scent, and pressed a hand to my back.
   At that particular moment, I had never considered myself an object of male attraction. But then, as he pressed his hand lower, sliding a thumb under the curve of my belt, I realized what my father had said—how I would make any woman fall to their knees with need, begging me to take them in the most violent and cruel ways I could. I imagined the way my eyebrows tipped the curves of muscle almost perfectly, the sharpness of my jaw, and how—on an ordinary, bright day—the stranger would have seen the hazel that made up my eyes.
   With nothing to do and nowhere else to go, I gave in to the stranger’s molestations, hoping he would not decide to do anything more than touch me. He seemed gentle enough—what with the way his hand slid into my pants and cupped the curve of my thigh—but something about the way he kept leaning forward and pressing his lips to my neck made my skin crawl.
   Had you asked me then if I had liked what the stranger did to me in the alley, I would have adamantly refused. But after almost two-hundred long years, I have come to learn that a man’s affection can be just as great as a woman’s, if not stronger.
   “Wha-What are you doing?” I gasped, grimacing when he pushed his body against mine. “I don’t want this.”
   “You do,” the stranger said, kissing my exposed collarbone, dragging his lips along the edge of my neck.
   “Please, sir. If you can just let me out of the alley, maybe we could arrange something. We don’t need to do this out in the cold. We…”
   Then, before I could finish, the most amazing sensation filled my entire being. He placed his lips to my neck and began to suck the flesh just inches above where blood flowed in my veins. Every part of me started sweating. My chest ached, my mind soared, my groin hardened, pressing hard against the fabric of my trousers. And for one brief moment, I felt more disgusted than I ever had in my life. How could I have been aroused by a man, and how could I have enjoyed the way he touched me, or the things he did to me?
   “Sir,” I gasped, trying to push him away. “Please, it…”
   I cried out as his fervor increased. Instead of simply suckling the flesh, he started gnawing at it, dragging the tips of his teeth along the length of the skin before pressing his lips against the scraped skin. The pleasure that coursed down my spine arched my back, pushing my body against his. He slid his hand out of my pants and brought both to my thighs, where he lifted me against the wall and pressed himself to me. His lips met mine in a sloppy but rough struggle as his tongue darted across my face before sliding into my mouth. He thrust against me, despite the fact we were both clothed, and ran his tongue along my face and down my neck.
   Just as I thought the pleasure would never end, he bit into my neck, forever sealing the bond between us.
   As I screamed in pain and pleasure, he tightened his hold on my thighs and pushed me against the wall, nearly squishing me between him and the brick. In my pleasure and pain-induced daze, I did my best to get him off of me—even scratching his back as hard as I could at times—but it was no use. Eventually, I became so weak that I stopped fighting and leaned against him, content in the fact that he had stopped feeding so violently.
   At the end of it all, he pulled me into his arms, carried me out of the alley, and to a nearby hotel, where he paid for a room and abandoned me for the night.
   The following morning, just as I woke to the sun’s foreboding light, I realized what had happened.
   I realized what I’d just become.

   For the next hundred years or so, I walked the streets of the city as best as I could, eluding the eyes of both the common public and the things I knew sat higher above them. During this time, I did the best I could to learn about myself—both my character and the thing I had become. Between hunting, sleeping in the dark crevices of the city’s royal catacombs, and ultimately surviving day-to-day, I scoured the pages of books, searching for any and everything I could find about my kind. The Bible—though written in God’s word—did little, for every time I touched it my hands would burn and my skin would chafe, forcing me to drop the vile thing after only a short brief moment. The realization that I had fallen away from God—whom I had so devoted my life to before—sent me into a depression so deep that I walked into the sun several times, only to find I was too much a coward to actually end my meaningless existence.
   It would not be until almost a hundred years later—when I fled to America and the nineteen hundreds were just about to close and make way for the new millennia—that something so terrible and tragic would strike not only me, but the world.
   During the nineteen-eighties—just after pop had gone big and John Lennon had been shot—a strange illness reared its ugly head. This illness would eventually be known as the power, the one thing that I, nor anyone else, could conquer. This disease—this power—could dwell inside a human body for months, even years, before it decided to attack.
   This disease would eventually come to be HIV, the virus that caused AIDs.
   At this point of the nineteenth century, I—along with many others of my kind—were forced to chose our prey carefully. With the virus spreading through the gay and homeless communities, we could not afford to catch it, even though we knew little about the virus itself and how it would react in a human body, much less our own. So, we turned from stalking the streets to preying on the upper class—the rich and wealthy who lived in their fancy mansions and upscale apartment buildings.
   Because of this change, we, ultimately, changed our way of life.
   Sadly, this forced several of our kind into a mold of existence they could not sustain. Several perished in the harsh light of the sun, or from the terrible agony of a pulled trigger. Modern Hollywood had, in a way, got it right—sunlight could kill us, holy objects could harm us, and stakes through the heart and decapitation could end us. But unlike the movies, we could die from other things—bullets being one of them.
   After the first of my kind began to fall into obscurity, I decided once and for all to abandon the rich and return to the streets, my personal hunting ground.
   Everything went smoothly at first. I learned to stalk my prey carefully, watching for signs of sores or anything else that might signal the lurking presence of disease; I avoided prostitutes, hustlers, and those who interacted with them in the hopes of forever eluding disease; and I avoided anyone who experienced symptoms—those with unbearable pains, coughing, and vomiting.
   How could I—a creature with such experience—ever fall into the clutches of ravage?
   I would soon come to learn how vulnerable I actually was.

   The night my life forever changed for the second time, I stalked and cornered a teenage boy into an alley, much like the one who created me had done nearly two-hundred years before. This teenage boy—who appeared young, fit and perfectly healthy—had no time to respond when I slapped a hand to his mouth, bent my head to his neck, and slid my fangs into his jugular. As always, the intimacy between hunter and prey brought about a carnal need that only came when I fed. Normally, I would’ve pulled the boy to the ground and savagely raped him as I fed, for even I was a monster whose perversions ran deeper than blood. But, for some reason, I didn’t. Instead, I ground our pelvises together, pressing my body against his as I clamped down harder on his neck. He struggled, but gradually relaxed as his body went into shock. He even arched his back when pleasure overtook his body, signaling that he hadn’t completely died.
   After I finished, I released my hold on his neck and pressed my bloody lips to his, prying his mouth open to relish his taste one last time before standing and fleeing the alley. Had I had more time—or the urge—I would have stripped him naked and delighted in the pleasures of his body. I’d done so before, with older boys and young men who preferred my company instead of none, but something about the boy had told me to leave him alone.
   Something about him had told me to just let it be.
  
   I found out why several months later.
   Amidst feeding on the teenage boys and older, homeless men I’d been silently stalking at night, I found myself feeling weaker than I had ever felt before. Several times, I had to abandon a potential kill because I figured him too strong, or because I would never be able to catch and subdue him quick enough. This lack of energy had nothing to do with my blood intake—because I fed on average once or twice a week—but something else entirely.
   Then, one night, after I stumbled out of bed and into my apartment’s bathroom, I discovered the reason for my frailty.
   Blanketing the underside of my arms, the base of my neck and inner thighs, dark, purple sores protruded from my skin like the black plague that had once savaged ancient Europe, signaling the beginning of an eternity of suffering. At first, I didn’t know what to do. Then, slowly, I reached up, touched my neck, and traced the perimeter of a sore with my finger.
   What I found astounded me.
   I could actually feel pain.
   Pain, I thought, and couldn’t help but shed a tear as I felt the first human emotion I had in over two-hundred years. So this is what it feels like.
   Despite the measures I had went to, and despite the security I had felt in choosing my victims, I had contracted the disease—the incurable power.
   My next thought was that I had to get treatment, because they said if you started early, you could potentially stop the disease before it did too much damage.
   Slowly—and with more agony than I had ever felt in my life—I realized that I could not go in for treatment. How would they treat me—a two-hundred-year-old creature of the night? They couldn’t give me blood, because a transfusion would most likely kill me, and I hadn’t taken an ounce of prescription drug since that fateful night in the alley, so that was out of the question.
   Taking a step away from the large mirror that blanketed the northern wall, I turned, pulled the shower curtain aside, and ran a shower, slipping inside after the water had increased in temperature. The simple act of water hitting my body forced flares of pain to develop where each of the sores were, but I bore through the pain and ran my hands over my face, rubbing away dirt that had long since made its way into my pores.
   What am I going to do? I thought, closing my eyes. How am I going to survive?
   Leaning against the wall, I began to cry.
   Maybe this was the salvation I had waited for all along.
   Maybe this was the way I would finally leave this world.

   I met my salvation several days later.
   Forced to leave my apartment to feed, I donned the longest, warmest clothing I could in hopes that, should someone lay eyes on me, they would not notice the sores, those particularly on my neck. The turtleneck sweater—though unbearably warm and agonizingly irritating—proved its purpose. It covered half of my neck and came to rest under my adam’s apple.
   Once prepared, I took the stairs and made my way out into the night, breathing in the city’s damp, dank smell. At this time of night, people walked a many, in large groups of five or more. Some choice individuals—wearing black or close to nothing—stood off to the sides, advertising services or smoking cancer that would not develop until later of life. I ignored these people, because just like before, I could not afford any other sickness. The HIV—AIDs, whatever I could classify it as—though only in its infancy, might develop even more quickly should I come into contact with another baring the disease.
   Taking one last deep breath, I made my way down the street, sliding my hands into my pockets and pulling my eyes away from the crowd. I watched the ground below me, taking note of each and every foot that passed, just to make sure that I would not bump into anyone.
   I could not afford a fight on a night like.
   I continued down the street without more than a second glance at anyone around me. My search for a potential victim had taken time before, due to the fact that I had always been overly cautious, but now, it would take even longer, seeing as the paranoia inside had grown.
   It’s all right, I thought, stopping to take a breath. You’ll be ok.
   I’d only left the apartment for one reason, and even then, I had to push myself into my clothes and out the door, despite the urge that festered like a rotting carcass deep inside. Had I not been so reliant on live prey, I probably would have broken into a hospital to nourish myself. Something about that seemed wrong though, stealing from the living. But even then, I did steal. None of my victims left alive, because if I let them go back into the modern world with the knowledge that I existed, a headhunt would start. I’d been chased by hunters before, but that had been long ago, when barbaric actions ruled the medieval world.
   After regaining my breath, I continued on my journey until I stopped at the end of the street. There, I waited with a dozen other people for the crossing light to turn green, popping my ankles and trying not to get nervous.
   Then, before I knew it, I saw him.
   Standing across the street, smoking a cigarette, the young man looked up just in time to catch my attention. Even from such a distance, I could see the cold in his eyes, the exhilarating ice that reflected the inside of his being. I stepped away from the crowd, pushed the cross button that would lead me to the other side of the street, and started for him as the nearby vehicles rolled to a stop.
   At first, the young man watched me, eyes wary and unsure. Slowly, he pulled his cigarette from his lips, dropped it, then squished cancer beneath his foot.
   By the time he lit another, I stepped into his presence.
   “Hey,” he said, turning his head to the side of blow smoke from his lungs.
   His action startled me, mostly because I’d never been treated with such respect. Normally, when I approached someone I believed was a potential victim, they’d curse at me, demanding what I wanted while spitting or spewing smoke in my face. This man, though… he seemed different. Maybe the kind soul that lay within the cradle of his chest had been the one to beckon me, not his presence.
   “Hey,” I replied, setting a hand on the wall beside me.
   “You need something, man?” he asked, taking another drag.
   “Smoke?” I frowned.
   “Sure.”
   While he reached down to pull both his lighter and carton from his pocket, I took his features in, noting his sharp jaw and his high cheekbones. His eyebrows—obviously plucked—traced the arch of his eye almost perfectly, framing the icy orbs that froze within his skull.
   “Here.”
   I looked up just in time to receive a lit smoke.
   “Thank you,” I said, taking the cigarette between two outstretched fingers.
   “So… where you headed?” the man asked. He paused, swore, then laughed and offered his hand. “Sorry, I never introduced myself. My name’s Erik.”
   “No need to apologize,” I said, shaking his hand. “I never introduced myself either. I’m Mark.”
   “Still, you came over here to see me, right?”
   I nodded, unsure what else to do.
   “Well,” Erik said, crossing an ankle over the other and leaning against the wall, “I’m not one to meet and fuck, but we can go back to my place and talk. I mean, if you want.”
   “It’s your choice,” I smiled, placing the smoke to my lips.
   In the back of my mind, I felt no urge to kill this man.

   “Well, this is it,” Erik said, extended an arm and waving it across the room.
   His apartment—much like mine—had been painted white. Posters of current musicians—including the late Lennon—covered the walls, while an impressive sound system stood beside the TV, rows upon rows of CD racks arranged beside it. To the left was a kitchen, while his living room lay situated to the right. Two doors stood at the far end of the apartment—one, I assumed his bedroom, the other his bathroom.
   “It’s nice,” I said, turning to look at him. “Erik, can I… can I bother you with something?”
   “Go ahead,” the man smiled, closing the door behind us.
   “Why did you bring me back to your apartment without knowing anything about me?”
   “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I mean, you seem cool, and I’ve been lonely for the past little while.”
   “Something happen?”
   “Uh… nuh-no.”
   He locked the door and made his way for the kitchen. He returned with two sodas a moment later.
   “I’m fine,” I said, shaking my head.
   “You sure?”
   “I’m sure.”
   “All right,” Erik shrugged, setting the extra soda at the end of the counter. “Well, it’s there if you want it.”
   He double-checked the door to make sure it was locked, then gestured me to join us on the couch. He picked up a nearby remote, pointed at the stereo, then clicked the ‘play’ button.
   John Lennon’s Imagine floated from the speakers.
   “Damn, I miss him,” Erik said, running a hand through his hair. “He’s an… was… an amazing man.”
   “I agree.”
   Erik kept his silence, sipping his soda while listening to a now-dead men talk about peace and how we, as individuals, laughed at his dream. I found myself leaning closer to Erik, sliding an arm around his shoulder and leaning against his body.
   “I’m all right,” he said, turning his head to look at me. “What about you, Mark? You ever listen to Lennon?”
   “Not until now,” I whispered.
   Smiling, he returned his attention to the stereo, just as the world would be as one…

   I returned home later that night with an aching, pulsing need in my heart. Though it no longer beat, it still processed the life-giving energy throughout my body, allowing me to move and function like a normal, semi-human being.
   I knew that if I did not get blood soon, my body would start to fail.
   I can go for one more day, I thought, staggering toward my bedroom. I’ll be all right.
   But, then again, I had told myself that earlier, when I was sure I’d return home fully fed and nourished.
   Stepping into the bedroom, I stripped out of my clothes, trying hard not to look at the sores in the process.
   I would be safe in the darkened room until tomorrow.

   I reaped the reward of patience the following night, and although I took a slutty-looking teenage girl in a too-short skirt and a too-tight shirt, I drained her dry, tossing her emaciated corpse near a canal.
   By the time they found her, the extra damage I’d done with my hands and fangs would have intensified, further completed by the stages of rot and decay.
   After making sure her body had slid into the gigantic culvert that passed under a nearby bridge, I snuck back onto the street and made my way for Erik’s home, taking extra care not to bump into anybody. While I could easily pass the slight amount of blood on my shirt off as a nosebleed to the casual passerby, a policeman might think better and start to question me. I didn’t doubt my abilities, but I didn’t think I could charm him, not so soon after a fresh feed.
   Stopping at the corner to make sure no one had followed me, I crossed the almost-empty street and made my way through the apartment’s front door. There, I took the stairs until I landed at room twenty-five, where I knocked on the door and slid my hands into my pockets.
   A moment later, Erik opened the door, naked, save for a pair of boxer briefs.
   “Mark?” he frowned, reaching up to rub his tired eyes. “Everything all right, man?”
   “Yeah,” I smiled. “Can I come inside?”
   “Well, I guess, I… Wait! Shit, man; you’re covered in blood.”
   “It’s just my shirt,” I said, looking down at the stain that framed my chest. “I had a nosebleed.”
   “Come on in.”
   I stepped into the house just in time for Erik to latch onto my shirt.
   “NO!” I roared, trying to push him away.
   “What’s wrong? Why are you…”
   I pushed him a little too roughly. He stumbled back—shirt in hand—snapping several buttons off the flannel I’d chosen to wear.
   Now, with my shirt half undone, I stood in front of my friend, truly exposed for the first time.
   “Oh damn, Mark,” Erik cried, looking down at his bloodied hands. “You’ve… you’ve got… it.”
   “Please… don’t hate me.”
   Erik stared at me with wild eyes before making his way to his sink, where he grabbed three different kinds of dish soaps and poured them over his hands. While he cleansed himself of something I could not defeat, I tried to understand why I felt the unbearable agony that I did. A weight, bearing the force of a thousand irons, pressed against my chest, forcing me back against the wall. I had to reach up and grip my arms to contain the shakes that followed.
   “Mark, why didn’t you tell me, man? And why didn’t you warn me before I touched your blood? How the hell could you…”
   He stopped the moment he stepped into the living room. I’d since slid down the wall and positioned myself in the corner with my knees to my chest.
   “Buddy,” he sighed, forcing a laugh as he knelt down beside me. “It’s ok, don’t worry. I mean, I didn’t get any on my face or in my mouth, so it doesn’t matter. It…”
   “I haven’t gone to the doctor, Erik.”
   “You’ve got AIDs and you haven’t got treatment? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
   “Nothing’s wrong with me,” I whispered, setting my head on my knees.
   “Then why haven’t you went in to get yourself checked out?”
   “Because I can’t.”
   “Why?”
   “Because I don’t have the money!” I cried, throwing my hands in the air to emphasize the dangerous lie I’d just made. “Don’t you think I would’ve gone in if I could?”
   “Mark… why… how?”
   “I don’t know! I just don’t know!”
   With nothing else to do, Erik leaned forward and wrapped his arms around me, guiding my face to his neck.
   I cried.

   I stood in the shower, washing a teenage girl’s blood from my body, while Erik stood outside the curtain. He talked, but at the same time, I didn’t listen. Too many thoughts ran amok in my mind. He—the man I’d wanted to kill no more than two nights before—knew my secret. What would he do? Would he try to force me to get treated, offer me money in the hopes that I’d go myself? What, exactly?
   Calm down. You can handle this.
   Taking a slow, deep breath, I set my head against the rough white tile and shivered as lukewarm water ran down my back. Outside, Erik said my name, but I didn’t reply.
   “Mark,” the man repeated, stepping forward. “You ok?”
   Again, I didn’t answer.
   Instead of waiting for me to reply, Erik took the initiative, parting the curtain just slightly. I turned my head to the side to look into his sad eyes.
   “I’ll be fine,” I said, somehow managing to smile. “I’m used to it by now.”
   “How long have you had AIDs?”
   “I don’t know. Weeks, maybe even months.”
   “And you’ve only just started to get sores?”
   I nodded.
   “Damn, man. You know, I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.”
   “I know.”
   “Tell me the real reason you haven’t gone in for treatment then. I’m not stupid—I know you’ve got money. I mean, you’ve got to. How else could you have those fancy turtlenecks and flannels?”
   “Gifts.”
   I turned my head down, no longer wanting to look in his eyes.
   “What is it then? You illegal, running from the cops, kill someone—what?”
   “It doesn’t matter anyway,” I sighed, reaching up to run a hand through my hair. “Eric… can I stay here for tonight?”
   “I don’t know, Mark. I…”
   “I don’t want to go back to my apartment by myself tonight. Please, just… just let me stay here, just for tonight.”
   Eric closed his eyes, tilted his head down, and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
   “Yeah, all right,” he said. “Let me go get you some clean clothes.”
  
   After Eric went to bed, I sat up reflecting about my situation and how I would ultimately resolve it. Here I was, sitting on a stranger’s couch, when I should have been home in the safety of my bedroom. What would I do when the sun came up? How could I explain myself when he came out of the bedroom and saw all the windows covered with sheets?
   You won’t, I thought, closing my eyes. You have to leave.
   Whether I liked it or not, I couldn’t stay here, not with Eric in the next room. Maybe if he left for work before the sun rose and returned just as it fell, maybe I could get away with it, but not without arousing suspicion. How would I explain my lingering presence, especially when I left to walk the streets and possibly feed? He knew nothing of my habits, except that I preferred the night and the closure it offered.
   Standing, I crossed the room and pushed his door open as quietly as I could. He slept on his stomach with his head slightly turned to the side. Wheezy breaths escaped from his partially-opened mouth, then half-drowned in his nose before being expelled once more. The covers covered just enough of him to avoid what my lingering eyes wanted to see.
   He’s… special.
   Special couldn’t describe a man like Eric. He, a perfect stranger, did not offer a man who caught his eye across the street passage into his home. And he, a sensible person, did not let that same man he’d seen the previous night enter his home covered in blood.
   I’d long since decided he was not a fool, nor an idiot. Unlike many others in the cruel world, he bore passion that had been forgotten long ago, when men begun to wage wars and bigotry began to rule the land.
   “Goodnight,” I whispered.
   Closing the door, I turned, made my way across the room, then dressed.
   I took one last look at his closed bedroom door before I left the apartment, making sure to close the door behind me.

   On my way home, I came across a lone man that stood near a burning barrel, holding his hands in front of the slick flames to warm them. This man—young, much like I would have been in my previous life—didn’t look up, even when I came to stop near the alleyway he stood in.
   “Something you need?” he asked, realizing my state.
   At first, I said nothing, not knowing how to respond. Then, after a moment, I stepped forward, holding my pale hands before the flames.
   “You care?” I asked.
   The man shook his head.
   “Not much to care about now,” he said, his following chuckle low and lacking the humor that should have projected it.
   A blotch of purple covered the side of his neck, hidden only by shadows that had been pushed away by manmade light.
   We share something, I thought, trying as hard as I could not to reach up and adjust the collar of Eric’s coat. We share a power.
   “Sorry to bring you down with me,” the man said, drawing my attention from his neck and to his eyes. “It’s just that…” He paused, then laughed. “God, sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to deal with this shit.”
   “I can relate,” I sighed.
   I brought my hands to my chest, where I slid them under my arms. There was no need to waste warmth just reaped by a fire.
   “I’m guessing you got it too,” the man frowned. “Shit sucks, huh?”
   “Yeah, it does.”
   “And you know what’s worse? Every time I’ve tried to go in to see if I could get some help, I’ve been run off by assholes who think I’m a fag. I mean, come on—it’s not like everyone who’s got it’s gay, you know?”
   “I know.”
   “I mean, doesn’t matter if you are or not if you’re sick, right?”
   I nodded.
   “You’d give anything to be free of it then?” I asked. “Even… even if it had to end?”
   “I ain’t got anybody anymore. My friends… my family… even my girlfriend, gone, all because they thought I was sleeping around with guys. Not much worth living for if you don’t have family or something to keep you going.”
   To think that after all this time—after all these cases—people still believed the power only offered itself to those men who slept with other men. How could someone believe that the agony, the pain, the frustration the disease caused could only affect one group of people?
   They don’t, I thought, stepping around the barrel. They don’t think, because their feeble minds don’t allow them to.
   Once in front of the man, I reached out, set a hand on his shoulder, and smiled.
   “You ok?” the bum grinned.
   “Yes,” I nodded, closing my eyes. “I… I think I’ve found what I’ve been looking for all along.”
   Like I had done so many times before, I leaned forward, pressed my lips to the man’s neck, and slid my fangs inside.
   Even though I would always have to deal with the burden of a mistake I had made long ago, that didn’t mean I had to let the suffering around me continue.
   I’d found my true purpose.

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