“Pick a card,” said the boy, to the vagrant. “It will decide whether you live, or die.”
The vagrant spat into the gutter, the ruddy clot of phlegm floating like egg yolk in a witch’s drinking glass. Beside him, the thin young man that called himself Gun Deitrich shuffled a yellowed tarot deck with the sort of quiet patience that suggested he was willing to wait a considerable amount of time for the other man to make his choice.
“Dunno what them cards mean,” grunted the vagrant, at last. “I’m not spiritual, or anything. You could lie. Tell me I pulled a shit one, when I didn’t.”
Gun shrugged. A billow of flawless white hair rolled carelessly over one shoulder, its length almost touching the filth of the asphalt underfoot.
“I will not lie,” he said. “But if you are playing this game, Alec, then I do not think you care what is the outcome.”
Shrinking into the collar of his jacket, Alec squinted an eye against the beginnings of rain.
“Been a hard year,” he grunted. “Not really your business.”
Then, roughly, he added, “Quite fucked up, you playing this game with people instead of just killing them outright. You could just stab me right now and nick my gear. Don’t have to mess me about.”
“No,” Gun replied. “But it is fair, this way.”
He spoke with the too-proper, stilted cadence of an accent not quite shaken, and the wisdom of a man far older, perhaps of another time.
“Why do you do it?” asked Alec, bluntly. “Get off on killing, or something?”
Gun’s eyebrows arched.
“It is a need. Soon you will understand this. And if you live, there is something I offer you.”
Groaning, Alec made as if to gather his few things and move away.
“Gonna tell me you’re a secret millionaire, I bet,” he grumbled. “I’ve heard it all.”
One of Gun’s hands was on Alec’s wrist before his vision registered the movement, its touch of such blistering ice that he gave a startled yell.
“Wait,” said Gun. “I am rich, but that is not what I will give.”
His fingernails, though cut militantly short, were sharp; one had scratched Alec across the palm, his blood as stark against it as a vein in a drunk’s eye.
“Watch it,” muttered Alec, then started, his gaze rooting to the stranger’s mouth.
His teeth— they, too, were sharp, the canines narrow blades of enamel.
Alec looked at them for at least a minute before he spoke.
“So it’s like that, is it?”
“Yes,” said Gun, flatly. “It is like that. If you live, it will be as I live. So. Will you play?”
Cars moaned along a nearby road like gutshot men. A woman sang a drunken ditty from an open window; something about roses.
Rain churned up the stink of ammonia and refuse in the alleyway, and began to seep through the cracks in Alec’s boots.
“Fuck it,” he muttered. “Go on then, you blond cunt. Jesus Christ.”
He shook the stranger’s cold hand and hastily withdrew his own back into the safety of his sleeve.
Gun’s angular face, though expressionless, seemed lit inwards with the feeling of a smile.
“Good,” he said. “I will shuffle again. Then you choose.”
He played the cards between short, clever fingers—a thief’s hands, he had, small as a girl’s—and splayed them in a half-flower, each petal overlapping the other.
Rising to his haunches, Alec cast them a scathing look.
“I don’t believe in this stuff, y’know,” he said.
His voice was cracked and hoarse, his scabbed fists trembling.
“How do I know which one to take?”
“You feel it,” said Gun, coolly. “Inside you. Like a pull. Try it.”
Though the boy had about him an air of immovable calm there was the sense, in that stillness, of brutality, pure, and just, and cruel. He didn’t look real in the grim night, as beautific as a saint in a tapestry.
Only the blood under his fingernails suggested what he really was.
“Right,” said Alec, and edged closer to the other man, raising an arm to shield the tarot cards from the rain.
Minutes passed. A dog started barking, the same rhythm over and over, like a recording.
Then Alec pointed to the centre of the deck and said, curtly, “That one.”
Gun tilted his head slightly, his cool eyes a mystery.
“You are sure?” he asked.
The older man gave a shaking laugh.
“Bloody hell, mate. Don’t make me do it again.”
With a religious care Gun put away all cards but one into a painted wooden box and tucked them into a pocket of his coat.
Alec bounced one knee fractiously, glancing at the end of the alleyway, calculating the distance between him and it.
“Your card,” said Gun, turning the oblong onto its back, “is the Hanged Man.”
The illustration was of a hapless figure bound by the ankles, swinging into some vast and yawning emptiness. Alec seized hold of it, staring at the image as though hoping to erase it by sheer force of will.
“No,” he mumbled.
Gun leaned forward, placing one slight hand on his shoulder.
“Yes,” he corrected, gently, then lunged forward, his mouth to the crook of Alec’s neck, thrusting him back against the wall of the alley with such force that his long legs went out under him like a drunk’s.
He thrashed puddle water into muddy wings on either side of him. His fingers scraped and scratched at the worn leather shoulders of Gun’s coat, flaking the fabric.
Blood churned between their struggling bodies, the heat of it steaming in the cold night.
Gun drew back his head, the angled, elegant face transformed by pleasure into some strange and inhuman thing. The rain washed Alec’s blood backwards through his hair, tainting it the colour of a blind rat’s stare.
Alec twitched and jumped in his grip in helpless movements, his walled eyes fluttering. Green and blue, they were, the lashes long and dark, their prettiness surprising on so hard a face.
Gun cupped Alec’s chin in his jaw and prised his mouth open, the teeth worn down, wanting of fillings. With a nail’s edge Gun opened his own wrist and pushed it to the other man’s lips until the tongue moved, and Alec began, in savage gulps, to drink.
His eyes rolled, the whites encompassing the socket. Gun lowered his head to Alec’s so that they were hunched, cheek to cheek, entirely intimate.
The rain fell upon them both, unnoticed as a hand that shakes a heavy sleeper.
Slowly, reluctantly, they moved apart, Gun standing unright. He was not a tall man, his figure gamine, ambiguous.
Alec rolled his head back against the wall, groaning softly.
“Felt sorry for me, did you?” he mumbled, unsteadily. “That why you saved me?”
The slender boy shook his head.
“The Hanged Man does not mean death. It means giving in to unknown and inevitable change.”
Muttering oaths, Alec touched his fingers to the closing wound in his neck and inspected the pads of his fingertips. The crumpled card was still clutched in his other hand; with a short bow, Gun took it back.
“What changes do I need to know about then, mate?” asked Alec. “Guessing I can’t go out in sunlight, or anything.”
“Daylight will not harm you,” said Gun, with a crooked half-smile. “But night you will prefer. Silver you may learn to tolerate. Religious iconography, the same. Almost nothing will kill you— a stake to the heart, perhaps, but death is almost always temporary for us. And for the eldest and strongest there is no death at all.”
He ran a hand through his hair, glancing about with an easy air, as though he and the vagrant had not made drinking flasks of one another only minutes before.
“There are other things you must learn,” he said. “But I will not teach you this.”
Alec stumbled to his feet, the lightness of his own movement startling him.
“So you’re just leaving me alone to figure it out, then,” he sneered. “Wham, bam, and fucking thank-you, Ma’am.”
“Not precisely. Here.”
From another of his seemingly endless pockets Gun produced a dog-eared rectangle.
“Those I change call themselves the Night Meridian,” he said. “They choose their own names, after they turn. This card has an address for a safe house, of sorts. They keep them in cities all over the world, live there together, support one another. Sometimes I visit them. Mostly I am alone.”
Alec shoved the card into the depths of his trousers so as not to lose it. Then his head jerked up, alert.
“Hang on a bit. What do you mean they choose their names?”
“It is a symbol of the change,” said Gun, patiently. “Often they are— unusual. Lie September. Morrigan Synthesis. Vale Calliope—”
“Fucking mouthfuls, the lot of them.”
Gun shrugged, his pallid lips drawn into a little grin.
“Length is not required. Only what fits the person. They take their names from books, music, flora, planets. Anything they want. Whatever feels like them. Try it yourself.”
Alec thought a moment, scrubbing at the drying blood on his mouth with the heel of his palm.
“Got one,” he said, at last. “Lecter Thyone. First name after the cannibal, obviously. The second is one of Jupiter’s moons. See, I can be a pretentious twat, too, when I wanna be.”
The white-haired man laughed softly.
“I never doubted this.”
He turned, evidently meaning to disappear in the direction he’d come.
“Don’t run off just yet,” called Lecter. “Why did you choose me? Plenty sleeping rough along this stretch. Could have gone for anyone.”
Gun did not answer, his gaze pointedly adrift, as detached and arrogant as a prince in a fairytale.
“‘Cause you knew I was ill?” Lecter pressed. “Rotten lung, nothing to lose, all that shit?”
“There are lots of sick people in this city,” said Gun, dismissively.
He watched the rain pool atop his pointed boots, a performance of boredom that Lecter didn’t believe in.
“You don’t wanna tell me,” he said, boldly. “Why? What are you hiding, mate?”
“Many things. But what you want to know is this.”
Gun strode back across the alley and took the taller man’s chin in one hand, drawing his lips down into a kiss that tasted of iron, and autumn, and desire. His free palm clasped the back of his head, tracing the shaved scalp with a fleeting tenderness.
They broke apart, Lecter breathing harshly, palming the bashful heat at the nape of his neck, Gun smirkingly amused, stepping back again into the topaz spotlight of a streetlamp.
He looked softer, drenched in that colour.
Warmer. More alive.
“I came to you because you are beautiful,” said Gun. “All the children of the Night Meridian are.”
2 thoughts on “All Those I Change”
Wow, what a gripping and intense story! The way you describe the characters and their actions is so vivid and suspenseful. I’m curious, what inspired you to write about vampires and tarot cards?
Thank you so much for your lovely comment!
I’ve had an interest in vampires for as long as I can remember! In particular I’ve wanted to create an original character that plays with humans in a really shallow and trite game— I’ve practiced tarot for three years, and with each card having so many meanings it seemed like the perfect method to be misused by a vampire 🦇
These two characters will be recurring in my short fiction from now on, particularly Gun. If I write enough I’m going to put a book together about him!