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The Thing in Itself

And because it's a vampire story, it'll never sell anywhere, but I kind of like it, so enjoy.

And forgive the formatting. At that, I've got work to do.

The Thing in Itself
Joseph Paul Haines
The devil's in the details, or so they say.
But in Nicolas Baumer's estimation, the devil made the details. The small details, like the worn padding on the tips of the girl's stiletto heels. Or the three-thread overlock seam mending the haute couture dress, where the designer had originally used four.
Class for sale; cheap. Used garments from those who deserved to wear them sold second and third-hand to those who wished they did.
“It’s lovely up here,” the girl said, practically a whisper. The city skyline loomed in front of them, the edges of the buildings sharp enough to cut. The windows glowed, as if each room behind them were gilded with gold. The night wind bit like hundreds of mosquitoes and whipped the scent of bergamot from where the girl had spilled tea on her chin earlier in the evening upward into the black sky.
Perception was key. Nothing existed save what the brain created from the input. The thing-in-itself didn't matter. It had taken a human philosopher to teach that to Nic—a German nonetheless--but he learned his lesson well. Without the smallest details, the universe ceased to be . . .unimagined, if you will. Most humans ignored the details.
Vampires dined on them.
The girl shivered, then wrapped her arms around the bare flesh above her elbows. Her shoulders collapsed in the ancient female gesture of supplication. Nic placed his hands on her hips, keeping her back to him.
Her blonde hair stretched out to the side in the breeze, exposing her neck. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked.
Nic allowed himself a small noise, one which the girl would take as acknowledgement. His fingers twitched and the corners of his mouth pulled down as if of their own accord.
He could almost taste her self-importance, her petty little desires and expectations dancing on the edge of her voice, glinting in the shimmer of her tiny diamonds, gilded in the lining of her Versace clutch. But he forced himself to wait. The time was near, but not. Here. Yet. He had to wait.
The man who'd been hunting him for the last week was almost in position.
The hunter was still across the roof, on the other side of the entry door, down the shaft and waiting for the elevator that would bring him to the roof; to the end of his hunt.
Nic waited until he heard the sound of the elevator door open, then close.
Once the hunter was securely in the elevator, trapped and able to hear the girl's screams, Nic struck.
His fangs slipped past the collarbone and the girl tightened in his arms. Her arms flailed and Nic felt her breath catch in her chest, the wind knocked from her.
That would never do. Nic wrapped an arm under her ribcage and squeezed, thusting the floating ribs into the lungs.
Her scream pierced the sky, sweet, like velvet thunder.
Nic allowed himself a single moment of pleasure from the thought of the hunter wailing at the door of the elevator in impotent desperation, then drew blood in through his fangs as if it were pure oxygen.
Her essence flowed with it.
Fat she was fat and hated and teased and ugly and no boy would ever look at her twice and then one did but he touched her and no! no! no! and she couldn't stop him and then he was gone but no one believed her they just laughed and said, "yeah, right," and she was nothing no less than nothing she was empty and void and then she clawed and scratched and starved herself until she wasn't fat and she wasn't ugly and she begged and borrowed and stole and didn't care because when she took she WAS somebody and then she was somebody who everyone wanted and craved and she ignored the lesser and took from the greater and she was somebody and she wasn't loved because who could love a fat girl (even though she wasn't fat anymore, everyone knew a fat girl was a fat girl no matter how thin she got)so she took and she took and she took when she could and then one day she didn't care anymore she didn't care if they loved her because she didn't love herself so she cried and she shouted and she cut her wrists but it didn't keep and they sent her to the hospital and she started, barely started, to love herself again and to give herself nice things even though she couldn't afford it and maybe, just maybe someone might love her if she could start to love herself and then the party, the work party where men she respected were going to be and where she could dress up and look pretty and he's so nice and kind and sure I'd love to see the city from the roof and
And there it was. If he stopped now, if he let her live, she'd change. The perception was stripped away from her, her life unfolded before her eyes like a roadmap. She'd see how her experiences had molded her, had tricked her into becoming a construct, a thing, a prisoner of cause-and-effect. She'd find her core again, and she'd grow and learn and just live and love and rejoice in her being.
They'd reached the core of her existence, the one thing that Nic hated more than anything about humans. They'd reached life.
And no matter how many years Nic lived, no matter how many names he took or languages he learned or experiences he absorbed, he'd never get to feel the loss of it. He’d never see what lay beyond, because without life, there was nothing after. When one became a vampire, that essence was lost.
No. Not lost. Simply never was.
An eternal life, with no life in the eternity. This was all. The thing-in-itself.
He grabbed her hair of the meat-puppet in his left hand and ripped the flesh from her neck. Her lifeless body hung from his hand and twisted in the breeze. Her memories were just like all the others. Pathetic. He'd lived countless lives through his victims, and he'd learned they were all the same: shallow, self-centered and oblivious to the true nature of the world. He found no remorse in ending their lives. They were, in essence, cattle. Cattle with a gift they didn't deserve.
A single bell announced the arrival of the elevator. Nic waited until the hunter had a clear line of sight before he positioned the girl’s body over the side of the building, and then, simply, let go.
The hunter stepped out of the elevator.
Nic turned, made a small gesture, and the fifty feet that separated them vanished in the missed beat of an undead heart. The collision sent them tumbling. Flesh ripped from elbows and knees and hips as their bodies slid across the concrete. They came to a stop with Nic straddling the chest of the hunter.
He stared down into his eyes.
"Big mistake," Nic said.
The hunter's eyes flashed in the moonlight. "No kidding."
The world twisted in front of Nic’s eyes, ending with a whoosh of expelled breath as Nic's back slammed against the elevator door. His body bounced off the wall and Nic spun in the air, landing in a crouch. The hunter was already on his feet.
"Contempt is a dangerous thing," the hunter said. "More so when it causes you to be careless." He stood casually. His hands were open at his sides.
Nic readied himself to move. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am," the hunter said, taking one single step closer, "what you made. You and those like you, that is." His boot-heel clicked on the cement as he moved forward, one more step. "I am the end of it." The sound of a distant police siren sang in the air, a coming Aria. "Did you think," the hunter asked, " . . .no. Did you not know that I would come? And that even if I once didn't exist, that inevitably I would?"
The sky pressed downward, closing the universe around them, the stars observing with unblinking focus. The air tasted flat; not even the hint of salt remained on Nic's tongue. Colors began to dissipate, as if liquid had been thrown on the watercolor painting of reality, until they driveled into a single, uncompromising gray stain.
"What is this?" Nic asked, but he knew. He knew.
Another step. "The universe is made by makers, Nic."
"Destruction is easy."
"Creation is hard."
"But to unmake something already unmade?"
One hand closed around Nic's throat. The other pushed through his sternum, shattering ribs as it entered.
"That takes something special, Nic."
In the hunter's eyes, Nic witnessed the gaze of each victim, one-by-one come to witness the end of it all. Somewhere, out there, where the stars rested in vast solitude, where the giants of the universe witnessed the galaxies as if they were nothing more than stars, where the Seeders witnessed Giants as if they were ants, where the multi-verse expanded and formed a single pinprick of light in the montage of creation, each of Nic's victims still watched, devoid of emotion.
As if he were a cow gone to slaughter.
Then, in the last moments of Nic's existence, the watchers turned their backs on him. No one watched. No one observed.
Yet Nic remained.
"And that," the hunter whispered between essence-white teeth, "is as close as you'll ever get to transcendence."
Unwatched; ignored; Nic simply ended.
And where the universe continued, where the infinite neared its completion, something noticed the end, and the means to that end, and a spark ignited.
The hunter became the hunted, and the clock began to tick on the unmaker.
Like they say, the devil's in the details.

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