[Note: Contains strong language]
Vandross crouched on the fifth story ledge watching the life of the city below.
He sat back on his heels, resembling a huge black bird or one of the many concrete gargoyles that grace the ledges and cornices of older buildings. The split tail of his turn-of-the-century black greatcoat lay piled behind the stacked heels of his roll-toed black riding boots. His wavy brown hair spilled over his shoulders from under the brim of his top hat.
Some months back, he had considered the possibility of purchasing clothes that were more modern when the daygirl at the front desk of the hotel had remarked, “Nice costume, you in a show nearby?” The girl was reasonably attractive with black fingernails and lips. A dozen pieces of jewelry hung from piercings on her face and ears. A large tattoo of a dragon spread its wings across her chest and shoulders.
He considered the question a moment before answering, but these clothes were comfortable and he was used to the way they felt. “No, not nearby,” in an accent devoid of any regional flavor though he could have easily replied in the local dialect. It had not seemed necessary, at the time. “Nice dragon.”
After that, she smiled and spoke each time she saw him, but never asked any prying questions. After the first month, she suggested, “I notice no one comes to visit and you rarely go out, so if you want some company some evening, let me know. I’ll be glad to…help you out.”
He had responded, “Thank you, I…will keep that in mind.” She smiled at him as though she believed his response.
Night after night, for unnumbered years in unnumbered places, he sat and watched, mindless of the change of season or weather, from the stifling heat of summer to the frigid cold of winter, he watched.
He often lost track of time and place. Just as a day melts into a month, so can a year dissolve into a century. He saw city streets transition from mud to cobblestones to pavement. Buggies replaced horse-and-rider, to be replaced by these noisy, present day motor beasts. Always he had traveled where he felt drawn to these nexuses of time and place and always he watched. On rare occasions, he had acted and on other occasions, he had later regretted his non-action, but the course of the future was not his to decide or even to mold, yet sometimes….
Time always swirled, creating universe beyond universe, as the nightscape of older buildings created a ragged tableau against the backdrop of the newer skyscrapers of the cities’ hearts. Night-lights flickered and evolved as neon signs blinked, throwing differing shades of color to reflect off the surrounding buildings. Buildings shook as the subway train, riding on the elevated tracks, rumbled down the street. A scream, in the distance, carried above the roar intended to mask its existence. No one else seemed to notice or care.
Traffic had thinned over the last hour but the calliope sound of talking people, impatient horns and seeking sirens continued, only in lesser degree. People moved below showing no concern for the late hour or the inherent danger contained within. Others scurried along, fearfully trying to avoid attracting the attention of unwanted eyes. The vermin on the underbelly of humanity rolled to the surface with the night to seek fulfillment for their malevolent desires. They slid from shadow to shadow, waiting for the proper moments.
From the concealing canopy of shadow, a young man darted to grab the purse of a middle-aged woman. He raced down the street to disappear into the dark embrace of another shadow, gone as though he never existed. The woman screamed, but her husband pulled her along, sacrificing the purse to find the obscurity of being a part of the moving, mindless throng.
Scantily clad women marked the street, and its corners, to peddle themselves to passers-in-the-night, raising money to feed their inescapable habits or their greedy pimps. One of the younger lambs, a newcomer to the street, caught Vandrass’s interest, in a way that burrowed through decades of death and remembrance. His lot and his purpose were to sit and to watch. He could not remember how many decades since someone last caught his eye. She had the fresh look of one not yet trodden by the world, but there was also…more…an inner radiance. He felt oceans of promise inside her and wondered what wave of desertion had brought one such as her to this place, at this time. Could it be…could she be the one? He watched.
There was awkwardness in her movements and attitude, unlike the other girls with their practiced smoothness. The fresh sweetness of her spirit scared off some of her patrons and, although he sensed they wanted to pullover and stop, they drove on down the block. Several cars eventually did pull beside her. Some drove off again wary of the light within, but soon she disappeared with callers, to return with an almost imperceptible decay in the golden brilliance of her aura. Given time, the degradation of being so wantonly used would erode her, leaving her as empty and hollow as the rest. That was a crime he could not sit by and allow to happen…not to this potential light.
Vandrass reached out with his mind, weaving a net around her, encircling her with a sparkling radiance visible only to him. Cars pulled over and immediately sped off. The occupants saw a reflection within the girl of their own inner beasts and demons. From dark betraying desire to the horrifying need to destroy, their souls lay bare and reflected from the searing eyes of this pretty, young, innocent face. The visualization of their own demons forced each to confront that hidden part of themselves and many hurried home, never to return, but even these reactions took a miniscule toll on the young girl.
With the ominous presence of a demonic chariot, a vibrantly painted car pulled up and a scarred man in the back seat rolled down his window. He yelled at the girl, “What the fuck have you done to yourself? You look like shit!”
“I haven’t done anything,” she responded, fear breaking through her bold voice.
“Well fix your fucking face,” the Scar bellowed. “How much you earn tonight?”
She responded to the roar by taking a step backwards. “I’ve got, uh…a hundred dollars…”
“You ain’t fucking made but a hundred fucking bucks? What the fuck you been doing? Sitting on your fucking ass?” Even from the window of the car, his roars backed her up another step.
“No, I’ve been trying! But they don’t stop… I’m trying!” Her voice broke, as the tears welled in her eyes.
The door of the car creaked open and the man climbed out of the car. He was large and muscular, and the scars on his face were not the only ones on his battle-tested body. His arm moved in a swift arc and the force of his backhand knocked her off her feet.
“Don’t you fucking lie to me, you fucking cunt. I’ll kill your motherfucking ass, you lie to me!” His thunder reverberated from the surrounding walls as the girl cowered on the pavement.
Vandrass leaned forward and fell from the ledge in a graceful plane, shoving his body away from the wall with a last second kick. The tails of his greatcoat stretched out behind his lithe body like the tail feathers of a hawk as he spread his arms out wide, falling toward the sidewalk. As he neared the sidewalk, he tucked his head under his body and, completing a flip, landed softly on the concrete, making no sound at all.
Rising to his full frame, he strode toward the girl who was still sprawled on the sidewalk. The stacked leather heels of his boots clicked with each step and a dragon-headed cane suddenly appeared in his hand. His shadow, created by the light of the nearest streetlamp, touched the body of the girl as she struggled to stand. The scarred man’s heavy companion climbed out of the driver’s seat and stood near the hood of the car, watching the all too familiar scene unfold.
The scarred man looked at Vandrass with a mixture of threat and uncertainty. “All right, Sherlock Holme-boy. You better mind your own fucking business.”
Without hesitation, Vandrass continued past them on the sidewalk, uttering his mantra, “I am not allowed to…take action.”
“You damn right, you Halloween-dressing mother fucker,” the man spat out, and returned his attention to the girl, who had found her feet. The scarred man reached out, grabbed the girl by the hair and yanked. Vandrass stopped walking away and slowly turned to face them.
The man yelped in surprise as he felt his own head yanked backwards. His reflexes forced him about-face, looking to see who yanked his hair. But, there was only the emptiness of the street and the gaudily painted car. The driver, still standing in the street near its hood, had a confused, but wary, look on his face. Vandrass deliberately stepped toward him.
“Do not aid him, if you wish to live.” The driver looked at Vandrass, eyeing him up and down. There was nothing imposing about this strangely dressed man, but there was something about him that unnerved the driver and he remained where he had been standing.
The girl had regained her feet as the scarred man swung a hard right to her stomach. Her mouth fell open in surprise as he doubled over in agony. With one knee on the concrete, and fury welling up inside him, the scarred man looked up at the girl’s bewildered face.
He groaned out, “You hit hard for a fucking cunt. But you gonna regret that, bitch… oh, I’m gonna smash that pretty mouth!”
With a surprisingly swift swing, a left backhand cut loose for her face as the scarred man pushed swiftly upward with his legs. The force of such a blow should have knocked the girl backwards against the building. But, she didn’t move. Instead, his own head snapped back, and his heavy body followed, slamming on the sidewalk near the curb. His mouth and nose trickled blood as he stood and pulled his knife.
“I don’t know how the fuck you did that, but you are one motherfucking dead cunt.” He made a wide swipe with his knife and felt a sharp pain across his abdomen. He looked down in disbelief. “The fucking bitch stabbed me.” He sank to his knees, gurgling sounds issuing from his mouth, blood spreading across the front of his suit. He fell forward onto the sidewalk, as the crimson pooled around his body.
Vandrass looked at the driver, both hands resting on the dragon cane. “You did well not to attempt to help him. He doomed himself by his own actions, as do we all. Once you give the girl the money your master collected tonight, you would be best to leave.” The driver reached into the car and pulled out a roll of bills which he handed to the girl before the squalling tires of the painted car carried him away.
Vandrass slowly stepped toward the girl, the tap of the cane on the concrete seemed to echo from the buildings gaining in strength until it was almost deafening. “Take the money and start a new life. The problems of the past are just that…” He stopped moving and stood with feet apart, both hands resting on the cane in front of him. “In the past.” His wanted to reach out, to touch the light in her face, but he stayed his ancient hand. “You should move forward, toward tomorrow.” He turned as he began to walk away. “Rest assured, we will see each other again one day.”
He walked down the street thinking it might be time to buy other clothes; after all, the world has moved forward. Maybe the dragon girl at the hotel would help him pick out something for tomorrow.