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"Mr. Nakamura" by M.E. Proctor



We are, by nature, oddballs. Call us weird, extraordinary, freaky. 

Monsters. 

I will not dispute or argue the label. From the perspective of the prey, the predator is always monstrous. The sum of all terrors and an object of fascination. I do not see myself that way but monsters or predators rarely do. They simply are

Now that I have made this clear, let me backtrack. Some of my brethren are loathsome creatures, the vilest abominations on Earth. I steer well clear of them. Tonight, unfortunately, we will be in the same room. It is Council night, the annual compulsory gathering of our kind. Only extreme circumstances can justify an absence. It is proof of the power of our Elders to inflict devastating punishment that even the most degenerate rogues feel compelled to attend. 

For the past ten years, we have congregated in a hotel on the Paris Left Bank owned by one of us. It is discreetly luxurious, safe, and convenient. I don’t look forward to these meetings, they’re a dreadful bore. I don’t hang around much before or after the reunion, but a minimum of interaction is inevitable. I kill a little time chatting with a couple of wizened husks that are like me, avid book collectors. They are inoffensive, as is their conversation that quickly grows stale. It always amazes me that with all the time in the world I have so little patience. I find an armchair in the lounge and open a crime novel. That’s when Marco pops in. I am fond of Marco. He’s much newer to the hive than I am, and a little wild, yet without malice. He’s still awed by the gift. Over the past few years, however, I’ve noticed a change in him. He’s starting to show the eerie quietness that creeps over the best of us. The weight of the inevitable loneliness. I need to warn him. He’s about to enter that dangerous phase, when we’re prone to make morally questionable decisions with very long-lasting consequences. I know, I’ve made those mistakes, the regrets literally eternal.

“Julian, you stuffed shirt.” Marco laughs. “You have nothing better to do than bury yourself in a book? There’s an entire carnival on display in this place.”

“The fun has leeched out of it, my friend. I’ve seen the show too many times. How have you been?”

He drags a seat close to mine. “I’ve seen places I could only dream of before.”

“Have you decided where you wanted to settle? For a span, I mean.”

“Not yet. I like roaming. You’re still in love with your windswept cliffs, not yet tired of the company of sheep?”

There it comes, not too subtly, the allusion to what ails the introspective among us. The need for a caring soul, a presence to help while away the long nights. When the urge overcame me, I made a companion. It worked briefly, until our differences in temperament and interests started grating, to the point of violence, something I have no tolerance for. I repeated the experiment a couple more times, with similar results, always hoping for a better outcome. Harmony proved impossible to achieve and I gave up. I’m grateful that my selfish pursuit didn’t create one of the horrors that slink and ooze through the corridors of this hotel. There is nothing more sobering than realizing your weakness could unleash a plague onto the world. I need to make Marco understand this. It might be the only useful thing to come out of our silly alumni reunion.

“Here comes Mr. Nakamura.” 

Marco jumps topics, displaying the typical short attention span of our kind. We have trouble staying focused. It makes meaningful conversations difficult. In this case, I welcome the diversion. I’m not eager to expound on my cliffs or my sheep, and Mr. Nakamura interests me. We come in multiple flavors, yet he stands out. He’s mild-mannered, proper to the point of fussiness, and determined to improve our condition. It is a decidedly quixotic pursuit. Nobody wants to change anything. Why would we? We take what we set our sights on without fear of retribution. We rule the roost. As Marco would say: it’s a damn good deal. Older generations call it a deal with the Devil. I’m a product of the Enlightenment. When you doubt God, you have to throw out the Devil also.

Mr. Nakamura addressed the assembly during the last Council. His words still ring in my ears. They were provocative. He berated us for our crude materialism, called us shallow, and accused us of squandering our potential. His homily flew over the heads of most of the audience but it struck an unexpected chord in me. He said that isolation was toxic and that a mind starved of empathy degenerates and calcifies. It earned him a volley of catcalls and jeers.

“Talk about preaching in the desert,” Marco says.

“You don’t think Nakamura has a point?”

My friend shrugs. “What difference does it make if he’s right? We still have to feed.”

“So do all species,” I say. “It doesn’t prevent humans from creating works of art, invent things that make life better, explore the cosmos. What have we ever managed to produce that made a smidgen of difference to anything? Except chaos, of course.”

“So where’s that great novel, you said you would write one day?” He hikes his shoulders. “We can’t be achievers, Julian, we’re not capable of sustained effort. The feeding takes up all the room in our heads. It sucks all the energy. That’s the painful truth.”

The bell rings in the hallway. We are summoned.

“You look gloomy,” Marco says. “Let’s hit a few clubs afterwards, grab a little nosh.”

“I’d rather sit down with Mr. Nakamura and pump him for all the wisdom he’s worth.”

“What wisdom? You’re a romantic and you read too much. It isn’t complicated. We are the dominant species. The world is at our feet. I don’t know why you fill your head with philosophy and science. You seek improvement when there’s nothing to improve. We are perfect.”

There is so much wrong with that statement. “Look at the Elders on the podium. Half of them are no better than wax figures. The carcass is there, well-preserved, but there’s nobody home.”

“They’re as old as the world. I can barely stay awake during Council. Imagine having done this three thousand times or more, with no end in sight.” Marco shivers. “There’ll be a point when I’ll say: no more. I’ll go sit outside and wait for sunrise.”

He wants some kind of reassurance from me, because I have seniority. I’ve been at this game for over two centuries. With a mere three decades under his belt, he’s practically newborn. I shoot him a grin. “The time when it gets to be too much, no more surprises, when I’ve seen all that can be seen and experienced hasn’t caught up with me yet. That’s why I don’t want my mind to shrivel and die, Marco. It’s too fine a piece of horlogerie to be allowed to rust.” I wrap an arm around Marco’s shoulders and we walk into the meeting room together. We are a couple of invincible young men. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of finding out what’s ahead.”

“Despite repeated human stupidity?” Marco mutters. “The fact these idiots learn nothing? Mind you, it might be fun to witness how they’ll engineer a total fuck-up.”

It makes me chuckle. Marco was born too late. He would have loved the end of days atmosphere of Versailles before the fall of the Ancient Régime. Those were intoxicating times.

#

Most attendees leave as soon as the Elders declare this year’s Council concluded.

As usual, nothing of importance happened. New names were entered on the rosters, a couple were removed. Financial matters were discussed. A few members applied for assistance in finding suitable familiars, always a delicate subject. A list of safe houses in the Paris area is distributed with transportation details. We have to disperse, it’s protocol. So many of us in town at the same time creates issues. Trouble has to be kept to a minimum. The convergence of interests simplifies matters. The feral and out-of-control bunch want to get as far as possible from the Elders and their disciplinary reach, and the Elders want them out of sight and out of mind until the next year.

Marco humors me and agrees to come along and visit with Mr. Nakamura. We find him in a room on the top floor.

“I’ve heard about you, Julian Crenshaw,” Nakamura says.

That surprises me. I keep a low profile. “In what context, if I may ask?”

“Your remarkable library. I’d like to see it next time I’m in your part of the world.”

“It would be my pleasure. I’d be honored to have you as a guest.”

We’re not much for wasting time on idle talk. The ticking clock is a stern mistress. “What do you want?” Nakamura says. “I don’t get visitors often. I’m not very popular.” He chuckles. “Controversial pronouncements.”

“You didn’t address the assembly tonight.”

“I can’t find takers for my hare-brained schemes. How old are you, Julian?” The question lacks precision and he amends it. “How old were you when you turned?”

“Twenty-six.”

He turns to Marco. “And you?”

“Twenty-five. I’m Marco Visconti, by the way.”

Nakamura smiles. “Too recent to have made a mark yet. Don’t fret. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” That makes him giggle. “Some would say that you started the race at the ideal time. I’m not so sure.”

“Is there even an ideal time …” I say.

“Mid-forties would be my choice.” He points at his wrinkled face. “As you can see, I missed the mark by a good twenty years.” He waves his hands in the air. “No regrets. I had a life before all this. A wife, children. It changes how you look at things.”

“Boundaries,” I say. “Loss.”

“Do you understand what these words mean, Julian? Beyond what the books taught you.”

His comment is provocative, maybe intentionally. I think he’s testing me. He’s testing Marco too, who reacts to the jab.

“You don’t have to have experienced every feeling to understand them,” he says. “My parents loved each other. I had lovers. I know what affection feels like. I haven’t had time to forget.”

I hear the wistfulness under the brashness. I could tell him that time has nothing to do with it. There is no forgetting, no matter the years, unless you’re one of the animals among us, tearing down the avenue, howling at the moon. But their feelings were stunted at birth. They were despicable humans. The gift doesn’t change our deepest nature, it exaggerates it.

Nakamura makes a placating gesture. “Don’t take it the wrong way, young one. I’m just saying that, by no fault of your own, you’ve been robbed of deep emotional connections.”

Marco makes a face. Before he can argue further, I bring the conversation to the topic that interests me. “I thought a lot about what you said last year. The need for empathy.”

“They laughed me out of the room,” Nakamura says. “Sharing feelings, exchanging ideas, and having contacts beyond feeding. It wasn’t well received.”

I don’t consider feeding meaningful contact but for most of us it’s the essence, the star that the world orbits around, the beginning and the end, with nothing in between. I find the notion bleakly depressing.

“I’ve tried to go beyond our basic imperative, Mr. Nakamura,” I say, “and I failed.” It’s embarrassing to admit, especially with Marco sitting by my side, but if I don’t tell Nakamura, who else will listen? “The urge to consume is an all-powerful interference. It keeps distracting me and whoever I’m with.” I’ve never told this to anyone. “The biological trigger prevents all forms of intimacy beyond the most banal. I know I don’t make much sense …”

“Not so, not so,” Nakamura says. “The trigger, as you call it, blocks progress. That’s why we don’t strive for anything. We’re reduced to mindless devouring machines.”

I lean forward to get closer to him. “The body might be a dumb machine, but the brain wants to leap. Our physical nature keeps it on a short leash.”

He claps in delight. “You just slipped that leash, my boy!”

He’s condescending and it annoys me. “I didn’t come here for a pat on the back, sir. You’ve considered the implications of all this. Help me. Tell me how I can bottle the hunger.” It comes out more desperate than I intended. Maybe this is a fool’s errand and I’m putting too much hope in Nakamura. Maybe he’s just spewing words and knows nothing.

“Have you fed tonight?” he says.

I don’t need to, not for a while. “Willpower alone won’t do it. I tried.”

“You’re having a conversation with me.”

“I can sustain a conversation with anyone with half a brain for half an hour. This is not what I seek.”

My forcefulness gives him pause. “What do you really want from me?”

“Clarity about action. Telling us that we need socialization to prevent our brains from withering on the vine, advocating for companionship to fight toxic solitude … Nice principles. How do we go about doing it?”

Mr. Nakamura leans back in his armchair and contemplates the ceiling. What surges in me isn’t the feeding frenzy, it’s the shortness of temper that got me kicked out of more schools and civilized salons than I care to remember. This wise man pondering amid plush cushions is the replica of all the smug professors and snooty aristocrats that showed me the door with self-satisfied glee.

“I believe the solution is in your grasp, Julian,” he says. “What does the too silent Mr. Visconti think about it?”

“About what?” Marco blurts in surprise at being addressed.

“An experiment,” Nakamura says. “You two get along pretty well, don’t you?”

I consider Marco a friend but it’s a laughable approximation of what friendship should be. We meet a few times in between Council gatherings, have a drink, and go our separate ways with very little of any substance ever said. My fault, I guess. My reluctance to cross an invisible line. I don’t take rejection well. 

“We’re not alike. I can’t disappear into a book for hours like he does,” Marco says.

“And I can’t be constantly on the move like you are,” I say.

Mr. Nakamura smiles. “Recognizing differences is an indispensable step in any successful relationship. The next one is compromise. You’ll have to give a little to make it work, boys.”

What is he suggesting? I wouldn’t call the icy shiver crawling up my spine fear but it is a fair substitute. “Marco and I? You’re out of your mind.” The notion is outlandish. Impossible. Too close to what I crave and can’t admit aloud.

“What kind of compromise?” Marco says.

Is he seriously considering Mr. Nakamura’s suggestion? I stare at him and he grins. He must think it’s a game, an innocuous challenge. He has no idea how I feel about him. If he’d guessed, he would have given a sign. There were multiple opportunities, over the years. But these kinds of feelings are off limits, and he knows that. We cannot replicate or experience the emotions and sensations humans take for granted. We are savage beasts. Desire equals hunger and hunger means feeding. We can’t love, we can only slash each other’s throat in a storm of unbridled ferocity.

“Living together requires forbearance,” Mr. Nakamura says. “You have to tolerate imperfections, flashes of temper, disagreement, and keep going because you value the relationship above your own self. It isn’t something to be attempted lightly, Mr. Visconti. We are by nature selfish and we expect immediate gratification.” He sighs. “And you both turned young, before life had a chance to knock you on your ass and teach you humility. It will be very difficult.”  

Marco winks at me. Does this conversation amuse him, does he think it’s pleasant idle talk? The small hotel room doesn’t contain enough air to fill my lungs.

“But you think it can be done,” Marco says.

Mr. Nakamura is pensive. “I don’t know. So much can go wrong.” He motions at the door. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have business to attend to.” 

Marco jumps to his feet. He holds his hand out to shake Mr. Nakamura’s. “Your insights are illuminating, sir. Thank you.” He’s at the door in two steps. “You’re coming, Julian?”

The abrupt dismissal throws me. “Ah … yes.” I bow deeply in front of Mr. Nakamura. “Thank you for taking the time, sir.”

“Good luck.” He waves at me. Is he wishing me well, what is he wishing me well for?

Marco is already at the end of the hallway, waiting for me, when I close the door of Mr. Nakamura’s room.

 “He’s a sweet old man,” Marco says, “and a dyed in the wool intellectual. Frightfully naïve, of course, that goes with the territory. Thinking the solution to all our problems is as simple as sitting by the fire, chatting. Playing board games, maybe, or charades. To keep our minds active. Of course, we have to be patient with each other. Say please, and do you mind, and do you prefer the window open or closed, dear?” He bursts out laughing. “Too simple, much too simple.” Without warning he grabs me by my jacket lapels and slams me against the wall. “Because there’s the body, Julian, and it has a mind of its own that is not to be denied.” 

His mouth is close to my neck and I feel the warmth of his breath. I can smell him. Citrus and cloves. It takes all the control I can muster to resist throwing him off. I’m much stronger than he is, I would crush him.

I bite on the words. “Let go of me, Marco.”

Instead, he kisses me. 

I feel the tip of his fangs on my mouth, sharp enough to bruise and break skin. His tongue caresses my teeth, still partially retracted, teasing, intent on tempting me into full untamed fury. We’re close, so dangerously close to drawing blood, that it makes me dizzy. My heart hasn’t beaten so furiously since the night I turned, the last time I was that near to death. Pleasure rises in long heavy lazy waves. It overrides the hunger. Time stretches the span of the universe and I ride the swells of desire for eons.  

Marco releases me and breaks the embrace. He gently smooths my jacket, left in disarray by our tussle.

 “I’ll take my experiment in physical intimacy over Mr. Nakamura’s philosophical discourses, anytime,” he says.

The waves retreat leaving my heart smoother than a sandy beach. “You’re crazy, I could have ripped your head off.”

“But you didn’t.” Marco leans on the wall next to me. “Anything in your books about what just happened, Julian, anything in the old scrolls, or on the undead gossip grapevine? Any brilliant tips on the mechanics of sex between the chosen?”

He’s young and reckless. Mr. Nakamura said it would be difficult. I don’t think he envisioned this complication. I’m about to shackle myself to a beautiful predator. He’s keen and strong. He will hurt me.

“Monster mine,” I mutter.

Marco doesn’t slap away my hand as I touch his face, the flat planes of his cheeks and his smooth forehead. He leans into me, eyes closed. He will challenge me and we will test the limits, like we just did in this sterile hotel hallway. Maybe we’ll find peace. There is the precious promise of that. I’ll take it, for as long as fate will grant me. Impermanence is a very human sentiment.



M.E. Proctor was born in Brussels and lives in Texas. Her short story collection Family and Other Ailments is available in all the usual places. She’s currently working on a contemporary PI series. The first book will come out from Shotgun Honey in 2024. Her short fiction has appeared in Vautrin, Bristol Noir, Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Reckon Review, Black Cat Weekly, and Thriller Magazine among others. She’s a Derringer nominee. Website: www.shawmystery.com  





1 Comment


Aimee Kluck
Aimee Kluck
May 13

Not so unlike humans. Trying to find a connection. Good prose and exciting

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