“Arlovski’s Maze” by Tony Southcotte

Arlovski's Maze

Count Arlovski stared at the portrait that dominated his bedroom wall. The young man in the image was pale, but full of action and vigor. Long hair was strapped tight in a bun and a rapier was held in an outstretched hand. The military garb of the time wasn’t his first set, but it was one of the uniforms he enjoyed most. His canine teeth were sharp and bared, spittle captured for eternity in oil paint.

The coffin creaked behind him as the count leaned on it. Like him, it had aged from polished and smooth into a decrepit and noisy thing. He feared that in a few more decades it wouldn’t protect him from the midday sun. Small warps in the seams had already lead to sleepless days as he watched a thin line of light edge ever closer to his protruding nose. The old vampire had taken to taping the seams with duct tape to keep the sunlight out.

Now his teeth ached, his bones held slack skin, and even his bat form looked like a malignant tumor with leather flaps. He scoffed at the painting and walked to the window. Below him lay a town that had moved on from the dark ages. His powers were dimming. He could transform, he was functionally immortal, but hypnosis and seduction were so often tied to charm and looks. They weren’t necessarily powers, just hundreds of years of convincing chaste women to climb into bed with him. It had raised his charisma to lofty heights and also gave young women an excuse for their behavior.

He thought back to his therapist. Self-defeating thoughts never got anyone anywhere. Neither did telling a vampire that he needed to get thicker skin and not be so hard on himself. It was the last time Doctor Leibowitz held 8 liters of blood.

The old vampire spit at the town. He was going to drain someone tonight. In a flash of smoke he took off into the cold night.

—–

The drunk humans that wandered in the dark looked like pulsing splotches of red in an otherwise muted world. The street lamps didn’t illuminate them nearly as well as their coursing blood. His stomach rumbled with need as he looked for a proper target.

Laying at the end of an alley was a woman carried by two men. She was inebriated to the point that her blood looked dirty and pinkish. The other men were inebriated as well but not even close to the woman.

Arlovski scanned the area for cameras and other security equipment, but the dirty back alley was unsupervised. He felt like a junkie lurking in alleys more than the hunter of old.

Of course he knew what the men were on about. They had a young woman scantily clad and inebriated beyond control. Centuries had changed hairstyles, but not the terribleness in some men. The old vampire swooped down and drove his long knobby fingers into the back of one of the men’s head. Arlovski giggled when he felt the jaw moving in time with his thumb. Arlovski turned the now dead man to the other, carrying the limp body with ease.

Arlovski made the meat puppet ask, “Got another cig, bro?”

The other man stood, mouth agape. The burning cigarette rolled down the front of his shirt and he was too scared to feel the burn. Arlovski dropped the body and gave chase, grabbing the man by the neck and giving it a full two twists. Just to be sure. He dragged the body over to the drugged girl and sat next to her. Using a long and thin nail, he sliced down the dead man’s arm where the artery lay. When he had enough arterial tubing he pulled it out and stuck it in his mouth and started to drink.

“Come here often?” The vampire asked.

The girl only responded with terrified eyes. Her nearly black lipstick and white makeup gave her a corpse like appearance, but she still looked supple and very much alive.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had an audience. Especially one so lovely. Or captive,” Arlovski said. “Oh and don’t worry. The party drugs they loaded you up on give the old digestion hell. You’re safe.”

The young blood surged through his body, filling him with vigor. He could almost feel the wrinkles fading on his leathery face, feel the time turning back. He needed to get out more.

Arlovski poked at the tattoo of Bela Lugosi on her upper thigh. “Have you even seen that movie? He had the look but it was terrible. Centuries of vampire stories boiled into hours of boredom. I’ve seen plays better. Honest to your Jew god, plays, which were better. The older I get the more I think Nosferatu nailed it, but it might be because we have the same ears.”

He slurped loudly on the artery, willing more blood to get past the air bubbles.

At the end of the alley, red and blue lights flashed. Arlovski hissed at them and raised his cloak to his eyes. The officers stormed after him. The count looked into the girl’s hand at her smartphone and saw that 911 was still an active call. She must have called when the drugs started taking effect. Smart girl. He grabbed the phone and shoved it between dirty toes, changed into a bat and leapt into the night.

The cell phone was heavy in his claws but he kept it anyway. He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like the thing to do.

—–

In his castle he brooded. Some white hair had returned to his skull. His lips had gotten slightly fuller. He couldn’t sustain life as a shriveled hag any longer. He needed fresh blood without the threat of bullets and prisons with windows instead of bars. His frail body couldn’t handle bullets like it used to, and nowadays even women carried high power pistols.

Arlovski paced back and forth in his bathroom, thumbing through pictures on the phone and staring at his pajamas floating in the mirror. He skulked, slamming his hand on the counter-top, cursing in languages no mortal could identify. How could he get people to his home?

The mirror reflected only his pajamas, never forsaking his visage. He stared at the nothingness of himself for a while, then slid the color faded clothes to the ground. In the mirror, he still saw nothing. He grabbed a smaller mirror, bouncing his reflection different ways, hiding parts of himself with angles and edges of mirrors.

When he crawled into the coffin that morning he was too excited to sleep. He’d make a trap, a strange attraction that he could wander through as a ghost. One where his victims would come to him and he could bleed them for youth and vigor.

Finding a contractor that agreed to be paid in gold was surprisingly easy. Corruption abounds when taxes get ridiculous and apparently the exchange rate had skyrocketed since the last time Arlovski had checked in the late 1700s.

A few short days later large trucks began to show up at the castle. His sleep was disturbed during the day as brackets were made and giant looking-glass panels were hung all along the inside. The wide halls were turned thin and into the false corners and paths of a maze.

Arlovski walked the halls of the glass fortress at night, learning its corners and edges, finding its dead ends and where to lurk unseen. The odd angles made it easy for him to creep. Clothes without hands or a head would dance through the maze until Arlovski disrobed and his pruny body would vanish into the world of mirrors.

He tested the sound, channeling Bela Lugosi’s laughter. It echoed through pipes he had the builder place throughout the maze, making Arlovski seem omnipresent. Soon it would be time to test this little world he was building.

—–

One day in the darkness of the coffin, he decided to turn the phone on. He was surprised to see it still had service. He didn’t realize it was a pre-paid device. He started to press buttons. He looked at the pictures wantonly, of which the girl had many. Some were very risqué, but none quite gave away her best curves.

He got a notification of a new YouTube video and pressed it, swearing he would rip one of his nails off if he couldn’t touch the screen better.

A young woman in a doctor’s office whispered to the screen. A shudder ran through the count’s body and his scalp tingled. It was his first ASMR video and for the next four hours he let the device auto pick videos in the genre. He was hooked. When the battery ran dead, he cursed and promised himself a midnight snack and to find a charger.

—–

The first time he sent a tweet, nothing happened. Not a soul cared. The first time he sent a selfie across all the social media platforms, people sat in awe of his special effects expertise. Horror fans and movie buffs from all over the world commented, and so his following grew. Being trapped in a coffin also gave him a lot of time to craft perfect tweets to the world and keep up with his late night tribe.

He chatted with skeptics and fools, teenagers and adults. They mocked him for his belief in vampires. They shared every word he typed. Religious groups threatened his life and he laughed, remembering all the torches and pitchforks that had been brought his way over the centuries.

People online thought they knew what a flame war was, but they were never around for Europe in the 1200s. Those people knew how to make a flame war.

He was also startled when a young woman named @Lugosi4Life666 started following him. Her black lipstick was in high contrast to her pale beautiful skin. She only sent him a winking emoji and the words thank you. Four hours passed and the Count had no idea how to respond. He felt little pulls in the black heart that had stopped beating centuries ago.

—–

He still thirsted, but he found the resentment toward the living waning as the days drew on. His sleep was no longer interrupted by fits of rage, but updates from his favorite YouTube channels, by notifications from his online friends.

He thought about the world. He hadn’t had friends in hundreds of years. Acquaintances, sure, but most of them were sociopaths and really didn’t know how to throw a party. It was all impalings and bad music, not dancing until you fought the rising sun. Their boredom turned to impotent rage, his was now turning to the internet.

His trap was almost complete, and the sounds of laborers diminished. At first he had only wanted to bring cattle to slaughter, but now he wanted to give something back to his friends. Sure, he would still take their blood, but there were less violent ways of doing that. In town he had snuck up on people with a small razor and band-aid. He drank their blood greedily, then convinced them to forget. The hair on his head started to darken, and the nose and ears became more human. He wouldn’t consider himself handsome yet, but he didn’t look like a creature from Labyrinth anymore.

He started snapping photos and teasing people of something that was coming. One night, in his grand hall that had been fitted with a thousand surfaces of mirrors, he sent out an event invite. The single screen seemed to fill the room with white and blue as the surfaces refracted into countless infinities.

People started to accept the RSVPs, and the old vampire slept like a baby. On his phone, people from all walks of life promised to come. Most wanted to party. The more serious ones started making their stakes.

—–

For the first time in ages, the castle was lit with torches. Banners were placed on ramparts and under windows. The courtyard was filled with cheap beer on ice and a great potluck feast. Arlovski was a wealthy vampire, but he didn’t keep his wealth over the centuries by throwing the parties and feeding the people. That’s just not wise.

He appeared over the gate and the audience quieted down. “Welcome, friends. This night is for all of you. You came into my life at a really dark time. I couldn’t have made it without you.”

Several people in the audience shouted about tingles. His ASMR series had been a serious hit, and no one got tired of a librarian vampire.

Arlovski laughed and moved on. “Now, your task is simple. Come and find me!” he said. He whipped his cape around and ran into the darkness. The main castle doors opened and people started to spread into the massive maze.

—–

Arlovski fluttered around using his echolocation to fly through the maze. He watched as friends chased each other and young couples made their way to dark corners to make out. He distinctly smelled burning cannabis and other drugs. He thought he might have to put up no smoking signs.

In the bat’s body he felt a joy he hadn’t known since he was first turned. He had buried his need for others under cold hatred, but without the old guard to tell him how to act, he didn’t worry about their judgement. He wanted friends, not wards. That was for more superstitious times, not the world he could build for himself.

Then, he found himself wrapped in thick wire netting. Rough hands held him immobile and he heard shouting. He started to transform from his bat body, but the net was too strong and it would have sliced him to pieces.

The zealots brought him to a great hall and with their flashlights bouncing off all of the walls and floors it looked like a disco. The man holding him was huge, and bore tattoos of scripture and crosses all over his arms. The other two wore nice button up shirts, all with stakes and flasks of holy water on their belt.

One of the pious men walked to the largest mirror in the room, a magnificent centerpiece that cost thousands, and caved it in using the butt of his flashlight. The reverie stopped. The music scratched on the record, and all lights shown on the well-dressed vampire hunters.

“Pagans, idolaters, sinners all. You come to the house of the devil and dance and drink and fornicate like there won’t be hell to pay!” the man said. He raised the bag and shook the bat. “This is your host!”

“That’s a bat, bruh,” one of the audience said.

“I know it’s a bat you knob. That’s the point! You’ve got a shape shifting demon amongst you and none of you can see it. Well, I’ll show you what this party is about. He wants to drain all of you. He wants to take your souls. Watch this.”

He pulled Arlovski from the net and he flapped to no effect. The hand was too strong. Arlovski bit down on the thick leather and felt his teeth sink through, but the young man did not relent. He then grabbed one of Arlovski’s wings and ripped it off.

The audience screamed, and the bat did as well as black blood streaked from it. Arlovski changed, going from bat to vampire in seconds. His left arm was gone. And he shuffled to a corner with a torch, lifted it from the sconce and pressed it to the wound. It sizzled and sealed. The face that had been jovial just moments before contorted into a wicked snarl. The three vampire hunters walked forward. One threw a goblet of holy water at Arlovski. It hit the wall behind him and rained down on the vampire’s skin, leaving sizzling burns down to the scalp. Behind him, the mirror showed nothing.

The monster inside Arlovski was rising. “Foolish brother of mine, why would you want to hurt me?” Arlovski said.

“I’m not your brother, Demon.”

“Your gloves should have been thicker. I’m sure you felt that little pinprick. I know I tasted it. Nothing like the blood of a pious virgin. You’ll have all the time in the world to change that now, though I do hope you enjoyed the sunset over my castle. It’ll be the last one you see.”

The other two vampire hunters turned to their leader, looking confused. The crowd shifted around, murmuring. The confusion was all Arlovski needed. He drove his long fingers into the eyes of the nearest hunter and ripped sideways until his hands were free. Arlovski dashed through the crowd and into one of the mirrored hallways. The two vampire hunters and a young woman followed.

In the twisting halls and numerous angles, Arlovski vanished. He was stark naked and that suited him just fine right now. He hid at a fork in the maze and watched the two men separate. He followed the big one, cornering him. Before the man could swing the stake, Arlovski had already lunged teeth first into his throat. The blood throbbed in his body, and he felt the power rising, the pain abating. He gorged for a few minutes, letting the blood drip down his wrinkled body. He looked like a desiccated corpse painted with sloppy strokes of crimson. He continued in the dark, letting out cackling laughter. It carried through the whole festival.

Most of the patrons stayed, thinking this elaborate prank to be the most entertaining party gag of their lives. In the main hall, the music started to play again.

—–

When Arlovski came upon the man, he was standing in a long hallway without angled mirrors. There was no way to get to him unseen so he would have to take the direct route. The young man breathed heavy, stake in one hand and a vial in the other. Arlovski let out a wild hiss and charged toward him.

The man was fast, swinging the stake wildly, crashing it into the mirrors. Arlovski tried to grab at the man’s hand, but with only one arm he couldn’t restrict the other. The vial of holy water crashed at his feet, scalding them, as well as driving the glass into his toes. He slipped, the skin and muscle starting to fail in his legs. The stake came down, but using all the force in his one arm, Arlovski held it back. But the man’s body weight was bringing it closer to Arlovski’s chest. Each centimeter passed slowly until the tip started to dig into the skin.

Then the sound of wood piercing a ribcage echoed in the chamber. The man fell from Arlovski, clutching at a stake in his back. The goth girl stood back, her pale skin dotted with bloody spray.

The man rolled to his side, trying to scream but the stake prohibited that. With the last of his strength he grabbed a piece of glass and slashed into the woman’s leg, slicing deep into the inner thigh just under her short shorts.

Arlovski dove for the girl and ripped her away. Mascara tears ran down her white makeup. She was bleeding out. He’d seen it hundreds of times over his life. He shook his head briefly, then drove his teeth into her neck.

She gasped, and passed out in his arms.

—–

Her name is Sam and she likes horror almost as much as she likes Bollywood. Arlovski’s been learning about her over evenings of bloody tea and hunting trips. He finds himself shy around the woman, who has taken a room on the other side of the castle. It isn’t love at first bite, but he does pine for her on lonely nights in his coffin.

With his slowly thickening hair slicked back and his suit finely pressed, he navigates the maze to her quarters. He doesn’t know if he really has her unbeating heart, but he hopes time might lend it to him. For now he’s content to have her presence in the castle. He fumbles with a set of roses he had delivered as he lays them out in her new late night tattoo parlor she has built. She’s only licked one customer so far when the needle drew blood, so it’s been mostly positive.

On some dark evenings, Arlovski opens the maze to souls brave enough to come back. The audience is a little more metal than the first groups, but they always leave with Band-Aids and hangovers, which is really all anyone can ask for from a vampire.

 

 

 

 


Be sure to vote for your favorite story here!

meTony Southcotte: Tony hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.

 

Books from Our Authors

Bookmark the permalink.

4 Comments

  1. When I started reading this story I somehow had it in my head that it was Tony’s competitor’s, and I found myself thinking, “Wow, this person REALLY knows what we like!”

    Well, that may not be QUITE so miraculous as I thought, but this is still right up my alley in all the best ways. I LOVE it when you bring an arcane concept into the real world in way that doesn’t seem campy or silly, and this worked on that level perfectly.

    I maybe would have liked to feel a bit more empathy for the vampire at the beginning. There’s something incredibly sad about him being alone and aging away while still immortal that the story doesn’t quite hit as hard as I’d like.

    But I still really enjoyed this. Solid work from Tony, coming in during all kinds of time crunch problems. Well done.

  2. It’s very weird and interesting to know the arena authors, and to continue to get to know them, as this whole thing rolls along. People have been saying recently about a lot of Tony stories how very “Tony” they are. Which is something I’ve been noticing too.

    This one, though, this is like the dreamworld alternate existence of a Human Echoes week. So much of us is woven into this story, not to mention, for me anyway, a lot of our struggles and goals and hopes and worries.

    I dunno. Maybe that’s just me. At any rate I absolutely loved this. Something about it was utterly endearing to me. The POV of the vampire and how casual his whole “EVIL LIFE” has become. Not to mention I had some very interesting moments while reading where I had to wonder, are vampires evil, or were they just different and demonized by the culture of their times. I mean if technology has caught up to a point where they can live their lives without needing to cause harm to others, than who are we to say that they are evil. So they can change shapes and live forever. Without malicious intent, that just makes them weird.

    This whole odd acceptance that the vampire found was really touching and the fact that he found it through the internet…I don’t know…I just loved this. This may be my favorite Tony story yet. And that’s saying a lot considering how much I enjoyed Build-A-Knight.

  3. I’m a sucker for a good vampire story (I swear, I wasn’t trying to make a vampire pun). And about halfway through, I’m digging it, but wondering where the mirror idea comes in. Stupid me, not trusting in the author’s obvious skill.

    To go back to the vampire stuff: I like that this adheres to the basic rules of what constitutes a vampire. I.e., the usage of holy water, turning into a bat, being around for several hundred years, no reflection. Nowadays, you can do two things with a vampire story: subvert the genre, or give a different look on the more cliched aspects. This goes for the latter, and boy does it work well. How ingenious an idea for a vampire to utilize a mirror maze. Now, what works best with this is that that’s not the whole story; the mirror and the maze stuff comes to the forefront near the end. But before that, we get a good vampire story that ties together everything that came before (great way of not making the damsel in distress, in the beginning, be just another victim and a way of showcasing the vampire and his character a bit more).

    There will come a time when Tony Southcotte writes a bad story. It’s not this one. At all.

  4. Tony has given us hands down my favourite vampire of recent years. By accident or design, Arlovski’s mishmash of ancient and modern really works for me. My Inner Fanboy geeked out at the reference to the “Jew god” hinting that Arlovski might be amazingly old. I liked his adoption of modern tech, his attitude towards his situation, it all worked.

    Plus, I’m a Tony fan. What can I say other than I dig his writing style and the way he creates characters?

    Because I’m a fan, I tend to treat Tony’s stories with a more critical eye. He’s good, he needs to be better than his opponent if he’s getting my vote. This week, Tony is not making it an easy choice: the tale is solid: intelligent, well written, entertaining and just a little icky (“meat puppet”, Tony? Yes, I laughed at the image, curse you). It’s spot on. So now I have to go away and think very hard about where my vote goes.

    Well done, sir.

Leave a Reply