The man moved to the bench and raised a brow in a welcoming fashion, silently inviting Phillip to join him. Phillip shrugged. He’d planned to sit here anyway, so why not have a conversation with a pleasant man while he did it?
“My name’s Albert.” He held out a hand, and Phillip shook it. The hand felt cooler than Phillip expected for someone walking on a warm day, but not exceptionally so. Perhaps he had a fever himself, and that made the man’s hand seem cooler than normal.
“Phillip.” He didn’t elaborate. There wasn’t anything he could think of to add. Small talk eluded him.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Phillip.” Albert paused, as if gathering his thoughts.
“Likewise.” Phillip kept his reply simple. Oddly enough, something about the gravity of Albert’s demeanor gave him the impression the man had directed him to the bench with a purpose in mind that had nothing to do with idle chit-chat, so he might as well let the man control the conversation. Albert didn’t give off a crazed serial-killer vibe, not that it would matter at this point as long as whatever he chose to do didn’t add pain to Phillip’s death. Not likely he’d try anything like that in broad daylight with people around, anyway.
Albert looked directly into his eyes with a steady gaze. “Phillip, I want to show you something, and I ask that you keep an open mind and hear me out before reacting.”
Phillip sat back. He hadn’t developed any expectations for this conversation, but if he had, this direction wasn’t anything he would have considered.
“I think we can help each other,” Albert continued.
“I’m dying,” Phillip said. He would have thought his appearance made that apparent, but perhaps not. “Whatever you have in mind, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make a deal with you.”
“Please, hear me out.” Albert held out an arm. “This seems like an unusual request, I know, but I’d like you to examine my arm. Go ahead and touch it. I want you to assure yourself that it is, indeed, my real arm and not any kind of advanced prosthetic or makeup designed to create a special effect.”
Phillips eyes widened. “Unusual request” was putting it lightly. But what the hell, he might as well add an interesting interlude to his final hours—or minutes, if this man turned out to be a homicidal maniac.
He put both hands on the well-shaped forearm. He felt for a pulse at the wrist and found one. The hairs appeared natural and moved appropriately as Phillip ran his hand across them. Veins were visible where expected. Phillip manipulated the man’s fingers and wrist. The bones on the back of Albert’s hand, and tendons at the inside of his wrist, moved correctly, becoming more or less prominent when the hand flexed. Then he lightly pinched Albert’s skin in various places. It felt perfectly normal, although still slightly cooler than usual.
When Phillip withdrew his hands, Albert lowered his arm. “Are you satisfied that this is indeed my natural arm?”
“Yes.” Phillip eyed him warily.
“Remember, keep an open mind and maintain your composure. Give me the opportunity to explain what you’re about to see.”
Weirder and weirder. Phillip narrowed his eyes but remained curiously drawn to hearing this man out. “All right.”
Albert took a quick glance around, and Phillip followed his gaze. The people he’d noticed earlier were still in sight, but nobody new had appeared.
Phillip held his breath when a small razor blade appeared in Albert’s other hand. Albert slowly drew the blade across the arm Phillip had just examined, cutting deeply enough for the tissue to separate. There was no way it was a fake blade merely drawing atop his skin. He was cutting deeply, but the blood that appeared was black, not red, and the gash closed up within seconds as the razor dragged up the length of that forearm.
“What the hell.” Phillip gasped and fought to keep his respiration steady as he turned to stare at Albert’s face. He’d been so riveted by what was happening to the man’s arm, he’d neglected to check his expression. Had that hurt? Albert’s face was tight, so maybe, although his mask of calm quickly returned.
“Do you trust your own eyes?” Albert asked. The razor disappeared into a pocket, replaced by a cloth handkerchief, which he used to wipe the remaining dark fluid—blood?—from his arm.
“I’ll admit I’m drugged up, but nothing that would explain that.” He’d pointedly requested medication that would not cause him to hallucinate or overly diminish his ability to reason. There was no point dragging out his life if he couldn’t consciously enjoy it.
He’d seen plenty of street magic in his day. Sleight of hand, etcetera, but this transcended all of that. There was simply no logical explanation for what he’d just seen.
“You accept what you just witnessed at face value?”
Phillip pursed his lips a moment before replying. “Okay. Yes. Obviously, there’s something superhuman about you.” Or he wasn’t human at all. An alien maybe?
“That’s one way to put it,” Albert said. “I was once fully human, but now…no, not quite human anymore.”
Phillip sat still as he digested that comment. Albert had “once” been human. He’d also approached Phillip—seemingly sought him out—and he’d said, “I think we can help each other.” Was there more than one logical deduction to make here?
“Please.” Phillip swallowed as a shiver of hope drifted over his skin. “I need you to spell out what you meant—earlier. Before your demonstration.”
Albert smiled. It was the smile of a man who sensed he had his fish on the hook. “About helping each other?”
“You don’t need to die yet. I’ve been walking this earth for more than two thousand years.” Albert spoke calmly as Phillip froze in place, clenching his hands at his belly.
Two thousand years? And he wanted to make a deal with Phillip?
Did Phillip want to? What was in it for him? Everlasting life, apparently. But would it be an existence he wanted? “Who are you? You’re immortal. But how?”
“Immortal in the sense that I, and others like me, won’t appear to become older beyond our age at the time of transition. Nor will we die of natural causes. We can be killed, though. You’ve witnessed my self-healing abilities, but anything that would instantly kill a human will kill me…us, too.”
“So, if I agreed, this cancer would disappear just like that?” Phillip snapped his fingers.
“Like all of our ‘supernatural’ capabilities, self-healing improves over time. As a new convert, you won’t immediately feel better. It’ll take about a day for you to feel one hundred percent.”
That was hardly a deterrent, but Albert was obviously holding back. What facilitated this “transition”? “You still haven’t answered the question. Who are your people?”
Albert hesitated for a moment before replying. “The word you’re searching for is ‘vampire.’”
Phillip burst out laughing. He didn’t know what the hell he’d been thinking Albert’s answer would be, but the existence of some kind of magical immortality potion was difficult enough to believe without throwing in something that absurd.
Albert’s revelation probably should have made Phillip run in the opposite direction—if he’d believed it, or made him angry—because really, what kind of person fucked with a dying man like that? But at least his final hours were diverting. “You had me going there for a while.”
Tilting his head to the side, Albert raised a single eyebrow as he continued to gaze at Phillip. “Not the usual reaction. Intriguing, though. You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Please,” Phillip scoffed and gestured toward the bright sun overhead.