Benny was four years old the first time he met his auntie Simone.
She wasn’t really his auntie, of course. She was a distant relative, one with several “greats” preceding it, and was some number of times removed. But that was difficult to remember, and he was only four years old, so his mother told him to just call her “auntie”.
His mother brought him over to visit her one day late in the summer. It was 1925, and it was also the first time he visited New Orleans. Simone had a big house in the French Quarter of the city, one of those fancy ones that rich people have. His mother had him popped up on one hip as she walked up the sidewalk. With her free hand, she knocked on the door, three sharp knocks. She took a step back from the door, looking to Benny and smiling down at him.
“Are you ready to meet your auntie, cher?”
“Yeah!” Benny exclaimed, delighted. His mother hadn’t told him much about her, but he did know that she was a singer, and that she loved telling jokes. She already sounded wonderful.
His mother laughed. Just a few moments later, the door before them creaked as it swung open.
“Ah, Madeleine! So good to see you!” Simone stepped out from the door, her pink silk dress swirling around her ankles, and planted a kiss on each of his mother’s cheek. Her accent was different from theirs – her swishy French a stark contrast to their laid-back Cajun.
“And who is this?” Simone asked, turning her attention to Benny. She clasped her hands in front of her, holding them in front of her knees as she bent over slightly.
Benny’s mother chuckled. “This is Benny. Can you say ‘hi’ to your auntie, Benny?”
“Hi Auntie Simone,” he said, face half-hidden in his mother’s shoulder. He was excited earlier, but now that she was right in front of him, he was a little nervous. What if she didn’t like him?
“May I hold him?” He heard her ask him mom. He didn’t hear a response, but soon he was jostled around as his mom handed him off. He waited a moment for the moving to stop, then looked up to see Simone looking down at him. She was so pretty, her brown hair curling just above her shoulders and a big smile on her face. Her dark eyes glittered mischievously, like she had a secret that she just couldn’t wait to tell you.
“Bonjour, Benjamin,” she said, gently booping her finger against his nose. Benny scrunched his nose up and giggled. He liked the way she said his name – it sounded like leaves rustling, or rubbing his socks on the carpet. Behn-zha-mihn. Simone smiled even wider as he laughed. She looked back at his mother.
“Come in, please, come in.”
Simone took her time as she showed the two of them around her house. It was huge, the walls covered in old paintings and the furniture was the fancy kind that you were supposed to ask if you could sit on. A phonograph sat in one corner of the living room, jazz music softly spilling out into the room. She kept Benny popped up on her hip as they walked, talking softly with his mother.
“I’m so sorry for missing the wedding, Madeleine.”
“No, no, that’s alright. I know it wasn’t good timing for you.”
“Not to worry, cher. Now,” Benny felt one of her hands move from his side and the rustle of fabric, “tell me more about the lucky man who stole Madeleine Renoir’s heart.”
“Well, it’s Madeleine Lafitte now, for one thing.”
“Lafitte? I knew a Lafitte, once. No relation, I assume?”
“I think he would have mentioned if he or his family had met you. You’re pretty hard to forget, Simone.”
The two women chuckled. Benny wasn’t really sure what was so funny, but he didn’t pay it much mind as they wandered through the house. Every room was more beautiful and fancy than the last, and his attention was firmly grabbed by everything he saw. After a while, as they walked, Simone started humming.
It was a slow song, and kind of jazzy. She readjusted her grip on Benny, bringing up a bit so that she could waltz around the room with him. She smiled at him and started singing along.
“To love and lose and love again,
Like seasons come and go.
It's what hearts are made for,
It's all we need to know.”
Benny yawned, the motion of Simone’s steps and her soft voice making him sleepy. He nuzzled his head into her shoulder. He could hear his mom chuckling from the doorway.
“It’s been a long day. We should probably head home now. Thank you so much for having us, Simone.”
“Oh, it was my pleasure.” Benny grumbled a bit as he got jostled around as Simone handed him back to his mom. He heard two kisses above him, and then his auntie was right in front of him.
“I hope to see you again soon, Benjamin,” she murmured, pressing a kiss to each of his cheeks. He giggled a bit, before his eyelids grew heavy again and he snuggled back against his mother.
The sun was just starting to set as they left the house. They walked down the sidewalk to where Benny’s father was waiting for them with their automobile.
Benny didn’t see his auntie Simone again for a number of years.
His family was busy, and with the economy falling apart, his parents were usually too busy working to be able to take a trip out to New Orleans to visit. Then, when Benny was sixteen, his mother passed away after a heartbreaking struggle with polio. The next few years were rough on him and his father, having to deal with that loss.
Of course, just as they were starting to be okay again, war broke out in Europe. It would be a couple of years until America got involved, but by the time Benny was twenty, his father was overseas, fighting alongside the Allies in France. Benny hadn’t been drafted, nor did he particularly relish the idea of fighting in the war. Instead, he packed up his meager belongings, boarded up the windows and doors of his childhood home, and bought a bus ticket to New Orleans.
He moved in with his auntie later that same day. He had written to her about his situation, and she had practically jumped at the opportunity to put him up. He walked slowly up the sidewalk, his gaze pointed upwards at the grand house. It was exactly the same as it had been when he was four – at least, from the outside. Finally, he reached the door. He stood for a moment, hesitating, before bringing up his fist and knocking, three sharp knocks.
He only had to wait for a few seconds before the door swung open. Simone, much like her house, hadn’t changed a bit since the last time he saw her. The only thing different was her dress, which was very modern-looking and made from emerald-green cotton.
“Ah, you’re here; I’m so glad you made it.” She swept him up in a fierce hug, pressing a kiss to each cheek. He returned them, chuckling.
“Sure did. Sorry about droppin’ all of this on you, auntie – I know you’re busy and all.”
Simone shushed him. “Don’t be foolish, Benjamin, you’re family. I wouldn’t just leave you to fend for yourself.” She tapped a hand against his heart, twice, then turned to usher him inside. “Come in, you must be tired from your trip. Hungry, too, I’d bet.”
On cue, Benny’s stomach rumbled. He really hadn’t had much to eat all day, what with packing and traveling. Simone just grinned over her shoulder and led him into her house. After a hot meal, a quick bath, and getting all his belongings put away in his new room, Benny settled in for the night.
The two of them quickly settled into a routine – Benny found a job nearby at a factory, producing supplies for the soldiers in Europe, while Simone worked nights as a singer. They didn’t end up seeing much of each other most days. When they did manage to find time to spend together, they spent it telling each other stories and filling each other in about what they missed of their lives.
Not long after he moved in, Benny asked Simone about the song she had sung when he first met her. Her usual mischievous smile was replaced by a genuine one, her face lighting up. She told him it was a song that she herself had written, and sat him down at the piano to teach it to him. Benny found himself humming or singing it under his breath around the house. Occasionally, Simone would join in, their voices twirling in harmony.
The days grew short and cold – or at least colder than the summer; New Orleans didn’t have much of a “White Christmas”, so to speak. It was late February, and they had been living together for a couple of months when Simone called Benny into her room.
“I have something I need to tell you, Benjamin,” she said. Her voice was soft and serious, but her eyes glittered with excitement. Benny sat down on an old velvet chair in the corner of the room.
“What is it, auntie?”
Simone motioned with her head; Benny turned to where she was gesturing at the large portrait on the wall. The woman in it looked just like her, but for the Rococo gown and long hair. Even setting aside the dust on the top of the frame, it looked old. He wouldn’t have been surprised if it was an original.
“That was a gift, you know. From my friend Élisabeth – well, I say friend,” Simone said as she stood, casting a wry smirk over her shoulder when Benny looked back at her. “Madame Le Brun was very dear to me. This is among my favourite gifts from past lovers.” She smiled sadly down at her ring and rubbed her thumb over the carnelian. She stayed that way for a long moment, then shook her head, coming back to the moment. She turned and walked over to a large wooden piece of furniture. Benny leaned over to look around her, brow furrowed. He wasn’t certain if it was a cupboard or a wardrobe. When she opened it, he realized it was neither.
While the outside was antique wood, similar to much of the furniture Simone owned, the small amount of the interior that Benny could see was bright white, almost clinically so. He could hear it hum once it was open. He got up, slowly walking over to stand by his auntie. He peered over her shoulder.
A series of clear glass bottles filled the shelves of the hidden refrigerator. Each was stopped with a cork, with a long rubber tube wrapped around it that went through the cork and into the bottle itself. Each bore a label, denoting the date of extraction and the batch number, along with “STERILE” in big block letters.
Each bottle was filled with blood.
Benny took a step back from the fridge in alarm.
“What the… what’s this about, auntie?” He demanded, looking up at Simone again.
She had turned around, and was now facing him, smiling. Except, her smile now contained a pair of elongated fangs. She opened her mouth and hissed, fangs gleaming. Benny stumbled backwards, cursing and almost falling on to the bed. He just barely managed to catch himself, his heart pounding. He pressed a hand up against his chest.
“What in the hell?!”
Simone just laughed. “Ah, that never gets old.” She held a hand out to him, helping up from where he was half-laying against the bedpost. He took it, warily, keeping his eye on her mouth and watching those fangs. “I keep telling myself that the next person I tell, I won’t scare them. But I just couldn’t resist,” she grinned and shrugged her shoulders, her curly hair bouncing with the motion. Benny stared at her dumbly.
“You... you’re a –”
“A vampire, yes.” She gently walked him over to the bed, pushing him to sit before sitting herself down beside him. “I told my sister and her children, and their children, and their children. I didn’t want to hide away from my family just to keep my identity a secret.”
“Mama knew?” Benny couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea that he was related – distantly, but still related – to a vampire. “She never said anythin’ about it.”
Simone smiled. “She wanted me to be the one to tell you. I had wanted to when I first met you, but she was worried that you were too young to understand, that you would be frightened.”
“And you frightened me anyways.”
“Because it’s fun!” Simone winked at him. She shifted her position so that she was facing him more. She clasped her hands in her lap and leaned in, her dark eyes twinkling.
“So, Benjamin! I suppose you have questions, non?”
Benny continued living with Simone until the end of the war. His father never came home, his body laid to rest in a graveyard in France somewhere. He waited until the weather was fair, and in the summer of 1946, Benny moved back home to Carencro. He pulled the boards down from the windows and doors of his childhood home and moved back in without fanfare.
He spent the next fourteen years living in Carencro and working at Guidry’s Cajun Café. The days were spent in the kitchen, cooking and washing and laughing and singing along with the radio. The nights were usually spent down at one of the local jazz clubs; failing that, he’d stay in, feet up on the coffee table, ass firmly planted in a plush armchair, and a good book in his hands.
He wasn’t really planning on being turned himself. Of course, he didn’t have much say in the matter – when the Old Man decided you were gonna be a vampire, a vampire you were gonna be, no two ways about it.
His new set of fangs was the biggest surprise, though he knew they were possible. Simone had told him herself that vampirism came in two different strains, so to speak. One group was the children of the Alpha, Judas Iscariot himself, and considered to be true vampires. The others were the cursed product of the Judas Chalice, forged and first used by Vlad Dracul. Though the stories of vampires and their weaknesses came from Judas, only those born from the Chalice and those it turned were actually vulnerable to them.
Benny thrived with the nest, taking down yachts and sucking the owners dry. One more than one occasion, he had the little hysterical thought that he was also the pirate Lafitte now. He thought Simone would be entertained by that. He loved his new life, and never questioned the will or the actions of the Old Man. That is, until he met Andrea.
They were only together for a month or two, constantly in fear of the Old Man’s retribution. They were on the run from the nest, but they could only run for so long before they were caught. And caught they were. The last thing Benny saw before his head was separated from his neck was Andrea, her neck streaked with blood, another member of the nest’s fangs in her throat.
Fifty years in Purgatory followed. Benny couldn’t tell if it passed in a blur or if it dragged on for an eternity. All he knew for sure was the unending fight for his life, the eternal dusk, the forest stretching on forever in every direction. Sometimes he would whistle; occasionally it was to lure some monster hiding in the shadows to him, to kill them before they could kill him, but mostly it was to keep himself sane. He whistled songs that reminded him of his family: In the Hall of the Mountain King (his mother’s favourite), and the song that Simone taught him.
Eventually, he met Dean, and with him, his ticket out of this unending hellscape.
Once he and Dean parted ways, Benny headed back to Louisiana. His initial plan was to head back to Carencro, to see if there was anything left from his past life. He was on the way there, in a Greyhound bus stop in New Orleans, when he realized that Simone would still be alive. She’d been able to live and stay under the radar for… it must be four hundred and ten years, by now.
Instead of boarding the next bus heading west, Benny turned and hailed a cab and headed towards the French Quarter of the city. He craned his head around, looking out the windows at the city. It was amazing how much could change in fifty years, and how much still felt so familiar. The cabbie, an affable black man named Andre, noticed him taking in the city.
“You been to the Big Easy before?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Benny breathed, distracted. “Haven’t been here since I was a kid.”
“Well then, welcome home, mon ami!” Andre laughed. “Good to have you back in our fair city.”
Benny was out of the cab only a few short minutes later, his hat brim pulled low. He paid Andre – and tipped him handsomely – before turning to take in the welcome sight of his auntie’s house.
A cold, sinking feeling settled in his gut as he took in the peeling paint and the shuttered windows. A “For Sale” sign perched incongruously cheerfully on the front lawn. Benny walked forwards as if in a trance, only dragging his eyes away from the house to make sure he didn’t run into the box truck parked out front. The box truck labeled with “Magic Carpet Movers” splashed in a swirly font in gold and purple letters along the side. The door to the house was open.
Benny leaned around the front doorframe, peering inside the darkened house. He didn’t see anybody, so he took a couple of slow steps in. He took in the furniture all covered in white sheets, some of which was missing, probably already in the truck outside. There were cardboard boxes scattered about, none of them more than half-full, and piles of old newspapers for wrapping up breakable objects. He heard footsteps from somewhere in the house; his enhanced hearing picked up a heartbeat to go along with them. He stopped moving, waiting for whomever they belonged to to find him first.
He didn’t have to wait long; only a minute or so later, a man walked around a corner into the room. He looked to be close to Benny’s age (at least, the age he was when he died), with short brown hair and his face tipped down, examining a vase. He wore a tweed suit with a bright yellow carnation pinned to the lapel. He muttered to himself. Benny waited to see if he’d notice him. After another minute of not being seen, he decided that the guy was hopeless. He cleared his throat.
The man shrieked, jumping about a foot in the air and dropping the vase he was holding. He juggled it around between his hands, struggling to get a grip on it. He eventually caught it, holding it for a beat before setting it down on the nearby table. He held his hands out like he was worried it would fall; when he was sure that it wouldn’t, he turned to face Benny.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” he said, trying desperately to sound composed. “Who, uh, who might you be?”
Benny chuckled. “The name’s Benny.” He held a hand out for the other man to shake. He studied Benny for just a moment, then clasped his hand.
“Pleasure to meet ya, Flynn. Now, do you mind tellin’ me just what you’re doin’ in my auntie’s house?”
Flynn blinked at him, his eyebrows rising towards his hairline. “Your … your auntie –” Flynn turned to look behind him quickly at the house, then looked back at Benny. “Simone was your aunt?”
“Well,” Benny waggled his hand in a so-so gesture, “several times great-auntie, a couple’a times removed.”
Flynn visibly relaxed. “Oh, so you’re not, not a,” he trailed off, gesturing in a circle around his mouth. Benny grinned, letting his fangs extend. He chuckled as Flynn yelped and stepped back.
“Purely coincidence, I assure ya. I only got turned back in 1960.”
“And you’re not gonna …” Flynn waved a hand around, looking at Benny like he was a dangerous predator – which, to be fair, he kind of was. Flynn gulped.
“I drink blood, brother; I don’t eat people.”
Flynn visibly relaxed, dropping his shoulders. “Okay, that’s good.” He cleared his throat. “I’m guessing you knew about Simone?” He shook his head, muttering to himself. “Of course you knew, you wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise.” He looked back at Benny. “What brings you back here now?”
“Hadn’t been back here since I got turned – figured I’d stop in and see how she was doin’. Where’s she at, anyways? I wasn’t really expecting the movin’ truck, since she’s lived here for nearly two hundred years.”
Benny watched as the smile slowly fell from Flynn’s face. He stared at Benny, the lines etched deep around his face making him seem much older than he was. He rubbed at his jaw, his eyes darting back and forth between both of Benny’s.
“She, uh, she died. About seven years ago now.” Flynn bit his lip and ducked his chin, his eyes fixed on the floor. “I’m sorry.”
Benny’s heart didn’t beat anymore, but if it did, it would have skipped a beat as he took in what Flynn said. Even without it functioning, he could still feel his chest tighten.
“How?” he choked out, his voice thick. He couldn’t imagine Simone, in all her vibrant energy, to have just…died.
One corner of Flynn’s mouth quirked upwards in a sad grin. “Well, she helped me kill Dracula and get revenge on the man who turned her into a vampire in the first place. And helped recover the Judas Chalice, and stop the Russian government from creating an army of vampire soldiers, so,” he shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck, “I’d say she had a good run.” He finally looked back at Benny, his eyes wet but the corners of his mouth quirked upwards. “She asked me to stay with her while she watched the sunrise one last time.”
Benny huffed and a small, sad smile unfurled on his face. “Yeah, that sounds about right for her. Never was one to sit around while life passed her by – or unlife, in her case.” He clapped Flynn on the shoulder. “Thanks for bein’ there, brother.”
Flynn made a non-committal noise in his throat as he shrugged, knocking Benny’s hand away gentle. He looked aside. Benny took that opportunity to look around the room again, at all of the covered furniture and half-full cardboard boxes.
“Speakin’ of – what’s happenin’ here with the pack-up job?”
Flynn snapped back to himself, straightening his back and clearing his throat. “Right! Well, Simone had been collecting all of these, truly incredible, pieces of art and antiques. I thought it would be a shame to leave them here, just to be thrown out by the next owners. And there’s tons of museums and collectors who’d love to have them.” A guilty look flashed across his face for a split second. “I’d been meaning to take care of them for a while now, but…” he sighed, “I guess I got caught up in other things. Or I used getting caught up in things as an excuse to not have to come back here.”
He picked the vase back up from the table, and grabbed a couple of pages from one of the newspapers and wrapped it up. Benny studied him for a moment.
“Mind if I join ya? Seems like it’d go quicker with four hands instead of two.”
Flynn glanced at him from the corner of his eye. “Yeah, sure,” he said mildly.
“While we’re workin’, I wanna hear the details of you and auntie Simone’s adventures. You said you killed Dracula?”
“Well, Simone did most of the work, I just managed to get the killing blow…”
The two of them worked side by side for the rest of the day; Flynn filled Benny in on his adventures in New Orleans from several years ago, and once he had exhausted that, he started rambling about stories of finding and retrieving various artifacts. When Benny managed to get a word in edgewise, he reminisced about living with Simone during the war, and about the first time he met her as a child. He could see Flynn out of the corner of his eye, trying and failing to look like he wasn’t hanging on to every word like a lifeline.
It was in the time between late afternoon and early evening when they finally found a break in the conversation. They continued working in silence, packing up boxes and hauling them out to the door – Benny couldn’t go out in the sun, so Flynn had to take all of them the rest of the way to the truck. It was as Flynn returned to the house from one of these trips that Benny noticed the familiar carnelian ring on his finger. He was reminded of something else that Simone was terribly fond of.
“To love and lose and love again,
As sure as planets turn.
Our faith in love, that's everything,
Fie-toi a l'amour c'est tout.”
Benny sang softly under his breath, his deep baritone rasping over the words like honey on gravel. Flynn’s head jerked up from where he was crouched, about to pick up another box. Benny watched as he slowly stood and cleared his throat. Flynn started singing along with him, his voice a soft but surprisingly rich tenor.
“To lose and love only to lose again.
It isn't bad if you believe,
That now and always you'll stay in my heart.
Mon chère, I could never leave,
No I will never leave
I will never leave you.”
Their eyes met, and a silent understanding passed between them. No, Simone would never leave them. Not as long as they remembered her.