The Point of Failure


The first of Buddhism’s noble truths is simply this: suffering exists. Not a particularly mind-blowing concept, considering the state of the world, and I had never had troubles with that. The next truth also had always made sense to me: suffering arises from worldly attachments and desires. Self-evident when you look at all the wars and strife caused by this guy over here wanting what that guy over there has.

Even the third and fourth truths get no argument from me: ending suffering comes from releasing those attachments and that can be undertaken through following the Eightfold Path. And like any follower of a faith, the difficulty lies in the execution.

When I’d first learned of the Path, back in my life in Darjeeling, following it seemed part of the moral duty to which we all belonged, to be right in understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. But as I came back again and again, as I understood more, as I felt I’d progressed further along the Path, certain things slipped askew.

I hadn’t needed Bruno’s nostalgic Italian vacation ad to tell me that Skovajsa was our vampire cannibal of cyberspace lore. I hadn’t even needed the vampire in question to bring up Seville. I’d known it the moment he’d given me the present and started talking about the stars and the sun.

He’d followed me. He’d seen Jesper. Somehow, he’d figured out that Jesper was worth acquiring.

This sobering thought had spun around in my head the entire cab ride back to the office in Bellevue. What did real psychologists do when one patient threatened to…uhum…harm another. I’m not sure Dr. Kaga would have any worthwhile advice for me. Slipping further off the board, away from right mindfulness.

I had shuffled through the door of the office expecting to put my head in my hands, maybe cry a little, and spend another sleepless night wondering what on Earth I could do about this impossible situation. I certainly hadn’t expected Morena, Nick, and Jesper bantering back and forth like school kids waiting for the school bell.

I froze.

Jesper‘s face went from smile to scowl in an instant and with a whoosh!, he was standing in front of me as if he’d been there all along. As low as I felt, with him towering over me, sniffing with barely controlled rage, I wasn’t ready to see him. And yet, I wanted to see him so much. I was horrified and glad he was here all in one untidy bundle. I wanted a hug.

“You’ve been with the Carpathian,” he seethed.

I looked up at him, no hint of professionalism on my face, just the raw, naked emotions. I knew this rage. Had seen it so often over my lifetimes. There was supposed to be a point in reincarnating, that you would, at some point, figure out how to change your fate, amend your ways, and stop making the same mistakes. I wasn’t learning the lesson. Slipping away now from right effort.

The rage slid off his face. “You’re afraid.”

“Not afraid,” I said simply, lowering my head. “I feel helpless.” Please, no crying. “I don’t know what to do,” I breathed low, so only he could hear.

He put his hands around my shoulders, his grip gentle and kind, all the previous anger a memory of some other vampire at some other time. He breathed deeply, as if trying to control the emotions, fighting what his instincts would tell him.

“You must tell me about him. I can smell death all around you.”

I shook my head a minute amount. “I can’t. You know that.”

I felt his hands tighten around me for a moment. Then, he moved his hand to lift my chin towards him. Having him so close when I really wanted him even closer, it was hard to put on any shell to ward off these feelings. My eyes sought his. There was an awareness there I didn’t expect.

“How can I protect you if you don’t let me?”

But it’s you I’m trying to protect. I wanted to tell him. I was trembling wanting to tell him. I was sick to my stomach with it. Slipping away from right livelihood.

“If I told my patients about one another, I wouldn’t be much good at gaining their trust, would I?”

He dropped his hands from me in a huff. “You don’t care if anything happens to you. You’re not afraid of that.”

“Was I when I first met you? When you threatened to bite through my arm?”

He grimaced, his words suddenly sounding foreign, “Oh but that was different!”

No different. I’m trying to help him like I’m trying to help you.”

You don’t think all the deaths, the disappearances around here are because of him?”

It doesn’t matter. I’m sworn to try and help if I can.” The calm was ebbing away, replaced with a building frustration. He was right but there was nothing for it. I was a lapse Buddhist. I preached nonviolence, balance in all things. This aberration that Skovajsa represented was a moral dilemma that my teachings had no answer for. What do you do when that which you hope to help is beyond all help? What answer do you have then? Slipping away from right action.

I had none and the only answer I knew Jesper could offer was death. Jesper stepped toward me, not as a threat but as a means of letting his will be known. I hated the posturing. It reminded me of Valerian. Kill or be killed. “He’s a Carpathian, likely an orphan. You don’t know what he’s capable of.”

That touched a nerve. “Oh, I think I am most intimately aware of what a Carpathian is capable of! More so than you’ll ever know!

Slipping further away from right speech.

He swore something under his breath that sounded Russian. Again, the awareness of what it was he’d said, of where I might have learned to speak Russian, was just outside my grasp. Like the answer to this problem.

Sophie, you’re belief in your faith is admirable,” he sighed. “But do you not consider the innocent ones you would leave behind?”

That cut deep. Ready for a salvo of bravado from him, his empathetic question cut me to the quick, left me breathless. Tears were welling. I had sacrificed everything to save the ones I loved from the harm of what seemed to be my singular destiny. To minister to the undead. To try and bring them balance so that they might be freed. Slipping away from right intention.

I would never have left my daughter if the danger to her had not been made so abundantly clear by…

“Sophie?” Jesper grabbed my arm as I swayed. No, I couldn’t go there yet. Not yet.

I looked up at him. His face held such concern; his touch was firm yet gentle. The wound was not intentional. “You want to help me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Tell me what you know about a vampire killing in Seville.”

I’d stumped him. He swiveled his head at me, confused.

“Then there are still things that a vampire cannot tell.”

I stepped away from him.

“This is what you would ask of me.” He released his grip.

I met his question with silence. He had enough of a network to know that I was a Vampire Psychologist. He had admitted to consulting some others about me. Whether he was hiding more from me now, I had no knowledge. But I knew what his answer to my conundrum would be. And I could ill afford such consul. It would cost me my soul and make all my previous sacrifices for nothing. Slip…

He looked to Nick and Morena, who seemed frozen in space. They would not take a side now that their teacher had asserted some sort of authority. His gaze returned to me and the disappointment there caused them to flash amber. But he turned silently on his heel toward the door.

Morena stood, “Jesper, wait.”

He paused for a moment. When she didn’t continue, he walked out the door and as the door shut, a loud whoosh rattled the door.

The room returned to silence and I moved to lean against the desk, catching my breath. It was the closest I’d ever come to breaking the confidence of my practice and it hurt like Hell that I hadn’t. I surmised that somewhere in our exchange, Jesper and I were setting boundaries that would continue to be challenged. That is, if we continued to interact.

“I hate it when Mom and Dad fight.”

“You said it,” Morena agreed. I lifted my head to see the confusion on their faces. I’d seen that look before, from kids in my class in Ohio when I, the authority figure, had let them down. It was a horrible look and I felt ashamed.

“Especially in Turkish,” added Morena.

“Huh?” I didn’t know Turkish. Not that I recalled.

“At least that’s what it sounded like,” she said. Nick strode over as she continued. “You, uh, were a bit harsh with him, don’t you think?”

“Funny, you of all people accusing me of that,” I replied. When I looked up at her, there wasn’t anything mocking or sinister in her face. She waited for me to explain. They both needed me to explain.

“Right intention depends on a commitment to harmlessness. It’s one of our fundamental teachings.” I pointed to Nick’s amulet.

He held up his hands. “Don’t get testy with me. I wear this because my Gran gave it to me on my eighth birthday. I just try the best I can and figure it’ll all work itself out in the cosmic wash.”

I hadn’t realized my voice had been that way. I was exhausted, tired of not knowing what to do. And the weight of too many lifetimes weighed on me. I pinched the bridge of my nose to try and sharpen my thoughts.

“I don’t think you’re much up for teaching tonight,” Morena said.

I laughed, almost manically. “No, no you’re right about that.”

I sighed but couldn’t say more. Maybe because I was fighting back tears. My thoughts kept replaying the disappointment on Jesper’s face. This is what you would ask of me.

Morena grabbed Nick by the jacket and started pulling him toward the door, ignoring his momentary protest. “Come on, let’s give her some peace.”

I laughed again, coming a little unhinged each moment.

Nick halted at the door, “Hey, don’t you want to grab your bag?” He pointed to a small khaki knapsack tossed on the settee.

Morena took a rather long, measured look at me, hands on her hips, and shook her head. “No. Teach might find it more useful to her at this point. I suspect she’ll know just what it’s good for.”

They left without another word. It took me a few moments to sum up my evening. Bad patient left feeling encouraged that he might bind me to him. Good patient left feeling I didn’t trust him. Both trainees thinking I’m some crazed nut.

I walked over to the settee, pondering all the meditations I might use this evening to find a handhold back onto the Path. I was so absorbed in that thought that I absentmindedly reached into the knapsack and pulled out the object inside without much thought.

The Crimson Kukri was in my hand and it occurred to me that I was either going to pass this test or die trying.

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