Eighth Night

 

You’re not going to see a Lucy December Christmas Special, for obvious reasons. But you know what’s a rich, amazing, beautiful, powerful winter holiday with its roots in an oppressed people’s struggle for survival? Hanukkah.

This story can take place whenever, it really isn’t time-locked.

 

Hanukkah isn’t “Jewish Christmas.” It’s far, far more than that. Like many of our people’s holidays, Hanukkah is about survival.

Passover? We survived Egypt.

Sukkot? We survived the Wilderness.

The Fast of Gedalia? We survived Babylon.

Purim? We survived Persia.

Hanukkah? We survived Greece.

Yom HaShoah? We survived the Holocaust.

Rosh Hashanah? We survived another year.

If there’s anything we Jews have learned over the millennia, it’s that nothing beats failed genocide as an excuse to throw a party. I should know a thing or two about genocide, anyway. I survived my own.

Well, sort of.

The last time England tried to wipe out its Jewish population was at the tail end of the thirteenth century. And, despite my happy, healthy status in the twenty-first century, I was there for it. I had a front-row seat to the riots, burnings and the siege that ended so many of our lives. I lost my entire family, but fate intervened in the form of an, erm, “individual” of the night. Fangs, bats, the whole nine yards.

So, that’s me. Lucy December, Jewish vampire.

Religious vampires are rare, but not unheard of. Sometimes we cling to our pasts, and I’m no different. My faith and heritage were the only things left of my old life, but it meant so much more. After all this time, it would have to.

Of course, being religious is kind of hard when holy things burn you. I couldn’t keep kosher, I could barely pray, and I couldn’t even observe Shabbat – I tried resting intentionally once, and nearly caught on fire. But Hanukkah was possible, as it is somewhat more secular than most of our holidays. I still had to screw it up to make it work, though.

Traditionally, Hanukkah was an eight-day affair. But if I jammed everything into the last night, I had a chance to observe it without burning like a roast marshmallow. And so, there I was, on the final night of the Festival of Lights, handling a menorah with gloves and tongs, as if it were radioactive. Well, it was made of silver. Eight candles of equal height, arranged in a straight line, with the shamash rising up higher in the middle. The shamash – “the helper” – was meant to light the other candles, as well as being the only one used for actual light. The purpose of the menorah was worship, not utility, to remind us that our faith is worth more than what we could get out of it.

I positioned the elaborate candelabra near my window and then backed away, taking a moment to rest my hands. I had begun to feel the blessed silver’s heat even through my gloves. I flexed my fingers, waiting for the warmth to die down again. You know, business as usual for a Jewish vampire. Always on the outside looking in, except in these rare moments.

I checked my supplies. Special candles, a lighter, and a bottle of olive oil bought at the local Kosher market. Ritualistically pure olive oil, in the way it was originally used, didn’t exist anymore – but in the same way that synagogues could sub for the long-gone Temple, we had approved oil.

Besides, people put too much focus on the oil, anyway, when that’s not what the holiday was about, as all. It was survival.

Over two thousand years ago, Antiochus Epiphanes tried to destroy Judaism. He sacrificed a pig in the Temple and forced the priests to eat its meat. He slaughtered forty thousand people in three days, and sold an equal number into slavery. And he thought he would win.

I arranged the candles – oil cups with wicks – in the menorah, right to left, dropping them carefully in their holders. Then I took the bottle of olive oil, carefully unscrewing the cap. I had to set it down again as a wave of holiness streamed out like smoke. I took a step back and closed my eyes, remembering how this happened every year.

It’s just oil. You can do this.

I took the bottle up again, and filled each candle. Then I took my lighter and lit the shamash, watching the central candle as it sputtered to life. Then I took it in my gloved hands and prepared to light the leftmost candle, and repeat the prayer. There were three blessings for the Hanukkah lighting, one of which was meant for the first night only. For me, the first and eighth nights were pretty much the same.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

I lit the candle and quickly replaced the shamash, backing away from my menorah again. My vision was swimming, and I had to put some distance between myself and the candles to recover a little. Slow and steady, and I could get through it. I could survive this just as my people survived Antiochus.

It wasn’t just that Antiochus Epiphanes slaughtered my people, he did it with the blessing of the Hellenized Jews – traitors who had assimilated with Greek culture and religion. In a modern world of coexistence and freedom, it’s easy to forget how much used to be at stake. My people were surrounded, friendless, and betrayed by their own.

I lit the second candle, and said the blessing.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

I tried to celebrate Purim once. Purim is basically just a drunken party – it shouldn’t have been a problem, or so I thought. I could still remember the burning pain that built behind my eyes as I tried. Why was this different? Why was Hanukkah okay, but Purim not? They were almost the same thing – survival, right? Maybe it was because Purim was mentioned in the Tanakh, and is scripture. Hanukkah isn’t, no matter how much tradition was behind it.

What use was it being a Jew if you couldn’t follow a single thing prescribed in Scripture?

Faith. There was always faith. And hope. Our survival wasn’t because of our own strength, after all. There was a reason why we prayed.

I lit the third candle, and said the last of the blessings.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.

Wondrous deeds? Yes, absolutely. Sometimes miracles were blatant, sometimes less so. A motley army of oppressed, terrorized Jews defeated the heirs to Alexander the Great’s empire. That was God’s doing. He promised to protect His people always, and even in our darkest moments, He has been there.

So, therefore, He would be there for me. And I had five more candles to light.

I rubbed at my forehead, dispelling the headache. Flexed my fingers until they were less numb. Took the shamash to light the next candle, preparing the blessing again. Two blessings I could repeat, and five remaining candles. It was time to alternate.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Vision blurred for a second, but I had lit the fourth candle. Halfway done. And so much to be thankful for. Not even just for myself, but for my people as a whole. We had lived through so much.

Antiochus Epiphanes tried to destroy us. Judas Maccabeus, whose name literally meant “The Hammer of Judah,” led the charge to fight back. He died long before he could see his people gain freedom, but the battle continued – and, in the end, we won. We didn’t hide. We didn’t flee. Nobody rescued us. We fought the Seleucid empire in all their glory, and defeated them. We didn’t just survive, we won. We earned our freedom with our own blood and sweat and steel.

And so what if my head ached? I could do this. I began to light the fifth candle.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haola-OW OW OW OW OW OW!

Yeah, I had started smoking about halfway through that prayer. The shock made me stumble and trip on my heels, crash into the little end table where I had set the oil and lighter, and tumble to the floor.

Whoever said that vampires were graceful, sexy beings was full of it. Or maybe it was just me, sometimes it’s hard to tell. I caught my breath and closed my eyes, centering my mind again as I waited for the holy pain to pass. I was used to it. It happened sometimes. Five candles lit. Three more blessings to go. I just needed to catch my breath.

And then my neighbors started making noise. Well, “noise” was intentionally vague. The telltale thumping of a headboard against a wall, the creak of mattress springs, and why the hell was I paying so much for rent if I could hear right through the wall? Seriously.

I stood up, gathering the bottle of oil and the lighter and stashing them in my bathrobe pocket. Yes, I was performing my holy rites in my PJs. So sue me. I brushed myself off, and tried to ignore the neighbors. I couldn’t really remember hearing them much in the past – maybe some sounds from the television once in a while – but this? Come on, today of all days?

“Bah,” I said. “How dare they not know that this is a bad time? People should be psychic.”

I rolled my eyes, and got back to work. Sixth candle. Blessing repeated.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

So, what happened to Antiochus Epiphanes? When he realized how badly he was losing, he fled with his tail between his legs. The shame drove him mad, and depending on the source, he either drowned himself or threw himself from his chariot, dying with all the dignity he deserved. His successors sued for peace with the Jews, granting us our religious freedom, which would last even into the Roman Empire, ending with our eventual exile.

Well, that was the way it worked. We won some, we lost some, but we always survived. And we could never, ever forget our victories. And so, in my own life…

I was distracted again by more noise from the world’s loudest, randiest neighbors. I could hear voices now, too.

“Dammit,” I muttered as my train of thought fell away. Of course they couldn’t be psychic, but why now? My neighbor’s sex moans were the last thing I wanted to hear while lighting my menorah. Hell, they’d be the last thing I wanted to hear at any other time, anyway. And what were they doing? Knocking holes in the walls?

Stop. Stop it, Lucy. There will always be distractions. Letting myself get annoyed would wreck my little attempt at worship. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the loud, steadily more chaotic sounds, and focus on what was important.

I took up the shamash, and lit the seventh candle.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam–

The thump shook the walls. It sounded like a linebacker had crashed into it full steam.

“Dammit,” I muttered, and tried again.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim–

Okay, that was a loud scream. A really, really loud scream. It honestly didn’t sound happy, but some people were weird like that. And I supposed my neighbor was a weird guy. He was certainly noisier than his partner.

I walked over and rapped my knuckles on the wall, muttering the whole way. Maybe they’d get the idea. Hopefully. Possibly. I hit the wall again for good measure.

I returned to my spot in front of my menorah, and took in a deep breath. I was really failing on this holy thing, wasn’t I? I had let my attitude darken at the first distraction, and was grumbling when I was supposed to be praying. Come on, Lucy. Get it together. Obey in your heart, not just with your hands.

Right. Seventh candle.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.

Seven out of eight candles burned brightly, framing the shamash in the center. One more candle to go, representing one more night.

Eight nights. Legend said that, once the Temple had been freed, the priests only found enough undefiled oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one night, and yet those holy candles kept burning for eight, until more oil could be prepared. To be honest, this part probably didn’t happen. But it did illustrate the point – that God cared enough to protect His people, even down to the minutiae. And I had to believe that He would do the same for me, as well. I had lived on that promise for eight centuries.

One candle left. One more prayer. One more way to honor our survival, and the power of the Lord above. I took the shamash, preparing to light the eighth candle–

–More thumping sounds. I growled, and held back a second, trying to think past the distraction. Remember why we lit our lights, why we did what we did, and how this means–

–Another scream. Come on, people! Really! I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and tired to think again – a holiday of praise and thanksgiving, of somber recollection before the parting and joy, of–

“Help!”

That one word. I heard it. I heard it quite clearly. Now that I thought of it, were those screams of pleasure from before, or fear? Okay, maybe they were role-playing. People do things like that. And besides, that was a guy’s voice – men never got in that kind of trouble, right? And he was probably the aggressor. Not my business, anyway. I should get back to what I was doing.

I lifted the shamash again, and tried to refocus my mind. Hanukkah was a time of rededication, of remembering our roots and our faith, and of serving God through the rituals of the season.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord (as much) desire in burnt offerings and peace-offerings, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken (is better) than the fat of rams.

The silence coming from next door was damning. All that noise, done and over with – no more thumping, no more screaming.

Pikuach Nefesh: The principle that if a life is in danger, it overrides even our most holy laws. I had relied on it for my own survival – blood certainly isn’t kosher, but I would die without it. And if someone is in danger, and I refuse to help, what would that make me?

I put the shamash back in its holder.

“Okay, you guys,” I said to the seven lit candles. “Keep burning while I’m gone, okay? It’d be really awfully ironic if you went out while I was gone. Stay good.”

I checked myself. Just a tiny Jewish woman in a terrycloth bathrobe and sweats, ready to knock on my neighbor’s door in case he was sexing himself to death. I briefly debated bringing a gun, but decided against it. That would just make things worse. So I went next door as-is.

What was his name? Jeffrey? Jim? Jorge? Hey, I lived on vampire hours, and who gets to know their neighbors anymore? Right. Not a problem. I approached whats-his-name’s apartment door, and knocked. I heard some rustling behind the door, and knocked again. I practiced my Indignant Face as I waited, ready whether my neighbor was in danger, or if it was just a case of loud lovemaking.

I lifted my hand to knock a third time when the door opened a crack. I was met by a woman much taller, much blonder, and much bustier than I was. The kind of knockout gorgeous that made me feel self-conscious, trapped in my tiny little brunette body. It was stupid and immature jealousy, I’d always known that, but it still flared up. The centuries had tempered my standard of beauty as much as anybody else’s, and it was amazing how non-semitic it turned out to be. Anyway, the lady was gorgeous, except for the fact that her face was on wrong.

It was crooked, like a mask that had been pulled on the wrong way. The nose was slightly off to one side, the mouth was crooked, and I could see some of her true flesh peeking out from the corner of one eye. I was looking at a flesh mask, hastily and poorly slipped on when I had knocked. The rest of her body seemed fine, from my eyes – she had donned a silk robe and cinched it tight, hiding all but the barest glimpse of skin. She looked human down her neckline, at least.

“Can I help you?” the woman-who-was-not-a-woman asked.

“Yeah, it’s Lucy from next door. Can you two keep it down?” I asked, my arms folded. “Seriously, it’s like the middle of the night or something. Some people gotta sleep.”

She chuckled, a delightful sound that made me instantly want to like her. Glancing back at that eye reminded me why I was here, though. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess we were a little loud, weren’t we?”

“Yeah, well,” I shrugged, and tried to take a surreptitious glance over her shoulder. Was there any sign of an injured or imperiled man in there? Or a man, at all? “The walls aren’t even that thin.”

“We’ll keep it down,” the blonde not-woman said. She grinned, and I noticed the sharpness of her teeth, not hidden by the mask.

“Good, thanks,” I said, trying to figure out where to take the conversation. I took a stab in the dark. “By the way, I know this is bad timing, but he’s still borrowing like five DVDs of mine. Just saying.”

She laughed again. “That sounds like him,” she said, and winked.

A moan. Soft, weak, at the very edge of my hearing, but it was there. Somebody inside that dark apartment was in pain.

“Thanks,” I shot her a smile. As a vampire, I’d need an invitation to get inside, but how?

“Any time,” she said, and began to close the door. I opened my mouth, trying to think of something to say, some way to stop her or bring her back.

“Miss?” I asked, my mind flailing for ideas.

The door opened again. “Yes?” she asked.

“Well, uh,” I started stalling. “Um, I…”

“Oh,” she said, and touched her cheek, her delicate fingers tracing the skin next to her nose. “My face isn’t on straight, is it?”

“What?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I can overeat today,” she chuckled. “It is Christmas, after all.”

Her hands darted out, grabbing me by the forearms and yanking me into the apartment with sudden, inhuman strength. I stumbled, gaining my footing just as the woman lashed out, backhanding me across the room. Well, at least that handled the invitation thing.

She ripped off her human disguise like tissue paper, shrugging off the robe to unfurl a pair of leathery wings behind her. It was one of the Lilim, the daughters of Lilith. Night demons who stole men’s souls – most people knew of them as succubi.

I knew about them, but I always kept stumbling over the fact that “Lilin” was singular and “Lilim” was plural. Languages were weird.

I regained my footing just as the Lilin charged. She wasn’t pretty anymore. Her skin was roughly the same color and texture as jerky, and her face fell somewhere in the spectrum between wild animal and nightmare. I wasn’t paying close attention to the details. She hit like a truck, and it took all I had to remain standing as she pushed me back on the floor. I aimed an uppercut for the demon’s chin, and her head snapped back, giving me a chance to plant an elbow in her solar plexus. Her wings folded around me, pinning me against her, and she took a large bite out of my neck, her sharklike teeth shredding flesh. Vampire or not, blood loss could wreck me, but I managed to shove her off before she could sever my jugular vein. I kneed the Lilin in the gut and pushed away, escaping from her wings. The wound stung, my warm blood trickling down my neck.

“All right,” I said, and tried to take the advantage, lunging at the Lilin. She kicked at me with a hoof, the impact hard enough to knock me across the room. I crashed hard enough to break through the drywall, and was barely able to move before another kick to my head knocked me out cold.

It takes a lot to knock a vampire unconscious, but the blood loss definitely didn’t help. Still, I was only out for a few seconds – more than enough for the Lilin to roughly shove me onto a chair and tie my hands behind my back. I came to just as she was cinching the rope. She was humming a tune. It sounded like “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

“There we go,” she said. “I can smell your blood, vampire. Don’t think you can turn into a bat to get out of this. Your tiny little wrists ill stay in the rope, and you’ll just pull your arms out of your sockets.”

She leaned in to my face, our noses almost touching. “Now, wouldn’t that be fun?”

“Shut up,” I said.

The demon laughed, and stepped away from me. My neighbor was sprawled over his own table, pale and half-conscious. Only the weak rise and fall of his chest signaled to me that he was still alive.

“Chad’s not even that great a meal,” she said, trailing a clawed finger over the man’s chest. He moaned in feeble fear.

Wait, Chad? Not Jeffrey? I was way off.

I felt a lump in my bathrobe pocket, near my hands. I still had the bottle of olive oil and the lighter. Could I reach them in time? Could I actually do something useful with them?

“I have to admit, the idea of feeding off a vampire intrigues me,” the Lilin said. “This will be fun.”

She leaned down, as if to kiss Chad. Instead, his spiritual aura became visible, a faint fog surrounding him, and the demon started drawing it into her mouth, inhaling his soul like cigarette smoke. My fingers found my lighter, fumbling it into my grip. I turned it around in my fingers, trying to orient it with the tight ropes, feeling for the sparkwheel. He lifted a hand, evidently trying to shove the Lilin away. She pushed the hand back down, chuckling.

“Shh, just relax,” she said. “It’ll be over soon, and I gave you the best night of your life, didn’t I?”

My thumb found the sparkwheel, and I started to flick it, feeling an immense amount of heat as the fire lit – well, me. Maybe also the ropes, if I was lucky. Tonight was going to hurt.

“Please, stop,” he groaned, almost a whisper.

“It’s almost over,” the Lilin said, and then sniffed the air. She looked at me. “Did you just set yourself on fire?”

“Fire bad,” I joked, screaming internally. Because my sleeves were on fire. My sleeves. Were on. Fire.

The Lilin swooped over in an annoyed frenzy, reaching behind me to smother the fire before my entire robe went up. She flicked the lighter out of my hand.

“You’re an idiot,” she hissed. “Trying to burn through the ropes like that.”

“Who said burn?” I asked, and twisted, snagging the ropes on her claws. The Lilin jumped back, struggling with me, and accidentally pulling the ropes just a little bit looser. I turned into a bat, my limbs slipping out from the loops easily, an fluttered right in front of her face. She swiped at me and I dodged, diving to the floor and changing back into myself.

Round Two started as I realized that, free or not, I was still bloody and burned. The Lilin pounced at me, and I turned to meet her charge, wrapping my arms around her waist. She tried to jerk away, but I planted my feet, flipping backwards to slam her headfirst in a piledriver. I let go of her as she slumped from the impact, scrambling to put some distance between us.

The Lilin’s hoof lashed out, missing my face by inches as I moved back, grabbing a chair and throwing it in the way. The demon stumbled a little as she tripped over it, giving me the chance to run into the kitchen. Kitchens had knives and pans and other weapony items. Better than what I had on me.

The Lilin shrieked like a monster and followed me in, pouncing through the kitchen door. I grabbed a cleaver from the knife block and turned to face her, only a little too slow. She slammed into me, knocking the knife across the counter before pinning me against it.

“Change of plans. I’ll eat you first,” the Lilin said.

I slipped my free hand into my robe pocket, grabbing the bottle of olive oil. I swung it at her temple, cracking the glass vial against her head. She flinched, but that was about it.

“What was that supposed to be?” she asked.

I swing it again, breaking the bottle and splashing us both with oil.

“Stop being pathetic!” she growled.

I shoved the broken bottle into her eye. This produced a much better reaction. As she reeled back, screaming, I dove for the knife block again, and grabbed a chef’s knife out of the block. The Lilin grabbed me by the shoulders and roughly turned me around, her undamaged eye burning like an ember. It widened in shock when I jammed the blade into her throat, and her grip loosened. I pulled it out and stabbed her several more times to make the point.

“Why?” the demon asked, crumpling to her knees.

“You’re murdering my neighbor,” I said, and stabbed her through the temple.

I made my way back out to Chad, who was still lying limply on the table.

“Hey, man,” I said, cinching my robe closed. “There’s a dead monster in your kitchen. Don’t worry, her body’s gonna vanish in like an hour or so.”

“Huh?” he asked, his eyes glazed.

“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Souls heal easily. Drink some coffee, or some tea, or something, and it’ll restore yours faster.”

He sighed and muttered something that I took for thanks.

“I’ll go put the coffee on,” I said.

I left after giving him a cup, when he started showing signs of life. I briefly debated telling him more about the supernatural, but figured he didn’t know enough to be dangerous. And besides, this was probably never going to happen to him again – I wouldn’t have been surprised if he went celibate. I did decide to check on him in a day or two, just to make sure his soul was healing properly, but that would come later.

I returned home, changed out of my bloody, burnt clothes, and returned to my Menorah. Thankfully, all of the candles were still lit. This wasn’t a miracle, or anything, they had enough oil to last for at least an hour. Still, it was nice to be able to pick ups where I left off, and not start the entire ceremony again from scratch.

I hesitated for a moment. I almost let my neighbor die. How selfish was I? Was I really worthy to take part in any of this? But then again, was that even the point of it all? We try, we make do, and most of all, we survive. I had survived this far, for better or for worse. And I would simply have to do better. I had to have faith – after all, what else was there, in the end? Just as my ancestors had defeated overwhelming odds to survive, thus could I. Now, and forevermore, I could remain faithful. I would remain faithful. And I had so much to be thankful for.

I lit the eighth candle, and said all three prayers.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.