Being Human

Amanda Miller was rather stoked. She'd gotten a message yesterday, from her sister Theresa. She wanted to talk...via Skype. Now, it had been too long since they'd had a real good conversation about technology and Amanda had to scramble to find out what Skype was how to install it on her computer. Fortunately, her kinda-sorta boyfriend, Nick from 408 was there to help. He got it well installed on her PC before 10 PM. He even had a conversion to hook the PC up to her TV so they could both see her. What troubled Amanda more was that she hadn't had a good conversation with Theresa since she was going by Timothy. Six years totally wasted. And then…Amanda turned Garou. Supposedly, she had always been, but it didn't feel that way. It freaked her out badly. No one in the family knew; a secret Amanda was frantic to protect. , For the first time in her life, she had finally understood what her sister had gone through. She'd always had sympathy, but now it was empathy but…it was too late. Theresa had refused to see her in person, and then went traveling, she would not say where. And given the lethalities of Garou life, Amanda dreaded that she would never have a chance to truly make things right again. When Theresa had been Timothy, Amanda had been very close to her, and with their brother Daniel they were as tight nit as siblings could be. The Miller middle children: rich, white, educated, and with the world at their fingertips. Oh God it seemed like so long ago.

At 10:30 PM on Wednesday January 18, 2012, (Eastern Standard Time) Theresa Miller called her sister.

Nick punched up the link from the computer, and on the TV screen came Theresa, "Hello Amanda," she said with a note of serenity. "Greetings from India!"

Amanda was nervous and not sure what to say, "Um, hi...hi Theresa, it's been awhile..." and she was so busy in old guilts she was oblivious to what she was seeing. Theresa was in a purple tank top, her auburn hair pulled back in to a voluminous ponytail. She was out in the glaring Indian noon day sun, her skin half suntanned and half sunburnt, with a rough consistency all throughout her exposed upper half. "Oh and, do you mind. I my friend, Nick wants to meet you too..."

"I'm your boyfriend!" Nick sounded a little annoyed, but the annoying cutesy annoyed new couples tend to affectionately dote on one another. As he came into view for Theresa, he put his arm around Amanda says, "Hey...I heard a lot about you. I'm Nick Stover...me and your sister like to play Gears of War 3 together. I've heard a lot of things about you. Mostly good stuff, she looks up to you."

Theresa breathed in deeply, and Amanda recognized that wiff. It was the wiff Theresa used to use when smoking especially good ganja she was determined to enjoy. But there was no marijuana smoke. "Hi, Nick! You can stay if you want to. I'm glad Amanda's found someone...Mark was kind of a prick. Even back when they first started dating...but I don't want to talk about that," Theresa's eyes turned sad for a second, "Take good care of her, Nick. She's the only family that will have anything to do with me. Well, immediate family that is. A lot of my cousins are more accepting. But…" Theresa gathered her thoughts for a moment.

"I wanted to share a moment with you, Amanda. I...well, I've been through a lot of shit in the last year and a half...I just...I had an existential crisis. And in the end I had to get out of Columbus. But I found myself...I found...illumination. I found enlightenment I lost myself, I was lost in the darkness, so lost I was afraid of the light of the sun. But...sunlight feels so good. Oh my God it's warm, even though the sun doesn't like my pasty ass too much," she laughed with utter delight and warmth., and clasped her hands in joy. This was possibly the happiest Amanda had ever seen Theresa...ever.

Nick laughed too, "Like, did you get turned into a vampire or something?" he asked between laughs.

Theresa pashawed that, "Nicholas, Nicholas, there's no such thing as vampires. And I know that cause if there were I'd be out every night killing them!"

Nick looked over to Amanda with a questioning look. She laughed a little bit, "It's true, Theresa's favorite movie is Blade."

Theresa puckered her lips in an unsuccessful attempt to stifle a laugh, "No, no, hell no little sis. Dirty Harry is my favorite movie; Blade is just my favorite vampire movie. Nothing but dead vampires, beginning to end."

Amanda internally suppressed a grimace. Not because Theresa was blowing smoke out of her ass, but because she really would kill vampires like that. "That's not fair Theresa; you've never met a vampire. They can't be all bad."

"They're all waiting to die," Theresa said a little darkly, "or at least, that's how'd they'd be if they actually existed," she quickly and professionally saved the dropped ball. She'd learned something from the Camarilla, although it was all things she'd rather forget, "But there are worse things than vampires. There are users, exploiters, possiuers, mind-enslaving cults, death-worshiping freaks, and twisted things so deep in secrets you never see their faces. Feral brutes, brutal ferals, killers with unquenchable blood-lust and in the end, you hang out with the crazies, because they're the most sane. And I have met all of these people: I never, ever, EVER, want to meet any of them again. That is why I left Columbus. They are why I can't come back right now, and probably never will. You asked last time why I was leaving, and I know you, I know you Amanda, and you didn't believe me when I said it wasn't you. It wasn't our family." Amanda was struck with horror. Literally her face went pale and her hands over her mouth trying to hold in a gasp.

"And that's all I'm going to tell you. You don't need to be a monster to be a monster. All those fucks like to think they are more than human, and in the end, they are merely human. And I pity them beyond measure. But I can't save them. I can only save myself. And I did." Theresa's reaction was unusual for Amanda. Not for what she said, but for the lack. In every instance Amanda had ever seen Timothy Miller anger was coupled with black hatred. A destructive rage she'd only seen in the Ahroun. But there was no hatred. In fact, there was sadness.

"Now, I'm not going to tell you any more. I want you two to promise me you will never go looking for those people. For any reason. They are the damned that walk the earth; they dare to believe that because they have power, and wealth, and influence they are immune from death and judgment, they believe they can be humane, or moral, or happy. They are in a living Hell, and I mean a literal Living Hell, with breathing evil, mockers, power games, torments and sufferings the likes of which you cannot imagine. And just as they tried to keep me in that Living Hell, so they take you there too, if they take interest in you. So promise me you won't go looking and you won't talk about it to anyone else, cause I don't want anyone, ANYONE else to go through that. Promise me."

Nick looked a little green and totally horrified, and said, "Man, I don't even want to know what you're talking about. I'm gonna get drunk and forget you said it!"

Theresa nodded "Good. You have good sense. Amanda!"

Amanda could only whimper out "They...they hurt you..."

Theresa nodded, "After the first night, only because I let them. Now promise me. Promise!"

Amanda took a very serious vow right then and there, "I will never mention this to anyone. I swear it before the Living God."

Theresa calmed considerably at this, "But, there's more. I didn't call you to tell you the bad stuff. I want to tell you what I discovered in getting out. First, there's a term they bandied about: Caitiff. It's an old Maghrebi term for galley slave. It means wretched, coward, unworthy. It means you don't belong, and that you'll never belong. But I'm gonna tell you both something. I am Caitiff: I alone am truly free. Furthermore, no matter what kind of power you hold over me, I will have the last word on who the fuck I am. The same is true for everyone, including you two. And sometimes you get corralled into playing games where the only winning move is not to play. And when the winning move is not to play, you pack up your shit and get out. There's no shame in fleeing from evil, it saved my soul. To make no mention of my sanity...I'm getting parched," Theresa reached over off screen and pulled some kind of orange drink in a formal glass and sipped it through a crazy straw with at least six loop-de-loops, "Mmmm...even the food tastes better now. But that was just getting out. Well, that, and the most important thing I've learned in the last two years is just cause you fight monsters, just because you're better than the monsters you fight, it don't mean you're not a monster too. That was a HARD lesson to learn for me. I am...known to be violent at times. Or I was."

Amanda looked over at Nick, who looked at her. Amanda nodded. Theresa once threw Daneil out the kitchen window over $200 of pot. That would have been scary if Daniel hadn't gotten right back up and started fist fighting her in the darkness of the backyard.

Theresa continued, "But see, amidst all the shitbaggery, there was talk of...a path to enlightenment. Most of them said it was impossible, so most of them never look. Most normal people don't look for enlightenment, and to be fair, for them it's not strictly necessary. But after you've seen what I have seen, you feel alienated from your humanity. You hold onto it, praying more of it doesn't slip away. Some will tell you 'monsters we are lest, monsters we become', but they are fools.

"I tell you the truth: Humans we are, and only humans can we be. Nothing can ever, EVER take your humanity from you. It is imprinted on your soul. Now let me tell you this: there is a monster that rages within all of us, no matter how saintly we pretend to be. It drives us towards destruction; it drives us to murder, to gorging, to frenzy, to hunting out fellow man. I call this the Beast, and some say the beast lurks in the shadows, seeking whom he may devour. But the Beast is an illusion, because while some feel the Beast more than others, the Beast is symptom. The Beast is the human soul in agony; it is the pain that comes from living as anything less than whom you truly are. You cannot run from the Beast, you cannot control the Beast, you cannot repress the Beast. You must live authentically. You must end the pain by correcting where you are. In this way, being trans actually worked in my favor, cause I've been through this my whole life, I know how to deal with the Beast, I know how to make peace with it. I can't believe I'm telling you Gender Dysphoria has worked in my favor, but it has."

"Now, before you have any questions, let me continue. I promise, it's important. In order to learn what it is to be human, you must walk the Path of Humanity. It is not a hard path to walk, but the wilderness it runs through is full of snares and distractions: jealousy, arrogance, pride, lust, vanity and most important for me, vengeance just to name a few. They say there are other paths, other ways to be moral. They are liars, and they doom themselves and all who listen to them with their deceit. The Path of Humanity is based on respect. Respect for others, respect for yourself. Life is precious, in all its forms, and should never be taken lightly. I learned that from you Amanda. Wisdom comes from the quiet, from contemplation, and I saw that very clearly in Daniel. I hope he hasn't lost it in Kandahar. I learned that there is nothing more dangerous than innocence lost from Bastian, and I wish, oh God do I wish I could have sparred him and lived to tell about it. Ellen showed me a long time ago that dignity is its own power, and our parents, and I'm still really hurt by our mom, but they taught us well. Evil is not to be coddled, Evil is not to be appeased, Evil is to be fought. And true happiness is a quiet life. Banish thoughts of violence, do not steal, do not gossip maliciously, do not exploit, do not victimize, banish selfish actions, then selfish thoughts. And as you do this, the Beast will shrink; the Beast will disappear from your mind. Because, and I would never say this except for that I found it to be true, Humanity is inherently good, and when we stray from the Path of Humanity we war against our own natures."

"If we fight against ourselves too hard or too long, we give one final wail of despair as our mind seals itself off from the world, finally unable to bear the agony it has inflicted upon itself. When you...you finally understand, spiritually what it truly means to be human, the door will open to your liberation. Walk through it without hesitation, because to hold onto...inhumanity is to risk the door being shut, maybe forever. I don't really know, I don't care to find out. But I am whole again, and I can show the path to anyone who cares to look for it. I live in dignity, I live in peace, hell, I truly know what it is to live."

Amanda finally looked at Theresa, truly looks at her, "It sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount."

Theresa smiled, nearly beamed, "Jesus was a wise, wise man."

Amanda feeling safe to say it, proclaimed, "Truly he was the son of God."

Nick looked over at those two, weirded out by everything he had seen and heard tonight, "It almost sounds like an Asian Vampire."

Amanda looked over at her kinda-sorta boyfriend, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"No, no, hear me out, Amanda. In Asian Vampires, someone dies in inadequacy, they go to Asian Hell, and they are tormented until they manage to escape Hell and crawl back into their bodies. Then they have to pay off their debts and find Nirvana or something or they rot to pieces and end up hopping around like grasshoppers...wha? Don't look at me like that! I like Hong Kong movies, and that's what they do in Hong Kong movies! Either that, or or, your sister is a werewolf!"

Amanda looked very...stunned, at this. Thank God for Ragabash duplicity, "Nick, sweetie, that's silly, there's no such thing as werewolves!" Theresa facepalmed and began chuckling with too much amusement.

"Amanda, you don't know that!"

"Nick, if there were werewolves, how would you tell? For Christ's sake I could be a werewolf! What would you do then?" Amanda put on an impressive poker face but her heart skipped a beat as she asked it. It was for her, the most terrifying thing she could ask.

And then Nick and Theresa, on two different continents exploded in laughter and pointed at Amanda. They apparently thought it was a riot. After some guffaws, Theresa said, "Ah ha, ha, ah ha ha ha...you can't be werewolf little sis, you're Amanda Miller!"

Nick put his hand up, "Quoted for truth!"

And Theresa wasn't finished, "Yeah, I think that's the most terrible idea ever! I mean geez...OK, how about we take Phoebe Buffay and her really smart twin from Friends, make them the same person and then turn her into a WEREWOLF?"

Nick instantly shot back, "I would so see that movie, Theresa! I would see it in a heartbeat!"

Theresa smirked at her sister in a way only an older sister can, "And we'd love you just the same. All of us. Cause after all, at least you're not a pervert like I am...and don't make too much of it. You and I both know damn well our parents will accept their kids doing anything but being Queer or Communist. It makes me wish I had a choice in the matter."

Amanda felt kinda ill hearing that, even in Theresa's good humor. "I...I'm sorry...I wish, I just...I wish I could have been there, in the last six years, I'm afraid I'll never see you again."

Theresa whistled, "Aren't we morbid? Come'on Amanda, I'll be 30 in June, you're 25. We got lots of time. I may never come back to Columbus, and that's not totally for certain...not totally...but that don't mean I won't come around. We'll be a family again. I promise. I mean, I always thought once you or Daniel came around, it's just a matter of time until the rest of them pull their heads out of their asses. By the way, I gotta get off soon cause I'm heading to Bangkok tonight. See, I shoulda gone to Thailand back in 2010. I chickened out and went to Knoxville. That was a huge mistake. I shoulda gone Thailand. I was getting to thinking I was gonna be stuck pre-op for all eternity. And trust me, being pre-op is no fun. So I'm going to go get that fixed. Say Nick, does that bother you? Does it unnerve you I'm getting 'The Operation'? Dun dun dun!"

Nick took it in stride, "You're a girl, why should it bother me? Just...don't do it to me."

Theresa smiled at Amanda and thumb pointed in Nick's direction, "He's a keeper. By the way, I'll be in touch before the surgery, so ask Mom if she wants the testicles. If that's the only thing she truly values about me, I can arrange a poignant reunion..."

Now this did cause Nick's eyes to bulge, "Goddamn! How can you say that?"

Theresa responded placidly, "Life's a bitch, and so am I. Also, so is my mother."

Amanda gently grabed his shoulder, "If you knew my mom, you'd know she deserves that comment."

Nick whistled, "Damn, your family really is larger than life! We gotta talk more! Like, you're awesome, and an asshole, and awesome! Is this a Miller thing where I gotta stick around just to see what comes out of your mouth? Cause Amanda's like that too, except she's totally nice."

Theresa nodded her head and smirked an affirmative, "Just wait till you meet me dad. Good times all around. Just ask him what he thinks about the gull wings on a Delorean..."

Amanda kinda snarled, "Theresa..."

"All right, all right! So I've laid some heavy shit on you. I'm back from the dead...figuratively, of course. I know I wasn't dead because cause one of the death cult freaks offers to hook me up with a demon I could sell my soul to. And he was dead serious. And I figured, if my soul is sellable, it's still in play, and that means I was actually still alive. It should go without saying, but please, don't sell your soul to demons. There's just no way that can end well. For fuck's sake doesn't anyone read Faust anymore? Anyway, I'm back from the dead, I'm only scarred on the inside; I found the path to inner peace and the essence of my species. And now I'm treating myself to a sex change...my life is seriously fucked up." And then she laughed good naturedly about it.

Amanda wanted to grab Theresa, to hold onto her for a moment more, "I'm glad you're here, Theresa. I know life isn't perfect, but I'm happy you're a part of my life."

Theresa's eyes looked down for a second, "Don't go dyin on me just yet. One of these days, I'll need to be with you to give you a big ol' big sister hug. It's kinda like big ol big brother hug...but with less deodorant."

They all had a good chuckle, and they said their goodbyes, and Nick and Amanda then proceeded to get totally hammered in Nick's apartment and then got laid. As much fun as she would have had getting freaky in Fair Glabro, Amanda did not lift the Veil that night.

After speaking with Amanda, Theresa went back inside her hotel room, her skin aching from exposure to the sun. She got out a mini tape recorder out of the center night stand and pressed record, "Now, where was I? Oh yes...when you get your humanity back, there's a couple of things to watch out for. One, the Rotschreck still hasn't gone away completely; I'm beginning to suspect it never will. It's getting easier, but it's still a little terrifying to go out into the sun. It almost feels like...like passing into the Holiest of Holies in the Tabernacle. Supposedly God would strike dead those who would intrude in there. Though Pompey violated the temple with impunity...it was some decades before he was offed by Cleopatra's brother. But, stepping out into the light is like finally being accepted again."

"That taint of unholiness is false...being in the light gives lie to the notion we are unworthy to bask in the sun. And to feel the sun on your skin again, a thousand years of wealth and learning and decadence is not a tenth of five minutes in the daylight. I'm convinced every vampire truly knows this, no matter how they try to justify it otherwise. Although, don't do like I did and almost die of sunstroke your second day in. That said it was totally worth it."

"Humans stink...showering becomes less of a luxury and more of a necessity. And when your body tells you that you need to go to the bathroom, do not ignore it. Bladder control is not always what you think it is coming back into Humanity. The first piss is glorious. Shitting I could do without. Speaking of which, do err on the side of caution with toilet paper. YUCK! By the time you come back to the living, you will have forgotten what it like to truly be warm, but when you get your physical humanity back, you will never ever forget warmth returning to you, to feel your heart begin to beat of its own accord, and to feel the Disciplines flowing out of you. I was actually at the point I could have skin-rode, I'm so glad I never used Dominate, though I was sorely, sorely tempted. I don't know what it is like losing Potence, but losing Celerity and Fortitude makes you feel vulnerable, but at the same moment, that you'll never need such powers again."

"I wish I could come back William. I wish this wasn't getting to you after my death, it pains me that if I help anyone else, you will be the last person I help in this life. But I know damn well if I show up, Chicano will kill me himself. A Prince cannot allow it, because if Golconda is real, the Camarilla is done. The Camarilla, and I suspect the Sabbat too, are built on the hopelessness and despair when must choose between being a blood sucking parasite and meeting the sun. Though to be fair, I never thought about meeting the sun. Fuck that; I'da done shotgun decapitation. That way, my brain would be in a thousand pieces before it could register the pain. As is, they'd kill me before I could open my mouth, or worse, turn me back into a Kindred. Probably turn me into a Nos to teach me a lesson. And I'm everything but stupid."

"All I can do is how you that path, it will be up to you to walk it. It's so easy...as long as you are truly looking for it. But, and I cannot say this enough, you must reject ALL of vampirism: not just the sunlight damage, not just the blood drinking and parlor games, but the wealth, the status, the power, and especially the immortality. In order to achieve it you must resign yourself to death, seeking only a moral, well lived life. I know some have searched for centuries, and I think it's because they still want, at some level to be vampires without the weakness. You cannot begin to look for the way out until there is nothing, absolutely nothing that holds you to vampirism. I saw it in your eyes, and I heard it in your voice: you wanted out as much as I did. I suspect by the time this message reaches you, the Gangrels will have made you into a monster. Your path will be much more difficult than mine. But the way out remains."

"I am convinced that there are hundreds of us, men and women still alive who have been restored. But none of us have any desire to ever go back to that wretched life, not even to save people we care about. It's the only way I can see that there are not legions and legions of Kindred vampire hunters, crying out in agony at the injustice of their embrace, seeking to avenge their murders, and to commit genocide so that no one would ever, ever be embraced again. In that way it is a wasted mercy on the mass of the Kindred."

"I want you know how my story ended William. I want you to know because it began just like yours. I was raped and murdered, drug into Hell and they tried to make me a demon. But for me, being a monster was never even an option. It wasn't on the table. So I fled into the night, and once I was away from the filthy luxuries of Elysium, I looked into my soul, and discovered my humanity was not lost, merely waiting to bloom again. I came to terms with the vampiric condition: I understand it is not anything close to a gift. It is an abomination, full of pain and suffering. And when I realized it was better to die than remain a vampire, the door opened. William, I will tell you this once, there are good reasons to attain Golconda and remain a vampire. If you choose to stay a vampire for them, to give other Kindred new hope you will be both a better man, and a far more stupid man, than I ever pretended to be. My heart beats, my sleep is sound, and sunshine makes me stronger. I got my humanity back. I win."

"I have not abandoned you. I am coming back for you. And should you be truly dead before me, I will find you. In whatever depth of Hell you are in, I will come to you and I will show you the way out. I will be Virgil to your Dante. I will never give up on you. You are like me, you are innocent. In that way William, you are my brother. And I love you as my brother. You are not William the Black; don't let them convince you that you are."

"Oh and the custom postcard? The temple is in surprisingly good condition. They say it was the temple to a goddess called Kakati. I am in my 'steampunk safari' outfit. All of the clothes are standard 19th century British Raj get up, including the khaki colored pith helmet, although the pants in real life would only have been worn by men, but it's steampunk, and steampunk is not necessarily related to real Victorian ways. The boots are women's roughing boots of the period. The goggles and monocle just make me look cool. I'm still working on it. I take my steampunk costuming very seriously. I look happy in the picture; because I am truly happy, and someday…well probably not in this life, but someday, I'd like to show what I'm like to be around when I'm not two steps away from shotgun decapitation. You are a good man William, never doubt that, and never forget it. You know where I am, and now I'm waiting for you."

Theresa stopped the tape recorder, then slammed it into rewind. When it clicked complete, she put it very lovingly beside an identical tape player. She marked the other on masking tape 'Thomas' for the Toreador who took care of her in Knoxville, and the other 'William', for the only true friend she had in the Columbus Camarilla. She had thought about sending a message to Trey the Settite, but she'd only be mocking the poor would-be deity. She held up the postcards, identical in every way. It was a picture of Theresa, in her 'steampunk safari' outfit, looking utterly ridiculous in the over-sized pith helmet. But she was beautiful despite the sunburns, happy and free. The postcard around the picture was red and in yellow cursive under the picture it said, "Greetings from Golconda."