Matthew's walk into the snowy woods in December brought him to the small frozen pond in the clearing. There was a girl there; a blood eater, he could tell.
Her black hair fell in a slick black mess over her shoulders and the collar of her scruffy, olive-colored coat. Her face was the same smooth, unmarred silver-white of the frozen water. She was hunched down, snail-like, on the very edge of the pond, her bead bowed.
He tugged thoughtfully at his full, black beard. which was stiff with the cold. Her presence made no sense at all to him. He was a woodsman, a seasoned hunter acquainted with all the forest people and their ways better than did all the ignorant people back in town. Three things were very wrong: for one, sunset was many hours away, although the winter sky was a low, steely gray and pregnant with snow. But besides that, the girl's fellows were all dormant in their earth dugouts well in the heart of the forest, where they waited in hibernation for the wet thaw of spring. Lastly, this pond was a kilometer at most from the outskirts of town, where the blood eaters would be hard pressed to go regardless of the season.
She looked up and saw him, her large dark eyes full of the fearful black light of those of a rabbit or a doe. But she didn't move, which was also wrong; the blood eaters were skittish people who had as few dealings as possible with the flesh eaters outside their woodland jurisdiction.
With good reason, God knew.
He didn't always care for them himself, he supposed. Which is why he was a woodsman; and though accountable as well, he had asked for the district closest to the woods, and wasn't always overly keen on incidents actually happening in town.
Here, however, was a different matter. He said, "Don't be afraid," aware of the sonorous boom in his deep voice across the still, frigid air. She blinked. Her lashes were long and dark, and a few stray snowflakes perched on them.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, though he doubted a smart blood-eater would have divulged that if it were true.
She shook her head, and her look now suggested neither fear nor welcome. A peculiar, affable indifference, actually..
Matthew didn't need to be invited He was possessed, he supposed, of a sense of stewardship about the whole woods; anything wrong or irregular with one of its inhabitants gave him a need for accounting, as though anything extraordinary might be symptomatic of something going on with the rest of the creatures in the forest. Especially the ones which affected his livelihood.
He advanced through the calf-high snow, which covered entanglements of long, thick grass. He came to the edge and sat down beside the girl, on the frozen soil jutting in a hard jaw over the ice.
She didn't flinch, only sat back on her ankles, her gloved hands on her knees. Her gloves were very torn; it wasn't unusual for blood eaters to have mostly second hand things, he knew; they were salvagers and scavengers as much as they were anything else. Through a large hole in one glove, a blue vein flexed and pulsed In spite of himself, he found it distasteful to look. "I hope you don't mind my asking this, but I want to know if you are well. This is odd, finding the likes you here, now."
"Oh, that would be true, I guess, if I were more like them." she glanced rather contemptuously at the woods beyond the pond. "But I can't, and they know it. I live in the winter. They don't care for it much, but I can't do without it They are not quite sure I'm fully one of them, but I don't see what else I could be."
"I can imagine this is a very hard time of year for your people," he said. "The deer are very scarce. Most of the animals are asleep. Food"- that was what he called it, food-"would be hard to come by.
"True," she said, "unless you know where to look."
There was a long stick lying next to her on the ice. The stick was the thin but solid and prickly wood of blackthorn. She picked it up in the hand with the holed glove, raised it and struck its tip hard against the ice.
From the point where the tip struck, a thin white line budded in the ice, grew out like a badly done drawing of a large bare tree.
In another moment, he watched with horror as a thin tongue of red slithered through the original crack and into every offshoot of it, until a great scarlet riverwork emerged in front of him on the frozen surface.
He grabbed the girl angrily by the arm. "What have you done?" he shouted. "Tell me now and you might save yourself some trouble. I could make things a little easier for you once you get hauled into town for your trial."
"Oh, stop," she said, in a breathy sigh of aggravation rather than anger or fear. She pulled her arm away in one swift, liquid gesture. "If you're a constable, you ought to know better. I think the charge was witch craft. Or stealing bread. Both, for all I know. There's usually quite a few, right before the water begins to freeze, and I am guessing that it's so the jails don't get too crowded over the winter. No sense having a lot of witches or bread stealers bottled up behind bars until spring."
Then, as if he had suddenly vanished, she picked up her stick again. This time she used the hewed end to gouge at the ice, until one large, nearly triangular piece jutted up. Water splashed red, reflecting on its ripples the inert, sunless winter sky overhead. The blood water clotted in blushing spots around the edge of the ice, where air had now filtered under the ice and was trapped.
She bent down like a child bobbing for apples, and when she sat upright again-which was not for several minutes-she pulled a ratty bit of cloth out of a pocket in the coat and scrubbed vigorously at her face. Then she took a handful of snow out of the grass and scoured herself with it. They were meticulously clean, whatever else might be said about them. Incongruously so, in a way that would have made him laugh if it didn't make him feel sick first.
"See," she said, to him, a strange, angry light dancing
in her eyes. "You. Me. The good people in town. Now we are
all safe. Until spring, I think."
When he smiled, he was all teeth. But when he cried, one could launch a whole shipload of dentists off the bridge of his nose. Emotions came easy to the likes of Norris Fetter.
I recalled very well when he broke cover at the local pub's Quiet Night, which was held every Tuesday week to suit those who merely wanted a civilized chat over a jar of oil. No cheap imitations of a pile-driver masquerading as music nor toe-storms of coloured light not endless quizzes nor the clonk of feathered spikes into cork...
The night had been dark as hell. So me and the wife, We went into shelter. She wanted a pint of sweat. But I got her a cocktail that had things swimming in it fit to sink a Cruiser of drunkenners. It had set her eyes to wide out.
"Ooooh, darlink, you can't afford drinkies like this," she squealed.
"For you, Dutch, nothing is special enough,' I responded. looking round at the company we kept. I cringed, for there was Norris Fetter in the chimney corner, smiling at me. He was wet-nursing the slowest drink it was possible to measure out in sips. He was obviously sheltering, too.
I acknowledged his existence, put my finger to my lips and then pointed to the "Quiet, Please!" sign over the bar.
I knew he had been after me, ever since I did him a turn at the local Odeon picture-house. He had wanted to goose an usherette, one in particular, So I tipped him a wink when she had lost her torch under the folding seats. Yet, with my chuckling connivance, she had laid off on him a thousand stale triangular prism ice-lollies, said he could easily sell them off at a profit at he next kids' Saturday Morning Pictures. It didn't dawn on him that they'd melt in the power blackouts... and the long and short of it, he failed to get her bum pinched either and he'd be on slow drinks, I expected, for the rest of eternity.
For some reason, he blamed me. If looks could kill, I was never born. And now tonight, I turned back to the wife. She was gargling on swordfish, so no need to hold a conversation there, Norris Fetter had meantime sidled tip to the bar and revealed a mouthful of teeth. I'd never seen so many in one smile.
Was he talking to me? Words always seem to bring people nearer to each other.
"Yes?" The one word reply left my mouth unbidden.
"That lady friend of yours who works at the Odeon - she's got enough wooden ice-cream shovels to build you a coffin. They showed me how to do it on kids' telly..."
He thumped me on the back and showed me how to cry.
Quiet Night was evidently at risk, so I snatched the wife and blew off with a tail wind in the seat of my pants... except the night was still dark as hell and he came hounding behind as if he were part of it.
They said Norris Fetter was a vampire in his youth, until other emotions overtook him.
During daylight hours, I became a strawberry ripple rip-off merchant
at he Odeon's Matinees for old people. They has begun to run black
films by then and it was dark as hall in the auditorium. Pity
I'd lost the torch. I was no good as an usherette. Norris Fetter
The wife went into business with the real usherette selling sexy
briefs to incontinents.
A brilliant blue sky, the air cool and fresh. The clouds parted revealing a truly breathtaking view of fields. As the wind rushed past her cheeks she lifted her head and, dazzled by the sun, swooped lower until she was flying just above the tree-tops. The sensation was amazing, so exhilarating, she -
"I thought you were putting the kettle on? That water's been running over 10 minutes!
Pam turned the tap off, took the kettle and gave Tanith a weary look.
"This is planet Earth Tani, you ought to give it a try sometime."
"I do, constantly."
Visions of day-to-day life formed in her mind. Living with big sisters had its drawbacks. She picked up the mug and took a sip of steaming coffee. Not as many as living with her parents though. They'd never understood her fascination with flying. They found it obsessive and therefore tried to relieve her of it. After various fights, she left and ended up sharing with Pam. When it all got too mundane her mind would instantly start to drift upwards and soon her body would too. What a real kick it would be to fly...
"There's a new club opening on Baritone Street tonight. We're going to try it out, coming too?"
Tanith was suddenly back in the kitchen and realized Pam was expecting
The light was neon blue, dark and deep, not dazzling. The Midnight Club boasted little decoration outside, in fact the doorway was so small it could be missed completely if it wasn't for the small dark blue glow above the portal.
"It's only just opened and it looks like a dump already!" groaned Pam. The small group went inside with Tanith wandering in behind. The main hall was dark and smelt musty, like old books, rather than smoke-filled. Tanith viewed the tables slowly, the people were all engrossed in conversation and didn't notice the small group enter. Whatever the music was, it was only playing in the background and the dance floor was completely empty. Pam had seen enough.
"That's it. I'm out of here."
"I think I'll stay awhile". Pam stared incredulously at Tanith.
"Be serious Tani!"
"No, really. Loosen up will you? I'll see you back at the flat, OK?"
The others trailed out after Pam and Tanith wandered over to the bar. The woman serving was incredible to look at. Tanith watched her in a trance as she poured the drink; long dark straight hair, pale unblemished skin, dark pools of eyes, tall, slender, wearing a beautiful midnight-blue crushed velvet dress. She caught herself staring and looked away quickly. The woman asked what she'd like to drink and before Tanith realized what was happening, she was answering questions about herself, her family, her entire life. Before she was conscious of it, she was even confiding in this woman about her dearest love, flying. Realizing how much she'd given away about herself to a perfect stranger, she stopped mid-sentence.
"What's wrong Tanith?"
"Oh, ..nothing. I'm. just not used to people wanting to know about me, about my dreams."
"I find your dreams fascinating."
Tanith stared into those hypnotic eyes. She suddenly woke up and blushed. "Most people just find them weird, find me weird."
"Weird isn't necessarily bad. Weird is out of the ordinary. Isn't it more interesting to be extraordinary?"
"When I fly, I mean when I dream of flying, I can practically feel it. It's so powerful."
"Do you fly at night?"
Tanith considered this, "No, it always seems to be at daybreak. The world always looks so fresh and new..."
Her voice trailed off as she began to imagine the feeling of sailing above the ground.
"You should try it at night, Tanith. The world always seems fresh and new to me after sunset. I find the dark comforting, like being wrapped in velvet." She glanced at her watch.
"It's time to close now."
"What time is it?"
"We close at 2 am. If you wait a minute I'll walk back with you."
The woman emerged from behind the bar seconds later wearing a long cloak matching the fabric of her dress. As Tanith watched she seemed to glide across the floor towards her. She noticed the place was already empty...but she hadn't even seen anyone leave. Why had no-one come near the bar while she'd been there? It dawned on her that she'd had an uninterrupted conversation with this woman all night. She felt so tired and confused, and to top it all, she hadn't even asked the woman's name! This was all really weird She was lost in these thoughts when the woman stopped and pointed her long slim finger at the top of the large building they stood before.
"I live here. Why don't you come in for a coffee, there's someone I'd like you to meet."
Tanith opened her mouth to make her excuses, after all Pam would be waiting and the later it was, the worse the scene would be. Somehow that wasn't what Tanith wanted to say. She looked at the woman who was beckoning to her from the front door, and followed slowly behind the flowing cloak.
"My friend shares your passion for flying. Few people share his feelings in the same way. and I think you may be one of them."
The woman was looking intensely at Tanith, almost as if she were measuring her lip for a task. This whole evening was too strange. She knew the sensible thing would have been to go straight home, but didn't seem to have the will-power to leave this woman now. Anyway, if truth be told, she didn't want to go home at all. As they entered the high-ceilinged room the woman made no effort to put on the light. Even so, Tanith felt no fear, just curiosity. As she peered through the darkness her eyes rested upon a darker shadow moving slightly near the window.
"I've brought someone to meet you Rudi."
"To...meet?" the man questioned, almost amused by this.
"This is Tanith. She's different Rudi."
"You dream of flight"
The statement seemed to leap out at her suddenly and took her by surprise. as did the fact that the man was now standing behind her; she hadn't noticed him move. Tanith had been struggling to follow the conversation but she felt almost drugged. That last sentence seemed to ring round her head. Now the voices seemed to be in her head, especially the voice of this tall slim man she couldn't see properly. Concentration was so difficult; she struggled to keep alert.
"I dream of flight" she answered quietly.
"What would you say if I could make that dream come true, for a price."
The man no longer sounded amused. He was striking a bargain, a serious bargain. Tanith didn't even have to consider her reply. She knew she should feel in some way threatened, but she did not. In fact she felt no fear at all, which made no sense.
"I'd pay any price."
As the man approached her she felt suddenly weak and his arm steadied her. She looked up into his eyes to see the same eyes as the woman, dark and hypnotic. As she listened to his soothing words the room began to fade, the woman seated on the couch was fading too. All that existed in the room was the tall dark man before her. His lips parted in a smile. As she looked at his mouth she saw what she'd somehow half expected to see. As his small sharp fangs penetrated her skin she felt a sudden stab of pain mixed with ecstasy. As he drank her life she relaxed in his arms and smiled.
"I told you she was different Rudi."
A cloudless sky, just millions of stars above a blue-black world.
She'd never noticed quite how beautiful the moon was, a creamy
white glow in the distance, In fact the whole night was beautiful
in a way she'd never imagined. Her world had changed way beyond
expectation, as had her body for that matter. The thought amused
her. Everything was just as the woman Lavinia had said it would
be. The night was a whole new sensation; she alighted on a branch
beside Rudi. It was certainly the only time to fly.
Moonlight glittered silver on the trees. Each leaf was defined in acid iridescence. The full round face of the moon peeked through the oval leaves and into gray eyes. The gray eyes, smoky like quartz, were momentarily eclipsed by eyelids fringed with thick black lashes. The lashes brushed against cheeks smudged with the remnants of the night's mascara. The cheeks were tickled by wisps of black flair. The hair was swept back and held by spidery hands with sanguine nails. The corner of the right pinkie fingernail rested in the bend of the full red mouth. The full red mouth parted slightly to reveal strong sharp white teeth. The teeth were eased apart and full-throated laughter rang out of the mouth. The laughter carried down into the city tar below and a man awoke, startled, in his bed.
He sat up in the dark, clutching the thin bedsheet to his chest as if it could offer some protection against the dream that woke him. Cold rivulets of sweat ran down his forehead over his cheek to his chin to drip onto the powerless sheet. He glanced from side to side to see if he were alone. Yes, she had dumped him. How could he have forgotten. He still didn't understand why they had to break-up and stop having sex. He felt going out and fucking were mutually exclusive events. She didn't. That didn't matter now, he had better things to dream about. In the blue-defined room, the moon shone in and made patterns on his white sheet front the leaves on the tree outside his window. The vision of a pale red-lipped lover hovered over him. He shook his head to clear it, spraying sweat drops onto the pristine sheets. He never could get back to sleep after having a dream that vivid. He decided to take a walk.
She watched as the tall sleek man walked out of his house. She thought about how it would feel to run her fingers through his long light-brown hair. She thought about all of the life coursing through his veins, and how it could all be hers. But this was a fine specimen of a human, maybe she would keep him around for a while. He could work as a snack. She waited under her tree and twirled around, letting her long black skirts swish about her booted ankles. She could see him, now, a block away.
He couldn't believe what he was seeing, his phantom lover come to life. He ambled over to her tree and tried to think of something clever to say. He managed a "hi". That was all he could think of besides her. She eclipsed his reality, was eternity incarnate. She smiled at him and removed the need for conversation by kissing him passionately. He felt a sharp pain in his tongue, but then she began licking it gently, and all of the hurt vanished. As she moved from his mouth to his neck, all he could think about was how he wanted to belong to her forever.
She sighed. She longed for the man who could resist her. What good was a willing food source for a companion. Didn't anyone try to resist a blood-sucker anymore? More and more recently, victims welcomed her advances if they didn't actually invite her in the first place. She was sad to see such a sweet face fall by the wayside, but she was searching for a mate, an equal, and he was not it. She stroked his hair gently, it was indeed as soft as she had hoped, and as he murmured, "I love you,' she bit into the tender flesh of his neck. He didn't struggle, but happily abandoned himself to the pleasurable vortex that she hurled him into with her last kiss. As she set his body beneath the tree and stepped away, she bad one regret. She wished she had made love to him while he was alive.
But then again, death and sex are not mutually exclusive events.
I really like TV. TV is one of the few things here in the city
that we have at home, where there is a huge satellite dish which
gets us just about any show we want on one communal television.
Running water and electricity in every home still elude us, but
yes sir, TV we got.
Here, I like the shows on Nick at Nite. For one thing, obviously, the timing is good, and for another, the black and white shows are easier on the eyes. Sometimes, I think that if we were the ones running the world, the world would be a lot like Dobie Gillis - peopled with dull, bovine types, moving between soft shades of light and dark.
Sometimes it's a little like that around here, with my roommate, Bettina. Nuit says I shouldn't complain. It isn't as though I've paid any rent or even done much dusting and cleaning, which I said I would, and owe it all to Bettina and her adoring, bovine eyes that found me.
Then again, maybe Nuit can say that because Nuit is one of the lucky ones. She got a job, as a coat check at a dance club. I was still looking, and Nuit, who knows all those club kids as if they were her own gaggle of sibs and cousins, steering me in the direction of Bettina. Bettina, she told me, was her girlfriend Lisanne's ex-roommate. Her real name is Betty Ann, but she thinks Bettina is more suited to her. Whatever, I thought.
"You're just gonna have to overlook a lot of stuff that she says. Don't take it personally. She's hardly the only one, and she could make your life a little easier."
Bettina actually saw us first, and came over. I smothered a very mean smirk, and got Nuit's hard little fist in my back. Bettina's hair was black enough to have been spray - painted that way. The thick circlets of her eyeliner were coming unglued and splotching the skin under her eyes like black berry juice. Who does she think she is, I hissed. Neffertiti?
Bettina didn't notice, apparently, because as soon as Nuit said I was her cousin, Bettina wailed, "Oh!" and quickly assured me that no matter what I said, she wouldn't betray me to the authorities. She then proceeded to ask stuff Nuit had warned me about. I was already a little prepared. You get used to it sooner or later. That crap about immortality, and do I miss people from three centuries ago, all that. I was about to set her straight, too. But I guess I am as smart as the next guy, and every so often, a little smarter. At that time, at least, I figured this moment was an every so often. I said, "Lookit, Bettina, I really want to answer your questions, but I kinda need to know something. I'm pretty new in town, and I have been trying to find a place to -"
I don't remember much of the next few hours after that, beyond Bettina grabbing my hand, flinging me into the front seat of her Volkswagen, and then dragging me up the stairs to her apartment.
"You can stay here," she said, waving her arm across the space of an empty room. "And don't worry about anything. I mean it. Not a thing. And I'll make sure nobody bothers you. I promise."
And she did. Nobody bothered me, because that is a privilege she reserved for herself. I got used to a lot of things, like the books, and the cobwebs ready to collapse from the weight of dust, and wrought iron candelabras, always gummed up with wax that was always red.
I got used to her, and her curiosity, which was kind of endearing at first but the endearment was, well, pretty mortal. She liked looking in my mouth, sucking in a sharp breath every time, as if she could see naked people in there. Lots of times I could see her in my peripheral vision, taking me in, as if I had slithered right off the pages of one of her stacks of novels. I had never even read them. reading too much of their words in their tiny mouse scratch letters makes my eyes water.
So, I spend a lot of time watching TV, like I said. Bettina joins me, ostensibly because she can't get enough of Dobie either. She is always in her gauzy, lace-trimmed night shirt that looks as if it had been swiped from the set of David Copperfield. (Another easy black and white dream, and one which I'm starting to identify with more and more. I should get out more often.)
One night, she appeared, decked out in the black make-up and the David Copperfield shirt, and plunked herself beside me in the aging sofa cushions with the consistency of quick sand. Every time Dobie or his pal Maynard did something funny and I laughed, I was naked to her sideways glances. Finally, she announced, "You have got to be the laziest blood drinker on the planet."
"I'm sure I'm in the top five," I said.
"Don't you ever get hungry?"
"Yeah, of course I do. Doesn't mean I think about it all the time. It's not like there's a ton of variety."
True enough. Sometimes, when she's not around, I go to the kitchen, pull up a chair and just stare into the refrigerator. I am sometimes amazed and sometimes disgusted at it all: the leafy vegetables with the frayed brown edges, the milk as white and opaque as skin, and mostly, the meat. the meat in flat pink circles, in ragged red leaves, in the pocked flesh of cleaned wings and the dull fat beneath. How can they even stand it, the stench of rot and stale fluids? And why do they take so much of everything and leave nothing but some torn plastic wrappings and wasted bones?
I didn't ask her and I'm not about to.
"That'll be six fifty-five, Miss."
"Here you go, thanks. See you tomorrow," the young woman said, handing the driver several bills through the cab window.
"Goodnight, Miss." the driver replied. The window slid upwards, and the taxi disappeared down the darkened street, its chrome bumper shining in the artificial glow of the streetlights. The road was slick from a recent shower, and a slight wind disturbed the fragile ghosts of steam which rose from the heated pavement. The young woman's eyes followed the taxi until at last it turned a corner and vanished into the night.
Her eyes lingered along the crowded row of apartment complexes lining the street in neat little squares, the occasional city-planted tree dotted here and there among the concrete sidewalks, the bags of trash lined up next to the curb. She was alone; the street was deserted, and not even the neighborhood dogs were making their usual rounds tonight. She turned slowly and glanced up the perfect steps to her own building, and a tiny sigh escaped her lips.
She climbed each step wearily; the rigors of the day having taken their usual toll, and at the top she slipped her key into the lock, sliding back the deadbolt with a click. There was no mail in the mailbox ( she never got any mail she thought with another sigh ) and the evening's paper had been soaked through by the rain. She left it on the steps and went inside. The door shut with a final click, and the young woman entered the darkness of her home.
Inside, she stepped into the darkened entrance-way to place her briefcase on the floor, and dropped her keys and purse on the narrow table by the door. She switched on a small lamp at one end of the table and glanced at the antique mirror on the wall. Her reflection was dim, as the lamp did not throw much light, but still she could see the lines marking her face, as if she had been sleeping against a pillow for too long a time. The pale scent of dried lavender arose from a simple white vase at the opposite end of the table, and the young woman shut her eyes to block out the brightness of the mirror, as another quiet sigh escaped her lips. She did not feel so young anymore.
A moment passed before she opened her eyes, struggling to regain her composure, her detachment. Her eyes averted from the ancient mirror, she walked into the comforting darkness of the living room, and sat at one end of an expensive looking loveseat. Here she sat, never moving, staring out the living room window which overlooked the deserted street she lived on. The last falling rays of the sun were streaming through the thick panes of the window, being twisted and distorted into ever lengthening shadows which would drift across the wooden floor and collapse finally into an oppressive darkness at her feet. She didn't seem to notice.
The living room was decorated in what seemed to be a romantic style, but the once bright and flowery prints held a faded, saddened look to them, and the dust of disuse lingered in the air. The loveseat seemed distinctly out of place in this European setting; its black walnut trim and black crushed-velvet appeared to enjoy the sinister role given them. An antique brass phone sat upon a small oval table, but it never rang and most likely never would. Very faintly, in the background bars of a melancholy nocturne would drift into the room and disturb the luxuriant sadness which pervaded it. Mingled with this was the constant subdued "tick, tock, tick, tock" of a mantel clock, counting off the minutes which spiraled into a blur.
For several hours, the woman never moved; she seemed oblivious to the dancing shadows and distant music, as if absorbed in the masquerade of a private dream. A few minutes after the mantel clock had finished chiming nine o'clock, the woman rose from her corner of the strange loveseat and walked unsteadily through the darkness into the kitchen. She flicked on the fluorescent lights, abruptly dispelling the evening into broken shadows, momentarily banished to the corners of the room.
The music had changed to a gorgeous valse brilliante, as the woman prepared her dinner, swaying in a wonderful rhythm about the room as the solitary violin swelled to grand heights above the orchestra. The music was louder now, though the woman had never touched the stereo; she listened intently, as it was her only company in the empty apartment. When she had finished her dinner the apartment was quiet once again, and the oppressive silence became the only sound to dance throughout the empty rooms.
The apartment was bathed once more in a deep darkness as she turned off the kitchen lights and entered her bedroom. Here she undressed and prepared for bed in a ritual which never changed from night to night: indeed, it had not changed in the countless years previous. When the muffled sounds of the mantle clock striking the hour reached the woman's bedroom she was already sinking into the world of dreams, and the darkness was complete.
A yellow cab pulled up in front of the woman's apartment building, as it did each weekday morning, at a little past eight o'clock. Soon after, a young woman dressed in business attire came rushing out, briefcase in hand, and, locking the apartment door behind her, hurried down the broken concrete steps. She gave a quick glance at the unending series of disorderly buildings running in a jumbled line down the street, and opened the cab door.
"Good morning, Miss," the driver said.
"Hi! How are you this morning?" she asked. The rest of their conversation was cut off by the sound of the door slamming shut, and the taxi disappeared amid the morning traffic moving slowly along the treeless streets.
Each day and night that passed never seemed to change; the cab picked her up and dropped her off without fail, the music played over and over, and still the woman sat in her loveseat while the shadows liver their brief lives at her feet. The woman would rise from her corner of the loveseat once the clock had struck nine, though each night that passed she waited a few minutes longer. The clock was growing old, running down, as the minutes disintegrated into a time that it could no longer measure.
One night the clock did not strike nine. The woman sat upon her loveseat in the overwhelming silence, and the darkness, awaiting an hour that would never come. When at last the night was done and the shadows of dawn began to dance on the wooden floor, the woman was gone. The only music which flooded the empty rooms was the broken sound of her weeping, and the crushed black velvet was wet with her bloodstained tears.
Elizabeth carefully silenced each of her steps as she descended
the smoothly worn stone stairs leading into the wine cellar. A
slightly bitter scent invisibly floating about her altered her
already highly peaked senses. The pungency was a mixture of tastefully
aged harvests sealed in casks and colored bottles, and the dustless
walls of stone that protected them. Every moment waited to be
shared with her husband, James, and there were hundreds surrounding
Crisp sheets of cream colored stationery crinkled as her grasp tightened around them. The noise, amplified by the muted stillness of the room, halted her step and quickened her heartbeat. Had James heard the sounds? Did he know she was coming? More importantly, did he know why?
She fearfully glanced down at his personal writing paper, waiting for the lifeless words the spring to life and mutilate her body as they had done to her spiritual beliefs. The strong, bold strokes which had flowed flawlessly from his fountain pen were smudged by her tears. At first reading, she had thought the letter was a joke and stormed through the house looking for her husband to berate him for having such poor taste in games. But James never has poor taste in anything, and her anger soon mutated into a darker, more unknowing terror.
Even his name was distinctive of his character. James. It had never been anything else. You couldn't look into the hard lines of his seaman's face, or be pierced by the sharpness of his stare and think about calling him Jimmy or even Jim. Some unknown instinct warned you against such familiarity even though he was well liked by their neighbors in the valley and was know for his kindness and generosity.
Elizabeth anxiously stared at the closed door before her; the handle was just in reach. She could turn it easily if she wanted to, knowing that this passage would open instead of being "stuck with age" as James had explained the first time she toured the winery after their blissful wedding seven years ago.
But her arm was weighted down by the feather-woven paper clutched in her hand. What was she doing here? How could she even consider going inside this room? The cursed words should have been burned in the marble fireplace on first impulse. But she had always had complete trust in her husband; he had never given her any reason to doubt him. His request for her to come here only heightened the desire to discover the truthfulness of the letter.
Elizabeth noticed her fingers had moved only after feeling the shock of metallic coldness against her sweating palm. She took a tearful breath and leaned. The door swung open slowly, soundlessly. Paper crinkled.
The windowless room was draped in endless shadows except for one cloud of light cast by the flickering light of one fighting candle. She closed the door behind her, resting against it and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. A different, yet familiar scent clung to the air in this space. Her husband was here and, as her thoughts reminded her, had been for quite a long time.
The polished coffin was ornate and elaborate in it's design and like none she'd ever seen. It had been crafted with the type of quality she knew James would admire. Finally realizing who lay inside, she shivered, he knees buckled and she wilted to the dirt floor. The pages of the letter scattered before her and the bold pen strokes caught her eye once again. She reluctantly began to read each page as she gathered them.
I've thought about how to begin this letter over a hundred times, yet there is no clear beginning. I've even considered speaking to you bluntly. Although I have absolutely no fear of anything on this earth, the pain I would see reflected in your sparkling eyes terrifies me. So I apologize for taking the cowardly route - on paper.
I can envision your haunted eyes as you read this, but I must continue. Don't let your imagination run wild; it cannot run wildly or far enough. However hurtful this may be to your trust in me, I am not what I seem to be.
I am, of course, your faithful husband, eager lover and trusted friend. But there is a side to me that I have never allowed any other to see; a side only allowed to live in darkness and death; a side explained by countless excuses and lies. For this, I apologize.
The legend of the vampire is timeless. Many of the foolish wives tales are just that, foolish. You know me as well as any woman could know a man, yet you have never discovered my family heritage. Had you known about my abhorrent past, you would have never consented to be my wife. But I cannot apologize for this heritage, it was not my doing, but that of another. And I will not be sorry for our marriage. I truly *was* wonderful.
I wish I had the strength to be beside you until the day you are taken away from me, but I haven't. It is nearly impossible to explain my feelings to you, but I will try my best. Already, you are forced to believe the unbelievable. Either that, or find me unmercifully insane. I will be in time - I assure you.
I have lived for centuries and my blood is rich and pure. I have made no other in my likeness. I have married many times; I say this not to hurt you, but to make you understand the reason behind this letter. I have known many educated, determined, talented and gifted people in my travels, but none with your inner strength and courage. I have sailed every ocean on this brilliant planet and lived in countless ports and cities. I have loved, hated, dreamed and celebrated a hundred times in each of my seven hundred years. And I have killed.
Please, continue on. Don't feed these sheets to the flames beneath the mantle where I've placed them. I need you to understand that for me, nothing is precious except this request. Jewels are worthless. Money overflows in countless banks and safe deposit boxes in my name. My death will make your life extremely comfortable.
The most important thing I want to understand is that I truly love you. I have never been so happy. But my happiness is something that is stabbed by the sharpness of death; my love is a red rose blackened by a never ending winter. There is no experience I have not had, no emotion left unfelt by my dead heart. And now there is nothing at all but the seed of a of a vicious monster waiting to be nurtured by the glow of insanity.
So I pray for death by your hand.
Go into the wine cellar to the far end where the door has always remained closed to you. It will open now and I will be there - asleep. Beside my coffin will be an elaborately carved wooden stake. Pick it up quickly and thrust it into my heart. I must warn you, my love, that the merest touch of its ancient surface will awaken the monstrous beast within me so you mustn't hesitate. I am, at this writing, finding it difficult to control that hateful seed.
Again, I love you. I always have and now, always will. You are the seventh in the line and bestowed by legend to kill me while I still cling to lucidity. After you've done all this, call William, my attorney. He will take care of every matter of importance and inform you that all I have is yours.
With Love, Eternally --
Elizabeth forced herself to stand. Her husband, the only man she
had ever loved and who had loved her so tenderly in return, was
a murderer. It was ludicrous, yet knowing him intimately for years,
she now recalled the tiny, yet questionable moments. He was not
lying. Nor was he insane. Yet. She saw the carved wooden stake
resting upon the small antique table beside the coffin. It was
pointed at both ends so she wouldn't have to worry about how she
grabbed it, just how quickly. It was extremely close to where
he lay and she knew James' warning was not to be ignored. She
also saw his handsome face, his soft lips, and remembered that
beneath his closed lids were eyes the shade of blue matched by
Elizabeth fought with her decision. She wanted to live as she had - happy and secure - with James. What he was didn't matter. He had taken care of her and loved her with a passion she knew she'd never find in another man. But if she didn't kill him now, she'd lose him anyway.
Her hand darted for the stake, quickly raised it above his chest and....hesitated.
The beast's amber eyes flew open and it's mouth bared dangerously deformed teeth. Strong hands flew up to grasp the stake and her ears were deafened by a menacing roar.
This was not her husband, nor would she allow this hellish monster to take his body like this! "James! Help me!" she screamed and pushed down on the creature.
She leaned harder, putting all of her bodily weight against the stake. The beast pulled it sideways and Elizabeth lost her balance. In that instance, she had failed in fulfilling the only request her husband had ever made of her. While her blood curled in rivulets down the wood, dripping into a garnet-red pool on the beast's chest, her wide eyes searched for a glimmer of recognition in it's eyes.
"James...." Her voice trailed.
A cloud of blue blinded the beast suddenly and it's struggle ceased. Its' hands dropped abruptly, pinned by an unseen force, and the other end of the stake finally plunged into its' heart, propelled by her weight.
"Thank you, my love." James whispered just before death silenced his voice forever.