Laurent roused me the evening of his ball with a gentle shake of my shoulder. Truthfully, my sleep had been spotty that day, and I awoke in a haze. As I sat up, I surmised that it was just before sundown, though it was nearly impossible to tell due to the heavy curtains at my windows. Laurent, in a loose tunic and trousers, tilted his head playfully as I rubbed my eyes. "Up now, chaton. The tailor is here."
"Oui. Hopefully I have your measurements correct."
I yawned, shaking myself from my drowsiness. I had almost forgotten the conversation that morning, when Laurent announced that I would be fitted for a new outfit. "When did you get my...?" A knock interrupted my question, and Laurent turned to a mousy man with a brown paper package and a bag of tailor's tools.
"Ah, bon. Viens viens. Il est juste ici." He directed the tailor to my bedside, and implored me to stand. When I did, Laurent took the package from the tailor's hand and held it out to me. "Hopefully, these are your colours."
Furrowing my brow, I opened the package. Inside was a suit of ivory white, trimmed with elegant gold filigree. The pearl buttons were masterfully crafted, and crowned with gold leaf paint. I removed the waistcoat and held it up to my shoulders, examining it. "Sir..." I breathed. "This is... No, this is too much."
But the Viscount waved aside my modesty. "Absurdité. I will not have you haunt my gala in British rags. This is as much for my benefit as it is yours." With that, the tailor began to fit me in the suit. A dusty old mirror had been brought in for the purposes, and I watched the man fidget with my seams and fix my hair. Laurent, all the while, never moved his eyes from my visage. "Surprised?" he asked.
I laughed, nervously. "At the clothes? I should say."
Laurent smiled. "Non," he said. "Not the clothes. The reflection."
I blinked and lifted my head, staring at myself through the dust of the mirror. "Surprised about the reflection...?" I turned to him. "Why should that surprise me?"
His eyes twinkled, and Laurent took a step forward, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. "Ah," he said. "So much you do not know." He ran his fingertips down my jaw and turned back to the mirror. I followed his gaze. "These mortals... they make up stories about us. That we are demons, no? And that, with no soul, no mirror will show us."
"Is that right...?" Once the tailor was done, I fixed a cuff and stepped forward. It was a perfect fit; I had a feeling that he had fidgeted with the details more for Laurent's sake than my own. "Well... I can see myself just fine."
"Of course you can." After paying the tailor, he extracted one more parcel and excused him. Approaching me, he unwrapped the second gift with delicate fingers. "Men are simple creatures. Whether we have souls or not, a mirror will always work as intended."
I paused, staring at our reflection together. "But... are they right?" He paused and turned to me with curiosity. I shifted my eyes to his. "About our souls, I mean. Are we... empty, sir?"
Laurent thought this over. "Do you feel empty?" he asked. I was at a loss for how to answer such a thing. Instead of dwelling, he finished unwrapping the parcel and held out my final prize. A mask, carved of beautiful, white wood. It was a white cat, with gold whiskers and stripes. Its perimeter stopped just below its nose, leaving it mouthless for my convenience. I took it with hesitant fingers. With Laurent's hands free, he pulled one last article from the packages; an ivory ribbon. Standing behind me, he combed his nails through my sable hair, and tied it all behind my head with a synch of the ribbon.
"There we are," he continued. He let his hands rest at the base of my neck. "Well? What do you think?"
I ran my thumb along the surface of the mask. "Why a cat?" I asked. His reflection grinned behind my shoulder.
"Well," he said, "you do hunt rats, after all..." His chuckle sent my stomach flipping, but he did not linger long after that. Once I was made up, he stepped away to finish his own preparations.
The house was soon full of the Viscount's guests that night. I quickly realized that the theme of the evening was a black and white ball, hence my chosen colours. So many birds, mammals and monsters flooded the halls, all in either brilliant white and gold, or devilishly black and silver. The main hall was gilded with crystal chandeliers and brightly lit candles. Beyond the hall and through a pair of heavy oak doors was the ballroom. Freshly polished and exquisitely furnished. A hired quartette sat in the corner and played endlessly, while Laurent's guests danced in synchronized steps along the marble floor. I was quick to find Thomas, who had taken up the guise of a black and white jester, and we shared a drink.
"Bit tense there, mate," he remarked. "What's got yer knickers in a twist?"
I smiled, uneasily. "These people... Are they all... I mean..." I gestured between us. "Are they like us...?"
Tom smiled. "Some," he said. "But not most. Most are human, plain and simple."
"Are they in danger?" I asked.
Tom set his goblet of blood aside and took my shoulder. "Listen, Al," he said. "It's best not to worry about such things, eh? Otherwise you're likely to expire before your time."
I sighed, exasperated. "And do you not worry at all? Good God, man, surely there must be something that weighs on your mind."
Tom kept his smile and shook his head. "Why don't you have a dance, mate? Get your head out the clouds."
I leaned against the wall, watching the guests glide in perfect harmony. "I'm afraid I don't have a partner," I confessed.
"Señor?" I turned to see Gabriella grinning up at me from beneath her black cherub mask. Her gown was adorned with thousands of crystals, her black hair done up with a silver laurel crown. Later in the night, I would find that Savanah had the same costume, but in white.
Gabriella curtsied, and I bowed politely. She held out her gloved hand as the quartette strung up a slow waltz for the hall. With a thankful smile, I took her hand and lead her out for a dance. Though worry still gnawed at my subconscious, the sisters put me at ease quickly, and for a time. Each one cut in for a dance, and before long, I was off escorting other ladies in a two step. Finally, while the music fell into a lull, the host made his appearance.
The crowd shushed as the doors opened, and in walked Viscount Laurent, with Lady Antoinette on his arm. Antoinette dawned a gorgeous, pristine white swan costume, complete with elegant feathers and a diamond tiara. Laurent, dressed in black, wore the guise of a devil. On his shoulders was a black, velvet cape, lined with white silk. He raised an arm, and the whole room looked on with silent awe.
"Mesdames et Messieurs. Bienvenue. I welcome you all to my home, in hopes that tonight will be an evening for the ages." With Antoinette in tow, he lead them both to the floor. The band began anew, and Laurent lead Antoinette into a beautiful waltz. Soon enough, the guests began to join, and before long, the whole hall was full of swirls of white and black, dancing elegantly to the strings of the quartette. I remained where I was, watching my host and his pet retain the focus of the room for the next few numbers.
"You look lost." The deep voice of Bernard brought me out of my thoughts, and I turned. Bernard had chosen a black and gold lion, its mane shimmering with its filigree. He offered me a goblet, and I took it. "Something on your mind?"
I swirled the blood in my goblet. "I just... I find myself pondering."
"Well... about this." I gestured to the floor. "Is all of this... really fine?"
"How do you mean?"
"Earlier, the Viscount mentioned that some men believe we do not have souls. When I asked him to clarify, he didn't answer. Look here..." I nodded to the floor. "You wouldn't think anything sinister lies beneath this façade. But that's what it is, isn't it? A façade."
"Hm." Bernard folded his thick arms, sighing deeply through his nose. "Would you rather he celebrate the new year with carnage, monsieur?"
I turned, affronted. "Certainly not!"
"But that would be closer to his nature, as you see it, no?" My protest died in my throat, and I returned to watch the dancers. "There are things you must come to terms with if you are ever to know peace," he said. "We are no longer men, you and I. Nor are the residents of this house. We are... beyond men."
"But is our very existence not immoral?" I asked.
Bernard turned to me. "Is it immoral for an owl to hunt a mouse?"
I furrowed my brow in thought. "I... suppose not."
"Correct," he said. "Because a predator must eat. Would you rather we starve ourselves for the sake of mortals, who are bound to die in a few short decades anyway?" He shook his head. "No, monsieur. You may be content feasting off vermin, but I will not stoop to such depths for the sake of men. Such a decision is not moral or immoral. It is merely cutting off the nose to spite the face."
I stared down at my cup. "Perhaps you are right, Mr. Dumas. My mind will be the death of me, I fear."
"I fear that is a correct calculation." The music picked up to a bouncy, fast paced tune, and Bernard put a hand on my shoulder. "Go. You have been given a chance to live, Monsieur Quill. Take it."
With another sip of my goblet, I set the drink aside and walked out into the dance floor. A young lady, dressed as a poodle, looked nervously for a dance partner. Pushing aside my indecision, I offered her my hand, and entertained her with a dance.
The hours ticked on. At some point, I realized that I felt no fatigue from my endless dancing. Where once I would have to sit from time to time, now I was on my feet more often than not, losing myself in the flow of so many arms and faces. I was adrift. Only when the clock chimed quarter to midnight did I find it in me to take a pause.
I walked over to where Tom and Bernard were speaking, and was given a fresh goblet of blood. I wondered, off hand, if any of the Viscount's human guests noticed the odd fare offered to drink. I had just begun to settle in when a hand brushed my elbow. I turned to see none other than Antoinette looking up at me.
"Monsieur..." she breathed. "The night will be over soon. May I have a dance?"
Immediately, I was reminded of the strange interaction between us the day prior. I wanted to decline, but feared that I may stoke Laurent's ire, had I done so. With a nod, I finished my drink, wiped my lips, and escorted her to the floor. I took up her hand and hip politely, and the pair of us swayed with the music. I tried not to look into her eyes, as I found they were too hard to disengage with otherwise.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yes," I said. "Very much so." I felt her fingers crawl up my neck. Her smile widened.
"The Master has plans once the party ends."
Antoinette nodded. "Normally it is a private affair... but we have agreed that we want you included..."
I swallowed a lump in my throat. "I... certainly wouldn't want to intrude..."
"No intrusion," she said. "You are our guest." I felt her frame press into mine. Although I was leading our dance, I felt no power with Antoinette in my arms. I was a plaything. The candlelight flickered against the silver details of her swan mask, often twinkling like a rogue star, escaping the night itself. Pressing herself further into my body, I saw the tips of her fangs slide out from beneath her vibrant, red lip. "S'il vu plaît. Je te veux." All around us, the music swelled, and with no warning whatsoever, again I felt Antoinette's lips on mine. I lingered, letting the kiss last this time, before pulling back. However, the strength of her hands kept me where I was. My mouth dry, I spoke again:
"What... is this affair you wish to include me in?"
Her eyes sparkled like the diamonds of her crown. "Soon... you shall see."
A chime rang out, and I looked up. It was nearly midnight. Laurent stood on the steps to the great doors, hand held high. He began to bounce his finger, and soon enough, the rest of the ballroom began to count aloud.
"Dix, neuf, huit, sept, six, cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un!" The crowd erupted into cheers as the clocks struck twelve. The band began again, and all around me, I saw patrons embrace and kiss, with no thought of propriety. Along my back, I felt Antoinette's fingernails scrape my waistcoat.
"Viens." She took my hand and walked me toward Laurent, who seemed quite pleased to notice me. He spoke not award, but turned with a flourish, and walked us deeper into the house. It was then that I noticed just how many guests had bled into various corners of the manor, often to escape for rather unsavory practices. I was taken up to the second floor and down to a door at the very end of the hall. Once arrived, Laurent turned to Antoinette with some instruction, and she headed inside, leaving us alone.
"So good you have decided to join us," he said. He pet my face gently. "Antoinette is so taken with you, mon chaton. She would have been heartbroken if you refused."
I forced a smile. "Anything for a lady," I said.
"Ah. Here." Laurent undid the ties of my mask, and removed his own. "There is no need to hide yourself any longer." From within, we heard Antoinette call us. Opening the door, Laurent put a hand on my lower back and lead me inside.
In the center of the room was a single, black bed, lit by the roar of the fireplace. The curtains were open, allowing in the chilling moonlight. Antoinette sat on the edge of the bed, her hands gently caressing a woman on the sheets. She was young, with sun kissed skin and hair of rich auburn. Her eyes were far-gone, and in the air, I smelled the tart scent of opium. She was also utterly nude.
I turned away in shock, my good mood dashed from earlier in the night. "Sir," I said pointedly. "What is the meaning of...?"
"Shh." Laurent brushed my hair aside, turning me toward the bed. "She is not harmed, chaton. Look here. Do you not see the pleasure on her face? Can you not smell her excitement?" I forced myself to watch as Antoinette began kissing along her neck, leaving small pin pricks against her warm skin. "We found her starving. Poor. Alone. Motherless, fatherless, broken. We have given her food and shelter, and tonight, she repays her debt."
The girl's eyes turned toward me, and I felt a shudder ring down to the center of my being. I wanted so desperately to turn away. To reject this vile act. But I did not. I could not. I was compelled to stay rooted in that room, watching as Antoinette made her mark over and over again. Indeed, I did not smell fear, nor pain, on the girl. She laid there, almost willingly, allowing them both to use her as they saw fit. After leaning down for a long, drawn out bite, Laurent laced his fingers through her hair and kissed her with his own bloodied mouth.
"Come, chaton. Embrace your new life."
My stomach shuddered. I could not deny what I wanted. Their hands raised, they urged me forward. And I complied. I was not forced, nor fearful of the repercussions if I refused. I was drawn to that poor girl's body like a moth to a flame. Despite how often I drank that night, there was no comparison to something so fresh, and so warm.
My senses having left me, I bent over the bed with one knee, and pierced the child's breast. What transpired shortly there after was... heinous. There was a sinful euphoria that followed, and before I knew it, we were stripped of our costumes, joining our meal in her nakedness. Our bites soon left our prey, and instead turned on each other. Before long, I had holes up and down my neck and arms, with no idea of which mark belonged to whom, and vise versa. We were lost. Lost in our hunger, lost in our lust. And as we fell together in sleep, we three curled around our victim, whose life had been since drained for the past hour.
When I awoke, I did so in a cold sweat. The fire was cold, and the sky was deadly pale. It was nearly sunrise. I stared down at the bed in horror. The girl was stone dead, and my hosts were sleeping comfortably, their arms and legs around her corpse.
I felt vile.
Quickly, I rushed from bed and dressed myself. As I passed door after door, I could smell the stench of carnal lusts, blood hunger, and more. I felt as though I had descended to Hell. I was prepared to leave through the front door, when I saw none other than Vincenzo standing in my way. I froze, my guilt clear on my face. He stared at me in a way that implied how easy it was for him to read anything and everything about my night. I tried opening my mouth to explain, but found no words to justify my crimes.
And then, his face softened. He stepped forward, and in place of his ire, I saw a profound sadness seep through. "Non indugiare qui. Go. One day... you may forgive yourself." My chest tightened.
I fled to the sewers. Once back in my abode, I fell to my bed, and surrendered to my melancholy.
In the coming months, I did not intend to give an answer to the Viscount's invitation. I found him more than hospitable toward me, with no real signs of malintent. So, outwardly, I should have no reason to reject him. I am sure that most would find me doing so very rude indeed, and I myself doubted as to why I did not whole heartedly accept Laurent's kindness. To put my feelings into words is a difficult task, but I suppose, hard pressed, I would say that it all came down to apprehension. Both towards my newest circle of influence, and toward myself. You see, in the months following my arrival into Paris, I had found a system that serviced my needs quite efficiently. No one needed to be hurt, and I was safe, left to my own devices. If I had accepted room and board with no question, I felt that I could not hold myself to account, with how liberally Laurent's household acquired blood. Further, after everything that transpired, and transpired so rapidly, I found it difficult to lay trust in the outside world. Even with those who shared my fate.
So, for a time, I remained in my little hole. But I was no stranger to the Laurent household, either. I found myself bonding with Thomas the most, as we had the most in common. In him, I saw a dear bosom fellow, and he often met me in public areas like pubs or inns, if only to put me at ease. He only ever drank from his flask, though he always ordered a pint of beer for himself. He told me once that even with his new diet, nothing quite replaced the smell of a good pint of beer.
Bernard and Vincenzo were a different matter. Barnard, being a rather proper chap, had conversations that were short and to the point. I respected that. Often, we discussed issues of politics and affairs of the current day. He even thought to recant me with tales of his human kin. He had a particular affinity for his brother's family, of whom he insisted that their heirs would change the world one day. I believe, a few decades after we met, a great grandnephew of his grew to be quite the prolific writer. Alexandre, I believe? As for Vincenzo, well... I think that as time went on, he disliked me less and less, to the point where he would entertain my company for more than five minutes. A rather high honor, or so I'm told.
Savanah and Gabriella were quite inseparable, and despite our communication issues, were a delight to be around. Everything made them smile or laugh, or a combination of the two. Despite the fact that we were all condemned to darkness, I often thought that the pair of them made up for the lack of sunshine. Savanah was a master pianist, and we would often sit in the parlor to listen to her play. Unlike my previous courtship, Gabriella was a delightful singer. I could never understand her songs phonetically, but I believe there is such music that can transcend language itself. This was the sisters' craft, by and large. Then of course, there was Antoinette. I spent very little time with her. Frankly, it was due in part to the fact that I was at a loss for conversation. She was beautiful, yes, but in a way that was ethereal; I found her to be more specter than flesh most times. In the nights I would visit, I often saw her floating down the hallways like a lost spirit, humming to herself or staring into nothing. While she was not charged with keeping the house, more often than not, Antionette was seen with something to keep her hands busy. Fluffing the pillows, lighting the oil lamps, that sort of thing. Additionally, I soon realized what Bernard meant when he asked Laurent if I was his new "pet." For Laurent kept a very watchful eye over Antoinette, often hovering nearby wherever she went.
And Laurent... What could be said over the master of such a house? In many ways, I admired him. And in so many others, he chilled me. He was cordial. Gentile, proper, respectable. And yet... deep hidden beneath those eyes, I could sense a sort of tragic complexity. Our conversations often lead to lament for the past. He was quite old. Not nearly as old as Vincenzo, but old enough. He beguiled me with his many trips around the world. He told me tales of far away markets and long forgotten palaces. He spun yarns of foreign beauties and brilliant swordsmen. Of loves lost and fallen kingdoms. If all of them had been a fabrication, I cannot begin to sort out the truth from the lies. Laurent had a way about him, I suppose, and one that was in no way connected to his unmaking. No, I believe Laurent to have been born with this kind of charisma. He was the kind of man you were drawn to. And that alone... it frightened me. What kind of man drew in others so easily? What did one need to accomplish for this power? These were all questions that I dare not ask.
And then, the winter. One evening, I awoke to the sound of church bells, only to realize that it must have been Christmas Eve. I lay awake in my bed, fondly recalling so many Christmases past, warm in my family home. Now I had nothing but foreign books and a cage of rats. I did not hunt that evening. Nor did I read, or try to entertain myself. I simply laid there, listening to the echoes of the world turning above me.
Until a knock echoed from the south corridor. I lifted my head and saw, to my delight, that Thomas had arrived with two flasks in hand. He grinned, flashing his faintly stained teeth. "Happy Christmas there, sir! Care for a drink?"
I sat up with a grateful smile. "Same to you. Please, come in. Make yourself at home. Or... as best you can, at any rate." Thomas did just that, and handed me a full flask. We toasted to our health, and sat together in my small abode. At one point, he asked what I had been dreading.
"So? Why've you taken so long, eh? You should take Mr. Laurent up on his offer. You don't belong in no dirty gutter, m'sir. You belong up top, with us."
I sighed deeply against my flask. "I know I should," I admitted. "I... To be blunt, I cannot bring myself to go so easily. Do not mistake me, Tom, I am more than happy to finally have someone to whom I can relate, but there's still that... hesitancy, I suppose. Frankly, I'm afraid."
"Ahhh." Thomas, in a way that was very like himself, waved aside my concerns. "Al!" he said. "But a companion shortens the road, don't it? Why force yourself to live in such squalor, sir? Don't tell me you mean to punish yourself this badly?"
"Punish? What do you mean?"
"Well that's what this is, ain't it?" Thomas said. "Ya can't be livin' here for your health, now, can ye? Eating rats, living amongst death itself." He gestured to the limestone walls, and what corpses lay beyond them. "Christ, man, at least find yourself a good home if you're determined to live separately from the rest." I frowned at my flask. It was a reasonable request. And one that I could not fulfill, damn my hesitancy. But, Thomas seemed to sense my reluctance, and so, he held out his hand in defeat. "Well, no matter. Though remember: forgetting a debt don't mean it's paid, friend." I looked at him with curiosity. He continued: "You can wallow all y'like, Al. But in the end... it serves no one to punish yourself for what you are. More to the point, denyin' yourself your true nature now... Alister... Repentance won't make you a man again, you mark me, sir."
A grim smile hit my face. "I suppose you are right."
Thomas finished his flask and capped it, hiding it away in his waistcoat. Reaching out, he took ahold of my knee and squeezed it. "Mr. Laurent's holdin' a soiree to celebrate the new year. I know he'd like your presence there, sir. As would the rest of us."
"That is kind of you," I said. I gestured to my flask. "As was this. Truly. You didn't have to come all the way out here."
"You're right," said Thomas with a grin. "I didn't." Standing, he excused himself, and turned to the south hall from whence he came. Before leaving, he paused, and glanced over his shoulder. "It won't hurt, you know. To be kind to yourself now and again..." With a nod and a smile, he tipped his hat. "Cheers, mate." And with that, he left.
I knew that night I could not deny such an invitation.
The evening before the grand affair, I went to the house, and was greeted with the upmost hospitality. The house, I noted, had never looked better than it was. Laurent had hired men to clean the place from top to bottom, with new fixtures to replace the old. It looked like a proper mansion now. I could only imagine the place fully lit with endless guests. I marveled at the work while Bernard walked me to my room.
"The Viscount is pleased that you're here," he said. "Though he's sorry that he won't have time for you until tomorrow night. He's quite busy putting everything together."
"I can only imagine," I said, noticing a massive portrait being moved from one hall to another. "I've never seen the place so lively."
"Monsieur Bureau adores his festivities," said Bernard. "Though he seems particularly eager for this one to be perfect."
"Why is that, I wonder?"
"Pourquoi en effet." Bernard opened the final door of the hallway, and I stepped inside. A bed had been made, in preparation for my arrival. I thanked Bernard and stepped inside. "Will you be needing anything else?"
"No," I said. "I'm quite fine, thank you." With that, I was left alone. I set my bag of clothes aside and went to he window. The heavy curtains were drawn tight to block out the sun, but I pushed them back in order to enjoy the view of the stars over Paris. The city was slick with silvery white snow, although the roads were muddied by carriage tracks. I watched men doddle home, and working women entice them for a service or two. An owl perched just outside my window, and for a small time, I watched it clean its feathers.
"Ah... monsieur..." The gentle voice of Antoinette pulled me from my thoughts, and I turned to see her lingering in my door frame. She was draped in a pale lilac nightgown. Hardly the type of garment for an unwed woman, though I doubted if anyone in the house cared. It was thin and wistful, like the petals of a flower. I tried desperately not to stare at the slip I could see beneath the chiffon. She stepped inside, each move as graceful as a house cat. "Bienvenue... how long will you be staying with us this time?"
I cleared my throat awkwardly. "Not for long," I said, hands behind my back. "I was invited to your master's party tomorrow evening. I shan't miss such an event. After that... I may return home."
Antoinette tilted her head. Try as I might, I could not gage what she was thinking. She hovered close to me, and I noticed a strap fall off her milky shoulder. I looked back out the window, hyper aware of any and all movements of my own body. Without warning, I felt the tips of her fingers trail down my loose cravat, and toy with the button underneath. Had my heart still been capable of beating, it might have shot out of my chest. "Is there something you need, Lady Antoinette?" I glanced down at her heart shaped face, and saw a whimsical light within her eyes. I could see how easily a mortal man could fall into her wanting arms, for I felt the strong urge overcome me myself.
Before I knew it, her fingers had entangled with my tunic, and undid the buttons therein. Her hand fell to my chest, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The moon bounced off her icy blonde hair, coating her in a soft glow. While it was my instinct to move away, I was rooted to the spot. She edged in closer, and I could count every pale lash against her eyelids. Soon, she was inches from me, and rising. I opened my mouth to protest, but this was a mistake. For the movement of my lips seemed to entice her own. And closer she came still.
From the moment her lips touched mine, I flew back into the window, rattling it. I felt as though I was naught but a young boy, stealing a kiss beneath a bushel of mistletoe, only to be caught red handed by my mother. Additionally, I was full of fear at the repercussions of such an act. "M--Madam Antoinette..." I breathed. "My dear... are... are you not courting the Viscount--?!"
"Come now... is that any way to treat a lady?"
Speak of the Devil, and He shall appear.
In my embarrassment, I had not noticed Viscount Laurent standing at my door, watching the whole affair. Rather than turn his ire to me, he seemed rather entertained. This only doubled my embarrassment. He stepped in further and brushed his knuckles down Antoinette's soft cheek. With no shame whatsoever, his free hand wrapped around her supple waist, and he laid a kiss against her wanting neck. The whole scene left me... well... I should think it would be rather rude to describe the sinful thoughts in my head seeing this...
"Vous l'aimez, ma chère?" Laurent asked.
Antoinette's eyes lit up. "Oui... Je l'aime beaucoup."
I swallowed a lump in my throat. "Viscount Laurent... sir... I... I didn't mean--"
"It's quite all right, mon chaton. Antoinette likes you."
"I..." I settled my nerves and again cleared my throat. "That is... very kind of her--"
"Do you not like her in return?"
"Wha--? I--" Desperately, I looked between the pair of them. "No I--I mean yes of course but--wait I didn't mean to imply--"
"Je l'aime aussi, mon amour. Quel goût a-t-il?" Laurent's words stalled me, and while my French was still quite subpar, I was not totally clueless as to what they were discussing. I felt naked, exposed to their hungers, though I didn't dare protest. In fact, when Laurent raised his hand to comb through my hair, I found my breath shuddering. The edges of his fingernails scraped my scalp tenderly, and I wondered if it was so wrong to enjoy the sensation. However, as soon as it had come, Laurent lowered his hand and rounded to Antoinette. "Leave us." He sent her away with a kiss, and as she left, she let her eyes linger on me a moment more before vanishing into the hallway.
My voice quaked, though I forced myself to speak. "Sir... that was... that was completely--"
"Hush, chaton." Laurent took hold of my chin with his forefinger and thumb. The latter brushed tenderly over my lip, and I felt myself weaken. Fortunately, he removed his hand as soon as it had come, and stepped away, giving me room to breathe. "I am pleased you made it."
I sat on the bed, addressing my trembling knees. "Mr. Dumas said that you would not have time for me, given all the work you have left for tomorrow."
"Nonsense," said Laurent. "I shall always have time for you, monsieur." He turned to face me properly. "Now. Your outfit is not yet finished, but the tailor should be done with it by tomorrow afternoon."
"Of course. I have seen your wardrobe, Monsieur Quill, and I must say, you are woefully underdressed for my engagements. Besides... you have no mask."
Just then, a workman approached the bedroom, and spoke quickly to Laurent. Once they were finished, he waved the man off and sighed. "Duty calls. Rest, mon chaton, so that you may be refreshed for tomorrow evening."
"I... yes..." Before I could say much more on the matter, Laurent turned and stepped away. I lingered, and after a moment, touched my lips. I had never gotten such attention. I was unsure if I was mortified... or intrigued.
If I only knew.
When Viscount Laurent called on me again, it was a week since our first meeting. Every night I awaited him, I felt myself on edge. Perhaps I was intimidated at the prospect of dealing with a vampire who was far more knowledgeable than I? Perhaps I was uneasy due to the fact that I could embarrass myself without trying. Deeper still was the fear that I would be judged wanting by older vampires more violent than myself, and my miserable existence ended. As wretched as I felt at times, there was still a part of me that clung to life. Obviously, as I am writing to you now, that fear was not realized, but I digress.
I was just coming home from a hunt when I found the Viscount laying along my bed, helping himself to one of my books. He didn't bother looking up as I approached, and instead gracefully thumbed through its withering pages.
"You have many notes in this, mon chaton. Teaching yourself?"
I hesitated. "Trying to, sir. Though it's more of a relearning process. I was taught a few languages in my school days. Latin, French... German..." I placed my cage of rats to the side, and he peered at it above the book.
"Finished your trip to the market?" he said. "I hope you have no other errands."
"Bon." He closed the book and dropped it on the bed. Standing, he approached me the way a lion would approach its prey. "There is much to do. Come." Without giving me time to collect myself, Laurent escorted me from my abode and further into the catacombs. He walked with a purpose, and I often found myself jogging to keep pace with his gait. His strides were long and graceful, and often reminded me of a dancer. When we finally came to the end of our journey, he lead me up an old stone staircase and to a heavy door that blocked the exit. With almost no effort exerted, he pushed open the door and lead me outside.
Our exit was a graveyard, well away from the blustering hub of Paris. Laurent shut the tomb door behind us, and I followed him through the headstones toward the front gate. "How long have you been in Paris?"
"Not long," I answered. "Though I have begun to lose track, I would say I have been here for just a few months time now."
"And you were turned not long before that?"
As Laurent escorted me through the rod iron gate, his expression was thoughtful. I found myself wondering why the time frame of my arrival interested him. I didn't dare ask, however, lest I found the answer undesirable. What brief moments of interaction I had with the Viscount up until then told me only one thing: I should be wary of him.
We continued down the cobblestone street, until coming to a small manner house at the end of a cul-de-sac. It was a menacing structure, with tall paned windows devoid of light. There were cracks up the side of the stonework, with dead ivy curled around moss encrusted gargoyles. The whole estate was guarded by a spiked fence, its garden overgrown with weeds and rot. There was an apple tree out front, which had not budded for some time. There was a time, I should think, when such an estate had been exceptionally beautiful. Now, it stood as a corpse of its former self, stinking of death. A shiver ran down my spine as Laurent pushed open the heavy oak doors to the foyer. Standing to one side, he extended his arm, bidding me welcome.
Steeling my courage, I stepped inside. Through the dark, I noticed that the inner sanctum of the house was far more welcoming than its outer shell. There were some older styles of furniture, with many of the mirrors covered by dusty sheets, but otherwise, it was in tact, and tidy. From my peripheral, I saw a figure starting to light candles.
"Antoinette," Laurent called to the figure. She turned to his attention. Antoinette, like Laurent, was a beautiful creature. Her long, golden hair bled near perfectly into her pale as death skin. "Où sont les autres?"
"Ils dorment," she answered, her voice tender and musical.
"So late? Wake them, mon cher."
With a curtsy, Antoinette finished lighting her row of candles, and then whisked away to the stairs, where she vanished at the top curve of the second floor. Laurent then took up the duty and lit the rest. Before long, the foyer was glowing with orange light. "It must be difficult, being so alone. Even in the short time you were, chaton."
I hesitated. "It... was difficult at first... but I suppose it isn't so bad now that I've managed a schedule."
"A schedule..." Laurent chuckled to himself. Taking a candle from its holder, he approached a grand fireplace and knelt down. He began to poke and prod the hearth to life. Soon enough, he managed a roaring fire. "If you forgive my say so... how very British of you."
When Antoinette returned, she did so with five other faces in tow. The first was a broad, dark man with hauntingly bright eyes. The next two were smaller women, perhaps of Spanish descent. Another man followed, whose red hair was competition for the fresh fire in the hearth, and the last was a tall, hook nosed fellow with a perpetually sour expression.
"Laurent." The broad man spoke first, his deep chested register shaking the foundations of the house itself. "Do not tell me you have found another pet." The two Spanish women eyed me as he said this. I noticed how strikingly similar they were. Sisters, perhaps? Each with thick, black hair braided down their backs.
"You wound me, Bernard," said Laurent. "Does this fellow look like a mere pet to you?"
"Perhaps." The sour faced man spoke next, and I detected an Italian accent, rather than a French one. "Perhaps you have taken again to collecting randagi to satisfy yourself. This certainly does not smell like one of us."
"He is alone," said Laurent. "No sire, no blood family. What gentleman would I be to let him rot in the catacombs?"
The ginger man broke from the group and approached me. As he did, I counted an endless array of freckles and sunspots on his otherwise pale face. He sniffed at me, like a curious dog, and twisted into a wide grin. "London?" he asked. I recognized his accent immediately.
"Wicklow," he corrected. He rounded to Laurent, hands on his spindle hips. "Come clean now, sirrah. You done brought an Englishman into this house just to rattle me, didyana?" Despite the accusation, the Irishman had on a wide smile as he said this. He rounded back to me, and in an all-too-familiar gesture, he held out his hand for a shake. "Thomas O'Sullivan."
A smile broke from me, and I shook his hand with equal delight. "Alister Quill."
Thomas, still wearing his dashing smile, threaded his fingers behind his head and flopped onto the nearest sofa, his legs hoisted over an armrest. "He dan smell like no Parisian bloods, Laurent. Where'd you say you found him na?"
"The catacombs," Laurent repeated. "He's a long way from home, I fear."
The Italian scoffed, and swore something I couldn't make out. "It is time for a hunt," he announced. With no lasting look in my direction, he excused himself from the room and left through the front doors. Laurent smiled at my confusion.
"Do not pay Vincenzo much mind," he said. "You are not the only man he dislikes. Come. I shall introduce you." And introduce me he did.
First, there was Bernard Dumas. He had only been turned half a century prior, and had human relatives that he would occasionally visit under the pretenses of being an estranged uncle. Despite his bluntness, I found myself comfortable in his company, as he reminded me often of the academic bosom buddies of my youth. The sisters, Savannah and Gabriella, were indeed from Spain. Laurent himself had transformed them on an evening abroad, and brought them home after his trip. They spoke very little English, and so I differentiated between the two by height and weight. While Savannah was nimble and willowy, Gabriella was a bit shorter, and a bit squatter. Both, of course, were exceptionally beautiful, and I found any attempts to communicate with them, or they with me, rather endearing. Antoinette, who had remained as lithe as a specter, gave me an introduction herself. There was something so ethereal about her presence. It both put me off and compelled me in such strange succession. Then of course their was Thomas, with whom I had a delightfully colorful conversation. He had been turned not long before myself, and as such, we had a fair amount in common. While he had traveled to England on occasional business trips with his father, I had visited Dublin for vacations with my mother. Hard pressed, I would say that Thomas was the closest thing I had to a friend in that house.
It was a few hours before the vampire Vincenzo returned. He was the least interested in conversing with me, though he was courteous enough. According to Laurent, he was the oldest among them, and was turned somewhere during the age of the Roman Empire. Once the formalities were over and done with, I was offered a wine glass of blood and Laurent took me on a tour of the house. He showed me the bedrooms, the parlor, the dining room, the kitchen, the attic, the basement, and finally, we ended up in a greenhouse room, which was where some of the few living things resided on the grounds. As we walked, Laurent took up a watering can and tended to a few sproutlings.
"You could say it is a bit of a hobby of mine," he explained. "When one lives for so long, one takes up activities to pass the time."
"I see..." I sipped at my glass, wondering if I too could find normalcy in this way. "You have been more than hospitable, sir. Pray, how might I return this kindness?"
Laurent laughed to himself. "I have not brought you here for a repayment of kindness, mon chaton. Rather, I have brought you here with an offer."
Laurent set the water can aside and leaned up against one of the counters, his arms folded and his smile serpentine. "Alone, we are vulnerable. There are those who wish to kill us for merely existing. No man is an island, oui? You are one of us. Why resign to living like a rat beneath the earth? Live here, among your own kind. You are welcome."
I stalled, staring down into my dark red glass. "I..." Truthfully, I knew I should have taken the offer right then and there. I was lost and alone, and I knew that making good with those like the Viscount would only benefit me. Yet, I hesitated. "This is... so much to process, sir. Please forgive me, I..."
A light dulled in Laurent's eyes. But nevertheless, he pushed from his counter and held up his hands. "Perhaps then you may think on it, at least? No man deserves to be alone."
I nodded, weakly. "On that we can agree," I said. Finishing my cup, I handed the empty glass to Laurent, who did not pull away immediately. Instead, his hand touched mine, keeping me there. With his free one, he rose it to my chin, and tilted my head by my jaw. I was rooted to the spot, weakened by the touch. This was a man who knew his own power, and exerted it well.
"Think hard, mon chaton." With that, he released me, and I nearly stumbled out of the greenhouse. As I went for the exit, I felt eyes upon me, and I stopped. Looking up, I noticed Antoinette staring through the rail of the stairway. She sat on the steps like a child, her dark eyes hauntingly piercing.
I forced myself to look away, and stepped out of the threshold and into the night.
The evening spent in Rose's flat was my last pleasant night for years to come. Protected against the elements and those who would seek to destroy me, I was allowed to recoup my strength. My more monstrous features shrunk back to normal, and before long, it was as though that wretched afternoon had never happened. Rose, come to find out, was a delightful host. She treated me to stories and jokes, the likes of which are far too improper for me to repeat here. Regardless, her vibrant nature was enough to get me to laugh again. Ah, when was the last time I laughed so freely? Even now I cannot place it. Which was why, long after she retired to sleep, I decided I would repay her kindness the only way I could.
After dressing properly, I siphoned through my purse and pulled out about a third of my wealth. It was more than enough for my purposes, and God knew that I would not need money again any time soon. Making sure the drawstring was tight so as not to spill a single coin, I gently rested the velvet satchel against Rose's hand. She barely stirred in her sleep. I looked upon her with a world weary smile. Perhaps she would not live long after this. But at the very least, I could be sure that she would live well. Quietly as I could, I slipped through her door, making sure it was locked behind me, and hurried off into the night.
The rain had let up for now, though the clouds were still ever present. Only the smallest pockets of sky poked through the cover, with a few select stars twinkling dimly. I supposed it must have been chilly that night, though I had no sense of temperature these days. What few others were out, most likely drunkenly wobbling their way back home, breathed puffs of hot air to tell me as such. My own breath, I was quick to notice, made no such steam. I realized then that I must have been cold both inside and out.
I followed the Thames down to a doc, where a small harbor master shack sat dormant. With one look around for prying eyes, I went to the door and knocked loudly. There was no response at first. "Sir!" I bellowed. "I'm in need of a ferry! Sir!" I banged harder until I heard a rustling from within. When the door opened, a squat, sour looking fellow in his bedclothes greeted me with a less than hospital expression.
"Lord above--be gone, drunkard! I'm to sleep at this hour--"
"Sir, I need a ferry to the docs."
"Then wait till morning, sir."
The boatman scoffed. He turned to leave, but I grabbed the door before it could close. "Let go--"
"Sir, if you ferry me to the docs, I shall give you half a crown."
That perked up his ears. He looked me up and down, as if to gage my honesty. "Prove it." I dug into my pocket and produced the coin. He took it and held it to a candle, verifying its authenticity. Again, he looked me over. "Just to the docs, then?" I nodded. He yawned deeply and shook his head. "Aye. Very well. Let me dress, and we shall be off."
"I thank you. Quickly, if you please."
"Aye, quickly, aye."
The boatman closed the door to his shack, and soon after, returned in proper garments. He escorted me to a small river boat, floating just beyond his shack. Unlatching the rope, he pushed off with an ore, and began to punt us down to our destination. The currant was accommodating, and for the first hour or so, we made the trip in silence. However, I could feel his eyes on my back as I watched ahead, and occasionally, I could even sense a question or two on the tip of his tongue. "If you are going to speak, boatman, speak."
My chauffer grunted. "What's got you itching for the docs so late in the evening, stranger? Runnin' from sommit?"
I hesitated. "I'm in dire need for a change of scenery," I said. "London... no longer becomes me."
"That right? Where you headed to?"
"I shall see what boats are available and then give you my answer."
The boatman chuckled. "Must be somethin' bad then, stranger. But." He tilted his punting stick a bit to right our course. "I was paid to ferry, not to judge, eh?"
I stared out into the city. "Indeed..." It was all I said on the matter. Eventually, we came upon the docs. I was pleased to see that there was a boat loading for the night. I bid my farewell to the boatman and disembarked, only to approach the crew for a cargo ship. They were packing it with crates of goods, and the ungodly hour of their work schedule could only lead me to the conclusion that this was a routine trip with no passengers. Fortuitous for me. I approached the captain, who was a staunch Frenchman who spoke fractured English, and after flashing a bit of coin, he allowed me to board. I made sure to make myself comfortable down below with the crates of dry goods, so as not to risk the sunlight.
There were so many things about my new form that I was ignorant of, looking back. The true extent of my nature, how to control my bloodlust, my distaste for silver... Added to the list, I realized, was my nausea for seafaring travel. It would be some time before I discovered that to avoid such sickness, one must lay in a coffin of native soil for the duration of the trip. A rather dirty resolution, and one I am not overly fond of, myself. Still, it is better than the alternative. The alternative, of course, being overwhelming sickness of the belly, dizziness and fatigue. I was so thankful to arrive on dry land that I barely had the wherewithal to check if the sun was out or not. Fortunately, it was at least two hours before sunrise, and I had time to gather my bearings.
We had made port in Plage de Calais off the coast of France. My French, sadly, was rather rusty, but I managed to piece together that one of the waiting carriages for the dry goods would be traveling into Paris shortly. With the last of my coin, I bartered passage with the driver, and made myself comfortable in the covered end of his wagon. There, curled up against a sack of flour, I drifted off to sleep.
When I was roused again, it was by the hustle and bustle of Paris itself. The driver had ridden all day, and when we arrived, we did so just after sunset. Sliding from the wagon, I thanked my driver and set off, my effects in hand.
Where was I to go? What was I to do? I was completely lost in a foreign city. And so, I walked. I was thankful that this new form was more resilient than my old self, for my feet would have ached so terribly after all this walking. Paris, of course, was beautiful in its own tragic way. It shared many common traits with London, right down to the poverty stricken streets of which I explored. The further I moved into the city, the more and more desolate my surroundings became. Urchin children would often approach me, their grubby hands outstretched for money. Mothers cleaned filthy rags and men slept, drunk, in gutters.
It was like I never left.
I had turned a corner when I spotted an old chateau, tucked away behind overgrown brush. I passed a rotted fence and poked my head inside. "Hello?" I called. Yet another fact I did not know at the time was most vampires cannot enter a dwelling without an invitation. At least, so long as those living there were alive. Unaware that I was entering the home of a deadman, I stepped in through the threshold, and looked around. Food was rotten, though it looked barely edible to begin with. Cobwebs and insects flooded the place like a plague itself. A pile of firewood suffered from endless mold, and the hearth had evidence of rodents nesting within. As I stepped into the next room, I saw my host; or what was left of him, at least. He must have died before the winter, as he was perfectly preserved on his mattress.
I was pondering whether or not I should move on, when the floorboards creaked dangerously beneath me. Before I knew it, the floor gave way, and I collapsed down into the dark abyss. Once the dust cleared, I righted myself and looked around. I had fallen into a tunnel of sorts. Taking advantage of my new talent for seeing in the dark, I stood and observed my new surroundings.
The tunnel was long, and ancient. There was an ever present dripping that echoed throughout, and I could hear the light scratches of vermin echo against the walls. It was certainly man-made, but for what purpose? I walked forward. Each tunnel split into more choices, and before long, I found myself in a wide, rectangular space, hidden well away from the hubbub of the city. Though I could hear the footfalls above easily as through a paper barrier. This spot, I supposed, would be as good as any.
My first manner of business was to try and map out where exactly I was located. Through some trial and error, I managed to mark my way back to the dead man's home, and scratched directions on the wall to help guide me. Over the next month, I spent my time trying to make my secret world just a bit more hospitable. The dead man's house proved to be a good resource for bits of furniture. From his abode, I scavenged his bedframe, a chair, a rickety old table, a few books, a handful of candles, a kettle, a pair of buckets, a broom, and a moth eaten rug. After that, I would occasionally scout the neighboring abodes, and with luck, found an abandoned shack with a fresh hay bed, which promptly made it back to my new home. I gathered loose bricks for a fire pit, water for a wash bin, and even managed to rig up a place to do my laundry. As far as the life of an undesirable went, I was living well, I should say. I even managed to attach candles to the walls to give my space a bit more light, though I didn't need it. Frankly, the candlelight brought with a sense of normalcy. I could even let myself pretend that I was vacationing as a normal man from time to time.
As for my diet, I took to hunting the vermin within the catacombs. It wasn't much blood, and so I needed to hunt often. Occasionally I would come across a stray cat or a lost dog. Gruesome, yes, but it was better than seeking out humans to make my meals. In between my feedings, I would amuse myself by what I could find otherwise. Most of the books were in French, and I devoted quite a bit of my time to reteaching myself the language. Sadly I have forgotten most of my lessons since that time. I also found and took to writing in an old journal, which helped me to catalogue my experiences, and made sure I would not forget my past.
It was one of these countless nights that I met the Viscount.
Time in that place was... difficult to track. But I would surmise that I had been down there for about two months when he and I met. All things considered, I was doing rather well for myself. I even managed to stow away a cage full of rats so as to cut down on my hunting time. I was regrettably out for the evening, and took my old cage to capture a few more. I walked down the south corridor where I knew a few nests were settled, when I sensed something behind me. I froze, and listened closely Occasionally I would find drunkards or lepers who would make their way into the tunnels, but this was different. For one thing, this did not smell like a mortal man. And for another, I could not hear his footsteps.
I turned abruptly, as if to catch the stranger off guard. But no one was there. A horrid chill ran down my spine. I turned back to resume my rat hunting, when I was met face to face with two vivid, red eyes. I jumped back in shock, dropping my cage to clatter at my feet. The man tilted his head, curious to my presence.
"Bonsoir," he said. "Es-tu perdu?
I calmed my raging breath and laid a hand on my chest. "A-ah... I... you frightened me."
A light twinkled in those eyes. "English?" he said. I nodded. His smile stretched wider. "Très bon. How is it that you have found yourself here, stranger?" While his accent was thick, his English was impeccable.
"I... have made my home here, sir." Strange how suddenly I was compelled to honesty. This stranger, whoever he was, had a magnetic quality that drew me to speak the truth and nothing but.
"I see..." The stranger stepped forward. He was a beautiful man. Tall and svelt, with honey brown hair that curled in sensual waves. "Si frais. What is your name, mon petite...?" As he spoke, he circled me. I felt his eye on every detail of my being.
"Alister..." I breathed. Shaking myself from his strange hold, I backed away. "Please, pardon me, sir. I shall not bother you any longer--" I froze. This handsome stranger had now taken hold of my chin. I felt a feral strength behind that grasp, and I could not will myself to fight against it. He opened my mouth and peered inside.
"Where is your sire?" he asked.
"My... sire...?" I peeped.
"Oui. Where is your clan? Your blood family? Don't tell me you have traveled alone." The confusion on my face was seemingly all he needed, and he retracted his hand. "Mon dieu... you have no family."
"Sir I... I am unsure of what you mean. Please, I should be on my way--"
"How long ago where you turned, mon petite?"
That stalled me more than anything else. My gut wrenched. Was he asking what I thought he was? "Turned...?"
He put his hands on his hips. "Oui," he said. "Turned, blood born, unmade, however you prefer. How long ago have you been a nightwalker, mon cher?" I realized now that my instincts were not for nothing. I edged forward, daring to hope.
"Do you mean... are you...?"
Strangely enough, that seemed to dull his expression. Suddenly, he looked rather upset. "You are alone..."
I was overwhelmed with emotion. Compelled once again to honesty, though for completely different reasons, I nearly fell to my knees. "Yes," I admitted. "Yes I am very much alone... You are... you are like me, aren't you? What am I? Why did this happen? I have so many questions--!"
"Hush." His order was short and stern, and I seized. He sighed deeply. "What is your name?"
"Alister," I said. "Alister Quill."
"Well, Monsieur Quill, I am Viscount Laurent Bureau. I welcome you to Paris. Where are you staying?" I gestured down the tunnels. He clicked his tongue and shook his head. "I suppose that will do for now."
"Sir?" Already, Viscount Laurent was leaving from whence he came.
"I shall call on you when I have the time," he announced. "Be sure you are ready for me, oui?"
"I... y-yes--!" Before I could give a proper answer, he was gone. In a haze, I gathered up my rats and returned to my abode. My thoughts were swirling with the man I just met. The noble and nefarious Viscount Laurent.
I enjoyed the read...it reminded me somewhat of Anne Rices Vampire Chronicles.
I look forward to more :)
I am dived deeply within your story I do so enjoy reading it and do see some from or fashion of what is Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. A good read indeed keep going it warms my heart to say the least.
My sleep in the church only lasted for so long. The storm outside had only let up for a brief moment before thundering louder against the cathedral's walls. This was not bothersome to me, as I very much enjoy weather that most would find disagreeable. So would it have been the only factor, I believe I would have slept most peacefully. No, what roused me instead was a knock to my door sometime at midday. I rose from bed, blurry eyed and delirious. It took a moment to remember where I was. Shaking off the fatigue, I went to the door and opened it.
Standing at my door was the young vicar who had given me shelter that morning. His presence did not surprise me. What was surprising were the three men in his presence. They were dressed like officials of some kind, one of which, if I had to guess, was some kind of physician. The air between us all was stilted, as I could sense danger in their intention.
"Good sir," said the vicar, "how have you slept?"
I chose my words carefully, acutely aware of every slight movement of my company. "Well enough," I said. "Is there something wrong, Father?" The vicar stepped into my room, the three men in tow, and I backed away instinctively. "Who are these men?"
"These men are here to help you," the priest replied.
"Help me...?" I felt my gut sink at the prospect.
"Let's make this easy shall we?" The man who spoke -- the biggest of the three, I remember -- stepped forward rather aggressively. Taking in further detail, I believe he was a sheriff or some other officer of the law. "The good Father told us some peculiar facts about you, sir. It's best we continue this conversation with the proper authorities, yes?"
Soon, my back hit the wall. I knew that confidentiality from the vicar was more than I deserved, but I never thought I would be cornered like this. The physician approached without a word and grabbed my hand. I shook him off, further backing away into the corner of the room. "I'd... rather prefer not to leave, thank you." Again, the doctor grabbed me. Firmer this time. And again, I pulled away.
"Frankly," the officer said, "it's of no consequence what you 'prefer.' Should you struggle, we have ways of dealing with madmen."
"Madmen?" How horrid! I turned to the vicar for some kind of denial, but none was there. I was to be dragged off into the rain, under the pretense that I was mad, only to be subjected by God knows what medical horrors. "I am perfectly sane, gentlemen." For a third time, the doctor grabbed my arm, now with both hands. "Let me... Unhand me, please!"
"Nice and quiet," said the officer. By now, the other two men were descending upon me with the intent to restrain my protests. I struggled harder. Somehow, I managed to knock away two of the three men, sending them tumbling towards the vicar, who tearfully stood at the door, praying. Only the sheriff remained, and judging by the anger in his face, he was done trying to simply subdue me.
"Blaggered!" he swore. I saw him raise his fist to strike me. But before he could make contact, I grabbed his hand with my own, holding it there. Full of both rage and terror, I squeezed. Only when I heard the cracking of bone did I realize that the officer's hand was shattering in my grasp. His face twisted in shock and agony. I released him, and he tumbled backwards, falling to the floor and writhing in pain. I was just as shocked as the others at my strength, and stared at my hand, as if to see something different. My hand was as it had always been.
"Halt!" One of the other two men pulled out a pistol from his waistcoat. I opened my mouth to implore him stay, but before I realized, he had squeezed the trigger, and a bullet hit my chest dead on. As I collapsed into the corner, all the world went black. I had no means to know how long I was there, but by the time I came to, the men had crowded around me, perhaps wondering if I had survived.
Seeing my eyes open, they withdrew in fear. One of them was desperately trying to reload the pistol, though I saw that his powder was wet. As I rose to my feet, there was fear in the men's faces the likes of which I had never experienced. I struggled to stand fully, and braced myself against the wall. Only then did I realize that there was indeed a change to my hand, as I questioned earlier. My nails had grown a full inch, and pointed themselves like claws of bone. I checked on my chest, but found no bullet wound. Instead, only a red mark of irritation sat where the bullet had entered. Further, there was a strain at my jaw. My canines were larger, and protruded from my upper lip. I felt my face, desperately, only to find that the bones beneath my skin had become harsher, and more angular.
By now, the vicar was on his knees, praying desperately between his sobs. The men were white as specters, the officer still nursing his fractured hand. Trembling, I reached out to try and diffuse their fear. Another shot rang out. This one hit my stomach, and I crumbled again. Only this time, I remained awake and very much on my feet. A ragged breath tore through my body as it willed the bullet to leave my flesh. I could feel my bones twist further until my spine ached. By now, one of the strangers fled the room in a panic. The priest, through his tears, watched me desperately. Despair overwhelmed my soul, and I clutched by clawed hands to my chest.
"Why... why...?" I breathed. "I came to you... I came to you for help... For HELP!" My anger was unbridled, and it was enough to send shocks through the vicar. He shoved his woeful face in his hands, praying endlessly. I gathered up what I could, and consolidating my strength, pushed forward.
My footing was uneven, but I stumbled into the hallway. The men were all too frightened to try and stop me, and I pressed on. I rampaged through the church, and out into the rainstorm. The pain of both bullet wounds burned my insides, made worse by the icy chill of the rain. My sight was blurred, and my senses were muddled. People avoided me on the street, no doubt wondering if what they saw was a mere vagabond, or something more sinister. Even without my transformation, I was a fright. Shoeless, shirtless, aching and dizzy, I tumbled upon a dark alleyway, where I collapsed into a pile of rotten crates.
"Who's there?" The rough voice of a woman stirred my mind, and I craned my neck. I tried escaping the alley, but had no strength to move myself further. I realized then that the building I was staring into was a collection of flats for the working class. A door swung open, and I prayed that whoever discovered me would not see me. Little did I know how accurately my wish would be granted.
A great walking stick smacked the pavement as a woman stepped out just under the awning to protect her from the rain. She was young, yes, but calloused from years of toil. Her day dress was hemmed extensively, and her frayed brown hair was hidden beneath a cloth cap. The walking stick she brandished was not for a wounded leg or a lame posture. Rather, I realized it had to do with the milky colour of her blind eyes.
"I'm warnin' you!" she called. "I have a knife!" She smacked the side of the building with her cane. Desperate, I turned out to the mouth of the alley. It may only be a matter of time until they come for me...
"My dear lady..." I wheezed. She stalled. "Down here."
Her face scrunched, and she clutched her cane to her breast. "Whossit?" she said. "You don't sound like no neighbor of mine."
I managed to push myself to my feet, and braced against the brick behind me. "Please... I am... desperate. Might I come inside, madam?"
"Madam..." Her brows furrowed. "I'd wager you're a ways from home, aren'tchya, stranger?"
She sighed deeply. "I don't got much food, sir. So if you're expectin' a full belly--"
"No," I said. "You needn't provide anything to me. I... I just need a place to stay and... wait out this accursed weather."
She put a hand on her hip, clearly warring with her better judgement. But finally, she nodded and turned back around. "All right. Come in then."
With relief in my heart, I stumbled inside, clinging to my bag of effects. Her abode was a mere one room flat, with a cold hearth, single bed, and a window, blocked by the neighboring building. I was pleased to see that she lived alone.
"I was just about to start me a fire, sir." Tapping the stick as she went, I saw her feel her way down to a small pile of firewood. Despite my lack of strength, I approached.
"Please, allow me..." I lowered to one knee and placed the kindling into the well used hearth. The woman smiled, hands on her cane.
"Well ain't that gentlemanly of ya?" She hovered as I dried my hands, and did my best to light the logs. Eventually, I got a meager spark, and the fire began to burn. It was barely enough to light the flat, let alone compare to the roaring fireplaces I was used to at home. As I rose, she took my arm in thanks. "Much obliged..." Her face fell. "Why sir! You're chilled right to the bone! Sit, sir, sit! I'll put the kettle on."
I did so, and she managed to cloak me in a spare blanket. I wanted to help her with her tea kettle, but found myself to weary to do much else than curl up beneath the blanket. Once the tea was on the rack within the fireplace, she sat herself on her mattress, her cane on her lap. "What brings a gentleman such as yourself on this side of London, sir?"
I smiled, bitterly. "What indeed," I sighed. "I suppose... one can blame poor circumstance."
"Ah, ain't that the way, sir?" She shook her head. "Well here's hoping your luck rights itself before long."
"Thank you, madam." I rubbed the blanket over my head, drying my hair. "Forgive me for imposing on you like this--"
"No, no!" The woman waved my concerns aside. "You are no trouble, sir, no trouble. The world would be better off with more kindness, wouldn't it?"
"Yes..." I agreed. "I suppose it would." Realizing my manners, I shook my head. "Ah, forgive me, my good lady, but I have yet to ask your name!"
"My name, sir?" She grinned. "It's Rose. Or Rosie, if you like."
"Rose... A beautiful name indeed. I am honored to make your acquaintance."
"And your name, my sir?"
"I am..." I hesitated. "Jacob." At the time, I believed it would be best to assume my middle name to avoid complications.
"Nice to meet you then, Jacob." Suddenly, Rose began to cough. I watched as she covered her mouth desperately, coughing into her hands. When she finished, she took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her lips. Now that my senses were no longer hindered by rain, I could smell a disease deep within her body. A disease of the lungs, if I was pressed. No doubt, in a year's time, she would be taken by consumption. Perhaps that was why she lived alone?
"Lord..." She cleared her throat. "Forgive me, Mr. Jacob, sir. Ain't been right of late. This blasted cough..."
"No need to apologize, Miss Rose," I said. In the hearth, the kettle began to whistle. Rose got up, but I moved quicker. "Please, sit. Allow me."
She did so with a smile. "Awful kind of ya, Mr. Jacob." I managed to sniff out her tea, and made her a cup. Carefully, I placed it in her hands. While Rose took it graciously, her own took my wrist to stop me. "My word, sir... I fear if I had not found ya just now, you mighta been an inch from death, you're so cold."
I smiled ruefully. "Perhaps you are right," I said. I resumed my place by the fire and tucked myself away in the blanket. We sat there for some time, speaking lightly, as the rain thrashed against Rose's windows outside.
Considering that this was to be my last night in London for a while, I was lucky to have spent my final hours with someone so kind.
It is a common misconception that we children of the night are adverse to holy symbols, or that we cannot step on hollowed ground. I cannot speak for all unmade individuals, as I have taken to calling them, but as for myself, it was never the symbols themselves to which I was adverse. After all, a simple cross is... two sticks? While there is credence to holy water blessed properly, most of our distaste comes from the metal used to fashion such items. Silver, mainly. I know not whether it is due to its scientific components, or if it is simply because it is considered the holiest of metals. Either way, that aversion to Dr. Van Helsing's cross was not an isolated incident. Indeed, my disgust with silver has remained as such over the centuries.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The night of the confrontation with Dr. Van Helsing, I was left miserable by the Thames, clutching the poor woman whom I had feasted upon just moments earlier. I held her for as long as I could bare it. But knowing that it would not be good to be caught in the daylight coddling a corpse, I eventually laid her body to rest in the river, and allowed the current to wash her away. How I ached to give her a proper burial to atone for what I'd done. I noticed, through the rain, that the sky was growing lighter. I would only be safe beneath this bridge for so long. I needed to find refuge.
Now fed, I felt my strength return. I picked myself up from the mud and walked out into the rain. I had no direction in mind, and instead allowed my feet to take me where they would. Eventually, I heard the ringing of a bell, and looked up. Almost out of instinct, I had come to the front steps of St. Paul's Cathedral.
I hesitated. What right had I to trespass upon these grounds? But I could feel the rain letting up. Soon, the sun would rise, and I would be all but destroyed in a matter of seconds. Ignoring the voice that told me I deserved such a gruesome end, I entered the church. Immediately, I was assaulted with all sorts of disagreeable smells. The smell of holy water, of silver, of incense and oils. It was enough to make me nauseous. But I centered myself, steeling my resolve, and pushed further in.
At the front altar, I saw a young vicar lighting candles for the day. I recalled the toll of the bell from earlier, and surmised it must have been about five in the morning.
"Excuse me, Father." While I intended to keep my voice calm, my words startled the priest, and he whipped around, clutching his heart.
"Sweet Mary!" he swore. He took a deep breath and laughed. "Forgive me, my son. I did not expect the congregation so early."
"I am... not a part of the congregation, I fear."
The vicar paused, and took in the state of my soaked clothes. "I see," he said. "Tell me, my son, why are you here? You look a fright, if that is not rude of me to say."
"I feel a fright, Father..." My eyes drifted to my right. I saw the confessional booths, empty and ready to receive its patrons. "It has been too long since my last confession. If I may...?"
The vicar smiled gently. "So long as you are unbothered by me knowing your face. Of course." He raised his hand, and I lead the way the confessional. I took the left hand side, and he the right. Comfortable in the darkness of my booth, I leaned back to relax. I had not felt this at ease in some time. After my priest had settled in, he pulled back the sliding panel to allow us to speak.
My voice cracked as I stated: "Forgive me, Father. I have... God, I have sinned so greatly."
"How long since your last confession?"
"Speak your sins, my son."
I took a deep, calming breath. "I am a monster, Father."
"Oh? And what makes you believe this?"
"Because it is the truth."
I heard him shift in the booth beside mine. "What lead you to this conclusion?"
"Father... do you know what a vampire is?"
"A vampire? I'm... afraid I do not. It sounds abhorrent."
"It is. I do not know much about it myself. But from what I can gather... it is a creature who lives by draining the blood from another. It kills indiscriminately, like a wild animal. It's driven by hunger, and bloodlust. It cannot be touched by the sun, else it dies a horrible death. As though God's very light is enough to expunge it from this Earth. Poison does not kill it, nor bullets, nor hanging. It is... woefully unholy, Father."
I could smell the fear perspiring on the back of my vicar's neck. "It sounds as much," he said. "Why tell me these dreadful things, my son?"
"Because, Father... it is what I am." I could hear the vicar's heart beat desperately in his booth. Fortunately, seeing as that I was full from my last victim, I was not tempted to break through for a taste. "I have done such horrible things..."
"Have you... murdered...?"
"Yes." I heard the vicar clutch his robes in fear. "I have murdered two innocent lives to satiate my bloodlust. I fear that I am not unlike a demon." The priest remained silent, but I knew he agreed. "What am I to do, Father? Should I end myself?"
The priest pondered his answer. Perhaps he worried that he would offend me if he spoke the truth. "Suicide is... against the will of God..."
"Certainly," I said, "but is it not more egregious to direct this destruction upon others? If I cannot stop myself, is this my only recourse?"
"I..." The priest was at a loss. I remained quiet, waiting for his answer. "I do not... have an answer for you, my son."
I turned to the screen that divided us. "Can you not try, Father?"
The preacher was still a moment longer. I could hear the cathedral settle around us. Those putrid smells still hounded me, though with us being so close to the windows, I could focus instead on the smell of fresh rain to help the ache. "I suppose," he finally began, "that if you are unable to stop... and that I cannot recommend death... I suppose the one option you have left is... control."
"Yes... You say you need blood to survive?"
"Must it come from a living human?"
The question stalled me. "I... do not know, sir. I was only... um... unmade... I suppose... less than a fortnight ago. This is all so new to me."
"Is there more of you?"
"There was. I believe the woman who cursed me is now dead and gone. I know not of others."
"See if you cannot feed on lesser beings," said the priest. "Pigs blood, perhaps? Cow blood... If you can manage to control your urges, prevent innocent lives from suffering, then perhaps... you are not as much a demon as you think."
I was in awe of such advice. Candidly speaking, I had not expected such a thoughtful response. Perhaps the cynical part of me was hoping that this young priest would rid me of my burden for ever more. Instead, here I was, met with compassion. Understanding. It was more than I had hoped. And it left me more tired than I had been.
"Father..." I said quietly. "It is daybreak. Is there a place I may stay?"
He vicar hesitated. "There is," he said carefully. "If I allow you to hide in my parish, would I be in danger? Speak truthfully, for God is with us."
"No, Father," I said. "I swear to you I will not turn my evils onto you, nor your flock. I simply need a place to wait out the sun. Perhaps dry out my laundry." After all, my effects were soaked through. "After that, you will be rid of me."
"I... believe you." There was still doubt in his voice, but he spoke it regardless. "Come. Before the church fills." We left the confessionals, and he lead me swiftly through a door and down a flight of stairs. Beneath the church was a corridor of rooms, no doubt used by the servants of the church. "This way. Sister Agatha has left us recently. You shall stay in her room."
"I am most grateful."
The vicar lead me to the door and opened it. Inside was a single room, complete with a bed, vanity, washbowl, and hanging, wooden cross. I turned to him. Though I was met with such surprising kindness, it did not escape me that the priest would no longer meet my eyes. Rather than prolonging my company, I bowed my head in gratitude, and the vicar took his leave.
First, I lit the oil lamps. There was only one window, near the top of the wall to face the world. No doubt it was level with the grass of the churchyard. I saw the sky lighten through that window. Taking the sheet off the bed, I slid the edges through the crack of the frame, blocking the sunlight from disturbing me. After which, I unpacked my things, swept away the dirt from the floor, and rolled out my clothes in hopes that they'd dry. In nothing but my trousers, I rolled onto the bed and stared at the wall behind the headboard. Sister Agatha's cross stared back at me, upside down from where I lay.
I closed my eyes, hopeful that I could at last find a decent day's sleep.
It took me some time to find where the jeweler's workshop was. After all, I hadn't exactly been aware of where it was the first time around. I crossed through the town square, went up and down alleyways, even passed by the late Mr. Muldoon's orphanage. As the hours ticked on, I felt an onset of panic. What if I could not find this woman again? I would be lost. A sheep with no shepherd, though I doubt comparing myself to a lamb in this state wouldn't entirely be accurate. The hunger in my belly had returned, though I pushed it down with all my might. I must find this woman before sunrise!
I was close to abandoning all hope before sensing a change in the wind. Much how I could smell the gout on Mr. Muldoon's left leg, I smelled something unusual nearby. I craned my neck to peer through the moonlight. The scent was growing stronger. A perfume? Close. More than that, it was a perfume that seemed beyond its expiration date.
I hurried towards the smell. As it grew stronger, I noticed a new layer of detail. It was a sour, copper smell. One that dug into the glands of my mouth. Blood. It had to be. I found the front door to the jeweler's and wrenched it open. I did not realize until I had done it, but the force with which I opened the door had torn the lock entirely. I was taken aback at the sight. Perhaps it was just an old lock?
Ignoring it for now, I stepped inside. It was as I remembered it. Narrow, sparsely decorated, plenty of jewels on display. I clutched the ruby necklace within my coat pocket and sniffed the air. The blood was stronger now, over powering the lady's perfume with ease. I realized, quite quickly, that it was coming down from below. My throat tightened. Battling between my hunger and my panic, I went to the stairway down to the bottom floor. But before I had taken a single step, I heard a gruesome sound that stalled me.
It was the sound of cracking bone, and tearing flesh. Had another poor soul found its way into this woman's clutches? But soon after I heard the initial sounds, it was accompanied by something else. The sound of a man, grunting with effort. Like a carpenter with a particularly challenging project.
I focused my senses. What did I smell? Think, Alister. I smelled blood, that was easy. A lady's perfume. What else? Leather. Silver. A man's aftershave. And the beading sweat of a gentleman's brow. Quiet as I could, I took a few more steps down to the basement. Once I had a clear view of the scene within, I bent down.
There, in the center, was my beautiful jeweler's body. It was sitting in a pool of its own blood, decapitated and dirtied. A wooden stake had been driven between its breasts, and the blood continued to pulse from the wound like a dying fountain. And bent over the body, working quickly, was Dr. Ludwig Van Helsing.
I covered my mouth, lest I give myself away. But it was not enough. My body reared back in disgust, and unfortunately, was met with the wall far too quickly. Dr. Van Helsing straightened up and turned to me. He was splattered with the jeweler's blood, his hands the most soiled with red. He stood slowly, as though he feared a sudden move would startle me. It was a bit too late for that.
"Mr. Quill," he greeted. I could see the silver cross in his fingers. "Out for a stroll?"
I had not noticed how deeply I was breathing. For the first time since I was a child, I was terrified. This man, this normal man, calmly stepping away from a defiled corpse, terrified me in ways I cannot describe. I was frozen to my steps on the stairwell, watching his deliberate movements.
"Did you know this woman, Mr. Quill?" I could not find my voice to answer. Closer he came, and continued. "Did she do this to you, son? Tell me. Did she corrupt you?"
"What... did she do to me...?" My eyes finally tore from Dr. Van Helsing's face and returned to the jeweler's corpse. "What did you do... to her...?"
"She," said Dr. Van Helsing carefully, "was a monster. Same as you, I'm afraid."
"Mr. Quill..." Closer still. "What she did to you was heinous. Immoral. You seem like a good boy. I wish there was another way."
Perhaps it was silly of me, but I had not realized his intentions until that moment. He had just murdered the jeweler, and now, I was his next appointment. "Sir, please..." I pleaded. Willing my legs to move, I stumbled back up the stairs. Dr. Van Helsing never faltered, and kept his slow and steady pace toward me. "I-I am not... I c-cannot be--!"
"You are, my boy. You are."
"No, please..." My voice was strained, and before long, I could feel the sting of frightened tears pricking the corners of my eyes. "I-I won't be as she was! Please, I beg of you, if I have wickedness inside me, let me control it! Give me a chance to prove to you I am still yet a man!"
From Dr. Van Helsing's waistcoat, I saw him pull a smaller, spare stake. He held out the silver cross, which sent my senses spinning. "I am sorry," he said. "Be still... and I shall make this painless."
I could not stay any longer. With all the strength I could manage, I threw myself to my feet and ran. I could hear Dr. Van Helsing hot on my heels, and at one point, I believe I heard gunshots in all the fray.
I did not dare look back. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. My muscles ached, and my empty stomach was painful the harder I pushed. Before long, I came to a bridge in the Thames, and tore down to the muddy bank beneath. Eventually, my legs gave out, and down I tumbled. Hitting the wet earth with an unflattering "splat!," I laid there for a time, catching my breath. I had not noticed that it had started raining.
With shaking arms, I tried pushing myself up. I was weak. Terribly so. The mud was slick, and I wound up slipping each and every time I attempted. Eventually, I resolved to crawl into the space beneath the bridge.
Finding a dry corner of dirt, I dragged my haggard body to a comfortable place to lay, and closed my eyes. There, I drifted in and out of rest. My body and soul were both desperately exhausted. I was just on the verge of rest when a hand touched my shoulder.
I jumped awake, and scrambled to run again, when I saw not the blood stained boots of my hunter, but the dirtied skirts of a fellow vagabond.
"Sir?" The rough voice of a young prostitute pulled my eyes upwards. I wish I could remember what she looked like. She was soaked, like me, with an umbrella that could barely hold back the rain. Perhaps I cannot remember much about her because my mind simply will not allow for it.
Because as she reached to help me up, I grabbed her wrist, pulled her to me, and latched my mouth to her throat. From her lips came a half-hearted scream, choked by shock and fear. She struggled, at first. I drank longer the harder she pulled. All I knew was that I needed the nourishment. I needed to survive.
Eventually, she stopped struggling.
Slowly, my mouth released its prey. As my mind cleared, I saw that the woman was now limp in my arms. I had cradled her like a bride, bent on my knees with the storm rushing around us. Waves of anguish overwhelmed me. With a trembling hand, I pushed back the wet hair from her calm, pale face. Even her lips were devoid of color now.
Clutching her body, I curled forward and buried my face deep within her bosom. I wept. I wept for what I was. For this poor girl who suffered for that fact. For my family, my friends, my lovers.
I wept, because simply put, the man I was was no more alive than the woman I clutched in my cold arms.
At the time, there was no sensible reason as to why I might have recognized the name "Van Helsing." Now, gifted by retrospect, I am aware what weight such a family crest carries. To be clear, however, this was not the same Van Helsing that confronted the great Count Dracula, of whom Mr. Bram Stoker wrote in his account of the conflict. If I remember correctly, I believe he was Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Guessing the time period, I would say that this Dr. Ludwig must have been his grandfather, or perhaps even his father.
When he called upon my house, he did so two days after the family physician took his leave. My illness had not subsided, and at night, I felt my hunger grow tenfold. Fearing a repeat of my act of barbarism with Mr. Muldoon, I forbade the maids from entering my chambers entirely, lest they befall to my instincts. At night, I kept myself confined to my bedchambers. I tried pacing the room to burn off my energy. Tried reading, though I could scarcely sit still. Tried prose and poetry, but nothing came out as it should. I wondered if I was going quite mad. Perhaps the unfortunate fate of Mr. Muldoon was nothing more than a fabrication of a feverish mind? I so hoped that this was the truth, and yet, my heart knew otherwise. I had no name for what I was becoming, but I knew, without doubt, that whatever it was, it was not human.
Dr. Van Helsing arrived late in the afternoon on that second day. I had finally nodded off to sleep when I heard a voice I did not recognize in the parlor below me. Shaking awake, I strained to listen, but could make out no words. Soon, three pairs of footsteps ascended the stairway and headed towards my door. I pushed myself up on the pillows to try and seem presentable, but my sickly visage was no delight to see, I am sure.
When the door opened, I overheard my father instruct my mother to stay out. There were times, occasionally, when I would voice my distaste for Father's anger towards Mother, but today, I had not the strength to do so. Though I could hear by her footfalls that she did not stray far. I could not decide whether or not I was thankful for that.
Father was the first to enter, and held the door open. "He's here, doctor," he said. From the hallway stepped my guest for the day. Dr. Ludwig was a normal man, by all accounts. He was perhaps nearing his fortieth year in due time, with well kept hair and a clean shaven jaw. Clearly this was a man who could afford a regular barber, though his clothes did not imply any kind of absurd wealth. If anything, they were taken care of, but an older style, stitched and preserved over years of wear. In his possession, I shall always remember, was a massive, black leather bag. Doubtless that it was full of medical instruments and other vestiges of his profession. He set the bag on the table at my bedside and folded his hands at his waist.
"Good afternoon," he said. His accent was thick, and difficult for me to identify. German? Perhaps. Perhaps something more obscure. "Do I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. Alister Quill?"
"You do, sir," I replied weakly. "Please, I do hope that you can help me."
"I shall try, son." He rifled through his bag of equipment, and pulled out the strangest contraption I have ever seen. It was a rubber tube with a cup of sorts on either end. Placing one cup to his ear, he put the other upon my bare chest. "Breathe for me, sir." I did so, wondering what the purpose of such a strange procedure was. After a moment, he nodded in satisfaction and put the rubber tube away. He then took my arm and sternly placed two fingers against my wrist. I wondered then if my strange temperature might befuddle him, but so far, he was not surprised. Again, he nodded, satisfied, and returned to his tools.
"I am going to test now," he said.
"Do you have an idea, doctor?" Father asked. "Truthfully, every physician thus far has been no help."
Dr. Van Helsing nodded, removing a small purse of velvet. "I believe I do, but I must be sure." He opened the clasp and first removed a necklace. Letting it spool out, I realized that the pendant was a silver cross. It was simple; no doubt this was an ornament that had passed hands for many years until today. He held it up for me to see it. "How does this make you feel, Mr. Quill?"
Strangely enough... it did not sit well with me in some capacity. I wondered if the imagery upset me in some unknown way, but quickly realized that it was not the symbol, but the metal with which it was fashioned. In the same way a copper penny has a distinct scent, this silver cross smelled putrid to me. It was not dirty as far as I could see; in fact, I gathered it had been polished very recently. Yet the stench of this silver was enough to curdle my face, and I withdrew. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Van Helsing removed the cross and placed it back into the velvet purse. Father was at odds.
"Well?" he demanded.
"One more test." The good doctor removed a second item from the purse. This was less recognizable. It was a glass bottle, corked and half full of water. This had no unusual smells attached to it, but I found myself fascinated. He removed as well a simple, cotton cloth, and uncorked the bottle. Dipping the neck into the cloth, he spread just a bit of water onto its surface. "Your hand, please." I offered it. Taking it sternly, he laid the wet cloth on my knuckles.
I screamed and yanked my hand away. It was much like the sunlight, but far more concentrated and direct. The skin which had touched the cursed cloth was now smoldering. Steam rose from the wet spot, which was red with irritation. As I kneaded my palm to soothe the pain, Dr. Van Helsing put away his tools and turned to my father, gravely. "A word, Lord Quill." With that, he lead my father out to the hallway, and shut the door behind him. I heard their footsteps swiftly vacate the hall. Something strong willed me to follow. Though my strength was failing, I managed to slide from bed and throw a robe over my shoulders. Now decent, I snuck my way down the hall towards my father's study. The door was closed, but I knew with certainty that my parents were inside with Dr. Van Helsing. I had intended to creep my way to the door, but found that I could hear their conversation from a small distance away.
"...what are you saying?" came my mother's tearful voice. "Richard, you cannot believe--"
"You saw it as well as I, Beatrice." Strange, but I had never heard my father's tone with such a layer of fear before. "I would not have believed it myself without seeing..."
"But we can't! Our boy, our precious boy..."
"Lady Quill," said Dr. Van Helsing. "I realize that this is a horrible burden to bear. But there is no cure for your son's condition. The only option is death." Such an admission chilled me to my bone. Was there no medicine for what I was suffering? No treatment, no therapy? I was bereft with grief, and clutched my robe to my empty chest. I heard the good doctor continue. "I fear that there are no real humane options for your situation. A vampire is resilient. Poison will do nothing, nor will hanging. There are only two ways to rid yourself of the monster. Either he must be beheaded, or a stake delivered through his very heart."
I was sick at his words. What cruelty was this man prescribing to my family!? I wanted to believe that they would not go through with such a crime, but I did not hear either of them protest. I stood rooted to the spot, desperate for my defense. It never came. All I did hear, minutes after the fact, was my mother's gentle voice.
"Please sir... Let us spend one last day. One last day to hold our boy..."
"Of course," said Dr. Van Helsing. "I shall call tomorrow. You need not concern yourself with the deed. But be sure not to make him aware of your plan, else you will put so many lives in jeopardy, even your own." Realizing they were preparing to leave the study, I quickly made my way back to my bedchambers, managing to slip into the sheets before hearing them enter the hall. As I laid in silence, I pushed aside my horror to instead examine the words of Dr. Van Helsing.
Vampire... He had used the word vampire. I will admit, I was not familiar with this term at the time. It must have been what I was becoming. What I already was. I stared at my injured knuckles, transfixed by the red splotch left by the doctor. As terrified as I was of his prescription, I stilled myself to think objectively. I had done away with that Mr. Muldoon without so much as a second thought. And should the papers be believed, I would continue through life without punishment for it. I could not enjoy the sunlight, and the smell of food made me sick. What life did I have that was worth living?
I lowered my hand as I pictured my parents' faces. Aghast in agony as they looked upon their son. It was so long ago, but I cannot imagine they had forgotten the tragedy of young Isabella. So young and innocent, and gone from us far too quickly. Perhaps it should have been myself to take her place as a boy.
So while I could see that my life was perhaps no longer worth living, I could not find it within me to put my family through the anguish of losing yet another child.
When my mother came to my bedside, she insisted on staying for hours. We read together, and I pulled all my strength to show her a smile. She deserved that much. My father would occasionally haunt my doorway, but he had never been a man of many kind words, and thus, remained silent. But I understood his grief.
As night came, I felt my strength return. I told Mother that I was dreadfully drowsy. She held me close, despite my cold skin, and laid endless kisses on my crown. With one last, pained smile, she left my bedchambers. I could hear the lock click on the other side.
Left alone in my room, I packed.
I gathered a bag and began to pile in what I could. I had a small fund stashed away for allowance purposes, and a pistol, which I had never shot once in my life. Tucking them both away in a pile of clothes, I latched the sack tightly and took one last look at my surroundings. This was the room I had known my whole life. A room I grew up in. Cried in, laughed in. I had turned to leave through the window, when something in my pocket jingled.
I paused and pulled it out. It was the ruby necklace, still wrapped in brown paper parchment. Realization dawned on me. The jeweler! How had I never pieced it together before? I had been feeling myself up until that night. If I was going to understand my new fate, she was where I must start.
Prying open the window, like so many days of my youth, I took hold of the gutter pipe and worked my way down to the earth. Once on my feet, I tightened my traveling cloak and went on my way.
It had been a week since the murder of Mr. Muldoon. A week since I had come to terms with the fact that somehow, some way, I had become something wholly inhuman. I spent that evening wandering the streets, paranoid that every pair of eyes turned my way could see immediately the depth of my sin. Although I had sped off to the Thames to wash away the blood, the sting of the cold water was enough to remind me of what I had done. I had taken life by my own hands. As the night progressed, I ran the deed through over and over again in my mind. It seemed impossible, it seemed ludicrous, and yet, it had happened. I had leapt upon another man, and drained him of his very blood.
When I returned home, it was nearly morning. I dragged myself to bed and didn't even bother to remove my boots in the process. My poor housekeeprs were overburdened with work the next morning.
My ailment continued, though it was not nearly as egregious as it had been previously. For weeks, I kept my eye on the newspaper. Waiting for some report of Mr. Muldoon's death. The report never came. Perhaps it was simply because it was so easy to die in the city, perhaps it was the obviously rotten reputation of such a dubious man. Either way, his disappearance was unreported, at least to the major papers, and it seemed that my crime would go unpunished. I was unsure if such a grace was granted to me out of luck or reprimand.
I had been so overwhelmed with my fear that when my birthday arrived, I was caught completely off guard. Again, my memory fails on such things, but I believe it was to be my twenty second birthday that year. I was roused by the maids for a bountiful breakfast, after which, Mother insisted we take a stroll through the park. When I rolled out of bed, I saw to my displeasure that the sun was out in full force that morning. And thus, I expressed my regret as I informed the maids that I would not be leaving my room again, despite the date. Not long after this information was passed along, I heard the uproarious anger of my father, followed soon by his stomping footfalls as he made his way to my bedchambers.
"Alister!" he boomed. "What is this nonsense?! Three weeks, that is how long you've been lay abed! Three weeks! You expect me to believe that you still cannot manage to leave this room? Not even at your mother's behest?!"
Speaking of, my mother rushed to Father's side, clutching his arm in a plea. "Richard, please," she said. "If he is ill, he is ill!"
"Then why have we not summoned a physician?" Father snapped. He stormed through the room to the windows. My stomach lurched as he reached for the blinds. "This is all a matter of the mind, Beatrice. Why, all our boy needs is fresh air and a little sun--"
He pulled. The blinds yanked back, exposing me fully to the sun's harsh rays. I screamed in agony and shoved myself beneath the blankets. But still I could feel the burning light soak through the cotton onto my exposed arms. It was pain the likes of which I had never felt. It was as though Satan himself had saw fit to roast me above an open flame. Eventually, I felt the curtains draw, and I gasped helplessly beneath the sheets. When they were pulled from my face, I saw Mother, white with fear.
"Alister..." She reached for me, but a mere brush of her hand stung my sensitive skin. I hissed and dove back against the pillows. Mother withdrew her hand and stood, facing Father. "You're right. Call the doctor."
In all my years, I had never seen my father so shocked. So much so that he didn't respond, not immediately. "Beatrice..."
"Richard, please." With that, my father left us.
The physician arrived not long after. I remained in bed, my body aching from the sunlight still. First, he examined the redness of my skin. Which, despite the fact that it felt like it was burning to me, it proved to be rather cold to him. In fact, upon touching my arm, my mother never looked so horrified.
"He's as cold as ice," she muttered.
"If he had a fever," said the doctor, "I would bleed him to break it. But... I have never seen this before, truth be told, Mrs. Quill."
"What are we to do?"
"For now?" He stood and closed his case of tools. "Watch him. Make sure he regains his strength. I may have to reach out to a former colleague."
"Sir?" My voice was weak, but loud enough to garner their attentions. "Forgive me... but I... am I dying, sir?"
The doctor put on a strained smile. "Certainly not, my boy," he said. "It's likely that this is some strange allergy. Once my colleague takes a look, we'll have some answers."
"And who is this colleague?" my father asked.
"He's a bit of an oddity," said the doctor, "but he might be of some use.
"His name is Van Helsing. Dr. Ludwig Van Helsing."
I cannot say exactly when I noticed the change. There was the sensitivity in the morning, of course. The sun had never felt so harsh before now. After that strange night, I kept to my bedchambers, trying to sleep away whatever ailment had taken hold of me. The words of my maid were still ringing in my ears. An illness that drains the body of life? Part of me wished to think it absurd. Yet I had seen my sister taken from me as a young boy in the span of an evening. A horrible fever, you see. And one that did not have the good will to linger long enough for us to make our peace. She was barely two years old. Yet it was not the sudden nature of this disease that perplexed me, not really. Moreso, it was the odd shift between the day and the night time hours that left me with the notion that this was a very queer ailment, without doubt.
You see, every morning as I withered in my condition, I was frail. Weak. Hungry, and yet, had no apatite. My mother was beside herself with worry. Would that I had the energy to at least grace her with a smile now and again, but I was all but dead to the world. I saw shadows in my bedchambers. Shadows that should not have been there by any stretch of the imagination. After all, I had insisted the drapes remained closed, for the sunlight was garish.
But then, the sun would set, and the moon would rise. And slowly, I would return to my old self. The first night, I could move about the house. The next night, the garden. By the third, I had dressed for an evening stroll. It was on that night that I began to notice such strange details around me. For one thing, I saw so much clearer than I ever had in the daytime. The moon was brighter than I'd ever seen it. It was as though the dark streets of London were covered in silver. I saw every crack in the cobblestone, every scurrying vermin. I was entranced.
I was also, I then noticed, quite hungry.
I hadn't had a bite to eat in three days. My stomach, albeit seemed to calm in the evenings, was now aching painfully for food. Yet as I passed a pie shop, I remember recoiling at the smell. When was the last time I salivated at a fresh lamb pasty? Now, the smell of gravy and crust sent me reeling. I attributed it to my ailment, but knowing the source did not alleviate the symptom. I was starving for food I could not identify, and agonizingly so.
It was then that I passed a young urchin boy. He must not have been older than sixteen, perhaps seventeen? A servant, by the look of his clothing. No doubt on an errand for his master. Something within me turned in a way I could not describe. My eyes were glued to this young sprout. So full of energy, so spindle. I wondered if I had gone mad, but it felt as though I could smell him, even from across the street. He was as tantalizing to me as the pie shop should have been.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had crossed the street, following the boy. He had not seen me yet. He was checking an address written on a spare piece of parchment when I stepped in his way, blocking his path. He collapsed against me, and I took him before he fell.
"Oh!" he cried. "Scuse me there, sir!" A lower class boy, no doubt about it. Why was I so concerned with who this child was? I could even hear the cracks in his voice as manhood took its hold.
"Please, pardon me," I said. "What is your name, boy?"
"Jareth. I see."
The air was thick between us. I did not know then what compelled me to stay in his path. Nor did I understand what kept my hands tight around his elbows. Something in my face must have alerted him to the strange goings on in my mind, for he soon became uncomfortable, and tried to remove himself from my grasp. "Sir...?" His voice was shaking. From beneath my hands, I felt his blood turning. I could almost hear the terrified beating of his heart. Why did hearing such a sound excite me so? Faster and faster I heard it beat. It aroused something in me; something yet nameless, and something monstrous.
"Jareth!" A rude voice interrupted us, and I turned. A short, portly man with an overbearing mustache trundled towards us. He was slick with fop sweat, and walked with a heavy limp on his left side. I could not determine how, but through my senses, I could smell the gout on his left foot. "Yer late!" His voice was crass, and rough. No doubt this was a man given to less noble vices.
"Sorry Mr. Muldoon!" Jareth exclaimed. "I'll be off now, mister." With one last jerk, young Jareth ripped from my grasp and all but ran down the alley into the darkness, from whence this Mr. Muldoon had come.
"Hopin' he didn't cause you no trouble," Mr. Muldoon said to me. "That one's a weasel there. A damn troublemaker he is, always has been."
"Is he your son, sir?" I asked.
Mr. Muldoon scoffed. As per my prediction, he pulled a flask from his waistcoat and drank deeply. "Hardly!" he laughed. "Little bastard's a worker of mine. Though hardly worth his salt."
I had decided, quite certainly, that I did not care for Mr. Muldoon. That strange hunger had not eluded me, and my now distaste for this creature was stirring within me a further, odd need. I was unsure of what my body would do next. I was unaware that, in that moment in time, I had begun to run on instinct.
I knew only two things: I was hungry, and Mr. Muldoon was a man not worth much.
I felt my stomach curdle and looked around. I cannot describe what was going through my mind, simply because I do not believe anything was. I smiled with lips that were not mine, and bowed my head. "Children can be so burdensome. Tell me, sir, have you a moment? I am in the market for a new page at my estate."
Mr. Muldoon's face lit up like Christmas candles. Greed is such an easy motivator for mortal men. He welcomed me like a brother, and began to walk me down that dark alley towards his establishment. "Of course, sir, of course!" he bellowed. "We gots the finest boys for any of your needs, my good fellow. Any age, any reason, for the right price, they're yours."
"You know, if you was looking for more than a page boy, I can give you a nip with one of the younger ones. A few hours for a nice fee, how's that sound?"
"Generous of you."
"Best part about boys, sir?" His grin became all the more sickening. "When all's said and done, you don't gotta worry about no baby out the deal, eh!? Ha ha!"
I dove forward. What came next was a gush of copper taste as his blood hit the back of my throat. I drank deeply, instinctively. As though this horrid act had always been within my nature. And when I was done, I dropped the now dead body of Mr. Muldoon at my feet.
Nothing was real in that moment. I was full, and satisfied, and shortly thereafter, horrified. A dead man lay at my feet. Not a very good man, granted, but a dead one all the same. Had this been what I wanted from young Jareth? In a twisted way, this braggart's blustering had saved an innocent life. While I was riddled with shock at the time, I would later come to thank Mr. Muldoon for his sacrifice.
I left him there in that cold alley, and with no direction in mind, I fled quickly into the night.
It was dreary, I remember. A dreary, cloudy, grey afternoon, ushering in the start of the autumnal season. What had I been doing that day? I knew that Mother had wanted me to shop with her. I had protested, seeing as that I had an engagement with the dashing young lady down the block from our estate. For the life of me I cannot remember her name. I do recall her voice, of course. She had been trained from a young age to sing for the stage. It was one of her most memorable qualities. She was horrible. But, her wit was unmatched, and captured me, despite her sour notes. Of course, had I been aware that this was to be my last morning as a human man, I may have elected to join Mother in the square one last time.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. My point being, I had, what I assumed, a full schedule for the day. I awoke for a brisk walk before breakfast, and took my reading hours in the parlor. Lord, my memory is failing me, but I believe I was reading some manner of philosophy. With the American secession over with, there was more time to engage in such cerebral practices. After which, I was called to lunch, and then promptly left to meet my appointment. Come to find out the poor girl was sick. Sick in bed all morning, in fact!
I felt dreadful for the poor thing. Surely there must have been something I could have done to help? Her father asked that perhaps I return with a gift to lighten her spirits. I agreed, and went off to find such a purchase. I had briefly considered flowers. What young lady does not swoon over freshly plucked daisies and roses? But I thought, no, nothing so pedestrian should do. A dress, maybe? Ah, but I had never taken her measurements. More to the point, it may be construed as inappropriate, as I had only been her suitor for so long. And so, I wandered through the market, pondering and ponder what would be good enough.
I hadn't realized just how long I'd been out until I felt the rain. A storm had been brewing, and only now was I privy to the weather. Hiking up my coat collar, I hurried to the nearest bit of shelter I could find; it just so happened to be a jeweler's shop. As the bell above the door alerted the shop keeper of my presence, I felt the strangest air descend upon me.
"Good evening, sir." The voice was smooth, and rich as fresh cream. I turned to see a dazzling woman behind the counter. While she dressed in a way that implied a younger woman, I dare say it was impossible to guess her age. I thought it rude at the time, but I could not help but imagine that she was older than she presented. Much, much older indeed.
"Might I help you?" she asked me.
I swiped off the rainwater and approached. "Please, madam," I said, "I am looking for a gift."
"A gift," she repeated. Her gracefully long fingers presented the jewelry in the glass case between us. "Please, take a look, sir." And look I did. The jewelry in the case was splendid, to say the least. Glittering rubies and shimmering diamonds, pearls smooth and intricate, gold necklaces and rings and hairpins and more. The longer I looked, I noticed something odd.
"There's no silver here," I remarked.
"Does the lady prefer silver, sir?" asked my beautiful shopkeeper.
"Not particularly," I replied. "It's just strange to see no silver pieces these days. With the price of gold being what it is." I gestured to a ruby necklace. "Might I see that one, madam?" She opened her side of the case and presented it. It was a gorgeous piece. Gold links encrusted with expertly cut rubies. They were like bits of wine, made solid. I held it in my fingers. "Quite heavy," I said.
"An assurance of its value," said the shopkeeper.
"Indeed." I pushed back a lock of my wet hair and held it to the light. "Yes. I should like this one, madam." She removed it from my grasp and went to wrap it. As she did, I wandered her shop. It was a small place. Narrow, like so many places of business crammed down alleyways and corridors. So I did not think it strange that I had never come across it in all my years of living in London.
"Storm is raging, sir." I looked out the window to affirm the lady shopkeeper's statement. It was indeed thundering harder, a few trees desperately shaking in the howling wind. As she approached me with my package, she smiled. It was a smile that seemed to melt away any and all of my anxieties, and put me at ease with alarming speed. "Why not stay for a nip? I make a fine tea. Bit of brandy for it, it will keep you warm while this foul weather finishes up."
As much as I wanted to return to my appointment, I nodded in agreement. It would do no one any good for me to get sick as well. She gestured me to follow her, and she lead me down a flight of stairs to an old basement. It was cozy. A plush sofa sat adjacent to a wide mouthed fireplace. With quick hands, she started a fire and then placed the kettle on the rack within. We sat and talked, I'm not sure for how long, or what about. She asked me quite a few questions, and I was happy to oblige. The tea was excellent, of course, and I told her as much. About half way through my cup, I had started to feel my head spin.
"Oh my..." I laughed in spite of myself and cupped my cheek. "I think that spot of brandy might have been a bit strong, good lady."
"Is it?" Her tone was... odd. As though she was not surprised at my troubles.
I furrowed my brow, realizing only just then that I had not paid for the necklace. I tried standing, but only fell back to my seat. It was as though the Earth itself was pulling me towards it. As I floundered, I saw her rise from her seat. There was something strange about her face then. It was pointed now. Her features were sharper. More menacing. It reminded me of a beast, ready to devour its next meal. Before I knew what was happening, I felt the shopkeep sit upon my lap, and I felt cold hands press up to my neck. I had no strength as those fingers undid my cravat, exposing the jumping veins in my throat. I struggled, tried to push her from me. I was weak. My head spun faster now, and it was difficult for me to see properly.
It was as she leaned down towards my neck that the world around me went black.
When I awoke, it was in my own bed, and it was very dark. My whole body ached something terrible. For a moment, I wondered if what I had experienced was real. A servant appeared at my door, only to express relief when she saw me stirring.
"Mercy sakes!" She picked up her skirts and hurried to my side, feeling my forehead. "God be praised, you had us worried there, young master."
"Worried?" Delirious, I looked around my room. It seemed late. Quite late. "What happened?"
"Mr. Clayton found yous face down in the gutter, sir. We'd feared the worst."
"Oh yes. Right outside McKinny's pub, in fact. Your father insisted that you was just sufferin' a little due to drink, but your dear mother thought otherwise. Truth be told, we were afraid you'd come ill, sir."
"Ill... how so?"
"Have you not heard, young master? A terrible sickness has been plaguing the younger folk of late. Drained of life, pale as death, nowhere near the strength to move an inch."
"Oh, no, sir. Nothin' like that. No coughing or spittin' up or the like. It's almost like... the life gets drained of 'em. Night after night."
"I see..." I rested against my pillows. "Well fear not, my dear. I am fit as a fiddle. A little tired, perhaps." My maid clearly wanted to investigate further, but left me to my devices soon after. I wondered, as I stared out into the clearing skies. Had I imagined the afternoon with that beautifully strange woman? Was I merely a victim of my own imagination? And if it was fabrication, how did I come to be where I was? I didn't remember drinking much, other than the spot of brandy at the jewelers. Perhaps I was going insane.
It was what I thought at the time. At least until I found the ruby necklace wrapped and hidden in my coat pocket the next morning.
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