I watched the skim milk-coloured smoke caress the edge of my cigarette before they parted company into the stale air. I heard children laughing outside as they played with their jump ropes and basketballs. I heard teenagers raking leaves and yelling as their siblings jumped into them making an artificial windstorm effect. The chain linked fence rattled as the parents walked the dogs they had sworn not to care for more than their children, but did anyway. My head felt heavy and fuzzy, but I couldn't look away.
“Come away from the window, my sweet,” the voice was so dark and thick; it could only have been his. “Come and tell me what the day looks like to your eyes.” He always asked me how it looked “to my eyes.” As though we were different somehow because he was older.
“I don't want to now,” I whined. “I'm hungry.” He pulled me into his lap and laughed. It was almost more of a chuckle, not quite fatherly but not quite intimate.
“If you need sustenance,” he offered me his shoulder to rest upon. He meant we could always go out later. I laid my leaden skull on those broad shoulders and wept.
“Must it be this way? Must we be so alone?” I wailed into his arms the questions I had wailed to him so many times before. As always, he stroked my hair and let me weep. Time does not eradicate this pain. This searing pain that infects us and so few others. Songs have been written about it, this slicing pain.
I had no desire to find my food that night. I had no desire to admit the world into our home. Each night, each creature of light and air entered into our sanctum and infected it with their sunshine, their fresh air and woodland smiles. I always felt so dirty. So foul, a perverted satyr to feast from a virgin. An innocent. Even the foulest of their kind had that sense of life to them. It was a stain I could never scrub away. Out, out, damned spot.
I went back to my perch by the window and searched the street with all of my senses. Nothing but light assailed my eyes. No one who knew our customs for miles, maybe oceans. I sighed with all the weight of a lifetime to me. I was worn out from wailing, I no longer craved violence. All I wanted was rest. Peace.
His hands curled around me before I even knew he was there. He still could do that, sneak up on me. “We must eat," he whispered to me, controlling, hypnotic. "All creatures must eat to live."
I spun from him and tore my nails down my cheeks. “This is not life!” I screamed. “This is not living in any possible form of the word! This is not how we were intended!”
He waited for the finish of my tirade and calmly stood his ground. “We do what we must. We live how we can. Others before us have survived. We will survive as long as we are able.”
I fell to my knees and clawed the floor. The oak splintered under my fingers and bit into the beds of my nails. My tears only added to its warped condition, and my breath only served to infect everything else it touched. I couldn't handle eating again. Not again, not knowing that what I fed from, what I needed most - was a thing I could not have. Such a paradox. Biting into my heart like a splinter, the love these creatures afforded us was too much to bear.
“I cannot do this. Not one more night. No.” I whispered fiercely to the floor before I felt him pick me up and set me back into my chair by the window.
“Listen to me my little idiot,” his breath was like hot wind blasting my face. “You will feed, you will eat, you will survive with me!” For once, he sounded almost desperate. “You will not leave me here alone!” So that was it. He was more afraid than I. He was more frightened of the loneliness than I was of the end. We were equal now, each knowing what the other feared most. I let him stand me up straight before I caught his lips in mine.
We stood there for long moments, breathing together and weeping. We held each other up and relied on one another. We only knew our symbiosis, and no other life would suffice. Without one another, we each would surely fail. This equality reached, I found the strength I needed. I would feed, I would survive with him, we would find our cure.
Long nights after I reached this conclusion, I found myself again at my window. It was night this time, and no children were out playing. It was time to go. It was time for supper. And this time, we were eating with friends.
We try to relax and enjoy ourselves with our friends. We let our hair down, so to speak, and we truly breathe more freely. Life can be simple, living day to day inside a house as huge as ours, but it can become a prison sentence as well. Going out is respite from that sentence, so we enjoy it to the fullest. We dress in our finest clothes, wear our best cologne and perfume, and drown ourselves in jewelry.
The night began well, with drinks and hors o’durves in our refinished living room. The bay window provided a lovely view of the moon, which was a perfect backdrop for our evening. We had a simple dry Chablis and shrimp with cocktail sauce. Leaving these untouched in their crushed ice, our guests, Bernard and Marion appreciated our attempt at normalcy. We all appreciated a good laugh over it. When the two of us suggested a moonlit stroll, they easily acquiesced. So, we donned leather gloves and fur-lined coats before stepping into the new-fallen night.
As the wind ripped at my gown, I felt my hunger increase. There was no sense denying myself this night – there would be time to refuse indulgence later on. The pangs of hunger soon hit me in waves, and our search began in earnest. We held no prejudices, we had few preferences, and we searched everywhere. Alleys, nightclubs, the warehouse district, and even the suburbs became our hunting ground. We drove in Bernard’s sleek black Cadillac, enjoying the scent of leather and cigars staining our clothes. It didn’t take us long to find some who were suitable “playmates”.
The first one we found was a night crawler, like us. He was in his mid-twenties, tall, with a lovely build. He had his hair short, as was the fashion, and streaked blond in places. He was hanging outside a rave when we spied him getting kicked out of a car and a young woman near his age flipping him the bird. Sensing opportunity, we didn’t wait for it to knock again.
Marion and myself approached him, and after seeing our evening gowns and Bernard’s Cadillac; he was easily persuaded to come with us to find a better “party.” We had plenty of alcohol to keep him occupied momentarily, and just enough to decrease his inhibitions. By the time I had him engrossed in conversation leading towards the carnal side of things, Marion reached around and put him to sleep with one swift pinch to the side of his neck. That being done, we passed him around to whet our appetites.
While I wiped my fingers and mouth clean, the others found our main course. Walking home in the dark was a goddess. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a more than “Rubenesque” figure, she was a dream incarnate. My lover rolled his window down and Bernard slowed the car to a crawl. At first, she wanted nothing to do with us, but, we have a certain way of persuading people, and she eventually agreed to let us give her a ride home.
Once in the car, we wasted no time in falling upon her. Mercifully asleep, she knew nothing of how our eyes glimmered, how our teeth shone in the darkness. From Marion to Bernard, as they were our guests, to myself, and then to him, we each sipped from her as from a fine liqueur, not much at once, but with a heavenly frame of mind. We each sat back in our own worlds, enveloped in warmth and dreams. Nothing but light invaded our thoughts, and the bright flame we drew from was soon sleeping peacefully next to our appetizer.
Oh no, we rarely kill for our meals. It’s a possibility that once or twice, before we have developed our technique, we might slip, open our mouths a bit too wide; feed a bit too deeply. But rarely, once we have gotten the hang of it, do we kill. It’s simply not done. Later on, we deposited our sleeping Raver at the door of his studio, the address of which we found on a card in his pocket. Our lovely Madonna we ushered into bed like flights of angels, having found her apartment’s number on her driver’s license.
And what of our infection? What of the disease I had railed against so fervently? As I said, the time would come for refused indulgence and unbridled guilt. Just not on that night.
There is nothing quite so frigid as an Irish cemetery at night. We crept silently around Ballybough moving as quickly as we could, to avoid notice. One after another, we read the names and epitaphs on the headstones, searching for one in particular. One old Irishman among the lot.
Ballybough is not a normal cemetery. It is a cemetery for the damned. Each and every body interred here had one thing in common, and it was suicide. No one died a natural death and went to Ballybough. It’s a place meant only for those who could not be buried in hallowed ground. Here, we searched for the only person who was out of step with all the others. We were searching for the only person here whom his own hand hadn’t caused his last breath. The legendary Bram Stoker.
Why my lover wished to find this old Irishman’s grave was beyond me, but his appetite was voracious when it came to Stoker. We couldn’t seek it out during the day, so we had employed a few small children in the area to find out which Dublin cemetery held the now antiquated writer. Their answer only served to perplex and unnerve my lover. The children had come back with the response of Ballybough.
“Stoker did not commit such an act!” he looked at the children furiously, as though they were having some fun with him.
“Aye, we know ‘e didna kill ‘imself, bot ‘e left in ‘is will that wot ‘e wished was to rest at Ballyba’,” the tallest child spoke up to him, obviously the eldest and protective of her siblings. I smiled at them and gave each urchin five shillings before sheparding them out the door. Almost before they were gone, he turned to me with blazing eyes and continued his ranting.
“Why would he? The great? He couldn’t?” speech seemed to have left him temporarily. I kissed his forehead and pulled him towards the fireplace.
“We can’t know why yet, my love. Just wait until tonight and we will search Ballybough for our answers,” this I had hoped, would momentarily pacify him.
Our home in Ireland was nothing compared to our home in the states. Everything was so much smaller in this land of the leprechauns, I was constantly longing for home. At the same time, we were nothing if not comfortable. Our house had once been a bed and breakfast, until the owner became a widower and could no longer run the business himself. It was larger than most houses, and quiet. It suited our needs well. For my suite, I had a small set of room including a bedroom, bathroom, and a tiny card room. He has the same, as well as a parlour and a room towards the back of the house he never let me visit. He said it was “off limits” and that I wouldn’t understand what he was doing back there.
So there we were in Ballybough after midnight, skulking around peering at the inscriptions on tombs. How do I get myself into these situations? I couldn’t help but wonder. We had been there for two hours already, and I was shivering from the wet chill in the air. Finally, I heard him give a shout from the other end of the row we were working on. I rushed to join him, and watched as he dug up handfuls of earth and placed them in a glass jar.
“What is this for? Will you ever tell me what it’s for?” He only smiled at me maddeningly and kept shoving dirt into the jar. At last he seemed satisfied, and we paused to read Stoker’s epitaph.
Late into the morning, I heard him working and mumbling to himself in his private room. I wished I could go back there, just to find out what drove him like a demon. I went so far as to place my ear to the door once, and heard sick sucking and bubbling sounds but nothing else. I had no clue.
It was twilight before I saw him again. When I did, he looked about as haggard as one his age could get. His face was waxen, his eyes dilated and bleary. His lips were pencil lines and there were only two spots of colour on his cheekbones, which stuck out like lines in a child’s drawing. A scream escaped my lips as he advanced towards me. My lover, my mate, so far disfigured I barely recognized him. He advanced towards me with arms out, as though to find me in an embrace. I expected him to smell of death, but instead I tasted an oceanic tang to the air around him. He smelled of water and salt! I backed away still, because this man was not the one I knew. Those arms I did not recognize as having ever held me, nor those fingers ever having caressed my skin.
“What’s wrong with you, my Giotto?” I felt warm tears sliding down my face as I stared at his visage. He cupped his hands under my eyes.
“Don’t cry now, my love,” he rasped. His voice was hollow and more than dead. “Come with me and you will find the answers you’ve been looking for in my workroom,” his now-papery talons wrapped around my soft flesh and lead me to the room in the far back of the house. More tears coursed down my cheeks and he kissed every one of them dry with his disappearing lips.
Inside the workroom was a maze of tubes, bottles, burners, and syringes. He shut the door behind us gently, but I jumped nonetheless. There was something wrong in that room, I could feel it around me.
“Giotto, what have you done?” I whispered this as I turned slowly around the room taking all the sights in. Hanging from the ceiling were test tubes of a watery liquid topped with a silver cap. After every third tube was another syringe. Realization was beginning to dawn on me. Had my lover Giotto done what no other being had ever accomplished – had he extracted the essence of life? As I gasped the salty air burned my lungs like fire, but it wasn’t all that unpleasant. In fact, I was beginning to feel rather peaceful amidst our plight. Our plight? Wait a minute – we have a plight?
“I have done more than just extract life, my treasure. I have extracted the very essence of humanity – I have extracted the essence of pain,” his words were like blows to the back of my head. Suddenly, I felt an emptiness in my stomach I hadn’t felt in decades. I curled up on the floor at his feet and softly began to weep again, this time licking my own tears from my face. From above me, I felt him reach into the rafters and pull down a test tube and a syringe. I looked up at him with a face that would have been puffy when I was young, but no longer had that ability. He turned the tube over as he inserted the syringe into the lid with an expert hand. He popped the air bubbles that got sucked in along with the clear liquid and sat me down on his workbench. For all his gaunt frailty, he had lost none of his strength.
“Once you have this, you’ll find we no longer need our old sustenance,” he dripped his honey words into my ear easily, and I had no choice but to believe him. He held my arm out in front of me and kissed my wrist. From my wrist to my forearm, forearm to elbow, to the vein that rested therein. This time, the silver pain I felt enter was not a familiar one. And for the first time since I had been fed from – I lost consciousness.
“Giotto!” My first thought as the world came back into focus flew from my mouth as a scream. I looked around frantically and found my lover lying next to me, possibly more pale and gaunt than before. He lifted his head to attempt a smile, but it seemed too much effort to do so. I wanted to stand, but I rocked with a sweet sadness, which was more than I could bear. “Giotto, what have you done to us?” He slid closer to me and only had to put one arm across me to pin me down.
“It is pain, my love,” he gave what I assumed was a laugh and went on. “We are creatures of pain, and human life is pain, so I extracted it for us to feed from.” My eyes opened as wide as they could and reflected a wild horror in his own yellowish pupils. “You need not look so shocked – it was a simple matter to get the pain from the human element – it comes with the blood,” he tried to smile again, and failing, he kept explaining. “The real problem was how to get true sorrow. I figured that out when I learned to observe tears!” So, that explained the melancholy.
“And the dirt?” I asked finally. “What of the dirt from Stoker’s grave?” At this he looked a bit sheepish and ducked his head in a disjointed manner.
“You know the phrase, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’?” he asked. I nodded and his teeth clacked together like a broken marionette. “I wanted to have some of him in me,” he explained. “A master of such pain himself – I wanted the ‘Essence of Stoker’ you might say,” I began to sit up now, and I tried to clear my head.
“Giotto, this is insanity,” I felt I was talking through a few dozen layers of gauze in my mouth, but I heard my voice come out clear. The twinkling lights on the ceiling came back into focus as candlelight glinting off the caps of the test tubes and needles. The room was more of a torture chamber than a faery land as my eyes pulled out of their haze. I stood up and moved towards the workroom’s door.
He was on me in an instant. Blocking my path to the doorway, he brandished a fresh syringe in my face. “Feel like another fix?” he grabbed for my arms, but I moved away a moment too soon. My eyes darted around the room in my panic, searching for a way out. He came closer again, and I knew if he caught my arms this time, he would not be gentle. The dim glow of the candles flashed off the tip of the needle, making it look all the more sinister. Suddenly, I knew what to do.
Across the room, just beyond his workbench was a window. Only about a foot wide, I could see myself barely fitting through it. I decided to take a chance and go for it.
“Giotto, you may want to stay here and drink sadness – but I will fulfill Stoker’s words more than you are now – I am going to live!” and with those words, I ducked from his grasp and ran at top speed, crashing through the small pane of glass as hard as I could before making my descent.
Shards of glass tattooed my flesh with the final image of the rapidly nearing earth. Chunks stuck in my hair and splinters cracked my teeth into a conch-shell dust. At impact, I knew only that I would survive, but not in what condition. My last thought was only Stoker’s words over and over again in my brain.