Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anything?

“Rubia? Darling? Are you about?” I walked quickly down the dark, narrow hallway of our fin-de-si├Ęcle apartment and took a swift right into the living room. As always, it was steeped in semi-darkness, with at least twenty or thirty candles stationed around its perimeter, perched on every possible surface. They winked and glimmered, casting a light by turns gloomy and romantic around the room. The deep red velvet that covered the chaise lounge, the armchairs and the ornately antique sideboard alleviated the possible bleakness though, giving the room the appearance instead of a shabbily decadent bordello.

Circe, Rubia’s haughty black cat, circled my ankles with a smile playing on her lips. Layla, who was two steps behind me, began to growl. She hated the cat and so, frankly, did I. Circe was a malicious creature who always killed for the sake of killing, never for the more justifiable reason of simple hunger. And why would she be hungry? Rubia fed her chicken livers in aspic on her own monogrammed plate, then French chocolate truffles from her own fingers.

“Rubia?” I called again. Where was she? She never went out without me. I heard a faint noise from behind the bedroom door and I began to walk towards it. Perhaps she was having a rest—at the slightest discomfort, upset or change in the breeze she would proclaim herself ‘exhausted’ and retreat to the boudoir. “Rubia?” I opened the white gilt-edged Louis XVI double doors (which we had actually ‘borrowed’ from Versailles).

Lying luxuriously back in our satin-bedecked bed was Rubia, my lover and partner-in-crime for the best part of two hundred years. She watched me for a moment, sharing Circe’s mischievous smile, as I stood there open mouthed. Then she touched his head, Frederick Zolona’s perfectly groomed head, and he raised himself out of her bosom. “Zero’s here, Frederick.” She said. Frederick, with whom I had fought bitterly since the days of the French Revolution, turned to me and smiled a slow, contemptuous, repitilian smile. “Zero. Good to see you.”

I turned on my heel and fled the room, fled the flat. I walked the dark streets of night-time Vienna for hours, with Layla clipping anxiously at my heels. This was the final straw! The last piece in the destructive puzzle we called a relationship. I’ll do anything, I thought desperately. Anything to get away from Rubia and this misery, escape from this life—anything. Anything? The trees began to whisper around me. Anything, I said emphatically.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Promises

“Do you remember what you promised?”
Zero had been awoken from a deep sleep, disturbed as always by the bloody echoes of his past. He rolled over on the bed that he had bought from the thrift store. It was surprisingly firm and he had managed to make it more to his taste with a set of red satin sheets which he’d spied in the shop’s bargain bin. Red satin sheets? He sighed—sometimes he was almost a parody of himself. Shaking his head to clear it of the clutter of thoughts born of almost three hundred years walking the Earth, he hastily recalled that a voice had woken him. Looking hastily around him, his eyes widened as they found his double standing still and expectant at the end of the bed.

“Who…?” He stared at the man who was identical to him in every way, even down to the small signet ring on his left pinkie finger.
“I’m Lucius, Zero.” The man told him in a voice exactly like his own.
“Lucius? But you’re…me.” Zero sat up in bed.
Lucius smiled. “In some ways, Zero. Certainly in appearance. But in other ways, I’m your polar opposite.”
“Are you a vampire?” Zero climbed out of bed and wrapped himself in his black satin bathrobe. Standing up and on an equal footing at last, he looked Lucius in the eye.
Again Lucius smiled patiently. “No. As I said…I’m your polar opposite.” He stared at Zero waiting for him to guess. Zero shrugged. “Ok…you’re God, are you?” This guy was starting to get on his nerves.
Clearly the feeling was mutual. “Don’t flatter yourself.” He replied. “I’m an angel.”
Zero looked at him. “You’re an angel? But…”
Lucius eyed him sarcastically. “What? I should be all in white with big wings on my back?”
“Well, I didn’t expect you to be all in black.” Zero shot back.
“By that rationale, you should be wearing a black cape and have two fangs hanging out of your mouth!” Lucius spat out.
“Ok, ok. Calm down. It’s just that you’re my double and I’m a vampire. It’s kind of weird. Anyway. Why are you here?”
“Well, well, well…you may want to take a seat, Zero. We have some things to discuss. Some promises you made.” Lucius had entirely calmed down and was now in fact smiling broadly.
“Promises?” Zero asked, his brow furrowing. “What promises?”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Echoes from another room

He was to move out tomorrow. World war—it would be interesting. He had only been involved in a few minor civil disputes so far—the French Revolution, the 1848 Uprisings—but a world war. What would that involve? He gazed down at himself and smiled. He looked quite the proper British officer. “How do you do?” He said quietly to himself. “How’d you do?” Better. More of an aristocratic laziness to it, as though he’d said it a million times before. Rather than only having been speaking English for a month.

Zero liked Britain. Beautiful countryside, mostly civilised people. Or the ones he chose to mix with, at least. He’d taken to scones with jam and cream and even tea. And the women! Oh, the women. So many docile, doe-eyed creatures with their long, prudish skirts and big, flowery hats. They were delicious. Giving himself one final glance over, he began to make his way down dark London streets to the Foggingtons’ little soiree.

“Zero! There you are, old chap! Ready for the big off tomorrow, eh?” Albert Foggington caught him just as he arrived. Six foot five inches tall, his shiny straw-blonde hair was caught by the glow of the overhead gas lamps. His baby-smooth face creased into a welcoming smile.
“Yes, all ready for the big set-to, old boy! You?” Zero whisked a glass of champagne from a passing tray.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, Zero.” Albert clapped him on the shoulder with one large, steady hand. “Come through, old chap and I’ll introduce you.”
Albert led Zero into a large, beautiful room. It had been furnished in the late Victorian era, Zero guessed. He remembered the dramatic wood carving and plush, richly hued velvet from his own drawing room of the time.

There was much laughter and chatter but it was underpinned with an almost tangible note of apprehension, given that most of the young men in the room were leaving for the Front tomorrow. Albert introduced Zero to his parents and his two sisters (sadly very like Albert but with longer hair) and he charmed them all. Weaving his elaborate tale of having been orphaned as a baby (that way parents couldn’t be sought out), an education at Eton funded by a secret benefactor (and so ticking the ‘right connections’ box as well as eliminating any other possible family links for anyone to follow up on) and the hilarious story of how he came by the name Zero, there was barely a dry eye in the room. He could almost hear them say, ‘Captain Zero Nicholas is one of us’.

In the corner of the room he noticed a girl sitting on her own. She was about nineteen, he guessed, and quite lovely. Red curls tumbled down onto her shoulders and her pale, creamy skin gleamed in the gentle light. The vibrant redness of her hair was offset beautifully by the cool green chiffon of her dress, dotted with a thousand shiny beads like stars in the night sky.

“Surely you’re not on your own?” Zero stood smiling in front of her.
She looked up with surprise and the emerald green of her eyes gave Zero pause for breath. “Yes, I am actually. Well, sort of. My sister is here…somewhere.” She smiled shyly.
“Well, you’re not alone anymore. May I?” he gestured to the seat next to her.
“Of course.” She said, gathering her skirt about her so that he could sit down.
They talked for half an hour or at least she listened, entranced, as he told her about his travels through Europe. He just neglected to tell her that most of them had happened two hundred years before and that most of the people he spoke of he had also killed.

Zero felt he had dangled the carrot for long enough. “Jane, would you care to take some air on the balcony?”
She paused and then, looking into his smiling brown eyes, she nodded. “That would be lovely, Zero. It is rather stuffy in here.” She rose gracefully and took his proferred hand.
Outside, it was a beautiful night. He steered her towards a darker corner of the balcony, away from the open French doors and the party, and gazed out up at the sky. It seemed a shame, she was a lovely girl. But he had needs and he could feel them pulsing and galloping through his body this very minute, urging him on to action.
“Jane, I hope you won’t take offence, but I’m moving out tomorrow as you know and…” He stopped, assuming a pose of delicacy.
“What is it, Zero?” She placed her hand softly over his own. He was in.
“May I kiss you, Jane? It would mean so much to me.” He met her eyes briefly and then looked delicately away. He even allowed a blush to creep into his cheeks.
“Of course you may, Zero.” Jane replied, with surprising swiftness. He’d done a good job.
He leant towards her, and rested his lips on her own. The sweetness of her breath, the fleshy plumpness of her lips—it was too much. He kissed her hungrily now, covered her cries with his gorging mouth and then, quickly clamping his hand over her mouth and watching as the fear rose in her eyes, he bared his fangs and plunged them into her tender young neck. She fought him for a surprising amount of time while he drank his fill. Then he lay her gently down amongst the potted roses and was over the balcony and away into the dark night.

Yes, the war would be interesting.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Doppelganger in Darkwood

His double. It was true—the guy standing behind him was his exact double. Zero whirled around, almost spraying a passer-by with his coffee in the process, only to find that there was no one there. But there had been someone there for sure—he had seen their reflection in the shop window and being his good vampy self, he certainly didn’t have a reflection of his own. So who…? Zero stared down the street and then rapidly up it. There! There he was! He could see a black-clad figure disappearing around a corner. Setting off at a pace, Zero was up at the corner in no time—only to find that he had missed him again. Zero looked down at Layla and Layla looked back up at him. They were sharing one thought—What now?

Zero continued to make his way down the side street. Perhaps they would run into him again. He was almost on the brink of saying ‘Well, he couldn’t have just disappeared into thin air!’ before conceding that, in his world, that was entirely possible. Zero and Layla walked past a number of large, stately Victorian weatherboard houses, painted in muted, original hues. Each garden was a lovingly tended, buzzing confection of herbs, flowers and satisfied bees. Zero stopped outside one front gate and breathed in deeply. Delicious—he could pick out rosemary, sage, thyme and lemon balm in just one inhalation. A behatted old lady bent over a flower bed looked up and smiled. “Back again?” She asked.

“I’m sorry?” Zero asked.
“You were just here a moment ago…breathing in, just like that.” She smiled benignly at him.
“Uh…no. I think you may have met my twin. Did you see which way he went?”
“Twin? My, you’re the very image of each other! He went down that way, love, towards the lake.” She gestured down the road, at the end of which was a gathering of pine trees.
“Thank you!” Zero said, smiling back at her and doubling his pace to the end of the street. Layla had to run to keep up with him.
Arriving at the pine trees, he noticed a note pinned to one of the lower branches. He grasped at it and found that it contained only one word—‘Soon’.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Darkwood

Zero paced around the church for the next hour. He went up the creaking steps and then clattered down them again. He peered anxiously out of all the windows. He stared into the empty baptismal font as though it were a scrying tool. He studied the Stations of the Cross again. Layla tried to follow at his heels for a while but gave up in exhaustion and settled in front of the altar with her head resting on her paws.

At last he stopped still and Layla looked up. “I’m not going to run from them, Layla.” He said in a calm, level tone. “We’ll prepare ourselves as best we can but we have to live our lives, too.” He paused for an ironic smile. “Well, you know what I mean.” Zero made another quick lap of the church and checked that all of the doors and windows were basically secure. Then he called the dog and opened the side door. “C’mon girl. Let’s walk into town and get ourselves sorted out.” He tugged on his black, crushed velvet overcoat, careful to secrete Luna’s bouquet of protective herbs in his inside pocket. Angelica Root, Basil, Blessed Thistle…Zero wondered if it would work.

Zero and Layla set off through the vast, dry field which lay in front of the church. The grass was high and obviously no more attention had been paid to it than had been paid to the church for many a year. Layla stopped suddenly and stood quietly, waiting for a long, black snake to slide effortlessly past them along the ground. They both stood mesmerized for a moment by its gently curling form shifting this way and that. It paused in front of them then moved on. Taking Layla’s cue to keep walking, not long after they popped out on the main road to town. Darkwood, a sign read. Five kilometres. Zero sighed. Not too far.

Everything he could want was contained on Darkwood’s main street. He bought some groceries from the small supermarket which looked as though it had last been renovated in the 1950s; he bought the local paper at the newsagent so that he could look for a car in the classifieds and he picked up a few plates and some cutlery from the op-shop. It was actually not a bad little town to have landed in. The locals eyed him with a strange mix of suspicion and resignation—a blend of ‘what have we here?’ and ‘what have we now?’. Picking up a coffee for himself and a donut for Layla from the bakery, he realised why he had picked up on this peculiar vibe. He was not the only act in town. Mixed in with the ordinary local folk were witches, hippies, pagans, ferals and fae. The last of course being seen only by people with a…shall we say…broader range of sight like himself. In between the mainstream mainstays of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (well, the chemist) was a tarot reader, a pagan supplies shop and a clothing store offering every combination of tie-dye imaginable. There was certainly an interesting energy here, Zero thought as he looked at a shop window full to bursting of pentacles, smudge sticks, crystals, incense and goddess statues. And then he looked up and saw the most interesting thing of all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ghosts

Zero sank slowly and tiredly down onto a pew. Layla wandered over and placed her head on his knee. She looked up at him with a mixture of repentance and sympathy—repentance because she had been utterly wooed by two strangers and had largely thrown her guard dog duties to the wind on the promise of a slice of salami and a tummy rub and sympathy because she too had just heard that Zero’s attempts to disappear from all that had plagued him for the last two hundred years had failed.

“I believe the appropriate phrase is ‘Oh Shit’, Layla.” Zero said quietly, rubbing the dog behind its ears. It wasn’t that he didn’t concede he had done a lot of bad in his life (and death)—he had. He knew that. That was part of the reason he had made the move to Australia. To peel away the rotten layers and start anew. He had beaten people, he had maimed people, he had tortured people, he had killed people. And he had enjoyed doing it. He had laughed when they begged him for mercy, when they cried for their mothers. It had all been a delicious, orgiastic prelude to drinking their blood. Pushing his face down into their life force, smearing it all over himself and licking it longingly from his fingers. He admitted it—all of it! How could he not? Their faces swam up before him every time he closed his eyes.

But it had all changed one night. Everything had changed forever and he couldn’t be himself anymore. He no longer relished the premeditative hunt, the desperate chase and the brutal killing. He knew he needed blood and it disgusted him. He hated what he was, he hated himself. He was neither human nor vampire anymore. He was nothing. And now it seemed he would not even have peace all this way from Europe.

“They know you’re here.” Luna and Helia had told him. “They know.”

And they would come for him.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Luna

Zero watched as the woman paced across the field, her long black dress swirling dramatically about her in the wind. She stared back at him, her face expressionless. “Helia…” He called over his shoulder, his eyes never leaving the approaching woman’s stony face, “Is this a friend of yours?”. Zero heard a cry of “Shit!” rise up from the vestry and Helia came barreling down the aisle, almost knocking Zero out of the way in her haste to block the entrance.

“Luna!” She bellowed in a manner not at all befitting her pale, delicate appearance. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here?” Luna retorted, charging across the final stretch of parched, dusty red earth until she was face to face with Helia. “You know perfectly well what I’m doing here! I thought that we were going to come here together.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to anything of the sort…” Helia said in a quiet voice, looking away. She glanced at Zero out of the corner of her eye and turned to him with a sweeter-than-sweet smile. “Zero, this is Luna, my…colleague.”

Luna held out her hand and nodded briefly at him, giving a curt smile. “Zero. Pleased to meet you at last.” Like Helia, she had hastily resumed her composure and was now watching him through calm, deep green eyes. Her flaming red hair had settled onto her shoulders in gentle waves.

“At last?” Zero said, raising his eyebrows. “How long have you known I was coming?”

“Oh, quite a while. You’ve been a topic of conversation for many moons now.” Luna peered over his shoulder into the church. “May I come in? I have some things for you.” She held up a red velvet bag.

“I’ve already brought him some breakfast.” Helia said in a slightly peevish tone.

“Breakfast? Well, I've brought him some protective herbs…he’s going to need those far more.” And with that ominous sentence, she made her way inside.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Helia

Cautiously Zero pulled open the heavy wooden doors. Layla stood between his legs, ready to pounce. The vision that greeted them left even the dog looking slightly stunned. Standing in front of him was a young, elfin-faced woman. A plumeing mass of corn-blonde curls cascaded down to softly frame her lightly freckled face, out of which shone two large, iridescently blue eyes. She was dressed—or rather, swathed—in white cloth of various shades and hues from head to toe. Silver bracelets encircled her arms and a string of silver bells bound each ankle. She was barefoot, save for a silver ring on every toe.

“Greetings Zero!” She said brightly, smiling a perfectly white smile.

“Uh, greetings.” Zero replied, reeling slightly at the fact that she knew his name. He could feel Layla looking expectantly up at him. “Sorry, but how do know who I am? How do you even know I’m here? And who are you?” The questions tumbled out in a rather aggravated rush.

“I am Helia the witch. Your arrival was foretold.” She continued to smile peaceably at him.

“Foretold? Foretold by whom?” Zero was becoming more and more agitated as the moments passed.

“By The Power.” She replied simply. She broke Zero’s gaze then and looked down at Layla who was still watching her carefully and cautiously. Extending her hand slowly, she began to rub the dog on the snout. Within about a minute, Layla had entirely relaxed, rolling over onto her back and offering her jet black tummy up to the stranger for a rub. Zero sighed.

“The Power?” Zero asked, nudging the dog gently with the toe of his boot.

“The beginning and the end.” Alida told him in a cheerfully matter-of-fact tone, tickling Layla under the ears until the dog’s tongue flopped joyously out of the side of her mouth.

Zero stood stock still, momentarily unsure of what to do. He thought he had escaped all of this. Then he noticed a large wicker basket sitting on the dry, red-dirt ground next to where Helia crouched. She diverted her attention from Layla for a moment and smiled at him. “Ah yes!” She said, leaping to her feet. “Breakfast!”

Against his better judgement, Zero found himself stepping to one side and letting her through the door. “Bread rolls, salami, olives, cheese, coffee…some dog food…even a couple of burger patties…” Helia recited the basket’s contents happily as she made her way up the aisle and towards the vestry.

As Zero began to close the door, he noticed another figure making their way across the field towards the church, this time clad only in black with long, bright red hair streaming out on the wind behind them. Just where had he ended up?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Visitor

I was woken the next morning by shards of sunlight edging their way through the windows and worming their way under my eyelids. Another vampire myth—dare one say—up in flames: I don’t spontaneously combust in the sun. I don’t actually like it but I don’t become a smoking ruin quivering under a blanket either. This is why I generally sleep during the day and stay awake at night. I find moonshine a far more soothing and nurturing light to live by.

So much more atmospheric too! Everything looks romantic and beautiful by the light of the moon. Things are muted, softened and the harsh edges are knocked off. Sunlight brings everything into sharp, glaring relief. Too much reality for me. I have never been a fan of the ‘real’ world—not even when I was alive—and I am becoming less and less so as time goes on and reality proves itself less and less attractive. Give me the glow of a candle over the demanding buzz of the morning sun any day. And let’s face it, being the good Gothy vampire that I am, black velvet jackets, black drainpipe trousers, the occassional black frilly shirt or the odd black top hat look a tad over the top during the day.

I stretched out my long, skinny body the length of the pew I had slept on and tried to shield my eyes from the sun with both bony hands. Thinking perhaps that I was daring to doze off again and breakfast would be even more delayed, Layla padded to my side and licked my face luxuriously from jawline to temple. “Ugh!” I exclaimed, wiping at my face with a silk handkerchief and sitting up. Looking down at Layla, I noticed a distinct grin playing at the edges of her mouth. “Bit peckish are we?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. But I couldn’t be cross with her even in the slightest way for long. She had been my faithful companion and guard dog for more years than I cared to recall.

Well, what to eat? I hadn’t thought of that, actually. My objective had just been to get here and I hadn’t thought much beyond that. I was hungry too, now that I stopped to think about it. I had had some sashimi in Tokyo and that was the last thing I’d eaten. It was beginning to look like a trip into town might be our only option to stock up on some goodies. I’d have to walk—a bicycle or a car was one of the many things on my long list of things to sort out—and maybe we would find something to nibble on along the way. We were in Australia, after all. A cornucopia, I’d been told. A land of milk and honey. And sorry to be Mythbuster Number One yet again but I didn’t especially have a taste for blood. A nice, medium-rare burger would do or, if I really got desperate, a bowl of Cornflakes.

Just as I was gathering my energies together to begin what could well be a long walk, there was a knock at the door. How very odd, I thought. No-one knows I’m even in the country. No-one knows me in this country. Layla had begun to growl.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home

I had literally fallen asleep where I’d stopped that night—curled up uncomfortably on a splintering oak pew facing the altar, with my jacket awkwardly spread over myself to keep warm. Between arrival and slumber, I had spent an hour walking around my new home—an old, crumbling sandstone church—surveying its decaying charms by flickering candlelight. I doubted that this church had been used in many a year. It looked like it had simply been abandoned—isolated as it was way out in a vast empty field. There was a long dirt road leading to it from the main highway, surrounded on either side by tall, swaying gum trees. Four well-worn steps led up to the traditionally gothic-styled double doors, which, without much resistance, opened creakily and with a shudder of falling dust at my touch.

I walked slowly up the lengthy aisle, my footsteps muted by the moth-eaten red carpet that still covered the floor. Looking to my left and right, I could pick out the Stations of the Cross depicted on each of the windows. Jesus is condemned to die. Jesus is given His cross. Jesus falls the first time. So, it had been a Catholic church. It had obviously been deconsecrated, though, because I felt basically fine. It’s a myth that vampires can’t enter a church. Crucifixes can make me feel uncomfortable—I get a burning sensation in my chest, kind of like heartburn—but churches themselves? No. They’re only buildings after all. It’s the symbol of Christ itself I guess. Looking at the windows, I felt a flash of heat, but the absence of any large wooden crucifixes allowed me to continue my way peaceably up the aisle.

Layla, my canine companion, had raced ahead of me and was now sniffing enthusiastically around the imposing white marble altar. Knowing her, she had probably picked up the long-past scent of wine. What a nose! If she’d been human, she could have been a wine critic. Having found nothing to sate her eager olfactory senses, she padded back towards me. I gave her an affectionate scratch behind the ears and we walked on together. At the pulpit, a bible had been abandoned. It looked as though rats had been nibbling at its pages. Layla gave a bark and lifted her head towards the ceiling. I followed her gaze. A enormous, beautifully ornate light fitting, crafted out of bronze shaped into exquisitely complex curlicues, swayed gently in the breeze. “Wonderful.” I breathed.

Just before we reached the chancel and then the altar, a doorway led off to the vestry. Going through it, I found a box of old coffee cups left by parishioners of long ago, another cardboard box stacked high with dog-eared Good News bibles and a hot water urn. Then I noticed a winding staircase. Layla darted up it first, taking the stairs two at a time. I made my way more carefully and was delighted to find, once I’d mounted the twenty-odd narrow steps, a maze of little rooms to which I could retreat which were even more decrepit than what I’d seen downstairs. There were a couple of chairs and tables scattered about, old blankets and books left lying open. Yes, I thought, as I turned to make my way back down to the church itself, it needed a lot of work but this would do nicely.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

This place is going to need a lot of work, that’s for sure. Holding up my flickering candle, I studied the yellowing paint peeling from the four walls that surrounded me. But at least I’m here now. I’m here and the place is mine (sort of) and I can just stop for a while. I don’t have to run anymore. I put my duffle bag down on the dusty wooden floorboards and had a stretch. I could hear Layla’s toenails clip-clopping on the floorboards above my head. She was glad to have somewhere to rest her head at last too.

We’ve been on the move since we left Europe, you see. We had to stop briefly in Tokyo, just to re-fuel, but other than that we haven’t looked back since we left Rubia. Rubia. Just the mention of her name brought a stab of pain to my weary heart. And a stab of regret. But what could I do? I had to leave her. It had gone on for far too long. The tussle that we had found ourselves in, scratching at each other verbally and physically until one day there would be nothing left of either of us. And when I found her in the arms of Frederick Zolona! My enemy, my nemesis, my dark shadow—that was too much. It had gone too far.

I had waited until she fell asleep—finally, after a sleepless three-day binge. Pulling the black, satin-trimmed blankets up to her chin and stroking her long, dark red hair one last time, I hastily grabbed the bag I’d already packed, put Layla on her leash and descended the narrow, ricketty stairs to our little Bucharest street, pulling the front door shut behind me before I had time to reconsider. And then I began to walk—to the train station, to the airport, to Australia. So far away from everything I had ever known. The New World. A new life.