He thinks: if someone could describe this scene, it would be stark and simple. In a house in a very old city, a city layered deep with murders and covered-over graveyards, a blond-haired man leans forward on a folding chair. The air is chill, though no breath rises from his nose or mouth. He is quite still, as nightbird songs beyond the French windows subside to a pre-dawn hush, the guard-change from nightingale to lark. To him, the room appears to be empty. Although he feels cold steel through his tight, black jeans and the damp tug of the back of his T-shirt to the seat-back, he cannot see himself. His clothes are likewise invisible to him.
He can feel the breath in his nostrils, press lips against the back of his hand to prove he is there. His vision, sharp as an owl’s, sees all that passes on the lawn and garden, down to the tiniest roil of mouse and vole, but he is blind to his own hand before his face.
Anyone entering the room would see him. He supposedly looks awfully good for his years, three hundred to the day if his memory serves him. This English house has endured much: riots and war, Zeppelin and V-2 attacks, the onslaught of blight and public housing. His well-paid agents have kept the house intact, managed his gold with great discretion, and shielded his name from prying scholars and historians. A blind wall of trust funds secure his quotidian (quotinoctian?) needs and secures the multiple vaults, some linked to one another by passages no rat could fathom. He has been the perfect vampire, discreet in his coming and going as a Windsor heir, and London’s finest have never discerned him as a creature of great need and urgency. Deaths wash away: a city envelops and forgets so many who came, aspired, and vanished. He had pruned the tree of England of the best of its unripe fruit.
His very contentment, the ease with which he went about his business, was the very cause of his decision to end it – his life – or whatever this existence was called – at the three-century mark. Now, he will let the sunlight do it: he waits for dawn by the eastern doorway, the old drapes and their dust-webs pulled to the floor, the lace of even-older curtains torn to tatters, panes broken to admit the acid beams of daylight.
And after this? He assumes: oblivion. The vampire life did not come with a manual. The already-undead were all clueless; he had tracked down many and interrogated them. Idiots, mostly. For all he knew, the universe was just one vast hunger for blood, the feeding and being fed, the summa as well as the sine qua non.
Just one thing still has him curious: It is said that a vampire, on dying, can see his own reflection —then, and at no other time in his undead existence. All the more poignant, that he has assembled all the mirrors this decrepit house possessed: two sets of dresser triptychs; a pile of hand -mirrors and shaving glasses (the vanity of guests and how much fun to creep up on them as they regarded themselves in all-too-flattering lamplight!). To enhance the truly theatrical climax he had in mind, three full-length wall mirrors leaned against chair-backs.
Mirror upon mirror they stood, until the gaze dizzied in endless fun house angles, an infinity of floor tiles, chair legs and angled corners, eye-twinkle of the six-armed candelabra into constellations of ever-diminishing stars, a kaleidoscope of everything there is. But not a glimmer of him was visible.
What would they find, afterwards, if they tracked his most careless, audacious killing to this house at last, or when they come some day to demolish it? The dust or whatever it is that he left behind like a spilled hourglass? Or just the empty room with its puzzlement of mirrors, that wide bed canopied with cobwebs, whose dark sheets concealed untold congelations of victims’ blood?
They would find the clothes, of course: a closet full of black suits, black jeans, black leather jackets, black Calvin Klein dress shirts and T’s, all fitting his mode of “fashion model gone Goth boy.” Yes, too, they would puzzle over the wardrobe: a black opera cape, wolf-fur trimmed with red velvet lining, black shoes in every style since 1780 (strange how they never seem to wear out) right up to present-day sneakers. All black, black gloves and a variety of useful luggage, leather, black. Odd that he could only see them as they hung in the closet: one slip of hand into a glove or jacket, one toe inside a shoe or pantleg, and it vanished, gone to his own eyes and to the mirror.
How strange it had become to be real only to others, to touch a willing neck or shoulders yet never see his own hand doing it, never to sense except by touch his nose-end, toe or fingertip. How long it took to become at ease, and graceful, even — to see a wineglass rise magically before his own eyes and come to lips, and then on top of that to have to feign drinking, to let a wine-wash cross his palette then fall discreetly back into the glass — that took a lot of practice! At least the clothes were simpler now: no more the Edwardian dandy, he slid into a T-shirt and pulled on jeans as fast as any teenager. One merely had to remember zippers and not be inside-out or backwards.
This could have gone on forever, of course, but the people had grown less interesting, more easily fooled, more of them glazed stupid-drunk or reeling from drug to drug. Others were smug oxen, waiting the day their personal savior delivered them. Who knew it would come, the night when he could walk into a Goth bar, and announce “I am a vampire!” and silence followed? A trio of black-clad women flashed plastic vampire teeth and smiled, asked which coven he belonged to. Among the Goth crowd he discerned two types: the overdressed in opera garb though none, from their dull look had even been to an opera — and the down-dressed in some kind of torn rags punctuated with metal grommets. The men in both groups eyed and dismiss him. No uniform, no admission, it seemed.
He lingered a while over a red drink he didn’t even feign to taste, his ears offended by machine noise attempting to form itself into music. A young man in the torn pin-cushion mode came up, made sure he saw the Old English lettering on his T-shirt that read, “Vampire Victim.”
“You’re new,” the young man said.
“You’re the real thing, aren’t you?”
“Will you kill me?”
He nodded. He was happy to oblige, but bored.
There was something to be said for the struggle. The hunt, and its danger, and the threat of discovery had been The Great Game for him. He liked it best when they resisted. Sometimes he almost let them win, or even escape, in order to overtake and surprise them later. There was a moment, always, the pause when he pulled from a throat in drinking and looked the victim eye-to-eye, a dark and terrible secret that nature withholds: the victim in that moment loves the killer, admires his superior essence, gives up his life force in abject adoration. Every one of them said “Kill me,” if not in words then in eyes’ surrender.
What he could never know, was what they saw: whatever was in their eyes, was not him.
He took the boy by the scruff of the neck, and passing the bar he reached deftly for three crystal sherry glasses, cupped between the fingers of his left hand.
The club, which billed itself Tartarus, (the place beneath Hell if one needed explaining), had, as clubs are wont, an alleyway out back, trash cans and strident ailanthus trees, dark spots behind high shrubbery against a chain link fence.
Right hand against the boy’s chest, he felt the terrified and excited heartbeat rise as neck veins flushed to readiness, oh, too easy! He rent the shirt away, leaned down, parted flesh with his expert incisors, inhaled the blood like a breath of fresh air, took it in fast, faster than he had done for years. The breath failed, the heart faltered — no! he pulled back, pounded at the ribcage to start the heart again — he would not be cheated – the boy’s mouth was frozen in an oh! of horror and no, I didn’t really want this won’t you please stop?
He didn’t stop – he ended the life that bled beneath him, sucked dry the husk of heat, life and the great force that animates all things like a mighty and overflowing battery. This ought to have been exciting, yet in a moment he was sated, this death as boring as a fast-food hamburger. What to do with the body? With strength he knew no way to measure he lifted the limp form and shook it against the steel grid of fence, firm, then fast, then faster, till bone and tendon, flesh and skull and garment all passed on through like a cabbage through a grater, soft wet fragments falling through, as cloth slides down, a heap of belt and pants and grommets. This was not his usual, careful feeding. The mess would be considerable, the mystery of how a man passed through chain links a riddle for the local police station.
Dogs were coming. He sensed them instantly, a feral pack that followed him everywhere and often helped him in the aftermath. With luck, they would drag off the bones and fragments: no matter anyway, since this was to be his last feeding. Re-entering the Goth club, quite unaware of whether his T-shirt was dark with heart-blood he approached the trio of vampirellas and put down, with perfect balance, three brimful sherry glasses, still warm with the victim’s body heat. “On the house,” he told them. “Drink – if you dare.” He smiled his best smile, put hand to lips and made a downward, smearing motion in hopes they would see blood there. They stared at him, then at the glasses. He was at the door; he was out. No one said a word or moved to stop him.
He handed a hundred-pound note to the bouncer, who nodded an assurance of his forgetting his ever having been there, turned the corner as the dogs began turning into the alleyway. If he were only one century old tonight perhaps this would have been amusing. The weight of fresh blood within him slowed him and he window-shopped on the long walk home. No one seemed to notice the blood all over him, or if they did they pretended not to notice another young man’s Gothic fancy.
Now home, he waits for dawn. The sun seems his most reluctant prey: it just will not arrive on schedule, the clock seems to have slowed its ticking, the intervals between seconds get longer and longer. When will it end? Does anyone in London even have a rooster as harbinger of the upcoming solar disk? The bats, the owls, have all retired: is that red line beyond the oak trees the edge of sunrise?
He turns to face the mirrors.
It starts. His eyes begin at last to see eyes, a face, dark lips, those fine and perfect teeth, the line of neck to shoulder, the skin, as white and soft as ever he was twenty. He leans to the glass: oh, oh, so beautiful, so —
By some dark instinct unknown to him his mouth finds his wrist and pierces it. He watches himself drink from himself, the blood flows out and inward, an Ouroboros circle, feeder and feeding, self-murdering Narcissus, frozen, visible in the yellow glory of the morning sunbeams.
He could do this forever. The sun is doing nothing so long as he keeps circling the fresh blood inward, outward. If he can do to this till sunset, he will survive this burning. Three hundred years more, at least, he needs to exhaust his beauty. He could take hundreds more, or thousands; he could let all life on earth flow through him. It need never end. The universe wants him in it. Maybe he is one of the Horsemen of universal doom and never knew it.
Sunset is only hours away. He sways in the ecstasy of his feeding, the sublime dream of untold victims before him. Now that he knows the difference between hunger and desire, there are lists to make. He must start with a clean slate. There must be no mistakes. He will start with the three vampirellas. Later, the Goth club bouncer. Three hundred years more, almost a hundred and ten thousand nights. With his undiminished appetite, he could cull half a million from the human herd. Night would be his blood carnival.