Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -rebelling against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 01 of 36]
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
Lord Byron's "The Giaour" (excerpt), 1813
I was laughing.
Why was I laughing? I don't know, I don't remember, who cares. The one certainty is that I was laughing.
And why shouldn't I laugh anyway? I was dressed in the Saville Row's black cashmere tailcoat and my hands were in white satin gloves. The full moon shone in the Parisian night, the Seine sounded the whispers of the tide, the acacias along the Vernet Road surrendered with soughs to the caress of the warm southern wind, the perfume of wild mimosa I had purchased from Passage des Panoramas was still fresh on my skin. I walked down the street with my back straightened, hitting my cane on the ground in a rhythmic way, and as I happened upon the ladies in their lace gowns of purple muslin and the bonnets of long goose-feathers, I bowed to them taking the topper off my head and they blushed with pride.
Of course I was laughing. What else was I supposed to do? Cry?
Even the most ignorant could discern that spontaneous euphoria on the faces of the Parisians, in the year 1824. This was, of course, quite natural if one were to consider that the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had now passed and so the rigorous social and political upheavals that plagued the city had given way to a state of sweet sobriety. That said, those were times that were far from a - let's say - idyllic period for France as the country was under the Bourbon monarchy and the student youth of the Universite de Paris never missed the chance to revel against the hegemonic aristocracy. Even so, the Parisian daily life seemed more unclouded than before.
The night's walk brought me to La baleinière (= whale ship), that small tavern which humbly stood in a dark alley of the Champs Elysées, between deserted dwellings of blackened bricks and dilapidated tiled rooftops. For the truth of the matter, it wasn't actually the night's walk that brought me to La baleinière. La baleinière was my destination right from the start. And I was absolutely thrilled about what I was going to do once I set my foot in there. Everything was beautifully predestined and – by Heavens! - I declared myself all set for the developments reserved by the near future.
La baleinière had not changed at all since my last visit. This was certainly to be expected, not much time had passed since then after all. The wooden inscription on the façade bore the carved name of the tavern and below it there was an oil painting that depicted a whale ship towing a dead whale from its stern in a stormy sea.
Next to the entrance stood a dark green plaque - unchanged, in exactly the same position as before - informing those concerned that the establishment had signed a contract with the Green Fairy. This meant, of course, that the tavern was licenced to serve absinthe, one of the few Paris taverns of that time to be granted such an authorization as absinthe was still treated with some caution by the public mainly because of its powerful stimulant nature.
The year was 1824. It was still early, several years before the glorious period of Belle Epoque where the absinthe was to gain its wide popularity, especially among the artists and the intellectuals. How would Satie compose his Gnossiennes or how would Toulouse-Lautrec paint his posters of Moulin Rouge without the magic spell of absinthe? Would Van Gogh's Starry Night ever be defined by the galactic vortexes had the green elixir not been invented? I love absinthe, I always adored it. Especially when it is well-made, with the proper distillation. And I have to admit that the absinthe served at La baleinière was flawless, no question about it. But although there were several of reasons why I was visiting La baleinière that night, absinthe was not one of them.
Dozens of lit spermacetis provided the illumination of the tavern. The walls inside La baleinière were adorned with paintings regarding whale hunting - just as I remembered them from my last visit: imposing three-masted ships with sails blown by the ocean winds, fitted with small vessels fastened to the sides, rough sailors with harpoons in their hands. In the composition of the paintings there was, of course, some hapless whale, which, wounded from the whalers' harpoons, struggled to escape in the sea.
The largest painting of La baleinière stood in the lounge as before, just opposite the barbench. It depicted the cutting of a huge whale on some shore and next to her the whalers (who looked as tiny as ants compared to her) had set up furnaces with cauldrons in which they burned the whale's pieces of fat to collect the cetacean oil.
La baleiniere was a haunt for whalers. This I had in mind as I was passing the entrance door. It would be somewhat brazen for someone who is not a whaler and whose business have no direct or indirect interest in whaling to sit amongst the lounge's patrons to enjoy his drink. Such a move would be (unjustly) perceived by them as a challenge and most likely in this case would cause undesired commotion since the absinth would have already lit their blood up. It would therefore be preferable for the person concerned to sit on a stool on the oakwood bench of the bar, away from the gentlemen of the lounge. I had this in mind too as I passed the entrance, even though my mood didn't dictate me to sit on a stool. La baleiniere was indeed a haunt for whalers, but that night I longed to spend my time in the lounge, despite the fact that I had or have no relation to whaling whatsoever.
It would be perfectly reasonable for anyone to assume right away upon a first visit that La baleinière was a whalers' joint . In addition to the aforementioned paintings that adorned the walls, he would have only to take a look at the lounge crowded by seafarers stocky in their builds, with hirsute chests showing off their abrasions, with their faces betraying the hardships and grimness of the sea.
But even if that gentleman's eyesight was short and it was impossible for him to inspect them with his gaze, he would only have to listen to their uproar. Through their clenched teeth that held their pipes escaped short and encrypted chats, and from these peculiar crosstalks one realised that they were all whalers. It was therefore quite reasonable for me, as I walked through the entrance, to expect to hear a discussion of the type:
"And Captain Tourmac said ..."
"Aye! Captain Tourmak! A natural born seawolf!"
"Up with the sails, lads! Heave-ho!"
"Aye! Heave-ho! Blow winds!"
"And then he took three gold ducats out of the pouch."
"A golden ducat to the one who will set eyes first on a Beluga whale," he said.”
"Aye! Beluga! "
"A golden ducat to the one who will harpoon her first," he said.”
"Aye! The harpoons are ready! "
"And a golden ducat to the one who will kill her," he said.”
"Aye! Beluga! Hunt the bitch until she's tired and dead! These are three golden ducats!"
Surprisingly though, as I passed through the entrance, instead of such a conversation, I heard them all singing Vive la rose embracing each other. Even the whiskered proprietor, Fulbert, had left his bar-bench and participated in the crowd's enthusiastic rendition of the song. They were all in a state of utmost bliss, such that for a moment I felt remorse that I was going to interrupt their mad revelry. One might have been puzzled or even surprised to find them so happy since these people were usually sullen and frowned. For my part, I was able to suspect the reasons behind this intense cheerfulness.
Mon ami me délaisse
Ô gué, vive la rose
Je ne sais pas pourquoi
Vive la rose et le lilas
Il va-t-en voir une autre
Ô gué, vive la…-
As I appeared before them, their song stopped all at once and the lounge of La baleinière was plunged into complete silence. Funereal silence. So funereal that it seemed as if it was in desperate need of a grave. Everyone's face paled, with Fulbert's being whiter than the white apron around his waist. Hell, even the smog of tobacco seemed to have frozen in the atmosphere totally stopping its continuous whirls.
"Putain!" Fulbert managed to utter amidst the horror which had overwhelmed him.
"Exactly, Fulbert. You are absolutely right. Putain. I'd use the exact same word if I were in your place.” I said, and then I took the ring of keys hanging from a wall hook next to the entrance and locked the door in order to prevent any chance of escape on the gentlemen's behalf. And after doing so, I turned to them again and counted them mentally one by one.
Fourteen. They were all there. No one was absent.
"I told you so! A varkolak doesn't die that easily! We should kill him when we had the chance!” shouted a male voice in the crowd.
Fulbert remained motionless, embracing an increasingly jaundiced colour in his look that now reflected the man's conviction of the oncoming tragedy. His thick moustache had now lost its pride as its curled handlebars drooped under their heavy weight. It was all too obvious - to my eyes at least - that not even a shot of his famous absinthe could now bring him back to his senses.
"What is the matter, Fulbert? Swallowed your tongue? Don't you have some myth from the Bible to recite for me? Haven't you memorised any passage? I found that fable of Job's very piquant, it gave me plenty of food for thought. But don't tell me it ends so ingloriously. I would prefer a finer, more glamorous finale. A bombastic crescendo, that 's what I require of you. It will be the last thing to come out of your mouth, I do promise you that." said I.
"Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men!" shouted Fulbert in a crisis of utter despair.
A faint smile formed on my lips, effortless, on its own accord. Unfortunately for Fulbert, this was not the first time my ears had heard the Gospel of Mark.
"You'll need to do better than that, Fulbert," I said.
"Aye! The cross, Fulbert! Take out the wooden cross you keep behind the bench! ” shouted another voice from the mob.
Fulbert ran up to the bar bench and pulled out the large wooden cross he kept behind it. But once again the despair overwhelmed him as he found that the cross had been broken into pieces by some frantic mania. With trembling hands, he showed the broken parts of the cross to the La Baleinière's patrons whose expressions were stunned before such a sacrilege.
"Profanation! Blasphemy! Hubris!” shouted the mob. But the surprises didn't quite end there.
Before the patrons made some initial calculations over their next moves, they all flung themselves into startled exclamations as they realised that the little golden crosses they had until recently around their throat in thin chains had disappeared. It was concluded on the spot and jointly that some mysterious force had usurped them, yet no one - including myself - could solve the deceitful manner in which this mysterious force had acted. Be that as it may, this was a very convenient occasion as far as I was concerned since the sight of the crosses was able to throw me into deep vertigo and prevent me from achieving my purpose. However, I was aware of the mental distress the gentlemen had fallen into as I knew they were all fanatically religious and the loss of their crosses meant much more to them than a mere mishap.
"Aye! Our crosses! Someone stole our crosses! This is the work of the devil! ” the mob shouted.
Now, I have to admit that although I was prepared for any developments lying beyond my expectations, this was a circumstance I had never imagined. I had no idea who vandalised Fulbert's big cross and snatched the gentlemen's crosses, but I wasn't willing to spend precious time to solve this riddle. I had to be quick and efficient, and for that reason I was temporarily content to the stale theory that I had a secret guardian-angel with me.
"Well, gentlemen ..." I said in order to attract their full attention, and continued: "I shall be laconic so that we'll avoid any dawdling. You shall all die tonight. You shall die a horrible and hideous death. I shall take care of that personally. Unfortunately, you shall not be given enough time to make your peace with the Almighty as it is my intention to act swiftly. You shall, however, find comfort in the fact that he who is going to take your lives has always looked upon all the creatures of God with profound reverence and unassailable impartiality. Exactly, gentlemen. White, black, blond, spaniards, I make no discriminations amongst people. I shall kill you all equally."
"Monsieur, I would like to take the floor if you consent to it," Fulbert jumped. "It is obvious that there has been some misunderstanding between us. But let me just say that this is not an irredeemable misunderstanding. First of all, have no doubt as to the motives that prompted us to do what we did. Please keep in mind, always, that we are all here devout people and nurture unlimited worship to God and His wonderful works. For this very reason, it would be prudent to forgive the excessive zeal of ours that may sometimes manifest in a clumsy and impulsive manner. We did not have any personal hatred against you, we simply did our duty as faithful Christians. And I also want to assure you, monsieur, that we are all willing to return the money we have taken from your possession. I mean, we are not thieves and no one has the right to accuse us as such."
"I do not worry about the money, my dear Fulbert and dear gentlemen." I replied. "You shouldn't worry about it either. Money should be the last concern in your head at this time. It is your lives you should worry about. I intend to taste your excremental pharisaic blood right down to its last droplet. And I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest. That, I guarantee you. Now, would there be another objection before I begin?"
The whistle of a melody was heard. It was a melody that sounded familiar to my ears and I would swear it was a song whose lyrics I had imprinted upon my memory. But as I tried to bring the lyrics to the lips, my memory betrayed me. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I only had the illusion that I was familiar with the song. Who knows.
The whistle did not come from the congregation before me. The whistle came from above. I turned to the ceiling and saw the man. He was lying on the wooden post of the roof, the post from which three oil lamps hung. The man was plump, with rosy skin and reddish broad sideburns reaching his chin. He was dressed in a black tailcoat, so worn that – one would think - it was ready to melt on his body. As he whistled the melody, the pouch that rested on his hand was gently tossed in the air. From the metallic sound of clinking, I had only to guess that inside the pouch were the lost crosses of La baleinière's patrons.
"Bugs..." I whispered, lowering my gaze. Did I know this man? Apparently yes, although the phenomena often swindle the faculties. But since I knew his name, it was reasonable for me to assume that I knew the man. This had not yet become clear in my conscious, in a way I could only describe as paradoxical. That was my first meeting with Bugs, but I felt that I knew Bugs a whole lifetime. Paradox, paradox, paradox.
"Exactly, master," said Bugs, and with a spring he landed on the floor, ethereal in spite of his obese build. "Your beloved Bugs. Always at the right time and in the right place. Always ready to offer his precious services. And where would you really be without your darling Bugs?"
"What do you want, Bugs? As you can see, you interrupt me in the midst of serious business. There are accounts I need to settle with the gentlemen. Unnecessary distractions like yours are not fit for the present." I said.
"Oh master, you know of course that your beloved Bugs would never wish to cause any nuisance, especially amidst such serious business," said Bugs, adopting in his expression the kind of maudlin style he used to employ when speaking of some owed payment. "However, I do consider it my primary moral duty to inform you that the situation in this case raises an issue of accrued debt. Yes master. You must have definitely noticed that the gentlemen in attendance have all lost their religious pendants, that is, their crosses. And let me be bold enough here to point out that if the gentlemen did have their pendants in their possession, then the prospects of settling your accounts with them would be minimised or even nullified. What would you do if Fulbert and his companions blazoned their crosses before your eyes? Wouldn't you succumb again into extreme vertigo? Wouldn't you be again rendered helpless at their merciless brutality? Wouldn't you end up at the bottom of the Seine again, beaten and humiliated? "
"All right, Bugs. I get the point. So you are the one responsible. It's you who stole the gentlemen's crosses. I suppose I owe you gratitude for that, since you offered me such service. Now, what is it you are asking for? Be brief now and set your price. You ought to respect to the agony of these people. They're going to die at any moment now.” I said.
"Oh, I don't want all that much, master," said Bugs in a nagging voice. "You know, after all, that your poor Bugs has always been a cheap laborer, and his rewards are - as a general rule - mingy and never meet the value of his services. I am quite used to drudgery by now, I'm not offended. But since my tonight's services played a decisive role in the proceedings and as a result you remain unharmed because of me, what I ask for payment is the blood of all the gentlemen present, with no exception. I suppose that this is the just way to pay off your obligations to me."
"What!? You mean that you will deprive me of the pleasure of human blood? You'll deny me the pleasure of taking my revenge on the gentlemen with whom I have a strong personal dispute?”
"Would that be such a blow to you, master? I doubt it. Either way, human blood has never been your need. You've had tamed this kind of passion in favor of the blood of rats a long time ago, remember that? So make do with a few rats for your dinner tonight and let your poor old Bugs take on the gentlemen here. Unlike you, I insist on listening to my instincts. Unfortunately, I insist on preferring human blood to that of rats."
I was ready to send him to hell but I didn't. I was a vampire. Bugs was a vampire too. I knew too well that Bugs was a vampire. I knew it well because I was the one who appointed him a vampire. That is why he called me master as the law of the Vampires dictates: the anointed must always address his initiator as master and show unlimited respect towards him. Bugs, though he addressed me as master, he nevertheless was much too boorish to show respect, not only towards me but towards anyone.
I could very well deny Bugs the reward he was asking for. But I didn't. Bugs was right. He knew me by now. He had learned that I had a high regard for the value of requital, especially in dealings between vampires. He had also learned that I bloodsucked human prey under certain conditions. Not arbitrarily, not just to satisfy my thirst for blood. This meant more or less that I had adapted myself to the blood of rats, so much so that I no longer cared for the seductive pleasures of human blood. This attitude of mine had not so much to do with some hollow ideology as with my general perception of aesthetics. Besides, I have always felt and still feel pity for the human race despite its accursed flaws. Oh, what's truly the reason for explaining myself? I have become such and will remain so, I suppose.
The opportunity given to me on this occasion to bloodsuck the religious patrons of La baleinière was unique, I could not have imagined a happier one. These people were characterised by a foolishness that was nourishing nothing but danger and it was this foolishness of spirit that perpetuated their vicious circle. I was therefore proud to carry out the task of exterminating them because it was a task entrusted to me – no doubt - by some master fate of nature itself. And of course I would taste human blood after a long time.
I could not, however, ignore Bugs' arguments. Yes, without him I would probably have been defeated by the crosses of the mob as the vampires cannot bear their venomous sight. I would probably be prey to the malicious wills of the patrons. I did owe him gratitude. My morals dictated that I should meet his demands, even if in the case of Bugs, morality does not really make much sense. Bugs was a friend of mine and - believe me - the vampires need the company of their kind.
And while I was about to nod affirmatively to Bugs, accompanied by a wearied sigh, my eye accidentally spotted a female figure within the male crowd. Now, my memory may have betrayed me as to the tune that Bugs whistled, it did not however deceive me at all as to the woman who stood stealthy amongst La Baleinière's patrons in order to evade my eye. Being aware of the leaden blame she had for the developments that were taking place, the first thing one could read on her pretty face was the urge to slip out of the place. Adelaide.
"All right then, Bugs. This is my final offer and take it if you wish otherwise I don't know what else I can do for you. You are free to swoop in on everyone here except my dear Adelaide. Only her you shall not harm. I want Adelaide for myself." I said.
Bugs looked at Adelaide. Noticing the fear of the macabre blazing in her watery eyes, he gave himself into a loud laughter that made his stoutness shake all over.
"Hahahaha. An altar boy. That's what you've always been, master. A feeble altar boy. You never had the guts to become a real vampire. You only became a vampire by the grace of pure luck. Let it be so then. You're worth her. I spare your beloved Adelaide to your will. Anyway, she's much too delicate for my taste."
And having laughed with all his heart, Bugs turned to La baleinière 's patrons, who had all gathered in one corner of the lounge. Bugs' eyes were now changed and resembled those of a carnivorous feline: vertical black slits were the new pupils, and their irises now glowed the colour of platinum. Those were eyes that betrayed a bloodthirsty instinct, and in this newly formed gaze shone the hankering of gunpowder inside hard cast iron shells, incandescent mortars that begged to explode in the touchstone pillars of the world. Faced with this raging aspect, the whalers withdrew fearful by squeezing their mob in the corner.
"And now, gentlemen ..." said Bugs. "Which good boy would like to come first? Don't be shy now, I want to see those hands raised."
"Get back, Antichrist!" shouted the mob from their corner.
"Dear gentlemen, there are two tactics according to which we can move on in the process," said Bugs. “The one tactic imposes your silent alignment in one row, and then you will approach me one by one, nice and calm so that I can do my business proper. The other tactic is to give a needlessly dramatic tone to the process with hysterical screams and shrieks of panic. The choice is strictly yours, though I must tell you for my part that I prefer the first tactic since I like to dine in deferential silence. Be that as it may, have no doubts whatsoever about the inevitability of our meeting hereto: You shall all die. Don't worry though. I shall be tender and gentle with you. A short pain, and then the eternal sleep."
As expected, the mob opted for the second tactic and, for that very reason, they got into screams of hysteria and shrieks of panic, eventually giving a truly dramatic tone to the process. Their uproar, however, sounded even more dramatic as they saw the jaws on Bugs' face extending so much as to resemble the muzzle of a wild wolf. His mouth opened wide and revealed the dentures, and then the canines of the upper jaw began to lengthen, uncovering their deep roots until they were long and sharp and ready to devour.
One of the whalers, the most muscular and monstrous in figure, rushed over to battle the beast Bugs had been transformed into. His attempt was futile. Bugs' hand jerked suddenly and grabbed him by the throat. Such was the rapidity of movement that the whaler could not even think of a reaction. The hand clenched tightly to his throat, so powerful that it almost cut his breath. A savage beat's roar sounded from Bugs' throat, betraying oppressed desires and heralding the death of a hapless prey. The whaler shouted some desperate desperate pleas for help as those menacing jaws rushed unto his throat and the sharp fangs sank into the carotid. Another roar sounded pompous, and then died down with a frayed sob only to be succeeded by the lengthy rattling of a murderous reptile.
In the midst of all this turmoil, La Baleinière 's patrons were rushing to find a way out to escape from the place. But Bugs' bulimic moods were such that they didn't give them much time because they made him fast in his movements and so the whaler's bloodsucking occurred in just a few seconds. And after throwing the whaler's corpse onto the floor, Bugs attacked the patrons of La Baleinière with long lunges and buried his fangs into their necks. Flying around like a predatory eagle, Bugs would grab the patrons one after another and bloodsucked them all until the lounge was eventually blood-stained and plunged into mournful laments.
While Bugs was busy collecting human blood from the unfortunate La Baleinière's patrons, I had the opportunity to unperturbed approach Adelaide who was terrified by this bloodlusting spree. The tawny braids of her hair defined rings in their formation. Her cheekbones were slightly exaggerated, highlighting her turquoise eyes. Her nose was subtle and discreet, as if it emerged uneasy so as not to disturb the harmonious symmetry of her face. Her lips were of the natural purple colour of the wild strawberry, and under her mouth posed the chin, idle in the ecstasy of its perfect curve. Her neck and shoulders were bare until the lace dress with the rosy embroidered azaleas covered her breasts and back. Adelaide had not changed at all since our last meeting.
"Adelaide, do you remember the poem I had recited to you that fateful night of our first encounter?"
"But how could I ever forget it, monsieur? ... It is a poem that will remain graven in my heart and mind forever ..."
"Adelaide, I'm willing to show mercy and spare your life if you recite that poem exactly as I had recited it to you."
"It's strange, monsieur... I would swear that I had learned the poem by heart upon a single hearing ... I was absolutely convinced that my lips would articulate its lyrics seamlessly, without the slightest pause for respite ... But as I proceed to locate it in my memory, everything disappears all at once and turns into blankness ..."
"Adelaide, I promise you shall leave this place alive and unscathed if you mention at least one verse or word from the poem. I shall demand nothing else from you, I give you my word. "
"Monsieur, I tell you with all sincerity that my memory has now been delivered into the deep darkness ... A deceiving ghost of thought plays sneaky tricks in my memories, there can be no further explanation ... The poem is covered with a thick blanket of oblivion ... The words fade away as soon as my gaze falls upon them ... "
"Adelaide, I'm prepared to forgive you for our last painful encounter and let you go free from here if you only mention the title of the poem. Or at least the name of the poet who wrote it."
"Believe me, monsieur ... There is nothing in this moment that I'd wish more than to remember that poem ... It is not so much the worry I have for my life but - believe me - I am also tormented by the injustice hereto since it was a poem that touched heartstrings deep inside me ... It would stand to reason that I should fall in love with the man who would dedicate to me a poem so passionate ... But, monsieur, my mind became suddenly blank like by some irony of fate … Damn me if I can remember anything related to that poem ... And for this -believe me- I feel nothing but endless grief ..."
Istvan… Istvan! Wake up!
"My dear Adelaide, you leave me now with no choice but to kill you. I am now unable to calm my bloodthirsty nature. My instinct is now lurking in the inmost bowels of will and demands that which I am so stubbornly denying it: the blood of humans. Let it be so then. I'll drink your blood, Adelaide. Thus shall be administered that justice which laments in complain."
"I beg you, monsieur, to reconsider things and to reflect on the reasons behind people's actions ... I am still young to the times and unfledged by the friction of life ... And - I do not hide it - I fear death, especially a death such as this one … I beg you, monsieur, to look with due understanding at the person who is trembling before you at this moment… Do not let passion blind logic so briskly and cruelly…”
Istvan… Istvan! Wake up! Do you hear me?
It was too late for Adelaide. I now felt my eyes assume that flame-red tint that they acquired when out of darkness shone the hope of fresh human blood. I felt my undead glands pulsating from their roots commanding me to act upon their most urgent demands. I felt my upper fangs being violently elongated before rushing upon the neck of the desolate Adelaide managing the two crucial holes unto the carotid. Adelaide let a shrill scream from pain and then remained still in my arms as I sucked her sweet blood. "Wake up, Istvan ..." she could only whisper in my ear as she died.
Human blood ...
Fresh human blood ...
Istvan… Istvan! Wake up! Do you hear me? Wake up!
I woke up.
I have the impression that Zsigmond was nudging me for quite some time in order to wake me up. This was, of course, natural. I was sleeping too deep and my dream was too taut to free me so easily from its web. And who ever said that vampires don't dream in their sleep? This must be claimed - no doubt – by airy-fairy writers seeking inspiration in folklores of nations or by the elderly storytellers who impart the legends of the past to future generations. How is it ever possible for anyone to claim that vampires do not dream in their sleep when they have no knowledge of the subject? Yes, even the vampires dream.
The hermitages of the Guilá Naquitz Cave had left their dark markings on our complexions. We both bore long hair on our heads, and on our faces posed beards so dense that the swallows would gladly nest in their fur. Our stay in the hermitages made our gazes glow blue hues in the darkness. The long lethargy and the repeated introspections were worn as unbearable tunics on our bodies until our feet sometimes staggered in their walk.
Zsigmond returned to his bed sounding a sigh of discomfort. Unlike me, he was not yet satisfied by Guilá Naquitz's heavy stupors. Instead, he sought to reach the deepest stages of sleep.
"I was talking in my sleep ...? I was dreaming again ... "
"Yes, you were talking."
"I woke you up?"
"Yes, you did wake me up."
"Sorry's not going to bring my sleep back."
"Sorry, Your Highness."
"Do not mock me!"
"What was it about?"
"Your dream. What was it about?"
"Do you really want to listen to my dream?"
"No. Not really. I just hope I fall asleep again with your narration. That's all."
Zsigmond was obviously in a mood for chat. I decided to satisfy his mood hereto. Provoking him, of course, at every opportunity. How? By addressing him Your Highness. This habit of mine seemed to infuriate him, but I thought that deep down he probably liked that address.
"It was a dream that concerned the future, Zsigmond. I dare say it took place at a time five centuries from now. "
“Five centuries? You are becoming too vain in your sleep, Istvan."
"Yes ... Well, I don't have much to say about this dream ..."
"It sounded as if you were courting a beautiful lady."
“Is that what I was doing? If you left me alone, maybe the dream would have a happy ending after all."
"Oh! What an impudence, by Zeus and the twelve gods of Olympus!"
"Vampires sometimes have dreams that predict the future ... Is this true or false...?"
"Sometimes yes. These are not exactly dreams that foretell the future as it's about to happen. Many times they are dreams that have a simple connection with future events. At other times, these dreams are nothing but muddled gibberish concerning the future randomly."
"It'd be impossible to separate the inconsistency from the cohesion in this particular dream, Zsigmond. The dream sometimes made some sense and at times degenerated into a shameless babel. I wore weird clothes, spoke incomprehensible languages, shared common stories with people completely strange to me."
"It was probably a dream of the future. I do have such dreams from time to time."
"Although I am now awake and in my right mind, the dream has left a mark behind it. That is the lust in my taste buds, the craving for human blood. Ha! I'm still tasting it, Zsigmond. Fresh human blood."
"Fresh human blood ...! Unoriginal, yet singularly essential. Between us, I do not blame you. I crave it too after all this time in here. I do occasionally dream of it, human blood. Unfortunately, the blood of rats isn't but a cheap substitute."
"I don't think of human blood all that much when I'm awake, Zsigmond."
"Oh really ...? Why do you dream of it then?"
"I have no idea why I dreamt it."
"You have no idea about many things, do you?"
"That's right. Sadly I wasn't blessed with your insight."
"If you only believed that!"
"I guess it's time for me to get out of here."
"And I guess it's time you go back to sleep, Istvan. Your dream has caused outbursts of emotion in you, that's all."
"No. I mean it. The time has come. This idea has been bothering my mind for a long time now. After all, I've been here for fifty whole years."
"So what? I've been here for two whole centuries!"
"Yeah ... I am aware of that, Zsigmond."
"What is it exactly you are implying, young man?"
"Oh, I 'd never dare to imply anything against you, your Highness."
"Then be clear with me. And do stop the your Highness nonsense at last. Repetition only makes you more predictable than you already are.»
"All right then. I just don't want to waste my time here anymore. Fifty years of solitary meditation were enough for me. Now I need the outside world. I want to spend my time as a vampire amongst people's advancements and progresses."
"Have you really longed for humanity all that much?"
"I don't know ... I suppose I shall have a direct answer to this question once I go back to humanity."
"If this is what you really long for, then do it. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to get the Diet's approval first in order to get out of here. You should state the reasons for your departure to the Magister. And you would do wisely if you give him convincing reasons because the Magister is overly strict with precarious vampires. If he doesn't like your answers, he's capable of keeping you imprisoned here forever."
"I'm going to tell him exactly what I told you. Of course I will address him with due respect, as opposed to the contempt I feel for you."
"I don't see any reason why he should refuse. You have shown undeniable discipline during your stay here. Excessive discipline, I'd say. For the truth of the matter, my dear Istvan, you did not differ much from a faithful terrier on the exclusive service of the Diet.»
"I'm not in the mood for your sarcasm, Zsigmond. You are much too plebeian as an intellectual and your comments fail to appear any biting. Do proceed however. Your ratiocination hereto is very interesting, something extremely rare in your case."
"There's not much to say really. You'll need to maintain good relationships with the Magister and the Diet. That's all. Either way, you don't want the senators of the Diet against you. The senators are a devilish faction, capable of making you regret the moment you became a vampire. So always act in humility before them. Of course, you won't have a problem with humility, will you now? Humility has always been your highest virtue."
"I'll follow your advice to the letter, Zsigmond."
"That you should do."
"Don't you miss the outside world, Zsigmond?"
"Not particularly. I was doing some very awful things while I was out, my dear Istvan. I was extremely selfish and malicious as a vampire. I caused pain to people. I guess I struggled with myself, I cannot explain it otherwise. If I was more indifferent in character, maybe I would still be doing what I did. Unfortunately I happen to be more sensitive than I should and therefore I fell into severe depression precisely because I was dysfunctional in the world. So I chose the isolation of Guilá Naquitz in order to achieve some peace with myself. Or rather, I chose the Guilá Naquitz Cave in order to be reborn as an intelligent being. If I ever decide that I am ready for the outside world, then I will make my grand excursion and wander the earth as a new man. Sorry, as a new vampire I meant to say."
"If you do go out sometime, we could make an inseparable duo the two of us. We'd make an unbeatable pair in the outside world, us two. I'm sure every night would be a festivity."
"I do not wish to hurt your feelings, my dear Istvan, but if I ever go out into the world, I shall not make friendships with vampires. In general, I would prefer my loneliness and be amongst people for limited amounts of time."
"I never considered the life of a vampire exciting, Istvan. I may sound heretical, but I do find the life of the vampire to be very tedious, and I wouldn't want to make it any more tedious by associating myself with other vampires. To be precise, I shall confess to you that I became a vampire out of sheer curiosity and this is a mistake I regret and will regret forever. Being a vampire is a huge burden. We are given infinite time, so much that we do not know what to do with it in the end. We miss the thrill of mortality. All this unbearable eternity robs us of the spark within."
"I'm glad you understand me. It is good to have by my side a vampire who understands my particular emotional variations. This means that my genius has some elemental correspondence within this otherwise indifferent world."
"Oh Zsigmond ...! I cannot argue against this claim but by my golden silence."
Thus I replied, and then I shut my eyelids again. Zsigmond's arrogance was enough to give me drowsiness. Time passed quietly in the darkness of the hermitages, so quietly that the seconds transformed themselves into centuries and the reverse.
But time didn't matter much anymore. I had made my decision.
"It's time to leave. I need to find the Magister."
"So you've decided it then?"
"Yes. I've decided it, Zsigmond. I am leaving. The time has come."
"Very well. Let me bid farewell to you. This is one possibility I'd wish away, but we may never see each other again."
'Sentimentalism? From you? I'm flattered, Zsigmond."
"Transient sentimentalism. Imposed by the conventionality of the occasion. Once you're gone, I shall regain my former glory."
"Now that's a comfort! For a moment I thought you were making an attempt at transcendentalism."
"Istvan, you wouldn't recognise the meaning of transcendentalism even if it nodded amorously at you in the form of a dazzling beauty."
"I shall keep that in mind in the outside world where I'll be."
"I shall miss you, old friend Istvan. If we weren't both extremely cynical about anything that pertains to the concept of friendship, I would be as bold as to suggest that I might have discovered my only true friend in you."
"I think you're slightly exaggerating, Zsigmond. Most of our time together was spent in our sleep. And whenever we talked, we usually ended up in argument."
"Even so, I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too, Zsigmond."
"Enjoy yourself. And stay out of trouble."
We embraced each other. Our bodies smelled of mould. That macabre mould of Guilá Naquitz, the central base of all vampires in the world. The Guilá Naquitz Cave resembled a long and huge ant nest whose labyrinths and cells extended to the innermost depths of the earth. The hermitages were at the lower levels. Consequently, the stifling humidity that ravaged the grounds of the dorms marked our bodies with the strong smell of mould.
If we were human, this humidity would be capable of wrecking our joints and bringing us down to excruciating physical pain. If our eyes were human eyes, they would have obsolesced over time since the darkness that prevails in the hermitages is absolute, without the slightest shred of light. However, since we were vampires, the humidity and darkness could not affect or afflict in any way our undead existences. The nature of the vampire - and in particular a vampire of the Order of the Strigoi Morti like us – was not subject to such adverse conditions.
As soon as I left Zsigmond, I began to climb the path that led to the highest levels of the Guilá Naquitz, to the prominent Senate, where the Diet of Cluj held its meetings. I was walking on the tips of my feet so as not to wake up the vampires who were sleeping in the other dorms. On my way I happened upon the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave, sharp and centenarian and overbearing, and as I proceeded I never stopped to reflect on Zsigmond's advice.
Zsigmond spoke wisely, I must admit. Since the Diet of Cluj is the supreme executive body of the vampire community, I had to state the reasons for my departure with undoubted circumspection and, of course, express in advance my unequivocal tolerance for any verdict of the Magister and the senate, whether that would be positive or negative. I had the firm belief that I would win their favor, and that was the desideratum hereto.
Once I reached the highest level of the cave, the area of the Senate, I found myself before a colossal facade of ebony rock mass, and above me was the majestic dome of stone. On the facade posed twelve sharp-crested niches from which the flickering light of a faint fire emitted. At the base of the façade stood the large lance-headed gate.
Although my walk was silent, it was not able to escape the attention of the twelve senators who made their appearance slow, each through a niche of the facade. Their silhouettes were set up tall, each in his niche, dressed in black habits with conical cowls. Before I could even think of a reverential greeting to address them with, the twelve figures began to sound unintelligible and prolonged whispers among themselves. I assume they commented on my pitiful appearance that had to do - undoubtedly – with my perennial malnutrition.
"Istvan, my child ... So you wish to leave Guilá Naquitz ..." sounded the deep voice of the Magister. It was a voice that sounded like the musical chords of cold winds when they pierced through the hollow trunk of a dead sequoia.
"Yes ... But how do you know that, Magister?" I asked surprised.
"Oh, my thousand years on this earth have blessed my sensors. I'm therefore able to capture the omens travelling in the ethers.” replied the Magister and his mighty figure emerged from the gleaming of the gate.
His towering poise was covered by the black habit that fell loose from the broad shoulders to the ground, concealing the reptilian body. The conversation with him proved to be a very onerous procedure as far as I was concerned, as the Magister was taller than me by no less than two whole cubits and so I had to keep my face high at all times. He was constantly moving around me, and in his moves he carved his figure according to his wills, either bending it like the flexible reed of the swamps or swaying it like a surfacing column of smoke. His oversized hands bore the long fingers with sharp nails while the white hairs sprouted out irregularly and fluffy in the joints.
The Magister always emphasised his millennium age imprint on his human hypostasis, this was an obsessive habit of his: his hands had to look like the hands of a millennial Methuselah and he therefore employed all his expertise in order to register in detail on the wrinkled skin those creases that testified to his multi-centenarian age.
The conical hood of his habit was always worn on his head, discarding the face in darkness and the only thing visible through its sheer shadow were the two flaming red eyes. The Magister's face was still a mystery because of this hood. No one knew if his face was worked too with the same obsession that the Magister fostered for the plausible rendition of millennial lifespan.
"Magister, after paying my sincere respects to you and the rest of the Diet's senators, I officially inform you of my request to leave Guilá Naquitz. I feel that the time has come. After fifty years of meditation, I feel that I have achieved the serenity I sought when I entered here. I adjudge there is now nothing else that makes my presence here necessary."
“You've admittedly stated your purpose with remarkable honesty and exemplary modesty. But, my dear child, my old age has made me a little suspicious in character and now I dig deeper under the purposes to extract what I consider to be genuine motivation. This unfortunately has become an inextricable quirk of mine now, it is one of the unfortunate side effects of my thousand years. So tell me, my dear child, why do you want to go out into the world? What is that you think you shall find out there and which does not exist in Guilá Naquitz? Do you really think that the outside world is so different from the world that Guilá Naquitz offers you?"
"What I am seeking, Magister, is to find myself amongst of the advances and progresses of men. I want to see things, I want to sharpen my spirit, I want to deepen that aspect of mine which remains human. I wish to be born again as a being of intellect, thirsting for learning, for arts, for sciences, for discoveries."
"Yes, my dear child, but why? You have just listed your desires with commendable passion. But have you, with the same passion, been searching for those deeper causes that fuel these desires?"
"What I want, Magister, first and foremost is to make my time in the world as pleasant as possible. If I had to give one cause, that would be none other than this."
"So you're depressed then? Oh, don't tell me you're too overcome by depression in here. This is the common assertion of those indolent vampires that are alleging in surplus jeremiad to be suffering from manic depression. It is usually those who are in desperate need of some compliment that will simply validate the pompous perception they have formed for themselves."
"I didn't use the word depression, Magister. You cannot blame me for a word I didn't utter."
"The absolute judge of what I can and cannot do is only me."
"Yes ... Forgive me, Magister. I got carried away by my over-enthusiasm."
"My dear child, have you ever speculated with your mind that you might want to go out into the world to satisfy some other cravings? Cravings like, for example, the vampire's instinctive thirst for fresh human blood?"
"Yes ... Yes, Magister. This is a speculation I have done in my mind. And I'm not hiding it, my glands sometimes require ravenous the human blood, so much that they swing their swords menacingly against my senses. But, Magister, it would not constitute an exaggeration if I said before you that I have now harnessed this impulse in my nature. I am now accustomed to the blood of animals, and especially of rats. I have been trained to suppress within me the insatiable desire for human blood. I appeal to your magnificent wisdom on things and ask you to believe me in this matter."
"Do you so readily declare then that being in the outside world you shall never taste even a drop of human blood? Are you firmly committed to this principle?"
"No ... I do not commit to such a thing ... I cannot commit to such a principle. The only thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to cause pain where pain doesn't belong. Besides, I am fully willing to adhere strictly to the laws of the Diet. I appeal, for once more, to your magnificent wisdom on things and ask you to understand my judgement hereto."
"Do you know from memory the Inviolable Triptych of Albtryrk-aud?"
"Even if I wanted to, I couldn't forget it, Magister."
"Tell me the first law of the triptych."
"A vampire must retain its undead nature as well as the actions that derive from this nature extremely secret to humans."
"Tell me the second law of the triptych."
"It is expressly forbidden for a vampire to interfere in any way with the major course of mankind."
"Tell me the third law of the triptych."
"The third law is not even a law, Magister. It is a rhetorical question followed by a philosophical reflection."
"Clever boy ...! So tell me the rhetorical question and the philosophical reflection that follows."
"What would the world be like if humanity were annihilated? A vampire must always be aware that he is in need of humans, for all the obvious reasons but especially for those reasons that he cannot even imagine. The vampire must therefore make use of his supernatural powers with thoughtfulness and diligence."
"What do you intend to do, my dear child, in that undesirable instance where you will feel in the depths of your existence the endless loneliness that the Strigoi Morti suffer? How do you intend to react if that loneliness overwhelms you with anger? Will you yield to your bloodthirsty instincts that will force you to unleash that wrath upon the world around you? And if you don't yield, what will you do? Don't rush to answer, because you run the risk of offering a naive reply."
"I can always choose death, if the world repels me. I haven't but to sit idly on the cosy sand of a shore or on the royal seat of a hillside and watch the sun rise from the bed of the horizon. And then I'll let myself to the sweet lullaby of burning until I turn into ashes. But Magister, I never forget that Guilá Naquitz has been my home. And I never forget that I can go back to my house at any time, if that is what my nature dictates and if - of course - I'm still welcome here by you and the Diet."
The Magister lowered his head. From the black darkness of his hood began to sound sharp and prolonged whispers whose meaning I was unable comprehend. Soon contributed to his whispers the twelve senators of the façade, standing in their niches. The whispers between them became increasingly more intense in my ears until they finally subsided and gave their place to the cave's frosty silence. The Magister stared at me and those two flaming red spots pierced my backbone, delivering it to the quiver.
"You're free to leave," he said sharply, and his towering body moved ethereally toward the front gate.
"Do I really have the permission to leave, Magister?" I asked as I was still unable to imagine that I would go out into the world after so long.
"I found your answers satisfactory" said the Magister, walking towards the gate.
“Magister! A favour only! Could you tell me the year of men? Having been here so long, I lost the sense of time." I shouted at him.
"The year of men is 1308 AD" replied the Magister and his frightening figure disappeared in the gleaming of the gate.
The twelve senators remained in their niches until the Magister's figure completely vanished. And then, they too retreated into the pale lambency of the niches and dissipated. And after all that was done and over, the faint fire behind the façade of the rock mass extinguished its flickering light by which it appointed the gate and the niches. The Guilá Naquitz Cave sank into its natural darkness now, and I - naked as I was in the frosty breeze - had only to follow the small path that led to the exit.
Moving toward the exit, I was constantly reflecting on my next moves in regards to the outside world. It was still impossible for me to realise that I was now a free man. Sorry, a free vampire, I meant to say. There was so much I wanted to do but the time requested of me to put my thoughts in some order since my faculties succumbed amiss in the delirium of extreme enthusiasm.
Arriving at the exit, I happened upon the two Guardians: two giant snakes guarding the cave from any unwanted visitors or any unruly vampires who wished to escape. Upon seeing me, the two Guardians sounded threatening rattles and opened their huge mouths wide and their forked tongues approached me to detect my smelly body. Confirming that I was authorised by the Diet to get out of the cave, they freed my pass by coiling their scaly bodies on the sides of the exit.
I came out of the Guilá Naquitz Cave and the first thing my eyes were looking forward to was the meagre moon of the night. It was in its waxing crescent phase, and its sickle shape emitted enough light to overwhelm the star shines around it.
The year was 1308 AD.
There was so much I wanted to do. So much that I couldn't decide their order. I had to think about my next move. Some idea would come to my mind sooner or later. Whatever I was going to do, I was completely honest with the Magister. I told him the truth. I wanted to find myself amongst the advances and progresses of men. But what I truly desired - first and foremost - was to make my time on the world as pleasant as possible.
[to be continued next Friday, 17 January 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece. His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher Dimitris has received several awards for his literary work. In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO. In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO. In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers. In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain