|The Taylight Zone - Anthology Seven
12 - Vita Incruente - Kayla
When I finished writing this story, I was worried that it wasn't Taylight material. But then again, you know the kind of Taylight stories I'm used to writing and reading... Blood, death, gore, killing, sex... OK, well, maybe sex isn't that frequent...
But anyway, I know this probably isn't the best I could do, but under the hectic circumstances, I'm willing to believe that it is the best I could do for now.
It is a Hell with no fire. It is a Heaven with no God. It is a life of killing with no bloodshed.
There is no end. And the beginning cannot be remembered. But there is this moment and this moment only.
The Countess Alexandra stood poised on the balcony, still as the arcane mountains, listening to the sounds of her people. Her sad onyx eyes were watchful over the edge of the horizon and a single tear of despair fell from them and rolled down her cream skin when they saw no sign of riders in the distance.
The Rebels would soon come, she knew. And they would bring with them armies upon armies of other anarchs recruited from neighboring kingdoms and towns. She had been waiting for this day, as had her husband, the Count, been. Only, his wait was much less than hers.
It had been three months since his departure with the cavalry. Three months since he told her that he would return within the week with word from the others about whether they should send in the military. Three months, during which time, he could have been killed in a battle that he wanted no part of. And now she was forced to wait patiently for his return. It crossed her mind that he may not come back, but she continued to pray and hope that nothing had happened to him.
The day mirrored her mood. It was dark and clouds covered the sky for as far as the eye could see. The Countess's hope froze as the prevailing wind grew in strength with each passing minute. The sun set red, tinging the clouds a pinkish-gray and casting heavy shadows on the stone walls of the castle.
She lowered her head to the land before her.
"Countess," spoke a voice. She turned around. Her lonely eyes searched the aging face of the man before her.
"Nikolai," she smiled. "You scared me."
He bowed a respectful apology. "I beg thy pardon, Countess."
But she only laughed. "Nikolai, thou needst not ask my pardon... What did you come to see me about?"
"I have news, my lady, of the Count's whereabouts at this hour."
At his mention, the Countess's attention was caught. She stepped into the doorway of the balcony, placing a hand on the heavy velvet curtain. "Pray, what of my husband? Is he all right?"
"Yes, your Highness," Nikolai nodded. The old alchemist stroked his beard as he watched the smile of relieved elation appear on the Countess's face. "In fact, he is on his way here now, but..."
The smile faded. In its place stood a look to implore him to go on. But he hesitated, staring down at the cold stone floor. He felt her hands, surprisingly strong, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him.
"Nikolai, I beg of you, tell me where he is."
"But, my lady-"
She silenced him with a sigh and let go. The Countess turned and looked out of the balcony doors, her fingers tightly entwined.
"Nikolai, thou hast been a faithful servant to my husband for many years now, is that not right?"
"It is correct, my lady. Even in times like these, I remain true to the Count, as I remain true to thee."
"You are a loyal friend, a true friend. I know you care about the family, the court..." She placed a hand on the wall and turned to him, her other hand on her chest. "My heart is weak, Nikolai. And it grows heavier with every passing day that I spend not knowing where my husband may be. So I pray thee, Nikolai, if thou hast any knowledge of when he will return to me... I beg of you, tell me."
"It would be a blessing upon my heavy heart to tell you, Countess. But if I were to, then thine own welfare would be endangered."
"Pray, is he safe? At least grant me that."
With a reluctant sigh, Nikolai gave a slow nod. "He is safe, my lady. But I regret to say that he will not return to thee. It is his choice and he has chosen not to come back."
The Countess's eyes filled with tears. Her blood-red mouth hung lamentingly open and her lower lip trembled like a leaf in the wind.
"Thank you," she managed. Her restless eyes closed and the tears that had welled now trickled down her cheeks, spilling to the floor. "You may leave now, Nikolai."
"But, my lady-"
"Leave, Nikolai... I want to be alone."
"Yes, my lady," he bowed, slowly stepping backwards out of the room.
Once left to her own devices, the Countess collapsed to the ground and there she sat, too numb to weep. He was alive, yet he had chosen not to return to the castle. He had chosen not to return to... her.
Was she not good enough? Had he found another?
Suddenly, a wave of passion descended upon her and she stood up. A lamp had been lit in the corner of the room. Searching for consolation, she found the lamp. The embodiment of distress unleashed its fury as she smashed the lamp against the cold stone floor before collapsing once again into a mess of tears and cries. In a second, the heavy curtains were ablaze and smoke filled the room.
Figures were seen and voices were heard before the darkness of her faded hope slipped away and out of reach.
She later awoke to darkness before the images of a dim room slowly appeared to her.
The old alchemist's eyes noticed her stirring and he got up to prepare some recovery solution.
"Good evening, my lady," he spoke gently as he walked towards the table.
"Nikolai?" The Countess sat up slowly. "Where am I?"
"You are in the Rushes, my lady, beneath the castle floors. The Rebels came shortly after I left you. They brought with them thousands more than we had anticipated. We didn't stand a chance. I thought you might be safer down here."
"Thank you, Nikolai." She smiled. "Bringing me here must have put you at risk."
"It is what your husband would have wanted me to do, ma'am."
"My husband..." Alexandra placed her hand on her heart. Her eyes solemnly fell to the singed edges of her dress. "Pray thee, friend, tell me what has befallen upon him. Why does he not return?"
"But, my lady, I fear for thy safety."
"Just as you thought not to put thy life before mine, I think not to put my life before my husband's..."
Finally, after a long pause, the old man's head, bowed to his superior. "His death was untimely, Countess." He felt a pain in his heart when he heard the sharp gasp of surprise from the woman on the bed.
"Death? That cannot be right. Nikolai, you told me that he was alive. You said that my husband was alive! Where is he?" Alexandra rose from the bed and with the stride of a desperate woman, gripped the lapels of the alchemist's clothes. "Tell me. Is he alive... or dead?"
"He is dead, ma'am. Your husband came back to defend us against the Rebels. He was killed before he could stop them... He died honorably, my lady."
"I speak the truth to you now, Countess. I speak it now, as I did before."
"Thou liest!" she screamed, throwing Nikolai backwards. "He is not dead! I refuse to listen!"
"I lie not, my lady."
"He cannot be dead. My husband cannot be dead!" Alexandra's anger dissolved into furious sobbing. When Nikolai dared to comfort her, as he neared, he could hear her repeat some silent words over to herself; "He cannot be dead..."
A sigh escaped the lips of the old man. "I am sorry, my lady."
"I want to see him," the Countess spoke suddenly.
"I want to see him." She moved towards the door and retrieved a heavy cloak from the stand.
"Take me to him, Nikolai."
"I refuse to believe that he is dead. He cannot be dead... Nikolai, I ask that thou grant me this. If not for myself then at least for thine own peace of mind. Thou cannot say that his present state is not of thy concern as well..."
Seeing that this was an argument that he could not diverge from, he nodded, agreeing to give the Countess what she wanted. He draped his cloak around his shoulders and led her towards the secret passage to the outside.
Stealing away on horses snuck out from the stables, the two rode silently into the misty night. The warmth from the day had evaporated from the earth and now drifted stagnantly around them in a haze. Alexandra held the reins steadily as Nikolai led her horse through the forest.
She could hear the nervous rhythm of her heart in time with the sound of the hooves thud-thudding on the ground. And the further they moved from the castle, the faster the hope seeped out of the Countess's heart.
She leaned forward on her horse and spoke softly to Nikolai. "How much longer will we be?" she asked.
"Not long now, Countess. We are approaching a clearing where you will find your husband. He was hiding here before the Rebels attacked us. He thought it best to stay here in hopes that they would come after him and leave the Castle alone."
"Undeserving fate for such a noble gesture."
The alchemist nodded. He slowed the two horses as they approached the edge of the trees. "Here we are, my lady."
Alexandra looked around. There was a fire in the center of a large clearing. Around it sat people who looked like mere shadows praying over the flickering orange light. She swiftly dismounted her horse and ran towards the fire.
The mumbling of voices silenced as the people saw the Countess Alexandra approach them, crying out to someone who they knew was gone. Each man by the fire bowed his head as he respectfully
arose from where he sat.
As Alexandra saw the lifeless body of her beloved lying by the fire, a wail escaped her. And as she threw herself over him, mourning, the only sounds that broke the silence of the night were her cries.
Hushed whispers filled the halls and corridors of the castle. The Countess has gone mad! they were saying. The rumors followed Alexandra towards the alchemist's wing.
Nikolai seemed to have aged over the past month. Life in the castle was less vital and the time wearing of mourning had taken its toll on the old man. He looked up when he heard the door open and saw Alexandra walk in.
"One more day, Nikolai," she spoke. "One day until the full moon."
"And what if it goes wrong, my lady?" he asked. "The consequences of this action could be unthinkable."
"Then I ask that thou not think it." The Countess approached the stone table in the center of the laboratory. "Have the things been prepared?"
Nikolai nodded silently. "Yes, my lady."
"And our place of rites?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Do we have safe passage?"
"We can take the secret passageway from the Rushes. Once outside, we can borrow two horses from the stables."
Alexandra bowed her head. "Thank you, Nikolai," she said, her voice low, "for everything."
"It is my duty, Countess."
"Please... Alexandra." Her dark lips formed a grateful smile. "I think that after all of this, we need not linger on formalities... My husband is dead. Without him, I no longer feel able to live up to that title."
"Are you sure of this, my lady? Is it best not to live out thy life and meet with your husband thereafter?"
"I believe not in thereafter. And for a while, I had believed not in God and His divinities. Where was He when my husband was killed? Where was He when I asked him so to bring him home to me? He answered not my call, Nikolai, and therefore, I answer not to Him."
"But the Count is dead. How will you find him?"
Alexandra knelt by the alchemist's feet. "There is something I have to tell you, friend... I was visited in a dream by a creature who claimed to be an angel. At first, I thought it was a dream, although now when I think back upon it, I wonder if it really was a dream." She paused, waiting for any words from him.
"Please, my lady," beckoned the old man, "continue." He leaned forward, compelled to hear her story, despite the atrocity of such an idea.
"He led me to the forest outside of the castle. We came to a small lake that was lit by the moon. I remember, it was full. I could see its reflection in the water. And there was a stone with a flat surface which also reflected the light."
"And what did you do?"
"The angel told me to disrobe. At first, I did not want to, but then he said that if I did everything as he instructed, I would find my husband. So I obeyed... I disrobed. He handed me the prepared carrion of a bird of prey, a silver chalice for the water and one of my husband's hunting knives."
"And then he showed me how to use them and what to say... The angel gave me the promise of eternity."
"But surely there must be a price. There is always a price, my lady."
"I gave him my soul, Nikolai."
The alchemist's eyes grew wide. "Your soul?"
"He promised me eternity. And he told me that when I find my husband again, he too can have the same eternity."
"How can one survive that long?"
"Thou art now the only one in whom I place my trust, dear friend," Alexandra spoke gravely.
"And though I know that thou art worthy of that trust, I swore I would not say."
"Art thou sure that it is a safe rite to perform, my lady?"
"I believe it can be. One more day and I can have my eternity."
He was shocked by such a deal, yet he felt powerless against the decision of the woman before him. Fate had scorned her and it seemed that the trauma had stolen from her a part of that which kept her sanity intact. Despite what seemed evil about the exchange between Alexandra and the angel, he could not deny that the side of him which harbored all respect for this lady now felt it even moreso. Her cause was noble, even if her actions were not. And for that, he could not help loving her.
Knowing what he now knew, the only thing that he was able to do was pray that her rites would not go unrewarded.
From A Distance
The woman seemed to pass him everyday. Normally, it would have meant less than nothing to him, but the way her black opalic eyes penetrated his cerulean ones made him feel an eerie sense of familiarity. Even one day, he almost felt certain that she was following him.
And on that same day, he kept looking over his shoulder, just in case she would be there.
One time, he deliberately waited on a bench in the park, just to see if she would really pass him by or stop to chat. And he found that to possibly a very slight dismay, his eyes followed her shapely form down the suburban sidewalk, away from where he sat.
There was another time when he found himself in London, conferring with the founder of a bank, purely for business. He had taken a carriage to the town square, where he waited for a full half hour before the tardy old fart appeared. But just before he arrived, the woman walked past where the carriage later stopped.
This strange woman intrigued him. It was an idea that he could not dispute. The enigma of her less-trendy attire compelled him to look. The dark night-like eyes of hers filled him with a sense of curiosity. In fact, her entire form attracted him so to the point where he would be too afraid to speak of it for fear of moral condemnation.
Even now, as she stood on the other side of the glass pane, waiting for a carriage, he could not help but stare at her.
"What in God's name are you looking at?" came a voice through his wanderings.
He turned around. "That woman over there, Charles," he replied, gesturing to her with a white-gloved hand. "I could swear I've seen her somewhere before."
"Of course you've seen her, old chap," said the man across the table with a hearty discourse. "You see one woman and you've seen them all, Franklin. Don't say I haven't told you that before."
Accustomed as he was to Charles's indelicate references to women, Franklin found himself somewhat disgruntled by the flippant disregard for this one in spite of himself. The fair-haired one at the table frowned, hoping that his friend would comprehend the implication and shut up.
She could feel his eyes on her. Without looking around, she knew that he was watching her from the other side of the glass pane. Even from where she sat patiently, pretending to wait for a carriage, she could hear what he and his friend were saying.
"You see one woman and you've seen them all, Franklin. Don't say I haven't told you that before."
So his name was Franklin. She had never taken an interest in his name before.
"I find myself unappreciative of that comment, Charles."
"Unappreciative? I speak the truth, man! All those women are good for nowadays is complaining about how they want to travel more. Esther may not be that way now, but once you marry her, you'll see what I mean. Rest assured, good man, your fate is sealed."
"Whoever told you that I intended to marry Miss March?"
"As much as I harbor my dislikes, I must revere the ladies. Charlotte tells me that our dear Esther March has been looking slightly larger around the waist, if you know what I mean... Was that not your doing?"
A laugh. The black-eyed woman could not help but smile. She loved the sound of his laugh. Franklin's laugh. Of course it was not his doing. The man she knew was above the immoralities of the low.
"Of course not! I think you read far too many submissions in the paper."
"But would you consider taking Miss March under your wing, Franklin? For her own sake, if not yours..."
"I should think you know me better than that, my friend."
"Ah, yes, the poet. The romantic... So you mean to tell me that no matter how desperate the girl's situation, you would not consider a marriage to save her?"
"If it be a selfish gesture, then I am but a selfish man."
"Miss? Do you wish to board?" A voice spoke suddenly, breaking into the black-eyed woman's thoughts. As she looked up at the carriage driver, she noticed the setting sun behind him and felt Franklin's eyes upon her when she stood.
She smiled, "Yes, thank you," and boarded the carriage.
So Franklin was his name...
The night seemed cold and lonely, even darker than she could remember. But it had been this way for two centuries already. Ever since that night in the clearing. At first, things seemed good because they were endless, but now the weight of several lifetimes became a burden because she knew that there were more to come. Time was no longer a factor now.
Something about that, though, disturbed her, even hurt her. She had wandered from her home to Spain, France and Ireland in hopes of finding him, all to no avail. Until she arrived in England. When she stepped off the train, she saw him at the station.
As if fated, their eyes had met and lingered for one brief yet poignant moment before the busy London crowd carried them both off in diverging directions.
That moment had been burned forever in her mind. She even thought about it now as she turned from the window and gazed at the sleeping figure of the carriage driver who lay peacefully on the bed.
He did not cry out, he did not beg for mercy, he did not even move; as far as she knew, he felt no pain. And after it was over, he slept. And he had been asleep since.
She moved to where he lay and sat down beside him, unashamed of her nude form beside his. A soft hand stroked the rough face of the man in the bed.
Unlike the other times, no remorse welled up in her black eyes. It was now a necessity for her, now that she was so close. Of course, she found it a pity that he had to die. She found it a pity that any living creature had to die, but deterrance could not have been further away. When she killed, she killed with conscience.
It was only the people whose souls were sure to be condemned that were devoured. Those who had wronged her were sure to be condemned, if not by the God in whom she no longer believed, then by the angel that granted her eternity on Earth. Those who stood between her and the angel's promise were sure to be condemned.
The carriage driver would be condemned. By his faith, his willingness to perform act of infidelity would have broken a commandment. And he did not seem the type to repent. Better to save him before the deed was done than to allow him to marr his soul any further than it was already.
She would go see Franklin in the morning. She had hesitated before, but only out of fear. She could now see that he was no different to the man she knew two hundred years ago.
Alexandra stood up from the bed and carrying the candle, she left the room, gently closing the door behind her.
Franklin left his house at eight. As expected, he saw the black-eyed woman walking towards him. He suddenly found himself able to smile at her and he tipped his hat to her. But to his surprise, she did not pass by. Instead, she stopped.
"Good morning, sir," she greeted. "Your name is Franklin Cunningham, is it not?"
The young man looked astonished. His blue eyes flashed with even more curiosity than she could sense before. "Why, yes it is," he replied. "How did you know?"
"Oh, I am quite the follower of your work, Mr. Cunningham," the woman laughed. "Your articles in the local paper are quite intriguing, if I may be so bold as to say so." She extended a hand, clothed by a lace-rimmed glove.
If his interest triggered by her appearance was wanning, then this new interest brought on by her voice made up for it. She had a winning smile that could have made him forget where he was going and where he had been. As he had been taught to do, he bowed and kissed her hand.
"You are quite the gentleman," the woman commented.
"And pardon me for saying so, ma'am, but you are quite a lady."
"Thank you, Mr. Cunningham."
"Oh, please, call me Franklin. Practically everyone who knows me calls me by that name. "Mr. Cunningham" is too formal anyhow, and I would hate to think that I have reached the age where formalities are mandatory," he chuckled before catching himself. "I am sorry if I am rude, ma'am, but I did not catch your name."
"Alexandra," said the woman.
"That accent of yours is quite interesting. If you do not mind me asking... where are you from?"
She was taken aback by this question. Surely, this Franklin Cunningham must have been her beloved in his life before. How else could he have known? She had practised over and over to perfect the accent possessed by the locals.
Alexandra cleared her throat. "My accent?"
"Yes... Um, the way you speak..."
"Oh, I know that," she laughed. "I just wondered how you could notice anything. I, myself, have no idea that I spoke differently to anyone else that I have met here."
"So you are from someplace else..."
"Yes," she nodded. "I travelled a lot. France, Spain, Ireland... I must have adapted to the local language while I was there..." She trailed off, noticing something in his eyes. "Mr. Cunningham, why are you looking at me in that way?"
Franklin seemed to jump when caught by her question. Nevertheless, he quickly regained his composure and acted as if nothing was amiss. "I'm sorry, Miss... Miss..."
"Just Alexandra." The woman's lips formed yet another charming smile.
"I'm sorry, Alexandra, but you seem very familiar. Have we met before? Maybe somewhere in London?"
"I'm sure we must have. I feel as if we have spoken before. But if we have, I must regretfully admit that I do not remember."
"Nor do I," laughed Franklin to himself. "You must forgive me, Alexandra. I have a frightful memory. At this moment, I am having trouble remembering where I am supposed to go."
"If I must forgive you, sir, then surely you must return the favor."
The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. "And if I do not?"
"Then I shall not... If it be a selfish gesture, then I am but a selfish woman."
He said nothing in reply. Somehow, her words seemed familiar to him. Noticing his silence, Alexandra cast her eyes downward.
"I should go," bade she the end of the conversation. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Cunningham... Franklin."
"It was nice to meet you, Alexandra. Maybe we will see each other again some time."
Alexandra sat in the front pew of the small chapel. Her fury was boiling inside of her, but on the outside, she remained as composed and stoic as an angel. She had fed twice before noon, giving her enough willpower to control herself.
The harpsicord began playing and all heads in the crowd turned. All but Alexandra's. Her eyes were steadily fixed upon the groom.
It happened only less than a week ago that she found the marriage announcement in the local paper.
Esther March, daughter of Thaddeus March, to wed Franklin Cunningham II, son of Franklin Cunningham.
He could not be taken from her again. She was fated to find him. The angel had promised that for her soul.
As the bride was accompanied by her father down the aisle, to where the groom stood waiting, Alexandra shut out all around her, except for Franklin's. By right, by time and by destiny, they were meant to be together, as they had been before.
An ache began to grow in Alexandra's heart. Her anger, spite and hatred for the soon-to-be Cunningham girl was taken over by this ache. For the first time since embarking on her journey to find her husband, she felt empty. She felt unfulfilled and truly alone.
Ignoring the first tear that fell from her saddened black eyes, she stood up and ran from the church.
The streets were lit by oil lamps and the light of the silver disc of a moon above. Alexandra walked in shadowless company through the night-illuminated part of town to where Franklin Cunningham lived. As she passed by a tall building with the lights still on, she noticed a scantily-clad creature leaning against a lamp-post, the deitic promises of womanhood astoundingly barren, advertised by her lack of conservation. The two pearly green eyes followed the black-donning Alexandra as she slowed to a stop.
"Wha' are you lookin' at, lov'?" asked the partially clothed prostitute, half-sympathetic, half-condemning.
Alexandra's pursed lips held fast for a moment, but then gave way to a voluptuous smile. "At you... lov'," she returned the gesture, but softened the tone. Another soul who had committed herself to damnation by her Maker. She was lost. It would not matter to God or to anyone else.
The dethroned Countess eyed the lost soul from her head to her delicate feet. It was a shame that such a fragile looking beauty, aged as she may be, should submit herself to the vices of the world.
"How much?" Alexandra asked.
With a nod, the creature led the way into the brothel.
What some called love, the black-eyed woman looked upon with scorn, but her bitterness was somewhat comforted by the twisted pleasures of the flesh that she never knew existed in another woman. Yet, neither had given the other even the slightest of a touch.
Alexandra closed the door behind her and watched the barely covered female remove what little adornments she possessed on her person. The curvaceous body sashayed towards the bed and lay itself down, the owner shaping it to form a welcoming figure of open arms and other open vitalities, beckoning to the black-eyed woman, calling her to use her five quid's worth while it was still good.
But Alexandra stayed by the door and spoke only one word, "Why?"
"Why d'you wa'a buy if you doesn't want the goods, ma'am?" asked the goddess-lain, red-haired thing on the bed. Her voice contained nothing but sincerity and a tonic of acid questioning.
Alexandra was silent. She tentatively sauntered to where the lustful idolatry waited. The cloak fell from old youth-fleshed shoulders, soon joined with the remainder of Alexandra's clothing.
"Tell me yer name, lov'," spoke the creature.
"Alexandra," was the reply.
"If yer uncomf'table with this, then maybe tawkin'll help."
"No. No talking." And she remained stock-still beside the bed.
"Very well, then." The creature sat up. With tenderly-moving hands, she guided her new acquaintance to the bed and lay her down.
The same hands parted the very legs that carried the black-eyed woman here from God-knew-where. The slender fingers carressed the pulsing body of this strange woman, opening a new experience for the one who called herself Alexandra. Like a cat, the gentle creature descended from her pedestal and lapped the water with her feline grace.
A soft and shrill gasp emerged and at once, Alexandra knew that her aversion to this act of lust would be soon followed by an act of penance once the deed was done. She had not fed in many hours and her will was weak to the temptation of a climatic pleasure that she had not received in a long time.
But with whom? The feeling was the same, but the face, she could not remember...
As the primal sensations took hold, cries of euphoria filled the silent air in the room.
Alexandra rose from her place on the bed, holding the limp body in her arms. She cried out once more and felt her strength grow with every beat of her heart. As she released the idol, she breathed in the scent of the aftermath before dressing herself.
Before she left, her still-bitter eyes studied the form of the sleeping feline. Poor creature. It was a pity that it had to depart as it did after giving such deliverance to the desires of a lonely ex-Countess.
Alexandra covered the body with a faint sheath of respect and left the "five quid" on the table.
She crept in through the window, silently avoiding anything that would have awakened the sleeping couple. Alexandra stood at the bedside, staring with malice at the young girl who had captured her beloved's heart.
"If it be a selfish act," she murmured, "then so be it."
Alexandra lowered her lips to those of the sleeping girl. As they touched, the smooth, cool feeling of the youth's essence was purged from her body.
The angel promised her eternity and with all of her worth, she would claim that eternity.
The music faded out. This was it. She had taken too long before and the outcome of that had left her without hope. The angel had promised her eternity. He had promised that she would find her beloved if she could survive for as long as it took for him to return. He never said anything about him returning to her. Not caring anymore, she waited for him backstage, hidden in the shadows.
Taylor opened his eyes. The room was dark except for a single candle with a tiny flame on what appeared to be a table in the middle of the floor. If not for the light itself, then it was certainly the violet color of the wick-dancer that attracted his attention.
"...the fuck?" he muttered, dragging himself out of what felt like a bed. His damp hair clung to his face and the smell that his body emitted resembled the smell of rain. As he approached the table, the flame changed from its brilliant purple to a more conservative blue and finally to the calm yellow of a flame au natural.
He looked around. In his presence, the little flame seemed like it grew, lighting up the rest of the room. In one dark corner, there were several hessian sacks; stuffed with what, he could not tell. Two shelves stood side by side next to the sacks. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could see bottles and large stones on the shelves. There were two books and some laboratory glassware. To his disbelief, he saw the cranium of a horned bull sitting on the top shelf, its muzzle pointing towards him. The two hollow sockets where eyes once were stared at him like tunnels.
Taylor turned his head in disgust and caught sight of a still figure in another corner. The figure was hidden by shadows, but he could make out the shape and features of a girl. Not a young one, but she appeared youthful. Her face was a picture of love and endearment and when his eyes met hers, he froze, aware only of the beating of his heart like a tribal drum in his chest.
His lips formed the words, but none came out. As the figure stood, he jumped into speech.
"Where am I?" he asked.
The girl smiled, "We're in the cellar, Taylor. In my home... Do you know where that is?"
He gulped. "Somewhere... Somewhere in... England?"
"That's right," she nodded. "Countryside. It's a big house. I hope you'll like it here."
His eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
"My name is Alexandra. I've been looking for you... I've been looking for you for a long time. A very long time..."
As she spoke, even though he understood the words, he could not hear her speak. His gaze was locked on her eyes. They were black, but they were far from being plain. They drew him in. He felt that if she were to ask of him anything, he would give it to her just to know the secrets kept hidden beneath those eyes.
"Y-you've been looking..." he stuttered, "for me? What do you want with me?"
"I used to know you, Taylor." Both her head and her voice were low as Alexandra slowly approached him. "You were taken away from me. And since then, I've been trying to find you... We used to be so close."
His brow creased and a frown appeared on his face. He squinted through the dark, trying to recall the features were now several inches from his eyes. "Do I know you?"
She shook her head, "Not here," and took his hand. "Come with me. We'll go upstairs. The light is better up there."
They sat in the dining room, both sipping hot chocolate from porcelain mugs. There was a blaze in the fireplace, warming the room against the cold English January winter.
"This is a beautiful house," commented the houseguest. He was reluctant to even speak, but the silence was becoming unbearable. His gaze could not avoid the girl's eyes, but all that society had taught him about staring inflicted a discomfort in his situation.
"If you have a question, Taylor," Alexandra started, setting her cup down, "feel free to ask me."
He nodded and drew a breath. "Why did you bring me here?"
"I told you before. I didn't want you to disappear before I got a chance to see you."
She sighed, "I was hoping you would know already."
"Yeah, but I didn't think fans were this twisted... This is kidnapping, Alexandra. I wanna go home. I wanna go back to my family."
"You are home, Taylor. I am your family."
"I don't know you. I've never met you. How can you say that?"
A smile of understanding crossed the girl's face. "I know what you're saying. You might think I don't, but I do. And I thank you for remaining so calm through all this... I didn't kidnap you. You can leave whenever you want to. You can go now if you want."
Taylor did not move, suspicious of what could have happened if he did. Somehow, by some strange twist of miracle, he seemed to have a double insight into how he felt at that very moment. And it showed him it was not out of fear that he stayed. Instead, he asked, "Why did you bring me here then? You waited for me. You went to the trouble of doing that and now you say I can go. Why the hell'd you take me here in the first place?"
Her timeworn heart winced at the way his assertion cut into her like razor wire. "I just wanted to see you," she told him. "I wanted to look at you and watch you. There is something I must tell you, Taylor, but I would rather you stayed and discover it by yourself. There is a lot you could learn from just one night in the library. The books in there will teach you so much. I could teach you so much about what you used to know...
As she talked, the sound of her voice held him. It was obvious to him by now that this girl, this creature, was not an ordinary person. She spoke as if she knew him. While they had talked before, it felt as if she had been following him and understanding him for the entirety of his life thus far, only she followed him on the inside. The way she phrased her words, the way her saddened eyes talked of loss, it so mirrored his internal voice. It so mirrored his soul.
He was overwhelmed now by not only her eyes but her presence that emitted a longlasting grace and beauty. The guest breathed out this intrigue in one nervous, precipitated exhalation.
She noticed his hesitation to relax and stopped. "I just wanted to be near you even though I knew I couldn't have you," she concluded softly.
"You can have me." The words flew out of his mouth before he even realized that it was in him to say them.
Alexandra nodded and stood up. She placed her mug on the table and proceeded to glide towards the foyer of the house, where a grand flight of stairs ascended to the upper floor. Before exiting the dining room, she gave a beckoning glance to him from over her shoulder.
As the angelic body left the room, another followed, leaving a warming fire to its solitude behind a closed door.
Her lithe body lay in idyllic sensuality on the bed. She looked like nothing he had ever seen before. Not on cable, not in those late-night on-the-sly movies that he and his friends watched during overnight gatherings, not even in the winter Playboy edition that he had found under his bed one day.
It was because of his doing that she now stretched herself out, bare of clothing, on the cream-coloured sheets of satin, calling to him without even making the slightest sound.
His heart began to pound in his chest. It thudded in his ears like the sound of his brother's bass drum, but more prominent and more intense. He crossed to the foot of the bed and lowered himself on it.
He lifted his head, pushing her legs apart. Words and music drifted like a rushing river through his mind. "I've never done this before," he spoke. "I want to, though. I do."
She gave a nod like she she was permitting him the moon and the stars, like she was giving him the time in which he may come and go, live and die and give and take as he so pleased.
His head rested gently on her thigh and a hand travelled up her wisp-like body, coming to a stop only when it met her fingers and wove its own threads with them. His eyes looked to hers again, almost as if to ask for the untold secret that he would give whatever innocence he had left up for. She blinked, pardoning his naivete and granting the secret only on the condition that he not fear the malignant offspring of the eternity that lay within him, that bore the fruits of his soul and the gems of his heart.
As his lips made their way towards hers, he could feel the burning on his skin of some exotic winter fire, sending both chills and waves of warmth and security in familiarity throughout his body. He could feel his stomach move, calling for the sensations of touch that would originate elsewhere, lower. Finally, he kissed her and the contact broke all yearning that he had felt before they conjoined in this rite that instantly became sacred to the both of them.
And as Venus smiled down upon their act, so did the stars that wrote the words spelled by the angel as a promise of eternity.
A fair hand turned the timeworn page of the old tome.
There is a lot you could learn from just one night in the library.
But all that he had learned in the six hours already spent there told him nothing but the history of a foreign land and the penmanship of the countesses in those days.
He had read through a lady's journal in the first two hours. In her entries, she spoke much of a man by the name of Sirus and of another by the name of Nikolai. From what he came to understand, the lady and Sirus were somehow separated; cruelly, she must have felt. And Nikolai was both her friend and confidante. The lady made many allusions to angels and ancient magic. Could this have been an unpublished manuscript?
After puzzling over the last entry in the lady's journal, he picked up another book which seemed to contain an account of a war in eastern Europe. Sketches filled another book. He could recognize the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, a place that he had once been to whilst in Madrid but could not remember the name of. A drawing of the Titanic before its maiden voyage was also contained within the yellow-stained pages.
As he flicked through the detailed work, it dawned upon him that the entire book was a portfolio of time. Every notable event, every landmark, every milestone, seemed to have been captured in between the old leather covers.
Finally, he reached the last two pages. What sights greeted him almost pushed the book out of his hands, but he managed to hold onto it as if he were holding onto life itself.
The first drawing was of a man, as was the drawing next to it, both dated before the century had even begun, both signed by Alexandra duMonte. It could not have been a joke because the pages smelled too musty. But what astonished him most was that both men looked exactly as he did. Fair-haired, light-eyed... The sight amazed him.
As he set the book down on the wooden dais, thoughts whirred inside his head, too fast to catch but too slow to miss. Each word he had read in the lady's journal made everything seem so real. Real enough to maybe even be an experience in his memory rather than in his imagination. The sight of the HMS Titanic seemed so familiar; he could almost hear the cheers and feel the air around him as it must have been on that day.
And the portraits looked so much like he looked now or would look in several years to come...
But it couldn't be. Could it?
Now with questions, he opened yet another book and resumed his search for answers.
Beckoned by Taylor, Alexandra entered the library to find him seated in the red velvet armchair at the round rosewood table in the center of the room. Respectful of her guest, she seated herself opposite him only when told to do so.
"You have questions?" she asked.
He nodded and placed a book on the table. "I read your journal. Two of them."
"And you want to know if there are more?"
"I want to know what you mean by them."
Alexandra tentatively reached for the book. "You know about the angel-"
"I don't want to know about the angel." He was angry. His voice gave it away, garnished by the hard look in his eyes.
After a long silence, she finally spoke, "I did it for you."
"Don't tell me you did it for me!" was the sudden outburst. Alexandra jumped and the book fell out of her hands. Taylor stood up and his seat fell backwards to the floor. He leaned forward on the table, bringing his face close to hers. "Don't tell me you did it for me," he repeated.
"But I did. I did it for you, for us. I did it because I wanted us to be together forever."
"What you did was wrong, Alexandra!" He raised his voice again as he paced himself in a tantrumous walk around the library, gathering books and papers and drawings. "Selling your soul was wrong. Killing people so that you may live is wrong. Killing Nikolai so that you may live is wrong!" Taylor threw a bundle of papers down on the table. "It's not love or fuck-knows-what, it's evil! At least vampires have the decency to take the blood and leave the soul-"
"I did it for us, Sirus!" Alexandra screamed. "I wanted us to be together! You were taken from me! It wasn't your time! It wasn't your time, don't you understand that? I mourned your death. While people talked and cursed the sky for taking you, I mourned you! I didn't want you to die, not because it wasn't fair to the people. I didn't want you to die because I loved you!"
Her words resounded in the empty library. Nothing, not even the mice that lived within the walls of the house could have broken the heavy silence that followed. Taylor moved back to his place after readjusting his seat.
Alexandra cast her eyes to the floor. Not even this escape from him gave much comfort.
"I wish I could cry," said she in a soft lament.
"Why would you want to?" he asked, as still as the room itself.
"I am unhappy."
"So why don't you just cry?" His voice held contempt. It wasn't hard to see that he now possessed not even a single sliver of respect for the pale girl.
No, not even a girl anymore. He could not look at her youthful appearance and think of her as just a girl now. If she were just a girl, then he may have softened slightly, but all he saw was a woman in nothing more than a shell, mutilated by her own hands, a victim of her own implements. She was old on the inside. Old and dying a death brought upon by only herself, a death that came after so many that died by her will. No, he had no pity for her in spite of what she had meant to him only last night.
She answered him, despite him not expecting an answer, not wanting one. "Because this unhappiness is what keeps me able to love... I have no soul, Sirus."
"Don't call me that."
"Taylor... I have no soul. In exchange for it, the angel gave me eternity. He gave me immortality and he gave it to me with a warning... With every tear you shed, you lose a piece of what it means to you to be human. You lose some of what made you feel. And you forget. You forget, later, how to cry. After you forget, it is almost impossible to learn again... And after you forget, you become," she paused and at that moment, turned her eyes once more to him as if to implore what she could sense was missing, what she knew he felt for her before. "You become merciless."
"You have taken the souls of so many," stated Taylor. In his voice, she could now see that he had changed into what Sirus was. He spoke with Sirus's voice and looked at her with Sirus's eyes, only he looked at her with a bitter disregard instead of love and adoration as his lips now twisted into the shape of disgust. "Are you not merciless already?"
And now torn apart by his words, she could feel the pain inside her rise enough to meet her eyes and spill down her face.
He felt no regret as the woman before him turned her face away, her body shaking as she cried the feeling and the pain away.
"Can't you love me?" asked the mess of tears upon the aching figure. "That is all I ask of you now."
"How can you sit there, knowing that you have done all that you have done, hurt those that you have hurt and still expect me to love you?"
"Because... because I did it for you, Taylor... Sirus... It wasn't fair that you were taken so- so soon..."
A sigh was Alexandra's confirmation of a response to her plea. Sirus stood and began his walk to the door. She caught his hand as he passed her. He stopped and from the look of disappointment in his cerulean eyes, she knew that she was now looking at the face of a wiser fifteen-year-old Taylor Hanson.
"I think I could've loved you in this lifetime," he started, tugging his arm out of her grasp, "but knowing that you've killed innocent people-"
"They were not innocent! I never took the soul of an innocent person!"
"That's not for you to say." He started to leave, but Alexandra briefly caught the edge of his clothing.
"Please don't leave me, Taylor!"
"Bye, Alexandra," he said quietly. "Rest in peace."
As he left the property in search of another house, he heard a scream, followed by the sound of glass breaking. And later that night from the window of his lodgings at a neighboring farmhouse, he saw flames and smoke rise from where Alexandra's house stood.
"Oh, Brave New World! What hast thou in store for me today?"
He secured his suit and stepped into the glass chamber. He sniffed trivially as he logged onto the Internet and entered the chatroom.
"Where the hell is everyone?!" he asked aloud, looking around. Something didn't seem quite right. "Whoa... Where the hell am I?"
"Welcome to The Rushes. Please enter your name, Cyber-ID Number and wait to be scanned," came the digitized voice of the SysOp.
He shrugged. "Sirus - 1215JJCT." He stood at the entrance to the chatroom and waited for the blue light to scan him.
He stepped into the room only to find it empty. Too careless to leave, he took a seat on the sofa and waited for someone to join him.
It wasn't long before a diminutive user entered the room.
"Alexandra has entered the room," announced the SysOp.
Sirus stood up and made himself visible to the other person in the channel. He offered her a place on the seat. With a smile, she sat down.
"Nice to meet you, Sirus," she said, her words spoken like lowercase letters would be read.
"Same," he replied.
"Where is everyone? There're usually so many people when I come in here."
"Maybe they're all still in bed," he shrugged.
"Maybe... So are you new here or have you just been here and I haven't seen you before?"
"I was supposed to go into The Castle room, but I must've come in here my mistake."
She laughed. "Couldn't you see the sign on the door?"
"I think there might be a bug or something. There was no sign on the door. There were no signs on any of the doors."
"A hacker must've gotten into the system again. It happened last week. Did you hear about it?"
"Yeah. Man, that was some hack. Six of the servers crashed simultaneously."
"I was surprised. I mean, I went to have a look at that gateway. There's one fuck of a security system they've got up there."
"Well, you know how it is. If the hacker's got a good firewall, the watchdog programs won't catch him... or her."
The reached a pause in their conversation, during which time, the SysOp offered each user a cookie.
"Have I seen you around the place, Alexandra?" Sirus asked. "Your screen name looks really familiar."
"I was about to say the same... Do you ever go to The Rebels chatroom?"
"No way. That place is full of crackhead hacker wannabes... Why? Do you go there?"
"Once. I went in there once. Last night, I think. I wanted to see what it was like. I was looking for someone."
"Yeah, his screen name's Nikolai. Seen him around? He hasn't been online when I'm on. His parents grounded him or something."
"Nope. Don't know him. I saw him once, I think. Tall guy? Shaved head? Walks around with a little Microsoft icon on a leash?"
"Yeah, that's him!"
"I saw him yesterday in the games room, playing Alchemy."
"Cool! Thanks. I should probably go there now. He might be in there."
"Good luck finding him."
"Yeah, thanks a lot."
"Hey, are you sure we've never met before?"
"I'm not disputing the theory. It's possible. Maybe I saw you playing Pong or something. That's the only game I play."
"Maybe... Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure... I guess... What's the question?"
"What's your name?"
Alexandra started to leave, but stopped and turned at the door. "Think I'll see you around sometime?" she asked with a hopeful smile.
"Yeah, I think so."