Philosophy with Attitude

Jan A. Nielsen
English 501-05
11 February 1992

The Darker Side. Everyone has one; of this I have no doubts -- I have known too many to believe otherwise. And I have known my own, in ways that I would never have dreamt, before. Before what? Well, before I discovered it, I suppose, though that did not take as long as it ought to have. I was in ninth grade at the time; it goes hand-in-hand with my writing experience, really -- my English teacher that year (Mr. Gregg) gave us vocabulary words, part of the assignment being that we write a sentence with each of the words. That was when I started writing. I made a story with those words, letting them take control of the plot and the characters. The first was admittedly dark: the words we were to use included such gems as guillotine, lunatic, asylum, and tremulous -- we were reading A Tale of Two Cities at the time -- and my story became one of a lunatic, in an asylum -- where the typical punishment for bad behavior had become the guillotine, thanks to that most morbid of nurses, April May August (she had a sister named June July). That story was... well, unique, I suppose; it turned out to be five pages long. Within it I discovered to power of drama, dark drama: April May gave our protagonist (called simply The Lunatic) an injection of some sort -- I don't think I ever mentioned why -- and his heart was thrown into palpitations -- another vocab word, of course. Naturally, April was shocked, but when The Lunatic woke up in her arms -- I'll admit, it was a bit of a romance, if not extremely atypical...

Others followed, the longest being "The Tail of Variant," a quirky little story of a tiny little cat, genetically engineered by one Doctor Neal Anderson (check the acronym; puns figured highly in this one). Eventually he is purchased by a collector of sorts; runs away; and finds himself in the company of none other than the author, the thirteen-year- old Jan Nielsen, who in turn takes him into school for her Biology teacher to see -- amongst other various adventures. Not quite as dark as a Lunatic and his guillotinous lover, but it had its melodramatic moments.

My next serious attempt was not until eleventh grade, under the guiding hands of Joan Soucy, English teacher at large. By this time I was firmly entranced by the lore of vampirism, surely the darkest of human fascinations. I had read fiction -- Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice, Michael Romkey... I could rattle off statistics and triviata for hours, having perused the "non-fiction" as well; the one that sticks in my mind is Vampires, Burial, and Death -- definitely an uplifting title, eh? But it paid off; I can be smug at vampire movies: did you know that the wooden stake that these days is taken to be the instrument of death to vampires was originally intended to secure them in their coffins for the final blow, the beheading. And after that the remains would be burned -- the origin of the ashes and dust that defunct vampires are to become. But the vampire is a creature of myth -- isn't it?

Not in my fiction, it isn't! My first real story that year ("The Death of the Past") was a nine-pager about a young woman named C╚cilia Thurieau, a cello teacher by day; by night the petite amie of Dmitri Ilyavich Gregov, a seven-hundred-year-old vampire. Really, that story was cute rather than exceptionally dark; Celia was much like myself, quite juvenile at times, though not without a sense of propriety. I could have let the story die after it was finished; Dmitri reveals his nature and how he became that way, Celia accepts him for what he is, and they go play some duets. But like many English classes, we were to read our weekly papers aloud, and my group was pining for more when I finished it. The next installment was in first person; this time I let myself get into it. Here's a sample: by this time, Dmitri has not "fed" in some two weeks; naturally he is past the brink -- he needs blood. And when Celia goes looking for him...

"My God, Dmitri, what's happened?" I gasped, and ran towards his bedside.

"No... you must not stay," he groaned. "There can be only one outcome if you do... I don't want to have to do it to you, too... the only one I can love. I would rather die than..." He closed his eyes, as though in pain, but when he opened them again, there was a much different look in them. "Oh, Celia," he whispered. "Please forgive me, for what I could not stop..."No sooner had he spoken those words than with one final burst of energy he was at my side, his eyes red, whether from tears or from madness I could not tell. He took my arms, grasping them tightly, and with one convulsive movement, he sank his sharp teeth into my neck. Ai! it was more painful than anything I have ever felt before, but thankfully, not for long; seconds after the bite, a blessed tranquillity spread over me, numbing the pain, sending me into a world where there was no hurt.

When I woke up, I did not know where I was, how I had gotten there, or why on earth a man was holding me. The twin wounds on my neck throbbed, and I moaned -- and remembered. The man in whose arms I was had inflicted those wounds; why, then, did he look so concerned?

"Oh, Celia!" he whispered, gazing at me with intense compassion. "There can be no forgiveness for what I have done; I know all too well that fact. I -- I would rather have died than to have caused you such hurt... But... But such a need cannot be ignored without consequences!" I shivered, unable to restrain the fear that had to come. His eyes, grey in the light of a single candle, widened as I did so, and took on a look of such apprehension I felt almost sorry for him.

He held me close to him in his arms, and inhaled a shuddering breath. And did something I had never before seen him do. He closed his eyes, and from beneath the trembling lids came a tear. It flowed silently down his cheek, was joined by another. Wordlessly I wrapped my own unsteady arms around him, and mixed my tears with his.

Sure, it's melodramatic -- but what more could a fifteen-year-old sanguiphile want? Is it narcissism to fall in love with one's own characters? I loved Dmitri, and Celia, and all the other characters I created that year -- Gabrielle and Raphael, a pair of ghosts from "After Death do us Part ;" Katrina, Alexandrei, and Sergei from "The Puppets of the Script," a sad tale of a triangle in early Soviet Russia -- all of them die in the end; and another Dmitri, this one a vampire whose alternate form is that of a cat, from "Athanasia."

And then there is my magnum opus, "Requiem for a Vampire;" so far it encompasses nearly a century in the life of a young vampire by the names of Raul, Arcangelo, Alexandrei, and Orpheus. (When one lives for such a very long time, one tires of one's given name.) And the host of characters... I get confused sometimes, and I suppose I deserve it; three of them come back in my recent rewrite of "The Death of the Past," this one called "Death and the Maiden" after the Schubert quartet. Alexandrei is there, of course, and his "child" Julia -- and remember Dmitri? In Requiem, he is known as Nicolai; he is part of the "family" that includes Alexandrei and his creator, and many other characters (Mephistopheles, Iphigenia, Lucifer, Theophilus, Deirdre, Marcella, Constance, Sebastian, Perdita, Ren╚e... In a century one finds quite a few acquaintances!). They share the common bond of athanasia, and a second of music, thus the title: Alexandrei is writing his memoirs in two forms: one an autobiography, the other a requiem mass. But as he says, "Who could ever sing a requiem for a vampire?"

This brings us to music, possibly darker in nature than even Poe's writings. Here is the music that Alexandrei knows:

I felt the thirst, stronger even than the heart that it benefited. I felt it in my very marrow of my bones, its cold fire burning me, pulling at me without mercy. How long had it been since I last fed? Too long, I groaned, and wearily put my feet to the floor, clutching my desk for support. I could still feel the notes I had written pounding through me like the blood itself. They were the only things that could sustain me, without Marcella...

But she was there! If I had not heard the staccato notes that minced from her cello, I knew I would have felt her near me. And then, the tempo abruptly changed, going from the lilting softness of the Baroque style, to something so different, so alien to my senses that I almost cried out. The chords were played, not in the innocent arpeggios I had always known, but in long, drawn-out, vibrating pleas for a saving harmony that never came. She closed her eyes while she played them, letting her head fall back, revealing the pain that she knew.

I stood spellbound, my fingers locked tightly to the doorframe. I could not let them relax, not for a moment, not to let down my guard against the flood of fear that they alone dammed. And I watched my love as she played, rocking back and forth with the force of the music, her lips pressed close together, white with her concentration. This music did not flow, it was torn from her, while she aided it with her agony. And there was nothing I could do to lessen it.

For some, "classical" music is far-off; stuffy and boring; good only to put one to sleep quickly. But all it takes is a little serious listening -- I was hooked on this music four years ago, and I haven't lived without it since -- even as I write, I'm listening to Mendelssohn's "Scottish" symphony in A minor; excellent stuff, it is! And once one has played these things, there is no going back; the experience, though not always as intense as that described above, is one that I never hope to lose. Whether it be duets, quartets, or entire symphonies, there is nothing in the world like being in the middle of all that music, creating it for that moment only, being alive for the sounds, feeling only the chords and the tensions between those who play.

In the way of darkness, there is more music than could ever be named. However, there are quite a few that come immediately to ear: Mozart and his tremendous Requiem, Orff's "Carmina Burana," Brahms' piano quartets, Vivaldi's extravagant violin concerti, Saint-Sa╦ns' "Danse Macabre"... and in more modern genres, "The Phantom of the Opera" (for example, this verse from "The Music of the Night": "Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams... Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind, in this darkness which you know you cannot fight -- the darkness of the music of the night..."). That is exactly the darkness that we could possess -- the darkness of letting go, of fantasies, of vampires, and ghosts, and the inevitability of death, of minor chords and the power of the night...

What is it that draws us to it? In vampires, there is the lure of immortality -- the escape of death -- and for some of us, the thrill of la sang , for it has within it music. But is there more than mere escape in it? More than power? More than surrender? I'll admit, there is a certain pleasure in surrender, as well; I have known moments in which I would surrender to anything -- to the bite of a vampire, the minor symphony, the release of it all. And sometimes it frightens me; who am I in these moments? Is this some force that lies dormant within, until awoken by whatever stimulus it takes? Or merely an invention of the here and now? I don't know; I can't really explain it, though I'd like to -- but if it could be explained, what would keep it from being explained away? For, morbid as it may seem, I enjoy my darker side; perhaps it is the secretness of it, the mystery; few ever see it, for those that do may not always understand. And there has been only one who could share it with me, the vampire lore, the comprehension of the music of the night, that love of fear and things that go bump in the night. But that, my friend, is definitely another story. I leave you with a little bit of all of those...

In the heavy darkness of the black before his eyes
One can see the solitude that every man feels at night.
There is no light to hide within,
No summer's day to warm his soul at its coldest.
And yet he, too, is warm in this twilight;
It is the stuff of night that keeps him alive,
The stuff of nightmares that is his sustenance. There is no shadow he has not known,
No door he has left unopened,
For all is clear within the darkness he calls life. He is man, and not man,
Alive, and immortally dead.
His is the realm of the night,
The kingdom of terror,
And he is not afraid.

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