Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

Death and the Maiden

The night has always beckoned to me, demanding my presence, calling for me to walk along its darkened shores. I've never bothered to resist it; my parents gave up their coersion when I was eleven, seeing that I would not deny the shadows.

I live in Maine now, on the northern coast, in the cottage that my grandfather spent his life within. He died here as well, though if I were ever to feel his ghost I'm sure it would bring only comfort. As it is, his spirit fills the cottage, infusing it with happiness, like the years he spent with me.

Outside it is not always so calm.

When the storms hit us, when I was younger, he would hold me close to his warm, deep chest and tell me not to worry, the house was strong and so were we, and nothing would hurt us there. But if we were outside, sailing perhaps, or in the rowboat fishing, his eyebrows would draw together, and he'd frown with swift concentration as he pulled to bring us ashore. Then I was silent till we reached it; though I never cried I often wanted to -- the wish not to let him see my weakness was always greater.

We would get to the cottage eventually, of course; if we were wet my grandmother met us at the door with warm towels and hot chocolate, and when we were dry again the two of them would read to me, sometimes A.A. Milne, sometimes Mother Goose -- but more often, as I grew older, Poe, Jules Verne, and E.R. Burroughs. If I didn't understand, that was all right; the sound of their voices, so warm and so close and so loving, was all that I ever needed.

When my grandmother died I was fifteen. It was hard for everyone, but for Grandpapa, it was as though someone had turned off the sun, and though I tried, I could be no more than the moon, seeking to shine with her brilliance but giving only a reflection.

We took to walking at night together, saying nothing because nothing needed to be said. We would stand in the moonlight, feeling the tremendous violence of the waves breaking on our rocky shore, and sometimes I could feel him shaking, ever so slightly, remembering the years when his wife had walked with him and not his only granddaughter.

He was gone two years later, quickly and without undue pain. When the will was read I found that they had left the cottage to me, in my parents' trust until I was twenty-one. And so the profound sadness was mingled with a sense that at least his little world would go on untouched except by those who had lived there as well.

After I graduated from college -- receiving a BA in music from the University of Maine -- I moved back into the cottage. I acquired a cat (Anne Elizabeth, for my grandmother) and a job, giving piano and cello lessons to children, and adults as well. In a fit of amused extravagance I even had business cards printed: "Cécilia Thurieau; Musician-at-Large; Piano-forte and Violoncello instruction; No age to big or small." Pretentious? Perhaps -- but it felt good to see my name in print.

Even the endless days of stubborn children and struggling adults could not diminish the need to walk at night. Often I would take a book -- Poe again, or sometimes Stoker or Shelly or Keats -- and sit on the jagged rocks, wetting my feet in the restless ocean; Tchaikovsky and Beethoven echoed the scenery within my mind.

I always took a flashlight with me as well, even through the fullest moons. Grandpapa had long ago made me promise I would. But even the most solemn promise cannot restore dead batteries. The light flickered and died one night when I was a quarter-mile from home; the moon was dim and a little overcast as well. But the CD player worked, and soon I was passing -- if somewhat uneasily -- over the rocks, Saint-Saèns' "Dance Macabre" shuddering through me, and when that was over, Verdi's Requiem. Music always had to match Nature's disposition for me -- it certainly did that night.

I could blame my fall on several things, I suppose: the light was almost nil, the rocks slippery from the tide, the music just a little overwhelming. But none of these occurred to me when my feet slid over a stone, smoothed by centuries of waves.

No, my thoughts were of the ten feet that lay between me and the rocks further below, and of my Grandpapa -- surely he would catch me? With my entire soul I cried for his help; my mind was blank with fear of hitting the cold stone below. And yet the music cried with me; "Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem..."

The words cut off abruptly and I closed my eyes tightly, already feeling the pain as bones snapped and blood flowed...

It was a moment before I realized that there was no pain, that I was held aloft by two very strong arms, not unlike Grandpapa's. Instinctively I pressed closer, shivering with the chill of mortal terror that passed through me. So near to death I had been, seconds away from it... in the back of my mind I could still hear the words of the Requiem Æternam, the ultimate plea for salvation. I had gained it.

But through what force?

The hands that pressed me, held me tightly, were long, and inexplicably white, even in the pallor of moolight. When I lifted my face from the stranger's chest, I saw that his eyes were dark, and yet somehow glowed with an unknowable light. He was gaunt, pale all over, like some kind of ghost -- but his warmth was real.

I shivered again and rested my head on his shoulder. He smiled softly. And when he spoke I felt the words more than heard them, though the accent was tangible. "Cécilia," he murmured, as though we had met already, years before, as though this were a mere reaffirmation of the past. "My name is Dmitri Ilyavich, and I daresay I am pleased to be of service."

"Believe me, the pleasure is all mine," I managed, bemused through it all by his speech. He smiled again, this time showing his teeth a little -- just a glimpse, and one I wouldn't remember until later.

"It is cold," he said succinctly, "and I am sure you would like to be ou tebya right now? Chéz toi, I mean -- at your home." He grimaced, and I had to laugh -- imagine knowing so many languages that all of them come at once!

"I know a little Russian," I said in that language, prompting yet another of his generous smiles.

"Ochen harasho," he said: "Very good," his arms tightening momentarily around me. And then he began to carry me home, stepping carefully over rocks I would have hesitated to cross in the daylight. When I made as though to protest, knowing that the path was difficult to find even alone, he silenced me with a shake of his head. "It is of no trouble," he murmured, pausing to allow the bright shadow of a cloud to pass over us.

Sooner than I would have imagined, we reached my cottage, and before he could set me down on the porch I asked him if he would join me in a cup of hot chocolate or somesuch -- after all, it was cold. He hesitated for a moment, and then agreed. I suppose, in retrospect, it was rather naïve of me to invite a complete stranger inside, but I felt somehow that he would not hurt me. He had, after all, saved my life.

So I put a little Mozart on the stereo, warmed the water in my microwave, and watched Dmitri covertly from the kitchen. He picked up a CD, moved it around in the light, smiling at the prismatic reflections. He shook his head, and muttered, "Fantastic. If Haydn could have seen this..." I think he must have noticed my supervision, for he turned a little and caught my eye. I looked quickly away, but not before I saw his smile -- as, no doubt, he meant me to.

It was a Mozart Divertimento, this for string quartet, horns, bassoon, and bass, and to hear it was to hear the day I'd spent among the musicians who had added the words, "We like chicken pie, lots of chicken pie..." to the first movement. And then it reached the third, when the oboe has its sinister day. It was then that I rejoined Dmitri, handing him a mug of hot chocolate, at which he sighed contentedly. He wrapped his long fingers around it; as the music continued, the fingers of his left hand moved in time with the violin part, trills and all.

"Do you play?" I asked, somewhat startled. In my part of Maine, one rarely encounters string players, especially those who are classically trained.

"Oh, yes," he nodded, "for a long time now, the cello for longest, and viola and violin, and harpsichord... I could go on, but I see you are already incredulous? Really, it is no great thing; I could not imagine my life without them all." He stared off into the distant ocean, as though remembering a time long forgotten.

It was with not a little guilt that I pulled him away from it. "Would you like to like to play sometime?" I probed. "I don't hear much besides recordings and the squeaks of my students; it would be a pleasure to duet with someone of your caliber." For now, he had switched to the cello part, smiling absently as he fingered it.

"Now?" he said suddenly, glancing keenly at me.

I blinked, and stammered, slightly bewildered, "Certainly, if you have the time," at which he grinned.

"I have all the time in the world," he said, rising from the davenport. "You have instruments, music?" He spoke rapidly now, excited, and gestured with his free hand.

I gulped the rest of my cocoa and showed him to the music room. I've managed to acquire several old instruments, including a harpsichord built in 1731, a range of recorders, a violin from the late eighteenth century, and of course my cello, made in 1828, the year of Schubert's death.

Dmitri's eyes sparkled when he saw the collection -- I mean literally -- and he practically jumped when he saw the violin. "Oh, God," he murmured, "after so many years..." He turned quickly to me, surprising me again with the speed. "Where did you find it?" he half-demanded, barely suppressing the apparent shock.

"An auction in Paris," I said, my eyes wide. "It was found in an abandoned house. The land was needed for some public function, and had been empty for thirty-odd years, so they sold everything inside, ridiculously cheaply. The violin was around $150, as I recall."

Dmitri winced and asked quietly if he might play it. He picked it up, stroking the pale inlay gently, and then began to play Beethoven's Violin Concerto! I sank to the floor, watching in amazement as he coaxed the notes from its strings. He stopped suddenly, shaking his head. "Alexandrei, to leave this..."

"What?" I asked. "Who is Alexandrei? Did you know the owner?" Which, to my thinking, was impossible; the owner had been missing for thirty years, and this man could be no more than twenty-five.

"Pas impossible," he muttered, staring at the violin. "I am older than I appear.. As is -- or was -- Alyosha. He was a very close friend of mine; in fact I gave him the violin... it strongly resembled this one... But no matter," he said, struggling against sadness I could almost feel. "Now is our time to play."

I sat down with the cello, watching as he paged through the music I owned. Eventually we decided on a piece by Schubert, a short sonata for violin and cello. When it was over, ending as abruptly as it had begun, I sat back and sighed.

"Too bad he was so young when he died," I said. "Only seven years older than I am now..."

"You were born in 1969, then?" he said, leaning forward. "I was... ah, 1964." He sounded truthful, I thought, but that hesitation. and the apparent coincidence of the violin which he now held... it was late; I was probably just having a little trouble thinking.

"It is almost midnight," he seemed to agree, though I had said nothing aloud, "and no doubt this has been a late night for you already. I will go now, if you wish..." There was something he left unsaid which I could not catch. However...

"No, not yet," I said, almost surprising myself. "There must be more we can play; Mozart, perhaps? Or someone modern?" I began Fauré's "Elegie" absently and to my pleasure, Dmitri improvised a harmony easily. I couldn't play it all, of course, being strictly an amateur, but we were both smiling when we stopped.

"Do you know nothing in a major key?" he said with mock horror. "You will have me crying in no time." But his laughter came as easily as my own, and soon he had relinquished the cello for another mug of cocoa -- though I noticed he was in no hurry to drink it.

We talked for what seemed hours, listening to such a variety of composers I that thought surely one must be unknown to him. But he was as familiar with them as though he had grown up next door to them; for every piece I played on the CD, he knew at least one instrument -- and always some odd little fact about the composer.

Finally, at nearly four in the morning, I put on Beethoven's Choral Symphony. "Have you ever listened to this at sunrise?" I asked, sighing. "It's positively ethereal. Total sensory overload."

"So I would imagine," he said dryly. "I can't say I've ever had the opportunity. And I'm afraid I'll have to ask your pardon -- I must be getting back soon. It's rather late."

"You can't stay for the Ninth? Oh... is someone waiting for you?" I added shyly, hoping beyond reason that he didn't belong to another.

"No, it's not that," he said, amused. "But Beethoven or no, I must leave. Some of us do not have the privilege of working at home." He grinned broadly -- and his teeth -- what was it? -- but he stood up and protocol demanded that I show him to the door.

It was not in vain. Before he left he took my hand and kissed it chastely. And then he told me his phone number -- "After eight P.M. only" -- and endeared his hopes for another meeting. Then he was gone, as quickly as he had come to my aid five hours before. It already seemed longer, as though I had known him for years... and perhaps I had...

Anne Elizabeth, my cat, padded to me and rubbed against my legs, meowing for attention. I picked her up, stoking her absently. "Odd, isn't he?" I whispered. "He lives next door, up the beach." I took her to the bay window, from which we could see him walking home in the moon's pale light. "Mysterious, eh? One might expect him to come next in a black opera cape, or find that he's really a prince or something. But aie, what a musician!"

I doubted that I would be able to sleep, late though it was, but my body took care of that. I dreamed that the violin had spoken to me, uttering only the word "athanasia" and falling silent in the same instant. And the next morning I was too tired to look it up. Too bad...

I didn't have the chance to call him until the night after next, promptly at eight. And he answered immediately, rather as though he'd been anticipating it.

"Allo, Cécilia," he said, the accent brighter and more pronounced over the telephone. "Are you music-lonely? After so many students as you had today, I would never again want to hear the cello, but you have the patience I lack. My house or yours?"

I hesitated for a moment, slightly unsure of the implications of his questions, but before I could answer, he spoke again. "I am being forward. I should say instead, please come to my house at your convenience tonight, bringing your cello. I greatly need the company of your music."

"Oh, Dmitri, don't worry about being forward," I recovered. "Really, I've been looking forward to some good music all day -- my convenience is now! I just need to get Constance --" I heard him gasp at the name. "What is it? Is something wrong?" I asked, surprised at the reaction.

"Nothing, dear Celia; tell me, Constance is what you call the cello?"

"Well, yes; I've always liked the name..."

"As have I," he said, and I could imagine him smiling, perhaps a little nervously by the sound of his voice. "But certainly, bring her -- it -- I will be waiting."

"Not for long! I'll be over soon. Cheerio!"

And so I soon found myself being escorted through his house. Although he had just moved in, everything -- all the Victoriana it appeared he had been collecting for years -- everything was in place. Even in the music room, where I was delighted to find a forte-piano, the precursor to the modern piano, as well as several other fine -- and obviously expensive -- instruments: a cello, violin, and viola, cases which held Baroque and Classical flutes, oboes, clarinets... it was a collection fit for an orchestra! He smiled at my reaction, and picked up the violin.

"Shall we begin, then?" he asked, tuning the strings automatically. I adjusted mine as well, and then looked over the music he had set on the stand.

There was a duet, an autograph copy reading "Demetrius Benoni, Anno Domini 1623." It was in the melancholy key of G- minor -- and this Benoni was no slouch! It was the very essence of Baroque music, though many years too early: it had the makings of some terribly involved counterpoint, and dynamics that went from loud to soft in seconds. The bowings were tight and spiccato, but for all its formality, there was the ever-present tension that the Baroque style demanded. I let out a long whistle.

"Can I play this?" I asked myself incredulously.

Dmitri Ilyavich glanced at me and intoned with mock seriousness, "You'd better! Starting now..." and he brought up his bow, ready to begin.

Words will absolutely not describe that music. It is one of the most demanding pieces I have ever played, physically and mentally, and all the while I was plagued by the identity of the composer. I had majored in music, and here I was, unable to identify even the most minor aspect of this man.

As soon as we had recovered, I practically groaned, "Who was he? Why haven't I heard of him? I've been exposed to every famous composer from the first manuscript on, but I have never heard of Benoni. He's too damned good to be forgotten, besides the fact that you have a manuscript copy, evidence that he lived!" I sat back, frustrated and exhausted -- and happy.

I was rewarded by a little half-smile from my violinist partner. "He is -- was -- something of a relation. How can I come from such opposite places as Russia and Italy, you think? Gypsies. They value music, so they saved Benoni's. There are many manuscripts, and not all of them copies. I have them all because... I am the last of my wandering family. You might say that Alexandrei was one of us himself..."

Dmitri may well have slipped into memory; had I not spoken, it would have been deeper. "Are there more for violin and cello?" I prompted, seeking to bring him from that grief-laden silence.

"Oh yes, many," he replied, rising from his chair and going to browse through the great pile. He came back with several: the first was more simple than what we had played, in A-minor, dated 1621; the next was 1622, rather more complex; and then there was an odd jump to 1747, and the autograph became Alexandrei Kvoratin. This was different. In the key of D- minor, it was no longer so formal; it verged on classicism that oughtn't to have arrived until Haydn's time.

"Another Alexandrei," I sighed, singling out this one. "Was it a family name?"

"Mmmm, yes," Dmitri murmured, searching for the companion violin part. "Though he was an odd relative of Demetrius -- through the Wanderers, of course. Ah, here it is."

With the coming of the classical era came new melodies, new possibilities in harmony, a freedom that the old counterpoint had restricted. Like all of life in the eighteenth century, music was unbridled, its ideas born to be daring. "This is the era I would most like to experience," I said. "That whole century -- so many innovations, so much music..."

He looked at me oddly over the bridge of his violin. "Every era has its innovations, Cécilia, and there is always music. I have lived through most of them --" I glanced at him strangely " -- through the music and the letters my family has passed down, and I am content with this one." He readied himself to play, but I pressed on.

"But given the choice, wouldn't you go back to then, just to live it for a while?" He sighed, wincing at the broken clang his bow made against the violin as he brought them down. When he spoke, it was a whisper.

"Cécilia, liebe, trust me, I know those years far better than you imagine. They were not all music and lightness. There were revolutions, deaths, just as there are now. If anything, this century has made death easier, less painful -- imagine the simplicity of being atomized by these bombs -- instantaneous, painless -- when compared to the wound of a bayonet rifle, or a cannon ball. You can have the music now, without the endless plagues, the filth, that we endured then; you have the comforts without the hours spent producing them by hand; the clean, efficient cities without the mud and the animals; the vehicles that can take you across the continent in days, rather than years. Celia, you were not born into the wrong century. You had the fortune of so little pain as you have known in this miraculous era. Be glad of it." With that he brought up the bow and the violin and struck the first notes -- I would echo them a few measures later.

The intensity, the pure passion of the music made me forget the anachronism of his speech: "...that we endured then," not they, but we. And when I remembered it later I did not know what to think. There were so many incongruities: his knowledge of my violin and its previous owner -- against his age; the antiquity of his foreign speech; the impossibly familiar way he spoke of centuries past -- it doesn't show on paper, but when he spoke of them it was as though he had lived them; there was more than mere book learning could express. But I could not resolve these oddities until later, and the way they were resolved...

We did not finish until much later that night; I believe it was close to three A.M. when we stopped, exhausted even after several "listening" breaks, when Dmitri would play recordings of Benoni's work on the stereo, for greater clarity on my part. But by three we were both incapable of further playing: the strings had left lines on my fingertips, and my entire body ached from the strain of so much playing.

"There is pain?" Mitya said. (I had taken to calling him Mitya, the diminutive of Dmitri, and he called me Celia. Informality at last! Six hours of the closeness only duets can bring had created it, and now we let ourselves enjoy it.) "If you would like for me to rub your back, I would be happy to do so."

"Oh, yes," I sighed, even as he moved closer. Many people have done my back in the past, but he is the only one who can reduce me to absolute helplessness. The relaxation was so complete that it took me a moment to notice that he'd stopped -- I could feel his lips moving down the curve of my neck. "Oh, Mitya..." What could I say? I didn't want him to stop, but how could I let it go on? I felt powerless to stop it, the pleasure he had given me and continued to give.

There was music in the background now; I recognized it as Schubert's "Der Tod und das Mädschen," Death and the Maiden. And it was the second movement; it begins innocently -- and then grows to a passionate release unlike any other in music. Except for the pieces Mitya and I had been playing that night...

He stopped for a moment, long enough to ask, "Do you wish me to stop, Cécilia, knowing what it could end in?" His voice was so soft... I didn't know -- it would not be the first time; for that I had been quite young -- old enough to understand its implications, but young enough to enjoy it -- but Dmitri and I had known each other for only a little more than two days, despite the music, and the feeling that it had been years.

I didn't say a word -- didn't entirely trust myself to speak -- but he nodded anyway. "Je comprend," he said simply, and stood up. The music had collapsed after the climax; now I felt much the same: drained, though mostly satisfied. He took my hand and kissed it, and then looked into my eyes as he kissed my lips.

When I got home I found my copy of that quartet, and played it with the volume up as high as I could let it be. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. This was love, I thought -- or was it just music? I fell asleep thinking about the music's composer, Schubert: he had been just thirty-one when he died, of a combination of typhus... and syphilis. Surely he had known these feelings well.

And after all that, I had to get up at nine for a student! I had eight of them that day -- school vacation for some bizarre reason -- and by the last one I was about ready to surrender; as it was, this was musical suicide! But the thought of Dmitri and of making music with him was enough to keep me alive, even through the bad ones. Just not enough to keep me entirely awake when they were gone...

I was jolted out of my catnap by the sound of my telephone and, still half-asleep, I answered it. "Allo, Celia speaking..."

"And who else, ma chère," came Dmitri's accented voice. "Listen, Cécilia, I have surprise house-warming presence -- with an -e-n-c-e, not an -e-n-t-s. Two from my European family -- and they know our music as well. We would like to have a quartet, if you would join us? And might you bring the violin as well?"

"Hmmm, oh! Yes! Definitely," I agreed, wakened more thoroughly by the prospect of the expansion quartets would offer, repetoire-wise.

"Good!" he sighed, in Russian. "Then I will see you shortly -- no, wait. I will walk over to get you. Two instruments -- that is too much for one person to carry."

He was here within five minutes -- the distance between our houses was half a mile and his breathing was as slow and calm as ever. I forgot it quickly as we embraced, though, another incongruity to be recalled later, alone.

We walked to his house slowly, taking the road rather than the beach. Along the way he told me of his guests: they had come from Europe the day before, but did not have the energy to travel all the way from Boston to our corner of Maine, and instead slept off their jet-lag. The relationships between them were somewhat complex and had jumbled further when Alex and Julia married, but no matter; it was the friendship between them that they treasured, not the long-dead family. He spoke this calmly, yet even in the moonlight, I could see the tension in his eyes.

The two met us at the door, greeting me in clipped German, and with a smile, repeated themselves in English. I succumbed as well: "Zdrastvuitye," I said, Russian for 'Hello'.

Introductions were exchanged, and then the formality was gone. Julia gave me a warm smile, her green eyes sparkling; Alex bowed low and kissed my hand, and then seemed surprised when I answered with an exceedingly proper curtsy. And I noted something about all three of them: though hair and eye colour varied amongst them, from dark brown in Alex to golden blond in Julia, all of them had skin that was fair to the point of whiteness, pale as moonlight. But now, the music.

The first was innocent enough: an early work of Mozart, as light and playful as I remembered; the second, by Mendelssohn, was as poignant as Mozart had been ethereal. And then Alex bid all of us to close our eyes as he placed the next on our clustered stands. But before we could start, Mitya asked me to get the inlaid violin out for Alex to see.

His eyes opened wide when he saw the ancient case -- its edges had been blackened by some ancient fire -- and then I opened it. I swear that he moaned, whispering under his breath, "It simply isn't possible, after so many years... God..." He spoke in French, a dialect I could barely comprehend. When he lifted it from the case I thought he would break into tears -- why, I did not know, but he caressed it with the gentleness that comes only with great familiarity. Julia, too, seemed surprised, though not as stricken as Alex.

"May I use it, please, now?" he whispered, still staring at its delicate patterns, turning it over in his hands as though he did not believe it was there.

"Of course," I said, naturally somewhat confused. But when I looked at the music I understood. "Der Tod und das Mädschen," read the title. I gave a little gasp, prompting smiles from the pallid trio which lasted just a moment too long.

"Shall we begin?" said Mitya, grinning broadly. He was first violin, Alex second, Julia the viola, and I, of course, the cello. Despite the informality, I felt not a little intimidated; they were all virtuosi compared to me. But Julia patted my arm as said, "Don't worry about your sound, my dear -- which, incidentally, is fantastique. We have been playing as far as memory goes back, but it is not important, our training, just that we sound good together and that we enjoy it, non?" I nodded, and brought my bow up, ready to start. I felt like such a child with them, still...

"Death and the Maiden" begins with the intensity of unison, the passion of its minor key. It is everything that mankind strives for: power, sensuality, intimacy... I had not played it before, and I knew that I would never hear it -- or play it -- again as I did that night. No recording, and no other group, could ever do it justice after that. This pallid trio possessed such an intimacy already that, were it not for the necessity of the cello part, I would have felt more like an outsider than anything else. They played as though all were connected -- and then...

And then, they sought to draw me into it. There was the sensation of intrusion, almost of rape... and I heard Dmitri's voice, as though from far away -- and I knew that he had not spoken aloud. "Come, Celia, let yourself feel it with us -- you know the unity of it, you've noticed it, and other things -- let your mind grow into it." I tried -- oh, God, how I tried, without understanding, bewildered by them and their abilities -- but instead the notes faltered and died; the bow fell from my hand. It frightened me, this feeling; I had never before felt such total empathy and I was afraid of it.

"I can't," I whispered, breaking the silence that had fallen. "Whatever it is that you have -- I don't. I can't even begin to understand it -- that feeling, like... totality... like all of you are utterly joined somehow..." I realized that these were strangers to me, that I would open myself to them... but it did not seem to matter. "And I feel... alone, empty, compared to all that; I want to be part of you and I can't..." I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands... and then I felt Dmitri take them into his own.

The effect was explosive, like the rupture of an artery; the substance of his mind mingled with mine, and the images... in that torrent I saw things that still haunt me, images of the far past, of a castle, a woman, the stinging pain of... a bite? and the ecstasy that followed... of men and women dressed in the finery of the eighteenth century, and a familiar face -- Alex? -- among them, of Julia lying in his arms... of endless music, and pain, and rapture; and behind it all, the undeniable sound of a human heart racing into eternity...

And then he took his hands away; I was alone again, but the images remained. They hurt me with their immediacy -- but more than that, I could not understand them...

"Do you wish to know what we really are?" The voice startled me until I realized that it was Julia, and she had spoken aloud.

No, I thought, no, not yet, and I knew I didn't need to voice it. "But the music... may we go on?" Ah, the music, Schubert's visions of love and Death... somehow it seemed fitting for them to play this, I thought, like the realm Dmitri had shown me, like the reality of their preternatural powers.

I tried again to be part of them as we began, where I'd faltered attempting it before. Now I could feel them reaching out to me, the hard tendrils of their collective psyche and the music it encompassed. It happened; I was no longer alone, no longer earthbound but soaring above it with them, only the music our anchor, it seemed. The notes came of their own volition, because they had to, and because we wanted them. Now I was within the music with the others, and for a moment I saw myself as they did: young, even childlike, innocent, and very much alive.

With the end of a phrase, though, came the end of the feeling, and in three pulsing chords the movement was over.

They looked at me then -- or was it, into me? -- and gave me a little smile. "Do you see?" said Alex, spreading his arms, the universal gesture of surrender. And he gave a small frustrated grin -- and the "something" about their teeth was suddenly clear.

"Oh..." I whispered, clutching the fingerboard of my cello tightly, as though the instrument would protect me.

"From us?" one of them said in my mind, incredulous. I did not know, it was too soon, too much of it all, and with that music -- "Death and the Maiden" I smiled bitterly at the truth of it. Three-fourths of the quartet had aided that figure, many times, I'd wager. Would I be next? I shivered.

"No, Celia, no!" Dmitri cried softly. "What we do is not entirely by choice, but the part that is allows us to control it, to take only those for whom it is mercy. I would not deny that even now there is a part of me that hungers for you, in a manner not strictly human --" I shuddered and looked away quickly, " -- but that has little power over me. I have been like this for seven hundred years, Cécilia; I know well of what I am capable, both the negative and the positive. The music is part of me as well; it rules me as nothing else does, and you are part of the music, part of me. To hurt you would be self- destruction, Celia, and now, that is the last thing that I would do."

I was frightened almost beyond belief; to think that he was... that they were... As long as he doesn't name it, I thought, if there is no mention of his kind and their name...

Through all the confusion came a single thought at last: the violin. Alexandrei's violin, Dmitri had said, and here was Alex, more familiar with it than I or anyone else. "Alexandrei..." I said, and he looked up, almost surprised, I shook my head, smiling a little. "Then it's true?" I asked of no one. They said not a word, but I felt their acquiescence. The fear was still there; I felt myself shivering, but Dmitri had said they would not hurt me, and I had to believe it.

"Not 1964 then, eh, Mitya?" I murmured, wincing at his grin.

"No, my dear, 1269, seven hundred years before your time. And Alexandrei, 1678; Julia, 1741."

"That long? But, by whom, and... how?" As I said it, I felt a little chill. What morbid history was I engaging in? Mitya smiled.

"Alyosha and I are of one who called herself Deirdre, for him, and Nadia for me. I don't know if she still lives but it is likely. And Julia... she is of Alexandrei's blood." He paused, and gazed at me seriously. "As for how... I doubt that you are ready for it. You know it, as well."

There was no need -- I recalled without meaning to the image of that fatal embrace that he had sent, and gasped. It was strong, so intense that even I, an observer seven hundred years too late, was forced to feel that immortal passion, the unending greed and the ecstasy of the woman -- no, the vampire -- who had changed him. I sobbed with its power, longing for it even as it repelled me, and when the vision stopped I found that I was in Dmitri's arms, my cheek pressed against his chest. There was no heartbeat to be heard; he was empty inside, still and waiting for blood, waiting for life. I moaned aloud -- this was death; I held it in my arms.

And yet it was life as well; though his hands were cold, they were not unpleasant, and I felt a need for him, a refraction of his own. "Mitya..." I whispered, wishing to tell him what I felt -- but it was not necessary.

I don't know how long he held me, but when my tears ceased at last, he helped me to stand, and gave me my cello. "Can you still play?" he asked gently, gesturing towards the music. I nodded in agreement, and we began the second movement.

The theme is simple, a series of minor chords that is too beautiful to describe. It finds interest at first in dynamics, surging and receding in graceful waves -- until the first variation. The first violin voices arpeggios higher than heaven, against triplets that intensify and augment its chords, while the cello harmonizes pizzicato. The next variation belongs to the cello, though, making it soulful and melancholy, adding dimension as only 'cellos can. I lost myself in it, breathing in its notes, falling into its charm. It was alive! And then the thrusting contrast of the third variation, so full of power I nearly cried out, never wanting it to stop. Death had the Maiden, caught her and controlled her with his song and his passion. But in this light, I am lost at the next variation; it is as innocent as the previous was sensual, melodic and delicate. Perhaps the Maiden does not fear her suitor after all? She seems almost coy -- and there begins the final variation. Fear enters again, bringing their song to an even greater climax, and the resolution, still tremulous -- but at peace.

We paused then, to allow me to catch my breath before we went on -- they did not seem to tire. I closed my eyes for a moment; the next movement was one of the hardest, merely a scherzo but oh so animate! I had always seen the upper strings as the Maiden, the more sinister, lower instruments as death -- how ironic it seemed now! A trio of undead, and one symbolic Maiden. It was music, anyway. I loved them for that much. But, God, I was playing with vampires, whose empathy now included me -- what more?

The scherzo takes only a few minutes, but those are compelling, demanding minutes and once again they stopped between for my sake. "You wish to go on?" Alexandrei asked, his dark eyes full of concern. No wonder Julia loved him so. She blushed slightly -- how, I did not know -- and I realized that I might as well speak my thoughts aloud -- these creatures could hear them without even trying. So I thought: Yes; how could we stop with only one movement left, and that the most necessary?

They smiled gently: we began the end, its complex, tripleted melody coming easily, it seemed. If one were to continue the metaphor, Death and the Maiden... they are as one now; the phrases, Dark and Light, are in unison. And I think that both have triumphed somehow -- though it ends with a minor chord, frenzied after all.

They understood what it meant to me, how it frightened me still, this existence they cultured. But within that immortal cast they were human, some part of them, and that let them remember humanity's fears. We put the instruments away in silence -- they knew I could play no more that night -- and Alex turned to me, holding out the inlaid violin.

"It was yours, wasn't it?" I asked quietly.

He nodded. "For two hundred years. It was a gift from Nikolai -- ah, Dmitri -- on the first night that we met. We played Vivaldi..." Another unforeseen connection struck me.

"And Constance?" I prompted softly. He winced as Dmitri had at the name, but spoke again.

"She had been with Nikolai for more than a hundred years --"

"One-hundred thirty-three," Dmitri interrupted grimly.

" -- when she was killed; a gang of self-righteous murderers burned her to death. She was much like you, so alive, gentle even with the Hunger within her. Dmitri only changed her to save her life -- stupid barbers bled her to nothing -- and to my knowledge she had never killed. It is quite possible to drink without death to the mortal, of course," he added, seeing my surprise. "I imagine you would be much like her in that situation, Cécilia; Julia has proven to be."

"We must be chosen carefully, you see," Julia smiled. "'Joie-de-vivre' is the first criterion -- for you must want to live, and for a very long time." She paused, glanced over at Alexandrei. "If not... well, there is always suicide. No vampire would fault one for that."

Alexandrei grimaced, but would not explain. "Perhaps someday I'll bring you my Requiem -- not the musical one, but my written record. Two-hundred ninety-three years, and it's not over yet." He sighed. "For many of my old companions it is, Cécilia, by suicide or by... human intervention. It is something I do not wish to dwell on; I have not reread the Requiem for some years. I suppose I ought to "

"How ironic," I murmured, "A requiem for a vampire." And without meaning to, I yawned. "Oh! Pardon me!" I said, recovering, at which I was met by a trio of smiles.

"You have us forgetting you are merely human," Dmitri said playfully, rising from his chair. "I will walk you home, if you wish." He looked thoughtful for a moment -- no doubt conferring with Alexandrei and Julia -- and then spoke again. "You might leave the instruments here, so we could play more tomorrow, and you have no lessons?" He gazed intently at me. "Or you could stay here with them, sleeping, as we do, during the day. There is no danger, my dear," he added softly. "Not one of us would harm you."

I glanced at my watch -- 3:29 -- and inhaled slowly. Still four hours until dawn -- but they were so sincere... "All right," I said, smiling weakly. "But only in a bed, not a... coffin."

"Ah, is that what you think of us?" Dmitri pouted. "It is not most comfortable to sleep in a box designed for a corpse, not at all. Give me a spring-mattress any night -- I wouldn't exchange it for Les Innocent's best crypt. No, I shudder to think of lying in one of those all day!" He offered his arm to me. "I will see you to your room, mademoiselle," he said in French. I could only yawn again.

The room to which he took me was sparsely furnished, compared to the rest of the house, but it was obviously intended to be feminine. The center of attention was a four-poster canopied bed; a bureau, an old-fashioned wardrobe, and a writing desk completed the set, their stark, bare wood offset by the lace of the windowseat's full curtains. The moon's wan light shone in, until, with the flick of an electric light switch, it was banished.

"You like it," he said; not, it seemed, as a question. I nodded, walking in to stand by the window. "I believe you'll find a nightgown in the drawers, should you need it. If you wake during the day, please feel free to explore, but -- at risk of sounding like a fairy-tale -- do not enter the locked rooms. There are no secrets, Celia, just the vulnerable bodies of sleeping vampires, Alexandrei, Julia, and I. Light will harm us, them more severely than I -- but their instincts would survive just long enough to kill you with them."

I must have shivered, for he came closer and embraced me. "It is merely a warning, love -- our lives are in your hands during the coming day." I trust you because I love you, he added in my mind, and kissed me softly. "Good night," he murmured as he left.

I lit one of the numerous candles he had placed around the room and undressed by its light. And, like a good Victorian lady, I unbraided my hair -- which reached my waist -- and tried on the nightgown. It fit in every dimension; its construction was clearly intended for long use; its scent was ancient, but it was otherwise unharmed.

And a good thing, too. I heard music again, a piano trio this time, its phrases sudden and insistent. It was muted, through walls and doors -- I had to get closer, to feel those notes as well as hear them.

I walked to the music room sleepily, standing by the door. They no doubt knew I was there, in some corner of their minds, but no one looked up for long enough to see me; they, too, had been absorbed into the music. They played it with immortal precision, with infinite expression -- it was so ethereal one of them could have killed me then and I would not have minded. It grew, expanded into something surpassing even the composer's wildest dreams, and it was not long before I realized that this was the result of their total empathy. They played as one, each of them feeling the contractions of the others' fingers, the shape of each note before it was played. I envied them greatly -- but would I have joined them at the price they had paid?

Like everything else, it came to an end, tempestuous and frantic to the point of madness but ending on an abrupt chord. It struck me as physically as a blow and I cried out with its force -- in the absolute silence that followed its dissolution, mine was the only sound to be heard.

When I opened my eyes again I found that Dmitri was staring at me; the flavour of the music had not left him, and he seemed half-crazed himself. He closed his eyes, shaking his head as though to exorcise the madness. It would not leave him; desire, uncontrolled and unnatural, dwelt in his mind and seethed from him.

"Julia," he said hoarsely, still staring at me; she appeared at his side; Alexandrei looked on as though nothing out of the ordinary was to occur. But... Mitya took her into his arms, and lowered his head to her throat... The sum of my instincts screamed at me to run away, but I could not moved, mesmerized by this seemingly deadly embrace.

I watched, excited and revolted, as he bit into the artery that lay beneath her skin, shuddering as he pulled his teeth from it and sucked. I could almost feel its power, as though it radiated from them, and my mind cried out for it, hungered for it in the same way Mitya did. But for me, it would mean more than simple pleasure. That I could not let myself forget.

I don't remember how long it went on -- but it was not finished with his bite. Julia found the vein that pounded visibly now in his neck, and with a sudden soft cry lowered her teeth into it, pressing closer to him. It seemed mortal pleasure could never reach this pinnacle, this terrifyingly chaste carnality that only vampires would ever know -- or perhaps, more briefly, their victims. They were made one by the blood; their faces were flushed by this influx as they sank to the floor, holding each other painfully closely.

There they stayed -- when and if they moved, I was not there to see it. Alexandrei appeared at my side, gazing at me as would an adult, worrying over something a child had seen that she couldn't understand.

"Celia, Celia," he murmured, taking my hand gently. "Haven't you seen enough?" I did not protest as he led me away, the errant little girl sent to bed by Daddy. I saw my grandpapa suddenly, and it was he who held my hand and brought me to bed. "Good night, Cécilia; sleep soundly. Remember your promise." Then he was gone and I collapsed into sleep; there were no dreams.

When I woke up it was light out. Last night had become but a dim recollection, a foggy recess as I stumbled into the hallway. The grandfather clock by the bathroom said 2:47; no wonder I was so hungry. The bathroom was, thankfully, equipped for mortal needs; those taken care of, I went downstairs.

Apparently, Dmitri had planned for my visit: there were bagels and cereal in the pantry, milk in the refrigerator. As I ate I promised myself to thank him; it certainly saved me a walk home. Or did it? I was still dressed in the ancient nightgown.

I went back upstairs to "my" room -- and found an elaborate dress waiting for me on the bureau. There was a note pinned onto it; in unhurried, old-fashioned calligraphy it read, "Care to play dress-up this evening? It's from your favourite century..." I took off the paper and looked more closely at the dress.

It was made of deep red silk, offset by black velvet trim; the bodice was cut unbelievably low, and I let out a whistle seeing the waist. Only an anorexic could fit into this! And as for fasteners, there were long rows of hooks and eyes down the back, held on a stiff line of fabric. The effect would be stunning to look at, I decided, but there was no doubt in my mind that it had not been designed by a woman.

"No harm in trying it, I suppose," I sighed, unbuttoning the nightgown.

Half an hour later, I was admiring the result in the mirror. The hooks had been surprisingly easy to fasten: one swipe did them all; and with the proper adjustments, even the bodice worked out. It was close without being constrictive, though it certainly enforced my posture! And there were barrettes with which to pin up my hair, and a ruby choker, the kind that goes right around the throat. I had to admit that, even with my jaded twentieth-century mind, it was the epitome of sensuality -- black gloves encased my hands and arms; the V of the waist accented and enhanced my curves. And the bodice -- well, that goes without saying.

As I floated -- yes, floated; what else can one do in such clothing? -- down the stairs, I wondered for whom the dress had been made. And I wondered if Mitya would ever tell me. It was obvious that I reminded him of someone in the past, perhaps Constance, or the others that he and Alex hinted at. I wondered if I should be jealous -- these women had no doubt stayed with him for lifetimes, if Constance was to be any indication, and some still lived. What would they do if they found Mitya with me, a mere mortal?

I didn't dwell on it. What happens, happens. I went instead to Mitya's library, an impressive affair: the books take up more than three rooms' worth of shelves. But I suppose with so many years, there is a great deal of time to read. Surveying the shelves, I was surprised to find not only first-edition classics and textbooks, but also contemporary horror, vampire fiction, from Stoker to Poe to Rice. It must have amused him to read such things, "fictional" works whose authors themselves probably doubted the existence of his kind. There were non-fictional entries which ranged from Darwin's treatise on evolution to modern genetics; texts on historical perspective; scientific journals; biographies; chamber and orchestral works; dictionaries of languages long since dead... Those which were particularly old he had sealed in plastic, to preserve their fragile contents. After spending an hour merely reading their titles, I chose a volume of Poe and read until six, half an hour before sunset.

I had considered ordering a pizza for dinner -- never mind my seriously outdated clothing -- but discovered a little quiche in the refrigerator, ready to be eaten. "Like something out of 'Beauty and the Beast,'" I muttered to myself, and after warming it in the oven, ate it gratefully. He had not, in seven hundred years, lost the skills of cooking -- though he had no need to use them.

At twenty-five past six, I arranged myself artfully on the window-seat and watched sky darken as the sun set.

I heard a voice on the stairs as the sun disappeared under the opposite horizon. "Good evening," said Dmitri in Russian as he came down. And when he saw me, I heard the catch of his breath, and he said emphatically, "Good morning!"

He came closer, reaching out to touch my hair as though he did not believe what his eyes showed him. "You slept well?" he said softly, caressing my face.

"Like the dead," I answered gravely, and covered his cool hand with mine. "Mitya, I can hardly understand what happened last night, and I am not entirely certain that I want to. What I do know is that --" I stood up slowly, pressing myself closer to him, " --that I want to stay with you for as long as I can, with no exceptions save one. And I think you know what that is." He nodded, running his hands down my back, his fingertips barely touching the material that covered me.

"I know," he breathed; the white of his canines flashed in the gaslight. "That is not such an impediment. Mortal and immortal can find love together -- for a time... but we shall see." He bent closer to kiss me.

After a while he spoke again. "Now, shall we see about, achem, eine kleine Nactmusik?" He stepped away from me -- it was only then that I noticed he was dressed for the same century as I. There was no need to speak my reaction; he could read it straight from my mind, and he smiled. "Tonight is our little masquerade, ma chère, only for this fête, we will provide the music ourselves."

Alexandrei and Julia waited at the head of the stairs, silhouetted by a deep red sky. Julia's dress matched mine in pattern, but was black with blood-red trim. The elaborate coats that our escorts wore had been coloured to match; scarlet lace rippled down from the high shirt collars, and decorative fencing swords hung at their sides -- Dmitri's on the right. I couldn't imagine them being used; I learned otherwise later.

That night we played Brahms -- an anachronism in the clothes we wore, but I was playing with a trio of living anachronisms! We played his piano quartets; Alexandrei was again violinist, Julia the violist, Dmitri the cellist -- it had been his chosen instrument since its evolution three hundred years before -- and I attempted the piano part. I'd been playing a mere seventeen years; nothing compared to them, and Brahms can be quite a challenge. Still, we managed, often playing movements twice or three times just for the sound -- those are some of the most beautiful quartets I've ever played.

And after all had been played, three hours later, Mitya put some Austrian minuets on the CD, and we danced in our eighteenth century costumes -- made in the twentieth century -- to the music of the eighteenth century -- made possible only by twentieth century innovation. However, a dance as lively as the minuet is so exhausting that after a mere hour I was -- as they say -- dead on my feet; Mitya and I sat together on the windowseat while Alyosha and Julia danced. It was, after all, their era.

In an atmosphere such as this it was all too easy to forget what I had witnessed the night before, the impassioned images that clumped together in chaos now. And if I had remembered them, for what cause? Would it seem possible that this tender, gentle man was capable of what I had seen? It would only frighten me, and remind me of the creature he was.

For then, we talked, watching night-lit clouds pass the trees around us, and the multitude of stars that escaped from behind them. The night was bitingly cold -- I was glad for the embroidered cape Mitya had given me -- but we went for a walk a few hours before dawn. He lead me infallibly over the ill-lit rocks; we held hands on the beach, gazing in silence at the moon on the ocean, the waves that hovered inches away from us and then disappeared. It was like something out of a romance novel, almost too perfect to be real. Real it was, though not quite perfect...

I hated to leave, but Dmitri insisted that I should go back home before dawn came. It was not that they did not want me to stay, he said, only that I should get a little sleep before my students came; so with his help we moved my instruments to my house, and then he was gone, promising to return later that night with Alex and Julia.

The past two nights, though pleasant, had wreaked absolute havoc on my brain; I was exhausted then and so sleep came easily -- but it was not without dreams. Soon after I fell asleep they began, nightmares, really, tormenting me with abstractions of the recent past: Dmitri draining the life out of Julia, his eyes glowing as he turned to me -- it faded to red; I was again with them, and the quartet had metamorphed into an orchestra, all of them vampires and all hungry, and I the only human among them -- fade to red; this time on the beach, falling without end into the darkness, but worse would come if I was caught, I knew, and then I felt the hands reaching up for me -- red once more; the tide lapped at my feet, as I lay helpless in the sand, white skin burning in the rising sun, the sweet, metallic texture of blood still in my mouth -- the sky was blood-red, the ground all around me stained with it, drowned in it as I could be, and the eyes that opened above me, the lips that smiled... all pierced me like so many tiny teeth, took me away with them and into the oblivion that daylight was...

I shuddered awake with the sun in my eyes, and without realizing it I cried out, remembered pain streaking through me. It was over quickly but the images remained; burned, it seemed, into my brain. Anne Elizabeth licked my face, perhaps in some feline effort to dry my tears, but they were renewed with every passing second, as the dreams came back, relentless and terrifying. I moaned aloud, closing my eyes in some effort to escape but from these there was none. "Oh, Dmitri!" I sobbed, my mind striving to replace that horrid image with his own, the one he had shown me in the past five days -- not the stuff that my nightmares insisted upon.

It seemed that these things would never leave, even with AnnieLiz in my lap, purring warmly, and the sun on my face -- the very antithesis of the nightmare. But after a while they began to fade -- this time to black -- and I was safe again. My cat leapt off the bed, shaking herself; it was breakfast-time; she'd never let me forget. The day went as they usually do; a few students, a little reading, a lot of practicing -- no time to think about eternity.

But as the day turned into darkness at last, I was no longer so occupied, and found the pictures of horror creeping back again. This time I let them come, and as objectively as I could, allowed myself to study them. I did not want to become a vampire, they said; I feared their world, the darkness and always the blood. But it seemed there was more than that. God help me, in each scene there was a need so powerful I barely recognized it; the fear had been almost erotic, overwhelmingly sensual in a way I cannot describe. This frightened me as much as the scenes themselves; could it be possible that I wanted what they had?

It wasn't unreasonable, really; they had immortality, and what human could ever resist that? The idea of living on blood frankly sickened me, but its rewards were almost enough to justify it. This trio, with whom I had spent the last two nights, had existed for longer than the country they now haunted; they had lived alongside some of the greatest human figures in history -- and had gone on to outlive them all. I'd read enough science fiction to realize that the golden years are the ones left to come; imagine what immortality could be like in the future, if real space travel became possible? Imagine what worlds a vampire could discover, unfettered by the human constraints of time, if only given the sustenance -- and the trust. Is this getting too weird? No doubt. And by this time I was far ahead of myself, and Dmitri; to my knowledge, they had no plans of making me into a vampire. If I asked... but we would see.

The sunset filtered through the bay window and into my mind. They would be about soon, doing whatever vampires do when they awaken. I could find out...

What I did was silly, foolish; even, in a sense, dangerous, but even the memory of what Dmitri and Julia had done two nights before did not dissuade me. I dressed all in black, and left for Dmitri's house. I didn't call; I didn't ask whether or not to come -- would Mitya ever refuse me? Without warning them, with only the assumption that it was safe, that they would want me there... we had become so close, with the music and all the things we shared, I could not imagine it otherwise.

I walked the distance between our houses quickly, while there was still a little light, all the while rehearsing the meeting in my mind. Mitya would, of course, greet me at the door, perhaps with Alex and Julia standing behind him, or perhaps playing music upstairs. What I envisioned was happy, familial; I had no idea what I would actually come to find.

There were no lights on; I made it to the door by moonlight. I never even thought about knocking, but tried the doorknob and pushed it open; that was how familiar we had become. But not enough...

I was again met by darkness; all of the house's shades were tightly closed. But there was light from underneath the library doors; I tiptoed over to them, leaving my shoes by the entrance, and put my ear to the wood. I could hear nothing -- but this was a Victorian house; beneath the knobs was a keyhole, an excellent vantage point from the view of many mystery writers -- and me.

And wouldn't you know it, my knees cracked loudly as I bent to look into it. I suppressed a curse; if the occupant had heard me, there would be no place for me to hide; the double doors of the library gave a 180 view, and I knew I couldn't make it upstairs in time. The parlor, perhaps? It was worth a try -- I scurried away from the doors, past the walls that divided the foyer from the parlor; from within the library I could hear the squeak of a chair as Dmitri -- and I knew it was him -- rose to investigate the noise.

I made it to the parlor all right, but not soon enough. Lamplight burst from the library doors just before I cleared the partitions, and Dmitri sighed softly. He spoke some words in Provençale, the precursor to French; I could not understand them, but then the brush of his robe against the stairs told me what I needed to know.

"Cécilia," he murmured. "Come here, chèrie; why are you afraid?" I edged closer to the wall, pulling myself closer to it, away from him. I could not say why I was afraid, but I was, suddenly; and the images from my dream and the other night flooded me. This was worse than fear... I broke from the wall, and ran for the stairs. Behind me Dmitri sighed again, yet his footsteps continued, faster now.

I took the stairs double, no longer caring about the noise, only wishing in my terror to escape. At the top I hesitated for just long enough to ascertain that Julia and Alexandrei were not around; then, frantically, I rushed for the cupola, made it up its circular stairwell in time -- for what, I would see. Dmitri was calling my name on the storey below, his voice smooth and concerned. But the voice could not hide what my mind sensed, and it was for that I ran.

I crouched behind the bench that was the cupola's only furniture. His steps were closer now, beneath me, then behind me, then... his shadow fell across me as he bent to take my hand.

"Cécilia," he breathed, pressing it to his lips. They were as icy as the dead thing he was, yet soft and pliant; I moaned and tried to pull away, but he was always stronger. His voice was sharper now, edged with something far greater than human desire. "Celia, do not fight me. If you didn't want it, you should not have come, but now, it is too late. You know what I am; you know what I want. It is up to you, whether it shall be pleasant, or... otherwise." He pulled me to my feet and took me in his arms in one, impossibly fluid motion, and carried me down the stairs.

I closed my eyes; when I dared open them again he stood above me; I lay defenseless on his bed. He waved his hand -- an unnecessary action, I thought -- and there was music, the only piece it could have been: Death and the Maiden. I shivered in the candlelight as he undressed me coldly, stepping back to look at me, and indifferently untied the robe he wore. For all the fear, and all his pallor, I was drawn to him; his hands were loose at his sides, the long fingers scarcely moving; his hair seemed longer, and he had tied it back with a ribbon, no doubt as he had worn it for centuries; his frame was æsthetic, perfect in undeath, preserved down to the dark contrast of the hair on his chest, its slender muscularity defying the strength it held.

He came closer, closer; with every step the fear faded a little, until he took my hands into his, kissing them once again. "Cécilia, ne t'inquiete pas," he whispered, and I nodded. I would not worry -- but fear, that was another thing. He kissed my lips then, and moved closer to me, his skin cool on mine. It did not seem necessary that he have my consent -- would it even occur to him? -- but he knew he didn't need it; I had, indeed, given it when I came.

He was a vampire, but a gentleman as well, and kind enough to give something for what he would take. (Shall I say, cooking was not the only skill he remembered from mortal days.) And afterwards... the bite... the pleasure had not yet faded when he pressed his lips to my throat, opening them to expose the two cold canine teeth. His breath was hot, ragged with the strain, but for all the heat I could not stop shivering. Within my mind I could hear music -- music that he sent to me, that came from him; it was one of the duets we had played. He whispered softly, "It will hurt, ma chère, but just this once, and not for long. Remember that I love you, and that I would not hurt you for all the world -- but this cannot be helped. Forgive me..."

The next instant I can scarcely recall now; I think he may have tried to block it from my memory, if only to help me in some way. I do remember the pain, the scream that formed on my lips and would not come; for a moment it was overpowering; it was all I could feel. But when it stopped, then there was pure pleasure; perhaps his projected, perhaps my own. I could not move, lay rigid beneath him; it was impossible to say whether we were one or two in those minutes. We were connected by the blood -- my blood -- and made whole by it, completely. I could not tell when he let go, and stopped the suction between us; I could feel scarcely a thing but the pleasure, warmth and darkness enfolded me, encased me closer than a coffin. I did not know it, but I had slipped into unconsciousness -- Mitya had taken more than he'd meant to...


I awoke to find Julia sitting next to me on the bed, holding my hand. "We were afraid you wouldn't wake up," she said with a sad little smile. "Mitya nearly went mad when he found you'd stopped breathing -- and you did, for at least a minute. He took far too much from you, little one, and when he called us back -- we were on the beach, actually, looking for much the same as Mitya -- he was raving about a woman named Lucianna; this sort of thing happened with her, as well. If you could have seen him... he was crying, Cécilia, and he has not cried since Lucianna died more than two hundred years ago."

She looked up as Mitya walked in, his eyes red-rimmed, his hands white. "Speak of the devil," she murmured, and stood up to go. He smiled slightlyat her as she left, and then his attentions were all mine.

"Oh, Cécilia," he sighed, twisting his hands as in frustration. He looked down at me, and spoke his next words in a whisper. "Do you know, I had been watching you for six months before your fall? When you went for your walks at night, on the beach, I was there, too, following you? Sometimes I'd get so close that I could reach out and touch you -- but how could I let myself? It was always too soon, the moment always too brief. Your music -- Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Saint- Saèns, whichever would grace the night -- I could always hear it through your ears, and all the little sighs your mind would give, the shivers it sent through you, and the cold you did not want anyone to know you felt -- I felt them all. I loved you for it then, as I love you now, all the things you gave me without knowing it -- and this is what I have done to you.

"Cécilia, I cannot ask your forgiveness for it -- I have no right to. No human should have to endure what I demanded of you; I alone bear the blame for what transpired between us, and I alone should bear the pain, whatever pain there is. But, oh..." He took my hands and pressed them within his own, lowered his lips to my fingertips and kissed them. They were as cold as his, pale white in the glow of a solitary candle. I sat up, wishing to embrace him -- but instead there came the most sickening wave of dizziness... he took me gently in his arms as I fell back, trembling with the vertigo.

He closed his eyes and softly, so quietly that I almost did not hear it, he began to sing. It was a story my parents had sung to me as a child so I would fall asleep: "Once long ago, far, far away, there lived a king; proudly he'd say, 'Take all my land, take all my gold, leave me with only your love to hold...'" It was to the tune of the "Emperor" Waltz; I had heard many times on its own, but the words always came, and always they reassured me. Dmitri knew it, and I loved him all the more for it. I slipped back into the darkness, but the last thing I heard was his voice, softer now as it choked with tears.

When I next awoke there was sunlight in the room, pure and white; its glow, reflected by the water below, made ripples on the ceiling, soft pale lines that shifted and writhed above me. I lay there for some time, basking in the innocent warmth of it all; it was so still that I could feel the subtle beat of my heart within me, slow and gentle, like the waves that mesmerized me so. And then I became aware of another sound, a not-so-distant rumble, the demure purring of a cat... Ann Elizabeth sat at the foot of my bed, her eyes closed and contented. She padded over to my side when she saw that I was awake, rubbing against my face and neck, the purr that much greater.

"Did Mitya bring you?" I asked her sleepily, knowing that he must have and wondering how she had responded -- like most Siamese, she was bound to one human and one alone, and did not easily tolerate strangers. She had hidden on each of the occasions Dmitri had visited, hissing and growling when forced out of her solitude. If she had been so hostile this time... I imagined the scars Mitya might wear from her claws, and smiled. Perhaps my cat had developed a taste for immortal blood? And what would one do with a cat that lived forever?

It was still fairly early in the day: this room faced east, and the sun was in view -- how's that for practical astronomy? -- and I was beginning to ponder how, exactly, I could spend this lovely day. A walk on the beach would certainly do me well; after all, Ann Elizabeth and I had to get home somehow. I sighed and sat up, attempting to prepare for what would no doubt be a somewhat arduous journey; I was, of course, suffering from a slight lack of blood. But anemia or no, I had to go home; sanitation demanded it.

I left a little note to Dmitri explaining where I was, and with that, I was gone. It was warm out, at least for the time of year, and I walked happily, AnnieLiz a few steps ahead of me. Once in a while she'd look back and meow, urging me to go faster, but I hadn't that much energy.

It took longer than usual to get home, of course, and by the time we reached it I was quite tired. I lay down on the davenport, telling myself that a few more minutes' sleep wouldn't hurt -- and when I awoke again the sun had set, the room was dark and cold. And someone else was there! It was nothing more than a shadow, but the figure sat opposite me, very still...

I froze, imagining the worst... and then came the softest little laugh, more like a sigh than anything malicious. "Good evening, my dear," said Dmitri, moving into the shaft of moonlight that had pierced the window.

"What are you doing here, Dmitri Ilyavich?" I demanded hoarsely.

"Watching you sleep, what else?" he answered primly. "I found your notice, Cécilia, but I couldn't let you escape that easily. And then --" his tone grew more serious -- "I worried that something might have happened to you on your way. That is not an easy walk when one is thirsty."

"Thirsty?" I repeated, though he could only mean one thing.

"When you lack blood," he clarified, "although for you the feeling is quite different, yes? I never lost blood whilst a mortal; though the practice of blood-letting was still all too common, my 'humours' were never so much out of balance. So of course I've no idea what anemia feels like in a human -- besides the faint nausea you are experiencing now. That, I can feel -- I am sorry for putting you through it."

He took my hand, stroking it gently, closing his eyes. "So cold," he whispered, smiling a little. "So much like us, though so very far from it... and if I am to be any part of this, that is how you will stay, eh?"

"When you do that," I murmured, "you remind me of someone I knew in college. Actually, the resemblance is quite striking -- he had the depth of your eyes, though his were black, and your very dark hair. And it's the state of mind, too, I think; he had your way of thinking, always the guilt, and oddly enough, the morbidity -- though yours has quite a different cause, I should think. If he could meet you..." I stopped and smiled, imagining their conversation. "I think he would be quite curious of your... ah, habits." I smiled again, and Dmitri with me, seeing the images played out in my mind. "He played the violin as well, you know. By the time I last saw him, he'd gotten quite good at it, though to hear him talk, you'd think he was nothing. Oh, my! I wonder what he'd think of this?"

"Probably it would shock him a great deal -- considering the way you felt for him."

"But that was so long ago; he probably doesn't even remember me. I think he married a couple years back, a very nice girl with green eyes -- Galatea was her name, I believe. Yes, quite unusual -- but I think it fit. Do you recall the myth?"

"Pygmalion and his infamous statuette? Of course. Then you think he created her himself?"

"So it seemed; I'd met the girl a couple years before in a high-school music program -- she played the viola, or some string; it's been a while -- and after she met him she did a total flip. She'd been Jewish before -- yes, even with that name; odd parents, I guess -- but then she changed. For him. And he accepted it..."

"As he wouldn't accept it from you?" Dmitri added softly.

I nodded. "But mine was much more radical -- and that much less permanent. Before, as I am now, I was an atheist. I remember thinking about this very thing, actually; how, even after I lost him, I would still have the faith he helped me find. It's rather ironic, really." I sighed -- this was not an easy thing to think about; I had never wanted to lose Mark, and it hurt a great deal when I did.

"And your name, as you called yourself then... you think it fit as well?"

"Quite," I said with a bitter smile. "Pandora... she always had that curiousity... and hope, even after everything else was gone. And a nasty tendency to get herself into bad situations."

Mitya smiled, squeezing my hand. "And do you feel there is some allegory between that time and ours?" he prodded gently, moving a little closer.

"I hate to, but there is the element of immortality... one might compare it to the issue of religion then... and you're so like him at times! It almost frightens me..." Mitya grinned, as I recalled another of Mark's little quirks.

"Yes, my dear, but mine is more a -- shall I say -- gut reaction when you are frightened. One of those things included in my design to make my method of nourishment a bit more palpable, I imagine. Your fear the night before was... mph..." He exhaled slowly, closing his sea-blue eyes.

"As though you needed help," I teased.

"Ah, mortals," he sighed, lifting his face to heaven. "The spice of life, non?"

"Oh, so now I'm a mere seasoning? Thank you very much!"

"Better, my dear, than a mattress, don't you think?" he deadpanned, reading the memory from my mind.

"Dmitri Ilyavich Gregov! Stop that this instant," I gasped, my anger piqued now by the intrusion.

"Or what?"

"Or I'll... For Pete's sake, I don't know, but your tricks are starting to get on my nerves." I threw a pillow at him weakly; he caught it easily, tossed it to my feet and stood.

"Would you rather I left?" he said quietly, with an unmistakable sparkle in his eyes.

"Do you need to ask?" I murmured, beckoning him within my mind. There was no hesitation in his steps toward me. The rest... well, I'll leave that to your imagination. Go easy on us, now -- don't let me do anything I wouldn't do...

He left me just before dawn the next morning, and I fell asleep still feeling the warm glow of his love. This affair -- as I had come to think of it -- was positively delicious, and not just for him. Sometimes I would lie in bed in the dark, the sheets silky on my skin, thinking about him and his darkness and his lovely hands -- he had piano-playing hands, my Dmitri -- and the things we had shared in our scant weeks, years, they seemed. And sometimes I would be betrayed back to my college days... but I don't like to think of that so much. If only he had known the pain...

Love is a funny thing. So many times I had been hurt by it... but I would do anything for it, and have. Would this time be the same? My Dmitri seemed so sincere... but so had Mark, so long ago. I suppose he couldn't help it; he was what he was. And his life was his own; I had no claim on his love, though I almost wish I had. It nearly killed me when he found Galatea -- now that I think of it, she was actually from Israel; he had a thing for foreign women -- but it doesn't matter anymore. We still send each other Christmas cards, his with pictures of his children, his house, the plans for all the little things he'll never do. I still love him, in a strange way; I'll never forget him. But I mustn't live in the past; this memoir is for Dmitri, not for Mark. And of Dmitri, there is so much more to tell!

When he came by that evening, he brought me flowers. Roses, six of them, long-stemmed -- and black. "Seulement pour toi, mademoiselle," he said; all I could do was sigh.

"Merci beaucoup," I answered gravely, taking them and inhaling deeply. "And to what do I owe this honour?" I had to drop the pretension; "I mean, roses!"

"I was remembering the first few times that I watched you walking, on the rocks at night," he murmured. "When you saw flowers, you were such a little girl that I almost laughed aloud. The thoughts that went through your mind! How many biology courses did you take, to supplement the music? I learned more about floral anatomy than I ever thought possible, listening to you on those nights."

"I hope you didn't mind," I smiled.

"Not at all; with you to narrate, it was like walking through the Garden of Eden all over again. And I enjoyed your thoughts on other things as well -- if you don't mind my remarking. When you watched the stars, it was like seeing them for the first time. They have not changed much in seven-hundred years -- but with the awe inside you to guide me, it was as though they had been born anew, their glory without precedence. And the depth... I had never troubled myself with thoughts of their distance, not since the birth of modern astronomy, but through your eyes I saw the emptiness, the completeness of the vacuum that lies between us... and the closeness that you feel for them, as though they could be touched if you only stood a little higher..."

The words trailed off as he sought my hand, found it and pressed it tightly in his. "The falling star... the meteor... I didn't care what it was called, as long as I could feel the joy in your heart when you saw it. It was only a flash, a bit of the universe burning away in an instant shorter than your breath, but it was everything to you, wasn't it? You thought about where it had been, the reaches that it had traversed before it came to you, came to the Earth for the sole purpose of creating a spark in your eyes; you thought about being up there with it, watching it from within as it struck the atmosphere and disappeared in the white plume that drew you to it. I loved you more than life itself in those moments, as I do now. Cécilia, I would spend my life with you if it were possible; I would give everything I possess and more to have you with me forever. But I cannot damn you to these eternities, and I do not know if there is hope otherwise..."

In the twilight I saw the tears that formed in his eyes; I lifted my hand to them, pressed my palm to his cool cheek. And I wrapped my arms around him; I held him tightly and I let the tears mix with mine, in the sight of the stars and the moon and the light of the universe. We stayed there for a long time before we went into the house, into its bright, artificial, homey warmth; I held him until the morning, and shut my heart from the light of the sun. It would not reach us there.

"Cécilia..." he whispered that night; it was enough. I was pulled suddenly awake by it -- I who could sleep through a train next door, or a jam session if need be -- I woke with a snap at the sound of his voice. I forced my eyes to open -- no easy task, that -- and blinked at him in what I hoped would suffice for a greeting. He lay next to me on the bed, propped up on one elbow; he watched me as I went through my waking motions. A yawn, a stretch, a sigh... and at last, a word.

"Morning, Mitya," I muttered. "Do all vampires have your stamina, or is that just you? It's not me. I feel half-dead already..."

"Only half-dead? That's not a very good sign," he pouted. "Whatever have I been doing wrong?" He sat up suddenly, and grabbed my feet. "Maybe I just need practise."

"Ack!!! Don't do that! I get violent when I'm tickled!" I showed him I meant business -- only to find myself quite abruptly upside-down on his lap. "That's not fair!" I yelled into my pillow. "Ann Elizabeth, attack this man!" The cat refused to become involved; instead she decided that the fur on her paws was rumpled, and immediately took to straightening it. "Traitor," I muttered, struggling to free my wrists. "See if I ever save you from that tomcat again."

Dmitri laughed, and meowed appreciatively as I squirmed. "Oh! Do that again!" he yelped when I hit a particularly sensitive spot.

"Or what?" I cried, still muffled. Mistake! He proceeded to show me; it all went downhill from there, and we ended up gasping for breath, grinning wildly, clenching the abused fabric of our pillows.

"Okay," I finally conceded. "You win. But see if I ever let you hold my pillows again!" We were laughing so hard that tears dripped onto the bedspread; I reached to wipe his away, and found myself being drawn into his arms.

"Oh, Cécilia!" he whispered; I could picture the smile. "Your pillows mean nothing to me -- it's what you do with them that counts." Suddenly he was serious again. "I love you, chèrie; don't forget it. You're so alive, so... human..." He kissed my forehead, smoothing back the hair.

"But what about when you were human, too?" I probed, keeping my voice soft. "What was it like, seven hundred years ago? That's such a long time; I can hardly imagine it..."

"I know. It has been long, especially when I was alone. I don't know what I would have done without Constance, or Alexandrei -- he, more than any I have known, has kept me sane. But you want history more ancient than that, eh?" He held me just a little tighter, and I could feel the beating of his heart, so slow I mightn't have noticed it if I hadn't heard it just once. "You want to know about the woman who changed me into a vampire."


"Don't deny it, chèrie; remember that you're thinking your every thought out loud. That gives me an unfair advantage, and I know, it is unfair -- but such is life. I have given you only her name; you deserve far more than that. But please, keep in your mind that this is all history, ancient history, and seven-hundred years is a long, long time for anyone to endure. I have changed more than you can know in those years -- and though this doesn't mean much to you now, wait until my story is complete. Then I will beg you to know it, and to understand..."

"I understand already," I whispered, but he shook his head.

"You are young, and mortal; you know little about the powers that animate and control us. I will do my best, but the most I can ask of you is that you try. Will you do that for me, Cécilia?"

"You know I would." I looked up at him for a quiet moment, and then he pushed my head down again, gently.

"All right, ma petite. But do not forget..."


It began in the year of our Lord 1289. I was twenty then; it was long past my time to marry, said my father. But whom could I choose? I demanded. People of our class were rare in that corner of Hungary; we had remained independent from both Russia and the Holy Roman Empire, keeping our own kings and kingdoms. My father was a count, you see, and though it was more common for the ruling class to marry within itself, I had no such opportunity. Personally, I found most of its women spoiled and boorish; I had no wish to marry one of them, even if they had seen fit to visit our county more often.

With such a lack, then, I turned somewhat reluctantly to the villains for my bride. Only one of them truly caught my interest; she was a young lady by the name of Nadia. Oh, she already had a suitor and I knew it -- he was a mysterious man who would see her only at night, the townsfolk said -- but why should I care? I was the count's son; she was merely a peasant; she should be happy to have my attention. But she loved another... and love was not something I understood then. I would have her no matter what.

And so the wedding was set, against the will of my lady, but naturally much to the delight of her family. Our vows were taken, our futures sealed; I did not know then how permanently. And that night, though custom called on us to consummate the marriage, she left our bed before I could touch her, walked to the window -- and disappeared! Of course I could tell no one of this embarrassment; they wouldn't believe me, and even if they did, imagine the loss of face I would suffer. My own wife, leaving me on our wedding night? So I endured it -- though each night, when she went away, I gave myself in thought to the tortures I might perchance inflict on her lover -- the man who had her as she would not allow me. Still, I never hated her; I had chosen her if not of love, then of at least a little liking, even respect for her intelligence -- but the deceit for which she used it...


He stopped then, glancing at me sideways. "Would you like to go for a walk?" he said softly. I nodded, if not somewhat bemusedly; we dressed in silence and left the house, hand in hand.

Although the "neighborhood" of my house is not old -- no more than eighty years, I would say -- not far from it is a cemetery, ancient and decayed. And so in the moonlight -- full now, and brilliant like the planets -- we found it, its gravestones glowing faintly under the coating of lichens and moss that the years had given them. I had come here often enough myself, seeking the peace and companionship of the dead. Indeed, I had come to think of these souls as friends, acquainting myself with their lives -- if only a little -- through the phrases engraved on their headstones, the dates which marked their passage here.

There was the wise Reverend Ezra Stockwell, born in 1698, educated in Cambridge, married in 1732, died in 1781, "Called by the Lord at last to serve in Heaven"; there was the Lady Charlotte Camden -- born to royalty in 1721 but destined to live her life in the Colonies, a real life without the fripperies of the court life she seemed to have hated -- even her headstone, placed in 1786, was simple. And there were two little girls, Lucina and Emily, born June 21, 1756, who died together just three weeks later; they were buried next to their mother, lost in childbirth.

It was all right to cry amongst these friends; sometimes, reading of their brief lives, I was drawn to tears. Always I wondered what they had really been like: were they optimistic, cheerful, tender, powerful, devout, miserly, well-liked, rebellious... but it was impossible to know. They all seemed to have died with salvation in mind, judging by the inscriptions their families chose for them -- yet how common was skepticism? Would I meet them all someday, as they promised? I have no doubt it would be a happy reunion if it were so....

But for all my love of these compatriots in eternity, I wondered sometimes of the odd graves. The one that puzzled me the most was an unmarked, underground tomb -- the strangest part of it was the door, which had been bricked up and rebricked several times: there were three different kinds of bricks, all showing varying stages of wear. My mind had wandered often to the possibility of vampirism, though I shrugged it off as impossible; surely it was a mere case of grave robbery. But why the lack of identification, the crucifixes chiseled into the stones? This could be no ordinary grave -- could it? Might I find out tonight, from Dmitri?

"I never told you, ma chère, but I lived here once," he whispered. "It was 1762 when I came, after Alexandrei... well, that is another story indeed, one he would better tell than I. My house was not far from this cemetery, near the church, though both are long gone now; I came here at night as you do, though if I were seen the consequences might have been far more dire.

"And yes, I did know some of these people. Reverend Stockwell was a friend of mine, ironically; every Sunday night after services he would come to my house to discuss philosophy -- among other things -- with me. Charlotte I did not know well; my hours were far from the norm, oil for the lamps being as expensive as it was; but I know that she was noble, generous, kind, and faithful -- for Stockwell could not speak enough good of her. Thomas Hale was the father of the unfortunate twins you pitied so; he remarried three years after their mother's death, outlived Lydia as well, and the next woman he married. Not a lucky man, that Hale -- but not a very kind one, either, I can tell you!

"Perhaps he got what he deserved in his fourth wife, Mara. She was nineteen when she married him, still very much a free spirit; try as he might, Hale could not keep her quite as he wanted to. He was fifty-two then, far past his prime; I suppose one could not blame her for seeking affection elsewhere. Being one of the older members of the community, Hale often attended town meetings as night, sometimes until dawn; what Mara needed was a man who would not be so missed during those hours, one whom she knew had evenings to play with." He looked down at me, a faint smile on his lips.

"And who might that have been?" I teased.

"None other than Daniel Mallory," he answered gravely, though the smile was still there. You will find his grave not far from the dugout tomb -- though you're not likely to find him in it..." The smile disappeared as he continued. "Mara came to me first a few months after her marriage. 'I want a child,' she told me, 'and Thomas cannot give me that.' Even when that I told her I could not, either, she persisted, and finally I gave in. It wasn't hard; she was quite pretty for that age, and enthusiastic as well. But one night it went too far -- I was overwhelmed by the thirst that I had not had time to placate, and in that frenzy I took her blood. I killed her. And then I brought her back.

"I should not have done it -- she was too young, too inexperienced to know anything of that kind of hunger. She fed blindly, killing as often as she drank; it was not long before the people caught her. She was sentenced to die while I lay asleep, powerless to help her -- but in that age, far removed from the old ways, how were they to know that hanging will not kill a vampire? I was surprised that they did not burn her at the stake for witchcraft -- but it was only a few days before she returned to me, pitiful and starving, too scared to feed and dying slowly of it. I sheltered her as long as I could; she left one night after a fight with me, and was caught again the next. This time the people tried poison; again she returned, having torn the bricks from her tomb, as you see it now. It happened twice more before they finally burned her, exhausted by her, sworn that this would be her last rising. It was.

"As for me... well, terrible as she could be, I had harbored some feelings for her; I decided that I had been here long enough -- the Old World was calling me back. My 'death' occurred in 1782, a little after that of my friend Reverend Stockwell; I was buried, and then left the Americas that night. I did not return again until four years ago -- I dared not. Twenty years is not long for a vampire, but it was long enough to cause me pain, pain that I did not want to remember. And then there was you..."

He paused, and began to walk again, slowly, silently. I followed; what else could I do? And I was not surprised when he stopped. "Daniel Mallory, died 1782 at the age of 57 years, 5 months, 13 days." The inscription that followed read, "The body as mortal returns to the sod/ Where the weary and suffering rests/ The spirit immortal ascends to its God/ In whose presence alone is blest."

I turned to him and touched the hand that lay motionless at his side. "Two-hundred and ten years is a long time to be gone," I whispered. "Now that you're back... how would you live this life in this age?"

He did not answer me then; instead he pulled me closer and kissed me. "You know the power of this place, don't you, Cécilia? All around us there is death -- but there is also your life." His voice was quiet and steady -- a calmness that I knew only as a façade for those far deeper emotions. "What would your college friend think of this?" he asked, sweeping the necropolis around us with a motion of his arm. "His reaction here would not be far from mine..." His grip on my arm tightened and he grinned, showing the cruel, doubled canines of his undeath.

"Dmitri," I murmured. "Here, amongst the friends of a life so long ago? What would they think if they could see you... see us, and this that you have planned?"

"They expected nothing less of me then, my dear; I do not think they would be so shocked now -- if any of them 'turn in their graves', as it is said, we might notice, and I don't think they'd want that. Will you, for me, Cécilia?" When he looked into my eyes there was nothing I wanted more, not at that moment; I shuddered and whispered my consent.

He gave me a tight little smile; was it satisfaction or smugness? Whichever it was, it did not last long; a new look had come into his eyes, a need and a passion for the things only a mortal could give. He held me close with his arms folded around my back; gently he kissed me, following the line of my throat, down to the vein that I could feel beneath his lips, pounding with fear and anticipation. I could not help but cry out when he opened his mouth to it, though it was less from pain than from pleasure... He did not take much this time, only a taste, and when he finished, he spread his cloak out on the damp grass and lay me softly down upon it.

The next hour was one of the strangest I have yet experienced in my life. Though it all I felt no less than complete terror, and complete passion; were it not for Mitya, I expect I would have been exhausted by it; as it was, he only fed both emotions -- and, I do not doubt, on them. The fear, I will admit, was quite irrational; it came only when I dared to imagine the inhabitants of the graves beneath us, as they would now appear. Then, it was all I could do to keep from crying out, let alone struggling to escape the grip of a man who was just as dead but not as gruesome; each time, Mitya whispered soft reassurances to me, coaxing me back to peace, and finally to passion once again. The peaks that we reached... the soaring, absolute purity of those moments... I thrill to remember them, and the love that grew as they did.

"Would you like to hear the rest of the beginning of my life, ma chère?" he asked when we returned to his house later that night. When I said yes, he made tea for me -- "Because it is still a long tale, and I doubt you will be able to stay awake for it without some assistance, non?"

We sat in the huge windowseat of the library, facing the ocean; the sky was so clear that the stars shone in the water itself, and the moon danced with the waves. And then Dmitri began his story again.


My father had died the week after our wedding; I had no one to ask for council even if I had wanted to. I knew that she was seeing someone else; what else could it be? Before, it had only been during the night, but now... she was gone for the day. She told me that she was going to visit her family. I had been a fool to believe her, but I did -- and when her chambermaid came with the news that her family had not seen her in weeks, and would not today... It was then that I realized she must be with her illicit lover; it angered me greatly that she would have the gall to do so not only at night, but in the just light of day as well. Had she returned earlier, I believe I would have done her harm, which I had never before thought possible; she may have been an adultress, but she was still a woman and my wife, and despite the notions of the day, I did not believe in corporal punishment for one's spouse -- my father had never hurt my mother; why should I hurt my wife?

In any case... She looked... strange that day. It was raining, I remember, and she stood in the main hall dripping until dry clothes were fetched for her. She was more pale than usual, though her lips were as red as Eden's forbidden fruit. Something about her smile was wrong as well, though at the time I could not place the incongruity. The cook had laid out a feast for dinner, prepared many of my unwilling bride's favourite foods, but she ate barely enough for a bird. I might have worried, had I not been so preoccupied with hate.

We spoke not a word to each other the entire evening. She busied herself with some incidental chore that, miraculously, only she could perform. I, being the head of our area's government, tried unsuccessfully to work out how far into debt the villains were this time, though my true thoughts dwelt solely on how to deal with her. Those tasks occupied us until sundown, and by then, I was ready to confront my formerly beloved with those terrible accusations.

The one thing that I had insisted on in our marriage was that we share a bed -- when she bothered to come home. Even if she wouldn't love me, I wanted her near me, though she wouldn't even love me there; the marriage had, of course, never been consummated. I don't know how I can tell you this, Celia. It is one of the worst things I have done in my life; it is not an easy confession to make, though I suspect it will be worse for you to hear than for me to tell. I am not proud of what I wrought that night. It was the beginning of my misery.

We both lay in bed, without acknowledging each other's presence, for some time. Finally I could not bear the silence. Very bluntly, I asked her what his name was, and why she should be so dissatisfied with me as to need some lowly peasant. She didn't answer. She just lay there with her back turned to me, and I hated her! I -- I could not help myself... my anger was so overpowering... I took her then by force, as revenge, as an expression of the hate, and in my hatred, things I would never have considered doing seemed suddenly very appropriate. When she bit me, the cold passion I felt was such that it would only allow an answer in kind -- through the haze of pain that the bite had produced, I sought the vein in her neck, and sank my mortal teeth into it as far as they would go, drawing blood, and a curse from her lips.

What I did not know was that her blood was no longer human, and the curse was not merely a spoken one...

I don't recall how long we stayed like that; after she stopped struggling -- and she did, when I bit her in return -- we seemed to be floating together, and images that could only have been hers passed through my mind. It was probably the closest we had ever been, would ever be, indeed. The fact that it had come only through violence was, I believe, significant; much of my life afterwards was to be lived in such a vein.

She left me just before sunrise to fend for myself -- not that I was unused to it -- but I was not prepared for what came next. As the sun came over the horizon, I was struck by the most extreme terror I had ever felt. Something was dreadfully wrong -- the light, even that which was merely reflected off the clouds, seemed to burn my eyes, my skin... Instinct told me to run for shelter, and so I did, through the labyrinthine corridors of the estate; finally I found darkness in the root cellar, far away from the glare of the sun.

I stayed hidden underground all day, though above I could hear the servants calling for me and for Nadia; I would return that evening, but they would never see her again.

When I emerged that night, I was much changed: my skin had largely lost its colour -- what little it had had before, as in those days it was more admired to be pale than tanned: only laborers were sunburnt -- and my lips had become a most disturbing shade of red. Though my household did its best to hide the shock, I knew that I was a startling sight at best, and a frightening one at least; and I knew then that I would have to leave them, as soon as I possibly could -- they would find a replacement for me somehow, capable as they were. For the year was 1289, and the old legends had not yet been suppressed: they knew, and I knew, that I was a vampire.


It took me a moment to realize that Dmitri had finished speaking, so spellbound was I by his tale. When I opened my eyes, I found that he was no longer looking down at me, but out to the sea, of whose existence he was likely unaware when he was transformed. Had he even imagined the next seven hundred years, I wondered? "Are you homesick?" I asked quietly. He glanced down, startled; there was a pause before he answered.

"No, not homesick, precisely; there is little to be nostalgic for in that age. If anything, you might call me timesick -- there has been so much of it, so many changes..." He shook his head and gave a tight smile. "You asked me once before if I wanted to go back... sometimes, yes, I miss the mortals I once knew; I miss the atmosphere that used to be, that little bit of opulence that was somehow everywhere. Things are different now -- not worse, not entirely better -- just different. I can't say I prefer any of those times; they are all part of my life, and all gave me experiences that I still cherish now -- I wouldn't trade them for the world, if it were mine to give. It's just that... time seems so short when I'm really living it, and yet so long when I think of all that is left, all that there has been... all that I have had without you..."

I took his hand and led him gently to the bedroom; we spent the day in each other's arms and said what we felt without words, for no more words needed to be said.


When I awoke the next morning, Mitya was no longer with me in bed, but I could hear the staccato notes of his cello in the next room. I suppose he must have been keeping track of me, for shortly after I'd yawned and stretched sufficiently, he appeared in the doorway and smiled at me.

"Alexandrei and Julia have gone out for the night," he said. "We have the house entirely to ourselves. And the sky is beautiful outside; according to the weather forecast, we're in for some meteor showers. Would you care to join me on the porch? I've taken the liberty of dispersing the other bloodsuckers -- I know how they bother you."

"Mosquitoes? Bleah. They are the bane of my existence," I muttered. "If they're really gone, thank you! Um, let me get a robe or something anyway -- it feels a little chilly."

"What, I can't keep you warm?" he said in mock horror, but handed me the silky kimono that had been draped over the chair.

We stood on the porch together, gazing at the sea and the sky. The ocean was calm this night; when a promised meteor swooped above us, it passed below us on the water as well, prompting smiles of delight from both of us. The air was thick with the scent of citronella -- but at least there were no mosquitoes; indeed, there was nothing to spoil the perfection of that night. The rest goes without saying by now, I'm sure -- or at least it would, if we'd come in before our last walk on the beach.

It was nearly dawn, then; over my protestations, we left the house and wound our way over the rocky shore. "There will be no problems, dear Celia," Mitya assured me, and yet I was certain I could detect a slight hesitancy in his voice. It was so near sunrise -- how could we possibly make it back into the house on time? I wondered even more when I found that he was starting towards the cemetery; I wanted to turn back then -- I could see the light over the horizon -- but he hushed me with almost frightening force. Further and further we walked, away from the house that would have been his salvation in sunlight...

"What do you mean to do, Dmitri?" I whispered when we paused in front of his 'grave,' but he only smiled, and took my hand.

"Lie with me awhile, my love," he murmured, lowering himself to the ground. When I looked into his eyes there was no fear, but an odd self-assurance, a sort of bravery that I had never before seen, like the face of a just man sentenced to death -- the sense that, after all, there would be some justice; if not in this world, then in the next.

I knew then what he meant to do, and it was all that I could do to keep from crying. "Mitya! How can you do this now? I thought you loved me! I thought we would have our time together, no matter how short it is!" Still he said nothing; now I felt anger rising within me. "How can you do this to me, Mitya! I love you! I --"

Suddenly the first rays of sunlight pierced the sky. Dmitri closed his eyes against it, shivering, and I threw myself on top of him, seeking somehow to protect him from that horrible light. And yet I knew that nothing short of an eclipse could stop it now, that miracle of moon and sun... and that there could be no miracles for Dmitri. I felt him shuddering beneath me now, as the full force of this miserable light took its inevitable toll, and the tears rolled down my cheeks; like the sunlight, I could not stop them.

But his shivering did not cease, even when the sun was fully above the horizon, and there was another sound above my ragged breaths. It was the sound of a human heartbeat, unsteady and impossible, but growing stronger by the moment. And with the heartbeat... the gentle touch of his voice.

"I do love you, Cécilia," he whispered. "I love you more than immortality itself, and I will love you as we grow old together, until the day that you... the day that we die." I looked up at his face again to see tears of joy, mine and his, and hope for the time that we would have together, not forever, but for life.

After all, there's always time enough for life... and for love. It will be time enough for us.

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