Published in Issue 16 of Visionary Tongue, 2002.
“Every time that I look in the mirror,
All these lines on my face getting clearer.
The past has gone, in the night like dusk to dawn.
Isn’t that the way?
Everybody’s got their price in life to pay.”
THE MISSION : “Dream On”
A slim trail of bluish smoke rose lazily from the Sobranie Black Russian as it smouldered in the ashtray, slowly filling the air with it sweet vapour. Annabelle reached across with an age-gnarled hand and took a long and satisfying drag before shifting her attention back to her photograph album. There, captured in a series of fading sepia tones was the story of the summer that changed her life forever. She looked back through the decades at pictures of elegant dinners, midnight tennis matches and rowing trips, country excursions and art galleries.
Like any summer before it, 1928 had seen a succession of wealthy British youngsters flooding into her native Paris to sample its legendary decadence for a few months before returning to their stuffy English homes. Annabelle Trieste had already been the talk of Paris for the past few years, although she was barely twenty. As thin and as graceful as a willow, blonde and delicately beautiful, she suited the fashion and spirit of the time. She had an endless succession of admirers and countless offers of love, marriage and a luxurious life in Paris, Rome, London, Venice, Madrid or a dozen other chic cities. She’d chosen to play the field – in Paris she could live life and take lovers as she pleased, in fact it was almost expected that she did.
‘28 had been a summer unlike the others before. True, there was the carefree hedonism, the wild partying and the coquettish flirting as before, but this time there was true love as well as the game of love. Something deep inside spoke to her as soon as she’d caught sight of Celeste Trelawny. She’d been sitting at the bar of a fashionable hotel, wearing an exquisitely tailored dinner suit that made her look as exotic and sophisticated as a brunette Dietrich. Against the fashion of the time, she wore her hair long and unfettered, flowing over her shoulders in liquid waves of chestnut silk. The very fact that she was there unchaperoned was shocking enough, but the blatant invitation in her eyes as soon as she saw Annabelle was nothing short of scandalous. They’d had dinner together, Annabelle’s escort for the evening the furthest thing from her mind. The two girls had found themselves drinking champagne and waltzing by the Eiffel Tower at two am before a night of blissful passion in Celeste’s hotel suite. That night had been the first of many – they’d hardly left the suite for a fortnight as they forged a bond as strong as any marriage vows. Then the game of love had begun again in earnest as they’d taken lovers, both men and women, to their bed in a series of passionate menages, but always finding the ultimate solace in each other’s embrace. At the end of the summer, Celeste had stayed in France and the two women moved to a small pension in Bordeaux. Next summer they’d returned to Paris, but the dizzy swirl of lights and music paled into mere gaudiness compared to the tranquil splendour of the country. They moved back to Bordeaux, to the vineyards and balmy nights and honey-sweet air.
Of course, by then she’d known Celeste’s secret, the reason why she shunned the daytime. Celeste’s appetite could not be sated by the rich red wines of the region, but by the dark liquid that flowed in the veins of her human victims. Celeste was careful- most of the time she merely sipped from the sleeping servants or drove miles from home to sate herself fully with a kill, but her favourite draught was always from Annabelle herself. It was as if there was some sacred ritual they performed every few weeks – Celeste’s bliss at the rich crimson gift and Annabelle’s passionate frenzy as this intimacy heightened the ecstasy of their lovemaking immeasurably. The strange chemicals in Celeste’s saliva flooded Annabelle’s blood and brain like the rarest and most hypnotic of drugs. They’d been sharing this intimacy for over half a century and it was still as spellbinding as ever.
Turning the page, the years of memories flooded past – nearly ten years in the valley spent in blissful contentment has passed in a heartbeat. If Celeste had noticed that Annabelle was ageing, she said nothing, but Annabelle knew herself. She could see that Celeste still had the face and body of a teenager, while the passing years were taking their toll on her. The lines and wrinkles were few and only small, but they were there. Then, suddenly, all hell had broken loose.
War had come to France and shattered their tranquillity. Few photographs marked this time, full of grim-faced idealists, Celeste and Annabelle prominent among them. They’d joined the Resistance from the beginning, hating the oppressors that had come to their beloved land. They’d fought together until the land was free again and they tried to regain their lives, only to find that the war had soured the life they’d had. They couldn’t relax in the area as they had before, knowing the blood that had been spilt there on both sides. A tear pricked at Annabelle’s eye at the sight of a picnic photo from 1938. Of the dozen happy people smiling out at her, only Annabelle and Celeste had survived the war. A few she’d seen gunned down before her eyes. Most had simply disappeared from their homes in the dark of night.
Unable to bear the pressure of their memories, the couple said a sad goodbye to France and spent the next two decades travelling the globe- Italy, Monaco, Greece, America. There were a few pictures from the Aoka rebellion on Cyprus, but the women found that they could not summon up the passion that they’d felt in the struggle to liberate their own homeland. Finally, they moved to the land of Celeste’s birth, England.
The scrape of a key in the lock and the creak of the front door woke Annabelle from her doze. There, shaking the snow from her brunette mane was Celeste, returned from the shops. She looked every inch the young beauty that Annabelle had met in Paris nearly sixty years before.
“Hello, chérie,” she called, her voice still youthfully husky. Once again, Annabelle wondered why she stayed with a haggard old woman when she could have anyone she wanted. First they’d been accepted as sisters, then mother and daughter, now grandmother and granddaughter, but they still shared a bed. She’d summoned up the courage to ask once, on her sixtieth birthday. Celeste answered that she loved Annabelle’s ageless soul and that didn’t grow older, only more beautiful.
Celeste strode across the room and sat on the sofa by Annabelle, pecking her briefly on the cheek as she leaned across to take a drag of the cigarette. Annabelle could feel the ripe swell of Celeste’s breast through the thin fabric of her shirt.
They sat together for hours, pouring over the photos and reliving old memories until Annabelle could stay awake no longer and they retired.
Jasper Cornell peered out of his bedsit window, the lenses of his binoculars peeping through the drawn curtains. He considered himself a student of human nature, possibly the next Desmond Morris. He told his brother Gareth the copious notes and photographs he took, the dossiers he compiled on his neighbours were research notes for his book, but this didn’t even fool Gareth. He knew that Jasper almost never left their musty-smelling room, venturing into the outside world only to cash his giro and buy the essentials of food, fresh notebooks and film. The dossiers were the sum total of Jasper’s life.
For all Jasper’s isolation, Gareth’s was more pronounced. He left the house only once a fortnight, to cash his giro. If Jasper had been able to do that for him, Gareth would not have set foot outside for years. The small room he shared with his twin brother reminded him of the comfort and security they’d felt at St Anne’s. The boys had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics in infancy and committed to the St Anne’s asylum. Parental visits had always been infrequent and, with the arrival of the boys’ baby sister in their eleventh year, had stopped altogether. They’d grown up in the safe, regimented confines of the asylum, protected from the outside world and it from them. Staff rotation meant that the only constancy in their lives had been each other and the building in which they lived. Then, with the advent of the Care in the Community program, the twins had been expelled from their home to fend for themselves in an outside world they knew nothing about. A dingy bedsit had been found for them, but otherwise they’d been abandoned by the authorities.
Tonight, the object of Jasper’s fascination was the gorgeous young woman who’d recently moved into the house opposite with her grandmother. She’d become his fixation, watching her coming and going through his binoculars. He was so fascinated that he’d actually ventured outside to catch a glimpse of her in the flesh. He saw the light flicker off downstairs and knew that the girl must be going upstairs to bed. It was nearly five am and he knew that the old woman must have been asleep for hours.
He dressed warmly, cramming his woollen hat onto lank and greasy hair as he left the building. It took him scant moments to skirt round to the alley behind the girl’s house where he clambered up a ladder he’d left out the night before and positioned himself on the shed roof in the shade of a large yew tree. He watched in rapt fascination as he saw a bedroom light flash on and the girl walked into the room, followed by the old woman. His excitement mounted as he watched the girl peel off her shirt. He dragged out his camera and started preserving the event for his file, the camera shaking as he fought to control his own lust. He watched her shrug herself out of her jeans. The old woman sat down on the bed, already dressed in a night-gown, and the girl, now gloriously nude, crossed the room and sat behind her. Her legs entwined the old woman and, gently pulling the white hair out of the way, she pushed her head to one side. Through the magnifying magic of the camera lens, Jasper watched as the girl’s fangs broke the old woman’s throat and she started to drink. After a moment that seemed to last eternity, the old woman collapsed onto the bed, a rich red trail running down her neck and onto the night-gown. Horrified, Jasper preserved the entire event on film before rushing back home and lying shaking on his bed, quaking in fear and lust.
“Thank you, chérie,” whispered Annabelle as Celeste climbed into bed and switched off the light and wrapped her lithe body around Annabelle’s.
“Damn,” said Celeste as she realised that the curtains were open. She wasn’t worried about the neighbours spying – they’d been careful when choosing this house to get one with very overgrown hedges – but she was worried about the morning sun. She couldn’t afford to make a mistake like that. After all, if she were badly burnt, who would look after Annabelle?
“See, Gareth, I told you,” Jasper gabbled as Gareth gawked at the photos in open- mouthed shock. “She’s a vampire and she’s holding that old woman hostage and feeding on her.”
Gareth took a look at the pictures and switched on the ancient television. He twisted the tuning dial so that the screen showed snowy static and the set hissed white noise at him. Cocking his head to one side, he listened in rapt attention. This was the way the twins’ schizophrenia communicated with them, imaginary voices whispering cryptic instructions through the white noise. Slightly behind his brother, Jasper’s movements unconsciously mimicked Gareth’s. After a moment or two, they started nodding their heads excitedly.
“Yes, yes!” Jasper cried. “The Voices say we have to help her. We must stop the vampire! Jasper, what do we need to kill a vampire with?”
“Erm… a stake. A sharp wooden stake to drive through her heart. Then we cut off her head so we need a big knife.”
“Right, I’ll get those and then tomorrow night we’ll do it. Just before dawn – that’s when the Voices say is best.”
The next night, Gareth and Jasper spent hours alternately listening to the TV static and ranting about how they were about to free the world of a Controller, how they’d all be able to think so much clearer after the monster was dead. They believed absolutely what their imaginary voices told them. Jasper thought that he and Gareth would be able to handle the fiend, especially if her poor victim could help them at all.
The lights in the front room went out at just before five am. The fearsome vampire killers, as they romantically described themselves, went into action half an hour later.
The sound of shattering glass woke Celeste instantly. Sitting bolt upright in bed roused Annabelle from her slumbers.
“Hush,” Celeste whispered. “I’m going downstairs to take a look. You wait here.”
She was out of bed and rushing downstairs, dressing-gown flapping, before Annabelle could even manage to stand up. Crossing the room, she pulled a long-forgotten box from the back of the wardrobe. Opening it, she looked down at the reassuringly solid shape of her wartime revolver. Another box revealed a dozen bullets. Carefully, she started to load the gun.
Jasper was the last to come through the shattered French windows. As he crunched his way over the last of the broken glass, Celeste arrived at the bottom of the stairs.
“What do you want?” she demanded before her nose was assailed by the strong scent of garlic, along with a smell of unwashed clothes almost as strong. The sharpened stake in his hand confirmed it – this pathetic individual thought to destroy her. He had to be stopped, obviously, for her sake and for Annabelle’s.
Celeste looked into his face, pasty and acne-ridden, the complexion of someone who rarely saw daylight, fresh air or soap, and felt not a twinge of remorse for what she was about to do. This was sheer survival, kill or be killed, just as it had been against the Gestapo. Not only was this intruder a threat to her own life, but to Annabelle’s too. That was something she could not possibly allow.
Jasper licked his lips, mesmerised by his proximity to the object of his lust. Celeste noticed the look in his eyes and the way his gaze flickered away from her face. Spotting her opportunity, she shrugged her shoulders out of her robe and let it fall to the floor. Naked, she was both a distraction to this worthless voyeur and seemingly less dangerous. She crossed the floor to him and stood before him, barely inches away from him. She could smell his fetid breath and feel the urgent excitement flooding from his mind. Reaching down, she plucked the stake from his unresisting hand and threw it to one side. Then she slid one hand around his neck, repulsed at the way his slimy skin shivered at the sensation of contact. Suddenly, with one lightning-quick movement, she snapped his neck and let him fall to the floor like a discarded doll.
“Anni, it’s OK. I’ve dealt with it,” she called upstairs as she moved into the centre of the hall so Annabelle could see her from the upstairs landing.
As she was waving up to her lover, a scream of rage pierced the air behind her. Spinning round, she saw Gareth descending on her at a run, stake levelled like a jouster, face contorted into a hideous rictus of loathing. The stake caught Celeste mid-chest, missing her heart but splintering her sternum and knocking her to the floor. Her skull impacted on the wooden floor with a sickening crunch of broken bone.
Gareth stood up and ran to the foot of the stairs, his confused mind full of thought of rescuing the old woman. He was just in time to see Annabelle level the ancient gun at him. A second later, his arm blossomed red with an electric jolt of pain. He collapsed to the floor.
The recoil of the shot ripped the gun from Annabelle’s hands and sent it skidding across the floor. She let it go, burying her face in her bruised hands as she wept for her fallen lover. After a few moments, she moved towards the top of the stairs where she found Gareth, staring over the banister, down at Jasper’s lifeless body. She met his uncomprehending eyes with a look of pure venom.
“You! You’ve killed her!” she screamed as she leapt for him, clawlike hands outstretched for his throat. He tried to dodge to one side but was too slow. Together they plunged head-long over the landing banister, a chaotic pile of thrashing limbs and breaking bones. They hit the wooden floor beside Celeste’s motionless body with a shattering thud and lay still in death together.
Silence descended on the house as the four bodies lay still. It was broken by the rhythmic drip of Annabelle’s blood as it seeped from her split-open head. It pooled on the floor and spread out until it matted through Celeste’s splayed-out hair. Although unconscious, her vampiric metabolism sucked it up. For the last time, Celeste was drinking from her lover. Soon a crepital grinding disturbed the quiet as her shattered skull healed until a few hours later, she came round. With a roar of pain and rage, she ripped the stake for her half-healed chest, releasing another spurt of blood.
She found Annabelle’s broken corpse lying next to her, tangled with that of a young man identical to the one she’d killed. His neck was splayed out at an unnatural angle and his eyes stared with the glassy stillness of death. Lifting her up gently, Celeste took Annabelle to their bedroom and put her to bed, climbing in next to her as she had done almost every morning since 1928. Dawn came and she slept.
The next evening saw no change in the house. Celeste awoke to find the twin corpses downstairs where she’d left them. Dressing quickly, she collected the photograph album from the front room and, picking up Annabelle’s cigarette lighter, started to light the furniture. Soon the room was ablaze and spreading out into the hall. She left through the back door, slipping into the alley and driving away, never again looking at the town of Bournemouth.
The stand-offish neighbours who’d ignored the sounds of a struggle the night before called the fire brigade as soon the blaze was visible from the road, but it was too late to save the old house. Just as Celeste had intended, it became Annabelle’s funeral pyre.
Within half an hour, a red mini was heading north. The driver was an attractive brunette, weeping softly to a worn old tape of jazz standards, with no real destination in mind.