Hathersage, England -- The Peaks
October 31, 1910 – Evening
My house was a stone castle. There were halls with marble floors and painted ceilings. I lived in Hathersage, a rural town known for its rolling hills and gorges. My castle was offset from the road and watched over endless fields. That night was Nuit Rouge or in English, Red Night. Once a year, vampires would come from around the globe and occupy my home for one month. For the 31 days in October, Nuit Rouge brought vampires of all races to my home. 31 days of opulence. 31 days of pure terror. This was the last night before everyone returned to their respective hauntings.
It was just after dusk. Above me the stars sparkled in the twilight - they glinted gold light off of glass goblets. I pushed past guests sipping on blood and dancing to a string quartet. Rhode followed me out from the back of the castle and onto the stone terrace. Men and women, dressed in top hats, corsets, and the finest silks from China, laughed and crowded Rhode’s way. At the back of the house, a set of stone steps led down into the gardens. Two white candles stood tall on either end of the steps, their wax dripped tiny archipelagos onto the stone. The yard spread out wide and then down, out into the sweeping countryside. I was wearing an evergreen, silk gown adorned with a gold piping, and a matching corset beneath.
“Lenah!” Rhode called but I was darting through the crowd. I was walking so fast that for a moment I thought I would spill out over my corset.
“Lenah! Stop!” Rhode called again.
It was just after dusk. I ran the length of the gardens down the sloping hill into the start of fields.
I led Rhode down the hill, out of sight of the vampires in the castle. I stood at the foot of fields that spread out for countless miles into the distance. Back then, I looked different. My skin was pale white, no shadows under my eyes or wrinkles on my skin. Just white, clear skin as if my pores had been buffed away.
At the crest of the hill, Rhode looked down at me. He was dressed in an evening suit, with a top hat and black silk lapels. He held a cane in his right hand. When he stepped down the side of the steep hill, the wispy grass that stretched for hundreds of miles, bowed under his feet. I turned to look out at the fields.
“You have not said a word to me all evening. You’ve been completely silent. And now you run out here? Care to share with me what the hell is going on?”
“You don’t understand? If I uttered a word I would not be able to conceal my intentions. Vicken is unnaturally gifted. He could read my lips from five miles away.”
Vicken was my last creation, that is, the last man I made into a vampire. At fifty, he was also the youngest vampire of my coven, though he didn’t look a day older than nineteen.
“Dare I think that this might be a moment of clarity?” Rhode asked. “That perhaps you realize Vicken and your band of ingrates are more dangerous than you anticipated?”
I said nothing. Instead, I watched the wind trace patterns over the grass.
“Do you know why I left you? My fear,” Rhode spat, “was that you had truly lost your mind. That the prospect of infinite time had started to eat away at you. You were reckless.”
I spun around, our eyes met immediately.
“I will not let you fault me for creating a coven of the strongest, most gifted vampires in existence. You told me to protect myself, and I did what I had to do.”
“You cannot see what you have done,” Rhode said. His strong jaw clenched.
“What I have done?” I stepped closer to him. “I feel the weight of this existence in my bones. As though a thousand parasites are eating away at my sanity. You told me once, that I was what kept you sane. That the curse of emotional pain released you when you were with me. What do you think happened to me for the 170 years you were gone?”
Rhode’s shoulders fell. His eyes were the most blue I had ever seen - even in 500 years. The beauty of his slim nose and dark hair always shocked me. The vampire essence heightened a person’s beauty but for Rhode it radiated from within and lit up his soul -- it made my heart burn.
“The magic that binds your coven is more dangerous than I would have ever thought possible. How did you expect me to feel?”
“You don’t feel. Remember? We’re vampires,” I replied.
He gripped my arm so hard, I was sure he would break a bone. I would have been frightened had I not loved him more than I could articulate. Rhode and I were soul mates. Linked in a love bound by passion, the lust for blood, death and the unfaltering understanding of eternity. Were we lovers? Sometimes. Certain centuries more than others. Were we best friends? Always. We were bound.
“You left me for 170 years,” I said through gritted teeth. Rhode had only returned from his “break” from me the week prior. We had been inseparable since his return. “Do you not know why I brought you down here?” I asked. “I can tell no one else the real truth.”
Rhode dropped his arm and I turned to face him directly.
“I have nothing left. No more sympathies,” I whispered though there was an edge of hysteria in my voice. I could see my reflection in Rhode’s eyes. His dilated pupils overwhelmed the blue but I stared into the blackness. My voice quivered, “Now that I know you have the ritual…Rhode, I cannot think of anything else. That my humanity - that it might be a possibility.”
“You have no idea how dangerous this ritual is.”
“I don’t care! I want to feel the sand beneath my toes. I want to wake up to the sunlight pouring through my window. I want to smell the air. Anything. Anything I can feel. God, Rhode. I need to smile¾and mean it.”
“We all want those things,” he replied in a calm manner.
“Do you? Because I don’t think you do,” I said.
“Of course. I want to wake up to blue waters and feel sunlight on my face.”
“The pain is too much,” I said.
“You could try again. Concentrate on me – loving me,” Rhode said gently.
“You, who leave.”
“That’s not fair,” Rhode said now reaching for my hands.
“Even loving you is a curse. I can’t really feel or touch you. I look at the humans we take and even they can feel. Even in their last minutes of life they have breath in their lungs and taste in their mouth.”
Rhode held my palm in his and the warmth, the feeling of his passion for me swept up though my hand and into my body. I closed my eyes, relishing the momentary relief from the countless tragedies resting within me. I opened my eyes and took a step away from him.
“I am losing my mind and I don’t know how much longer I can bear it.” I took a moment, careful in my wording. “Ever since you discovered the ritual,” I continued. “It’s all I can think about. My way out.” My eyes were wild, I was sure of it. “I need this. I need this. God help me, Rhode because if you don’t I will walk out into sunlight until it scorches me to flames.”
Rhode nearly lost his top hat with a gust of the wind. He ripped his hand out of mine. He still had long hair then and it fell past his shoulders and onto his topcoat.
“You dare to threaten me with your suicide? Don’t be petty, Lenah. No one has survived the ritual. Thousands of vampires have tried. All - every single one has died in the process. Do you think I can bear to lose you? That I could part with you?”
“You already did,” I whispered savagely.
Rhode pulled me close, so fast that I wasn’t prepared for the force of his mouth against mine. One deep growl from him and my bottom lip split open-Rhode bit into me. I could feel a rhythmic pull as he sucked the blood from my mouth. After a moment, he stepped away and wiped his bloody lip on his jacket sleeve.
“Yes, I left you. But I had to find the magic and science I needed. If we ever try this ritual -- I needed to make sure…I didn’t expect you to fall in love when I left.”
There was a silence. Rhode knew as well as I that I never believed he was coming back.
“I do not love Vicken as I love you.” I said every word so it was clear and calculated. After a moment, I added, “I want out.”
“You do not know what will come to you if you chose human life.”
“The air? Real breath? Happiness?”
“Death, sickness, human nature?”
“I don’t understand,” I said stepping back again. “You have said yourself that humanity is what all vampires crave. The freedom to feel more than constant pain and suffering. Do you not feel this way?”
“It consumes me,” Rhode said and took off his top hat. He looked out at the fields. “There are deer, there,” he pointed. He was right. About ten miles away a herd of deer grazed silently. We could have fed off them, though I did love my dress and blood would not match the green silk. Besides, I hated the taste of animal blood and would only feed on them if I were in a dire situation. With the creation of the coven, I had ensured that would never happen.
Rhode slipped his hands around my lower back and brought me even closer.
“Your beauty will be a powerful force in the human world. Your human face may betray even your best intentions.”
"I don’t care,” I said not quite understanding and not really caring either way.
Rhode reached out and ran his index finger down the thin slope of my nose. He then gently rubbed his thumb over my lips. His furrowed brow and piercing stare. I couldn’t have looked away even if I had tried.
“When I took you from your father’s orchards in the 15th century I saw your future laid out before me,” Rhode confessed. “Swashbuckling vampire linked to my side for all eternity.” There was a pause. Somewhere behind us music from the party echoed down into the fields. “I saw my own dreams.”
“Then give me what I want.”
Rhode’s mouth was a thin line. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked out at the deer. They galloped deeper into the grassy hills. I could tell from his still mouth and dark expression that he was formulating a plan.
“One hundred years,” he whispered but still looked out at the deer.
My eyes widened.
“Starting tonight you will hibernate for one hundred years.” Rhode turned back to look at me and pointed up the hill. I knew he was gesturing toward a cemetery. It was to the right of the terrace and protected by a wrought iron gate topped by spiked points.
Hibernation only occurred when a vampire rested in the ground. The vampire sleeps and deprives herself of blood – there are a series of spells so the vampire remains in a meditative state, almost to the point of death. On a prearranged day a fellow vampire revives her. But only with magic is this possible. Only very brave (and some would argue very stupid) vampires have done this.
“The night before you are supposed to wake,” Rhode continued. “I will unearth you and take you somewhere safe, somewhere you cannot be found. Somewhere you can be a human and live out your days.”
“And the coven?” I asked.
“You leave them behind.”
My heart throbbed, a familiar pain that I couldn’t help but recognize. The magical binding between the coven and myself would force them to search for me. Just as I knew I would love Rhode until the end of the earth, I knew that the coven would search for me. I nodded once but said nothing. I watched the deer nibbling at the grass and licking their fur.
“You are not afraid to die?” he asked.
I shook my head. Rhode turned to face the house. I stopped him from walking up the hill by gently grasping his fingers. He turned to me.
“Will you be there?” I asked. “If I die and we fail, will you be there?”
Rhode’s fingers lightly grazed the top of my hand. He turned it over, touched my palm and whispered,
“How did you do it?” I was spellbound. Back in the dark apartment, my back pressed into the pillows. My fingers wandered over the fine velvet. My fingertips skimmed along the softness of the couch, which produced a wave of goose bumps over my legs. Before, I would have known the couch was soft but it would only have meant the fabric. It wouldn’t have meant comfort or safety. Just soft.
“That night. The last night of Nuit Rouge. You went to bed…” Rhode started.
“After killing one of the maids,” I admitted remembering the young, blonde girl I caught off guard in the attic.
Rhode continued with a slight smile. “I told Vicken that you had decided on your hibernation. That you would sleep for 100 years and that I was to wake you on the last night of the following Nuit Rouge. I also explained that you wanted to be buried - to make it official. He thought it was a wonderful idea. He wanted a chance to rule your coven.”
“I wouldn’t have protested against that,” I said.
“Precisely why he believed me so willingly. It was a lie, Lenah. The moment you looked into my eyes on the fields and begged me for human life, I knew that my quest, my vampire life, your vampire life, what I had done to you was coming to an end.”
“I shouldn’t have begged you. Manipulated you like I did.”
Rhode laughed but the breath was short,
“That is your way.”
I looked at the bandage around his wrist and the dark rings circling Rhode’s eyes. At that moment, I felt a surge of guilt. In my human state, I couldn’t imagine bribing Rhode or threatening him with suicide. It had been so easy for me before. Easy because the emotional pain that clouded the vampire life prevented rational thought.
“Please tell me about the ritual,” I asked again.
Rhode unwrapped the white bandage, roll-by-roll until his wrist was bare. There, on the inside of his wrist were teeth marks, my teeth marks - two small indents on the inside of Rhode’s wrist. The one on the left was just higher than the one on the right, I always hated that my bite was uneven. I could have recognized my teeth marks anywhere.
“The most important thing is the intent. The success of the sacrifice and it is a sacrifice, depends solely on the vampire performing the ritual. It takes two days.”
Rhode stood up. He paced whenever he was telling me something difficult. Sometime in the 16th century I asked him why. He said it was so he wouldn’t have to look me in the eye.
“The intent is where most vampires fail,” Rhode continued. “You have to want the other vampire to live. You, in turn, have to want to die. It is the most unselfish act you’ve ever committed. As you know such selflessness is nearly impossible for the natural state of a vampire.”
“Who told you this?” I asked.
“When I left you for those years, I went to France. I searched for --”
“Suleen,” I said though I was suddenly finding it very hard to breathe. Rhode had met Suleen…in person.
“Yes. He was coming out of a fifty-year hibernation. When I described you and then told him of my plan, he comforted me with a compliment. He said that I might be the only vampire with soul enough to succeed.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. It must have been quite a special moment in Rhode’s life. I wished I had been there to see Rhode’s reaction when Suleen said something so significant.
I imagined Suleen. He was an East Indian man, or at least he had been some time ago - when, I have no idea. He is the oldest vampire alive. Nothing in the grand scheme of life would or could ever rattle his soul. Suleen is not hindered by death nor does he want to return to human life. All he wants is to live long enough so he may see the end of the world.
“There are a few more rules,” Rhode explained. “The vampire performing the ritual must be over 500 years old. Suleen mentioned something about the chemistry of a vampire of that age. It is a crucial ingredient. But most of all he kept saying, ‘The intent, Rhode. It’s the intent.’ The will and the desire to give up your life in order that another may live. Vampires are selfish, Lenah. Inherently so. I had to find that will within myself.”
“You sacrificed yourself?” I whispered. I was unable to look up from the floor. Rhode remained silent. He was waiting for me to look at him. I hated him for it. Finally, our eyes met.
“The ritual required that I gave you all of my blood. After two days, you woke up, more or less, and bit into me. I had to allow you to finish it—well, almost all of it. But the important thing was the intent, the chemistry of my blood and my love for you.”
“I never would have agreed to those conditions.”
Much to my surprise, Rhode’s stoic facial expression turned into a smile. A toothy, happy smile. “Precisely why I did it when you were weakened and hibernating.”
I stood up, now it was my turn to pace.
“So where is Vicken?” I asked trying to think like a vampire. Trying to place all the pieces together. I had been asleep for one hundred years.
“He remains at your house in Hathersage with the rest of the coven. I believe he is awaiting your return.”
“Have you seen him since my hibernation?”
“He is too young for me to converse with as often as he would like. His energy tires me. Yet, when I stayed with them he was respectful. He’s a fighter. Excellent swordsman. I can see why you loved him.”
My cheeks warmed, which surprised me. Then I realized, I was feeling shame. I snuck a peek at Rhode’s fingers holding the arm of the lounger. They were pruned, and wrinkled as though all the liquid inside him had been sucked away.
“I do not blame you for loving another,” Rhode said.
“You believe Vicken loves me? As I love you?”
Rhode shook his head. “Vicken loves your outward appearance and desire for thick, congealed blood. I love your soul. As a mate to my long search on this earth. You are - were - the most vicious vampire I have ever known. I love you for that.”
I couldn’t respond. I thought of Hathersage, of the fields, of Rhode in his top hat and the deer grazing in the distance.
“Vicken will search for me,” I said. “As you know, he is bound to me. And when he finds me, the coven will destroy me. I created the coven to do just that. To seek, capture, and obliterate.”
“That is the exact reason why I chose this place.”
“Yes. Where are we?” I looked about the apartment.
“This is your new school.”
“You intend for me to go to school?” My head reared in his direction.
“It is crucial you understand.” Even in his weakened state Rhode stood up and towered over me. He glared at me with such a passionate fierceness that I should have been frightened. “Vicken will dig you up from the cemetery. I promised you would return on the final night of Nuit Rouge. The party ends October 31st.”
“So on the 31st he will find an empty casket. End of story.”
“It’s not that simple. You were a vampire, Lenah. One of the oldest of your kind.”
“I know what I was.”
“Then do not pretend that you need a tutorial in the seriousness of this situation!” Rhode snapped and continued pacing very slowly. I was silent. Rhode regained some of his composure and again spoke at a low decibel. “When Vicken digs up the grave and discovers an empty casket he will search the earth for you. As you’ve said yourself, the magic that binds the coven has made it so. You made it so. He will exhaust himself, so will all of the coven until they find you and bring you home.”
“I did not foresee myself in this situation.”
“Yes, well, luckily, for now, the magic that protects you allows a few luxuries. Your vampire sight and your extra sensory perception.”
“So I did keep it, then,” I said and stood up. I looked around the room again. Yes, as Rhode said I could see all of the adornments in the room down to the knots in the wood floor and the perfection in the paint on the walls.
“The more you assimilate into this human existence these accompaniments will fade.”
How was I to process not being a vampire anymore but still retain some vampire qualities? Could I be in the sun? Did I eat food again? These thoughts rattled within my head and I stamped my foot in frustration. Rhode put his hand on my cheeks and I was startled by how cold they were. It stopped my tantrum.
“You must disappear into human life, Lenah. You must go to school and become a sixteen year old girl again.”
In that moment, I couldn’t cry no matter how badly I wanted to – I was too shocked. Vampires cannot cry. There is nothing natural in a vampire. No tears, no water¾just blood and black magic. Instead, the tears, which would spill over the cheeks of a normal person, in the vampire are utter and acidic pain that scorches the tear ducts.
I wanted to run or turn inside out, anything to curb the feeling that made my stomach burn. I balled my hands into fists and tried to fill the anxiety with a breath but it caught in my throat. My gaze fell onto a photo resting on top of a bureau. It looked tattered and old though the last time I had seen the photo, I was posing for it. 1910, the last night of Nuit Rouge. In the photo, Rhode and I stood hip-to-hip, arms around each other’s waists, on the back terrace of my home. Rhode was dressed in his black suit and top hat, me in a gown, my long brown hair tied and styled in a long braid that fell over my left breast. We were more than human. We were frighteningly beautiful.
“How can I do that?” I turned away from the photo to look at Rhode. “Hide?"
“Oh, I think you will find it easier than you expect. You have never been sixteen before. I snatched that away before you could.”
He stepped close to me again and kissed my forehead.
“Why did you do this for me?” I asked. He pulled away and the air shifted as the space opened up between us.
“Of course, you must know,” Rhode said and cocked his head to the side.
I shook my head to say that I did not nor could I ever understand what he had done for me.
“Because,” he continued, “throughout all of my histories I found no one I loved more than you. No one.”
“But I’m losing you,” I said, my voice breaking.
Rhode grasped me so my cheek pressed against his chest. I stayed there a moment and let my heartbeat echo between our bodies.
“And you think Vicken won’t be able to find me?” I asked
“I do not think in his wildest dreams he will understand what I have done. It will take the entire coven’s effort just to follow us this far and I believe I have done my best to conceal our whereabouts. Also, why would he ever suspect you could be human?”
I stepped away and looked back at the photo portrait of Rhode and me.
“When will you die?” I asked turning away from the photo and sat back down on the couch. I brought my knees to my chest and linked my arms around my shins.
We sat together and I stared into Rhode’s eyes for as long as possible. He told me of the changes in society. Cars, television, sciences, wars that neither of us, even in our vampire minds, could understand. He said that practical things were of the utmost importance to humans. I would now be capable of getting sick. He had placed me in the finest boarding school in New England. A doctor, he informed me, was only a few buildings away. He begged that I complete school and grow up, as he had prevented me from doing.
We talked and talked and without knowing it, I fell asleep. The last thing I remember were his eyes looking into mine. I think he may have kissed my lips but that also felt like a dream.
When I awoke, the shades were drawn and the whole living area was shrouded in darkness. Across from me, red-lighted numbers illuminated the blackness. A digital clock said that the time was eight in the morning. I was on the couch and Rhode wasn’t in the red lounger across from me. I shot up. My muscles were stiff so I stumbled and held onto arm of the chair.
“Rhode?” I called out.
But I already knew.
“No…” I whispered. I spun in a circle. There were only four rooms: a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. Off the living area was a porch. The curtains were closed yet the way the wind drifted inward made the curtains billow. The door was open behind them. I pushed them aside and stepped out onto the wooden patio. I put my hand over my eyes as a visor. My eyes adjusted immediately as I scanned the porch, hopeful for only a moment.
Rhode was gone. From my life. From my existence.
I saw the onyx ring lying in the center of the tile. When I approached it, I realized it was in the middle of a tiny pile of glittering dust. It looked as though sand was mixed with mica or tiny diamonds. My Rhode, my companion for close to 600 years, weakened from the transformation and self-sacrifice had evaporated in the sun. I dipped my thumb and index finger into Rhode’s remains. They were cool and gritty. I pulled out the ring and slid the smooth metal over my new, sensitive skin.
I was alone.