As immortal a predator to bleed man as war itself I pass the sentries in blue making their rounds before enemy lines, in a soundless tread as an assassin’s ghost…Breathless as night itself. On the sleepless eve of battle. I cringe at their prayers, a choir of whispers to my acute senses. Uttered by sleepless men who ironically invoke the name of a visionary of a peaceful world…a bloodless one.
Yet like the charismatic and eloquent statesman that seduce men to sacrifice their blood by charm and eloquence, so too is the way of the gentleman vampire. Like the soldier of future eras I bear the camouflage of gentile society to mingle with the living. The mullioned windows of the grand antebellum mansion is lit in spectral silver for an interval, illuminating eerily the ornate imported carvings, wallpaper, the lavish furnishings of the Southern aristocracy. It is not the lightning of the heavens that lights the room in silvery resplendence but the hellish earthbound light of war, the thundering artillery bursts that shake the great walls and set the surroundings in harsh light.
Eyes as red as a tiger’s by a brandished torch, gleam in reply like a duelist’s return fire. Red as reopened wounds. A huntsman’s eyes, that of a guardian holding vigil. Framed in the windowsill like the frame of a striking Victorian portrait. An impression of aquiline features, looking down like a proud lord contemptuously at the mob and advancing torch from the stake where he is bound to burn for heresy. I bare my teeth in a gesture more befitting wolf than gentile nobleman, as they pass by in seemingly endless procession…a march of soldiers passing in apparitional silhouette against the pyre of stately homes put to the torch.
I had not seen the like since I had looked down grimly aloft the battlements of my grand ancestral castle as the enemy horde lay siege. Now far away from the palatial majesty of dark arboreal forests and towering bastions of stone crowning mountain ranges against red skies I repose in the manorhouse of the new world, surrounded by cypress trees, cotton plantations, magnolias, bayous. Like the surrealism of a malarian fever the red vision seems before me. I allowed myself a smile at the sight of dark shapes in the night…Bats…Though fanciful writers suggested as much, I could not alas metamorphosize to their shape but I listened to their shrill hunting cries that sought substance in the dark void…understood them…that searching hunger.
I found some measure of solace in the darkness, like a mute composer speechless at the rapture of my muse, eyes aglow in taciturn serenade…a soloist in solitude with his unspoken song like an offering to the night…thinking in music when others knew only silence…dreaming in music when I thought of her…her name like the title of a song.as if written in the configurations of stars by which astronomer’s immortalised great dreams in constellations.
The only other structure left unscathed was the chapel where in happier times for the family elegantly attired gents and their belles attended service, fanning themselves in the heat of summer days I cringed at the steeple bell. Time is an irrelevancy to an immortal, a commodity squandered by mortals.
I started at the keening echoing through the candelabrum-lit corridor. The rooms had been requisitioned from hosting gentile guests to tend the wounded borne back groaning from fields of carnage. The groaning is amplified to my senses, the aroma of blood intoxicating as war is to the living. Captivated like a moth to that radiance she walks in.
I see her then as if beholding an angel, those that are ever beyond my sight as an immortal condemned to haunt the world by night. I avert my eyes from the red cross insignia she bears on her white uniform tending to others gracefully with the same grace that so captivated me at a society ball held here, one attended by young gentleman in grey uniforms, in the days before they marched to battle, laughing eyes beaming into the eyes of their dance partners, feeling immortal, but heirs to death. She is unescorted, standing aside, shunned as a “Northerner.”
As if shadows massing at the threshold were granted form and face, I make my entrance and as I strode down the grand staircase they part ways before me as if making way before a dark prince. A flurry of excited whispers behind their fans greet my presence for I am an enigmatic Presence, arrived from Europe, rumoured to be a diplomat from a foreign queen’s court but consulted by their generals in grim-faced drawing room war councils. Consulted for an encyclopedic knowledge of battles and strategy from centuries past, all with a refined Romanian accent amid Southern drawls…Yet never joining in victory toasts for I disdain spirits.
I had seen their grandfather’s, father’s fathers don armour and plumed tri-corn hats to battle before their first cry to the world. I know their cause is lost…Hubris and pride will be the death of them and theirs. I would excuse myself from the others after the world “honour” was evoked over sound tactics and remain aloof overlooking the swaying cypress..seeing past the new world with the eyes of a dark pilgrim. She looks up then as a white-gloved hand extends, eyes meeting like a toast of wine glasses, eyes as dark and riveting as Gemini Hope diamonds lit in solitary display in a dark chamber. They are the more captivated by her own. Her eyes like the beacons of stars in celestial radiance, like the stars that are my only light as they are to mariner and nomad walking the dark path of my kind.
Like a ghostly drum or a phantom pain throbbing I imagine my heart beats again. Like the echoes of a heartbeat in a vacant chamber. Like the drumbeats heard in the bayous in the sultry nights by those who waded into the dark haven to escape slavery, the chanting and drumbeat of the shamanic worship of the land they were stolen from, forbidden on the plantation but there it was the drumbeat of the night.
I did not know the musicians had ceased playing as I had escorted her onto the dance floor for her smile was silence set to a bewitching nocturne and it became a duet as lightless, soulless eyes met the stained-glass glory of her own and it seemed a void was fulfilled within the darkness of a gaze that had seen all around him age and die, the world around him likewise, the movements … the revolutions, ideals, dynasties. Yet I remained, and like a dark revolution or renaissance we turned in the waltz.
She was intelligent, candid, educated, free-willed, strong…everything men in her time hated,but an immortal desired. Eyes closed into the dance; head fell to the shoulder in an unseemly fashion for its time. Everyone else in the room faded to amorphous shades. Had they so bothered to look to the wall-high mirror reflected the ballroom they would have marveled at sight of her dancing alone with a ghostly partner as if I were a mere dark mirage before them. Like a moth in aerial dance with the fatal light.
But the doorway is thrown upon unceremoniously, the night wind sweeps cascadingly through her hair like sound waves of fine music, as if in a swirl of magnolia blossoms in the moonlight.A panting messenger staggers in, saluting an elegantly-attired general with hand on golden sword-hilt.
“The Yankees Sir. They’ve crossed the ford under cover of darkness sir. Can’t hold them back.”
The illusion of immortality is fled. Men bear tender farewell…eyes betray fear. My eyes never leave her own, save to bow and we part ways. I council to hold a defensive position but my words are lost to them and to time. They will march. They will stand and they will fall. The nights pass in fast-forward like a procession of dark horses in review before a prince…till one evening finds me standing a solitary figure in the twilight, watching as a carriage with dark-plumed horses bearing her lifeless form is borne to a field of crosses, forever dividing us. I stand amid the magnolia blossoms falling like ghostly tears., as if the night alone paid tribute, hailing me like a returned prince, looking on as she “is laid to rest.” There was no other way. I would not curse her to this existence. What is that word those mortals use?
The word is uttered as one with the wind, like the fading echoes of battle cries.
She was buried among men she had tried to pull from death’s door as a healer. War…Like the Byronic gentleman vampire it was clothed elegantly in gentile noble guise and fair words. But no matter how it is romanticized and elegantly cloaked, it is a predatory and blood-thirsty curse…man turned blood-thirsty monster. It is the only true vampire. I step away averting my eyes from her mortal husband and children. I had let him live when he challenged me to a duel over her and I laughed in mockery as cold as the rapier blade I wielded as I did not fall slain when he struck home.
But the laughter faded for I realized she saw me then, saw me for what I was… She had come to “the field of honour” to stop the duel but saw that I was an immortal. Understood that I was cursed. I bowed but once, like a black knight to his queen before turning and fading into the dusk, like an immolation of dream.
I know the pain of the defeated rebel fighter.
I linger when the living have gone home.
With our curse comes a caveat akin to that offered the castaway on a barren isle, never drink sea water to them…to us: never drink the night…
I drink the night.
I have decided…
My breath steams like a smoking gun in the chill air. Like the grey-uniformed youths who marched suicidally under the star-crossed flag into the blaze of enemy volleys. I strode into the sunrise, as if she were waiting for me beyond the blinding light..
A dual citizen of Ireland and the States, Greg Patrick is an Irish/Armenian traveler poet and the son of a Navy man. Greg spent his youth in the South Pacific and Europe, and currently resides in Galway, Krakow, and sometimes the States. He now writes and travels.