TWILIGHT FOREVER RISING
I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
September 11, 2004
“Well, do you like her?” I heard Chris whisper behind my back, but I didn’t answer, just cleared my throat.
She was standing under a streetlamp, leaning against the railings of the bridge with her long hair fluttering in the wind. The girl I had been following for a week.
“Then what’s the problem?” my omnipresent friend asked again. “Go across to her and let’s get going.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Nonsense. Go on, I’ll wait.”
There was something strange about this girl. Something unusual. I couldn’t understand what exactly it was that disturbed me so much whenever I was near her. It was as if she gave off a fresh, cool breeze. Like the air streaming off a glacier. And it wasn’t even a matter of how pure her blood was, although I could tell it wasn’t polluted with drugs or nicotine or disease.
“Group one,” Chris murmured. “Rhesus positive.”
Seeing the expression of annoyance on my face, he laughed. “Take no notice. Just thinking aloud.”
He turned and walked away along the dark, windy street.
The girl with a golden halo that looked like sunlight raised her head, following the flight of a white moth, and I glimpsed her gentle smile.
But it disappeared the moment she saw me standing beside her.
“Hi. Not disturbing you, am I?”
This girl I didn’t know shook her head and lowered her eyes, and her lips quivered again in that half-smile that made my heart contract so sweetly.
“Darel,” I said in a quiet voice, realizing that I was already unobtrusively clouding her awareness. Just a tiny bit, so that she would feel she could trust me.
I had heard her voice before. Clear and gentle, as mellow as this autumn night. She had spoken only three words then—“Botanic Lane, please”—and the yellow taxi had whisked her away just when I had made up my mind to approach her. But she wouldn’t escape so easily today.
“Do you like walking at night?”
“Yes.” A single light, carefree word, a flutter of long eyelashes, and then again, more quietly: “Yes, I like it.”
She was already starting to get used to me. Going through the stage of recognition. For her, it ought to feel like meeting someone she knew, and more than that—someone she liked very much.
“It’s a nice way to pass the time.”
We were already walking side by side from one streetlamp to the next, with our shadows running on ahead of us, growing shorter and longer by turns. She kept glancing at me curiously, too shy to keep her eyes on my face for long, but more at ease now. More natural. And I didn’t have to look at the girl. I could see her with my inner vision: the breeze from the glacier, the cool, steady current of air. And the light. The diffuse light of a sunny autumn day.
I knew the way her eyelashes were fluttering, the way the lobe of her little ear turned pink when the wind touched it, blowing the golden curls of hair onto her cheeks; I knew her blue eyes were reflecting the cold light of the streetlamps, the black river, perhaps even my face in profile.
“Shall we go in?”
I glanced across at the brightly lit windows of a bar, and of course, I heard a quiet “Yes” in reply.
It was warm inside; there was soft music playing and a bluish haze of cigarette smoke drifting in the air. I saw Bert at a table at the far side of the room. I didn’t know his girl, but she smiled, raising her glass, and I got the feeling I’d met her somewhere before.
Bert nodded coldly in reply to my silent greeting and turned away. I hadn’t expected anything else.
Loraine noticed this expressive exchange of glances, but she didn’t say anything, although her eyes flashed with curiosity. I ordered whiskey for myself and light French wine in a tall glass for her. Loraine smiled at my choice. “How did you know I like Aligoté?”
I thought the color of the wine was like her hair. But I didn’t answer, I just raised my glass.
When she turned her head, I saw the line of her exposed neck and a slim vein pulsing rapidly under the thin skin. . . . My lips felt hot and I raised my glass to my mouth so that the touch of the cold glass would quench the unbearable fever.
The girl looked out the window. On the opposite side of the street was a gigantic billboard with a huge black-and-white photo in the Gothic style. I read momentary regret in Loraine’s feelings as she thought that she would never get to the opening night of the season that was plastered over all the billboards just then.
I nodded at the poster. “Would you like to go to that opera?”
She gave me a rather scornful look. “The tickets are all sold out.”
“On a personal pass. A good friend of mine always has a couple to spare.”
“Is he the director of the theater?”
“No, he’s singing the lead.”
Loraine smiled suspiciously and declared in an officious voice: “Hemran Vance is singing the lead in the Phantom.”
But the girl hadn’t caught me out in a lie. I really did know the famous rock singer, the idol of the entire younger generation. When I told her I did, her eyes turned round in amazement. I was scorched by the brightness of her elation.
“Really! You know him! Hemran himself?” Any number of exclamation marks could have been inserted into this impulsive outburst. “How long have you been acquainted?”
“Quite a long time. I can introduce you if you like.”
“Of course!” she exclaimed loudly, then looked around, embarrassed. Bert was looking down into his glass. His girl was smiling and checking out the barman. No one was taking any notice of us.
I found myself liking Hemran more than ever. He’d never know what a good turn he had done me.
“In that case, I invite you to the theater.”
She smiled again with that self-confident eighteen-year-old girl’s smile.
“So you really could introduce me to him?”
“Yes, tomorrow, after the opening night.” I got up and put some money on the bar counter.
She hadn’t been expecting me to go so soon. I saw a glint of surprise in her eyes, but it faded immediately.
“I’ll be waiting for you in the foyer, tomorrow evening at nine.”
Gentle lights glimmered in the misty depths of her eyes. Like the final rays of the setting sun. I watched this miracle for a few moments, then turned away quickly and walked out.
The stars were going out one by one. Cool air was streaming off the river as it awoke to the day. The darkness of the night was slowly receding across the transparent sky toward the west, retreating in the face of the rising sun. . . .
Of course, Chris hadn’t waited for me. But I made it in time. As always. The first bright rays shot over the horizon just as I closed the door behind me.
The opera house was built in the century before last. A massive building of gray stone, copiously decorated with columns, statues, and bas-reliefs. Monumental, cold, and majestic. Lit with gentle golden spotlights.
Marble Apollo in his flowing tunic could hardly hold back his four-in-hand of rampant horses straining to leap down off the slope of the roof. Muses, nymphs, satyrs, and maenads posed in a frozen dance around the sun god, as if they were about to throw themselves under the wheels of his chariot.
Seagulls sat on the shoulders of the stone dancers and the heads of the horses. When the entire flock rose into the air, their piercing cries drowned out the noise of the city.
There was a breath of freshness blowing from the direction of the river. The broad black ribbon glinted in the light of the streetlamps, reflecting an inverted bridge and the buildings on the embankment. The quivering forms seemed to be floating over the shallow waves. The sluice gates were closed, and three pleasure boats were waiting in the lock for the water to rise to the right level. I could hear music playing, the hubbub of people out on the town, the cries of seagulls.
There were people inside the opera house; I could feel them even through the stone walls. A gathering of small warm lights. A buzzing swarm with high voices like the screeches of the river birds soaring above its low, monotonous song. Loraine’s note was a pure, resonant G.
I saw her slender figure beside one of the columns in the foyer, her golden hair tumbling across her shoulders as she looked around impatiently, trying to spot me in the crowd. I saw her twirl her rolled-up program in her hands and mechanically tuck a rebellious lock of hair behind her ear, already sensing my intent gaze but still not aware that I was watching her.
A group of skinny, long-legged teenagers was hovering about not far away. Edgy, defiant, and insecure all at the same time. They “creaked” like wagon wheels that needed grease, or their inner screeching rose to an almost unbearable crescendo. I shuddered inside and damped down my sensitivity.
Loraine gave a gentle start and turned around. Now I could see her glowing face with the slightly embarrassed expression, the faint shadows under her eyes, the bright flush on her cheeks.
“Good evening.” She was excited; she had been looking forward to this meeting. And now she saw me in the bright light of a thousand electric lamps. My pale face, my eyes, the red rose in my hands. She blushed and turned her eyes away.
In the box I sat slightly behind her, moving my chair back so that I could see the line of her neck with those golden tresses cascading onto it, the snow white lace of her blouse . . . and the stage.
I had surprised the girl yet again.
Loraine had expected me to try to sit as close as possible. She didn’t know that now, as my gaze caressed her tanned, unprotected neck, I was much closer to her than ever. Loraine turned her head to look at me, and those warm little lights were trembling in her blue eyes. The rose I brought had started slowly opening on her knees, responding to the warmth of her body.
The lights went out. The first chords of the overture sounded. Dangerously close, I heard the loud, ecstatic beating of a human heart.
I leaned forward and supported myself on the back of her chair, and Loraine started when she felt me breathing so close. I heard her trembling intake of breath, almost inaudible through the music. Without realizing what she was doing, obeying my secret desire, she leaned her head over slightly toward her shoulder, and there, so close to my lips, was the velvet skin of her neck.
Very slowly, very carefully, I moved aside the cascade of golden hair to reveal even more of that defenseless hollow between her shoulder and her collarbone. Again I heard words that were not spoken: So what’s the problem, kiss her! A hot flame seared my lips, the music froze on a single note, the girl stopped breathing, the dancers hung motionless in the air, the world came to a standstill . . .
But I squeezed my hand into a tight fist until it hurt. Until my nails cut into my skin. The pain blunted my passion, and the fire receded. Again I could see, hear, and feel beyond my own desires.
I pulled away from the girl, the orchestra started playing again, and shaking off my dangerous web of enchantment, Loraine looked around and asked me:
“Do you like it?”
In the darkness of the hall, her eyes sparkled; golden light, almost like sunlight, glinted deep inside, where only I could see. I had completely forgotten that such things existed. But in some places they still did.
“But you’re not even listening!”
“Yes, I am.”
She shook her head and touched her lips with the scarlet flower. My feverish hunger became almost unbearable again.
“You’re not listening. You’re looking at me as if, as if . . .”
She couldn’t find the words she wanted and turned back toward the stage.
There was no way she could have found them.
As usual, Hemran did not disappoint his fans. He was magnificent in the role of a bloodthirsty phantom with a heart full of torment. The rock singer’s low, powerful, husky voice wove itself into the mighty strains of the organ, and I felt a chilly shiver run down my back when I heard those words of passionate despair: “I have set my life to music.” Bach’s composition set my heart pounding. The musical phrases held too much truth and pain, too many vivid living images.
I had to close my eyes and clench my fists again, because I was overwhelmed by a torrent of human feelings. Exultation, spellbound delight, dazed shock, sadness, superficial skepticism—“We’ve heard better than this”—but still, underneath, the same exultant admiration. And right there beside me, almost blinding me, Loraine’s vivid astonishment. The girl was enthralled by the magic of the music and Hemran’s voice. It was a shame that she didn’t understand the Italian in which the phantom sang his aria.
I leaned close to the British singer’s young fan and started translating in a whisper:
I am a madman! My eyes are opened now. There is no peace,
Only the passion within me is all-powerful.
My dream was as dangerous as the blade of a sword;
I have set my life to music,
I am a madman.
She listened carefully for a few seconds, then shook her head once and whispered furiously:
“No! Don’t! It’s not as good like that! I don’t understand, but I can feel what he’s saying!”
I moved back to my old position. It was true.
A long, lingering note from the organ drowned the singer’s voice. The final words dissolved in a trembling F minor. For a moment the audience sat there in silence, spellbound, then it exploded into applause.
The girl turned toward me, her face glowing with delight. Her eyes were sparkling.
“Incredible! Absolutely fantastic!”
She raised her dark eyebrows inquiringly.
“I’m sorry, I have to go out for a short while.”
She started getting up to follow, keeping her eyes fixed on me in disappointment and surprise, but I touched her shoulder gently and made her sit back down.
“No, stay here. Wait for me. I’ll be back soon. . . .”
I came back when the interval was almost over. My heart was calm again, almost cool. The embers of the recent conflagration were glowing peacefully somewhere in the depths of my soul.
Loraine didn’t turn around when I walked into the box; she carried on absentmindedly tapping her program on the railing and gazing into the auditorium.
She was offended because I’d left her on her own in a theater she’d never been in before and she hadn’t had a chance to look around.
“I’m sorry. I was delayed.”
A slight shrug of the shoulders, setting the golden cascade of hair trembling, a brief, indifferent sigh. But my heart remained calm.
“Would you like an ice cream? Vanilla with nuts and maple syrup.”
She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and raised her eyebrows in surprise when she saw the perspiring cardboard cup with the plastic spoon in my hand. She laughed and took my offering.
“You must be telepathic. How did you guess I was absolutely dying for an ice cream?”
Just as she was about to start on her treat, she glanced at my face and said in an anxious voice:
“Darel, is that . . . blood?”
I touched my lips and looked at my fingers. On one of them there was a small scarlet drop of blood.
“I must have bit my lip.”
“Do you want my handkerchief?”
She reached for her pocket, but I stopped her.
“No. Thank you. I have one. Eat your ice cream.”
In the final scene, when the human Phantom dies to the somber strains of the dark, heavy music, Loraine sat there cowering in her chair, deafening me with her pity for this imaginary character.
The curtain came down in total silence. And then there was more applause. Vance, hot, sweaty, and happy, with his silk shirt open across his chest, came out to take his bow, accepted the bouquets of flowers wrapped in crisp cellophane, and smiled at his colleagues onstage. But Loraine suddenly felt this wasn’t the real thing any longer. She preferred the solitary, dangerous Phantom to this Brit reveling in the spotlight. She even began to doubt that she wanted to meet the singer.
“You should never touch your idols,” I said in a low voice, “the gilt comes off on your fingers.”1
“What?” Loraine asked, looking around at me from halfway between her chair and the door.
“Do you still want to see Vance close up?”
“Yes, of course.” The momentary doubts were forgotten. It’s Vance, after all, she thought.
Unlike the glittering stage and the magnificent auditorium, the working premises of the opera house were cold, gray, and gloomy. Ceilings that were too high, with the remnants of old moldings, heavy chairs that creaked, drafts and all the noises that always go with an old building that isn’t lived in. Swamped by the backstage bustle, audible only to my superacute hearing, were the singing of the wind in the attic, the cracking of the wooden panels as they dried out, the scrabbling of the rats in the heaps of old stage props in the basement. Rustling, whispering, sighing. The remains of old emotions, echoes of ancient passions. I think Chris would have seen genuine phantoms here, inhabitants of the world beyond who had not found peace.
I could only hear voices speaking scraps of monologues and sense the feelings. Sometimes distant and gray, as if they were covered in dust, sometimes exploding into bright, burning pain.
People had lived through other people’s feelings here for too long, suffered too convincingly, loved and hated—every evening on the stage, every day in the rehearsal hall and the dressing rooms. Some of the more sensitive actors had probably seen phantoms here—sad, graceful little ballerinas with shoulders blue from the cold and slim legs; the black, hunchbacked figure of an old tragedian flitting across the end of a dark corridor.
But nobody was interested in mysterious sounds right now. The opera house was buzzing with live voices.
Vance was sitting in his changing room, in the company of some actor friends, a pair of attractive female admirers, and several bottles of wine. The narrow, brightly lit room was crammed with baskets of flowers. Their scents hung in the air, mingling with the smells of human sweat and theatrical makeup. The aroma of the white lilies was especially stifling.
Hemran was not playing to his audience anymore, but he still looked impressive, as he always did. His long, dark wavy hair hung down to the collar of his white shirt in casual style, and he had a silver chain as thick as a finger around his neck, with an amulet of some kind dangling from it.
His black leather trousers were slightly worn, and a drawing made in lipstick was drying on his right knee—a heart with a strand of barbed wire running through it. His face was like a peasant’s or casual laborer’s, with broad cheekbones and a heavy chin. Dark green, elusive eyes.
Vance preferred to look down into his glass rather than at the person he was talking to. But if you managed to glance into his eyes, you could see the human strength shimmering brightly in them. Inner genius. That was how I thought of that light.
The only reason the Faryartos hadn’t taken him yet was that he wasn’t handsome. And our bohemian community accepted only physically perfect human beings into its House.
Loraine stayed behind me, feeling a little shy but looking around curiously at the surroundings.
I was greeted with exclamations of friendly delight. They gave me a place beside Vance and handed me a glass of wine. Loraine squatted beside me on the edge of the chair, gazing delightedly at her idol.
On closer examination, the Brit looked tired. Absolutely whacked, exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and hollow cheeks. His heavy peasant hands lay wearily on the armrests of his chair as if they had just let go of the handle of a plow. Hemran had plowed the furrow of his opera honestly, and now he was resting. He wasn’t buoyed up by the seething nervous energy that so many performers have after a show. The fatigue hit him just as soon as the curtain came down. He wanted to sleep, but tradition required him to sit with his friends and drink to a successful opening night.
“Well, how was it?” the rock singer inquired vaguely, scrutinizing the toe of his boot. The question was addressed to me. He knew I’d been at the performance.
“Great. I liked it. Only in the last act did you overact a bit.”
“Ha!” said a young guy sitting opposite me, sticking out his lower lip contemptuously. His hair was dyed black, and he was dressed entirely in black leather. “The opinion of a dilettante.”
Vance ignored this remark and looked at me intently. “How about the audience?”
“Absolutely ecstatic. Especially in the third act.”
The deep crease in the singer’s forehead relaxed, and he smiled.
“Rubbish,” the skeptic declared. “You saw the audience reaction for yourself.”
“Darel is an empath,” Vance explained patiently. “He doesn’t just see, he feels as well.”
I felt Loraine’s quick, thoughtful glance on me.
“And exactly what form does this hypersensitivity take?” The young guy in black leather looked at me suspiciously. “Can you sense the reaction of the entire audience?”
Kenzo laughed. I didn’t know his real name, only his alias. He was the theater’s leading man for almost all romantic hero roles. Not that he had any particular talent, but his regular, sculptural features were always pleasing to the eye.
“What, don’t you believe him, Lord Vampire?” he asked mockingly. He took a bottle of champagne out of the ice bucket and drank from it, trying not to drop water on his trousers.
I thought I must have misheard.
“What did you call him?”
“Lord Vampire,” repeated Ell, the bass guitarist with Vance’s band. He reached out and took the bottle from his friend. “He’s a Goth.”
One of the girls, a blonde in a blue dress that was too tight for her, giggled. The other one, whose hair was unnaturally black, gazed adoringly at the “Lord,” hanging on his every word.
There were many strange individuals among my friends, including some characters with highly exotic personality disorders. But I had never associated with Goths before. I stared at this new specimen of humanity with a curiosity matched only by Loraine’s. I wondered how serious his interest in otherworldly forces really was.
The Lord Vampire thought he had shocked me, and now he waited with smug satisfaction for questions.
“Are you actually a vampire? A real one?”
“In our world nothing is real or permanent,” he replied, relishing the attention everyone was giving him. “Everything is relative and temporary. Yes, I am a vampire.”
Beside me, Loraine smiled skeptically, but she didn’t make any comments. I looked intently at Vance’s Goth friend. Black hair, almost certainly dyed, dark clothes, pale skin without a tan. Boundless delight in the dramatic image that he had invented for himself. And yes, of course yes, magnificent false fangs, which he demonstrated for me in a broad smile. A superb example of the art of dentistry.
“Incredible,” I said thoughtfully. Convinced that he was more original than I, the Lord Vampire was flattered by my astonishment. “So you drink blood, then?”
“Naturally,” he admitted casually. “Now and again it’s necessary.”
“And where do you get it?”
“Out of a can of tomato juice,” said Kenzo. “The color and consistency are almost identical, and imagination supplies the missing taste and smell.”
The “vampire” flashed his eyes at him angrily. Loraine and the blonde in the blue dress both snorted with laughter at the same moment. And I suddenly saw a vivid picture from the Goth’s memory. A dark kitchen, lighted candles, red curtains on the windows. The Lord in a long-waisted burgundy dressing gown walking up to a black refrigerator, opening the door, and taking out a jar of thick red liquid. Filling a crystal goblet with an expression of impervious majesty on his face. Going into a room where a girl wearing a black negligee is lying on red silk cushions on the bed. She is wearing dark cherry red lipstick with black eye shadow, and her short hair is also as black as night. She slowly reaches out her hand, and the “vampire” hands her a goblet of tomato juice representing blood.
I bit my lower lip to stop myself laughing. It was better for this young guy to play at being a vampire than to become a real one. One of the Nachterret, for instance.
“I like Gothic, too,” Loraine said unexpectedly, and blushed when everyone looked at her. “I mean Gothic music. Hemran, I heard your album Nemesis, it’s all about that.”
“I play all kinds of music,” Vance replied condescendingly.
“This is Loraine,” I put in. “A great fan of yours. Give her your autograph.”
Hemran pulled out the drawer of the table beside him and rummaged noisily through its contents. “I had a gift edition CD in here somewhere. . . . Ah, there it is.”
He took out a square flat box and a felt-tip pen, pulled out the paper insert from under the lid of the box, and signed it with a flourish below his photograph. He held it out to the girl.
“To Loraine, who likes Gothic as much as I do,” she read, and gave a deep sigh.
“Thank you! I never thought I would ever get to talk to Hemran Vance in person!” She blushed even more deeply.
“Don’t mention it. Come again, I’ll be glad to see you,” he replied with a smile. He was pleased. Words of approval and the adoration of an attractive young fan were just the kind of support he needed. Creativity can be capricious; it requires constant stimulation.
We sat there for another fifteen minutes or so, listening to the musicians’ small talk, then said good-bye and left. Loraine could have spent the entire night in the theater, but I was beginning to feel hungry.
It was cold outside. And windy. The sky was covered by low clouds, and every now and then they released a sprinkling of drizzle.
We walked to the metro through the back streets and courtyards. It was quiet, and the only people we saw were a couple of melancholy dog owners who had to accompany their four-legged friends on urgent sorties. The humans took no notice of us, but the animals were alarmed.
A huge Alsatian raised the fur on the scruff of its neck and growled—but there was more fear than menace in its voice. A shaggy lapdog squealed and dashed to the far end of a courtyard, then started barking hysterically.
“Dogs don’t like you,” Loraine remarked. “I wonder why?”
“Probably because cats do,” I joked. Although it wasn’t true. Cats were afraid of me as well.
The girl smiled and let her mind wander, her attention skipping from one thing to another: My friends will be surprised . . . Vance’s personal autograph . . . Darel’s a nice guy, even if he is a bit weird. But at least he’s not like that Goth. . . .
“I think it’s stupid.” She voiced her most recent thought as she looked at the brightly lit window of the building we were walking past. “Thinking that you’re a vampire.”
“You think so?”
“You can play at being someone else. But being certain that you’re a vampire is just weird. Don’t you think so?”
“Pretense and reality are very close.” I stepped across a puddle reflecting the glowing orb of a streetlamp and held out my hand to help her jump over the water. “You’d be surprised if you knew how many people want to be something that they really aren’t. They find it easier to be someone else than to be themselves. It’s a way of escaping from reality and their own shortcomings.”
Loraine gave me a suspicious glance. “You wouldn’t happen to be a psychologist, by any chance?”
“You heard already, I’m an empath.”
“And you’re happy with everything about yourself?”
“What makes you think that?”
“You look very pleased with yourself, kind of nonchalant. And you give off the same kind of feeling. A man who has everything in perfect order.” She smiled. “No, I mean it, you’re very . . .”
Loraine pondered, trying to find the right words. “Untroubled, I think that’s it.”
“Everyone has problems,” I replied rather sharply. Talking about myself was beginning to wear thin. But that didn’t bother Loraine.
“And what problems do you have?”
“I don’t get out enough.”
She laughed in surprise. “This is what you call not getting out enough?”
I glimpsed something unpleasant in her soul. The suspicion that I was lying and, even worse, trying to make myself seem special.
“I already said that lots of people would like to be what they’re not. What they show is not what they really feel. But I sense their genuine feelings. Have you any idea how rarely I come across someone whose inner and outer emotions coincide?”
Loraine frowned. “You feel that because you’re an empath?”
There was still a hint of doubt in her voice.
“Yes, being with you is easy for me. You say what you feel. I don’t get that feeling of constant dichotomy, like when someone smiles at you when what he really feels is profound loathing.”
Loraine lowered her head and looked down at her feet, considering. She accepted my explanation. And I admired her profile.
“But lots of people realize when someone’s lying to them or being hypocritical. You don’t have to have any special abilities for that.”
“They realize. But they don’t feel it the way I do.”
The girl nodded. She wasn’t offended or startled by my confession of uniqueness.
“And where do you work? I mean, is your job somehow connected with your abilities?”
“I’m a consultant with a . . . firm.” It wasn’t even a lie. Just a simplification.
“I see.” Loraine couldn’t possibly have any idea whom I advised about what, but she felt it would be rude to keep asking.
After that, we walked for five minutes without saying anything. The silence wasn’t the oppressive kind, with two people trying desperately to think of ways to keep a flagging conversation going. I looked at her beautiful pensive face and relished the calmness that she radiated. It wasn’t only my magical influence that was making her like me more and more.
We came out onto the avenue, where there was a strong, gusty wind. Patches of black sky were visible through breaks in the clouds, but we couldn’t see the stars since they were outshone by the bright lights of the advertisements. Cars went rushing past along the road, fine drops of water flying off their smooth, polished sides.
I offered to take Loraine home in a taxi. But she refused, saying the metro was more convenient for her. We exchanged telephone numbers. I waited for her to go down into the subway and then walked along beside the highway, studying the people hurrying toward me. Faces that were tired, preoccupied, sullen, happy, indifferent, interested . . . I liked to wander around the city, among the humans. Not with any purpose in mind. To pick someone out of the crowd without looking and read his thoughts, see the world colored with his feelings. For one person the night was black, hostile, and cold, for another it was mystical and romantic, and for another it was best used for sleep or sex.
I walked up a narrow stairway onto a railway bridge. Leaned on the railing, watching the occasional car zoom past below me. A suburban train rattled by behind me, enveloping me in a wave of heat. The iron railings shook, transmitting the vibration to my hands.
I realized I already missed the feeling I had when Loraine was there. Warm and carefree. Cheerful. I saw the world illuminated by the sun, so real in her memories. For some reason, none of my human friends had images in their minds of leaves dappled with sunlight, long shafts of light reaching between the trunks of trees, the black shadows of buildings. No one, except her.
I closed my eyes, picturing it all more realistically, and suddenly, through the clattering of another train, the murmuring of voices, and the howling of the wind in the piers of the bridge, I heard a distant call. A desolate, desperate howl.
Darel! Darel, help! Help!
Turning toward the direction from which the call had come, I said in my mind:
I hear you. Who’s calling me?
Artur . . . Archie. I’m at the Chameleon.
I’ll be there . . . I glanced at my watch. In fifteen minutes. Wait.
I’m waiting, the voice sobbed.
I was there in seven and a half minutes. I knew the street well. It had several nightclubs and bars with dubious reputations. Soldiers from the military academy around the corner often came to this street to take a break from the tedium of the army. I used to come here myself perhaps once every two weeks to eat—there were about thirty similar spots in the city, and I visited them regularly.
I could sense Archie’s presence from his shrill flashes of panic and fear.
I’d seen him at Constance’s place—a young guy who’d been turning up there occasionally for the last three months. Tall, skinny, awkward, nervous. When he ran into me in the corridor, he stared at me in awe and stepped aside to make way. He had the look of a naughty puppy who was expecting a slap; he always wanted to do everything right, though he had absolutely no idea what “right” actually meant. And hidden away in the depths of his soul was the rage of despair.
I wondered what my younger brother had done. I didn’t need to wonder why he hadn’t asked Constance for help. The hot-tempered Irishwoman tended to hand out severe punishments even for the smallest mistakes. But I had a reputation in the House as being liberal and lenient.
As always, the club was noisy and dark and smoky. Girls, decent and not so decent, jostled in the doorway. A group of brash young guys made lazy conversation as they watched from a distance with avid greed. Mostly they were interested in the not-so-decent girls and the cheap drinks you could buy with a guest flyer. There were some young ladies wandering about whose profession could be read easily enough in their faces. . . . Food, nothing but food.
By established tradition, one of the female security guards latched on to me. She checked my pockets twice and, as usual, didn’t find anything taboo. She remembered my face and was genuinely convinced I was a pervert who came to the club for some shady gratification. I found her prudish arrogance and spiteful “I know all about you” amusing.
Chris never went to clubs like this. He was irritated by the crowd, the rudeness of the security guards, and the music. In fact, though, we had come here together once: he had looked around the small dance hall with an inscrutable expression, walked into the bar, and then walked out without saying a word.
Archie was waiting for me. He was squatting with his back against the wall in the men’s restroom, looking at the tiled floor. His tangled hair was hanging down over his face, the leather jacket intended to bulk out his skinny figure had slipped off his shoulders, his bent knees stuck out at a sharp angle, and his jeans were torn across one of them. Either a fashion statement or the result of a fight. No one was taking any notice of the young guy in distress. They didn’t want to know.
Hanging just below the ceiling were three TVs. One of them was sluggishly running through the scenes of an old porn movie. In the opposite corner two guys were smoking hastily, passing a joint back and forth. In one of the cubicles something was beating against the wall at regular intervals, and water was running in a broken tank.
Guys came in and went out, leaving behind a field of quivering, confused emotion that I tried to cut myself off from completely.
Archie lifted his head and saw me, and the profound despair on his face was replaced by desperate hope. He jumped to his feet, staggering because his legs were numb after sitting in the same pose for so long. He grabbed hold of my sleeve.
“Darel. It’s great that you came.”
The guys with the joint glanced at us curiously, but I put up a light screen, and the smokers lost all interest in us. For a while, we ceased to exist for humans.
He let go of my sleeve, clenched his fists, and sniffed.
“I killed her. A woman. In the Labyrinth. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. By accident. She jerked and I . . .”
He was having difficulty speaking, as if he had to force out the words. And he looked at me bitterly, expecting to hear justified reproaches and insults.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! Yes, I’m sure.”
This was ugly. And bad timing. A human being killed in a public place by one of the Dahanavar would affect the delicate political balance among our Houses. I could just imagine Amir’s smug face. “Esteemed mormolikas, you talk about being humane, but you yourselves slaughter mortals in brothels. Ah, it wasn’t a brothel? A nightclub?”
My feelings as I imagined these words must have shown on my face, or the echo must have reached Archie. He sniffed again.
“I know! I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t mean to. It happened by accident! Constance will realize straightaway that I killed her. We’re not supposed to. We don’t have any right to kill. And the police . . . They’ll find the body and . . . My fingerprints are all over the place. On her handbag and her necklace. She had this wide, shiny thing round her neck. . . . And my phone number, I gave her my card. Idiot! What an idiot I am.”
He punched his fist against his forehead in his despair. I grabbed his arm before he could do himself any more serious damage.
“Where did it happen?”
“In the Labyrinth. I told you. They’ll arrest me now, won’t they? They’ll put me in jail. Listen, I can’t go to jail. I just can’t.”
He shuddered and stopped talking, frightened by my yell.
“First, let’s go and take a look.”
“I’m not going. No! No, I can’t go back there.”
And, of course, Archie went.
I glanced briefly at my companion, trying to feel him. It’s more difficult with kinsmen than with humans. As if each of us is surrounded by a dark, thick curtain concealing our thoughts and feelings. If he wants to, a brother can part it slightly in order to communicate mentally or tighten it to make his mental defenses impenetrable.
But I could disperse a shield no matter how secure it was (which was why I was valued in my own family), only this time there was no need to demonstrate my abilities. Either Archie didn’t yet know how to defend himself against telepathic attack or he was too upset. Even when I just barely touched him, I felt his fear. And I couldn’t tell what he was most afraid of—Constance’s anger (our Dahanavar Ladies are terrible in their fury), the police (for some reason, this fear was very strong), or the unpredictable consequences of breaking the Oath taken in ancient times by several families: the Dahanavar, the Cadavercitan, the Nosoforos, the Ligamentia, the Faryartos, and the Upieschi were not supposed to take the lives of mortals.
Dahanavars like myself had no right to cause humans any harm, either physical or psychological. Out of ethical considerations and for the good name of the family. The Cadavercitan and Upieschi were humane for purely practical reasons—kill today and tomorrow you’ll have nothing to eat. The Ligamentia took the Oath for reasons of their own that are almost impossible to explain. The Faryartos were simply too beautiful and as extreme aesthetes abhorred the spectacle of death.
As for the Vricolakos—the only principle they upheld was the rule of circumstance and natural necessity. They could quite easily release a human alive, as long as he didn’t start to annoy them somehow, in the same way gorged tigers sometimes do. But it wouldn’t bother them for a moment if their victim happened to die.
The other two Houses couldn’t give a damn for the Oath, for humans, or for us, either.
The Asiman could have based a case for their indifference to the lives of others on scientific necessity. If they had wanted to, that is. But they never tried to justify themselves to anyone. They couldn’t care less about that. And the Nachterret were regarded as degenerates. While it was sometimes possible to reach an agreement with the Asiman about something, the “saviors of the night,” as the Nachterret called themselves, perpetrated such gross atrocities that even Chris, who had seen so much, could talk about them only in Old French, because modern languages have lost more than half their expletives.
I knew almost nothing about the other families. They had disappeared, vanished at some point during the centuries gone by. Besides, nowadays nobody was much concerned about their ethical principles.
We walked out into the corridor. The party was winding down. The main lights had been switched off, and the few people who were still there were all wasted, dazed, and spaced.
In the main hall, they were still playing syrupy tunes to young girls glumly strutting their stuff for first-year military students. As usual, the neon flashes from the ceiling set all my teeth aching.
The music on the second dance floor had a heavier beat. Girls wearing short silver skirts and skimpy tops were gyrating professionally in four cages set around the spacious room. In the center was a stage, and on Fridays they held vulgar competitions like “Win a sound system for the most erotic pose” or “Feel like a transvestite.”
Running between the two dance floors was the Labyrinth. A dark corridor with niches that weren’t lit provided secluded places for couples who came to the club. Standing to the right of the entrance was a security guard in a black suit with a big white badge on his chest. On the left there was a brand-new vending machine offering condoms and chewing gum. Pitiful flashes of emotions came surging out of the darkness, as if a crowd of drowsy reptiles had crawled in there to warm themselves.
I automatically shook my head and glanced at my companion, who was chewing on his lower lip.
“I’ll go take a look.”
But before I could, a torrent of incandescent fear, so powerful that it paralyzed my receptors for a moment, came flooding out of the Labyrinth. Then there was a loud howl and a teenager dashed into the hall, fastening up his jeans on the way.
“She’s in there!” he howled. “In there! Dead! Covered in blood!”
Then the senseless panic began. Running, screaming; general pandemonium.
“That’s it,” Archie said in the calm, fated voice of a man who has resolved to commit suicide. “I’m finished.”
“Not yet, you aren’t.”
I took him by the elbow, overcame his slight resistance, and led him to the corner as far away as possible from the entrance to the Labyrinth.
“I know who could help you.”
My hopeless young kinsman squinted at two young girls hovering nearby and asked in a trembling voice:
“A necromancer, of course. Now keep quiet for a while.”
Archie froze, not sure whether he should take my remark about a necromancer seriously. I focused, listened, and called in my mind:
Chris . . . Chris!
An entire minute of waiting, until finally:
Chris, I need your help. Urgently.
Where are you?
The Chameleon Club.
On my way.
Archie looked into my eyes devotedly, shuddered, and asked: “Well? What?”
“Will he definitely come?”
“He promised. Now relax and explain why you’re so afraid of the police.”
Archie wasn’t able to relax. He couldn’t take his eyes off the dark opening of the Labyrinth, where the woman he had mutilated was lying, and he kept sighing nervously. In his memory I saw the girl, her bloody neck twisted unnaturally.
“They have something on me in their files. I was released on bail, and if they hang a murder on me as well . . .”
“Well, so what?”
“Dar, you don’t understand? It’s been too long since you were human. It’s all the same to you! No one knows your address or remembers your face, except for others like you. But I . . . My parents will simply die if they find out their son’s a murderer.”
I took hold of his shoulders and turned him toward me, then looked into his face.
“And what will happen to them if they find out their son’s a vampire? I presume they don’t know about that?”
Archie bit his lip. I got the feeling he was about ready to burst into tears.
“How do you manage to hide it, boy? It’s just not possible.”
“My father goes away on business trips, he’s away from home for a long time. I tell my mother I work nights. I know things can’t go on like that for long, but . . . Darel, I love them, they’re not to blame for anything! I can’t abandon them.”
“Oh, sure.” I pushed the boy away, and he pressed himself back against the wall again, looking at me with red eyes full of misery. “What I can’t understand is why Constance turned you in the first place.”
“I’m great with computers, a born hacker, I can break into any system. Constance says that could be very useful.”
“Is that why the police are interested in you?”
“Yes. I got caught once. I managed to wriggle out of it. But this time . . . This time I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“How old are you?”
“How long have you been in the family?”
“You stupid young fool. Does Constance know you’re still seeing your human family?”
“I haven’t told her, but she probably has some idea. She told me I have to forget my old life, my friends, my parents, but I can’t. Don’t tell her. She won’t understand. And you . . . I know you can read feelings. Do you understand me?”
What desperately painful yearning. And all the mistakes he was going to make, trying to combine two incompatible lives.
“I understand you.”
I understand how it is now, but it won’t last long. In a few years you’ll feel the strength inside you and lose your sympathy for mortals, you’ll start to get annoyed by their clumsiness, their senseless scurrying about, their habits and weaknesses. The smell of human food will be unbearable, and the smell of their blood will be sweet and alluring. Then you’ll become a worthy member of the family and Constance will stop getting angry with you.
“Darel.” Archie touched my arm, interrupting my disagreeable reflections, and indicated a tall figure approaching us.
Everyone had heard of the legendary Chris, the most powerful sorcerer of the House of Cadavercitan. My Dahanavar brother gazed at this historical celebrity with an avid curiosity that overcame even his fear about his own fate. His thoughts amused me: About twenty-eight . . . maybe thirty? Tall. But they say in the old times he used to be short. How long has he lived? Eight centuries? Ten. Yes, I can see he’s old. It’s not a modern face. Like something out of a picture. . . . But he’s built. The girls must go crazy for him. He’s French, isn’t he? That’s right. . . . And he’s got black hair, too. Too long. And his eyes are a weird kind of green. Or is that because he’s a necromancer?
Recalling the Cadavercitan’s specialty, Archie involuntarily took a step back. I laughed to myself and stepped forward to meet the sorcerer.
“Chris. I’m glad to see you. You got here in the nick of time.”
“I know.” My friend looked around, scanning the space in his own manner. He could already sense the familiar smell of death.
Archie sighed and gazed at me imploringly.
“You’re his last hope,” I said to the Cadavercitan, nodding toward the boy. “Do something, or he’ll end up in big trouble.”
Chris gave the hacker an indifferent look. Archie cringed under his gaze and didn’t dare try to make any excuses.
“Chris, for my sake.”
The Cadavercitan studied the petrified Archie for a few moments, then turned away and said in the same haughty tone of voice:
“Only for your sake, Darel. By the way, there are two police cars outside, with officers geared up for action, so you should be thinking up a plausible alibi for yourselves.”
“Can we get to the body now?”
Chris shook his head; his gaze became blank, and his eyes turned dark as his pupils expanded. There was a sharp, fresh smell of aniseed in the air, completely out of place in the smoky Chameleon. Something started moving in Chris’s fingers. He squeezed the round lump, which seemed to be alive, as hard as he could, whispering an incantation over it, then quickly bit his own wrist and allowed a few drops of blood to fall into the pulsating sphere.
“What did you do?” My curiosity was ill timed.
“You’ll see in a moment,” said Chris, gesturing for us to move farther away.
A moment later the corridor was filled with men in uniform, who pushed back the curious onlookers with calm efficiency. The most important witness—the teenage boy—was excitedly telling a somber-faced officer, obviously not for the first time, where and how he had found the body. The bleak-faced assistant director of the club was halfheartedly trying to explain the purpose of the Labyrinth and looking around anxiously. A doctor approached the opening.
At that moment, Chris raised his hand. Just after that, something incredible happened. With my inner sight I saw the girl, who only a few moments earlier had been lying in a dark cubbyhole in an unnatural pose with her neck twisted, jump up and take a few steps.
Then there she was standing in the entrance, beside the representatives of authority. Alive. What’s more, there wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere on her throat or face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked an astounded police officer. “Come on, I said, what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry, young lady,” the policeman began his unpleasant explanation. “We were informed that you—”
“But she was dead!” The young man could feel his status shifting from principal witness to general laughingstock. “I tell you, she was covered in blood, and she wasn’t breathing!”
“Have you all lost your minds?” I didn’t know what the woman was like when she was alive, but after she died she was definitely cantankerous. “What is this, some kind of idiotic joke? So I’m dead, am I?”
She turned to the doctor, who was smiling rather scathingly, and grabbed hold of his hand, screeching, “Touch me. Am I a corpse?”
Archie watched everything intently and giggled, glancing in delighted admiration at the director of the drama. Chris gave him a sideways look, winked almost imperceptibly, and then turned his attention back to the stage. The girl demanded that the doctor take her pulse, and he made a feeble attempt to fight her off.
“Calm down, young lady,” one of the impassive police officers advised the “victim.” “There’s been a misunderstanding. The young man was mistaken.”
“So I’m crazy now, am I?” the boy started up. “I saw her lying there with her neck broken. Right there! Like this!” He tried to demonstrate exactly how the dead woman had been lying, but they grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and put him back on his feet.
“I’ll break your neck for you, you miserable junkie!” the dead beauty screeched furiously, and went for him.
The police officer turned crimson as the doctor turned away and started searching for something in his briefcase. More people joined the crowd, and the security guards tried in vain to push back the curious onlookers surrounding the pale assistant director, who had already realized that he would have to bear the full brunt of the entire scandal. And just at that moment, Chris opened his hand with a faint smile. The pulsating sphere twitched one last time and vanished in a puff of smoke.
Halfway through the sentence “I won’t allow anyone to . . .” the girl suddenly turned pale, clutched at her heart, and, with a look of excruciating pain as the light in her eyes faded rapidly, collapsed on the floor.
The crowd froze. The total silence was broken by a woman’s shrill sob, and a wave of amplified human emotions swept over me. The doctor instantly stopped grinning and dashed over to the girl. His assistant was already hastily pushing his way through the crowd to reach her. They started working on her, checking her pulse, applying cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but the motionless body failed to react.
“Pointless,” said Chris, wiping his hand on a snow-white handkerchief. “She’s dead.”
“She’s dead,” the panting doctor repeated like an echo. “Cardiac arrest.”
He looked in annoyance at the young boy who had started the whole mess. “You seem to be clairvoyant. She really is dead now.”
“They’ll decide that she had a weak heart,” said Chris. “Let’s go, there’s nothing left for us to do here.”
Archie and I followed him to the exit. Nobody stopped us. The police were satisfied that the whole thing amounted to no more than an ordinary incident, the management was glad the club wouldn’t be closed, the crowd was busy digesting what it had seen. Of course, no one would stick their nose into the Labyrinth for a while, but the tragic event would gradually be forgotten, and everything would be the same as it was before.
“Thank you, Chris,” Archie said in a surprisingly serious, calm voice. “You saved me. I owe you. If I can ever do anything to help you . . .”
The Cadavercitan glanced at him derisively, and the young Dahanavar stopped in confusion.
“It’s hardly likely that I shall ever require your help, boy. That was primitive magic. It was no effort for me. Go, and next time be more careful.”
Archie nodded, shook my hand furtively, and disappeared into one of the dark side streets at a fast walk, almost a run.
“It’s a fine night,” said Chris, looking up at the thin layer of light cloud covering the sky.
“So that was primitive magic?”
I looked at his wrist. The wound hadn’t closed yet, and its edges were bleeding slightly.
“Absolutely primitive, Dar.” My friend watched as the police cars drove away from the club.
“But you . . . what did you do, put her soul back into her body?”
The Cadavercitan looked at me in amused surprise.
“Oh, come on. Of course not. I’m not Lord God Almighty, to go breathing a soul into a dead body. It was simply a walking, talking puppet. I set the mechanism going for a few minutes and then stopped it again.”
“And could you have made her live longer?”
“Yes, I can make zombies, they’ll live for as long as necessary. But that’s distasteful work. And trivial. It doesn’t give me any satisfaction.”
I decided I’d rather not know what kind of work did give the Cadavercitan satisfaction.
TWILIGHT FOREVER RISING
Copyright © 2005 by Elena Bichkova
English translation copyright © 2010 by Elena Bichkova
All rights reserved.