“And you say this is noble, Germaine?” asked the guest.
Count Germaine Edderington the Fourth, and last, scratched at his pale cheek. “Noble, well, er, it depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?”
“Do go on.”
Germaine swallowed and took a moment to take in the remnants of the party. It was winding down, was over, actually. All his guests — all except this one — had retreated to the basement or the boarded up first floor. Here on the second floor there were drapes, hardly sufficient. They were thrown back now at any rate, the window glass open to the early morning beyond. It was still dark outside but it was greying with each minute.
The floorboards were streaked red in places; guests were never as neat as Germaine would have liked. Why couldn’t they keep their feasting to the kitchen and dining room? He shook his head.
“Germaine?” the guest asked.
The count surveyed the fingers of his right hand, saw a streak of drying blood upon the index. Absently he put it in his mouth and sucked. He inhaled and his eyes rolled up.
“We are vampires,” he said, finally.
“Again, do go on, as I fail to see your point.”
“You ask of nobility, sir?”
“I do, as you used the word, not I.”
Germaine’s jaw clenched a little. He said, “You don’t think it necessary, think we shouldn’t kill to survive?”
The guest shook his head. “That is not what I was saying at all. I just fail to see it as noble.”
“We are forever.”
The guest shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe. Maybe not, just as likely.”
“I have lived in this house 300 years, and I plan on living in it at least 300 more,” the count said. The frustration was clear in his voice. “I am Count Edderington the First, the Second, the Third and the Fourth.”
“Impressive, truly,” the guest said. “And, yet, a human rank, count. And definitely not forever. In your 300 years you have seen much change.”
Germaine nodded and sadness showed on his face. “Indeed. The hens are running the farm.”
“And yet you hold on to this title, why?”
Outside, Germaine saw, it was grey now, though still a dark grey. He was eager to conclude the conversation.
“It is useful, at times. Such as tonight. No one questions when a count buys several slaves. Or when he bribes the local sheriff to take some convicts off their hands. Surely you see that?”
The guest nodded. “Of course, of course. But is there something of nostalgia to it as well? You miss being the man you were.”
Germaine snorted and then shook his head. “The man I was. Sir, I am that man and more.” He glanced to the window once more. The grey had lightened a little more. “I believe you are the one nostalgic; you wish to be human once more.” He shook his head again. “I pity you, pity that you cannot see the power you have.”
“Oh, on the contrary, my good count, I know very well the power I wield.”
There was a pause, uncomfortable, awkward and drawn. Finally, Germaine said, “Shall we retire, at least to the first floor? I grow tired and the morning is nearly upon us.”
“Hmmm,” the guest said, glancing toward the window himself. “Ah, yes, indeed.”
Another pause. Germaine sighed. “Shall we?” he said, indicating the door to the hallway and the stairs beyond.
“Which way to the facilities?” the guest asked.
Germaine sighed again. He glanced once more to the window. It was okay, for another few minutes. “Through that door and to your left,” Germaine said, gesturing in the direction of the door. The guest started toward it. “Do not dawdle, friend, the sun is rising and I would see you safe for the day.”
“Your hospitality knows no bounds sir,” the guest said, giving a little bow.
The count returned the bow. It was not out of a sense of hospitality at all that he waited. No, he didn’t trust this man. His guest asked strange questions. Germaine wanted to make sure he didn’t go to bed and wake tonight to find his best silverware gone. The guest probably wasn’t a thief but there was definitely something odd about him. He would see the man in a casket and then lock the damn thing until sunset.
The guest turned on his heel and walked through the doorway into the hall. He stopped there, turned around and reached for the knob of the door to the room.
Germaine stared in disbelief. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Leave that open.”
“Sorry, my lord, I can’t do that.”
With a sly smile the guest pulled the door closed, Germaine inside the room and himself outside. There was a light click as the man turned the key. Germaine knew then that he was locked inside though he couldn’t believe it straight away.
“What are you doing?” Germaine asked again. “Let me out of here this instant!” He stopped, looking around the room. He was completely alone. Everyone else had retired to downstairs or the crypts. He listened for a moment to see if he could hear any sound coming from the first floor. There was none. How long had he and the guest been talking? Surely everyone hadn’t gone to bed?
Germaine marched to the door — taking a quick look toward the window again first — and tried to turn the knob. It was locked, as he knew, and only jiggled a little. “Open this door! Help!” He pounded on the door with his fist. “Eckhart! Rutledge! Come to my aid!”
“Shhhh, you’ll wake the dead,” the guest’s voice said from beyond the door. He followed it with a hearty laugh. “Please Germaine, you know as well as I do that a vampire sleeps more soundly than any human.”
“What is it that you want, sir?” Germaine asked the room. “Be done with this nonsense and come out with it!” Again he thumped his fist against the door, as useless as that was. In legends, vampires are often said to have unnatural strength. It was an exaggeration, likely started by vampires to make them appear more fearsome and awe-inspiring. Germaine was no stronger than he had been when he was human. Less so, if anything.
“Is it getting brighter in there?” the guest asked from beyond the door. “It looks like it from the light coming under the door. It’s nice and dark out here, cool too. Very comfortable. Is it getting warmer in there?”
It was, indeed, getting warmer in the room. The first rays of morning were peaking over the hill and stretching their light along the floor in front of the window. They were long but didn’t quite reach to the door where Germaine stood. But they would, and soon. He could smell them, feel the radiation in a way that no human could. Daylight for vampires was like flame was to humans, they could feel the heat long before it touched them.
“Why do you mock me? What kind of sick game are you playing at?”
“No game, none at all.”
“You must want something? Why are you doing this?”
“No, only justice for the dead.”
“The dead? Surely you don’t mean that human cattle?”
Germaine shook his head. “They are but beasts.” Then it dawned on him that the guest wasn’t going to open the door. “You mean to kill me?”
“You are already dead, as am I. As are all our kind. We have borrowed too much time from the almighty already.”
“You dare speak of God in my house?”
There was no reply. Germaine turned from the door once more and moved to the side, away from the window. He removed the scarf from around his neck and undid the first button on his silk shirt. It was getting very warm. The rays stretched a little more across the floor now and their intensity had increased as well. Germaine wished he could sweat but, alas, vampires lose that human facility. Instead, he knew he would boil, slowly, inside his own skin, like a sausage.
He glanced around the room looking for something, anything, to hide behind, to get in. There was nothing. Moving between the two windows, in the shadow there, he made his way to the wall. There he stood in the space between the window frames. The sunlight was more intense here, he could swear he could feel the radiation through the wall. But he had to buy time. As quick as he could he pulled the drapes on one window and then the other closed. His hand burned as if he had touched something hot but, luckily, it did not ignite. Shadow returned to the room but it was slight. As the sun rose it would overpower the limited protection of the cloth.
Germaine walked back to the door. “And what of the others downstairs? They are sleeping now but when they awake they will find you and exact vengeance.”
“They will do no such thing, my good count.” The guest paused, letting Germaine speculate. But he already knew the answer. “Dust to dust,” came the voice from the hallway, finally.
“You would kill so many of your own? Perhaps I have slighted you somehow, though I fail to see how, but the others… what have they done to deserve such an end? How vile a creature are you? Do you know nothing of brotherhood? Of honour?”
“And what of you, oh noble sire? You, who kill without a thought, who steal the blood of innocents.”
“Innocents,” Germaine said, spitting the word. “Humans. They are food, nothing more.”
“And you never wondered if you, too, might be a meal to some other power?” the guest asked. Germaine had no answer. Only silence filled the space. The guest continued. “I guess not.” A pause. “Well, listen to me now: that creature, even if you do not have the imagination to dream it, exists. And I am he, sir. I am your devil, your Beelzebub.”
“You are nought but a vampire with delusions of grandeur. You kill your own.”
Germaine thought he heard leather rub against leather in the morning silence. A shrug? Was his guest shrugging?
“Perhaps. I may be a monster — I have no say in that — but I can choose who needs to fear me. And, you, oh noble sir, should fear me now.”
“Fear you? I have not lived centuries to cower before a common murderer! I…” Germaine paused, catching his breath. It was getting very warm in the room. The sun had risen higher and was pounding light against the windows.
Germaine turned away from the door and retreated to the side wall. He followed it to the corner where it met the windowed wall. It was closer to the outside but further from the rays of light filtering through the curtains. He sank to the floor and curled up as small as he could. Even vampires obey the laws of physics; he knew he’d be cooler on the floor.
“Germaine? How are you doing in there?” the guest asked from beyond the door. “It’s still nice and cool out here. I imagine it’s getting very hot in there.”
Germaine didn’t answer, wouldn’t allow himself to be provoked. Yet… he couldn’t stay there, huddled. Eventually, he’d expire. First, his fingers would dry out and dissolve into so much dust. Then maybe his nose. He had seen it before. It wasn’t pleasant, not a good way to go; if there was a good way. And painful; the vampires he had seen exposed like this, in such a slow and tortuous way, had begged for deliverance, for it to end. He didn’t want that.
At least he had an option in that regard. He could throw open the drapes and it would be over. Still painful, yes, but what did pain matter when one would never remember it?
But there was still a chance. If he could keep the guest talking they might come to some arrangement. He couldn’t give up.
“Germaine? Oh, well, if you’re done talking then I suppose I’ll go and take care of my other tasks. I can check back on you later. Though I suppose, then, you won’t be in any position to talk.” The guest paused. “Dust doesn’t have much to say.”
“I am here, fiend,” Germaine called from his corner. “What would you have me say?”
“Retreated to the corner, have you? Yes, that’s what most would do, isn’t it? Now, myself, I’d choose to go out quickly. I’d march to the window and square myself in front of it, feeling the burning rise and spread. It wouldn’t kill me right away, no, not with the drapes there but it would hurt like a son of a bitch. Don’t you think?”
Germaine didn’t answer and the guest continued.
“Then I’d take a curtain in each hand and smell the sunlight one last time. Oh, yes, I miss it. I know you do too. Sunrises, sunsets, glimmering light on blue waves cast from beautiful blue skies. Immortality is nice, I suppose, but it has its own costs. Our bodies change when we become creatures of the night but our brains, part of them at least, lives in the daylight. It craves to rise with it, to sleep with the moon. Tell me you don’t feel it?”
“And if I do?!” Germaine cried to the room. “What if I do? A drunk craves the drink too but should we indulge him? I am not what I was, sir! Not what I was!” Germaine was getting so very hot. He had unbuttoned his shirt all the way, exposing the pale flesh beneath. That flesh crisscrossed with scars from the lash.
“And what was that? Hmmm?” The guest paused again. “Ahhh, yes, a stable boy, wasn’t it? A stable boy who killed his master and took his place.” Another pause. “So, you weren’t even a very good human, killing unjustly. Maybe you were born to be a vampire.”
“Shut up! If any creature on this Earth deserved to die then it was that man. He tortured me, abused me. My skin still bears the scars of that indignity. If I had been a vampire then I wouldn’t even have drunk of him. I would have bled him and watched him die, laughing the whole time.”
“So, you were wronged,” the guest said. “And you then committed worse atrocities on those who called you master?”
“I did what had to be done.”
“You learned nothing! Nothing!” A pause. “And you remember nothing.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Germaine asked. His shirt was at his feet now but it didn’t help. Inside he could feel the blood he had drank earlier in the evening swelling, expanding. He wanted to cut open his arms, his legs, and let it drain out, let the pressure out. But that wasn’t a good idea, no. It was a worse death than sunlight. He did miss the damn light, missed the life he could have had. That young boy had potential before it had been stolen. He had only done, then, what he had to, to protect himself. That was all.
“I remember you,” the guest said. “Oh, yes, I remember you. But you don’t remember me.”
“No, I don’t. So, stop these damn games and tell me who you are!” Germaine eyed the windows. The pressure, the pain, his skin was going to explode. The man outside would never let him out, he knew that now. What else could he do? The bastard was right, it was the best way out. But not yet.
“My name is Dorian,” the guest said.
“That’s supposed to mean something to me?”
“No,” Dorian said. “I was one of your early victims, a botched job, you might say. You thought I was dead but you had turned me. Lucky me, right?” Germaine said nothing but got to his feet. He was sick of listening to this. Dorian continued. “I’ve been all over the world, seen things you can’t imagine. And I had no desire to ever see you again. But then I passed through the area and you were still here, still killing. I couldn’t let it pass. There is more on this Earth than you can dream and it seeks vengeance. We are all slaves to some master.”
What rubbish was this fool getting on with? It was all too much: the heat, the babble… Germaine’s own past. He stumbled forward, he was so very weak, too hot, couldn’t think straight.
“So, are you going to make me wait out here Germaine, while you dry up in the corner? Or are you going to give yourself the mercy you’ve never given anyone else? Do it man! Do it!”
Germaine wouldn’t answer. He wanted to but he wouldn’t, wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction. Again he took a step toward the window. The heat, the stabbing intensity, from the sunlight grew with each step. He took another. The window was right there.
With a final lunge, Germaine threw himself in front of the window. And, as Dorian had said he would do, he stood there, letting the light fall on him a moment. It hurt, yes, but there was something about it, a memory, of days long gone that he remembered with fondness. A time when he had lived in the world, rose and worked with the sun. Oh, what a life he could have had.
The pale flesh of his chest and stomach started to smoke. That was okay. The pain was okay. It would all be over soon. But he would relish it, feel it all, as he hadn’t felt anything for centuries. Germaine gripped both sides of the drapes in his hands and held them there. Then in one final gesture, in one final act of his own choosing, he threw them open, inhaling deeply as he did so. He felt the sun. It was glorious.
Pain shot through every nerve like lightning and ice water as flames erupted from his chest, arms and face. But Germaine held his eyes open and looked at the sun even as they burned in their sockets. He didn’t scream, only moaned. It was a mournful sound that carried throughout the house and almost shook its walls.
Then there was only silence and flickering flame that burned but a few moments. It went out, leaving a small pile of grey ashes strewn before the window.
There was a click and the door opened a little. Dorian, shielding himself with his arm and long coat, leaned into the room but a moment. Even that made him very warm. But it was necessary. He saw the pile of ashes and was satisfied. Germaine was dead. Dorian retreated and closed the door once more.
He started for the stairs.
From inside his coat pocket he withdrew several wooden stakes. There was still work to do this day.