Dance of the Dead

“Would you like to dance,” she asked me. I died that night.

It was cold, winter, but the outside cold never touched us, the inside cold eclipsed the warmth of the fire blazing on her terrace, growing outward to meet the chill of the season on its own terms.

We danced, my hand on the small of her back, yet she led me nonetheless. The music came from… somewhere. Strings. A piano. That was all. I never saw the players, though I heard their tune. It was a strange piece to dance to: a dirge, almost a requiem.

The wind moved the curtains. We danced and she moved in close, as if to kiss my neck. It was not a kiss, however, but the sweetest damnation. She took my life, then, and I felt the vitality ebb from my throat in a crimson bloom.

And then she gave it back.

*

I had spent eight years becoming a doctor. Fresh from medical school, I took a job under a friend of the family, a fellow doctor. Only a year into my practice, he invited me to a party hosted by one of his patients. A special patient, he said, one of the few upon whom he still paid house calls. It was to be a formal affair, a white-tie party visited by the upper echelon of society.

I was beside myself. After all, i was no more than a young, inexperienced sawbones; I might as well be a quack or charlatan as far as society was concerned. I arrived nervously but on time, and it was there that I met the men and women – no, those others – who would be my fellows in the eternal pageant that I was oblivious would follow.

I remember Lady Moltis, a beauty from somewhere in Europe but who had a reputation as a black widow (only after my death would I learn the significance of that statement). Mr. Audelia was a queer man who never looked anyone in the eye and whose body curled in upon itself at his extremities. Mr. Bennett seemed rustic, but my hostess assured me that he had power and money far beyond the suggestion of his simple facade. Mr. Maxwell had arrived from Chicago and was rumored to be either one of its rising stars or its fallen scions, depending upon to whom I spoke. A woman named Lindsay was a scandal, having never taken a husband “in life” and who comported herself with little of the propriety that the rest of the women maintained.

Little did I know then that this was no true party, but a panoply of monsters. Even my hindsight fails me, for when I spent those precious few moments with Miss Lindsay, I recall none of what happened, but I know now that the liaison was far more than mere attraction (and that the stain at my wrist probably didn’t come from a pinching cuff link).

*

Another night, another victim; that’s how I look at it. Motherfuckers don’t want to die, all they have to do is stay out of my way. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” yeah, because I’m the wickedest sonofabitch you’re gonna find down here.

I don’t draw the line at just normal people, either. I’ll kill my own kind if I need to. What the fucking “Kindred” need to understand is that there’s nothing more important than the place you call your own. Oh, I’m sure they have some fancy word for me and my kind. I know their titles and offices and all that bullshit make a big deal out of who’s responsible for what and who needs to keep who in line, and motherfuckers like me are the reason for it all. Someone comes beating down your door at just a few minutes past sunset, you know you’re in trouble. Still making it on your own is part of what this is. I didn’t sign on for a bunch of new rules when my goddamn sire Changed me. Shit, that’s half the reason I cut off his head and drank his soul along with his blood.

Respect. That’s what I’m saying. It’s about respect. God knows the fucking Kindred aren’t going to give you any. You have to take it or make your own.

*

You don’t know terror, whelp. All that stuff you’re talking about? That’s just being afraid. Growing up in your safe little suburbia, how would you ever know real terror? And now the power of the Blood makes you feel ever more invincible. Now that you’re among the Damned, real terror will find you. You can pray that it doesn’t, but it will. It found me. Horror – actual visceral horror – is here in our precious city. I never want to see it again, but that’s part of the terror, isn’t it? I can’t control it. All I can do is hope that, that Thing never wants to see me again.

*

She says she’s a prince. I thought that maybe that was some kind of cultural anachronism or linguistic mistake. We don’t have “princes,” and even if we did, a woman isn’t the right gender for a prince.

“You have been wrong before, have you not,” she asked me. “Our kind has different rules. Your kind, now.” The invisible orchestra went sotto voce

Later that night, we received a visitor: My mistress sat in a chair on the terrace. I was told to wait in the bedroom, but I saw and heard the whole affair from the window that overlooked the patio.

The strangest sort of man spoke before her. His skin was translucent. I expected to see his veins beneath it, but they were so pale I could discern then only by willing my senses to greater acuity. His veins were empty, and if any blood were in them, it did not move. I could not hear his heartbeat. He looked up at my window and his eyes were black orbs, no pupils at all.

“I bid you good night, my Prince,” he said, once his attentions turned back to the woman who killed me. I have been wrong before.

Impossibly quickly, she was in the bedroom, having bid the visitor farewell only seconds before. Her hands on my waist. My lips on her lips. I have been so very wrong before, and surely will be again.

*

Not all of the monsters hide themselves so prettily as that party’s guests, however. Since becoming one of the Damned, I have had the grave misfortune of meeting some truly horrific members of our kind. I have met those who would return the world to the nights of kings and vassals, those who steal children from poor homes and either slake their thirst upon them or offer them in fiery sacrifice to gods whose names are better left unspoken. I have met fervent zealots who gorged themselves on blood in the name of some Biblical figure, and I have spoken with members of the Old World Cult who cavort beneath nacreous moons and believe that this state is merely one stop along the way to… something else.

I have seen all kinds among us, to be sure: penitent souls and unabashed terrors, scheming aristocrats and sullen revolutionaries, godless scoundrels and those who accept no masters other than themselves.

Truly, the world of the Damned, this midnight processional, is both rich and wayward. We are trapped in prisons of ourselves, fighting ever against the bloodthirsty creature inside all of us, but having to let it free now and again so that it doesn’t overwhelm us in neglect. I consider myself one of the more reserved among the Danse Macabre, and I – well, suffice it to say that I have committed crimes for which no just God would pardon me. Yet I continue to rise each night, for even in my doubt and sorrow, I cannot help but think that there is some purpose to all this.

*

I do what I want when I want. Take tonight – went to the bar. Call me a drunk-ass fool, but I like the way booze made me feel when I was alive, and I like it now, though I have to take my whiskey from the vein with plenty of Old Red mixed in. Women, though… not too many women drink whiskey. The ones who do are rough old bitches, stinking of cigarettes and sweat and the BO of whatever shitbag rolled off of them that evening.

So I picked one of the hags at the bar and made with the small talk. These beasts love when you talk tough. Give them some story about cracking some asshole’s arm or putting your thumb in someone’s eye and they’re yours for the night. Don’t go too far, though. Even they’re not psycho enough to get off on some fiend who kills people and drinks their blood.

Anyway, I’m working this bitch in a booth at the bar and some fucking flunky comes in, one of the bootlicks to some bigshot Kindred in town who’s always nosing around in everyone else’s business. You know the kind – the ones who want to keep tabs on you to make sure you’re not somehow fucking shit up for them.

Like I said, you have to take respect or make your own. I get up from the booth and walk over to this little cocksucker, picking up a pool cue along the way. His eyes get all squinty as he sees me coming over and he opens his mouth like he’s going to say something smart but then CRACK! Right in the fucking mouth, with all the juice these dead muscles of mine can put out. Asshole’s jaw breaks clean. I can see two fractures. Individual teeth are falling out.

Fuck him. Back at the booth, where dinner awaits. I can smell that she’s excited, too, the dirty old whore, and you know what I mean by “excited.”

*

It was in the cellar in the ethnic part of town, the neighborhood where it’s so old that all the early owners have moved to better locales and sold their families’ original homes to other interests. The neighborhoods have ghettoized, some Jewish, some Armenian, some Czech and some even I can’t determine. A house stood above the cellar, but my guide intimated that the cellar did not connect to the house proper and that, indeed, the home’s owners were unaware of it hiding beneath their own basement.

My guide was one of those unfortunate souls who had tasted the Vitae of a Kindred, but was not himself Damned. Who, exactly, plied him with that blood wasn’t my business. All I know is that he and he alone knew where this Thing was that had been plaguing my restless sleep, and I recognized him only because he had been haunting those dreams as well.

A shoddy wooden door separated a small room from the rest of the nitrous-walled cellar. The guide carried only a single guttering candle; he pointed me to the door. Cautiously, carefully, I opened that door, and chill air laden with the stench of rotting flesh surged from within. The feeble light of my guide’s candle barely penetrated the darkness beyond the door, or else in that instant I might have suffered seeing even more of it. I remember amniotic, slick fur and a dozen baleful eyes all opening and focusing on me at once. As I stood there gaping, I heard the baying of a hound, though far more guttural than any beast I knew. Moreover, the baying came from below where we currently stood.

I slammed the rickety door, knocked my guide aside, and hurtled recklessly back up the rough steps. I careened wildly into the night, vowing to forget what I… hadn’t truly seen, but more felt.

Bah! Now, you think me weak? Too many habits of the living are left in your face. It shows your thoughts. I’ve only sparked your curiosity about it, haven’t I? Even as I confide this wisdom, still you are merely afraid of it.

You don’t know real terror yet.

Dance of the Dead

Blood in the Water djasonwright djasonwright