June 18, 2010

Artwork by Brian Byers

Mortal life is cruel. Yet kind enough to let us forget so much of the pain, the sorrow and the heartache. But even this small gift of forgetting takes a vicious turn when judgment day comes. When all our forgotten evils, regrets and misdeeds are presented to us in complete, full sensory, detail.

Thus is the journey to immortality. It is an awakening as well as a metamorphosis of both body and soul. It is not an easy transition and survival hinges not only on the bodies ability to assimilate and adapt but also on the psyche's ability to realize the deepest, darkest, most loathsome parts of ourselves, to remember the pains, tortures and heartaches of life and want to go on.

Physically Elizabeth was a perfect candidate. Her body had been primed for immortality, had accepted it into her, melded with it and had created twin daughters. During her time as host to them, she caught glimpses of her hidden memories and had, in order to survive, in order to protect the innocent lives within, had done what all mortals do: She shoved them away; she ignored them and pretended they didn't exist. Heartache and sorrow became a part of who she was, and she learned to smile and even laugh through her sadness, her fears and her misery.

At times it made her cold, and unfeeling, but it also made her discerning, calculating and even thoughtful.

"I love you with all my heart," she would say to her girls as she tucked them into their beds at night and kissed their cheeks, unsmiling and unfeeling and she hoped that her words would be enough to convince them.

Her words were true despite feeling completely dead inside. But emotions live close together in the heart. Love and sorrow could even be neighbors, and therefore none could be trusted. To let one emotion through, could lead to anarchy and that she could not have.

She had become an empty hollow shell of herself. She'd long forgotten her reasons for being; she only knew that she must keep breathing, keep pretending to be alive, keep surviving.

And when her immortal husband, who was a very kind man whom she did not love, pulled her into his arms and kindly asked, "Will you be with me tonight?"

She would answer him with a tilt of her head, exposing the flesh of her neck that he would gently kiss before sinking his teeth into her flesh and injecting her with his euphoria inducing venom. And for a time, while in his protective embrace, nothing mattered and she was free. She often imagined that this bliss may be what death felt like, and she looked forward to finding out.

And so it was on her judgment day...

"I know you Liz," Jonas said as he kissed her neck. "I know your heart."

If it were true then he must know how beaten and bruised it was, he must know that she didn't love him, that she couldn't love him, that she couldn't love anyone, and how often she wished for death. It felt like something she should apologize for.

"Forgive me," Jonas said.

Her mind had just enough time to register that something was wrong before he plunged his teeth deep into her neck. The pain of it lasted barely long enough for her to catch her breath before his venom took away her pain and filled her with what could have been joy had she not known any better. But there was something different this time; something from a memory she couldn't quite place... a memory of a love she'd cast away. Dain.

Her heart began to pound violently in her chest and her blood felt thick as is coursed through her veins, poisoned by immortal venom, adrenaline surged as her human body fought to stay alive. It fought as she had for so many years without knowing why it fought or if it was even worth fighting for.

Her senses began to change, to warp, expand and sharpen, she could hear her human blood, thick and tainted coursing and pounding through her. She became acutely aware of every part of her physical body, every muscle, every organ, every strand of hair. She could feel Jonas's warm body pressed tightly against hers, his strong arms wrapped securely around her, his long incisors imbedded into her flesh and his warm breath on her neck. She could smell his deep woody scent and hear his heart beating calm and rhythmically in his chest.

She had always envied his confidence.

Her thoughts began to swim, and her head began to ache. Her eyes began to burn, as sharp stabs of pain blurred her vision and turned the room odd colors. Her jaw felt tight, and she would have sworn her teeth were extracting themselves from her mouth.

Her entire being was desperately and hopelessly trying to defend against its annihilation and assimilation into immortality.

Her life flashed before her in her minds eye - judgment's first strike. But this was only the beginning. After a time, she began to believe that she had died and gone to Hell, as she had no other way to explain the nightmare she was living.

The world around her had not changed but she could no longer see it the same way.

In crystal clarity she recalled the time that Dain had told her about his mortal life. How he had fallen in love with a woman named Katarina, married her and had three beautiful daughters. When Katarina died, a piece of him died with her and if not for his daughters he would have entirely lost his will to live.

She had been his mortal souls mate and he knew that no one could ever take her place, but he also knew that his daughters needed a mother. After a time he married the woman whom on the day of their wedding seemed the most obvious choice to him: his daughter's governess, Adelaide. She was younger than him, closer in age to his eldest daughter than she was to him, but he had never given it much thought. They had a kind of love for each other, and she loved his daughters. They were a family and he knew that just as she had been a good governess, she would also be a good mother.

In due time Adelaide became pregnant. A few months after that, Dain fell ill. Doctors could not explain his affliction and it was almost certain that his fate would be the same as his late wife Katarina's. He welcomed death, if it meant that they could be together again. But his death was meant to be a slow one and eventually he was too sick to even leave his bed.

Late one afternoon a man calling himself Viktor came to inquire about a plot of land that was owned by Dain. Dain was far too ill for visitors, and the man was informed that all his business dealing were being handled by his cousin Hendrik, but Viktor insisted that he meet with Dain, creating such a commotion that Dain told Adelaide that he would see the man.

As it happened, Viktor's interest in seeing Dain was not purely professional but personal as well. Viktor had known Katarina, and had even courted her, "But," as Viktor told Dain, "She chose love and life and children and death."

Viktor sat and talked with Dain for a very long time, and even took dinner with him, which for Dain was nothing more than a bit of broth as he had not been able to keep much down. They talked mostly about family, about Katarina, their daughters and his new wife. After dinner, with both Adelaide and Hendrik present, Viktor presented Dain with a contract to sell a large portion of rocky cliff lined land that most would have considered unusable for far more than it was worth. Viktor knew his offer was outrageously high, but he would not budge on the price.

Dain was grateful that Viktor's generosity would support his family long after he was gone and reaffirmed that Hendrik was handling all his business matters, but Viktor insisted that Dain himself must sign the contract or there was no deal. Then he left abruptly informing them that he would return in one week and hoped that Dain would be well enough to sign the contract.

As luck or fate or intention would have it, Dain's condition did improve over the next week.

Viktor met with Dain alone, who for the first time in nearly a month was feeling well enough to be out of bed. Viktor signed first, and then Dain.

"I regret that I could not... do more for Katarina," Viktor lamented. "But I do hope that this," he held up the contract, "that what I do now will bring her peace."

"You have my thanks," Dain said.

Viktor extended his hand, as Dain took it, Viktor lunged forward and sank his teeth into Dain's neck.

It happened so quickly Dain had no time to block him, to react. He tried to scream, to call out, but he could not make a sound. In a situation as strange as this Dain was sure of only one thing: this was his death. They fell to the floor, Dain and Viktor - whom he was quite sure was Death if not a Demon or even the Devil himself.

He embraced the pain, the torment and the judgment, praying that his beloved Katarina waited for him on the other side of Hell. Through the delirium he heard Viktor calling out to him. "Some men are not meant for death, my friend. You must live on. You will live on for your daughters, and for theirs, for Katarina, and for my debt to be repaid to her."

It would be more than four hundred years before he saw Viktor again.

The delirium stayed with him for the next few days, twisting his thoughts and warping his senses. He was healed, but he was a changed man - if indeed he were a man at all - recent changes to his physical form had given him serious reason to doubt. He kept himself sequestered from others until he had learned to control and understand his newfound abilities.

Two weeks later, four weeks early, Adelaide gave birth to a son. Her labor was long and difficult and their son died within hours. When it looked as though Adelaide would die too, Dain, who could not bear the grief in loosing her too, infected her with everlasting life.

In her delirium, she exposed her true feelings - her hatred for Dain - and flung herself to her death off the rocky cliffs of what was now Viktor's land.

Dain buried her next to Katarina and their son and swore that he would never curse another soul as he had done to her.

Elizabeth understood Adelaide's pain. Immortality was a curse. She was sure she had secured the rope around the light fixture and she thought she'd heard her neck snap as she walked off the edge of the bureau, but it must have been the sound of the rope breaking...

She was more than thirty feet up when she dove off the highest peak in the roof. There wasn't a place on her body that didn't feel broken as she lay on the cold cement but once again she awoke on her bed, sore but well. Had it all been a dream?

 When she bit Emily's hand and tasted her blood, scared, innocent, worried. Had that been a dream as well?

Elizabeth stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, running her hands over her stomach, there had been stretch marks there only a short time ago, but they were gone now. Maybe she had dreamed having children as well. She climbed into the near overflowing tub, with a straight razor in her hand. Then she slit her wrist and watched the blood taint the water with red. She'd sliced so deep she couldn't move her fingers on her left hand, so she brought the blade up to her throat and sliced from her ear to her collarbone. Her vision blurred. She let her head sink below the water and waited to see if this was yet another dream.

Her lungs filled with water, her body convulsed and her head felt as if it might explode for want of oxygen. She thought she could hear Emily screaming as her world fell completely into darkness. She knew she had made a mistake, but it was too late, she was too far gone.

 

Chapter 25 - Judgment Day

Elizabeth woke in the bathtub cold, naked, covered in blood and screaming. Would the nightmares ever end?

"Good morning." A deep voice said from behind her.

Elizabeth turned with a start. A large dark skinned man stood by the mirror, shaving.

She covered herself with her hand and clung to the side of the tub. Instinct told her to scream again, but she didn't. The man looked somehow familiar to her. Was this just another dream?

"Towel?" he offered in his outstretched arm.

She considered the towel, as well as making a run for it. She glanced toward the bathroom door. It had been ripped from its hinges and was leaning against the wall.

She took the towel from him and wrapped it around her. "Who are you? What do you want?" she hissed.

He finished shaving, toweled off his face and sat against the edge of the sink. "I am he," the man said. "You may call me... Kale. What I want is to know what you want Elizabeth?

"I-" Elizabeth stammered. "I want my daughters."

"Hmm," Kale folded his arms. "I'm afraid it's too late for that."

"Why?" she quivered near tears.

"Because you chose death, Elizabeth."

"No." Elizabeth started to cry. "No!" she screamed.

"Save your regrets." Kale said stern. "It's too late for you. You were given a gift and you chose to throw it away. You were given immortality and you chose death. Your life is over."

"No. Please. I beg of you." Elizabeth cried. "My daughters."

"Are no longer your concern!" Kale shouted. He stood straight and took in a long breath of air, calming himself. "You made your choice."

"Please..." she cried. "Please."

He stared at her for a long moment. "The dead do not weep Elizabeth," he said. "I have my orders. Clean yourself off and get dressed. You have a letter to write.".

 

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart