I felt quite good to have ridden the city of a filthy vermin, yet I needed to see my sweet Elizabeth in order to feel more man than beast again. Only the touch of her creamy flesh would expunge the violent death from my hands. I was desperate to see her flawless face before me; it was the only thing that would help erase the sickening vision of the filth I had just eliminated.
I need you, Elizabeth! I need you now…
The hour was late, but I went to her anyway, weaving my way silently through the darkened streets. London was indeed a curious clash of cultures; hideous poverty a neighbor to vast nauseating wealth. Those starving on the streets I walked would pledge anything for a few crumbs from the rich. Once again, I wondered to which side I truly belonged. Was I a degenerate hidden in finery? No, Elizabeth would clear my mind of these self-deprecating thoughts. I just had to get to her.
Soundlessly slipping into her room from the balcony, I stood at her bedside watching her sleep. She was so beautiful! I watched the gentle rise and fall of her breasts; listened to the soft purring noises escaping her lips. Dare I disturb her peaceful slumber?
Unable to resist her, I removed my clothing and slowly pulled back her covers. Her blue eyes flew open in fear when I slid in behind her. Cupping my hand over her mouth, I whispered, “It’s me, my darling. You’re safe.”
Her eyes softened as she removed my hand from her mouth. “Vincent? What are you doing here?”
“I — need you,” I whispered hesitantly. In response, she smiled and I took her mouth in mine, kissing her with urgent need and passion.
“I’m yours, Vincent!”
Her warmth settled me, making the forget the filthy happenings of this night. Oh, how I need you, Elizabeth…
In the morn, she woke me with her gentle kisses. Her sweet lips touching my face reminded me of my good fortune in finding Elizabeth. I pulled her into me for a deeper kiss, but she kept me at bay with her hand against my chest.
“Vincent, I need to tell you something important.” Her demeanor was serious, not her usual lightheartedness.
“Tell me anything, my love.” I rose up on my elbow to study her expression.
“My husband — he’s returning. I received word a few days ago. He should be here the day after tomorrow to attend to some business in London.” She kept glancing off to the side when she spoke.
“Are you worried he might hear whispers about us, Elizabeth?”
She paused before answering, her eyebrows furrowing. “The thought has crossed my mind. Although, I have heard word of his own dalliances as well.” She turned to look me in the eye. “Like most men, he is filled with foolish pride. Though he has been incredibly indiscreet himself, I do not know how he would handle gossip about his wife. I cannot risk seeing you whilst he is here.”
“I agree he is foolish. Any man who leaves you alone in bed is very foolish indeed!” I teased gently. I pulled her into my body again and relished the taste of her lips.
“I shall miss you dearly, Vincent.”
“I shall miss you as well, Elizabeth.” With that declaration, I made gentle love to her, marking her with a lasting memory of my enduring love.
As promised, a few days later, Elizabeth’s husband returned. I could not, therefore, enjoy her company until he took his leave again. A restlessness I had not felt in a long time consumed me, and I realized I missed her more than I could possibly have imagined. Being with her these last weeks, I had felt normal again. Settling into my armchair, I gazed upon the flickering fire, thinking back to before — to the time when I was a man; a simple, ordinary mortal with no idea of the angst and horror that awaited me.
I was born Vincenzo Giulio Vasari in 1467 in the Tuscan city of Florence. Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was one of the wealthiest cities of the era. I lived there for the entirety of my natural life — until the change was forced upon me. Despite the political upheaval and the rise of the Medici, it was the only place I wanted to be. Perhaps taken for granted at the time, I found myself living through a surge of artistic, scientific, and literary development, which proved the best education for one such as myself — a curious, enthusiastic and intellectual young man. When of age, I found my true love, Flora, and married her, living the life I believe God wanted of me. She was a woman pure of heart and intentions — perfect in every way for one such as myself.
Yes, we had had a delightful life indeed. Our Roman Catholic faith had directed our life’s choices. As a result of our frequent lovemaking, we were blessed with three strapping boys — Agostino, Carlo, and Lorenzo. Life was good — very good! According to any standards, I believed that I was a good man — a devout Catholic, faithful husband, committed father, and respected engineer.
Salty tears burned my eyes. Why did I torture myself with these remembrances? I had been a good man, but what good did that do me now? I had also read Leviticus many times since my change. There remained no doubt that I had been cast from God’s kingdom. His words were clear about forbidding any person from drinking blood in any form. I sighed and allowed the tears to stain my face.
I stared into the crackling fire, trying in vain to picture my dear Flora. I had loved her with all my heart — that much I remembered. But with incredible sadness, I realized that the image of her beloved face had faded from my memory with the passage of time. The face of my creator, however, remained clear in every detail — her every feature etched on my mind in such a way that she still haunted me. Haunted me to such a degree that, over the centuries, I thought I had occasionally glimpsed her, teasing me here and there with her presence.
As I shifted in my chair, my thoughts turned to Leonardo. Leonardo, my good friend, was the man who had introduced me to her; my creator. I had never met a man like Leonardo before — not then, nor any time since. He was a true polymath; a man of incredible vision with a talent that eclipsed that of any man around him. Sadly, though, he did rather have a propensity to start things and never finish them.
Why, that last time I visited his studio, I spied a painting upon which he had been working. Pushed to one side it lay half-finished, resting upon an easel in a hallway amongst other discarded works. I remember looking at it with fascination whilst waiting to be shown to his studio. In this portrait was a woman seated in front of a distant landscape. At first glance, a fairly ordinary work, but then one saw the woman’s smile. It drew my attention, captivating me completely; it was mysterious, making one wonder — what was she thinking that caused such a smile upon her face?
When I called upon him, we talked of engineering and invention and discussed his fantastical ideas — why, he even spoke of machines that could fly — and he showed me drawings he had done of such things. Preposterous, but, somehow, he had a way of making one see the possibilities in his outlandish ideas.
I valued him as a friend very much; I only wish I had known then what a significant impact my relationship with Leonardo would have upon my life.
That evening — the very one where I noticed the enigmatic painting — I took my leave of my lovely wife to meet Leonardo at his studio. It was 1506 — a year I shan’t ever forget. An evening I won’t ever forget, for the painting was only the beginning!
I entered his studio and my eyes were immediately drawn to her – an unfamiliar lady with hair black as the midnight sky. Her skin was translucent and her essence alluring. I didn’t know then, but I would later come to understand how others became uncontrollably drawn to — to us…
This incredible woman was seated across from Leonardo, and her eyes immediately darted from him to me. She rose and gave me a slight bow. In a quite unsettling manner, her eyes raked over every part of me. I shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, feeling stripped naked by her intense, assessing gaze. To my discomfort and great shame, my manhood betrayed me, beginning to harden in lust. I didn’t understand what was happening. Her unsmiling lips suddenly turned upwards in a peculiar smile as if she somehow knew exactly the effect she was having on me.
“Good evening, Vincenzo,” Leonardo said. “Let me introduce you to the Lady Lilah — she has just commissioned me to paint her portrait. She’s quite a vision for my canvas, is she not?”
“Y…y…yes,” I stammered incoherently.
I admit that I was so unnerved by her presence that I immediately begged pardon to take my leave. Leaving my friend somewhat confused, I fled his studio, needing to find a private space to gather my senses. Never had I felt such a powerful pull towards a woman. It was a most unnatural attraction stirring within me — certainly not one within God’s law — that much I knew for sure!
And much though I hated to admit it, I also felt a disturbing tingle of fear…
That night, she invaded my dreams. Visions of the lady Lilah’s exotic beauty penetrated my subconscious, playing tricks on me, luring me towards an end I could not see. Emotion raged and fought within me; lust and fear competing ruthlessly for my innocent soul. I saw eyes black as coal, and bloody red lips; a sensual body the colour of bronze, naked and bathed in sweat, lips inviting…
Crying out, I woke covered in sweat, breaths shallow, heart thumping fit to burst.
“What is it?” asked my startled wife, panic in her voice as she woke from her own slumber. I could not answer. How could I? How could I speak of such a thing to my wife? What could I possibly say that would make any sense? It had been so vivid, so real! What was happening to me? It was as if I had a fever. Fear gripped me. Who was this inexplicable woman who invaded my consciousness? To my shame, I was still rigid, the memory of the dream still so clear — so erotic!
I spent the day abed with a fever, the doctor unable to diagnose what was wrong with me. Every time I managed to fall asleep, she reappeared. And every time, I dreamt and was seduced by this beguiling creature, leading me down into terrible darkness; I dreaded falling asleep, yet wanted nothing more than to feel her arms encircle me!
That night, my Flora left me to toss and turn in peace, taking a bed in one of the other rooms. But I daren’t sleep now, when every time I shut my eyes, the nightmare began again. Oh, Lord — help me!
The next time I woke I sensed a difference. Everything was quiet and my breathing was steady for once. Why had I woken? Something was wrong, I was sure of it. Something had changed! My spine tingled, and goosebumps rose up on my damp skin; there was someone in the room with me! Had the shutters been open? I couldn’t remember. I was confused. I tilted my head and…
I looked up directly into a set of eyes; the same coal-black eyes that had haunted my dreams. And a pale, luminous face shone with a triumphant smile. Fear turned my insides to water.
“Hush, my sweet,” she whispered. It was her; the woman from Leonardo’s studio! The woman from my dreams. What was she doing here, in my home? How had she come to be here?
Afraid of the answers, I fainted with a pitying moan.
When I came to, it was incredibly dark — pitch black almost. I struggled to make anything out, but I could tell that I wasn’t in my home anymore. The smells were different, and it was cold — so cold! And my thirst raged. I sensed movement to my right, and with stomach-turning dread, I turned — and saw her!
“You’re thirsty. Here — drink this…” She held a goblet to my lips, and without thinking I leaned towards her, desperate to satiate my thirst. I drank, started to swallow, then coughed and spluttered, taken by surprise. It wasn’t water — it was a thick, cloying liquid, with a taste of salt and iron.
“What…” I croaked.
“Shhh! — you need to drink! Finish it all — it will help you become stronger, I promise!”
I wanted to resist. Something about this wasn’t right, but her voice was so seductive, so compelling! I forced the remainder of the liquid down my throat as she had instructed, gulping it down despite the uncomfortable taste and texture. Then I lay back, exhausted by the simple act of drinking.
Suddenly an image of Flora entered my thoughts. I needed to get up — wanted to get back to my wife — she would be wondering what had happened to me! But a wave of lethargy washed over me. My limbs felt leaden and my eyes began to close.
“Don’t worry — it will all be over soon!” I heard her whisper. “I know — you are confused. You don’t know what is happening to you. But I will look after you, I promise! I will teach you — show you everything you need to know. You will start to feel the changes soon. And then we can be together.”
Changes — what changes? What did she mean — together? I was suddenly incredibly afraid. Where was Flora? She must be so worried about me! I needed to get up, but however much I tried, I couldn’t move! I felt a rushing in my head; everything was too overwhelming. I was losing my way, and I was frightened that there would be no way back…
I lost consciousness again.
The next time I awoke I sensed her presence immediately. There was a clarity I had never experienced before. This time, when I looked at her face, I could see so much more than I had seen previously. Her skin had a golden hue to it, and I realized for the first time that she wasn’t from here. I could almost smell the foreignness on her — the heat, the desert, the history! All were etched on her face.
Nor was she human. My eyes opened wide at the revelation. No — not human! Then what was she?
Suddenly overcome with panic, I shrank away from her, but she wasn’t going to let me go. Her arms encircled me like iron, drawing me closer, just as I’d dreamed. Her scent suddenly washed over me, and my terror began to subside. I actually moaned with pleasure. Her smell was better than the most potent wine. I felt a pull — a longing to be at one with her; to consummate our togetherness. Her skin was suddenly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could see the pulse of the artery in her neck. I was fascinated — I couldn’t tear my eyes away and noticed myself starting to salivate. For a moment, I wondered what was going on.
Then my lips connected with her skin. But, wait … something was happening inside my mouth. My incisors were lengthening; my mouth opened to compensate; a hunger arose, a desperate need to feed, to suck. Oh God, what?
Her fingers clawed the back of my head, pulling me into her neck. My teeth broke the skin and suddenly there was a warm flood of liquid. I moaned in ecstasy! Nothing like this had ever passed my lips before. It was every conceivable pleasure all rolled into one! I drank and feasted as my entire existence depended on it — and experienced a euphoria — a nirvana that surely couldn’t possibly exist?
I didn’t want to wake up. Not this time.
Everything was different. I was different. Something had happened to me the last time I was awake. Something momentous — something wrong! What was it?
The memory slowly began to return. Her! I had drunk something. And she had made me do something — something ungodly. Confusion took over. My memories were unclear — incomplete. All I knew was, I had to get away from here! But I didn’t even know where I was! I looked around. It looked like I might be in some sort of cellar. There were stone steps at one end of the room; surprisingly, even though it was dark, I could see them clearly. I clambered up the steps and encountered a door. Locked! In frustration, I thumped my hands against it, and it suddenly flew off its hinges, splinters flying. Without thinking, I made my way towards where I sensed there might be an exit. There!
I burst out of the building, smashing another door. It was daylight! High in the sky, the powerful sun seared my eyes, causing me to flinch in pain. It was almost unbearable! Eyes narrowing to slits, I hissed, and scuttled for the shadows, relief overwhelming me as I found the shade of a nearby wall.
Everything was confusing, my thoughts fragmented! Why did my eyes hurt so? Looking down, I realized for the first time that I was fully dressed. How had that happened? Then I remembered why I was here. I had to get away!
I didn’t want to venture further into the daylight, but nor did I want to go back into the building I had just emerged from. Maybe if I stuck to the shadows in the narrow streets? The sun was less intense there. How far would I have to go? Would she follow me when she found me gone? When it became…
I shied away from the words, but in the end, I couldn’t help but finish the thought; ‘when it became dark’.
I had to get as far away as possible. Away from the town. Away from her! Before nightfall — that was the important thing. Though I wasn’t yet exactly sure why my subconscious told me that that was what I needed to do.
Yet part of me wanted her to find me — yearned for her to take me back and finish what she had started. But another part — the part that believed in God — was terrified. What had she done to me?
I sensed people looking askance at me, curious, puzzled, and maybe just a little bit frightened. I must have been an alarming sight.
God help me — was it already too late? Was I still Vincenzo? Or was I something else? The leaden feeling came over me again. I wanted to lie down and rest. But I couldn’t! Not here! No, it had to somewhere quieter — and dark. I would need the dark…
I thought of Flora, and of my boys. Overwhelming sadness consumed me. Would I ever see them again? I resolved that I had to try. Determined, I staggered on. I mustn’t let her find me! I had to hide — far away. Away from her scent, her essence, her overwhelming power, and, more than anything, away from those haunting dreams that made me yearn for her.
Consciousness returned slowly. All I ever seemed to do was wake up, each time to a new nightmare. What now? Why couldn’t I be left alone?
Voices — I heard voices.
Several thoughts fought for dominance in my confused brain; where was I? What time of day was it? Why was I so thirsty? How long was it since…
I pushed the thought away. I suddenly realized I wasn’t just thirsty — I was parched and dry as a husk, yet it wasn’t water that I desired this time. It was her. Her and something else. Something that was even more necessary. That liquid that she had given me — viscous and heady. Yes — that was what I yearned for — what I needed!
I looked around. It was nighttime. I could see the stars, though something wasn’t quite right…
My senses seemed heightened; the noises and smells were different here. I realized that I was no longer in the town. I smelled damp earth and heard the gentle rustle of leaves. Somehow, I had left the streets and houses of the city behind, and I was in the country. I had no idea where, or how I had come to be here.
But now I smelled something incredibly desirable. Something so irresistible, there was simply no choice in the matter. With an unexpected snarl, I drove up and out of my resting place, compelled to investigate; my urgent need to find out what the smell was both immediate and impossible to resist.
Subconsciously, I knew that the voices I had heard and the irresistible smell were connected.
There were two men walking along the road together, talking loudly. Had they been drinking wine? It sounded like it and — yes! I recognized the rank odour filling my nostrils. How had I ever found such a nauseous smell appealing?
I began to stalk them, relishing the thought of the liquid flowing through their bodies, remembering the euphoria I had experienced before...
With shock, I suddenly realized what I had just thought, and what I was doing. These were ordinary living people — and I wanted their blood! This wasn’t right. How could I possibly do this?
Against every inclination I managed to jerk to a halt and crouch behind a tree, gnawing hard on my fist, fighting the urge, groaning with frustration. Somehow — I wasn’t entirely sure how — I let them go. Let them continue on their journey, unmolested and still alive, not knowing how close they had come to an untimely demise. I pushed deeper into the foliage, clamping my hands over my ears, frantically trying to shut out this hideous new world that I found myself in.
My keen ears wouldn’t let me. Someone else was approaching! A young man this time — in his early twenties, perhaps. Young and naïve. Did he not understand the danger?
As his scent reached me, the urge took me once more — only this time, it was stronger. The appeal was greater, the need more desperate. My resistance was crumbling.
He was alone. There would be no witnesses.
Instinct took over. I moved quickly — more quickly than I could ever have imagined. My teeth were immediately at his neck, biting, tearing, and suddenly, the blood was flowing from his jugular, pouring into my mouth. I sucked, and drank greedily, satiating my incredible thirst. I felt my body soaking up the thick liquid like a sponge absorbing water. Incredible energy had started to fill my entire being; the pleasure that accompanied the feeling was indescribable. I heard myself making disgusting noises of contentment. My strength surged! My insides fizzed; I thought I could probably pull up a tree and snap it in half. I laughed, a heady feeling of power coursing through me.
Full of wonder, I glanced down at the lifeless corpse in my hands, and my elation instantly evaporated, replaced by a repulsive horror; a self-loathing. I looked up at the night sky and let out a bellow of frustration and bitterness.
Was this my new life then? Was this what she had meant? That I was destined to kill innocent victims to satisfy my own desperate needs!
I couldn’t exist like this! I had become a hideous monster, destined to murder indiscriminately in order to satisfy my ungodly cravings!
I wouldn’t do it! I mustn’t do it! Far better to end myself at the earliest opportunity, however, I might do that.
I thought of my Flora and wept.
The despicable memory jarred my mind back to the present, and husband or not, I had to see Elizabeth — just a glimpse. I quickly set off.
I was still quite the distance from her home when my sharp ears heard her pained cries. I didn’t take any time to think. I shattered the glass door on her balcony in time to see him raise his cane again. Her bottom was exposed and covered in red welts as he had his wretched hand twisting and tugging at her hair, forcing her body in a bent-over position.
Rage consumed me and I was on him in an instant, snapping his wrist like a twig. Before his cane could hit the floor, I bounced him off the wall as if he were a ragdoll. He never knew what hit him.
I watched Elizabeth look from me to his crumpled body lying on the floor, his limbs contorted in an array of unnatural positions.
Her hands flew to her face, then, she screamed. “Vincent! My husband! What have you done?”
Marking her lovely face was the one emotion I never wanted to evoke — fear. I took a step towards her and she cowered.
“Elizabeth.” I quieted my voice. “Please…”
“Go.” She retreated back a few more steps, crushing my heart with each movement. “Vincent, go!”
(To be continued...)