I awoke about a decade ago, and had continued my exploration of America. I, however, felt an irresistible pull to the south. Unable to fight it and unsure of what awaited me, I found myself in New Orleans.
Can blood drain from the face of a vampire?
It certainly felt like it. Standing inside the art gallery in New Orleans, I was shocked into immobility, unable to move a single muscle as electricity surged through me. Whiter than white, my body was totally incapable of movement as my eyes fixed upon the painting before me.
But there she was, right before my eyes, staring out at me from the canvas. Her expression so familiar, it could have been only yesterday. There was not a shred of doubt in my mind. It was her.
My creator. Lilah. Someone I hadn’t spoken to for nearly five hundred years.
My friend had indeed completed his commission. The style was different, but the brushwork was unmistakable.
When did you finish this, my friend? Why is it not signed? Where has it been hiding all this time? Did no one realise that it was a Da Vinci?
I looked for the name of the artist. The plaque below simply said 'Unknown'.
There was a mystery here — a secret that I had to discover.
I had been drawn here after almost a century of wandering these lands — to this city which was decaying so gracefully. New Orleans, I sensed, was home to many dark treasures. A quite fitting place for one such as myself. I had felt an almost supernatural pull to this place.
And now, as I gazed upon the portrait, I knew why.
Suddenly, every nerve in my body tingled with warning. I was not alone! Even as I sensed the threat, my eyes blazed and, spinning with preternatural speed, I pinned her against the wall before she could lay a finger upon me.
Arms lying dormant by her side, she smiled.
“Lilah…” I responded, with more composure than I felt; the shock still reverberating within me.
I had felt her presence moments before. But the sight of her standing before me seemed to suck the very air out of the room. The rush of emotion, the feelings sweeping through me were overwhelming.
Why was she here? — HOW was she here? And why now?
I stared at her in consternation, the adrenalin flow finally slowing within me; the instinctive desire to defend myself ebbing with the knowledge that she wasn’t here to harm me. How I could be certain of this I did not know — only that it was true.
I released my grip on her and we stood staring at one another. What now? I tried to imagine what would happen next. Surprisingly to me, I no longer had any ill feelings toward her. How many times in those early centuries had I imagined the fury and rage that would consume me when I saw her again. But now, somehow, anger evaded me. Instead, to my astonishment, I felt — longing.
“How are you, Vincenzo?” she whispered. I was confused by the question. She looked almost — there was no other word for it — ashamed!
“Do you still hate me, Vincenzo?” Her extraordinarily beautiful eyes gazed into my own with uncertainty at this crucial moment; it felt like she was peering deep into my soul, searching for something.
She was unsure of me. What did that mean?
I realized that I hadn’t answered her question.
Lilah stood before me, waiting patiently for me to respond.
I looked at her again, still not trusting my eyes. My preternatural eyes, which could see more than most, felt blinded by her presence.
Did I still hate her?
I should have felt anger; hate; frustration. I should have felt so many things.
And yet — and yet, I did not. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of coming home.
Freud had been right.
“I — I do not,” I stammered in reply. Almost with a will of its own, my hand slowly reached up and gently stroked her cheek. “Maybe I did at one time, but I do not now.”
This was unusual. I had not felt such confusion since my most recent awakening. I started to speak, the centuries of pent-up feelings wanting to pour out of me.
“Shhh…” said Lilah, putting a finger to her lips. “Not here. Let us go somewhere quieter.”
She led me outside to a small, dimly lit café next to the gallery. There was a private booth at the rear, where she indicated I should sit.
“Now, tell me…”
I started with why I had run from her. Then I continued with how my feelings had turned from fear to anger. “You took my life from me, Lilah — a wondrous, fulfilling life filled with a lovely wife and three strong sons.”
She reached across the table for my hands.
“Forgive me,” she said, her eyes unexpectedly welling up with tears.
I looked at her fingers, holding mine. I could feel my own emotions starting to overcome me. “Lilah, it took me a long time — centuries — to accept what I had lost.” I paused. “You changed everything for me.”
“I too, have lost,” she whispered, squeezing my fingers tighter.
Her words took me completely by surprise. I raised my face to hers, looking deeply into her eyes — the same eyes that had haunted me through the centuries. I saw things I had not expected to see. Her loneliness; her regrets; her fear. She was like me — she too, was a victim. She had not wanted this life either.
I was starting to understand.
Still looking into my eyes, her hands now reached for my face, gently caressing my cheek. “I was so lonely — so very, very lonely,” she said softly.
She continued talking as tears began to roll down her cheeks. “I saw you in Florence and… and felt an attraction I had not felt before. Not once in my three thousand years. I wanted you, Vincenzo. I had been so alone and wanted companionship. I needed you! At that moment, I craved you with everything I am. I… I’m afraid I lost my senses.”
She pulled away, no longer wanting to meet my eyes.
I studied her features; her sincerity and chagrin were apparent. But not, perhaps, regret. I felt a warmth towards her that I had not expected.
“Please forgive me,” she begged again, almost choking on her tears.
I realised now what she had gone through; comprehended her pain. When I looked at her again, there really wasn’t anything to forgive, was there? I took a deep breath.
“I forgive you, Lilah.” And with those four words, an incredible weight lifted from my being. I stepped around to her side of the table, lifted her up, and enveloped her in my arms. We stayed like that for a very long time, clinging to one another. I felt a sudden shift in our relationship, and I sensed that she felt it too. It was a very warm, welcome feeling.
She lifted her face to mine, her eyes still seeking my understanding. “I have kept an eye on you through the centuries, Vincenzo — or do you prefer Vincent?”
“Kept an eye on me?” I responded, ignoring the question. I thought back to those occasions that I thought I had glimpsed her — when I could have sworn that I had felt her presence. A memory of the time I was ill suddenly flooded my mind.
“It was you — it was you that…” my voice trailed off. “I thought you were an angel.”
I recanted my memory to Lilah.
“Something had been wrong, and upon my return from the theatre, I had become ill, my body shaking violently, covered in sweat. My body was on fire, burning. I had no notion of what to do. Everything had started to go dark.
“The next time I opened my eyes, I saw an angel and thought of you. I did see you! Your hair was different, but your face — your face was just the same, like now!”
I looked at her. She was so beautiful! Her eyes lit up, obviously happy I had become aware of her help in my time of need.
“I could never forget your face, Lilah. As I lay naked, fever raging, you cooled my face with a wet cloth. It felt so good — the dampness of the water on my heated flesh.
“’Vincenzo, I am here,’ you said, although your voice seemed very distant — hazy. My eyes closed again and you told me to drink. And then I felt a warm liquid dripping in between my lips, running down my throat; I remember I couldn’t get enough and greedily gulped and drank and swallowed. When I stopped drinking, my nausea had subsided and darkness fell upon me again.”
I smiled ruefully.
“I convinced myself that you were just a fever-induced dream, but you stayed with me, didn’t you?”
Lilah returned my smile, nodding her reply.
“There is a strong connection between us, Vincenzo — I can always feel it, and I think maybe you can too. I sense — know — when you need me.”
“So, my fevered dream was not a dream at all. You healed me?”
She smiled. “I did. It is the blood that bonds us, Vincent. I gave you my blood to heal you. Because of the amount of time I have spent on this Earth, my blood is very strong, my dear Vincent — strong enough to heal you when you became ill.”
"There is something you should know. The virus that you contracted — that killed so many humans — came from us, Vincent.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it originated with a vampire. We don’t know how — only that it did. And because of that, it affected our kind. The first time any such thing has happened.”
I thought for a moment.
“How many of us are there, Lilah?” I asked.
“Not as many as you might think. I do not know for sure, but we probably number in the hundreds — which is not many at all if you think about it. Not spread over the entire planet.” She paused again.
“You are one of the youngest, Vincent. Very few are made, and most have been around for thousands of years. I made you because I wanted a mate, Vincent." She lifted her face again, her eyes seeking my understanding. “I have done things – terrible things.” She paused, frowning for a moment before her eyes brightened. “But now I have found a clan and we do great things, Vincenzo.”
Her words surprised me. “A clan? Like us?” I hadn’t often thought about the others like me who undoubtedly wandered this world.
“Yes. Brilliant, decent people, Vincenzo. They would love you to join us. I have followed you through the centuries and told them about you.”
I held my breath as I watched her, watching me.
“Thank you, Lilah … for healing me.” I watched her smile widen. My, she was beautiful! “Now, please tell me more about this clan.”
She suddenly brightened. “Oh Vincenzo, I was wandering lost in this world until I found them.” She took hold of my hands. “We are like a family. Many are even mated to each other.”
“Have you — have you not found another,” I asked hesitantly. I saw her expression turn sorrowful.
How I hoped she had not!
She reached up and brushed my cheek with her fingertips. “No. There has only ever been one mate for me. And, quite understandably, he chose to run.”
Her smile betrayed her vulnerability. She looked so fragile at that moment. I could not restrain myself from touching her face. She covered my hand with her own and her sweet lips brushed against my fingers. I could feel the skin tingle where she touched me.
“I knew I might have to be patient,” she whispered. “I knew you might not understand — might hate me for what I’d done, and find me repellant to be near. But when I saw you that day, I knew I had to take the risk.”
“I have lived here in New Orleans for quite some time. I bought this gallery and established a residence above whilst I waited for you.”
Moving closer to me, she grew serious again. “Vincenzo, we are in a unique position to steer the decisions of this world – create a better world. Think about it. We can easily travel unseen and become anyone. Who else has lived history and better yet, learned from it? Members of the clan have whispered secrets of the enemy to generals, filled in the missing pieces for inventors. We have had a hand in changing the world already, Vincenzo.
“While we have had some successes, we have sadly had some misses too. Our attempt to stop the assassination of President Kennedy was one such miss. We had been tracking a few men here, but somehow, Oswald’s participation had eluded us. He was not whom we expected to protect the President from.
“The important thing, Vincenzo, is we are trying to do good things. We are not the monsters in this world. And you would be most welcome to join us – join me.”
Her words were comforting to me, yet I had a remaining question. “The painting…”
She laughed. “Yes, the painting — you recognized it immediately didn’t you.”
Her smile turned impish.
“You saw the picture — it’s only been visible to the public for a few months. No one — so far — has any idea that it is Leonardo’s work — and I am happy to keep it that way. His signature is actually hidden by that huge frame it sits within. Maybe one day… but I will tell you more of this later.”
I nodded. I wanted to know everything — there was so much! How had she known I would come? But I thought — hoped — that perhaps there would be a lot of time for this.
I leaned forward, resting my forehead against hers. Our eyes locked, mouths so close we breathed in each other’s air. I inhaled her sweet breath, wanting to taste it. I could not deny she was the most beautiful woman my eyes had ever seen. My body reacted to her as it did centuries before — she unravelled me. It was then that I claimed her lips with mine. Such soft lips, she had. Hesitant, then persistent for more contact. Fire spread throughout my insides from our kiss. Our mouths soon mashed together in urgent need, tongues thrusting. I licked the tip of her exposed incisors.
She stopped me. “Let me take you to my apartment,” she breathed, leading me up some hidden stairs at the rear of the café. Clearly, the café was part of the gallery, but I didn’t really notice doors or steps; I was much too lost in the moment. In only seconds, we had arrived in what could only be her bedroom, usefully located in her accommodations above the unsuspecting public.
Our heated embrace quickly escalated to a raging fire as we tore at each other’s clothes, wanting nothing between us. I pulled back a moment to marvel at her naked form. She was breathtaking! So much more than mortal flesh.
“I came straight down to the gallery when I felt your presence,” she murmured, her eyes burned red with a smouldering passion. “Vincenzo, I want you — need you…!”
I responded with my mouth, kissing her with ferocious need. Then I lay her down onto what looked like a very expensive, luxurious Persian rug. Hopefully, we would have all the time in the world to explore each other, but right at that moment, I wanted to make love to her — to make us as one, as so many of the images in my head had shown me over the years.
For so long, I had had to be controlled with a lover. But Lilah was different; her strength more than matched my own.
“You cannot hurt me, Vincenzo. Do not hold back, my love!”
She sucked my bottom lip, trapping it between her sharp teeth; then I felt a sting of pain. Her sucking increased with fervour. She was drinking — me! Drinking my blood!
She pulled back, her eyes glowing. “Bite me, Vincenzo. Release your fangs, my darling.”
Ahhh! It was freeing to allow them to descend — no longer having to keep them retracted.
Baring my fangs for her, I took her lip in my teeth and bit her gently, but hard enough for a trickle of blood to stain my lips. Licking, I tasted her blood. Delicious! Ahhh, so heady! My head swirled. Rushes of power mixed with arousal rose up inside me, consuming me. Then, our thoughts became one as we took each other’s necks, piercing, sucking, each frenziedly consuming the other with an inhuman fervour. Animalistic growls filled the room as we writhed.
I resumed our coupling with renewed ferocity — a savage intensity I had not enjoyed before now. She remained latched onto my neck, feeding. Two blood-spattered, naked bodies glistened with vampire sweat; it would have been an astonishing sight for mortals, no doubt. This was undoubtedly the most intimate encounter I had ever had with another.
We basked in the afterglow of our supernatural coupling. As my arms enveloped her, we whispered words of love for one another; words that had taken several lifetimes to bring to fruition. Contentment, actual contentment, hit me as I realized I could finally be myself with a woman.
As she laid her head upon my chest, I thought of her portrait in the gallery below and became contemplative. For some time now, I had resigned myself to walk this earth alone — alone and without meaning. Yet here we were about to enter a new century, and for the first time since my change over five hundred years earlier, I looked forward to the future with a hope I had never expected to feel.
Now, hope found me. I wanted to meet the clan. Could it be I could serve a useful purpose in this world? Could it be I wouldn’t have to live like a caged animal – restrained, limited, and lonely. Maybe, just maybe, I could live the rest of my life (however long that may be) with the clan … and Lilah … in uninhibited happiness.
I had reconciled with my creator, Lilah. Could it be that finally — finally — I would also be reconciled with the monster within?