A short story by Leyla Telli.
Dublin city was bustling with harried shoppers dragging their last conquests home, presents to impress their loved ones on the big day tomorrow. Cars, monstrous buses and bicycles crawled through the crowded streets, fighting for space. The air was cold and wet, clouds drifted, lazy, across the sky. Big raindrops fell here and there, as if not sure whether it was worth the effort.
He had put up the collar of his black coat and hid his face in a black woolen scarf, not so much because he was cold, but for the peace of mind of the others. Even though there didn’t seem to be an inch of pavement left free, as he walked among them, they all flowed around him as if they were the river and he was the rock. He moved with a pensive gait towards Christ Church Cathedral. Its squat spire was failing to reach the sky and yet, such beauty.
As he walked through the gate and onto hallowed ground a thrill of something, excitement, fear, or maybe relief, went through him. An older man, his grey hair fluttering about his head, made his way towards the door and he followed him in, like a shadow. Once inside, he made himself invisible in a darkened corner, biding his time. The air smelled faintly of the wreaths that decorated the altar. Midnight Mass came and went. The heavy sound of the oaken door falling into its lock and the grinding of the key turning, brought him back to alertness. He waited, the absolute silence around him pressing in on him like the dark earth.
Nothing. The cathedral was empty, one lone candle that someone had forgotten to snuff was the only light. For him it was enough to see by, to trace the intricate carvings on the pillars and to reconstruct in his mind’s eye the pale windows into brilliant color. He stepped out of his hiding place and strode up the aisle between rows of empty benches until he faced the simple golden cross on the altar. He knelt down on the stones that had been polished by generations of believers and began his vigil.
His thoughts wandered. His beginnings, humble and human, lay buried in the Dublin of the 1600s. A simple time, that passed in the blink of an eye. He was attending his first ball, in one of the grand houses of the era. It was an unusually warm night, the stars were bright in the sky and the smell of the garden flowers alluring. Sweaty and slightly inebriated from heavy red wine that had been shipped from Tuscany for the occasion, he stumbled out through the open garden doors to sate himself on the fresh breeze. The garden sprawled away from the house for several acres, ancient trees and artfully trimmed hedges providing an illusion of privacy and wilderness. Lanterns had been hung here and there, providing little islands of light and plunging all else into an even deeper darkness. He followed a narrow trail, until the house was mostly hidden by foliage and only the softest sound of laughter and music carried over with the breeze.
A short scream pierced the air somewhere deeper in the garden. The hedges rustled and a young girl almost ran into him on her way back to the house. Intrigued, he moved forward. The green parted and there on the marble rim of a little fountain sat a young gentleman with a roguish smile on his face. He had seen him before, knew that he was English, with a boisterous laugh, and fierce in the pursuit of his own joys. His hair shone like bright polished copper, in contrast his face was very pale. He wondered if the gentleman was sick. Before he could ask, the man’s smile widened, beckoning. When he spoke his voice was like a dark balm, like something he had been yearning for, without knowing.
‘Come.’ Just one word, that swept over him like a compulsion. He followed the command without a second thought. When his teeth breached the delicate flesh on his neck, the pain was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. A bright burn that ate its way through his whole body. And yet, such sweet pleasure swept through his senses that he felt like he was drowning in it, torn along on a dark current. In his last moments, the long, drawn out second of his last heartbeat, the image of his mother and father, of his sister, crowded his dying mind. The knowledge of their anguish at his death brought silent tears to his eyes.
His new master had taken him away from the Isle and he had seen the world. A lot of time had passed since then, and his master with the copper hair was long dead.
He remembered others, beautiful men and women, human companions. He loved most of them. His last one was so young when she perished in his arms. She joined the others in the dark earth, decay gnawing the flesh from their bones.
He hasn’t seen his own reflection in centuries, has forgotten the look of his own face. His victims call him beautiful, and he sees the adoration shine in their eyes, before it is replaced by terror. This new age, that is filled with fluorescent false brightness that casts everything in harsh and unforgiving lines, an indifferent grey creeping in around the edges and tainting everything. It makes him feel tired.
Tomorrow is the feast day of the King. Of He who let His own heart blood flow freely as sacrifice. As he bows down before Him, he entrusts to Him his eternal soul, even if it is bound for darker spheres. The night passes as he holds his vigil in God’s empty house.
When dawn breaks, he awaits it under the open sky, back to the west, welcoming the pale morning as crimson tears stain his cheeks. The first rays of the wintry sun touch his face in greeting.