I have lived many lifetimes; perhaps too many, for the land of my birth is but a distant, hazy memory of sands and sunshine. I am not alone in this existence, although we are not many. Our beauty is our gift, our weapon. We move through the night with the ease of a silk banner flowing in a gentle breeze; we are pretenders, predators.
I see another of our kind dancing a waltz with a young man in a Paris ballroom; the world is changing but we are heedless to the sounds of the distant canon fire. It will come to pass, as it always does. For now I watch as the folds of her satin gown sweep the floor behind her with every graceful turn of the dance. She tilts her head slightly and our eyes meet, hers are violet like the gown she is wearing. She doesn’t look a day over twenty but her eyes tell me she’s seen more than a mortal’s lifetime. Without words we speak; she has claimed her prey. I give her a slight smile and salute her with my untouched glass of champagne before moving on.
One night I glimpse the past in the face of an angel. He’s standing outside a café, a smile curling up one side of his full mouth as he nods to the girl standing before him. The last time I saw that smile was nearly four hundred years before.
In an intimate gesture he lifts her hand up to his lips and lays a kiss on the inside of her palm. My own palm tingles with memories and the smell of roses assaults my senses.
We are lying in the garden at twilight where we’d been meeting for the past fortnight, lazily discussing the latest verse and watching the stars appear in the ever darkening sky. With a grand gesture, he plucks a rose, puncturing his thumb in the process. A drop of deep crimson appears at the wound. Before he can react, I take his hand in my own and lift it to my lips; a quick swipe of my tongue is all it takes. Suddenly it’s pounding in my ears; the thirst, the need for more. Before I can think of nothing else I lay a final kiss on his palm and begin to move away, but then he reaches for me, pulling me into an embrace. His mouth moves over mine, hesitantly at first and then with greater passion. As his hands unfasten my lace collar he moves his lips to my neck and over my shoulder bringing his own precious pulse ever closer to my mouth. And just like that I am lost.
When I awaken to myself I am kneeling on the ground holding his lifeless body. Blood red tears stream down my pale face appearing black in the moonlight.
I took the rose that night, kept it until it withered and the petals turned hard and brown. Sometime later, when its fragility finally caused it to break apart and crumble, I scattered its dust to the winds.
A Desert City of Neo Babylon—c. 580 BC
I felt myself drawn to him from the very first. He was beauty personified in masculine form; his face held softness in just the right places to balance out the planes and angles. His dark hair curled gently to his broad shoulders. Finer dress I had never seen. Wide-set, intelligent eyes of an unfathomably dark color watched me with interest as I made my way around the room. Despite the coins the other patrons were tossing at my feet I moved toward him, as if drawn by some invisible force, my body undulating sensually with the rhythm of the dance. With a sway of my hips and a question in my eyes I made the usual offer. But he only smiled and asked me to continue dancing for him.
He called the owner over to him, and then there was an exchange of coins. Just like that I had been sold; it had been done as easily as when my father gave my childhood away to pay off his debts some years before.
I was taken to his home where I was bathed, perfumed, and dressed in fine linens. His home was all alabaster and fine fabrics, nothing but the best of everything. In his private rooms there were feasts every night; great amounts of food such as I had never seen were spread before us with much ceremony. To my dismay, he never partook of the food and drank only seldom. But, as I fed, his eyes intensely followed my every movement as if I were still performing for him.
My first night there I broke a small loaf of bread in half and offered it to him. ‘If you hunger, why not eat?’
He took the loaf from my hand and laid it back on the table. Moving closer he whispered to me, his breath tickling my ear as he spoke: ‘No amount of bread can satisfy my hunger.’ His lips brushed my neck. I knew nothing else after this for some time.
He only appeared after night had fallen but I didn’t think it odd; I was accustomed to late hours myself. For countless nights I danced for him, ate for him, anything he wished was my desire as well. It was as if I were drunk with that new-found world; I fell in love with life. It began to be that I feared losing it, of being sent back to the other hell I knew before.
One night he sensed my trepidation and a peculiar look passed over his beautiful features; it took me a moment to recognize his sorrow. His mouth curled with an odd, almost sad, smile. ‘Do not have fears, my little one. You have gifted me with life these past months, so in return I will give you the only gift I can. You will never hunger for food, become ill, or want for anything ever again. Your life will only belong to yourself. The future is yours to decide.’
And then he gave me the Kiss of Death.
When I awoke, he was gone and I was as I am today.
He was an artist; not famous, but very fine nonetheless. Mostly he painted portraits. I happened upon him one night at a tavern and he invited me to his room above. When I saw the beauty of the half-completed painting sitting in the corner, I knew I could not finish what I had started. From that moment it was inevitable that I’d love him.
I became his wealthy patron, letting him move into my larger home just outside the city. I encouraged him to paint whatever he wished. Each night I’d remark on his progress; it was a magical thing to me as I watched him bringing people to life on his canvas. He seemed to capture a precious moment of life with every stroke of his brush.
One night he begged to paint my likeness, for me to come to him in the day so that he could see me in the light.
I kissed his mouth ever so gently. ‘Paint whatever you desire. But if you must paint me it will have to be by candlelight, for it’s impossible for me to come to you during day.’
He looked so forlorn that I smiled for the both of us. ‘Do not worry, my love, for I am already unchanging.’ And then, before I could help myself, I told him everything; he was the only mortal that I ever allowed to know the truth of my nature.
We lived together for years, maybe many in a mortal’s lifetime, but to me it seemed but the blink of an eye. The inevitable happened, of course. He fell ill and did not recover, but lingered on for months with coughing and fever. No matter how many doctors I sent for, they each gave the same diagnosis; he was dying and nothing could be done.
I came to him one night with intention; I would give him my most precious gift.
But he refused, as I knew he would. ‘Eternity without the colors of daylight would be horrifying.’ I begged, I cried, my heart was being crushed but he would not relent.
‘Do you know why I painted portraits?’
I shook my head as I wiped the blood-stained tears from my face with my sleeve.
‘So they will be remembered when they are gone. And that’s all that I want; to be remembered. Do not cry, beloved. I have loved and been loved well. It’s all I could ever ask for.’
I placed a final kiss on his brow and held him into the early hours of morning before slipping away at daybreak. When night fell again I awoken to a lifeless house. I burned it all and walked away into the dark; a small painting tucked under one arm.
New York City—1999
I’ve become creature of dreams and nightmares.
Each night as my body comes to life I rise feeling the sun begin its decent, the lengthening shadows caress the land with a lovers touch. I’m walking the streets by twilight, just as the sky is purpling into blue-black; only the evening star is visible, for some time now called Venus, goddess of love to a fallen civilization.
With care I choose. He is coming out of a nearby club and he’s clearly been indulging there for some time; his thoughts are unfocused and fuzzy. Perfect.
I catch his eye; call him to me without words. He is easily enthralled and follows me as I begin to walk away.
Without a word I turn and walk into a nearby alley. I don’t look back, I know he follows. When I reach a darkened area I stop and wait for him to catch up; within minutes I am in his arms being crushed against a cold brick wall.
My kiss is the last thing he ever knows.
Carefully, I lay him onto the ground, leaving a kiss on his brow. As I make my way out of the alley I fight the urge to be sick.
Somewhere in the Middle East—Present Day
Alone but for the horse I ride on, I have returned to the land of my beginnings. I cannot be sure of the exact location, for my memory is cloudy, and the world has changed so much from the time when I last lived here; entire cities have since crumbled and vanished into the desert sands. Above me the sky is filled with stars, in this vast darkness it is the most I’ve seen of them in centuries. Filled with excitement, I urge the horse to move faster, and ever deeper into the desert.
Heedless of the approaching dawn, coming within hours to bring light to this part of the world, I ride onward to my destination. The Arabian is fast and steady beneath me; he is strong and was also born of this land.
Finally, I come to the ruins of an ancient city; a few giant stones are all that remain. I slide from the horse’s back; the sand is cool against my bare feet. I take a seat on a toppled stone column and stare up at my constant companion, the night sky. A gentle breeze causes my loose curls to swirl about my face. I close my eyes, content to let the winds caress my cool skin.
‘I knew you’d come back here.’
I do not open my eyes at first; even after all these years I recognize his honeyed voice. When I do let my eyes slip open he is standing before me. He appears the same as when we had first met millenniums ago. Seeing him, I am angry.
‘If you know so much, answer me this: why did you do it? Why did you make me what I am?’
He shakes his head gently, his black curls swaying alongside his terrible beautiful face. ‘The choice was always yours. Did you rather I didn’t give it to you? Have you been so unhappy all these years, my little one? What about your English rose, or your fine Dutch painter?’
I close my eyes against the pain. “How do you know about them?”
Suddenly he’s kneeling beside me. He whispers against my ear. “A good father always watches over his children.” He reaches out to caress my face with his palm; vulnerable, I lean into him.
“I’m so tired,” I say, and suddenly I feel the heaviness of thousands of years weighing upon me.
“I know, my darling. I know.” He embraces me, rocking me as if I were a child. And then I realize why I’ve come home.
“You must go, the dawn is coming soon,” I remind him, as I pull away from his embrace.
He stands and looks down at me for some time, his expression the most serious I have ever seen on him. But then it is suddenly gone, replaced by a guileless smile. “I should have known…it’s an inevitable fate for us all I suppose.” He bends down; I shut my eyes and feel him lay a final kiss on my lips. When I open my eyes again he has already vanished into the darkness.
I wait for the impending sunrise…
I sit here, in this ancient spot, once a thriving city in the land of my birth, as I watch the morning star that once belonged to my beloved Ishtar fade into the ever brightening sky. Perhaps, after all these years of existence, you’d think I’d be afraid; but I am only tired and a bit curious to see what lies after this life. After all, I’ve already experienced more than my share of lifetimes.
Many times I have known love; both selfish love that binds and controls, and love that is kind and gentle and never asks to be returned. I have known passion and I have known romance. But I have never known true love, the love of two souls recognizing each other as halves of a whole, because I do not have a soul; I gave that part of myself away a long time ago, in exchange for eternal youth and beauty.
As the sun creeps ever closer to the horizon, I am forced to shade my sensitive eyes against the increasing light.
Do I regret it? I had thought at the time that I had chosen to live, but I was wrong. This is an existence, not a life. Yes, I have experienced much, seen more, but I have not been a part of the living. I let greed lead me astray; I wanted more than I had been given and when the opportunity arose I took it. The simple joys that I took for granted have been denied to me for too long and I am weary, so weary.
The light is even brighter now; I can feel it making my body heat. My limbs feel heavy and are difficult to move. I lie down on the stone column, my face upturned towards the sky, my eyes closed against the glow of early morning.
That is not to say I made the wrong choice. If I had to do all over again, I would probably choose the same. I only wish I had found the one soul that would have made it all bearable; any existence without true love is empty and void of purpose. And though I have searched all these years I never found what I was looking for.
I would have died to live again in their arms had I found them, but I did not.
My blood feels like it is boiling in my veins, and perhaps it is, but I am too tired to care. With great effort I force my eyelids to open as the sun crests the horizon, in an instant I am blind. My body is burning from the inside out; each second stretches into an eternity.
Oh, Love, why have you forsaken me?