A single candle flares to life in a curtained night chamber, and I know my journey is over. I came here to watch outside the manor house in the silent darkness of early morning, standing in anxious vigil as I awaited a sign. The light speaks to me, tells me I have not quested in vain.
But what power has called me here?
I thought never to return to this land, this land of my birth, this land where once my ancestors ruled with the law of sword and knout, and townsman and peasant alike abased themselves in the dust as our curtained carriages rumbled past.
But I have come back — no, been drawn back — as inexorably as the shackled ballast stone draws the sailor’s corpse into the bowels of the sea. Drawn by a bouquet in the air, a haunting fragrance so compelling in its promised ecstasy that I never had thought to resist.
It began as a faint aura, a suggestion of warmth hidden between wisps of cool midnight mist, the aftertaste of honeyed wine melting on a single breath. I remember that night when first I felt its touch. I was afoot in the great city, one moment striding along the darkened streets in purposeful design, the next scenting the air and coursing back and forth along unnamed byways and alleys like some hound driven afield at the huntsman’s command.
Tonight I have reached the source.
The distance I have travelled matters naught. The wind- whipped ship, the rattling carriages, the weary hours trudging rock-strewn footpaths all fade from my memory.
There is only the light in the window.
And the woman framed therein.
I see her but dimly, a shadowy wraith beneath flickering candle flame, but I feel her reaching out to me, calling, promising me delights beyond all comprehension. It is she who has brought me here, her essence carried on the questing winds, seeking me out that I might respond in kind.
For I know that as my desire for her grows, so am I desired.
She steps now onto the balcony, and my heart leaps. The light behind her, the beauty of her full figure and regal profile are revealed in stark outline. I cannot see her eyes, but I know that she watches me, even through the gathered darkness, and I take a step forward. But I dare not go further. The faint beginnings of dawn tint the eastern skies, and soon there will be other eyes about, and I fear to reveal myself in the light of day. The mark of my ancestry is carved on my visage, and those who forced exile on me might seek a more onerous punishment were I to be discovered.
She turns away, but I sense anticipation in her manner, not disappointment. This day will be one sweet longing, with preparation for fulfillment, and tonight I will return, ready to claim my prize.
As I know she awaits to claim hers.
I stare at her as I enter the common chambers, and my mouth is dry with disgust.
Repugnance has destroyed love.
Is this thing truly the woman I took to wife? She has grown ugly in the face, ugly in her coarse and bloated body, and ugliest of all in her manner and habits. And with all her inherent ugliness, when she should still be groveling her thanks both for my saving her life and for ultimately bestowing on her all the honors of holy wedlock, she treats me with a shrugging indifference, an indifference that grows almost at a pace with the wallowing masses of flesh that bulge and flow across her sodden frame.
I wish now I had left her searing in the flames of her strange conveyance, that night when the falling star belched fire and thunder, so many years ago. But I dragged her free, while my coachmen quieted the screaming horses, and then held her close in my arms as we dashed past the shuttered peasant huts to gain the safety of the manor house before moonrise. She was just a wisp of a woman-child then, lost and lonely, not knowing either our language or our ways, and her innocence enchanted me. But she was quick to learn, and I watched her grow into delicate womanhood, a creature slim and lovely. Thus, in the course of time, I asked her to be my own.
That was a long time ago.
Now look at her!
The childlike daintiness has fled, replaced by a caricature of jarring contrasts: an ossified blade of a face on its serpent neck, tacked like an afterthought to that gross, edematous body. How can she have changed so, how can parts of her have shrunk and shrivelled while the rest has grown so swollen? Her hair is harsh and fibrous, drawn straight and severe, knotted high on the occipital curve of her skull to expose a nape all powdered and shaven. Shaven! I am in mind of some ailing and scabrous dog, its pelt shorn away to expose the encroachments of mange, smeared with dried and flaking medication. And as for the rest of her stringy neck, it is drawn and laced with flaccid cords, throbbing spidery veins, and jutting thyroid cartilage. And what is so hideously incongruous is the sight of that emaciated appendage contrasting with the fleshiness of her upper torso, for all the world like a dry and spindly cornstalk emerging from her billowing bosom.
As if her appearance were not distressing enough, there have been other changes equally repulsive in character and demeanor. Her complexion varies mysteriously with the time of day, rising grey and sallow like a chill drizzly dawn, ending mottled and rubicund like a dying winter sunset. And as her coloring changes, so do her features. Slit feline eyes take on a slant that emphasize the nose, which in itself becomes a muzzle blending almost unbroken with the puckered line of pinched and wrinkled lips. And it is that little rodent’s mouth that belies in its economy the most offensive change of all: the avaricious gluttony that she continually exhibits, slobbering and clawing at the nutriments that her burgeoning bulk demands to sustain itself.
She is constantly at table, the serving-maids scurrying back and forth, the raucous clatter in kitchen and scullery a dissonant symphony to her greediness. Dozens of hen’s eggs, chunk on chunk of crusty loaf, mounded slabs of meat, pink juices swirling in the platter, all are grist for that chittering snout-like mill of a mouth. And the drink! Bowls of wine. Tankards of beer. Tureens of soup, the indiscriminate floating morsels sucked up along with the fluid. Buckets of pulpy extracts from the crushings and squeezings of fruit and vegetable. A pitcher of water is always at her elbow, demanding constant replenishment, used to wash everything down into that sloshing abyss of her voluminous belly.
There remains to me but to watch in fascinated disgust, repelled, as she shovels her way through tables, buffets, pantries, in search of — what? Satisfaction? Gratification? Rejuvenation? She eats as if she were searching for some special morsel that always eludes her, some sweetmeat unknown in our simple country fare. I have given up trying to understand her; I can just barely tolerate her, let alone pick and probe at her mental processes. She has been my lady here, a bit of brightness in a land long cursed by the evil shadow of the towering Carpathians. But she has relinquished all my respect and honor in her meaningless quest for this unnamed fulfillment.
She has taken to retiring early and locking the doors to her chambers. I can divine no reason for this latest aberration. The perimeter of the manor is secured with powerful talismans at nightfall, doubly renewed and blessed when the moon rises full. The peasant servants may despise her, but they are innocuous, so it would not seem to be fear that motivates her. And the heavens know, I am no threat to her person in any fashion. I have not even known her connubially these many years, a decision forced on me by an increasingly strange and painful incompatibility of our physical persons. At the risk of offending, I must tell you in all candor that as the moist obesity swelled her limbs and belly, it was accompanied by a shrinking and drying of her privy parts into the semblance of a vulture’s beak.
As I ascend the broad sweeping staircase, and close the doors to my own lonely bedroom, I can hear her voice, even through the solid oak. She is laughing and happy, almost as if this were her marriage night, and she a virgin bride waiting in naive anticipation. I can determine neither meaning in her words, nor reason for her laughter, but somehow I am very glad for the security of the cross that seals my door tonight.
I stare at her through the windows of her bedchamber, my hunger whetted by the long day’s wait, and my lips are moist with eagerness.
Soon they will be red from the fervid caress of love.
I cannot remember such feelings for any other woman; liaisons of faded centuries disappear into facelessness as I glide from the moonlight into her room. Her very presence begins to warm me from my waking chill. She beckons me, and my heart beats anew inside my straining chest, my fingers stretch for the touch of her, and my lips draw back in answer to the growing taste of anticipation. She is lovely in ways no woman has ever been lovely before, awaiting me, desiring me, as anxious to please as I am to return to her, as I have returned to her so often of late, as I hope to return to her yet a thousand thousand times to come.
How can such a woman be of this earth?
Look at her!
She is a delight of delicate counterpoint, the incisive clarity of feature, the sensually severe curves of her throat, all shading in subtle contrast into the lush abundance of her full figure. How firm the lines of her visage, the clear definition of cheek and forehead, framed emphatically with her crown of hair. And Oh! The wonderment of her neck, vibrant joy from chin to collarbone, with the pulsing signal of living heart visible through the clear warm parchment of her skin — rapid, alive, inviting.
Her throat is like the fluted column of a Greek temple, etched with the desire of the ages, ever classic, but ever renewed. And sweetest of all, the deep moist clavicular hollows, glowing and ardent, where the softness of shoulder and breast unite.
As I drop my cape crumpled on the balustrade, she turns to receive me, her face bright, a fervid pink, ruby dipped in milk. Her heightened color accentuates the clarity of her eyes, the regal aquiline nose, the eager pursing lips, wet and inviting. Without being told, I know she has spent the day preparing for me and me alone, building up her strength, renewing her sustaining juices, her very life force, her essence. Soft, sanguine, sensuous, she reaches out to me, eager to begin. I am hypnotized by her desire, so new and strange to me after so many centuries, so many women bent to my will, accommodating me, but dreading my very touch. Why, at last, am I so fervently desired by one so well suited to my special needs? Does she have secret hungers that someday I will be expected to fulfill, even as I satisfy myself?
The door is bolted and the manor quiet, despite the fact that I have arrived only moments after sundown. But no- one will dare disturb us; her husband is a fool, and the servants are but sheep, cowering in their quarters behind candles and crosses. Quivering like a new bridegroom, I sink into the enveloping folds of her supine body, my probing incisors locked deep in the beauty of her throat.
The taste of blood is again sweet in my mouth, but somehow, other senses, long forgotten, are awakening. My groin has come afire, and the craving erectness, which I thought was never again to be mine, has returned to torment me. I penetrate her, now joined at both throat and loins as her interlocked fingers tighten to force me deeper and deeper into her clutching softness. A softness that enfolds me, surrounds me, sucks me down into darkness. A softness that conceals steely jaws and acid juices, where I am yielding my essences, my dwindling serums, to satisfy both a hunger and a lust such as I never knew.
I choke under the darkness, and have not the strength to lift my limbs. Her body arches, her thighs contract, and the acids are injected to course and burn inside me, melting my flesh, my bones, my organs. My heart hesitates, blisters, dissolves, and is sucked away by this thing that feeds on me. A thing that feeds a hundred — nay, a thousand — times more voraciously than I ever fed in my lifetime or my life after that.
I try to stretch my wings, to flit away into the safety of the night, but my body is but a shell, and cannot respond.
The fire has reached my mouth, my tongue, my eyes.
Darkness swirls around me.
Even the darkness is collapsing.
(c) Frank C. Gunderloy, All Rights Reserved.