by Ruth Davis Hays
The music and candlelight attracted Keegan. He wanted to slip into a side door and join in the festivities. No one would notice him; Phillipe was the only one in the Family Gathering that knew him. He could easily fade in, unrecognized by anyone of importance because of his anonymity. He also desired to see Phillipe mantled in one of those long, ridiculous curled wigs that were so popular now. That would definitely make his risk worth the effort.
He crept along the maze of hedges that spread just below the rear balcony in the massive garden of this noble’s Motherhouse. The stone steps crept up to the open French doors looming elusively above him. He was deep in the ocean of green. Soft, crisp notes from the lively harpsichord tickled his ears and brought a playful smile to his lips. It made him cheerful. He stopped stalking and listened to the cascade of merry music. The tune hummed and giggled inside him, and he found his toes tapping in time with it. Smiling wider, Keegan closed his eyes and let his body wander into the melody with a blissful abandon.
Hopping and skipping about in a raucous, mock minuet, he began plucking the waxy leaves from the hedge and tossing them into the air. They fluttered down upon him with so many pleasant little caresses. He was laughing aloud and his mind spun recklessly through the flow of music. He crashed and cavorted up one length of the tall, green maze without opening his eyes. The short branches poked him like indignant spectators shoving an intrusive drunken man away from them. He did not care; the joy tickling him inside was a welcome change. The fact that he could be lost in this jumbled path of greenery never even made him balk. He simply followed the music of the harpsichord up one limb of the labyrinth and down another.
It might have been an hour or two before he emerged from the garden maze; he neither knew nor cared. All he cared for was the bouncy melodies from inside the house and the delicious, lighthearted mood they had struck in him.
Now, more than before, as he exited the leafy walls a little way from the balcony stairs, he wished to enter this sparkling carnival of laughter and chatter. He wanted to dance. He wanted to talk to others of his kind; he simply wished to see another vampire’s face–besides Phillipe’s. He was so dreadfully tired of Phillip.
Ever since Oliver ran away, Keegan had no one to talk to, except humans. And humans, no matter how interesting their stories are, always end up making better food than they are companions. He hated getting personally involved with humans. It was heartbreaking and disappointing.
Thinking on this began to make him feel cold and callous inside again. He decided to stop. He should not think when he was happy. It always ruined the feeling.
He blocked the words that whipped around inside his head and drown them in music. Soon, they were dead and floating near the bottom of his skull, and he was feeling giddy once more. The air around him vibrated, tingling with the echo throughout his skin. Emotions flowed along his limbs and seeped out in an invisible pulse that living creatures could feel and be affected by. He felt the thick bush beside him answer this pulse with a trembling that only another vampire would be able to see. This excited him more. He smiled broadly, his sharp canines flashing in the moonlight. This was to be a wondrous night.
He tentatively mounted the wide, stone staircase that curved up towards the house. He felt the small, inch-high heels of his fashionably styled shoes creak under his weight. They clicked softly on the steps. Keegan felt that most fashions of this day were ridiculous. It was almost impossible to look serious or threatening in the garments. He usually scorned the large, bell-like cassocks and gartered stockings, but he knew that tonight it was important to blend with the Fashion Hounds that these vampires were.
He had mocked his reflection in the mirror as he had slipped into these cumbersome, pompous clothes. The coat hung well on his tall frame, but the shoes looked feminine and silly. The large ribbons dangling off him at every joint, and the ruffles at the neck. He had felt like Pantaloon in the Commedia as he gazed at himself. He had stolen the foolish rags from a rich fop who had mistaken him for a beggar. The man’s corpse had lain on the settee and stared with disapproval as Keegan had paraded before the gilt mirror in the man’s own house. But, the dead man had had no words of refusal, as the vampire had stripped him of his ornaments. Keegan had donned the man’s outfit, right down to the face patch, but he had flatly refused to wear the dead man’s long, overly-curled wig.
That would have been too much, he thought. Keegan had politely refused the dead man’s mute offering of the wig; though, none had been made. But, as the man’s glazed eyes continued to stare at him, insistently it seemed, Keegan had grown irritated by the corpse’s blatant ignorance of his sense of dignity and style. So irritated that the vampire had smashed his fist into the dead man’s blank, staring face. And then, he had marched out.
“Bloody French shoes,” Keegan cursed the breaking shoes as he climbed the steps of the Motherhouse. They must have been ill-made to come apart so quickly, he had thought. As expensive as they had looked, they did not hold up. The delicate silk had broken apart as his weight had danced within it, and now the wooden heels were cracking below him.
As he neared the top step, he paused. Two vampires had come out into the cool evening air and were having a polite conversation on the balcony, near the statues that he saw standing as sentinels on the far end. He crouched down and listened to their talk. Silently, tense and excited to hear a new voice, he glanced between the short, carved, stone balusters.
He saw them. Two tall, dark-clothed figures standing at the far railing; their pale faces glowing against the clouded night sky. One was Phillipe. Keegan recognized the Spaniard’s smooth profile and taut jaw. He was in a black, heavily buttoned cassock and a dark brown wig that fell about his shoulders. Keegan smirked. The other one was also in black and wore a black wig. It was obviously the Head of this French Household, for the look on his face was one of authority and strength. A new face. Keegan was mesmerized. Then he looked over to Phillipe again, a movement caught his eye.
Phillipe turned to look at him with the most menacing glare, that Keegan’s heart fell into a pool of ice. In the next instant, Phillipe calmly pulled out a pistol from his wide belt and shot Keegan in the right shoulder.
He was shocked. The pain spilling with blood as the vest and cassock seeped up the juice. The threat from the pistol had hurt him, but the look in Phillipe’s eyes was a clear promise of more punishment to come. A warning. The muzzle of the pistol still pointed at him. He heard Phillipe say to the other vampire, “Only a small animal, nothing more. It’s dead. Or soon will be.”
Keegan vaulted the railing and dashed quickly off into the garden to hide from Phillipe’s anger. But, he knew he could not. Phillipe could track his fear like a hound tracks a rabbit. It had happened countless times before. It perpetuated the hold he had over Keegan; the power. He felt he could never escape. Phillipe was stronger, bigger, older, and seemed to take great pleasure in designing tortures. Punishments, he called them. The drawback to immortality, as Keegan saw it, was that one’s body could survive devastating depths of pain, even if the mind could not.
So, he ran. As he always did. The blood poured from his wound. He held it tightly with his other hand, to try and cut the pain. His shirt pressing to him with the spreading red stain. He knew better than to cry out. He bit down hard against the hurt and ran deeper into the garden.
The close bushes slapped his legs and grabbed at his coat. One low branch snagged the ribbon that held his long hair back and pulled it free. The hair gently licked his cheeks and collar as he plunged into a woods. His heartbeat pounded with his running feet. Faster and faster he went, to where he knew not. Dodging, turning, seeking a safe haven in which to nurse his shoulder. Knowing there was not one.
He felt Phillipe’s breath on his neck, heard the snick of a twig under Phillipe’s boot, whipping around with a outcry to find nothing there. He wanted to scream his fear to the darkness. Scream his panic. Scream his pain. Feared to scream. That it would bring down swifter punishment.
He was over six hundred and fifty years old and yet he was as frightened now as he had felt at ten, when he would steal sweetbreads from his mother’s table and hide to eat them only to hear her approach and threaten to whip his thieving hide.