By Ellie Hartwig
The flames die down and the room becomes cold. The ghosts are still here, I fear, lounging about the tower room with wine glasses filled not with wine, but with blood. Ah, how they indulge upon the elixir such as I did. Do they enjoy its metallic taste, the salty aftertaste, as I did? Or rather, still do?
I stare at the white forms through the mirror before me. Their eyes are blank and empty, their limbs thin, scarred, white. I fear that their haunts shall always frequent me, and that I may never know peace.
Their companionship is hollow and forlorn and they whisper evil tales of evil deeds. My deeds. I finger the leather of the bible placed before me. I opened to a page that I have bookmarked. A page that I have read many times to reassure myself. I skip down to the passage and begin to read it. Another assurance.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Not only does the passage assure me, but it makes me feel confused. Why was I put on trial for doing what I did? Did I not help my girls make an atonement for their sins? Blood, after all, was a sacrament. How could it be involved in anything evil?
I flipped to the end of the book, to the blank pages. Not for me, but for the ghosts that won't leave me alone, I begin to write a confession. This seems to ease the whispered torments of the ghosts as I write, so I continue, my quill scratching against the pages. This isn't for me, it is for the ghosts. The ghosts are my audience, as is God. But God is my greatest concern, for he shall decide whether to salvage my soul.
Or whether to condemn it.
"Excuse me, Countess," the servant girl said as she curtsied low. I turned to her, my curls of dark brown tumbling over my shoulder. She was a pretty, sylphlike young girl, with plump, red lips and dark blue eyes. Her pale, porcelain face was shrouded by her doll-like ringlets of blonde hair.
My eyes traced her body, comparing her own form to mine. Envy was such an exhausting sin but I couldn't help but compare my flaws to her good points. I drunk in her entire appearance, having her completely unaware of my envious eyes.
This was a trait I had developed, a rather vain trait where I felt the need to compare myself to other pretty woman. I always wanted that which they had. I loved my voluptuous frame and my sensual appearance, yet I craved for the frail innocence that the younger maids had.
"I have some terrible news, Countess," the servant girl said timidly. I watched as she wrung her hands together nervously, aware of my terrible temper.
"Well, on with it," I demanded, quite rudely.
She looked taken aback at my frankness but regained her stance. "It is in regards to your husband, Countess. Count Nadasdy has passed on. He died in battle, your Highness," she said, her voice meek and quiet among the whispering wind that blew in from the windows.
I stared at her for a moment, my lips pursed. For awhile, the information didn't reflect in my features. I swallowed what felt like a lump of bread and felt suddenly light-headed. I grasped the table behind me to stabilize myself as I saw the room begin to spin around me.
I jolted at the sound of something falling, unaware that it was me. I felt slender hands grasp hold of me, and I shook off my stupor. Angered for her laying her hands on me, I pushed the girl aside. She gasped as she fell to the ground, myself rising above her.
"How dare you lay your hands on me?!" I yelled to the cowering girl.
"I'm sorry, Countess," she said, too afraid to make herself seem brave and too dutiful to run away.
"Leave my quarters!" I replied. When she took a fraction of a second too long, I roared, "NOW!" She whimpered slightly as she jumped up and left my chamber, leaving me to my mourning.
I turned away from where she had sat and gazed at my face in the mirror. My skin had become pasty with the shock from hearing of the Count's death and my lips were trembling. Despite my loss, I found myself examining my facial features with the hopes that I looked no older than before I heard the news. Vanity can be a deadly sin, as I was soon to learn.
I stood outside, the bitter cold wind biting away at my dress and form. I watched in interest as the horse was tied to a post. Dorottya, Darvula, Thorko, and Janos stood beside me, each holding a torch in their grasp, the light casting an eerie shadow of warmth over our surroundings, challenging the cloak of night.
I nodded to Thorko, who in turn nodded and approached the grazing horse. He knelt down, bowing low to the magnificent steed before alighting the hay beneath its hooves. The flames quickly grew, causing the horse to whiny in fear. It stomped around, baying and beckoning its head as the flames threatened to engulf its entire form.
I watched stoically as the yellow and orange danced among the creature, twisting and turning in a unique, sultry dance. It was enchanting to watch the flames, hear the singing as it crackled in the night sky.
The singing of the flames outweighed the cries of the dying horse and I smiled in the cascading warmth.
I sat upon a bench as the young maid combed my hair. Her nimble fingers carried the comb throughout my neat pile of curls, eventually snagging on a knot. I contorted my face into that of pain before leaping up from my sitting position. I pulled back my hand and whipped it through the air. It collided with the side of her pretty pale face.
A blur of red hair clouded my vision and when it vanished, I gazed upon the crumpled form of the maid, cowering away from my temper. I rested my thumb to my palm, discovering a wet, warm sensation. I raised my hand to discover that the blood of the servant girl had tainted my flawless skin.
I watched the thick liquid slide down my tilted hand as the girl's cries shattered the morning air. I looked away, angry at her for having shed that which threatens my beauty.
"Leave," I said, my calm surprising even myself. Without a moment of hesitation, she jumped from her place on the floor and vanished from my chamber, her cries echoing down the corridor.
Slowly, I removed myself from my trance and left in search of the water basin. I found it sitting on the bedside table, filled with cool water. I dipped my hands in and scrubbed at them, dying the water a shade of pink. After a few minutes, I raised my hand and brought it up to the light to examine the damage. I was shocked to find that my palm was in fact clearer, younger than before. Amazed, I turned the hand over, examining the flesh of the back of my hand, comparing it to the previously blood drenched skin.
Absentmindedly, I sat on my bed, enthralled with this new discovery. As if on instinct, my head swiveled towards the mirror. I began to imagine how the rest of my flesh might appear if it were to be drenched in blood as well. I raised a hand and touched it to my check. The skin was soft, yet not as soft as it had been in the days of my youth. Was it time for me to age? To lose my slender grace and beauty?
Fearfully, I jumped from the bed and ran to the mirror, pushing my face up against the glass and taking note of every abhorrent feature. My youthful beauty was slipping away, being replaced by a ghastly wench of woman.
Slowly, my gaze made its way to my hand, seeing through to where the blood had polished its surface. Was it so wrong, my earlier thoughts of how I might look after bathing in blood? No, it could not be. For wasn't eternal youth a privilege? A privilege that such prominent royalty deserved?
I had stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth and it spewed forth red liquid.
"Where shall I put this, Countess?" the young girl asked as she held in her hands a large basin of water. I looked about the room, before directing her to place it on the vanity. She did so, as she was expected to do.
"I'll be leaving you now," she said, turning so as to leave.
I stopped her.
She looked up at me, confused. "Yemeni," she told me. I smiled sweetly and approached her, grabbing hold of her slender wrist. Was she thinner than me? Were her petite curves more desirable than my generous breasts? My large hips? I pushed these questions from my mind, trying to remain focused on what it was I planned on achieving.
"Such a pretty young girl," I told her as I spun her around and faced her in the mirror. She smiled shyly, basking in my approval and adoration. She had no idea that my very praise was what inspired hate within me. My envy was like a fire, leaping to the air, uncontrolled.
"Of course," I began, a sly smile gracing my features, "a little bit of fat has rested upon your hips." She gasped and looked down, examining her rather slim hips. Her hands rubbed over them uneasily, taken in all my comments, both sour and sweet.
"But don't worry young Yemeni. A few bleedings will help you. Might I offer my services?"
She turned to me, her eyes glimmering with suspicion. "Would it not be best to have a doctor attend to my bleedings?"
"Can one afford a doctor?" I retorted, and she bent her head down in shame. No, she couldn't, and I knew she couldn't. "Besides, a doctor doesn't normally bleed one to slim them. Best to leave it to me. I trust you, as a Countess I have been fully trained," I told her assuredly, smiling graciously. She swallowed hard and stared out to the side before nodding her head.
My smile widened as I sat her down on one of the plush velvet chairs. "Here we are, just sit as I prepare everything," I told her, walking away to my dressing table. I opened a drawer and retrieved a bowl and a knife. I stared into the knife, examining my features. I was beautiful, no point in denying it, but how long would my beauty last? How long would everything I have faded away? If my theory was correct, than blood could give me the attributes of my bleeders.
I looked away from my reflection, that taunted me with telling of age and death, before grabbing a cloth wrap and coming back to Yemeni. I sat opposite her and placed the bowl onto the table between us. She looked at me timidly, and I gave her a warm, reassuring smile.
"Do not worry, I've had many bleedings done, even when not sick. Does it not make me appear slim and youthful?" She smiled, and I drunk in the silent praise. I grabbed her wrist gently, turning it over and placing the silver blade to it. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes as I punctured the skin.
The red blood emerged, glittering in the light like rubies. It danced down her pale flesh, and I turned her wrist over so that it may empty into the basin on the table. I watched, mesmerized and enthralled, by the beautiful routine it perform.
When enough blood had been drained, I wrapped the cloth around as a tourniquet and smiled at her. "There. See, not so bad," I told her. She smiled in assurance.
"Yes, not so bad," she agreed bravely as she tucked her arm under her sleeve and placed it against her stomach protectively.
"Come to my chamber alone at night, every night for one week and we'll see how slimmed down you are," I told her and she nodded, smiling all the while.
We stood and I walked her to the door, stopping at my dressing table. I grabbed hold of a ruby head dress and handed it to her. "For keeping a secret?" I asked of her. Her mouth opened hungrily as she stared with greed at the stone.
"Yes, of course, Countess," she told me, as I dropped it into her outstretched palm. We bid our good-byes, and I closed the door behind her. Slowly, I turned to the basin sitting on the table, approaching it as if it were some wild animal, threatening to be let loose.
I stared for a while at its red surface, glimmering in the sunlight that streamed through the casements. I touched it with my finger, creating a ripple effect throughout the bowl. The smell was metallic and repugnant, but I held my stance anyway as I dipped my face nearer the bowl, pulling back my hair. In one swift motion, I dipped my head in. My face emerged into the thick liquid, filling into my nostrils and coating my stained lips.
I pulled back, opening my mouth to breathe. This allowed some of the liquid to curl down my lips onto my tongue. I cringed at the salty, yet intoxicating taste. Once it finished pouring down my throat, I groped around the table for the washcloth. Once found, I began to wipe away the blood, dipping it in the water basin to clean better.
When finished, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I placed a wet hand to my face, touching the baby soft skin. The skin was smooth and clear as always but seemed fresher, younger. I smiled triumphantly. I had stumbled upon the fountain of youth. The secret of everlasting beauty was mine!
I turned to the bowl, to discover that the most of the blood had been splattered to the floor in my hasty attempt to remove my face from the basin. Only a little pool at the bottom survived. If I was ever to continue these beauty treatments, I was to need more blood.
"This one shall go lovely with your complexion," I told Yemeni as I handed her a jade necklace. Her greedy eyes took in the stone, lusting after it. I smirked as I let the pendant fall into her hands. She hastily grabbed it, her sleeve slipping up her arm. I spied all the white scars she has collected and smile. A small sacrifice she made for her Countess.
I pulled the necklace up to her neck and stood behind her, both of us staring into our reflections, side by side, in the mirror. I smile and inclined my head back so I could fasten on the necklace. Once finished, I rested my chin upon her thin shoulder and watched as she examined herself.
She smiled delicately at her reflection but I cackled inside. Her fair skin had become alabaster white and her eyes sunk deep into her skull, framed by large black circles. Her limbs and frame had become disgustingly thin and she looked as if a single breeze might lift her and steal her away for all eternity.
I truly was stealing her beauty.
"There we are," I said as I finished wrapping up the wound. Yemeni furled her arm against her stomach, as she always did after these bleedings. Her frame was become frailer and her eyes were growing listless with iron loss. I grabbed hold of her hand, refraining from the loud gasp I threatened to make. It felt as if I was holding the hand of a skeleton.
I feared the worst, that Yemeni was dying. But my fear was not for her, nor even for myself. It was for my beauty treatments. From whom could I acquire blood if she were to pass?
Yemeni's gentling coughing broke through my reverie and I realized what I had to do.
I had to get more girls.
"Is this good, Countess?" Yvonne asked as she arranged the perfume bottles. I turned to her, hiding the knife behind me as I did so.
"Yes, yes, come here," I told her impatiently, my body craving the slimy yet cathartic sensation of the blood. She did so, coming over timidly. I smiled, resting a hand on her shoulder. "You're very pretty," I told her as I ran a hand through her auburn locks. She blushed and smiled at the compliment, basking in my praise.
"Thank you," she said.
I looked to my vanity and grabbed hold of a necklace. "Here, this would look lovely on you," I told her, spinning her around to face the mirror. I wrapped the necklace around her neck and clasped it. As she admired the pendant hanging from her neck, I pulled out the knife from behind my back.
I needed more than just the regular amount of blood. I desired to bathe within the elixir of life so that my entire body may become younger. And for that amount of blood, I needed to kill her. And I needed to act fast.
I raised the knife and in the mirror saw my reflection. Yvonne gasped in shock and tried to turn around in defense. But before she could, I brought the knife down and stabbed it into her shoulder. She squealed in pain and fell to the floor, blood spewing from the wound.
Her hands went from her shoulder to my dress, grasping the folds as if in a desperate attempt to save herself. I stepped away, seeing the blood from her hands smear the silk of my gown.
I hunched over quickly, just as she managed a mangled cry. Dropping to my feet, my left hand covered her mouth just as my right hand, wielding the bloody knife, came down, this time stabbing into her abdomen.
Once more into her legs.
Once more into her arms.
Once more into her chest.
Once more into her thighs.
I repeated the process over and over, struggling to keep her mouth closed beneath my bloody hand. The knife began to slip as the handle was engulfed in her sweet essence.
I continued stabbing her form until her struggling decreased and she fell limp to the ground. She was panting heavily, her breathing strangled as if she fought to retain her last breath and to keep breathing.
I backed away and regained my stance, breathing heavily. I felt dizzy and weak, but I tried to remain calm and in control. I wanted her to see me as a powerful, threatening figure before she died.
I walked weakly to my vanity and grabbed a glass of wine, sipping the nectar. The music of her straggling breaths came against my ear drum and I smiled despite my weak state. In her mind, I was God. I was what had stood between life and death in her mind. I never felt so in control, so powerful.
My breathing leaving its labored state, I turned back around to Yvonne, who was huddled with her knees to her chest, panting and crying as her body shook. Acting swiftly, I grabbed her by her feet and began pulling her to the bathing tub. I dropped her in so that her blood would pool inside the large basin, collecting so that I might bathe in it.
Once most of her blood had been collected and her breathing had finally stopped, I removed her from the tub, heaving and panting heavily. All of the work had left me sore and I felt I had to bathe in the blood more than before. Removing my heavy clothing, I dipped into the pool basin.
The feel of the liquid against my skin was relaxing and I smiled despite the dead girl nearby. I brought my hands through the blood, caressing its warmth. The smell assaulted my senses, closing in around me, but soon I started to enjoy the scent breathing it in as if it were an incense stick.
I finished up my bath, stepping over the dead girl to dry. I rinsed the blood from my body with a wet washcloth and stood in front of a mirror, admiring the change. The skin was younger looking, blemish free and soft to the touch. I began to drink in the rest of my features, from the slop of my perfectly formed breasts to the thinness of my waist. My dark curls fell to my lower back, veiling my body in mystery, it seemed.
I would've examined myself further if not for the sound of the door opening and a loud gasping noise. I turned around to find Yemeni standing in the threshold, her eyes wide and glassy at the bloody sight before. Her eyes jumped from me to the corpse lying on the ground. I followed her gaze to the body, looking at her arm twisted at odd angles and her back curving inward. She looked so frightened. I smiled at the idea that I caused her fear.
I then looked back to Yemeni, whose light eyes were planted firmly on me. I gave a slight smirk and said, "An accident occurred. Be a dear and clean up and I will reward you handsomely."
She nodded in obedience and began to clean up the wreckage of the room. I knew that she was only doing as I said because I burned within her a fear. She feared what I would do if she was not on her best behavior.
And I was proud of that.
Over the past few months, I had enlisted the help of Thorko and Janos. I had the created chains from the top of the dungeon ceiling along with a lever that allowed me to bring the chains further down or up. From there, I would cut girls and then carry them above me so that their blood would rain upon me. I fondly called these my blood showers. The girls were never pierced enough to die and were brought down once all of my body had been drenched in their essence. They would then be patched up until a later date when I needed their assistance.
You may think me evil for torturing these girls but I assure you I am no different than God Himself. Where he randomly chooses and kills on whim, I shall do so too. But I, unlike Him, have a reason to my killing. I chose the girls that I was fondest to. The ones who captured my attention with their beauty and innocence, who sparked my envy. I called these my blood girls.
You see, I loved these girls. They gave everything to me, more than just their blood. They gave me life and beauty.
By giving me theirs.
I shiver as a chill blows through, lifting the tapestries that are placed over the windows. I wrap a shawl around my shoulders but it does nothing to warm me. The ghosts refuse to let me be warm.
I turn around on the vanity chair and see the smiling ghosts. They're a mess of limbs and listless eyes, staring upon me, reading my soul. They're whispering of my deeds, cursing my name. I'd curse theirs but I fear the curse of whispering a name of the dead.
'Why did you do it?' Their voices come out as one, singing to me their question.
I look away, staring into the fire as it crackled and danced to the heavens. "You wouldn't understand," I tell them, but it doesn't seem to be a sufficient answer. I see them reflected in the mirror before me and they contort their faces into faces of rage.
'Why, Erzsebet? We were loyal to you!'
I breathe deeply, trying to gain my control over myself. These ghosts are getting to me, I have to learn to control the dead as I once controlled the living. But this is a much more difficult feat. They bend not to my will, as the servants once had.
I try to ignore them, distracting myself by staring in the mirror, but even that betrays me by morphing my face. My face twists and turns until it reveals the face of my husband. I gasp, finding this trick a lame and evil one. Slowly, his face moves closer until his head emerges from the mirror, followed by his shoulders and chest. His hand reaches out and tries to grab the pendant on my head.
I yell in fright and jump back, falling from my feet. My eyes close, only to reopen.
I am alone.
"Please, let me out," I said coquettishly to the soldiers as he stood by the chamber door. I had been discovered, locked into the chamber room where many bleedings took place. The irony was almost laughable but the seriousness of the situation caused me to become stern. No one bowed to my very whims as they used to.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that Countess," he told me, almost fearfully. I seethed quietly, sinking back into the room. I paced about the circular chamber, hoping to idle away some time. Time seemed to pass by so slowly here. Unable to walk through the gardens, unable to do anything except needlepoint and write.
I sat at the desk and grabbed a quill, twirling the feather through my fingers. I placed it down and looked to the bible on the desk before me. I ran a finger over its leather cover as I opened to a place I had marked. I skipped down the passages until I came across the one I have familiarized myself with and found myself chanting over and over as if it were a prayer.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Sighing, I skipped down to the back bible, to the empty pages. Here, I continue to write my confession.
So, there you have it. Here is my confession and I hand it to you, God, on bended knee to appease the anger that I know dwells within your heart for me. Have you decided, now? Do you know whether you shall accept my God forsaken soul? Or have you decided to hand me over to your Rebel Angel, refuse and deny my creation like the others in Hell?
"What is it, God?! Am I to go to Hell?!" I cry out, my voice strange and coarse from little use. For a moment, the room is silent, and I think that the ghosts have finally left me. The fire crackles in response, hissing venom at me.
And my question is met with only the cackling of ghosts.