It probably wasn't the best idea, but at the time it was all I could do to keep him from seeing the tears that had suddenly conquered my eyes. I turned from him and took off down the dark boulevard as fast as I could, leaving him in the dust to call after me, voice utterly confused.
"Sam, what the devil are you doing?!"
But all I could hear were my boots pounding on the paved cobblestone and every beat of my heart going, This is bad, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad...
Saturday, August 8, 1908
"Eureka! It's working! It's finally bloody working!"
You'll have to excuse me for going mad with joy; for weeks, I had been working on the damn blueprints my uncle Nikola sent me for another one of his contraptions, and I finally figured out the wiring for it that afternoon. With the flourish of a skilled fencer, I twiddled two brass knobs at arm's length, and heaved a "HA!" of triumph when I heard the crackling sound of a waltz over the Victrola horn speakers-- a waltz being played from a record on the other side of the Atlantic.
It was something my uncle called a "radio", because it read radiowave frequencies and translated them into sound. The radiowave broadcasting device was simple enough to make, but the radio itself took much longer, partly because it was built to receive transatlantic broadcasts from my uncle, but mostly because I had trouble deciphering his handwriting. He always posted me the blueprints of his latest inventions to test out before he built them himself, so as to keep them away from prying eyes in America. I was the only person he could trust, because I was his only living relative in England-- and I was the only one who didn't gave a damn about his work.
The blueprints were often time-consuming and dangerous to build. The only reason I kept building them was because he supplied me with the funds to feed and furnish me in a small flat on the outskirts of London. The strange mechanical noises coming from the converted barn-slash-workshop behind my flat was usually enough to discourage the neighbors from letting their children wander onto my property.
So, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, I was virtually a hermit-- a hermit who happened to be one of London's finest engineers at the time.
I was in my leather apron and goggles, waltzing in bliss to the music, when I heard a soft twinkling of chimes outside the barn door that grew louder and louder. I immediately cut off the music, yanked off my goggles, and headed for the door, wondering who would call on me on a Saturday afternoon.
"Is Mister Samuel Santelli Tesla in?" asked the impeccably dressed, grey-haired manservant on the other side, eyeing me up and down as he did so.
"That would be me," I snapped, knowing full well how ridiculous I looked in my leather apron, with my goggles and long, tousled blond hair. "I suppose you're calling for another lady having trouble with her telephone?"
"Actually, the Honourable Jackson Vladimir Kosminski, Viscount Oradea," the servant began (and already I could feel a groan growing in the pit of my stomach), "wishes to invite you to his home this coming Wednesday. He is in need of a competent electrician to install lightbulbs throughout his manor in Leicestershire by the end of August."
At the mention of lightbulbs, I stopped scowling a bit and invited the man in for tea. (Constantin, as I soon found out, wasn't as horribly snobbish as he first seemed.) I in fact agreed to become the Viscount's personal electrician... once I was told how much he would pay me.
Wednesday, August 12, 1908
A four-wheeled Brougham arrived at my flat early in the morning for the journey to the Viscount's estate. I donned my best coat and pantaloons for the occasion, but I had only my father's old boots to wear, which were far from fashionable. I hoped for as little sunlight as possible as the carriage pulled up to the gate of the sprawling estate. Sure enough, the sun had already set by the time we arrived, and it looked just about to rain.
This did wonders for the ambience of the place, with its box of a stone mansion, an architectural relic from the 1690s. The windows looked like ominous yellow eyes thanks to the chandeliers within. I ducked into the front door just as the first few specks of rain made their way down to Earth.
"Mr. Tesla?" inquired a male voice as I entered. "It's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance."
The voice belonged to the Viscount, a pale man nearly ten years my senior. At that moment, he descended from the main staircase and swept into my life with the grace and style of a foreign prince. I could do nothing but watch in awe before remembering that my voice was fully functional.
"The pleasure is all mine, my Lord," I replied with a stiff bow, dredging up the remnants of boyhood etiquette classes with my sister as I struggled to remove my gloves. "You have quite a lovely estate."
"It is ancestral property," said the Viscount while he captured my naked hands in his very cold ones and gave them a firm, icy shake. "My mother was the eldest daughter of the Caves. Call me Jack, by the way," he added, expressionless. "I abhor formalities."
"As do I," I told him with a smile, which, upon second thought, I morphed midway into a tight-lipped nod. The Viscount-- Jack, as I shall call him from now on-- didn't seem to notice; he had already turned to speak with Constantin, who always seemed to appear out of thin air.
Jack exchanged a few words with his butler in a thick, heavy tongue halfway between Italian and Russian, but caught me attempting to identify the language. "So," he said, switching to English effortlessly, "would you like dinner first, or would you like to freshen up?"
This left me tongue-tied. Dinner with a Viscount? I hadn't even expected him to greet me at the door!
I choked out a "I'd like to freshen up first, thanks," and was grateful when Constantin showed me the way to my quarters. I was so shaken up by the thought of dinner with Jack that I hardly noticed the ornate Art Nouveau furnishings and artwork that adorned the myriad hallways, all curvilinear flows and absinthe-induced angles. However, when Constantin showed me the interior of the room where I would be spending the rest of the month, I nearly forgot about everything else.
You must understand that while my uncle provided me with an ample sum for his undertakings, I rarely had enough money to indulge in creature comforts as I used to. My parents both succumbed to the consumption when I was a teenager, leaving me with an inordinate amount of debt. I was able to pay it all with Uncle Nikola's help, but I had to drop out of school and work in factories for a spell before I was able to afford more than the clothes on my back. Jack's modest mansion was a painful reminder of what I could have enjoyed if my mother and father hadn't died when they had.
The room was completely outfited in rich oak, canopy bed and French doors included. Lush Oriental rugs covered the floor; the bedcovers and furniture were all upholstered in a warm burgundy, with rococo designs swirling across in gold trim, a design echoed in the curves of the wood moulding. An early Watteau painting graced one wall. My tattered leather suitcase marred the view, sitting crossly in front of it.
"The bath is already set up," said Constantin as he handed me fresh towels (Jack's initials were embroidered into the corners). "Please ring the bell if you need anything. Dinner will be served at ten o'clock."
He closed the door with a quiet click, and for the first time in hours I was blessedly alone. I shuffled towards the bed and promptly sank into its feathered mattress with a contented "Ahhhhhhh", and stayed that way for the better part of fifteen minutes before remembering to inspect the bathroom.
The bath was all marble and porcelain, with gold-plated spigots for the tub and the sink. I glanced outside to see flecks of raindrops pattering on the stained-glass windows (the full moon shone through regardless) before adjusting the knobs for a comfortably warm soak and scrub.
I let my thoughts wander in the water as I normally did, but this time my mind only wandered back to one: the sharp angles of the Viscount's face. His hair was a strange shade of auburn, making him a rare brunette in the English countryside, yet his features were distinctly Scandinavian or Russian, or both. And then there was that language of his-- what was it? Certainly not Russian, else I would have understood some of it, but undoubtedly a high class of eastern European; his father had to have been a dignitary of some sort in order to marry a Cave.
I'd been lost in these thoughts-- or so I thought-- when I finally heard a sharp rap on the bathroom door. I started, then realised that my entire body was pruned and I had been asleep.
"Mister Tesla, are you all right?" came Constantin's concerned voice from the other side.
In my panic, all I could call back was, "Have you got the time?"
"Oh, thank heavens," said Constantin. "We thought you had drowned! It's almost midnight, sir," he added, and I let out such a startled, splash-filled cry that I heard laughter on the other side.
"You're lucky I am a creature of the night, Mister Tesla," called out a cool voice that struck fear into my heart despite its amused tone. "Unfortunately, your meal is not nearly as fresh-faced as I at the moment."
"Call me Sam," I yelled from my position in the tub as I scrambled for my robe and towels. "I sincerely--" splash! "--apologize, I fell asleep in the bath!"
"I'm sure you were tired from your journey," said Jack. "It happens to the best of us. I will wait for you in the dining hall. Constantin will be by your door to take you there."
I hurried to pull my clothes back on-- freshly laundered and pressed in the two hours I was asleep-- and followed Constantin to the low-ceilinged hall where I assumed the Viscount regularly took his meals.
"Apologies again, my Lord," said I, nervously taking my seat next to the Viscount at the head of the long candlelit table. He simply nodded, then gestured towards the food: meaty soups and stews, loaves of bread, plate after plate of blood sausages.
I swallowed hard. There was nothing on the table that did not have meat in it, and I'd forgotten to tell him...
"Please, Sam, call me Jack," he said, eyeing my expression curiously. "If you need anything else, just ask Constantin," Jack added, and I clenched my hands into clammy fists.
"I... I'm very sorry," I stammered, unable to look up, rigid as a board. "I forgot to tell you! I-- I am a vegetarian, my-- Jack."
Jack stared at me with the intensity of a hungry tiger before his blue-grey eyes twinkled and his mouth suddenly curved into a rare smile. My shoulders sagged in relief when I saw it.
"You are an interesting man, Samuel Tesla," Jack told me with a laugh, and this time I could hear the faint trace of an accent when he said my name. "Constantin, please tell Marius to prepare something more suitable for our guest."
Constantin disappeared again, leaving Jack and me in the candlelight, thunder rumbling quietly outside.
"I have seen your work in London," Jack began, taking a sip of his wine. I did the same and found a rich Bordeaux on my tongue. "The English do not understand how talented you are."
"It was a talent born of circumstance," I replied, fidgeting a bit. Back then, I used to hate accolades. "My uncle taught me the trade after my parents died."
"What had you been studying to become?" inquired Jack, who seemed to be watching my every movement. It unnerved me to no end, but at the same time, those eyes of his compelled me to answer.
"My father was a fencer," I said with a bit of difficulty; the word brought back fond memories of metal flashing during my childhood. "He competed for Italy in the 1900 Olympic Games."
"Ah, so he was one of the famed Santelli brothers," said Jack. "Pity you changed your surname to your mother's."
"It was necessary to find work in my new field," I told him. "And my uncle forced me to change it."
Jack nodded, a contemplative expression melting into the sharp features of his face. The eyes were the warmest, most welcoming thing about him, I concluded. The rest of him was cold and stately, whether he was smiling or not.
The food arrived much sooner than I had anticipated, and before me sat more salad than I knew what to do with, followed by a series of soups and bean dishes (a well-browned lentil cutlet being the most astonishing of the bunch). I tucked in as soon as Jack lifted a spoon to his mouth. It was only later, when I'd examined the pieces of the puzzle more closely, that I realised he did not eat anything solid that night, or any of the nights thereafter.
"What made you decide to become a vegetarian?" Jack asked as tactfully as he could, and for that I was grateful; I'd endured beatings from my father because of my eccentric stance. "It can't be easy."
"For me, the decision was simple," I said after a forkful of potato pudding. "I visited a butcher's shop as a child and haven't eaten meat since. All the leather I wear now are an inheritance from my father and uncle."
"An ethical man," commented the Viscount, taking another sip of the dry Bordeaux as the rain continued to pour outside. "I, unfortunately, am unable to say the same for myself."
"It's a difficult lifestyle," I told him diplomatically. "But it's quite rewarding... and cost-effective, I might add."
Jack smiled his mysterious smile once more, goblet of wine pressed to his lips.
Saturday, August 15, 1908
After an inspection of the estate (the boxy main manor was easily enhanced by its later wings) and a trip with Constantin back to my flat for the rest of my affairs, I began work as soon as possible for the event that the Viscount was holding at the end of August. A strange feeling in my gut told me to work as slowly as I could, in order to enjoy the manor's amenities for as long as I could manage, but the faith Jack had put into my talent made me loath to disappoint him.
I was so engrossed in my work that at first I barely noticed his absence during daylight hours. I assumed he had more pressing matters to attend to elsewhere, but I soon discovered that the man held court in his bedroom almost every night, hosting a parade of ornately corseted jeunes filles who arrived by special carriage at midnight, and who always departed before dawn.
We dined occasionally, repeating that dinner by candlelight a few times before I finally caved in and outfited the room with small chandeliers of lightbulbs. My main task was to work on electric chandeliers for the Great Hall and the surrounding grounds, but Jack's unnaturally delighted face that night at supper both astounded me and made me want to kick myself for not lighting his most oft-used room earlier.
"This is excellent," said he, raising his wine goblet in a small toast to me. "Not excessively bright, no shadows. I expect more of the same from you in the Great Hall."
I bowed my head in modest thanks, but I could have sworn I felt an electric current running just underneath my skin. His words of praise had influenced me more than I had expected them to. For some unfathomable reason, that feeling put me on edge.
Tuesday, August 18, 1908
I sometimes worked late into the night and would find Jack in the doorway, politely waiting for me to notice him before engaging me in conversation about electricity and how it worked. His sudden appearances frightened me at first, but I came to enjoy these night-time run-ins; they provided me with a much-needed reprieve from my round-the-clock efforts.
He later convinced me to join him for a tradition he affectionately called "low tea", a typical English tea rife with sugary cakes and small sandwiches, but served between two and three in the morning and consumed under a single lamp-light wherever I was working. As we grew closer, we used the informal time to reminisce about our very different childhoods, mine in Rome, his in the Carpathians. I would regale him with tales of my father's fencing exploits, and he responded by recounting his region's old legends of cruel rulers and blood-drinking creatures of the night.
One particular Transylvanian legend has since been made into a number of movies and books this past century; I am sure you have heard of him already. Here is Jack's version, to the best of my memory:
"They called him Dracula, son of Dracul," Jack began that particular night, his face half-hidden by shadow. It was a particularly eerie night, nary a half-moon in sight. "Some of the villagers who lived on the grounds of his castle say that he was only a human, but others believe him to be much more-- they called him a vampire, one of the demons of old. Very few ever saw his face, but everyone knew his name. They knew because a number of neighborhood children were thought to have snuck into the castle... and soon disappeared."
"What happened to them?" I asked, indistinguishable from an eight-year-old child as I sat, rapt, on the rug in Jack's study. Jack took a sip of his tea (black, sans milk and sugar) and continued.
"They say Count Dracula had a penchant for blood," he said. "Human blood. He drank it fresh from the vein, often from the intruders in his castle. Youngsters' bodies would appear in the cemetery, drained of their blood, with two small holes in their necks. People thought it to be the teeth marks of Count Dracula's sharp fangs."
I shuddered. I absolutely despised needles, and this sounded far worse.
"One winter, the villagers grew tired of the predator in their midst, so they stormed Count Dracula's castle and burned it to the ground. The Count was discovered in a tower room. They bound him with ropes and dragged him through the village. The next morning he was given a trial in the town square for the murders of the disappeared children. He was screaming in pain because sunlight burned his flesh, but those burns were gone by the following morning. He admitted to killing the children, but said that he did so accidentally because he had starved-- he needed the human blood to survive.
"His case was compelling, but the villagers wanted to make him suffer regardless. Thus they burned him at the stake, but he appeared untouched by the flames. They then tried holy water, which had no effect. Then he was drawn and quartered, but instead of being ripped limb from limb, the ropes broke. Then they tried impaling him on wooden spears, and he healed almost immediately around them-- he was in agony, of course, but his regenerative properties were remarkable.
"The villagers were sure that Count Dracula was a man of pure evil, so they kept him in prison for thirteen weeks, bringing him out into the middle of the town square, in broad daylight, every time they developed a new technique that was sure to destroy him." At this, Jack paused and poured both of us more tea while I lost my appetite imagining Count Dracula's pain.
"They finally found that he was allergic to silver, so they cut off his limbs and carved his organs out with the mayor's dagger, the only silver-plated weapon in the village. It took him hours to die, and he spent most of the time begging for his life."
Jack concluded the story by bowing his head down almost theatrically, and he drank the rest of his tea while I sat there, dumbstruck and disturbed. I'd heard gruesome fairy tales, but none so gruesome as this.
"So the moral is... the mob is scarier than the monster?"
I always tried to find a moral in the tales Jack told; it was a habit borne of the fairy-tale books I read as a young boy, after my parents moved to London. This time, Jack rewarded me with a small smile.
"That sounds about right," he said, rubbing his chin. "A sad example of misinformation."
This quickly became my favorite Transylvanian tale, and in the following nights I asked Jack more about Dracula and his life. Jack responded by making the tale increasingly gruesome with each retelling, adding more gory details about burning flesh and spurting blood every time I made an inquiry. The story grew into an outlandish exaggeration on his part, but he never failed to make me uncomfortable wandering the hallways or sleeping alone.
During that time between darkness and light, he was like the older brother I never had, a boy who tried his damnedest to spook me so he could hear my pleas for him to accompany me back to my room. But every morning, when I awakened to a new day, I knew that those night-time storytellings were something I could not mention in the light. Even then I already knew that our relationship was a thing to be hidden, a secret to be revealed only in that small pool of bright voices in the dark.
Saturday, August 22, 1908
That evening, I had unknowingly worked on some wiring schema until midnight again when I heard the unmistakable echoes of a procession of girls walking down the long corridors. I rushed to the door and opened it a crack just in time to find Jack, in a monogrammed blood-red robe, walk past with his arms around two beautiful young women, many more trailing behind. He sensed my presence and looked over his shoulder in alarm, but visibly relaxed when his eyes met mine.
"Care to join us, Sam?" he asked coolly. Whatever focus I'd had on my work flew out the door, and I nervously nodded and followed.
He led us all to his bedroom, which was covered from ceiling to floor in the finest silks, pillows and rugs, treated with the richest dyes of the Orient. Traces of opium smoke found their way to my nostrils and would linger there for days. Jack let his train of girls loose on his bed before reaching for a long-stemmed pipe, lighting it, and handing it to me.
I tried not to show my lack of experience with any of his chosen vices, but it nevertheless shone through. Jack's eyes mirrored my puzzled expression, but did so from his position-- spread out on the sheets.
"Sam, have you ever been with a woman?" he asked simply.
The question did not render me mute because of its content, but because Jack's soft baritone caught me completely off-guard. It was as if he were asking the question of a lover-- or, at least, someone he was far more intimate with, like the girls who were running their hands all over his clothing... what was left of it, anyway.
Fortunately, the flustered look on my face spared me from answering. Jack smiled with his eyes and manoeuvred the pipe into my hands.
"Just inhale," he said. "Then come and sit with me."
I did as told, and felt the first waves of euphoric pleasure wash through my body minutes later. Jack smiled lazily at me as he reached up to run his fingers through a blonde woman's hair. I could feel my skin flush.
"Take your pick," Jack told me, referring to the girls lounging around us. "And if you don't," he threatened with the ghost of a smile, "I will pick one for you."
In the end I chose a shy-looking brunette, who promptly straddled my lap and dipped her head down to kiss my neck. The gesture heightened my state of ecstasy, but as the girl's fingertips trailed downwards, I realised that I wasn't interested in her at all.
Jack-- who had never actually smoked opium, as he later confessed to me-- caught my worried expression and raised an eyebrow, but soon turned back to the blonde whose neck he was nipping, seemingly disinterested in my problem. Juliette, as the girl was called, put her lips to my ear and murmured, "Aww, don'tcha like me?"
I was about to say "yes", but instead my mouth betrayed me and said in a whisper, "But I don't love you."
"Ahh, in love with summun else, eh?" she continued, still straddling me, now rocking back and forth as she did so. "Who's the lucky lass?"
The smoke was clouding my thoughts and her skin on mine distracted my youthful mind, so I had to ruminate on this question for a long moment. But when the answer finally hit me, I decided to do my opium-filled best to capture Juliette's lips in a chaste kiss, because that was far more convenient than trying to answer her question aloud.
In the morning, when I woke up alone in Jack's bedroom and remembered what had transpired, that answer terrified me to no end.
Wednesday, August 26, 1908
On Sunday and every day after, I'd gone to bed before sunset, even though I couldn't sleep at all the entire night. The leather goggles that were protecting me from the oxyacetylene torch I'd used to re-weld the chandeliers together did little to protect my eyes from the bright sparks that ensued. I was so distracted by my thoughts that I almost burned my gloves off, but I persevered to finish the electric chandeliers in record time.
I removed my goggles and sat down on the marble floor, leaning against the wall of my makeshift workspace in one of the smaller high-ceilinged ballrooms, the one with the most beautiful ceiling-to-floor glass windows. I'd only planned to close my eyes for a few minutes, but when I opened them next, there were stars outside and Jack's pale face was swimming above me. My heart leapt; I quickly stilled it.
"Good morning," he said, Prussian eyes a bit startled. "Have you been resting well? Is the bed uncomfortable?"
All I said in my stupor was, "I finished the last one."
The strange look on Jack's face was one I can still remember clearly, mostly because I had no idea what it meant. It might have been excitement at hearing the project was done, or perhaps something far less joyful. But for once, it was I who had rendered him speechless.
"May I examine it?" he finally asked in the darkness, lifting his lamp. I nodded silently, as offhandedly as I could, and he proceeded to turn his attention to the large chandelier next to me, running his hands down its cool metal lengths and stopping to trace every fragile glass bulb with his fingertips.
"A work of art," he kept saying to himself. However, this was interrupted by a sharp intake of breath. I sat up in alarm and saw Jack staring at his right hand, upon which was forming a giant welt.
"Did you use any silver?" he frantically choked out to me, while yelling for Constantin and cursing in his usually endearing dialect of Romanian.
"What? Silver? I think I used some silver in the soldering process," I said, staring in horror and realisation as the welt rapidly grew larger. "You're bloody allergic to it?"
Jack couldn't answer; by the way his hands flew to his neck, I understood that he couldn't breathe. When he collapsed to the floor, I steadied myself with a deep breath, bellowed "CONSTANTIN!", and rushed to Jack's writhing body.
"Oh God," I muttered as I watched Jack struggle to breathe. "I'm so sorry! Jack, he's on his way, hang on-- CONSTANTIN! CONSTANTIN!"
But after a minute of my screaming, the deaf old manservant was still asleep, and I grew more and more panicked when Jack's lips turned blue.
"Don't die in front of me, Jack," I told him, no longer conscious of the fact that I'd promised myself to stay as far away from him as possible ever since I woke up on Sunday morning. He couldn't possibly die, God couldn't do that to me again...
With what was probably the last of his strength, Jack raised one of his large hands to run his slender fingers through my hair, then pulled my head down so my mouth firmly met his.
I let out a telling cry when I felt his lips touch mine. My heart pounded rapidly against its cage; I was undeniably confused for a moment, but my adrenaline-infused brain quickly understood what he wanted me to do. With one of my arms cradling his head and the other lightly pressed to his chest, I opened my mouth further and closed the seal, then exhaled.
The minute I felt Jack's chest expand under my trembling palm, I heaved an inward sigh of relief. After another shaky breath into Jack's lungs, I pressed two fingers to his jugular and felt his pulse, weak but getting stronger. Another draw of breath through my nostrils and into his mouth and he began to relax. Our mouths were at an odd angle and my hands couldn't stop shaking, but at least I could do this much for him.
Constantin rushed in soon afterward with a syringe full of a blood-colored liquid and ordered me to roll up one of Jack's sleeves, then expertly emptied the syringe in without a second thought.
Jack immediately heaved a large gasp, arching into the air as he did so. Once I knew he was all right, I remembered the feeling of my mouth on his and very nearly went unconscious myself.
"I'm terribly sorry for the delay, my Lord," said Constantin apologetically. "I was unable to hear you in my old age."
"That's quite all right, Constantin," whispered Jack when he regained some of his voice. "Sam was the one who saved my life this time."
Two sets of eyes flickered to me. I could only retort softly, "You forget I was the one who caused you to almost die in the first place."
"No matter," Jack said, shaking his head. "Remember our first dinner, when you told me you are a vegetarian?" He shrugged. "It happens to the best of us."
"I'm so glad you're all right," I said woodenly, and even I didn't know if the woodenness was because of my attempt at holding back further tears, or if it was because of my shallow attempt at burying a truth that was slightly more important.
Thursday, August 27, 1908
I left for London at daybreak; it would seem callous to any observer that I would leave my host to recover on his own, but I had to leave immediately, or risk endangering myself-- or worse, the Viscount. As you may have already deduced, my response to Jack's near-fatal allergic reaction strongly hinted at the fear I had harbored since Saturday night.
Quite simply: It hurt like hell to be near him. It was agony, borne of a modest but very impossible love.
This thought haunted me all the way to London, where it was shelved for a few hours as I swilled a bottle of sherry and unrolled the newest blueprints I received from uncle Nikola in the post. I became blessedly lost in the design, lost in the silent wiring of the preliminary prototype, sweat pouring as I ignored all else to focus.
But midnight came, and with it a twinkling of chimes at my door. My door-bell rang once more before I mustered the courage to open it.
"I demand an explanation," said Jack, standing morosely on my doorstep. This heart of mine almost unmasked my true intentions when it stopped me cold, but I couldn't ignore him.
"Walk with me," I said curtly, stepping out and closing the door behind me. The Viscount, dressed as he was in his everyday finery, readily obliged.
We set out on the boulevard, lamp-lights blazing, in the direction of the Crystal Palace, and Jack quickly continued the train of thought he'd left on my doorstep.
"I hadn't even paid you yet!" he exclaimed out loud, and I thanked the stars that no one was within earshot. "I hadn't even thanked you yet! Were you even planning on returning? What on Earth were you thinking?"
"I don't know," I admitted, shoving my hands into my pockets as we walked. "I haven't got an answer for you, Jack."
"Well, you had bloody better soon," Jack snapped.
It was the first time I'd ever seen him so angry. His eyes were burning even though the rest of him was ice. But that was also the first time I truly saw him on the same plane as I; before I had only seen him as the Viscount, or an older man with more wisdom and worldly experience.
"I can't," I slurred, desperately searching for a way out. "I'm sorry, I just--"
"For Chrissake, Sam, why?"
The rapid click-clacking of Jack's footsteps mirrored his anguished expression. When I saw his face from the corner of my eye, I guessed at what I had done to make his mask of calm slip so far out of place.
"It's not anything you did, I swear," said I, keeping my head down-- we were nearing Hyde Park already, and the ladies in some of the carriages were sure to recognise me with my goggles around my neck. "I'm-- I'm just not right at the moment, and I-- I really, really wouldn't want you to be thrown into this mess I've made for myself. Y-- You're fantastic, Jack, you really are..." and I immediately caught the error when it flew out of my mouth. You're fantastic, Jack, you really are... I could have kicked myself, I sounded like a bloody lovelorn girl.
Jack seemed to relax with those words. He inhaled deeply, forcing himself to calm down for my sake. We stopped at the gates to the park and he took me by the shoulders.
"Listen, Sam," he told me, in a voice more gentle than I could have imagined. "You are the best thing that has happened to me in England. I apologize for yelling at you, but I am terrified of what will happen to me if you leave my side. I know this is selfish, but can you please, please tell me your reason for leaving, so I can make sure it never happens again?"
Unfortunately, his grey-blue eyes were boring into my own, and I felt like a trapped animal, heart rampaging, about to suffocate in that small space.
"I... Jack, you're making a mess of me," I muttered in my drunken state, and ran.
This is about where I have started the story because it is the moment I knew for sure. Since I was young, whenever I become frustrated or angry, tears inevitably leak out of my eyes. For a young man it was extremely embarrassing to cry in front of anyone, so like any sensible Londoner, I preferred to escape from potential problems, rather than face them ill-prepared.
The sherry was rapidly making it difficult for me to put one foot in front of the other, much less navigate. I could still hear Jack a few paces behind me, stripping off his heavier (and priceless) outer garments and discarding them along the boulevard to pursue me more properly.
We were well into the dark reaches of Hyde Park when Jack finally caught me from behind in a strong arm lock. I stubbornly kept pushing forward, making us both fall onto the dewy morning grass.
"You-- stubborn-- little-- prat," Jack panted, auburn hair mussed. "Completely off your..."
His voice trailed off when he saw the tears pouring down my flushed cheeks.
(I'm ashamed to admit that this is the last memory I have of that evening before I was rudely awakened by an ear-splitting headache early the following morning. But that's exactly what I remember, and I am recounting this story to the best of my ability.)
Friday, August 28, 1908
I woke up with a pounding headache, disoriented, unsure of calling for Constantin for some water because the curtains were still drawn and the darkness would not give me any clues as to whether it was night or day. But I soon became aware that I was back in my uncomfortable flea-ridden bed in London-- in London?--
"Sit up and drink some water, Sam," came Jack's soothing voice. "You'll wake up later with a right headache if you don't."
I bolted upright and instantly regretted doing so; the ramming of a fist into my head grew ten times worse. A moan issued from my lips and I fell back onto the waiting pillows.
"Too late, I suppose," said Jack; amusement was seeping through the gentle tones of his voice, but his stately enunciation was back in full force. "See you on the other side."
It took hours of lying still and drinking water to excise the throbbing demon lodged in the recesses of my brain. I drifted in and out of consciousness to Jack pressing a towel to my forehead, or else rummaging in my sea of metal rubbish for a pail; he might have been a worthy successor to Constantin had he not been of noble blood.
"I'm sorry, Jack," were the first words I said upon awakening later that afternoon. Jack was sitting at the foot of my bed, listening to uncle Nikola's classical music on the transatlantic radio. He glanced at me over the shoulder, then turned away and returned to fiddling with the radio knobs.
"If you apologize to me one more time, I think I'm going to go mad." He scolded the radio in lieu of scolding me.
"Then..." I sat up in bed, trying to think of an expression that wouldn't offend him. "...Thank you?"
Jack turned around to glance at me, then unexpectedly toppled backwards onto my small bed, legs hanging off the edge. His unbuttoned white vest parted and displayed his smooth chest. My mouth went dry as I tried to recall the previous night; most importantly, whether I did anything drastic.
"Your explanation is still in order, if you don't recall," he told me evenly. "That would be more than enough thanks for me."
Those piercing eyes of his were now near my hips and looking up to meet me. I blinked to clear my mind and swung my legs out of bed, shirtless in the heat.
"It's stuffy in here," I commented to distract myself, slowly testing out my balance and nausea levels before heading towards the windows in my gadget-cluttered bedroom. "Haven't you opened a win--"
"No!" Jack exclaimed as I pulled a curtain aside, sending hazy light streaming into the room-- onto Jack's prone body on the bed. I dropped the curtain quickly.
"What's the matter?"
But I saw as soon as I flipped a switch to fill the room with bulb light. Every inch of his skin exposed to the sunlight was tinged red from severe burns. I was nearing tears again when I knew he was biting back a cry.
"Oh God, I'm sor--"
"Are you trying to kill me or drive me mad, or both?" Jack hissed, forgetting his burns for a moment. "Stop apologizing!"
"But-- You-- why are you so bloody fragile?" I thus demanded instead of uttering another apology. "You're allergic to silver, you don't eat a damn thing, you're pale as snow and now sunlight--"
I stopped mid-sentence as Jack watched me.
Allergic to silver, pale, burned by sunlight?
We stared at each other for moments, or maybe minutes, or hours. But even as I scrutinized him, the burns faded from his body. The red blisters faded to white, then to Jack's regular pale complexion. My mouth opened slightly as I stood watching him; he looked stricken.
"That legend you told me," I began, heart racing. "Count Dracula. Was it real?"
He took a deep breath.
"Are you going to run from me again?" was the first question he asked.
"That depends. Are you going to kill me?"
"Of course not!" shouted Jack, eyes flashing, appalled that I'd even considered such a thing.
"All right then, tell me."
I braced myself for the answer, but it didn't come.
"Tell me first why you ran." Jack's eyes softened. "Are you afraid of me?"
"No," I said quietly. "I'm afraid of myself."
"And why is that?"
"I'm in love with you, Jack."
As always, the words were out of my mouth faster than I could think about them. It took a few seconds for my thoughts to catch up, then another half-minute for my short-circuited mind to re-wire itself back into consciousness. During that time, Jack's face cycled through a number of emotions-- none of which I had been able to identify, much less recall seeing.
"You've only known me for a few weeks," he was saying incredulously, propping himself up on the pillows. "How can you possibly be in love with me?"
My heavy heart fell to the floor.
"I don't know."
Jack stared at me, eyes cold as ice.
"You are not in love with me," he said slowly.
"All right," I replied. In fact, my mind had already shut off again and I had no idea what I was saying.
"You cannot be in love," he stated.
The Viscount sat up in bed to meet my standing form, and after a moment of contemplation, began to reach a hand out in apology. My right arm, operating on a fencer's instincts, thoughtlessly parried Jack's hand and swept it to the side.
"Please leave," my voice said, wrist still blocking Jack's. "My apologies for all the trouble I've caused you, but I need... to... please."
He nodded curtly and quickly dressed himself, then took one last, painful glance at the blank expression on my face before shutting the door behind him.
Saturday, August 29, 1908
When Constantin came to call, I hadn't eaten or slept in twenty-four hours. After Jack left, I tried to return to wiring the prototype in the barn, but I couldn't focus at all.
"Master Jack told me everything," the man called lightly from the other side of the barn door as I tried to decide whether or not to let him in. "He also told me to fix you something to eat. He suspects that you may have forgotten to."
I opened the door. The old manservant wisely entered my workshop with a golden tray of vegetarian cutlets, one of my favorite creations by Marius, and a bottle of a sweet German Riesling. I declined at first, but Constantin told me that he had been ordered to remain by my side until I finished the food.
I helped him clear the small desk next to my bed to set the tray down so I could eat. As I helped myself to heapings of mashed potatoes and cutlet, I peppered Constantin with questions, first about his own week, then about Jack and the upcoming ball for which he had hired me.
But instead of maintaining our stodgy formalities, Constantin, saint that he is, first swore me to secrecy, then told me the rest of the tale that Jack had begun for me in our late-night teas.
"He lived with a coven of vampires," said Constantin as I listened intently over the last dregs of wine. "We had been boys then. We were both raised as humans by Master Jack's vampire sire, the one the villagers have immortalized as the evil Count Dracula. But it had been a different vampire who had murdered the village children.
"Jack's sire was the kindest being either of us had ever met. Hundreds of years before, he had taught himself how to drink human blood without killing the humans involved, and so coexisted peacefully with the villagers surrounding his castle. We were both orphans, and he bought us to save us from a life of hard slave labor in the mines. Every morning, we were given the choice of staying human or being converted, and we always chose the former. It was a choice the Count respected." Constantin smiled, lost in the memory. "There was never a day that Jack and I did not pass without counting our blessings.
"Unfortunately, another vampire from Count Dracula's past invaded our quiet life," Constantin continued, and here I sensed a glimmer of fury from the old butler. "A former lover driven insane by a broken heart. It was this vampire who killed the children and took Jack hostage, threatening to turn him if the Count did not acquiesce to her demands. The Count had been prepared to surrender himself for Jack's safety, but the villagers invaded. He decided to surrender himself to them in order to save all of us."
Constantin sighed now, smoothing out his manservant's garments with slow, steady hands. "Jack and I escaped the vampire and went into hiding underneath the castle as it burned to cinders. But Jack had already been bitten by then, and all I could do was silence him with herbs while he screamed in agony for the Count. It took him weeks to turn because he hadn't received enough of the vampire's blood to turn quickly, and it was just as well; otherwise he would have witnessed Count Dracula's death. I couldn't tell him what I had seen during those weeks at the town square until decades afterward; I had to make sure he wouldn't kill himself because of it.
"You see, the Count loved him far more than a father should love a son," he said, and in that remark there was no anger, no jealousy, no judgment at all. "It was a simple fact, clear as rain to anyone who set foot inside the castle. Jack had planned to wait until he was the same age as the Count's physical age to be turned into a vampire so they could live together as equals. I never wanted to be anything but human, so I was perfectly content with remaining by his side as his manservant to keep up appearances.
"When Dracula died, Jack very nearly died with him. A vampire connected that closely to another being, whether vampire or human, will sense that being's presence and feelings no matter the distance separating them. So in his first memories as a vampire, Jack felt the Count's pain in the final moments of his life, although Jack did not know the exact circumstances of the Count's death until years later.
"I have been his brother, his confidante, his best friend," said Constantin, and with this he stared straight at me. "I know him better than anyone else alive. He is terrified of any close connexion for fear that he would go mad if he fell in love. Over the years, he has taken measures to ensure that no one ever gets that close to him again. We maintain a strictly impersonal relationship so I can remain by his side.
"But he needs to be loved, Master Sam. Jack needs someone to show him that love is not always the terrible thing he believes it to be. He can feel every emotion coursing through your veins right now, your anger and desire and pain-- and he wants to end this charade now, and tell you the truth, but he cannot."
When Constantin stopped, I hardly noticed. My regular processing of the world was temporarily interrupted so I could process all of the information I had just been given. Jack was, in all appearances, cold-- and yet he-- yes, he was warm-- but connected to me? My emotions? Constantin must have made a horrible mistake--
"He can feel my emotions?" was my first inquiry.
"Now that he knows exactly what they are, he is trying his best to blot them all out," was Constantin's amused reply. "But you should be able to get through if you've got an emotion that's strong enough."
"How did it... happen?"
"He had been observing you," said the manservant, rising from his place at the edge of the bed. "Like a cat observes its prey. He was curious about you, as you are the first new human he's been in daily contact with in decades.
"But then he sensed your sudden panic a few days ago, and he feared that it was because he had told you enough for you to realise his secret. When you told him what the actual cause had been, it was too late. Neither of you had noticed."
Constantin suddenly grinned an old man's wisecrack grin. "He looked so horrid when he pieced it together."
I somehow imagined Jack pacing back and forth in his own quarters, muttering all this within earshot of Constantin, interspersing his train of thought with curses in Romanian that I could not bring myself to translate here even if I understood them. The image brought a smile to my oddly quivering lips.
Monday, August 31, 1908
The afternoon of the ball, I was still in London having a heated argument with myself over whether or not I should disturb Jack's night of revelry with my unkempt self showing up at his door. I debated this all the way to Leicestershire, where I finally decided on going through with what I had started with my horrendously large mouth. Constantin's words spurred me on, and I came to the conclusion that I had nothing to lose: Jack was either going to listen to me, or our friendship would be ruined, but our friendship had already been ruined on Friday so any further ruination could not possibly affect that.
I straightened the mortifyingly outdated ruffles on my shirt one last time before stepping out of the carriage and making my way up the steps into the Viscount's Great Hall. Constantin was nowhere to be found, bless his own mortifyingly outdated soul.
The ballroom was brilliantly lit by my fatally silver electric chandeliers, draped in millions of tiny diamonds that caught the light just so and spread it liberally throughout the gargantuan hall. Each dancer on the marble floor was illuminated so well that one could only catch a glimpse of a shadow if skirts overlapped. Jack was nowhere to be found, something I expected given his usually nocturnal self, so I contented myself with the hors d'oeuvres, half expecting him to never appear at all.
But appear he did, at the top of the Great Hall's marble steps, with the most beautiful woman I have ever set my eyes on neatly holding on to his arm. She was a Celtic princess, with flaming red locks that swept down her back, and an emerald-green gown woven from the finest silks that accented her every graceful step. Diamonds were nothing to her, only metals rarer than gold would suit her. Her alabaster features reminded me of Jack's, too perfect to be true.
I knew with half a glance that the courage I drank that night would be no use in the face of this goddess. I was a man-- natch, I was a plain, scrawny, rather awkward man who had never experienced pure reciprocated love in the entirety of his short, bleak existence, and I had been fed too much hope from an old man who spouted fairy-tales. As I watched the couple, my confused heart was wrenched out of its cage, bloody and beating for anyone who cared to see. God, the taste in my mouth was awful.
Jack's eyes flickered to mine at that instant, but I did not notice and he did not give anything away. He sat himself down at the host's long table, raised his golden wine goblet, and swallowed hard.
"This woman captured my heart without so much as a 'by your leave'," he began, clasping the pale hand of the girl who seemed created just for him. "I only exchanged a handful of words with her every time I ran into her, but those eyes of hers are what drew me in, no words necessary."
The strange thing was, he never once looked into them.
"I never previously believed I could fall for another creature as badly as I have fallen for her, and yet the fates have made it so. I can feel every emotion she feels, every breath in her sleep, every beat of her heart. Before, realising this fact had disturbed me to the point of torture. But I tried to fight against the tide and failed; it has pulled me under, into the sightless depths of love, and I know I can no longer hold my breath."
He smiled a genuine smile, though something was very wrong with it, and I did not see it at the time because my eyes were fixed on the blushing young lady, and blinded by a sudden, heart-breaking envy.
"I am in deeply, madly, truly, irreversibly in love with this woman. That is why I am asking for her hand in marriage tonight."
Jack's jovial, cutting words tumbled out of his mouth into my twisted ears. It was pandemonium, utter bedlam in my head as it tried to make sense of the situation.
We must not have been as close as I had believed. I had never met the woman until now, and for him to speak so fondly of her...
I wanted to die.
This first solution my heart found was entirely wrong, as I soon discovered, but quite easy to understand by my stupefied brain. My mind could no longer help me cope with the broken glass Jack was pumping into it. I felt like I'd been gutted wide open and was bleeding from every pore. I stumbled blindly out of the ballroom before I could hear him say anything more.
Then I was vomiting into the bushes. But silently, so no one in the ballroom could hear my heaving over the din of thunderous applause. I was on my hands and knees and looking for another clean spot of grass to spew all over so I wouldn't have to begin vomiting on the beautiful roses.
"A shame, that boy," buzzed a voice in my ear. I would have jumped, but I was too addled with alcohol to do so properly.
"What?" I asked instead. It came out as a gurgle.
"Dracula's heart would have broken if he'd seen this... ridiculous specatacle of a lie," continued the woman, whose blood-stained fangs I could barely make out in the faint moonlight. In a beat her hands were strangling my neck. Her nails-- claws, I should say-- dug deep into my skin and drew a few searing drops of blood.
"That boy should have been dead," she hissed. "Dracula should have been mine."
I was too drunk to understand anything, but my subconscious made the connexions for me and choked out the only question it could think of.
"You're-- you're still alive?"
The woman, whose hair was a dirty golden brown, smiled a bone-chilling, shark-toothed smile.
"The boy sent invitations to this ball all over Europe! And he had the nerve to use the alias of my dead son to do it!"
She caressed my cheek with a sharp, bloodstained nail.
"He waited this long to draw me out," muttered the woman, Dracula's beautiful and terrifying former bride. "But he didn't know that I would find his greatest weakness first.
"He changed his loyalties so quickly from my Count to you!" she nearly screamed into my deafened ear, voice rising higher into hysteria, pinning me to the grass with her thin but strong arms. "You stupid human! YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF MEAT!"
The feral vampire quieted suddenly, and dipped her nose to my neck like a lover would, yet I knew it was only to smell the blood beating in my veins.
"Your eyes," she whispered softly, raking her nails across my cheek and leaving red trails in their wake. "That's how I knew. He looks at you the same way... because your eyes are exactly like his."
Then she made a face and spat into the bloody lines on my face, making them burn as her grip on my neck tightened.
"You reek of poison. At least the boy had been deliciously pure when I turned him. You're not even worthy of a feast."
With that, she sank her teeth-- ALL OF THEM-- into my pulsating neck.
My first response was to scream, but I had no energy to. So the agony of a vampire tearing into my jugular was met with a few violent spasms, then a gentle settling of my limbs because the blood loss made me lose sense of everything. There was a hole being torn in my vision-- a hole through which nightmarish monsters entered this world--
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Is that screaming coming from within the hall?
I could feel a pressure tunneling into my left side, where the woman vampire's chest had been. We're both bloodstained, but at least her fully fanged mouth is no longer sinking deeper into my neck.
My eyes roll out to glimpse the world momentarily before rolling back up into their sockets again.
The last image I see is of Constantin being torn to pieces.
Tuesday, September 1, 1908
For a few glorious minutes, I awaken to someone sobbing over me. I think about moving an arm to touch him, but that thought never substantiates, as my arm sends me a cacophony of fiery pain instead.
I must be moaning now, because the sobbing figure looks up, and I can tell in the lamp-light that it's him.
"You're not dead?" he asks, but in reality I cannot understand him; his voice is unintelligible to me, just a string of babble. I find no words, so I respond with a blood-stifled breath.
Jack's eyes bore into mine, as if willing my soul to remain in my body, then he takes a knife from the table next to my head and slices his wrists open without a second thought. I can only watch in detached horror as he places his flowing wrists on either side of my neck and shuts his eyes.
"Sam, come back to me, please..."
Wednesday, September 2, 1908
I am awakened by the fact that my neck is on fire, my left side is swelling fit to explode, and by the painful throbbing that radiates from behind my eyeballs to my entire jaw.
When I am aware of my body, I wake up screaming. I don't even remember who I am or how I came to be in this room.
A cold towel is pressed to my forehead, then to both of my cheeks.
Shh, shh, comes a deep, soothing voice. It's almost over.
"It hurts," I whimper helplessly, thrashing about. "It hurts, oh God-- make it stop..."
A freezing kiss distracts me from the pain; I inhale slowly, in shuddering gasps, as he exhales.
Thursday, September 3, 1908
The first memory I have of being a vampire is opening my eyes and realising two things: One, it was night-time, yet I could see perfectly, and two, I had no glasses on, yet I could see perfectly. Then my senses sharpened further, and I smelled the faint smell of blood in the air, mixed heavily with alcohol. I felt a warm night breeze envelop me, and a cool but quaking figure under the sheets with me, porcelain skin pressed along the edges of my broken and bandaged body. His lips were nestled into my neck, murmuring foreign prayers into my still-aching jawbone.
Now, however, I could feel his emotions as plainly as I could feel mine: He was making my heart hurt terribly with grief and remorse, but at the same time, I was bathed in a strong, quiet, selfless love as well. It was a shield of power that kept the dangers of the world out and the warmth of his words in.
I slowly ran a hand through the man's hair and found it thick and lush, with a deep auburn gleam in the lamp-light. He stiffened immediately and lifted his tear-streaked face to meet mine.
"Sam?" said Jack.
"Yes?" I answered immediately.
Those manic, heavy-lidded Prussian eyes of his continued to search me.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he finally said. "I had to turn you so I wouldn't lose you again."
I thought a bit, and my last memories came trickling back into my head.
Jack heaved a sigh, rearranging himself to better bring our foreheads together.
"He saved your life," was all he said.
"Hope I was worth it," I whispered.
The man in my arms sighed again, but this time in relief.
"We both thought so," he told me, and tentatively touched his ice-cold lips to mine.
He brought me tea in bed every day until I was strong enough to walk. For all intents and purposes, I had been buried with Constantin in London at the beginning of September, so the only place I had left to live in was Jack's estate. The man nursed me back to health with the help of his nightly parade of high-priced escorts, most of whom were also covert volunteer blood donors, and his fiance-- or, rather, the fellow vampire he had paid to be his fiance. The speech he had given at the ball had actually been intended for me, though I was too addled with worry at the time to believe it.
Constantin had killed Count Dracula's demented bride with three silver bullets, the same ones Jack had once threatened to kill himself with after he learned of Dracula's death. Two of those bullets passed through her and remain lodged in my chest to this day; they nearly killed me when I was transforming, but now they have made me immune to the typical vampiric allergy to silver.
Jack told me that Constantin's death was quick, but I somehow doubt that. I hope, wherever he is, that he is satisfied with his decision to keep me alive.
Friday, August 8, 2008
One hundred years have passed since we first met, that most august of Augusts. I strove to bring light to every corner of Jack's home and heart before we were forced to move on, forced to flee when people began to notice that we had not aged in years. We landed in New York City not long after my uncle had died and slowly rebuilt our lives from nothing, adapting our accents, clothing, and movements to this new bustling city and age. Fortunately, this time we had no need for others' company since we both had each other, and we lived comfortable lives as hermits in Manhattan before making our way across the country to another city-- the first city we knew of that could truly accept us as we are.
And so it is with great contentment that I end this story in the comfort of my storied California home, early-morning fog rolling past my window and across the Palace of Fine Arts as the love of my life settles next to me in slumber.
If you ever find yourself in a certain twenty-four-hour Starbucks in San Francisco and spot a curious-looking young blond having tea in the middle of the night with a pale, middle-aged, red-haired, blue-eyed man, I'd like you to consider stopping by our table to say hello. We're starting to enjoy the company, and we don't bite the innocent.
If you're human, though, you might want to consider bringing a warm coat. It's inhumanly cold in this city at night.