A Life Too Long
Lazar Antonescu, weary of surviving, planned his internment with meticulous attention to detail. The colorful display of autumn leaves ceased and temperatures cooled as early frost settled upon the landscape. He hated winter and the endless bursts of chilled wind wailing between the trees. As a young man he’d avoided the forest, the mourning sighs scraping at the insides of his ears like hoarsely whispered words.
Bitter mirth twisted his mouth. The memory produced a flash of insight he’d never considered, perhaps the intonations had been actual whispers. Torok Randa, an ugly troll even before he’d risen from the grave, said he’d selected Lazar purely out of spite for his position.
Lazar understood such petty revenges, but the residual concerns of a human life mattered little once you’d accepted the irreversibility of the change. Acceptance took time and within a century of passing, neither he, nor Torok, nor any of their vampire ilk, cared much about anything.
The living served only to provide nourishment.
In the first five centuries, when the isolation became unbearable and the howling loneliness of his empty universe spilled out in an anguished sigh, he descended from the ragged castle on the mountain to look at the shuttered windows and barred doors of the squat homes. Late on those nights, a reveler departing the common house, warm with liquor, might sight him crossing the square. In the following months offerings appeared outside the shattered stones of the main gate, tribute from the villagers to the landowner.
Echoes from the old world.
Initially the flowers and the hard-crusted rounds of cheese amused him, and then touched something deep inside.
Decades cycled by since he’d ventured below and taken one of their lives, but on the opening night of summer the urge came to walk the shadowed cobbled streets and he obeyed the impulse. The town, reduced in population and size, lost too many youth to the lures of Bucharest. He turned into a narrow alley and halted abruptly, face-to-face with a female. She stood beside a stacked stone column, the spill of light from the interior framing her lush figure.
He scented her fear but she met his gaze and inclined her head, regal and deliberate.
Lazar grinned appreciatively and made no attempt to hide his elongated eyeteeth. He experienced a flush of astonishment, his ennui briefly alleviated, when she returned his smile. His sensitive nose identified the fragrant unguents and salves of medicinal compounds on her apron. No crone, this healer. Her dark beauty bore no resemblance to the generations of matrons charged with treating the ills and comforting the pains of the community.
The days of his mortal life would have prodded him to sample her sex; the years after his death would have demanded he taste the flutter of pulse at her throat. He’d tendered a formal bow and disappeared into the cold, stunned to hear his given name fall from her lips. That had been six evenings ago.
Spreading the sheaf of papers across stones from the collapsed armory wall, he used the surface as a makeshift table. Transferring focus to the ledger and the fountain pen, he drafted a letter directing monies to pay the mortuary tax in perpetuity. Re-internment appeared his only method to gain relief from the cacophony of modern life and he hoped to lay undisturbed for at least a hundred years. The realm featured a feast of humanity but his senses were clogged with the overwhelming technology of the age.
The latest peasant offerings, a stoneware jar of sweet macerated fruit and a cloth-wrapped hunk of dried venison, sat near a dusty burgundy bottle. He’d carried them down here instead of dumping the contents behind the ruin of the kitchens. He watched a roach circle the lip of the mossy green glass, dip forward, rigid legs scrabbling for purchase and failing. The insect dropped inside, joining a graveyard of brethren.
Another acolyte sacrificed to the desire for sustenance.
Lazar knew how that felt.
He sighed, the analogy inescapable. The cockroach is to the decanter as the crypt is to the heretic –
A sound registered. A footfall?
No one ventured to this ruined pile of rubble that once honored a prince.
He listened. The steps were clearly audible, movements brimming with purpose, intentful. The intruder reached the stairs, began to descend into the bowels of the ruin.
The scent of chamomile and tarragon brought Lazar to his feet. A faint trace of alpine thistle tickled his nostrils, contracted his trachea. A rush of saliva flooded his tongue, his fangs sharpened with want, and his body hardened with unfulfilled longing.
She entered the room with skirts swirling, the length of her braid swinging from beneath the fringed edge of her shawl, and smelling of herbs and life. For a fraction of a second, their contrasting duality struck his awareness, and then the blood lust filled him inside and pushed painfully against his ribcage. He fought the voracious urge to enfold her tiny form and drink.
It was not done.
Torok’s edicts regarding survival in this new life, and his own memories of being confined in an iron box, reigned in Lazar’s thirst now. The healer represented the continual health of the hamlet over which he’d long ruled. Parasitizing that symbiotic order was akin to violating a fundamental principal of universal balance. It was forbidden.
The woman rushed forward. “Domn Antonescu, you must intercede.”
Lazar withdrew a step. The single candle flame guttered in the surge of air and mimicked the frantic cadence of his heart. No one had addressed him with that title for generations.
“Strangers have presented documents to the Magistrate that affirms ownership of this land and the fortress.” Panic underlay the utterance. She stepped closer and raised shining eyes to meet his stare. “None but you can dispute their claim.”
A curl of anger unfurled inside Lazar. This was his home, his people. “Who makes this assertion?”
She lowered her face. “Your descendant.”
Flash Fiction Challenge: Five Words, Plus One Vampire @ www.terribleminds.com