tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Taste of Love

The Taste of Love


Author's Note: Vampire stories have long been part of our sexual mythology and they usually feature at least one nubile young woman. She is a magnet for the dark side and the dark side is a magnet for her. The protagonist seduces her body and during the act of love, while he drains her of her blood, he seduces her soul. These stories reflect the uneasy proximity in our own minds between sex and death, pleasure and damnation. This story -- a vampire romance, if you will -- is my own personal take on the vampire myth. Enjoy.


It seemed hardly possible that anything so still could be alive. He stood motionless in the shadows of the old brownstone, the one with the General Store on the ground floor which no one went to anymore. Even if you peered into the shadows, it was difficult to tell where the darkness ended and he began. The outline of his body seemed fuzzy and indistinct as if he were shifting shape like smoke. It did not help that he was clad in black from head to toe, that his complexion was swarthy and that his hair was the shade of starless night. Only the silver buttons on his shirt glinted in the reluctant pool of light cast by the dejected looking street lamp, which appeared to have given up its battle against the gathering darkness before it began.

The quiet elegance of his clothes clashed with the decrepit nature of his surroundings -- with the paint peeling from the wooden frames, the windows stained with grime, the weather beaten sign of the General Store which bore the legend "McCarthy & Co., General Merchants" in fading letters that had long lost hope of a fresh lease of color. But he seemed indifferent to the all round shabbiness, as if he were above and beyond it, as if he were a whole world gathered unto himself.

His eyes were fixed on the metal door of the building opposite. This neighborhood no longer had wooden or glass paneled doors. They would not hold against the world that they were meant to keep out. Even the metal door that he surveyed was scuffed, graffiti stained -- marked by the world swirling outside and howling to get in. As he waited for the door to open, his thoughts drifted back to that day in the spring so many years ago when he had seen her for the first time.


The weather had been mild, cool in the shade, pleasantly warm in the sun. She was hunched over in the grass, her nose almost touching the ground, her soft brown curls tumbling around her face. She was peering at something on the ground, unblinking, rapt in concentration. A gentle breeze swept across the open park, swirling her light flowery dress around her frail frame. As he turned the curve in the path, she looked up. She beckoned to him, her fingers on her lips, demanding silence. Curious, he padded softly across the turf and knelt beside her. She gripped his sleeve in her tiny hand and gestured to a butterfly poised on a blade of grass inches away from where they sat.

It looked singularly unimpressive -- smallish, a sort of dull brown -- and he wondered what the fuss was all about. As he made to turn towards the small figure crouched beside him, the butterfly opened its wings and the air shimmered with an iridescent blue that was so garish that it hurt the eye. The delicate, paper thin triangles of color fluttered for a moment uncertainly and then rose in flight. She rose to her feet and clapped happily. After the butterfly had flitted out of sight, she stuck out her hand as though to help him up. He unwound his length from the ground and accepted the proffered hand.

"I am Elsa," she offered, moving her arm up and down to shake his hand which had engulfed her tiny fist.

"Pleased to meet you," he replied, leaning down towards her, "I am Maximilian. You can call me Max."

"Pleased to meet you too, Max," she said solemnly.

He guessed that she must be about four years old, certainly not more than five.

"Are you alone?" he asked.

"No, my mom's with me."

"Where is she?" he enquired.

She looked around her briefly and then fluttered her fingers vaguely in the direction of the fountain in the middle of the park.

"I don't know. Somewhere."

"Shouldn't we look for her?"

She gave it a moment's careful thought.

"No," she finally shrugged, "she is old enough to look after herself."

He suppressed the smile that was gathering on his lips.

"And are you?" he asked softly, the twinkle in his eyes betraying his amusement at this presumptuous little bundle of precocity.

She looked uncertain for a moment, a tiny shadow of doubt gathering in her eyes. But she said "Yes", more hopefully than confidently, unconsciously drawing herself up to the full height of her diminutive frame in a halfhearted gesture of defiance.

He regarded her quietly for a moment, then his lips widened in a broad smile before he burst into laughter. She looked startled at first then happily joined in, the soft tinkle of her laughter an unfamiliar counterpoint to the deeper tones of his own sudden happiness. He couldn't remember the last time that he had laughed so openly and without inhibition. He understood better than most the aching fragility of laughter, the evanescence of merriment. Like life, he thought.

They stopped at the same time, panting; their hands on their knees, the laughter still in their eyes as they caught their breath. When she recovered, she straightened up, clutching her stomach which was hurting from more happiness than she could bear, from the joy of simply being alive -- that day in the spring, on that sun drenched expanse of warm grass. She slid her tiny hand into his and tugged -- urging him down the path that curved along the edge of the park.

He yielded to the pressure of her unspoken entreaty and fell in beside her. He held her hand in his palm gingerly as if it were centuries old porcelain that would crumble to the touch, terrified that he might hurt her. She was walking purposefully, without pause or hesitation and seemed to know where she was going. As they swept around the next curve, an ice cream wagon drifted into view parked on the grass beside the winding path. She stopped next to the wagon, looked up at him and said hopefully, "I would like an ice cream."

She stood on tiptoes and peered down into the glass-topped freezer trying to decide what flavor she wanted.

"Strawberry," she decided finally.

"It has little pieces of fruit in it," she explained as he fished out his wallet and doled out change to the vendor.

They retreated to a nearby bench, the ice cream cone clutched firmly in her fist. He watched her as her tongue flicked around the edges of the waffle cone, chasing thin streams of strawberry that drifted over the edge as the ice cream melted in the warmth of the noonday sun. The sunlight drifting through her soft brown curls turned her hair into spun gold and her face seemed enveloped in a halo.

She felt his eyes upon her and turned to offer him a taste of her ice cream. He declined with a nod, smiling at her simple act of generosity. They sat in companionable silence as she finished her cone and wiped her sticky fingers on the paper napkin. After she had slowly and methodically wiped each finger clean of any trace of ice cream, she raised her head.

"Mom," she screamed suddenly, sliding off the bench and waving her hands frantically in the air.

The slim shapely figure in the distance turned around at the sound of Elsa's voice and began to walk towards them. As the figure drew near, Elsa bounded forward, wrapped her arms around the woman's knees and buried her face in her lap. The woman pulled the warm little body of her daughter closer and gently stroked the soft brown curls. Suddenly he felt very out of place. She leaned down and whispered something in Elsa's ear that was too soft for him to catch. But Elsa's response was loud enough.

"But he's not a stranger, Mama. I know his name ... Max."

The woman turned towards him with an embarrassed air.

"Irene," she said stretching out her hand for him to shake.

"Maximilian," he replied, accepting the proffered hand.

"There is no need to be embarrassed about your concern," he added quietly, "You are right to be careful."

She flashed him a grateful smile.

"She never listens to me. I fear for her sometimes. She's too trusting."

He got down on one knee, his face level with hers.

"Your Mama's right, Elsa," he said, lifting her face with a finger under her chin, "Every stranger isn't a friend."

She nodded solemnly before grabbing her mother's outstretched hand.

"Goodbye, Max," she said.

He watched the two figures recede into the distance -- Elsa sometimes skipping ahead of her mother and sometimes falling back in tow. As they approached the first curve in the path, Elsa turned around and fluttered the fingers of her free hand in a gesture of farewell.

She looked so small, so heartbreakingly vulnerable that for a moment he had to fight the urge to run after them, to wrap his arms around her frail body and shield her from the world. He shook his head ruefully as if to clear it. He didn't remember the last time he had felt this protective towards anybody or anything. Being protective didn't come easily to his kind. He must be going soft in his old age, he thought. If the others ever knew, it would be a matter for much merriment -- the great Maximilian brought to his knees by the innocence of a mere girl and that too a human. He had no desire to be a cause for levity. He buried in the recesses of his heart the memory of that face, so joyously free of care, and of her trusting fingers clutching his own. Kindness, he decided, was an affectation that he could ill afford. He spun on his heels and walked in the opposite direction towards the gate and the world that beckoned from beyond.

In the months that followed, he learnt that buried memories are resilient. His mind kept returning to that little girl who had so readily befriended a fierce ancient with a blood soaked rag for a soul. She became for him a symbol of everything his life was not -- simple, guileless, free from rancor and bitterness. He watched her life play out from a discreet distance. He was a witness to her little triumphs and little failures, to moments of joy so sharp that she felt her heart must burst and sorrow so profound that surely, she thought, the world must end.

He watched her grow from cheeky brat to shy teenager, a little clumsy with words and boys. He watched her shadow framed in the rectangle of light that was her bedroom window as she hunched over her books, her forehead furrowed in concentration. He watched with vicarious pride as she graduated from High School, her fingers fluttering nervously over her cap and gown. He watched helplessly as her face twisted into a mask of pain on that fateful day when she learnt of a crash on the highway and identified the heap of twisted metal that used to be their car. He had watched hope sputter in her heart like a candle in the wind; watched her abandon dreams of college to begin work as a clerk in a nearby store; watched her once genteel neighborhood transform into an urban battlefield, no longer safe or welcoming.

There had been moments during those years when he had wanted to reach out to her, to comfort her, to whisper that things would be better. He had wanted to kiss that grazed knee okay; to soothe her heart as it was bruised by some careless ape masquerading as a boy; to hold her, as trembling and terrifyingly alone, she watched the coffin holding the remains of her family, of love and of hope, being lowered into freshly dug earth. But he had always resisted the impulse as a momentary lapse into insanity, as an impossible dream to whose allure he could not permit himself to surrender. He was deathly afraid of the consequences, of what he may be capable. He heard those words again and again, echoing across the centuries that stood between, "You are condemned to destroy what you love, to change forever what you touch."

***** It was an age, now lost in the mists of memory, when men still believed in his kind and feared them. Their mere existence was a declaration of war and life was a daily battle. He was young then, his nerves and sinews forged in the fire of perpetual conflict.

On that day, at the mouth of a narrow pass which separated a green expanse of meadow from the foaming waters of a restless ocean, four of them had held off a throng of angry peasants armed with swords and spears, wooden staves and pitchforks. He had reveled in the intimate crush of bodies in battle, in the flash of blade and the thrust of knife; parting head from neck and limb from torso with the fluency of long practice. Their faces, rapt in concentration, utterly absorbed in the dealing of death, were wet with spattered blood, of which they took an occasional greedy lick. ... Death tasted good.

Afterwards, they sat in a circle in the sunshine, among the scattered bodies, glad to be alive -- comfortable in the quiet companionship that the proximity of death always brings, when you have survived its passing. Two of them, Constantine and Frederick, were young like him, but the third, Leopold, was a grizzled veteran of many centuries of unceasing conflict. He was regarding with a somewhat baleful eye the vision of Constantine who was perched on one of the bleeding dismembered corpses, using his dagger to dislodge from his blood smeared fangs a piece of flesh that he had torn out of a peasant's neck during that dance of death. Leopold seemed to find his air of smug self-satisfaction faintly irritating.

"You think this was a battle?" Leopold asked suddenly, "Killing farmers carrying pitchforks?"

The point of the dagger froze in Constantine's mouth before he slowly lowered it. One couldn't be too careful with Leopold when he was in that sort of mood.

"They actually believe," he said, waving at the corpses bleaching in the sun, "that two pathetic little twigs spliced together and blessed by a priest would protect them against the likes of us. This wasn't a battle. This was a massacre. You should be ashamed you broke a sweat. And know this much. They may now be dead. But when they were alive, they were more blessed than we will ever be. You know why? Because they can love with impunity. We are condemned to destroy what we love, to forever change what we touch."

His shoulders slumped as though the weight of his endless years was proving too heavy a burden to bear. When he continued, there was an unutterable sorrow in his voice, as though his soul were bleeding through his lips.

"There are times when I spy a comely wench and I burn with an unbearable thirst to feel the warmth of a woman's flesh, to taste her skin, to share her breath. And sometimes I do. But our fate is a bitter one. If we take a woman, we must make her one of us or we must dissolve into dust. That accusing look in a woman's eyes when she awakens from a stupor that she thought was death and knows that her fate is worse turns our pleasure into ashes. That is why we are bitter, my friends, that is why we thirst for blood -- because we have been promised eternity without the possibility of love."

He seemed lost in thought as he sat there hunched, his arms on his knees, staring at the ground beneath his feet. The others did not dare to break his reverie. After a long time, he raised his head.

"I am tired of killing," he sighed, "tired of the hot stench of blood and the hunger that courses through my veins at that stench. I am tired."

He fell silent after that and did not speak again as the shadows lengthened. It was as if he had been emptied of words and the well would take some time to fill again.


Leopold had been right, he thought. One tires of killing. One yearns for love.

The door opened a crack, spilling yellow light onto the steps and the broken metal banister and then widened, her silhouette outlined in the light of the naked bulb that hung from the ceiling of the foyer. She closed the door softly behind her and then paused for a moment at the top of the steps, as though to draw a deep breath before abandoning the safety of her hand anchored on the banister.

She was clad in a plain white shirt and blue jeans, her hair gathered into an unruly knot on the top of her head. She was wearing sensible flat-heeled shoes and no make up. She tucked her large handbag under her arms and set off at a brisk pace, her eyes downcast.

They emerged from the mouth of a blind alley, too quickly for her to react. There were four of them and at first blush, they were difficult to tell apart. They all wore black bandannas, dragon tattoos, tight t-shirts over bulging torsos and ... identical smirks. One of them had a long white scar running along the inside of his left arm and wore an air of authority. Being sliced open in a knife fight did wonders for your reputation in these parts. He was twirling a knife lazily in his right hand as he slowly circled around her, almost tasting on his tongue the completeness of his power over her trembling body. She stood rooted to the ground, uncertain whether to flee or to stay completely still, pretending to be invisible, hoping that they would go away.

It was however clear that they were not going anywhere. They had watched this tasty little morsel for weeks, tracing the same familiar route between home and work. They had waited patiently for such a moment -- the cover of darkness and an empty street. They intended to take their time with her. The Scar licked his lips with a hunger that he could barely contain. He was aroused, as much by the thought of their taking her by turns, using her luscious body, as by the thought of finally, after they were done with her, slitting her soft white throat and letting her blood leach onto the pavement.

The blind alley would do nicely, he thought. They would stuff a rag in her mouth to drown her screams. Not that it was necessary. She could scream all she wanted. He knew that in this neighborhood, her screams would shatter against an impervious wall of fear and indifference. He didn't expect to be interrupted. It was only that he wanted to be able to pretend, as they ravaged her body, that she was enjoying it. Screams would make that awkward. The circle tightened as they drew closer to her, their limbs twitching now with anticipation at the bloody feast to follow.

They didn't know where he came from -- this tall stranger who now held her body in his arms, shielding her. He almost seemed part of the night, like darkness congealed. Their first instinct was to rush him, to rip to pieces this thing that had come between them and their prey.

But something made them pause. There was no fear in his eyes. His gaze licked the naked blades in their hands with something resembling greed. He was still, as if he did not wish to dissuade them from violence by sudden movement. But his stillness did not deceive them. They knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this stranger would fight. But what was spreading icy fingers of fear across their hearts was the niggling suspicion that he might welcome it. He waited quietly as arrogance battled caution in their eyes. He was willing the arrogance to win, hoping once again for the sweet murderous music of blades in song. It had been a long time.

His nostrils flared at the promise of blood and their shoulders finally slumped, terror that they barely understood pooling like lead in the pits of their stomachs weighing them down. The Scar spoke to his underlings through lips that were suddenly dry and parched, affecting a bravado he no longer felt.

"We will get her another time. The slut isn't going anywhere."

He felt a flicker of disappointment as they backed away gingerly, not yet daring to turn around. He knew they wouldn't be coming back. He toyed for a moment with the notion of denying them so easy an escape, of taking the battle to them and dissolving their bodies in a bloody rain of severed limbs. The trembling body in his arms, however, held him in check.

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