tombstones for the living [story part 32]
September 16, 2012 § 5 Comments
It was the night between the 27th and the 28th of January – a particularly cold night as I remember, temperatures can vary wildly in the winter around these parts, and forests freeze and crumble under the weight of the winter’s cold breath.
Sometimes there’s little to no snow, sometimes the snow can be as thick as one meter high. And it’s frozen solid. At -20, and that’s in a good night. In a bad night? Nothing escapes the stillness of the winter. Nothing. Not even vampires.
I fell asleep once again, and for me it felt like I was sleeping for the past three days altogether, which by all means, I nearly was. Too exhausted.
“I let myself in.” Regina said casually, poking the fire.
I opened my eyes hearing that and there she was, in front of the fireplace, shivering. I stood up and didn’t say a single word.
I just went to her in front of the fireplace, on the floor where she was sitting and shivering apparently, sat down next to her and took her under the blanket that I had with me from the bed. I remember this instant particularly well because it was around this time when I was starting to feel less like the protegé and more like the protector. It felt good, and it still does, being able to comfort a force of nature like Regina.
But I wasn’t fooling anybody, we both knew who was what. Nonetheless, there had been several occasions leading up to that point, and a few afterwards, more than a few actually, that gradually built up the feeling of dominance that I had… such foolishness. A “male” feeling I lied to myself, “natural”, I added. Not in her world. But that’s another story.
We said nothing to one another for a few quite pleasant moments. I hadn’t seen her in what felt like ages for me, and I don’t usually lie to myself (although I can name a few occasions), I had missed her, even with all the gritty pictures of my life since I entered under her domain.
“What have they done to you….” She said slowly and tried to bite the back of her palm, where the thumb meets the wrist.
“No, enough blood. They will heal themselves.” I said and stopped her hand. Her figure was now staring at me, fangs not out yet but I could see her trying to hold them back. Once started, I understand the process was rather painful and required a bit of self-control to stop.
“It’s like taking a piss.” I remember Viktoria told me. She was more vulgar and straightforward that one.
“In time… which you don’t have…” – Regina said after stopping her, and then letting her fangs go and doing what she started doing.
To be honest, at this point I was just happy enough that she didn’t point out the fact that I would be better of being a vampire and all that, and that she won’t be around forever to mend me whenever I needed. Both points highly debatable. For the first, she should know better the downsides of being a vampire, and for the second point, why not?
“Oh so you know?” I responded, referring to everything that happened.
“Of course I know. Blanche contacted me.” Regina said.
“Speaking of Blanche, she was in a much worse state than I am.”
“I know, and whoever did this is going to pay.”
“He already did.” – I said, puffing my chest in irony.
“No, whoever was behind this will pay. I’m pretty sure someone carefully orchestrated this.” Regina said while focusing on the fire. It felt pretty artistic for me.
I don’t want to exclude this conversation because it explains quite a bit, but I also can’t remember all of it line by line, so I’ll summarize it.
We stood there and talked for a bit longer. We talked about where she was and why she needed my necklace, she explained everything while putting my necklace back and smiling when I told her about how Viktoria managed to snatch it from me, because Regina knew I wouldn’t give it up easily. Regina told me what she was trying to do with both of them, which will be in the following parts of the story. We talked about who could be behind the attack and the reasons behind it, and what should we do next. We agreed on each and every point, and none of us weren’t making any compromises. We ‘clicked’ that night, and it felt rather pleasant, because the last time we had seen each other didn’t offer a rather pleasing goodbye.
In the end we let the fire die, and fell asleep in the same spot where we woke up the next morning. Synchronized, like never before. She, still tired, like always during the day, continued to sleep until late in the evening. I closed the blinds and left her there, while I went and spent some time with the family, because by now it was already Saturday and we were all home.
Breakfast at 10:00 – father saw me once again on my feet, feeling stronger, and more importantly without wounds. He knew Regina had returned, because she was the only one to cover up the ‘mess’. As in, Viktoria had bitten me and didn’t bother to take care of it. Father noticed that, but didn’t say too much about it.
By the time night was closing in I had already managed to tell Blanche and Sophia that Regina is here, and carefully noted down in my diary what had happened. I have four pages about one single night, most other entries being only half a page about a particular ordinary day. Ordinary for me.
Oh yes, and Viktor. He’s not in this picture, not yet. He was away with some things, can’t remember what and didn’t write anything about it, but we usually went to visit relatives around Christmas, either before or after, so I’m guessing that’s where he was. Although pretty late in winter, it wasn’t unusual.
I went inside the room and Regina was still sleeping. She had enough I figured. It was already pitch black outside and the clock was nearing 19:00. I laid down next to her and she woke then without saying anything. I just felt her grabbing my arm and pulling me closer.
“Wake up. We have to go.”
And she was up.
We spent another half an hour with my family, time in which she actually made herself more likeable towards my parents, and as a token of humanity (I’m guessing here) she even drank a glass of wine with father. After that, we were once again headed for Blanche’s house.
When we got there, Regina was back within her normal “character” acting all bossy and investigative and suspicious, but confident. I remember her change to this day. She always, always did that. Double, triple, quadruple personality. She could change in an instant from very sad to very happy, from very angry to very calm, from really tired to full of energy and so on and so forth. Instantly. Whenever the situation required it, she provided.
In any case what follows next is not easy for me to disclose… I’m still not sure whether I should or shouldn’t because it’s a bit of a gray area for me. It’s about Blanche.
Maybe I should.
When we arrived there Regina entered the house without knocking, without asking permission, without letting anyone know she’s around. She casually entered the house like it was her own, and Blanche, when seeing her, froze.
They didn’t meet that often you see, and for the first time I could see the bond between the maker and the offspring. It shouldn’t be so strong. It’s un-natural. I kept telling myself, and still do to this day, that it shouldn’t be anything special. It doesn’t add up, from a biological point of view, the attachment. But for the first time, I could see that what in Viktoria was long gone, transformed instead into pure submission and respect.
Blanche was just staring at her, without blinking and for a second there I’m pretty sure I saw tears in her eyes. I mean she barely KNEW her but was so happy at the sight of Regina that Dino (from the Flintstones, when seeing Fred) was nothing compared to her.
But instead of pure submission and respect, this was love. This was pure, untamed love and care for her….. I don’t really know what Regina was for her at that time. But I’ll tell you this: the bond that the maker forms with his offspring, that is not easily broken, if ever.
Regina knew. She recognized exactly and was very familiar with what Blanche was experiencing. None of them said anything, until Blanche tried hugging Regina.
“Don’t push it.”
Blanche stopped, but was still having problems controlling her emotions. That wasn’t really a characteristic of a vampire, or Blanche. She was NEVER, EVER emotional, not at that level, with anyone. I mean the girl was entertaining the idea of getting rid of her parents a few days ago…
But enough with that. I just wanted you to understand the bond between maker and offspring, and how it changes in time. How it starts and what it becomes. I also want you to understand that Regina has this bond with all of them. Every single one of them is a descendant of Regina, but the further down you go down the line, the more diluted it becomes, as such, only first degree (her direct offspring) really share a strong connection, as this one, with her.
Regina walked inside the living room where Blanche’s parents were waiting patiently, untied and composing themselves. With one look at them she said: “They can live.”
Her parents were both horrified and tremendously happy with “the decision”. It was that easy for her. That’s how Regina treated life. And you know why? Not because she was a monster. Because she could give it as easily as she could take it. Because when you have the power of destroying while in the same time have the power of creating, they stop looking so special, and you can just exercise them as you please.
Because, if you judge Regina by that logic, then you can also judge any other mother on the face of the Earth. How? By using stupid logic. And the stupid logic here is: The moment a woman gives life to a child, she also condemns him to die in the same time. Because we all die, don’t we? So the one who creates, also destroys, because brining any mortal soul into the world is a sentence to death in itself.
So you see, Regina was no different. She could offer life – be it eternal or saving one in need – or she could take it.
But the parents, they didn’t even know that the option of their demise was ‘on the table’. They were grateful nonetheless, and composed enough to say thank you.
“However, there’s a price.” – Regina added after spirits calmed down.
She was pacing from one corner to the other, until she stopped in front of Blanche.
“Blanche needs to die.” – She said.
I, we all, gasped.
“No. She needs to disappear. Die for you, not actually die.” – She added.
We were still confused.
I approached Regina with the intent of appeasing her, but she didn’t need that. She knew exactly what she wanted, and didn’t let me speak.
“You cannot live as a vampire surrounded by humans who know what you are. We already made that compromise with your two closest friends. Four humans are already too much, and it’s already about time you paid your debt. You knew there was a time when you would need to disappear, from the lives of everyone. That time is now. And rest assured, this moment would have came sooner or later even without my intervention. I say we expedite the process and solve this problem.” Her monologue was over.
We were still looking at her in a very confused way. I couldn’t understand what the hell she meant.
“Tomorrow Blanche will be declared dead, by a legal practitioner, in a car accident that just happened three minutes ago.” She said.
(The accident actually happened much later.)
“You will deny any autopsy and will perform a traditional burial, closed casket because of wounds and everything, or open if you think you can pull that off.” – Regina added.
“Then Blanche will be buried and you’ll never see her again, but she’ll live.” – Regina continued but we were still confused. The idea she was trying to convey was so… alien to us that we just couldn’t wrap our heads around it.
She saw us staring at her and just added casually.
Her parents, naturally, tried opposing and offering all kinds of alternatives but Regina wouldn’t budge. Blanche needed to go, forever. Either now, or five years later, it didn’t matter, because Blanche was still a teenager, and although not a full vampire yet (and still aging) it wouldn’t be long until everybody would notice she didn’t age a bit. Teenagers age rapidly, she didn’t. She had at most three years left to stay, and we all knew it.
“Are you really going to bury me or…?” Blanche intervened.
“Yes. You’ll stay there in a casket and let everyone say their goodbyes, then you’ll be buried and someone will get you out.” Regina said.
And Blanche just… nodded. She actually agreed and trusted Regina with her life. Unbelievable. I wouldn’t let myself buried even if my parents would promise me to get me out, not to mention a girl who I just met not long ago… But then again, Regina did pull me out of a crypt when she didn’t know me at all.
“Don’t worry” – Regina was addressing her parents – “Blanche will live a very, very long life and maybe, just maybe, years from now, depending on how events unfold, you’ll see her again.”
It was a very hard thing to accept for anyone, even for me (although I knew I would see her again), but for her parents? I couldn’t fathom the idea of accepting such a thing as a parent. But they did. And it was done.
The next morning Blanche was declared dead and preparations started to be made. The tradition in Romania dictates that the dead must be kept for three days and three nights inside their house, with someone watching over them at all times. This is a contested tradition with different extensions or modifications depending on the part of the country, but in essence it’s the same. Nobody knows where exactly it comes from, but a few tens of thousands of elders from all the corners of the country in each and every village will somewhat explain that “the dead need to be taken care of so we can be sure they are really dead.”
You need to read this as: “We want to make sure he won’t rise as the undead.” They aren’t afraid that the dead was mispronounced dead and is actually alive, they are afraid the dead might come back to haunt them. Again, see the Petre Toma case, and most importantly, see the movie “Strigoi” – the movie is very good, and although a crude representation of what a vampire is thought to be by some, it shows the “watching over the dead” tradition really well. Bonus points for being a Romanian production, 2009.
Some people play poker on the dead. And I’m not even joking.
I’m not making this stuff up. Go to any Romanian forum, or ask on any website that will give you an answer from someone living in Romania, and they will tell you that this is the way people are traditionally buried in rural Romania. Of course there are morgues and autopsies in bigger towns, where people live in apartments. But in smaller ones, roughly the size of Sighisoara and smaller, the tradition is pretty much alive and few people opt for keeping the dead in a morgue for three days, and instead keep them at home.
But enough with the tradition. Back to Blanche.
The next morning like I said, Blanche was officially declared dead by a medic brought in specially for this, if you know what I mean, and then the next day people started coming in at the house, offering their condolences and everything, hovering above the casket and offering condolences again. Blanche didn’t need to get inside until the day of the burial, which would be performed with an open casket, just before closing it, nailing it shut and walking it to the grave. Everything was by the book and I felt… really awkward. I mean I had heard of fake deaths, and seen a lot of movies, but doing this for a friend, and actually pulling it off, this was something else.
And the accident in which she supposedly died? That was real too, and I don’t really know how Regina took care of it, but she didn’t call anyone or leave my side for too long, I don’t know who contacted her or how this worked, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the first time she did it, or any other vampire for that matter, and I was actually surprised they didn’t have a hotline to call or some “clean-up team”. I was rather confident this was done on a daily basis in the kinship.
Nonetheless, a day before the burial I tried convincing Regina that maybe this wasn’t the best way, that maybe Blanche should stay and enjoy three more years in the town, that maybe, maybe, maybe.
Regina didn’t say much about it really, didn’t agree or disagree. She just casually steered the way (we were having a walk) up the very same steps that we first met. The steps with which this story begins. And as a matter of fact, when I went home this summer, I climbed the same steps and took a video of it.
At the end of those steps, about 50 meters there’s a road to the right at the half of which there’s a big, black, iron gate that marks one of the entrances to the old cemetery. We went in there.
“Regina… I think one cemetery is enough for this week. We’ll be in another one in just two days…” I said while continuing to follow her casually.
She didn’t say anything and just continued walking…
We walked casually, continuing to talk about various things, among which the prevailing topics were who was behind the attack on Blanche… we considered different possibilities but Regina knew better who would have the motive so I didn’t really focus on that.
We also discussed the fact that this was a first, someone attacking a direct offspring of hers, in her own home, without permission, an offspring that wasn’t even fully a vampire yet. By Regina’s calculations, she explained, this broke about every rule in the book, and whoever was behind it, will pay dearly, because this was as personal as it got. To be honest, she seemed to take everything personal.
In any case, the other prevailing topic was the one being pushed by myself, the fact that the idea of Blanche being buried didn’t sit too good in my mind, and I wanted us to discuss alternatives, which we certainly did.
But Regina continued walking, and then she stopped and turned towards me. She waited until I finished talking…
“…and I really think this is un-necessary and you’re just being way too impulsive….” I was saying, when she finally interrupted.
“The problem with humans is that they get too comfortable with their lives and fail to understand that everything changes, and they need to change with it, or become artifacts of the past.” – Regina said.
“And even if Blanche were to stay here, how long do you think it would be until she would be forced to leave because it would become too apparent that she’s not like the others?” – She continued…
“And how do you know that this is better for her, clinging to what once was, rather than looking ahead and preparing for what’s coming?” – She said.
“I would think that of all humans, you would have a better understanding of this. Not because you’re special, don’t flatter yourself. But because you’ve seen the other side of things. You can’t have the cake and eat it too I believe the saying goes, and it’s true. Sometimes. Like now.” – She was still going on in a monologue, but everything she said clicked, and made sense. The more she talked, the better I felt about the situation. But that wasn’t enough for her. Regina was the man with the plan, and she had brought me there for a reason.
“Plus, I wouldn’t do something like this if it weren’t absolutely necessary, and when it is necessary… when life asks you to leave…. you have to leave.” She stopped.
And with that her gaze got lost in the horizon, above my right shoulder… and slowly turned her head to her left… and looked very closely to what was there.
I followed her line of sight… and just when I thought I had seen them all, this thing shocked me more than it should have. The very foundation on which my beliefs about life, death, and the natural order of things, was shaken, by a mere token….
A tombstone.[audio http://k006.kiwi6.com/hotlink/epe1dhpu3d/01_-_prelude.mp3]
“You see my love… sometimes you have to give up what you have and what you love, to continue having them in a different way, in the future… because life… life goes on with or without you anyway.”
And as I laid there with my mouth open, Regina cleared the base of the crypt, and laid the flower that she had with her. One, single, lilac flower. Don’t know where she got it during that season, and there it was. Of all the flowers, of all the colors, of all the smells, she picked lilac. I’m more of a lavender kind of guy.
I still had no words to describe or to respond at what I was seeing and at what she was trying to tell me. I understood everything at that point. Everything that she said earlier, and everything that needed to be done for Blanche.
And laying there staring at an empty grave… I couldn’t help but think…
“The more you know, the more you don’t know” – Aristotle. This guy was on to something.
And there you have it, the story of the city with tombstones for the living.