This is the story of my life, and my undeath.
As I write these words, though the incidents I describe are five decades past and longer, the memories are as clear as if they happened yesterday. I do not understand this compulsion to record my life history in such detail; all I know is that I must fulfill it.
My name at birth was Michelle Rebecca Tereza Visconti: Michelle for my mother's grandmother, who died shortly before I was born; Rebecca for my mother's mother, a grand woman who died before I was ten; Tereza for Saint Theresa, as it was customary to take the name of a martyred saint; and Visconti, being my father's family name. Since then I have taken many other names, Michelle Brown, Amelia Brandewyne, Helen Price, and lastly Morgana Black, but the names do not truly matter as long as the person inside changes not.
My father, Frederico Visconti, was an aide to the chief of staff at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, where he met my mother, Victoria Brown. His duties were vague and kept him away from home a lot, which pleased mother, who was left to freely develop her friends and pursuits as she wished. I remember my father as being gallant, and yet a little distant, something of a mystery that we later discovered the secret of, all to our sorrow.
My mother was a young daughter of Representative Jacob Brown of Massachusetts, one of the ‘late-comers' in Boston politics, being Irish-Catholic, yet connected by his mother's family directly to the old bloods of the Mayflower. She was a strong willed and stubborn woman, who found in Frederico someone who did not place many restrictions on her activities, so long as they did not cause him undue embarrassment.
My parents met at a diplomatic ball in Washington, in early 1908; I still have the old photograph of my mother dressed for the occasion. It was a reasonably brief but evidently satisfying courtship; they were married a year later, a marriage deemed ‘most suitable' by the families on both sides of the aisle.
I was born just ten months later; it was a difficult birth, and mother was warned not to consider having any further children. Fortunately, for them I was enough, taking after both parents, with my father's black hair and eyes and my mother's fair skin and slight frame.
We grew up happy, those first few years after my birth: Washington was still a sleepy little Southern town in the years before the Great War, so there was little to distract us, even though the events of the world were quickly bidding to change all of that. The only major problem we encountered was my early allergy to dust and dirt, an ever present scourge in Washington.
In 1917, when America stood on the brink of declaring war against the Axis powers, it was revealed that my father was the head of an Axis spy ring, operating out of the Italian embassy. He was declared persona non grata and he and his family were ordered to leave the country. Mother refused to go; using what little prestige and influence remained to her (her father having left office due to illness three years previous) she was able to obtain a formal separation (although not an official divorce from the Catholic Church) from her husband and to remain in America.
In response Mother left the Church. She legally changed our last names to her maiden name, Brown, and remained in Washington, living on the remains of her dowry and savings and what small rewards she could make as a still-renowned society hostess, augmented by teaching at the Stanton Academy for Women. She refused to return to Boston, feeling rightly that she would have little support for her independent ways there, and so cut off all further ties with her family.
For all the scandal, we were held blameless by Washington society, largely because of mother's spirited appeal to the patriotism of her audience and their unspoken desire not to have to expose a defenseless young woman (myself) to the unknown rigors of a foreign and possibly hostile alien society. The fact that neither my mother or myself had learned more than a few words of Italian, something encouraged by my father, which now I see as a guard against our discovering his true occupation, played no small part in the decision.
This, then, was the situation I grew up in: classes by day at the Stanton Academy for Women (deportment, grooming), then, by evening, first, periodic meetings of the suffrage movement and temperance union, and then later, the incessant round of diplomatic dances and balls. My mother maintained high hopes of marrying me to a prominent official or diplomat, to make up for the restricted childhood I was forced to endure. I, by that time, had other plans.
It was in my teens, by assisting in the production of an amateur theatrical production of Sophocles at the Academy (Shakespeare being deemed inappropriate for the instruction of young ladies at the time), that I first learned of my fascination for the stage. It was an outlet that I discovered my mother and I shared, and we started taking in theater performances regularly, yet I longed to do more that just watch. Since actors and the theater occupied a very different (and much lower) social class than I was supposed to maintain, I was forced to work secretly backstage as a costumer (my mother's insistence on my learning the domestic arts aided me considerably there), never knowing then the joys of appearing before an audience.
My interests developed and deepened. After watching a spectacular performance of sleight-of-hand magic and escapes by the famous Houdini I became utterly fascinated by magic: the appeal of casting such an illusion over an audience captivated me more than merely acting before them. Spiritualism was also in fashion in Washington then, and the possibility and powers of the unknown also intrigued me. I quickly learned to distinguish the two, but both became matters of prime interest to me, so much so that they would one day become the entire focus of my life.
As I grew older, my mother became more and more involved with her charity work and other pursuits, and more and more distant: there were long stretches when I saw her perhaps once or twice a week, or else regularly surrounded by a horde of similar women, discussing (and arguing about) politics in the parlor. I maintained my studies at the Academy, then later at the small local liberal arts college, funded by an endowment by my grandmother Rebecca.
Secretly, I was able to obtain a number of magic tricks, and I learned how to perform them for the small circle of friends I had developed, after swearing them to uttermost secrecy. This became our symbol of rebellion: while our mothers were down in the parlor discussing 18th and 19th Amendments, our small circle of young ladies were upstairs playing with a Ouija board or watching me perform my limited number of magic tricks, reading Balzac and Shakespeare aloud, or gossiping.
My mother died in 1934 of tuberculosis, when I was 24. By then I had openly maintained a shadow of my independence for several years, yet still depended on her support. It was bitterly sad to watch her deteriorate in her last months of life.
I can remember staring at mother's coffin in the small room of the funeral home, all alone. The only people to come to the funeral were mother's suffragette and Temperance Union friends and representatives from the charities she had supported; both her family and father's family could not or would not attend.
The lawyer who had handled mother's estate had said most of mother's remaining money had been willed to the various causes she had supported: women's suffrage, the Temperance Union, the various public charities she lavishly donated to. There was only a mere pittance left for me, even after I had sold the modest brownstone home we had shared in Georgetown.
I did not truly mind. For the first time in my life I was truly free, free of responsibility to my mother, free to make of my own life as I saw fit. I took the envelope with the remaining money from the lawyer, picked up the two small suitcases of all my worldly possessions, stepped a cab, and instructed the driver to drive me to the King Theater. There was someone there that I wanted to meet.
His name was Thomas Carleton, except on stage, where he was billed as The Amazing Carltoni. I stood in the wings as he finished his act. His current assistant was quitting soon because of an illness, I had learned; I was also amused to learn, through more private channels, that the ‘illness' was likely to last the next nine months or so. I had obtained a recommendation from the owner of the theater, he being the father of one of the women in my circle, as an introduction.
"Thomas Carleton?" I asked as the magician and his assistant walked past me. "Victor King said you might be needing an assistant, and recommended that I speak to you."
Thomas gallantly shook my hand as his assistant continued on to their dressing room. Up close, he was older than I had assumed earlier: the lines in his face were not obvious from a distance but were still apparent, and the tremors in his hand, while not visible from offstage, were painfully visible up close. Still, he did not smell of cheap liquor as Victor had warned, and he looked at my hands with a professional's appraising stare and not elsewhere.
"So, my dear, you're looking for a job. Victor recommended you to me, did he, and I have every confidence in his recommendations. Have you worked for anyone else in the trade before?"
I could only shake my head. "I've practiced some magic alone and before friends," I continued quickly.
"A little practice is a dangerous thing," cackled Thomas. "Now, let's see what else you've got. Show me how you walk: I've had too many prospective assistants who couldn't take two steps in a row without tripping over themselves."
I took off my coat and dropped it to the floor. Thomas eyed me calmly, although I thought I could see a faint appreciative glimmer in his eyes for the way I arranged for my shining black hair to fall about my shoulders. I paced confidently several steps forwards and backwards, finally thankful of my tedious hours of lessons in deportment at the Stanton Academy for Ladies, until Thomas waved a hand and motioned me towards him.
"We'll need something a little more appropriate for the stage for you to wear, Michelle." He smiled, revealing a mouth of surprisingly white teeth. "I doubt you'll fit into my previous assistant's outfits," he said, holding his hand about three or four inches above my head and frowning and shaking his head. I smiled in embarrassment, which provoked a smile of greater warmth from Thomas. "Not to worry, Michelle, size is not important on stage; it is the way you carry yourself that impresses the audience."
"Well, I think I could be able to alter your assistant's outfits; I can sew very well."
His smile brightened. He ushered me into their dressing room, closed the door and indicated for me to sit down in one of the chairs. "Did you see my act?" he asked, sitting down before the makeup mirror. I answered that I had arrived too late that evening to see anything but his exit.
"In my act, my assistant plays the part of the Harried Assistant, to my playing the Absent-Minded Magician. Do you feel up to that?"
I knew enough of the stage to recognize the parts and the general act they presented. My reaction was to roll my eyes upward and groan silently.
Thomas' answering chuckle returned my attention to him; he was gazing intently at me in the mirror. "Those marvelously expressive eyes and eyebrows are a large part of the reason I'm considering you.
"The job requires a great deal of concentration and coordination; we'll have to spend a lot of hours to train you for our first appearance together. It's hard work if you're to do it properly. Still want the job?"
I smiled grimly. "I'll do it," I replied, nodding my head.
"Butterflies, Michelle?" asked Thomas as we waited in the wings before their first performance together. I gulped nervously and nodded.
"There is nothing to worry about, my dear Michelle; all you must remember is that an audience is yours to command."
The trained dog act ahead of us finished, and announcer introduced "The Amazing Carltoni" as the stagehand placed the magician's work table in the center of the stage. Thomas stepped on stage with the confidence born of many previous such entrances while I waited in the wings, listening to the polite applause at Thomas' entrance and waiting for my cue to enter.
Thomas sneezed, excused himself, saying "You'll have to excuse me; I'm allergic to dogs," and pulled a silk handkerchief from thin air to blow his nose. Then, with every movement of his hands, he immediately manifested another handkerchief. The audience began to laugh as his demeanor went from surprise to obvious irritation at the seemingly endless stream of manifestations. He began rapidly throwing them into a convenient top hat on his table, finishing with the surprise appearance of a white dove from his last handkerchief. "Or was it allergic to doves? I can never remember," he said, stifling another sneeze. He looked off stage and motioning towards me. "Michelle? Oh Michelle!"
That was my cue to enter, carrying the dove's cage. I checked my costume one brief, final, time, then picked up the cage and rushed on stage to the remains of the applause for Thomas' trick.
Even to this day I cannot remember the first few minutes after I walked out on stage, although Thomas never complained about my performance, but whether through politeness or competence I never knew. All I remember is the sound of the light applause in my ears and the rapt, expectant looks in the audience's eyes, and the sudden realization that this is where I wanted to be, where I was meant to be, working before an audience.
The next thing I do remember was a gentle nudge on my elbow as ‘The Amazing Carltoni' said "You all know money is tight these days. I suppose you think magicians can make money appear with a wave of their hands. Well, you're right." That was my cue to quickly pick up a brass bowl from the work table, letting it seemingly turn upside down by accident as I did so. He absently began to conjure a series of coins which he tossed into the bowl. I was supposed to catch the coins in the bowl; with each toss I shook the bowl to produce the sound of the coin dropping into it.
"But I'll have you know," he continued, embarrassed, as he tossed coin after coin into the bowl, "that I've been trying to (clunk) work my way up to dollars (clunk) for years and I still haven't been able to make anything (clunk) better than pennies and nickels appear."
Then suddenly no more coins appeared. "I seem to have broken the bank," said Thomas in mock surprise, looking at his hand. I looked inside the bowl and shook it so that the sound of coins rattling around the bottom could be heard around the auditorium. Behind Thomas' back I tried to pour the coins into my hand, but I held the bowl upside down and nothing came out. The audience laughed at my affected exasperated look. I set the bowl down with a sigh, only to hear Thomas say "You know, there's nothing like a good smoke to relax you after working hard to make money, but I've been trying to cut back."
He gestured, and a lit cigarette appeared in his right hand. I snatched a tray from the table and held it pointedly to his right with a sigh of resignation. He took a deep pull from the cigarette, exhaled a fine stream of smoke, and snubbed the cigarette out on the tray. Five more lit cigarettes, one after another, then appeared in his hand. "As you can see, I'm having a little trouble quitting," he said in embarrassment. The audience chuckled in response. He took a brief puff from each cigarette, then carefully extinguished them in the tray.
He finished by manifesting a large cigar, and I winced in anticipation as Thomas took a large puff, blew a large smoke ring, then passed the cigar through the ring and made it disappear, saying "Now a cigar, on the other hand, should be saved and savored again." I had been expecting it to explode, a surprise he had pulled on me when practicing some days earlier.
The rest of the act proceeded at the same alternating hectic and relaxed pace, finishing by Thomas taking every bowl, tray, and basket from the table and placing them into a large cylindrical army satchel bag. Thomas then started to leave the stage, saying "Come along, Michelle" and motioning me to pick up the satchel and follow.
I rolled my ‘marvelously expressive eyes' skyward and mimed failing to lift the supposedly heavy satchel, knowing that he had passed the contents to a stagehand behind the curtain through a panel in the satchel. Thomas stopped and watched me attempt to lift the satchel several times, then returned to stand over me, shaking his head. I looked up at him in resignation, spreading my hands and shrugging my shoulders. He lifted a finger, motioning me to stand aside. Standing over the satchel, he made a series of mystic gestures, then suddenly collapsed the satchel by pressing in on it from both ends. The satchel collapsed into a flat, round bundle with one handle obligingly left erect. Thomas indicated for me to pick it up, and I did so easily. Together we proudly left the stage arm in arm to the audience's loud applause.
‘The Amazing Carltoni and Michelle' played the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest vaudeville houses and theaters for the next few years, just making ends meet, secretly assisted by my dwindling legacy from my mother. The road was difficult to Thomas; although he never drank, the effects of his history of drinking were always evident to my eyes.
However, he did give me a sketchy education in stage magic, primarily in poise and presence. "Height doesn't matter, Michelle, only presence," he would remind me, over and over, noting that the great Houdini was barely a few inches taller than myself.
It was on the night train from Kenton, Ohio to a performance in Chicago, that Thomas Carleton performed his last act, a disappearance that all mortals perform at the end of their lives. When the train arrived at Union Central station, I tried to shake Thomas awake, only to find his body growing cold in his berth. My despairing scream brought the conductor and porters to find me weeping over his bed.
It took most of our money, but Thomas was buried in a small cemetery under a spreading tree, as he had long desired. I had him buried in his top hat and best performing clothes, a pack of cards placed in his hands. A few of his brethren in the trade appeared at the grave, soberly and somberly talking of his performances and giving advice and support to me, who had long since burned away my tears for him.
As I left the gravesite, alone, I was met by our local booking agent, who had advised me that he had booked another act to replace us. I met his kindly but saddened face with a fiery stare.
"I'm not going to fold now, Mr. Peters; I'm going on. It's the least I can do to honor him," I said, tossing my head over my shoulder back towards the grave.
"I don't know if I have any suitable bookings for a lady," he began, but I cut him off.
"Whatever the venue, I'll do it," I said firmly; "you just get me a stage and an audience."
The agent, somewhat taken aback, nodded.
I remember well the night I met Gregory, the night that started my long gestation that culminated in my Embrace.
I was playing one of a series of small nightclubs and theaters around Chicago, billed as the Mysterious Michelle. That night I was on my last night in a theater favored by sailors on evening passes from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station further north on the lake.
I liked to use a volunteer from the audience in the latter part of the act. This night I was quickly answered by the man I pointed out, a tall, gangly sailor. I nodded to him as he stepped up on stage, introduced him to the audience, then proceeded to pull a series of coins, eggs, and finally a length of women's hose from his ears, mouth, and pants pocket respectively, all to the hoots and shouts of laughter from his mates in the audience. The sailor accepted the embarrassment good-naturedly, a silly smile plastered on his face that mirrored my infectious own.
The crowd's laughter resounded around the stage as I next used the sailor to assist me in a series of routine rope and handcuff escapes. The audience was easily impressed, as enthralled as the sailor by my presence and routine.
After several minutes, I thanked the sailor, who stepped off stage to the applause of the audience and the heckles from his mates. I bowed slightly, receiving the applause, as I performed one last trick, the appearance of an unending stream of silk handkerchiefs, my silent tribute to Thomas, then I bowed deeply and stepped back into the wings amidst a roar of applause, stealing one last bow as I did so.
Behind me the projection screen was lowered and the projector started the evening's feature film as I walked slowly to my cramped dressing room, still basking the adoration of the crowd.
Immediately upon reaching my dressing room, I sat down at my makeup table and began brushing my fashionable shoulder-length bobbed black hair, plucking the stray hairs from the brush and fastidiously placing them in the wastebasket. I stopped when I saw the dressing room door open in my mirror, and turned to face the intruder.
"What are you doing here?" I asked accusingly, holding the hairbrush accusingly.
The man in a dark trenchcoat took off his hat and bowed, closing the door behind him. "Miss Michelle Brown? My name is Gregory Harris." He had a bright smile in a lined but still strong face elegantly enhanced by his well-kept greying brown hair and mustachio, and his eyes were a startling blue. "I believe you have a tremendous future in the business."
I tossed my head dismissively by means of reply.
"You're very good, my dear;" he continued, "far too good for the likes of these," he said, waving his hand to indicate the crowd outside.
"I take what jobs are out there," I replied defensively. "They aren't easy to come by these days; everyone's too worked up about the Nazis and Nips and who knows what else."
"Just the reason people need entertainment: they want and need to take their minds away from such depressing thoughts. There is a great demand for quality acts, and I could help you meet that demand," he said, smiling to me for the first time.
I raised one eloquent eyebrow and politely snorted.
"Perhaps I should have introduced myself further. I am also known as," pulling an engraved card from thin air with his elegantly gloved fingers and presenting it to me, "the Great Gregory," he replied.
I stared in surprise at the card and at the man. The Great Gregory, I knew, agented locally for such acts as the famous magicians Dante and Cardini, after he had retired after a successful career on the stage. If there was anything even remotely close to a local legend in the magic business, he was it. Wide-eyed, I nodded to him to sit down.
"Where, might I ask, did you learn your routine?" he asked, sitting down beside her.
"A lot of places," I replied absently; "mostly I watch other magicians; if you don't get distracted by their patter you can learn a lot by observation."
"More than you learned from Thomas Carleton?"
I stopped and started at Gregory. "Thomas never taught me any of my routines," I countered harshly. "He taught me how stand and move on stage and how to work a crowd, for which I will be eternally grateful, but he never taught me my routines. Everything I do I learned on my own."
"You will learn a lot more through competent instruction, my dear. Since this is your last night performing here, now is the perfect opportunity. I will expect you tomorrow evening." He indicated his address on the card he had given me, an apartment house in the bustling theater district. "Be there at seven sharp."
I turned the card over in my hand and looked dubiously towards Gregory.
"Please, Miss Brown, I have no dishonorable intentions towards you, however attractive that I find you, only that I see a diamond in the rough and am prepared to invest my time to refine and expand your capabilities." He smiled engagingly; I felt the honesty of his words despite my doubts and was surprised to find myself nodding in agreement.
"In the mean time, my dear, I suggest you peruse this book." He pulled out a small book from his coat pocket and handed it to me. The title read Blackstone's Modern Card Tricks. I opened it, and on the flyleaf was an inscription: ‘To Gregory, for friendship. Harry.'
I glanced up at Gregory. "Harry Blackstone?" I said. Gregory nodded. "An old friend; we have traded many secrets over the years." I shook my head, blinking several times, then looked up at Gregory. "I'll be there," I said.
"Excellent. Until then, my dear, adieu." He kissed my fingertips, then turned and stepped out the door. I touched my fingertips, rubbing them almost in disbelief.
The very next evening I found myself standing at the stairs leading up to Gregory's brownstone apartment house. I had spent the whole day talking to anyone who had ever worked with Gregory, and wondering.
Everyone was very complimentary about Gregory. He had studied with the late Houdini, I was told by an old stage manager; no, he had taught Houdini, I was told by an agent who had booked both Houdini and Gregory. A third source said that he could remember seeing Gregory's last show on stage in the Gay 90s, where he had been the first local magician to cut a woman in two. Others hinted at secrets of magic from the Far East or occult powers; I was alternately disgusted or fascinated at such tales.
Someone came out of the doorway, and I rushed up the stairs to catch the door before it closed without thinking. In the stairwell I pulled out his business card and read again his room number, then started up the short flight of stairs.
I stopped on the third floor landing; Gregory's apartment was one of four on this floor. I knocked sharply on his door and heard Gregory calling from within, saying "The door is open, come right in, my dear."
I opened the door and stepped into the living room, to find a bachelor's rats-nest of piles of periodicals and ranks of ancient steamer trunks on the floor. A single path from the door divided in the middle of the room, one apparently leading to the kitchen, and one to a closed door directly across the room from which Gregory was calling me.
I made my way carefully to the closed door, which opened just as I approached. Gregory stood in the doorway, dressed in a shabby Edwardian smoking jacket; he waved me to come into the room.
It was a large windowless room; the only light were several carefully maintained electric lamps on the wall. All around the room, on tables pushed against the wall or hanging from the walls themselves, was a fascinating assortment of magic paraphernalia; decks of cards, ropes, balls, silk handkerchiefs, Chinese jars, linking rings. I also recognized a coffin and a guillotine pushed against the fall wall from the performances of a local magician whom I realized must have been a previous pupil of the Great Gregory. The one concession to the occupant was a marquee poster tacked to the far wall, announcing to the world that "For One Night Only, the Great Gregory!" was appearing at the Roxy.
Gregory waited for me to finish looking about the room, then motioned me to stand beside him in the open center of the room.
"Now, Michelle, we'll start at the beginning. Let's see you do a simple card fan."
I looked about the room for the nearest deck of cards, but Gregory made a pass and seemingly pulled a pack out of the air. I was appreciative of the seemingly careless way Gregory performed the appearance. It seemed his talents had not deteriorated in the years since he left the stage.
I opened the pack and extracted the cards, examining them closely. To my examining eyes and fingers they were just a plain, ordinary deck of cards, completely familiar in my hand, and I fanned them cautiously through a half circle in my right hand and held them up for Gregory's inspection.
Gregory shook his head and clucked in disappointment. "No, like this," he said, taking the deck in his right hand and rapidly fanning them almost in an entire circle, then starting passing a series of fans from hand to hand in rapid succession. Then he returned them to his right hand and repeated the trick, slower, several times, before I felt confident to interrupt him.
I took the deck from him, held it a moment, then fanned it much farther but not quite the near-full circle Gregory had shown. I looked up at Gregory's face, expecting disappointment, but he nodded instead and ordered me to repeat it, all the time instructing me on how to increase my range and speed. Inside an hour I was performing the trick exactly in time with Gregory, who earlier had pulled out another deck and was pacing me.
Gregory finally nodded with pride at me, then smiled broadly as I took his deck from his hand, fanning the two decks in both hands and finishing by shuffling the two together and then separating them.
"Very good, my dear Michelle."
I smiled in return.
"Practice that fan move for at least two hours tomorrow; both hands, mind you."
I dropped the decks into my purse, then looked up. Gregory was pulling down a set of linking rings from a hook on the wall. I suddenly had the feeling that this was going to be a long night.
All that week Gregory taught me the theory and techniques behind the basic sleight-of-hand tricks I had been using. In addition he instructed me on more advanced tricks: by the end of the week I was performing these new tricks with the same ease as those I worked before the audience just a week ago. He also tutored me on advanced methods of working an audience; my natural beauty and charisma went a long way to hold an audience during a performance, but he taught me the subtle arts of building and keeping the audience's attention and interest.
At the end of my second week of instruction Gregory surprised me by arranging a performance at a private dinner party and reception for a group of prominent theater owners. I was impressed at the familiarity Gregory had with the owners; he wandered among the different knots of conversation with me at his side, introducing me and allowing me to show off my new skills. As Gregory's protege I was readily accepted and I quickly obtained offers of several bookings, which Gregory handled for me.
The next several months were a whirlwind series of daily shows and practice and nightly lessons. Each evening Gregory would question me minutely about my performance of that afternoon, then critique my performance and offer suggestions and improvements. Periodically we would redesign and improve my act, adding more involved elements of magic as I mastered them.
One night a week, instead of teaching me, Gregory would take me to a variety of local theaters that advertised magic acts. We would set near the front, and Gregory would tutor me by pointing out to me elements of the act or the principles behind a particular trick.
Under Gregory's tutelage, I rapidly worked my way up in the business, playing several of the larger clubs and theaters in town. No longer having to perform for the sailors from the naval training base just north of the city, or the steel and construction workers south in Gary, I was performing before higher and higher levels of society.
Within a year I was the hottest magic act in Chicago and well-known throughout the Midwest. Gregory, I discovered, would use my popularity to forge business deals with theater owners: all he asked was a percentage. Not a percentage of the proceeds, but a percentage of the business itself. The owners eventually complied; it seemed to them a small price to pay for a true money-maker like me.
My talents blossomed, as did my confidence. As my confidence grew, so too I let my hair grow, until it was a black wave of night across my shoulders and down my back, framing my pale face and my deep black eyes. It was my pride, my flag of independence to the world.
I was a year under Gregory's tutelage when he introduced a new and different element into my act.
I knocked briefly and unlocked the door to Gregory's apartment: our long association having afforded a considerable familiarity between us. "Gregory?" I called cheerfully. A muffled response came from his workroom, and I crossed the room towards the door.
I entered his workroom, to find the tables and equipment pushed aside and a large couch and matching chair placed in the center of the room. I turned, puzzled, towards Gregory.
Gregory pulled out a crystal pendant from his pocket. "I've got something new to show you tonight, my dear. Have you ever seen a demonstration of stage hypnosis?"
I nodded. Thomas had taken me to see the famous Dr. Walford Bodie when he performed one of his spectacular electrical shows in New York. I had found stage hypnosis extremely fascinating, but I had never had the opportunity to investigate it further. Now, it appeared, I was to get the chance.
"Would you like to learn it Michelle? You have all the qualifications: charm, charisma, control. It would make a dramatic addition to your act."
I nodded assertively. Gregory smiled in return. "I thought you would," he said.
He had me stand erect before him, placing both hands on my shoulders. "Now, the first thing you must know is how to select a proper subject: you want someone who will fall under your hypnotic spell easily and quickly. Happily, the best people are the ones who normally sit in the front of an audience and volunteer for an act; you'll be able to recognize them by their expansive manners.
"After selection, you'll be able to maneuver them into concentrating on some object or yourself: I think you'll find that men would naturally tend to concentrate on your charms, so be prepared to make the best use of it.
"With their complete concentration you'll be able to hypnotize them quickly and easily. Once they are under a trance you'll be able to have them perform a series of feats beyond anything you've seen previously. After that, you can awaken them with no memory of their actions, and no ill effects."
Gregory stopped for a moment. "I'll explain everything in greater detail later, but I wanted to at least ensure that you understand that there is a great deal of work involved. Do you understand so far?"
I answered affirmatively.
"Now, to begin with, I'll teach you the hardest seeming but actually the easiest part of the whole act: how to hypnotize someone. And the best way to learn how to hypnotize someone is first learn what it is like to be hypnotized. Are you ready?"
I nodded, rapt in concentration upon Gregory.
He removed his right hand from my shoulder and let the crystal swing free on its chain before me. "Now, just watch the crystal."
I watched the crystal swinging before my eyes. I was barely conscious of Gregory's voice sounding softly in my ears, speaking of relaxation and sleep. I felt him start to gently sway me from side to side in time with the crystal, and I started to feel a warm, drowsy feeling creep up my body. My eyes blinked slowly once, twice, three times: on the fourth blink they closed fast. I felt my head droop forward, surrendering to the blissful, relaxed feeling I felt, and fell headlong into an ocean of sleep.
I blinked my eyes open. I found to my surprise that I was lying on the couch; Gregory was sitting in the chair next to the couch, gazing down at me.
"How do you feel, my dear?"
I stared for a moment. For some unknown reason I felt good; I felt my mouth frozen in a lopsided grin of pleasure, but couldn't say why.
My puzzled state brought a short chuckle from Gregory. "That's how most people feel after being hypnotized, Michelle," he said. "Tell me, what do you remember?"
I started to answer "nothing", then as if his words unlocked a hidden series of memories within me, I could remember his every word as I swayed, going deeper and deeper into a trance. I recalled him helping me to lay back onto the couch. I remembered the detached, drifting feeling I felt as he asked me about my past, my dreams, my desires; I spoke freely, without embarrassment, and I now blushed at having spoken so boldly.
"Don't worry, Michelle, I won't repeat anything of what you've said to me. As a matter of fact, consider it forgotten."
I nodded absently. He took my hand, gently drawing me to a sitting position and staring into my eyes.
"Still a bit fuzzy, aren't we?" he asked. He snapped his fingers in front of my face several times. "Michelle, wake up!" he commanded.
I shook my head, coming completely awake. "Whew," I breathed, running my hand through my hair and blinking, then turning to Gregory, smiling. "That was incredible!"
Gregory smiled broadly. "It's nice to know I haven't lost my touch." He pocketed the crystal. "That's all for tonight, Michelle: its later than you think." He opened his ornate pocket watch for me: I was startled to discover that I had spent the better part of an hour in a trance.
"Until tomorrow night, Michelle, I want you to read this." He handed me a small book entitled The Science of Hypnotism. He cautioned me to take most of what this book said with a large grain of salt. "Unfortunately there are very few reliable references on the subject," he said, "but this will help lay the groundwork. I'll give you more to read later."
I stuffed the book into my purse.
"Tomorrow we'll review what you've read, and I'll begin your training in earnest. In a couple of days I'll bring in a friend or two for you to practice on, and we'll talk later on how to integrate this into your act."
It was the first night of new engagement Gregory had arranged for me, after we had completely revamped my act. I was anxious to see how it would work.
I knew Gregory watched me from the wings as I stood confidently in the spotlight in the center of the stage, beginning my act. The small crowd was silent, hanging on my every word.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, tonight not only shall you see how the hand can fool the eye, but how the eye can fool the mind and how the mind can fool the hand."
I started with a few simple tricks, the legacy of my early career and the ones I felt most comfortable with. Then the tricks gradually became more elaborate, involving volunteers from the audience, whom I handled with exquisite ease with a bright smile that lit up my entire face.
Finally I came to my grand finale. I selected a volunteer from the audience just like Gregory had taught me, a young man from the front rows who had been very enthusiastic in his delight and applause at my act so far. I smiled at him and brought him up to stand directly before me at right angles to the audience as two stagehands brought a pair of sturdy chairs on stage, then stood back, waiting.
"What's your name?" I asked my volunteer.
"Mark," he replied.
"Mark," I repeated for the entire audience to hear. "Mark, could you believe that I could glue your hands together or suspend you between these two chairs straight as a board, by just the power of my will alone?"
He looked the two chairs dubiously and shook his head. "No, not really," he said, looking back at me.
"We shall see," I said mysteriously, tossing my head slightly and smiling and winking mischievously at him. Mark smiled easily in return.
My smile faded as I lightly took his hands in my own. "Put your hands together, like this, tightly," I said, pitching my voice deeper, becoming resonant, commanding.
Mark clasped his hands together before him as I instructed, and I lightly touched my fingertips to either side of his hands. I looked directly up at Mark, my wide dark eyes within their frame of pale flesh and midnight hair seeking out and capturing his gaze. "Now, look into my eyes; look deep, and keep looking, no matter what happens!
"As you look into my eyes and as I touch your hands, your hands are clenching tightly together; feel them, clenching tighter and tighter. No matter how hard you try, you cannot let go your hands. Try! The harder you try the tighter they clench, tighter and tighter!"
Mark fought to unclench his hands, grimacing with the effort and twisting his hands back and forth without success. There was a rustling from the audience as they tried to follow his gyrations.
After several moments I stopped his attempts to unclench his hands by pressing his hands together with my own. "Now relax; as you look into my eyes and as I take my hands away just relax and let your hands fall free. Keep looking into my eyes, and relax, just relax."
Mark blinked and stared at me in disbelief as I slowly pulled my hands apart, feeling his hands seemingly drop away from each other at my command to hang loosely at his sides. There was a murmur of surprise from the audience.
I reached up and gently laid my fingers on his shoulders. "Keep looking deep into my eyes: your eyes are getting heavy; your body is relaxing, growing heavy, tired; you're going to sleep now, deep, deep sleep; look deep into my eyes; go deep, deeply sleep."
I repeated my suggestions several times, softening my voice, making it soothing and intimate. Mark stared back in rapt concentration, and with each repetition his head would nod lower and lower to his chest and his eyes would blink and take longer and longer to open. The crowd was hushed, expectant.
Mark's eyes finally closed and his head slumped forward to his chest. I continued speaking softly to him, suggesting that his body was becoming rigid and immobile while stroking the sides of his arms and body with a light finger touch for emphasis. Mark's body quickly went stiffly erect, then with a dramatic gesture, I tapped Mark lightly on the forehead.
Mark briefly tottered backwards into the arms of the stagehands who had moved into place at my unseen signal just a moment before. The two stagehands lifted Mark by the shoulders and feet onto the backs of the chairs, holding them down so he would not overbalance them. Mark remained suspended, oblivious.
There was as wide smattering of applause, but I silenced it with a wave of my hand. The small orchestra responded with a drum roll as I, with the assistance of a stepstool, stepped upon Mark's stomach and stood there, smiling in triumph, proudly erect for a full ten seconds as the applause rose. I stepped off and bowed expansively in acknowledgement as the stagehands returned Mark to a standing position, where a few quick words served to awaken him. He returned to his seat with a quizzical look on his face as I took my bows amidst the thunderous applause as the curtain fell.
I met Gregory as I stepped back from the wings; he was nodding his head and smiling tightly at me, evidently very pleased with my performance.
I was pacing up and down the floor of the small hotel room where I had been living for the past few months. The previous night, at the end of my last performance of my latest booking, Gregory had told me to expect him this evening, to expect a surprise, and to be wearing my best dress. The surprise, he told me, was to explain why he had not obtained another booking for me when my present one was finished.
Gregory's surprises were always, well, surprising. The last time he had promised me a surprise he had arranged for me to assist the famous magician Cardini for one show when Swan, Cardini's wife and assistant, had fainted suddenly after a show and couldn't work the following evening: evidently Cardini and Gregory owed each other a favor or two. Cardini was so surprised backstage at the demonstration of my facility with the appearances that were his trademark that he almost lost his monocle staring at me, and his attitude towards me had progressed from open skepticism to outright pleasure at my performance beside him.
I stopped my pacing, deep in memory of that night, remembering how difficult I found it tucking my hair up under a small cap to wear Swan's page boy costume, walking on stage and calling out "Paging Mr. Cardini! Paging Mr. Cardini!", then assisting the seemingly tipsy magician with his endless series of mystifying (to himself as well as to the audience) appearances of cigarettes, balls, and handkerchiefs. Afterwards I suspected that my success that evening was more due to the combination of my being able to play the part of a page boy, as Cardini's wife did, because of my slight size, and my experience with Thomas, ‘The Amazing Carltoni', who used a similar act, than my own talents, but it was an excellent education.
There was a knock at the door. I ran to open it, to find Gregory and two other men waiting there. Gregory was wearing his finest tuxedo and overcoat, while the other men wore unremarkable suits and coats. Without a word, Gregory pointed to my coat and motioned me to accompany them.
At the corner was a large Dusenburg sedan. I was motioned inside the passengers' section along with Gregory and one of the other men; the second man stepped into the driver's seat and started the car.
I stared at Gregory and at the other man. Gregory was uncharacteristically reticent and silent, and the other man had pulled his hat down low over his eyes to hide his features. Neither spoke, and I felt it wiser to do the same.
The drive was fairly long, heading north to the richer suburbs of Chicago, finally turning into a walled estate and stopping before the main entrance of a large mansion. There were a number of large men guarding the door; I, now well familiar with concealment and hiding things, recognized that all were discretely armed. I felt a momentary thrill: I had lived several years in Chicago through the times of the many criminal gangs.
After we entered, the two men left Gregory and me alone in a small room off the main hall. I turned to Gregory with an inquiring look, but before I could speak he snapped his fingers before my eyes and held up his index finger. My eyes immediately focussed on his finger, watching it silently as he brought it down to touch my forehead. I suddenly felt relaxed, my tension and impatience held in abeyance; I knew he had triggered a post-hypnotic suggestion that he had used in the past to calm me before a performance. I trusted Gregory completely due to our long association so I did not feel threatened by his action, only curious.
"You have made me very proud of you, Michelle; remember that," he said gently. "But for now, don't say or do anything unless I give you the word." He stopped, pausing dramatically as I nodded in response. "It could cost you, and me, dearly to disobey," he continued balefully.
He slid off his coat and hung it neatly in the closet, and asked for mine. After it joined his coat there was a quiet knock at the door, and we turned to see a tall, thin man in the uniform and bearing of a major domo standing in the doorway.
"The Prince will see you now," he said pointedly towards Gregory and ignoring me. "This way." He turned, and Gregory took my arm and we followed. Wide-eyed, I slowly mouthed the word Prince? to Gregory, and he put his finger to his lips and shook his head: I nodded reluctantly. Fanciful visions of European nobility deposed by the war and taking up residence secretly in Chicago filled my thoughts.
We were led back into the mansion, to a set of double doors guarded by the two largest men I had ever seen. Our escort waved his hands and the doors were opened, then Gregory and I were admitted into a large ballroom.
I felt as if I had entered a fancy dress masque ball. Men and women in a wide range of formal dress, from modern to medieval, were arrayed about the room in large and small knots of conversation. The sound of a waltz played softly in the background, and a few couples were dancing, oblivious to the world. Everyone else turned and stared at our procession as we were led towards a crowd of men standing at the far end of the room.
Glancing from side to side I was particularly drawn to and repelled by a raffish-looking group of young men in tuxedos standing off to one side of the room. They were glaring at me and Gregory as we advanced across the room. I could almost feel the stare of their leader: his dark red hair and blue eyes seemed to burn at me as I walked by.
When we approached the far end of the room, the men standing there parted. I finally saw who sat there, sitting on a dias very much like a prince, and I ignored every one else in the room. This was a man that was every inch royalty, from his icy blue gaze to his erect, commanding bearing and preemptory air of supreme confidence: the very sight of him took my breath away. I stood in wide-eyed awe like a silly schoolgirl meeting a movie star as Gregory was bid to approach the dias with a wave of the man's hand.
"Your Highness, I crave a boon," asked Gregory in the humblest voice I had ever heard him use, after he had approached and bowed low in respect. Gregory's voice carried a hint of accent, something European I thought, that I had never heard there before.
The Prince stared at Gregory and at me for a very long moment. All sound in the room seemed to stop in my ears. Then, in a flat, ringing voice, the Prince spoke. "Your request is known to Us, Pygmalion," he replied, chuckling low, "and for services rendered in the past and in expectations of similar services in the future, We have deemed it acceptable." The Prince then turned his head to speak to one of the men around him by way of dismissal.
Gregory bowed his head in response and sighed visibly in relief. He backed away three steps, bowed from the waist, then turned back towards me, triumph and delight in his broad smile. He quieted my questions with a brief shake of his head as we crossed the room to leave by a side door into a quiet hallway. On the other side of the door Gregory stopped and breathed a sigh of relief.
"What was all of that about?" I asked sharply. "And who was that?"
"All in good time, Michelle," replied Gregory; "all will be revealed in good time."
Gregory opened the first door in the hall and we stepped into a small antechamber. When he turned the lights on, I gasped to see a bundled figure lying on a couch across the room: I recognized the man's face as Mark, the man from my performance finale the first night of my last engagement.
"I thought it appropriate to use him, Michelle."
I turned to face Gregory, my eyes darting about the room as I clutched her shoulders and shivered. Gregory smiled in return, a friendly smile that grew more predatory as two long fangs were revealed below his upper lip.
I paled in fear momentarily, then rallied: I closed my eyes and began laughing, forcing humor to thrust aside my mounting hysteria that had cancelled the effects of Gregory's earlier post-hypnotic suggestion. "Is this some sort of joke?" I said amidst laughs.
Gregory grabbed me by the shoulders with surprising strength and shook me roughly. I glared back at him, then tried to recoil as a red light shone from his eyes, the laughter now frozen on my lips.
That single word from Gregory rang through my mind. I felt my fear and anger melt away uncontrollably, my body going limp at the sound of that word. I felt numb, my emotions surfacing again only after Gregory had slid down the collar of my gown and bared my shoulders. I weakly swung my hand at him, and he neatly grabbed it, pinning it against my side. I shook my head from side to side, avoiding his presence.
He caught my head in one powerful hand, forcing me to look at him. My eyes were caught by the depths of Gregory's red-lit gaze. I recognized the fluttering sensation in my mind that meant I was falling into a deep hypnotic trance, yet I seemed powerless to fight it despite the fact that I knew full well how to resist it. His eyes drank my will, but it seemed a slow, despairing process. Then, finally, I closed my eyes, my mind drifting into darkness.
My mind drifted aimlessly for unknown moments, then I felt a mingled pang of pain and pleasure on my neck, but I was too deeply in a trance to truly care. I felt a heavy sensation as though I were slowly falling, or falling asleep, then nothing.
I dreamily awoke to the delicious taste and scent of blood on my tongue and in the air and the bitter pangs of thirst and hunger throughout my body. I opened my eyes to see Gregory looking down at me as he licked his bared wrist. He smiled kindly at me and graciously reached down to help me sit up.
The young man named Mark groaned from the couch across the room, the very sound sharpening the hunger pangs I felt. Gregory helped me to his side, bared his wrist, and held it out to me.
Without hesitation or thought, guilt or remorse, I bared my fangs and bit his wrist, piercing the skin and drinking his hot, delicious blood. The ecstasy of the blood filled me, and I would have drank and drank until I was full or him drained except that Gregory pulled me away too soon. I was still too weak to resist him.
Gregory then showed me how to heal the wound, and I licked up the last drops of blood from Mark's wrist even as I healed him. Then I slumped down in a chair, resting and adjusting myself to my new condition, as Gregory pulled Mark's head up and gazed directly into Mark's dazed eyes.
I must have dozed, I realized, for when I opened my eyes again Mark was gone and Gregory was sitting beside me, watching my every move.
"I've ensured that he will remember nothing about tonight, Michelle: instead he will remember quite indistinctly that he was drinking in a series of bars and wound up staying overnight at a cheap hotel. It seems he has a history of doing such." He smiled gently at me, taking my hands in his. "You are the first I have been permitted to Embrace: it was an honor just to be awarded such a privilege. I have every confidence in you that you will make me proud of you, and do honor to me, your Sire."
I smiled sleepily in return. My mind was a blank: evidently the events of this night had happened too quickly, and were too impossible to assimilate, this soon.
"Its close to morning now: we will stay in the Prince's estate for the moment," he said, drawing a quilt over my recumbent form. "Someone will be here shortly to care for you." I nodded, snuggling into the warmth provided by the covering, and closed my eyes.
"Tomorrow evening I will begin teaching you the Lore of the Kindred and the ways of the Masquerade," I heard him say as I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke early the next evening, initially not remembering where I was for several moments, noting only that I was in a large, well appointed bed, alone in a small, unfamiliar, windowless, but richly furnished room. An ornate wardrobe stood against the far wall, next to a large dressing table and a full length mirror.
Then I remembered the ‘surprise' of the last evening: the masque ball, the man Gregory called ‘Prince' (how could I ever forget him, I wondered), then, as if in a dream, images of Gregory turning on me, revealing long, sharp fangs, of him staring into my eyes with his red-lit own, draining my will and sending me into a deep trance, of the mingled sharp pain and ecstasy in my neck and my subsequent growing languor; then, nothing.
I threw off the blankets and slipped out of bed, reveling in the sensuous feeling of the white silk nightgown I had been dressed in as I walked to the mirror. I peered at my reflection, strangely relieved to see it. I examined my neck where I vaguely remembered feeling the pain the previous evening and finding nothing, then I lifted my lip to examine my teeth. I felt curiously relieved to find them at a normal length, yet as I watched in growing horror my canines grew and extended to an inhuman length. I quickly turned from the mirror, my breath coming in rapid gulps as I felt the unnatural touch of my teeth on my lip.
I shivered, drawing my arms about me tightly, then I slowly turned back to look over my shoulder at the mirror, lifting my lips and peeking out of the corner of my eyes until I could just barely see my mouth. To my relief I saw no fangs, only my well-remembered face, if a bit paler than I remembered.
Suddenly I felt an urge to flee the place. Turning quickly from the mirror I quickly scanned the room for my gown and purse, but I checked the wardrobe without finding them. All I found was a shimmering black silk evening gown hanging in the wardrobe that appeared to be my size, with a pair of matching high-heeled black shoes. The dressing table nearby, I found, contained several other necessary articles. I sat quickly down at the table, picked up a hairbrush, and rapidly began to brush my hair.
Just as I finished dressing there was a light tapping on my door in a curious pattern. I, with a small sigh of relief, recognized it as a code for a mind-reading act that Gregory had taught me. It was asking how I was dressed, and, grinning, I answered with the codes for ‘black' and 'silk' by picking up and rapping my hairbrush on the table.
The door opened and Gregory walked into the room, dressed in his best black, like the previous evening. He gazed at me appreciatively as I turned in place. "The gown is a gift from the Prince, in honor of your Embrace, Michelle."
I grew wary as Gregory mentioned the Prince, but Gregory ignored it. Continuing, he said "However, these are from me."
He pulled out an elegant jewelry box from behind his back and opened it. I saw stars amidst the black night of the box's interior: a necklace and matching earrings of star sapphires set in shining silver, resting on a bed of black velvet. I slowly approached Gregory, eyes wide in wonder. I reached for the necklace, feeling its heavy weight in my hands and staring the riveting sapphires: three stones, two flanking a larger one the size of a half-dollar. I settled it around my throat, clasping it behind my neck, then clipped on the earrings.
Gregory stepped back, staring at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. I smiled and tossed my head, running my hands back through my hair to set it over my ears and better display the earrings.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"You are a dark vision of beauty, my dear, but why not look for yourself?" He stepped forward and took me gently by the shoulders, turning me to stare at myself in the mirror.
The sight stopped my breath: I was a vision of contrasts, of my pale face and shoulders amidst the shimmering blackness of my eyes, gown and hair, the necklace and earrings sparkling like stars against the night black color of my gown and hair.
"Come," said Gregory, breaking the spell of the mirror and gallantly offering me his arm, "we have a private audience with the Prince in a few minutes, and it is not proper to keep him waiting."
Again, I suppressed the instinct to flee, to run as fast and as far as I could: some spirit in me quivered in fear, yet my curiosity and vanity won out.
Together we walked down the hallway, pausing at a door flanked by the two men I had seen guarding the ballroom doors last night. Gregory nodded to them, and one turned and opened the door.
Inside was a small dining table with three chairs. In a large, ornate wingbacked chair facing the doorway sat the man Gregory had called ‘Prince', flanked by two smaller, plainer chairs. The Prince was dressed elegantly in antiquated black evening attire. He glanced up as the door opened, smiled without warmth, and invited the two of us in.
We stepped in, I warily, looking about. Aside from the three of us, I could see two servants standing unobtrusively in the shadows of the room. The Prince gestured towards the chairs, and Gregory led me to sit at the Prince's left, while he took the chair at the Prince's right.
There was only one set of table settings on the table, I noted as I fought down a brief pang of hunger, a pile of papers that was quickly picked up at the Prince's gesture by a servant and whisked away out the door, and a centerpiece of dark red roses. I leaned forward, drawing a full red bloom to my nose. I closed my eyes and smiled as the rich scent filled my senses.
"Lodin, may I present to you my student and treasured associate, Miss Michelle Brown."
I opened my eyes and turned my head towards the Prince, extending my hand to him. He stared at it for a moment, then took it
"Michelle, I have the pleasure of introducing to you Lodin, the Prince of Chicago."
I bowed slightly, dipping my head and shoulders towards the Prince, staring at him with mingled curiosity and wariness.
"Has Gregory explained your new status, Miss Brown?" asked Lodin.
I shook my head once, puzzled. Lodin paused a moment, gazing levelly at me, then nodded and turned his gaze towards Gregory.
"I would consider it an honor if you would introduce her to her new status, Your Highness," said Gregory, humbly, bowing his head briefly.
The Prince smiled. I warily glanced between him and Gregory and back.
Lodin turned his full attention towards me. "You have been granted a gift most rare, Miss Brown, a gift most rare and precious indeed, the Kiss of mingled Death and Life." He paused, watching me. "With my approval, my faithful servant Gregory here has brought you forth from life to undeath, from mortality to immortality; by his Embrace you have become a vampire."
The word ‘vampire' triggered every memory forgotten from the previous night: the tempting scent of blood in my nostrils and the rich taste of it on my tongue that had thrilled me before was now sickening. I shuddered in revulsion, grimacing and shaking my head from side to side, saying "No, no, no …" over and over, softer and softer. When I stopped I sobbed softly for a few moments more, then sniffed and started directly at the Prince. "It's a lie, a trick," I said. Eyes flashing, I stood, pushing back my chair and saying "I won't sit here and …"
Although he made no outward motion, by meeting his eyes staring from his gaunt face it was as though Lodin had drawn a cloak of majesty about himself. I was struck dumb, the awe I felt in his presence the evening before returning, doubled and redoubled. My knees felt weak, and I collapsed back into my chair, feeling unable to move. I could only stare dumbly at the Prince as he smiled without warmth and continued to stare at me.
Then it was over. I gasped as his cloak seemed to fall away again, leaving only its shadow across him to fix my gaze directly upon him.
"For instance, Miss Brown, have you yet noticed that you only need to breathe when you wish to speak? Or that the sound of your heartbeat no longer resounds in your ears? All these things are signs of the Kindred."
I stopped, holding my breath and realizing that I should have noticed the rich scent of the roses as soon as I entered the room. My hand fumbled at my wrist and my throat, seeking my pulse without success. I glanced at the centerpiece, then back to the Prince.
A servant holding a crystal decanter stepped up beside the Prince's elbow. He raised his goblet, and the servant pulled out the stopper and poured a rich, dark red liquid into it. The sharp iron tang of blood drifted through the air from the goblet. I sighed and tightly closed my eyes, involuntarily running my tongue across my lips as I shuddered at the smell and my unfamiliar reaction to it.
What happened next while my eyes were closed I only know because Gregory told me of it only recently, after the death of Lodin. Lodin waved his hand, dismissing the servants and watching them until they had disappeared out the door and had closed it behind them. He then took a knife from the table before him, and, baring his wrist, slit open the vein and allowed several drops of his blood to drop into the goblet. Licking the wound healed, he picked up the goblet and swirled the contents around several times. Then he raised his eyes towards Gregory and lifted one inquiring eyebrow; Gregory paused a moment, then nodded once, sharply, closing his eyes.
My name, spoken in the Prince's commanding voice, startled me from my tortured reverie; I opened my eyes to see the Prince holding the goblet before him. Lodin handed the goblet to me and said "Drink;" the power implicit behind that word precluded any argument from me.
I took the goblet in my hands, staring down at the thick red blood within. My new instincts warred with my old thoughts and feelings within me, the Prince's command echoing over everything. I felt a burning hunger develop deep inside me, driving me to lift the goblet to my lips, an incessant hunger that began to override everything else in my being. Every defense, every feeling, every thought I knew crumbled before that hunger. I closed my eyes, slowly raised the goblet to my lips, and drank in great, desperate, despairing gulps. When I finished I set the goblet on the table before me, shuddering, both hands clasped about the goblet's stem as if in prayer.
"Now do you believe?" asked Lodin sardonically after several moments. I shivered, frowning tightly, then nodded my head quickly. "Good."
Lodin stood, silently pushing back his chair across the heavy carpet. Gregory stood as well. Gently, the Prince took up the goblet from my hands and set it back down on the table, then lightly drew me up to stand with him. He took my arm in his, resting my hand in the crook of his arm and patting in absently, smiling possessively at me as I opened my eyes and stared bleakly at him. Then he raised his head, walked boldly towards the door, opened it, and strode down the hallway, with me at his side and Gregory and the two guards following after.
We walked down the hall, mortals and vampires bowing as they passed: I could sometimes tell the difference now by the sharp scent of blood the mortals exuded. We walked until the Prince stopped before another door; throwing it open, we walked towards the upper-story balcony across the room. He opened the French windows and stepped outside with me.
It was clear but windy, a late spring night that otherwise would have demanded a coat of me before, but now I did not feel the biting cold wind that came rushing off of the lake. I leaned into the wind, feeling it rush through my hair and flutter my gown around my ankles.
"Miss Brown," said the Prince in his resonant voice, "you are no longer mortal, with a mortal's needs or cares. You have been changed, elevated to stand among the immortals, with all the privileges assigned thereto." He took my hand and kissed the inside of my wrist. "And such a comely immortal you make, too."
I would have blushed, except the facility apparently had been lost in my transition; instead I looked at the Prince and shyly smiled, then nodded my head in thanks, looking away.
The Prince gently but firmly turned my head, lifted my chin, and gazed into my eyes. "No longer will those you care for be lost to death, nor you yourself shall fear its embrace, for we have conquered death to walk the world of the living."
He must have seen my reaction in my eyes, for images of my mother and Thomas, then my grandmother and great-grandmother, filled my mind.
Lodin smiled grimly. "You have lost many close to you, haven't you, and you feared death." I tried to swallow, then nodded sharply. "Now, you need fear death no longer. You can walk the world of the living and never fear to meet death, for you have transcended it." He paused as I tried to blink away tears, but none came to my eyes: something else I have lost, it seems
"This world of the living is my domain," he said, turning and sweeping his arm across the lights of the city across the horizon. I followed his gesture, seeing the city that I had called home for many years before me. "Mine to hold, to rule; and to reap the rewards of that rulership.
"We rule them, Miss Brown, though they know it not. We are like gods walking among them unawares, like a man treading across an ant hill."
He pulled me around to stare at him. "And now you have been made a goddess. Cast off all things mortal; what has your mortal life given you but pain and despair? Accept your immortality! Accept the joys of the Night!"
He laughed, the triumphant, sardonic sound echoing throughout the darkened grounds of the estate. The dark, infectious tone of his laughter bubbled up through me, escaping my lips in a torrent of sound. I leaned against the railing, staring out at the city on the horizon, a bright, covetous smile on my lips.
The Prince took my arm. "Come, let me introduce you to the pleasures of the Night."
The masque ball, I was told, was the second night of a week-long observance of the anniversary of the Prince's assumption of power. I was introduced to the glittering host at the Prince's command, then allowed to mingle with them. My old instincts, from uncounted diplomatic balls, rose again to lead me confidently across the floor amongst the throng.
I drew several appreciative and calculating stares, both at my poise and my beauty. One man stopped speaking to his companions and simply stared at me, entranced, as I approached. His companions laughed at him and slapped his face, breaking him out of his reverie. I only smiled charmingly and asked him to dance; he agreed in a charming British accent and led me out to the dance floor as the strains of a waltz filled the air.
Afterwards I visited and participated in several conversations on subjects ranging from politics, where I was non-committal, to the arts, where stating a preference for Bach and Strauss won me the polite appreciation of several of the others, one of whom had known both musicians in their prime. He found me an appreciative audience, lecturing me briefly but fascinatingly on the history of both men. I also flirted with an effete but sensitive pianist who concentrated as much on the piano keys as me, in one of the many salons on one side of the ballroom. After the pressures of the previous months and years, this night was a release and an enlightenment.
I was talking with an attractive couple who introduced themselves as Sharon and Michael when the red-haired man from the previous night, surrounded by a coterie of obvious cronies, approached me. Sharon and Michael faded back into the crowd, leaving me surrounded.
"I don't know why the Prince permitted a mere entertainer to be made a member of our clan," said the red-head to his friends, pointedly ignoring me. "The Ventrues are a clan of nobility and refinement."
The other men snickered. "Maybe she ‘entertains' only nobility, Damian," said another, laughing.
I had always taken pride in my family, even though I had very little else to do with them. "My mother's father's family sailed on the Mayflower," I broke in, speaking haughtily. "There is no bluer blood to be found in the country."
"There were kings in my family," replied Damian proudly.
"Your family? I'd say your grandparents emigrated here during the Potato Famine, and were no more aristocracy than the dirt they carried under their fingernails." Damian's startled stare indicated to me that my sally had struck home, and I smiled in triumph. "I'm all too familiar with your kind back in Boston, paddy: petty, vicious, violent. Why you were ever given the honor of being made a vampire is beyond me."
I turned to leave. Damian's voice rang out angrily behind me: "At least I know who my parents were."
I turned sharply, my black hair flying like a flag in my wake. "My father's family ruled Genoa for centuries. Doges, Viscounts, and Cardinals, and yes, Senators and Consuls of Rome sprang from their line." I stared at Damian haughtily. "You have nothing to compare with that."
Damian squared himself to stand directly before me. To anyone watching from a distance, he seemed to overawe me, but I held myself proudly erect, my years on the stage letting me project an air of supreme confidence and disdain. I stared back at him, eyes narrowing in scorn.
His eyes reached out to encompass mine. The sounds of the party faded as the only voice I heard was his: "You will obey me: you shall drink my blood and serve me." He took his left sleeve in hand and started to draw it back. There was a low murmur of surprise in the growing audience.
I felt something different within me, a new power and depths of will that had always been present inside me but unknown and unplumbed. I reached into those depths for the power to resist Damian and readily found it.
"No," I said quietly.
Damian started: his eyes retreated in my gaze to stare at me in surprise.
"No," I repeated more loudly, extending my fangs and smiling ferally, "you don't have any power over me that I do not give you, and I don't." I chuckled low in my throat, which gradually grew louder until it rang throughout the ballroom.
Still laughing, I tossed my head back, then turned and strode away, the crowd parting before me as I walked towards the large French doors.
Outside, in the wind and moonlight, I paused at the edge of the patio and looked up into the stars. The sounds of the night felt sharper in my ears, and I quickly heard and recognized the soft tread behind me.
Gregory walked up beside me, putting his arm on my shoulders. "I'd say you made an enemy tonight, Michelle," he said after a long moment.
"He was my enemy ever since he saw me last night, Gregory," I replied, saw shaking my head slowly but emphatically. "I didn't make him an enemy, I just let him know that I felt the same way towards him as he does towards me."
Gregory shrugged. "Come, there are more things I must tell you tonight."
As we walked around the outside of the mansion, I asked absently "Gregory, what did he mean by ‘drink his blood'?"
Gregory started a moment, closing his eyes. Then he stopped, caught me by the shoulders, and spun me around to stare at him. "If you drink the blood of another of the Kindred three times, you are bonded to them and must serve them wholly." He squeezed my shoulders, shaking me as he spoke. "Never, never drink another's blood, at all, ever."
"The first thing you must learn, Michelle, is that our existence must be kept hidden from the world at large. As long as the Herd is unaware of our presence, they cannot fear us. That is called the Masquerade."
Gregory was standing before me as I sat in a leather chair in the Prince's library.
"If they do become aware of our existence, they will surely turn against us; there are not enough of us to withstand them all. That is why we remain hidden, in the shadows, in our home of the Night."
I looked up at him, puzzled.
Gregory smiled. "You are undoubtedly thinking of theatrical performances such as that celebrated movie of several years ago. Such things are permitted to remind the Herd that we are merely fiction, tales left over from when they feared the dark."
"That's the second time I've heard you use that term," I interrupted. looking up at his startled glance. "The Herd, you said."
"The Herd is the Kindred term for the human cattle that must sustain us."
He sat down in the chair next to me. "They must be protected, ignorant of their true station in life, and kept ignorant of our existance. That is the surpreme rule, and for our protection, as they could rise up against us as they have in centuries past."
Gregory stood and started to pace back and forth before her, a sure sign, I knew from long experience, that he was preparing to lecture me. "We are a community, a society all to ourselves, we, the Kindred.
"There are seven major clans among the Kindred," he continued. "You are part of the Ventrue Clan, the aristocracy of the Kindred. The other great clans you will encounter are the Toreadors, the Malkavians, the Tremere, the Gangrel, the Brujah, and the Nosferatu. Each are known for their particular powers; the Ventrue, for instance, are known for their indominatable willpower."
"Like what that paddy Damian tried to do to me, earlier."
Gregory nodded. "You, too, will be able to use that power.
"The Toreadors are artists, hedonists," he continued, extending his hand and ticking off the names on his fingers. "Sometimes they may produce something of lasting value, but mostly they revel in excess and dissipation." He stopped speaking, gazing down somberly at me. "Take care you do not emulate them, for I see the seeds of such in your character."
I swallowed dryly and nodded.
"The Malkavians," resumed Gregory, counting off his third finger, "are madmen, but in their madness they can see what others cannot; always be wary of them and their humors."
Gregory touched the last finger on his hand. "The Tremere are sorcerers and mages."
"I'd like to meet them," I said, interrupting.
Gregory shook his head. "I'm sure you would, but I caution against it for now. The price they ask of their knowledge and service is too high."
He continued, touching his thumb. "The Gangrel are wild, closer cousins to the animals than the rest of us."
He switched to his other hand, touching index finger to index finger. "The Brujah are rebels against authority, necessary in some respects, barely tolerated otherwise; uncouth and contemptuous, ignore them for the moment.
"Lastly are the Nosferatu." Gregory shook his head at their mention. "They, perhaps, are the outward manifestation of our inmost nightmares; horrifyingly ugly to the eye and nose. You didn't see any of the Nosferatu at the ball last night or tonight, although the Prince does permit them to attend. They prefer to remain unseen, to let their words speak for them when their presence would only detract from their message.
"There are other clans, lesser known but equally powerful and dangerous, and those who are affiliated with no clan; I'll explain them later.
"Hosts will find the feeding pleasurable: there is a brief moment of pain followed by an intense feeling of ecstasy that alleviates any resistance: you must take care, or you may become lost in the sensation.
"When feeding, there is a definite risk of draining the host to the point of danger or death. The former is risky, and the latter is extremely dangerous, because either could lead to your exposure and destruction.
"Always take care to feed lightly, so that the host will suffer few ill effects and your feeding will pass unnoticed. This way we protect ourselves and the greater whole of Kindred society."
He stopped pacing before me, looking down at my rapt gaze. "Now, its getting late, and I must return you to your room before dawn."
We returned to my hotel room in the Dusenburg a few hours before dawn. The world seemed different to me now, and I revelled in the newness of it all, possessively staring out the windows at the people passing by.
"I must emphasize again that the Masquerade is for your protection as well as ours, Michelle: any violation of it is considered a threat to the existence of all Kindred and treated so."
I nodded absently in response.
"Tomorrow evening we'll find you a proper Haven to rest in: the hotel is too open for continued use. Fortunately, I have a most suitable place in mind.
"One more thing: you'll have to feed again tonight, Michelle: I want you to choose the person and the place. Consider this a test."
I thought a moment, then grinned and snapped my fingers. "I know just the person," I said as the car pulled up the curb.
The hotel night clerk looked up at me as I walked in. "Miss Brown?" he inquired, "was there anything wrong last night? You weren't in at all since last night."
I eyed him from the doorway: he was young, the son of the hotel owner, I thought, and definitely attractive with his pale blond hair and deep blue eyes. If I had had any doubts earlier, I knew then that my choice was most appropriate.
I approached the front desk and smiled charmingly. "No, there was nothing wrong," I replied engagingly. "Only that I performed at a late party the other night, and the host and hostess gallantly offered to let me stay over.
"However, I'm still very tired, and I'm going to want to sleep for a long time: please see that I'm not disturbed until tomorrow evening, please."
The clerk nodded and made a notation in his log, then he leaned over the counter and looked over my shoulder at Gregory standing in the doorway. "You aren't in any kind of trouble, are you?" he asked conspiratorially.
I continued smiling as I shook my head in response, then leaned across the counter and fixed my gaze upon the clerk's. "No, I'm not in any trouble: no trouble at all," I said strongly but quietly after a few moments.
All of Gregory's recent teaching seemed destined to lead up to just this moment. My eyes widened, smoothly and completely capturing the clerk's gaze in their deep, dark depths. I reached, although I hardly knew how, and captured the clerk's will; the strange, new feeling of it fluttering helplessly in the grip of my gaze was heady, and the scent of his blood awakened such feelings in me that I had never been aware of before.
In response, the clerk's eyes dulled, his limp body seemingly held in position only by the power of my gaze. My smile widened in satisfaction.
Still holding the clerk's gaze with my own, I stepped behind the small counter. I passed my hand before the clerk's eyes as I approached, gently crooning "Sleep; deep, deep sleep," and the clerk obediently closed his eyes almost immediately. I moved to stand behind him, drawing him back into my embrace. The clerk obligingly leaned back on his stool, his head and shoulders slumping forward.
"Such a soothing, relaxing feeling," I continued to slowly croon, gently stroking his forehead, as I drew his head back to rest against my shoulder, "so deeply relaxed, no cares, no thoughts; just relax, deeper, and deeper."
I continued stroking his forehead, repeating my suggestions several more times as he slipped deeper and deeper into a trance, then I leaned down, delicately nipped the vein at the base of his throat, and sipped slowly. The clerk in the depths of his trance started only slightly at the brief moment of pain, but sighed and relaxed again as I stroked his forehead. I controlled myself and stopped drinking very quickly, looking up at Gregory and seeing his approving nod. I licked the wound and was again amazed at seeing it close and heal so rapidly.
I stood erect, cradling the clerk's head and shoulders against my breasts. "You are deeply asleep, sound asleep," I whispered slowly and gently into his ear, massaging his temples, "yet you can hear me clearly.
"Now you must listen to me very carefully," I continued quietly but forcefully. "Forget everything that happened here after you looked into my eyes. You will remember only that we talked a moment about something forgettable, then I went upstairs, and after that you felt dizzy and closed your eyes to rest a moment; nothing more, nothing else. Do you understand?"
The clerk nodded slowly. "Yes," he breathed.
"You will remain asleep until well after I leave you, then you will awaken with no ill effects, obeying my commands. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he sighed.
I smiled triumphantly and looked back to Gregory. He nodded once, then turned and walked out the door. I touched my fingers to my lips and blew him a kiss, smiling in delight.
I looked back down at the clerk, only now vaguely remembering his name as Alex. "Pleasant dreams, Alex," I breathed as I kissed him on the forehead, then I left the office and walked up the stairs. Behind me I could hear the faint sounds of the clerk awakening: the sounds of a deep sigh and his arms stretching, the sound of the stool sliding across the floor. I nodded to herself, smiling, as I returned to my room.
Gregory and I were sitting in his Haven, listening to the radio. Walter Winchell was reporting the death of President Roosevelt. The news of his death depressed me, making me feel older than my years.
I turned to Gregory and absently said "Gregory, I must do something different."
He turned to me, startled. "You mean, my dear, something other than the stage?" he asked increduously.
Emboldened, I replied simply "Yes."
He looked at me cautiously yet curiously. "Does it have anything to do with the psychology courses you are taking at the University of Chicago?"
I stopped and stared at Gregory.
"You certainly should have realized that I would eventually discover them."
I lowered my eyes in reply.
"You should have said something, Michelle: I could have helped you immeasurably," he said, chiding me gently. "I most heartily approve of your interest in the mind: you have untapped talents both as a person and as a Ventrue that demand further investigation.
"Michelle," he said suddenly, "how close are you to a degree?"
I considered the question carefully. "I've taken most of the core courses; I wasn't really planning on getting a degree. Still, if I could persuade the graduation committee to do something like ignore the electives, I could finish a bachelors degree by the end of the year."
"That long?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Not many of the courses I want to attend are offered at night, Gregory; it took some convincing for them to offer any of them then."
He chuckled in appreciation. "I'm sure with a little more persuading and convincing you'll be able to manage. And after that?"
I stared off into the distance. "Possibly a doctorate, an M.D. or Ph.D. at Northwestern; and then maybe some post-doctoral research on hypnosis."
He waggled a cautionary finger to me. "Not possibly, Michelle, certainly. Besides your Disciplines you have a definite flair with hypnosis. Your hypnotic skills could benefit from such learning."
"I was considering trying to study under Milton Erickson. He's the most knowledgeable researcher in the field. Maybe that's something to shoot for?"
"It would certainly be a worthwhile goal."
I nodded confidently. "I'll do it."
"Michelle," said Gregory suddenly, "there are some questions within the Clan concerning your dedication and ability."
I snorted. "Generated by Damian, no doubt."
"They don't appreciate someone who, in their minds, demeans her talents and her Clan by dallying before an audience," Gregory continued.
I grinned. "Not even the most popular magic act in the Midwest?" I countered. "And just how much entry have I given you, and by extension the Clan, into the entertainment world?"
He nodded in agreement. "Yet the questions remain." He paused a moment. "You should consider how you are going to use this decision to respond to them."
I ran my thumb under my lip, deep in thought, when a sudden though struck me. "Aren't the Ventrue mad about titles?"
Gregory tilted his head back and laughed. "Of course they are, Michelle," he said; "I was wondering if you would remember that yourself."
I smiled, somehow still faintly embarrassed by praise from Gregory.
He clapped me on the shoulder. "Then its settled. I'll see to these questions about your ability with a few rumors of my own: an earned doctorate would certainly impress Clan members who place an inordinate emphasis on titles and degrees. I think it would be an excellent notion.
"Besides, the War will not last forever: we must prepare for its aftermath. I suggest being ready to take advantage of the upheaval that always accompanies the end of any war to create new identities, to further the Masquerade. A change of location or profession is always recommended in such circumstances. You have already started the process; I strongly suggest you carry it to its logical conclusion."
It was the evening of V-J Day, the day the horror of the Second World War was ended by the horror of the atomic bomb. There was an impromptu parade through the streets of Chicago that night, coaxing everyone to celebrate. Everyone, that is, except for one man I noticed.
I was leaving the stage door of the theater where I had just finished performing, when I noticed a man leaning against the alley wall, watching the parade pass by. His face could easily have won him a partner under any circumstances, yet he seemed distant and somewhat saddened at the display around him.
"Aren't you celebrating?" I asked as I approached him. My sudden appearance startled him, as he jumped back as he turned and stared at me.
"You're the magician," he said, tossing his head in the direction of the playbills outside the theater. I smiled in return, glad to be noticed outside of the stage. "The magical, mesmerizing, mysterious Michelle," he continued; "I caught your act: you're pretty good."
I thanked him for his words; he seemed sincere, all too sincere. "Why aren't you out there celebrating?" I asked again, tossing my head in the direction of the street.
"I don't feel like celebrating," he replied tiredly, turning his head.
"Perhaps you just haven't found the right someone to celebrate with." I slid my arm inside his own and pulled him onto the sidewalk before he could react. I smiled charmingly up at him when he tried to protest, catching his eyes and softly willing him to cooperate. "Come, let's find ourselves someplace quiet."
We walked down the street, finding an open bar that was relatively empty, enough so to be able to get a booth of our own. He ordered a double whiskey, straight, while I demurred and asked only for water: I explained that I didn't drink, that it tended to interfere with my act.
Our drinks arrived quickly, and he picked his up and downed most of it in one long pull. I reached out and touched his arm. He looked up into my eyes, and I gently touched his mind again and said "Tell me what's wrong."
"The bomb," he replied quietly; "I can't stop thinking about the A-bomb."
I, too, as Kindred had concerns about a weapon that combined the power of the Sun and the flames in one devastating package, in mortal hands. Yet I did not understand why a mortal would worry so much about it, and so I asked him why.
"I helped make it," he said, "and so part of the blame of those innocent deaths in Japan falls to me."
He saw the unspoken question in my eyes, and continued.
"Back in ‘42 I was a grad student in physics at U of C: I helped the physicists like Fermi make the first nuclear pile. It was because of our work that the bombs were considered possible.
"And now see what we have wrought. Thousands dead, innocent victims mostly. All that blood on my hands."
He lifted his hands before him, and I took them in my own, turning them over and over. "I don't see any blood here," I said.
He stared back down into his drink.
"There are people with far more blood on their hands than you; you were just one small part of the whole." I clasped his hands firmly in my own. "You shouldn't blame yourself so hard."
"Maybe not, but maybe someone should."
I sighed in response.
He looked down at the rest of his drink. I reached up and brushed back a lock of hair from his face. He raised his eyes to stare back at me.
"What's your name?" I said, smiling compassionately. "You know mine."
"It's Eric. Eric ..."
I reached up and silenced him with a finger on his lips. "Hush. We don't need anything more than that, do we?"
He smiled, the first real smile I had seen from him, and shook his head, agreeing with me. "Would you like to come back to my room?" he said quietly. "Its a lot quieter; I don't think I can stand all this noisy celebration, yet."
I started, then smiled. "Sure, I'd love to."
His room was in a small apartment building close by. The room was small, too, barely room for a sink, a closet, and a bed. On top of the closet was a record player; he pulled it down and plugged it in. "Do you like to dance? I've got some waltzes here; I don't think I'm in any mood for any thing else."
I said that I agreed as I dropped my coat onto his bed, then turned and reached out my arms to him as he started a record. He took me in his arms and we danced in his small room for a long time, my head snuggled against his shoulder. We played all his waltz records, twice through. He made no sound over the music, yet sometime after the second record I felt a slight dampness on my shoulder, and I murmured and whispered consolations to him quietly.
When the music was finally over and our feet sore from dancing, we sat down together on his bed, his arm around my shoulder. We talked of inconsequential things, anything to keep the thoughts of the celebration on the streets below out of our minds. I stared at him, the light from the window outlining my features. Unconsciously, my eyes reached out to fascinate him. His conversation slowed as his attention focussed more and more on my eyes.
"Are you … hypnotizing me … to make me forget?" he asked finally, fretfully. "Or into loving you?"
Without breaking eye contact, I answered quietly, smiling mysteriously, "Do you want me to hypnotize you, Eric?"
He responded by closing his eyes, leaning forward and kissing me full on the mouth. I froze for a moment, wide-eyed. The act surprised me: it had been several years since a mortal had kissed me so passionately, all unbidden. Then I relaxed, returning his kiss and wrapping my arms around his shoulders. When we finally broke apart, I rested my chin on his shoulder. "No," I said quietly, "I don't think I have to hypnotize you into loving me."
He replied by running his hands through the thick fullness of my hair as he kissed my neck and shoulders. I revelled in the sensuous feeling, stroking his back in return.
I leaned back on to the bed, pulling him down over me. I started to speak, but he silenced me with another long, passionate kiss. We danced our own slow waltz on his bed then, a dance older than even the Kindred, to the music only we could hear.
We dozed together afterwards, I resting snugly in his embrace. It was very pleasant to share passion instead of taking it outright; it was pleasant, too, to find it so unforced and free.
I played with a lock of my hair, teasing and tickling his nose with it, until I noticed the growing patch of light on the far wall. "What time is it?" I asked drowsily.
He looked at his watch. "Its after four," he said.
I rolled over and gazed into his sleepy eyes. "I must get back to my room now, Eric." In his condition it took only the slightest touch to convince him.
He gallantly asked to escort me home, and I allowed him to walk me to the door of my hotel, seven blocks away. The streets were much quieter now, the celebration dying away in the early morning hours.
Standing before the door of my room and I turned towards him and kissed him passionately. He responded in kind, hugging me close and whispering one word to me "Thanks."
I turned and unlocked the door. When I turned to bid him a final good-bye I saw that he had pulled out a cigarette and lighter and had just flicked the lighter aflame.
I stared at the flame dancing atop his lighter, entranced. The sight of it blossomed in my mind; I could hear the sounds of crackling flames and the smell the stench of burning wood and flesh. I had neglected my discipline in my revelry of being human that evening. The Beast within all Kindred lashed out at its chains of will and control, breaking them in rage and fear.
With one swift motion I knocked the lighter from his hand to send it flying down the hallway. He turned and watched it soar through the air, then turned back to me.
I had no rational mind left, only the mindless fear of the flames that is the mark of the Beast within. With the flames now out of sight, the instincts of the Beast within swiftly turned to hunger at the sight of this choice vessel before it. I wrapped my hand about his throat and pulled him back through the door into my room. My actions were so sudden and so contrary to my earlier demeanor that he was stunned and unable to resist.
He mutely raised his hands in horror to vainly defend himself as I sunk my fangs into his throat. The mingled agony and ecstasy of the Kiss swept away all his resistance then, and I greedily drank my fill of his hot, sweet blood.
When I next regained consciousness, I was lying on the floor of my hotel room. Eric's body was lying beside me, cold. What blood I had not drained had spilled from his torn throat to pool on the bare floor. I could easily remember what had happened, and I shuddered.
I knew from looking at his watch that I had sunk into torpor directly after satisfying the Beast within. I looked up. Luckily for me the door had been kicked closed during our struggle when I dragged Eric inside, and apparently no one had noticed us. Fortunately the hotel was one frequented by actors and other theater people, and they took very little notice of strange sounds and happenings around them.
I glanced back down at the body and the pool of blood. This was the first time the Beast had won over my control, and Eric's fate was the result.
I quickly rose and stepped out into the corridor, closing the door and taking care that I tracked none of the blood behind me. There was a pay phone at the end of the hall, and I fished into my purse for the coin needed.
I dialed the number from memory and long familiarity. Gregory's voice answered sleepily. I told him briefly that I needed him at my room, immediately: the bleak tone of my words serving to warn him more than the words I could not speak. His voice quickly became confident and assertive, and he said that he would arrive shortly.
I returned to the room. The smell of blood was obvious; in other settings it would have driven me mad with hunger, but now it only horrified me. Gregory arrived within minutes, set down the suitcase he carried, then stopped and stared at the body.
I approached Gregory, and he took me in his arms as I buried my face into his shoulder, sobbing. "I had high hopes that you would never see this part of your nature, Michelle," he said, stroking my hair.
I looked up at him, feeling a wetness on my face and seeing twin streaks of blood on his shoulder. He lifted my chin and stared into my welling eyes. "It would be best if you were to sleep for a while, Michelle," he said sadly. I did not resist him as my eyes fell deeply within his.
I returned to full awareness lying in the back of Gregory's car. I could vaguely remember helping Gregory with the body, packing it into a canvas bag he produced from his suitcase and carrying it out of the hotel.
Gregory turned from the driver's seat and looked towards me. "I disposed of the body, Michelle; he'll be found and considered the victim of an attempted robbery."
"Eric. His name was Eric," I said dully.
"Keep that in mind, Michelle; don't let him become faceless or you will risk repeating this episode."
I hung my head, nodding.
"I think it is time for Michelle Brown to perform a vanishing act and disappear from mortal ken, my dear."
I rapped sharply on the office door. "Dr. Erickson?" I asked. "This is Dr. Brandewyne."
"Come in, Doctor," said a cheerful voice from within.
I absently brushed back my long black hair and settled my small, round glasses on my nose before opening the door and entering. Inside I found a rather attractive man in his early forties, with dark brown curly hair and an engaging smile.
I walked up and stood beside the chair across the desk from him. "Dr. Erickson, I am Doctor Amelia Brandewyne."
"I know," he replied, laying the manila folder he was holding down on the desk. "Doctor Ames at Northwestern recommended you very highly. Its a pleasure to welcome you to the facility."
He rose and offered me his hand: I accepted it gently, but he squeezed it firmly and warmly with both hands. I responded briefly, then disengaged myself and sat down.
"I was most impressed with your thesis work," he continued, settling himself behind his desk. "It was certainly controversial: even mentioning stage hypnosis is frowned on professionally, but to demonstrate successfully that its philosophies and induction techniques could be used in therapy was unheard of. I hope you will have the opportunity to expand on it here."
I smiled and would have blushed at the praise. "I'm sure that I will. I'm looking forward to working with you," I replied confidently.
"I'll be lecturing once a week, in the evening: I expect you'll be there. You'll also receive transcipts of all my sessions. I'll expect your written comments on them within the week."
"You'll be assigned a few patients of your own; I'll be reviewing your work with them."
He stood, taking my hand, and leading me out the door. We walked the cold corridors of the hospital as he introduced me around to the staff.
"As you requested, you're assigned to cover the night shift at the hospital," he said, gesturing at the broad corridor. "Are you certain though? Night-time can be pretty hairy; you've got the least amount of support."
"I prefer the night; I‘ve always been a night person. Besides, I'm very capable," I said with a confident smile.
He smiled and nodded in return, then led me to a particular room. Peeking in the door I saw a slight, pretty woman lying on the bed.
"Jane Doe, here, is one of the patients you'll be working with," said Milton quietly. "She's suffering from amnesia and has a violent, hostile reaction to any male physician that defeats any idea of therapy. As the only female psychiatrist on staff you'll have to work with her."
I looked sadly at the fragile form on the bed. "I'll see her tomorrow, if you don't mind."
He turned and looked at me surprised.
"She's in a bad way and shouldn't be forced to suffer for it for any longer than absolutely necessary," I continued. "Obviously there's more to her condition than simple amnesia. I'll look over her records tonight."
I gazed up at Milton. His sly smile somehow told me that I had passed some sort of test he had arranged for me. I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow in response, and he chuckled.
I stepped into my small office early the next evening. The woman ‘Jane Doe' I saw last night was sitting and fidgetting in a stuffed chair across from my own.
"Hello, Jane" I said warmly. She looked up, surprised, at me.
"That's not my name," she replied hesitantly.
"Then what is your name?"
"I don't know."
"No," I said so confidently that I would countenance no doubt at all, "you do know, only you can't remember. There's a difference."
She looked at me bleakly, but a glimmer of hope appeared in her eyes.
"I'm going to help you remember," I continued.
I recalled reading her history the previous night: she had been brought in to the hospital eight months previously, with no identification or memory. She was not suffering any trauma that would indicate a physical cause for her amnesia, which ultimately indicated a psychological one. Likewise there was no evidence of rape, or even of any other physical harm.
She had suddently attacked the first psychiatrist who had attempted to help her, and later any male who attempted even to touch her or speak to her. A straightjacket was first used, but she threw herself against it so strongly that she twice disjointed her shoulder. Currently she was receiving a large dose of sedatives twice a day, which I had asked delayed that evening until after my first consultation with her.
She stared back bleakly but slightly encouraged at my contemplative and calculating gaze.
"Just sit here on the couch, and lie back and get comfortable," I said. patting the couch beside my chair.
She did so tensely, staring at the door. I noted the stare, and then with a sudden inspiration got up and turned the deadbolt and locked the door. I looked back and saw ‘Jane' visibly relax.
I returned to my seat beside her couch. "There. Now no one is going to come in and touch you; there's only me here."
She was clutching her arms across her breasts as I pulled a light blanket over her. She smiled meekly up at me, and she relaxed further.
I led her through a number of standard suggestability tests, all the time trying to get her to relax more and more. I quickly discovered she was an excellent subject, one that I would have accepted on stage in an instant; she drifted into a deep, somnambulistic trance almost before I had begun inducing it. She was totally relaxed, and seemed to be strangely pleased to respond to my suggestions.
By the end of our first session I had established a strong rapport with her, but I had not begun asking any questions about her past. Before I awakened her I left a subtle suggestion, subtly backed by the power of my eyes, to subconsciously begin the process of remembering, but slowly, to give her stricken mind the opportunity to process and assimilate the information safely. I also asked that she be given a pencil and paper.
The next night, and all through the week, I met ‘Jane' in her room, and, protectively throwing my arm around her shoulder, escorted her to my small office. There I would allow her to lock the door, then I led her to the couch. Lying on the couch triggered a subtle suggestion that she would quickly relax into a light trance. I strengthened our rapport and her trust in me all through the week before beginning any serious questioning.
I was making a concerted effort to withhold using my Kindred Discipline in working with her, primarily out of self-protection, as Milton would possibly notice their use in a patient he was obviously concered about, but also because I wanted to test my hard-learned skills.
On the eighth day I started trying to regress her, but quickly gave up; it seemed that whatever was causing her amnesia lay like a wall across her conscious memory. Every attempt to gently cross that wall proved fruitless, and the possibility of permanent damage to her mind prevented me from trying any more drastic methods.
Instead I carefully examined at the pages of paper ‘Jane' had received. She did not write on them, but she did cover several pages with sketchy drawings of a variety of symbols. When the head nurse brought in the first set, she clucked and pointed out the swastika drawn prominently on page; she did not really notice that it was drawn backwards, and that several others were drawn on other pages, in both directions.
There were other symbols, too, that I had seen long ago; some from my earliest investigations into the occult as a teenager, and some from life as a stage magician and as a Kindred. These symbols frightened me deeply.
"Amelia, would you come into my office?"
Dr. Erickson's voice startled me as I stepped into the small coat room. I turned to see Milton standing in the hallway, a worried frown on his face. I nodded, finished hanging up my coat, and followed him to his office. In the seven months I had been working and studying under Dr. Erickson, I had established a very strong working relationship with him, but something about his tone of voice worried me.
Once inside he sat heavily on his office chair, motioning me to close the door and sit down.
"I've had a request from a colleague of mine, a Doctor Franklin, to examine a most unusual patient of his, in a private institution over in Lansing, tomorrow evening. I'd like you to accompany me."
I raised one inquiring eyebrow in reply.
"I have a feeling that your considerable talent for reaching the most intransigent patients might be useful," he continued, and I smiled warily in return.
"There's something you're not telling me," I said after a moment.
He folded his hands before him, pausing several seconds before replying. "I don't want to say anything right yet, but I have a definite sense of foreboding; there was something Dr. Franklin wasn't telling me." He stared up at me. "I don't think its anything dangerous, just, well, unusual."
"I, see." Well, actually I didn't, but I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize our relationship.
"Don't worry, Amelia, I'm probably imagining things." He smiled as he stood, reaching for his coat. "I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
I smiled slowly in return. "I think I will."
The institution was a Grecian Revival building, with stone columns in front, within high stone walls, with grounds populated with dark, silent oaks. Milton told me about its history as he drove the car through the elaborate gates up to the front entrance.
"This was once a private Lutheran seminary, but it was closed after the First World War when the denomination consolidated two seminaries into one. Afterwards it was converted into a private rest home, but later was renovated into a private, minimal security sanitarium.
"Dr. Raymond Franklin runs the place: we've corresponded in the past, and when he learned I was at Wayne State, we managed to meet every so often. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to meet for a couple of months, but he called yesterday and asked me to come by."
He parked the car before the entrance and the two of us walked up the stairs to the front doors. Inside, a nurse at the front desk stiffly indicated a corridor across the entryway. I looked sharply at the nurse as I walked by, noting her unusually passive demeanor. Milton quickly walked by, then paused and waited for me to catch up. The corridor turned a corner and ended with large oaken door across the entryway.
Milton knocked at the oaken door. A muffled "Enter" was heard from the opposite side. He pulled open the door, and allowed me to precede him into the room.
It was very dark inside, its only light the reading lamp over the large desk at the far end of the room; the circle of light partly illuminated the man sitting behind the desk. "Come in, sit down," he said in a hoarse voice, politely indicating the chairs opposite the desk with one hand thrust into the light.
"Dr. Franklin?" asked Milton, as we sat down in the chairs. "Its been a long time since I talked to you last."
"Dr. Franklin?" answered the man, his voice rising into a cackling laugh. "Oh, he's not talking to anyone right now."
The man's hand turned the lamp to shine directly into his face, revealing a young man, with a wild, manic grin and a fiery gleam in his eyes. I gripped the arms of my chair as Milton leaned forward.
"He's in my doghouse for calling you in, aren't you Frankie?" the man continued. He yanked his other arm, tugging at a chain held in his hand, and the hands and the spectacled face of an older man appeared above the rim of the desk. He looked expectantly towards the younger man, then thrust his tongue out and proceeded to pant like a dog. The younger man rubbed the older man's head and said "Good doggie. Go outside and play."
The older man dropped down to the floor and romped to the door on his hands and knees. We watched as he stopped and scratched at the door, and it was opened by a big man in an orderly's white coat, standing outside the door. The older man ran out the door as the man in the coat looked blankly back towards the young man, who nodded and said "Leave the door open and wait there until I call you." The young man turned back to us. "He's in my doghouse, so I made him my dog." His eyes turned cold, staring at the two of us. "Now, what shall I make of you?"
"You'll make nothing of us," replied Milton quietly. I touched his arm and we looked aside at each other: I frowned and shook my head in warning, but Milton patted my hand and nodded affirmatively.
"Perhaps you'll be my King and Queen," the man continued, oblivious to Milton's response. "Yes! I need a king and queen for my living chess set, and you'll do fine. A White King and a Black Queen."
"I have no intention of playing your game," I retorted.
"We all play games, girl, now you will play mine." He waved towards the door, and Milton and I turned to see four burly orderlies silently walk in the door. "If you'll accompany me, I'll see you to your places."
The orderlies surrounded Milton and myself, too many to confidently handle ourselves, now. Milton and I glanced at each other, and he silently moved "No." I nodded my head in agreement.
The man marched out of the office, with Milton and I, flanked each by two orderlies, following behind. We walked through the silent hallways, passing patients, nurses and other orderlies, whom I saw fall into line behind us, marching silently and blank-eyed.
He led the procession out the back, onto a patio. A warped chessboard was painted onto the concrete surface, with the ranks zig-zagging crazily across the field. Most of the people marching behind us stepped past us and assumed positions on the chessboard, the men on one side and the women on the other. The Malkavian, for that was what I knew he must be, stared covetously at the women as they passed by, then intercepted two people as they passed, freezing them in their tracks with a wave of his hand, leaving the positions of White King and Black Queen open. Then he turned towards Milton and me.
The orderlies beside us grabbed Milton and myself by the arms, holding our heads so that we stared directly at the Malkavian. I could feel the power of his gaze, burning into first into Milton's mind and then mine; I could feel Milton's hand tense in mine as he tried unsuccessfully to fight the other's mesmeric influence. I reached deep into myself, to the depths of will I seldom plumbed, and fought back.
The pressure against my will lessened, then vanished altogether. The Malkavian was folding his hands under his chin and staring at me warily. I allowed myself a brief smile of victory, baring my fangs as I did so.
"You didn't expect anyone to come here to be able to resist you, especially not another Kindred, did you?" I said. The young man started to respond, but I cut his words off. "You're treading very close to violating the Masquerade," I continued, shrugging off the hands of the now-complacent orderlies and holding myself erect.
The young man shrugged expansively. "Here in my little world the Masquerade is unnecessary."
"But your little world isn't closed off from the outside; our being here proves that. You're skating on thin ice, and need to be stopped before you fall in, and drag others in with you." I folded my arms across my breasts defiantly. "I should destroy you here and now."
He grinned triumphantly back at me. "You can't hurt me; how can you hurt something you can't see?"
He winked at me, and then promptly vanished from my sight. His low laughter seemed to ring from everywhere around me, and I turned completely about to track its movement, to wind up seeing him standing before me.
"You're out of your league, woman. You can't leave: the orderlies are very protective of their charges and they now think you're one of them. Besides, you don't want to leave your friend here, do you?
"When the sun comes up you'll beg me for a haven, at my price."
"Pigs will fly, first."
He seized a wooden chair, and with surprising strength in his wiry arms, broke it apart. He grasped a jagged piece of wood and began to wave it in my direction. "Your powers are too weak to command me, Neonate. Perhaps I should just shut you up, now."
I stared confidently back at him, ignoring his words as I unbuttoned and opened my coat, revealing a thin, light blouse that did little to hide my charms. I loosened my hair and let it spill over my shoulders, removed my glasses, and seductively fixed his eyes with my own. My transition from demure to daring startled him momentarily.
"Are you afraid of a younger Kindred, afraid of a beautiful woman?" I said mockingly.
He straightened, taking the length of wood in both hands.
"I can see you are afraid," I said haughtily. "Why don't you show me you're not afraid: look into my eyes, Malkavian; look deep into the endless night of my beautiful eyes."
Defiantly he stared back into my eyes. I realized quickly that I had no power over him, not in the traditional way of the Kindred, but I had other powers that he was unfamiliar with. I recalled Milton's experiments with trance inductions and my own experience; for a moment I felt I was back on stage, dealing with a reluctant volunteer. I knew I had to relax and subvert his defiant and suspicious nature before continuing.
"You are afraid of me," I said, pouting briefly. "My beautiful eyes can't harm you, so lovely, dark and deep; don't you like looking at them, now that I've taken my glasses off?"
His spreading superior, possessive grin eclipsed the suspicious look in his eyes. He looked at me confidently now, totally concentrating on me.
"Yes, my eyes. Concentrate on my beautiful eyes. My deep, dark, lovely eyes that are like the night, bringing peace, relaxation, rest."
I continued telling him to concentrate on my eyes, likening them to the night, to peace, to rest. He began blinking heavily and he started visibly swaying in time with my voice.
Suddenly the piece of wood he carried dropped to the grass. His eyes blinked as he tried to turn away from my eyes, but I stepped up to him and gently turned his head towards me.
"Don't you want to look at my beautiful face, my beautiful eyes? To look at my eyes, to look deep into my eyes, deep into the night, deep into the sleep of night." I talked about the night and the stars, and sleep. I started varying my voice, first raising it then gradually lowering and softening it. His head nodded in time with my voice, his eyes growing more and more vacant. Eventually I settled my voice into a slow, repetitive rising and falling sing-song.
Suddenly he closed his eyes, and I started to deepen the trance, stroking his face, his temples. He smiled slightly as my suggestions to surrender wound through his twisted mind to the deepest core of his being.
When I finished, I picked up the jagged piece of wood in my hands, pausing several seconds to summon and enhance my strength. I half expected that at any moment he would snap open his eyes and say something silly like "Booga!", but he remained oblivious.
When I felt I could wait no longer, I thrust the wood into his heart. The shock broke the trance, and he fumbled at the wooden stake as he toppled over to the ground. I glared distastefully at the Vitæ spilling onto the grass as his trembling motions slowed and eventually stopped. I sighed silently in relief, then looked back at Milton.
I saw him smile back at me, watching me thoughtfully, but warily.
"How much were you aware of?" I asked cautiously.
Milton clasped her shoulder. "I was conscious for most of it," he replied proudly, "and I couldn't have done a better job myself.
"Of course, I couldn't have commanded his attention the way you did, either," he continued with a short laugh.
I lowered my eyes and smiled in return. "I should have known you would have been able to overcome the effect yourself," I said absently, nodding to myself.
He looked around at the human chesspieces, still puppets awaiting their now-lost master's commands.
"What about them?" he asked.
"I have to do something about them, Milton, or else there will be too many unpleasant questions asked, later."
"Can I," he started to say, but I held up a hand in reply.
"Milton, this is one area you have no experience in. I'll have to do the work myself." I looked at the staked body at my feet. "However, I do need you to take care of him."
He stared back at me, puzzled. "You'll have to burn him; that's the only sure way to destroy him."
Milton looked reluctant. "Its the only way to keep him from doing the same thing all over again when we leave," I said emphatically. He still looked dubious, but he picked up the body and started walking towards a brick barbecue on the far edge of the grounds. "And be careful not to remove the stake."
He laughed grimly. "Don't worry, Amelia, I've seen the films; I know what to do." I winced in response, then turned back to the people on the patio.
I looked at the human tableau: seventeen chesspieces and four orderlies, all still under the Malkavian's domination. I sat down and thought long on how I was going to approach the problem.
To begin with I touched one of the orderlies lightly on the arm to get his attention, then captured his gaze when he turned towards me. The Malkavian's control went deep, deeper than I could overcome as quickly as necessary, and so I felt at a loss at what to do, until several thoughts and theories coalesced in my mind, and I began, slowly at first, then with greater confidence and speed, to wipe the Malkavian's commands completely from the orderly's mind. When I was done I added my own compulsion for him to return to his regular duties, with no thought or awareness of anything out of the ordinary happening this evening. I broke the contact, then closed my eyes and shook my head to relieve the stress.
When I opened my eyes again, I found to my surprise Milton was standing beside me. Looking over my shoulder I could see the flames roaring in the barbecue, and I could smell the unmistakable stench of burning Kindred flesh in the air. Seeing his questioning stare, I smiled briefly.
"I managed to remove all of his commands," I said, tossing my head in the direction of the blaze. "He won't have any memory of this night or of anything strange happening."
Milton shook his head in wonder. "Your talents would make a superb therapeutic tool, Amelia," he said; "Its a shame you have to keep them quiet."
The orderly had already returned to his duties, unaware of the events around him this night. I looked at the other thirty-five people awaiting my help, and sighed.
It was just over an hour before dawn when we finally left the sanitarium. Besides the people at the chessboard Milton and I had to track down Dr. Franklin, still under the Malkavian' cruel domination and believing himself a dog. For him, I could only blunt the compulsions; the Malkavian had crafted them too cruelly and cunningly. All I could do was make it seem as though Dr. Franklin had suffered a nervous breakdown. Although I suspected the Malkavian had implanted commands in other people in the sanatarium, without him to implement them, those commands would be harmless. Or so I hoped.
Milton returned us to the boarding house where I maintained my Haven. He cut the engine, then turned in his seat to stare at me.
"Thank you for your assistance, Amelia; I suspected there was trouble at the sanitarium and I had a feeling that you were the only person who could help me."
I looked at him in silence for a long time. "How long have you known?" I finally asked quietly.
"I suspected that there was something unusual about you for some time, Amelia," he replied, "but it was only recently that I finally overcame my prejudicial scientific notions to be able to believe in the existence of vampires."
I put my hand on Milton's lips. "Don't say anything more," I whispered, a haunted look in my eyes that was reflected in Milton's own. "Don't make it any harder for me to do something I don't want to do."
"Amelia, believe me, I can keep your secret."
"I can't take that risk, Milton, and even if I could trust you, there are others who will not. We'd both be destroyed if word ever got out. You are going to have to forget about the existence of vampires completely."
"And if I choose not to?"
"You don't have that choice. Your only other option is for me to kill you." I stared at him bleakly, tears of blood running down my face. "I'll do it, too."
His eyes widened in shock, and I immediately seized the moment to capture his gaze. His brief resistance then sudden acceptance and submission, something that normally would have stimulated me, now only saddened me. "Come inside with me for a little while, Milton," I commanded quietly, "and don't resist me. I'm only doing this for our protection," I continued sadly.
He nodded silently, his eyes trapped within mine. We left the car and walked into the boarding house, down to the basement apartment I had carefully found and protected months before.
I closed the door and motioned Milton to stand in the center of the room. He waited compliantly as I steeled myself for the endeavor. Then I trapped his eyes within mine again and set to work.
I reached deep into his memories, using the skill and discipline I had so recently discovered to deftly cut and remove first the knowledge of my existence as a vampire, then subtly and carefully manipulating his personal memories so that he would never have cause to come to the same conclusions again. Finally, I removed all knowledge of the night's events, substituting his memories of a previous meeting with Dr. Franklin and my memories of a conference with an old patient, and I added a memory of me inviting him to my room for a moment and the knowledge that I was going to leave very soon. All the while I was careful to leave his core personality and knowledge intact.
When I was finished, after several long minutes, I held Milton's gaze a few moments more. "You will awaken when I snap my fingers," I stated firmly, "your awareness will join your memories without a break, or even a suspicion of a break."
I closed my eyes, knowing Milton's trance would last, and hugged him impulsively. Then I opened his collar and drank deeply of his blood. Besides replacing the large amount of blood I expended defeating the Malkavian the dizziness would help blur his memories, yet I did not drink enough to endanger him. I healed the wound, rebuttoned his collar, then sighed sadly. Then I snapped my fingers before Milton's face.
He blinked and looked down at me. "I'm really sorry you have to leave us at such short notice, Amelia," he said sadly. "You are probably my best student."
If I could blush, I would have, but instead I turned my head aside and smiled. "Thank you Doctor; you don't know how much that means to me."
"I was hoping you'd stay around for the wedding. There's an old acquaintance attending that you've heard me speak about; Doctor Sinclair. I wanted to introduce her to you."
I shook my head. "I've got to leave, Milton. And speaking of leaving, its late, or rather, its early, and we've both got to get some sleep."
He agreed that he was very tired himself, and he shook my hand warmly, then left my room. I listened to his car leave, then locked and barred the door. I called the bus terminal, getting a ticket to Chicago for the following evening, then I went to bed.
The next evening I packed what little I could afford to lose in two suitcases, mostly the books and notes I had collected during my study with Milton. A short cab ride took me to the bus station, where my bus was waiting. As I stepped aboard the bus I turned and looked back at the city, figuratively looking back at my recent life among the Herd and wondering if I could ever risk living among them again without discovery.
The trip took two days: I spent the intervening day in a darkened hotel room in South Bend, fretting even in my torpor about the Sun and discovery.
When I arrived in Chicago the next night Gregory met me at the bus terminal; it was frightfully but not perilously close to dawn. He took to me to one of his Havens nearby, where I had spent many a day before. I found that I was crying again, the second time in almost as many days and only the third time since my Embrace. He never asked me about my experiences, seeing the tears; he only kissed me on the forehead and said that we'd talk later.
That came three night later, when he and I retrieved a steamer trunk containing most of my possessions. By this time I had arranged a permanent Haven of my own.
I did not cry this time, having burned away the need for them, but I still needed his support and confidence in me.
Gregory unrolled a large advertising poster before me. In bold letters I read "Dr. Fright's Midnight Horror Show." Underneath was "See the coffin of the vampire Countess Mircalla."
I looked inquisitively at Gregory. "Midnight horror shows, my dear, horror shows," he said. "Haven't you been keeping up with the trade? They're quite the rage nowadays."
I shook my head to indicate I hadn't, pleading pressure of work and study and the desire to put that facet of my life aside for a while.
"Well, now that you're getting back into the business, I thought that you might want a decent booking."
"You want me as your assistant? I've never done that before."
He waggled his finger at me. "Not assistant, partner: separate and distinct parts of the act."
"You mean split the show?"
"Absolutely," he replied. "I'll work the first part, do some magic tricks, showing off the skeleton in the coffin of the famous vampire Countess Mircalla. Then we do a switch and put you in the coffin, which my clumsy assistant will then overturn. You escape and force me into the disappearing cabinet, at which point you take over the show.
"You can then appear to mesmerize my assistant. I think you'll have fun doing the disappearing head and the skeleton box tricks on him. I was figuring on you would then do part of your hypnotism act on volunteers from the audience, dareing them to come up on stage and fall under the spell of the vampire Countess: you're good enough that you shouldn't have any problem with that.
"When you're finished, I'll appear out of the cabinet and, brandishing a cross, drive you back into your coffin and seal it. I'll finish with some simple stuff; linking rings and appearances, that sort of thing.
"The blow-off will have the coffin opened and you missing: we'll have you laughing menacingly over the PA system as the audience leaves the theater."
"Michelle, I am going to travel to Europe soon. I need to get away and re-establish myself; the Masquerade is becoming very difficult for me after so many years. I'd like you to come with me."
Europe. Even after the wars it seemed like a magical place. "Of course I'll go with you, Gregory."
One foggy London night Gregory led me down a flight of stone stairs to a pair of heavy mahogany doors. On one was a notice: THE MAGIC CIRCLE - MEMBERS ONLY. Gregory removed a card from his pocket, read the back, nodded, then turned to me.
"Close your eyes, m'dear," he said, affecting a breezy English accent reminiscent of several prominent English actors. "Members only."
I obediently closed my eyes. My sensitive hearing heard the manipulation of a series of hidden catches, then the door being swung open.
"After you, m'dear," said Gregory, and I opened my eyes, walking into the anteroom.
Gregory led me to a small spotlit table, which held a large, open book. Absently, I flicked back several pages, examining and recognizing many of the famous names of the trade signed within.
"Names of power to conjure with, eh, m'dear?" said Gregory as he held out a pen to me. I took it and signed boldly ‘Amelia Brandewyne' after his own spidery ‘Samuel Franklyn'.
He ushered me into the common reading room, sparsely occupied at this early hour of the evening. One man was sitting alone at the broad table, surrounded by cups of cold tea, issues of the International Brotherhood of Magician's trade newspaper The Linking Ring, and innumerable decks of cards. He smiled up at us as we entered, his hands idly handling a deck of cards.
I stared at the deck, flickering between the young man's hands, not really seeing what he was doing but making a good guess. I sat down beside him, taking up another deck beginning to shuffle it.
"Alex, this is an old friend and former apprentice of mine. Amelia, meet Alex, one of the best card manipulators in the business; Alex, meet Amelia, probably my best student."
Alex nodded towards me, not taking his eyes from my hands as I adroitly duplicated his Riffle Pass, first taking exquisite care to ensure that he recognized what I was doing, then repeating it so quickly and smoothly that it was over before he even realized it. Alex looked up at Gregory in amazement.
"I said Amelia was my best student," said Gregory.
"You said right," replied Alex, eyes appreciative.
"Come, Amelia, we can't delay: we have business to attend to."
I smiled graciously at Alex, saying "You're quite good yourself; even a pro like me can't easily tell you're making a pass, even when we look for it."
Alex returned my charming smile.
Gregory indicated a doorway across the room and I led the way, swinging around a few small knots of silent conversation that fell silent as I approached, only to resume again at Gregory's smile and nod in their direction.
We entered the doorway to the smell of dusty old paper. The man to the desk nodded absently to Gregory as they passed by, then resumed his passionate conversation with the man standing next to him. Gregory led me behind a standing bookshelf, out of sight from the men at the desk, and pulled down a specific fragile old volume. Gregory's eyes were expectant, gazing at the book hungrily.
He opened the book carefully to a well-remembered page. A fragment of commentary was written in a medieval hand: I could barely make out the words, but Gregory translated them softly, running his finger underneath the words.
"The blood witcheries practiced by Father Williams damned his soul, and he was burned at the stake on January 27th, in the Year of Our Lord 1292."
I looked curiously up at Gregory, and, still smiling, he gave me a warning shake of his head. He replaced the book and took my hand, leading me out of the club.
On the street outside I could not hold her curiosity any longer. I tossed my head back in the direction of the club and raised my eyebrows in question.
"Father Williams was my Sire back to the Eighth Generation from Caine," said Gregory. "It was rumored that he achieved Golconda, but I have never been able to find any mention of him, until now. The book has more, but I wanted you to see it, to share it with me."
My lips moved to repeat the word ‘Golconda' soundlessly, then I glanced up into Gregory's eyes. He responded with a confident smile and shake of his head. I hugged him tightly, and he wrapped his arms about my shoulders in return: we stayed tightly together in the foggy London night for several minutes.
Gregory raised his hand and hailed a cab, and as the two of us entered told the driver to take them to the Vampire Magic Club. Even though the name was familiar, its mention still brought a touch of fear to me at the possible breaking of the Masquerade.
When we arrived, I glanced up at Gregory. "Why does the Prince of London allow the name to exist?"
Gregory smiled. "Actually, I haven't explained that its name was purely accidental: no Kin had anything to do with its founding. The same with the Warlock Club downtown, although both it and this now have several warlocks and vampires as members." He paused a moment. "I suppose it amuses them; it certainly does tickle my fancy," he continued, grinning.
I tossed back my head in mock disbelief.
"Come," he said, seriously, setting his hand on my shoulder, "I have a show to prepare."
I met Gregory as he came off stage to his usual loud applause. He quickly pulled me off to one side, silencing my praise with a cautioning finger and indicating the peephole in the wings, overlooking the audience.
"Did you see him, Michelle? Third row, second from the right end."
I looked out across the audience through the peephole, easily recognizing the figure indicated by his lanky brown hair and prominent Roman nose. "Richard Lambert, one of Damian's cronies," I said, turning back to Gregory. "What's he doing here?"
"Here, as in London, or here as in at the theater?"
I glared at Gregory.
"He's here in London, so he told the Prince, to investigate some of his descendants for possible Embrace." His diffident tone indicated to me that Gregory didn't believe it, either. "As for why he's here tonight, that remains a mystery.
"And I hate mysteries, don't you, Michelle?"
I smiled slyly in return.
An envelope addressed to Amelia Brandewyne with an unfamiliar return address was in my mailbox this evening. Opening it, I found a short typewritten note: "My name is Elizabeth Erickson, and I'm trying to locate a former pupil of my husband Milton, a Doctor Amelia Brandewyne: this is the last address I have of her. If you have any information as to her whereabouts, please contact me at (602) 957-3132. Thank you."
I stared at the letter for several moments, then picked up the phone and dialed the number. The number rang briefly, then a woman's voice answered wearily "Hello?"
"Mrs. Elizabeth Erickson? I'm calling in regards to Dr. Brandewyne."
"Yes. My husband Milton suffered a stroke recently, and has been very insistent in asking to see Amelia Brandewyne. I'm trying to locate her."
I thought a moment as a cold feeling of dread flowed down my spine. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Erickson," I replied slowly, "but Amelia died in 1971. An automobile accident in Europe. I'm her niece Melissa."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," responded Mrs. Erickson.
"How is your husband's condition?" I asked politely but not inquisitively.
"He's conscious most of the time, but it seems he's slipping." I could hear a catch in her voice.
"You have my sympathies. I'm sorry I couldn't help you."
"That's all right. Thank you for your time."
I hung up the phone, deep in thought. Then I pulled open the drawer, withdrew a copy of the yellow pages, flipped through until I reached a particular page, and called the first airline I found. I asked for the next available flight to Phoenix, to arrive before the next morning. The first had nothing suitable on their schedule, as did the second, but the third airline I called had a flight that left that evening at 10:30 pm which arrived in Phoenix by 4:05 am. I pulled out my almanac and confirmed the arrival time against its entry of the sunrise in Phoenix on this date. I then gave the agent my credit card number and she promised to have the ticket waiting for me at the gate. I thanked her and hung up the phone.
Another call obtained a hotel room close to the hospital, with instructions not to disturb me the following mornings as I would be arriving late and working late.
I still had one more call to make. I dialed the number from memory, hoping to find the person at home. The number rang several times, then was answered. "Hello?" asked a woman's voice warily.
"Tyler? This is Morgana Black. I'm leaving tonight on the 10:30 flight from O'Hare to Phoenix and I need to clear it with you."
"What brings you to travel so suddenly?" she asked suspiciously.
I paused a moment. "I'm seeing an old friend who's dying; there are certain matters I need to complete before his death. Certain Kindred matters."
There was silence on the line for several moments. Then she said "It will cost you, but I think the price will be minimal. Contact me when you return."
I agreed, then hung up the phone. I wrote a note for club manager to give to Gregory, packed a few essentials, and called for a cab.
I walked down the darkened hospital corridor in my borrowed white coat; my confidence in my deceptive abilities born of decades on the stage cloaking me as I approached the nurse's station, as the mingled atmosphere of life and death here in the intensive care ward alternately attracted and repelled me.
"Nurse?" I asked of the woman sitting behind the counter. "What is Doctor Erickson's room number?"
"I'm afraid visiting hours were over hours ago," the nurse said, swiveling about on her chair towards me and shaking her head. "He needs his rest."
"That's quite all right," I answered pleasantly, fixing the nurse's eyes with my dark gaze. "I'm an old friend and student of Dr. Erickson's. Now," I commanded, drawing the tired nurse's will easily under the spell of my eyes, "tell me Dr. Erickson's room number."
The nurse's eyes went blank. "He is in room 225," she replied dully.
I smiled. "There, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
"No," replied the nurse in a flat voice.
"As a matter of fact, it was so easy that you didn't do it at all; you've completely forgotten about talking to me, haven't you?"
"You won't even notice me, will you?"
I left the nurse to blink herself awake after a few minutes with no memory of our exchange as I walked to the end of the corridor and opened the door to room 225.
The man on the bed inside was lying on his back, an intravenous bottle hanging from a rack to his right; he seemed asleep, or worse, but his breathing, while slow and light, was regular.
I pulled the penknife from my pocket with my right hand and wiped it on my sleeve, then reached over and opened his mouth with my left hand. A quick thrust served to penetrate my left index finger, and several drops of rich, dark red Vitæ flowed from the wound into the man's mouth.
He responded automatically, licking the powerful Vitæ as the drops dropped into his mouth, then suddenly he gave a shuddering gasp for breath. I withdrew my hand, licking my wounded finger to heal it, then replaced the knife in my pocket and sat back to watch over him, stroking his forehead tenderly.
After several minutes he opened his eyes and looked around the room, finally noticing me sitting at his bedside. "Amelia?" he whispered. "You haven't aged a bit. I wanted to talk to you, but they told me you were dead."
"Yes, Doctor, I'm here, I'm not dead," I responded, taking his hand in mine.
He swallowed, grimacing at the sour taste of blood on his tongue. "What have you done?"
I smiled gently. "I've made it possible for us to have a final talk, Milton," I replied. "Now tell me, why are you asking to see me."
"I remember things, vague things. Things about you."
"You're hallucinating from your stroke."
"No, its like I'm remembering things I thought forgotten, and the stroke only enabled me to remember them. Suspicions about you, but I can't remember about what."
I sighed in defeat. I realized that his stroke had obviously undone my adjustments to his memory several decades ago.
"You suspected I wasn't human, and later came to believe I was a vampire."
Milton shook his head. "A vampire?" he said. "How do you expect a man of science to believe that?"
"Once, you realized it all on your own, Milton, but I was forced to make you forget. Now, maybe I can make it up to you."
"I am hallucinating," he said.
"Is this a hallucination?" I smiled and bared my teeth, slowing the process so that the appearance of my fangs was a long and slow and unmistakable process. Milton shook his head and blinked several times.
"Maybe you'll believe this," I said, baring his arm and sinking my fangs into his wrist. He moaned at the pain, and I briefly drank to replace the Vitæ I had given to restore him, albeit so briefly. I then licked the wound healed, and presented the healed wrist for his inspection.
"A hallucination, or some sort of trick," he started, and I silenced him with a touch on his lips.
"Scientists are always the hardest to tell there are vampires," I mused absently under my breath, then shook my head and said out loud "Then perhaps, Milton, you'd believe this."
I took his head in my hands and turned it towards me. "I studied under you. You are the world's acknowledged expert on hypnosis and trances, Doctor, but according to legend a vampire's gaze has a power far greater than mere hypnosis, and now you're going to feel that power.
"You could easily resist being hypnotized, Milton," I continued forcefully. "Just try to resist this."
I captured his gaze with my own, staring deep into his eyes, preventing him from turning away. I slowed my eventual control dramatically, slowly, subtly subverting his will and placing it entirely under my own.
"How does it feel to surrender all control under my mesmeric gaze? You're the expert on trances, Doctor; tell me, how does it feel to be forced to surrender to a trance deeper than anything you've ever known? Tell me!"
His eyes widened as I slowly drained his will away. "This state differs from a hypnotic state in that it isn't developed from within but imposed from without," he said slowly, passively, "yet there are several similarities to a classic hypnotic state: a complete focusing of attention with a corresponding disregard for outside environmental influences, just to name one."
"Keep talking, Milton; keep talking. What other similarities do you notice?"
"The languid feeling throughout the body, the restriction and relaxation of conscious thought."
"How are the two states dissimilar?"
He took a long time in answering. "There is a pronounced sexual element here involved that is rare in hypnosis, an element that appears to enhance the mesmeric effect. There is also mingled a strong element of fear and terror that is rarely present in a hypnotic state."
I smiled in satisfaction. "Sink deeper into my gaze, Doctor; can you feel your will slipping further and further away? What does it feel like?"
He licked his lips before continuing. "Yes, I can feel it slipping away; it feels like it is falling asleep. The elements of my personality feel as though they are being suppressed, anesthetized."
"By now, at this level of trance, most everyone would obey any command I could give them; can you tell me why, Doctor? What has given me this power over people?"
He licked his dry lips again, his voice growing softer. "All functions of the mind appear to be totally suppressed, except at the command of the vampire," he said after a moment, "which they appear to respond to without regard to any other higher or lower mental function. The level of suppression must vary from person to person, but the overall effect appears to permit the complete domination of an individual."
He continued, listing specifics as I nodded in agreement. Finally I said "I'd suspected as much, Doctor; thank you for confirming my theories. Its a shame that I can't publish my findings."
He sighed as I relaxed my control, finally turning away from him. "Rest, teacher; you've deserved your memories, now that you can't tell anyone what you know, just as I've deserved the answers to the questions I've never been able to ask until now." I drew his eyes shut with two fingers. "Sleep now, Doctor Milton Erickson, though you will not awaken on this side of life." Already his breathing was becoming more and more shallow, matching the pattern it maintained when I had entered. "You were one of the finest teachers I ever knew," she continued silently after a moment.
I arrived back in Chicago the following evening, hurrying and fretful: with the time changes I had very little time to return to my Haven before the sun rose. As I left the gate a man in a dark coat approached me.
"Miss Black?" he said, alternately eyeing me and the snapshot be carried in his hand. "Tyler wants to see you. Now."
I could see two other men, standing in the shadows of the largely vacant terminal, watching us. I turned to the man before me and nodded.
An electric cart approached and I was told to get in. The three men around me disappeared into the shadows.
We were passed through a security door and out on to the runways, heading for a remote hangar across the field. I looked around at the horizon, checking for signs of the oncoming dawn, and was relieved that I found none. The cart pulled up before the door, and the driver told me to enter. I approached the door, opened it, and stepped inside.
I stepped into a pool of light, the sound of my arrival echoing dimly in the expanse. Over in the far corner another light appeared, and Tyler's voice called me to approach. I walked across the hangar to meet her.
It was the first time I had actually seen the Brujah clan leader Tyler in person, and I was struck by the obvious physical similarities between us. We stood the same height, although she was broader than I in the shoulders and waist, and we shared the same black waterfall of hair, though she tied hers into a ponytail while I let mine flow freely. I could sense she was equally as intrigued at the situation, yet had more pressing matters on her mind.
She was sitting on top of a bare desk, and she pointed commandingly towards a chair beside it. I strode up to the chair and sat down.
She stared at me for many seconds, then spoke. "Where do you stand, little Ventrue?" asked Tyler, shaking her fist at me. "You aren't one of Lodin's broods."
This was a question I had asked myself for several decades now, and was not closer to answer than when I started. I said as much to Tyler.
"There may come a time when you will be forced to take a stand, Ventrue." Her voice cracked like a whip against me.
I shrugged my shoulders, replying starkly "What can I do against people so much more powerful than I? I'd be foolish to try. I prefer to stay unattached and let such things pass me by."
She growled at me, unconvinced but unwilling to continue. She gestured towards the door. "Get lost, Ventrue," she said disgustedly.
As I crossed the hangar floor I could hear her voice calling out from behind me. "And you still owe me, Ventrue; I'll call in your debt, sometime."
I stopped at the door, turning and calling back "If you want me, then all you have to do is ask for me by name, Tyler," I said, mockingly polite.
There was no reply, only the sound of another door closing. I snorted, then left the hangar. The cart was still there, waiting, and it drove me back to the main terminal, where it pulled up beside my luggage and a waiting cab. A short time later I was back at my Haven, long before daylight.
This was to be a novel about the life of Morgana Black, my vampire RP character, with the hopes of even selling it to White Wolf. Unfortunately there seems to be little chance of that now. There was much more to be done: more meetings with other famous individuals in the magic trade, for instance, and it would end with Morgana becoming involved with the disappearance of Lodin.