I have never been so terrified, nor so excited in my life.
Always, always I have been alone and felt alone, and always, always I have hoped and prayed, alright, when I was at my lowest I would fall right to my knees and pray to everyone and everything that might be there and listen that there would be, could be, should be something else for me but all of this insanity of nothingness - those people lives, I couldn't take it then, can't take it now, and somehow, deep inside, I always knew that there was an alternative.
There had to be or nothing could make sense.
I read books about secret societies and tried to gain entrance to a few. On the occasions I succeeded, the disappointment burned my skin, burrowed through my liver, tore out my soul.
Ah, it was bad.
The mystery I sought was never there; but still, I could not keep from seeking.
I sought this all my life, and one night, one night I came upon the greatest secret of them all.
At the time, I was living, if you could call it that, in London, and I was working, if you could call it that, as a creative advisor to a bunch of people so stupid that I often thought it would be better to converse with ants, or worms, or perhaps a rock, a grain of sand - alright, so I did converse with sand and ants and sometimes trees, I was insane, I was desperate, I was always falling apart.
I was at an exhibition of what had the nerve to call itself contemporary art, ah well, I guess that's what it is, contemporary stupidity on mass, an excuse for lazy idiots to masturbate their pointless repetitions, raping virgin canvasses and defiling the innocence of a lump of clay.
I don't know why I went that night; I remember thinking that there was no point, that I should stay at home, smoke a joint and make the time just disappear, make the pain just disappear, make it all just go away if only for a moment here and there. I don't know why I got the invitation from the dresser, put on some clothes and made my way through the driving rain that night to the exhibition.
That was the title.
Pointless shit, they might as well have called it and I grabbed some wine and tried as hard as one can try to not see what's in front of you, in acrylics on canvass, huge and somehow the hugeness of the paintings magnified their pointlessness to near implosion point.
That's when I saw him.
That's when I saw Mark Edwards.
He was standing quietly, in an expensive dark suit, with his hands clasped behind his back. He looked anachronistic, 50 years or more out of place, and I just couldn't take my eyes of him.
He was pale, somewhere between 16 and 60, difficult to tell his age, tall, dark hair cut short, reminiscent of an army officer's hair cut. He looked around with a strange air, at first I thought he was nervous or uncomfortable, but then I decided that he was simply dodgy in some way, like he was trying to blend in and not be noticed.
He noticed me staring at him and when he did, he turned his head slightly and looked directly at me, straight into my eyes and my heart skipped a beat.
I remember being very confused by that. It was like falling in love at first sight yet I was not in love at all; I felt discovered, uncovered, undressed - I felt exposed to him and I could feel my head growing hot, my hands sweating around the wine glass and the lights were too bright, too white, too stark and I wished I was ...
Then, he simply turned away and walked away, I couldn't breathe, I wanted to crumble to the floor but I couldn't and then I couldn't stand the idea that he might leave, that I would never see him again, find out more, I must know who that is, I must know this man.
Here is a chance for me to finally learn something new.
I followed him through the maze of exhibits and the studio and then I saw that he entered the toilets at the back and it was an incredible relief, but still I could hardly breathe or speak. I knew the gallery owner and his side kicks, grabbed one of them and made them stand with me until he finally re-appeared, immaculate and so distant, detached, "Who is this? Where has he come from? Who does he belong to?" The side kick didn't know, said they'd never seen him before, nor had they seen him arrive, and I followed him again and then he got his coat and made for the exit and the panic I felt left me breathless - I ran after him without a thought, ran outside into the rain without stopping to retrieve my jacket, straight out and straight into him.
He was waiting for me outside.
The rain was hard, driving, insanely cold and the wind was freezing; but he, he stood in the rain and he wasn't wet, he wasn't getting wet, the raindrops seemed to go right through him, and I stared at him and couldn't speak, couldn't do anything at all, couldn't think anything but one thing - "Don't leave me."
For a moment, there it was again - that incredible sensation of him seeing me, seeing into me, stripping me down and out, and then he smiled and reached into his pocket, produced a small business card and held it out to me.
I took it immediately and without thought.
He smiled again, nodded once, then he turned and walked away.
I stared at him simply walking down the street, with other people hurrying by and cars and taxis, bright white lights, red lights shifting, until I could not see him any longer.
The card in my hand was wet with rain splatters, rain rivers and it took some time to focus down enough to read what it said.
It said his name, Mark Edwards, in an elegant if somewhat old fashioned font. And below the name, there was an address. No phone number, no cell phone, no email. Just an address, a London W1 street address.
And that was the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end of this my earthly incarnation.
My joy was such that I could hardly breathe.
Out Of Control
It was over ten days later that I finally found myself outside a perfectly ordinary if expensive and well kept town house. I would have come sooner but I got sick, perhaps it was standing out in the rain that night; either way, I couldn't so much as move for days on end, burning up with fever, drifting in and out of consciousness, and such dreams! I dreamed of him in so many different ways. I dreamed of him each time I closed my eyes. Frightening dreams. Frightening and exciting both. I didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't think I was gay, I never thought I was, but the way I dreamed about Edwards, I was no longer sure of anything. Days and nights merged into one and my desperation at my state and condition grew all the time - what if I finally got there and he was gone? What if he was waiting, getting impatient, thinking I wasn't interested ...
That I wasn't interested? In what? I tried to force myself to eat and drink but it didn't help, it didn't taste right, and I was sick, and always so tired. But finally the spell broke and I could breathe again, think again, well, at least of sorts, and all I could think of was that I had to go there, had to go to that address.
For the first time in ten days I showered. I shaved. I didn't know how to dress, what to wear. He had worn a suit. I had a suit but he had given me the card when I was dressed in jeans - did he want me to be like that? Like he saw me at the exhibition? I stood in front of the bedroom mirror and couldn't believe I was thinking like this, that I feeling like this, couldn't hold it together, couldn't string my thoughts together, couldn't find a clarity in anything.
I tried, I really tried to think reasonably. He might just be an art collector. He might just be someone who'd seen some of my stuff and wanted me for a commission. I didn't do commissions. I didn't do that anymore. I wasn't whoring myself out any longer. They should come up with their own ideas. But I knew, I just knew that Edwards was no art collector. Perhaps he was a pimp. That thought made me laugh and got me together enough to finally choose a sweat shirt, a pair of jeans, a pair of boots. My usual. No concessions.
Take me as I am.
I looked in the mirror and knew for a fact that I'd wear a ball gown if he wanted me to. I looked into my own eyes and I was scared shitless. I'd never known anything like this, nothing like this.
I had never even been in love.
Could this be it? What it feels like?
I called a taxi.
By the time we'd made our way through the thick traffic it was getting dark already again, and I was shaking. That's not a metaphor.
I was physically shaking.
I saw my hand with the twenty reach forward to the taxi driver and the hand was shaking.
When I got out and into the cold, windy street, the ground was shaking too.
But I was already walking towards the front door before I had decided to do that, and my shaking hand found the doorbell and pressed not once, but three times in rapid succession.
I was completely out of control.
It’s Steve …
There was a speaker phone at the entrance. A woman's voice said, "Yes?"
A woman's voice. Not Edwards. His wife? I can't breathe, I can't think. Out of my mouth comes in a strange voice, "It's Steve. Steve Burrows ..." and I hear it and I think, he doesn't know my name, no-one knows me here, this woman doesn't know me, they're going to tell me to go away, and I really think I'm going to have a heart attack, my head is tight as though there's a steel band pressing inward on my brain, and I still can't breathe properly, and there's a rushing in my ears, I hear something from the speaker but I don't understand it, and then the door clicks and pops open, and I push it open and nearly fall across the threshold.
There is another door in front of me. Like an air lock. Double doors. This second door looks strange, white and with a small panel of stained glass at eye level, it is locked as well. Behind me, the entrance door falls shut with a soft click.
I touch the other door and I can feel that this is metal, with white paint on top. A security door. I look up and see not one, but four cameras, one in each corner of this small entrance space. I knew a guy once who installed security equipment and I can tell that these are state of the art, each one separately mobile and with triple lenses - what is that? Infra red? A loud sound makes me jump and the white steel inner door has sprung open.
Cautiously, I push it outward. It is dark in the entrance hall.
There is no-one to be seen. The entrance hall is normal, perhaps a little old fashioned, old fashioned light fittings of the period this house was built, or perhaps retro fittings, hard to tell in this absence of light. Fitted carpets. I hear a movement and look up to the stairs.
On the landing stands Edwards. I know it is him even though all I can see is a silhouette against the stained glass window behind him. I hear his voice.
"Come up, Steve," he says.
A Burden Of Some Kind
I am sitting in a large, old fashioned drawing room on what might a very expensive antique couch. I am sitting on the edge of the seat, my legs together like a virgin girl, holding my hands together on my knees to stop them from shaking.
Edwards is still standing. The curtains are three quarter drawn and there are no lights. It is mystical, otherworldly in this room and I am terrified. My head hurts. I feel like crying. Edwards speaks softly.
"It was good of you to come," he says, slightly hesitantly. I can't place his accent. It is somewhere between public school and American. "May I call you Steve?" I finally look up towards him, because I want to feel that feeling again I had at the exhibition, that feeling as though he was connecting to me, reaching into me, actually seeing me, somehow taking something from me, a burden of some kind, something I've long wanted to give to someone, but no-one ever asked me.
He comes closer, one step, then two and now I can see his face and I can see his eyes and it is like it was in the dreams, I want to throw myself at him, I want to throw myself at his feet, dissolve to him, just for God's sake, take me, do something ...
He comes closer still and then turns, and sits down in a chair to my right. He leans forward and there is a hungry expression about him, just for a moment, then he puts his head back fractionally and smiles.
"Breathe deeply," he says, and I do, immediately. I take a deep breath and let it out, it comes out like a shuddering sigh.
"Breathing always helps," Edwards says, looks down at his folded hands and continues, "You are an artist, that is correct?" My mind focuses on the question, and even as it does, I know exactly that he has asked me that to give me something to hold on to, to have that effect on me, that he is controlling me like a hypnotist would, that he is directing my thoughts.
Under normal circumstances, I would have put up one hell of a fight. I won't be controlled, of course I won't, I'm the original rebel without a cause. Rebellion for rebellion's sake, nihilism, annihilation, that's me.
"I was an artist," I reply and my voice is strange, hoarse, far away. I want to ask him outright what he wants from me, why I'm here, but I know full well that I won't be speaking here unless I'm spoken to first. This isn't my show. It is his. He calls the shots. And then I know that this is an audition.
He is auditioning me.
But for what role?
I stare at him, able to do so for a moment as he is still looking down at his own hands. Strong hands, but long, slim. He doesn't lay bricks for a living.
I try to figure out how old Edwards is. I look at his neck, at his hands again. The skin is smooth, silky. Young, very young. But he isn't young. He isn't young, and rain doesn't make him wet.
I finally say it then, it just comes, just comes out, "What are you?"
Edwards becomes still, then he very slowly raises his head and his eyes to meet mine.
"I am a vampire," he says.
When Edwards told me that he was a vampire, something strange happened to me.
It was as though a moment of grace fell on me, and in that moment, everything went away.
All the confusion, the fear, the pressure, the uncertainty. All of it just disappeared. And more. All my life's confusion, and there was a whole lot of that, it all started to lift and swirl, and draw away, and then the sadness, and the anger, and the desperation, the fury and the rage, and all I can say is that somehow, all my life up until this one moment just disappeared.
And when it did, I was left in a state of such gratitude and clarity as I never even suspected could exist at all.
I could hear things - so well, so far and wide. Exquisitely attuned, I could hear the cars on all the roads, all around, every different kind, and the buses, trucks and bikes, each one separate, and each one placed with such exactitude. I could hear people, radios, TVs far away, I could hear myself breathing and the windows being touched by the winds outside.
I could see in the dark room, I could see luminescence playing around Edwards’ head, around his hands, his neck and shoulders, I could see objects inside drawers and all of that was there, and my own feelings, the steady beating of my heart, the rushing of my breath and every sensation, and all of that was there, all at once, and everything was in its rightful place and combined to create a perfect sense of peace, of reality, of perfection.
As this was happening to me, Edwards was still looking at me and he started to smile, a strange smile of pleasure, joy that was not marred by any form of compassion or even desire. I realised that he must have had such an experience too, and in observing me having this here, he was remembering his own moment of revelation.
I smiled as well then for it was delightful to think that he too had been given this grace, and I was glad he had, very glad indeed for him. What I felt for and with Edwards there was not love, I understood that then, it was completely other than, a kinship that goes way beyond blood and destiny, and I knew that we were the same.
This was a blessing that was mine by rights. I had been born to this, I had been born for this absolutely, and although it is completely impossible to explain to someone who has not experienced this rebirth for themselves, what you must try and understand is that I never for one moment questioned whether I deserved this, or what or how or why - it was right, and it was finally here, and I was finally saved in all ways.
It didn't matter that he had used the "V" word for it meant nothing.
It was other than.
And although I knew nothing, I knew already that it was what I wanted, what I needed, what was mine by every right.
I walked home that night beneath bright stars, and I walked on air.
Edwards had told me that I would have to attend the solstice festival which was a choosing, and that I might or might not be picked to become a one such as himself; he had given me the invitation card, signed with his master's name and told me of the location. As I walked I marvelled at the fact that I was not concerned to not be chosen, after all.
What I had been given this day already exceeded all my expectations for what was possible in this life. I was perfectly happy to accept my fate now, and whatever this might be; should I not be accepted, I would still always have the starry nights, the sounds and the sensations, the sheer celebration of being alive, and being me, within this fantastic dance of events that surrounds us all but so few of us ever really realise at all.
Nothing could ever hurt me again.
Nothing could ever make me distraught again.
Edwards had healed me of everything, and he had given me everything - the world, the stars, the future and the past, all of it right here and now, and always mine.
I looked up at the stars and I thanked God from the bottom of my heart.
If I was to be a vampire, that would be an honour beyond measure.
If I was not, I would be a man instead.
Either way, I couldn't lose.