Ms. D’Costa wiped the plates, running them in a circular motion, padding them frequently against the soft cotton cloth in the other hand. She placed them with meticulous perfection, marking a distance of seven fingers from the edge of the table for the first and then arranging the rest of them in accordance. Forks and knives were arranged thereafter in a similarly precise fashion. There was no room for tardiness in Ms. D’Costa’s house. And this was no mean house either. She lived in a bungalow in Bow Barracks, a bungalow by traditional definition though, but in reality, it had been restructured, to make it resemble a cottage. A beautiful garden, on an uneven bed, evenly mowed grass, barring the intermittent tufts of green where small wildflowers of myriad hues languished, a small pond with water lilies and a very lazy pair of turtles in there somewhere and hundreds of gorgeous biennials flanking all sides of an amoebic plot of land. Her cottage itself was something out of a fairy tale story – brick red in color punctuated by beams painted an iridescent shade of dark green, with a tiled roof and mahogany doors. A tarmac trail led from the door to a corrugated metal gate, which lay at the junction of a picket fence surrounding it. A thick growth of thorny vines grew through the fence creating a substantial natural barrier to prevent intruders from entering.
It was very rare for her to have people over. The service she provided was clandestine in nature. And her customers paid a premium price for it. A flat rate was what it was – one half of the individual’s fortunes. The last time it had been a Russian oligarch that had passed the audition. His wealth was stashed away in gold somewhere within the premises.
It was through a very tight circle of referrals that she got her customers. Tonight, in fact, would be the first audition she would have in over a year. Seven people were to arrive that evening. An American lawyer, Mr. Eric Bryce, Noam Amar, an Israeli student of Economics, a couple of Indians, Amrit Maroo a physician and Nisrin Farooq an entrepreneur – she always tried to accommodate more people from the country she was living in as a matter of practice –Paula David a Jamaican ornithologist and Pierre Ménès a French socialite. She had gone through their files documented and detailed by Ivan, her aide from when she was seven years old. Ivan was a globe trotter with connections that ranged from the highest echelons of power in DC, to the network of ragpickers in Istanbul, the clandestine circles of the Scientologists to the malevolent Muslim of Afghanistan. The files reflected his extraordinary acumen for collecting information. They contained everything about the candidates – their opinions, their propensities, sexual tendencies, tastes, their deepest secrets and their most fertile of fantasies – everything had been carefully documented. And her preparations for the dinner had been a combination of artistry and mathematical precision to pander to the vices of each and every one of them.
Ms. D’Costa had gotten a Dutch chef flown in from Bruges in Belgium to prepare dinner for them. An exquisite five course affair, the food was as aesthetically pleasing as it was satisfying to the most discerning of palates. Amuse-bouche included a delicate pea gelee, delicately sliced red mullet and marinated salmon on a tray of cucumber. The bite sized hors d’oeuvres were served along with seed rolls and bread. The starter was an ingenious combination of cheese, morels and chicken stock utilized to create a brilliant risotto with morel spread. For the main course there was white asparagus with morels, laid out delicately with a creamy sabayon of potato within a ‘bridge’ of asparagus, served with a few perfectly formed shrimps, soaked in chicken juice perfumed with nutmeg and decorated with some intricate patterns sewn out of basil oil and squid ink juices. Dessert was the most divine preparation of a a Pavlova, garnished with strawberries and passion fruit. The petit fours which included a rum baba topped with pistachio, a mini apple tart, a strawberry tart and truffles were as stunning as they were delicious, prepared with some of the finest cheeses known to man – Munter, aged Comte, a soft blue and some delightful goat cheese. Elegance with a hint of ostentation.
She would need to fix herself up now. She made her way to the white dressing table at the corner of her bedroom. She looked at her reflection, almost disappointed at what she saw. Her hair was rolled up into flowery little curls with hot rollers between them. Her face was flawless. Not a scratch, not a speck was visible. Not even a birthmark. Her skin bore the slightest tinge of her Indian genes, a bronze shade to a pristine white canvass. Her brown eyes were narrow, piercing, expressive – benign one moment, blazing with crimson fury the next. She had a long nose, not sharp, but smoothly curving into a narrow bud at the bottom. Her lips were full, luscious, stinging in its luster brought about by a soft moistness. ‘Ethereal’ barely grazed the tip of the immenseness that her beauty was.
She removed the hot rollers from her hair. The curls they had induced were very near perfection. The dry shampoo had provided it with a certain amount of frizz, but it was not adequate. No matter. She would get to it in a bit. For now she tweezed her hair into breadths of four inches with her fingers, making them resemble fabrics of bronzed gossamer and clamped them within the jaws of steaming ceramic pressers for the next few minutes. She then removed her most prized possession, a boar bristle brush with an ivory stem and ran it deftly through her hair, cajoling it to obedience. She now used a band to squeeze her curls to the back of her head, a few flowing strands left behind to create the perfect Victorian pouf and flaunt her long, exquisite, neck. She had chosen a short black, handcrafted Hervé Léger dress for the evening. Underneath it she was wearing stockings and a panty hose. She looked up at the clock. It was nearly time for the guests to arrive. She always worked on her face last. It was a careless perfection which she aspired for, and once she had achieved it, she hated having to alter it to the slightest. A change in attire would usually warrant alterations, and she had made it a practice to avoid just that.
“Why do you go through such pains, making a ceremony out of a procedure that barely lasts a few minutes?” a question Ivan had asked her, several decades ago, came back to her whenever she would stand in front of a mirror before her prospective clients would arrive.
She first applied liquid foundation and then using a puff, dabbed powder over her face, her neck and her bare décolletage. After which she screwed the smooth shaft of lipstick out from its cylindrical chamber and smothered her fingers against the fuchsia pink bullet. She then smiled, paused as she looked at herself for a few seconds before she dabbed the color on either side of her cheeks. Whatever was left of it she glazed onto her lips. From a wooden drawer she now removed a diamond pendant and a pair of diamond earrings. Their design was vintage Romanian. Their age, infinite. As the pendant dropped between the curve of her breasts, she looked at herself one last time. She was ravishing. Like a Victorian princess. A queen. She needed to be. She needed to be the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. It was a burden, no doubt, but the price they would pay was immense. This was the least she could do.
“Why?” Ivan’s voice rang out in her ears again. Just then the doorbell rang. The first guest had arrived.
The seven of them were now seated on the table. Dinner had been most satisfying, the best meal that they had ever had in their lifetime. Ms. D’Costa knew that food had merely been at the core of an evening, elaborately orchestrated to infuse a sense of euphoria amongst her guests. The choice of music, the shade of table cloth, the choice of furniture and most importantly her own lascivious demeanor, coupled with her sensual outfitting had all caused a rush of endorphins amongst all the guests present. They had all tried to cull favor with her, using intelligence, or their exploits, laying their personalities bare as each of them tried to grasp what it was that this enigmatic lady considered the criterion for appraising them. Little did they know that their personalities were what had enabled her to shortlist them. What she was looking for now, was much more primeval, more carnal. More than a year of wait had made her ravenous, and during the dinner, as she watched them all stripping themselves bare for her, craving her attention, her desire was driving her to frenzy.
All six of them would represent her nicely.
They were all good looking, intelligent, wise, beautiful and ambitious. What she seeked now, her criterion, so to speak, was much simpler. She was looking for size, girth, suppleness, flexibility and a strong, strong heart that would pump blood ceaselessly. And she had almost made her choice already. It was the Frenchman.
She removed the plates as the conversations continued amongst the lot of them. This was a fairy tale for them all. And she desperately wanted to keep it that way for as long as it was possible. Getting the plates and other breakable objects out of the way early would ease the cleaning she would have to do after. Having cleared the table she now exited the house from the backdoor and made her way to the front, where she planted an ancient padlock onto the thick mahogany door as she locked it from the outside. The windows had already been shut. She now made her way back to her guests. As she entered the dining room she shut the door that connected it to the rest of the house. As she did this, there was silent curiosity amongst the guests.
A thread of the fragrance she craved had just entered the room. Her eyes glistened lustfully, her throat went dry. The moment was almost upon them. But protocol needed to be followed.
“Why?” Ivan voice rang out inside her head again.
“Please take your seats, ladies and gentlemen” she said as everyone took their wine glasses and made their way to their respective seats. The air had suddenly become a lot more formal.
“Why are we here tonight?” she asked her voice as pleasant and fresh as sunshine.
“Because you called us here” replied the American, half smiling and looking at the others assembled for acknowledgement. Some smiled back while others, looked at Ms. D’Costa.
“And why is it Eric, that you wanted to come here” Ms. D’Costa’s voice was patient and her stare unwavering.
Eric looked around again, not sure what would be the correct way to answer the question. But before he could Nisrin replied, “For immortality.”
Ms. D’ Costa smiled and said “Immortality indeed” and the air relaxed significantly as glasses were raised and shouts of “Hear hear!”echoed.
Ms. D’Costa’s voice now rode the waves of revelry, “You loved the food?”
“Yes” they replied in unison.
“Do you looove me?” she said flirtatiously.
“Yes”, “Oh yes” the replies were louder this time around.
“Why?” Ivan asked off her.
“Why? ? Don’t you see their hubris? Their undermining of their very existence? Of their mortality? Of the pleasure of tasting food, of feeling warmth, of love, of appreciating beauty ,that is live and not crystallized within the stratosphere of a painter’s color, or a musicians notes, or a writer’s words?
The euphoria had hit its peak, the room was awash with the potent smell of pheromones, adrenalin and endorphins. Ms. D’Costa’s smile grew wider as she continued to speak with abandon. “Would the other five feel unhappy if they missed out?”
“Yes”, “Of Course”, the calls were louder and emotionally charged.
She gesticulated for silence amongst the audience now as she now spoke. Her voice was more somber but the smile persisted.
They have the ability to feel pain, emotions, it is what gives them their divinity, the root of their innate hope for the transcendence of their soul. The fact that all that they have can just pop like a bubble, at any moment, and that fear, that hopelessness is the greatest prize of their mortality, the creator of every necessity of the need to embrace every moment. They are culpable of the crime of wanting to throw it all away for the paltry gift of immortality.
“That was precisely how the other candidates felt before you as well. But did you find any information from anyone unhappy with what had happened here. I already know that you have done your research and haven’t found anyone with complaints. In fact if I am not mistaken, you haven’t found anyone at all. Have you?”
There was silence amidst her audience now. The wave had begun to slant downwards. The moment was near.
Ms. D’ Costa’s voice now rang out, sharper and much more ominous, a flaming arrow shot through a pit of darkness, “I have made my choice. Step forward Pierre. Come to me now.”
The room was silent. The enthusiasm in the room had been flattened out, diffused like air from a fast deflating balloon. As Pierre now stood in front of Ms. D’Costa she placed her arms on his shoulder and whispered.
“ Why can I give you immortality, Pierre?”
And she kissed him as she slowly undid the buttons on his shirt tracing circles with her fingers on his bare skin. She kneaded his hair as Pierre stood frozen, petrified. For the moment he had kissed her, he had known what a grave mistake he had made in making this choice. In having come here. In having craved and tried so desperately, for this treasure that she had to offer and he had sought like a fool. Her body was cold, her lips held no fire, no passion. Nothing. It was as if his lips were entangled in an elastic mesh of cold leather. He tried to break free of her but it was of no use. He was no match for her immense strength as she twirled him around and began to kiss his ears softly and whispered again.
“Why can I give you immortality Pierre?”
The food they taste will be ash, for all they can savor thereafter will be blood, a life force with flavor borne out of the emotions of their victims experienced as they die – a vicarious taste. They will never feel lust for creation, the most beautiful emotion that can ever be felt, the tantalizing sight of a woman’s breast, the sharp edge of a man’s powerful jaw, the moistness of the lips, all will be redundant, for everything will look like food and nothing else. Everything will be bloodlust. This. The food they eat. The desire they will feel for me will be their punishment.
Pierre had tears rolling down his eyes, he wanted to scream, but she held his jaw effortlessly. To the others it seemed like a lover’s hold, but Pierre could feel the bear claw like strength holding it in place. The others watched in awe, mesmerized, and a little terrified because they couldn’t feel what Pierre felt. The despondency of it all was lost on them. But he knew now and he would be able to do nothing. He knew now why so many had been called for the audition. He knew now why he had been selected. He now saw what he should have seen a long time ago – the steadfastness of the two locked doors, the shut windows – none of them were going to escape. Both of them would consummate their unholy union now and together, the rest of them would perish to their hunger.
And then she whispered again “Why?”
Pierre could barely reply, his words but a whimper, “Parce que vous êtes un v-v-v”
“Continuez.. Allez sur.. Parce que je suis…”
“Parce que vous êtes… Vampire.”
And then he felt a burning sensation stem from his neck and course through all of his body. He could feel it for the first time now. Oh God! How could I never have felt this within me? It was his soul and within a few seconds it had been burnt off him like butter paper set ablaze.
And then as the life ebbed out of him the room went dark.
Special thanks to Elton jude Fernandez