The car dropped me off at the gate to the house. It opened right as I approached the iron bars that ended in spikes with a soft creaaaaak. It was hot outside, the humidity hung around the air in a tangible manner that made one feel like walking through a cloud, the swampy ground along each side of the walkway didn’t help even as the tree cover made me feel like walking into nighttime rather than my watch indicating that it was only noon. I looked down at the invitation one final time.
Come to Le Maison Nocturne. It advertised in long, purple letters that flowed flawlessly around a watercolor image of the white mansion, covered by trees so that almost no sun could come through. There was nothing else on the invitation, save for my name and home address on the back. Maybe just some old millionaire who knew about me as a journalist and wanted his life story known. I continued toward the vast front porch of the Victorian country house.
I lifted a softly trembling hand to rap my knuckle on the massive slab of mahogany that constituted the French door entrance when it opened to reveal a tiny man in a perfectly tailored tuxedo and top hat.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the man said in a thick, Louisiana accent, “You must be Mr. Timothy Stoker, the family has been waiting for you.” He stepped to the side and held his arm out to indicate I step inside.
I took one last look over my shoulder, back at the land that was forever stuck in twilight, and stepped inside. The air of the house was welcoming. I could just pick up the aroma of cinnamon and orange as the butler- whose name he never mentioned to me- took my suitcase after I retrieved my recorder, notepad, and pen from the front pocket. I was told to enter through the open entrance halfway down the hallway as the little man gave me a curt bow and ascended the elaborate white stairs that could have been directly taken from the palace at Versailles.
The house was dark, it gave a creepy feeling despite the cheeriness of the greeting butler and the paintings along the wall depicting brave men on horses and adoring women by rivers or in the trees that matched the ones outside. Everything was lit by candlelight, I felt as if I had stepped back in time or been lead to Hogwarts- as ridiculous as that sounds.
The entrance I was supposed to go into revealed a living room that reminded me of George Washington’s house on Mt. Vernon. The furniture was elaborate with ebony wood outlining soft red or midnight blue cushions that seemed more akin to relaxing on clouds than on man-made objects.
Mr. Nocturne smiled as I entered. He was sitting in one of those massive chairs that writers love to be depicted in. A burning fire made his almost white flesh look deep orange as he puffed a cigarette in an ancient-looking holder. His black hair was combed neatly in a wave as he wore an expertly crafted suit with the jacket slung over the back of the throne he sat on. He threw the jacket on and approached me. The man’s attire made me blush lightly of embarrassment as I realized I was only wearing an old pair of cuffed jeans and a light blue t-shirt.
“Mr. Stoker,” Nocturne greeted with a booming voice and a Louisiana accent that sounded more… well, it sounded classy and high-profile, as if he were some wealthy owner of the state, rather than a shut-in millionaire. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you. I hope that the travel was well and that Caldwell treated you kindly upon your arrival.”
Caldwell, that must have been the name of the butler who greeted me upon my arrival. I shook hands with Nocturne, who smiled widely again. His canine teeth were a lot sharper than one’s usually are. If he wasn’t careful, he could probably cut his tongue or dig holes through his cheeks.
“Mr. Nocturne, your house is amazing,” I told him, shaking his hand back. The touch was cool, he felt like he had been in a freezer rather than sitting by the fire, “Everything was great on my flight and ride here. Your butler was very nice to me.”
“Great!” the man exclaimed with genuine happiness. “Now, I would love to sit and talk more, however, I have some important business to attend to. Dinner will be at six-thirty if you would be so kind as to join my sisters and me for it. Caldwell will show you to your room and you are free to explore the grounds if you like or walk the halls of our home. Caldwell will get you anything you need if you find yourself in want of a drink or anything else. All you have to do is call for him.”
As if summed by his name, the tiny Caldwell appeared at the living room’s entrance and waited to lead me to my bedroom. Mr. Nocturne bid me a pleasant afternoon and I was taken up the beautiful stairs to a door right at the top. Someone must have guessed correctly that my favorite color was green because the four-poster bed was garnished in emerald sheets and pillowcases with a matching rug on the hardwood floors. The window was left open for me, overlooking a tiny creek that drifted off from a river or lake nearby, I could hear the soft sounds of frogs talking to one another. The room I was to stay in was perfectly cool and dark as the rest of the house.
Caldwell retrieved me a glass of water before I even had to ask. I sipped it as I was told that the docks were a lovely place to see if I should walk the property. I stepped back out the door and nearly collided with a woman that I guessed to be one of Nocturne’s sisters. She was beautiful with stark-white skin that matched her brother’s and blood-red lips that were full and inviting. She looked at me with golden eyes as she apologized.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she began in a musical voice, “You must be Timothy Stoker, my brother told that you would be arriving today.” She too had a pleasant accent that I could have listened to all night and her smile revealed a set of razor-sharp canines that reminded me of Nocturne as well. This family must have been a marvel to dentists.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” I replied holding my hand out. Her touch was soft and cool as she shook my hand gently, “May I have your name?”
“Agatha,” I was told, “Agatha Nocturne, how are you enjoying our home so far?”
I told her that what I had seen was brilliant and complimented the old-time feeling with the lack of electric light around. I then asked if she would like to accompany me on my stroll about the yards.
“I would love to, but my family, we uhm have a sensitivity to the sun,” she replied. That explained the darkness from the trees and the shadows of the house, “I hope to see you at dinner though?” she spoke more as a question than a statement. I would have liked to see her for a lot more than just dinner, but I replied kindly.
“Yes, you will. At six-thirty.”
We parted ways and I descended the steps to the front door and let myself out. The air was still sticky and warm with humidity, but I figured I could shower before eating. I traipsed around the darkened hedges, almost black in the shade, and made my way up the stream to the lake about two hundred yards from the mansion. My shirt was sticking to my back and I could feel my legs dripping with sweat beneath my jeans.
An older man who looked exactly what one imagines when they hear “Cajun” kneeled on the mildewed boards of the dock as he worked on an old canoe. The water around us was covered in duckweed as the slender faced of alligators dotted the glassy surface of the water. It looked like a painting with the moss hanging from the cypress trees and the birds calling to each other in all types of voices.
“Who ah youse?” the old Cajun asked in a gruff voice when he heard the sound of my shoes knocking on the boards.
“Timothy Stoker,” I greeted, “Mr. Nocturne invited me here for a few days, though I’m unsure why yet.”
The old man told me his name was Buck LaFleur as he took his old trucker’s hat off his bald head to wipe the sweat away. He wore an old, plain t-shirt that had once been white but was now grey with black stains down the front and back and yellowed sweat marks in the armpits.
“D’yuh know what fer they invited yuh?” he asked me.
“No, actually not,” I told him truthfully, “Maybe Mr. Nocturne wants some kind of article on him or the estate,” I told him I was a journalist.
“Hmpf,” Buck LaFleur answered with, “I’d be careful around those bloodsuckers if I were you.” I attempted to inquire as to what the man meant, but he remained incredibly vague about it. We ended up talking about other things.
Mr. LaFleur’s family had been working for the Stoker’s for the last hundred years or so, his dad and grandfather were bayou men who enjoyed the swamp and the critters in it. He would not feel at home in any other type of environment. That conversation turned to college football and the chances of either of our respective teams (Buck’s being LSU and mine being Penn State) making it to a New Year’s Six games this coming season. When my clock told me it was five-thirty, I figured I should probably head back to bathe myself before dinner.
Buck LaFleur left for his own home a bit down the coast of the lake and parted with a look of worry in his eye as he told me to watch myself. Upon re-entering my guest room, I saw that a beautiful black jacket had been placed on the bed with a blinding white shirt and pants and shining shoes that matched the jacket. I took the hint that I was to wear this to dinner as I quickly showered by lamplight and attempted to make my long hair look neat.
The dining room was immaculate. A massive table that could have seated an army with all kinds of embalmed animals on the walls. Agatha beckoned me to sit between her and Mr. Nocturne. Two other women sat across from us. They looked like their siblings down to the pale skin and sharp teeth and were beautiful as well. I was told their names were Marie and Olivia.
The five of us talked over a meal of a full turkey, endless salad and side dishes, steaks, and pork chops with a beautiful red velvet cake for dessert with coffee. The other four hardly ate anything as I tried to eat as much as I could without being impolite or disgusting.
Mr. Nocturne sipped an espresso as he looked at me, “I regret to inform you that we do not keep alcohol in the house, though we could send for a bottle if it should please you.”
I shook my head, “Oh. That’s okay, I’m three years sober actually.”
“Very well then,” Nocturne said with a polite grin, “How did you enjoy the walk around our property, Mr. Stoker?”
I answered him, “It was beautiful, the shade gives a pleasant look to everything, I also met Mr. LaFleur over on the docks.”
“Yes, yes, our family do not take to the sun too well,” Nocturne answered, “I trust Mr. LaFleur was kind to you, if not a bit cryptic, hmm?”
“Well, yes actually,” I answered, ‘A really nice guy, but did seem a bit nervous of something.”
“The LaFleur’s have been working for us ever since they arrived in America, a true Cajun family, they can be a bit superstitious of things, all swamp folk are a bit,” Nocturne replied to me.
I nodded my head in understanding as Nocturne stood up to take me into his study for us to talk, he and his sisters were handed wine glasses of something deep red. At first, I thought it wine, but then remembered that no alcohol was in the house.
“A tonic for our condition,” Nocturne told me when he saw me gazing at the liquid with interest. His three sisters all bid me adieu with flirty smiles and I am almost certain that Agatha caught me staring just a moment too long at her, but we were in Nocturne’s study before I could dwell on it too long.
“Now, Mr. Stoker, why I invited you here,” Nocturne faced me from behind his desk. The walls of the study were covered in shelves of old books, some looking to be hundreds of years old and about a multitude of subjects ranging from medicine and astronomy to witch-hunting and vampire slaying. Nocturne's family must have been extremely well-read.
Nocturne continued, “My family is not always looked upon too kindly by most people. We had to flee Europe in the 1700s and had run-ins off and on in our time here, but I want you to help us set the record straight.”
I leaned forward in my chair in anticipation of what the man was about to tell me. How could a family be so hated for hundreds of years?
“Timothy, I want you to take a look in that mirror to the left of you, tell me what you see,” Nocturne told me calmly yet seriously. I looked and gasped. Not at what I saw, but at what I didn’t see!
Across the table from me, in the chair that should have been occupied by Stoker was nothing, it had to be some trick of the light, I could see my reflection moving and changing as I moved.
“Wh- what?” I asked. I couldn’t bring myself to speak any more than that.
“We are an old people, Timothy, a being that has had a very harsh relationship with humans ever since our first existence. There are many names for us, but you are probably most familiar with the term vampire,” Nocturne spoke evenly, he sounded as if he was considering my rising fear. “We need your help in writing us an article and an apology for what my family has done in centuries past, we want to be good with the community of the small town near here.”
“Y- you-you’re a vampire?” I asked dumbly, “But, but they don’t exist.”
Nocturne stood from his chair, a million images of him ripping into my neck with those sharp teeth and suck my blood as I screamed hopelessly into the night flashed through my mind. I tensed my body thinking of the small cross around my neck. Nocturne did not come toward me, though. He simply waved his hand, creating a flume of black smoke to puff to erupt. A tiny bat flapped its wings above the smoke where Nocturne had just been, hovering in the air for about ten seconds before Nocturne replaced the bat, tiny wisps of smoke emanating from his shoulders. He sat back down and gestured in a way that asked, “Does this prove it?”
“Am- am I safe?” I asked.
Nocturne answered calmly that I was. He explained that his sisters and he only drank from animals or blood donations. That it was not the same, but the four of them did not want to be killers like their father and grandfather, who had both been killed with their wives in horrible ways by angry villagers in the past.
“We need a well-beloved journalist for the job and we want it to be you, Timothy,” Nocturne replied.
I agreed nervously. Still not making sense of what to make of the news tonight. So, it had not been a tonic the four of them drank after dinner, that is why there’s no sun in the house or the lawns, that’s why they live so secluded from humanity in the swamp. My heart raced.
We spent the next few days devising an apology for the misdeeds of the family in the past. Being Nocturne’s ghostwriter, I put to paper all that he wanted me to say about the family of vampires and how they did not wish to harm humans in the slightest and were perfectly content with the blood of animals or from blood banks. The twenty-page article was a success, though not in an intended way.
My publishers thought it was a work of fiction no matter how hard I protested that it was not, the public ate it up like a hot commodity, even winning me a few prizes in short fiction. I later learned that some people in the area had read my article. They were some of the few who believed that it was true, but they did not believe in the apology- having heard stories from their ancestors about the blood-sucking monsters that plagued their towns back in the day. They cut the trees down and set fire to the house, killing my four nocturnal friends, to this day, I cannot forgive myself for publishing the article.