“Will it hurt?”
Marcus, sitting next to Emmeline on the terrace, suddenly looked unsure. She took his grave cold hand in her small warm ones.
“I don’t know. Possibly. But it won’t be for long, and then it’ll all be over.”
“I wish I could kiss you one last time.”
“You know I can’t allow that.” He bowed his head in disappointment. “But maybe I could kiss you.” And pulling her coat close around her neck, she put her hand on his pale face, pulled his head towards her lips, leaving a long, loving kiss on his cheek. He sighed, laid his head down in her lap.
“Will it be long?”
“No, not long. Look, the sky’s getting light. Not long now.”
“It’s beautiful isn’t it, sunrise.”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Just like you Emmeline. Just like my one true love.”
Marcus had appeared the night before, not at the front door as a visitor should, but on the back lawn as she took the night air. He’d expected to find the innocent young woman he had left behind. Emmeline was still beautiful, but had an air of knowing about her, that of a woman who has known a man. It should have been him that taught her that, he thought.
Emmeline for her part had been afraid, Charles angry and protective. But then she had looked closely at Marcus, seen him for the pathetic creature that he had become.
“Leave us Charles. Leave us to work this out. One last night so that we can tell our tales, say our last farewells.”
“But if he takes you?”
“I don’t think he will.”
“He must be destroyed, you know that.”
“Yes, I know. I’ll try to keep him talking. I’ll be careful.”
She’d put her coat on then, the one with the high collar. Charles had hung a large cross around her neck, another she had in her hand in her pocket. When she was ready, she looked up into Charles’ eyes. “You can get Walter, just in case we need him,” she murmured, though she suspected that Marcus, still out on the terrace, would be able to hear even so.
“I’ll send Bolton,” Charles replied softly. “But I’m staying close. I’ll give you this night to sort things out between the two of you, but if I see anything untoward, I’m coming out.”
Emmeline went out then, leaving Charles by the open window.
“Let’s talk,” Emmeline had said, “talk about what happened.” She sat on the steps that led out onto the lawn, inviting Marcus to sit beside her. She pulled her coat high around her throat against the cold of the night, against the cold of him. Her other hand was in her pocket on the crucifix
“Do you understand?” Emmeline had asked, “do you understand what you have become?”
“What do you mean?” Marcus understood nothing. “I left a couple of weeks ago. Business, you know that. We were to marry on my return. Now I find you are married to someone else. How did that happen so quickly?”
“Marcus dear, you left on business almost seven years ago.”
“Then why do I remember it as if it was only a couple of weeks?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because of what you’ve become.”
“What I’ve become?”
“Marcus, what do you remember of that journey?”
“I remember it was a long journey. The snows made it longer than it needed to be. I was taking documents to sign. Oh, the documents.”
“The documents are fine. You got them signed.”
“So I was on my way back?”
“Do you remember crossing over the border from Romania into Hungary.”
Marcus paused, thinking. “Yes. The snow was particularly bad. I couldn’t get any further, so I stopped in a small village.”
“Yes, that’s where you wrote me your last letter.”
“Yes, you said the inn was small, but functional. You said the landlord had a kind daughter.”
“I remember now. The landlord’s daughter. What was her name?”
“Rosa. But I never – I swear. I wouldn’t. Is that what happened? Did someone say me and Rosa…”
“If only it had been Rosa. That would have been bad, but no, it was not her. It was she who wrote to me afterwards.”
“Think back Marcus. Think back to that night. You’d gone to bed, locked your door. You didn’t want Rosa…”
“Yes, I locked my door because I didn’t want Rosa or anyone else to come into my room. There were a few people who were lodging there that night.”
“And then you went to bed?”
“And then what?”
“Well…” Marcus paused. “I don’t know. That’s where things started to become unclear.”
“Think. Were you woken in the night?”
“Not that I remember. I did have a strange dream though.”
“Tell me about the dream.”
“I dreamt that I woke to hear scratching at the window.”
“Yes, like twigs being blown against the windowpane. It was annoying me, and I got up, meaning to check if there was something there, some tree, some climber, being blown against the window.”
“But it wasn’t twigs, was it.”
Marcus paused, concentrating on his memories. “No, it was a woman. That’s when I realised it was a dream. It was a woman scratching at my window, which was strange as my room was upstairs.”
“And what did you do?”
“Well I opened the window of course, invited her in. It was a very cold night, she’d have frozen to death if I’d left her there.”
“And she came in?”
“She floated in. That was another reason why I knew it was a dream. I mean, who floats?”
“What does it matter what followed? It was a dream. Am I damned because I dreamt of another woman?”
“It wasn’t a dream Marcus.”
“Of course it was a dream. How could it be otherwise? She floated, I tell you.”
Emmeline looked at the man she had loved. “It was not a dream, Marcus. She was real. But she wasn’t a woman, at least not as you’d think of a woman.”
“Then what was she?”
“She was a creature of the night Marcus.”
“A creature…? That’s not a very charitable attitude to women who…”
“I’m not talking about that sort of woman Marcus. I’m talking about something much worse. She was undead.”
“Yes, Marcus. Think back. What did she feel like? What did she smell like?”
Marcus paused, thought before answering. “She felt of ice, she smelled of decay.”
“And she came to you didn’t she, she claimed you.”
Marcus bowed his head, silently weeping. “What did I do? I can’t remember. It’s all so – vague.”
“She claimed you Marcus, she claimed you as her own. And she turned you.”
“Yes. She drank from you, you got sick. That is why Rosa wrote to me.”
Marcus sat, shaking his head.
“Yes Marcus, you got sick. I held your hand while you died. Don’t you remember?”
“I died? But then…”
“You became like her. That woman. You became undead.”
Marcus was silent then. Emmeline became aware of movement behind them. Walter, she thought.
“Is that the local vicar you’ve brought in?” Marcus asked. His tone had changed, now accepting what he was as he remembered those he’d feasted on. Emmeline pulled the collar of her coat closer, gripped the crucifix tighter. “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me. I think I’ve been looking for you.”
“So we can be together again. Always.”
“You came back to make me like you.” It wasn’t a question. It’s what she saw now.
“I was coming back to make you mine. Till death us do part, we would have said. Ironic isn’t it, but if death hasn’t taken me from this life, why should it take you from me?”
“Because you don’t have life, you just exist.”
“And I can’t have you, can I?”
“Because of Charles.”
“Not just Charles. There’s my son too.”
Marcus looked at her with new understanding, then moved his eyes down. “A daughter too. I can see now.”
Emmeline caught her breath. She’d told no one that she suspected there was another child, yet this man, this creature, saw it.
“So, Emmeline. How do we solve this? What is my purpose now? I’ve found you, yet I cannot have you. I see that now.” He sighed. “How to end this?”
She told him then of the ways it could end, and he chose to sit with her to watch the sunrise. He didn’t think his nature would allow him to be subjected to any of the other options willingly.
Now they waited as the first glow of the sun poked over the horizon.
“Beautiful,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Do you think God will forgive me?”
“If you repent. And I think you do, don’t you.”
“I’ll never forget you Emmeline. I’ll take the vision of you beyond the grave.”
“And I’ll never forget you, Marcus. You’ll always be my first love.”
As the sun got ever higher, the creature that had once been Marcus suddenly pushed himself away from Emmeline and the shade of the terrace out into the coming dawn. Emmeline cried out, her hands to her mouth, tears streaming down her face as the sunlight burned the man she had once loved. She was vaguely aware of Walter reading the last rights for Marcus, of Charles trying to pull her back, but she would not come until Marcus was just a pile of dust.
Only then would she allow Charles to take her inside. “We must bury him.”
“Bury him? Haven’t his remains already been buried in Hungary?”
“Yes, but now he’s come home. He must be reburied.”
“The church won’t allow him to be buried on hallowed ground, you know that,” interjected Walter.
“Yes, but he could be buried in the grounds here, on the island.”
Charles, knowing his wife could not be refused this, agreed to go and dig a suitable hole. “On the island, just to the left of that oak tree,” she said. “He’d have liked it there.”
Charles thought the idea a sound one. The lake, after all, should be impassable to Marcus if by some misfortune he rose again. “What will you put his ashes in?” Charles queried.
“I have a suitable box.”
She fetched the box. It was the one she’d kept secret, the one in which she’d kept mementos of her time with Marcus; a rose he’d given her, the letters he’d written, the ring he’d given her when they were betrothed. At one time she’d hoped to fill the box with more memories of Marcus. Now she would put his remains in the box and bury him forever.
Carefully she brushed, getting as much of him up as she could to place in the box, not trusting anyone else to do it for her. She knew she couldn’t get everything up, that some part of him would be lost to the wind, but it was important that most of it was gathered up. She added a crucifix before closing it.
Once this was done, Bolton rowed her out to the island where Charles had already prepared a hole. She placed the box inside, Walter read from the bible and the hole was filled in.
“It’s done now, over,” Charles said.
“This cannot affect tonight.”
“No, I know. And Charles.”
“Thank you. This can’t have been easy.”
“No. But he was your first love. I understand that.”
“I think I’ll just spend a quiet day with our son, if that’s okay.”
She spent the rest of the day quietly, watching Isaac as he played. As evening came on, Charles came to her. “We need to be ready. It’s almost time.”
“Yes, of course.” She kissed Isaac, Charles hugged him, and the small boy was taken away to the nursery. They went out onto the back, where last night Marcus had appeared.
“Tell me,” Charles said, “if I hadn’t been here, would you have allowed him in? Would you have allowed him to make you like him?”
“But you are here Charles, you and Isaac. I realise I am truly blessed. Marcus could see that which is why he chose to see sunrise this morning. And there’s more.”
“Yes, Marcus saw that I carried a daughter.”
“You’re with child again? Why didn’t you say?”
“I wasn’t sure, but yes, I think I am.”
“But that’s wonderful news. A sister for Isaac.” He didn’t add that he felt a twinge of jealousy that the other man had known before he did. “So, it’s almost time. Shall we go?”
They walked around the lake to the edge of the woods beyond. Once there, Charles threw off his coat and stood there naked, waiting. Emmeline watched his magnificent body as he sniffed the night air. She turned, and seeing the reflection of the moon in the lake, she too felt the need to cast off her coat. And as the moon rose, they dropped as one to all fours, running off into the woods for the hunt.