Saturday, November 15, 2014

VAMPIRINA, ELIZABETH, RECOUNTS A TROUBLING, NINETEENTH CENTURY EVENT .. 11/15/14

We met a few nights ago. I am Elizabeth, an ally of the Ironstone Family. A life-eater, but discrete. After more than eight hundred thousand Vampire Wonderland words and at least sixteen hundred episodes, this is my debut. And I want to tell you how I came to be. 

Nineteenth century Philadelphia was a very different place. Perhaps only in the details.... Gas lit streets.... The wider ones (and that is a relative term) for houses. The back streets in between sheltered horses. Their brown turds peppered the cobbles everywhere. In summer the flies bit everyone.

I worked as a maid for a family near Tenth and Pine. Do you know the area? It's the Antique District now. Back then, in my day, 'strivers' lived there. Gentlemen with a plan. Not Blue Book, to say the least, but maybe the parents of Blue Book people. They had Four stories, an entrance hall (often termed a vestabule in Philadelphia) with high, wide stairs on the right and a passage toward the dining room and kitchen on the left. An archway lead from the entrance to the parlor and the parlor connected to a smaller, more private sitting room used by the family on a day to day basis. The second floor had bedrooms.There were five, two toward the front and three toward the back . Above was a study... a sewing room...a sick room. Every house had a sick room for those afflicted with fevers, pertussis or unidentifiable rashes and boils. Many times it was the death room too. The other spaces  were locked. I never went inside. Then there was the attic. Back then we called it 'the garret.' Oh, it had a finished floor... hardwood, but not as fine as downstairs. We went climbed up narrow steps in a closet to get there.  Mansard windows looked out toward the street. Two small, portholes faced the back. And it was cluttered with the flotsam and refuse of an affluent family. There was even a stuffed ape. A chimpanzee, I think it was. Back then, it was just an ape. I never knew where they got it. But it was large and hunched. The face frozen in rage. Sometimes they made me clean it with a special, soft bristled brush used for the maintenance of taxidermy specimens. I hated it... alone in that grey, dim place... Late in the day... dusk... always that time. Last task for the evening. Any sickness... any lung fever acquired in that dead, dust filled atmosphere was mine. Then I went down to the cellar, joining the other domestics in a little common room where we took our meals. Others served dinner. We did not. They fed us leftovers. And considering the times, we ate fairly well. Sleeping quarters were downstairs too... clean and whitewashed. But I don't want to talk about that.

One time, when I groomed the ape, it moved. It wasn't the light. I was used to the gloom. It wasn't the rain, or mice, or anything like that. The head turned ever so slightly and it looked at me... Not straight on. Not eye to eye. But I could tell it was looking. I saw the gleam. And the teeth... the huge, monstrous teeth had changed. I knew, because I cleaned them too, with an oil from a special bottle used for cleaning ivory. They got it from India, or Siam, or someplace like that. I couldn't read the letters on the label. It smelled like what an undertaker might use. 

But the teeth were red. Not bright red, but a dark, streaked, scab-like smear. I froze for perhaps seventy heartbeats, too afraid to move. Please know that we, who you call 'vampires' think in terms of heartbeats. It's natural to us. I think many, who regularly visit this site, already know that from Jonathon, or Tomas, or whatever he calls himself. I keep to myself. I never mix with them.

Then I heard footsteps on the stairs. The door opened. I almost died. Colette, the other maid came in.That wasn't her name. The Missus gave her that name, because she liked it. French, you know.... Colette said - Lizzie, are you alright? You've been up here so long..... I was puzzled. What did she mean? How long?.... But she gestured toward the window... and I could see that it was night. Not what we used to call 'the gloaming.' Not dusk, but full darkness. And the attic was dark too. How long had I been standing there?

Colette called my name again. I carefully placed the strange foreign bottle down on the floor and walked toward her, or more precisely the light from a small spermaceti  lamp she held in her hand. We quietly made our way down to the cellar. 

Supper was over. That's what we called it... 'supper.' The family ate 'dinner.' We did not. But there was a cheese sandwich and some potato salad left for me under a plate. I had that. Got some water from a little zinc (old original Philadelphia dialect word for 'sink,' since they were made from that metal), went into my cubicle and washed my body, before getting under the covers. Then I imagined a life for myself in a home of my own, on a fine street with a handsome family and hot food on translucent china.

But as I drifted off, I saw the teeth, smeared with old dried blood.....

<more next time>

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