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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1457174
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A keyboard stained with a single drop of blood.

Buon giorno, from a three-hundred-fifty-seven year old serial killer with the heart of an artist. My name is Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco. At least that is the name my parents bestowed upon me at birth in 1655, in Padua, Italy. According to the records of births and deaths in Florence, Italy, I died on January 27th in 1731 and was entombed in a mausoleum on a bright Sunday morning. However, what the records fail to show is that I left the mausoleum that very night.
        You see, I am a vampire, initiated into the world of the undead while attending to my duties as curator of the extensive and prestigious Ferdinando Medici instrument collection. Historians generally agree that I created one of those instruments— the pianoforte, more commonly referred to today as the piano.
        Today, I am known by millions of classical music fans as Christopher Bartholomew, one of the premier concert pianists of the 21st century. Allow me to blush for a brief moment as you read the following review.
                                                    ~  ~  ~
        From the London Times, September 17, 1970: “Pianist Christopher Bartholomew blew us away yesterday afternoon. On this occasion, he performed at the historic Royal Albert Hall before an audience of pianists, piano buffs and teachers attending the British Royal Academy of Music’s annual Mozart festival.
        Bartholomew opened the show with his famous, ‘Sonata of Blood.’ If you possess a preconceived perception of this classic as being loud and aggressive, then you have obviously never experienced his live concert version in which we witnessed an assault on the piano that was almost unbelievable. Following the standing ovation  that ensued, the ageless virtuoso played a variety of selections from Mozart and Schubert. These impeccable performances exceeded my wildest expectations. By far, the presentation of these works eclipsed anything I have ever heard.”

                                                        ~  ~  ~

        While I still enjoy playing, and as developed as my ability to play the pianoforte may be, my primary concern at this stage of my existence is the evolution and popularity of the instrument I fathered. You see, in the early 1960's it became clear to me that modern music, specifically rock and roll and its decidedly undesirable composers, comprised a serious threat. Therefore, their influence needed to be reduced and, where possible, eradicated.
  ~      ~      ~ 
      By no coincidence did Jimi Hendrix die in London two days after my concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Monika Danneman, his 24-year-old girlfriend, told the police they spent the previous day shopping and taking photos. She said she prepared a meal when they reached her home in Notting Hill, at about 8:30 that evening. At her flat they shared a bottle of white wine, talked, and played music until almost two.
      At two, Jimi said he needed to leave to see a friend, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. By the way, Keith is a vampire. Surely, if you’ve seen him you’re not surprised. I am not responsible for Keith's immortality. The blame for that travesty belongs to Ferdinando Medici. Personally, I have never much cared for Keith’s, or anyone’s electric guitar work. Through Keith, I hoped to reach Jimi, whose burgeoning influence had to be stifled. As quickly as rock's popularity grew, I required the assistance of someone within the enemy ranks.
      Complying with Keith’s request, Jimi told Monika she would not be allowed to accompany him; she could only take him there and bring him home. I attended Keith’s little soiree that evening and remember Jimi to be an intelligent, yet ironically fatalistic individual who spoke wistfully of death, as if it were something he desired. Well, he got his wish.
      As I recall, Monika returned to pick Jimi up around three a.m. Keith and Jimi had just finished a poor acoustic rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Incidentally, Ferdinando Medici claims to have collaborated with Keith on the writing of “Sympathy for the Devil” during June of 1968, which is also when he gifted the guitarist with immortality during a drunken orgy.
      Monika testified that Jimi complained of feeling weak and hungry on the way back to her flat (losing a couple of pints of blood will do that). She prepared a tuna fish sandwich for him, after which the two of them went to bed and conversed until she took a sleeping pill and drifted off. Not long thereafter, obeying my hypnotically induced suggestion, Hendrix took at least eight, possibly nine, Vesperax tablets.
    Monika told the police she awoke around 10:20 on the morning of September the 18th to find Jimi sleeping normally, but before leaving to go out for cigarettes she spotted what looked like the remnants of vomit around his nose and mouth. Unsuccessfull in her attempts to wake him, she called a friend to seek advice. Monika swore that she summoned an ambulance, which arrived at 11:20 a.m., and supposedly, during the next thirty minutes, while enroute to St. Mary Abbot's Hospital, where he was pronounced DOA, Jimi Hendrix choked to death on his own vomit.
      Doubting the veracity of Monika’s story, the paramedics informed the press that the guitar player may have been dead for several hours by the time they arrived. The pathologist reported a large amount of Seconol in Jimi's blood, but found no reason to assume suicide as the cause of death. The coroner's report listed suffocation due to inhalation of vomit after barbiturate intoxication as the official cause of death.
    Other than the high concentration of Seconal, no drugs other than marijuana and hashish were found in Jimi's system. Undetected at first by the coroner, the fresh needle mark in Hendrix’s arm came as a result of drawing blood via a syringe, a method that raises far less suspicion than fang-induced puncture wounds on a neck. After all, why would a simple needle mark seem curious in the case of a known drug abuser?
        In 1993, at the request of the Hendrix estate, Scotland Yard reopened the investigation but then dropped it, officially, when no new evidence surfaced. Dropped, yes - forgot, no. One man, Harold Obermeyer, refused to accept the coroner’s opinion regarding Jimi’s death. A lover of rock and roll, seventeen years old at the time of the legendary guitarist’s death, Obermeyer hired on with Scotland Yard in 1975 as a homicide investigator.
      As the years passed, he became convinced that others in addition to Jimi were murdered. Obermeyer believed the deaths of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Keith Moon, and Tommy Bolan were due to homicide. He contended that Jimi died either at the hands of Monika Danneman, or someone else who managed to avoid suspicion.
      Unwilling to heed multiple warnings to abandon the Hendrix case and many others, he endured incessant harassment from his peers.
      “Oh, Harold, we got a new lead today on your Hendrix case . . . seems the killer was Lee Harvey Oswald!”
      “Yeah, mate, it was Oswald and the guy on the grassy knoll!”
      After eighteen years of meritorious service as a homicide investigator, Obermeyer’s obsession led to his termination. Disgraced, yet undaunted, he remained steadfast in the conviction that the single fresh puncture wound found in Hendrix’s left arm pointed to murder.
      I must admit to being amused by the London Times article detailing the termination of Obermeyer. His immediate superior, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Daniel Coleman told reporters, “Obermeyer is an enigma who fancies himself to be a James Bond - Van Helsing combination. He has taken it upon himself to defend rock and roll icons. Unfortunately, he's chasing criminals that don’t exist. Ghosts and vampires aren't real. There is no boogeyman, and there most certainly is no war being waged against any genre of music and its stars. And by the way,” he added, “at Scotland Yard the official opinion remains that Jimi Hendrix died after a self-inflicted overdose of Seconal.”

~        ~        ~
      So, you see, I not only invented the piano, I have continued to promote it and vigorously defend it through performing and making sure the piano’s place in the future is not affected by shallow fads and trends, or the unsavory characters that entice the masses to abandon the instruments and influences of the masters and their masterpieces.
      For those inclined to know more, I shall impart the details of my early life and that fateful day when a being far older than I am today visited me in the Medici castle.
      On Christmas Eve in the winter of 1731, my fingers danced across the fifty-four keys of my creation, producing notes that soared as if on the wings of a fairy, illuminating the dungeon-like, music chamber with vibrant sounds that conveyed an incongruous beauty and grace in the otherwise oppressive, gray stone environment. Completely absorbed, I swayed back and forth upon my stool, in the center of the circular room, improvising a sonata in solitude.
      Sensing another presence, I stopped playing and looked up. Almost indiscernible against the gray stone, in the shadows of the flickering torchlight I saw a shadowy, cloaked and hooded figure. The shrouded intruder did not move, did not speak - in truth it did not even seem to breathe as it appeared to hover like a spirit rather than stand as a man. It seemed content to wait for all eternity. Having afforded the interloper every conceivable opportunity to speak, the unsettling silence compelled me to initiate a conversation.
    “I am aware of your presence and would very much appreciate an explanation as to who you might be and how it is that you have come to disturb me this evening.” I waited for an answer. With the silence, a cold sense of foreboding permeated the room that moments earlier had basked in the reassuring warmth of music. “You have, indeed, been a most attentive and patient listener, which I appreciate. However, the performance is over. I assure you that no encore is forthcoming. You need be patient no longer. Ask that for which you have come.” 
      The visitor remained as quiet as a corpse in a casket. Becoming upset, I argued, “I believe you owe me the courtesy, at least, of identifying yourself. What say you? Be ye a player or admirer of fine musical instruments, here to view the Medici collection? Carest thou to bid on a specific instrument? Wouldest thou, perchance, be a collector?” 
      For the first time the cloaked figure moved, gliding toward me, as if it slid over the ground rather than taking steps. It responded in a feathery-soft voice portending something yet to come that sent a chill down my spine. “A collector of sorts, yes. I have traveled far for the purpose of submitting a proposition to you, this evening.” Its arms moved upward and two thin, white, bony wrists and hands with long, delicate fingers and painted nails protruded from the sleeves of its black cassock to pull back the hood. When the hood fell back, the feminine features shocked me to my very core.
      Long, curly, raven tresses cascaded past the shoulders. Piercing green eyes, framed by thin, arched eyebrows stared hungrily at me, suddenly making me feel as nervous as a rat trapped by a cobra. If beauty were likened unto a fire, then surely there had once been a time when an inferno had raged, but now all that remained were the embers and ashes, emitting no warmth whatsoever. Her gaunt face projected an ageless emptiness, a profound need. She appeared as cold and pale as death, with lips that were full, red, and parted just enough to expose two unnaturally long canine teeth.
      “I am Aset,” she spoke in a whisper, “Mother of magic, giver of life-everlasting.”
      “I-I-I fear I do not understand.”
      “You will - soon enough." No longer whispering, she said, "Do not be afraid, Bartolomeo. I am here to offer you a rare opportunity, a reward for your lifetime of creativity.” The light from the burning torches protruding from the stone walls that surrounded us glinted in her unblinking eyes, which remained riveted on me.
      “Explain yourself,” I demanded. Fear raised the hairs on the back of my neck. “I have never met you. How is it that you know me? How and why have you come to find me here, in this place of solitude?”
      She did not respond, at least not with spoken words. She merely closed the distance between us, gliding to within a foot from the edge of the stool upon which I sat. As she continued to peer into my eyes I became transfixed by her stare. I felt dizzy, incapable of coherent thought. Like the rapidly tiring grip of a weary mountain climber, swaying helplessly from a rocky ledge hundreds of feet above the ground, my resolve slipped away. “Come to me,” she demanded, and I did.
      I arose from the padded stool unaware of my actions.
      She held out her arms in the loving gesture of a mother who longed to hold a precious child.
      I found myself eager, almost desperate to submit. I allowed her to enfold me in her embrace. My eyes closed and my fears subsided as she whispered into my ear. I did not understand the ancient words of enchantment and encouragement she spoke, yet I felt comforted, calmed, and soothed. Ripples of satisfaction flowed through me in waves as her mouth closed upon my throat.
      Her teeth penetrated my skin, not savagely - but sweetly, kindly, as if this act was spawned by love.
      I sensed only pleasure as blood gushed and consciousness faded. I felt completely at peace.
~        ~        ~
      When I awoke, the concerned face of my employer, the Grand Duke, Cosimo III, squinted at me through his hand held monocle as he bent over the bed upon which I lay. “Thank heavens, Bartolomeo,” he exclaimed, “We thought we had lost you!”
    “Lost me? Where have I been, your Excellency?” I asked, attempting to sit up and finding myself too weak. “What time is it?” I wondered. Over the shoulder of the Grand Duke, the town physician, Girolamo, and a priest, Father Giuseppe, from the nearby abbey peered down at me.
    “You have been asleep for three days,” Girolamo explained, “although sleep does not properly describe your previous condition.”
    “Certainly not, not in the least,” the priest readily agreed.
    “You were burning up, Señor Cristofori,” the physician elaborated. “The fever was literally consuming you.”
    “Like the flames of perdition, my son,” Father Giuseppe added nervously, making the sign of the cross.
    “The fever?” I asked. I put a hand to my own forehead. It felt cool and I felt neither too warm nor chilled. The only infirmity I discerned was the extraordinary weariness that pervaded my entire body. “Good Doctor,” I inquired, “why do I feel so feeble? Can you explain what happened to me?”
    “I was hoping you might be able to tell us,” the Doctor replied. “What is the last thing you recall?”
    The Grand Duke lowered his monocle, gave me an indulgent, if not somewhat encouraging smile, and moved out of Girolamo’s way while the priest murmured softly in the background, praying in Latin, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti …”
    “The last thing I recall, I was in the east wing of the castle. I had dusted and tuned all of the keyboards on my list for that day and had gone to the round chamber to play my pianoforte —"
    The sound of a throat being cleared, as if in disagreement with some aspect of my statement caused me to halt and look up in unison with Girolamo and Father Giuseppe at the Grand Duke, who said, “I do hope you won’t think me overly avaricious, or insensitive, to make this point at a time when you are recuperating from an unfortunate incident, but, my dear Bartolomeo, that is my pianoforte. Oh, to be sure, you assembled it, and I would even acknowledge without hesitation that you invented it. But I suspect the materials used were all procured with Medici funds. Consider that, and the fact that you are my employee, and there can be liitle question. The pianofortes are officially the property of the Medici estate.”
    Intending to protest, I summoned all of my remaining strength and pushed myself up to where my weight rested on both elbows. With raised eyebrows, the priest and the physician glanced at each other, then at me, eager to hear my reaction. To my chagrin I feared I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I sighed and lay back down. The Grand Duke may have been an insensitive oaf, but from a legal perspective he seemed to be within his rights.
    “Please, pardon me for interrupting,” the Grand Duke bowed. “Do continue with your testimony as to what you recall. We are all curious to know how you came to be bitten on the throat by a snake, or some other fanged creature.”
    I rose up again. “Bitten? On the throat?” I searched with my hand to find the marks upon my neck. “Where?” I asked.
    “Here,” the physician stepped up and directed my own hand to the area.
    “Heavens,” I winced, “what could have…” and then I remembered the pallid visitor with the overbite. What could I say? Who would believe me? Did I even trust my own memory? I touched the tender area again. As I rubbed it, while the Grand Duke with his monocle, the physician, and Father Giuseppe looked on, amidst the soreness, an odd, almost embarrassingly sensual tingle arose.
~        ~        ~

      In the days that followed, though the good doctor seemed pleased with my progress and released me from his care, I noticed an odd residual symptom: a growing aversion to the sun. During the day I would make sure the shades were tightly drawn so that my room remained dark and found that the disabling weakness I had experienced disappeared completely in the evenings, after sunset, but seemed to flare up again each morning as the sun rose. This unusual pattern led to the development of new sleeping habits. I became a nocturnal creature, attending to my curator chores in the evenings and returning to my room, where I would collapse onto my bed, exhausted, just before sunrise each morning to fitfully sleep the entire day away.
      The hooded figure would return each day in my dreams, dreams that seemed so vivid, so incredibly real, terrorizing me and at the same time, thrilling me in ways a true gentleman would never reveal. I longed to see her again. My wish was granted exactly one month to the day after the initial visitation.
      In the east wing, I had begun the task of tuning a beautiful harpsichord decorated with the finest gold inlay and ivory, which had been a particular favorite of the late Prince Ferdinando de Medici. Frequently referred to as the rebellious son of the Grand Duke, Ferdinando, was the one who, in 1690, had originally hired me. It was then that I moved from my birthplace, in Padua, to Florence at the request of the then newly married Prince. Ferdinando's heavy jowls and fat, hanging, lower lip made him appear far older than his 27 years and gave him the appearance of someone either perpetually confused, or deeply ensconced in meditation. An accomplished harpsichordist, he became aware of my established reputation as a skilled instrument builder, designer, and custodian of keyboard instruments while on holiday in Padua with one of the many mistresses he kept. A man of few principles and many excesses, he died suddenly in 1713, without leaving an heir, leaving his greedy father, Cosimo III, as sole administrator of the entire Medici family estate. 
      Interrupting my concentration, the sweet tones produced by my very own Pianoforte came floating down the hall from the round chamber. Naturally I was concerned, but I was also intrigued because nobody other than the Grand Duke was allowed in the chamber without my knowledge. Whoever was playing was doing a masterful job, using the foot pedals to properly sustain certain notes, while dampening the sound appropriately on others. I knew of no other person who had truly mastered my instrument besides the late Prince Ferdinando, so who could this be?
      From the nearby wall I snatched one of the two torches I had lit so that I could work late into the night and hurried down the long corridor, cursing my heavy-booted footsteps, which echoed loudly ahead into the darkness. Sparks from the torch I held aloft trailed behind me, fading in the dark passageway like dying fireflies as I raced along, nearing the circular room from which I still could see no light.
    Stepping into the chamber, my eyes opened wide as the music halted and the light from my torch fell upon a man of considerable girth perched precariously upon my small piano stool. He wore a long, flowing coat and a large, ostentatious hat with a wide, curving brim and a peacock’s plume. It was Ferdinando.
      His fat, lower lip protruded as always and the prodigious jowls still hung heavily, but under his eyes were dark, unhealthy circles that accented the light from the torch, flickering in his pupils, reminding me of the lady who haunted my dreams. He possessed a knowing look, a look that implied he knew exactly what I was going through and what I would soon encounter.
      Nervous, yet sensing that it might not be in my best interests to reveal my anxiety, I opted to diffuse the tension via discourse. I summoned up my courage and assumed a jocular attitude, saying, “Ferdinando, what an unexpected pleasure. Wtih the first notes I heard, you crossed my mind and, incredibly, here you are!”
      Although he did not make a sound, he smiled a proud smile, seeming to declare, “Look what I’ve done. You should be amazed. I’ve transcended death and have returned to my castle and my music.”
      “Death agrees with you, Ferdinando,” I continued, wondering if he would speak or if he would just sit there, hunched over my pianoforte like some predator waiting for the opportune moment to spring upon its prey. “Are you here at the behest of the woman I encountered nigh unto a month ago in this very chamber? Was it she who caused your death?” I thought I discerned a slight nod, to which I responded, “Ah yes, yes she did, didn’t she? Well then, for what purpose have you returned this evening, sire, and why to me, rather than to Violante?"
      At the mention of his wife, Ferdinando shifted on the piano stool, yet spoke not a word. "She still mourns your passing," I continued. "You should be aware that she forgave you of your many indiscretions and on each Sunday may still be seen wiping away her tears as she lights candles at the altar in your memory. Ferdinando, she still wears black whenever she ventures forth in public.”
      Evidently choosing not to comment on his widow's reported distress, Ferdinando sighed and broke his silence by saying, “I am here, Bartolomeo, because I am the one who referred you.”
      “You what? You referred me? Señor Medici, what do you--”
      “Señor Cristofori, listen. The ancient one, the lady whom we both know as Aset, adores music. To her it is a form of magic. As we both know, played proficiently and passionately, it can be powerful and spellbinding. She seeks those, like us, who love and create music.”
      “And what does she have in store for me, Ferdinando, death? Or am I to become like a lone wolf, howling in the dead of night, feared by all who hear the sound of my music?”
      From behind me I heard a soft voice, “You were playing in solitude on the night I first visited you.”
      Recognizing the voice, I whirled about. It was Aset. Tonight, instead of the black cassock she had worn the first time I saw her, she wore a golden silk gown that shimmered in the torch-lit chamber like the rippling waters of a river illuminated by the moon. Around her neck was a spectacular gold chain necklace with a blood-red ruby dangling provocatively in the cleavage between her breasts.  I began to tremble, partially because I feared for my life, yet also because I longed for the incredible sensations I experienced the first time I encountered her.
      “I do not intend for you to play in solitude,” she said. “Neither do I intend for you to be feared. Instead you shall be revered! I have grand plans for you, Bartolomeo. Wondrous plans, indeed.”
      Nervously, I turned and cast a furtive glance at Ferdinando, still seated at the pianoforte.
      Appearing particularly satisfied with himself, he began to play, improvising in a way I had never heard from him while he lived. As he played, he looked up at me with a gleam in his eyes that seemed to come from more than the reflection of the torch I still held in my trembling fist and said, “I shall call this ‘The Sonata of Blood.’”
      So impressed was I, and so overcome with the power and the passion of the impromptu composition, that I became completely absorbed in the passage, which I have since adopted and have performed many times in public. Shamelessly, I have claimed it as my own. As I listened, spellbound, I felt a soft brush of lips upon my neck and shivered as the ancient goddess fed upon me once again, tasting my talent, my ingenuity, and a large quantity of my blood.                                 

  Chapter 2

Gradually I emerged from a deep and dreamless sleep to the sound of her voice, admonishing me to arise because there was much for me to learn and she wished to begin my instruction. It seemed as if she were speaking from within my own head rather than calling to me from afar. I lay on my back, looking straight up, my head resting on what felt like a soft, satin pillow and although my eyes were open, I saw no light; none whatsoever. My immediate assumption was that I suffered from some kind of malady, caused perhaps by the loss of blood and had completely, but hopefully only temporarily, lost my sight.  Rapidly approaching a state of panic, I reached up hoping that she might take my hand, but before it had traveled a mere foot, it struck something hard and smooth. Stunned more than injured, I recoiled in surprise. Recovering from the shock, I reached up again, slowly, and with both hands examined a smooth, concave surface; cool to the touch, perhaps made of finely polished stone, less than twelve inches above my face. The state of panic resurfaced as I realized I had been prematurely buried. I must have lapsed into a coma once again, I surmised, and the confounded physician evidently signed my certificate of death after performing a cursory examination. Could the Grand Duke have paid the doctor to falsify the records regarding my condition, making sure that I would not attempt to run off with the instruments I created?
      Once again, the voice of the lady within my head called to me, but in my highly agitated state I neither heeded nor understood what she said. I was too busy screaming to pay attention to her suggestion that I should remain calm. I pounded savagely with my fists against the sides of what I feared might be my eternal prison and then pushed outward with all of my might, to no avail. The narrow confines of the sepulcher in which I had been placed prevented full extension of my arms, thus limiting the amount of force I could exert; although in retrospect I admit it was foolish to think that I could push the crypt apart in that manner. Frustrated beyond belief, I paused just long enough to finally grasp the ludicrously simple suggestion that the mysterious lady persistently repeated.
      “Push up!” she said, sounding nearly as exasperated as I.
      I pushed upward with all of my might and to my great relief felt the lid rise and slide sideways, just enough to admit a thin shaft of early evening light that slipped in from the top right corner of my tomb. I wasn’t blind after all. Thrilled and reinvigorated by the advent of liberation, I pushed again and the lid moved far enough to allow me to look up, directly into the faces of Aset and Ferdinando.
      “Why did you not help me remove the lid?” I shouted as I pushed the lid further aside and struggled to stand. “I believed I was going to die in there!”
      Aset folded her arms across her chest and silently slid a few steps back as the garishly festooned Prince replied with an amused look on his face, “I assure you, your dying was never a concern. As for removing the lid to your coffin—"
      “My coffin?” I interrupted. “You make it sound like that piece of stone out of which I climbed is my property, as if it were my home!”
      “We will discuss that soon enough, but allow me to explain why I could not assist you. It is something you must do for yourself, each night, Bartolomeo. Each of us must rise, unassisted, from the place where we rest.”
      “Each of us?” I bellowed. “Am I now a member of some bizarre club that derives perverse pleasure from sleeping like or perhaps even with the dead?”
      Ferdinando turned to look at the pale goddess, shrugged and said, “While at one time I was Senor Cristofori’s benefactor and employer, I feel he will not readily accept anything I say regarding his destiny. Methinks his understanding and acceptance of what has occurred, as well as his ability to cope with and perform any future tasks you set before him depends on you, my lady.” He bowed grandly and stepped aside.
      She came toward me wearing an expression that you might expect to see on the face of a caring, concerned tutor trying to find the right words to help a slow learner. “Look into my eyes, Bartolomeo,” she said. “Pay close attention to what you hear and see.”
      Sucked into a vortex, I felt myself spinning, soaring, possessing no more self-control than a fallen leaf propelled through the air by a blast of northern Italian wind. Within her eyes I saw the whole of history dating back to the dawn of civilization, to the very creation of mankind. I found myself in a perfectly tended garden of such majestic beauty I thought for a moment that it must be heaven, a place where the air was redolent with the scent of gardenias in full bloom and the sweet music of a thousand songbirds. A nude female whose perfect features could easily be described as the creator’s masterpiece, appearing close to her eighteenth year with long, curly, shining black hair, balanced on her toes underneath a tree, straining to reach the ripened fruit that hung tantalizingly from the branches, just above and beyond her reach.
      After spending a considerable amount of time observing the maiden, a serpent of incredible size and girth descended from one of the lowest tree limbs. It slithered down and coiled about the trunk of the tree, its forked tongue licking the air. When it became evident that the young female was aware of, but not concerned with the snake, it spoke to her.
      “Why do you desire the fruit of this tree?” the snake inquired. “The garden is filled with all manner of bushes and trees that produce delicious and far more easily harvested fruit.”
      Unashamed of her nudity in the presence of this scaly voyeur, the young female continued to stretch upward, coming close but always just missing the lowest objects of her desire. “I have tasted of all the other fruits in the garden,” she replied, “and the fruit of this tree is the only fruit in the garden on which I have not dined.” She leapt upward, grunting with the effort, narrowly missing the prize she sought.
      “But sssurely,” the snake hissed, sliding a bit further down the trunk of the tree, “the fruit of this tree cannot be worth the time and effort that you expend. What if you finally taste the fruit and find it to be bitter and completely unpalatable?”
      “Then at least I would know,” she answered, her eyes remaining fixed on the dangling piece of fruit that she had narrowly missed with her last jump. “The frustration is unbearable.”
      Again, the snake spoke, “I have relished watching you from this tree for many days now. You have an uncanny zest for life that is most refreshing and as I look upon you, I wonder what it would be like to possess a body with smooth and supple radiant skin rather than the scales with which I am covered. It must be wonderful to have the ability to balance and travel about on extremities such as yours… those long, lovely limbs.”
    The serpent fell quiet, staring at the slender arms that reached upward for the tempting fruit and then at the shapely legs whose youthful muscles tensed before each upward spring. Appearing and disappearing silently, like lightning from a threatening storm cloud, the thin, forked tongue of the beast shot out several times before it continued. “Because I have become familiar with your plight, it pains me to see you sssssuffer. I understand the way you feel. If whatever you desire is always just beyond your reach, even if you have much for which to be thankful, it can prevent you from truly appreciating that which you have.” 
      “Precisely,” said the young woman. Nodding in agreement, she turned away from the fruit, took several steps towards the trunk around which the serpent remained coiled and looked directly into the unblinking eyes that glowered from the snake’s massive head, now dangling a scant foot away from her. Impressed by the wisdom of the serpent and unintimidated by its proximity, she commented, “The male with whom I cohabit, who treats me as if I were nothing more than a mere possession will not come to this place. He forbids me to come here. He calls this ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ and has warned me not to partake of its fruit.” Her long, black tresses shifted across her forehead, covering one of her extraordinarily green eyes momentarily as she cocked her head to the left. She reached up, brushed the hair away and inquired, “You live here in this tree, do you not?”
      “I do,” the snake answered.
      “How is it that you are of another species and have known me for only a short while, yet compared to my own mate you seem to better understand my feelings?”
      The serpent bowed its head, feigning modesty, and replied, “How could one reside amongst the branches of The Tree of Knowledge, dining upon its fruit each day and not benefit greatly?”
      “Then tell me, serpent, for I am in anguish.” Accentuating her plight and the urgency of her petition, she pressed a hand to her firm breast. “Is this delicacy worth having?”
      The snake paused briefly, its forked tongue flicking with increased frequency from between its formidable fangs, “Oddly enough, I have pondered a remarkably similar question regarding something that I greatly desire.” At that very moment the snake struck, sinking its long fangs into her neck and injecting its venom. Paralyzed by the poison, the vivacious visitor collapsed to the ground, shuddering, unable to flee as the snake fed upon her blood, draining her of her life fluids and absorbing her very essence rather than devouring her body. By the time the serpent finished, the once vibrant beauty with the glowing, pink skin had become a wrinkled pile of dull, dried flesh and bones under a tangled mop of dark hair.
      Suddenly my mind and vision cleared. As I gazed into the eyes of the spellbinding goddess, I recognized the features, which, though faded, were undeniable. A great empathy for her based on what she must have endured through the centuries swelled within me, causing me to exclaim, “You are the beautiful woman from the garden! The evil serpent’s venom somehow transformed you into what you have become, did it not?”
      “No, Bartolomeo.” Vigorously she shook her head back and forth, the curls of her long, black hair rolling over her shoulders in waves, “I am not the beautiful woman.” She paused as our eyes met, mine blinking and then watering from the emerald intensity of her steady, unblinking gaze and the incredible significance of the message she delivered. “I am the serpent.”
      My hands flew to cover my mouth as I gasped, “Oh my . . .”
    “There is more, Bartolomeo. There is more.”
      Once again, I found myself in the garden where the attack occurred. On the ground were the withered remains of the young female, while only a few feet away lay the serpent in the grass, grotesquely swollen from the considerable meal it ingested. After a few moments it began to twist and turn, wriggling within its skin, which loosened as the beast increased it’s squirming. A slit opened along the scaly back, from just behind the head all the way to the tail. A strange, sickening, gurgle accompanied the ghastly sight of dark fluids spilling from the middle of the reptile as the crevice continued to widen, exposing a pulsating, pink bulge that grew at an alarming rate until it became apparent that the developing tumor was the only portion of the beast that remained alive. The rest of the monstrous body, including the head, lay on its side with its flaccid, forked tongue hanging from the gaping, now lifeless jaws.
      To my surprise, the quivering pink mass began to rise, magically forming arms and legs until the nude figure of a young woman stood complete before me, her damp face flushed with triumph. Opening her long-lashed eyelids to reveal sparkling green eyes, she wiped away thick strands of slimy, gelatinous mucous that dripped from her glistening flesh. An exact copy of the pinnacle of feminine pulchritude whose emaciated corpse lay nearby, she stepped gracefully from the serpent’s carcass and opened her mouth to lick her lips with a long, pink tongue. In doing so, she exposed two abnormally long upper teeth that extended downward, curving over the top of her lower lip. Stretching and flexing her newly acquired appendages she nodded at them in approval before turning to leave, as in the distance the voice of a man anxiously called out for her.
      “Eve, Eve, where are you?”
      “Coming, Adam.”
      Again my vision cleared. My eyes focused upon the goddess whose gaunt features, although changed by time and no doubt by the very nature of her existence, retained faded vestiges of the beauty that danced beneath the “Tree of Knowledge.”
      “You see, Bartolomeo,” she explained, “this is why I am known as the mother of all mankind, the giver of life. I have been known by many names, including Aset to the Egyptians, Isis to the Greeks, and Eve to Jews and Christians. All of mankind can trace its beginnings to me. Throughout the centuries I watch over my children and in a very few instances, have selected special ones such as you.” She extended a slender finger tipped by a perfectly manicured, red nail, her slightly parted lips exposing her fangs as she paused before adding, “for immortality.”
      My knees felt weak. I half-sat, half-collapsed upon the edge of the cold stone crypt with the knowledge that a bloodsucking demon was the mother of all mankind! No wonder sin became a natural and integral part of mankind. I raised a clammy hand to my forehead and wondered how Father Giuseppe might react to this revelation, which profoundly changes and expands upon the concept of original sin.
      I stared up, into the eyes of Ferdinando, seeking strength, hoping for some kind of moral support, yearning to learn of some way to escape this nightmare. Instead, the look on his face implied I should, if I may employ the parlance and distinct lack of sophistication found in the lingua franca of the 21st century, “Get used to it.”
The story continues:
 The Vampire Virtuoso Chapters 3, 4, 5  (13+)
Bartolomeo Cristofori wages war against the icons of Rock and Roll
#1457175 by George R. Lasher

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