At midnight, the chateau La Coste in Provence had the sad, decaying look of a once beautiful woman who was now giving in to the ravages of a decadent life and creeping old age. Moonlight splashed on pitted rock walls and sagging watchtowers, revealing every weathered crack.
To the old man sitting at the large arched window, it had become another dreary reminder that the future always destroys the past, no matter how grand and majestic its beauty.
In his homeland beyond the arched window, this was even more evident as it struggled through a savage revolution and the Reign of Terror.
He was dressed in a black silk nightgown that shimmered in the tiny light flickering from a nearby candle. It covered his withered old body like a funeral shroud. He'd been having trouble sleeping for years and found gazing outside at the pale, night sky would often have a soothing effect.
It also gave him the quiet and solitude he required to reminisce and reflect. After seventy years, it was the one welcome gift given by old age. He could gaze out the window and look back at the exquisite wonder of his life.
There are no true saints or sinners, he'd always believed, just humble human beings trying to seek out their personal truth in a complicated world.
His grand achievement, of course, had been his devotion to the artistry of pleasure. He'd treated it with a reverence above everything else. While others of his noble station were obsessed with status and wealth, he'd never felt so inclined.
Maybe he'd just been born differently from everyone else, and that's why his senses were sharper, his physical appetites more primal and pure. He hated the mundane and ordinary with a disgust that bordered on sickening revulsion.
Luckily, he'd also been born with the unshakable courage and resolve to follow his own path, staying steadfast to its twisted route no matter how radical or extreme its direction.
As he stared out the window, dark memories played out in his head, like they did every night, bringing a private smile to his parched old lips.
The gloominess of what he saw was not because of his fading memory. On the contrary, it was replaying events from the past exactly as they had happened, in all their shadowy, secret glory.
But on this night his reverie was suddenly cut short. A flash caught his eye in the night sky outside.
At first, it looked like a shooting star, but that wasn't possible because it raced through the darkness directly overhead, and crashed in the gardens behind the castle, rattling the grounds with a shivering force.
He pushed himself up, reached out for the candle with his trembling old hand. The castle was all he had left, his final sanctuary, his last resting place. He was worried about a fire spreading from the luminous streak that had just crashed so close.
"Francoise! Isabelle! Wake up! Quick! Quick!"
Two bodies stirred beneath the billowy red covers of his massive oak bed. There was grumbling, but just a little, as the covers were pushed off. The young faces that appeared would have preferred to stay sleeping, but that didn't matter. Anyone who shared his bed knew not to question his commands.
Francoise was already on his feet, his brown hair curly and wild. He'd been his servant for the past five years, but was just now out of his teens.
Isabelle was slower, a year younger. He'd found her as an orphan begging on the streets a year ago, and brought her home. She was dull-minded and stocky, but pleasingly compliant.
His long suffering wife had abandoned him years ago, her patience and love seeming to dissipate at the exact same time.
"Marquis, we're coming, we're coming," Isabelle's voice called out behind him, as he stumbled down the stairs at the end of the hallway.
Seconds later, they were out the back door of the kitchen, moving quickly across the sprawling, decayed terrace in back of the castle. A fog had rolled in with the thickness of smoke, the untended gardens not far ahead. But now the path was treacherous in the sudden fog. His slippered foot came down on a rock, sending him tottering off-balance, then down to the ground.
His anger flared because it was another harsh rankle he had with old age. At this sad time in his waning life, his desires almost always exceeded his abilities.
They gently tugged him back up to his unsteady feet.
"Marquis, you're hurt..." Francoise said.
His hand had a dripping, bloody cut from the fall.
"We have to hurry," he snapped again, ignoring the pain. He had bigger concerns than a small flesh wound that would easily heal, like all the countless others he'd witnessed in his life. The pain was a minor nuisance too, not severe enough for his connoisseur's eye.
They reached the end of the patio, Francoise and Isabelle still helping him along. François had snatched up the candle, was now holding that too. Its faint light illuminated the dying hedgerows in front of them that separated the patio from the gardens beyond.
They passed through the open path space, then stumbled to a stop. The sight that greeted them was made even more strange by the thick smoke charging at them in the moonlight.
"Marquis... what is it..." Isabelle whispered.
But he didn't have an answer, or even a guess.
For a long moment they stood there in silence, their eyes taking in the bewildering sight.
On the craggy garden ground ahead was a weirdly shaped object smothered in churning, burning black smoke. This was the origin of the dark fog rolling through the grounds, and now climbing the steep castle walls.
Its sliding crash had cut a deep trough into the earth, its smashing path finally stopped by a tree. The object was large, but the thick smoke obscured it's trembling shape.
And now something was crawling through the smoke.
They stumbled closer, very slowly, staring at what emerged through the moonlight and haze.
There were arms and legs, and a head, of sorts. But it wasn't human, and it wasn't like any animal either. It was tall and thin, ghostly-white, crawling across the ground like a quivering spider. Then it collapsed, fluttering with weakness.
They moved closer again, now hovering a short distance away.
It was shivering, wheezing out a soft, weak sound.
"Fetch the wheelbarrow," he ordered Francoise, pointing to it nearby.
It took all three of them to lift the strange quivering creature off the ground, then settle it down on the wooden cart.
As they did so, the creature's mouth dropped open and a snaky tongue shot out, lapping at the blood still red and wet on his hand. He instinctively yanked his hand away, but not without a tingle of surprise, an emotion he hadn't felt in far too long.
As they tugged the heavy wooden wheelbarrow across the garden to the dark castle ahead, he wondered what manner of life had just fallen into his.
"We'll take it to the basement," he announced when they reached the back door to the kitchen. He saw Francoise and Isabelle share a glance, but he ignored it. Their opinions meant nothing to him, never had.
They clumsily lifted the creature up from the wheelbarrow, hoisted it on top of Francoise's broad shoulders, and he carried it inside.
The door to the basement was in the hallway beyond the kitchen. He retrieved the key from its hiding place, unlocked the thick iron door, swung it open.
Isabelle had the candle now. She led them down the twisting rock stairway to the subterranean rooms below. He picked one of the smaller rooms that was mostly empty of his cherished toys.
We all have two lives he'd discovered early in life, the public side we show the world, and the private side that's free of the world's constraints. The locked catacomb basement was where he'd kept his private side.
They lay the creature on a long slab table. As they'd done before, they stood for a long moment in silence, staring through the musty air at its strangeness.
He wondered if it came from the heavens above, or from the infernal depths below. It seemed both angelic and eerie, not of this world. He wasn't a man of faith, or a man of science, but he was open to miracles if that's what this was.
They stayed awhile longer marveling at the still quivering creature. He finally ordered Francoise to sit vigil for the rest of the night. While he still had no answers as to what it was, he knew it was a rare possession that now belonged solely to him.
The next day, he decided the first priority was to provide sustenance. The creature looked even weaker than the previous night. They tried cow's milk, water, bread, cheese, and meat, but nothing elicited any interest. The creature lay limp on the table, looking close to death.
He would have sent for the doctor, but the prissy little man had long ago declared his disinterest in coming to his home.
Then another idea appeared suddenly in his head.
"Isabelle, bring in the turkey we've been saving for Sunday supper. Kill it, then bring me a bowl of its blood."
She was back even faster than he expected, cradling a white breakfast bowl filled with thick blood.
He carefully took the bowl and brought it close to the creature's head. Like before, a snaky tongue shot out and lapped up the blood in just a few seconds, leaving the bowl completely empty and white.
"How strange," he murmured.
But now it was an easy matter to keep a bowl of blood taken from the livestock on the table next to the creature's head. It consumed it insatiably with an effect that was astounding to see. Its frail body grew firmer and stronger, transforming so quickly he decided precautions had to be taken. He bound the now restless creature to the table with the frayed leather straps that had been hanging on both sides.
The table and the straps were one of his cherished toys.
As the creature lay bound on the table, he also found a feeling stirring in his old body as well.
His dark desires were catching fire again.
He was staring out the large arched window two nights later when the urge ignited inside him. This was the way it had been when he was a younger man. A ferocious desire would suddenly crackle up inside him, and he couldn't have peace until he found a release.
He reached for the candle, then padded quietly across the floor, leaving Francoise and Isabelle undisturbed in the bed.
The tiny light of the candle lit the way, as he descended three flights of stairs down to the subterranean catacombs below. He wondered if the urge had first appeared in his dreams, because he already knew which of his cherished toys he wanted to play with.
He gathered them from the other catacomb rooms, then carried the bundle into the small space with the imprisoned creature. He dropped them to the hard rock floor - spikes, whips, masks, clamps, prongs, shackles, knives.
The creature's body was freakish, its skin so white it almost glowed, and he realized this was the cause for the reawakening of his dormant desires.
Over the course of his life, his pursuit of pleasure had been relentless and obsessive, pushing him far beyond what was considered acceptable. At the outset, he'd discovered a personal truth that was impossible to ignore. For him, pleasure and pain were inextricably linked, pain in others was pleasurable to him.
But after a lifetime of pursuing every extreme fantasy he could imagine, the human body had ceased offering anything new. He'd called them his uncommon pleasures, but after so many years they'd become common and routine.
That's why the strange creature was so seductive. Its unknown body was a freakish new playground where he could play with his cherished toys.
In the days that followed, a macabre routine settled in at the castle.
During the daylight hours, the strange creature was provided the bowls of blood that kept it alive. Its ghostly-white body would lap up the red liquid like someone suffocating desperately gulping for air. The creature's eyes were milky orbs that shimmered with a tinge of red when it was feeding on the blood. The red liquid diet also gave it the strength it would need for the nights that followed.
It was always after midnight when he'd slip out of bed and spend the time as he always had. He'd sit in his ornate velvet chair and gaze out the large arched window into the gloomy night sky. But now it wasn't as preparation for falling asleep. He used it to conjure up what he'd do to the creature with his beloved toys.
The first night he began slowly, probing and poking the creature's freakish body. Progression was always an essential component when pursuing his uncommon pleasures. He didn't want to introduce extreme pain too soon, because it wouldn't result in the optimal pleasure. He did it gradually, using his assortment of leather and metal toys.
Each night he inflicted a higher level of pain, a more excruciating form of torture. As he increased the severity of his nightly assaults, what he enjoyed most of all was the new look in the creature's milky eyes.
It was a look of absolute, sheer, uncontrollable terror.
He padded down the three flights of stairs, eager as always, but on this night he was greeted by a shocking sight.
The creature was still latched to the table by the frayed leather straps, his torturous toys scattered around it on the dark rock floor. But it was clearly dead, the front of its body mangled with a gaping, ragged hole.
Then he saw the reason for the creature's demise. A smaller creature was on the table next to it, its tiny tongue lapping at the splattered blood. The smaller creature had clawed its way out of the bigger creature, a brutal, murderous birth.
He stepped closer, studied the small creature in the soft glow of the candlelight. His heart began to pound, because this was an outcome he'd never expected.
His erotic progression had, of course, included the ultimate assault, using his own naked body as the bludgeoning tool. This small creature was clearly the off-spring of that unnatural union.
It was more human in form, but its damp skin was still ghostly-white, radiant and otherworldly. It peered back at him, blood smeared on its newborn face, and he saw that its eyes were the most striking.
They were as dark as the darkest, pitch-black night, and they seemed to be filled with nothing but a desire for cruelty and pain.
The family resemblance was undeniable.
The miracle of the first creature's arrival was followed by another miracle. On the same steady diet of livestock blood, the small creature's growth was faster than anything he'd ever seen. Over the course of a year, it grew until it was nearly his height.
Francoise and Isabelle seemed to have an instinctive fear of it, but it was a fear he didn't share. After all, a part of this new being was his own flesh and blood, so he felt a connection he couldn't ignore. The creature was strange, but now a part of that strangeness had come from him.
Except for the cold blackness of its eyes, and the spectral whiteness of its skin, it now appeared to be human in all regards.
But then he was given the brutal truth about what this creature really was.
He'd come downstairs late in the morning, saw the spilled blood on the floor right away, then the sprawled bodies of Francoise and Isabelle right after that.
The creature had been locked in the catacombs from the very beginning, but was left free to roam through its dark rooms filled with his torturous toys.
But now it had found a way to break free. The heavy iron door was wide open. The creature was on the kitchen floor, lapping blood from the slaughtered body of Isabelle, having already finished with Francoise.
As he stood there in shock, the creature looked up and caught his gaze. He saw a look in its cold black eyes he recognized, because he'd felt it himself.
This newborn creature was feeling a momentary peace, because a dark desire had been fulfilled.
While he still felt an allegiance to the creature that was flesh of his flesh, he also realized his fate would be the same as Francoise and Isabelle if it remained in his home. Its dark desires would no doubt surface again, and he'd be dead on the floor like them.
After nightfall, he cleaned the smeared blood from the creature's face, then dressed it in his finest black silk clothes. He took its ghostly-white hand, led it outside.
It took some coaxing to get it into the carriage, but then they were off, galloping out the soaring front gate of the castle, then down the long dirt road that led to town.
He knew what he had to do, but that didn't make it any easier. He wasn't sure if it was love that he felt, but whatever it was, it was raw and powerful.
He raced to the most sordid part of the city, then helped the creature climb down from the carriage. It followed him without hesitation into the rat filled alley, and kept its pace when he slowed his.
Then he did what he had to do, yanking out the metal club hidden beneath his long coat, and striking the creature on the back of the head.
As it lay there on the grimy, cobblestone rocks, it was a vision of ghostly-white and seductive black silk. He made sure it wasn't dead, but he also wanted to be sure it couldn't follow him.
There are no true saints and sinners, he'd decided long ago, just humble human beings trying to seek out their personal truth in a complicated world.
As the carriage galloped back down the long dirt road, he discovered a personal truth he hadn't known.
He did love the strange creature he'd had to abandon, because nothing else could explain the terrible, excruciating pain in his heart.
It was just a few months later when he realized he was dying, and it was just as well. To his tired, old body, life had nothing more to offer, and there was nothing more he wanted to take.
On this night, it was exactly at midnight when he slipped out of bed, and sat in the ornate velvet chair in front of the vaulted window. He hadn't done so in awhile, lacking the interest and strength.
For the past few weeks he'd been secluded in his dark bedroom, waiting patiently for the end to come. But he'd also heard news about a different reign of terror sweeping through his homeland.
They called it le Vampyre.
A thin smile came to his withered, old face.
While others had always thought he'd brought shame and disgrace to the once respected de Sade name, he had no remorse whatsoever. He'd lived an exquisitely, singular life, staying always steadfast to its twisted route.
He'd also learned a valuable lesson about the past, and this was his final thought as his weary head suddenly slumped to his chest, and his broken heart stopped beating.
It's always the past that creates the future.
About the Author
Sheldon Woodbury is a frequent contributor to Popcorn Fiction.