Authors: Romina Nicolaides
When all the time in the world is not enough
There are a lot of things that can kill you in life: germs, chemical imbalances, poisons, accidents, people. The things that can kill you, can also kill us; we’re just as vulnerable as everyone else to life’s threats, even though popular belief would have you think we're invincible, uncatchable and most of all, already dead! It was many centuries before I learned about viruses and what they can do. The VN73 virus, as it has come to be known, only lives inside us, the infected. It can’t survive outside the human body for longer than a few seconds and it's almost impossible to see under a microscope. Only one person has been able to see it, and he was the one that also gave it its name. I will talk about this man, but now is not the time.
VN73 has been around for millennia and can only take hold of a host if they have certain genetic mutations, the most common being the chromosomes for blue eyes and black hair, whether they manifest or not. When it does manage to take hold, our lives and bodies are transformed in a way that serves only to preserve it. I could go as far as to say it is the most powerful virus unrecognized by man, and when we become its hosts we are entirely ruled by it.
In the past we didn’t call ourselves infected of course, as infection is a modern concept, but we went by the title of Afflicted. A subject with the appropriate mutations can only be changed when they are bitten by one who is Afflicted, provided that the predator does not completely exsanguinate the victim, in which case they will simply die. If they leave a little over a quarter pint of blood in them however, the virus, which is most prevalent in the mouth, will slowly take hold, and over a number of days begin to overwhelm the victim. Initially a grasping chill sets in, which is much like the symptoms of a simple cold, only it gets worse and worse until it permanently settles the body’s core temperature to about thirty five degrees centigrade and leaves it permanently cold to the touch and extremely pale. Then the heart rate slows so much that it is virtually imperceptible, which is what has led the public to the erroneous conclusion that people like us are dead. In fact it is as if we are frozen and living by a much slower clock; the belief that we do not age for example is also incorrect; we do, only where a healthy human being will age in forty or fifty years it will take us ten times longer to reach the same level of body fatigue, and even then it depends on the individual’s constitution. I’ve seen some who have lived to be six hundred years old and not need any kind of artificial quickening while others burn out as early as two hundred. It all depends on your intrinsic make up, and just like anyone else, maintenance and a healthy lifestyle are crucial to a long and prosperous Affliction.
Certain quickening methods do exist, but the really good ones are secret, myths even. This knowledge is held by very few of us, those that have come to be known as the Protovamps. The rest live their mindless and very often reckless existences in the knowledge that their lifespan is multiplied by about ten times that of the average human, and that is enough for most. As with unafflicted people, each deals with their aging any way they can. Also just like ‘normal’ people, there is no particular or universal solidarity amongst our kind. Some acquire wisdom with age, others remain as stupid as the day they were born, and life goes on.
As a result of the slow aging our metabolisms are affected, which is why only fresh blood is concentrated enough to offer the nutrition we need to keep going. Food can and is consumed but does not offer the nourishment or pleasure it once did, though for some of us some habits are hard to break. I knew this Bulgarian many years ago who when he was healthy, used to love the taste of sweet Turkish coffee. After he was Afflicted the taste was so altered for him that he used to drink up to 20 cups in one sitting, just to gain the satisfaction that a single cup used to offer him.
Another untruth is the fact that we cannot survive in sunlight. The fact is that sunlight is not actually harmful to us in small doses; the only problem is that we cannot abide it. Due to the sensitive nature of our eyes and skin we prefer to only appear in overcast or dark conditions. The Affliction affects our eyes in such a manner as to enhance their capacity for vision, especially in low light conditions and for reasons we have yet to discover, also alters their initial color. Though it remains as is, it acquires a crystalline quality, which I believe is related to the predatory skills our condition imparts.
Further predatory characteristics also develop. Some acquire excellent hearing while others develop the eyesight of a hawk. Some have a sense of smell so powerful they can smell blood two kilometers away and many grow razor sharp claws that sever skin with the ease of a freshly sharpened butcher’s knife. The skills are as varied as the individual and very rarely one can develop all these traits at once. Occasionally some acquire them from others.
Garlic is one of those anecdotal stories that peasant lore has proliferated over the centuries through their ignorance and fear. Just like any other root, herb or vegetable we are completely indifferent to it and it does not make us recoil nor does it keep us away from anyone brandishing it or hanging it on their doors. In fact, some Afflicted sects use it as their emblem in jest.
Crucifixes and mirrors are more of the same superstitious lore. The virus has existed long before the inception of any religion and if that were the case, faith alone would have cured all the ills known to man by now. Mirrors work on us just as they do on any healthy human being.
Silver, like light, is a whole other story. Perhaps because of its antiseptic qualities and the high concentration of virus in our bodies we have a strong aversion to it, very much akin to an allergy. Like a healthy person, and by healthy I refer to the unafflicted, could develop an allergy to copper or brass, we cannot abide silver. Its effects are felt instantly and painfully. It burns the skin, though it does not smoke like popular culture would have you believe, and saps our energy almost instantly, but the minute its effects are removed the body heals one hundred times faster than that of a healthy person, provided that the damage was not fatal. Our healing is by no means immediate. If our internal organs are damaged enough we die; if our heads are severed we die; if we are exsanguinated we die; if we do not consume blood or any other nourishment for prolonged periods of time we die - in fact the virus requires constant sustenance otherwise it turns on the body and begins to consume it from the inside if left unnourished. We cannot survive underwater, in oxygen-depleted conditions or in freezing weather. We are different, we are superior, we are predatory and often base, but in no way are we undead or immortal. Simply put, our bodies acquire different properties as these exist in nature and all for the proliferation of VN73.
History is written by the victors, and even though Erzsébet Báthory’s story has been told countless times before by those that survived her, it was never told by anyone who experienced it all first hand and who remembers it all clearly. For those unfamiliar with this formidable woman, she was a Hungarian Countess who lived in the 17
century and who was rumored to have tortured and killed over six hundred young girls in order to bathe in their blood to maintain her youthful appearance. Her myth has been greatly embellished over the years, untruths were added and crucial facts were taken away which would have helped clarify who this woman really was and why she behaved the way that she did. Simply, the truth lies in the fact that she was Afflicted by VN73.
Hungary January 1610
The moon over Csejthe Castle was clearly visible and the Countess loved gazing at it from her bedroom window. It was open all the way, letting the cold night air flood the castle and tickle the fire which competed with it for dominance. The sky was black but clear and the celestial embroidery was at its most beautiful. She had made certain the castle was empty except for herself.
She stood in her nightgown facing the mirror. The ruff, farthingale, stomacher and skirt lay discarded on the ground. The maids would pick them up later. The fashion of this century was so irritating she wanted it off the minute she was out of the public eye. Her rich brown hair hung loose all the way down to her waist and she began brushing it repeatedly until it was glistening. The bags and crow’’s feet under her forest green eyes were quite prominent but she wasn’t looking at them. Her temples glistened from the ointment she had rubbed on them.
She was disappointed that the witch’s Atropa ointment had not helped her tonight. Normally the visions it induced were clear and precise, giving order to her scientific method, but tonight the images were jumbled and she couldn’t make sense of them. They left her with a sense of fright but no conclusion. Maybe the witch Darvulia was losing her touch.
Putting the luxurious mother of pearl and badger hair hairbrush on the dressing table she picked up the knife that lay next to it and methodically began to cut lines into her forearm. Beads of sweat prickled her forehead and her lips parted with every pass of the knife which caused her to inhale through her clenched teeth. As one range of cuts healed she would go over them again and again mumbling to herself while the blood began to form a small pool at her feet. The small slice of mandrake root under her tongue began to work and her eyes rolled into the back of her head at which point she began to mumble spells. She sat at her desk and began to write into a small red book.
Kati stood looking at the row of cabbages which were ready for harvesting. They were not impressive by any means. They were small and their outer leaves had been pockmarked by the cold and some very hungry caterpillars. Sinking to her knees, she picked up one that was continuing to feast on her wages and, screwing her nose at it, she threw it a few paces away where a crow did not hesitate to collect it. Even though the cabbages were still young, she had very little to sell today so they would have to go to market. Cutting a few from the patch she placed them into her wheelbarrow and stood up, brushing the dirt off her dress. She had grown quite tall in recent months, having just turned fourteen, and the dress was ill fitting. She would try to let it out a bit in the evening. She tucked a wayward strand of long auburn hair behind her ear and looked around her humble medley of vegetables looking for something else to pick. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she checked if the fruit trees had any viable produce.
She lived with her mother in a cottage on the edges of the forest a few miles from Csejthe Castle and together they scraped an existence by selling the pick of the vegetables they grew. Her father had died from the cold one winter night when he passed out drunk a few roads down from the village ale house when she was four or five. His only legacy was the debts and the continuous stream of collectors who would come looking for what they were owed. He had shingled roofs for a living, an arduous and back breaking job that brought in little money. He had always been a heavy drinker, and when one of his falls broke his knee, he decided there wasn’t much else worth doing. If only they’d paid him for drinking...
Walking towards town, Kati pushed her tired old wheelbarrow with the produce she intended to sell for the day. A few skinny carrots, nine parsnips, twelve leeks and three cabbages. She parked it in the alley where the rest of the vendors were and waited for her customers.