From Chapter 2
The horrible buzzing resembled no natural sound. Alphonsine reached out,
hitting the alarm clock with enough force to send plastic flying like shrapnel.
“Merde,” she said, lifting the lilac-scented sleep mask to survey the
The thick black curtains were closed and the room was dark, but she
could feel the sun had not quite set. Next time stick to champagne, she reminded
herself. The copious amount of whiskey had left her head pounding. The fruit of
the vine was mother’s milk to her, but she’d never had much of a tolerance for
grain alcohol, and while the effects were not seen on her face, they might be felt,
especially when she awoke before it was time.
But she’d promised Pierre she wouldn’t be late. It wasn’t that she wished
to please him. She simply couldn’t stand how smug he’d become about her habits.
She hated being predictable.
Her headache would be gone if she waited a few more minutes till sunset,
but she didn’t have the patience. She reached into her night table, grabbing a
small glassine envelope, placed a bit of powder on her finger, and snorted just
enough to numb the pain.
She stood up and went to the curtained wall. Despite the stories, her kind
did not implode if out before sundown. It was one of many myths designed to
keep them safe, not much more truthful than stories about not being able to cross
water, needing an invitation to enter a residence, or having an especially strong
aversion to garlic.
Daylight, however, was still to be avoided. They were by nature nocturnal,
and the longing for sleep might weigh obsessively on the mind. One could use
potions to stay awake – drugs in sufficient quantity to kill most mortals, but
nothing could overcome the weakness and vulnerability. Worst of all, sunlight
caused aging, and at an even more rapid rate than for the day-walkers. The
occasional morning stroll, the rare afternoon ride, could over a century add
a decade or more, and when one survived on one’s looks and charms, any
diminishment was perilous. In direct daylight there would be a tingling, a warning
mechanism from the body that would become more intense and unpleasant, but
when it was essential to be seen, her kind could pass.
She opened the curtain revealing the island across the river, the lights of
the city coming on as the orange globe went down. There was something riveting
about watching its power wane. Despite her nakedness, she slid open the terrace
door and stepped out to take it all in. There it was before her, the shimmering
waters of the East River, and beyond it Manhattan, lit up in its glory. She felt the
wind on her face and stretched out her arms. She made a sound halfway between
a scream and a howl, a welcome to the moon. She could feel her energy returning.
It was night, and the night was hers.
Lacking was the music of insects, birds, wildcats with their grumbling
mating calls, the howls of wolves – what her people called night-song. But then,
from the time she first came to Paris at fourteen, she’d always been a city girl, and
cities had their own pleasures.
Her bathroom was en-suite, but could be accessed through a second door
from the living room. Rosa, who came in the mornings to clean, routinely filled
the bath. There was a timed heater that kept the water warm. Alphonsine slipped
into the oversized tub.
She dove under the bubbles. While her kind needed to breathe, they could
control respiration and stay under for hours. She enjoyed soaking this way in
very hot water, allowing herself to think and dream. Her morning kill had been so
unusual, so exciting, she wanted to relive every detail.
She hadn’t been planning to feed that night, though it had been almost
four weeks. She could go five, even six in a pinch, but after that long she felt so
fatigued it was hard to distinguish day from night. Pierre and she were planning
to get out of town to feast together. He often chided her for her recklessness,
pointing out it was not like the old days. Trains, planes, and automobiles made
it easy to place distance between oneself and one’s prey. No reason to kill where
one lived, but sometimes, one couldn’t help oneself.
She had left the party feeling a particular restlessness. At first believing
sex alone might be enough to stave off the hunger, her plan had been to head
downtown or back to Brooklyn to find some pretty thing to hook up with. Then
she caught a scent, felt something unique was waiting. Violent images flooded her
mind as she entered the bar. It was coming into focus – a mortal who killed, not
in war, but for fun. While her telepathic powers were weak – she was after all still
quite young, she could sense emotions, especially strong ones, and he had been a
seething caldron of barely suppressed rage.
Under the warm water, she could still taste it on her tongue, his blood, his
essence – all of that delicious hate, and yet in the intimacy of the death-grip, she
felt more, his humanity, as though they both were spiraling backwards in time to a
moment when even he was innocent.
She’d given him peace. It had been a good death for him. True, she had
frightened him when she jumped out. They said in the best hunts the prey never
suspected, never felt a moment of unease, but allowances had to be made. After
all, he believed he had killed her. She couldn’t let him go to his grave thinking
Blood was more than nourishment. It was a sacrament. Some said the
blood itself contained the very soul. She doubted such a thing existed. She
only knew it had something – a power, a magic like nothing else. Strange how
easily satisfied beings like her were, hardly the monsters depicted in myth. As
pleasurable as it might be to hunt and feast every night, like the noble lion, they
only did so when hungry.
No two people tasted the same – not father and son, nor brother and sister,
not even twins. This she knew from her own experience. Children’s blood had a
sweetness like the candied grapes young men once brought her as tokens between
acts at the opera. There was a freshness to young blood, like apples picked in the
summer at a perfect moment of ripeness. Teenaged girls tasted of secrets, and
boys of lust. Women, pretty ones, whose hearts had been broken had a certain
tenderness and resignation, especially if you came to them when their looks were
fading, and there wasn’t much hope. There were men who had an edge like a wine
with a bitter after taste, while others were warm and smooth. The old, whom she
wasn’t fond of, tasted of sadness, disappointment, and defeat, though they would
certainly do when convenient. Human blood, like the human voice, had different
timbres. Some had the richness and depth of a bass-baritone while others were
light but agile like a coloratura soprano.
A killer, however, especially one who dispatched his own so
remorselessly, this was a rare treat indeed. The essence would hold within it all
whom he had taken. For her to act so boldly, to take so many chances to have
him, was a risk, but what would be the point of immortality without gambles?
And she had always loved games of chance.
When she walked in and saw him, saw those thick arms, the sandy hair,
could already feel what it would be like to fuck him, to take him perhaps when he
was inside her, she knew she had to go through with it. The combination of lust
and hunger made her almost giddy, barely able to contain herself.
Still immersed, Alphonsine began to touch her thighs, working up to her
pussy, replaying the night.
As soon as she sat down at the bar it became clear he had picked her,
imagined her as his next victim. It was too delicious! A chance for play-acting.
Something different and rough.
Alphonsine lifted her head above the water, feeling the urge to breathe.
Her breaths became quick as she felt her release, the first taste of his blood a vivid
memory. Her kind not only felt everything more strongly than mortals, but could
recall in full sensory detail.
It had been everything she hoped. Feeling him draining, feeling his life
force leaving his body, merging into hers. That final beat of his cruel heart. A
rush of something – all his anger, perhaps? It overwhelmed her for a second and
then was gone. And he had looked so tranquil – transformed by death – beyond
the desire to hurt and kill, beyond it all, finally at rest – a gift she had bestowed
She had closed his eyes, and kissed him once softly on the lips before
beginning the task of clean up.
The act of remembering left her not hungry for more blood, but still
She went back to bed, and reaching over to the night table brought out a
vibrator, thrusting it in and out until she finally felt normal. It was not unusual
after a feeding to be as randy as a teenaged boy. It was always better to hunt with
a partner, to wake together in each other’s arms, able to satisfy any remaining
urges. It didn’t matter whether the bedmate was male or female, or what one
usually preferred. Often, she and Pierre comforted each other after feeding,
though he was naturally drawn to men, and more like an older sibling. That was
another thing mortals missed, how gentle and loving they could be with each
other. They were, as Pierre had once put it, the bonobos of the supernatural.
When she was ready, she rose from the bed. While her smashed clock was
no help, she was sure she was running late as always. There was an important
opening at the gallery – a group show of new artists, and she herself had made
arrangements for the gala. There would be a poetry slam and a band, and press
of course. She pictured the stern look Pierre would give her when she arrived.
He kept an apartment above the gallery, and had probably been up since late
afternoon, but then a man could afford to look a bit weathered, to pass for forty
rather than twenty-five. She could not.
She decided to wear the red dress that night – the one that looked like the
one worn by Violetta in that modern dress version of La Traviata she’d seen with
Pierre. He’d get the reference.
She pulled her long hair back and expertly twisted it into a single high
braid. After working on her make-up, she stepped out into the main room. It was
about five hundred square feet, large only by New York standards. There was an
open space separated from the small kitchen area by a black granite counter. Rosa
had left the usual items out – the vase with camellias, only three, cut fresh and
sent to her every day, courtesy of an old acquaintance. She grabbed a single one
and pinned it in her hair. There were newspapers – The New York Times so she
could learn what was happening in the world, Le Monde because wherever she
wandered for however long, Paris would always be her home, and the New York
Post because she loved reading about the exploits of the fashionable on Page Six,
where she sometimes got a “shout-out” – or rather her current identity did. To the
world she was now Camille St. Valois.
She pressed the button on her espresso machine and waited for the dark
liquid to fill the cup, as she checked e-mail on her phone. How wonderful to be
living in the twenty-first century, where servants were hardly even necessary,
and anyone could have anything in an instant. She had once lived her life at light
speed. What else could one do when diagnosed with an inevitably fatal illness
while still a teenager? Time had not been an enemy for many years, and yet she
still wanted to fill every night with pleasure.
She savored the odor of the Sidamo beans, recalling an Ethiopian prince
she’d once known. It had made her sad to kill him, but his suspicions were
dangerous and she couldn’t resist his sweet royal blood.
Her kind didn’t need food or drink to survive, but a strong cup of coffee in
the dawn of the evening was almost as essential to her as the life giving elixir that
flowed from the veins of still-living mortals.
Skimming through the New York papers she saw nothing about her
activities the previous evening – neither the gathering she’d attended earlier, nor
her feast. Despite having risen early to avoid being late, she decided to enjoy a
few more quiet moments before rushing out to work.
party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.
courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens
showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc
had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of
lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and
Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils
wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The
book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the
film versions, and the legend never died.
chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was
the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?
nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially
when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of
the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a
soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men
evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?
Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity,
love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a
story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old
demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions
of fresh blood?
We are never more ourselves than when we wear a disguise.