I Am Death
There is a conversation going on at Janet Reid’s blog that evolved into conversations about vampires. The prevailing thought is vampires don’t sell. The market is saturated. I have always believed a great story written beautifully will find a home. So, to all the vampire writers out there, fly free.
Regina is a character in an upcoming work.
My name is Regina Grace Waverly DuMonde. To my grandfather, I am Regina Grace. To my father, I am Reggie. To my mother, I am Mountain Rose or sometimes Mountain Flower when she is in her times of madness and believes I am her daughter who died as a child on the trail of tears. To my lover, and also the man who tried to kill me, I was his beloved Ginny. To my enemies, and I have many, I am known simply as Death.
I was named after my two grandmothers, Regina DuMonde and Grace Waverly. This is proper because The Principal People are a maternal society. I am of the Bird Clan, meaning I am a messenger. Sometimes, I bring a message of life everlasting, with youth, beauty and strength never fade. Age holds no sway. Infirmities are unknown. The future may be endless for the ones who are cunning and learn the lessons of survival. To others I offer only a short, terse missive of death and two silver coins to remind them of their sins and the sins of their fathers.
I was born in 1841. My mother was the only daughter of a Cherokee plantation owner. She grew up with the finest clothes, jewels, and horses. My grandfather sent her to Salem College to be educated further even though she already spoke four languages and was an accomplished musician and artist. She was strikingly beautiful and courted by the wealthy, the powerful and even by one European prince who was smitten upon seeing her ride in a fox hunt. Her heart, however, belonged to the son of a Cherokee chief who had fought with the betrayer Andrew Jackson.
Like my mother, I am educated. I speak the classic languages. I play piano, but never like my mother who could coax both the soul and heart into her notes. I paint, for my mother was also a gifted artist who instilled the love of nature and art in me at an early age.
Some of you have seen my work. My florals and landscapes hang in the most exclusive fine art galleries. My paintings grace some of the finest mansions. I particularly love to paint scenes of North Carolina. It warms my heart to know I appeal to the very same ones who robbed my people. It’s as if I can watch them through my paintings; like I can see everything they do and everything they love.
Sometimes I do.
No one sees my most prized works, however. They are for me alone. They are the portraits. Portraits of people laughing and filled with gaiety hang here and there in my private studio. Mostly, though, they depict the terror, delicious and real, in that moment when they realize who, or what, I really am. I can almost taste their fear again when I study my private collection.
Some are torn and “savagely” mangled, but strangely at peace with the silver dollars over their eyes. Those are the special ones. Their families demanded money from the destitute to bury their dead. They stole the land from my people. They leave this world with their precious silver dollars, while I continue to walk it, the perfect young lady with delicate manners and impeccable taste.
I tell you this so you may know, when I was offered “the one choice” why I chose as I did…why I am now the hunter.
You also may have this choice in your future. Your reasons for accepting or declining are as diverse as the stars in the night sky, but know this; should you choose to become the hunter, you choose to become the hunted as well.
My refined tastes, as well as some of my baser qualities, frequently earn me invitations to the finest balls. Tonight was the Duganville’s engagement party. They were thrilled to announce the betrothal of their son, Noble Patrick to the lovely Miss Celestine Meriwether Browne of the Richmond Brownes.
Noble seemed especially pleased I accepted the invitation. He was always the most attentive of suitors when he courted me, but, alas, my poor broken heart could not properly receive his attentions after Will so callously abandoned me.
Mrs. D., as she was known by her society friends, rushed toward me in a cloud of pale pink tulle. “My dear Regina, you have no idea how glad I am you decided to come. I nearly swooned with delight when I received your most welcome rsvp. The finest young men from half the south are here as well as a few Yankees, but we shan’t hold that against them, shall we?” She cooled herself nervously with an intricately carved ivory fan, and whispered, “This simply must be the party of the year. Do be a dear and help me make sure no one forgets it.”
I patted her hand with warm reassurance. “I’m positive people will speak of it for years to come, Mrs. D.”
She squeezed my hand in grateful response to my words. “Such a sweet girl. That dress was the perfect choice. It matches exactly those gorgeous green eyes exactly. And the emeralds. The judge’s wife’s, of course. I would recognize them anywhere. I adored your grandmother Regina, I’m sure I’ve told you before that we always called her Nina, but she had such a short, coarse neck. She should never have worn anything with a daring neckline, let alone those fabulous jewels to draw attention to it. Not like you, of course. You have the neck of a swan. Even so, the judge doted on her and showered her with the most exquisite jewelry. But! Here we are and you have inherited them to display in regal perfection.”
A man across the room caught her attention. “Regina, that’s Mr. Hubble of the Charlotte Chronicle. He’s not appropriate for you, of course, but he is the society editor. Could you grace him with your smile and make him feel welcome? I simply must have good coverage in the papers. I must or I swear I’ll die of humiliation.”
I smiled and kissed her pink, plump cheek. “I’ll make sure your party is featured in every newspaper in the state.”
She tittered and swatted playfully at me with her fan. “Silly girl. Not even I could hope for that, but do your best.”
I drifted away from the darling Mrs. D., determined to do everything in my considerable power to make her dream come true. Mr. Hubble didn’t take long to notice me. He was surrounded by a flock of twittering young women who preened and hung on his every word in hopes he might make special note of their beauty or at the least their very fine gowns. I, on the other hand, retreated to a chair against the wall and focused my attention on the music. The orchestra was better than most, but I was not surprised when I recognized many of the musicians from the local symphony and was not surprised. No doubt Noble’s fiancé, Miss Cellie, would entertain the audience later with a song or three and play the harp. With luck she might be distracted from ruining an evening of decidedly lovely music. While I cringed at the thought of her butchering some otherwise lovely song, Mr. Hubble disengaged himself from his lady friends and made his way over to me. He glanced at the dance card on my wrist and then bowed. “Forgive my intrusion and lack of manners, my name is Alexander Hubble of the Charlotte Chronicle.”
I looked up and gave him a small, shy smile. “Indeed? How fascinating. I’ve always admired writers. My name is Regina DuMonde.”
He laughed, almost nervously. “Yes, Miss DuMonde. I’m afraid I’ve already enquired about you. You are Judge DuMonde’s granddaughter?”
“I am. Please, Mr. Hubble, won’t you sit down?”
“I’d be delighted, but first may I offer you a refreshment? And, please, it is Alex. My friends call me Alex.”
“Oh, well then, Alex it is, and, yes, I’d love something to drink. Perhaps a bit of champagne.”
Three of his admirers scurried by when he left, their indignant voices raised just high enough for me to hear. “Don’t worry, Sissy, Mr. Hubble won’t tarry long with the half breed.”
I slipped the dance card from my wrist and pretended to be examining it. It was of remarkable quality. A picture of the happy couple nested in the embossed and gilded leather frame. Their names and the date were hand lettered below the insert.
He reappeared shortly thereafter and handed me the stem of champagne. “Here, let me relieve you of that, so you can enjoy your drink.”
His smile was delightfully genuine at my responding laugh. “Such a gentleman.”
“Not really,” he said as he sat next to me. “I have nefarious plans to erase someone else’s name and insert mine next to a nice waltz.”
The champagne was excellent. Mrs. D. had spared no expense. “Alas, no one has claimed even a single dance yet. You’ll have to save your vile schemes for another.”
“Excellent! Then may I claim the Blue Danube?”
“I would be honored.”
My new friend withstood the withering glances as long as he could before resuming his duties as a social editor and returned to court the young, and not so young, ladies of Greensboro and surrounding cities. I sipped champagne and held court of my own as several solicitous mothers introduced me to their very fine and, did they mention, eligible sons. Most of them I had already met numerous times, but there were a few new faces in the crowd and I remarked from time to time I would like to do a portrait of them someday.
Mrs. Howell gasped dramatically. “I had no idea you did portraits also! Would you consider a commission to paint Stuart one day?’ Stuart was her also quite eligible son. He, like his mother, had a very receding, almost to the point of non-existent, chin. Fortunately for him, a full, meticulously groomed brown beard camouflaged the defect. He had his father’s large, dove gray eyes, however, which was his redeeming feature.
“Mr. Howell,” I said looking up at him and leaning a bit forward. The center emerald in my necklace shifted slightly over the top of my breasts. I modestly declined to take note of those very expressive eyes that now gazed at my jewels. “Would you turn your face just a bit to the left, so I may study your bone structure?’
He did as he was asked, raising his chin a bit to assume a most noble pose.
“Well, I am more skilled at landscapes and my portraits are not really fit for public consumption yet, but, yes, I think I would like to attempt a portrait one day.”
His gaze returned to me, locking onto mine with something akin to victory in his eyes. How I longed to capture that look, but I knew it would be fleeting when the time was right. I would most likely succumb to the more appealing one of terror. It was a conundrum I would have to visit another day.
“Please, Miss DuMonde,” he said. “I insist you call me Stuart.”
I nodded in acquiescence “Stuart it is.”
He bowed and extended his hand toward the dance card dangling from my wrist. “May I have the honor?’
“I would hope so, Stuart,” I exclaimed.
By the time dinner was called, my dance card was filled. Long, elegantly laid tables were arranged on the meticulously manicured lawns. I felt the very pleasing uniformity of the grass blades through my satin slippers. The aghast looks on some of the very properly attired young ladies in their new white slippers signaled their horror at the impending stains to said slippers. Most, I was sure, had hidden away an extra pair in case of emergency, just as all ladies of quality carried an extra pair of gloves lest one become soiled or torn. I being a bit of a fashion rebel, wore green slippers that matched my gown. And, being even more of a miscreant, I planned to remove even those once we were seated and run my toes through the grass as a woman might trace her fingers through her lover’s hair.
Dinner was a light affair by some standards, but given most balls served only buffets with assorted cold meats, fruits, salads and desserts of every imaginable hue, it was still extravagant. On my left was Senator Orwin, whose last catchy campaign slogan had been Win with Orwin. He was a jovial old fellow, who frequently visited my grandfather. Their brandy-drinking, cigar-smoking evenings were punctuated with long, flowing treatises on everything from current events to ancient historical battles. Some of the battles were re-enacted with tiny soldiers marching across painstakingly recreated landscapes. The senator was a welcome dinner company.
My other dinner companion was none other than Noble. I noted with some silent amusement that the seating arrangement was also a surprise to his mother who started to say something, but closed her mouth when he shot her a warning look. In the back of my mind, I wondered with whom he had traded place cards with. Although good manners forbade the engaged couple from sitting or dancing together, I noted with some satisfaction Cellie was none too pleased with the seating arrangement either.
Before we had finished our soup, Noble’s leg pressed against mine. I demurely lowered my lashes and pretended to be shocked, but soon stroked the arch of his fine leather boot with my naked foot. The leather was so thin, and snuggly fitted, it was almost like caressing his bare foot.
He dropped his napkin and leaned down to pick it up. “Meet me in the knot garden at the intercession,” he whispered. “I must speak to you.”
I’m feigned quiet surprise and nodded.
With dinner ended, we gathered for the presentation of the happy couple. Noble gazed into the eyes of his prettily flushed bride-to-be. Indeed, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Such an attentive husband he will be, I thought. When it suits him.
Mrs. D. was so overcome with emotion she couldn’t finish her carefully prepared presentation speech. She had to be led from the floor by two young ladies lest she swoon right there on the stage. Mr. D. finished the speech and called the first march.
Stewards drifted among the gentlemen, furtively pointing out the more retiring ladies who had no dance partners and each lady quickly became the center of the chosen man’s universe for at least one dance. Mrs. D. might be a delicate creature given to vapors and hysterics, but she was a tiger about giving memorable parties.
Alex Hubble claimed the last dance before the intercession. He was an accomplished dancer and undeniably charming. I found myself quite attracted to him in spite of, or possibly because of, his common heritage. He gave no pretense to wealth or power even though he exuded a certain sense of quiet confidence, which I found appealing. I was almost sad to see the waltz end, but I did have a date to keep.
Noble caught my eye briefly as Alex led me back to my seat. “I suppose it is too much to hope, there might still be a dance open?” the editor asked.
I was indeed sad to confirm his suspicions and begged leave to go freshen up. Having been to this house many times, I knew the quickest way to the knot garden was through the side parlor doors. There were two servants standing in the shadows near the garden path. I heard their slow, steady heartbeats and the whispered conversations about which young ladies they would bed. My passage through the shadows was undetected and I soon stood near the birdbath in the knot garden where Noble waited for me. He had already untied his tie, shed his vest and jacket and opened his shirt to expose an impressive thatch of light auburn hair on his well-formed chest.
I may have my faults, but even I appreciate a fine specimen of manhood and longed to caress his skin with my bare fingertips. He smiled when I began unbuttoning my gloves and pulled off his boots.
The gloves were barely into my purse before he strode to me and began unfastening my dress. “Noble! What if someone sees us?”
He nuzzled my neck and continued unfastening with very practiced hands. “The servants stand watch. No one will come this way. Come over here in the shadows though Lord knows I’d love to take you in broad daylight to drink in all your beauty. They’ve set out a cot for me.”
“So sure of yourself.” I laughed softly.
“Not at all, but I hoped. You know, Regina, I have money. I can keep you in a fine house in town or one in the country if you desire.”
“And your wife?”
He continued kissing and nibbling on my throat even as he slid my dress down. “You could live here as a companion to my mother even. It’s a lovely old place. The house is new, of course, since the old one burned. And my wife could give a whit as long as she can continue to be a social butterfly with new gowns for each event.”
“I do love it here,” I said and ran my hands across his chest. “Actually, I’m quite familiar with it.”
“Hmm?” His question turned into a low moan as I pushed him back on the cot and scraped my teeth across his throat.
“My grandparents once owned this land,” I whispered, straddling him. I leaned forward on him and kissed him, then traced my tongue down his jaw, thrilling at the pulse just beneath the skin. “The house that burned down was theirs. My grandfather built it for Grandmother as a wedding gift.” I continued kissing him as I talked in low whispers. “Your grandfather was one of the men who put them off their land. I’m sure he also laughed when Grandmother ran back into the burning house and perished with Grandfather who tried to save her. My mother has told me often about how the men laughed.”
“For God’s sake, Regina, what are you muttering about?” he said
He hadn’t understood the meaning of my words, but he would soon. I nibbled on his throat and felt his hands clutch at my waist, pulling me closer. The hidden stirred in my blood and I felt the fangs grow. His pleasure at the first bite initially excited him. Then it terrified him. His fingers dug into my waist, trying to pull me free, but there is also a certain release and although his terror grew, his strength faded. I leaned back and looked into his wide, horrified eyes, then resumed feeding. I shouldn’t have eaten so much at dinner, but there’s always room for dessert. Unable to hold a drop more, I bit deeply and tore his throat open to let him finish bleeding out.
“I’m muttering about debts, Noble. Your grandfather is dead, unfortunately, so you must pay the blood debt.”
Poor, beautiful Noble lay helpless on the staining cot, his pants unbuttoned and waiting for release. Alas, it wasn’t quite the release he planned. I gently placed two silver dollars over his fluttering eyes and kissed him goodbye.
I pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and dipped it in the birdbath to clean my face. Although I’m a ladylike feeder, it can get a bit messy at times. That is why one always removes her gloves first. Quality kid gloves are a treasure. At last, re-dressed and tidied, I hurried back up the path, keeping to the shadows once more. The servants were still discussing the ladies, but now they had moved on to more graphic descriptions of their fantasies.
The side doors remained open and I pushed through to make my way to the ladies room. There was no one there since the music had already resumed. I looked in the mirror. Not too bad, but there was a smudge of blood on my cheek. I poured a small bowl of water and washed my face again, then carefully reapplied my powder, blush and lip rouge. I was newly turned so the mirror still caught my image, but I thought I detected a slight fading of my reflection. A soft sigh escaped. I would miss that.
My first dance was, conveniently enough, Noble’s. I returned to the dance and looked properly upset as I peered around the dance floor.
A worried steward hurried to my side. He leaned down and whispered, “Miss DuMonde, is there something wrong?”
“Yes, yes there is,” I confessed, lip trembling. “Mr. Duganville was supposed to dance with me and here I stand alone, looking like a fool.”
“I’m sure he’s here somewhere.” He looked around.
“No, he isn’t. I’ve searched everywhere.” I was on the verge of tears. Fortunately, Alex had an opening on his agenda and rescued me from threatened tears and humiliation.
By the end of the dance servants were scurrying about like ants in a disturbed hill. The two who had stood guard over the garden path spoke to Mr. Duganville and pointed the direction his son had gone.
Distraught Cellie Browne tore down the path, followed by Mrs. D. Moments later there was a blood curdling scream, then another. I raced after them with the others.
Mrs. D. collapsed into a pink pool of tulle. Alex Hubble had a notebook out, hastily scribbling down notes about the horrendous murder scene.
“You don’t want to look, Regina,” said Senator Orwin.
I peered around the crowd anyway and gasped. “Oh, I swan, what a horrible, savage attack!” The savage in me fought to keep me from smiling at my little joke. “A dog must have killed him.”
Alex looked around. “It was a very wealthy dog then. It left two silver dollars behind.”
Cellie tore her horrified gaze from Noble and gaped at Alex. “Someone stop him!” she cried out. “I’ll die of shame. Positively die, as will poor Mother D. That foul newspaper man will spread this in every newspaper in the state.”
Oh, dear. I thought that’s what she wanted.