Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Midnight Confederacy – Part 2

Matheson’s mouth sprouted a pincushion of teeth as he reached forward to grab her, but his fingers stopped inches from her face.  He froze for no reason she could imagine.  Then, in a sudden, fluid motion, he turned away from her, sank to his knees, and bowed his head.  Izzie was surprised to see the other vampires in the courtyard doing the same.

A woman walked out of the darkness, her footsteps completely silent against the hard cobblestones. She wore a top hat and held a parasol above her head, which was odd in the complete darkness.  She stopped where Matheson was kneeling and put her free hand on his head, caressing his hair.

“Forgive me, Lady,” he said, his voice shaking.

“I forgive you,” she said, her voice deep and rich. 

He looked up at her relieved.  Then, with a quick motion, she pulled his head off.

There was no blood.  Izzie had just a moment before his body toppled over to see the gaping wound of his neck.  It was grey and dry, like old newspapers.  Lady Rice dropped his head and turned to face her.  The vampire’s face was angular, with a long nose and a single, thick eyebrow over both eyes.  Her features seemed Latina, but it was hard to tell with her pallid skin.

“I’m sorry for the unpleasantness, Miss Meyer,” she said.  “There are bad elements in both our countries, no?”

“Yes, of course, Lady Rice,” she said, when she found her voice.

“Is that bag your only things?  Yes?  Then, come with me.  I will find you a place to wash off before you meet the Daughters.”

Izzie realized she had wet herself, either during the slaughter or when Matheson nearly grabbed her. 

She followed the vampire deep into the city, following her graceful walk, watching as everyone they passed knelt before them.  The streets were lit from windows in the buildings here, and she was struck by how much the Midnight Confederacy looked like the Union at night.  The sight calmed her, and she found the courage to talk.

“Lady Rice, none of the people on the train with me were accepted.”

“No, Miss Meyer, I suppose they weren’t.”

“Would it be impertinent for me to ask why not?”

“Would you have accepted them?  Yes?  Every day, the old and infirm come to our country in droves, hoping to stave off death.  Would you grant immortality to someone who spits at you, who calls you a monster, then runs to you for help in their twilight years?  No.  We pick those we accept very carefully.  Everyone else, well, we take what they give us.”

They stopped in front of a large, windowless building with columns in front.  The words “Longstreet Theatre” were painted over the entrance in gold leaf.  The giant, oak doors swung open as they approached, and candlelight shone warmly from within.

“You may change and wash in there,” Lady Rice said, gesturing to a door with a star on it.  “The Daughters and I will meet you on the stage.”

Izzie stared after her as she walked off, then went through the door.  Inside was an empty changing room lit by gas light.  It was eerily quiet as she stripped off her clothes, cleaned up with a towel and washbasin someone had left, and pulled on her leotard.  She was walking to the door to the stage, when she remembered the gold medallion with a shock of adrenaline.  She ran back, clipped it on quickly, then took several moments to stop hyperventilating.

The stage was like others she had performed on: paint lines -- actors marks from old shows -- dotted the floor, thick curtains and lights hung from the ceiling.  She wondered if humans had built and run the theater before the War of Northern Aggression, and then were chased out when the vampires took over.  Standing upstage in a semicircle were ten, pale women in black.  Lady Rice stood with them.  Her parasol and hat were gone, revealing black hair tied in knots.

“Miss Meyer,” she said in a formal tone, “may I present to you the midnight flowers of my country: the Daughters of the Confederacy.  Daughters, I present Isabella Meyer, one of the most accomplished dancers in the Union.”

Lady Rice introduced them one at a time, and they each curtsied as they were named.  When they were finished, Izzie smiled and sank into a ballet curtsey.

“Please, call me ‘Izzie.’  I’m really looking forward to working with you all,” she said, turning to Lady Rice.  “However, your invitation didn’t specify the kind of dance you wanted to learn, and I’m not sure how much I can teach you in just one day.”

Some of the Daughters tittered and smiled, embarrassed.  Others flushed, the first color she had seen on a vampire face other than the thick makeup they all seemed to wear.  Lady Rice said nothing, as if the question was beneath her to answer.  After a moment, Jane Polidori, a blonde with bobbed hair, stepped forward.

“Please, Miss Meyer.  Izzie.  We would like you to teach us…” she turned to look at the other women, some of whom nodded encouragingly.  “Teach us the sexy dances.”

“The… Sexy dances?”

“It is one of the curses of eternal life,” Lady Rice said.  “We are true to our marriages, every one of us, but those marriages have lasted centuries.  Even with the blessing of vampirism, our husbands are still men.”

“We can’t compete,” Jane said.  “They lust after the newly accepted.  Some even go north and dally with human women.”

“So, you want me to teach you to dance so you can…”

“Get our husbands back.  ‘A wandering eye weakens the Confederacy.’”

Izzie took a deep breath and tried to think.  What was a “sexy” dance?  The Tango?  Sabar?  Lambada?  The problem was no dance was sexy by itself, and any dance could be made sexy by the dancer.

“Well, let’s see what we have to work with.  Watch me and do what I do.”

She did the basic step from the Tango and stopped to watch them.  None of them were able to follow her example.  Even Lady Rice tripped on her own feet.

“Okay, good.  Let’s try again.  Watch.  Step.  One, two.  Turn.  One, two.  Step.”

They tried again and again, but none of them got it.  Some had tears in their eyes from frustration and effort.  Izzie told them to take a break and reconsidered her methods.

“How about we try this one at a time,” she said, and gestured at a tiny redhead who seemed the most graceful.  “Tell me your name, again?”

“Sherrie Le Fanu.”

“Sherrie, hold my hand and we’ll do it together.”

The vampire’s fingers were cold, and Izzie thought she felt a tingle as their fingers intertwined.  They took a shaky step forward together, and it worked.  Sherrie seemed to instantly understand how to do the steps and she gave a little shriek of joy when she was done.

“Dance feels good, doesn’t it?  Now, who’s next?”

Izzie did the steps with each of them, holding their cold, tingling hands one by one.  Then she paired them up and watched as they danced gracefully around the stage.  However, when she showed them more advanced steps, they tripped and stumbled again. 

She went back to hand-holding, and they mastered everything.  In a few hours, they learned six dances were improvising new moves.  She became dizzy with the effort of keeping up with them, and had to sit down, flushed and sweating in a theater chair.

The Daughters continued to dance on the stage.  It was the loveliest performance she had ever seen.  They leapt and twirled, moving sinuously.  Their movements were lithe and sensuous in a way even Izzie found erotic.

She climbed back on the stage and clapped her hands to get their attention.

“All right, ladies.  That’s amazing work.  We have time for just one more lesson.  How would you like to learn the…”

She hesitated.  She had spent her life studying dance.  Ever since she had been a little girl, she had snuck into the theaters and practiced their movements.  She had studied in Europe and travelled with the most prestigious troupes in the Union.  Why couldn’t she remember anything more.  Cold fear gripped her chest.  She couldn’t remember any dances at all.

“What,” she said, choking the words out, “what did you do to me?”

They Daughters all had the same look on their faces.  She was nothing to them: an empty food wrapper, a piece of garbage left on the ground.

“We’ve taken your instruction,” Lady Rice said.  “Your contract with us is fulfilled.  You may go home now.  The money will be wired into your account tonight.”

“Give it back!”

“You may sleep on a bench at the station until the next train arrives to take you back,” she said, taking Izzie by the elbow and guiding her outside.  The door shut with a thud and she was left in the cold darkness of the city.

She had nothing, now.  The art she had devoted her life to, was gone.  It would take her years to re-learn a fraction of it, and she was nearly too old to be performing, already.

Dozens of flickering eyes watched her from every alleyway and street.  Inadvertently, she clutched the gold medallion on her leotard.  Then, with a sudden movement, she ripped it off and threw it on the ground defiantly.

The eyes disappeared into the darkness and she was truly alone.  The vampires didn’t want to feed on her life’s blood.  The Daughters of the Confederacy had already done that.  If they ripped her open now, they’d find her as dry and empty as Matheson.

With an empty sob, she walked slowly into the eternal night.

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