Friday, December 6, 2013

Fiend Friday: A Very Red October

The following is an excerpt from my novel Fiend, available in paperback and on the ereader of your choice!

The train soon arrived in Petrograd and my senses reeled at the glut of fresh blood! How things do change with the centuries... The backwater of Russia I'd heard of in the War had sprung into a sprawling city! Modern industry smoking alongside those shimmering, oriental churches. All the intricate splendors of Paris - covered in soot and perpetually cold.

Carriages and carts filled the cobbled streets, surrounded by all manner of peasant and burgher - though the high born, as always, did not deign to mix with them. Even that sewage stink I remembered seemed to be absent, or covered over by the heavy clouds of burned coal...

Ack, that coal! It fired the engines of industry, drove progress, and clouded the blood! At first a harsh flavor, like the clear vodka or vit so adored by Swedes... But soon I tasted nothing but acrid and ashes in the common people I fed from. I endeavored to find myself some higher society! Some cleaner vintage!

Those Russians didn't keep to the farmer's schedule - thank God! Like Moors, they kept up passed midnight at all these little clubs, tossing back tea and champagne in equal measure if they could afford it, common wine if not. Though getting into such clubs proved difficult at first, the man at the door turning away any rough looking characters. Wearing the functional clothes of a Tartar and having been so long in the barren East of that wide empire, I looked very rough indeed...

But what luck I had, one evening, while trying to talk my way into yet another club full, a prospective patron should happen upon me!

"Monsieur, sil-vous-plais!" I begged the doorman. "I am so cold and thirsty! Only a few moments to warm myself!" Not entirely a lie...

He wasn't having it, of course... Or didn't understand French... And I was weighing the risk of storming the place, how much blood I could take before soldiers arrived... when some young aristocrat swaddled in more elegant furs than the woman on his arm came bounding over, beside himself with joy!

"Oh, francais! Magnifique! Bienvenue!" he squealed with more excitement than coherence. "Pavel Pavlovitch, let this man in! Such a wonder!"

And lo and behold, the big brick of a doorman let me pass! The inside of that club greeted me with warmth, tobacco, and the heady aroma of alcohol flooded blood. I had to express my gratitude to this young fop and his lady - but before I could again open my mouth, he was on me with a million questions in broken French.

"What is your name? Where are you from? However did you learn French?"

"Tomás... The West... The Army..." I replied, when I could get a word in.

"Haha! How droll! I simply must show you to everyone!" And not letting me a moment to acclimate to the warmth and welcome of the club, he dragged me into a thick knot of other dandies - all in fine suits or even uniforms, all puffing away at cigars while sipping heavy brown liquors, all sporting the same miniscule style of mustache. As I said, Doctor - Russia had no want of princes in those days.

"Felix Felixivitch!" one of these young gentlemen declared upon seeing us. "What's this business, bringing a Tartar into the club!"

"Ah, but he's an educated Oriental!" Felix explained. "He speaks perfect French!"

Those Russian princes were quite tickled by that - an oriental speaking French! Because what little Gitano features I inherited from my mother were oriental enough for those featherbrains...

They crowded about, lobbing their own clumsy French at me, and twittering like tickled chambermaids as I answered fluently. Ah, how the mighty do fall! How aristocracy degenerates! To think these mincing mariconas of Petrograd could have ever shared blood with the likes of Gustavus! Of le Roi-Soleil! Of mi Alfonso sangre! 

And my benefactor, Prince Felix, just basked in the reflected glory. He was that sort with so much wealth that he quickly grows bored of everything and soon needs something - anything! - new. Claiming me for himself after all the other princes had gotten their amusement, he sat me down by the fire and talked my ear off.
"But my dear fellow - how did you ever come to be dressed so... so... Ghastly!?" he asked.

"I was set upon by bandits," I explained, hoping such things still happened with enough frequency to sound plausible. "They took everything - my money, my boots, even my good waistcoat."

Oh, that struck a chord with the young prince. His heart bled for me, he wept for me - really! I was embarrassed for him... "We must see to it that you're returned to your station," he said with the sudden determination of the fickle. "No gentleman should be made to skulk about in those..." and he waved a disgusted hand.

I appreciated it of course. So appreciated it that I snuck off when some goon in a hussar's uniform came over so that he and Prince Felix might be alone to gossip about the strange foreigner. It proved fortuitous timing - I ran across the prince's pretty little lady, whom I led deep into the dark and smoke of the club where I could help myself to her pretty little neck...

Though I did not abandon Felix Felixovitch that evening. Sated, my mind a whirl with that youthful, aristocratic blood, I returned to find him at the fire. "You have shown such charity to me," I said to him in the finest French I could muster. "That it shames me I must ask of you... I have recently arrived and as I explained, I was robbed of all my possessions..."

"Say no more, my brilliant friend!" And he rose to give me an unexpected, unwelcome embrace. "You may stay at my home for however long you wish! It would be my honor to host such a distinguished traveler!"

Nastinka didn't object either - and she mattered more to Prince Felix than his actual wife. I met her briefly, a sad and spongy creature, like that English girl likely grew into when her father finally married her off... She greeted me tersely upon our arrival, some few hours before dawn, having grown so accustomed to her husband being out all night, returning with strangers, keeping Nastinka in her own wing of the great mansion overlooking the Moika river.

That mansion, Doctor! I'd seen the bold projects of Louis XIV and they looked like so much driftwood in comparison! The rococo walls, the pillars, the gold filigree running across every corner - Prince Felix put almost as much effort into decorating as he did into dressing himself. And more than he gave almost any other endeavor - he tried engaging me constantly in French but it was like trying to carry on a conversation with a child just dropped on his head. Though I noticed he always adressed me as "tu" rather than "vous" - a small slight, if he even knew the distinction...

Nastinka proved far better company - and not just for her sweet blood. Well, related to that... While so many of those I drink from are struck dumb by the experience, their memories a blur, this Nastinka remembered exactly what occurred that first night in the club... and didn't object. On the contrary, she enjoyed it! Because, as I soon learned, Nastinka's role as mistress to the prince involved very little in terms of traditional intimacies...

Felix beat her, Doctor. Not just with the back of his hand, though that he did quite often. But rather with riding crops and belts and even buggy whip! Nastinka showed me the scars from that one, laced across her back. Oh, not to plead for any sympathy or mercy - she was proud! At enduring such brutality! She wore her petticoats unconscionably tight, so as to feel the material grind against her sore flesh!

The Prince did not lay with her as a man, though. He battered her, knocked her to the ground, had her crawl about naked on all fours - but never did he take her as one would expect... Such tenderness he reserved only for his fellow princes. He even tried to bring me into such confidence on nights when he'd drunk enough champagne to choke an elephant - "Tomás, you scoundrel! You rogue! Kiss me!"

I turned him down every time but still he let me stay on... He dressed me in the latest suits, bought me the finest hats, paraded me before all those clucking Russian aristocrats - I was his star!

I could have stayed much longer than I did, though it's probably for the best I left eventually... While frequenting the clubs with Prince Felix and his pretty blood mop, I couldn't help overhearing the politics of the day - "Can you believe what the rabble did this time?" was a common opener. All the young and wealthy would gather round the speaker, clucking like old village women at some latest outrage committed by the peasantry. If they weren't rallying for democracy they were deserting at the front. If neither of those things, they dressed too shabby. If nothing else, they did not cringe to the speaker's satisfaction when he went out riding. If only a small slight the Dutch had been such a trifle for King Philip...

But this was all whining, Doctor. No different than I'd heard from a thousand different men in as many taverns and nations and languages. I didn't take note until my host began to make the same complaint... But on one peasant in particular... 

"A drunkard! A rogue! A blackguard who chases good Christian women!" is how it began, if anyone else mentioned the man. If not, Prince Felix usually found a segue into the subject - such as the drunkenness.
"He's got the Tsarina wrapped around his crooked finger!" the Felix said to the other princes. "And worst of all, he's so vulgar! His every aspect is an obscenity - especially his boots!"

The Tsar was not really their father. A curious Russian affectation, addressing all those in authority in familial terms...

But Felix would stir up the outrage in that pampered lot. They cried out in agreement - "Quite so!" and "All his fault!" and "Something must be done!" Understand they were just as vulgar and obscene and drunkenly - arguably more so! What set their blood boiling and their little mustaches twitching was that a common muzhik should share in the same pleasures.

You know what I think, Doctor? That mincing maricona was jealous! He'd put the moves on the old muzhik and been rebuffed, been thrown aside for someone younger and prettier... and certainly more interesting!
So the villain had to die! For the good of the Motherland and - more importantly - for Felix Felixovich's wounded pride! He'd show those muzhiks not to rebuff his clumsy advances!

Muzhiks... If one subject united those tottering fools it was contempt for the peasantry. They wouldn't even deign to violate such scurvy beasts - Nastinka was herself a countess! All that good breeding and upbringing, that fine foreign education, all so some prancing pajero could plant welts across her arse!

That's what the good blood could expect. But those muzhiks - oh, to be born in such a low state was surely a sign of moral turpitude or punishment from God. Those dvoryanin - dumber than Calvinists!

In all fairness to Prince Felix, I never met the Muzhik in Question myself. We moved in different circles - rather I made it a point to move out of the Prince's circle when he indulged his pastime of peasant bashing. He would accompany his hated enemy to low public houses full of beer and sausage, where after a few pints the Prince would try and pick a fight with any man who appeared to his boggled eyes. A slight wisp of a man, more accustomed to servants and cross-dressing than rough labor, and relying on his privileged status to keep the stout peasants pulling their punches...

On one of these outings, he had a discussion of sorts with his nemesis. He confessed it to me later - "The man will make our Father surrender!" His mustache curled at the ignoble thought.
I just nodded, not seeing the harm in such a course. Having seen the remnants of their Grand Army scraping by in the Petrograd gutters...

"I am resolved to put an end to this, mes amis," he continued, more in a fire than he'd been over that English carpet. "For the honor of the Empire! By the blood of my noble ancestors!"

"Yes, yes... Honor and blood..." I nodded along, thinking how I might pass some days outside the house...
As the Prince set about his task with all the dignity of a French dramatist, I relocated to a flat as far on the other side of Petrograd as I could get. Nastinka joined me, preferring the relative tenderness of my Thirst to the sharp hand of the Prince...

I wouldn't call it a happy time... But I did find some sort of contentment, looking out over the sooty streets and bleeding that little countess. I could trust her to keep the windows covered while I slept away the daylight - and not just because of the enthralling force of my feedings. She cleaved to me without reservation...

Free of that cluster of hens calling themselves an elite, I found the common Russians much more to my liking. Those muzhiks had survived Huns and Mongols and Napoleon - and went marching off to the Western front for more! Fine soldiers - even the women!

And mixing down among those muzhiks, I heard familiar rumblings... The same that rose from the slave quarters in Hispaniola, that grumble that soon turns into a full-throated roar -

"Why this slaughter? Is Germany not our brother?"

"Where is the common right? Where is the social contract!?"

"The worse, the better!"

Pamphlets made the rounds in those grimy public houses... Pamphlets declaring war on the old order, demanding the high be brought low, the leveling of all things... So much like what the Protestant rabble used to spout against the Church, what the Jacobins used to grumble in the Antilles, what the enslaved Negros grumbled back...

I recognized this movement of the people, naturalmente... I had a final warning of such when some months later, I ran into Felix Felixovitch at one of those public houses he stooped to patronize.

"Ah, mes amis Tomás!" he declared in his awful French, his eyes glowing with an entirely new madness.
"Your grace," I replied. Maybe I could distract him with a shiny bauble while I beat a hasty retreat...
Throwing his arm around my shoulder with more familiarity than was comfortable, he whispered conspiratorially, "I have news... The great work I told you about... It's done!"

Few things surprise me these nights... Fewer surprised me then, which just shows how much I thought I knew... My mouth all but hit the floor at Felix's confession! I had to turn away fast, lest anyone catch a glimpse of my distinctly sharp teeth. "You mean to tell me -"

"Indeed!" The Prince looked beside himself in ecstasy. "You should have been there! We tried poisoning him, but the devil proved too resilient! We stabbed him, shot him, beat him, threw him out the window! He finally died in the river!"

Awfully tough, those muzhiks...

"Now you'll see," he continued. "Now they'll all see! Russia will not bow to those Germans or anyone else! Our Father shall sweep the board!"

It didn't happen that way, of course...

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