After she dressed and did her hair, Ellen rode the elevator to the third floor. The former owner, an elderly lady, had sold the townhouse to the Lamberts for a price well below market value. The lady’s grandmother had installed the elevator during the 1920s so that those family members and guests could travel effortlessly from one floor to the other. The elevator still performed at an optimal level with little need for servicing over the years.
Ellen loved the Art Deco designs on the elevator doors, the inside furbished in polished walnut wainscoting, gilt fixtures, and plush, vermeil carpeting. The former owner had included a few pieces of furniture with the house, dating back to the Edwardian period and constructed of heavy mahogany with carved rococo flourishes. Keeping the overall ambiance in mind, Ellen decorated the house with Art Deco and antique accents. In fact, she and Charles had taken immense pleasure in scouring antique and second-hand shops, this area ripe with Colonial and Federal-style furniture as well as rustic folk art.
But the living room remained Ellen’s pride and joy. She displayed on pedestals the many art treasures she accumulated over the course of time and represented a host of countries and cultures. The art surrounded her grand piano and lent an aesthetic quality to her bold mix of Danish Modern and French Regency furniture. Fabrics, ranging from microfiber to damask, offered gold, teal, purple, and royal blue hues.
The first floor held their basic quarters of kitchen, living and dining rooms, with three bedrooms, two baths and a study on the second. Ellen’s private sanctuary took up the third floor. The cellar contained the laundry facilities and the big furnace that kept the entire house warm during the cold months. The cellar also contained a wine cooler where they kept their food supply, the blood fresh and always available in hermetically-sealed bags.
The Internet had opened up a new world for Ellen and Charles. No longer did they need to go out and hunt for their primary meals. Instead, they found a discreet supplier on line who provided the plasma for a modest fee, no questions asked. Before this, Charles and Ellen had to feast and then dispose of their victims the time-honored way, although more often messy and laborious. The incineration of bodies in the big furnace took discretion and opportunity, since they could only burn in the dead of night so as not to provoke their neighbors’ curiosity by the billowing of extra thick smoke. When finished with the cremation, Charles had to bury the remains in a private, overgrown area of the old cemetery, a tedious and dirty job.
Now thanks to technology, they could eliminate the labor and enjoy a pleasurable, extended and relaxing feast. They often did so in the dining room by candlelight, their one-course meal served in Baccarat crystal goblets while orchestral, baroque and operatic music from Charles’ stereo system provided an elegant background touch.
The house’s third floor contained what Ellen considered her memorial to friends and lovers. Now as she rode up the elevator she wondered if soon she would have to add Charles to her collection. Earlier, before she finished her shower, he had quickly dressed and left the house. Usually he told her where he was going, for what purpose, and when he would be back. This time he said nothing, nor did he leave a note.
Ellen recalled the little things that should have alerted her to Charles’ dilemma sooner. He had been reflective lately, his gaze and thoughts on some distance plane. And he didn’t talk as much as he used to. Usually, their conversations—sometimes quite animated and opinionated—focused on what he read in the papers, saw on television, or gleaned off the Internet. Now he shared very little with her, his interests kept private. When had all this started?
About a week ago... Ellen remembered a particular TV program he seemed very interested in, a local news report about some female doctor. She hadn’t paid much attention to the story that highlighted this particular doctor’s research, but Charles had seemed engrossed in the program. Now Ellen would ask him about it when he returned home. She knew that he would talk things over with her as he always had in the past. His love for her and the bond they shared—one that transcended time and space—would never diminish. He needed and wanted her just as much as she needed and wanted him.
When the elevator reached the third floor and the doors opened, Ellen stepped out to the circular vestibule that led to her memorial enclave. As homage to the past, she had decorated this space with terrazzo flooring and marble wainscoting along the lily-green walls. Olive branches carved in marble twined over two doors, the nearest that led to her private sanctuary, and the other to a storage area where she kept her art treasures, those masterpieces she had acquired over time and circumstances, and had yet to put on display for her students and guests. Then again, would anyone believe she possessed a nude portrait of herself painted by the famed artist Amadeo Modigliani in 1914? Or that she received as a gift a bronze statuette of a magnificent stallion carved by the renowned sculptor François Auguste Rodin? Of course not! People would think her mad, and she was not mad, just cautious and judicious about who could see and appreciate her treasures.
At the wall security console, Ellen programmed in her private code number and unlocked the door to her sanctuary. She took this precaution in order to discourage unwanted visitors who wouldn’t understand her need for this type of memorial. Once inside she stood in the middle of the room. Sunlight filtered through the blue and teal tulle curtains she had hung below the sky light, giving the room a serene, underwater feel. On warm days, she liked to open the sky light and allow the breeze to move the curtains in order to create the illusion of soft ocean waves while the tinkle of the wind chime she had hanging nearby offered a sweet melody. The wind chime had been a long-ago gift, a tier of little metal doves painted white and pale blue.
This room had been an artist’s studio two owners ago, but now housed her greatest possessions. The sky-blue wall curved in a wide semi-circle and featured white Dorian columns with inset marble shelves between. On the shelves sat teak-wood casks, each labeled with a name on a small brass plaque.
Ellen strolled over to the nearest one and ran her finger along the engraved name on the plaque: Penelope—her first companion-lover. Penelope had lasted only 130 years before she degenerated, and Ellen had placed her remains in this, her first cask, as a special, loving tribute to the beautiful Grecian woman. Through ardent preparation, she had improved her method of bestowing immortality with her next lovers, although her work always failed in the end, and her loved ones lived no longer than 150 to 200 years before they degenerated. So far Charles had managed to court life a little over two centuries. Yet now Ellen feared he had begun to degenerate like the others. It always produced a deep, aching sorrow in her when this happened, and she knew Charles’ demise would hit her the hardest.
Through the years she had tried to find, with little success, an antidote to the problem. She had prayed to and beseeched the goddess of darkness, Nor-Sekhmet, who had given Ellen—as Ayelet—eternal life. Again, to no avail. Perhaps she was never meant to have an immortal companion, only those who could give her joy and love for a certain amount of time. And so the casks went on, each one a lover-companion who shared Ellen’s abiding and everlasting love and affection: Penelope, Leif, Rolf, Doric, Genorosa, Florio...and Charles.
Now, sighing wistfully, she thought of her present lover reduced to ashes and resting in a dark box for all eternity. She would have to get another brass plaque engraved, making sure to include Charles’ title as Earl of Bellmore. Every week she came up here to dust and polish the casks in order to keep them clean and pristine.
So far Ellen had tempered her bittersweet feelings when she performed this task, often reminiscing about the wonderful times spent with each lover. She didn’t need Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest to remember each one’s beautiful face and form, or their contributions to her happiness, even if only for a short time. Yet Ellen couldn’t help but remember what happened to each one of them; and how, as they slowly faded away, they begged and pleaded with her to release them, not save them. And each time, as she bore the agony of helplessness and loss, she felt the sword of fate slash savagely through her very soul. She learned with a heavy heart that there was no such thing as perfection, even among the gods.
Now Ellen held back the tears as she picked up a dust cloth from her supply in the small cabinet near the door and began to dust. Across the room, the cloisonné box that held her supply of regenerative elixir sat on a small marble pedestal. The old Egyptian nurse, Nyree, had given her initial access to this supply; and when needed, Ellen could return to the hidden source to secure more elixir. More potion, more lovers. As long as mankind remained in existence, she would always have her pick of loved ones.
When she and Charles moved into the house, Ellen took the added precaution of placing the elixir in a specially-made inner container that fit within the outer box. The container possessed four panels that represented her origins—the Egyptian symbol of life, the ankh, in gold relief; the glittering ruby eye of Ra, the sun god; and a symbolic depiction each of Nor-Sekhmet, the goddess of darkness, and Kebechet, the goddess of purification and rebirth.
The elixir itself rested in a green crystal decanter within the satin confines of both containers. The outer box possessed a digital lock, the combination known only to Ellen. In fact, the combination codes to the box and the entrance door to the sanctuary proper remained solely in her possession. Not even Charles knew the codes.
Charles...when he would finally leave her, Ellen didn’t know what she would do. She certainly couldn’t think about procuring a new lover, not so soon. Perhaps she would sell the house and move on, travel once again through Europe and visit the countries dear to her heart—England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden.
Then again, she had barely scratched the surface of the Americas. Those countries beckoned her to taste and savor what they had to offer in terms of populace and ambiance, Belize, Yucatan, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Ecuador. Then again, the violence in Mexico and Central America would prove an excellent cover as she procured those she needed to satisfy her hunger. No one would look askance at another dead body in countries torn apart by corruption and drug cartel wars. Or perhaps she would try a less volatile destination, Norway, Spain, Italy, Australia, or even Canada.
Yet with each passing decade, Ellen felt the world growing smaller around her, and she wondered when it would close in on her at last. Would she feel so utterly exhausted and hopeless that she would welcome death by another’s hand? Would she feel desperate enough to seek her own murder, to welcome peace and salvation if it could be had in another world, another journey? And most importantly, would she finally unite with all of her loved ones on some ultimate plane, an Elysian field, or that oasis she had always longed for? If Ellen could only know for sure, if any part of a universal truth could be foretold to her, then she would gladly welcome death.
But now she had to think about Charles and their immediate future. Charles...where could he be?