The Vampire Testament
by Eric Rosenbloom
“Miklosich suggests north Turkish uber, witch,
as a possible source.”
—The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, “Vampire”
I was the consort of the most holy God — the mother, my lover, the specter of death. Before her terrible whiteness I would gladly drain the blood from my body. It is hers. Each beat of my heart is devoted to the rhythm of her life. When she needs renewal, how can I hold back when she is my life. She is the sun and the moon, the rain and the field, the nourishing animals and the fruit trees. She is time itself. And when it is time to give my life to her, she will have it and she will live.
But in the year that I enjoyed her company as royal prince, the blue-skinned hordes from the north had eaten up much of her land, trampling her crops with their cumbersome beasts, and building their strongholds on the bones of her daughters. Their god of flash and thunder could not believe that we honored a god of women, that to a woman we paid our debts. They had only contempt for us. Infants and elders were thrown onto ever-growing fires. Men were tortured, limb by limb dismembered by their keen and gleaming weapons, the penises stuffed in the throats of the women, ‘a gift to your god to give her strength,’ they laughed. The children and women were hobbled and dragged to work as slaves and expendable playthings. Few of us escaped into our mountains.
As the year of my reign was nearing, Qura, though she was weakening, knew there was no other to follow. She is not a stupid and selfish god that would remove herself into the heavens and be done with humans — where her form is most perfect. She would not hide behind fire and storms, an insubstantial ghost. She needed to remain with us. And I became her consort forever. Instead of my blood, that of the oversized conquerors became her sustenance. Each year, we kept the ones who had wandered into our mountain wood. Our hidden realm was too alien, too frightening for their armies to enter. The light of their vain god could not penetrate the forest shelter, so that anyone gone missing was only himself to blame in their eyes. At the turning of the year they were sacrificed, their lives exchanged for the birth of Qura and a new year.
I, too, enjoyed the renewal from their blood. I was an eternal king, sharing in the cycle of my God. I was not a god myself, yet I was now immortal like her, reborn each year, the living heart of our people. We treated our captives well, hoping they would willingly join themselves to God, willingly make that sacrifice that we could no longer afford ourselves so that life would continue. And as we taught them our rites — with pictures and gestures, and by acting them out to cross the barrier between our tongues — we were learning more about theirs. Most evident was their assumption that I was leader because I was the only man in the company of Qura. Their sense of the spirit was wholly in the image of man. The king was their father, and it didn’t matter who their mother was. They honored his apartness, the bull in their herds, the lone oak tree surrounded by grass. They loved noise and battle, and even the wine that made us calm in them brought out a raucous fighting spirit that was refreshing yet made us wary. For their part, they told us of a jewelled garden, protected by snakes, that was found inside red mushrooms — and that was where they knew peace. Each year, some of them prepared themselves for the journey there. Because the soul’s absence left the body weakened and sick, only the strongest made the trip.
But I was intrigued by the idea of a father. In coupling I am simply returning to Qura what came from her in the first place, completing one part of her great circle. The circle is not closed without that coupling, which is therefore crucial. What of the issue of that act? Could the child be as much a product of mine as the mother’s? I let such horrible thoughts run through my mind. And more horrible — these kingly people had driven us out of our fields. They were stronger. They possessed invincible weapons made from what they called lightning-stone, metal ores they had learned to purify and shape. They had frightening power, and I was starting to admire it from our hovels in these mountain woods.
What is the nature of God? The office could be performed as easily by a man as by a woman. What is the difference between me and Qura beside me, except that her feminine form was that of the divine spirit. But here were people who saw God in the masculine body, and they were thriving — already adopting the agriculture and fishing that had well sustained us for generations. I, too, could be God. My seed, envigored as sole recipient of the communal sacrifice, issues forth to renew the earth. Out of my body, time is reborn.
I wanted to visit Paradise. I combed the mountains for the red mushrooms, and at last found them in a grove that I immediately walled off and guarded with warning masks. I prepared the liquor, mixing it with wine, and drank it. And soon I was there. Instead of stars in the sky, there were dancing lights of all colors, now in line, now bursting like sparks from a fire, now twirling in circles and drawing shapes — when one was drawn, another immediately took its place. I watched a long time and only looked away when I noticed a rustling and then a murmuring sound. It became a roar before I saw the glorious river like the metal I had only seen with our captives. Only this was brighter and more perfect, gleaming like the sun itself but as soft and inviting as a serene fountain. The roar was a waterfall farther along, at the river’s source — a great mountain carved to the shape of a ram’s horn. Along the river I walked, trees blossomed above me, then in moments the fruit dropped into the ground and disappeared. These fruit, and the flowers that bore them, were as vivid as jewels, sparkling blue and red and green and yellow from the river beside us. I caught one and it burned my hand, but as it cooled it softened — I pressed it, then tried a bite. It was a dream of flavor! How can I describe it — the skin of my tongue was dancing like the stars I had seen earlier. Bite after bite was more exquisite, singing pleasure into every cell of my brain and body. I ate the whole thing, feeling afterward that I would never have to eat again, it was so utterly satisfying. And there was no seed inside, though these trees continued flowering and dropping their fruit as if they were racing with each other, the earth swallowing each one. Occasionally a new tree would sprout, growing to full size in a matter of seconds. I never saw one of them wither or disappear, but their number did not seem to increase.
Then I came to a wall, into which the river flowed. The wall was of flawless ice. Had I reached the end of the garden, or was another garden just beyond? I drank another bowl of the mushroom juice and wine to find out. I passed through the wall, and found myself in a planted garden — orderly and magnificent. The river was gone. A warmth washed over me from a central pond, where toads sat like sculptures and sang in harmonies I never heard before but instantly knew as beautiful and perfect. Below the music was a drone like people softly singing or humming along, a basso continuo that deepened and completed the sound. Here the trees grew in rows radiating from the pond, and snakes were frolicking among them, some of them flying from tree to tree above the paths. There seemed to be other people ambling in the soft walkways, but they were indistinct. A mat was before me laid out with wine and bread and some of the glorious food that was forever leaping off of the trees. Even with the first fruit still glowing inside me, I sat down eager to eat more. The wine of course was unlike any I had ever drunk — soft and caressing, yet another symphony of flavors and sensations as it travelled my body. I stretched out and promptly fell asleep, not even tasting the bread, the sounds of the angelic choir so perfect the music became the music of my ecstatic brain.
I awoke back in my grove. I was ready. We were dying, but now we had a new god. In a ritual in the grove of the mushroom wine, I killed the willing Qura. Her life flowed into mine. I became the father — each year one of my consorts offered her blood to continue my life, her people’s life. I became Time, fed by female blood — the price for another year.
Now my time is only my own. Thousands of women, lured by the visions of paradise, have given themselves for my perpetuation, even as my kingdom shrank to the singular man who writes these lines. I was driven to live, and I live still, ever fleeing the tribes around me who worship death. Their desire for death, for a defining battle that would damn them or win them grace, they masked with abstractions of its opposite — love, compassion, understanding — and so they provided a never-ending source for feeding the true engines of life, that brutal essential circle of Qura that I had taken into myself to be its avatar. Even as they forced me ever to flee, their arrogance to master my secrets brought them to my door — and back into the circle of earthly time. The artificial worlds they built around themselves kept them from the shapes of life reflected in their deepest psyches. It is easy to swoop into their cities, even the remotest cottage far from other complications, and hint at the lively shapes seething beneath the surface of things and let my annual bride choose herself. They dread the knowledge, and long to rein it in to their own terms. So filled with themselves, they dream of rising reborn out of their own sacrificed blood, free from the chaos that lurks inside them. I let them fulfill their desire — except it is I who rises anew. My time goes on.
Let me go back to my first abode. I had become a king and patriarch by the example of the tribes still in waves overrunning the land. But I still acted with Qura inside me — my becoming God was a necessary metamorphosis for her survival, the survival of our family, our race. Before long, a few centuries, the newcomers faced their ignorance of the forest by attacking it with newer weapons — iron blades that were equal to the mass destruction of what they feared. We were compelled to move, the beginning of a forced nomadism that continues in the days of this writing. Sometimes I endeavored to parley with a group we encountered in our wanderings. Man to man, I thought we could at least be tolerated, offering what skills with trees and other plants we had, or trading what produce we had gathered for the things we could no longer make, forced to be on the move continually. But I was discovering a change. No longer were they sacrificing their rams and bulls for their king-god — they were sacrificing the god himself. No longer did they worship their thunder-father, instead all their honor went to their priests. Their kings, no longer the body of the dead god, were mere agents of the priests who killed him. The self-image with which they had imbued their bull-god was now laid bare — they baldly worshipped themselves.
There was less and less room in their schemes of the world for the world that we kept alive. Hostility and open violence against us were again the norm. What murder did not achieve, weariness of its threat was successful, as more people slipped away to join the new anti-religions. Very occasionally, an inspired soul would join us, as if recognizing some ancestral bond that needed repairing. But inevitably we dwindled to nothing, my last wife giving her life to me more than a thousand years ago.
Perhaps I am myself to blame for this diminution of the great God. My pride and ambition kept her apart from the foreign rulers of her land, when she could have been folded into their rites, her people absorbed in time into their powerful race. But to see her mocked by priests donning her robes to mimic the dances of life in their ceremonies of conquest and death, herself imprisoned as a prudish saint — No, I remain apart, protecting God from their refined brutalities, their narrowing world, their hatred of nature seething in their hearts.
I, too, killed my god. But to become her, not to mock her to assert my own ascendance. She lives on. In me. Or do I fool myself, like those tribes still offering the foreskins of their boys although why and to whom are long forgotten, new justifications invented as they are needed to continue? Am I simply luring women to their death to satisfy the need of habit, devising this story to find the faded reason? Yet I am immortal — I live as long as the earth lives, and that is Qura’s secret, not my own.
I know that I am usually thought of as insignificant, if thought of at all, an imaginary bogeyman at best, but my tragedy is real, and human. I cannot give birth to the new year. I act to ensure my own continued life each year, as an artist works toward some spiritual rebirth. I act with the womanly image of God within me, impregnating her with the blood of my victims, and I can only give birth to myself. I killed her, and now she breathes in each beat of my heart. I cannot die — every drop of my blood is hers.