“Transformation”

A chapter cut from the original draft of Invisible Chains

 

By Michelle Renee Lane

 

Before any of us saw him move, Señor Velasquez was standing behind Mamzèl Lynch’s chair. He grabbed her by the hair at the nape of her neck, and sliced open her throat with his razor-sharp fingernail. Blood splattered his ghost-like face when he bent to drink from the wound.

Terrified, I tried to disappear into the wall at my back. The smell of blood was heavy, raw and metallic, and it made the dining room seem three times smaller, as if the walls were closing in around us. My mind flashed back to the slaughterhouse on the plantation. I gagged and covered my mouth, afraid I would vomit.

Michié Lynch backed away from the table toward the door. Señor Velasquez moved so quickly that I didn’t know he had left the table until I heard Michié Lynch’s neck snap. I was still rooted to the same spot with my back pressed against the wall. Michié Lynch’s body slumped to the floor like a sack of broken doll parts, and Señor Velasquez continued drinking Mamzèl’s blood. Her head hit the table with a thud when he’d finished. The wound at her throat made her neck twist at an awkward angle, and she fixed me with her dead eyes. Her lifeless stare reminded me of the fish in the Marché de poisson. Now that she was dead, I was free. Overcome by a strange sense of joy, I laughed. Then, I remembered Señor Velasquez.

“Jacqueline, I will not hurt you,” he said, wiping blood from his lips with a white linen napkin.

Was he reading my thoughts? “How did you…?”

“I can smell your fear.”

Predators smell fear.

He made himself comfortable in Michié Lynch’s chair at the head of the table. “Come here,” he said, extending a hand to me.

I wanted to run, but his voice willed me closer. When he took my shaking hand in his, I recoiled at the iciness of his touch.

“I know my actions must be frightening to you. But you are a slave. You cannot be a stranger to violence.”

I exhaled. “No, I’ve seen much worse.”

“Do you believe what I did to the Lynches is unforgivable, or did they deserve violent deaths?”

Slavery was the only life I’d ever known. The Lynches were cruel to me, and I hated them for it. Wishing them dead was different from watching them die.

“I…I don’t know,” I said.

“Jacqueline, I would like to offer you something tonight, a gift if you like.”

“What kind of gift?”

He smirked at me. “I know James intended for me to take you to my bed tonight. I also know you would have come even though it is not what you want. Am I correct in that assumption?”

“Yes, Michié.” Terrified by what might happen next, my hand trembled in his.

“I still want your company, but instead of following me upstairs, I want to take you to my rented rooms a few blocks away.”

I wasn’t exactly familiar with how the ownership of slaves was transferred from one person to another, but I wasn’t about to argue with him over whether or not I belonged to him now that the Lynches were dead. Nervously, I fingered the copper collar around my neck.

He smiled, guessing what I was thinking. “Jacqueline, if you come with me, I will give you your freedom.”

“Why would you give me my freedom?”

“I am a very lonely creature, and I crave companionship. I wish to give you two gifts tonight. The first is your freedom.” He paused. “The second gift…well, that comes at a greater price. If I give you these gifts tonight, Jacqueline, all I ask in return is that you give me the pleasure of your company. I will show you the world and you will simply need to be at my side to share your thoughts, opinions, and observations.” He stroked my face, and I saw sincerity in his bottomless dark eyes.

“You want me to leave this house and never come back?”

“Oui.”

“Can I say goodbye to Cook and Mathilde?”

His expression darkened. “I forgot about the other slaves.”

He changed the subject. “Do you find me handsome?”

“Oui.” My cheeks flushed, warming my skin.

“Then, perhaps you will allow me to kiss you.” He stood, cupping my face in his cool hands, and kissed me. His lips brushed my cheek as he slowly moved to press his mouth to my neck. “Forgive me,” he whispered.

I gasped when he sank his teeth into my flesh. There was a burning sensation, like he’d poured lye over my skin, but soon the pain subsided. As my blood flowed into his mouth my body relaxed. I embraced him, pulling him closer. Then, my vision blurred and I began to lose consciousness. My heartbeat slowed, and just before I thought my heart would stop beating, he stopped drinking.

“Jacqueline? Can you hear me?”

I nodded my head; its weight was almost too much for my neck, so I rested my forehead on his shoulder.

“I need you to drink.”

He held up his arm, pulling back the fabric of his waistcoat and shirt sleeve to expose his wrist. With one smooth motion, he slit his own wrist and forced it into my mouth. I choked on the thick coppery liquid as it poured down my throat.

“That’s it, my sweet, drink.” He threw his head back and moaned.

I eagerly drank, and as I did, I could feel something inside me reaching toward him, calling to him, as our blood mingled.

When I opened my eyes, I was startled by how clear my vision had become. I could see the tiniest details of each object in the room. I could hear Cook and Mathilde’s heartbeats two rooms away. “You’re going to kill them, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and you are going to help me.” He licked a drop of blood from my chin. “You need more blood before you sleep. Your body is about to go through a transformation. Their blood will give you enough strength to survive. Come, I will show you what to do.” He offered me his hand and I accepted it obediently.

When we entered the kitchen, Cook and Mathilde were enjoying the leftovers from supper. Señor Velasquez startled them and they stood up from the table.

“Is there something you need, Michié?” Cook’s smile was crooked; she was confused to see me holding hands with the unusual stranger.

“I wanted to compliment you on such a delicious meal. I cannot remember the last time I tasted anything so delicious.” He squeezed my hand gently and moved closer to the two women.

“Thank you, Michié. I can’t take all the credit. Mathilde and Jacqueline helped with the cooking.”

“Hello, Mathilde. You are a pretty little thing.”

He smiled at her and she cast her eyes down at the floor, but not before she caught a glimpse of his sharp teeth.

I didn’t know how, but I could hear his voice inside my head. Cook is too large for you, take Mathilde. You will need something sharp until your teeth become like mine.

He moved toward Cook with the same quickness he’d used to kill Michié Lynch and took the older woman by surprise. He slit her throat open before she even knew what was happening. I tried to match his speed as best I could and grabbed a knife from the table to slice open Mathilde’s throat. She was too frightened to run. She wept when I grabbed her, but didn’t try to fight me. I tasted her fear and sadness as I drank the last of her blood.

Jacqueline. His voice was inside my head again. Stop drinking when her heart stops.

I did as I was told and let Mathilde’s body fall to the floor.

He turned to me, wild raven curls framing his face, and wiped Cook’s blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Good girl. Now, go and fetch your things. Bring only what you can carry. I will buy you new things tomorrow.”

“I don’t own anything.”

He smiled and offered me his hand. “Then there is nothing here for us any longer.”

He collected his coat and hat at the door. I was about to step over the threshold, but I stopped and touched the copper collar around my neck.

“You won’t need that anymore.” He snapped the collar open as easily as if it were made of matchsticks. He took the collar from around my neck and was about to throw it into the fireplace in the sitting room.

“Don’t. Give it to me.”

He was surprised, but did as I asked.

I stared at the thin, copper collar with the bluish green patina, fingering the tag of ownership that made me the property of the Lynches. I thought of Mamzèl’s vicious and ugly words, her belief that her white skin made her better than me, and then I thought of her bloodless corpse in the dining room. That made me smile. I put the tag in the pocket of my apron, stained with Mathilde’s blood, and I threw the collar over my shoulder. I kept the tag as a reminder that I would never belong to another human as long as I lived.

***

I awoke to the smell of fresh cut flowers, clean linen, and stale blood. It had been near dawn when Señor Velasquez had brought me to his rooms above a tavern on Rue St. Phillipe in the Vieux Carré. The Lynches were dead. I felt little remorse for the people who’d kept me enslaved. Señor Velasquez had murdered them in front of me, and in turn, I had helped him kill the other slaves. Would every night with this man be so horrifying?

“Ah, Jacqueline, you are awake.” Señor Velasquez’s soothing voice startled me from my thoughts, and I became very aware that I was naked beneath the linen sheets. I pulled the bed linens up to my chin and stared at my emancipator. He was dressed in a burgundy frock coat and black trousers. A white shirt with lace at the collar was open, revealing his porcelain skin. He was simultaneously beautiful and frightening, and I couldn’t help wondering if he had slept next to me in the enormous four-poster bed.

“Where are my clothes?”

“I had to burn them. They were stained with blood, ruined I am afraid.” He was suddenly sitting on the edge of the bed, as if wings had sprouted at his ankles and he flew through the air.

“I don’t have anything else to wear. My clothes are back at the Lynches’ house.” The thought of returning to the scene of four brutal deaths filled me with dread. I would never be able to set foot in that house again.

“I have asked one of the maids to go out and buy you a dress and some under-things. She should be back soon. Sadly, the garments will be very simple, but there is a dress shop a few streets away that is open late into the evening. I am sure they can take your measurements and put together some new garments for you this week.” His voice was soothing, his statements matter-of-fact, as if everything that had happened since the night before was completely natural.

“I’m hungry,” I said.

My stomach felt like it was turning in on itself. My whole body ached, liked it was covered in bruises and I felt slightly feverish. There was a thin layer of sweat on my upper lip, but my skin was like ice.

“We will feed soon, Jacqueline. When you have dressed and cleaned up a bit. How are you feeling?” There was genuine concern in his voice and he stroked my forehead.

“I feel sick, but I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” I said, making him laugh.

Nearly six hundred people had died in New Orleans from yellow fever the year before. I was one of the lucky survivors. The sickness had come on suddenly with a high fever, vomiting, and severe neck and joint pain. I stayed in bed for a week, so sick I prayed for death to take me. Mamzèl Lynch sent for a doctor on the third day of my illness, and he confirmed that I had the fever. I overheard them talking outside my sickroom.

“She’s strong,” the doctor said. “She’ll likely recover with enough rest.”

 “Oh thank goodness,” she said. “I was worried I’d have to replace Jacqueline. Do you know how hard it is to find a good slave to work in the house? I don’t know how I would get along without that girl.”

I recovered three days later. Still shaky on my feet, I was expected to return to all of my regular duties.

Again, Señor Velasquez’s voice pulled me out of my thoughts. “The sickness will pass, but your body is changing. The blood you drank from my wrist will make you like me. You must feed during this time, or you may not survive the transformation. Comprenez vous?”

I nodded, but I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. If I became like him, what did that make me? Not living, but not exactly dead either. I had heard stories around the Quarter. Cautionary tales of spectral figures hiding in dark alleyways, gorging themselves on the blood of drunkards and harlots who were easily lured by promises of fortune, love, or whatever it was people craved the most, only to meet unspeakable ends. Is that what I was to become? A creature preying on the weaknesses of humanity?

There was a knock on the door, and I sank deeper into the bed clothes, suddenly afraid of being caught. I was a runaway slave, and I had had a hand in the murder of my owners. Or, at least, I had done nothing to protect them.

Señor Velasquez tried to comfort me by placing a hand on my shoulder. “It is just the maid, Jacqueline. There is no need to be afraid.” He stood and answered the door.

I wanted to hide. I had seen what happened to runaway slaves on the plantation. Gabriel, a young field hand, had gotten it into his head to run away, made it as far as the swamps before the overseer and his men caught up to him. They dragged him back to the plantation; his hands tied to the saddle of a horse. He was bound, naked, to a pole near the well where everyone could see. There wasn’t a single slave on the plantation who didn’t see Gabriel tied up, beaten, and humiliated. After four days in the hot sun, they cut him down, but not before the overseer and his men crippled him. They used a sledgehammer to drive a railroad spike through Gabriel’s left foot. He would never run again.

A young white girl with freckles and red hair that hung in braids to her waist was out in the hallway. She carried a large bundle in her arms, a dress and several under garments, as well as some fresh linens and soap. She handed her burden to Señor Velasquez. “Here’s everything you asked for, Sir.”

“Thank you. Would you mind helping Mademoiselle get ready? She isn’t feeling well and needs some assistance to bathe and dress.”

“But she’s a nigger.”

“That is an ugly word, and as you can see Jacqueline is quite beautiful.” There was acid in his tone as he grabbed the frightened girl by the arm and dragged her to my bedside. “Apologize.”

The girl was confused, and fear made her eyes wide, but she did as she was told. She apologized to me and continued to stare at my face. I assumed she was still upset by the fact that I wasn’t une femme blanche, but then I caught a glimpse of myself in the vanity across the room. My hair was wild, framing my face like a lion’s mane, my normally dark brown skin was ashen, and dried blood stained my mouth and cheeks.

“Does she need a doctor?” The girl stammered over her words.

“No, she is simply unwell and needs to eat.” There was a hypnotic rhythm to his voice, and his words had a calming effect on the girl. She relaxed, filling a basin from the pitcher of water on a marble-topped cabinet, and then she prepared a linen washcloth with soap and water to bathe me.

As she approached the bed, I noticed the girl’s pulse throbbing at her throat. I could smell her skin: sweat, wood smoke, soap, and spices from working in the tavern’s kitchen. My mouth watered, and when I licked my dry lips, my tongue discovered a new set of very sharp canines. I smiled at Señor Velasquez who was seated comfortably across the room on a lovely emerald green settee. He smiled back at me, but the rest of his body remained completely motionless, as if he had turned to stone.

The girl gasped and started to back away when she saw my teeth.

“Put the basin down,” I said. “Come closer.”

The words flowed from my tongue like they had a life of their own. She obeyed and sat next to me on the bed. My fingertips glided down the side of her neck and the caress made her whimper like a small animal that knows death is near. I pulled her trembling frame to me. It felt like I was outside my body watching from a distance when I sank my teeth into her neck. Her blood was warm and delicious. She was young and vibrant and full of life. I nearly drained every drop, but Señor Velasquez reminded me to stop drinking before her heart stopped, and I let her slip from my arms as she breathed her last breath. Her eyes were like doll eyes, open, but not seeing.

Señor Velasquez sat next to me on the other side of the enormous bed. He stroked my hair and kissed me passionately, enjoying the taste of blood that lingered on my mouth. I returned the kiss, pulling him closer to me. His cologne was intoxicating, expensive, and it masked his true scent, which was a mixture of stale blood, and a strange mustiness, that reminded me of a room that needs fresh air. He pulled back the bed clothes to reveal my naked body, and he caressed every inch of me. I melted beneath his touch and soon found myself wrapping my legs around his waist. I couldn’t get close enough to him. He unfastened his trousers with a dexterity I had never witnessed in a human, and suddenly he was inside me. I forgot about the dead girl lying next to me. Señor Velasquez made me feel like I had never been touched by another man. He gave as much pleasure as he took.

When we finished making love, Señor Velasquez pushed the maid’s corpse off the bed. She made a soft thud when she hit the hardwood floor, muffled by an oriental rug and the folds of her dress. She was no longer a concern.

He gathered up the washcloth and basin, and gently washed the blood from my mouth and cheeks, and sweat from my brow. Then he washed my shoulders, back, arms, breasts, all the way down to my toes. No one, except my mother, had treated me with such affection. His gentleness brought tears to my eyes.

“Jacqueline,” he said barely above a whisper. “I think you have a secret you are keeping from me. When we made love, that was not your first time, was it?”

His question embarrassed me, and I couldn't meet his gaze.

“Do not be ashamed,” he said, making me look at him. “You are just a girl, you did nothing wrong. Was it James? Did he rape you?”

I nodded, too ashamed to speak.

He made a sound of disgust. “Did this happen often? Did his wife know?”

“Mamzèl Lynch knew. She was jealous.”

“Surely, she did not blame you?”

“She was angry, and hurt. She couldn’t punish her husband, so she punished me instead.”

“You must not feel guilty for the things that were done to you. That is all in the past. I will never allow anyone to hurt you again. I will take care of you now, and teach you how to take care of yourself.”

“Why did you choose me?”

“You are such a sad and beautiful creature. A kindred spirit. I could not stand the thought of you being a slave the rest of your life. It sickened me to see you at the mercy of the Lynches. And now that I know James raped you, I wish I had spent more time killing him.” His eyes flashed with anger, and I knew that I never wanted to inspire such rage in him. The thought chilled me to the bone.

I changed the subject. “What will we do about the dead girl?”

“Ah, yes. We will have to carry her up to the roof and dispose of her in the river. You will need to feed again, and I have not fed yet tonight.”

Thirty minutes later, we disposed of the body, and were on our way to the dressmaker. After my measurements were taken, Señor Velasquez helped me choose fabrics for several different dress styles, ten in all, and he paid the dressmaker. Ten dresses. I had never had more than one or two at a time. One for everyday household chores, and one for special occasions when the Lynches needed me to serve company. Ten dresses. I felt like a princess.

Señor Velasquez escorted me around the Quarter holding my hand. He showed me the sights, and taught me how to find the best hunting spots. After wandering around for an hour, we found a young gambler stumbling out of a tavern. We followed him for several blocks, silently shadowing his clumsy gait through the cobblestone streets.

When the young man finally stopped at a doorway, Señor Velasquez and I stopped a few feet away, hidden in the shadows of an alleyway. We watched him fumble in his pockets searching for his key. Señor Velasquez motioned for me to follow him and we approached the young man, catching up to him just as he opened his front door. We quietly ushered him into the front room, closing the door behind us.

“Who…who are you? What do you want?” The young man’s voice trembled as he caught sight of our faces in the dull light from a street lamp. While I found Señor Velasquez’s countenance stunningly beautiful, it must have seemed nightmarish to the man at that moment: pale skin, animalistic dark eyes, raven hair, and sharp fangs.

“Want? We only want your company for a short while.” The hypnotic tone had returned to Señor Velasquez’s voice. The tension left the man’s body and we ushered him to the sitting room. “You see, my companion and I are very hungry.”

Sitting between us on a settee, the man glanced at me, almost afraid to take his eyes off Señor Velasquez. I smiled at him, showing my fangs, and again fear crept into his face.

“Jacqueline,” Señor Velasquez said, “our host seems frightened, we should make him feel more comfortable.” He began unfastening the young man’s trousers.

I was a quick study; I took over and slid the trousers to the floor. Fear or no fear, the young man was aroused by my touch. His breath hitched as his desire began to build. His pulse quickened when Señor Velasquez guided my hand to where his pulse was strongest, just inside his thigh near his groin.

“Blood flows more freely here,” he said.

I could hear the blood rushing through him, and as I spread his thighs apart, he moaned, encouraging me to touch him again. I leaned forward and gently sank my fangs into the soft flesh of the young gambler’s inner thigh. His back arched and soft moans emanated from his parted lips. I raised my head for just a moment, his blood running down my chin, and caught a glimpse of Señor Velasquez sinking his fangs into the man’s neck.

Touch his manhood, Jacqueline. His pulse will quicken, his desire will make the blood even sweeter. I could hear Señor Velasquez’s voice inside my head and I did as I was told. I gently caressed the man’s cock while I gorged myself on his blood, giving him release before he died. His death brought about my own arousal. A fact which seemed to please Señor Velasquez.

“I can smell your desire, Jacqueline. It is making my mouth water.” His black hair was wild about his face, blood smeared his cheeks, and his eyes blazed with lust.

I tore open the front of my dress and climbed onto his lap, wrapping my legs around his waist. His mouth was suddenly on mine, and we kissed as if we needed each other as much as the blood we had just drank. At sixteen, I was quickly being educated in the ways of lovemaking and murder. Two passions Señor Velasquez couldn’t seem to get enough of. I realized then that I wanted to do whatever I could to keep him satisfied.

We made love until dawn. Señor Velasquez carried me, naked, dazed, and tired, up to the second floor of the house. It was too late to return to his rooms. The sun would rise soon. He found a darkened bedroom and used extra bed linens to cover the windows.

Before he lost consciousness, he whispered in my ear, “You are mine.”

Sunlight made it impossible for me to respond, but my last thought before darkness claimed me was that his ownership of me meant I would never be free.

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