One of my favorite things about Halloween has always been the dressing up. Costume parties provide the perfect opportunity to play at being someone else, or perhaps to show your “true face” to the world. But what if you’d already lived for centuries and experienced an eternity of pretending to be something you’re not?
Such is the case for the vampires in my novel, In the Dark. Their take on the whole idea of costumes is just a little different…
Saturday, October 26th, 1968
It had long been Conrad’s habit to circulate at his parties, a word here, a touch there, the occasional guest encouraged to stay behind after the others had been dismissed, and then invited back to his rooms for the night. But only for a night—two or three at most. It had been over one hundred years since Conrad had had a permanent partner in his life. He was not looking for a replacement.
It was in this way, and at one of these parties, that he first met Desert Rose in the fall of 1968. The weather that autumn had been unseasonably warm and dry. Later, Conrad would claim that it was this that was to blame for his behavior, that it was the weather that had made him so edgy, so careless, so much hungrier than usual.
Since it was the Saturday before Halloween, almost everyone at the party had come in costume. It always amused Conrad to see the unrealistic, romantic yearnings so many people harbored for bygone days. He knew, better than most, that the past hadn’t seemed all that romantic at the time. Cowboys, pirates, sultans, knights—they were rarely the dashing figures modern imagination made them. Witches, and those even suspected of being witches, had been burned in ages past. Gypsies were once spat upon and reviled.
And medieval kings and queens, for all their supposed nobility, were frequently petty and vengeful and, in his opinion, generally deserving of far worse fates than those they’d actually received.
From his vantage point, having already lived through the better part of a dozen of them, Conrad considered this present century to be a vast improvement on many that had come before. Its more relaxed social mores and unparalleled ease of travel had made his life immeasurably easier. As for the current mode of dress, he had nothing but appreciation for it. The ever more revealing fashions were certainly hard to beat for visual stimulation.
Take that, for instance, he thought, catching sight of a rippling wave of coffee colored hair cascading over a nearly naked female back. Raven tresses had long been a favorite of his, especially in combination with a pair of wine dark eyes. Ah, yes, just like those. The unknown beauty turned suddenly in his direction, dark eyes flashing in amusement. For one heart-stopping second their gazes collided. Her lips curved upward in a warm, sunny smile that brought an answering smile to his lips. And then she was turning away again, coaxed back into conversation by the handsome, red-haired vampire who was Conrad’s current majordomo, leaving Conrad’s smile to fade wistfully away.
That should have been the end of it. Nine times out of ten, it would have been. But not this time. Though Conrad was generally loath to spoil any of his children’s fun, especially one of his favorites, this was different. The girl had turned her back on him and such impertinence could not be allowed to go unchallenged.
“And what are you supposed to be dressed up as, my dear?” he inquired after closing in on the girl. He spoke the words softly, almost in her ear, delighting in the sudden flush that warmed her cheeks, the rapid patter of her heartbeat, the faint scent of patchouli that clung to her skin.
Dark eyes glanced up at him in surprise. “Why, I’m an Indian Princess, of course. What did you think?”
Conrad’s brow furrowed as he looked her over, taking in the details of her ensemble—details he’d largely missed, due to the hair and the eyes and everything else that had heretofore captured his attention. His eyes tracked the beaded headband that circled her brow, the peacock feathers strung on wire that she wore in place of earrings. The bulk of her hair flowed unfettered down her back—all but for two narrow strands, one on either side of her face, which were plaited and tipped with more feathers. He looked closer. Parakeet feathers, he decided after a moment’s perusal, or possibly conure.
Her halter top and matching micro-mini skirt were made of brown suede and heavily fringed, as were her knee-high boots. The outfit left her neck, shoulders, arms, midriff, most of her back and practically all of both her thighs deliciously, accessibly bare. He’d been to India many times, in the past, yet he’d never seen anything there quite like this.
“An Indian princess?” he repeated, wondering if the loud music blaring from his stereo system could be to blame for his confusion. Perhaps he’d misheard?
“She means like Pocahontas,” Armand explained helpfully.
Conrad gazed at him doubtfully. “Vraiment?” he inquired, feeling only slightly less confused. At least the feathers were explained…in a way.
Armand’s hazel eyes glinted as they met his. “Ah, mais oui. Certainement.” His tone, one of barely suppressed amusement, left Conrad with little doubt that the French Canadian shared his opinion of the authenticity of the lady’s costume.
“Far out. You guys speak French?” Dark eyes sparkled even brighter. “That’s way cool. It’s like…like the Addams Family, or something. You know, how Gomez was always saying, ‘Morticia, that’s French!’”
“Indeed,” Conrad murmured, taking hold of her hand and lifting it to his lips. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle.”
Her gasp of pleased surprise was echoed by Armand’s far more dismayed one. Conrad shot the other vampire an apologetic look. “Désolé, mon cher. Êtes tu bien?”
As he’d expected, Armand shrugged in reluctant assent, relinquishing his claim on the girl. “Oui, d’accord. C’est la vie, eh?” Flashing a parting smile, he blended back into the crowd, no doubt in search of other conquests. The girl’s eyes filled with something close to disappointment.
“Something wrong, chérie?” Conrad inquired softly.
A slight shrug. A vague wave of the hand. And eyes that continued to look entirely too dejected as they followed Armand’s retreat. Yes, definitely disappointed, he thought, as the girl murmured, “Well, no…I just…well, I thought…w-we were talking and…”
“And might you not talk to me, now, instead? Or would you rather we go in search of Armand?”
Lifting her chin proudly, the girl met Conrad’s eyes. Her smile held just a touch of malice as she inquired, “Armand who?”
PG Forte inhabits a world only slightly less strange than the ones she creates. Filled with serendipity, coincidence, love at first sight and dreams come true…it also bears an uncanny resemblance to Berkeley, California.