A dark tale of love, desire and dentistry.
He opened his eyes. His eyes saw nothing and his mind felt nothing. For a moment he had no idea of a before or an after. He had no interest. All was now and now was all inky-black nothing. He was blank.
Then clarity began to permeate the blackness. Sparks of memory, like tiny, phosphorescent, deep sea micro-organisms, flickering on and off like a coded signal trying to tell him something. Just small flickers of light, a slight pulse, then gone… then a sting, and that fire in his blood… Darkness swallowed him up again and he went under.
Zoe had dumped Luke almost a year ago. He hadn’t seen it coming – although she had been thinking about it for weeks; apparently. It was a few weeks before Christmas, which was harsh. But at least it gave Luke the ideal opportunity to drown his sorrows and – ‘sow the seeds of recovery’ – as Ed had put it. ‘Tis the season to be jolly so stop moping you miserable twat’, he’d told him. ‘Everyone splits up at Christmas. They split up at Christmas so that they can go to Christmas parties and shag someone else without guilt and get back together in the New Year – you’ll be right. Don’t worry about it.’ Luke didn’t go to any parties and he didn’t shag anyone and Zoe didn’t come back for New Year.
Love is what love is – blind and irrational. Luke had felt the loss and the desperation, he’d been through the blaming and beating himself up bit – he’d even gone beyond the hating-her-fucking-guts stage. It was just past memories now. The odd twinge of regret every now and then and the occasional ache of sadness when something reminded him of what could have been had things gone a little bit differently. But things hadn’t gone differently and she hadn’t – couldn’t – or just wouldn’t give it a bit more time, a bit more effort. She obviously didn’t love him enough – the first thought that struck him when it happened, but one of the last thoughts he’d chosen to accept. Now he had. If she had loved him she wouldn’t have left him so suddenly and so completely. If she had loved him she wouldn’t have cut him off and left him floundering in the poison of his own lovesick head-fuck. If she had loved him they’d still be together. But she didn’t, so they weren’t. He wasn’t bitter anymore but he still felt a little empty. A little numb.
He awakens with a scream that shrieks back at him as it echoes around the dark, cavernous tomb within which he finds himself. He is lay on a cold slab. An altar? A death bed? He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know what these… these… devils are. These creatures surrounding him. All around him they’re eating. Black eyes on pale, translucent skin look at him with hunger. They’re eating him! Sucking away his very lifeblood. In that darkness from which he had just awoken he thought he was dreaming; a nightmare. In that nightmare he was surrounded by demons, but it was real. It is real and she is one of them. A demon… a devil… a beautiful, dark angel. Her face comes close to his and through those deep, crimson-black eyes she looks into him and through him and he is lost to her wanting…
Luke’s work as a freelance photographer offered him many opportunities to get away, but he seldom stayed anywhere longer than the job required. When he did get the opportunity to holiday he would usually go and visit his best friend Stuart in Barcelona. Luke and Stuart had been friends since university where they shared digs. They’d had some great times at Uni and those great times continued when they came up in the fashion industry together. Then Stuart met his wife Lora and settled down.
Stuart and his wife owned a fashion boutique in the up-market, bohemian district of Graçia in the city’s centre. They had lived in Spain for the past five years, the last two of which they had been married. Stuart had met Luke’s ex-girlfriend and knew them when they were a couple. He’d insisted on Luke staying with him over that New Year when Zoe had left him. He knew how hurt Luke had been and was glad to see him getting back to near his former buoyant, confident self.
Although Luke had never had a problem finding a girlfriend, something had changed in him since he’d allowed himself to fall for Zoe. With her he had felt something that he hadn’t felt with the dozens of other girl’s he’d been with. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than not at all, but he wondered whether that was true. He’d been happy as an aimless bachelor, hitting and running. Dropping in and enjoying the honeymoon before baling out. But he was now well into his thirties and starting again was becoming a lot harder. Now he’d experienced something with more substance he couldn’t go back to those empty relationships. That was why his mind would still drift towards thoughts of Zoe. After Zoe everything else seemed dull, pale and passionless. But he had gotten over the worst and regained most of his enthusiasm for love and life and August in Barcelona was doing what it was intended to – reinvigorating his passion.
On Luke’s visits to see Stuart their last night together was always a late one, and this was no exception. The two of them had partied hard the night before, got up late and lounged around the private enclosed terrace all day, recovering. They drank and ate and smoked and Lora played a perfect wife to the perfect host, and on a perfect day, Luke remembered that it can be good after all.
They sat out on the terrace all evening and into the warm Catalan night talking about old times and wringing out the last minutes of their time together as they finished thirteen bottles of beer, two and half bottles of rosé wine, a gram of poor grade cocaine, a knuckle sized chunk of Moroccan hash and a bowl of mixed nuts – one of which had cracked one of Luke’s teeth. In that time they put their respective world’s wrongs to rights and the following day Luke left Barcelona feeling complete again.
He didn’t know whether it was a dream. Like angels they shone – more a glow – an ethereal glow, like fresh snow in the moonlight. But their touch; cold – but sensual; irresistibly sensual. These were dark angels. Dark angels who played music through his blood. A music that he had never heard before. A music that coursed through his body. A music he felt without hearing, attuned to his soul. The softness of their lips on his body and the injection of joy and pain they gave was like nothing he could describe. It felt so right, like it had always been right and it had always been. Like something he had been searching for forever but never knew he had. Now he knew nothing else as he melted into their touch. Rapt with wanting he felt nothing but a sleeping acquiescence where he was part of the pulsing in their veins. Part of their hunger, a deep hunger… A deep sleep…
Luke’s teeth weren’t in the best of condition. The tooth he’d cracked in Barcelona wasn’t even a complete tooth. It was little more than an enamel husk that had been filled with dental lead. His dentist told him that what was left of the tooth would have to be removed. This would leave a big gap next to a cluster of teeth that had been crowned when he was a teenager after he had been hit in the mouth by an erratically bowled cricket ball. The gums had long been receding on those crowned teeth, leaving a hairline rim of unsightly, decay stained metal showing every time he smiled; but this had never bothered him. He’d worked long enough in the superficial world of fashion to be beyond petty vanities. However, this new gap did draw attention to those old discoloured crowns. Narcissistic preening was one thing, but having a smile like a vagrant really wasn’t a good look for anyone, so he asked his dentist how much it would cost to have them all put right.
Luke left the dentist feeling depressed. To have all the work done on his teeth would cost around £5000. He couldn’t exactly just not get it done either. After losing the molar he was left with a big gap surrounded by four other loose, badly crowned teeth and he was struggling to chew, or even bite on anything on the left side of his mouth. The dentist had suggested a cheaper option, but at thirty-four Luke wasn’t ready for dentures. ‘But five grand!’ he thought. It was a lot of money and he couldn’t really afford it. But could he afford to have no teeth either?
When Luke told Ed about his dental issues, Ed told him to check out Eastern Europe. Ed was a fashion stylist and knew lots of models who’d had teeth done abroad. ‘It’s supposed to be at least half the price mate, I’m telling you. And you can’t leave them looking like that anyway ‘cos you look like Fagin.’
You always got nothing but the truth from Ed, that’s why Luke liked him. In the fickle and sycophantic world of fashion it’s good to have a friend who doesn’t mind giving you his honest point of view – even if he might occasionally stab you with it. Ed said he’d ask around to see if he could get a contact for a good dentist, but Luke knowing Ed knew better than to wait on him. Instead he went onto the internet and found an agency based in London that arranged dental trips to Budapest.
At Magyar Dental Luke spoke with a cordial, well-spoken woman who gave him all the details. She even recommended a private apartment near the city centre that was owned by the dentist where he could stay. It looked beautiful in the pictures, overlooking the Buda hills and the River Danube on the Western side of the city. Patients who used the apartment were shuttled to and from the airport, apartment and surgery as required. All of this, including flights – which Magyar Dental also arranged – came in at a little more than half of the surgery alone at home. What’s more, having previously spent two days in Budapest on a shoot a few years earlier, Luke had always wanted to return to take a closer look at the city described as ‘The Paris of Eastern Europe’. Budapest had a rich history and some beautiful buildings – a much more appealing prospect than hanging around a dingy dentist waiting room reading back copies of women’s magazines before being drilled and filled.
Luke had completed a pre-op questionnaire over the phone with Anna, the British agent. She had been very thorough in her questioning – name, address, age, blood type, past medical history, relationship status, next of kin – she even asked about his travel arrangements, whether he would be travelling alone or not. She suggested that if the work was for cosmetic reasons to keep it to himself until it was completed; ‘Oh yes’ she said, ‘it is always a nice surprise for patients to see the reaction of friends and relatives when they see your new smile without knowing about it beforehand’. Luke was very impressed with the attention to personal consideration, such a refreshing change to the grim conveyor belt of medical service in England. There was also a small, petty part of him that liked the idea of bumping into his ex with a gleaming new set of teeth. It would be even better if he had a beautiful Eastern European girlfriend on his arm too. Luke booked his appointment and his flight and was surprisingly, quite looking forward to his dental trip.
Awake! In darkness. In the darkness he could see; feel. Damp stagnation smothered his skin. He threw his hands forward to leap from the cold slab he lay on but he didn’t move. Then he roared; a cry for help, a cry of frustration, he shouted with all his strength – but no sound came from his lips – lips that moved only in his minds eye. He was dreaming? No; he was dead? But how could he be? How could he be dead yet feel so alive; so hungry? He looked around – feeling the environment with his senses. Feeling in the dark. Seeing in the dark. He saw the cavernous blackness of a gothic… basement? Cave? Mausoleum? Total darkness – yet he could see! Only he wasn’t sure whether what he was seeing was really there…
Luke’s flight arrived at 18.05. He collected his bags and was met at the arrivals lounge by a young, dark-haired woman. She seemed to immediately recognise who he was as she introduced herself; ‘Mr. Forshaw? Hello, I’m Klára; pleased to meet you.’ And how pleased was he to meet her. She was beautiful, so much so he found himself staring.
‘Hi’, was his muted reply. He was so taken aback by his beautiful escort he found himself uncharacteristically dumbstruck.
‘You have all of your bags?’ she asked.
‘Er… yes. Yes, this is it.’
‘Okay, then we go?’
‘Yes; we go.’
Klára smiled an innocent smile, but there was something inviting in her look. Maybe that was just wishful thinking. Or maybe it was just the way she looked – those, ice-blue eyes, set against clear, immaculate, olive, skin; a mouth that seemed to permanently smile at the edges. Lengths of coal, black hair fell from underneath a simple, black, woollen hat. She wore an uninspiring, black, winter jacket; thick black leggings hugged shapely legs all the way down into a simple pair of black leather boots. ‘God, she’s gorgeous’ he thought.
It was almost December and even though it was early evening, it was practically dark. It was also very cold. It was cold and foggy, but this beautiful young Hungarian woman warmed Luke’s passion. As they drove toward the city centre, along the Danube, across Széchenyi Bridge toward the apartment in Castle Hill, Luke and Klára made small talk. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five yet he felt like a shy schoolboy in her presence. And although experience and instinct made him want to charm and seduce her, he somehow felt… he felt overawed!
They arrived at the apartment. Based on the top floor of a classically restored, pre-communist building – courtyard, high ceilings, parquet flooring, TV, DVD, power shower and spa bath – it was a beautiful place. ‘You have a complementary bottle of Vodka in the freezer’, Klára points out to him as she gives him a brisk overview of the amenities before handing him a set of keys and confirming the time she will come to pick him up in the morning for his pre-treatment consultation; 7am seemed very early. Although well pleased with his apartment, Luke’s concentration is completely lost on Klára. His attraction to her is almost of a feral nature. Yet despite this, his instinctive urge to ask her out remains somehow repressed although his heart seems to be racing. As she leaves the room, her welcoming smile seems almost teasing. As the door closes behind her Luke finds himself momentary glued to the spot staring at the empty space she has just left. He blinks, gives his head a tight, sharp, shake and puzzles at the cold layer of sweat he feels on his brow before reaching for the vodka. He quickly pours and downs the first shot and then pours another. It’s 19.56 according to the clock on the DVD player.
The clock on the DVD player says 21.21 as Luke snaps out of an almost hypnotic daydream he has found himself in for the last hour and a half. His second glass of Vodka is untouched. He ponders for a moment on his present, hazy, mindset, but his thoughts keep on veering toward the image of Klára. He knocks back his Vodka and decides to go straight to bed. That night he dreams of Klára. Strange, erotic dreams.
The following morning he is awoken from a very deep sleep by the buzz of the intercom. It’s still dark outside and his watch reads just after six, but it’s still an hour behind and he was due to be picked up at seven. The buzzer rings out again, ‘Shit!’ he says as he jumps out of bed… A wet bed! ‘No way!’ Luke becomes aware of the sticky wetness in his boxer shorts and sees the damp smudges on the bed sheets and he blushes. He cannot remember the last time he’d had a wet dream. There is a knock on the apartment door. It’s Klára. ‘Just one minute’ he calls to her; ‘Sorry… I didn’t change the time on my watch’ he continues as he scrambles around for his clothes.
‘That’s okay, we have time’, she replies from behind the door. She has a coy smile on her face and affords herself a little snigger as she waits for Luke.
He is in an underground cavern that stretches as far as his eyes can take him. There are row upon row of tomb like openings, some with their burial slab pulled out to expose lifeless bodies like his own. He can see the pale glow of human shapes, like ghosts, moving freely through the dank, black air. Floating up and down the giant burial chamber as they feed off the entombed, listless bodies. Then she comes back. She is beautiful, alluring and mysterious. She is like Lady Death come to take him on that eternal journey into the unknown – and he wants her. He wants her and she wants him. She says nothing and he says nothing. He raises himself up off the slab and she takes him in her arms and looks straight into his soul. Without speaking he says yes as she envelops him in her embrace and they kiss. A kiss of joy and death…
After the silent journey that dark morning (Luke felt a little embarrassed about his wet dream, as if Klára knew), when he arrived at Maygar Dental Clinic Luke began to have second thoughts. The architecture in Budapest is quite awesome, but some of the structures remaining from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were left to fall into disrepair during the days of communism. When he saw the large, discoloured wooden doors leading into the building and the dusty marble stairs leading toward the dental surgery, he had visions of a horror film style torture-porn scenario! But once inside the dental office, the antiseptic smell and state of the art equipment partly reassured him. The pages of endorsements in the comments book also helped. But ultimately it was the assuasive words of Klára – who was also the dental nurse at the surgery – that talked him into going through with it. The dentist Dr Kiraly talked him through the procedure; the treatment would involve having two teeth removed, an implant screw inserted through his gum and into his jaw, and another two teeth filed down and fitted with temporary crowns. This was only the first stage but it would be quite lengthy and painful, so Dr. Kiraly advised that he be put to sleep.
As Luke lay there watching the injection of general anaesthetic leave the tube and enter his vein, he thought how much the liquid looked like blood. He tried to remember the last time he had had a general anaesthetic. That had been many years ago when it was administered via a gas. Then Klára held his hand and smiled at him and he felt comfortable again. Her hand was icy cold; ‘Cold hand’s, warm heart’ he thought to himself as he drifted away into unconsciousness.
He had no idea how long he had been under and he wasn’t sure whether he was dreaming or not. What he was sure of was that in this dream he was being led through a dark, underground corridor. The arched walls are ancient, damp, black rock – like the inside of a cave. He’s trying to speak, to move; but he is paralysed. Then he looks up and he see’s her. A sudden sensation of fear shoots through his paralysed body as he looks into the dark, crimson-black eyes of Klára. He tries again to move but he can’t. She smiles at him, revealing, sharp, pointed teeth. Fear fills his veins as he screams within himself in silence…
They had been here for millennia – since the dawn of mankind; but they weren’t men. They were of men – humanoid – but something more than man. They had gone by many names – Vampires, Vorvolakas, Strigoi – even Chupacabra, the ‘goat sucker’. But these magnificent creatures were more than evil bloodsuckers. They had seen the birth and death of prophets and saints. They had seen empires rise and fall and lived through it all. They had been revered, worshipped and feared before being almost hunted to extinction. All that remained of them in the modern world were myths and legends, rumours and secrets. Now they lived underground, in the shadows of society. There influence invisible to the masses, but deeply ingrained in the governments and offices of the most powerful institutions on the planet; safeguarded from exposure and total extinction. They claimed those that had no family, no home, no future or passion in their lives; and they offered them a choice – an endless death as food to these God’s, or join them in immortality, a slave to their hunger and a slave to the hive.
Luke had been chosen by Klára because she wanted him. He wanted her too – more than anything that he had ever wanted, but he couldn’t think clearly. He was on the cusp of complete transformation and his blood, the very core of his being, was full of the memories of a bloodline stretching back before recorded time. He was being bombarded with images and thoughts, equal in their beauty and horror. He felt an immense power within him, whilst at the same time he felt a terrifying vulnerability. But the most significant thing about all these feelings, was that they were pure, powerful feelings, infused with a substance the like of which he had seldom experienced in his old life; – pure, raw passion. For the first time in a very long time he felt a strong, unyielding passion and desire. Klára allowed him to take her. With her nails she cut an opening in her jugular. As he drank, she sank her teeth into him and they fed off each other. Luke was born again. Born into darkness. The darkness of an ancient, pure desire.