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Portrait of a Lady Vampire

Christopher J. Burke is a math teacher, a webcomic creator, and a part-time writer of short stories and role-playing games. He is the author of In A Flash 2020, and co-author of GURPS Autoduel, 2nd edition. He can be found on Twitter @mrburkemath.

As the artist gave the canvas its final brush strokes, Lady Isabella sat frozen in the regal pose she wanted immortalized. She'd held that position since the Moon had risen into the night. Any discomfort would be worth it, though, if Genevieve could capture her essence. She wanted to be able to see herself the way the world saw her.
Seeing oneself wasn't an easy task for a vampire.
Her gaze fixed to a spot to her right, Isabella was aware of the artist's head bobbing. The painter looked from canvas to subject and back again. Then the young woman paused, almost lost in thought. Isabella saw that she held her brush as tightly as she held her breath.
"What is it?" Lady Isabella demanded. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing." Genevieve put down her palette with some hesitation. She cleared her throat before continuing. "It's done. Come and look."
The vampire rose from her seat. The artist stared at the floor, afraid to meet her eyes. Like a solar eclipse, everyone feared looking directly at a vampire. Would her gaze be the beginning of a trance? It was nonsense, of course. The portrait had been properly commissioned. Genevieve had not been compelled to create it. But the air reeked of worry, and waves of tensions permeated the room.
Gathering her cloak about her, Lady Isabella glided across the loft, even though she felt some hesitation of her own. Once upon a time she had been a beautiful noble woman. But then, centuries ago, she'd had been erased from her vanity, never to be seen again. Now, once she rounded this easel, she would once again be able to see herself.
At long last! This was the moment!
Genevieve held breath for the two of them for the reveal.
The vampire recoiled in horror at the sight, as if she'd been presented with a crucifix or a fistful of fresh garlic bulbs!
It was a twisted image, a mockery of beauty. A whitened, pallid face, with sharp, angled lines. She had a strong brow over sunken eyes, with dark rings. Her once rosy cheeks held no color but gray.
Lady Isabella struggled to regain her composure. Then she pointed a sharpened finger toward Genevieve, who had shrunk in on herself, cowering atop her stool. "Tell me! Answer me honestly!" She fought to find the words. Pointing back to the portrait, she asked, "Is that image true?"
She hadn't looked the artist in the eye. As much as she craved an answer, she didn't want it compelled.
To her surprise, the response was more organic, almost compassionate. "Y-y-yes. Yes, it is."
At first, the vampire's eyes reddened. Her brows furled in anger. Then, all softened to sadness. If the undead could shed tears, unholy puddles would have formed on the hardwood floor.
Instead of crying, the ancient woman closed her cloak against a sudden chill. She withdrew to the window, and gazed into the darkness beyond. Nocturnal creatures roamed moonlit hills. She felt an urge to flee and seek their solace.
Comforting thoughts of a savage nature consumed her until a gentle hand landed upon her shoulder. It startled her back into the moment. She whirled about to see Genevieve standing beside her, holding a box of tissues.
So absorbed had she been in her own misery that for the first time in three centuries, a human had been able to creep up on her. Across squeaky floorboards!
"I-I-I could..." the artist stammered. "I could add some color to pallor. Some rouge to the cheeks, maybe?"
Was she trying to be helpful, or trying to preserve her life? Isabella thought for what Genevieve might consider eternity, if only because the child had never considered eternity itself.
"No," she replied. "I accept that as it is. You have painted a masterpiece. Do not compromise it, or you'll never be able to paint another."
Clutching the box to her chest, Genevieve pulled out a tissue to wipe her eyes.
"But I have two questions I need answered."
The young woman nodded in agreement and relief. "Sure. Anything."
Lady Isabella reached out and took Genevieve's face in her hands. The youthful skin was warm to touch and receptive to her cold fingers. It was a calming moment, comforting to both.
"Do you do your own makeup? Can you show me how? You work wonders with a brush."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

Author Comments

The difficulty finishing this piece was not realizing sooner that as much as I wanted to tell the story of a young artist petrified by how her vampire client might react, I found Lady Isabella's story more compelling. Once I switched the POV, the story came together.

- Christopher J Burke
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