I woke with a start, - I could not tell why. But it seemed someone, or something, was watching me. I often had that same feeling for those recent two months or so, only it was stronger now. Above all, there was a sense of foreboding, and of some strange and overwhelming finality in the air; as if something was about to happen after which the world would never be the same again.
Then I realized the lock had clicked. My fingers closed around the small cold key; it was where it belonged, on the same latch as I had put around my neck before going to sleep. The door opened without a sound, letting in a man in dark clothing, then closed again, and the lock clicked softly once more. The one who entered took his key out, slipped it into his pocket and walked over to me with slow, heavy steps that nevertheless had an odd cat-like grace to them.
He was extremely tall and well-built, so much he looked nearly gigantic, and dressed from head to toe in black. Wavy black hair with many streaks of gray fell onto his mighty shoulders, framing a dark broad face. Slender eyebrows, completely straight, save for a sudden downward curve at the very outer edges, were drawn low above his deeply set green eyes.
He was towering over me, huge and black. There was something ominous about the way he stood silent and still, never saying a single word, and only watching me with eyes that blazed with a stunning, cold green light.
I sat up.
'Who are you? What - what do you want?..'
I already knew pretty well who is must be, even before I had asked. It was because of him that my sister was stark mad, and was changing into a creature that eluded definition, - slowly and in torment. But the words came out by themselves, quite apart from me. I just had to say something, - anything, - to break that menacing silence which had descended in the room.
He did not move. His face would have been almost tranquil, if it were not for the intimidating intensity of his eyes. It was very hard to hold his stare, and I wanted badly to turn away; but at the same time, something held me in place and prevented me from doing so. His eyes drilled into my soul, down to its very core; if there are corners of our being filled with dust and cobwebs, which none of us wants to ever look into, I am sure he had seen them all in me.
He was handsome in a manly, noble way. The features of his face were stark and at the same time regular, as if chiselled roughly, though skilfully out of a dark stone. There were little wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, but else, his expression was solemn and almost mournful. The shape of his eyes and lips, with their corners somewhat lowered, added to it. His bronzy-brown skin had a weathered look to it, as if he had been exposed to the sun and to harsh winds a lot once, and against it, the glow of the eyes seemed all the more striking.
Minutes passed, and he still stood where he was, and had not made the slightest movement. Was he giving me time?.. And what was it that he wanted?..
Suddenly, he had both my wrists in one of his hands, and was holding them in such a way that my arms were stretched out somewhat to the side, away from me. His fingers may well have been steel, and instinctively, I felt that struggling was useless. It was unclear what he would do next; and this expectation of whatever that could come, along with the silence and the stillness of the two of us, was telling on me, and I could not make up my mind whether I should try and fight or not.
With his other hand, he clasped one of my palms, and held it tight. Something was slowly coming over his face; it grew more still, and took on an expression which was unreadable, but intense, masking some intolerable inner tension, - the same that showed in the sharp, piercing light of his eyes. Minute after minute were going by, and I waited.
Before I could understand what was going on, he had let go of my hands, and instead, I was grabbed by the forearm and wrenched forward with such a force that it made me gasp. I was struggling against something as hard as iron, and just as immovable; one huge black arm was wrapped around my arms and chest, holding me to something that felt like a hard cold wall; and the other arm was just half an inch away from my face, the wrist torn, dark blood trickling from the gash.
'No,' I breathed out. I turned away as much as I could, and made another futile attempt to free myself from his grip. He didn't even seem to feel my thrashing. 'No....'
But the bleeding wrist was at my lips again, and as I turned my head as far up and to the side as I could manage, he held me to himself even tighter, and thrust it into my mouth.
A searing sweetness touched my tongue and sent chills of delight down my spine. I drew it from the wound, hard, wishing only that it wouldn't be taken away from me too soon. But what he was doing seemed to make no sense. Why is he still holding me, I wondered. Why does he have to do it this way, - all he had to do was ask me, and I would have come with him, would have tasted this sweetness of my own will. The world wavered and began to drift away. A dreamy giddiness was coming over me, and the distance between me and the things around me, - the gray room illuminated by the silvery light, the white bedsheets, the shiny metallic bedside table, my bright scarlet sweater and long denim skirt of the same color which hung over the side of the bed, - was growing greater and greater as I looked...
...I was lying on my side in an awkward posture. He had thrown me, full force, onto the bed, and the impact made me come back to my senses. My forearm hurt where he had grasped me, and my body and arms still felt the crushing strength of his grip. The taste of his blood was still in my mouth, and without wanting to, I savored it and did not want it to go away.
I rolled over and sat up, trying to comprehend what was it that had just happened to me. My white pyjamas were stained with crimson droplets. I was too stunted to say anything, or even to think.
He was standing by the window with his back to me. A sheath of silver moonlight bathed him, making the bluish tinge of his hair more noticeable and highlighting the silvery-white streaks in it. His casual black clothing, though neat, had been worn down to an indefinite grayish shade. Tiny specks of dust left it to circle in the light when he moved, and dust also rested in his long uncombed locks. On his woolen sweater there were hairs that must have been those of a cat, or perhaps some other animal. He had that odd look of some neglected inanimate thing, which beings of his kind are said to have when they stop taking care of themselves.
He did not turn to me even when, after what felt like ages, he finally spoke.
I had never heard anyone speak so slowly. His voice was very low and deep, and had a strangely detached ring to it. It, too, sounded dreamy, words forming languidly and dropping off into Lethe. One could think he was talking about something that did not concern him, because he had been watching it happen over an enormous distance. Light years, perhaps.
But he was dangerous, - in the same way that a beast would be dangerous if it were starved and too tired of fighting its captors, yet still untamed even though it would sit motionless in a remote corner of its cage. It could not be said for sure what that calmness of his could bring. If anything, the calmness itself was the most threatening thing about him.
'This is what happens to spies. And those who aid my enemies,' he made a long pause. 'Before long you will crawl on your knees to beg me for mercy. You will go to inordinate lengths to search for me, no matter how hard it shall be to find me, because you will need me to relieve the burden placed on you. And then I shall see whether I would or would not do that. That is, - if you survive at all.'
I watched him. Something was wrong about his tone, about the words he chose, about the way he had turned his back on me demonstratively, or that weird stare he had given me in the beginning.
'As you may well know,' he stressed those words just slightly without raising his voice, and a subtle undertone of menace appeared in it which was more intimidating than any angry shouting would have been. 'As you may well know, this is only the first spell. After a while, thing will be not at all so....rosy.'
Once more he was silent, a black motionless statue in the silvery rays.
'So, what is wrong with you? Scream. Not that it would help you.'
I did not reply. What had happened was just beginning to dawn on me, and it was too overwhelming and altogether unbelievable for words. I?.. How?.. And what...? That "what" was the most terrifying of all, and I was afraid to think the thought to the end. I still remembered the taste of his blood; and a warm tingling had begun in my limbs and face.
'Do whatever you will with yourself,' he said just as heavily and indifferently as he turned to go. 'Seek help wherever or with whomever you see fit. I shall see how on Earth you would manage.'
The menace again, lurking somewhere just beneath that deadly calm.
'Nothing will save you from what I had meant for you. I can tell you as much.'
He turned from the window and, without casting a glance on me, left in the same unhurried manner as he had come.
The light of the sun, so dazzling that it was difficult to look at, found me sitting on the bed, - lost, still trying to grasp what had occurred. I had to call Lucio and tell him what had happened; I had to dress, pack my things, and leave the hotel and go back to Florence. I knew all this, but none of it registered. I held my red skirt in my hands, running my fingers thoughtlessly over the soft, velvety denim, as if I were unable to think what to do with it next.
The sight of the golden glow filling the room made something inside me break. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I wept silently, looking at the warm light that made my hand, too, seem golden, and made the red fabric I was holding flare up. It caressed my skin and added to the tingling that seemeed to have grown stronger over those few hours.
Once again, I caught sight of the stain on the shirt of my pyjamas. That was it - not human anymore. I repeated those words to myself again and again, as if through repetition they would start making more sense. Not human. But what was I to be now? I tried to remember all that I knew about these instances, where one was given only a bit of blood, - or shot with a small amount from the syringe, - and was left to change as one would. But all I could recall was that few ever survived it afterwards. And it was not a pleasant process, nor a short one, either.
But it was the feeling of absolute powerlessness that was worst. Not only my body did not belong to me, having been roughly forced into something I would have never accepted on my own accord. My very destiny seemed to have slipped out of my hands; this would alter me, as I knew myself, and it was irreversible, and I had no control whatsoever over it.
For a long time I sat stunted. I thought about nothing, and was only aware of a pain that was tearing me up from within; its intensity was unbearable, and I hoped the tears would wash it away, but it only seemed to become stronger and stronger. That's the end of everything, Ursula, I thought. The end.
But I had to live on somehow. No matter who, or what, I had become now, - and no matter whether I had been violated, - I still had to continue. I really did have to make that call to Lucio, and drag myself out of this room and to the station, even if my legs would not listen to me and all I wanted to do was drop down somewhere, curl up, and cry without end.
Finally, I made myself stand up. As if in a dream, with tears rolling down my face, I dressed and began with the packing. After I had taken off my pyjamas, I stood for a while, holding them and looking at the dark crimson spattering; then, without knowing why, I folded them carefully, making sure that the stain would be preserved as it is, and put them in a bag, which I then placed into the corner of my suitcase underneath my other things.