Down the Garden Path
Beside a clear pool sat a debutante admiring her golden locks, silken skin and flowing gown. The sweet air still rang with the gleeful sounds of her many well-clad guests who had already left for the evening. Her handsome suitor soon came for a brief rendezvous. He swore that one day they would wed and keep their love forever. Her existence seemed divine.
Just then a shabby crow flew overhead cawing insults down to her. Its ugly reflection surpassed only by that of the homely girl squatting there in the moonlight. Her vivid imagination sank beneath the water and vanished. The dark intrusion turned the pool, once an ornate goldfish pond back into a brackish puddle. In it the child saw her own drab hair, skin and sackcloth dress. Gone were her make-believe curls, fair face and gown. Her only guests had been the hordes of crickets and frogs that made their home on that long-neglected estate. Life was as empty as her stomach, as harsh as a crow’s shrill laughter.
Girls can be stricken by infatuations, the feverish obsessions of ambitious or misguided hearts. Their sources can be perfectly understandable or completely unreasonable, Anna had two such obsessions: one was the crumbling Burroughs mansion: the other, its current occupant.
Years before, the sprawling lawns of Burroughs saw their share of spoiled debutantes hosting summer parties for gleeful guests. But house had caught fire one winter’s morning. Later. all that remained of the grand structure were hollow hints of its former self. The old place was never rebuilt and no other house was constructed to replace it. The family simply moved into one of their other properties.
Anna and her father lived in a modest house on the nearby hillside. Burroughs represented the sort of place and lifestyle all poor girls dream of having. Anna would sneak over there while her father slept off his long day in the coal mines where he worked as head foreman. He knew nothing of her secret desires and had none of his own. At Burroughs his daughter could create another world for herself, a divine existence. She could be a beautiful debutante with many beautiful friends and a handsome suitor. There she imagined the whole world as beautiful, which was perfectly understandable.
However, Anna’s obsession with its current occupant, the late Aaron Brent, was another matter entirely. The dead man’s figure would appear gliding along the overgrown garden paths after sunset. He would pass the pond with acknowledging the girl who waited for him there. He would pass without a word and without a reflection of his own. There and yet not there, he was as real and as dead as the pond and gutted house, but as unreal as one of Anna’s imaginary guests. He was, of course, a vampire. Anna knew this, but did not care. Nor did she fear him. She was in love with him, an obsession that was completely unreasonable.
She had known him in life as the handsome tanner who had lived in the meadow just outside the village. He had been unmarried, but had entertained thoughts of wedding the local merchant’s daughter, Laura. He used to fish in the stream near Anna’s home. She would speak to him while remaining hidden among the trees, or watch him staring at the fish as they swam past his feet. Both he and the fish were so close to those who desired to have them, and yet so far out of reach. Aaron, who was no fisherman, would go home empty-handed. Anna, who was no beauty, would do the same.
No man alive wanted such a homely girl as Anna. And apparently, neither did a dead man, for the vampire never approached her despite his ravenous thirst for blood. Her widower father would try to console the girl by telling her that beauty chose its own time to blossom, or that her looks would not matter to the man she fell in love with. Eventually, she would find happiness.
But Anna had fallen in love with a man who refused to look at her. Once in desperation, she slit her own finger for him, but hers was the only mouth that sucked the wound clean. She waited beside his coffin having discovered the furrowed earth where his box had been dragged from the cemetery to the root cellar beneath the mansion. Already, she knew several strangers, as well as a few townspeople including the parson fell victim to his nightly wanderings. She feared for her father’s safety. When Aaron came back in the morning he touched her arm with an icy hand before crawling into his daytime resting place, as if reassuring her of something. Still he would not look at her face.
Her knowledge of his coffin’s hiding place did not seem to concern him. She remained there for a time with many unanswered questions swimming through her mind. Why did he choose to take up lodging at Burroughs mansion? Perhaps he knew it was abandoned and would not likely be reopened. Had he also dreamt about living in that grand estate? Surely, he knew that his own lands were taken shortly after his death by debtors. Why did she still want him even after he became a cursed creature? And why did he still reject her?
She sat by his coffin every morning since that first day. He would bid her goodnight with the slightest touch of his frozen hand. She would reach into his casket to stroke his auburn hair. After two weeks of this she decided her broken heart could bare its burden no longer. She ran outside and down the garden path. She stopped at the pond to look at herself one last time. At first, the homely daughter of an old miner appeared in the water. She blinked her tearful eyes and soon the beautiful debutante blinked back at her. Anna reached out to embrace the lovely image.
The splash from the pond awoke Aaron. He ran down the darkened pathway and pulled the girl from the weed-choked waters before she could remember to stop holding her breath. Gasping for unwanted air and struggling in his rigid arms, she wished he would just let her die. Aaron shook his head at her. “Not like this,” he whispered and pointed toward the woods.
There in the shadows stood her father, his fangs aglow in the moonlight. Other recently deceased townspeople and strangers followed him through the trees. Their dead faces were ugly but not frightening to Anna. The women carried armfuls of flowers and one had a white flowing gown draped over its arm. All the vampire guests gathered around the pond in their burial clothes. Burroughs had become the setting for a fortunate girl’s celebration once more.
The silken gown was handed to Anna, who quickly pulled it over her drenched hair and skin. She shook with disbelief in Aaron’s arms as the parson performed the wedding ceremony. Her father gave her a wink when the groom was told he may now kiss the bride. Anna smiled back at the head vampire, realizing he may have understood her desires all along, for he certainly kept secrets of his own. She saw Aaron’s long fangs coming for her at last and laughed with glee. Never again would her homely reflection torment her. Burroughs mansion and her handsome suitor were hers forever.
© 2020 by Andrée Gendron