It was shortly after his peer's passing, that Kapellmeister Salieri began hearing the wind differently. Through the oaks it moaned like bassoons. Through slender beech limbs it whined like oboes. The gusts shaking the trees reminded him of the choral blast of the Requiem. And when it rained, the drops tinkled like the Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia, which Mozart and he composed jointly for piano. Always after sunset, and always from the direction of St. Marx cemetery.
This must be my way of remembering him, he thought, going about his business as Court Composer.
But tonight, it woke him. He sat upright in bed and listened. A beech stood outside his window, and its wind-tossed branches moved up and down like the arms of violinists. And beyond that, from the direction of the cemetery, twinkled two distant torchlights.
Salieri threw aside the covers and scrambled out of bed.
Wrapped in his dark grey cloak, tricorn jammed down on his head, the Kapellmeister stole between tombstones and around bushes, crouching behind oaks, tracking the two torches. The lights bobbed up and down, vanished and reappeared, and veered in his direction. He stood, shivering in the icy December breeze, and waited. His heart beat steadily; his breath eased in and out.
Should he have come out here alone? He did not know who these people were, or what they might have besides shovels. But now the flickering torches were closing the distance and he stood fast, planting his feet. Whatever would come, would come.
When the torchbearers approached, a nearby figure loomed up in their light. Salieri knew what it was. A general's statue, he did not know who, high on a pedestal. Its armored feet, sculpted in granite, showed in the glow, but he also caught a glimpse of its head, sealed behind a visor and crowned with a helmet.
The torchbearers saw him and stopped. Their flames sizzled, throwing off sparks, and Salieri smelled the smoke. One man was a pudgy fellow in a battered tricorn, the other bare-headed with greasy black hair trailing to his shoulders. The fatter of the men was also the smaller, as if squashed down to size.
A third man stood between them, shadowy despite the lights on either side, dressed in black trousers and a black cloak; but his eyes shone a bright green.
It was this man who spoke. "It is late to pay one's respects, Signore Salieri."
The Kapellmeister did not recognize the voice. "I don't believe we've met, sir. Your men carry shovels and torches, but it is after midnight, and I see no funeral procession."
Silence, save for the crackling and snapping of the flames. Perhaps the man was thinking of the proper reply. "I will only say we're on a mission for the good of all Viennese. If you will excuse us--"
"Whose resting place are you desecrating?"
It was out before Salieri realized it. The torchbearers reacted visibly, the short one giving a start, and other lurching forward but barred by the leader's arm across his path. The Kapellmeister allowed his statement to stand.
The leader lowered his arm. "Someone must protect our citizens."
Salieri pointed off to his right. "Over in that direction is a grave that was robbed three weeks ago. And there," his arm swung to his left, "are two more from last week. Shall I go on?"
"Vampires, man! Don't that mean nothing to you?"
This came from the taller torchbearer. He leaned forward, clenching his teeth, but deflated under the glare of his leader.
The green eyes returned to the Kapellmeister. "It was not our choice, please understand. But he died of consumption, wasting away and preyed upon by those beings. They took his life, and in so doing sickened him into one of themselves. But..." The dark head tilted. "Surely you of all people aren't protecting him?"
Salieri drew himself up. "Herr Mozart, sir, was my esteemed colleague."
"I know nothing of musicians, and care even less. I've attended only one opera in my life. And it was one of his." The eyes turned up toward the great statue and lingered on it.
"Don Giovanni?" Salieri guessed aloud.
The dark shape of the head dipped, then rose. "The dead commander who gives the Don his justice, dragging him down to the underworld. My men and I, we drag the evil ones back up. Would you like to know what I've seen?" The leader moved closer, his shadowy form more visible now, angular face with hair combed back over his head, though his eyes still dominated. "The condition of a corpse does not lie. In some of the graves, we found nothing. Nature was doing its work with the deceased--you know it immediately by the smell, before you even pry the lid all the way off--but the last one, yes, it vindicated us. Blood in its heart, sir, fresh liquid, and the corpse barely showed decay after a month. Had you been there that night, I could have showed you a vampire."
"I know the case you're speaking of. You removed its heart?"
"Along with its liver. Removed them, and burned them to ash."
And they really mean to do this to him? "But the dead man's relatives, whom you believe he preyed upon and you were protecting, still sickened and died--"
There was a clicking sound. The smaller torchbearer dropped his shovel. It thudded to the grass at the same moment he snapped up a flintlock pistol. He followed this up by glowering in imitation of his leader, though his own eyes lacked such brilliance.
"This is our good luck," the leader said. "We were having some difficulty finding his grave. You will lead us to it."
Salieri's mind raced. He watched the pistol trembling in the grave-robber's hand. "That," he said slowly, "will do you no good."
"You better do as he says," the other grave-robber offered, the squashed-down fellow, holding his dancing torch high. "When he gets into his moods..."
"You are aware," the Kapellmeister said, "that he was poor?"
"I won't ask you again."
"Very well. I suppose I could lead you there, but then you would have to sort through all the bodies."
There was a barely perceptible tilt of the head. "What do you mean?"
"A mass pit. That is his resting place. Sewn into a linen sack, borne there in a reusable coffin and buried with a good lot of company, twelve of them, I would say. As you guessed, I was there."
The leader locked his eyes on the Italian. "You had something to do with this, didn't you?" No reply. When he spoke again, his voice had an edge. "Did you do it to disgrace him, or to thwart us?"
Salieri returned glare for glare. "Perhaps it was the only way to protect him."
The leader's fists balled at his sides. "Do you know," he said hoarsely, "what you've done? How many citizens he'll consume? He won't stop with his family--" He turned toward the armed man. "Pimm?"
"Sir." Salieri kept his voice calm. "If you truly do believe in these 'vampires,' then you'd best quit the cemetery, as fast as you can, and never return."
The leader's breath puffed in and out. "Tell me what you mean."
"First, I mean to tell you you're insane. Second, think of all those deceased crowded together in the pit, like apples in a barrel. If Mozart is a vampire, as you claim, then doubtless he has risen up like smoke and now watches us. But not only himself. I'm sure he's been busy with the others, the bad apple infecting the rest, changing, twisting and poisoning them in the same manner he was changed, the sickness festering, a whole nest of spawning vampires. You seem to know well, sir, the harm that one such creature can do. What about a dozen? Rising up out of the earth, free to hunt, smelling and sensing us. One may float off to my right, another to the left, and perhaps Mozart himself is taking up his position directly over your head. Very soon we shall be surrounded. And not only this," Salieri continued in a low voice, "they must know what you've done to their brethren."
A snarl escaped the leader's lips. His hand shot out and snatched the pistol from Pimm. He aimed it at Salieri.
The Kapellmeister braced himself for the roar. Instead he heard a grinding of stone. Something moved in his upper vision and he glimpsed the statue, it was tipping over on its pedestal, caught by gravity, hurtling down. The leader and his men shouted, the pistol flashed with a bang and something hot grazed the right side of Salieri's head. He collapsed into blackness.
Salieri's eyes fluttered open.
Daylight had risen, the sun low in the east. He lay flat on the grass, the ground hard underneath. But now friendlier faces bent over him: Constanze Mozart, black-haired and diminutive, along with baby Franz in her arms, wrapped in a blanket. Seven-year-old Karl stooped beside her, hands on knees. Their voices must have awakened him. The side of his head throbbed.
"Signore Salieri?" Constanze was wide-eyed, and Karl looked on with a finger in his mouth. "Are you all right? Your head."
Struggling upright, Salieri felt where it hurt. Crusty, dried blood. "I don't believe it's too serious."
"What happened here?" Constanze asked. "Those men..." She pointed.
Salieri looked. Two crumpled men, battered and flattened as if trampled. They lay still and did not breathe.
He squeezed his eyes shut, opened them again. His head was still clearing. "The strangest thing. The statue--"
"The statue?" Constanze patted the baby.
Salieri had seen it topple, though not whatever had toppled it. Was it the wind? Was its perch unstable and waiting to give way? There was no way to know. But it was back on that perch now, standing tall as if nothing had happened.
"Sir?" She was studying him.
He shook his head. Looking around, he noticed he was sitting on a grave. He scrambled off of it and, helped by the widow, rose to his feet. The two adults and Karl regarded the wooden headstone that was part of this pauper's plot, and the name painted on it: WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART.
It is fortunate, Salieri thought, that they believed my little lie. And one of them escaped the fate of the others. He will undoubtedly spread the tale of the mass pit on streets, in taverns, and who knows how far it will spread.
Salieri saw his physician, had his head bandaged and returned to his Court Composer duties. The music in the wind ceased, and he never heard it again.