Short Story: Horror? Psychological Vampire Thing
I am alone. I am a part of the earth and the wood housing me within that earth and the darkness surrounding it all and nothing more. A worm winds its way through a rotted hole in a board and crawls over my arm and I reach out and grab it, bring it to my mouth. It explodes between my teeth but I get no pleasure from it. I still crave. I’m still alone.
My eyes fly open and I sit upright with a jerk. I’m twisted in my bedsheets. The candles are blazing; we never let them go out entirely. I untangle myself and stand and go to the corner, where a pile of blankets and pillows lie. Alexander and most of my “siblings” are there, dogpiled and fast asleep. I’ve tried to be one of the stubborn ones, insisting on keeping my own bed, but I understand now what brings us all to sleep beside each other. As I lay with them I can’t hear their heartbeats, there is no inhale or exhale of breaths, there is no body heat. But still I need to be there with them.
When I jerk awake again, Alexander is lying beside me. He is stroking my hair, like my mother did when I was very young, many ages ago. He looks at me with concern.
“You were crying out in your sleep,” he says quietly, so as not to wake the others.
“I dream I’m still in the ground,” I admit.
“It’s only a nightmare.”
“I wonder if maybe this is the dream, and I am really buried.”
His eyes change, concern to sadness, but he smiles at me. “I assure you that you are right here with me.”
I stare into his dark eyes, wanting to believe him. “How did you find me?”
“I go to the cemeteries and listen for heartbeats. A vampire that has been buried for long will have a slowed heart with the slightest sound, but if one listens well they can be heard.”
“Are most vampires like me then?”
He shakes his head against the blanket. “No, most are like me. Strong.”
“Do they all dig up the weak ones?”
His eyes change again, glistening in the candlelight, but I can’t read them. “No, they are not like me in that.”
I take tentative steps into the broken-down empty stables and the woods outside the house, breathing deep the smell of old hay and pines. My broken stables. My pines. My woods. So different from the smell of the rotten oak of my coffin. I slowly learn about the others: Isis, who was found in Egyptian ruins; Nonna, whose headphones never leave her ears and who goes out with Alexander in the car to return with arms loaded with discs of music; Hamidi and Kiama, who were found mere miles from each other, probably spawned from the same vampire; the aptly named Fang, who tears into his meals ravenously and then cares gently for his terrariums of ants, spiders, and praying mantises, and still looks with wonder on whatever new insect Alexander gifts him with; Gratiana, who is the oldest save for probably Isis, and never speaks, and never does much of anything, even feeding slowly and deliberately. Though I do suspect she speaks to Alexander when no one else is around. And Josiah.
I ask Josiah what he is reading, and he holds up the spine for me to see, his left hand twitching as it always does. Of course, I don’t know it.
“You’ve been reading it since I came here,” I say. “Do you like it that much?”
“Not particularly,” he says. “It just take me a while to read anything. I can’t concentrate, and have to read each sentence several times.”
I nod, understanding. I am still plagued by thoughts that at any moment I might wake in my coffin.
Alexander calls us all downstairs, the sun about to rise. I do think that if he didn’t shepherd us, we would forget all about the sun and go up in flames. As I descend the stairs, he asks me if I’ve ever fired a gun before.
“A couple of times,” I say. “But I was a very poor shot.”
“You only need practice,” he says. “We will start at sunset. You are strong enough now to catch your own food.”
I had seen the others leave with their guns and bows and had heard the shots in the woods, but had never thought I would learn to hunt as well. I can’t imagine I can learn. I say so to Alexander.
He smiles at me in that reassuring way. “You have all the time in the world.”
When we wake he takes me outside. In the fading light of dusk I can see the target he’s put up in the yard. He shows me a rifle, how to hold it, how to not shoot myself in the foot. It is fully dark when he finally puts it in my hands.
“But I can’t see the target now,” I say.
He has me look through the scope, telling me it has night vision, and I’m as amazed as Fang with a new bug.
“Is this what you see at night?” I ask him.
“No, I see much clearer than that. But it will suffice for you.”
He has me practice, and I barely shoot the target at all. I want to toss the rifle onto the gravel and give up, but he tells me that I’m doing great and makes little corrections to my aim that I somehow throw off and he assures me again that I’m a great student.
Before we finish he hands me something else – a crossbow. I hold it as if it might bite me.
“I don’t know the first thing about crossbows,” I argue.
“You will learn,” he assures me, eternally patient with me. “You must learn. This is your defense against another vampire.”
“Why would a vampire attack me?”
“You may accidentally enter their territory. Many vampires are very territorial. One may enter your territory, and see you as a threat.”
I can’t help but smile at that. “I’m no threat. I can’t dig my way out of a grave.”
“They may not care,” he says.
He shows me how to load the thing, and as if to emphasize my point it takes every ounce of my strength to pull it back. After a bit of shooting practice we find I’m actually better at it than with the rifle, but not by much, and I’m winded by the effort of reloading it over and over. As a reward for my first day of hard work Alexander goes out and brings back a couple of humans, one of them all for me. Again, the blood is sweet and enchanting.
“Can’t we have human blood every night?” I ask breathlessly when I’m done.
“A human missing here and there won’t matter,” he tells me. “But crowds gone will be noticed. You can’t bring attention to yourself, or even to the possibility of yourself. That is why we travel. When this place might be too dangerous for us, we will move on.”
I look at him in shock. “This isn’t our territory?” I’m hideously disappointed. The little house and stables and woods are such a comfort to me, as if the place were a castle, as if it were a hole and I the peg. It fits me. It’s a part of me. The very thought of leaving it pains me.
“No, I’m sorry.” He looks to the others, cleaning themselves from their own feeding. “I wish I could give all of you a real home. But it would be far too dangerous to stay in one place for too long.”
“You want a home too, don’t you?”
He looks at me with such surprise, as if no one else had ever realized it and said it aloud. Then his face softens. “The eight of you are all the home I need.”
I don’t understand. If he could have his own territory without us, why did he dig us up? Why did he teach us to hunt even if we were so bad at it? Why did he bring food – food he caught, his food – when we couldn’t catch our own? This house and woods that I love so dearly could be his alone, for forever. I fall asleep trying to make sense of it.
He takes me out at dusk to teach me to lie still in the underbrush and watch for deer. This part comes easy; I know how to lie still. But when a deer passes and I shoot and miss, Alexander has to take it down for me. Again he tells me that I did well, that I will learn, and he lets me feed on his kill.
When we get back to the house, Josiah is just coming out of the woods as well. He holds neither rifle nor bow. He doesn’t need them. He is quick and strong like Alexander, but only in certain aspects. He has two rabbits in his left hand, and they kick and scream and twitch along with the spasms in his arm.
“What are those for?” I ask him as Alexander walks ahead of me and enters the house.
“Alexander told me to bring them for Gratiana,” he says. “She often can’t hunt.”
“But they’re your catches.”
He grins lopsidedly. “Yes. It’s odd, but it’s Alexander.”
I think of all the animals – even the humans – that Alexander has brought to us and told us to feed upon. His catches. For us. It makes no sense to me, or to Josiah, clearly. He brings them into the basement where Gratiana lies, weak as if she were just dug up days ago. Alexander is speaking quietly to her, stroking her hair like he does mine when I talk in my sleep. Josiah breaks the rabbits’ backs one by one and hands them over, and Alexander helps Gratiana feed, holding the twitching bodies to her lips.
It’s all so strange.