Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
The wind was blistering cold, the kind of wind that would pierce any clothing you happen to be wearing no matter how thick. Something about cold air makes sound travel further, especially high-pitched screaming. Even today, with our substantial medical advances, giving birth can be quite a trial. A couple of centuries ago, however, giving birth was nothing short of agony, if not torment. Surviving the ordeal was essentially flipping a coin. The women of the village were of course quite experienced with this particular problem. With a village this small almost every woman there was a midwife. They know the pain, they know the screams, this was different.
The usual screams were screams of pain, screams of longing for the peril to be over, screams of effort and stress. This was different. These screams were desperate, urgent. These screams weren’t ones of longing but of craving for death. Screams that meant death is far more preferable than one more moment of this. The village women were pale, stealing glances at each other hoping for some reassurance that this is normal, none found it. The soon to be mother was writhing on the ground, kicking away any soil underneath her feet. The sweat dripped off her, mixing with her tears. Her teeth were all but eroded from the grinding. She was surrounded by women standing a few feet away out of, equally, respect and fear.
Finally, it was born.
The village woman standing nearest ended up with it in her arms. A short scream escaped her lips but got stuck in her throat as her she froze. Another village woman knelt down beside the new mother. She brushed the hair out of the new mother’s face. The new mother was no longer screaming. She was no longer writhing. She was no longer breathing. The stark silence that replaced the desperate screaming set in immediately; everyone was scared to breathe. The woman kneeling next to the new mother realised the silence and looked up to find that all the other women in the room were staring, horror struck, at the new born. The woman holding her was locked into her gaze, trapped in it. In the sudden quiet any sound was audible, so when the woman whispered ‘Julia’, the sound travelled far. To the unknowing, it might seem as if the woman just gave the new born girl a name. The villagers in the room knew, however, that Julia was the name of the woman holding the child. She just whispered her name to it as if…answering a question.
The other women all stared at her, unsure of what to do. Julia was staring at it, barely breathing, not moving. The women all simultaneously became aware that Julia’s arms were becoming blue. The child was cold, ice cold. That wasn’t the only thing that made the women terrified to approach. They’ve seen many children being born, and all of them cried. All of them were confused. All of them had their eyes barely open and were flailing their legs and arms that they haven’t learned how to use yet. This child, this thing, was quiet, calm. Her eyes were locked into Julia’s. Her tiny chest was rising and falling slowly. Her body was still, her legs straight and her arms by her side. While Julia was gazing deep into her eyes, the other women were actively avoiding them. You don’t have to take a glance for longer than a second to see what they were. Pitch black. Two black glassy eyes were now staring at Julia. It won’t be hard to get lost in them. They seemed to be an endless pit, an abyss, in which Julia’s mind now wandered.
‘Julia. Julia snap out of it! Julia!’ A shove to the shoulder and Julia’s head snapped upward. She stared into her sister’s eyes and didn’t recognize her for a second. Realisation slowly flowed into her face and she looked at the room and the women around her, as if she had forgotten where she was. ‘Julia.’ Her sister, Mary, said again and Julia looked at her, now fully awake. ‘You take it. You take it into the forest, and you leave it there. You come back without it, you hear?’
‘Julia, do you understand?’
‘Yes.’ Julia whispered.
‘Julia, do not look into her eyes. Whatever you do, do not look into her eyes again. Do you understand?’
‘Yes.’ Julia whispered and nodded. The other women regarded her, holding their breath at her every answer. They were all thinking the same thing. They don’t think Julia could be trusted to do it, but each of them would rather be found dead than do it themselves. They put their faith in Julia, and prayed to God they won’t regret it. Mary took her by the arm and lead her outside of the tiny hovel now belonging to a dead woman. She nudged Julia toward the forest.
‘Go.’ She said and Julia listened. She walked, carrying a block of ice in her arms, and didn’t look back. Most importantly, she didn’t look down. She knew it was still staring at her, the new born from hell. She could feel its eyes boring into her. The thing about completely black eyes is that you can’t be sure where they’re looking, so it feels like they’re always watching. Julia entered the forest. The baby seemed to grow heavier, the urge to look into its eyes seemed to grow stronger. It still did not cry, and the quiet around Julia was eerie, like the entire forest was holding its breath. Thin puffs of vapor erupted from Julia’s lips when she breathed. That would explain the quiet, no animal would come out in this cold. The wind brushed past her, but in comparison to the new born in her arms anything felt warm. The tall trees around her creaked as they swayed in the wind. To Julia it felt like even the trees was trying to get away from her.
She was now deep in the forest. She didn’t want to leave it near the village where the folk might hear it cry. Although hearing it cry would almost be a relief. The calm, the silence was gnawing away at Julia’s sanity. In front of her she saw a stump, and thought it would be an apt resting place for a demon spawn. She walked forward and laid the new born on it. The moment her skin wasn’t touching it warmth flooded, as if the blood dared to circulate again. She felt immense relief. It was heavy. It didn’t weigh on her arms, it weighed on her entire body. She almost quivered and realized how tired she was, as if all the energy was drained from her. She took a deep breath and relaxed. This was when she let her guard down. Her eyes reopened and, unfortunately, was facing in the direction of the new born. Her eyes flicked toward the two black holes in her vision, and there they stayed. Julia’s body went stiff and she continued staring.
‘Yes.’ She whispered suddenly, her thin wavering voice echoing through the silence.
‘I don’t know.’ She whispered again after a few seconds of silence.
‘I will.’ She replied and stepped forward. The child parted its lips to reveal two short fangs. Julia reach forward, placed her index finger on one of the fangs, and applied pressure. A tiny trickle of blood erupted from Julia’s finger. Julia did not wince, she did not even register the pain. Julia retracted her arm, and her body relaxed as if released. Her eyes finally blinked and darted around, because they were allowed. She spun on her heel, and ran.
The women of the village awaited her return with worried faces. A sigh of relief swept over them as Julia emerged from the forest trees. A greater sigh came when they could clearly see there was no child with her. When Julia came near her sister spoke.
‘Is it done?’ She asked. Julia nodded, but said nothing. She was not in the mood for talking. In fact, all of them wanted to put this day behind them and erase it from their minds. The sun was kissing the horizon and in their minds, all of them decided to crawl in bed early.
In the dead of night, Julia awoke with a start. She shot upright, her body was drenched in sweat. She felt as if something was slipping away. She kept dreaming that she was holding on the herself, a mirror image of her, that was drifting away. She tried her best to grip, to hold on as tightly as possible, but her image was being pulled away by a force much greater than her. How frightening, she thought, losing yourself…losing what you are. Something is happening to me and I don’t know what. In her mind she knew she should be frightened, terrified even, but in her heart she wasn’t. She was feeling…numb. Her quick breathing shortly went away, as if a vestige of a former self. She laid down again, calm as ever, and started dreaming of much less frightening things.
It was Thursday, the men would be gathering in the old cottage for a game of Panquist and mead. Mary’s husband kissed her on the cheek and set off to the edge of the village. She thought she might visit Julia and leave the laundry for tomorrow. Julia, who is yet to marry, is still living in her parent’s home. She stayed there after they perished to the bloody flux. She didn’t want to talk about the previous day, she didn’t want to think about it. They told the men nothing and they wistfully went about their lives. The women had a burden to bear, and Mary did not want to bear it alone. Perhaps she and Julia could have some mead themselves to calm the nerves.
She placed the unwashed laundry back in her home and headed toward Julia’s home. She expected Julia outside, tending to the vegetables or doing some laundry of her own. There is always laundry to be done, especially when you always have to wear five layers. However, when she drew near she noticed the door was closed and the windows shut with the curtains drawn. The whole world grew a blue tinge as the sun finally dipped behind the trees. She walked to the door and banged on it with her fist.
‘Julia? Are you home?’ She called but got no reply. She kept banging until she heard the door being unlocked. The door slowly creaked open and she made her way inside. ‘It’s so dark in here.’ She said as her eyes struggled to focus on the silhouette of Julia.
‘I like it dark.’ Julia replied in a slow whisper.
‘Julia, are you ill? What is the matter?’ She asked cautiously.
‘Thirsty.’ Came Julia’s reply.
What an odd way Julia was acting. Her eyes finally adjusted and she stared at Julia, who was staring back at her with dull eyes. ‘Was your hair always black?’ She whispered and stepped toward Julia, who’s hair was obstructing her face. She didn’t leave her home today, she was still in her nightgown. Mary reached to brush the hair out of her eyes when Julia’s head snapped forward. She bared her teeth and tried biting her sister’s fingers. Mary withdrew her hand with a short yelp and took several steps backward. ‘Julia! What in the devil’s name…’
‘Come.’ Julia said. Her eyes were no longer dull, but glowed like fire. She bared her teeth and that’s when her sister saw it, fangs. Julia hid fangs beneath her lips. She turned and ran. She shot through the door and into the sudden dark night toward the old cottage where she knew her husband was. She felt Julia gaining on her. She expected at any moment to feel Julia’s hand wrap around her throat, to feel her fangs dig into her. She risked a look backward, and saw nothing. Julia wasn’t right behind her. Julia was nowhere she could see. She kept on running and threw open the door of the old cottage. The four men sitting around the table started at the sound.
‘She’s coming! She’s coming and she’s going to kill me!’
‘Mary? What’s going on? Who’s coming?’ replied her husband.
‘It’s Julia! She’s gone mad! She’s not Julia anymore, she wants to kill me, she’ll kill us all!’ She screamed. She didn’t know how she knew, but she saw more than a person in Julia’s eyes. She saw a world. A world filled with fire. A world drenched in blood. Through Julia’s eyes she saw a terrible future and a will stronger than any to make it come to pass. In that moment she understood that her sister was lost. Only the fire remained.
The men didn’t know why, but they believed her. Her fear radiated throughout the room and they felt it. Ominousness filled the air; everyone’s hair stood on end. She closed the door behind her and ran to the arms of her husband. The men had stood up from their game and stared at the door expectantly. It has been long speculated that every living being has a sense of doom. Some part of them knows that they are going to die. It’s an easy enough feeling to shake off, telling yourself you’re just being silly or superstitious usually does the trick. Couple this feeling with overwhelming fear however, and it is undeniable. They could feel their last seconds ticking away. They could feel the last of the grains starting to fall. All of them knew they were about to die.
The door burst open. The hinges snapped like hair and the heavy wooden door crashed to the ground. A startled cry escaped from everyone in the room. Nothing stood behind the door. They kept staring at the empty space of the doorframe and the night beyond, as if willing something to appear. Did she come in? Is she still outside? They couldn’t tell. The men opted to arm themselves with whatever they could find. One grabbed a candlestick, another a sword that hung from the wall. One found a blunt axe standing in the corner. All the last man could grab in his panic was a butter knife that lay on the dining table. They huddled together and stared at the door, awaiting some terror to step through. None of them noticed the window opening behind them.
Cold hands closed over the mouth of the axe-wielding man. The others felt a gush of wind. They turned around to find an empty spot where their friend once stood. A shrill cry came from Mary before her hands could catch her mouth. The silence after the cry made it easier to hear a dripping sound. They all turned to the door once again to see a pool of blood gathering on the floor. Ripples travelled through the puddle as blood dripped from above. All their eyes drifted upwards in unison until they saw her sitting on one of the beams above.
Her eyes were closed. Her nails dug into the side and shoulder of the missing man. Her teeth were sunk into his neck. Blood flowed over his chest and down his arm. All of them could hear her rhythmic swallowing and her soft moans of satisfaction. She pulled his body closer, pushing it into herself as she relieved him of his blood. After a few seconds she opened up her eyes and stared directly at the three men, and a woman that used to be her sister. She released the man and he fell to the floor. A loud thud and the crack of a neck rang through the room as he hit the ground. His eyes were open wide and glazed over. An expression of terror was now permanently etched onto his face. A symphony of gasps and cries erupted as the body came to rest before them. Julia swung her feet down. She hung from the beam by the tips of her fingers before gracefully dropping to the floor.
None of them were sure they heard the faintest sound as she came down. Her movements were fluid, smooth as silk. Her every action was certain and precise. If their hearts could chill any further, it would’ve. Whatever she was, they knew she wasn’t human, not anymore. The way she moved, the way she stared at them, it screamed abnormal. Even her eyes, they never saw it dart around, they just realized that it wasn’t staring at the same place as before. The man with the sword stood in front, a wordless decision by the others that he didn’t agree with. When confronted with horror you only have two options, fight or flight. When said horror is standing between you and the door, those options are significantly reduced. His sweaty hands gripped the sword and he charged.
He swung the sword from high, then from the side, then back again. Julia watched the sword coming and stepped out of the way long before it even reached her. Her eyes followed the sword effortlessly as it was swung wildly at her. Her feet stepped slowly around the man who was desperately trying to slice her, but he was woefully outmatched. The man gripped tight once more and swung for her neck. To his surprise she didn’t move out of the way. When the sword came to a sudden stop near her neck he thought he had lodged the sword into her throat, but his joy was short-lived. His eyes just weren’t fast enough to see her arm move. Once his eyes had time to focus he could see that she held the tip of the sword between two fingers. She caught it, like an insignificant bug.
While it looked like she enjoyed the dance for a few seconds, as if testing her newfound abilities, she was done with this. Her free arm shot out and three fingers crashed into his chest and pierced his heart. He tried to scream in pain but his lungs filled with blood, so it came out as gurgled gasping. He collapsed to the ground, leaving only the butter knife wielding gentleman and her once sister. She fixated on Mary, recognition in her eyes. The remaining man charged at her. She didn’t even blink as she swatted him aside, her eyes never leaving her sister. He crashed through a table and hit the far wall.
Mary stumbled back, fell over her feet, and pressed her back against the wall. Her feet and hands scraped over the dusty floor as she tried to get as far away from what used to be her sister as possible. Julia walked toward her, slowly, deliberately. She knelt down before Mary and pried her hands from her face.
‘Who are you?’ Julia asked. Mary’s face was cascading with tears, but she could still see the shock in her eyes. It was Julia’s voice, but it was calmer and deeper than she’d ever heard it. She just killed men without blinking, and she was more composed than she’d ever been.
‘It’s me. Mary. I’m your sister.’ She whispered, trying her best to keep her teeth from clattering.
‘No. Not anymore.’ Julia replied after a few seconds. She clasped one hand around the side of her Mary’s neck. Mary went stiff and closed her eyes, bracing for the worst. Julia slowly stood up, bringing her sister with her. Mary held her breath. The pain from being lifter by her neck distracted from the fact that her feet were now dangling in the air. Julia, carrying her sister with one hand, brought her to her lips. She sunk her fangs into her neck. Blood erupted from Mary and filled Julia’s mouth. She waited until her mouth was full before swallowing, feeling the warmth run down her throat and fill her belly. She drained her sister, rhythmically filling her mouth with blood before swallowing. Her eyes were closed, and her skin changed from a pale white to a healthy pink with every swallow. She was so locked into the moment she did not notice the man getting to his feet near the side wall.
The man slowly got up and tried to stand on shaky legs. He knelt down to pick up his trusty butter knife. He slowly started walking toward Julia, his legs getting more solid with every step. Julia finally dropped what used to be her sister. Mary came to rest on the ground, cold, stiff, eyes glazed over. Julia turned to the man and watched him approach. He had no other recourse, so he just kept going. Julia did not move. She still wanted to test out some of her new abilities. The man lunged forward and stabbed the butter knife into her chest. She stood and took it. The man stumbled back and stared at this thing with a knife protruding out of the centre of her chest, smiling at him.
An innocuous tool, a butter knife. Although it should be noted that this was back in the time when silverware was actually made out of silver. Julia took a confident step forward, a ravenous smile on her blood-soaked lips. Her next step was not so confident. Her step wavered. Her smile dropped. She glanced down at the butter knife still nestling in her chest. A sizzling sound was getting louder by the second. A thin trail of smoke rose from the wound. Ash replaced her flesh and poured out of her. Her knees buckled and she stumbled. Her face was twisting in shock and agony. The stab felt like a pinch, this felt like torture. An orange glow came from within her as the sizzling grew louder and the smoke got thicker. She desperately yanked the butter knife out of herself, but it was too late. The orange glow grew more intense. Her chest was slowly becoming an ash-filled crater. As the pain reached its peak she let out a deep roar filled with ash and smoke. Julia fell forward and her body scattered as she hit the ground. Her torso dissolved into a mountain of ash as the glow spread to the rest of her body. In a matter of seconds there was nothing of Julia left.
The man stared in awe. Something he didn’t understand happened to something he couldn’t comprehend and he didn’t know what to make of it. Regardless, he felt relieved. The monster, that bore a striking resemblance to a woman called Julia, was now dead. He saw his friends get slaughtered right in front of his eyes. Even now his shoes were drenched in their blood pooling on the floor. He felt traumatized, yet relieved. At least it’s over now; the monster is dead. After a few minutes of staring around the room, trying to come to grips with his surroundings, he headed for the door. He didn’t know what he would tell the town’s folk. There would be no way he could tell the story truthfully. There would be no way he could make them understand the horrors he witnessed, but they would never have to face the horrors themselves, and of that he felt proud.
A hand clasped around his ankle.
He yelled before he could stop himself and looked down. Dull eyes were looking back up at him. A man, his friend, the first one to be taken. He was staring up at him, his hand holding on to the man’s ankle with an iron grip. No matter how much he shook and twisted his leg, he could not get him to release. His body was writhing, as if settling into itself. His arm, which bent to the side and had bone sticking out of the skin, unbent itself and healed. The man could hear his broken jaw snap back into place. Finally the man could speak.
“Thirsty.” Was all he said before his mouth shot open and bit into the man’s calf.
From outside a scream could be heard. A scream that was stopped short by a loud crack. The village could hear none of this though. The last scream of the man who almost stopped it, but could not.
The rise had begun.
CREDIT : Hugo