Oil portraits of dignitaries and ancient politicians had been hung in a boastful collection on the encircling walls, a burgundy dark enough to impart arrogance to the unsure and confidence to those of likened wills, the marble pillars and brass railings emitting an astounding gleam from all sides, and Stewart felt assured to be in the proper place.
It had only taken him a few minutes to find it…
Two others were waiting, another man and a woman, sitting on oaken chairs with cushioned seats. The woman’s blonde hair reminded him of wheat, her face evoking the sun rising over the fields. She didn’t say anything to him, but seemed to be gauging his ability, his deftness, grinning slightly with her piercing green eyes.
The man, however, arose from the chair and held out his hand—a large fellow, with a full beard, of apparent Latin American heritage, perhaps Iberian. “Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” he said vestedly. “We’ll be with you in just a moment. Sarah here has had her appointment postponed for over an hour.”
“Oh?” Stewart replied. The man nodded, adjusting his charcoal-grey knit sweater vest, and gazed regretfully upon the woman, evidently another recruit seeking entry into the prestigious club.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to stand until it’s time for her to go in.” At the same moment a black woman in a black dress opened the large metal doors at the back of the hall, exchanging a brief communicative look with the man in the vest. He turned to smile at Stewart, his face showing not a hint of blush, and soon the engagement ensued—Stewart found himself awkwardly sitting in the second chair, still warm from the hour’s delay.
“Must be busy this time of year, eh?” Stewart asked the man, who had yet to retake the seat. The presumptive member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society again confirmed, and turned to select one of the pamphlets piled upon an end table of miniscule height.
He handed one to Stewart. It was a single folded page on thick glossy paper, showing a picture of Golden Gate Park and what seemed to be the large group photograph of a club gathering.
Stewart thanked him for the informative material, though he had already been well-versed regarding the scientific organization, from its four-hundred year history to speculation upon its upcoming plans and charity work.
“Oh, that sounds swell,” he mimicked eagerly, affecting himself to be naively unaware rather than firmly convinced of his own indubitable qualifications.
He had heard online, and more helpfully from a friend he knew on a forum, the club only spoke in official terms behind closed doors to facilitate for its members more liberated discussion. Great intellectuals had been initiated, and great intellectuals had been made.
It said so in the pamphlet.
Laughter came from the closed door, and Stewart tried not to think how it would be very nice if Sarah, the girl before him, would also be admitted, so he could get to know her more. As if getting accepted would need more benefits to persuade, to pique!
This was the place to be, said them all, what one must do in order to become a full-fledged leader of progressive society. And Stewart had always wanted to be a vampire.
He scanned over the paper, and even the alluring language came off to him as exclusive. Stewart could not hold back his smile any longer, and the other man noticed.
“I’ve actually read your file, my good man,” he said, stroking his thick hairy chin. Stewart awaited the completed placation and once they had met eyes the club member continued by whispering, bending his head closer to him, “I think we would be fools not to let you in!”
His heart kicked and his fist clenched in excitement. Stewart’s smile grew, showing brightened teeth, and he could only mutter, “Thank you. I am a big admirer of what you do here.”
“Is that so?” asked the man, finding a kindred spirit.
“Yes,” Stewart answered. “I think this is exactly where I want to take my skills. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help and contribute to the club’s furthering success.”
The older man nodded, smiling also. “We’ll see what we can do with you.”
Thoughts of the future flowed through Stewart’s field of vision, unable to be contained. The high class society, a company of gentlemen and the finest edge of female colleagues, using advanced techniques to extract untarnished hemoglobin and innumerable additional nutrients which had been enabling their superior race to thrive without the brutal need for harvesting, enslaving, or killing anyone, or anything, not even pigs!
Stewart knew all this. And he knew he belonged here, in this association of immortals moving the world forward. Especially if people like Sarah would be among them, and he withheld the rushing desire to envision her transformed, unleashed, beyond the standards of commonplace beauty.
It would be truly empowering to finally live and work as he wanted, and here was the goal, at last!
The door opened and the secretary kindly said his name. “Mister Unitas? They’ll see you now.”
His heart quickened, perhaps for the last time as a feeble primate, and the man in the vest wished him good luck while Stewart walked to the door, buttoning the top button of his coat.
“We’re sorry to make you wait,” she noted effectively. The secretary, upon closer vicinity, was also an ostensible initiate. The women showed signs almost instantaneously, and more dramatically than the men, according to his research. Stewart worried his new appearance would be overshadowed by those of fellow neonates. It could take decades before the distinction of his vampiric training could be portrayed by looks alone. But he marched on, nonetheless.
“Right this way,” she said, smirking, and Stewart followed her to a set of double doors, which he hardly saw open before he realized he was inside the room.
Against the opposite wall sat four elders in shining judicial robes behind a normal white plastic table. Stewart made sure to catch each of their gazes once the doors had been closed behind him.
But there was a fifth individual standing next to the door, and a sixth. Stewart’s pulse fluttered once he recognized the golden-grain hair, now bolstering the pale mystique of her form and face alike. The green eyes sank into him, as if they were aimed and fired.
The other member stood well higher than the average man, meaning he must have been a guard or security worker of some kind, but Stewart didn’t know why Sarah remained in the room when her interview had hardly preceded his.
“Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” said one of the elders, one of three balding men with stonework cheeks and cropped hair of glistening pearly silver. He smiled magnanimously, but Stewart felt his voice carried with it no trace of impression.
“We’re sorry,” the speaker continued, “but we are afraid we can cannot offer you a position with our organization at this time.”
When Stewart had just begun reeling he noticed the guard and Sarah both approaching from behind, from opposite sides, and before he could make his case the larger man’s grip had smothered his mouth, quelling all protest, and the youngest member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society revealed freshly protruded canine teeth before jabbing them into Stewart’s neck, playfully pausing while their eyes were partially locked, decisive jowls vicing quivering flesh. She pulled back sharply and his liveliness gushed away for her to drink, to serve as an irrefutable pledge of loyalty.
As she sucked from the struggling neck the others in the room cheered and clapped, remembering the blissful intensity of their own first kills. The lone matron of the panel reached for the appropriate ink stamp and markedly punched it upon the girl’s papers, printing sternly in bold crimson letters.
Credit: Edmund Gray-Graham
By Christina Durner
The screams were like windchimes stuck in a storm. At first, Della had thought it was the gale-force winds of the blizzard until she heard the weeping coming from her front lawn. By its sound, she could tell that it was not an infant nor was it an adolescent, but the wailing of a child that was about seven or eight years old.
She lay in bed listening to it, afraid to go to the window to see what was causing such anguish for the girl. Finally, she looked down. The lawn was empty but for a few Christmas decorations that were steadily disappearing beneath the falling snow. There was a trail of footprints, kid-sized, on the walkway leading up to her front porch. The howling continued, but now it was accompanied by the sound of frantic pounding on her front door.
Della saw no immediate danger. She was not the type of person to place herself in harm’s way to help a stranger, child or adult. No one ever bothered to help her when she needed it. Why should she put herself out for anyone else? But she wasn’t so cold-hearted as to leave a weeping babe frightened and alone on her front porch during a blizzard. She’d been hoping that one of her neighbors might have interceded and she could just go back to bed. But the cul-de-sac was almost abandoned for the holiday. Everyone else seemed to be visiting with family and friends, two things that Della lacked these days.
It appeared to be just her and Sammy, her drunk of a neighbor who lived across the street, left in the Hazelwood Valley community during this festive season. Neither of them was particularly attractive, Della being in her late-forties and possessing both a spare tire and a thin mustache that she didn’t bother to pluck anymore. Sammy had been a drunk for most of his life, and his appearance revealed it plainly. Sporting a beer gut and a perpetually red face, he still found his way into Della’s bed on the occasions that she was feeling particularly lonely.
She wished that she had invited him over earlier that night for a little Christmas Eve celebration. He wasn’t all that great in the sack nor was he much of a conversationalist, especially after a few boilermakers. He was a quiet man when he was sober, and drinking seemed to quiet him to the point of silence and often slumber. But she would feel more at ease having someone else answer the door. Just as well, Della thought to herself. If he could manage to sleep through all that screaming, then what help would he be here and now. She would just have to take care of the kid on her own.
As she opened her door, Della was assaulted by a burst of frigid air. The biting ice and snow slashed across her face, a sensation so intensely raw that it burned on impact. Blinded momentarily, she half expected to be plowed over by the child if the sound of her crying was anything to go by. But nothing happened. Della’s vision was blurred, her eyes running as a result of the harsh breezes that assaulted her. She wiped at them fiercely and finally managed to regain her sight. What she saw before her gave her goosebumps more fervent than any arctic blast ever could.
On the porch, a small, almost gnome-like girl sat crouching against the doorway. The child wasn’t dressed at all for the weather. She donned a short-sleeved white cotton dress decorated with holly leaves and berries. Barefooted and wearing no jacket, she was shockingly sallow, no doubt from the cold squall-like winds that continued to assault them. Her beautiful pale face was accentuated by two pools of ice blue eyes. The girl reminded Della of that nursery rhyme she used to like as a kid. “Monday’s child is fair of face,” she recalled, gazing upon the poor little darling at her doorstep.
But despite her angelic beauty, the sight of the girl was enough to make Della’s stomach churn with anxiety and terror. The little girl’s pigtailed blonde hair was striped with blood. Her alabaster cheeks smeared with it, as was her festive clothing. Streaks of blood on her face had been mottled from streams of tears that continued to cascade down her weary face. The cries stopped the moment that Della had taken notice of her.
Doe-eyed, she stared at the middle-aged woman; her baby blues glassy and slightly bloodshot from all the weeping. Della had been so shocked by the child’s appearance that she’d lost the ability to react. She stood staring at her, mouth wide open, hands wringing nervously.
“Please, may I come in?” the little girl asked sweetly. “I need help.”
The strangled soft voice seemed to reach Della through her state of consternation, and she was finally able to find her voice.
“Of course, you can come in sweetheart,” she cooed as she lifted the small child into her arms and hauled her into the house.
As she carried her into the dimly lit living room, Della kicked the door shut with a bunny-slippered foot then placed her down on the tattered old sofa.
“Let me call the police so that we can help you, darling,” she suggested.
“No!” The child’s sudden outcry startled Della causing her to drop the phone to the floor. “Please, mam. Please let me get warm first. I’m so cold.”
The tone in her voice broke Della’s heart. She could afford a few minutes to allow her to warm up. The child didn’t seem too badly injured from what she could tell, and if she were honest with herself, she was happy to have the company.
“Ok, we’ll wait. Let me get you a blanket and some hot chocolate, honey. You are completely safe here with me. I want you to know that,” Della assured her. “But in a few minutes, I’ll need you to tell me what happened. I’ll give you some time to get your bearings.”
“Thank you, mam,” the little girl replied delicately.
“Please, call me Della,” she requested, smiling warmly at the girl in an effort to put her mind at ease.
“My name is Christabel,” the child said through chattering teeth.
Della made quick work of wrapping Christabel in a blanket and proffering her an enormous serving of hot chocolate. She hadn’t bothered with the marshmallows, thinking that they would only slow down the warming process for her unexpected visitor. But she did serve it to her in an oversized mug that was fashioned to look like Frosty the Snowman. Christabel held it gingerly in her tiny hands, taking dainty sips from it while Della flicked on the switch of her gas fireplace.
Glancing at her phone, she noticed that there was no service. This storm seemed to be causing a great deal of trouble tonight. She was glad, for it meant that she had a little extra time with another human being. Was she really that selfish, she wondered? Had she become so greedy for pleasant human interaction that she was happy for the inability to call the police to assist and injured kid? She tried not to think about it.
“That’s better. Isn’t it?” she asked Christabel.
“Much better. Thank you, Miss Della.”
Noticing that the child seemed more comfortable around her now, she posed her question gently, hoping that it wouldn’t alarm her.
“Christabel, would you mind if I looked you over, just to make sure that you aren’t hurt badly.”
She looked at Della appraisingly before nodding her consent. Della sat beside her on the couch, looking through Christabel’s hair for any sign of a head injury. There was none. She was stumped. After searching Christabel’s bare arms and legs she was unable to find a single scratch.
“Are you hurt somewhere on your back or your belly?” she questioned.
“Nope,” Christabel answered. As if that single word explained everything that Della needed to know.
“Then where are you bleeding from?”
The child stared straight ahead, taking swig after swig of her hot chocolate before she answered.
“It’s not mine.”
“Were you in some kind of accident? Was your mommy or daddy hurt in a car crash or something?”
“No, I don’t have any family,” Christabel said matter-of-factly.
Della’s patience was wearing thin. She enjoyed having someone to talk to, but not when every question that she asked was answered without actually being answered.
“Then where did all that blood come from?”
“The man across the street,” Christabel responded. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead by now.”
Della’s breath hitched. Sammy wasn’t that great of a companion, but she never wanted to see anything bad happen to him. Knowing him, he’d probably gotten into his bottle of Christmas cheer earlier than usual and fallen down the concrete steps of his so called “wine cellar.” Maybe he was only hurt.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I killed him,” the little girl confessed.
Della’s blood ran cold. For the second time, tonight, she found herself unable to respond to the horror that had been placed at her feet. This child couldn’t know what she was saying. Maybe she was a relative of Sammy’s and had stumbled upon him after he’d taken a bad fall. That had to be it. She must be in shock. Christabel continued to stare into the distance and drink her hot chocolate.
“You don’t mean that, Christabel.”
“Yes, I do.” She drained the last of her drink. “That’s good stuff, not what I’m used to drinking but tasty all the same.”
She tossed the blanket over the back of the couch and stretched before looking Della in the eye.
“It was nice of you to invite me in,” she began. “It’s so hard to find people who are willing to open their doors to a stranger on Christmas Eve. They’re normally busy with their families.”
Della pushed herself backward on the couch, confused and disconcerted by the adult quality that Christabel’s voice had taken.
“You know, you and Sammy were the only ones here tonight. Too bad you weren’t spending the evening together. That would’ve made things so much easier,” she continued. “But good meals often take time and preparation wouldn’t you agree, Della?”
Della shrieked in utter panic as Christabel’s top canine teeth elongated right before her eyes. As she struggled to get up, the child let out a ferocious snarl.
Quick as lightening she was on her, draining every drop of blood from her portly little body. As the last of her life bled out of her, Della was filled with different emotions. Surprise, fear, but above all else a sense of gratitude that her miserable life would soon be coming to an end. And she was thankful that she didn’t have to spend another Christmas alone.
Most vampires fed on any human they could find. But in her eyes, Christabel performed a service. She only fed on the lonely ones who were beyond all hope.
She’d watched them from a distance and studied their patterns. Many of them were self-destructive drunks anyway, like Sammy across the lane. Others were suicidal or prayed for a release from the loneliness. Like poor Della who was lying on the floor. Poor Della who proved that, alas, no good deed goes unpunished. Christabel in her own way was helping them by putting them out of their misery. And if it meant that she got a nice hot meal in the process, then all the better.
Licking the last of the blood from her lips, Christabel raided the kitchen. On her way out, she stuffed all of Della’s hot chocolate packets into her dress pockets. They’d make a fantastic dessert after she finished up her dinner in the next town over. Partaking in ordinary food and drink was uncommon practice but not entirely unheard of for her kind. Surely, she would be invited inside once more. They always invited her in, the lonely hearts. Especially, at Christmas time.
Credit: Christina Durner
The first account – it was in a warm September
A month still haunted by the saddening winter.
If well I remember, the winds still lashed
The village where, upon dusk, dogs barked
The place where, until dawn, no soul wandered.
That dame, I first saw her in a mere instant
When I uttered, abruptly, my fearful shout of horror:
Blue the irises of the visage whose lips in scarlet
Bled my own bare neck in a silent hot ardour.
The nights gelid were born with that silhouette
Only the naïve moonlight touched the parapet
When under the Victorian garb came that brunette.
It was a beautiful cadaver, of a hair so flourished
Of a woman whose beautiful face, though dead,
Whose vibrant death, almost plainly alive,
On my pulsing blood relentlessly fed.
The last night – it was a pure October of warmth.
Cloudy was my gaze, bohemian of those cold lips
That anaemic turned my heart that burned – of love.
And so the last kiss my lips profoundly touched
And she did not bring death – distinct was my fate.
The death, so vivid, came as a cursed blessing
Which I have, my dead God, accepted so straight.
Ever since then, damned and accursed I observe
The fine thread of the sin which is life post-death.
Even if from the shallow graves, quiet and inert
We surge – us both – after each passing sunset
And even if then death equally us embrace
If our diseased life only lives after twilight
Each October to the village we return for more.
Life more than enough to keep the flesh alive
And death always dead, but that dies no more.
Credit: Fernando N.
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Credit: Brent Sims