Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
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