The staircase was narrow, the stone damp beneath my feet as I descended. The candle flickering in my hand cast a faint light; I scarcely needed it. I knew which way to go.
Flat wet echoes rang out as I crossed the cellar floor. This was a part of the house servants dared not enter, and as I brushed aside a cobweb, I reconsidered the lack of housekeeping. A good cleaning and scrubbing would do us all good.
But it was not to be. She preferred things this way, and so it was.
Myself, I preferred different accommodations. Apartments filled with soft linens, rich tapestries and roaring fires, amid silver trays and libraries of books, my own quarters were tucked away upstairs, high above the great halls; halls now standing empty, for we had few visitors.
It was only us two, and a handful of household staff.
And truthfully, we had a difficult time keeping those in employ. It was the stable boy, I’m sure, that started the rumours.
A handsome, dark-eyed young man with broad muscle and an easy smile – but, it was not meant to be. He was concerned about my wellbeing; and although I reassured him repeatedly, he asked too much.
Too many questions, too many demands, spilling too many words into the countryside; tall tales no one dared believe, but still –
It was a relief, one might think, when things were cut short.
Things came to a head after the birth of a foal, a fine, hearty creature that took its first trembling steps toward its mother, and then nursed with great enthusiasm. The stable boy stood watch, and then became perplexed when the creature fell ill. Even the head groom was concerned, but, he had seen many things in his time, and he was willing to let it go.
But the stable boy, when he entered the stalls amid the screams of the mare, and then peered over the boards to see hay soaked with blood and the foal lying outstretched, its neck bent in an unnatural angle, and throat torn open –
It was the shock that did it to him.
I’m sure of it. But no matter now, it is done.
So, perhaps the rumours were not entirely started by him, but he rekindled them, stories that were long told about us – this castle and its inhabitants.
These stories, as strange as they may be, refuse to die.
Holding my dress in one hand to avoid dragging it through a puddle and balancing the candle with the other, I shook my head at the memory. He was simply one of many.
Perhaps one might say, those stories persisted with good reason, for strange things do happen in these parts; but when she heard of it, her vengeance was swift, and the stable boy was seen no more.
The head groom knew better than to ask questions, and he quietly assumed the burden of his former charge.
In times of quiet, I found myself missing the stable boy’s slow smile, his muscled arms, and the softness of his embrace – but, better not to think of such things.
Crossing over stone tiles, I pressed my hand to the heavy oak door; its timbers older than the all centuries combined, and brought to this place by her people so many years ago.
As the door eased open noiselessly, I heard her stir, the rustle of silk bedding. She was awake.
“Is it time, Niashia, my sweet?” her voice was both rusty and pure, young and old – a voice that had seen time throughout the millennia.
“Yes, the night draws near,” pushing the door open, I leaned inside. My candle wavered, and then flame leaped, as though caught in a draft.
Then the candle went out.
Inky blackness surrounded me, darkness so heavy I could touch it as though the shadows were a fine cloth. I stood, waiting, my ears straining. A faint rustle of her silken coverlet sliding to the floor, and then silence.
“Must we do things this way?” I stood trembling, waiting for what comes next.
“Niashia,” her voice whispered beside my ear, “You know it’s easier for both of us.”
Warm breath on my neck belied her presence, I felt the pinpricks of sharp fangs about to close on me.
And then nothing.
As my eyes opened, I blinked, unable to tell if I was seeing or not, it was still dark. Her dress rustled beside me, and slowly, as dawn crept across the land, feeling gradually returned to by body. My fingers tingled, and I became aware of my hand in hers.
“You swooned, my dear,” her voice was beside me. “Are you unwell?”
“I am well enough. Shall we begin?”
“You have left a window open?”
“Yes, my bedroom.”
“Good.” I heard her smile in the dark.
The castle walls dissolved into ether; in the night sky faint stars shimmered behind transparent clouds, the moon was a dull glow. Dream-like images flickered before me, I felt myself lifting, twisting in the air, my hair streaming behind me and tangling in windswept knots.
My dress flapped in the winds, as I rose skyward.
I knew what was expected of me as I landed, my feet sliding on tiled roof tops, or sinking into the thatch of each house. Easing a window open with the silence that only came from practice, I crept inside, holding my dress to my body so it wouldn’t rustle and wake them.
For, it was so much easier when they were sleeping.
Still and immobile, I felt their dreams shift as they suddenly became aware of my presence. They could scarcely detect her, but stirred uneasily. They knew I was there – her actor, her agent.
Her thoughts directed me, urgency beating in the back of my brain.
A quick slash with a blade – silver flashing in the moonlight, and they were mine. Although I lacked her skill and equipment, I had her teachings guiding me. This sufficed.
Their blood streamed over my hands, staining my skin and their bedding dull red. I laughed as my dress soaked in the blood of others, fine velvet and brocade becoming heavy with liquid; I was not as neat as she was in these things, but no matter. It was me she sent, her dutiful servant.
As I lapped at the life blood spilling onto the floor, I felt her voice inside my head chiding me for wasting such precious drink; for, I needed it as much as she.
And it would be much later that night when her lips sought mine, and her fangs were not bared that she would grow stronger, feeding off of meals I’d consumed for us both.
Early morning light crept through my window. I awoke alone, twisted in bedding, the clamour of carts and livestock and the voices of villagers drifting by; peaceful noises suddenly broke by loud wails. Crying with loss as the villagers discovered the newly dead, corpses lying frozen and still in their beds.
I rolled over in my own bed, my eyes heavy with fatigue.
At a soft knock on the door, I sat up. A young housemaid pushed open the door, and peered inside, her face pale and cap askew. “Sorry ma’am, I wanted to see if you’re ready for your breakfast.”
I pulled my blanket closer to my chest, “Perhaps later.”
“You didn’t sleep well, ma’am?”
Yawning, I shook my head. “I’m afraid it was an unrestful night.”
“Seems to be that way for a lot of folks now,” she stared at me, the tray trembling in her hand. “There’s strange things –”
Suddenly irritated by her presence, I turned toward her. “You may leave it here.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
I closed my eyes as she crept into the room and placed the tray on a fine side table, and then I heard her exclaim, “Oh lord above –”
“You may leave now.” I didn’t open my eyes.
“Yes ma’am.” Her voice trembled.
I knew the maid had seen my dress hung over the chair; fine velvet and brocade, all soaked with blood.
The housemaid was one of many coming through. I had no worries. I knew she would see to it, to make things right as it were.
My benefactor, my protector, my guard.
She kept a watch like no other.
I sank back into the pillows, seeking the escape of sleep. A sharp kick to my abdomen startled me awake, my eyes flying open.
This change of state takes some getting used to.
Faint beating beneath my breastbone, suddenly twisting and shooting to my side, I lay my hand upon my belly as life flickered beneath my skin.
She knows, I am certain she does.
She killed the father, after all.
As I shifted in the pillows I wondered what would become of this wayward child, ill-conceived and ill-gotten. The others that came before her –
I closed my eyes at the memories, of tiny corpses ravaged, weak cries abruptly silenced, and then me, haemorrhaging and lying weak while she raged in a frenzy – drawn and attracted to the sight and smells – seeking fresh blood.
The last time, she had simply stared at me, her eyes narrowed, considering; the smell was too tempting, I know, so, when she turned and left with the remains of a child, I considered myself lucky.
As fortunate as I could be, considering the circumstances. And this too, would end like the others; as things had continued throughout time.
Liz McAdams is a short (we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and other places around the web. You can find her at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/