He always made everything into nightmares.
We knew about vampires, of course. Years ago, when the very first building had been built in what would someday be my hometown, my great-grandfather had lived in it before he even finished putting on the roof. By the time he died and my grandfather had inherited the house and all the responsibilities that went with it, the town was a bustling, accommodating place on a new trade route being forged out west. There were nice people that lived there, and not-so-nice people that passed through, but there was law, and religion, and my family’s reputation for being good mediators that kept the future looking bright. We weren’t going to become one of those towns where the saloon and the brothel were the main fixtures. No sir’ee. We were a proper town right from the start, with a church and everything.
That was when the vampire came.
He didn’t do much more than a vampire usually does. A couple people turned up dead but not enough to start a panic. We probably wouldn’t have minded much if he’d kept picking off the town drunks and hooligans, or at least that’s what my pappy told me his pappy told him. But then that vampire went and made another vampire out of one of the menfolk and things went bad.
My grandpappy told me they hunted the vampire down when he was asleep. “We had the Reverend with us and a wood spike like the ones they hammer into crossbeams to hold up the church roof. And we stuck that big ‘ol spike right into the vampire’s heart. Turned him back to dust, just like the Bible says.”
They didn’t kill the other man though. See, the reverend thought he could drive the devil out and give Goodwoman Canning her husband back.
By the time I was born, no one called the vampire Goodman Canning any more. He was a demon. A devil of our own choosing. The ghost who didn’t know how to pass on so he stuck around, tormenting the town that had taken away his maker before torturing and starving him in their attempts to turn him back to the light. My family got the special honor of being the ones he hated most because it was my grandpappy that had done the final deed with the spike and a wooden hammer. He made us pay him money and give him nice things, nicer than the things that decorated our own home. My pappy became the mayor after his father disappeared one night. Family tradition, being mayor. But he was too sad to really enjoy it.
When I was born, my pappy did his best to protect me and keep me away from the monster. I hardly ever went out, even during the day, and my mama taught me all the things a girl ought to know; letters were important so I could read the Bible, and I did my best with numbers. My only real friend was a dog named Sally, even after my little brother and sister were born. We didn’t go to church so the reverend came to us. I remember three different reverends, or so. They never lasted long.
I asked one day why they didn’t just hunt down the monster like they had the other one. It was the first and only time my father gave me a caning that made my bottom smart so much I couldn’t sit down for a week, not even using a feather cushion. Later, my mama, told me that the vampire watched us too closely to even try finding out where he slept during the day. “He can smell us, sweetie. Smell the things we leave behind when we go to look. We know because it’s been tried.”
“What happened when they tried, mama?” I asked innocently, needing to know why they couldn’t ‘try, try again’ like she always told me during my lessons.
She looked down at her hands like I remembered her doing when she was going to talk about something shameful. In a very quiet voice that I almost couldn’t hear, she said, “He caught the ones who went out.” And then my mama picked up her skirts and hurried out of the room so I wouldn’t see her cry. My pappy told me, later, not to ask my mama those questions again or he’d give me another caning. I must have looked really scared when I promised not to because he told me, “Your mama’s already lost a lot to the monster, Gabby. You would have had an uncle if they hadn’t gone looking.”
I cried myself to sleep that night.
Years went by and my life took a few turns for the better. My pappy convinced my mama that I could go out on Sundays to church after I turned seventeen and I met a lot of people there that I really liked and could talk to who talked right back. There was even a special one, Raymond Hillshire, with eyes the color of of a stormy day and hair like wheat fields before the harvest. He came to visit me at home and asked if he could escort me to church on Sundays. My parents agreed, with a few strict conditions. “She can never be out after sunset. Ever.” And so I was always home well before dinner. I kissed his cheek before hurrying inside a few weeks later, after he saw me back from the weekly service. Next time, when he came to visit, he asked if he could speak to my father alone. I remember the butterflies in my stomach when the door shut behind them.
We began making plans for a spring wedding. “I want to wear my hair down,” I told him, “but it’s not the style.” He lifted my hand to kiss it and I blushed nearly as red as the locks on my head. “I don’t care,” he said, “You look beautiful either way and I’d marry you even if you were wearing a paper sack.” It made me so happy to hear him say that, that I kissed him right on the lips.
He started sneaking to my window at night, just so I could kiss him again. Our wedding was in only two weeks but we were both anxious for the time to move faster, and since we weren’t doing anything more than kissing I figured it was alright with God that we celebrate a little early.
One night, two nights before the special day, Raymond came to my window just like all the other nights since that day we talked about my hair. I stifled my giggles when I heard him tap and fairly skipped the last few steps before pushing it open. But instead of leaning in and letting me kiss him, Raymond stayed back. “What game are you playing, Ray?” I asked coyly, simply happy to see him. “Don’t you like my kisses any more?”
He looked at me like he was a little bit distant. “You need to come outside.”
I looked at him in shock. “Raymond Webster Hillshire, it’s two days before our wedding and you know I’m not allowed out.”
His expression didn’t change. “Please. Come outside.”
Glancing around, I didn’t see anyone else on the porch roof, and the candles in the windows were all snuffed out in the house. “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“Come outside,” he said again, with an odd inflection in his voice. “For me, my love. It will take but a moment.”
It felt like the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. “I would really rather wait.”
“Please. For me.”
I sighed, shaking off the odd feeling and putting my mind at work. ‘What harm could there be? Raymond can protect me, and he wouldn’t be asking me out if it wasn’t safe. And wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to see the moon and the starry sky without having to crane my head out the window?’ With one last bought of hesitation, I sat up on the window ledge and swung my legs outside. I looked at Raymond and teased playfully, trying not to show how nervous I was about breaking my parents’ rules, “Aren’t you going to be a gentleman and assist me?”
“Oh, I think I can handle any assistance you might need, my dear,” said a voice that sent my stomach into knots and a burst of panic into my heart. But it was too late to try and retreat back into the house because the monster already had hold of my hand. His was colder than death and stronger than steel. “In fact, that is a permanent offer.”
My mouth opened to scream as my eyes locked with his and that was the last thing I remembered for a while.
That first night was the worst because of what he forced me to do with him. I asked about Raymond, and my parents, and my brother and sister, and all he did was laugh before he ripped my nightgown from me. He locked me up with a chain before he left for the day and I cried myself to sleep for the first time since I’d been a little girl. The next day, after he’d finished me with again, I prayed for rescue or for death.
One of those prayers was answered.
I found out, later, that to make another vampire you have to drain someone and give them vampire blood. So I know what happened to me that last night, but I’m glad I don’t have the memory.
I was the first vampire he turned, but not the last. He wouldn’t let me kill myself and he forced me to eat, even though I wasn’t allowed out. We didn’t have to move much since the place Cane lived was a system of natural caves that only someone who knows the way out can get to the surface. I tried to climb out once and got a broken leg in the process. He wasn’t happy when he found out. Years went by, but I lost track of time, and really don’t know what was happening on the outside.
Then, one day, another vampire came. Not one that Cane had turned, but one who’d been traveling through and asked for a place to stay for a while. He didn’t visit long because when he found out what my maker was doing it left a sour taste in his mouth, he said. But he taught me a few things about what I was, and how I could make things easier for myself.
A week after he left, when Cane was out hunting with two of his other vampire children, I stabbed myself through the heart with a broken off leg bone from one of the many humans that had been killed down in the caves. “It won’t kill you,” the visitor had warned me, “Only a wooden stake can kill you.” He hesitated with what to say next and I knew he was holding something back. “But,” he finally continued, “It will force you to sleep, to heal. You can hold out hope that when you wake up your maker will be dead, and then you’ll be free.”
“Free to kill myself,” I murmured, half lost in thought.
He smiled gently. “Don’t be so hasty with that, fair Gabrielle. There are many good things to enjoy about this life after death.”
I asked him more questions and he answered them readily, if not completely. By the time I committed my act of defiance I knew more about what I was than even Cane did. Torpor is a state of healing that lasts for as long as it takes an injury to be repaired. You don’t age while you’re in it, not even in vampire years, and when you wake you would have the hunger of a newborn vampire again, but it keeps you out of the real world. I didn’t know how long it would take a wound to the heart to heal since I hadn’t been able to say how old I was to the visitor, but he figured it would be a long time. And even afterward, when I could wake up, there was a form of torpor that is voluntary. “We can skip through the years if we want to. We won’t gain anything from them, but we won’t lose anything, either.”
So, while I sleep, letting the years pass around me, I dream. I’ve seen many impossible things, and sometimes there are visitors that tell me stories about the places they’d come from. At first I thought they were real, and that the stories they told me were about their own lives, but things lose clarity in dreams. It’s hard to sort out the real parts from the imagined ones.
Everything but the man that gives me nightmares. That’s how I know it’s still not time to wake up. ‘And if I die before I wake…’ The rest is fuzzy, but I remember a girl with bright red hair neatly tied back, kneeling beside her bed in her parents’ house, with a future in the sunlight, and I think that girl was me.
Forget Me Not by Victor Mason,