“You stupid girl.” Ella’s grandmother hobbled about the cabin, searching, moving from shelf to shelf, jar to jar, suddenly looking haggard, creaky, a witch at dusk. At a distance, Ella stood. Uneasy. Ashamed. Grandmother scurried back and met her nose-to-nose, smelling of earth and rot. Her expression was grave.
“Are you sure?”
With a quickness that defied her age, she stuck her hand underneath Ella’s tattered dress and between her legs . Lacking mercy, she pulled it out and examined the hand piously.
“Was it him?”
“No! Of course not!”
“Not that it matters…”
As Ella wiped her tears, Grandmother gave a contemptuous snort.
“Stupid girl, just telling me now! The clerk’ll be here soon. You’ll get us both killed!”
All Ella could do was nod, failing to meet her Grandmother’s eyes. The dirt beneath her feet felt very cold, she realized, an active coldness that seemed to want to crawl between her toes and up her legs. Death makes dirt stronger, she’d always been taught. Does the dirt know what’s about to happen to me?
Grandmother slapped her hard, the follow-through leaving a ragged scratch across her cheek.
“Did you hear what I said? Go to the McCloud girl and beg for some of her undercloth. If that doesn’t work find some fish oil and beet and pray to god we’re not too late!”
She greeted no one’s glance as she walked, only paying heed to the animals that angrily tore at their restraints as she passed. They know something’s wrong. Animals always know. She snuck into the backdoor of the McCloud cabin and startled Darcy and her mother, both staring blankly out the front window. Ella and Darcy shared a similar schedule each month, and the clerk would soon be knocking on Darcy’s door too.
Ella got on her knees.
“No,” the mother replied, and clutched the cross hanging from her neck. “You’ve paved your own road to hell. Don’t drag us with you.”
“It’s not true, ma’am!”
Ella looked at Darcy and gave a silent plea. The mother saw her daughter’s look of momentary pity and pushed her towards the wall. She then grabbed Ella around the arm, hard, her nails digging into the soft flesh. She pulled the girl up and dragged her to the door.
“Please, I’m desperate!” But Ella no longer recognized the woman who’d been like family. Mrs. McCloud turned to her, nose upturned, her eyes flickereing between fear and scorn.
“Desperate, yes, I’m sure you are. Tell me, Ella, when Vlad came to you at night, did you even try to fight? Or did you like every touch, each moment?”
“No, please! I’ve never been with …”
“Or did you know even know? Did he take a different form? Was he some charming stranger, or,” she paused and pushed Ella past the doorframe, “did he take the form of your dead father?”
“Mother, stop!” Darcy screamed from behind, by now joined by Robert, her older brother.
“Oh yes, we all knew about you and your father. Was that all it took for you to act like the little whore you’ve always been?”
Ella felt a sharp pinch in her marrow and muscle, a squeezing of trapped anger the likes of which she’d only felt her father’s last night. She felt dizzy and wanted to reach out and grab something. Someone.
A small crowd was forming among the normal passer-bys, drawn to the commotion. Ella’s face was hot and bruised. She looked past Mrs. McCloud to Robert, and he looked back as if he were suddenly prey.
Help me. Tell her the truth. Tell her about us.
They stared at each other as the door slammed shut.
Grandmother smeared the last of the homemade concoction onto Ella’s underwear and directed her to let in the clerk.
He strolled in, slow and purposeful, past Ella and looked around. He then studied the girl.
“My dear, you look positively raw. Are you, for any reason, upset?”
The clerk gave a quick look at the paper in his hands. “According to this calendar, this is your time of cleansing, no?”
She nodded. The cleansing, when once a month every unmarried woman released sin before sin took control. The cleansing, a sign that they were free of Him. Once a month, when people could become monsters.
“Good, good,” he said, casually patting his hand on the church symbol stitched on his chest. “And the proof?”
Grandmother handed him the clothing. The clerk took an article and sniffed with zeal, frightening Ella. He smelled each article separately, intently, never once looking at the women in his midst. He knew something was wrong, and Ella’s eyes widened as he opened his mouth to speak.
The clerk’s throat exploded in a mist of air and blood, blinding her. With a thick gurgle, he died at her feet. Grandmother placed her free hand firmly over Ella’s mouth to stifle her scream, the other held high, blood dripping from the knife in its grasp.
“We have to go. Now!”
“Where are we going, Grandmother?” Ella screamed as the rushed through the woods, her echoes eaten by the mid-day darkness.
Ella stopped and shuddered. “No!”
Her grandmother grabbed the stubborn girl by the hair and pulled. “You brought this on yourself! You brought this on us!” She dragged Ella through graying foliage and dirt that squished under their feet. She dragged Ella through putrid air and gnats, through hungry sounds of trapped animals, through tall trees that held dead deer and squirrels in their branches, their leaves and barks drizzled salty black.
She dragged Ella to the opening of a cave, where a man appeared, naked but seemingly dressed in shadow, his long flat features given depth by the darkness. He waved a hand and Grandmother’s neck twisted sickly. Her dead body landed among the worms and beetles.
Ella was silent, as if she were meant to be. He sneered and instantly she was naked, her pink skin cold and wet in the fog.
“Good,” the emaciated man said, suddenly at her side, pressing his palm to her pregnant stomach, brushing her swelling breast. “I’m Vlad, and you and your child belong to me.”
“No!” Her throat constricted.
“They used my name, kept the stupid little girls clean. Afraid of sin. But I’m beyond sin. They’re coming for you, you know? I can hear them.” He playfully cupped his hand to his ear, his lips rising above the edge of his teeth. “Life with me or death by them. Once a month, people become monsters, just like me…”
Ella knew he was right, They were coming: her village, her friends, even Robert. Her heartbeat skipped as she let Dracula sink in his teeth.
Just a fun little movie-monster story I wrote for a challenge a few days ago. I’m gong to eventually redo it and get rid of the plethora of adverbs, but I’d love some feedback in the meantime.
Photo by avaesme.