The sudden appearance of a vampire outside the town of Dingleswick was cause for much concern. Though the rest of the towns in Dainsbury had been enveloped by darkness, Dingleswick could still see the sun on occasion, though through a red haze. They had never seen any evil creatures of the night there, and the presence of even a newborn vampire nearly caused a panic in the streets.
When Helyas, the blacksmith's son, came running into town, his eyes wide as he gasped for breath, the goodwives on the mainstreet doing their shopping for the week stopped to stare. When he had caught his breath, he shouted "I saw a vampire birth in the mountains!"
The street went still for a moment. "Up north," Helyas said, pointing vaguely toward the towering northern mountains. "A vampire," he repeated, his arm dropping limply to his side. The pedestrians stared for a moment longer, and then went about their business. Perhaps Helyas had visited the tavern before his trip to the mountains, many reasoned; he had obviously had more mead than was good for him. Other towns had challenges with evil creatures birthing in their lonely places, but Dingleswick had never had such a problem. So they went about their business, ignoring what they thought were the mad ravings of a drunk man.
When she first opened her eyes, the vampire saw only a strange, tyrian sky that swirled like mist and was obscured by haze. Her skin was steaming and the ground around her was blackened and cracked, as if by a great heat. She could smell the acrid stench of burnt vegetation, and hear the crackle of things burned beyond recognition as she sat up.
She did not know how she had gotten here, or why, or what she was to do now. All she knew was that the great red eye of the sun overhead, though veiled and weak, was making her skin sizzle. She stood up, and saw the folds of a tattered dress fall into place. She found that she could walk, though she could not remember learning to do so. She let her feet take her toward the line of trees, where the soothing darkness beckoned.
She slid beneath the branches, and the light of the sun could no longer reach her through the leaves. Her skin stopped sizzling, and she found she could look around her and examine her surroundings without distraction.
She was in the...mountains, she decided, the strange word appearing in her mind as if she had once learned it. They rose up on every side, though she was in a tiny cup of a valley. There were many trees, mostly pine and other evergreens, though there were others. The light was strange; a reddish color, and the air did not seem to be clear. She could see tiny flecks of something floating in the air, like dust, but red and purple. The same dust seemed to be what was obscuring the sun.
There were some flowers blooming in the shade, and she reached out to touch them with a finger, only to have the petals fall to the ground at her touch. There was something not right about them. She furrowed her brow. She could not describe the wrongness, though she knew it was there. These flowers were not healthy. Not like they should be. She pulled her hand away, and walked further into the trees.
She walked for perhaps an hour, though she was unsure of what she was looking for. Staying in the shadows, hiding from the red haze of the sun, she stumbled across the meadow.
It was filled with flowers, flowers with petals curling and spotted from some sickness. The grass was yellowed around them, and the water a sickly gray-green. She lurked in the shadows of the trees until the light began to fade. When the red had turned to dusky purple, she ventured forward into the meadow. She touched a flower, and this one did not drop its petals. She crouched down before it, cocking her head to one side.
"You seem sick," she said. The sound of her own voice was different than she had expected, low, hoarse. She frowned, and tried again. "Why do your petals stay on?" That time was better, more pleasant, like she had hoped for, but still much the same. The flower did not answer.
She stood again, and looked upward. The swirls of cloud — purple, gray, black, maroon — turned the world around her a darker shade, and she found what light there was did not hurt her when it touched her skin. She looked back down, toward the trees on the opposite side of the meadow, and saw a break in the foliage. A path.
She skirted the pond, it's edges lapping feebly at her feet, and made for the track. As she approached the wood she scanned the trees for signs of life. Nothing. No creature stirred. She stepped into the trees, and followed the dim ribbon winding through the foliage. The trunks passed like black columns in the night, and dead pine needles crunched under her tread.
When she stepped out from the forest once more, it was because the trees had come to an end. She stepped from earth to solid stone, and saw before her a cliff. In the cliff was a fissure, and she made for this. The sun would return, and when it did she must have shelter. She stepped into the cool blackness of the fissure without fear, her nostrils flared as she sought out any foreign scent.
Empty. But it had not been for long. A bear, perhaps, she thought as she went further inside. But it had gone. She would claim it, she decided with a smile. Her teeth glinted in the faint light, echoing the ruby gleam of her eyes.
The cave had been hers for many days when she heard the voice.
She had not kept track of how many days she had lived there; was only aware of a growing hunger, slowly but steadily eclipsing all else. When she saw creatures in the wood, as she sometimes did, her reasoning became hazy. The growing hunger in her belly would roar in her ears. More than once she heeded its call, and captured the small animals within her reach. She ate them raw, carefully catching every drop of blood as it slid down her wrists, lest it splash to the ground and soak into the dirt where she could not reach it.
But the flesh and blood of the forest creatures did not fill the void in her belly, only lessened it for a time, no matter how many she tracked down and slaughtered.
The sound of a voice singing had drawn her, almost against her will, to the clearing. It did not sound like any bird she had heard, nor the crickets or frogs. She followed her ears, eyes scanning the trees in search of the source. The burns she gained from the veiled sun were ignored as she ghosted through the forest, following the path.
She halted short of entering the meadow and withdrew into deeper shadow at the side of the track. There was a girl there, dressed in drab, homespun clothing. The child was kneeling by the pond, picking flowers and singing. She had a fistful of the drooping blossoms already, and one had been tucked behind her ear. It was a young child, perhaps seven or eight years of age, with wispy golden hair glinting in the sunlight. Her high-pitched voice was singing a nonsense song, something about flowers and the pond.
The vampire watched, moving slowly closer to the edge of safety, her eyes latched on the girl. The girl had round, flushed cheeks, and she found the sight of them made the pang in her belly stronger. She took another step, and another, until her bare toes were on the very edge of sunlight.
This was a larger creature. Much larger than the squirrels and birds. There was more flesh on this one's bones, more blood in its body. Perhaps this one would end her hunger. But how was she to capture it? It was sitting in a pool of sunlight. She would have to venture out of the safety of darkness to put her hands on it.
She hesitated at the edge of shadow, her hungry eyes fixed, unmoving, on the singing figure of the girl. She had begun to salivate, and could see the pulse of blood in her prey's neck. She could see, in her mind, what she should do – race out of the shadows, scoop up the child, kill it quickly, and then – she leaned forward, shifting her feet as she prepared to spring — and her foot snapped a twig.
The girl whirled, eyes wide, as she came to her feet in one smooth motion, her flowers forgotten.
"Who is there?" she called.
The vampire froze.
"Who is there?" the girl repeated.
She retreated, but her motion drew the girl's attention.
"Wait," the girl called, gathering up her skirts and dashing toward the trees. The vampire's body tensed, waiting for the command to run, but a small voice told her "not yet." The girl came right to the edge of the trees.
"Why are you hiding?" the girl asked.
"The sun," the vampire said, after a long pause. "It hurts."
"Oh. My name is Fleta," the girl said, extending a hand.
She stared at the outstretched hand, still lit by the fitful glow of the sun. She could see the blue traces of veins under the skin, and her stomach clenched, demanding sustenance. The girl had come to her. She no longer had to leap across the clearing, burned by the sun. All she had to do was take the offered hand, and drag her next meal into the darkness of the forest.
“Oh, the sun,” Fleta said. “Here.” She stepped forward until her hand was in shadow.
The vampire reached out, and took it firmly, and was turning to drag the child away when the girl spoke. "What is your name?" Fleta asked. She halted, frowning.
"I do not have one."
"Oh. Do you want to play with me?"
She hesitated. Play?
But Fleta asked again, and had not released her hand, so she nodded, her eyes never leaving the flush of Fleta's cheeks. Perhaps this “play” would offer better opportunities for an easy meal. And she wanted to know what play was.
Fleta joined her in the trees, and they played a game called hide and seek. Fleta did not seem to mind that her new friend won every game, and they continued to play. For a time, the vampire forgot the swelling ache in her stomach. But when they collapsed on the ground, it returned with a vengeance.
"I am hungry," Fleta said. "Are you?"
"Hungry," she said, trying out the word. It seemed to fit. "Yes. I am hungry."
"I have bread," Fleta said, retrieving a chunk from her pocket and offering it to her. The smell wafted upward, and she wrinkled her nose.
"I do not like bread," the vampire said.
"Oh," Fleta said, taken aback. "What do you like, then?"
"Blood, I think," she replied.
"Blood?" Fleta said, her cheeks going pale. "I...I do not....I do not have any blood."
"Yes," the vampire said. "You do. And I am hungry. May I have some?" Fleta's mouth fell open.
"Are you a vampire?" she asked, her eyes wide.
"A vampire?" she said. That sounded right, too. "I think so."
"My papa says vampires are evil, murdering creatures, and that if I see one I should run away," Fleta said, inching backward.
"Do I seem evil?" the vampire asked, tipping her head to one side. "I do not want to kill you. I am only hungry."
Fleta frowned and bit her lip. "How...how much?"
"You are frightened. I will take only a little," she said. After all, if she could satisfy her hunger without killing the child, she saw no reason not to do so. And, she reasoned, if the child lived then her parents would not come in search of whatever had killed her. A deep-seated instinct told her that vengeance would follow if this girl died. She could not just give in to her desire for flesh and blood like she had planned before. The constraints chafed, but it was better those than death.
"Just a little?" Fleta asked.
"I do not want to hurt you," Isolde said. "I will take only a little. I give you my word."
"Well..." Fleta tucked her bread in her pocket. "If you give your word. Mother says we should help our friends, and you are my friend."
Moments later, Fleta had pulled her hair over one shoulder, exposing a stretch of her throat. Isolde felt the burning in her belly grow as she saw the throbbing of Fleta's pulse. Only a little, she told herself. You have given your word, and Fleta is your friend. She lingered on the word, not certain what it meant, and gently lowered her lips to Fleta's skin. Slowly, so as not to frighten her, she bit down, just until she felt a tiny gush of blood leak into her mouth. She licked it up gently with her tongue, one small swallow.
She was taking her third swallow, no more than a few drops, when Fleta fell.