MelenaMature

This was my entry into the vampire-themed 2009 Darklines summer short story contest. I placed second. Instead of letting it fade away into obscurity, I decided to re-write it and post it here. Though the story itself remains unchanged, this version has been modified to suit my tastes as they have developed since then.

     A low fog had nestled into the bottom of the river’s valley, concealing the water’s surface but itself looking like a moving, flowing body. Night had fallen completely now, had sapped the color from the valley’s lively green foliage, changing the hue of the landscape to a dismal blue. City lights beamed dimly from the distant west; inconsequential things from this distance; pointless; futile against the darkness in which they were immersed. The dark out here was exquisite, bettered only by the silence, which was nearly total but for the discreet melody of the night wild.


     Wind blew softly through greenery, trees whispered ancient secrets, a far off bird’s forlorn call declared its loneliness. Moonlight softly draped the landscape, brightest at the valley’s shoulders, darkening as it descended inexorably to the fog floating lazily above the water below; her destination.

    Melena skirted a steep decline, fighting through the perilous path that was nearly choked by the brambles flanking it, making her way toward the gentle gradient that led to the water’s edge.

     She stopped for a moment, breathed the cool, crisp air, and surveyed the trees and bushes that battled imperceptibly around her for their place in the dirt and sun. From overhead a white owl swooped down nearly close enough for her to touch. Her eyes followed the white owl’s path and, abruptly, it fell, as if suddenly realizing that it was not an owl at all but a stone. It tumbled down the embankment, disappeared into the fog and, presumably, drown unseen and unheard in the river below. A bird of omen, Melena whispered, so the time has truly come, and smiled wickedly toward the location she’d last seen the bird.


     She hiked a short while longer, unmindfully tearing her gown and scratching her skin on the underbrush, pushed aside a thicket of wild rose, and stepped into a clearing. The gentle gradient that led to the water’s edge was on her left, but there was one more thing to do before going there.

     The dog was where she left it; a short rope and a steak into compacted soil kept it from escape. It lay with its head in the grass, beaten and bloodied and burned. No one had discovered it. She stepped toward the dog and it noticed her, chuffed, and turned its head. She lowered herself onto her hands and her knees and crawled to its side. The animal froze, subtly trembling, as she leaned forward and began to chew its ear. It growled quietly, closed the eye closest to the pain, but otherwise did not move. She stopped, spitting a mix of blood and coarse hair into the grass at her side. The dog whined and turned from her entirely. Satisfied, she began the walk down to the water.

***

     What were ya thinkin?

     Josh lay on his back in a tangle of brush, disoriented, and for a moment had no answer to the question. He stared at the moon above until it stopped circling in the sky. He sat up, leaned on his elbows.

     I think I was trying to do a chin-up on this branch.

     He lifted the branch from his belly, it being much lighter than it looked, and held it up to Ken.

     What the shit were you doin that for?

     Josh thought for a moment then said, quite honestly, I don’t know, and began laughing. Ken joined in, slouching as spasms of laughter took him over. Ken, bent over with laughter, dropped their cooler and watched, still howling, as it slid toward the river below. By the time their laughter began to subside they had nearly forgotten why they had been laughing in the first place. They slowed, quieted, and then simultaneously stopped. Ken, having managed to remain upright through it all, gripped Josh’s wrist and, with a heave, helped him to his feet. They continued down the narrow trail.

     Maybe not such a good idea to be out here in this condition, Josh said.

     Maybe not for you. I’m not the one doing drunk chin-ups on a dead tree at the edge of a cliff.

     True. Even if I was sober that would be pretty dumb. Bad luck and all. Josh looked at Ken seriously.

     Give it up.

     You know it.

     Well, if luck is your thing—and me, I don’t think there is such a thing—then remember that no bad luck can last forever.

    I’ve certainly had my share of the bad stuff. Maybe my allotment for the next couple of years? Something’s gotta give. Something has got to go right.

    We’re here to forget about all that, anyway. Forget about her, forget about the discharge, forget about the subpoena. And the cat was not your fault.

    I’m not throwing a pity party, Ken, but it’s not as easy doing that as saying it.

    And I ain’t throwing one, but my life ain’t so great neither.

     Either. What do you have to complain about? Loyal girlfriend, a couple unloyal ones, money, the beamer.

     All of that and more, and there’s nothing to my life, Ken said, then leaned down and pulled their cooler from a bush. Here’s one thing gone right. His expression grew steadily into a grin and he slurred, Now let’s get sloshed.

     The river valley began tilting to his left and Josh almost went for his second tumble of the night compensating for it. He looked at Ken and began laughing again. Let’s.

     They made their way to the water’s edge, in silence and in laughter, alternating between enjoying the peace and utterly destroying it.

     The fog clung low, stopping abruptly several feet above the water. It had thickened since they viewed it from the shoulder of the valley, or perhaps it only looked thicker because they were now in it. Each looked as though they were buried to their knees. They laid on the moist grass several feet above the water level (which was Ken’s idea because it seemed safer for Josh) and each opened a fresh lager.

     Having dropped into the fog entirely, they could see nothing now except each other and a deep grey destitution. Like a capsule, or a womb; a confined comfort, as if this was their own little world for tonight. The two talked—or rather, Ken did, in an enduring monologue. Josh listened intently, seemingly oblivious now to the troubles of the past week.

     And then there was the thing with Kat. You remember Kat. You liked her for a while, Josh. I think you were mad at me for going with her. Tell you the truth, I loved her, and she is the only one I’ve ever said that about. Tuna sandwiches were her favorite. I can’t even remember Dianne’s birthday, Josh, but I know that Kat can’t eat enough tuna sandwiches. She couldn’t four years ago when we had our thing, anyway. I loved her, would have given her my entire kingdom of shit if she asked for it. Then she met some guy named Matt and I had taken too long to ask for exclusivity and now she lives in Vancouver, Josh. You know all this anyway.

     Gotta piss.

     Why are you tellin me? I ain’t gonna hold it for you.

     Fuck off, Josh said, then with some effort began the slow process of standing. The valley again came into dizzying view, looking surreal because it was not grey, and even more so for what he saw on the other side of the river.

***

     Cool air made cooler by her being wet sent shivers throughout her body as she wrung out her gown then slid it back onto her body. She felt intensely aware of her senses now: water droplets were beading on her skin; a delicate breeze caressed gently the space between her thighs; a bird far overhead circled something to the east; a man appeared out of the fog across the river. She smiled at him. One of his arms swung wildly over his head as he tipped backward then disappeared back into the fog. From whence he rose, she thought and then giggled.

     She turned around and began ascending the grassy hill, slowly, her hips swaying gently, certain that he was watching her again by now. If she had any doubt whether the time was now or not, the doubt had now vanished. There was not even a need to search: one had been delivered to her. He would be along soon.

***

     Ken.

     I’m not helping you, Josh. Find a tree to lean on.

     There’s a woman might as well be naked across the river.

     What?

     A woman. Could see right through her clothes, even in the dark.

     Ken stood swiftly and Josh again undertook the process of standing erect, feeling sympathetic for the early humans who had done it without prior experience. Once standing he blinked a few times to clear the fog from his eyes, realized it was not in his eyes, and then scanned the opposing landscape. The woman was walking slowly through ankle-high grass, ascending a gentle hill that led out of the valley. She wore a white and gloriously transparent gown that flowed gently behind her as she waked.

     Look at the wiggle in her walk. She wants something, Josh said.

     Don’t get your hopes up. Obviously she thinks she’s alone, or she wouldn’t be dressed like that. You’d accomplish nothing but pissing her off and maybe getting a good zap from a taser to your face if you follow her.

     She smiled at me.

     How do you know?

     I could tell she was smiling.

     From this far? In the dark?

     I’m going.

     No you aren’t.

     Some good luck just dropped out of the sky, Ken.

     You’ll drown, Ken said soberly. Josh’s excitement faltered for a moment.

     Maybe she has a fantasy involving two men. You should come.

     Forget it, Josh. Stay the fuck put.

     Josh did not stay put but rather did something equally logical to him: he ran, splashing into the water and trudging forward until it reached his knees. He turned to Ken. You coming?

     Shit. Of course I am. You’ll fucking die if I don’t.

     Josh smiled and dove into the frigid water.

     Ken had taught Josh to swim when they’d both been twelve. Now, watching Josh splash furiously—and curiously slowly for the scene he was causing out there—Ken was suddenly uncertain of his ability to teach. He removed his shirt and shoes and stepped into the water. It struck him like something solid, like stepping into a heap of needles, cold as it was. He let the needles make their way into his skin, which served to both caused him pain and then dull it, and dove in after Josh.

***

     Melena reached the top of the hill where the gradient leveled out and widened and changed to a small field. The moon had risen since she arrived, grown brighter, and the grass now took on an odd aqua hue. The dog lay in the same position as when she left.

     Stopping just beyond the crest, she turned and waited. A faint splashing could be heard, followed by muffled yelling, more splashing, and, at last, silence. A moment later the top of a head, hair damp and plastered to the forehead, came into view. It was a boy, twenty, maybe, but certainly no more than twenty-five, and panting like a dog. She extended her hand and smiled. I am Melena.

     The boy did not reply at first. He gawked—apprehensively, it seemed—but said nothing. This was unexpected. He disappointed her; he was neither strong nor witty.

     Josh, a voice called from somewhere out of sight.

     Josh, is it? She asked.

     Yes, the boy said, although nervously, as if unsure of his name.

     Another boy crested the hill, this one maybe more man than boy, and came to stand beside the other.

     Hi, the new one said, smiling handsomely. I’m Ken. This is Josh. Forgive him, he’s on the sloppy side of wasted.

     Melena looked from one to the other, momentarily silent. The eyes of each struggled to remain fixed on her eyes and repeatedly dropped, however briefly, to parts of her lower and lower still. The new one did quite the better job of doing it discreetly, however, and likely did a lot of things better than the other.

     I am Melena, she said again, walking toward them. Her gown, glowing white under the bright moon’s light, now dry and free of the extra weight of water, danced lazily through the air, hugging her curves here and there. She extended an arm, smoothly, ever so gracefully, grabbed hold of Josh’s throat, and swung her other arm in a wide arc ending at his face and with his life as her nails found purchase in his skin. She twisted his head to the side, the sickening crack of something in his neck snapping the only precursor to his final moment of life: an awkward slouch to the ground. The other simply watched, astounded.

     You are my one, she said to the remaining one. He stared at her with wide eyes for a moment, a long moment, then spun and ran for the river. He was strong and fast, his speed almost enough to get him to the water’s edge before she caught up, almost. She’d caught him by the skin on his shoulders and pushed him roughly to the ground. The impact forced the air from his lungs, weakening him, but still he screamed and fought quite admirably as she took hold of his leg and dragged him up the gradient and part of the way across the small field at the top.

***

     His head throbbed dully and his shoulder ached, he couldn’t breathe, and the rocks on this slope had scraped his back into shreds. She was powerful, extraordinarily so, and he could not escape her grip for the life of him. He knew that was exactly what he was fighting for, but there was nothing more to be done. Somehow her slender frame was hiding the capacity for enormous strength. Even so, he had fought and kicked and tried to spin from her grip until eventually she gave his leg a firm tug and cast him rolling into the grass at the top of the slope. The last remnants of his strength had been used. All that remained could not honestly be called strength.

     Laying on his back, he turned his head to her. The woman had already returned with his friend. Any hope of using this chance for an escape had vanished even before it had made itself known, but, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t have got far, and he knew that.

     The woman, hunched over the heap of Josh, used a sleek, curved fingernail to open his throat, and began lapping at the wound. Ken turned away and closed his mind to the terrible sounds that ensued, refused to think of that corpse she desecrated as his oldest and closest friend.

     Time passed slowly. This went on for a horrifically long time. It had seemed like hours had passed by the time she stood, dragged the cadaver aside, and moved toward the tree line. Finally the woman made a noise, a quiet one, and it was not a grotesque sound, so Ken looked.

     She was standing over a dog he had not noticed. She smiled smugly in his direction. The dog growled as she gripped it behind the ears; as she forced its head toward the ground; as she rubbed its nose in a coil of shit; never biting, never struggling, only growling. She looked to Ken, an expectant expression on her face, as if he was supposed to know what this meant.

     What? What the fuck do you want, lady? he grunted.

     Melena, she whispered.

     Whatever. What do you want?

     She let her arms fall to her side, still smiling smugly, and walked toward him. A few feet away from him, she lowered herself onto her hands and knees and crawled slowly, her shoulders and hips gyrating seductively, over his body. The simple warmth of her body against the coldness of his wasn’t without effect. He was becoming aroused, and was horrified to feel comforted by this closeness. As if sensing this and disapproving, she began a screeching laughter and slashed wildly at his chest and neck and face as she sank herself onto him. He tried to get away, but she hurt him when he did that. His erection held stubbornly and he hated it for the first time in his life. Succumbing to his helplessness, he stared at the stars above her. He did his best to ignore her demented laughter; it was all he could do to retain any semblance of sanity.

***

     When she had finished, the boy had wept. It was a putrid thing to see, the pathetic weeping, but expected. Men were not strong willed creatures, not like her kind. No matter, because he had remained strong through the important part. She had been seeded. She felt that very strongly. It was done.

     Do you love me? she asked him in her prettiest voice, smiling down at him with her prettiest smile. He lay in the grass, having finished weeping, now devoid of any show of emotion.

     I want to peel off your skin, he answered in monotone.

     Oh, sweet boy! You ran to me.

     I tried to run from you.

     You love me, she said, giggled childishly, and spun away in a queer imitation of a ballerina.

     You killed Josh, he said almost inaudibly, as if more to himself than to her. Ken stared at the stars, perhaps wanting to be lost in them. You drank his blood. It’s—he began, but didn’t finish the thought.

     She said nothing and again, for while, the only sounds were that of nocturnal wilderness, indifferent to what was happening here: a cricket, a breeze, a whispered rustle and a twig snap someplace nearby.

     Vampire bitch, Ken said, his voice harder now. He was looking at her.

     She turned, walked back toward him, and said, matter-of-factly, Yes, I am, before crouching beside him and gripping his throat. His face turned red almost immediately, his eyes began to bulge. He kicked, punched, and rolled, and once again, one last time, she admired his strength. She admired her choice.  It was a fleeting moment of pride, however, as his resistance grew ever weaker and too soon all struggling had ceased.

     She began walking to the dark place she would rest whilst her seed grew within her. Vampire, she whispered. They remembered. All these centuries and still they remembered, if only by way of legend. But man was too sure of himself, too certain of his logic, to allow themselves a true belief in her existence. When they finally accepted its validity the time to mount a resistance will have come and passed. Man, she scoffed. Earth’s greatest creation. Earth’s self-inflicted cancer. She did not look down upon them for that, however, because that is also what she is. That is her kind. As man is to Earth, they are to man, and before a decade had lapsed they will have metastisised. They will run this freak show for centuries; man will be pushed to the brink of extinction; her kind will again fade away or face extinction themselves; all this, like clockwork, like it has always been. Centuries later still, it may again be remembered by man through stories passed down through the generations, or written in scripture, or perhaps altogether forgotten while mankind rebuilds his civilization and begins the cycle once more.

 

The End

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