Welcome to the third year anniversary celebration, where we present three of our favorite Halloween stories. The second story is A MATTER OF PRIDE by the award-winning author David Crerand. This story tells the tale of a vampire who swears to show no mercy. Let’s continue the celebration with a darker note that takes an unapologetic bite!
A MATTER OF PRIDE
The great plague, known as the Black Death, was a decade into its methodical crawl across Europe. City populations were being halved. Rural communities were being decimated and some smaller villages were even disappearing from maps. All of the religions were being sorely tested by humanity’s general loss of faith in any of the gods they habitually prayed to.
For two years now, I had been following the burning funereal pyres. I moved alongside the path that was being blazed by the sickness. I hid all my bodies amongst its millions. With death such a constant presence all around me, it became even more urgent that I secure blood for my own survival before it might become corrupted by the disease and, therefore, useless to me.
I took a step back, deeper into the shadows, watching her approach. Even from a few yards away, I could see the vacant stare that clouded her vision. The burden of perpetual grief, the draining toil of dragging her life’s pain. She plodded along the darkened alley oblivious to her surroundings, her ability to look out for her own safety stripped away by the numbness that her life had become.
I felt her weakness and frailty as soon as I put my hand on her shoulder. I had been prepared to use the soothing power of my voice to convince her to come with me, but as soon as she turned to face me, I saw it was not necessary. It appeared almost as if she was meeting her death willingly. With all of the battering life had delivered her so far, my assault was simply its final insult.
I fed upon her gently, and she gave me no struggle. It was as if she acquiesced her blood to me rather than forcing me to steal it. As she grew weak and collapsed against me, I maintained my deadly contact and continued to empty her, while sweeping her up into my arms. I hugged her close, like a lover, for any who might glance our way.
A large bonfire, fed by a steady stream of corpses carried from the houses of the village, burned just off the alley’s end. I carried this now drained vessel to the fire. I walked past several others, engaged in equally morbid activities. No one paid me any mind. No one noticed that the corpse I carried was neither blackened nor blistered with the tell-tale traces of plague. They saw only another body. I tossed the almost weightless bundle on to the top of the blaze and moved off into the night.
I felt little energy, even though I had just fed. I craved blood that was emboldened by the lives its donors were living. What I was being forced to survive on in the streets was a pale substitute.
The terrible stranglehold of the epidemic was crushing the throat of the continent, but creating ideal conditions for predators such as myself. These were times of such worldwide tragedy and personal loss, gut-splitting fear and desperation, and even grief-stricken madness, that many people simply fled or wandered off, leaving too many disappearances for authorities to investigate any of them.
I was not thrilled by the drastic change in living conditions brought on by the current situation. After all, I am an immortal. I will live forever. So long as I continue to find clean blood upon which to feed, I reminded myself. But time was on my side. I smiled. Time was always on my side. I had survived the countless years of war that man had waged upon one another. I had survived other contagious outbreaks, natural disasters, and other scourges that had swept the world and the resultant declines in my lifestyle had only been temporary. This time, however, felt differently to me.
I was being forced to move every few weeks, and though I had been very successful in finding and securing temporary shelter in subterranean caverns in the nearby woods, I missed the luxury of my estate back in my homeland. In my past, feeding was not only a necessity, it was a passion. The selection of the prize, the thrill of the planning, the exhilaration of the capture. The kill, my god, the kill. Blood pumping, spurting from wounds. The tearing of cloth and flesh. The smells, not of death, but those of dying. Sweat, the coppery scent of fresh blood, the palpable fear. The sounds of life surrendering and subsiding. The pounding, pulsing and surging of a new victim’s life force rushing through me, creating a new chapter in this unending story. This was to truly sense immortality, I realized. This is how I came to understand my need to live forever.
But hunting had become feeding. And feeding had devolved into simply overpowering any weakling who had wandered too far from the herd. Survival was now a case of gathering the low hanging fruit in order to continue my existence. I needed to ride out this competition with an ‘un-natural’ natural competitor until it either fizzled out or destroyed humanity entirely. Some things after all, did remain out of my control.
Surely, you think me some cold-hearted bastard, for amidst the death of millions, I mourn the lifestyle that has been wrenched away from me. The glorious march of an imperial immortal has been forced to descend to the daily plodding of a field hand at harvest. The richness of the life I had lived gave eternity substance and purpose. The blood of the dead gave me the power to understand the purpose of living, and bear witness to man’s rise and ultimate fall. The excitement, pomp and ceremony of court. The glorious gowns, bright lights and champagne of nights of theatre and opera. These were the things replaced by dark, dingy alleyways of anonymous death. Living at night had once again become hiding in the darkness, and I had thought those days long gone. The grandness of my life had been swept away, and I was angry. I had always thought of my life, after having received the gift from my maker, as a personal achievement of Nirvana. My current life had become tiny and insignificant. I needed it to be huge once more.
Weeks later, I had moved many miles to the south, seeking warmer weather. I came upon a gypsy encampment, which, after a hard day’s travel, had settled for the night. The plague, still present in that region of the country, was now taking the children of the parents it had taken on the first outbreak.
The moon had slid behind a sheath of clouds as I crept up to the closest wagon. It was standing a little apart from the others, no lights shown within, and it was quiet inside. I climbed quietly into the back of the wagon. There, sleeping among all the barrels and bundles of the life they hoped to live somewhere else, were a mother and her young son. The mother was in her twenties, the boy four, perhaps five. The young child looked a lot like his mother. I leaned in close to the boy’s face and took a gentle sniff. The trace was faint, but clearly there. The boy had the sickness. The child was doomed.
I turned to face his mother. As I did, a beam of moonlight pierced the clouds, streamed through the little window of the wagon and fell upon her face. I leaned in close, inhaling her exhalation. It was fresh, untainted, available. I looked back over at the sick child. Surely this mother would become infected caring for her dying child, I thought. My actions this night would save her from witnessing her own child’s horrible and painful death, while granting her a peaceful transition rather than one of agony.
Though my bite is gentle, she stirs and awakens. She begins to struggle against me, while still remaining silent, hoping to not awaken the sleeping child. I leaned more of my weight into her, pushing her deep down into the bedding, severely limiting her ability to strike up at me. She bucks frantically trying to throw me off. I cover her mouth with my palm, the fingers of my hand splayed out across her cheek, and turn her face into the pillow, opening her neck to my attack. I re-establish contact with her wound and begin to, once more, extract her essence. She starts to quiet beneath me, and I believe that she is exhausted and surrendering. But then, I feel her lips, quivering insistently against the palm of my hand. She is trying to speak to me, imploring me. She totally abandons her struggles, no more kicking and thrashing, becoming more insistent in making me feel her words. Her eyes plead with me. Her heart reaches out to mine. I know that I shouldn’t but I relinquish and remove my hand.
“My son,” she whispers, “please, don’t take my son.”
For some reason I choose not to tell her that her son is already dead.
“I know what you need,” she begged. “Blood. You need blood, yes?”
I nodded slowly, remaining silent.
“You can have mine,” she said earnestly. “You can have mine and leave his, no?”
I hesitated a moment before giving her an answer. “I shall not take your son’s blood.”
My words calmed her, and she settled into her fate, assuming she had secured her son’s. I drained the rest of her blood quickly, gently closed her eyes and crossed her hands peacefully across her chest. I turned to her sleeping child.
“I have made a promise to your mother,” I told him, though he still slept. “And I shall keep my word. I will not take your blood.” I paused and looked once more at the peaceful, resting face of the young woman beside him. “But I will not have you suffer. I do this for her.”
Carefully I removed the pillow from beneath the sleeping boy’s head. I gently brushed one reluctant curl back off the boy’s forehead and gazed for a moment upon the angelic face of the innocent. Quickly straddling the child, one knee on either side of his little chest, I slammed the pillow down over the boy’s face. Immediately awake, he began to struggle and try to call out for his mother beside him. His muffled cries went unanswered and he struggled in vain to break free from someone that was so much larger and stronger than he was. I held firm for the two minutes it took for the boy to finally still.
My anger overtook me at that moment. I had done something I could never have imagined doing. I had killed out of compassion. I had taken a life for some noble purpose rather than to just destroy and feed. My wrath drove me to smash the little oil lantern and set the gypsy wagon ablaze before storming off into the night.
I reached a critical crossroad that evening. I made a few reaffirming determinations that evening as well.
I determined that having eternal life was all about living eternally, not surviving eternally. The quality of the gift of immortality is significantly diminished if the individual blessed to revel in it doesn’t have the hedonistic integrity to indulge it completely. I determined that if I was supposed to be a vile, vicious monster, then, goddamn it, it was time I returned to being a vile, vicious monster, instead of some community street cleaner.
For, I am a hunter. I will kill you. And I will drink your blood.
David Crerand enjoys telling stories and has been writing as a hobby for many years. He has been published in Lost Worlds, Crossroads, Dogwood Tales, Abhelion Webzine, and Honeyguide Magazine. His work on The Village Series won him The Dark Sire Award in 2021. To connect with David, visit him on Facebook and Twitter.
What do you think of David’s story? Let us know with a comment. And… be sure to come back at 3pm for another featured story. The party keeps rolling – don’t miss it!
As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to Submit.