In my house, there is a collection of porcelain dolls that have been painted to appear grotesque, terrifying, or simply creepy. The following stories are inspired by each of these dolls.
I met my beloved only three years before the huntings began.
His name was Nikolas, and I knew he was extraordinary from the moment I first laid eyes on him. He was a poor man – a beggar, really, dressed in rags and dirt, thin from hunger ragged from misuse, but even still, he was beautiful. I watched him from afar for many nights before I approached him, wanting to understand him better but afraid of what he would think if he saw me. He was a good man, after all, a godly man, and I was little more than a creature, my true nature hidden beneath dresses and servants and extravagance. We were one in the same, really: both of us false surfaces, concealing something underneath.
I didn’t want to approach him, didn’t want him to see me for what I was, but there was one night where I had little choice. He was on the streets later than usual that night, begging for anything the men on the street could spare, and three men staggering back from the pubs could spare nothing save for a sneer and a cruel word in his direction. They dragged him back into a dark alley then and began to beat him. I tried to ignore it, tried to tell myself that this was the way of humans, and that it was not my place to intervene. But I just couldn’t convince myself of that, not when the beautiful face that I had become so accustomed to watching was being disfigured by their blows.
The men laughed at me when they saw me approach, just as I knew they would. Men love to laugh at any woman who thinks she can compare to them. But one look at my true face, and they ran off, crossing themselves and crying out, “demon! Demon!” as they went. I could have killed them. Many in my situation would have. But I wouldn’t, not then. I was a godly woman, after all, and more than anything, I feared proving those men right.
Nikolas was hardly conscious when he first saw me. He was babbling, raving, muttering something about a “beautiful angel” who had “saved him”. I knew, from the look of his injuries and the sound of his heart, that he was close to a mortal death. I tried to convince myself that that was alright, natural even. It was God’s will, and my very existence already spat in His face – I should not dishonour Him anymore by interfering now. But he was my Nikolas. I had only ever seen him from afar, and already, he was mine, and I couldn’t lose him. And so, as gently as I could, I lifted his broken, beaten body off the ground, whispered soothing promises of relief in his ear, and then I sank my fangs in the soft flesh of his neck and drank down what was left of his blood.
I wouldn’t let the humans bury Nikolas, as they had done to me all those years ago. Instead, I took him back to my manor, and I had my servants prepare for him a coffin of glass and gold. He laid there for seven days, growing in beauty and strength, until he woke from death at last. He was shocked, of course – as much by me as he was by his new life, but all considered, he took to it rather well. Later, he would joke that that was because he was much richer in death than he ever had been in life – and, most certainly, I did take care of him. Anything he wanted, I was keen to provide. Any clothes he asked for, I got him. Any food, any sport, any desire, I fulfilled to the greatest of my ability. There was only one line that I would never permit him to cross, and he abided by it well: never, not once, would he be permitted to kill a human. He could drink from any of the animals in my keep, he could hunt at night in the woods like a beast if it pleased him to do so, but so much as we could not help being creatures, at least we could preserve what little was left of our souls.
It did not take long for Nikolas to fall in love with me as I loved him. At first, it was nothing more than a flirtation, something that made my heart beg for more but made my mind fearful to hope. Over luxurious tables of the finest china, he would call me his “dearest angel”, and I would have blushed if there was blood left in my cheeks, but even still, a small part of me worried that it was not me that he loved, but my riches. It would have been so easy to confuse the two: we both had come into his life at the same time. It was not until the huntings began that he proved otherwise.
The hunters did not come for me immediately. I caught word of them from a visitor, a creature in the shape of a small child who came running through my door and screaming of human terrors, of men who had come into her home at night and had plunged stakes into the hearts of her loved ones. She begged me to take leave of the manor immediately, and I did not take her warning lightly. After all, she was right: I was too public here. When the hunters came near, they would know to go to me immediately. I would need to flee in the night, to go into hiding. I could take none of my riches with me, and none of my faithful servants either. I could take only a horse, what money would fit in my purse, and the outfit that would draw the least attention to myself.
When my mind was made, I took special care to tell Nikolas that he did not need to come with me. He could remain in the manor so long as he knew the risks. I would leave everything to him, and he could live out the remainder of his new life in luxury. Nikolas was quick in his response.
“To hell with luxury!” he said. “I lived a penniless existence alone – I’d be more than happy to do it with you. I’m going with you, my dearest angel, and nothing you can say will stop me.”
Needless to say, I was overjoyed. I threw my arms tight around him, and despite all our fear of what lay ahead, we found solace at least in our first kiss.
We headed out into the world together, me and him, scrounging low to escape the hunters. These things came in waves, I knew, and so Nikolas and I only needed to survive long enough for them to die out or get bored – either would happen soon enough. As it turned out, however, this wave was the longest one yet. For nearly a century, Nikolas and I remained hidden, poor but desperately in love with each other. We eventually caught word of who the leader of this wave of hunters was – a young man who eventually grew old, as humans tend to, and so he passed the legacy down to his son, a strapping boy by the name of Augustine. His men, too, were exchanged throughout the years, the only requirement for the job being an intense hatred of our kind and a desire to do God’s work. That latter fact made me desperately angry, and I cried bitterly to Nikolas about it often.
“They want us dead because they think we’re demons. Monsters. But ever since I awoke in my grave, I have done nothing but strive to keep my soul as pure as possible. Why can’t they see that? Why do they still want us to fear them?”
“Because,” Nikolas said sternly, taking me into his gentle embrace, “they’ve already decided who we are. The truth doesn’t matter when compared to their hatred.”
Still, as poor as we were, as pathetic and fearful as our lives had become, they were still the happiest years of my life, because I had Nikolas. Nothing else mattered when he was by my side. I could overcome any obstacle, heal any hurt done to my heart, because he kept me strong.
We had taken to sleeping in crypts while we were in hiding, sharing the inside of a coffin with a fellow corpse until the setting sun freed us again. I thought we were safe in there, for who would think to disturb the dead? Only a monster would be capable of such a thing.
But, of course, what else would you call a hunter?
I was woken suddenly from my sleep, the coffin’s lid ripped away and my vision filled with men. So many men, standing thickly together, concealing anything else from my view. They grabbed at me with their filthy, hot hands, tried to hold me in place. But from somewhere beyond my reach, I could hear Nikolas screaming, and nothing mattered more than that to me. I fought the men off, holding back only enough to make sure I didn’t kill them. That didn’t stop me from breaking bones, however, and I broke many on my way out of the coffin. On my way to Nikolas.
By the time I laid eyes on him, however, it was already too late.
The stake protruding from his chest looked wrong to me. Not terrifying or life-threatening or anything like that, just wrong, like something that wasn’t supposed to be there. I recognized his screams and I knew he was in pain, but it took me a long time to make the connection that that, the wooden stake, held still by one of the men standing over him, was the cause of it. It wasn’t until my beloved fell limp, and his blank eyes landed finally on me, did I understand what they were doing.
I followed my beloved’s suite. I, too, became limp, falling hard to my knees on the stone floor. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel. I could barely even hear, with the exception of the much-too-loud din of the men laughing – the hunters, I knew then. And the one standing before me, the one jerking the wooden stake unceremoniously from my beloved’s chest, that was Augustine. That was the man who had sent us into hiding, who thought of me only as a demon.
“What’s wrong with you?” one of the hunters was yelling at the men who I had maimed on my way out of the coffin. “Kill the bitch already! We got this one, and he was twice her size!”
“You know the strength of these demons has nothing to do with their size – it’s all to do with age. She must be an ancient one, because she hit something fierce!”
“Is that true, you little bitch? Are you an old crone in a maid’s body?”
“This one’s no maid – hasn’t been for some time now, I imagine. Look at her. Wouldn’t leave someone who looked like her virginal for long, would you?”
Augustine was turning toward me, a smile on his cold, hard lips. He had enjoyed it. Sick as he was, he had actually enjoyed putting a stake through my beloved’s heart and ending his life. He had taken pleasure out of making himself more of a monster than Nikolas ever was. Nikolas had never killed anyone. Yes, at least I could find solace in that: Nikolas had died as pure as we creatures could be.
“She doesn’t look all that strong to me,” Augustine said, his voice a deep, self-satisfied growl. “Why, I’d bet she’d let me just walk up and stake her, just like that.”
I watched as he approached me, tossing that stake carelessly between his hands. He moved slowly, languidly, as though he wanted to squeeze every last moment of pleasure out of this act, and I let him. I wanted him to enjoy it. Because that made it all the more satisfying when I shot to my feet and twisted his head clean off his shoulders like a dandelion.
The other hunters screamed. Many of them tried to race for the door where the sunlight would keep them safe, but they were right about me: my years had made me quick and strong, and so I stopped them in their tracks. Not one of them escaped. I tore out their throats with my nails, crashed their heads against the stone walls, ripped into their chest so that I could tear out their hearts and make them feel what I had. It wasn’t long before there was no one left, and I stood in the centre of the bloodbath, heaving in deep breaths that I was only in the habit of taking.
And it was done. It hadn’t made me feel any better, not in the aftermath anyway, but it was done. I felt as though I stood there for a long time, taking in the sight of the carnage around me with something disturbingly similar to indifference. I wish I could say that they didn’t deserve it. I wish that I regretted it. But Nikolas was gone, and there was nothing I could do to bring him back this time.
When I finally did break out of my cold trance, it was to walk to Nikolas’ side. He had been taken out of his coffin, and now lay crumpled against the floor. There was something oddly empty about him now, something that just didn’t feel right.
But of course, I thought as I knelt beside him, bowing low over his corpse so that I could press one last kiss to his cold cheek. It’s his soul; that has left and gone to heaven, I’m sure of it. He was pure. He’s in a better place.
I only wished that I could see him again, but I knew it wouldn’t be so. Even as I pulled myself upright once again, even as I opened the heavy, creaking door of the crypt, even as I stepped out into the burning, life-taking sunlight, I knew that I wasn’t going to the same place as Nikolas.