This story is by Vanessa Victoria Kilmer and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leaning my forehead against the glass of the window of my mountain-top room, my fingers stroke the smooth, cool surface as if reaching down through the clouds swirling around the granite crags. I ache to touch the people I imagine living their lives while I wait for my time to come.
“Poor, friendless, Calyptra,” I say aloud, disturbing the silence. It’s been ten years since I saw another face, heard a voice, or felt a touch, preserving my purity and innocence in the service of my nation. Flutters vibrate my chest and arms, my head compresses, and dizziness sweeps over me.
Collapsing on my bed, I wait for the weakness and loneliness to pass.
Ghosts of childhood companionship, wisps of affection, and playtime images cloud my mind and take me back to an unbroken connection; I crave society.
My morning meal sits on the table beside my cot. The yellow flowers and dark greens of dandelions break my fast and fill my belly. Hibiscus tea prevents dehydration. Neither satisfy my hunger nor quench my thirst.
I could stay in this safety for the rest of my life, a sacrifice for the world’s wellbeing, never again having another human attachment, or venture into the unknown and taste life. I agreed to the coming ritual to escape the stagnation and stasis of this haven, deathly afraid of the arcane process but too desolate to remain in this sanctuary.
My naked body shakes more than usual as I make my way to my sunken tub. A diet of vegetation produces weak muscles, but my nervousness about the coming event makes me more unsteady.
I luxuriate in water at the same temperature as my body and scented with silky soap of lavender and rosemary.
A bell tinkles overhead, letting me know I must dress.
“It’s time,” I say, my voice staving off insanity.
I rise from the water, wrap a fluffy cotton towel around myself, and sit at my vanity, combing the tangles from my knee-length black hair. I stare at my green eyes in the mirror, vast with dilated pupils.
I braid my hair in a thick rope and tie the end in a red ribbon. A pearly brocade gown embroidered with pearls and silk thread waits for me. Shaped like a tube with long sleeves, it weighs me down. White cloth slippers complete the costume.
I perch on a stool facing the door and glance back at my colorless home with despondency; anxiety shivers my limbs, like a veal calf, confined until my purpose reveals itself.
Gossamer cloaked figures, blurred ghostly accolades, faces obscured, bring me an obsidian goblet. The black glass burns my fingers; the garnet drink inside as dark and shiny as its container.
I tip the lip of the cup to my mouth, peer into my eyes floating in the elixir and the glass, and drink the viscous fluid. Iron suffuses my nostrils. Sanguine nectar numbs my tongue.
Wings fill my mind. My body floats to the floor as my limbs liquify, and I levitate to the ceiling. Fingers snatch at my garments and pull me onto a white silken shroud. My eyes remain open but unfocused as the burial cloth wraps around me as snug as a papoose, as confined as a mummy, as secure as a caterpillar in its cocoon. The light fades to white fabric; silken bandages stifle the air. They never prepared me for this. My body panics in the confines, but my mind expands to traverse the universe. Conflicted and confused, insect legs claw at my stomach and skitter along the underside of my skin. Black holes swallow me, thrusting me into starbursts of red dwarves and dying embers. Life zings through me, and I experience all of myself for the first time. Sinew and tendons slough off my brittle bones, and the sludge of physical existence drains into the collective sewer of decay and rebirth. Rainbows weave through my hair, and fireworks burst under my chin, coating my tongue with citrus and honey, flavors never experienced before yet so familiar in this new being I inhabit. I salivate, and my drool paints me in bursts of violins and champagne bubbles popping in the shrieks of iridescent peacocks. Five-pointed Heliotrope blossoms caress my ligaments in cherry-scented purple cells, turning my face to my last glimpse of the sun.
Deaf. Blind. Mute.
I can’t breathe. Stones press my chest, crushing me in a superhuman embrace meant to destroy my selfhood. I can’t think. My heart beat boundless and bare. My fingers curl in claws with sharp nails grown long in my millennial sleep. Imaginary chains pin me to marble, and the cold stone burns my skin. I can’t get out. I need to get out: no air or light or day or night. I can’t move, my mortal husk dying. My insides become my outsides, raw, red, and hot-cold. I beg. Just end it and make the pain stop. Let me go back to my bland, barren room. Convulsions lash me. Deep agony flows in my veins, breathing burns, existence a misery, life a torment. I covet death, my infertile room with its stale air and fallow friendship.
Let me die.
Voices call out to me, and prayers cramp and clutch at my heart, imploring me to live so they may live. Their petitions and pleadings cool my fever, scorching the molecules tethering me to this world.
Loneliness and neglect mortify more than an infinity of torture. I refuse the comfort of old habits, and my soul agrees to take on the world’s sins in exchange for an aeon of sensation.
I struggle against the bonds of my wrap and my mind. My mouth opens in a silent shriek. My fingernails pull from their nail beds. My teeth yank from their gums. My body spasms and convulses, loosening my wrappings. My fingers crook and puncture my casing.
Adrenaline fuels my need for escape; moisture breaks out on my skin and dries instantly—a slash of light rends my bindings, a stabbing pain in my eyes. I growl and struggle until I throw off the shroud surrounding me and sit up.
An acolyte shoves a bowl at me, and my teeth elongate as I salivate, the raw meat driving a hunger new to me. I devour the blood-soaked thews, my eyes darting around the room. My white garments turn red; scarlet stains my marmoreal skin; hard muscle bunches in my arms and legs. Power surges in my torso, my heart vibrating like a bass drum.
I snarl and take a deep breath through my nostrils as my eyes dart from one hearty body to another. An acolyte hands me another bowl of blood soup dotted with chunks of body tissue as a priestess dressed in scarlet robes approaches me with a flame brightening the gloaming.
“Oh mighty Vampyre,” says the priestess in a sing-song voice, piercing my ears. “Glorious Calyptra, bestow upon us your new immortality.”
She holds her arms as if ready to take flight and discards her robes. The others in the sanctuary follow suit.
Posing on my altar, my toes curve over the mensa like raptor talons, scratching the alabaster. I inhale the scent of their fear and wonder.
My back itches between my shoulder blades. Ridged veins pierce my skin and drag up membranes covered in scales, forming a pair of red and black forewings and hindwings. I shake them until dry and stiff enough to lift me from my perch.
Hovering about half a meter off the ground, I rotate and view in my surroundings. Turning towards the priestess again, I growl at the prick of light.
“Put it out,” I snarl.
The priestess drops her tallow lamp in her haste to do my bidding. She kneels and reaches for the fallen lantern but forms her hands in prayer instead.
“Please, Eternal One. Feed upon us and bring us into eternity to serve you in everlasting life, perpetual youth, and vigor.” She tilts her head and exposes her neck. The other women and men follow her lead, displaying pulsing arteries.
My stomach convulses in its need for more blood—the sound of their essence thrums in my ears. I must silence the noise and saturate my belly.
“As you wish, my friends,” I say as I rip into their warm flesh and make them mine, never to be alone again.