This story is by Robert L. Harrell and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jane huddled behind the juniper at the back of Mrs. Hubbard’s lawn, head buried in her ample skirt. The faded green with purple flowers blended with the garden’s Mexican bush sage. Dense foliage and clouds hid Jane in darkness. Her torn, bloody blouse, broken plastic tiara, and disheveled hair testified to her pursuers’ brutality. She stifled a groan.
“Where’d she go?” Her assailants, teens dressed as werewolves, continued their drunken search. “How’d she disappear?”
Had they been true werewolves, they would have scented her fear, blood, and despair.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Her attackers’ taunting singsong faded into the distance, but the pain racking her body continued.
They had trailed her from the Wolfsville Halloween Festival despite Jane’s attempts to elude them. The subsequent encounter unfolded like the nightmares haunting her sleep for months. Laughter assaulted her ears as inhuman faces leered at her, sour breath gagged her, massive hands pawed her body, muscular arms tore her clothing, a broken bottle gouged her stomach. No Prince Charming rescued her—the difference between dreams and reality. She fought her way free and fled, leaving her belongings, including her ID, behind. She was going to die in Mrs. Hubbard’s garden.
Startled by a sudden presence, Jane retreated further into the shadows, incapable of other movement. She had escaped her tormentors through fight and flight; now she froze.
Her apprehensive gaze through tangled hair revealed an impossible sight, and her mouth rounded into a capital O.
Beside her squatted the handsomest man she had ever seen. Jet-black hair framed a diamond-shaped face carved from the purest alabaster, aglow in the moonlight illuminating him alone. He bore brows so flawless he must pluck them, luxuriant lashes long enough to curl, and mesmerizing eyes so dark they appeared black. A straight nose, angular jaw, pointed chin, and high cheekbones completed the masterpiece of late-teens male perfection.
He had appeared without a sound. She should be terrified, but somehow, his presence soothed her, perhaps because he reminded her of her dreams’ Prince Charming. Or perhaps because he exuded comforting stillness despite his lean and hungry look.
His costume was exquisite: a black, three-piece suit trimmed in dark red and a satin cape, black with a red lining that matched the suit’s trim. A knotted red cord secured the cape’s collar.
In contrast to Jane’s panicked quaking beneath the inexplicable mental blanket of calm, the teen remained as motionless as a marble funeral sculpture. His breathing was undetectable.
His open suit jacket revealed a tight waistcoat with seven gold buttons, the bottom one left undone, although his lithe frame required no extra space. A gold chain connected the vest’s pockets, passing through the third-bottom buttonhole, from which dangled a gilded rose. Elegance oozed from the gray-on-gray patterned tie against a shirt the same blood red as the cape lining.
The earthy odor of pencil shavings overlaid with a hint of mothballs tickled Jane’s nose, reminding her of her grandmother’s cedar chest.
“Are you all right?” Worry lines creased the teen’s brow, and Jane reached to smooth them but stopped. Rubbing his forehead would smudge and bloody his makeup.
Aristocratic nostrils flared. “What happened?” The gentle voice, full of concern, possessed a faint accent.
“A gang dressed as werewolves attacked me.” Jane dropped her head to hide the spasm of pain from her wounds.
“Can you identify them?” A guttural snarl escaped the teen’s blood-red lips, and the tip of a pointed canine tooth peeked beneath his curled upper lip.
Jane’s fear spiked at his tone. “Yeah, right. Everyone dresses like a werewolf in Wolfsville. Except you.” Despite her alarm, she couldn’t suppress her curiosity. “Who are you? Where do you come from?”
Tranquility returned to the silky voice. “How dare they attack a princess, especially one as beautiful as you?”
Jane barked a quick, humorless laugh. “Me? Beautiful? I’m just Plain Jane. Princess? Not even on Halloween.”
All vestiges of anger gone, the handsome youth ran his hand through Jane’s hair with ethereal gentleness and traced her facial contours without touching. “I scoured the earth through eons of eternity to find you.”
Jane emitted a most unladylike snort. Mom—before she died—used to punish her for talking to boys, preaching they wanted only one thing from a girl as ugly as Jane, and it wasn’t a relationship. She always thought Mom’s attitude was because Dad left them, but the fake werewolves tonight proved Mom right. “Go away. All guys are monsters.”
The young man rocked back on his heels, wrapped his arms around his knees, and stared at the ground. “I’m sorry I didn’t arrive in time.”
“In time for what?” Would this exemplar of sophisticated maleness have joined her assailants?
“To rescue you from those brutes. I failed you.”
The wretchedness and regret on her angel’s face tugged at Jane’s heart. She laid a hand atop the youth’s clenched fist, which was as chill as the late October night. Snatching her arm back, she stared. No makeup marked her fingers, but blood stained his knuckles. He licked them in a gesture both sensual and elegant.
“I know what you are. End my misery.” Jane bared her neck in invitation.
The teen shook his head. “Death is not the answer. Nor is revenge, nor unending ages of wearisome existence.” He stared at her with glistening eyes.
Jane drew one aristocratic hand to her lips and kissed icy fingers. Her lips moved to his palm, the heel of his hand, his wrist.
The young man’s eyes closed as bliss stole across his countenance. “Thou art fair, my beloved; thy hair is as a flock of goats; thine eyes are doves’ eyes; thy teeth are like shorn sheep, fresh from the washing—.”
Jane bit through his flawless skin into his radial artery and drank.
To Jane’s surprise, the teen neither protested nor resisted, but watched with a serene smile. He pressed his wrist against her mouth until she fainted.
When Jane opened her eyes, the young man’s face swam into focus. Dark circles ringed his red and sunken eyes. Dirty hair hung limp and stringy. His tie drooped around his neck, and his open vest revealed a rumpled shirt. Dirt stained his trousers, and he went barefoot. The pillow beneath her head on the cellar’s dirt floor must be his jacket.
The teen rewarded her with a beatific smile. “You chose. Difficult transition. Third night.” He spoke with difficulty. “Reborn. Free. Freeborn.” He swayed as if ready to collapse, his sunken cheeks dull, his eyes clouded, decrepit.
“I chose you.” Jane extended her bare arm. “Drink.”
The young man froze, his face contorted with angst, hunger, and desire. He rose, trembling, and extended an emaciated hand with grimy, jagged fingernails. “Outside, in the moonlight.”
Stronger than him now and ravenous, Jane wavered. Draining the rest of his blood and power would prove an easy task.
She rose and slipped her arm around his waist. Together, they stepped from the cellar into the light of a waxing crescent moon and settled among Mrs. Hubbard’s blood-red orchids.
The teen’s exquisite mouth caressed Jane’s temples, cheeks, and jaw. His lips brushed hers with the lightest of touches for the briefest of moments before dropping to the curve of her neck, making Jane shiver. He moved to her shoulder, lingered in her elbow’s crook, and kissed his way to her wrist.
“I choose you, my princess. Your blood intoxicates me.” His teeth pierced Jane’s skin and tore open her radial artery. The youth drank until she swooned. Rejuvenated, he swept Jane into a vigorous embrace.
The pair returned to the cellar. At the doorstep sat a small cooler, atop which lay a card trimmed in gold. The front carried the printed maxim, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Mrs. Hubbard’s precise, elegant handwriting filled the space above an embossed gold rose on the back. I wish you the best. Love is patient and kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. Without love, the world is your sepulcher. Love never ends. H. P.S. Visit whenever you wish.
Inside the cooler rested two bags of blood.
A year later, under a Hunter’s Blood Moon, Prince Kedar of the Golden Rose Sept married Lady Jane the Freeborn in an ancient ceremony. The marks of choosing on their wrists glowed silver under the full moon.
When the happy couple exited the hall, attendants greeted the wedding party with black horses marked by phosphorescence on their muzzles, around their eyes, and in their manes and tails.
With a mischievous smile quirking his lips and a gleam in his eye, Kedar assisted his bride into the saddle. “My wedding gift to you is a Wild Hunt. We pursue male teen werewolves. Appropriate for Halloween, don’t you think?”
Kedar mounted his impatient steed with a theatrical swirl of his cape. His voice rang out in the expectant stillness. “Let the chase begin!”
Werewolves never again prowled the streets of Wolfsville on Halloween.