This story is by MJ La and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The unfed woman traced a pale finger over the date etched in the tombstone. Her lover had died 18 years ago today, but tonight, here below the swaying oak trees, he would return. Throughout the centuries she’d prowled the earth, she’d sought out others, sampled their blood, but the Gods were jesters, for the blood had tasted worst than ash. One lover was her destiny. One source. Over and over, for all of time. And so she waited.
She glared at the full moon leering down at her. Two things were worrying her that night.
She’d lost count of the lovers she’d had; all of them reincarnated, devoted, faultless, tending to her every need. And yet. The promise of a feeding tonight didn’t ignite her as it always had.
And she had all the gold to buy the world, and all the jewels to make greedy men cry. And yet. Her lovers have always had what she did not.
She curled her lip at her thoughts. What was immortality if it had turned monotonous? What was immortality if it came with limitations?
Dried leaves crackled in the distance. She didn’t need to turn to hear the man’s awkward shuffle as his bad leg dragged dead leaves along behind him. She waited until he stopped one grave away, then said quietly, “You do not want to be here tonight.”
His head jerked towards her. He stuck his shovel into the dirt and spat out, “What’s it to you?”
He had audacity, speaking to her that way. But she did nothing. The clubbing of his fingernails were a clear sign of his heart disease, so death was imminent. She simply glared at him.
He visibly shivered as he stared back, his mind vibrating with thoughts she could feel but not hear.
“You’re waiting for something,” he finally said.
Something, he’d said, not someone. “Why do you think that?”
She heard his heartbeat slow, a rhythm of yearning.
“Aren’t we always waiting for something?”
She said nothing. Humans always liked to fill the void of silence.
But he didn’t say anything.
She sighed. “What are you waiting for?”
He smiled down at the gravestone he stood beside. “His name was Ricky. My boy. He had a happy, crinkly laugh. Like Christmas wrapping paper. We used to have breakfast food for dinner and dinner food for breakfast.” He shrugged a shoulder, as if to shake off the grief. “We had a lifetime of happy memories. It was enough.”
She fixed her gaze onto the dates on the tombstone. A lifetime, he’d said, but Ricky had only lived for five years. How could five years be a lifetime, when she’d lived for thousands more?
“He got everything he wanted,” the man continued, “But the one thing I couldn’t give him.”
She cast her gaze over the graveyard, over the trees and into the vast distance.
Time. Something she couldn’t be rid of. A reel of memories played in her mind, a mosaic of her lovers’ faces and herself, flitting across the world, over thousands of nights. She’d grown bored, she realised. When you had lived an eternity, what was there left to discover, to enjoy?
“He died today, ten years ago.” He brushed at the dust covering the tombstone. “Being a digger here keeps me close-by.”
He dug graves to stay close to his son. It was…touching. The feeling was one she hadn’t felt in a long time. She wanted…more. What were this man’s prized memories of his son? What was the breakfast they ate for dinner? He spoke the truth, of their short time together being enough. The gratitude and love beating in his heart, what would that feel like? Her tongue pulsed in time to the blood surging up his carotid artery. Drinking from him meant she’d know his life. And in knowing his life she’d understand; understand how five years were enough yet she’d had centuries and her belly was still not yet sated.
The wind picked up, and something deeply alive whiffed through the branches. She raised her face to the sky and sniffed. Her new lover was close. She felt no anticipation at the possibility now, but her body knew his scent and blood. Nothing quite compared to the scent of each new lover, the sugary balsamic nectar was unmistakable. Her skin started to itch, as if clusters of spiders crawled along it, and her eyes heated as her hunger kicked in. Her gums tingled as her fangs sprouted.
The boy appeared from between the oak trees, his skin gleaming pure as moonlight. His eyes glowed with great vigour, and the youthful curve of his cheekbones and jawline hinted at the man he had yet to become. When he reached her, he skimmed a finger down her cheek and said, “My love.”
She studied him, a boy no older than 18 whose body carried the blood and soul of every lover she’d had. Over and over, her soulmate had reincarnated and found her. When it finally happened, the moment of reunion —though she’d lived it hundreds of times— always stunned her.
“My love,” she answered, and cradled his face. So young, so vital. She breathed him in, that sweetness, and bared her fangs.
“Yes,” he sighed, and closed his eyes, already in bliss. He tilted his head and wrenched his collar away to reveal his pulse, racing with his sweet, sweet nectar. Lust spiked viciously inside her now, electric shocks sparking through every layer of her skin. But she hesitated.
She stared at him: his perfectly arched brows, his lush mouth ready for his lover’s kiss. This boy’s face, as magnificent as it was, was just another blur in her mosaic. This boy’s blood, so young, so green, would almost be…bland. Void of substance, of fire.
Something moved beside her and she glanced over. Ricky’s father had raised his shovel over his head to strike her, but her hand shot out and gripped the handle. He froze in terror, and swallowed hard. “Let the boy go!” he yelled. She cocked her head at him. Here was a man whose blood would be rich as fertile soil, brimming with regret, with gusto, with feeling.
But she realised with a jolt that she didn’t have to taste his blood to feel what he felt. Being bound to one lover for the rest of time, at the mercy of the foolish Gods was an encumbrance she didn’t have to tolerate. She could feel and do as she pleased.
Her decision made, a slight flick of her wrist snapped off the shovel’s wooden handle. Before either men could react, she wrapped the boy’s hand around the splintered stake and plunged it deep into her chest.
“No!” The boy jerked back, but she didn’t let go and pulled him in closer. Ricky’s father dropped the tool and fell to the ground, his body trembling.
“I don’t…” The boy shook his head in shock. “Why did you do this?”
She smiled at him. She felt nothing but…release. “We’re no longer bound, my love. By letting you kill me, I’ve freed you. When the sun rises, you’ll no longer remember me. You’re free.”
A blackness was rapidly descending, a blanket of numbness heavy and wet on her chest. She sunk to the ground.
His eyes teared up, ever the loyal lover. “But why this time?”
She could, finally, have what all her lovers have always had. She’d forgotten the sensations of sunshine warming her face, of savouring tart fruity wine. Of eating dinner foods for breakfast. When she reincarnated, she’d be human again.
She used the last of her strength to answer him.
“It is enough.”
Ricky’s father dug with the broken shovel until it was big enough. There was no coffin, no tombstone, just a hole for a black shrivelled carcass nobody deserved to stumble on when they visited their loved ones.
He’d hobbled away and hid behind the trees, and watched her die in the boy’s arms. What she said had been true. When the sun soared, the boy had risen to his feet, brushed back his hair and silently walked away, oblivious to the blistering corpse.
Despite those seconds when she’d bared her fangs and he thought he’d be joining Ricky in the heavens, it was the image of her as he’d first walked up to the grave that struck him. A waif-like woman, waiting alone on the dirt, a fiery defiance blazing in her eyes. He said a prayer and rolled the carcass into the grave.
He wondered if she now had everything she’d been waiting for.
He buried his broken shovel with the carcass.
It was done.
He limped away, leaving behind a trail of dead crumpled leaves.