This story is by Levli Barzel and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Fool,” her mother said.
Lucy should have been immune by then, but the word was a slap her heart had never learned quite how to evade.
“But he loves me,” she said.
Her mother gave a snort. “Loves you? Ha! Will he still love you when you get all pruned-up and your nipples drop to your waist? Mark my words, foolish child,” she intoned. “Before the month is out, you will Turn for him, and you will hate yourself for it. Nothing will change, except you will have to live with the thing you have become, forever.” She cackled then and turned away, and Lucy was left to fight back tears and remind herself desperately that she loved him.
The art museum was where she’d first met Nicholas, charming and blue-eyed and nothing like her, with her mumbling-bumbling ways. She was 19, and so very young, and he was 114, and would never grow old. And he loved her, as he said, again and again, as if knowing she couldn’t believe him. Even as he made love to her, urgent and sweet; even as he offered the ring. Lucy accepted, yet there was one condition she owed her mother for setting: “Don’t turn me, Nix. Not until I’m ready.”
And, expression dark with hurt and wanting, he reluctantly agreed.
To Lucy’s relief, the early years were happy. Nix was passionate and loving; he was also, she grew to know, moody, and selfish, and impatient. Little by little, Lucy taught him to be slower, to embrace every moment as though it was his last. She taught him to laugh, without restraint, tears like pearls in the crinkles of his eyes.
And in the dark of night, with the moon shining brightly on the blood-drenched covers, hopeless and dry-eyed, she held him while he cried.
But if something in him changed, his exterior didn’t show it, while Lucy, as always, slowly aged.
“Are you ready now?” he’d ask.
She said it that first year, laughing while he chased her.
And the second, when everything had yet to change.
And the third year, when the blood didn’t come. And the fourth, when it did, in profusion.
And the year after that. And then again.
“Not yet,” she pleaded. “Soon. Just a few months. We’ll try again. Nix, please.”
And then the question, like Lucy, began to alter. At first it disappeared, resurfacing only in the shift of his eyes or the halting press of his fingers. Lucy told herself she was relieved. She knew, however, that she was a fool; that the inevitable moment would come, and she would have to give her final answer.
Then the question found its voice again. There was no laughter now when she begged for more time. And on Nix’s part, there was no longer touch. And his eyes – she didn’t know, because she couldn’t make herself look at them.
And so another year passed. It was her 28th birthday, and the night before they’d had the worst fight yet. Nix had stormed out of the house, and Lucy had simply let him go. He’ll cool down and come back, she told herself, even as his last words lingered behind.
“All I want is for you to stay. Is that too much to ask?”
“No, I – ”
“Well, I’m starting to think it is. What are you waiting for?”
Her mother, dead these two years, knew best after all. She was a fool. But how could she explain to him how long forever seemed; how she could never truly believe that she was enough as she was, right now, to stay that way; and how she loved him for who he was – and all she needed was for him to do the same? Love her, unchanged and ever-changing.
Fool, she thought again, refusing to look at the test strip in her hand, which in turn refused to change color. Instead, she looked at her reflection. Was she starting to look like her mother? She inhaled sharply, and knew her decision was made. She would give him what he wanted. She would become his fool. Doing her best to ignore her heart’s protests, she waited. When it grew dark and he still hadn’t returned, she put on her coat and left the house. She knew where she’d find him – at the museum where they’d first met, his favorite sulking place.
And find him she did: In a darkened corner, with his fangs sunk deep in the throat of a glossy redhead girl.
The sound of Lucy’s heart breaking alerted them both. Nix looked up, dark-eyed and hungry and aghast. She had only a moment to try and translate the image of his feral face into something she knew, before the girl he’d been sucking on twirled around, teeth bared in a bloody rictus, and lunged.
Oh, what a fool she was.
The first thing Lucy noted when she groggily came to was the darkness, not a glimmer of light anywhere. The second thing was the rage: a coiled smolder deep inside her she wouldn’t let die. Like a baby, she’d lavish it with love and protection.
And then the rest of her senses trickled into awareness: The gnawing pain in the crook of her arm, where life had been sucked out and death was injected instead; the unfamiliar press of lengthened teeth against her lip; the lethargy that seemed to press her to the mattress. Wasn’t she supposed to be stronger than ever? She couldn’t even move.
A face materialized from the darkness above her, and everything came into startling focus: Nix, as always, was a beautiful statue. The heart that had stopped beating inside her shuddered, but once again, she ignored it.
Nicholas, she wanted to hiss.
“Shh,” he crooned. He had the nerve to look relieved. “You’re awake, Luce. You’re beautiful. Don’t try to move.”
He smiled then, and she imagined reaching out to snap his neck. If only she could feel her hands.
You heartless monster, she thought, overcome. How could you do this to me? I loved you.
Something must’ve shown on her face, for his smile died and quietly he said, “I love you, Lucy.”
And she’d have pounced, strength or no strength, except a door opened somewhere, and suddenly Nix’s face was a monster’s and he wheeled on his heels and growled: “I told you not to come in here!”
Lucy’s eyes had adjusted enough to catch a gleam of red hair from the doorway. Her lungs contracted; she was here. How could her heart be breaking all over again? If only she could reach inside her own chest and rip it right out.
Nix was with his back to her, pushing the devil woman out the door. All Lucy could see of her now was the bright white of her dress, like a nurse’s uniform, or an angel.
Ever so slowly she pushed herself up, pain closing on her like a fist. It was an impossible feat to move her legs over the side of the bed. Had she fainted? She didn’t know. She didn’t care.
This isn’t what I wanted, she thought. I will kill him.
No, she knew, in despair. It was she who would die tonight.
Somehow, her feet were on the floor. Hysterical beeps tore the air, and something tumbled with a crash, and a sharp tug on her arm sent chills through her. Her head spun, and she tried to gasp but she couldn’t, and she wanted to cry out but no sound came.
And then Lucy saw her – a shriveled husk of a woman, white hair wild around a pale and wrinkled face. Her nightgown was stained, and the translucent tube of a ventilator snaked from her mouth, pressing against her lower lip. Lucy stared. She lifted her own hand, old and human, to touch the breathing tube in wonder.
“Luce!” said Nix, rushing from the nurse in the doorway. “No! The mirror – I forgot!”
He wrenched the glass away, but Lucy had already seen. I thought I was Turned, she thought.
“Oh, Lucy,” Nix said.
You killed that redhead girl, Lucy suddenly recalled, right in front of me. How could I forget?
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I was angry, wasn’t I?
He must’ve thought she still was, for he said, “Please.”
But she remembered now.
The girl in a sickening pile on the floor, and Nix’s hands and face coated in crimson.
His broken eyes.
He didn’t move.
“Go,” Lucy heard herself say again. And she knew. “I can’t do this. I won’t.”
“I. Won’t. Turn. For. You.”
And she closed her eyes, and didn’t let herself cry, and waited for him to walk away.
“Lucy?” Nix said now.
She opened her eyes and he reached out, gently, and wiped away a fast hot tear.
Why did you stay? she asked without words. Nix said nothing, only held her close.
Fondly, she thought, Fool.