WARNING: mild sexual content
As I prepped my notes for work on Ties of Blood, I noticed that I have a lot of side characters who, for one reason or another, don’t get any “me” time. so, I’ve decided to remedy that in a collection of short stories called…
(You can find Nirel in Legacy of Ghosts . This story takes place in Indiana in 1967. Iris has a cameo in the upcoming Ashes of Deceit and, if all things work out as planned, you should see her and her sister in book 5.)
”Whereat with blade,
some demon shudders,
hiding under smoky glass
the colors run like virgin teardrops…”
Nirel tuned out, though the rest of the poem was in the same vein. Maybe it was because he wasn’t as high as the others, or maybe it really was utter tosh, but he just didn’t care. When the girl finished, everyone else clapped and reeled off compliments. The best one was from a guy in a pair of dark bell bottoms. “That was beautiful. It is so in tune with modernism and the core of socio-transcendental-patterns of a new age.”
Nirel scoffed and lit another fag. Either that guy saw something he didn’t, or else he just wanted in her knickers. It’s probably the second one.
He felt the eyes and turned his head to see Agnes staring steadily at him. He gave her a nod and then looked away, as if that would discourage her. Times like this made him wonder what he’d been thinking when he’d made the sisters what he was; immortal and unchanging: vampires.
Her dark eyes bored into him; expecting something more. He shifted uncomfortably and finally swept to his feet. He muttered about needing air, not that anyone listened, and strode out the door.
The porch sagged. He leaned against a peeling railing and listened to the sound of the rain as it pinged the shabby roof and the late summer vegetation. Drip. Drop. Plop.
He wiped the rain drop from his forehead and, with a filthy glare at the leaking roof, he hunkered down in a shadowy corner, away from the moisture.
The front door opened and closed. Agnes took a few faltering steps and squinted into the dark. He watched her eyes widen and a small smile curve over her cherry lips when she spotted him.
“Why are you hiding in the corner?” she asked and giggled. “Don’t you like the rain? I’d think it would remind you of home.”
“Eh, I don’t care either way, love.” He drew the last puff from his fag and threw it out into the rainy yard. “Alright so I’m here.”
She frowned. “You make it sound like some kind of duty.”
Isn’t it? He kept the thought to himself and gave a non committal shrug. Her frown deepened and, with a roll of his eyes, he caught her and pulled her to him. She resisted for just a minute; the feminine proof that she was the one in charge, and then she surrendered and snuggled into him with a soft sigh. He wrapped his arms around her and tangled his fingers in her chestnut hair. He leaned close and his lips brushed her neck where a knot of old scars was still visible. He inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of her hair, her skin, her blood.
And then he bit.
She moaned softly and melted over him, like warm butter. Her blood filled his mouth, warm, spicy, sweet. He closed his eyes and tasted her; her thoughts, her dreams, her desires. They were all there, scattered at his feet like jewels and he chose which to look at and which to ignore. She tasted good, she felt good. Suddenly he wasn’t sure why he objected so much.
A wave of pleasure swept over him, and engulfed them both. With a shuddering groan, she tugged open his shirt and bit his chest. Her fangs sunk deep and he felt the initial pull as she drew his blood into her mouth. Then it was gone and there was nothing but him and her crashing together to the beat of the rain.
She cried out as the orgasm ripped through her, and he followed a moment later. His lips released her, and he traced his tongue over the still bleeding wound. She lay against his chest, murmuring soft sounds, like a kitten. Time and reality came back into focus as the blood pleasure faded. He closed his eyes against it. The soft landscape of her mind had been better and yet-
And yet he didn’t love her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, as if she had plucked the thought from his mind, though it was an ability she didn’t have.
She just knows .She always bloody knows.
“I love you enough for both of us.”
He sighed and brushed her hair back from her flushed face. “I doubt that, love.”
Music drifted out to them; heavy on the guitar and lean on meaning. The rain sped up and low thunder rumbled in the distance. Marijuana smoke wafted through the open window and he breathed it in. It was weak and diluted, just as they were.
He changed the topic. “You got one picked out yet?”
She giggled like a mischievous child. “I thought the one in the paisley, with the dreamy eyes.”
“Dreamy?” He snorted. “’e didn’t look dreamy to me, but call ‘im what you want.”
“I didn’t say he was dreamy, just his eyes.” She sighed. “I want to look into those eyes while I drink from him.”
The door banged open and Iris stepped out. She adjusted her glasses and peered into the shadows. Despite the gift of vampirism, neither of them could see well. “It’s an improvement!” Iris had cried with delight as she looked on the world with her new eyes. “Oh look, Agnes! Look! I can see the stars.”
As mortals, they’d obviously been very blind.
Iris hurried to them, a faint look of disapproval on her face. “Are you about ready to go? I’m bored.”
“Not yet,” Agnes turned to face her sister, though she still held a wad of his shirt in one hand. “I haven’t eaten yet.”
Iris crossed her arms. “Then hurry up. These parties are so boring. I don’t know why we come to them.”
It was a tune he’d heard before. “If it’s not your scene, love, you don’t have to come.”
“Yes she does!” Agnes cried and grabbed her sister’s arm with her free hand. “I want her to come.”
Iris adjusted her glasses, as if to make herself look sterner. “Then feed so we can go!”
“All right!” Agnes giggled and stepped away from Nirel. “I’ll be right back,” she trilled and nearly danced to the door and back into the house.
Agnes turned her stern gaze to Nirel. “What about you?”
“I’ll catch something later. None of ‘em caught my fancy.”
“Not a lot does.” He could see the wheels turning behind her eyes, as though she were trying to formulate an especially witty and pointed remark.
He didn’t give her time. “You’re the one who was bored, not me.”
“Well, yes, but these parties are boring. The drugs don’t do anything for me-”
“Nothing at all?” he asked with mild surprise. They might be vampires but he still got a buzz.
“That’s what I just said. The music is terrible and the company even worse. Can’t we do something exciting?”
He tugged a fag from the pack and lit it. “And what would you find exciting? Cutting my ‘ead off, maybe?”
“That might be a good start,” she admitted with a huff. He glared back and she softened. “Oh, you’re all right, I suppose. But can’t we do something ‘vampire-ish?’ It’s been five years and nothing has changed! We might as well still be human! Surely there has to be something more than this.”
“Ya got any ideas? I’m all ears.” He took a deep puff and breathed out a cloud of vaporous smoke. “What do ya expect to ‘appen? Vampires are just people who live forever, so of course it’s all the same.”
“But we don’t have to hang out with… them!” she made a sweeping gesture towards the house and its mortal occupants. “Shouldn’t we be with our own kind?”
He snickered. “Vampires ain’t big on packs. Why d’ya think I’m by myself. How long do ya want to spend with someone before you’re tired of them?”
“Well I’m tired of this.” Iris stomped her foot for emphasis and the porch shuddered just a little. “I want some adventure!”
The door opened and Agnes appeared, licking her lips and smiling serenely. “He was delicious!” she declared as she came to a stop before them and grabbed Nirel’s hand. “Are we ready?”
Iris narrowed her eyes. “Yes, more ready than you can guess.”
It was still drizzling the next evening. Iris donned a rain poncho and bulldozed her way out the door. Agnes didn’t bother with a coat, only grabbed Nirel’s arm and dragged him into the rain.
“Oh!” she cried with delight. “The drops are cold! Do you feel them?”
“Eh, not really.” His gaze swept from her rapt face to the fringe of dark trees that bordered the property. Over the sound of the storm he could hear Iris clomping through the underbrush, pointedly searching for soggy prey.
“What?” His attention swung back to her. “Sorry.”
She batted his apology aside. “I said try! Here!” She grabbed his arm and extended it, forcing his palm up. “Now concentrate. Feel the drops as they land on your fingers.”
He sighed inwardly. If it would shut her up he’d play along. “Yeah, yeah. I feel it. Cold.”
“See?” She giggled and released him so she could step away and look up at the dark sky. “Iris is angry.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s bored.”
Agnes’s face clouded and she met his eyes. “Are you?”
He looked back to the trees and bit off another sigh. “Love, I’ve been bored since I was born.”
“Even when you’re with me?”
He cringed at the clingy question. “Agnes-”
“It’s all right. You don’t need to answer.” She followed his gaze and stared at the trees as if she could see through them. “She wants to leave.”
The non sequitur jarred him. “What?”
“Iris. She wants to leave you. She wants to go that guild place where the other vampires are.”
Nirel shoved his hands in his pockets. “It isn’t what she thinks it is, like some kind of bloody summer camp. It’s just a place where some of them go, mainly the prats who rule the rest of us. What she wants is a proper coven, but even that won’t be what she’s ‘oping for. They just turn on you when it suits ‘em and leave you behind to take the fall.”
Agnes caught his arm and said softly, “You could come with us.”
“Not if you’re goin’ to the bloody Guild. I’m sorry, love, but that’s not a place I want to visit.”
She sagged against him, her voice a whisper nearly lost among the rain drops. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t leave her but…” she turned to him with liquid eyes. “Please, Nirel? I know you don’t love me, but-”
The answer was on his face and she looked away. “It isn’t fair! Why must I always choose? Why is it always what she wants or what I want? Why can’t we both be happy?”
Her misery was too much for him. “Look, maybe you should let ‘er go by ‘erself? You could stay ‘ere and we could… I don’t know. We could do sumthin’.”
She shook her head emphatically. “I can’t leave her, you have to understand. We’ve always been together. I just – I can’t!” She exploded in a shower of tears and ran for the house.
Nirel took an absent step to follow her, then stopped. He could hear the squishy-squashy sound of Iris stomping her way across the lawn towards him.
“She told you?”
He didn’t bother to face her. “Yeah. So when ya leavin’?”
He could imagine the way her face scrunched up. “You don’t have to sound so delighted about it! You might pretend you care about her!”
“Why bother?” He turned for the trees. “I’m gonna go feed. I’ll be back.”
Iris shrieked after him, “You’re a jerk!”
Maybe I am, but you’re a petulant cow.
He half expected them to be gone when he returned. They weren’t. Agnes sat in a chair in the kitchen, her skinny knees up to her chin. Iris banged around deeper in the house; in the bedroom, it sounded like. Ah, I bet she’s packing. Well good riddance.
Nirel shook his shaggy red hair out and wiped the rain from his face. He peeled off his sodden shirt and jacket and tossed them in the sink, then he dropped into one of the kitchen chairs. “She’s in an ‘urry?”
Agnes answered with no enthusiasm, “Yeah. Once she makes up her mind she likes to jump right into it.” They fell silent and she dropped her legs and leaned on the table. Absently, she traced a circle on the table top, the mark from an old moisture ring. “She spent so long sick. We couldn’t do anything; we couldn’t even go outside when we were little.” She sought his eyes, pleading. “You have to understand.”
He leaned back in the chair and noted the soft creak of the wood. “I never said that I didn’t.”
Iris’s voice floated from the bedroom, “I can hear you, you know!”
Agnes dropped her head to the table. “Yeah, I know,” she murmured. “So what are you going to do- once we leave, I mean?”
He realized suddenly that it was their house. They’d grown up there, in the middle of nowhere Indiana, two sickly girls, their aging mother and her religion. From what he understood it had been powerful enough to count as a fourth inhabitant. “I dunno. Go find sumthin’ to do, I reckon.”
“You could stay here. We’ll probably come back.”
“Yeah, maybe.” The tension was heavy; like the shadows that hung in the corners. He stood and stretched. “I’m gonna go to town. I’ll be back.”
He grabbed his wet shirt from the sink and hurried out the door. Agnes’s surprised face hung in his memory even as the door slammed behind him. Hurt and surprised.
What did she expect?
He took another hit and handed it to the girl across from him. She had red hair the color of a summer sunset and eyes like green grass and she was so blitzed out of her mind she didn’t even know where she was.
“What did you say?”
He hadn’t said anything, but that didn’t matter. “I said she’s leaving.”
Her red tinted eyebrows drew together. “Who’s leaving?”
“Agnes. She and her sister are packin’ their shit and ‘eading out.”
“Bummer. Is she your girl?”
“No.” He leaned back on his elbows. “She’s just a girl.”
The redhead held the smoke in her lungs, then let it out in a sweet scented cloud. “Did you date her a long time?”
He rolled his eyes. “Eh, five years.”
Her green eyes popped. “Wow, that is a long time. No wonder you’re so cut up.”
“I’m not cut up.” She offered the joint to him and he waved it away. “I don’t care.”
She was suddenly distracted by her hand. Obviously she’d been doing more than just pot. When she came back she blinked at him and asked again, “What?”
A guy in a dark blue pullover lounged behind her. “He was telling you about his girlfriend.”
“Oh were you?” She fixed him with a vacant stare. “What about her?”
Nirel ground his teeth to keep from snapping, “No, I wasn’t.” He was suddenly sick of the whole vapid, stupid crowd. They didn’t know their arse from a hole in the ground. They probably didn’t even know their own bleedin’ names. Iris was right, there had to be something more.
The thought filled him with fury and he bit off his words savagely, “I was tellin’ you ‘ow we met. It was snowing and I was ‘ungry and there was their house, out in the middle of nowhere. So, I go right up and I knock on the door.”
He could still see it in his head. The door was locked and he pounded on it. He could smell their blood and he wanted it; he needed it. It had been days since he’d fed. After the massacre, his coven had abandoned him and left him to take the punishment. He was the newest, after all, the least important. The redheaded executioner had spared him, but the lackeys had left him bound and gagged in the abandoned house. He’d had to wait for the rats to chew through the rope. He’d caught one of them, but the rest of them ran and he’d stumbled out into the snow, looking for something better.
He’d knocked, over and over and over. Finally the door opened and the woman had stared at him. Short and gray, with cold, hard, unrelenting eyes; eyes that promised to suffocate those they loved and destroy any who endangered their carefully arranged kingdom. The kind of eyes that haunted a person’s dreams.
He’d killed her on the doorstep. Her blood splashed up the door and when he’d drained her he’d almost licked it off the woodwork, except he could smell the others; two others. It wasn’t just their blood, but the odor of a sick room. They’d be weak…
The guy in the pullover cut into his memories, “So what happened?”
An evil smile stretched across Nirel’s face. “I killed their mother and then I went through the ‘ouse ‘til I found the sisters cowering in the bedroom, dressed in their nightclothes and beggin’ me to spare ‘em. But I was too ‘ungry, so I drained ‘em both and now I’m gonna do the same to you.”
The red haired girl blinked vacantly. “What?”
Her question ended in a scream.
Nirel wiped the blood off of his face and left. The screen door slammed with echoing finality. Someone was bound to find the two bodies soon. Maybe later tonight. Maybe tomorrow. The others had run from what they’d later think was a drug induced hallucination.
He hadn’t needed to kill them. They normally didn’t; they just took some and left them alive. But tonight was the kind of night to revel in death and blood. It felt good. It felt like some kind of power.
The rain had slowed, but it still dripped in fat, splatting drops. Nirel walked randomly and listened to the noise in his head. It was nonsense and it didn’t make him feel any better.
The sky was rosy to the east when he ducked into an abandoned root cellar. It smelled of earth and wet and mold. He flopped across a bin of rotten potatoes and closed his eyes. He could see Agnes; see her huddled in a ball on the floor in the bedroom, crammed back as if to hide from him. Iris was on the bed, her hair cropped short and her arms waifishly thin. She squinted at him, no doubt trying to make sense of the smeared vision of a withered monster. He grabbed her first, only because she was closer. Her skin tasted like sweat and medicine, and her blood had the bitter tang of chemicals, but he didn’t care. It tasted like life to him.
Agnes screamed and lunged at his legs. She sobbed and begged him to stop. “Not my sister. No! Not her! Me! Take me!” and he hadn’t cared. One was as good as another. He dropped Iris back to the bed where she curled into a trembling ball, her hand to her neck.
He remembered how Agnes’s tears had tasted, and how hot her blood was as it filled his mouth. Iris cried; a constant flow of inaudible whimpers meant to be pleas. And there, in Agnes’s mind he saw it all. He saw the two girls, born weak and sickly. Saw the day their father left them. Saw their mother and her despair. Saw as Iris got better, then worse, as Agnes, the youngest but strongest battled for a life and ran away, only to find that the world outside was cruel. He watched her crawl home, her dead dreams packed away in her suitcase with her toothbrush.
And he’d turned her rather than watch her die. Not because he cared but…
Because I was bored.
His rest was patchy at best, and he was grateful when twilight came.
The rain had stopped and stars peeped between tattered clouds in the deepening sky above him. He trudged the familiar path back to the lonely clapboard house. No lights shone in the windows, and he hesitated on the lawn for a moment before he plunged through the door into the silent kitchen.
“’ello?” He didn’t know why he bothered. He already knew they were gone.
He didn’t turn the light on. He didn’t need it. He could see in the dark, like he was supposed to. Not like them.
An envelope lay on the table and he picked it up. He recognized Agnes’s slanting handwriting. “To Nirel” it said, and underneath in smaller letters she’d added a hasty, “Please read this. XXO.”
He stuffed it in his pocket and dropped into the kitchen chair he’d been in the night before. “You have to understand,” she’d said, and he did. He understood.
“No skin off my nose, eh?” The darkness creaked around him, as if the house and its ghosts were answering, so he added, louder this time, “You ‘ere me? It’s no skin off my nose. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care where they go. You ‘ere me? I don’t care-”
He broke off and laughed softly to himself. “Goin’ crackers already, ain’t I?”
The wind whispered through the corners, and he shivered. He imagined he could feel their mother’s eyes on him, like they’d been that first night. They were angry eyes. Vengeful eyes. Eyes that wanted to punish him for what he’d taken away.
He stood and made show of gathering his things, as if to prove to the phantoms that he was leaving. With his bag over his shoulder he thumped out of the house and locked the door behind him. The key seemed to burn his fingers, but he didn’t know what to do with it. Stick it in a plant somewhere? Toss it in the creek?
He settled for jamming it into his pocket with the letter. Her letter. What could she have to say to him? Probably more clingy, whiny bullshit.
“I love you enough for the both of us.”
But it didn’t matter because he didn’t love her. He’d never loved her.
And he’d keep telling himself that.
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