Bloodred

British Columbia, Canada
genre: Romance

The cricket ball had fallen into John’s roses again. He fished it out and scowled at its owner.

The girl swallowed, clutching her bat. “Sorry, Mr. Edward.”

“It’s late to be out playing,” John said, pointing a bony finger at her. “You should be careful. And mind my rose bush.”

The boy beside her scoffed. “They’re just flowers.”

John twitched. Wheeling back a wiry arm, he hurled the cricket ball forward.

The boy cried out and took off, and the girl ran after him, leaving her ball to bounce down the empty street.

John sighed, retrieving the ball. He’d return it later. It wouldn’t help—it never did—but he had to keep trying.

“I hate losing my temper,” he murmured as he inspected his roses. “I know they’re just kids.” He fingered the crushed blossoms, their redness pale in the moonlight.

“They’re beautiful.”

John looked up. A tall, black-haired woman stood at the edge of his lawn. Her face was shadowed, just out of reach of the streetlamp, but he thought he saw the edge of a smile.

“Thank you,” he said warily. “These roses have been my pride and joy for… a long time.”

“Oh? How long?”

He squinted. “I haven’t seen you around here before, miss…?”

“Viola,” the woman said. She took a step forward and extended a slender hand.

He took it and kissed it, then blinked. He’d meant to shake it.

But she was smiling. “My, my, I haven’t seen such chivalry in an age.”

John realized he was still holding onto her hand, and he dropped it clumsily. “Sorry.”

“Not at all,” she said. Her face was white and ageless, with a sharp nose pointed firmly upward. “I’m charmed.”

“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” The words fell out before he knew he was saying them.

Viola’s smile widened, and the moonlight flashed on two perfect fangs. “I’d be delighted.”

John took a step back. “You’re—”

“One of our kind,” she said. “Yes.”

John glanced around. “Come inside, quickly.”

-

In the cottage, Viola perched queenlike on a wooden chair. “Why did you file them?”

John touched his hand to his open mouth. “I thought it was just me, now. I thought I was the only one left.”

“So you hid.”

He winced. “You know what they used to do to us. What they’d still do, if they knew we’d survived.”

“We’re stronger than them,” Viola said. “We can protect ourselves.”

John shook his head. “Not if it’s just you and me.”

“We can protect each other.”

Viola’s hand found his. Her skin was cool and his wrinkled fingers trembled against it. She held tightly, and he was still.

He stared at her, sitting in his kitchen like a ghost, like a dream. “How did you find me?”

She sniffed. “Rumours.”

“But I’ve been so careful.”

“Yes,” she said. “Rumours of cows gone sickly in the night, pigs and horses suddenly anemic. Pigs, John? Where is your dignity? With all these humans around you, ripe and waiting?”

“We don’t need them,” John said. “If we don’t hurt the humans, they’ll learn we’re not a threat.”

Viola stood up. “They should be frightened. We could crush them, if we wanted to.”

John looked at her. “Are there others left?”

She nodded. “I’m certain of it. We’ll find them, John. You and I.”

“You and I,” he echoed. “Together.”

She sat back down and smiled at him. “And we’ll outlast them all.”

-

They talked until the sky slivered pink through the kitchen curtains, and then they retired to the bedroom. His bed was antique and too small for both of them, but she insisted on lying beside him.

“We must stay together,” she said. Her hand closed around his again.

He didn’t sleep.

-

At night, she rose, and he followed her.

“Not my neighbours,” he said. “Please.”

“I’m hungry.”

“There’s another village down the road.”

She sighed. “If you wish.”

He watched her small leathered wings fluttering out of sight against the dark sky. Suddenly dizzy, he moved to steady himself against something, but there was only his rose bush.

He cut a single rose with a long stem and laid it on the kitchen table. The room felt too empty now, and his head too full of cotton and fantasies with nowhere to go.

The ink in his fountain pen had dried from disuse, but he soon got it flowing again.

When she returned, it was nearly dawn. Blood trickled down her pointed chin as she eyed the rose and the paper on the table where he sat. “What’s this?”

“A poem,” he said.

One thin eyebrow arched. “For me?” She snatched it up, her dark eyes moving swiftly down the page before looking up at him.

“I’m a tad rusty,” he said. “I haven’t written a sonnet in nearly two hundred years.”

She kissed him. Her lips were blood, and fire, and the blackest night sky, and he was lost in her.

They didn’t sleep that day.

When the sun set, she left to feed again, his rose tucked behind her ear. He felt his cheek where her cold lips had brushed his skin on her way out, and sat stupidly at his kitchen table as the moon travelled across the sky, shining on his old tin watering can where it lay forgotten on the lawn.

-

“You must come with me tonight,” she said. “My love, you must remember the taste of human blood.”

John thought of the children playing cricket down the street. He opened his mouth, touching his useless teeth. “I can’t.”

She took his hand. “I’ll help you.”

He swallowed. “Tomorrow.”

Her hand dropped his. “You want to live like one of them. To pretend you’re still a human.”

He bowed his head.

“They will never accept you. They will never love you.” She lifted his chin with her icicle finger. “Not like I love you.”

“You are my moon,” he whispered. “You are my night.”

“Feast with me, my darling.”

Her eyes were his world. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

-

Her fingers brushed the long blade above the mantle. “You were a knight?”

He nodded, not looking up from his notebook. “When there was still a king who meant anything.”

“Would you slay a dragon for me?”

“My moon, for you I would slay all the beasts on land and sea.”

She smiled. “What are you reading?”

He closed the book. “Something from another lifetime.”

“Tell me.”

His mouth opened to answer her, then closed. “It’s not important.”

Anger flashed across her face, but quickly smoothed itself out. “Of course. What’s important is our future together, and the future of our people. We must find our kin.” She turned back to the sword.

He tucked the notebook into the drawer beside him and locked it, hiding the key in its usual place. “My love… what if there are no others?”

“Then we’ll search for those worthy of blessing with our gift, so our numbers can grow again.” She turned to face him, sword in hand. “I’ve planned a journey for us. We leave tonight.”

-

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to the browning leaves. He tipped the watering can down toward them, breathing out.

“We should have searched longer.”

He felt her eyes on him. Setting the watering can down, he moved slowly to re-stake a fallen stem. “My queen, we looked for so long.”

“We’d hardly even begun. And you wanted to come back for flowers?” 

He stiffened. “I thought you enjoyed my roses.”

She drew up beside him, tall in her eternal youth. “Like your daughter enjoyed them?”

Metal glinted in her hand. She must have found the key—his notebook.

He dropped to his knees. “Please, my sweet. Let me have this last memory.”

“She was weak,” Viola said. “Too ill to eat anything but her father’s rose hip jam, ha! Of course your sire didn’t think her worthy of turning.”

“She was my life,” John said. “After her mother passed, she was all I had—”

“But you.” Viola sneered. “You, who thought you could defend against one of us at your age, you were turned for a laugh. So you would be old and alone forever.”

“My moon,” he croaked. “My—”

The sword slashed through the roses.

He cried out as petals littered the ground. “My love!” He clutched at the broken stems, thorns digging into his bloodless palms.

Viola raised the sword again. “I will find the others without you. I will turn an army and we will rule this world. And you…”

His fingers closed around a garden stake.

“…you will be old and alone forever.”

The stake entered her heart smoothly, easily. She looked down at it in surprise, and then she was dust.

The sword clattered to the earth, surrounded by bloodred petals.

A lone rose clung to the decimated bush. John took it in his hands and breathed in its heady scent.

“My love,” he said.

He smiled.


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