California, United States
"Mama," Victor pulled on his mother's sleeve as it hung from the ceiling. "Mama, I'm scared. There's monsters outside."
The woman stretched, long fingernails nearly scraping the ground, and looked at the little boy with tired, bloodshot eyes. She picked him up and flipped him upside-down so he hung with her. He bit his lip worriedly, burrowing into her chest. "Are they gonna find us, mama?"
"No, baby," she ran her talons through his hair, hoping it would distract him from the creaking footsteps on the floors below them. "They'll never find us. You're safe, I promise."
"Have you ever seen them before?" He whispered. "The monsters?"
"What are they like?"
She thought for a moment. "Do you want the truth?"
He nodded, looking at her with wide eyes.
"They're terrifying." Her ears twitched as she heard one step on a trap she'd set. The tell-tale sound of someone falling through rotted wood. "They don't need to be invited inside. If they want in, they break in, and there's no stopping them. All we can do is be prepared, and hide. Especially if it's during the daytime."
Victor was quiet. He looked up at his mother with watery eyes. "Am I gonna be a monster?"
"No, no, sweetie," she cradled the boy. "You're much too good for that."
"Were you a monster, once? Like Uncle Jem?"
She shook her head. "No. Monsters don't usually turn. Your uncle is a special case." There were shouts down below, and Victor whimpered. "Do you want to hear a story?"
He nodded. "Tell me a story about monsters. Please."
She hesitated. He was old enough now to know how serious a monster invasion was. She was thankful that he'd never had to experience one before, and even more so that her lessons had been taken to heart. Spotting monsters was a difficult skill to learn, but he was a smart boy, and capable. He could handle the story she had to tell.
"Alright. But stay quiet, alright? Just like we practiced."
He settled in, as comfortable and calm as he could manage, and she began to weave her tale as the monsters raided the house below them.
Amaranta De Vitis began turning in her teens after a chance encounter that she unluckily survived. Her first encounter with monsters was mere moments later, as one found her in an alley, covered in blood and tears, cold and afraid. The monster took her, cleaned her, and told her what had happened.
"I should kill you," the monster said. "Even if you live to be very old, the curse is inside you now. You will become just like them once you die, whenever that happens to be. And then we will hunt you."
Amaranta begged the monster to spare her. She asked if anything could be done. The monster said no. Instead, they showed some sympathy to the young girl.
"I will let you live for now. Go and have a life. Do what you desire. But in a decade's time, I will be coming for you. Sooner, should you perish before then."
She took the deal and fled. For years, she was wracked with fear and anger over her lack of time. She was married to the son of a tailor and soon grew pregnant. As she approached the edge of thirty, she prayed for a miracle. Something to save her and her child.
Amaranta did not remember her labor. Her heart stopped beating before she could hold her child. Her husband wept, for he was left with only a daughter, and no son to carry on his name and trade.
Then the dead woman's eyes opened, and she took a needless breath. The curse in her veins that she had been warned of so long ago was finally woken with her death, just like the monster had said.
Her husband called her a demon, unnatural and ungodly. She didn't hear a word of it — she was too enamored by how sweet his blood smelled.
When he fell dead, cold and pale like the hospital floor he laid on, he did not come back.
Amaranta took her daughter into her arms and fled into the night. For a brief moment, mother and daughter lived in peace, alone and unafraid.
It wasn't meant to last. The baby girl, Viviana, was often cold and hungry. Amaranta's new self was cold to the touch. Her milk was soon gone, and she found herself unable to make more.
She did what she could. She did what she had to. Trancing midwives with newfound powers to nurse her daughter. Stealing warm fabrics from stores and nurseries she managed to enter. Feasting on the wretched and uncaring parents and businessmen. Again, she was running out of time. This time, the life at stake was much more valuable than her own.
Viviana was weak, and growing weaker. The warmth and the milk could only tide her over, as Amaranta had to flee constantly from her actions and the monsters who swore to hunt her down.
After only a few months, Amaranta found herself face to face with the monster who had saved her, along with many others. Dressed in dark hoods and armed with crosses and stakes, they surrounded her.
"Amaranta," the monsters spoke, "you have run for long enough. It is time for you to return to the grave."
Amaranta held her daughter tight against her stomach and begged for mercy, for help. Could they not see she had a child to care for?
"That child is infected with the same curse you are. May God accept you both into His embrace."
She screamed, pained and primal, anguished and angry. Her own life was forfeit, but Viviana's? The child was only a few months old, the purest soul on God's green Earth!
The monsters said nothing as she cried with her daughter. They only crept closer, ensnaring the two in a tight circle. One laid their hands on her, and Amaranta acted on instinct. With one arm she fought them, and with the other, she cradled her crying child.
One monster thrust out a cross on a chain, and she pulled it out of their grasp, only to howl in pain. On her hand was an imprint of the chain, still sizzling.
And then the crying stopped, and she felt a puncture through her stomach. She'd gotten distracted by the pain from the silver. Now her mind was empty, her body numb.
Mother and daughter both impaled by the same stake, held by the monster who had saved Amaranta all those years ago. Unlike then, the monster showed no sympathy, no remorse. With one last strangled cry, Viviana grew still and pale and cold.
Victor traced the ancient scar on his mother's palm. A chain, permanently embedded in the flesh. "Then what, mama?"
She stared ahead at the windowless wall. "She tore them to pieces. She ripped them apart with her bare hands until they were stained."
"Did she eat them?"
"Not a single one. She didn't want any of them to come back. Ever."
Victor was quiet. The story of Amaranta was unlike most of the stories his mother told him — except for Viviana. Amaranta's love for the girl poured through the story. "Do you have to kill monsters?"
"Why did she?"
She patted his head. "You'll understand if you ever have children, baby. This is not unique to her. Humans, monsters, beasts. Everything, living or undead, would fight and kill for their children. Those who wouldn't…"
Victor tensed as a door was kicked in below them. The monsters were getting close, but they would never get past Uncle Jem. His mother sighed.
"I wouldn't even know what to call them," she said, finishing her thought. "They're a whole different kind of monster."
A scream rang out. Jem had found the monsters. Victor squirmed out of his mother's arms, and she carefully set him on the ground. He walked to a corner and moved a panel, recoiling for a moment as sunlight hit his eyes — it was so infrequent a phenomenon for him. As his eyes adjusted, he watched the monsters flee from the house and into the day.
"Mama?" he asked, putting the panel back. "When am I gonna turn?"
She flipped down from her perch. "Maybe when you're old enough, dear. Now lets get you back to bed. Tonight we'll have to move again."
"Why don't you just kill all the monsters like Amaranta?"
She gave him a sad smile. "They would just send more. They always do. Sometimes, Victor, the smartest and bravest thing to do isn't to fight. It's to run. To keep your loved ones safe. Do you understand?"
As his mother lifted him into bed, her shirt raised, and he saw the scar on her stomach. Round and jagged and dark.
"I understand, mama. I love you."
"I love you too, baby. Sleep well. Tonight will be busy."
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