It always began with a maddening sound, at the edge of her hearing: a whisper of feathers against air. It always ended with a golden claw tapped against the pulse point in her neck: a promise, a threat.
Between, she learned again and again that creatures other than birds — or angels — had whisper-soft wings.
No one in the village scoffed at the old ways. They barred their doors when the stars aligned, as had every generation before them. Strange sigils adorned their barns and stranger charms hung in the eaves above their beds and cradles.
It was easy to respect the old ways when the disbelievers disappeared so quickly.
Some say it started with an incident in a discotheque in Stuttgart, but experts couldn’t say for sure. All they knew was that there was no known cure. Cannier amateurs had been correctly interpreting the warning signs for years, but no one heeded their warnings until it was too late, and the world fell silent.
Gregory hated how the flowers turned fresh petals to the sun as they loosed yellow havoc into the breeze. The pressure in his sinuses never eased up, even though he spent all day indoors, hunched over his fluorescent-lit desk.
Until one spring day when he slipped a carefully prepared canister into his briefcase and smiled.
One ill-chosen real estate bargain can ruin everything.
Ghostly raps against walls and phantom footsteps can be tolerated. One can even make allowances for shadowy figures or transparent ladies in white. But ask a spirit board a foolish question, and you may well regret the answer you find scrawled across the mirror in human blood.
There were too many to count. The creatures hung from the rafters and crowded around the tiny attic window, as though absorbing nourishment from the moonlight, but turned when they heard the key grating in the lock. Shirley pressed against the door and gasped as thousands of tiny, sharp teeth smiled in greeting…or farewell.
“Land whale,” they taunted at school. “Pig, cow, hippo, cunt!” This time, each word cut as efficiently as a surgeon’s blade, whittling her away — better than any diet she’d tried. At first only the globular yellow tissue she hated most disappeared, but eventually she grew altogether hazy.
Still, invisibility seemed a small price to pay.
If they smell the grave on her, they never seem to care. And it’s easy enough to take prey this way — a quick bite as they come, when they’re mindless — but it’s also easy to lose yourself in the moment, and make the little death a large one.
Vampirism is often a sexually transmitted disease.
Dante got it wrong. It’s not icy cold. There aren’t rings, levels, or pits of flaming tar, but there is eternal torment. It’s a lot like sitting on the veranda of a house built in a swamp. You swat demonic mosquitos and complain that it’s not the heat, but the humidity that really gets you.
Their son seemingly changed overnight. They called this newly odd child their “changeling,” but the family said it fondly, and loved him all the same. They might have felt differently if they had known that their own boy — their true child — now lived beneath the fairy mound, and his sunny laughter now charmed the Fae.
She’d counted his conversational transgressions — each swear word, each vulgar insinuation — and stabbed him once for all 47 of them. He’d never offend her dainty ears again, or any other delicately bred lady, and although her solution was perhaps a touch forceful, she could not believe it to be as coarse as the man’s language.
You always think you know what you want — at least until you have it. So mark out those runes on dry parchment, and sit inside a chalk circle chanting until you’ve bound their will to your own. They’ll never leave you, it’s true — but only too late will you understand what a responsibility that is.
Time passed beyond time, and the last people rattled about a landscape parched beyond redemption. They kept the fires bright at night until the bitter end, because strange creatures lurked just beyond the light.
Until, one by one, the stars blinked out of the sky, never to return, and no earthly fire could keep darkness at bay.