Last week’s challenge over at terribleminds was to finish a story begun by somebody else. But this week Chuck’s gone and changed the rules, saying that this had to be the middle part of the story and not the end. On top of that, the limit is 500 words. Well, I have no problem with the first rule, as the story can be continued after my contribution (and I even have an idea about how to keep going) but I’m going to break the second rule and write more than the allowed number of words. So here’s the first part, courtesy of Kriti.
It was a dark and stormy night, the night that I was born. My mother gave birth without help because the villagers thought her cursed and dangerous. My father was absent, as always when the moon was dark.
Next day as she slept, my father’s servant came and slipped a bag of gold and jewels beneath her pillow; it wasn’t a gift from my father, but Renwick had a soft heart and had been fond of my mother. He also left a note, I still have it. It simply says that my father had left for England and that he might see me when he returned, but he never came back. He came to a bad end near Whitby; the English having proved to be less cowardly than the good folk of Transylvania.
As soon as she could get out of bed my mother slipped away, with me wrapped close to her body. She travelled east because her people came from beyond the mountains. I think her people were gypsies because she was a raven-haired beauty with a fiery temper. We never found her family, but I don’t think we’d have been welcome anyway.
The years of my childhood were years of constant travel; we’d stay a few months somewhere, my mother would prostitute herself to make money and sometimes she would sell a jewel. She never stayed long anywhere because she knew I would eventually give us away. I had my father’s taste for blood and I would scream constantly until my needs were met.
When I was about ten years old we met an elderly monk travelling the same hills as us. We camped together and he talked all night with my mother. The next day instead of heading to the large town in the valley we accompanied the monk on his journey home.
At his monastery I was drugged and bound while my mother sobbed. When I awoke my mouth was pure agony. My lips were swollen and I had no teeth.
The monk came to see me.
‘Your poor mother has suffered long for her sins. We have taken you so that she can be free to live with ordinary people. You will not see her again; however we will love and care for you. We will teach you how to live a good life.’
The first years were terrible. The monks’ diet was vegetarian, but it did me no good to scream or threaten. They would smile, pray and put me in solitary confinement for a day or two. The same cycle would repeat until I was willing to eat their food. I still do not like rice but I learned that it fills the belly. Discipline was strict but they didn’t make me take part in their worship, instead I was allowed to read or draw. Some months later, as they knew I would, I asked to join them in the temple. I began to be a Buddhist.
A life of tranquil peace and study was mine until the day the armies came.
********************** My contribution***************************
One morning, the field in front of the temple was empty, the next, it was black with soldiers, some on horseback, most of them walking, the noise of their armor piercing the quiet like sharp spears driven through the flesh.
The monks gathered in the meditation area, a room without walls, the roof supported by great pillars of stone, unadorned. No one knew who the armies belonged to and no one seemed to concern themselves with that.
‘We cannot interfere, the monks told me, but we will take care of the wounded after the battle is over.’
I nodded my assent, but inside my blood stirred, and for the first time in months I felt the pangs of a familiar hunger.
The battle began the same day, and I watched from my small room as the field was soaked in the blood of the fallen and the air carried the shouts of the dying to my window; I grew restless, like a caged animal.
Visions of blood greeted my mornings and haunted my dreams at night. And for the first time since the day my mother left, my teeth began to grow again. White, strong teeth, the incisors sharp and long, and I drew blood every time I ran my tongue over them. And with them came pain, and I didn’t know which was worse, my teeth growing or my unnatural hunger.
The monks saw, and wanted to restrain me, but the head monk didn’t let them.
‘Now is the time, he said, when temptation is hardest. You must fight this, for if you give in, all is lost. Think of all these years you lived here with us, of the quiet life you have, of what you have accomplished.’
I didn’t say anything. He didn’t know how hard it was to live like this, didn’t know how close I’d come to losing my mind that day when one of the monks had cut himself with a kitchen knife while cooking. I can still see the bright red blood on the blade, and the smell nearly drove me insane. The monk saw me and turned away quickly. No one would turn away now, the field was red with blood day after day.
Then the nightmares came. A dark figure cloaked in black, with fiery red eyes staring at me. He would point to the field outside my window and say, ‘Drink, my son, this is for you.’ But he was dead, wasn’t he? Renwick had written to my mother years ago of his death and I had accepted it, although I sometimes wondered what kind of man my father was and why my mother never spoke of him.
I tried to forget about it and spent my days and nights avoiding sleep, hunched over ancient books and even more ancient scrolls in the library. The candle light threw a sickly yellow shade on the texts, and for small stretches of time I was able to forget about my hunger, although the pain still beat a rhythm in my head. The food had no taste for me anymore. The monks’ rice and boiled vegetables were tasteless anyway, and the one spice we were permitted, salt, made me thirsty beyond belief.
Then one night I went out to the fields. The battle had been more vicious that day, and corpses littered the ground. Flies were already at work on the bodies, and I could hear their buzz and see them crawling in the faint moonlight. I drank in the rich coppery smell of blood, and felt it coursing through my body. For a moment, a spell of dizziness came upon me and I swayed on my feet. It passed.
I touched one of the dead. He was still warm but lifeless, a deep gash in his neck already black with flies. I turned away in disgust and breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I had learned to control my hunger, I thought. Maybe the years spent among the monks have finally paid off. As I turned to leave, movement caught my eye – a white sleeve, a small hand. I turned and walked towards it, and waves of hunger crashed over me with each and every step. It was a woman in a white dress stained with blood, and she was crying over one of the fallen, a hand on his bearded face. She didn’t see me as I came from behind and wrapped my hands around her slender neck.