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It Takes a Lifetime (Or More)

By Adina Friedman

Romance / Fantasy

Before Laura

“Who knows what true loneliness is - not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.” - Joseph Conrad

The first home you’ve ever had was a large mansion in the middle of acres and acres of land. You are born in 1680. Mircalla Karnstein, daughter of the Count Karnstein, and raised to be a proper young lady. Your mother is a beautiful, graceful creature born into high society, but with so much compassion in her heart that she spends most of her free hours at poor houses and orphanages speaking to the people, tending to their needs. It definitely makes an impression on your young self and you want to be just like your mother when you grow up.

Home, for you, has been laughter and kind touches to your cheek and kisses on your forehead before you go to sleep.

But on your 18th birthday in 1698, your idea of home is changed forever. Being brutally murdered does that to a person. You’d been cut open, through the stomach and bled dry. But life, or in this case, death, doesn’t stop you from walking this earth.

You can never go home.

Now that your home as a human is gone, you find comfort in death.

It’s your home now, as is the woman who saves you. Insisting that she be called “Maman” the woman looks like a middle aged glamazon (a description you’ll hear many years later). She’s pulled you from the edge and taught you how to live as an undead fiend from the pits of Europe.

There’s the part of you that wishes you could go back, but Maman tells you that the night you died is the same night your house burned down. The great Count Karnstein and his wife, along with their two children, perished within the family mansion.

So you move around, following Maman. As a fledgling vampire, you indulge in the new world about you. That your new home resides in blood and sex and death.

Your foster mother tells you that now that you are under her wing, you have a job to do. So, every twenty years, you are left on the road or must act like you are a helpless girl with no place to stay. And someone, usually a wealthy count of noble of some kind, takes you in. They would then introduce you to their ward, either a daughter or a niece. You would then offer the young woman a companion, either using seduction or just plain friendship. Then you would bring her to Maman, who takes her to do something that she never tells you. You don’t know what happens after she takes them, nor do you really want to know.

You embrace death and bloodlust and sex. You thrive on it. It is all you know. And for the next 153 years, this is your life.

Until you meet Ell.

Ell smells like lavender and happiness and everything that’s been missing from your life. Her hair looks like rays of sunshine and there’s a mole at the corner of her mouth that you can’t help but kiss every time she smiles.

You meet Ell in 1872, during one of the years Maman sends you out to seduce girls for that unknown reason. She is the daughter of a wealthy man in Styria, Austria, but she isn’t like most highborn girls. Her heart is kind and it reminds you of your mother… your birth mother.

The more time you spend with Ell, the more you wish to keep her. She doesn’t know of your true nature and you make sure to hide it. You hunt while she sleeps and slip back into bed by sunrise. She teases you about your habit of rising at noon, but she does so with a smile and, sometimes, even with the press of soft lips against yours.

So when Maman comes to take Ell away, you try to hold her off for as long as you can. You’ll give any excuse so that your sunshine girl can stay in your arms for a little longer.

You ask Ell to run away with you. To escape to a new world where you can be yourselves and not hide your relationship. Because, you admit to yourself, you love her. You love this girl with the sunshine hair and eyes filled with awe at the world around her. She agrees to flee with you, although she doesn’t understand why you are so adamant about leaving so soon.

Ell becomes the home you’ve been missing. The smell of her is your new catnip and curling up around her at night before you sneak out makes you purr and your dead heart swell. You just hope your plan works. Because, for once, you’d like to be able to keep your home.

Maman finds out anyway. She drags your sunshine girl away from you, but not before ripping your heart from your home. She revealed to Ell what you are, and she is yanked from your arms, kicking and screaming. Not just for Maman to release her, but screaming at you.

She is cutting into your skin with words like knives. The sunshine of her hair has turned on you, burning your flesh and her mouth is now a bottomless pit, spewing hatred and acid in your face. Her screams echo in your mind long after her body is dragged away from you. ′You’re a monster′ she’d screamed with a cracking voice. ′I cannot love a fiend such as you!′ Her words leave you numb, dead inside more than you already are. Now, you’ve lost the second home you’ve ever lived in, and it is gone forever.

Maman locks you in the basement of a cabin in the woods. ′Just for safekeeping,′ she tells you, ′until I get rid of the vermin.′ The thought of Ell makes you shake with angers, but the chains holding aren’t meant to break, even under your supernatural strength.

When Maman returns with a smirk on her now blood red lips, you know that Ell is gone. She comes in and breaks you in the best way she knows how; with both words and with each strike of her hand against your flesh.

You will learn, my glittering girl,′ she whispers in your ear, ′that you are a diamond.′ The woman who has become her mother shakes her head, as if in disappointment. She chuckles low in her throat and your heart drops into your stomach. ′Stone cannot love flesh.

And with that, your world goes black as she snaps your neck.

When you wake, everything is dark. There’s blood in your mouth and nose and you can taste it in the back of your throat. You wonder how many people had to die for Maman to fill wherever you are with blood.

Reaching out, you realize your hands can’t stretch very far—you can’t extend your arms to their full length—and your nails graze rough stone. Your legs are already touching the bottom and the saturated pillow under yoou stops you from bumping your head into the back of the space. Reaching above you, you find the top of the structure is also stone. Tracing your nails around the edge as far as you can reach, you realize you’re trapped in a coffin.

A coffin of blood.

There’s no time inside your prison. Without light, without the stars that used to shine in Ell’s eyes, you feel yourself slowly slipping into madness. Nothing makes sense anymore and you don’t dare try to open your mouth for fear you’ll drown in the death of innocence.

Slowly, your limbs begin to heal. When you woke up, there was so much pain you almost couldn’t think straight. Maman must have broken you while your neck was snapped. Your screams would have alerted someone and then another life would be on your shoulders. So she broke you and shoved you in a coffin with blood from an unknown number of bodies.

You can imagine her standing over you, a scathing smile on her face. She probably stroked your cheek and whispered, ′My glittering girl, maybe someday you will learn…′ Even imagining her makes your undead heart clench.

So you waste away. You force yourself to swallow a few gulps of blood every time you feel weak, but no more. Even though Maman is reprimanding you, you can’t help but punish yourself even more. Because you were selfish with Ell and, because of you, she and many others are dead. Their families will mourn and you can only blame yourself.

You fall in and out of consciousness, can feel your bones shift back into place. You don’t make a sound when one of your wrists heal wrong and you know that when—no, if you get out of your coffin, you’ll need to break it again to heal it properly.

You have no idea how long you’ve been trapped when you hear the tomb cracking above you. Something smashes into the coffin and you gasp, choking on the blood that’s left. There are voices above you and there’s a fissure before hands are reaching in and pulling you out.

Humans, speaking a German dialect that you can’t really grasp and dressed in army uniforms, lift your prone and shocked body out. They’re speaking quickly and you catch some words like ′dead′ and ′blood′ and even ′poor girl.′ It is the last one that makes the rage inside you spill over. They yell and shout as you move, but you don’t care. Nothing matters anymore. Ell is gone; Maman has abandoned you and you’ve been drowning in a coffin of stale blood since 1872.

You drain the three men, rebreak your wrist so that it heals correctly, and walk off the battlefield to greet the 20th century, abandoning your stone coffin of a home.

It’s 1942 now. There’s a war going on and nowhere is safe.

You travel around, a vulture to the spoils of war. But you don’t just go back to that life of bloodlust and sex. For the first few months, it’s hard to swallow the metallic tang you’ve been drowning in for 70 years. Slowly, the need to throw up every pint of blood you swallow goes away and you can keep down breakfast.

You volunteer at hospitals across Europe. You do that until the war ends in 1945. By then, you’ve slipped into a sort of depression. Ell is gone and you’ve missed a lot of things. The world has moved on while you’ve been stuck inside the earth. There’s only so much of your afterlife you can take.

After you’d murder the soldiers, you’d donned one of their uniforms and looked up at the stars. They say nothing, silent observers on the crimes you have committed. The stars, infinite and older than anything you’ve ever known. You sit on the rooftops of Paris and stare at your only constant companion. Sometimes, when you look down at the streets, all of the people that go by seem like little blips on the radio, you want to end it all. Your immortal life is means nothing without Ell, or at least, that what you believe.

You try to see how many times you can break your bones before the pain goes away. You try to see how much blood you can lose before the cuts on your wrists heal. You try to see how long you can go before hunger claws at your throat like knives. Maybe, if you suffer, there will be some redemption before you finally die. Because the world is nothing without a companion or love, but you deserve neither.

You are a homeless nomad within the depths of society, feeding only when you know you’re starving and waiting for your life to wither away into eternal nothingness.

Maman finds you sitting in a café in Paris in the 50s and demands you rejoin her. She threatens to trap you back under the earth, but this time for much longer. Not wanting to drown in blood and guilt again, you join her.

She has more minions than you remember. You can see she favors a young man named Will, turned in the 30s while you were underground. He’s definitely a mama’s boy and it makes you sick to see how much pleasure he gets from being a creature of the night. You try to avoid hum as much as possible, but Maman pairs you with him for all of your assignments. It’s a wonder you don’t kill him during the first go round.

Maman has you back in the game but the rules have changed. Now, she runs a coed college—she started it while you were trapped underground— where you can go to parties and continue to seduce or befriend girls and give them to your mother. Will trails along behind you most of the time because, as he tells you many times, he likes his girls drunk and easy. You just roll your eyes, because what is life without a challenge. Even one as wretched as yours.

But, while Will is distracted by ‘easy’ girls who actually find him attractive or are just drunk—both ideas make you want to vomit up your insides— you find your target. Your first one since you were entombed. You hate Maman for making you do this, so you tell the girl to run. To pack up and leave and never return. You know you can’t save everybody, but you can try your best to save as many as you can.

You follow this pattern for more years than you can remember.

But everything changes when you meet your Lois Lane wannabe of a roommate in 2014.

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