Chapter 3: Feast
It was a horrible time to think of it, but I did: I thought of how normal my day was supposed to be.
Going to the mall, buying some clothes, getting something to eat, then returning home to spend time with Mama and work on one of my many manuscripts before falling asleep. That’s what my day was supposed to be. It turned into delving deep into the dark, damp forests with my mama’s novitiate to save Tia Valeria’s ass; we didn’t know who or what we were saving her from. We didn’t even know if we could save her. But I had too much courage and too much confidence.
It was dark, to say the least. Very dark. The “hold my hand so I don’t fall” type of dark. I envied the bugs and the lizards for their eyes; I envied the crickets and the owls, singing and talking freely because the night didn’t scare them. The moonlight helped a bit, but I still regretted not bringing a flashlight.
I regretted a lot of shit at that point, to be honest.
“Do you have your phone?” I asked Imani. My eyes adjusted to make out Imani as just a dark figure by my side.
Imani sighed. “That’s a good idea thought of too late. We’ve already walked too far from the car.”
I wanted to mention that we didn’t know where we were going either, but it wasn’t the right moment. Imani was scared, and so was I; I was still unnerved from Tia Valeria’s screaming that I heard in my head. Bringing up the fact that we had wandered into the forest with no sense of direction would make things worse.
We treaded another five minutes across the verdure. Imani stopped first and looked at the sky.
“Wait.” She gripped my arm. “Listen.”
I brought up my bat before listening to whatever was calling. It was faint, what I heard—the sound of someone yelling something incoherent. It was a male voice.
“It came from that way.” Imani pointed north, down a slope into a dark abyss. “Past those trees.”
“Past those trees? Down there?” I tried to subtly hint to her that heading down there wasn’t smart, especially without light. But she didn’t catch wind of it; she nodded and continued north, and I followed her. At that point, we were holding onto each other so tightly we were joined at the hip. Each step we took, we took together. Each tree we passed, we passed together. And each tremble we suffered, the other trembled a little harder. Due to the unprecedented circumstances, we were closer than we both thought we’d ever be. I didn’t know if that was because we relied on each other surviving or on our own sole survival; was it selfless or selfish? I didn’t know.
“We’re nowhere near the Saint’s Sector,” I said to her.
“No, we’re not. I am not familiar with this territory. Don’t let your guard down.”
I stopped to look at her, even though I could barely see her. “Territory?”
I always hoped that Imani could have answered my question. It would have made everything simpler if she would have just answered what she meant by ‘territory,’ saying it so severely like it was more than a noun. Imani never got the chance to answer me because the chanting started right after I asked. The loud, sadistic shout of the words ‘burn the witch’ over and over again came from lower down the moist gradient. And beyond a couple of longleaf pines is where we saw the dim specs of light blessing our eyes but not our angst.
Imani and I said absolutely nothing. We hid behind the closest tree we could find that gave us a good view but, we hoped, didn’t give us away entirely. There were twenty to thirty men and women clustered together down there, chanting the same thing as before—burn the witch—along with other sayings that Imani nor I could understand. By a fire post was a man tied to a wooden cross propped up in the ground. He was completely naked and gagged, but he didn’t look scared or weakened by his state. That was the most unsettling and frightening to see; that man wasn’t fazed by being tied to that cross. He wasn’t hurt, nor was he in physical pain; he had no physical ailments. He was just there. Tied up.
Across from the cluster of people was Tia Valeria and her House kneeling in the dirt. I could feel Imani’s nails digging into my skin when I pointed her out quietly. Three of the members of the House lied on the ground, deep in a pool of their own blood. Two were dead; the two screams Imani and I heard back on the road. One, however, was still conscious and suffering from erratic spasms. The cluster laughed like rabid animals.
I describe these sights with alarming passiveness, only because now, the images have fermented in my brain long enough for me to identify and come to terms with what I saw. However, I assure you that while we watched the baleful cultism unraveling before us, it warranted a response far from passivism. ‘Shock’ isn’t even close to being an adequate adjective. I didn’t know what I felt; I had never seen anything like that before.
Suddenly, the chanting stopped. The House was still crying and wailing uncontrollably, screaming profanities in a dialect I did not know, but as for the cluster, they immediately held their voices when five figures emerged from the darkness. Two stood on one side, two on the other, and one in the middle—a man, bare chested and covered with soil the same hue as his skin. They stood before the man tied to the cross but did nothing for an extended period of time. The man in the middle finally stepped forward and turned towards the cluster, whose bodies immediately knelt down in the man’s presence as if he was God.
“Brothers and sisters,” the man in the middle announced with deep velocity in his voice. “Rejoice, for I have finally arisen to alleviate you all from the clutches of this traitor!”
They cheered once more when he pointed to the man on the cross. The four surrounding the speaking man were the only ones who kept their mouths shut. I couldn’t get a good look at them; I could only see that one of them was indeed female.
“For centuries,” he continued, “I laid submissive and obedient to Terah as he slowly led our clan through unspeakable hardship. Terah, who bathed his name in the blood of our fearful and suffering brethren, terrorized our own kind for his personal gain, all while watching our legacy fall into the hands of those who do not deserve it! Your master that you so blindly followed for however long you have walked amongst the night has betrayed you all.
“Your master, Terah, holds the hands of those who are responsible for our dwindling numbers. Your faithful, loyal and merciless leader latches his mouth onto the breast of mortals like a pathetic calf!”
As the pack laughed loudly at the man’s mockery, he stepped forward and stared straight into the victim—Terah—with sinister intentions. He turned his head to the moonlight, and what Imani and I saw were the brightest pair of eyes; it wasn’t humanly possible for anyone to have eyes such a bright, blinding shade of auburn. When we saw his eyes, it was as if Imani had suddenly reacquired her conscience, because she pulled my arm in a hasty attempt to leave. But I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to see more. I strongly believed that the terror I felt was beyond any terror any person had ever felt before. I also believed that what I was about to witness an occurrence that would shatter and traumatize me for the rest of my life.
But I couldn’t look away no matter how hard I tried.
“You buried me beneath the ground for two decades,” he told Terah. “You compromised your loyalties, worked alongside the Coterie and buried me! But twenty years chained in the dark has given me a lot to think about. It has given me time to plot and to weave a web of events that will lead our clan to glory. Without you.”
They cheered joyously. The chants grew louder as their Messiah began to shift and contort his body before the congregation. The four who stood by his side circled around him and watched the bones in his body extended outward, visible against his skin. He snarled, and he lamented, and he moaned before he lunged forward like a cheetah onto its prey, and with the claws that protruded from his fingers, mauled Terah only twice until his body was split into three jagged pieces.
I won’t lie—I screamed. Screaming is the worst thing to do in a situation such as the one I was in, but I couldn’t help it. I screamed the moment Terah’s torso fell onto the foliage and soiled the dirt with the black substance that oozed out of it. The scream was not heard by the group—the monsters—below, because thankfully, Imani covered my mouth with her hand tightly before the screech ever left my mouth and gave us away. Imani clearly didn’t want to suffer Terah’s fate due to my inability to shut up. She was probably angry that I didn’t want to leave minutes before; her grip around my mouth was too tight.
You know who was screaming, though? Tia Valeria. The rest of her House was screaming and crying and most likely knew that they were going to suffer a similar fate. ‘Monsters’ was the only word I knew to think of them as, given I had never seen or heard of anything like them. The way that man contorted his body was horror. Pure horror. And so, it was only fitting to describe these humanoid beings with bright eyes and superhuman abilities as monsters.
They rejoiced, those monsters. The auburn-eyed man (who had retreated to his ‘normal’ form by then) told them to rejoice when he first appeared, and they did once Terah was ‘eliminated.’ We discovered the man’s name as they rejoiced—Abraham. His name was Abraham. He demanded that his disciples chanted his name, and he demanded that they celebrated in his name, for a new dawn was approaching under his reign. That’s exactly what he told them, and they loved it. He spoke like an animated preacher, and
“I know you are waiting to feast,” Abraham said to them, black goop coating his naked stomach, mouth and hands. “And feast, you shall. But first, it is customary for the Elders to have first hands upon the feast, no? My Elders—my trusted associates—are no longer subject to Terah’s humiliating rule. Under my rule, these Elders are my word! You look to these Elders as you look at me! Their power will be manifested! No more shall they be subject to the patronizing word of Terah’s law!”
The Elders. The four stood stoic upon the cheering crowd before them. The woman amongst them turned to face the House, nearing them with slow, graceful steps. She was beautiful once the fire posts illuminated the features of her face, carving out the details of her hypnotic yellow eyes and her ample lips curved up into a smile that chilled me.
“I want her,” she said to Abraham. She pointed to the woman crouching behind Tia Valeria. She was young—around my age at the time. Imani told me that it was one of Tia’s novitiates, Samir.
“She smells so potent,” the woman then said. “I can taste her already.”
They thought that was funny. The House wasn’t laughing, though.
“My Elders have chosen,” Abraham announced. “And I have decided that I will not reap the glory of feasting upon this vile voodoo witch before us; my most trusted Elder will claim this witch as his own prize. Yet her lapdog will not fall victim.”
“Mikael,” Imani whispered. He had his head to the ground, his eyes shut like a frightened child and sobbing loudly.
“This pathetic worm will be spared, forced to witness the demise of his comrades, and sent off to his precious Coterie to tell of what has happened here; to rehearse to the voodoo witches what he has seen here on this glorious night—the resurrection of Abraham, and the rebirth of our clan! The Coterie will rue the day they cursed me into the ground! They will fear us once more!”
The end began. One member of the Elders—a tall man dressed formally in a white button up shirt and old-fashioned trousers stepped in front of Tia Valeria. He walked like a panther, examining the weak prey in front of him with the sly steps he took. And with shocking effortlessness, he thrusted her far onto the other side of the expanse. He then stalked towards her to grab ahold of her long cascading hair within his tight grip. Tia Valeria stared up at the mysterious member of the Elders, her head bleeding from being thrown so far from her initial post. Then there was silence. It was the type of quiet that was too good to be true; the type of quiet that only served as a prologue for chaos.
Abraham yelled the word ‘feast,’ and that’s when the chaos started. Imani and I froze in our place during the first moments of the ‘chaos’ before we ran.
And by god, did we run.
We ran the moment—the second—that Tia Valeria’s neck was sunken into by the man’s sharp canine teeth. We ran when the House was mauled down by the pack when they tried to flee. We ran when the reality of seeing people, real people, being fed on registered in our heads. House members tried to run away in vain; they were tackled and suffered the same fate as Tia Valeria—their necks or their legs or stomachs being compromised by the monsters’ sharp teeth biting into their flesh. But they didn’t eat them. They just bit into them and sucked the blood out of their veins and killed them when they were content. The screams sounded handpicked from the depths of hell itself. And I knew then what they were—not unnamed monsters, but monsters popular in myth and legend. Monsters who reigned in the dark, driven by pure bloodlust; monsters that I thought were the products teen fiction novels I loved as a teenager, where they were beautiful and graceful and every girls’ heartthrob:
The bastards were vampires. They were real, walking, un-living fucking vampires.