Chapter One: Cold Skin
I was very young when I realized my own mortality. Usually children begin to understand death when they are seven, but when I was five, I knew that I was going to die someday. I suppose logicality was something ingrained in me from the beginning, but that was also the very first time I was truly afraid of something reasonable. Unlike the scary nightmares or the imaginary monsters under my bed, death was a very real specter enviously looming over each soul, prepared to whisk us away from the bountiful pleasures of the living world. I never experienced such a crippling fear again, at least, not until my recent encounters with the undead. It was the same terror pulsating through me at that very moment while a dim, silver glow from the full moon illuminated the dense forest.
Branches snagged at my long, flowing, white dress, causing me to pull the fabric away from the hungry, wooden claws. Fog swirled the curved trunks of oddly bent trees that had been denied proper sunlight for sufficient growth. Shadows darted around me while ghostly lights streaked, provoking my panicked whimpers. Disembodied voices reached my ears, inclining me to whirl around in an attempt to find out who they belonged to. I continued my retreat into the woods in hopes that the gloominess would somehow lead me to safety.
I stumbled into a wide opening in the shape of a circle where the ground turned to barren soil followed by the heavy presence of evil surrounding. Pressure closed in around me. I attempted to keep running, but I succumbed to nauseousness; suffocation soon followed. I fell to my knees, immediately realizing that I hadn’t fallen into empty, dry dirt, but something cold and wet. Panicking, I managed to jump back up, my hands and dress stained with blood; its metallic scent raised the temptation to dry heave. I looked onward, searching for escape, however in my path laid hundreds of mutilated bodies. Hyperventilating, I fought my urge to cry. A dark mass approached me, walking over the corpses as if they were merely stepping stones, its golden, murderous eyes set on me.
I gasped, waking on my bed. Breathing heavily, I managed to sit up, relieved for air. I reached for the lamp near my bedside and turned the light on. The tangible surroundings of my room comforted me- the white walls complementing the black marble floor covered with a few rugs, my mirror, my bathroom door, my desk. After forcing myself out of bed, I drew the shades to see the progress of winter: snow had fallen, creating a deep, desolate whiteness around the mansion. I pulled clothes on and rubbed medicine over my healing palms from wounds I received last week before sitting at my desk where I wrote:
Will you still be able to talk with me? I understand your deal with the Count, so you don’t need to reciprocate if you feel uncomfortable doing so; just please don’t deny me your company. If the Count really loves me, he will allow me to at least commune with you. I hope you read these letters, and I hope you take the appropriate action to them instead of ignoring me. I haven’t seen you for a week because of your lookout for Wikson, but I fear that when you return home, you will avoid me. That’s why these letters are crucial. And they also make me feel that I’m still talking to you even though you’re not physically present. I have no one to talk to. I feel so lonely. So isolated. I can’t wait until you and Lelagül come back. When you come back, please respond to these.
I folded the paper before exiting my room. On my way to the kitchen, I intercepted Roland’s door then slipped the letter underneath before continuing my routine. In the kitchen, I prepared a pan and eggs then proceeded to make coffee before continuing with food. Roland drank a lot of coffee; he elucidated in the past that his German blood yearned for it. Usually I was a tea drinker, but after consistent nightmares disrupting my sleep, higher doses of caffeine started to become my best friend. After taking a few sips, I continued searching for a whisk and a bowl for my eggs, my movements echoing loudly in the empty space around me. After I ate, I ventured to the library. My fluffy socks muffled the sound of my footsteps over the dark hardwood flooring. A chill swept up my legs despite that I wore double leggings and two sweaters, inclining me to hug myself, internally cursing the vastness of the house rejecting the heating system.
I paused as the dark voice rippled gently through the hall, coming from behind a partially closed door. My heart fumbled as a nervous lump formed in my throat. I froze, contemplating on either succumbing to his call or pretending I didn’t hear him.
“Julia, I know you are there. Come in,” he insisted.
My hands trembled, but I forced myself to push the door open. The study had been the same one I first awoke to nearly two months ago. The decorative beige walls helped tame the vibrancy of the white carpet and crimson rugs which laid underneath the black leather furniture.
The Count lounged upon one of the sofas while an open book rested on his lap.
His body reclined comfortably with his long, strong legs crossed which was accentuated by the black trousers. The form fitting light blue button shirt was the only splash of color, though it was refreshing amongst all the dark fabric and backdrop of the couch. His dark green eyes watched me approach, however I kept my distance to which he sighed calmly to, his broad chest slowly heaving up and down. He closed the book and outstretched his massive hand to me.
Apprehensively, I continued towards him. My heart pounded furiously, and I swallowed a ball of nerves.
His large, sculpted eyebrows furrowed, causing the lines on his forehead near the widows peak to deepen. He said, “Calm yourself, Julia. Now come, sit with me.”
I paused abruptly upon his request. Being so close to him was something I avoided at all costs. I contemplated a refusal.
His hard expression displayed forced patience. He ordered, “Sit with me. I am not enforcing upon you such an arduous task.”
Perhaps just this once; the sooner it occurred, the sooner it would be over with.
I sat next to him in a proximity that was too close for comfort due to the smaller size of the sofa. I shifted awkwardly and crossed my legs, refusing to look at him.
“Ah, there, you see,” he continued; his hand slid behind my back, resting on my waist. “It is not so daunting after all.”
“I think I will be the judge of that,” I muttered.
He paused; I felt his stare on me.
“Look at me, Julia,” he demanded softly.
I closed my eyes briefly, then turned my face to him. He searched my expression as I uncomfortably waited for his reaction. My eyes moved over his features I wished I could unsee: the large, oval eyes; the long, pointed nose with flaring nostrils; the hollow cheeks supported by high cheekbones; the full, red tainted lips; the broad, cleft chin; the thick, muscular neck.
“Do you still think me hideous?”
His question surprised me.
“You remarked once that I am hideous,” he explained.
“You’re not very handsome,” I replied carefully.
“Not very. I see. Does that suggest I am somewhat handsome?”
“No. And likewise, I’m not pretty,” I blurted.
“On the contrary,” he disagreed. “You are very beautiful.”
“You’re just saying that, Count, to flatter me,” I answered promptly.
“Indeed, I am not,” he argued then pressed his lips gently on my forehead. My stomach swayed. For once, however, he didn’t smell vulgar; the leftover scent of his aftershave brought a slight comforting familiarity, and his musk was actually quite pleasant. His free hand cupped the side of my face as he sensually lowered his mouth from my forehead to my lips. The nervous ball in my throat enlarged. I withdrew, trembling. He caught my wrist, careful not to hurt me, but his touch was demanding nonetheless.
“Do not fear me, Julia.” From him it sounded more like a military order than reassurance.
I managed to look at his face, which although did appear to have somewhat of a sincerity, was still quite harsh. I muttered, “Let me go.”
His ancient eyes held me. The anger peaked through his well-rehearsed version of gentility. My fear grew as his grasp on me didn’t loosen. Instead he challenged me.
“You have seen for yourself that I am putting you as my priority. Firstly, I admit my feelings to you; I, who has demonstrated prodigious greatness, yet I succumb to a small creature as yourself. Secondly, I display this enamor to you by protecting you from the vengeance of a powerful foe, risking my own position for my race. Thirdly, I have displayed to you and proclaimed to you my affections through apology of my vileness along with securing your welfare. Does that not warrant your trust?”
His belittling voice shook me. I answered quietly, “The reasons not to trust you outweigh the reasons to trust you. And I don’t feel any more inclined to believe you through your intimidations.”
I was taken aback as much as he was to my powerful response. He inhaled sharply as if to snap back, but he refrained. His grip remained as his other hand cupped behind my neck. When he parted his lips, his fangs elongated, pressing up against the plumpness of his bottom lip. My gut dropped. He leaned toward me which left me gasping as I attempted to recoil. His large body pushed against me while his teeth met the skin on my jugular. I screamed, using my free hand to bawl into a fist, striking him upon his side with no avail.
“Count, stop! Please! No!” I cried, attempting to flail my legs.
No doubt my beatings felt like soft rose petals falling on his body rather than the strength I wished I could have displayed.
“Julia,” his voice murmured against my neck, his cold lips and the vibration of his breath enticing my goosebumps. He continued, “Calm yourself.” His teeth gently pressed up against my flesh. The points of his incisors were obvious, but they merely rested against the vulnerability of my skin. I quivered underneath him as I gulped down terrified gasps. His hand gently moved down my body in an affectionate way as he continued to softly graze his teeth over my neck, careful not to break the skin. My muscles relaxed while I blinked away horror infused tears. Once I gave up the struggle, he moaned agreeably, pressing his lips where his fangs had been. When his mouth parted, he muttered, “You can trust me, Julia.”
I understood what he attempted to display, but my stomach remained knotted as his groin rested in between my legs, resurfacing the image of him on top of me one month prior. He continued to kiss my neck while gently fondling my waist and up my torso, teasing near my breasts.
Could he not at all comprehend that I didn’t enjoy his touch or his kisses? In what way did I encourage this behavior? Did he think this was going to make me magically fall in love with him?
With firmness, I said, “I understand, Count. Now please get off of me.”
He lingered. I didn’t need to see his expression to feel the negative energy he emitted. Sighing in a disappointed fashion, he withdrew, his face stern upon observing me. I took the opportunity to push myself off the couch and left him to his solitude.