October 31, 2021
She was brushing her teeth when she saw herself in her costume. She was going to be Anne de Marseille, legendary world-saver, immolater of hundreds of vampires in 1720s France.
She had no idea where she would wear it or who she was going with. She only saw herself from behind: shoulder holsters armed with green Sprite bottles (labels removed), her black dress swishing around her thighs, boots clicking on the shadowy sidewalk.
She looked badass. Excellent.
She came back with her mouth full of foam. She retched a couple times but she had nothing in her stomach to throw up. Maybe David was going to take her to a Halloween party, the way he did last year.
As she hopped on the train downtown, she thought of what she would design. She had it in her mind since yesterday: t-shirts, sunglasses, skirts, patterned with various flamingo prints. She loved creating prints. Her supervising designer (who always took credit for any designs he considered halfway decent) would hate them, but in three weeks, a K-pop star would go viral posing with flamingos at a fancy resort. Flamingos would become a Thing and Alice would already be ahead of the game.
She smiled to herself as she floated off the train and down the rusted metal stairs, turning the corner to her favorite coffee shop. Alice was ahead of things a lot.
Ever since she was a kid, things come to her, like the flamingos, like her Anne costume. It was convenient, but not comfortable. Never easy.
The future came in a burning, heavy pressure that forced its way between her lips, down her throat, inside her body. It shoved her blood and her writhing organs to the sides to fill her with something other, this foreign presence. It gave her things she wasn't supposed to know, and shouldn't, but did.
When she reached the counter of the coffee shop, Joe had her latte waiting, like always.
"A floral bralette under this, like, bowl-of-mush colored pantsuit. It was totally nonsensical, and the pantsuit should've been buried with its maker." She handed him a bill as Joe nodded, considering.
This is their daily small talk routine - critiquing the ugliest street style they've seen in the past 24 hours. Joe is a crusty seventy-three year old and he's still the cattiest person Alice knows - and she works in fashion.
"This crop of kids came in yesterday wearing them slouchy beanies and t-shirts designed with holes in them. It's October!" Joe exclaimed, slapping his wet rag on the countertop. Joe hated teenagers and inauthenticity in equal measure.
"Grunge is in again, Joe. Sorry," Alice called back as she left.
She sipped her latte slowly as she walked down the street, hoping she would keep it down. The future burned her raw inside; every time it came, she felt her fascia being seared like a well-done steak. She was always sick, vomiting on herself or the floor or her desk, her poor body desperate to feel like hers again. It made her confused parents haul her to doctor after doctor. The kids at school thought she was a freak, a liar with an eating disorder. It was always hard for her to keep weight on and she drank Pepto Bismol like water.
She crept past the same homeless man she saw outside her office building every day. He was pacing the sidewalk, holding his hoodie out like a shield and screaming about the royal family. She found the slice of cardboard that served as his bed and placed the change from her latte on top of it.
Sometimes he knew her, would say hello and tell her to watch out for something innocuous, but today his world was muddled, and she was a stranger.
Alice could relate.
At her computer, she got to work on her flamingos. Question mark necks popped out in pink across her screen all morning. She thought David might text her good morning, but she didn't hear from him until lunch, and that was just an excuse for why he couldn't see her tonight.
Brief due Friday baby. Promise I'll make it up to you this weekend.
It was only Wednesday. Alice sagged over her phone as she typed back - Ok good luck! Don't work too hard.
She and David have been together for 13 months. She hoped breaking the one year mark would change something, mean something, but things were stalling out instead. She hadn't made it to a year with Nate or Desmond or Oscar or Tom or Mason....
Alice fell in love a lot. Falling was as far as she ever got, actually. She never landed on anyone's shores, she never took root to sprout and blossom. She just fell, then fell out and fell back into another set of dark eyes. She thought about that, the untethered nature of tumbling on and on through nothingness, and then she saw David, much later tonight. He was tie-less, his shirt unbuttoned, and thrusting into his intern Adriana, her hands scrabbling on the mirror behind her.
In the bathroom. In the bathroom with his intern.
Alice shoved back from her desk, choking, and her latte came back up, splattering wetly into her trashcan.
Afterwards, she brushed again, rinsed out her mouth at the sink. The water was cold and soothing on her raw throat. She dampened a paper towel and rubbed at a spot of bile on the collar of her shirt. Great, now she'll have that stink in her nose all day.
Every once in a while, not very often at all, Alice's visions felt good. Instead of heat and pain, she felt an expanse of air, like god's breath extinguishing the flames inside her. The air was very cold and it had no smell but freshness and tomorrow. Her biggest sadness was that she never remembered exactly what those visions were showing her.
She only remembered the smell inside her, the feeling, sometimes, of a mouth against her skin, of her body being pressed into the earth. Being planted somewhere lovely.
Whatever these visions were, she knew they were wonderful. She wished she had one of them now, instead of the image of David cheating on her, but that was all she got. Fuck destiny, fuck her head and her weak concave stomach.
She emailed her flamboyance of flamingos to her boss, then dashed out of the office before she saw his displeasure. Idiot. On the train back to her studio apartment, she planned her outfit, even though she still didn't know where she'd be wearing it. She'd be Anne de Marseille in an overheated, overpriced bar if she had to.
This was the thing she'd do tonight - meet a new guy, fall into him, and ghost David. Not a mature way to end, but cheating with an intern was uncreative as hell. Lawyers, she sighed as she unlocked her door and entered into her cheerful whirlwind of an apartment. No more lawyers.
She pieced together her costume from items she already owned. The shoulder holsters were the trickiest part but she managed to find leather belts that worked. It was after twilight by the time she finished, turning slowly in front of her mirror and inspecting herself from every angle. She knew who'd appreciate this effort the most.
Alice cocked her hip out and angled her phone to catch her body and the bottom of her face in the mirror. Smirked, red-lipped and puckish, and took her picture.
Threw together something, can you tell who it is?
Rosalie responded immediately: YES you jewel. We're twins
A photo of her costume followed - more authentic and period than Alice's and naturally about fifty times more expensive. The difference between their family's backgrounds, not to mention the fact that Rosalie was in med school and Alice was a barely above minimum wage fledgling designer.
She only smiled as she enlarged Rosalie's picture - Alice loved her too much to ever resent her beauty or her beautiful things. Besides, Rose was really made to cosplay Anne - when she added the red wig, she looked so much like the famous painting of her, it was disarming.
Make him take you somewhere nice tonight, Rosalie texted again. He can fucking afford it.
I'm not seeing him, he's too busy going deep in his intern, Alice started to type, then deleted. Rosalie already hated David. If she knew about this, she would make his life a living hell.
Take yourself somewhere nice too xxx
She looked out the window. The streets were already noisy and crowded with half-drunk Disney princesses and baseball players, a few creepy clowns, some slutty nurses. She saw some Annes and vampires among them too, women in black dresses and boots holding hands with men, their faces powdered white, red crosses drawn on their necks in lipstick.
That was Anne's signature - she carved a cross into their flesh before she burned them. Or so the legends said, anyway.
Alice indulged herself in a brief shiver as she slipped her keys and wallet into the pocket of her dress. Halloween was deliciously creepy; she loved the indulgence of being scared.
She wore what Rosalie would have called an excessive amount of earrings - her triple helix and daith piercings glittered and gleamed. Just cheap costume jewels, but Alice fingered them with pleasure. They were pretty. Her silver necklaces hung down to the bodice of her dress. The way the variety of cross charms grabbed onto the light and held it, drew people's eyes down, accentuated her small breasts, the shape of her nipples visible underneath the silky fabric.
Anne de Marseille had been on a godly quest, spiritual and holy.
Alice was on a quest for something else.
She hit a bar offering no cover for women in costume, got her ass grabbed twice and pinched once, her chest "accidentally" brushed by a few too many elbows, and drank a fruity cocktail she'd probably puke up later. She finally consented to make out with a vampire, a well-built Black guy with violet eyeliner and perfect unpierced earlobes.
Alice liked the little things about a body. David had beautiful shoulder blades, so sharp she could picture the shape and color of the bones underneath his skin. Alice liked to stroke them when they had sex; it gave her an exploratory thrill, like she was charting his body in a way no one ever had.
Except for his intern, she thought bitterly. She tried to force her mind back onto the vampire, the way he was breathing heavy, the hard thump of his heart against hers. The taste of his spit (sweetly alcoholic) and the glide of his fingers working their way down her ass, under her skirt --
She pulled away before he could reach his goal. "That was fun, 'bye," she chirped, trying to capture her inner Rosalie. Her inner Anne. Her inner killer.
Savior, she corrected as she slipped back out onto the street. Anne de Marseille killed to save. She was the woman who stopped the vampire plague that turned the dying men of Marseille into a ravenous army of the dead. All the vampires were men. Scientists determined much later that venom bound itself to the Y chromosome. Without that, all the bites could do was kill the bitten.
Stories persisted about lovesick vampires who tried hopelessly to turn a woman into an eternal companion, only to kill the object of their desire. It was fitting, everyone agreed, that a woman stopped them. Rumors persisted that vampires survived and lived on, but no one had seen them in large numbers since Marseille.
She walked back through her neighborhood without thinking about her destination. It was late now, and colder. She hugged her arms to her chest. Her short black jacket was fleece-lined, but her bare legs were icy-white. She cursed when she saw the looming figures rise up before her. Darker than the darkness. She knew why she had come here.
Story Park - it was the nearest public park to her apartment. She loved it from the moment she saw it. The park was dotted with huge statues of famous figures from children's stories: Captain Hook, Aslan, Peter Rabbit.
She and David had come here last year, after they went to a Halloween party at his friend's apartment. They were newly dating then, and Alice was carefully not to do anything weird. She didn't eat or drink anything (so she wouldn't be sick). She didn't laugh at jokes before the punchline, or finish people's stories. She didn't critique a single costume, even though one of his friends was the worst Indiana Jones she'd ever seen.
Like a reward, David had let her lead him to the park afterwards, had nodded and smiled as she offered up her ideas for a children's clothing and accessories line modeled on old Gothic fairy tales. Something dark and just a little creepy. Nothing sweet - children had enough sweet. They needed strange: thorns instead of flowers, spiderwebs instead of bubbles. Pickled onions on their little tongues, puckering away the sickly wisps of cotton candy.
That night, last year's dead and gone Halloween, David kissed her by the mermaid princess that perched in the shallow waters of the pond. Another woman who'd given up too much to make a prince happy.
David didn't know it, but Alice's favorite was always the witch. She liked the swirl of her navy cape, the way her painted black eyes managed to flash with passion. She had a vision once of being kissed at the base of the witch statue, her head scraping against the concrete. Someone pulling her down. The sort of drugging kisses that made the night pass like a dream, pulling the sun up into the sky while mouths moved desperately, leaving behind bruises and ragged-edged whispers.
Please let me
The park was deserted, not even a homeless person sleeping on the benches. Alice was a small shadow moving through it, the way she had been in her mind. She was the sound of a heart pounding, of footsteps on the way to nowhere. A fiery, pulsing smell emitted from her mouth, the nape of her neck, her stomach, the naked place between her legs.
It was the smell of her power. It was how strange she was, how strange she had always been. Alice had a lot of acquaintances. She had her routines with Joe and Mike, the homeless guy, and her office buddies, and sewing circle pals, and the regulars she saw in her building and at the grocer's. She had her mother and her sister and Rosalie. She found a never-ending series of new guys, who thought she was quirky and beautiful and fun.
She was. And she was something more than any one of them could see. She was vomit in the grass, tomorrow's tragedy today. An artist who wanted to scare children-- just a little bit. A woman who wanted to be fucked at the base of a witch statue in a park in the middle of the night. She was falling, falling, always falling; she couldn't bloom until she was planted.
She was the story he was creating in his head as he watched her. He smelled her when she left the bar, and it made his hands clench and his chest tighten. He followed her, moving ahead to his hiding spot, and now she came to him like a bird ready to perch on his arm.
She was in the center of the park, past the pond, moving closer to the witch. The ground around the statue was low, filled with damp and puddles. There were no streetlamps set here to illuminate her.
The witch was twenty feet tall, made of metal and concrete. She had a small opening at the base - Alice often wondered at the purpose for it. It was too small for any adult to climb through. Were children meant to go inside here? If so, why? Did its maker imagine a child would need a hiding place, somewhere lonely and quiet to disappear to?
The witch was yelling, her finger pointing out at the princess, reclined glorious in slumber under a streetlamp some distance away. Inside the witch's mouth, there was a secret opening, chiseled and chipped away until it was big enough for a tall man to slide through. He stood behind her face on sunny days, watched the goings-on of the park when it was filled with laughing children.
It was crowded on those days.
Tonight, there was only her. His dark Anne de Marseille, empty plastic bottles in her shoulder holsters instead of accelerants designed to burn away his flesh and bone.
She was standing very still on the path, the wind blowing her short black hair around her face. She didn't shiver or raise her arms to shelter herself. Her skirt blew up higher on her legs -- baby-deer legs, that's what she had. But he stared at her face. It was the sort of face that would always look slim-cheeked and youthful, her dark eyes always looking up to meet someone's eyes, pulling stars' reflections into their depths. He was mesmerized by the way she changed under the weight of power.
There was something else inside of her. And he wanted to taste it.
When she came back, she retched up some pale-colored liquid. She pulled a tiny little bottle out of her dress pocket, rinsed and spit. Then she looked around, craning her head to see if anyone was watching. It was dark and windy, the night carrying the sounds of people up and away, and it seemed like the world was empty.
She bent down, folded herself very small.
And crawled inside the hollows of the witch, where he was waiting.
Alice smelled him, the way he had smelled her. It was the smell she loved the most, the one she had always wondered about. The smell of good clean air, of god blowing out her pain. So cold and so new, like it must smell at the top of Mount Everest. Like it had come straight down from space, falling to earth for her and her alone.
"Oh," she murmured, closing her eyes and breathing deep. She fluttered her hands around her face, pushing waves of scent into her nose and mouth. "Finally." She looked up.
The witch's interior was so black that she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. He had pressed himself flat to the wall, but his eyes were on her, and she felt them, even without seeing him. Even in this deserted, ugly place, she came inside and spoke to him.
"Where have you been?"
It was the first thing she wanted to know, and a question that would have taken him far too long to answer.
"Ma'am, you shouldn't be in here."
"Don't ever tell me what to do. I know better than you do."
He wasn't supposed to be smiling, but he was. Her blood was so hot. There wasn't much volume to fill him, but he had this idea he could live off her for a very long time. Sip by lick by taste.
"If you knew better, you would go back out," he advised her, and before she could retort, before she has a chance to think better of it and leave, he placed his boots and his palms on either side of the witch's body, and slid gracefully down the interior.
Standing in front of her at the bottom, his dark form crowded hers. His smell removed every other thought from her head. Had she ever known a dream before this one? Wasn't this the womb she was born from -- or was she born yet?
He made a place for her in the topography of his body, keeping his feet on either side of her to fence her in. She stood between his thighs and he cupped her elbows in his palms. Her bones, right there, were so smooth, they felt like the finest doorknobs, carved from marble or ivory. If he were a freak, if this were Texas, that was what he'd do with her. Keep her bones for adornment, her skin for a blanket. A pelt of her hair hanging from his belt, there to stroke before a difficult battle, like a lucky rabbit's foot.
But this wasn't Texas, and he couldn't think of her in pieces. What he will take will be bad enough.
"You're right here, you smell like I always thought--" She eked out the words, taking deep breaths between every one. When no other words came, she nestled closer, rubbing her face into his thin t-shirt. She let out murmuring noises, like the trees in the wind outside.
He hadn't used his gift once, hadn't needed to because she came right up to him. Unafraid, unguarded -- more than that, welcoming. Bloomed open like a pink hibiscus, petals made of fresh pink skin. He should move away - but he knew her scent now and he won't. He heard of vampires enchanted enough to lay with mortal women, always thought it was for people like Carlisle, people who believed in love.
"I like your costume, Mademoiselle Anne." In the dark, he stroked a possessive finger across the cemetery of crosses dangling over her chest, making them tinkle together like raindrops. She hurt there, there and at her elbows and her face and the outer curves of her calves, the places where they rested against his legs. Every place that he touched her, she ached. She was breathing so loudly that she barely heard the wind outside. The muscles of his chest were hard and cold as ice against her searching face.
The heat of her body shimmered off her skin. He saw it in the air, like wavering haze on a highway. He bent until her forehead brushed his neck, the softest slide of skin against skin. His ears quivered with the sound of her. She began to touch him, in the dark, and he closed his eyes and let her come.
She knew from touch that his ribs would be visible beneath his skin. She imagined him tall and pale, standing up proud as she tugged all his clothes away. His skin was-- it had funny markings across it, so faint they were almost hidden under his clothes. She strained to follow them and he exhaled sharply into her face. She almost bit at the air like a dog.
"That's nice," he told her, and she smiled because he must think she was doing this for him. It was for her, of course it was. Oh, she could do this for days, for years. Spend her spare time on portraits, tapestries, sculptures of him. But to do that, she needed light. Just enough to see who this was. Who she had waited for.
"Come outside." She tugged at his shirt, but he doesn't budge. "Can you fit through that hole?"
"No, ma'am," he said, shaking his head. "We will stay here, in the dark."
"But I can't see you," she insisted. "I waited so long, I never have."
"Shh, you're talking crazy. Here," he grabbed at her insistent hands and bent again, pushing his cheeks into her palms. "This is all you need to know. Learn me by touch."
He held himself still as she turned his head from side to side. She teased her fingers through the ends of his curls, caressed his earlobes.
"Tell me your name. Tell me everything about you." She couldn't pick out a favorite part of him - everything she felt was sculpted and beautiful. He had a strong brow and lips that curved at the corners as she stroked them, like he was ticklish there, or simply pleased with her.
"My name is Jasper. And I'm a long story." He closed his eyes as she moved her thumbs across his eyelids. "Too long to tell." Too ugly for you to know.
"I like long stories, Jasper. Long kisses, too. For future reference," she teased him and thought of how it would be, their first kiss. She hoped he would lay her in the ground next to the witch -- on the ground, she corrected, shaking her head. On the ground, what a funny mistake. "Don't you want to know my name?"
"I'd rather call you Anne."
"Well, it's better than ma'am."
"My Anne." He kept still during her explorations, but suddenly he kissed the shadowed place under her eye. Very softly, but for a long time. "Burning hot, inside and out. Is that for me, Anne?"
"Yeah," she exhaled. She gripped his sides, struggling to hold herself upright. There wasn't room inside the witch to lay down, they really can't, unless he, but will they--
Suddenly, at the small of his back, where his shirt has ridden up a bit, there was a particularly interesting set of marks. She realized what they were, and the wish seized her mind. "You let people bite you here."
"Let them? Not exactly. But some have."
"I'll bite you," she vowed. He watched her in the dark. She has opened her mouth, experimentally running her tongue over the sharp points of her incisors. She was soft and warm and pink inside, the wet sheen of white teeth behind the painted prison of her lips.
Bite me, chew me open, he thought. Let me do it to you. Open your mouth and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, she took her right hand off his back, and reached up. Maybe she wanted to feel his face again, his hair, but he will never know. Her fingers landed on his neck. He jerked her away, so hard her fingers bent backwards and one broke.
Too late. There was a scar on his throat. A scar shaped like a cross - not one drawn in paint or lipstick, the way men and boys did this night, Halloween night, when they pretended to be a vampire. A cross carved into his flesh a long time ago.
"Oh," she said, and she lifted her other hand away. "Oh."
What else could a woman say, trapped in a tiny dark place, alone, with a vampire? She squeezed her eyes closed, hoping this was a vision. In a minute, I'll wake up and barf on my sheets, she thought.
But instead Jasper who was a vampire picked her up, clutched her body in his arms. He rocked forward and back on his heels, and then he jumped, halfway up to the top of the witch, and he climbed through the witch's mouth, and down. He held her like a shard of glass, absorbing the impact into his bones so it wouldn't jar hers.
Outside, the wind and the world had changed. The wind smacked at her face, whipping his smell away. It was like an enchantment being shattered, and she thought of her life, her flamingos and her mother's smile and all the places she had never been, and what it would be to lose everything.
He put her down, and she took a large step away, until she wasn't touching any part of him. She opened her eyes.
Even in the small amount of moonlight, he was beautiful. Angelic, a soldier from god's own army. His hair was golden and his eyes, they were dark (like the ones painted on the witch's face, she thought wildly). His body was as straight and lean and proud as she imagined, as finely shaped and strong. "Please, Jasper. Don't."
"I told you not to come in there." She wasn't touching him anymore and he felt the loss on every inch of his body. Please press your skin to mine, please make that noise in your throat again, he wanted to beg, as he hadn't begged for anything but death in decades. Annes were put here to torture and kill him - he should let her do it, he wanted to and he couldn't - she was too much and exactly his.
He fumbled for his gift, shoved it at her clumsily, like a glancing blow. Waves of peace, of pleasure. The bliss he felt when she explored his face. The need he knew from the first instant he smelled her. I need you to hold me, to touch me, to sink your teeth into me. I need your words to shelter my skin under this open sky.
She fell to her knees beneath his feelings, her eyes going dreamy again. It was another dream, it was the same dream. The dream she waited her whole life for, all those sweaty nights beneath Mason or, or-- she's forgotten the rest of their names now, but it doesn't matter. She would sleep inside his smell, inside the curve of his mouth. He neatly slipped her shoulder holsters off, tossing the bottles away.
"Jasper, I want you to hold me. I need you, I'm going to dream inside you, I can see you now, you're smiling at me, you're beautiful--"
"Yes, it's all right. This is how it's supposed to be," he soothed her as he sliced her dress open, parted the fabric. She was naked, her body flawless in its bones. A pearl, shucked.
He flipped her onto her belly and did what he wanted. He opened her, licked, sipped, and tasted her. "Burning. I think this is for me, Anne, isn't it? I think you're for me," he murmured as he moved over her and she rippled like a stoked fire beneath him. She moaned his name again, and please, but there was joy in it now. Goosebumps covered her, her cheekbone dug a groove into the damp earth.
Planted and harvested, she thought, remembering every time she had dreamed this, his naked body against her back, the way he cupped her hips and her face, lifting her up to kiss her. Long, dreamless kisses, and the night went on and on, or was that his shadow? Was it night or day, or maybe they never had to stop, not ever.
Please let me
His teeth sank down. Her blood was more than he imagined, an endless sea that reflected the stars like her beautiful dark eyes. He looked into them as he tasted, and he lived another life.
A life where he turned her, where he kept her, or she kept him. (She kept him under her tongue.) A life where they had a family, a future of long endless nights-- and days too, cloudy days and sunny ones on a tropical island or in an fancy hotel suite. Hours with her hands on his face, making his lips curve because he loved her, he loved her, she loved him, and if he could have, he would have lived that life.
But there were no female vampires. There was no other way this story could end.
Her eyes went glazed and still. Her body cooled. He kissed the back of her neck for a long time. He still smelled her there.
He stumbled when he tried to stand. He pulled his clothes on - he took them off just to feel his skin against hers. His trousers, his t-shirt felt rough in comparison.
He fucked her several inches deep into the earth. The impression of her body was perfect. "I knew a woman, lovely in her bones," he muttered, and the wind carried it away. Edward made him attend a poetry reading several decades ago, and a sad-faced man had read that. It was the only line he bothered to remind. Sentimental ole Edward.
It was still night, but there were no dreams remaining here. He moved off into the dark.