Vampires are interesting because they're conflicted, and I've gotten tired of the whiny ones. They're not my usual thing, but I guess every spec fic writer has to do a vampire story at one point, so I consider this to be my "getting them out of my system" tale. Comments welcome, as always! For more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter
A Balance of Souls
Elizabeth fled to the orchard. She ignored the cries of her nurse behind her, "Lady, stop! Please, Lady, listen to your mother!" At sixteen, Elizabeth was too old to listen to her mother, especially when she had such horrible things to say.
Once sure she had outrun the elderly nursemaid, Elizabeth slumped against a gnarled trunk. Nurse never came into the orchard after dusk, and the sun would set any minute. The dying light of the day gilded the west side of the trees and cast dark shadows to the east.
Once she caught her breath, she yawned. Every night for the past month, she'd woken to see a figure standing at the foot of her bed. The apparition itself wouldn't have bothered her so much – perhaps it was her guardian angel, or the day's patron saint – but for the smells of blood and gunpowder. It reminded her of when her father and brothers would go hunting and come back bloody and reeking of death. Sleep had become hard to find.
What would be worse, she wondered, to be lost to the dark creatures that hunted in the orchard at night, or to be sent to the Convent of Perpetual Sorrow? Wasn't there a third choice?
"Your father lost everything when his cargo ship sank last month," her mother had told her that afternoon. "We have nothing for a dowry or education. Mother Margaret will accept you into the convent with this." She held out a gold Rosary with pearl Hail Mary beads and diamond and ruby decade beads.
If only they had sold the Rosary, they would have had enough, but it had been her great-grandmother's.
"But Eric's parents have plenty of money! They won't care if I don't have a dowry."
That's when her mother had taken Elizabeth's face in her cold, dry hands. "Eric was killed in the war, Elizabeth. A month ago. They just found out."
Tears slipped down Elizabeth's cheeks, and she slid to the ground. She didn't remember the rest of the conversation or running out of the house, only when her feet had met the dirt path to the orchard where she and Eric had courted under Nurse's watchful eye.
She raised her hand to wipe her eyes. She heard clinking and saw that she held great-grandmother's Rosary. Her mother must have handed it to her before she told her about Eric.
The pearl beads slipped through Elizabeth's fingers. "I'm lost. Hail Mary, the Lord is with you, help me find my way…"
A tall figure stepped out of the shadows between two large trees, and Elizabeth shrieked, then looked closer. She rolled to her knees, breathless at the sight of the face she thought she'd never see again. "Eric? You were killed in battle."
"So they say." He lifted her chin with cold fingers. She could barely make out his face in the waning light. Yes, it was him, but there was something strange...
"They said you were dead. They gave your sword and gun to your father." She rose to her feet and stumbled before she regained them. The Rosary clinked and swung with her drunken motions. "I… I can't marry you. There's no money for a dowry."
"Even if there was, it's too late for that," he said. "Things have changed. I've changed."
She felt her mouth press into the thin line that was her mother's disapproving expression. "What do you mean, you've changed? Your parents have plenty of money! And they'll be happy to see you."
He shook his head. "Not like this. I came to say goodbye, Elizabeth."
She touched his cheek. It was so cold! He lit a match, and she saw in the seconds between when the flame flared and faded that he had changed. His skin, always pale, now was white, and his sad smile showed her…fangs. Nurse had been right! Vampires did hunt in the orchard after dark.
She gasped and stepped back, crossing herself with the Rosary. "Who did this to you?"
"It was a creature, a man dressed like a looter, who crossed the lines after the battle. He found me. He asked if I wanted to die. I said no, and that's when he did it. If I had known…"
"Have you killed anyone?" she asked. "Oh, Eric, your soul! You'll go to Hell!"
"No, only animals." He looked away. "But time grows short. I feel the thirst."
"Stay with me tonight," she said, remembering Nurse's stories. She came up with a plan to save him. "You can be gone in the morning. And I shall go into the convent and pray for your soul."
He nodded. They talked all night of their childhoods, and the plans that they had made for when he got back from the war. Elizabeth saw the sky lightening to the East.
"I want to come with you," she said.
"What?" He looked at her with narrowed eyes.
"Let me join you. There's no life for me here, and I'll die in the convent!"
"Are you sure?"
She nodded and offered her neck, the spot where he had often stolen kisses. She gasped when she felt his fangs slide through her skin, and she let him drain her as she kept one eye on the sky.
"Now you," he said. He bit a pair of holes in his wrist and held it to her mouth. She turned her head away.
Her vision swam, each breath an effort. "No."
"But you said…"
"I'm saving your soul, Eric," she said. "Wait for me, my love." The rim of the sun peeked over the horizon and shone through the spaces between the leaves. She closed her eyes so as not to see him burn, but she heard and smelled it, the popping and sizzling, blood and gunpowder. She curled her fingers around the Rosary and prayed, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death…"
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