My touch meant death, but I needed a hug. I was the child of murder and malice, looking for love and kindness.
The world opened its arms to me at first. Who denies a crying child affection? I was their image of innocence, no matter where I went. They would hold me. My touch paralysed. That innermost need for affection always hoped that I’d finally found someone who held me tight because they wanted me. I felt them still. Cold death covered them and chilled my skinny bones.
The search continued.
I longed for love instinctively.
I hungered for it.
“Poor little mite,” said a kindly voice. Her ruddy face peered down at me in the snow. “Where’s your mama then?”
My eyes were the giant glimmering saucers that they fawn over.
“Come here then.” Brown shawl hung from hunched shoulders. Tanned arms reached out. Dirty fingers, rough with callouses, opened to take me.
I ran into the arms.
I hated that noise.
Her eyes were bulging.
“No. Don’t die. Please. I’m sorry. Just hold me. Please.” My voice was sorrow in the high tones of a little body. Six or seven years I’d wandered, looking for someone to take me in.
Colour drained from her face. Blue eyes turned milky. Her heart slowed. I felt her life pass into me, feeding me.
“Take it back. Take it back! I don’t want it. I want you.” Fists the size of crab apples pounded her frozen chest. She was already gone, and I knew it.
I learned to keep my distance. I learned that there was no love for a thing like me. The Black City was my home. Black leather gloves taken from a corpse kept others safe from my touch.
I ate stolen food. Gutters were my bed. Rats were my friends if they kept their distance, meat for a barbeque if they didn’t.
“Get lost, Little Bad,” said the other orphans on the streets. They threw stones if I ever approached them. They saw me for what I was as they approached death from starvation.
Towers rose as I remained an infant. Skylines rose faster than I grew. Smoke from the factories hid the blue of the sky each day and the light of the stars each night. Foreign tongues wormed their way into my mind. I heard the gossip, tales of war, gripes about corruption.
Stories of a vampire trickled from the mouths of gossiping women, hanging their washing on their balconies. A creature that lived forever, already dead. Hiding from the townsfolk that would burn it alive.
Bodies were found all over the city. All men. Drained dry of blood. Aristocrats were found in their libraries. Factory foremen lay dead at their desks. Pimps hung from the painted signs of their brothels.
Red crosses marked every death on a stolen map of the city. There was a term I’d heard astronomers use called triangulation. Sitting silently on the beams of their lecture theatres I had learned a great deal about the stars. All I wanted was the sound of their voices. I learned their names through years of observation. Odd thing, the men that studied the stars never looked up to see me in the rafters of their house of learning.
Every two days the vampire feasted on mortal flesh. Eventually it ranged further from the heart of the city. By then I had already established a central point to its attacks. An ancient church, labelled as a house of heresy. Boarded up. Half burnt.
Tombstones were the flowers in the garden. Weeds were the lawn up to the house of worship on the hill. That church had been watching the Black City grow longer than I had. Moonlight smiled upon me walking between graves.
Swelling purpose filled me as I pressed my naked palm to the cold stone of the wall. An owl hooting in trees by the graveyard’s edge told me to keep going. Red stained glass was purple in the blue light of the moon. It peeked from between the boards. Hairs on the back of my hand stood upright as I saw the broken window in the roof.
Black gloves saved my hands from the cruel splinters of the boards on the windows as I climbed. Carvings gave me holds. Gargoyles meant to protect the church aided my break in. My little feet creaked on the charred and rotting boards of the roof.
Black City, in all its guts and glory spread out around me as I stood at the summit. Lamps were pinprick glows of orange, forming lines that disappeared into silhouette alleys. Whispering wind warned me to leave. Not a chance.
I was not made to die.
There was no safe way down from the hole in the roof into the church. I jumped. Bones crunched. Blood spurted from wounds caused by shards. My head hit the rubble. I knew no more.
Pain woke me. Eyes watched me. Yellow eyes. Catlike eyes in a human face with snake’s teeth. My bones were setting. It had been day, and night had come again.
I lay on a moss-covered pew. I was a bruise with two arms and a leg. One eye swollen shut. Silence passed between us.
Licking blood from its lips with a tongue a foot long, it fixed me with a stare.
“Hello,” my voice was still that of a child.
It vanished. Nothing but the eyes remained. Yellow orbs watching me with black slits open wide.
Pain overcame me again. I slept.
I woke in the day, almost healed. Serenity in the ruins stunned me. Flowers bloomed beneath the open roof. A wild garden sang with pollen. Rotten benches had been arranged into garden beds.
Food lay before me. Bread. Wine. Cheese. I ate ravenously. Wine dribbled down my clothes as I scoffed the offerings. When I had my strength, I followed shadows down steps into the darkness.
Nothingness welcomed me home down there. I found a crypt older than the church. Magic forbidden to moral mortals warmed my healing bones. Skeletons of vampires filled open hollows in the walls. They lay in rusted armour. A dusty golden hoard lay beneath each one.
Sarcophagi were the focal points of rooms carved with ancient battles. Each lay ajar with a corpse within.
She lay sleeping in her own. The last chamber. Her sarcophagus was inlaid with gold and gems I could not name. Some swirled with dancing light in purples and blues, the colours of the cosmos.
She was dead. Eyes closed. Unmoving. Skin grey. Hair lily white. Every nail was a dagger fit for the cruellest killer. I felt the power flowing from her. Red blood on her lips.
I folded myself into her arms. I had found my home at last. Without waking, her arms tightened around me as any mother’s might. I slept as I had never slept. She woke me at night, stroking my hair.
Her smile was soft as a kitten’s fur. Her teeth were needles as she drank from me. It is the price of my happiness. She steals me food every night. I eat and she drinks my blood. My touch does not harm her. She is the Big Bad that does not die. I am the Little Bad that cannot be killed. We are the monsters that harm no one.