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Aѕριяιηg Aυтнσя — Monster

Kιттεη ωнσ cяιεძ ║ ฬ๏lŦ ║

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So say the rυмιnι, the peasants, when the thunder rolls over Lake Hermanstadt and drums against the surrounding mountains. In it's crescendo they hear the voice of the dragon: the Devil himself, roaring a warning to those souls foolish enough not to flee his wrath, foolish enough to linger on the banks of the wind-tossed lake in the face of the rising storm. Dozens die each year, struck down in a blazing mortal moment by lightening.


April, present day.


As dusk encroached, a lugubrious gloom permeated the landscape and his thoughts. He fell to ruminating on the fearful gleam in his driver's eye, on the hostility and superstition implied by his actions and words.


"A demon!" the old man had cried, and Marcus' lip curled in sneer and he felt the flushed heat of anger.


"Your employer," he corrected coldly, though he knew it would do no good.


"Whatever you say, Sir, only remember me kindly." The man crossed himself with a trembling hand as if it would stop Marcus from attacking if he saw fit. In these modern times Marcus had almost forgotten what it was like to be feared and despised solely for being strigoi, with no need to raise a hand or threaten. To be feared simply for existing.


"Don't be ridiculous," he curtly replied to the driver as he sank back into the cushy leather seating of the short black limo within which they found themselves. A glance to the rear view mirror told him the old man not only spoke with blatant fear in his voice, but continued to cast anxious glances back at his passenger. "No harm will come to you."


"Or to my family, Sir, swear it!"


"Or to your family. I swear it," he said shortly, and blue eyes drifted from the rear view mirror to watch the scenery blur by just beyond the window.


As they rumbled past a foreground of verdant forested slopes dotted with farmhouses and the occasional rustic village, Marcus was reminded by the countryside's charm of his homeland- it cheered him, bringing about a sincere pleasure. He had forgotten the beauty of his native land after years of living in a crowded, dirty city. The air was clean and sweet, free from urban stench. In the early spring, the grass had greened and the fruit trees were just beginning to bloom.


Even still, a few hours into the journey and the sun had begun to set, casting a pale rosey glow on the looming backdrop of spiraling, snow-capped peaks. He had to draw in a breath at their awesome splendor and admit that, mingled with the growing sense of dread, he felt a fierce pride and longing for home he had forgotten he possessed.


The steady change in countryside mirrored his state of mind. The farther into the mountains they ventured, the more stunted and gnarled the roadside growth became until after ascending a steep slope he spied nearby an orchard of deformed, dead plum trees rising black against the evanescent purple twilight. The trunks were stooped by wind and weather like ancient peasant women carrying on their backs a too-heavy burden; the twisted limbs thrust up towards Heaven in a mute plea for pity. The land seemed to grow increasingly misshapen; as misshapen as its people, he thought, who were more crippled by superstition than any infirmity of the body.


Could he truly be happy among them?


Shortly thereafter, night fell, and the orchards gave way to straight, tall forests of pine. The passing blur of dark trees against darker mountains and the sound of tire over ancient road lulled him into an uneasy sleep.


He fell at once into a dream:


Through a child's eyes he gazed up at towering evergreens in the forest overshadowed by his great-uncle's castle. Treetops impaled rising mists and the cool, damp air beneath smelled of recent rain and pine. A warm breeze lifted his hair, stirred leaves and grass that gleamed, bejeweled with sunlit drops of moisture.


A girlish shout cleft the silence. Marcus turned and in the dappled light beheld the girl who would grow to be his wife, Elizabeth, a gleeful six year old, her dark, upslanting eyes ashine with mischief, her flushed, heart shaped face wearing its wide imp's smile above a narrow chin.


Elizabeth motioned for him to follow then turned and ran, bounding joyously towards the heart of the forest. Marcus hesitated, suddenly afraid, but they often played as children under the coverage of pine boughs, and with a dreamer's certainty, somehow knew no harm would befall them.


So he chased her, half laughing, half shouting in outrage at the injustice because her legs were longer and, being one year his senior, she could run faster.


He didn't notice that as they ran they grew, aging with each step taken until in her twenty-seventh year she paused to glance over her shoulder with satisfaction to see him outpaced before disappearing from view into the dark, glistening woods.


He ran, ducking as low branches reached out to scrape his cheeks and shoulders and sprinkle him with captured raindrops. The further into the forest he ventured, the darker it became and the more his face was slapped by low hanging boughs, until his eyes filled with tears and his laughter turned to gasps.


He ran faster, faster, flailing at the limbs that now seemed ghouls intent of clutching him and he had quite lost sight of Elizabeth, her ringing giggles growing more and more distant.


Marcus continued, crashing through the woods in a dark panic for a dreamy eternity and as he did, the pang of hunger found him. With each step it grew and grew, and the stronger that hunger grew, the easier it became to follow a new scent on the air; something that called to him, pulled at him inexplicably. Something warm, metallic.


And then Elizabeth's laughter broke off with a thud and a short, sharp shriek. There came a heartbeat of silence, then a low, ugly snarl. The snarl became a roar and Elizabeth screamed in pain so loud it made his ears ring, as if she were screeching directly into his head. Dim light had darkened into a blindness and he could taste iron heat on his tongue, addictive and sweet. He couldn't stop himself from drawing that taste for himself, selfishly, until it was no longer available.


When sunlight mists once more filtered through the treetops Marcus beheld a ghastly spectacle:


Marcus found himself hunched over Elizabeth's still body, jaws clamped around her slender neck. Footfall behind him brought his head to lift, rending tender flesh with sharp teeth as he did so. Blood dripped from his chin. Marcus saw himself from an outsiders view, and turned to look at himself, standing but a few feet away and staring on in horror.


"Marcus.. What have you done..?"


Her voice rang on the breeze and he stumbled backward, clamoring away from her lifeless body to rejoin himself and become whole once more. With the exquisite clarity that marks the most vivid, terrifying nightmares, he saw his young wife. He saw the root over which she had tripped and the rock on which she had struck her head. The small gash on her forehead had bled profusely, but it was nothing compared to her throat, which had been so severely mauled that the skin had been torn away and hung from her neck in a bloody flap. Bone, cartilage, and glistening red muscle all revealed.


Worst of all, she was still alive and dying quickly, struggling to expel a final scream, a final breath; her horrified eyes were open and they focused on his in a silent, terrified plea for help. Tiny bright red bubbles roiled up from her exposed larynx, each prismatically ashimmer with filtered sunlight, a hundred miniature rainbows dipped in blood. Nearby blades of grass bowed, laden with shining crimson droplets.


Marcus awoke from the terrible vision with a start as the driver pulled to a stop. He must have been asleep for some time, for they had reached their destination.


"We're here, Sir," chimed the still frightened old man from the driver's seat. He didn't get out of the car, only looked back at Marcus through the rear view mirror.


Marcus lifted his palm to scrub at an unshaven cheek, thanked the driver, and exited the limo to await the man he was supposed to be meeting. That time he used to reflect on the nightmare.


If only it had been a dream, and not a memory.

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