Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
A trickle of water.
A dazzle of sunlight!
Weak though it was, having filtered down through many overlapping layers of melting snow, the narrow beam probed the dim recesses of the shallow grotto where the pale maiden had laid entombed these many decades. Slow minutes passed as the flare of warmth playing against the chill alabaster skin of one long, exposed leg inexorably raised the sleeper’s body temperature to a few degrees above freezing.
The maiden moaned in her slumber, shrinking reflexively from the unpleasant tingle of the light and drawing herself even more tightly into the compact fetal knot she had assumed so many winters ago. The thin translucent lids stretched taut across the orbs of her hypersensitive eyes twitched convulsively as more melting snow collapsed around the newly formed opening at one end of the grotto, admitting even more warming sunlight to the chamber. Reflexively she tucked her head deeper into the hollow cavity of her chest, inhaling a lungful of cold, clean air and exhaling with a soft sigh.
Beneath the pallid skin her heart was slowly expanding and contracting, struggling to force sluggish gouts of frost-thickened blood through her long dormant circulatory system and enriching the oxygen starved cells of her brain from reserves hoarded in a unique walnut-sized organ lodged between her kidneys. The flow of oxygen rich blood, in turn, activated a complex molecular exchange of nutrients within the cells of her brain, which was already beginning to stutter to life; bright synaptic jolts of raw electro-chemical energy flashing like strobes along the complex fibrous bundles of her central nervous system.
The maiden moaned once more, a soft regretful sound that was nearly lost among the crystalline plinking of snowmelt from the mountainside above the grotto, and she became vaguely aware that she was awakening at long last. Already the gnawing hunger was beginning to stir in her empty belly, and she knew that she would soon be forced to hunt.
She stirred, then moaned again, a small part of her brain longing to return to the safe dreamless void of her prolonged slumber as terrifying images of the ordeal she had undergone before discovering this frozen refuge crept inexorably back into her consciousness.
Driven always by the omnipresent hunger, she had thrived for many years in the New Land, seldom making a mistake, never losing a kill….until that night. The night she had been driven to this cold place.
Driven by her prey.
She had made a mistake that night. One only, but one too many for one of her kind, entering the dwelling place of a human from the muddy streets of the ramshackle mining community in the valley below, rather than taking a victim at random in the shadowed alleyways behind the saloons, where the miners frequently wandered helpless in their alcohol induced stupors.
Intent that night on selecting her prey from among the sleeping men whose blood did not reek of the sweet, nauseating stink of raw whiskey, she had found her way into the shuttered clapboard boarding house through an unlatched window. Ascending a narrow staircase like a pale shadow and gliding silently down a dimly lit corridor, she had paused to listen at the closed entrances to several of the structure’s sleeping cubicles before deciding to enter the one her heightened olfactory senses told her contained a lone human; a creature whose breath, as he lay gently snoring, reeked of nothing more repulsive than the thick slab of bloody bovine flesh he had consumed shortly before retiring.
The maiden had slipped softly into the black room, her night adapted pupils dilated to their widest to reveal the outlines of a narrow iron bed, the sleeping man nude on his back atop the layer of coarse muslin sheeting covering the thin mattress. Settling gently onto the bed beside her intended kill, and placing a slender hand upon the warm skin of the man’s chest, she had leaned close, brushing her pale cheek against the curling red hairs, thrilling to the thunderous torrent of clean bright blood slamming in and out through the busy valves of his heart, just millimeters away beneath the smooth, fair skin.
She had felt inexplicably flushed then, and confused by the closeness of the helpless prey and, in her confusion, she had grown careless: Never before until that night had the pale maiden lingered over a kill, always taking her hurried nourishment rough, slashing with razor sharp fangs at a convenient artery, injecting her deadly paralyzing saliva into the chosen vessel an instant before gulping the prey’s rich, hot blood in greedy, famished gulps.
That night had been different, however. The maiden had hovered above the sleeping man for many long minutes, savoring the smell of him, drawn to the heat radiating from his well-muscled body, tasting with her ultra-sensitive olfactories the mingled odors of sweat and soap and scented oil in his hair.
Pressing her pale cheek against his soft, flat belly, she had watched in lazy fascination as the man’s sex organ had begun unaccountably to grow, enlarging to alarming proportions in short, spasmodic jerks until it stood fully erect just inches from the white oval of her face.
In that instant, the maiden, who was still young for one of her race, and virginal as befitted her position, was struck by the realization of what she must soon become. Mesmerized at the prospect of her own burgeoning sexual maturity, she had reached out unconsciously in the darkness, her long narrow fingers groping for the man. Touching his hot velvety flesh in curious fascination.
The man had sighed in his sleep, his pulse quickening in instant autonomic response to the sudden pounding of his heart as the open nerve endings of his sensitive skin flooded his brain with a deluge of pleasurable sensations. He had raised his head from the striped ticking of his down pillow, smiling sleepily at the unexpected vision of the silken creature splayed softly across his chest, in what he must certainly have assumed was a pleasantly erotic dream.
She had turned to look at him then, the huge golden irises of her slightly luminescent eyes glowing eerily in the darkened room, her full, sensuous lips drawn back to reveal the glittering row of small, even teeth flanking her inch-long canines.
The man’s own pupils had dilated to their fullest limit then, adjusting to the poor light provided by a splash of moonglow silvering the mountains beyond his open window. And his mind had tried to comprehend the apparition before him. Still only semi-conscious, he had reached out one beefy freckled hand to caress the appealing curve of her soft hip. Touched her cold white flesh.
Startled out of her trance, the maiden had lunged clumsily for his throat, missing and burying her fangs in a down-filled pillow as the man–bellowing in terror–had thrown himself from the bed, rolling onto the bare wooden floor and snatching a huge nickel plated revolver from the seat of the straight backed chair on which he had hung the protective coverings with which his kind draped their bodies.
Still screaming, he had begun blindly discharging the heavy firearm into the bed, shifting his trembling aim to blow the window casement from its frame an instant after the frightened maiden had flung herelf through the opening. She had tumbled to the muddy street two stories below and sprinted away in long graceful bounds toward the dark sanctuary of the brooding pine forest at the edge of town.
Her sensitive ears still ringing from the explosive discharges of the revolver, she had nevertheless heard the frenzied shouts of other men resounding through the aroused settlement. Terrified beyond reason, she had fled upward through the thick pine forest, a darting white spirit insubstantial as smoke against the dark shadows of ponderosa and larch, climbing toward the high rocky divide where she knew from long experience the humans never ventured.
Within minutes they had come hunting her, dozens of them. Armed with their flaring torches of hateful fire and their long repeating rifles, they had chased her relentlessly for the rest of that night, then for a whole day and into another night, the frantic baying of their dogs driving them to murderous frenzy, prodding them upward into the cruel face of a darkening mountain blizzard; their death lust seemingly rendering them oblivious even to their usual elaborate concerns for their own safety in the high unprotected regions.
Late on the second night they had finally trapped her at the head of a narrow canyon that ran well up into the bleak granite landscape of towering boulders and perpetual snows in the freezing rarefied air beyond the tree line.
Exhausted and frightened–for she had never before been discovered by the man-creatures upon whom she fed–the maiden had at long last stumbled among the cruel rocks near the crest of the snow covered mountain, falling naked and gasping into the mouth of the slight depression where she now lay, and shielded from the view of her pursuers by nothing more than a jumble of granite boulders below an overhanging veil of old impacted snow.
Scrambling to the rear of the narrow cavern on all fours, the tender soles of her narrow feet and delicate hands torn and bleeding, she had pressed herself against the unyielding stone, there to await her certain destruction.
For the maiden had seen others of her race trapped by humans–in another land, but under quite similar circumstances–a very long time before, and she had known that the kindest treatment she could expect at their hands was horrible beyond imagining: If she was very fortunate, they might kill her with fire; a slow and lingering death that would extract from her every atom of suffering that it was in her capacity to absorb before her soft flesh at last blackened and charred in the flames of the raging bonfire they would build.
That was how her sire had perished in the Old Land, and the frightening image of his supple, rippling muscles contracting and loosening endlessly in the crackling heat to reveal a fair dozen of the human forms he had successfully mimicked in life remained etched indelibly into the maiden’s brain forevermore: That and the high, keening wail of her sire’s dying screams, mind shattering screams that had echoed through the shadowed avenues of a dark Teutonic forest for half a night as the maiden and all her kin in the far northern province had fled in blind panic from the sacred hunting ground they had marked as their own from the dimly remembered times before accursed mankind had achieved awareness of them and begun deliberately to seek them out for the sole purpose of destroying them and their entire race.
Another of her kind–a gorgeous golden female, her belly just beginning to ripen with the promise of coming offspring–had been taken by the men in the forest on that long ago night, as well, chased down by a band of marauding villagers made bold by alcohol and led by a monstrously fat priest dressed in the distinctive black-trimmed crimson robes of an Inquisitor.
The immature maiden–who had herself been fleeing along with the golden female on that long ago night–had been forced to take to the trees in order to prevent her own capture. She had watched in silent, mindless horror from a shadowed perch high in the branches of an ancient oak as the vengeance-crazed men had subjected the female to a fate that made the earlier burning of her sire in the village square seem gentle by comparison:
Dragging the pregnant female into a moonlit clearing where she was bound with cords suspended between two stout saplings, and fitting a thick leather sack over her head to prevent her from striking out at them with her fangs, the man-beasts had cruelly raped her, one after the other, laughing in their drunkenness while the obscene priest had piously mumbled his foul Latin incantations to the starry velvet sky.
With the dawn, the last of the ravishers lay sated and drunken on the bloodstained forest floor. Then, as the sun rose over the unholy scene, the huge priest had gathered up his spotless robes and, stepping carefully to avoid soiling the garment with the blood still coursing down the tortured female’s legs, he had laid his filthy hands on her, imploring her in loud and ponderous tones to confess her foul witchcraft in the name of the Almighty and Holy Mother Church.
The female’s incoherent shrieks as the priest roughly spun her about on the coarse ropes that had cut her fragile wrists to the bone, he had interpreted as a denial of his god and, calling upon the drunken villagers in the clearing to be his witnesses, had suddenly snatched up a heavy adze discarded on the forest floor by one of the revelers and swung it with all his might, cleaving her cleanly in two at the waist and spilling her unborn babes into the powdery blanket of new snow that had fallen in the night. Still unsatisfied with the cruel destruction he had thus wrought, the man-priest had then hacked the helpless female to bloody pieces, finally throwing her defiled flesh and that of her still squirming babes to the slavering dogs.
The maiden stirred uneasily at the old memory, her long dormant joints protesting painfully at the cold earthen floor of the grotto. Her huge golden eyes opened at last, pupils black as jet narrowing to elliptical pinpoints as she contemplated what she might find beyond the snow-glutted cave entrance. She was uncertain as to the exact means by which she had become entombed on that long ago night, suspecting that the sharp report from one of her pursuer’s long, repeating rifles must have touched off an avalanche in the thick mantle of unseasonably heavy snow she had seen clinging precariously to the ridge at the crest of the mountain slope.
She faintly recalled having heard an explosion, followed immediately by a long low rumble that had shaken the very foundations of the mountain, just when she had thought she must surely perish at the hands of her prey. The faint illumination leaking into the cave from behind the shadowed boulders that had given her refuge had been instantly blotted out and she had curled instinctively into a sleeping ball as the mountain continued to thunder overhead and the chilling cold had taken over, throwing the evolutionarily tempered systems of her pale body into preservation mode, a deep, coma-like state not unlike the hibernation of certain warm blooded creatures.
The maid was not precisely a warm blooded creature, however, and thus possessed the innate capacity, given ideal conditions of shelter, temperature and humidity–conditions nearly identical to those prevailing in the snow-sealed grotto–to survive in dreamless stasis for indefinite periods of time: How long, she did not know, although her old mam had often whispered tales of heroic forebears whose hibernation had spanned the rise and fall of entire human civilizations.
From these legends the maiden had come to understand that, unlike the ephemeral humans, her race was extremely long lived, their tough, resilient physiques engineered by nature–perhaps in compensation for their slowness to mature and limited tribal populations–for maximum longevity.
Now, examining her emaciated limbs in the faint light leaking through the grotto entrance, she suspected that she had been dormant for a very, very long time. In terms of years or decades she had no way of reckoning; nor did her mind recognize such concepts. For although she immediately noted in a detailed examination of her frail body that the once painful lacerations on her palms and the soles of her feet had healed completely in the interim, and that her normally slender form had shrunken to near skeletal proportions, she had no appreciable grasp of or interest in the abstract concept of timekeeping–which was the invention and constant preoccupation of the short-lived humans upon which she fed and of little consequence to the noble and ancient hunting race to which she belonged.
In the maiden’s view, the world–her hunting ground–simply was, a timeless place of slow-witted–albeit sometimes dangerous–prey to be taken as required. Time, if it held any significance at all, was simply a convenient measure of seasons; an indicator of when it was expedient to move further north or south in search of new prey, when to retreat to a dry protected shelter against the coming of severe weather and, soon, perhaps, when to seek out another of her kind with whom she might successfully mate.
Though the young female looked convincingly human, she was not, physiologically, a wholly warm blooded creature, that is, one whose existence is dependent upon the maintenance of a constant body temperature either warmer or cooler than its usual surroundings. But neither was she what is popularly thought of as cold blooded. Rather, her complex metabolism shared certain remarkable characteristics with certain species of deep ocean predators from which she and her kind had originally descended in the distant epochs of prehistory: Just as humankind’s earliest warm blooded ancestors were slowly emerging from the primordial sea, dragging themselves up onto the dry land, ultimately to become the dominant primates on earth, it was a foregone consequence of evolution that representative numbers of the predators–which were warmer blooded animals; in that their bodies were able to maintain a certain minimal core temperature, although one able to fluctuate within a fairly wide range of ambient conditions–should follow their natural prey.
Thus, the maiden was not, like her human prey, totally enslaved by her environment and she was in many ways, physically and intellectually superior to the intelligent primates that her kind had hunted since the dawn of time. Unlike the temperature-sensitive prey, the maid in the grotto had little need to burden herself with protective clothing or the building of artificial shelters for the purpose of encapsulating the precious body heat they so desperately needed to preserve at all times, simply in order to remain alive. she was thus able to exist quite comfortably for long periods of time under environmental conditions that would prove fatal to the average human being within days or hours.
The maiden neither knew of nor cared about her long and fascinating evolutionary lineage or the marvel of her unique physiology. She knew only that she was a predator and, as such, her only concerns were for the hunt and the availability of prey. Now her eyes told her the light outside the newly opened cave entrance was swiftly fading and the burning knot of hunger at the core of her being was writhing like a living thing. For all her evolutionary sophistication, she was driven by her hunger, and she had not hunted for far too long.
Knowing that she must very soon feed or perish, she set about the not insubstantial task of widening the still partially blocked opening to the outside. In so much as she ever indulged in the frivolity of abstract thought when the hunger was burning in her belly, she wondered, while she carefully removed loose stones and blocks of crystallized snow from the cave opening, how the world outside might have changed since her entombment in the lunar year the man-creatures had loudly and frequently referred to as eighteen-hundred and seventy-one.
She would, of course, adapt to whatever conditions she found prevailing in the world.
Of that there was no doubt.