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Elizabeth loosed her frill, shaking her hand out free from the gentleman’s one. Her dress swept elegantly on the floor in the waltz. She lost herself in his eyes, two slicks of liquorish hair sliced his brow.
“It’s hard to understand” she said over the trilling violins, “Even when you are a member” A wink of light caught in her eye as she twirled for the twelfth time. The chandelier was greeting her.
“I don’t believe in monsters” he said.
She smiled smugly, “Daft thing to say, giving that even humans can have monstrous qualities. Look at how they kill. How they resent each other. Tell me then, does that not make them monsters?”
She hadn’t expected a smile from him. It flickered. “You speak as if you’re not human yourself”
Elizabeth’s smile died. She let go of his firm palm, halting the dance. Still, the violins trilled. Still couples twirled placidly. Still, the chandelier hung, greeting the guests below with its dim light. Elizabeth gulped, “I saw that tattoo on your chest, it belongs to the Order. And yet you led me to believe that you saw no truth in the hunters. That you didn’t believe in monsters. Why?”
He smiled, “And you let everyone in this town, including me, believe that you were human. Why?”
“You…so this was all a lie”
“Yes” he said, “The whole relationship, the picnics in meadows, they are all part of knowing my prey before I strike”
Elizabeth folded her arms on her chest. Smiled wryly, “Strike? You have nothing to strike with! I’ve taken that from you a long time ago!”
“I don’t understand” he said, “Is human tongue too arduous for you…Lich”
She cringed at the word. The accusation. The memory of being cursed, having nothing inside but somber hollowness. But her courage resurfaced. Her forehead furrowed. “I have a child”
His smile disappeared. Instead, a frown was hard on his face, “A ch—who’s?”
“Yours” she said, “I’ve been hiding it for all these months. My pregnancy, all of it. Goodness knows what the mob will do if they find her…they would have burned her at the stake if anyone had seen her.”
“She’s a monster…”
His chest bulged, “I don’t want to see you ever again” He turned on his heel, and walked away. Dispersed in the crowd of aristocrats, dukes, countesses, and young paupers who were lucky enough to nab an upper-class garment.
She looked at the humans, dancing and twirling as if nothing was wrong with the world. They were ignorant. Naive. They did not know that the darkness within her suffused in the room. They did not know that it would bite the oxygen out of a maiden, leaving her pale and blue-veined. They did not know that it would bring sudden infidelity to a husband. He would see a powdered mistress. The consort would see them, and her heart would shatter. She would sip a vial of rat poison, one that burned down her throat and corroded her intestines. The darkness was within her. It was also within her child.
John would see his child. He stalked under the still night, where blackened clouds brought death to the stars, but was merciful enough to let the ghastly moon to peep in between intervals.
The shanty town was alive with scurrying rats, and mangy cats, glaring at John with glowing green eyes. He knocked on the door, which had been more of a wide plank fastened with thin wire at the hinges. Unlike the other shacks, darkness was heavy in this one. Only John knocking, but no answer from inside. But he had to see his child.
He pushed, shoulder bumping the door. Pushed again, softly ramming it. With a hurtle, it swayed inside. The room was dark, he saw a wooden cot. A child was in it.
The baby wasn’t human. His naked body was pale, as if his skin had been long dead. The baby wasn’t human. His irises were like wedding rings. Glowing. Roving. The baby wasn’t human. In the purple silk sheets, he wriggled his butt, smiling happily. He was smiling, as if nothing was wrong with his abominable appearance. He wasn’t human.
John felt his blood erupt into iciness. He didn’t feel his breath come out. He watched the baby. His glowing eyes turned to him for a while, but after finding him too mundane, resumed to wondering at the cot.
John jumped when a voice came from behind him, “His name is Cain” It was a woman. From the quaver and richness in it, John could tell that she was old. He swerved around. In a dark corner there was a rickety chair. On it rested a haggard woman. Pruned. Eyes, a dying gray, but sagely. “Like in the good book” she said, “And it does him justice too. A killer he was born, and a killer he will die”
“Elizabeth’s son?” he said.
“Aye” she said, “Elizabeth…my daughter. Sold her soul to the darkness, and for what? Money? Fame? Those things aren’t worth a toss they aren’t. God has his maps set for us; he doesn’t want us wandering to find paths of our own. Elizabeth is as fair as they get, but I warn thee now. She’s like a rose. Beautiful and attractive on the outside, but once ya pick it up, it pricks ya through the skin it does!”
John turned to look at the child again. The baby had his chalky hands clamped on the edge of the cot. Eyes, fixed on John. John felt the hairs on his arm stand erect.
“If ya listen closely enough” the woman said, “You can hear him whispering to your mind, low and morbid”
“Whispering? What does he say?”
“Things better kept it the skeleton closet. She tells ya all the things the thing ya don’t want to hear…how you’ll never find love, how you’ve failed at everything you’ve done…how you’ll one day die and no one will mourn for you”
“Has he told you those things?” John said astutely. The baby let go of the cot, and clumsily rolled back into his sheets. The woman sighed,
“I brought a priest to pray for him a while ago…he told him of his death. The time, date, and manner. Drove our beloved father mad it did. He fled to the moors. No one has seen him ever since”
John licked his chapped lips. Still, his breath refused to come out. “H-how come he doesn’t whisper to me?”
“He’s angry. I don’t know why, but that’s what he says. He’s whispering to me as we speak.”
John turned to the woman.“I think I should take him. I’m monster hunter, and I think he’s best suited with me. Think nothing of it, but easing your burden”
“Have you heard nothing I’ve said! He kills…he’s dangerous. No. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Elizabeth”
“Fine” John said, “I’ll wait for Elizabeth”
That morning, Elizabeth had gone to the stalls. Margot, the produce trader had told her of how a man had been strangled last night. Of how two little finger-marks had been found on his body. “The sheriff said they looked like a child’s” Margot had said, “But tell me Elizabeth, what sort of child can stick their thumbs, between the hollow of a man’s neck, pushing and pushing, until the fellows irises disappear, and foam seeps out of his mouth?” Feeling pity for the man, Elizabeth had gone to John’s house to fill the gaping hole in her heart. The hole that couldn’t feel any remorse, pity, only love. She would go to John’s house, and seek his love.
When she got there, she had found John’s mother, eyes puffed, tears reddening her plump cheeks. “Mrs. Tumbleweed” she had said, “Where’s John?”
The woman had wailed. Had said, “I’m sorry…he’s out”
“Where can a find him” she had said softly.
The woman had wailed some more, “You can never find him! John is dead! He was strangled in his bed last night”