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Brenton Tomlinson
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darkrose.jpg
Art by Jeff Karnick 2009

Dark Rose

 

 

Brenton Tomlinson

 

 

Rose cringed as the ceramic cup shattered against the wall.

 

“You know the punishment for creating an eternal child without consent?” Andrew pointed a finger at Jerome. “She,” he redirected his finger at Rose, “can’t be any more than seven or eight.”

 

Jerome smiled reassuringly in her direction. “Andrew, she’s my cousin. I couldn’t leave her in that pleasure house. She’s family.”

 

Andrew turned his back to them, finger-combed his dark hair.

 

“Please?” Jerome begged.

 

“All right, Jerome, but she’s your responsibility. You need to teach her the rules. If she can’t make it, then so be it. If she breaks any rules, it’ll be on your head.”

 

Andrew marched out, slamming the door behind him. The sound echoed through the empty room and found a sympathetic rhythm with the throbbing in Rose’s head.

 

Jerome wiped his brow, sighing. “That went well.”

Rose giggled.

 

Jerome swiftly closed the distance between them until his forefinger lightly touched her nose-tip. The speed of his approach both startled and awed her.

 

“No more laughing, Rose, especially in here. If Andrew hears you, he’ll think you’re not taking this with the seriousness it deserves.”

 

It was hard, but she managed to control herself. “Can I move as quickly as you just did?”

 

It was Jerome’s turn to smile. “I knew you’d fit in here. Let’s go and see if we can teach you some of the rules.”

 

“Before we go, can I get something for my head? It still hurts.”

 

Jerome’s smile vanished as he stared into Rose’s eyes. “There’s only one thing that can remove that headache—you have to feed. Come with me, and I’ll show you how.”

 

They walked out of the derelict building into the cloying humidity of the night. Two hours earlier, she’d been tucked up in a dormitory-style cot, sold by her aunt and uncle to the local pleasure house.

 

She’d been crying when Jerome materialised next to her bed. The other girls had already drifted off to sleep. Rose had clung to her cousin like a lifeline: her last hope of salvation from the nightmare she could see her existence becoming.

 

The pain of his teeth sinking into her wrist hadn’t registered at first, and by the time it had, it was already too late.

 

Now she trailed Jerome through the deserted streets, watching from the shadows as he approached the homeless and the destitute. Through stealth and guile, he lured each victim into striking distance.

 

Jerome wiped his mouth as he approached her, his smile encouraging, but the smell of blood made the pounding in her head worse.

 

“I can see you’re starting to suffer, Rose. You need to feed soon.”

 

“Why can’t I just feed on those you’ve already caught?”

 

“It’s the stuff in our mouths. It’s different in all of us. If you feed on a mark that I’ve already fed on, then you can get real sick. My stuff breaks down after a week or so, then anyone can mark ’em again but you need to learn how to sense that. Until it’s gone, only I can feed on them.”

 

He took her frail hand in his, “Come on, it’s nearly time for the intermission to end. If we’re lucky, your first mark will be like dining in a high class restaurant, not on one of these scums in the gutter. The bluer the blood you begin with, the stronger you’ll be.”

 

“Isn’t there another way I can start? Something easy I can do? I’ve never bitten someone before.”

 

“I’m sorry, Rose. If I’d left you in that place, some real bad things would’ve happened to you. It was lucky I saw you sitting at the window as I was going past.”

 

He hung his head as if looking at his shoe. A bloodied canine tooth hung over his lower lip when he raised his face. “I didn’t really have a choice. It was either you live as we do, or you live as a pleasure girl. I couldn’t leave you to that. I hope you can forgive me.”

 

“I’m glad you didn’t leave me there,” Rose said. “I’ll try to learn your rules, and I promise I’ll be good.”

 

“I know you will.” He ruffled her limp, dark curls. “Come on.”

 

Licking her lips at the prospect of sating her hunger, she skipped alongside Jerome. But when she saw her reflection in a store window, she stopped.

 

Her face was ashen, with dark shadows below her cheeks and ringing her eyes. The slight indentations at her temples had become more pronounced, and she could see a vein throbbing there that matched her headache. Raven-black hair hung limply from her scalp where soft curls of brown once reigned. Her lips were thin and bloodless, cracked as if she’d spent too much time in the sun without water.

 

Behind her, Jerome placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Rose. You only look like that because you haven’t fed yet. You’ll see. Once you’ve had your first mark, you’ll look just like your old self again. I promise.”

 

In the shop window, Rose tilted her head and returned his gaze. “I remember Uncle reading aloud a story about vampires. I didn’t think they had reflections.” She indicated the window before them. “How is it we can see ourselves?”

 

Jerome shrugged. “Most things in stories are made up, with the writer not knowing the truth, I guess. You will learn many things are not as they seem, or as others believe them to be.” He gently pulled her away from the shop front. “Now come. We must hurry.”

 

They turned down a dark alley bordering the playhouse. From the shadows, they saw the brightly lit theatre forecourt was nearly empty.

 

“Can I try?” she asked.

 

“If you think you’re up to it, be my guest.”

 

Rose approached the narrow lane and peered around the corner. Her eyes grew wide, the reflections from a thousand colorful light bulbs mirrored in them.

 

She jumped, squealing, when Jerome poked her in the ribs. “Well, are you going or not?” he asked.

 

“Don’t do that!”

 

Gathering her courage, she stepped into the multicolored luminescence.

 

She edged toward a well-dressed couple who lingered to one side of the theatre entrance, finishing their cigarettes. The brunette woman nodded in her direction as Rose approached. Casually, the man turned to see what had attracted his companion’s attention.

 

He dropped his cigarette butt and scanned the forecourt, but the other patrons had already returned to the foyer. Rose watched as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a shiny coin. With an immaculately-groomed eyebrow arched high, he held out the coin to her.

 

Rose saw the man’s brow furrow in concern, the half-smile leave his lips as he began withdrawing the coin.

 

With phenomenal speed, she sprang forward. She grabbed his hand in her own as she sank her little teeth deeply into his outstretched wrist.

 

His companion swooned, collapsing across the theatre steps like a discarded silk scarf.

The man stood transfixed as the mutated enzymes from Rose’s mouth entered his bloodstream, paralysing his flight response.

 

She drank greedily, the smell of blood filling her nostrils. Her grip on his hand tightened. She could feel the bones in his fingers beginning to yield. Immense strength filled her, together with a longing for more. She bit down harder, luxuriating in the feel of her teeth burying themselves into human flesh. As she took her fill, her headache receded.

 

A sharp slap to her rump made her stop and look up. Beside her stood Jerome, with his fists on his hips.

 

“What’d you do that for?” she asked, rubbing her backside.

 

He shook his head in dismay. “If you drink too much, it will make you sick. Or worse: it will turn them into drinkers, too.”

 

Her stomach knotted in fear as she imagined this large man with glistening white fangs creeping up on her as she slept. She brushed her lips, smearing the last drops of blood across her chin. “I promise I won’t do it again.”

 

Jerome smiled. “Now go back to the shadows and wait for me.”

 

She smiled back and skipped to the alley, the last of her headache vanishing like a dream on waking. After one last look at the place where her life had changed forever, she saw her cousin bent over the man’s companion, drinking from the woman’s dainty wrist. Jerome winked at Rose before dropping the arm and hurrying to join her.

 

They ran hand-in-hand down the alley and burst into the dark street beyond in a fit of laughter. Rose pulled Jerome with her to stand in front of the shop window they’d peered into before.

 

Her face was full and healthy-looking again, and framed once more by soft brown ringlets. She brushed a finger across her lips and examined the pad for signs of color. There was nothing there. She looked back at the scarlet lips and smiled at how pretty she looked.

 

Jerome drew her hair away from her ear as he bent forward to whisper. “You’re beautiful, Rose, as you should always be.” He reached around and lifted her top lip to expose a fang. “But you’re not the same little girl you were when you woke up this morning. Now you must feed on others or you’ll die. You must stay hidden during the day or the sun will turn you to ash. You are a creature of the night now—an eternal child.”

 

“You mean I won’t see the sun anymore?” Rose said. “I can’t play with my friends?”

 

Jerome shook his head sadly.

 

Rose touched her cheek. She twirled a stray lock of hair around her finger and curled back her top lip to expose her fangs. A single tear rolled down to the crease of her mouth.

 

“You’ll never grow old now, Rose. I can show you wondrous sights and teach you all sorts of things that grown-ups call magic, but never really believed possible. Because you started off with the right type of mark, you might even be able to learn how to fly. Now dry your eyes. We have one more stop to make tonight and one last important lesson to learn.”

 

Rose wiped her face with her sleeve and sniffed and offered him a weak smile.

Jerome patted her shoulder. “That’s better. Now we’re going to pay a visit to your aunt and uncle.” When he saw her fearful eyes, he rubbed her back. “Don’t forget you’re faster and stronger than them now. They can’t hurt you anymore, and I’ll be there to help.”

 

“What are we going to do there?”

 

“Well, Rose, I told you that drinking for too long can turn your mark into one of us, right?” When Rose nodded, he continued. “If you go back and visit them four times before the next full moon, they’ll die from the build-up of the stuff in your mouth.”

 

“You mean we’re going to kill them?”

 

“That’s up to you. Now, I’m guessing that they’ll take that money they got for you, and spend up big on good food, and probably on lots of booze, too. When someone eats good food, and then you feed on them, it makes you stronger. The stronger you are, the longer your mark will stay on them.”

 

Rose was genuinely happy now. “So the money they got for selling me will end up making me stronger and them dead.”

 

Jerome nodded as he watched Rose’s reflection. A smile curled the side of his mouth to expose a fang-tip.

 

“But why do I feel so happy about that?” she said. “Why do I feel all warm inside and my skin all tingly? Why is my heart pounding so fast?”

 

 “Because you’re a killer now. An eternal child survives by feeding on those weaker than themselves,” Jerome told her. “Your aunt and uncle are weaker than you now. Let’s go pay them a visit.”

 

The night seemed warmer and somehow brighter to Rose now that she’d fed. She skipped happily along beside Jerome.

 

Two figures stepped out from the shadows ahead of them.

 

Rose heard a low growl come from her cousin. “Jerome, I’m scared. Who are they?”

 

“They’re from another clan of Drinkers.”

 

The two figures moved under a flickering streetlight. They were nearly the same height as Jerome. The slightly taller one stepped toward them. “Well, well, well. Look what we have here, Jackie. It’s one of Andrew’s kin.” He spat noisily onto the ground.

 

Jackie chuckled and stepped in front of Rose. “Can’t be. This one’s too young to run with his mob. I’m guessing someone made a mistake when they created her.”

 

“Maybe we could help them out then. If we kill these two, then nobody would have to worry about her, would they?”

 

“You always were the smart one, Chris.”

Jerome stepped in front of Rose, shielding her. “We don’t want any trouble here, boys. I suggest you take a good look at the little one. She’s been marked, so she’s of no use to you. And the one who marked her wouldn’t be happy with you interfering.”

 

A growl warned Rose an attack was brewing.

 

Baring yellow fangs, Chris lowered his shoulder and charged at Jerome.

 

Jerome pushed Rose aside and took the force of Chris’ charge. The two landed heavily. Each held the other’s head, both with fangs bared, trying to bite the other.

 

An arm circled Rose’s chest, the hand groped her. “Ah, you don’t even have titties for me to enjoy,” the voice said. “I can’t drink but I can enjoy tearing you to pieces.”

 

Rose looked up into Jackie’s sweaty, fevered face. Smiling, he opened his mouth.

 

His breath stank of death, like the dead cat Rose had found last summer. As he descended, Rose saw bits of food and dried blood, still caught between his teeth.

 

She tried to break free, then pushed off the street to get away. Pain exploded in her head as it struck Jackie’s jaw. Something warm sprayed down the back of her neck and suddenly she was free.

 

Her instinct was to run and hide, to find somewhere safe until Jerome could come and get her. Then she remembered Jerome was in a fight of his own.

 

She looked around. Jackie lay crumpled on the road with his jaw and nose a smashed mess. She rubbed her neck and found it drenched with his blood.

 

A howl from the shadows made her tense up. Her fists clenched as she prepared for Chris’ charge.

 

Jerome staggered into the streetlight, blood oozing from his lower jaw and streaming from a forearm. Rose ran to him, making him stumble as she hugged him.

 

“I should have known you could take care of that lowlife by yourself. Hold still, you still have part of him stuck in your head.”

 

She felt a tingling as something was pulled free from her scalp. Jerome showed her Jackie’s fang before kissing her and throwing the tooth into the shadows.

 

“Did you kill the other one?”

 

Jerome nodded and then abruptly dropped to his knees. He teetered there for a moment before slipping sideways to the road.

 

Rose shot forward and caught his head before it struck the road. “Jerome, don’t die,” she begged. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go. Please don’t leave me.”

 

“It’s okay, Rose. I’m not going anywhere. Our kind heal quickly. I just need to rest for a bit and then we can move again.”

 

“Is it always going to be like this?” she asked. “Do I to have to kill or be killed every night?”

 

Jerome forced a smile. “Not every night, but a lot of them. There aren’t many clans out there, so you won’t have to worry about running into animals like these two, but there are plenty of other dangers out here, hunting us. I’ll teach you about them when the time’s right but not tonight. Tonight is for learning the major rules of staying alive and for a little bit of vengeance. Now, no more questions, I have to ask you a favour.”

 

“What do you want me to do?”

 

“I need to drink some of your blood to help me heal quicker. Not a lot,” he added hastily, when he saw her concerned face. “Because you’re stronger than me, your stuff will make me stronger, too, if you let me drink a little of it.”

 

“I guess that’s only fair, but don’t take too much or I’ll smash your face in like his.” She pointed at Jackie’s remains.

 

Jerome nodded and lifted her wrist to his mouth.

 

She didn’t feel his fangs as they pierced her skin, but she could sense her blood as it left her; she could fell him growing stronger as he drank. When she thought he was strong enough, she tried to pull away.

 

He hung on tighter, forcing her to yank her arm away. They sprang apart, both in low crouches, ready to attack.

 

With an embarrassed cough, Jerome straightened and slid his hands in his pockets. “I’m sorry, Rose. I got carried away. I haven’t tasted blood like yours since—” He looked into the night sky for a moment before looking back at her “—actually I’ve never tasted blood like yours. I’m sorry; it won’t happen again.”

 

Rose relaxed and went back over to him. “I think you were right before. . . . I’m not the same girl I was this morning, and I can sense that I’m stronger than you. I don’t think you’ll try that again, because you know that, too.”

 

Jerome hugged her. “On my life, I swear it won’t happen again.” He released her. “Shall we go and visit your aunt and uncle now?”

 

They walked side-by-side toward the house where she once lived. Jerome began sniffing the air. Rose never noticed the drool running down her chin.

 

When her uncle opened the door in his pajamas, still rubbing sleep from his eyes, he never recognized Rose as she sprang forward and knocked him to the floor. Before Jerome could pass her, she leapt from her uncle’s bleeding throat and flashed down the passageway.

 

Jerome closed the front door and dragged the uncle into the sitting room. He walked casually down the passage and leaned on the doorjamb as Rose sat beside her aunt, who sported two puncture wounds of her own.

 

Rose looked up and smiled. “I’m sorry, Jerome. I know you were hoping to have one of them, but it was me they sold, so that money, and the food they bought with it, is rightfully mine. I’ve marked them both. I can sense it now.”

 

He nodded, sighing, as he pushed off the doorjamb. “There are only a few hours left till dawn. We need to find a safe place to sleep. We can come again tomorrow night if you’d like.”

 

She smiled. And by the trail of drool on her chin, he knew they’d be back tomorrow night and each night after that; until these two were dead.

 

Oh yes, Rose would fit into the clan very well. 

 

 

 

Brenton Tomlinson has been writing and submitting stories for the past 2 years gaining acceptances in such publications as The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Fear & Trembling, NVF, and 52 Stitches. He lives in South Australia with his wife, two out of three kids, a dog and two cats. He is currently participating in his second year of a four year Advanced Diploma in Professional Writing. You can read more about his writing exploits at http://musingsofanaussiewriter.blogspot.com/

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