Alderose’s experience had not been a dream nor some concerning manifestation of her fears and repression. She had confirmed that much the next day when she’d stirred—inattentive, sluggish, and strange of mind. She’d carried the look of the ravished; red splotched with swollen lips while her sex glistened with unresolved hunger. Were it not for the two pin-prick markings against her neck, red and visible whenever she swallowed, she would have written off the occurrence as a vivid if not riotous night terror.
But they were there, strong and impossibly present.
Something had happened.
She’d locked herself within her manor for ten long days after that, manic in her search to cleanse the taint that had fed upon her soul. During that time, she’d combed her paltry library seeking any and all information on creatures that lurked, fanged in the night. The lordtrix of Griswall hadn’t given her much clue beyond her actual name—
So that’ll you learn to whisper it with reverence.
—but she dared not think it, for it sat heavy in her mind whenever she did. The last time she’d thought of it, angry and petulant from her embarrassed conquering, she’d found herself crippled by a sudden inexplicable urging. She’d collapsed upon her kitchen floor, tea all but forgotten, and had taken to shoving tight fists against her pulsing sex as her blood rushed wild through every portion of her being. The craving to feel that sensation again, when she’d been reduced to little more than food and an empty pussy, had blocked out all other needs. And oh how she yearned to return to that state! To become that thing that had held no name or sense of self when she’d been so full of purpose.
As if she’d been bred to be.
It was a frightening, exhilarating, loss of control that had left her entire being aching. Pockets of time had been lost to hazy memory, pondering the taste of abandon that had remained in her body after she’d come to herself spread-legged on the floor.
She could not let that happen again and she doubted her name had much to do with whatever she was.
She wasn’t sure what was worst. The distracting battle against the pull of a simple name or the slow seductive boil of her blood at night.
Initially she tried to stay conscious well into dawn. It had seemed like the right idea to avoid the dangers of night invasion. Yet, when the bell tower rung, precise and on time, the night of her crime always rushed upon her. It flitted about her consciousness in bits and broken pieces, in a flash of writhing darkness or the scent and feel of heated skin. With every frustrated blink she’d succumb to an unnatural drowsiness, one that steered her heavy body to bed with the promise of slumber and an echo of sensation.
When in that state, she dreamt of Griswall’s main bedroom parlor where her neighbor played host, strutting amongst the women of the society tea. Nude, they moved in wild gyrating motions, shadows and soft shapes that spilled unrestrained and cackling laughter as they beckoned her to join them. Sometimes, she did, pulled into their embrace and pressed against dream-Gail’s sweat covered skin where she’d indulge freely in the desire to touch the raised flesh across her lined back. Sometimes, while exploring those wicked patterns, she’d hear the echoing crack of a horseman’s whip, dancing ideas on the edge of her perception before they were buried beneath the feeling of wet lips.
Other times she did nothing, watching their play from the open windowsill, where she remained aloof against the hazy compulsion to join. She’d burn with something just beyond envy, with clenched trembling thighs and a salivating mouth. On those mornings, her body ached with a twisted sense of loss, assaulted by a pain not easily shaken.
Yet, it was the other dreams that haunted her most. Dreams that took her to a place not easily remembered in a sense of mind that felt small and unprotected. Within that space the world was hazy, struck with swirling color and blunted sound as she knelt before the lordtrix’s thighs, exposed and willing to serve between them.
It wasn’t a conscious need she’d ever held before—not in waking, just always in slumber—but curiosity beat at her with a desire to know, to explore that taste, scent, and texture.
Her mouth always overflowed with need, more so than the wet heat of her sex, but not for pleasure to soothe her own hungry flesh. No, she wanted something else, that sense of fulfillment that came with being stretched and filled to breaking within the intimate space of her mind.
Just one command, her dreamself begged, just one simple order to mindlessly serve.
But just when She paid her any attention, when the glowing glare of inhuman eyes met her own and her mind began to blossom, she… woke.
Snarling and clawing at her sheets and pillows.
It was the tantrums that embarrassed her most, not the stains on her undergarments or even the sweat that clung to her skin. She could not be this weak to this unusual affliction. She was not this weak.
Oh God, what was she going to do?
With a shaky sigh Alderose looked up from her parchment, ink blotted with notes and patches of what she could remember the ill-fated night of her would-be invasion. Black had long ago stained the brown of her fingers as she drew them cautiously over the tattered pages of her latest acquisition from her disorganized book pile. Her research had been poor in producing results and slowed by her affliction. Each element she discovered was just shy of too fantastical. Kentworks was not a district known for its imagination, let alone its richness of literature and yet every book she’d managed to comb seemed more ridiculous than the next. The lordtrix was not an enchanted newt, a frog, nor a bog beast… right?
No, if anything she was a demon, a creature born to a powerful form with eyes that glowed and lips that were shiny and wet with cherry red from her…
From her blood.
She shivered and swallowed a low yearning sound, caught nearly undone by the surprising presence of her own hand pressed firmly between her legs.
She stood from her desk, ink and parchment forgotten. This was getting her nowhere. While she hid and cowered, afraid of her own body and plagued by the ring of a persistent bell tower the world continued to turn. Out there, beyond her walls, there dwelled some thing with a name she could not speak. The more days she sat, disturbing dust for answers, the longer she… it had time to do whatever it pleased.
It had been ten days since her midnight encounter. She could remain hidden away, crazed and a mess, or she could traverse to Kentworks and seek help from its mocking Constable. Would they believe her? Would any of them? Especially after she’d made such a fuss. How would she tell them?
I know what I saw, when I hung from that sill. All of them, your wives and sisters and daughters, were in that parlor. And there, on the bed, cock out, laid Franklin—
And what of Franklin? If she did nothing at the risk of humiliation, would he remain trapped in Griswall proper? It would have been his own fault, if he’d gone to it, the lordtrix there, but what if it had been its unearthly power that had drawn him into its den?
He was hers in the end. To allow it free reign over the man she, herself, had lured would have been an awfully terrible loss. She did care for Franklin, for the promises he’d made with whispered reassurances and the fruitful ideals that would come with their joining. He would provide more than just removal from the rotting disarray of her former husband’s home. He was her ticket back into the finery she’d once been accustomed to.
But more than that, he was her chance at love.
She rubbed cautiously at the ink that dotted her fingers, mind made up to do what she could. She’d make the Constable believe her. She’d make them all believe her. Their township was infected by something other and their ignorance could get them all killed. Could get Franklin killed.
She wouldn’t let that happen.
* * *
The Station door jerked and clicked but refused to open.
“The Constable is out.”
Alderose tightened her grip on the brass door handle, resisting the urge to give it a mighty yank as she said over shoulder. “Out?”
At her back, the voice spoke again, curious if a bit wary. “Yes. There’s a sign in the window—”
—Alderose refused to remove her gaze from the massive Station door in silent rebellion. To hell with the sign in the Station’s window.
“—they’re out today. Down to the Abbey, I think. Just a half-day walk past that large cluster of trees, the Bowser Woodlands?”
Tension corded along the line of Alderose’s back. To the Abbey, away from Kentworks?
“When did they leave?”
“Left when the Hamsted’s cock crowed, I think. Took a peek out the window with a boot to throw at it—you know how loud that bird is—when I saw their shape.”
Alderose took one shaky breath, then another, before she relinquished her grip on the door handle. She must look like a fiend in the early-evening sun, with her gritted teeth and her lips in a grimace. “As loud as the bell tower, yes I know.”
Though between a noisy bird and the hypnotic cry of the tower, she knew which she’d prefer to hear.
“Good evening, Ms. Vayne, can I help you?” Alderose supplied, displeased with her luck and the interruption. She didn’t want to turn and face the other woman, whose kind demeanor was overshadowed by its accompaniment of naivety and softness. Anna Vayne was a distraction, a mouthy distraction, and Alderose wanted to get on the trail through Bowser. Maybe, if she were fast enough, she could clear the cluster and catch the Constable on their return from the Abbey. Surely, they wouldn’t waste both the day and night outside of Kentworks?
But more than that, she didn’t want Anna to see it, the mania that rattled her skull and made her palms sweat. She was wired with purpose, righteous and heroic. She couldn’t face this woman accepted into their catty gentry—who often found more worth in gossip than action or proper knowledge—and expect to remain unbothered. Alderose was… unkempt, with the long midnight tones of her hair left out of its normal shoulder coil. Now, loose and tumbling, she must have looked a fright. Coupled with her hastily thrown on corset and skirts? She was a downright mess.
And still, despite only seeing her back, Anna did not leave. Instead, she stepped closer and Alderose watched her shadow grow across the patchwork stone at her feet.
“I’m fine, of course. I’d like to know if I can help you, Widow Graham. You seem a bit… stressed.”
Alderose took a settling breath. Goodness how she loathed her current title.
Still, she managed to smile prettily as she turned to face her. “Stressed? Oh no. Not I.”
Anna gave her an odd look, like she’d swallowed wrong. Maybe Alderose did not appear as calm as she attempted to present.
“You don’t have to lie to me,” Anna said, “I know things have been a bit rough for you. The women talk at tea.”
The women always talked at tea.
“Come, come!” Anna did not give Alderose a chance to respond before she captured her wrist. With a tight grip and little time to object Alderose found herself tugged away from the Station porch. As a pair they tramped down the street, away from Kentworks center and closer to the outer edges, where Anna kept house.
They arrived with little fanfare.
“It’s Franklin, isn’t it?” Anna said, as she puttered around in the sitting room, leaving Alderose to hover awkwardly near the entrance hallway. As she slipped beyond Alderose’s vision to the kitchen, she heard Anna call—
“It’s alright, Widow Graham! Come in, come in.”
Alderose swallowed a snarl, “Just Alderose or Ms. Graham is fine!”
Settled on a stiff back couch with hands held tight to her lap she waited, with little patience, for the return of her smiling company. Dread rolled around in her belly and her legs jerked with a rising energy. Beneath her skirts her booted foot tapped a nonsensical rhythm on Anna’s polished floors, yet she remained in place, the grateful guest. To leave now would have been a social faux pas, but the clashing purple decor with its overwhelming flora scent would’ve had even the most stalwart woman making her departing excuses.
“Oh! Sorry, Alderose. It’s just, most of Kentworks has been calling you that since, you know…”
The death of her previous husband.
“Graham was a good fellow. Kind. Hard-working. People don’t tend to move into Kentworks. Not sure if you knew? Too much old money, but when he brought you…”
They’d been more gracious then, the high women of Kentworks, deriving her value from her coupling. When Graham had met his end however, it had been Viktor all over again—
Had she said that aloud?
She swallowed audibly, “The husband I had before Graham. He passed a year before I met him.”
Anna sat across from her with a platter of cheeses and fruit between them, “It’s only been a year since Graham died and Franklin is already so taken with you. Or… um, was. Would you like to talk about that? About Franklin?”
Alderose stiffened in her seat and leaned forward, ignoring the look of pity Anna gave beneath her lowered eyelashes. “Yes, about Franklin!”
There was no time to discuss her previous dalliances and Graham was rotting deep below ground.
“The Constable didn’t believe me before but nearly a fortnight ago I went to Griswall Hall—”
“—Griswall Hall?” Anna’s gaze widened, “I was invited but was out on holiday. I haven’t been back since the new lordtrix was presented the estate. You managed to get one from Lady—”
“—Don’t!” Alderose barked, just shy of panicked, “D-don’t say her name please!”
Anna looked taken aback, “Ah… okaaaay.”
“Listen,” Alderose hissed, “I found Franklin at Griswall—”
The sound of a brass bell cut through their space, so sharp and loud that it left Alderose’s ears ringing. She nearly pitched forward, rocked by familiarity as her vision blurred and her eyelids fluttered. Fear was a metal that pressed against her tongue as her mind scrambled for purchase against probing exhaustion. Before her a blob unfolded from another.
“Oh! Just a moment, Alderose. Someone is at the door.”
Though the sound of Anna’s voice came to her warped and faded she focused heavily on the words. Someone was at the door. The spring coil bell was the one that had rung, rattled carelessly against the door. Not the tower, the thing that currently owned her.
And yet, even as she felt her mind restructure itself, sluggish and slightly warm of thought, there was still something off about how she was feeling. She was aware of a newfound heaviness, one that gently pulled at her eyes and nearly caused her to spread her twitching thighs. It took some effort to straighten from her afflicted slouch before Anna returned to the room with their company.
And when she did Alderose forgot to breath.
“Ah! Good evening, Widow Graham.”
With flared nostrils Alderose gazed upon the sight of her neighbor, Ms. Waye, dressed in working trousers, tight and tucked into thick boots. It went well with her sleeveless shirt, though it was a stark contrast from the societal collective’s softer skirts. She peered at Alderose beneath bouncing bangs with an amused sort of patience swaddled in shadows. That gaze… pulled at her with an eerie interest and Alderose swallow with nervous anticipation. Her neighbor was off in a way that made her itch, no longer cautious and shy as she towered before her. It was in her relaxed demeanor and confident authoritative glow that wasn’t present before. It might have had something to do with the flex of her arms—had she always been so tone and tall?—wrapped around a small logo marked crate tucked against her chest.
She was not proud of her softly croaked response, but her mind was awash with heat-smothered memories. “G-good evening, Ms. Waye.”
She wanted, for a moment, so badly to see them, the raised welts that she knew dwelled beneath Ms. Waye’s clothing.
Anna smiled behind her, happy for the extra company, though she seemed distracted by Ms. Waye’s state of dress—a struggle Alderose saw on her face as she failed to keep her eyes off Ms. Waye’s accentuated backside. “Gail! You’re making the deliveries today?”
Gail cocked her head but didn’t bother looking at Anna, who settled on the settee behind her. It was unsettlingly in nature, cat-like. “Today and every day after that.”
Alderose sucked in a breath.
“Oh?” Anna said, as Gail finally turned to face her.
“My brother’s fallen ill. I deliver for the vineyard now.”
The statement was said with casual efficiency. Factual, cold, emotionless. A squirmy sensation curled low in Alderose’s belly.
“That’s awful!” Anna whispered, sympathetic and blind to what only Alderose could see, “Things were looking so well before I left. What about the investor, will they pull away?”
To this Gail cast an unsettling smile, one Anna easily dismissed, “Oh that will be fine. I spoke with them privately, about a fortnight ago. They don’t mind if I manage it on my own. They insisted even, the owner of Griswall Hall.”
Alderose whispered a weary, “No.”
That was what caught Anna’s attention, “No? Ah, yes. Widow—erm, Alderose has a problem with the lordtrix there.”
Gail stalked to a nearby table and with a movement smooth and hypnotic in nature, she placed the crate there. “Is that so?”
Alderose opened her mouth then closed it, a sign Anna took as her moment to speak, “Well, it’s not quite a problem, is it, Alderose? You only said you saw Franklin—”
“Yes!” Alderose blurted, “There at the Hall!”
The silence that followed her outburst was deafening, alerting her to the rush of blood in her ears. She took a settling breath as Gail drew closer with a sway to her hips that tugged at her attention. She stopped her stalk once she was behind Anna’s shoulders, with hands on the back of the settee, tapping.
Alderose resisted the urge to bite her bottom lip. “Listen, I saw him, at the manor there…”
“Franklin hasn’t been seen in nearly a month.”
There was a luring cadence to Gail’s voice, a harsh chilled undertone that demanded her attention. It was nearly enough to make Alderose nod subconsciously. It did make Anna nod in agreement.
“I know what I saw, I was there at the Hall—”
“When?” Gail interrupted, with a rumble that reminded Alderose of crumbling walls against howling wind.
Fear drummed in her throat and tried to choke her words as she stiffened her spine. Gail had been there, within the Hall parlor, preparing to dance to the tune of wickedness. How could she stand there, blank-faced, imposing, and non-believing when she’d been the one, with her backside undulating, over her taken Franklin?
Anger slowly coiled and strangled her terror. It stirred at her awareness and the fog that tried to smother it. She looked back to Anna, who looked soft and concerned. To her, she would implore—“Listen, I saw him through her bedroom window.”
“H-her bedroom window! Alderose?!” Anna yelped, scandalized, “Isn’t it on the second story? How did you manage that?”
She started to turn her head to Gail, perhaps to see if their expressions would match, but Alderose jerked and shifted forward. She had to keep her attention or else they’d be… trapped.
“That hardly matters—”
“—Oh no, I think it does!”
She banged on the center table with trembling fists, rattling the platter that sat still full between them, “Anna, I think the lordtrix isn’t pure!”
Behind Anna, Gail snorted, “None of us are.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Alderose hissed, desperate as her sex twitched in remembrance. She willed her speeding heart to slow, “I… I am certain that she… it isn’t human.”
For she refused to apply to it the concepts of man.
Anna tittered a bark of disbelief, but Gail made no reaction, and that was scarier.
“Not human how?” Anna said.
“W-when I saw it...” Alderose started, trying to disconnect memory from the joy in her pussy, “it had oddly glowing eyes and sharp teeth with harsh shadows. There was something about it, something—”
Alderose sighed as something low pulsed in her belly, “Beautiful. Too beautiful.”
Anna licked her lips, distracted by the glassy look Alderose knew was reflected in her eyes. “Beautiful? I’ve never seen her.”
Gail hummed at Anna’s back, and placed strong hands upon her shoulders, “It is true that she’s beautiful. Hauntingly, powerfully so.”
“It’s a thing, impure, in the eyes of our God.” Alderose hips gave a little twitch she ignored as she coiled her hands against the cushion of her couch. “It had Franklin. I think, no, I know it meant to take something from him.”
To drink and pull from the neck his soul.
Alderose resisted the urge to stroke the bites across her neck, hidden now by a liberal application of makeup. Still, just knowing they were there made her ache. Here she was, trying to remain steady, speaking of sin when already tainted.
And somehow, somehow, she knew Gail could see it.
“You’ve been to Griswall, Gail?”
The hands upon Anna’s shoulders gave them a slight squeeze, just a bit pressure that made Anna jump, “I have. Many times. The owner is kind and generous with her welcoming. She is interested in us, the women here.”
Under Alderose’s breath she muttered, “I bet.”
If Gail heard her, she didn’t make that known, “She’s an entrepreneur, as smart as she is alluring. She gives out loans and such with her wealth.”
“Like a fancy bank?” Something in Anna’s gaze glimmered.
“Yes,” Gail replied, “tis how she came to be my brother’s investor. And now, she is mine.”
Anna’s mouth hung open slightly in open fascination and Alderose snarled, “You think of it as human, but I swear it is a monster. Not alluring or kind!”
Anna frowned at Alderose’s lack of propriety, but Gail only laughed, “You’ve certainly made her out to be something unusual. Like a vampire or a cannibal.”
One of those words stood out amongst the others. Alderose blurted without grace, “Vampire?”
With a wrinkled nose Anna tilted her head back and Alderose saw her shiver when she found Gail peering down upon her.
“Yes. A vampire. I’ve heard your words uttered before, Rosie.”
Alderose twitched, not just at the butchering of her name, but also the soft little hiss that Gail added onto the end of it.
“It was the Constable actually.” Gail whispered with wonder as she lifted one hand to rest fingers against Anna’s throat. “Complaining about the women in the Abbey.”
Anna sucked in an audible breath when Gail’s hand tightened slightly, caught between the sensation and wanting to pull away. Alderose found herself swaying forward, tempted by something she couldn’t name.
In the resulting silence, filled only with Anna’s deepened breathing, Gail spoke again, “They’re haunted too, by a creature with fangs they claim moves in the night.
It can peer into their minds and then something takes hold. Bringing to life their bodies’ most demented desires.”
Anna jerked in Gail’s grip, but did not attempt escape. Alderose could do nothing, burdened by a weight that swept over irritation and made her own limbs heavy. Though she was not held, not the way Anna was, something kept her silent. Complacent. In place.
“It sent them dreams and corrupted their faith. They’re frightened little things now, within that Abbey. Jumping at shadows and mistrusting squirrels. Can you even imagine it? A creature like that? It would feed on your essence and steal bits of your soul until there was very little of it left. Maybe you wouldn’t even notice it happening. Not until it was too late to fight it.”
Anna husked out a word that faded to nothing, her pupils wide and bovine.
“You would be nothing. Just its darkness and heat. It would fill you up with that until you couldn’t tell your will from its own. I think it would feel good, that sort of emptiness.”
It did, Alderose thought. It does. It would.
“The Constable claims they’re a… repressed sort of women. Their dreams are wet and wild because they have nothing to hold.”
“B-but it’s true.” Alderose said, her voice small to her blood-rushed ears, “I know it must be. This creature, the vampire, the lordtrix. Maybe it hunts them too.”
Anna remained in Gail’s grip, quiet and melted. She didn’t react when Gail flicked her liquid gaze away. The shadows there sucked at Alderose’s own attention, drawing her into what dwelled there. “I think it’s silly. Vampires don’t exist here. It’s a hot dream the women at the Abbey made up. An excuse to continue their inner affairs.”
Between her fingers, Anna’s throat flexed. Though it was low and husky, she repeated Gail’s words.
Alderose shook her head, as if that would cut through the cotton that thickened there. Her lips parted, but her denials were fractured. Too many words now existed in her head.
“They do not exist. They’re too difficult to fathom. A thing that roams in the night and can twist your mind until you’re soft and submissive? You’d stand no chance against it when it called you to worship.”
Anna moaned softly, her arms limp at her side contained by Gail’s hand and the dream she weaved.
“And isn’t that frightening? The very idea, that it could summon you, dripping. You’d crawl out of your home on your knees to do what it wanted. Maybe you’d fight, it’s human nature to do so, but a monster like that? So superior… inside you, making obedience no longer an option?”
Alderose panted and felt an echo of touch. When she glanced down, her own hand was there, between her covered legs, squeezing her inner thigh to keep from exploring her aching center.
“Humans are bred to submit on principle. To our laws and our traditions, we’re conditioned for it. We’d be perfect prey in its hands.” Gail gasped for a moment, distracted by her own urgent gospel. “You’d yearn for it…to offer your soul, to writhe in its mouth.”
And goodness she did, with every thudding beat of her heart, which pushed blood beneath her skin until it felt like she’d erupt. That thing in her mind, the piece that felt like meat, cried out with her lips, low and defeated.
“So, you see, it can’t be real. A vampire. If it was? You, me, Franklin? We’d already belong to it.”
Anna arched slightly, her tawny skin sweat-slicked and flushed. Her hips rocked once, twice, then settled as her eyes fluttered shut. Alderose wheezed as her hands trembled, ready to betray her, to ease the painful pressure that knocked behind her clit.
She mustn’t. She shouldn’t. She belonged to no one.
Things belonged to her.
Gail cooed softly at Anna, as she stroked along the side of her neck, where her pulse beat harsh and ready. But her gaze? That was all for Alderose. Narrowed, suspicious, and hungry.
“Maybe you’re lonely too, Widow Graham. Are you burning? It’s been so long since you’ve had release of your own, I bet.”
The catty words dipped in false concern should have drawn her irritation. Instead, Alderose squirmed, feeling her pussy throb in agreement.
“You’re afflicted, I think. With hysteria. Picturing monsters and missing poor Franklin.” Slowly, Gail focused on an open-eyed Anna, whose gaze was… empty. That was frightening. “Anna, I think Rosie needs help. We should take her to the Physician. She may… hurt herself, with her delusions. She’s not fit to make her own decisions.”
Terror mingled sweetly with the heat pounding through her. A part of her wanted to be complacent, willing and eager to hand over her autonomy. But the larger part of her, deadly and angry, pumped energy into her legs and set her to standing.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.” She said, but Anna only stared at her oddly. As if she were both seeing and not seeing her there.
“She’s... not fit to make her own decisions?” Anna asked, her eyes young and inexperienced.
“No, Anna. Most of us aren’t. She just needs guidance to make it alright. She needs our help, your help, to make her behave.”
Without the controlling weight of Gail’s grip, Anna was able to stand. She swayed only once before she nodded to herself. “She needs… my help.”
Now Anna’s face hardened, “Come with me, Widow Graham.”