Perhaps 't is pretty to force together
Thoughts so all unlike each other;
To mutter and mock a broken charm,
To dally with wrong that does no harm.

-"Christabel" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


He had scarlet eyes.

They had once been the warm shade of summer grass, but were now diluted to an old and cruel red. Their look was disturbing, for glow if not for color alone. Those eyes, torches embedded deep in his sockets, told tales of sleepless nights, unfinished lives, and the rise and fall of time. And for a moment—just a small, fleeting one—his gaunt face and lanky limbs were graceful.

Graceful; perhaps even beautiful.

But past that trick of the light, onlooking eyes might find chalky white skin and black hair—skin that was dry and rough and cold to the touch, hair that was limp and oily; dead features, all rotting and decayed. Such shock, such terror and disgust; such an ugly, putrid, vile thing! None would dare take a second glance at this hideous creature.

And unfortunately, none ever had the chance to. Two little pricks—just two—and that was the end of that.

Despite all of this he may very well have been a man in times long past, but his features had become void of compassion and faith. Such emotions turned to poison in his veins. They were of no use to him—no matter how greatly he longed for them—and so they were long since discarded as rubbish. No sanity slumbered now beneath that ebony scalp, no soul remained from the havoc of the demon within.

Sinner, whispered the fields and crickets. You are no more a man of God, heathen. Oh, demon, why not die and be gone. Die, die, die

The thing scowled in contempt. God. What a hoax, what a dreadfully meaningless word! What a lie to say that such perfection might exist in this anguished and repugnant world, where creatures of the night lurked 'round every corner and haunted every shadow! That in itself was blasphemy, if such an idea truly endured.

And death—death! Even more heinous and cruel. Nothing existed but life, and life, and life. Neverending and insatiable life.

"How I abhor this unbeating heart."

"What's that you say?" whispered a sweet voice.

Shock, loathing, hysteria, dismay— fear, true and horrible fear, rose in his throat like bile; he would rather be damned all over again than have redemption rise in this form, with saffron curls and flowing skirts, and glowing angelic complexion. He glared, he growled, he felt panic swell in his hollow chest. His mind shrieked with warning and malice, one thought prevailing over all else: How dare she!

"Have you no sense, no decency?" he hissed. She neither cowered nor replied, though his voice, sonorous and bitter, sent shocks of horripilation down her spine. "Well? Are you so uncaring of your own life as to not speak?"

"Are you really so foolish?" uttered she. "You are hellspawn. You're miserable, wretched, tormented, soulless—" She stopped, brow lowered furiously. Then a smirk crossed her lips. "But you cannot touch me, demon."

He eyed the crucifix around her neck, then barked out a skeptical laugh. "I am the fool, girl? You have but one scrap of protection on you, and it is a weak one at that," he said, lowering his voice. "I have nothing to fear of your God. Care to try your luck? Come closer. Come on, then—sunrise is nigh and I haven't much time."

She stared blankly for a long moment, studying his loathsome features, then stepped forward and spit at his feet. "You talk a lot of bollocks for someone so old in this damnation business. Pretty young otherwise, maybe that's it." She laughed, a high and girlish giggle. "Yes, that's it. You're still just a boy, aren't you?"

A snarl ripped through the villain's throat—and what an inhuman sound! It was a howl and a shriek all at once, a repulsive bark, a terrifying growl; dog, raven, and man all pouring into a single, hideous noise. "What a tremendous heap of sh—"

"A boy with no manners, at that! Swearing before a lady? That'll earn you a lashing one day," the girl chastised, laughing again.

That gut-wrenching laugh. How irritating.

Before he could yell out a scathing reply, the sky began to glow. Shooting the girl a final, hateful glare, the demon turned on his heel and fled deeper into the woods.

Deeper, deeper, deeper he went, and in moments he disappeared from her sight entirely. She gave a satisfied nod, waited for what seemed like an eternity, then left in the opposite direction, red dress aflame in the morning sun.

Hate, hate, hate, hate…

Her hair bounced with every step, steady and mesmerizing.

Run, kill, run…

As she walked, she either heard nothing of the malicious whispers surrounding her or else paid them no attention.

One hour, two hours, three hours, four. Five hours, six hours, seven hours...

Eighteen hours went by. Eighteen long, grueling hours. Day passed into night again, and the girl—Mary was her name—was perched on the bed of a brown-haired young man, grinning fondly at his freckled skin and long nose. He was tall, French, and beautiful, but still she left, feeling like a slag as she shifted her skirts uneasily.

A breeze touched her neck like a soft lover's caress. "You talk a lot of bollocks for a silly young girl," whispered something in the dark. She froze. "Ah, darling, is that fear I smell?"

Two little pricks—just two—and that would be the end of that. Something cold touched the base of her throat—as for what, she could not be sure, for her eyes were tightly shut. But it grazed her flesh and threatened to slice through at any moment.

Mary took two steadying breaths before stepping forward. The pressure released and let her pass; she took this as encouragement and broke into a run. A laugh echoed behind her.

"Behold—I can touch you with ease."

Against her better judgment, she stopped, stumbling a bit, and turned.

There stood the vampire, crucifix in hand.