By J. L. Young
Near midday on an ancient road, a small, gleaming black car approached the last remnant of a fort. A bastion stood seemingly untouched by time’s ruinous influence. The car door opened, and a woman dressed in an elegant, yet comfortable Victorian style dress gracefully egressed the vehicle. With the reach of a delicate hand, she placed it upon the stone, rested her forehead against it, and wept.
“Mrs. are you alright?” a calming voice came from behind. She turned to see a handsome, aged man, wearing a tweed scally cap atop his head, a dungaree shirt, and denim trousers.
The woman composed herself with a deep breath. “I’ve been away from home for a good long while. Time hasn’t been kind. I am Nira Vesper.”
“My family has allowed the Earth to reclaim the stone. Her work is slow. Mrs. Vesper, I don’t mean to be rude. You must be mistaken. My family built this place. It has been in my family for generations and in my care for the last forty-odd years.”
“When I left here, I had the name, Zola. Zola Leah Fern Denton. I haven’t worn that name in years. We have much to discuss, and you look like you can use some refreshment.”
The manor house stood with impressive symmetry. Hidden from the road by the rolling hills and a grove of willows. It was surrounded by an expansive garden and a cobblestone drive. Under his care, the garden was verdant and exquisite. The man had a ritual to not track the countryside into the house. It appeared tedious, but necessary.
Nira paused at the door and took a step inside the vestibule. A memory issued forth and dissipated. Her eyes rested on him as he waited.
“We can rest and converse in the kitchen. Would you care for some tea?”
“None for me, thanks.”
They entered the room. It was different from her recollection. Brushed steel and ornate granite replaced the cook’s table and pantry. An expected calibration to keep with the advancing kitchen technology. He motioned toward a stool at the end of the island. “Please have a seat.” He washed his hands and opened a cleverly concealed refrigerator. Upon retrieval of a soft drink from the shelf within, he paused. He stood, confused. The door alarm broke his thought. “You must be a decedent of the Dentons who emigrated to America just before the Boxer Rebellion. But you don’t sound American.”
“It’s because I’m not.” Nira sighed. “I fathom I have been stricken from our family history. Can’t say I blame them.”
His confusion deepened.
She leaned on an elbow. “It was a particularly cold autumn in 1879. My siblings were upstairs in the hall, reading and playing with their toys. There was a knock on the door. Ada, our servant, collected me. Helena, my mother’s friend, didn’t look well. She was preparing for the carriage ride home. I came down to see her off as I have grown a fondness for her.
I assisted Helena to the carriage when she sank her teeth into my neck above the collar. The pain from the bite passed as quickly as it was issued. But something lingered. A euphoria, something I have never felt. Like a prolonged orgasm. She allowed me to fall to the cobblestone. I was paralyzed. Drained. Whatever fondness I had for Helena grew ever more profound. I also felt the sty of vengeance grow within me.
I watched as she departed. I felt suddenly weary as my mother approached and called for the stable boy to fetch my father from the Athenaeum club.
“Silas and Ada Denton,” Maynard interjected.
“My parents.” Nira continued, “I awoke surrounded by wood. Fear had taken me. At first, I felt it gave me the strength to break free of my confines. The coffin splintered around me. The sealed stone barred me from the fresh air and freedom. With some effort, the seal had broken. The stone fell to the side, yet only darkness fell upon my eyes. Disheartened and angered at my internment. I climbed free of the vault and found the mausoleum door. I pushed it open to find night had fallen. A blanket of snow did as well.
Warm vapor did not escape my mouth as I stood in the moonlight and fresh sparkling snow. The cold had no hold of me. I ran to the house. It was empty. No family, no servants to answer my call. Melancholy swelled in my breast. I had died. And they went to Tenby for the winter, as we always had.
A hunger replaced my melancholy. I broke the door and found myself in this very kitchen searching the pantry for bread. Alas, there was none. A rat scurried across the room. Somehow, I located the fowl thing and snatched it from the floor. As my teeth bit in, I realized it wasn’t the meat that calmed the hunger. It was the blood. But it didn’t calm it for long.
I remembered the fort wasn’t far. And I satiated myself on the sleeping men. The rotted skin on my body slowly healed as I feasted. I experienced the same euphoric feeling again. The warmth in my breath returned. I was stronger than I ever was.
Fear awoke with the men I hadn’t fed from. I slaughtered them as though they were cattle. I lied to myself justifying it as self-defense. I couldn’t allow myself to die again.”
“I have heard of the night the men of the fort were killed by some monster, thought it was some dread story for children.”
A deep seated sadness pushed tears from her eyes. “I am that monster, Maynard. My vengeance is satisfied. Now, I am home.”
“What of the men and their vengeance?”