Perdition: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: Resurrection

“In the beginning there was darkness …”

There was pain and then nothing, followed soon after by a voice in the dark.

Words tumbled down a long tunnel, echoing in her mind.  Daisy Margaret Shaw tried to form the final word on her lips—she knew it was important—but she couldn’t make her mouth move properly.

Her eyes wouldn’t open either; she couldn’t see where they had brought her. It was cold and damp, she needed her shawl or she knew she’d catch a bout of pneumonia and die.

Die.

What were those words she had tried to speak? She couldn’t remember them exactly, but other words floated in the emptiness; they would have to do in this situation.

In her mind she recited, “Now I lay me …” she struggled to find the right words, “… down to sleep. I pray the—Lord?”

Something struck her, scratching her paper-thin flesh. Who could be throwing things at me?

This nightmare was becoming too painful to bear. She wanted to wake up.

Another object hit Daisy’s arm and scratched her. She struggled to free herself, but a wave of dizziness weakened her resolve.  Sitting still and alone, she continued her prayer, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Slowly, water and a blanket of cool earth surrounded her, and she made the child’s prayer into a mantra.

“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Are those the right words? she thought. Please, Lord, let me wake. Or if it is Your will that I die, let me wake in Your arms with my Henry beside me.

As she repeated her recitation, she spiraled into sleep.

When Daisy awoke, hunger pangs tore at her.  She had to get up and find food, but she was pinned on all sides. Wriggling in her binds, she gradually managed to free a hand and was able to pull off the rest of the cloth surrounding her.

Scratching at the mask across her face, she opened her eyes to darkness.  The sting of dust and dirt accosted her.

This isn’t right.  Lord, what is this? Her hands searched for purchase in the loose soil; it took many hours of packing down earth around her, and digging upward to find a way out of her trap.

At some point, Daisy slept, only to reawaken to a more fevered need to reach the surface. Within an hour she finished enough of her work to feel cool air on her forehead. It only took a little longer for her to free her head, arms, and shoulders. With the chasm of hunger driving her on, she pulled herself up onto solid ground.

She blinked dirt from her eyes to see the Cherry-Haffenbox cemetery around her.  A headstone bore her name.  Is this some cruel joke?  Did they bury me alive?

There must have been a mistake, but I remember …

Her grown children standing over her.  Tear-filled goodbyes as she slipped further from consciousness.  Her daughter’s hand tightening as hers grew slack.  The decision to let go — the pain, the fear — it ebbed away and she was gone.

Daisy’s view of reality turned concave like the gaping hole beside her. She had not dreamt this, the air she sucked in was real, and her burial shroud was the proof she needed that her worst thought was true: Daisy Margaret Shaw was dead.

She didn’t scream as she thought she would, but tears welled in her eyes and stained her face.

Daisy examined her withered hands, nails chipped and caked with soil.  Mud soaked through her burial shroud, the delicate gauze now torn and brown.  She touched her hair and found the bun uncoiled. With trembling fingers, she attempted to pin it back into place.

Oh Henry, what has happened? Why am I still here?

But it was not her husband who answered back.  An old voice filled her mind, a memory she hadn’t thought of in several decades. “Are you certain you want this?  It will change you.  There’s no going back.”

Nathaniel’s gravelly, self-assured voice returned to her. Even now, she could imagine the place where his teeth scratched her neck before piercing. It had been a source of minor irritation all her life since.

Life, she laughed, hollow and humorless, at herself. What life do I have now?

She thought she had hallucinated after that, a three day fever of madness where the world moved around her like a desert mirage, but then nothing changed.  After a few years she stopped believing in anything he had said.

Everything breathes,” he’d said.  Indeed, the world appeared changed to her eyes, but with all her effort she hadn’t felt out of breath, not even underground.  Everything breathes, but me.

She stood up, bracing herself on a neighboring tombstone, belonging to one Brian Haversham, who would no longer be sharing eternity as her neighbor.  Was this her own rebirth? The one Nathaniel talked about?

“When you die, don’t let them mess with your body.  No autopsy; no embalming.  Keep it intact, and within three days you will awaken more powerful than you are now.”

She had laughed at his foolishness then. Now, the memory pained her.  You were right, Nathaniel. Where are you now?

Daisy worked to control a rising despair.  I’m seventy-six years old, not sixteen.  I’ve weathered hard times before, I’ll find a way to get through this.

She considered her needs.  The insistent, clawing hunger distracted almost every thought.  Its urgency suggested she might die the next moment without food.  Not food — blood, she recalled with horror.

The mere thought of blood heightened her senses.  She heard a small scratching sound a good distance across the cemetery.  The pain in her gut made her head spin.

Without thought, she raced down the hill with an alacrity she’d never possessed, even in youth, arriving at the home of the caretaker, Morris, her hands clutched tight.  Daisy’s flesh sagged against the icy brick of the house, as she listened for signs of habitation.  She was surprised how keen her hearing had become. Inside a T.V. blared its news report.  Someone coughed inside and swallowed.

How can you ask this of me, Lord?  To feed on the living? And how would you have me do it?  What is the painless way?

As she pondered how she would do this, she heard scratching once more. A raccoon rummaged through the garbage at the side of the house. Its life pulsed fast as it wriggled to be free, and just as fast, Daisy Margaret sunk her teeth into its fur and flesh, and silenced the tiny beast. It was over in a matter of seconds.  Daisy dropped the limp carcass in horror at what she’d done.

The man inside never heard the creature’s cry.

When Daisy finished drinking, the hunger abated enough for to steady her, though the guilt remained.

You poor thing, I am sorry I had to end your life. May the Lord guide you to a happier afterlife than he has granted me. Amen. She walked away from the site, disgusted with herself for the cruelty of her new nature. How could she spend the rest of eternity living like this?

Her hunger temporarily appeased, a new sensation came over her, an itch  crawling across her skin.  She looked up to see the moon disappearing over the western horizon. The hesitant, ombré blue of night signaled the approach of dawn.

He had said, “When you return to life, and the sun begins to rise, hide. The daylight is your mortal enemy.” He always sounded so melodramatic.  How could I have known it wasn’t another put on?

She had to find shelter. The thought of going back into the ground sickened her more than feeding off the innocent lives of wild animals.

A white building loomed on another cresting hill. She went to the crypt — the resting place of the founder of Cherry, and the only grand piece of funereal architecture — and pushed on the stone entrance. It took a great deal of effort, but she managed to push the heavy door back enough on its rusty hinges to squeeze inside.

Within its walls, the darkness enveloped her.

The mausoleum was a blessing: there were no windows to let in sunlight.  She closed the door most of the way, leaving an imperceptible finger’s width of space so she could get out in the evening. After all her hard work on the second night of her immortality, it would not do to become trapped in a block of stone.

Brushing away the dust and cobwebs—somehow spiders and their prey snuck into everything—in the far corner of the tomb, she curled into a tight ball and fell into a sleep blacker than her grizzly bedchamber.

The next night, she awoke early, and pulled the mausoleum door open.  A great hunger howled inside her, but the previous night’s feeding had given her the strength she needed to keep control.  All of the pains of mortality — her aching joints, the stiffness after resting, the illness that had taken her life — were shed upon her death. Despite her deceptive appearance, she enjoyed a vitality reserved for youth. Within a few long, torturous minutes, she managed to pry the door open enough to sneak back out into the night.

She walked quietly — the groundskeeper and his dog were on a stroll around the graves.  Morris’ feet pounded the earth as his dog tugged at the leash, panting.

I have to get out of here.  Lord, preserve me.  I cannot live in a cemetery.

Daisy’s waxen form streaked through the shadows like a blur of white. When she made it to the gate, she pulled her way up the bars by her hands and dropped down over the other side with no more sound than a long exhale.

Stunned by her own speed and dexterity, she looked back to see her path.   A car’s approach from down the road interrupted Daisy’s shock and consideration.  She crawled down into the drain ditch and waited for it to pass by. Anyone in this town would recognize her, and likely be frightened senseless to see an old, dead woman walking out of the local graveyard.

Hettie lives two houses down.  The houses closest to the cemetery looked worn, their painted boards weathered, much like their occupants.  Too many children leaving their parents behind for bigger towns, large cities.  Then everything goes untended, the people and their houses.  But not all.

She thought of her daughter living near the heart of their town where the cheerful houses had wide farmer’s porches each with a new satellite dish.  There were young couples and children, including two of Daisy’s grandchildren.  She wanted to see them with a desperate hunger.

Using caution, she skirted along the length of the road that came close to the forest, dropping now and then into a ditch or sliding behind a tree. She steeled herself against the pain of sharp rocks on her bare feet, and the scrape of bark against her highly sensitized skin. The air itself irritated her, and she hoped that soon her mind would sort between which sensations were noteworthy, and those which were not.

For the time being, she needed to find clothing and more blood. Her stomach gave a hollow complaint.

“Are you sure about this? Do you still believe you’re a … a vampire?” she had asked Nathaniel. His reply was always “yes.” Her belief waned over the months, and Nathaniel had long since disappeared.  The sun never harmed her, and she aged as expected.  How could I have known?

She reached her first goal: Samantha Kingston’s yard and its row of clean linens left hanging in the night air. When she had asked Sam why she still hung out her laundry, she had responded, “I never liked the way the clothes smelled when they came out of the dryer. Unnatural. I suppose I enjoy the scent and feel of sun-dried clothing.”

Daisy couldn’t blame her, and now, she said a little prayer of thanks and asked for forgiveness for stealing Sam’s Sunday dress and a pair of hose.  The forbidden scent of sunshine sent a thrill of longing through her old bones.

After finding a discreet place to dress behind Sam and Dale’s shed, Daisy slipped the apple seed she still clutched into a pocket. She emerged from the shadows, and continued on to her next goal: a pair of worn boots left standing on old Chester’s porch for nearly six months.  She hoped he wouldn’t mind the loss.  They’ll likely be crawling with spiders and he hates spiders more than he does children.

Daisy tapped each of them in turn, and out shinnied a lazy house spider, incensed at the interrupted nap.

The boots were too big on her feet and the pantyhose itched, but at least her appearance neared that of a decent woman. She had spent the better part of the night skulking about her own town in search of clothing. Now she needed sustenance, and better to feed sooner than later while sneaking through a town full of her friends and family.

Though it distressed her to harm them in so cruel a fashion, she captured a couple of rats moving about in the darkness. As she drank from them, their tiny heartbeats mingled with her own, and for a short time she was able to put aside her guilt. The need to figure out what to do plagued her more than her unsatisfied hunger.

Daisy climbed into the cab of an abandoned truck, and curled up with the Virginia creeper, the blackberry vines that had broken through the rusted floor, and her memories.

“Do you see the way my teeth elongate?” she heard Nathaniel’s voice come to her from the past, “Touch the tip of my tooth, it’s sharper, isn’t it?”

Why didn’t I believe him then? Why did I let him do this to me?

Nathaniel had a swagger and grin she’d adored.  He was older, had just returned from New York City the summer she decided young men could court her.  He made it easy to flirt, to tease, and finally to yield.

She remembered the way he held her, the scrape of his teeth, and the dizzying experience of having her blood quickly drained. It surprised her that it hadn’t hurt much, and she surprised Nathaniel when she didn’t change.  A short time later he left, claiming he feared her, though he never explained why, and once in a while, he’d show up out of the blue only to disappear again.  His dramatics never ceased over the years, until he stopped coming.  By then, she’d met Henry.

Everything in her past she added up to teenage madness, a phase, and left it at that.  She enjoyed the memories of her youth, but knew those things didn’t suit the woman she had grown to be. Now, she sat in the darkness, an undead grandmother, and wondered where to go from here.

20acbc3f5384398be1a174412f3a1e2eAlison.

Daisy wanted to see her daughter and her grandchildren, and even stepped out onto Halifax Street in the direction where 7th intersected, but she stopped before the crossroads and thought of how they would react.  Alison, her youngest, might be in her thirties now, but no one, no matter how strong, was prepared to have their dead mother rise from the grave and come for a visit.

At 7th, she turned the opposite direction, making her boot-hobbled way toward Main, and eventually, the long road leading away from Cherry.  At the welcome sign, she paused once to say good bye.

 


 Perdition will be available on Amazon.com and BN.com mid-March 2017.  To read more teaser chapters, consider joining Patreon.  Teaser chapters available to supporters who donate $4 ore more a month.

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