Friday, October 18, 2013
****Check out this awesome guest post by Maria Mainero! You can find her at: her blog http://nevermindwastingtime.blogspot.com/ or on Twitter @MariaAnnaWitt
The oars plip plop in the water, sounding distant and close at the same time. I clutch my shawl tighter, a meaningless gesture that can’t protect me. The oarsman winks, then curls up his lip and hisses, flashing his fangs.
“Don’t rock the boat, sweetie,” he chortles as I jump.
They never said that only one of us would make it. Never. The way our mothers fussed and coached us, the way they celebrated, I figured. . .
I gulp and try to stop my thoughts before they turn to tears. I’m supposed to be strong. That’s why I was given this chance, wasn’t it? The chance to live as a free human, the future of our species. The reason we put aside our grief for the ones who were sent back from their Trial, and rejoiced for everyone who made it though.
Will would get another chance, when he turned eighteen, after his three years of breeding. But at twenty-five, having produced five live children, it had been Sal’s final trial. My own mother never passed the Trial; she was taken when I was three, and I was given a new mother. At age eight, I said goodbye again. Sal has been my mother ever since.
To lose her seems unbearable, and I start to hope for something I never would have wished until now.
We all swore we’d take death instead. We had to say that. Our own would kill us first if we dared to breathe that Vampire was the better life. Better than being farmed as food. Better than being set loose like wild animals, hunted for sport.
A hollow thump stops the boat. “Don’t forget your satchel, sweetie. Full of wooden stakes?” He snorts at his joke and I wish I had staked him. I could have done it. I could have slipped the stake from my satchel, and plunged it into his chest, just slightly to the left of the center of his white cravat.
Unless I missed, like I had at the Trial. Out here, there were no rules—no one to drag me out of the arena to an empty cell. I sat there alone, fearing there was only one fate, until they put me on this boat, without a word, without a bite.
I scramble onto the dock, gripping the clammy iron railing. The oarsman beats hastily away, leaving me in darkness. Then another lantern brightens the fog. “Welcome to the Wilderness,” says a cracked, high-pitched voice. Shadows fill the deep wrinkles on his face. “A gal? We’ll take ye. If y’ c’n break the skin, you’re in, so they say.”
I’ve never seen a man so old before or hair so white. “They really let us live?”
“Aye. Best we can figure, we’re their executioners. From time to time, they’ll dump a vampire on this island, and we. . . .dispatch it. Did ye get in a good blow?”
“Through the arm,” I admit.
“We’ll improve yer aim.”
“Am I the only one?”
“There were three yesterday. They don’t bring you in groups anymore. Lost too many boatmen that way.”
“Who? Who were they?” I ask eagerly.
“Who they were doesn’t matter. Put the past behind ye. Who we are now, is what must matter t’ ye.”
I follow the old man up the dock, but he stops at the splashing of oars. “Will!” I shout, when I see him rowing alone. I feel gloating pride that he singlehandedly staked his boatman.
He disembarks, smiling with the quiet restraint he always displays. I rush to hug him, but he brushes past me, his hand outstretched to our welcomer. In a flash, Will jerks the old man off his feet and twists his head, bones popping and snapping.
He turns to me, catching up the lantern. “They said if I could get you, you can come with me.”
I gasp out a foggy breath and sobs fill my chest. “How can I?”
“I can do it, but not now. It’s not safe for me here. Please, Annika, hurry, into the boat.” He’s still holding the old man’s lifeless body.
“How could you, Will?”
“Don’t, Anna,” he pleads. “You’d do the same, if it was your only choice.”
“Is it?” I say. He’s as silent as death. “Is it my only choice, Will?”
He looks down at the limp body in his arms. “I had to, Anna. What if you’d been waiting for me?”
He’s right, I would have done the same. . . .
If it was my only choice.
I clutch my satchel to my chest and take a shaking step towards him. His eyes brighten like citrine, a new luminous clarity to their brown. He smiles, and I shrink back, even though the smile is familiar, and his fangs are puppy-dog small.
“Let me just. . . before you come. . . “ he says, unable to speak the words for what his kind does. He bends his head, holding the man like he’s his turkey drumstick at Trial banquet.
I turn away and reach into the carpetbag. Who he was doesn’t matter. I hold the stake hidden in the folds of my skirt. We trained together, surely he’ll recognize my feeble attempt at stealth.
Will drops the old man into the lake and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, like he’s just drained a mug of milk. Dark stains line his teeth, as he smiles at me, his eyes wide in anticipation, his arms outstretched, his heart unprotected.
I spring at him with all my strength. I know my aim is bad, I’ve only wounded him. There are no rules out here. He’ll defend himself, and like him, I won’t have a choice.
“Best of luck to you, Annika,” he says, stumbling into the boat. He pulls the stake from his neck, and it falls into the water with a splash, followed by the plip plop of oars fading away into the fog.
Story by: Maria Mainero
Photo by: Jim Crossley