All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. I never killed anyone, honest! Never!
AA

16. Honesty

Confusing, since I'm dead, to wake up again.

The world around me is a marbled mess of green and black. My eyes refuse to focus, even when I squint. There’s a dull, rotten pain in the side of my neck, but I can’t lift an arm or even a finger to touch it- everything’s too heavy. I feel sick. Dizzy. Hot. And yet somehow freezing cold.

Maybe this is the afterlife. Maybe this is hell, nonsensical, fuzzy, numb and trapping.

Or maybe…

I’m lying down. That’s the first thing I realise. I don’t feel relaxed, or even horizontal, but I feel the ground pressing against my back. There’s a tendril of hair in my mouth, and another plastered to my forehead. I gasp in a breath, but it twists in my throat, making me cough. I jerk on the ground, rolling onto my side. Distant voices hum vaguely in my ears.

Where the hell am I?

Another pulse of pain in my neck jolts everything into clarity- the wound and the voices remind me where I am. Nightmare? No. Bite. Geoffrey. He bit me. On the neck to end my life, and yet here I am. Still… Still in the clearing.

I move my arm, and manage to twitch a finger. A dull impression of feeling is beginning to leak back into my skin, and I roll back onto my back as I draw my legs up. The sky is orange and gold above me. It burns my eyes.

The voices in the clearing slowly, slowly roll back into focus.

“…wakes up.”

“…wait a while.”

I lick my teeth, tasting my mouth’s painful dryness. My tongue wants to stick to my gums and my throat tastes of blood. My eyes widen.

“…couldn’t. Never.”

“Cowards.” I say softly.

For a moment, the voices around me are shocked into silence. Then, there’s a quiet exclamation of “Oh.”

“Cowards.” I repeat, a smile twitching my mouth.

There’s a vague flurry of laughter. I sit up, pushing myself away from the dry scratchy dirt, and after the world’s lurched violently sideways and then returned, I see them all. Sitting in their usual spots. Geoffrey is next to me. He reaches out and rests his hand on my shoulder. I push it away, but more gently than I intended to.

“Why the hell am I still… al…ive?” I say, my voice soft and slippery.

Geoffrey laughs, which, somehow, doesn’t make me angry. I can’t feel much through the confusion.

“It’ll take a time to get used to.” He says. I raise an eyebrow, and lift my arm to press my fingers against the bite on my neck, which sparks with a wet filthy ache.

“Don’t touch it.”

“I’ll touch what the hell I want.” I  growl, shuffling back to lean against the tree-trunk he’s propped against. He looks down at me. “What the… what did you do?”

He chuckles. “I’m sure you know what I did.”

My eyes widen at the confirmation, sick delight pulsing solidly through me.

“You made me… Made me a…” I trail off for a second, realising how ill I feel. My skin tingles and burns; my eyes smart in the onslaught of daylight. I feel sickly cold at my core and somehow… lighter. Emptier. Not better. “You made me a vampire?”

He doesn’t reply. I look up at him, grinning slightly despite the pain.

“I won, then.”

“What do you mean, you won?”

“You want me to go back home, don’t you?”

I smile to myself. I can’t believe it. But now that I am a vampire… now that I have everything that they have… Why the hell should I continue to obey them? They have nothing left to give me.

“Yes.” Geoffrey says, looking me up and down again. “We do. We want you to go back.”

I look down into my lap, feeling six pairs of eyes on me. I wonder how they feel about this. They, after all, wanted to kill me when I first discovered them. When I look up, Richard’s face is the first I see. He seems to be looking through me.

“I… I’m a vampire.” I say softly, reaching up and pressing two fingers against my top teeth. They’re still firmly rooted in place, but aching. I’m delighted, but a snake of fear is slithering through me now. I feel wrong. It’ll take some getting used to. That’s all.

Then, Geoffrey reaches up and yanks my hand back to my side.

“No.” He says. “You’re not.”

I frown up at him. “What?”

Geoffrey smiles, which ignites a growl in me.

“You’re not a vampire.”

“What? What do you mean, I’m not a vampire? Did you…” I look down at myself. At my hands, which look paler and greyed, like they do when I wake up from a fit. Maybe it’s just me after all. “Did you not… drink? It? Did you stop?” My voice grows more frantic. “Why? Why’d you stop? Did you… did you stop? Why’d you stop?”

There’s a laugh from somewhere behind me. I turn, and see one of the Adams, the blond one, covering his mouth and looking up at the sky. Anger pulses through me again. I am, once again, their laughing stock.

“Stop laughing.” I hiss at him. “Or I’ll tear you apart, vampire or no.”

“Calm down, Mary-Ann.” Geoffrey’s hand lands on my shoulder. I bat him off, but he grabs on again, harder. Squeezing.

“Tell me what’s going on.” I say. “Tell me.”

“All in good time.”

Now’s a good time!” I say.

The other Adam pipes up: “Just tell her.”

I grit my teeth.

Geoffrey’s eyes soften, his voice turning annoyingly sweet. “Mary-Ann, you’re not a vampire.”

I sigh, furious but afraid. “Ugh.”

“But you’re not exactly human either.”

“But-” I stop, and frown. “Wait. What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Geoffrey says. God, I want to wipe that smile from his mouth. Want to smack it off, claw it off. “Becoming a vampire is something of a two-step process. And we’ve done the first step. Come up with a way to make sure you come back to us after getting that money from your father.”

I go cold all over. “Oh.” I say.

“Yes.”

“Yes.” I swallow. “But there was no need for that.”

“Oh, wasn’t there?”

“No. I’ve told you a thousand times. I’d rather be with you than my family. And you know how badly I want this.”

“Yes, we know how badly you want it all right, Mary-Ann.” Geoffrey flicks hair away from my shoulder, as if he’s examining the bite mark he made in me. “We’re using it against you. So you’ll go. And come back.”

I stare up at him, wanting to brush him away, but livid with fear. “Tell me what you’ve done to me.”

He bites his lip. “I did drink all your blood. Didn’t stop for anything. There’s no blood in you now.”

I run my hands over my neck. “I think I can feel it.”

“But you have to drink some of my blood before you become a vampire.”

I pause before replying, flicking images around in my head. Do I have fangs yet? Would they come out if I willed them hard? Would Geoffrey be fast enough to stop me if I lunged for him? His neck? Yes, you stupid girl. And the rest of the group, too. I feel mad with anger and claustrophobia. He’s beaten me. He’s got me right where he wants me. Can I beat him? Am I powerful enough yet?

Of course not. You’re weaker, Mary-Ann. Stop and feel it. You’re empty, a shell. Full of air. You’d blow away at a gust of wind no matter how hard you tried to stand tall.

“You,” Geoffrey says, “Are a daywalker, Mary-Ann. You have all the weaknesses of vampirehood, none of the strengths. You’ve got the body of a human, the mind of a vampire. Basically. You’ll throw up any food you try to eat, no matter how hard you crave it, no matter how hungry you grow; you’ll starve to death just as fast as any human, because you can keep neither human food nor blood down. So you have no choice but to return to us, now. You’ll die if you don’t.”

“Do I have fangs?” I ask feebly.

Geoffrey shrugs. “Maybe. They won’t help you. Only make you crazy.”

“I’m already crazy.”

“And so you should be. You’re quicker to anger now, too. You’ll want to kill everyone you see.”

“I already do.” I glare at him. He only smiles. He looks proud. Proud of what he’s done to me. He’s right- I feel more vicious now than I ever have before. I want to rip him apart and eat him.

I don’t think this has changed me as much as he thinks it has, but it has sharpened my hatred somehow.

“So… what?” I say, noticing for the first time that I’m not breathing. Well… I am, but the air just falls back out again. My heart isn’t beating, either. There’s a dull sort of emptiness in me that wasn’t there before. “Do I just go? Now?”

“Now?” Geoffrey says.

“Yeah.” I snarl. “Sooner I get going, sooner I leave, sooner you turn me. And you will turn me as soon as I get back, correct?”

He smiles again. It’s almost like my insolence charms him. The look in his eyes sickens me. “Of course.” He says.

I’m not sure I believe him. Why the hell should he turn me? He’ll have his money. I think I know the reason he might want me to stick around afterwards, though, and that makes me sicker still. At least it’s leverage.

“You will be looked after here.” He says. “You mustn’t be afraid. Leave your house, knowing we’ll accept you. We’ll give you a comfortable life.”

“What if I don’t want comfort?” I say softly.

He runs his fingers down my arm, and drools over me: “Everyone wants comfort.”

I close my eyes and raggedly breathe to avoid shuddering.

“I’ll be yours.” I say. “As long as you swear to me you’ll keep your side of the bargain.”

“I swear to you.”

“Good.” I say, standing up to get him off me.

Despite everything, I feel sick at the idea of seeing my family again. I wonder how they will react to seeing me alive after leaving me for dead. ‘Alive’, of course, being a term I use loosely.

“I wouldn’t go now.” Zagan says from behind me. I turn back, having almost forgotten the rest of the vampires were there at all.

“Don’t listen to Zagan.” Geoffrey says with a wave of his hand. “You’re only half burnable in sunlight. And you’ll heal. I think.”

I sigh frustratedly, desperate to get as far away from them as I possibly can. I’ll get them their stupid money. I’ll figure out what to do after that.

“Wait.” I say as I turn to leave. “I don’t know the way.”

They stare at me for a second. Then, when Geoffrey laughs first, the rest follow. I wait for my cheeks to burn before remembering there’s no blood left in me to make them burn. Vampirehood may yet work in my favour.

“I’m going to walk you.” Geoffrey says, getting up. “It’s not that far.”

We walk side-by-side. I look nervously over my shoulder once the clearing has vanished behind us, even though I ought to feel in no more danger now than I was back there. I didn’t notice until now, but I suddenly feel so much colder- the wind seems to run right through me, settling and congealing in my core, making me ache. It makes no obstacle even of the small amount of me that is still covered by my nightgown. The dead leaves crunch under my bare feet. The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is take a bath. Even if the water’s cold. Then, get changed. I’m not sure how much time passes as we walk- I’m sure it’s more than half an hour- but one thing I do know is that there’s no path, and no distinctive objects or areas to speak of. Geoffrey must know this forest inside-out. I wonder how long he’s been here. And then, I want to ask him.

But he suddenly stops walking, grabs me by my waist, and crushes me back against a tree. I gasp and jerk my head to the side, but he’s not going for my neck; he’s going for my mouth. I make a feeble attempt to push him away, and as he starts to hungrily kiss me, I never close my eyes. I just start at the blinding flashes of anger that explode in my head. How dare he, how dare he? He presses his body harder into mine and when I take advantage of a moment of separation between our mouths to crane my head away, he brings his hand up, clamps his fingers around my jaw, and turns me back. I have no choice but to let him. I want to go home, but I have no power here. One day, that’ll change; I swear it will, I swear it will. Even though I agreed to be his once he’d turned me, I swear this will stop. Somehow. I’m lying to myself. I continue to lie to myself as his hands fall down from my waist to my hips and then up again, under my skirt. I start, disgusted and yet somehow energised by the fiery, frantic greed in his mouth and his hands. He wants me. I can tell he wants me; I can tell he’s been desperate to get me alone for the past fortnight or more, and it’s likely drinking my blood inflamed him more. Mine. And so, at this moment, even though I am the one crushed back and I am the one being so heinously violated, and even though I know I should feel dreadfully weak, I feel that he is in my power.

What a word. Power. Power. Give it to me.

For a confusing moment, I find myself kissing him back, planting my hands on his chest and curling my fingers into his collar to pull him down to me. He responds by crushing me back harder, suffocating me with his mouth and his groping. I let it continue for as long as I can bear- must convince him I want him back. Then, as he tightens his grip on his fistfuls of my skirt, I start to panic- too fast too fast too fast. I keep my hands on his chest, but I stop pulling him and start to push. He’s too strong to be forced back, but to my surprise, he takes the hint and pulls away from me.

I stare at him. Just a moment ago, I was afraid he’d change his mind and kill me, but I now know he won’t. Can’t.

“What do you want, Geoffrey?” I growl. “The money? Or me?”

I suppose my body would have been more appropriate than me. But unfortunately for him, they come together.

“I want both.” He says, his voice gruff. “And I will have both, Mary-Ann. I will have you- I already have you. I have what I want.”

“You will have everything.” I say, taking one hand from his chest but leaving the other in place, softening its touch. “But you’ll wait.” My voice is trembling slightly. “Touch me… one more time before you’ve fulfilled your part of the bargain and I won’t get you the money. I won’t do anything for you. You’ll get nothing. You can kill me, but you’ll still lose it all. Are you stupid?”

I know the answer is yes. Yes.

He says nothing. But he steps back from the tree and lets me go. I want to wipe my mouth, but don’t. If I did, I’d only spread him all over my face and hand.

 

 

The house looks exactly the same as it always does- no more welcoming, no less. It’s like I just went out for a ride for a couple of hours, rather than having been kidnapped for a fortnight. I’m nervous. I don’t care what my family think, nor say- in fact, I’m only nervous of what will happen once I’ve left again. I’ve got less than a day to figure out a way out of this bargain with Geoffrey. Out of spending the rest of my life as his plaything. Last resort? I tell my father. I would make nothing of betraying Geoffrey. If I told my father about Geoffrey, and Richard, he’d force the police to raid the forest, if only for the sake of his own reputation.

Three problems: I don’t want Father to see me as a victim. If the vampires beat the police, they would find me and kill me for the betrayal. And if the police beat the vampires, which they’d only manage anyway if they happened upon some silver bullets or a stray ray of sunlight, I would be stuck a half-breed, doomed to slowly starve.

I have never been close to starving to death, but I imagine I know how it feels: like this hunger, but more painful, emptier, colder. Less gnawing and more biting.

I am too afraid to consider it. No: I cannot tell my father. I must fulfil Geoffrey’s bargain, before my state gets any worse. I must, no matter what it means, no matter how long it takes me to find a way out again, get that disgusting leech his five thousand to buy his posse their stupid house in the countryside.

God, imagine allowing that much power to go to waste. Imagine skulking in the dark for the rest of eternity. Imagine putting up with Geoffrey’s groping and drooling for the rest of eternity. God. Imagine choosing not to kill.

I don’t even realise the light is hurting me until I reach the shade provided by the porch roof, and sigh with relief. I stare at the door. Should I knock? Or fling it open as I always do, screaming my return for all the world to hear? I want to see Father most of all. I want to see his face. I want to laugh at it.

Before I can think twice, the hunger in my head latches my hand onto the doorknob. I turn it. It opens.

And just like that, the dead girl’s home.

‘Father!’ Something inside my head tells me to yell, but I keep my mouth shut. I’m enjoying the silence. There’s something eerily delightful about the navy shadows in this hallway, spilling down the stairs. It feels just as it did the night I crept downstairs and ate the chicken. Like a funeral home, empty, draped in the silk of silence- the sort nobody expects to be broken. The sort that whispers at you as you weave your way through it- you shouldn’t be here you shouldn’t be here you shouldn’t be here. By simply breaking this silence, and piercing this darkness, I have become God in this room.

I walk down the hallway, the tiles searing my bare feet. I’m so dirty. So dirty and bloody and ragged. I want them to see me this way.

I go to my father’s study. I know he’s in there, because the door is closed all the way. I take a deep breath, and then, naturally, choke on the air. I try to stifle the sound, but I know it’s too late. And so, as soon as I’ve finished coughing, I straighten up and knock on the door. Without waiting for a response, I go in.

He’s sitting at his desk, splashed in thin yellow light, writing.

“I told you not to disturb me.” He says, not looking up. I frown, but then realise he must think he’s talking to my mother, or one of the servants.

“Sorry.” I say, the smirk plucking at my mouth. At the sound of my voice, Father stops writing and freezes in place. “My mistake.”

Slowly, Father looks up, and a smile floods achingly hard onto my face as our eyes meet, and his grow wider and wider.

Though I’m tempted, I don’t say another word.

He stands up, his chair squeaking across the ground and his pen rolling off the table. It hits the seat, and then the ground.

“I thought you were dead.” He says. He’s utterly deadpan, which stretches my smile wider.

“Yes.” I say. “I got the letter.”

There’s a long pause. I wonder whether I should step into the room, but know he wouldn’t want me to. Should I feel upset that he hasn’t run over, exclaimed, hugged me? Perhaps. Do I? No. I feel nothing for him anymore.

“What happened?” He says.

“Well, I was kidnapped, Father.”

He doesn’t reply.

“And they let me go.” I say after another long pause. The urge to tell him everything about Geoffrey, about the vampires, is overwhelming. “They were idiots.”

He smiles a little, but it’s stiff. It might just be the light, but he looks too pale, like he might faint. I nearly laugh at the thought.

“Can I see Mother?” I ask.

Suddenly, he seems to snap back into focus. “No, absolutely not.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Your mother’s been beside herself the last week. You’ll not startle her as you did me. I need to tell her myself. You need to…” He narrows his eyes in disgust as he walks over. I know it’s because of the state of me- the shortness of my dress. “Get yourself clean. Before she sees you.”

I sigh. As I do, I’m looking past him, in the direction of his locked desk drawer. I only know he keeps his cash in there because once, whilst we were in here together, he’d left it unlocked by mistake. I want to lunge past him now, steal it now. Run away and make myself a vampire now. Could I do that? Maybe.

“You’re going to lock me in my room again, aren’t you?” I say with a theatrical sigh.

“Yes, of course I am, Mary-Ann.” He says, anger leaking into his voice. “Kidnapped or no, you are still dangerous, and damn it, just because you’ve come back, I’ll not let you ruin anything further.”

“Ruin.” I repeat, a slight smile still in my voice.

Ruin. Ruin. I could ruin him. Tear him apart, let loose the red. I could ruin mother too, and the servants. I could ruin this entire house, this town, this Earth, and I want to.

“Mary-Ann!” Comes a shriek from behind me. I turn, and suddenly, I’m drowning in arms as they wrap around me. My mother, of course. I sense Father’s fury intensifying.

Mother pulls away from me, and stares. Her eyes are shining with hysterical shock and when she speaks, she practically squeaks. “God, what- what- how… How are you… how are you back? How are you alive?”

“They let me go.”

Mother stares up at Father, her eyes even wider. Then, she looks down at me, her hand in my hair. I want her to let go, but she clings on.

“God, you… you… I don’t believe it! It’s a miracle!” She sobs, hugging me again. Miracle. It’s a curse, woman. A curse on you. I try not to growl. I haven’t seen her in weeks. She didn’t have a choice when she abandoned me in that room to go insane, but still, God, I hate her for it. I do. How dare she pretend to care about me? She’s doing a damn good job- there are tears pouring down her cheeks when she pulls away again.

“You’re filthy.” She says softly.

“I was tied to a tree for two weeks.”

Her face crumples. I try not to roll my eyes as she hugs me again. Suddenly, as anger bleeds through me, I’m seized by an indescribable urge to push her away and run up the stairs. To get away from her, from where I’m trapped between them, to lock myself up and pretend I’m all alone.

Then, there’s a gasp from the other end of the hall and I look over Mother’s shoulder at the small cluster of kitchen staff gathered in their corridor. Margaret looks royally furious. The girls are nudging and staring at one another. And Catty… I scan the gaggle till I spot her, wide-eyed at the back, both her hands clamped over her mouth. As our eyes meet, I feel an agonising stab of pain in my gut that I attribute to my hunger. I push Mother away.

“I want to go upstairs.” I say.

“She needs a doctor.” One of the kitchen staff pipes up. “Look at her- she’s white as a sheet!”

“Mary-Ann, you need to sit down.” Mother strokes my face. “You’re freezing, darling. Come on. Come and sit down in the drawing-room.”

“Mrs Lansfield, we need to call the police.” Someone calls. There’re murmurs of agreement, each of which boils my anger a little more. As Mother and Father exchange glances over my shoulder, and the shocked voices and shouted orders and suggestions grow louder and closer, I suddenly become desperate for the forest. For the tree. The ropes. Geoffrey. I want to leave. Get the money and go. Go forever. Go.

“Henry, she’s so cold.” Mother says, her voice shaking like a damp leaf in the wind. She holds her hand to my cheek. “She needs warm clothes.”

“I’ll get them!” Someone shouts. Despite my stress, I can’t help feeling amused at my father’s expression. He thought I was dead, and instead I’m back, getting showered in sympathy. Yet again.

“Come on, sweetheart.” Mother takes my hand. She’s almost as cold as me, and almost as pale, too. “Come and-”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” My father suddenly bellows, grabbing me by the arm and yanking me away from my mother. “Stop fussing her! Stop. Stop fussing her. All of you! Get back to work!” He tells the kitchen staff. “I’ll deal with it.” He starts to drag me past my mother, into the hallway.

“Henry, she-”

“Please, Mother.” I say softly. “I need to be alone.”

“But you’re sick, Mary-Ann!” She says, starting to sob. “Henry, bring her back! For Heaven’s sake, look at her! Don’t take her away. Don’t you DARE take my daughter away from me again!”

I start in shock, standing still for a couple of seconds. Then, Father tugs me, forcing me to walk up the stairs with him. As he yanks me along the corridor, taking me further and further away from the chaos downstairs, we don’t exchange so much as a glance. I go into my room. It’s pristine, but there are no sheets on the bed. This I find hilarious.

“Thank you.” I tell Father. I mean it. If I’d stayed in the midst of all those people for a single second longer I’d have snapped. I want to tease him for so clearly being disappointed I’m alive, but I can’t be bothered.

He stares at me. Then, he shuts the door on me.

As soon as his key has turned in the lock, I go to my wardrobe and start frantically and randomly pulling dresses and underclothes out, throwing them to the ground. I paw through the piles restlessly, searching, searching, going no no no no no and casting things aside till I’ve found what I want. Then, I gather up my armful of clothes and go to the bathroom, slamming the door behind me with all my might.

I delight in the way the sound jars anger through my body- by the way the anger seems so utterly separate from my consciousness.

The moment I’m shut in the room, I start to run the bath full of freezing cold water. I don’t care how cold I’ll feel once I’m in- I’ve had my fun with the dirt and the grime and the obscene exposure, and now, I just want to be clean.  I can die of starvation, just like a human, and I wonder, as I yank off my muck-clotted remnant of nightgown, climb in, and submerge myself in the gradually-rising water, whether I can freeze to death too.

I commence with frantically scrubbing my hair and body, turning the water yellow to beige to brown to black, and then dunk myself back under. Then, after a few minutes of lying still, I try to move an arm and notice how numb it feels. My fingers barely move at all. It’s like somebody else’s body. Seized by an irrational bout of fear that, again, flashes red into anger, I stand up on my practically-numb legs and climb out of the tub. Then, I sit down hard on the ground, gasping with pain as the shock jolts up my spine. I force myself to stand up once the dizzy spell has passed, still as uncomfortable to be naked as ever, even alone in my own bathroom. Before I reach the towels and the pile of clothes on the other side of the room, I see myself in the mirror and pause for a second, noticing I look odd and blurry. I smile to myself. No reflection. Well, barely. It’s like I’m looking in rippling water instead of glass. I can still see my body, though, and a little of my face. My ridiculously short fringe glues itself to my forehead. My eyes look bigger, rounder, and my skin- God, Mother was right- is pale as parchment. No pink warmth, no ugly red mottling. I don’t miss it. However, to my shock, I do miss the weight I’ve lost. My cheeks are less rounded and my jaw more pronounced, but my body looks virtually unchanged- I have a little more of a waist, but this only serves to make my hips and thighs and breasts look wider than ever. I realise, with another twinge, that this is how I will look forever. Chubby, round-faced, with a silly short fringe. I can’t lose the weight once I’m a vampire; I can’t grow my hair. I’m stuck like this now.

I smile a little.

I turn away from the girl in the mirror and stoop to grab my towel. I dry myself as fast as I can, bundling up my thick heavy rats’ nest of curls and scrubbing hard. Then, I start to dress, the fabric sticking as I force my damp body into the garments.

The corset doesn’t make me gasp. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt, but rather that I grit my teeth and growl the pain out. It feels good. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I put on the corset at all. Perhaps it’s because I was worried I wouldn’t fit into my chosen dress otherwise. As I was yanking clothes from my wardrobe, I was drawn inexplicably to a dress Mother commissioned for me two years ago. It was a strange sort of peace offering, seemingly based on the complaints I had about my other dresses- that they were unflattering and dull. I also think she was coyly reminding me of the time purple was my favourite colour. It’s dark plum-purple velvet, with long flared sleeves and black ribbon ruffles on the hem and low neckline. I adored it, back when I fitted it, but Father never let me wear it out of the house. He said it was dark and immodest. Well, I am now both. So I will wear it.

I look into the mirror again. I like what I see. I like it enough to leave the bathroom, at least.  I want out of here as soon as I can. I want to keep this strange impression of power alive in my head before I start to collapse into fear or desperation. The kidnapping, and my father’s response, really ought to have broken me down, but instead I feel utterly elated. Geoffrey was wrong about me. I don’t want to be accepted. I love feeling unwanted. I want to be feared and loathed. I don’t want to spend another second with that lecherous ginger disease and his gang of cowards. I have a rampant bloodlust and I want to satisfy it. I’m going to stop putting up with being hurt and broken down and I’m going to start doing hurting and breaking of my own. I’m not afraid anymore. Never again will I be afraid. I want power. I want blood. And I want it now.

And so, I sit down on my bed, shaking out my dripping hair, and start planning how I’m going to get the money from Father’s study. The bedroom door is locked. I have to wait a little longer. My patience dwindles as I sit, drumming my fingers in my lap. The greed festers inside me.

A key turns in the lock after close on two hours, just as I’ve resolved to try picking it with a hair pin. I sit up, expecting Father, only to feel my dead heart sinking into the mattress as the door opens.

“Mother.” I say.

She walks into the room, seeming to pick her steps carefully, as if she’s afraid she’ll fall through the floor if she places her foot wrongly. Go away, I think.

My hands are clamped tight around my stomach, holding back the jostling waves of hunger, and the roof of my mouth, as I see her, starts to ache with pressure. I start with cold fear as I feel it.

“Sweetheart.” My mother says, sitting down on my bed and cupping my cheeks with both hands. I close my eyes. “You’re still so cold.”

“I know. But I’m okay.” I say.

“You look thinner. Did you… did you… eat?”

“Yes, the kidnappers fed me, Mother. Couldn’t have me dying, now, could they?”

She bites her lip. “Your father’s bringing you up some food. I just wanted to speak to you first.”

“I don’t want to speak to you.” I say calmly.

Her face crumples. Here we go again. “I’m so sorry.” She says, the tears already wobbling in her voice. “I’m so sorry your father locked you up again.”

“He’s right, Mother. I’m mad as I was when I left. Maybe madder.” I say.

“He refuses…” Mother says. “He refuses to send for the police. Or the doctor. He refuses, Mary-Ann. I tried to talk some sense into him, but I couldn’t. I’m so sorry.”

I don’t reply. I doubt she ever said a single word against him. I don’t even know why she’s here; she always preferred to avoid me before, pretend everything was fine by keeping me out of her sight. She’s never been there for me. She’s always been too damn afraid. She’s the reason I fear nothing- because I was scared to end up like her. Subservient to a man. And she’s the reason I’m leaving tonight. To… go back to Geoffrey.

I think she feels guilty. Guilty that her neglect led to this. I’m not angry, though. I really ought to thank her.

“Mary-Ann…” Mother’s voice wobbles. I want her out, because something about her presence in this room is making me… is making me… crazy. It’s stirring something in me. The anger. The hunger.  “You can’t… You simply have to stop fighting your father.”

I look up at her.

“It’d all be so much easier if you did as he said. None of this would have happened. I don’t…” Her voice hitches and squeaks. “Know why you ran away. He wouldn’t tell me. And I’m more than confident you won’t either. I just want you to know you need to stay strong, even when it… when it seems hard. You needn’t always heed your father’s words. I-”

“You used to tell me this every single day, Mother.” I burst out. “Whenever he was cruel to me. Whenever he hurt me. You always, always told me to ignore it. But you know, it’s not that easy. When someone hates you that much. It hurts. Your passive ness never helped me, Mother! You never helped me; you left me all alone! So I just shut down. Neither of you hurt me anymore, because you mean nothing to me. Father means nothing to me. You’re nothing to me, Mother. Nothing.”

Mother blinks, startled. “Mary-Ann-”

“Why didn’t you take me away from him?” I say.

I’m not desperate. I don’t wish she had, not any more. I just want to know.

“Why did you never leave him, Mother, when he started hitting me, and you? Oh, never mind.” I wave my hand, fall back onto my bed. “Get out. Please. Get out.”

“But I-”

“If you’d defended me, Mother, even once, maybe I wouldn’t have turned into THIS!” I yell at the ceiling. I added the please to my last demand because I felt the hunger twitching inside me, stronger than ever before. I delight in the way I feel. I know it’s all my fault. I don’t know why I’m hurting my mother, but I know I want her to get out.

“Get out.” I say to her, without looking. “Get out. Get out. Get out! Get OUT!”

She gives a sob, and her weight lets up from the mattress. I don’t look up to watch her leave. The door opens, then closes, and then, after a lengthy pause, locks. She’s gone, startled out by fear for her own daughter.

Pathetic.

Grateful that I don’t have to feel guilty anymore, I spread out my freshly-washed hair and wait for the key to turn in the lock again.

It does, less than fifteen minutes later. I smile to myself and look up as the door swings open. My stomach twists as I see the look in Father’s eyes, and twists further as I see the tray of food in his hands. He’s brought me beef, vegetables, potatoes… the same meal I had the night I stood on the table and caught fire in front of the Garveys, but not, this time, or so I assume, drenched in salt. The rich smell presses up against my face and fills my head, and I… don’t want it. It doesn’t smell disgusting; it just… doesn’t smell like food. All the same, the smell ignites a longing inside me- a longing for the thing I want to eat most of all. I try to keep my expression blank as I try to choose between letting the feeling grow and squashing it flat.

“Here.” My father says, handing me the tray. “Eat.”

I pick up the knife and fork. Luckily, the silver-plated steak knife has a wooden handle, or it’d probably burn me. Maybe not, as the sunlight didn’t, really. I look up.

“You not going to say anything to me?” I ask him.

“I want to know…” He says softly. “Who your kidnappers were. I need to know why they wanted you.”

“Shouldn’t that be a job for the police?”

“No.” He says, looking down at his lap. I smile as I hear the nerves in his voice. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Mary-Ann, you know why we can’t send for the police.”

“Yes.” Because of what you did. Because of what you’re about to do. It doesn’t need to be said.

“You must have known who they were, Mary-Ann. Or at least why they were targeting this family.”

“Wasn’t it obvious? We’re the richest family in this half of the country.” I say. “But they weren’t out to kidnap me; I ran away. I stumbled across them and they decided to hold me to ransom for some easy money.”

“They didn’t know who you were beforehand?”

“No.” I lie, spearing a piece of meat and looking at it warily. I don’t think I’ll violently throw it up before my father’s left the room, but it won’t stay down. Do I dare? Maybe I should just pretend to eat it. Or refuse again. Instead, I plunge it into my mouth and chew. For over half a minute. I force myself to swallow. It doesn’t taste right. It tastes wet and chemical and wrong.

“So.” He says. “You’re sure they let you… go? They aren’t going to try anything again, or-”

“Are you honestly daring to say that?” I say calmly as I stuff another mouthful of food into my mouth. “Since you rejected me? I’m sure you think you did it for the right reasons. But it was horrible, Father. The things they did to me. You saw me when I came home.”

I look at him. He stares back. Then, after a long pause during which I’ve looked back down at my plate, he says:

“You look better.”

I snort with laughter. Then, I can’t stop myself; I laugh till hunger pulses through me again and I spear a potato from the plate, shoving it into my mouth. My hand at my side clutches the knife tighter as I force myself to swallow. The taste is disgusting, but I eat another anyway. I can’t stop. Taste never really mattered to me.

My veins chill when I look up and see the way Father’s watching me. His eyes are wide and swimming; his hands are clasped tightly at his chin. His mouth is pressed into a thin line. Knowing full well what he thinks he’s witnessing, I spear and eat another piece. Then, another. Then, a potato. And still he watches me. Sickness starts to rise inside me, but I bite it back and keep eating.

“There you go.” I say, swallowing another bite. It feels horrible, and I want it to stop, but I have to keep eating, for his sake. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

I wipe a drool of gravy from my chin.

“Thank you.” He says, getting up to leave. He crosses the floor, putting one hand on the handle of the door.

“How much rat poison did you put in it this time, by the way?” I say, my mouth full.

There’s a second of silence. And then, I see him freeze.

He turns to face me again, fiddling nervously with his sleeve. He stares at me as I shovel another mouthful of food. I chew, swallow, and then say: “I was only curious.”

He stares at me for a long, long time. I don’t want to keep eating, so I delicately lift the plate from my lap and place it onto the dresser. My eyes never leave his, nor his mine. I know. He knows that I know, and he just watched me eat it all. So he’s not going to bother lying to me.

He drops his cuff. “The rest of the tub.” He says. “To make sure you burn in hell.”

I smile painfully, looking up at the ceiling with both arms wrapped around my stomach. Then, suddenly, hot sickness claws up through me, making me convulse and twist on the bed. I’m going to throw it up. All of it. Any second.

My father stares at me sadly. He thinks I’m dying, so he doesn’t bother to lock the door when he leaves.

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