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

15. Neglect

I believe the shadow who called my name from the bottom of the stairs and chased me into the dining-room was my father. I have come to know the way his voice sounds behind me, even though it was partially drowned out by the thunder. The moment I looked back from the window, with my face covered in blood and my eyes- if not still black- crazed and wide, he screamed and staggered back. Tied to this tree, surrounded by this ridiculous parade of jumped-up morons in their black cloaks and bored along with my mandatory fear, I play that memory over and over in my head, chew it, roll it, savour its taste and its piping heat, until it is tightly ingrained in my mind. I, unlike the average kidnap victim, have no love to hope to return to. Only fear and loathing.

The ropes binding me to the tree cut into my stomach, even though they’re not too tight; the tree bark is scratchy on my back. My tailbone throbs and aches as I long to shift my position, to tuck my legs up underneath me, or to slump down and look up at the sky. As sleep starts to tug at me, with it comes the dryness of my mouth and eyes and the ugly, restless heaviness in my head. If the six vampires surrounding me don’t kill me, discomfort will. At least I can’t get any dirtier, or colder or damper.

I tell myself the week ahead is a week to convince them to turn me. I wanted to be a monster when I ran from that house, and this is a way to become not only a monster, but a monster of my own making. They may not be using their power, but I am convinced they have it somewhere inside them, and I want it. I ought to admire them- I suppose it is harder to suppress limitless wicked lust than to act on it- but all I see when I look at them is cowardice.

When I wake up on the second day, the sky is bright and the hunger has sickened, rotted, congealed black in my stomach. It’s been that way ever since I ate the raw chicken in the pantry, ever since I- so I think- gave into the demon. Only now do I begin to see I’m not quite as mad as I thought I was. I am, despite my disdain for these men- or monsters- afraid of them. I would be a fool not to be. I want to go home.

Then, I get to know them a little, and my fear seems to slip for an hour or two. The conversation between us is a little one-sided, but it’s better than nothing. Geoffrey’s the only one who never speaks a word. He’s got a habit of picking his fingernails, and scratching his beard, and running his fingers through his carrot-orange hair. I watch him most, as Zagan watches me. Zagan busies his hands by pulling down and putting back his black ponytail, over and over and over. Whenever I try to talk to him, he hisses, wringing his hands to his chest. He’s definitely the most vampire-like of the six of them. David second, and only because he’s so quiet- he sits huddled to tree trunks, only occasionally twisting in place like he’s fitting in his sleep. Richard finds him irritating- he keeps shooting sideways glances and sighing whenever David fidgets. The other two men seem equally nervous- they’re both small and wispy, one brunette, one blonde. They are both named Adam, and both very bitter about it. They don’t talk much. I try to coax information from the four of them I know- spend ten hours slowly prying them with questions- but all I’ve learnt by the end of the second day is that they all knew Richard Gregory well enough follow him into the woods to their deaths.

Geoffrey wants Richard to write the ransom note, since he is the best-educated- it amuses me beyond belief to see him part his dirty black robe and pull a little gold fountain-pen from his waistcoat pocket. I think, privately, that the police will identify his handwriting in a heartbeat, and then, for whatever reason, I end up blurting the fact out loud. Geoffrey stops. Then, realising his mistake, he turns to the other members of the group one after the other. Nobody wants to do it for fear they’ll be caught. Geoffrey and Zagan, it transpires, can’t write. And so, to my great amusement, they begrudgingly ask me to write it. To write my own ransom note. I laugh. But agree.

“Should I write it in the first person?” is the first thing I ask them when they hand me the pen.

Geoffrey frowns. “You what?”

“Should I write Hello, Father, I am being held hostage by a group of twits in black cloaks? Or should I write Dear Henry, I am the leader of a group of twits in black cloaks and I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing your daughter for a few thousand years? Which one?”

He grunts. “I don’t care.”

“Great.”

And so, the six of them sit in silence- their greatest talent- and listen to my pen scratching. Somehow, I enjoy writing the letter. Even though the instructions I’m writing are technically Geoffrey’s, I still feel as though I’m ordering my father around. Ordering him, no less, to put five thousand pounds into an envelope and leave it underneath the dead purple hydrangea bush at the edge of the forest, just off the path, to not tell the police, or his precious daughter will be killed. To not try any tricks. I wonder what tricks they might be expecting from him. When I’m finished, Geoffrey snatches the letter from me and folds it up. He leaves the clearing, and after he’s gone, I ask the other five men what he’s planning to do. Apparently, he’s going to post the letter to my father. Just post it, like a tax invoice or holiday postcard. Why, as these boring, ridiculous, dark hours wear on and on, am I starting to find everything so funny?

Geoffrey likes walks. I learn this on the third day, because, after a solid weekend of sitting still on a tree stump and batting off his groupmates’ whines of hunger, he finally gets up again and announces he’s not to be followed. Then, without another word, he walks across the clearing and disappears into the trees once again.

“Where’s he going?” I ask, directing my question at Richard, who’s sitting closest to me.

“Be quiet.” Richard replies after a long pause.

I sigh, and let my head fall back against the tree trunk, my gaze forced skyward. I’m getting sick of being told to shut up. As much as I fear all the ways these men may use me in the coming days, I can’t help but wonder: Why have a prisoner at all if you have no use for her?

“Richard?” I ask him.

He doesn’t reply. He’s cross-legged, his clasped hands pressed into his lap. He’s clearly in pain. In fact, they all are. I lick my lips, idly wondering if they’re hungry.

“Richard.” I speak again. “Come on. Your boss is gone, wherever the hell he is. You can speak to me. Damn, you can do whatever you want.”

“I am the second in command.” Zagan, the one with the hissing complex, hisses. I smile.

“But you were demanding I be killed along with everyone else, Zagan.” I say, rubbing my eyes. “Why would you not do it now he’s gone? What is the worst that could happen?”

He stares at me. “You know nothing of Geoffrey.”

I laugh. “Now that I can’t deny! If you’re not going to kill me, would you at least talk to me a little?”

There’s a pause. I lick my lips, hopeful. I know men enjoy talking about themselves, and some of these men must have had quite a life.

“No.” Zagan says. “You know we must keep you stupid. Otherwise, you could tell your father anything you wanted when you get home.”

“If ever I saw my father again, I’d open my mouth only to inform him that I still detest him.” I spit. “And anyway, why don’t you give this whole safe-return thing a rest? It’s been three days. We all know I’m never going home.”

They don’t reply. Nobody but Zagan even looks at me. They’re all new, I know. I bet they don’t even know what to do with themselves. If they became vampires willingly, it was probably because they thought they were entering a glamorous, dangerous life- I wonder whether they’re angry they sold their souls to Geoffrey and got nothing in return.

“We all know,” I continue, “firstly, that my father is never going to reply to that note. That he had hoped I would rot to death before I even stepped foot inside this forest. That this is exactly what he wants- that you have given him a damn gift by taking me from him. We all know that I will never be released.”

“Mary-Ann,” Richard says after another long pause. He slumps down lower against the tree he’s leaning on, which makes me want to smile. Their boredom is funny to me. “Have you thought about how your kidnapping is making your father look? To the public?”

I think.

“Father wanted nothing more than to be rid of me,” I say. “Trying to kill me failed. Marrying me failed-”

“Your father would never try to kill you, you ridiculous girl.”

I narrow my eyes and glare at him till he looks up at me; anger fizzes in me, mixing with my rampant hunger. I am starting to sicken of this degradation, and the way my ropes cut into my middle, and the scratchy bark pressed up against my back, reminding me I can do nothing.

“You don’t know my father, Mr Gregory.” I say.

As he looks back to his lap, he laughs. I growl, which brings a little more laughter from the rest of the group. I become desperate, as the pointless emotions grow hotter inside me, to drag a reaction from them. To somehow make them stop laughing. God, these past few days in the forest, something’s changed in me- I’m no longer simply depraved. I feel vicious, my anger out of control. I want to bite and claw and kick and scream. I want to kill. Them. My father. Everyone who graces my mind.

“And besides,” I add through gritted teeth. “Let’s suppose for a second this evening, Geoffrey returns from his jolly with a letter in hand, from my father, saying he can’t stand the thought of his beloved daughter in the clutches of such villains and he intends to express his sweet undying love for me by giving you the five thousand you so desperately want. True enough, he could do it without batting an eye. So let’s suppose he does. Why the hell would Geoffrey let me go home after that?”

There’s silence. My heartbeat pounds sickly as I listen to my own words.

“I don’t know why he has kept me alive.” I say, trying to hold back the growl in my voice. “I thought it was for your- for your amusement or something, but not to eventually let me go. Even though you will not tell me any more about yourselves, I know your biggest secret. I know your identities. Your names- all of them. I know your location. And I know of your crimes. I know that the moment I have fulfilled my purpose your boss will kill me. And so, I ask you again, Richard, or Zagan, or any one of you five imbeciles who feel like talking to a girl who’s already long dead…” My voice trembles, but I wonder whether it is my tears or my anger which will unsettle them more. “Why the restraint?

There’s a long silence. At least four of these five men are new to vampirehood. Surely kidnapping a young girl is at least making them a little uncomfortable?

When I speak again, the growl’s leaking through. “You’re hungry.” I say. “I know you are- I can see it. Why aren’t you going to eat me? I’m a pretty juicy morsel, I’d guess. Better than any of those skinny girls in town. Though I suppose they’re more fun to chase. And they scream better.” I lick my lips. “Are you going to eat me? Eventually? When you realise my father isn’t going to comply with you, will you eat me?”

“Shut up.” David mutters from across the clearing.

“Sorry?” I say. “What’d you say?”

“I said SHUT UP, woman!” He says, screwing his eyes shut. The rest of the group turn to look at him, and I notice for the first time that he is shaking one hand back and forth in front of his face. Actually, it doesn’t look as though he’s doing it on purpose- it looks like the beginnings of a fit.

“Does the hunger hurt you?” I say, averting my eyes and staring up at the dappled sky. “Does it rip you up, as normal hunger does? As mine is doing to me? Or is it different?”

There’s no reply.

“Come on. David.” I say, sadism creeping into my voice. Do I want his knowledge, or do I enjoy his pain? “Tell me how it feels.”

“It’s all in my head.” He murmurs.

“What?”

“It’s all in my HEAD! In our… heads.” He draws his knees up to his chest. “I want to kill you, woman. I want nothing more than to kill you.”

“Does it feel that good?” I say, and Richard glances at me in shock as he hears the tone of my voice. “The blood? Feeding on it? Does it feel good?”

He nods. For whatever reason, none of the other men try to shut him up.

“What does it feel like?”

“Be quiet, Mary-Ann!” Zagan shouts. A flurry of birds tumble up from the canopy, startled by his voice.

“It does, then,” I murmur, leaning back and imagining it. I imagine the most wonderful thing I’ve ever tasted. I imagine the way water tastes when I haven’t drunk a drop for too long. I imagine the way my body feels when I eat. Then, I imagine the foul taste of that chicken’s blood and have to bite back a retch. Human blood must taste different- or perhaps all blood tastes different to a vampire. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something more- something I know nothing of.

“You are insane to want to be a vampire.” Zagan says, to my shock. “It’s a life of misery. We live in the shadows.”

“Because you choose to, you rotten fool!” I say, incredulous. “There’s no earthly reason you need to hide yourselves from humanity! Apart from the sunlight, I suppose. Is that correct? Does sunlight really burn you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s why you live in this forest?”

“Yes. We’re also afraid of humans.”

“God!” I say. “Why? They’re the ones who should fear you!”

“They shouldn’t have to live in fear.”

I sigh. “At your expense? You’re happy to sequester yourselves away in this miserable forest just for the sake of their happiness?”

“Yes.”

“And how often do you feed?”

He sighs. “That’s none of your concern.”

“It is if I’m going to have to witness it! And I will. If it’s more often than once a year I’ll be here for the next one.”

He sighs. “Never.”

There’s a short pause. I blink; I must have misheard him. Never? That’s not possible.

“Never.” I say. “You, vampires, never feed on human blood.”

“No. We eat animals from time to time.”

“You’re ridiculous!” I say, starting to chuckle softly. I can’t help it; over the past few days the urges have been pressing up on my throat more and more. “Ridiculous. Ridiculous. You have nothing to lose; you’re dead to the world. You could be monsters, live forever, and yet you do nothing. Why? Why?”

“Because we’re afraid!” Richard bursts out. All eyes in the clearing snap to him. All but mine narrow.

He looks up at the rest of the group, as if he’s just accidentally divulged some deep secret.

“Why are you afraid?” I ask, as nobody else makes to speak. “What are you afraid of? Of the blood?” I pause. “Of what it… does to you?”

Nobody replies.

 

 

Throughout the next week, Geoffrey storms off again, and again. Every single time he leaves, I manage to coax more idle chatter from his men. On Monday, they confess to me the rest of vampires’ weaknesses. The sunlight I already know of, but they tell me about silver, too. They also tell me that religious symbols don’t hurt them the way they hurt the vampires in the books, and I wonder then what would happen if I were to return to my father a vampire. Would I be less, or more vulnerable to him? None of them know about stakes through the heart. None of them have thought to try it, and none of them are willing to test it.

On Tuesday, Richard begins to tell me the story of their indoctrination. He tells me they all joined willingly. I complain, which makes them laugh. Before I can coax the gory details from Richard, though- of the biting, the way it felt, the guilt, the excitement, the power- Geoffrey comes back and interrupts us.

On Wednesday, I tell them a little about myself- about my father. They relish the things I tell them, like girls hearing gossip over afternoon tea. They seem a little disgusted when they hear of the things I’ve done to him, but their discomfort elates me to such a degree I nearly tell them about Catty. It feels strange to fall so rapidly into trust. Into calm, and acceptance.

On Thursday, I ask about the blood, about what it does to them, why they’re so afraid of it and yet so in love with it, but they refuse to tell me. And so, and on Friday too, we sit in silence.

When Geoffrey brings me dinner on Friday evening, I dare to joke that he feeds me better than my father ever did. Geoffrey says nothing. That night, I sit awake as they all do and try to deduce why I like him most of all.

I know why his men are afraid of him. I am afraid of him too. He sits too close to me in the clearing; he looks on me and over me with his watery eyes for far too long. When he speaks to me, he speaks only sickening words of comfort, telling me it’ll all be fine and it’ll all be over soon, blah blah blah. Even though I protest constantly, telling him to give up his act just as I did his lackeys, he doesn’t. He never even wavers. He seems to have a contentment with his life that none of the other vampires share. I wonder whether he’s ever drunk blood. I wonder, as his lecherous eyes travel up and down and all over me day after day after day, following the freezing wind as it pries at my uncomfortably short skirt, whether he hungers for mine. I wonder whether that’s how he’ll kill me- by sinking his teeth into me and draining me dry of life and light. Why, even as I grow more and more desperate for a change from this agonising monotony, does that thought excite me so? Whenever he’s gone, I start to wish him back. I’m starting to enjoy the way his eyes feel on me. I guess I enjoy the thought of snapping his neck, even though he’d mend, if he ever dared to touch me again. But I also enjoy his desire.

In the second week, Geoffrey starts to come back from his walks to the hydrangea bush angry. He grabs me sometimes, shakes me, pulls my hair, demands to know why my father isn’t writing back. I tell him again my father will never, ever give him the money, but every day he gets angrier with me, and I get angrier with him, but more desperate, too. He starts to threaten to kill me if another week passes empty, and I beg in return, telling him to make me a vampire. I tell him I’ll be his if he does. I tell him I’ll do whatever he wants, be whatever he wants. I tell him I’ll do anything, if he were only to make me a vampire, and I don’t think I’m lying. I don’t want to die. I’ve been imagining, to amuse myself, becoming a vampire, and I want it more than I’ve ever wanted before. So I buy time, and buy time, till I figure out a way.

One day, soon after all the days have started blending together, I dare to call Geoffrey an idiot for hanging onto the hope. He strikes me viciously hard, snapping my head back against the tree, and when I look at him again, my cheek smarts and my left eye pulsates in its socket.

The pain festers into anger inside me. Not anger at him, but at them all. I am fed up of being hit and used and imprisoned.

One day, those who touch me will pay.

“Let me go.” I say. “I can get you the money, Geoffrey, from my father. I can get you double. Triple. I can get you it all. Just make me a vampire.”

“No, Mary-Ann.”

“Why not?” I say. “You’ll never get it from him this way. He doesn’t want me back. Surely you can see that now.” I think of home, not for the first time. I wonder whether Mother misses me, even though I don’t really care. I wonder whether she’s been begging Father to pay for my return. I wonder how Catty feels, and Duncan, and Bernadette, and Elias, and the whole town. I wonder whether there’s a single sod on this Godforsaken Earth who cares whether I come back or not.

I’m sure now he’s rid of me, Father sleeps with a smile on his face every night. Imagine the way he’d look if I walked back through that door.

“Come on.” I say. “Agree to it, Geoffrey. Agree to the damn deal already. It’s been two weeks! I’ll get you your money and you-”

“You can’t be TRUSTED, Mary-Ann!” He yells, striking me again. This time, not as hard, and this time, I’m smiling as I look up at him again.

“I know damn well that’s why you’ve been keeping me alive.” I say. “You were afraid it would come to this.”

“Shut up.”

I laugh. “You tell me to shut up every other day; when’s it ever worked, Geoffrey? Never. Here’s what I want. I’ll get you your money. I’ll do it quietly, discreetly. My family won’t even have to know I was there. And then, only after I’ve come back with the money, you make me a vampire. You make me one of you. Come on.”

There’s silence for a long time.

“Come on.” I repeat.

“Shut up.”

“Geoffrey, she’s right; it is the only way we can hope to get it.” Zagan tells him.

Geoffrey doesn’t yell; he only rubs his face with one hand.

“It’s a deal.” I say to him. “You won’t lose. I get the money, I come back, you bite me then. At what point in that plan do you have anything to lose?”

“When you return home.” He says feebly.

“Yes.” I shift in place. “But you know how badly I want what you can give me. You know it. You know I would never risk that, never give it up. Come on. You know it. Don’t be a fool.”

He glares at me. I realise, with a sinking feeling in my chest, that I have pushed him too hard. If there is one thing I have learned about Geoffrey in the last fortnight, it is that he shuts down when he’s insulted. Like me.

“You are never leaving this clearing again.” He says. “I am not a fool, Mary-Ann. It’s you who is a fool.”

He gets up and walks away. Past the others, past the trees that line the clearing, and into the darkness of the woods. After he is gone, the other men and I exchange glances.

“Well.” I say, despite the sick, desperate sinking feeling in my chest. I’m going to die. “That put me in my place.”

They all laugh.

 

 

When Geoffrey comes back late that night, he wakes only me from my sleep. David- the only one of them who still seems to sleep- wouldn’t have woken up if the earth had opened up and swallowed him or the river burst its banks and covered him with freezing water. Geoffrey walks into the centre of the clearing and sits down, hard. There’s a white rectangle in his hand, reflecting the blue moonlight.

“What is it?” Zagan asks loudly, startling me out of my stupor. I sit up in my ropes, rubbing my eyes.

“What is it?” I echo.

“Is it a reply?” Richard says.

Geoffrey murmurs, “Yes.”

I frown, shocked. “It is? I don’t believe it. Show me the money.”

“If there was money, believe me, I’d be showing you!” Geoffrey spits, throwing the letter to the ground. Despite the cold bleeding through me, I smirk a little. I’m sure I know what the letter says.

“Give it to me.” I say, holding my hand out.

“Mary-Ann.”

There’s no emotion in his voice.

“What?” I say. “Give me the letter. Is it from my father?”

He looks down at it. “Yes.”

“I want to see it.”

“You don’t.”

“I do, damn it!” I say. “I’m about to die, aren’t I? You’re going to kill me. So at least grant me this. At least let me read the words that sealed my coffin. Come on.”

Wordlessly, Geoffrey picks up the letter and tosses it over to me. It lands in my lap.

I pick it up, unfold it, and my eyes scan the words in a matter of seconds. I’m unsurprised. Utterly unsurprised, and weirdly happy. Father’s words are actually kinder than I thought, but I don’t read it too carefully. I drop it into my lap and stretch, holding my arms out to my sides.

“Come on then, Geoffrey.” I say. “Kill me. But admit I was right first.”

“Shut up, Mary-Ann.”

“Come shut me up yourself.”

I don’t know why he doesn’t, actually. I believe he’s feeling defeated.

“What does it say?” Richard asks. “Is it a rejection?”

“A rejection?” I say. “I suppose so. Yes.”

“Read it aloud.”

I sigh, picking up the letter from my lap.

Mary-Ann,” I say, noticing the way my voice changes in a subconscious imitation of my father. “Did you not think I would recognise your handwriting when I saw it? I helped teach you to write. But I know you were probably forced to write, so I will address you as though you really have been kidnapped and are, even after all this time I have been trying to think of what to say to you, still alive. I cannot pay to have you back. I will not pay to have you back. To do so would be making the rest of my family vulnerable to a similar fate. I love you. I’m sorry.”

I stop.

“Go on.” Richard says, his eyes wide.

“No. That’s all.” I say. “He didn’t even sign his name.”

The words amused me when I first read them, but now, I want to cry. Not because I’ve been abandoned, but because I’m going to die now, and I’m afraid.

“Don’t cry, Mary-Ann.” Geoffrey says to me.

“I’ll cry when I’m sad, for God’s sake!” I sob. “Why not? I can say what I want now, can’t I? I’m dead. You’re going to kill me now you can’t get money from me. So kill me! Kill me! Just kill me; I’ve had enough…” I sniff. “I’ve had enough. This is ridiculous. I’ve had enough.”

There’s a long pause. I’m so sure he’s going to kill me I don’t even bother to look up as he gets up from the ground, walks over to me, and kneels before me. I don’t even flinch as he wraps both of his arms all the way around me to untie the knots in my ropes- in fact, I feel myself struggling against the urge to fall against him and sob. Even when the ropes come undone, and slump down into my lap with the letter, I don’t move.

“Get up, Mary-Ann.” Geoffrey says.

I do. Even though I’ve been untied periodically to relieve myself, it still feels strange to be back on my feet- wrong and watery and wobbly. As I stare up at Geoffrey, I see the hardness of the hunger in his eyes, and my throat twists as I realise how he’s going to kill me. The rest of the group have gathered around us- Richard even looks vaguely upset- but I’m not focusing on them.

“You can still get the money.” I tell him softly. The seed of a plan pulses at the back of my mind, begging for a chance. “You can send me back… back… to my home.”

He doesn’t say a word. My words sound so pathetic they make me want to cry. I’ve lost.

“You can still do it, Geoffrey.” Richard says tentatively. He’s looking at me. I ignore him.

“Geoffrey, come on. Don’t kill her. Don’t.”

“Shut up or I’ll kill you too, Richard.” Geoffrey says, his voice grating in his throat with hunger. He sounds nearly gleeful.

I jab my elbows up and throw my bedraggled hair back behind my shoulders.

There’s a moment of stillness. I watch his eyes, marvelling at the dark, thick, fizzing life within them. Then, I gasp as he steps forwards, crushing me against the tree, and his head snaps down so fast it seems to merely vanish. I grab his arms as he buries his mouth in the soft part of my shoulder and his fangs puncture my flesh, sending a blindingly white flash of pain through me. I look up at the lilac sky as he starts to drink, spreading short sharp shivers down my back and an aching chill through my blood.

Oh, that’s odd; I’m not dead yet, I think, but then, a wave of heat overcomes me, followed immediately by a wave of freezing cold, and then a wave of overwhelming dizzy sickness. No, okay, this is what dying feels like. And then, after however long a time, still pressed tight between that tree and Geoffrey’s body, I lose consciousness.

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